Pegasus Law of Disaster
Notes:SGA Season Five Spoilers
: Using some characters from SGA Season 5's Whispers, but as we are AU at this point, there are no spoilers for the ep outside of character names.Another note about pairings
: This is the chapter in which I solidify some of the pairing ideas I've been teasing at. While this story will have a pairing or two, the story remains
all about Rory's journey, no matter whose POV we're seeing. Please stick with me. The next chapter will be even more confusing.Another Note about Don't Ask Don't Tell as it is necessary for this story
: I've been trying to keep some things as realistic as possible in this story, and that means dealing with the possibility of what happens in this chapter, happening. At the same time, it's the SGA-verse, where military regulations don't always go according to plan...~~~
The exact moment when Staff Sergeant Carlos Herrera's day went from bad
to shit-in-your-pants worse
was when, in the middle of the sudden firefight that had separated the team, Major Anne Teldy took a bullet in the chest and hit the ground.
Carlos shifted his aim to the gap in the trees and fired on full automatic. Two bodies toppled out of the greenery, but it didn't make any fucking difference because the Major was bleeding out
. All the cover they had was the broken DHD and the radios were out and he had no idea where the fuck Captain Andrews and Sgt. Mehra were.
Then, to top off his day, he saw the team's lone civilian break cover to drag Major Teldy behind the DHD. "Motherfucking hell, Gilmore!" Carlos shouted, going on one knee to take out the lone gunman stupid enough to show himself through the trees. "When I tell you to take cover, you take the fucking cover!"
Rory pulled the Major tight behind the DHD. "Shut up!" Rory screeched, pressing hard on the Major's chest. The Major's eyes fluttered for a moment before the woman jerked, coming halfway to consciousness. She let out a choking cough as Rory pressed harder on the wound, blood welling up between her fingers.
"Major, you've been shot," Carlos said. The words were so fucking obvious, but his voice gave the panicking Major something to focus on. "I think I got your attackers but am unable to ascertain the number of other combatants in the woods, ma'am!"
Blood dribbled out of Major Teldy's mouth as Rory shoved a pressure bandage over the gunshot wound. "Fix the DHD and dial Atlantis," the woman coughed out through the pain. It took Carlos a moment to realize she was speaking to Rory, not him. "Now..." The words dissolved into a wheeze as the Major passed out again.
Rory rolled the other woman onto her side in the recovery position, which the part of Carlos' brain not occupied with scanning the woods for murderous Durrae knew would amplify any spinal damage, but if the Major drowned in her own blood from a punctured lung it'd be a bit too late to worry about paralysis.
"You heard her, Gilmore!" Carlos peered around the edge of the DHD. No movement on the edge of the clearing. "Fix it and get us home!"
"I don't-- I can't--" Rory babbled, hysteria riding the edge of her words, and Carlos did not have the fucking time
He grabbed Rory's arm and gave her a hard shake. "You're the only genius we have!" he pointed out. "I know you've read the hell out of every mission report and know how the inside of a DHD is supposed to look, so fix it!"
Rory jerked her arm out of Carlos' grasp. "I can't do that if you break my arm!" she spat, but she was already climbing over the Major to pry open the panel in the DHD. "If I do this, you have to try to stop the bleeding in the Major's chest because I'm pretty sure it's not part of the Marine handbook to let superior officers die on routine traffic stops!"
Carlos should have made some sort of witty retort, but he was too busy holding the pressure bandages in place with one hand, and shooting his P-90 at anything that moved with the other. Everything entered one of those peculiar states of hyper vigilance, where the lights seems too bright, smells nauseatingly sharp, sounds very close.
Rory hissed as she dug her hands into the guts of the DHDs. As the Major's body grew limper, Carlos made an attempt at levity, if only to focus on something other than the overwhelming smell of blood. "Come on, Gilmore, you got to pull this off. If I let a team full of girls die on a milk-run, all the other Marines are going to laugh at me."
"Oh my god
you are worse than my father!" Rory exclaimed, jabbing at the DHD with her knife. "And I'm going to tell Captain Andrews that you called him a girl!"
"Whatever, girlfriend." Carlos broke off to fire into the thicket at the emerging Durrae. Two more bodies fell to the ground as he saw a most welcome sight - Captain Andrews and Sgt. Mehra, both alive and moving and looking angry.
And right behind them, about ten Durrae, loaded and ready for bear.
"I think I got it!" Rory shouted. She didn't wait for Carlos' heartfelt then fucking dial it now!
to scramble to her knees to punch in the coordinates for Atlantis.
The moment the Gate was open, all sound burst back into Herrera's radio, from Captain Andrews shouting and from half a galaxy away, the cool response from Atlantis as they received the code from Rory's GDO and were lowering the shield.
"Atlantis, we are coming in hot!" Carlos shouted, standing to give Rory cover to get to the Gate. "Do not raise the shield until we are all through! Repeat, we are coming in hot!"
Instead of bolting like she was supposed to
, Rory started dragging Major Teldy towards the Gate. Out of the corner of Carlos' vision, he spotted armed Durrae traders flanking them on the edges of the clearing. Swinging his P-90 around, Carlos took out the gunman on one side, but that left the guy on the other side momentarily free to shoot.
Carlos didn't hear the bullet, but he did hear the thud as Rory collapsed hard onto the dirt, dropping the Major. Carlos swapped out his empty magazine, then cut down the gunman in a controlled burst of bullets.
Rory was already on her feet again, and Carlos thought maybe she tripped. Giving up on the prescribed first-aid hold, Rory grabbed the front of Major Teldy's vest and dragged her bodily through the wormhole.
