NOTE: You've made it to the last chapter. Thank you for the many reviews – you guys know that I love you, maybe even better than chocolate. Sorry for the delay of a day. The last day of school proved to be VERY busy and I just had absolutely no time to work on this. Hopefully, you'll enjoy enough to forgive me. Have a good one!
Nightwalker – Chapter 11
By the time everyone was assembled in the infirmary, Beckett was way past second thoughts. He was beginning to wish he'd loaded Sheppard up into a wheelchair and had the meeting in the conference room. Of course, it had started out as a simple meeting between him, Kate, Rodney, Elizabeth, and Sheppard. Somehow it had grown to include Ronon, Teyla, and Zelenka by the time they were ready. Extra chairs had been pulled in for some, while others sat on surrounding beds.
Throughout the steady inflow of bodies coming to participate in or listen to the discussion of exactly what had happened to Sheppard and why, McKay relentlessly questioned Sheppard about the crystals and how he had talked to Atlantis. Beckett had wanted to eavesdrop on that conversation, but there was too much commotion for him to hear much. When it looked like everyone was there and he knew the meeting was about to begin, he edged his way over to stand near the head of the colonel's bed.
"Colonel, are you sure you're up to this? You're looking a bit tired and we could just as easily do this tomorrow."
"I'm okay, Doc, but thanks." If he was honest with himself, Sheppard was bone tired. The trip to the shower, force feeding himself dirty dishwater (as Rodney called it), and all this activity was wearing him out, but he desperately wanted to understand what had happened. Mainly he wanted to know if he could expect to continue sleepwalking, because that could get him grounded indefinitely.
Beckett patted Sheppard's shoulder. "I don't believe that for a minute, so I'll be keeping my eye on you and shutting this party down as soon as possible."
Sheppard grinned, as he would have expected nothing less.
Beckett cleared his throat loudly, getting everyone's attention. "I'd suggest we get this thing started or we'll be quitting before we're done. Colonel Sheppard is already beginning to tire and I'll not have his recovery going backwards. All right, there's no easy way to explain this and I won't pretend that we understand it all yet. We all have a piece of the puzzle, so we're going to lay those pieces out and see if we can put them together in such a way that this makes sense. Kate, why don't you start?"
Beckett sat down in a chair someone had pushed over beside him.
Kate nodded. "Colonel, I know you and I have only been able to meet a couple of times, but I've picked up a few things from those meetings. First, we know that you did a little sleepwalking as a child as a response to a traumatic event in your life, so the propensity for sleepwalking is there. Second, we know that you have a strong, driving desire to save and protect those you love. Last, we know that your first episode here was the same day that you and your team were captured and held hostage. You and Elizabeth and Rodney were threatened particularly harshly. Connecting those dots, it would appear that the mental anguish of not being able to protect those around you, combined with what you thought was the death of Elizabeth, may have been a trigger for the sleepwalking to return. After carefully looking at your history, however, I do not think that one event such as this would be enough to do that. We think it was only part what caused you to sleepwalk."
Sheppard rubbed the side of his face and leaned his head back against the pillow. Why did everything have to be so complex? "So what's the rest of it?"
McKay's face brightened as he realized he was up next. "I'm glad you asked that, Colonel. In going back over everything that happened and the timeline of events, we've discovered that your headaches and sleepwalking started about roughly the same time that Radek and I started working with the Ancient console."
"Wait a minute, I didn't touch that thing until a day or two after I went sleepwalking the first time."
"True," said McKay, holding up his right index finger. "But you did come down to the lab while Radek and I were working on it. We went back and analyzed all the readings we took while working on the thing and the times you tried to turn it on. From the time we put those crystals in there, the console was giving out this weird energy reading. It was faint at first, but stronger every time we rearranged the crystals or had you try to activate it. The weird energy reading went off the scale during those power surges when you were trying to turn the thing on."
Elizabeth frowned. "Wait a minute, what kind of weird energy readings?"
"All of the Ancient technology produces energy readings of various strengths. The energy output is part of the system that interacts with the Ancient gene and allows those with the gene to activate it. In this case, the crystals were the wrong ones and/or in the wrong place and that caused the energy signature to be . . . warped. I think it was similar enough to the right energy output to try and interact with the Ancient gene, but it had a negative effect, producing the headaches and maybe partially responsible for the sleepwalking."
"Hold on a second," said Sheppard skeptically. "I'm not the only one with the Ancient gene. Why was I the only one affected?"
