Looks like you made it to the last chapter. Thanks for sticking with me and all my rambling about. I hope you enjoyed reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it. Double thanks to all of you that took time to review and gave me the motivational boost to keep going. I'll be seeing you soon because, as you may have noticed, I am seriously addicted to this stuff (consider yourself warned).

Okay, this wasn't intentional, but kind of worked itself in anyway while I wasn't looking. There may be a little subtle Shep/Weir. Nothing big, just some vague hints that I think you can take in a lot of ways. Sorry guys, I'm a romantic at heart and this stuff just creeps in.

The Mind of Atlantis - Chapter 24

As soon as the balcony doors opened and the cool night air touched his face, Sheppard breathed in deeply. It was a reflexive action, almost as natural as blinking in response to a bright light. They walked to the balcony railing in silence, each lost in their own thoughts, and stood leaning against it for some time.

"John, we need to talk," Elizabeth said finally.

Sheppard continued to look out across the city and the ocean as he replied. "What about?"

Elizabeth, standing to his left, touched his good arm. He responded by looking down at her, as she had wanted. "About what happened today...Gosh...was that today? It seems like it had to have been longer ago than that." She shook her head, trying to come to terms with all that had happened and with all that had been said. She looked back up at him, silently watching her. His face was a mask, and her usual ability to read other people's expressions failed her miserably.

"What do you want to know?" he asked, his voice neutral and emotionless.

"First I want to talk about what you said in the conference room. You can't really think that your only function is to be a test subject because of the Ancient gene. Please tell me that you don't believe that."

Sheppard looked at her for a minute, his eyes unwavering, and she found herself being slightly flustered at her lack of control over the situation. She could usually read him better than this, but tonight he had built a wall she seemed unable to penetrate. She couldn't help but wonder what was going on in that head of his and was he going to share it.

"Why did you ask me to come here?" he said simply.

She sighed, knowing he was going to play that card. "Okay...your original invitation was based on your ability to use the Ancient technology so readily, I'll give you that. But John, you have become so much more than that. You are an incredible leader...you have to know that. Most of these men would follow you anywhere. Your team has done some amazing things and made some exciting discoveries. You're the military leader of Atlantis now, and you're doing a fine job. John...we've reached the point where I don't know if I could run the city without you. That's how valuable you are."

Sheppard looked away from her and back out toward the ocean, but not before she saw the break in his expression. Gotcha, she thought to herself. She watched him silently stare out over the water for several minutes, the moonlight reflecting off his hair and accenting the fact that it was going about twenty different directions, chaotic even for him. On anyone else, she would have been tempted to laugh and hand them a brush. On Sheppard it just seemed...right. It represented him so well on so many levels.

"I guess in my heart that I know I'm more than a test subject. But on the surface sometimes...that's how I feel. Touch this, activate that...Most of the time it's not so bad. It can be kind of exciting. But lately...it always involves a stay in the infirmary and lots of needles and pain and I...I just need a break from it. Do you know how many times I got jabbed with needles today alone? I lost count between the numbing stuff for stitches, ...and there were a lot of those, and the pain medication, and the IV. I know it sounded like I was being a baby about going in for Beckett's tests...but I've done them all about twenty times each lately and I'm tired getting poked and prodded and stuck. I just want to be...normal for a while."

Elizabeth placed her hand on Sheppard's, resting on the top of the rail. "I'm sorry. I guess I just didn't realize...and I should have. Sometimes we get caught up in the mission of the expedition and forget about the people involved and how everything affects them as individuals...and that is never acceptable. I'll tell Rodney and Carson to lay off for a while and give you some breathing room."

Sheppard nodded and looked back down to her. "I'm not trying to be difficult, Elizabeth, and I'm not saying I won't do their tests. I just need a little time to wrap my mind around everything that's happened and come to terms with it...in my own time and in my own way."

"I know. You take that time. It's the least we can do after saving us from a Genii invasion...again."

Sheppard's expression darkened and he turned back to face the ocean again. "Yeah," he said softly.

"What? What's wrong?"

Sheppard looked down, fidgeting with the edge of his sling. "I'm changing Elizabeth...and I don't know exactly where all of this is going. I'm afraid I'm going to lose myself."

"No. I don't believe that," she said with firm conviction, startling him with her confidence. "I don't know where this will lead either, but you'll still be John Sheppard. Of that, I have no doubt."

