Word Count: 2194
Summary: The Entity went back into the crystal, only John didn't wake and Rodney wasn't about to let the SGC order John back to Earth.
Warnings: AU Canon Divergent, episode related (Doppelganger), past child abuse. Canonical character death.
Notes: Written for romancingmcshep 2016 using prompt 32.
Keller and Zelenka were moving about, directing teams to do this and that; someone pressed alcohol soaked gauze to the bits of adhesive still stuck on his temples and Rodney turned his head to look at John.
“Why isn't he awake?”
Everyone in the room stopped and turned to Sheppard, watching him for a moment.
“The entity is in the crystal.”
As if some set off an explosion, people began darting to and fro and John was carted off to the infirmary with Keller in tow. Rodney wouldn't see him for hours and when he and Sam and the others arrived there late in the day, the medical staff were still running tests.
In the end, they called it a coma.
They tried a dozen different things the first week. Drugs and herbal rubs, things from Sateda that Ronon had remembered Melena talking about. The SGC sent through the Gou'ald healing device which had done nothing despite Sam's repeated tries; the Ancients' accelerator, meant for bursting healing along as opposed to fixing all the damage in one go, seemed to help for a day before John's brainwave pattern when right back to where it'd been.
“I've tried everything I can,” Jennifer murmured.
The midnight meetups had continued into week two and the cooks had given up on trying to keep them out of the refrigerators, supplying them with leftovers from dinner in cartons labeled “MCKAY & COMPANY” and a selection of tea bags with a kettle of hot water. The coffee had been locked away as per Sam's instructions.
“The SGC wants a report tomorrow on his condition.” She pushed a few beans across her plate. “They, um, have to make a final determination about where he'll be staying.”
“Perhaps that's not a bad idea. I'm sure there must be treatments on Earth that aren't available to us here.” Teyla, always the voice of reason.
“Oh, don't delude yourself,” Rodney snapped, “They're going to pack him off to a long-term care facility to let him waste away and die.”
He looked at Sam. “Am I wrong?”
Carter sighed and rubbed her crossed arms. “No. You're right—they'll set him up in the SGC care ward for a few months and then he'll go somewhere else.”
“To waste away and die.”
“And we're going to let them?” Ronon growled.
“We don't really have any other choice.”
They were silent while Ronon seethed, then quietly, Jennifer told them, “What's getting me is that some times, the readings... it's almost as if he's dreaming. We just can't wake him up.”
Something in Rodney's mind kicked at him.
Gears began to turn.
Half a thought formed, and then he was being shaken awake by Sam, “Time for bed, Rodney.”
The order came through on day 15: Ship him home in the databurst.
Rodney railed at Sam for an hour.
Then, when the steam ran out and the fight left him, he spun on his heel and went down to the Infirmary where he took up station at John's side. Keller was smart enough to leave him be, watching as Rodney tried to hide the strokes of his fingers over John's arm, how he gripped John's hand now and then.
She told it to Sam though, the two of them in Jennifer's office with the big glass window that looked out into the ICU. And she told it to Teyla when she came to pull Rodney down to the mess. She diverted course and came back a little while later with a tray, prodding Rodney to eat.
No one else was told—Ronon had apparently pegged that relationship from the get-go—and they all took turns bringing food and clean clothes up to the Infirmary over the next two days. Keller was exempt, of course, prepping John for transport, but she tried her best to comfort Rodney without making it seem like she knew.
The last night, she had the orderlies set up a bed to replace the cot Rodney had dragged in at some point and she closed the door behind her with a heavy heart.
“Dr. Keller to the Infirmary immediately!”
The call had come as she'd been settling into bed and she stumbled as she raced to free herself from sheets and blanket. She barely remembered to pull on pants, let alone grab her labcoat, and she forgot about her shoes entirely. Her ankles were in horrendous pain halfway to the infirmary, but she kept running until she'd crossed the threshold of Triage and could see a gathering of people around the door to the ICU.
“What happened?” She demanded the minute she caught Marie's eye.
“I went in to do the evening check and I found them like this.”
This being both men hooked back into the machine from weeks ago, the leads attached neatly to their temples. The unit's light blinked red repeatedly and a glance at the screens around the bed showed the activity in John's brain was dream-like as opposed to a straight, steady coma.
“Rodney,” she whispered, “what are you doing?”
The gateroom was empty, no event horizon illuminating the room this time around. It made the space even more shadowed and eerie, and Rodney left it quickly behind.
“John!” he called into the corridor that took them down toward the transporter. “John, it's Rodney!”
The noise of footsteps had him turning his head: there, movement down toward the staircase. He ran after it, barely able to see ahead of him as the light died away.
Light flared back.
A child, skinny but primly dressed, stood several feet away. A livid red handprint—large like an adult's—marred the kid's face, finger-shapes disappearing into a mess of black hair.
The child started again, whipping out of view as he turned a corner.
He was in the chair room now: a teenager equally as shaggy-haired as the child had been sat there, a cigarette in one hand. The kid was rail-thin, shivering in a tee-shirt and jeans, and Rodney yanked off his sweater to hand it over.
“I don't need it, man. Just left my coat in the car.”
Suddenly a dark blue mustang popped into existence behind the chair. A pile of clothes covered the passenger seat and the kid reached in for an orange fleece.
“Who are you?”
The kid shook his head. “No one. I'm no one.”
“What's your name?”
