Jack of Spades

by Domenika Marzione

In the aftermath, she is not surprised that she can't find him. He's reachable by radio, she's sure, and would come instantly if called. But he is not lingering in the periphery of her vision, not moving in and out of her sensory awareness as is his way after every other adventure gone wrong. John understands in a way that she's not sure he'd even be able to explain that his being there matters, that everyone including herself breathes a little easier with him moving around, visible and audible and there. Atlantis herself isn't the only one who derives comfort from his presence.

But his absence now is unsettling only to her; Atlantis can certainly find him, Rodney is preoccupied with the aftereffects of their temporary shield generation, and nobody else yet knows what transpired while they were away.

The ignorance will not last. Among the returnees there is a vague awareness that something happened and it is only a matter of time until some version of events is pieced together. There are two dead Marines, the infirmary and armory are in disarray, there is a Genii soldier in the brig and a half-dozen more in the morgue.

The Atlantis community is not big enough for secrets and she will have to publicly address the situation both to avoid rampant rumors and to prevent a culture of fear from developing. How much of the actual story gets told will depend on how much is gleaned from the evidence still available.

The evidence is disappearing as fast as it is collected. Peter Grodin is supervising a team of engineers in the control room as they run diagnostics, Rodney is at Grounding Station #3 performing a more permanent repair, and Radek Zelenka has another team visiting each of the other grounding stations and naquadah generators to get them all online again. Peter is used to Marines idling in the control room and Zelenka gave her a knowing, unquestioning look when Ford ordered an escort for his team. Dr. Safir is covering for Carson, running the medical staff around with the brusque briskness peculiar to Israelis so that none of them have time to ask why Dr. Beckett is concussed and bloodied.

The evidence is going, but not gone. Before Bates dialed in from Manaria, John had taken Ford and Teyla to collect the bodies of the men he'd killed, but there is more to the carnage than sweeping up bullet casings and mopping up blood. When it comes time to explain, she will not lie to the expedition members. But she will keep as much of John's actions from them as she reasonably can. He won't have to ask, the way he did after returning with only Marshall Sumner's dog tags. She can spare him this and she will because for as much as the knowledge of his... lethal prowess eats away at her, she knows that acknowledging it deeply shames him as much, if not more, than his self-perceived failures do.

Nevertheless, the now-incontrovertible fact is that John Sheppard may be lucky, but he's also good. Better than anyone with his service record should be. And that makes his survival -- and by extension their survival -- not a happy accident but instead the product of something darker and quieter. Sheppard killed more than sixty men today and that is both reassuring and horrifying all at once. To them all.

She never thought that she'd feel pleasure at the news of another's death, but there she was, reveling in the increasingly frantic reports of John's deadly actions and all but cheering with Rodney at the rising body count. At the time, it hadn't struck her as the least bit incongruous to associate death with hope, but now, in the quiet of the victorious aftermath, she is embarrassed. She suspects Rodney is, too. He has returned to his normal cantankerous self, demanding attention and deference and while he took a Marine guard without complaint when he went to repair the grounding station, she knows he wants to use the time to be alone with his thoughts, to digest what has happened and what nearly did.

This longest day (that is not quite over) has brought her closer to Rodney, their shared experiences creating a bond that she doesn't think anything will be able to break. He was the only friendly face for the entirety of the ordeal, the most immediate reason to watch her tongue and her actions, the best distraction from despair. But as much as she and Rodney were each other's sole supports and comfort, clinging together and protecting each other, they were not alone. John was out there, a ghost of a chance turned avenging angel turned savior, and she is scared that the cost of his actions will prove too high.

Courtesy of the Genii they were stripped of all pretenses, left with nothing but their true selves open and on display. Kolya and his minions may have not understood what they were seeing, but she and Rodney and John comprehended all too well.

She is probably as open to Rodney now as he is to her, his emotions and thoughts perfectly readable when they'd once been opaque behind a screen of words and idiosyncrasies. Rodney has proven himself so much braver than he'd ever thought he'd been and she'd be a little embarrassed at her surprise if his own weren't that much greater.

But John... John is closed to her now, the parts of him that she'd thought she'd figured out having been suddenly called into question and the parts just a little out of reach now impossibly far away. And she is left with the feeling that she has lost her chance to get to know him at all. He will remain what he always was but she didn't realize: a charlatan with the best intentions, an actor pretending to be that which he is not so as to please his audience. He will smile lazily and continue to make lighthearted jokes about wanting to take vacation during the next crisis. But he won't meet her eyes because she knows the truth of who he really is and she does not think that John wants to be confronted with his own duplicity.

Ferris wheels, flying, and football. Nothing more, nothing deeper. She'd be angry with him if she weren't so sure that he is hiding from himself as much as he's hiding from her.

feed me on LJ?

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