This tag for Epiphany bounced around in my head until I figured the only way to get rid of it was to write it down. It picks up where the episode leaves off.
Disclaimer: I do not own or have any rights to Stargate Atlantis or any of its characters.
A Shift in Time
"Let's get out of here," Sheppard said, starting off toward the cave containing the portal. He took a few steps before stopping.
"John, is something wrong?" asked Elizabeth.
He hesitated. "I need to go back to the cloister to get my weapons."
"Lead on," said McKay.
He stood for a moment, not sure if he wanted to see the cluster of houses again. Part of him was already beginning to miss the place. He shook his head and began walking.
They reached the cloister several minutes later. Sheppard stopped by the table where he and the others had been seated less than an hour ago. Food was still on each plate, telling the others of their hasty departure.
"Is that food safe to eat?" asked McKay, eyeing the table as he rubbed his hands together.
"It's fine, McKay. We were eating when Teer told me you were here and that the beast was close." Sheppard moved to the doorway of his room. He stepped in and began gathering the things he wanted into the pack he had collected from the cave not that long ago. His movements were stiff and mechanical as he tried to sort the conflicting emotions that gripped him. When he had what he needed, he picked up the pack and turned to the door to see Elizabeth standing there.
"Is this where you've been living?" she asked.
"Yeah. This has been home for the last six months." He stared at the floor where he and Teer sat and kissed. Remembering the night they had shared, he felt a sudden rush of emotion. It was beginning to sink in that he would never see Teer or the others again, leaving him cold and empty inside.
"John, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Let's go." He pushed past her, finding both McKay and Ronon sitting at the table, sampling the food.
McKay looked up at Sheppard. "This stuff isn't half bad. At least we don't have to worry about you starving while you were here."
"No, we had everything we needed," he said, taking one last look at the rustic settlement. "It's weird. I spent six months looking for a way out of here, and now that I'm leaving . . ."
McKay swallowed and frowned at Sheppard. "You got pretty close to them, didn't you?"
"I lived with them six months, McKay. They cared for me when I was injured, gave me a place to live, fed me. They were my friends."
They stood in silence, unsure of how to comfort their friend, until he was ready to leave.
"Let's go." Sheppard headed down the path, his teammates following close behind.
Sheppard stood staring at the portal. "So, can we go through?"
McKay nodded. "They said they would keep it open for us. Do you think we should test it first?"
"No, I trust Teer. I'll go first." Sheppard moved toward the barrier between time fields.
"Just go quickly this time, Colonel. It's a lot less painful that way," McKay advised.
"Okay. Going through." Sheppard stepped through the portal and disappeared.
"Wait a few seconds and give him time to move out of the way," McKay said to Beckett, as he prepared to go next.
Beckett stood for a minute and then stepped through. He emerged on the other side to see Sheppard just a couple of steps ahead of him. He watched as the pilot's legs seemed to give way and he threw one arm out, searching for a way to steady himself. Beckett hurried forward and put his arm around Sheppard's waist, helping to the nearest rock.
"Colonel, what's happening?" asked Beckett.
Sheppard's face had paled and he sat looking down at the ground. "A little dizzy."
"And what else?"
Sheppard finally looked up at Beckett. "I'm not sure. I just feel kind of funny."
Beckett retrieved his stethoscope and blood pressure cuff from the bag he had been carrying and went about taking Sheppard's vital signs as the others came through the portal.
"Carson, is he okay?" asked Elizabeth.
"I'm fine," said Sheppard.
Elizabeth crossed her arms and looked at him. "Oh really. I wasn't aware that you changed your name to Carson while you were away."
"Funny, Elizabeth. I see your sense of humor hasn't changed."
"Well of course not. It's only been a few . . ." She mentally kicked herself for the slip. "John, I'm sorry. It's just hard to grasp that to you it's been six months."
"I know. It's okay."
His voice sounded distant, adding to her concern. "Carson?"
"His pulse and blood pressure are okay, but I'd like to get him back to Atlantis and run some tests. We've never encountered anythin' like this and I don't know what to expect." Beckett looked down at Sheppard, who's expression had become more strained. "Colonel, are you in pain?"
"Muscles and joints are starting to ache, Doc." Sheppard began rubbing his arms and flexing his elbows and fingers.
Beckett noticed that he, too, was experiencing some muscle and joint pain, but obviously not to the extent that Sheppard was. If it was a result of their visit to the time dilation field, then the difference in intensity would make perfect sense. "Is anyone else experiencing any symptoms?"
One by one they each admitted they were having similar, but milder, symptoms.
"Colonel, can you make it back to the jumper or should we send for a stretcher?" inquired Beckett.
Sheppard waved his arm at the doctor. "I can make it. This is a lot better than before. I hurt so bad the first time, I couldn't move for several hours."
"That was our fault. When we tried to pull you back, we slowed your passage down. The pain was caused by different parts of your body existing in different time fields for too long," explained McKay.
"What about the pain we are experiencing now?" asked Elizabeth.
"Most likely our bodies trying to realign with the rate of time passage we are experiencin' now," said Beckett. "We need to get back to Atlantis. If I'm right, it'll probably get worse before it gets better, especially for the Colonel."
"Great," muttered Sheppard.
Beckett watched Sheppard all the way back to Atlantis. The pilot sat in the back of the jumper with his head leaned against the bulkhead, eyes closed. His brows were furrowed slightly, but the doctor wasn't sure if it was from pain or emotion. As soon as the jumper landed in Atlantis, Sheppard's eyes opened.
"Colonel, how are you?" Beckett asked, concerned.
"I'm good, Doc," he said, standing up.
They filed out of the back of the jumper and left the jumper bay on their way to the infirmary. Once in the corridor, Sheppard paused and walked to the gate room. The others watched as he stood beside the gate, his gaze slowly moving across the room. He didn't notice the people staring at him, amazed at the man who had left that morning looking like he always did and returned in the afternoon sporting a full beard and strange clothes. He looked like he'd been gone a lot longer than a few hours.
Elizabeth exchanged glances with Beckett and his team. She had to keep reminding herself that in his mind, he'd been gone six months. She walked over and stood next to him, placing her hand on his arm.
"John, we need to get to the infirmary."
"Okay, I'm coming. It's just that it's been so long." He slowly turned and headed for the infirmary.
Numb. That's how he felt. Part of him had wanted to run down the halls of Atlantis and scream, "I'm home,". But somehow Atlantis didn't feel like home right now. Besides, he had to keep reminding himself that, to these people, he'd only been gone a few hours. As Ronon had pointed out, they hadn't even had time to miss him. Hours versus six months. How was he supposed to wrap his head around that?
Part of him wanted to run back to the jumper and return to the planet. But no one would be there to greet him. He thought of his room back in the cloister. It seemed both foreign and familiar, home and yet not home. God, he missed Teer and Hedda. He briefly wondered if they could see him, if they knew how much he missed them.
He let himself be steered into the infirmary, his mind still trying to process all that had happened. He tuned in to find Beckett leading him to a bed in the corner. As Beckett closed the privacy curtain, Sheppard saw the hospital gown lying on the bed.
"Doc, tell me that's not for me."
Beckett sighed, preparing for the fight. "Now, Colonel, you've experienced six months of time in a period of a few hours. By your own admission, you've fought and been injured by the beast on at least two occasions."
"Hedda healed me both times. I'm fine."
"That may be, but we have no idea what all this might have done to your body. I need to give you a thorough exam and run a few tests. And I'd like to check on those healed wounds myself. Let me have a look at you and then I'll get you some scrubs. You are staying the night, so I don't want to hear any arguments."
Sheppard looked forlornly at the gown. "I don't need to take off everything, do I?"
Beckett smiled. "No, that won't be necessary."
"Okay." Sheppard started to smile, but it faded as he remembered Teer telling him she had changed his clothes while he was unconscious and his response.
Sheppard looked back at Beckett. "I'm okay, Doc. Just thinking about something."
"All right. You get changed while I check the others out and I'll be back."
Sheppard removed the clothing that no longer felt strange, folded them neatly, and placed them in the chair. He had trouble tying the gown because he was really starting to ache, making it hard to reach around behind his neck. He finally just wrapped it around his torso, lay back on the bed, and threw the sheet over his legs. He curled up on his side and closed his eyes, suddenly so tired he couldn't think straight.
His mind drifted back to Teer and Hedda and the people of the cloister. He had been so anxious to leave and return to Atlantis, so why did he miss it so much? He'd felt so alone and so abandoned at first. Then he'd been angry. They'd left him behind. Even now, knowing that he'd only been gone a few hours and that they had been working to get him back the whole time, he couldn't shake the feelings he'd carried around for six months.
Sheppard looked up into Beckett's face, yawning and rubbing his eyes. "Sorry, I guess I dozed off."
"No problem, you probably needed it."
"How is everyone else?" asked Sheppard.
"Fine. They are tired and little achy, so I gave them some Tylenol and instructions to get a good night's sleep. Now, let's see how you're doin'."
By the time Beckett was finished, Sheppard felt he'd been poked and prodded to within an inch of his life. Every muscle and joint in his body ached to the point he just wanted to curl up and pass out.
"Colonel, I'd like to draw some blood and run a few tests. If you'd like, you can change into scrubs after Kelly comes in and draws blood."
"What kind of tests?"
Beckett noticed the tension in Sheppard's face. "Pain worse?"
"Yeah, the volume's definitely been turned up."
Beckett patted his arm. "Well, everything so far looks good. Let me go ahead and have Kelly draw blood, and then I'll get you something for the pain and let you sleep."
Sheppard nodded. "Thanks, Doc."
About the time Kelly left with Sheppard's blood, Beckett returned with a syringe, which he emptied into the Colonel's arm.
Sheppard smiled. "I just realized I went a whole six months without one needle stick. Guess two in the space of ten minutes means I'm back in Atlantis."
"Well, I think the second one you'll be grateful for in a minute." Beckett pulled a chair up and sat down beside Sheppard. "How are you holding up? It can't be easy finding out that the last six months were really only a few hours."
Sheppard sighed. "Honestly, Doc? I can't get it straight in my head. It may take a while."
Beckett nodded. "I'm sure it will, lad. I just want you to be patient with us."
Sheppard frowned. "Patient with you? About what?"
"Just keep in mind that it was only a few hours to us. If we don't seem to react like we've missed you or don't show proper consideration to your feelin's of returnin', it's because we are lookin' at this through different eyes than you. It's not that we don't care about you, it's just that we don't have the proper frame of reference to really understand what you must be goin' through. Just remember that we do care about you and that we worked very hard to get you back quickly, especially once we understood that time was passing much faster for you."
Sheppard considered this for a moment before speaking. "Okay, I can do that. But I also need you to be patient with me. No matter how many times I tell myself that it was only a few hours to you, I had six months of thinking I was abandoned . . . that I'd been left behind without much of a thought. I'm not going to get over those feelings overnight. And I lost people I grew to care about and depend on. I know they aren't dead, that they've ascended, but they are still lost to me. I just need a little time to get this straight in my head."
"Good enough," replied Beckett. He watched Sheppard's eyes begin to close as the medication started taking hold. Patting Sheppard on the shoulder, he whispered, "Get some rest, Colonel. It's good to have you home."
As Elizabeth turned the corner, she was joined by Rodney McKay.
"Good morning, Rodney. Headed for the infirmary?"
"Good morning and yes. Going to check on our resident Ancient-charming flyboy?" McKay grinned impishly.
Elizabeth smiled in response. "Yes. I talked to Carson earlier, and he said John had a rough night. I'm hoping he's feeling better now."
McKay frowned. "He definitely wasn't feeling too well last night."
Elizabeth's eyes widened. "And you know this how?"
McKay's mouth opened and closed a couple of times before he managed to get his voice going. "Oh, uh, I may have been in the area last night and stopped to check on the Colonel . . . you know, while I was in the area."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Oh, please, Rodney. Your lab, the mess hall, and your quarters are nowhere near the infirmary. Save the 'in the area' excuse for someone who might actually believe it."
McKay looked disappointed. "Funny, that's what Carson said last night. Anyway, when I stopped in, he just looked . . . unsettled. Carson had him loaded up with drugs and he was still tossing and turning like he couldn't get comfortable."
They entered the infirmary and headed for Sheppard's bed. Beckett saw them and met them halfway.
"I guess I know why you two are here," said Beckett.
They looked past Beckett where Sheppard was shifting in bed. Marcy was running a damp cloth over his forehead, brushing his sweat soaked hair back off his face. They noted an IV had been added sometime during the night.
Elizabeth frowned. "How is he Carson?"
"Well, he's a might uncomfortable at the moment, but I think it'll pass. Everyone else has reported feelin' back to their old selves today, so I'm hopin' the Colonel will settle soon."
As they watched, Sheppard's eyes opened and he grabbed Marcy's wrist. "Hedda?"
"No, Colonel, it's Marcy. You're back in Atlantis."
Sheppard let go of Marcy's arm and seemed to look at the ceiling. "Atlantis."
"Yes, Colonel, Atlantis. You're home, sir." Marcy went back to stroking his face, gently wiping away the beads of sweat, soothing him with her voice.
Sheppard turned to look at her a moment. "I don't know where home is any more."
Marcy smiled down at him. "It's here, Colonel, with the people that care about you."
Sheppard frowned. "They left me."
"No sir, they would never do that. They came for you and now you're home."
"Yes, sir . You're home. Just relax and we'll take care of you."
Sheppard watched her a second before closing his eyes.
Elizabeth and McKay stood in silence, stunned. Finally Elizabeth turned to Beckett.
"Is that really what he thinks, that we left him?"
"No, lass, he understands what happened. That's the pain and the drugs talking. We had a bit of talk last night, and you have to understand that he did feel somewhat abandoned for the six months he was there. Even though in his mind he knows he wasn't left behind, emotionally it may take a while to overcome the feelin's he's carried around the last several months."
"Well," said McKay. "We'll just have to show him that we would never leave him behind. If he's taught us anything, he's taught us that you don't leave people behind . . . not even after they return to Atlantis."
McKay walked quietly into the darkened infirmary.
"Dr. McKay, what are you doing here?" asked Kelly, approaching him from the nurse's desk.
McKay looked toward Sheppard's bed. "Just checking on the Colonel."
Kelly smiled. "He's sleeping. His pain level started coming down this afternoon and he's been resting pretty peacefully the last few hours. Dr. Strauhan said they might be able to release him tomorrow."
"That is good news. Mind if I just sit with him a while? I promise not to wake him."
"I think that would be nice, Dr. McKay."
McKay moved the chair closer to Sheppard's bed and sat down. As he watched the man sleep, he tried to imagine how he would feel if he'd been in Sheppard's shoes, left alone for six months to fend for himself.
"Rodney?" He startled out of his daze to find Sheppard looking at him.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't. What are you doing here?" he asked softly.
"Just sitting with you for a while."
Sheppard looked confused. "Why?"
McKay thought a minute and finally shrugged his shoulders. "Just am."
Sheppard continued to watch McKay for several minutes before he finally spoke. "Thanks."
McKay just nodded as Sheppard closed his eyes and drifted back off to sleep.
Sheppard turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. He wasn't sure when a hot shower had felt so good. Beckett had finally released him to his quarters after much whining. Sorely needing some alone time, he'd elected to get cleaned up here instead of the infirmary.
He rubbed his freshly shaved face, the lack of beard feeling strange, but good. Wrapping the towel around his midriff, he walked out into his quarters and began looking for something to wear. He decided on jeans and a t-shirt since he wouldn't be on active duty for a few more days. He knew whatever he chose to wear would feel foreign and he was not disappointed.
Once dressed, he stood looking at his quarters. He had expected them to be different. After being gone for six months, he thought his things would either be dusty or packed up as if he wasn't coming back. He had to continually remind himself it had only been a few hours.
He thought briefly about his room on the planet, about the rustic bed and the hand-made rug on the floor. Atlantis was so far removed, so different. He looked at the things in the room and realized that he had never once missed any of them. He had missed people, and maybe flying, but not things. The room no longer felt like his room. He could have wandered into any room in Atlantis and felt just as at home as he did here.
Sheppard left his room and walked Atlantis. He walked by labs, listening to the chatter of the scientists working inside. He passed through the gate room, observing how everything was the same and yet seemed somehow different. He watched and listened to the people in the halls and how they interacted with one another. When people spoke to him, he spoke back, but was otherwise silent. He stood on his favorite balcony and listened to the ocean below, breathing in the salt air. Okay, now that felt at least a little like home. He stood there thinking about Teer and Hedda, missing them terribly, until his stomach started to rumble. He realized he was starving.
He made his way to the mess hall and stood in the doorway, watching people fill their trays and sit with friends to talk. He thought about the communal meals at the cloister and the discussions they would have. The mess hall seemed so impersonal in comparison.
Shaking his head, he grabbed a tray and went through the line. His tray filled, he sat down at an empty table and began eating. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and some vegetable raised by the Athosians on the mainland. He ate very little of the meat and potatoes – it just didn't taste right. It was so different from what he had been eating. He managed to eat the Athosian vegetable dish since it was a little closer to what he was used to. He was poking his fork in and out of the potatoes when Teyla and Ronon came up.
"Colonel, do you mind if we sit with you?" Teyla asked.
"No, have a seat." He watched as they sat down across from him.
"I'm glad to see that you are out of the infirmary. How do you feel?" Sheppard found himself touched by the look of genuine concern on her face.
"I'm a little sore, but otherwise okay. Beckett thinks I'll be fine."
"That's good to hear," said Ronon. He looked thoughtful for a minute. "You know, Sheppard, we would have missed you too if you'd been gone longer."
Sheppard couldn't help but smile. "Thanks, Ronon. I appreciate that, but I'd just as soon not do that again."
Ronon just nodded and went back to eating.
"Hey, have you got room for a few more?" They all looked up to see Elizabeth, with McKay and Beckett coming along behind her.
Sheppard moved down a seat. "Sure, pull up a chair."
Trays and chairs were shifted around until everyone had a place at the table. McKay looked at Sheppard's plate, which he had shoved forward a few inches.
"Are you going to eat that, because I love their meatloaf."
Sheppard pushed the tray toward McKay. "I'm finished. Take anything you want."
Beckett frowned. "You didn't eat much, Colonel. You aren't feelin' poorly, are you?"
Sheppard shook his head. "No, Doc. I'm fine. The food just doesn't taste right to me yet. I just need some time to adjust my taste buds back to mess hall food."
McKay, mouth full, began waving his fork around. "Oh, Carson. You can't really blame him. You should have tasted some of the food on that planet. It was really good. What was that, anyway?"
Sheppard shrugged his shoulders. "No idea, McKay. I didn't cook it, I just ate it."
"Well, it doesn't matter. Whatever it was, it was good. I do wish we could have brought some back to try and replicate."
Beckett sighed. "Rodney, will you quit waving that bloody fork around like a weapon? You're goin' to put someone's eye out."
McKay rolled his eyes. "Oh for heaven's sake, Carson. Don't go all melodramatic on me."
Sheppard listened as the people at the table continued to talk. They joked and insulted and laughed and shared.
He watched Ronon eating neatly with utensils, in sharp contrast to when he had first come to Atlantis. Ronon had lived the friendless life of a runner for seven years. Sheppard knew it had taken a lot for the man to learn to trust them, and yet he had. He had saved their lives several times since joining the team. It had taken a while for him to fit in and yet now he fit like he'd been with them for years.
His eyes moved to Teyla. She had given up a lot to stay on the team. She was separated from her people most of the time and he knew she missed them. Every one on the team would trust her with their life in a heartbeat. They did daily. And Teyla had this way of making everyone feel welcome and loved, a way of smoothing ruffled feathers when needed. He couldn't imagine this team without her.
McKay. There was no one like him in the galaxy – this one or any other. He had the oddest mix of ego, wit, and loyalty Sheppard had ever seen. He had really missed McKay's banter while on the planet. No one else had been able to return his wisecracks or goad him into action or steal his food like the annoying scientist. No way he would ever admit any of that to McKay.
Elizabeth. He felt a twinge of guilt as he thought of his night with Teer while watching Elizabeth smile. He had wondered on occasion of there might be something there, but had never let it go beyond wonder. Too complicated. By the time he had been with Teer, he was convinced he would never see Elizabeth or anyone else from Atlantis ever again. Elizabeth had trusted him and given him a chance when no one else would. They didn't always see eye to eye, but she was always willing to listen to him and respected his opinion. He had also come to realize that his promotion was only due to her unwavering support of him as military leader of Atlantis. Yeah, he owed her big time.
Carson Beckett. Doc. He'd spent a little more time getting to know him from the injured point of view than he'd like, but Beckett was a good man. He'd awakened many times to find the doctor watching over him. If not for Beckett's plan, he'd be a bug right now. A dead bug. He shivered, preferring to shelve that particular memory. He knew how much Beckett hated going off world, and yet he'd gone down to the planet and through the portal to help in case Sheppard was injured. He owed that man as well.
Sheppard leaned back in his chair, watching the people around the table and realizing that they wouldn't have left him behind. This was his family. He cared for them and they cared for him. He made a vow to himself to trust them more the next time he found himself lost on a strange planet for six months.
He looked up at the sound of Teyla's voice to find them all staring at him. "What?"
"Colonel, are you okay?" Teyla asked in concern.
Sheppard smiled broadly. "I'm fine. I was just thinking about how lucky I am. I never did really thank you for getting me out of there and back to Atlantis."
"You're welcome, Colonel," responded McKay. "But we were just doing what we've been taught. We don't leave people behind . . . and that includes you."
Sheppard nodded. He wanted to say thanks again, but was having a hard time finding his voice.
"John," said Elizabeth. "I don't know if you want to talk or not, but I've been a little curious about what happened while you were there. You should have about six months of stories to tell us. You feel like catching us up?"
Sheppard thought about the months in the cloister, about getting to know the people, about all the times Hedda made him laugh. He smiled as he remembered Hedda yelling to the others that he was awake. He looked at his friends, watching him expectantly.
"How much time have you got?" he asked. He really was home.