My thanks, in advance, for all the amazing FB. You guys are wonderful. :D
The detachment was slipping away, but John clung to it with desperate tenacity. It was too hard feeling again. It took too much out of him, dreaming again and feeling the fear and the pain. Waking up shaking and terrified and trying to smooth away all evidence from his expression, eyes and voice. He didn't want anyone to know. He couldn't reveal his own fears, not when they were more intense than before.
John knew it hadn't been real. He reminded himself of that fact a thousand times a day. He managed to sound convincing when he was talking to Ford or Teyla and Rodney, but when he was alone, at night, stuffed into a corner of his room with the lights on as bright as they would go...John didn't believe a word. It had felt real.
He made it through four days of pretending. Hiding the truth from Heightmeyer was hardest. John knew she was always watching him, searching for signs, the way she did with his teammates. They couldn't hide the truth, but John knew he needed to keep the lie alive. If he broke then the others would surely shatter. They were so fragile right now, Ford most of all. But the sessions did seem to be helping Teyla. Or maybe it was the meditating she did. She had a strong spiritual belief and she relied on it now to get her through. Just this morning she had confessed to them all that she had managed to sleep the night through without waking in terror. And the one dream she did have did not affect her slumber.
Rodney had seemed out of sorts at hearing that and Teyla had offered to help him learn to meditate. He had scoffed at her and stalked out of the room. Ford had lingered behind, asking if Teyla would help him and they had left together. John had made to follow but Heightmeyer had cornered him. It had taken John over ten minutes to convince her that he was fine. He knew that his shields were slipping.
After escaping from Heightmeyer's clutches, John decided to hunt down Rodney. He wanted to do something, anything, to help him. So he entered the lab and parked himself next to McKay. "You're a man of science, right?" John asked.
"What?" Rodney looked up from his laptop to glare at John.
"You are a man of science," John repeated.
Rodney scowled at him. "Yes yes...of course I am. And you're asking me stupid questions why?"
John locked eyes with McKay. "What happened to us...we know it wasn't real. You can talk and you can think...that's reality. So anything else isn't real and you're smart enough to accept that. Even if it means through scientific awareness. Theorize what happened and why it terrifies you so much, Rodney. Hypothesis what you could do to make it less terrifying. To make it less real. Shred it apart scientifically. Do whatever it takes."
"Is that what you do?" Rodney snapped at him.
"In my own way," John replied, and it wasn't a lie. It just wasn't the exact truth either. He knew what had happened wasn't real, but that knowledge didn't make his dreams any less terrifying. But he was dealing with it the only way he knew how and he needed to help Rodney to find a way to do the same.
Rodney pushed away from the table and started pacing, hands wringing in front of him. "Do you play chess?" he asked, firing the question like a bullet from a gun.
John was surprised but nodded. "Yeah…I've been known to play."
"It's a very precise game." Rodney was still pacing. "I'm very good...hard to find anyone to challenge me."
"Is that an offer to try?" John interjected, because he knew that it was and because he sensed that this might be the breakthrough that Rodney needed.
Rodney stopped pacing. He kept his eyes on his twisted fingers as he replied, "I'm desperate."
John knew that feeling all too well. "Where do you want to play?" he countered.
"My room?" Rodney was hesitant.
"Sounds good, what time?" The time didn't really matter to John; it wasn't like he slept much anymore anyway.
Rodney went back to his stool, hunching over his laptop again as he mumbled, "Ten. Don't be late."
John knew he was being dismissed and he accepted it. As he headed out the door he felt a sense of relief. Like he was finally able to help someone. He knew that Teyla was helping herself and Ford but John had begun to feel like he was only making things worse for everyone and that Rodney would never find a way to deal with it. It felt good to feel hopeful again. But as John reached the hallway and stepped into a nearby transporter, he felt his chest tighten. By the time he hit the panel and the doors slid closed, he was dropping to the floor, panting and praying as wave after wave of panic washed over him.
John focused on a single goal, to step back through the gate.
His team was doing better. It had only been a week since he'd started playing Chess with Rodney nightly, but it seemed to have the desired effect. Rodney was finding a way to deal with his demons. Teyla's meditation was helping her and she was helping Ford work through his issues as well. In the group sessions, which were daily now, everyone was talking. Even John was talking, saying everything he was supposed to say. But his demons were still haunting him.
