Betas: shusu (LJ) and bluejbird (LJ)
Warning: Graphic gore (from off screen violence)
Characters: Jennifer Keller (sides of Major Lorne, Colonel Sheppard, and Ronon)
Notes: A very major thank you goes out to shusu (LJ) and bluejbird (LJ) for the wonderful beta work that they did on this piece. Since I continued to play around with word choices and sentence structure in a number of places after they gave this back, all remaining mistakes are my own. This was written for Day 8 (Domestic Violence) on 14valentines(LJ). The lyrics that open and close this story come from "We are never broken" by Jewel
If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all okay
And not to worry cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
She's not sure how the guitar ended up in what had once been in her room. She had shifted a pile of rubble that used to be a bed and part of a desk, and there it was. The wood gleamed with light from the shattered window, not a single scratch on its surface. She'd just stared at it for a moment before reaching down and snatching it up. It had been the only thing worth salvaging in the wreckage.
Stumbling over the debris in the hallways, she picked a careful path back towards the heart of the city, her hand wrapped tightly around the neck of the guitar. She was tired and more than a little clumsy while she trekked back to the temporary bunker they had cobbled together in the mess. She had patients waiting for her there, the less critical ones who didn't need to be watched carefully and constantly. The infirmary was already over filled as it was and the mess was in no better shape for holding wounded personnel and those still functioning as orderlies.
But after two days of no sleep and constant adrenaline high, her body ached in ways she had never expected. She had to stop in a small gallery just off the mess, sitting on an overturned bench.
It was already night outside. A cool, gentle breeze blowing through what was left of the stained glass, letting in the sound of breaking water, and the smell of salt water spray. But it was all secondary to the way the light caught on the polished wood of the guitar. Turning it over in her hands, her nails caught briefly on the strings before the light weight of the instrument was finally settled on her thigh, resting under her hands.
Gentle fingers fluttered over the strings. It was easier than she could have believed to tune. Whoever had previously own it had taken good care of it. It was only moments later she was mindlessly plucking notes, reacquainting herself with the pitch and tone of an acoustic guitar.
It had been a long time since she had last played one. But her hands remembered better than her brain what to do with the strings and the frets, and how to make the patterns that formed chords.
As she played, she felt the dried blood on her hands begin to flake off against the abrasive strings. She hadn't had time to shower since they got back. She hadn't been able to wash her hands before treating new patients and what supply they had of latex gloves had been destroyed with most of her infirmary. She'd been forced to make do. There was nothing anyone could have done to get the water running or make new latex gloves.
What she saw when she came back through the Stargate would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life. Jennifer was certain of that. Nothing could have prepared her for what waited for them in the gate room, not witnessing the slaughter of animals as a child growing up on a farm, or as a resident in an inner city hospital.
The familiar copper sweet smell burned her nose as she took a careful step further into the vast room.
The gate room floor was slippery under foot. It wasn't under Major Lorne skidded and fell that she looked down long enough to see what it was that was making her shoes slide. The floor was washed in still crimson blood. Still fresh enough to not have congealed. Still fresh enough to be body-warm to the touch.
"Sweet Mother of God," she heard one of the marines utter as he glanced up
She looked up as well.
Six headless, handless, bodies were swaying gently from the rafters above the gate room floor. The genitals and breasts cut off with careless disregard, strung by the remnants of their clothing.
Something inside of her turned off. She didn't recognize the bodies, her mind refused to connect the dots that those six swaying corpses had belonged to people she had worked with, lived with, laughed with. Her brain was trying to protect her, and she was going to let it for the time being. She needed that sense of removal, so she could get to work.
Because having heard the marine's utterance, her ears had suddenly opened up to the sounds of suffering that reverberated through the air around her. People moaned in pain, some cried out. And distantly, she was sure she could hear what sounded like a child wailing in the background. She didn't want to think too much about that sound. For the first time since the Expedition had first arrived in Pegasus, they were bringing delegations to the city. And those delegations had brought children with them - a once in a life time chance to see the city of the Ancestors.
