Rating: R (for disturbing imagery)
Recipient: Pinch hit for thisissirius
Summary: "I always thought I'd go out in combat, flying a jumper or on the ground, but I'm kind of glad it happened this way."
Author's Note: This was a pinch hit that kind of got away from me and grew. I apologize for the delay; I'm just glad I managed to get in on the 24th. Thank you alyse and moonlettuce for not nagging at all, and OMG thank you to the people who sat up with me in chat and held my hands all night long.
Warning: One of the things thisissirius said in her request was "Deathfic would be brilliant." I took her at her word.
"Kneel," the Wraith Queen said, and John fought the feeling of deja-vu as hard hands forced him to his knees. This was getting old, and he opened his mouth to say so in as defiant a manner as possible, when she spoke again.
"Remove the blindfold."
There was something familiar about her voice and John frowned as the cloth over his eyes was pulled away. He met her eyes, not wanting to show any sign of the fear that was twisting in his gut. What he saw, however, made him gasp and reel back against the Wraith holding him in place. The Queen had oddly warm brown eyes, was incredibly short for a Wraith and her face was more familiar to him than his own.
"Teyla," he whispered. His revulsion gave him the strength to pull away from the hands holding him down, and with a sinking feeling he looked back as he was grabbed and pulled back into place. Green tinged skin and white dreads did nothing to disguise Ronon and John felt his stomach twist again.
"Can we get a move on, please? I'm about to die of hunger here."
John didn't want to look as the Ronon Wraith grabbed him again and held him in place, but he couldn't help it as someone crouched in front of him. As his gaze met a pair pale blue eyes, the Rodney Wraith drew his hand back. "Nothing personal, Colonel," he said, "but you wouldn't want me to fall into a hypoglycemic coma, would you?" It was Rodney's "we're in public and I don't want people to get the wrong idea" voice and, oddly enough, that hurt almost more than the sudden, agonizing pain in his chest.
Opening his mouth to tell Rodney to call him John, John screamed instead, his body arching in Ronon's grasp as Rodney began to steal his life and Teyla laughed.
"Quick, give him another injection." John could hardly hear the unfamiliar voice, but whatever it was they were injecting him with caused the pain in his chest to lessen as the scene before his eyes faded.
* * *
"We should have taken him back to Atlantis," Rodney said as he paced their guest suite. He knew damn well that John had been too sick to move, not to mention that they didn't dare expose everyone in the City to what the Nixtai called Mind Fever, but waiting while the local quacks did their best to heal him was driving Rodney nuts.
"You should eat something," Ronon said, resting a hand on Rodney's shoulder and nudging him toward the table. Rodney went, but then stared down at the remains of breakfast without really seeing any of the food.
"I'm not very hungry," he said even as his stomach growled.
"Perhaps not," Teyla said, "but you should eat anyway." Anyone else would have thought that she was calm and only concerned for Rodney's health, but Rodney had learned how to read her--at least a little--and he sighed and sat down at the table, reaching for a biscuit.
It, and the fruit paste that reminded him a little of apple butter, sat heavily in his stomach and he checked his watch while Teyla poured him a mug of tea. It was too early for their daily meeting with John's medical team, and the various projects he had going on his laptop held no real appeal.
"Come here," Ronon said from his place on the broad sofa. "It's more comfortable."
As soon as Rodney settled next to him, Ronon slung an arm around him and pulled him close. Rodney was about to protest that he didn't to be treated like some stupid child, but then he felt the tension in Ronon's body ease a little, and he decided that he could stand being cuddled if Ronon really needed it. Teyla, who was better at reading Ronon, settled in on Ronon's other side and leaned against him.
"He will be well," she said and even though Rodney knew that she didn't know any more about the situation than either Ronon or himself, he took some comfort from her words.
* * *
The Blackhawk was big, but it had power and John felt pretty confident in both the craft and his crew right up to the moment there was a flash and his tail rotor stopped working. As he fought to maintain control, he could smell smoke.
"We've gotta get out of here," Ronon said over the crew channel. "There're guys down there with RPGs!"
