John fell asleep again soon after Carson left, and woke to find Rodney sitting at his bedside. The physicist had a laptop balanced on his knees. He was typing with one hand and munching on a powerbar with the other. It was such a typical Rodney thing to do that John had to smile.
A minute later, he wished he hadn't. Even the slightest movement caused a throbbing to start behind his eyes. "Owww..." he mumbled.
Rodney looked over at him. "Good morning, sunshine. Welcome back to reality... such that it is, anyway."
"So," John said conversationally, "how much trouble am I in?"
"Probably not as much as you think. Elizabeth was pretty pissed at you for awhile, but even she had to admit that not being a radioactive cinder in the ground is a good thing."
John grinned again, and winced. "Jeez! Even the slightest movement hurts!"
The corners of Rodney's mouth turned down. "Yes, well, that's what happens when you have brain surgery."
"Carson and his crack surgical team drilled a few holes in your skull to let the evil spirits out." Rodney shuddered. "I heard that Dr. Biro wanted to get in on the fun, too, even though you weren't dead."
"Ahem," said a female voice. With a guilty look on his face, Rodney turned to see the woman in question standing behind him. "Dr. McKay, are you disturbing my patient? Wait, don't bother answering that."
"Oh, ha ha." Rodney didn't look the slightest bit amused.
Dr. Biro ignored him and addressed the colonel. "What Dr. McKay was trying to say, in his uniquely annoying manner, was that overuse of your newfound talent finally did what we thought it was going to do. We had to lower the pressure in your head emergently, and that required drilling three burr-holes. There were no evil spirits involved." She glared at Rodney. "Except maybe the one sitting next to you."
Rodney closed his laptop and stood up. "All right, that's it. Sorry, Sheppard, but I'm abandoning you to the tender mercies of Dr. Destructo here. I'm not going to stay to be insulted anymore." He rolled his eyes and stomped out of the infirmary.
Dr. Biro watched him go with a faint smile on her face. John could swear he heard her say "I love doing that!" under her breath. Then, all business, she turned to him. "Now, how are you feeling, Colonel?"
"I've been better," he admitted. "But, all things considered, it beats the alternative."
"That it does," she agreed. She took out her stethoscope and helped John roll over on his side so she could listen to his lungs. If he thought moving his head hurt, actually rolling over was agony. He said as much, and Biro nodded. "That's probably to be expected. You should sleep now. Despite your not being a Wraith, you took at least ten years off Dr. Beckett's life, so I'll be on duty while he crashes."
"You're in the duty rotation?" The words were out of John's mouth before he could stop himself.
For the first time since he'd met her, Biro grinned broadly. "I actually have certification in family practice, too. But don't tell anyone. I have a reputation to maintain, after all."
One Week Later
John sat on the side of an exam table and swung his legs back and forth. He was fully clothed in sweats and a t-shirt instead of infirmary scrubs, and he was eagerly waiting for someone to bring him his discharge instructions. Everyone had been surprised at how quickly he'd bounced back; they'd expected him to need at least another week as an inpatient.
He'd had an almost constant stream of visitors. Teyla and Ronon were among the first, apologizing for not fighting alongside him. They'd been ambushed and knocked out early on, as had Bates. John would have rolled his eyes if he didn't know it would hurt so much, and he solemnly assured them that he wouldn't count it against them in their annual evaluations. Ronon shook his head and snorted, and Teyla gave him a serene look which could mean anything from "Thank you" to "Oh, God, I can't believe I have to put up with this man."
Elizabeth also came to sit with him. It had been quite awkward at first – he didn't know what to say that wouldn't sound defensive, whiny, or arrogant. But in the end, it turned out that Rodney was right. She really wasn't that angry.
One person who was conspicuously absent was Carson. Dr. Biro was the one who managed his recovery. When John asked about it, he was told at first that the physician's exhaustion had led to his staff forcing him to take a few days off. Then they told him that an issue from Earth was causing him to closet himself in the lab at all hours.
John thought he knew the real reason, though. Carson blamed himself. He was probably second-guessing every action he'd taken since John had acquired the ability to move objects with his mind.
Dr. Biro confirmed it. She was the one who finally sprang him from the infirmary. She gave him a bottle of aspirin with instructions to take two if his head started hurting again. ("And you'd better not wait to call me in the morning.") He was to take it easy – strictly off-duty for the first week, then restricted duty as tolerated. No heavy lifting, vigorous exercise, or yelling at Rodney. (John wasn't at all sure the last one was possible.)
As he was leaving, Biro put a hand on his shoulder. "Colonel," she said softly. "I'm sure you've already figured it out, but Carson's beating himself up over this. He's convinced that if he hadn't spooked you early on, you would have been more likely to heed his advice before you collapsed." She snorted. "Of course, it doesn't seem to have occurred to him that you didn't listen because you had to disarm a bomb."
"It wasn't really a bomb," John mumbled. Then he sighed. "I know. I figured that was the reason he was avoiding me. I'll talk to him."
John stood in front of the portable safe he kept next to his bed. He hesitated for a minute, then determinedly entered the combination. He withdrew a folder marked "Afghanistan," closed the safe again, and left his quarters.