Glancing about, Jennifer saw a dazed man sitting propped up against a wall. He had blood smears on his face, but other than that, she could see nothing else wrong with him. Turning to the marine next to her, who was clutching his P90 to his chest as though it would save him, she snapped out, "You!" The young marine nearly jumped out of his skin at her tone but he turned to her none the less. "Go check for survivors. Anyone who is functional enough to move under their own power is to be made to help check for the injured and treat them."
The marine blinked at her. Major Lorne was finally pulling himself up onto his feet and turning in her direction when the young marine said, "But--" His protest was cut short when Jennifer snapped her gaze back to his ashen face. Whatever it was that he saw there made him stand a little straighter and square his shoulders.
"Every single person on this base has been trained in field medicine," Jennifer told him in a flat tone, already shrugging off her pack and digging out a pair of latex gloves. "If they aren't critical, patch them up. Use your own supplies if you have to. If they're critical, stabilize them as best you can and get someone to find me or a certified field medic." Passing over a pair of gloves to the marine, she internally huffed at the new recruit. "Understand?"
"Yes ma'am," he said, taking the gloves and struggling to get his hands into them while still clutching his gun. "But I don't know -"
"Just do what the doctor says," the Major ordered, already reaching for a pair of gloves of his own. The marine nodded and made his way over to the closest body to him and checked him over, murmuring softly in an under tone to the fallen comrade.
"The radios are out," Lorne told her, glancing about the room. "We're barricade in here too. Control room looks as though a bomb went off in it."
Jennifer nodded; pulling on a pair of gloves herself and marched over to the body lying crumpled on the gate room stairs. Checking for a pulse, she found none and moved on to the next body at the top of the stairs. Lorne trailed behind her, helping her check the bodies, moving them when necessary, and then moving on to the next. Always to the next.
They found the crying child just outside of the conference room doors. A little girl of no more than four turned a tear-streaked face towards them, holding her burned arm to her chest, the other hand clutching at the hair of the woman lying sightlessly on the floor next to her. The conference room doors were sealed shut. Only the upper half of the woman was on their side of those doors, arms outstretched in a pool of her own blood as though she were reaching for something, or holding something out of the way of the closing doors.
She heard the Major suck in a breath behind her, but Jennifer didn't even blink.
She moved carefully so as not to startle the little girl. Kneeling down next to the crying child, she pried the tiny fingers from the dead woman's hair and moved her away so she could check her arm. The girl cried louder and harder, but she didn't struggle against being moved away. Once Jennifer had the burn cleaned out and bandaged quickly, she shrugged out of her pack and jacket.
"Major, I need your jacket," she said, reaching behind her.
A moment later she felt the light material in her hands. She made quick work of fashioning out a sling for the little girl. "Put this on, Major," she told him handing the bundle of material back to Lorne.
He blinked at her and then did as he was told, putting the knotted material over one shoulder. "I'm going to need you to put her in it. I can't carry her in the front."
Jennifer stood, scooping up the crying child as she went. Once the little girl had been settled into the make-shift sling and a few adjustments made, they were off again.
They had cleared much of the gate room of injured personnel. Moving most of them to clearer spaces, and treating those who couldn't be moved where they had fallen. They found three more headless bodies hanging in the back of the control room where the stairs to the jumper bay had once stood.
They had found enough people with only minor injuries and field medic training to make a small band of triage medics.
Major Lorne and four marines were making their way through one of the doors in the gate room, trying to get into the city proper and find out what had happened. Looking for more injured or a clear path to the infirmary where they could better treat the injured and for clues as to what had happened in their absence.
Jennifer was cutting away the pant leg of an unconscious man to find out how badly it was broken when a set of hands grabbed her from behind.
A low, vicious voice hissed in her ear as she was pulled away. "Defiler! We will cleanse the Ancestors City of the taint you have placed on it with your blood."
She went limp in the man's hands. Terrified beyond reason. "The rest of my brethren will make it to the City's heart and we will tame the beast you have let lose in the sacred halls."
She heard shouts from the gate room below her, knew that the others had seen what was going on. But something inside of her told her that they would be too late getting to her. There was no clear shot from the gate room floor to where she was in the control room. And the man holding her from behind would snap her neck before they could make it even half way up the stairs.