As if the power was cut, the room went black and when Rodney blinked, he was standing on the balcony outside the mess. Elizabeth's giggle ran through the space, and someone ran by him. The brush of it made him twitch; he yelled, “John!” again.
Two tables over, a young man lifted his head from where it rested on his arms and said, “Damnit, keep it down. Some of us are trying to wash out quietly.”
“Wash out of what?”
“Didn't you hear?”
And Elizabeth's giggle flitted in his ears.
The young man was gone. Now it was John, clearly John, sprawled in the chair in a flight suit that spilled sand when he breathed. “I disobeyed orders. I went back for someone and the rescue the sent for us got shot down. Trying to save one man, I got seven killed.”
“Should stay for the court martial. I hear they're interesting to watch.”
A strong breeze hit, morphing quickly to high winds and hard rains and Rodney raced back inside to find John in a tac vest with a gun drawn. He seemed like he didn't even realize that there was someone in front of him, not even when Rodney tried to grab for John's arm.
He raced down a corridor, cursing Kolya's name.
Rodney chased after him. “John! Wait!”
He passed Ford's old room, then Elizabeth's, Carson's, Kate's... Each room filled with familiar things now packed into boxes. An iratus bug flew by, but it had John's voice as it spat out words in Ancient; the noise of gunshots and the crackle of a radio slipped out from the open door of Teyla's room.
Arclight, this is Roundhouse Zero-Six.
“What if we just turn it off?”
“Their brainwave patterns are matched. If we turn off the equipment... I don't know what it'll do to them, but when you're talking about the brain? Doing anything that disrupts neural activity can lead to permanent damage or death for them both.”
“I say we let them wake up on their own.”
“You know he went in there to bring Sheppard back. Let him.”
“It's not that simple.”
He was in his lab. The flicker of screens around him lit with videos of the people they'd lost.
A blink and he was back in the control room with blood rivulets on his face. He was in his blue BDUs with his tablet held in shaking hands.
He dropped the tablet. “John?”
John reached out for him, unsure, and touched Rodney's cheek. Blood smeared his fingers, leaving marks on Rodney's face.
He kissed Rodney soundly and flickered.
“Stay with me, John. Please. Listen, you got rid of the entity, but you didn't wake up. You've been in a coma for 18 days.”
John's mouth went tight and he clenched one of his hands rhythmically. Rodney didn't know if John understood or if this was just part of the memory playing out.
“They're shipping you back to Earth in the morning. I thought... there's nothing to lose, maybe... maybe I could help you. Somehow.”
The lights went out around him.
They popped back on and they were in his quarters, the new one with the big bed and the bigger window. Dirty clothes were piled in a corner, steps from the laundry chute; Rodney's three laptops were stacked on his desk with two earpieces and John's pistol.
Again, lights and he was back in the corridor with the little boy who looked at him quizzically. Rodney touched the edges of the mark. “Who hit you?”
“I was disrespectful to Daddy.”
Rodney swallowed thickly and patted down the tac vest he was wearing, finding the bruise balm in one of the pockets. “Here, let me,” he muttered as he uncapped it and set about smoothing some into the kid's face. He wasn't even finished when he realized he was kneeling at the foot of the chair.
The teenager had activated it and it began to move beneath a star chart of Pegasus. “This is easier that driving a stick,” he muttered.
“Well, if you didn't have the contents of your entire bedroom in the car with you...”
“Old man threw me out. It all had to go somewhere.”
“So that was your plan? Put it in your car?”
“Just until I get to the Academy.”
The city shifted under his feet and a hand fell on his shoulder.
John was wet from the hurricane, his hair mostly plastered down, but he looked sore and tired and hungry and angry. “Rodney?”
“Kolya's in the Gateroom.”
The lights went down and stayed down until he cleared the doorway to the Gateroom, where John—his John—was standing in the middle of the room. His eyes were locked on the active Stargate and the shimmering of the event horizon.
“Wake up, John. Please.”
John wrapped a hand around Rodney's wrist. “I'm pretty screwed up,” he muttered, looking at Rodney at last.
“So am I, remember?”
The Stargate shook and fell, swallowing them up.
The first thing John did as soon as soon as he had the strength to stand was to swat the back of Rodney's head. It'd taken twenty-four hours to recoop enough energy to do so and John wasn't wasting the time spent by putting it off—waiting too long to reprimand Rodney meant he wouldn't learn anything.
“Hey! See if I risk my brilliant mind to save you in the future!”
“You could have wound up braindead.”
“It was a minuscule possibility. Practically non-existent.”
John gave him Standard Bitchface #3.
Rodney caved, having the good grace to tell him, “It was one of those Hail Mary plays you're so fond of. We had less than twelve hours before you'd be out of Atlantis and it was the only thing we hadn't tried.”
“And you had to do it without permission from Carter, Keller, or Lorne?”
“There wasn't time.”
“There's always time when you could wind up dead, Rodney!”
Rodney huffed at him, but said nothing else. The message had been received and the reprimand was settling into his mind, and John relaxed into his bed for a few minutes before he said, “About what you saw...” as he reached for Rodney's hand.
“We're both screwed up.” He took John's hand and twinned their fingers together.
“Just don't throw my fear of drowning, whales, being stranded, and hurricanes in my face and I won't bring up...”
“My abusive asshole father, living in my car for the six months before the Academy, the black mark, or any of the people I couldn't save.”
“I can do that. Deal?”
Also available on AO3.