But Not Farewell (also known as 'Die Sheppard die' fic)Rating:
: none. Just friendship.
Some graphic medical stuff
It's not my sandbox, but I do claim the cliff.
Something goes wrong with the jumper and it's all downhill from there for Sheppard...Chapter Eight
For a few minutes she just sits there, watching him, hoping without hope that if she just lets him rest, lets him recover a little, he’ll let her proceed. She waits, helplessly, trying to keep her eyes averted from his face, waiting for him to tell her he’s fine, go ahead.
But instead he just breathes a little faster, and every time he inhales, the recoil is a little worse. His hands claw at the floor, then ball into fists and his eyes remain tightly shut.
“Colonel,” she tries, he does not respond. She takes a deep breath, and mentally assuring her pounding skull this is not personal, speaks much louder, her voice a command, “Colonel Sheppard!” That works, in a way. He opens his eyes, and stares through her, the whites’ bloodshot and glassy. His lips move, but he has no air for sound.
“John,” she softens her tone for both their sakes, “I need to continue. You will feel better when—“ He is already shaking his head, and she does not need to read his lips to know they are shaping the word no, over and over.
She wants to hit him, and throw things and help him. If someone else were here, they would find a way of fixing this. Ronon would take no notice of his pleas, she is sure of it. Rodney would probably have flown the Jumper home by now, and Carson—? What would the doctor do? He is a healer; he would help John, surely?
Or would he? He let Charin die, at her request. But Charin was old and would have died soon regardless. The Colonel could be well again and live a great many years, if he could only stay out of trouble. And even if not . . . this is not the way to die. Better go fighting, somewhere in the open where the skies stretch on forever and death is so much smaller. Not here, in this cramped space where death would saturate the very air, becoming her constant, unavoidable companion.
“Colonel Sheppard,” she snaps now, chilled at the thought of a body and no escape, “will you die now because you are too afraid to undergo treatment?”
It is cruel, and comes out sharper than she intends, but it works. His eyes suddenly make an effort to focus, and the trembling stops, apparently out of shock.
She carries on, her voice quieter but no less strong for that, “if there was no way to help you, I could understand your wish to avoid further pain. I would aid you! And I am sorry this . . . procedure must cause you so much pain, I truly am. But I will not allow fear to claim your life.” She picks up the pen, and holds it up to him, “It is nearly over John, and you will feel better.” Taking one of his clenched fists in her hand, she squeezes it. “I can do this with or without your co-operation, but without will take longer.” John’s lips move again but she is afraid to try and decipher what they say, “I need you to stay still while I relieve the pressure in your chest. Then you should be able to breathe more easily, and can have the rest of the morphine if you’d like. Please John,” She falters, takes a deep breath that he cannot, “Do not die yet. Not today.”
For a while, there is no response. His eyes close, and she wonders if he has lost consciousness, and if she should just carry on. Then they flash open, sparkling green amongst the red, and there are no more tears.
His fist uncurls and grips her hand. She has her answer.
She gives him a few minutes; long enough for his breathing to return to something just short of regular, but not enough to dwell on what lies ahead. She rustles around in the med kit, but it is only for show. There is nothing left in there she can use. The protective gloves are torn and no longer sterile, and she took the last of the Tylenol a short while ago.
When she turns back to John, he will not meet her eyes, but that is alright; she does not particularly want to be watched at the moment. She does not ask if John is he, only cautioning him again, “you must remain still.”
He nods, a small sharp jerk of his skull and shuts his eyes. She envies him that.
No prayers this time, no hopes or wishes. She finds the cut she made, takes a steadying, shuddering breath, and presses the tip of her index finger to the narrow opening.
There is little in language, any language, which can describe this kind of violation. She can feel the muscle wall contracting around her penetrating finger. John chokes, a terrible stutter as if there is acid in his throat, and a strained grunt that is more animal that intelligent. Through her probing digit she can feel fine vibrations running through him, from bone to skin. The struggle to stay still and the need to move away grind against each other; the deeper she pushes; the harder the tension grates inside him. He is trying to cry out, a mindless, airless spasm of the throat and lungs, that pierces her ears like a scream. There is no comfort for either of them now, no solace, just this sick, transgression of flesh.
She reaches the end of the incision, and his flesh is suddenly liquid and squashy under her finger. She tries not to feel it and picks up the tubing with her spare hand. She foolishly looks at John. He’s panting, with mouth wide open and eyes squeezed shut; tears streak down his face. She fumbles to get the tube into position, placing its narrow circular end next to her finger.
This time Sheppard manages to scream when she presses the sharp edge into him.
She is killing him. There can be no other word for it. Next to her John’s hands are clenched into fists, beating against his own legs now and then, in a useless effort to stop this. The sharp plastic grinds along her finger and the muscle wall infinitesimally slow. John has stopped screaming, but when she looks, his jaw is working as if he’s going to be sick, and frequently he twitches as though he will pull away from her.
But aside from the erratic push-and-pull of his breathing, and the ineffectual movement of his hands, John remains still.
She loses her grip on the pen, fingers slick with blood and fluid and shaking a little, from tension or her head injury she’s no longer sure. She wipes her free hand on her pant-leg, allowing her eyes to close for a second, just a second. But this is a mistake; when she opens them, the whole thing looks perverse. The pen sticks out of his side at a slight angle, a few inches of plastic still showing, and the finger from her other hand is stuck inside him along with it. Acid wells up in her throat and she has to look away to keep from vomiting. Teyla breathes deeply, once, twice, three times. Her rebellious stomach concedes the victory and she is able to look back at him.
John’s head is rolled slightly towards her, eyes only half-open; his lips move in tiny incomprehensible bursts and they are turning a deep shade of purple-blue. His shoulders jerk, almost off the floor, but when they hit the deck, John’s gasp is airless. He is out of time. They both are.
She reaches for the tube again and now pain and adrenaline fuel her grip. She slides it in, feeling every grating fraction of that last inch, even as the shivers of before turn into oxygen-starved convulsions and his hand finds her kneecap and squeezes hard in a grip that says what he can’t — stop, please Teyla, stop. She keeps pushing until the tube passes the length of her finger and the resistance of the muscle wall melts into liquid. She forces herself to withdraw her finger carefully, so as not to disturb her work, even as John’s gasps stop being audible, and his hand grips her knee so tight it hurts.
