John was slurping down as much Jello as the nurses would bring him when Elizabeth, closely followed by the rest of his team came chatting and clattering into his wing of the infirmary. Grimacing from the twinges through his still-tender middle as he tried to push himself even more upright, he at last managed a welcoming grin in their direction. As pleased as he always was to see his friends, he'd been dreading this debriefing since he regained consciousness three days ago. The memories and wounds, every pun intended, were still too fresh, too raw.

"They letting you eat yet?" Ronon chuckled as John couldn't resist one more bite of the Jello before pushing his tray away from him. Elizabeth snatched it off his bed and set it neatly on the bedside table.

"Not real food, no." John couldn't keep the slight growl of protest out of his voice, and Ronon laughed again. They had all been catching up on meals, but John's restriction to bland and liquid foods, due to the fact that there were more stitches in his belly than an appliqué quilt, left him feeling constantly hungry.

The rest were eagerly pulling up chairs around the bed and beginning to look excitedly curious. Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney had made their reports to Elizabeth, but, due to John's tendency to nod off during even the shortest of conversations over the last several days, none of them had yet heard his full account. The time during his quasi-ascension was of particular curiosity to McKay, John could tell.

While Teyla and Elizabeth chatted amiably, waiting for everyone to be settled, John couldn't help but feel himself growing more anxious. He'd mentally prepared his report, but usually preferred to write them in privacy. It tended to give him more time to process the experience, and allowed him to take a break for a while if the memories got too close. With a sigh, he realized that maybe he should just look forward to getting it over with, so he could move on to busting out of this place and back to his life.


As John began the formal debriefing, with Elizabeth as primary audience, he idly wondered to himself if the experience had made him more, or less, afraid of the eventual, hopefully distant, end of his life. He just didn't know, yet. He wouldn't really know until he stepped through the 'gate and faced the dangers of his chosen profession again. He'd known pilots, friends, who'd claimed near-death experiences. One guy had gotten so shaken up, he'd retired and was off somewhere writing some pretty good novels. Another, closer friend, grew so fatalistically jaded that he became reckless. Being already rather reckless himself, John had spent some wildly exciting time with the guy – until he'd accidentally planted his Pavehawk into the side of a mountain, killing himself and his co-pilot.

John's hands began to shake, just a bit, as the debriefing went on and Elizabeth questioned him about the moment he'd realized they weren't time-looping. Ever sensitive, she subtly changed her line of questioning, then took a slight break to pour him a cup of water and herself a cup of coffee from the nurses station. When she returned, he'd regained his composure and forced the image of the bloody DHD out of his mind, for the moment.

"What made you think trying to ascend was the best way to get out of there?" Elizabeth asked, returning to the debriefing. John thought he might have heard just a bit of an accusatory bite in her voice, so he answered as confidently as he could muster.

"We were completely at Siren's mercy, of which she had none. She wasn't allowed to interfere with the Stargate, but she had a hell of a lot of ways to keep us from getting to it -- Up to and including killing all of us off, one by one. She did that once. I couldn't let it happen again," his eyes were locked on Teyla as he spoke the last. Finally he looked down at his own hands. "The only way to stop her was to fight her in her own plane. Otherwise she could have just patched us up, and started over as often as she liked."

Elizabeth just shook her head, resigned to his logic, but looking horrified at the dilemma. John took another sip of his water. Suddenly intent, Elizabeth searched John's face. "Why would…Siren you called her?… do that? Why did she kill you and heal you over and over? What possible purpose could that serve?"

John squirmed, extremely uncomfortable. "She enjoyed it. She got some perverse pleasure out of feeling mortals suffer excruciating pain. I think she even drew power or strength from it somehow."

"What IS it with you and ascended women?" Rodney butted in, with exasperated wonder, "not that I'm complaining that this one didn't single me out for affection this time…"

"She's an Ori!" John snapped, as if that made everything completely different. There was sudden, surprised silence in the room.

