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Author's Chapter Notes: Inside the city, conflict versus harmony and seems like neither of them can win.


Elizabeth mounted the steps to the control room, Grodin at her side. The man was clever, quiet spoken and more than competent. More by default than intent, he was fast becoming Elizabeth’s righthand man in the running of Atlantis.

‘We need to designate recreation areas for the children; and these supplies, we need store rooms, and can you get someone to either save or dump these ten thousand year dead plants?’ Grodin smiled briefly, nodding and making a note on his tablet screen with a stylus.

‘We’d move faster, but Colonel Sheppard is being cautious about giving us more space to designate before its been thoroughly checked out by a military team, then scientific,' he replied. The slow pace was holding up his duties in the logistics of the base.

‘I know. He doesn’t want anything to go wrong. The safety of this expedition is his paramount concern-,’ Elizabeth replied as they reached the top. Her next sentence was cut off by a general cry of dismay. Opposite her, too far away to reach, Dr Rodney McKay was toppling backwards off the balcony, tumbling over the rail and falling twenty feet to the ground below. He left behind one Major Sheppard, hand still outstretched where he had pushed the scientist over the railing.

'Oh my God!' Elizabeth met his gaze, expecting shock, instead the dark-haired soldier grinned, his eyes alight.

'Did you see that?' he cried.

'Yes!' she shot back. A laugh from below had her running forward, and Rodney jumped up, waving his arms at her.

‘I’m fine! I’m fine!’

Still reeling, Weir hurried down the steps, meeting Sheppard halfway. ‘What the hell were you playing at?’

‘Testing Carson’s gene therapy,’ Rodney chirped from below, in an inexplicably happy mood. ‘This is a personal shield,’ he pointed at the green glowing gadget attached to his chest. ‘It works! And its got great inertial properties because I never felt a thing when I hit the ground! Hit me!’ he practically threw the words at Grodin. Without hesitation, the engineer threw a fist in Rodney’s direction, crying out when his hand rebounded with a shock of pain.

Elizabeth looked between the two grinning fiends in shock. ‘Why did you think throwing him off a balcony was a good way to test that thing?’ she demanded of the Major, her eyes growing wider when she realised that its wasn’t the first thing they’d tried. Sheppard had punched, stabbed and shot him. Criticising Rodney McKay brought no joy either; he was so pleased at being Mr Invulnerable she doubted even General O’Neill would have gotten through to him at that moment.

‘Fine. Take it off, we have a meeting scheduled in two minutes,’ she finally capitulated, turning her back on the two mischief makers. A moment later, she heard Rodney utter the infamous words, it won’t turn off and sighed, closing her eyes for a minute before turning back to deal with a slightly hysterical physicist.

It took time, but she managed to get Rodney sent off with Zelenka, a mild-mannered Russian scientist who was far less excitable than McKay, to go over the Ancient database for some information on the device. They’d report to her in an hour, and she sincerely hoped that Rodney managed to remove the device from himself by the time that particular meeting was due to happen. Dismissing Grodin to carry on with his duties, she practically dragged Jon to her officer in her wake.

‘What the hell did you think you were doing? Do you really think throwing members of the team off balconies in front of both soldiers and civilians, not to mention to the impressionable children we have running around here, was that great of an idea, Major?!’

‘Well, if you say it like that...’ he replied, shifting uncomfortably under her gaze. He'd been so caught up in playing with the new tech that he'd forgotten the children running around. It had obviously been on of the first things Weir had thought of and for a moment he wondered if she had children of her own before dismissing the idea. No parent would have left their kids to come out here.

‘Any new technology needs to cross my desk for approval before its activated. You’re only encouraging McKay to disobey the rules, and he’s being quite hard enough to control as it is!’

‘Yeah I guess. But it seemed harmless enough,’ he added in his defence. Elzabeth sighed, crossing her arms.

'Harmless? Rodney might not be able to get that thing off!.'

'Point taken,' the words were ones he'd lifted from Elizabeth's speech patterns but it seemed to work. 'Okay, well, I better go see how McKay’s doing with that shield, uh, thing. And then I'll authorise two more clearance teams, get some more space freed up.'

