A/N: A little insight into this story, which is – basically – the kind of thing I like to think up and write. The inspiration for it actually came from some of my own stories, plus a little comic book called Nightmares and Fairytales, which is rather disturbing, and the computer game Undying. I wanted to do something... creepy, I guess you could say. Seriously, it was fun just thinking up. And, yes, it is one of those 'Sheppard is missing and comes back in an unusual state' tale, but please give it a chance before you jump to any conclusions about it. It contains many unusual twists. Lovely, lovely twists.
It's also halfway done, but I wanted to post early to see what people thought thus far, and to clear up any misconstrued assumptions that I'm pretty sure are going to be made. Updates will be weekly so I don't get ahead of myself. And the chapters will be long, exceedingly, exceedingly loooong.
By Stealth Dragon
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Rated T – for violence, but not so much language.
Disclaimer – Oh, goody, another disclaimer. I don't own, nor have I ever owned, Stargate Atlantis or it's characters... Though I do enjoy inviting them out for a spot of tea and some whump. All creatures mentioned are of my own creation, so no one can have them – sorry. All mentioned poems, books, and quotes are not mine either.
Spoilers – As the Cheshire Cat might say – whatever you want them to be. They will be numerous from both season one and two. Mostly conversion though, despite the fact I haven't seen it, so mostly I'm only spoiling things for myself.
Note – No slash involved so don't even think about it! No real romance, just friendships, though I suppose anything between John and Weir can be interpreted as you wish. Lots of abuse. Would you expect anything less?
Synopsis – How far is John willing to go to protect? There's more than one kind of conversion. Heads will go snicker-snack, the impossible will be possible... and what of John? Read on, read on...
Once Upon a Midnight Dreary
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered,
weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."
excerpt from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
John was a raven, because ravens were smarter than they let on. Or maybe it was just because of his dark hair, Mars black like raven feathers. He was also a scarecrow, but that was more a physical simile, an outside observation. Tall, strong but wiry in a way that tended to bring about a fatal underestimation of him. A scarecrow of skin, bone and muscle, shooing off the naughty little Genii and wraith flocks with his presence and raven wit.
But – yes – in terms of personality, he was a raven.
Which made Elizabeth the bust of Pallas, because he wouldn't get off her mind.
He can't possibly be dead.
Elizabeth stared at her phantom reflection in the window. One half of her face was angled and sharpened by the dim lights, the other invisible behind shadow. Rain spat on the window and ran in oily rivulets down the glass. The distortion created was almost nauseating, because the eye was so desperate to form the familiar view of towers, ocean, and night sky. But by focusing on the reflection that couldn't be marred, it wasn't so bad.
One week, they had one week before the mandatory funeral, when Sheppard's stuff would finally be packed away and shipped back to earth and whatever family member cared to collect it. No body to bury, just an empty coffin, a physical manifestation of what people needed to finally buckle down and accept.
But it had only been (or would be after this week) a month since John had vanished. Elizabeth felt it premature. Two months would have felt more humane. The problem was, two months would lead into three, then four, even beyond into a year. Procrastination was like a drug, and the more one gave into it, the more one desired to give into it, because it was easier.
John's absence had left behind a strange aura. Most would have used the term 'a hole', but it wasn't a hole. It was something Elizabeth couldn't give a name to. There was emptiness, a subconscious space Sheppard usually filled, now filled by air. Yet ironically enough, the conscious space that was his wouldn't let him go. With every blast of the alarms, rush of the gate, and crackling static of a radio, Elizabeth's heart made a bee-line for her throat and stayed there until the cacophony died and the gate shut down. It was a shared reaction with everyone, because there was just no giving up on hope. John was too unpredictable not to hope.
Elizabeth stepped away from the window and continued on her meandering stroll. Midnight constitutionals had officially become burned into her myriad of habits – and this one was only three days old. She did it to think, because thinking while sitting still was cruel and unusual punishment. Mind and body were one, and one wasn't going to function the way it should unless the other functioned with it. So for the sake of clearer ruminations without her muscles twitching, she took up taking walks.
She really didn't want to give up hope. Not that John's empty quarters and an empty coffin meant giving up hope. They were just actions, routine and pointless actions. They didn't seal fates.
