Fic: Holding the Line (John/Rodney) Pt 3/4
Author: Lady Anne
Genre: H/C, Angst, Adventure
Pairing (if any): John/Rodney
Rating: PG-13, language and violence, a little sexuality
Warnings: language and violence, a little sexuality
Words: This part is 3700
Summary: This is an AU tag for the Long Goodbye. Thalen just doesn't want to let go.
A/N: This is one of my 50 fic, the prompt was 'hate.'
There is dialogue from the episode included in here, I think you'll figure it out. Much thanks to chocolatephysicist, my stellar beta. My story is better because of her eye. Any mistakes remaining are my own.
Sheppard tugged self consciously on the edge of his dress jacket as he waited for the wormhole to engage. Around him, the control room appeared to be business as usual with personnel working at whatever it was they did. But he could feel the stares as people watched him out of the corner of their eye; he didn’t need to hear the whispered words to know what they were saying.
“He killed her.”
“He shot Dr. Weir in cold blood.”
“They should hang him for what he did.”
“I hope they fry him for what he did.”
“Send him back to Earth and don’t let him come back.”
It was no less than the things he’d said to himself.
Kate Heightmeyer could talk all she wanted about it really being Thalen who had killed Elizabeth, but John knew differently. It was his body that had hunted her down, his hands that had pulled the trigger, his fault that she was dead.
He’d scrubbed and scrubbed and yet he thought he could still see the blood on his hands. It got in the cracks and the crevices, down in under his nails and he couldn’t get it off, no matter how much he scrubbed. There was so much blood, and not just Elizabeth’s. It had started with Sumner. Each death weighed more and more heavily on his soul - it was a mercy killing, they threatened his team, he’d only been doing his duty to protect his city. He didn’t know how much more he could take before his soul was so weighted down by death and carnage that he could no longer face his reflection in the mirror.
At last the address was dialed and the wormhole engaged. Sheppard paused to look around him, waiting for someone, anyone to see him off. There was no one.
John wondered if it wasn’t part of his punishment for his crimes that he left Atlantis totally and completely shunned by the people he cared about.
In the end, Lt. Colonel John Sheppard didn’t need orders; he knew what he was supposed to do. He stepped through the ‘gate and found himself back at SGC, ready to face the trial for murder that would end his career for good.
It was eerily quiet when he stepped through. There was no one there, the place was deserted.
“Hello?” he called out uncertainly. He wasn’t popular, this he knew, but the ‘gate room and the control room were never left alone.
“Hello, John,” a voice greeted him and he sucked in a breath as Elizabeth Weir stepped through the door into the embarkation room. “Miss me?” she asked with a whimsical smile. There was a hole between her eyes where the bullet had entered. John really didn’t want to see the other side where the bullet had exited.
“Elizabeth?” he asked, the beginnings of fear rippling through him.
“Glad you could make it,” she moved to him and took his arm. She led him out of the room into the hallway.
“Elizabeth,” he said at last when he found his voice again, “don’t take this the wrong way, but aren’t you dead?”
She laughed. “When has that ever stopped us, John?”
They came to a door and John paused, not wanting to go through.
“This is what you came for, John, to stand judgment for your crimes.” She pushed the door and it swung open. She gave John a nudge and he stumbled forward into the room.
All was dark as he entered. As he took one uncertain step after another, the lights began to rise. Dimly he could see figures in the room. Behind him the door slammed shut with a finality that chilled him to the bone.
“Here we are, John, a jury of your peers.” The light came up then, almost blinding in its intensity except he could see every face in the room clearly, every one of them was someone he had killed. Standing at the front of the throng were Sumner and Elizabeth Weir. “It is time for you to be judged for your crimes.”
The people crowded around him and John could see their wounds, wounds that he had inflicted. They were reaching for him, pulling at him, ripping him apart.
“No!” he shouted, struggling to shove them away, punching and kicking. “Let me go. Let me go.”
“Sheppard!” A voice raised above all the others, a voice he knew. Rodney’s voice. “Wake up, Colonel, it’s only a dream.”
John’s eyes snapped open and he found himself in the infirmary. Rodney was standing beside him, watching him anxiously.
“A dream?” John croaked, his throat dry. The wild beating of his heart was echoed by the heart monitor.
McKay reached for the cup that was always waiting at his bedside when John woke up in the infirmary. John’s hands were shaking too badly to manage by himself, so Rodney steadied the cup while Sheppard drank, letting the cool liquid ease his throat. Slowly his heart returned to a more normal rhythm.
