He could still hear her voice echoing in his mind.
Her last words had been an order.
Leave her behind. Survive. Thrive without her. She wasn't important, she was already compromised. They had to escape, to make sure that they would survive. She was just one more cog in the works now, just another Replicator that they had to leave behind. She was the enemy now.
His own voice startled him into being aware that his hands were rapidly numbing. He looked down to find he was gripping the balcony railing so hard that his knuckles were turning white.
He raised his eyes to the alien sky of their new planet. Atlantis had relocated for its own protection.
They would rebuild. They would bury the dead, mourn what was lost, and move on.
They would survive.
They would thrive.
He wouldn't. Not without her.
The rumours had been wrong – they had never been romantically involved. But she was one of his people. One of his best friends. One who had understood him.
And now she was gone.
He supposed he could blame Rodney – it had been Rodney that had re-activated those damned nanites in the first place.
But he realised, even as they were in the Jumper heading to the Asuran homeworld, that he couldn't blame Rodney for saving her life.
There was only one person he could blame.
He had left her behind.
It was his fault.
He growled and ran his hands through his hair. He could still hear her screaming at him.
And he'd gone.
Like the coward that he was, he'd run and left her behind.
A hand touched his shoulder, making him startle and whirl to face the person who dared intrude upon his private pain. His fists came up – and immediately went down when he saw who it was. "What are you doing here?"
"It is a beautiful evening," Teyla said as she moved to stand beside him. "Aah, two moons," she smiled as the rising orbs caught her eye.
"Carter says there's five, but we can only see two," he said. "What are you doing out here?"
"You were missed," she said. "The scientists are throwing a 'we are alive' party. Doctor Zelenka said to inform you that his 'new hooch' would be there, if you were interested." She shook her head. "I can only hope it is better than the last batch."
That surprised a chuckle out of him.
"Beautiful sunset," Ronon rumbled as he walked out onto the balcony and stood on his other side, gazing out over the water. "Nice moons, too."
"Guys," he sighed. "Listen."
"Wasn't your fault," Ronon said, shocking him into silence. He turned to look at him. "It wasn't. She told all of us to leave. She sacrificed herself for us. That took a hell of a lot of guts."
"She's not dead."
"They couldn't find her signal," Ronon pointed out.
"She's. Not. Dead." He turned back to the water, gripping the rail again. "She can't be dead." His voice dropped and he wasn't aware he'd said the last part aloud. "I shouldn't have left her."
"You had no choice, John," Teyla said. "She ordered you to."
"I shouldn't have!" he roared. "What the hell kind of coward leaves his friend to that fate?"
"Hey!" Ronon roared, startling John into looking at his blazing eyes. "Do you think I'd stay here if I thought you were a coward? Do you honestly think I would give my allegiance and my weapon to a coward?"
"I wouldn't," Ronon finished. "And I haven't. You're no more a coward than McKay is a y'noranal."
And it was Rodney's turn to bellow, "Hey!" as he came out onto the balcony. "Only reason I'm not taking offense at that is because of the context!" He sniffed and walked over to the balcony. "Wow, that sunset's beautiful," he breathed.
But John was confused. "What's a--"
Teyla was laughing. "I do not know your word for it. It is a man with the mannerisms and dress of a woman."
"It's a transvestite," Rodney snorted.
And John found himself actually picturing that – and beginning to helplessly laugh at the ridiculousness of the image. "You'd kill yourself in those heels!" he gasped out.
"Yeah, with my luck, some wag would give me citrus-based lipstick," Rodney quipped back. He looked past John and jerked his head toward him, asking Teyla a question with his eyes.
"He is in pain," Teyla informed him softly. "In his heart and soul."
Rodney nodded and walked over to John, who looked at him and seemed to be bracing himself for the platitudes he knew were coming. He had believed the others, but Rodney was from Earth as well and knew all the "correct" and "polite" things to say.
He'd completely forgotten that those two words never applied to Rodney.
Rodney met his eyes. His voice was low and cutting.
"You weren't the only one who loved her, John. Quit acting as though you were."
John reeled back as though slapped. He blinked, stunned by the blunt words and by the clear emotions behind them.
"You want someone to blame?" Rodney tapped his own chest. "Here I am. I activated the nanites. But if you really wanna look at who's to blame, put it where it belongs." He reached out, his fingertips gentle as they touched John's chest. "It's not here." He touched his own chest again. "It's not here." He pointed into the darkening sky. "It's there, John. That's who to blame."
"McKay's right," Ronon said, stepping up to flank Rodney. "Blame the Replicators. Not yourself. Not McKay."
Teyla stepped to Rodney's other side and laid a hand on John's arm. "They are the only ones responsible."
John took a deep breath and looked over their heads at the deepening night and unfamiliar stars that were starting to appear. "If it's at all possible," he said grimly, "I'm going to find her and bring her home."
"No, John," Rodney said firmly. "We are."
Startled, John looked at his determined face, then at the others. "You guys... I-I don't know what to say."
Rodney opened his mouth, but Ronon quelled him with a look as Teyla curved her hand on the back of John's neck. "Then do not say anything, John. Just nod."
He studied her eyes, then Ronon's, then Rodney's.
And then John gave them a slow, single nod.
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