Now that the civilian and the wounded were out of danger, Carlos only had to focus on providing cover to his remaining team members. Using the DHD to steady his aim, Carlos began picking off the Durrae who could do the most damage to his team. The P-90 wasn't exactly known for its accuracy, but the distance wasn't that far, and Carlos was one of the best snipers his battalion had ever seen.
Sgt. Mehra flew past him towards the gate, Captain Andrews hot on her heels. "Go through, Staff Sergeant!" the Captain shouted, pausing by Carlos' side.
"I've got your back, sir!" Carlos replied, everything calm in his head now as he fired on the Durrae stupid enough to keep coming.
Captain Andrews muttered something that Carlos didn't hear, but the man ran towards the Gate and Carlos followed, moving backwards over the terrain. These were among the most dangerous steps he had ever traveled, on his own, no cover, with nothing but bullets between him and the enemy.
One of the men by the trees raised his weapon to fire at Carlos, but then the wormhole swallowed him whole and spat him out across the galaxy. No sooner had Carlos cleared the event horizon than the shield shimmered into existence, and a loud collision hit the shield just Carlos' head had been. Safe.
Carlos let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding as he turned away from the Stargate to the chaos behind him. A medical team buzzed around Major Teldy, with an urgency that told him she was still alive. Sgt. Dusty Mehra was handing off her weapons to security, a sickly paleness under her brown skin contrasting with the triumphant exultation on her face. Adrenaline freak
, Carlos thought fondly. He'd worked with Dusty at the SGC before coming to Atlantis and he was used to her propensity for death-defying situations.
Captain Andrews seemed fine, moving without trouble, so Carlos took a step deeper into the room to look for Gilmore. She was hovering close to the medical team, absolutely covered in Major Teldy's blood, and it occurred to Carlos that he didn't know why she'd fallen back on the planet.
He had taken two steps across the floor, intent on Gilmore, and suddenly Captain Andrews was in his face, red-faced and pissed. "What the hell is wrong with you, Staff Sergeant?" the Captain shouted. "I gave you a direct order to head back through the Gate!"
Carlos snapped to attention, his P-90 falling to his side as he focused on a spot on the wall over the Captain's head. "Sir, I--"
"You are not the only person who can fire a weapon, sniper training or no!"
"Sir, I had the shot and the best cover--"
"Stop talking!" Andrews shouted. Over his head, Carlos could see that the altercation had attracted the attention of Lt. Colonel Sheppard and Colonel Carter, both crossing the floor from different directions.
But Rory got there first. "He saved our lives!" she exclaimed, shoving her way between Carlos and the Captain. Carlos stepped back, pulling Rory with him. "She nearly bled out before we got back and the only reason we're not all lying dead back there is that Carlos shot enough of the bad guys before they could shoot more of us!"
From the expression on the Captain's face, Carlos knew that Rory wasn't helping. He lowered his head to tell her just that, when he saw something he hadn't before. In all the confusion, he'd assumed that all the blood on Rory's white skin and uniform was from Major Teldy, but now, in the clean light of the Gatrium, he saw the gash across Rory's throat, seeping blood in a steady stream.
"Medic!" Carlos shouted, clapping a hand over Rory's throat. Rory tried to pry his hand free, but he was stronger than she was even when she wasn't bleeding from a neck wound. "Stop squirming, you're injured!"
Colonel Sheppard grabbed Rory's arm, preventing her from fighting Carlos. "Easy, Rory, let's get you checked out by the nice doctors," Sheppard said in his 'calming wounded animals' voice. "Plenty of time for a post-mission brief afterwards."
"But that isn't what happened!" Rory protested, glaring at Captain Andrews. A nurse appeared to maneuver a bandage over Rory's neck, waiting for Carlos to move his hand away before applying pressure.
More medics appeared, fresh from the infirmary, as the first wave had already retreated with the Major into the waiting arms of the surgical hall. Colonel Sheppard had to physically push Rory along with the medics to get her moving. The Colonel stared after the crowd until Gilmore was out of sight.
"Staff Sergeant--" Captain Andrews began again, but the Colonel turned around and cut him off.
"Captain Andrews, Sgt. Mehra, go get checked out," he said flatly, a bright light in his eyes daring one of them to disobey. Dusty gave Carlos a wide-eyed look as she hurried after the medics. Captain Andrews was slower in moving, and the deliberate way he stared at Carlos was a challenge.
Colonel Carter stepped up to Sheppard. "I'm going to see how Major Teldy is doing," she said in a low voice. "And see what happened there."
"Ma'am," Sheppard said, never taking his eyes off Carlos. The room emptied as personnel reluctantly went about their business.
Carlos made himself breathe out. It felt as if hours had gone by, but really, it had been less than ten minutes since his team had first been pinned behind the DHD on that blue-skied planet. And, in that ten minutes, the team leader had been shot, Gilmore had been shot, and Captain Andrews had gone batshit insane about orders and rank when clearly, Carlos had been the best person to give the retreating team cover, with his marksmanship skills and--
"Staff Sergeant?" Sheppard said, and Carlos snapped back to attention. The man stepped in front of him, face blank and dangerous and Carlos barely had a chance to remember that Sheppard had his eye on Gilmore, a girl Carlos had supposed to be protecting, when Sheppard went on, "Are you in any way needing medical attention?"
Carlos' spine went even straighter at the sarcasm and challenge in Sheppard's voice. At that moment, it wouldn't have mattered if Carlos had been bleeding to death from a gut shot, he'd never admit it.
"Then come with me."
