John walked the along the corridor from the control room toward the balcony. Had he not known better, he would have assumed it was business as usual in the Pegasus galaxy. The control room staffers were hard at work assessing the progress of the repair teams and the room hummed with quiet activity.
But there was something off about the color of the light spectrum pouring through the city’s gigantic windows, and John realized that after five years in Pegasus, the sunlight of Earth no longer felt like home. It surprised him that he’d even noticed or cared. He supposed if he were going to feel anything, it would be a sense of familiar rightness at returning to the planet of his birth.
It couldn’t compare to the sense of homecoming he’d felt the very first time he’d walked through the gate into the city. The whispered murmurings of “at last” and “finally” and “welcome” had resonated in his very bones. It had shaken him to the core and yet stirred in him the first awakenings of something real and vital that he’d thought long dead.
It felt now like the city was slumbering again, waiting patiently for him to sit down in the chair and take her home. Soon, he promised, but he wondered if he was lying, not only to the city but to himself as well.
The other thing that was different was that most of the command staff seemed to have gone missing. He suspected he knew where they all were. He nodded at one of the Marines in passing and continued towards the main balcony.
He’d expected Rodney, at the very least, to be in the middle of the repair process, with his imperious orders and loud bombast and his gentle, meticulous fingers belying the tenor of his tone. John could imagine the city blossoming under Rodney’s touch, purring like a kitten as she offered up her belly and invited him to inspect her wounds.
Unbidden, a memory flashed into his mind. He and Rodney had been pinned down on a planet, cut off from the gate and the rest of the team. They’d had to wait it out in a small dirt hut, and Rodney had been insistent on dressing the wound John had taken during the fight. John had protested at first, remembering all too well Rodney’s attempts at bandaging his own knife wound that time Koyla attacked the city. He could still see Rodney’s expression, bright with pain, triumph, and adrenaline, as he stood beside Elizabeth and proudly announced his ability to work outside his field.
John shut those images away now, even as he ruthlessly shoved away the memory of Rodney kneeling beside him in the dirt, verbally tearing him a new one for allowing himself to get shot, all while Rodney’s delicately competent fingers cleaned and bandaged his wound.
The memory pushed its way back, however, as insistent as Rodney himself. He’d told Rodney to shut up, that he was going to give their position away. Rodney had looked so utterly wounded (how was it a grown man could do that?) John had kissed him.
And that was that.
“What was that for?” Rodney had been stunned.
John had shrugged. “I wanted you to shut up.”
“Weird command style you have, Colonel,” Rodney had said, going red in the face.
John had felt the tips of his ears heat up. He tried to sound cool. “I don’t do that with everyone.”
Rodney had opened his mouth to protest sharply, a knowing gleam in his eye as he was sure he had the upper hand in the argument. John knew he was going to bring up Chaya, or Teer, or the generic Space Bimbo, but he saw the instant Rodney’s expression changed, knew that he got it.
Rodney had spent the rest of the evening glancing at John from time to time as though he was a cheeseburger with all the trimmings and Rodney was a sailor who’d been at sea for forty days. John was a patient man. He was content to wait. It had been worth it.
Up ahead, John could see through the open doors to the balcony beyond, where there appeared to be quite the crowd. Well, it was to be expected. How often did one walk out on the balcony of Atlantis and look out over San Francisco Bay?
Not often, John hoped.
He approached the doors just in time to hear Woolsey explaining to Jennifer that the city was cloaked, and the Navy had the Bay around them cordoned off. He wondered how long that would last and if declassification of the Stargate Project could be far behind. He sincerely hoped not. He thought it only a matter of time before the people of Earth began squabbling over Atlantis like a dog over a bone, and a shiver of premonition passed over him. He’d die before he let them start carving up the city like so many pieces of turkey.
“Oh, so this is where everyone went, huh?” John said as he stepped out onto the balcony. The sun was casting a golden glow over the Bay Bridge; the view was spectacular. He was not surprised to see Ronon there, along with Amelia; no one could keep Ronon hospitalized long. They were all there, Teyla, Rodney, and Jennifer to one side, and Woolsey and Carson on the other.
He came to the rail between Ronon and Teyla. He thought about saying something to Ronon, like ‘nice to see you’re still alive, buddy,’ but the time for such words had come and gone. It was good to see his whole team present and accounted for on the sunlit balcony in a clichéd, out-of-Hollywood kind of scene. He still couldn’t believe that Rodney and Teyla had left Ronon behind on the Wraith ship just before they blew it up. Okay, Ronon had been mostly dead at the time, but John knew if he’d been there when Ronon had fallen, he’d have dragged Ronon’s body with them even if it had herniated every disc in his back. Which it probably would have done.
Okay, maybe not. He’d been fully prepared to sign all their death warrants, including Rodney’s, to save Earth. It had touched something deep inside him when Rodney had stopped protesting and handed over the detonator at his request. Still, when Atlantis had shown up in the nick of time (Wormhole drive, eh? Why the hell hadn’t Rodney mentioned that before? Or maybe he had and John had tuned him out because, yeah, right, wormhole drive… ), John had taken the chance that those few extra minutes had given them and gone back to verify Ronon’s death for himself.
