A/N: Here's the final chapter - I hope you enjoy it! Just a reminder that it is AU from the end of season 2. Once again, thank you Gigajules for the beta.
Not Alone - Chapter Four
Pitch black. Weight on his chest. Pain; crushing, debilitating pain, all over. Voices floating in the ether.
"Carson." A soft, feminine voice. An image of a dark haired woman in red with vivid eyes flashed through his mind, but it was gone before he could put a name to it.
The pain grew stronger, giving the blackness grey, kaleidoscopic patterns. He whimpered.
"Colonel, can you hear me?" This one was a mellow, kind voice, vibrating with a brogue that should be familiar to him. "I need you to open your eyes. Can you do that for me, lad?"
He struggled to make sense of the words; they came at him one at a time, scattered like raindrops.
"I need you to hold on for me and open your eyes before I can give you anything else for the pain." Something for the pain. No coherent thought just a longing, a yearning for something to end the crushing pain he felt.
"John, its okay, can you hear us?" The lady in red again. He wanted to do what they said, knew it would ease the pain, knew that he trusted them. He exerted all of his willpower, harnessed all of his strength, and moved his eyelids the necessary quarter-inch. A bright light impaled him, and then he let his eyelids drift closed again. He dwelt there, floating in the pain-filled blackness.
"At least he's responsive now." He heard the lilting voice say, then the pain began to recede and he gratefully fell back into nothingness.
John opened eyelids that were heavier than they had any right to be. The light was blinding, so he let his eyes shut again, before the mounting pain forced him to open them again. He blinked rapidly as the room blurred, then slowly came into focus. The blurry shape next to his bed snored, and he turned his head and watched as it coalesced into Rodney. The scientist was slouched down in a chair, legs stretched out in front of him and arms crossed protectively across his chest. Someone had placed a blanket over him, which had slipped down and off to the side, so now it only covered his knees and feet.
"Hey" John said, but nothing came out. He cleared his throat and tried again. Rodney snorted and started upright.
"Oh, hey!" He said, leaning forwards and looking closely at John, before looking up and across the room and nodding at someone. That someone turned out to be Carson, who hurried over to John's bed.
"Well, hello there." Carson smiled as he looked down at John. "How're you feeling?'
"Hurt." John managed. He'd only just woken up and he already felt tired, only the pain stopped him from sinking back into a deep sleep.
"Aye, I imagine you do. You got yourself into a right state, and gave us quite a scare." Carson reached into his pocket and pulled out a penlight, flashing it in John's eyes. John blinked at the assault, trying to figure out how 'I hurt' translated into 'shine a light in my eyes'. Carson stuck a thermometer in John's ear, then put his stethoscope in his ears and John felt the cold dot of metal as it hopped from place to place on his chest. He breathed in, and it hurt. He breathed out, and it hurt. And when Carson put the blood pressure cuff around his arm he wanted to tell him to go to hell and leave him alone, but he was too worn out, so he lay there limply and watched the doctor inflate the cuff until it squeezed his arm.
"What'd I do?" He asked wearily, the thought of an extended stay in the infirmary wasn't high on his list of good times. Carson looked at his bruised, swollen face and sighed.
"How you get yourself banged up like this I'll never know, Colonel." He said. The words were harsh, but they were said in such a sad and gentle tone that John actually apologised.
"Aye, well. You've cracked four of your ribs. You've got a very pretty size thirteen bruise there, too." Carson's eyes turned cold and his lips tightened at this pronouncement. "You've also got some swelling around your orbital cavity that's putting a lot of pressure on your eye. I've got you on some anti-inflammatory and antipyretics to help the swelling go down, but I'll be monitoring it closely. If the swelling doesn't go down within the next day or two, we'll have to look at our options. It seems to be responding to the anti-inflammatory medication so far." Carson paused and stared hard at him, and he saw the care and worry in his face. That was the worst thing about Carson. Everything showed on his face, and he cared so much that it was almost more painful to look in his eyes than be the one injured. John blinked slowly, merely to break the contact.
"You've got a bullet through you're knee, which I'm sure you realise. What you probably don't realise is how bloody lucky you're going to be if you have full mobility in that knee again. It's a bloody mess, I'll not kid you, but fortunately there were no intra-articular fractures, so I expect that you'll gain most of your mobility back. I can't be certain though, not yet. I've debrided the wound and I've got you're knee in traction for a few days, after which I'll have another look at it. The biggest problem was that it got a nasty infection while you were being a damn fool running around on it in the muck with a day old contaminated field bandage! The wound went septic – you damn near died on us!"
John uncomfortably sunk lower into the bed, and let out a croak that could have been anything. Rodney took some pity on him.
