A/N: This is the first fic I wrote, written for the Sheppard H/C Livejournal Community challenge #2: Sensory Deprivation.

Adrift

He lay adrift in a sea of darkness. He heard nothing. He felt nothing. He remembered nothing of existence before this very moment. He lay content, a tiny spark of a soul; peaceful and silent, individual yet inextricably joined with the eternal infinite universe. He considered nothing more – and nothing less – than "I am." Imperceptibly, that small iota of awareness expanded. "I am John." He contemplated this for an indeterminable amount of eternity; his awareness had not expanded to include time as yet. For now, the revelation that he was, and that he was John, was fully occupying his conscious awareness. It was a dichotomy that surged through the very fibre of his being; this concept was so simple- and at the same time so complex.

Time passed.

Not only did time pass, but he became aware of its passing. He marvelled that upon noticing the passing of time, it became more fragmented. He had been drifting in an endless now, afloat in a current of continuity. With his revelation of the passage of time however, that stream became fractured into categories of then and now and, more pressing, how long.

"How long have I been unconscious?" he asked himself. This question remained, much to his chagrin, unanswered; instead it triggered a flood of questions as his awareness expanded exponentially. "I am" expanded into "Where am I?" which in turn expanded into "Why am I here?" The rush of expanding consciousness was attended by the rush of returning memories as his mind expanded to fit in the life experiences and lessons, both wonderful and painful, that completed his journey from "I am" to "I am John Sheppard. This is who I am!" John had only a brief moment to feel relief at his homecoming, before the forefront of his awareness, the part that he had spent most of his life training, and the latter half of his life shaping through battle, the part that was Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, demanded that he put aside the wonder of discovery and the awe of affirmation of survival to discover exactly how and why he was in this predicament, and if possible try to determine his surroundings and make a threat assessment.

Shedding his philosophical self with the wry thought that he must be out of it if he was waxing philosophical, he tenuously extended his senses. Thus far, he had not noticed the lack of sensory input- but, with the return of the soldier within him, he became alarmed at its absence. He ignored the temptation to panic, years of training making that temptation fleeting, and sharply ordered his mind to provide the input he deemed the most essential – "What happened?" He stretched out with his senses.

His nervous system came back on line as lightning bolts of pure agony lit up his synapses in quick succession. His skin crawled and burned and froze as needlepoints of fire stabbed into it and through it and seared his flesh. His awareness shrunk back in upon itself once more, and John was reduced to comprehending nothing but a single thought. "I hurt!"

Eyesight returned, but remained useless as blackness was replaced by a blinding explosion of colour; white, orange, crimson, yellow- the colours of fire but shot through with flashes of blackness that pulsed in synchronicity with the waves of pain coursing through his body. His vision seemed to have reversed itself from its natural order, and turned inward as the violent, exploding colours violated his mind.

His hearing was back online too, he noted grimly, as a low-pitched, rushing, roaring noise penetrated his skull and resounded through his brain. It was several moments before he realised that the guttural, rending noise was his own voice screaming as his body convulsed. John gritted his teeth so hard he felt the tannic, salty, bitter taste of blood as he bit his tongue in an attempt to halt the screams igniting in his sternum, exploding up from his larynx and tearing out of his throat with alarming viciousness. When the screaming finally stopped, another sound intruded upon his assaulted mind. Someone was whispering his name. No, not someone, there was more than one voice. And the whispers were swelling in volume, until a wave of sound crested and broke over him.

He focused on the voices, fighting one of the hardest battles he could remember ever waging, using the voices as a focus to draw his mind and sensory awareness away from the pain. Time had again lost meaning as he hung suspended in that eternal current, feeling only the present, struggling to divorce himself from the pain and pull his consciousness towards those voices that were calling him, beckoning him toward the reality he longed to return to. He fought relentlessly, doggedly, and slowly, grudgingly, the pain ebbed and the voices became identifiable. He refined his goal and focused his awareness on separating the voices. He nearly lost it again as the pain made a sudden resurgence. He screamed and tried to curl into a ball as the convulsions ripped through his body again. Through the agony, he noted that it wasn't as bad as it had been previously, and he defiantly tore his mind away from the pain and returned to the voices.