It just felt like they did. On the plus side, maybe the continual reactions that came with a gate opening would finally simmer down a notch.
Elizabeth shivered. Annoying as it was to be let down in the aftermath, she didn't want the reactions to stop.
Elizabeth's path took her, inadvertently more than once, passed John's quarters. She wasn't naïve enough to open the doors and give into the secondary hope of seeing him there. That was just ridiculous. She wasn't going to suck-up to emotions like that, then suffer the pang of disappointment even though she knew good and well that Sheppard wasn't going to be behind those doors. Walking passed them was as close as she would allow herself to get in terms of becoming emotional.
She really had no intentions of giving up on him – not until a corpse was produced.
That thought alone created a pang. It was cold, but it was the truth. Without proof, Elizabeth wasn't going to waste any tears.
He's a soldier. It was only a matter of time.
But seeing as it had been only a matter of time so many times before, Elizabeth hadn't really adhered to that prospect. Too little too late. Just when she was beginning to believe that John was immortal, just when she became content in the fact that he always returned, he had to leave and not come back.
What was it Teyla had said? Or was it Ronon? More like Rodney. She couldn't remember, especially since everyone had been talking at once. It had been something along the lines of Sheppard becoming paranoid, then wandering off to check the perimeter under the guise that he was only going for a walk, or something like that. Yes, definitely Rodney's word choice. What should have been twenty minutes became an hour, then three, then a day, then two days. Was he shot, taken, lying unconscious at the bottom of some pit, wraith food? Maybe, maybe not. What it all really came down to was that John had wandered off – alone – and didn't come back. Why had he been alone? Because he wasn't supposed to have been for long.
Elizabeth did recall her initial reaction. Fear, yes, but tempered fear because she never had time to give way to fear. After fear – anger. What had John been thinking? After that, constant worry, constant hope, and going rigid as a tree every time the alarms sounded.
I shouldn't have let him go.
She had assumed that he was fine. She had believed the idea that a small trip off world would do him good. It was supposed to be a harmless visit, with the usual mantra of ' I'm smart, you're smart, we hate the wraith so let's trade technology', followed by a little dining, gifts in the form of much needed vaccinations, and finishing it all up with a hi-ho let's all go home, job well done. Their visitation had been the fourth one for that world. Friendship set in stone. Elizabeth had been confident that Sheppard would be all right.
But she had been thinking along the lines of physical well being, of fire-fights and sudden ambushes. State of mind she had only given a passing glance.
Heightmeyer had been reluctant, with good reason. What the Cyladrans had done to Sheppard would have made the Genii drool. Those had even been her exact words. They had hit Sheppard where it really hurt, the kind of blow you didn't see until it was too late. All the physical abuse had been to get John right where he needed to be before the real torment, kind of like tenderizing the meat before burning it.
' I had a chance to save him, and I couldn't.' That was all John had said on the matter to Elizabeth. The rest of her knowledge of the situation had been provided by Kate after John's disappearance. The fact that John had talked to Kate should have been a warning sign. Rodney had said so, but as a joke. Funny, it wasn't that funny thinking back on it. There should have been more of a fight. John rarely submitted to opening up in any form or fashion.
All machoism aside, John's greatest fear was being weak and failing. Then – bam! He was weakened, and someone died.
Elizabeth couldn't fault him his state of mind. She could only fault herself for not seeing it until now. But back then, midnight had been a time for sleep, not strolls.
She missed him, she really did, and she wasn't going to deny it. She fought the need to blame herself, then came the dead of night and deep sleep when she was too exhausted to fight, and would give in. Sometimes, when she woke up, her face would be cold, because it was wet. That began long before, when the Cyladrans had sent John back to them, and he had walked on his own volition to the infirmary without saying a word – half-naked, bruised, and starved.
She had known, deep down, that something in John had been broken; she just never acknowledged it the way she should have. Too hard to.
Too little, too late. Now John sat on her mind – raven that he was. She just couldn't succumb to nevermore.
Elizabeth wandered beyond John's quarters, and found herself slipping ghost-like by the gaping doors of the lab. Her head seemed to turn on its own at the lack of expletive storms that were the norm. She caught the passing glimpse of Rodney slumped on a table with his head cradled in his folded arms and strangled snores vibrating in his throat. The temptation was to find a blanket and drape it over him, but the slight increase of weight would wake the physicist, and he would only shrug it off to continue working.
