Chapter Twelve: Living in the Moment
"... and it turned out that we were not terribly far from the part of the tunnels that had been shown to me as a child. From there it was quite easy to find one of the undamaged entrances." Teyla's hands were folded in her lap and her eyes downcast as she spoke -- for all the world, Elizabeth thought, like a chastised child reciting her lessons. As self-aware as Teyla normally was, Elizabeth wondered if she realized how her body language radiated defeat and shame.
"Karmath, the Cletan leader, had told me that they had trapped the entrances, but fortunately their traps were crude and quite obvious from this side. They were meant to keep intruders out, not in. We were able to easily avoid them. When we emerged onto the surface, we were surprised to discover almost immediately that Major Lorne's team had been searching for us."
Elizabeth tried to suppress a smile but was not quite successful. "And, from what I heard, frightened two civilians out of about fifteen years' worth of gray hairs. I believe that Major Lorne's exact words, with regards to Dr. Beckett, were 'screamed like a little girl' when the two of you appeared practically under his feet. I recommended that he leave that part out of his official report, or at least rephrase it a bit."
Teyla raised her eyes for a moment, a hint of humor sparkling in them. "Major Lorne is still not fully accustomed to the people of Atlantis, I believe."
"They take some getting used to." Elizabeth pointed at her own head. "I may have a few gray hairs myself."
Teyla lost her temporary sparkle and looked back down at her clasped hands.
"And you returned for the Colonel and Dr. McKay?" Elizabeth prompted.
Teyla nodded, and again, a slight smile tugged reflexively at her mouth.
"Carson said that they'd fallen asleep on each other." Actually, like Lorne, Beckett's figure of speech had been somewhat less professional than that -- "like two babes fallen asleep in the woods" as she recalled. She wondered if she should mention that to Sheppard when he woke up, or simply save it for blackmail potential later.
Teyla's smile widened a bit and she nodded again. "Neither of them woke when we moved them to stretchers, but we did have some trouble untangling them," she said. "Colonel Sheppard in particular would not let go. We had to pry his fingers loose from the sleeve of Dr. McKay's uniform."
"Would you consider your experiment a success, then?"
Teyla's head snapped up and she stared at Elizabeth with wide eyes. At Elizabeth's insistence, Beckett had forced Teyla to leave the infirmary for a brief shower and change of clothes before coming up to Weir's office for her debriefing, but she still looked strung out from exhaustion, her eyes shadowed and dark. "How can you say that?" she demanded before remembering who she was talking to and modifying her tone. "We were captured, threatened, imprisoned and nearly killed several times over. The Colonel just got out of surgery. I am prepared to hand in my resignation to him when he wakes -- or perhaps I should give it to you; I am not familiar with the order of command for these things."
"Calm down. Nobody's resigning from anything."
Teyla drew herself up proudly. "It is far more honorable to resign than to wait for the Colonel to ask me to leave."
"Do you really think he'll do that?"
The proud shoulders drooped. "I do not know." Then, almost in a whisper, "No. I do not think he will. But I will find it difficult to face him after everything that has happened, let alone Dr. McKay."
"And is that why you want to resign -- so that you won't have to apologize to your teammates?" Elizabeth allowed a bit of a sting to enter her words, but only a little, just enough to get the woman thinking. Teyla was clearly more than capable of castigating herself for her mistakes.
"No, of course not, I ..." Teyla swallowed, her hands clenched together. "I do not know how they can trust me after this."
Elizabeth sighed. "Yes, it seems that trust issues have been quite a problem for your team lately."
Again Teyla's head snapped up; she seemed to sense that she was being led, but not where. "Do you believe the situation is comparable, Dr. Weir?"
"Do you?" Elizabeth challenged.
Now Teyla just looked confused. "What do you want to hear from me? Please tell me, for I do not know!"
"Teyla," Elizabeth said gently, "turn it around. Put someone else in your place. Should Rodney have resigned from the team, or do you think he made the right decision in staying to work things out? You've never been a person who backs down from a challenge. Why should you start now? Besides, I gave you permission to try your idea; if there's any fault here, it's mine."
Teyla's brow furrowed. "Dr. Weir--"
"Teyla, before you left on this mission, you said some very wise things to me about trusting the people under you ... things I've taken to heart. I do trust you. I trust all of you. I can't speak for John, of course, but I truly believe that he trusts you as well as I do. And now," she added, "I believe there is somewhere other than my office that you'd like to be."
A smile flittered around the edges of Teyla's face, lightening her tense look. "Is it that obvious?"
Elizabeth laughed. "When one of you is in the infirmary, where do I always find the rest of you?" She sobered, and rose to walk Teyla to the door.
"Thank you," Teyla said quietly.
