Apocrypha

by dossier

Notes & Warnings

What ardently I wished I long believed,
And, disappointed still, was still deceived.
By expectation every day beguiled,
Dupe of to-morrow even from a child.
Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went,
Till, all my stock of infant sorrow spent,
I learnt at last submission to my lot;
But, though I less deplored thee, ne’er forgot.
--William Cowper

 

The 'gate has barely even shut down when Colonel Carter calls John into her office and hands him a thumb drive.

"There was a file for you tacked onto the end of the data burst. It's marked personal and urgent." She's eyeing him a frank interest; she knows from Elizabeth's reports that John has never sent a message to Earth, nor has he ever received any personal message.

He takes the device and attempts a lame joke to stave off the curious dread that her expression gives him. "I don't think they'd fire me this way, so it's probably not bad news." He thinks that there really isn't any thing on Earth that's newsworthy, at least nothing that should be marked urgent, or personal. "It's probably nothing."

"My door is always open, you know that." She gives a him wry nod, and he smiles. Carter had taken the small office near Stargate Operations, not the larger one below the stairs. There's never been an actual door to this room, not now, and not when Elizabeth had reigned over Atlantis.

"I'll keep that in mind. I'll just go and see what it is."

Lorne catches him in the hallway to approve some minor administrative detail, and then Ronon drags him to the mess for lunch. Teyla and Rodney are there, but the curiosity is killing him so he snags Rodney's laptop, and opens the file.

~*~

"Johnny. John, listen to me, pay attention, your mother's gone."

John laid down the Etchasketch he'd gotten for his birthday and looked up at his father, eyes wide with surprise. "Where did she go?"

"She's never coming back, do you understand?" Colonel Sheppard said it harshly, attempting to get the message through, without having to say it out loud.

He thought about it for a few moments, comparing the words with his small accumulation of experience. "Is she dead?" he asked tentatively.

John wouldn't understand the relief on his father's face for many years, as he said, "yes, Patricia Sheppard is dead."

There were a million questions and worries running through John's mind, but his father was never the one with the answers, Mom had always had the answers, and even at the tender, young age of five, he knew better than to pepper his father with them. But, with Mom gone, who was he going to ask? It surprised him when his father answered his unspoken questions.

"We'll do all right. It's just us now, John, we'll get by."

~*~

Colonel Sheppard,

It has taken me a month to track you down this far, and I hope that this message reaches you in time. I wanted to be able to deliver this news to you at least by telephone, but the Air Force Personnel Center advised that would not be possible.

Patricia Sheppard is here at M.D. Anderson, in the advanced stages of pancreatic cancer. She asked me to find you and to deliver this message.

It is her hope that it will be possible for you to make it here before the end.

Dr. Jonathon Brandeis, MD
The University of Texas
M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
1515 Holcombe Blvd,
Houston, TX 77030
713-867-5309, ext 2212

~*~

John carefully closes the document and deletes the temp file from the cache. "Sorry guys, I need to pass on lunch." He pockets the drive, its weight is negligible, but he's hyperaware of it, still feels it against his thigh. He doesn't wait for a reply as he makes a strategic exfil from the commissary, doesn't see Dr. Cole as he turns the corner to exit from the dining hall and nearly knocks her down.

"Uh, sorry, sorry," He mumbles once she's upright. He doesn't see her look of confusion as he swiftly walks away.

He has no specific destination in mind; he's just numbly walking through Atlantis, until he finds himself at Carter's open door.

"Sheppard? You look like you've seen a ghost. Sit down before you fall down."

He sits automatically, his eyes roving over the office. Gone are Elizabeth's trinkets and treasures from the Pegasus Galaxy. The room is bare of personality, the workplace of a scientist and soldier with more important problems than the decoration of a workspace.

Carter hands him a glass of water and he takes it. She says nothing, just watching him with pale blue eyes that are unreadable, fathomless and deep.

He puts the still full glass of water down on her desk and stands up, pacing back and forth. He clears his throat, trying to dislodge the thick, painful lump. "Colonel, I need to request an extended leave of absence and to return to Earth immediately."

Carter knows that Sheppard hasn't requested leave since they stepped through the fated wormhole four years ago. "Done."

