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Lack of Parity

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A draft of cold air, needle-like, against the back of his hand. It raised the tiny hairs on his fingers and made him withdraw back under the fleece blanket and cotton sheets. Texture there too, scratchy, fresh cut grass with its raw edges. Relentless. Now he could feel it everywhere his skin touched the sheets, couldn't un-know it. What felt like fuzz to others felt like a thousand sandpaper fingers, catching and pulling at his over-dry skin.

Vibration, bouncing off the walls and coming back at him. Coming from him, from his raw throat. It bounced off the ceiling, the corners, the walls - all at different rates, endlessly reverberating against his skin, barely muffled by the blankets. Turning made it worse, one ear against the foamy pillow with it's wheezing sounds of collapsing cells; the other bare to the world and the air. He couldn't stop vibrating. It was making it worse but it was control. He made these sounds! They were his and not forced on him by others.

The earthquake of footfalls. The avalanche of the door - the squeak of hinges and the rush of air.

Please, let this be over soon.

________

Rodney watched the 'tape'. It wasn't really tape anymore but the mental word was stuck there, just like borrowing a 'tape' to listen to music. It really was borrowing then, non-trivial to copy it. Now you shared a track by giving people a copy of their own. Equitable. With a shake of his head he went back to the video to find he hadn't missed much. The sentinel was rocking back and forth just a little. He'd been doing it for at least a minute now; the video was sped up to 20x speed. Playback had been slowing down for interactions or interesting moments and speeding up through the boring parts. Boring to everyone but Rodney. He forced the playback to slow down. He wanted to watch every moment. To understand what took this man apart - no, not what took him apart. Not yet. Right now what he needed to know was what was left. Figure out how to put him back together long enough to get him out of the facility and to someplace safe. Safer.

He hit a button, darkening the laptop screen. It was distracting him. He needed to focus on the environment he was physically in, not the one he was so drawn into watching.

Woolsey just tilted his head a little and waited.

"What's his name?"

"Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard."

Rodney barely refrained from rolling his eyes. "That's nice. I asked what his name was."

Sadly the bureaucrat had to look down at the paper file in front of him. "John."

"That piece of data not important, eh?" Rodney let his fingers run lightly over the edge of the keyboard. Not enough to register as a key press but feeling the tactile bumps and slight give of the springs. "We met briefly, down south. And his guide?"

"He's only had one in training and sometimes when he was doing black ops work. Otherwise he's managed." The words were precise. No intonation given that would tell Rodney anything important. No way to judge if this was Sheppard's - John's - choice, or the military's.

"How long since he was out of a combat zone?"

"He averages eight to ten months in country before he self-reports for leave."

"And it's always been granted when he asked?"

Now came the frown. "There was an exception. He had a commanding officer that didn't...listen. That person is no longer in a position to cause a problem."

"And what led to this? And why isn't he already back in North America at a retreat center?"

"Because technically he's listed as missing in action, presumed killed in action."

Rodney knew he wasn't keeping the shock off his face. He hadn't heard anything about this from anyone at the SGC, not that he had been looking either. Lightswitch pilot guy had been Sheppard's mental appellation to Rodney until a minute ago. "He's been kidnapped by his own government?"

"Essentially."

"And why isn't one of the Protector oversight groups screaming about this? Why, exactly, am I sitting in a bunker half way around the world - with a link into that facility I might add - instead of doing something? I mean, you didn't read me into this mess as a tease, Richard. It's not your style."

That got him a half quirked smile. "Indeed. We have access to some equipment that makes it possible to extract Sheppard from his current location, but you would have to be willing to be his guide for an unknown duration."

Rodney sat back in his chair, fingers still gliding over the edge of the keyboard. He resisted the urge to look at the screen again, look at the man again. "I ask again, why me?"

"You already had a high enough clearance, even if it wasn't with the right agency. The SGC only had Sheppard on TDY, not a permanent change of station. This incident had nothing to do with the Atlantis mission."

He snorted. "That means nothing."

"In this case, it meant everything." Richard held up his hand, stopping Rodney from speaking. "You are also used to the military, to sentinels, and you were a preliminary personality match. At short notice you were our best choice."

