Chapter 1: Darkness
The characters in this story don't belong to me, if they did, they'd still be on air.
The cold blackness was all he knew. There was sound, but it was so muffled that it blended into the silence that surrounded him. The cold was so pronounced he was numb, he did not know if he was shivering or not, but he did not think he was. The only thing he saw was the blackness, it surrounded him, encased him, became him. Every time he breathed in, he smelt, and tasted, rot, decay and death, it surrounded him as surely as the blackness. He was lying on his back, this he knew, and was then rolled over onto his side although he did not feel it, but the sensation was there. He could not move, and even if he could, he had nowhere to go as all he knew was nothing but the blackness. There was a dull pressure at the base of his skull and then he knew pain, it lanced into his skull, through his body and looped back into his head. He thought he was screaming, but he did not know, as he heard nothing, felt nothing but the pain, saw nothing but the blackness and as sudden as it has started, it ended, leaving him with a single whispered word: stay.
He opened his eyes and closed them again suddenly, as the light hurt his sensitive eyes. He tried to remember, to remember from before, but all he remembered was the darkness. Opening his eyes again, he took a look around himself; he was lying on his side, naked, and there was nothing but trees in all directions. He realised that he was in a clearing, and tried sitting upright slowly, before he did a mental once over. He was sore all over, but why he did not know, there was also a dull throbbing in his head, radiating from the base of his skull. Reaching up, he felt something poking out of his skull, which his instincts told him instantly that whatever it was, it was evil. He tried to pull it out, and immediately the pain returned, threatening to overwhelm him. Whimpering slightly, he lay back down and heard a soft metallic clinking from somewhere near his chest. Keeping his eyes shut, he ran his hand down his chest and found two metal discs attached to a chain around his neck. Opening his eyes a crack, he examined them, there were shapes carved into the metal, that seemed familiar, but he did not know what they meant. After several pain-free moments he took several deep breaths, opened his eyes, and stood shakily. He wobbled on unsteady legs but remained standing upright, so taking several more deep breaths; he cautiously took a step forward. He remained standing upright and so encouraged, he quickly took several more before he collapsed into a heap. He slowly returned to his feet and took several more, slow, deliberate steps, and in this manner he made his way cautiously out of the clearing and into the trees. The clearing gave him the creeps, as if something evil had tainted it, but even so he did not go far before he was forced to stop and rest. He felt weak, and vulnerable, a feeling he did not enjoy. A bird cawed overhead and he jumped, opening his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He tried several more times before realising that even if he could make a sound, he knew not how to make it, or even what to make. Several hours later of stumbling around in circles, he had ended up in the clearing twice more, he stumbled into a cave. It took a moment before he realised that he was in a cave, as the entrance had been obscured and the ground before it was steep, he had slipped right into the entrance. If you did not know it was there, was looking for it, or stumbled into it like he had, you would never know it was there. He curled up against the back wall; it was warmer in here, and felt safe. Closing his eyes, he let himself be pulled into a restful sleep.
He felt the hand run up the inside of his thigh. They were more alone than if they were on an uninhabited planet, rather than in a city. They needed no one else; the two of them were all they needed. He felt guilty when they were here, together, that their secret was tearing at him. But when they were apart, he felt lonely, even when eating with his friends in the mess hall, not that they graced him with their presence nowadays. He should go, it was late, and if he stayed, he might be missed. As if sensing his dilemma, the hand slid from his thigh to wrap around his chest, the other arm coming up from under him, pulling him into the chest of his companion. Lips brushed up against his ear and he felt warm air tickle the side of his face, as a single word was whispered into his ear: Stay.
Chapter 2: Surviving
Several days later and he was no better off than when he awoke in the clearing. Clean water was scarce; he had made himself sick by drinking the muck close to the cave, and food was an even bigger problem. He had tried watching the local wildlife to learn what he could eat. Much of it had made him sick; what little hadn't, tasted like dirt and was few and far between. He was overly cautious about eating new things after eating some king of fruit growing on a small bush that had not only made him sick, but caused his skin to turn red and itch all over. There was a constant gnawing in his stomach, reminding him that it was empty. He had discovered that he could fling a rock at small birds and animals, injuring them and allowing him to then kill them with a sharp stick. Not that it did him much good, as there was almost no meat on them and eating them raw out of hunger had only made him sicker than the brackish water had, so he had ceased to do so after his second attempt. The dull throbbing in his head came and went, but every time he bumped the knob in his head, the pain would threaten to overwhelm him, rolling over in his sleep and knocking it was enough to set it off. This day was much like the last, if slightly cooler, when he heard the voices. It was like nothing he had ever heard before, and yet the sounds were familiar to him, but he did not understand what they were. He followed them back to the clearing in which he first awoke, where he saw that there were four of them standing there, and they all carried some sort of black club. He felt like he knew them, but their presence frightened him. One of them glanced in his direction but seemed not to see him even thought they were looking in his very direction. Slipping quietly away, he headed back to the safety of his cave.
