DISCLAIMER: Stargate Atlantis and its characters are the property of MGM, Showtime, Gekko etc. no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I took the challenge of "epic proportions" literally, and followed in the traditions of Homer in writing a grand heroic epic. I hope you enjoy.
WARNING This fic contains femslash (female/female romantic/sexual relationship) if that bothers or offends, please don't read. Also, this fic contains some violence nothing more than what you'd see on the actual show but I wanted to give a warning just in case. Oh, and the occasional swear word.
SPOILERS: Nothing specific, but everything through season three to be safe.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Place Called Home
It's a fact of life
If you make one wrong move
With a gun to your head
You better walk the line
Or you'll be left for dead
"Colonel, I understand your reticence-"
"No, sir, I don't think you do," John argued, glaring into the camera that relayed his image back to the SGC through the open wormhole. "We know they're out there, alive, we just have to find them."
"I know Colonel, but the IOA is no longer comfortable having Atlantis under the default control of the U.S. military. They're pushing for a replacement for Dr. Weir."
"General, they're making a mistake. Replacing Elizabeth now would be like saying we've given up-"
"-Not given up," Landry argued. "We're never going to give up, but we have to be realistic. It's been three months. Nothing Dr. McKay has been able to come up with has led to their discovery and all Teyla has been able to safely ascertain is that they are alive. Somewhere in the Pegasus Galaxy."
"It's a big galaxy sir," John shot back. "All I'm asking for is a little more time to search it."
"I'm sorry, Colonel," Landry said sadly. "But your time is up."
Without asking permission, John slapped the video console off with a frustrated growl. The only thing keeping him from resigning, keeping anyone on his team from resigning, was the knowledge the SGC wouldn't let him stay to search for Elizabeth and Laura. They would ship him back to Earth, kicking and screaming, and he'd never be able to come back. The slight hope that maybe he might find a clue on one of their missions kept him going. Stalking out of the control room, John slunk against the railing, staring out at the Lantean ocean.
He couldn't count the number of times he'd stood on this balcony with Elizabeth talking over missions, arguing over decisions, or just chatting about life. She was, he realized, his best friend. More than that, she was his family, and he wanted her back.
Even as he glared at the skyline, he heard her voice in his head, chiding him for his temper, for his lack of patience. Taunting him and asking what he thought he could do with no information and no leads. Rushing into things was where they always got in trouble and abandoning his post to search for her and Cadman, world by world if needs be, was the definition of reckless.
"It should be you here," he whispered, carrying on the imaginary conversation. "I'm not the guy to make these decisions. I'm not strong enough to do this. Not like you."
Sighing, he let his body slump into the rail. John took a deep breath, trying to clear his head. Feeling a measure more in control, he straightened up and headed for the conference room. There were more than a few people to tell about this new development and John knew it was a safe bet none of them were going to be happy about it.
The fire simmered low, the last of its kindling little more than charred embers letting out wisps of smoke in the gray light of dawn. In the distance, Elizabeth heard the familiar sounds of birds calling out in greeting to the morning. Sighing, she settled closer into the body wrapped around her, lacing her fingers through Laura's as she tucked their hands into her chest.
The subtle change in breathing, as well as the soft press of lips to the back of her neck, alerted her to her partner's wakefulness. Another kiss came, followed by the scrape of teeth on her earlobe. Ticklish, Elizabeth jerked, laughing softly at Laura's playful mood. Over a month had passed since the battle that had ended Bolin and Huff's lives. Laura had recovered, slowly but surely, and with the exception of a few minor incidents, no one had tried to challenge the change in authority that had transpired to make her head slave.
The others had attempted to convince them to take over the shack that Bolin and Huff had shared, but Laura and Elizabeth had steadfastly refused, choosing instead to tear it down and disperse the materials and belongings among the camp so that everyone could benefit, if only a little. The move had earned them even more respect and support. So much so that Vagan, for all his control and command of the guards, walked a careful path around them. There were no longer whippings for demonstration sake.
In fact, under Laura and Elizabeth's insistence, newer slaves, and those too old or ill to make their daily quota were assigned a partner to help them make their requirements. Although it meant others, usually them, had to put in extra work, the morale of the camp improved absent the constant beatings. If Vagan was bothered by his lack of discipline subjects, he didn't show it, and as Eloya pointed out, he couldn't really argue the point as long as the production of the ore stayed up.
Laura's hand slipped from Elizabeth's, moving under the thin material of her shirt to splay across bare, toned flesh, then up to cup her breast, drawing Elizabeth from her musings. Nails scratched lightly across her nipple, creating a pleasant tingle as Laura's mouth kept busy kissing Elizabeth's neck.
Shifting, Elizabeth turned so that she was under the younger woman, staring up into fathomless eyes. "Good morning."
"As good as it gets, anyway," Laura smiled back, dropping a light kiss to Elizabeth's lips. "What are your plans for the day?"
"The usual. Laundry. Firewood for the week. Eloya also asked me to help gather some plants and herbs with her and Danika this afternoon."
"She likes you."
"She tolerates me," Elizabeth argued lightly. "For Danika's sake."
"She likes you," Laura responded. "I'm not sure how anyone couldn't."
Elizabeth smiled fondly and leaned up to press a sweet kiss to her lips. "What about you? What's on your agenda?"
"I'll probably spend most of the day cutting down branches on the far side of camp by the wall. Joyel and Badon asked me to help them with some scrap wood and trying to put up sheltering around their cave to keep the wind out."
"It is getting colder at night."
"I know." Neither one of them wanted to consider what a winter on Abyssus might bring.
"Be safe, okay? You know how Vagan and the guards get when they have to pay too much attention to us."
Laura nodded, remembering all to well the near disaster that had been narrowly avoided when some of the newer slaves had gone looking for shelter among the trees instead of the caves with everyone else. Vagan had been nearly apoplectic and the guards had almost stunned everyone in sight just so they didn't have to worry about their sentries being spread too thin. It had only been through Elizabeth, Laura, and Eloya's intervention that the issue had been resolved with a compromise reached keeping the new slaves on the mine side of the camp, and Vagan agreeing to let them use the rough saws and pick axes to harvest more trees for new shelter under the guards' watchful eyes.
"I'll be safe," Laura promised, dropping another kiss to Elizabeth's lips as the breakfast horn sounded. "Crap. We better get up. No one will eat unless we're down there."
"I've tried telling them it's okay to serve the others before us," Elizabeth sighed, sitting up and reaching for the last of her nearly-clean shirts. "But Eloya says no one will even line up until they see us walk over."
Laura watched as Elizabeth stripped off her shirt and slid into the new one, momentarily distracted by her worry over how thin Weir was. She knew the other woman routinely passed on part of her rations to the new slaves, and while Laura appreciated the gesture, she wished Elizabeth would keep just a little more for herself.
"Come on," Elizabeth chided, mistaking the look in Laura's eyes for appreciation of her naked torso. "We don't want to keep them waiting." Reluctantly, Laura nodded and prepared herself for yet another day on Abyssus.
The news spread through Abyssus instantly. It was hard pressed not to with the entrance Dumai made. Within minutes of his arrival, via Wraith beam from a dart, the slaves were whispering in worried circles about the arrival of the Wraith lord.
While not a Wraith himself, it was rumored that he shared a 'connection' to the gods one that placed him as their highest human servant with independent authority not merely a worshipping sycophant like Vagan.
Vagan rushed from his shack, tugging down a fresh shirt, as Dumai approached, flanked on either side by two of the Wraith foot soldiers. Vagan bowed immediately. "My lord Dumai, what brings you back so soon? I wasn't expecting your arrival for at least two more weeks."
Dumai didn't bother to hide his disdain for the ferrety man in front of him as he answered, "You should always expect the gods' coming, Vagan."
"Yes, my lord."
Dumai gave a cursory look around. Slaves scurried away, trying to escape his watchful eyes. "We've come to collect the ore."
