SLOW MOTION...part 21

Consciousness returned to John in stages. The first thing he became aware of was the absence of pain. It made him feel almost giddy to realize he didn't hurt anymore. The second thing he noticed was the hum of Atlantis. She was with him. A comforting presence that he appreciated. He also could tell that she was better now as well. The next thing he noticed was that he had a catheter. Now that sucked big time.


Recognizing Carson's voice, John blinked hard, bringing the Scotsman's face into fuzzy focus. The lights were a bit too bright and John willed them lower. He smiled when Atlantis did his bidding. That was so cool.

Apparently Carson was equally impressed. "Well now, that's a neat trick, isn't it?" he stated, as he stared around him, then focused on John with worried eyes. "How are you feeling, Colonel?"

"Better," John whispered. His throat felt too dry to do more than that.

"Have a sip of water." Carson offered a glass with a straw.

The water tasted wonderful, but John knew enough to only take a few sips. "Thanks," he said, his voice stronger now. " long was I out of it?"

Carson set the glass on the bedside table, then went about checking on John's IV. He fussed with it for a moment then said, "You've been in and out for three days. Mostly out. Catching up on much needed rest I reckon."

"Yeah...that's about right," John conceded, because he felt better than he remembered feeling in a long time. Even with the Shuloc, he'd felt worn out in a sense. Now he felt rested, but weak. Just shifting about to get more comfortable made him a bit lightheaded.

"Are you hungry?" Carson sounded anxious as he asked.

John considered his stomach. It felt almost hollow. "Yeah...I could eat," he replied. Although he was wise enough not to ask for a turkey sandwich. He knew he'd be getting broth for a few meals. Gesturing to his lower region, he fought a blush as he queried, "When can I get rid of the tubing?"

Carson swallowed a chuckle and studied John. "If you feel up to a try, and I remove it now and we can get you standing. But you'll need a wheel chair to get to the bathroom and my help to stay upright."

"Fine." John wasn't going to argue with Carson, because he knew he wasn't strong enough to walk around yet. But he fully intended to get there as quick as possible. Five minutes later he was in the bathroom. He'd talked Carson into letting him lean while he emptied his bladder, relishing the few seconds of privacy. Despite the pain of the withdrawal, John remembered a lot of what had happened, and how he felt as if he'd been on display for most of it.

"Done?" Carson called from outside the door.

"Done." John pushed away from the wall and turned towards the sink. His legs felt like jello, but he made it without mishap. He washed his hands, splashed water on his face and combed wet hands through his hair. It made him feel a bit refreshed as he dried his face and ran the towel over his head.

Carson came in without announcing himself, but he did nothing more than move to stand beside John. After a moment he asked, "Ready to go back?"

John nodded. He felt worn out, but in a good way. Okay, not good really. But in a better way. He felt like he fit in his own skin again. He let Carson take his arm and support him back to the wheel chair. A few minutes later he was tucked back into bed. A nurse appeared, as if on cue, with a mug of broth.

"Thanks," John said, accepting it. He closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth seeping into his palms.

"You seem at peace," Carson commented, as he fussed with the covers.

"I feel at peace," John replied, before taking a sip of the broth. It felt good going down, warming him on the inside.

Carson stopped fussing and moved to grab a chair. He sat down and locked eyes with John. "You realize that you're not going to simply go back to normal, Colonel. It's not going to be that easy."

John knew that better than anyone. "I'll still be an addict," he said softly, then he took another sip of broth while he waited for the inevitable lecture. He knew he deserved it.

"Kate will be in later to talk to you about sessions," Carson said, almost defensively.

"I figured as much." John almost grinned at the look of surprise on the Doc's face. He knew Carson had expected him to argue about this. But John knew he needed help. He knew he needed to face the demons that had pushed him into taking the Shuloc. He wasn't sure what they were, but he wasn't going to hide from them anymore. That wasn't his style.

Before Carson could respond, footsteps sounded, then Rodney bellowed,


"What?" Carson stood up and moved to confront McKay. "What are you yelling for? I'm not deaf you know!"