"John!" Elizabeth called as he walked down the hall. "Can I see you for a minute?"
They went to her office. Elizabeth looked worried as she sat down on her desk and pulled up a file on her computer. "Now that the dust has settled, I need to figure out what I'm going to put in my report to Stargate Command."
John saw the problem immediately. Everything was back to normal, except for one thing. The computer system and database were fully functional, Torrell had been left on a planet without a stargate, and even the damage to the control room had been repaired. John's new ability was responsible for most of the events, though, and how were they going to explain that?
The straight truth didn't look like such a good option. At best, they could transfer him to a post at Cheyenne Mountain, to keep an eye on him. Maybe there'd be another promotion thrown in to sweeten the deal, but it would still mean leaving Atlantis. At worst, well, he imagined that Area 51 had medical people that were more ethically challenged than Carson. If he were transferred there, he'd either have to refuse and resign, or end up as a lab rat again.
John didn't see how they could lie, though. Too many red flags would be raised. "I see what you mean," he said to Elizabeth with a wry smile. "How to break the news that your military commander is super freaky."
"This is serious, John."
"I know," he replied. "Believe me, I've thought about the potential ramifications."
"Can you still... do it?" Elizabeth still didn't appear entirely comfortable with the idea.
John nodded. "I haven't wanted to play around too much, but, yeah, I can still move things with my mind." To illustrate the point, he fluffed her hair. "So far, I haven't had any more problems."
After he'd woken up in the infirmary, they'd repeated the earlier cerebral scan. The increased brain activity was still present, but it had leveled off a bit. The medical staff weren't quite sure what that meant, except that maybe his brain was finally adapting to the new function. Biro had warned him not to push it, though, and he wasn't going to argue.
John sat back in his chair and looked at Elizabeth. Like many of his infirmary visitors, she seemed tired. She'd had her hands full over the last few days supervising the repair of the damage and worrying about him lying in a coma. "How are you holding up?" he asked.
"I'm doing all right," she said. "I won't deny that the past few weeks have been tough, and I'm still concerned about your telekinetic talent, but I'm sure we'll successfully deal with any problems that come up. After what you've gone through, some of which we put you through, I'm confident that you'll handle your new ability quite well."
John grinned. " 'With great power comes great responsibility'?"
"Something like that," Elizabeth smiled in return. "Now, as for this report, I'm thinking we should just give bare-bones detail. We'll say what you did, but not how you did it. If anyone questions it, we'll just tell them that we really don't remember all the details. After all, things were rather crazy."
"Sure, why not? Politicians do it all the time." Privately he didn't think it was going to work, but he could use the time it gained him to come up with other alternatives.
John stood up to leave. As he was walking out the door, Elizabeth stopped him, with a slightly mischievous grin. "I had no idea you were into comic books, John."
Taking a guess, he shot back, "I had no idea you were." Her grin just got broader.
Hesitantly, John walked into the infirmary. After his extended stay, the last thing he wanted to do was come back, but he knew he had to talk to Beckett. He and Carson needed to come to some sort of understanding. Although he hated the psychobabble term, they needed closure.
It was late afternoon, and the infirmary was half-empty. A few of the beds were occupied and he waved to the people in them. He didn't see any of the doctors or nurses, though. He had decided to leave and come back later when Judy tapped him on the shoulder.
"I didn't expect to see you back here so soon, Colonel!" she said. "Is everything all right?"
John quickly reassured her that everything was fine. "I was looking for Dr. Beckett. Have you seen him?"
"He's in his office. Writing a letter to Nadine's parents," she added sadly.
"Oh." He winced. "I'm sorry."
"Thank you. We all miss her. Anyway, you can try knocking on Dr. Beckett's door. He may be done by now." Before John could lose his nerve, he walked over to the physician's office and knocked.
John went inside and hesitated. Now that he was here, he wasn't sure what to say. "Carson, I... um..."
Startled, Carson got up from his desk and went over to John. "Colonel, what's wrong? Son?"
John found himself unable to meet the doctor's concerned gaze. He wanted to explain, wanted to tell Carson why trust came so hard to him, but it was as if his throat had closed around the words. Finally, he just blindly shoved the Afghanistan folder at the physician. "Read it," he said, his voice sounding rough to him. "It'll give you some insight."
He couldn't bear to say any more, so he left.
The next day dawned bright and clear. The sky and the sea were the same brilliant blue, and the sun was warm. John decided that, for once, he wasn't going to complain about his enforced rest. The sun-drenched pier on the south side of the city was just too inviting.
He told Elizabeth where he was going, which made her smile. She looked more than a little envious as she wished him a good day. John took his radio with him, although he didn't think he'd be called for anything short of another invasion. He thought about bringing his surfboard, but had to admit to himself that he didn't quite feel up to it. So he settled for stuffing a few towels and a bottle of water into a knapsack and heading off.
The southern pier was exactly as he'd imagined it would be: warm, inviting, and unoccupied. After removing his shirt, he stretched out on one of the towels, used another as a pillow, and sighed happily. Rodney always found this amusing, snarking about "sun-worshippers" and "Southern California flyboys," but John didn't care. He needed to clear his head every once in a while, so why not do it out here?
