This is for Alyse. Just 'cause.
(Originally posted to the Live Journal sga_flashfic community.)
The beautiful illustration is by Summertea.
Do you want to know a secret?
There's something moving in the dark.
And it's coming, Jack Harkness.
It's coming for you.
-- Indira Varma (As Suzie Costello)
"Hey, Rodney," John says, when the door automatically slides open. "It looks like this room's still working."
"Good," Rodney says absently from behind him. John looks at him, but Rodney's attention is focused on his scanner. "Maybe there'll actually be something in these ruins that will make it worth the trip." He turns towards the now-open door, obviously drawn towards it by whatever reading he's tracking.
"Oh yeah," John agrees. "Wouldn't want to have wasted a whole five-minute jumper trip." He smirks, purely for Rodney's benefit, but Rodney's eyes are still glued to his scanner and John doubts he was even listening. John shakes his head and turns back towards the room. He raises his P90 just in case, though none of their scans showed anything to worry about--no one has lived on this planet for thousands of years.
"Whatever you just turned on, it's started drawing a lot of power," Rodney says as John steps into the room. Then, his voice suddenly very loud, "Sheppard!"
"Uh-oh," John says, as he hears a click.
The jumper lands awkwardly in the jumper bay, too fast, and Elizabeth winces as the noise of metal slamming into metal seems to reverberate through the whole room. John won't be pleased if Rodney's damaged the jumper, she thinks, and then the sudden upsurge of dread is enough to make her lungs feel like stone.
Carson's behind her, panting; he and his team have run all the way to the bay, dragging a gurney piled with equipment. Elizabeth just hopes it will make a difference.
The jumper hatch crashes down as if someone's kicked it, and Elizabeth's sure Ronon did when he comes charging out. He's carrying John in his arms like a child, and there's so much blood that for a minute Elizabeth can't even make out the proper shape of John's body. It's all red, red everywhere, soaking down Ronon's tunic and pants and dripping to the floor in a grotesque rain. Ronon's face is so mottled with pain and rage that Elizabeth can't look at him.
John's body is completely limp, and his arms and legs are twisting the wrong way, and for a second Elizabeth thinks it's just the blood, obscuring where parts of him end and others begin, until she realizes that no, that's his flesh and bone, no illusion, and she puts her hand to her mouth without even thinking about it because of the sudden flood of nausea. Her eyes are wet, and there is no way, absolutely no way at all, that John can still be alive.
She can't look at John, either, so she watches instead as Rodney and Teyla come out of the jumper. Teyla looks like Ronon, except for the weary, awful acceptance in her eyes. Her hands and wrists are covered in red.
"Here!" Carson shouts, and his people rush forward with the gurney, but Ronon just hesitates, turning to Rodney.
Rodney, who is like a beacon of anger. His hands are like Teyla's: dark red with John's blood up to his elbows, and there's a rust-colored streak of it on his face, more in his hair.
"Keep going to the transporter," Rodney barks at Ronon, and Ronon nods and starts to run, except that Carson stands in his way, stopping him.
Carson looks at Rodney, startled and horrified. "What the hell are you playing at?" He shouts incredulously at him. "He's dying!" As if Rodney could somehow not have known that.
"He's dead! Rodney shouts back, nearly screaming it, and Elizabeth's instant response is No, no that's not true, because this is John, and John has survived suicide runs and monstrous transformations and being fed on by Wraith, and the idea that she could be witnessing his death right here, right now is a nightmare, impossible, even as she knows this is real, this is happening. "He's already dead! We have to get him to the stasis chamber!"
"What?" Carson looks confused for a moment, but then dismisses Rodney completely. "For God's sake, man!" he appeals to Ronon, "put him on the gurney! You have to let us help--"
"Listen to me!" Rodney grabs Carson's arm roughly and yanks him around. Elizabeth gasps and Carson recoils like Rodney is about to hit him. Elizabeth automatically looks at Ronon and Teyla, expecting them to stop this, but Teyla is just standing there, tense and expectant, and Ronon starts running again, the second Carson is no longer in his way.
"Stop him!" Elizabeth shouts, but Carson's medical team hesitate, probably unwilling to risk more damage to John, or to face Ronon's ferocity, and Ronon dodges them neatly and disappears out the main doors to the bay.
"Listen to me," Rodney says again. He's holding both of Carson's arms now, but he's looking at Elizabeth as well, and it's obvious he's pleading. "He's dead. He's already dead. You can't help him. I can. But we have to put him in the stasis chamber immediately."
"Why?" Elizabeth asks. Part of her still can't believe it. It's like talking about a hypothetical situation, and her hand is hovering over her ear mic, ready to call Marines to go after Ronon, rescue John so he can be tended to. Saved. But she doesn't make the call. "What good will it do?"
"You're not a doctor, Rodney!" Carson says desperately. He's trying to pull himself out of Rodney's grip, but Rodney's hold is too strong, and Teyla actually looks ready to attack if Carson tries anything.
"We must go," Teyla hisses, looking anxiously at the door. "Ronon cannot activate the device on his own."
"I know!" Rodney shouts at Teyla, then he turns back to Carson, yanking on his arms to still him. "I know how to find a pulse, Carson! And I know, I know what it's like when someone stops breathing. Sheppard died on the planet. He died--God, he died twenty minutes ago!" Rodney swallows and closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and when he opens his eyes again they're liquid and red. "Please, Carson," Rodney says. "I can save him. I know how to bring him back."
Elizabeth feels herself nodding, the sudden hope as terrible as the terror knocking like a ghost in her chest. "Go," she says, and the look that Teyla and Rodney give her before they start running is so grateful it might break her heart, if it wasn't shattered already.
She ends up following them to the lab where they're keeping the stasis chamber they found her double in, Carson trailing behind her. Elizabeth knows there's no reason for them to be there, really, but there's no question of her leaving. What else would she do, after all? John is dead. What could be normal, after this?
So she ends up standing silently as Rodney prepares the stasis chamber, tipping it back until it's horizontal, making sure there's enough power for it to properly preserve the body. He hasn't cleaned the blood off his hands, and he leaves red streaks everywhere he touches, like smears of paint. Carson helps as much as he can, though mostly it seems he just gets in the way while Rodney works around him, glaring. Rodney is still moving with the jittery urgency of disaster, even though it seems terribly unnecessary now.
