SGA Reversebang fic. Associated art are for this can be found at AO3, work 863628, under the title "Visitors to the Atlantis Settlement" - failing that, I'm there under the same name as here.

Pairings: Gen
Time: SGA-S5 with SGA-S10...with complications.
Warnings: None that officially apply.
Notes: Whump, on and off-screen. H/C. Scifi logic. Time-travel with a twist. Parallel stories ('###' swap stories, '~~~' swap scenes/POVs). Unusual treatment of canon.
Other: some small swearing, some blood.
Summary: The thing about Pegasus, hell, the SGC program in general, is that the future can be your present as well as your past. (Or, the day that was so bad, no one's really sure how it started...)

Thanks to ameshinju for the original starting scene idea. Without it, there would be no story.

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FUTURE'S PAST


The thing about Pegasus, hell, the SGC program in general, is that the future can be your present as well as your past. And, yeah, ok, something like that needs explaining, doesn't it?

Yeah, and they say that all tales should start at the beginning.

Thing is, no one really knows how this one started. All we can do is tell you what we know. The rest...you'll have to figure out for yourself.


It started with a barbecue.

A freaking barbecue.

Later, Jack O'Neill would reflect that it was the gathering of all the Stargate's troublemakers in one place, at one time. Of course the cosmos was going to throw some brown stuff at the great big swirly thing in the sky.

At the time, though, all he was really thinking was that he deserved this, this time with his friends...this time to just be. No politicians. No hangers-on. Just him and his friends, past and present.

Cam, Daniel, Vala, Jonas, and Teal'c were holding the proverbial floor in the middle of his backyard, rather dubiously playing some sort of game. It was, to his jaded eyes, some kind of energetic hybrid between tag, touch footy, and what looked disturbingly like a poker-go-fish-mash. Disturbing, because he'd been watching its evolution from the beginning, and not even he was sure of the rules.

Yeah. Ok. He really needed to get his people out of the Mountain more.

Jack sighed and turned back to his grill. Good old charcoal. Never failed me yet. This, at least, he could count on in the rest of his topsy-turvy roller-coaster ride of a life. He always had his backyard, his grill, and a few steaks to—

A bright-intense light behind his back flashed, and there were the sounds of a body falling to the ground and cries of surprise.

At that point, all he really could do was look to the heavens and sigh. Why me? Why now? Because he knew what those sounds meant. His day off? Nothing more than a dim memory at this point.

Mentally rolling up his sleeves and putting his General cap on, he turned around.

And promptly let out his own sounds of surprise.

There, in the middle of his backyard, in the middle of his quiet(ish) barbecue, was Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, who at this moment was supposed to a be about three million light-years away. (About, because he'd never been up on technical terms. He had geeks for that stuff.) In Atlantis. Not on Earth. In his backyard.

Especially not tied up, beaten, looking more like ten miles of bad road than the polished officer he knew Sheppard to be.

More to the point, how the hell did he get here?


The day started, for Lt Colonel John Sheppard, like any other day.

With his radio.

Which isn't to say that he wasn't already up. He was. By the time he got the first call of the day on his radio, he prided himself on the fact that he had already been up, dressed, run around the city once (or twice), showered, changed into his uniform, and had managed to find something for breakfast. Part of it was the way he'd been trained. Part of it was how little sleep he actually got (or needed). The rest of it was keeping his troops in the game and on their toes.

Today's first port of call: the desalination area. (DeSal - or variations thereof - to the Atlantis regulars. Only the newbies called it by the full name.)

Not what he'd thought he'd be doing when he'd got up, but Rodney snarking at him about salt and water throughout his breakfast had a way of reordering his schedule. And his priorities. Because apparently, Rodney hadn't gone to bed last night.

By his guess, neither had Radek, judging by the scientist's appearance in the transporter. "Radek," he nodded. "You heading to the DeSal' area too, I take it?"

"Colonel, yes. Rodney demand. I follow." the Czech returned, blinking a moment, then sniffing the air. "Mmmm. You bring coffee. Nectar of the gods."

"Yeah. One for you on the way." He handed over a cup. "Finish it quick and you'll get another when we get there." Actually, he'd brought the extra one for himself, but...at this point, he figured it was better to appease the Savage Scientist Beast.

"You shall live another day," the scientist decided, drinking so quickly it was like he inhaled the cup. Sometimes John wondered if the geeks didn't have caffeine for blood. And that maybe it would be easier if they did.

In the end, John ended up shadowing Radek to the DeSal area, spending most of his time just nodding and hmming to what was said, and guarding his remaining two cups like his life depended on it. Which they did, especially if he wanted anything from Rodney today.

Seriously. He had to get his head geek out of the lab more.


O'Neill stared down at the unconscious Colonel at his feet, thinking quickly. "Car—Jonas!" he called out. First, he needed to know how. That would give him who. Then he could deal with the why...and all the other questions crowding around his head.

"Here, Sir."

"You see the...light-thing?" he asked, waving his hand to try and describe it. Not that he'd seen it himself, but he knew what he meant.

"Yeah. I think... I think it was Asgard."

At this, he looked up at the Langrian sharply. "Tell me you're joking." Because they were gone. Capital G gone. Dead. Wiped themselves out kind of gone.

"Afraid not, Jack," Daniel said. "And we all saw it."

"Without having any sensors already setup I couldn't tell you for certain...but the pattern fits." Jonas shrugged. "Beyond that, who else do we know who goes around with beaming technology?"

"A few."

"That can reach us?"

"Point." He allowed himself a moment just to breathe. "So...options."

"Against the Asgard, Sir?"

"Right. Bad question."


"Coffee!"

Yeah, nothing made a person feel appreciated like being put before a cup of hot, bitter beverage. But then, John had been there for the Great Caffeine Withdrawal of the first year and had no real desire to go through that again. He grinned and handed over one of the cups."Here. Quad-shot Wake Me Up caffeine, as ordered. Drink up 'cause this is your only one today."

Rodney took the cup and spent a moment inhaling the steam. "Is good. I think I could get high just from the smell alone."

"That's always an option," Radek muttered as he came around John, picking up his own cup on the way. "Is more efficient."

"Right. So." Pulling himself up on a nearby table, Sheppard glanced over the room. It was the usual combination of Chaos meets Discovery, which is to say, there were laptops and cables spread over all available surfaces and woe betide anyone who tried to shift any of it. "What did you need me for, Rodney?" Sheppard grinned, always ready for a game of Stir The Geek. Particularly if that geek was his geek. "Want me to check your math? Run some equations? Proofread your reports? Terrorize your minions?"

