The oncoming tractor trailer's horn blares in the night as it bears down upon the man and the boy in the middle of the road, but Lt. Colonel John Sheppard's body stubbornly refuses to respond. It is not fear that paralyzes him so, even as his eyes go wide. No. It is the lingering daze of having tumbled to the ground into oncoming traffic, along with the shock and searing agony in the right side of his chest from the smaller sedan hitting him and rolling over the roof back to the solid pavement of the road. His body betrays him, and John curses his recalcitrant muscles and joints even now in the privacy of his mind with every single colorful profanity his time in the service has taught him.

The truck is upon them, the wide grill bearing down with terrible intent as tires squeal and drown out the shrieks of both the onlookers who have finally taken notice and from the boy still gripping and jerking at John's arm. It is enough of a sound to jerk his mind back to the horrible reality of the situation, enough to force the colonel to act. His hand shoots out, sending white hot spikes of pain through his body, snatching the boy and shoving him hard to the side, back towards the safety of the sidewalk.

John tenses and braces for the bone crushing impact he knows is coming, at peace with it now that he knows the boy - whoever it was - is safe, but, then, a horrible thing happens, worse than anything else. The brakes on the truck lock. The cab jerks awkwardly as tires cling to the road with a kick of smoke before skidding out. The trailer jackknifes, swinging around languidly towards John. Only milliseconds perhaps have passed since the boy came out to the street, but, now, to the desperately injured man, it seems like ages have passed. Everything moves slowly as though through a thick, viscous sludge. All this time, and he can't even get his damned legs to cooperate enough to just throw himself just a few feet to the left and to safety.

The grill is so close now that John can see himself reflected in the chrome. The horn reverberates in the colonel's chest, rattling against his damaged ribs and sinking into every bit of him. It's a horrible thing, a sickening feeling, but John doesn't care so long as the samaritan boy is alright. He turns to the side, hoping to see the whelp scrambling back onto the sidewalk. Blood burns in his face and ears as a rush of air strikes his face like a bow wave.

The last thing John sees, however, is not the truck before it strikes him and drags his limp, unconscious form nearly fifty feet down the road and deposit his broken, misshapen body before a crowd of horrified diners at a restaurant terrace who had previously been enjoying their overpriced gourmet meals. That last, split second image hits him harder than the initial blow from the steel bumper that fractures his skull upon impact and steals the world away. It crushes his heart with more force than the massive tires that nearly rip away his left arm and the monstrous weight that destroys much of his ribcage and shatters his pelvis in one, swift motion. It burns his soul worse than the gripping asphalt that tears apart his clothes and leaves black trails down his exposed flesh, worse than the engine that sears his cheek and forehead with a sizzle and the stomach churning stench of burnt flesh.

The last thing John Sheppard sees before impact is the boy disappearing under the huge, black tires of the trailer as it swings around.

John awakes, shrieking into an engulfing, inky-black void. He twists and jerks, trying to force himself into the motion his body refused on that eventful night, but, once more, John finds he cannot bolt as he so badly wants. His wrists and ankles burn where something scratchy and wool rubs with the friction of his motion. He is restrained once more, but John's mind does not acknowledge this. It only recognizes the fact that, once more, he cannot move, cannot run, cannot fight. John is trapped, his mind reeling for an explanation.

Before the man can find one, the door swings open and swarm of burly men in white rush into the room. Cold and sterile seeming fluorescent light pours in behind them, stinging John's eyes. He pulls against the restraints, clawing at the mattress and sheets beneath him, trying to get away, but they are too fast. They press down with strong hands upon his fragile shoulders where the bones point out too sharply now. They hold him down, each spewing a litany of reassurances in soft murmurs.

"It's alright, John."

"You're safe, John."

"Just a nightmare. It's okay, now."

"You're at the Institute."

John rears back against them, bucking as wildly as his body will allow, but, within minutes, what energy the man had is sapped by the struggle. John had stopped eating altogether voluntarily after those two months of hell had started. He had been hoping vainly that starving himself would at least force the administration to transfer him away to a medical facility. That was over nine months ago, and, now, he has a tube permanently threaded up and nose and to his stomach which they resort to force feeding him through every day. The prior starvation and currently poor health leaves John weary and weak after even the slightest exertion. His screams quickly give way to draining sobs.

The doctor is there. He is an old man with grey hair and a pinched, sour looking face. He calls some orders to the men in white, but the words do not penetrate John's mind. All that does is the sudden prick at the man's arm and the rush of cool liquid. Then, there is blissful nothingness and the sweet dreams of the Atlantis they tell him is purely a fabrication. John doesn't care. His dreams of Atlantis and the Stargate are better than the real world with its cold, unfeeling doctors, uncomfortable beds, endless streams of medications, hard restraints, and tiring, pointless group sessions.

John drifts away, hoping distantly to never wake up so he can live in his dreams forever instead of languishing and suffering in this reality.




A note is added to John's chart.

01:54 AM- Patient wakes from nightmare agitated, panicking. Unable to calm patient. Administered prescribed dose of clonazepam. Patient calms and sleeps.

It is merely another succinct and dispassionate notation among the vast list that detail each and every of the thirty minute checks that make up John Sheppard's suicide watch. The doctors will survey it in the morning and contemplate adjusting medications or adding new drugs. John, meanwhile, will sleep without dreaming.

Ronon Dex, the orderly logging the notation, initials the observation, giving the deeply unconscious John a cursory glance before continuing on his rounds. He will be back at precisely 2:24 AM to make yet another check, although the man doubts John will be awake granted the size of the doses the doctors have prescribed to keep him sedate and manageable. Dex will be back, but that doesn't mean he will enjoy it. The orderly eases the door shut on John; there are other patients to check in on now.




The Somerisle Institute looks beautiful and downright inviting from the outside, and with good reason. The Marvanian nuns have taken excellent care of the grounds for centuries, maintaining the well manicured gardens, walks, and flower beds in between their prayer services. They are a quiet order, dedicated to both their vows and their mission, constantly balancing their devotion to God through their regular vigils and their promise to the patients housed within the hospital's walls. In the midday, a wary eye can always spy one or more of the sisters in their chores, either sweeping the pavers leading up to the stairs, or in the kitchens, preparing simple meals for the patients. The Marvanians form an order of constant charity to the poor souls in their care.

Yet the Somerisle Institute is not a religious convent. It is a tall, elegant building of the old style, Victorian in a way, brick with exquisite white trim and curled, gingerbread scrollwork at each of the eight gabled peaks. Once, in a distant life, The Somerisle Institute had been a sprawling mansion build brick for brick by a once humble student turned millionaire by the sordid affairs of the newspaper empire he crafted in what is an entirely different story from this. That particular man is long dead, with no family to speak of, and left his monstrously castle-like mansion set on high cliffs atop a shimmering sea to the then burgeoning order of the Marvanians over a hundred years ago. When the Marvanian order's popularity waned, along with the popularity of most monasteries, the Marvanians offered the mansion to the people by converting many of the buildings from the original estate into a vast, state of the art hospital for the time period, clinics, a homeless shelter, and the Somerisle Institute that now occupied what had been the "mother's home." The sisters, meanwhile, lived their lives in the far servants housing in what seemed a small, quaint cottage compared to the other edifices, while a portrait of the original Marvanian, Sister Agnes Marva, hangs in the foyer.

The Somerisle Institute's exterior is merely a dazzling veneer to conceal the inside. Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay recognizes this the moment he enters the institute and sets foot on green linoleum tiles that had faded to a sickly shade somewhere in between lime and mint. The air instantly stings his nostrils with an acrid, antiseptic stench of bleach, ammonia, and disinfectant. Dingy patches mar the walls here and there, giving the impression of an age to the building not apparent to the outside world. The foyer may seem impressive with oak trim and a carved staircase, but the retrofitted desk, metal doors, and surveillance cameras obscure any history there. It is an awful juxtaposition of the original architecture and modern necessity for the patients housed inside. He can hear them, even now, at the head of the house and standing before the dour, condescendingly pious face of Sister Agnes Marva.

The Marvanian at his side in her pressed white habit says nothing, as though quite accustomed to the scent and vague impression of loneliness and sorrow, and rightfully so. The Marvanians have lived side by side with the Institute and among its patients for years, while this is Dr. McKay's first visit to the place. He fidgets nervously while the nun glides at his side with a solemn grace.

The sister with her caramel skin assists getting McKay an identification badge to clip to his white coat along with the name "DR. MEREDITH" printed in large, friendly rounded letters with china marker to attach to a blank name tag that, curiously, is held to his coat not by a pin but by a pair of magnets clamping through the fabric. When he cringes at the sight of his first name and inquires with the pale Marvanian behind the desk, she explains that the sisters believe that the patients should know their doctors. McKay presses, curious about the seemingly disposable nature of the items, and the nun replies that interns like he do not tend to last long in Somerisle and politely reminds him that, should he leave, she would greatly appreciate having both the badge and the name tag back for recycling. He signs his name upon the tidy ledger with his blue, enamel pen, feeling somewhat as though he's signing his life away to the Institute.

The richly colored Marvanian with her honey smooth but small voice beckons him to her side as she sidles about him to a sturdy metal gate guarded by an imposing orderly. "This way, doctor."

McKay eyes the orderly for a moment. All muscle. A solid wall of it topped by an unfeeling, unkind face. At first, it disturbs McKay immensely to see those massive, knotted arms folded across the orderly's barrel chest, but, then, he recalls the nature of the patients housed within the walls of the Somerisle Institute.

The nun bows her head to the orderly and leads McKay deep into the Institute were any pretense of the original mansion instantly melts away. The walls are all white-washed with a paint that glistens in the sun with a smooth sheen, obviously for ease of cleaning. However, it is still tarnished by the remnants of old stains the doctor cared not to identify. Hefty iron bars line each window, along with metal gratings, meant to allow light through but cage the patients housed therein for their own well being. Eyelet curtains in a dowdy white hang at each window, period to the construction of the Institute, but even the pristine white does not hide the bars. The wide corridors that were once lined with grand halls and libraries are flanked by bolted, steel doors with safety-glass windows, each bearing stenciled lettering describing wings, laboratories, offices, and other places. Some are merely labeled with bold, blocky numbers, indicating patient quarters. They even pass a few patients in the hall, men shuffling about in their green scrubs, their heads down. There is no question upon entering the main portion of the Somerisle Institute that this is a psychiatric hospital.

Down and through a dizzying around of twists and turns that would leave any other person utterly confused, the Marvanian leads McKay, until they come to a maximum security area. Bars, gates, police officers and bulky orderlies block their way into the next section of the Institute and for good reason. Beyond the gates resides the most unstable and unpredictable patients. They slip through a series of security checkpoints scanning them for weapons and foreign objects that might be used as a weapon. McKay reluctantly relinquishes his enamel pen and watch while the Marvanian removes the prayer beads that hang upon her waist. The offending items are placed in little trays and hidden in a cubby under the security desk stationed behind solid, bulletproof glass windows for safe keeping.

Only then does the Marvanian escort McKay any further. The doctor is running late and knows it, even deprived of his watch. Fortunately, the sister seems to notice this, ferrying him swiftly through the labyrinth to the intern offices. There, several other interns and the chief psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Allen, are waiting impatiently, replete with tapping foot and exaggerated eye roll at the wall clock, for the last of his wayward students. The grizzled, elderly fellow shoots a sarcastic and snide glare at McKay in a manner that says that Dr. Allen does not excuse tardiness.

The sister smiles apologetically to the grayed haired doctor for McKay's benefit, smoothing her habit and imploring, "Forgive me, Dr. Allen, but Dr. McKay's poor timing is entirely my fault." She places a hand to her heart and bows her head before going on, "He had several questions about the Order and the Institute which I felt my privilege to answer."

McKay doesn't say a word, nor does he flinch. He has heard all about Dr. Allen's reputation as a stern, curt, and occasionally downright rude individual. The Marvanian is lying through her teeth, saving face for him as opposed to herself. The corner of the Allen's mouth curves in the subtle implication that he is infinitely more patient and forgiving when it comes to the nuns who serve so faithfully and obediently within the walls of the Institute. After all, it is the nuns who have so unselfishly devoted their lives to their vows of poverty and charity to the unfortunate souls in the Institute.

Dr. Allen nods. "Of course, Sister." He shoots McKay an accusing gaze. "I trust you will not keep the sisters from their duties any longer."

"Oh... of course not," McKay responds instinctively, wringing his hands nervously.

"Now, if it is alright with you, I'd like to begin rounds."

The sister bows her head ever so slightly to excuse herself as Dr. Allen begins. He carefully explains the rules of the internship, along with the protocol for dealing with the patients. Then, rounds begin. Dr. Allen leads them to the "morning room" where he stops with each of the patients for a moment as the interns in their white coats circle at his heels like lost little ducklings on an unfamiliar pond. At each of the residents of the Institute, Allen quickly summarizes the mental illness that they suffer, as well as basic details of how they came to be a part of the Institute. The interns take careful mental notes, as pens and pencils are not allowed on this wing except behind locked office doors.

All but McKay hang on Dr. Allen's every word. McKay drifts through the endless, monotonous droning of the rounds with a lonely, hanging feeling gnawing at his heart, a strange emptiness and longing he cannot explain fully. McKay stares beyond the old Dr. Allen to the patients about them, his heart wrenching for them. They are all male, varying in age, body type, and behavior patterns. They each bear a hollow, vacant expression, as though too drugged to feel anything anymore. Some speak spewing either pointless banter or nonsensical jibberish, others mumble in hushed, fearful tones too low to be understood. Most, however, are silent and still. They look painfully sad somehow. They are all fettered by leather restraints lined with soft wool that wrap about their wrists and secure with locks to a belt about their stomach, keeping their hands at either side. They sit in uncomfortable looking chairs, some with straps belting over and under their shoulders in a crisscross over their chests, the leather running through slots in the back of the chairs to buckle in the back, strapping them down. They are as much prisoners as they are patients in this dour room, with sunny but caged windows overlooking the ocean. They all bear a defeated look as Dr. Allen speaks over them, calling them each by first name alone, as though last names do not exist in the walls of the Institute and as though they are all children and not grown men.

All but one have been positioned in a semi circle facing a television bolted on an extremely high shelf that plays some cuddly cartoon animal show, while the last faces out the windows to the vast, shimmering sea. McKay furrows his brow, ignoring Dr. Allen's feigned friendly and infantile banter with one of the other patients. The high backed chair faces away from him, letting its occupant bath in radiant, golden sunlight. Even from this distance, McKay spies the straps running from the front of the chair to the back, locked in place and holding the patient down, as well as the tuft of mussy, gravity defying dark hair sticking up over the back. An IV pole stands beside the unseen man, a thick, cream colored sludge snaking down from the hanging bag down and to the other side of the chair. The sister who had accompanied McKay through the Institute sits beside whoever it is, speaking softly to him, her dark chocolate eyes occasionally darting almost suspiciously in McKay's general direction, sending shivers down his spine.

He doesn't realize that Dr. Allen's rounds are coming to an end until the older psychiatrist claps his hands together and announces, "Well, that's everybody you'll be spending your time with in group." McKay interrupts with a hesitantly held up hand, and Dr. Allen sighs. "Yes?"

"What about him?"

The older doctor glances to where McKay points, to the lone chair facing away from everything and shakes his head. "Him? That's John." It is perhaps the most noncommittal answer McKay has heard in his life, quickly followed by Allen adding even more vaguely, "John doesn't do group." Allen turns his attention back to the other interns. "Now, why doesn't-"

"Can I meet him?" McKay cuts in once more, clearly irritating his supervisor.

Dr. Allen stuffs his hands into his lab coat with a frown. "Now, why doesn't everyone settle in with a few of the patients and get to know the lay of the land." The interns nod enthusiastically, but, as McKay takes a step towards the lone man, Dr. Allen clears his throat forcibly. "Dr. McKay, a word?"

"Of course."

The elder man puts his arm around McKay, guiding him back and across the daisy yellow and black checkered floor of the morning room while the other interns all swoop towards the other patients. "John is a special case among special cases. He's our little celebrity around here. The news from his trial and his previous records certainly don't help." Dr. Allen sounds uneasy at the statement and perhaps a bit remorseful. "See, every time a batch of you interns comes around, one of you always seems have to this grand idea that you're going to figure him out."

"And maybe I will," McKay pipes up to his own defense.

