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12 May 2012 @ 11:35 am
Come Away to the Slaughter (Come Away to the Water) - Part VI  
Title: Come Away to the Slaughter (Come Away to the Water)
Fandoms: Stargate: Atlantis/Hawaii Five-0
Pairings: John/Elizabeth, Danny/OC, Ronon/Teyla, Steve/Kono, minor Cadman/Lorne
Rating: R for violence, scary situations, and language
Summary: When a zombie plague spreads through Hawaii (and the rest of the world), the 5-0 team has to make difficult decisions and flee their homes. Coming across a Stargate, but not understanding what it is, they have to choose between facing the horrors on their planet or escaping to somewhere unknown. When they end up in the Pegasus Galaxy, they think they're somewhat safe... until Atlantis falls and they're on the run again, this time with new friends and no idea where to go.
A/N: The biggest of thanks to citymusings for a) putting up with my insanity, b) dealing with a story that involved zombies, c) cheerleading of the highest order, and d) beta-ing this beast. This would not have gotten done without you, my dear.
A/N 2: Song referenced somewhere near the end is "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri.
Disclaimer: Gabby is the only main character that belongs to me.
A/N 3: Anybody reading my story "For This Dance We'll Move with Each Other" will recognize Gabby. She is, in fact, the same character. This is just an alternate way for her and Danny to meet.
Disclaimer: Gabby is the only character that belongs to me. Everyone else belongs to their respective creators and I'm just playing with them.


Carson straightened back up, letting out a long breath. "You're healing remarkably well, my dear," he said to Gabby. "Quite a bit faster than I would have expected, but I guess it looked quite a bit worse than it actually was."

She rotated her injured shoulder a few times. "Feels a lot better, too," she replied. "It's not healing too fast, right? I shouldn't be freaked out?"

He chuckled and shook his head. "No, no. You should be just fine. Just try not to agitate it too much before it's fully healed."

"I'll do my best."

Carson patted her knee and then stepped out of the tent just as Danny was coming in. The two men greeted each other and then Danny stood in the middle of the tent, hands on his hips as he stared down at her.

"Well?"

Gabby rolled her eyes. "Doctor Beckett says I'm healing very well, Daniel. You can ask him yourself." She looked past him. "Where's Grace?"

He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Hanging out with her Uncle Steve and Aunt Kono. Kono is telling old Hawaiian legends and Gracie is giggling like..."

"Like a little school girl?"

Danny chuckled. "Yeah, something like that." He came over and sat down on the cot next to her. “So, I was wondering something...”

Gabby smirked. “Shocker.”

For a second, she thought he was going to stick his tongue out at her, but instead he just shook his head. “You’re allowed to tell me this is none of my business, but...Ronon and Teyla. Are they...you know...?” He gestured vaguely with one hand.

Chuckling, she nodded. “Yes, Ronon and Teyla are lovers. They have been for some time now. Everyone knows, but no one makes a big deal about it.”

“They seem to make sense.”

“They really do. And what was wonderful was that they didn’t make a big fuss about it like a lot of people do, you know? There was a connection and attraction and they were together. There was none of that petty jealousy or a relationship defining talk. They know where they stand and what they mean to one another and that trumps everything.”

“A functional relationship,” Danny mused. “Been awhile since I’ve see one of those.”

She looked over at this man she had come to care about a great deal in the past couple of months. She knew that Grace had lost her mother when Earth fell, but Gabby also knew that there was a lot more to that story than anyone was sharing. If it had been Steve, she wouldn’t have pressed. The man had defensive walls built to withstand an army. Danny, though...she wondered if maybe talking about it might make him feel better.

“What about Grace’s mum?” she asked quietly, carefully. “Did you not have a functional relationship?”

The question didn’t seem to catch him off-guard. His expression turned sad and he looked down at his hands, leaning forward to rest his arms on top of his thighs.

“We were for awhile,” he finally answered, his voice subdued, not looking at her. “We, uh...we got divorced a few years ago. She moved to Hawaii with her new husband...that’s why I moved there. I wasn’t going to let my daughter out of my life.” Danny paused, breathing deeply, and Gabby noticed that his hands were shaking slightly. “When this whole thing broke out, Steve sent me to get Grace and Rachel. The island was falling apart, but he knew...he knew that I needed to make sure my baby girl was safe. When I got to the house...Grace was screaming for help and Rachel...” His voice caught and Gabby reached over, laying her hand over both of his. “She was already turned,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. “She was turned, and she was trying to break down Grace’s door so that she could infect her, too.”

His voice broke. Gabby placed her free hand on his, moving the other up to his shoulders, rubbing circles over his upper back. She felt him shudder beneath her touch.

“You did what you had to do, Daniel,” she murmured. Her hand moved up to the base of his neck, fingers ghosting across the bottom of his hairline. “You had no choice.”

He looked up at her then, eyes red and raw and angry. “I shot the mother of my child,” he bit out.

Gabby met his gaze without flinching. “You shot the thing that killed her and you saved your daughter. Do you really think Rachel would have wanted you to do anything less?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he muttered, the anger gone. “My little girl doesn’t have her mother anymore because I put a bullet in her head.”

“You do realize that if Steven were sitting here saying these things, and you were in my position, you’d be telling him to put away his guilt complex, right?”

His shoulders shook with a quiet, tired chuckle. “That does sound like something I would say.”

“I’m fairly certain I’ve heard you say it before.” She paused. “You’re doing a good job, Daniel. You’ve kept your daughter safe through extraordinary circumstances, and she’s okay. Not just physically, either. She’s dealing and she’s becoming stronger because of it. And she has you to thank for that.”

“You really think she’s okay?”

