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Title: The Secret Language of Grief, Book One
Characters: J. Sheppard, R. McKay, C. Beckett, E. Lorne, R. Woolsey, and various OCs
Pairings: None
Warnings: Violence, Mentions of Major Character Deaths
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and her characters are the property of MGM.  All I lay claim to is my passion for the show and the original characters within this work of fiction
Summary: 20 years after the Wraith decimated Earth in The Great Culling, the SGC is once again ready to resume the Atlantis Expedition. Top brass wants only one man for the job, unfortunately for them John Sheppard has been MIA since the end of the War. A slip-up reveals John's current location, but will he be able to forgive the ultimate betrayal and return?

Chapter 17 - Poisoning the Well
Part Two

"Hey John, can I talk to you for a minute," Rodney asked as the three friends made their way through the lower levels of the SGC and towards the conference room where the M*A*S*H marathon was to be held. John let his pace slow so that he fell back behind Carson and Lorne and Rodney came up beside him.

"Sure buddy, what's up?"

"I was just wondering... did you happen to talk to Landry about Torren joining the expedition?" Rodney asked, and John stiffened. He thought back on his conversation with Landry a few days ago and worried suddenly that he'd unintentionally crossed some boundary of Rodney's by doing so.

"I did," he started cautiously. "I hope that was okay."

"No, it's great actually," Rodney assured him. "If you had said something to him, I wanted to make sure I thanked you for it. The paperwork was approved yesterday and TJ should be here by next week!"

"That's great buddy! I'm happy to hear it." He clapped a hand on Rodney's shoulder.

"Well, I appreciate the fact that you talked to Landry for me. I have a feeling that made all the difference."

"I don't know Rodney," John said thoughtfully. "I wouldn't be so sure."

"What to do you mean by that?" Rodney's eyes went wide with panic for a moment and John quickly explained.

"Just that Landry seems to be on the up and up a lot more than we give him credit for. When I asked him about making sure Torren's transfer went through, he seemed to know exactly why I was asking."

"He said something!?" The panic was back and John let out an exasperated breath.

"No, Rodney, he just got that look in his eye like he knew exactly what I was up to."

"Oh yeah," Rodney chuckled a second later, "the look. I'm well aware of it, as are most of the people on this base anymore. Still, no one besides you and Carson should know that I have a son..."

"Could be the fact that the kid's name is TJ McKay, Rodney. That's kind of a dead giveaway so you can't fault the guy for putting two and two together."

"Oh come on Sheppard!" Rodney exclaimed with mock affront, "Give me at least a little credit here! I mean, hello, astrophysicist. We gave him Diane's maiden name. It cut down on the questions and in a pinch we would just tell people it was his birth mother's family name."

"Well that'll come in handy when arrives on base. Hey, I didn't even think to ask, do you have a picture of him?" John asked and Rodney's face lit up.

"Yeah, actually!" The scientist beamed, fishing his wallet out of the back pocket of his BDU pants. He pulled a creased and careworn photograph from the folds of his wallet and handed it over to John.

The photo was small, and faded like it had been through the wash a time or two, but the face smiling up at him from the picture was still as clear as ever. Torren John Emmagan was the spitting image of his mother and John stared down at the photograph clutched in his hand, something pulling at the center of his chest. "That's one good looking kid, Rodney." He said thickly and handed the photo back to the scientist.

"I like to think so," Rodney replied as he looked down at the picture with another proud smile. "Though I can't really take any credit for that. Now his brain on the other hand..."

Oh here we go. "Let me guess," John smiled. "Baby Einstein DVDs 24/7 and cognitive development exercises?"

Rodney's face fell. "Diane wouldn't let me."

John threw his head back and laughed. "Seriously?" But Rodney only looked away with a frown. John had to meet this woman.

"I was tough on him when it came to school, though. That was always top priority."

