Dead/Not Dead by Stormy Stormheller
SGA Slash: Sheppard/Atlantis, McKay/Sheppard, PG
5637 words, December 2005, beta'd by Valentin & Etui
Not a death story, although it plays one on TV.
Summary: One of the social anthropologists had once said that Atlantis and her people were like a single entity, with Elizabeth as its heart, Rodney as its brain, and John Sheppard as its soul. Without John, Atlantis felt stripped and empty.
She’d been dead when they arrived. Not dead exactly, but waiting, waiting to be awakened, to be rescued from her millennia-long slumber. It wasn’t until John Sheppard passed through the Stargate and climbed the Ancient stairway that Atlantis awoke and lived again. She rose and stretched, feeling life and power and living, breathing beings moving through her once more.
But now she was virtually dead again, catatonic: alive, yet not living, despite the humming equipment, the bubbling columns, and the men and women who walked her corridors and slept in her cold, alien arms.
# # #
“What’s with him, anyway?” Caldwell muttered, not really to Elizabeth, although she was the only one who might have heard him. “He’s acting like the grieving widow, for God’s sake.”
Elizabeth’s glare was equal parts censure and misery, grief pinking her eyes and making them shine glassily in the morning sunlight. “We all grieve in our own way, Colonel.”
Caldwell watched as a stream of people approached McKay, some tentatively, some openly weeping. One after another, each slung a gentle arm around his neck, followed by the forehead touch the Athosians favoured, the gesture a true intergalactic mingling of cultures. “You’d think he was the only one who’s lost somebody.”
Elizabeth said nothing, perhaps lost in her own grief, saying her own goodbyes.
“McKay’s always such a drama qu—” Caldwell cut himself off abruptly, furious at McKay, but not for that. How could the man be so smart and so stupid at the same time? Any idiot would know you don’t fuck with alien technology before you understand it; you don’t rip ZPMs out of planets until you know what they do. He blamed McKay for this, for many things; and from their recent conversations, so did McKay, poor bastard. “Poor bastard,” Caldwell said aloud.
Elizabeth paused a long time before responding. “Rodney was very fond of John.” Her hands clenched and unclenched on the notes she held in her hands, the memorial speech she’d prepared and then abandoned, speaking from the heart instead.
“More than fond,” Caldwell stated, not sure if he approved or not. Or even cared. He hadn’t figured McKay for the subtle type; he’d probably track his quarry with pitbull tenacity. Must have driven Sheppard crazy with his pointless pursuit.
“More than fond.” Elizabeth nodded once, eyes on McKay. It was a clear admission: Caldwell’d asked, she’d told. Didn’t matter, since McKay wasn’t military. Wasn’t even American.
Poor Sheppard, Caldwell thought, meaning a multitude of things. “Damn Canadians. They’re so… so liberal.”
Elizabeth ignored him and headed toward the knot of mourners across the pier. She waited patiently for her turn to embrace McKay, to touch her forehead to his.
Caldwell turned to face the sea, convinced that fanning the flames of McKay’s unrequited nonsense was only making it worse. Truth be told, Caldwell was hurting, too, but nobody was coming up to him to shake hands, hug, touch foreheads. Atlantis wasn’t his home.
He missed Sheppard too, missed his inappropriate attempts at charm, his charming dance at the edge of insubordination. He’d been the last person Caldwell would have picked for the job, and damn him if he hadn’t turned out to be exactly the leader Atlantis had needed. Until now. Where was goddamn Sheppard and his goddamn leadership now?
Caldwell hated funerals; worse still were inconclusive, coffinless services like this one. He avoided them whenever he could. Who needed closure when it was far, far less painful to just pretend? Pretend your friend, lover, subordinate wasn’t dead, merely stationed somewhere—anywhere—where he could forget that they wouldn’t be coming home again. Ever.
Over the years he’d consigned his dead to a huge imaginary unit under the stark command of the first Colonel Caldwell. His dad had been a tough old bastard who’d truly hate having Lt. Colonel John Sheppard added to his fictional command.
# # #
A few weeks before
“The MALP indicates an unstable planet with the potential to come apart at any moment,” Elizabeth argued.
“The MALP also indicates a huge power source. And unlike Planet Preschool, this is an uninhabited rock that will very shortly be going bye-bye and won’t be needing its ZPM.” Rodney sliced the air with the sides of his hands, the gesture impatient and non-specific.