“I know she is,” Gabby said firmly. “And we’ll get her through whatever comes our way. I promise.” He nodded and she smiled, running her fingers through his hair once more. “You should go get her. Tomorrow’s a big day and we all need some sleep.”

Danny nodded again and pushed himself to his feet, heading for the tent flap. Halfway there he stopped, turning back around.

“Wanna come?”

She got up and fell into step beside him. “I’d love to.”

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Weeks went by. Laura’s leg healed and she was able to walk with the aid of a cane instead of being carried on the stretcher. Eventually she was even able to put that away, though there was still a small limp in her step when it rained. Those with experience took turns hunting, making sure that there was fresh game in the camp whenever possible. They ate surprisingly well, but they were a well-rounded group with enough various skills to keep them well above the survival level.

Sometimes tempers flared, but that was to be expected. Though there was a destination in mind, no one knew how exactly to get there or how long it was going to take. And in the back of everyone’s mind was the nagging doubt that the twin city didn’t exist at all, and that they would find themselves wandering forever.

The first Gate address they tried brought them to a wooded planet that looked much like many of the others the Atlantis expedition had explored. The first four villages they visited didn’t have a clue about the twin city, but they had some luck on their fifth try. An old doctor obviously knew something, but at first he didn’t seem willing to tell them.

“You’re missin’ an important part of the equation,” he told them. “How do I know you’re not enemies lookin’ to destroy it?”

John turned to look at Zelenka. “I don’t suppose there was a password with that Gate address, was there?”

The scientist shook his head. “No. It was just the address.”

“Clavia Tenara,” Elizabeth muttered.

Everyone turned to stare at her.

“What was that?” John asked.

“Remember when we met that version of me from the future?”

He frowned slightly. “The one that stayed behind on the city to make sure it surfaced when we powered up the systems.”

“Exactly. She was the one who gave us the Gate addresses for the ZPMs.”

“Right. I’m not seeing how that helps us here.”

“The addresses weren’t the only thing she gave me. There was a second slip of paper. She said that if the worst happened, I would need what was on that piece of paper to get my people to safety. Clavia Tenara. That’s what was on it.”

The old man smiled at her. “And that’s the missing puzzle piece.” He went over to his fire pit and moved one of the rocks. Digging into the dirt, he pulled out a small box. “Here you go.”

Elizabeth took the box from him carefully. “The Ancients set up an underground system of guardians for the information?”

He nodded. “None of us knows who holds the next clue.”

“Couldn’t you just read the clue?” Ronon asked.

“No. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t read it in front of me. The less I know, the less someone could get out of me.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth told him before turning and walking away from his tent.

The others followed, slightly confused, but she didn’t say something until they reached the safety of their own camp. Sitting down on the grass, she gestured for John to join her, ignoring the questions coming from the rest of the group. Opening the box, she showed him what was inside and John frowned.

“It’s blank,” he complained.

Elizabeth just smirked at him. “Pick it up.”

As soon as his fingers touched the paper, symbols came to life across it. John shook his head as he stared at it. Of course the Ancients hadn’t just used normal paper. They had used another technological device that only reacted when in contact with someone who had the ATA gene.

And now they had their next address.

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That was how their travel progressed as time went on. They traveled to each address and searched out anyone who knew about the hidden city. Sometimes they struck gold in the first village they came across. Other times the planet seemed all but abandoned and they found themselves tracking down any living person they could. There was more than one hermit living in a cave or underground, who had only stayed on the planet because they were the guardian of the clue. John found himself wondering who would have taken over for them after they died, if there was no one else there.

Kono sighed as she looked around the planet they were currently trekking across. The humidity and lush undergrowth reminded her of home, and her stomach actually ached with a longing to be back there. It wasn't just that she had loved Hawaii, but it represented a simpler time in her life. Chin had been alive. Grace had had her mother. And she and Steve could say more than three sentences to each other without underlying tension threatening to choke them. She knew that it had been weakness that had rendered her incapable of putting Chin down. She had thought she could do it. She should have been able to do it. Looking into his eyes in those last moments had told her that her cousin was no longer in there. The monster had killed him and taken over, and she needed to release him. She hadn't been able to pull the trigger, though, and because of her weakness, Steve had had to do it for her. She had forced another burden onto his shoulders, when she already knew that he carried too much. It hadn't been fair. But she didn't know how to properly apologize for it, how to make amends. And for his part, Steve couldn't look in her in the eye.

Her eyes moved from Steve to Malia. With everything that they had been through in the past couple of months, Kono hadn't had a chance to really talk to her old friend. It didn't help that she knew she owed Malia a huge apology. Chin had only just told her that it was him who had broken off the engagement, instead of the other way around. Kono had spent a long time hating Malia for abandoning her cousin, and the truth had come as a painful shock to her. She had planned on making things right with the woman, but things had just snowballed and she'd never made the time for it. The other woman busied herself with helping Carson, but Kono knew that she had to be in a lot of pain. She had loved Chin right until the end, and she had been in the room when he'd been shot. Kono promised herself that when they stopped for the night, she would take the woman aside and apologize. She missed her friend, and she wanted to be there for her. She knew from experience that carrying the pain alone was enough to crush a person.

Steve caught her attention again and Kono looked at him closely, frowning when he rubbed at his chest for the third time in the past five minutes. Letting herself fall back until she was walking next to him, she leaned in closer.

"What's wrong?" she asked quietly.

He shook his head. "I feel weird."

She knew it had to be a lot more than that for Steve to have said anything in the first place. "Weird how?"

Rolling his shoulders, he made a pained face. "My chest hurts."

He was too young for a heart attack, but that didn't keep fear from coiling in the pit of her stomach. None of them really knew anything about the habitats they were traipsing through, and any one of them could catch something deadly.