There was no one else in the gate room (or in the city as far they had been able to determine) who could treat the injured. And if those injured didn't receive medical attention they were all going to die. Most of the injuries were too severe for field medic practices - they were stop-gap measures at best, a delay for death at worst. If this man made good on his threat, they were all dead.
She felt the hand holding the knife move of its own accord. Her body struggling under his hold to mask the movement as she brought the knife up to her side and plunged it into his abdomen, nicking her side in the process.
He let her go with a cry of pain, the blade coming free as she stumbled a few steps forward. She turned to see him reaching down to his bleeding side. When he looked back to her she saw her death written in his eyes. Major Lorne and his team were already part way up the stairs - still no clear shot, still too far away.
Shifting her grip on the knife just like she hand been taught in medical school - just like Ronon had taught her - she felt the blood-slick grip against her palm, felt her fingers tighten around it, felt her hand come up when he lunged for her, arms outstretched, felt it slide easily between his ribs, felt the warm pulse of fresh blood against her hand, felt the way his body paused before her, his weight pressing the blade deeper into his heart.
"Are you sure you're all right, doc?" Lorne asked her for what felt like the hundredth time.
She was busy searching for more bandages in her pack when she replied crisply, "Yes, Major, I'm fine." It wasn't the truth, but it wasn't a lie either. He didn't seem to believe her, but he stopped asking how she was doing at least. Fishing out the extra bandage, Jennifer turned back to the scientist she had just finished stitching up.
"We checked the gate room and control room for any other possible intruders. You should be safe enough here for the moment," Lorne said, lifting the man onto his side so Jennifer could secure the bandage to his back. "As soon as we get those doors open, I'm going to take a team of men with me to find you a way back to the infirmary, and hopefully find us a passage to the labs. The consoles up here are too damaged to be of any use."
Jennifer nodded, finished securing the bandage and finally looked Lorne in the face. "We'll be fine here," she reassured him. "You're leaving me with three fully trained marines. We're all armed, and that man who attacked me didn't even have a knife on him. I'm sure we will be just fine here."
She watched as the Major considered her for a brief moment. She wasn't sure what she looked like, or what he might see in her eyes, and she couldn't bring herself to care. She wasn't dwelling on the man she had killed, his body had been removed and Jennifer hadn't asked where they had put him. Out of sight, out of mind, meant that she didn't have to deal with the fall out until the crisis was over.
He nodded to her once and then did it again, as though he had come to some conclusion. "You'll need to take the kid when we get those doors open. I can't take her with us, not without knowing what's going on out there."
And just like that they were transferring the little girl over to Jennifer. Adjusting the knots the Major had tied in the jackets so that the material hung properly on her frame, and the little girl was snug against her back. One of the marine's being left behind was given her pack to carry for her.
And then there was a shout from the gate room and Major Lorne took the remainder of the marines out of the gate room and into the city proper.
They had gotten one of the doors leading towards the infirmary and science labs open and found that the hall ways were strewn with rubble and filled with smoke and smoldering fires. They believed they would be able to find a way towards the infirmary and possibly find someone who knew what had happened and how might be able to help them get internal sensors back on line.
Jennifer was still busy treating the people in the gate room who hadn't made it to the top of the critical list.
She was kneeling next to a small Japanese woman with glasses.
Their arrival had apparently interrupted the festivities - the unstable vortex of the wormhole killing those who had been in the gate room (and destroying the body that would have made it seven swaying corpses above the gate room). But the man who had attacked Jennifer while checking on the broken leg had been busy preparing this woman to become body number eight.
He had only gotten part way through the removal of one hand before the gate had opened and interrupted his work. He had tried to hide her, wedging her body between some twisted metal. They had only just found her. It was too late to save the hand. Even here in Atlantis, there were only so many miracles Jennifer could work.
She was down to her last three pairs of latex gloves, half a bottle of rubbing alcohol and her utility knife. But the hand had to come off, and so did the flesh surrounding the wound site. It was turning an alarming shade of green that was advancing at a slow, but visible rate. Someone had tied a tourniquet around the severed limb, the material foreign and the knot angled away from her body telling Jennifer it hadn't been the woman who'd done the job.