"About 988, tomorrow...

"It's not that important, I'll take care of rearranging it with Lorne."

"Okay. Okay. I guess I should go pack, or something."

"Colonel, I don't mean to pry, but where do you need to go?"

"Houston, I have to. Just Houston, that's all." He thinks that this would've been easier if she'd just been nosy for a change.

"I'll give the SGC a heads up; Walter will take care of it."

John pauses by the open door, but he doesn't look back at her. "I'll just be a few minutes."

"Whenever you're ready," she says, solicitous and sympathetic.

He's not surprised to find his team loitering on the crosswalk to Operations, with identical expressions of concerned alarm writ large on their faces. He really doesn't want to talk about this, knows that Ronon and Rodney would accept that, but Teyla... She has an eerie way of being able to fill in the blank lines.

He has to leave them blank for now, can't explain that the mother he'd thought dead for decades, is suddenly dying in a cancer ward in another galaxy.

"John, are you alright?"

"The mission to MP3-988's been scrubbed for now, and if you'll excuse me, I have to go take care of some things." He shakes his head brusquely; it's all he can say while reforming his Teflon armor around him, in the hope that it will contain the crumbling remains of his heart, and deflect any further, painful sympathy.

He leaves them gape jawed, staring after him. John packs up his toothbrush and some clothing, and then changes into his service uniform; he'll likely have to wear it anyway for the flight. He re-pockets the thumb drive.

John briefly thinks about the last time he wore this particular suit of armor, the signal it'll send when he walks into Operations, waiting for Chuck to dial up Earth and the SGC. It'll say what he can't.

He takes a last glance into the mirror, and sees the same features he's always seen, but suddenly, his mother's eyes are looking back out at him with shocking clarity.

Of course, they're waiting in the corridor outside his room. They mean well, and each of them has taken 'leave no man behind' to mean certain things at certain times. He cuts off anything they might have to say. "I'm sorry, I can't talk about it. I'll be back, but it might be a while."

She might already be gone; any chance of answers taken with her to the grave, and it'll still be weeks back on the Apollo, or the Daedalus, which ever loses the draw for the long journey to Pegasus.

Even longer, if he misses the next departure, it might even be months, but at this moment, he has no choice.

"Colonel Carter has said as much." Teyla lays her hands on his shoulders, and suddenly he can feel the tension across his back, taut enough to snap at any moment, but he leans into her forehead and accepts the comfort offered.

Ronon grasps his arm and pulls him into a tight, one armed hug, but wisely keeps his own council.

"Sam offered to let us go with you, moral support, and all that, I mean," Rodney's blustering away, not even certain himself what he's saying.

John cuts him off with a half-hearted smile. "Thanks anyway, this isn't something you can help with. Atlantis needs you here."

Rodney's chin goes up, and the hurt in his eyes is only the reflection of John's pain. "Have a safe trip, then."

He'd like them to go, if only to spare himself from enduring this alone. Suddenly he can see the entire ordeal with them at his back, shoring him up, as they have done so many times. "I guess I'd better go."

The journey down the corridor feels like dead man walking. He's cycling between numbness and anger; it feels like either he's empty or his heart is clogged with pain, and he's sick with unrealized dread. Carter is waiting on the departure level, the 'gate already dialed and the event horizon stabilized. She's worrying her lip, biting back any incautious words that might escape.

With a curt nod, John tugs on his service cap and steps through the wormhole.

~*~

General Landry and Colonel Mitchell are waiting at the bottom of the ramp. John pauses awkwardly at the top of the grate, Landry has ample reason to despise him, the same as any number of commanding officers with orders he'd ignored, flouting their authority in their faces. "Welcome back to Earth, Colonel."

"Thank you, sir. I need to..."

"No explanation necessary, son, I had to vet the message. Walter's put together some travel plans, and Mitchell's ready to take you to the airport."

John nods at the unexpected kindness in Landry's voice, and recalls the scuttlebutt from his stint at the SGC. He was sure that there hadn't been any secrets kept in his personnel file, not the one the SGC has, but Landry has an air about him, that maybe he knows everything that John's never even suspected. The aching knot in his chest makes it difficult to draw a breath to reply, and John's not even sure what he'd say.