"How bad?" she asked, trying to keep the worry out of her voice. "And use a normal person's scale, not your crazy SEAL scale."

Steve grunted, face twisting as he grimaced. "More than a little. I can't...I can't really breathe."

"I'll go get Malia. We'll stop and take a break -"

A sudden cry pierced the jungle and both Steve and Kono watched in horror as Danny fell to his knees up ahead of them. Gabby was by his side in an instant, passing Grace over to Mary. Kono moved towards him, but spun around when Laura Cadman cried out as well, collapsing to the floor. Sheppard was the next to go down, his voice raw, and then Steve went down on one knee, unable to keep himself going.

They only had two doctors, and there were four members of their group down. Kono took a second to be thankful that no one else seemed to in any trouble and then her attention was fully focused on Steve. He writhed across the ground as though he were in a lot of pain, his back arching up sharply. Kono cradled his head as she stared at him helplessly.

"Tell me how to help," she whispered desperately. "I don't know how to help you."

"Can't...breathe..." he forced out, one hand reaching blindly for her.

Kono caught his hand and then pressed the other to his chest, and that was when she felt it. Pulling his shirt up, she saw the vines wrapped around his torso, seeming to grow and tighten right before her eyes.

"They're being crushed!" she yelled, never looking away from him. "Pull up their shirts!"

She already had her knife in hand and she carefully sawed at one of the vines. The blade didn't even make a scratch, though, and Kono felt hopelessness coursing through her. She looked up with wet eyes to see Lorne pulling at the vines on Laura, but with the same lack of results.

A twig snapped somewhere off to her left and Ronon and Teyla spun, guns raised. Kono wondered what could possibly be coming at them now; four of their strongest people were down, and she knew they were in no shape to fight anyone off.

The two people who came out of the trees didn't appear to be a threat, though. Both dark-skinned and bald, they wore robes that made her think of a Buddhist monk. They held their hands open and to the side, letting them see that they held no weapons.

"Who are you?" Ronon asked, still holding his gun tightly.

"We are here to help you," one of them said, his voice impossibly deep. "We know that which afflicts your friends. I am Tel'Aram. This is Bo'orah. We live in this place."

"What's happening to them?" Elizabeth asked, her voice tight and strained.

"It is the Orah-Shor," Tel'Aram replied. "The Guilt. This jungle feeds on those who whose burdens are heavy and chokes them with it." He looked at those who were on the ground. "Come. We do not have much time and we need to get your friends to a safer place. This area is not somewhere you want to be come nightfall."

Elizabeth looked over at Gabby and the blonde woman nodded. They had no other options. They lacked the local knowledge to be of any help, and these men appeared to be unarmed and friendly.

"Can you help us carry them?" Elizabeth asked.

Tel'Aram nodded. "Of course."

Ronon picked up John and slung him over one shoulder, obviously not comfortable with anyone else carrying his friend. Gabby went into one of the supply bags and pulled out the stretcher they had used for Cadman originally. This time, though, it was for Steve. Kono took one end while Bo'Orah used rope to secure him and then picked up the other. Lorne swept Cadman up into his arms easily, and Tel'Aram gathered Danny up.

"Come," he said quietly. "Our temple is not far."

The monk was true to his word, and ten minutes later they were walking up a slope that led to a large stone temple. The stone was a dusty red color and it rose out of the jungle like a sentient being keeping watch. Despite that, there was nothing forbidding about it. Colorful flowers decorated window ledges and filled the gardens all across the grounds. Though there were some trees, it looked as though they worked hard to keep the jungle at bay.

Tel’Aram led them down a long hallway, deeper into the heart of the temple. They passed many other monks as they went, all different shades of skin color and hair length. The only apparent dress code was the robe - otherwise it looked as though these men were from many different walks of life.

Soon they reached a large circular room with doors all around it. Two other monks were there - one short, with wispy grey hair and glasses, the other much younger and more broadly built - and they immediately got to their feet.

The short one took one look at the four writhing patients and grimaced. “The Orah-Shor?”

Tel’Aram nodded. “Let us get them into rooms.”

John, Steve, Laura, and Danny were placed in separate rooms, on soft beds. The sheets were white and crisp, and there was a small table near the bed with a cold pitcher of water on it.

“I know that you are worried,” Tel’Aram said, “but we need explain the Orah-Shor to you so that you might help them.”

He led them back out into the circular room and then turned to face them, not wasting any time.

“I have already told you that your friends are suffering from the Orah-Shor - the Guilt. The burden is too great for them, and the jungle is actually feeding off of them.”

Gabby shook her head. “I don’t get it. I don’t think there’s one person in this group who doesn’t have guilt. Why aren’t we all suffering?”

“The guilt that your friends are wracked with is so deep, so pervasive, that it threatens to choke them every day. It takes a concerted effort to push it aside enough to function, to get through each moment. It is so palpable that the jungle recognized it as soon as they set foot inside of it. It will feed on them until there is nothing left and they are dead.”

“Well that’s just not acceptable,” she replied. “So how do we fix it?”

It was Bo’Orah who spoke this time. His voice was not as deep as his companion’s, but there was a certain gravity to it that pulled the listener in. “This temple was erected to stand against the jungle. Though there is a time and a place for guilt, it means nothing without forgiveness. And we have found that it is forgiveness that can destroy the vines that seek to kill.” He paused. “There have been many travelers over the years, many trying to escape a past that will not leave them be. Unfortunately, the person whom they believed they wronged is not usually with them. And without that person being there to offer forgiveness, no cure can be had.”

“What if it’s more than one person?” Kono asked. “Steve’s been carrying some serious guilt for most of his life.”