Rodney studied him the entire time, “That must have been some dream,” he commented dryly.
For the briefest second John thought that maybe the whole thing had been a dream – being possessed by Thalen, Phebus hunting him, Ronon wounded,
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” he asked.
“Sheppard, you’ve got to know it wasn’t you,” Rodney began knowing the guilt that John was feeling.
“Just stop, McKay,” John held up a hand that was still trembling minutely, “I don’t want to hear it, I was there remember?”
Rodney opened his mouth to retort, John knew that the other man wouldn’t let it go so easily. He was Rodney McKay after all. He would have an argument for the Grim Reaper as to why he wasn’t dead when the spectre arrived to take his snarky ass to the hereafter.
Fortunately he was saved from whatever McKay had to say with Carson’s arrival. John didn’t think he’d ever been so glad to see the doctor. He didn’t want to argue with Rodney. If the truth were told, he didn’t want to do anything. He was bone weary. He just wanted to lie back and sleep, maybe forever.
“Colonel,” the doctor said, brusque and professional as he tended to be when there was bad news to share.
“So, am I single occupancy again, Doc?” John asked because he knew it was expected of him.
Carson wrapped his fingers around Sheppard’s wrist to take his pulse, “Aye, Colonel, Thalen is gone for good, I’m happy to say. How are you feeling?”
John tried to assess himself so he could answer the question, but he didn’t think Carson would want to hear that he really felt nothing. He was empty and hollow, as if Thalen had taken John Sheppard when he left.
“I’m good,” John said automatically, again it was expected of him.
“Oh, please,” Rodney grumbled, “you don’t believe that do you?” He waved a hand at John, “I mean, just look at him. Even his hair is flat and if that’s not a sign of a coming apocalypse, then I don’t know what is.”
Carson gave Rodney a baleful stare, “Am I going to have to ask you to leave, Rodney?” he asked as he continued with his physical check of John’s condition.
John winced when Carson shone the dreaded penlight into his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. He just let Carson do his thing, knowing that the sooner the doctor finished, the sooner he’d leave John alone.
“Colonel, your body shows signs of enduring a trauma. Your… possession by Thalen was not without a price.”
“You mean Elizabeth being dead isn’t price enough?” John didn’t mean for the words to come out, they just did.
“Lad, we all know there was nothing you could do about that. You’re as much a victim here as she was.”
Except Elizabeth was dead and John was still alive. John didn’t see much point in saying it since it was kind of obvious.
The doctor finished his check, “Now you’re going to be my guest for a day or two yet, so I’ll hear no arguments from you.”
Beckett paused, anticipating John’s objections, but John didn’t have any intention of arguing. The infirmary was just the place for him. Maybe there he wouldn’t kill any more of his friends.
“Whatever you say, Doc,” he said, closing his eyes hoping they’d both get the hint and go away.
There was a long silence that John was sure was full of meaningful stares between McKay and the doctor and then he heard one set of footsteps as someone moved away.
“Alright, the voodoo doctor is gone,” Rodney said. “And don’t think you’re going to pull the ‘pretending to sleep’ thing, because I’m onto you. We’re going to talk.” Rodney poked him none too gently in the side.
John frowned at him, “Why are you still here, McKay?” he asked.
Rodney glared down at him with the same look he gave Kavanaugh that meant ‘Why are you breathing the same air as me?’ He crossed his arms, “What do you mean?”
“Those things Thalen said to you…”
Rodney didn’t let him get any farther, “You know, I never really thought you where as stupid as I said you were, but now I’m not sure.”
John took in a weary breath, “McKay…”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed dangerously, “No, Sheppard. How stupid do you think *I* am?”
John shoved himself up on his elbows, “But he told you that I only made friends with you to use you…”
Rodney rolled his eyes, “And he was playing me, Sheppard, he was trying to confuse me so that he could get me to do what he wanted.” Amazement crossed Rodney’s face, “You knew that, didn’t you?”
John *was* starting to get confused, but he figured he had a good excuse, “Well yeah, but I didn’t know you knew it.”
Rodney lifted his chin smugly, “Genius, remember? As if some alien grunt can outsmart me.” Rodney puffed out his chest proudly, “It was our plan, Lorne and I. Well, mostly me, but Lorned helped a little…
“McKay,” John interrupted knowing that once Rodney got started there would be no stopping him.