"Actually, no," Rodney said, either not noticing the insults or too involved in his work to bother with them. "I called you down here...for this," he said, and held out an Ancient device with a flourish.


Asgard. Great. Just when I thought my days of unannounced drop-ins were over, Jack sighed to himself. "Right. Vala, I want you to hack the SGC, see if we've had any...unannounced visitors. Cam, get on the horn to the SGC, check up on Atlantis. Tell them I've got one my hunches, or something. Jonas, medkit. Daniel, Teal'c, you're with me."

And really, what did it say about his life that his team just ignored the strange circumstances, nodded, and got on with what he asked them? Either that, or being a General rocked.

Jack knelt down next to Sheppard, ignoring the way his knees cracked and popped on the way down. That was just another sign of aging that he was determined to ignore. It was nothing he hadn't heard before and, really, nothing he wasn't going to hear a million more times (and worse) before he finally died.

Besides, he had other things to worry about.

First things first. Untie the Colonel. Yeah, okay, that was easy enough. He reached down to his ankle, and pulled out his K-Bar from its ankle sheath. Daniel just raised his eyebrows and said nothing. Because, honestly? He'd seen O'Neill pull out knives from weirder places out in the field. Teal'c just nodded in approval.

Sheppard's head lolled as they rolled him onto his back, a clear sign that the man was deeply unconscious.

Dammit. Jack paused, knife above the ropes. "Danny. You read the mission schedules. Where was Sheppard supposed to be for the last few days?" (Because for Daniel, reading was more like memorizing, and those schedules? Were for all of the SGC's offshoots, from Antartica to Area 51.)

"Uh, Atlantis. If nothing unexpected came up. Why?."

"See these ropes? They've been here for a while." Which was a bit of an understatement. Not just there for a while, but embedded into skin in a way that told O'Neill that Sheppard had been struggling against them. "T, go tell Jonas to hurry up on that medkit."

Teal'c nodded and hurried away. Taking a deep breath, Jack carefully eased the tip of the knife under one of the ropes and teased it away from the skin. He let out a soft curse when he caught some skin with the rope, but at this point, he couldn't see any other way of doing it. Seriously, those wrists were a mangled mess, and more worthy of a doctor than his battlefield skills.

Getting all the ropes off was like peeling a fruit. Messy. Also, disgusting, and not just because there were bodily fluids all over his hands.

He looked up quickly and gave a brief nod of acknowledgement when Teal'c and Jonas came back and dropped the medkit beside him. (Which, suddenly, looked rather small and inadequate for their needs, for all that it was stocked with the latest in Earth-Asgard-Ancient hybrid tech.) (And no, he wasn't telling anyone where he got half the stuff in it.) (Besides, he was the General. He didn't have to.)

The real shock, though, came when he turned the arm over to get a good look at the abrasions from the ropes so he could do a quick wrapping.


Sheppard stared at the device in Rodney's hands. And took one giant mental step back.

The thing about Ancient technology and having the ATA gene is that they were very compatible. The stronger the gene, the more compatible things got. Which is why there was a huge emphasis in training the ATA bearers in of Atlantis in being aware of what they're thinking. All. The. Freakin'. Time.

As the strongest known natural ATA gene bearer, and also the easiest user of Ancient technology, being aware of what he's thinking around Ancient technology was very important for Colonel Sheppard. It was made easier by the fact that Ancient technology gave him a little 'tickle' in the back of his head. Its a tickle that was also unmistakable when he's off-world, and has saved him from more than a few 'mishaps'. In Atlantis, though, surrounded by Ancient tech, the tickle from all the devices combined into a hum that he heard more like white noise. Its constant. It never ended. And he's learned to just tune it out, more or less, for the sake of his sanity.

Trying to tune into one specific device in the middle of that hum could be...interesting. Problematic was another word for it. Which was why most of the time, he was thinking 'off', long and loud. Despite what some people said, it was actually very rarely that he'd think 'on' at anything.

He'd learned that lesson the hard way.


And apparently, today was a day for multiple bombshells.

Bruises. They were everywhere. They also happened to be the totally wrong size and shape for human hands.

Danny stared at the bruises thoughtfully. "Jack."

"Yeah, Danny?" Jack replied, trying for casual and knowing he was coming off wary. Because that tone of Jackson's? Pretty much always led to something obvious. Or profound.

Daniel raised his head to stare at the sky thoughtfully. "I think maybe we better take this inside. Just in case." Not that a roof would be any better protection than, you know, atmosphere (or twenty-seven sub-levels) against whatever was up there in the sky, but it was always better to be safe than sorry. Especially since they still didn't know what they were dealing with.

"Right," Jack muttered. Really, he should've thought of that earlier. They paid him to think of these things, and he was seriously off his game today. Nowadays, with his position, he didn't just have to contend with alien threats, but all the earth ones as well. It wouldn't surprise him to find out that there were satellites trained on his backyard. So getting Sheppard inside? Just went from one of their many priorities to top of the list. "Jonas, Teal'c, get me some blankets, or something we can use a stretcher to get him inside."

Because right now? He was starting to get a mental picture of what had happened that he didn't like.

Not one bit.

Because in amongst the bruises, in the crook of the elbow, there were track marks. And now that he was looking, he could also see the same marks around the neckline. No doubt even more marks and bruises would be hidden by his clothing.

Either the Colonel was/had been drugged, or he'd had blood taken. Repeatedly. And not by friendlies.

Jack gently turned the arm, trying to find a spot clear of bruising. It wasn't easy. "What do you think, Daniel? Consensual or not?"

"My money's on...not? I'm just looking at the pattern of bruising, not just in the needle marks but also around his arms. But you'll have to wait till he wakes to find out more."

Jack sighed. "Yeah. That's what I was afraid of. Take a sample. We'll need to get it to Lam." Probably for detoxing purposes, if nothing else. Also? One of the things he hated most about being a General was being the one who had to think of all the worst case scenarios.

"Yeah..." Lips in a thin line, Daniel put the tourniquet in place, tightened it, and started looking for a vein.


Sheppard looked at the device dubiously. Because at this point, making sure he was thinking 'off' was the easy part, as far as Sheppard was concerned. "Do you know what it does?" he asked, more as a part of the routine they'd established of five years as a gene-light-switch than because he was really cautious. Or worried. (That part generally came later.)

"No," Rodney replied, glaring but his tone making it clear that he'd much rather roll his eyes. "That's obviously what I asked you down here for, to find out for me."

Sheppard paid no attention to the grizzle, because this too was part of the routine. All it really meant was that Rodney's day (night?) in the labs hadn't been as productive as he'd hoped (either personally or because of some spectacular failure on the part of his minions). He also knew that Rodney would have exhaustively researched it before letting him anywhere near it.