Carlos automatically handed his P-90 to the waiting security officer and followed Sheppard down the steps, out into the hall, into what he assumed was the man's office. He'd never actually been inside, and the rumors were that Sheppard never had, either.
Carlos came to attention again as Sheppard stopped beside the cluttered desk. "Give me your pack," Sheppard said, holding out his hand.
Why the hell did he mean? What would that have to do with what had happened on the planet, or in the Gateroom with Andrews?
The corner of Sheppard's eye twitched. "Staff Sergeant, give me your pack," he said again, making it into an order.
Fine. Unclipping the straps of his pack, Carlos dropped it on Sheppard's desk before resuming his position. He wondered why the hell Sheppard wasn't in the infirmary with Gilmore, or waiting to hear about Major Teldy, or anything but standing around in his office.
Sheppard yanked the canteen from the pouch on the pack. He hefted it, then raised his eyebrows. "How long were you off-world?" he asked.
Carlos stared at his CO. What did it matter how long the team had been away from Atlantis? Risking breaking his stance to check his watch, Carlos said. "A little over four hours, sir!"
"Be more specific."
What the hell was wrong with the man? Carlos thought back to the beginning of the mission, past the blood and the killing, to standing on the Gatrium floor with Major Teldy and Mehra and Gilmore and Andrews before they headed out. "Four hours and eighteen minutes, sir!"
"Sit down," Sheppard ordered. Carlos folded into the chair before he could think why it might be a bad idea. "How many seconds is that?"
"Sir, what does--"
"How many seconds, Marine?"
Not dumb enough to disobey when Sheppard looked that intense, Carlos tried to remember how many minutes in an hour, and then how many seconds in a minute. When he finally looked up, answer on his tongue, Sheppard was leaning against the edge of his desk, his feet a few inches from Carlos' chair.
"Fifteen thousand, two hundred and forty seconds, sir," Carlos said.
Sheppard gave him a nod, some of the tension easing out of the man's jaw. He handed Carlos a full canteen. "I'll spare you the lecture on proper hydration in the field, as long as you drink that before Keller comes down here looking for you," Sheppard said. "I'll wait."
For the third time that week, Carlos wondered how a man like Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard was still in control of an entire base of Marines. A proper Marine CO would be chewing Carlos a new one for letting his team be ambushed on unfriendly ground, or at his audacity to talk back to Captain Andrews in the Gateroom. Not asking obscure math problems or ordering him to finish off his canteen.
But Carlos Herrera was a Marine, and he did what he was ordered.
As he lifted the canteen to his mouth, he wondered distantly why the thing was shaking. It took him a moment to realize that it was his hand that was shaking, still covered with blood, blood from Major Anne Teldy and Civilian Scientist Lorelai Leigh Gilmore, and he had no idea if they were going to be alright.
Pushing that away, Carlos concentrated on sipping from his canteen. If he tried very hard, he could pretend that Sheppard wasn't glaring daggers into him.
After a few minutes, when the canteen was almost empty and Carlos wondered if he might just throw up, Sheppard said, "All right, let's go through it."
"Through what, sir?" Carlos asked. He wasn't trying to be an asshole, not really, but the whole day was an adrenaline soaked blur in his head and he honestly didn't know what Sheppard wanted.
"All of it, linear fashion. What happened when you stepped through the gate to about..." He checked his watch. "Ten minutes ago when we walked into my office." Sheppard reached for his tablet computer and hit a button. "Mission report of Staff Sergeant Carlos Herrera," he said into the microphone, then set the computer down.
Carlos really hated these on-the-spot audio mission reports. They were only done when things had gone to shit in a can, to measure immediate reactions. Knowing that only Sheppard and Colonel Carter would ever hear it did nothing to calm his nerves.
Taking a deep breath, Carlos began. "When we exited the wormhole, Major Teldy ordered Captain Andrews and myself to secure a perimeter around the Stargate while Ms. Gilmore and Sgt. Mehra were to scan the area..."
Carlos talked and talked, going back over points Sheppard wanted explained in fuller detail. Trying to find the words to explain his actions and reactions was the hardest point, but Carlos kept going, mostly because of the challenge in Sheppard's eyes.
He was almost at the point their radios stopped working, from some sort of interference from whatever had ripped the DHD apart, when Sheppard's spine stiffened and his hand lifted to his ear. Carlos broke off, his mouth drying up at the blank expression on Sheppard's face. "Sir?"
Sheppard held up his hand for silence. After a moment, he said, "You're sure? I know -- No, I don't see -- But..." He closed his mouth with an audible click. "Yeah, fine." He tapped his earpiece irritably, then pushed off the desk to pace across the room.
Carlos could take no more. "Sir, is the Major all right?" he demanded.
Sheppard swung around. "What? Oh, yeah, she's fine." He put his hands on his hips, biting his lip, and Carlos couldn't see a single reason for the man to look so closed off. "She's still in surgery but the doc says she's out of danger for now."
A wave of complete relief swept over Carlos. The Major was going to live. Knowing her, she'd probably be on her feet and ordering the enlisted men around in no time.
But Sheppard still stood there, that expression of unease on his face, which was the only reason Carlos pressed on. "Then what's happening?"
Sheppard rubbed his hand over his face as he returned. This time, he sat in his chair, putting the bulk of the desk between them. "There has been an allegation made to Colonel Carter, about you." He cleared his throat. "Under Section 654 of Title 10."
The words crashed into Carlos and took his breath away. After all he'd given to the Marine Corps and the Stargate program, fought with these people and bled with these people, and now someone was trying to get him kicked out of the military for being gay
It had to be Captain Andrews who had made the allegations. The man had been riding Carlos' back since he arrived in November. No one else had expressed a problem with any of the homosexual members of the military or scientists, regardless of what nation they were from. And this couldn't be a coincidence that it happened half an hour after Andrews blew his lid in the Gateroom.
