‘No! Leave me alone!’ Mer screamed out and shoved at the hands gripping their flesh. They just needed it to stop, please let it stop. They punched out wildly, hitting flesh and hearing a groan.
‘Mer, it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re having a nightmare again,’ John carefully pulled away from Mer until they became more conscious, then ran gentle hands along their shoulders, soothing. He thought the lights on dimly.
Fuck, John’s nose was bloody, dark red dripping over his more-salt-than-pepper stubble.
‘Oh god, John I’m sorry, your nose –’
John put a hand up to his face and it came away streaked with red. ‘S’nothing.’ He wiped the blood away with a hanky. ‘See? Just a drop of blood. Mer, just come here.’ He pulled Mer close and gentled them, like he had done pretty much every night for a while now.
Since Belinda Riley’s hearing date was set, in fact.
They stayed like that for a while, but Mer was now restless. The temptation to get up and go to the lab was strong, but they had promised not to bury themself back in work. They had to deal with what was happening or it would never get easier.
‘Want hot chocolate?’ John was getting practised at this.
‘Put on some Trek or Dr Who and I’ll bring it through in a sec.’ He kissed Mer’s forehead and ruffled their hair, and Mer thanked god for John yet again. Even in the midst of the trauma, they could once again connect to the solidity of this, of Mer and John and their years together. So different from the disconnected, suicidal feeling they’d had after their kidnap.
Cocoa was one of Lantea 3’s main exports, along with coffee, so there was never a shortage of it, and Mer had got used to the plant milk they mixed it with – the only animal milk to be had in the galaxy was the sour kind that tasted like yak’s milk or maybe goat’s on a bad day. John had a good stock of Pegasus spices and knew how to add just enough to elevate the hot chocolate to something approximating heaven in a cup.
Mer was about to set a TNG episode playing when they heard the door to Selin’s room crack, and a murmur of voices. They padded out into the living area. Selin and Ronon had been woken by Mer’s screams and then lured by the hot chocolate. John had encouraged her to sleep in her own room, that connected to Ronon’s adjacent apartment while Mer was having nightmares, but of course they couldn’t protect her completely. She came over to her Pa and gave them a big hug. Mer pulled her slight frame close, ran fingers through her wavy brown hair, stroked her golden skin.
‘I’m okay, Comet, just a bad dream. Good excuse to get Da to make chocolate.’
‘My nightmares didn’t start for a half-year either, Pa. And I hardly ever get them now.’ Her big brown eyes were calm and solemn. Mer constantly had to remind themself that her wise, mini-adult persona was not the sign of an old soul or future guru but borne of deep trauma. And maybe they related to that, just a little, remembering back to the too-serious, too-bright kid they once had been.
‘I know, Sel, and thank you for reminding me. It gets better, huh?’
‘Of course. And then sometimes stuff happens. Digs it up again.’ Now she looked sad and it made their heart ache.
‘Yes. I’m learning that.’ They pulled her closer.
‘When that horrible woman gets what’s coming to her, maybe the nightmares will start to get better.’
Mer swallowed. There were just too many unknowns – what the adjudicators would decide, given infinite possibilities, and what would happen next was too much to think about.
‘Cross that bridge when you come to it,’ John said, putting a cup of chocolate into Mer’s hand with a kiss to their forehead. He bestowed another hot chocolate and a kiss on Selin before going back for his and Ronon’s drinks. Ronon inclined his dreadlocked head, amused and expectant for his kiss and John brushed his lips on the taller man’s forehead with a soft smile, stroking back the short dreads with a gentle caress.
‘Tonight,’ John went on, ‘we’re going to have some chocolate, talk only about safe, middle of the night things, and then it’s straight back to bed.’
The scent of chocolate and spice soothed Mer, making them take a deep breath where all the preceding ones had been hypervigilance-shallow. They sank onto the sofa, pulling Selin close. John settled on the arm, his fingers scritching through the loose curls that fell against Mer’s neck. Ronon sat on the beautifully carved and iron-bound Manarian chest they used as a coffee table, his ankles resting against Mer’s protectively.
