She stands in a sea of chaos, the blue of the event horizon catching the streaming patches of morning sunlight and reflecting them off in every direction to mingle with the military and infirmary personnel milling about. The added light makes the bodies around her seem to move faster as if the very particles in the air are charged with anticipation of what is on its way through the wormhole at this very moment. She knows it's just a trick of the light, that she moves at normal speeds and that no amount of wishing or hoping will get this over with faster.
As if to pull her from her meandering thoughts, the first vague figure emerges from the gate. A vested back the first glimpse she gets of what is happening half in her world and half in another. In an inversion of the chaos of earlier, the figure seems to emerge slowly, almost as if the gate is reluctant to release the matter it has consumed but eventually Major Lorne is through and the first thing she notices is the roughhewn wooden handles of a makeshift stretcher clutched in his white knuckled hands. The occupant of the stretcher reenters Atlantis feet first and the watery event horizon slowly pulls back to reveal torn flesh, charred cloth, and an oxygen masked man that cannot possibly be John Sheppard.
She is vaguely aware of when the rest of his team is through and the event horizon disengages, but cognizant thought is lost behind the roaring in her ears and the bedlam that erupts once more around her. Atlantis was holding her breath and the ancient city releases it once the electricity in the air dissipates and the awesome power governing the Stargate stops flowing. This release spurs them all into action, Elizabeth included, and by the time she reaches the place on the floor where they've lowered him before the gate like some sort of sacrifice, Carson has already straddled John's middle and begun CPR.
These moments are a testament to why each and every one of the men and woman in this room with her are handpicked by committee to be here. They are the chosen and John has been attached to every machine imaginable in the span of a moment and Carson's orders are carried out even before he has finished voicing them. She realizes too late that Major Lorne is at her elbow and talking to her in rushed words that her addled brain cannot comprehend at the moment... not with John lying on the gate room floor, half his insides on display for everyone to see. The sight makes her nauseous, but she cannot tear her eyes away from the trauma spread out before her, reminding her of her position and the words she spoke only this morning.
I'm aware of the risks, Rodney, but we're a go for the mission.
She tears her gaze away from John for a split second to search out Rodney's eyes, eager to find if they hold any anger or blame for her in them, but the doctor's focus is fixed on the man on the floor near their feet and he does not glance up to meet her eyes.
Major Lorne speaks her name again, the force he uses suggesting he's been trying to pull her focus back to him for a while now, and she looks over at him with something behind her eyes she cannot name. The look stops him mid-sentence and he closes his mouth and nods slightly, moving off to be lost in the blur of her peripheral vision to be dealt with later.
The gate room is unnaturally quiet and she finds herself in a cone of silence, her eyes and ears zeroed in on the man dying only a few footsteps away from her and the medical team trying desperately to resuscitate him. Carson is sweating, moisture beading on his forehead, dripping down his nose to splash in little drops on John's ashen face and she imagines she can hear the sound of the drop as it hits his skin. The doctor is working an already abused chest with punishing compressions and she gets lost in the rhythm he sets for a moment. She knows that there are things in this instant she needs to be doing, but John's gravity is intense, proof of its existence supported by the large crowd of civilian and military personnel alike that have gathered in around him, and it refuses to release her.
They are not here to gawk, they are here to mourn.
They intubate John with deft hands and at some point Carson must find some sort of heartbeat because he abandons his position over John and calls for the defibrillator paddles. Elizabeth has to fight down the urge to be sick as John's body follows the arc of the electricity, his torso rising off the stretcher as if seeking escape from the onslaught of foreign energy coercing along his body and his eyes open slightly. She catches a glimpse of the blood stained fabric beneath him when his back arcs upwards and she stifles a gasp with her hand.
There's so much blood.
Someone arrives with a gurney and in an instant a dozen pairs of concerned hands descend to help raise John off the stretcher and up on to more portable transportation. Machines she can't remember the names of go with him and before she can even blink back the tears that threaten to undo her, John is being rushed away from the gate room on four wheels, the gurney propelled forward by the anxiety building in the room and threatening to explode.
Even though she knows she will only be in the way, even though she knows there will be nothing at all that she can do to help, Elizabeth Weir follows, all the while trying to wipe away the memory of all that blood from her mind, the sucking noise the viscous fluid made as it tried to cement John in place and entomb him forever on the floor of the gate room. She doesn't stop until an arm shoots out to block her forward motion and she's at last face to face with Rodney McKay.
He's coiled like a snake about to strike and she realizes a panicked second too late that the emotion she sees in Rodney's face is not directed at her.
"I'm so sorry," She starts, and the anger that was painted on his face a moment ago drips away to be replaced by confusion and then finally understanding.
"It's not your fault Elizabeth." He says simply, like it's something she should already know... like she's a fool for letting guilt settle in around her where it's not warranted. If Rodney McKay could find a way to take his ability to make just about anyone feel stupid and use that power for good, the Atlantis base would be a completely different place to live and work. "He stumbled onto some kind of nest. The animal was just protecting its young."