Only to find him being revived by a Wraith.
On the other side of Rodney, Jennifer murmured, “Are you all right?”
“I’m alive.” Rodney gave a little shrug, sour displeasure audible in his words.
John smiled to himself. Rodney was just as pissed about the city being on Earth as he was.
“I’ve got you.” Rodney sounded a little hesitant before his tone lightened. He turned toward Jennifer and smiled, lifting an arm to place it around her shoulder. “What else do I need?”
Jennifer beamed at him and leaned into his side, letting him encircle her as she placed her head on his shoulder.
Cue the swell of sweeping, dramatic music, John thought. And that was that.
Rodney had obviously made his choice. He was taking the traditional road, the marriage to a beautiful woman, the 2.5 incredibly bright children, and the picket fence. John tried not to picture them arguing viciously four, five years down the road, but choosing to stay together for the children. He tried not to picture Rodney growing sour and increasingly bitter as he made decisions based on what was best for Jennifer and the kids, ignoring his own needs and desires until he couldn’t take it anymore and ended things in an acrimonious divorce.
Okay, so maybe he was enjoying a little too much the idea that this was how things would play out between them. Maybe he needed to believe this in order to feel better about Rodney’s choice in the first place. Was he really that small and petty? Hadn’t he orchestrated everything on his return from gating to the future so that Rodney’s lifelong sacrifices to return him to the proper time frame wouldn’t have all been in vain?
It still hurt him to see Rodney holding Jennifer against his chest as they looked out upon the glowing waters of the Bay. It was a scene he could never play out with Rodney. Better Rodney think that John didn’t want it in the first place than to have regrets later about his choice.
“Nice view,” John said aloud, mentally kicking himself for stating the obvious. Well, what the hell could he say?
“Yes,” Woolsey agreed, a note of satisfaction in his voice. “Yes, it is.”
They continued to stand there, admiring the play of the sunlight on the water. John felt the breeze toying with his hair and watched as Teyla pulled a strand from across her face.
“John,” Teyla said gently, laying a hand on his arm. “You are beeping.”
“What?” John looked down at her hand in some confusion, and noted that his arm was scratched and bruised beneath her fingers. How’d that happen? He heard the beeping sound that Teyla had mentioned, a rhythmic electronic sound that seemed to speed up as he became more aware of it. He looked around to see the source of the sound.
“Do you hear that?” he asked Ronon.
“Yeah, you’re beeping. Sounds like a bomb about to go off.” Ronon raised an eyebrow at John and took a step sideways away from him, one arm around Amelia’s shoulder, and a smirk on his face.
“I’m not about to explode,” John said sharply. He looked down at his abdomen and then craned his head to look for Carson. “Doc, it’s not one of those goddamn exploding tumors, is it?”
Carson seemed to have disappeared. The sun went behind some clouds and the wind picked up, whipping the water below them into whitecaps.
Jennifer stepped forward, a tight, unhappy smile on her face. “I’m the Chief Medical Officer here, Colonel.” She reached out towards the waistband of his pants.
“No offense, doc, but you’re kind of young for the job, don’t you think?” John started to swat her hand away, only he was no longer wearing the black BDUs. Instead, he was wearing the tuxedo from his wedding. The collar, as usual, felt too tight, and when he went to loosen it, a bright droplet of blood fell on the shiny toe of one patent leather shoe. As he looked down, he could see a spreading band of red seeping through the white shirt, soaking his side.
Damn, this looked familiar somehow.
“Whether you like it or not, Colonel,” Jennifer said tartly, “I’m the only doctor you’ve got.” She pushed on his side experimentally and a white-hot bolt of pain lanced through him.
He gasped as sweat broke out on his forehead. He tried to push past her towards the doorway, but Rodney grasped his arm. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’ve got to go kill Todd,” he said with gritted teeth, determined not to be a part of this schmaltzy scene any longer. “I promised him I’d do that.”
“Do you think maybe you overdid it on the medication?” Rodney said to Jennifer, his voice suddenly full of concern. The odd beeping continued somewhere in the background.
“Rodney, I don’t tell you how to do your job, do I?” Jennifer sounded annoyed and the look she shot Rodney was sharp. Her expression softened as she continued speaking to him. “What was I supposed to do? He had a section of rebar sticking out of his abdomen and all he could do was ask about you and tell me that he was going after Teyla. Of course, I snockered him with drugs. I’m CMO. I can do that.”
“Teyla’s right here,” John said, only she wasn’t anymore. The balcony was empty except for Rodney.
“What the fuck’s going on, McKay?” he growled.
Rodney’s face lit up with relief. “That sounds more like the colonel. Wake up, John: come join the party.”
With a jolt, John started violently. He was surprised to find himself lying in an infirmary bed, complete with monitors and an IV line attached to his hand. When he tried to sit up, he felt the tight layers of a compression bandage around his abdomen.
