blue flamingos

Sign Language

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Category/Rated: Pre-slash, PG

Year/Length: 2007/ ~2590 words

Pairing: John/Rodney

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: A flash and a boom, and John's existing in a silent, dark world.

Author's Notes: SGA flashfic wordless challenge.

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.


John's existing in a black, silent world. He knows he's in the infirmary, or thinks he knows – he's sure he was brought here when they came back through the gate, and he'd know if he'd been moved.

He's slept; he knows this because he's woken up. The first time, he panicked, opening his eyes to total black, felt his mouth move, his chest expand as he drew breath, and heard nothing.

Beckett sedated him, in the end, and now he doesn't know how many days ago that was. He's tried counting, but it's hard to keep track of the hours; even so, he's sure it's been days, measured in the passage of familiar hands on his, the smell of coffee and food. Almost sure, like he's almost sure it was Beckett's hands on him, holding him down for the prick of the needle.

For all he knows, he's back on the planet. He doesn't remember going through the gate.

He's got nothing to do but think, worn out with panic and fear, too exhausted to do anything but lie there and remember.

It's already distorted in his memory – he can see the device, tucked away in the back of an abandoned research center, like one of the consoles on Atlantis, smooth metal and totally innocuous, but the picture is blurred at the edges, grayed out, like the black outside his eyes is seeping into his head as well. He can hear Rodney telling him to touch that button and think 'on', but it's like listening through the water, like he's got cotton wool stuffed in his ears.

The only thing that's still clear is the feel on the technology, reaching for him when he placed his hand on it, a split second of *wrong* too late to stop, then a flash of light, a burst of sound so low he could *feel* it.

The air shifts, the door to the infirmary opening and closing, followed by a hand on his shoulder. It's too large to be Teyla or Elizabeth, too small to be Ronon. He nods, because it's the only way of letting them know he's aware of their presence. The hand tightens on his shoulder for a moment, then moves down his arm to take his hand, turning it palm up. He feels gun calluses, which rules out Beckett, then a finger touches his palm, moving almost before it's made contact.

Rodney, then. Lorne always waits for John's nod.

He traces ~RM~ on John's palm, then a circle with a line through it. John's decided this means the gate isn't working, that they can't go back to the planet with the device; it makes sense that Rodney would assume he could fix it, when nothing in Atlantis has worked. When he first woke up, still fuzzy with Beckett's sedative, Carson and Elizabeth spelled things out on his hands, letters and words that he couldn't put together into any meaning, shaking his head, over and over until they understood.

The pictures don't exactly work, but at least John thinks he knows what they mean, and if he doesn't, it's easier to believe that he's receiving a message from them, even if he can't say anything back; easy to believe that some of the pictures mean this isn't permanent, this doesn't mean he's going to be trapped here for the rest of his life, because that's the only way he can keep from freaking out.

Rodney traces a cross on his palm and John frowns; it means a negative, but the circle is already crossed out. There's a pause, then Rodney traces the crossed out circle again, then the cross, then an arrow, with another arrowhead parallel.

John shakes his head, and Rodney traces the entire pattern again and John concentrates, squints up his eyes like that will help, even though he knows it won't. His chest is tight with something like panic, because Rodney is trying to tell him something and he knows it's there for him to grasp if he could just think –

Rodney's hand curls around his, and John turns his hand without thought, holding onto Rodney's, tight, tight. He concentrates, tried to conjure up an image of Rodney, but all he can see is the split second of horror in Rodney's eyes before he collapsed back on the planet. It'll have to be enough.

Rodney waits for him to loosen his grip, then takes John's wrist and moves his hand up and to the right, like a plane taking off and John finally gets it. The arrows were a plane, because there's no way to draw a jumper with touch. They're taking a jumper back to the planet; the gate must be broken on that planet, not in Atlantis.

He nods, fumbles for Rodney's wrist until he touches his watch and taps the face.

~10~ Rodney writes on his palm. Ten hours to fly out there from the nearest planet with a working gate, a few hours to check out the device, figure out how to fix this, ten hours to fly back... this could be fixed by tomorrow. If it can be fixed.