Dr. Allen chortles. "You all say that." The gray haired man sucks the inside of his cheek with a contemplative hiss. "John has experienced something extremely traumatic, both physically and mentally. It has left him aggressive and delusional. He has constructed an extremely elaborate fantasy in which he plays the archetypal male hero."

"How so?" Rodney presses curiously, leaning in to hear more.

The psychiatrist shrugs in a way that speaks volumes while simultaneously avoiding and concealing before answering, "He believes himself to be the military commander of an expedition to a far galaxy through a device he calls a 'Stargate.' Even claims that an art deco sculpture at the sight of the accident is this device." Dr. Allen shakes his head solemnly. "It's sad, really, but John refuses to acknowledge reality, preferring to hide behind the fantasy to avoid his feelings of guilt associated with the occurrence."

Dr. Allen trails off, indicating that the issue is to be dropped, but McKay snaps to attention, "I want to work with him."

"John doesn't work with anyone," Dr. Allen replies, looking down at the tile. "He has shown a distinct paranoia to people in our profession since his initial hospitalization. There was an... unpleasant incident in his previous care facility, compounding to that distrust."

"What happened?"

Dr. Allen gives a simple shake of his head and responds with a simple, dismissive shake of his hand. "Sealed document event."

McKay nods slowly and curiously, even more intrigued and put off by the answer than he lets on. A sealed document event means that whatever occurred was apparently scandalous enough to warrant the collection of evidence, records, testimony, and surveillance materials into a secured and notarized file. The document would be sent off to the administrators of the hospital as well as to the county court offices. Someone, possibly more than one person, would likely lose their job over whatever had happened. Dr. Allen and the rest of the staff are bound now by nondisclosure agreements included in the sealed documents for review.

"I like a challenge," the younger doctor finally admits. "Let me try." When Dr. Allen says nothing, McKay resorts to the dirtiest trick in the book, begging coupled with whining. "Aw, c'mon!"

The elder doctor thinks for a moment before letting out a heavy sigh. "Go on then and introduce yourself." He rubs his temples, obviously regretting this decision instantly. "I'll furnish you with the necessary files."

McKay beams in excitement. "Thank you, thank you. You won't regret this."

Dr. Allen fixes him with a stern glare. "I had better not."

"Oh, you won't," McKay insists before trotting off to the lone patient and the nun.

The sister bows her head and rises to offer Dr. McKay her seat. He sheepishly nods his thanks to her before sitting and taking in John's form for the first time. The figure in the chair is a pathetic, scrawny shadow of a man. John's face looks hollow and sunken in. His skin seems somehow pale and translucent despite the sunlight. There is a sickly quality to him, and every breath seems painful and unsatisfying. The hair to the right of his head is uneven with the rest of his hair, and completely nonexistent down the long line of a surgical scar. Pale lines of scar tissue mar his ghostly white face. Bones point out in angular shapes under ashen skin where there isn't an ounce of fat or muscle to the man anymore. Even though the orange scrubs of the patients, McKay can see how pathetically thin and emaciated John seems. The IV that McKay saw before runs to a narrow tube that snakes to John's face. The thin plastic is taped to the side of his cheek and below his nose where it slips up one nostril, presumably down his throat and to his stomach.

A silver collar cinches upon John's neck, but not too tightly as to constrict. McKay has already been briefed on their usage. They are mainly intended as tracking devices for patients prone to wandering or attempting escape. However, there is another side to them, delivering a course of electric shocks at the perimeter of the Institute should the patient ever get past security, or at the press of a button in the event of a riot or fight.

But none of that is not what catches McKay's breath in his throat. What truly startles McKay is those eyes. Those hazel eyes just stare out longingly at the sea, the vast ocean that the Institute overlooks. John just watches, perhaps unseeing, as the waves roll and as gulls glide through the air. John bears an uncanny and haunting expression of loss, longing, and mourning.

McKay glances to the sister curiously, and she explains calmly. "John prefers to be able to see the sea. I believe it calms him."

"Thanks," the doctor replies before chewing his lip in confusion over how to address the woman. "Sister..."

"Sister Teyla," the caramel colored Marvanian smoothly answers with a faint smile.

The man nods, turning his attention back to the patient, reaching out and taking the patient's hand. "John... John..." Finally, when those hazel eyes shift ever so slightly to meet McKay's gaze, the doctor smiles. "Hey there. I'm... I'm Dr. McKay. Rodney McKay." The sleepy, heavy lidded eyes of John's slip down to the name tag, almost knowingly in a way that sends McKay flustering and stammering. "Yeah..." He yanks at the name tag, self-consciously prying the magnets apart and stuffing the offending item in his pocket. "The Marvanians made it out. Real funny sense of humor they have."

John does not say a single word. Instead, he returns his nearly absent attention to the waters below. The patient seems lost amid the others. Even as McKay glances over his shoulder to the other interns and the men they have taken under their wing, he sees the faintest of glimmers of intelligence behind the glaze to John's eyes. The man is calculating something even under the drugs and near starvation. John lets out a long, even breath.

"You're in there, listening, aren't you, John?" McKay breaths, almost fearfully, but finding no reaction. He looks out the window to the bright sunlight and sighs flatly, "You're not like the rest of them." The doctor waves his hand towards the other patients before hissing under his breath. "You're not completely insane. Just a little bonkers."

It is a simple jest in utterly poor taste granted the circumstances, but it catches John's attention in earnest. He turns his face, pensive now somehow despite the sedatives of the night before, back to the doctor. His other doctors have all paraded about with an air of false companionship and saccharine words from silver tongues. This Dr. Meredith is smug and sarcastic in a way the other doctors haven't been. He is honest. John blinks his bleary, tired eyes in shock and surprise to survey the rounded man in the oversized coat before him, studying him intently and drinking in the familiarity.

"I'm being rude. People always tell me that," the doctor goes on, rambling now and making a frantic, circular gesture with his hand that makes John dizzy from all the excitement just springing from the stranger. "You can call me McKay, or Rodney, whatever you prefer- just not - and I do mean not - call me Meredith, Mer, or any other cute little version of that name."

There is a pang of distaste to the words that is so unmistakable in John's mind. It is so horrifically familiar and close to him. And the sight of this rounded, flustered man is so horribly beautiful that John can and does cry, feeling hot tears stream down his cheek as his body trembles uncontrollably. He knows this man. Rodney McKay. John does. At least, he thinks he does. The doctors, especially Dr. Allen, insist that John does not know any of the staff or visitors, that his "knowledge" of these people is merely his assimilation of new characters into his fantasy of Atlantis. John had once tried to argue with one of the doctors about this, rather vehemently pointing out that he remembered them, that he dreamt of them, before meeting the people he supposedly knew but somehow did not know at all. The doctor merely dismissed the theory by reminding John that the mind is capable of creating incredibly vivid thoughts and images, including the implied memory of memory.

John coughs, choking from the drowning feeling. It is the same, suffocating sensation gripping down upon his heart as the time he saw Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagen. No. John shakes his head and corrects himself. It is not Rodney. This is Dr. Meredith, and the name and face are surely a coincidence. John reminds himself that the orderly is Mr. Dex and chastises himself mentally to recall that the woman is Sister Teyla. But, oh, god, does John want to believe that this is Rodney McKay, that arrogant prick of a physicist and perhaps one of his best friends come to rescue him from this hell hole, no matter how much he knows it isn't real. After all, if it were real, Mr. Dex would have whipped out his stunner and taken out half the staff by now, as Sister Teyla knocked the rest of them flat on their backs. And Rodney? Rodney would have already sprung the locks upon the confining collar from his neck.

"McKay?" Dr. Allen calls, jerking the attention of both men as he strode towards them bearing a manila file folder.

McKay does not miss the sudden snap of tension to John's posture as the patient flinches from the sound of Dr. Allen's voice. Those hazel eyes, though heavy and glossy, seem somehow afraid and nervous, increasingly so with every step the psychiatrist takes towards them. McKay puts his hand on John's shoulder in...what? A protective gesture? An offering of comfort and display of rare compassion? That subtle motion seals the deal for John. This cannot be the Rodney McKay he remembers from his dreams and distant, now watery recollections of Atlantis; that Rodney wasn't the best with his people skills or bedside manner no matter how he tried. John recoils as much as the various restraints allow, sluggishly twisting out from under the surprisingly warm palm.

The doctor winces to feel the downright painful sharpness of John's collar bones and shoulder as the man slips away, but McKay pushes it down to turn his attention to the approaching man. "Yes, Dr. Allen?"

"We're about to start group. It would be wise of you to join."

There is an edge to Allen's words, a sort of implied venom and suggested repercussions if McKay does not assist in the group therapy sessions with the other patients. McKay adjusts his own expression carefully, manipulating his concern and mild worry for the haggard patient at his side into a smooth veneer of calm composure. He even curls his lips into a tiny smile for the psychiatrist's benefit.

"Yes, of course," McKay answers coolly before giving a glance to John. When those hazel eyes look up to him once more, McKay's heart swells. "I think I'm making a connection. Just... just a moment, okay?"

Dr. Allen nods in grudging concession before pointing to the wall clock. "Group starts at promptly 1:00 PM."

The younger doctor takes note of the time. 12:58 PM. Not enough time to make any marked difference with this particular patient granted what seems a wide breadth of psychological trauma inflicted over a period that McKay could only guess at. He merely assures Dr. Allen that he will be there, asserting that he is coming right now. The elder doctor, obviously pleased with the obedient little intern, turns and greets the now circled patients with a jovial air of friendship that doesn't become the man who is so snide and stern with his students.

McKay leans down close to John, so close that the patient can smell him even over the bitter antiseptic that soaks into everything in the Institute. This new doctor is just another in wave after wave of fresh interns that appear every six weeks. They come, fill a few rotations, and leave once their time has been served. Like prison inmates, John reminds himself even as he drinks in a familiarly salty scent. The beach. McKay must spend much time by the sea below to smell so much so of the sweet tang of the ocean spray. It's an agonizing to think so clearly that Dr. McKay is from Atlantis and to smell the musk of the ocean upon him, a cruel torture of the mind to make his fabrications so... so real.

McKay's voice drops to a whisper meant only for the patient's ears as his hand strays once more to John's bony shoulder and rubs gently, reassuringly. "I'll be back tomorrow, Sheppard."

John blinks. John's throat squeezes tight to hold a steadily forming lump down as he struggles to put together syllables into some semblance of English, but his vocal cords refuse to respond. Instead, a single tear rolls down his cheek as McKay shakes his head sadly and stalks off to Dr. Allen's beck and call. But John is left torn and raw; he hasn't heard his last name in what feels like forever, so long that it almost sounds foreign to him.

And Rodney said it. At least, John thinks Rodney said it.




The rest of the day is an exhausting blur for Dr. McKay spent rotating from group to group at Dr. Allen's heels. He yawns in the middle of the last session, garnering sharp glares from both the patients and other interns. Dr. Allen merely turns this against him in a cold, calculating manner, forcing McKay now to participate by asking him probing questions about each of the patients in the last group as though testing to see if McKay had actually been paying attention. McKay turns out sterling answers for Allen, and the old psychiatrist shrugs in what the younger interpreted as approval. By the end of the day McKay has seen three violent outbursts, two patients carried off for sedation and restraints by bulky orderlies, four crying fits in grown men, and one downright horrid confession during group that one of the patients had been molested by his father in his youth. Between Dr. Allen and all that, McKay is about ready to check himself into the Somerisle Institute when his shift is over.

However, much to his dismay, as McKay begins to pack up the tiny cubicle allotted to him in the interns' office, Dr. Allen floats in through the doorframe, carrying a stack of files that could just as easily be an unbound medical dictionary or phonebook. The older man simply sets it down on McKay's desk, awkwardly attempting to keep the manila folders from slipping off one another and getting out of order. Despite Dr. Allen's great care, the pile almost slams down on the tacky laminate desk with a heavy thud.

"What's this?" McKay queries, raising an eyebrow.

Dr. Allen shrugs. "I told you I would furnish you with a copy of John's files." He nods in the direction of the files. "That is it."

McKay winces to himself at the sight of the imposingly vast stack of files presented to him. "A little light reading, eh?"

Dr. Allen gives a chuckle and another little shrug, one of mockery this time before tapping the top folder. "The highlight reel, if you will." He breathes out deeply, disconcertingly surveying the files at his fingertips. "John has been... problematic at best."

"So I gathered," the younger fellow replies, his own gaze drawn by the motions of Allen's wrinkled fingertips over the paperwork. "The sealed document event?"

Allen purses his lips to a tight frown and shakes his head. "Interns are not privy to that kind of information. It's already been sent to the administrators." The older man begins to absently flip through the top file, teasing McKay, baiting his subordinate to reach for the many folders before slamming it shut just out of McKay's reach. "Dr. McKay, if I may be so bold to ask, what precisely is your interest in John?"

McKay shakes his head. "I couldn't tell you precisely, but he seemed so alone this morning." He smirks mischievously, knowing precisely which ego of Allen's to stroke no matter how it irks him. "Call it 'intuition.'"

"Ah, so you've read my book, eh?" Allen's attention pricks to his student in earnest for the first time; Dr. Allen's first and only book Intuitive is a national best seller as well as a must-read in the psychology community for its purported profound insight into those so-called 'gut-feelings.'

The younger man's face falls. "Not yet." He recovers quickly. "It's next on my list." McKay sweeps a hand towards the stack. "After that."

The older man smiles warmly at McKay now before the expression melts away to reveal one of somber regret. "John has had a very difficult time both before and after he arrived here. I told you, every time I get a new bunch of interns, all green from graduation, he always seems to catch one of your fancies." The doctor laughs with a hint of jealousy, perhaps. "Maybe it's that hair of his." McKay smirks, but Dr. Allen continues with a gloomy tone. "And, once you guys get your credits, he just ends up abandoned and at square one all over again, reverting to an even deeper state of depression and anxiety." Dr. Allen rubs his tired shoulders with one hand while the other rests protectively over the files. "I am beginning to think this isn't a wise choice to put him through it all over again."

"Dr. Allen..." McKay blinks and pauses to muster some semblance of diplomacy. "With all due respect, that's not being fair to me, judging prematurely based off of the shortsighted actions of prior interns." When his superior says nothing more, McKay pushes. "I think I made a serious connection with John today, and I am not abandoning that." The younger man pauses, correcting himself. "I am not abandoning him."

"You all say that, too," Allen replies almost sadly and distantly.

McKay shakes his head, almost furious now at his elder's insistence. "Look. I'm a problem solver. You give me my six weeks. Six weeks. If you see a marked change in John's prognosis, you keep me on staff. If you don't... well... we'll figure something out after that." As Allen glares on, McKay flusters and bumbles through his offer. "I'll candystripe or something. Hell, if I have to, I'll shave my head, put on a dress, and become one of those Marvanians."

Both men give awkward smirks at the suggestion. They both know, for a fact, that the Marvanian nuns are all quite bald under their cream white veils. It's actually a rather commonly known fact that the unusual sect shaves their heads habitually in a display of humility before God and a unique segregation of human vanity by cutting away of the distinctive sources of feminine pride in removing their hair and hiding their features below the concealing habits.

"Just give me a chance," McKay argues, not pleading, but stating rather firmly.

"I don't want this false hope that you can help him interfere in your studies," Allen argues back sternly.

McKay snorts. "Believe me, it won't."

"Fine. But I need these files back tomorrow morning at 9 sharp."

McKay feels a grin forming, holding it back as hard as he can. "Alright, then. Deal."




Patient : John Sheppard

Dr. Rodney McKay scans the initial medical files with a cursory glance before settling in with a morbid fascination. The initial file is jammed with photographs, x-ray films, cat scans, and MRIs of a body broken beyond what seems feasible repair. The litany of injuries extends beyond what even seems reasonable to hope for a recovery from. Fractures to the skull, jaw, nose, several ribs, pelvis, left ulna, left radius, several fingers on both hands, left femur, right tibia, several of the small bones in both ankles and wrists, too numerous to count. There were cuts and lacerations, as well as road burn and internal injuries. It probably would have been easier to document what hadn't been injured when the patient had been struck by the semi and dragged down the road. And, still, the doctors had managed to somehow piece the mangled body back together over the course of several surgeries, hoping that he would not be left brain damaged and in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

It was noted that John Sheppard arrived at the emergency room bearing no real identification and with an unidentified male boy between the ages of 16-18. The ER doctor noted that the boy was declared dead on arrival, while John somehow clung to life. John Sheppard also apparently arrived without any form of real identification save two metal tags about his neck bearing the name. The staff assumed that was him, despite later finding no record of such a man nor his fingerprints on any file, as though John Sheppard simply did not exist before that fateful moment on the road that night.