, Staff Sergeant." Sheppard's voice knocked Carlos back to reality. At some point, he'd risen to his feet. But what the hell was he going to do? Go confront a senior officer about being a homophobic asshole and get himself brought up on assault charges?
Although with the way he was feeling right now, punching Captain Andrews in the face was really
"Staff Sergeant," Colonel Sheppard repeated. Carlos slowly sat down. "I only have one question for you."I thought you weren't supposed to ask,
Carlos thought bitterly. "Sir?"
Sheppard folded his hands on the desk and stared at Carlos. "Staff Sergeant Herrera, have you ever behaved in such a way as to be a discredit to the United States Marine Corps?"
Unbidden, Carlos shot to his feet and put his hands behind his back, at attention. "No sir! Never, sir!"
Sheppard stood. "Understood, Marine. Now, go on down to the infirmary and get checked out."
It wasn't until Carlos had retrieved his pack and was in the doorway that Sheppard said, "Staff Sergeant?"
Carlos turned around.
"Steer clear of Captain Andrews for now." Sheppard's voice was iron. "Consider that a direct order."
Carlos marched out of Sheppard's office and down the hall, moving with purpose. Was he imagining that people were looking and whispering at him? Could they have heard already? The Atlantis gossip system was legendary, faster at information dissemination than at the SGC. And if Andrews had gone down to the infirmary with Colonel Carter, and accused Carlos of homosexual conduct in front of everyone...
Pausing in an alcove, Carlos let his pack fall to the ground as he leaned against the wall, suddenly nauseous. All these years in the Corps, being so careful with his personal life, fighting with everything he had to protect the United States, and then Earth and the entire Galaxy against the Goa'uld and the Ori, and now the Wraith, and this was what it got him? Vilified and five steps away from being discharged because of the way he was?
Was this what it felt to have your life fall down around you?~~~
"Are you sure you're ready to leave the infirmary? Maybe you should stay here. I can bring you some food. You should stay here in case you start bleeding again or there's a side effect. They're better at dealing with side effects when people are here, and not in their own rooms."
"Stop!" Rory put up her hands to ward her father off, ignoring the pull on her neck. "Rodney, I'm fine. It was just a scratch."
"You were shot!" Rodney was doing that Lady Macbeth hand-wringing thing again. "You were shot in the neck! People who get shot in the neck should be in the infirmary, not discharged to free up bed space! What are we, an overcrowded inner-city ER?"
Rory stared at him. "You're from Canada! You have free socialist health care! When have you ever been in a crowded inner-city ER?"
"That's not the point! You were shot!"
"How can you be fine when you were shot?"
Rory grabbed Rodney's arm and pulled him into Keller's office, away from the increasingly annoyed glares from the medical staff. "I don't want to stay in the infirmary! I hate hospitals, the only time I'm ever in them is when someone's sick and dying, and I am not staying here overnight!"
Rodney was momentarily distracted from his impending panic attack by Rory's unintentional vehemence. "Who are you talking about?"
Sometimes, Rory could forget that Rodney did actually listen on occasion. She let out her breath in a huff. "My grandfather," she admitted, letting go of Rodney's jacket sleeve. "He had two heart attacks. Once when I was in high school and once when I was in college. Both times, I was there when he collapsed and I had to go to the hospital with him and I can't--" She stopped talking, wondering what the pressing sensation on her chest was, if she was having a heart attack of her own and how ironic that would be, when someone pushed her into a chair and there was babbling over her head but it sounded like she was underwater.
"Miss Gilmore," someone repeated a few times. Rory made herself focus. It was Doctor Howard from the medical team, the only doctor on duty not in the operating room with Major Teldy. "What's happening?"
"I'm fine," Rory said weakly. She glanced over to where Rodney was leaning against the wall, pale as a sheet. "Really, it was just a thing, I'm fine."
"A delayed reaction to being shot is not unexpected," said the doctor. He felt Rory's pulse, looked at her pupils, double-checked the stitches in her neck beneath the gauze bandage. "Are you sure you don't want to remain in the infirmary for a little longer? Luckily we have more room than most inner-city hospitals." That last was delivered with a glance at Rodney.
"I don't want to stay, I just want to go back to my room and have a shower," Rory insisted. She still wore clothes covered with Major Teldy's blood, and the memory was enough to make her a little dizzy. "Please?"
Dr. Howard gave her an appraising look. "I'm going to get you something in case you have another attack. And if you do have another attack, I want you to call us, do you understand?"
"Yeah," Rory muttered, not willing to nod with her neck injury.
The doctor disappeared back into the infirmary. Rory began silently counting down from ten. When she reached four, Rodney spoke. "But your grandfather's okay, right?"
Rory sighed. How was it possible, that after three months of working with her father, she hadn't told Rodney about her grandparents? Because that would lead you to talk about your mother, and lord knows you're never going to do that
, a little voice whispered in her head. "He's okay," she said, subdued. "I just don't like hospitals."
Doctor Howard returned with the anti-anxiety drugs, and a handful of painkillers for the gunshot. Rodney insisted on walking Rory to her quarters, then coming in to make sure she had water and blankets and enough cushions, hovering until Rory was ready to scream.
"I'll be fine."
"I know," Rodney said, adjusting a cushion once more.
"You have work to do."
Rodney put the cushion back on the couch and picked up a blanket. "Probably."
Rory pulled the blanket out of Rodney's hands. "Dad, stop."
