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I Feel Your Pain

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"Bloody hell!"

Carson Beckett had been mere seconds away from taking the first bite of his dinner when the announcement went out city-wide: "Medical personnel to the Gate Room. Medical personnel to the Gate Room immediately!" He was tempted to take at least one bite of his dinner since he had missed lunch, but adrenaline and his years of training had kicked in immediately. He dropped the fork, jumped from his seat, and took off on a run toward the Gate Room.

Just 45 seconds later he dashed into the Gate Room on the heels of his colleagues from the Infirmary. The Gate was active but it appeared that no one had come through yet.

"What do we have, Sergeant?" Beckett yelled to Chuck on the upper level.

"Colonel Sheppard's team radioed that they're coming in with wounded. No other details."

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of something coming through the event horizon. Beckett turned toward the Gate to see Teyla come through with her arm around Rodney McKay. Beckett's split-second analysis was that both Teyla and McKay had been injured.

One of Teyla's arms was around McKay; the other arm was held close to her body. Her face showed clear signs of distress. McKay was a mess. His face was covered with blood coming from several wounds on his forehead and scalp. He, too, held one arm close to his body. Both Teyla and Rodney were limping.

Beckett was stunned, something that did not happen often or easily. McKay was an absolute hypochondriac. He had been known to request sedation for removal of a simple sliver. Hangnails elicited moans that would make the outside observer believe he was dying.

But McKay was strangely silent. His face was neutral, expressionless – and he was silent. Despite copious amounts of freely flowing blood and obvious signs of other injuries, he was not uttering a sound – no moans, no screams, no shrieks, just silence.

"Rodney!?"

"Hey, Carson," McKay readily responded.

Beckett summoned some of his colleagues to help McKay, issuing orders to get him onto a stretcher and away from the Gate.

Strangely, though, McKay refused. "I'm ok, Carson. Help John. He's in real trouble."

Beckett was stunned. Despite obvious trauma, McKay was quiet, uncomplaining, and was refusing assistance and medical attention. Beckett wondered if he had accidentally slipped into the Twilight Zone on his way from the Mess Hall to the Gate Room.

He did not have time to wonder further, though, because at that moment John Sheppard came through on the arm of Ronon. Like his teammates, Ronon also showed obvious signs of injury. John Sheppard, however, looked fine. Sheppard showed no obvious signs of damage, no injuries, no evidence of trauma. But he was screaming in pain.

It was official – Beckett had somehow moved into a parallel universe known as the Twilight Zone. Sheppard was the stoic one, always telling everyone that he was fine even if he was missing a limb.

What the bloody hell was going on? McKay, the hypochondriac, was acting stoic and was silent. Sheppard, the stiff upper lip individualist, was screaming like he was being ripped to pieces without benefit of anesthesia.

Like McKay, Ronon had several wounds that were bleeding copiously – one on his left leg and one of his torso. His shirt was soaked red with blood. Beckett ordered some of his other coworkers to help Ronon and apply pressure to the wounds to slow down the bleeding.

Again, as with McKay, Ronon refused. "I'm fine. John needs help first. Help him. I can wait."

"You most certainly cannot wait! You're bleeding badly Ronon. Trust me on this – we've got to stop the bleeding or you're going to die."

"I feel fine. John needs help first."

"Ok, everyone listen to me!" Beckett instructed. "I don't know what's going on but I want all of you in the Infirmary now! No complaints. You do what we tell you until I figure out what we're dealing with. We've got enough people here to help everyone."

Chuck yelled down, "That's everyone, Doctor." As he spoke Beckett got confirmation of that when the Gate shut down.

With more encouragement than seemed reasonably necessary, the medical personnel got everyone onto gurneys and headed toward the Infirmary. Teams were working on each person. Beckett turned his attention to Sheppard. If the man was in so much pain, Beckett knew that something was seriously wrong and that he needed attention first and foremost.

In the Infirmary the gurney wheels were locked. "Cut his clothes off! Quickly." Three nurses and another doctor immediately set to work complying with Beckett's orders.

"Everything, Doctor?"

"Yes, everything. Modesty be damned. I need to see where he's hurt."

Clothes were rapidly disappearing as his team skillfully complied with his orders. The removal of the clothing, however, did nothing to resolve the mystery.

"I don't see a bloody thing! The others are all clearly wounded but he doesn't show any sign of trauma!" As if he needed convincing, Sheppard broke free from the hands that had helped to turn him over for Beckett's quick examination. He rolled to his side, pulled his legs up toward his chest and let loose with a blood curdling scream of agony.

"John! John! Where do you hurt? Please, I can't help you unless I know what's wrong!"

Gasping for air, Sheppard looked at the doctor as if he was seeing him for the first time. His hands grabbed the lapels of the doctor's white coat, pulling him forward. "Make it stop, Carson! Please!" he pleaded. "Make it stop. "Pain! Pain! So much pain!"

He released his hold on the doctor and rolled onto his stomach for a moment, hammering his fists into the surface of the gurney as he screamed in agony once more.

Though it was a rare occurrence, Beckett was at a complete loss over what to do. To survive, doctors had to be able to make split second appraisals and make treatment decisions on the fly. But this had him stumped. He had never seen anything like this. The Colonel was not an expressive man but there was no mistaking what he was expressing at the moment.

Beckett turned to McKay who was being treated on a nearby gurney. As before, McKay was quiet. He seemed fully cognizant of everything but was so mysteriously passive and untroubled. His behavior was as frightening as Sheppard's behavior.

"Rodney! What happened? What's wrong with the Colonel?"

"He needs help, Carson."

"Yes, yes! I can see that, Rodney. But what happened? Why aren't you screaming? You act like the world is ending if you get a hang nail! But tonight you're as quiet as a church mouse."

"I'm fine, Carson. I don't feel bad at all."

"Why, Rodney? How did you get injured?"

"Those people back on the planet did it. They hurt all of us."

"But why are all of you so tranquil and peaceful while the Colonel is screaming?" Beckett was losing his patience. None of this made any sense whatsoever.

"They hurt us … but they gave the pain to Sheppard. He told them he was our leader, that he was in charge, that he was responsible, so they selected him to receive everyone's pain."