Rodney glared down at John for daring to interrupt, but got back on track with, “I needed to find out how to get rid of Thalen, because he didn’t seem to be leaving on his own. You know there’s nothing worse than a guest who comes to visit and then never leaves. And I did find out how to get rid of him.” Rodney stood looking down at him, waiting for John to acknowledge his brilliance.
“You looked like you believed him…”
Rodney cocked his head and studied him for a moment, “Geeze, Sheppard, I was acting.”
John’s head ached and it felt like he brain was wrapped in cotton, but he was staring to figure out what Rodney was saying, “You knew he was lying?”
Rodney mouthed the word, ‘Acting.’
“How did you know he was lying? He almost convinced me.”
Rodney blew out an exasperated breath, “Geeze, Sheppard, he was trying to get me to doubt our friendship.” Suddenly Rodney turned shy, finding the IV bag hanging over John’s bed interesting, “I’ve not doubted that in a long time.”
John felt a warming in his chest and he did *not* have to swallow back a lump, “Well… that’s good because I was afraid that you might have thought I really felt like that.”
Rodney rolled his eyes impatiently, “I’ve been there, remember? Had another person in my head,” then he shifted a little uncomfortably, “that is, not that this is the same at all. Because Cadman may be a little manic, but she wasn’t insane. Although when she made me kiss Carson, I did consider homicide.”
“Don’t even joke about it, Rodney,” John said quietly.
Rodney shut his mouth so suddenly his teeth clicked. “I… uhm… sorry,” he trailed off embarrassed, unsure what to say next. That was a first. But then he plowed on again, “But Colonel… Sheppard, you’ve got to know that you’re not to blame. You didn’t kill Elizabeth; it was that person inside you. And you can’t hold yourself responsible for what Thalen did. Now that would be crazy.”
“Gee, thanks, McKay,” John made the effort at banter, he really did and Rodney’s eyes looked so hopeful. But John just couldn’t convince himself today that it wasn’t his fault somehow that Elizabeth was dead. Maybe tomorrow. “I’m really tired, Rodney, you don’t suppose you could…” John trailed off hoping that Rodney would get the hint.
And Rodney didn’t claim to be a genius for nothing, because he did see that John wanted him to go. “Oh, okay,” he said, sounding disappointed, “I’ll just uh…come back later after you’ve rested and we can uhm… talk some more.”
“Yeah, we can do that,” John agreed readily, anything to get McKay to leave him alone. He shut his eyes and pointedly turned on his side. After awhile he heard footsteps as Rodney left him there alone.
John fell into a fitful sleep. He dreams were filled with vague nightmares. Shadowy forms chased him through Atlantis’ corridors until at last they resolved into Wraith. He ran as hard and as fast as he could, but he couldn’t evade them. They were everywhere he went – down every hallway, in every room. When they finally captured him, they didn’t feed on him. They wrapped him in a cocoon and made him watch while they fed on his friends, one by one the citizens of Atlantis were left as husks to torment John. They left Rodney until last and John snapped awake with the image of McKay’s terrified blue eyes seeking out his in Rodney’s last seconds of life, his eyes saying everything they’d never said to each other out loud.
He lay shaking, gulping air, thankful beyond words to find he was still in the infirmary.
“Are you well, John?” Teyla’s quiet voice startled him.
He flinched when her cool fingers curled around his. He turned his head to find her sitting beside his bed.
“I did not mean to startle you,” she said.
“No, no, I’m sorry, I was just having a bad dream and you spooked me, that’s all.” The dream of the Wraith was still fresh in his mind. Her hand on his reminded him eerily of the dream somehow. He wanted to pull his hand away, but he didn’t know how to do it without seeming rude.
“Do you require assistance? I can get Dr. Beckett.” She let go of his hand, and that was a relief but then she stood to carry out her errand.
The last thing John wanted was to see Carson and have to endure another exam. “No,” he put his hand on Teyla’s arm as she stood to leave. “Please don’t. I’m fine.”
She paused, clearly thinking otherwise, but at last she sat again. “You will tell me if you require the presence of the doctor?” she asked severely, her displeasure evident.
John tried a smile, he was pretty sure he failed, but it was the best he could do, “Don’t I always?”
Teyla was polite enough not to call him on it. “How are you?” she asked.
He waved a vague hand in the air, “Well, you know, what can you expect after being possessed by an alien entity?”