For a moment John thought they were good, that he could still fly them all to safety, but then the helicopter shuddered even harder and the smell of smoke, thick, oily and cloying, grew stronger. Next to him, Teyla started calmly reciting the instrument readings John was too busy to keep an eye on, and he could hear Rodney muttering to himself as he and Ronon tried to assess and hopefully deal with the damage.
The second flash was so bright it blinded John and he could feel the moment when he lost control of the bird. "Oh shit, we're going down," he yelled and before he could repeat himself with the flight's designation, the earth slammed up to meet them, Ronon screamed, and everything went dark.
John awoke to the sound and heat of a nearby fire. Shaking his head and struggling to remain conscious, he looked around. The back of the chopper was burning and he swallowed against the urge to vomit when the fire swirled and he saw the charred bodies of his two crew chiefs. Turning quickly, he reached for Teyla only to find that, in spite of all her safety gear, her head hung to the side at an odd angle. He knew she was dead but reached for a pulse anyway, only to find nothing.
It was only as he tried to get out of his own safety gear that he realized his legs were trapped. The pain and fear of the encroaching fire overcame any stoicism he had and he began to yell frantically for help.
"Quickly, more navistad."
Something pinched John's arm and his pain disappeared as the crashed helicopter faded around him.
When he opened his eyes, he was in an unfamiliar hospital being watched carefully by several medical types. More importantly, Ronon was standing behind them.
He was the best thing John had seen in a while and he opened his mouth to say so, but then whatever drug he'd been given kicked in even harder and he sank back into unconsciousness.
* * *
"We're past the quarantine date," Rodney said into his radio. In front of him the blue of an open gate rippled, but the sight of a stable wormhole failed to stir any of his usual feelings of awe; he just wanted his team to be on the other side of it. His whole team.
"And Colonel Sheppard?" Elizabeth asked. "Do the Nixtai doctors feel that he can be moved? Or is he still contagious?"
"He's not contagious and the worst of the physical symptoms are over." And thank the God Rodney didn't believe in for that; John still looked pale and all too small in his hospice bed, but he wasn't thrashing or screaming at things he could only see in his mind. "But he's still pretty sick; the drug they give him suppresses his appetite and, of course, he's not exactly sleeping well."
"Can you...do you think it's a good idea to bring him back to Atlantis?"
"Of course it's a good idea," Rodney snapped. "Are you crazy? I'd rather he was in the hands of our witch doctor rather than the ones here."
"Thank you for your vote of confidence, Rodney," Carson said dryly.
"I don't have time for niceties."
"Teyla?" Elizabeth's voice cut over Rodney's. "What do the Nixtai doctors say?"
"They feel that Colonel Sheppard would benefit from familiar surroundings."
Rodney rolled his eyes; hadn't he just said that?
"Dr. Lidti has offered to come with us and explain the standard treatment to Dr. Beckett," Teyla explained and Rodney tuned them out as the details were hammered out.
He hated this; there was nothing he could do, nothing he could fix, and John looked so fucking frail and.... He turned and met Ronon's eyes and saw his own frustration mirrored there. Remembering the moment on the couch, he moved sideways a little until their arms were brushing.
* * *
"I mean it," Lorne said, his gun trained right on John's heart. "All four of you, up against the wall."
"Major," John said in his calmest, dealing-with-the-crazy-natives tone of voice. "There's no need to do this. My team is not a threat. I am not a threat."
"Oh yes you are," Lorne said. Behind him several Marines kept SGA-1 in their sights and John knew without glancing to his side that Teyla looked alert but calm, Ronon looked alert but defiant, and Rodney looked alert but annoyed. "All of you. I know what you are."
"Oh my God," Rodney said angrily. "If this is about the sex, I have to say I always thought better of you, Major."
"Rodney," John muttered.
"I don't care who the Colonel fucks," Lorne said. "And stop trying to distract me."
Several more Marines came into the mess, and John recognized the ARGs they held. "You think we're Repli...." he began.
"I know it," Lorne said, taking one of the ARGs. "Did you think we wouldn't intercept your transmissions?" He raised the gun and fired.
Ronon disintegrated into a pile of fragments before John's eyes. "No!" John yelled, moving forward as the weapon fired again and Teyla fell to pieces.