"I can imagine," John chuckled and wiped away the moisture that had gathered at the sides of his eyes from laughing. He could just picture Rodney's idea of a fun summer afternoon spent at the play ground collecting samples of sand and naming all the grains after elements on the Periodic Table of Elements, Torren having to help put them in the property order before he was allowed to go and play on the swings like all the other kids. "I'm really looking forward to meeting him."

"You're gonna love him, John. He's so much like Teyla sometimes, it's not even funny."

"It's nice to think that a little piece of her still exists, ya know?" John waxed a little wistfully and Rodney nodded solemnly beside him.

"When we were on that Hive, it never even occurred to me about TJ being back on Atlantis. It wasn't until after, when Kanaan came up to me to ask where she was..." Rodney paused and John stayed silent beside him. He'd never heard this part of the story before. "...But I couldn't tell him. I sent him over to find you."

"Ah," John said quietly.

After the Super Hive had been destroyed and word had reached Atlantis that other Wraith ships had received the coordinates to Earth and were attacking, it had been utter chaos. In the mad scramble to get Atlantis turned around, a lot of the more minor details of that day had kind of coalesced into this one heaping mess of jumbled moments in John's head. Rodney's subtle reminder of one particularly horrible part of that day had pieces starting to break away from the main body of the mass: Kanaan, standing in the middle of a corridor, blocking John's way with a squirming Torren John clutched in his trembling arms. A determined refusal to move until he was told exactly what had just happened to the mother of his child. There was a reason John had blocked those particular memories from his mind. He could remember the look on Kanaan's face now as the prospect of a life without Teyla ran through the man's thoughts on overdrive and couldn't help but wonder if that was perhaps the exact moment Kanaan had entertained the idea of leaving his young son behind. Jesus, fate really was fickle, wasn't she?"

"I'm sorry about all that," Rodney said from beside him, pulling John from his thoughts. "I keep doing that to you, don't I?"

"What?" he rasped, clearing his through of the emotion that tried to clog it.

"I keep ambushing you in hallways. It's not intentional, I swear."

"Don't worry about it, Rodney," John smiled. "According to Fitzpatrick, I need to face all of this crap anyways. It's all part of the "healing process"." John did the air quotes and everything.

"Well it's all a load of crap, if you ask me," Rodney muttered.

"Oh?" He let his eyebrows raise with the question. Fitzpatrick's method was actually helping so he was interested to hear what Rodney had to say next.

"I don't mean for you, John. I just mean in general. Psychology is just a bunch of wanna be scientists sitting around trying to get us all to share our feelings with each other. Maybe it's working for you, but I don't put much stock into it."

Leave it to Rodney McKay to look down his nose at any branch of science that wasn't his own. John had half a mind to get into a debate with the scientist over his easy dismissal of that particular field of medicine, but decided against it in the end. It had been a long day already and they were almost to the conference room anyway.

Being a member of the Stargate program was no walk in the park. The members of the off-world teams in the Stargate and Atlantis programs had demanding and dangerous jobs and there never was any guarantee that they would make it back home after stepping through that event horizon. As was the case with any high-stakes, high-stress job, it was important to find some sort of outlet for all that pressure. John had found his on the running track and in the cockpit of a Puddle Jumper or an F302. For Ronan it had been found in the sparring sessions he conducted with the Marines on Atlantis and Teyla found hers in the Bantos. They all had managed to find some way to diffuse the time bombs they would bring back with them on especially difficult missions and the SGC had had the good sense to recognize the need for allowing their people to decompress in any way they saw fit: Be it drinks at the Officer's Club or an all night M*A*S*H marathon in a brand new, state of the art conference room. It was surprising really. The government rarely ever got it right, but the SGC had done a good thing here and John was already making plans of his own to create an officer's club on Atlantis.