The gentle one, stern but softer than the others, that was Teyla. Concern and fear evident in the rich timbre that wasn't normally present in her voice. It sounded thicker than normal, velvet and honey, and if he was in more of a state to appreciate such things, he would have found it attractive. The pain ebbed again, and he found he could identify the low rumble that felt as though it came through the floor and up through his body like the bass at a nightclub. He welcomed it- any sensation that was not rippling agony was a godsend. He felt the baritone rumble again, and realised that his synapses weren't totally fried from the pain. Realisation bought with it the warm, comforting feeling of Ronon's chest and arms supporting him as his body quaked uncontrollably.

He felt the pain continue to fade and renewed his attack, determined to regain control of his senses, and focusing intently on the last voice. It was the low pitch of a male and under normal circumstances would have been pleasant, if not melodious, but at present it was strident and filled with emotion- fear and concern were evident along with barely contained panic. A heavier timbre added weight to the strident pitch, filled with emotions John couldn't identify as readily. Was it anger? Guilt? Something close- but that train of thought was derailed as he identified the last voice as belonging to Rodney.

At last the blinding colours stopped assaulting his eyes and his vision slowly returned. As time passed he could make out his three team-mates gathered around him, Ronon's face swimming into focus first, directly above John's. John could still feel the warmth and strength flow through his back as the Runner supported him, leaning over the top of John's head to monitor his condition. The Satedan pulled back into a more comfortable position as he saw John's gaze come into focus and felt the tremors in his CO's body continued to lessen. As he drew back, John could see past him to Teyla, who was just off to the side of him. She stretched forth a hand and placed it on his forehead, a slight frown marring her own, and John marvelled that her hands could be so strong and lethal, and yet so calming and gentle. His vision cleared fully and he narrowed his gaze at the figure that was hovering nervously around the edge of the small group.

Rodney must have realised he was the object of John's scrutiny, as he seemed to shrink into himself, his shoulders hunched and his back rounded, although his head was tilted forward pugnaciously. One hand hung at his side, as his fingers nervously clenched and unclenched in the fabric of his BDUs. The other arm was held warily in front of him and slightly off to the side, an alien weapon clasped loosely in his hand. If John wasn't still in pain, he would have laughed at the expression on Rodney's face. He looked thoroughly miserable. That didn't stop John from giving him a hard time.

"Rodney." he drawled. He ground the name out through his back teeth and it came out long and dark and dangerous. The effect it had on McKay was startling and immediate. The scientist gave a full body shudder- jerked his shoulders back, and waved his arms about as he stammered out a litany of excuses that John would once have considered offensive, but he knew Rodney well enough by now to recognise it as the prelude to an apology. The man's ego didn't allow him to say it straight up. John interrupted the verbal onslaught.

"You shot me." Again, low and deep and drawn out, although John was honest enough to admit to himself that the deep, gravely tone to his voice was largely due to the fact that he had screamed himself hoarse not five minutes ago.

Rodney's diatribe petered out and he stuttered to a halt, drew in a deep breath, and said "I'm sorry" in a small voice laden with sincerity and guilt.

John drew in a deep breath of his own, and exhaled the last of his pain with his anger. He'd come to expect a lot from Rodney since they first came to Atlantis- but weapons proficiency was not one of them. He'd certainly improved though, credit where credit is due. Still, John was glad he had Teyla and Ronon on his team, in case he was ever incapacitated. He'd learnt after the Super Wraith fiasco to never, ever, let the geeks outnumber the soldiers. One of the very few times he'd failed to adhere to this philosophy was Duranda. John shuddered involuntarily. No. Never, EVER, let the geeks outnumber the military. And in a city full of geeks, that was a challenge. John had to concede that he would never voluntarily replace Rodney as a member of his team. The man was invaluable. But John was tired and sore and the man had just shot him, so at the moment John was disinclined to view the scientist's contributions favourably.

"What happened?" he asked McKay wearily, although his memory was busy filling in the gaps now that he wasn't contorting in agony. Ronon chuckled.

"He just shot you." It was such a rare occurrence that it took John a moment to recognise it as humour. He turned his head to glare at the Satedan, but found himself staring into a pair of dark eyes that glistened with humour and barely contained excitement. That was something John could understand. He shared a quick grin with the Runner (making sure that Rodney didn't see it; he wasn't ready to let McKay off the hook just yet). He knew instinctively what Ronon was thinking- because he was thinking the same thing himself. Once the pain had worn off, he found himself struggling to contain the same excitement emanating from Ronon. Rodney glanced at Teyla and rolled his eyes as John voiced what the two warriors were both thinking.

"That is a seriously COOL gun!"