“It is usually one guilt that outweighs the others.”

“Think there’s any chance they’ll actually tell us what’s guilting them?” Lorne asked.

Ronon shrugged. “We already know what it is for Sheppard.”

Elizabeth frowned. “We do?”

The Satedan nodded. “You. He never forgave himself for leaving you behind. And it doesn’t help that the only reason we found you was because Williams went missing.” He paused. “He still doesn’t think you trust him. And he doesn’t think he deserves your trust.”

“I know what’s eating at Daniel,” Gabby offered. “At least, I’m fairly certain that I do.” She turned to Kono. “Do you think he would know what’s weighing on Steven?”

“If anyone does, it’s him,” she replied.

“I’m just gonna ask Laura,” Lorne said. “Not really sure we’ve got any other option there.”

Gabby squeezed his arm as she led Grace back toward Danny’s room. “Good luck. To all of you.”

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Danny was writhing against the bed, his back arching and his expression pained. The monks had removed his shirt and they could see the vines tightening their hold around him. Sweat coated his forehead, plastering his hair.

“Gabby?” Grace asked, her voice small.

“Yes, darling?”

“Can you fix Danno?”

“I’m going to try, love.” She stepped up to the side of the bed and brushed back his hair. “Daniel. Daniel, I need you to look at me.”

He forced his eyes open and turned to her, but didn’t speak.

“The monks told us what’s hurting you. It’s guilt, Daniel. You’re carrying around something that’s eating away at you and you need to let it go.” She paused. “You have to tell Grace.”

Danny frowned and shook his head. “No,” he said, his voice hoarse.

“Daniel, you have to. The only cure for this is forgiveness, and you feel that you’ve wronged your daughter. If you don’t tell her, you’ll die.”

He shook his head again, more forcefully this time. “What if she doesn’t?”

“Forgive you?” Danny nodded and Gabby softened her tone. “Oh, Daniel, she will. She loves you.”

“She won’t...she won’t if she knows.”

Gabby sighed and squared her shoulders. “Either you tell her, or I will.”

Danny’s eyes hardened. “Don’t you dare.”

“Those are you two options. Choose.”

“I trusted you,” he rasped. “You can’t -”

“Then trust me to do the right thing here. Grace needs you and you’re being selfish right now.” She turned to the little girl standing next to her. “Come on, Grace. I need to tell you something and then we’ll be able to fix Danno, okay?”

Danny struggled as they headed for the door, as though he was going to get up and stop them. “I will never forgive you,” he forced out, his voice raw and pained.

Gabby stopped to look over her shoulder at him. “And I will always mourn our friendship,” she said quietly.

Then she took Grace from the room and shut the door behind her.

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Tears had started to fall from Grace’s eyes as Gabby pulled her out into the circular room and squatted down in front of her.

“Gabby, what’s happening?”

She took a deep breath. “Do you understand guilt, Grace? Do you know what that means?”

The little girl sniffed. “Is it like when you feel bad for doing something?”

“Yes, that’s it. This may sound strange, but that jungle that we walked through feeds on those bad feelings. And your father feels very bad about something he had to do, and that’s why the vines are choking him.”

“How do we make them stop?”

Gabby paused, thinking through her words carefully. “Do you remember when you were back in Hawaii and the monsters came? You were trapped in your room and your father came to save you?”

Grace nodded. “Mrs. Puoau was trying to hurt me. Because the monsters got her and made her sick.”

“Yes, they did. But darling...the monsters also got your mum. It wasn’t just Mrs. Puoau banging on your door and trying to get in.”

Grace frowned as she tried to put the pieces together. “Mommy too?”

Gabby nodded. “Your Danno told you that the monsters got her, right?” Grace nodded. “They did. And she turned into one of them. When your father showed up at your house, he found them both trying to get into your room.”

Grace was crying more now as she was forced to think back on that day. “I heard a lot of noise outside,” she said, her voice breaking. “Danno made me stay in my room and I heard a gun.” She paused. “I heard it twice.”

Gabby took her face in her hands gently. “He had to save you, darling. And the only way he could get to you was through Mrs. Puoua and your mother.”

She took a shuddering breath, her shoulders shaking. “Danno shot Mommy?”

Heart breaking and tears building up in her own eyes, Gabby didn’t let go of her. “Yes, Grace. But he had to, darling. The monster had killed your mum already. There was no way to save her and he had to save you.”

Gabby watched as the little girl did her best to process the information. She understood why Danny was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to forgive him for killing her mother. At the same time, though, she had faith that Grace could work her way through it. She knew what her father did back on Earth, knew that he carried a gun, knew that sometimes he had to shoot the bad guys to protect people.

“So...it’s like what Uncle Steve had to do with Uncle Chin?” she finally asked.

A small bubble of relief welled up inside her chest. “Exactly. And you’re not mad at your Uncle Steve for that, are you?”

Grace shook her head. “He had to save Auntie Kono and Malia. Auntie Kono says that Uncle Chin was already gone. That Uncle Steve...that he...re...released him. That’s what she said.” She paused. “Danno released Mommy?” she asked, more sure in the wording now.

“Yes, darling. And that’s what’s choking him. He thinks that if you know, you’ll never be able to forgive him.”

Grace’s frown deepened and then she broke away from Gabby and rushed back into Danny’s room. Clambering up onto the bed, she hugged her father tight as tears fell freely down her face.

“I forgive you, Danno,” she cried. “I forgive you.”

She said the words over and over again, almost willing her father to hear them and believe them. As Gabby watched from the doorway, she saw Danny’s expression was a mixture of heartache and relief. It took a few moments, but slowly his breathing became easier. The vines around his chest loosened their hold. Reaching out, he took a hold of one and pulled it away from his body. It went without any protest, though the marks left behind were angry and red. Dropping the dead plants to the ground, Danny looked up and met Gabby’s gaze.

