Rating: PG-13 for torture (non-explicit) and language
Characters: Sheppard, McKay, Carson, Ronon and Teyla: Rodney POV
Summary: (Set sometime in Season 3) After a month of humiliation and torment rendering Sheppard helpless, it's up to his team and Carson to help him heal. Sheppard's a little OOC for most of this story, but for a reason that is not permanent. Huge thanks to wildcat88 for the beta help and suggestions, and drufan for the alpha help.
A/N1: For space1traveler who wanted the team taking care of all of John's needs. This story, however, was actually started long ago per request of SheppyD, who'd wanted some Shep in a hospital being abused, which includes a little of that as well :D Sorry it took so long to finish this story.
A/N 2: This story runs along the same vein as another of my stories, Of Coloring Books and Lt. Colonels, but it is not a sequel. Apologies in advance should you run into any sentences that seem to be missing a word. Chances are good that the missing word is "Carson." Don't ask me why, but for some reason my computer hates that name. I fixed things up as best I could, but may have missed a sentence or two. Please let me know if I have so that I can go back and fix it.
A/N 3: I would like to extend a massive thanks to those readers who took the time to help me find those sentences missing "Carson" or other words. I was able to go back and clean things up quite extensively, so the story should be a heck of a lot easier to read. But if there's still a sentence or two missing Carson or someone else's name, please point it out and I'll be sure to fix it.
All I can say is thank goodness for scientists with bigger egos than mine. The man had been an idiot, a complete and utter idiot; obvious from the start because he didn't even ask for our names when he pulled us into his lab for a little show and tell. He'd called himself Ev Karkta (Ev is to his people like Doctor is to us), and wouldn't let us forget it.
He had an unhealthy obsession with talking about himself in the third person.
“The works of Ev Karkta stretch before you.” He'd spread his arms wide when he'd said this; little stubby arms on a stubby body trying to encompass a grand cathedral littered with a load of creations - metallic walls half-hidden behind metal shelves cluttered with mechanical junk, book and notes and blueprints scattered like Easter eggs, and console after console taking up most of the space, creating a medium-sized maze. It was a treasure trove of ingenuity, one you could easily get lost in, figuratively and literally.
Ev Karkta, the man himself, was a bastard. His pride and joy he kept outside in the elements, in a cage, in a little shed with a ratty blanket to sleep on.
Sheppard had been missing for a month, separated from us during a Wraith attack. We never gave up hope because this was Sheppard, and Sheppard never gave up hope, obnoxious and eternally positive lunatic that he was... is. That he is.
Maybe he escaped through another gate address or maybe he was taken to a hive ship, flirted with some pretty worshipper to help him escape, grabbed a dart and crash-landed on this world. We don't know since Sheppard has yet to remember anything beyond the sudden culling, and we don't press him.
Ev Karkta stood before the open door of the cage, his fat face beaming when he pressed the button of the device on his wrist that made the small lump beneath the blanket inside the shed gurgle out a scream.
“Project Fourteen, come out now. There are some people who'd like to meet you.” Sugarcoated words you would say to a cute little pet, bad enough to make me wonder if my own sweet talk was the reason my cat always ignored me.
Of course it was natural to expect some kind of animal or inhuman alien being to come crawling out, and disgust was a shared sentiment between us. Shock knocked disgust aside like a fly when Sheppard dragged his scrawny carcass from the shed, dressed in what used to be white scrubs before mud had been ground into the threads. His face was relatively clean shaven except for the early morning stubble, and his hair still the same bed-head mess. But he was pale and shaking as though he'd just overcome a nasty seizure, and a hell of a lot less in terms of body mass.
His eyes had been what really scared the hell out of me. Glassy, vacant, wild – no one at home, leaving his brain to function on automatic. He wasn't even crawling, more like dragging himself, inching over the ground, then whimpering when he curled up next to Karkta's feet.
Karkta's smile was saccharine when he crouched to pet John's head. “Isn't he sweet and lovely? And completely obedient. Took Karkta weeks to tame him after Karkta found him stumbling around, injured and hungry, the poor thing. Stand up, Fourteen.”
Karkta touched the control on his wrist.
John stiffened but didn't cry out, just whimpered more. He tried, he really did, to stand on his own. When that didn't work he utilized Karkta's pant-leg, which Karkta didn't like; so the self-indulgent bastard upped the current until Sheppard yelped and scurried back like the good human pup he was supposed to be. Sheppard, in turn, ended up as the unhappy one; he lurched forward and bit – seriously, bit – Karkta's leg.