The device itself was nothing spectacular. Kinda circular, with bluish dots spread somewhat evenly around the edge. It looked, actually, just perfectly made for cupping between someone's hands.

Which he did.

He put his hand on the device, and waited, hoping just his presence would be enough. It usually was.

It wasn't. Nothing happened.

Sighing to himself, he aimed a careful tendril of thought at the device. Diagnostic. Be good for me and just tell me what's wrong and that's all.


Snorting in disgust, Daniel ripped off his gloves and threw them on the ground. "Its no good, Jack."

"Daniel."

"Jack. I'm good, but I'm not this good. You'll need Lam to get anything out of him. Those veins are too abused for me. And besides, he's too dehydrated." He gestured vaguely. "He needs more help than I can give him. He needs more than your medkit, Jack."

"Right. We'll need a cover, then." Either some way to get Sheppard into the Mountain, or Lam out here. Given the fact that Sheppard was supposed to be in Atlantis, he figured he'd better get the Mountain to come here.

Daniel shrugged. "Ask me something harder. One word: Jonas."

Jack opened his mouth to protest, then shut it with a wince as the man in question plowed into his back door. His open back door. (Sometimes, there were advantages to having an alien around.) "Right."


There wasn't even time to swear, let alone mentally retract from the device.

The first sign that the device had activated, instead of running the diagnostic, was light. But then, that was par for the course with Ancient devices. In fact, it was so normal that Sheppard had kind of detuned himself to that kind of thing. Lights were always flashing or going off around him – they did kind of thing around the other ATA people, too, just not to the same degree or intensity.

This light, though, wasn't the normal color, which was usually something reminiscent of the sea. This, though, was intenser and darker, almost a royal blue and yet still so bright that it hurt the eyes. Which was why Sheppard shut his eyes, and thus saved his vision from what came next.

It was followed by by an intense flash of light, polar-white bright, like white light reflected of blue ice, except a thousand times more intense. And accompanied by sound like a bat's sonar amped by a deaf DJ. It was a flash-bang designed by someone blind and deaf, and it was breaking his brain and pushing his skull out through his ears and eyes and—

—and—

—and then there was only darkness.


It wasn't going to take long for Lam to arrive. She said she'd be fifteen minutes, at the most.

In that time, they'd moved the Colonel to the futon in Jack's guest room, which they'd made into an impromptu bed. Carefully and gingerly, because blankets, it turned out, sagged under the weight of a body no matter how tightly they were held between six people.

And the entire time, Sheppard did not wake. Didn't even stir. Not even when Jonas dropped pans in the kitchen, where O'Neill eventually banished him to boil some water in case Lam wanted some. (Seriously. How it could be so noisy to boil water, he had no idea, but Jonas was evidentially managing it.)

In the meantime, Jack held an impromptu conference over his dining table. "So. Tell me what you know."

"Not much," Cam summed up. "Officially, the SGC reported no unusual atmospheric anomalies. No ships."

"An unofficially, its the same," Vala said grimly. "All seems quiet. No chatter that we've picked up between us and the usual suspects. Also, I did a quick check of my own contacts. No one in this galaxy has said anything about wanting their own personal Colonel plaything. At least," she amended, "not in their hearing."

Cam blinked. "You did all that without a dial-up?"

"Darling. I can do a lot of things without a dial-up."

"Right." Jack cleared his throat. Some days he felt more like a herder of cats than a General. "What does that leave?"

"Cloaks." That was Daniel.

"Time travel," was Cam's contribution.

"Something we haven't seen before," Vala said lazily.

"Really, Vala," complained Cam, shooting her a look. "Did you have to say that?"

"What? Its an option."


Rodney came awake with a cough and a groan.

It felt like there was something lodged in this throat, and there was the taste of smoke in his tongue, in his lungs.

Smoke.

Smoke. Fire! His eyes flew open. Sheppard. Radek. Lying down. He was lying down, staring at the ceiling. He knew that because it was distant from him, instead of up close and personal, like the floor would be...unless they'd lost gravity, and if they had, his radio would be full of complaints. And it wasn't. Ergo, looking at the ceiling, lying on his back.

And he could see the air between him and the ceiling. Which meant there was excess particulate matter in the air. Probably from the smoke he could, still, taste. And smell, come to think of it.

And where there was smoke, there was fire.

Fire.

In an ancient building.

So why hadn't the ancient sensors kicked in?

Fire.

Ancients...

There was something about that, that he was supposed to remember... But the more he reached for it, the more it remained elusive, just out of his mental grasp. In the end he had to let it go in favor of other, more important things. Concussed. Definitely concussed. Muttering to himself about Ancient systems and stupid minions, he rolled over, careful not to move his head too quickly.

And promptly froze.

He slapped a hand on his radio. "Medical emergency! Medical emergency to the DeSal area!"

In his memory, he would never be able to repeat the conversation he had with the medical staff that followed that call. He knew he'd had it - the logs were clear on that much.

Because on the one hand, he'd found Sheppard and Zelanka. On the other...yeah.

What he does remember is this:

Radek was actually the first person he saw, for all that he was actually further away.

The smoke was like a living, breathing thing in the room, clearing and obscuring his vision from one moment to the next. Or maybe that was his dizziness. Maybe that was why Radek's body seemed to dance in his vision, he had to close his eyes to stop from throwing up (because that would be singularly awful), and when he reopened his eyes, Radek wasn't there. Maybe he'd...woken up? Moved on his own?

Rodney looked around the room, trying to spot his friend...

And that's how he saw Sheppard.

The Colonel's body was cramped against and under the console, as if thrown there like a doll. Like a doll. There were limbs everywhere. Limp. He was limp. And Still. So still.

He wasn't moving. Or breathing.

Sheppard... He watched, for one long moment, waiting to see if the chest would rise. (Or fall. Either would be okay to him.) He waited another long (equally awful) moment that stretched. And stretched. And...stretched.

But still there was no movement. Nothing.

Breathing as deep as he dared himself, Rodney pressed down on his radio. "He's not breathing!"


The knock on the door was firm and determined...and came at a perfect time to interrupt the bickering (bantering).

Jonas nodded. "That'll be Lam. I'll get it."

"I'll go with you," Daniel said quickly, and went with him.

Within moments, soft voices could be heard from the direction of the foyer/living area.

"T, stay here," he ordered softly. With a look back to Sheppard, Jack got up and stood in the doorway to the room. From here, not only did he block access (and line of sight) to Sheppard, but he also had a good view of the entry to his home.

