Prompt: Sheppard, "When I ruled the world"
Summary: John in exile: sometimes there are disadvantages to possessing the ATA gene in the Pegasus Galaxy, and even being king doesn't help.
Notes: Originally written for the lostcityfound 2008 Fic Battle for the prompt "When I ruled the world."
"When I ruled the world..." began John. He stopped as a bout of coughing wracked his body.
"Hush, Dad," said Beth gently, adjusting his pillows. "You need to rest."
"Things were different," insisted John. "When I was in charge...."
"I know, Dad, I know. I'll get you some tea, okay?" She went to the door and rang for a servant. John looked at the two small children who sat beside his bed, looking back at him with identical solemn gazes.
"When I ruled the world,” he said again, “we fought the Wraith; we didn't hide from them. We went between planets and traded with others, and when the Wraith came, we sent up waves of drones until the sky was lit with the explosions of their ships."
"Papa says that’s a foolish risk," said the older girl. "Too many people die when we fight. Now that we’ve destroyed all the Wraith who know where we are, we should stay quiet so that no one else finds out we’re here.”
"Hiding," said John bitterly, "and letting other people fight for us." He began coughing again.
Beth returned with a mug of tea.
"They’re only children, Dad," she said. "They shouldn’t have to worry about the Wraith or politics." She remembered the times her father spoke of. Crouching in crowded caves that stank of fear and sweat, praying her father could take down all of the Wraith darts in time. And then later, taking her own turn in the chair, shaking as she tried to track a dozen drones at once and praying that none would miss. Or hit too late.
John glowered darkly at his daughter. "You should be running things instead of your husband," he said. "You inherited the throne. You can use the control chair. You can fight the Wraith."
"You're the one who came up with the idea of a constitution and an elected Senate," Beth reminded him. "It's not just Sioth who supports the invisibility policy, you know." She pressed the mug of tea into his hands. John wrapped his fingers around it, breathing in the warm, vaguely-minty steam.
"You're the queen.”
"Sure," agreed Beth, "and how often did the Senate listen to Mom? I'm the carrier of the bloodline, that's all."
"Under the constitution…."
"That doesn't matter," said Beth impatiently. "People don't change that quickly. The Senate will go on listening to Sioth and ignoring me right up until one of us dies and Kalla inherits the throne. And then they'll listen to her husband."
John shook his head and looked over at his granddaughter. "You can do better," he said, voice raspy from coughing. "You'll have to fight for it. Like Eowyn. They won't just give it to you. Take charge. Go out into the galaxy again. See if the Wraith are still around. Have an adventure. Visit other worlds."
Her father, Beth knew, had once strode between planets more easily than she travelled between villages. She wondered what that had been like. She had never been to another planet--her father had wanted to send her, but her mother wouldn't permit it, fearing for her safety. Trying to protect her. Her father, of course, had never been allowed to leave Lovalla, for the same reason the palace guards had followed him everywhere and the gate guards had barricaded the gate, stone on stone, whenever their traders weren't using it. All by her dead grandfather’s standing orders.
John began coughing again, ever-present handkerchief pressed to his lips. Red specks appeared on the white cloth, and Beth eyed him anxiously.
“Your grandfather needs to rest,” she said to her daughters. “Why don't you see if Yethi wants to play?"
The two children stood obediently and gave their grandfather an awkward look, then padded from the room with shy smiles. (John had stopped hugging them when the cough set in.) Once outside the room, their footsteps sped up into a race down the corridor. Beth sighed in resignation. Her father grinned.
"They’re spirited,” he said. “That’s good. They’re too quiet around me—it’s not natural.”
“They’re worried about you,” said Beth. “We all are.”
Her father waved her concern away. “Have you started training them on the chair yet?" he asked. "They need to learn."
"Kalla’s only nine," said Beth, sitting down beside him. "And Teyla is seven. There's lots of time yet. Anyway, I thought you said the Wraith were gone."
"I don't know if they're gone," said John. "But we had some good ideas. If anyone could do it, Rodney could. Or Keller...." His voice trailed off. He twisted his head to look at her. "You shouldn't sit so close to me."
Beth nodded, but didn't move. She watched quietly as her father's head began to droop toward his chest. As he drifted into sleep, she gently pried the mug from his hands and set it on the table beside him.
She'd heard stories all her life about the miracles her father's people were capable of. As he jerked half-awake with another coughing fit before settling down again, she wondered whether one of those miracles might be a cure for his current illness, and then smiled ruefully at herself. It didn't matter if there was a cure--the Senate might not care about keeping her father here, now that he'd served his time as king and she and Kalla and Teyla were all able to use the Chair of the Ancestors, but neither the Senate nor Sioth would approve of breaking their isolation and possibly bringing the Wraith down on them again just so that one old man could go home.
Beth wondered for a moment if her father had been right, if she should have fought harder for power. But she'd always been her mother's daughter, and her mother had had very definite ideas on the proper place of women.
John shifted restlessly on his bed, moaning quietly. Beth suspected he was having nightmares again; they'd been a regular feature of his nights since he'd fallen ill. Her mother had told her that he'd dreamed often when he first arrived, calling out warnings to the people he'd left behind. The people her grandfather had kidnapped, in order to make her father stay. Beth shivered. Her mother had told her the tale as an example of Terrible Necessity, but Beth saw no reason to pass that story on to her own children. The Wraith had stopped coming before they were born; the Gods willing, they would never be faced with such choices.
At last she reluctantly stood up, tucked the blankets around her father with a quiet prayer that he would have a peaceful night, and then turned to leave. As she passed the wardrobe, she paused. Her hand reached out as if of its own volition and tugged open the door. Inside, at the very back, was a familiar wooden box. She pulled it out quietly, and weighed it in her hand. The device inside, her father had once told her, could be used to contact his people. He’d shown her how to use it. He would have used it himself, she knew, if he’d ever been able to get near the gate, but the guards had been too vigilant. Even now they stood outside his door, though it had been years since he had tried to escape.
She stared down at the box for a long moment, thinking of miracles and sacrifice and necessity, and the sound of her children’s carefree laughter, and then slid it back onto the shelf and closed the wardrobe. She left one candle burning as she exited the room, pulling the door shut gently behind her.