“Assuming it actually has one,” Sheppard cut in.
Rodney glared at him. When he wanted something, he could be very, very determined.
Elizabeth tapped her pen on the table, eyes resting on the wall just above Rodney’s head as she calculated and weighed the risks. “What do you think, John?”
Sheppard had been looking down, toying with the black sweatband he habitually wore on one wrist. He raised his eyes now, glancing first at Rodney then meeting Elizabeth’s gaze. “It’s a quick in-and-out. We go in on foot because the energy fluctuations could screw with the jumper’s inertial dampening and navigational systems. The readings indicate the power source is about a fifteen-minute walk from the gate. We grab anything we find that’s useful, and get the hell outta Dodge.”
Elizabeth watched Sheppard closely as he spoke; it wouldn’t be the first time he’d fallen under the spell of Rodney’s persuasiveness.
“Anyone else have any concerns? Teyla? Radek? Carson? Fine. One hour only, in and out. No heroics, no delays. Rodney, John, do I have your word on that?”
Rodney rose from the table; once he got his way, he always left quickly. “Yes, Elizabeth, because as you know, I love to live a life of danger.” He grabbed his oversize coffee cup, laptop, and the last of the muffins and departed.
John just nodded, smiling a tight smile. “I’ll keep an eye on Danger-boy,” he solemnly promised, heading for the door. Teyla inclined her head once and followed John from the room.
“You should have got that in writing,” Zelenka muttered as he packed up his own laptop and left.
# # #
M4S-128 was a tortured planet, suffering its final death throes. It wasn’t just sleeping, like Atlantis had been, awaiting her Prince Charming. No, M4S-128 was old and brittle, and already breaking up into bigger and bigger chunks. Preliminary scans told a tale of an overheated core, sending waves of lava oozing across polar icecaps. The resulting lifeless oceans had first drowned islands and continents, then boiled away, leaving salty desert and barren, rocky wasteland. Only the small part around the Stargate was capable of sustaining life.
“Jeeze,” Rodney declared five minutes in. “It looks like that end-of-the-Cretaceous scene in Fantasia.”
“Yeah. Disney had a way with the whole spewing volcanoes and noxious fumes thing.”
“Not to mention the dead vegetation.” Rodney poked at a blackened tree-like thing with the butt of his P-90. It rained ash and char on his head.
“Nice look for you. And much cheaper than Grecian Formula.”
Rodney ignored Sheppard, shaking off soot and re-checking his readouts. “This way.” He waved his scanner toward a low hill to their right.
Ten minutes more and the hill turned out to be a sort of a bunker. It was so covered in fallen rock and volcanic ash that they would have missed it without the help of the Ancient device.
John kicked the sagging door out of the way, bringing a hail of grunge down on his own head this time.
“Even half a kilo of crap doesn’t flatten your hair. Has it even heard of gravity? Physics? Sometime I’ve got to…” but even the wonder that was Sheppard’s hair couldn’t hold Rodney’s attention as he stepped inside the Ancient building. “So, Colonel. I hate to say it, but I told you so.”
“You’re lying, McKay.”
“Lying? I most certainly did tell you so.”
“About the ZPM? Yeah, that you mentioned a time or twelve. No, what you’re lying about is that you hate to say it.”
Rodney grinned, all attention on the Ancient power source of his wet dreams. “Colonel, you’re just grouchy because before us sits an honest-to-god ZPM exactly where I said it would be.” He took some more readings. “Oh, sure. It’s almost depleted. And what is up with that anyway? Did the Ancients build in 10,000-year obsolescence? No matter if it’s holding back an ocean, creating a technology-sapping shield, or… or… whatever it is this one is doing, they’re all almost depleted. I have got to find a way to re-charge them… or boost their remaining power. And by the way, you owe me.”
“I owe you? For what?” John kept his back to Rodney as he scanned the area for potential threats, P-90 resting against his chest like a shiny black Iratus bug. Resting, but always ready.
“For finding the ZPM. Didn’t you say that you doubted there’d be a ZPM here? Oh, ye of little faith.” His last few words were mumbled around the pliers in his mouth. He removed them long enough to order, “Hand me that screwdriver-thingie there.” He pointed to the flat space where he’d laid out a variety of tools, both Earth and Ancient.
