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Author's Chapter Notes: Jon snapped, thumping him on the arm. ‘Buck up, Carson!!’

This was supposed to be a trade alliance, Sheppard thought darkly as he took in Elizabeth’s sparkling eyes and brilliant smile. The rest of them weren’t much better. He thought the village had been a little too besotted, but this was taking things too far and he wondered just what the hell was going on.

They had met Lucius Lavin in a small village where the local residents, including Lucius’ six wives, were apparently besotted with him. Although he seemed open and friendly, getting Weir and the rest of the Expedition to divert all their resources to harvesting a particular plant from a Wraith-infested planet was not his idea of equal trading.

Right now, most of the Expedition worked for Lucius and it was fast looking as if he was going to gain himself a seventh wife, in the form of one Elizabeth Weir with an option on Heightmeyer. The only sign he’d had of normality from her was how upset he’d made her when he disapproved of her decisions regarding the harvesting and the danger she was exposing their people too.

Abruptly he sneezed. Carson looked his way, back to Lucius and then back to Sheppard, his Hippocratic oath obviously poking him with a pointy stick. ‘Are ye alrigh’ Major Sheppard?’ Carson asked, concern and happiness warring in his voice. Lucius looked his way with a broad smile and expansive gesture.

‘Oh dear! Major Sheppard does not look well, Dr Beckett, not well at all! You should attend to him, we don’t want anyone getting sick do we?’

‘What?’ Carson started. ‘Now?’ he replied, looking slightly distressed at the idea of leaving Lucius’ side, he had become something of a righthand man to Lavin since his invitation to Atlantis and he was loathe to give it up. Several other Expedition lead members were jostling for his position already and if he left it unattended...

‘Yes, yes,’ Lucius insisted, ‘Dr Weir and I have many things to discuss.’ Rising, he held out his hand and she took it without a qualm, flashing a happy look at Jon. For a moment, she paused, looking almost puzzled and her hand, seemingly of its own accord, rose towards him. Lucius caught it, bringing it round towards himself and patted her crossed hands. ‘Now, now,’ he said reassuringly, ‘Major Sheppard isn’t well, we must let Dr Beckett take care of him. You wouldn’t want him to get worse, now would you?’

Elizabeth looked positively horrified at the thought. She shook her head, looking back at Jon as Lucius led her away. ‘Get well, Jon,’ she called, concern lacing her voice. She watched him for a moment more, the puzzled look coming back as if she wasn’t quite sure what was going on before Lucius distracted her once more.

It was something at least. Somewhere inside, Elizabeth knew something was wrong, which meant she either wasn’t completely in thrall, or in thrall yet, or Lucius need to stay in proximity to maintain his hold. Jon’s presence was disrupting that. As much as he wanted to follow her, deck Lavin and shake Elizabeth out of trance, he couldn’t risk it. Too many armed personnel were on his side already, and he had no idea what that action would do to Elizabeth herself.

Beckett was walking towards him, looking as disgruntled as the rest of them at the loss of Lavin’s presence. But a plan was forming in Sheppard’s mind. He forced a smile on his face, ‘don’t worry Carson, you’ll soon be back up here with him, but we wouldn’t want to disappoint Lucius, would we? So, if you help me, I can help Atlantis run smoothly, which means more of a harvest and you know how happy that would make Lucius!.’

Beckett nodded, throwing only one wistful glance towards Weir’s office before following Sheppard down to the infirmary. Sheppard didn’t need any help, it was only a cold, or the Pegasus equivalent of one, but he allowed Carson to medicate him so the doctor would be on his side.

‘Feelin’ better?’ Carson asked.

‘Oh much,’ Jon agreed. He probably would after the medication kicked in, but he went along with it for now. ‘Now, I’ve just thought of something to help Lucius.’

‘I thought ye didna like him?’ Beckett asked, snippily, obviously Lucius’ presence was wearing off.

‘Oh, I’m starting to,’ Jon reassured him, ‘and helping him, helps Atlantis which makes Dr Weir happy, you know all I want to do is make Elizabeth happy.’

Given his prior knowledge of their relationship and the current trance he was in under Lucius’s control, the logic appealed to both his conscious and subconscious mind, so Beckett nodded happily.