Mitchell reaches out to take his bag and lay a steadying hand on his shoulder. "We'd better get moving."

John allows Mitchell to lead him through the grey, featureless corridors, past the security guard and into the frigid predawn. There's a thin layer of snow on the ground, glowing in the pale moonlight and it's a shock; he hadn't even considered what the conditions would be like here, or what time it might be.

"Ah damn, I should've brought a coat for you, I'll have the truck warmed up in a minute."

"What time is it?"

"About four o'clock. Perfect timing by the way, the flight's at six thirty." Once they're in the truck and the engine is running, Mitchell hands him a large manila envelope. It contains a cell phone with a charger, John's military I.D, a couple of hundred dollars, a credit card and an itinerary print out. He can barely read it in the dim light, but it looks like there's a hotel reservation at the bottom. John slides the cell phone into his trouser pocket along with the thumb drive and zips the rest into his bag. With the exception of that horrible exile, he hasn't needed to carry a wallet in more than fourteen hundred days . "Walter thought you'd probably take a cab, I added the cash. I didn't think you'd have any on you." He pulls out of the parking lot; the cabin of the truck is slightly less freezing.

To be honest, John's been on autopilot, and he hadn't even got that far. "Thanks, I'll get this back to you."

"Don't worry about it. That's an SGC expense card, good for food and lodging, a plane ride back and not much else."

"I'll call my bank. They'll probably fall over in shock when they hear from me."

Mitchell chuckles. "Maybe. You want something to eat, a cup of coffee?"

John thinks of his uneaten lunch in the mess hall, and his stomach churns at the idea. "I'll pass."

"Bad, huh?"

Strangely, it's easier to talk to Mitchell, there's few strings attached to the quasi-working relationship. John sighs breathlessly. "You have no idea. I've done things that most people could never imagine, and never in a million years did I think I'd ever be doing this."

Mitchell nods, his face lit with the orange glow of the dashboard. "I know what you mean. Aliens, wormholes to other planets—that's the big stuff. When regular life catches up to you, it knocks you for a loop."

"Yeah." John doesn't think that this is anything like his regular life.

Fortunately Mitchell lets the conversation lay where John drops it. John resets his watch to local time, and Mitchell punches the radio button. Some early morning talk radio program is on, the subject of which is so far out of the realm of John's reality that he might as well be on an alien planet. He lets the sound wash over him, not really listening as he watches the familiar/unfamiliar landscape rush past as they speed towards the airport.

Suddenly, they're at the airport. John gathers up his bag, and Mitchell pulls into the passenger drop off lane. "It'll take you a while to get through security, other wise I'd come in, keep you company." It's lighter now, and John can see Mitchell watching him, as if he's a bomb that's about to explode.

He glances at his watch. It's still ninety minutes before flight time. "Nah, not necessary. Thanks, though. And thanks for the ride."

"Not a problem, man. Any time." Mitchell pulls a card out of the ashtray and hands it to him. "Call me if you need anything, anything at all."

"I'll do that. Thanks again." John says, as he slides out of the door.

Mitchell leans over to the open door. "Take care."

"You too." John shuts the truck door with a wave and heads into the terminal. The line to the ticket counter is already wending its way through three layers of serpentine cordons. John joins the end of the line.

The counter agent upgrades his seat into business class. He gets through security and to the boarding area with a minimum of fuss due to his uniform. He pulls the cell phone out and scrolls through to the preprogrammed numbers, just one-Harriman's direct line.

He calls his bank and arranges to pick up a debit card at a Houston branch, which he's assured, is close to the hotel. He reconfirms his hotel reservation, and still has some time before boarding begins.

It's too early for anyone to pick up, but John takes a deep breath and calls Dr. Brandeis' office, leaving a message that he's just about to board a flight, that he'll pick up any messages as soon as possible, and any specific information, such as room number would be appreciated.

He feels slightly relieved, any action, even a phone call, is better than the fog that he's been floating in for the last two hours. The disconnection between Earth and Atlantis had never felt so huge and disconcerting. He woke up this morning in another galaxy, and by his internal clock's reckoning of mid-afternoon, he's sitting in an airport, preparing to see his mother for the first time in almost fourty years.

