It had been a week since Carson had finally sent him ‘home’, making a strict schedule of what therapy he had to go to and when. It was already driving him nuts.
After Dr. Cale had examined him at the SGC and Carson dumped the damn ugly truth on him, it had been another month before Carson had released him back into the wild.
With help from Carson and Ronon, Teyla had done a fantastic job adjusting his apartment for his current misfortune of being in a damned wheelchair. He barely recognized the place as somehow Teyla had found Athosian-style furnishings to decorate it, making his apartment feel more like the home he’d been forced to leave behind in Pegasus.
When John wasn’t off at physio or fooling the shrink into thinking he was fine with everything that had happened, Torren was using him as a playmate, which was fine with him. It didn’t feel as if he were living his own life right now anyway, and just decided to give in to what everyone else wanted to make sure they kept off his case.
Getting around the apartment on his own was a bit difficult considering his left arm still wasn’t cooperating that well, despite all the therapy he received at the SGC to prepare him. When it did work, he liked to roll himself to his bedroom and stare into nothingness for a while. He was grateful that Cale had been right about one thing; even though sudden light changes left him blind for a moment, the pain with it had almost completely disappeared.
In all honesty, his apartment was just too small for him, Teyla, and Torren and the occasions when Carson or Ronon stayed over, and it was getting to be too overwhelming to be cooped up all day, after being cooped up at the SGC for so long.
More often than not, he had nightmares that didn’t make any sense, about Elsa, or Atlantis, or clowns performing an autopsy on him. Fortunately, they hadn’t been as bad since he’d been home because he doubted that Teyla would appreciate it if he woke her up in the middle of the night with his screams.
“Uncle John!” Torren ran over to him when he rolled himself into the living room. He crawled onto his lap and smiled widely. “Market day.”
John looked at Teyla and sighed. “Do I have to come with you?” he asked as he did not want to be stared at like an invalid
“You don’t have anything else to do, John,” Teyla replied. “And it’s good to go outside every once in a while for some fresh air.” She handed him his sunglasses and a ball cap with a smile. He wasn’t so fond of the cap, mostly because his hair managed to push it off his head, but the sunglasses alone at this time weren’t enough to dim the light of the low-hanging sun.
“Alright.” He nodded and looked at Torren, who was still smiling. “Do you know something that I don’t?”
“Yes!” Torren squealed and turned around to properly sit on John’s lap.
John eyed Teyla suspiciously. “Should I be afraid?”
“Relax, John,” Teyla chuckled as she started to push him out of the apartment. “We’re going to the market, I like how they trade there.”
He rolled his eyes. “Typical woman. Spending money.”
“You need to eat, yes?” She smiled widely. “I like the market food better than what those people try to trade in your grocery stores.”
“That is because it is usually fresher and straight from a farm. They don’t have your tava beans for your tea here, though,” he frowned, feeling down again for his friend.
“No, but your people have a great variety of tea leaves, and I must admit, they are better than tava beans.”
He tried to turn in the chair with the boy still in his lap to look at her in shock. “Really now. I wasn’t expecting to hear something like that from you.”
“John, as much as I’m trying to stay with the customs my people had, it does not hurt to try new things in life. Yes, I am a little disappointed that I can’t make tuttle root soup for you, but there are other alternatives.”
John mouthed a ‘thank you, God‘ after turning around in his chair. She did not miss it either as she went to push the chair close enough to the elevator for Torren to press the down button. “One of the stand owners has promised to share some recipes with me today. I am eager to try some new dishes but I would also really love to order that chicken dish from the Italian restaurant tonight, if you do not mind.”
He made a face at the thought. Since coming to Earth, and his return home from the SGC, he learned that she had developed what he believed to be a rather unhealthy obsession with pollo alla potentina. Frankly, John was sick of it. “Why won’t you let me cook tonight? I’ll make you something you’ll like, but please, no more chicken.”
“I would, if you could reach the cooking stove.” Teyla pushed him into the elevator, laughing.
“There’s a grill on the balcony of the apartment, I don’t need to use the stove,” John replied. “I can make something you’ll love while in the chair.”
“I have had steaks before, I didn’t like them.” Teyla made a face after doing the math.
“Believe me, you will like them the way I make them, with homemade sauce.”
“I want some!” Torren bounced around. “Let Uncle John cook!”
“Two against one, Teyla,” John grinned.
She smiled in the way she had when she had been dealing with him with Rodney and Aiden in the early days, an amused mother to full-grown children. “Very well. However, I will prepare the side vegetables. No arguments.”
“Deal.” John would happily give up his potato salad for a steak. He was happy; at least he had something to do now that didn’t require him to feel like a helpless idiot.
Teyla sighed as she thought about how things had been recently and the frustration that she knew her friend was going through feeling, experiencing after being so strong and busy for so long. “When we return, we can make a list of what we each would be responsible for, if you like. Such as you could manage loading the dish cleaning machine after meals?”
“I could do that,” John agreed. “Thanks, Teyla.”
It took him a second or two to adjust to the bright sunlight, but was happy that he didn’t have to focus on walking at the same time. Yes, sunglasses were his best friends now.