Sheppard surveyed the broad array of screwdrivers. “Canadian head?” he asked, turning a raised eyebrow to Rodney.
“Maybe later, if you’re really nice and hand me the Ancient pointy thing like a good colonel.”
Trying hard to hide his smirk, John picked up the piece of Ancient technology; it glowed brightly at his touch. He handed it to Rodney. “What I said was—”
“Don’t worry about it. You can make it up to me later.”
John took up his defensive position again, smiling a little. Rodney’s boundless confidence amused him, right up until the moment it didn’t. But for now it was okay. He walked a taut perimeter while Rodney muttered and clanked. John wondered if he could get Rodney to fix the hotplate in his room so he could make those nice melty sandwiches—Whoa! What the hell?
“Rodney?” Menace and uncertainty coloured John’s voice as he struggled to regain his balance. “Tell me you didn’t just move the nice planet like that.”
Rodney hadn’t lost his balance because he was seated on the ground, cradling the ZPM in his arms like a newborn. “Uh, well, uh. I think I just figured out what this ZPM does.” He staggered to his feet and started swiftly back in the direction of the Stargate where they’d left Teyla and Ronon. The tools lay abandoned.
“What? What?” John asked, grabbing Rodney’s arm to steady him as they began to run toward the gate.
“It kept the fucking planet from disintegrating!”
The ground shifted and bucked beneath their feet. Pieces of rock and debris rained down on them, pelting them like shrapnel. John tried to take the ZPM from Rodney, but Rodney had managed to zip it inside his vest—cumbersome but secure. He ran on with surprising speed. John could have passed him, but kept behind him instead, assisting Rodney when he stumbled.
They covered the fifteen-minute walk in a twenty-minute run, losing time to falling, skirting rockfalls and fissures that opened at their feet. Teyla and Ronon had already activated the gate. Mere yards separated them when the ground opened up between the two running men and the Stargate. Rodney leapt the narrow fissure, but John, a few paces behind, was trapped when it split further into an unjumpable gash.
“Go! Go!” John shouted, surveying left to right, figuring out which way would be fastest around. “I’m right behind you.”
Rodney nodded, lips thin and trembling, limping on, his knees a bloody mess from the number of times he’d fallen.
He was looking back as he passed through the gate.
“Teyla, Ronon, go through. That’s an order!” Sheppard yelled as he leapt the deep chasm where it narrowed about thirty yards further up, and ran toward them. A flying rock struck Teyla’s temple and Ronon grabbed her, dragging her through the gate before a single drop of blood hit the ground.
Ronon burst through the gate yelling for Beckett, despite Teyla’s protests that she was quite fine. Rodney slumped on the gateroom floor, the ZPM still swaddled tightly against his heaving chest. He waved off Zelenka’s hands as he tried to take it from him.
All eyes focused on the gate. A huge rock came flying through, knocking Zelenka to one side.
“We’ve got to close the gate!”
“But the Colonel’s still there!” Rodney yelled, furious at the idiotic suggestion.
“There’s no ‘there’ left, Doctor McKay,” the gate-tech pronounced, triple-checking his instruments. “The planet’s gone.”
The first few days Atlantis held its collective breath, awaiting something, anything, hoping against hope. One of the social anthropologists had once said that Atlantis and her people were like a single entity, with Elizabeth as its heart, Rodney as its brain, and John Sheppard as its soul. Without John, Atlantis felt stripped and empty. The city itself had sustained an unrecoverable loss, worse than any damage done by ocean, time, or Wraith. The lights on the stairway from the Stargate to the consoles flickered out, refusing to give off more than a feeble glow despite Zelenka’s puzzled assurance that there was nothing wrong with the circuitry.
Major Lorne reluctantly but competently assumed the role of ranking military officer, although the next time the Daedalus arrived Colonel Caldwell hung around as long as he could.
Elizabeth tried for normal, but normal had acquired a thin veneer of brittleness. She became suspicious and risk-averse, suspending all missions for the time being. When that time would be up she didn’t say, and no one asked.