He can't get any more dead, Elizabeth thinks, and then has to stifle a laugh that she knows will be far, far too close to hysteria.
Carson has brought the gurney from the jumper bay, but Ronon is still holding John, standing as if the colonel's body weighs nothing. John's stopped bleeding, except for the occasional tap of a drop or two against the metal floor. Elizabeth tries not to flinch every time she hears it.
Teyla stands next to Ronon like some kind of honor guard, looking almost regal in her blood-soaked clothes.
"It's ready," Rodney says finally, standing back from the chamber. He nods to Ronon, looking incredibly tired. "You can put him in."
Ronon doesn't answer, but walks the few steps to the chamber, and lays John's body in it as if giving up something precious. The field comes up the instant Ronon pulls his hands back, making it look as if John has been surrounded by clear ice. Elizabeth thinks crazily of Snow White in her glass coffin, except the field doesn't soften the horror of John's bloodied, broken face, or what's left of his body.
"Good," Rodney says quietly, voice clipped. His eyes are fixed on John, as if he's going to move. "That's good."
"He'll keep," Carson whispers, also staring. "God help him."
Ronon puts his hand over the chamber for a moment, above John's heart, then he turns abruptly and stalks out of the room.
"Rest well, my friend," Teyla says, and she touches the chamber too, just like Ronon did.
Rodney puts both his hands on the chamber after Teyla leaves, with his head bent, as if from exhaustion. Elizabeth thinks his shoulders might be shaking, but when he looks up again his gaze is stern as always, even if it's overly-bright.
"All right," he says brusquely. "I need to contact the SGC." He doesn't wait for Elizabeth's approval as he stalks from the room.
There's no question that she'll give it, just like she would if it were Rodney who was dead, or Teyla, or Carson or Zelenka or Ronon. Just like she helped defy the entire SGC to come back with John and rescue the city from the Asurians. Rodney said he can bring John back, and she believes him. She'll do anything to help, anything.
She lets Rodney use her office when he says that what he's going to be saying is more classified than the control room technicians can know about. Elizabeth is a little shocked at this, considering where they are, but she just nods and leaves him alone.
The conversation is surprisingly short. "I need to go to Earth," Rodney says as he leaves her office. He orders the technician to start dialing.
"Rodney," Elizabeth says gently. Then, "Rodney, Rodney!" when he doesn't seem to be listening. He only turns around, half way down the stairs, when she finally shouts.
"Rodney," she says again. She gestures at him. "You might want to change your clothes."
Rodney blinks, looks down at his shirt, his hands. Elizabeth's sure he's forgotten he's still covered with John's blood, since he seems startled to see it.
"Right," he says softly. "I should do that." But it's a minute more before he moves again, as if he can't tear his eyes away from the blood, and Elizabeth realizes belatedly that she never even asked him what happened. "I'll be ready in fifteen minutes," he tells her as he passes.
"How long do you think you'll be gone?" Elizabeth asks. She knows she should be thinking of the city, but all she can see in her head is John. She knows that's all Rodney is thinking of, too--and in a way John is the city. It's fair to say Atlantis wouldn't exist without him, and it wouldn't be the same place if he were no longer in it. Elizabeth can't even imagine Atlantis without John, any more than she can imagine Atlantis without Rodney. She may lead the city, but they are its soul and its mind.
So Rodney can take as long as he needs to, as long as he can resurrect John when he returns. It still doesn't seem like this is actually happening, but then John's only been dead for two hours, and Elizabeth still can't really believe it. It's easier to imagine that he's in the infirmary, critically injured, or that he's lost, somewhere, waiting for them.
And in a way he is, isn't he? Rodney is going to find him, bring him back.
Rodney pauses at her question. His fingers twitch, like he still wants to be moving. "I don't know," he says. "I need to go to Cardiff--but it shouldn't be more than a few days."
"Cardiff?" Wales? "Why?"
Rodney starts walking again. "What I need is there," he says, before he disappears down the corridor.
In Cardiff, Wales. Elizabeth almost laughs, because it's just a place, a city in the United Kingdom. A normal, everyday city.
"Rodney," Teyla says. "I must speak with you."
"Now?" Rodney asks her. He's just finished stuffing what few civilian clothes he has into a duffel bag. He considers bringing a computer tablet, but he can't imagine what he'd use it for. The tech level there will be as high, or higher, than what he's used to, anyway.
There's still blood underneath his fingernails, even after a shower. Thin, dark red lines. There was so much blood after the fucking trap went off, and suddenly Rodney can't move or breathe.
He's dead, Rodney thinks. He's dead, he's dead, he's dead. And he's all alone, and maybe it won't work and maybe Jack won't even let Rodney take it and maybe it's been too long already, and John's alone--
"Rodney!" And Rodney realizes he's sitting on the bed, and Teyla is leaning over him with her hands on his arms. Her palms are on his skin below the sleeves of his t-shirt, and it feels like where she's touching him is the only warm places on his body. He realizes he's shaking and dizzy and he can feel the sweat running like ice-water down his back, and he might just start screaming or coming apart and what will he do then? How can he ever find him?
"He's dead," Rodney says. He's gasping, breathing so fast he can barely speak, but there's not enough air in the whole world.
"Rodney, Rodney, look at me," Teyla says, and her voice is calm and commanding, and when Rodney looks at her, still trying to breathe, she says, "Follow me. Do as I am doing." And he watches her pull in deep, slow breaths, over and over again until he feels his own chest expanding to the same rhythm, and he's not better but he's all right.
"Thank you," he says simply. His voice is tiny. "Sorry."
"There is nothing to apologize for," Teyla says. She gives him a sweet smile, but it withers, falls away. "I do not know if you should do this," she says.
Rodney knows what she means, of course, and he lets himself slip into the welcome, welcome anger, because anger is something he can do, something he knows, and right now he needs the comfort. "And I really, really think we should. Do you want him to be dead, Teyla? Because you sure as hell weren't spewing this crap before. And if you're going to tell me you changed your mind, you'd better get the hell out, right now. And don't fucking talk to me again."