So he fought back by pushing himself. He wanted his team to go on a mission. Convincing Heightmeyer and Beckett had been easy, convincing Weir...not so much. But John wasn't foolish or stupid. He knew they couldn't risk falling apart in the field so he scoured the daily reports and asked that he and his team be allowed to make the trade run to M7X-564. They had been trading there for almost a year and nothing amiss ever happened. It was a peaceful planet with people who were happy to trade with them.
With Heightmeyer backing him up, John finally got Weir to agree to the mission. He was smiling as he entered the rec room where his team was waiting for him. It was movie night again; this time Ford had picked Star Wars. John was curious to see what Teyla's reaction would be to the movie. If he managed to stay awake for it. He wasn't sleeping or eating properly and he knew it was taking its toll on him. Which was why he believed going on this mission was so important. For all of them. They needed to get back into a familiar routine. He needed it.
The moment he stepped into the room, three pairs of eyes locked on him. "It's a go," John stated, not keeping them in suspense. "So no late night tonight." This said as he slipped into his spot on the couch, next to Teyla.
"Guess we'd better start the movie then," Ford said, as he grabbed the remote.
"Where's the popcorn?" Rodney asked.
Teyla smiled as she held out the bowl Ford had hidden away earlier. She then looked at John. "Are you all right, Major?" she asked, her eyes shadowed with concern.
John saw the way Teyla was watching him and he put on a smile and nodded. "I'm good. I'm excited about tomorrow. It'll be good to go back through the gate."
"I find myself looking forward to it," Teyla allowed. "I need to know if I have truly managed to put my demons to rest."
"It's not that simple," John cautioned. "They haven't disappeared, you've just kind of locked them away."
Teyla nodded, offering an understanding smile. "I do know."
Ford shushed them as he settled into a beanbag style chair. "Movie's starting."
John thought the lights off then settled into the corner of the couch. He let himself be distracted by the movie and found himself enjoying it, watching through Teyla's eyes. She found it intriguing and surprising and wondrous. When it ended she seemed pleased when Ford told her there were two more parts to the movie and that they could watch them soon.
"I'm going to bed," Rodney stated, setting aside the empty popcorn bowl. He looked distracted and a bit anxious and he stood up and headed for the door.
"You okay?" John asked, intercepting him.
Rodney nodded. "Fine...fine. But I have some things to do in the lab. See you at the gate in the morning." With that he was gone.
John let him go, turning to Ford. "How about you, lieutenant? You okay about tomorrow?"
"I'm nervous," Ford conceded, but kind of excited too. I've missed going through the gate."
"Me too." John had never meant anything more, yet he felt how strained his smile was. "You should get some sleep," he said softly.
Teyla approached and touched Ford's arm. "Shall we meditate before you go to your room?" she asked.
"I'd like that," Ford replied.
"I'll leave you to it then," John said, nodding a goodnight to Teyla. He watched her and Ford sink to the floor to sit Indian style, envying them for a moment. They seemed to have found a sense of inner peace that eluded him. But he would not begrudge them this, so John slipped silently out the door. He didn't go to his room though. Instead he headed for the nearest balcony, seeking solace in the stars above, wishing he could send his demons into hell so that his soul was free to fly again.
To John's surprise, he managed to sleep for three hours straight without dreaming. Not enough to be rested, but enough sleep by his standards of late to allow him to put on a good front when he met his team at the gate. Weir was there to send them off and John studied his companions. They all looked as nervous as he felt; yet their eyes glowed with anticipation. John felt certain that they would be able to complete the mission and that it would help in healing them. So he smiled at Weir and waved before sending his team through the gate. But when he reached the puddle, John hesitated. His stomach clenched into knots and he felt a wave of dizziness that he locked his knees against. It passed quickly, but John felt the prickle of panic that made him catch his breath. But he fought the battle and won, sucking in a deep breath before stepping through the gate and exhaling softly as he reached the other side.
They were greeted by the Telarians, who had been expecting them, and John clamped down on the cold spike of panic that bolted through him and plastered a smile on his face. He went through the motions of pleasantry with Leader Prang, accepting and invitation to dine with them and even managing to eat enough bites to make it look like he enjoyed the meal between the small talk. Then they did their trading and bid the Telarians goodbye until next time.
John felt somewhat detached from what was happening, but he did notice that his team seemed to be dealing well with the outing. Rodney ate like a starving man and managed to make sarcastic comments that drew laughter instead of anger from their hosts. Teyla and Ford had both seemed relaxed and at ease and John saw that Ford was still smiling as he dialed the gate for the journey home.