"But, where is your ship?"
"The gods are in need in of it immediately to make repairs to their ships. The ore has already been beamed aboard. Doubtless the ship is already on its way back to the great ring."
"We have brought fresh supplies. And once I am satisfied that this mine is running efficiently, we shall return to the ring on foot."
"Of course, my lord," Vagan agreed, bowing again. "If you would like, we can discuss the mine in my hut." Dumai nodded regally, as if he had expected no less. Vagan held the door open as Dumai and the silent Wraith guards ducked into the dark hut. There was little furniture, and so the sole chair went to Dumai. Vagan took a seat on a wobbling stool across from him while the guards stood sentry at the door.
"I understand you have a new head slave," Dumai said casually, relating the information he'd picked up from his sources among the guards. "That's unfortunate. Bolin was very loyal."
"He was challenged by another slave and lost," Vagan explained nervously, trying to dispel any implication that Bolin's death was his doing.
"As I was told. I was also told that the new head slave is a woman named Lisa. A woman who has been defiant to you in the past."
"Her defiance was punished severely, my lord," Vagan defended. "Now she is loyal to the gods."
"Hmm." Dumai didn't seem convinced. "I have only been here a short time, Vagan, but my sources tell me she and her mate are making changes, that the slaves respect them, follow their lead. And that you indulge this for the sake of the old woman and the girl."
Dumai didn't need to say their names, Vagan knew he meant Eloya and Danika. It had been a source of contention for years, one that had almost cost him his life on more than one occasion. And just like all those times before, he searched for a way to save himself. This time, the answer was readily apparent, gift wrapped in the conversation Huff had overheard weeks before and willingly relayed to him as insurance against Elizabeth and Laura.
"Your sources are mistaken my lord. I indulge them only to learn more information of their world so that I may pass that information on to the gods."
"What information could you possibly learn from these women that the gods do not already know?" Dumai asked dubiously.
"It has been revealed to me that they are from unknown worlds at least none that I have ever heard spoken of in anything other than myth," Vagan added, trying to build the suspense. Dumai nodded impatiently for him to continue. "I have leaned they come from Atlantis and Earth."
Silence hung in the room, thick as the air, as Dumai stared at Vagan, trying to judge the veracity of his words. When Vagan merely blinked innocuously in response, Dumai nodded, settling back into the chair. "This Lisa, the head slave, where is she?"
"Helping the other slaves make preparations for the winter," Vagan answered. "But she's not the one you want," he said knowingly.
"Because I have also learned that although she is the head slave, it is her mate, Lena, who was the leader on their worlds. She is the one with the information. She is the one the gods will want."
Something flickered in Dumai's eyes. "Where is this woman?"
Vagan smiled conciliatorily. "I will take you to her immediately."
"This is sala root. If you dry it out and then grind it into a powder, you can mix it with water as a pain reliever," Eloya explained as Danika and Elizabeth watched. The old woman pulled the gnarled root from the ground, pointing out the green veins that ran through the outside bark of the plant. "You can also use it as a poultice to " Eloya trailed off, her eyes drawn to the distance. Danika and Elizabeth looked up in tandem, both of them sucking in sharp breaths as Vagan, Dumai, and the two Wraith guards approached. Unconsciously, Elizabeth stepped in front of Danika, knowing without asking who the newcomer was.
"So, this is the woman I've heard so much about." There was something in Dumai's eyes, a flash of recognition that Elizabeth knew boded ill. Straightening her shoulders, she unflinchingly met his gaze. "I'm told you are called Lena."
"That's my name," she lied effortlessly.
Dumai's face was unreadable as he asked, "And what world do you come from?"
"I was taken from a world known as Mahata," Elizabeth answered stiffly.
Dumai closed his eyes as the Wraith guards stepped closer, when he opened them again, his eyes had clouded over, as if he was looking through a haze. Elizabeth recognized it immediately. It was the same look she'd seen on Teyla's face the few times she had opened up the telepathic network to the Wraith.
"You're lying Dr. Weir."
"Where's your mate?" Vagan asked.
"You don't want her," Elizabeth said, her voice wavering. "You want me."
Dumai cocked his head, studying her. Vagan shrugged. "It will hurt production to lose both of them."
"Very well. It's not like I don't know where to find her."
Elizabeth started to come forward willingly, gasping in startled surprise as one of the Wraith fired his stunner at her. She collapsed to the ground in a heap. Danika ran for her, checking to make sure she was still breathing.
"Vagan, what have you done?" Eloya hissed.
"Bolin was right," Vagan answered simply. "She is an enemy of the gods."
"They aren't gods!" Danika shouted defiantly. Her words earned her a sharp backhand from Vagan that sent her sprawling to the ground.
"They are gods," Vagan ground out. "And I have been far too lenient with you. Tomorrow you start work in the mines. Maybe then you will learn to respect your masters." Danika started for her feet, but Eloya stopped her with a restraining hand. "Keep her under control old woman, or I will."
Eloya nodded in silent acknowledgement, the only sign of her anger the tight clench of her first at her side. Without another word, Vagan and Dumai turned for the camp, the guards, hauling Elizabeth's unconscious body, right behind them.
Eloya helped Danika up, brushing away the blood that flowed from her split lip. "Go find Lisa and tell her what has happened. I will try and reason with him."
With a nod, Danika sprinted off through the trees to the far side of the camp. She weaved her way through shacks and throngs of people, all watching the scene unfold as Elizabeth was taken to the gate of the encampment and Dumai and his men gathered their supplies for the journey. Heart racing, she climbed through the scaffolding and over rock, calling out as soon as she saw the figures hefting a thatched roof into place.
Laura turned, her blood cold in her veins at Danika's cries. She dropped her end of the roof without thinking and raced toward the teenager, clambering over rocks and debris until she met the breathless girl. "What happened?"
"Dumai is here " Danika gasped. "He took Lena they are leaving for the gate-"
Laura didn't wait for the rest of the explanation. Sprinting, heedless of the loose rock and dirt or the people in her way, she ran for the gate of the compound as fast as she could, her mind a blur of fear and adrenaline. Pushing through the crowd of people she arrived just in time to watch the gate slide shut with an audible and final thud.
"No!" Mindlessly, she threw herself at Vagan's smirking form, nearly reaching the man before two of the guards hauled her back. Cursing, she pressed on, anger and desperation fueling her body so much that it took another two guards to hold her still even as she fought and clawed at them, trying to reach Vagan. "You bastard! What have you done?!"
"Your mate was a liar and an enemy of the gods. Now, she will serve them and I will be rewarded for my loyalty." His words sent a renewed wave of anger through her until one of the guards sent a stunning blow to the back of her head that left her dizzy. She dropped to the ground, the world wobbling around her. As he had so many months before, Vagan kneeled down so that they were face to face. Her vision swam, creating three of him. "I've been wondering, Lisa, what it would take to break you. I think this just might have done the trick."
She lunged for him again, but the guards caught her with another blow that sent her sprawling. With a mirthless laugh, Vagan stood up and eyed the crowd, ignorant of the fact the majority of the slaves stared at him now in contempt rather than fear. "Let this serve as a lesson to you all the gods see everything. And they punish those who disobey them." With a glare of disgust, he muttered, "Get her out of here," before stalking back to his hut.
The guards started to reach for Laura, but Eloya stepped in front of her, motioning for Joyel and Badon to come help instead. Laura let herself be lifted up just enough until she regained her footing and then jerked away from them, wiping at the blood on her face as she started to walk through the crowds toward the alcove. Danika ran up, trying to help her, and received a menacing glare for her trouble.
"Go away Danika."
"I know how hard this is," the girl stumbled. "But you said we cannot give up hope-"
"Hope?" Laura wheeled, gesturing to the expanse of the camp. "What hope? There is no hope. Not in this place. All that lives here is pain and nothingness. And the one thing, the one person who made it even slightly bearable, just got carried out that gate!"