“Why you little...!” Karkta kicked John right in the chest. “There are some minor setbacks but...” He never had a chance to finish, because Ronon - the first to break from the initial what-the-hell moment – had his hands around Karkta's fat neck, bellowing a roar that would have made a lion jealous and everything. Any other time I would have been squawking up a storm of terror, indignation and certainty that we were all going to get our asses handed to us for this one. Yet, watching Ronon tighten his grip around that pudgy throat had been poetry in motion.
I'm not violent. I avoid it when I can but... I will admit to having my moments of vindication, and this was one of those moments.
That day, the day we found Sheppard, I wanted to be violent. I wanted to be the one with my hands around Karkta's throat. I wanted to be the one with my face close enough to see his lips turning blue. But there had been more important matters than revenge.
“Ronon, don't kill him; we may need him alive,” I'd said, before joining Teyla next to what we both assumed was an unconscious John. Except he wasn't unconscious, not when I put my hand on his shoulder.
For someone thin enough to slip down a shower drain, Sheppard had been formidable. He screamed, then roared, then lunged at nothing in particular, scrabbling over the ground with eyes blazing and body so tense I was surprised it didn't snap. It took both me and Teyla to hold him back, risking tetanus when he twisted around to snap his teeth at the nearest available flesh. I had to keep his head back by pushing into his jaw, all while shouting high-pitched and terrified for someone to friggin' do something already.
“John, it is us! John!”
John bucked, squirmed, clawed, snarled, and tried to yank his head from my hand. Ronon joined the party after stunning Karkta unconscious.
“Hand him over, McKay.”
I was all too happy to oblige. But the moment I released John's jaw was the moment he swung his head around and sank his teeth into Ronon's reaching hand.
“Son of a bitch!” Ronon bellowed. He uses Earth swears too easily. He yanked his now-bleeding hand from John's dirty mouth and whipped out his gun with his good hand.
I pulled Sheppard back, shielding him. “You trigger-happy moron! You have no idea what that could do to him and if you would get your head out of your ass for two minutes...!” That was when I realized Sheppard wasn't moving anymore, and it scared the hell out of me. I hefted the light body into my arms and Teyla positioned John's head against my shoulder so she could get to the pulse.
“He's alive,” she breathed. Redundant, of course he was alive. His chest was heaving and his breaths sounded like sandpaper rubbing together, only more liquidy. He was exhausted; that was all. Just exhausted.
“M'Kay?” His hand flailed limply, reaching out for something until Teyla finally grabbed it before it collided with my face. Not that I would have noticed. I was feeling a little numb with shock and panic, and trying not to vomit over the clarity of all those angular bones jabbing me in the arm and chest.
Crap, he was so damn thin, and weak, and helpless – imitating the living dead and gasping like a dying animal. I pulled him closer, wondering if he was cold and if I should get a blanket, warm water, warm food - something, anything, because the cold was a piece of his suffering we could remove, right here and right now.
“Yeah, Sheppard, it's McKay. And Ronon and Teyla.”
Sheppard's chest shook when he sucked in a breath. “I wanna... go home. Let... me go home. Please?”
I wanted to cry. I don't like crying. I never cry. How's that for telling you how bad the situation was?
We took him home, Ronon carried him; Teyla kept her weapon on Karkta. I came back later with Zelenka and a few marines to raid Karkta's video logs so could see just what was done to Sheppard and hopefully reverse it.
We'll burn the logs after we're finished with them.
The screen is snow that fades into Karkta's chubby face as he makes adjustments. He steps back and aside, revealing a metal table and a writhing patient. Sheppard is strapped down by the ankles, wrists, and stomach. He's shirtless, but at least he has the dignity of his pants. Karkta moves around the table and picks up a scalpel from a tray of tools.
“Karkta is about to insert the internal monitoring system. The restraining device has been known to have adverse effects on the heart, lungs and brain. Hopefully, through the use of the monitor, Karkta will stay a step ahead of these setbacks.” He opens the shunt on the IV bag. Liquid flows, Sheppard calms, then Karkta cuts. The procedure is short, the incision large enough for Karkta to slip a small, round disk through skin, muscle and bone and between the heart and lungs.
Beckett is pissed and keeps mumbling about how unsanitary the operating theater looks.