"What?!"

Very matter-of-factly, he said, "They gave him all of our pain."

Beckett turned one by one to the others, questioning them quickly. Each in turn reported feeling no pain, no discomfort, no problem. Each seemed utterly tranquil and unperturbed, even though some were being stitched as they spoke.

The injuries were not limited to cuts and bruises but also included several broken bones and one case of possible internal bleeding.

"Rodney, how did they give everyone's pain to the Colonel?"

"I don't have a clue, Carson."

Before he could continue questioning McKay another doctor interrupted, "Doctor Beckett. We need to give him something for the pain."

"I don't know if we should until we know what we're dealing with."

As if to underscore the need for assistance, Sheppard cried out, "Make it stop! Please! Make it stop hurting!"

Beckett decided that regardless of the situation he had to give the poor man something for the pain. He issued an order and less than 10 seconds later a nurse was injecting a fairly strong pain killer into Sheppard's vein. The medication should have had a rapid impact but didn't seem to do as much as Beckett had anticipated.

Thinking on his feet still he ordered nurses to start Sheppard on oxygen and give him a small dose of propofol. The medication was introduced but the oxygen was more difficult because the patient was moving around so much. After some struggle two nurses were able to get the two prongs of the nasal canulla into his nose and the tubing secured around his ears and down his body. Propofol was known to suppress respiration so Beckett wanted to be sure that his patient had sufficient oxygen. Sedation, however, did not seem to be an issue since Sheppard continued to moan, cry, thrash, and beg for relief.

Beckett was stumped. "Someone give me a quick rundown on the injuries you've found in everyone," he ordered to anyone who was nearby.

Like clockwork members of his staff delivered succinct yet informative information on the injuries each patient had sustained. Each appeared to have been beaten. Teyla had a broken arm and sprained ankle. McKay had numerous cuts and a sprained wrist. Ronon had a broken arm and two broken fingers in addition to a stab wound and numerous deep cuts. Individually the injuries were serious but all combined – if that was what was going on – was mind-boggling, impossible to consider.

The drugs they were giving to Sheppard were not working. Thinking quickly, Beckett ordered an experiment. Turning his attention to his patients he said, "I need to try something. The drugs are not helping to alleviate the Colonel's pain. I'm wondering if maybe, since he's bearing your pain, his pain would be relieved or alleviated if you were sedated or given pain killers."

No one raised any objection – they were all so mellow it was positively freaky – so Beckett ordered a moderate pain reliever for each. He trusted his staff to do what he had ordered so he turned his attention to the Colonel, the one whose condition worried him the most.

As the medications were administered Beckett observed an almost immediate relaxation in Sheppard. He was clearly still in great discomfort but he stopped his violent thrashing and his moans of pain.

"My, God, it's working. Bump up the dose for each. Monitor vitals of each. Call out updates every minute until we see what we're dealing with here."

As the additional drugs were introduced, Sheppard started to unclench his muscles and showed signs of less discomfort. He rolled onto his back, placed his head on the pillow on the gurney, and raised his right hand to his head, running his fingers through his hair. He was still sweating profusely and close to panting for breath.

"Whatever you did, Carson. Thank you."

"Welcome back, John. I've been worried about you."

"Me, too."

"I don't know how long I can keep this up. Tell me what happened."

"We were walking through a field back toward the Gate after checking out some energy readings – it was nothing. The sun was out, we were all relaxed. And then out of nowhere we were surrounded. The weapons they had looked pretty advanced so we decided not to have a shooting contest. We gave up our weapons and then marched us off. The reason we hadn't seen any sign of them earlier is that their village was inside a large cave system in a nearby mountain."

Sheppard was still sweating profusely and was breathing heavily. Nonetheless he continued his narrative for the doctor.

"Living underground they had managed to elude the Wraith for generations. By escaping cullings they had developed a fairly advanced society, in some ways exceeding our technology.

"By living in hiding for so many generations they were incredibly xenophobic. They feared all strangers and trusted no one. They saw our presence as a huge threat to their safety. They were going to send us to another planet with no means of escape, exiling us there for life. We tried arguing with them, reasoning with them, telling them that they had nothing to fear from us. Rather than see us an enemies we argued that we could become allies in our mutual desire to eradicate the Wraith. But they were not interested in alliances.

"They lined us up against a wall with our backs to the wall. A light flashed over us. Green, I think. It was sort of like the light from a copy machine."

He took a breath and continued. "We were lined up with me, then Ronon, McKay, and Teyla on the end. The light started at my end and moved down over each of us. Then it came back to me for a minute before disappearing.

"At first I didn't think much of it because we had bigger problems to deal with right then. They separated us. I fought it but they tossed me into a room with walls of glass. I could see a bunch of them on the other side of the glass looking at me. I could see my team in the next 'room', and the other way I could see some sort of boxing ring type thing."

Sheppard was breathing hard so Beckett let him rest for a minute before proceeding. "What happened after you were separated?"

"Ronon was taken from the cell first while Teyla and Rodney watched. Ronon is a big guy but another guy came into the ring with him who had to be at least as big as Ronon. Without a word he walked up and started attacking. Not a word, just blow after blow.

"Ronon didn't react – because I felt every blow his opponent landed on him. I was doubled over with pain from each punch to Ronon's abdomen. I fell over when the guy kicked Ronon's feet out from under him. I felt the knife cut into my shoulder when the guy stabbed Ronon. I felt the knife slash my skin when he cut Ronon. And then I didn't feel anything because I passed out. It was too much – I couldn't take any more!"

Beckett was horrified by what he was hearing, but he didn't have long to digest the information he had just heard. Sheppard's breathing, which had been too labored before, was getting worse. Beckett grabbed an oxygen mask which he tried to hold over Sheppard's mouth and nose. His patient was thrashing so much it was a difficult task.

Two nurses and another doctor were instantly at his side. Speaking to no in particular, Beckett said, "I just don't understand how something like this could be happening. First he had some relief but now it's like he's had an overdose of propofol – but he hasn't! This makes no sense."

"Is it possible that he's feeling the effects of the drug we've administered to Ronon, McKay, and Teyla – combined?"

