The little bell over the door of the shop jingled jauntily as Teyla pushed it open and entered. The noise delighted Torren. He clapped his small hands together and opened and closed the door several times to make quite a racket. The estate agent strode across the room and caught the door in one hand to stop the noise.
With a simpering smile, he said, “May I be of assistance?”
“I am in need of accommodations. I have been hired as a caregiver for a soldier. I need a place where he may recuperate in peace. I need rooms for the soldier, myself and my son. I prefer to stay near the City, if at all possible, as we will need to travel there on occasion.” Teyla followed the frail little man across the room to a table that was strewn with papers, predominantly advertisements of properties.
“Then you do not seek something within Atlantis. There are not many offerings on the mainland.” The man made some noises of irritation as he rifled through the papers. “This would be too far. No, not this one, this is far too large for just three of you. This one requires too much upkeep, again too far, and this one, oh, no, not this one,” he crumpled a paper into a ball and tossed it over his shoulder.
Bored, Torren retrieved the paper, bouncing it in his hand for a short time while his mother looked with dismay at the lease prices on the listings the agent was stacking up before her. Torren didn’t much like the man, who smelled funny to him, like the field workers smelled when they came out of the field at the end of the day. The cross looking man must not have a mama that made him take baths like Torren’s mama did when he got stinky.
Curious, Torren unfolded the paper in his hands, and smoothed it out to look at the picture on it. There was an oddly shaped Oma tree in the front of the house that looked perfect for climbing, in his opinion. He sidled up to his mother and clasped her hand, tugging it to get her attention. “Mama, look,” he had to repeat himself three times before she finally did look down at the paper he was extending. “Oma tree.”
Torren smiled when she took the paper and smiled at him as she read it, and then turned to the man and said, “Why have you put this one aside? This cottage seems to be the perfect size and price for us.”
“Oh, no. I am sorry, dear lady, but Puddle Jumper Cottage is not the place for you. No, no, no.” He grasped the edge of the advertisement and attempted to tug it out of Teyla’s fingers.
“Is it not for lease?”
The man sighed and admitted reluctantly, “Well, yes, of course. But the cottage might not be at all desirable for you. There are stories.”
Teyla made a small derisive snort. “Stories do not concern me, please show us the property.”
“But… you said you needed peace for your friend,” the agent looked down at Torren and then continued, “The previous owner passed away suddenly, tragically. There have been rumors of incidents; lights, music and noises that cannot be explained. It is said the place is haunted.”
Patting the pile of exorbitantly priced offerings, Teyla shook her head and waved the photograph in her hand at him. “I do not fear death or superstition, sir. I wish to see Puddle Jumper Cottage.”
When they walked up the path, Torren dashed away from Teyla’s side upon seeing the Oma tree. He screeched with laughter as he nimbly climbed the branches and perched over the heads of his mother and the estate agent.
“Stay there, Torren. I wish to look around inside, climb no higher.”
“I won’t Mama.”
The cottage was the perfect size for her needs, with a kitchen, cook’s quarters off the back, dining room and common room taking up the ground floor, two bedrooms at the top of the staircase, with a necessary room in-between. There was a large room on the third floor with a balcony overlooking the sea. It was just right for their needs.
When they walked outside, the agent tried one last time to dissuade her from the place. “Please, Teyla Emmagen, let me show you another property, I am sure I can find one within your price range.”
“You are the strangest estate agent I have ever encountered, trying to talk me out of taking a property. I wish to rent Puddle Jumper Cottage. I have the fees for the first six moons available today; surely you will not turn away payment in hand?”
The agent looked up at the windows and shuddered. “No, I suppose I cannot, dear lady.”
He stared down at the people in the front of the cottage. He had heard them enter and walk around and had hidden himself from sight, not difficult, he knew all the places to hide here, it was his place, after all. Once the woman went outside, he opened the door to the balcony and stood just inside it, watching. The boy was having a grand time, weaving through the misshapen branches of the Oma tree. It had been a very long time since he had heard the sound of a child’s laughter, and never here on these grounds. He almost smiled at the child’s joy, but then he remembered about other things and grew morose once more.
The weasel-faced little rental agent glared up at the window where he was standing. He willed him to look away, to go away. He wanted to be left alone, he didn’t want people here. People reminded him of what he had lost.
Chattering happily, the boy ran circles around the young mother and the estate man as they made their way down the path and away from the cottage. They were leaving, it was good. He reached out and tugged the balcony door closed. Then he went to find the book he had been reading and settled into the comfortable chair in the big bedroom. He was alone in the quiet, just as he preferred it.
Hearing noises outside; he went to the balcony to see what the cause was. There was a fully loaded cart of furniture and boxes sitting in front of Puddle Jumper Cottage. The woman with the light brown hair from the other day was seated on the front seat of the cart, staring up at the house with a wistful expression. She seemed sad and lost. He understood sad and he knew all about lost.
The small boy that had been with the woman previously squealed and shouted from the tree, “Ronon, look, Ronon, look! Watch me climb!”
“I see you, boy, not too high. Teyla, where do you want this case?” A large muscular man with long fuzzy hair came around from behind the cart, carrying a big box.
The woman shook her head as if to clear it then climbed down from the seat of the cart and waved towards the house. “Please leave everything in the big room downstairs for now, Ronon. I shall sort everything later.”
She was moving in. Weasel Face had rented out the cottage. Angrily, he slammed the balcony door. He wasn’t leaving. This was his place, and he wasn’t leaving.
It started to storm just as Teyla and Ronon carried the last of the Emmagen’s belongings into the house. With their hair and clothes plastered to their bodies, the adults laughed and tried to find towels and dry clothing in the myriad of cases and packs stacked in the common room. Ronon laid a fire in the hearth and soon the three of them were huddled before it, trying to get warm and dry. They had come out first to unpack, clean and make the place habitable. Teyla’s charge would arrive the next day.
“This is a nice house,” Ronon said, staring around at the intricate wood carvings, the inlaid floor and the built-in bookcases and window seats. The place should have been musty and dirty after being vacant for a long time, but it did not feel that way. “Did the estate agent pay someone to come and clean?”
Teyla pulled a face and chuckled as she rubbed Torren’s head. “He did, and he claimed they didn’t finish because they heard odd noises and grew frightened and ran away.”
“Mama, may I take my toys to my new room?”
She placed a kiss on the top of his head and then boosted him up to his feet and patted his behind to send him on his way. “Of course you may. Do not try to carry too many while you climb the stairs, take several trips.”
“Yes, Mama.” He scurried over to one of the crates and began to withdraw his toys and books, tucking them under his arms and waddling out of the room with them. With a laugh, Ronon leaned over, pulled a small blanket from a basket and tossed it over the boy’s head.
“Whoooo. I’m a ghost, Mama. Puddle Jumper Cottage does have a ghost, and I’m it!”
Rolling her eyes, Teyla said, “Yes, yes, I am so frightened now. I wonder who shall protect us? Move along and haunt the upstairs, my little ghost.”
The big man watched the small boy drift out of the room. Torren bumped into crates and barrels as he went and caused Ronon to chuckle at his antics. Once he was gone, he asked, “What did he mean? The place is haunted?”
“Oh, that silly little man tried to convince me not to take the place because things have happened here. He planted the ghost idea in Torren’s head and I am quite afraid that my son will not let go of it.”
“He’s six, Teyla, he has an active imagination. Don’t worry, it’ll pass when nothing happens, he’ll find some other game to play.”
She got up and started to sort through the crates, searching for bedding and other necessities for the night. “I do hope you are right. Will you stay to eat with us?”
He looked everywhere but at her and shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I really need to go back to the city; I have an early training mission...”
With a sigh, Teyla interrupted, “I bought food at the waystation, it is in the basket over there, I did not cook, nor do I plan to do so tonight.”
“Well, if you already have the food…” Ronon smirked at her. “How did you get this position, anyway? Colonel Carter must have never tasted your cooking.”
Before she could reply, there was a knocking at the front door and Teyla went to answer it. Standing beneath the overhanging balcony there was a man with brown hair, blue eyes and a sad face standing on the doorstep. Opening the door wider Teyla asked, “Yes, may I help you?”
“Excuse me. I’m sorry to intrude. I heard about the arrangement Colonel Carter made with you to take care of Major Lorne and I was hoping you needed a cook and possibly some help with the housekeeping.”
“You are a cook and housekeeper?” Teyla raised an eyebrow as she took in his appearance. He didn’t look like he was used to heavy labor of any kind.
“I can cook. I can cook very well indeed. Unless you’re partial to citrus, in which case, we might have a problem. That was why I dropped out of the CIA; they weren’t able to get past my food allergies. Look, I need the job; I need a roof over my head while I work something out. I don’t even need money, just a place to stay so I can be near Atlantis. We each have something to offer; I’ll cook and tidy up, and you give me a roof over my head, which would be really lovely right now.” He gave a miserable and pointed glance out at the pouring rain.
He was in earnest and his face was so open that Teyla felt instant trust for this strange man offering to cook for her. He was asking to cook, and cooking was the bane of Teyla’s existence. She had been hoping to find someone to cook and bring in meals down in the village, to ensure the Major did not starve. She opened the door wider and gestured for him to enter. With a look of gratitude, he hurried in, sliding a bit on the wet marble floor. He dropped his pack on the floor and held out a damp hand, after attempting to dry it on his soaking wet trousers. “Rodney McKay.”
She inclined her head and then clasped his hand in both of hers. “Teyla Emmagan. I hope you will forgive the mess, Rodney McKay, but we have just moved in today. Welcome to Puddle Jumper Cottage.”
All the color drained out of his face and he leaned back against the wall. “Did… did you say Puddle Jumper Cottage?”
“Oh, please do not tell me you believe all the nonsense too, Rodney McKay.”
He blinked at her and then said, “Just Rodney, please, and what nonsense?”
“About ghosts and noises and this cottage being haunted.” Teyla crossed her arms and gave him a look that perfectly conveyed her opinion of the rumors.
Distracted, Rodney was looking around, as if noticing his surrounds for the first time. “Ghosts, no. There is no such thing. I didn’t realize this was… I didn’t pay close enough attention to the address. I had no idea where I ended up.”
“Is this guy bothering you?” Ronon had come in from the common room and was glaring at McKay.
“Not at all. This is my new cook and housekeeper, Rodney McKay.”
“Dex,” Rodney inclined his head.
“McKay,” Ronon grunted.
Teyla looked at the men, “Do you know each other?”
Ronon gave a brisk nod, “In passing, he works in sciences.”
With a thumping that was louder than one would have thought possible from such tiny feet, Torren came fluttering down the stairs, chanting, “Whoooo! Whoooo!” He ran straight into Rodney’s legs.
“Hey, hey, watch where you’re going there little fellow.” Rodney plucked the blanket off Torren’s head. “Dangerous to walk around like that.”
Torren snatched the blanket back and cradled it protectively against his chest. “I’m a ghost.”
“No such thing.”
Ronon tapped Rodney on the shoulder and intoned, “McKay, you’re arguing with a six year old.”
Blushing, McKay scowled down at the little brown haired tyke and then bent to pick up his bag. “Where will I sleep?”
“Come this way, please, Rodney. Torren, this is Rodney, please be polite in the future. He will be cleaning and cooking for us.”
