“No, I’m not all right, I’m so far from all right that it isn’t even funny! Now will you just get out and leave me alone?”
The ‘leave me alone’ part is the first clue that McKay really isn’t all right. When he’s okay, he always demands that the nurses check every little bruise at least twice. He’s not visibly hurt today but there are other hurts, hurts that go much deeper and take much longer to heal than an open wound. So no, McKay isn’t all right. None of them are all right.
“Ronon?” He looks up, sees Marie standing by his side holding a tray of medical equipment. “I’m going to stitch up your arm. Do you want to lie down?”
Ronon eyes the empty gurney she’s pointing to and part of him wants to lie down, wants to close his eyes and forget, but he knows that if he does, he’s not getting up again and he’s not ready to let go quite yet.
“I’m fine here,” he says and holds his arm out for inspection. The cut isn’t deep, but it’s long and the edges are jagged and he knows they’re going to make him take antibiotics for a couple of days.
Marie administers a local and gets to work and Ronon watches as the wound is slowly cleaned and closed and thinks that it would be nice if his whole body and soul could be numb like his arm is. The minutes drag out and the movement of the needle sliding through his skin is almost hypnotising. It gets easier and easier not to think about anything at all. It’s not until Marie gently touches his shoulder and says, “There, all done,” that he blinks and looks at his arm to discover it stitched up and wrapped in a bandage and realises that he must have zoned out.
“Thanks,” he mutters and flexes his arm, testing the movement. It’s still numb from the local and it doesn’t hurt right now but he knows that he’ll feel the stitches like sharp little teeth later.
Marie gives him instructions not to get the bandage wet and then asks him again if he wants to lie down for a little while. Ronon refuses and climbs to his feet (it’s a lot more difficult than it ought to be) and then goes to check on McKay because he didn’t like what he was hearing earlier.
McKay’s sitting in an examination room alone, hunkered down on the edge of a cot. His head is bowed and he’s rubbing his hands over his thighs, up and down, up and down. There’s not a scratch on him, not a single bruise under all the dust and dirt, but no more than ten hours ago he knelt on the Maderran ground, held a starved and broken child and watched her die in his arms.
Ronon steps inside, closes the door behind him. “Hey,” he says.
“What part of ‘leave me alone’ is it that you people don’t understand?” McKay says and looks up. His eyes are huge and dark and red-rimmed in his face and his voice lacks its usual bite. Everything about him screams defeat, a man who lives for solving problems suddenly faced with a question that has no answer.
Ronon goes to sit down beside him. McKay's mouth might say ‘leave me alone’ but the rest of him says ‘be here’.
“It wasn’t even Wraith,” McKay says, quietly. “If it had been Wraith, I could’ve... It would’ve been... But it wasn’t Wraith. People did that to each other.”
“It was a natural disaster,” Ronon says. He’s still struggling to make sense of it himself but he’s not having much more success than McKay. Maderra shook and their world was razed to the ground and it broke the people, made them forget they were people and turned them into desperate individuals, each one fighting only for himself.
McKay just looks at him and his eyes scream for answers, demand ‘Explain it to me, explain why this happened!’
Ronon has nothing to tell him. He just puts a hand on McKay’s shoulder and says, “C’mon. Let’s go get a shower, something to eat. You’ll feel better.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” McKay says, but he gets to his feet and follows.
Teyla is lying down on another gurney and the bruise on her forehead is vivid purple. She looks like she wants to cry but can’t remember how. Jennifer Keller is standing beside her, taking her blood pressure and talking softly to her and Ronon catches the end of the sentence, “... prefer if you spent the night here for observation.”
She was out for almost ten minutes and the rest of the time on Maderra and during the ‘jumper ride back home, she was dizzy and nauseous and Ronon held her hair back for her while she threw up and was just insanely happy that she was alive.
“I would like to sleep in my own room,” Teyla says. Her voice has an empty echo to it and and Keller has to hear it too because she makes a little face and looks like she’s trying to decide if she should be a doctor or a friend right now.