'Thank you,' she replied graciously.

He turned, headed back through the control room and Weir slid into the seat behind her desk. The Athosians and the team were starting to form a working unit, and right now it had two leaders who hardly worked in seamless harmony. The troubling thing was that internal conflict in the expedition was the least of her worries. Food shortages, refugees in the hallways, Wraith lurking outside the gates... Pulling a stack of paperwork towards her, Elizabeth resolved to spend the next forty-eight hours purely on the logistics of the city and its inhabitants. If none of them had any room to breathe, internal conflict would become the focus of their attentions.

One problem at a time, she thought to herself, before getting to work. She wasn't there long.

'Uh, Dr Weir?' It was Pierson.

'Yes? What is it?'

'Uh, it's Major Sheppard, Ma'am, and Dr McKay. They took a Jumper out, Dr McKay had some ideas about forcing an overload on the personal forcefield by, uh-'

'Let me guess? Freefalling without being secured in his harness, hoping the impact would damage the shield?'

'Yes, ma'am. It didn't work, and now they're, well, they're squabbling, ma'am.'

'Squabbling?'

'Yes, ma'am.'

Elizabeth pushed herself out of her seat and headde for the control room where the voices of one Major Jonathan Sheppard and one Dr Rodney McKay echoed from the comm system.

'...offered you a shipment of grain!' Rodney was complaining, followed by Jon's voice arguing about building materials or logging. Either way, she didn't care. reaching over she clicked the comm and spoke sharply to the inhabitants of the PuddleJumper.

'Major, McKay, dock immediately. Sheppard, I need an update on those clearance teams asap. Dr McKay, you will not do anything more with or about that personal shield without Dr Zelenka's express approval. Am I understood?'

'Oh, come on!'

'I mean it, Rodney!'

'Okay, okay.' A possible he started it whispered over the comm but she couldn't be sure. Instead she rolled her eyes, terminated the connection and stalked out of the control room. No one spoke a word until she was gone.

In her office, Elizabeth made it to the balcony and stopped, taking the rail in a death grip as she stared out across the calm blue expanse of Atlantis' oceans. She was still there when Sheppard arrived, stepping out onto the balcony outside her office for the first time.

'Wow,' he said, coming closer and peering over the side. 'You really went for the view, didn't you?'

'It's peaceful out here. But it was the position of the office that mattered, I'm not -'

'I know,' he held up a hand to stop her from carrying on that line of thought. 'Just me and my mouth, okay, I didn't mean anything by it.'

Elizabeth nodded, turning from the distant vista to face him, looking profoundly unconvinced. ‘Both O’Neill and Sumner warned me that you don’t like to respect the chain of command,’ she said quietly. ‘Is everything you're doing a demonstration of that?'

‘No. Ma’am,’ he added the second word quickly as his brain caught up with his mouth. He held up a placating hand, ‘you’re right, I should've checked with you first but your desk is going to break in half if I keep asking before I do anything. Rodney had a sound idea, and I'm only one of three that can pilot the Jumpers right now.'

'I know. And that was fine. But the petty squabbling between you and McKay has to stop!'

'You mean like you and me?' He didn't mean to say it, it just slipped out.

Elizabeth sighed, ‘look, Jon, I know its going to take time for everything to work itself out into a smooth operation, so give me a little slack to work here, and I’ll do the same for you. Okay?’

He considered her for a moment, wondering if he could get her to laugh again like he had on the balcony, but she wasn’t looking amused. On top of losing people, food being low, and refugees needing room, her own people needing beds, she didn’t need senior staff acting like kids with new toys. But what had made him think twice about agreeing with her was the feeling that she was using a diplomatic tactic on him.

Her composure was a hard thing to see behind, despite what they’d all been through together over the six weeks, the shaking down between the two camps in the city until they felt more at ease with each other, and still he didn’t feel like that ‘shakedown’ was happening between him and Elizabeth like it would have with any other commander he’d had by now. But then he also had the feeling that she wasn’t used to compromising with her own team this much either.