"Dear God, you may well be right. Somehow there's feedback going on that I can't begin to understand. Cut back their propofol immediately. Increase their pain meds by a quarter milligram – I don't want to risk going too far with that either but we've got to get some relief for the Colonel.

Holding the mask over Sheppard's face Beckett tried speaking comforting words to him in an effort to assure him and get him to breathe deeply. While his breathing eased a little, the pain seemed to increase, causing him to shake, rock, and be increasingly agitated and restless. The Colonel arched his back and emitted a scream of agony that reverberated throughout the Infirmary.

It was just at that moment that Major Lorne entered the Infirmary to check on the status of his friends. When he heard the scream he picked up the pace, sliding to a stop beside Sheppard's bed. His face clearly conveyed his concern when he saw the Colonel clearly in such distress.

"Doc? Is he going to be all right?"

"I wish I knew, Major. I wish I knew."

Sheppard heard the familiar voice, turning his head toward Lorne. Pulling upon energy reserves buried somewhere deep, Sheppard jerked upright and bounced to his knees. Since Lorne was the closest at the moment, he grabbed Sheppard and spoke to him.

"I've got you Colonel. You're ok."

Sheppard looked at Lorne, seemingly seeing him for the first time. With tears in his eyes and one hand shaking grasping Lorne's shirt, Sheppard pleaded, "Make it stop! Please, Lorne, make it stop! I can't take the pain anymore! It hurts so bad!"

Lorne was staggered by what he was witnessing. He had never, in all the years he had worked with Sheppard, seen the man display even a hint of pain or distress, even when he knew that the man must be feeling one or both. The only emotion he ever displayed was anger and an occasional laugh. Otherwise the man was the definition of a straight-faced poker player, never revealing what was going on inside his mind.

It was therefore an utter shock for Lorne to be witnessing the man holding onto him so tightly, begging him for help, for relief from pain.

Beckett removed the oxygen mask – he had given up on trying to hold it over Sheppard's face – and asked Lorne to stay with the Colonel while he stepped away for a moment.

The doctor conferred with his colleagues over the injuries and conditions of the three other patients. They decided to administer pain medications to each but decided to give each patient a different class of medication that would do its job in a slightly different manner. Clearly the side effects of the medication were having an impact on the Colonel. They hoped that by giving each person a different med that they could avoid some of the negative additive effects.

Beckett ordered an experiment. After glancing at the cuts on Ronon he ordered administration of local anesthetics all around the wound. That seemed to have a slightly positive effect on the level of the Colonel's pain. Seeing the positive effect Beckett ordered additional locals injected all around the wound and then around the cuts on his leg. He ordered the same for the cuts and bruises of each of the patients, hoping that this move would help without hurting.

The effort seemed to be helping. Sheppard, who was still kneeling on his gurney holding onto Lorne, relaxed a bit. Instinctively, Lorne put his arms around the Colonel and held him while he wept quietly. Sheppard's entire body shuddered. Lorne helped him to lie back down on the gurney, propping his head up on a pillow. Seeing that the man was completely naked, he grabbed a blanket and pulled it up over his waist in an effort to preserve the Colonel's dignity.

Sheppard cooperated but did not release the hold he had on one of Lorne's hands. Lorne did not resist but let Sheppard hold onto him, hoping that the touch would help to keep him somewhat calm.

"Better, Colonel?" Lorne asked.

"Yes, little."

"What's going on, Colonel? What happened?"

"Pain," was the only word Sheppard muttered in reply. "Pain," he repeated, closing his eyes.

Lorne looked up at the doctor, demanding, "Can't you give him something for the pain, doc?"

"I tried. It didn't work. As punishment, those people somehow gave the Colonel the pain of each member of his team – and then proceeded to beat the crap out of each of them. The Colonel is bearing the pain of repeated beatings three different people endured – each pretty horrific by the sounds of it.

"I can get him some relief by administering drugs to the others, but we just found that too much gives him respiratory distress and makes it very difficult for him to breath. We're trying different drugs now."

"How long will this go on?" Lorne asked.

Looking the Major directly in the eye, the Doctor answered, "I have no idea."

Lorne had a "deer in the headlights" look as he listened to the doctor describe what had happened. He looked from the doctor down to the man clutching his hand. In the two years he had known John Sheppard, Lorne had never seen the man exhibit as much emotion as he had just seen in the last two minutes.

At times Lorne found Sheppard to be not just icy but positively polar in how cold and unfeeling he seemed to be. Lorne knew that that was not an accurate analysis of the man. He knew that Sheppard felt a terrible burden in his role in Atlantis and felt that he had to be strong and unshakable for those under his command.

Still, Lorne found the change to be akin to going from zero to 100 miles per hour in 3 seconds flat – no transition time, no time to adapt, just wham, there you are with emotion, anguish, pain pouring forth in waves. Lorne felt for the man, in more ways than he could describe.

For one thing, Lorne didn't like to see anyone hurting – who did, really? But to see someone he knew, admired, respected (and privately lusted over) suffering so clearly and horribly was awful. Lorne wanted to be able to reach into Sheppard and take the pain from him or at least help him to share the burden, but that was not an option. Apparently it was an option for whoever had done this to Sheppard, but it was not an option Lorne had readily at hand.

Instead, Lorne did the only thing he could do – he held John Sheppard's hand. Or rather, he let John Sheppard hold his hand. Sheppard had grappled onto him when he first came into the Infirmary and had not released his hold on Lorne since then. But Lorne was not complaining.

Lorne pushed it a bit but hoped that the current circumstances were extenuating enough to allow him some leeway. With his free hand, Lorne reached up to Sheppard's head and stroked his hair, trying to whisper quiet words of comfort and assurance to him at the same time. Lorne had no idea what to say but finally decided that the actual words didn't matter. What mattered was for Sheppard to hear his voice and his tone of voice and maybe find some temporary solace. It wasn't much but it gave him something to do.

Whether from the personal contact or from the reduction in anesthetic medication that was being administered to Ronon, Teyla and McKay, Sheppard seemed to finally calm down a little. He still winced in obvious pain more frequently than Lorne would have liked.