It's probably the worst thing he's ever said to her, but Teyla is a better person than he ever could be and doesn't call him on it. Instead she moves her hands to his shoulders, tipping her head into the Athosan gesture of greeting and friendship. Rodney is so angry that he considers shoving her away, but finds himself leaning forward instead, until their foreheads touch.
"My grief for him is a new wound," Teyla says, still leaning into him. The words sound like part of a ritual. "But he is dead, Rodney. He is already lost to us. I did not say so before because there was no time nor place to discuss it, but my feelings have not changed. He has gone to be with the Ancestors, and I do not believe we have the right to pull him back."
"Well I do," Rodney says. He pulls away from Teyla, and she doesn't stop him. It feels like there's a clock ticking at the back of his mind, counting down the seconds before it's too late and John will really be gone for good, too deep in the dark to be retrievable. But he doesn't move yet. "What if there aren't any Ancestors? What if there's... no one there at all? What if it's just darkness and nothing and he's all alone?"
Teyla lets go of his shoulders so she can stand. She stares down at him, and the shock is very clear on her face. "How could you think that is all there is? Is that what your people believe, Rodney? If so, they are wrong! Death is not--"
"I know that's all there is!" Rodney says, sharply enough that Teyla stops speaking. "I'm sorry," he says, more gently, startled by his own vehemence. "I'm really sorry. I know, I know it's not what you believe, but... It's just darkness. It's all... There's nothing. Just nothing. And, I have to save him, Teyla. I have to bring him back." He knows the desperation is clear on his face, in his eyes; he's never been able to hide what he's feeling. "I don't, I don't even know if this will work, but, if there's any way at all, if there's even the slightest chance, I have to take it. I have to."
Teyla is shaking her head. "How can you say you know what exists after death?" She looks horrified, shaken. "How can you know that? The Ancestors..." She crosses her arms over her chest, in a way that Rodney knows is self-protection, rather than defiance. All at once he realizes what a complete and utter bastard he is, what he's just done to her.
"How can you know that?" She asks him, and her voice is sad and small and lost.
"I'm sorry," he says again, because he can act if he has to but he was never much of a liar. "Someone I know died and came back. And he told me."
Teyla nods slowly. "And you believe him."
Rodney nods in return. "Yeah," he says. "I do."
"Then you must bring John back," Teyla says with tragic finality, and Rodney knows there's no point in thanking her, before she turns and leaves his quarters without another word.
Two weeks later, Rodney comes back from Earth.
For two weeks Elizabeth runs the city, trying to pretend everything is going to be fine. She is calm, composed, professional, determined and effective, and she's sure Zelenka and Lorne have no idea how many times she's wished she could just stand on the balcony of the control room like it was some kind of alien widow's walk, and stare at the gate until the wormhole finally, finally burst into life.
John's death is, so far, a secret. Zelenka and Lorne know, of course--she had to tell them--but other then them it's only Carson and the members of his medical team who were in the jumper bay, and Elizabeth expressly ordered them not to say anything.
The rumors have been running rampant anyway, naturally. She's heard whispers that's John's turning into a bug again; that he's been captured off-world and Elizabeth sent Rodney to negotiate for his release; that John and Rodney are in isolation in the infirmary because of a deadly pathogen they picked-up on another planet; that John and Rodney were called back to Earth to help rescue SG1 from the Ori; that John died on the last mission, and Rodney abruptly left Atlantis in shock and grief.
The official story is that Sheppard is terribly sick, in isolation in the infirmary, and McKay has gone back to the Milky way to negotiate with one of Earth's allies for a cure. It's close to the truth, anyway. Elizabeth's done her best to keep the worst of the speculation to a minimum, but right now she'd rather the uncertainty than either false hope, or--far worse--having to confirm that the military leader of Atlantis is dead. She's not sure the morale of the expedition could take it.
But it's been two weeks, and all she's been able to find out from the SGC was that Rodney arrived safely and then left on a flight to St. Athan base three hours later. All anyone can really tell her is that he should be in Cardiff. No one knows how to contact him.
And meanwhile, John's body is rotting by infinitesimal increments in a currently sealed-off lab near one of the outlying piers.
Elizabeth hates not knowing what's going on.
So she feels that she's justifiably angry when, at roughly two o'clock in the morning Atlantis time, the gate explodes open with a message from the SGC to drop their shield.
Elizabeth's out of bed, showered, dressed and in the control room in less than ten minutes. Almost twenty minutes later Rodney comes through, looking scruffy, haggard and pale. He's obviously slept very little, or done much of anything good for his body. He looks angry, too, which can only be a bad sign.
There are two people flanking him, and the first Elizabeth recognizes easily. Vala Mal Doran is looking around like she's sizing up the place for a quick sale, and her grin is huge and wicked when she sees Elizabeth.
"Hallo," Vala says, and she wiggles her fingers in a little wave. "Lovely to see you, Elizabeth. Can't say I think much of the new décor, though--too utilitarian."
Elizabeth gives her a quick nod, wondering why she's there, but Elizabeth's attention is immediately, almost irresistibly, drawn to the man walking on Rodney's other side.
The man is carrying a large metal case, with a lock on it, and he's wearing what looks like a vintage military uniform: some kind of dark grey, wool trench coat with what might be rank stripes on the shoulders. It's unusual, though Elizabeth has certainly seen odder garments. He seems to be about John's age and John's height, but other than that she doesn't think they could be more dissimilar. This man is lighter-haired, and has bright blue eyes that remind her of Rodney's, and he has a kind of handsomeness that Elizabeth would call distinctly American, if she didn't know better than to assume that's where he's from. But there's also a...tightness to his features that makes him look sharp somehow, predatory, rather than the easy, welcoming beauty of John's face. John can be dangerous, of course, even terrifying when the situation merits it, but John keeps that part of himself hidden most of the time. So well hidden, in fact, that it took Elizabeth by surprise when John first revealed how ruthless he could be, when he let nearly sixty men walk through a wormhole into a raised shield. He's so very good at seeming harmless, almost innocent.
This man isn't hiding how dangerous he is at all. It's not just the gun at his side (vintage again, and Elizabeth would suspect he's adverse to using modern technology, if it weren't for the fact that he's here), it's in the way he's looking around at the city: not as if it's amazing or even fascinating, but like he's assessing where the snipers would be. And when his eyes fasten on her and he smiles--all sparkle and teeth--she knows he's used to making a good first impression, but she doesn't miss the gleam like a knife in his eyes.
