Disclaimer: I do not own Stargate Atlantis or any of its characters.

This takes place shortly after the events of Epiphany. Spoilers for everything up through Epiphany, but especially 38Minutes and Conversion.

Memories or Nightmares – Chapter 1

Sheppard tilted his cup forward and peered at the dregs floating in the last of his coffee. "Guess I'm done," he muttered. He stood up and gathered his silverware back onto the food tray.

Rodney McKay looked up at Sheppard. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

"I've got to do orientation for a couple of new guys, replacements that came in with the Daedalus the other day. Teyla, are we still on for 1100?"

Teyla smiled and nodded. "Yes, if you are sure you will be finished with your duties by then."

Sheppard nodded. "Oh, I'll be done by then. We may not be finished, but I'll be done and ready for a workout."

McKay laughed. "What's the matter, Colonel? Being a tour guide not your thing?"

"Not especially. I thought about having Major Lorne do the honors, but he's off world until this afternoon, leaving me with the pleasure."

"Hey, Sheppard, I can help if you want," offered Ronon.

Sheppard grinned. "Tempting offer, but I'd better pass. I probably shouldn't scare them to death on their first day of duty in Atlantis. See you guys later." Sheppard put his tray up and walked out of the mess hall, trying to muster some enthusiasm for his 'Welcome to Atlantis' speech.

oOo

Mark Simpson crossed his arms and shook his head. "I'm just saying, this does not sound like a smart thing to do on your first day. You'll be in the brig by noon."

Jack Kramer sighed loudly. "You are such a wet blanket, you know that? It's just a harmless prank. It'll break the ice and everyone can have a good laugh."

"What if Colonel Sheppard doesn't think it's funny? If the man really is afraid of bugs, then he is so going to nail you. I can't believe you're going to do this, he's a Lt. Colonel for crying out loud!"

"Look, the guys on the Daedalus just said he didn't like bugs, not necessarily that he is afraid of them. It's not like this thing looks real. Who's ever seen a bug this big?" Kramer nodded towards a large, black, plastic bug that was almost a foot long. He turned the creature over in his hand, observing the red belly and the spidery looking legs. "No one would ever believe this was real."

Simpson looked up at the door. "Crap, he's coming. Put that thing away."

Kramer hid the bug behind his back as he moved over to stand beside Simpson.

Sheppard plastered on his best welcome smile as he strode into the armory. He immediately saw the two airmen waiting on him. He opened his mouth to speak to them when a flash of movement startled him. Almost instantly a large, black bug appeared in his face and he instinctively batted it away, drawing his gun in one fluid motion. He was ready to fire about the time the large creature hit the floor when he realized something wasn't right. He paused and looked at the insect, lying perfectly still on the floor. He slowly walked over to it, his 9mm never wavering from its target. He knew he'd been had even before he heard the snickers or kicked the bug with his foot, revealing its plastic nature.

He took in a long, slow breath as he focused on not letting his hand shake as he holstered his sidearm and picked up the plastic bug, the laughter in his ears sounding almost distant. Reaching up, he rubbed his neck with his right hand as he held the bug in the left. He swallowed hard, his stomach knotted and heavy, and finally looked up at the two men. One was still laughing, while the other looked a little shell shocked.

"Who's responsible for this?" he demanded, his voice firm and hard.

Kramer stopped laughing, but the smile lingered. "Oh, come on. You're not mad are you? It was just a joke."

Sheppard glared at the man. "It was just a joke, sir, and I'll take that as a confession. You are . . . ?"

Kramer sighed again. "Airman First Class Jack Kramer, sir."

Sheppard looked at the other man. "You must be Simpson. Were you part of this?"

"Yes, sir . . . I mean no, sir . . . I mean I am Simpson, sir."

"He wasn't involved, sir," said Kramer. "He tried to talk me out of it. I'm sorry, it was just supposed to be a little joke."

Sheppard stood looking at the two for several seconds, letting them wonder about what would happen next. "I'm assuming from your asinine attempt at levity that neither of you actually know what an iratus bug is?"

He stared at the two hapless airmen who were definitely starting to pale under his stony glare. "Simpson, you're dismissed for now. Kramer, follow me." He turned and walked out of the armory.

Kramer looked forlornly at Simpson. "I'm so dead," he said as he followed Sheppard.

Simpson just shook his head. "I tried to tell you, but you never listen."

Sheppard walked briskly to the conference room just off the control room, Kramer struggling to keep up. His jaw was set and his face grim as he told himself to be calm over and over.

Weir saw him coming as she stood talking to one of the techs in the control room. "Good morning . . . Colonel?" Sheppard flew by her as if he hadn't even seen her. She didn't miss the tension in his face or the worried expression of the young airman that followed him. She exchanged a glance with the tech she'd been talking to.

"I'd hate to be in that guy's shoes," he mumbled.

Sheppard led Kramer into the conference room and pointed to the table. "Sit down and don't move."