Rodney made a face at him as he reached him. "I know that. But I wanted to ask you..." He broke off as he realized John was awake. "It's about time you woke up!" Rodney stated, as he did a sharp pivot turn and headed straight for Sheppard's bed. "You have to tell me how you connected with Atlantis. Every detail. And what about the bracelet? Was it a conduit? Can you still feel Atlantis? "

John started laughing, which caused Rodney to break off his babbling.

"What's so funny?" Rodney demanded, looking aggrieved.

"Nothing." John chuckled a moment longer, then settled down. He took another sip of soup then he smiled at Rodney. "I have a lot to tell you," he allowed. "I remember everything. It was amazing." He knew he was smiling, an ear to ear grin, but he was excited. He wanted to talk about this and he knew Rodney was the only person who would understand what he was saying. What it meant."

Grabbing the chair Carson had abandoned, Rodney sat down, looking enraptured. "So tell me," he invited, waving his hands in the air. "Tell me everything in complete and excruciating detail."

Carson interjected before John could respond. "Rodney, the Colonel needs to rest. He just woke up. Remember? You can come back and chat later."

"Let him stay for a bit," John pleaded, because he wanted to share what he'd learned, what he'd seen. The wonder of it all that was still thrumming through him. "Just until I finish my broth?" He turned on the puppy dog eyes at full pout.

"Ten minutes," Carson relented. "And I'm timing you to the second. He tapped his watch to show he was serious, then he turned and stalked off.

Rodney didn't even notice he was gone. "So what was it like?" he asked, sounding envious already.

John took a moment to find the best words to describe it. Then suddenly he knew exactly what to say. "Like flying without wings."

"Cool," Rodney whispered.

"Yeah, it is." John closed his eyes at the memory. Then he spent the next ten minutes telling Rodney everything he could.


Five days later, John was finally released from the infirmary. He'd had two sessions with Kate and they'd both agreed he would be fine with weekly sessions for a couple of months, then maybe a session a month just to keep updated. Elizabeth had been good with that too. And good with John starting up with light duty in two days. He was getting ancy just lying about.

She found him on the balcony, staring up at the stars. "Shouldn't you be in bed by now?" she offered in greeting.

"Probably," John allowed, smiling at her. "But it's my first day of freedom and I want to savor every second of it."

"You'll be free tomorrow too," Elizabeth reminded him, but she didn't argue with him further. She simply joined him at the rail and did some stargazing of her own.

After a few minutes of companionable silence, John said, "I'm sorry."

Elizabeth was surprised. She turned to face him and saw sincerity shimmering in his eyes. "Sorry for what?"

"For being stupid," John replied. He winced, shrugged, then turned back to the stars. "I knew the Shuloc wasn't good for me, but I kept taking it anyway."

"Why did you take it?" Elizabeth asked, because she felt she had the right too. They had almost lost him and Atlantis and she wanted to understand what had made him risk so much. Losing Atlantis she could have learned to live with, but losing John? Elizabeth didn't want to think about that. Ever. Although it occurred to her that losing one was the same as losing the other in so many ways.

John sighed, tapping an uneven beat on the railing with his fingertips, then he faced her once more. "I wanted to be more. To be better than I was. To be...strong enough to protect Atlantis and everyone in it. The Shuloc made me feel like I could do that."

Elizabeth shook her head at him. "But that's what you've always done, John. From the moment you stepped foot on Atlantis. You've protected her and us."

"I suppose," he allowed. "But there's a part of me that feels guilty for putting everyone in danger in the first place."

"By waking up the Wraith?" Elizabeth had long guessed that John felt guilty about that. They had even talked about it after Sumner had died. Well, she had talked, John had nodded and they'd never spoke of it again. But she knew all about shouldering that kind of guilt. She carried her own fair share of it. Guilt over the pain she had caused John by asking him to come to Atlantis. But that was her own burden to live with.