Jennifer looked to the little woman and told her, "I'm going to have to amputate your hand." The woman nodded grimly, her face set in stubborn lines. Jennifer wanted to call her by name. But the only thing she knew for certain was that this little Japanese woman worked in Dr. McKay's department and had been part of the original expedition. "I'm going to have to remove more of the flesh surrounding the wound and then we're going to have to cauterize the site to keep it from bleeding out."
All she got was another nod.
Her merry band of deputized nurses and orderlies gathered around her. Their hands pressed down on the woman's body, holding her still and firmly against the floor. Everyone's face was set in determined lines. The man straddling the woman's chest slipped the leather sheath for a utility knife between the woman's teeth. "Do not be afraid to scream, Miko. There will be no shame should you faint," he told the woman.
"This is going to hurt," Jennifer told her. Miko only closed her eyes and nodded her readiness.
Jennifer brought the utility knife down with all her strength, hoping that the blade wouldn't break against the bone, wouldn't become lodged in it.
She wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse that Miko only passed out after the hand and extra flesh had been removed and cauterized at the site.
Major Lorne had sent back one of the marines to tell her that they had cleared a path leading to the infirmary and that there were more injured and dead in the halls.
She was gathering her supplies, getting ready to start moving those that could be moved when a blast rocked the central tower.
As people screamed out in terror and pain, Jennifer tried to steady herself, throwing her body over the little girl who was only a few feet away when she felt the floor shake under her.
A man, a scientist who she knew well enough to nod to in the halls was jarred from his perch on one of the steps leading down from the gate floor, landing on the floor next to the steps, right where she had been standing a moment before.
Glancing over, she saw a patch of red seeping along his side from a wound that she had just stitched closed. He was looking at her when pieces of the ceiling began to fall.
He was still looking at her when part of a support beam came crashing down on him. Breaking through his chest, the jagged edges grinding into the floor under him.
She had still been looking at him when he coughed out his last bloodied breath.
Once the world finally stopped shivering around her, Jennifer had gotten the rest of the critical patients who had survived the blast settled and began to make her way towards the infirmary.
They gathered the injured as they made their way through the halls.
Marines. Scientists. All of them with weapons clutched in their hands.
They found Ronon in a small alcove in the hall way just before the infirmary. Major Lorne hadn't made it all the way there, instead having turned back, leaving half his team to help collect the wounded and taking the rest to go looking for an undamaged scientist.
There was a pole going right through his abdomen. He had one hand wrapped around the piece of metal and the other firmly holding onto his gun.
The part of her that had turned off when they had first come through the Stargate came back on in that instant. All she could feel for one heart stopping moment was panic. She could hear the little voice of reason in the back of her mind screaming no, no, no, no!
People were already moving, gathering him up to bring with them. Even though she knew they couldn't safely move him with the pole jutting out of his body like that, she didn't object. Because they had a world class surgeon in the infirmary. Dr. Benson would be able to remove the pole from Ronon. He would be able to save him, make sure that Ronon didn't die. She would make him swear to it.
But when they got to the infirmary, the first thing that greeted them was Benson's mutilated corpse swaying within a group above the infirmary floor.
It was a blur of motion that got the other patients settled into unsoiled beds, got the corpses removed from the ceiling, that got Ronon into an operating room, got Jennifer scrubbed up for surgery.
There was no running water. Most of their medical supplies had been raided or destroyed before the people who had attacked the city were driven out of the sterile life saving environment.
There was a charred hole in the operating room wall. Only half of the people in the room had clean latex gloves on. And the only analgesic they had left was morphine.
Jennifer still wasn't sure how she was able to get through that operation. How she was able to cut into Ronon's side, clamping down on blood vessels to keep the precious liquid within his body (their surplus of donated blood had been destroyed as well, leaving them with only two bags of Ronon's blood type). The conditions had been less than ideal.