Elizabeth thinks that maybe two years ago, she might have been intimidated. Now she just flashes him a brief, diplomatic smile and then turns to Rodney.
"Where's Ronon and Teyla?" Rodney demands by way of a greeting. Elizabeth isn't even remotely surprised.
"They're off-world," she says, reasoning that since Rodney brought this man with him to Atlantis that he can hear almost anything she has to say. "With Lorne's team. They'll be out of radio contact for another twelve hours." She sent them out on purpose. Ronon especially has become increasingly agitated and unpredictable since Rodney's been gone, to the point where Elizabeth was sure that if she didn't put him on a mission he would just leave the city on his own, possibly forever. In truth, she doubts he'll stay if they can't bring John back.
And Teyla... Teyla has been remote and distant and sad. Elizabeth assumes it's because of John, but she fears there's something more there, though she hasn't felt welcome to ask.
She thought joining another off-world team, however briefly, would be a useful distraction for both of them. And it would help that Lorne knows what's happened.
"Twelve hours?" The brief, hopeful flash in Rodney's eyes is gone, leaving him looking downcast, then angry again. "How could you do that? I was counting on Teyla! She has to be here!"
"I didn't exactly have your schedule, Rodney," Elizabeth grits back. She's acutely aware of Vala and this man she doesn't even know waiting in obvious, growing impatience for things to start moving; this is not the place for another of Rodney's interminable arguments. "If you need her help so badly, you can wait until her team calls in and tell her to come back. We need to brief on this now, anyway," she says, pressing the 'now', a little, letting a bit of the anger out.
"What?" Rodney is confused, then furious. "No! There's nothing to discuss, Elizabeth! Sheppard is--"
"Rodney!" Elizabeth hisses in warning before Rodney can finish. There are Marines in the gate room, as a general precaution, and the technicians in the control room above can hear them if they speak loudly enough.
Rodney's mouth snaps shut, and for a moment he looks chagrined. "We can't wait," he says at last, tightly. His hands are clenching and unclenching at his sides. "Every moment..." He takes a breath. "It's been two weeks already. I don't know how long--"
"Another half an hour isn't going to make any difference, Rodney," Elizabeth says. "Carson's going to need to be appraised. And I need to know what's going on."
She can tell by Rodney's face that he'd like to argue, but can't.
"I wouldn't mind getting off my feet," the other man says, smiling again, and it's only the knife-gleam in his eyes that keeps him from being entirely charming. Elizabeth finds herself blinking at the normalcy of his accent. He is, indeed, American after all.
"Of course," Elizabeth says, and she smiles back briefly, because she's a diplomat, but she's sure to put just a tiny bit of ice in it, to let him know what she's seen. He just grins back.
"Ooh, I can tell this is going to be fun," Elizabeth hears Vala say, as Elizabeth turns and heads up the stairs.
"Welcome back, Rodney," Carson says. He looks rumpled, like he's come here directly from his bed--which is more than likely--but his eyes are alert as he takes in the two newcomers in the room. "Vala," Carson nods a greeting to her, which she returns with a toothy smile. "And you are...?"
"Captain Jack Harkness," Jack says, though Elizabeth wouldn't have been surprised if he'd announced that he was an Ancient, or even Tok'ra, or even Goa'uld. He stands and offers his hand. "You must be Doctor Beckett."
"Yes, yes," snaps Rodney, and it's only because Elizabeth knows him so well that she can tell that it's fear caged in his crackling impatience. "Jack Harkness, Carson Beckett. Chief Medical Officer of the Atlantis Expedition, Head of Torchwood, Cardiff. You're both enchanted. Can we get to the stasis chamber now?"
"Rodney," Elizabeth admonishes quietly, watching Jack and Carson shake hands. Jack has a perfect handshake. She knows this from their own introduction moments before Carson arrived: firm without being painful, and Elizabeth wonders just how far she'd have to go before she finds the real man underneath, how much surface smiles and pleasantries she'd have to scrape off first, and if there'd be anything left if she did.
"Captain." Carson nods formally.
"Please." Jack laughs like they're friends. "Jack is fine."
"Oh, can I call you 'Jack', too?" Vala coos, smiling at him, and Elizabeth might be annoyed by it, if she didn't remember Vala just well enough to see that the flirtatiousness is pure reflex, like how Rodney has to constantly hit back first, or how John pretends he's stupid. Everyone protects themselves.
"Could we get on with this, please?" Rodney says harshly. He's speaking to Elizabeth, but she knows it's for everyone's benefit. He hasn't moved since he sat down, fists clenched on the tabletop, but it looks almost like he's vibrating in place, like he could shake apart in tiny, imperceptible pieces. Rotting by increments.
"Of course," Jack says smoothly, and he unlatches the top of the metal case. He reaches in, and pulls out what looks like a large, metal gauntlet. Elizabeth could easily imagine it belonging to some knight in the fourteen-hundreds, maybe for use during a tournament. She has no idea how it's meant to help John.
"We spent nearly two weeks trolling God-damned Cardiff Bay for that," Rodney says, as if he knows what Elizabeth was thinking.
"The Risen Mitten," Jack says. And he grins, like he's remembering a joke.
Carson just blinks at it. "What's it meant to do?"
But Elizabeth didn't miss 'risen'. "This is... This is going to bring Sheppard back to life?" When Rodney said he could save him, she had been imagining something like a Goa'uld sarcophagus: large, ornate and obvious in its purpose. This metal glove is none of those things. She has no idea how it's even meant to work.
Jack's grin flattens a bit. "Sort of," he says.
"He means it only works for thirty seconds," Rodney snaps. He's glaring at Jack and there's a lash of rage in his voice, and Elizabeth thinks maybe this is where the anger Rodney walked through the gate with came from. "Which might not be enough, but you wouldn't let--"
"Don't bring Gwen into this," Jack snarls back.
"Wait, wait!" Carson raises a hand, looking both bewildered and annoyed, which Elizabeth can understand completely. "What is 'Torchwood', who is this Gwen person, and what does she have to do with this... mitten? And what do you mean, it can 'sort of' bring John back to life?" His voice sharpens. "Can you help him, or not?"