"Alright, I'm here. So, where's my patient?" Lam asked, looking around at them all appraisingly. No doubt measuring them all to see if they were hiding injuries. Which was fair, considering what he'd told them to tell her to get her out here.

Jack sighed. "A word, Doc."

"Yes, General," she nodded, and approached.

Was there really any way to prepare her for this, to minimize the shock value? "I, uh, there's no easy way to say this. So I'll say it. You'll love this one." Then he stood back and let her through.

She gave him a look - definitely one to file under 'are you okay or did you all take your crazy pills this morning?' - then took a step into the room. And promptly stopped. "B—But that's..."

"Yeah." Yep, no way to minimize it. Jack stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked on his feet just a little. Because he could, it was his home, and well, it was interesting seeing it from this side for once. Usually he was the one getting put through the wringer. "Someone dumped him on me this afternoon."

"By 'someone' you mean..."

"I mean 'big flash of light, and poof, Colonel'," he said, gesturing with his hands. Why did people always think he wanted to use more words when fewer got his point across just as well? "Like I said, someone."

Lam's lips tightened. "Right. Well, I'll want to discuss that with you later. Right now, all of you can leave so I can examine him."


The medical team burst into the room at a run, gurney rattling behind them, loaded to bear with equipment.

Radek was actually the first one they encountered, being closer to the door. It was actually a small comfort. The scientist was actually walking around, although it was a wonder with his face and neck streaked with blood, his eyes dazed. Obvious concussion.

Rodney was with Sheppard, already doing rescue breathing. "Over here!" McKay yelled.


It took a few minutes for Lam to re-emerge from the room. When she did, she was grim and direct. "He needs to go to the Mountain."

"Absolutely not." On this, O'Neill was firm.

"Jack. General," she amended at his look, "I didn't bring with me what I need to treat him. I didn't think I was going to be facing anything like this, so I only brought with me a basic kit. I need more than what you have here."

"So...go get more. Bring it back here."

"Without breaking confidentiality, the things I need...it'll raise flags if I take them out of the infirmary. He needs to go in more ways than I can explain right now."

Daniel raised his hand. "Okay, well, let me put it this way, Doc. If what we think happened is true...getting him into the Mountain will raise more flags than your getting the drugs."

Jack nodded. "What he said. So make something up if you have to, Doc. But bring your things here. "


Carson waited until Rodney paused to breathe for Sheppard, then smoothly took over. "All right. We're here. Let us do this."

"Right, thanks," Rodney gasped, his shoulder's aching.

The rescue breathing continued, even as the medical prepped Sheppard and got him onto the gurney. Carson hopped up with the Colonel, leaning over him and continuing the compressions as another kept up the breathing with an ambu-bag.

"Right. Let's get him to the infirmary ASAP people!"

Unnoticed, the device rolled to the side and away, under a nearby console.


Waiting. It seemed like their lives these days was full of hurry-up-and-wait.

O'Neill looked around at his friends and rubbed his hands together. "Right. Anyone up for a game of go-fish?"


More waiting. Always waiting. Waiting for something to happen, or something to do.

In this case, for the Colonel to wake.


Cards were dropped and scattered on the floor when Sheppard coughed and did a kind of whole-body twitch. No doubt some kind of precursor to waking that his team would be very familiar with. But they weren't his team, they were SG1 not AR1, dammit, and they were kind of winging it.

Had he mentioned yet how much he hated being caught unprepared?

Hoping the twitch thing was a sign the Colonel was waking up, O'Neill leaned an laid a hand on the younger pilot's shoulder. "Sheppard, you in there?"

At least, that was what he meant to say...what he meant to do.

He didn't get far past "Shep—" (actually, he didn't get much past forming the sibilant syllable) before he got a reaction, and not the one he intended. Underneath his hand, muscles twitched and shifted, and the Colonel was suddenly awake—

—and he, General Jack O'Neill, survivor of ten years of Stargate travel, just as suddenly found himself mashed face-first into the floor, arm twisted up behind him, knee pressed deep into his back, his own knife held against his jugular.

It had happened, he would later swear, faster than he could blink. He froze, trying to process the series of moves that led here - not exactly succeeding - and all too aware of the threat of the knife. His own knife. But then that was his own fault, wasn't it? To have a K-Bar in easy access to someone who's trustworthiness he hadn't verified...

Damn, but he hated being the General.

"Sheppard. It's okay. You're safe."

Jack let his eyes close. Good ol' Daniel. Ever the peacemaker.

"Colonel. Drop the knife. Can you do that for me?"

Even as his body remained still, Jack laughed to himself. Those words were so Daniel. Right words, right concept, but totally wrong tone. Nowhere near an order.

He'd have to—

Oh.

Something in it must've gotten through. The pressure against his back was released, just as suddenly as it had come. Holding his breath a moment to make sure, in which nothing happened, Jack finally let himself breathe again. That was close. He'd read Sheppard's file and his mission reports - he knew exactly what the soldier was capable of. (The answer: lots.)

Jack rolled over, ready to ream out Sheppard (or at least ask what on earth he was thinking)...

Sorrydidntseeyouhurtspaintheyrecoming!

...when instead he saw Colonel's eyes roll upwards and was just in time to catch the Colonel. Who was unconscious.

Again.

Jack stumbled back, completely unnerved and not caring who saw it. "Did—Did anyone else get that?"

"Uh, yeah...I think," Daniel murmured, just as shaken. "What was that?"

"I don't know. But I think...we're about to find out."


The small cubicle in the corner of the infirmary was quiet.

Okay. Quietish. AR1 was in residence, as always, keeping watch as Sheppard slept. Teyla and Ronon would alternate between their own pursuits, talking to each other, or playing their own version of Tease the Earth Aliens and baiting Rodney. Underneath it all was the rapid clicking of laptop keys and muttering, the eternal music of science as Rodney worked from his mobile station.

Behind the team, behind the curtains shut to give the bed some semblance of privacy, there were the sounds of an infirmary in motion. Nurses bustling too and fro. Doctors talking softly. The slow beeping of machines. The soft humming of machines, running tests, waiting for results, interfacing between Earth machines and Ancient. The hustle and bustle of the fight between life and death.

Yeah, okay, so it really wasn't quiet.

And from one breath to the next, the infirmary exploded with noise as the machines around Sheppard went wild.

###

Pain.

It was the first thing he was aware of. Ohgodithurts.

It—It was like a living creature inside his skull, banging at the bone and trying to get out. It writhed and twisted and contorted within him, both pushing at his skull and pulling it in. His head felt like it was...something alive.