Teyla spent more time on the mainland with her people. When in the city, she was most often in the gym. The marines who’d been receiving coaching from her drifted away, tired of being trounced instead of trained. Some of her noble warrior spirit had fled. Soon only Ronon would spar with her. They fought meanly, artlessly—no longer a dance of grace and joy, but a desperate clash of pain and fear instead.
Rodney’s tirades lost some of their bite and all of their wit. Although his staff had always tiptoed around him, it was different now. They watched him closely, treating him as if he were something fragile, requiring tenderness and not the swift kick in the ass that they’d used to believe. Instead of righteous indignation, a scathing comment might result in a gentle hand laid on his arm, a quiet offer to talk.
The military declared Lt. Colonel John Sheppard “Missing in Action, Presumed Dead”. Dr. Heightmeyer recommended a memorial service, and Colonel Caldwell agreed to officiate alongside Dr. Weir. Atlantis needed closure.
# # #
But Atlantis had survived greater losses, and eventually things returned to some semblance of normal.
There were people in Atlantis now who hadn’t known John Sheppard well, and they came to resent the sombre atmosphere. Many had traded boring jobs in a safe and secure environment surrounded by friends and family for the same boring job in a dangerous, lonely place. There was no way they wanted to be miserable as well. Soon social activities resurfaced. An enterprising Marine teamed up with one of Dr. Weir’s administrative staff to open a bar in a large unused room that might well have had a similar use 10,000 years ago. Booze, both bathtub and imported, went for outrageous prices, and the Ancients proved to have known a thing or two about acoustics and how to make a really smooth dance floor. Dr. Heightmeyer talked Dr. Weir into turning a blind eye to it, even after a couple of nasty fights broke out on the club premises.
The first Atlantean pregnancy was reported, and the entire city voiced a collective “awww”. Everyone wanted to know who the father was, but Cadman wasn’t saying. She opted to take the Daedalus back on its next trip, though, and the city was briefly saddened again. Especially when she declared she was naming it John, whether boy or girl.
Elizabeth rescinded her no-mission policy and asked Major Lorne to put together a team. He chose, with her approval, to keep both Teyla and Ronon. Rodney refused to be part of the new team, and, frankly, Elizabeth couldn’t stand to lose another of her original section heads. Zelenka was the next obvious choice, but he had come up with a way to boost the power of the naquadah generators that called upon an obscure branch of knowledge in which he was well versed and, surprisingly, Rodney was not.
They need another scientist, though, with a broad range of knowledge, both theoretical and practical. They assumed they’d have to recruit the new team member from Earth, although they were at a loss to develop a job description that would entice anyone into the position rather than sending them running. They were shocked when Dr. Miko Kusanagi approached Dr. Weir and asked for the job.
She’d recently taken a trip back to Earth, had her eyes lasered, had her hair cut short, and had it out with her family.
“I have stood up to my father, Dr. Weir. The Wraith cannot be half so bad.” She smiled tentatively. “Also, I have the Ancient gene, a fifth degree black belt, and I acquired weapons training aboard the Daedalus. Will you consider my application?”
Since Miko was the most highly qualified—and in fact the only—candidate, she immediately got the job. “On a trial basis,” Dr. Weir said, wishing she could protect all those for whom she felt responsible, wishing she could lead without coming to love those she led. She wept quietly the first time Major Lorne took his team through the Stargate.
Back on Earth, Atlantis had become something of a political hotbed—or as hot a bed as a highly classified project could become. Some brainless American diplomat had gone through official channels, proposing Atlantis become the 51st state. Every other country vetoed it.
“You’re barely more than a colony yourselves!” the British delegate had declared. “Now, we know a thing or two about running colonies.”
He was quickly shouted down, but the door had been opened and the political fate of Atlantis was now the purview of a self-interested collection of professional diplomats.
Elizabeth Weir read the transcript of the international debate with her head in her hands. It looked like the powers-that-be had made sweeping decisions about Atlantis without consulting any Atlanteans. She hadn’t even been apprised of the situation until it was over, including the well-documented shouting. She laughed aloud at the failed proposal to apply politically correct denominations such as Athosian-Atlanteans, Satedan-Atlantean, Terran-Atlanteans.
She passed out bound copies of the final document to her senior staff the following day.
“What’s this?” Rodney asked. “And why would I waste my valuable time reading it?” He hefted the document, feeling its weight, and dropped it heavily, loudly, on the conference table.
