Canon characters are not mine, just taking them out to play.

Story line and unfamiliar characters are mine, however, and I am an extremely possessive person.

Respectful feedback welcomed, encouraged, and craved.


The glory of the Lord is risen upon you.

John opened his eyes, squinting against the light. Cradled in the fog, he stared out at the dim medical bay. He didn't think, just watched. Every now and again a young woman in burgundy clothing would walk by that he would chase with his eyes until she was out of sight, then wait for her to come back into view and follow her again.

"Hello."

Soft voice, to the right. He blinked, slowly rolling his head that way. Found a friendly face, framed by dark curls. Elizabeth.

Elizabeth closed her laptop, setting in on the floor beside her chair. She leaned forward propping her elbows on her knees. "Are you going to stay with us for a while?"

He wasn't quite sure what she meant, his brain too muddled to form any concrete thoughts. The deep frown on his face plainly conveyed that to her.

"You've been unconscious for nearly thirty-eight hours, John." Serious concern set on her face. She repressed a sigh at the silence of her ranking military officer. "The trade agreement with the Noylan's is stronger now. They are extremely grateful for the elimination of Tomar and the return of their loved ones enslaved by him." She studied him. Seeing no response, she continued, "Sgt Bates went back to the planet with a team. The collected anything still intact from Tomar's lab. Dr Zelenka is in heaven cataloging it all." She pulled up a water glass from the floor by her foot, taking a sip. Patiently she went on, "I have been told quite the story about what happened on that planet. Would you care to give me your side of it?" She got a twitch of the eyebrows, nothing more. His attention seemed to be on her water. She brought the straw to his lips, letting him drink deeply, eyes closing as if in ecstasy. When he pulled back, she settled herself in the chair again. "Carson kicked Rodney out after an eighteen hour vigil. He was really worried about you. We all have been."

The fog in John's brain began to recede as he listened to Elizabeth talk. He was lulled along by the flow of her voice when a touch to his right arm set him moving faster that he thought himself capable since waking.

Elizabeth's smile at Carson was cut short when John suddenly lurched away from the doctor's touch. He landed in a trembling heap at her feet, wide eyes coming to bare on Carson.

It took a moment for John's brain to process that it was Carson standing on the other side of the bed. The man's blue eyes bugged, his mouth fell agape, he seemed frozen with his hands out in a weak effort to calm the major.

John shakily pushed himself to stand. He looked sheepishly between Elizabeth and Carson.

Carson kept his voice light, ignoring the panic attack but not daring to move either. "Sorry bout that, son. Didn't mean to startle you." He could see John's body quivering. "Yer drippin all over ma clean floor so climb back up here and let me hook you back up."

John looked to the hand Carson motioned at, seeing blood trailing in a steady stream down his hand to form a small puddle by his toes. He watched it drip for a moment, mesmerized by the red contrasting the white.

Elizabeth was at his side the second he fell out of the bed. After he stood, she gripped his upper arm, attempting to move him back into the bed at Carson's request. He glanced back at her, then nodded at the doctor and climbed into his place.

Elizabeth exchanged glances with Carson as she adjusted the bedding around the major. She was concerned that he still hadn't spoken and he was flighty, very unusual for the John Sheppard she knew. Her insides coiled remembering the reports Rodney and Carson had turned in.

Carson turned his attention to bandaging the rip caused when the IV pulled out and placing a new port in the major's forearm. His hands shook slightly, still unsettled by the experience with Tomar just days ago. Almost losing Major Sheppard to that device, the pain he witnessed it inflict, not being able to do a damn thing about it, all made him sick to his stomach. He hadn't been sleeping well, the events haunting his dreams.

He was stopped when Major Sheppard reached toward his forehead. He stood still, unflinching while the major traced the red burn that streaked across his temple disappearing into his hairline.

John recognized the mark on Carson as a bullet burn. He frowned trying to pull up the hazy memories from before the world whited out. He played through them like a VCR on fast-forward. Then paused when he saw Tomar with his arms around Carson's neck. He jumped at the sound of a gunshot echoing in his ears. He blinked out of the scene meeting Carson's eyes. "Sorry," he rasped.

Carson pushed Major Sheppard's hand back down to the bed giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Never mind that now." He gave an uncomfortable smile, glancing at Elizabeth with a self conscious shrug.

Elizabeth returned the smile. John's eyes turned to her with a desperate expression on his face. He gripped her hand in both of his pulling her close.

"Is he dead?" his voice quavered. If this was a dream, he wanted to die. If this was real, he wanted to laugh. If he was dead...

She met his gaze with a set determination. "Yes, you killed him."