Jack sighs. He's holding the glove in both hands, moving the hinged fingers delicately. His expression is suddenly strangely sad. "We found the first one nearly a year ago in Cardiff Bay," he says. He looks up at them as he explains. "There are rifts... holes in space and time. The UK is full of them, especially in Wales. Most especially in Cardiff. Torchwood is..."--He looks like he's trying to find the right word--"An organization. It was set up at long time ago, to study the things," his mouth twitches, "living and non-living, that occasionally come through." He hoists the glove a little. "This is one of the things that came through. At first, we thought that there was just one of them, which we destroyed a few months ago." Now he looks directly at Rodney. "We weren't planning on trying to find a second one." He turns the glove, so it's easy to see where the thumb is. "The one we found originally was for the right hand." He smiles ruefully at them. "That's the thing about gloves--they come in pairs."
"How do you know about Torchwood?" Carson asks Rodney. "I didn't even know they existed."
Rodney snorts. "You wouldn't," he says, and it's hard to miss the underlying insult. Elizabeth can't help bristling a bit, though it's not really directed at her, and she's sure Rodney said it because Carson's questions are taking time, rather than out of any real derision. "Only the members of the SGC with the highest clearance do." Rodney smiles a little, because he can't help preening regardless of the circumstances. "I'm one of the few with high enough clearance."
"Right," Elizabeth says. She read it in his file, when she was deciding who would lead the science team, something so secret there was only a single word, and the dates of Rodney's apparent involvement. Torchwood, and Elizabeth remembered it at the time it because it was such a strange, evocative title. She'd always assumed it was some kind of project at Area 51.
"We go way back," Jack says, and he grins at Rodney in a way that reminds Elizabeth completely of John. Rodney doesn't smile in return.
"...And since Torchwood occasionally shares information with the SGC," Rodney says, narrowing his eyes briefly at Jack. "I knew about the gauntlet. Which we need to use as quickly as possible if we're going to have any hope of getting Sheppard back. So how about we get on with it and do that?"
"What are you going to do with it?" Vala asks, ignoring Rodney. She leans back in her chair, linking her fingers and stretching her arms above her head. "Slap Sheppard until he comes to?"
"If someone wears it and touches a dead person, a dead person who died violently, they come back to life," Rodney says angrily to her. He glares again at Jack. "Just one time, and probably not for more than thirty seconds, if the wearer hasn't had practice using it. Like Gwen does."
"Gwen--she's part of my team," Jack explains to Carson, "was able to resurrect someone for over a minute the second time she used the gauntlet."
"Which is why she should be here!" Rodney interjects loudly.
"Which is why I think that someone with sufficient empathy and compassion--like Gwen--should be able to bring Sheppard back for at least that long," Jack says, voice rising over Rodney's. He turns to Elizabeth. "Using the gauntlet becomes addictive. The first person on my team who tried it went insane. That's why Gwen isn't here. I've forbidden her from touching it again."
"Understandable," Carson murmurs. Elizabeth nods in agreement.
Rodney rubs his forehead above one eye, which Elizabeth knows means he's trying very hard to get himself under control. "She was our best chance," he says. "But since we can't use her, I was hoping Teyla could wear the gauntlet." He exhales loudly and leans forward, rubbing his eyes with his fingers. "But she's not here, either, thanks to you." Elizabeth lets that pass. "But we don't have time to wait for her to contact us."
"Why not?" Carson asks, and Elizabeth is silently grateful that he doesn't mind taking the brunt of Rodney's wrath with his questions. "Another twelve, or even twenty, hours in the stasis chamber for John will make no appreciable difference."
"Not to his body," Rodney snarls.
"The longer someone's been dead," Jack cuts in smoothly, "the harder it becomes to retrieve their..." he pauses, "essence, I guess you'd call it. Maybe their soul. The last person we used the glove on had been dead for three months. It took a... huge toll on Gwen to get her back."
His expression says there was far more to it than that, but Elizabeth isn't about to ask him. She doubts she has the clearance anyway--and she tries not to feel slighted about that. She knows what this Torchwood organization or whatever it is does now, and she supposes that's something, some tiny signal of trust from the SGC. "So you're saying, if we don't do it now, it may not even be possible?"
Rodney sags a bit, as if in relief that someone is finally listening to him. "Yes," he says. "That's exactly what I've been saying."
Vala raises her hand and waves it back and forth. "Uh, sorry to keep intruding here on this very, very important discussion, but I still don't know why I've been dragged away from the rather important battle with the Ori." She looks accusingly at Rodney. "You told me you would need me to heal him, but if he's coming back from the dead for only thirty seconds..." She shrugs, her eyes wide and innocent. "Doesn't sound like there'll be much for me to do."
Rodney goes so white so quickly that for a moment Elizabeth thinks he might throw up or faint.
"Don't..." he says, voice so low that at first Elizabeth isn't sure he's spoken. "Don't say that." He closes his eyes, breathing like he's trying to keep from crying. Or screaming.
"Rodney?" Carson asks, about to stand, but it's Jack who reaches out and puts his hand on Rodney's shoulder, gripping gently.
Rodney makes no indication he's even noticed, but he takes another deep breath, and when he opens his eyes and looks at Vala, Elizabeth sees nothing but the familiar anger, sustaining him like strength.
"When he's brought back he'll still have the same wounds that killed him," Rodney says sharply. "You'll fix him so he'll stay alive. Is that simple enough for you?"
Vala crosses her arms, glowering back at Rodney. "Yes, thanks. And you're welcome."
"Are we done here?" Rodney asks Elizabeth. His voice is biting.
Elizabeth wants to ask who, exactly, is meant to wear the gauntlet now, but she looks at Rodney's face and just nods instead, freeing him. She ignores the 'thank God' Rodney doesn't even say quietly as he stands.
"Wait," Carson says.
Rodney whirls on him. He looks close to enraged. "What?"
"I need to get my team down there, Rodney," Carson says, gently but unrepentant. "We'll need monitoring equipment. And we'll have to clean the body." And now he does look apologetic. "Remove the knives."
"Make sure it's the same team," Elizabeth says.
