Title: The Secret Language of Grief, Book One
Characters: J. Sheppard, R. McKay, C. Beckett, E. Lorne, R. Woolsey, and various OCs
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 25 - An Elusive & Precious Thing
Carrie Sinclair slipped into the darkened private room just off the Atlantis Infirmary and tiptoed over to one of the empty chairs beside John's bed. Someone had drawn the shades of the window closed and Carson Beckett was snoozing softly in a chair not far from hers. She'd learned from Rodney out in the hall that John had finally regained consciousness, and she'd raced to get here in time to see him before he went under again, but she was apparently too late. He was sleeping peacefully now and she would let him stay that way. It was the best thing for him, and she wouldn't wake him. Their proper reunion could wait a little while longer.
Carrie eased herself into the chair she'd chosen for herself and folded her hands in her lap. She didn't have an "official" chair in this room like she'd had in the main infirmary area. Things had relaxed so drastically around John that she really didn't need it anymore and she cared too much for the people around her now to demand it. The small, select group of acolytes allowed unhindered access to John had become her surrogate family, and she cared for each and every one of them deeply.
Carrie wasn't sure what exactly had happened to her when she'd used the Ancient device to help heal John, but she understood enough to know that she had been connected to some sort of power to do it. It was a power that had been shared and amplified by everyone who could sense and feel the city the same way she could. It had brought them together to save John's life and Carrie knew she would forever feel a kinship with the people that had joined with her that day to make it all possible. Carson had explained a little bit about how the ATA gene worked, but so much had happened over the past several weeks that her mind was still trying to process it all.
One thing was for certain though. It was that first conversation with Dr. Beckett and her subsequent meetings with Colonel Lorne and General Landry that kept her up most nights.
Carrie was carrying around a secret. It was epic and extraordinary and one that explained a lot and gave her better insight into the link she shared with Atlantis and the pull she felt towards John. He was the one she most wanted to tell about it, the one who would help her make the right decisions, and she'd made Dr. Beckett, Colonel Lorne and General Landry all swear not to divulge her secret until she decided what to do with it.
Still, as incredible a thing it was that she'd discovered about herself, Carrie was still struggling with something else, and it was a something she knew she would also need to discuss with John. There was another decision she needed to make, and it was going to be the most difficult one she'd ever made in her life.
Carrie felt like she'd been given a gift, this one chance to change the course of her life, and she was seriously thinking of turning it down.
No, scratch that, she was going to turn it down, because as wonderful a thing galavanting across the universe with John would be, Carrie wasn't free. She had obligations, family back home, and she was responsible for more than just herself, regardless of how strong her pull towards John and Atlantis was.
"Are you alright, love?" A soft, slightly accented voice asked from beside her, and Carrie disengaged herself from her thoughts to look over at Carson.
"I'm alright,"" she smiled. Of all the people she'd met on Atlantis, Carrie liked Dr. Beckett the best. He was kind and genuine and she always felt at peace when she was with him. "Has there been any change?"
"He woke up about an hour or so ago," Carson explained around a yawn, stretching as he did so. "His vitals are still holdin' steady, so no change."
Carrie nodded and they both looked back over to where John lay in his bed, fast asleep. She could hardly believe that he was alive and breathing on his own. It was a complete 180 from his condition mere weeks ago when he'd been so near death and she shuddered as the memories resurfaced to claw at her. She didn't know what, if anything, John would remember about what happened between them, but she prayed it was very little.
Pushing herself away from that particular line of thought, Carrie turned back to Carson.
"Are you still up for that field trip you promised me?" She asked and the doc nodded after a thought.
Carrie hadn't forgotten her visitor's warning on the balcony that night. She knew needed to return whatever "gift" the Ancient device had given her, only she hadn't been able to get a moment alone to do it. Rodney had been hounding her incessantly for information on where she'd found the thing and how she'd activated it, but she'd been feigning memory loss. Something inside was warning her to keep the device a secret, that it was something better better left undiscovered for the time being and she'd experienced enough of Atlantis to know that it was usually a safe bet to go with whatever her gut was telling her. So she'd kept up the charade, that was until Carson came to her with the results of the tests he'd run on her DNA, and everything had changed. She'd gotten him to agree to help her get down to the lower levels undetected so she could return what she had taken, lest something catastrophic happen.
