AN: Yes, it's been finished, but my beta was busy, and then
I was busy so a bit of a delay! Don't mind me, I understand the
frustration, it's hard to wait when you enjoy a story so I'm flattered
that you are eager for the rest! I feel the same way when I'm
following WIP's! I swore I wouldn't do one again because I hated
making people wait, but on the bright side, this thing was finished in
record time (for me)! I love hearing from everyone who
reads and I sure appreciate those who take the time to give feedback
(coming from someone who is guilty of not leaving enough).
The next day, in the infirmary…
John wanted to go back to his quarters. The infirmary was noisy, and busy, with all the people bustling about. It seemed like everyone in the city was finding an excuse to drop by. A sore throat, a cough…a stubbed toe, and each person lingered at the door, staring at him and McKay.
He might have appreciated it more if his memory had returned, in full, but it was still full of holes; a piece of swiss cheese that had been nibbled on by a mouse. The man with the accent was Doctor Carson Beckett. He'd remembered that after they'd returned. Beckett had assured him that as the drugs wore off, his memory would return. John hoped he was right.
He was propped up in the infirmary bed, and as much as everyone was finding an excuse to stare at him, he was staring back. He'd made a game out of trying to remember names, and events. Sometimes a name came to him, sometimes pieces of memories.
He heard the door open, and looked up. Ford…the name came quickly to his mind, and he flashed back to the time on M4X-578, when he'd remembered a brown-eyed man as their ship went down in flames. "Lieutenant," he said softly.
Ford was grinning, and walked over excitedly. "It's good to see you, Major."
John noticed the limp, and as Ford got nearer, he also saw signs of superficial burns healing on his face, and hands. "You're alive," John said, not sure what else to say. Until he'd walked through those doors he hadn't had a name to put to the face, and the face he'd thought dead, back on that planet.
"Last I checked," Ford joked then grew solemn. "Sir."
"At ease, Lieutenant," Sheppard said. "How?"
He didn't have to explain what he meant, Ford understood. He had come to a stop next to Sheppard's bedside, and he held his hands uneasily behind his back. Standing was still hard on his healing leg, but he wouldn't sit. "Sir, I want to apologize for leaving you and Doctor McKay," he started, ignoring Sheppard's question.
John realized then that the easy grin Ford had walked in with was a ruse. A mask to cover the tortured emotions Ford was hiding inside. "Sit," he ordered the Lieutenant. He saw the effort it was taking for Ford to stay on his feet.
He watched as the young man sat in a chair, keeping his leg stretched to ease the discomfort. "Lieutenant, I'm not going to lie, and pretend I remember all that went down…"
As Ford's face fell, he continued, "But, from what McKay has said, and what I've heard from Doctor Weir and Doctor Beckett, not only did your actions save your own life and Teyla's, it also provided the key for our rescue."
He could see Ford didn't understand. "What do you mean? I left you there! It's my fault…"
"Ford, listen!" he interrupted harshly. "We were already gone, do you get that? They'd already taken us. Call it fate, or whatever you want, they didn't see you and Teyla. Beckett thinks the weapon they used contained the drug, and once we were out of the ship, we were all exposed. If you hadn't made it back, they never would've found us." He winced at the memory of McKay dragging him out of the burning Jumper; he'd been knocked senseless, and he'd been only vaguely aware of what was going on at the time.
"Lieutenant, we thought you two were dead. Marie and her people thought you were dead, because it's what McKay and I remembered. It was the only reason they kept us alive as long as they did. If they'd known their secret was out, they probably would've killed us, and waited for any one of you to return. It would've been an ambush waiting on the other side of the gate."
John saw that he was finally getting through to the Lieutenant. Ford was beginning to accept the situation for what it was. Some times you were left with all the what-if's in the world, and it still didn't change what happened. "Look, you've got to learn to get over stuff like this. It's never easy, but if you let it eat you up, you'll be incapable of acting the next time…and the time after that, if you survive. You can't constantly question your judgment, you've got to act, and accept the consequences for what they are."
The unspoken truth was that John knew about consequences. In his scrambled mind, he remembered the path that had brought him to where he was. The act that had earned him a reprimand, and a black mark, and shipped him off to the heel of the world. He'd acted, and accepted the consequences, and he'd be damned if he'd ever go back and question his actions. He'd done what he'd had to do.
"I understand, Major," Ford replied soberly.
He studied the Lieutenant. "Not yet, but you will," he said finally. "Get out of here," he smiled. "I heard Beckett say you weren't supposed to be moving around on that leg."
"Yes, Sir," Ford agreed. He knew Beckett would read him the riot act for being up. But he also knew Beckett would understand the need that had driven him here. "See you later, Major," he said, and gave a weak wave, before shuffling out the door.
John watched him leave, and sighed. He'd thought the ones that would need healing would be him and McKay. He had been surprised to learn it was a lot more than that. Everyone that had come to visit so far had been screwed up, in one sense or another. Beckett had fawned over them, to the point where even McKay had snapped and told Carson to find some other patient to pester. This coming from the man who whined that he was going to die over a paper cut.
Speaking of McKay…John looked over at the bed next to him. McKay was snoring away. John wondered how Rodney was managing to sleep. He hadn't figured out how to, yet. They'd been back for almost a day, and the best he'd managed was a light doze, only to be jolted awake by the memories. He was back in the house, with Marie…and then the hospital. Marie was always there. Her face was haunting him. She loved him, and she had been close to killing him.
He jerked, startled by the voice. He had been staring at Rodney, and hadn't heard the door open, or the approaching footsteps. He focused on the source. "Elizabeth," he acknowledged.
"How do you feel?" she asked him. She wasn't sitting either. He wondered if they were all afraid to sit, and stay a while. Maybe they weren't ready to believe that he and McKay were really back.
"Better," said John. He knew it was what she wanted to hear. He didn't want to tell her about the dreams, the mixed up memories of her and Marie, and her face replacing Marie's.
"Liar," she accused softly. She was wearing a red shirt, and her dark gray uniform pants. Her brown hair lay lightly curled against her head. She looked just like he'd remembered.
He dropped the pretense. It took too much effort anyway. "I will be." He knew that was truthful. She did too, because she didn't argue with him.
"You were missed," she said instead. She was still standing, and she'd folded her arms around her chest protectively.
He hoped so, but he couldn't remember much about these people to know if it were true. "I don't…"
"I know," she said simply, interrupting him. "Give it time."
He smiled ruefully; did she always finish his thoughts? "Thanks," he said, not knowing what else to say. From his jumbled memories, he knew she was important to him, but that was all he had right now.
She looked over at the snoring figure of McKay. "How's he doing?" she asked, ignoring the sudden awkwardness. John glanced over at McKay. "Him? Fine, I guess. We haven't talked much." That was something he knew they'd remedy, once McKay was up to it. Rodney's burns had been superficial, but the lack of medical care they'd gotten had caused him to suffer, same as John's head had suffered. Between the drugs, and the injuries, they'd be in the infirmary for a few days.
Elizabeth frowned, and John was worried she was going to go there…go into the whole mind rape thing. Kate Heightmeyer, Atlantis's psychologist, had already paid him a visit. She'd been one of the first. He'd told her to go fly a kite, more politely than that, but it amounted to the same thing. He didn't need a shrink right now. He needed this…his friends, being home. He'd get over what the Eladeans had done, but he'd do it on his own terms.
What she was going to say, he didn't know, because she merely nodded. "It's good to have you back, John," she said instead.
"I know," he said. And she knew that he knew. She unfolded her arms, and started backing towards the door, still staring at him, and he knew that she was on the list of people that would need to recover from this, as well. He'd heard about the memorial they'd had for him and McKay. He'd heard about her speech. And he'd heard about the stress ball that had almost given Beckett a concussion. She didn't know that, of course, because Beckett had let it slip when he was fussing over them after they'd gotten back.
He watched, as she finally turned, and retreated, leaving him once again alone, and listening to McKay's rhythmic snores. He looked again at McKay, and a thought occurred. He picked up a napkin that was on the tray beside his bed, and wadded it up. Once he had condensed it into a sturdy enough missile, he lobbed it at McKay's head. Direct hit!
McKay's snoring halted, and he lifted a hand up to his face, batting away what had struck him, before he had finished waking up. "Huh…"
"McKay! You're awake!" John said, exaggerating his words. "Just the guy I want to talk to."
Rodney blinked at the ceiling, before turning to face Sheppard. "You threw something at me," he accused.
"Please, what would I throw at you? There's nothing here," John said. He purposefully avoided looking at his tray.
McKay's eyes searched his bed, and the floor, and he glared at the wadded up napkin. He looked from it to Sheppard, but instead said, "What do you want?"
Something had been bugging John ever since they'd gotten back. "How'd you do it? How did you know what was going on, and how did you get through their programming?" he asked. If McKay hadn't broken through, John would've handed over the address to Atlantis. It scared him how closed he'd been to divulging the sensitive information.
Rodney looked at him, and it was an annoyed look. John glared. "Humor me, McKay," John said, not quite pleading, but there was enough begging inflected that Rodney got the point that this was something he really needed to hear.
McKay rolled his eyes at the ceiling, but he didn't go back to sleep. "They were using me to program responses…I wasn't an active participant; remember, I never did anything but respond to your actions in that world."
John did remember, now. He hadn't noticed it then. He'd thought it was tied to Rodney's injuries. "So…" he said.
"Okay, try to understand this, but you probably won't be able to because…well, I'm the genius here…"
"McKay…" threatened John. There was another napkin on that tray.
"They read the responses from my mind, and they'd essentially play them to your mind. Once I figured out what they were doing, and why, I simply programmed a response, and let them play it. They didn't realize what I'd done till you responded. It was too late. Their system was efficient and by the time they realized what I'd done, and yanked you out of there, you knew not to give them the address." McKay was smiling smugly in his bed, and John had to admit, that was pretty genius of him, but it'd be a cold day in hell before he stroked his ego.
"Cool," he settled for saying instead.
McKay's jaw dropped. "Cool? Cool is for 'how's the weather', or 'nice shirt', Major. Cool is not for turning an alien virtual reality against itself…do you even realize what that took?"
John guessed cool wasn't quite enough for McKay. "Not exactly," he admitted. Truth was, he didn't. But he was impressed, even if he didn't totally comprehend that magnitude of McKay's accomplishment.
McKay seemed to settle back in his bed. "That's why I'm the brains and you're the…"
"…brawn?" finished John.
McKay seemed pleased that Sheppard got it. "Basically." Rodney paused, and looked over at him again. "So, you getting your memory back?"
John grinned. "Bits and pieces…I know you don't like lemons."
McKay spluttered. "Don't like…try deathly allergic to!"
John shrugged, "Close enough." Payback's a bitch…
"Oh, that's funny…ha ha," McKay snapped.
John smiled, and he wanted to tell Heightmeyer, and everyone else, that it'd be okay. They were going to get through this. Just like they always did. Just like always. McKay continued to spout off about his citrus allergy, and Beckett came rushing out of his office at the commotion, followed by a few nurses. They all began to converge on the source of the noise, and Sheppard let it all fade in the background as the sleep that he'd resisted finally claimed him.
Later, when Beckett checked on Sheppard after they'd finished harassing McKay, Carson was startled by the easy smile on John's sleeping face. Beckett slipped his hands in his pockets, and waltzed back to his office, relaxing for the first time since they'd returned.