But none of that registered as anything more than a peripheral awareness. In spite of the fact that nothing had gone wrong and he and his team were not in any danger, John found the images of their torture replaying over and over in his head and if caught in a loop. And with the images came the feelings of frustration and anger and remembered pain. It took all of John's self control to keep it together and by the time he stepped back onto Atlantis, his head ached fiercely and every muscle in his body felt as taut as a bowstring. He felt wired and anxious and it was hard to keep a level tone as he assured Weir all was well. But he saw the relief on her face as she studied them, seeing that they were fine. At least Rodney, Teyla and Ford were fine, or seemed to be. John envied them that.
"Major, feel up to a debrief before you hit the infirmary for your post check up?" Elizabeth queried.
"That's fine," John replied, automatically, and for a moment he thought he might have said the wrong thing because she eyed him with concern shadowing her eyes. "What?" he asked, his tone too sharp to his own ears. John realized he was being defensive for no reason.
Elizabeth shook her head. "Nothing...you just look a little tired."
John shrugged, the movement choppy because his shoulders were tight with the tension that was vibrating through him like an electric current. He could feel the anxiety prickling at him, just under his skin, taunting him with its presence, like an itch he couldn't scratch. "I'm fine," he said, softening his voice.
"Okay...my office then?" Elizabeth was already turning to climb the stairs, even as she asked.
John followed her up the stairs an into her office, standing at attention as she moved to sit behind her desk. "Long story short, it went well."
Elizabeth nodded. "Good. And what about your team? They handled it okay?"
"I think so. They seemed to enjoying themselves at the feast." John managed to keep a smile on his face, but the effort cost him. Pain throbbed in his temples and he clenched both hands into fists at his sides to keep himself from trying to rub away the pain.
"Are you okay?" Elizabeth asked.
John felt his smile falter. "I'm fine. Are we done?" It was getting harder and harder to lie.
Elizabeth nodded, but she looked troubled. "We're done."
"Catch you later," John threw over his shoulder, as he headed out the door. And he could feel Elizabeth's eyes boring into his back until he was out of sight. The last thing John wanted to do was deal with Beckett, but he knew if he blew off the infirmary, Beckett would call Elizabeth and they would call him on it. So he tried to steady his breathing as he made his way to the infirmary. John didn't even try to smile as he entered the main area to find Beckett waiting for him.
"I've sent everyone else off," Carson said, patting one of the tables. "They checked out fine."
John realized Beckett was answering the question that must have been in his eyes. "They did good out there," John said, as he slid onto the gurney. "I think this was a good thing." He wanted to believe that, he wanted to believe with every fiber of his being.
Carson studied John, frowning. "Are you all right, Major? You look a bit pale."
"Headache." John knew better than to lie about that, besides which he wanted some relief and he had to admit to the ill in order to get the pills to relieve it.
"Bad?" Carson asked as he pulled out his penlight and flashed it in John's eyes.
John had to hide a wince. "Just...annoying," he replied, settling on being as truthful as he felt was prudent. He did not want to be stuck here.
Carson nodded, pocketing the penlight. "I'll get you some aspirin. Hold on a minute." He disappeared and was back shortly, holding out a bottle with half a dozen white pills. "Take two at a time, every four to six hours. If the headache doesn't let up, you get yourself back here, Major."
"Will do." John accepted the bottle and slid off the gurney. He managed a weary smile before patting Beckett on the shoulder and making his way out of the infirmary. John stepped into the nearest transporter and the moment the doors slid shut he fumbled with the bottle. Shaking three pills into his palm, John tossed them into his mouth, crunched them and swallowed. Nasty taste but he was desperate for relief and it wasn't the first time he'd taken aspirin dry.
When the doors slid open, John stepped out and headed for his room. He started stripping the moment he was inside. Soon he was standing under a hot spray of water, willing the tension to leave his aching body, willing his heartbeat to settle back into a steady rhythm. He couldn't fall apart, he didn't have that luxury.
By the time the water ran cold, John felt more in control. He was bone tired but too wired to sleep so he pulled on sweats and headed for the gym. It was empty and he was relieved. Moving to the heavy bag in the corner, John didn't bother with bag gloves, he just started punching it. He put all of his focus into every swing, channeling the anxiety into hit after hit after hit. He slammed each fist into the bag with rapid succession; barely slowing down even when every muscle in his body felt like it was burning. It was better to burn with the pain than let the panic consume him.