He must look as shell-shocked as he feels; the gate agent taps him on the shoulder with an apologetic look at his startled flinch. "Sir, if you like, you may pre-board now."

"Yeah, thanks." John follows her to the jet-way and hands her the boarding pass. It's cold as he walks down to the jet's door. He takes his cap off and holds it under his arm as he ducks in the narrow door.

Thankfully he has a window seat. He stows his bag and cap in the overhead compartment, and buckles in. He accepts a cup of coffee when offered, as well as the headset.

The takeoff in the huge jet feels like it has more kick than a puddlejumper or a 302, and John lets it press him down, back into his seat. He closes his eyes and enjoys the fleeting sensation.

He finds it ironic that the in-flight movie is one that he's already seen, and the American Way magazine is perused and quickly discarded. He wishes that he'd thought to get a book at the airport, or even to bring his now dog-eared and stained copy of War and Peace, considering the long passage back to Pegasus.

Dallas is hectic and busy; the throngs of people crowding and pushing make him nervous and uneasy as he locates the gate for the connection to Houston. It is, of course, four terminals way.

He makes the flight with only minutes to spare. It's overbooked and they're already calling for volunteers to take a later flight, enticing them with vouchers for future travel. But they're still holding his seat, and he boards another plane for the next leg of his journey.

Terminal A at Bush, in contrast, is nearly empty. He pauses to put his cap on while the thin stream of debarking passengers is swallowed by the cavernous space. He breathes a little easier, the feeling of light and space is far more familiar.

He checks his messages before getting in the waiting cab, and a pleasant female voice gives him the required information and he passes it on to the cab driver.

The long drive towards downtown is another shock; there's very little green space between the airport and city. It's filled with malls, furniture stores, car dealerships, churches and strip clubs crowding in on one another. He should be annoyed that the cab driver takes the long way around the Loop, but John just watches out the window for old landmarks; The Sir Loin Inn is shuttered and closed. There's a new stadium next to the Astrodome, and Astroworld is long gone, torn down for more lucrative ventures.

He'd only had that one glorious summer, almost lost to memory, when Colonel Sheppard had decanted his sullen son upon his aunt's doorstep in West University. Days at the beach in Galveston, hot sticky afternoons and evenings making himself sick on the rides at Astroworld. Cousins and fireworks and barbeques, evening picnics at Miller Amphitheatre where he'd played complicated games of tag in the dark, as his aunt and uncle had watched Shakespeare on stage. Sleeping on the screened-in porch under the low, slow hum of a wide-bladed ceiling fan.

That hot summer had always been his respite, a joyful, carefree place to go in his mind when he needed escape.

The cab driver turns in his seat. "Hey, General, we're here."

"Sorry, just Lieutenant Colonel." He pays the man the seemingly exorbitant toll for the ride, and a tip for the trip down memory lane.

M.D. Anderson is huge, and his anxiety ratchets up as he nearly gets lost in merely locating the information desk. He gets assigned a guide, an acne-ridden youth with lank hair and a bright smile, who leads him past the gift shop to a nearly hidden corridor, chatting him up about anything and everything but the reason that John's found himself in the labyrinthine Medical Center.

The young man takes him all the way to the purple coded bank of elevators, and even pushes the button for him with another brilliant smile and an admonishment to 'ya'll have a nice day, now.'

John checks at the nurse's station to make sure he's in the right place, and that it's not too late. The lobby to Palliative Care looks like a posh hotel lobby, replete with huge aquariums of bright, tropical fish and cushy chairs and coffee tables.

The plush carpet deadens his footfalls as he approaches the room, only one of a few in the circular hall within eyesight of the nurse's station.

It's too soon. He's been distracting himself from the incipient panic attack and suddenly, its here, his moment of truth that he'd only known about for less than six hours. The lump in his throat is back, he can feel the blood pounding through his temples, and a painful throbbing constricts his chest.

He's never been so scared in all his life.

A passing nurse nods at him. "It's alright to go in, sir."

John swallows down the sour bile, do not throw up, do not throw up, pastes on his best meet-the-natives smile, and opens the door.