"You left out the part where I have a heart of gold and a soft touch." He refused to stand up and pace. Too easy a tell. "You're taking me away from my own research for a long time. If he's as damaged as it appears it could be months before...." He waved his hand in the air, leaving it as vague as the end of his sentence. There was Atlantis to think of. Preparations were underway. They had a ten-month timeline and Rodney was busy.

"He's got a background in mathematics. He's even published a few papers. And frankly, he's worked a desk before. He knows the routine. It's the price the service pays for him to be in the field the rest of the time."

Rodney allowed himself a glance at the dark screen. "You're assuming he'll be able to go back in the field again. I won't push him into that."

Woolsey nodded. "And that's the other reason we wanted you. You're a stubborn man, doctor. We're counting on it. You need him for the ancient gene. His position as supernumerary is at stake."

Rodney let his eyes go unfocused, refusing to be pressured into this. His attention turned inward. Was he really willing to set aside months of 'real' work and pick up being a guide again? To be tied emotionally to someone that, at first blush, looked to be really damaged? With a mental huff he let that go. If the man truly were damaged beyond repair there would be very little Rodney could do. It was the part where the man - John - might be badly damaged but could be recoverable that was the sticking point.

He abruptly focused back on Richard. "How did you find out about this?"

"They've got him in some sort of a underground room with a double airlock style door. Someone slipped up and both the doors were open for a moment. Sheppard's warning was unmistakable."

"And the warning was?"

"Just one word, repeated over and over." Richard cleared his throat and glanced down at the paper. "Run."

Rodney blinked and waited for more. There wasn't any. Just on the off chance Richard was being dramatic he waited a little more. Still nothing. "So, he didn't ask for help?"

"No."

"He didn't call on the tribe at all?"

"No." Richard looked away, breaking from the stare for the first time. "The person who gave us the most detail said it felt like the sentinel was trying to save the tribe. Warn everyone he could."

He snorted. "Self-sacrificing idiot. He's more intact than he's letting on."

________
The corner was almost comfortable. He had the pillow tucked into the actual angle but not against his skin. They thought they were doing him a favor, giving him 'quiet' to rest and recover. Giving him 'natural materials' to wear and have in his environment. In his most lighthearted moments it felt like they were children making their best attempt at a Mother's Day breakfast. The rest of the time it just felt like the malicious experimentation it most likely was.

A moment later and the world tilted, just a little. There was a person crouched in front of him. Hands carefully held empty but not reaching towards him. The smell of clean skin, healthy body and the faintest hint of fear-sweat made him recoil. He listened to the heartbeat - fast but not thundering. The idle thought of a hallucination was considered and dismissed - while his mind had fooled him on occasion his senses never had.

It was the fear that kept his attention. Not fear of him because it was old, at least an hour. No, this could be?

"Trust me," the man said softly. Not a whisper because that always grated on his hearing.

This man knew his sentinel records. He wasn't wearing or doing anything that would set John off.

John nodded and let this stranger touch him. The world vanished in a bright haze of white and then exploded.
________

 

He kept one hand on the sentinel - John. It would be the only point of grounding the man had as soon as they-

They materialized somewhere else and the body under his hand began to shake. "Shit. Shit. Shit!"

"John-" He didn't think the man heard him, the words lost in the mantra of obscenity the sentinel was reciting.

“Ow, shit. Jesus.” John curled up tighter, one arm going over his head even as what little color there was drained out of his face, the other curled protectively around his drawn up legs.

“Sheppard.” Rodney tried again, less pleading and more forceful. “I know it’s hard but you need to listen.”

“Fuck you.” John squinted out of one watering eye for a moment before dropping his head and hiding his face again. "What's happened? What did you do to me?"

"We've transported you several thousand miles. Right now it doesn't matter how or why. Just that we did it and now your body is trying to acclimate all at once to the new environment." Rodney didn't think that John was actually taking in all the words, but who knew?

The sentinel reached out and got a handful of Rodney’s shirt and yanked. A button popped off but he barely heard it over the low growl coming from John. “Shut up.”

“O-kay.” Rodney frowned. This wasn’t going to plan. “Really?”

“You said trust you. I was expecting, you know, a strike team or a shot to knock me out. Not Star Trek with a Shatner in need of a girdle.”

Rodney blinked, a Trek reference? "I don’t need a girdle, you ass. Though, seriously, when we get a chance I am totally taking the transporter thing apart."

"Shut up --" John was shaking with tremors.