Rodney blinked at her. "What?"
"They wouldn't have let me leave if I wasn't okay, you know that."
Rodney shrugged. "I know, it's just..."
"I wasn't there."
"On what, the planet?" Rory asked. "You weren't supposed to be, you and Radek were running experiments."
"In the Gateroom when you came back," he clarified. "I should have been there."
Rory wondered how much more he would freak out if she put her head into her hands to weep. "You can't be in the Gateroom all the time when I'm off-world. For starters, Sam will kill you."
"But-- You're my daughter." Rodney blinked, sounding surprised at himself. "You shouldn't be in danger."
It occurred to Rory that this didn't have anything to do with her, which made things a little easier to handle. She'd been dealing with freaking parents and grandparents in various incarnations for over twenty-five years. "I made it through, and I'll be okay," Rory said. "I've been going off-world with teams at the SGC and Atlantis for months now. I know how to fire a gun and run away and hide, and fix a DHD and fly a Jumper. I can handle myself off-world."
"But you were shot
Rory gave Rodney a hug. "You've been shot too. Must be a McKay family tradition."
Rodney awkwardly patted Rory's back. "Then we need new off-world traditions."
Rory stepped away to put the blanket on the couch. "How about wacky accidental marriages?"
"That's Lorne's team," Rodney replied absently.
"Ronon has that covered for everyone."
"How about insulting people's religion?" Rory meant it to be a joke, but Rodney just sighed.
"That's something." He looked at her. "Are you absolutely certain that you're not in any danger of aneurysm or not clotting or--"
Sometimes, the time-tested methods worked the best. Rodney stopped mid-diatribe. "You'll be okay?"
Rory gently but firmly pushed Rodney towards the door. "Go back to work. I'll see you in the morning?"
In the doorway, Rodney baulked. "It's just..." He rubbed his hands together nervously. "Seeing you hurt isn't right."
Rory bit down on the snappy comeback of it's no picnic for me either
, because he really was trying. "I'll be okay."
Rodney walked away. Rory retreated back into her room, putting the drugs on her bedside table. She was
fine, just a little banged up on the edges. Major Teldy had been hurt way worse. And the woman would be fine now. The doctors had said she wasn't in any additional danger because of the delay caused by the broken DHD.
The DHD Rory almost hadn't been able to fix.
A shower worked to clean the blood and gore off her skin, but even the hot water wasn't enough to warm Rory's hands. She turned off the water after a few minutes and dried her skin, stepping into another uniform without really paying attention to what she was doing. There was still a bit of dirt under her fingernails and she wasn't sure how to get her hands clean.
Maybe she should try to work. Rory got out her computer and stared at the screen, but the numbers didn't mean anything to her.
Major Teldy had almost died, and Rory had been shot, and the whole team had very nearly died because Rory had taken so long to fix the DHD.
Putting the computer down, Rory went out onto the balcony. The sun was setting over the horizon, the light sliding lazily along the water's edge.
Even if Rory had died, the sun would still be setting, and the only difference was that Rory wouldn't be around to see it.
Rory pushed off the railing. She should just forget about work for a little while, do a little reading. That would calm her down. She wouldn't have a panic attack or hysterics, even if she had been shot. People in Atlantis were hurt all the time, and they didn't fall apart just because they'd nearly let their entire team be killed because they panicked on the battlefield and--
The air seemed a little thin. Rory concentrated on breathing. She'd go find a book to read, and she'd lie on her bed to read for a while, and then she'd drift off to sleep, and when she woke up in the morning she'd be all right and Major Teldy would be out of surgery, and everything would be back to normal.
That was how Rory ended up walking a slow path along the Atlantis hallway, following the pulsing of the light until she found herself outside of John Sheppard's door.
He answered the door as soon as she knocked, his hair damp and a towel in his hands. He was only in a t-shirt and pants, his feet bare against the cold floor. "Are you okay?" he asked as soon as he saw her.
Rory blinked at him. "If one more person asks me that, I might scream."
John winced in sympathy. "Sorry." He tossed the towel at a chair, missing by a few inches. "Can I help you with something?"
"Can I borrow your book?"
John lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "What book?"
"War and Peace. Rodney mentioned a while ago that you brought a copy as your personal item in the first year of the expedition. Can I borrow it? I don't have anything to read."
John put one hand on the doorframe. "You won't want to borrow it," he hedged.
For some reason, his words made her angry. "Why is everyone convinced that they know what I want?" she demanded.
John's eyes went wide. "What?"
"Dr. Howard thinks I need medication, Rodney is convinced I need to talk about everything, and now you're convinced I don't want to read a book?" Her voice was rising a little hysterically, but damn it, she was sick of everyone around her telling her she didn't know her own mind. "So what if I've been shot and lost a little blood? It happens all the time to everyone else, no one ever tried to tell Sam what she wants!"
John looked at her for a moment, then stepped back to let Rory into the room. The door closed behind her with a whisper. "That isn't what I meant," he said. He picked up a large book from the desk, a bookmark near the very front of the pages, and handed it to Rory.
She looked at the cover, but instead of the expected words, a gibberish of unfamiliar characters presented themselves to her. "What is this?"
"War and Peace."
"It's in Russian."
John twitched a shoulder.
"Do you even know
"That's why I'm only on page twenty-three."
Rory looked at John, his words not making any sense to her, until he took the book out of her hands and gently guided her over to the couch. He sat beside her.
"What's up?" he asked quietly.
Rory bit her lips, feeling the panic well up in her chest again. "I almost couldn't fix it," she whispered.