The lights are off and the only illumination is the light from around the edges of the drapes. The room is more akin to a private bedroom than a hospital room. There's a desk, and two comfortable, overstuffed chairs near the hospital bed, which is artfully disguised by a fluffy comforter.

John quietly puts his bag down on the floor as he approaches the bed. "Hello?"

There's no immediate spark of recognition. She's laying on her side facing away from the window, stick-thin and wasted, steel-grey hair wild and untamed. Her thin skin has a yellow pallor, though was probably darkly tanned at one time, and it's sunk into her bones. A single IV line snakes into her hospital gown and the pillow is freshly stained with saliva. A pulse-ox monitor is clipped to a finger on the hand that's loosely clutching the blanket at her chest.

He doesn't know what he expected, he hadn't really allowed himself to think about what he'd find once he got here, but even so, he's disillusioned and frustrated.

John set his cap on the bedside table, next to a box of tissue and a glass of water, and then pulls a chair around to the side of the bed she's facing. He hangs his jacket in the roomy closet; he notes that it's nearly empty.

He loosens his tie and sits down next to her. She sighs a little and her hand jerks periodically, but doesn't respond when talks to her, or takes her hand in his.

~*~

John had a game, when he was young. He'd imagine that his mother would come home, or he'd find her by accident in a shopping center. It didn't matter that they'd moved shortly after she'd died, John saw his mother in every lithe and pretty woman, in every city. By the time he was ten, he'd finally realized that she was never coming back, that she really was dead, and he'd sunk into a depression. That was the summer The Colonel had ditched him at his aunt's while he was on TDY in Washington.

Now, he wonders if she'd been there, that hot summer of amusement parks and sleeping porches, watching him from afar. If she'd even known he was there, so close. He wonders if she'd always been here. How his father might've orchestrated the charade.

The nurse comes in and takes her blood pressure and temperature, and changes out the nearly empty IV bags. "Can I get you anything, Mr. Sheppard?" She has a broad, fleshy face, hair dyed an unnatural shade of red, and the scrubs barely contain her massive breasts, but she has a kind, sympathetic smile. Her nametag labels her as "Suzanne".

"No thanks, I'm good. Suzanne."

"Well, Dr. Brandeis does late rounds and Mrs. Doty'll be here around four; she comes to visit in the evenings, stays over some weekends."

"Mrs. Doty?"

Suzanne gives him an appraising look, sizing him up and finding him wanting by some occult caregiver's standard, as she replies. "Her daughter, lives near Angleton, but she drives in every day."

John bites his lip and turns his head away, unwilling to let her see his shock. He feels like a deer caught in the headlights of heavy traffic.

Suzanne calls over her shoulder, "Well, if you need anything Mr. Sheppard, the call button is right there, and there's coffee by the chaplain's office," as she bustles out of the room.

John is completely taken aback by the news that this woman has a daughter. He's more and more certain that he's traveled here under false pretenses, searching for someone that, until this morning, was dead.

And truth be told, his mother really had died--where it counted--in his mind. John's recollection of her is hazy, seen through the eyes of a child and washed into vague, filmy flashes of memory. The family photographs had been lost in a move when he was fifteen and John had mourned their loss; he still suspects his stepmother's culpability in that affair.

He checks her chart in the bracket on the door and goes back outside as he hits the only number on speed dial. "Chief, John Sheppard. Could you do some digging for me? Yeah, my mother's social security number, specifically. Uh huh, I can wait."

John listens to the hum when Walter put him on hold, watching the people passing by as he leans against the building. Suits, dresses, shorts and sneakers, doctors and nurses and families, too many people, and he should have brought his jacket. He's out of uniform, but that's the least of his concerns--it's unlikely that a superior officer is going to walk by and reprimand him—and he just doesn't care at the moment.

Finally Walter comes back on the line and confirms the number; it's the same as the one on the chart upstairs. "Thanks."

He stands out of the wind in the lea of the lobby doors, trying to still the emotional whirlwind in his head. He's been uselessly furious at his father for years, even though that avenue's been closed for quite a while; freshly angry and hurt that his mother would abandon him, all the staggering feelings of loss that he'd thought he'd put behind him come crashing down on him again.

How could his father allow him to believe that she was dead? How could she let him?