Belinda Riley’s hearing seemed like it was taking Mer right back to square one. They continued to wake up screaming, reliving every second of the torture they endured at the hands of her Genii lackeys.
Who had never been brought to justice, despite Ladon Radim’s empty promises to hunt them down with the extent of his resources. And despite John’s own not inconsiderable efforts. The knowledge that those bastards remained at large – not just the torturers of his spouse, but the people responsible for two hundred murders on Jalik – ate at John in ways he’d not had to sit with since the wraith had been defeated.
Lantean justice was not adversarial, it took a form common in Pegasus, where events were laid out and examined from every possible angle, every statement measured and weighed. No cross-examination but a testing of the evidence piece by piece. It was a slow process with a selection of independent adjudicators examining everything in intimate detail.
The day they gave their testimony, John was virtually holding Mer up by the time the two of them got back to the apartment. Mer was ashen-faced and looked at least ten years older. John could almost see the bruises those bastards had left in the shadows on their face. It was maybe the first time Mer had told the full extent of what had happened, certainly the first time John had heard it all. He sank Mer down onto the couch, took their shoes off, lifted their legs onto his lap and wound himself round them like a vine. Just clung.
Not ever letting you out of my sight again. Not ever gonna let those fuckers hurt you again. The anger in him smouldered and sparked in a way that no Genii since Kolya had ignited.
Oddly, the more agitated John was, the more it seemed to relax Mer.
‘Honestly, John, while that military streak isn’t always my favourite part of you, it’s sort-of reassuring to have my own cross between guard dog, avenging angel and limpet right now,’ they said later in response to John’s angry glowers and refusal to let them out of his sight.
John didn’t say a word, just pulled them even closer and tried to breathe through the rocks in his chest.
That night, it was John who woke up screaming.
Priya, Chanis, and Mer had given their evidence. Today was Belinda Riley’s turn. Mer was expecting the too-familiar charm to be turned on, was convinced that somehow she would wriggle out of it.
Ghosts that had haunted them their whole life now crawled under their skin. Autistic folk don’t make sympathetic witnesses. A lifetime of people never taking Mer’s side, of other’s charm winning out over the blunt truth.
When Riley came onto the courtroom, Mer was unprepared for their reaction. They had last seen her as she was taken away when they arrived back in Atlantis more than half a Lantean year ago. Seeing her poised, cold face had Mer shaking so hard they could barely hold themself in their seat. John grabbed them close and held on tight.
‘Belinda Riley,’ the first adjudicator said, ‘this hearing is to determine if you were responsible for the detonation of a nuclear device on the Planet of Jalik, that led to deaths of two hundred and four people and the destruction of the planet’s ecosystem. You are also accused of the kidnapping Dr Mer McKay, Dr Priya Mirchandani, and Myll ta Chanis Galn, as well as the torture of Dr McKay. We will hear your opening statements and then proceed with questioning.
Riley held the eyes of the adjudicator confidently, and Mer wanted to punch her.
‘Thank you, adjudicator. I wish to apologise for the lateness of the statement I am about to make, but I was not able to speak up until now. New information brought to me means I am in a position to now confess. I was involved in the conspiracy that committed the crimes you just listed. I was one agent and not the instigator of these crimes, however I was fully involved and fully culpable. I will accept whatever justice you believe is appropriate for me.’
Mer felt themself go lightheaded. John’s grip on them tightened. It was almost impossible to process what Riley was saying. The woman continued as if she was talking about the weather. Fucking psychopath.
‘In addition, I wish to make an offer.’
Here we go, she’s going to try and wriggle out somehow.
‘In recompense for my crimes, and in return for some considerations regarding sentencing, I am offering my services in bringing down those higher up who were responsible for these atrocities. Moreover, I believe, after discussions with Governor Emmagan, that I may be able to provide key intelligence to assist in the liberation of Earth.’
Mer looked across at Teyla and felt fury as her calm eyes gazed back at him, impossible to read. They had known enough betrayals in their life, but there were a handful of people they would trust with absolutely anything. John. Selin. Ronon. Priya. Chanis. Radek. Carson. And, until that moment, Teyla.