“Breathe, John. You need to listen. We got you out and we’re going to make it better. Promise.” He watched and didn’t move even as the grip tightened on his shirt, pulling him close enough to smell John’s sour breath and the bleach on his scrubs.

"Promise, huh?” The words came out muttered. “Be a good soldier, John. Be a good sentinel, Sheppard. Get out the duct tape, boys. There’s a mission in a few months and we need him.”

Rodney winced.

Somewhere behind Rodney he could hear Richard speak, "How much longer are we going to stand here instead of getting him to the doctors? I’m on a schedule."

John winced. "For all that is holy shut him up! Everyone just shut up and let me think. And close the window."

Rodney blinked and then asked because -- window? "The window?" They were on a spaceship. There were portals, certainly but not in the room they were in. They were layers and decks from the outside of the ship. Buried deep in the center with the other vital equipment. He was so caught up in his train of thought he almost missed the answer.

"Yes," John gritted out as he let go of Rodney’s shirt. "There's a negative pressure on it and it's whistling like a son of a bitch. Close it the rest of the way or open it up, I don't care which."

"Right, I'll have someone do that." Rodney twisted on his knees and glared at Woolsey. "You heard the man - go check and see what's causing that negative pressure problem in the...building...and take care of it."

Woolsey blinked and stared at him.

Rodney shifted his glare to one of the crewmembers who was freaking out in what they thought was silence. Either John was so tuned in on Rodney it didn't matter or he had chosen to ignore everyone but the perceived threats. It would be interesting to find out which it was later. Rodney also had to wonder how good the crew was in actual battle if the idea of an air leak in their space ship was shutting off their brains. "Someone go take care of it. Now. Didn’t anyone ever train you to listen when a sentinel speaks and their guide confirms it?"

John's voice dropped lower, the hoarseness more obvious. "Guide? Are you a guide?"

Rodney swiveled around, sliding his hand from John's clothes to gently wrap it around his wrist. "Yes. Twenty years, mostly single or double sense scientists in labs." The skin under his hand was dry, almost flaking - another thing to take care of as soon as they had time. No doubt the sentinel had turned it down to nothing. The brand new scratchy scrubs couldn't be helping either. He was betting on a rash underneath them. “I was available.”

"I." John swallowed and raised his head enough to look at Rodney through slitted eyes. "Something is wrong here. We can't stay."

Now Rodney understood why the crew was panicked. The animal portion of his brain went to the 'no air!' and 'outer space' place and locked up. 'Sentinel says unsafe' was right behind that and must have been obvious on his face.

John went pale, hectic color draining from his cheeks as he turned the grip Rodney had on his wrist into a mutual hold. He pulled Rodney closer, putting his body between Rodney and everyone else in the room. "No one comes closer," he said in a commanding voice.

"Uh, J-John?" Rodney gasped out. "They-"

"No, guide. It's my turn to protect you."

"But they-" he needed to get the words out. To let John know the problem wasn't the people, it was the situation.

Woolsey gestured to the crewman at the transport controls. "Get them out of here and to the safe house now. He's too unstable to be here."

"No, wait!" Rodney spoke too late - the beam of light hit them again and they were gone.

"Welcome Colonel Sheppard." It was a voice attached to a vague shape.

Rodney's vision hadn't cleared yet and there was no way that John could--

"Touch me and die," John panted even as he got to his feet, hauling Rodney up with him. "Touch him and I rip your arms off and beat everyone else in the room with them."

Everyone froze in place, the dominant sounds being John's heaving breaths.

Rodney blinked. "Well, nothing like caveman tactics...."

"Guide?" John wouldn't look at him, instead he was tracking everyone he could see, and judging by the tilt of the head, a lot of people Rodney couldn't see or hear. "You back with me?"

"Yes, yes." He didn't try to move except where John moved him. "I'd tell you to trust me but that hasn't gone so well in the last ten minutes."

John snorted. "I have more options now than I had ten minutes ago."

"True."

"At the risk of sounding like the ditzy blonde in a horror movie - where are we?" John's gaze snapped to the door. "And whoever is out there can wait long enough for me to get answers."

"And they thought getting you out was going to be the hard part." Rodney rested his head against John's back, feeling the muscles of his shoulder blade tense slightly under the weight. "If I could get everyone out of the room or, better yet, get us outside, would that help?"