Sleeping bent on a table wasn't healthy, but had better merit than no sleep at all. Elizabeth would have loved to follow Rodney's example, but had yet to find a table comfortable enough to slump down on.
Her next passing was Teyla's quarters, but the Athosian wasn't there. Elizabeth knew that before she even came to the doors. She was probably running with Ronon, or stick fighting thin air. Physical activity, it really was the key. Keep the body busy while the mind cleared.
Except the mind didn't know when to stop.
Ronon's quarters, also empty. Definitely running.
She was almost complete in her circuit, making her way back to her own quarters for sleep that wouldn't come without a fight. But she was willing to fight, even if she had to prod Beckett for a prescription of sleeping pills.
She passed the infirmary, quiet as a midnight grave, dim as twilight, and empty at first glance. There were times when Elizabeth had been overcome with the morbid longing to see John sleeping in one of those beds. It didn't feel all that long ago when he had been.
Her room was only yards away now, and her steps slowed. It wasn't like she was anxious to get back. Maybe one more circuit to increase the chances for better sleep by wearing her legs out. It would serve her body right for being stubborn. She would sleep against the thrumming of her nerves and the pounding of her heart. She would find a way, hopefully without resorting to sedatives. Drugged sleep seemed rather... pathetic, like she was too weak to even shut down properly. It held too many connotations.
Yes, one more circuit...
Alarms blared out mechanical shrieks that made Weir's heart slam and her nerves vibrate. The sound pierced her brain, and conditioned instinct had her turning on her heels, charging for the control room. On reaching it she was met with ordered chaos. Soldiers flooded the gate room on either side of the ring, crouched or standing, backs arched or rigid, and all weapons pointed at the shimmering puddle.
" Report!" she barked.
" Unscheduled activation!" Someone replied. " Shield's already activated."
Weir nodded and sighed out a breath of relief. Shields made for such wonderful security blankets, childish as it seemed even to her. But not even the numerous stuffed toys she'd went through as a child had brought as much of a sense of comfortable safety as a shield.
A wait ensued, one of bated breath as those present listened for some voice to crackle over the radio. That was the usual song and dance. But for one whole minute they were met with silence.
Weir wrinkled her brow. " What...?"
Lights flickered, the alarms wavered, and machines moaned and struggled. Everything went dark within a blink with the only surviving light spilling from the iridescent gate.
" What's going on!" Elizabeth demanded, as though demanding would snatch all answers out of thin air. All she was met with were jumbled responses of 'I'm not sure.'
In all that time, Elizabeth's eyes remained fixed to the gate. There came lightning, flickering like a strobe, casting convulsive shadows on the floors and walls.
Had Elizabeth blinked, she would have missed it. The event horizon rippled, and a shadow-drenched form detached from it to flit into the darkness. Lightning strobed, and the dark form moved fast as a spooked rat across the floor.
Elizabeth's jaw fell slowly opened.
That wasn't possible. The shields had been up. Nothing should have gotten through.
" S-something came through!" Elizabeth cried above the shouts of those around her.
" Impossible, the shields are up!" was the response. Elizabeth shook her head.
" No... something..."
Machines and lights flickered and wound back to life. Say for the resurrected alarms, human voices fell silent. There was the expected glance-about in confusion, but all eyes eventually went to where Elizabeth's eyes already were.
The gate shut down with a rush and disintegration of liquid. Soldiers milled closer to the little surprise the brief blackout had left behind.
A trail – a wet, dark, crimson trail. Elizabeth didn't allow second thought any time to staul her. She rushed from the control room, but slowed on reaching the stairs. The trail continued on in smears, hand prints, but mostly footprints. She didn't need Beckett to run an analysis to tell her it was blood. She could smell it, metallic and foul, burning her nose and filling her lungs. She covered her mouth, part in shock, part – a major part – in disgust. Her gut churned fit to expel.
" Oh my..." she gagged. Many of the paled faces around her mimicked similar expressions.
The trail went on into the corridor, with more smears and prints – human prints, human hands and feet, ten fingers and ten toes.