McKay reads on with a strange feeling of commiseration through the files of John's care in both the ER and the intensive care unit. It seems, at first, the doctors felt it best to ensure that John remain in a medically induced coma. McKay doesn't blame them. If John had been conscious for that, it would have only been to a world of misery and suffering as his body fought to heal and put its self back together. He considers it a mercy that John did not have to experience that.

However, it appears that, when John was weaned off sedation and the ventilator, his mental trauma resulting from the accident began to surface. The police wished to speak with him and detail the accident as best as possible to assist the family of the boy, now identified as Evan Salesh- a 17 year old high school student, honors society member, and general humanitarian even at an early age- understand what befell of their son on that night. John had tried to explain, at which point, the story of the Stargate began. The police, doctors, and court system, restless with John's seeming uncooperative behavior ordered for a psyche consultation. The attending psychiatrist at the hospital was the first to document John's mental illness and confirm that John really, truly believed himself to be the intergalactic explorer he insisted to be.

McKay winces at the thought, knowing where the file will point after that moment; institutionalization. The doctors had no choice. John was declared mentally unfit to stand trial for the charges of gross negligence and manslaughter raised by the Salesh family. Without any family to speak of, John was remanded to the custody and care of the state, shuffled from one institution to another. It seems John was quite a crafty patient, quickly formulating escape plans, but foolish in that he always returned to the same place, to the sculpture he calls the Stargate and to the intersection where the accident occurred.

Through it all, John sounds as though he maintains a relatively comfortable level of self control and restraint, just an insistence that the fabrication and delusions of his mind are real. Psychological profiles indicate that John has sociopathic tendencies at moments and a sharp intellect, perhaps genius levels. There is no intelligence test to accompany the documents as the psychologists note that John refused to submit to that form of testing. The doctors state that he only wished to "go home, go back to Atlantis."

Patient is aggressive with hospital staff. Clear signs of distrust, fear, and panic. Patient will not participate in therapy sessions.

McKay furrows his brow at the notation, suddenly incongruous with the seemingly calm, composed and otherwise collected patient previously documented in the files. It is out of character, and the note is dated nine months ago.

Patient refuses sustenance.

McKay glosses over the quick note and subsequent lists of nourishment administered through an NG tube and daily weigh-ins, almost missing the significance entirely. And, then, right after that, towards the middle of the stack, there is the sealed document event. McKay furrows his brow as he reads. It happens so quickly and is so briefly documented that McKay almost misses it.

Patient shows steadily increasing levels of agitation and paranoia, claiming that the orderlies are "watching him" and intend to do him harm. Suggests mutation of original delusion to include hospital staff as hostile forces. Increased medication, but patient continually resists. Cheeking meds. Recommending...

The entry goes on from there detailing a shift in procedure with handling John's medication rotation to ensure he is actually taking his pills. It is, however, strange that the following pages are missing, leading up to the next entry being a little over two months later.

Patient transferred to medical ward for treatment. Heavy sedation required. Recommend hard restraints and transfer to a higher security institution following incident.

McKay furrows his brow. The missing two months must be from the sealed document event, pulled from the files to be sent off for the investigation of whatever happened. McKay checks the date. Seven months ago. He shifts from that file back to the medical files and does, in fact, find a record of transfer and care at that time for two weeks before John was transferred to the Somerisle Institute and to this particular wing. There is no record of the reason for his treatment, nor any injuries, as that file has also been scrubbed clean of any information pertaining directly to the event. McKay frowns at the dead end before opening Dr. Allen's files for John Sheppard.

Remanded to the care of the Somerisle Institute following incident - something is blanked out with a black marker, silenced by the investigation - Initial assessment suggests severe psychological trauma caused by both his accident and the incident. Patient unresponsive and uncooperative.

What follows from there is a highly detailed log of John Sheppard's care at the Somerisle Institute that draws equal pity and repulsion from McKay. Even remanded to the care of a new facility with an entirely new staff of doctors and nurses, Sheppard's psychological and physical condition seems to have deteriorated further and further, spiraling out of control, despite many variations in treatment methods. Dr. Allen's rather anal-retentive attention to subtle nuances paints a picture of a man lingering in periods of severe depression punctuated by instances of extreme aggression marked by a possibly admirable skill in hand-to-hand combat and problem solving – both of which have necessitated the use of the collar after Sheppard had incapacitated many members of the staff of Somerisle in failed escape attempts. However, after a time, those incidences of violence seem to have dwindled to few and far between, those momentary sparks replaced by an ever increasing despondency.

For a moment, however, McKay ignores the psychological evaluations and focuses, instead, on the physical health of Sheppard. Allen describes his condition upon arrival as critical, nearly starved and malnourished, suffering from multiple injuries including many blotted out by black marker, oral sores from severe vitamin deficiency, dehydration, excessive fever, and a nasty bought of pneumonia that nearly took his life. Since then, the staff has maintained an excellent log of his health and weight as the pounds continued and still continue to melt from the man's slender frame. Sheppard is dangerously underweight, hovering frighteningly close to starvation no matter how the Institute attempts to keep him nourished. The self imposed emaciation is taking its toll on the poor, pathetic man, leaving him vulnerable to opportunistic infection, as evident by several lengthy stays in the Institute's infirmary for various illnesses. The need for constant restraint has also yielded repeat occurrence of bed sores ranging in size and severity. For all their care and concern, for all their work to bring John Sheppard back from the brink, he is still slipping inexorably away from them physically, regardless of mental health.

McKay bites his lips and wonders, momentarily, how much suffering a single heart can bear in one lifetime and keep beating. He thinks, idly, that, perhaps John Sheppard has simply the limits of his capabilities to cope and function. The doctor sighs miserably at the possibility. However, it is late, and he still has much to do, including making a much delayed phone call home. There is nothing he can do now for the man save wait until morning.




Sister Teyla Emmagen rises slowly in the predawn darkness to the gentle thrumming of the great iron bells in the cathedral, giving herself a simple splashing of water from an unadorned pitcher and basin at the night stand to refresh herself before donning her habit. Sister Teyla's internal clock is still adjusting to the rigid schedule of prayer services in the cloister, and she has not woken early enough to fully bathe herself. It is time for Lauds, the twilight vigil and prayer. After that, she will have a moment to clean herself properly before returning to her morning duties in the Institute atop the hill.

She yawns but floats from the private dormitory in her pristine, cream-white habit like a ghost in the night. The other nuns are already assembling in the tiny chapel nestled by the entry to the cloister. Sister Teyla will be late if she does not hurry, and, so, the nun scurries about on nimble feet never meant for such heavy, confining clothes as the tent-like habit nor the sleepy, calm pace of the order.

Unfortunately, when Sister Teyla arrives, the Lauds is already in progress, prayers already being murmured in a steady chant. The nun bows her head in a sheepish apology before slowly gliding to the front of the community where the two other newcomers to the order sit. The Mother Superior, Sister Sella Beurette, gives Teyla a small, chiding glare between the opening prayers, but the younger woman can see the humor masked beneath it. The Marvanians may be a strict order, but that does not mean that they are not caring and understanding, especially of their newer members and especially Sister Sella. After all, they were all initiates into the order at some point, having all endured adjusting to the demanding schedule of the prayers and service to the poor souls in the Institute. Sister Sella tries to hide it, but there is no erasing the motherly benevolence she downright exudes towards Sister Teyla, the newest member of their modest order.

The quiet observance of the Lauds is brief but poignant. Sister Sella leads the softly murmured prayers of the convent from the pulpit, both praising and offering thanks to their nameless, faceless God of great benevolence and mercy. Serene songs interrupt the Lauds at the appropriate intervals, yet Sister Teyla does not know the words to all of the hymns yet and can only listen to the delicate melodies of her fellow sisters. She sits in silent observation through much of the Lauds, her hands clasped at her lap as she listens to the scripture and appreciates the nearly lyrical and romantic language of the prayers, as though song in their own right.

As the Lauds draws to an end, Sister Sella beseeches her fellow Marvanians to bow their heads and offer their own, private commune with God. Sister Teyla did not initially understand upon her arrival, yet she knows now. This is the time allotted personal prayers the sisters are to issue forth. When Sister Teyla had confessed to the Mother Superior that she honestly did not know what to prayer for, Sister Sella had suggested that she pray for her charges, which Sister Teyla now faithfully does each and every of the divine offices, daily. Their charges are each at the Somerisle Institute because the world has given up on them entirely, and, as such, Sister Teyla can think of no one better to keep in her prayers.

She slowly turns over her list of charges at the Institute. She begins with Jeremy, a young man, barely an adult, yet already stained with the indelible blood of his own father after rebelling against years of mental and physical abuse; Sister Teyla asks of that nameless God to assist Jeremy to find forgiveness in himself. She prays for Mitch, a soldier returned from the recent war in the east with a severe brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder who is prone to wild panic attacks in which he throws himself to the ground or behind any form of cover and mutters incoherently, quite likely reliving missions set in dusty streets and between bombed out buildings that only he sees. While the brain injury will never heal, she sincerely prays that, one day, Mitch will at least come to understand that he is safe. She goes through each of her charges with her heartfelt prayers and hopes for each of them, tailored individually to their specific case history.

Sister Teyla prays for them all, but, last of all, she prays for John. She knows little about how John came to the Somerisle Institute, but she knows that his is a world of sorrows. She sees it in his eyes, in the growing vacancy there. His pain both physical and emotional is such a grave, cumbersome thing that it seeps into her and holds her tight as well, suffocating her when she thinks too long of John. Sister Teyla is never certain what to pray for John, but she always lingers upon him the longest, turning his troubles over and over again in her mind.

The Lauds draws to a close, and the sisters file out, into the courtyard so that the true morning exultation to God can begin. The Marvanians are a unique order in many ways, least of all being the method of their adorations. The Marvanians are warriors, training in the arts of martial combat. Sister Agnes Marva believed that the body was merely a tool through which one could do God's great works, forming the order as soldiers for God during the Crusades. The traditional, rigid training of the order has persisted since, the nuns keeping themselves in peak battle condition. The training bears merit even now, for the sisters practice techniques meant to swiftly incapacitate without damaging their opponent, least they become the victims of an outburst from a patient who can know no better. After all, no sister can serve God's will on earth if she is dead and strangled by a patient seeking escape or a quick, brutal coupling.

Sister Teyla prefers this portion of the morning routine. The ceremony and prayers of the Lauds are dictated by ancient tradition, rendering the service somewhat pompous and stuffy. However, outside, the sisters practice their katas with fluid grace, their moves a great symphony orchestrated to both hone their bodies and give praise to their God. The katas are lead by an almost laughably clumsy nun, Sister Hyacinth, and, some mornings, it is a wonder to Sister Teyla that Sister Hyacinth has not crippled herself attempting to cantor the rather athletic routines. Since joining the order, Sister Teyla has merely watched from the sideline, mesmerized by the elaborate dances and stretches, memorizing the motions and practicing them in her spare time, yet, this morning, she joins, moving easily through the katas as though born to this task and this life. As the final kata draws to a close, all eyes of her fellow sisters are upon her in awe.

This does not escape Sister Sella's notice on this morning, and, as dawn breaks and the exercises are halted in favor of morning chores, she gestures for Sister Teyla to join her. As first, the Mother Superior says nothing. Instead, she guides Sister Teyla towards the gardens that wreath the convent. Sister Teyla waits for Sister Sella to gather her thoughts and her words; she has learnt that the Marvanians tend to be calculating and methodical in their actions, Sister Sella being no exception to that rule.

When Sister Sella finally addresses Sister Teyla, it is with the warmth of a biological mother. "You surprise me greatly."

"In what way, Mother Superior?" the younger Marvanian inquires, her voice edging upon concern.

The older woman smiles a faint, yet knowing smile. "You have not joined the katas before this morning, yet you do excel at them. I wonder, what was your profession before the call?"

Without explanation, Sister Teyla understands and gives her answer succinctly. "A soldier."

"Quite appropriate," the woman murmurs with a slow nod of her head. "Would you be offended if I were to ask what brought you to the order then, from such a worthy profession befitting your innate skill?"

"Of course not, Mother Superior." Sister Teyla looks down, her eyes wandering the gray pebbles at her feet, warmed by the light of dawn. "Before I came here, I lost a very dear friend of mine. After that, the fight just…. it just left me completely." Even as she speaks those words, Sister Teyla feels the ache of raw grief flare up once more in her heart. "I could not fight anymore. I needed something to fill the emptiness left by his loss."

"And the Marvanian Order?" the Mother Superior presses, her curiosity clearly piqued judging from the slightly raised tone to her voice.

Sister Teyla shrugs. "A quiet life of prayer and observance of the hours felt a sin, a waste of the strengths I have been gifted."

"And rightly it would have been!" Sister Sella decries with a chuckle before growing serious once more. "Sister Teyla, I have a small favor to ask of you."

"Yes, Mother Superior?"

The older woman pauses. "I was wondering if you would be interested in leading our morning katas."

Sister Teyla blinks in earnest and blurts out ignobly, "Me?"

"Why, yes," Sister Sella affirms warmly. "Sister Hyacinth is…." The Mother Superior struggles momentarily to find the appropriate adjective to describe her fellow Marvanian without being too insulting and finally settles on giving up that task completely. "She does try." Sister Teyla smirks slightly, and Sister Sella goes on, "But she is not nearly as naturally suited to the task as you."

"You are too kind, Mother Superior, but I couldn't possibly lead the katas."

"And why, pray tell, not?" the older woman feigns a pout.

Sister Teyla shrugs her shoulders, an awkward and uncomfortable gesture as she seems to fold inwardly on herself. "It would feel inappropriate." Sister Sella furrows her brow, but Sister Teyla continues in a smooth, crisp clip, "Besides, Sister Hyacinth does take such pride and enjoyment in leading them. I should hate to deprive her of that."

"Pride, my young friend, is a sin as equally damning as any other," Sister Sella croons in swift retort. "Even if it is somewhat ill deserved in this case."

The women share a small chuckle at the joke as they stroll along; they both know that even Sister Hyacinth laughs at her own expense. The gardens are still quiet at this hour, as the rest of the sisters prepare a simple breakfast for the whole of the Marvanian order. It is almost tranquil and relaxing here, if one can ignore the towering, looming edifice of the Somerisle Institute.

"Please, think about it," Sister Sella presses politely.

Sister Teyla smiles, her gaze going stony and distant before she answers with no uncertain amount of diplomacy, "Were I to give it any further consideration, I would arrive at the same conclusion, Mother Superior." She looks down to her rich, caramel colored hands and clasps them to still any nervous motion. "While it is quite flattering, I still feel my calling is elsewhere."

"Fair enough," the Mother Superior respectfully concedes. "However, should you change your mind, the offer remains."

Sister Sella says nothing more, but she notices, on their return walk, that Sister Teyla looks skyward but briefly and mouths what appears to be a small prayer. The elder woman smiles; the younger sisters are often so eager to serve their God that they often forget to simply thank him. It is endearing to see such faith and devotion in such a new member to the order, and it warms Sister Sella's heart greatly.




Despite his exhaustion, McKay breaks from his usual routine of sleeping in late and hitting the snooze button several times; instead, he makes it a point to wake up promptly when he alarm buzzes in the morning. He does not luxuriate in his wide, comfortable bed as usual or tarry for anything but a swift shower and a cup of coffee gulped on the morning commute to the Somerisle Institute. He made a solemn promise to both John and Dr. Allen, one which he is loathe to break. He guzzles the last of his coffee as he strides swiftly up the steps to the Institute, quickly proceeds through the checkpoints, and rushes through the Institute to the morning room.

The morning room is busy and cluttered at his arrival. Breakfast is being served to the many patients in the morning room by a twittering flock of Marvanians in their white, pressed robes. It is simple fare, something like French toast sliced lengthwise and sprinkled with powdered sugar, served along with a cup of juice and tiny, plastic cups filled with multicolored medications. It smells divine, and McKay's stomach growls in balking at the protein bar he crammed into his mouth on the commute.