"Lisa-" Danika reached for her again, but Laura shook her off.
"Leave me alone."
Danika watched as the blonde stormed unsteadily through the camp, yelling at anyone who got in her way. Eloya stepped next to her, watching Laura's retreat as well. "I want you to go back to the stream. I still need the sala root we were digging for."
"Do as I say," Eloya snapped.
Danika, already tearful from Laura's rebuke, fled her grandmother's side and ran for the stream. Eloya looked around and easily found Joyel and Badon, their bulky frames quickly discernible in the crowd. Both looked like they were ready to tear the mountain down, stone by stone, at the slightest provocation. Elizabeth had been the first to help them upon their arrival, explaining things quickly and helping to ease them into the transition without any of the games Bolin had liked to play. Laura had earned their respect by her willingness to offer help and advice instead of just barking orders. They were friends, and in Abyssus, that was truly something.
The old woman met their eyes in turn and then nodded toward Laura's alcove. Silently, they followed behind her as she went after the head slave.
Laura slammed into the alcove, kicking at the sleeping mats in fury before grabbing the nearest eating bowl and launching it at the stone wall where it shattered. Elizabeth was gone, snatched from her like little more than Vagan's toy. She had to find her, had to escape, but she couldn't get her mind to calm down and think clearly enough to formulate a plan. All she could see was Elizabeth's unconscious form slung over the shoulder of the Wraith foot soldier, shackled and chained once more.
Pacing back and forth, trying to think, trying to plan, everything ran through her mind like a masochistic loop. Getting captured on Mahata, waking up in Abyssus, all of her stupid, stupid reassurances to Elizabeth that Sheppard and McKay would save them. The feel of Elizabeth's body next to hers, huddled in sleep; the taste of her mouth, rinsed clean with cold stream water, the smiles, few and far between, earned with corny jokes and worn out stories that Laura told over and over again. The sound of movement outside caught her attention, and she wheeled once more, ready to snap at whoever had come to bother her. Eloya raised a hand, forestalling the inevitable outburst, and took a step inside.
"I know you have a plan," Eloya said softly, looking back to confirm Joyel and Badon were keeping watch for the guards. "Tell me what you need and I will help you."
"I don't have a plan," Laura hissed. "I don't have anything just ideas. Nothing more than ideas. I don't even know what I'd do if I could find her."
"Stop and think," Eloya commanded. "What is the first thing you must do?"
Laura stopped, forcing her mind to clear of everything but her most basic training. All of survival boiled down to knowing what you had and what you needed. What she needed right now was to know where they'd taken Elizabeth and how they planned to get her back to the Wraith. "I need to know where she is."
"Okay," Eloya said slowly, forcing Laura to settle and think. "Vagan will know where they are taking her. Which route is the safest. They won't want to risk wandering through the woods with the creatures that are out there. What else?"
"The guards they change shift at the evening meal. I'll need to get past them. And I'll need to get Vagan alone, but he's always got a sentry by his hut, and he's got my weapon." She started to pace again, this time in planning instead of panic. "I need to find out where they're taking her, and slip passed the guards I'll get my weapon back from Vagan The wall is pretty high, but as long as the guards aren't nearby I should have enough time to clear it. I just need "
"You just need what?" Eloya prompted.
Laura stopped cold, the plan clear in her mind. She met Eloya's eyes and then looked to Joyel and Badon. "I need a distraction. And I've got an idea for a good one, but it's dangerous. Vagan will likely-"
"Count us in," Joyel answered, cutting Laura off. Badon and Eloya nodded along.
Laura let out a soft sigh. She didn't need to thank them. The look on her face spoke volumes. "Okay then, here's what I need you to do "
Vagan tore off a hunk of bread and gnawed a piece into his mouth before using the rest to scoop up the stew that was his dinner. As he chewed, reliving his time with Dumai and congratulating himself on yet again averting a disastrous outcome, at least for him, shouts and curses filtered their way through the thin walls of his hut, growing louder by the moment. Shoving his bread and plate away, he strode out, whip in hand, and headed for the communal area, shoving slaves out of the way as he made his way to the center of the crowd and the two men shoving and yelling at each other.
"What's the meaning of this?" Vagan demanded.
"He cut in line-"
"I did not! You took more than your share-"
"Liar! Why would I want more of this filthy food?" The two men lunged for each other again, scuffling and rolling on the ground until Vagan's harsh voice, and even harsher whip, cut the air around them. Two guards rushed down from their posts to pull them apart as more guards circled the area, trying to keep the crowd in check.
"Where is your headwoman? Why isn't Lisa here to stop this?"
"She gave us leave to eat and hasn't come out of her cave since," Joyel grunted, jerking away from the guard to lunge again at Badon.
"Knock it off!" Vagan shouted, flicking his whip so that it caught Joyel square across the shoulders. Turning to the nearest guards, he ordered, "String them up on the posts. They dislike the food so much, they can go three days without any at all!" Turning, he addressed the slaves. "No one so much as looks at them, or you'll all feel the whip! Is that understood?" Heads nodded in silent agreement. "Get back to your meal!"
Vagan turned on his heel, storming back across the camp toward his hut. Angrily, he shoved the door open, muttering, "Stupid lazy slaves. Always complaining about the something." He didn't notice the body of the sentry assigned to guard his hut sprawled across the floor. He never saw the rough-hewn two-by-four coming.
Danika pushed through the thinning crowd, fighting to get to Eloya. "Something's wrong," the girl whispered. "I heard about the fight, so I ran to Lisa's cave to get her to come and stop it, but she's not there."
Eloya took her by the arm, steering her away from the crowd and the lingering guards. "I know. She's gone."
"She's gone after her mate."
"She'll be killed," Danika whispered harshly. "If Vagan and the guards don't kill her, then Dumai and the Wraith will."
"It doesn't matter. There was no stopping her, and I wouldn't have tried," Eloya said softly. "I should have been that brave ten years ago. I should have gone after your mother. She was my only child and I let them " the old woman's voice broke, the edges of a sob tinting her words. "But I was afraid, and you were just a child she begged me to look after you I couldn't leave you alone here, so I let them take her."
"There was nothing you could do," Danika said, echoing the words Laura and Elizabeth had consoled her with so long ago.
"Maybe not," Eloya sighed. "But this was something I can do now."
"She'll never make it on her own."
"She's a strong woman, and more than determined."
Danika took a deep breath and set her shoulders. "I'm going with her."
"No, you can't-"
"Grandmother, please I know the camp and the mountains better than anyone. While Vagan made you work, made mother..." she trailed off, unable to say the words, "I roamed free around this entire place. I listened at Vagan's door more nights than I can count as he talked with Dumai, before and after they took mother. I know the route to the great ring as surely as I know my name."
"Danika, it's too dangerous, you're just a child-"
"What kind of life will I have here?" Danika argued. "I would rather go now and die trying to help her escape, then live one more day as a slave here." Eloya started to protest again, but the look on Danika's face told her there were no words, no arguments that would sway her now.
"Go with the speed of the Ancestors," Eloya said, pulling the girl to her in a tight hug.
"I will be back," Danika promised. "And when I come, it will be to take us all out of here."
With one last look, Danika hurried off into the shadows cast by the fading light. Eloya watched her go, sending up a prayer for safety to the Ancestors she'd stopped believing in more than twenty years before when she'd first been captured. She hoped this time, for her sake as well as that of Danika's that they finally listened.
No matter what they call us, however they attack
No matter where they take us, we'll find our own way back
No matter if the sun don't shine, or if the sky is blue
No matter what the ending, my life began with you
Laura pressed the gun harder into his forehead. Vagan started to cry. "They will kill me if I tell you."
"And I'm gonna kill you if you don't tell me," Cadman hissed. "Choose. You can die now or die later."