McKay grinned. "I'm not sure you were. Carson, have any headaches the last couple of weeks?"
"Well, I had a couple . . . let me see . . . oh, yes, it was about the time we were doing the sleep monitoring on Colonel Sheppard. I wasn't getting much sleep around then and I was getting worried about the colonel, so I wasn't surprised when I ended up with a headache or two."
"What? Did I hear that right?" inquired Sheppard, his eyebrows slightly raised and a smirk forming on his face. "You had headaches that you didn't report to any of the medical staff. Is that what you are admitting to?"
Beckett puffed out a couple of breaths and then crossed his arms defensively. "I just told you, I knew why I was having headaches."
"Oh, you mean things like stress and lack of sleep? So you're saying since you had a valid reason for having headaches, you didn't feel the need to, oh, say, run to your doctor and tell him."
"Yes, that is exactly . . . oh, I see your point."
Smiling ear to ear, Sheppard snorted. "Guess I'm off the hook for that one, huh Doc?"
Beckett shook his head and looked at the floor. "Yes, Colonel. I can't very well scold you for doing something I was doing myself."
"Buy why was Colonel Sheppard affected so much more than anyone else?" asked Teyla. "Is it because his gene is much stronger?"
"Partially," said McKay. "I think the fact that he was in closer proximity than anyone else with the natural gene is also a factor. Since my gene is artificial, my reaction was much like Carson's, even though I was also close to the source. I had a couple of light headaches that I also attributed to lack of sleep and stress."
"We could almost start a club," said Sheppard.
McKay rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. "Yes, Colonel, we could start a club," he said in that tone he reserved for people making idiotic comments. "Anyway, it seems that every time we got the crystal set up closer, the energy spike was stronger and Colonel Sheppard's reaction was more severe."
"Colonel Sheppard was also only one trying to activate console," added Zelenka.
"How could that cause someone to sleepwalk?" asked Ronon.
Beckett stepped up to answer the question. "We still aren't sure. There were some anomalies in the colonel's EEG about the time he began to sleepwalk. Those are not caused by the sleepwalking, so it's safe to assume they are from an outside source. I think our choices on that are the energy spikes from the Ancient console or Atlantis attempting to communicate. We still aren't sure if Atlantis caused the sleepwalking or simply took advantage of it."
"So, basically, you still don't really know what role the two things played in the sleepwalking?" asked Elizabeth.
"No," admitted Beckett. "We do know the sleepwalking was at least partially caused by outside factors, but we don't know which one or if it was the combination of both. We are in agreement that the colonel probably would not have had his nightly wanderings if he hadn't had the combination of the previous inclination, the mental stress to fuel it, and either the console or Atlantis."
"So, does that mean my sleepwalking days are over?" Sheppard asked, his eyes wide with hope.
Beckett smiled. "Probably. The console is fixed and your stress levels are down. We'll know in a few days."
Sheppard let out a deep breath. "Thank goodness. So, when do I get out of here?"
"Not for a day or two, Colonel. You're still pretty weak. You've been out of it for several days, remember. And I'm still not sure what this talking to Atlantis does to you."
"Speaking of that, you never did tell me where you got the crystals," said McKay.
"Oh, yeah, that. Well, you go to the transporter at . . . no, that's not right. Okay, you need to head to sector three . . . McKay, you'll just have to wait til I'm out of here so I can show you. I can't give you directions."
McKay sighed and shook his head. "And this is our head pilot. Scary. Very scary."
"Play nice, McKay, or I won't show you at all. By the way, there are several other crystals and a few other parts that can be salvaged down there." Sheppard tried to stifle a yawn, fighting the pull of sleep that was starting to take hold. He had been able to feel his eyelids getting heavier for several minutes now.
"Why did the Colonel nightwalk . . . sleepwalk while we were on the mainland?" asked Teyla.
"That was probably a combination of things," replied Beckett. "Apparently in the beginning, the mental stress was very strong, but the console's energy output was weak. As time distanced the colonel from the stress he felt over the incident with the Tellurians, the energy output of the console was getting stronger, making up for the lack of the mental component. We think he was carrying enough residual effects from the console so that it combined with the mental stress and possibly the food he ate, causing him to sleepwalk even though he was, at that time, removed from the energy source."
"He's trying to say it was a fluke," said McKay. "I have a question for Kate. Are you saying without the console or Atlantis one, Sheppard probably wouldn't have started sleepwalking at all?"