Ronon understands - he too can’t wait to get out of the infirmary with all its people and machines and noises. He wants to wrap himself in the familiarity of his own quarters, wants to get clean in his own shower and get dressed in his own clothes.
“It’s not serious, but you still have a head injury,” Keller says, uncertainly. “You shouldn’t be alone right now.”
Teyla’s eyes are begging silently and it’s all wrong because Teyla should never beg for anything so Ronon steps up and takes her hand and tells Keller, “She won’t be alone. We’ll look after her.”
Keller hesitates for a moment but then she nods her head. “All right. You need to make sure to...”
“Yes, yes,” McKay interrupts. “We know the drill - wake her every couple of hours and ask stupid questions about the date and the president. Can we leave now? And where’s Sheppard, has he fallen over yet?”
“John is over there,” Teyla says, pointing to a corner of the infirmary. Ronon looks over and spots Sheppard and Colonel Carter standing there, talking quietly. Sheppard has a hollow look to him, his whole body trembling with fatigue and his voice is hoarse but somehow still steady. When Ronon comes closer he hears him telling Carter,”... planet-wide earthquakes. The shuttle installations were destroyed. They couldn’t reach the orbital gate and they couldn’t call for help. If we’d only come earlier maybe we could’ve... we could’ve offered relief, helped them out, but...”
Sheppard hasn’t slept in almost three days and he spent most of that time digging graves until his palms were too torn up by the shovel handle to continue. On the ride back, McKay had to take the ‘jumper controls from him and shuffle him off to the co-pilot’s seat because he kept swerving all over the place and migh have crashed into the ‘gate.
Carter nods solemnly and answers, “You did all you could. It’s a tragedy but...”
“No,” Sheppard says, raising his voice a little. “We didn’t do all we could, they were allies, we should’ve been there to help them.” He sounds like he’s on the verge of breaking and Ronon doesn’t want him to have to do it in the middle of the infirmary so he walks up to them.
“We’re leaving,” he says, putting a hand on Sheppard’s arm and Sheppard looks like he can’t decide if he wants to pull away from the touch or lean into it.
“I still have to...” Sheppard protests. “The debriefing...”
“The debriefing can wait, John,” Carter says. “Right now, you need to get some sleep. We’ll discuss how to proceed in the morning.”
Sheppard opens his mouth to argue, but Ronon grabs him around the shoulders, turns him around, and gives him a little push towards where McKay and Teyla are waiting for them. It’s a testament to his exhaustion how he doesn’t even struggle, just starts to walk in the direction Ronon’s pointing him. It looks like it’s taking him a lot of effort to move his feet and Ronon decides that he too shouldn’t be left alone for the night.
Ronon turns to Carter. “It’s...” he begins, attempting to explain, but not knowing how. There are no words for what they’ve seen, for what they’ve done.
Carter just smiles, a sad lonely little smile, and says, “It’s a team thing. I know. Go get some rest, all of you. We’ll debrief tomorrow at 1300 hours.”
Ronon knows that she used to be part of a ‘gate team herself back on the Lanteans’ homeworld and if there’s anyone in the city who can possibly understand what they’re feeling right now, what they need, it’s probably her.
They all pause just outside the infirmary, not quite sure about where to go. After several days of sifting through rubble, burying the dead and defending themselves against the living, it’s almost eerie to be back in Atlantis. The city is clean and the people are talking and laughing and not trying to kill each other. Ronon closes his eyes for a second. For his inner eye, he sees images of the married couple who had beaten each other to death over a piece of bread. He sees the frozen child who had been left outside by her siblings because there had been no more room in the shelter. He sees Teyla going down in a flurry of arms and legs and improvised weapons, sees himself drawing his sword...
Teyla’s hand is on his arm and Ronon opens his eyes, shakes the images and the memories away. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m okay.”
He’s not. None of them are. They’re all exhausted, scrubbed raw on the inside, sore in body and spirit.
“All right.” McKay rubs his hands together, not the gleeful way he does when he’s just discovered something interesting, but like he’s trying to wipe them of some invisible stain. “I’m going to go clean up and then I’m...” he trails off and points in the direction of his lab. Ronon can understand how he wants to lose himself in numbers and code right now, things that make sense to him when the rest of the world doesn’t.