The next footage is back in the theater with Sheppard on his front. Karkta cuts into his back over the spine just below the neck, right where a tracking device would go if Karkta was a Wraith.
“Karkta is now inserting the restraining device.”
Ronon's hand strays to his own back, fingering the scars there. Then he leaves. I can't blame him. The only reason I leave is because I'm about to lose my lunch.
What Karkta inserts is much larger than a tracking device.
It's been three days since we got Sheppard back and Carson is already talking about shipping him to Earth.
“Not permanently,” he keeps saying. He's leaning forward on the conference room table with his hands clasped, his usual pose when he's scrounging for patience because no one is listening. And we aren't, especially me since I'm panicking though you wouldn't know it to see me. This particular fear is skipping along hand-in-hand with anger.
“The injury to his brain shouldn't be permanent,” he goes on. “With the excess fluid drained he should make a full recovery. Full awareness of his surroundings should return, along with motor control, missing memories, and a better grasp on reality...”
“Gee, Carson, why all the 'shoulds'? Why not any 'he will make a full recovery'?” I can't help it. I hate the inconsistencies and unknowns of medical science. Give me something concrete, give me something one hundred percent, give me a means to an end...
Which, yes, I know comes off as slightly hypocritical of me since I can't give the same one-hundred percent when Sheppard asks for it. Ninety-eight point nine percent, yes. One-hundred percent, no. Yet there's a difference. The unknowns are all up to me to make known, to fix. Carson's unknowns are matters of time, nature, and whether or not Sheppard's stubborn resolve is still intact. At any other time I would say healing is a sure bet, except at any other time Sheppard's brain hasn't been practically boiled inside his own skull.
“Because nothing's a certainty, Rodney; you should know that by now.”
Touché. I have a retort; I'm just too annoyed to say it.
Carson sighs and continues. “I feel it would help his recovery if he were in a more stable environment. As it is, since the infirmary is only so big, every time we have an emergency, Sheppard panics. He either goes into a rage or backs himself at the head of the bed so tight I can't move him.”
Sheppard has multiple personalities now. One minute he'll be thrashing, biting, and spitting curses like that girl from The Exorcist and the next he'll be attempting to crawl from his bed in order to drag himself into a corner just to cower. Carson says it’s the combination of the restraining device that he managed to remove from Sheppard's spine and the drugs Karkta used to speed things along; hallucinogens and chemicals that made Sheppard open to suggestion. He actually convinced Sheppard there was such a thing as monsters, and that if he wasn't good the monsters were going to get him. Thus part of the reason behind Sheppard stuffing himself into corners or under the bed.
“It's going to take time for Colonel Sheppard's brain to recover from the trauma, and I want him as comfortable as possible until that happens.”
I cock an eyebrow and sneer. “By sending him away from the only place he calls home and sticking him in some civilian hospital?”
“Just until his brain sorts itself. He'll have round-the-clock care and Dr. Jorsen will be overseeing it. He's a colleague of mine, specializes in brain trauma. He's even done some work for the SGC so he has clearance. Colonel Sheppard will be well taken care of.”
So, just like that, Sheppard's carted off through the gate back to Earth... and we go with him. Ronon and Teyla out of loyalty and me because Elizabeth says I could do with a vacation. It's an escape route she's offering me, because a part of me wants to turn away from the mess that is John Sheppard while a larger part wants to give into the same loyalty that drives Ronon and Teyla. I mean, Teyla is leaving her people, for crying out loud. Not permanently but long enough (she sees it as a kind of diplomatic mission, no different from recalcitrant trading missions that take months to resolve). In light of what she's leaving behind, my excuses concerning dire repairs to Atlantis are a pile of crap. I have no excuse. The problem is, my brain likes to over analyze everything and makes fun of me for leaning toward anything resembling the emotional.
Calling this a vacation shuts my brain up long enough to realize, firmly, that Sheppard needs us. He's going to be in unfamiliar territory and will need something familiar.
The snow fades into Karkta who is standing beside Sheppard. Sheppard's in scrubs and chained to the wall.
“Test Five. Karkta has finally subdued Project Fourteen into silence. No more of that awful shouting and spitting. I feel confident enough that the restraining device will not damage him beyond repair. Now, I will release him.”
Karkta turns to John and begins unlocking his manacles. John remains kneeling, staring at the floor. Then he starts to rise. Karkta presses a button on the control bracelet strapped to his wrist. Sheppard drops to the floor in a writhing, gasping heap struggling for air that won't come that ends abruptly when the switch is released.