"It's not like he had much of a choice, Carson." Carson rounded on him, but merely gave him a speculative look, then nodded, his shoulders sagging.
"Aye. True enough. But if we never run into that Genii madman again, it'll be too soon." John had to agree there, all though if they did run into him again… well, civility be damned. John had every intention of shooting on sight. Carson turned and injected some painkillers into the IV line. "Well, Colonel, I've got you on a cocktail of broad spectrum antibiotics, including the antipyretics for your eye, so we're winning the battle against the infection. Best get some rest, now." He added more gently. He leaned over and checked the cannula, and John absently noted that one of his fingers was also bandaged. He hoped that Teyla, Ronon and Elizabeth would be coming to visit, but the painkillers had kicked in and he was too sleepy to force the thought into words. John slipped back into a deep sleep.
"Oh man, this is fucked up! Someone screwed the pooch on this one, Sir!" Mitch's voice wavered, and John told himself it was just the crackling of the radio. He was right though. Someone at HQ had made a huge-ass mistake, and instead of flying over small farmsteads nestled in the sun-blasted hills south of Kabul, they found themselves dodging RPGs and SAMs being fired on them from what appeared to be half the fucking Taliban resistance.
"He's right," He said to the man sitting next to him. The Colonel had chosen to replace his co-pilot since he was joining the command that were pushing out of the Khyber Pass towards Kabul. A small group of army grunts had been cut off from the rest of the troops in the pass, and they were to extract them and transport them to the main force in the Pass on route.
"This is suicide!" He banked sharply to the left as he spoke, and watched yet another SAM sail past, so close he could see the markings on the shell. Colonel Accardi turned to him and leaned in, closing the distance in spite of the microphone on his helmet, and waited until John looked at him.
"We don't leave people behind, son. We have troops on the other side of those hills and they're waiting for us to get them out. Now do your job." John felt his neck flush red as the reprimand sank in. It was a motto he lived by, had always felt to be true, to be right, and the Colonel had just implied that he would abandon both his post and his fellow soldiers. He should have agreed – Sir, yes, Sir –and let it slide, but he just couldn't let the man sitting next to him think that lowly of him. He'd requested this post because he respected the Colonel and General Pierce. John had always felt it hard to work under the command of men he didn't – couldn't – respect. It had earned him more than one disciplinary action in his time. He was honest enough to admit that was why, at thirty five years of age, intelligent and a phenomenally skilled pilot, he was still a Major.
"That wasn't my intention, Sir!" He put a strong emphasis on intention, hoping it didn't sound subordinate, but he was too pre-occupied keeping the chopper up in the air to take too much note over semantics. He spun the chopper into an elegant dance around two more SAMs, and pulled hard at the stick to avoid a volley of automatic weapons fire. He glanced over at Dex's chopper, and saw the stocky man pull a similar, if slightly more clumsy, manoeuvre. He looked ahead, and saw the set of valleys and rills they were flying over were nearly at an end, which hopefully meant they would be out of the shitstorm they were currently flying through.
"Head's up, Mitch! Looks like friendly sky ahead. You can let go of Dex's hand now." He looked through his window at the chopper next to him, and gave his friend the universal salute.
"Ha friggin' ha, Shep. You sending your panties home to Mommy to wash?" John grinned and twirled through a last ditch volley of RPG fire, heading for the safety of the foothills ahead. He heard a dull thwump and a horrendous screech of tortured metal, and his radio filled with the sound of Dex's panicked voice.
"Shit, Shep! Colonel, Shep, we're fucking hit! I repeat, we're hit and we're going down. Mitch, can you see… fuck me, shot the damn tail rotor off!" John spun his bird around and saw his friend's spinning out of control towards the ground. He saw Mitch jump clear and held his breath for a heart-stopping moment before the parachute billowed out. Crap! He kept his eye on Dex's Huey as it plummeted towards the Earth's surface. He still hadn't seen a second parachute. He bit his lip and watched, listening to the Colonel call in to HQ, letting them know what had happened. Dex's chopper hit the ground, exploding in a fireball as it took two of the RPG launchers with it. He still hadn't seen a parachute… yes! There it was. He must have missed him jump clear. He started to fly in, dodging the increased fire coming from the ground, impatient for the all-clear.
"Hold on, Major. We're to keep on our original heading." John turned and looked at Colonel Accardi incredulously.
"What happened to 'no-one gets left behind, Sir?" he demanded outraged.
"This is a direct order!" The Colonel shouted back. "Given to me by my direct superior! I do not disobey orders, Major." John pulled the chopper up higher, to avoid the worst of the enemy fire, and looked at the Colonel to see if he had correctly understood the full import of the Colonel's words.
"You don't disobey orders, Sir." As much as he respected the man, he'd have to spell it out before John would do this.