“Rodney, please. Will you not come with us?” Teyla asks, and there’s a pleading note in her voice. “I would like to have you all with me for a while.” She looks very small and fragile, her arms wrapped around herself, like she has to hold on to every part of her body to keep herself from falling to pieces.
“Well, I was going to...” McKay starts, and then tries again, “I have some important work I have to...” Then he closes his eyes and sighs, apparently realising that computers are no substitute for living breathing people. “All right. Let me just stop by my quarters and get a few things.”
They stop by the mess hall first to pick up something to eat, fruit and sandwiches and water. They go to McKay’s room and he grabs a change of clothes and one of his laptops. They stop at Sheppard’s room and sort of lean him against the wall to keep him standing while they go through his drawers for clean sweats and underwear. They stop at Ronon’s room and he too picks out something clean to change into. After that they go to Teyla’s room, as if by unspoken agreement. Her quarters are the largest, as is her bed, and her living space is infused with a serenity they all crave right now.
Sheppard’s practically sleepwalking, too exhausted to do anything else than follow orders and go where McKay and Ronon steers him. They put him down on the edge of the bed where he sits, staring vacantly at his boots. McKay kneels down and starts to take them off. “You stink,” he tells Sheppard. “And I’m not going to share a bed with you when you smell like that. Come on, shower, now.”
Sheppard’s not in any shape to shower by himself so McKay leads him into the bathroom, leaving the door open just a crack. Ronon and Teyla can hear the sound of running water and McKay’s babbling, “Lift your arms, come on, could you at least try to help out a little here? Good, here, close your eyes, you don’t want to get shampoo in them. Just so you know, we’re never talking about this, it never happened, I hope we’re clear on that.” Twenty minutes later they both emerge, clean and dressed in fresh clothes, and McKay leads Sheppard over to the bed and gets him to lie down. Sheppard is out like a light before his head hits the pillow and McKay fusses around for a bit, arranges his arms and legs in a more comfortable position, covers him with a blanket, all the time looking at Ronon and Teyla as if daring them to say anything.
Ronon doesn’t, he just points to the open bathroom door and tells Teyla, “Your turn.”
“Don’t lock the door,” McKay pipes up. “And shout if you need any... I mean... well, if you get dizzy or something.”
Teyla takes her turn in the shower. Ronon goes through the food they brought, picks out a sandwich and hands it to McKay. Sheppard needs food too, but right now he’s dead to the world. They’ll have to wake him a little later and try to get him to eat something.
McKay stares at the wrapped sandwich like he’s trying to work up the appetite for it, and then he shakes his head. “I’m not hungry,” he says and reaches for his laptop.
“Eat it anyway,” Ronon says, forcing it into his hands. “I don’t want to have to pick you up off the floor later ‘cause you haven’t eaten.”
“Oh please! It happened once. Are you going to judge me for the rest of my life just because of one little hypoglycaemic episode?”
“Yes,” Ronon says. “Eat.”
McKay sighs and looks at the sandwich again before he unwraps it and starts to eat, slowly and unhappily, like he’s tasting cardboard instead of ham and cheese and lettuce. Ronon eats his own sandwich and has to force himself to swallow as every bite turns to ash in his mouth. There was no food on Maderra towards the end. Friends and families turned on each other, fought over whatever scraps they could find. And when that wasn’t enough...
Some of the bodies in the ruins were missing parts. Arms and legs had been cut away. Too fresh to have been killed in the quakes.
Ronon swallows the last of his sandwich. It’s rests heavy in his belly. McKay finishes his own and then opens his laptop, sits down on the floor next to the bed, leans against it with his head close to Sheppard’s.
“You should get some sleep,” Ronon says.
“No,” McKay answers. The light from the screen paints his face in faint shades of blue. “I’m... I don’t think I can. Not right now.”