" Dr. Weir?" Someone said, a female voice. She looked up to see a sweat-drenched Teyla standing on the other side of the trail, looking down with saucer-round eyes. Ronon was beside her, following the prints with his own narrowed gaze, tense as a blood-hound struggling against the leash.
Let's not disappoint the man, Weir thought, swallowing bile. She looked toward the soldiers and signaled with a wave for them to follow. Ronon was already off. He led the way, but held back enough for the soldiers to catch up since they were armed and he was not.
Rodney came around a corner, skidding to a halt with hands raised before any of the armed men collided into him.
" H-Hey, what's going on?" he shouted over the alarms, moving to walk alongside Elizabeth.
Elizabeth's pounding heart was making it difficult to breathe. " Something came through the gate."
" What? Was the shield down?"
Elizabeth shook her head. " I – I don't know. Maybe. I mean, that's the only explanation. They were running, they were up. but I saw something come through."
" Are you sure?"
Elizabeth looked at Rodney in alarm. " Look down."
Rodney did, searching the floor, and stumbled back in a blanch. " Oh my...! Crap, what...? Is that – that blood?" He looked at Elizabeth. The answer man, for once, looking to others for answers.
Elizabeth didn't reply, when right then she realized where the trail was leading. She had the path memorized enough to know it by feel alone.
She hurried to be at the forefront, and passed Ronon right when the trail turned and vanished behind the sealed doors to Sheppard's quarters. Like a single ambient wave, the same thought rippled through everyone, and everyone slowed to a stop.
Elizabeth would have given anything to feel the heart clamoring hope that had always been more like a plague in the past. All she felt was utter terror, bordered by blood in the form of prints and smears. They were on the door, the wall, the pad activating the doors. Weir looked down at the foot prints, and squinted at drops and splatters of blood. It was fresh, all of it, too much of it. The smell became a taste soaking into her tongue, so she clenched her jaw to keep from spitting.
" Shouldn't we call Beckett?" came Rodney's tentative voice. Elizabeth didn't grace him with a response. In all truth, everything had become back ground noise, too pointless to even acknowledge as annoying. Elizabeth swallowed with a grimace and touched the radio at her ear.
" Can someone please shut down the alarm," she flatly stated. And two heart-beats later, stifling silence fell over them like a heavy blanket. Ronon advanced, ready to enter, but Elizabeth held up her hand to halt him.
She placed her ear to the door. Whatever it was she was expecting to hear – shouts, breathing, movement – she didn't hear it. She stepped back, and nodded once when her voice refused to work. A young soldier slapped the panel, and the doors slid open. Ronon and two soldiers flowed in like water over a dam, moving around the bed to halt on the other side.
The two soldiers stepped back, lowering their weapons. Ronon's head jerked. He looked over at Weir. The runner wasn't one for expression. Anger, annoyance, and overall stoicism were as far as he tended to go. But even he didn't have absolute control over heat of the moment reactions, and Elizabeth caught the flicker of confusion in his eyes.
And something else, something Elizabeth hadn't really seen before on the runner. Alarm, shock... fear? Somewhere along those lines, and it frightened Elizabeth.
" You need to see this," Ronon said in that rumbling voice of his, staring with penetrating eyes straight at Elizabeth. Elizabeth jolted as though she'd been shocked. In her mind, she was moving, but outward her body was motionless. She swallowed, and forced herself to step through the threshold on stiff, hesitant legs.
She didn't want to see. She needed to, but both heart and mind were screaming at her to turn around and close her eyes, because she knew she wouldn't like what she was about to confront.
Screw desire. She would see. She hadn't given up hope. She needed to know if it had been worth it.
Ronon stepped back, and Elizabeth stepped around the bed.
She choked on her own breath. " John!" She hadn't been ready to see this, and she felt ready to vomit.
John was packed huddled into the corner with his feet slipping from beneath him as he tried to push himself into the wall. He was covered in blood, every inch of him. It caked his hair, soaked his clothes, dripped from his fingers clutching a cylindrical object of dark metal. If it hadn't been for his eyes, Elizabeth wouldn't have known it was him. He wasn't even looking at her. He was looking at the wall, dead-pan, emotionless, and unseeing. But she had still seen the color.