Shifting away from the railing, John started pacing, his movements restless. "I know they were going to wake up anyway, but I still feel guilty. And it's not just about that. I have a lot of skeletons in my closet. You've read my file. You know about a lot of them." He held up a hand when she started to object and Elizabeth fell silent again. John continued. "Turns out it wasn't just my guilt though. Atlantis has her own skeletons. I know it sounds crazy to say this, but when I connected with her the last time, I realized she felt the pain of having lost her people all those years ago. And now I sense she's afraid of losing us too."

Elizabeth nodded at that. Rodney had shared with her the things John had told him about being in the chair and healing Atlantis. She wasn't exactly sentient, but she was connected to John in a way that Elizabeth couldn't even begin to understand. But she was glad of it. She felt safer knowing that they were both watching over her and the others she had brought here. "Are the sessions with Kate helping?" Elizabeth queried.

"I think so." John stopped pacing and turned to face her, looking a bit uncomfortable. "I'm not good at sharing my feelings, but she's pretty good at figuring out what I'm not saying's working out okay."

"I'm glad." Elizabeth meant it.

John laughed. "Yeah. Me too. Hey...feel like some tea or something? Maybe a game of chess?"

Elizabeth made a face at him. "You're supposed to be sleeping."

"I'll sleep later," John replied. "I'm feeling too restless to try it right now." He looked at her with eyes that were pleading with her in a way he would never vocalize.

"One game and warm milk instead of tea," Elizabeth countered.

John made a face then drawled, "Yes, mom."

Elizabeth laughed and it felt good to do so. She knew that John wasn't back to normal yet, but she it was obvious he knew that too so she felt like she could breathe again. Things wouldn't be back to normal tomorrow, but they would get there. Or as normal as it got in the Pegasus galaxy. "Chess in my office?"

"Works for me." John headed for the doors and gestured for her to precede him. As they made their way down the silent corridors, John reached out to touch the walls, fingertips trailing gently over them. He looked content in a way Elizabeth had never seen before.

She watched him, feeling a touch of envy, and when they stepped into the transporter she said, "Maybe hot chocolate instead of warm milk?"

John grinned at her. "With Marshmallows?"

"We have that here?" Elizabeth was surprised.

"If you know where to look?" John looked impish.

Elizabeth chuckled. "With marshmallows," she allowed.

John touched the panel and a moment later he stepped out of the transporter. "Meet you in your office in ten minutes," he said, giving a sloppy salute before heading off.

Elizabeth watched him go, then she touched the panel and the doors closed. She let her fingertips glide over the wall, mimicking John from a moment before, and whispered, "Thank you."

She had a feeling Atlantis heard her.


Two months later, John's team was ready to go through the gate again.

He was waiting at the bottom of the steps. Ronon was off to his right, paring his nails with one of his many knifes. Teyla was on John's right, checking her tac vest. She always liked to double check her supplies before they went off on a mission. Rodney, per usual, was late.

But right on cue he came barreling towards them, tugging on his vest and complaining.

John smiled as he studied them all. He tuned Rodney out and looked up to the balcony to find Weir smiling back at him.

"Ready to go, Colonel?" Elizabeth called out.

"More than ready!" John replied.

Elizabeth nodded then said to the tech, "Dial up the gate."

John watched it whoosh open then he turned to his team. "Let's go find us a ZPM." They were going to a planet that was on the list they'd gotten from Old Weir. The last address on the list and John was feeling lucky today.

"Good luck with that," Rodney said, almost as if reading John's mind. He was still babbling as he stepped into the puddle.

Ronon went next followed closely by Teyla.

John turned to wave at Elizabeth, then he crossed over to where his team waited. He knew he had a shit-eating grin on his face as he joined them. Rocking on his heels, John said to Rodney, "Which way?"

After pulling out his scanner and turning in circles for a moment, Rodney pointed over John's shoulder. "That way."

"After you, Rodney," John drawled. He hefted his P90 and followed close behind, knowing that Teyla and Ronon would watch their backs.

It felt like coming home.