He wasn't sure how much time had passed when he first became aware of the sounds of footsteps and clanking. "Damn!" he hissed. There were always people around while he was in the infirmary, and he was really hoping not to see any today.
"Morning, Colonel!" said a cheerful brogue. John looked up to see the good doctor walk onto the pier carrying a metal box and fishing pole. He was dressed casually and wearing a ridiculous-looking floppy hat to protect himself from the sun.
"Carson." John's mouth twitched as he tried to fight a grin.
The physician gave him a mock glare and said, "Go ahead, laugh it up. I'm not the one who's going to be a lobster tonight. Though, you really should be wearing a shirt or something."
"Yes, Mother," John drawled.
"Cheeky, aren't we?" John just snorted and lay back. The sounds of the water and Carson's fishing preparations were lulling him to sleep when the physician spoke again. "I read the file you gave me," he said softly.
"Oh?" The colonel's voice held no inflection as he propped himself up on one elbow.
"Aye. How did you manage to get out of there?"
"Actually, I have no idea. After a certain point, my memory's a blank. What I was told was that one of our allies raided the place to look for weapons, but found me instead." John laughed humorlessly. "I was lucky. Since the mission officially didn't exist, no one would have come looking for me otherwise."
"Ah. Well, now I see where your distrust of the medical profession comes from," Sensing John's obvious discomfort at this line of discussion, Carson continued, "In retrospect, it's a miracle you didn't kill me when we first met!"
The levity worked; some of the tension on the colonel's face vanished. "It was a close one, Doc."
"Oh, and don't I know it!" They both chuckled.
After a brief pause, John said. "Okay, my turn now. Why were you so freaked out by all of this? You yourself told me about Cassandra Frasier, so obviously it's not the first time you've dealt with 'Jedi mind tricks'."
Carson looked a little sheepish. "I kept thinking of Teyla going out of control."
"Yeah, I guess she did go "dark side" all over our asses, didn't she..."
The physician rolled his eyes. "I think you and Ronon have watched Star Wars too many times."
John shrugged. "He wanted to know why we called him 'Chewie.' What else was I supposed to do?"
Whatever Carson was going to say was lost when a sharp tug on his line almost pulled the rod out of his hands. "Bugger!" he swore as he battled the creature on the other end The fish and the physician fought it out until, with a last, desperate lunge, the fish snapped the line and swam free. Carson was caught off guard and dropped the rod. With a sigh of disgust, he watched it drift away.
"Let me get that for you," John said with a touch of smugness. He levitated the fishing rod out of the water and sat it down next to Carson on the dock.
Carson gaped at it for a minute, then a slow smile spread across his face. "You know, that could really come in handy. Think of all the ways you could torment Rodney." His eyes gleamed.
"Hmmm," John said, intrigued. "I'll have to keep that in mind."
Ever the doctor, Carson couldn't resist asking, "How do you feel?"
John considered it. "Still a little shaky," he replied. "But this isn't really hurting my head anymore."
"Good. Hopefully that will continue to fade with time... wait a minute. You actually admitted that you're not completely fine. I think that may be a first for you."
The two men grinned at each other.
It was a nondescript office, and the man sitting behind the desk looked like a generic civil servant. But the office was located in a facility that officially didn't exist, and the man commanded a shadowy network of covert operatives. His job consisted primarily of obtaining and analyzing intelligence from his people who were planted in various governments and classified enterprises.
They had recently infiltrated a new such enterprise: the supposedly lost city of Atlantis. Far from being imaginary, it was actually located in a distant galaxy. In what he privately thought was a stroke of genius, he'd arranged for the commander of the ship routinely supplying the city to be "converted" to their cause. Now they had regular reports of events there, one of which he was currently reading. The city's primary exploration team had managed to get themselves into trouble yet again. Their military leader, a man named Sheppard, had been stuck in a place where time passed more slowly. The rest of the team managed to rescue him, and he'd returned home apparently no worse for the wear.
'Apparently' being the key word.
According to the report, the expedition had foiled an invasion and kidnapping attempt shortly after extracting Sheppard from the time dilation field. Dr. Elizabeth Weir had written that Sheppard himself was mostly responsible for saving both the city and Dr. Rodney McKay. What she didn't write, though, was almost as interesting as what she did write. For instance, the report indicated that the colonel had shot one of the invaders while balanced on a ceiling strut. That was interesting, considering that the struts were placed in such a way that only a very experienced marksman could have carried that off. Sheppard was good, but...
There were other discrepancies, too. Dr. McKay's and Dr. Beckett's reports were very terse, but they still made Colonel Sheppard's look like a Tolstoy novel. Something was definitely going on.
Perhaps the expedition had found some new technology in the Ancient sanctuary that they were unwilling to reveal. Or maybe the time dilation field had unexpected effects on humans. Either way, this might be something they could make use of. The man picked up the phone and dialed a long string of numbers.
"Yeah. It's me. Tell Lord Ba'al that we want to investigate Colonel Sheppard more fully."
(Heh, heh, heh. Don't worry, there will eventually be a sequel...)