John nods again, and Rodney lowers their hands, keeping his curled around John's, not saying anything, just there. It's his only connection to a physical reality and John doesn't want to let it go.

He taps Rodney's watch again.

~10~ Rodney writes, after a moment.

John shakes his head, taps at the watch again. Their symbol alphabet is still being developed, and there're so many things he can't say with it. Like, how long until you leave, and be careful and please come back. The first one's just about possible though, and he tries again.

There's another pause, then Rodney slowly writes ~45~ on his hand, then a squiggle that might be a question mark. John nods, feels himself smile, pleased that Rodney knows what he was trying to ask. Not that he should be surprised – Rodney knows him better than almost anyone else.

He wonders if Rodney is talking, even knowing John can't hear him; Rodney's reaction to stress has always been to talk, to say the most inappropriate thing for the moment, but John would give anything to know what he's saying.

He runs his hand up Rodney's arm, across his shoulder, feeling Rodney twitch under him. Rodney's wearing a short-sleeved shirt, the stiff cotton of their new black uniforms, not the slippery feel of the science team blue. The collar curls under John's hand, then he touches Rodney's chin, his cheek, and finally his mouth. It's not moving, and John suddenly realizes how this must seem to Rodney, who doesn't know that it's innocent.

He pulls his hand back, resting both hands on the blanket. He knows he's blushing and he wants to explain, but he can't do it with symbols.

Rodney picks up his hand and traces ~OK~ on his palm, and John blows out a breath in sheer relief.

The air moves as the door opens and closes again. Rodney traces ~T~, then ~RD~. John smiles at where he thinks they might be, raising his free hand in greeting. Teyla catches his hand and squeezes, warm and calm just like always.

There's a long pause that John assumes is filled with discussion over whether they need to gear up now (yes, he wants to tell Rodney, and he finds himself tracing the letter Y over and over on Rodney's thumb, the easiest place to reach). Teyla keeps hold of his other hand, and usually John would want to pull away but now he has to force himself not to tighten his grip.

Finally, Rodney taps his other hand and draws a loop with an arrow at the end, the closest they've come to a symbol for *we're leaving*. John nods, squeezes Teyla's hand, tightens his fingers round Rodney's for a moment, feels Ronon's hand heavy on his shoulder through the thin material of his scrubs and then they're gone, placing his hands carefully back on the bed.

John gives it long enough for them to have left the room before he moves, gripping the railings of the bed hard enough to hurt, the only way to stop feeling like he's sliding away.


Without his team coming by, it's even harder to keep track of time. He's sure there's a chart somewhere, a key to the symbols, but too many of them mean more than one thing. The infirmary staff touch him when they come by to fiddle with his drips – he has no idea what's in them – but they misinterpret what he's trying to say, or they try and write words that he can't understand.

Elizabeth comes by more than once, holds his hand and sits by him. Like Rodney, he assumes she's talking to him, as though he's in a coma and somehow still capable of hearing her, but, unlike with Rodney, he doesn't try to find out. The third time she stops by, she puts things in his hands, then draws symbols on his palm, matching the two up. It's not the first time she's done it, but it reminds John of the flashcards they had for learning to spell in kindergarten, and he closes his eyes after a half dozen symbols. His team will come back with a solution, and he won't need this. He holds onto that thought as hard as he does the physical connection to the world.

Atlantis still whispers in the back of his head, when there's no-one there to hold his attention. He knows the city isn't sentient, for all that Rodney talks about his connection to it, cracks stupid jokes about her having pined for him when he's back in the infirmary after another disastrous mission, but the feel of something else in his head is familiar, comforting when everything else is gone. He wonders what the Ancients did about people with disabilities. They were probably too perfect to have anything like that, too much of a barrier to ascension.

He gives up expecting any of the marines to come by after what seems like a couple of hours; Lorne stopped by twice after he got back, before he left with John's team, but it was awkward, holding hands with his XO, and he's a lot closer to Lorne than he is to the marines. The trouble is, that doesn't leave many people to visit, and twenty hours are a long time when he has literally nothing to do.

He sleeps, and wakes up; he's prodded by infirmary staff, and 'talked' at by Beckett, the smell of the infirmary on him subtly different to the rest of his staff; he ignores Elizabeth's tuition, even when she keeps going, and listens to Atlantis burble in the back of his brain; he misses his team, who've been a near constant presence since they came back, and he hopes, prays that they're finding something; he counts the minutes, tapping his finger against the bed rail, and turns his face to feel the sun coming through a window he's never noticed before.

He dreams, nightmares of Wraith and Replicators and all of it coming while he's unaware, and wakes up gasping for air, trapped. There's an unfamiliar hand on his shoulder, holding him down. John shoves it away, pushes himself upright. He feels himself shouting, screaming, maybe, the sting of the IV line coming loose, and then there's a pair of large hands on his shoulders, stopping him, not trying to hold him or push him down.

He struggles for another few seconds, then gives up, the rush of adrenaline draining away. The hands – Ronon, he thinks – aren't stopping him any longer, they're holding him up. He pulls in a deep breath, another, and nods shakily. Ronon squeezes his shoulder and leans him gently back against his pillows.

Rodney's hand curls round his, one finger tracing his initials on John's palm, familiar as Rodney's voice saying John's name. There's a pause, then he draws a large circle, two dots inside it and a curve. It takes John a moment to realize it's a smiling face, that Rodney means they've found a solution, they can fix this.

They gave up, early on, at explaining things to John, just did them, and he hated it, hated having no choice, no idea what was going to be done to him next, even though he knew it was the only way to do things, so he's not surprised when Rodney's hand lets go of his and Ronon slides an arm round his shoulders, lifting him over and into a wheelchair. He flails for a second, disoriented by the sudden change of position, then someone takes his hands and places them on the arms of the chair before it starts moving.

He's taken the transporters around the city more times than he can count, and never noticed anything, but he feels the dissolution for a second before the thunk of the doors opening at their destination. There's a familiar smell when he takes a deep breath, chemical and metal; they must be in one of the labs. It occurs to him then that he has no idea what's going to happen. They stop, and John raises his hand hesitantly, unsure what he's reaching for; he's never been good at reaching out, and needing to do it doesn't make it any easier.

Someone – Rodney – catches his hand. A finger tip touches his palm and taps lightly, as though Rodney's thinking, trying to figure out how to explain what's going to happen. Nothing comes, and John can't stand the tension, the waiting. Flying a nuclear bomb into a hive ship was easier than this and he wants it over.

He turns their hands so he can write on Rodney's, thinks for a second, then gets an idea. He curls Rodney's hand inward with a grin, then draws a heart in the center of his palm – I trust you. Rodney's hand tightens on his, telegraphing lack of understanding, and John taps the heart, then traces out ~OK~ with a period after it.

~OK~ Rodney traces back. He moves John's hand, placing it carefully on a large round button. John curls his fingers round the edge of it, but Rodney moves his hand away. ~On~ he writes on John, and John nods. He can do that.

~OK~ Rodney writes again.

He puts John's hand back on the button, lets go. John waits, half-expecting a hand on his arm, a pat on his shoulder, but nothing comes. He takes a deep breath, and thinks *on*.


He wakes up, flat on his back again, every muscle in his body aching like he's been stunned. There's a drip in his arm again, a sharp prick that tugs when he moves, and the blanket under his hands is soft. Someone's turned the air-con on because the air's cooler than usual and he can hear the faint whistle that even the Ancients –

He can hear it.

He blows out a breath, shaky with the rush of relief and he can hear that too; it's enough to let him open his eyes.

"It's about time, Colonel."

John blinks in the dim lights of the infirmary and focuses on Rodney, sitting by the side of his bed, leaning forward to peer at John. "Can you hear me?"

His voice is sharp and familiar, a mix of worry and frustration, irritation over-laying it all, and John reaches for his hand, smooth and practiced. Rodney takes it, curls his fingers round John's and grins at him, like he knows what John's forgotten how to say. "Yeah, Rodney. I can hear you."

Next: Hieroglyphics

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