Silence and the hardening of the muscles to something like iron.

John finally nodded. "What season is it?" he asked softly.

"Here? Winter." That told him how offline the sentinel's senses really were. "And no more flashy white light, my word on it."

"I don't know that it's up to you," John said with a touch of wry humor. "They didn't listen the last time."

"Yes, well, Mr. Woolsey is well practiced in covering his own ass."

"Rodney!" Dr. Carson Beckett chided. "Don't you start."

While John didn't give much sign that the noise bothered him, Rodney could feel the wince. "Not now, Carson. Let Colonel Sheppard get a baseline and some quiet before you start in on me."

Carson rolled his eyes and shook his finger at Rodney. He was clearly not willing to harm his newest patient but not willing to let Rodney off the hook entirely.

"Yes, yes. I'm sure when Colonel Stoic has gotten over the immediate trauma of being someone's pet experiment he'll be happy to be yours."

John gave a startled cough but otherwise didn't comment. Carson, on the other hand, had a glare that could cut ice.

Rodney grinned smugly, but when he tried to move John's grip tightened again, locking him in place. "No, really? Is this necessary?"

With a shrug even he could feel was uneasy John let go and took a step away. "As you see fit, of course, Guide."

Rodney could hear the word become a title. "I'm not going anywhere John. I would rather not try to look at the not so nice doctors through your shoulder, okay?"

John gave a careful half-shrug then scratched at his arm, blood immediately spotting the thin fabric. That set off more scratching, the sentinel getting distracted by the itching. With a weak laugh he pulled the long sleeved shirt off. Where he wasn't covered in hives there were scratches and raw spots.

Carson hissed in sympathy. "We're going to have to treat that," he said softly.

John's cheeks turned faintly pink; on anyone else it would be a full-on blush. "It's under the pants too."

"Cortisone?"

"In micro-doses I can handle it but I've been exposed to a lot of stuff."

Rodney shook his head. "No, you'll get a secondary infection if you don't have one already. Strictly external treatment unless we have to. Oatmeal bath if you can stand it, pure aloe gel regardless."

Carson frowned. "I'm the doctor here."

Rodney shrugged. "And? He's already made it as clear as he can that it's high risk for him. If the information I got was correct he's been on two different continents in the last thirty days.

John gave a slight nod. "Gave me shots."

"What was in them?"

"Whatever they wanted to try. Most of it smelled like allergens but there were a few viruses and bacteria, I think. Don't know why." He scratched again, raising a fresh welt on his chest. "Can I shower? Please."

"The trip here should have removed anything that's a hazard to anyone else," Rodney murmured. Louder he said, "If you think you can handle it--"

"I'll take a sink bath if I can't take the shower."

Carson stepped forward even as John backed away from him. "We need to take samples and pictures first. Document everything before I can let you do that. We have met before. Don't you remember?"

John wobbled even as he stepped further back, then leaned up against the wall. He winced as he felt it, moving away just far enough not to touch it. "No. No one touches me."

"Now lad-"

"No!"

Rodney stepped between them, his back to John. "Carson, I shouldn't have to tell you to back off twice in five minutes but I will. Step off. Now."

"Dr. McKay, I don't have to listen to you. We'll get the samples and pictures. He'll be X-rayed and have a full CAT scan before I decide on a treatment plan. I don't need your permission."

In a reverse of how they arrived, John's long fingers wrapped in the tail of Rodney's shirt as he sought comfort and protection. His voice was just above a whisper and probably didn't carry past Rodney's ears. "I can't, not right now. Not without help."

Help Rodney could provide, if he accepted in person the hypothetical promise he'd made. The promise to be a guide and protector. As if he hadn't committed the moment he'd see the video. "Whatever you need." His gaze never wavered from Carson's hard blue eyes. "And we'll take a break as often as the sentinel needs, even if that makes it hours. I'm the expert here. They'll do it my way."

Carson snorted. "We'll see about that."

"If you want to keep your medical license and not have the Sentinel Council ban you from practice you'll do exactly as we ask." Rodney was perfectly happy to do just that. "We didn't go to all the trouble of rescuing the man to just repeat history. Now, bring the evidence kit in here and show me what you need done. I'll do it."

"It should be a trained professional."

"We've already touched, Dr. Beckett. It's already contaminated evidence - and last I checked I was a trained professional. Get the damn kit or let me give my sentinel some relief. Ideally both, you stubborn ass."