‘Now, when we went to the planet where we met Lucius, you were studying his herbs, do you remember this herb we’re gathering?’

‘Oh, aye, it had some very unusual properties.’

‘Great, well, the more we know about this herb, the better harvest we’ll be able to gather. Shall we get your notes and see what we can learn? Think how pleased Lucius will be that you went to all this trouble for him!’

It was working, Jon had to keep steering him in the right direction, but it was working. They gathered the resaerch and Beckett’s portable lab kit before detouring past the Jumper bays where, he assured Beckett, they were going to check the storage conditions and capacity of the Jumpers for the harvest. ‘Think of it, all those calculations and yields done for him, Lucius will love you for it.’

Beckett was so sold on the idea that he barely registered when Sheppard pressed a needle containing sedative into his neck. He dropped like a stone and the Major caught him, settling him into a set and strapping him in. Getting out of Atlantis was going to be easy compared to getting back in when they’d figured out what Lucius was doing.

But first he had to get Carson’s co-operation. Once he had found a safe place to land, Sheppard realised that wasn't going to be so easy.

‘But he needs me!’ Carson pleaded. Beckett’s attempt to reach the controls had resulted in him being tied to a chair now. All he could do now was make puppy eyes at Sheppard and plead for his freedom- all for Lucius’ sake.

‘Carson! Just think for a moment, just do this one thing for me, okay? Think!’ Beckett closed his eyes, letting out a deep breath and concentrated for a few minutes. Jon willed him to make some kind of breakthrough in the crap Lucius had been telling him.

‘All I can think about is Lucius!’ Beckett wailed. ‘Yer jus’ jealous because he likes Elizabeth! Why didna kidnap her,’ he finished resentfully.

‘Because Elizabeth can only stop the harvesting, she can’t break the trance he’s holding over out people and she can’t figure out what’s in that herb! Besides, she’s besotted and under guard, even if I could get her away, without someway to break his hold over her, Elizabeth could be affected even worse than you, he’s spending more time with her. She could get hurt, I don’t want to put her through that.’ ‘Yer doing it ta me right now!’ Beckett wailed.

Jon snapped, thumping him on the arm. ‘Buck up, Carson!’

‘Ow,’ muttered the doctor, looking crestfallen. Sheppard sighed, this was going to take longer than he thought. Once Carson went from downtrodden to irritable though, he realised that the only way he was getting back was to help Sheppard. With dire warnings that Lucius was naturally fabulous and there was nothing in the herb, Carson set to work. The longer he worked, the better grip he managed to get on himself. Years of training, healing people and working on problems far outweighed the transient hold Lucius had over him.

Even so, Sheppard had to push him into taking his own antidote. With a miserable face and a slightly puzzled frown, Carson did he was told. It didn’t take long.

‘Major Sheppard?’ he queried, looking around at the Jumper, ‘what are we-? Och no!’ he slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes wide with shock. Sheppard figured events had just caught up with him. ‘Oh ma God!’ Carson muttered, sliding into the nearest chair, ‘what have ah done?’

‘Nothing that can’t be undone, but we have to hurry before Lucius gets our people killed,’ Sheppard replied urgently.

‘Oh ma God! Elizabeth!’ Carson went on as if he hadn’t heard, ‘and Dr Heightmeyer! They were going ta-‘

‘Going to what Carson?’

‘I think Lucius was going ta marry them!’

Sheppard cursed, ‘alright, with luck, the ladies are already fighting over him and nothing’s been done yet. Can you synthesize more of that?’

‘Aye. Quite a bit here, but not enough for everyone.’

‘it’s okay, we’ll get to the first people we can, arm ourselves with tranqs and shoot our way through to the control room. Once we’re there, we can get Elizabeth, Rodney, Teyla, Grodin and Pierson and figure the rest out from there.’

‘How are we going ta get back in?’

‘Still workin’ on it doc, get to work, we don’t have much time.’