When John entered the low light of the conference room a moment later, he had to stand in the doorway for a second and blink into the dim light. He understood now why Landry had decided to take over a bit of the space from the old conference room for his office. This new one they had built was pretty damn impressive. Set up much the same way as the sunken lecture halls he remembered from his time at college, the auditorium like space could probably hold the whole of Cheyenne mountain without breaking a sweat and was equipped with a floor to ceiling white wall that was perfect for screening movies. Everything was controlled from a smoky glassed room set back behind the main seating and John could hear Lorne fumbling around inside of it. Rodney pushed past him to go and join him in the control booth, but John opted to stay out in the open space of the conference room and look around rather than get in the middle of all that technology mumbo-jumbo.

The conference room had stadium like seating that reminded John a little of the movie theater he used to take Carrie to about 45 minutes out of Blue River in Prairie Du Chien. Tall backed and comfortable looking leather chairs lined the various levels of the room, curving around the space in gentle symmetrical arcs. Each level was equipped with a long counter for laptops and taking notes and John headed over to the topmost level where Carson had taken a seat and was drumming his fingers against the tabletop in some absentminded rhythm. Rather than try to slide in behind Carson, John just settled himself on the topmost stair beside Beckett's chair and rested his elbows on his knees.

"Everything okay?" He asked the doctor who hadn't acknowledged him at all when he sat down. After a beat when Carson still didn't answer, John tried again.

"Carson!" He said a little more forcefully and the doctor finally turned his way.

"No need to yell. I'm sittin' right here, lad."

"You alright?" He asked, eyeing his friend skeptically. He couldn't really tell for sure in the low light of the conference room, but Carson looked kind of pale.

The physician shook his head as if to try and clear his thoughts and massaged his temples. "M'fine lad. Just a headache and that haggis from dinner isnea sitting too well with me either."

"Carson, that haggis wouldn't have sat well with anyone. I don't know how you can eat that shit." John said with a smile and Carson let out a low laugh that died on his lips a moment later as he stretched with a wince.

"Damn joints," he muttered and John chuckled.

"We're not as young as we used to be, that's for damn sure."

"That we are not. Funny thing is, I dinnea feel old. My mind tells me I can still do all of the things I used to. It's my body that cannea seem to keep up anymore." As if to reiterate his point, Carson flexed an elbow with a grimace.

"I watch those kids heading out on the SG teams and it's so weird to think that I won't be doing that on Atlantis anymore. I don't know if I'm ready to be behind a desk yet, Carson..." John glanced down at the hands he had clasped between his knees.

"Och, I wouldnea worry about tha' if I were you. The SGC is damn lucky to have you and you're going to do a bonny job, laddie. I just know it."

"Well thanks, Carson." John said genuinely, looking back over at his friend. "I appreciate that."

"Well it's the truth," Carson smiled then quickly changed the subject. "So when are we supposed to get this bloody show on the road? I've been looking forward to Starsky and Hutch all week."

"M*A*S*H you mean," John corrected and Carson glanced over at him as if confused.

"What did I say?"

"You said Starsky and Hutch."

"Did I now? I think you're goin' deaf in your old age Rodney," Carson snorted and John couldn't tell if he was being serious or making some kind of joke.

"You sure you're alright?" he asked again and Carson waived a hand through the air.

"Never better, Laddie," he replied in a sing-song voice. "Never better."

John opened his mouth to prod Carson further but movement behind them in the control booth had him glancing over his shoulder.

"John, please come in here and see if you can talk some sense into your friend before he breaks something important."

Rodney was standing outside the control booth with hands on his hips and looking irritated as hell and John sighed before pulling himself up from the step, not really sure what good he was going to be able to do in there. Carson got up as well to follow along behind John and the only indication he got that something was very, very wrong was the soft "oh" the doc issued before thumping heavily to the ground.