"Get 'im tiger," John said softly.

"Fine." Carson turned on his heel, the sound a bare squeak.

The sentinel let go of Rodney's shirt abruptly and covered his ears just in time for Carson to open the door. Even Rodney could hear people out in the hallway, some of them yelling for equipment. "Oh shit."

The soft thud had Rodney turning around as John curled up on the floor in a fetal position.

****

He could feel everything. Hear everything. See everything even through closed eyelids. His skin was on fire except where it was pressed against the ice-cold floor. The smell of the vinegar they'd used to mop the tiles filled his nose, along with the sour smells of old coffee and sweat.

"Overload?" the guide asked him.

John held onto that voice through the cacophony. He reached out, thought he was reaching out in that direction with his hands, with his mind, with all of his remaining sanity toward that voice.

Warm skin hovered near his fingers. "I'm going to touch you now. Just me and just one finger. Focus on this. Let everything but this go."

"No." His lips shaped the sound and air traveled past his larynx but he didn't know if he'd made the sound or just wondered if he had. He couldn't let go. It wasn't safe to let go.

"Yes, sentinel." An index finger brushed over the back of his hand, skirting the raw spots.

He could feel the whorls of the guide's skin against his own. If he focused enough he could probably hear the rasp of skin against skin.

"Listen to me. Can you feel my heartbeat echoed in my pulse?"

He could, more as pressure than sound. There was so much sound. The banging and yelling through the thin walls. Screeching wheels against the floor. The vibrations of footsteps. A high-pitched whine and then the clicks of a camera shutter going off again and again. He pulled away, hiding his face against the cool of the floor. Looping an arm over his head and wrapping the back of his bare, vulnerable neck with his own hand. "Victim," he let the words go past his lips, unwilling.

"Survivor," the guide answered. "Don't give me that. You survived and you're as sane as any other sentinel in a world not designed for you. Listen to me; let everything else fade into the background since you don't have the sense to let it go entirely. Or, you know, pass out."

John did his best. Listening to the voice and the sounds of the guide's body that was between him and most of the evil noise. He even let Rodney rest a hand on him. But he didn't stop, couldn't stop paying attention to everything else. Survival instinct when he was like this was a bitch.

"Speaking of passing out, remember to breathe once in a while." Rodney's finger poked him, none too gently, in the shoulder.

John nodded slightly, risking vertigo that didn't come. He counted to three, inhaled for a two count and then exhaled for three. When no new sounds or smells were introduced he did it again. It was embarrassing to think of how tattered his controls were, that a door opening to a busy room was enough to set him off. But sensitivity seemed to be fading. He wasn't going to fool himself into thinking it was under full control but at least he wasn't teetering on the edge of catatonia again. "What do they need before I can get clean and sleep?"

"I do believe it is time for CSI - Air Force edition." There was the sharp crackle of plastic and crisp tissue paper. "Fingernail clippings, mouth swab, a little bit of hair and they want to steal your clothes."

"Sentinels have definitely been replaced and surpassed by crime labs." John uncurled himself enough to get to a seated position, though he kept his hands wrapped around his drawn up knees. "And with repeatable, verifiable results."

"But sometimes you don't have a lab you can take with you into the field." Rodney scooted closer, pressing his clothed thigh against John's bare feet.

"Hmm," he said noncommittally. "Nails first?"

He could feel Rodney's shrug. "If the vibration snap and sound isn't going to set you off again, or I can just get the hair sample. It's a non-linear checklist."

"Can we just get it over with?" His thoughts were finally catching up with his new reality. Slowly dropping out of combat adrenaline mode. "Before I collapse?"

"How close is that?" Rodney asked sharply. "I want you in isolation first."

John flinched. Isolation. Right back into prison then. For his own good, no doubt. He couldn't help the coolness of his tone. "I can handle whatever is needed until you can lock me up."

Rodney snorted. "Like I would go to all the trouble of rescuing you to do that? Please. I would much rather be back in my lab doing math and making Carter crazy then babying you."

"Don't let me stop you." He drew back as much as he could, which wasn't far with the wall at his back. He held out his hands flat. "Take your samples and go, guide."

"See? I told them I suck at this."