At first, McKay does not see John among the patients in the morning room, but, then, a burly and rather intimidating looking orderly with thick, knotted locks and tattooed forearms arrives with a physically restrained and somewhat dazed looking John in tow, following complacently. The orderly leads John to the far end of the room, away from the other patients and to the single chair facing the windows. With surprisingly gentle hands and great care despite his size and bulk, the orderly guides John's pliant body down to sit in the chair and fixes the leather restraints about the man, tying him down for the day. John hardly seems to notice, not even when the orderly attaches a pouch of grey sludge to the nasogastric tube and hangs it at on an IV stand beside the chair. John only flinches slightly when the orderly tenderly touches his shoulder and give sit a tiny squeeze, so subtle and so timid that it seems the orderly is afraid of just breaking John.

McKay steels himself and strides across the room, passing the orderly as he does and taking note of the man's name tag reading "Ronon." The hulking man catches his eye as they brush past. There is a haunting sadness to this Ronon's wide, brown eyes, a sorrow that betrays his clear, physical strength coupled with deep pity. McKay nods to him, a small bob of his head of both greeting and respect, a gesture which is swiftly returned by this Ronon person.

McKay approaches John with care, moving slowly and shuffling his white coat to announce his presence without startling the man. John rolls his slow, lethargic gaze in the newcomer's direction before returning his attention to the sea. His eyes are unfocused and clouded. McKay swallows; it is rather clear that John is sedated, heavily. Any work he attempts now with John is unlikely to pay off with any substantial results, but the morning hours is what Dr. Allen has offered so long as McKay is prompt for rounds at noon.

"Morning, Sheppard."

The name cuts through the dense fog of John's consciousness once more. His name. The name that not a single person aside from Dr. Meredith will dare call him, for some cockamamie psycho-babble reason. It is a direct affront to Dr. Allen's establishment, startling him soundly. He manages to summon the energy to dart a quick glance in the doctor's direction, even more astounded to see a warm and somewhat hopeful smile on the rounded man's face.

"What's the matter?" McKay presses, a bit impetuously. "Didn't you mother teach you any manners?" When John just blinks slowly in his stupor, the doctor rolls his eyes and explains in an exasperated tone, "This is the part where you say, 'Good morning,' back."

John licks his lips. This feel so unearthly familiar, like déjà vu. The snark from McKay comes in a sharp yet friendly tone that John feels as though he has heard many times before. It is the chiding and comforting jest of friends of a good enough nature to carry such sarcasm without hurting one another. The doctors have told him that his memories are false, just delusions of his mind, but nothing has ever felt this real before. He draws a breath, a small one, but he cannot bring himself to answer. It is easier to let the moment pass than it is to admit that it is so bittersweet that it hurts, cutting to the quick.

"'Morning, Rodney, and how are you today?'" The doctor interrupts his reeling thoughts in a teasing manner. "Why fine, thank you. And your? 'Can't complain.' Well, you could but it wouldn't do any good." McKay pauses and levels his gaze upon John. "You know, as entertaining as this is, if I keep up this one sided conversation any longer, they'll be fitting me with a straight jacket and asking if I want to room with you, so why don't you give me something, anything?"

John should feel insulted, he knows. The teasing has turned into rude and laser targeted mockery. He should be hurt, yet, he is not. The Rodney of his delusions would have said the same thing that this man has told him. It is somehow but comforting and heart-rending to hear that same social impropriety. John feels the warmth of the tear roll down his cheek before it registers that he is crying.

"Oh, now don't do that." McKay reaches across the distance between them and brushes the tear away with his thumb. "Just say, 'Good morning,' and I'll shut up and leave you to…." He searches aimlessly for the right word before stumbling out with, "It."

John answers so softly that McKay almost misses it entirely amid the general chaos of the morning room. "Morning."

It hurts to speak even those two, tiny syllables. His throat is hoarse and raw, and there is an uncomfortable tickle. He knows it is likely from a combination of lengthy disuse and from the nasogastric tube, but it is not the pain that gums the word up in his throat. To say something, to say anything, is to admit some small measure of hope that this Rodney is a close approximation of the man John could swear he remembers in vivid detail. It is daring to draw breath after holding it for so very long.

He half expects Rodney's warm visage to melt away with the words said. After all, a Rodney McKay who behaves anything at all like the Rodney McKay he recalls must be nothing more than an "illusion yielded by severe mental trauma" – or so the doctors would dub him. Yet, the man before him does not disappear, not at all. Instead, he just beams with a wide, almost comical grin plastered from ear to ear across his rounded face.

"Good," the doctor breathes, nodding appreciatively. "That's…. that's good, John."

John is not so certain, yet Dr. McKay seems to take this for an excellent sign. He spews forth a near endless seeming stream of mindless banter. He comments on everything, from the weather to the color of the linoleum and the smell of the Institute. John hardly listens to the words, comforted instead by what feels a familiar buzz of excited monologue. He loses himself to the lulling hum of McKay's words, words and tones John could swear he has heard before, in places he remembers as labs over a cup of steaming coffee. When John closes his eyes, he can see it perfectly, and it is so very sweet.

"Sheppard," Dr. McKay breathes softly, jerking John painfully back to reality.

John blinks slowly at his own name, cautiously contemplating syllables which have grown somewhat alien to him, yet Dr. McKay remains. He stares at John with eyes flooded with an almost inhuman degree of concern. Those blue eyes peer into him so widely, so openly, that John feels he could almost tumble right into that ocean of worry and lose himself, were it not for the restraints holding him still in his chair.

Dr. McKay places his hand gently, delicately upon John's all too bony shoulder, merely laying it there with a feather-light touch as though afraid of breaking John. "I have to go now."

A pathetic sound bubbles up from John's larynx, catching there. It takes him a moment to recognize that it is a whimper, although, once lodged so firmly in his throat it comes out as a whine. It is a thoroughly degrading sound as tiny shards of his soul crack and dance about one another. He stifles it as best he can, but it is too difficult to contain. Hot tears well at the corners of John's eyes, and he blinks them painfully back. John is supposed to be a man, and men do not cry – especially not over delusional fantasies of a mythical city.

"It's time for rounds, and, if I miss them, Allen's going to have my head," Dr. McKay continues with his near incessant stream of banter before pausing once more. "I'll be back, okay?"

John's head moves of its own accord, driven by an unseen, unfelt puppeteer into a small, lethargic nod. It is a tiny, faint motion, yet Dr. McKay seems to thrill at it. He smiles, and, God, Dr. McKay's smile is a radiant beacon from a world John now knows to be a lie, no matter how he craves it. It is moments such as these, these tiny, fleeting glimpses into that other world, that have landed John in a place like the Institute, into severe restraints and heavy sedation.

Dr. McKay leans close and whispers into his ear, "I won't leave you behind."

As he leaves, he does not spy John shake his head, slowly unraveling in the chair where he is tied. Dr. McKay will leave him. They all do. Sister Teyla. Mr. Dex. Dr. McKay. They all leave him in time to his misery and his all too exquisite suffering as though they take a sadistic pleasure in it. John swallows down his open sobs, but the tears course down his cheeks, unseen by Dr. McKay's eyes. Soon, he will be alone and abandoned once more, drowning in his own sorrows and a never ending stream of medications and chemical concoctions meant to eradicate Atlantis from his mind.

John cries so hard and for so long, that he hardly notices it when he passes out.




Sometime later, John jerks awake in the dead of the night to an uncomfortable pressure upon his sternum, clamping down upon him heavily. It is dark all around him, so dark that John cannot focus, cannot see. He panics, his heart hammering in his chest as blood roars in his ears. Someone is sitting upon him, crushing down on his chest and squeezing the air from him.

It is a sickeningly familiar sensation that sends John reeling and squirming against the restraints. He gasps and, then, coughs a hacking, wet and debilitating cough, shuddering as he does. Thick, sticky mucous slaps at the back of his throat, dislodged by the harsh fit. When the coughing jag finally subsides, the breath he finally gets is cool and sweet, but not entirely satisfying. However, it is a great boon, as the sharp inhalation serves to alleviate some of the pressure from his lungs and clear his fever addled mind.

John blinks the bleariness from his eyes and peers into the darkness. He is alone, in what has been charitably dubbed his room, strapped down and secured to his bed. He does not even remember being returned to his room and bedded down for the night. John could almost cry out in relief, if he had the breath to spare.

He is merely sick, again. John's immune system has not been entirely as dependable as it had been before the accident. There had been a tickle at the back of John's throat for several days that he written off as nothing more than an unsavory side effect of the NG tube that has now developed into a painful hoarseness. His head feels clogged and odd, as though packed with wool, and he shivers heavily despite the warm blankets draped over him. He is running a fever, a high one if he is guessing correctly.

John licks his lips and sags back into the bed to ride out the illness as best he can, so long as they just leave him alone.




1:00 AM rounds are quiet that evening. Ronon Dex rather enjoys rounds on nights like that. Each of the patients appears to be sleeping comfortably from a combination of physical and chemical restraints in many cases. No fighting. No screaming. No nightmares or horrid self-injuries to have to bring down to the medical ward for immediate treatment. It is, perhaps, too quiet that night as Dex strolls the halls and peeks in on each of his charges. He records this on each of their charts and on his own log records.

His last charge is John. Ronon sighs heavily, shaking his head; John is a difficult case, at the best of times. He is combative with his care takers, yet brittle from his various illnesses and depressed immune system. It makes safely containing John a complex and difficult matter. John has regrettably incurred an ample amount of broken bones and sprains in the past from even the most careful of orderlies during his more explosive episodes. His pain, his sorrow and rage, are a sickening thing, tainting Ronon with a profoundly overwhelming and nearly suffocating pity by even his own meager contact with the man.

Ronon peers through the small window in the locked door to John's room and immediately notices that something is very wrong with the man. John is lying deathly still upon his bed, his head turned slightly away from the door, yet not enough that the orderly cannot spy the febrile glitter beneath lashes spiked with wetness. Ronon's heart flutters uncomfortably in his chest; he has cared for John long enough to know that the man is a restless sleeper unless heavily sedated. Worse. John's forehead glistens with fat droplets of sweat, and he barely draws breath. John is ill again, very ill by the looks of it.

"Shit!" the orderly cannot contain the profanity as he reaches for his keys and fumbles with them momentarily. He pauses to bellow over his shoulder, "I need help here!"

Finally, Ronon's fingers find the right key, jab it into the lock, and wrench the door open. The door groans loudly on metal hinges, a sound which usually rouses John to full alertness from even the deepest seeming of sleeps. John lies insensate, even as the bulky orderly barges in, the fever and illness deafening the world to him. His breaths remain even and shallow, marked by a dreadful sounding wheeze with each and every exhalation between lips kissed in pale, blue hue. Even when the orderly sits at the edge of his bed and begins to give John a cursory examination, the man fails to show even the slightest of indications of awareness.

"C'mon, John. Don't do this to me." Ronon balls his fist and grinds his knuckles roughly into John's sternum, garnering a reflexive inward curling and a barely audible groan; it is enough to raise his heart. "That's it. Stay with me, John, at least until the docs can help you."

John's eyelids flutter, but the effort to remain conscious appears too great for the man. He swiftly succumbs back to the depths of unconsciousness just as quickly as he surfaced. Ronon swears and tears at the restraints. He frees John's limbs one at a time from the leather, buckled cuffs. Slowly, and as gently as he can, the big man slips his hands beneath John, gathering the patient up in his arms swaddled in the bed linens. John moans unconsciously, a harrowing sound as he crumples against Ronon's well muscled chest. Dex effortlessly lifts John with great care, reminded by the ease of the action just how deathly thin John has become. It sends Ronon's stomach churning with worry, but the orderly forces it down to focus, instead, on his patient's immediate needs, lifting the bag of nutrient supplements from its hook upon the IV stand and placing it upon John's stomach.

"Mr. Dex?" one of the night-shift nurses calls from the doorframe. "Mr. Dex, what are you doing?"

Ronon scowls as he brushes part her, cradling the scrawny, sickly man protectively close to him to avoid jostling him unnecessarily. "You take too long."

The nurse blanches, the color draining from her face. "You can't do this."

Ronon glares. "Can. And will."

"This is insubordination!" the nurse cries out in her shrill voice. "There WILL be disciplinary consequences for this!"

The orderly freezes, stiffening visibly. For a long moment, neither moves nor makes a sound. The only sound that echoes through the corridor is the uncomfortable and rasping breaths of John, steadily worsening by the minute. He glances to John in his arms, taking in the sweaty, grey skinned creature of sharp angles and nearly visible skeletal system beneath the pallid skin.

Ronon shakes his head. "So fire me."

He storms off to the medical ward, John in his arms, before the offending nurse can argue any further.




McKay arrives at the Institute early again the next morning and easily breezes through the security check-points without delay. However, upon arriving in the day room, he notices that, once more, John is absent from the collection of patients. At first, this does not bother the doctor, granted John's initial tardiness the day prior. He finds himself a seat in the corner and waits, albeit impatiently, for his patient to be brought to the day room. An hour passes before the worry finally overtakes McKay. He rises, smoothing his coat, and approaches the nurse's station, box of sturdy, shatterproof polymer and wire mesh.

One of the more seasoned nurses, a stout looking woman with her silver-grey hair done up in a tight bun, eyes McKay sourly through the metal mesh. "I'm a little behind this morning, so spill it. What do you need?"

"Where is John?"

The nurse frowns and picks through her files before locating John's and surveying it shrewdly. "Medical ward."

"What?" McKay blurts out, taken back by the answer.

The nurse shrugs, her expression flat and devoid of any caring or sympathy for the man in question as she skims her transfer log. "Says he took ill in the night and had to be admitted. His medical doctor would have more information."

McKay grouses at her completely lack of concern and prepares to launch into a rather stern diatribe regarding a patient-care system that obvious has little to no actual caring for the patient. However, before he can, a broad hand falls upon his shoulder. The doctor jumps – nearly clean out of his skin – and turns to find the hulking orderly from yesterday standing behind him, looking somewhat haggard. Ronon Dex.

"Thought I'd find you here," he says, his voice rumbling like thunder in the depth of night. "C'mon."

McKay does not ask any questions. Instead, he simply follows in the huge man's wake as they traverse the Somerisle Institute, down the many twisting corridors and long halls lined with barred windows. Ronon Dex moves smoothly, his strides even, long, and brisk. He does not check to ensure that McKay is still behind him as they make their way to the medical ward, which is not too unlike the rest of the Institute's prison like wards. Ronon takes him deep into the medical ward, to a place where the rooms are private yet lined with glass, putting the few patients there on display.

In time, they come to John's room. Ronon slides the glass door open for McKay to enter, following and easing the door shut behind them. McKay drifts along, transfixed by the sight of John, horrified by how completely deteriorated he is compared to just yesterday. John lies slumped in the hospital bed, strapped down by leather restraints and connected to a veritable bevy of machines by tubes and wires running this way and that. The restraints seem hardly necessary considering how very sedated John clearly is, right down to the spittle glistening at the corner of his lip. Ronon draws a tissue from a box on the side table and wipes the drool away with a tenderness that seems impossible for a man of his size.

"What's…" McKay's voice cracks, and he struggles to compose himself before speaking once more. "What's wrong with him? What happened?"

"Found him like this last night during rounds," Ronon states, tossing the tissue out. "Docs have been taking samples all morning."

McKay sighs heavily, unable to face John for too long. "He looked fine yesterday."

"Doc Camry says that's to be expected of someone in John's condition."

McKay nods numbly. It makes sense. John is so bony and malnourished despite the Institute's best efforts that it makes sense that his immune system would be in the trash as well. Or course it is harder for John to fight off illness and any opportunistic infections. And, of course he would fall prey to such sicknesses far faster than a person with a functioning, healthy immune system.

"Will he be alright?"

Ronon shrugs solemnly. "Docs are trying to pinpoint the right antibiotics now."

The lack of optimism is sobering, but neither man has time to dwell on it as John awakes to a severe coughing fit. It is curtailed, however, by the collar cinched about his neck. Under normal conditions, the security collar would not constrict breathing, but, with his illness, the collar cuts into John's neck as he struggles to draw ample breath around his coughing. As his throat expands to accommodate the coughing, the collar cuts in, and it appears to hurt and choke the man.

McKay swears and gathers up John, helping him to sit-up and lean forward to ease his breathing. "We need to get that thing off of him."

"I don't have the key."

McKay fumes. "Well, go get someone who does."