“I did not say you could stand, Fourteen.”
John is panting, shaking and pissed. “Go to hell.”
Karkta presses the switch again and holds it. This time, Sheppard arches and screams.
“Karkta will not tolerate this kind of behavior, Fourteen,” Karkta states calmly. He keeps the button down until Sheppard's screams turn into sobs. Only then does he release it.
I can hear Teyla sniffing beside me, and look over to see the grainy light of the footage flash off the tears slicking up her face.
Besides severely distorting Sheppard's reality, the damage Karkta did to him is also affecting his coordination. Complete lack of proper nutrients has withered his muscles down to useless strings. He can barely move, not even sit up without help, unless he gets into one of his 'moods.' Then adrenaline gives him what he's not supposed to have. The least he does is swat hands away with a growl and a twist of his lips; average is to take a swing at people; the worst is biting and lunging in an attempt to strangle the offender. Fortunately for the victim, his coordination sucks so he's always missing. It comes across as both scary and laughably pathetic.
There's a look in his eyes during the outbursts: wild, insane, mindless animal fury with just a dash of terror. They aren't acts of temper; they are acts of self defense.
My immediate assumption had been that the outbursts were random. I have come to know better. There are catalysts that instigate the various levels of rage or terror. Abruptly loud noises and any indications of displeasure will cause him to curl up into a quaking, whimpering ball pleading like a five-year-old not to let the monsters get him. Come at him with a needle when he's awake, try to restrain him, undress him in front of an audience, basically touch him in a way he doesn't like and you get the rage. Never pat his head or rub his back. And never, ever, ever tell him to behave.
Angela - good woman, about late twenties - she got it and got it fast. In fact, she'd even taken the time to type up a kind of inventory list of dos and don'ts for the other nurses. Becky, an older woman who handles keeping Sheppard clean, always tells him what she's about to do before doing it. Andrew the PT instructs Ronon or Teyla what to do since Sheppard doesn't mind being touched by them.
The only one who doesn't get it is Janice. I didn't like her from the start when she kicked me out after overstaying my visit because Sheppard couldn't sleep. At the time, medication was out of the question until the chemicals still saturating his body were thoroughly metabolized. She hustled me from that room like I had no business being there, completely ignoring Sheppard inches away from dropping head-first from the bed in some kind of an escape attempt or act of intervention. I managed to bypass Janice in a move that would have made Teyla proud and get Sheppard back into the bed while Janice called security.
Nice guys, those security guards. I'm not being sarcastic; they really are. They told Janice to chill, stalled enough for me to make sure Sheppard was going to be okay, and then escorted me to the end of the hall just for show.
I like Janice even less when she berates John for being a 'bad boy' whenever he flinches away from her. Sheppard always growls at her, pushes her back, or shrinks away from her. For someone who's supposed to be monumentally observant, I know I have my dense moments. The human condition doesn't intrigue me the way wormhole physics does. It annoys me, confuses me, sometimes even scares the hell out of me. I become annoyed with Janice for not getting it through her head that John was damaged, not a child, and annoyed with John for not overcoming that damage sooner, to say what needed to be said instead of grunting like an infant. I temporarily forget that it isn't his fault.
It's Ronon who discovers just how deep Janice's impatience goes, probably after suspecting something from the start. Or maybe it was Teyla who suspected and Ronon making the discovery. She's more aware when it comes to what's going on in other people's heads, even when a particular person's head was scrambled like an egg.
Ronon does his little 'hiding in the shadows' thing and witnesses Janice shaking Sheppard after he pushed her away, then slapping him on the side of the head when he slapped at her hand. Add to that verbal abuse in the form of calling him a retard then throwing an empty syringe at him, and it's a miracle Ronon doesn't kill her. He does get her fired pretty fast, though, after he tattles on her. Ronon is honest to a fault, the fault being that it's annoying sometimes. The rest of the time it's an advantage. Dr. Jorsen doesn't know the man but doesn't refute him either. Janice is told to pack up and head out that very day.
Bad nurses happen, according to Dr. Jorsen. Too little experience or too much jading making them numb made for a few rotten apples in the bunch. His words, not mine. Stupid analogy if you ask me. Janice is one of those nurses who's probably going to end up on a hidden camera show, either abusing an elderly man at a care home or someone's kid. Except for the biting, Sheppard's reactions couldn't hurt a fly. The man is harmless and, damn it, he's been through enough.