Iwantitoutgetmeoutofherewhatisthatdamnthathurts.

Machines. He could hear machines wailing. A constant counterpoint to the chaotic agony in his head, in his body. Wailing. Noisy. Loudshutitdownnoisywhereisitisthathimamiawake? Was it him? Someone else?

Hurtssoloudmakehimbreathe. Breathe. He had to breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Notbreathinggetitgetitgetitout...

Warmth.

Darkness.

###

Keller took a step back from Sheppard's bed, too exhausted to hide how much her hands were shaking now that the adrenaline was fading. She passed the used syringe and gloves off to Marie, knowing she was shaking too much right now. "Thanks, Marie," she murmured, and turned to the assembled team. "I've sedated him, but I don't know how long it'll last."

Woolsey, standing at the doorway, face pale and shaken, somehow still managed to take in all the chaos of the scene with a swift glance. (But then, this was what they paid him for.) "On that note...conference room. Now."


"Jack." Aren't you going to find out what that is?

"Daniel." What what was?

"Jack." Now you're just being obtuse.

"Daniel." Am I?

"Jaaack!" I'm talking about that. What he did.

"Daniel." Ah. That.

"Jack." Yes. That.

"Uh, are you two done?" Vala asked, looking between them. "Because we kind of have company."

"Really? Why, what kind?" O'Neill pinched the bridge of his nose, half-wondering if he should have invested in that 'Do NOT Disturb On Pain Of DEATH' sign he'd seen in the flea market last week after all. Or. Wait. Maybe he should've painted it on his roof...you know, so it could be seen from space...

"Um. Car kind. Lam, it looks like."

Thank goodness.


The conference doors pivoted open to let them in, then shut behind them. Just as silently as the doors, they sought their seats around the conference table.

Woolsey looked around the room from the head of the table. For once there were no papers in front of him, nothing he would use to reference to. Nor did he want it. With a glance to Rodney, who nodded sharply, the recording equipment was swiftly turned off or looped.

There was going to be no record of this meeting.

Woolsey cleared his throat. "Just to make sure we're all on the page, I think we all know what happened in the infirmary just now."

Teyla nodded. "He made us hear what he was thinking."

"No, its more than that," Keller said firmly. "I'm fairly sure he was picking up on the people around him."

"Why do you say that, Doctor?"

"I have a patient in there that we're treating for shrapnel in the leg. Off-world incident, long-story. And right until he woke, there was absolutely no sign of an injury to the Colonel's leg."

Ronon shrugged. "Maybe he guessed."

Keller shook her head. "No. He was grabbing for that exact same spot. And, well, he told me what our patient was thinking."

"So...telepathy. He's telepathic now." Woolsey grimaced and rubbed his forehead. Yeah. Definitely a headache coming. "Any ideas how this happened?"

Rodney held his breath, and let it out slowly. This so was not going to go over well. "Uh, possibly?"

"Explain."

"I wasn't going to say this earlier, because, well, I wanted time to confirm our findings, but that's obviously a bit of moot point now. This morning I gave Sheppard an Ancient device to try and initiate. I didn't think anything of it at the time, because it didn't seem to work when he touched it and did his thing, and then with the explosion..."

"Which we think we've traced back to device, not lab," chimed in Radek.

"Yes, quite. The thing is," Rodney said, speaking rapidly, "the device that did this malfunctioned. It wasn't supposed to give him this, uh, telepathy thing."

"Yes, yes," interrupted Radek smoothly. "Like a rozbitý—a misfiring car."

Rodney turned to him and glared. "No, not a misfiring car! What are you, a mechanic? Don't quit your day job." He turned back to his audience. "Right. The device. Telepathy."

"Which shouldn't happen," Radek muttered.

Rodney nodded quickly. "Yeah. We're not sure yet if it was in the strength of Sheppard's gene, in how it was activated, or a fault in the device itself. But from what we've been able to uncover, the device was supposed to let people, uh, listen to Atlantis. At least that's what the translation said."

"But is, uh, on steroids," Radek said.

"Yes, yes, I was getting to that. Stop interrupting me."

Woolsey looked between the two. "So if I understand you two, a malfunction caused the...telepathy."

"Actually, is not true telepathic abilities. That requires přenos, no, is, uh, a path, yes?" Radek nodded in satisfaction, pleased with his wording. "Think two-way street."

"And," finished Rodney, finger held up triumphantly, "its the Colonel that's the two-way street. I'd have to run some tests to give you a definite answer, but its probably some combination of being at ground zero and the strength of his gene. Although," he added thoughtfully, "I think in the case of telepathy, 'path' is more in the Latin sense, like a feeling or perception of something...distant. Annnd I'm getting off topic."

"Right." Woolsey sighed and grimaced. "In other words, what you're saying is that its just another malfunction." And really, he should be used to this by now. Just another Pegasus thing. There should a category just for this in my briefings.

"Uh, not quite," Radek murmured. "We, uh, may have failed to mention that it is hypothetically possible that we may need the Colonel to reverse, or correct, the effects of the device." He pushed his glasses up nervously. "Hypothetically speaking, of course."

"Because he turned it on," Ronon stated, pretty sure he had it figured out by now. After all, that's what happened to them off-world. Sheppard accidentally turned things on, they dealt with the aftermath, then Sheppard turned whatever-it-was off.

"Uh, no. Did we say that?" Rodney asked, turning to Radek. "I'm pretty sure we didn't say that."

"We didn't."

"So..."

"So...we...may need the Colonel because of his gene." Rodney admitted. "Long story, but its the strength of his gene, not the initialization part. Just, wanted to make that clear."

"So...we wait for him to wake up."

"We wait for him to wake up again, yes."


Jack allowed himself a moment to breathe. Let's hope its just Lam. Maybe it was just him and his paranoia streak (which was miles wide by this stage in his life), but as much as he was going to hope that Lam was alone, he was going to plan for if she wasn't. Because sometimes you just never knew. "Right. This is what we'll do. Vala, grab Daniel and put one of your...rom-coms on, or whatever they call it nowadays. T, cover the Colonel with a blanket and stay with with him. Jonas, keep watch. Cam, you're in charge."

Teal'c nodded and tugged the blanket they'd used to get Sheppard inside over the unconscious Colonel - and, yeah, the irony of that action didn't escape him. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time they'd snowed the locals. "Friendly party, again?"

Jack shrugged, pasting on a half-smile he didn't entirely feel even as his eyes told a different, more serious, story. "Wouldn't be the first time I've helped out one of mine, T," he said, and went outside, shutting the door behind him.