"Aye," Carson was agreeing. "I still don't like it, but I'll help you.
"Thank you," she said genuinely and Carson smiled shyly.
"And what about your other matter, love? Have you given any more thought to that? Will you tell him what it is we found in your DNA tests?"
Carrie thought the question over and answered carefully. "I think so, yes…"
"All of it?"
"I'm going to tell him about me being a carrier, but I don't think he needs to know the rest. John's going to have enough on his plate when he gets back up and running."
"I don't see the harm in lettin' everyone know the whole truth, lass. Unless, of course, you're plannin' on leavin' us."
Carrie looked over at the physician sharply. Sometime she wondered if ATA gene carriers had some innate, yet undiscovered ability to read each other's minds.
"Carson, you and I are the only ones who know right now how big this thing really is. Promise me you wont tell, because its going to be hard enough as it is for me to leave."
"You have my word, love. I'll not tell a soul. But are you sure you willnea reconsider? It's an amazing thing you're being offered here, seems a shame to waste it."
"It wouldn't be forever. I'd come back, eventually."
"Aye, I understand that fair enough, lass. It's him that will need convincing." Carson nodded towards John and Carrie sighed. Yeah, that was going to be difficult.
"I don't know how to tell him, Carson."
"These things are never easy, love," Carson replied, reaching over to pat her knee before rising from his chair on creaking joints. "Just don't wait too long or it will only get harder."
Carrie tried to find a flaw in that logic, but there was none to exploit.
The doctor was right.
It was nearing dusk the next time John awoke from sleep. His room was painted in that violent orange of sunset and it was illuminating a figure seated in a chair near his bed. Her head was bent over a book. She hadn't looked up just yet, having obviously not heard him stir, and John took a moment to just drink in the sight of her.
Carrie looked resplendent in the Lantian filtered light and he had half a mind to pull himself out of bed, gather her up in his arms and kiss the shit out of her. He knew it would be dumb (and not just a bit clichéd) but he couldn't help what he felt. For the past 10 years he'd been holding back with her, and it felt good to let those feelings out for once. Something fluttered in his chest at the thought, and John looked down at the pattered gown he wore.
Hospital fashion was still non-existent, he thought to himself with an internal grumble, and he would have to remember to ask if he could change into sweats. His wounds had apparently healed, if Rodney was to believed, so he didn't see the harm in wearing something a little more his style.
John shifted in bed to get a little more comfortable and when he glanced up again, Carrie was looking over at him. Her eyes had always reminded him of the sea before a storm. They changed color sometimes, depending on what she wore, and today they were as blue-green as sea foam. They widened slightly when their sightlines converged and before John even knew what was happening, his face had been captured between her hands and he was being drawn in for a kiss.
Carrie tasted like the past and the future all rolled into one. She smelled like home and felt like an anchor securing him more securely to the shore. He hadn't realized how very much he'd missed her until that exact moment and he reached up to tangle his fingers in her hair, ignoring the slight twinge of pain that accompanied the movement.
John had made a lot of mistakes in his life, but none so egregious as his decision to leave her behind in Blue River. He had consigned himself to never seeing this woman again that day he'd left, but fate, it would seem, had other plans. And now that he had her back in his arms again, he didn't know how he would ever let her go. This simple woman, this half his age, blond haired waitress, had saved his life. She'd done the impossible (and in more ways that one) and he knew then that it had been more than just coincidence that had brought them together in that tiny little backwater town in Wisconsin.
John had gone there to disappear, but had managed to be found somehow managed instead.
When Carrie pulled away from the kiss a few moments later, they didn't move their hands. There was something about the connection that felt right and familiar and John was reluctant to let it go. He searched her face for some reason behind the feeling, and caught an errant tear with a fingertip as it cut a path down her cheek.
"If you ever do that to me again, John Sheppard, I'll kill you myself," she half choked, half laughed before dropping her hands away from his face.