Elizabeth placed a hand lightly on her shoulder -- she had almost never touched the other woman, she realized. "Teyla, over the last year I think I've gotten to know all of you fairly well, as individuals and as a group. Your team's had some ... hard blows lately." She hesitated, seeing the look in Teyla's eyes and wishing for a moment that she had not brought it up; Ford was still a sensitive topic with Sheppard's group. "But you've weathered it all," she said, meeting the brown eyes squarely. "The group of you -- and I believe I can include Ronon in this as well -- have something special between you, something most of the other teams don't have. You are ..." She hesitated, unsure if she could articulate what she had increasingly noticed.
Teyla smiled warmly. "Family." Her hand came up to respond with a gentle squeeze to Elizabeth's arm. "You are right, and sometimes I lose sight of the many things I have gained in this place. But now, I should be in the infirmary."
"I'll be down soon myself. Oh, and if you see Radek down there, will you send him my way? He's the only person from the Cletan expeditions that I haven't debriefed yet. I think he's avoiding me."
Teyla flashed a quick grin over her shoulder. "I shall tell him if I see him. But I do not know if he will listen."
"Seems to be a lot of that going around, too," Elizabeth murmured to the Athosian's retreating back, but she was smiling. After all, the last thing she wanted was a bunch of people who did exactly what they were told all the time. She just had to remind herself occasionally that personal initiative was a good thing.
The infirmary lights were dimmed for the Atlantean "night". Beside Sheppard's bed, Ronon meticulously cleaned his big gun, booted feet propped up on a chair. The Atlantean medical team had set his arm and re-wrapped his other injuries -- Beckett declared Sasha's medical skills "adequate, for the Stone Age" -- but none of the doctor's persuasion or bullying could induce him to go take a shower. So he still wore the same stained and torn clothes in which he'd fallen down the shaft, his skin dust-darkened except for swathes where the nurses had incidentally wiped the dirt away in the process of cleaning his injuries.
Teyla approached quietly, but he looked up long before she reached him, and moved his feet so she could sit down. Teyla glanced at the chair's seat and surreptitiously brushed off clods of dirt before seating herself. She handed him a wrapped sandwich from the cafeteria, and unwrapped another for herself. "I thought that food might be a good idea."
Ronon nodded thanks. She caught his hand just before he took a bite. "You are supposed to unwrap it first," she explained, peeling back some of the paper from her own in demonstration.
"Oh." For some reason, Ronon seemed to have difficulty adjusting to the idea of food that couldn't simply be picked up and eaten. Teyla recalled that she herself had been a bit surprised, at first, by the affinity that Earth people seemed to have for packaging things, but at least she could tell the difference between waxed paper and bread.
They ate in companionable silence, while Teyla watched her teammates sleep. There was a strange peace here, punctuated only by the quiet beeping of various monitors and the nearly inaudible -- but, to Teyla, unspeakably precious -- sounds of Sheppard and Rodney breathing as they slept. In the silence, the whisper of Beckett's soft-soled shoes seemed loud as he walked over to check on his friends.
"They seem to be doing well," Teyla offered hopefully as the doctor checked the monitors.
"They're both doing much better than I would expect, John in particular." Beckett stared down at the Colonel's pale face. "The wounds that I saw on the scanners should have killed him, but instead, they looked as if they'd been healing for several days. He did need surgery for a few things he'd broken open with all his wandering about, and he'll be our guest for a while yet, but he's definitely out of the woods."
"And Dr. McKay?"
Beckett looked over at the occupant of the other bed. Rodney's bruises showed up starkly against his pale skin. "I'd be able to tell you, lass, if I knew what was wrong with him. He is, for lack of a better word, badly depleted. Dehydrated, hypoglycemic, hypothermic, actually malnourished if you can believe that. Like something sucked out everything that his body needs to function, nevermind that such a thing isn't physically possible. From what I can see, he's bouncing back just fine now that we're getting his body chemistry closer to normal, but it was a touchy thing."
"They gonna wake up soon?" Ronon asked in what was, for him, a low voice.
Beckett shrugged. "Sheppard's out of the anesthesia and sleeping normally, so it's anybody's guess, really. I expect they'll sleep for a while. You two might want to do the same -- especially you," he told Ronon.
The former runner just stared back at him. Teyla smiled. "I believe we will be here for a while yet, if you do not mind."
"I didn't expect different, lass." Beckett heaved a sigh. "Well, we have plenty of empty beds around, so just take a load off if you feel like it. And if you can get your oversized friend to take a shower, that would be all the better. This is a sterile environment, believe it or not."
With a friendly smile to the two of them, and a last concerned look at Rodney and Sheppard, he slipped off to get some sleep himself, leaving the team alone once more. Well ... not entirely alone.
"How are they?"