Ronon nods and bolts from the room, leaving McKay to whisper soothing words and rub John's back in some vain attempt at easing the man. In time, the coughing jag subsides, leaving John worn out and spent, sagging in the bed in a pathetic heap of bones and skin. The area about John's neck beneath the collar appears red and bruised from the fit.

"Shhh, John. You're going to be okay. Everything's going to be okay," the doctor promises, although it tastes sour on his tongue.

"What is the meaning of this?" Dr. Allen's voice cracks like a whip from the door.

John starts from the sound, inciting another coughing fit. McKay curls his arm over the frail man, hugging him protectively until the jag quells once more. John slumps heavily against the doctor, completely dead weight, yet there is so little to him that it hardly feels an effort to keep John upright.

McKay points to the blushing ring about John's neck and hisses through his teeth. "That." The doctor glowers at his superior before continuing in a dark growl, "That collar's libel to cause permanent tracheal damage if it doesn't come off."

"The collar is for his protection and yours," Dr. Allen sternly reminds his underling.

McKay rolls his eyes. "Please. Any idiot can see that John isn't going anywhere anytime soon." He instantly regrets the insolent tone and apologies. "I'm sorry." He bites his lip nervously. "But John is no danger to any one in his present condition, and he is already restrained. Leaving him in this collar when it is clearly obstructing his ability to clear his lungs and throat is nothing short of torture."

Dr. Allen gives a harrumph but approaches John to push the collar slightly aside to survey the man's pale, scrawny neck without removing him from McKay's hold. A red ring wreathes John's neck where the collar cuts each and every time his lungs rebel and force a coughing fit in a vain attempt to force up any mucous or other obstruction. The damage is nothing more severe at the moment than a minor irritation, but any fool can see that it will shortly be exacerbated to bruising and worse if left any longer. Allen relents and takes a key from his pocket, unlocking the collar from the back and pocketing it. McKay's scowl deepens to spy old dots of scar tissue about John's neck from severe shocks delivered by the collar, but he his thankful to see John rid of the horrid thing.

Dr. Allen fixes a stern gaze upon his intern and the orderly and huffs, "Dr. McKay, you are relieved of your previous duties. I am putting you two personally in charge of John until such time as he is able to be placed back on the collar. Mr. Dex, you will continue to serve night shift. Dr. McKay, you take days."

McKay nods enthusiastically. "Thank you, thank you. You won't regret this."

Dr. Allen folds his arms across his chest. "I'd better not."




After Mr. Dex clocks out from his shift and leaves for the day, Dr. McKay sits with John, although the patient does not wake. Upon speaking with John's medical doctor and consulting his chart, McKay is not surprised. John is very sick, physically as well as mentally. John has been apparently struggling health wise his entire stay in the Institute to fend off the various minor colds and sniffles that tend to proliferate in such a place. That has now developed into a full blown respiratory infection. X-rays show a dangerous build-up of fluid in his lungs – pneumonia. He is not honestly well enough to keep conscious for very long judging by the doctor's orders, and, even if he were, the medical staff has apparently made it quite the habit to keep John sedated while under their care. He apparently bites, kicks, claws, and fights with great passion and surprising strength granted his condition.

Through the morning, McKay occupies himself with harassing the nurses that float in and out, pestering them about their activities. He learns a great deal in that time about how John is handled. The nurses of the medical wing operate about John and work on him with a clinical and callous disregard for the human life they are treating. They move about him and speak over him as though John is a body to be processed and not a man – a man clearly suffering as he is slowly drowning in his own bodily fluid despite the chemical concoctions they continue to pump into him through his various IVs and attachments. McKay blasts a few of the nurses for this cavalier attitude towards John, yet, when that fails to achieve the desired result, he focuses instead on interrogating the medical staff about every little test, procedure, and medication.

When that fails to entertain McKay in the afternoon, serving instead to further enrage him, he pries his laptop from his bag and sets to work. He has seen enough. All this time, these doctors who purport to care about John have been allowing him to slip away, dragged under in a quagmire of protocol and regulations. It is bureaucratic bullshit, bullshit which McKay excels at seeing right through. No. If no one else will care or act in John's favor, then McKay will.

The Somerisle Institute has a woefully insecure network granted the sensitive nature of the records and documents shared through the wireless system. The doctor breezes through the Institute's pathetic excuse of a firewall with the practiced ease of a novice hacker, marveling at how utterly foolish whoever designed their network security had to be. He is in the network in less than a few minutes, navigating easily through the servers. It takes even less time to locate patient files. From there, it is a minor pause to determine which file specifically addresses John.

McKay blinks upon getting into John's electronic files. Something startling has awaited him. The sealed document event. All of the related digital files and copies of event evidence have been stored in a secured folder within John's files. It is the Holy Grail of John's case history. The doctor shakes his head and focuses. He cannot risk reading it here, or now, when someone could waltz right in on him. Instead, he copies the folder directly to his computer. He takes a moment to cover his tracks before disconnecting from the network, shutting down his computer, and replacing it in his bag, resolving to go through the files tonight, at home, far away from this awful place.

He smiles to himself in sweet anticipation as he settles back in his vigil, for, tonight, McKay will have all the answers he needs to bring John back to the world of the living from this strange, hazy purgatory somewhere in the periphery of the human spirit.




"He's burning up."


"…. should have waited…."

"No time now that the damned collar's off…"

John is stirred by the clamor of two, distinctive voices whispering about him and the feeling of hands tugging at the restraints at his wrists once more. He struggles, but his moments are weak, his thoughts sluggish from fever and medication. No matter. The hands that tenderly manipulate his bony body are wide and strong, far stronger than he, pulling him up from the bed and swaddling him in the warm linens before holding his close to a broad, barrel chest.

"Just lead. I've got him."

It is a deep bass voice, one which vibrates against John's ear through the well muscled chest as those arms lift him up and cradle him close as a child. It is a voice John knows. Ronon Dex. No. Mr. Dex or Orderly Dex, John reminds himself when his cheek rubs against the overly bleached and started scrub top of the orderly's uniform. Yet, on those brief moments when John can draw a clear scent, the mellow notes of warm leather and musk tickle his senses, an aroma that, in his memories, has always clung to Ronon.


The second voice is urgent and higher in pitch, fraught with worry and fear. Rodney. No. Dr. McKay. It is hard, sometimes, for John to continually remind himself that this is not the world which he has so perfectly fabricated and that his caregivers are not the characters of that place. It is harder, still, when one of those characters is carrying him, his limp body bobbing along from the motion. Dr. Allen will be displeased with this set-back in his progress, John knows, but it is difficult to find the energy let alone the appropriate sentiment to care about the inundation of unsavory treatments and medications to follow as a result of this.

John pushes aside his worry and languishes deeply in the warm embrace of the orderly. Cold chills wrack the man, playing his body with tortuous shivers that have left him aching and raw. John drinks in the additional body heat of the big man who holds him, savoring the warmth so much that it looses a moan from him.

The orderly stops dead in his tracks and peers down at the man he holds so tight. "Sheppard? You okay?"

"No time!" the psychiatrist barks from further down the hall. "Come on!"

The running resumes, but John is too exhausted to track the motion, or even keep his eyes open. This is a particularly persistent hallucination, the most realistic one he has had in years. John squeezes his eyes shut. He is supposed to be getting better.

The thought is shattered upon stepping out, into the cool night air. The air should be cold and refreshing, clear as the sea from which it rises to the Institute perched above it. John had loved the sea breezes at one point, the sweet saltiness and faint mist that kissed the cheek and anointed him as no human hand ever could. Now, that cold, damp air chilled him right to the bone, sending a fresh bought of shivers ravaging his scrawny, emaciated body. He huddles closer to the warmth, unconsciously nuzzling himself into the orderly's broad chest.

"Dr. McKay! Ronon! This way!"

John gasps at that voice, hissing through the darkness of the night, the sharp inhalation painful and stealing a whimper from him. He struggles to force his eyelids open, but the effort is too great. No matter. He knows that voice as well. Sister Teyla always has had the sweetest of voice, like an angel brought to life.

"Wait, wait," she orders softly, speaking no louder than a hushed whisper. "I hear someone." Sister Teyla pauses for but the briefest of moments and, then, announces urgently, "It is Sister Sella."

Dr. McKay prompts impatiently, "Well?"

The woman growls, "Well, what?"

"The flying penguins are supposed to be your thing," the doctor churlishly snarls right back at her. "You deal with it."

The ill placed joke catches John as an image bubbles up in his mind; John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in their black suits and dark shades sitting at the desk of the nun. The Blues Brothers is one of those classic movies that has always made John chuckle, and he cannot help himself. A tiny chortle escapes his lips before a wide hand clamps down on his mouth, sending his heart racing as old memories of being held down and gagged surface up. He bucks and twists, but strong arms coil about him, thick as tree pythons.

"Shh…. shh…." the orderly breathes into his ear. "You've got to be quiet now."

That is what they said, too.

John twists and writhes as much as he can, but the movement is too strenuous for lungs as taxed as his. Each breath is painful and entirely unsatisfying, turning his thoughts sluggish. The fight is dizzying and draining, and the man who holds him is so much stronger than he. In time, John has no choice, as his body fails him and the darkness drags him back down.




"Oh, God. I'm so sorry."

John wakes slowly to the sound of many voices around him, the voices of strangers and of distant, watery memories. The strangers frighten him, sending chills down his spine. Or perhaps it is just the sickness.

"If I had known, I wouldn't have…"

John jerks from the voice, too near for comfort, yet something holds him still. He presses into whatever it is, burrowing to hide himself, make himself smaller. A pained whine escapes his throat.

"I didn't know."

"Yeah, well, knowing is half the battle."

John wants to laugh, he really wants to, but the terror steals the humor away.

"I think he is waking," It is a woman's voice now, tender and sweet. "John? John?"

He is not ready to come back to the unearthly crushing reality of the Institute, its restraints and doctors spewed meaningless platitudes, not when these fevered dreams of rescue taste so sweet. Besides, even this fleeting glimpse of consciousness has sapped him thoroughly. John slips back down to the depths that dark, silent, and peaceful place where he can breathe once more.




John is roused once more by a jerking sensation of stopping followed by large arms pulling him up from a supine position to cradle him once more against a wide, muscular chest. He forces his eyes open, finding only blurred, watery images before him. Shimmering blue meets him, and nothing more.

"It is okay, John," Sister Teyla shushes him. "We are going home."


It is a faint, single syllable, a cracked whisper crossing his lips.

He can almost hear the smile upon Sister Teyla's face as she speaks with a warmth and compassion that knows no bounds. "Yes, John. Home."

Dr. McKay's grating voice interrupts. "Atlantis, this is Jumper 1 inbound."

John drifts off once more.




John wakes slowly once more to the rough sensation of lying swaddled in clean, soft linens and a caustic antiseptic scent that tickles the nose and stirs a fresh coughing fit. The result hacks sound deeply and painfully from within, stirring loose something wet and slopping within. A clump of mucous slaps against the back of his throat, momentarily choking John before he can force the repulsive lump down once more.

"Colonel Sheppard?" a cool brogue calls. "Can ye hear me?"

John does not answer, does not even open his eyes. He is not ready for this. Not again. He knows where he is, as easily as he knows his own name. The tickle in the back of his mind, a warm pulsating hum that enfolds him. The sweet aroma of the ocean lingering beneath the sharpness of whatever it is they use to clean this place. The pinch in his arm. The pull and tug of surgical tape upon him, holding a series of tubes draped here and there in their right place. Even the dull ache in his cock from a catheter is somehow a welcoming sensation. It is Atlantis; it is home.

"Can ye open yer eyes for me, Colonel?" the man – Carson – persists.

John ignores him and slips down once more. He is not ready to open his eyes and have this beautiful, delicious dream, for all its many distasteful factors, fade away. Not yet.




When John finally does fully surface, he is torn between intense pleasure and heart-numbing terror that his delusional world of Atlantis remains. He has honestly expected to find himself back on the medical ward after yet another of his oh so frequent illnesses that Dr. Allen and his cronies so often liked to refer to as "setbacks," packaging up John's sorrows and suffering in a single, neat, tidy package of a word. It would not have been the first time that John has, in the midst of a soaring fever, imagined himself back in Atlantis, safely in Dr. Carson Beckett's rather dedicated care. Perhaps, even now, his mind is roasting its self alive with fever, stealing away John's sanity as easily as the accident had.

John glances about himself; the infirmary's isolation unit is dimly lit, empty, and quite quiet. John recalls Carson confiding in him once that he preferred to keep the evening lighting to a minimum to allow patients to rest but found him self too paranoid to allow full darkness. At least, John thinks he remembers this conversation. It is again, in his estimations, very possible that a person known as Carson Beckett exists only in his mind and occupies only this small fragment of awareness; it is equally possible that Carson Beckett is like Sister Teyla, Mr. Dex, or Dr. McKay – a real person that John's addled mind has embellished to fit his delusions.

He hardly has time to further contemplate that possibility when motion draws John's attention to the side. The man in question is there, drifting across the isolation unit towards him. Carson Beckett. The Scot smiles warmly and broadly at John as he pulls up a rolling stool to sit at his patient's side.

"Colonel Sheppard, it's good to see ye up finally," Dr. Beckett greets, sounding genuinely pleased.

John licks his lips and rasps hoarsely, "Wha….?"

It is all he can muster, despite the myriad of questions swirling about in his head. What happened? What is wrong with him? Mentally? Physically? His throat is too hoarse and too gummed up with thick, sticky snot, his mind whirling too swiftly to formulate anything truly coherent.

Carson, bless his heart, understands immediately. He strides easily across the infirmary and fetches John a cup of ice chips. With great tenderness and care, the doctor slips a single chip between John's cracked lips. Arctic chill trickles down John's tongue, instantly soothing the intense burning of his ragged, worn throat. The first ice chip melts away swiftly, and Carson slides another into John's mouth. John suckles upon the frigid bit, closing his eyes and savoring the cold as Carson sets the cup aside and check the monitors surrounding John's bed. He has grown so accustomed to being poked and prodded by so many doctors that John hardly notices when Carson lifts his gown to listen to his lungs, aside from the cool kiss of the stethoscope's bell on his wasted chest.

"How…." John swallows hard, struggling to form audible words and not just a dry croak. "How long?"

"Yer team brought you in seventeen days ago. Ye've been in an' out ever since."

John shakes his head sluggishly, admittedly quite dazed by the staggering length of time. "I don't…. I don't remember."

"Aye, and I wouldn't have expected ye to, with how bad of shape ye were in when your team brought you home." John gives another shake of his head, horrified by what that might mean for his sanity, but Carson goes on. "Ye were pretty out of it."

John gives another slow blink of his eyes, exhausted already by this brief foray into consciousness, but he needs to know. "Team?"

Carson nods slowly. "Yes. Yer team." The Scot's smile broadens slightly. "They've been searching for ye ever since we lost you on Cieros." The word is alien to John, but Beckett continues, "We thought we'd lost ye, Colonel." He reaches down and takes John's hand, so small and fragile in his own, and squeezes it carefully. "Get some rest."

John is too tired already to argue.




When John surfaces next, it is late in the afternoon judging by the radiant, golden light pouring through the angular windows of Atlantis. He is again surprised to find himself still in Atlantis. John knows just how elevated of a temperature he had been running even if he is unaware of the precise degree of body heat. He knows just how vivid fevered hallucinations can be, creating illusions so real that it may be near impossible to distinguish dreams from reality.

Carson appears at his side in a heartbeat and immediately sets to check his vitals and respiration. John feels the corners of his lips twinge in what might be the dawning of a smirk. Either this is yet another fever dream or psychotic episode, or Carson is seriously bored to be hovering so. No. For as John studies the man's stern expression, he realizes that the Scot is lingering over him in concern that may very well border on paranoia.

"Wha's wrong?" John slurs, taken back by the near syrupy sound of his own voice.

Carson frowns, still pressing the stethoscope to John's washboard ribs for another second before answering, "A minor setback." He stuffs the tool in his pocket and straightens John's gown and blankets. "I'd been hoping yer breathing would be showin' more improvement by now."

As if to punctuate the though, something tickles in John's throat, drawing up a painful bought of debilitating coughs. He curls up on his side, hugging himself against the hacks that threaten to expel everything in him. Carson produces an emesis basin and lifts John's head just enough to slip the basin beneath his chin, despite the fact that John produces little more than a bit of thick sputum for his efforts. Carson rubs John's back at the fit subsides, gingerly moving across the pointed bumps of his spine and ribs with great care. When John stills once more, Carson glances at the mucous and sets the basin aside, likely intending to survey the meager contents later. Once he is done, Carson draws the bed up so that he might sit slightly upright.