Then she’s free of him and drops to her elbows on the floor, shaking with the pressure against her skull, and the adrenaline that is fast draining away. Strange dots of colour flood her vision, the room shifts, and she has to press her forehead to the floor for a second, until they fade and gravity resumes its normal behaviour. It’s over. She is done.
Not quite. Teyla forces herself to sit again, her muscles feel hollow and her skull could shatter at the next beat of her heart. She cannot even form a prayer anymore, just over and over again, the words please work, please work shape in her mind.
She looks at him, at what she’s done.
The tube sticks out at that grotesque slant, angled a little towards the floor, sticking out like a shattered bone. Out of the end runs a steady, if sluggish stream of blood, dripping onto the Jumper’s floor.
And John, whose blood it is, has closed his eyes again. They are squeezed shut; his hand beats against the floor near her a couple of times, until she realises its intention and catches it.
“Teyla,” his voice is horse and exhausted and wonderful. He takes a breath. And another. He inhales as though all the air in the cabin is his for the taking. She opens her mouth to reply, but words catch in her throat. It’s over. It’s over. It’s done.
The procedure worked. (Such cold words to describe the continued existence of another human being). John is breathing again. Perhaps not with the ease he should, but certainly better than before. The immediate danger is over, she hopes. But they are still trapped in a crashed ship at the bottom of a cliff, and rescue is immeasurable hours away. (She looked at her watch a little while ago, but can no longer remember what time they left Atlantis). Their injuries are severe, and now there is nothing more she can do about it.
The prolonged struggle to breathe, along with the continued blood-loss, has left John exhausted. He has not spoken in the last hour or so, though he responds with a nod or a squeeze of her hand when she speaks to him. She thinks now the struggle for air is no longer his primary focus, the pain of his injury has reasserted itself. Most concerning to her is how his eyes often stray to the syringe by her side, the precious half dose of morphine she has yet to give him. That she should not give him. Carson’s voice rattles in her ear once, a vague irritation almost blotted out by the sharp throb at the back of her skull that seems intent on splitting her head open.
Morphine can cause apnea if there’s a lung injury, that’s when the patient stops breathing. So unless I tell you to, never give someone morphine if they have or have had any difficulty breathing. Pain is easier to treat than death.
But Carson never told her how much it would cost to sit beside someone in pain, watching every flinch, hearing every smothered gasp, able, and terribly helpless to take the hurt away.
There was another option. Though it seems impossible, the pain of her head injury is still increasing. When she thinks the vice cannot squeeze any tighter around her skull, it somehow gains another fraction, branding a tattoo of fire onto her brain. It’s all Teyla has left in her to not curl into a ball and wish for death, and that is not a wish anyone from among her stars makes lightly.
When he falls asleep, the thought drifts like a leaf on the surface of the hurt, she could take the medicine. She would be spared the temptation of hurting him to help, and perhaps she would feel better for it.
But Carson had something to say about head injuries too.
Never give strong painkillers to someone who might have a concussion. Masks the symptoms you see, and something more serious could be brewing without our noticing.
But what of it? No one will help her here, no matter how serious her injuries become. Another whisper at the back of her mind cautions her against sharing a syringe with a man who probably has an infection already. But what does infection matter at this point?
When rescue comes—
The thought is like a flow of cold water down her spine, turning her insides to ice and shocking her into challenging the assumption that has become law since their crash, the determined belief that rescue is coming. But is it?
Rodney and Ronon would not make it back to the gate on foot. Not in days. They knew this. Yet surely Elizabeth would send a rescue team as soon as possible. But the planet is huge, and no one in Atlantis knows precisely which direction they took. And even if they find Rodney and Ronon, who is to say they are—her thoughts stumble into another assumption but this time do not plow through. When their teammates are found, they might be unconscious, or unable to remember precisely where the Jumper fell. Or perhaps, she and John are presumed dead; is it not far from the truth after all. Her eyes flicker over the tube in John’s chest, jerking with every stiff breath, at his hands still clawing occasionally at the smooth floor. The Jumper seems to sway around her as she recalls some of that long, terrible fall. At that moment, all the darkest shadows in her mind coalesce in the determination that anyone, anywhere, must believe the fall had killed them, and the rescue team would return to Atlantis without John and herself. Her hand twitches on her leg, and the syringe seems to glow in the corner of her eye.
Her name, formed of rough air forced into syllables, brings her back to herself. Teyla crawls a little nearer to John, moving inches that feel like miles over the scattered debris of their ruined ship. She looks down upon her teammate, one of a small few whom she would live, even through this for, “John?”
“Hurts,” he rasps, the word is filled with an invisible question.
And because he told her a long time ago he would do anything for his team, even this, she cannot help but not answer that question. “I know,” she says instead, and her foot catches the syringe and it vanishes somewhere into the debris, “you should sleep. Help will be here soon.”
“Can’t sleep, breathing. Might get hard ‘gain.” His eyes flicker shut however, only to snap open as he inhales again.
She recalls one winter, as a child, when she spent all day hunting Maca birds in the marshes, and returned home with an infection of the lungs. She spent many nights sitting up with her father as he encouraged her through the terrible hours where her lungs seemed crushed in her chest and she could not breathe. She remembers how he sat up with her many more even after the infection vanished, when she was kept from sleep by the latent terror of those battles with her body. Her chest tightens even with the memory, and she can understand John’s battle to stay awake, though she must force his surrender.
She looks up through the window above them, into the now brilliant blue of day on this world, and though the brightness causes a flare of fire in her head, the sunlight soothes the deepest and most primitive recesses of fear in her mind. She is not ready to give up just yet, but perhaps it is time to withdraw from the battlefield for a while. So she lies down, and curls up next to John like a small broken bird, resting one hand lightly on his shoulder as she closes her eyes.
“All will be well,” she tells him, maybe lies to him, “rest now. Help will be here soon.”
Even as the world recedes into blackness, she does not say goodbye. While she may not firmly believe in rescue, Teyla was never one to rule out a miracle.