John can't take the stillness. There's no room on the sidewalk, and his patent leather dress shoes are impossible to run in, so he joins the stream of people walking down Holcombe. He turns onto Macgregor and heads towards the park.

The fountain at the park entrance is dry, under repair. The sidewalk is torn up and cordoned off, so he braves the traffic, crosses the street and heads into the public links.

If the circumstances were different, he'd be out here with the hard-core golfers on the course. The grass is still green; the live oaks still have most of their leaves, but he has to walk fast to work off the chill. The shoes begin to pinch and rub blisters on his heels; he's not ready to go back, but he does anyway. It's getting colder and he's left everything he has on this earth in that hospital room.

~*~

John notices that there's been a shift change at the nursing station on the fourteenth floor as he signs back in. The door to her room is open and he can hear the sounds of the five o'clock news on the television.

He takes a deep breath, once again pasting on his most charming smile as he enters the room, coming face to face with the presumed Mrs. Doty. "Hi, I'm John Sheppard."

Mrs. Doty is in the chair he'd moved by the bedside, and she turns to face him. She vaguely resembles John's memories of his mother, especially the familiar, hazel eyes, though there are more differences than similarities.

This sibling of unknown provenance is overweight, and her dark, short hair has a set of cowlicks that John recognizes. There's not a trace of cosmetics on her wide face, and the knit pants and t-shirt appear to be stretched near to breaking point. She glares at him suspiciously, while her hands turn his cap over and over. "Who are you? What does the military want with my mother?"

John automatically raises his hands up in a universal sign of surrender and then yanks them back down again, stuffing them in his pockets. "Apparently, this is my mother. Dr. Brandeis sent me a letter."

"Oh, go on, pull the other one. I'd think I'd know if I had a brother."

"Funny you should say that, but until this morning, I thought my mother was dead."

"Then why are you here, bothering us? My mother is dying, mister."

"Surprisingly, so is mine--aren't you the least bit curious?"

"No, now get out. Mama never did much like the military, and I'm not much inclined to, either."

John stands still for a moment as he considers his next move. He could acquiesce and leave or he could stand his ground. He sprawls into the second chair, slouched and casual. It dishonors the uniform, but it's the last little stab he can make at his father. John hopes he's rolling in his grave. "I don't think so. That's my mother, and I haven't seen her in nearly fourty years, so I think I'll stay."

Mrs. Doty scoffs and tosses his cap at him.

He catches it and lays it on top of his bag on the floor.

They sit in silence for a while, the television the only sound in the room. John watches Mrs. Doty and she steadfastly ignores him, watching their mother.

Finally John can't stand it. "How old are you?"

"That's a rude how-de-do; were you raised on another planet? How dare you pry?"

"Just... humor me. Where's your father, her husband?"

Mrs. Doty heaves an annoyed sigh. "The last one died about ten years ago."

John nods, "I had a couple of stepmothers," but none he'd been very fond of, he thinks.

The curiosity gets the better of her eventually. "Why do you think that she's your mother?"

"To tell you the truth, at first I figured the OPM would've screened out any crackpots, so I took Dr. Brandeis' letter at face value. Though once I got here, I wasn't so sure any more. I did some checking around."

The mention of John marshalling military resources to check the facts seems to make Mrs. Doty very uncomfortable. "What kind of checking?" she asks waspishly.

"I had the Master Sergeant get her social from my records. It matches the one on her chart."

It's a while before Mrs. Doty sighs again, this time it's soft, resigned. "October tenth, nineteen sixty nine." She takes her mother's hand, petting it, stroking her hair from her face, and wiping the drool away with a tissue as she speaks.

It surprises John that she's finally talking to him and he doesn't want to interrupt. He thinks about his Etchasketch, whether it was broken, or lost in a move. He doesn't remember.

"She's not well, I mean she's never been well. Neighbors raised me, mostly. Mama was in and out of the state hospital, or jail, all the time. She insisted that she stay at her house, wouldn't let me move her into my home. Finally the hospice insisted that someone had to be with her all the time and they couldn't do that, and this is where she wanted to come." There's a world of hurt and rejection in her voice, a trail of years of arguments and strife.