"I'm not flying the chopper, son." John nodded slowly.
"No, Sir, you're not." He banked the Huey and dove down towards the wreckage, firing to clear his path and looking for a clear place to land. He saw Mitch run over to the direction Dex had landed. At least one of them was still alive. Jesus, he was in deep! He scanned the surface again, finding an area where he could touch down briefly and get his friends the hell out of there before they were all killed. He was so close, too, when there was a grinding sound behind him, and the air was suddenly too hot to breathe properly. He was thrown forward into his restraints as the blast buffeted him. The controls went dead under him, and the chopper dropped from the sky. He had come in low enough before he was shot down that fortunately there wasn't far to fall, but that didn't mean much when you were in a flaming heap of metal, gas and ammunition. He looked out to see where his friends were. Mitch was running over to Dex. The tall Satedan looked up as Mitch came over to him, then caught him as he jolted forwards as bullets pummelled into his back. Except it wasn't Mitch he caught, it was Rodney.
The helicopter hit the ground with bone jarring impact, and John was catapulted out through the windshield and onto the hard ground. He curled into a ball as debris and dirt rained down on him, barely rolling out of the way as part of a rotor blade came hurtling towards him. He got up and ran to the mangled wreckage, and saw Teyla's dead eyes staring back at him, her body a twisted ruin. He swallowed the rage and the pain, and ran over to his friends, only to find that Ronon had suffered the same fate as Rodney. He looked helplessly at the two bullet-ridden corpses that had been his friends only moments ago. The heat from the wreckage of his plane radiated out and washed over him, reminding him that he was in a hot zone, and he'd better start running now if he wanted to live. He ran towards the hills with tears in his eyes and the smell of death clinging to him.
He was in enemy territory, his friends were dead, and he was all alone.
John woke, gasping for breath as he shook violently, his ribs on fire. There was a soft touch on his shoulder as he lay in the semi-darkness, breathing heavily.
"Colonel, it is alright, you are safe. John, it is okay." Teyla.
"I'm alright." He whispered softly, more to himself than to her.
"You cried out in your sleep. You are on Atlantis, John, and you are not alone." He drew in a shuddering breath. What the hell had he said during his nightmare? He could still remember it, the sound, the sight, the smell; all of it so real. Painful memories he'd thought he had buried over a year ago. The dream had been so real he may as well have been living it again, but this time he had the added bonus of watching new friends die as well as the old. Six for the price of three.
He didn't truly remember the three days following the crash; wandering through the god-forsaken, heat blasted hills of Kabul, injured and starving, grieving and alone, until he'd stumbled into a British contingent in the Khyber Pass. In his deepest, darkest nightmares he did remember flashes; images and feelings. The same feelings he'd felt in the forest last night. He'd been alone. Alone because he'd failed his friends and they were dead.
He settled back into the soft infirmary pillow, trying to ignore the throbbing pain from his knee and the discomfort of being unable to move around with his leg in traction. The morphine dulled the pain, and he was grateful it wasn't as bad as when he had awoken in the grotto on the planet. The warm hand returned silently to his shoulder, and he was thankful that he wasn't alone in the darkness tonight. The memory rose unbidden of waking up in the cave in the midst of a raging fever, and feeling Teyla's hand on his forehead, anchoring him. She'd been there too, they all had. They'd come for him, when he'd thought they were dead. He'd given up on them with no proof that they were dead, because his fear of failing them was so great that rational thought had left him. John started shaking, unable to control it. He'd left them behind. Not in body, but he'd left them for dead and had been so intent on revenge that it hadn't even occurred to him that Kolya might be lying.
"John?" Teyla looked at him, a worried frown on her face, but he couldn't stop the tremors that were increasing in violence, shaking his body as the suppressed emotions wracked his weakened body.
"Carson!" John saw the doctor come over, and he realised another truth. He cast his mind back over every time he'd woken up since he collapsed from the fever in the forest. They were there. Teyla. Ronon. Elizabeth. Carson. Even Rodney. Every time he woke up, one of them was there with him. Every time he fell asleep one of them would stay behind and settle into the chair that was always beside the bed and wait with him and watch over him. Carson injected a sedative, and Teyla stroked his hand while it took effect, but he barely noticed as he remembered all the other times he had been in the infirmary. Yes. There they were. All the time.
As the sedative took effect and John was slowly drawn into sleep, he realised that he knew he would do anything to protect these people, to not fail his friends. He'd known that for some time now. What he hadn't known before now, what truly shocked him to the core of his being, was the realisation that they would do the same for him. He wasn't alone.
Disclaimer: The copyright for Stargate Atlantis belongs to MGM studios and SciFi channel. It's their playground- I'm just playing in it.