"What, kiss you?" John said around a crooked smile. "Because I'm pretty sure you were the one who started that last one, Ms. Sinclair."
Carrie smirked slightly. "You know damn well what I mean. Try to die on me like that again, and I'll have your balls."
"Okay… fair enough."
Carrie settled herself down onto the bed beside John's legs and laced their fingers together. "That was a close one, Johnny Boy.."
John nodded. "Are you okay?"
"Perfectly fine," she replied, but she's said it a little too brightly. John reached up to push an errant lock of hair back behind her ear and she sighed.
"I know there's something going on with you, Carrie," he pushed. "Why wont you just tell me what it is?"
Uncertainty seemed to pass over her face but he wasn't about to let her get out of this one.
"I was going to wait to do this until you were a little stronger."
"I'm feeling pretty good now. You can tell me. Whatever it is, it can't be worse than what we just went through." John could tell Carrie had been hoping he'd let it lie, but John was done with secrets.
Carrie looked him over for a minute as if trying to decide if he really was up for it, or just putting on a show. Apparently she settled on the former, because she continued on a moment later.
"Well, I guess the first thing you should know is that they offered to let me join the expedition."
"Really?" He was a little relieved to hear it, to be honest. John had been anticipating a hard fight to get the SGC to allow Carrie to come with them to Pegasus. Now he could scratch that particular task off his to-do list.
Carrie seemed to be relieved by how he was taking the news. "So you'd be okay with that?"
"Are you kidding?" John replied trying to sit forward but still to weak to do so. "Of course I am. Did they give you an idea of what you'd be doing?"
"Whatever it is you ATA gene carriers do around here, I guess." Carrie shrugged.
"Oh yeah?" So she was a gene carrier. Good for her.
"Yeah." She said simply, but didn't go on.
"Well, you're going to take it, right?" He'd expected to see her face light up, but it remained stormy and impassive.
"That's where things kind of get complicated..."
"Complicated, huh?" John didn't like where this was headed.
Carrie sighed and looked back over at him. "John, there is nothing I would love more than to join the Atlantis expedition and go to Pegasus with you, but I have my Aunt Eileen to think about. I'm all the family she has left in this world, and I can't just leave a 90 year old woman alone to fend for herself."
"They could make arrangement for her," John started to argue. "I'm sure..."
But Carrie was already shaking her head.
"I can't do that to her. Even if I gated back to Earth as often as possible, it still wouldn't be enough. I need to be there with her, John, especially now."
John opened his mouth to protest, but found that he just couldn't. He understood what she was saying, had seen first hand the love Carrie had for her Aunt Eileen. It wouldn't be fair to ask her to leave the woman behind, as much as the thought of losing Carrie again pained him.
"Hey," Carrie said quietly, cupping his cheek with a hand and making him look back over at her when he turned away slightly. "It wouldn't be goodbye forever, just goodbye for a little while."
John nodded. He didn't like it, but he nodded. In fact, he was kind of disappointed with himself for the thoughts that popped into his brain unintentionally, the ones wondering how much longer a 90 year old woman could possibly live.
"John, can I ask you something?" Carrie interrupted his thoughts and he nodded, happy for a distraction. "Rodney had this photo pinned up in his lab. I was wondering if you could tell me who the woman in the photograph is."
Carrie pulled a creased old photograph from the back pocket of her jeans and handed it over to John. He took it from her carefully and immediately recognized the image. It was a duplicate of one that probably still sat on his nightstand back in Cheyenne; one he'd given Rodney long ago when the scientist had been complaining about how he could never get anyone to pose for a descent picture.
It was the one taken of the team before the Stargate after a mission, and there was only one woman in it.
"That's Teyla. We lost her right around the same time the Wraith attacked Earth."
"Teyla," Carrie repeated, and took the photograph from John when he handed it back.
"Yep, and the guy with his arm around her is Ronon." John swallowed thickly. "We lost him, too."
It was hard for him to say their names, harder still to revisit their memories, but he did it anyways. Carrie deserved honesty, especially after what John had put her through with Sean Fitzpatrick.
"I met her." Carrie said suddenly and without warning, her eyes still on the photo.
"Who? Teyla?" John asked, surprised.