With eyes as wide as saucers, Torren gasped, “He will?” At Teyla’s nod, he hurled himself at Rodney, throwing his arms around Rodney’s waist. “Oh, thank you. And if you don’t want to believe in ghosts, you don’t have to.” Torren looked up at him and crooked his finger to get Rodney to bend down to him. He confided in a small voice, “My mother is a terrible cook.” He scrunched up his face and shuddered dramatically.
“That will be enough, Torren, please resume unpacking your things. Rodney, your room is this way, off the kitchen. Torren and I will be in the second floor bedrooms, the Major will be on the top floor.”
He was angry. The people were staying. More people here, again. He thought the cottage had been rid of the last renter, but no.
They had to leave. They were not welcome, they had not been invited. It was wrong of them to be here, in this place. It was not their place, it was his.
They would learn they had to leave. It might take time, but they would leave.
Torren smiled up at Ronon as he went by, and Ronon lifted him high in the air, letting him scrape his fingers along the ceiling. Giggling, Torren did it again. Then Ronon pretended to drop him, catching him just before he hit the floor, which started him squealing with laughter. It was fun when Ronon visited. It was almost like having a father like the other children. For a little while, he could pretend.
“Get moving, little man. Lots of gear to shift.” Putting him down, their roughhousing over, Ronon patted his behind, nudging him in the direction of his box of toys.
He chose a few more toys, including his favorite stuffed animal that he liked to sleep with, and went back to the stairs. He could hear his mother talking to Rodney in the kitchen, telling him about what he would be expected to do and when: boring grown-up talk. He went upstairs.
He liked his new bedroom, the windows were very tall and big, and he could look out from them at the sea. Torren loved the sea. His father had been a sailor, before he drowned and never came home before Torren had even been born. Other children back in the village said he should hate the sea because it had killed his father, but Torren felt that his father was part of the sea now, and when he could see it, he felt closer to the man he had never known, except for stories his mother told him.
There was a noise from upstairs, the room where the officer his mother was to care for would sleep. Torren had not explored there yet. He put his toys on the bed and went to investigate. Climbing the winding stairway, he pushed the door open and slipped inside. The room was bigger than his, which was to be expected since it was a grown up person’s bedchamber. The bed was very big, Torren could barely see over the edge of the mattress, it was so high up. He climbed the little step stool beside the bed and smiled as he was able to climb up and bounce on the mattress. He could see the whole room from up here. There was a fireplace and a fabric covered stuffed chair in front of it. The windows here were big, like the ones in his room, but instead of a comfortable padded window seat, there were doors leading to a balcony. One of the doors was open.
That wasn’t good, the rain would come in and make a mess that his mother would have to clean up. Torren slipped down from the bed and crossed the room. He reached for the handle of the door and realized that there was a man standing outside on the balcony, just under the awning. With a small bleat of surprise, Torren jumped back.
“Hi, hey, don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you.” The man held up his hands and followed Torren as he backed away, though he stopped at the threshold. He was about to scream for his mother when the man said, “I was just leaving. I promise, I’ll go.”
“Who are you?” Torren asked, ready to run if the man moved any closer.
The man gave him a soft smile. “John. And I think you must be Torren.” Torren nodded. “Do you like climbing in the Oma tree? I planted it specifically for climbing. I didn’t expect it to grow so fast.”
“You planted it?”
“Yeah, a few years ago. I used to live here. I’m going to go now, Torren. Maybe I’ll see you around.” The man named John turned and vaulted over the railing of the balcony. Torren ran outside and looked around, but didn’t see him, he had disappeared. He decided not to tell Mama or Ronon about the man, they wouldn’t believe him and he would get in trouble and scolded about making up stories again.
Evan winced as the cart hut yet another rut. His new nursemaid, Teyla, had tried to pad the back of the cart with pillows and blankets to cushion the worst of the bumps. It had been an excruciating journey. He should have swallowed his pride and begged Colonel Carter to have someone fly him over in a ‘jumper. But his pride was one of the few things still intact; he was reluctant to let it go.
They had offered him a choice; go home to Earth to recover, which meant losing his choice Atlantis posting or take medical leave here with the Athosian woman as a nursemaid. He only knew her by sight and reputation. He had seen her around the city, one of the refugees from the Wraith that had been taken in during the first year the Expedition had been here; before Lorne’s time. He had come in the third year, when the Daedalus runs had made it possible to re-staff and re-supply the expedition. He’d been sent along as the exec for Colonel Carter, the replacement military commander.
The cart stopped in front of the house. He smiled, it looked a lot like the New England seaside house his grandparents once had. It had broken his grandmother’s heart to sell the old place to pay medical debts. He pushed aside thoughts that would lead him down dark paths and looked over at Teyla. He grumbled, “Anyone ever tell you that you’re a lousy driver? I think you hit every bump between here and the pier.”
“My apologies, Major Lorne. I did warn you that the ride would be somewhat rough. We shall get you to your room and you may rest comfortably.”
He glanced up when he saw movement on the porch, and blinked in surprise when he recognized Rodney McKay. He slid to the edge of the cart and slipped his arm over Teyla’s shoulder for support. “What’s he doing here?”
“I’m the cook,” McKay said as he came down the steps and moved to Lorne’s other side.
Sucking a pain filled breath through his teeth and hissed, “I thought you went back to Earth.” It was better to focus on McKay, instead of the pain flaring through his back and legs.
“I came here instead. They won’t let me back through the Gate again if I give in and go back to Canada. At least here I have an outside chance of getting back into the city.”
Evan could understand that. There was something about the city that got into you. Sometimes, Evan could swear that he heard the city talking to him. He had been unable to let it go either.
As they approached the front door, which was standing wide open, it suddenly vibrated and then slammed shut, shaking the windows beside it.
“What the hell?” McKay ducked out from under Lorne’s arm, went over and yanked the door open. Torren was standing in the center of the hallway, his eyes wide as he clutched a stuffed toy to his chest. “Why did you slam the door, kid?”
Torren shook his shaggy head back and forth. “Didn’t. It did.”
“What did?” Teyla asked as she maneuvered Lorne through the door. He was panting in short breaths now, dizzy with pain. Teyla was strong, stronger than Lorne had given her credit for at their first meeting. Her arm was firm around his waist, carefully placed to avoid the healing wounds across his lower back. He was leaning on her heavily, relying on her to keep him upright.
McKay glanced over and saw the difficulty Lorne was having and moved back to his side, carefully lifting his arm and getting under him to support him.
As they went towards the stairs, Torren pointed up towards the ceiling. “It did.”
Sparing a glance up, Teyla remarked, “I see nothing Torren. It does not matter now. Would you go to the kitchen and draw a pitcher of water and bring it and a mug up to the Major’s room?”
Looking around, McKay peered at the corner, but apparently saw nothing. Lorne was too busy concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other to pay the matter of the door slamming any more mind.
He turned towards the door and nearly dropped the pitcher as he saw it again. “Go away!” he told it. It hovered in the corner of the kitchen. “Go away!”
Torren was not afraid, well, not very. His mama was upstairs. And Rodney. So was the soldier. The soldier surely had a weapon. The thing wasn’t very big. “I’m busy. Get out of my way.” Hefting the water, being careful not to let the mug clank against the pitcher, he lifted his chin high and walked past it. Once in the hallway, he ran, as quickly as he could. The water sloshed against the sides of the pitcher with each step.
He was out of breath by the time he got to the top of the stairs. Rodney and Mama were helping the soldier climb the step to the bed. Staying out of the adult’s way, Torren set the pitcher on the table beside the bed.
“Thank you Torren,” Mama said over her shoulder. “Could you bring the blankets and pillows from the cart into the front hall? I will carry the heavy bags.”
“Yes, Mama,” Torren said. The soldier was sweating and he had his eyes closed. “Is he sick?”
“I think he’s just worn out from the walk up the stairs. Don’t worry. I’ll come down and help you move that stuff, kid,” McKay’s hand touched Torren’s shoulder and gave him a gentle push towards the door to get him moving.
“You slept like the dead,” a male voice said from across the room. It wasn’t McKay’s voice.
“Huh? Who's there?”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.” The shadows moved and a lanky guy with dark hair moved closer. He was clad in jeans and a black t-shirt.
He seemed familiar, but Evan didn’t know why. “Do I know you?”
“Don’t think so. I’m John. I heard McKay call you Lorne?”
Evan nodded. “Evan Lorne.” There was a strange man in his bedroom. And he couldn’t do a damned thing about it, his back was spasming horribly, he wouldn’t be able to knock Torren down if he tried, he was so weak.
“You were stationed on Atlantis?”
“Best posting ever, no?”
Evan nodded again. “Too good to risk going home.”
“You have the gene?” John moved closer to the bed. There was something odd about the way he moved, but Evan wasn’t sure what it was. He nodded in response to the question. “Pilot?”
“I was. They aren’t sure if I’ll be able to see well enough when they take the patch off…” he didn’t finish the statement; the thought of what might happen if his sight was impaired was too troublesome to ponder for long.
John turned and looked out the glass doors. He said quietly, “That sucks. You’ll lose the sky.”
“And more.” He should probably be more curious about the man’s identity, more concerned that he was in his room, but something about the stranger put him at ease. “What are you doing here?”
John shrugged. “I came to check on you.”
“Are you from the city?”
“Yeah. What happened, how’d you get hurt?”
Evan shifted in the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. “I was on a Traveler ship, doing a bit of trade labor. The engine was going redline; I went in to get the engineer and his assistants out. I was too slow getting out of the way when it blew and got slammed into a bulkhead.”
“You got them out?”
“Yeah. They were so grateful to have their engineer intact that they gave Atlantis the maps we’d contracted four months of trade work to get.”
“And your CO is grateful enough that she let you stay planetside instead of shipping you back through the Gate to the SGC,” John concluded.
John moved a bit closer, his head tilted as he looked at the book on the table. “You reading that?”
“Trying. Hard with my eye. I can’t get more than a page or two in before I have to stop to rest for twenty minutes or so. Boredom is a killer when you can’t do any of the things you usually do to pass the time. I can’t read or paint right now.”
Turning away, John got the chair that had been in front of the fire and moved it nearer to the bed. He reached for the book and sat down. “One of my personal projects, I was trying to get through this sucker myself.” He opened the book to where Evan had a book mark and started to read.
He had a pleasant voice. Evan closed his eyes and listened. Eventually, he drifted off to sleep, the sound of the surf and the lilt of a stranger’s voice carrying him over.
Sometimes he heard Teyla’s son playing outside, usually followed by Teyla hushing him and reminding him that ‘the Major is resting.’ He made a mental note to ask for some games to be sent over with the next batch of supplies from the city. Maybe he could get Torren to play with him and break up the monotony a bit.
He thought he was doing well with his recovery, but he started running a fever one afternoon. Teyla said one of his wounds was oozing and thought perhaps he had an infection. By nightfall he was feeling very weak and hot. She bathed him with cool water and gave him extra medicines. He didn’t eat, he wasn’t hungry. He slept instead.
“Shh. Okay, shh. You’re okay, Evan.” A cool hand stroked over his forehead. “It’s just a nightmare, not real. You’re safe.”
“Where am I?” Evan was completely discombobulated.
“Puddle Jumper Cottage.”
Evan collapsed back against the pillows. “John?”
“Yeah, buddy. You were hollering and kicking and thrashing. Must have been a doozy of a nightmare.” John held a mug of cool water to Evan’s lips, his hand cupping the back of Evan’s head as he drank.
“You heard me?”