Vagan stared up into the barrel of the gun realizing slowly that there really was no choice in the matter. "They took her across the mountains," he finally ground out, whimpering as Cadman pressed the gun even harder against his skull. "I swear it by the gods. They took her to the Great Ring. Dumai learned who she is. He is going to offer her to the Wraith as a symbol of his devotion."
"How far away is the gate?"
"Two days journey on foot through Stone Top Pass."
"Is there a faster way?"
"No, it is the only way, but you will never make it. There are things in those mountains. Things with no names."
"Yeah, well, I'm pretty creative," Cadman sneered. "I'll think of something to call whatever's out there."
She twirled the gun in her hand then swung out, hitting him on the head with the butt and knocking him out cold. She shoved the gun into the back of her pants and then dragged Vagan across the room to lie next to the guard. She gagged and chained him with the shackles he kept for the slaves. Glaring down at the man who had caused her and so many others such pain and torment Laura couldn't stop the anger inside her. She managed to quell it just enough so that she didn't bring her gun back out and end him right there. She did, however, rear back and kick him solidly in the gut, once, twice, three times before forcing herself to stop.
Looking around the shack, she took stock of what she'd need for the journey. She was already almost half a day behind Dumai and his men. She knew she could make the time up at night while they slept, but she still needed to travel light. Rifling through the cupboards she found wool shirts and leather pants. They were too big for her, but they were clean, and a hell of a lot warmer than her uniform pants and t-shirt which were almost tattered beyond recognition. She changed quickly and grabbed an extra set.
Moving hurriedly, she surveyed the rest of the room, her attention drawn to a small pile covered by a thick hide of some form. Yanking it off, hoping for more weapons, she was pleased to find her backpack stacked against the wall. It had been gone through, of course, the weapons removed, but her first aid kit, flashlight, and a week's worth of MREs remained. Taking it as a sign of good luck she stuffed the fresh set of clothes into the bag and hefted it onto her shoulder.
The mountains lay to the west. All she had to do was sneak out of the compound and follow the stream to the foothills. If she double timed it, she thought she might make the base of the mountain by dawn. Grateful for the high school track coach who had made her run cross country all those years ago, she fastened the pack, pulled out her gun and opened the door of the shack just enough to peak out.
Brown eyes blinked back at her in surprise. Cadman grabbed Danika and yanked her into Vagan's hut, covering her mouth with her hand. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to help you, Lisa."
"My name isn't Lisa," Cadman explained quickly, too tired and rushed to continue the ruse. "It's Lieutenant Laura Cadman. I come from a world very far away where I was a soldier. I'm sorry, Danika, but you can't come with me. I need you to go back out there and pretend like everything is fine. You can't tell anyone you saw me. Understand?"
"I'm coming with you."
"I'm not arguing with you," Cadman hissed. "I promise, I'll come back for you. And when I do, I'll bring an army so big Dumai and the Wraith won't stand a chance. But right now, I have to go."
"I know the mountains," Danika said, knowing it would catch Laura's attention. "I know them better than anyone. Before I got old enough to help in the mines I was let to wander around. I can get you to the Great Ring. There is a short cut. It is very dangerous but it will save you half a day's journey at least."
"Danika, you'll be safe here until I return."
"There is no such thing as safety on Abyssus. You know that."
Reluctantly, Laura felt herself giving in. "You have to stay quiet until we get out of here. Follow me."
She kept the gun at her side as they snuck out into the darkness. Over the months her eyes had adjusted to the pitch black of the mines. The light from the three moons was welcome relief as they skirted the compound, dodging behind trees, shacks, and mining equipment until they reached the wall. Although it was only ten feet high, it looked more imposing than the one from basic training. "All right, I'm gonna give you a boost over the wall. Then I'll toss our gear over."
"How will you get over?"
"Oh, I'll figure out a way," Laura answered sarcastically. "Come on." She laced her fingers together then boosted Danika up enough so that the girl could pull herself over the wall. She heard the snap of branches as Danika landed. "Coming over." She stepped back and tossed her pack over. Glaring at the wall, she moved back about twelve feet to get a good running start.
"Hey! Stop!" The voice shouted behind her even as she took her first step. Dropping into a roll, a stunner blasted into the wall over her head. Cadman popped up, gun in hand and fired off two shots. She heard a grunt of pain and the thud of a body hitting the earth. Scrambling over to the guard she recognized him as one of the few that had been tolerable to the slaves. The moment of regret for his death was overshadowed by the sound of others coming toward the sound of the gun fire. Grabbing up the guard's hand held stunner she pocketed it and searched his body for other weapons. She was rewarded with a small boot knife and a larger hunting knife. Shoving both into her belt, she rolled the guard into the bushes hoping to stall the discovery of his death, and then eyed the wall.
"Come on Marine, semper fi." With a grunt she sprinted for the wall, lengthening her stride the last three steps and launching herself up. She managed two nearly vertical steps against the rock before gravity kicked in, but it was just enough height to let her grab out and catch the top of the wall. Sharp rock cut into her hand, but she held on, heaving herself over. She dropped ungracefully to the ground. Danika ran out of the shadows, kneeling beside her as Cadman caught her breath.
"Guard saw me. Other's are gonna follow soon. We've got to get out of here."
"Come this way. We will follow the river and then take the high route. Do you climb well?"
"Don't have much of a choice do I?" Laura answered sardonically, hefting her pack once more as they moved swiftly through the trees.
It was at least a mile before they spoke again, the sounds of the compound far in the distance. "Your mate, her name is not really Lena is it? Just like yours is not Lisa."
"No, it's not. It's Elizabeth. Elizabeth Weir."
"And she's not your mate, at least she wasn't before you came here."
"No," Laura answered slowly. "But I had kind of hoped that she might be. Some day."
Danika stopped, catching her breath as she looked up, checking their position against the stars. "You will find her, Laura Cadman. There are three moons tonight. It is a good sign." Laura nodded determinedly. "The river is this way. Come on." They set off again, Cadman following behind Danika's slender frame as the girl darted like a deer through trees and brush.
The sun was glorious as it rose up over the mountains, spreading its light onto the crags and peaks of Stone Top Pass. And right into Laura's squinted vision as she held on for dear life to the rock. Danika was ahead of her on the steep incline, climbing like she was part mountain goat.
"How are you?" the girl called down.
"Oh, just fine," Laura grumbled, swinging up and catching onto the next hand hold, her feet scrambling to propel her upward. The climbing walls at the gyms on Earth were never this hard.
"Just a little more," Danika reassured, "and then we can cut across the top of the mountain."
"Yeah, sure, no problem," Laura mumbled, reaching for the next hand hold. She gripped tightly, pulling herself up, realizing too late the rock was loose. It pulled away easily from the mountain, dropping from her hand as Laura lost her footing and swung one handed face first into the mountain. Bouncing off the cliffs, she cried out in pain as the sharp granite cut into her skin as she desperately tried to find purchase on the rock.
Danika reached for her, but the distance was too far. Flailing, Laura twisted, and shoved her worn boots against the rock, kicking up pebbles and shards of rock as she fought to hold on. The Wraith hand stunner slipped loose from her pants, and tumbled, end over end, back down the mountain to the ravine two hundred feet below. Staring down into the open space, Laura surged up, grabbing on again and holding through the pain until her feet found a steady piece of rock to hold firm to.
"Are you all right?"
Breathing heavily, her body molded to the mountain, Laura nodded weakly and tried to ignore the pain searing through her cheek and jaw which had taken the brunt of the hit. "Yeah, I think so."
"Can you go on?"
Visions of Elizabeth flung over the Wraith's shoulder flashed into her mind, clearing away the pain. "Yeah, I can go on." She reached up, testing the next hand hold twice before pulling herself up with grim determination.