John blinks, momentarily dazed from the fit, and asks, "Wha's wrong with me?"

The doctor's face settles with a heavy sigh, and he draws up a chair. "Ye came in with a right nasty case of pneumonia, and there's still some fluid on yer lungs."

John furrows his brow. Pneumonia, huh? He has had his share of various illnesses through his time in the Institute, including a few incidents with pneumonia after particularly nasty infections. He just did not expect this illness to spiral so swiftly out of control and into as dangerous of territory as that. It is as much a shock as it is confusing. He felt sick, but surely not that sick.

Carson seems to understand and looks down solemnly, the words coming out awkwardly. "Being in such close quarters under that kind of stress overtaxed yer immune system." When John continues to simply stare in stupefaction, the Scot works his mouth for a moment, immensely disquieted it seems by what he must say. "It is not uncommon for patients in long term care facilities to display mildly to moderately depressed immune function and increased susceptibility to infection." He pauses uncomfortably. "Yer considerably limited nutrition didn't help much either. Looks like aspiration pneumonia from entirely inappropriate long term use of a nasogastric tube judging by nasal tissue erosion."

John feels the blood drain from his face as his heartbeat slows to an excruciating crawl through Beckett's explanation. His lungs tighten, and his throat constricts sharply. His illusions have only ever infiltrated the reality of the Institute – never the other way around. Reality has never penetrated as deeply as this into his supposed delusions of Atlantis to acknowledge the Institute or his life there. The thought terrifies him impossibly, no matter how he has insisted that he does not care what the Institute's doctors argue; it means he is getting worse.

Carson is at his side in the blink of an eye, supporting him and rubbing his back, crooning to him in nearly paternal coos, "Breathe, John. Just calm down, and breathe."

John quivers violently and clamps his eyes shut until they hurt, as though he could just shut out Carson Beckett and this world of Atlantis and slam himself by sheer force of will back into his rightful place in the Institute. However, the Scot's dulcet tones continue to seep in as John fights to draw breath, making it harder and harder. Beckett's voice still breaks through, encouraging him to calm down, which, oddly, has the opposite effect.

When Carson lowers the bed fully down and presses gently upon John's arm to hold his many IV lines in place, it is akin to putting napalm on a fire. Old memories of being held down dredge up from the back of his mind, and John jerks away, tumbling from the bed in full panic mode, tearing several of his attachments away and dragging others with him. He scrambles to get to his feet, but, after such a prolonged illness and confinement, he is too weak to stay upright of his own power for very long. As soon as John is upright, his mind swims, vision blurs, and legs crumple from beneath him. Dizzily, he crashes to the ground nearly instantly, falling into a crumpled heap of angular, scrawny limbs as darkness encroaches.

The doctor and his staff are at John's side in a moment, but they are moving too fast for his addled mind to track the motion. He remembers shadows circling him this way once before, months ago. John cannot watch. Instead, he turns his head down and grinds his forehead against the slightly chilled floor, squeezing his eyes shut tight once more, his mind drifting back and forth between the present and those painful, soul shattering memories that brought him to the Institute until he cannot accurately recall which is reality and which is the delusion anymore. Hands touch him, drawing a terrified whine from him before there is a momentary pinch on his arm. Atlantis it is, then, and John is tumbling down deeper to the dark place where he can breathe again.




John drifts back to reality slowly, his mind still fogged by whatever it is that Carson and his cronies drugged him with however long ago. The chemical induced haze lingers for a time over John before slowly dissipating as the day wears on, leaving him feeling somewhat dazed and exhausted despite the sedated sleep. He just lies there, barely responsive as Carson and his staff check on him throughout the morning. John answers their questions with simple, monosyllabic responses, finding it far less taxing both physically and emotionally. The entire medical staff seems much more concerned about John since the previous day's episode, making it a point to mother-hen the man.

At around midday, Carson drops by John's bed for what must be another in a long stream of checks, asking, "How are ye feeling, Colonel?"

John shrugs listlessly. In truth, while the Scot's wonderful chemical concoction has dulled much of the physical pain, it has also left him somehow empty and numbed to the core, disjointed from this world in a way. He has grown accustomed to doctors who talk over him, never directly addressing their patient, let alone with such tenderness and caring. He has also grown quite adjusted to being stripped of both rank and last name, spoken to as a child. As such, to be spoken to as Carson does to him, as well as to be called by what is supposed to be his rank in that world, is a little off putting.

Carson checks his vitals quickly and efficiently before smiling endearing. "Fever's coming down, and yer lungs are starting to sound a little better." The doctor makes a note on John's chart before setting it back down and announcing, "Ye've got a long road ahead of you, but ye're on the mend, Colonel."

John rolls his eyes slightly.

"I know, I know. It might not feel that way right now, but ye are. I swear," Carson gently promises him. "You're responding very well to the antibiotics, and, once we get your weight back up, it'll bring your immune system back in check."

John gives another slow, half-hearted shrug. Carson puts a hand on John's shoulder, as though to offer some form of grounding comfort and reassurance, clearly worried by both yesterday's episode and the quiet despondency of today. His palm feels too large, too heavy draped over John's collarbone. It makes John feel as though his brittle bones could just snap beneath the weight of the Scot's hand alone. He shudders inwardly at the thought, and Beckett reacts immediately, drawing his hand back.

There is an uncomfortable, terse moment before Carson speaks, likely simply to break the awkward silence. "Are ye in any pain?"

John finally lifts his gaze to meet the Scot's steady, warm gaze curiously and a bit afraid. It is the first time he has noticed. Aside from a few, minor discomforts stemming from the respiratory infection, his body is relatively pain free for the first time in… he cannot recall. The accident has left John with so many assorted aches and pains from bones shattered, so much so that everyday since the accident has been a study in varying degrees of misery. Yet, now, he barely feels the old injuries that have plagued him horribly since the accident. It is somehow a frightening thought, as though further confirmation that this place is nothing more than a delusion, likely fevered dreams. His heart trembles at the thought, floundering in his chest as the flapping of a water-logged bird.

"John?" The Scot's voice breaks through his initial panic, drawing him back.

John blinks, struggling to still his heart hammering in his chest. He swallows hard, forcing down the choking fear that this will all just melt away at any minute. He closes his eyes for but the briefest of moments, enough to still himself and calm his warring thoughts. If this is a dream, John will savor it for however long it lasts.

When he opens his eyes once more and Carson Beckett remains peering down at him from features pinched with concern, John forces his throat to work. "Yeah?"

"Didja hear what I said?" Carson breathes timidly, his brow knitting together as he hovers painfully close to John's bedside.

John has seen this expression before, at least he thinks he has, in watery memories, worn many times and directed to John specifically. It is a deep, stirring worry, once which has, over time, adorned Beckett with fine lines at the corners of his eyes, several of which appear near since the last time John "recalls" seeing Carson Beckett along with a few hairs tinged silver grey. It is the overwhelming fear that something is drastically wrong with his patient.

John swallows once more and looks down, mumbling, "'M sorry."

Carson lets out a deep breath, something bordering between a sigh of relief and one of mild exasperation. "Don't be. It's quite alright, Colonel. Ye have nothing to be sorry for."

John bites his lip to hold back the argument that nearly spews forth from him; he has plenty to be sorry for. That Samaritan boy would still be alive were in not for John. That face of that boy that stepped into traffic to save his sorry carcass will haunt him forever, and John knows this. He dreams of it often, the memory imprinted upon him with sharp, crystalline clarity. The hot, acrid tang of exhaust mingling with the near metallic scent of his own blood, amplified by the taste of it as well as it poured from his nose and mouth. The blaring of the truck, echoing in his chest and painfully rattling the paper fine bones of his inner ear. The pale, terrified face of the boy as those great, grinding tires bore down upon him. He cannot even lift his gaze to meet Carson's now.

"Are ye in any pain?" When John hardly reacts let alone answers to the repeated inquiry, Carson pauses, formulating what exactly to say. "It's not uncommon for someone with as traumatic of injuries as ye suffered to experience chronic pain and arthritic conditions even well after healing. I'm certain we'd both prefer if ye did not have to experience that."

He wants to argue that his pain, according to the doctors from the first institute, is all psychosomatic, a means of punishing himself for the incident, but all John can muster is a minute shake of his head. "No. M'fine."

Carson seems less than satisfied with this response, giving a mild 'hmm' before conceding, "Alright, but if it gets any worse, even a little, please let me know." He shakes his head tersely. "From what Rodney tells me, medicine on Cieros is at least forty or fifty years behind Earth medicine, despite a close approximation of technological advancement."

Cieros. Earth. The two words clash brutally upon John's mind, grating against one another harshly. John's mind reels back to another time and another place, before the Institute, before the accident, before Atlantis even. He remembers Earth as vividly as he recalls the Institute. He can see his ex-wife, his father, his brother, his mother, an endless stream of faces that have touched his supposed life. When he closes his eyes, he can see it. The beautiful desolation of the arctic ice fields, shimmering in both the glittering daze of afternoon light and the pale kiss of moonlight. The dense clusters of rock formations in the deserts. All of it. Memories of Earth flood over him, washing over his mind and heart. The name Cieros, while it sounds like it should be a world in the context Carson has used the word, dredges up nothing from his mind. Then again, this small conversation has already drained him, and it is little wonder that he cannot remember Cieros.

"Speaking of which," Carson interrupts his thoughts. "I was thinking ye might like to see a change of scenery, and I know Rodney was wondering if ye'd be up for visitors." He smirks slightly, playfully yet in a friendly way, not the same way they had. "Think ye're up to seeing him after we get you settled?"

John gives a small, tired nod and thinks to himself, "Why not?"

Carson beams, enthused by this small gesture. "It's almost lunch, and I'd like to start getting you back on solid foods, bring your weight back up. I'll have him pick up something from the mess on the way."

John turns and sinks back as the Scot leaves him to wait; he is not entirely sure whether he is waiting for Rodney to arrive or for this world to vanish.




Voices stir John. He blinks the bleariness from his eyes before realizing, much to his chagrin, John has fallen asleep while waiting. He does not like this feeling of constant exhaustion, always dragging him down. He looks about him and finds himself ensconced safely behind a wall of pale fabric, a curtained off area of an infirmary somewhere, judging by the bed beneath him. He does not remember arriving in this place, but John pushes that disquieting thought down.

"Great. Just great. You had to wait to call me, and, now, I've missed him," Dr. McKay brusquely huffs beyond the bland, linen curtain.

"Shh. Keep yer voice down. Ye'll wake him up." A Scottish accent, now, orders in a hushed breath; John's heart wars with his mind, shrieking that it is Carson Beckett as his mind roars that it is just another in a nearly anonymous stream of doctors in the Institute. "He's still recovering, slowly."

"It's been two weeks," Dr. McKay snarls back.

The other man sighs heavily. "It's going to take time, Rodney." He says nothing for a moment, allowing Dr. McKay to make childish sounds of a rather plain and petty sulk before asking, "Have ye managed to get into those files?"

"No." There comes an odd pause. "I kind of figured they weren't necessary now that we've got him home."

"I think I need to see them."

When Dr. McKay speaks again, it is with no small amount of trepidation. "What's wrong, Carson?"

"Maybe nothing. He's been through a lot," the Scot admits flatly.

John stiffens. They do not know yet, but, when they do…. he does not want to think about it, about those two months of agony waiting for someone, for anyone to save him. He shudders at the thought.

Dr. McKay presses. "What aren't you telling me, Carson?"

"Something's…. off with him."

Dr. McKay raises his voice slightly, eliciting a cringe from John as he barks disdainfully, "Well, of course he's going to be off! Gah, Carson, he's spent almost two years locked up in an asylum being told he's out of his friggin' gourd for believing in this place. Anyone would be 'off' after something like that!"

"Rodney, this is different." Beckett's tone turns quite grave. "Colonel Sheppard has been through something seriously traumatic physically, mentally, and emotionally. Frankly, I'm concerned." John shifts his weight, sending the bed beneath him creaking slightly and catching Carson's attention; the Scot calls gently, "Colonel?" The curtain parts slightly, drawn open just a hair by just two deft, surgeon's fingers, more than enough for the Scot to peer in at John. "I'm sorry, Colonel. We didn't mean to wake ye."

"I did," Rodney mutters sourly.

"Rodney!" Carson hisses through his teeth before glancing back to his patient, saying apologetically, "He didn't mean it."

"I most certainly did!" Rodney grouses from behind the curtain. "You tell Colonel Catastrophe that his lunch is getting cold and that I'm not his man servant, so he'd better not expect me to go fetch him another course if this one's gone frigid."

John smirks slightly to himself. It is exactly what McKay would say. God, if only this were real.




Lunch, as it turns out, consists of a rather disappointing cup of warm broth, no more than maybe eight or ten ounces. John simply stares at the offending, plastic mug with hollowed eyes, unmoving and unflinching. Carson occasionally drifts by and pipes up something to the effect of drinking the broth before it goes stone cold, yet John does not move. This is his chose, his decision made so very long ago to end it the only way possible. He will not go back to those dark nights, huddled as much as the limiting hard restraints allow and shivering, wondering with each passing shadow beyond his room's door if they have come for him again.

Rodney sits through the entire affair, no matter how pathetic of a sight it must be to witness a grown man of John's age reduced to…. to this, yet the man ignores it and maintains a steady, one-sided stream of banter just as he had in the Institute. When John finally does move to push the mug away on the bedside table, his mind is slipping back and forth between that place and this as he fights the growing heaviness to his eyelids. He is trying to listen attentively to McKay many stories of what he has supposedly missed during his absence, but it is too impossibly familiar and comforting a sound to resist drifting amid.

When John finally loses the battle to stifle his yawns, McKay scrunches his lips together into a tight frown. "Okay, okay. I can take a hint. You could have just told me I was boring you." He rises and smiles briefly as sleep retakes John. "Welcome home, Sheppard."




More time passes in this reality, enough so for John to wake and stare down another cup of broth for dinner. Carson gently encourages John to eat of his own will, but the words fall upon deaf ears as John continues to stare down another mug of broth. The Scot's features wrinkle in worry, but he makes no great effort to pressure John. Instead, he tiptoes timidly about the subject, trying to be as delicate as possible granted the uncomfortable nature of the situation. John tries not to care, and, once the broth has clearly cooled too much to be anywhere near palatable, Carson reluctantly disposes of it, pouring it down the drain.




The next morning greets John with another failed attempt from Carson to stimulate John's appetite. This time, it is with two mugs. One contains a runny, oatmeal-like porridge; the other holds a cup tea. The scent of the meal is cloying, tickling at John's nostrils temptingly. The tea smells sweet, as does the porridge. John remembers the taste of Carson's tea, delicious and homey, but, then again, John forces himself to remember that the Carson Beckett he remembers does not exist. Frustrated, he rolls over and turns his back to the offered meal as soon as it is set upon his bedside tray table, careful not to tangle or pull the many tubes and wires connected to him.

Carson sighs deeply and heavily. "John, I really wish ye'd at least try to eat something." A hand falls upon his bony shoulder. "Ye're not doing yerself any favors by not eating."

John does not argue, nor even respond. Instead, he curls up tighter, hugging himself, as though he could just block out Carson's words and overwhelming sense of worry and dread by sheer force of will. If he could, he would simply hurl himself back into that other world, the world dubbed 'reality' and be done with this Atlantis forever. Sometimes, when John allows himself to drift in the chemical induced stupor at the border of consciousness for too long, he can sometimes see the Institute, the memory burned in the back of his mind.

However, Carson's incessant rubbing of John's back grounds him in this reality as he offers hopefully, "Maybe there's something ye'd like better?" When John fails to answer and shuts his eyes to sleep once more, Carson sighs. "Let me know if ye change yer mind."




In the afternoon, following another pointedly ignored meal, John is visited by Ronon. Ronon says little, but, then again, John does not expect the burly man to say much. The orderly of one life and warrior of another has always been a man of few words. His presence alone is a grounding comfort to John, for, unlike Rodney or Carson, Ronon is a man of still, calm, and composure. John appreciates the stillness of Ronon after the flighty, nervous fidgeting and hovering of both the doctors. Ronon speaks in limited bursts, inviting John to spar with him when he is ready before leaving shortly after arriving.