John nodded. “Couldn’t help but hear you, you were screaming loud enough to wake the dead. Want to talk about it?”
“No really.” He drank a little more water before pushing at the mug. “No more, thanks.” John’s hand slid down to the back of his neck as he started to remove it. “Hey, you’re pretty hot.”
“Banged up like this, with an eye patch and a ton of scars? You’re a sweet talker.”
John laughed. “I meant fever hot. The wounds will heal, don’t worry. You’ll be back to your handsome self soon enough.”
“How would you know?”
“Photo of you and Lieutenant Cadman and Doctor Parrish on the table. They got married, huh? Sorry I missed that, it looks like you guys were having fun.”
Evan nodded. “It was a great wedding, lots of music and some karaoke and barbeque. I didn’t know you knew them. I’ve never seen you around the city.”
“I haven’t been there in a while, been over here on the mainland. You should probably take some of these for the fever.” He bounced some white tablets in his hand that he had shaken from the bottle by the table.
“Might upset Teyla’s schedule.”
“She’s snoring away, sleeping like a log. I tried to wake her when I heard you but she wouldn’t get up. Some caregiver.”
“I’m a lot of work during the day, she has to be worn out. Cut her some slack,” Evan said.
John shrugged and picked up the book he had been reading to Evan, dragging the armchair over beside the bed and putting the book on the seat. “Okay, this once. You need to pee or anything?”
“Now that you mention it,” Evan knew he was blushing. “I need help with that.”
“Toilet or bedpan?”
He considered it. “Toilet, I need to move around, my back gets tetchy if I stay in one position too long and I want to wash my face and get some of this sweat off.”
John pulled back the covers and helped him get up, wrapping a strong arm around his waist and practically carrying him to the bathroom. It was a little embarrassing, having the guy help him stand there and pee, but it was so much better than a bed pan. John wet a washcloth and helped him take a quick pigeon bath in the sink with it. Then he brought him back to the bed and helped him get settled against the pillows, and he even managed to get the pillows in the right place.
“Thanks,” Evan whispered as John tucked the blanket around him.
“No problem.” John leaned over and pressed his lips to Evan’s forehead, Evan thought it was a kiss at first but then realized John was just checking his temperature. “You feel cooler.”
“Teyla shot me up with heavy duty antibiotics this afternoon to head off the infection, guess it helped.”
John sat in the chair and propped his feet on the end of the bed. “Then I revise my earlier opinion. You can keep her.” He opened the book and resumed reading where he had left off the previous evening.
When the sun rose, Evan was alone. The chair was back across the room where it belonged and the book was on his nightstand.
He had a strong suspicion that John was not supposed to be here at the cottage. He never came when Teyla or Rodney were around. So far, Evan had kept his friend’s nightly visits a secret because he feared Teyla might do something to put a stop to it. He was growing rather fond of the dark haired man that sat with him for hours, reading to him for no apparent reason other than to keep him company. It was no hardship to look on John as he read. His voice was soothing and comforted Evan. He didn’t want the visits to stop.
Fear would drive them away, if it infected them all.
He had been in the kitchen, he had made himself a warrior’s retreat in the corner, using the chairs from the table, draping the tablecloth over the chairs and by opening the doors to the cupboards to use as his doors. He had made a warning trap that would alert him to the approach of any game or enemies. Pretending to be a great hunter and warrior had been a fun way to spend most of the day.
Unfortunately, Rodney had not appreciated the fact that Torren had used the metal spoons, clean pots and pans to make his trap. Their cook set off the trap when he came back from the market and he was very, very noisy. Rodney made him wash all the pots and pans and disassemble his retreat and then chased him out without even giving him a cookie. Sometimes, Rodney was very cranky.
The Major was sleeping, so he couldn’t go and look at the rain from the big windows in the Major’s room or play any games with him. He was learning to play checkers, Major Lorne was teaching him. But the Major got very tired and couldn’t sit up to play for very long before he started making what Torren called “ow faces.” He had learned to go and get his mother when that happened because one time after making those faces the Major threw up and that had been really messy and disgusting.
He went to his room and thought about redoing his warrior's retreat in the corner, but he did not have a chair. He was too little to pull the mattress off the bed to use that. He went to the window seat and sat down to look out at the rain.
The wardrobe doors suddenly began to open and close by themselves. Torren started to shiver, it was suddenly very cold in his bedroom, and he was scared. Something brushed against him and made his arm cold where it had touched his skin. He froze in place, waiting to see what was happening. The window behind him began to open and Torren was very afraid that the thing that had touched him might push him out the window and he would smash his head on the paving stones below in the garden.
He jumped up and ran out of the room. His mother had gone to the docks to meet the supply launch from the city. Rodney was still mad at him. That left the Major, if he didn’t want to be alone. Torren ran up the stairs to the third floor and through the open door of the Major’s room. He closed the door behind him and leaned back against it, panting for breath.
“Hi, Torren, what’s up?”
He’d woken the Major, he was going to be in so much trouble. “I saw... there was...” he burst into tears.
“Hey, hey, come here, what’s the matter?” Major Lorne patted the bed and Torren ran over and clambered up next to him. “You’re shaking like a leaf, kid, what did you see?” The Major took the knitted blanket from around his shoulders and wrapped it around Torren.
“The wardrobe doors in my room opened by themselves.”
Major Lorne patted his back as he huddled close to the grown up for safety. “This is an old house, with old furniture. The wind might have blown the doors or maybe there’s a draft from somewhere else.”
“I felt cold. Something touched me. Something touched me and opened the window and I thought it was gonna push me out.”
Torren could tell the Major didn’t really believe him. “Well, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But tell you what? You stay here until your Mom gets back. I heard Rodney yelling before, I guess he wrecked your game down in the kitchen?”
Torren nodded and snuggled up to the Major. He was on his good side, the one without so many bandages. “I made a really good warrior’s retreat and he made me take it down.”
“Probably just jealous.”
His heart didn’t feel like it was a drum in his chest anymore. The Major was warm and safe. He felt very sleepy all of a sudden.
“He’s no trouble. He got spooked by some doors and windows getting blown around by the storm. He told me about it and then went out like a light. He was shivering, whatever it was really scared him.”
Teyla frowned. “Torren is not usually frightened easily.” She put her hand to his forehead. “No fever. I will take him downstairs so that you may rest, Major.”
“I’ve been drifting in and out myself. He’s really no trouble, Teyla. Reminds me of my sister’s kids, I miss having kids around.”
“So long as you do not mind him being there, I will go see to a few things and come back with your meal and to do your therapy.” She stroked a hand over Torren’s hair and left the room.
Evan picked up his book and read for a while. The rain was making all his injuries ache, right down to the bone. The dampness seemed to seep into everything. Torren woke up and Evan played checkers with the boy until Teyla came up with his tray. He picked at his meal and then asked to just do his physical therapy because he wasn’t hungry. After the exertion, he was exhausted and fell asleep.
He woke when hands brushed over his skin. Not Teyla’s soft hands, he knew her by now after weeks of physical therapy. A heavy blanket was being pulled up over him. It was dark, with no moonlight so he couldn’t see. “Who’s there?” The rain was pounding on the windows.
“Just John. Someone left your window open again, there’s puddles on the floor. Your skin is cold.” Lately, every night when John turned up, he complained that either one of the windows or the door to his balcony were left standing open.
He was chilled this time. “Damp,” he whispered. “Cold.”
“I don’t know how much help I’ll be, I run pretty cool.” Evan heard two thuds beside the bed, John’s shoes hitting the floor, and then John was sliding under the covers on his less injured right side.
John’s hands were warm enough to sooth him as he ran them over Evan’s bare arm and chest. As his fingers encountered the edge of a bandage he stopped, pulling back. “Don’t stop, it’s been a while, it feels good, being touched by someone that isn’t a nurse.”
“You’re so messed up though, I don’t want to hurt you,” John whispered.
“Not so bad as I was. Still a few deep cuts here and there, the knee and shoulder are the worst right now. My football days are done,” he laughed lightly.
John pressed in a little, rubbing light circles on Evan’s chest and belly. Shifting a little, Evan got his arm up and over John’s shoulder and pulled him closer. He wasn’t throwing off much heat at all. Running a hand over John’s hair, he scratched his scalp. John sighed.
“I haven’t done this in a while either,” John confessed quietly a little while later as Evan started to feel much warmer. John pushed up on one elbow and leaned in to press a kiss to Evan’s lips. His fingers glided across Evan’s cheek and then he was getting out of the bed. He tucked the blankets around Evan and whispered sadly, “I can’t stay. I’ll come back when I can.”
And then he was gone. It took Evan quite a while to go back to sleep.
Deciding that a cup of tea might help soothe her nerves enough to let her sleep, she wandered down to the kitchen, and was surprised to see light spilling out from under the door. She pushed it open, and saw that Rodney was seated at the large worktable, papers spread across every surface in the kitchen. He was hunched over, his head buried in his hands, clearly upset about something.
Teyla cleared her throat as she entered the room. “Good evening Rodney or perhaps I should say good morning, for it is very, very late.” He had startled at her voice and was watching her warily as she approached. “What is it you are working on?”
He pushed at the papers, giving them a disgusted look. “Not much of anything, actually. A waste of time.” He gave a great heaving jerk of his shoulders.
“I came down for some tea, would you care to join me?”
He looked like he was going to refuse, but then he nodded. “Yes, actually, yes. I would. I made some sweet rolls for Torren’s breakfast; they would go nicely with the tea.” Rodney stood and went to a shelf where a glass-domed plate filled with sweet rolls stood and carried it over to the table.
“I do not think I could eat anything,” Teyla said, eying the pastries as she set the kettle to boil.
Her hesitation made Rodney chuckle. “Trust me, Teyla; you can’t have proper tea without something sweet to dip into it, that’s just wrong.” He set out two small serving plates and went to the cupboard to retrieve tea cups, which he set out beside the plates.
As she waited for the pot to boil, she glanced again at the papers. “These look important, Rodney, quite scientific.”
“Yes, well. I’m a scientist, head of the science department at Atlantis, or I was, until they said I was too close to everything and sent me away to take a break for my own good.” The face he made told Teyla he did not think much of this opinion.
She picked up a diagram and stared at it. “And yet, you are still working on the problem that resulted in your banishment?”
With a heavy sigh, he nodded. “I can’t let it go. I know the answer is there, just outside what I know. If my theories are correct, if I can get it, if I can figure it out, I may be able to fix everything. The Colonel will not have died for nothing.”
“Colonel Sheppard, the guy who lived in this house before you. It was an accident that killed him, an accident that was ultimately my fault.”
Sensing that Rodney really needed someone to talk to, Teyla slid onto a stool beside the worktable, folded her hands in front of her and prompted him, “Tell me of your friend, Rodney.”
He looked surprised. “Why do you want to know? It’s the middle of the night.”
“I cannot sleep, and I wish to know you better. One can tell a lot about a person by the kind of friends they keep.”
Rodney smiled, “And what does a hulking, behemoth eating machine tell me about you, Teyla?”
She returned his smile, “That I am a woman who is well protected and does not fear anything. Now, tell me of this friend you lost.”
“He was stupid.” At her bemused glance, he said, “No, really. He took stupid risks, all the time. He was always charging straight into danger. He thought he was invincible. He said he trusted me to protect him, said that he knew I was at his back. And then I wasn’t and his luck ran out and he died.”