John didn't bother to open his eyes, just waited with the patience of Job. He'd gotten a lot of practice in the last few months. What the military hadn't pounded into him in fifteen years of service his 'incarceration for his own good' had. Want nothing. Ask for nothing. Need nothing. He could feel Rodney's latex covered hands gently take hold of his fingers one by one and clip the nails off. Then there was what was probably meant as a gentle probing, scraping from underneath the nail bed to get any other evidence that might be trapped there. More photos. Hair clippings.

After John stopped answering Rodney stopped trying to engage him in conversation, just carrying out his tasks as silently as a living human could. John went along with it, following the unspoken prodding. When he was urged upwards, he followed the hand on his shoulder that guided him out of the cold tile room into one with a wooden floor. The room sounded much more full of stuff, the sounds muffled and softer with more absorbent surfaces to bounce off of. When the guiding hand let go he stopped and waited.

Clothes were put into his empty hand. Fingers gently closed around his own, urging him to hold onto the fabric. He rubbed the fabric between his fingers and raised it to his face. It smelled like him. It was his own off-duty clothes. John allowed himself the tiniest of smiles; at least he had something that would hurt less against his abraded skin.

The vibration of footsteps went away and he could hear a door open to a small, echo laden space. The smell of vinegar and water was strong, and then came the creak of pipes. The patter of water followed.

Still, John waited. His captors had taught him that wanting something led to pain. His 'rescuers' had not yet shown him different.

The guide's hand came back and led him to the bathroom. "I don't know how you like your shower, so it's tepid. I'll wait out here for you."

The door closed between them and John was alone again.

He opened his eyes, squinting reflexively. He need not have bothered. The lights were low. Wood was still beneath his feet and he flexed his toes against the fine-grained surface. One small mirror on a swivel bar caught his gaze briefly before he looked elsewhere. A pedestal sink with some kind of honey soap and a washcloth were right in front of him. The shower was to the left, water pattering down like a sprinkling rain, and a bench called out to him. He set the clothes he'd been given on the edge of the dry sink and took a deep breath, trying to relax.

Closing his eyes again he listened, seeing if he could hear the hum of electronics. Nothing - at least not in here. Nothing but the faint hum of the lights. So no recording devices. He turned and wasn't surprised to see there was no lock on the door. Trust had its limits then.

He slipped off the loose pants and kicked them away before stepping over the edge of the shower. He held out one hand, letting his palm fill with water. Too cool - he twisted the controls until it was the same temperature as the surface of his skin. Letting his eyes skim over more of the room, he took in the thick worn towels that were his own and the closed jar that smelled of aloe and nothing else.

There was a bar of soap in the shower as well, something with lemon and almond oil in it. With a purely internal sigh he finally nerved himself to get directly under the water and pick up the soap. Each drop, even as gentle as it was, felt like a needle against his skin, but he tuned it out. It was better than the rough fibers of the clothes that had rubbed him raw. He turned the water pressure up, letting the needling spray wash off the fibers that were left on (and in) his skin. He rinsed with his bare hands several times before he picked up the soap and methodically washed from head to toe. It stung like a sunburn the next day on the broken skin but it needed to happen. He wanted to feel clean again and get the smell off his skin. He washed again, scrubbing and lathering his hair until all he could smell was the lemon and he'd stripped the chemicals out, or as much as he could in a single shower. No doubt after a night's sleep and some exercise it would come up in his sweat and he would break out again. Weeping sores where skin folded against itself. Blisters on bony joints. It would take days, perhaps weeks before the toxicity of 'regular' foods and cleaners would be gone from his system and his skin was whole, his digestion settled.

He turned the water off and toweled his hair enough to stop the drips. He could smell several people on the fabric but it was minimal, just the usual handling of someone picking something up and touching it, so he ignored it. Next John grabbed the jar of aloe and slathered it on. He was careful around his genitals but everywhere else got a good coating. It burned a little in all of the open sores and freshly broken open scabs but there was nothing that could be done about that either.

Still naked, he looked in the mirror. They hadn't cut his hair so from that he was able to more accurately judge how long he'd been gone. Six weeks, at least from the non-regulation length. He'd lost six weeks to 'experimental techniques on an atypical soldier'. He hung the towels up and carefully washed his hands, then his face.