Beckett nodded, heading back his equipment and Sheppard returned to the controls, turning the Jumper around and heading back to Atlantis on the other side of the planet. It went pretty smoothly over all. An insanely happy look on your face, waiting until there were only three or four people in the corridor and a quick round with the tranqs sorted out the problem. Things got harder further in. Luckily most of the personnel were offworld and whoever wasn’t was in the messhall setting up the wedding celebrations. Beckett had grabbed Sheppard’s arm at that point and hustled him away from the unsuspecting informant.

‘We’ll just hurry along and give them our congratulations. Major Sheppard is thrilled,’ and he practically railroaded a seething Sheppard out of there.

‘I’ll kill him,’ Sheppard muttered darkly.

‘First, we hafta help the others,’ Carson said firmly, ‘then I suspect ye’ll hafta get in line behind Elizabeth, Heightmeyer and Ronan before ye get yer hands on him.’

If anyone would kill Lucius before questions could be asked, it would be Ronan, Sheppard made a mental note to stress the innocents that would try to protect Lucius. If it was anyone else he would tranq first and cure later, but Ronan would be vaulable against the large numbers that Lucius had in thrall.

In the control room a disgruntled Teyla and Heightmeyer, with flowers in their hair, stood behind Elizabeth. Jon hadn’t been aware that she had a dress on Atlantis, although, looking at the style, it was Athosian. She had flowers in her hair and a smile that could stop traffic. Jon felt fingers squeeze tight around his heart.

It was over in a matter of minutes. Only Ronan had been armed in the control room, which showed how lax security had become under Lucius, and once he was down, it was easier for Sheppard’s small team to administer the cure to the others. Elizabeth had demanded to know what was going on and her usual dignity hadn’t deserted her. Instead, she had glared him down, disappointment obvious in her eyes. He’d ignored it, injected her and watched as the same dazed look had come over her. She staggered and he caught her, but when she looked up all he saw was a dawning horror on her face.

‘Stop,’ he ordered, ‘right there! None of this was your fault; I brought Lucius back, even though everyone at the village was acting odd. I should’ve seen through what was happening to Beckett. We just have to get the rest of the Expedition back on base, cure ‘em and everything’ll be fine.’

She nodded, she hadn’t bought his spiel, that was obvious, but she knew they had an obligation to save their people before she started analysing what had gone wrong here. ‘We have to go through with the ceremony,’ she said instead.

‘Oh no way in hell-‘ Jon began.

‘No!’ she hissed, clutching his arm, ‘I mean we have to go down there as a wedding party. We can spring it on them if they think we’re still coming down for the wedding. He already knows you and Carson went missing though, you’d better hide at the back.’

‘How many people are down there?’

‘I don’t know, we’ll check the security cameras, it should give us an estimate.’

Nearly two dozen personnel were in the messhall. They went past the armoury first, rearming, even Elizabeth, she insisted. ‘I have to Jon, I can shoot straight, I’m in your drilling team remember? I’ll be close enough to take down at least three or four, they won’t expect it from me anyway, not even subconsciously. Then I can take care of Lucius,’ she finished, with a hard look in her eye.

‘Tranqs, right?’ Jon asked.

‘Of course.’

‘Yeah, just checking,’ he replied before they fell into formation and headed for the messhall. It was messier than the control room and several lethal shots rang out before the wielder of the gun was taken down. Weir tranquilized the ‘wedding official’ and a couple of those behind him before she turned the gun on Lucius. Behind her, she could hear Ronan, who had escorted her in to give her away, firing off rapid, steady shots. Suddenly, all sounds of fire stopped and Lucius looked down in horror at the gun.

‘Er, Elizabeth, darling,’ he began tenuously.’

‘Goodnight, Lucius,’ Elizabeth smiled and shot him in the leg. He stared for a moment, smiled and collapsed like a sack of bricks.

‘Good riddance,’ came Ronan’s dark voice from behind her, ‘can I kill him now?’

‘No, now put it down,’ Elizabeth told him and, with reluctance, Ronan holstered his big gun and lifted the tranquilizer, firing a second one into Lucius’ leg. ‘Just in case,’ he added innocently. Weir threw him a frown and had to turn away before she grinned. Catching sight of Jon, standing by the door, the appalling state of things came rushing back to her and the smile fell away. She had almost married Lucius. The discomfort at being at odds with Jon, his disappearance, which had had her almost frantic before Lucius had brought her back down and reassured her, had all affected her deeply, but it hadn’t been enough to throw off the bonds Lucius had placed on her.