When Beckett stepped back to Sheppard's bedside, it took Lorne a moment to realize that the man was there – he was so totally fixated on comforting and helping his friend.

For the first time in hours, Beckett smiled as he looked at Lorne. "Wonderful, Major, you're helping a great deal. Can you remain here for while I try to sort this mess out a bit?"

"Of course. Whatever you need let me know. I wouldn't be anywhere else but here if there's something I can do."

"Thank you, Major. You've done more for him than I've been able to do so far. Why in bloody hell would anyone do this to someone else? I just don't understand what they would hope to accomplish with a stunt like this!" Beckett was incensed, rightfully so in Lorne's mind.

"I don't get it either – what could something like this accomplish? It makes no sense. Was this our first visit to that planet?"

"No idea. Maybe later you can find out for me. If it was our first visit, I definitely think it should be our last as well."

"Maybe someone should go back there – better prepared this time – and beat some information out of them. I mean, is this the way he's going to be for an hour? A Day? The rest of his life? I don't care how technologically powerful they may be – they sound no better to me than the Wraith." Lorne uttered that last word with the contempt shared by all residents of Atlantis.

Beckett interrupted Lorne's mini-rant by holding his finger up to his lips. When he had Lorne's attention he pointed down at the patient. Lorne looked down to the gurney and saw that thankfully Sheppard appeared to be asleep. His eyes were closed, his mouth was slightly open, and he appeared to be gently snoring.

Lowering his voice, Lorne sighed and said, "Thank God! He must be exhausted. Just from the little I saw! I can't begin to imagine what he's been going through."

"Let's hope that when this is over he's able to forget."

Lorne carefully removed his hand from Sheppard's hand and sat down in the chair beside his bed. He looked at Sheppard, never taking his eyes off the sleeping man, hoping that he would be able to sleep for awhile. Beckett guessed that if anyone came into the Infirmary interrupting Sheppard's rest that they would have to deal with the wrath of Lorne – a force that was rarely released but when once released would be intimidating as hell.

Beckett dimmed the lights around Sheppard a little to make a less stressful environment. "Major, I appreciate your help. I know you've got work to do …"

"Fuck it – it'll wait. He's more important than any damned paperwork."

The doctor appreciated the Major's help but he was concerned that his anger not get out of control. "Thanks for your help. We'll get him through this – somehow." Lorne nodded his head slightly but continued to stare at Sheppard. "Can I get you anything, Major?"

"No. I'm fine. I'll be here. Do you think this will last? Have we got this under some kind of control now?"

"I don't know, Major. This is definite progress but I don't know how long it will last. The quicker Rodney, Ronon and Teyla heal then the less pain there will be to transmit to the Colonel."

Beckett stepped away for a moment to deal with some other matters but returned to check on Sheppard and his team every few minutes, constantly monitoring vitals, drug administration, and general appearance. When able, he pulled up a stool and positioned himself on Sheppard's other side, quietly making notes in his chart.

Neither man left their friend for the next several hours, counting their good fortune that he remained asleep for some time. Lorne noticed first after a few hours that Sheppard was becoming restless. "Doc, something's changing. He's getting restless."

"Aye. I was noticing the same thing." Beckett ordered another round of local anesthetics be administered to the three pain-free patients, hoping that this would help Sheppard. He had his doubts but it was worth a try. The cocktail of drugs he had been using on the three seemed to be lowering the pain sensation without causing any dangerous side effects.

Both men gave up hope quickly when Sheppard cried out and sat straight up, screaming in pain.

"So much for that idea," Lorne muttered. He jumped out of his chair and went to Sheppard's side, noticing how wild-eyed his friend looked. He had a panicked look on his face. Lorne wondered if he had had a bad dream which woke him up, bringing him back to his own hell on Earth.

Grabbing Sheppard's hand, Lorne again stroked his face and hair, speaking softly to him, telling him that he wasn't alone. Sheppard looked glassy eyed and somewhat distant, finally focusing in on Lorne's voice. He leaned toward Lorne, a look of terror on his face, and tears in his eyes. Lorne's heart broke at his friend's suffering. He wanted to do something but didn't know what to do anymore than Beckett did.

Without thinking about repercussions, Lorne simply leaned his head toward Sheppard's and wrapped his arms around the trembling man. The simple move seemed to do some good, for which he was grateful. There were no more screams. After a few moments Lorne heard Sheppard whisper something that caused his blood to run cold: "Lorne, I'm so scared!"

Lorne didn't think he'd ever seen Sheppard show fear, or even hint that he felt fear. He'd seen the man confront a 7-foot tall, ugly space monster without batting an eye. He'd seen the man do countless brave (or insane) things in defense of his city and his colleagues. He knew that the man had to feel fear, but Sheppard never let anyone see that he felt fear occasionally. To hear him say the simple words "I'm so scared" was overwhelming for Lorne.

"I know, John. I am, too. We're here with you. I don't know what I can do but I'm here with you." Lorne could feel Sheppard trembling. The man was terrified. It was breaking Lorne's heart. He was a man of action. He wanted to do something. He wanted to shoot something. He wanted to make someone hurt as much as John Sheppard was. He wanted answers. He wanted revenge. He would never say aloud what he was thinking anymore than Sheppard would normally tell someone he was scared, but Lorne wanted to make someone pay for this.

Hours passed with ups and downs. Lorne stayed, stroked Sheppard's hair, whispered to him, held his hand … and thought. In his increasing fatigue and frustration a crazy idea was forming in his mind. Had he been more rested and less angry he probably never would have remotely considered something so insane, but the fact was that he was tired, he was angry, and he did want to make someone pay.

A few hours later Lorne had to step away to use the restroom. On his way back to Sheppard's bedside he stopped by McKay's bed and asked the man to tell him what had happened. Lorne wanted details.

McKay was still fairly tranquil. He immediately answered Lorne's request and gave him a detailed account of their mission, their arrival, their encounter with the aliens, and the hell they had put them all through.

"They took Ronon first. Teyla and I were together. The room we were in had glass walls. We could see Ronon led into something like a boxing ring. We could see Sheppard through another wall. He looked fine. He was worried about his team but he appeared physically fine.