Teyla wakes like some animal out of hibernation, muscles stiff and heavy, though whether from cold or fatigue, she can no longer tell. Her bones are hollow and infinitely fragile, and every movement seems stifled by air suddenly turned thick as soil. Everything is black around her and she wonders if she has already died.
Distracted as she is by the fire in her head, she remains unaware of the sound until it vanishes. The throbbing that makes even her teeth vibrate blots out most of her senses, but she thinks it consisted of loud thuds, mixed in with the occasional clatter. She even manages a glimmer of curiosity before the sky cracks open above her with a shock of sound that knocks her back into unconsciousness.
Next time she wakes, it is even harder. Her brain and body no longer seem to be connected. She cannot feel her arms, her legs, or anything, other than the constant thrum of pain in her head that sways on the verge of too-much-to-bear. She would not move now, even if she could. If she stays like this, still and quiet and motionless, she can just barely keep her skull from breaking apart. She can just barely live through this.
She is so focused on the struggle; it takes a while for the voice to pierce the fog of her concentration, for her to realise someone is shaking her . . . arm? Shoulder? Teyla tries to tell the voice to leave her alone, but she cannot think of the words to do so. But she is sure she makes some sort of sound, for whoever it is stops shaking her, which is enough for the moment. The voice continues, but as it is quiet, and somewhat familiar, she does not mind. There is a sharp sting somewhere on her body, but it is a spark in a bonfire, and easily ignored against the beckonings of a painless, dreamless void.
But she is not allowed to slip away this time. Even as Teyla tries to sink back into blackness, someone rolls her over, and a seemingly limitless collection of bruises demonstrates she can hurt in places other than her head. While she gasps for air and relief, someone pulls up one of her eyelids, and ruins all her efforts with a stab of light that drills right though her skull. She tries to pull away, but she is semi-paralysed in a body too weak to work anymore, and can only let out a sound more becoming of a Maca chick than a warrior. Her eye is released, and the voice speaks again, and this time she can understand the word, “Teyla?” She keeps her eyes closed tight, but the flush of pain the light caused is less than expected, and somehow the hammering at the back of her head is a few inches further from unbearable. Something flushes through her body, dulling the hurt. She opens her eyes.
It takes a moment for her vision to clear, and in the semi-darkness, even longer to identify the face hovering over her, but the strange accent, rare even among the Earth people makes Carson easier to identify. “There you are.” He smiles at her, but his eyes drift to something beside her. She tries to turn her head, but Carson puts a gentle hand on her forehead, “keep still a minute. Do you remember where you are?” Where? She looks overhead, but sees only a dark sky through a broken window. Not a window . . . the jumper?
John! Even as memories flow sluggishly back, Carson straps something thick and hard round her neck, a collar. “Just a precaution love. You’ve done quite a number on your head.”
He checks her for other injuries, asking questions which she answers as best she can. A couple of feet from her lies one of her greatest friends. She could simply ask Carson if—how he is. But she fears the answer. Teyla is not a coward, but she is hurt and very tired, and she does not think she has the strength left to worry. Or to grieve.
Carson finishes quickly, and seems satisfied enough. He does not insist on strapping her to a backboard, but has two of his staff help her into a harness, so that she can be pulled out of the Jumper. A large section of the front window has been cut out, but somehow removed from the outside. She wonders how, but not enough to ask. One of the medics wraps her head, and gives her another injection to help with the pain before helping her up. The marines above begin to pull her upwards, and as they do the rope turns a little, and Teyla spins around in her harness, and suddenly she is looking at him.
Several medics work on and around him. Machines utter lively chirps and beeps according to their function. He is covering with bandages, blankets, and more tubes than it seems possible to attach to a human body. But he is alive, and it looks as if Dr. Beckett intends on keeping him that way. For the moment, that will do. The marines above her give the rope another heave, and he passes from her view.
When they help her through the top of the Jumper, she can finally see where they landed, albeit it with difficulty in the darkness. The water here is only a couple of feet deep, and a narrow beach runs along the edge of cliffs. Two Jumpers are parked on this, and sitting just inside one of these is Rodney. He leans against the wall of the Jumper, eyes shut, but not sleeping. Even at rest, one foot taps anxiously against the floor, and his hands are folding tightly around his ribs. He is alone, and seeing this, all the blood left in her seems to drain out through her feet. It seems John is not the only one of her teammates she must worry for.
The marines insist on helping her climb down the ladder at the side of the Jumper, but she draws the line at being carried to shore. They will not budge from helping her to Rodney’s Jumper however, and she does not argue, much. The brief spell of adrenaline that Carson’s painkillers gave her is spent, and she desperately wants to sleep before the pain becomes overwhelming again. But she has a duty to her team, to what is left of it, and she can not sleep until they do.
Rodney does not open his eyes when she sits down, or when she calls him, only when she touches his shoulder does he startle out of his doze. “Teyla, oh God Teyla, you’re alive! I thought . . .” Rodney McKay is not comfortable with physical contact, does not hug his friends as others among of the Earth people often do, but she thinks he almost wants to now. His rapid words trails off, and his hands gesticulate feebly in the air in pointless, helpless shapes, elbows clamped unnaturally to his sides. “I saw the Jumper go over, there was nothing I could do, and you fell so far! I thought for sure you were . . . and then Ronon . . .”
“Where is Ronon?” She interrupts, anxiety like a hole in her through which all positive thoughts drain away. Ronon should have been in the Jumper as soon as it was accessible, demanding to be help, to save them, “Why is he not with you?”
“He, he . . .” his foot stops tapping the floor, “Carson sent him back. S—said he had to and we could see him later”
“He is dead?” She says the words but can barely comprehend them. Ronon, John, Rodney, they are such a large part of her existence now, it seems impossible any of them could be something as final as dead. But she recalls her father, and how he was once all the universe to her. Things can be ripped aware in a flash of light.