Methodically, she followed Danika's path, one step at a time as they made their way upward until finally she rolled onto a narrow ledge that curved its way around the circumference of the mountain. Sighing in relief, she leaned back against the rock wall, guzzling heavily from her canteen of water before passing it to Danika as they caught their breath. From that distance, they could easily make out the outline of the encampment, but no other details. They didn't have to voice the worry that ran through their minds about what punishment Vagan might have meted out in response to their disappearance. All Laura could hope for was that everyone would be alive when she got back. Shoving the canteen back into her pack, she checked her gun once more, tucked safely into the side of her pack, and struggled to her feet.
"We'll follow this around the mountain. It lets out on an incline, but going down will be easier than coming up and there are more trees and grass than rock on that side. We should reach the foothills on the other side by nightfall." Numbly, Laura nodded in agreement as they started out across Stone Top Mountain.
Danika was right the descent was much easier than the climb. Laura checked for any sign they might be being followed but there was nothing but untouched grass and forest. Pushing her way through the brush, she wondered just how much farther it would be until they picked up Dumai's trail. She heard the buzzing before she saw the web. It was the only thing that saved her life.
Quickly, Laura reached out and yanked Danika to a stop. "Careful," Laura cautioned as she eyed what everyone on Atlantis had come to know as the Iratus bug. "Those things latch on and they don't stop till they kill you." So that was one of the 'nameless' creatures Vagan had warned her about The bug buzzed around the remains of what looked like a ferret caught up in its web.
"You know of these creatures?" the girl asked. "I have seen escaped slaves come back with these attached to their necks and arms, but they have never survived. They are on other worlds as well?"
"Oh, yeah. They fed on humans thousands of years ago. They're what created the Wraith." Laura took a careful survey of the surrounding trees, noting several webs in places likely to catch prey. Seeing an opening, she tugged Danika along, moving slowly, wary of a trap.
"How do you know of these things?"
"Because the people of my world have been fighting the Wraith for a while now."
Danika stopped abruptly. "You are of the Ancestors?"
"No," Laura answered, shaking her head. "We're just house-sitting." When the girl gave her a quizzical look, she explained, "My people found a city of the Ancestors a few years ago. We've been living there, fighting the Wraith ever since."
"I knew you were a great fighter, but I did not know you could take on a Wraith," Danika said, clearly awed.
As much as Laura would have liked to take the compliment, her conscience wouldn't let her. "It helps to have one of these," Laura replied, pointing to the gun she'd slipped back into the waistband of her pants as they entered a small clearing.
"Still, for you to even face them when so many others flee-" Danika stopped short with a frightened gasp. Laura knocked into her shoulder, her eyes drawn to the reason the girl had stopped talking.
When it rained, it poured.
So this was the other creature everyone was so afraid of. Staring up at the ten foot tall beast, Laura understood the fear. She imagined that in the grand scheme of things it was probably considered an ancestor of the Grizzly Bear. Same shaggy coat, same big paws and razor sharp claws. This creature also had tusks in addition to the giant clenching teeth. It was like something out of a fairy tale. A very, very scary fairy tale.
"What do we do?"
"Just stay calm," Laura whispered. "We're going to back up, one step at a time. Keep your eyes down." Slowly, ever so slowly, they backed up as Laura watched the bear from half lowered lashes. They were close, so close, and they probably would have made it without drawing too much attention if Laura hadn't heard the familiar buzzing again. Whirling, she caught Danika just before the girl walked into another Iratus web. Danika let out a startled squeak as Cadman grabbed her and pushed her to the ground just before the Iratus attacked. Pulling her sidearm, she fired two expert shots, watching with grim satisfaction as the bug exploded.
Her skin crawled as the shaggy monster let out a blood curdling roar and a half second later she was turning, her weapon trained on the bear as he started to pick up speed on his approach toward them.
"Danika, run," Cadman ordered, her tone allowing for no argument. Head down, Danika scrambled to her feet, sprinting away as Cadman cautiously stepped back, her eye still trained on her gun site and the bear. "Easy big fella," she said soothingly. "I really don't want to hurt you just don't come any further " The bear stopped, as if considering her offer, and then continued on, roaring again. Cadman cursed viciously and took aim, knowing she would only get one chance at a decent shot.
At less than five feet away, the bear reared, standing up to its full height, and Cadman fired. The first bullet pierced the shaggy coat of its neck, spraying blood as the creature gasped for air. The second, this one right between its eyes, ended the attack. Her shoulders slumped as the bear hit the ground, eliciting a sigh of relief from the blonde. She turned, intent on finding Danika, only to discover the girl was behind her and wielding a tree limb twice her size. "I thought I told you to run."
"I did." Danika responded plainly. "And then I ran back."
The bark of laughter couldn't be contained, so Laura didn't even attempt to try. Shoulders shaking, she gave into the giggle that made its way through her chest, the first of its kind in over three months. Danika grinned.
"I think I've been a bad influence on you," Laura mumbled.
"Only in the best ways," Danika retorted, still grinning. She laid the branch aside and hefted up her satchel, eyeing the sun's position in the sky. "We still have much ground to cover. The ring of the Ancestors is at least a day's walk."
Laura's laughter ebbed to a stop. Her demeanor serious once more, she adjusted her pack and shoved the gun back into her waistband. "Then we'd better stop burning daylight."
"I don't understand why you won't let me try again," Teyla argued, chasing after John as he walked away from her down the hallway.
"It's too dangerous," John answered, not looking back. They'd been having the same fight for three days now and he was beginning to get sick of it.
"I will be more careful this time. The Wraith will not find out about Atlantis, I swear it."
"I'm not worried about them finding out about Atlantis," he retorted, stopping short just long enough to explain, "I mean, I care about them finding out about Atlantis, but that's not why I'm saying no."
"Then why?" Teyla demanded again.
"Because I'm in charge!" John shouted out of exasperation, relying on one of the few absolute argument-enders Elizabeth had used frequently on him. Unfortunately, Teyla didn't seem fazed by his pronouncement.
"That is a ridiculous reason," she challenged. John wondered why it had never occurred to him to use that response before.
"Fine. You want a reason? I'll give you one: I can't afford to lose anyone else."
Teyla softened her stance, taken aback by is sudden admission. "John-"
"No, you asked. I'm sorry, Teyla, but I can't lose anyone else. Cadman was bad enough. She's a great officer. But Elizabeth too? And now you want to go back into a situation where you lose control of your body, your mind, and we have to have armed guards around to make sure you don't hurt anyone if you get taken over? No, I'm sorry. I can't risk it."
"John, I am close," Teyla said softly. "I can feel it. I know I can find them this time. Please, just give me one more chance before they assign a new leader to this facility and I am not allowed to try anymore."
John wanted to argue, he did, but Teyla was so earnest, and his resolve too weak. Three months of looking, waiting, hoping, praying that they would find any sign of the women had taken its toll on all of them. And he knew, if Teyla was that determined, she wouldn't let him stand in her way. "I swear to God, Teyla, if it even looks for a second like you've lost control-"
"You may shoot me yourself," Teyla assured.
"How the hell does Elizabeth ever say no to you?"
The Athosian grinned. "Ask her yourself when we get her back."
They had walked until it had been too dark among the trees to see anything but their feet. Reluctantly, Laura had made camp, breaking out the MREs to Danika's fascination and delight. Even though it was her third Meal Ready to Eat, the teenager had yet to stop being fascinated by the ingenuity of the meals. Grabbing the last of her favorite Salisbury steak she'd settled in against a tree for the night.
Laura, impatient and ready to find Elizabeth, had picked listlessly at her dinner despite the fact it was the best meal she'd had in months. Her mind drifted back to whispered conversations and soft touches. Alone in their cave they had talked about the people on Atlantis they'd missed the most (John and Carson); the first thing they'd do upon returning (shower); and how much they missed their families back on Earth. Unbidden, she thought about other things as well: the shape of Elizabeth's mouth; the feel of her skin; the way she kissed. There was so much left unsaid between them, so much they had taken for granted. As the night passed, Danika eventually drifted to sleep, but Laura stayed on watch, imagining over and over again what she would do if they actually managed to make it home, alive and in one piece; imagined all the things she would finally say, regardless of the consequence.