"Of course there's no way to know for sure, but I doubt it. He may have suffered some nightmares or some restless nights, but I doubt he would have gone sleepwalking. I would like to talk to the Colonel some more about is connection to Atlantis. I think we should keep an eye on that as it develops in case it causes problems."
"I agree," said Beckett. They all instinctively looked at Sheppard, his head leaned back against the pillows and his eyes closed. His expression was completely relaxed, thus removing the typical lines of stress or worry or pain that usually creased his forehead and radiated from his eyes.
"He looks much younger when he is sleeping," commented Teyla.
"Yes, he does. And sort of . . . innocent," added Elizabeth.
Beckett, McKay, and Ronon snorted at the same time. Everyone began to laugh, causing Beckett to shush them all several times, after which he insisted they leave. After he had escorted McKay to the door, still grumbling about having to wait for his crystal hunt, he returned to find Elizabeth standing beside Sheppard.
Elizabeth gently stroked the cheek of her sleeping second in command. "I'm glad you're okay, John. I'm really not sure I could run this place without you. Although some days I wonder how I run it with you." She smiled and let her hand fall to her side. "You're a very unique person, John Sheppard. And even with all your quarks and your obsession with protecting everyone and your inclination to get yourself into trouble, I don't think I'd change a thing. You're a good friend, and a person never really gets many of those in life. So you sleep and take care of yourself so you can keep reminding me that we don't leave people behind, not to mention keeping Rodney on a bit more even keel. Good night, John."
Elizabeth turned to find Beckett watching her. She blushed slightly as she walked toward him. "Just a little pep talk. Never hurts."
Beckett smiled knowingly. "No, lass, it certainly doesn't."
"Are you sure you know where you're going?" asked McKay, trudging along behind Sheppard. The team was dressed in full gear, following Sheppard on a crystal hunt in the far corner of Atlantis. The colonel had been released from the infirmary three days ago, but Beckett hadn't released him for duty until today. Sheppard was of the opinion he had only released him then to keep McKay from having a stoke or seizure because he couldn't go look for the crystals, but he wasn't about to argue.
"Yes, I know where I'm going . . . well, mostly." Sheppard stopped and looked down the long, dark hall ahead of them. The area was in the lower levels that had been flooded, apparently on numerous occasions. The air was heavy with dampness and the smell of mold.
"Mostly? You're kidding, right?"
Teyla and Ronon stopped beside the two team mates. "What's the problem?" asked Ronon.
"He's lost," said McKay.
"I'm not lost, I just can't remember if we turned left at the third or fourth corridor."
"We?" asked Teyla.
"Yeah, me and Atlantis," replied Sheppard, as if that was a normal response.
"Lost," repeated McKay.
"Look, it's not like I can just stop at a local gas station and ask directions," said Sheppard defensively.
"Why don't you just ask Atlantis?" asked Ronon.
McKay snorted, but Sheppard just looked thoughtful. "Good idea," he said. Sheppard closed his eyes and stood still for several minutes. Eventually, he began to sway slightly. As McKay reached and and touched his arm to steady him, he opened his eyes and smiled.
"We turn left here." He turned into the corridor on the left and pointed his flashlight down the hallway. Amazed, his teammates followed him silently for several more minutes. Sheppard stopped and stood in a doorway and then slowly entered the room.
"Okay, McKay, we're here."
McKay stepped into the room and swept it slowly with his light. The room was a tangle of damp, mud-covered debris. To say it was water damaged was a serious understatement.
"This is it?" he asked, disappointment evident in his voice. Even as he said it, his light hit a console that had the front panel pulled off. He walked over and aimed his light inside. The interior was layered with mud, but it had been disturbed recently and most of the crystals were obviously missing.
"The consoles are all damaged beyond repair," said Sheppard, suddenly beside him. "But the crystals are all still functional. Atlantis said you might be able to salvage some other parts as well."
McKay looked slowly up at Sheppard. "You got them out of here? No wonder you were filthy."
"When we found you installing the crystals in the console, you were very dirty. Now I know why."
"Oh. I don't remember."
McKay stood up and looked at Sheppard, standing there looking at the console. "You okay?"
After a few seconds, Sheppard looked back at McKay and smiled. "Yeah, just . . . feels kind of weird, like I've been here in my dreams or something." Sheppard shook the feeling off and pulled the pack off his back. "Shall we gather some crystals while we're here?"
"Yeah, and then I want to look around and see what else there is."
They spent three hours collecting crystals and other parts and just poking around in the surrounding labs and rooms. They were taking a break when McKay discovered the time. "Hey, we've got to get back."
