John looked up from his book when he heard muttering coming from the bed next to him. Since Carson had switched out the oxygen mask for the cannula a few hours ago, Rodney had unconsciously tried to dislodge it at least once an hour. John reached out, stopped the hand about to pull off the thin tubing, laid the arm back at Rodney's side, and waited for him to settle back to sleep.
"All of his scans are clear," Carson had told him earlier that afternoon. "A good night's rest and the additional oxygen will see him right by morning."
John had let out the breath he was holding and nodded. "Thanks, Carson."
Beckett had smiled and started to walk away. "You need rest, too, Major. And in a proper bed, not that chair."
John had merely nodded again, and Beckett had left, shaking his head and muttering about stubborn family members.
Now John squeezed Rodney's arm and settled back in his chair with War and Peace on his lap. With everything that had happened over the last year, his plan to read a chapter a day hadn't worked out as well as he'd hoped. He was about a quarter of the way through the book, and to his surprise, had discovered he actually enjoyed the story once he got past all of the names thrown at him in the first few chapters.
He idly wondered if he'd ever find out how the book ended, then tried to shake off the maudlin thought. They had faced any number of challenges since coming through the 'gate, he told himself firmly. Somehow, they would find a solution. And if not … well, at least he would die defending something important.
Ford looked up from his seat on the other side of Teyla's bed. "Everything all right, sir?"
"Yeah, he's just trying to pull off the oxygen again."
Ford stood, stretched, and looked at his watch. "I'm going down to the mess. Want me to bring something back for you, sir?"
John felt his stomach rumble at the thought of food. They'd returned to Atlantis in the early afternoon with thirty minutes to spare on Elizabeth's deadline. John had spent the rest of the day either with Rodney and Teyla in the infirmary or taking the short amount of time needed to get himself cleaned up and checked over. There hadn't been time to find something to eat.
"Thanks. A sandwich and some coffee would be great." He marked his place and closed the book, setting it on Rodney's bedside table.
"Sure thing. I'll be right back."
John glanced at the other bed where Teyla slept with her foot resting on a pillow and an ice pack over the ugly bruise on her ankle.
Cutting the metal cuff off had proved to be more of a challenge than John or Carson expected and Beckett had been clearly worried about how tight the band was around her leg. Carson had tried to be positive with his prognosis, but when Teyla called him on it, he admitted if they couldn't find a way to cut the cuff off soon, there might be no other choice but to amputate her foot.
It had taken a couple of hours of testing and two visits by Zelenka with different pieces of equipment from the science labs for Beckett to figure out what the cuff was made from and what equipment Radek had in the lab that could cut through it. It took another forty-five minutes after that to get it removed.
John had stayed with Teyla while Beckett and Radek had worked to cut the cuff off her leg, talking to her, trying to distract her from what Carson was doing. She had kept a tight grip on his hand, her eyes focused on the ceiling above her as Beckett carefully cut through the metal band.
When the shackle finally came away from her leg, Carson examined her ankle, scanned her leg, and told them they had been lucky. The cuff hadn't done any permanent nerve or tissue damage. A night with her foot elevated, and ice packs for the bruising, and Teyla could go back to her quarters in the morning.
John adjusted the ice pack then leant the chair back so he balanced against the wall with the two front legs off the floor. They were going to be fine, he told himself. But for how much longer? Did they really have a chance against three hive ships? Was he just kidding himself that they would survive?
He stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets, pulled out a silver coin, and idly flipped the coin over and over in his hand, lost in thought.
"Is it a talisman?" Teyla asked softly, and John turned to see her awake.
He leant forward, setting the front legs of the chair back on the floor and smiled at her. "You should be asleep," he said. "How's the foot?"
Teyla sat up, moved the ice pack, and tried to rotate her ankle. She hissed softly before saying, "It is stiff, and the bruise still hurts, but the pain is much less." She put the ice pack back over her ankle and looked over at the other bed. "How is Rodney?"
John sat back in his chair. "Carson thinks he'll be fine. He told me he's going to release both of you in the morning."
She sat back in the bed and nodded at the coin John's hand. "You did not strike me as the type of man who would believe in luck charms."
John held out the silver coin and dropped it in her hand. He watched as she traced the image of an eagle in flight on one side, then flipped it over. "That's what the country of Afghanistan looks like on a map," he explained as she studied the blobby shape.
"This is another … what did you call them? Challenge coin?"