Her eyes moved down his body to a tattered shirt that had managed to remain hanging from his ravaged form by threads, strips, and dried blood. The collar had been 'widened' to the point that it fell past his shoulder all the way to his elbow, and the source for all the blood was exposed for all the world to see.
Gashes; long, deep, and in rows of three. Was that bone, gristle, tendons? Elizabeth couldn't be sure. There were gashes across his back, across the spine, down the ribcage, over the shoulders, on his chest, the back of his neck, his face, his arms, his ankles – Elizabeth counted, and she lost count. Even his bare feet were cut up, though not quite in the same way. Blood was painted on the floor, the walls – a little nest of it for John to sit in.
His feet slid forward, jerked back, then slid forward again. His ribs pulsated with panting breaths coming so fast it amazed Elizabeth that John still had his eyes open. She couldn't imagine the speed at which his heart had to be going to force him to take in air at that unnatural rate.
" Joh..." she choked again, and swallowed against a tight throat. " John?"
No response. The hands gripping the object shook. His whole body shook.
She stepped closer, and slowly lowered herself to the floor in a crouch. " John?" She reached out with an unsteady hand to touch his arm. She expected chaos in the form of terrified screams and John leaping to his feet to flee. She flinched with the thought of it, in readiness for it.
What Sheppard did was sigh, and close his eyes.
" Elizabeth." The words were mouthed, not spoken. John shifted, then moved, curling up on the floor with knees pulled to his chest and arms tucked behind them. The object rolled from his limp hands toward Elizabeth, and she grabbed it. Lifting it, she looked it over. It was a mess of bloody hand prints, smooth, with what looked to be small control panels on either end. Length wise, it was the size of her forearm minus her hand – give or take. It felt warm, but that was probably due to all the blood.
She looked back at John. His eyes were open, staring at nothing, but at least he wasn't panting like a psychotic rabbit anymore. Bloody saliva stretched from the corner of his mouth to stick to the floor.
" John? What is this?"
John lifted a trembling hand and pointed. Elizabeth looked over her shoulder to Rodney now standing by Ronon. When had he walked in? Like it mattered. Elizabeth knew what John indicated. She reached out to hand the object to McKay.
" Take it," she said – snapped – eager to get rid of it though she couldn't put reason to her loathing. Rodney stared at the thing as though it had teeth.
" Take it, McKay," Weir growled in a wavering voice. Crap, how she wanted to weep. " He wants you to take it!"
" Um..." Rodney began, but crumbled and took the object by either end, lifting it from Elizabeth's hands. Rodney's eyes flicked past Elizabeth, rounding over.
" What's he doing?"
Weir looked back. John was struggling onto his hands and knees, but only got as far as his hands when his body convulsed and he heaved. A black liquid spilled from his mouth to splash onto the floor. Crying out in alarm, Elizabeth leaped back onto her feet. John heaved again, and again spewed out a stream of black liquid like watered-down oil. Finishing that, he coughed, spat, sucked in a ragged breath, then collapsed onto his side unconscious.
Panting, Elizabeth tapped the radio at her ear.
" Beckett! We need you here now!"
There would be no sleep. Elizabeth paced outside the doors to the infirmary. Rodney stood to one side, clutching the object with one hand while the other remained wrapped tightly around his own chest. He was staring at the floor. He had yet to acknowledge the device.
Teyla had her arms folded, and Ronon was leaning against the wall with a twitching leg, which was as far as he got when it came to agitation.
The silence was holding like cement. They couldn't even hear what was going on beyond the infirmary doors, and no one seemed willing to break that silence. All the better. Elizabeth didn't want noise unless it was coming from Carson. She didn't want to discuss or hypothesize, or even urge Rodney to speculate on what the object could be until the most important question of them all was answered – how was John? Until then, nothing was a priority.
The infirmary doors slid open, and Elizabeth almost stumbled whirling around. Her mouth opened but the words lodged in her throat at the sight of blood splattered all over Beckett's front.
Rodney, paling, was the first to crack the congealed quiet. " He's dead, isn't he?"