“No!” Rodney stares at her, eyes wide and shining in protest, “no, but . . . he was really hurt Teyla. After you fell he wanted to climb down the cliffs but passed out before he got two steps—nearly went right over! He was in and out after that . . . never really woke up properly again.” His hands clutch each other nervously in his lap and he stares through the other wall of the Jumper. “Carson said he couldn’t be sure if . . .” Rodney lets out a shuddering breath and she wonders what dark thoughts have been in his mind the last few days. He glances at her, with a weak twist of a smile, “I’m just really glad you’re okay.”
She reads this as the question Rodney means it to be, and forces a smile of her own, certain and reassuring, as it is her duty to be, “I am fine.”
He snorts, but his foot stops tapping the floor for a moment. She puts a hand on his shoulder, pushing herself up, and over to the other bench.
“Umm, what are you doing?”
“I am going to sleep.” She lies down on the thankfully horizontal bench of the Jumper; she had almost forgotten what it was like to sleep on a floor that is not metal.
“With a head injury? Is that a good idea?”
“I have been injured several days, and I am still alive. I am sure a brief rest will harm me no further.” She curled up as much as possible; the cool cushion of the seat eased the brand around her forehead a little. “Good night Rodney.”
There was a brief pause, and then she heard the rustle of him lying down across from her. “Night Teyla,” came a low mutter. And gratefully, she slept.
Teyla sleeps for a long time. Now that she no longer has to fight for anyone, all her remaining energies are redirected into the battle for survival. Her mind is raw and still healing its own wounds, and cannot help but flinch away from a consciousness that threatens to sting like salt.
She opens her eyes to a scalding light that pierces her eyes like arrows. She squeezes them shut, but not soon enough to prevent the flare of fire in her skull, forcing a gasp out of her. Something is wrong; the air feels thicker and comes slower than it should. Her body, normally young and strong, feels like a dead husk, fragile and useless as a dried leaf. The blood in her veins is sluggish and heavy forcing her heart to beat harder and harder, pounding hard enough to make her teeth vibrate in her head. All she can feel is the angry clamour of her heart, like a wild animal battering its cage,
The ring of her names cuts through her fear like a chime through fog. Something warm flushes through her veins, calming the drums in her chest, and as the air thins, she drinks it in like liquid.
As the thud of her pulse fades, she can hear the murmur of conversation, the steady affirming beep of monitors. The air, now passing easily into her lungs, has a slightly medicinal tang, and as she opens her eyes, she sees a brown, pink and yellow face, whose smile ties it all together in two words.Atlantis
It seems a long time before she can open her eyes for more than an instant, and even longer before her mind emerges from the protective fog that had encased it. When she finally begins to feel like herself again, it is evening in the infirmary. The lights are still on, but mercifully low. She sits up slowly, pausing a moment to let the universe stop spinning, and checks her progress. She is not attached to monitors anymore, though there is still an IV in her arm. That probably accounts for the diminished throbbing in her skull. She is stiff and aches a good deal, but otherwise she feels much better than she did, and—oh.
The jumper, falling, pain and constant fear, blood and metal and a friend dying by degrees next to her. She looks across the infirmary. No other beds are occupied.
“Colonel?” she calls, her voice coming out cracked and dry. She swallows, but sleep and anxiety have dried up her throat, “John?”
A male-silhouette in the door raises her hopes for a split second before she recognises the voice, “Rodney?”
He hesitates for a moment before approaching her, his gait a little unsteady, like someone walking in a thick fog. She has seen this in him before and it turns her stomach to ice.
“What has happened?” she asks, as he reaches her, quickly, before her courage fails her.
But even now he pauses before replying, and at this distance the shadows cannot hide the grey hollows under his eyes, “Teyla,” he says again, his voice trembling on a thin edge, clinging to her name for balance, “Teyla, they . . . ”
He flinches from the question, turning away from her. “Rodney,” she tries again, holding onto the rails of her bed, “what—?”
“You should come,” he speaks to the infirmary at large, his voice bereft of energy or expression. “Come and maybe you can . . .” he trails off, keeping his face turned away from her. “Just come, please?”
Rodney finds a wheelchair from somewhere and after she detaches her IV, he helps her into it. He is uncharacteristically gentle, and more disturbingly, silent, save for a sharp hiss when she falls into him. She feels the bulk of bandages under his jacket and realises they have none of them survived unscathed. She tries to ask how he is, but he shrugs off the question, just gripping the handles of her chair so hard his knuckles turn white. He pushes her through the main ward of the infirmary, to the smaller rooms at the back. The ride has made her dizzy again, and she cannot read the door signs, but she knows one of these is the medical lab, another is the ICU. And one is the morgue.
Rodney pushes open a door, and manoeuvres her through.
This room is almost dark, except for the blinking of computer screens. Rodney turns her chair around and backs her into the far wall. Finally still, her head begins to clear, and she can see.
She is in one of the isolation rooms. Ronon lies motionless on his pillows, the white scrubs strangely diminishing his size. His arm is in a cast to his shoulder, and part of his head has been shaved, making his face seem lopsided. He will not like that. He told her once that he had never let anyone cut his hair since he started running. He had never trusted anyone enough to let them get that close with a blade since the surgeon who tried to remove his wraith transmitter. Not until Doctor Beckett anyway.
A bandage covers the bald section of his head, and he is on a ventilator. “They had to operate,” Rodney says suddenly, from the other side of Ronon’s bed. “He something called an epidural hematoma. There was blood between his skull and the membrane around his brain? I know, you’d think his skull was too thick to get through but . . .” his voice fades out as he stares down at Ronon.
“I am sure Doctor Beckett has done his best,” she offers, hollowly.
Rodney shakes his head, but does not look away from the man on the bed.“ I knew he was getting worse all the time we were down there,” he continues as if she had not spoken, his voice carefully flat. “Most of the time he was out of it, but sometimes he woke up and he was just . . .so confused. Terrified even. He kept trying to stand up, but he couldn’t even sit without heaving. I tried to keep him awake . . But I couldn’t, whatever I tried. He just kept fading out, and waking up, until finally he didn’t.” her teammate frowns. “That was the worst part. He wouldn’t even threaten me anymore. Just lay there. I thought he was going to . . . for a few minutes, I thought he had . . .” His hand absently smoothes the blanket near Ronon’s hand, “Carson gives him a twenty percent chance. Twenty percent, can you believe it? All we did was crash a little. He didn’t even fall down the cliff.”