Reaching out, Rodney grabbed John's arm and pulled him close with inhuman strength. "Your Colonel's not one of us, Major. Shoot me, and he dies."
"Rodney?" John turned to face him and Rodney smiled tightly, held up his hand and pushed it into John's forehead.
As the agony of having his brain invaded kicked in, John wondered dimly where Carson was with the goddamn navistad.
* * *
"It's always my team," John said, tucking his hands under the blanket when he realized that they were shaking. From the looks Carson and Heightmeyer exchanged, he wasn't fooling anyone. "And it's always...brutal. Either they die, or they're enemies trying to kill me, or both."
"Dr. Lidti did say it was common for the hallucinations to focus on a central theme or a common fear the patient has," Heightmeyer said.
"Well, I'm ready for this to be over. It's getting so I...it's hard to...."
"The colonel's said he doesn't want visitors," Carson said, taking pity on him.
"Don't want them to see me flinching." Shocked at himself for giving even that much away, John grit his teeth.
"While you're still having the hallucinations," Heightmeyer said, "I think you should do whatever makes you comfortable. There will be time after that to reconnect with your partners."
John stared at her. "Did Rodney...?"
"Colonel, if I had learned of your...team's dynamic from Dr. McKay, I wouldn't have said anything. Please, give me some credit; I am a trained observer of human behavior." Before John could say anything else, she smiled at him. "And trust me, everything I've observed falls under patient confidentiality."
"Thanks," John said, wondering if they'd been that obvious. He was about to ask, but a yawn interrupted him. "God, I'm kind of afraid to go to sleep."
"Our equipment is capable of taking some very delicate measurements," Carson said. "We should be able to detect the onset of a hallucination and dose you with navistad right away instead of waiting until you start to...."
"Yell? Scream? Thrash around?" John asked dryly.
"Exactly," Carson replied.
"Thanks, Doc," John said. "Because as much as I don't want to, I'm about to nod off here."
"We'll be keeping a close watch on you, son."
* * *
The Wraith Queen slammed her hand back against her screaming victim's chest and a tiny part of John almost sighed with relief at the familiarity of the scene--Sumner's death was hardly a new nightmare. Just before he could see clearly enough to pull the trigger, just as he realized that her victim had long dark hair twisted into dreadlocks, John felt the familiar wash of the navistad, numbing his fear and erasing the scene before him.
Thank you, Carson, John thought as he slipped into sleep.
* * *
John was poking rather lackadaisically at his dinner when Carson tapped lightly on the door to the isolation room and then came in. "How're you feeling this evening," he asked.
"Like crap," John said. "Shouldn't I be over this? I've been here a week; back on Nixtai, they said the hallucination part of it would last maybe few days after I left the hospice."
"According to everything I have on Mind Fever, which is everything the Nixtai have, yes, you should be closer to recovery than you are." Carson sighed. "However, in dealing with any disease contracted here in the Pegasus galaxy, we have to account for thousands of years of genetic drift. And there's the added factor of your strong ATA gene throwing up a variable they don't have to deal with on Nixt."
"And all that means what?" John asked. He hated the whiney note in his voice, but not only was he fatigued, he was also tired of the damn hallucinations. "They're getting worse," he said, unable to help his shudder. "Sometimes I think I'm seeing things out of the corners of my eyes when I'm actually awake. And then I'm not sure I'm awake."
Carson frowned at him. "And how long has that been going on?"
"Just today," John said, feeling guilty. "I...I'm just not sure any more. The last serious hallucination, the one last night I mean, took place right here in the isolation room, only instead of me being sick, they had that nanite disease from our first year here?"
"And I knew that if I tried to create an EMP the same way I did then, I'd destroy the City. And really, thank God for the damn navistad, because it kept me from having to make that decision."
"And then after that you think you started having waking hallucinations?"
"Yeah. I keep getting glimpses of them, Rodney or Ronon or Tyela, out of the corner of my eyes."
"Colonel," Carson began and then paused. "John, do you think it might help if you see them? They're worried about you; well of course, everyone is worried. But don't you think...?"