“Steven,” she said, not giving him a chance to speak. “We’re not sure what exactly is his main source of guilt.”

Danny swallowed whatever he had been going to say. “He thinks Kono blames him for Chin,” he said, his voice still hoarse.

Gabby nodded and left the room without another word.

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Kono couldn’t get back into the room fast enough. She and Steve were people who didn’t talk about what was bothering them easily. Kono, because she believed it to be a sign of weakness she couldn’t afford, and Steve, because he didn’t think he actually mattered to anyone. It shouldn’t have come to any surprise to her that all this time she’d been thinking Steve was disappointed in her, when he was actually convinced that she blamed him for Chin.

She had never blamed him.

The vines were tightening mercilessly. At first she had been surprised that they took so long to kill their victim, but Tel’Aram had explained that they needed to suck as much energy and bad feelings out of the person as possible. Which meant that they prolonged the process, turning it into a torture session. As much as she hated seeing her friends in pain, she was thankful for the extra time it gave them. Time to save them.

Steve’s breathing was turning raspy and sweat was streaking down his face. Kono knelt by the side of the bed, running her left hand through his hair as she used her other hand to tilt his face towards her. Leaning in, she moved her mouth closer to his ear.

“I never blamed you,” she whispered. “Not once. You did what I couldn’t, Steve. I wanted to be strong enough. I thought I could do it. I’m so sorry that you had to do it for me. But there’s no one else I would have trusted to put Chin out of his misery. I don’t blame you, Steve. I’m thankful that you were willing to be what I needed when I wasn’t strong enough.”

She had hoped that the words would magically heal him, but Steve refused to even look at her. Kono moved until she was sitting on the bed, hovering over him, and she took his face in both hands, forcing him to meet her eyes.

“I know you have a lot of things in life you regret,” she said, “and a lot of things you feel guilty for. But Chin was gone. What we faced in that room was just a monster with his face. It had already killed him. He had to be put down. You and I both know that. And I hate that I wasn’t strong enough to do it. He was family and I couldn’t even do the merciful thing. I needed you, and you were right there, just like you always have been.”Kono shook her head. “Danny’s right, you know. You have a face, and right now it’s saying that you don’t believe me. But you know me, Steve. You know I don’t mince words and I don’t lie to make people feel better. I call it like I see it. You told me once it was one of the things you liked about me.” She paused, leaning in to kiss his forehead. “Please, Steve, don’t do this. Danny and Grace and I need you, okay? We need you to stay. Please don’t leave us.” Her voice broke slightly and she kissed his forehead again. “The only person that has ever blamed you in this galaxy is you,” she whispered.

The vines loosened.

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“Alright, Cadman. Spill.”

Laura looked up, frowning in confusion as she struggled to breathe. “Ex...excuse me, sir?”

Lorne rolled his eyes and sat down on her bed, bracing himself with arms on either side of her. “Knock it off with that ‘sir’ crap, okay? You’ve been driving me crazy ever since the city fell.” He paused. “These things?” he said, pointing at the vines. “They feed on guilt. Which means you’re blaming yourself for something. And the only way we can kill these plant bastards is if you tell me what that is.”

He left out the part about forgiveness. Lorne was terrified that the person Laura thought she had wronged was no longer alive. It was more than highly probable, since both Earth and Atlantis were fallen now. He had always liked Cadman, and he was glad that they were sharing a tent while the group searched for their new home. Playing at being married didn’t mean that they were, though, and the lieutenant wasn’t big on opening up about her feelings. He knew something had been bothering her since the attack on the city, but a part of him worried that she just didn’t enjoy being forced to bunk with him. Having an unwanted roommate would grate on anyone’s nerves.

“Is that seriously the only way?” she gritted out through clenched teeth. “Baring my soul? I gotta admit, flyboy...that’s pretty lame.”

She tried to smile at him, but the pain was too much and Lorne could see it all over her face. Leaning down, he smirked at her.

“C’mon, Cadman. You’re not really gonna let a plant beat you, are you? I thought you were less of a pansy than that.”

His words had the desired effect. Cadman glanced away, struggling to take in a breath before she began speaking.

“When...when the Wraith attacked, none of us knew...we didn’t understand. I had just woken up. I came out into the hall and immediately had to dodge bullets.” She took another wheezing breath. “I had...my weapon, but...not enough ammo. One of...the scientists...didn’t see the Wraith. I jumped him and we crashed out the window, landing on that connecting structure.”

Lorne frowned; he didn’t understand what the Wraith attack had to do with Laura’s guilt. He wisely kept his mouth shut, though, letting her continue her story.

“I couldn’t...the Wraith was too strong and he...he put a knife in my leg. He was about to kill me...but Stackhouse came out, distracted him. They fought. I tried to help...couldn’t get up.” Her breathing started to become more labored. “Stackhouse backed...Wraith up to the edge...pushed...but the Wraith...held on. They both went over.”

This was the first time Lorne was hearing about his friend’s death, but he forced himself to keep his focus on Laura.

“I...caught his hand. The Wraith still had his foot...I couldn’t...I wasn’t strong enough...Stack...Stackhouse told me to let go. I tried...couldn’t lift them both.”

Lorne swallowed roughly. He was proud of Stackhouse for saving Cadman, for doing whatever it took to make sure the Wraith didn’t get her. And it might have sounded odd to someone else, but he was glad his friend had died with dignity. He understood Cadman’s guilt as well - he would have felt the same way - but he wasn’t sure whose forgiveness she needed. Stackhouse was dead. If that was who Laura needed, then there wasn’t a way to save her.