Carson nods. "Aye. Absolutely."
"They can't stay," Jack says. He smiles by way of apology, though it's easy to see he doesn't expect any kind of argument. He flicks one of the gauntlet's fingers, drawing her attention to it. "I'm afraid this thing is need-to-know."
"That should be fine," Carson says.
Rodney scrubs his face with his hand. "Fine! Fine. Whatever the hell you want. Just call me when you're ready, if that's not too much trouble. I'll be in my lab."
"Rodney..." Elizabeth says, and she's not sure if what she'll say next will be for comfort or a warning, but when she opens her mouth again Rodney is already gone.
Carson's team's done a good job. John is out of the stasis chamber, lying on a gurney. His body has been stripped, and what Elizabeth can see of it--he's been covered demurely by a sheet from the chest down--is perfectly clean. His broken bones have been set, his limbs arranged neatly, arms at his sides, legs as straight as possible. There's barely any rigor mortis, because of how quickly he was put into the stasis chamber. John almost--almost--looks like he's healthy and sleeping, except for the grayish cast to his skin, and the dark gashes of the wounds. There are so many of them that pieces of John's forearms have been flayed to the bone. His chest and shoulders are mottled with small, black pits. John's face has been mostly spared, at least, though his cheek has obviously been stabbed through.
"They were fleschettes," Rodney explains quietly, "shooting out from the walls. I think it was a trap for the Wraith. Sheppard..." Rodney swallows. "Sheppard had his arms up, like this, to protect his face." He lifts his arms in demonstration, crossing the forearms. "That...that's why..." He shakes his head, turning away.
Elizabeth wordlessly puts her hand on Rodney's back. She has no words for this, she's never been particularly good at dealing with death. "I know," she manages at last, which is true, at least. Teyla and Ronon told her what happened, though Rodney had been the only one to actually see it.
"Monitoring equipment's ready," Carson says. There are leads to a heart monitor on John's chest. He looks at Jack. "But I can't see how his heart and lungs could possibly work."
"Trust me," Jack says. "They will." The case for the gauntlet was put on the same table as the monitor, and now Jack opens it and takes the metal glove out again. "So," he says, turning to the four of them, "who's going to wear it?"
"Why not you? Vala asks. "You used the first one, right?"
Jack smiles, but the curve of his mouth is unpleasant. "It wouldn't work for me."
"I'll do it," Rodney says. "Since Teyla--I--It should be me."
"You don't have to, Rodney," Elizabeth says. She means that she'll use it, try to make the glove work, much as she doesn't even want to touch the thing.
Rodney looks at John, still and waiting. "Yeah," he says, "I do."
Jack gives Rodney a measuring look, then holds the gauntlet out to him. "Good luck," he says.
Rodney nods and takes it. He looks at it for a moment, then slowly slides it onto his left hand. He hisses in a breath. "It's cold."
Jack nods. "It warms up."
"Okay," Rodney says briskly, raising his head. "Vala, come here--be ready to use the healing device as soon as he... wakes up. Elizabeth?" She looks at him as Vala gets into position at John's side. "I'd like you to be near his head, please. He'll probably be disoriented and frightened, so it'll be good for him to see a face he knows." He turns to Jack. "Jack--"
Jack puts up his hands, palms out. "I'll be over here," he says. He moves to where Carson is checking the heart monitor.
"Great." Rodney gives a short, anxious nod. He licks his lips. "Okay." He lifts his left hand, splaying open the gauntlet's fingers. "Uh, what do I do?"
"Put your hand on the top of his head," Jack instructs. "And just... reach into the dark and find him."
Rodney nods some more. "Right, right. Okay." He takes a breath and gently folds the palm of the gauntlet around John's crown.
Elizabeth can see a faint, blue glow between the joints of the gauntlet, just before Rodney's eyes go very, very wide.
"Oh, my God," he whispers, at the same moment that John gasps and opens his eyes.
Nearby, Carson's monitor starts beeping. Elizabeth hears Carson swear quietly in amazement.
"No!" John shouts. "No! Rodney, I..!" His eyes are darting madly. "Elizabeth?" he says. "Where's Rodney? Is my team all right?" He sees Vala before Elizabeth can answer. "Vala?"
"John, John, look at me," Elizabeth says. She leans in a little closer, not wanting to crowd him. John's eyes obediently move towards her. "Your team is just fine," she says, doing her best to smile normally. "Rodney's right here." She glances up at Rodney. His eyes are closed, face pale. He's breathing harshly, as if what he's doing requires great concentration and effort.
"Rodney?" John asks. His eyes shift, looking up. "Rodney, you okay?"
Rodney makes a tiny, strangled smirk. "I'm fine. I'm just fine. You need to relax."
"What happened?" John asks. "I remember, there were knives..." He shifts his gaze to Vala. "I can't feel anything," he says, and his voice is tightening into panic. "Is that why she's here? How badly was I hurt?"
Vala's face is also screwed up in concentration, her teeth gritted tight. "It's not working," she says.
"What?" Rodney says. "No!"
"What's not working?" John starts breathing faster--Elizabeth can hear his heart speeding up on Carson's monitor, though she has no idea how it can be beating at all. "Oh my God--I was dead, wasn't I? I'm dead!"
He starts moving, bucking on the gurney as if he wants to get away, to run, but he can barely move, and Elizabeth doesn't want to think about his fractured legs and arms. She takes John's hand, trying to ignore how the bones slide and shift under her grip, the pulpy feel of the flayed muscle. "John," she says. "John--you're safe! We're trying to help you! You need to calm down!"
"It's not working!" Vala says again. Elizabeth glances up at her, and is surprised to see Jack beside her, looking down at John. She hadn't even noticed him crossing the room.
"Rodney!" John tries to reach for him, but his arms won't respond. There's water pooling in his eyes, and his face is hopeless, lost. "I'm sorry."
His eyes slide shut, and the monitor's beeping goes faster still.
"We're losing him," Carson says. His voice is raw with anguish. He looks at Rodney, eyes imploring. "Rodney..!"
"No, no!" Rodney shouts. His eyes squeeze more tightly shut. "I won't--!"
"Don't!" Jack shouts. He reaches out an arm, as if he's going to push Rodney away, but he hesitates. "Damn it," he mutters.