"The DHD." She stared at her hands, at the dirt under her nails and the long scratch down her arm from one of the DHD's sharp edges. "Major Teldy had been shot, and we didn't know where the Captain and Dusty were, and the DHD was broken and Carlos was shooting everything in sight, and I just froze."
"But you did fix the DHD," John reminded her. His voice was low and close. "You fixed the DHD and got everybody home. You even dragged the Major through the wormhole after you'd been shot yourself."
"But I almost didn't!" Rory insisted. Why wasn't he listening to her?
"Hey, it's okay," John said. He put his hand on her shoulder, and the sudden warmth was a shock. "I got Herrera's report while you were in the infirmary. He said you performed a miracle out there today."
"That's not it!"
"Rory, you fixed the DHD--"
"So have you ever seen the inside of a DHD outside of a schematic, let alone jury-rigged one to get everyone home?"
"Not what? Not the point?" John's hand slid down her arm to cup her elbow. "You did exactly what you were supposed to do off-world. You had your team's back, and you got them home in one piece."
"But I'm not--" Rory broke off, not even sure what she was trying to say. John just sat here, his hand on her arm, holding her in place even as her mind threatened to spin off in all directions. "I'm not the first-wave kind of girl.
John's face scrunched up in confusion. "What?"
"I'm the second wave," Rory tried to explain. "I got to the SGC after everything had been fixed, all the Goa'uld and the Ori. Same with coming here, I was supposed to be here after all the dangerous things had gone past. I don't know how to be the one dealing with... with this!"
"What about the first week you were here and you helped save the city from another drone?" John reminded her.
"That's not the same, it's..." Rory burned her head in her shaking hands. "I know we're all safe, but every time I try to calm down I keep thinking that if I didn't mess up this time, I'll do it next time and get people killed!"
John's hand slid up her arm to rest on her back again, heavy and warm and the closest Rory had come to non-violent physical contact in months. "And you think we don't all do that?"
Rory tried to turn her head to look at him, but pain lanced through her neck at the motion, so she physically turned, regretting the motion as soon as John's hand left her back. "What?"
"Everyone on Atlantis knows that we're risking death every day," John said, sounding tired. "We do what we can, we work together, and we hope that it's enough."
"So why am I the only one falling apart?" Rory asked, the hysteria churning in her stomach, and something else pushing at her consciousness. She could swear she could feel
the warmth coming from John's body.
"Trust me, you're not the only one." A small smile ghosted across John's face as he reached out to push a strand of drying hair behind Rory's ear. His fingers brushed over Rory's cheek, and she shivered with a sensation that had nothing to do with the cold. "I think everyone here has fallen apart at least once."
For some reason, John's eyes drifted up to the Johnny Cash poster over his bed. "Yeah, even me."
John was still touching her cheek, and Rory was finding it hard to think straight. She stood up suddenly, wondering if she should go, and the abrupt movement left her light-headed. John was on his feet in an instant, holding her arm to steady her.
"Thanks," Rory said, aware that she was blushing. "Sorry."
"It's okay," John said. He let go of her arm. "You'll be good."
"That's what everyone keeps saying." Rory tried to smile. "Maybe it's even true." She was about to say something else, to excuse herself from his presence before she did something stupid, but then she caught a glimpse out the windows, and her original intention were forgotten.
Without a word, Rory stepped around John to the balcony door, fumbling open the latch and stepping onto the platform, eyes only for the sight before her. John Sheppard had picked for himself the most amazing view of the night-time city, with light playing off the buildings in a symphony of color and warmth.
"It's beautiful," Rory breathed, belatedly aware that John had joined her on the balcony. "I've never seen this side of the city at night before."
"You like?" John asked.
"It's..." Rory pointed at one of the smaller towers, with light spilling out the top and streaming down the spiral sides in a waterfall of illumination. "I've never seen anything like it, the way the light just moves down the building like that!"
John leaned on the railing beside her. "You can see that?"
"Can't you?" Rory asked, momentarily startled.
"How the light moves? Yeah, I can, but the only other person I know who can is Lorne."
"Oh. Is that bad?"
John shook his head, his gaze never leaving her face. "It's not bad at all, just... unexpected."
Disconcerted by the weight in his eyes, Rory turned back to look out over the city. "This is really the most amazing view," she said wistfully.
John leaned closer to her, his body blocking the gentle breeze. "So, did you, um, hear what Andrews and Carter were talking about in the infirmary?" he asked out of nowhere.
"No, Rodney showed up and was talking over everyone when Sam got down there, then Dr. Howard pulled me into his office to do the stitches in my neck. Why?
"No reason," John said hastily. He inched even closer to Rory and pointed at something by the East Pier. "What do you think of that one?"
Rory craned her neck to see what John was pointing at, having to lean into his body to see. "It looks like a flower of light!" she said in delight. "It's so beautiful from here."
"Yeah, there's nothing like it on Earth, not even the Antarctic base," John said just beside Rory's ear, his breath tickling the hairs on the back of her neck. She shivered again. "Atlantis is amazing."
Rory spent a few minutes looking at the sights, her breath coming a little faster as John stayed pressed against her side. "I'm glad I came here," Rory said after a while. She blushed again. "It's nice."
"Yeah," John said, not at all seeming to notice how banal her words were. "It's good that you're here. You're doing good work and, uh, yeah. Everything."
Rory turned slightly. John had that slightly confused look he got whenever he was trying to compliment someone, which made him look like a rumpled kid, even up close and knowing he was fifteen years older than she was. "Really?"
John smiled, his confidence coming back. "Would I lie about something like that?" he asked. He ran his thumb along her jaw and over her throat. "The answer to that is no, by the way."