She was pretty sure that between demanding clamps and scalpels and gauze, she had been whispering under her breath the entire time. A litany of: Don't die. Please don't die. You can't die on me now. Not now. Not yet. Please don't die. I'm not going to let you die. I'll never forgive you if you do. Over and over again she whispered those words. No one said anything about it. She was the only one left remotely qualified to operate.
They had removed the pole from his side. Clamped and reattached all the severed veins, stitching together the muscle. It was another miracle that day that the pole hadn't punctured any of his vital organs. That it had completely missed the major arteries and passed out the other side four inches away from his spine.
They were putting in the last stitches when his heart stopped.
Someone handed her the charge paddles of the defibrillator.
"Clear!" she cried.
She watched as his body was filled with the electric shock, pulling dangerously at the fresh stitches in his side.
The machine refused to acknowledge a heartbeat.
She brought the paddles back down on his chest.
His body arched again, tearing a few of the stitches in the process.
Still no heartbeat.
And still his heart refused to beat.
Dr. Cotton, only slightly concussed, glanced at the clock on the wall (only a little singed around the edges). "Time of death," he said in that empty tone Jennifer recognized because it was one she had used herself when she was tired and beaten. When there was no hope of winning the situation, when there was nothing left to do but let go.
"No," she breathed, dropping the paddles and pulling herself up on to the gurney. "No. He's not dead," she told him, her hands taking on the familiar form for manual chest compressions. "He's not dead! I won't let him be dead."
The nurses moved around her like a buzzing group of bees, changing Ronon's breathing tube from the machine to a hand pumped bag while Jennifer counted off chest compressions.
Three sets of compressions, fourteen torn stitches, and a few shouted orders from Dr. Cotton later Ronon's heart started beating.
She stumbled out onto the balcony not long after they got Ronon stabilized and set up in the infirmary.
She was covered in blood. Some of it hers, most of it not.
The water still hadn't been turned back on. Most of her patients were probably going to pick up secondary infections from the lack of proper procedure and sterile conditions. They had been pumped full of antibiotics and were being watched carefully.
It was late afternoon when she found her way out to the balcony. The sun was heading back towards the ocean.
She couldn't believe that they had only come through the Stargate that morning. It had only been this morning when her world had tipped and tilted and nearly slid out of place. It felt as though it had been days and weeks since they had come back to that grisly sight. Not a matter of hours.
She fell to her knees, body bowing forward, curling in around herself.
Words were slipping from her lips before her mind could catch up with what she was doing.
A prayer of thanksgiving. Pleading with a god she had long ago stopped believing in.
Begging for just one more miracle. Just one more, only one.
Let them live. Let them all live.
She was aware that it was more than one miracle, but to combine all the lives of the wounded and injured into one, to not pick and choose between them, but to make them a package deal. That should surely count for only one miracle.
"Doctor?" she heard someone call to her from behind.
She didn't respond at first. The voice got closer, calling her again.
She turned her head enough to see Colonel Sheppard's concerned face nearly on her level, and Dr. McKay's shifting feet just behind him next to the swirling material of Teyla's skirts.
"Hey doc," Colonel Sheppard said, reaching out to her and then hesitating when she felt the muscles shift in her face, before letting his hand drop, the action aborted. "They told us that you were operating on Ronon."
She watched his expression change then. It went from concerned to carefully blank. Even under the layers of grime and soot and blood, she could see the emptiness. Watched it fill his eyes and still his body. She vaguely noted that Dr. McKay had stopped shifting around to be come unnaturally still, and that even Teyla's skirts seemed to freeze in place.
"He made it through the surgery," she told them. "His heart stopped once, but we got it going again."
She watched relief flood in the Colonel's face, filling in the empty spaces that had been there before.
They got the radios working in short order after that.
Jennifer was sent out of the infirmary and told to get some sleep.
She went wandering through the city instead, going to where her room had once been and looking at the rubble that had been left in the wake of the attack on the city.
She was still playing the guitar when a voice came over the radio, the angry frustrated cries of a child echoing in the background.
"Doctor Keller, this is Doctor Cotton, please respond."
She was half tempted to ignore the call, since she was supposed to be sleeping. The slightly desperate undertone of Cotton's voice made her answer.