The soft voice came from behind one of the curtains, as if the speaker wanted to hide. Teyla turned in his direction and, when she spoke, tried to project comfort in her tone. "They are both doing well, Dr. Zelenka. Would you like to join us?"
Zelenka slunk out from behind the curtain and accepted the chair that she offered him. He stared at his hands rather than looking at the men in the beds. Teyla recognized that look all too well.
"You do not blame yourself for this?" she asked gently, touching his shoulder.
Zelenka flinched, and the eyes that he raised to her looked haunted. "Until the day I die, I will not forget the sight of the four of you, covered with blood and dirt, and knowing that I was at least partly responsible for it."
Ronon just snorted and went back to cleaning his gun. Zelenka glanced at him with a flicker of familiar exasperation before it was covered up once again by guilt. Teyla leaned forward. "Dr. Zelenka, I have spoke to Dr. Weir about this--"
He visibly cringed at the name. "How angry is she?"
"Not at all. She is worried about her people, her friends; but she holds no blame for any of us. Radek ..." She nudged at him. "You work with Dr. McKay, do you not? You are his friend and you know him better than most people. You knew as well as I ... something was broken; something needed to be fixed. The two of us tried to do that. And it has worked, and no one has died. We cannot change the past, only move forward."
It was strange ... she had gone to Elizabeth's office feeling much as Zelenka did now, and Elizabeth had counseled her, and now she felt as if she was passing it along to him. She watched as he looked from Rodney to Sheppard, and back to her. And a small smile quavered around the edges of his mouth. "It did work?" His voice was barely more than a whisper.
Teyla smiled back, and she felt him taking strength from that. "Yes. It did. I would not say the plan went off without a hitch" -- an understatement so vast that words hardly did justice to it -- "but I would not be surprised if they wake up insulting each other just as they once did. Well..." She hesitated, once again feeling the burden of honesty. "I imagine that it will not be quite the same. There have been cracks, and cracks, even repaired, leave a mark. But it is well known that a broken bone may heal stronger than it was before. I would not be surprised if this was the same."
"People change," Ronon rumbled suddenly. Teyla and Zelenka looked at him in surprise. He hadn't looked up from the pieces of the gun broken apart in his lap, and he continued methodically polishing the barrel with a soft cloth as he spoke. "People change, and what's between 'em changes too. That's just life. Why worry about it?" He jerked his head to indicate his two sleeping teammates. "Comrades in arms ... those are the strongest kind. There's a trust that you don't get any other way. But people go on changin', and trust doesn't always go along with it."
He paused for a moment, long enough for Teyla to remember the look in the eyes of Ronon's former friend at the instant of his death. But she no longer felt the sharp knife of betrayal twisting in her heart at that memory. There was still a dull pain, and perhaps would always be. But Ronon was right. People changed. Sometimes for the worse. Sometimes for the better.
Seeming to become aware of his small audience listening intently, the runner spoke again. "Don't know what the future holds. None of us. Today I saw a guy get his chest blown out for his teammate" -- he glanced at Teyla -- "and I saw another guy willing to let the life get sucked out of him to save a friend. And both of 'em are still alive to talk about it. No way to know what you'll have tomorrow, but that's what we've got today. Don't know about you, but I figure I'll take that, and let the future sort itself out."
He fell silent again and concentrated on the gun with a single-minded intensity. Teyla found herself thinking that in his own peculiarly straightforward way, Ronon had hit upon a fundamental truth. Life, she thought, consisted of an infinite series of nows. The past was fixed in stone, the future a mystery. All that was real, all that could really be changed was this one moment, this now. And now, there was the infirmary, the sound of her friends breathing, the warmth of Zelenka's shoulder under her hand -- the knowledge that, just for this one moment, she herself and those that she loved were alive, and together, and reconciled with each other. Tomorrow, this all might be gone. But that would be tomorrow. And it was far too easy to lose oneself in tomorrows, when life was made up only of one today at a time.
Somewhere else in the infirmary, a door closed. Zelenka moved and her hand slipped from his shoulder. A moment later, Major Lorne appeared around the edge of Rodney's bed. He was dressed in casual clothes, or at least as casual as anybody got around Atlantis -- a T-shirt and BDU pants. Teyla found it slightly disconcerting to see him thus; she'd almost begun thinking of his normal uniform as an extension of his body. His short hair was tousled and damp from a recent shower.
Confronted by all of them, he hesitated, his usual confidence in the field evaporating in the face of their small, close grouping. "Uh, I wanted to see how the Colonel was doing. And everyone else, of course," he added hastily.
"The Colonel and Dr. McKay are doing well," Teyla said, "but will probably sleep for some time longer. Ronon and myself are also doing well. We will be staying for a time. Would you like to stay also?"
He actually blushed when she smiled at him. "As long as I wouldn't be in the way."