Rory wondered idly if it was possible to spontaneously combust from such slight physical contact. Seriously, Jack O'Neill could march through the room playing an accordion and leading a marching band, and Rory probably wouldn't notice. She licked her lower lip, aware that John's gaze followed the movement of her tongue. "Good," she said, not remembering what they were talking about. "Really."
"Right," John said faintly. His hand moved to cup the back of her neck, gently holding her in place against his body, but he just stayed
like that, looking at her.
In the end, Rory was the one to move in to kiss him. She wasn't sure if she'd been planning to just kiss John once and then run away, but two years of celibacy and a day of near-death experiences overrode her common sense at the touch of his lips.
John made a noise low in his throat, pulling her against his body as he kissed her back with growing intensity. It was completely overwhelming, falling into the familiar rhythm of lips and tongue and touch, and she never wanted it to stop.
Inevitably, however, Rory pulled back for air. Breathing heavily, she opened her eyes to find John staring at her, his eyes dark. She tried to think of something to say, but nothing would come out.
"Would it be inappropriate for me to ask you to stay?" John asked, nearly as breathless as she. The words would have been awkward but for the slide of his hand down her spine.
"No," Rory whispered, hardly able to think over the thrum of blood in her veins.
"Then will you stay?" John continued, smiling in confident delight, and Rory felt her knees go weak.
This would be fine, Rory told herself. There'd been a thing between them for a while, and no one else needed to know. This was just them, just for now.
"I'll stay," Rory breathed, then pulled John down to kiss her again. ~~~
"I should go."
The statement should have been redundant, seeing as how Rory was searching for her shirt in the pile of discarded clothing, but she couldn't look at John to see how it was received.
"You don't have to," John said from the bed. The offer fell flat, because Rory wasn't really sure how he would be able to explain someone sneaking out of his quarters in the morning any easier than in the dead of night.
Finding her shirt, Rory pulled it over her head, refusing to wince at the pain in her neck. Through some miracle of physics and medical technology, her stitches hadn't split during the activity of the last few hours. "I need to eat something."
Her hair fell in her eyes as she laced up her boots, obscuring her vision as something in the back of her head began to ping about what the hell am I doing
When she sat up, the grey around the edges of her vision pressed in for a moment. She pressed her hand to her forehead, willing the dizziness to go away.
"Hey, what is it?" John asked, his hands going around her waist. For a moment, Rory forgot herself and leaned back into the embrace, wishing that this could just be
, independent of everything outside that door. But life wasn't like that.
"Just a little tired," Rory said. And if she didn't turn her head to look at John, it had everything to do with her neck. "Thanks for not loaning me your book."
John laughed in a tiny huff against her cheek, momentarily wiping away all of Rory's resolve to leave now
Rory gently pushed John's hands away and stood. "I'll probably see you tomorrow."
"Probably." John looked up at her, his hair even more of a mess than usual and naked and sweaty under those sheets
and Rory had to get out of there before she did anything to make this even worse. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Sure," Rory replied too fast. "Made it through this day, remember?"
"Yeah." John caught Rory's hand, but instead of kissing her knuckles like anyone else would have done (anyone else she'd slept with, that is, with its statistically insignificant sample size of two), he squeezed her palm in reassurance. "You did."
She would not cry. She would not break down in front of this man after this day, not here and certainly not now.
In the end, she just pulled her hand free, and left John's room.
She made it as far as the end of the hall before she caught her reflection in the glass of the water filtration columns. Her hair was a mess, tangled like it had dried while she was flat on her back and oh god, if anyone else saw her, they'd know what happened, what she had done.
Ignoring the pain in her neck, Rory pulled her hair into a rough ponytail. Now that she was out of John's presence, away from him looking at her with those green eyes and that smile that should really be banned in Boston, the self-doubt began hammering away inside her head.
What had she done
The mess hall was almost empty. A late-night Marine coffee klatch occupied the alcove near the end, but Rory could avoid them if she wanted. Dr. Simpson was at a table near the coffee urn, preoccupied with her computer. Rory gave the woman her space, instead taking a roast near-deer sandwich from the cooler and sitting in the middle of the room by herself.
It wasn't the end of the world, she tried to tell herself. So what if she'd slept with the military commander of Atlantis? Did it matter if he was her father's best friend, and old enough to be her father himself?
Did it matter that she was jeopardizing her career and the life she'd built for herself at the SGC by falling into bed with the first guy on Atlantis who'd shown her any interest at all?
The churning in her stomach was back. Rory stared at her sandwich, hoping she wouldn't be sick, as she imagined all the ways that this one bad decision could ruin her life. People would start saying that she only got where she was because she slept with the people in charge. It would start with John, then go back to her whole time at the SGC.
And Rodney would be so furious.
Rory picked at the edge of the sandwich, distancing herself from the memory of the past few hours. She had to admit to herself that part of the reason she'd gone to John's room didn't have anything to do with the book. She'd practically forced her way into his room, she'd kissed him first, and she certainly hadn't demurred at anything he'd suggested in bed.
Shame crawled its way up her spine. What was John going to think
of her in the morning?
Rory nearly jumped out of her skin. "Jesus, Carlos, don't do that!" she exclaimed as the man sat across the table from her. "I-- what's wrong?"
"What are you talking about?" Herrera asked, hands loose on the table. He was exhausted, grey around the edges, eyes a little bloodshot.
"You look like hell. Did something happen to the Major? You weren't hurt, right?"
"Major Teldy's fine," Carlos said, slouching over the table. Rory had never seen him so defeated before. "I wasn't hit off-world, you know that."