But the damage is done. Sheppard won't let any nurse touch him. He keeps trying escape, trying to hide, babbling about monsters, being bad, being punished. Dr. Jorsen says it has to do with conditioning, with association. Until Sheppard's brain chemistry finally lines itself up, his thoughts will continue to process on an instinctual level. Something bad happened to him in this hospital, so the hospital and everyone in it are bad. He won't sleep, won't eat, and only smiles when Ronon shows up since it was Ronon who chased the bad away and will, hopefully, do so again.
Jorsen suggests we move Sheppard to another hospital, one nearby that Jorsen could commute to now and then to check on John.
I relay the info to Stargate Command who then relays it to Atlantis during the now weekly progress report through data burst. Two days after the report was sent, Carson shows up, the answer man of the medical community. We find him in Sheppard's room reading over the Colonel's chart, and I nearly have a heart attack.
“Carson! Jeez! Where the hell did you come from?”
“Neverland,” he replies dryly. “Where do you think? We got your message about the transfer and got an idea. Things are a bit slow at the... uh... base so I thought it a good opportunity for the lot of us to take an honest-to-goodness vacation. We could use the respite, though mind you it won't be all fun and games.”
Carson's worse than me when it comes to getting to the point. I roll my hand to hurry the rambling along. He rolls his eyes in response and sighs. “The SGC was kind enough to book us a room at a lodge up north. We're taking Sheppard and we're not coming back until he's at least coherent enough not to give the SGC a reason to replace him.”
My immediate thought is that this is a power-trip of some kind. Carson wants all matters concerning Sheppard's recovery under his sole control and no one else's. That probably isn't far from the truth; the man is never satisfied with any medical care given unless it's given by him or one of his staff. But I look at him, study him, see weariness dance with agitation, worry with anger. He looks both tired and high-strung as though he'd known all along something would go wrong and was afraid it would happen again.
It hits me then just how alien John's condition must be. After all, it was an alien form of torture delivered by an alien's hands. Plus Carson has a front row seat into the psyche via Kate Heightmeyer, who's officially seen it all, from pregnant males (uh, Corporal Higgins, not me or Sheppard... don't ask) to humans mutating into bugs. The nurses try to soothe Sheppard by telling him monsters don't exist, except they do exist, and Sheppard's had the bad fortune of being chewed up and spit out by one. The cliché Earth placations weren't going to cut it. Sheppard needed a heavy dose of assurance.
Starting, it seems, with surroundings free of formaldehyde, IVs, needles, and more abusive strangers wanting him to be “a good boy.”
The snow fades into Karkta's face and a plush living room of antique looking furniture. Karkta has guests sitting on ornate padded couches, sipping from fine china cups. They're turned enough to face Sheppard standing empty-eyed and docile before the fire. Karkta doesn't speak into the camera, which means his 'guests' have no idea what's going on. He steps around the chairs and couches to stand beside his pet, caressing Sheppard's head.
“Isn't he just lovely? Took Karkta days to train him but he's quite a receptive fellow with the right incentive.” He grabs Sheppard's wrist, turns his hand palm up, and slaps a treat into it. “You be good, now, and let the nice people have a look at you.”
Karkta's guests rise, crooning and cooing, the women especially. They touch him, feel his arms, lift his shirt, one woman pets his chest hair.
“He's shaking,” Ronon says in that quiet way of his when he's really pissed. I have to squint to see it, and catch just in time Sheppard dropping the treat to the floor. I want to think he's shaking out of anger, but it could be out of disgust, even fear. The guests say he's beautiful, sweet, strong, healthy though he's so thin even the poor quality of the video can't hide his protruding ribs. Someone tugs at his pants and he steps back, glaring A-bombs.
“Fourteen,” Karkta admonishes. His hand clasps lightly around his wrist like a parent going for stern. Sheppard's body stiffens and his face contorts in pain. No one notices. They're too busy waiting for the one tugging at the drawstring of Sheppard's pants to finish. I get up and walk out, but not before hearing Carson shut the damn footage off.
It's late, but I know how to function without sleep, especially when driving. The car is a solitary presence on the empty road winding through a forest highlighted by a crescent moon. The only sound is the car's humming over the asphalt and Carson's snoring. They're all asleep – Carson, Teyla and Ronon behind and Sheppard next to me. Sheppard's head is resting on a small pillow against the window. He's too thin and pale, but other than that he looks completely at peace, like the survivor of a rough mission and a lot of stress rather than torture and humiliation.