John naps after Ronon's visit and wakes just in time for Teyla to visit. He knows her by her scent first, the gentle spice of incense carried on the air of the infirmary well before she draws the curtain open. He blinks in surprise at her appearance. Her hair, once long and coppery, has been lopped off, likely shaved down. Only a faint fuzzing of hair has grown back thus far. It yields a sharp, shrewd look to the woman, emphasizing the angles of her high cheek bones and sculpted jaw line. John swallows. Everyone else from that world has appeared exactly the same in this world, but not Teyla.

"Your hair," John breathes, his mouth hanging open in shock.

Teyla flushes visibly and rubs her hand self-consciously over her head and the sparse crop of hair fuzzing over her scalp. "The nunnery which I had infiltrated requires their members maintain a cleanly shorn head at all times."

"But…. your hair."

Teyla's smile broadens widely. "And it will grow back." She reaches down and squeezes his hand, her hand solid and reassuring about his. "You are far more important than hair. I would gladly sheer my hair again to save any among my friends and family."

John distantly wonders if Nancy would have said the same thing.

She speaks for a time of her son, Torren, and of life on Atlantis all this time. Her reports of the city abroad are even and fair, speaking purely of news items from interesting technological finds and trading matters that John has missed out on. Rodney has much better gossip, but John listens anyway until sleep tugs at him once more. He blinks his steadily drooping eyelids, struggling to stay in the moment and listen; he should be able to stay awake for long enough for a short visit.

Teyla notes this, rises, touches her forehead to his, and breathes softly, "Rest, John."

He needs no further encouragement.




When John awakes a few days later, he impossibly feels worse than before. His head throbs and aches with every beat of his heart, and shivers play his body once more. It hurts to breathe, and, to accommodate this fact, someone has already draped tubes under his nose to feed him oxygen. Another setback. John sighs and rolls to his side, his heart heavy with a terrible grief. He should be happy. This is what he wanted, right? This is precisely what he had been expecting when he decided to starve himself months ago. If that is the case, then why does it hurt so?

There are quiet murmurs beyond his curtained off area. Two voices, both male. John strains to hear them over the thundering of his own blood in his ears.

"He's not getting any better." Rodney, his voice fraught with concern, the type of tension and fear generally reserved by the physicist for a Wraith attack.

"I'm trying everything I can, Rodney, but he's got to start helping me." Carson, now, equally nervous.

Rodney fumes. "Look at him? What can he do to help you? Do his own surgery?"

John's cheeks flush with heat not from his own fever but from a deep shame. McKay is right. What can John do anymore? Nothing. He is nothing more than a pathetic shell of a human being, barely strong enough to lift his own arms let alone take care of himself.

"Rodney," Carson hisses through his teeth in annoyance before continuing sadly, "He's not getting enough nutritional intake."

"So put him on a feeding tube!" the physicist blurts out.

"I can't."

Rodney gives pause at that before asking, "What?"

"I. Can't." Carson forcibly annunciates the words, applying no uncertain amount of sternness to them. "I wish I could, but I can't. His nasal, pharyngeal, and esophageal tissues are too eroded to take an ng tube for too long, and his immune function is still too depressed for me to risk putting in a central line for TPN unless absolutely necessary."

"So you're just giving up?"

"No. We're trying everything we can. We've been running PPN through his lines 24 hours a day. It's just not enough," Carson heaves solemnly. "Not unless he starts helping himself and eating something."

There is a long pause in the rather heated conversation, long enough for John to breathe a sigh of relief and think that the matter is to be dropped. It is hard hearing himself spoken in such an emotional manner. The doctors at Somerisle generally kept their distance from him, as though he and the other patients alike were somehow contagious in their various mental illnesses.

"He's not going to eat," Rodney finally mutters under his breath.

"Don't say that."

McKay states slowly and uncomfortably, "He's not going to."

"How can ye know that?" Carson demands.

What Rodney says next, it is so softly and so flatly that John nearly misses it entirely. "He was raped."

John's ears burn to hear two months of misery spoken so plainly. Hot tears well up under his eyes so swiftly that when he tries to blink them away, those fat droplets spill down his cheeks. He gnashes his teeth together to bite back the sob that threatens to loose itself from his chest.


"Repeatedly." The physicist's voice hitches at the word, but he composes himself just enough to explain, "I got into those files like you wanted." Rodney breathes sadly, "In his prior institution, a few of the orderlies would…." McKay swallows hard; he never has been good with things of an emotional nature. The man awkwardly goes on, "He tried to escape a few times, tried to attack them. When that didn't work, he tried to…." McKay shudders almost vocally. "Well, you've seen the scars."

John hunkers down on his bed. He has many scars on his body, not all of them from the accident. In fact, there is a rather select collection about his throat, on his wrists and the inside of his thighs that are not from the accident. Those raised, pink scars that mar his skin are from his own hand. The pain, however, had been an oddly welcome side-effect from the self-mutilation, an undeniable reassurance that the world of those horrid institutes had been real, concrete – a grace he has not been granted in this realm. Doctors apparently do not appreciate when their patients hack away at themselves and generally resort to heavy sedation, restraints, and frequent watches to prevent it.

"He stopped eating then," McKay continues hesitantly. "That was nine months ago by their records."

"Good God," Beckett breathes.

"It's kind of funny," the physicist says limply, his voice mirthless and grim despite the curious wording. "If he hadn't done that, no one would have known. They only found out because they started running night force feeding."

John clamps his eyes shut. He still remembers that night. The squeak of the aging, metal bed frame beneath the motion. The crushing weight pressing down upon his withered body. The cutting jibes about his pathetic, shriveled manhood and its twitching response to manual stimulation, an automatic reaction that sickens John to this day no matter how he fought against it. The heat and stench of another man's breath upon his cheek. And, then, the creak of the door to his room. The bright, burning shaft of light piercing through the darkness. A quick, hushed gasp followed immediately by the clatter of a tray and tools on the tile floor of the hall. A series of harsh, guttural swears from both the man upon him and the other waiting his turn. And, then, nothing for a few minutes preceding the stream of doctors, nurses, and emergency staff tending to him, fawning over him as they poke and prod at his genitals.

A voice rips John from his memories; Rodney. "How much of that did you hear?"

John scrubs his cheeks with the back of his hand roughly, dropping his gaze to the sheets about him. He cannot look Rodney in the eye, mental projection or not, knowing that Rodney has seen those files. Rodney once said he respected John. How could anyone respect anything as pitiful and repulsive as he?

"I take it you heard all of that, then," the physicist surmises as he pulls up a chair; McKay is always the smart one, after all.

John reclines back and rolls onto his side away from Rodney. After so much time bound down by locking restraints, this is the only form of escape John is accustomed to now, the only way he knows to block out the world and turn away even the most chipper and optimistic of doctors. Rodney McKay, however, is not one to be so easily dismissed, judging by the shrill shriek of metal as the man drags his chair across the floor and inches closer to John's bedside. Rodney touches his shoulder gently, and John immediately shrugs the contact off.

"Hey…" Rodney frowns, unsure of how to proceed in this all too delicate of matters in uncharted territory. "It's alright, you know." John stiffens, and Rodney flusters. "Not what happened. No. No, that's never okay. But, you're home, and you're safe now. And no one needs to know if you don't want them to. We're the only ones who know right now. Just you, me, and Carson." The physicist pauses in his ramblings again, before offering, "And, if you want to talk about… well… that, you can… you know. If you want to. But you've got to start eating and you've got to start talking to us."

There is a long moment when neither man says a word. Rodney has not grown entirely adjusted to these moods of John's yet, feeling a thoroughly embarrassing irritation bubbling beneath the surface of his calm and compassion. This is not Rodney's expertise, not by a long shot, and John does not need his crude bludgeoning of social graces. Rodney has seen the extent of John's suffering, agony that McKay would have saved for the Wraith, or maybe even the Genii, but not someone like John.

Finally, John faces Rodney and speaks in a frail voice. "How?"


John clears his throat uncomfortably and clarifies, "How did we get here?"

It is a question John has rather been dying to ask. He would think, granted how elaborately crafted and detailed of delusions he has concocted, that John would remember more about the grand escape, instead of magically appearing in Atlantis under the care of Dr. Beckett. It would seem logical, in his mind, that he would know. Yet there are great, gaping holes in his memories of the escape.

"Ronon carried you." Rodney's answer is swift and to the point.

John shakes his head. "No. I mean, how did this all happen?"

Rodney smirks mischievously and folds his arms across his chest. "Trade."

John raises an eyebrow. "For?"

"I'll tell you, but you've got to eat something." When John opens his mouth, McKay swiftly cuts him off with a pointed finger. "Payment in advance. I'm not having you dodge out and cry 'not hungry' after wasting both my precious time and breath telling you how I saved your scrawny hide again."

John nods in wary concession; his need to know outweighs the cost of one, small meal. "Alright."

Rodney extends a hand. "Shake on it?"

A scrawny, mangled paw, barely recognizable as the once deft hand of John Sheppard snakes out from beneath the blankets. "Deal."

Rodney takes John's hand quite carefully within his. John's fingers both feel and look acutely tiny cradled in McKay's downright meaty paw. Rodney hardly squeezes John's hand, terrified that he might crush it that he hardly dares apply any more pressure upon the man's bony fingers save the minute amount necessary.

Rodney grins. "Wait right here."

John wants to argue that he would have no other place to go, but Rodney has already bolted in quest for Carson.




The bargaining chip, as it turns out, is a delightfully horrid concoction Dr. Beckett insists will both put meat on John's bones and hair on his chest. John could not agree more. It is a thick, nasty brown sludge served chilled as though in vain emulation of a frothy milkshake. In reality, chilling the stuff only imparts a slimy, partially congealed texture. The drink is chocolate flavored, sickly saccharine, decidedly over-sweetened and entirely overwhelming in taste. Or, it may simply be that John has not tasted anything in so long that he has lost accurate perspective on the sense.

Carson serves only a small bit of it, no more than 8 or 10 ounces in a plastic mug, which is a blessing in disguise. Despite how light the thing should be, John's hand shakes too much for him to hold it normally. Instead, he is forced to cradle the mug in two hands as a child would to avoid spilling. He chokes the stuff down in as few of gulps as possible, and even the meager portion leaves his stomach uncomfortably bloated and roiling. Carson, however, seems pleased and eager, grinning from ear to ear and practically patting John on the back before whisking the mug away.

After that, John settles in to listen as Rodney asks, "Remember M7R-229? Elysium?"

John does. Elysium is, to his recollection, a world of moderate technological advancement, roughly the equivalency of the Industrial Revolution; however, the merits of Elysium lie not in technology but in trade. The Lanteans have always enjoyed their frequent visits to Elysium and the bustling marketplace at the center of town about the gate. Teams often jockey rather competitively for a chance to visit the temperate world with its gentle weather, welcoming people, and vast variety of goods, trinkets and treats to be had.

He nods at Rodney, and the physicist questions, "Do you remember your last mission there?"

John can. It was a routine trade mission, bartering medicine for foodstuffs. He closes his eyes, and he can still see the market place about him. He can still taste the rich sweetness of delicious quick fried pastry that most tourists to Elysium – Lanteans included – seem to make a point of having every visit; the hot, flaky treat loosely reminds John of funnel cake, only with a spiced sugar mix instead of powdered sugar. He can hear the market sounds, the calls of venders hawking their wares, the repeated dialing of the gate, the bells ringing high in the clock tower to chime the hour, Rodney bickering with someone in his failed attempts at haggling. His doctors, however, have consistently cautioned him not to allow himself to be so easily duped by these memories, pointing out that these sensory memories are as equally easily fabricated as any other memory or thought.

"How about when we got the call back from Atlantis?"

John nods slowly. There had been some sort of disciplinary issue on Atlantis between two of his men. It does not happen often, let alone with such a tight knit group. However, as he recalls, the two had been unknowingly drinking large quantities of a particularly strong alcohol as a part of a diplomatic ceremony on another world and gotten into a small squabble upon their return home. Atlantis had called to summon him to sort it out and mete out whatever justice or punishment he sought fit. John remembers sighing in his own irritation at his trip to Elysium being cut so short, rolling his eyes and telling the rest of his team to just go on ahead without him. He had dialed and gone through – tumbling out of the gate and into oncoming traffic instead of the comforting familiarity of Atlantis.

"You never made it home," McKay whispers; he turns his gaze away to hide his obvious shame. "We didn't know, not until we got back to Atlantis. You never dialed Atlantis. We figured you dialed the wrong address."

John furrows his brow. Dialing the same address over and over again is not exactly rocket science. In fact, even after all this time in that other reality, John knows he could probably dial the first six chevrons of Atlantis's address with his eye closed. The last chevron – the point of origin – John is confident he could never forget for Elysium granted the fact that it looks remarkably like a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit.

"It should have been so simple," McKay goes on, rubbing his forehead. "Go back to Elysium, pull the last 50 dialed addresses, dial wherever it was you accidentally dumped yourself, and save your sorry carcass… again." He pauses, biting his lip nervously. "But, the dialing history registered an outgoing wormhole to Atlantis right when you left. Radek and I ran intense diagnostics on both the Atlantis and Elysium gates." McKay sighs and shakes his head. "You just have zero luck with Stargates, do you? The Elysium gate's original power supply had been depleted centuries ago from repeated overuse, but they couldn't risk their precious trade status, so they jury-rigged a power supply. There was a malfunction, an overload. That one in a million shot that was bound to happen from shoddy work like that. The gate dialed properly, but connected to the wrong world."

John blinks slowly, uncomfortable with this explanation; it is all too convenient of a story. An entirely unpredictable gate malfunction, one which magically did not leave John dematerialized somewhere in the gate network for the rest of existence, entirely unaware of this, or perhaps rematerialized as some horrid, malformed beast. Coupled with the memory of being launched several thousand years into the future by supposed gate malfunction, it is too much to believe. Despite the sincerity on McKay's face, John does not believe him.

However, McKay continues. "Took Radek and I months to finally recreate the malfunction successfully enough to calculate the error and trajectory of the wormhole you hitched a ride on. After that, it took a while to convince Woolsey to send a team through to search for you."

"Why?" John croaks.

Rodney shrugs awkwardly, looking down once more. "He had a whole series of half-assed excuses about how you should have dialed back by then. We wasted a whole week just arguing with him. He kept saying it was too dangerous. Ronon and Teyla eventually convinced him rather…. forcefully, to let us take a jumper through the gate. Good thing too. That god forsaken rock didn't even have a DHD anymore."

Again, it is too perfect, too simple. John's chest tightens involuntarily, making it difficult to draw breath. His heart twists and contracts sharply as well, panged by the tale unfolding before him.

"It was late at night on Cieros, which was kind of convenient considering the gate was right in the middle of town. Too bad there was one witness." Rodney gives a small snort. "Some snot nosed bohemian brat. He followed us to where Lorne touched down. Name of Sterling. Turns out, he's the artist who created that 'sculpture.' He found the Cieros gate in a scrap yard, put it up on a pedestal, and called it 'original art.' The townspeople loved Sterling's little project so much, they put it at the middle of a roundabout. He told us he'd heard about the accident, about you and your story, and had been checking out the gate regularly in hope that maybe, it would happen again and some other poor bastard would fall right out into the middle of rush hour traffic."

John grimaces. McKay makes it sound almost comical, but the truth is far from it. It had terrifying as hell and excruciatingly painful. He'd fallen from the gate perhaps ten or twenty feet to hard, unforgiving asphalt below and had just barely staggered to his feet before a car slammed right into him. And, then, there had been the tractor trailer, and the horror of knowing that a child had died because of him. McKay cannot understand any of that, nor package the entirety of that event in a singular statement. No.

McKay must see the sour expression on John's face, for he winces as well and flushes in shame. "I'm sorry. I… I shouldn't have said it like that."

John shrugs his scrawny, bony shoulders, unsure of what to offer in consolation or acceptance to what may very well simply be a figment of his own overactive imagination. It is all he can do between the tautness to his body and the exhaustion that both hold him hostage.