"This big guy came into the ring with Ronon and immediately started to attack. Ronon being Ronon, he fought back. I couldn't understand it but the fight went on for quite a while. You don't see it happen often but Ronon can get taken down. This time, though, Ronon didn't seem to stop. He took some bad blows but got right back up. He was slashed with a knife but he kept fighting. He was stabbed from behind through his shoulder but he kept on going.

"At one point I looked over toward Sheppard to see how he was reacting to this. I was shocked to see him on the floor of his cell, writhing in pain. There wasn't anyone with him but he looked like he was in agony.

"I didn't know what was going on. I don't know why it stopped but after awhile Ronon's opponent simply turned and walked away. Ronon was bleeding from his leg and from his stab wound but he walked back in with us and seemed fine. I didn't understand it. None of knew what was happening. Ronon was walking and talking just fine – no sign of pain at all.

"I looked back at Sheppard and saw that he was laying on the floor, not moving. Nothing happened for awhile and then they came for me. I was tossed into the same ring where Ronon had been. A different guy came into the ring and came right at me. He was punching and hitting. You know I haven't exactly kept up with my hand-to-hand combat training and I've never been very athletic. There was no place to run so the guy connected with me. But I didn't feel it. It didn't hurt. It was so weird.

"So I fought back. I punched, I kicked, I scratched, I pushed, I kicked some more. I fought back, but he connected with me a lot more than I connected with him. He grabbed me and threw me against the wall. I hit my head and it started bleeding.

"He threw me against another wall and I hit my face – got some more cuts. But none of it hurt. I didn't understand it. We grabbed me and pulled my arm behind my back – hard. I heard it break but I didn't feel anything. It just went on. I don't know how long but it just kept going on.

"And then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. The guy turned around and simply walked away.

"They took me back in with Ronon and Teyla. We didn't say much because … well, what was there to say. After a while they took Teyla and it was the same routine. We found out later that we didn't feel anything because every bit of pain was somehow being transferred to Sheppard. We didn't feel it but he felt all of it. The assault didn't stop because of anything we did – it stopped when Sheppard passed out from the pain.

"When he regained consciousness he was writhing in pain. He didn't get up. We couldn't hear anything through the glass walls but he was hurting. And then it started again. They came back for Ronon and he was back in the ring with another guy.

"When it was my turn, I did everything I could to keep away from my attacker. I knew that every blow he landed on me was hurting Sheppard so I simply tried to make it so that he couldn't land any blows on me. If he got close I tried to run and throw myself at him, tackling him down and beating on him. I couldn't feel anything except concern for Sheppard so I fought – hard – probably harder than I've ever fought before. But in the end he got the better of me and it ended when Sheppard passed out again.

"Back in the cell I told Teyla what was going on so she tried the same routine. She was furious and managed to take the guy down. He got some good blows on her in the process but she was mad. I think she broke the guy's neck. And then that was it. They put us in with Sheppard and then we were released and told never to return to their world and to tell no one of their existence or the next time the repercussions would be far worse."

Lorne listened intently to every word, focusing especially on McKay's description of their captors. Lorne knew at that point that he had to act. He knew that he couldn't tell anyone what he had planned or they would try to stop him. He told Beckett that he had to step away for a little while. He stepped over to Sheppard's bedside once again, wrapped him in a hug and whispered to him, "Hang on, John. Don't you dare to die, John Sheppard. I love you."

Had Sheppard been less distracted he probably would have been shocked by what his second-in-command had just told him, but the reality was that he was not at his prime and was more focused on keeping his pain at bay. He heard Lorne's voice but didn't focus on the individual words.

Lorne left the Infirmary, raced to his office where he checked something in the Atlantis database, counter-referenced something in another database, and then took off for one of the labs. Radek Zelenka noticed the Major enter, spoke to him, but got not a word of reply from the man. Strange, Zelenka thought. Major Lorne was one of the nicest members of the military. It was most odd behavior.

He kept an eye on the man's movements. The Major was after something – something specific, something that he knew exactly where to find. He located a device, picked it up and left the lab as quickly as he had arrived. Zelenka was curious – beyond curious. He checked the cabinet to see what the Major had taken. When he realized what was missing, he simply said, "Oh dear."

Lorne raced out of the lab and headed toward the Control Room. Lorne checked his watch, realizing that it was the middle of the night in Atlantis so fortunately the Control Room should be quiet. On his way he stopped by the armory and prepared himself for battle with a full complement of weapons, C4, and grenades. He was prepared for a serious confrontations.

Only two technicians were on duty in the Control Room. They looked at one another wondering why Lorne was suited up for an off world mission. They returned to their work though since Lorne was in and out of the Gate Room all the time every day.

A moment later, though, they were surprised to see the Gate begin to dial out, knowing that neither of them had activated a dialing sequence.

Running past them Lorne shouted, "I'll explain when I get back." Racing down the steps he was in the Gate Room as the wormhole formed. Without a look back he leapt through the Gate and was gone. As quickly as it had started, the wormhole shut down and all was once again quiet.

The technicians were shocked. They decided that if ever there was a time to wake the boss, this was it. A few minutes later a very sleepy looking Woolsey arrived in the Control Room. He asked for a report and was told what had happened.

"Where did he go?" Mr. Woolsey asked.

One of the technicians recited the gate address. Woolsey recognized the address immediately. That was where Sheppard and his team had gone most recently – that was where whatever happened to them had happened. "Oh, no," he thought. "What is Lorne up to?"

His first instinct was to call Colonel Sheppard. A call to the Infirmary, though, quickly told him that Colonel Sheppard was in no condition to talk with Mr. Woolsey or anyone else. His next step would have been to call Major Lorne but clearly that wasn't possible, either. He did the only other thing possible at that point, he woke up all senior staff and summoned them to the Control Room for an emergency meeting.

Ten minutes later an assortment of bedraggled people assembled. Some wore shorts and t-shirts, some were in sweat pants and nothing else, one was in pajamas, one in a bathrobe. Woolsey laid out for everyone what little he knew. Before he could go any further, Dr. Beckett interrupted and reported that the Major had been with Colonel Sheppard in the Infirmary for hours.