"Are you saying they need to come in and what? Say good bye?"
"No, I'm saying that it might do all four of you some good."
John reached up and rubbed his chin. "I...okay. I should see Elizabeth too, I guess." He wasn't sure he liked what it said about him that he'd almost rather see his boss than his...team, but Carson only nodded.
"Finish up your dinner then, and I'll let them know they can come visit."
* * *
Although a little part of her wanted to rush in and touch John to make sure he was well, Teyla held back. She told herself that Rodney and Ronon needed the physical contact and the reassurance that went with it more than she did, but deep down in her heart, she knew that she was just a little afraid to see John. He had looked so fragile the last time she had seen him and while she could handle seeing him like that, she was not sure he could. John was not vain, but he hated looking weak in front of anyone, let alone his lovers.
Just as she expected, Rodney and Ronon moved in to touch him, and while Rodney paused, obviously surprised at what he was seeing, Ronon did not. He moved around to the other side of John's bed, pulled up a chair and rested a hand on John's shoulder. Although John flinched at first, he did not pull away; Teyla was not surprise, she had learned that he was almost as touch starved as Ronon was.
That Rodney was the first one to speak was no surprise either.
"Well you look like crap," he said.
"Wow, Rodney," John said, "good to see you too."
"You're the one who says I'm a lousy liar." Rodney took a deep breath and Teyla readied herself to move in and stop him from delivering the rant she and Ronon had already heard but John wasn't ready for. "Just...thanks for letting us in."
John had obviously been expecting a lot more and when Rodney fell silent, he looked surprised. "No rant?" he asked, reaching for Rodney's hand.
"Get your strength up first, you asshole." Rodney smiled just a little. "I'm working up to a really good one."
"I can't wait." John glanced over at the doorway, looking right at her "You okay, Teyla?"
How like him, to ask about me when he is the one who is ill. And John was ill; even braced for it as she was, the sight of him--pale with dark circles under his eyes, and thin, so very thin--shook her a little.
Although she thought she hid her reaction, John was an observant man and she saw him wince.
"I am well," she said firmly, moving to join Rodney at his side. "And you will be well again soon." Maybe, if she said it enough, she could will it into happening.
That night, Teyla curled up in between Rodney and Ronon, listening to their soft snores until the pale light of morning filtered through the curtains.
* * *
Being in the isolation room was better than being in the main part of the infirmary. It was quiet and Carson's staff did their best not to disturb John. True, he was, as he told Elizabeth during her short and somewhat awkward visit, getting ahead of schedule on War and Peace. Rodney had actually rigged up a screen and grabbed the DVD player out of the rec room--"your Marines practically made me take it at gun point"-- and put it on a cart that could be put at the foot of the bed, but after the first time a movie plot made its way into a hallucination, John didn't watch many of the movies that were piling up.
Other things were piling up as well. Carson had finally put a box for gifts in the mess hall and John was a little stunned at the number of things given by the people of Atlantis. There was chocolate and other candy, books and flash drives full of music, movies and TV shows, and funny little cartoons drawn by Karen Simpson. And always, the cranes.
At first John had assumed they came from Dr. Kusanagi, but then Elizabeth told him that Zelenka had been the first to make one. "He does origami; he's very good at it and he's been teaching the rest of us how to make them," she said, and John wondered why he didn't know that. He tried not to think about the irony of making cranes for a soldier; people, he supposed, did what they needed to do.
That he was admired, well, he'd known that, although it had taken him some time to realize it. But that he was liked and yes, loved, on this scale.... He hadn't know that and to be honest, the whole thing freaked him out a little. He did his best to pass the gifts on, giving candy to the nurses and slipping chocolate into Rodney's pockets when he visited.
He didn't know what to do with the cranes. At first they took up residence on the cart with the DVD player, but then came the night that John had a waking hallucination in which Ronon, Rodney and Teyla sat down around his hospital bed and started making cranes out of their own skin.
After that, Carson gave him a crane count but told people that the cranes took up took much space in the infirmary. Shelves were set up for them in the mess hall.