John nodded. "My team in Afghanistan had them made. And no, I don't believe in lucky charms," he added with a small smile.
She handed the coin back to him, and John sat with his arms braced on his knees, staring at the coin.
"Though maybe I should," he said softly.
"I do not understand."
"You know I wasn't originally part of the team that was assigned to come here."
Teyla nodded. "Rodney has mentioned more than once about how you discovered you carried the Ancestor's gene by sitting in the control chair on Earth by accident."
John glanced at the other bed. "Yeah, he does seem to like telling that part of the story."
He turned back to Teyla. "Really, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do once I found out about all of this.
"There had been a few … incidents during my overseas assignments and the Air Force wasn't too happy with me. The brass thought sending me to be a glorified bus driver in Antarctica was punishment. No one wanted to be around me, figuring they'd have mud on their careers by association, and I was left alone most of the time. I had pretty much had enough of dealing with people anyway by then and didn't really care. I was happy to fly the missions I was given, happy that I didn't have to worry about anyone other than myself.
"Then I get this assignment to fly some General out to the middle of nowhere, which in Antarctica really says something. We're nearly shot down by some sort of rogue rocket, I'm walking around in an underground base carved out of the ice, and then everything with the chair happened. Suddenly, I was being told I had alien DNA, that I was needed for some top secret mission, and that I'd be sent through a portal to another galaxy."
John stared at the coin in his hand. "It was a lot to absorb."
"It does sound overwhelming," Teyla agreed.
John nodded and studied the coin in his hand.
"Did the remembrance of your past missions help you decide to make the journey?" Teyla asked after a few moments of silence.
John shook his head. "What Rodney doesn't know, what no one else knows, is that I sat in a park in California overlooking the ocean trying to make sense of it all. I still wasn't sure how much I even believed what General O'Neill and Elizabeth were telling me. So I sat on a hill, watching the water, and flipped a coin to decide whether or not to come here."
He held up the silver coin. "This coin. The eagle meant I was to join the mission. If it landed on Afghanistan, I was going to stay on Earth."
"And you saw the eagle," Teyla said.
John smiled and looked down at the coin. "The second time I flipped it, yeah."
Teyla smiled in return.
"Don't get me wrong, there's been some bad stuff since we got here. Sumner, the Genii, not to mention the Wraith. But there's been a lot of good stuff, too." John glanced over at the other bed and stopped Rodney's hand as he unconsciously tried to pull out the cannula again. "I'm glad I came. I found a few things I didn't realise I was missing." He squeezed Rodney's arm and leant back in the chair.
"You are afraid something will happen to him," Teyla said softly a few minutes later. "It is only natural to be worried about family when the Wraith are coming."
John ducked his head down. "He's not the only one I'm worried about, but yeah, I guess so." He looked over at Teyla. "He's already made it clear he won't go to the Alpha site, assuming we find one."
"And this surprises you, John?" she asked. "I had only known you and Rodney for a few days when you rescued me from a hive ship, and then I watched as Rodney willingly walked into the midst of a shadow creature to save Atlantis. I knew then you were both brave and honorable men. It is not at all a shock to me that he would wish to stay here and defend his home." She reached out and touched his arm. "Protect his family."
John sat back in his chair, lost in thought. He flipped the coin a few more times, then held it out to Teyla.
"John?" she asked as she accepted the coin.
"Chances are, even if the city survives this attack, I probably won't," he told her. "That's the job I signed up for." He glanced at Rodney in the other bed. "Do me a favor. If I don't …" He looked down for a moment then met her concerned gaze. "Give him the coin and tell him what I told you. Tell him … it was the best decision I ever made."
"You should get some sleep," John said brusquely and stood from the chair. "Ford was going down to the mess hall. I'm just going to go … see where he is."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney woke up to the sound of soft snoring. He looked to his left and found John sound asleep on the next bed. Looking to his right, he saw Teyla, also peacefully asleep. He could tell from the low lights and the lack of bustle around him it was either very late or very early, as he lay for a few minutes simply breathing, happy that for the first time in who knew how long, he could take a deep breath without coughing or feeling like his chest was in a vice.
He untangled himself from the oxygen line and sat on the edge of the bed letting his feet dangle for a moment. He glanced behind him to see if Sheppard knew he was up and was a little surprised John hadn't moved. Rodney knew from past experience John was a light sleeper, something very handy on missions to potentially hostile planets. Much less so when he was trying to sneak past the man.