Then he leans down and kisses John on the mouth, like a lover might. Elizabeth thinks she makes some kind of startled noise--she definitely hears one from Rodney and Carson--but then John's eyes fly open again, a second before Jack pulls away.
"I've got it!" Vala exclaims, grinning in incredulous triumph. "I've got it! It's working!"
And John's wounds start bleeding again, all at once, and Elizabeth holds his poor, broken hand as he starts to scream.
Rodney isn't surprised to see Jack standing there when he opens the door to his quarters. "Hi," Rodney says, feeling unaccustomedly awkward. "Guess you're ah, about ready to go, huh?"
Jack grins, tilting the metal case with the gauntlet in it a little. "They're waiting for me in the gate room. I think Vala's pretty impatient to get back to the good fight in the Milky Way."
"Yeah." Rodney smiles back, standing aside so Jack can enter his room. "She already said goodbye." He smirks, though nothing about this actually feels funny. "She told me that seeing you kiss Sheppard was worth the trip." She'd also hugged him, which Rodney hadn't expected at all.
Jack laughs, then looks down and away. "Yeah, about that," he says, uncharacteristically awkward himself. "I didn't mean to--"
"Thank you," Rodney says, heartfelt. "You saved him."
Jack shakes his head. "No," he says, "that was mostly you. And Vala."
"You saved him," Rodney says again. "That kiss--whatever you did--He would have died, without it, wouldn't he? He would've stayed dead."
Dead. John dead, forever. Rodney's spent the last ten hours trying not to think about it.
Jack nods, as if allowing himself to accept the praise. He rubs the back of his neck. "I didn't think it would work," he says. "I've never... Those injuries were really bad."
"Yeah," Rodney says thickly. He has to close his eyes for a minute, will the image away; all that blood. John had screamed for a long time, even while Vala was healing him. "I didn't know you could do that."
"Yeah, well." Jack grins, all teeth. "I've kind of got life to spare these days. I can afford to give some away every once in a while."
"Thank you," Rodney says again.
Jack's stopped smiling. "I couldn't leave him there," he says.
They're quiet for what feels like a very long time after that. "So," Rodney says uncomfortably. He tries to laugh, gesturing at his door. "Probably shouldn't keep Vala waiting."
"You could come back, you know," Jack says.
Rodney's laugh fades. He smiles, but he knows it's probably just wistful and sad. "It's not like you can actually leave," he says.
Jack smiles a bit in return. "The Toronto branch misses you."
"No, they don't," Rodney says honestly. "You know damn well I'd be a drooling vegetable in Toronto General's psychiatric ward if I hadn't gone directly to Area 51."
Jack smirks softly. "Good career move."
"It was," Rodney says, meaning it. He sighs. "They need me here."
"Yeah." Jack nods. "Yeah, I can see that. You've..." he looks Rodney in the eyes. "You belong here," he says.
"Yeah," Rodney says seriously. "I do."
The silence moves in again.
"Well," Jack says, "So long, Rodney."
Rodney, very carefully, doesn't flinch. "So long, Captain Jack Harkness," he says.
Jack turns to leave, but stops at the door when Rodney swipes it open.
Rodney's expecting the hug, braces himself for it, even. Jack's one of the most touchy-feely people Rodney's ever met. But the kiss Jack gives him, hands warm and solid on his jaw, neck, shoulders, is completely unknown territory, astonishing. Jack's mouth is lush with heat, and Rodney wonders if what he can feel pouring through him--twists of electricity, dancing under his skin--is life, Jack sharing his life. If this is what it felt like for John.
John. And Rodney's the first to pull away.
Jack licks his lips, swallows.
"So long, Rodney," he says again, and then he's out of the room and down the hallway and gone.
"John! John! You're all right! It's okay! Look at me, it's okay!"
John snaps awake gasping and suddenly Rodney's there, touching his shoulder, his hair, face, and John surges up and grabs him, holding him tight, tight, tight, and he has his face buried against Rodney's neck, feeling the warmth of his skin, breathing.
"It's okay," Rodney says again. His hands are gently rubbing John's back. "It's okay. You're alive, John," he says. "You're on Atlantis, in the infirmary. You're okay. You're back. You came back."
"God, Rodney," John says. He holds Rodney tighter, dimly thinks he might be hurting him, but Rodney doesn't try to pull away, doesn't even move. "I was--I couldn't find you, and--"
"It's all right," Rodney says. "You're alive. It's all right."
John takes a deep breath, then another, as many as he can get. He remembers walking in the ruins, hearing a noise, and then nothing but pain and a cold, slow slide into black. "You brought me back," John says. He's calmer now, able to pull away so he can look at Rodney's face in the dim light, and he's thankful that Carson didn't turn the lights down all the way. He doesn't think he could have handled more darkness.
God, he'd missed Rodney. "I remember," John says. "It was dark, and I was looking for you, trying to find you for so long..." He moves his hand to curl it around the back of Rodney's neck. Rodney's skin radiates heat; John can practically feel the life burning underneath it, a promise, waiting.
"I'm sorry," Rodney says. "I'm so sorry." He shakes his head, sounding stricken. "I worked as fast as I could, I tried--"
"I know," John says. Rodney always rescues him in the nick of time.
Because he had been almost ready to stop fighting, and then he'd felt Rodney there, suddenly with him, pulling him back. He'd been struggling against the darkness as hard as he could, with every bit of his strength, his will, because he knew the instant he stopped, the instant he accepted that he was well and truly dead and there was nothing left to fight for, he'd...go.
And there'd been something moving, in the dark. Something so enormous and overwhelming that he couldn't even fathom it, couldn't even really think about it now, except that he'd known that the moment he let it come for him, the moment he said yes, okay, it would be over.
They were waiting for him.
And he'd known, as sure as he knew his name, that if he joined them he would be taken somewhere warm and beautiful and incandescent and endless as the sky. He would be complete, finished.
All he had to do was say yes.
And he almost had. He'd almost reached for them, said yeah, okay and gone, but he'd felt Rodney, searching for him, and he'd turned away from the completeness and the warmth and the light because Rodney was life, and John wasn't ready to be finished, yet. Not yet. He wanted to go back, to go home.