* * *
"I think it's time to try something new," Carson said one morning. He looked as tired as John felt, and John wished that people were giving Carson candy and music; after all, Carson was the one doing all the work.
"In extreme cases on Nixt," Carson continued, "navistad is used as a preventative during the course of the illness. I want to try giving you small doses on a regular basis. I believe, if we can break the cycle of hallucinations, you'll get more regular sleep and your appetite will return."
John just looked at him and extended his arm.
* * *
John hadn't noticed it before, but now that he was getting it on a regular basis instead of when he was in the grip of a hallucination, the navistad made him extremely spacey and blurred his vision. Carson, after checking with the doctors on Nixt, told him that the side-effects were normal and that they'd clear up as soon as he went off the drug.
So John relaxed and let himself enjoy the floaty feeling and the complete and utter lack of hallucinations of any kind. It was amazing how good it was to know that everyone who came through the door was real and that they would act like normal people.
Or at least as normal as the people around him ever acted.
"God, John, what the hell is your deal anyway?" Rodney asked one afternoon after John had described a few of his milder hallucinations. "Why can't you hallucinate about, oh I don't know, puppies, kittens and rainbows?"
"Who are you?" John asked. "And what have you done with my lover?"
Rodney's eyes went wide and he ducked his head the way he did whenever one of them surprised him with a compliment. "I...I mean I knew that's what we all are, but I never...well you know...hearing it from you...I...thank you."
"I've had some time to think," John said, and if the word had initially slipped out because he was a little stoned, the warm feeling that went through him at Rodney's broad smile had nothing to do with the drug.
* * *
"Rodney thinks you're getting better," Ronon said, settling down next to John the next evening. He leaned against the bed, resting his arm on it, and John moved over until he was all but curled up around Ronon's arm. It felt good to have him there, even if he was all skin and bones.
At least the shadows under his eyes are mostly gone.
"I am," John said. He sounded drowsy, but that was no surprise; Ronon remembered how sleep deprivation worked and how hard it was to get used to sleeping for longer than a few hours at a time.
"No hallucinations for five days now, so Carson's going to reduce the dosage. I'm actually getting hungry now and then." He gestured at proudly at his mostly empty lunch tray. "So yeah, you need to tell Rodney that now that I'm better I want him to stop stealing my chocolate."
"Tell him yourself," Ronon said. "When they let you come...out of here."
"Home. When they let me come home," John corrected, leaning even closer to Ronon. "Sorry. This stuff kinda messes with my filters, you know?"
"Don't need to apologize for saying the truth." Ronon rested a hand on John's arm, a little shocked at how thin he really was. "It's home and it sucks without you."
"You big softy," John said with a yawn.
"Yeah, that's me," Ronon replied. "It's okay, John. Get some sleep."
He didn't to promise to watch over John; they both already knew he would.
* * *
John kept his eyes closed as he woke up; it felt damn good to just drift awake after an undisturbed rest and he was determined to enjoy every last minute of it. He could feel Ronon's hand on his arm and when he finally opened his eyes and tried to focus, he was smiling.
A second later, he was screaming and pulling violently out of Ronon's skeletal grip, watching as the bones fell away from Ronon's wrist to land clattering on the bed. John stared at them, grateful that he had that much control over the hallucination, that he wasn't seeing what the rest of Ronon looked like.
A moment later, as he watched the bones reforming themselves into a hand, he felt the prick of a needle on his arm and the soothing rush of the drug washed over him and he let himself drop back into sleep, trusting the navistad to keep the bones at bay.
* * *
When John woke up next, the only person in the room with him was Carson and he breathed a sigh of relief. So far, his hallucinations, both waking and sleeping, had only featured Rodney, Ronon and Teyla, and anyway, he was floating high on a dose of the drug, which meant that this was real.
"It is, right?" he said.
"Is what?" Carson asked quietly.
"Real...you're not gonna, I dunno, turn into bones or a Wraith or something like that?"
"I hope not."
"Me too." John looked around carefully, noticing a tray on his bedside cart. "Breakfast already? 'm not hungry."
"John," Carson said and something in his voice made John turn and squint at him, trying to focus. "I need you to try to pay attention."