“It seems we have a new constitution. Apparently, we’re all now citizens of the Free Democracy of Atlantis. Dual citizens, actually, since we aren’t required to give up our original citizenships.”
“Oh, great,” said Rodney, flipping to the back, knowing that the devil and the details would be in the last few pages. “Universal health care, legalized abortion, and same-sex marriage. Who says you can’t go home again? All I need now is snow.”
“The bottom line is—” Elizabeth began.
“The bottom line is,” Zelenka shocked them all by interrupting, “new insignias on our uniforms. Meet the new boss, same as old boss.” He made a rude noise with his mouth.
“I have a sewing kit,” Miko offered helpfully.
# # #
The first few off-world missions went flawlessly, mainly because they were re-visiting old friends—places they’d been before that had seemed to like them, planets that the Athosians had been trading with for generations. Miko proved likable and useful; her people skills might actually have been better than Rodney’s. Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile when she read words to that effect in one of Major Lorne’s reports.
The first time Lorne’s team visited a new planet, however, things did not go nearly so well. The Fiori were friendly at first, but no sooner did they catch Ronon behind the temple with a new but very close friend than they were summarily asked to leave in a way that involved both bludgeoning and some surprisingly sophisticated handcuffs.
“No way was she a virgin!” Ronon yelled. “And anyway, she came on to me!”
And didn’t it always turn out that a group of dirt farmers without even the rudiments of electricity must have had something worth trading, a conclusion easily drawn at the appearance of Genii weaponry.
At the direction of Jonjobar, the high priest of the Fiori, the team was disarmed, bound, and marched back to the Stargate.
“Guess it makes sense, really,” Lorne said while his cuffs were being snapped into place. “We’ve been in Pegasus for a little over two years and they’ve been here forever. In fact—”
A little more bludgeoning and he ceased his speculation about Genii allegiances.
The Atlanteans fanned out around the DHD as Jonjobar intoned a bunch of words that were a mish-mash of Ancient and who-knows-what and dialed Atlantis.
“He’s dialing home,” Lorne breathed. The earlier clout to the head had left him both wary and dizzy.
“Not quite,” Miko whispered, watching the dialing carefully. For the last chevron, the high priest simultaneously depressed both Atlantis’ final key and the one next to it. “I didn’t know you could do that. Dr. McKay will… Ow!” Apparently the Fiori were not sexist when it came to head clouts.
Ronon took out two of his captors before he was shoved through the gate to the unknown destination.
The others struggled and protested, but were herded back to the Fiori village despite their objections.
“Now we can restart our trade talks,” Jonjobar announced. A serving girl poured them foul-smelling tea that they couldn’t drink, because, as Lorne sharply pointed out, their hands were still cuffed behind their backs. Jonjobar showed his great leadership skills by having their hands re-cuffed in front of them. Time passed. Some promises involving chocolate and peanut butter were made, and this, coupled with a tearful confession on the part of the non-virgin temple maiden hastened the negotiations and a mere five hours later, Lorne, Miko and Teyla hurried wearily back to the Stargate.
“I’m sorry about your friend, but no one has ever returned from Covenfar.” Jonjobar shrugged and slapped Lorne on the back, making his head ache worse than ever. “But you have new friends now. You won’t even miss the large ropey-haired one.”
Teyla stepped in front of Jonjobar holding him with her gaze. “Although we are glad to make new friends, we value all of our friends highly. We have lost far too many already.”
For a moment Lorne thought she was going to do the forehead thing, but she rarely did that anymore. Instead, she turned and walked through the Stargate, Miko having already dialed Atlantis.
# # #
“Get a MALP ready, now!” Lorne yelled even as he stepped through the wormhole and into the gateroom.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to question why, not good at taking directives without having weighed all the options first. But she could count to four, and when she didn’t this time she seconded the order. The gateroom techs were way ahead of her, already yanking the first available MALP out of its storage cubby and driving it toward the gate.
“You’re dialing Atlantis?” Chuck asked as Miko leaned over him and keyed in the sequence. A drop of blood splashed onto the DHD console from the shallow wound on her temple.
“No. Watch, please,” she said, pressing the final two keys together.
The gate activated with its whooshing inrush and the MALP rolled through.