Teyla comes out of the bathroom, smelling of scented soap and hot water. She moves gingerly, like every muscle hurts, and the tense way she holds her head is a clear sign of the headache she must have. Ronon watches her, thinks of how very close they came to losing her.
“There is a clean towel left for you, and some plastic wrap,” she says to Ronon, and then sits down on the bed next to Sheppard, runs a hand through his still-damp hair, brushes a few strands away from his forehead.
McKay looks up and starts digging in his pocket. “Here, Jennifer gave me these, for your head.” He takes out a blister pack of pills and gets up to fetch her a glass of water. Teyla gratefully swallows the pills and then lies down on the bed, scoots close to Sheppard and puts her head down on his shoulder, stealing a corner of his blanket for herself. Sheppard doesn’t stir, too deeply asleep to know what’s happening.
“Rodney?” Teyla mumbles against Sheppard’s t-shirt. “There is room enough for you too.”
McKay just shakes his head and goes back to his computer. Ronon wonders if he’s planning on sleeping at all, but he can understand McKay’s reluctance to close his eyes. Knows the pictures that are seared into his own mind.
The water in the shower is hot and Ronon stands under it for a long time, letting it wash the dirt and grime from his skin and wishing there was a way for him to cleanse his soul too, scrub away the lingering taint of the past few days.
He remembers how McKay sat with the little girl’s body in his arms for over an hour after she was gone. He remembers how Sheppard dug grave after grave, with clenched teeth and empty eyes. He remembers how Teyla looked lying on the ground, frighteningly still and pale. He remembers his own hands, remembers the blood on them, remembers...
There’s an insistent knock on the bathroom door and Ronon opens his eyes and pushes away from the wall. “Ronon?” McKay asks outside. “You haven’t drowned, have you? If you don’t answer I’m going to have to come in there and I think I’ve seen more than enough naked teammembers today.”
“I’m all right,” Ronon answers, his voice a deep rasp. “Gimme a minute.”
He isn’t all right. None of them are.
Ronon steps out of the shower and dries off, wipes the steam off the mirror and studies his own face. He looks terrible. Haunted.
McKay is right. It would have been easier if it had been the Wraith. They’re inhuman, alien enough for their actions to make some kind of twisted sense. But there are no excuses for what happened on Maderra. There’s no logic to explain why the Maderrans fell apart instead of sticking together.
When Ronon comes out of the bathroom, Teyla has somehow managed to convince McKay to lie down. She’s rolled away from Sheppard, into McKay’s arms, and he’s holding her like he isn’t quite sure how to do it, tense and awkward like he’s terrified of doing something wrong.
“Ronon?” Teyla asks quiely, sounding like she’s half asleep.
“Yeah.” He sits down on the floor, next to McKay’s discarded computer. “Think I’ll sit up for a bit. Keep watch. I’ll wake you a little later.”
They seem to accept it without protest. Sheppard is still dead to the word, hasn’t moved an inch since he fell asleep. Teyla and McKay shift around for a little while, trying to get comfortable, but then the two of them relax and go quiet. Teyla’s breathing evens out into sleep. McKay isn’t sleeping, there’s still an air of weary wakefulness about him, but he’s not moving and his eyes are closed.
Ronon leans his head against the side of the bed. He’s tired beyond measure, knows that he needs to sleep, but can’t bring himself to close his eyes. The moment he does, everything will come back again, the screams and the blood and the sharp terror he felt when he saw Teyla go down and not get up again.
There are no answers. No words. He stares at nothing, lets his gaze roam around the room without actually seeing anything, and it’s not until his eyes start burning, painful and dry, that he realises that he’s not even blinking.
Then Sheppard starts dreaming. Ronon hears it at first, notices the way his breathing changes and turns into short little gasps. When he turns, he can see how Sheppard’s eyes are moving under closed eyelids, how his mouth gets tense, how his limbs start twitching.
The next moment, Sheppard jerks awake, rolls to the side, over the edge of the bed, and ends up on the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. He hits hard and Ronon reaches for him, afraid that he’s hurt himself, grabs his shoulders and tries to help him up. Sheppard fights against the hold, eyes wide and wild and barely there, snarling in panic, “Let me go, don’t touch me, don’t touch me!”