Closing his eyes, John took a deep breath and then another. "Okay," he said. "I'm trying, but I'm still kind of out of it." He looked down at his arm, noticing the IV for the first time. "Why?"
"Because the navistad works better intravenously and it's hard to hit a vein when you're in the middle of a hallucination."
"So," John said, swallowing hard. "I'm guessing you bumped the dosage up again."
"Yes." Carson paused.
"What?" John finally asked when Carson remained silent.
"I'm beginning to think that I've done everything I can for you here in Atlantis."
"You want me to go back to Nixt?"
Even with his blurry vision, it was obvious that Carson was giving him a skeptical look; he knew John was stalling.
"What makes you think that anyone back on Earth can do any better than you can? C'mon Carson, don't do this to me."
"John, I'm not a neurologist...."
"We have one here, one that you picked for the expedition; don't you trust her?"
"You really know how to push buttons, don't you?"
"You remember when we signed all those forms? The medical proxies and all that?" John took another deep breath; the drug was actually helping here, making it easier for him to talk about things he normally kept locked up tight."We...Rodney and I promised Ronon and Teyla that we wouldn't leave again, no matter what happens. If I go back now, what are the chances that I'll be allowed to come back?"
"Someone on Earth might be able to make a breakthrough...."
"Give me odds, Carson."
Carson went silent for a long moment. "I can't. This is a new variant on the Nixtai disease and we're already past the point where their records can help us chart its course."
"We have the navistad."
There was another pause and by the time Carson spoke again, John knew what was coming. "There's a reason Nixtai don't recommend it for long term usage."
"Even as a diet aid?"
"It's hellishly addicting," Carson said, ignoring John's admittedly weak attempt at humor. "It's not working as well as it did, and you and I both know that you've been far more eager to take it than you have been with any drug I've tried to give you before."
"Take me off it." The words were harder to say than they should have been, which just proved Carson's point and made John more determined.
"Carson, take me off it. Now!"
* * *
"I'm going off the drug," John said, keeping his eyes centered on his hands, which were folded in his lap. Before Rodney could say anything, he continued. "It's addictive and it's not really working at safe doses and I just need to...."
"John," Teyla said gently. "We understand. Every one of us understands."
And of course they did; John felt bad for forgetting that they'd been here too: wanting something so desperately and not caring about the cost. He clenched his fists. "Sorry."
"Oh please," Rodney said. "You're pretty bad at this. You need to save the apologies for later."
"Thanks," John said, trying for sarcasm and missing. "They...Kate and Carson, don't know if I should see you during this or not. And...."
"Doesn't matter what you say," Ronon said. "We're not gonna let you go through this alone."
"Guys," John said. "It's not just me not wanting you to see me while I'm strung out. They don't know if having you around will trigger more hallucinations or not." He swallowed. "Although not seeing me strung out would be...."
"You'd do it for us," Rodney said as if that ended the discussion and, in a way, it did.
"If Carson believes that our presence will is triggering additional hallucinations, then we will leave you to his care. But until then," Teyla reached out carefully and rested her hand over John's. "Until then, one of us will always be with you."
John had closed his eyes the moment her hand came into view, but now he opened them cautiously. Her hand was just a hand, slim and brown and so much stronger than it looked. He turned and looked at her, and at Rodney and Ronon standing close behind her. "I don't deserve you guys."
"That's my cue to tell you you're right," Rodney said. "But you're wrong. So wrong that it's not even worth my time arguing with you."
"Nicely done," John said.
"Thank you; I thought so." It didn't matter that Rodney was acting, that his smugness was an obvious front for his concern. Teyla still rolled her eyes and Ronon smacked him lightly upside the head, and something in John's stomach unknotted.
There was no way he'd go back on his promise. This was home, these people were home, and he wasn't leaving them for anything.
* * *
John was having yet another hallucination. As yet, Carson had found no real pattern to what they now called attacks. It was an apt term, Teyla thought as she watched John stare at the wall opposite her. He had actually been lucid a little earlier, apologizing yet again for his addiction and the things it had led him to say to her. Teyla, who had been called worse things in her life, but not often and never by someone she loved, had accepted his apologies and asked him to stop making them.