She wants to say something comforting. She should, because Rodney is her friend and he needs to hear something hopeful right now. But there is nothing she can say that he would believe. So in the end she just asks, “and Colonel Sheppard?”
He jumps, and glances sharply at her as though he had forgotten she was in the room. She thinks for a moment he does not understand her, but then he nods, and comes round the side of the bed. He turns her chair around, and pushes her out of the room, leaving Ronon to fight his grim battle alone.
The motion of the wheelchair is aggravating her headache, or else the medication is wearing off, and she is on the verge of asking Rodney to stop when he pushes her into another room. John is surrounded by much the same equipment as Ronon, but he lacks a scrub top, and blanket is hitched down, leaving part of his chest clear for the bandages. There are so many, turning his chest into a white mound of padding where the metal shard penetrated before. Her stomach twists and she has to take a deep breath to keep from heaving when she sees another set of bandages where she cut him. He too is on a ventilator, which at least assures her he is breathing. It seems so long since she could take that for granted.
Rodney wheels her right up to the bed, but she cannot quite bring herself to touch him. There are so many tubes and wires, she is afraid of disturbing something and inadvertently causing him harm. He looks so ill, his face a yellow-white shade under a shock of brown hair. The movement of his chest seems so slight, as if it could so easily stop all together.
“How is he?” she asks, not sure she wants a reply. Rodney is standing behind her chair, but she can practically hear him bit his lip before replying.
“Lorne said it took three hours to get him out . . . and he stopped breathing a couple of times. When they got back they took him straight to surgery . . . Carson won’t tell me anything, just that we have to wait. He’s still here, so that’s a good sign, right?” his voice hovers over some dark point between grief and hope, and she can feel him begging her to agree, as if that would improve his chances.
She reaches out, and very, very gently interlaces his fingers with her own, being careful not to disturb the IV there. She can feel the thud of a pulse through her fingers, but she cannot be sure if it is hers or his.
There is a rustle behind her, and Rodney walks around to the other side of the bed, sitting down in the chair already there. He does not take John’s hand, but grips the mattress tightly and stares at his face. And they wait with him, without speaking, without even looking at each other, until she finally succumbs to sleep again.
Next time she wakes it is to Doctor Beckett’s soft accent, “Teyla? Come on now, wake up love.” She opens her eyes with effort, but it is not such a hard waking as last time. She is back in bed, though thankfully still free of the IV. Her headache is only a hot haze where before there was fire. Sunlight, softened by the thickened windows of the infirmary, illuminates the ward, and she wonders if it is today or tomorrow.
“There you are,” Carson smiles as she sits up, but like the light, the expression is muted. “Now, how are you feeling?”
She answers this, and his other questions, calmly, but all the time her memories of the last few days are flooding back, and she has plenty of questions of her own. But impatience does not expedite answers from Carson; it will only make him reluctant. She has seen Rodney fail this way many times.
Speaking of, “where is Doctor McKay?” she asks, keeping her voice light despite the twist in her stomach that his absence and the doctor’s dampened smile have caused. “He was here last time I woke, but I do not see him now?”
A furrow stretches tightly across the centre of Carson’s forehead. “He’s with Ronon right now,” he replies in exactly the same tone she used with him. “He’ll be there a few hours, more than likely.”
“And then he will visit the Colonel?” she guesses.
Carson snorts, “he’s been there already,” he answers, bringing a penlight out of his pocket and up to her eye level. “It’s out of here he’ll be, come sixteen hundred. I didn’t release him from the infirmary to have him come straight back making himself sick. Now look straight ahead for me.”
She lets him finish his exam, and declare her ‘mending’ before she broaches the subject of her release. Carson immediately launches into a lecture that provides at least six medically solid reasons as to why she needs to stay in the infirmary, arguments she suspects he has been preparing ever since she first regained consciousness.
She lets him continue for several minutes until the fire behind his words has died down, and then she tells him, keeping the blade in her voice turned to the flat, because he means well, “keeping me here will do no good.”
He halts, gripping the rail of her bed, and she can see both reprimand and worry warring over expression. He is trying to help, the only way he can. Knowledge of this, and the shadows under his eyes strip the steel from her voice as she tries again, “please Carson,” his eyes meet hers all warmth and concern, “I will not be going far.”
He follows her gaze towards the back of the infirmary where the rest of her team is and sighs, letting go of her bed, “aye.”
She is allowed to dress, and to leave her bed, on the condition she remain in the infirmary for at least another twelve hours “and only another twelve hours,” Carson stipulates as part of her release. “All night vigils won’t do a mite of good, for any of you.”
She knows he is correct, indeed, from what she has seen, neither the Colonel nor Ronon are aware when their teammates are present. But sometimes she misses the less learned, less rigorous healers of her own people, who understand that it is not only for the injured that friends keep watch.
She slips into Ronon’s room first, it being nearest and holding half of her team. Rodney sits where she left him, both elbows on the mattress supporting his head, and she wonders if he is asleep until she shuts the door with a click and he jerks to a sitting position, “Wha? Oh, Teyla, hi.” He slumps back into his seat, groaning as his back gives an audible creak.
“You should rest, “ She offers, because it needs to be said, “I will sit with him for a while.”
Rodney does not even grace her with a response, only his customary, what? are you stupid? scowl as he stretches. There being no other chair, she sits carefully on what little space of the bed is not currently occupied by her teammate. It is so strange to see Ronon like this. Normally she can almost feel the beat of his pulse from across a room. Seven years of running, and a lifetime as a solider have sharpened her teammate into a living bullet, equal parts flesh and raw energy. But now his muscles are slack around his bones, and when she takes his hand his pulse is only a faint tap-tap-tap against its normal thundering beat.
But this can yet be healed. “Doctor Beckett removed the ventilator,” she observes, putting herself at risk of a sarcastic retort if only because she wants someone in her team to show signs of life. But Rodney does not notice. “yeah, a couple of hours ago. Said if his O2 stats stay over eighty five,” Rodney gestures vaguely at the monitors, “he can stay off it.”
“That is good news,” she replies, squeezing Ronon’s wrist.