Finally he pulled on the socks and underwear that were in the pile of clothes. The fabric stuck in a few places where the aloe wasn't completely dry yet but that was the only irritation. He tugged on the loose track pants, looser now with the weight he'd lost in captivity. Last to go on was the long sleeve shirt with the high collar. Now the only exposed skin was the front of his neck, his face, and his hands from the wrist bones to the fingertips. Psychologically he felt so much better it was ridiculous.

He carefully lowered himself to the floor and rested his head on his raised knees. That's when the shaking started. Even as the old silk t-shirt caught on the scabs on his back he could feel himself letting go, letting the fear he'd squashed into the corners of his mind have its moment on the big stage. Maybe it wasn't over, but at least things had changed and he had a respite.

He allowed himself the time to turn inward, to let the panic and pain bubble to the surface. Experience had taught John the painful lesson of repression. By giving fear a place it wouldn't overwhelm him when he most needed to be focused. Nearby he could still feel and hear the guide as he wandered the room next door. John absently cataloged the sounds of drawers opening and closing, the bed being made, people coming and going. There was very little talk, at least that he was willing to make the effort to understand. Nothing said in anger. Some frustration, some upset, a little soothing. The guide's footsteps kept circling closer and closer to the bathroom door. John figured he had a minute or two more before Rodney got up the nerve to check on him.

With a measured, indrawn breath John let the fear go and opened his eyes. He deliberately relaxed his body and watched as the tremors faded to the smallest trembling in his fingers. There was no helping that but then again, they'd be a lot more worried if he wasn't upset at all. Best to let them see what they expect.

As carefully as he could he got back onto his feet and opened the door.

"You took care of it all yourself?" the guide, Rodney asked. Dr. McKay. The name floated up through his memory - Antarctica.

John thought he detected a note of hurt. "Yes," he answered cautiously

"That's good then." Dr. McKay's body language definitely said different and kept drawing John out of his contemplation. His scent had gone a little sour. "There is a bed that should be safe for you, based on your records. Has anything changed?"

"Not that I am aware of," he murmured. "No promises, though. New allergies aren't--"

"Uncommon in stressful situations." Rodney's gaze was sharp, the blue eyes taking in as much as any non-sentinel could. "Are you up to handling a micro-dose of a steroid as a preventative?"

"Preventative for what? If I was going to react I would have already." John checked out the room. The full sized futon and low slung lounge chair next to it the only soft surfaces. Thick canvas curtains blocked a large window but he couldn't tell if it was a view to the outside or to the medical bay. The heavy push door made of metal with a porthole window. No privacy. And yeah, he could hear the hum of electronics now and the faintest echo of his own voice, so he was under surveillance.

"I'm worried about bi-phasic reactions." Dr. McKay's voice was getting higher, and tighter. He was upset.

John focused back on him. "I'm compromised and not capable of making decisions about my own care. Do as you think best. You're the guide of record."

"You didn't pick me."

He snorted. "I haven't had the luxury of picking a guide. Really, I'm not a delicate flower and rarely need one, but you're here. So, handle it. I'm going to sleep." John shrugged and faced the direction he thought was most likely to have the microphone. "The baselines for my heart rate and respiration on my records will be inaccurate for at least the next 48 hours. I've changed altitude and not had any physical conditioning opportunities. I'm also likely to contract some sort of pneumonia. I recommend sedation and a breathing tube if that does happen. Restraints will most likely cause flashbacks."

Dr. McKay's lips were pressed into a thin line and his shoulders were stiff. "Done yet?"

"No. Either be the guide of record or get the fuck out and find someone who will." John's feet were getting cold. Shock maybe or a breeze from the circulation system. He took three careful steps over to the end of the bed and put his knees on the futon, wincing at the pressure on his sores. A quick half roll had him stretched out on the bed on his side, head on the pillow and facing the door.

"You're an asshole," McKay grouched.

"Job requirement." He wasn't even kidding. "They give extra lessons in asshole and bastard the longer you are in the service."

McKay's lips twisted into something close to a smile. "Should I stretch out on the chair or you want me closer?"

"On the bed. I need to be between you and the door." He waited for a crack about that, but none came. McKay just toed off his shoes, and then the bed shifted a little under his weight. John could feel the guide's body heat radiating against his back. "How long before they come in?"

"I asked for two hours, minimum."

It was more than John expected. He closed his eyes and made an effort to physically relax. Even if he didn't sleep this was better than a corner and a tile floor.