The word was softly spoken; issued as if Carson had suddenly found the simple solution to some complex problem. John whipped his head around at the sound of the thump and watched in horror as his friend's body began a vicious somersaulting dive down the several flights of steep stairs leading to the bottom of the conference room. John was off and headed down the stairs in an instant, even before Rodney had time to gasp and give a strangled cry from behind him. He took them two at a time, knee screaming at him with each jarring step as if someone was hacking unrelenting ice picks into the cartilage of the joint, but there was no time to worry about that now. Carson was nearly to the bottom and John couldn't tell if it was just his shocked brain playing tricks on him, or a figment of his own imagination, but he could swear he heard bones crack each and every time Carson's body connected heavily with a new step. But there was no way John was going to reach him in time to stop his descent and he skidded to a halt and fell to his knees on the floor beside Carson when he finally reached the bottom.

"Carson!" He choked and reached out towards his friend.

Carson's arm was broken, he could tell that right away, pale white bone protruding from torn flesh visible just below the man's left elbow. The tear was bleeding freely but Carson had landed in a heap on his side after finishing his fall down the stairs and the arm was partially trapped beneath him. John's first instinct was to roll the doctor onto his back, but muddled memories of half-absorbed medical training scratched at the back of his panicked thoughts and warned him not to do it. Carson could have some kind of spinal injury from the fall and if John moved him, he risked paralyzing the man or injuring him even further.

John pressed trembling and unsure fingertips to the exposed side of Carson's neck and tried to ignore his own heartbeat pounding away in his ears making it impossible to focus on anything else. At first there was nothing and he cursed crudely before pushing in harder against the older man's carotid and sending up a silent plea to the universe not to let Carson Beckett be dead. This wasn't supposed to happen again. One violent death was enough and Carson was supposed to go with him to Atlantis then die an old man in his bed. Carson Beckett had more people to save, John included, because he couldn't do this without the unwavering loyalty of his friends. No, he had too much left to do and John held his breath as he willed his fingertips to find some sign of life.

When the nerves in his fingers finally registered a swift yet thready rhythm, John let out a choked sob and let his head fall forward in relief.

"What the fuck just happened!" Rodney yelled with an uncharacteristic curse, coming to a halt just beside John on the floor and he pulled his eyes away from his friend's still form to blink up at Rodney.

"He just collapsed. We were talking about the marathon and he kept trying to tell me we were going to watch Starsky and Hutch. He was right behind me!"

"Should we move him?" Rodney asked, eyeing the growing pool of blood beneath Carson's arm with a swallow.

John shook his head. "That fall was really nasty. I don't want to hurt him further by moving him."

"Lorne went for help. They should be here any minute," Rodney promised and John nodded before focusing back on Carson when movement beneath him caught his eye. For one brief moment relief flooded John's system and he half expected to look down see Carson's eyes fluttering open with regained consciousness, but John's stomach bottomed out a second later when he realized it was the physician beginning to seize.

"Shit!" He panicked and knocked Rodney's hands away when the scientist moved in to try and hold Carson down.

"Don't do that!" He snapped, more forcefully then he intended to and Rodney yanked his hands back as if he'd just been scalded. The look he gave John next nearly broke his heart, but there were rules they had to follow. Rules were important and he ran them through his head. Rule # 1: don't try and hold a seizure victim down. Rule #2: remove any obstacles the victim might hit as the convulsed.

Shit.

"Make sure he keeps breathing, Rodney," John ordered and he set to work cushioning Carson's head as best he could with the jacket he tore away from his frame before pulling himself up off the floor to mercilessly shove tables, chairs and a large wooden podium out of the way of Carson's flailing limbs. Rodney's desperate eyes flitted back and forth between the job he'd been given and what John was doing until, finally convinced that everything was far enough away, John collapsed back down on the floor beside them, panting heavily. "Where the fuck is Lorne and the medical team!" he breathed, trying to ignore the lancing pains shooting up his thigh from his abused knee.

Rodney looked over at him again with panic painted plainly across his face as Carson's convulsions intensified and sent the doctor's body into painful looking paroxysms. John didn't know what to do with his hands.

"John... what if..."

"Don't go there, McKay," he stopped the man, trying not to get angry at the desperate tears he saw forming in the scientist's eyes. Rodney blinked them away and John cast his eyes up to the conference room entrance, relieved when Evan Lorne's form finally darkened the doorway.

"Medical team's two minutes out, guys!" he called down to them, running down the stairs and coming to a stop next to Rodney.

"Sheppard, is he... is he breathing?" John was pretty sure Lorne had meant to ask if Carson was still alive and John nodded up at him, directing his eyes at Rodney and Lorne got the hint.

"Rodney, why don't you let me take over," the colonel suggested gently, and Rodney gave up his spot on the floor without comment to stand off to the side in silence. Lorne pressed fingertips to Carson's throat and checked his pulse just as John had done what felt like hours before.

"It's too fast, isn't it," he asked when Evan finally pulled his hand away to glance back up at the conference room entrance as if willing the medical team to suddenly appear there out of thin air. But more disturbing: he didn't answer the question.

"They're gonna to be here soon, John," Lorne said strangely, emotion coloring his voice in a way John had never heard before. Carson Beckett meant a lot of things to a lot of people and John didn't think he could take losing him all over again. He'd already lived through that nightmare once before.

"They'll be here soon," Lorne repeated, a little less convincingly. "And they'll have the antidote."

"Antidote?" He asked stupidly and Loren's eyes widened for a second.

"He's been poisoned, John." he said and Rodney gasped. Both men kneeling on the floor looked over at the scientist.

"Of course," he said like his thoughts were far off.

Lorne recovered first and looked back over at John to explain. "This is exactly what happened to all the other ATA gene carriers when they were poisoned," Evan explained, looking down at Carson whose convulsions had slowed somewhat, though the docs extremities had begun to take on an unnerving cherry red color. "It's all the same symptoms but we prepared for this John," Lorne continued. "If we caught it in time and depending on how much he was dosed with, it might still be okay," but Lorne's eyes didn't back up his promises. They were wide and lost and John fought back a shudder before glancing down at Carson who's body had finally stilled.

"What is it?"

"Cyanide." Lorne answered simply and John closed his eyes and clenched his jaw.

Cyanide was the capsule the Russian spies in his favorite kinds of movies crushed between their teeth after being discovered. Cyanide was the poison secret agents kept on hand least they be taken alive and death was the better alternative to being held captive. It wasn't something that showed up on a military base and it certainly wasn't something that was used to murder his friends.

The seconds ticked by like hours but finally movement on the stairs above them heralded the arrival of the Medical Team and John was pushed unceremoniously out of the way and herded over to where Rodney stood, silent as the grave with his arms folded over his chest. John couldn't help but wonder if they'd made it in time, wonder if their actions (or lack thereof) had been enough to keep Carson Becket alive.

The medical team wasn't pulling any punches and he leaned against one of the tables he'd pushed out of the way to take some weight off his now throbbing knee. He watched the events unfolding before him in a kind of detached haze. It was so strange, being the one on the outside observing all the madness for once. Usually it was him lying on the floor beaten and broken to hell by some indigenous monster or crazy tribe of unwilling traders so it was an entirely eerie feeling being the one waiting helplessly on the sidelines to see if a friend lived or died. And he didn't like the feeling all that much.

But Lorne had said there was an antidote and John held tight to that one glimmer of hope out there in the darkness. This wasn't a death sentence. If fate gave them a break for once, there was a very real chance that Carson Beckett made it out of this alive and if he did, John was going to say all the things he'd been meaning to say to the man. He was going to thank him for telling Lorne about the guy sent to kill him. He would make sure Carson was aware of the countless lives he touched, not just by being a physician, but by being an unwavering friend. He would make sure Carson Beckett knew he was the best damn thing to ever come out of the Pegasus galaxy... the man just had to pull through so John could make good on those promises.

But when someone called for the portable defibrillator, that last glimmer of hope blinked out in an instant and John Sheppard was left alone in the dark.


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