Reaching her hand across the table, Teyla took Rodney’s hand and gave it a squeeze. His hand was chilled; the tea would do him good. “Everyone makes mistakes, Rodney.”
“Mine cost me my best friend. And my job.”
The teapot whistled and Teyla retrieved it, pouring the boiling water into the ceramic pot with the leaves she had spooned in. She carried it to the table and set it beside the pastry dish to steep. “Tell me more of your friend.”
“He was quiet. He didn’t talk to many people. He liked being alone, I think that was why he loved this place. It reminded him of someplace he used to stay when he was a boy, in the summers, with his grandparents. He was after me for a long time to come out here for a visit. I never made the time; I should have made the time.”
This grief was something Teyla understood. “We always think we have more time, Rodney. We always expect that there will be tomorrow to do or say what we planned to. And then, suddenly, it is tomorrow, and they are gone, and the time is past, and the opportunity is gone.”
“You speak as if you know. You lost Torren’s father?” Rodney asked as she poured the tea. He served out a sweet roll to her plate, but did not take one for himself.
She nodded sadly. “He was a fisherman. He fell overboard in a storm. We found his body on the shore three days later. He never knew about Torren, I had planned to tell him over a special dinner, when the time was right. The time never came.” She lifted the pastry and bit into the flaky layers, and moaned with delight.
“I told you so. Now, go on and dip your sweet roll properly.” He waved at her plate and then picked up some papers and started making notes while she quietly sipped her tea and thought about the past.
One of the things Teyla had liked best about Puddle Jumper Cottage was the gardens. She loved to dig in the soil and make things grow. She and Torren had walked to the village and returned with packets of seeds and a few seedlings to plant in the flower beds.
With Rodney’s help, she was able to get Major Lorne downstairs and out into the sun. He was almost as happy as Torren to be outside. He had brought a sketchpad down with him and was drawing the fountain and flowers in the mostly overgrown side garden while he sat in a nylon folding chair Rodney had set up for him. He was delighted with the variety of flowers and unlike Teyla, didn’t seem to care that the garden had gone wild from neglect.
Teyla sent Torren off to play in the oma tree, and the little fortress he had made beneath the twisted branches from one of the wooden packing crates. She tied a kerchief over her head to keep her hair back out of her face, donned an apron and a pair of gardening gloves and stood in the back of the cottage, eyeing the overgrown flower beds, trying to determine where to start.
“That ivy will take over if you aren’t careful,” a voice drawled from behind her. She spun around and saw a dark haired man in a black shirt leaning on the wooden fence that surrounded the property. When she gave him a puzzled look, he pointed, “Over there, the ivy with the four pointed leaves; quite insidious, it takes over if you let it get a foothold.”
“Thank you, I am unfamiliar with many of the plantings here. I likely would have left it, as it is quite pretty.”
He nodded. “Probably how it ended up here in the first place. Someone thought it was pretty and planted it and then found out it was a killer intent on garden domination.”
“Indeed? Again, my thanks.” Teyla gestured around at the other flowerbeds. “Any other dangerous things I should look for?”
“There’s a family of rodents under the rock wall at the back. They bite. Probably best to let them be and not plant anything back there that you need to tend too closely.”
She shuddered and looked over at the wall he was talking about. There was some high razor grass there that she had considered cutting down to plant vegetables, but now it was probably best that she not do that. She would leave the ornamental grass to the rodents. “I hate rodents.”
“Me too. Not too fond of bugs either.” He flashed a smile her way and she found herself moving closer to the fence. He was the first person she had seen since moving in here, other than the residents of the cottage.
“Is anyone truly fond of bugs?” Teyla shuddered again; she hated things with lots of legs.
“Other than little boys and entomologists? Can’t think of anyone. I’m John, by the way.” He held his hand out and Teyla closed the rest of the distance between them, pulled off her glove and clasped his hand.
“You should put a coat on, John, you seem a bit chilled,” she remarked as she withdrew her hand.
He smirked at her concern. “I run a little cold. I’ll be fine. Do you want a hand with the ivy? I’ve nothing better to do today except be neighborly.”
The offer was quite generous. Teyla nodded happily. “Are we neighbors? Do you live nearby?”
He stepped up on the rail and climbed over the fence, dropping down beside her. “I’m nearby. I’ll get the barrow out of the shed. You might want to check on Torren, he’s being awfully quiet and that is usually a sign of trouble.”
“You know my son’s name?” Teyla asked with mild suspicion.
John waved off her concern. “We met. He loves that oma tree. I have to say I’m jealous that he’s small enough to wriggle around in there, I woulda loved a clubhouse like that as a kid. I’ll go get the tools.”
When she circled around to the front of the house, she found Torren asleep on the grass in the sun, his tender skin turning bright pink. She scooped him up and carried him around to the back, where there was a hammock strung between two trees in the shade. Carefully she placed her son on the hammock, and set it to rocking lightly.
She thought to check on the Major as well. When she walked around to the side of the house, she found his chair was now in the sun, though he didn’t seem to notice, he was so intent on drawing the flowers that curved around the base of the fountain.
“Major, if you would pause for a few moments, I would like to move your chair over into the shade.” He was wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, but he could still get a burn on his neck, arms and face.
“Huh? Oh. Okay.” He set the sketchpad on the ground and grabbed Teyla’s hand and let her pull him up slowly from the chair. “I’m good,” he told her when he was certain of his balance. He shuffled along slowly after her as she carried the chair closer to the house, into the shade cast by the side balcony.
“Those are neat, I didn’t see those pink ones before. Any idea what they’re called, Teyla?” Evan pointed. “There’s a statue in there too, could you pull the chair over that way so I can see it, I want to draw it.”
She smiled and moved the seat. “I’m afraid I do not know the names of the flowers here, Major.” As he settled into the green nylon folding chair, she retrieved his sketch pad and the bag containing his pencils and erasers and sharpener. He smiled and nodded his thanks and flipped the page to a fresh blank one. There was a branch hanging down that blocked the view of half of the stone statue. Teyla stepped through the flowers and shrubs and grasped the branch and tugged it out of the way, tucking it over and around another branch.
“Awesome! Thanks Teyla. Oh, it’s a mermaid, I can see the tail flipped up behind her head now.”
His enthusiasm cheered her, she was glad to see him happy. It seemed that drawing and sketching took his mind off the pain in his knee, back and eye. Teyla was smiling as she left him to his art and returned to the back garden to set it to rights.
“It was a good thing I checked; he would have had a nasty burn.” Teyla said to John as he came towards her with the barrow and several rakes and other gardening tools. Teyla hadn’t even known they had been in the shed.
“Oh, you found the hammock. Cool. Now that is the way to spend a day off, stretched out in a hammock with a good book and a cool drink and a sweet breeze.” John pointed to Torren and watched the sleeping child for a minute and then shook his head and headed towards the offensive ivy.
They worked well together. John was quiet, but good company. He answered any question Teyla put to him, but he did not give much away. He was usually vague, though not entirely evasive. Teyla got the impression he was a very private man, and she respected that and tried not to pry. She limited their conversation to the topics of the plants in the garden, the weather and life on the island in general.
After a few hours, they had cleared away all of the ivy, and John helped her transplant a shrub. As they were surveying the work they had done, he suddenly winced, as if in pain, and said, “I’m afraid I need to run along now, Teyla. This has been a really good day. Thanks for letting me in.”
“Would you care to stay to share the evening meal with us? Our cook is wonderful and has prepared something quite lovely, I am certain.”
He shook his head sadly. “No, I’m afraid I have to decline today. Maybe another time?”
“I look forward to it,” she said as he waved and walked around the path that wound around the house and disappeared from sight.
Teyla collected Torren and brought him inside to clean them both up. John had been right, today had been a good day.
He was quite surprised to see that the scientist knew his way around the kitchen. He cut and diced vegetables like a pro and everything bubbling away on the stove smelled delicious. The food had been really good since coming out here, and Evan wished he had the appetite to do justice to the meals.
Opening his sketch pad, Evan did a few quick sketches of Rodney, the light coming through the kitchen window was excellent and did good things to the angles of the other man’s face.
“Do you play chess?” Rodney asked as he washed his hands and dried them on a rag.
“Yes, I do. My grandfather taught me.”
Rodney grunted and disappeared through the door that led off the kitchen. He returned with a chess set in a folding leather case and put it on the table in front of Evan. They set up the board and played a leisurely couple of games while the sauce simmered on the stove. Evan was surprised to actually win a game against the scientist, an acknowledged genius. Rodney had to finish preparing the meal so Evan put the pieces away and closed up the box.
“How are you feeling, Major?” Teyla asked as she came into the room. Torren was at her heels and smiled when he saw Evan.
“I feel ok. I like this chair, it gives in all the right places. May I sleep in it?” he joked.
She shook her head and collected plates from a cupboard in the corner and silverware and put them on the table. Torren walked around the table, setting each place.
There was a sudden crashing noise from the sitting room. “What the heck was that?” Evan asked, leaning over in the chair to try to see through the door as Teyla ran out with Rodney close behind.
Torren stood frozen for a moment beside Evan holding the arm of his chair. His eyes were very wide as he stared at the kitchen door that his mother and Rodney had gone through. He edged closer and closer to Evan until he was pressed against his side. “It wants us to leave.”
“What does, Torren?”
“The ghost. It doesn’t want us here, it wants us to leave. I don’t like it, Major.” He was trembling.
Evan picked up the boy’s hand and squeezed it. “There’s no ghost, Torren, you don’t have to be afraid.”
“There is a ghost. I saw it. It’s been in my room,” Torren insisted.
He figured telling the boy the same thing his mom had told him when he was a boy would possibly help. “If you ever do see a ghost, you tell it that it needs to leave. You tell it that it’s time is done and that it’s dead. Sometimes they don’t know they’re dead and are just wandering around. That’s what my mom told me a long time ago.”
Rodney came back in, shaking his head as he said to Teyla following behind him, “It shouldn’t have fallen, I don’t see how it could have happened.”
“A bookcase fell over in the front room, all the books have fallen out. Torren, will you help me put them back in? Rodney and I have set the bookcase back into place.”
The boy obviously didn’t want to go. Evan gave his hand another squeeze and whispered “Remember what to say?”
He nodded and followed Teyla out into the other room. There must have been no ghost sighting because they came back to eat dinner without any further comment on the subject from Torren.
Teyla’s friend Ronon came to visit for the evening, bringing messages and mail from the city. He regaled them with tales of his days as a soldier on Sateda and he and Teyla sang a few songs. As much as he wanted to stay up and continue the visit, Evan felt himself nodding off at the table. Ronon and Rodney carried him upstairs and Teyla got him situated in his bed. He hated the weakness, and relying on other people to care for him.
More disappointing, John did not come that evening, for the first time in weeks. It took Evan a long time to fall asleep, despite his weariness.
It must not be.
Rage made it easy to move things.
The Colonel nodded and held up her cup. “This is really a lovely place you found, Teyla. The garden is relaxing, a good place for Evan to recover. Thank you.”
“I like it here.” Teyla glanced up at the third story balcony above them. Doctor Beckett had come to check on Major Lorne’s progress and bring more medicines, it had been a surprise to see Colonel Carter walking up the path with Ronon and the Doctor. Ronon had taken the doctor up to the third floor to see Evan and had yet to return. Rodney had locked himself in his bedroom and refused to come out until the Colonel left. When Teyla tried to coax him out for tea, he refused, though he had shouted through the door that there were fresh scones in the breadbox and she should help herself to them.