Rodney does not meet her eyes, “if you say so.”
“Does Carson not agree?”
“He won’t commit to anything. Just says it’s a ‘step in the right direction’ but he can’t say anything for sure. MDs are all the same, bush-beating cowards.”
She raises an eyebrow, “that is not fair Rodney. Carson is doing his best. They all are.”
“No, their best would have been getting there two days sooner. Best would be Sheppard and Ronon awake and not in this mess in the first place, or the damn Jumper not falling out of the sky, dammit,” the last word is a hiss as he wraps his arms around his midriff and shuts his eyes. She stares at him, unsure of the wisest action. Colonel Sheppard and Ronon are like herself, they can beat their frustrations into a punchbag if need be. But Rodney is far more introverted than her teammates and easily traps himself into a cycle of guilt and fear, and she is not sure how to release him.
“Rodney, if this is about the crash . . .” she begins, horribly relieved when he holds up a hand to stop her.
“Don’t. Just . . . don’t. You’re a good person Teyla, and I’m sure everything you want to say is true. But I just can’t hear it right now. Please.” The last word is a plea to her, but his eyes are already back on Ronon in that queer, compulsive way you develop when you watch someone dying in front of you, checking always to see if they have not gone in the second you took to blink.
She could carry on, tell him it is not his fault, there was nothing he could have done, for the ship or for Ronon; but he already knows this. Yet knowledge and belief are two different things and it is up to Rodney to force one into the other. She has her own battle to fight, and for a while he must face his alone.
She leans forward, careful not to disturb the IV tube in Ronon’s hand, and touches her forehead to his, disregarding the protest of her healing skin. “Be well my friend,” she whispers to him. Ronon does not stir.
She stands; it is time to revisit the nightmare of the last few days again. But before she leaves, she moves to where Rodney sits. She is aware of his deep discomfort with physical intimacy, so she only rests a hand on his shoulder. She tries to communicate much through this brief contact: about how almost everyone in this galaxy has lost someone, and no matter who gets hurt, and who dies, if you live through it, you will survive somehow. That however this ends, they are still alive, and she will be here for him, for as long as she lives.
But perhaps this is too much, for Rodney only starts and looks up at her. His eyes are slightly glazed over, and she wonders if he will remember she was here in a few hours. She removes her hand and smiles a little, trying not be disheartened when he only blinks and looks back at Ronon. She will return later.
She leaves the room in silence, and takes a breath, before heading to the subject of her own vigil.
“Hello Colonel,” she says quietly, standing in the doorway to his room.
He looks a little better, though that may simply be her imagination. Certainly little seems to have changed regarding the equipment surrounding him. The visitor’s chair is pulled close to the bed already, and as she sits down she can almost feel the presence of other visitors who have sat here, clutching the armrests with a white-knuckled grip.
“Ronon is doing well,” she says to the empty space around the bed, “Doctor Beckett has removed his ventilator, so perhaps he will wake up soon. Rodney is . . . well, though he looks forward to seeing you awake, as do I.” She inhales, focusing on the cool rush of air inflating her lungs, and switches her gaze back to the bed.
John sleeps on, his chest rising and falling mechanically, regardless of the bandages covering his chest. His eyes remain closed.
“This is difficult,” she tells him frankly, “I am not good at this, a fault I believe we all share. Perhaps one we should conquer, given how much time we spend in these rooms . . .” she almost smiles before she remembers there will be no answering grin this time. She reaches for his hand, slipping her fingers in between his and squeezing, thinking over all the things she would tell him if she could. “You are needed here,” she says instead. “Your people need you if they are to defeat the Wraith. You cannot abandon them now. They will not survive without you.” She pauses, then adds more simply, “and we would not wish too.”
There are no changes in her friends’ condition, yet life moves on around them. Carson appears often to check on his patient, and herself. Though it sounds infinitely more heroic to say she never left her friend’s side, such things are rarely practical outside of the old tales. Every few hours Carson insists she take a break, which she does, going to one of the lower balconies for some fresh air. The sky is invariably the colour of wet stone and the breeze coming off the ocean is damp and a little cold. She stays however, for fifteen minutes each time. Counting it takes her mind off what could happen before she returns, or when she returns. She does not know if Carson manages to make Rodney take a break, though she doubts it. She sees her other teammate only briefly, once or twice a day when anxiety propels her to Ronon’s room, or Rodney comes to John’s. They speak little; they can offer each other no good news, and all other subjects are meaningless until the present situation is resolved.
John has his ventilator removed. Like Rodney before her, she tries to gauge if this is a good sign, but the medical staff are evasive and will confirm nothing. While it seems like progress, John seems far more uncomfortable now and she watches the monitors almost constantly for a problem. He is not conscious, but his exhaustion no longer seems to eclipse the pain of his injury. He looks worse than before, skin like diluted milk, which makes his unkempt hair look darker than ever. John does not look childlike or peaceful or any other of those kind expressions whispered over the beds of the sick. He looks only like her friend, in pain. And if sometimes there seem to be changes in his face, this only makes it harder to sit beside him and watch, able to do nothing more than grip his hand as a spasm inside which he can now feel sends shockwaves rippling down his arm.
But though Teyla has many faults, both as a leader and a friend, cowardice is not one of them. She has led her people from world to world and fought knife and stick and nail to keep her friends safe. She is a warrior, and cannot fear something as familiar to her trade as suffering, as strange and terrible as death. Courage then, is what prevents her from leaving through the long hard nights as she waits alone. But it is not what keeps her eyes pinned to the monitors, what sends a shock of adrenaline through her if the Colonel’s next breath seems to take longer to come. Courage is a worthy quality to possess, but loyalty is a better one. Fear is the cost of friendship and must be endured.
So she stays, and murmurs soothing nonsense to John when his eyes flicker and he seems almost able to hear her. And when he seems too far into himself and only clutches her wrist in a white knuckled fist, she matches his grip. As the first night looms ahead of her, long and hard, she whispers all the prayers she can remember, they slip easily from her tongue, like tracing routes on a map of a well-known place. As an adult she lacks the unwavering faith of her childhood, but she will take even a doubtful hope over helplessness.