An all-too familiar nausea swept through them. They needed to get out of here, to not be looking at Riley, to not see Teyla’s dispassionate face looking at them. People were still talking, but it was all echoey and vague in their head. They needed to puke until everything was out.
They rose hurriedly and John jumped up, grabbing and steadying them as they swayed from sudden dizziness. Shit. The floor was tilting and the world was greying out.
‘I think you should just stay away,’ John snarled at Teyla as she made it to Mer’s side as quickly as Carson. She simply inclined her head and withdrew, and just for a second John hated her for her airtight composure.
‘I think I should give them a sedative,’ Carson said, and John nodded – Mer was coming round but their breathing was erratic, their movements agitated, their pulse rapid under John’s fingertips as he cupped Mer’s neck. Carson must have been expecting this because the shot was to hand and administered swiftly, and then he was radioing control and asking them to beam the three of them home.
‘They’re better off waking in their own bed. They’ve seen enough of the hospital.’ John was grateful to Carson for understanding this, for breaking his usual strict protocols. With their current level of beaming tech it wasn’t as if he couldn’t be there in seconds if needed.
In a familiar flash and burst of static on his skin, John materialised in the corridor outside their apartment. Mer was sat up in his arms, but barely aware. Carson helped him get his sedated partner into bed and then dragged John into the living room to speak with him privately. John didn’t want to leave Mer’s side, but Carson clearly needed to talk to him.
‘Do you need anything yerself, lad?’ Was not what John was expecting to hear first.
John just shook his head mutely.
To kill Belinda Riley with my bare hands. To scream at Teyla. To punch the wall really, really hard.
Impulse control wasn’t John’s strongest suit, given his ADHD, but he had at least learned ways to avoid the dented walls and damaged hands of his youth.
‘I know we all thought this hearing would give Mer some closure. And I know you’ll be scared fer them right now. But they’ve come a long way, John, and we’ll help them get through this.’ Carson squeezed his arm, and only then did John realise he was shaking.
‘John, are ye sure I can’t get ye anything?’ His friend asked, but John still didn’t trust himself to speak. It felt pretty wild inside his head right now. He just shrugged.
‘Okay, I’m gonna send Ronon home, and ask Jeannie to take Selin fer a bit. And ask Martin to check in on Mer when they’re awake, if they want it. Now go be with Mer, John. Get some rest yerself if ye can.’
Carson pulled John into a hug that he didn’t feel and left. John flew back to Mer’s side, crawling onto their enormous bed and pulling himself close to his spouse. Mer was dozing, but fitfully, and they looked like they were having a fight in their sleep. The age lines on their face had transformed into furrows of worry.
John couldn’t bear to see them go through any more pain. That asshole Riley had unravelled their happy lives and now one of their closest friends had helped her evade justice. It wasn’t that he couldn’t see the bigger picture, it was just that right now, he didn’t care about the bigger picture. All he cared about was Mer and what this would do to Mer.
‘John.’ A gruff whisper from the cracked door sometime later announced Ronon’s arrival. John still couldn’t trust his voice, didn’t know what to say anyway. Ronon came in, producing one of those sort-of incense sticks from the market on Belkan, the ones that got you a little stoned. He lit one on the dresser and the delicate smoke began to weave its scented way through the room. Ronon crawled up onto the bed and gave John one of those insistent Ronon hugs that you couldn’t help but feel all the way through you. John just about managed to croak out a ‘thanks’ and scrubbed hard at his face as if he could wipe away the pressure building behind his eyes.
Ronon arranged them carefully so that he was spooning John and John was spooning Mer, and miraculously Mer seemed to settle, either from the effects of the incense, the sedative or from drawing Ronon’s steadying energy through John. Seeing Mer momentarily relax took John’s threat level down the tiniest of notches and he sighed.
‘What the fuck happens now, Ronon?’
‘We rest. Figure it out later.’ Ronon squeezed him in a don’t argue with me sort of way and John subsided. At least he knew how to take rest in the middle of a war zone.
He just never saw the possibility of Teyla Emmagen doing a deal with the enemy.