"Yeah. When you were dying, she came to me in what I think was some kind of hallucination. She was the one who told me about the device and how the city would show me where it was, if I let her."
Carrie nodded. "I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. She told me she could see why you loved me so much, and that I should tell you she said so after we got you through all of this..."
"Sounds like something Teyla would say."
The notion seemed crazy, and yet crazy was any normal day on Atlantis.
"She also told me that I'm supposed to tell someone she loves them," Carrie continued. "Only I don't think she was talking about you."
"Then she probably meant Torren," John offered with a shrug
"TJ, he's her son," John explained. "Hopefully you'll get to meet him if you stick around long enough. He..."
"Oh I've met TJ, John," Carrie interrupted.
Okay, he hadn't been expecting that one. It must have showed on his face because Carrie continued quickly.
"He's here, John. Landry brought him back with him from New York. He's been here for weeks."
"No shit!" John exclaimed, suddenly excited. "Where is he? Can I see him?"
"Of course you can!" Carrie replied, grinning and getting up from her seat on the bed beside him. She poked her head out into the hall and a few moments later, a tall, lanky kid (looking so much younger than his 19 years) walked into the room.
"My god," John muttered before he could hold it back. "You look just like her, kid."
TJ was the spitting image of his mother. Her eyes stared back at John through his youthful face. His mouth curved up in that same way hers always had when she smiled. He even moved in a similar way and it was so surreal, John couldn't help but grin from ear to ear as they shook hands.
"Glad to see you're doing better, Sir." TJ intoned as he straightened up after their greeting.
"You can save the formalities for missions, kid. Until Atlantis takes off, I'm just John... or Sheppard if you feel like it."
"Or how about Uncle John?" Carrie piped in from the rear and TJ's face colored slightly as he looked away, embarrassed.
"Uncle John?" John questioned and Carrie threw her head back in a laugh.
"It's just what my Pops always used to call you when I was growing up," TJ answered sheepishly. "I called you that one night and now she won't leave me alone about it." He tilted his head in Carrie's direction good-naturedly and John smiled again. He could tell the two were well on their way to becoming friends, and the thought warmed him. Everything was finally falling into place... the only thing out of joint was the fact that Carrie wouldn't be coming to Atlantis with them.
He was going to have to say goodbye to her soon, and that thought nearly undid the good mood he'd managed to slide into.
"Alright kid," John said, refusing to let dark thoughts spoil his first meeting with this pseudo nephew of his. "Out with it. I want to know everything. And the more ammunition you give me to use against your father, the more points you'll earn."
TJ ginned at that and settled himself into a chair to start in on his story. They were joined a little while later by Rodney, and then by Carson. Even Lorne showed up finally, standing in the doorway to listen as they all laughed at some off-color remark Carrie had interjected into the conversation. John met Lorne's eyes over the heads of the gathered group, and indicated with his head that the Colonel should join them. He also put something else behind his eyes, and he hoped Evan understood it.
It was a look of thanks for taking care of everyone while John had been so out of it. It was an acknowledgment for saving his life in the cabin and keeping Atlantis afloat while everything else went to shit around them. Lorne accepted the look with a bashful nod before taking an empty chair near Rodney. The scientist was mid-story, having naturally taken over the proceedings with overdramatic tales of his own heroics, but paused to clap Lorne on the shoulder in greeting.
It was perfect, John realized suddenly, and he let his eyes linger over each smiling face in turn.
They were all of them whole and alive and ready to embark on the next great adventure. The universe had somehow managed to stitch the ragged and tattered edges of their individual lives back together to form something complete. It was woven in place with the memories of the past, made strong by the threads of those they'd lost along the way, and John no longer worried about those seams pulling apart again. Through everything fate had thrown at them, they'd managed to persevere, and even though he never would have thought it possible, John finally had his family back.
It was new and it was different, but it was his.
With sudden clarity he realized he had no more "what if" moments, just endless possibilities stretching out ahead of him.
And as the sun sank outside his window and Atlantis rumbled happily beneath them, John Sheppard knew, for the first time in twenty years, that he had finally found that elusive and precious thing called Home.