If there was a record for the quickest time to sit down at a table then Kramer had surely given it a run for its money. He sat stiffly, as close to being at attention as he could while being seated. Sheppard wordlessly spun on his heel and left the room, only to reappear a few minutes later. He threw two folders on the table and they slid across to stop just in front of Kramer.

"Read those. I'll be back shortly and I am sure I don't need to impress upon you that it would be in your best interests to still be here Airman Kramer." Sheppard turned and left, closing the door behind him, not bothering to wait for a response. The startled look on the young man's face told Sheppard he more than had his full and undivided attention.

Kramer gingerly opened the first folder and began to read the report of how Jumper One had been stuck in the stargate while trying to get Sheppard back to Atlantis, a giant bug firmly attached to his neck. Kramer had a sinking feeling that he'd made a huge mistake. Especially when he turned the final page of the report only to be shocked even further by the images of his CO's neck in shocking technicolor. His stomach turned as he read the CMO's detailed footnotes.

"Way to go Jack ol' boy – trust you to totally shoot yourself in the foot," he mumbled to himself, swallowing hard, his stomach threatening to betray him.

oOo

When Sheppard left the conference room, he headed for his quarters. He was totally unaware of the people he passed in the hall, wanting nothing more than to be alone as quickly as possible. He almost ran into his quarters when he arrived and immediately began pacing around the room, absently rubbing first his neck and then his arm. He felt the fear and panic rising within him and he desperately tried to push it back down.

He walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. "See, no bug on your neck, so just calm down." He looked down at his right forearm. He thought he could still see a hint of blue, but that could be his imagination. "There are no bugs, there are no bugs. This is so stupid!" He paced back out into the main room, lecturing himself on how silly the whole thing was. He almost had his heart rate back to normal when there was a knock on the door.

"John? Are you in there?" More knocking. "John, are you all right?"

Sheppard took a deep breath and opened the door. Elizabeth stood there, worry lines creasing her forehead.

"John, are you okay?"

Sheppard stepped back to let her in. "Yeah, I'm fine. Why? What made you think I wasn't?"

Weir stepped into Sheppard's quarters and turned to face him. "You looked very upset just now and you didn't even notice when I spoke to you. What's wrong?"

"Um, sorry Elizabeth, just busy, I probably didn't hear you," he tried to placate her. He stopped when she raised her hand quietly.

"C'mon John. How long have we known each other now? Are we really going to do this dance again?"

Sheppard walked across the room and paced back and forth a couple of times, still rubbing his neck, and then stopped to face her. "I guess you'll hear about it sooner or later."

She lifted one eyebrow and Sheppard smiled momentarily at the characteristic expression.

"What will I hear about?" She stepped up closer to him and gently but firmly pulled his hand away from his neck.

Sheppard was a little dismayed - he hadn't even been aware that he had been rubbing his neck. "I went to give an orientation to two new airmen. One of them thought it'd be funny to throw a big, plastic bug at me. Elizabeth, I almost the shotthe thing. I'm sure he can't wait to tell everyone that their CO is scared to death of bugs. Should do a lot for me in the respect department."

"Why did you lock him in the conference room?"

"I didn't lock him in. I just gave him a couple of incident reports to read and told him to stay there until I got back."

"And I'm betting I can guess which reports they were." She nodded knowingly. "John, everyone that was here during those incidents knows how serious they were and how close to dying you came both times. No one is going to lose respect for you."

Sheppard looked down and walked across the room, facing the wall. "Not everyone was here, not with the Daedalus bringing new people all the time. The new guys, they won't understand. No one really can."

Elizabeth walked up behind him and put her hand on his arm, pulling him around to face her. "Those of us that count have a pretty good idea. We know how scary it was from our end. Trust me, it's not something I'll ever be able to forget. Yours was a natural reaction and I don't want you second guessing yourself. I am, however, a little worried about how you are handling it now. Maybe you should talk to Kate."

Sheppard shook his head. "I talked to her after both incidents, thanks to you, and I don't need to go back. Look, it shook me up a little, but I'm okay now. I need to go back and talk to Kramer. I need to wrap this up once and for all."

"All right, I'll take your word for that. Mind if I walk back with you?"

Sheppard let out a deep breath and smiled as he held out his arm. "I'd be delighted, ma'am."

oOo

Sheppard walked into the conference room a few minutes later and sat on the edge of the table. He was a little relieved to find Kramer looking embarrassed. Maybe there was hope for the young airman yet.

"Have you had enough time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the contents of the files?" asked Sheppard.

"Yes, sir and . . . I'm sorry, sir, I didn't know. I was just . . . I was just being an idiot." Kramer could feel the angry blush starting to work up his throat. God, he hadn't felt this humiliated since, well, it had been a long time.

Sheppard allowed himself a small smile. "I am curious about one thing. Why did you pull that little stunt, anyway? Do you always make a habit of pulling potentially career ending pranks on your new CO?"