“I miss Evan, I hadn’t realized how much he was doing until he wasn’t there doing it. It’s taken three people to cover his position. I hope Carson has good news for us.” The Colonel sipped at her tea as she sat back in her chair and looked around at the blooming garden.
Torren came running out of the house, letting the door slam behind him. He ran straight to Teyla and grabbed her hand. “Mama, its back. Come and see, please, you have to make it go away.” He tugged at her with insistence.
“Colonel, if you would excuse me for a short time?”
“Certainly, I’m quite content to enjoy your garden and tea. I think I’ll have another scone.”
Teyla allowed Torren to pull her into the kitchen. “What has happened in here? Torren, what did you do?” She stared around at the mess. The furniture was turned over, pots and pans and dishes were everywhere and it looked like the flour bin had been dumped out quite violently. A fine layer of white powder covered everything.
“I didn’t do it!” Torren yelped. He was looking up towards the ceiling, at each corner. “It was here. I saw it when I came to get a snack from Rodney. It’s gone now.”
“What did it look like, Torren?” Teyla asked, trying to keep her irritation with this fancy out of her voice.
“It was like a black cloud, but shimmery. It was about this big.” He held his arms out wide. “And it was floating around in the air and then it went up by the corner there and stayed up there. That’s when I went to get you, Mama.”
The child was so distraught, Teyla didn’t know what to believe. She picked her way across the mess carefully and went to Rodney’s door and knocked. “Rodney, I need you to come out, please.”
She heard movement within and the door opened. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head when he saw the mess. “What the...?”
“Did you not hear the noise?” Teyla asked.
“I didn’t hear anything.” Rodney looked over at Torren.
“I didn’t do it, the ghost did it. It was here, I saw it.”
She didn’t know what to do about this. Perhaps Doctor Beckett might have some ideas, she would ask him when he came downstairs. “Torren, we need to help clean up this mess, no matter who made it. Please go and get the broom and dustpan.”
Rodney had already started to collect the dishes and silverware and had water running in the sink. “Nothing seems to be broken, which is rather odd, considering the mess,” he said, turning a plate over in his hand and checking it for cracks.
“Let me tell the Colonel that I will be here, I will return shortly. Torren, help Rodney collect the pots and pans.”
She went outside and over to the Colonel. “I am afraid we have a bit of a mess in the kitchen that I must attend to. I will be detained a bit longer. May I bring you more tea?” She would have to find the tea kettle in the mess in order to boil more water.
“Oh, no, I’ve had quite enough, thank you, Teyla. I see a hammock over there in the shade, I can’t resist the draw of it, if you don’t mind?”
“Not at all, please relax and enjoy the day.” Leaving the Colonel to head off to swing in the hammock, Teyla returned to the kitchen. She set all the chairs upright and wiped the flour off of them with a rag. When she tried to lift the table, she found it was too heavy, she couldn’t move it. She stood back and stared at the table and then at her son. He could not have done this. Perplexed, she left the kitchen and went upstairs.
The Major was sitting in the chair near the fireplace, Doctor Beckett on the footrest, Ronon leaning against the wall. The doctor was telling them a story of an Ancient creature that got loose in the city in the first year of the expedition. Teyla was going to interrupt to call Ronon away, but then the doctor began to describe the creature. A dark shimmering cloud that floated in the air. Just as Torren had described.
“What was it, Doctor Beckett? What was this creature?”
“It was part of an experiment in ascension that the Ancients were doing. But the experiment went wrong and the beastie started feeding on energy. When it got out in the city, it started doing the same thing.” The doctor continued to tell them about how the entity had terrorized the city and killed people trying to absorb their life energy. Teyla grew more and more concerned. Was there a creature such as that in this house now? Were her son and her charge in danger?
Rodney had gotten rid of the entity in the city. She would have to talk with him about this. erhaps he could find a way to get rid of it, if it really was here.
“”Where did such a creature come from?” Major Lorne wondered.
“I heard that the folks studying the Ancient database found more references to the experiments after Rodney got rid of the thing. They seemed to be trying to capture the life essences of people as they died, to try to push them on into the next state of being. They were obsessed with ascension, those Ancients,” Doctor Beckett said.
Torren might be right. It could possibly be a ghost in the cottage.
The knee was even healing, though it still hurt like hell. The soft cast was removed and replaced with a brace. He was not supposed to put his full weight on it for any extended period of time, but he could hobble around with a walking stick. A crutch was out of the question with the wound to his shoulder. He still had to rely on help to get down the stairs, but he was able to walk to the kitchen on his own.
Ronon was playing checkers with Torren, with Colonel Carter coaching the youngster. McKay had cooked the meal and disappeared into his room once more without seeing his former co-workers, leaving Teyla to wonder at how hurtful a parting he had taken from the city.
Doctor Beckett had brought a package with him for Evan, which he remembered after dinner. He retrieved it and passed it over the table.
Evan opened the card and read it. “A get well gift from David and Laura, they ordered it from Earth and had to wait for this to come with the Daedalus supply shipment. ” He opened the paper wrapping and smiled. “Watercolors and brushes, a pad of watercolor paper, and a board to set it up on.” An image came into his mind immediately. He looked up at Teyla. “I know just which flower bed I’m going to paint.”
“The pink one with the statue?” She smiled knowingly, it was his favorite place to sit and draw. He had been using colored pencils and chalks, trying to capture the colors.
“I didn’t know you painted, Evan,” Colonel Carter said as she picked up the box of paints and read the label.
“Not well enough to make a living at it, and I loved flying more than painting so I joined the Air Force after art school.”
“He draws really good pictures, Colonel Carter. He drew one of Mama for me, do you want to see it?” Torren asked.
“I would love to.” She smirked at Evan when he sighed as Torren ran from the room. They heard him clumping up the stairs.
“How does such a little guy make so much noise?” Evan asked with a laugh. No one had an answer to that mystery.
Torren returned with the drawing and handed it to Colonel Carter. “I think you underestimate your skills, Evan, this is beautiful. Torren, I will send you a frame to put this in, I think I have one on a shelf in my office that would fit this perfectly.” The boy smiled up at Colonel Carter and Evan knew she had just made a conquest.
He couldn’t stop himself from yawning, it had been an exciting day. “I’ll take you up,” Ronon offered.
“Probably a good idea, thanks.”
As Ronon wrapped a strong arm around Evan’s waist, he noticed that the big man smelled of Athosian soap with an undercurrent of sweat. He must be getting better if he was noticing these kind of things again. He didn’t associate a scent with John, which was not like him, he was very conscious of scent, it was usually a turn on (or turn off) for him.
Since Teyla would be up to give him a sponge bath, he pointed Ronon to the chair by the fireplace. Settling into the cushion, he looked up at the painting over the mantle and asked Ronon, “Who do you think that is? I sit here and wonder about it sometimes.” The painting was of a man in a uniform, wearing a dark blue cap. He had a full reddish-brown beard and a cold stare. In the background of the painting were dark clouds, like a storm over the sea.
Ronon shrugged and grunted. “Looks military. I’ll be back at the end of the week.”
“Thanks Ronon, see ya.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Teyla thought she saw a dark shadow move at the top of the stairs, but she wasn’t certain if it was real or if she imagined it because she wanted to see proof that her son was not telling stories.
She showed their guests to the door and waited until they had disappeared down the lane heading for the docks before turning to go inside once more. Then she went to the kitchen. Torren was coloring with his new crayons in the coloring book that Colonel Carter had brought as a gift for him. He said he wanted to draw as well as the Major someday. The Major had not laughed at her son, he had told him that if he wanted to learn, he would show him how to do some things, but the most important thing Torren would need to do would be to practice. His tiny tongue was jutting out through his lips as he concentrated on filling the line images with color.
“Torren, I do not want you to go up or down the stairs unless an adult is with you,” Teyla blurted as she thought about the shadow she might have seen, and the fall the usually sure footed Ronon had taken.
He looked up at her with wide eyes. “Why, Mama?”
“Because it might not be safe. Ronon just tripped and fell. I do not want you to do the same.”
“The ghost pushed him,” Torren declared with absolute certainty. “It tried to push me once, but I held onto the railing. I always hold on now.”
Teyla wrapped her arms around her son and looked around fearfully. Maybe there was something to what Torren said. There had been rumors that the rental agent had mentioned, and the story of the cleaning ladies that had been frightened away. She would go to the village and see what she could learn about Puddle Jumper Cottage, now that she was willing to entertain some fantastical ideas. She kissed the top of Torren’s head.
Going to Rodney’s door, she tapped on it. “Rodney, they have left, if you wish to come out.” The door squeaked open as she was collecting Torren’s crayons and Rodney edged out and went to the cold box. Clad in a ragged blue robe and plaid pants, he had slippers on his feet that made a scuffing sound as he crossed the floor.
“How was the stew?” he asked as he rummaged through the cooler box pulling out plates and bowls.
“Delicious as always. We did not tell the Colonel that you were here, it seemed like you did not wish to see her.”
Rodney nodded as he went to the countertop and started to make a sandwich. “We argued. We always had a tense relationship, I didn’t feel like rehashing the past today.”
“What did you do in your room all day?” Torren asked as he closed his coloring book and gave Teyla the crayon he had been using.
“Worked on my project, had a nap. Watched a movie on my laptop. Read a little bit.”
Teyla wanted to ask him about the entity, but not in front of Torren. “Torren, it is time for bed. Say goodnight to Rodney.”
He leapt up from his chair and ran over to hug Rodney around the waist. The first time Torren had done that, Rodney had been at a loss, but now he accepted the child’s affections more readily and hugged him back, if a little awkwardly. “French toast for breakfast, I need to use up the old eggs before they hatch,” Rodney told Torren, ruffling his hair.
“Eggs don’t hatch in the cold box!” Torren replied loudly. “They have to stay warm under the hen. Everyone knows that!” He ran out of the kitchen to the stairs and then stopped as he remembered Teyla’s warning.
Teyla took his hand and they went up together. In the corridor outside Torren’s bedroom, she felt a sudden chill, but that might have been a draft. She waited for him to wash his face and brush his teeth and then tucked him under the blanket. She sang a song for him and lit the LED nightlight that Major Lorne had given him after he had been frightened on the day of the big storm.
She went downstairs to talk to Rodney, but he had gone back to his room. She turned out the lights and secured the doors and went up the stairs, holding tightly to the railing, just in case.
Major Lorne was drawing when she went to his room. Reluctantly, he set aside his pad so that she could wash him. “I can use the shower again as soon as the bandage comes off my back. Doctor Beckett said that might be next week.”
“It must be difficult, recuperating for such a lengthy time.”
“Yeah. It sucks. But it could be worse, I could be dead. I should be dead.”
“Do you believe in ghosts, Major Lorne?” Teyla asked as she walked beside him as he hobbled over to the bed. It wasn’t far and he needed to regain his confidence and independence by moving about unassisted.
He shrugged and then winced as the motion jarred his shoulder blade. “I did as a kid, then I didn’t for a while and I think now I have an open mind. I’ve seen far too many things since joining the SGC to close myself off to any possibilities.”
“Have you seen anything odd in this house? Torren claims he has seen a ghost.”
The Major was silent for a few moments, then shook his head. “Nah. Old house, odd noises.”
