|The Known World
Author: skypig21 PM
Imprisoned by a cruel and repressive government, John, Rodney and Teyla are forced to make sacrifices to save each other's lives and keep the flame of hope burning. Warning: Very lightly implied noncon. Also, bugs.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - John S. & Rodney M. - Chapters: 21 - Words: 52,982 - Reviews: 423 - Favs: 86 - Follows: 64 - Updated: 01-24-07 - Published: 12-21-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3300672
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Part 3, Chapter 7
A smoky haze from burned-out electrical components lingers after the light and the noise have ceased. Dinstard Pistoule lies dead on the floor beside Elizabeth. A piece of wasted medical equipment dies with a sputter in the quiet room. The sound pulls Elizabeth from her daze; she remembers that it's her job to direct and organize and handle things.
"Get Biro in here!" she shouts at the security personnel that she remembers are there. "Broadcast on the citywide for all medical personnel to report."
Someone—maybe one of the security detail, maybe a nurse—hauls her to her feet, asks if she is okay, then leads her to a chair out of the way. A limp Zelenka is lifted from the floor and laid on a bed. Elizabeth stumbles over and sits beside him on the mattress, as a tech assesses him and asks about the explosive sound.
"He should be more responsive," the tech says. Then he moves Elizabeth away as a medical team surrounds Radek.
A crowd forms around Sheppard's bed, as well. Biro is there, her hair disheveled, interrupted sleep pinching her face. Whatever has happened to Sheppard, to Pistoule, Elizabeth is responsible for it. She thinks What have I done? What have I done? She watches the pandemonium. What have I done?
At Sheppard's bedside, Biro and another doctor confer and whip their stethoscopes from around their necks and listen to his chest. They take rubber-tipped hammers and dink John's knees and elbows. The machine, blackened, its metal casing ripped, is carefully moved from the bed, secured in a container and hauled away. A new EEG device ticks away, spitting out graph-paper strips.
Carson mutters irritably from his bed. He sits up quickly and nearly falls off the side, before a tech and a security officer catch him and lay him down again. The plastic pudding cup beneath Carson's bed is bagged and given over for testing.
A wheeled stretcher bearing McKay arrives with a field team sent to the lab to check on him. A flurry of white coats surrounds him. Like John, he disappears behind people and diagnostic equipment and IV bags hung from poles. Elizabeth hears him speaking softly, answering some questions, failing to answer others.
All of this activity happens as Elizabeth waits for her ears to stop ringing and tries to come back to herself.
When Radek opens his eyes, she tells him what the nurse said, that he has a lot of Valium in his system and was given Flumazenil to counteract it. He looks around the infirmary, taking in the people and the noise, before nodding off again.
It takes a while, but Elizabeth recovers, rises and crosses the room.
Dr. Biro stands over John Sheppard, checking his pupils. The doctor looks up and nods Elizabeth forward.
"Look," she says. Elizabeth follows her gaze.
John lies as still as stone, but next to his bed the EEG shows high mountains of brain activity.
"Does this mean he's coming back to us?" she asks.
Biro sighs. "I don't know. Since we didn't completely understand his condition before, we can't determine exactly what is happening now."
For a great while longer, the infirmary buzzes with security, technicians, doctors and nurses, plus the snoring of one zoned-out Scot and an equally serene Czech and Canadian.
Ronon has scars on his arms and on his head and scars in places that Rodney can't see. Radek has scars, too, terrible ones. Elizabeth looks as if she hasn't put her head on a pillow in years. The pillow under Rodney's head smells like himself. Half of his face is buried in it when he wakes up, so he watches Ronon and Radek and Elizabeth out of the one eye that is free.
The Satedan sits beside Sheppard's bed across the way, passing time by leafing through an old copy of "Martha Stewart Living" that someone brought from Earth. Radek sleeps in a bed beside Rodney's. From time to time, Elizabeth crosses Rodney's line of vision. She is making a groove in the infirmary floor with her endless movements from one patient to another.
Ronon senses McKay staring at him and flips the magazine away. "Pistoule's dead," he says.
Rodney closes his eyes.
When the diazepam begins wearing off, Rodney visits with John, who moves his head from side to side. He is still down in the deepest part of dreaming, but he is there all of the time, now. His EEG does not change over to brain death and then back to dreaming. It shows solid Delta, a wall of sleep, that soon—maybe—will crumble completely and let them have John back on their side again.
Biro insists that Rodney use a wheelchair; Radek, as well. When they protest, Dr. Biro says, "One hundred milligrams of Valium? You get chairs."
"Carson didn't have to be wheeled around after he woke up," Rodney protests.
"He most certainly did," Biro counters.
"Oh. I didn't notice."
"You slept through it," Radek tells him. "You slept through everything."
"In case you haven't noticed, I've been sick."
"Yes, Rodney, we know. That is why you didn't wake."
Elizabeth makes a fuss over Radek. She helps him from the bed to the chair and asks him if he's feeling up to this. The Czech thanks her and raises his eyebrows in response to McKay's wily grin.