This time was different. This time Teyla knew exactly how hard to push, what images to search for. Sedated, surrounded by guards, as well as John, Rodney, Ronon, Kate and Carson, she let her mind drift. Instead of looking for Elizabeth, she imagined dark hair. Instead of picturing Laura's face, she imagined defiance and bravery. Little by little she followed the trail of images and thoughts until she saw them clearly. This time, she didn't need the electrical shock to wake her up.
John leaned over her, clearly concerned as Carson checked her pulse and blood pressure. "So?"
"How soon can Major Lorne and the others be ready?"
"Because I have the gate address."
Never before had Cadman been so happy to see a Stargate. Standing out in the center of a shallow valley that mirrored Abyssus, the Gate stood like a beacon displayed on its usual stone platform. Laura nearly cried at the sight. "I don't see anyone down there yet," she said, her eyes sweeping the distance, looking for any sign of movement.
"I told you we would beat them to the ring," Danika smiled. "The path through the pass is easier, and safer, but climbing around the peak is much faster."
"Yeah, and it only cost us one hand stunner," Laura said bitterly. She'd checked and re-checked her weapon, disappointed each time to find that she only had nine bullets left. It wasn't enough, not nearly enough to take down two Wraith and a human. Her only hope was that she could get to one of the stunners before it was too late.
They picked their way through the hillside, occasionally catching glimpses of the pass through the trees. None revealed a sign of Elizabeth and her captors. Finally, they pushed through the thick brush to emerge at the edge of the valley, less than a mile from the gate. Laura surveyed the area, quickly spotting a formation of rocks jutting up through the trees that would serve as a perfect look out over the Stargate and the outlet of the pass.
Laura set down her pack, grabbing out the two knives she'd managed to take off the guards, stuffing one into her waistband and the other into her boot. Standing back up, she put the pack into Danika's hand. She eyed the girl carefully, knowing what she was about to say wasn't going to go over well. "I need you to stay here and stay hidden."
Laura cut off her protest with a shake of her head. "Listen to me. You aren't a fighter and it's going to be hard enough to do this without worrying about you getting killed too." Danika started to argue again but Laura waived her off. "Besides all that, I need you to do me a favor."
Seeing there would be no debate on the matter, Danika nodded, only slightly petulant. "What?"
Laura leaned down, scratching symbols into the dirt. "Can you remember these signs?" Danika nodded. "Good. They're an address for a place called the Gamma site. If something goes wrong, if I get hurt, or killed, and they take Elizabeth, I want you to dial this address into the pedestal and go through."
She reached up, pulling off the dog tags she'd kept concealed under her sleeping mat for months, and strung them over Danika's head. "Show those to the men on the other side and tell them what's happened. Can you remember all that?"
The girl nodded uncertainly. Laura gave her a reassuring smile. "You'll be fine-"
"Laura, if something should go wrong, I can help-"
"No," she replied adamantly. "If you really want to help me, then you'll stay hidden and out of the way. And if that doesn't work, then you can go through the Stargate for help."
Knowing they were short on time and an argument would be futile, Danika assented. She hid herself behind the rocks just enough to allow her a plain view of the valley. With one last look, Laura double timed it to the Stargate. Relief filled her as she noted no sign of recent foot traffic. She'd managed to beat them to the gate after all.
She walked through the giant ring to the back side of the platform. With no close trees for cover and limited ammunition, she knew she had to be close and work the element of surprise. As she settled into position, lying flat against ancient rock, listening for every hint of movement, she prayed it would be enough.
She didn't have to wait long.
She supposed that when you traveled with two hulking Wraith guards, you didn't need to worry about how loudly your voice traveled. Still, had she been in Dumai's position, she would have been far more wary about walking into such an open expanse while yakking her jaw off. Laura listened as the voices got louder, step by step, as Dumai, ever the true-believer, tried to lay out for Elizabeth all of the many reasons why the Wraith were truly gods.
"So you see, they actually give us life! I am on my sixtieth year, and I look not a day over my fortieth. Can you deny that being the work of a god?"
"Yes," Elizabeth answered peevishly. After two days she was about ready to admit the Wraith were gods just to get him to shut up. "I can."
"You are given irrefutable proof and you still don't believe."
"Just because I don't know how the Wraith keep you young doesn't mean there's not an answer besides their god-hood. People didn't know what to call gravity, but it's always been around, long before anyone knew what it was or what to name it."
Dumai stopped at the DHD, giving her a curious look. "What's gravity?"
They were the last words he ever said. Laura popped up from her position, firing off a shot that struck him right between the eyes. He dropped like a sack of flour to the ground.
There was a moment of stunned silence as the Wraith guards hesitated over what to do. Laura took aim at the one on her left, firing off five shots in rapid succession, aiming not for its face, but more vulnerable area of his neck. It was a precision shot, but as she'd teased so many of the SGC airmen before, Marine's were first and foremost, riflemen. They knew how to make a shot when it counted. The Wraith dropped to the ground, clutching at its throat as it thrashed and died.
She whirled, firing immediately at the second guard. Three bullets and she was out of ammunition. As the Wraith reached for his stunner, she knew it hadn't been enough. Brandishing the hunting knife, she did the only thing she could do: attacked.
Throwing herself like a linebacker, she dove headfirst at the Wraith, surprising him by running to, and not away from, the fight. She knocked him to the ground, rolling with him as she yelled to Elizabeth, "Get his stunner!"
Shuffling haphazardly to the other Wraith, Elizabeth fought her shackles to get a good hold on the stunner. Gripping it securely, she turned to find Laura and the Wraith circling each other uneasily, too close for her to get off a decent shot without hitting Laura. Laura faked to one side, then lashed out, the knife cutting through the air and just a little of the Wraith. He growled at her and lunged, more annoyed than anything, his brawny arms swiping out to send her flying ten feet backward to the ground.
Hitting the ground with a sickening crunch of bones and body, Laura rolled to a stop. Swaying, she tried to stand as the Wraith came at her. She'd lost the large hunting knife in the air. Desperately, she reached for the smaller boot knife as the Wraith attacked once more.
Elizabeth fired just as the Wraith struck.
Laura held on tightly, blocking his forward blow, muscles straining as the Wraith came down hard, the stunner blast barely affecting him. Elizabeth stumbled as she ran closer, trying to get a better shot, and fired again, the blast giving Laura just enough time to drive the small knife into the Wraith's chest. Looking down, as if bothered by no more than a fly, he tugged the knife out and tossed it away, before grabbing Laura up by the neck, his hand raised to feed. Elizabeth fired the stunner a third time as the Stargate activated behind her. She dove to the side just as the wormhole exploded forward and a puddle jumper flew out. The combination of the distraction and the two stunner blasts was just enough for Laura to break free. Knowing there was no need to keep fighting, she ran for Elizabeth.
"That's Cadman!" Rodney shouted the moment the cleared the event horizon, the jumper rising up into the air as it buzzed the people just outside the gate.
"Yeah, and that's a Wraith," John cursed, turning the jumper on a dime. As he'd hoped, Laura had started to run away from the Wraith, giving him a clear shot. John waited until he saw Cadman dive for Elizabeth, knocking them both to the ground on the far side of the Stargate, before he fired the drone straight at the Wraith.
When the dust cleared there was nothing but a crater where the Wraith had been.
John landed the jumper impatiently, not even bothering to shut down the engine before exiting with the others. His feet were moving the moment he saw Elizabeth. He stopped just short of the women, staring wide eyed back and forth between Elizabeth and Laura before yanking them both to him in an awkward one armed hug that was hard enough to break something.