Elizabeth tightened her grip on the railing as Lorne quickly explained what had happened. “Are you getting anything?” Is there even anything there? she refrained from saying.
“Yeah. Yeah. Just give me a sec to boost the signal.” Taking control back from Miko, Chuck depressed laptop keys and touched Ancient interfaces. “There’s a lot of interference. I can get a visual, but no audio. Radio won’t work at all.”
A grainy image, reminiscent to the first footage of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, appeared on a multitude of screens all over the gateroom. In the lab, Zelenka switched his computer to viewscreen, having been alerted to the situation by headset.
“At least it’s a planet.”
Atlantis gave a collective sigh of relief, then went back to holding its breath. The MALP could have shown them anything: a fiery pit; a swirling ocean; cold, empty space. Compared to that, a planet was good, a planet held hope. Ronon was not from Earth, but he was as much an Atlantean as anyone else who’d ever walked through their Stargate or arrived on the Daedalus.
“I’m not watching us lose another one,” Rodney said, not looking up from his work. Zelenka wanted to go to the gateroom, but took a long, hard look at his lab partner and friend. He decided he’d better stay where he was. Rodney wasn’t the man he’d once been, and the loss of yet another member of Sheppard’s team would be hard to take. So Rodney worked on, his motions stiff and jerky. Radek kept one eye on his screen and one on Rodney.
The MALP had only been through the gate for a few seconds when something obscured the camera. Then Ronon stepped back and came into crackling, misty view. He was trying to talk to them, holding the hand radio they’d sent through with the MALP. There was too much interference, and, checking the transmitter bands, he tossed it back in the MALP. He stepped out of camera range for a moment and came back holding the gun and knife Teyla had insisted they send through as well, since the Fiori had confiscated Ronan’s. He held them up, smiled and nodded. Teyla nodded back, although half a galaxy separated them.
“Why doesn’t he just come home? He knows how, doesn’t he?” Elizabeth asked.
Lorne nodded, not taking his eyes off the screen where Ronon was now doing something very, very strange. He was stripping off his jacket, followed by his shirt.
A gasp rang through the gateroom, as he took Teyla’s knife and began to carve lightly into his own chest, using his discarded shirt to wipe away the blood that obscured his handiwork.
“Mother of God!” Doctor Beckett breathed, his low exclamation clearly audible in the hushed gateroom. He’d just arrived and directed his medical team to position themselves near the gate. Lorne and Miko both declined help with their head wounds and watched Ronon with grim fascination.
Carson could easily see the man who’d twice tried to cut the Wraith transmitter from his own flesh. He shivered. Ronon was having much more trouble with the unfamiliar letters—writing them upside down and backwards, yet—than he was having with the pain. His efforts were almost comical, like a school child, biting his tongue as he carefully cut some of the few English letters he’d learned into the fragile flesh of his chest and belly.
“NO D H…” he carved, the letters shaky and uneven and dripping blood like titles for a 50s horror flick.
“But the puddlejumpers do!” Miko cried out.
A cheer went up as she raced to the jumper bay.
“From now on,” Beckett’s voice rang out, “let’s equip those MALPs with pencil and paper, for the love of God!”
“We’re not losing another Atlantean today,” Elizabeth announced.
“Wait! Wait!” Chuck cried. “He’s found something. He’s holding it up to the camera.”
It was a familiar moment, like a scene from Planet of the Apes, when Ronon, who’d never seen a movie before meeting the Atlanteans, stepped back from the camera, holding a small scrap of something, of fabric maybe. He turned it to the camera, his face unreadable, his hands shaking like they hadn’t when he’d carved the foreign letters into his flesh. It was a small rectangle, embroidered red, white and blue: the emblem from the uniform of an American soldier.
“But nobody wears those anymore,” Lorne said, touching the shoulder where his had once been. “We’re all Atlanteans now.”
“Oh, my God.” Elizabeth realized she was broadcasting and cut the audio from her headset.
In their lab, Radek stroked his friend’s back while Rodney retched into the wastebasket.
Miko lowered the puddlejumper into the gateroom, and Teyla and Lorne sprinted aboard. Carson grabbed a medical kit and jumped in after them,
“Could he still be…?” Chuck asked softly. “Should we broadcast…?” Usually precise and articulate, the gate-tech was suddenly incapable of finishing a sentence.
“Not until we know something for certain one way or the other,” Elizabeth ordered. What good would it do to get everyone’s hopes up again, when the best she was letting herself hope for was closure? It had been nearly half a year, after all.
The MALP was maneuvered to one side, and they watched its broadcast as the puddlejumper came into view on the planet and landed. Teyla leaped out first, embracing Ronon in the Atlantean way, although he had to lean down in order for her to sling her arm around his shoulders before they touched foreheads.
Each Atlantean took a turn examining the embroidered rectangle, then searching the immediate area. Ronon looked impatient. After all, he’d had more than six hours to scout the situation while waiting for his teammates to escape the Fiori and mount their rescue mission.
Finally, the off-world team boarded the jumper and took off out of camera range. The gate was deactivated and Atlantis began its vigil.
# # #
The hours crawled by, shifts changed, but no one left their stations. They wanted to be there, even though they knew it could be weeks, months, before they had any luck finding… a clue, a sign, a body. John.
Sandwiches and coffee were brought to the gateroom. Rodney and Radek joined them. Elizabeth pulled them aside to ensure they understood the implications of the situation. Rodney merely nodded, dragging Radek with him to bodily displace Chuck to check and recheck equipment and findings.
“How would he have ended up there?” Radek said, breaking two hours of near silence.
“Something must have hit the DHD just before he entered the Stargate,” Rodney speculated softly, hands still for once as he hugged himself tightly. “There was debris flying everywhere. The DHD or the gate itself, even, must have reset and redialed or just malfunctioned. Who knows?” He shrugged, an incongruous gesture for the near-hysteria in his voice.
Radek handed him a powerbar, and Rodney forced himself to eat nearly half of it.
The Daedalus arrived unexpectedly, a few days ahead of schedule. They’d radioed Atlantis as soon as they’d come within hailing distance and found its responses disquietingly terse and cryptic. Caldwell descended on the gateroom. One look at the hushed room with people dozing against walls and carpeting the staircase, and he shut right up. Elizabeth took him aside for the same abbreviated briefing that she’d given the scientists.
Once apprised of the situation, Colonel Caldwell stayed at Elizabeth’s side, joining the Atlanteans in their vigil, adding his prayers to theirs.
The clang of the Stargate was startling, when it finally sounded.
“We’ve got an incoming wormhole,” the gate-tech needlessly announced, voice and hands trembling.
Elizabeth glanced at her watch; a mere sixteen hours had passed.
“They’ve found something conclusive or they wouldn’t be back this soon,” Rodney said, speaking the words no one else dared say, his voice unsteady. “Oh, my God!” he cried, biting down hard on his lower lip, eyes on the DHD display screen.
Radek turned to Elizabeth. “Is Colonel Sheppard’s IDC.”
“Prodigal son of a bitch!” Caldwell exclaimed.
And then the jumper was through the gate, landing, a gaunt, bearded man stepping out. The crowd in the gateroom cheered and clapped and sobbed at the sight of him. He waved off the medical team, gently turned aside well-wishers, moving inexorably across the floor. His eyes swept the room, no hint of a smirk on his face, searching.
Elizabeth made a choked broadcast: “We’ve found John Sheppard. He’s alive. He’s home.” She was brief for once, because indeed what else needed to be said?
“John,” Rodney whispered, rising slowly, then quickly gaining momentum. He shoved people and equipment roughly aside as he rushed toward the stairs, extraneous gateroom personnel scrambling out of his way.
The instant John set foot upon the stairway, it glowed bright white again as it had when they’d first arrived. All of Atlantis—the people, and even the city itself—blazed with welcome. An intensity of life returned to the city that had been absent for nearly half a year.
John took the stairs two steps at a time, meeting Rodney in the middle; the white lights became a dance of colour limning the men in a spectrum of radiance.
“John,” Rodney repeated, standing frozen before the lost Atlantean, afraid to touch, afraid to believe.
“Home.” John’s voice cracked on the word and he wrapped his arms around Rodney, touching first foreheads and then lips. Holding on, crying unnoticed in a room where no eye was dry.
So not unrequited then, Caldwell thought irrelevantly, vision blurring.
“Home,” Rodney answered, voice ringing clear. “Home.”
And Atlantis lived again, resurrected, her soul returned to her once more.