Teyla went to the glass doors leading to his balcony and closed them, throwing the latch with a loud snap. She also closed the windows around the room. “I fear we will have rain tonight as Ronon and the Colonel predicted.”
“You know you can call me Evan.”
“I shall consider it. Rodney will be making French toast in the morning. Ring the bell when you are ready to come down. Oh, yes, please do not attempt the stairs without assistance, Ronon took a fall tonight, there might be a loose tread.”
“Okay, I’ll give a holler when I want to come down. Night.”
He was starving and it pained him greatly. The need for energy caused the pain, and it was almost constant pain now. It hurt to appear, to become solid enough to touch and affect the physical world. The source was growing weaker, there was not much left to draw, a new source would need to be found soon. This source was dying, though he did not yet know it, but he knew. If there was anything he knew, it was death.
He was alone, there was no sign of John. He wondered why John had stopped coming. He had not see his friend since John had kissed him and then suddenly left.
When he opened his eyes in the morning, the sun was out, the storm had passed. John was there, in the early morning light, standing on the balcony staring out over the sea towards the silhouette of the city on the horizon. Evan memorized the lines of his face and body as he stood there. He wanted to draw him, or better, paint him, just as he was.
Evan quietly slid off the bed and hobbled over to get his sketchpad. He had a better view of John from the chair and so he sat and sketched him. He did several studies, trying to capture the lines of his jaw, his nose, the way his hair spiked up, the way his hand was holding the railing as he leaned forward with his face up to the breeze.
Eventually, John turned and saw him there in the chair. He smiled and came inside. “Good morning. What are you doing?”
“I’ve never seen you in the light like that, I needed to sketch.”
“You were drawing me?” John leaned over his arm and looked at the paper. “You’re good.”
“Thanks. We’re having french toast, want in?”
“No. I have to run along. I was just waiting for you to wake. I’ve missed you.” John kissed his forehead before he straightened up. Evan inhaled, but he didn’t pick up a scent from John. Odd. His lips had been dry as he kissed Evan, both times. Reaching out, Evan grabbed John’s hand and found it chilled. He stared at John.
“Stay, meet Teyla,” he blurted as he heard her coming up the stairs to collect him.
John shook his head and winced as if he was in pain. “I can’t stay, Evan. I’m sorry. I’ll try to come back tonight, I promise.” He went to the balcony and disappeared. That explained how he was getting in and out of Evan’s room, at least.
When Teyla came in, Evan was staring at the spot where John had disappeared. “Teyla, didn’t you close all the windows last night?”
“Yes, I did. Remember I told you I thought the storm would come? It was very loud, was it not?” She said as she changed the bandage over the surgical wound on his shoulder blade.
“All the windows were open when the storm came. I had to close them again.” He looked around and sure enough, the sticky window sash he had been unable to lower all the way still stood partway open. He pointed to it.
She stared at the window frozen in place with a wad of gauze in one had, surgical tape in the other. “I closed that. It sticks, I broke a nail trying to close it last night.” She set everything down on the table beside the chair and sat on the footrest and looked at him.
“Evan... Torren insists that he has been seeing a ghost. Yesterday, the kitchen was a mess, but Rodney did not hear it happen, there was flour everywhere, dishes and cookware scattered around and the table and chairs were overturned. I thought perhaps it was Torren being mischievous, but he was the one who came to get me and he was very frightened. He might have been able to make all of the mess, but there was no way he could have moved that table. It is far too heavy. Rodney had to help me to set it right again. Later, Ronon fell down the stairs and Torren insists that the ghost pushed him. He said he has felt the ghost trying to push him down the stairs in the past.”
“So, you think this ghost is doing it. Why? To chase us out?”
“Perhaps. The rental agent tried to warn me that strange things happen here. I planned to go to the village today to investigate further. I did not believe any of this until yesterday, when Doctor Beckett was telling the story about the entity. It sounded very much like what Torren described seeing.”
Evan chewed his lip. A possibility had occurred to him, one he did not want to believe. John’s appearances and disappearances, his reluctance to meet anyone, his cool skin. And most of all, his lack of scent, which Evan had been trying to ascertain that morning. But it didn’t add up, his friend did not seem the type to frighten a small child. He shoved the idea aside, unwilling to consider it for the moment.
“MAMA!” Torren screamed from the stairs leading up to the Major’s bedroom.
Following Teyla as quickly as he could, Evan went to the stairs. He carefully went down, clinging tightly to the rail. He heard Torren crying in his bedroom and hobbled to the door, leaning heavily on the frame. The room was a mess, the furniture overturned and toys scattered everywhere. Most disturbing was the wall. Across the wall, in dripping red letters, it said “Get Out!” Teyla was just touching her fingers to the wall when he got there and sniffing at what came away on her hand.
“Blood,” she mouthed to Evan, showing him her fingers. She scooped Torren up in her arms and strode to the door with him. “He was downstairs, with Rodney. This room was neat and tidy when I woke him for breakfast and when I passed by on my way up to wake you.”
“Torren, was Rodney with you the whole time you were downstairs?” Evan asked, rubbing the boy’s head. The poor little guy was terrified.
“Yes,” he answered in a tiny voice before burying his face in Teyla’s neck.
Teyla went to the stairs. “Evan, I will come back, please wait here.”
He nodded and stared into the bedroom. Movement in the corner caught his eye and he saw a dark shadow rise up to the ceiling and hover there. “John? John is that you? Please don’t be you,” he whispered. It disappeared through the ceiling.
Teyla returned and held him tightly around the waist and escorted him down the stairs. She went back up and collected his art supplies and brought them to him when he declared he would spend the day outside in the garden.
Breakfast was a silent affair, despite it being Torren’s favorite. Rodney had run upstairs to see the destruction when Teyla told him about it and came back frowning and shaking his head. They sent Torren to play in the oma tree, and the boy was more than willing to go.
“I saw it,” Evan whispered. “The thing Torren sees. It was in his room, in the corner. Black, shimmering, I could see through it a little. It pulsed and seemed to sparkle a little.”
“I hate dark sparkling things!” Rodney said vehemently.
Teyla grasped Rodney’s forearm where it rested on the table. “You rid Atlantis of an entity like this before, could you do so again?”
The scientist turned cook rolled his eyes. “It took a Stargate to get rid of the other one. Although, I might be able to build a device like the one we found the other one in before it tore through the city. I would need to go to the city to get the components and tools to make it.”
“Can you get in?” Evan asked.
Mckay laughed. “I wasn’t officially banished, just sent off for my own good to recuperate. I’ll go see Zelenka, he can probably help me out.”
“Perhaps we should all return to the city,” Teyla said.
“No!” Evan slammed his hand down on the table. If he left, he would never see John again. He still hoped John was not the entity and that it was all a coincidence.
They agreed to walk to the dock together, Rodney to go to Atlantis, Teyla to go to the village and see what else she could learn about the haunting of Puddle Jumper Cottage. Lorne was to watch over Torren. Before setting out, McKay packed lunch and snacks in a cooler and left it with Evan in the garden so that he and Torren could have a picnic.
The day was beautiful. Torren wandered the garden and played in the oma tree. Evan lost track of time as he sketched the flowers and John and the statue and even Atlantis as he remembered her in his mind. He glanced up when Torren said, “Major Lorne?”
“You can call me Evan, Torren. We’re friends, right?”
The boy nodded. “I’m hungry. My tummy is going rahr, rahr, rahr.”
“Oh it is? Well let’s see what goodies Rodney left us in the cooler, shall we?” He set aside his sketchpad and Torren spread the blanket Teyla had left on the ground and opened the cooler. “That looks good, what’s that?” Evan pointed.
“Chicken salad sandwishes.” It was so adorable the way the boy said it that Evan just smiled and didn’t correct his pronunciation. “And apples. And juice.” Torren set each item on the blanket beside him and closed the lid of the cooler and set it up as a makeshift table. Clever kid, he did it without being told.
They ate in companionable silence. Once he had eaten, Torren curled up on the blanket and went to sleep. When he stuck his thumb in his mouth, Evan couldn’t resist sketching the image. Then he went back to the blue and yellow flowers against the side of the brick house.
“You’re all alone?”
“Just me and Torren,” Evan replied before looking up to see John not very far away, sitting atop the stone wall at the edge of the garden. “I didn’t expect to see you until tonight.”
John shrugged. “Keep doing what you’re doing, I don’t want to interrupt you.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask John flat out if he was a ghost. But he found he didn’t want to know. He preferred to carry on as they were and maintain his illusions for as long as possible. He drew John sitting on the wall, with his knees drawn up and his arms draped around them as he had his head tilted back, his eyes closed.
One moment he was there, and Evan was finishing filling in the line of his arm, defining the muscle peeking out from the edge of his t-shirt. In the next, when Evan looked back, he was gone without a word of goodbye, just gone. Evan’s hopes sank a little lower as more cracks appeared in his illusions.
Torren woke up a little cranky after his nap and would not be appeased until Evan gave him a piece of paper and a pencil and set him to drawing flowers until he grew bored and went to poke at the rodents that lived in the back corner of the garden.
He heard the door slam when Rodney returned from Atlantis. Evan got out of his chair and limped to the kitchen door and went inside. “How did it go?”
“Not too bad. I saw a few people, Zelenka sends his greetings. He said he would come out to visit with Parrish and Cadman once we got rid of the entity.”
“Supplies?” Evan asked as Rodney took items out of his backpack and lined them up on the table.
“I think I got everything I need. The original canister was in storage. Let me tell you, it was a pain in the butt lugging that up from the dock. I think I can rig something to draw an entity in. Should have it ready after dinner sometime. Parrish sent cookies.” He held out a ziploc bag full of Oreos. “Said those were your favorites.”
He nodded and accepted the gift, opening the bag and offering it to McKay, who declined with a shake of his head. The door opened and Torren came in. “I couldn’t catch them, they run too fast,” he complained. Spotting Rodney he asked, “What’s that thing by the door?” Silently, Evan offered Torren a cookie and the boy smiled and took it.
“A trap, to catch your ghost,” Rodney said.
Rodney huffed. “Well, it is likely not a ghost, but rather an entity made of energy, but whatever it is, we’re going to catch it.”
There was a noise in the front entryway and they all turned towards the kitchen door as it creaked open. Teyla backed into the kitchen, carrying a basket full of groceries in her arms. Torren ran over and hugged her as she set the basket on the table beside Rodney’s tools and gadgets.
“You were successful,” she said as she looked over Rodney’s cache.
“Yep. I’m going to go and take a shower before dinner. I got roped into helping Zeleka fix a power conduit and I’m filthy.” He went to his bedroom.
Teyla turned and scowled as she saw Evan leaning against the counter and scolded him. “You should be sitting, Evan, do not put weight on that knee.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He went and sat down at the table. “What did you find out today, Teyla?”
“Torren, please go and wash these tubers, so that Rodney may use them for dinner if he would like to.” She handed Torren four potato-like vegetables and he went to the sink to scrub them, hauling over a chair to stand on so that he could reach the faucet.
Teyla sank into a chair and sighed. “I spoke to many women in the marketplace. Puddle Jumper Cottage was the home of a military man. He lived here periodically. By all accounts, he was quiet and withdrawn and not welcoming to strangers. One story in the village is that he died here by his own hand. Another that he died at sea. One woman had heard that a jealous lover killed him in his bed here. Still another that he was in Atlantis and was killed there. All agree that he haunts the cottage.”