"What did the doctors say?" Rory put her fingers on Carlos' hand. He was ice cold.
He shrugged. "I was fine so I didn't bother with the infirmary."
"Didn't bother..." Rory let her voice trail off. "But it's procedure coming back from off-world!"
Carlos drummed his fingers on the table, not meeting her gaze. "They were busy."
Rory stared at him. "What happened? Something had to have happened. You're a stickler for protocol. You even make your bed when no one's watching."
"Maybe I'm sick of all the bullshit," Carlos muttered. He rubbed his hands over his face. "You didn't hear what Andrews said to Colonel Carter, did you." It wasn't a question.
That was the second time Andrews had been brought into the conversation. First John, now Carlos. "The doctor was stitching me up, I didn't hear anything they were saying. What is it?"
Carlos let his hands fall. "He, uh... He told the Colonel that I was engaging in homosexual conduct."
Rory felt the blood drain from her face. "He did not!" she exclaimed, horrified.
"Well, no, actually he said he wasn't working with a fucking faggot anymore, and how had someone like me even ended up in the Marine Corps?" Carlos said, contained anger dripping off every word. "Then he started citing military policy on me, now the Colonel has to open an investigation." He raised an imaginary glass. "Here's to the system."
"But..." Rory sat back, head racing. "What does it matter? There are other gay soldiers on base."
"From England," Carlos reminded her. "Where it's legal to be flaming in uniform."
"Stop that!" Rory jabbed his hand with her finger. "This will all just go away--"
"I'm not going to lie," Carlos interrupted her suddenly. "If the Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel ask, I'm not going to lie about it. I'm not going to do it."
Rory stared at her friend, at the man who had saved her life earlier in that day, and didn't know what to say to him. There was nothing she could do to make this any better, because for all the talk about loose adherence to military protocol at the SGC and Atlantis, she knew that everyone had to follow protocol, even in a situation as insane and backwards as this one.
"Does everyone know?"
Carlos snorted in derisive laughter. "Yeah, pretty much. Dusty tells me that Phillips from Botany was in the infirmary when Andrews started ranting, and you know what Botany's like with gossip."
"And it's not like I'd ever go for Andrews' ass," Carlos went on. "Like, seriously?"
"Yeah," Rory said again, this time in agreement. She wished there was something she could do for her friend, but outside of telling Colonel Carter that Andrews was a total asshole (which she was pretty sure Sam had already noticed), there was nothing.
As they sat in an awkward silence, a harsh laugh rose from the group of Marines in the corner. Something about the sound raised the hairs on the back of Rory's neck, setting the adrenaline rushing through her veins. Muttered voices trickled through the mess hall. Most of the voices were low, but when Rory heard the word fag hag
on the air, she was on her feet in an instant.
"Gilmore," Carlos said in an intense voice, eyes blazing. "Let it go, it's just talk."
Rory stared at him. They'd been shot at by crazy vindictive aliens, they'd almost lost Major Teldy, Captain Andrews was trying to end Herrera's career, and he wanted her to let it go
The Marines were talking again, and Rory wasn't even sure how she had made it over to their corner. They broke off when she stopped at the end of the table. "Which one of you said that?" she demanded.
Three of the Marines looked away, but the fourth, a Lieutenant who had come through to Atlantis with Andrews in November, rose to his feet. He was huge, taller than Rory and bulky with muscle, and he looked so much like the one of the Durrae who'd jumped them on the planet earlier that day, that something in Rory's head twisted and breathing got a little harder.
"Said what?" the Lieutenant demanded, crossing his arms over his chest and puffing up.
"You know what I'm talking about," she said, never taking her eyes off his face.
"I do?" the man said, almost mocking. "Maybe you need to be more careful of the company you keep."
That last was aimed over Rory's head. She didn't need to turn around to know that Carlos had her back. "You need to apologize," she said, so angry she could barely see straight.
"What the hell for?" the Lieutenant said, shrugging off his buddy who'd risen to calm him down. The movement propelled him forward a step, and suddenly Rory was back on that planet, with bullets all around and Teldy dying on the ground and the broken DHD at her feet.
She stumbled back two feet, pulling a chair in front of her to block the Marine's advance because in that instant she couldn't be sure he'd stop
. The loud noise echoed in the mess hall, startling Rory more than anything else.
The Marines froze, Rory froze, everything went completely still for a long moment. Even the light ceased to flow down the walls.
Then a new voice sounded behind Rory, low and strong and welcome. "She's right," said Ronon, stepping up out of nowhere to stand beside Rory, glaring at the Marines. "You do need to apologize."
The Lieutenant straightened up to face Ronon and Herrera, and suddenly Rory knew she was going to throw up. She needed to be anywhere else
. Turning on her heel, she ducked under Carlos' reaching arm and hurried past Dr. Simpson's startled face, breaking into a run when she hit the hallway.
She didn't stop running until she reached her quarters and locked the door behind her.
The room was empty, she knew
that, but the shaking pressure in the back of her head wouldn't let her rest until she'd looked in every corner, under the bed, double-checked the lock on the balcony door. The packed of anti-anxiety meds sat on her bedside table, mocking her with their promise of easy relaxation. It's so easy
, Rory realized, the panic of the day hammering in her head. It's so easy for me to die and there's nothing I can do to stop it, not being smart, not sleeping with a man who saved my life years ago in New York, not anything!
She flushed the medication down the drain and only paused long enough to yank off her boots before stepping into the shower fully clothed, letting the water soak through her clothing and over her skin.
"I want to go home," she whispered, voice drowned out under the hiss of the shower. "I don't know if I can do this anymore."
The only response from the city was silence.to be continued