"He didn't say a word about doing something extreme …" He paused for a moment. "He did speak with Dr. McKay before he disappeared. Let me go find out what they talked about." When he raced off to the Infirmary Dr. Zelenka spoke up. "Major Lorne came to lab a short while ago. I can't be sure but I think he took a particular device …"

Before he could continue, Beckett radioed Woolsey to report on McKay's conversation with Major Lorne. Zelenka was the first to put all the pieces together. "He's gone to find a solution."

"Is he insane? One man alone? A full team may have been irreparably harmed! How can he expect to accomplish anything by himself!? Is he going for a stealth attack?"

"No! Absolutely not! My guess is he's going in, how you say, 'with guns blazing.'" Zelenka smiled, chuckled, and said, "The man has big ones! I wouldn't want him as my enemy."

"But what do we do now? I can't in good conscience order anyone in after him. That would be sacrificing more people and I simply can't do that."

Zelenka answered, "There is nothing more we can do … but wait. If anyone can do this it is the Major."

"I don't like waiting, Dr. Zelenka."

"I'm not surprised."

Woolsey glared at the Czech scientist. If it hadn't been 3:30 am he might have been more diplomatic, but it was the middle of the night, he had been awakened, and he was angry and frustrated that one of his people had gone rogue on him, probably heading off on what would be a suicide mission. And with the Colonel out of commission that left the city dangerously without military leadership.

"So, we wait then, I guess."

Not really knowing what to do, Woolsey paced for a few minutes. Realizing that he was in his pajamas and a bathrobe, he returned to his quarters and dressed in something more appropriate for a gathering of senior staff, even if it was nearly 4:00 in the morning. Others disappeared briefly to do the same.

And then they paced. No one really knew what Lorne was up to. Nor did they know the chances of such a hare-brained scheme. So they paced. Woolsey sat at his desk at one point but wasn't able to focus on anything, so he gave up and returned to the Control Room.

At 4:44 am the Gate started dialing. Everyone's heart jumped at the familiar sound, hoping that this would be Lorne returning. Though the chances were not good they could hope nonetheless.

Once a wormhole was established, Chuck announced, "We have an IDC. It's Major Lorne's IDC, sir!"

"Open the iris!" Woolsey ordered as Chuck was already moving to disengage the device. They all went to the balcony railing and watched, hoping, praying that this nightmare would end without the loss of anymore of their valuable people – and friends.

As the assembled crowd watched anxiously, a stranger came flying through the gate, landing awkwardly on his backside on the floor. Per protocol, a team of Marines had entered the Gate Room when the incoming wormhole alert had sounded. Their job was to keep unwanted visitors from getting into the city, and they were very good at their job. They were armed and ready for whatever might happen. Upon sight of the stranger they looked their most ferocious and frightening, prepared to take out anyone who didn't belong there.

Seconds later, however, Major Lorne came through the Gate at a more normal pace. He walked right up to the stranger sitting on the floor , grabbed the stranger's arm, and yelled, "Come on you worthless sack of shit! Get on your feet!"

Woolsey watched from above, unsure what the Major was doing. "Major Lorne, I'd like a word with you."

"Not now!" was Lorne's only reply.

"Yes, now, Major."

Looking up toward Woolsey, Lorne stared at him with one of the most frighteningly intense stares Woolsey had ever seen on Lorne's face. Speaking slowly and loudly, he responded, "I said not now. When I'm finished with this I'll be back to talk with you. This cannot wait."

Woolsey wanted to push the issue but sensed that to do so would have caused a confrontation he was not prepared to handle at the present time. Woolsey raced down the stairs as Lorne dragged the stranger out of the Gate Room and down a nearby hallway.

It was clear almost immediately that Lorne's destination was the Infirmary which was fortunately located relatively close to the Gate Room. As they neared the Infirmary Lorne heard the plaintive cry of Sheppard's voice, asking for someone to help him. Lorne grimaced and yanked the man a little harder, pulling him along faster.

Upon entering the Infirmary, Lorne dragged the stranger to Sheppard's bedside. Grabbing the man by the back of his shirt, Lorne pushed him toward Sheppard. "There! See what you've done!? You had no right. Fix it! Fix it now or be prepared to handle the consequences. And I think I've demonstrated to you that there will be consequences. Don't fuck with me. I'm not in the mood."

The stranger bowed his head, nodding. He reached into a pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small hand-held device. At the sound of the commotion Beckett had immediately moved to Sheppard's bedside, curious about what the Major was doing. When he saw the device his first instinct was to stop the man.

"What is that!" he demanded.

"This will reverse the effect of the process," he answered, holding the device up for the doctor to observe. Beckett looked at Lorne who nodded his head with a look of grim determination.

Pushing a sequence of buttons, the man asked to have all four members of the team identified. None had been moved so they were all lined up in a row. The man held the device out toward the Colonel first. A light emerged from a tiny pinprick opening at one end of the device, seeming to envelope the Colonel. His cries of pain ceased immediately. Beckett watched, wondering how so much light could come from such a tiny little opening.

When the light went out a few seconds later, Sheppard relaxed and dropped back to the bed, sighing. Beckett checked the Colonel's vital signs and was pleased to see the indicators returning to normal.

The stranger moved to Ronon and repeated the process. He then moved to Teyla and again repeated the process, and finally moved to McKay and yet again repeated the process. When he finished Lorne was by his side and snatched the device from his hands. He dragged the stranger back to Sheppard's bedside and demanded, "Apologize to the man."

The stranger looked confused. Lorne's temper flared. He grabbed the stranger by his shirt front and demanded, "I. Said. Apologize.!"

"Yes, sir," the stranger answered, clearly afraid of Lorne.

Looking at Sheppard who appeared exhausted but more relaxed, the stranger simply said, "I'm terribly sorry for what happened to you. Please accept my apologies."

Sheppard merely nodded, looking from Lorne to the stranger and back. Lorne grabbed the man and pulled him out of the Infirmary, hauling him to the brig when he locked up the stranger. "You said I could return home when I did what you asked!"

"You will, but not until I'm sure that what you did worked." Lorne left the room, ordering a team of four Marines to watch the man constantly and be prepared to kill him if he made any hint of escaping.