"Sterling…." McKay breathes softly, trailing off momentarily. "He wanted me to apologize to you. He said it was his fault all this happened, that you didn't just fall out of the gate in a scrapyard, a little worse for wear but not in that bad of shape. He took us in, gave us a base of operations, helped us find you. Once we knew where you were, he helped us get in to you. First Teyla as one of those nuns, but she couldn't get into patient's cells. Ronon, next, as an orderly, but, by that point, they'd put that barbaric collar on you." McKay flusters and drops his gaze. "I'm sorry it took us so long, but we had to infiltrate slowly, build their trust enough to get close to you, get them to let their guard down. Should have gotten there sooner…"

John watches McKay carefully, cautiously, but the physicist does not look up. He is shaking, ever so slightly, in small, quivering waves. The rounded man sniffles once before bringing up his hand to itch his nose before attempting to surreptitiously scrub beneath his eyes. It is to no avail, for, as the man looks up, John cannot help but spy the glossy sheen of unshed tears in McKay's eyes. He marvels at this momentarily, that someone could possibly be crying for him, before instantly banishing the wonder of it. Creatures as pathetic as he are undeserving of another's tears. His caregivers never cried, not once, as they held him down and drugged him thoroughly until he could not even muster the energy to care. Further evidence that this world is unreal, merely a delusion.

McKay is speaking again, detailing an escape that John only partially recalls in faint snippets of fever addled memory, but John hardly notices. It does not matter. Whatever McKay says is a fabrication, nothing more, nothing less.




In the weeks that follow that day, John makes limited progress. Both Dr. Beckett and McKay closely monitor John's eating – for he does continue to eat from that day. While his voluntary feeding thrills Beckett to no end, drawing bountiful praise showered upon him from the Scot, McKay is less than enthralled. He sees Beckett's encouragement as mindless, patronizing drivel, something John surely does not need being spoon fed so much of it in the Institute, and, despite Carson's assurances that this is good, McKay hardly sees any difference. Indeed, John's meager weight gains over the weeks are measured in ounces, not pounds, leaving the man still painfully scrawny even as he graduates from choking down protein shakes and broth, to lipping at watery oatmeal and tea and, then, to bland solids like boiled chicken and rice.

Perhaps, McKay ponders, it is the quiet of John, the almost preternatural stillness and apprehension to a man who he has only ever known as active, proud, and defiant, that unsettles the Canadian so. In previous infirmary stays, John has always been boisterous, rowdy, and gregarious, but, now, he withdraws. John hardly speaks, and, when he does, it is always in a soft, timid whisper. He does not speak unless answering a question addressed directly to him, and, even then, his responses have a questioning tone to them, as though seeking the approval of his caretakers. He shies, visibly backing and cringing away from anyone who draws too near too swiftly. His uncertainty is almost more disheartening than the physical infirmity of his illness.

Surprisingly, despite McKay's constant pestering, Carson does not press for John to speak to someone beyond the first few attempts – all of which ended miserably with John going into panic attacks so bad that they require sedation. The Scot, however, voices valid concerns when McKay demands an explanation. Since Heightmeyer's passing, Atlantis has not had a psychologist, and, while Carson has offered counseling services to the expedition members in the past, he is not nearly qualified enough to address John's obvious issues. Considering John's experience and his prior reactions, Carson fears that even momentarily presenting John with a counselor figure could only worsen matters, bringing him back mentally to the place of his trauma. McKay flushes when shame when faced with such stark truths.

Still, it vastly shocks McKay when Carson discreetly informs him that he feels John is ready to be released to his room to recuperate, and the physicist makes his opinion known. "You cannot be serious! Look at him! He still looks like a walking advert for famine relief!"

Carson winces slightly, but does not deny it. "Aye. He's gained close to five pounds, but he was so emaciated when ye brought him in that it's going to take time for him to start lookin' like he's improving."

"So keep him here and just keep cramming the calories in him," McKay grouses.

Carson shakes his head. "I wish it were that simple, Rodney, but that might be entirely counter-intuitive. He's been in hospitals and institutions so long, without any say or choice in his recovery, that keeping him here might keep setting him back."

McKay nods slowly, but, when he speaks, his tone wavers with emotion as he asks, "What if he starts backsliding?"

Beckett smiles softly, tenderly. "I know ye're worried, Rodney, but it's not like I'm not going to be keeping an eye on him. There will be conditions to him returning to his quarters, including frequent check-ups and weigh-ins, plus, he'll be starting physical therapy later in the week. Believe me, if he doesn't start putting the weight on, we'll catch it." The Scot smirks. "Besides, with ye mothering him, I don't think I have anything to worry about."

"Oh, ha ha," Rodney sneers in derision, rolling his eyes before growing solemn once more. He chews on his thumbnail for a moment before saying, "I'm sorry, Carson. I just… I worry. He's my friend, and I let him down on more than one occasion. But this…. God. He was rotting there because it took Radek and I so long to find him."

"I understand." The physician's smile is warm and caring, almost paternal. "Believe me, I understand. But ye didn't fail him, Rodney. Ye found him, and ye brought him home. That's all that matters."

Rodney returns the smile, but it is half-hearted at best.




John surveys his room carefully, slowly circling the space as he does, his eyes roving over each and every item in intense scrutiny. This is the place he remembers, in his dreams and faint recollections of Atlantis, weathered and watered by both time and the drugs pumped into him in the Institute. Everything – each and every little item – is exactly where he left it that day his team left for Elysium, albeit coated in a thin layer of dust. His bed is still neatly made, with the precise corners drilled into him from basic; although, the linens are likely musty beyond compare and in dire need of laundering. Even the man in black himself stares down from the exact right spot.

John sits on the bed and attempts to steel himself against this…. is it confusion, is it horror? He cannot tell. It is such an odd sensation, suffocating him so. He has wanted this for so long, ached for it, but, now, faced with this world and this life, John feels smothered, buried in a way. He is supposed to be getting better, but, now, he is trapped in this reality. How will he ever get his life back if he keeps succumbing to these delusional fits?

He sighs to himself and shakes his head. Maybe Rodney and Carson are telling the truth. Maybe this is reality. Or, maybe he has taken a turn for the worse. It is too hard to say.

He strolls across the room and enters the bathroom, staring at it oddly for a moment. John has never given the facilities on Atlantis a second thought, until now. It is strange, that, a galaxy away and across the span of centuries, lavatory facilities would accommodate a human so perfectly. Upon second thought, it is almost impossible to believe that, despite the gradual height increase in Earthlings through the course of just four hundred years, the bathrooms would even serve a man of Ronon's staggering size and bulk. John turns to the mirror, staring in awe and wonder at how the Ancients would have set a mirror directly over the sink in the precise placement as in the average, American household.

John sinks to his knees and hugs himself in desperation, for, the more he thinks about, the less real this place becomes. He shakes, quivering from head to toe. He needs to know. He needs a way to be sure.

John rises, and opens a side drawer. An assortment of tools and weapons from his tac-vest sit there, the limited items he elected not to bring to as peaceable a world as Elysium. His KA-BAR knife, a decidedly dangerous looking item, sits there. John takes the knife in his hands and returns to his bed, sitting on it, trembling ever so slightly.

Atlantis shrieks at him in shrill, warning tones in the back of his mind, crying out for her favorite son, but John squelches her cries. She isn't real. And, even if she was, Atlantis is a city. Cities do not scream.




McKay strays from Sheppard's quarters for as long as he can, mindful that the man needs some time to relax, to settle in and unwind after being in the Institute and the infirmary. Sheppard is a private man, he knows. After so long on display, poked and prodded by doctors and unable to seek the refuge he so often requires, John must be pretty tired of it all.

However, it is hard – damned hard – to just leave John to his own devices. At first, McKay heads to the lab and tries to fill his day with distractions, like catching up on old experimental data that has built up since they left for Cieros and the ancient paperwork he has allowed to build up since the expedition first arrived in the Pegasus Galaxy years ago. However, that only holds his attention for so very long before his mind returns to thoughts of Sheppard. No matter how he tries, Rodney cannot shake the nagging worry that tugs so at the back of his mind. Something is pulling at him, ticking and gnawing at the back of his mind.

Finally, McKay concedes defeat, packing his things in for the day not long after arriving at the labs; he drops off his things at his own quarters before continuing down the hall to Sheppard's quarters. For a moment, McKay lingers just outside John's door, considering how foolish this is. After all, Beckett just released him from the infirmary; how much trouble could John get himself into in just a few short hours. Despite that logic, Rodney cannot shake the feeling that something is wrong somehow.

Atlantis whispers in his ear, her wordless voice but a kiss upon the back of his consciousness. It is so very faint to him, just enough to mess with his inner ear and sense of equilibrium, but Rodney knows the city would otherwise be screaming to John. Something is wrong.

McKay scrambles to open the door, but the thing is locked. He rips the panel open and overrides the controls. The door opens with a woosh, revealing a grizzly sight. John is there, sitting upon his bed, leaning over a widening pool of blood on his floor and carving at his arm with a knife. He is grunting with each motion through teeth grit against the pain. McKay rushes to his side and grabs him by the wrist with one hand, prying at the fingers that hold the knife with the other. John gives a token struggle, but he is still too weakened from his experience to fight even someone as wimpy as McKay. The physicist tears the knife from John's hand and tosses it aside, listening as it clatters across the floor.

For a moment, John stares up at him with wide, fearful eyes before crumpling against him, quaking as he does. McKay stands there, awkwardly, uncertain how to handle this, before putting his arms about Sheppard. He thinks the man is in shock granted the shivering, but, to his surprise, as he leans to hold John, to rub his back and comfort him, Rodney can hear the sound of soft, choking sobs escaping the man. John is crying.

Worse, he is whispering to himself, whispering those dark things, confessing everything that has happened to him. It is not coming out chronologically, not as McKay understands from reading John's files from the Institute, but it spills out just the same. The drugs. The rapes. The shocking "treatments" ranging from the barbaric electro-shock, to ice bathes, to chemical castration, horrors not documented. He shudders when he tells McKay about living in constant fear of being lobotomized at any moment. Rodney does not shush him, does not say anything. Instead, he does the only thing he can. He holds John as the words fall between them.

In time, John has exhausted himself, and he stills against McKay's chest. He goes pliant in Rodney's arms, sapped of whatever energy he possessed just a few moments ago. Rodney shifts him gently, concerned that John has passed out. John gives no reaction, save a moan that hardly sounds conscious on his part. When Rodney moves him, John stirs, looking up as McKay tenderly manipulates his body to draw up John's injured arm.

"Oh, god, Sheppard," McKay whispers as he turns the pale forearm over to study the long, angry gashes upon it. "What did you do to yourself?"

The other man shifts and looks up for but a moment before shaking his head and lowering his gaze to the heavy crimson droplets falling from his arm even still. Rodney does not entirely expect an answer as he steps back from John, trusting him to keep upright as he reaches into the bathroom to grab a clean towel. Slowly, the physicist kneels beside his friend, careful to keep his motions even and non-threatening as he takes John's arm in his hands and presses the towel to the ghastly wounds. John tenses but does not pull away, even as Rodney squeezes ever so slightly in hopes that the subtle pressure will staunch the bleeding.

"You could have killed yourself," the physicist mumbles under his breath, the sight of Sheppard hacking his arm apart still fresh in McKay's mind.

The voice that cracks from his throat is such a faint shade of whisper that Rodney almost doesn't hear it. "I had to..."

McKay blinks in astonishment at that, the first words he knows Sheppard has spoken in months before he has to question it. "You had to what?"

"I...had to..." John swallows hard, obviously working to put together the right words as heavy tears roll down his cheeks. "Had to know..."

"You could have always asked me anything." McKay snorts awkwardly, desperately trying to keep from upsetting the obviously distraught John any further. "Smartest man in two galaxies." Rodney lifts the edge of the scarlet stained towel before adding, "And counting." McKay draws in a hiss upon seeing the angry cuts and slashes, noting solemnly, "Carson is not going to be happy when he sees this mess."

"M'fine," Sheppard balks, tugging his arm back with childish tenacity.

Rodney merely grips John's wrist tighter so that he can hold the towel tight to the fresh wounds, wincing as the clearing terrified man flinches from the contact. "Shh... shh." With his free hand, McKay tenderly reaches up to touch John's cheek, feeling the tremors quaking through his friend, guiding the colonel's eyes to meet his. "You're not fine, Sheppard." McKay licks his salty lips, calculating his words as opposing to flying off on impulse as he normally wound; he must be cautious for John. "And, no matter how much you say you are, you aren't." John shakes harder, but McKay just slips his free arm around about Sheppard, pulling close. "But we can work on it."

The colonel lurches in the embrace once more in small, tight, guarded sobs. Rodney's heart breaks for Sheppard, but he holds himself together. John has been strong for them so many times before that, just this once, at the very least, McKay can return the favor. A warmth seeps through McKay's shirt where John buries his head against the physicist's shoulder, and it takes Rodney a moment to realize the heat is from John's tears. After some time, John stills again, his sobs softening to sniffles.

Finally, Rodney feels comfortable enough to slip from the hug, smiling warmly as he brushes John's cheek with his thumbs and asks, "So, what was this big important thing you had to know that you couldn't just ask me about, huh?"

"If this..."John's fearful and glossy hazel eyes sweep over the room before settling upon his arm and the crimson stained towel. "Is real."

Rodney could almost cry at the answer. "Sheppard..." He feels a strange, choking lump forming in his throat. "John... I promise you this is real." The physicist snatches John's uninjured hand to press to his chest. "Feel." John pulls torpidly away, but Rodney holds tight by both hands, insisting, "Feel. Feel my heartbeat. Feel how real I am. Trust me." The scientist pauses nervously. "You can trust me."

John blinks and shakes his head defensively. "They said that too."

"John..." Rodney flaps his lips for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "Why didn't you believe that this was real? Why..." He looks to the ravaged arm beneath the towel. "Why did you do this to yourself?"

Sheppard casts his gaze downward in no uncertain shame. "I wanted... to…. to…"

"To be sure," Rodney vocalizes what his friend cannot. "To be sure that this was the real world and not a delusion." The physicist thinks for a moment as Sheppard nods numbly before going on with a sudden switch of tactics and tone. "Are you aware of the concept of relative perception?" When Sheppard does not answer, Rodney immediately launches into a quick explanation, "They say that our perception dictates our reality, and that it is the sum of our experiences that determines reality." Rodney smirks lopsidedly in an expression that belonged better on John's face. "Although, I don't know why I'm telling you this. You're smart enough, you should already know that. Anyway, what it all comes down to is this; Sheppard, which reality do you want to be real?"

Sheppard blinks, almost numbly, absolutely dumbfounded by the question, it seems. His lower lip quivers, as though somewhere between ready to spill an answer or more tears. Those hazel eyes cloud with confusion and an unsteady tension, a trepidation of the suggestion's implication.

"It's a simple question, Sheppard. They're both real. I mean, both planets exist, but what you want? Atlantis? Or Cieros?" Rodney poses again almost insistently now.

The colonel lowers his head. All this time, and he never thought of it that way. Of course, leave it to Rodney to put things so simply, so easily. Does it really matter what anyone else cares, so long as he cares? It is his choice after all. He always could have made this choice at any moment.

The answer that escapes him is almost too faint to hear. "Atlantis..."

Rodney nods patiently and slowly, putting a hand about his friend while the other continues to apply even pressure to the self inflicted wounds. "Okay, then." Rodney squeezes John's shoulder. "I can't prove to you without a shadow of a doubt that both planets exist. I wish I could, but, with us being fugitives from the law and all, I can't really recommend us going back to Cieros ever. I know that would make this easier, but, as long as you keep believing this is real, that I'm real, it will get better. It's not going to be easy, but we'll help. Teyla, Ronon, Carson and I. We want you to get better. I know it's hard to trust, but, please, give us the chance." Rodney presses his lips together before pleading, "Please, John, please give us this chance."

John nods slowly. "Okay." He swallows hard. "I can do that."

"Okay," Rodney breathes slowly before gesturing to John's mutilated arm. "Now, can we please go get that checked out by our resident sheep herder before you bleed to death all over the place?"




Rodney is right, but, then again, he always is. It is hard at times, so very hard, but it does get better, with time. John has his good days and his bad days. On his good days, he is quiet, sullen, and cautious. On his bad days, he slips into panic attacks and shakes with terror, unable to differentiate Atlantis as reality. In the beginning, his bad days outnumber his good days, but, in time, that changes with help from his friends.

Sometimes, he thinks about that other world and wonders, with a strange and weary feeling deep in his heart, if he has made the right choice. Yet, when he looks at the faces of his friends, his team, his family, John does not care. One day, he may very well know for certain whether or not it was the right decision, but, until then, it is enough for him.




Author's Note : Attack of the Killer Plot Bunny!