He spotted the bag with a change of clothes on the floor near the bedside table. With another cautious look behind him at John, he slid off the bed, took the bag, and looked for a place to change.
He nearly had a heart attack a few minutes later when he came around Teyla's bed, his boots in one hand and his jacket in another, and found Ford camped in the chair beside her bed, his feet up on a stool. It took him a moment to realise Ford was soundly asleep and was not about to raise the alarm about Rodney being out of bed. He skirted around the chair, and with a quick check to make sure the night nurses weren't around, and Beckett's office was dark, he escaped the infirmary and headed for his lab.
Carson wouldn't like it, and John would probably back him up, but Rodney needed to get away from everyone and think for a little while. Ever since they'd returned from Dagan, he'd been bouncing from one crisis to another, not to mention apparently nearly dying. He needed a little time to sort everything out in his head.
He didn't bother with the overhead lights when he entered the lab. He let the door slide shut behind him and found his work table from memory and turned on the light over the table. He took off his earpiece, set it on the end of the table, and sat on the stool in front of the table.
The half-assembled naquadah generator still sat on the table, and he idly wondered where the sample case had got to. He'd need Kavanagh to run some tests and make sure the mineral Sheppard and Ford collected had a high enough purity to work as a power source. He toyed with a couple of parts for the generator for a few minutes then set them aside and glanced at the shelves crammed full of the various Ancient devices they'd found in the last year.
He stood and let his gaze roam the shelves, running his hands over a few of the objects, smiling when he found a particular favorite.
The box-like device he'd found soon after their arrival was still a mystery all these months later. He rubbed the barely visible scar on the back of his hand and remembered finding the box in one of the first lab spaces they'd discovered once they'd started exploring the city. He'd made some progress since he'd found a second box on P2J-883 and was reasonably confident the boxes worked independently of each other. He hadn't found any way to connect them to each other and switching crystals from one box to the other had no effect on the boxes, either.
He touched the first box he'd found in the lab. "I wonder if I'll get the chance to figure you out," he muttered to the box.
He found the personal shield device on another shelf and picked it up. It felt heavy and dead in his hand; he didn't feel any vibrations indicating the crystal had power. After months of research, he was certain there was no way to recharge the device, but he found he could not simply throw it away. It had been the first object he'd activated once Carson's gene therapy had worked. He would deny it if anyone asked, but he had a sentimental attachment to the shield, it represented much more than just his ability to use Ancient technology. He put the shield back with a wistful sigh.
He shifted aside a few other objects and found the small wooden box with Kalani's stone. John had fixed the top of the box for him, and he slid it back, picked up the stone, and smiled slightly when it started to glow with a soft yellow light.
He'd always meant to do more testing of the device. Was it like the shield device and would only locate someone if John asked it? Would it find someone who did not have the gene at all, or was it tuned to the ATA gene? He'd even wondered if the only person it would locate was himself since he was the one to activate it first. However, one thing had led to another, and he'd never had the time to find answers to any of his questions.
On a whim, he held the stone flat in his hand and said, "Show me John Sheppard."
He was surprised, but pleased, when the stone glowed a little brighter, and an image of John floated in the yellow light above his hand. The problem was, the image he'd expected to see was Sheppard still asleep in the infirmary. What he saw instead, was John walking down the hallway outside his lab. Before he could really digest what that meant, the door opened, and John walked in, two cups of coffee in his hands.
"Carson is going to kill you," John said lightly as he handed over one of the cups. "He doesn't like it when his patients get up and leave on their own. I heard an earful when Teyla and I left to find you and Ford after the bacteria made us all loopy."
Rodney took the cup with a shrug. "He was going to release me in a few hours anyway."
"Maybe, but he likes being the one to say when you can go."
Rodney sipped some of the coffee and set the cup down. "How long did it take you to realise I was gone?" he asked and put the stone back in its box.
John pulled over the other stool and sat down across the work table from Rodney. "I knew as soon as you got up. You don't sneak as well as you think you do."
"I got past Ford," Rodney pointed out smugly.
John snorted a laugh. "Yeah, I should probably talk to him about that. Sleeping while on guard duty is a court-martial offence."
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. Rodney finished his coffee and revelled in this moment of calm. Probably one of the last ones he'd get for a while, he thought ruefully.
"So why did you leave the infirmary?" John asked.
Rodney shrugged and looked around the lab. "Just wanted some time to think." He toyed with the cup in his hands.