"This is Keller."
"Thank god! We need you to come back to the infirmary to pick up the child you and Major Lorne found near the conference room. She won't settle down and stop crying unless the Major has her, and he needs to begin organizing teams for repairs and salvage with Colonels Carter and Sheppard. We're hoping that she'll calm down for you as well."
Pushing herself to her feet Jennifer made her way back towards the infirmary and away from the sleep she should have been getting instead of playing the guitar. "I'm on my way back. Have they gotten the transporters cleared up and working yet?"
"Yes. Dr. McKay just radio to tell us that the ones leading from the mess, labs, control room and infirmary are all working properly now."
She was still holding the guitar when she made her way into the infirmary.
She never did make it back out again. Instead she dragged a pallet and a few blankets and pillows into her little office to bunk down on the floor with the little girl for a good sleep.
The kid was out like a light as soon as Jennifer had her tucked up against her chest. She followed soon after.
Jennifer woke up the next day to find a pair of golden green eyes staring at her from a dirty little face.
For just one moment, Jennifer wondered if the little girl might belong to Colonel Sheppard, a by-product of a one night stand when the expedition first encountered the Nadrins during their first year. The girl was about the right age, she the same colouring as the Colonel, and she could just make out what might be slightly pointed ears under the blood matted hair.
The thought completely left her mind when the little girl pulled her thumb from her mouth and asked, "You my new mommy now?"
She was completely thrown by the question. It was a reasonable question for her to ask, Jennifer realized. With the increase in Wraith cullings, there must have been a larger than normal orphan population circulating between worlds. She had never thought that by taking the child into her care that she was signing on for motherhood. She hoped it wasn't the case. It wasn't that she didn't want children; just that she didn't think she wanted them just yet.
"No, I'm not your new mommy," she said gently, with a brave smile creeping along her lips. "My name is Jennifer. What's yours?"
"Lailiah," she responded. "Who's gonna be my new mommy?"
"I don't know," Jennifer responded honestly. Once more she was struck by the resemblance between the girl and Colonel Sheppard. She'd ask him, nicely, if there was a possibility he might the girl's father. And even if he said no, she'd do a paternity test anyway.
The little girl nodded and jammed her thumb back into her mouth, snuggling back into Jennifer's side.
She seemed content to remain there, but now that she was awake Jennifer wanted to check on some of her patients, and on Ronon.
Gathering the blankets around them, she brought Lailiah with her out into the crowded infirmary.
She saw that Ronon's team was already gathered around his bed. They were talking.
She wandered over to them, wrapping the blankets more securely around herself and Lailiah. It was natural instinct that had her shifting Lailiah to one hip and settling her light weight there as she approached Ronon's bed.
The others parted for her, making room at Ronon's bedside so she could see that he was indeed awake. Slightly pale from pain, but otherwise he looked just fine.
"Seems I gotta thank you," Ronon rumbled.
"For what?" Jennifer asked, tugging the blanket about her shoulders.
Ronon smirked up at her. "For saving my life. Heard you telling me to not die while you were operating on me. Guess I didn't rate the good stuff, huh?"
Jennifer blushed slightly, but figured most of them wouldn't notice under the dirt on her face. "Yes, well, the conditions were less than ideal. At least we got your heart started again."
Ronon nodded and closed his eyes briefly while Jennifer reached down for his chart, balancing the little girl on one hip. She leafed through the notes that had been made throughout the night and was just putting the chart back when Ronon said, "Motherhood suits you."
Jennifer was coming back from the mess a few days later when she heard Dr. McKay berating Colonel Sheppard about something just off the beaten trail, and not bothering to be discreet about it. She looked about for a detour to avoid coming across them when she overheard, "Jesus Christ, Sheppard! Can't you keep it in your pants! . . . . . Bunch of little genetic copies of yourself all over the galaxy!"
She backed away from where the two were engaged in a bitter argument, heading back towards the mess to try an alternate root, but she couldn't help the smile that tugged at her mouth when she caught Colonel Sheppard's muffled shout in return.
I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear