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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 21 - A Matter of Perspective
Part One

The American Military loved its rules. There was procedure and proper protocol in place for just about everything and not even lead scientists of major top secret programs were allowed to deviate from those rules. That was how Rodney McKay came to be slumped in an abandoned chair in a hallway just off the medical wing, covered in John Sheppard's blood with head resting in his hands.

He'd yelled, he'd fought, but in the end, they hadn't let him in.

'Procedure', they'd said. And Rodney McKay hated it.

If this were any other type of medical emergency, he would have long ago retreated to his lab. Rodney had always been the type of man to throw himself into work. Not sit idly by through desperate hours of waiting, twiddling his thumbs and drinking cup after cup of bad infirmary coffee in sterile waiting rooms. It wasn't that he didn't care - he always cared - but it always seemed to be better for everyone involved if he just stayed away. It was in those times where he sat feeling helpless, that he truly became an asshole. When there was nothing to do with his intellect, that was when the old Rodney McKay came out to make life miserable for everyone around him.

But there was nothing normal about this particular medical emergency and while Rodney had toyed with the idea of heading back to his lab briefly, the gravity of John Sheppard was strong and it had pulled him into a constant orbit that he had been unable (no, unwilling really) to escape from.

The chair Rodney was occupying was tucked up against a wall in a hallway he'd never been in before and located just outside the SGC surgical suites. For hours he'd been waiting there for news of his friend, and for hours the door a few yards down from the little row of chairs he'd made his new home, had remained resolutely closed. He'd been trying to take it as a sign that John Sheppard still lived, that they hadn't, in fact, pulled one of those sterile white sheets up over his head and declared him dead. Rodney didn't think he could handle seeing John that way. The man had, and would always be, the epitome of strength and vitality in Rodney's eyes and seeing him otherwise just wouldn't compute. It would crash his systems, and Rodney was only barely holding it together as it was.

John had been wheeled away… Rodney looked down at his watch, remembering suddenly that it hadn't worked for days and resisted the urge to get up out of his chair and put a fist through the opposite wall. But that was more John's style and something he would have done, Rodney figured, if their roles had somehow been reversed. He decided, instead, just to sit in his chair and rage at the universe for what had been done.

Regardless of the time, John had been wheeled away too many hours ago and those hours had passed by for Rodney in a fuzzy haze of nondescript people bending over him and asking if he wanted anything. The answer had always been 'no', of course. They couldn't possibly give him what he wanted, but more than once he'd pulled the cell phone from out of his pocket and contemplated the numbers he brought up onto the screen. They were the only two people in the world he really wanted with him in that moment, only he didn't know how to ask for their help considering that he'd been absent from both their lives for so long.

But even though Rodney was alone right now, during the last hour or so of his vigil there had been a few visitors, and not all of them had been unwanted. Zelenka had stopped by to let him know that Carson was doing well and showing signs of coming out of the coma. There had been more to it than that, but Rodney had been too busy fuming over an argument he'd just had with the Marine guarding the entrance to the operating rooms to register much else than Radek's fervent promise to watch over Carson while they were all dealing with what had happened to John. Lorne had come in with them but he had needed to disappear soon after to go and deal with the aftermath of Sean Fitzpatrick's, or Liam Maguire's (or whatever they decided to call him - Liam, Rodney figured) attack on the mountain. There were going to be a lot of questions in the coming days about how that kid had managed to infiltrate the uppermost ranks of a top secret military operation and Rodney figured his time would soon be in high demand in that regard.

And yet, with just the little bit of information he'd been able to garner in his hurried searches in the Puddle Jumper, Rodney figured the investigation wouldn't be allowed to get very far. As soon as he started exposing how any information pertaining to Liam Maguire had been conveniently wiped from all public record, or about how everyone's eagerness (Rodney's included) to get the expedition up and running again had led to corners being cut, he knew things would be shut down and covered up fairly quickly. It was just another one of those little nuances of working with the American Military that he'd come to expect. Someone would take the fall eventually, and Rodney just hopped it wouldn't be someone he knew.

Rodney sat back in his chair and ran tired hands through what was left of his thinning hair. His shirt sleeves were coarse and stiff and he stared down at the blood soaked fabric for a moment, lost in the memories of their frenzied flight back over to Cheyenne Mountain.

When John had lost consciousness in the cottage, Rodney had thought that was it. That they had finally lost John Sheppard for good this time. Lorne had been too busy trying to disarm the C4 that Fitz... Maguire had rigged to the underside of Carrie Sinclair's chair so he hadn't been there to see. John had been shot twice. Once in the shoulder and once terrifyingly close to where Rodney had been reasonably certain his heart was supposed to be. He was no physician, but even Rodney knew there was no coming back from a bullet to the heart, if Liam Maguire's aim had been true.

And what a place to aim for. If Rodney had sat John down and asked him where he thought his inherent strength came from, the man would probably say his Air Force pilot training. But ask anyone else involved with Atlantis – hell, anyone who had ever known John Sheppard at all for that matter - and they all would invariably say the same thing.

That it came from his heart.

The scientist part of Rodney's brain identified the heart as nothing more than a muscle located in the chest that pumped blood throughout the body, but he knew that wasn't the case with John. For Sheppard, his heart was what defined him. What gave him that irritatingly honorable need to take in strays and find them good homes within his own ranks. That attribute had always been endearing, but unfortunately for John, this time around, it had come back to bite him in the ass, and it just didn't seem fair. Those seven maddening minutes it took for the medical team to arrive in the cottage certainly weren't fair and the hands in Rodney's lap began to tremble as he let his thoughts wander back to that place once again.

Someone in their group had been a trained paramedic. Rodney had watched the stranger perform CPR on John while he had knelt on uneven floorboards that dug into his knees as he clamped hands down hard over the geysers of John's blood trying to well up from his chest. His friend's face had gone grey with blood loss and it was an image that had seared itself into the backs of Rodney's eyelids so that every time he closed his eyes, it was there to torment him again. Helplessness was not something Rodney handled well, and the scene that had unfolded mere hours ago had tested the very limits of his endurance.

John being pulled away from the wall by his boots so they could get at him better.

The pool of blood that had gathered beneath his body as Rodney tried to keep in what the chest compressions were pushing out.

Rodney had kept waiting for that moment when John would miraculously start breathing on his own again like they always did in the movies. It was that sputtering intake of breath that was important, because it always heralded the victim's sudden return to consciousness; a doctor's muttered assurance that he was out of danger coming only a moment later... But it hadn't happened that way and Rodney McKay had spent the next seven tormenting minutes waiting for help to arrive, wondering the entire time if the words he had just exchanged with John were going to be their last... If the hands he'd clapped over the holes were going to be enough to save him.

When help finally had arrived, it wasn't with the grand entrance Rodney had been hoping for. The medical team looked just as worried and anxious as he felt and he'd never seen more activity centered on one man before in his life. John was the focal point in a raging sea of churning color and disorder and Rodney had fixed his gaze on the epicenter of that storm and had never let it go. Not even in the jumper when Lorne had tried to hold him back from following the medical team in. Not during the frantic wheeled trip down unfamiliar halls and towards the SGC surgical wing. Rodney would have kept it up all the way to the very operating room if an arm hadn't reached out to halt his forward motion and stop him dead in his tracks. It had been a Marine, and a big one at that, and Rodney had reached the end of the line, even though he'd fought like hell to be allowed past it. But even he had given up in the end, because there were just some places in the world where even he would never be allowed to go, no matter who he was or what position he held within the SGC.

Still… he didn't have to like it.

And so he sat. Banished to the outer hallways of the surgical wing and left alone to wait anxiously for news on if John Sheppard had lived or died. Patience had never been one of Rodney's strong suites, ask anyone, so the waiting was driving him mad. Desperate for anything that might take his mind off the fact that John might be just beyond that damn door dying, Rodney pulled his phone out of his pocket and sighed at himself for not having thought to check it for the time. The screen glowed to life in his palm and just as he sat staring at it, trying to decide if 3 am was really an appropriate time to call Diane in New York, a door banged open from somewhere down the hall.

Rodney was up and out of his seat in an instant, but as soon as he realized it wasn't the door he'd been waiting for, he collapsed back down. The robbed figure slowly approaching with bandaged wrists was talking quietly with the guard who had opened the door for her and Rodney worried for a moment that he wouldn't know what to say to her. They'd shared so much and yet had never met, but when Carrie Sinclair sat down in the seat beside him and grabbed one of his hands to wrap it in hers, Rodney had a feeling there was nothing to worry about.

"Has there been any news?" She asked with worry filled eyes and Rodney shook his head almost angrily.

"No. I haven't moved from this spot for hours and no one's come out of that room since I got here." He inclined his head towards the door John had disappeared into hours ago and Carrie glanced over at it. Her pale blue gaze lingered there for a moment as if she was willing the door to open on sheer force of will alone. It didn't work.

Rodney could see immediately what John saw in Carrie Sinclair. Her wide eyes hinted at an intelligence that her youthful face and pale blond hair tried to mask. Those eyes were bright and alert, too, even at this late hour – and she seemed to see everything around her all at once. So much so that Rodney had the sneaking suspicion that, even if John had never revealed anything about his past to this woman, she would have guessed most of it anyway.

Carrie had lovely wavy hair that she had tied back away from her face in a messy ponytail, and she was pretty, even wrapped up in an ugly patterned infirmary robe with white bandaged wrists. A souvenir, Rodney figured, of the ropes Liam Maguire had used to tie her to that chair.

"How are you holding up?" He asked his new friend as he tried to take his hand back, but Carrie held it steadfast.

"I'm okay," she replied, not taking her eyes off the door. "Besides some abrasions on my wrists and ankles, they say there isn't much wrong with me."

Carrie let go of his hand then and shifted under her robe so that the ends of the sleeves slipped down to cover her bandaged and tapped wrists.

"Did anyone stop by and talk to you while you were in the infirmary? Did they try to explain any of this to you?" Rodney asked, gesturing around the corridor and Carrie glanced down the hall in the direction of the door she'd just come through. The guard was back at his post - the same Marine Rodney had chased away hours ago with the daggers he'd shot at the kid from his eyes for not letting him in to see John. The guard had decided to set up his checkpoint in an outer hall instead, after it had become apparent that Rodney was no longer a threat.

"No one will tell me anything," Carrie said a little stiffly, but her mouth pulled up into a kind smile, which she cast over in Rodney's direction, "but I did finally convince them to let me come and sit with you." The smile was sad and something stirred in Rodney then. Some kind of urge to make the smile happy again.

Yeah, he definitely got why John had picked her.

"Well, apparently we have plenty of time to wait. Why don't you take me through what you remember happening and I can fill in any blanks. Some of its top secret... well, most of it is really, but I'll tell you what I can." Carrie looked skeptical for a moment, but let out a weary sigh and started in on her version of events.

Rodney had heard most of what she told him through the earpiece connection he'd shared with John, but somehow, hearing it all again first hand, made it hurt all the worse. He'd missed some things too; Important things. Like how very close John had come to shooting Richard Woolsey in the head. He hadn't gone through with it in the end, but Rodney was no fool. He knew John Sheppard was still only human, no matter how many people at the SGC tried to think otherwise, and he could only imagine how enticing that pull of revenge must have been. But John had resisted and now the world would never really know if Richard Woolsey had been telling the truth when he'd said he had no knowledge of what he had forced John to do. Still, Rodney couldn't help but feel some satisfaction at the thought that he was gone now. If Woolsey would have tried to get close to John again, Rodney had worried about what it would do to them all. Now it was as if they could finally close the book on that chapter of their lives.

Rodney's only lasting concern, should John pull through surgery and survive all this this, was that irreparable damage had been done to his soul. He'd put his trust in men like Richard Woolsey and Sea… Liam Maguire, and each and every time, he'd been betrayed on an unimaginable level. There were only so many times a man, even one as strong as John Sheppard, could be betrayed like that before he just wasn't able to bounce back from it anymore. He was going to be leery of everyone now and Rodney worried about how they were going to get him to open up and talk about what had happened. Liam Maguire posing as a psychiatrist wasn't going to make that easy. John had divulged things about himself to that kid that would thankfully be taken to the grave, but that didn't lessen the weight of the betrayal, or negate its catastrophic damages. No, the harm had already been done, and it would be up to Rodney to try and find some way to make it alright again.

Rodney realized his thoughts had wandered and he focused back in on what Carrie was saying. It didn't take him long to realize his assessment of the woman had been correct. Carrie Sinclair was smart and had most everything figured out already, though Rodney could neither confirm nor deny most of her suspicions. So when she was finally finished and he hadn't been able to help with much, Rodney could tell she was frustrated with him, though she tried hard not to let it show.

"Look Ms. Sinclair..."

"Oh please! You can stop right there, Dr. McKay," she smiled. "It's Carrie. Ms. Sinclair is my busybody 90 year old auntie who lives back in Blue River."

Rodney smiled at that. "Well, then the same goes for me. Call me Rodney."

"You know, he spoke about you a lot. John, I mean," she said with that soft sad smile again and Rodney had to look away.

"Oh yeah?"

"He never mentioned any of you by name, but when he would talk about the times before The Great Culling, there were always a few people he mentioned often. You know, I've spent, what… 5 minutes with you, and I already know which one you are." She laughed a little at that, though she pulled the robe in closer to her frame with a barely perceptible tremor.

"Uh-oh. Do I want to know?" Rodney asked, trying desperately to keep things light and it seemed to work.

"Maybe not all of it," she smiled, "but you should know he always talked about you as if you were his best friend or something. He never exactly was what you'd call an open book, but if John cared for you, you knew it."

She was looking away as she said it, but once she'd finished and began to turn back around towards him, Rodney let his eyes fall to the hands he had clasped in his lap. He was on the verge of something, some kind of edge, and he knew if he looked into her face and saw a hint of the years she had gotten to share with John while Rodney had thought him long dead, he was going to snap. It wouldn't be her fault and she sure as hell wouldn't deserve it, but his heart would take over his mouth, and that never turned out well for anyone. Carrie Sinclair had gotten to spend years with John that he should have spent on Atlantis with Rodney and the rest of the expedition. The woman sitting beside him, while extremely beautiful, didn't have a clue as to what was out there in the universe. What wonders and danger it held for anyone with the guts to go looking. Rodney doubted Carrie Sinclair had ever seen anything beyond the small towns surrounding Blue River Wisconsin. She knew nothing of other worlds and hostile alien races and while he could tell that she was smart, she was ignorant at the same time, and Rodney was trying very hard not to fault her for it.

"He's going to be okay," He blurted out suddenly. For whose benefit, he wasn't really sure, but Carrie looked away then and he let his frame relax a little. He could tell neither of them believed in what he had just said particularly, but it was out there between them now and Rodney took some comfort from it. He wasn't alone. He might be jealous of the woman sitting next to him, but at least she'd had the character to get herself out of the infirmary and find her way here to this hallway to sit with him.

Anxious for a distraction, Rodney started to ask Carrie more about what John had mentioned about him over the years, but the door at the end of the hall opening again pulled his attention away. He thought about ignoring it altogether, knowing now that it wasn't the door he was waiting for, and most likely just another unwanted yet well-meaning visitor trying to find out information about John's condition. Carrie was all the company he was interested in at the moment, but when he let his eyes glance over to the two men standing there talking to the guard at the checkpoint, Rodney stopped dead.

Carrie, noticing his sudden stillness, craned her neck around to look over at the two men about to make their way into the corridor.

"You know them?" She asked, looking back around to crease her brow at him quizzically. When he didn't respond, she put a concerned hand on his shoulder.

"Rodney, is everything alright?"

"No," he practically laughed. "Things are definitely not alright… but it's looking more and more like they might be."

Rising from his seat, Rodney didn't try to stop the wide smile that broke out across his face immediately. Nor did he care that he took the last few yards of the corridor at practically a run. He only had eyes for one of the two men walking down the hallway towards him, and when he finally reached them, Rodney pulled the younger of the two into an immediate and almost desperate embrace, breathing in the New York smells the kid had brought along with him. TJ seemed taller somehow, though Rodney knew that was impossible, just like he knew he really shouldn't be hugging his son right in front of Hank Landry like he was. He'd made a promise to himself not to reveal his relationship with TJ to anyone at first, but seeing the kid again, especially after all that had happened, had Rodney throwing all his carefully laid plans out the window in an instant. TJ was like a port in the storm and Rodney clung to that calm eye for as long as he could, Torren letting him do so for as long as he needed.

When Rodney pulled away, he held his son at arm's length to inspect him and there wasn't a dry eye in the place.

"How...?" he stammered, trying to ignore the moisture gathering in his own eyes.

"General Landry," Torren smiled, nodding over in the General's direction.

"As soon as I was debriefed on what happened, I grabbed your son and headed back to the SGC. I'm only sorry we couldn't get here sooner," Landry replied, smiling widely like he had been in on the big secret all along. Rodney knew well enough not to push the issue.

"How long can you stay?" He asked TJ instead and the young man looked over to Landry for the answer he apparently didn't have.

"As far as I'm concerned, his transfer is approved," Landry said proudly, like he was pleased with himself for having orchestrated such an unexpected family reunion. "So I guess the answer to your question is: permanently."

Exhaustion, worry, and the constant ebb and flow of adrenalin in Rodney's system over the past several days filled his eyes to near bursting then and he tried to inconspicuously wipe at them with the back of a hand.

"Oh! There's someone you both need to meet." Rodney exclaimed, grabbing Torren by the arm and leading him down the hall and back towards the bank of chairs.

"General Hank Landry, TJ, this is Carrie Sinclair. John's girlfriend from Blue River."

Both men nodded a "Ma'am".

"Carrie, this is TJ, my son, and General Hank Landry. He's the Commanding Officer here."

The group exchanged their pleasantries and Rodney watched it all from the periphery, never taking his eyes off Torren for a second. The kid really did seem taller; maybe regal was the word Rodney was looking for. He was still a little lanky, though ROTC training had managed to bulk him up a bit. He looked good, dressed to the nines in his best dress uniform and Rodney couldn't help but smile over at him as he sweet talked Carrie and had everyone laughing in spite of the dire situation in which they all found themselves.

Torren John had always been tall, he had his parents to thank for that, and Rodney could see a little bit of them both in the young man standing beside him. TJ had Teyla's hair and his father's coloring, and the only thing Rodney figured he could lay claim to was that intelligent spark behind the kid's eyes. The one that let everyone he met know that he was the smartest one in the room. That one Rodney couldn't decide was a good thing or not, settling finally on the conclusion that he wouldn't apologize for pushing his son to be the best that he could be.

"Well, Ms. Sinclair…" Landry was saying when Rodney started paying attention to the conversation again, but Carrie put a hand up to stop him mid-sentence.

"It's Carrie; please."

Landry smiled wide. "Well then, Carrie, why don't you come with me for a while, and we'll give these two a chance to catch up. What do you say?"

Carrie appeared amenable enough to the offer, but she looked over at Rodney questioningly. He already knew what she was worried about.

"If we hear anything, anything at all," he promised, "even if it's just someone coming out to tell me they ran out of gauze, I'll come and find you. Okay?"

She eyed him skeptically for a moment like she didn't quite believe it would actually happen, but Carrie allowed herself to be lead away by Landry a moment later. When the door finally closed behind their retreating figures, Rodney practically fell back into his seat and Torren took the one beside him.

"I can't believe you're here, TJ."

The events of the past few days were making him mushy, but Rodney figured a little mush was the least of his worries at the moment. His clothes were covered in someone else's blood, for one thing. So much so, he was surprised someone hadn't said something to him about it. Especially when Rodney had pulled TJ into such a desperate hug when he'd finally gotten his hands on him.

TJ being there was like the unsought for answer to some unspoken prayer and Rodney reached a hand out to grab hold of one of Torren's and squeezed. There's had never been what anyone would have called an overly affectionate home, but Rodney still knew how to show his adoptive son just how much he loved him and had always made it a point to take every opportunity he could to let that kid know just how very much he was wanted. Though TJ had no idea he'd been left behind by the one person in all the universe who was never supposed to abandon him by choice, Rodney couldn't help but feel like he had been paying for the fact that Kanaan had left, for the past 18 years.

Worried he'd lose it again, Rodney took his hand back and swiped at the dust he hadn't noticed before, covering his knees. It was from when he had knelt on the floorboards of that cottage beside John and when he moved his arms to clear them off, the fabric encircling his wrists crackled. Actually crackled. Rodney was a mess, but somehow having Torren John in the seat beside him made none of it matter anymore.

"Well, we owe it all to General Landry for getting me here," Torren said in response to Rodney's happiness at his arrival. "You should have seen him, Pops. He stormed into my COs office and demanded he release me early and then we jumped on his jet and came here. I gotta tell ya, this place definitely has its perks."

"Wait until you see Atlantis," Rodney smiled over at his son. "Then talk to me about perks."

He ran his hands over thighs crusted with dried blood. Little flakes of red puffed out from under his hands and floated to the floor beside his boots. He ignored them.

"How's General Sheppard?" Torren asked as if reading his mind and Rodney shrugged.

"No idea, They haven't been out to tell me anything."

"Have you eaten, Dad?"

"Now you sound like your mother." Rodney snorted, rolling his eyes. "And no, I haven't. But before you ask, I'm not hungry."

"Come on, Pops, you're not going to be any good to anyone if you're dead on your feet. How about a shower and a change and then you can show me what kind of Mess Hall this place has?"

"I don't want to leave," Rodney argued resolutely. The thought of abandoning John had anxiety filling the back of his throat with something bitter. "What if they come out to give us an update and I'm not here? And watch who you call me 'Pops' around, TJ. No one here knows you're my son quite yet." Pops had been something his son had started calling him around the age of 14 and Rodney had been having a love/hate relationship with the moniker ever since.

"Don't worry Dr. McKay," Torren responded sarcastically with a good-natured smirk. "I won't blow your cover. But seriously Pops, you need to at least change. You're a mess."

Rodney looked down at his shirtfront, really paying attention this time to just how much of a mess he really was. The blood had dried down to ruddy brown, too, and there was hardly any hint of the white shirt he had put on that morning.

So much. Too much, really.

"I don't think I can do it, kid." Rodney said with a sad shake to his head.

"Do what, Dad?"

"Leave without at least knowing if he's alive or dead."

Torren turned to regard him seriously, eyes running down Rodney's blood stained shirt front, absently twirling his hat in his hands. "What happened, Pops?"

"Crazy happened, Son. And he shot my friend in the chest today… Twice."

This time it was Torren who reached out to take a hand.




It was dim in the recovery room. The lights had been turned down low to try and give the exhausted group of people huddled in it some sense of peace, but he knew none.

Even Lorne stood in the doorway with arms folded across his chest and a shoulder propped up against the doorframe watching them all from a distance. For his entire life he'd been on the outer edge of most things, and this moment was no different. He wanted to go in – knew that he would even be welcomed - but no matter what Lorne tired, his feet stayed rooted in place. It was lighter out in the hall and his body cast an elongated shadow in the brick of yellow light near his feet, but no one had looked up when he'd darkened the doorway maybe 15 minutes ago. They were all too busy sitting quietly in their respective chairs watching John Sheppard die.

The gazes that settled over the bruised and battered body of the Brigadier General were mixed. Rodney was sitting next to a young man Lorne had never seen before and the scientist's eyes were red rimmed as if he'd been crying. Rodney was looking Sheppard over with a mixture of bitterness, exhaustion and complete helplessness. They were all warring for dominance over his face at once, and more often than not the young man sitting unobtrusively beside him cast concerned glances in his direction as if worried he might break. They were all in danger of that and Lorne made a mental note to ask about the unknown kid next time he saw Landry. The unidentified stranger's presence was making him tense, though by the look of things, Rodney knew the kid well. Maybe it was the overwhelming feeling of needing to protect the man lying comatose in the bed before him that did it, but Lorne was feeling very leery of strangers at the moment.

Taking up another chair on the other side of John's bed was Carrie Sinclair. Wrists freshly bandaged and clinging to one of Sheppard's hands like it was a lifeline, she spent most of her time watching the mechanical rise and fall of John's chest as if in some kind of trance. She was wrapped in one of those ugly infirmary robes that Lorne had luckily never had the displeasure of wearing, but she didn't seem to care about much else other than making sure the ventilator helping John to breathe, kept up its job.

Lorne shifted quietly in the doorway, trying not to disturb the reserved group, wondering all the while if he should just go in and give them the news he'd come to share. Carson Beckett was awake, only Lorne couldn't talk himself into going into that room and shattering the delicate truce everyone seemed to have made with what had happened.

Ever since coming to Atlantis all those years ago, Lorne had always been relegated to the outer edge of things. He hadn't minded it. There was always a need for a 2nd string quarterback, and his talents had never gone to waist. It was just that Evan Lorne had never officially fit in with John's team. They'd called him in to help on more than one occasion, and he'd always been willing to do whatever was needed, but he'd still always been circling the edge of greater men. If felt like that all over again, standing there in the doorway, feeling like he didn't have a place in that room amongst the mourners, but still having a job to do none the else. He'd come a long way since Atlantis. He was a Colonel now. John Sheppard's 2IC, if he was able to pull through all this and return to the expedition. Yet that disconnected feeling still remained and he didn't know whether it was just his imagination, or if things would slip back into the old ways if Sheppard lived. Even if that was the case, Lorne was still rooting for the Brigadier General to pull yet another miracle out of the bag.

From what Lorne had been able to pull out of a shell-shocked Rodney McKay a few hours ago, the bullet Sean... Liam Maguire had put in Sheppard's chest had missed his heart by inches, though it did manage to do considerable damage on its way out of his body. He was clinging to life now. So much so they hadn't even bothered to take him to the infirmary, but had instead set him up in one of the private rooms where they could keep a constant eye on him. Lorne cast his eyes up and over to the tinted glass of the elevated room where he knew a doctor sat, keeping vigil over the various monitors and machines currently trying to keep John Sheppard alive. Dr. Beckett was already demanding to be allowed to come over here, and Lorne didn't know how he was supposed to talk the doc into staying in bed.

Everyone was worried. The whole mountain was subdued really and Lorne had seen the evidence of that on every face he'd passed on his way down here. News of what had happened in that dilapidated cottage near the edge of the base had already spread far and wide and Lorne had given specific instructions to his Marines guarding the wing that no one but Landry and the people already here in this room were allowed to visit John, at least until his condition stabilized a little. Even though the threat that had been hanging over all their heads for months was gone now, the uneasiness it had brought along with it was a hard thing to shake. Lorne still saw danger around every corner and it was going to take him a while to let go of the apprehension that draped around him like some kind of invisible cloak; always felt, but never seen.

While Lorne had had no hand in the actual hiring of the man who had called himself Sean Fitzpatrick, the fact still remained that his task force hadn't found anything out of the ordinary during their extensive background check on Fitzpatrick. And that fact alone had Even Lorne shouldering the blame for all of it.

Lorne knew Fitzpatrick had been smart. He knew if he walked into John's room right this second and apologized for what he had allowed to happen, people would be out of their seats telling him what an idiot he was being, but Lorne couldn't help it. He'd been given one task: Protect Atlantis and keep safe all the people who would call her home for the coming years. Yet at his first trial by fire, he had failed. More than that, really. He had allowed her leader, the one person they needed the most to pull all this off, to be drawn into a madman's sick endgame, and it never should have happened. John Sheppard shouldn't be lying a few feet away from him, hooked up to machines Lorne couldn't even name, fighting for his life, and losing. Lorne was going to carry this failure with him the rest of his life, and it didn't matter if John Sheppard lived or died today. It wouldn't be the first dark think to live inside of him, that was for damn sure. Lorne had never come out and admitted it to anyone in particular, but he also shouldered the blame for something else that had happened over 18 years ago.

What if? It was a phrase that had often run through his brain when he allowed himself to think back on those chaotic first days after the Wraith had been destroyed and everyone was starting to figure out exactly what had happened. Lorne's first priority had been to get everyone to safety, and he was fine with his decision to stick around on Atlantis to make sure that everyone got out. What he couldn't forgive himself for, even after all these years, was the fact that John had disappeared from that hospital under Lorne's watch. Yes, he'd sent men to guard Sheppard, but he couldn't help but wonder, had he been the one to hop that last Jumper and stay by John's side through it all, would any of this have ever happened? Would he have been able to stop Sean Fitzpatrick from getting John out of there and setting off a chain reaction of events that would destroy entire lives.

The two sins, though decades apart, were so similar, it was no wonder he was having a hard time dealing with the fact that both of them were taking up space inside of him now.

Lorne heaved a heavy sigh and turned away from the quiet scene before him to start back off down the hall. He'd try and give his news again in a few hours maybe, but just as he turned to leave, he noticed a figure standing in the hallway watching him carefully. Lorne stiffened a little, wondering if this was the part where General Landry told him his services would no longer be needed, seeing as how the moment Lorne had been left in charge, all hell had broken loose.

He tried not to let his head fall as he marched over to where Landry stood. The corridors down here didn't have those strange colored stripes painted into the tile and he had half a mind to ask, once and for all, just what purpose those lines had served. He didn't though, and tried to keep his head up as he walked.

"General Landry," Lorne intoned, trying not to let his eyes give away too much of what was going on inside of him in that moment.

"Colonel Lorne," Landry nodded in greeting. "Have you told them?"

"That Dr. Beckett is awake?" Landry nodded again. "No, Sir. It didn't seem like the right time. Brigadier General Sheppard is still in pretty rough shape."

"So I've heard," Landry replied with a bit of a sigh, running a hand over day old stubble on the side of his face. "In fact, they tell me it's not good."

"No, Sir," Lorne said, casting his eyes back in the direction he'd just come, wishing now he'd just gone in like he'd wanted to in case that was the last time he ever saw John Sheppard alive. "It isn't."

"Lorne, you and I have been working together for quite a while now, haven't we?"

Lorne almost didn't want to look Landry in the eyes again, but he forced his tired gaze back over in the General's direction. If it was time to pay the piper then he would do so bravely. Not averting his eyes like some coward. Lorne's only hope was that he would be allowed to stay on base, at least until they knew if John Sheppard would make it or not.

"We have, Sir." He answered. There were excuses he could try to make, but Lorne just didn't see the point. Landry was just doing his job and in light of what had happened and Lorne couldn't blame the guy. Someone had to take the fall, and he was willing to shoulder that burden as well. It was the least he could do and his first step towards atoning for his twin sins.

"Because I don't even feel like I know you, son." Landry was younger than Lorne, but somehow his use of the word 'son' didn't seem wrong. Lorne let his head fall in shame.

"I never meant to disappoint you, Sir. I…"

"Disappoint me?" Landry interrupted him and Lorne looked up sharply. "Are you kidding me? Lorne, I've just spent the last day and a half listening to countless soldiers and scientists tell me how you single handedly coordinated an entire mountain evacuation from the back of a cloaked puddle jumper all while attempting a rescue mission. Good grief, Colonel, I was coming to see if I could talk you into sticking around the SGC instead of heading out with Atlantis!"

Lorne knew he looked ridiculous. His mouth was agape and his eyes were wide with astonishment. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.


"You did good, solider," Landry said, sobering suddenly and putting a hand on Lorne's shoulder. "And they are all very lucky to have you."

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