Jeannie once accused me of being high-maintenance. I took offense, obviously. Okay, I like my luxuries, but I have yet to own a plasma TV and I'm getting used to surviving overnight-stays outdoors, bug-bites not withstanding. She then accused me of being self-absorbed and self-centered. I couldn't even sputter a retort for that one – too angry, too ashamed. I'm not sure if it's true. Other people might be the problem, not me. Others don't get me and I don't get them, so there was never any point to being a people person. Any friendships made are the ones forced on me by circumstance. In other words, being shot billions of light-years to another galaxy and trapped in the same city with a man who thinks he understands me... and probably does. Two men, counting . Three, Radek. Teyla, she's just nice to everyone. Ronon, I don't know, he's been a little more patient with me lately, though I don't know if that constitutes “getting” me.
The fact that these people have yet to kill me – on purpose – or deck me, or shove me in a closet and leave me there, kind of says a lot. In return... well... I can't really think of anything, except to say that I'm here when I could be back on Atlantis working on a Nobel Prize-worthy project.
There is this kind of protective streak I seem to be developing. I look at Sheppard and I get the urge to strangle Janice and shoot Karkta for what they put him through. And I want to make sure it never happens again. Only it will. I like to say it's Sheppard's own fault, but stuff happens. Understanding the universe doesn't give you control over it, and time machines can only let you do so much before the fabric of space/time starts looking like a moth-eaten rag.
But, hey, what's one more hole if it means Sheppard stays with us one more day? I'm just glad it hasn't come to that. There's a time machine out there, just not where I can get my hands on it. I think it's out of power, anyways.
Moving on... I've saved Sheppard in the past, and he's saved me, back and forth like a game of tennis. Except I hate tennis. What I'm doing now, though... it feels different, like something more. It feels good, right. I may complain about all the work being neglected on Atlantis, all the discoveries being made without me, but the agitation that's supposed to be backing the words isn't there. It's almost like this is just another routine mission and I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to.
Sheppard jerks awake with a sharp gasp, glances around wide-eyed and worried, mumbles something inarticulate then drops his head back on the pillow and falls asleep. Right now he could probably sleep through Atlantis' alarms going off. Janice's treatment of him had turned him into an insomniac for four days straight. He's going to be doing a lot of sleeping.
The sky lightens and we arrive at the lodge around the gray hour of dawn. I have to acquiesce to it being a beautiful place, built by a lake in a mountain-enclosed valley. A ski-lodge during the winter and retreat during the summer, it's a log-cabin mansion that looks like it was built yesterday, with a gravel driveway and polished front doors with stained glass windows. The drive curves around to the parking lot that's more gravel with a little grass in between, normally reserved for the employees. According to the brochure, you actually leave your car parked in a garage three miles out then arrive by bus. Since it's mid-spring, we've been given the okay to bypass the bus and drive straight through.
“Rise and shine, folks,” I say as I unclip my seatbelt. “We're here.”
Everyone stirs and lifts their head, even John. The man's reality is shot but that doesn't make him stupid. He has minimal awareness, enough to know when something's happening and whether or not to be worried about it. As long as we're relaxed, he's relaxed... kind of. Right now he's staring out the window at the lodge with a mix of child-like wonder and wariness.
I wait in the car with John until Carson brings the wheelchair around. It takes him and Ronon to maneuver Sheppard into the seat. Sheppard's dressed in a black hooded sweater and gray sweat pants, but has to tuck a blanket around his legs since the weather's still cool and moist. Teyla adjusts the hood over his head, and then we make the semi-long trek back to the front of the building and into the spacious lobby with its animal heads and skins on the wall, and furniture that reminds me of Arizona – all bright colors and Indian designs.
The woman at the desk is blond. Yes, shallow of me to notice, but it's a bright, sunny blond, the kind of hair seen on bright, sunny people. Case in point, she looks up and smiles to light up the room. I'm slightly smitten until a five-year-old female urchin comes dashing around the desk with a plastic airplane in her hand.
“Hi there,” the woman says, pulling a ledger open and readying a pen. “I'm Mrs. Marks but you can call me Alice. Do you have a reservation or do you wish to book a room now? This is our lull month so you basically have the entire place to yourselves, and free choice of rooms.”
Carson pulls a slip of paper from his pocket and hands it over. “Reservation, lass, under Beckett.”