"Right," said Woolsey. "That's decided. We'll—"

Right that moment, an alarm sounded. Not just any alarm, but one of the special Atlantis alarms specifically designed to wake the comatose and deafen the dead.

Rodney's eyes widened and he bolted for the Ops area, already pointing and yelling before he was even in the area. "Clear a console!" Technicians scattered, and he and Radek quickly set up a space next to Chuck to work, already finishing each other's sentences as they typed.

Woolsey came in right behind them and leaned on the console. "What is it?"


There was a sudden clatter of noise from the guest room, and the sound of hushed voices. Well, okay, not hushed, but people talking that knew they should really be quiet but having animated discussions anyway.

After a few seconds, Sheppard emerged - stumbled - from the room, trailing a blanket wrapped haphazardly around his body as well Teal'c and Jonas. He looked rumpled, his eyes bloodshot, and his face was screwed up in pain. But his voice was clear. "Whose outside?"

Cam started at how badly his fellow looked. "Jack and Lam, it looks like." He narrowed his eyes. "Are you sure you should be up, man? You look like—"

"Get Jack back," interrupted Sheppard. "Now."

"—I..." Cam paused. "Ok. Wait. Why?"

"They're not alone."


"We're not alone," Rodney shot Woolsey a dark look and went straight back to typing. "Radek, try the quadratic vertex patch modulation."

"Ah, got it, thanks," the Czech scientist murmured, pushing up his glasses.

Woolsey's grip on the console tightened. Not enough. Not enough. Not enough. "That's it? 'We're not alone'? That's all you have to say?"

"I think that's enough of a problem, don't you?" Rodney snarked right back, not even bothering to look up. "Whoever it is, they've managed to superbly deceive our long-range sensors - not even checking on the usual clocking frequencies had picked them up until they chose to show themselves. That's a pretty damning piece of information, isn't it?"

Evan's eyes narrowed. "How long, Doc?"

"They'll be right on our doorstep within thirty minutes. Probably less."

"And by 'doorstep' you mean..."

"In our atmosphere."


"Not alone?" Cam frowned, his mind churning. "What do you mean?"

Sheppard glared. "Just...get. Them. Back."

Cam blinked, then started pointing. "Oh-kay. Teal'c. Get the General. Make something up if you have to." Because they all knew how much stubbornness was written into O'Neill's genome. "Vala, lookouts. Jonas, door. Shep, sit down and start talking."

Shep obediently sat, looking even more pale then when he'd emerged from the room. "Uh, you need to get Lam. She's in danger too."

Cam just nodded. "Daniel, go and get our good doctor, then. And Shep, I wasn't kidding about that explanation."

"When they're back. I'm not doing it twice."

"Long story?"

"Really long."

Cam sighed and nodded. "Yeah. I hear you. Just as long as I'm in the loop enough to keep my options open, I'm cool with that."


Woolsey closed his eyes, trying not to think too hard of his conference room and the safety it represented. Time to demonstrate some of that vaunted adaptability of yours, Richard. "So. Options. Talk to me."

"Jumpers," Even stated. "Get in them air ASAP."

Rodney snorted. "Are you all deaf, or do you think I talk just hear myself? I said they deceived our sensors. Ancient sensors, that know exactly what cloaked ships look like and missed this completely. That implies a level of technology beyond what even Atlantis is capable of."

"The point, Doctor," Woolsey ordered.

"The point," Rodney said grimly, "is that we can't guarantee anyone's safety if you go up there in a jumper. Hell, at this point we can't even guarantee that cloaking the city will work."

"So its simple," Ronon said. "We cloak anyway, then stand our ground and fight it out."

It was at this moment that Colonel Sheppard walked into the room and leaned on the balustrade around the Ops room. "Wait. Let me try."

"Colonel?" "Sheppard?" "You're awake!"

Sheppard held up a hand and did his best to hide a wince. "Yes. I am, obviously, awake and out of the infirmary. Let. Me. Help."


Lam strode into the house a step behind the General, saw the people on the couch, and frowned. "I thought I told you to rest, Colonel Sheppard."

Sheppard tried for a wan smile. "I am resting, Doc." He wasn't on his feet, and he was huddled in the blanket someone had given him. Didn't that count as resting?

"You and I obviously have very different definitions of 'resting'."

"So everyone keeps telling me."

"Now," Lam continued, "what was so important that we had to be hustled inside?"

"Hey," Cam said, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace, "don't look at me. We're just the messengers. I was only doing what Shep told me to."

O'Neill glared. "Really?"

Knowing the dressing-down Cam was swiftly lining himself up for and wanting to spare his friend it, Sheppard spoke up. "There are three teams of four surrounding the house. There'd be a fourth team, for coming in the front, but the traffic's off-putting at this hour."


Rodney stared. "And do what, hmm? You can barely stand, Sheppard. Hell, right now, you're supposed to be sleeping the sleep of the sedated."

"Rodney."

"Sheppard."

Sheppard glared. "Rodney." He turned to Woolsey. "With your permission..."

"Colonel," Woolsey sighed. Even if he didn't know quite what the Colonel was planning (and specifically hadn't asked), he'd learned enough to trust those under him. But still...he looked at him, saw the pinched look to his face, the pain hidden in his features, and had to ask. "I just...are you sure, Colonel?"

"No. But its worth a shot."

Woolsey nodded slowly. He'd been in Pegasus long enough to trust in alternatives, however they were presented to him. "Very well, then. As long as you're sure, you have a go. Do you need anything?"

"Yeah. Clear the room. Just in case." Because there were some things he didn't want anyone to see. At least, no one that wasn't already inside their little circle.


"Leaving aside the obvious questions, how the hell do you know all this, Sheppard?" Cam groused.

"Because they're after me."


While Woolsey cleared the room, Sheppard turned to his team.

"Are you sure about this, John?" Teyla asked.

Sheppard smiled. "No. But I think I can do it, so I'm going to try."

"Do what?" Rodney asked.

"Pretty much same thing to them that I accidentally did to you in the infirmary."

"But—But that's..."

"Yeah. That's why I'll need you to run interference for me. That includes you too, big guy," he said, turning to Ronon. "Don't let anyone near me until I'm done, no matter what it looks like."

Ronon nodded slowly. "Yeah. Okay. I can do that."

Rodney tapped a few keys. "Okay, we're cloaked. You're good."

"Thanks, guys."


It wasn't hard. That was the weirdest thing about. After all he'd fought, all he'd bled for it, it wasn't hard to convince the teams to go.

He just...kind of pushed...and made them want to go.

Yeah. This was definitely something he wasn't telling the IOA about.