The scientists are brought to the morgue, where they view Pistoule's body. Zelenka is amazed that there isn't a mark on him. They discuss what he did, how he must have known all along what he would have to do. Radek describes the curtain of light, how it prickled his skin. Rodney remembers the force shields at the prison and how he and Teyla and John were kept apart by them.
"He was sane when he did this," Radek reminds them both.
"'No love exists without sacrifice.'"
The Czech looks at McKay.
"Pistoule?" he asks.
McKay nods. "'My life and soul are dust without would I give them to save the life and soul of another.'"
John hangs between worlds.
Teyla says the names of those he loves most: herself, Elizabeth, McKay, who might have survived after all… She says, "Ronon," and John feels sad because the Satedan fell from the jumper and died.
Teyla asks, "Can you hear me, John?"
Carson asks, "Can you open your eyes?"
McKay asks, "Good morning, Colonel. How are you doing today?"
Pistoule is searching his child. No one has to tell John about this. It's something that he already knows. John waits for a reply. Waits until he feels his heart break.
"Toma?" he hears over and over, and "I am looking for you, little one…" and someone wipes John's face and says, "I don't know why he's crying."
"My beloved child! You are here!"
When John hears the voices without, he wants more than anything to reach them. When he hears the voices within him, he feels their immeasurable heartbreak and joy as if they were his own.
"I waited for you, Papa. Please take me home!"
"We will go home together, Toma…"
John feels them embrace each other, breathe each other in. John is father and he is son. He is born the moment that he first holds his infant child. He is the infant child borne into the arms of his father.
Carson and Teyla and the others tell John how well he's doing. They say that he will soon recover enough to talk to them. They don't hear the dialogue in John's head.
"Papa, I want to go…"
"We will go home…"
"Papa, I want…"
John holds on to Pistoule and Toma for as long as possible. Their love fills him and guides him back to where he began, before he lost hope and was force fed, before the Warden said "…a sacrifice she seems willing to make," and before McKay became ill and before Ronon perished and before "Uh, oh."
John opens his eyes, but it's not him seeing out of them. Elizabeth stands beside him. He moves his hand and tugs at her sleeve. Pistoule and little Toma speak through him.
"Thank you," they say, closing John's eyes to her surprised response.
Pistoule and Toma lead John back to Atlantis and settle him there. Then they are gone forever.
McKay has brought in pieces of the machine and examines them at John's beside. He speaks to John as if he were awake.
"This is part of the memory transfer mechanism," McKay says, holding up a thing that resembles the twisty part of a corkscrew. "It used to sit just beside the main power transducer, but now they're a fused mess, so…"
McKay chatters. It's therapy of a sort. John really loves hearing it, hearing the sounds of the words as they slide into each other. As he often does, McKay speaks too fast.
"Slow down," John says.
McKay looks up at him, startled. "You talked!"
"Well? Talk more!"
"You talk more."
McKay looks over at Carson, who hurries to his patient and quickly assesses him.
"Your name?" he asks. Then, "Where are you?" and "Who is your president?"
John, whispering, answers everything correctly, which satisfies Carson for the moment. The Colonel notices McKay's eyes getting red and soupy, so he's glad for the doctor's interruption.
The machine parts lie on the beside table. McKay's hand shakes a little as he holds up each item. His voice catches in his throat a few times when he explains what it is. Then Rodney talks about what the machine was supposed to be used for and the despicable way that it was misused by the Warden.
John listens carefully, but says nothing for a while. Rodney is thinner than the last time they were together. His expressive face shows a weariness that reaches down into McKay's soul, as he moves bits of the machine around and fingers a chain around his neck.
"I'm trying to rebuild the machine," Rodney says.
"Why?" asks John.
Rodney's hand comes away from the chain and Sheppard sees what looks like a little silver gaming die hanging from it.
"Why," McKay echoes, and looks at John as if this question had never crossed his mind.
The bed shakes as someone sits upon it.
John opens his eyes and sees Ronon Dex, his long-departed teammate. Because Carson asked to be notified "if anything strange happens," John reaches for the call button. It is indeed strange to feel the bed dipping where Ronon's ghost sits, and it is strange when this apparition hands the call button to him. It is strange when this person who has been dead for over six months pats John's arm and says, "Hey."
"Hey," John says in return, looking around to see if anyone else thinks it unusual that Ronon's spirit has come to visit him. The large man's short hair sticks out in all directions. Nappy twists at the ends look like little gestating dreadlocks. Like McKay, Ronon looks thinner, but his eyes radiate fathomless joy.
Ronon says, "Bet you thought I was dead, huh?"
John nods. If Ronon is alive then he's very happy. If Ronon is dead, then he's very, very sad. Either way, he can't help getting worked up about it, as he remembers how the jumper broke open...
Ronon hands John a tissue from the box next to the bed. John feels embarrassed and unbelievably lucky and tired out from just this brief reunion. He turns to lie on his side. Ronon puts a solid hand to his shoulder.
"We took you out of there," he says. "Teyla and Rodney and I didn't forget about you."
John senses that Ronon's been waiting a long time to say this. If Ronon were truly dead, he would not have delayed his visit. This is how John knows that Ronon isn't dead, after all.
He says, "Thanks, Ronon."