"Thank you." John pulls Rodney closer, whispers it into his hair. "Thank you for finding me."
"Do you really think I wouldn't?" Rodney bobs back from him. He looks shocked, maybe even hurt. "Don't you know I'd do anything to save you?" He cups the side of John's face. "Jesus, John," he says. "You--God, I'd do anything..." Suddenly he's crushing John against him again, arms hard and shaking around John's back. Rodney's forehead is on John's shoulder, and his breathing is rough and fast.
"You were gone," Rodney says, muffled and wet into John's skin. "You were gone and I didn't know--"
"Shh," John says. "Shh, shh. I'm here. It's all right. I'm here. You brought me back." He nuzzles at the side of Rodney's head until Rodney turns, and then John kisses him. He'd missed this, missed Rodney, so much. And Rodney's mouth is warm and tastes like salt and coffee and...
John draws back, puzzled. "Did... someone... kiss me? Before? Someone not you?"
"Um," Rodney says, looking abruptly flustered, and John can just make out the dim red of a blush staining that wonderfully warm skin as he wipes quickly at his eyes. "It was medicinal!" He blurts. "A purely platonic, medicinal--"
"Kiss," John cuts in, beginning to smile. "A purely platonic, medicinal kiss. With tongue."
Rodney's eyes widen. "What? With tongue? What?"
John grins at him, and maybe it's a little forced, but that's all right. He's all right--he's awake and holding Rodney and breathing and alive. "Kidding, Rodney," he says. "I'm kidding."
Rodney blinks. "Oh," he says. "Well, you shouldn't do that."
John laughs. "Don't worry, I won't do it again."
For some reason that sobers Rodney right up, and suddenly he's embracing John again.
"I'm going to get a Goa'uld sarcophagus sent here," Rodney says, and his voice is deadly serious. "I don't care how, I don't care how dangerous it is--I can't go through this again, John." He heaves in a breath and it shudders. "Please don't make me go through this again."
"I'm sorry," John says, and he's apologizing for having assumed the room was safe, and for dying, and for not being able to promise that Rodney won't have to go through this again--watch John die again--because John can't.
"It's okay," Rodney says. He moves his head enough so that he can kiss John's lips, chaste and sweet. "I know. It's all right."
"Yeah," John says. And it is. He's alive and safe and with Rodney, for as long as that will last, and that's a lot. That's really one hell of a lot.
"John," Teyla says quietly, "I need to ask you a question."
John glances over at her, but she's staring into the fire, not really looking at him. She's been subdued for days, troubled, her normal serenity eclipsed by a brittle, fragile calm. She doesn't talk very much, rarely smiles, and John thinks he's maybe caught a flash of real fear on her face, when she looks at him sometimes, though John has no idea if the fear is for or of him.
And Rodney keeps looking at her guiltily, like he wants to say something to her, but he has no idea what.
Ronon was the one who suggested that maybe they should get out of the city for awhile. John's still officially on light duties, though he feels perfectly fine, so he had no problem with clearing a two- or three-day camping trip to the Mainland with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth has taken to touching him all the time, short brushes of her fingers on his arm or shoulder, like she's making sure he's still there. It was starting to get a bit unnerving. John feels much more comfortable out here, just him and his team.
Rodney's been touching him a bit more than normal, too, but John doesn't mind that. Maybe they bump shoulders a little more when they're walking, or maybe their legs touch sometimes, when they sit side-by-side. It's all familiar and easy, and it's Rodney; John likes it.
Of them all, Ronon doesn't treat John any differently than he ever did. John got a typically bone-crushing hug to welcome him back, and the first day John was let out of the infirmary, Ronon followed him around like a big, angry lion, as if a Wraith were going to leap out of a storage room any second. It was actually kind of touching, though John would never, ever, say that.
Teyla had given him her people's version of a hug, and said how very glad she was to see him, but she'd looked distant and sad. She still does. This is the most she's said to him all day.
John's sure it has something to do with his having died. He just doesn't know what to do about it. He can't make it not have happened, no matter how much he might wish he could, and he's here now, alive and healthy as he's ever been (maybe a little healthier even, according to Carson), and he has no idea what more Teyla needs from him, what he should do.
So he does what he does best--he turns to look at her, smiles the most charming smile he can muster this late at night, and says, "Go for it," and he promises himself that he'll tell her anything.
"What was it like?" Teyla asks him, hesitantly. "When you were dead?"
"Oh," John says, very softly. Maybe he should've figured she'd ask him that, but no one else has. Rodney won't even talk about it anymore.
"It was...dark," he says. He remembers that, but it's been getting harder as the days go along. It's all fading, like a dream in the morning.
Teyla looks away. "I see," she says. Her voice is calm, but John can see her hands clench very tightly in her lap. Her eyes close as if she's in pain. "Was it terrible?"
"No!" John says quickly, because he doesn't know how she could even think that. He'd been overwhelmed and unwilling and yes, even scared, but the idea that she thinks he'd been suffering is awful. "It was..." But he doesn't know how to finish the sentence, and Teyla's looking at him with such tentative, fragile hope that he reaches to her, covers one of her fisted hands with his own. "It wasn't terrible, Teyla," he says. "There was, there was something with me. I wasn't alone."
Teyla's eyes are wide open, and her hand under his begins to shake. "Rodney said there was nothing," she tells him, and suddenly her sadness, Rodney's desperate apologies, all fall into place. He hadn't known. All this time, and he hadn't known that this is what they believed.
"No, Teyla," John says, fervently, trying to make sure she understands. "It's not nothing. It's big, it's..." But he doesn't know how to describe it, each time he tries to grasp at the memory it slips further and further away, like a handful of wind. He shrugs in apology. "It's not nothing."
Teyla is nodding slowly. She's leaning closer to him, though John's not sure she's even aware of it. He can see her mouth moving before she speaks, as if she's uncertain of what her words should be. "Can you tell me?"
John smiles at her. And Teyla smiles in return, bright and genuine and hopeful.
"Yeah, okay," John says. And he tries.
Author's Notes: Torchwood is a BBC spin-off of Doctor Who. The official website is here, though you have to actually be in the UK to be able to access most of the cool stuff. You can find out more about the show here.
This is Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman).