The trip through the portal wasn't as painful this time, but John still stumbled as he reached the other side of the time dilation field. He cursed under his breath, hoping no one had noticed it. No such luck, though. Carson's hand landed gently but firmly on his shoulder. "Are you all right, son?"

"I'm fine," John replied automatically. He ignored the physician's skeptical expression and Elizabeth's raised eyebrows. He just wanted to get the hell out of here and back to Atlantis. He needed time to absorb all that had happened.

John was the first one to board the puddlejumper. For once he didn't mind that someone else was piloting it. He was tired and no doubt out of practice. John stared out the forward window as the craft lifted through the atmosphere. Had it really been only a few hours on this end? It had been so much longer for him, and he felt... old.

Teer's people had been kind and welcoming, and he certainly appreciated Hedda's healing gift, but it had been like living with children for six months. He couldn't understand how they could be content to spend their whole lives in their Cloister, not even remotely curious about what might exist beyond its confines. Trying to explain the necessity for living and fighting felt like banging his head against a brick wall. If that's what it took to Ascend, he'd never be ready in a million years.

John fidgeted in his seat as the jumper approached the Stargate, aware of the others surreptitiously watching him. Vanquishing the beast had been too simple and abrupt. He was still full of adrenalin that now had no outlet. Maybe he could convince Teyla to spar with him later; getting the crap beaten out of him might settle his nerves.

A few minutes later they landed in the jumper bay. John didn't even try to convince Carson to let him go shave before heading to the infirmary. The man was eyeing him too closely for that. John knew he could look forward to almost every medical test currently known to man and a few that were dreamed up on the spot. He wasn't the only one on the receiving end of the Scot's glare, though.

"Just where do the two of you think you're going?" the physician asked as Teyla and Ronon headed out of the jumper bay. "That... thing threw you around as easily as rag dolls. You need to get checked out." John gave Carson credit for not being intimidated by Ronon's looming over him menacingly. He merely pursed his lips and pointed in the direction of the infirmary. Ronon proceeded to stomp out, followed more gracefully by Teyla.

Carson put his hand on John's shoulder again and guided him out of the jumper bay. As he did, he leaned over and whispered to Rodney, "We'll discuss your faith in my piloting skills later." John smirked to himself at that; he'd missed the snark.

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He wasn't smirking several hours later, though. In fact, he was almost ready to go back through the time dilation field to get away from anything medical. "Are we done yet?" he yelled from an infirmary bed.

Carson didn't even bother to look up from the microscope he was bent over. "In the five minutes since you last asked, no!" John flopped back down on the bed and grumbled something under his breath. "Excuse me? I don't think I heard that, you cheeky little..."

"Never mind!" John would never admit it, of course, but despite Hedda's gift he'd rather have the Scot as a doctor. He wondered what the man would think of his pint-sized competition.

The physician relented a bit. "We're almost finished. I'm just waiting for the results of the last round of blood tests."

"I know. Sorry, I'm just..."

"Cranky? Crabby? A pain in the ass?" John looked over to see Carson smiling at him with something like affection. "You weren't gone that long on our end, but we were worried about you. Rodney was almost frantic."

"I bet," John said softly. Despite the difficulties, their friendship had persisted over the last few months.

Seeing that John was about to become lost in his thoughts, Carson changed the subject. "Can you tell me anything else about the people who Ascended?"

John shrugged. "Not much more to tell, Doc. They let themselves get trapped by their own fear." Suddenly he felt restless again, so he stood up and stretched. At the same time, a nurse walked over to Carson and handed him a slip of paper. The physician nodded.

"All right, you can get dressed now. You're free to go, but I want you back here if you feel in any way out of the ordinary." To emphasize his words, he fixed John with a frank, blue-eyed stare.

"You bet. Finally!" John ducked behind a privacy curtain to change out of his scrubs. Maybe it wouldn't be too late to find Teyla after all.

"Did that little girl really have the power to heal?" Carson asked suddenly. He sounded wistful. "I'd dearly love to be able to do something like that."

"I know." Carson took the deaths of patients under his care personally. He often pushed himself to his limits and beyond to try to prevent them from happening. "I wish you could, too. Teer said that many of her people had developed special abilities like that. Something about being on the path to Ascension."

John shook his head. Meditation, contemplation, crazy Jedi mind powers. He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't spent six months immersed in it. Hedda could heal with a touch, Teer could read his mind; heck, Teer's mother could move objects with a thought. How bizarre was that? Imagine looking at that pen on the counter and willing it to... move?

The pen did NOT just wobble. It didn't.

Did it?

John knew he was tired and restless. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? Or did the pen obey a mental command? He had temporarily been on the path to Ascension, albeit unwillingly. And how different was this from technology that responded to his thoughts?

One thing was for sure. He was not going to mention this to anyone. They'd think he was nuts. Carson would never let him out of the infirmary again, and he'd probably wind up with Heightmeyer as a constant companion. No thanks.

John finished dressing and stepped out from behind the curtain. "Don't worry, doc," he said to Carson. "You do pretty well even without that ability." With that, he walked out of the infirmary and back towards his quarters. By the time he reached them he'd decided not to attempt to learn if he'd actually made the pen move. He'd rather have it be a mystery.

And maybe one day he'd be ready to consider Ascension.