Five minutes later, he had stared at the wall and started twitching, while behind him the monitor flashed red. Carson and one of his nurses had rushed in and Teyla moved quickly out of the way.
This was the second time she had seen him like this and it was just as terrifying as the first time. While she could not imagine what he was seeing, she could imagine his response to it. Somewhere in his mind, he was attempting to "tough it out," as he so often did, telling jokes and smirking from behind a pair of sunglasses. And then....
John shouted hoarsely and Teyla found herself hoping he didn't say any of their names this time; Rodney still didn't want to talk about whatever John had said the first time he saw John having an attack.
Unlike last time, John didn't come out of the attack quickly. He began screaming and thrashing so hard that Carson and the husky male nurse had to strap him to the bed. He never said anything however, and Teyla found herself feeling guilty; anything, even her name said in dread and horror would be better than this.
The next time he is lucid, she thought. I must tell him that he is far braver than I am.
She was so intent on John, that it took her a moment to realize that Carson was speaking to her. "Teyla? Teyla he's in danger of going into cardiac arrest. I need to give him navistad now."
She blinked at him, wondering for a moment why he was asking for her permission. And then she remembered the forms they'd all signed and took a deep breath. John was still screaming in a way that made her throat ache in sympathy, but his movements on the bed were slowing down.
"Teyla," Carson said urgently. "I need an answer soon."
"Will it make his withdrawal worse?"
"It'll set him back, but if he stays like this much longer, he'll die."
"Do it," she said, hoping John would forgive her.
* * *
When John woke up, he basked in the familiar floating feeling for about a minute before the reason for it sunk in. "Carson? Damnit, I told you...."
"It was my decision, John," Teyla said. "Carson is not here, although I can call him if you need him."
"Why?" He stared at her, wondering what he'd said to make Teyla break. Of all of them, he'd thought that maybe Rodney would let John talk him into a dose, but even then he would have been surprised.
"You were close to death," Teyla said, not meeting his eyes. "Carson asked for my permission and I gave it."
"Death? You can't die from something that happens in a hallucination."
"Carson would not lie to me."
"Right," he said. "I'm sorry, it's just...."
"It is a setback. I understand." She finally looked at him, her face resolute and in spite of the warm lethargy brought on by the drug, he found himself bracing against her next words. "John, if that is how you wish to leave us, then I will honor your decision, but...we would like a chance to say good bye."
"Teyla I...I'm not...not leaving. It's like you said; it's a setback. I...."
"John," she interrupted, moving forward to rest a finger on his mouth. "I think you need to speak with Carson." He stared at her, sure he was misinterpreting her words, that the drug was messing with his hearing. "Rodney and Ronon are also outside; I asked them to wait while I spoke with you."
"I want to see them." John tried for a smile. "At least while I'm stoned I won't be verbally abusive."
"Do you want us to remain with you while Carson is here?"
"Why...?" he began. Suddenly what she wasn't saying sunk in and he swallowed hard.
There was a time, he realized, when he would have wanted to face this alone. When he would have had to face it alone.
"Please," he said, and reached for her hand.
A moment later, Rodney and Teyla were seated in chairs on John's right, Ronon standing behind them. Carson was standing on his left, looking as serious as John had ever seen him. For a moment John considered making the old joke about playing the piano, but he knew that would only make things worse.
"Well?" he finally said. "Just tell me straight up, please."
"The chances of you surviving another attack without the navistad are extremely slim," Carson said. "If you do, you will not survive a second one."
Well that was certainly giving it to me straight. But even as he had the thought, he realized that he'd already known what Carson was going to tell him.
"You're wrong," Rodney said flatly. "You can't know that for certain, this is medicine...."
"Rodney," John said. "Please don't."
"I'm sorry Rodney." And Carson really did look sorry. "But at this stage...." He trailed off and Rodney bit his lip and nodded.
"Sorry," he muttered to John. John reached out and took his hand, gripping it as tightly as he could.
"If I stay on the navistad?" he asked Carson.
"Eventually you'll reach the point where the dosage levels become lethal. How soon, I can't say; we don't have enough data on the drug." He paused, looking apologetic, and John braced himself. "I do know that your vision will continue to deteriorate."