He was staring at her, probably wondering how the hell she could have done this, after how hard he’d had to work to get her to agree to stay together and she’d thrown it all away on Lucius. She felt no desire to punish Lavin, the only person she blamed here was herself.

But there were other considerations that took precedence. The offworld teams for one thing and curing everyone currently down in the messhall, not to mention any stragglers throughout the city. Carson patted her arm and took his leave, heading off to the infirmary, with Teyla as a bodyguard, to synthesise more of the cure. Elizabeth, Heightmeyer, Grodin and Pierson headed back to the control room to recall their teams and Sheppard, Ronan and anyone still standing fanned out to gather the stragglers and disarm those still under Lucius’ spell.

It took several days to sort out the mess. The entire harvest was burned, carefully, on an unoccupied section of the mainland with Zelenka calculating for prevailing winds. Lucius they returned to his people; Sheppard personally escorted him back to the village with cryptic comments about his six wives and keeping his hands off other people’s wives whilst he was at it. Lucius went along happily enough, relieved the Atlanteans weren’t going to do anything worse to him, unknowing that the Atlantean team and their cure had gotten there first.

They could hear his protests almost all the way back to the ‘Gate.

Back home, Elizabeth had sent everyone who had recovered back to their stations, encouraging them all to get back to their routines and insisting that no one had done anything wrong, reassuring them that safeguards would be put in place to prevent this kind of thing happening again. A team would be sent to the planet again, she said, and they would burn the entire crop as generations of the Pegasus galaxy had done before them, being well aware of the damage this herb could do. Even with the Wraith-infestation, it was too dangerous to allow the plant to be so accessible, especially to their enemies.

Sheppard dropped off his gear at the armoury and headed straight up to her office. Dusk was drawing near and he knew where he’d find her.

Out on the balcony, Elizabeth stood with her back to the door, staring out over the waves. She was wearing her usual black and red, like comfort food, the uniform reassured her. She didn’t turn around but spoke instead, ‘hello, Jon, I was waiting for you.’

He joined her at the rail. ‘I know, I thought I’d find you here.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she turned to him, her eyes filled with dismay. ‘I couldn’t stop him. All the time I was aware you didn’t like it, and every time we disagreed and when you went missing, it hurt, but I still couldn’t break free! I know the herb was to blame, I know Lucius used it willingly and it was his fault, technically, but still-‘

‘Do you know, Carson analyzed your blood sample today. You had a very high dose in your system, the same dose he had to use on Ronan to keep him in check. Only a handful of personnel had levels that high, and Lavin kept them very close. He had a hard time keeping control of you, Elizabeth. You need to keep that in mind.’

‘I know,’ she dropped her hands to the rail and looked out over the city and the ocean again, watching the sun sink lower and the twilight creep further overhead. ‘I still owe you an apology.’

‘No, you don’t,’ he replied, gripping her arm with one hand and turning her to face him. ‘What you owe me if not to give up on us because some idiot throwing a hypnotic drug around like candy managed to get a foothold on Atlantis.’ He gave her a wry smile, ‘I can see it in your face, Lis’beth, you’re already backing away.’

‘I’m still here, Jon.’

‘Just about,’ he gave her a wry smile, ‘you didn’t do anything, especially not by me.’

‘But I would have-‘

‘I know. Listen, Carson did some more work on that drug. He said long term exposure causes brain damage. Everything that happened to the Expedition is reversible, but some of the people from the village are having problems. He’s going to work with them some more and try to alleviate some of the damage Lucius did. He’ll have his report and a formal request on your desk in the morning. So give yourself a break. Give us a break.’

She nodded and leaned towards him. It was all the signal he needed and Sheppard pulled her into his arms. Her hands pressed against his back and he felt her sigh and relax against him. He felt relief wash over him, Elizabeth would still analyse the whole incident, break it down and strip it for future lessons like he’d an engine for parts, but she was still here with him and that was all that counted.

Chapter End Notes: Video: Link to scene between Sheppard and Carson (1:54/2:45 to 2:00/2:45)

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