Through three hard days and two long nights they wait, she and Rodney, keeping their separate watches. Once on Carson’s orders, she leaves to sleep, but after an hour alone in the dark with her thoughts she is back at John’s side. When Carson finds her there, he starts to speak, sees her face and says nothing to her about leaving again.
But as the sun drops below the horizon on the third day, something changes. Carson is in the room with her, checking John’s vitals when suddenly the doctor flinches and stands up straight, his hand going to his ear. Even from a metre away Teyla can hear Rodney’s tinny voice yelling over the radio.
They move as one to the door, Teyla squeezing John’s hand once before she lets go, saying what she hopes he is already aware of, I will return, but it is Ronon. I have to know.
She and Carson run the few steps to Ronon’s room, almost colliding at the door. As she pauses to let Carson pass, the air seems to solidify like an additional door in front of her, echoing with the thought what if . . . But she does not let it finish and pushes though.
Carson is already checking Ronon’s pulse, speaking in a low, fast voice that manages to be calming and insistent at the same time. Rodney is on his feet, face flushed and he is talking over Carson, barely seeming to breathe between words. But his hands are not flying about in their usual gestures, helping to punctuate every sentence.
For Ronon clutches his left arm at the elbow and Rodney’s right hand is gripping his teammate’s like a climber holds onto the rockface. Ronon himself is frowning slightly, eyes shut but something in the tight set of his jaw tells Teyla he is definitely awake. Rodney is still talking, repeating over and over again, in a high, frantic voice, “I thought you were dead, oh god I thought you were dead!”
Carson is trying to shush him, and Teyla herself wonders if Rodney should not sit down before the shock causes him injury. But the matter is surprisingly settled by Ronon, who, in a voice pained, faint and entirely himself orders, “McKay, shut up.”
And Rodney does; swallowing several times in succession, either with indignation or simply to keep the words down, he drops into his chair, but he does not release his friend’s hand. And Ronon does not relax his grip either.
Carson checks a few more things, runs a few basic tests, but their teammate’s prognosis is apparent in the doctor’s every word and movement. Ronon will recover. She smiles, touches his arm and tells him she will be back soon. “I expect you to be ready to spar by then, for you missed our usual session.”
He smiles a little and Carson warns her light-heartedly not to encourage him. She leaves them in their celebrations, Carson fussing around the monitors, Rodney complaining loudly about Ronon taking his time to wake up, while he and Ronon maintain their grip on each other, gaining that comfort so often needed after battle, yes, we survived, we’re alive, it’s over.
She returns to John’s room and tells him what happened. “It is your turn now Colonel.”
John does not stir.
The hours after Ronon wakes are the most difficult yet. Before, she had almost stopped expecting anything to happen, had almost grown used to waiting. But now the atmosphere in John’s room feels oppressive and expectant. Every time he breathes a little louder than usual, she expects him to wake, to smile, give her a word, a second of consciousness. Just something, anything to show her, her time here has not been in vain.
But Colonel Sheppard has never been an easy companion and does not oblige.
Rodney has left the infirmary now, though he returns every couple of hours. He spends most of his visits in Ronon’s room, strangely preferring the awkward not-quite-conversations that are his usual fare with Ronon, to waiting with her. Perhaps not so strangely. Who knows what happened on the top of the cliff? Maybe they found something to talk about in that long, dark wait together.
Or more likely Rodney is inclined to vent his feelings, verbally, at the moment. And Ronon is currently too tired to silence him. This will change.
So she waits alone for the most part. Elizabeth, Major Lorne, Rodney . . . they come for a few minutes at a time, sit, ask how she is, then all in the same tone, stiff with the effort of not sounding hopeful, ‘Any change?’
Yes, she could tell them. Forty-two minutes ago he moved his head nearly an inch to the right. Fifteen minutes ago he paused a little longer than usual between breaths. And just before you came in he inhaled too deeply and his hand jerked towards his chest as though he wanted to tear something out.
But she only listens as they say ridiculous, childish things meant to comfort or encourage. As they leave they touch his shoulder or hand, as though he could understand through such fragile contact, all the things they cannot, dare not say, fight, don’t give up, I’m sorry, goodbye, goodbye goodbye…
She rarely speaks now.
Her world seems to have shrunk to this room and its occupant. Others pass in and out like ghosts, surreal, immaterial. All her energy, all her focus and her hopes are centred on the man in the bed who is not dead, but will not wake up.
She thinks almost a day has passed since Ronon woke when Rodney comes in, bearing a tray and a nervous smile. It has been a long time since she last ate, but grief and anxiety seems to have consumed any feelings as trivial as hunger. He ignores her lack of enthusiasm however, practically forcing the tray onto her knees.
“Eat,” he commands, dropping into the additional chair the room has acquired sometime in the last few days. “Or Carson will kick you out on grounds of low blood sugar. He’s tried it on me a few times.”
John remains a shadow in her peripheral vision, but she turns to reply to Rodney, relieved to engage in a conversation other than the one she has painfully repeated each time a new visitor comes in, “Perhaps he has merely begun to heed your warnings concerning your health.”
“Well he heeds them at the most awkward times. Last time I was planning a groundbreaking rewrite of quantum mechanics when he marched in and interrupted my chain of thought with the incredible idea that food is necessary to human life. I mean who would have thought it?.”
She lets him ramble on for a while, before cutting him off with, “How is Ronon?”
“Oh, uh, fine. Carson said he might be out of here in a week, you know, if he stops trying to get up and walk when no one’s looking. For a guy who’s managed to survive so long in this insane asylum of a galaxy, he certainly lacks self-preservation skills. ” Rodney turns awkwardly to John, “And Sheppard, he’s . . .?”
He watches their leader in silence for a moment, before saying without breaking his gaze, “he’s going to make it.”
She looks at John too. “Do you believe that?”
Rodney pauses before he replies in a tone quieter than usual, “A month after we got here, Sheppard had already had three near-misses. Five if you count the general citywide ones. I was sure he would never last the year. Thought he had a martyr complex or something.”
A remark someone made to her once about pots and kettles drifts through her mind, but she does not interrupt.