‘Sure,’ he replied finally, giving in. It wasn’t worth an argument, and she was right, Atlantis didn’t need it command team at odds with each other. 'Beta team just discovered a whole corridor of what look like living quarters, one Rodney's cleared, I'll get him and Zelenka to check it out, but we should have them operational within the next couple of days.'

'Thank you, I look forward to your report.'

He nodded, hesitated a moment as if to say something more, then left, the door sliding silently shut behind him.

The conflict between her and Sheppard couldn't go on, it wasn't good for the morale or the mission. They would have to resolve this somehow but she failed to see a solution at the moment. Leaving the thought to mull over at the back of her mind, she went back to work, hoping she wouldn't be interrupted for the next twenty-four hours by either petty squabbles or major crises.

But fate has a way of dealing the cards with a heavy hand and it wasn’t long before two missing children, a presence that refused to register properly on the city scanners and blackouts in the city’s power swept all thoughts of food and lodgings to the back of everyone’s mind.

‘The Athosians are distraught. We have to find those boys,’ Sheppard restrained himself from pacing, but barely. Weir sat down at the table, waiting for him to do the same, seeing the nervous energy running through his body. He finally capitulated to the subconscious message and took a seat.

‘We will,’ she reassured, looking directly at Teyla. She wanted the message the Athosian carried back to her people from here to be one of complete confidence.

‘Their father is extremely worried. He lost his wife in a Wraith attack, and now he fears he may lose his sons. He is preparing for the death rite, I fear he has lost all hope.’

‘Not yet he hasn’t,’ Sheppard’s steely voice broke in. He exchanged a grim glance with Weir, and one of complete understanding. It was odd, being on the same wavelength, but right now they were united and in the current situation it could do nothing but good. ‘Tell him we’ll find his children. Even if we have to go through every inch of Atlantis to do it.’

The meeting broke shortly afterwards. Weir was the last to leave and Sheppard fell into step beside her as she headed for the control room. ‘Got any bright ideas?’ he asked.

‘Apart from searching Atlantis inch by inch, you mean?’ she replied, reminding him of his words in the meeting. ‘No, I wish I had. Rodney’s working on it. He’s trying to track them down with the city scanners but we can't power them all at the same time and Zelenka’s trying to find their co-ordinates from the transport room we think they climbed inside . It’s not hopeful.’

‘Right, then I’ll-‘

But she never learned what he was going to do because a tremulous child’s voice broke over the airways, interrupting every conversation and freezing every person in Atlantis. ‘Dr Weir?’

She ran for the control room, the Major hard on her heels. Slapping a hand down on the console, her voice rang out across the city, heard by every ear, including two frightened, lost children.

‘Hallan? Its Dr Weir. Can you hear me?’

A few seconds of suspense followed. ‘Yes,’ came the shaking voice once more.

‘Good boy, well done. Is your brother with you?’ Another affirmative. ‘Good. Listen, do you know where you are?’

‘No. We ran into a room when we played Wraith. But when we stepped out, the corridor wasn’t the same.’

‘Okay. Hallan, what I want you to do-‘

‘Dr Weir? I think there’s someone following us,’ his voice pitched a little higher, the fear clearly bleeding through.

‘Hallan. Listen, I know you’re scared but I need you to describe the room you’re in. Can you do that?’ She nodded to McKay, indicating he should listen well to the words that followed. The boy’s voice came again, painting a picture of the room the children had taken refuge in. Teyla arrived seconds into his description and translated some of the unusual words that came through quietly to McKay.

Rodney nodded, holding his thumb up high. He’d found their likely location. Zelenka appeared as Weir talked to Hallan again, whispering with Sheppard, Teyla and Rodney. He’d dug the co-ordinates out of the transport and McKay eliminated one of the candidate locations off his list, leaving two others.

‘It's okay, Hallan. I know you’re scared. But your father is here, waiting for you and I have Teyla next to me. We’re going to come and find you. But I need you to be brave. I need you to take care of your brother until we get there. Can you do that for me?’

‘I think so.’

‘Good lad! Do you know how to call us again if you need us?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well done. You use that console whenever you need to and someone will answer.’

‘Dr Weir? We’re not supposed to touch the anything. I’m sorry,’ the child sounded on the verge of tears. Sheppard watched her bend her head slightly, her hair not quite long enough to cover her face. The slightest tremble ran through her body as she replied.

‘It's alright, Hallan,' her tone was gentle, 'no one's angry with you and you did the right thing to call us. No one’s going to get into trouble today.’

‘Okay, Dr Weir.’

It pierced her heart to end the call, even though she reached out with a sure hand and tapped the console. She stood up, her eyes bleak and listened to the team as they spilled the potential locations of the boys. ‘Major, you have a go,’ she said for an answer, addressing Sheppard. ‘Teyla, go keep their father occupied, I don’t want him running off to find the boys. He’ll only hinder the rescue team. I know he wants to be there ut he's already injured and I want them to move fast.’

Teyla nodded, 'I understand, Elizabeth,' and she slipped away.

Sheppard turned away to go redirect his team to the likely position of the lost boys. Behind him, he heard quick steps and a light hand touched his shoulder. He glanced back and saw her standing behind him, straight as a rod but her face was pale. 'Major? Bring them back safe.' ‘I promise,’ he nodded and reached up, squeezing her arm briefly before hurrying away.

It was nearly half an hour before they located the lads. Power outages slowed them down, and flickering life signs meant wrong turns were taken and the team had to backtrack before they finally reached Hallan and his brother. The youngest was unconscious, tiredness and shock being the first candidates that came to mind, but Hallan explained that darkness had come when they stepped out of the transport and touched him. They had run and hid, but his brother had slowed down, staggered and finally collapsed in the small room where he’d opened the intercom and called for help.

‘Don’t worry, lad,’ Sheppard ruffled the boys hair. ‘We’ll take him to see Dr Beckett and he’ll be as right as rain. You were very brave, taking care of him and calling for help. Now,’ he reached stood up and held out a hand, ‘we’ll get you home to your dad, shall we?’

Hallan nodded, taking his hand as Ford lifted his brother into his arms.

‘Is he okay?’ he asked, his voice trembling.

‘He’ll be just fine, champ,’ came Sheppard’s cheerful reply. The team headed back the way they had come, watching their six and setting someone on point, but the Major didn’t expect any real trouble.

Until the darkness came.

It was like a wave, an ocean wave, taller than a man and without seeming end. It rose, taking out the power and heading straight for them. They bundled the boys and Ford into the transport for a safe journey back to the centre of the city. Sheppard turned, fired a few warning rounds, then added a few more into the centre of the fog, but it kept coming. The doors spun open and he and Miller, a young lieutenant, tumbled inside, the doors shutting and a flash of light taking them far from the darkness that had pursued them.

Weir was outside the transport as the doors opened with a security team flanking her. Hallan tumbled forward, throwing his arms around her waist. She caught him, hugged him tight and exchanged a worried glance with Sheppard before she cast her gaze over the unconcious boy in Ford's arms. She lifted one hand and tapped her communicator, 'Teyla, meet us in the infirmary. We've found them.' She signed off before questions could be asked, looking at the boy, she wasn't qualified to answer them.

Hallan looked up, tears streaking his dirty cheeks. 'Where's my father?'

'We're going to meet him now, Hallan. I made him stay behind because his leg is hurt, he could have made it more dangerous to come get you, do you understand? He stayed behind to help you.' She had no desire to make the boy question his father's courage or loyalty.

Hallan nodded and she took his hand and led the way to the infirmary. Ford handed over the boy's younger sibling and Sheppard and his team headed up to the control room. Weir would join them as soon as she could, but right now they needed to know where that black wave was going.

They left McKay working the problem with Grodin. Ford and the rest went to rearm and brief two more teams. Sheppard headed for the infirmary where he found Weir and Teyla standing aside as Carson conversed with the boys' father and checked them over. Sheppard laid a hand on Weir's shoulder and she turned weary eyes his way.

‘Are they all okay?’