Kramer felt his face flush even more furiously, if that was even possible. His heart was hammering in his chest. "I am . . . a bit of a prankster, sir, and I had heard from some of the men leaving on the Daedalus that you didn't like bugs. I had that big plastic one and it just seemed like a good idea – at least it seemed like a good idea at the time." Kramer looked down at the table, rubbing his finger on the edge of the folder.

"And I'm assuming that your informer didn't happen to apprise you of exactly why I don't like bugs?"

"No, sir. Guess I should have taken the time to find out."

"Yes – you should have. Sometimes people have very legitimate reasons for their fears, and that applies even more so here in the Pegasus Galaxy. You've got a lot to learn, Kramer, and if you are actually willing to listen to the right information and even learn from your mistakes, it might just keep you alive out here."

"Yes, sir, I am . . . and I am really very sorry, Sir . . . really . . . you have no idea how I wish I'd never laid eyes on that . . . thing . . . sir"

Sheppard sat looking at the man for several seconds. The kid did look genuinely sorry and more than just a bit scared. Good. He sighed loudly, solely for the airman in front of him.

"Okay, you're dismissed. You and Simpson are to report back to the armory at 1400 hours and we'll try the orientation again. Need I remind you that if any bugs do happen to appear - that someone is going to get hurt this time. Do I make myself clear, Airman?"

"Yes, sir," Kramer said sharply. He stood and saluted. Sheppard returned the salute and the young soldier left.

Sheppard just shook his head. "I'm getting too old for this crap."

oOo

"Ow!" Sheppard rubbed the back of his leg as Teyla circled him.

"You have not been practicing." She smiled as she twirled the stick in her right hand, never taking her eyes off Sheppard.

"Hey, in my defense, I was unable to practice for six months. That takes a little bit of catching up. And don't tell me it was just a few hours because it was still six months for me."

Teyla narrowed her eyes. "You have been back for several weeks now. You are making excuses, Colonel."

Sheppard adjusted his grip on his sticks. "Okay, so I haven't had time to practice lately. You could take it easy on me."

Teyla smiled again. "But then you would not learn." As soon as she finished speaking, she advanced on him. He matched her, blow for blow, for a while. Eventually, however, she moved quickly to one side, coming up to smack him in the back of the thigh, just below his butt.

"Teyla?" Sheppard rubbed his leg, wincing.

Teyla dropped her arms to her sides. "We are finished, Colonel. You are not concentrating. You are unfocused and I do not want to hurt you."

"A little late for that," he muttered.

Teyla put her sticks down and drank from her water bottle. She then wiped her face with a towel. "Is anything wrong, Colonel? You seem . . . off today."

Sheppard wiped the sweat from his face and neck, shivering as the rough towel rubbed the spot on his neck where the iratus bug had attached itself. It had been over a year and the spot still felt tender, as if it had only finished healing a few days ago.

"Colonel?"

Sheppard looked up to see Teyla staring at him, worry darkening her eyes. He smiled. "Sorry, guess I let my mind wander for a minute. I'm fine, Teyla. Just a bit distracted by the new guys. You know how it is."

Teyla nodded, not looking convinced. "Very well. Would you like to practice again tomorrow? Perhaps your concentration will be better."

"Yeah, I'd like that. Same bat time, same bat channel?"

Teyla frowned at him. "What is a bat?"

Sheppard just grinned. "Never mind. I'll meet you here at the same time tomorrow."

oOo

The pain was incredible, taking his breath away. The bug was heavy against his neck and he could feel the blood, sticky and wet, between his skin and the creature. He couldn't do this again. He clawed at the bug, desperately trying to pull it off his neck, feeling as though he was choking.

Sheppard sat straight up in bed, awakened by his own yell. He sat panting in the darkness, listening to his heart beat wildly in his chest. Slowly he felt the panic start to die down and his breathing began to slow. He wiped the sweat from his face and rubbed his hand across his neck. It came away wet and he realized his neck was burning.

He staggered into the bathroom, feeling sick to his stomach, and turned on the light. Blinking heavily as his eyes adjusted, he felt around and grabbed a rag, wetting it under the flow of water in the sink. He stared at his reflection in the mirror. The right side of his neck and the upper part of his t-shirt were covered with blood. He gently dabbed the wet rag against his throbbing neck until much of the blood had been soaked up. Several long, jagged cuts ran down the side of his neck, still oozing blood. He stared at the blood on his neck, still not quite believing it until it suddenly occurred to him what had happened. He looked down and was disconcerted to see the blood and skin caked beneath his fingernails.

He had been subject to nightmares quite often over the last few years, but he'd never actually injured himself during one. It scared him to think he had torn his neck up like this and that it had not even awakened him. He scrubbed his hands, rinsed out the bloody rag, and dabbed his neck again. It was still bleeding and it hurt like a son of a gun and he didn't have so much as a band-aide. Looked like he was going to the infirmary and he had no idea how he was going to explain this mess.

TBC