Sheppard turned around and looked her square in the eyes. "Look at me and tell me what I did today didn't scare you. Because it sure scared the crap out of me."

He wasn't lying. She could see the fear in his eyes and that was what scared her. John Sheppard didn't show fear and the fact that he felt it deeply enough that it showed had her concerned. "I was amazed...excited...and maybe a little afraid, because I wasn't sure what was happening. But I wasn't afraid of you. Never have been and never will be. Power or no power, you are still John Sheppard and you are still a good man. If you hadn't developed those abilities, we'd be in the hands of Kolya tonight. I don't know about you, but THAT scares the crap out of me."

Sheppard ran his good hand through his hair, causing Elizabeth to fight the urge to grin as it stood up even more. Now was not the appropriate time and she knew it, but gosh, wasn't he making it hard. "I saw the faces of some of the people in the gateroom, Elizabeth. They were afraid. They were afraid of me. I'm starting to feel like even more of a freak than I was before."

Elizabeth smacked him soundly on his good arm.

"Ow...what was that for?"

"Well, I wanted to smack you in the head, but I was afraid I'd jolt you're sore shoulder and I'm already going to be in trouble with Carson. You are not a freak, John. I don't know if that's something you came up with on your own or if you're referring to Kavanagh and his stupid remarks, but either way, it just isn't true. There are several people on this expedition with the Ancient gene, so if you are a freak, so are they. And just because you happen to be able to use yours more freely, doesn't make you odd or strange in any way. Do you know how many people are actually jealous? Several. Look at Rodney. He practically foams at the mouth at the thought of being able to activate Ancient technology. How many people have had the gene therapy so they can interact better with Atlantis. You are the closest living relative to the Ancients. That makes you pretty amazing in my book. What about Marchaeus? Don't you consider it an honor to be related to him?"

"Okay...okay," he said laughing. "I get it. I'm not a freak. Wow, woman, you are relentless."

"Yes I am...and don't you forget it," she replied sternly, but the twinkle in her eyes contradicted the seriousness of her reply.

They stood in silence for a few minutes, their arms touching as they leaned against the railing, neither wanting to break the contact. "You know, John," she finally said. "If you're having trouble with all the changes, you can always talk to Kate."

Sheppard rolled his eyes. "No, I don't think so. I don't have a good working relationship with shrinks."

"She's very good. She has a very relaxed atmosphere...not intimidating at all."

Sheppard turned his head and eyed her closely. "Are you speaking from experience?"

"Yes," she said as she returned his gaze. "I've talked to her several times. We just talk...and she gives me a new perspective. She doesn't judge me or tell me what to do. If I'm having trouble with a decision, she usually just asks me some questions that I hadn't thought of. When we are done, I feel like I have a more well rounded view of the problem and it helps me make better decisions. If I'm having trouble dealing with a situation that has happened, she points out little things I hadn't considered and I'm able to cope better. I think with all the things that have been going on and the changes you are going through, it might help to talk to her."

Sheppard smiled down at her. "But I don't need to . I already have all that. Elizabeth...that's what I get when I talk to you. You make me think of things I hadn't thought of ...or, sometimes, things I was unwilling to consider. You give me a new perspective. I always feel better about things when I've talked to you about them. Like tonight. You have no idea how much better I feel about all of this than when we first came out here. I guess that makes you my psychiatrist. So, how much do I owe you?"

Elizabeth grinned. "I'll let you know. If that's true...maybe we should schedule appointments more frequently."

"I'd like that," he said softly. They looked at each other for a minute before Elizabeth finally turned away. "So...I'm glad you feel better after we talk," she said awkwardly.

"Yeah...you and...never mind." Sheppard clamped his mouth shut quickly, as if he almost said something he shouldn't.

Elizabeth frowned at him in curiosity. "Me and who? What were you going to say?" Sheppard shook his head. "Oh come on and tell me. Since I'm your unofficial psychiatrist, we have doctor/patient confidentiality."

Sheppard looked at her sheepishly. "Okay, but if you tell anyone, I'll deny it with my dying breath. Sometimes...Rodney gives me another perspective that helps me deal with things. The man can be so darn annoying and then, out of the blue, he points out things that give the situation a whole new twist. He sees some things with amazing clarity. But I swear, if you tell him. I'm not responsible for my actions."

Elizabeth laughed. "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. I understand what you are saying, though. Sometimes Rodney can be very insightful. It's just so shocking when it happens, sometimes you almost miss it." Her eyes strayed down to her feet and over to Sheppard's bare ones. "We better get you and your bare feet inside before you get sick. It's getting chilly out here." She looked up to note that Sheppard was holding his upper right arm against his body with his left hand. "You're shoulder starting to hurt?"

He noticed her looking at his arm and quickly removed his hand. "Maybe a little. I think I might be ready for one of those pills about now." He seemed a little unsteady as they walked toward the balcony door, so she slid her arm around his waist for support. "That better?" she asked.

"Yeah...much better."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

McKay stood outside the balcony doors, looking at the lifesigns detector in his hand. The little blip on the balcony should be Sheppard. He walked through the door to see the Major sitting in the far corner, his back against the pole connecting the front and side railing. His legs were stretched out in front of him, right leg crossed over the left. McKay began walking toward him.

"What are you doing out here? I thought..." He stopped short as a plastic cup landed on the ground in front of him, almost hitting him in the head. "Hey!" He looked up, trying to figure out where it had come from. "What was that?"

"If I'm not mistaken, it's a cup." said Sheppard matter-of-factly.

McKay rolled his eyes. "Well I can see that. Where did it come from? Is it suddenly raining plastic cups? Hey...this is from the mess hall." He narrowed his eyes at Sheppard. "What are you up to? And I thought you were supposed to be resting in your room."

"I've been resting in my room for two days, Rodney. The first day wasn't too bad because I was taking the pills that, as Nick says, knock you on your butt. I was pretty much out of it that day. But I've weaned myself down to the milder pain pill and I'm losing my mind sitting there staring at the walls. Besides, except for the soreness, I'm feeling pretty good. I just needed to get out for a bit."

"Okay...I guess you don't look any worse for wear. But really, what are you doing?" Rodney held the cup up to emphasize his question.

Sheppard grinned. "I've been doing a little research of my own. Throw the cup off the balcony as far as you can."

"What? But then..."

"Just do it!" interrupted Sheppard.

McKay, looking confused, walked over the the balcony and looked down at the water below. "Okay, here goes." He hurled the cup as far as he could. He watched it slowly arc down toward the surface of the water. Then, to his amazement, just before it broke the surface of the ocean below, it smoothly turned and began moving up, back toward the balcony. Rodney stood mesmerized for a moment before he realized it was headed straight for him. He took a couple of steps back and then held his hands up defensively in front of his face. The cup bounced off one hand and dropped to the ground.

"Nice catch, McKay," said Sheppard sarcastically.

"Catch? How was I supposed to catch that?" sputtered McKay. "Do you see a glove on my hand? Neither do I. I need my hands, Major. I'm not catching fast moving objects with my bare hands. How...how did you do that?"

Sheppard grabbed the railing with his left hand and pulled himself to his feet. He then walked over to stand in front of McKay. He stood there a few moments, looking at McKay.

McKay became uneasy. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Nothing. Just trying to read your expression." Sheppard leaned over and picked up the cup. "I was trying to decide if you were disgusted...or freaked out...or just plain afraid."

McKay looked slightly hurt. "Try amazed...or exhilarated. Why would I be afraid?"

"I don't know...maybe because that's what I've been seeing in people's faces. When I walked into the mess hall this morning...it went from noisy to dead quiet in a matter of seconds. The guy putting food on my tray was shaking so bad I thought he was going to spill it everywhere. You ever have an entire room of people staring at you while whispering to one another? I was so freaked out, I just took my tray back to my room and ate." Sheppard walked over to the rail and leaned against it.

"You know, not everyone is as open minded as I am. It may take them a while to get used to the idea of Sheppard the Ancient. Just give them some time." McKay joined him at the railing.

Sheppard snorted. "Sheppard the Ancient?"

"Hey...it's not so far fetched. Has it occurred to you that some of these...powers you have developed are very similar to things the Ancients could do?"

Sheppard looked thoughtful. "Not really. I was too busy being freaked out. I never asked for this, Rodney... Do you think I'll be able to do this stuff outside of Atlantis?"

McKay shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea. There's only one way to find out."

"Yeah, I know. It'll be a while before Beckett lets me out of Atlantis, though. We'll just have to wait on that one."

"So...what else can you do?" Rodney was nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot.

"I'm not sure. I was just...kind of experimenting with control. I haven't really tried much of anything new. You just saw my best parlor trick so far."

"Oh, Major...this is no parlor trick. Have you thought of the possibilities...especially if you can do all of this off world. Just think...the next time we're running for our lives, you can dial the gate as we run. We won't have to stop at the DHD...that could translate into less infirmary time."

Sheppard's expression brightened. "Hey, I hadn't thought of that. Now that would be handy."

"See...you just have to be positive." McKay looked somewhat horrified. "Oh my gosh, this is so backwards. You're supposed to be the eternal fountain of optimism and I'm supposed to relay stories of gloom and doom. Now I'm freaking out."

Sheppard laughed. "Hey, maybe we switched and I'm really you and you're really me."

"Now that's just sick!" said McKay, looking truly disgusted. They stood, looking out over the water for a few minutes. "Hey...have you thought any more about continuing your training sessions?"

"I talked to Elizabeth about it last night. I think I'm going to temporarily suspend them."

"What? Why? I thought you were really excited about them and look at what you've learned so far."

Sheppard sighed. "I know, but...I've been out of commission for a while and somewhere along the way, I lost touch with what was going on. I was reviewing mission reports from the teams yesterday and I realized that the wraith are closing in on us. Rodney, I think my first priority is going to have to be finding a ZPM. With one, I can protect the city. Without one...well, let's just say we don't want to go there."

"You could do both."

"No...I can't. I'm being realistic, Rodney. The chair sessions wipe me out and you know it. I can't function on a mission like that. We can continue the training after we find a ZPM and ..." Sheppard looked away from McKay and back out to the ocean.

"You need Atlantis, don't you?" asked McKay.

"I'm not sure. I think I can do the sessions without her, but I don't want to. She's my guide. She's the one that made me want to wake the city back up. Without her...it's just not the same."

McKay nodded. "I don't think she would want you to quit and besides, I'm still working on finding her. You can't just give up."

"I'm not giving up or quiting. It's temporary. I still want to finish the sessions, but I'm serious that we need to find a ZPM. I'll come back to them, McKay...I promise."

"Well...okay. I guess you're right. A real ZPM would certainly make our life better."

"Did you ever figure out what happened with the other one?"

McKay nodded. "Yes, at least I have a theory. I found evidence of wraith technology. The ZPM powered some sort of shield on the planet. I think when the ZPM failed, the shield failed, and the wraith culled the planet. The wraith found the power source and set a trap for any Ancients who came to retrieve the ZPM. I'm serious about what I said before. We came dangerously close to blowing up the whole city. Guess we'll have to use your new, improved color vision as a sort of ZPM booby trap detector."

"Yeah, I guess. I told you I wasn't crazy. Hey! Guess what? I think I have a new team member. Dr. Strauhan wants to go on some more missions with us."

"You're kidding. The wraith attack didn't scare him off? Man, we would have had to carry Carson back through the gate. Well, good for him."

"I think I'll see if he can go with us next time...get him a little field experience. There's been a lot of times it would have been handy to have a doctor along."

"Who are you kidding, Major. It would be handy for us to have a doctor nearly every time we go through the gate." McKay paused for a moment. "Let's go grab some lunch. I'm starved."

Sheppard seemed uncertain. "Why don't you go. I'm not very hungry."

McKay frowned at him. "You can't hide in your room because people might talk about you. You have to get out and be seen, so everyone knows you are still Major John Sheppard. Come with me. Everyone will see you eating with me and know that you must be okay. They'll know you must be safe or I'd be too scared to eat with you."

Sheppard nodded and followed McKay as he headed for the balcony door. "Good point."

"Good point? That's all you can say," said McKay, looking disappointed. "You should say something like, Oh no, McKay, people don't think that at all...or...no, McKay, everyone knows how brave you are. Instead you just tell me good point? See if I come check on you ever again."

Sheppard grinned as they went through the door and down the hall. "Thanks, McKay."

McKay continued to walk beside him. "You're welcome."

THE END

If you are thinking I left some things unanswered, you're right. I plan on doing a sequel to this one (it seemed better than adding several more chapters). It probably won't be my next one, cause I've already jotted down a rough draft of about two chapters on another idea. Plus, the sequel will have to deal with some problems I've created in this one by getting seriously off track from the series. I've got to figure out how to proceed next without getting too far off base and I would like to somehow move forward into the second season. I'm not sure that's possible right now. Anyway, I'm sure I'll see you soon (not sure if that's a good thing or not, but I'm way too addicted to quit).