Rodney's voice cut through the air behind them. "Laura Cadman you are the stupidest, most stubborn, reckless, foolhardy idiot I've ever seen," he announced, barely waiting for John to let her go before he threw his arms around her as well. "And I've spent three months looking for you just so I could say that."
Laura hugged him back, fighting tears. "I missed you, too, Rodney."
Rodney pulled away, but was quickly replaced in turn by Carson, Teyla, and even Ronon. Elizabeth got the same treatment. A branch snapped behind them, and the impromptu party ground to a halt as John's team raised their weapons en masse, ready for another attack. Danika stared at them.
"Easy guys. She's with us," Laura explained.
John eyed Danika, Laura, and Elizabeth, taking in their clothing, disheveled appearance, and apparent malnutrition. He finally settled on staring at Elizabeth's chains, wondering just what the hell they'd been through the last three months. Of all the ways he expected to find them, fighting the Wraith mere feet from the Gate wasn't one of them. Especially not like this. "Why don't you explain everything once we back to Atlantis."
"No, we can't leave. We have to go back," Laura argued.
"Back where?" Rodney asked, looking around.
"The Wraith don't feed on everyone they cull," Elizabeth explained softly, raising her chains up. "Some they use as slaves to mine Naquadah for them. There's an entire facility on the other side of the mountains."
"A lot of people risked their lives so I could escape," Laura continued. "We have to go back. The longer we wait, the less chance they have of surviving."
John looked back to Elizabeth who nodded in assent. "We have to go."
When everyone continued to stand there, John raised his voice, asking, "Well, what are we waiting for? Elizabeth gave us an order. Let's move."
It was over within minutes. Lorne and three teams of Marines had been on stand by since John's team had left. It took little more than a radio call to have them through the Gate, ready to deploy in jumpers. Laura and Elizabeth relayed all of the information they'd been gathering for months on the way to the encampment. As they talked, Ronon easily undid Elizabeth's shackles with a few well placed movements of his knife.
Snipers took out the sentries, and with the slaves hard at work, John was able to easily blast through the gate with a drone and set the jumper down square in the middle of the camp as Marines flooded in behind the ship and took out the rest of the guards.
Despite the panicked slaves and the occasional battle between the guards and the Marines, Elizabeth and Laura pushed out of the jumper and ran for the ring. As they'd feared, Joyel, Badon, and Eloya were strung up on the whipping post. They carefully eased them down, but had barely a moment to see that the three were alive before Carson was pushing them out of the way so he could examine them.
Elizabeth took Danika's hand, squeezing tightly as she tried to reassure the teenager. "Carson's the best doctor. If anyone can help them, it's him."
"She's critical," Carson said. "We have to get her back to Atlantis as soon as possible."
"Go," John ordered. "Have Lorne fly you back with them."
Danika went with Carson as Eloya and the men were bundled onto stretchers and eased into the jumpers. One by one the Marines reported back that the camp had been secured. Stragglers were brought to the center as the Marines started to help the slaves out of the caves.
"Sir, we caught this one trying to escape over the wall," Sergeant Stackhouse said, as he and another Marine pulled a kicking and screaming Vagan before John, Elizabeth, and Laura.
Laura was pleased to see his nose was still swollen to three times its normal size. "You filthy bi-" Laura lashed out, smacking him hard in the mouth.
John gave her a cautious look before asking, "Friend of yours?"
"This is Vagan. The one we told you about," Elizabeth answered, her voice deadly calm.
John's jaw tightened. So far he'd only heard the abridged version of the life they'd led on Abyssus, but what he'd heard had turned his stomach. "So, what do you want to do with him?" Elizabeth and Laura shared a look. "Besides kill him."
"I have a few ideas," Elizabeth answered.
Bound and gagged, Vagan fought futilely at the chains holding him and the rest of the guards to the whipping posts. It had been decided, after he'd provided them with the gate address for the Wraith home worlds he knew of, that the fairest thing to do was leave him for his gods to find. Knowing that they would miss Dumai within at least a day, maybe two, there was no guilt in leaving all of them strung up and waiting. Plus, it had been the only compromise they'd managed to make as no less than ten different slaves had tried to attack Vagan after he'd been chained up.
They'd moved quickly, pulling every pilot and jumper into action as they ferried the slaves from the camp back to Atlantis until finally, only John's team, Elizabeth and Laura were left. The freed slaves had made a parting gift for the Wraith as a sign of their devotion burning the shacks and caving in the mines with the help of a few well placed grenades.
Elizabeth watched through the smoke as Abyssus burned to smolders. Through the haze, she could just make out the silhouette of the alcove she and Laura had shared. A soft hand rested lightly on her shoulder. She turned to find Laura staring into the distance with her. "It's time."
Giving the camp one more look, Elizabeth turned away, knowing she would never have to see it again. She smiled at Laura and took her hand. "Let's go home."
It doesn't matter where you are, doesn't matter where you go
If it's a million miles away or just a mile up the road
Take it in, take it with you when you go
Who says you can't go home?
From the number of people who filled the Gate room, cheering and clapping as Elizabeth and Laura walked down from the Jumper Bay, there was no question that the women had been missed. Moved beyond words, neither could do more then nod and smile in response.
Equally as disconcerting was the reverence shown to them by the freed slaves. They didn't do as Elizabeth or Laura asked now because they feared reprisal but because of genuine respect for the women. Teyla and Ronon helped to coordinate the refugees as Carson and a team of corpsmen worked their way among the most seriously malnourished or injured. Even when Carson, and John, insisted Elizabeth and Laura be looked at they had refused, insisting the doctors see to the others first.
Even though it was hours before Carson was able to get to them, the time passed quickly, however, as the women gave John a longer, if not completely forthcoming, version of what had happened to them over the last three months while Rodney saw to it they ate their way through four trays of food. Afterward, they dialed in to Earth so that they could repeat everything to Landry and the IOA. By the time night fell over Atlantis, Elizabeth realized that she had spoken more in the few hours she'd been back in the city than in the last week or more. It wasn't a comfort.
Sitting in the infirmary, finally ready for Carson's check up, she fiddled nervously with the hem of her favorite red shirt. She'd showered for what seemed like hours, immensely grateful the Ancients had had the foresight to park Atlantis in the middle of an ocean. She thought she'd used at least a river's worth of hot water scrubbing and rescrubbing her skin with every body wash she had in her shower until she was pink and pruned.
Laura, showered and changed as well, leaned quietly against the wall, her eyes focused across the room to where Danika sat on the edge of Eloya's bed, animatedly telling her grandmother about everything she'd seen so far in only her few short hours on Atlantis. Eloya smiled back weakly, her eyes warm for the first time since Laura had come to know the woman. Carson was cautious but optimistic about her prognosis.
"Okay then," the doctor smiled, wiping his hands off with antibacterial soap. "Who wants to be first?"
Laura and Elizabeth locked eyes, each of them cataloguing the various injuries and scars they knew were sure to give the Scot a fit. Knowing hers would be the most shocking, Laura nodded and started to reach for her shirt, only stopping when Carson placed a hand on her shoulder and gestured to the bustling infirmary. "You want to wait until we get behind the curtain?"
Laura shrugged, unfazed. She knew everyone in the room by name. She also knew most of them had seen her dressed down to her skivvies on laundry day. Like so many other things on Abyssus, her modesty had been stripped away as easily as her freedom. Understanding her confusion, Elizabeth walked over and rested her hand reassuringly on Laura's. Carson pulled the curtain, intent on asking Elizabeth to step out, but when he turned back, Cadman had her back to him, her shirt off.
"I tried to keep them as clean as I could," Elizabeth said, taking pride in the fact her voice didn't break like it wanted to.
Carson ground his teeth together so loudly the women could hear it. "Who what " he sighed. "I don't even know where to begin."
"It's okay, Carson," Laura assured, craning her neck to look at him. "Just take a look."