Lorne returned to the Infirmary with a determined step. When he passed people in the hallway they stepped to one side to let him pass. This was a side of Lorne no one had seen before and he looked intense and capable of seriously hurting anyone who got in his way.

When he re-entered the Infirmary he walked back to Sheppard's bedside, took his hand, and asked, "Feeling better, Colonel?"

Sheppard nodded his head, "Yes. What did you do?"

"We'll talk later when you've had some rest. I'll tell you everything later."

"Ok."

Beckett smiled at Major Lorne, clasped his hands on Lorne's arms, smiled a huge smile and said simply, "Thank you, Major!"

The ferocious expression on Lorne's face relaxed a bit and he actually smiled at the doctor.

"Anything for the Colonel."

"I know, son. Well done."

"I'm afraid that not everyone may see it that way, doc." Lorne moved across the Infirmary to a nearby gurney and laid down. "I'm going to take a little nap. When the MPs arrive to arrest me would you tell them to let me sleep for a little while? I've been awake for something like 36 hours and I'm a little tired."

"Of course, Major. Get some rest." As Beckett watched, the man almost immediately fell asleep. He looked absolutely exhausted.

Sheppard raised himself up on shaky arms and asked the doctor, "What just happened Carson?"

"The Major just saved your life, John. That's what happened. I think he might have taken a rather unorthodox approach to solving the problem. None of that matters in my view. He saved your life, John." Beckett met Sheppard's stare and nodded his head, repeating, "He saved your life, John. He hasn't left your side until he disappeared a few hours ago, apparently to go off-world and persuade the natives to help reverse whatever they did to you."

Sheppard looked over to Lorne who was sleeping soundly across the Infirmary. "Lorne, what am I going to do with you?" He laid back and fell asleep himself, free of pain for the first time in a long, long time.

When Sheppard awakened the next time the first thing he heard was the voice of Rodney McKay – the old McKay – complaining bitterly about hurting. He was moaning and demanding that Beckett increase his medication and a nurse fluff his pillow and adjust the head of his bed.

"Welcome back, Colonel," Beckett said when he saw that his patient was awake. "How are you feeling?"

"One hundred and fifty percent better! All the hurt, all the pain, all the discomfort – it's all gone. I feel absolutely fine. This is freaky even by Pegasus standards."

Sheppard rose from his bed. Beckett's instinct was to keep him in bed, but the Colonel was up with no difficulty and halfway across the room before Beckett could stop him. "Where do you think you're going, Colonel?"

Stopping to look back at the doctor he answered simply, "I need to pee if you don't mind. I'll be right back."

True to his word, the Colonel was back a moment later. "Where are my clothes?"

"We had to cut them off you when you came in. I'm afraid you'll have to get some from your quarters."

"I need a shower. I'll put on some scrubs when I'm finished," he said as he headed to the Infirmary showers.

Maybe ten minutes later Sheppard was back, dressed in blue hospital scrubs, looking for all the world as if none of the last 36 hours had happened. He appeared to be perfectly normal. He looked around the Infirmary and for the first time noticed two MPs standing to one side near a sleeping Lorne.

Looking at Beckett, he asked, "Carson. Why are there MPs here? What did I miss?"

"Mr. Woolsey ordered them to guard the Major. He's mightily pissed at what the Major did. He wanted him thrown into the brig but I wouldn't let them wake the poor man – he's exhausted and needs some sleep more than anything else."

"I've clearly got a little catch up to do." Sheppard walked over toward Lorne. As he approached the MPs he said simply, "Dismissed gentlemen."

"Yes, sir," they responded as they left their prior positions, leaving without question as their commanding officer had ordered. Sheppard pulled up a chair next to Lorne's bed and looked at the sleeping man, wondering how he was going to handle the next few hours.

Sheppard would never admit this to anyone but he clearly remembered every detail of the ordeal he had just endured. He remembered Lorne's presence, he remembered grabbing and holding Lorne's hand, he remembered Lorne stroking his hair and whispering words of encouragement to him. He even remembered Lorne telling him that he loved him. John Sheppard remembered all of it. He even remembered Lorne quietly telling him what he was about to do. But that didn't mean he knew how to deal with any of it.

He looked at the peaceful sleeping form of Evan Lorne, his colleague, his friend, his rock, and wondered how the man had pulled this entire situation out of the fire. It took serious balls but Lorne had done it. Granted it was not exactly by the book, but then nothing about this experience had been remotely like any set of procedures that existed anywhere.

Lorne had apparently laid down once everything was resolved so he was fully dressed from his off-world mission. It looked terribly uncomfortable but Sheppard didn't want to wake him.

Unfortunately, despite Sheppard's best intentions, Mr. Woolsey chose that moment to enter the Infirmary. "Where are the MPs I ordered?" he asked to the room in general.

Sheppard shot him a glare and said, "Quiet! I sent them away." He stood and started to walk toward Woolsey hoping to let Lorne get some more sleep. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Woolsey's voice had awakened the sleeping man.

Rubbing his hands across his face in an attempt to wipe the sleep from his eyes, he sat up and looked around the room. "What's going on?" he asked.

"What's going on is that I want some answers! I want to know what you did. I want to know on whose orders you did whatever you did. I want to know who the man is who is sitting in our brig." Woolsey was clearly fired up and was prepared for a full rant.

Sensing what was happening, Carson Beckett stepped in and simply said, "Mr. Woolsey. What Major Lorne did was simple – he saved Colonel Sheppard's life." He said nothing more but simply looked at Mr. Woolsey as if to dare him to challenge the statement.

"I'm not denying that fact, doctor. I am concerned about how the Major went about what he did. I cannot have rogue agents making independent decisions and launching their own missions without anyone else knowing what they are doing."

Sheppard spoke up. "I knew what he was doing."

"Excuse me?" Woolsey said.

"I knew what Lorne was doing. He reported to me before he left."

"I'm sorry, Colonel, but you were hardly capable of exercising command over the last 36 hours. I saw the condition you were in. Now, I want the two of you to come with me to my office now so that I can get answers to my questions."

"Mr. Woolsey, I need a moment alone with Lorne first."

"What? So you two can get your stories straight? I don't think so!"