Alice flips through the ledger to the Bs. “Yep, here you are. You requested a room near our pool. I went ahead and gave you something with a view. One of our family suites. Five beds plus a hide-a-bed in the couch just in case. It's on the second floor but there's a wheelchair-accessible elevator next to the stairs. Just sign here, please.”
I look over at Sheppard who's thoroughly engrossed in watching the blond-haired little girl make the plane fly. I tense when she moves in close. Even though Teyla is standing there looking serene, it doesn't help me gain any peace of mind since it doesn't take much for John to go ballistic. The girl uses one of the arms of the chair to land the plane. Sheppard reaches out with a trembling hand and runs his fingers lightly over the bright yellow plastic.
“The propeller moves,” the girl says, and spins the little blades. She lets Sheppard spin them next and his lips twitch toward a tired smile. The girl turns the plane and rolls it off the arm into the air. Sheppard watches as though it's the most amazing thing in the world.
“If there's anything you need,” I hear Alice say, “there's a phone. Just press star then nine. You might spy the cleaning staff but they only come in every other day. This is the kitchen staff's time off but there are some nice restaurants just up the road and a pizza place that does deliver here -”
“Uh,” Carson interrupts. “Are there any convenient stores here about? Maybe a wee grocery shop? The lad in the wheelchair, there, he's been ill and I'm afraid restaurant foods won't treat his digestive system too kindly.”
It's a wonder the woman doesn't melt into a puddle of goo. She looks over Carson's shoulder at John and immediately goes all dewy-eyed, fighting back the obvious urge to say “ah, poor thing.” I swear women love him more when he's all sickly and helpless, providing something cute they can coddle.
“Of course,” she says, looking back at Carson. “Again, just up the road. But we have a well-stocked freezer and fridge if you want to try that.”
Carson shakes his head. “Oh, no, love, we won't be raiding your kitchen.”
“It's all right, actually. Meals are covered in the price. I've been told I'm not a bad cook and I don't mind whipping something up. You're also free to put something together yourselves. Since it's just you five, the rules are a little bit more lax. Wouldn't be the first time we let guests have free run of the place. I'll show you to your room so you can get settled, then how to find the kitchen.”
Carson leads the way down the hall to the right of the desk. About center of the hall are stairs on either side and two small elevators. Carson goes with John on the elevator while the rest of us suffer the stairs. It's about three halls and four rooms later that we come to our suite that's a living room with three doors on the left, a couch and TV on the right, and a sliding glass door opening up onto a veranda with a view stretching beyond the lake to the mountains. Teyla goes straight for the balcony while I go straight for the bedrooms: one master bedroom and the other with three full-size beds.
I want the master bedroom, the bed looking better for my back. Knowing Carson, he'll let Teyla have the master while me, him, and Sheppard take the full-size beds, and Ronon takes the hide-a-bed.
Or he'll give me the hide-a-bed. My spine cringes in horror.
It isn't until we leave Sheppard with Teyla to check out the kitchens and fetch the luggage then return that Carson announces the sleeping arrangements.
“Teyla, love, you take the larger bed. Ronon, you can take the bed in the couch. I know you have back issues when it comes to beds, Rodney, and those three beds will be firmer than that couch bed. And I'll not be listening to you whine about it all morning.”
I manage to fight off the urge to whine “but Mooom!” and say instead, “Hey, my pain is legit. It's not my fault my spine has preferences.”
Carson blatantly ignores me, bending to remove John's shoes. Sheppard is facing the window, staring with complete child-like wonder devoid of any wariness. When the shoes are off, Carson starts wheeling Sheppard into the bedroom. John's head turns trying to keep the view in sight until he can't and moans in utter dejection; it's depressing just to look at him.
“Ronon, lad,” Carson calls, “can you help me?”
Ronon heads into the room and scoops Sheppard up to deposit him on the bed as soon as the covers are turned down. tucks the blankets around John's skinny body, making sure to close up the gaps. “You rest up, now, John. We'll be right here if you need us.”
“You're safe here,” Ronon says, like a mantra. He started saying it ever since he caught Janice's act of cruelty. Before, it helped John calm down. Now, it's helping him sleep. He's out as soon as his head hits the pillow.
“Rodney,” Carson says on leaving the room, “you call up that pizza place. said there's a menu in the drawer. I'm going to snoop about the fridge, see what I can slap together for John.”