That actually made the next question easier. "Do you actually have enough of it, enough for me to take it for... as long as I can?"
Carson looked away, and then squared his shoulders before turning back to John. "Yes," he said softly. "The Nixtai have been very...generous."
"All right then," John said, his voice firm even though it took everything he had. "I'm sure I can learn how to shoot up, so I'd like you to teach me. And then, I want to go home."
"Don't be ridiculous," Rodney began. "One of us...."
John could see the moment the penny dropped and he was afraid that Rodney would say something and drag the silent conversation he'd had with Carson out into the open, but Rodney just swallowed hard and set his jaw. John smiled and looked at Teyla and Ronon in turn, knowing that they understood as well.
* * *
Floating as he was on cloud of navistad, John knew he couldn't talk to anyone else without giving himself away. Even Elizabeth, for all her optimism and refusal to hear last words when there was still a fighting chance, would see through him. He didn't want to put her in the position of having to take some kind of official action and so, in the end, he took the coward's way out.
Having recorded his messages, he left the flash drive on the desk in their quarters, right where Rodney would find it. He looked around, seeing the details of the comfortable rooms more through memory than actual sight. Ronon's painting, Rodney's degrees, the woven hanging Teyla had won in that bantos tournament on P9X-352, his own degrees and the copy of his first pilot's certificate that Rodney had printed out when they'd moved and that John had never pulled down though he'd threatened to often enough.
He took a deep breath, breathing in incense and leather and the sweet oil they used as lube and the latest batch of Rodney's sunscreen waiting to be put into tubes. "Okay," he said, and his voice sounded loud in the quiet. "Let's go."
As they left, he reached up, brushing his fingers over the Satedan letters painted on the door jamb. Ronon had painted them there shortly after they moved in and had explained the custom of touching the family name when leaving the house. Rodney had blinked and said, "oh like a mezzuzeh." He hadn't mocked it as a superstition though, and he and John often caught each other touching it before they left on missions.
No one knew the City like they did and they easily made their way to the jumper bay without meeting anyone in the halls. John settled into the pilot's seat, but it was Rodney who announced the flight to Chuck.
"One moment, Jumper One," Chuck said and John was sure someone was going to tell him to get his ass into the infirmary, or that he had no business going up with McKay at the controls instead of some other, more experienced pilot.
"Be safe up there," Elizabeth said, her voice husky
Before John could frame a response, the radio clicked again.
"Jumper One, you have a go." In contrast to Elizabeth, Lorne's words were almost too crisp, John could almost hear a salute in there somewhere.
"Thank you," John said. He reached for something more, but he'd said the words already, said them and left them sitting on Rodney's desk. "Jumper One out."
"Think you can fly it?" Rodney asked.
John smiled at him. "What do you say we find out."
Putting his hands on the controls, he waited a moment, feeling the strange mental tug he associated with the jumpers. When the HUD came up it was brighter than usual and far simpler. "Hit the autopilot if I tell you to," he told Rodney.
"Probably won't need to," Ronon said.
Rodney laughed. "They've always liked him more than anyone else."
"I think they trust you, John."
Clearing the tower, they climbed into the air, John telling the jumper to circle the city once before he turned its nose up and headed for the thin edge of the mesosphere where sky met space.
* * *
As the last crane was tossed onto the still sea, four puddleumpers flew in low across the ocean, until, just above the small crowd gathered on the East Pier, one of them pulled up sharply to disappear high above Atlantis.
* * *
"At the end, during those last two days before I went back on the drugs, somehow, I always knew that they, the people in my hallucinations, weren't you.
And, you know? I always thought I'd go out in combat, flying a jumper or on the ground, but I'm kind of glad it happened this way. Remember when Teyla told us that knowing your time of death was a gift? I get it now. I know it's been hell for all of you and I really don't want to leave you, but if I hadn't had this time, if we hadn't had last night, I'd have kept putting saying it off, kept assuming that all of you could just...I dunno, read my mind or something.
You guys...Rodney, Ronon, Teyla...you're my family. And I love you."