"John, are you certain?" Elizabeth's voice was sharp and tense.

He nodded slowly. "She was bound to her planet, imprisoned there I guess you could say. Probably by the ascended Ancients in this galaxy who didn't like her preferred form of…entertainment. When I was there, with her, she was quite clear she had no love for the Ancients."

McKay was tapping his chin thoughtfully, "We do know that the Ori derive power from worshippers. Wouldn't be a big step to assume they could also gain power from other strong emotions."

"And you fought her off!" Elizabeth was clearly trying to look for the positive, even though she was shaking her head at the shock of it all.

"Hardly," John chuckled ironically. "I was no match for her. Especially since I wasn't fully ascended. I had too many ties to my…life, I guess… to actually fight her." He paused, remembering the threads. Shaking off the memory, he went on with a wry smirk. "But I was far enough along to piss her off."

Ronon rumbled in appreciation. "You distracted her. You got her attention away from us at the DHD."

"Yeah," John sighed, sagging into his pillows. His thigh was throbbing and his guts were aching from sitting upright so long. He was nearing even his threshold for tolerating the pain of healing, and he just wanted to gulp down the pretty pink pill sitting on his bedside table and pass out for a few more hours. He continued in a forced murmur, "Siren was insane. When she lost her temper, she lost her control. Once I figured that out, I just pushed her buttons a little and let her pound on me. Once the 'gate was open, she intended to stop you, but I was able to shield you long enough to get through." John looked long and hard at Ronon.

"If you hadn't taken my body with you, she would have killed me for good, even had I been completely ascended."

Ronon nodded, accepting the gratitude. John rolled his head to Teyla. "And thank you for keeping me alive. Siren meant the wound to be slow death. She intended me to die. If you hadn't kept me going, I wouldn't have had a body to return to." This time the shudder reached his shoulders and he averted his eyes, embarrassed.

He felt Teyla's soft hand on his foot. "I only wish we could have done more, sooner."

John shook his head, shrugging off the implied apology. He wouldn't be here without them. He'd borne the brunt of the abuse, but without Teyla's first aid that sustained him, Ronon's quickness and strength that had taken advantage of what little help he'd been able to provide, and Rodney's quirky flashes of insight and memory that had led him to understand what needed to be done, none of them would have made it alive off that damnable planet.

Elizabeth quietly concluded the session, recognizing that John had reached his limits for the moment. She gave his hand a friendly squeeze and walked away briskly, offering a last encouraging wave as she turned into the hall. Teyla and Ronon also patted their farewells, and sauntered away together, quietly chatting.

John relaxed into his bed and pressed his palms into his eyes, scrubbing away the tension and fully intending to sleep. When he dropped his hands and lifted his head to look for the nearby pills, he raised an eyebrow at McKay who still sat stiffly in his chair, bouncing his foot agitatedly and tapping his thumbs together. If John didn't know better, he would have said McKay looked…hesitant to speak what was on his mind.

"What is it Rodney?" John prompted, eager to get to the point and send him on his way.

"I just um, wondered. Well, you know. What was it like?"

"Being ascended you mean?" Rodney nodded.

John narrowed his eyes and thought for a long time on how to answer. Finally, smirking smugly, he said, "McKay, you would have loved it!" While Rodney processed the full implication of the insult, John quickly snatched for his pill, gulped down a swallow of water…and fell instantly asleep.

Author's Note: Thank you all for the comments and reviews! While this story is definitely much darker and more angsty (not to mention violent) than my usual fare, (I blame those 100 pages of a Dean Koontz novel I shouldn't have read...) I do believe I have actually written my first Mary Sue story! Yes, I admit that I am, in fact, Siren. The idea hit me as I was writing up the very first scene, simply for the pleasure of whumping John Sheppard. It occured to me that I am John's worst enemy, poor baby. What I put him through! So, Siren came to be...with a little poetic liscense and a streak of badass that I could only dream of ever achieving, hee hee. Thanks again...