Animal, yes, Lorne was trying to tell her something about that.
The disaster unfolding mere yards from where she stands interrupts her thoughts again and she follows Rodney into the infirmary, not missing his thankful glance when she chases away the nurse that attempts to stop them from entering.
"Sometimes it's good to be the boss," she thinks for an absentminded moment before remembering that it was her orders that had sent John and his team out on this mission in the first place. That thought has her mind quieting and the heaviness of what is happening before her draping down around her.
She catches glimpses of John through the arms of those trying to keep him alive and tries not to lose it when her eyes find the deep gashes or spy the rivers of blood cresting over his skin to pour down onto the floor. The rivers never last long though, some learned hand spotting the bleed and suturing the spot where John's blood keeps trying to escape. The blood looks for every possible route out and Elizabeth doesn't think she's ever seen so much red. There's a tense minute when John starts to seize and Rodney sprints away from her in an instant, words like "venom' and 'toxins' floating back to her on the wake of his departure from her side.
The noise from the room sneaks up on her then. Or maybe it's just that her brain is finally catching up to what's going on but suddenly the wail of the heart monitor is too much for her and she fights down the urge to cover her ears with her hands. Eyes dart in her direction every so often as she stands there. People are looking to her to remain in control and offer them some sort of port in this storm.
This is something she's good at, this whole "putting on a brave face" thing. This is her superpower and the reason she was chosen to be the leader of the expedition to Atlantis in the first place. Her thoughts may be racing along as fast as the staccato beat of her heart in her chest, but on the exterior she is the picture of cool, calm and collected. Her arms are crossed across her chest. Her stance is intimidating and speaks of control even though it's all (every single bit of it) a farce. She has no more control than the rest of them, no more control than Carson who's yelling at John now that the seizing and his heart have stopped once again.
Hold on John. Don't you dare give up.
Every person in the room is thinking it, their collective thoughts and prayers gathering in the space above John's bed until Elizabeth thinks she can almost see the dome they've created, a membrane to separate John from the oblivion calling for him from above.
They bring him back from the dead twice and then finally for good after Zelenka bursts in and waves an anti-venom serum in the air with such glee that Elizabeth is worried he'll drop the vial and all her mimicked control will have been for nothing. They inject the serum directly into John's IV port, putting the collective faith of every soul in Atlantis behind the genius of the scientists that have created the bright blue liquid that fades to aquamarine when it mixes with the saline already in the line. She finds that she is holding her breath and lets it out when Carson declares John stable enough for surgery. The operating room is one place in Atlantis that she is not allowed, no matter her station, and she cannot follow when they wheel him away once more.
Elizabeth finds herself looking out over the expanse where John has just been and catches a glimpse of the hopelessness on Rodney's face. There is an ocean of blood between them, scattered islands of red soaked gauze rising out of the ponds the blood has formed. She wonders what it would be like to wade across the expanse of gore, waist deep in John's blood offering to the Pegasus Galaxy, but shakes the thoughts away from her frame.
Rodney rounds the ocean of blood with his head down and she follows him out into the hall, wishing the infirmary had some sort of formal waiting room where they could all gather together and wait for news of John's fate. As it stands, however, there are only hard metal chairs and Teyla and Ronan together scrape them across the tiles of the hallway outside the infirmary to line them up side by side like chairs at a funeral. Elizabeth collapses into the nearest one and knows her duties will soon pull her away from this place... that she will have to get her information from second hand sources and that it will drive her mad, but she can't ignore her duty to Atlantis and knows deep down that sitting here in the hallway just waiting isn't the best use of her time right now. She should be in her office hearing reports about what went down on the planet she sent them to, if anyone else was hurt and what it was that ripped open John's flesh and landed him in emergency surgery. The idea that she will have to relive the day again and again from every member of John's team sends a shudder down her spine, the weight of it all making her center of gravity so heavy she feels off balance for the briefest of moments. The shudder gets Teyla's attention and Elizabeth feels the Athosian's warm hand wrap around her own but doesn't dare look up. She doesn't deserve comfort right now, not when she is shirking her responsibilities and certainly not while John is dying and she knows it was she that put him there.
In the end its Major Lorne who pulls her away and this time she doesn't ignore him or let him see that look in her eyes that sent him packing earlier. She talks with him all the way to her office and is relieved to find that her superpowers are working just fine, and somehow manages to get through several hours of briefings without falling apart completely.
It isn't the Wraith or the Genii or some new and unknown foe that has managed to rip John Sheppard apart, but a scared animal just trying to protect her nest and the newly hatched babies kept there. There are no reports of firefights or lapses in judgment from the marines that stream through her office, just accounts of John being in the wrong place at the wrong time and facing a behemoth with poisoned claws and the ability to breathe fire. She almost doesn't believe the last part, but the marines' scorched faces offer all the proof she needs and in the end she pencils P9X-524 onto a list of worlds to never, ever, under any circumstances, ever visit again. Every interview ends with a question on how the Colonel is doing and she manages, somehow, to never give a straight answer.