The news upset Evan. The evidence against John was stacking up. He had started falling in love with a dead man. He dropped his face into his hands and kicked at the table leg with his good foot.
“Evan?” Teyla asked quietly, her hand landing softly on his good shoulder. “What is wrong?”
“Nothing, I’m just frustrated. I left my stuff outside, I’m going to go get it.”
Torren had finished washing the vegetables. “I’ll get it, Evan.” He ran out the door, intent on the self-appointed errand.
The meal Rodney made was simple and finished quickly. Evan retreated to his room to sulk and paint with watercolors. Rodney had brought him a roll of masking tape as he had asked him to and he set up the board with the special paper and taped the edges down. He lightly outlined the flowers he intended to paint. Then he mixed white and red paint to get the right shade of pink.
The painting calmed him, he was able to push aside his disappointment in John and himself. Almost. As he finished the first layer of the painting, watercolors were not for the impatient and had to be done in stages, he thought of John again and he felt his eyes tear. Damn it. It was just his bad luck that the ghost had to be handsome and his type. Trust him to fall for a ghost.
Enraged that they were still there, he shrieked. It was time for further action. They had energy. That energy could be absorbed to assuage the hunger pains.
“Just Rodney’s tools,” Teyla replied though she had heard it too, an inhuman scream coming from the second floor. “Rodney, hurry,” she urged, with a sense of urgency. “I think it knows what we are about.”
Rodney looked across the table at her. “Just calibrating the power. Go and get Lorne, he shouldn’t be alone if this thing goes off on a rampage like the last one did.”
Nodding, Teyla stroked Torren’s cheek and ran from the room. She got almost to the top of the stairs when she felt it surround her. Cold touched her skin, even through her clothes. She shuddered at the touch. She could sense hatred coming off it. Then it shoved at her, clearly attempting to knock her down as it had certainly pushed an unsuspecting Ronon. But Teyla was prepared. She turned her back to the wall and braced her feet against the railing.
“Get off me!” she hissed.
“You’re dead! Go away! Leave my mother alone! Your time is over, you have to leave!” Torren screeched in a rush as he ran up to Teyla. “Leave my Mama alone! You’re dead, go away!”
“Torren?” Evan called down from the top of the next staircase. “Torren, are you alright?”
Teyla had him in her arms and had run up the last few steps to the second floor. “He is fine, Evan. I have him.” The entity seemed to be gone for the moment, Teyla no longer felt its clammy cold grip on her skin. Torren clung to Teyla, his arms around her neck, his legs around her waist as she went up the next flight of stairs to get Evan. There was no way she was allowing her charge to walk those stairs alone with the ghost in a shoving mood.
When they got to the top, Evan stroked a hand over Torren’s back. “It tried to push me, I felt it all around me,” Teyla told him looking all around for a sign of the dark cloud.
Torren lifted his head and looked at Evan. “I did what you said, Major. I said what you told me to say.” Evan nodded and smiled and patted his back.
“I wondered where you got the idea to be so brave and say those things,” Teyla murmured. “We should go to the kitchen. Rodney is almost ready.
Holding tightly to the rail, Evan limped down each stair slowly, leaning on Teyla’s shoulder as she carried Torren. The front door suddenly opened, as did the windows in the sitting room. There was a horrible shrieking howl coming from everywhere at once. Torren put his hands to his ears and hid his face against Teyla’s neck.
The kitchen door opened and Rodney waved them forward. “Come on, I’m ready, let’s do this!” The box was on the slate floor in the center of the kitchen and Rodney was holding a control device in his hand. It occurred to Evan that when Rodney activated it he would never see John again.
He looked at Teyla and Torren. He couldn’t let them be hurt or terrorized any more. He couldn’t stop Rodney, though he wanted to. John had never hurt him. He had never felt threatened in this house. He could stay here alone, couldn’t he? And do what? Carry on with a ghost? How could that ever work?
“Stand back. It should come running when I turn this on. Think of it as a giant roach motel. It won’t be able to resist the lure.”
Though she obviously missed the reference, Teyla understood enough to move over to the wall by the door. She held Torren tightly as he clung to her like a little monkey, frightened out of his wits, looking around with eyes as wide as saucers.
When Rodney pressed the button, the howling outside suddenly ceased and it was eerily silent for a few moments. Mckay had propped the kitchen door open and they waited for something to happen, all eyes on the door.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Rodney said as the dark shimmering shadow came floating through the door. “Have a snack, Junior Cloud. That’s it, you know you want it.” The entity hovered over the open hatch on the box, then suddenly darted inside. Rodney hit a button and the hatch slid closed. “Gotcha!”
Just like that, it was over.
“You caught it?” Torren asked, looking over at McKay.
“I did. In a box made just for entities like that one.” McKay was checking the settings on the box.
“It can’t get out?” Torren asked as Teyla let him slide to his feet. He tentatively took a few steps towards the trap.
Evan felt as if his heart had broken in two when the hatch closed. “Goodbye John,” he whispered sadly. He left the kitchen, unable to bear Torren’s happy chattering. It took him a long time to climb the stairs by himself and he was exhausted when he got to his room. He fell across the bed and slept until Teyla woke him to shift him under the covers and medicate him.
The next day it rained, which suited Evan’s mood perfectly. He stayed in bed reading and napping. And trying not to think of how things might have been with John.
The day after that he tried to stay in bed, but Teyla made him move to the chair and started a fire in the fireplace to ward off the chill and damp from the rain. He sketched without much conviction for a while.
The weather improved the day after that, she refused to bring him a tray and insisted he join them in the kitchen to eat. He sulked, but went down. He played chess with McKay after dinner in order to appease Teyla, who had begun to hover around him expressing concern over his mood. How could he explain to her that he had stood by and watched as they trapped the man that could have potentially been his lover in a box and shipped him off to Atlantis to be kept in a secure lab for eternity?
He was miserable. Even Rodney noticed it and tried to cheer him up by offering to watch Godzilla movies with him. The mini-marathon of cheesy sci-fi that followed made Rodney happy at least.
After a solid week of sulking and moping about Teyla, gentle woman turned militant nurse, marched him outside into the back garden and demanded that he paint her a picture of the orange flowers that were now blooming there so that she could hang it in her bedroom. He sighed and conceded, taking the sketchpad she shoved at him and making a few preliminary studies before deciding on the view for the painting. He started a new watercolor board, setting the tape in place and drawing his outline.
Wandering outside, McKay came over to him. “She really likes those orange ones, she put a vase of them in the kitchen. They make me sneeze.” McKay bent and picked up Evan’s sketchpad and began to flip through the pages. Evan sensed him freeze and looked up to see Rodney staring at a page. He turned the pad around to the drawing of John sitting on the wall. “How?” Rodney whispered, looking completely confused. “He died before you came, how could you know what he looks like?”
Well, Rodney had just confirmed for Evan once and for all that John had been the ghost. Things fell into place for Evan. Rodney’s apparent breakdown that had led to Carter forcing him to take leave, things John had said to him about Atlantis, how he knew people there. The cottage being inhabited by a military man from the city before he, Teyla, Torren and Rodney had come. “He was here. He used to come and read to me, spend time with me, before we shut him up in that box. You knew him?”
“John Sheppard. He was my best friend. He died in an accident on Atlantis. You and Carter came out here because he died. It was my fault, all of it, he died because I screwed up. He was the entity? We trapped John in that box?”
He nodded sadly at McKay’s question.
“I’ve finished the repairs to the device that killed him. I’ve been working on it for a long time. I was planning to test it out here before I took it back to the city, just in case. I didn’t want it to have the energy of the city to draw on, just in case. Out here, I can contain things much better.”
Evan nodded, he thought he understood how Rodney felt, how he needed to fix what had gone wrong.
Sadly, McKay looked down at the sketchpad again, flipping through the pages. “You captured him, this is him. But he’s sad in your sketches, in a way he wasn’t when I knew him. He looks lost.”
“He seemed so to me as well. He also seemed to be in pain. Maybe it is for the best, what we did. I could not reconcile the man I was starting to know with the entity that was frightening Torren and making threats and shoving people down the stairs.”
“No, it doesn’t seem like the Sheppard I knew either,” Rodney agreed. “I want to do that test. I want to see if it works. I don’t want him to have died for nothing.”
“Is it going to be dangerous, Rodney? I heard the explosion took out the whole physics lab when Colonel Sheppard died.”
Rodney waved a hand dismissively. “I changed the power source. I’m also using a smaller test device. If it works on this one, then Radek and I can design a bigger one.”
“What does it do?”
“I was modifying the shields from the puddlejumpers to work on any aircraft or as a personal portable shielding device. We were close to shifting things slightly out of phase to make them invisible.”
“Like the Ancient one you found the first year?” Evan had read the reports.
Rodney nodded. “The idea came from that, we could never recharge it or get it to work again. I can try it now, if you want to watch?”
“Yeah, sure, why not?” Evan replied. Rodney gave Evan the sketchpad back and turned and strode away to the house.
Packing his pencils away, Evan waited. He really wanted Rodney to succeed. He wanted someone to find some peace with what had happened. McKay returned, holding a device the size of a loaf of bread under one arm and what looked a little like a cell phone in the other. Evan chuckled as he realized it was actually a loaf of bread.
Mckay set the bread on the ground across the garden and put the cell phone sized thing on top of it. Then he moved back to stand by Rodney’s chair. He tapped the side of his head an smirked. “Remote control this time.”
He pressed a button and the air shimmered around the bread. Smiling, Rodney looked away for a moment and called out to Evan, “I think it’s working!” The bread disappeared for a count of twenty, but then blue electricity sparked out and around it. “No! No, no, no! Not again.” McKay shut the device down and the bread appeared again. He shuffled over to retrieve the device.
“At least it isn’t toast!” Evan called out cheerily, trying to distract Rodney from his disappointment.
“Yeah, there’s that. It still overloaded the circuits. I guess it needs a different setup with the new power source.” Rodney took his failed experiment and walked back to the house.
“Sorry, Rodney,” Evan called. McKay gave a grunt and let the door slam behind him.
Pulling out the watercolor board again, Evan added a few more light guidelines. Then he set it aside and picked up his sketchpad. He turned it to a clean sheet and began to draw from his memory. He hadn’t planned to draw John’s face, but very soon it became apparent that his subconscious wanted to do so. His heart was aching as the face began to take shape on the paper.
“My hair isn’t that spiky,” John said.
“Sure it is, ever look in a mirror?” Evan whispered back and closed his eyes, letting himself slip into the memory of John’s voice, imagining him there, taking comfort in the memory.
“Every day, and it was never that wild. And the birthmark is on my left cheek, not the right.”
Evan cracked open his one good eye, erased the birthmark and moved it. Then he closed his eye and tilted his head back. “I was falling in love with you. Why did you have to go away?”
“Its killing me. Being visible expends energy, I can’t do it too long or too often.” John’s voice was just as Evan remembered it, smooth, lazy, soothing, not too high and not too low. “I had to go so that I could come back. I care for you too, Evan.”
“You scared Torren. Why did you have to scare Torren and push Ronon and Teyla? Why couldn’t you just let them be? It was fine the way it was. It was fine, I could have lived with it the way it was and now... Damn it John!” Evan leaned forward and buried his face in his hands.
Firm hands clasped the sides of his face, covering his hands. “Evan? Hey, stop. What are you talking about? What do you think I did to Torren and Teyla?”