Once they were at the market, Torren was bouncing away on his lap. For some reason the little kid was psyched to be at the market and it didn’t take him long to find out why; there were clowns, and Torren seemingly loved clowns.
“Really?” John sighed and shook his head. “They’re not even…”
Teyla swatted him on the head. “Torren likes these masked men, let him enjoy watching them.”
“Have you taken him to the circus yet?” John wondered, knowing that there had been a point in his life as a kid when he’d loved the circus.
“No, I have not, because Carson looked at me in a funny way when I asked him to explain the circus to me,” Teyla replied. “He made it sound like it was pure torture.”
“Not really, kids love the circus, it’s only a torture if you don’t like…” He pointed at the clowns. “Them.”
She nodded and smiled as Torren continued to be fascinated by the show. His glee increased when one of the clowns came over to give him a balloon and do a short little dance for him. To John’s dismay he began remembering the dream he had had not long after he first woke up from his coma. The hand not holding onto the child gripped the arm of his wheelchair tightly. Teyla noticed and made sure they did not stay much longer in case John continued to react negatively.
One of the clowns gave Torren a flyer. Of course, John thought. The circus is in town…He actually wondered why he had brought it all up, considering the dream or nightmare he had had about Elsa the trapeze artist.
“Can we go?” Torren smiled and pointed at the flyer, probably not knowing what was on it exactly, just seeing a huge tent on it.
You’ll have to,he told himself, maybe out of some kind of self-inflicted torture, or maybe just to please the kid. “If your mom says we can go, we can go,” John said bravely and ruffled Torren’s hair.
“Maybe,” Teyla said warmly. “But for now, We should go and buy food.”
However, it would be a great experience for Torren to see the circus, and maybe John didn’t have to go with them if Carson or Ronon or someone else stayed behind to look after him if he needed extra help. He wondered when it would stop, though, people treating him like he was a ticking time bomb, or like he was a child, or even worse: trying to make him talk about his true feelings.
Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? He’d be fine with food as he had a grill on the balcony, he wouldn’t mind having to eat steak and potato salad for the rest of his life if he had to. “Hey, Teyla?” He helped Torren off his lap and frowned. When had Torren climbed on his lap? “Can we please not have chicken tonight?” he asked, looking at the bags of groceries they had brought back. He had only been ‘home’ for a week, and they’d had chicken something from the Italian for two or three of those days, and it wasn’t even that good.
“Yes John, we can have your steak,” she replied, sighing. She had gotten used to the forgetfulness and repetition with him since he was released, but it continued to concern her. It wasn’t the John she knew but she was well aware of the trauma of the evacuation. No one was the same after Atlantis. Well, except maybe Ronon, as he’d had lived through the destruction of his home before, so he had the experience to cope.
“Oh! You have no idea how happy that makes me,” he replied with a grin grabbing the bag of charcoal off the floor and wheeling himself towards the balcony.
“Yes, I do,” she said with a pained expression. She did not care for steak nearly as much as he did. More often than not, she felt ill after eating it and sometimes vomited it up. Teyla didn’t dare tell him because he would try to pull rank on her and make her get examined, but Carson had already explained to her that it was normal and there were many people did not digest certain meats very well. Starting the vegetable sides, she busied herself in the kitchen after setting Torren up at the table with his book and crayons.
“It looks great out here, doesn’t it?” Elsa smiled; it was her first time off world and she was as hyper as a Duracell bunny, something that annoyed John in many ways.
“Sure,” he replied and pushed her forward. She was worse than Rodney, who had managed to get himself caught up in some sort of ritual in the local village. “It’s not really necessary for you to be here, but I don’t want to take any chances with Rodney, even though he says it’s fine.”
“I’m surprised you got me, and not Carson.”
John shrugged. “You were starting to look a little pale… and it seemed like you were married to the infirmary,” he said. “I bribed Carson for you to come with.”
“You’re a bad liar,” Elsa pointed out and hopped over a few rocks. “So, how dangerous is this ritual and why did you let them go ahead with it?”
“Ask Rodney,” John replied. “He might need his brain examined when we’re back on Atlantis. I’m sick and tired of this God complex he has sometimes.”
“Unlike him being fed up with your stubbornness and knack for getting yourself almost killed?”
“JOHN!” Teyla’s voice pulled him out of that wonderful memory that was playing in his head and before he knew it, he was doused with water.
“Teyla, what the hell!” he cried out.
She looked at him with wide-eyed fear as she pointed towards the grill that was now drowned by the water. The steaks on it were charred black and black dark, inky, smoky… scorches around the rim indicated that the flames had gotten out of control. “You almost burned yourself to death,” she said. “I been calling for you…What were you thinking about?”
“Sorry.” He stared at her in shock. “Did I do that?” he asked in confusion and shook his head. “I’m… oh god Teyla…”
“What happened?” she asked, kneeling at his side.
“I was just thinking how nice this apartment actually is… I never really appreciated the view for what it was…” he said softly. “Then I remembered the first time Elsa went off world and how beautiful it was out there, and… I guess I forgot…” He waved helplessly at the grill. “I’m so sorry…” God, he was a mess.