Sheppard looked at Woolsey and spoke quietly. "Richard. What was the last time I asked you for something?" He paused. "Can't remember, can you? That's because I never have! I need a moment alone with Lorne. And to be clear about it, I'm speaking as John Sheppard, NOT as Colonel Sheppard. John Sheppard needs to have a moment with Evan Lorne." As if to drive home his request, Sheppard added, "Richard, I'm not denying the seriousness of what happened in any way. I simply need a moment. Please."

Woolsey nodded his head, respecting the request. "Very well, Colonel."

"Thank you, Richard."

Woolsey stepped away, leaving Sheppard and Lorne alone. Sheppard looked at Lorne, still not sure how to handle the entire situation. Lorne didn't know what Sheppard was going to do so he simply stood there awaiting the inevitable. "Thank you," was the first thing Sheppard said. He repeated the words, "Thank you. I'm not finished living yet so I appreciate you saving me so I do some more living."

Of all the things Lorne had expected, these words were most definitely not remotely the words he expected to hear. He was shocked. His eyes were wide, his mouth hung slightly open, and he stared at Sheppard, not believing what he was hearing.

"Oh, Lorne, one more thing. Over the last day or so I wasn't myself. I hope you don't think any less of me because I showed some emotion."

"Not to worry, sir."

"Thanks, Lorne. Now let's go see Woolsey. I'm kind of curious about the answers to his questions as well."

Lorne smiled and walked with Sheppard to join Richard Woolsey. Together the three men walked back to Woolsey's office off the Control Room. Seated around the conference table in one end of the office, Woolsey started the conversation. He was more calm than he had been in the Infirmary.

"Ok, Major, please fill us in on where you went when you left Atlantis, what you did when you got there, who the man in the brig is, and anything else that you think might help us to understand this whole thing a little more fully."

"Of course, sir," Lorne answered. "As you probably know, I spent quite a few hours in the Infirmary with the Colonel. I've never seen anyone in such awful shape before and it was tearing my insides apart to see him suffering so much. When Dr. Beckett told me that he didn't know if the Colonel would ever return to normal – that he might be in that shape for the remainder of his life – something inside me snapped.

"I talked with McKay and got a full description of where they went on the planet, who they interacted with, what exactly happened to them. I went to McKay's lab and borrowed the personal shield device. I remembered Zelenka saying recently that they had managed to recharge the device and it was once again fully functional.

"From the lab I went to the armory and got fitted out for an assault. I dialed the Gate and went to the planet. My mission was simple: find who had done this to a John and beat the crap out of them until they told me how to fix it. I needed to go in alone. We only had one shield device and I would not risk the lives of anyone else.

"When I got there I didn't need to look for them – they found me. The shield protected me so that I was able to … create a little mayhem for them. By the way, we need some more C4. They tried everything to get me to stop but I wasn't about to give up. I told them what I wanted and that I wasn't going to stop until they had given me what I came for. It took a little persuading. By the way, we need more grenades as well.

"They finally got the message and gave me the guy responsible for the technology they used on the Colonel and his team. I brought him back, he reversed the process – here's the device by the way; I decided I didn't want him keeping his hands on any technology. When he finished I threw him in the brig until I could tell if he really had done what he said he was going to do. I promised him I would release him when he reversed the process. I think he lived up to his end of the bargain so I request that he be released.

"Also," Lorne continued, pulling his t-shirt out from his belt and reaching one hand underneath, "here's the shield device I used. Zelenka was right – it's fully recharged and worked beautifully. I wish we had a whole bunch of those.

"Now, I think I've answered your questions and I'm prepared to go to the Brig and take the place of the alien currently there. My apologies for my behavior, sir."

Woolsey sat studying Major Lorne. He held his hands under this chin, touching at the finger tips. Woolsey thought for a moment before turning his gaze to Colonel Sheppard.

"Colonel, Major, I've always been a by-the-book kind of guy. I function with structure and order and a set of known rules. One thing my time in Atlantis has taught me is that here there is no rule book and you have to make it up as you go. Major, I commend you for your ingenuity, your dedication and devotion to your colleagues, and your willingness to put yourself at grave risk. I understand now why you did what you did. For future reference I expect you to inform me before you take off on any other such missions. Is that clear? And also for future reference, I would have approved of your plan."

Lorne's eyebrows rose in surprise at Woolsey's words. "Since it was the middle of the night," Woolsey continued, "and I was asleep, I thank you for your leadership, for taking it upon yourself to develop a plan and execute it all by yourself.

"I've never publicly said this before, but I view Colonel Sheppard as the most important person on this mission." It was now Sheppard's turn to be surprised. "I appreciate you safeguarding our most important resident and our greatest asset in this galaxy. And now, you spoke about going to the Brig. I don't think that will be necessary, but I do think a punishment is in order – just because.

"My punishment for you is that you and the Colonel are required to take a jumper and visit the islands on the other side of the planet. I've heard rumors that there are waterfalls in those islands and I need some data on those waterfalls – how high they are, how warm the water is, how deep the pools are. You leave immediately and I expect a full report in two days time when you return to Atlantis. You are both dismissed."

"Thank you, sir," Sheppard and Lorne said nearly simultaneously. The two men exited Woolsey's office, packed a few things, and made their way to the jumper bay. With Sheppard at the controls they took off for a leisurely flight to their intended destination.

Once they were airborne, Sheppard decided it was time to discuss what had been unspoken. Turning toward Lorne, Sheppard said simply, "So, you love me, huh?"

Lorne blushed intensely, his face turning beet red. When the power of speech returned to him he said simply, "I was hoping you wouldn't remember that."

"I'm very glad I do remember it because it means a lot to me. You're important to me Lorne, and very special to me."

He paused to let his words sink in for Lorne, which apparently happened quickly. "Really?"

Nodding his head, Sheppard said simply, "Yes."

Turning back to the controls of their jumper, Sheppard said, "And now we have a couple of days compliments of Mr. Woolsey to relax and explore some of these 'revelations' we've both just made to the other. Deal?"

"Deal, sir."

"Lorne."

"Yes, sir?"

"Drop the 'sir'."

"Yes, sir."

Sheppard sighed and laughed.