Slowly, he tipped his head up, drawing his hands down. He reached out and touched his fingers to John’s face. Solid. “You’re here? We didn’t trap you in the box?”
“Box? What box? No. I was hanging out in the hammock trying to gather enough energy to come and see you again. I usually recuperate over there.”
“So you didn’t trash Torren’s room or the kitchen or knock over the bookcase in the living room?”
“Uh, no. I only came in the house to go to your room, Evan. The thing that’s draining me is loose in the house, so I try to stay away. What’s this about a box?”
“We trapped the entity in a box. Hello, John,” Teyla said, hearing his question as she came up behind Evan’s chair.
Evan stared at John as he stood and turned towards Teyla. “Hi. So, you guys trapped that thing? Really?”
“We did. What do you mean draining you and your needing to recuperate, John?”
John gave a shrug and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m kind of dead. There was an explosion in the city and I got caught in it. I can be solid and visible now and then, if I have enough energy. But the thing you guys trapped was sucking it out of me every time I came to the house.”
“I thought we put you in the box,” Evan said, grabbing John’s hand. It was cool to the touch. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Sheppard?” Rodney shouted from the kitchen doorway. The door slammed as he came out and ran across the grass towards them. “Lorne said... it really is you.” In a move that seemed to surprise John, McKay grabbed him and hugged him tightly.
“Hey McKay,” John said, patting Rodney’s back until the scientist let him go.
“You’re dead, I saw you die,” Rodney said, touching his fingers to John’s face.
John gave a sheepish shrug. “Yeah. Sorry?”
Rodney shook his head. “I’m the one that should be sorry. I killed you.”
Beside Evan, Teyla had sat down on the ground to watch the friends talk. “John, if you are dead, why do you look as you look? Should you not be more... messy?”
“Well obviously, he has the form that he remembers,” Rodney said. “He’s a figment of his own imagination. I think.” He put a hand on John’s chest. “Hhhmm. Why doesn’t my hand pass through, I wonder.”
Something on the back of John’s hand caught Evan’s eye. He reached out and grasped John’s wrist and turned it over, examining it, running a finger over the raised edge. “What is this, John?”
John shrugged. “I dunno.”
A random, hopeful thought had occurred to Evan as he pondered John’s parasitic relationship with the entity that had been feeding off his energy. How could something dead recharge? Something Rodney had said about the experiment and putting things out of phase to make them invisible was bugging him. “If he is a figment of his own imagination, why would he imagine this?” Evan asked Rodney, holding up John’s hand.
Rodney took John’s hand and pulled it up in front of his face, looking closely at it. “I think that’s one of the circuits from the control panel in the lab. It must have been embedded in your hand during the explosion... Oh wait a minute.” Rodney’s eyes went wide and he looked at Evan. “You are more clever than I gave you credit for, Major Lorne.”
“I try. Am I right?” Evan asked, grinning.
“You might be. I have to think about this.” Rodney dropped John’s hand and stalked off, mumbling to himself and looking back over his shoulder at John a couple of times.
“What did I just miss?” John asked.
Evan’s explanation was cut off by Torren, who came running out of the house and barrelling down the path towards John, who caught him and spun him around. Torren dragged him off to the oma tree to show him something.
“I thought he was gone,” Evan said, watching them walk around the side of the house. “I thought I helped put him in that box.”
Teyla reached up and took his hand and squeezed it. “I wondered why you have been so sad. You have feelings for him?”
“Yeah. I do.” Evan collected his things from around his chair. “Let’s go inside, I want to ask Rodney something.”
Teyla folded the chair and carried it as she walked alongside Evan as he limped to the house. He went to Rodney’s door and knocked. “Go away, I’m thinking!” Rodney shouted.
“Can you do it?” Evan asked through the wood.
“Maybe. Go away. Let me think. Genius at work.”
Teyla had her hands on her hips. “What is it you wish Rodney to do?”
Evan grinned. “Bring John back from the dead, of course.” She turned and walked away, shaking her head as she gathered food from the cold box to prepare a meal, since it seemed Rodney was too preoccupied to do so.
“Uh, Teyla, how about I made us some omelets?” Evan said, fearing Teyla’s cooking. She scowled at him and handed him the tray of eggs.
John did not eat, but he sat with them at the table while Evan, Torren and Teyla ate omelets and toast. Torren tried to pick the vegetables out of his, but Teyla swatted him and made him eat the greenery as well.
After the meal was cleared away and Teyla was washing the dishes, they played chess. Torren sat on John’s lap and ‘helped’ him. Evan couldn’t believe John was still here and caught himself staring constantly, completely distracted from the game.
“What?” John demanded as he caught Evan staring again.
“Just happy you’re here.” Evan knew he had a goofy smile on his face but he didn’t care.
“Hey, what happened to the eye patch?” John asked as he looked up from the board a few seconds after Evan slid it off.
“I don’t need it inside when the light is dim. My eye is healing, Carson said so.”
John smiled and took Evan’s rook, which Torren ‘walked’ off the field of battle and made die dramatically on the side of the board. “Good news - about the eye, not the rook.”
The door to Rodney’s room opened and he leaned out and aimed some kind of device at John, pressed a button and then disappeared again, closing the door.
“I would have thought he’d be happier to see me,” John complained.
“He is. You’re a puzzle now. He’s got to figure you out.” Evan took John’s bishop. Three moves later, John had him in checkmate and Torren cheered as Evan conceded the match.
Teyla pointed at Evan. “It is time for your medicine.”
He nodded and climbed out of his chair. His knee was sore, and he wanted to get it up on the footrest in his room. Going up the stairs, John wrapped an arm around his waist and supported him while Teyla followed.
John gave a low whistle as they passed Torren’s room. “What a mess!”
“I’m sleeping in Mama’s room until we paint my room,” Torren announced as Teyla closed the door on the troubling eyesore. He bounded away to brush his teeth and wash his face and put on the pajamas Teyla had put on her bed for him to wear.
As John settled Evan in the chair, Teyla collected the medicines. Evan leaned forward and she pressed the injection into his back, making John wince in sympathy. “Kinda glad I don’t feel that kind of pain anymore.”
“I saw you in pain,” Evan said.
“From the entity doing it’s thing. I don’t bleed anymore. See?” John picked up the syringe from the tray Teyla had put it on and raked the tip of the needle across his forearm, but nothing happened. “Not living. Don’t feel very much unless I expend a lot of energy to do so.”
“My Ghost Boyfriend. It sounds like a cheesy teen fiction title,” Evan said, shaking his head.
John looked very sad as he looked into Evan’s eyes. “I wish I met you before I died. This kinda sucks.”
“I will be downstairs if you need anything, Evan,” Teyla said as she slipped out the door, giving them some privacy.
Staring at John, Evan realized John was getting upset about the situation. “Read to me? I missed that the last few days.”
“Sure.” John retrieved the book from the nightstand and sat down on the floor beside Evan’s chair, leaning back against his good leg. The rise and fall of his voice soothed Evan and he soon found himself drifting off, unable to keep his eyes open.
John’s hand stroked his cheek. “Hey sleepyhead, you want to go to bed?”
“If you promise not to leave.”
“Deal, I promise.”
Evan was about to slide out of the chair when a high-pitched whine suddenly ripped through the house. Evan covered his ears with his hands. “What is that?”
A few steps away, John collapsed onto his knees, and bent over with his arms covering his head. “John? John?” Evan called his name but could barely hear his own voice over the whine. As suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
John was huddled on the floor, rocking in place. Muffled whimpers told Evan that John was in pain. Evan couldn’t bend his knee to get down beside him. The best he could do was slide to the floor and drag himself over to John’s side.
“John?” Evan patted his back. “Can you hear me?” He put a hand to the back of John’s head, stroking his hair.
“Evan?” John rasped and slowly pushed up to his knees and sat back on his haunches. His face and throat were streaked with blood that was coming from his nose and ears.
“It hurts,” John whispered. “Everything hurts.” He coughed and blood sprayed from his lips.
“No, oh no. This is bad. What the hell did Rodney do?” Evan pulled his t-shirt off, which hurt his shoulder as he moved too fast. He pressed the wadded up shirt to John’s nose, forcing his head back. John caught his wrist and held it as he coughed into the shirt.
John’s hand on his wrist was warm, and Evan could smell him, he could smell blood and sweat and man. “You’re here, John. I know you hurt, but you’re here, I think Rodney brought you back.” John gasped, clutched his middle, let out a pained groan and collapsed against Evan, unconscious.
“Did it work?” Rodney asked as he burst through the bedroom door. “Uh oh. Teyla! Teyla come up here!!!”
Teyla and Rodney lifted John and carried him to the bed. Evan sat on the side of the bed, fretting as she cleaned John up and proclaimed that it seemed to look worse that it was. He wasn’t actively bleeding, the blood seemed to have all come from the moment when he shifted back out of phase.
She ran a smelling salt capsule under his nose and John jolted awake, snorting and coughing. “Welcome back, John” Teyla said, handing him a cup of water.
“What just happened?” John asked sipping at the water gingerly, then with more gusto as he realized that he could actually drink it.
“Rodney brought you back to life,” Evan said with a grin.
“I did not. He wasn’t dead,” Rodney protested. He waved a life signs monitor around John and seemed satisfied with the results.
Evan smirked and winked at John. “Just mostly dead.”
Rodney snorted. “Not even. He was just out of phase. I forced him to shift back back by changing the harmonics and adjusting the frequency around him.”
“I wasn’t dead?” John stared at his friends.
“No. Welcome back. You still owe me two hundred bucks from the Kentucky Derby,” McKay said and turned and walked out of the room.
“I love you too, McKay!” John called after him.
“Bite me Sheppard.”
John smiled broadly. “He loves me.”
“Are you in any pain, John?” Teyla asked.
“Just a whopper of a headache.”
Teyla shook a few pain pills into her hand and held them out to John. After he took them she pointed to Evan’s knee and shoulder. “Do not jostle him too much John, you will undo weeks of healing if his surgical wounds tear.”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am,” John saluted.
Teyla smiled and leaned over to kiss his forehead. “I am glad you are not dead, John.”
“Me too,” he replied as she left, closing the door behind her.
Evan rolled onto his stomach and stared at John. “You know, My Zombie Boyfriend sounds even worse.”
“It does. You need help getting undressed, don’t you? That’s why she told me not to jostle you.”
“Yup. And maybe she expects us to move around a little.”
John got up and tugged Evan’s sweatpants off then he pointed. “You need to use the facilities.”
“I can hobble over. I just wanted you to strip me,” Evan smirked at him.
Catching on to Evan’s not so subtle hints, John waggled a finger at him. “We are not playing any games like that until Carson clears you. Got it?”
“Fine, party pooper.” Evan rolled off the bed and went into the bathroom.
“Can I borrow some boxers and a t-shirt? Mine are funky,” John asked when Evan came back into the room.
“Sure. Top drawer.”
“And the shower?”
“Right through there.”
John kissed his cheek as he passed by the bed. Evan worked his way under the covers and was settled pretty comfortably by the time John was finished.
“Are you sure you want me to stay? I can sleep somewhere else, in the hammock or...”
“I don’t ever want you to leave again.”
“Really. Come to bed John, we’ll figure everything else out tomorrow.”
The next morning, the body that was pressed against him was toasty warm, the breath on his cheek moist; the man sharing his bed was alive and well.
Evan Lorne was a very happy man.