Carson flashed Rodney the most withering stare he could muster. " No, you panic mongerin' bugger, he's not! Why d'you always have to go for the pessimistic...?" He then sighed and closed his eyes. " Sorry, sorry. I'm just..." he shook his head, and looked directly at Elizabeth.
" He's stable," he said. " I've no need to tell ya about the blood loss, which was massive. Gaw, Elizabeth, it's a miracle he still has his skin! Those wounds were bloody deep, some to the bone. We've stitched them up and I can tell ya now he's gonna have some massive scarrin'. On top of that, he's got broken bones galore - four ribs, wrist, ankle, arm, fingers of his left hand, collar-bone, crack in his shoulder blade... It's just fortunate that whatever caused the wounds didn't get deep enough to do damage to his spine."
Teyla stepped forward. " But he will be all right?"
Beckett looked at her sadly. Elizabeth wasn't liking that look.
" He'll live, which we should be thankful for. But we don't know what he's been through – say for that it was obviously hell. But what you saw was only the half of it. I had one of by nurses take a sample of the liquid John vomited and do some testin'. Some of the same substance was found on John's skin – mostly his hands, under his nails, also his feet and on his face..." Carson took a deep breath, shaking his head. The sad look was gone. Horror replaced it, and Elizabeth found that she would rather deal with the sadness.
" What?" Elizabeth hoarsely said.
Carson squirmed, ever so slightly, mostly in the shoulders. " It's blood."
" Blood!" Rodney barked. " You mean that stuff spewing out of his mouth... was..."
Carson grimaced. " Aye. Blood. Human."
" Human!" Rodney yelped again.
Carson winced, gulping. " Aye. At least, as far as we can tell. But there's somethin' off about it, somethin' that'll be takin' more research to look into. I can't explain it, but it goes beyond just the fact that it's all black."
" He had human blood in his stomach!" Rodney snapped. Carson opened his mouth for either an explanation or a retort, but Elizabeth cut him off.
" Can we see him?"
Carson looked at her, all sympathy and worry, the picture of doctorly concern verging on fatherly. " Aye, but you may not like what ya see."
He stepped aside, and let Elizabeth be the first to enter. She followed the sound of the heart monitor toward the back, walking with the same stiff hesitation that had tried to prevent her from going into John's quarters. John's face was the first thing she saw, white as the bandages around his chest and arm, making his hair stand out obsidian black. Nothing raven about him now. He was all scarecrow; ragged with stitches and gauze, angled by bones more visible than normal. His arm was in a cast, his ankle wrapped. Funny how it took an X-ray to discover broken bones, because John certainly hadn't acted like anything was internally wrong. Images of him darting from the gate like a mad cheetah shot through Elizabeth's brain. Broken bones had obviously not been a hindrance for him.
Elizabeth came up to the side of the bed at John's head. There was a need to put her hand on his shoulder or his forehead to establish physical contact and drive home the fact that this was really John, and not a figment of hope-skewed imagination. But there wasn't a clear spot anywhere. Where he wasn't stitched, he was bruised.
She also had a need to yell at him, cuss him out, shake him and demand to know where he had gone, and what he'd been thinking by wandering off. But it was a childish, immature way to act, let alone think. It was also a by product of selfishness. Worry and false hope had beaten her down, and now that it was over, and hope proved true after all, all that was left was anger at having gone through it in the first place. But what was it her mother used to say?
You have five minutes to feel sorry for yourself, then it's time to move on. Weir gave herself three, then focused on John.
Something stood out against the white of his face other than bruises, something at the corner of his mouth. She pressed her thumb against it, wiping it away, then brought her thumb in close for inspection.
More black blood.
How do you get blood into your system? Two ways...
" Carson?" Elizabeth said. " Did you check John's mouth?"
Beckett came over to her. " No, why?"
She looked back at John numbly. " To see... if there was any more blood..." She couldn't finish her theory, though.
Beckett, shrugging indifferently, pried John's mouth open using his thumbs. " What're we lookin for?"
Elizabeth's insides shriveled. She already found what she was looking for, staining John's teeth, darkest in between, stretched in saliva strings.
More black blood.
A/N: Yummers. Chompy, chompy John. No he's not a vampire. Just thought I'd clear that up now so no one would stop reading thinking this some weird supernatural deal.