“Sheppard,” Ronon says, trying to keep his voice low. It doesn’t do any good - McKay wasn’t asleep to begin with and Teyla’s already moving, looking blearily over her shoulder. “Sheppard, come on. John!”
At the sound of his given name, Sheppard relaxes a bit, stops struggling so much. He’s still breathing hard, but when Ronon meets his eyes, there’s some awareness there.
“It was a dream, you’re safe,” Ronon says, still holding Sheppard’s shoulders in a tight grip. “Do you know where you are?”
Sheppard closes his eyes for a moment, breathes in and out and then opens them again and nods. “Atlantis,” he says, looking around and taking in his surroundings. “Teyla’s room.” There’s a short little laugh that sounds almost like a sob. “I’ll be damned if I can remember how I got here though.”
Ronon decides that it’s probably all right to let go of him now. “You were a little out of it,” he says.
“Out of it?” comes McKay’s voice from the bed. “Try somnambulent!”
“John,” Teyla murmurs. “Come back here?”
Sheppard blinks a few times, shakes his head like he’s trying to wake up. He’s kneeling on the floor in front of Ronon and he looks pale and curiously vulnerable in the dim light. Then Sheppard looks up and meets Ronon’s eyes.
“You okay, big guy?” he asks.
Ronon nods. “Yeah, I’m all right.”
He isn’t. None of them are.
It takes a little coaxing to get Sheppard back into bed, but a little later they’re lying pressed together, Teyla in the middle and McKay and Sheppard on each side of her. It’s unusual for Sheppard to actively search out touch and Ronon wouldn’t have expected him to agree to these sleeping arrangements under any other circumstances, but he’s not protesting now. Maybe he’s too tired or maybe the days he spent digging graves has given him a need to be close to warm living bodies.
There’s room on the bed for him too, but Ronon hesitates. He could lie down with his team, try to get some rest, but his limbs refuse to obey him and he sinks down on the foot of the bed instead. He’s too tired to be awake and too torn inside to go to sleep and he can’t forget the sound of his sword leaving its scabbard, and the blood on his hands afterwards. It’s still there under his fingernails, even after the long shower.
“Ronon, come and get some rest,” Teyla says, settling down between McKay and Sheppard. “You need to sleep.”
“In a bit,” he says.
There’s silence, for a long time, just blessed silence. Then McKay speaks. “It wasn’t your fault, you know that, right? There was nothing else you could’ve done.”
And then Ronon can’t hold back the memory any longer. There were three of them, Maderran survivors, dressed in rags, sick and starved and desperate. Ronon knew them all. He’d met them during earlier visits to Maderra, shared brews with them, talked with them and joked with them and laughed with them. Maliv, Gard and Belen, that used to be their names. They were good men before the quake. After, they did whatever it took to survive. There was no recognition in their eyes, only hunger and black despair, and Ronon’s blaster was knocked out of his hand and Teyla was so still on the ground and Ronon drew his sword...
“Ronon,” Teyla says, voice soft as a whisper. She’s moved up to sit by his side, her hand warm against his cheek. “You had no choice. They were not the people we once knew. You saved my life and I am grateful.”
He breaks then, leans his head against her shoulder and lets the tears come. They hurt, burn his cheeks like hot lead and his throat is thick and he’s making noises like a wounded animal. Teyla wraps her arms around him and holds him. Then McKay’s large hand comes to rest hesitantly between his shoulderblades, right where his scars used to be. Next, Sheppard’s fingers find Ronon’s hand, grips it tight and gives him something to hold onto. Teyla rocks him softly like a baby and Ronon cries until there are no tears left, mourns for Maderra, for Maliv and Gard and Belen, for the child who died in McKay’s arms, for every occupant of every grave Sheppard dug. He cries for Sateda and he cries for all the worlds that have fallen since, everything that has been lost, and his team is there to carry him through it and share his grief.
They are not all right, but they can break apart together and maybe, with time, they can heal together.
- fin -