“Laura...”

She turned back to look at him, eyes red. “He...he was your best friend.”

Suddenly, everything clicked. Her refusal to look him in the eye some days. The nights she would slip from their tent and sit by the fire, staring into the dying embers. She felt guilty that she had lived at the expense of Lorne’s best friend. Taking her hand in his, he leaned closer.

“Stackhouse was a soldier, Laura. And a damn good one. He saw a fellow Marine in trouble and he did what he could to help. You would have done the same thing in his place.”

She tried to shake her head. “Should...should have been me.”

Lorne frowned at her. “You think I’d be happier if you were dead and he were still alive? You’re right about one thing, Laura. He was my best friend. And I miss him like hell most days. But I would never trade your life for his. I might miss him, but I’m glad that you’re still here. You’re my friend, too, you know. I care about you.” He paused, reaching out a shaky hand to brush a piece of hair from her face. “The only people I blame for the deaths of my friends are the bastards who killed them. It’s not your fault, Laura. It’s not your fault.

For a horrifying moment, it looked as though she wasn’t getting any air back into her lungs. Lorne reached out in a panic at the vines, but they had lost their hold, and Laura was able to take a long, shuddering breath. By the time she let it go again, it was accompanied by tears and painful, wordless sobs. For the first time since meeting her, Evan was seeing Laura cry.

Without even thinking about it, he laid down beside her and pulled her into his arms, rocking her back and forth gently.

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Things weren’t going as smoothly with John as Elizabeth would have hoped. She thought that she had the advantage, knowing what was weighing on him. But in true Sheppard form, he refused to listen to her. She could see it all over his face - he simply couldn’t bring himself to believe that she forgave him. Words didn’t work, tears didn’t work...Elizabeth was terrified that she was going to lose him.

“This is pathetic, Sheppard,” Ronon said. The Satedan had been standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed over his chest, watching everything unfold. “Do you really think Weir would say she forgives you just to save your life? Look at her. She means every word.”

John just shook his head and looked away, struggling to breathe. Elizabeth didn’t know if she wanted to cry or throttle him.

“Maybe you don’t deserve forgiveness.”

That made both John and Elizabeth turn to look at their friend. He gave a careless shrug.

“You’re willing to abandon her again, so maybe you don’t deserve forgiveness for leaving her the first time. You obviously didn’t learn anything.” Ronon pushed away from the door and walked closer. “Which is harder, Sheppard? Believing that Weir actually forgives you, or dying and knowing that you’ve left her alone again? To lead the group to safety all by herself when you should be at her side? Who’s going to protect her when we come up against opposition?” He paused. “What if Kolya’s not dead? What if he comes after her? Is it really easier to die and leave her alone than to look at her and believe what she’s saying?”

It was the most she had ever heard Ronon say in one go, and it gave her hope that John might actually listen. Leaning in closely to him again, she squeezed his hand to pull his attention to her.

“Please, John,” she whispered. “Please don’t leave.”

It was the exact opposite of the order she had given him on Asuras, and his eyes flashed with pain.

“How...” He struggled for a breath. “How can you not blame me?”

“You never stopped looking,” she said, remembering back to the map she had found in his quarters. “It doesn’t matter that you only came to that planet because of Danny. You found me and you brought me home. You were willing to die to make sure I got out of there.” Elizabeth paused, running her free hand across his forehead. “I would trust you with my life any day of the week, John Sheppard. I made the right choice choosing you for my military commander and my most trusted friend. I have never regretted those decisions. Never.”

John squeezed her hand, eyes never leaving hers. She knew how good he was at holding onto guilt. There had been plenty of late nights on Atlantis where they had shared stories of their lives on Earth, things they wouldn’t ever tell to anyone else. Though John wasn’t terribly good at sharing, Elizabeth could see beyond his words and she knew that he couldn’t let go of his perceived failures. It was staggering and painful to know that he looked at her as one of his greatest failures. Looking at him now, she willed him to understand that the past was behind them and that she wouldn’t want anyone else by her side. She would always choose him.

She saw it in his eyes before she heard the change in his breathing. Smiling down at him through her tears, Elizabeth leaned down and pressed a kiss to his forehead, letting it linger as he took long, deep breaths. Pulling back slightly, she helped him remove the dead vines, inwardly wincing at the red welts across his torso.

“I am glad you could accept forgiveness, Colonel Sheppard,” Tel’Aram said, stepping into the room. He carried white towels in his arms and laid them at the foot of the bed. “Many times that is the hardest part.”

John glanced up at Ronon. “Well, sometimes we just need things put into perspective. Plus, I really like breathing.”

The monk’s mouth twitched as he suppressed a smirk. “I have found that most people do. The struggle against the vines is difficult and tiring. We have a ceremonial bath to cleanse you of the evil. It is just down the hall, the third door on the left. You will have total privacy while you bathe.”

“Thanks.” He sniffed at the air. “I do seem to be a little ripe.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “A little?”

John made a face at her and then slid out of bed, taking a moment to steady himself. His body was more sore than it usually was after fighting his way out a tough situation, and he hoped that the “ceremonial bath” could loosen up some of the muscles. Throwing a small smile at Elizabeth, he slowly followed Tel’Aram out of the room.

Once they were gone, Ronon glanced over at Elizabeth. “You’re not really going to stay here, are you?”

“Is there some place else I’m supposed to be?”

Ronon looked pointedly in the direction John had gone and Elizabeth blushed.

“I’m not sure John would appreciate the company.”

He actually rolled his eyes. “I’m pretty sure you’re the only one Sheppard wants to share a ceremonial bath with. You two are ridiculous.”