Its hours before she's able to head towards the infirmary again and when she finally escapes her office, the sun has set on Atlantis and its rays no longer fill the gate room. The Stargate stands in the gathering dark as imposing and impossible as ever and she finds herself stopping on the elevated platform leading to her office to stare out at it. The simple ring of metal anchored to the floor below her has the power of infinite possibilities and they stretch out before her in her mind's eye, each one taking a place along the corridors her brain creates to try and make sense of the enormity she contemplates. Every day she picks a code comprised of letters and numbers from a list and sends her friends out into the unknown and through an event horizon she doesn't completely understand. They do it on faith; faith in her and faith in the scientists that generate the lists she pulls their names from, and the burden suddenly becomes something heavy and alive around her shoulders.
She needs to see John in that moment and pushes away from the railing she finds herself leaning against. The corridors are empty and she doesn't see another soul and eventually reaches the hallway she left McKay, Teyla and Ronan in hours ago. The hall is empty and the chairs gone and she pauses before the doors to the infirmary. These doors are usually open to her, thrown wide to encourage visitors but this time they are closed and she puts both palms to the cool metal but does not push. Her mind conjures up all manner of scenes playing out behind these doors and she can't seem to make herself push past them and enter. There are too many unknowns, too many terrible outcomes that could be there waiting for her but she finally steels herself just enough to give the doors a shove.
He's in the back corner under dim lights and the hushed whispers of those around him. White strips of cloth bind the wounds of his chest together and she's reminded of an old mummy movie she once saw and chides herself for the strange thought. Ronan sits at the foot of the bed, a foot perched beside the outline of John's legs, absently fumbling with one of his dreadlocks. Rodney paces the space at the foot of the bed throwing Ronan irritated glances and she images he's asked the larger man more than once to take his foot off John's bed and take a chair like a normal person. Teyla sits in a chair beside the bed, her back to Elizabeth and she thinks she can hear faint humming but can't place the tune. It's probably one she's never heard anyway.
When they see her approach a few things happen at once. Ronan hops down from his perch on the bed and Rodney glowers at him. Teyla turns her head slightly then releases John's hand to stand and greet Elizabeth, silently relinquishing the chair she occupied in a gentle show of respect.
It is unnerving to see John Sheppard so still and she almost wants to tell a joke to see if he'll crack that half-cocked smile of his around the tube protruding from this throat. To see him so at rest goes against everything she knows and she struggles to take in his ashen skin, the mechanical rise and fall of his chest under the blankets they've covered him with, the leads and tubes disappearing or reappearing from beneath the hospital gown she knows he would protest having to wear. Her mind rebels against all these things and the sob makes it past her lips before she can check it.
She closes her eyes against the tears and prays that no one touches her just then because to do so would bring about the end of her. She holds herself together from the inside and doesn't make another sound, instead raging and screaming against it all in the recesses of her mind. No one moves and no one makes her show what's really going on inside and for that she is grateful. She has a persona to uphold and no one must ever know how very much she cares for the members of her elite off-world team.
Emotions once more in check she risks taking John's hand in her own and his fingers are cold when she touches them. Blood loss, she imagines, and her eyes follow a red line painted against the white of the blankets up to where it meets a bag of blood. How much of that have they pumped back into him today? The blood is like a bright neon sign above John's head, announcing again and again just how close they came to losing him today. She squeezes his hand to make sure he still exists and that this has not all been some sort of elaborate plot by her brain to cope with losing him, but he's still solid under her touch. She lets out another shaky breath and with it goes a bit of her apprehension. He's alive and under the care of one of the best physicians Elizabeth has ever had the privilege of knowing and she takes some comfort in that.
Carson is a constant calming presence in the infirmary and she can see why the patients under his care do so well. He is as much an asset to the sick as he is to those who keep vigil over them and his constant reports on John's condition are a comfort. If this were a normal hospital on earth she would have been kicked out long ago but here the staff smiles sadly and works around her, some of them pulling up the chair on the other side of John to keep watch with her when she is the only one around. She imagines its nice for them to see that she's human and cares for the people she oversees and she doesn't care that they see her like this now that the crisis has passed.
She stays by his side through it all: through the days after the breathing tube is removed and he remains unconscious for no apparent reason, the terrifying night an infection overwhelms his body and fever rages so absolutely inside of him that Carson has to ice him down to bring his temperature back down, the week when pneumonia invades his lungs and the ventilator makes another appearance again and they almost lose him for good this time. Through all of this she keeps her watch until the day finally comes when he opens his eyes and she can't help but let the entire city know about it through the PA system. It's far from over and he has a long road to recovery before him but he smiles that smile at her and for the first time in a long time she gets the chance to smile back.
They regale him with the tale of his brush with death until sleep pulls his eyelids down once more and he's lost not to the absolute blackness of unconsciousness but to the healing power of a restful sleep. Taking up the chair beside him one final time and feeling a sense of ease settle over the infirmary, Elizabeth closes her own eyes and follows after her friend into dreams.