She frowned at him, “While I have experienced the Wraith’s invasion of me, they have not controlled me so completely as Thalen controlled you. I can… only imagine how you must feel.”
John sincerely hoped that she couldn’t. “Well, I’m fine,” he told her firmly. He hoped that if he said it often enough, he might begin to believe it himself. He noticed that she looked tired and drawn. He remembered belatedly that she had been through an ordeal also. Not only had she nearly had to shoot a friend, Thalen had stunned her, too. “How are you?” he asked pointedly.
She smiled at him, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes, “I am also fine,” she even did a fair job of imitating his tone.
He swallowed nervously, “I’m sorry I shot you.”
She frowned at him, “It was not you, John. Why would you apologize?”
He couldn’t quite meet her gaze anymore, “It felt like it was me, Teyla.”
“John, I know you. You are a good man and you would not hurt anyone you care about. I do not blame you because Thalen shot me.”
“What if I blame me?” He said it low, but Teyla heard him.
“Do you blame me for bringing the Wraith down upon us all?”
“What?” John gaped in astonishment at her.
“When we first met, you gave me my necklace back. If I had not lost it there many years before, you would not have found it, the Wraith would not have come. We would have had more time to prepare before the new cullings began.”
John pushed himself up on his elbows, intent on making her understand, “Teyla, that wasn’t your fault. You didn’t loose your necklace on purpose just so I’d find it there later.” John insisted. All this time, he’d been blaming himself for that.
“And this is not your fault,” she countered, laying her trap neatly. “Did you wish to kill Elizabeth?”
“No,” he answered thickly. He knew what she was saying. Rodney had said it. Carson had said it. He was pretty sure Kate Heightmeyer would say it when they forced him to go see her.
“So, you see, it was not you.”
His strength was gone, he fell back on the pillows, “That’s easy to say, Teyla, it’s a little harder to get it through my head.”
Teyla inclined her head in agreement, “Your head is, as Dr. McKay would say, very thick.”
That took him by surprise and he laughed.
“There that is better,” she said approvingly. “John, there is one other thing,” she began uncertainly. John had never really seen Teyla uncertain. Uneasily he thought he knew what was coming. He’d almost rather talk about Elizabeth.
“Thalen said…” she trailed off, but she didn’t really have to say it. The words that Thalen had said hung between them.
He cares for you more than you know.
“Teyla,” John searched for just the right words, he didn’t want to hurt her any more than he already had. “Thalen was playing with everyone’s heads. He took things he saw in my head and he twisted them to suit his own needs, to confuse everyone.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “I had hoped this was the case.” She relaxed as if relieved.
“I did not want to have to…” she paused, “how do your people say it? Let you down easy?”
John laughed again, this time in relief.
Caldwell was the next person to show up at John’s bedside. It seemed that John was the most popular person in Atlantis.
“Sheppard,” Caldwell said. John tried to push himself up, at least come to some semblance of attention, but Caldwell waved him off. “At ease.”
John flopped back into the pillows, but he couldn’t relax with Caldwell. “Colonel.”
“Sheppard, I just…” Caldwell paused.
John just wished he’d get it over with, tell him he was getting shipped back to Earth.
When Caldwell spoke, his words surprised the hell out of John. “I’ve been where you are, Sheppard. When they took that Goa’uld out of my head, I kept thinking I should have been able to do something – resist, fight harder, something. But there wasn’t anything I could do. And there wasn’t anything you could have done.”
“Shut up, Sheppard, this is probably the only time I’m going to say this to you, so listen.” Caldwell crossed his arms and glared down at Sheppard, “You’ve done good work here. God knows I wanted you to fail, because I thought I wanted your job. But I’ve seen the things that have happened to you and you know what? I don’t think I’m strong enough to have dealt with.”
John just really didn’t know how to answer that. He had known that Caldwell wanted his job. He had been surprised and pleased when he’d been given the position of military commander of Atlantis. He had heard the whispered stories of how Elizabeth had stood up for him and insisted that John get the position of military commander of Atlantis. It had warmed him that she had such confidence in him. Now that confidence seemed misplaced.
For a minute it felt to John as if the world had turned upside down or maybe he’d stepped through the rabbit hole and he was in an alternate universe Atlantis.
“The Daedalus is leaving tomorrow, so you have until then to make up your mind what you’re going to do.”
With that Caldwell turned and left.