John nodded. "I think we had the regrets talk once already," he said softly and ducked his head enough to catch Rodney's eye.
Rodney shook his head. "Not regrets." He set the cup aside. "This is the first place I've ever felt like I belonged," he admitted. "To my own surprise, I have friends here. Family, even," he added with a look at John. "Chances are, in a little less than two weeks, all of it will be gone."
John reached out and tapped Rodney's arm. "We are not dead yet. Besides, you have the naquadah now and can finish the generator. That's a start."
Rodney stared back at John and saw the absolute conviction in his expression. "There is one thing we can try …" He paused. "We could go back to that Entry Room. I'm sure I could rig something with the new generator to power the two chairs. Those symbiotic systems had to be set up for a reason. Defending the city seems like a good reason. Maybe there's something …"
John was shaking his head before Rodney finished speaking. "You heard The Controller. It's not safe." He held up a hand when Rodney tried to interrupt. "Elizabeth was right. We aren't Ancients, there's no guarantee we'd be able to get any systems in there to work." John shook his head. "We're not using the Entry Rooms. Getting the shield to work is the priority."
"And then what?"
"And then we do what we have to in order to survive."
Rodney was about to say something else when John tapped his earpiece. "Sheppard here."
John looked over at Rodney with an evil smile and nodded. "Yep, I know exactly where he is, Carson."
Rodney winced and looked away.
"We'll be there soon. Sheppard out."
"Exactly how mad is he?"
John shook his head, still grinning, and stood up. "Let's just say it's a good thing we're meeting him in the infirmary. You're probably going to need it."
The tongue-lashing wasn't as bad as Rodney expected. After letting Rodney know how much he didn't appreciate walking into his infirmary and finding one of his patients gone, Carson checked him over and officially released him.
Teyla was given the all clear to leave as well, and once she was dressed, they headed down to the mess hall, Teyla limping slightly as she walked beside John.
"Elizabeth wants to meet in half an hour to talk about options," John said once they were seated and started eating. "We need to start making contingency plans and work out a defensive strategy now that we have the naquadah."
Rodney finished his breakfast only listening with half an ear as Ford and Teyla offered various ideas on how to defend the city and the Alpha site. He glanced around the room as he finished his coffee, watching the scientists and Marines seated at various tables talking and laughing with each other. So different from how each group had treated the other when they'd first arrived.
He saw Radek walk into the room with one of his engineers. They exchanged a quick nod before Zelenka went back to his conversation. Stackhouse and his team sat at a table across the room; Corrigan was saying something while the three Marines listened intently. Thompson and Daley sat at another table with two other Marines Rodney didn't know.
He spotted the rest of Sergeant Markham's team seated in a corner, talking amongst themselves and occasionally glancing around the rest of the room. They had suffered the first loss in the coming fight. Rodney couldn't help wondering how many other teams, scientists and Marines alike, would suffer similar losses before everything was said and done.
He glanced around the table at Ford and Teyla. At John. Teyla had lived her entire life with the threat of the Wraith. She knew how to survive against them. Ford was young, but he was a Marine. After a year surrounded by them, Rodney knew Marines never gave up; they never surrendered while there was still something left to fight for.
He knew some of the things John had done, both for the Air Force back on Earth and here in the Pegasus galaxy. This was the man who had fought a one-man guerrilla war against Kolya when the Genii invaded the city. Though John had tried to hide the evidence, Rodney was aware of how many men Rasha had had with him when he and Teyla were kidnapped. He also knew none of them had survived John's assault on the compound to rescue them. John was not going to let the Wraith have Atlantis if there was anything he could do to prevent it.
Which was what scared Rodney the most. He knew John's level of commitment to protecting the city included sacrificing himself if necessary. Rodney was going to do everything in his power to make sure that never became an option.
These were his friends, his family. Would all four of them be able to sit down in two weeks and congratulate themselves on their mutual survival? he wondered.
They had the naquadah now, he could finish the generator, that was a step in the right direction. Atlantis was his city. His home. He would find a way to save it; he was a genius after all, the smartest man in two galaxies. He'd found any number of solutions to seemingly impossible problems since their arrival. He would find another one. Save the city. Save his friends. The math was simple really.
What was the old saying? Hope for the best but prepare for the worst? He'd always lived his life expecting the worst. But he had Teyla and Ford and John now. He was no longer alone.
Maybe it was time to try a little hope.