Finding his control, he snapped on gloves and went to work, efficiently prodding at the healed over scars from Vagan's whipping, the cuts from her fight with Bolin and Huff, and her broken hands that hadn't healed completely right despite Eloya's best attempts. Carson checked them over gingerly, muttering to himself about the 'bloody dark ages of medicine.' Grimly satisfied, he let Laura put her clothes back on.
"The marks are healed well enough. I'll give you a cream which will hopefully reduce some of the scarring. Your hands are another story. The bones haven't set correctly, and I know they aren't bothering you now, but give them six more months, a year at most, and you'll feel it. I'm afraid we'll likely have to re-break them and set them again."
Laura was silent for a moment as she contemplated what he'd said. "You're going to give me drugs before you break them, right?"
"Of course," Carson exclaimed, highly offended she would think he'd do anything else.
"Well, then," she sighed, "that's fine. It's a hell of a lot better than how they got broken in the first place." Beside her, Elizabeth started to laugh, followed quickly thereafter by Laura. Carson looked on, mentally adding an MRI and trip through the Ancient scanner for both of them as they continued to laugh hysterically.
Elizabeth's examination was quicker, despite Carson's meticulous procedure. Her hands had taken the brunt of the damage on Abyssus, suffering cuts, splinters, and abrasions rubbed raw from the pick ax. Other than being alarmingly thin, as they all were, Carson pronounced her in good health. With a prescription for multi-vitamins and sedatives the first she intended to fill, the latter she didn't Elizabeth had been shooed from the med lab while Carson had hijacked Laura to go over the various treatments for her hands.
They shared a look over Carson's shoulder, smiling softly before Elizabeth left.
John found her, an hour later, on the balcony staring at the sky. It wasn't until that moment that he truly knew things were going to be okay. He walked over and leaned against the rail, as he'd done so many days and nights before, contentment buzzing through him. "I thought you'd be asleep by now."
"After a day like today?"
"Especially after a day like today," he replied. "And the last three months." John waited a moment and then asked, "Has Heightmeyer talked to you yet?"
"I already have an appointment," Elizabeth sighed. "Laura too."
"Good," John said, falsely bright. "The sooner you get cleared, the sooner you get back to work." Elizabeth didn't answer him. "You are coming back, right?"
"I haven't decided yet," she admitted, not looking at him.
"Why wouldn't you come back?"
"You know, when I first came to Atlantis, I left everything behind. My family, my boyfriend, my life I thought there was nothing more important than what I was going to do. That's changed now."
John watched her, understanding dawning slowly as he fit the pieces together, adding in the shared looks, the soft touches and smiles he'd been witness to all day, not mention the stories they'd told him. "You and Cadman."
Elizabeth nodded, unafraid. After everything she'd faced, this didn't frighten her any more. "It started as a way to stay together, but it turned into more than that." She couldn't put into words the change that had occurred. How could she explain how Laura had sacrificed for her? How they had fought and killed for each other?
"Have you ever read the U.S Code section on gays in the military?" John asked unexpectedly.
She could practically recite the U.N. Charter, but she'd never gotten around to memorizing the U.S. Code. "Uh, no "
John made a disapproving sound. "It's a must read," his expression too serious to be doubted. "See, there's an exception to the dismissal section for national security." He shrugged, completely unaffected. "As military commander, I'm thinking it's in our national security to keep Lieutenant Cadman around. Permanently."
"Do you really want to argue with me?" He asked, meeting her eyes for the first time.
Elizabeth smiled warmly, getting used to the feeling again. "No, I don't," she said slowly. "But I'm still not sure I'll stay."
John reached out, squeezing her shoulder tightly. "At least now you have the option."
She leaned into his touch, fighting sudden tears. "God, I missed you."
He smiled and pulled her into another tight hug. "Me too." The words were simple, but Elizabeth knew there was two years worth of emotion, friendship, and even love contained within them. And then, overwhelmed by everything - Laura's rescue, John's arrival, the destruction of Abyssus, and triumphant return to Atlantis she let herself give into the tears. Clutching his shoulder, she cried for everything she'd lost and everything she'd gained, wondering if her life would ever be the same again.
Laura sighed wearily as she left the infirmary, reflexively opening and closing her hands, stretching out the muscles and bones Carson had poked and prodded for hours. She'd known quickly enough after she'd woken and found her hands splinted and bandaged, that they hadn't been set correctly, but it hadn't been until the last few weeks that's she'd realized how badly they were starting to hurt. The prospect of having them broken again was daunting, but at least this time she knew Carson would do it right.
She wandered by memory to her room, dazzled by the fact it had a door that not only opened and closed, but locked on her command. After three months of living in a cave and sharing everything from food to latrines with over two hundred other people, her small Atlantis quarters felt like a mansion. She stared at the pictures of her family and friends, feeling like a stranger in her own life, wondering who that woman was, smiling and happy, in all the pictures. It couldn't be her, could it?
After two days of subsisting on pure adrenaline, and three exhausting months, her bed, with its fresh linens and soft mattress, looked incredibly inviting. Rummaging through her drawer, she found her favorite pair of black gym shorts and red USMC t-shirt, both in the same place as always. She changed slowly, luxuriating in the sheer choice of having more than one set of clothes, then slid under the cool sheets.
And stared, wide awake, at the ceiling.
She knew she should be exhausted but her mind wouldn't shut down. Images from the last few days played on a constant loop. Sounds, footsteps down the distant city hallways, echoed like canons in her now too-big room. The bed, once perfectly shaped to her back, was too soft, the sheets and blankets too warm. Suffocating, she shoved it all off and swung her legs out of bed, her feet resting on the cold floor. At least that felt somewhat familiar and reassuring.
Standing up, she started for the door, nearly running into it when she hit the wrong panel. Slapping it again, she started forward then stopped once more, this time by Elizabeth's surprised face just on the other side.
"I couldn't sleep," Elizabeth said simply. She didn't need to explain that she'd gotten used to falling asleep to Laura's presence behind her, the feel of her body cuddled into the nooks and crannies of her own.
Elizabeth stepped forward even as Laura reached for her. Shifting, stumbling back into Laura's room, they kissed passionately, mouths hungry for affirmation that they were really here. Really alive.
They hadn't had a moment alone since the rescue, and now they said all the things that needed to be said. "You came for me," Elizabeth mumbled, her hands fisted in Laura's hair even as he mouth moved lower to suck at her neck.
"Figured I'd waited on McKay and Sheppard long enough," Laura answered, her hands moving under Elizabeth's shirt to splay across her back, pulling her even closer. Elizabeth mirrored the gesture, her finger tips tracing the scars Laura now wore as a badge of honor. Laura had never let Vagan break her.
"You never gave up on them though," Elizabeth whispered. "And you were right. They did come."
Laura pulled back slightly, looking up into Elizabeth's eyes, gone green with arousal. "I did give up," she said honestly. "After Dumai took you just for a little while, I thought it was over. I thought I was over without you."
Elizabeth leaned in, kissing her harder, deeper than ever before. "I don't remember how to be Elizabeth Weir anymore."
"Maybe we're not supposed to," Laura said softly, letting her hands trail down to Elizabeth's hips. "We're not those people any more."
"We're not Lena and Lisa anymore either," Elizabeth sighed, resting her forehead against Laura's.
"So we start over," Laura offered, her moderately-shaken optimism coming back full force. "We can be anyone we want to be now."
"Laura, I don't know how " Elizabeth stumbled, trying to find the words. "I love you and I don't want to be me without you."
Laura smiled up at her, understanding all that Elizabeth couldn't say. "I love you, too."
And for the first time since they had stood in evening air on Mahata all those months before, Elizabeth smiled, the ten thousand watt smile Laura had fallen for instantly. The difference was, now she knew what needed to be done to see that smile every day for the rest of her life. They were back in Atlantis, but it wasn't home. Home was Elizabeth's smile and Laura's laugh. Home was what they'd found in each other.
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