It was wonderful to fly, but nicer, sometimes, to drift. Sheppard drifted in a fuzzy gray place, vaguely aware of the beeping of machines around him, of voices that came and went -- familiar voices, comforting though he could not quite place them. He felt warm, safe, content. But still, even half asleep, he found himself tallying up voices, making sure that each one could be filed away in his mental checklist, even though he still couldn't put names to them -- and one voice kept coming up missing. It was this absence that finally prompted him to push himself up from the comfortable gray nothingness into a colder world with harder edges.
Beeping machines. White sheets, slightly scratchy. Atlantis infirmary. He was relieved and, at the same time, vaguely worried, though he couldn't figure out why. He twisted his head to the side. What he saw made him blink.
It seemed at first glance that the entire population of Atlantis was in his corner of the infirmary. On second look, it wasn't actually that bad, but still ... had the wing of the city that housed the living quarters flooded or something?
On a chair next to his bed, Ronon was slumped, asleep, with his gun in his lap. Teyla sat on the floor next to him, leaning against his leg, also sound asleep. Sheppard's eyes roved across the two of them, to McKay tucked under a set of white sheets like his own; the concerned tightness in his chest finally eased, although the scientist seemed to be hooked up to a worrisome number of machines and bags of fluids of various colors. On the other side of Rodney was another bed with Lorne sprawled across it, fully clothed, and -- Sheppard's eyes widened considerably -- Radek Zelenka curled up next to him, just like an oversized house cat. The final piece of the tableau was Elizabeth Weir in a chair at the foot of Rodney's bed, her elbow propped on the bed and her head in her hand, snoring softly.
At least Caldwell wasn't here. That would just be too much. He didn't think his brain could take it. He wondered where Beckett was, but had no doubt the man was around somewhere ... maybe watching them all on closed-circuit TV. And laughing.
"Hey." Very quiet, the call -- pitched so as not to wake any of the sleepers around them. Sheppard's eyes snapped back down to Rodney, met two clear blue eyes looking back at him.
Rodney moved his head slightly to indicate the people around them, and he said in a barely audible voice, "Nothing like a welcome party, huh?"
Sheppard tested his voice, found it weak but functional. "Maybe an outbreak of sleeping sickness hit Atlantis while we were gone."
"It's flattering, and yet ..." One of Rodney's hands moved in a slight circling motion, trailing wires in its wake.
Sheppard nodded his head against the pillow. "Creepy."
Their eyes met in perfect understanding. Sheppard found that the last vestiges of his nagging sense of worry had vanished, replaced by a dreamy sense of contentment. He thought drugs might be involved. His eyelids seemed to be drifting shut of their own volition.
"Oh thanks," Rodney said in a voice that managed to be petulant while still remaining soft-pitched enough not to disturb the sleepers. "Leave me alone with the Sleeping Beauty extras."
"You can ... stand guard. Or something." Hard to think, hard to talk ... the quiet gray place beckoned. Not forever. Just for a little while.
There was fear in that voice. The fear penetrated his gray place, urged him to struggle to the surface once again.
"Yeah?" Sheppard managed to say, blinking against the haze and squinting over at Rodney. "This better be good."
But Rodney was just smiling, a smug crooked smile with something warmer and softer underneath. "Checking. Sorry. Go back to sleep."
"Damn you," Sheppard murmured, eyes drifting shut once again.
"Payback." McKay's voice was equally soft. He seemed to be drifting off too. Apparently all the sleepers around them were contagious.
The answering, mumbled insult from the next bed over was incoherent as McKay faded towards sleep. Struggling against the gray haze, Sheppard found that one more thing needed to be said. "Yo, Rodney?"
There was a long silence before the unusually quiet voice answered, sleepy and annoyed and something else as well. "Yeah, what."
A pause, then a soft, "Later, Sheppard."
And he slept.
This has been so much fun! I hope people weren't too disappointed about not getting to see the actual rescue itself. I started to write it and then realized that I was ending up with a fairly anticlimactic chapter (since nothing went wrong and the boys are down for the count) which could be easily summarized in a debriefing in what would have been the chapter following that one. Hopefully Lorne, Beckett and Zelenka don't mind me stealing their moment of glory. Maybe next story! There's also been a good enough response to the OC's in this story (Sasha and Karmath) that I may do a sequel to explore the fallout from these events on Cleta and how that affects Atlantis.
Thank you, once again, to Tazmy for making this story so much better than it was, and for everyone else for reading and reviewing and making me feel welcome in my new fandom! I already have an idea for another long WIP, though it'll be a while before it's far enough along to start posting chapters. And, of course, now that this plot bunny is thoroughly satisfied, there's always "Plumber's Helper" to finish! A fanfic writer's work is never done...