Night's fallen while he wasn't paying attention and the room is lit only by the glow of the television. John's stomach growls, but he doesn't want to leave.

"Usually she's a more awake, though it was hard to know if we were having the same conversation. Dr. Brandeis thinks it'll be any day now, so Ted's gonna take care of the kids--maybe bring them up in the evenings. Don't want them to see her this way, though."

John specifically ignores the idea that if he'd arrived even yesterday or the day before, he might've gotten his opportunity to ask his questions. He gently prompts Mrs. Doty instead--he can't think of her as his sister, not yet, maybe never. "How many children do you have?"

"Four. Ted, he's fourteen; Patricia's thirteen and the twins Lee-Ann and Brody are just two." She takes a breath to go on, but Dr. Brandeis finally arrives for his evening rounds. Mrs. Doty turns on the lamp, and mutes the television with a remote. John stands automatically.

He's a short, rotund man with thinning white hair and thick glasses that press into his nose. "You must be Colonel Sheppard, Jon Brandeis." He has a pleasant voice, warm and rumbly.

They shake hands. "Yeah, pleased to meet you. Thanks for the letter."

"I'm surprised, actually; the officer I spoke with said it might not even get to you, much less this soon."

"I'm stationed pretty far away." He keeps McMurdo firmly in his mind, in case he's pressed for facts.

"Pat didn't give me any details, but she was pretty insistent that I write it, not her or Jo. How long has it been since you've had any contact with her?"

"Too long." John bites out the words abruptly.

Brandeis doesn't probe, just nods as he turns to Mrs. Doty and gives her a brief hug. "Jo, how are you holding up?"

"As well as can be expected, Dr. Brandeis."

"Well, let me just have a look." Brandeis inspects the site of the subclavian IV port, lifts an eyelid to inspect the sclera and takes her pulse. He lifts her arm up and presses his thumbs into her skin, watches the indentations for the length of time it takes for them to disappear, and marks it all on her chart. He carefully turns her onto her back, and rearranges her limbs on the bed, straightening out the covers around her. "She's not reactive. I could reduce the morphine, but it wouldn't bring her out of the coma. I'm sorry."

Jo has a stricken look on her face, and her voice trembles. "So, this is really it."

"It could be a matter of hours. I doubt she'll come out of the coma, they rarely do at this stage."

"Okay, okay, I..." Jo chokes on the last and just stops.

Brandeis reaches out to her, squeezes her shoulder. "I'll let the nursing supervisor know. He turns to John and shakes his hand again, a two handed grip that he holds for an extended moment. "Visiting hours here are twenty four seven, stay as long as you need. I'm so sorry. I wish that this had turned out differently for you."

Me too, John thinks. Me too.

~*~

John's there with all of the senior staff to oversee the off-loading and distribution of supplies, materiel and personnel; it's always chaotic when the Apollo arrives. Colonel Ellis draws him aside and hands him a small package. "I was told to hand this to you directly, Colonel."

John frowns at it. "Thanks." It's wrapped in a brown paper grocery bag, addressed in unfamiliar handwriting, but there's only one person on Earth that would have any reason to send Sheppard anything. John turns it over and pulls the tape apart to peek inside. "Oh." He looks at Ellis, who shrugs. "We'll handle this, Colonel."

John closes the package and clutches it tightly. "Well then, I guess I'd better go put this away."

Ellis nods. "I want to schedule a briefing at Colonel Carter's discretion."

"I'll be there."

John closes the door to his quarters, locks it down so that even the chime is turned off, and pulls the ratty and fragile journal out of the sack. A note flutters out and John catches it in mid air.

John,

I found this while cleaning out Mama's house, and I thought you might like to have it.

Jo

~fini~

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Notes

Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis

Category/Rated: Gen, E

Year/Length: 6/30/2007/ ~6000 words

Spoilers: None

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun.

Summary: John doesn't think this is anything like his regular life.

Author's Notes: Much love to vagablonde for her considered opinions and encouragement, to the non-LJ enabled ArmyRat for his prodding, suggestions, and memories of M.D. Anderson. Any questions or concrit entertained, because I've gone off towards the weird side. This idea has been pinging around in my brain for months, based on a story heard on N.P.R.

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