Sheppard tightened his grip on the rail around the Ops area. Not just because it was something to lean against, but also because it was also holding him up. If the city hadn't been in so much danger, there was no way he'd be up and about - the sedative Keller had given him had been strong.

But some things called to him stronger than the needs of his own body.

This, this was one of them. The city, the people he called his, they were all in danger. And so he was here, ready to act. Some times, it was really that simple.

Other things, though, were not that simple.

Trying to use this "ability" - new and untested - was something else. It wasn't something he'd ever had before, tried before, or even thought about having before this day. And yet here he was, using it in defense of his city.

Shaking his head in bemusement, he closed his eyes and reached for that part within himself that was new, that was asking, no, begging to be used - and was, in fact, straining at the barriers he'd hastily put around it. (In fact, he suspected that the only reason he wasn't insane from the effort of keeping this thing under control was his experience with keeping Atlantis at bay.)

Framing his thoughts carefully around the word 'LEAVE', he gently nudged part of the barriers down and pushed...

...Only to disappear from Atlantis in a flash of light.


The dark SUV's belonging to the SGC backup teams rolled up just as the mysterious teams scattered.

A day late and a dollar shot, as the saying went.

Still, that didn't stop Jack from commandeering them all as transport back to the Mountain. Yeah, sometimes, being a General rocked.


He woke up in a cell.

That much was obvious.

The room was tiny, so tiny that while there was actually (barely enough) room to stand, there wasn't enough for him to actually lie down. He'd woken leaning against a wall, and it looked like that was where he was going to stay. Especially since his captors, whoever they were, hadn't even had the decency to give him a cot (let alone a blanket) to lie down on.

Yeah. This was apparently his world was reduced to: floor, four walls, and a ceiling, gray in their starkness.

Wonderful. This was obviously going to be fun.


It was a long, silent trip to the Mountain.

Not for want of trying, though.

Jack had jumped into the same SUV as Sheppard, hoping to quietly get answers to some of the questions burning in his mind. But they'd also been joined by Lam, who'd promptly raised an eyebrow at the General and given the Colonel a syringe she'd pulled out from somewhere. The Colonel immediately slumped back, and spent the rest of the trip softly snoring.

Foiled, Jack raised his own eyebrow at Lam and deliberately turned to stare out the window.


There were no windows in the cell. But that was okay. There wasn't much to see...and they never took him anywhere anyway.

They always came to him.


Getting Sheppard actually into the Mountain, considering the Colonel was supposed to still be in Atlantis, not to mention had been sedated by a well-meaning Doctor, was a feat in itself. And not something that General O'Neill particularly cared to remember.

It helped that he was a General, had a few spare people, and had a reputation for pulling off completely insane and off-the-wall things. No one blinked twice at him and SG1 carrying Colonel Sheppard through the walls and elevators down to the SGC. Those that did notice, well, thanks to the people sent to his house, he had the spare bodies to move to block a clear view.

They paused at the elevators, the doors opened and the entourage went inside. Lam's eyes widened when she saw where they were heading, and she put her hand over the buttons. "No. He goes to the infirmary."

"Not until I find out a few things."

"Med checks are a standard—"

"Only if you go through the ring, Doc. Debrief first, then you can do your thing." With that, O'Neill gently but firmly pushed Lam out of the elevator. Getting his own way, finally, shouldn't have to feel so bad.


The door opened a lot.

Sheppard still didn't have much to say to them, the faceless men that were holding him captive. Actually, he didn't have anything to say. He just kept waking up with more and more injuries.


Sheppard woke with a start, and found himself mostly sitting up, leaning forwards with his head resting on his folded hands. He jerked back, hand automatically reached for a weapon that he knew wouldn't be there - that hadn't been there for days.

"Sorry about the wake-up, Shep."

Sheppard blinked and refocused to in front of him. Mitchell. Cam. Friend. "Its okay," he said, softly, even though he could feel himself still shaking a little from the scare. He closed his hands into fists under the table to try and hide it.

"You know, its kind of scary that I can see you do that."

"Do what?"

"Identify me as a friend."

"To be fair," Sheppard said slowly, "last few times I woke up in strange environments...they weren't so friendly."

"Fair enough. So. Why don't you tell me about it?"

"Long story time?"

"Something like that."

Sheppard scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Well then, I guess it started on Atlantis, hell, I don't know when, when Rodney called me..."


Sheppard groaned, rolled over, and bashed his shoulder against the wall. Quick, hard, and fast, before he could rethink it. He grinned to himself darkly when his shoulder popped back into place. As a quick and dirty fix, bashing his own shoulder was certainly one of the least violent ways to fix a dislocated shoulder when one was alone.

He'd certainly seen (and done) worse before.

He was just staring at his ankle, contemplating doing something similar, when he paused to listen.

Then the door opened, and the cycle of pain-questions-no-answer began again.


Coolidge stared out through the observation window as they listened to the debrief taking place below. "You know," he murmured, "I think its only fair that I tell you that there were some rumors going around. That you were in cahoots with him."

Jack rolled his eyes. The idiocy of some people really amazed him some days. (Make that most days.) "Oh please. Tell me you don't honestly believe that."

"To be fair, I said 'were' some rumors. And they were worried because, well, you were found with him."

"I told you. He was literally dropped in my lap. What was I supposed to do, drop him as well?"

"Its been...mentioned, yes."

O'Neill rolled his eyes. "He's one of ours. We owe him. So I rendered basic first aid while I tried to find out what the hell had happened to him." Hell, as far as he was concerned, he still owed him. He was the one that got the kid into the Stargate business in the first place.

"What do you mean?"

"How would you feel, Coolidge, if your kid was dumped on your door, tied up, beaten, unconscious?"

Coolidge's eyes widened at the implications of consent (or rather, the lack thereof). "You think..."

"I think its a possibility."

The IOA representative's eyes were immediately drawn back to the window. "Hmm. You're not afraid he'll escape then, are you?"

Jack pursed his lips. "From that room? No. But men like Sheppard? They inspire a certain...loyalty." Because fanaticism was so the wrong word for this conversation. "He has a certain charisma, and he's trained his men to be like he is." Exactly like he was, actually, but that was a topic for another day.

"Get to the point, General."

"I'm not worried about him getting out. If I were you, I'd be more worried about someone breaking in."


Sheppard pushed himself up of the floor with a curse. The only reason he didn't spit the glob of blood he had in his mouth was because, well, this was his floor, and he had to lie here. Damn stupid tiny cell. "My team will come."

"Fool."

"They'll. Come."

The laughter echoed. For such a tiny room, it had some great acoustics. "Fool. We're in hyperspace on our way to the Milky Way. We're a long way from your vaunted team." The faceless men kicked out, as usual too fast for him to avoid it.