Ronon brings his face in close to Sheppard's. "Any time," he says, as he puts his hand to John's head and musses his hair for emphasis.
John smiles into his pillow and falls asleep feeling as if his team were curled up around him.
A physical therapist works on John's arms and legs, readying him to move on his own again. John prefers when Teyla or Ronon or someone else he knows well touches him. They speak without speaking, seeming to guide him with their thoughts. When they seat him back on the bed, the connection continues after their hands leave his body.
Ronon tells John about falling from the jumper and about his long recovery at the Institute. He speaks fondly about a friend he made named Nevillus, a PT like the one who works with John, who helped him get better. Then Ronon describes the three times that he and Nevillus and others went to the prison to free their people.
Rodney describes in circuitous fashion his illness and the means by which Pistoule cured him. He quotes Pistoule a few times, while fingering the chain around his neck.
Teyla describes Sheppard's rescue and how the Daedalus picked them up out of empty space when they all had but seconds to live. She talks about how she and Lorne's team captured hundreds of loza bugs and the machine at the same time.
As each member of his team speaks, John senses a veil of darkness over them that lifts higher each day. He suspects that much was given up for him, that Teyla and Rodney and Ronon gave up a lot for each other.
A couple of times a week, in the late afternoon, John visits with Heightmeyer and then returns to his quarters to rest.
Today, he and Kate discuss Teyla and what he knows about her…he places his hand against the force shield…and what she told him—without uttering a word—long before the Warden ever did.
"How will this affect your team on missions?" Kate asks.
"It won't," he replies, without having to think about it.
It's not just Teyla. It's the four of them. They have become a single entity. What has happened to one part has happened to them all.
Kate cocks her head. She's so demanding.
"We're fine," he says, relaxing into his usual parlance.
"So you say."
"We are stronger than before. Ask any of us."
"I have," she says, smiling. "And you are."
He talks about the months he spent with the Kalians, about the time at the end when a father and a son were living inside of him. John decides that if it were possible to replay the last moments of Pistoule and Toma's lives, if he could do it without Ronon falling from the sky and McKay becoming ill and without Teyla raising her hand to the force shield, he would.
When John sees Teyla next, she greets him in the Athosian way. He loves that he survived to feel her forehead against his and the warmth of her hands resting on his shoulders.
"Do you wish to walk outside?" she asks him.
They find a quiet spot, the same place where Radek and Elizabeth discussed hope and faith and perseverance when Sheppard and his team were still missing.
The two lean against the city wall and gaze out over the vast ocean, which is as still as glass this evening.
Teyla says, "All of us, even Rodney, know to follow our training when missions do not go as planned. But sometimes that does not work and we have to follow our hearts instead."
He shifts self-consciously. "Teyla…"
"They speak a different language that ordinarily we cannot understand, and they make demands that ordinarily we cannot follow."
She looks at him, waiting. This is so like Teyla, patient to a fault.
He asks, "You okay?"
"I am fine," she replies.
He watches her. After a while, Teyla nods and doesn't say anything else.
They stand out there and watch the sky darken into night. John's a good deal stronger than he was a month ago, but he still must keep from overexerting himself. He needs to eat and rest, now. Teyla seems to sense this because they turn at the same time to go back inside. This is when he stops her and puts his hand up and tilts his head in invitation. Teyla places her hand flat against his and leaves it there until they have nothing else to share right then.
The next morning, John wakes and strolls outside to watch the sunrise. The day is perfectly clear, with no fog or haze to limit visibility. Atlantis shines like a crystal palace on days like this.
Movement down on the southeast pier catches his eye. McKay's out there. The physicist has joyously gained back some of the weight he lost and feels so well these days that Carson has stopped giving him bug pills, much to everyone's relief. On the pier, McKay is so far distant that John can't see exactly what he's doing, but, all at once, Rodney throws something into the water and watches it make a tiny splash and disappear.
As he strolls back towards the city, McKay has a spring in his step that hasn't been there since before their last mission. John can't be certain, but he senses that his team really will be fine, after all.
Later, John joins his team in the cafeteria. This is not the first time that they have eaten together since he regained consciousness, but today they have agreed to meet at a specific hour. Elizabeth has joined them, with Radek Zelenka and Carson Beckett and a couple of other people.
Rodney isn't fiddling with the chain around his neck anymore. When John looks closely, he sees that the chain and the die that hung from it are gone.
Teyla is baking something in the kitchen. The little, lopsided cake that she brings to the table smells of spice and fruit. Everyone receives a tiny slice of this offering. That is enough, because the cake is heavy for its size.
The cake tastes like nothing John's ever eaten before. It is smooth and sweet and grainy and sour, and it is incredibly satisfying in every respect, and it leaves him wanting more, all at the same time. It is like the people that he loves, it is like knowledge and like life itself, united in this place at this time.
A/N: And so it ends.
Thanks go to my betas, Aslowhite, Pranksta and Inkling, to Mutecornett, whose drawing inspired me, and to everyone who trusted me enough to follow the story through to the end. Thanks also to my husband, Mr. Skypig, and my kids, Piglet 1 and Piglet 2, who put up with me while I was absorbed in this effort.