"But I'm not dead." John looked around the room not really seeing.

Elizabeth was as confused as the major sounded. She glanced up at Carson.

Carson had a far-away look when he answered her unasked question, "Tomar said that device would kill him if he killed Tomar." Carson guided John's unresisting hand to the place at the base of his skull. He watched the trembling fingers trace the spot, now just a few small scabs in a bald patch of red skin. Saw the accepting nod, the lips pressed hard together, met the eyes that flitted between him and nothing out in the room. "Kiersa caught us before we left Tomar's lab. She pulled that thing out of you."

John felt his neck. A weight seemed to lift from his shoulders, from his soul. He had killed Tomar and was still sitting here in the medical bay, alive. He was suddenly sleepy. He scooted down in the bed, twisting to his side, pulling the covers over his shoulder. Carson patted his shoulder, the breeze signaling the doctor's retreat. Elizabeth was still at his other side. He had forgotten about her.

She pulled her chair close, leaning close. "Rest easy, major. We've got your back." She watched his eyes grow heavy and finally stay closed, as his breathing deepened with sleep.

A A A A A A

John tried to sleep. He would no sooner begin to drift off when he was jerked awake by visions of Tomar. Sometimes he busted Rodney's arm in two, sometimes he succeeded in snapping Carson's neck and sometimes John answered to '517'.

Carson watched his patient from across the medical bay. Saw how he fidgeted with the blankets to keep his hands from shaking. "Come on, son. You can make it through this," he whispered to himself. He had done all he could to heal John's body, the rest was up to the major. Even Dr Heightmeyer agreed that since he wouldn't talk to her, he would have to get control himself or be grounded indefinitely.

It had been nearly a week since he had returned to the land of the living. John had argued enough that he would sleep better in his own bed that Carson, under protest and extremely reluctant, cleared him to go straight to his quarters and not come out until he got a good twelve hours sleep. Now, he stood in the doorway of his bedroom, shadow stretching across the floor, distorted over the bed. He couldn't move. He couldn't go in there, alone, where his dreams would be quick to torment him. He snatched the green blanket from the bed without letting the door close. Wrapping himself in it, he headed toward the TV room.

Night on Atlantis was quiet, lonely. His sock feet wouldn't even give the comfort of his own footsteps. He didn't pass anyone one the journey. The Gate tech was at her post but her back was turned when he walked past the doorway.

Turning the volume setting to three, he sat back on the Ancient sofa to watch his 'Hail, Mary' football video. That's what got him home, wasn't it? A hail Mary. He watched with a slack expression. It wasn't as exciting as usual.

"What are you doing here?"

A voice from behind caused him to shoot unsteadily to his feet, spinning to face the direction of the voice. His breath came in great gasps, eyes wide. It took a moment to register that it was Rodney standing in the doorway, nearly as frightened as John. He hadn't seen Rodney since he woke up to Elizabeth at his side. Carson reassured him that the scientist was fine, just needing to hole up for a while, build his emotional wall back up.

"What?" He couldn't draw enough breath to speak above a whisper.

Rodney took a moment to study his friend, clad in a t-shirt and sweats, sock footed, trembling on the far side of the room. The whole Bahtron situation had shaken them both to the very soul of their being. It had been ten days since their return from the planet, twice as long as their incarceration on the planet. He expected everything to go back to normal but knew it had changed them. He didn't like change. He wanted things back to the way they were. He missed the snarky bantering competitions, the brain over brawn clashes, the sibling rivalry. The Major Sheppard he knew and respected was in this man somewhere. Rodney just had to have patience and exercise diligence in excavating him.

He sighed inwardly, coming around the sofa. He pasted on a friendly half-smile, reaching for the major's blanket that had fallen to the floor when he leaped up, offering it to his friend.

John forced himself to relax. He snatched the blanket from Rodney's fingers, wrapping it around his shoulders. "You scared the hell out of me, Rodney," he barked with false bravado. He briefly wondered if he would ever be warm again as he returned to his seat.

"Last I heard you were sent to your room." Rodney sat beside him, watching him out of the corner of his eye.

Keeping his gaze forward, John pulled his blanket tighter. He wanted to ignore the question and just sit in the mindless void that he visited often since returning to Atlantis.

Finally, he shrugged, quietly answering, "Couldn't sleep in that tiny room."

"Ah, I was told that was the only room you could sleep in..." Rodney gently retorted, maybe trying too soon to pull his friend out from behind the wall he was building around himself. He feared the major would finish it and never come out.

"Well, maybe not so much...," he whispered slouching further into the couch.

Rodney looked down at his clasped hands. He knew John hadn't slept well since returning to Atlantis. The only way he slept himself was the light sedatives Carson doled out every night. He drew a deep breath to speak but for probably the first time in his life, Rodney didn't know what to say. He sat in silence waiting for the words to come. When they did, they weren't what he expected. "I'm sorry you went through that."

John kept his eyes on the football game. What was he supposed to say to that? It was nothing? It's okay? No, it wasn't okay and it sure as hell wasn't nothing. He was driven within a sliver of his sanity, driven to uncontrollable rage and watched his friends tortured and nearly killed at the hands of a complete psycho control freak. But Rodney shouldn't be apologizing to him, he should be apologizing to Rodney for not seeing this whole mess coming.

Rodney could see the struggle in Major Sheppard's tense face. He decided it would be best to change the subject, quick. "You know, I'm not very good at this, so... let's talk about something else."

Elizabeth couldn't sleep. The ordeal on the Noylan's planet made her wonder what the hell they were doing out there. John and Rodney could have been killed. Carson and the rescue team could have been killed. Every turn here in the Pegasus galaxy could be deadly. They were children playing with fire. Someday they would get burned.

She found herself climbing the stairs in the gate room, heading to her office. Maybe some paperwork would make her groggy enough to actually sleep. As she topped the stairway, she heard voices from the opposite direction, the TV room. She crept to the doorway, seeing the tops of two heads barely over the back of the couch, one dark, one lighter. Leaning, arms folded, she smiled at their conversation.

"The US would so kick you Canuck's asses any day of the week."

John sounded... normal. His voice was tired, maybe a bit strained but the zeal and determination was definitely reappearing. Elizabeth knew it was too early to hope but if anyone could drag him out of himself it would be Rodney.

"On what grounds do you base that bold yet erroneous remark?"

Elizabeth could hear the excitement in Rodney's voice. She had watched as John and Rodney developed the most unlikely of friendships. She also knew that as long as Atlantis was cut off from Earth, they were all a big family and would eventually grow into that role. She was startled by a hand on her shoulder. Carson stood beside her, a twinkle lighting his blue eyes, a finger held to his lips. They listened together for a while, sometimes having to stifle the laughter that threatened to give away their eavesdropping. Football, soccer, fast-food, beaches, on and on. The perpetual mock-pissing contest finally drifted into silence.

When the view screen went to static and the two on the sofa made no move to end it, Carson stepped into the room. As he suspected, both were asleep. He turned to switch the noise off.

Elizabeth followed Carson in, having a peek at the two best friends. John was wrapped in a blanket, arms crossed, sock feet propped out on the coffee table, head cocked sideways. Rodney was in a similar position, sans the wrap, chin resting on his chest. She suddenly felt tired herself. She heard Carson whisper behind her. Turning to him, she saw him fighting to turn off the TV. She smiled doing it for him. He returned the smile, albeit a bit sheepishly.

"Should we make them go to bed?" she whispered, turning back to the sleepers, arms folded.

Carson shook his head, hands on hips, regarding the two, "Neither has slept well since this mess. We'll let them be tonight."

Elizabeth nodded her agreement. She patted the doctor's arm. "Good night, Carson."

"Night, Elizabeth." He sighed, glancing around the room. He felt exhausted. Maybe he'd just sit here for a moment. He flopped in the chair at Major Sheppard's left. Just for a moment...

Elizabeth came back into the media room a few minutes later. She had gone to her quarters to get a blanket for Rodney. She smiled at the new sleeper, legs thrust out on the table beside John's. Good thing she brought two blankets.

A A A A A A

John lay in bed staring at the ceiling of his quarters, thinking. He spent many nights this way. Thinking, mulling over what-ifs. Tonight was different, he seemed to be full to capacity with energy and felt about to pop. Emotion bubbled, threatening to overflow. His teeth clenched and released, his fists knotted and eased. He was tired of this. He could either let Tomar win from his place in hell or he could fight this.

He closed his eyes, envisioning that box, the one in which he kept his emotions. He pulled it out, dusted it off, opened it to peek inside. Under the lid was the murder of Colonel Sumner. On top, he piled '517', pain, shame and guilt brought by the experience on the Noylan's planet then shut the lid. He knew without a doubt that the memories would fight their way out. Someday he would have to fight with them again. But for now he would surround himself by his friends and family in Atlantis. He pulled out a padlock the size of his hand and clamped it on the hasp...


It has been a long journey but I am satisfied with the story. I hope you enjoyed the trip.

Thanks for all the great reviews.

Hey, if you are reading this a year from now, review anyway. I would love to hear from you.