"Enjoy the taste of helplessness, Colonel."

Because apparently, it tasted like blood and loneliness.


Sometimes Jack wished he didn't know people so well. Or that just once, the universe would stop listening to him.

The UWA (Unscheduled Wormhole Alarm) went off just as he stepped out of the observation room above the debriefing area. Which, yeah, initially didn't worry him because after ten years of hearing it, he'd worry if he didn't hear it at least once daily. (That, he maintained, was why he hated Washington. No alarms.)

But, just because he wasn't worried, he still headed that way anyway. As ranking officer on base while he was present, it was one of his duties to be present if something happened. Which was also why he wasn't that surprised when an Airman found him on the Ops level. (Really, was he that predictable?) (Seriously, don't answer that.) "What is it?"

"Uh, its Atlantis, sir. They've dialed in."

Of course it is. Because apparently this day is not complete without a Pegasus thing. "What do they want?"

"Colonel Sheppard. Sir."

He stopped short. "Say what?"


His team wasn't coming.

They're not coming.

It meant he was alone. It was going to be completely up to him and his skills to get himself out of this. On a ship. In hyperspace. Traveling—

Wait.

He blinked. The endless vibrations of the room, so continual that he'd never really noticed it, had stopped. They had stopped.

The engines. All this time, he'd unknowingly been feeling the engines through the floor...

Which meant...they were there. They were in the Milky Way...

He turned his face from the door and allowed himself to smile for what seemed the first time in days. Now, at last, he had hope.

All he really needed was one lapse. One chance.


The Airman swallowed, wondering why he had to be the one chosen as the messenger. "They said, and I quote, 'We want our Colonel back.' Apparently the attached document says they've already started a, uh, work to rule strike."

O'Neill frowned. "Do you have the documents?" he demanded, annoyed that news of Sheppard's presence on Earth was already out. Obviously, there was a hole in their little circle somewhere. Once this little disaster was over, he meant to find it - and kill it hard.

"Yes, Sir."

"Give them to me."

"Yes Sir."

Now. Time for damage control. "Oh, and Airman?"

"Yes, Sir?"

"This is...how shall I say it? April Fools day on their calendar. You'll tell that to anyone who asks about any strange things on the base today, okay?"

"Yes Sir!"


His chance came when they opened his door again.

This time, there was only one faceless man. No guard.

One man was easy.

He eased the man's body to the floor, careful not to make noise. He eased out into the corridor but then paused, looked between the body and his cell, and took the time to drag the body into the cell. It wasn't much, but it might delay the discovery of his escape for those extra few seconds - and those seconds might make all the difference.

He closed the door behind him and headed off down the corridor. He had no real idea where he was, what ship he was on...but at least he was out of that stupid cell. From here, it could only get better.


O'Neill knocked on the door to the debrief room and didn't bother waiting for an acknowledgement before opening it and sticking his head in. "Cam. Time to go."

Cam grinned at the General, winked at Sheppard, gathered his papers (they were only there for show anyway), and got out. He was pretty much done anyway, had been for a while, and had only been reminiscing with his friend (under the guise of "debriefing") while they waited.

Shutting the door behind him, General O'Neill sighed heavily and sat down at the table opposite Sheppard. And leaned back and rocked his chair, because, well, it was asking to be rocked, and as General, it wasn't like people could tell him no anymore. "Well, Sheppard, you certainly have some very resourceful friends behind you."

Sheppard nodded. "I know, Sir."

"Out of curiosity, any idea how on earth your people in Atlantis knew you'd end up here?"

Sheppard shrugged. "No."

"But, if you had to guess..."

"Well, if I had to guess, I'd say that they probably followed the trail of the ship that took me and tracked it back in this direction, and made the hypothesis that if they hinted that I was gone, you'd move the galaxy to find me. They just didn't know that I was already here. But that'd be guessing, Sir."

"And...you don't guess."

"Rightly so...Sir."


It was an accident that he found the samples, really.

Especially since he couldn't even read the damn language. But some things are universal. When you're staring at things you don't understand, it turns out that the Ancient language really stands out.

So when he spotted the Ancient runes on the panel as he passed, he touched them.

He reckoned he was the most surprised person on the damn ship when he got vials of his own blood in return. So of course he trashed them.


"Right." O'Neill brought his chair down with a thump. "Well, it looks like we're done."

Sheppard jolted in the chair, his startled response plain. "Uh, just like that?"

"Yep. As they say, you're free to go."

"You haven't found who took me, have you?"

"Nope. Turns out, though, you have other people who want you back even more badly than they do."


He'd known his escape wasn't going to be easy. But he'd never expected to have to fight for it, after his easy passage through the ship so far.

He found the room by accident, he swore. Mainly, he was looking for a place to rest, because he could only drag his broken body around this damned ship so far before it gave up on him. And he was pretty much at that point.

He went in the next room he saw.

And promptly came across another of the faceless men.

The following fight...was epic.

He only remembered it in bits and pieces, because he already had a concussion, and the man delighted in hitting his already pounding head.

Mainly, he got thrown around a lot. At some point, he landed on his front. He's pretty sure that's the point where he ended up with his hands tied behind his back. But that didn't stop him kicking for all he was worth.

He got thrown around a bit more. Hit his head again.

The next time he got thrown, he landed against the console at the far end of the room. He felt his hands land on some sort of button. The man pushed down, and his hands pressed it even as the weight on his chest lifted...

...the world flashed a bright white...

...and he reappeared in O'Neill's backyard, who just happened to hosting a barbecue that day...


At the gateroom, SG1 saw him off as Sheppard finally left the Mountain. Through the gate this time, not any other means.

Lam stood next to them, her fingers literally twitching. "At least let me bandage and dress your wounds, Colonel, before you go."

"Thanks for the offer, Doc, but I'll heal better on Atlantis."

"I thought that's what you'll say, but I had to at least offer."

Sheppard just nodded, and stepped up to the gate. He paused, then turned back. "Next time, just tell the General to bring his own barbecue..." And then he was through.


EPILOGUE:

John's eyes opened. "We have visitors."

"Good, bad, indifferent?" McKay asked, even though he knew that asking was kind of a moot point with Sheppard now. (With all of them, actually.) But sometimes gestures were important.

"Good," Sheppard said, his lips lifting in a smile. Carefully reaching out - because those pesky medical restrictions still weren't lifted - he beckoned everyone to come.

Which was why everyone was there to greet SG1 when they landed on the beach, bearing gifts. And yes, this time, they did bring their own barbecue.


THE END