Rodney’s hand, warm and firm, pressed on his shoulder. “Oh no, you don’t.” Rodney’s voice was layered with relief and resignation. “Relax, everything’s under control.”
“Under control?” John could hear the sarcastic drawl in his voice even as it cracked with dryness. “Earth was attacked by the Wraith, Carson flew the city here to stop them, and now we’re sitting in the middle of San Francisco Bay. How’s that under control?” He made a minute gesture toward the sippy cup on the side of the bed.
Rodney turned his head over his shoulder. “Dr. Keller!” he called out imperiously.
John frowned and motioned for the cup again. Rodney’s mouth thinned into a tight line and he pressed the controls that would slightly elevate the head of John’s bed, careful not to raise it too much. “One sip only,” he said as he handed John a cup filled mostly with ice chips. “Keller will have my head if, between the two of us, we undo all her pretty suturing.”
Rodney snatched the cup back, and John sighed, licking his dried, cracked lips. “How’d I get here? What happened—was there an attack on the city after we landed?”
“Definitely the drugs talking. Seriously, listen to yourself, Sheppard. Carson flew the city? From Pegasus to Earth? Um, Carson’s in stasis, remember?”
John frowned again. “O’Neill wanted me in the chair Earthside. Only the Wraith targeted Area 51 and wiped it out. So I took a fighter armed with a nuke and flew it into the Hive ship…” He trailed off at Rodney’s amused expression.
“I like the symmetry of your hallucinations. I hate to tell you but that never happened. What’s the last thing you remember?”
John glared at Rodney. “Standing on the balcony, looking out at the Bay. With you guys. You know, you, Ronon, Teyla, Amelia, Jennifer, Woolsey and Carson.”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed. “Who the fuck is Amelia?”
John frowned and shook his head. “Amelia. Banks. You know, the woman Ronon’s seeing, remember?”
Rodney’s face lightened at once, amusement shimmering in his eyes once more. “Banks,” he said, enlightenment dawning in his voice. “Why didn’t you say so?”
John started to say that he just did, only he felt very tired right now. He became aware of the fact that Rodney’s face was scratched and his eyes looked very red.
“So, what the hell was Woolsey doing here in your little fantasy?”
John spoke slowly, as though to a very small child. “He’s the expedition leader.”
Rodney frowned, chewed his lower lip a moment, and reached for the call button.
John stopped him, covering Rodney’s warm hand with his own, noting the remnants of dirt under his nails and the absence of his wristband.
Rodney sighed, but didn’t move his hand away. “Why the hell would anyone put Woolsey in charge? Sam’s doing a bang up job here. Look, I’m just going to go find Dr. Keller…”
John closed his hand when Rodney would have risen. “You mean to tell me that we’re still in Pegasus?”
Rodney relaxed. “Yes, yes, of course we are.”
“And we never got put on trial for war crimes against the citizens of Pegasus? Teyla never infiltrated the Wraith as one of them and set Todd up as the leader of his Alliance? There’s been no bodyswapping? Ronon didn’t become a worshipper?”
Rodney snatched his hand away and pressed the call button repeatedly. “That’s it, you need an MRI.”
John was starting to have fun. “You never picked up the Flowers for Algernon parasite in your brain? And we didn’t use the drill from the jumper to bore a hole in your head to let the bad juju out?”
Rodney picked up his medical chart and began scanning through it. “Just what drugs are you on?”
“Fuck!” John said explosively, trying to get up out of bed. “If none of those things happened… what day is it? What’s the last thing that happened to us? This…” he pointed sharply at his abdomen when Rodney pushed his shoulders back to the bed. “This happened in Michael’s lab, didn’t it? Fuck, we’ve got to go rescue Teyla.”
“Whoa, not so fast there. Teyla turned out not to need rescuing after all. When Michael brought down the lab on us, Teyla took advantage of his distraction and, with Kanaan’s help, killed Michael, and escaped from his ship. All while being in labor, apparently. Which makes her seriously scary in my book. Remind me just to nod and agree with anything she says in the future. Mother and baby doing just fine, by the way. She wants to name the kid after you,” Rodney sniffed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with my name.”
“Teyla’s okay?” A wave of weakness washed over John and he felt his muscles go limp with relief. “Ronon too?”
“Yes.” Rodney squeezed his shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, too.”
Yes, I certainly fucking will. A smile broke out over his face. He suddenly realized there was something really important he had to say.
“Rodney,” he began, swallowing away the lump in his throat. “Look, I gotta tell you something. I… well, I lied to you earlier.”
Rodney went very still. John could see the expectation of being hurt cross Rodney’s face before smooth superiority closed over his features like a shield. “Oh really,” he said.
“Yes.” John gave a small nod and a deep breath. “You know when I got lost in the future?”
“You mean, as in just these past couple of weeks? Distinctly.” He sounded as though that had been a difficult time for him.
“Yeah, well, um…” John swallowed again. “You do have hair in the future.”
John watched as Rodney’s face showed first outrage and then humor before realization slowly dawned again. He relaxed when, once again, he saw that Rodney got it.
They were going to be okay.