She couldn’t exactly disagree with that. Her mind flashed back to the way he had looked at her when they found her in the Wraith lab, to the way he had kissed her when he thought he was never going to see her again. She remember the look in his eyes on the morning he had gotten his sight back and she had kissed him. All of that, and they had still managed to avoid the elephant in the room.

“Thank you, Ronon,” she said, stepping past him and out of the room.

She was done wasting time.

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John wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but when he stepped into the “ceremonial bath,” he couldn’t do much except stop and stare for a minute. Though the room was clearly manmade, it was more like a room had been built around a natural waterfall. The water spilled out from a point high in one wall and cascaded down into a large pool. Instead of a marble or tile floor there was grass, soft and inviting beneath his bare feet. A large tree grew in the far corner of the room, its blossoms a beautiful color that rested somewhere between pink and purple. It all took his breath away.

He moved closer to the water, closing his eyes and breathing in the warm mist coming off of the waterfall. There had been so much weighing on him for so long. Guilt was like a second skin, the regrets of his life hanging off of him like chains. He knew that the main thrust of his guilt had been Elizabeth. Though there had been other people in his life he had let down, none hurt the way it had when he flew away from Asuras without her by his side.

And yet she had forgiven him. John wasn’t sure he entirely understood how or why, but he was starting to learn that it didn’t really matter. He had looked into her eyes as she said the words, and he believed her. He trusted Elizabeth more than anyone else - he had no choice but to take her at her word.

He wasn’t a big fan of symbolic moments, but John couldn’t escape the fact that the vines loosening and falling away had been bigger than just Elizabeth giving him the forgiveness he had so desperately needed. There was plenty in his past to feel guilty about, to carry with him, to weigh him down. Giving into those regrets now, though, would only distract him from things right in front of him. He had a group of people depending on him for safety and guidance, and failing them because he couldn’t get past his own issues would be the biggest failure of all.

John knew that he wasn’t “fixed.” He knew that a switch couldn’t just be flipped to turn him into a different, more well-adjusted man. But for the first time in a couple of years, he could take in a deep breath and his chest didn’t ache. That was victory enough.

Walking down to the water’s edge, he dipped one foot in, letting the warm water lap at his toes. It was perfect, and he suddenly couldn’t wait to get in it. A quiet rustle behind him made him pause, though, and he turned around, expecting to see Tel’Aram come to tell him something he had forgotten.

Instead, it was just Elizabeth walking towards him, a small smile on her face. She moved until she was much closer than she normally allowed herself to get, and John found that he could feel the heat coming off of her body.

He swallowed roughly. “Everything okay?”

She nodded. Her eyes drifted down from his face to his dog tags and then eventually settled on the angry red marks across his torso. Reaching out a hand, she gently trailed her fingers down one of them as though she were tracing it. John’s eyes fluttered shut at the contact, his breath hitching. Forcing his eyes back open, he caught her hand in his, not pulling it away, but just stopping the movement.

“‘Lizabeth,” he breathed.

She stepped closer, resting her head against his. “We’ve been doing this dance for a long time.”

John nodded, tightening his grip on her hand. “I think the song just changed.”

Elizabeth smiled and rested her other hand on his waist. “I think we’re only just noticing it.”

She kissed him, softly but without any hesitation. John sighed against her lips, letting his body press against hers as one arm snaked around her back. There was no flurry of motion, no frenzied desperation like he had imagined more than once when they had been leading Atlantis. Elizabeth ran her hands across his skin as though they had the power to heal him, and he wasn’t entirely sure that they didn’t. The red welts seemed to cool at her touch, and he was breathing easier even as she stole the breath from his lungs.

He stepped back until his feet were in the water, not caring that his pants were getting wet. Elizabeth followed him instinctively, angling her head to take the kiss deeper. John’s hands slipped under her shirt, suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of things just falling into place inside of his head and his heart. Pulling back slightly, he struggled to keep from drowning in his own emotions.

Elizabeth cupped his face in her hands. “John?”

He shook his head, trying to let her know that there wasn’t anything wrong. Forcing himself to meet her eyes, all he could whisper was “Finally.”

She nodded and kissed the corner of his mouth. “I know.”

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Kono found him sitting just outside of the temple, hair still wet from the “ceremonial bath” the monks had offered him. Her stomach still hurt from the knot it had been tied into while the vines slowly choked the life out of him, but she forced herself to walk over and sit down beside him on the rock. Their shoulders touched, and for the first time in months, he didn’t flinch at the contact.

“Thank you,” Steve said quietly, staring off into the distance.

Kono frowned. “For what?”

“Forgiving me.”

She shook her head. “There was nothing to forgive, Steve. You shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place. I should have been stronger. I should have -”

He reached out and rested his hand on her knee, turning so that he could look over at her. “You don’t have anything to apologize for, Kono. Nobody should ever be faced with a decision like that. Not being able to pull the trigger doesn’t make you any weaker. It makes you human.”

His expression was sincere, and for the first time since Chin had died, Kono realized that he didn’t hate her.

“Thank you,” she whispered, “for being there. For being willing to...” She swallowed roughly, unable to finish.

Steve nodded, looking back out over the grounds. “I miss him,” he said after a long moment, his voice tight.

Kono leaned over, resting her head on his shoulder as she slipped an arm through his. “Me too.”

He kissed the top of her head and closed his eyes.

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It wasn’t difficult to get Grace to sleep that night. She was emotionally drained from worrying about her father, and soon after Danny got back from washing up, she was dozing in Malia’s arms. He smiled down at her as he picked her up and carried her to the bed the monks had provided for her. He had always known that his daughter was strong, but the bravery she had shown since they had left Earth was just staggering. If he was any more proud of her, he was afraid his chest would actually burst.