The snow fades to Karkta's face, this time in a dining room. Sheppard is seated at a ridiculously long table in front of a plate of food fresh from the oven and still steaming. Karkta sits across from John at his own plate and begins eating.
John's hand strays to the food. Karkta touches his wrist and John jumps, snatching his hand back.
“Karkta did not say you could eat yet, Fourteen.”
Several minutes pass. John tries again, faster, snatching the food and bringing it to his mouth. It hasn't even passed his lips when he jumps again.
“No, Fourteen. Not yet.”
More minutes pass, maybe twenty in all. Sheppard lurches forward to begin shoveling food into his mouth. Karkta presses hard on the button and John begins to choke. Karkta has to rise and move around the table to slap John's back until the food goes flying out of his mouth. Then he presses the button again. John falls from the chair and writhes on the floor.
“You eat when Karkta tells you to eat.”
Four sessions later, and Sheppard finally sits before the food without ever touching it. Karkta never gives him permission, just takes the food away.
Carson bursts from his seat, pacing, running both hands through his hair. “Sadistic bastard.” His voice is thick because he's crying.
Food is another catalyst that incites Sheppard into stuffing himself into corners. Or, in the current case, at the head of the bed. Teyla is spoon-feeding him some soup since Sheppard is too weak and uncoordinated to handle self-feeding. Crap, I honestly hope he doesn't remember any of this. He's terrified; you can tell because it's not often a look you see on John Sheppard. With each bite he takes, he cringes in anticipation for the punishing shock. There was a lot of footage of Karkta telling John when he could and couldn't eat. It would alternate between Sheppard suffocating for trying to eat without permission, then suffocated for being a good boy and eating when permission was given (which Karkate would titter over like a kid who'd stuck tape on a cat's tale). The pain is a final resort when suffocation doesn't seem to be working (probably to minimize that damage the fat bastard had talked about). Karkta, for fun I suppose, ordered John to keep eating until he puked. After the fun and games were over, Karkta stepped things back down to training John to wait for permission in everything he did, even going to the bathroom.
Carson believes John's weight-loss isn't from deliberate starvation by Karkta, but because of the drugs used in screwing with Sheppard's brain. I'd brought back samples along with the footage. The chemical compounds of the drugs were harsh on the system and I'm not talking just the stomach. Sheppard had heart arrhythmias for a week.
But getting back to the eating thing, it takes a little time and patience to get him to do it, but he does eat. The problem is, until his mind sets itself right, his memory is crap. We have to keep reminding him that it's all right to eat, that he has permission. The only difference between when we first brought him home and now is that he's not shaking.
Our pizza arrives, the knock loud enough to startle John, and then he does start shaking. I hear Teyla's soothing murmurs as I get the door and pay the delivery man. The coffee table is our dining table and already has the paper plates and cups set out. Along with the pizza are liters of soda and some breadsticks. This isn't Ronon's and Teyla's first time having pizza. It is their first time having it on Earth with all Earth-made ingredients. Sausage, pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, cheese and tomato sauce – every major food group on one food. Teyla, however, doesn't join us until a little later after John is tucked in and asleep.
“Whole bowl this time?” Carson asks, grinning. His grin stretches when Teyla nods, smiling herself. “We'll get pounds back on him yet.”
During dinner we finally introduce Ronon and Teyla to TV. Teyla is bewildered but polite about it; Ronon is bewildered but fascinated, and spends the rest of the evening flipping channels. The lodge comes with cable, 200 channels. What the hell is the purpose to having 200 channels? There's even a channel devoted strictly to cats and another to dogs. As much as I love cats, I don't think they deserve their own channel. Thankfully we came unwittingly prepared. Ronon at least knew a little about TV from movie night and my Star Trek DVD collection. Sci-fi was having a marathon, and since the show was familiar, Ronon left it there, thank goodness.
When we finally go to bed, Carson and I sleep most of the night through before Sheppard wakes, gasping and whimpering.
“Ron'n?” He's breathing fast, his voice barely above a whisper. “Teyla? M'Kay? Ang'la?”
Angela, the favorite nurse, had said that Sheppard did this often, calling out for just about anyone and everyone he'd had contact with, except Janice and two other nurses.
“He's just making sure he's still safe,” she'd said, “and that it all wasn't just a dream.”
“Here, Sheppard,” I slur. “Right here, pal.”
“Rodney.” Sheppard says it as though reassuring himself out loud. The rest of the night goes by without incident.
On to Pt. 2