“But he did. And now it’s been nearly three years. Three years of war and wraith and bugs and crazy stunts that any rational human being would never even think of. And he’s still here. Don’t get me wrong, I fully expect the Pegasus galaxy will be the death of him. And me for that matter. But this?” His words were accompanied by a hand gesture that encompassed John, the bed and the circumstances surrounding them; “It’s far too ordinary for him. Sheppard will die on some heroic, cracked mission to save Atlantis or Pegasus or the whole damn universe. And then he’ll probably ascend and go on to be the glowy-tentacle-king of the whole thing just to lord it over me.” Rodney looks at her at last, something of a resigned smile tinting his features, “he’ll make it. If only to spite the laws of physics, nature and anything else that says it should be impossible.”
He gets up, patting her shoulder in the most uncomfortable fashion before heading to the door. Just before opening it, he turns again, looking at John.
“You hear me Sheppard? It’s impossible.” He glances back at her. “Now it’s a matter of proving me wrong, he’ll manage it. You’ll see.”
The end comes quite abruptly and far more quietly than she had expected. It is nearly evening and she is almost asleep as she watches John, looking through him rather than at him, when she realises green eyes are looking back at her.
“Colonel Sheppard?” She straightens in her chair, “John?”
He blinks and his lips shape a word that is soundless but infinitely familiar to her, “Teyla?”
And she is getting up, falling the half-step to his bed, crying and laughing and thanking the ancestors in a flush of joy that does not fade when Carson comes in and asks her to wait in Ronon’s room. It keeps her afloat as she waits with Rodney and Ronon and Elizabeth until Carson returns, weary, but with that smile on his face that promises everything will be well. It is only then Teyla leaves the infirmary and goes to her quarters at last.
She sits on her bed and thinks of the hurt and the grief and the terror of the last few days. She inhales, feeling the aches and stiffness and the sting of salt in her eyes. She remembers the crash, the waiting, the responsibility that made her head ache and her hands tremble. A sound escapes from her throat that could be a sob or a laugh or something else entirely.
And then she falls back into the pillows, exhales and lets it go.
Teyla smiles as they walk towards the Jumper bay for their first trip since the crash. It will be a short flight to the Mainland and back, officially to check in with the botanist teams conducting a three-week survey there. Unofficially, it is to ensure Atlantis remains safe from the boredom of her team while they recover. Ronon is proving quite a danger with his cast which seems to make his arm twice the size it normally is, though she would imagine that does not entirely account for the number of people who have received injuries from Ronon ‘accidentally’ raising his arm as they walked past him. She suspects he will be rather sorry when Doctor Beckett removes it.
Rodney is back to his usual self, happily ranting on about the latest chaos one of his ‘goldfish-brained-dingbat-techs’ has caused. He is perhaps a little paler than usual since he has spent most of the last couple of weeks with the puddlejumpers, working more than his fair share of nightshifts. She has hopes that today’s excursion will put an end to this. He walks on the uncasted (unarmed) side of Ronon and they seem to have resumed their normal, awkward relationship, save that Rodney addresses him directly a little more often, and Ronon occasionally ventures more than a one-word reply.
Colonel Sheppard walks beside her, concentration furrowing his forehead. He has only recently been released from the infirmary and his injury still bothers him. He has been released for light duty (which according to the Colonel translates to, “paperwork, paperwork and turning pretty lights on for the lab geeks.”) However walking and talking is still somewhat of a strain for him at the moment so he contributes little to the conversation, only reawakening Rodney’s wrath when it seems to be fading, by venturing that his staff, “can’t be entirely incompetent. I mean, we haven’t blown up just yet.” This sparks a diatribe on how the exact level of uselessness displayed by every member of the science team. (Rodney appears happy to evaluate each person’s ineptitude individually) followed by a prolonged explanation on how, why and several instances of when the city, the Pegasus and Milky Way galaxies, and it seems, the universe have been saved so far only by Rodney’s enormous intellect. Which was exactly what the Colonel intended.
Rodney leads the way into Jumper four, still expanding on his many skills and talents to an unfazed Ronon. She is about to follow them when Colonel Sheppard touches her arm, “Teyla.”
He looks quickly at the Jumper, Rodney’s voice can still be heard, apparently unperturbed by the loss of most of his audience; “I just wanted to say, back on the planet…“
She was expecting something like this. Since the Colonel’s recovery and subsequent move to the main ward, she has had little opportunity to discuss the events from their last mission with him, has not wanted to. But John must have concerns. She pressured him, even forced him to accept treatment against his will. Logically, she knows she did what had to be done to save him. But regardless, it was a breach of trust, perhaps of their friendship and she regrets what needed to be done.
She stares at him, “Thank you?”
He meets her eyes, awkwardly, but with a determined set to his features, “You saved my life back there. I know I wasn’t exactly grateful at the time… but yes, thank you.”
She shakes her head; “you had cause.” She considers for a moment, “You once told me you would do anything, for any of us.”
His voice is rough and a little unsteady as he replies, “yes?”
“I just wanted you to know,” she smiles at him; “the feeling is mutual. For all of us I believe.”
He breaks into a grin, just as Rodney looks out from the jumper entrance, “are we flying today or are you two throwing a coffee morning for the Recent Victims of Alien Landscapes society?”
They head into the jumper, Colonel Sheppard heading straight for the pilot’s seat though officially Rodney is flying today (“We just had one crash landing Rodney, I’d really rather not be two for two.”) However piloting a puddlejumper takes little physical effort, and Rodney will be there if John needs a break. She sits behind them, listening as they run through pre-flight and the craft raises off the ground with a gentle hum.
They are soon flying over the ocean with no signs of trouble from craft or pilot. The sun is high over the horizon and the water is a clear deep blue. The banter between her teammates fades into an unusual, but companionable silence as they look out over the horizon.
She watches them, her team, her family. They have survived again where few others would have. She knows this is not the last time they will face danger together. Similar misadventures, perhaps worse, lie ahead of them. She will wait with them, worry and grieve for them again. But life is precious here, where it is always at risk, and she loves it too well to waste time worrying about the future. At least they will face what comes together, not alone.
Rodney says something and Ronon grunts agreement. John laughs and the jumper zooms quickly forward over the sparkling, unending sea.