Sweat slicked his body, dripping from his hair to slide down his face like cold tears. Sweat slicked his fists; feeling like blood and John staggered and fell out of the rhythm, body shuddering and knees buckling so that he crumpled to the floor. His hands were shaking and he stared at them, seeing the red wetness that covered his knuckles, spreading over his skin and staining it. Blood...so much blood.
John wiped his hands on his thighs but the blood remained, burning into his flesh like a brand and the screams of pain echoed in his ears. So much blood and so much pain. The memory of it rocked John like a blow. He was so caught up in the memories that he didn't hear Teyla call his name. He didn't see the fear in her eyes as she knelt beside him. He didn't feel her hands touch his face.
There was nothing but blood and screams and fear. They wrapped around John like a shroud, choking him, suffocating him...
So loud...too loud...John begged for forgiveness.
"...couldn't save you...couldn't save...sorry...sorry...so sorry...forgive me...couldn't save you...couldn't save you..."
Teyla held John tight, feeling the tremors that rocked him, hearing the sorrow in his whispered litany, his pain tugging at her heart. She radioed for Dr. McKay and Ford to come to the gym, knowing that they would be the ones to help the major get through this. Knowing that no one else could understand his pain or his fear. That no one else knew what demons haunted him now.
John didn't see Rodney and Ford enter the gym at a run. He didn't hear Rodney contact Weir and tell her to send Beckett. He didn't feel the support and the warmth of his team as they surrounded him, offering their strength and protection, wrapping him in their understanding. He was trapped in a cold darkness, drowning in a sea of blood even as he shattered into pieces from their screams.
He came to awareness in stages, like tiny footsteps out of the dark and into and ever brightening light.
John remembered Teyla sitting next to him, holding his hand and singing softly to him. He remembered Ford filling him in on all the gossip and telling really bad jokes. He remembered the sound of Rodney's fingers tapping at his laptop even as he tried to engage John in a game of Prime, not prime. And he remembered Elizabeth reading to him from War and Peace. So it was no surprise to John to find her dozing in the chair next to his bed, the book sprawled across her lap. He blinked away the shadows and simply watched her for a time.
Elizabeth seemed to sense she was being watched. She caught the book as she sat up then she looked at him and smiled. "Hello, John. It's good to see you awake."
He nodded, not trusting his voice to work because his throat felt dry and sore. She seemed to know that and stood up to grab a glass of water. She held it for him but John took it from her, using both hands. He took a sip then gave it back. "Thank you," he said, his voice still a bit raspy, as if from disuse. And that made him wonder. "How long?"
"Eight days," he echoed. Too long. Too much time to lose. "I'm sorry." John held her gaze as he said it.
Elizabeth smiled at him, warm and bright. "It's okay. Take all the time you need, Major. We can wait."
John wished that were true, but he knew Atlantis needed him. "Maybe I can't wait," he countered.
"Don't push yourself so hard, John," Elizabeth chastised him. "And please...don't beat yourself up about what happened. You earned that melt down and it was a long time coming."
"I guess it was." It was truth John could acknowledge now. He could see in Elizabeth's eyes that she didn't judge him for this. But he still hated knowing he wasn't strong enough. John closed his eyes until strong fingers squeezed his.
Elizabeth was glaring at him. "Don't do that!" she snapped at him. "Don't think you're weak because of this. You're the strongest man I know. You helped your team deal with what happened to them, now it's time to deal with your own demons. And we all have them."
John knew that better than anyone. "Some are darker than others," he whispered. When he met Elizabeth's gaze, he knew that she understood that and that it didn't matter to her. So maybe John could let it go. Maybe. He knew it was going to take time. He also knew he wasn't going to have to do this alone.
"Rest," Elizabeth said firmly. "I'm going to get Carson."
"Okay." John closed his eyes, but before she could turn and walk away he said, "I'm going to be alright."
Elizabeth looked surprised, and then she smiled. "I know."
John realized he knew it too.
To everyone who gave FB, thank you so much. You kept me motivated. FYI…I ended it this way purposely. There's no easy fix for this and there's no pill or quick cure. Just know that John will heal as time goes by and the others will give him the support he needs, and he'll continue to do the same for them in return. It's all about teamwork.