A huge thank you to everyone who's read this, and especially to those who've left comments and reviews. I hope you enjoy these final sections.
"That was a test?" McKay sputtered in amazement. He turned toward the iris, which snapped closed behind them.
"I'm not sure of what," Teyla added, guiding Sheppard toward where Weir was standing near the waiting medical team.
"Yeah," Rodney replied. "Maybe Elizabeth can figure that one out, because…"
Ford's attention was on Sheppard, and Teyla's hasty explanation of what was wrong, so he only caught the end of what McKay said next.
"…power source. Must be malfunctioning. If we could get back there –"
Sure that McKay was referring to the readings taken earlier, and sure that he didn't care, he cut McKay off. "They tried to kill Sheppard."
"Not really, no," McKay replied. Then, at Ford's sharp look, he winced. "Well, yes," he said, hands flying, sculpting the words as he spoke. "But not deliberately. I suspect they've never had anyone actually die off that particular cliff." He frowned slightly. "I'm not even sure any of that actually happened."
Ford looked over at Sheppard, who was letting himself be lead away. Nothing on Earth or Atlantis could get him to go back to that fucked-up place. "They drugged him, maybe all of us," he said.
"Sure, there is that."
"They drugged us," Ford said, more vehemently, eyes drilling into McKay. "I'm not even sure if what I saw was real, or –"
"Right, right," McKay shot in. "Maybe it was all imagination, anyway."
"Imagination?" Ford spat. "Drug induced visions, maybe. Or some sort of mass hallucination, but imagination?" he asked, twisting that last word in pointed amazement.
Another voice interrupted. "I don't think so, Rodney."
Ford turned to see Weir there, beside Teyla. He wasn't sure how long she'd been there, or how much she'd heard.
"But –" McKay tried to cut in.
"No," Weir said firmly. She stood straighter and gave each of them a firm look. "Infirmary. Now, people. We can talk about this later."
Knowing she was right, Ford nodded sharply and headed out.
Ford strode through the infirmary, then poked his head through the privacy curtain that had been drawn around one of the beds, only to be pinned in place by a set of sharp hazel eyes.
"Major," he said in shock. "You're up." He was surprised to find Sheppard awake and looking pretty alert, all things considered. If he ignored the IV line and the fact that the man was sitting in a hospital bed while dressed in scrubs, Sheppard actually looked pretty normal. You'd never know that he'd been drugged, had maybe jumped off a cliff, maybe died and come back to life (or maybe not), and had been pretty much out-of-it in the infirmary for three days.
"Apparently so," Sheppard said, a wry glint in his eye.
"I was just checking up on you," Ford said awkwardly. He had been, at least twice a day, as if checking that, although his own senses and perceptions had come into doubt down on that planet, at least this was real. Sheppard was here, and alive, and that was real. But now that the major was awake, he felt like an idiot.
Sheppard's smile softened. "I could use the company." He waved Ford in and toward the chair at his bedside. As Ford settled into the chair, Sheppard asked, "So how's the team?"
"Good," Ford said, and he meant it. He hesitated. "What do you remember?" he finally asked.
"A party. Pretty boys and girls." Sheppard rubbed a hand across his eyes. "Things get fuzzy after that. Heard we'd been drugged, maybe."
"Maybe," Ford replied as the image of Sheppard stepping off the cliff flashed before him.
Just as well Sheppard couldn't remember.
"Strange dreams," Sheppard added vaguely.
Ford worried the fabric of his jacket with his hand. He could still feel the roughness of Sheppard's shirt against his fingers from when he'd tried to grab him. And strange dreams, yeah, that wasn't the half of it. That night in the infirmary had been weird and full of dreams. They'd all been kept overnight, and it had taken them a good few hours to get to the point where the drugs or whatever were no longer affecting them, which was odd, because their tox screens had come back clean. Technically, best Carson could tell, they hadn't actually been drugged. Still, Weir had placed that 'gate address off-limits.
That night in the infirmary had been weird and full of dreams, that was for sure. Most of them, for Ford, were still just as vivid as his memories of seeing Sheppard step off that cliff, his memories of the helplessness and failure he'd felt as he'd looked over the edge.
If Sheppard didn't remember, it was just as well. Teyla could tell him. She was good at that stuff.
He'd rather not remember it himself.
"We're good," Ford said, standing quickly. Sheppard frowned, obviously surprised at how Ford was acting, but Ford couldn't help it. He needed out of there.
"Lieutenant," Sheppard said, just as Ford stepped to the curtain.
Ford turned back slowly. Sheppard met his eye in an obvious invitation to talk.
He hesitated there for a moment. Sheppard might be willing to listen, but Ford wasn't quite ready to talk. Not yet. And maybe never to Sheppard. Man was his superior. Bad idea to talk about stuff like that with your boss. Better to talk to someone else, someone who wasn't in the chain of command. Someone who'd probably been through this sort of stuff before.
"Glad to see you awake, sir," Ford said firmly, snapping off a quick salute as he turned and left.
Across the infirmary and out, Ford headed for the gym. He was way too keyed up. He needed something, a release, a way to forget for a few minutes. Get away from himself. Gym would be perfect or no, better, maybe Teyla would be willing to spar.
He stopped in his tracks. Teyla. He wasn't ready to talk right now, but when the time came, if he still wanted to: Teyla.
He turned and headed for her quarters. For now, sparring.
Sheppard was okay. That was all that mattered. He could deal with the rest of this later.