"Why," asked Ronon. "Do you have somewhere to be?"
"No, but Sheppard does. You have an appointment with Kate in an hour and it'll take us at least that long to get back." McKay glanced down at his uniform. "You may need to clean up a bit too. We'd better go."
Sheppard shrugged his shoulders, but didn't get up. "I can reschedule. We're already down here, so we might as well look around some more."
"Oh, no you don't. We're going back."
"No, we're not," Sheppard snapped. "Why do you care, anyway?"
"Because Beckett told me I'd better have you to Kate's office on time or he'd make me regret it at my next check-up. He didn't want you staying down here too long and he wants you to continue your sessions with Kate. This was his way of seeing to both things at once."
"Funny thing, I can't remember how to get back," Sheppard said, fake innocence thick in his voice.
Teyla and Ronon looked at one another unsurely. "Colonel," said Teyla. "Perhaps we should go back."
Sheppard walked over and sat on the floor with his back against the wall. "Go ahead and start back. I'll be there in a minute."
Teyla and Ronon shared another glance, after which they gathered their gear and headed out the door. McKay looked at Sheppard. "Are you coming?"
"In a minute," he sulked.
McKay looked down the hall to where Ronon and Teyla had disappeared and then looked back at Sheppard. After a few seconds of indecision, he walked over and sat by Sheppard.
"Okay, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, McKay, just go."
McKay sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "I'm a genius, remember? Something is obviously wrong, so what is it? If you can't tell your best friend, who can you tell?"
Sheppard smiled. "Best friend?"
"Yes, and don't act like you didn't know. Even you aren't that dense. Now, in case you haven't noticed, it's cold and dark and damp down here, none of which are on my favorite things list, so if we could just hurry this little pout session up, I'd appreciate it. Talk."
"I don't want to talk to Kate any more."
McKay waited for the rest of it, but that was all Sheppard said. "That's it? You'd rather sit here in dank city so you don't have to talk to Kate? This is sweet, Colonel."
They sat in silence for a few moments, before Sheppard spoke, his voice sounding rough and weak. "She always wants to talk about my mother. I just can't do that any more."
McKay swallowed hard. "What happened?"
Sheppard pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his forehead on his knees. "She died of leukemia when I was twelve. Kate keeps dragging it up and telling me I haven't properly grieved or something like that."
"Wow, twelve, that's young. How did you and your dad get along?"
"We got along pretty good before mom died, at least when he was home. He couldn't stand to look at me after she died, so we didn't talk much."
McKay's mouth dropped open in surprise. "Why wouldn't he look at you?"
"Before she got sick, he used to tell me I looked like her, that I had her eyes and her hair. 'You're the spitting image of your mother' he used to say. After she died, he wouldn't look at me. I think it reminded him of her and it just hurt too much."
"Oh, that's tough. It's hard to know what's worse, losing someone you're really close to or living with someone you want to be close to, but aren't."
Sheppard nodded. "Yeah, I've done them both, and neither one is fun." He let his head roll to the side to look at McKay. "Is that what happened with you, the latter?"
McKay sighed and stared at his feet. "Yeah, it was like living in a houseful of strangers. I wanted to be this close-knit family like everyone else seemed to have, but it just wasn't happening."
"Sorry, McKay. I guess we're both a bit dysfunctional. Kate would really have a field day if she knew . . . never mind."
McKay looked at Sheppard, his eyes wide with interest. "What? If she knew what?"
"No, never mind."
McKay snorted and sighed. "You can't do that. You can't wave something in front of my face like that and then jerk it away. You have to tell me."
Sheppard looked at McKay, surprised by the gleam in his eyes, visible even in the dark. "Okay, but you can never, and I repeat, never tell anyone. I've never told another soul and I better not hear that you did."
McKay's mouth dropped open slightly. "You're really going to tell me something you've never told anyone else? Cool."
Sheppard sighed, wondering if he was going to regret it. "Yes, but only because you're my best friend. I can trust you, right?"
McKay nodded vigorously.
"Okay, when I was a senior in high school, my dad took an overseas assignment that would have him gone for at least a year. He left me with the family of my best friend. Tyler had been my best friend since junior high and I practically lived over there anyway, so we just made it official when he went away. Three months later, Tyler's dad got transferred, leaving me with nowhere to live."
"Where did you go?"
"I didn't want Tyler's dad to worry about me, so I paid a kid from school to help me move my stuff out and tell them I was going to live with his family until my dad came home."