‘Hallan is,’ Elizabeth replied without turning around, her eyes on the tableau before her. ‘But his brother is still unconscious. His vital signs are good though, but there’s no reason for him to be asleep. Carson just doesn’t know why. He's hoping hell wake up soon. He may just need rest.’

‘We need to talk. I saw McKay in the control room, how's the problem with his personal shield?’

‘Fine for now. But he can’t eat or drink, so if we can’t get the shield off him-‘

‘Right. I get it. But we have a more immediate problem,’ they turned together, hurrying from the infirmary as Sheppard outlined the boys experience and his own to the expedition leader.

Nothing stood against it. They’d tried every option, and finally given the black shapeless mass the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet in the form of a naquada generator. They’d evacuated the Gateroom and now the team stood in the control room watching as the MALP failed to cross the event horizon.

‘The power’s gone! The MALP's not going anywhere!’ Lt Pierson cried, his fingers flying over the controls. ‘I can’t get a single response from it.’

‘And if it doesn’t move over that event horizon-‘ the Major began.

‘Neither does that thing,’ Elizabeth finished for him, leaning forward onto the rail. A movement caught her eye. ‘What-? McKay? McKay! What are you doing?’

Dr McKay was making his slow way down the stairs, entering the black fog feet first as it rose to wrap around him. Weir reacted, flying for the stairs before Sheppard caught her arms. ‘It’s too late! Look!’

McKay was gone, lost in the cloud. A moment later, Pierson called out once more. ‘He did it! The MALP’s moving!’ A ripple ran over the event horizon as the hidden MALP entered the wormhole, and slowly but surely the deadly mass followed it, leaving behind McKay, unconscious on the ground.

The team ran down the stairs, Beckett came with his team and crash cart. Elizabeth yanked the drained shield unit from Rodney’s chest and moved back as the medical team went to work. It only took a short minute, but it felt like an eternity until he took a breath, then another and, moments later, opened his eyes.

‘Well done, Rodney!’ Dr Weir applauded him as Sheppard sat him up. Carson dropped the paddles, taking a breath. He’d nearly lost two patients today but both the boy and the scientist had pulled through. Briefly, he wondered how he was going to make it through the rest of their mission here, or the rest of his life, if contact with Earth were never made again.

Later, in the mess hall, the Athosians gathered with as many expedition personnel as could make it to celebrate a second time. Beckett grinned, raising a glass of water with everyone else. They had survived another day. He watched Teyla lay a gentle hand on the boys heads, giving thanks for their lives; he saw Ronan, the latest addition to the flagship team, crack a smile and Heightmeyer talking with the boy’s father, exchanging nods and smiles. He clinked his metal cup against Rodney’s and listened as the physicist lauded himself for his own bravery. And he watched as Sheppard wandered the room, smiling, nodding, then frowning. He slipped out, looking for someone and Beckett could guess who.

In her office, Elizabeth sat with a pile of virtual and actual paperwork in front of her computer, going over reports, missives and inventories. He watched her work for a minute, considering disturbing her, but in the end left her to her own devices. He’d seen her bleed inwardly today, listening to Hallan's frightened voice and watching the unconscious child on the gurney. It was one thing to lead soldiers and adults who had accepted the danger into a new galaxy and unknown city, but another to take responsibility for the children. The boys had a father, the Athosians were led by Teyla, but he knew that she would take personal responsibility for today, for not designating safe areas sooner and not laying down stricter rules to keep them all safe.

Maybe she needed to immerse herself in her work, maybe it was her coping mechanism. Or maybe it wasn’t. He didn’t know her that well yet. But he would, he told himself, because they had worked well today and the result has been spectacular. Atlantis and her people couldn’t afford a burned out leader, and he couldn’t afford to lose working with her, not if he was going to keep everyone here safe. For now, he’d wait and watch.

Leaving her to the quiet lap of the ocean through the open balcony doors and the monotony of reports, he slipped away and back to the mess hall.


Chapter End Notes: Video: Scene where Sheppard throws McKay off the balcony (0:04/2:45 to 0:23/2:45)

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