Tucking her in, his mind fell back to Gabby, to the sincerity in her voice when she had told him that he was doing a good job with Grace. Ever since they had arrived in Atlantis, the British woman had done her absolute best to take care of both of them, risking her life to make sure that they were safe. Deep down, he knew that was why she had insisted on telling Grace about everything that had happened with Rachel. She had been willing to make the hard decision, to sacrifice whatever she had with Danny to make sure that his daughter didn’t lose her father.

He winced as he remembered the words he’d thrown at her before she’d walked out. The fear of losing Grace emotionally had been a hundred times worse than the knowledge that he would die if she couldn’t forgive him. It didn’t matter that his silence ensured that she couldn’t forgive him. He just never wanted his little girl to know that he had put a bullet through her mother’s head. Danny knew now that his actions hadn’t been guided by a desire to do what was best for Grace. He had been selfish. He never wanted to look into his daughter’s eyes and see hate there. He was so afraid of it that he had been willing to die and leave her in the care of others. Fathers were supposed to be willing to die for their daughters, not because of their own fears. He had almost failed his Grace.

Danny knew that he owed Gabby an apology. She had every right to be angry with him, and he was fully prepared to do some begging to get her to forgive him. Laying down in his own bed, he promised himself that he would do that just as soon as she came back.

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“You’re not looking so good, D,” Steve said as they pushed on with their journey toward the next clue and the next Gate address.

Danny stared up ahead, where Gabby walked with Grace hand-in-hand. “It’s been three days.”

“Three days since what?”

“Since Gabby talked to me.”

Steve frowned. “What?”

Danny sighed and told him the whole story. Usually he was quicker about sharing things with his best friend, but he’d been almost entirely focused on being with Grace ever since they left the temple. He kept telling himself that Gabby would talk to him eventually, give him a chance to say how truly sorry he was.

“You haven’t apologized yet?” Steve asked in disbelief.

“She won’t talk to me! How am I supposed to apologize to someone who won’t even look me in the eye?”

“You share a tent, Danny. Just wait for her to come to bed -”

“She hasn’t been sleeping with us.”

“What are you talking about?”

Danny gave a hopeless shrug. “She spends time during the day with Grace, but after sunset, I never see her. I stayed up the entire night one night and she never came in. Ronon said she’s been standing watch a lot with him, but...” He shook his head in frustration.

Steve paused, looking around at the trees as they continued to walk. “You ever think that maybe she’s just giving you what you asked for?”

“What?”

“You told her you’d never forgive her. Maybe she’s just acting on the assumption that you haven’t.”

Danny was quiet for a few minutes after that, hands clenching and unclenching at his side. Eventually he breathed in sharply, rubbing at the side of his face.

“So you’re saying that maybe I shouldn’t be waiting for her to come to me,” he said quietly.

“If nothing else, man, you owe it to her to man up and apologize - even if she ends up telling you to go to hell.”

Danny nodded. “Right. I’m sure this is gonna go great.”

He waited until the group settled down for the night. Steve and Kono occupied Grace, while Danny kept an eye on Gabby. When she seemed about to disappear into the growing shadows, he walked over and took her hand, squeezing tightly.

“Walk with me,” he said quietly, letting the desperation that he felt seep into his voice.

Gabby stared at him for what felt like forever and then nodded, letting him lead her a little ways away from the camp. Danny made sure that he could still see the fire that Lorne had built and then stopped, turning to face her as they stood in a small copse of trees.

“You know,” he said, “every night I keep waiting for you to come into the tent so that I can talk to you. But you never do.”

She frowned in confusion. “You told me, Daniel. You said...”

“I know. I know what I said and I know that it was the most unfair thing I could possibly say to you. I wasn’t thinking with my head, Gabby. I was so fucking terrified that my daughter was going to hate me and that that was the last thing I would know before I died.”

“So you asked me to let you die?” she asked, her own voice laced with anger. “What would I have told her when everyone else recovered except for you? We knew what could save you, Daniel. And you have always underestimated how much your daughter loves you. How could you be willing to abandon her like that? She deserved the chance to save you!”

“I know,” he said, voice wavering and eyes watering. “I know. Trust me, Gabby, I have done nothing but beat myself up over this since we left that place. I am sorry, okay? I am so unbelievably sorry. You did what I was supposed to do. You put Grace’s well-being above everything else. I am sorry,” he repeated, stepping forward and tentatively taking a hold of her upper arms, “and I am so very thankful that you were willing to risk everything for her. Okay, it is because of you that I am alive, and that I am no longer carrying this horrible guilt around. It is because of you that Grace still has a father and that I’m here to hold her and tuck her in at night.” Danny paused, looking her in the eye. “The only thing that is missing, is you.”

Gabby ducked her head, momentarily closing her eyes. Danny worried that she was going to pull away, but instead she moved just a little closer, and he felt some of the tension ease out of her.

“I really didn’t think you were going to forgive me,” she murmured.

Her hands came to rest on his hips, and Danny slid his own hands up until he was cupping her face and resting his forehead against hers. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” he whispered. “I just want you to come home.”

She opened her eyes before nodding slowly. Danny leaned in and kissed her softly, inwardly amazed at how this woman had become such an integral part of his life. There was no hesitancy as she kissed him back, and before long, Danny had her pressed up against a nearby tree as they struggled to get even closer to each other. Pulling back to breath, he pressed small kisses to her jaw and neck, sighing against her.

“We should head back,” Gabby murmured. “There’s dinner, and Gracie...”

Danny nodded. “Think maybe we could convince her to have a sleepover with her Uncle Steve and Auntie Kono?” he asked hopefully.

Gabby smiled and pressed her lips to his temple. “I think that can be arranged.”