"But you really didn't go live with him?"
"Heck, no. Tommy hated me and I hated him. He only helped me out because I paid him. There was an abandoned house at the edge of the base that had been empty for a while. I knew it was in too bad a shape to assign to anyone, so I moved in there. I had a part time job at the grocery store to help buy food and stuff. I think old man Clements suspected what I was doing because he was always giving me dented cans and almost out of date meat and milk and stuff."
McKay stared at Sheppard incredulously. "You mean you were homeless your senior year of high school?"
"Not really homeless, just . . . parentless. I did okay. I have to admit, no electricity or running water was kind of inconvenient, but I could take care of myself."
McKay shook his head and sat silently for several seconds, letting the new information sink in. "My god, no wonder you're so screwed up."
Several seconds later, Sheppard glanced back at McKay. "Is that what you really think, that I'm screwed up?" he asked softly.
"Well, yes I think you're screwed up, but not in the way you think. I mean you function as well as the next guy, you've just got all these 'save everyone else, I'm not worth it' hang ups that get on my nerves. You're kind of like the Energizer bunny video."
"You're comparing me to a pink bunny rabbit?"
"Yes, but once again, not in the way you think. Some friends of mine made this video about the Energizer bunny. In the video, bizarre creatures and thugs and natural disasters all keep knocking the bunny down and trying to destroy him. He gets really beaten up and torn up, but he keeps popping up and going and going and going –"
"I know about the going thing, I've seen the commercials. So you really do think I'm screwed up."
"No, you're missing the point, as usual. Gosh, Sheppard, you really can be thick sometimes. The point is that even though events and those around him sometimes gave him a hard time and tried to beat him down, he kept going. He never gave up, he never quit. You're a lot like that. I've seen you go through hell, and you keep popping up and going, thank goodness without that stupid drum."
"So I'm a bit damaged, but not completely broken."
McKay rolled his eyes. "Yeah, something like that"
Sheppard nodded. "I guess I can live with that. But I still don't want to talk to Kate. It's giving me nightmares. I keep dreaming about my mom dying, but lately the Wraith end up in there at some point. She's . . . moving too fast, I think. I just need some time to deal with everything that's happened before I move on."
"You know, I could talk to her for you, ask her to lay off."
Sheppard sighed. "Wouldn't help. She thinks of me as a challenge."
McKay laughed. "Yeah, you're right about that. But she does care and want the best for you. I think if I tell her about the nightmares and that she's moving too fast, and that you've been talking to me some, maybe she'll give you a break."
Sheppard perked up and looked at McKay hopefully. "You really think so?"
"I do. Why don't we go back and get cleaned up. I'll go by and talk to Kate and meet you in the mess hall."
Sheppard grinned broadly. "Thanks McKay. This whole best friend thing may work out after all."
Sheppard waved at McKay as he came through the mess hall door. McKay was surprised to see that Sheppard had already procured two trays loaded with food for them.
"What did she say?" Sheppard asked anxiously before McKay had even had a chance to sit down.
"Whoa, boy, down. She was very receptive and even apologized for rushing you so much that you'd been having nightmares. She agreed to lay off your sessions for a few weeks if you'd agree to talk to me periodically and in your own time and then see her again in about three weeks for a follow up."
Sheppard grinned and slapped McKay on the back, almost knocking him out of his chair. "You're a genius, McKay!"
After McKay had righted himself, he frowned at Sheppard. "Hello, you're just now figuring this out? Where have you been the last two years?"
"Oh, here and there. I just don't like to tell you too often so you don't get the big head."
"Too late for that, as if you hadn't noticed. Now that I've saved the day once again, how about telling me how you talk to Atlantis."
Sheppard squinted his eyes and looked across the room, as if deep in thought. "I have no idea how to explain it. I can feel the connection, I can feel the city sometimes. It's like a presence, but one you can't see, you just feel. She tells me stuff, but not with words. I just . . . kind of suddenly know things." Sheppard shook his head.
"When she led you to the crystals, was there a . . . body or form that was with you?"
"No, nothing like that. I could feel her guiding me, leading me, but I didn't actually see a person or anything. It was all up here," he said, pointing to his head.
"In more ways than one," said McKay sarcastically. They ate in silence for several seconds.
"By the way, thanks, Rodney."
McKay's expression softened. "What are friends for?" His eyes lit up at the sight of Sheppard's chocolate cream pie. "Hey, are you going to eat that?"