Something Wicked This Way Comes
There's nothing in this world so sweet as love,
And next to love the sweetest thing is hate.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
He was walking through a forest. He felt his bare feet against the damp mossy ground, and felt his heels sink lower, as he walked towards what he didn't know. There were tall sparse trees on either side of the path he was following, and the uneven foliage allowed beams of sunlight to seek the forest floor. He looked ahead wondering how he came to be here, where was here, but he couldn't remember. He kept walking. Weak columns of mist rose smoldering off the ground, the stubborn remnants of morning dew being burned off by the persistent heat of day.
Despite the beautiful surroundings, he felt an unease deep in his gut, and he searched the area even as he moved for signs of…he couldn't remember. An enemy, he knew it was an enemy…hunting him? He heard someone calling ahead! He picked up his pace, and ran forward, seeking out the desperate calls. His friends…he knew it was his friends! "Where are you?" he shouted. He tripped, and fell hard. The wet mulch stuck to his face, as he scrambled back to his feet, and started running again.
There was a bend further on. He froze, and stared uncertainly at the trail. A mounting dread chilled his bones, and he felt a cold sweat coat his skin, slicking his face in clammy fear. He didn't want to see what was there. He faltered, and found his feet moving backwards, instead of forward. This was wrong. His friends needed him. "No," he muttered desperately, trying to stop his backward movement, and help those he cared about.
A bright light grew on the path ahead, stronger, and blinding. He threw a hand in front of his face to block his eyes from the painful glare. "No…" he cried. They were dead! "No!" he hollered, agonized, and he felt his heart racing to a dance of guilt and anger. "This isn't real," he said, stumbling away from the light.
"John, wake up!"
He felt himself begin to shake, but from what; fear, loathing, or maybe the cold sweat that had drenched his body from head to toe. "No, no…no," he continued to mutter in a litany of denial.
"John, please…wake up!"
The insistent shaking, and the voice, broke through, and John opened his eyes, lurching upright with a gasp. He swallowed, and stared confused at the young girl's face that was staring back with unfettered concern. He felt a cool breeze tickle across his chest, and looked down, realizing he was bare chested, and the white muslin sheet had slipped to his waist when he'd sat.
His fingers fumbled, pulling the material higher in a protective gesture. "Where…where am I?" he stuttered. It was dark, except for a small light from a candle that burned pitifully by his bedside.
The girl leaned back, relieved that he was awake. She was dressed in a pale gown, brown hair skewed from sleep, and the concern had been replaced by disappointment. "You don't remember," she said, and it wasn't a question, but a flat statement.
"Remember what?" He fought for any glimmer of recognition, but he had none. He didn't know this person in front of him, anymore than he knew the room, or how he'd come to be here.
The girl stood, straightening her gown that was clinging to her legs. She regarded him with a fleeting smile. "It's late, and you should rest. We'll talk in the morning."
John reached a desperate hand for her arm, keeping her from going. "No, please…tell me…I don't…" he swallowed again, why couldn't he remember anything? "I don't know what's going on."
"The doctors said this might happen," she assured him. "John, it's late, and I'm tired. It's best if this waits till morning."
She started moving towards a door he could now see against the wall across from the foot of his bed. He couldn't wait. He felt an unreasonable fear of what was missing in his mind. He leapt out of bed, hardly noticing that his only clothes were a pair of boxers. "No! I need to know now."
She stared for a minute, considering, and then acceded. "Alright," she said softly. She opened the door, and started to leave, but turned back, looking at him pointedly. "You might want to at least put on some pants. I'll start a fire, but it's still cool in the sitting room."
John looked down and for the first time realized his lack of dress. He looked back towards the bed, wondering where his clothes were, before he spotted a pair of black trousers lying draped over a chair against the wall. He hurriedly slipped them on, and the white shirt that was underneath the pants, before following the girl out to the sitting room.
He saw her bend, and shuffle a thin pile of tender, starting a small fire before adding thicker logs on top. She tucked a straggling strand of hair impatiently behind an ear while she worked. John took the time to observe the room. It was almost Victorian, with papered walls, high back chairs, and a thick stone and pine hearth. A threadbare rug covered the worn wooden floor. Everything seemed old, and used, and again he remembered none of it.
"You should sit. You're still weak."
He jerked, startled, having become lost in his thoughts. She was standing beside one of the chairs, and watched him intently. "Weak?" He felt more confused than tired. Why would he be weak? Still, he walked to the other chair, feeling the floor shift, and creak, as he moved across it.
"You were hurt…in the accident," explained the girl. She hesitated, "Would you like something to drink?"
He couldn't shake the feeling that she was uneasy. Because of him, or because of what had happened to him? He realized he was thirsty. "Yes, I would," he replied, "Thank you."
She disappeared through a side door, and he heard the clinking of dishes. He leaned back into the comforting softness of the padded material, and gazed at the fire, losing himself in thought. Who was he? She'd called him John, and it felt right, but John who? He struggled, and felt it was there, on the periphery of his mind, but each time he fought to put a word to the thought, it slipped away, like an elusive exotic butterfly, taunting the begging collector.
"I hope tea is alright." The girl sat a tray with a porcelain pitcher and two delicate cups on a table between the chairs.
He frowned. Tea…he had a flash of himself speaking to another woman. I like a brisk cup of tea in the morning, but he didn't know who the woman in the memory was. The flash disappeared as quickly as it'd arrived.
"John?" She was holding a cup out to him and watching him apprehensively.
He reached for it, "I'm sorry, I was…" he stopped, strangely reluctant to share the image. He smiled, trying to cover his internal struggle. "I don't even know your name."
The cup was hot against his palms, and he took a tentative sip, surprised by the spicy taste, and surreptitiously viewed the girl as he drank. She looked young, thin brown hair, and, for the time being, she seemed to care about his welfare, so he assumed she wasn't a threat. Threat? Why would he worry about the girl being a threat? He took another drink, trying to hide his growing alarm regarding the situation he found himself in.
"Marie," said the girl kindly. "My name is Marie."
John thought the name fit the surroundings. "Nice to meet you, Marie." He set the now drained cup on the platter gingerly. "How did I get here?" he asked. It occurred to him that he didn't even know where here was.
Marie sipped her own tea slowly, firelight splaying a painter's palette of light and shadow across her face, while she digested his question and formed a reply. "Three days ago a party from your world arrived. There was an explosion on your craft, and when we arrived, we found only the two of you still alive. You suffered a head injury, and the doctor released you into my care yesterday," she was telling him what had happened, but the words didn't spark anything familiar. "You've had trouble recalling anything since you regained consciousness."
John mulled over the information, unsettled in the memory lapse. He felt he should know. He couldn't keep the agitation out of his voice. "I don't remember!"
Marie stood, and moved to his side, kneeling and placing a comforting hand on his arm. "John, it's okay. You're safe, give it time. The doctor said…"
John yanked his arm back, "I don't care what the doctor said," he snarled, surprising both of them with his venomous tone. "I want to remember why I'm here, and who I am."
She pushed back, "Maybe I should call the doctor. You're not feeling well."
"I'm feeling fine, I just want answers," he retorted. He didn't know why he was losing it with this girl, but there was an unquenchable anger welling up from deep down, and he struggled to subdue its rising tide.
"I can't control your mind. I can't give you more than what I know," she said, upset. She pushed away from him, her instinct to comfort overwhelmed by his aggression.
He watched as she retreated, walking stiffly to stand behind her chair, purposefully distancing herself from him, and her face reflected his frustration. He was taking out his confused emotions on her, and he felt a pang of remorse. She wasn't to blame for his situation, and from all that he could tell; she was taking care of him. "I'm sorry." He stood up, and approached her, holding out a hand in peace.
She accepted his hand in her own, and allowed herself to be guided back into her chair. He could feel her relax, and she put aside his earlier rudeness, "I know you are confused," she said sympathetically. "It must be hard to not remember anything about your past."
He went back to his chair, and sat heavily, surprised to feel the first edges of the weakness she'd mentioned before. "Yes, it is." He remembered she'd mentioned there was another person rescued. "The other one, where is he?"
"The other one?" asked Marie, momentarily thrown. He could see her mind doing a quick repeat of their conversation, and saw when she understood his reference. "Oh, the other man that we rescued with you!"
"Yes, is he here?"
She shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry, his injuries were severe. They are not certain he will live."
A dark wave engulfed him at her words. He didn't even know who this person was, but it was a lifeline to what he couldn't recall, and the thought that it might disappear like his memories scared him. "Can I see him?"
Marie sighed, from tiredness or impatience, he wasn't sure. "John, you need to rest. When you feel better…"
"No," he countered. "I need to remember. It's important, please."
She pursed her lips, considering his request, and at first he thought she'd put him off, but she reluctantly nodded. "Okay, but not until morning. They won't let you in right now anyway, it's the middle of the night."
He was reluctant to concede, but knew he had to. And, he was starting to feel shaky. He couldn't remember the accident, and he wasn't sure of the exact injuries he'd suffered, but her warning about being weak wasn't so easily dismissed now. He raised a wavering hand to his forehead, surprised to find it damp. "I…I need to go lay down," admitted John. He shivered, and wished for the relief of the bed.
Marie helped John to his feet, and guided him to his room. He leaned against her thin body, letting Marie support his weight. His legs felt tired, like jellied meat in a pie, and he fought to keep from falling. She eased him onto the bed, and pulled the mussed sheets out of the way. He tried to shuck the shirt, but his movements were clumsy. "What's wrong with me?" he asked raggedly, frustrated by this invalid state that had seemingly snuck up on him.
"Shhhh," whispered Marie as she helped his arms out of the sleeves. "It'll be better in the morning." She reached for his pants, tugging them off, and lifted his legs, swinging them onto the bed, and efficiently tucked the sheet over his body, pulling up the blanket that had been kicked to the bottom of the bed earlier. "Rest, John."
A lingering thought was bulging forth, demanding he pay attention. "How do you know my name is John?" he asked, his words slurred slightly as he fought to stay awake.
Marie laid a quieting finger against his lips, and he inhaled the delicate floral soap she must use. "Hush, sleep…" she said. "You whispered it when we found you."
John wanted to ask more but his eyes had already drifted shut of their own volition, and he fell again into an uneasy rest, daunted by visions of people and places he couldn't recall, and the lulling sound of ocean waves slapping into a building he couldn't name.Meanwhile, in Atlantis…
Elizabeth Weir studied the latest report on her desk, and wasn't happy with the contents. Major Sheppard, Doctor McKay, Lieutenant Ford and Teyla had gated to M4X-578 four days ago. They'd gone on foot initially, but returned for the Jumper when signs of inhabitants had been found. There was a possible power source over a mountain that would be impossible to traverse by land. Three days ago, Ford and Teyla had returned, barely alive, each supporting the other equally, and announced the grave news that something alien had brought the Jumper down, and Sheppard and McKay, both of whom had been in the cockpit of the ship, had died when they'd crashed.
Ford had reported from his bed, barely able to keep his voice understandable through his grief, that he'd woken about a hundred yards from the Jumper, only to see the shell of it burning. He'd stumbled to his feet, and searched the area in vain, finding Teyla a short distance away, unconscious, and lying in the brush.
The folder in her hand was the final report, neatly typed, edited, and prepared with a finality that begged her to toss it in the shredder. Inside, the death certificates issued by Doctor Beckett, for Major John Sheppard and Doctor Rodney McKay, and God bless the living because she didn't know how they would pick up the pieces from this loss. The two men had been integral to the city, integral to her, and so many others. Somehow, they'd managed to touch everyone to the level that the withdrawal of their presence was as if a vital organ had been removed from the expedition. It hurt, and she imagined the phantom pains would linger, never quite releasing their grip on her heart. She closed the file, and stood, walking to the exit. She looked one last time at the innocuous paper folder, and then left, not looking back. Peter would have it filed before she returned. Peter would make sure she never had to look at it again.