Teyla got up to wheel him back inside. “I will clean this up. You can call and order a pizza, okay? We can save the vegetables for tomorrow.”
He sighed and slowly nodded. “I’m so sorry, Teyla… I should have paid more attention, this has never happened before.”
“It is alright. I am more concerned that you are not injured by the fire,” she said. “This is still very much a large adjustment for all of us. I know you are doing your best.”
He made a mental note to go to his room after dinner as he reached for the phone. He knew Teyla wouldn’t let him skip dinner, but he felt sick. What the hell was wrong with him? Sure, his mind had been scattered, and Carson had noticed it too, but he said that it was normal for someone with memory loss. Whatever,he thought bitter and continued to dial the number of the pizza delivery guy. “Torren buddy, what would you like to have on your pizza?”
“Fish it is,” John nodded, feeling nauseated at the thought of anchovies. He could always lie to the kid and say the pepperoni was fish but doubted Teyla would approve. When the place answered, he asked if they had personal sized pizzas and was relieved that they did. He ordered one with anchovies for the boy and a large pie half pepperoni, half veggie and extra cheese all around. There, Teyla got her vegetables, Torren got his fish, John got his pepperoni. All was right in the world.
He loaded up the dishwasher after dinner and then decided to treat himself to a shower. He smelled of burnt meat that was reminiscent of the smell of the flesh in his memories, fire and water, and didn’t like it one bit. Of course, taking a shower was a lot of work these days. First, he had to manage to get out of his clothes, then drive himself into the shower and hop on the chair standing underneath the faucet. “I’m going to take a shower,” he said to Teyla, who was reading a bed time story to Torren. “I will try to make it quick.”
He got a fresh set of jogging pants and a clean t-shirt and boxers and made his way towards the bathroom, deciding to undress in there. He took off his shoes, then socks and wrestled with his pants before the smell of burnt things got stuck in his nose.
“Why isn’t Atlantis responding to the fires?” John asked Rodney, who could only shrug. “I’m going to the chair.”
“If you do that, you’d probably end up dead,” Rodney snapped. “They’ve smartened up, those stupid Genii soldiers, so no, just let it burn and get extinguishers if I tell you to or something, just… shut up and let me work.”
“Colonel, they’re heading towards the Jumper bay, what do you want us to do?” Stackhouse’s voice sounded from behind him.
“Stop them?” John suggested as he pulled one of the bodies to the side. “I’m going to set some C4. Stay here McKay.”
He managed to get his shirt off while he tried not to cry, crying was bad, and he didn’t want to upset Teyla, or Torren for that matter. If only he had been able to get to the chair room, then he could have avoided the mess that followed the Genii’s takeover. He hauled himself up, wobbling on his feet as he turned around to sit down on the chair in the shower. He attempted to hold back a shiver when the water was cold at first, and started to adjust the heat until it was perfect. He needed to get rid of the smell, and fast.
“Oh my God, is that Parrish?” Rodney exclaimed before John could run towards the corridor a floor above them to set some charges.
“I don’t know,” John worked to catch his breath. “We’ll do a full head count once we’ve gotten rid of the Genii.” The body didn’t look like Parrish, apart from his build maybe, but he really couldn’t be certain as his face was blown to bits from a close-range shot to the back of his head.
He made his way to one or two corridors ahead of Rodney and started to place the C4, nearly tripping over another body. He tried not to look at the bodies he encountered; he wanted to get this over and done with and then later, maybe, mourn the ones lost. “Oh crap, Lorne…”
John had to shoot a patrol of Genii soldiers en route to his next C4 placement area destination. He was angry now; Lorne had been a good man, a good soldier, and the Genii had killed him. Attacking his home was one thing, going after good people was another and trying to keep the casualties on both sides to a minimum was no longer an option. He now fully understood Teyla’s rage after finding out that her people were among the first to die.
Speaking of Teyla, where was she and was she safe?
He managed to clean himself up while he remembered Lorne’s and Parrish’s bodies. He couldn’t get it out of his head, especially Parrish, how there was nothing left to his face. John would never have thought that the Genii would be that ruthless, although they had proven before that they had the potential to be that volatile. John now wondered who had been in charge, as it must have been someone who knew the city verywell.
He dried himself off and got into his clean clothes, trying to do so while standing upright. He wanted to be able to stand on his own without wobbling around or falling on his face, but he quickly realized that he still couldn’t. Frustrated, he let himself fall into his wheelchair and did it the ‘old man’ way.
“Can I do something anything for you?” He asked Teyla when he rolled back in to the living room. She shook her head, he wished her good night and spent the rest of the night lying awake in his bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering when he’d be okay again. He was sick and tired of being useless, taking up space that could easily have been used for someone else. He hadn’t been home for longer than a week and he hated that Teyla was looking after him. He hated spacing out, it nearly got him burned today. He hated being unable to be the man he used to be; he was currently stuck in a chair and he sometimes doubted that he would get out of it any time soon.
Carson had said that there wasn’t anything wrong with his legs, but that they hadn’t been used for a very long time due to his coma, hence why he needed physical therapy. All John needed, according to Carson, was patience and faith.