Chapter 3: Lost, Now Found
Lorne was bored, there was nothing on this planet but trees, trees, more trees and a few clearings not big enough for a puddlejumper to land in. Still it beat the debate raging back in Atlantis, a debate that had raged for just over two weeks, since Colonel Sheppard had gone missing, no not missing, taken, taken by the wraith, never to be seen again. The debate was over who would replace him, everyone had their favourites; even those who held out hope for Sheppard were thinking in terms of permanency. This was the first mission undertaken since Sheppard’s team had returned without their leader and it was the most, boring and pointless mission in the history of the Stargate program. It was the only mission Woolsey had been able to convince the SGC to allow without a military commander in Atlantis, and Lorne was bored. His team had split up to complete the reconnaissance faster, the faster they were done, the faster they could have some fun, as little as it would be. He walked slowly through the trees, in no particular rush, when there was a rustling just up ahead and he aimed his P90 where he thought the sound had come from. He hoped it was a predator; he might be less bored if he was attacked by something, which went to show how far gone he was if he was inviting danger. Making his way cautiously forward, he scanned the area for further movement. A figure slipped out from behind a tree and froze at the sight of him, and Lorne’s finger likewise froze on the trigger. There was no mistaking that face, or the dog tags around his neck.
The figure fled and Lorne reached for his radio.
‘Go back to the gate. Dial Atlantis,’ before his marines could respond he added, ‘I’ve found the colonel.’
Ignoring the sudden bursts of incoherent noise coming from his radio, he chased after Sheppard. The tracks were easy to follow; apparently the man had given into blind panic. When the tracks ended abruptly, Lorne switched his radio off, thinking that it may only scare Sheppard further. He scanned the area but there was nothing to suggest where Sheppard had gone, it was like he had been swallowed by the earth. Intrigued by the thought, Lorne scanned the ground and spotted a small opening about three feet in front of him. Crouching low, Lorne slipped through the verge and entered a small cave where, against the wall in front of him, was Sheppard, looking as if there were another way out, he would have fled through it by now.
‘It’s ok,’ Lorne said, ‘it’s just me.’
Sheppard simply tried to back further into the wall, looking confused and shook his head slightly. Lorne wondered if the colonel understood his words, he looked... wild. Unshaven, naked, covered in dirt and with a look that bespoke of hunger, he was a far cry from the man Lorne had come to know. Lorne detached his P90 and laid it carefully on the ground, slipping his hand into a pocket, Lorne pulled out a power bar.
Unwrapping the bar, he broke it in half and took a small bite out of the corner of one half, then extended his arm out and offered it to Sheppard. Sheppard watched him, as if waiting for some trick. Finding none, Sheppard slunk forward and snatched the food from Lorne’s fingers, Lorne suppressing a smile as Sheppard wolfed down the food ravenously. Lorne held out the other half and Sheppard didn’t hesitate to take it. Pressing his palm to his chest Lorne spoke slowly so Sheppard would understand.
‘Evan. Lorne,’ reaching his hand out towards Sheppard he continued, ‘John. Sheppard.’
Sheppard shied away from Lorne’s outstretched hand and there was the unmistakable sound of footsteps approaching. Sheppard shot back from him and Lorne silently cursed, exiting the cave to see who it was. Not far from the cave entrance with his back turned, was one of his marines.
‘Major,’ the marine called turning around and catching sight of him, ‘have you found him yet?’
‘No, but judging from the way he fled when he caught sight of me, he’s terrified of something and your elephant steps aren’t helping.’
‘Sorry sir,’ the marine had enough sense to look embarrassed, ‘I’ll try to be quieter.’
Lorne watched the man wander off, unsure as to why he had lied, before ducking back into the cave; something telling him that Sheppard both needed company, and needed to be left alone. Sheppard was sitting against the far wall, arms hugging himself, barely visible behind his drawn up knees.
‘Cold?’ he asked his CO.
Sheppard just stared back at him blankly.
‘You don’t understand me do you?’
Shrugging his jacket off, Lorne slowly approached the man before him, Sheppard shrunk against the wall as he approached, fear evident in his eyes. Slowly, carefully, as to not spook the man, he wrapped Sheppard in his jacket, Sheppard instinctively snuggling down into its warmth. Lorne watched him for a moment before settling down beside him and he felt Sheppard stiffen beside him.
‘You know,’ Lorne said more to himself than the language bereft Sheppard beside him, ‘it will be night soon, and then what? Why don’t you come home? With me?’
He turned and looked Sheppard, Sheppard flinched but didn’t pull away; Lorne smiled to himself, at least he was making progress, no matter how small it was. Settling down for the moment, he was content to wait a few hours before heading back to the 'gate, he knew that he would be in trouble for it later, especially when he didn’t check in, but beyond that, he didn’t know. He wasn’t sure what would happen if Sheppard wouldn’t come with him, but he could almost guarantee that it would end badly for someone, most likely Sheppard and he didn’t want that to happen. Lorne was jerked out of his line of thought by Sheppard's head coming to rest on his shoulder; smiling to himself he wrapped an arm around Sheppard and pulled him closer. Sheppard whimpered slightly and for the first time Lorne noticed some sort of nub inserted in the base of Sheppard's skull. Reaching his other arm over slowly as not to start the sleepy colonel, he gave the nub a gentle tug. Almost at once Sheppard shoved himself away, the expression on his face was of agony and Lorne was horrified that he could have done this to his CO.
‘Ok, no touching, no touching, I get it.’
Gathering up the now abandoned jacket from the cave floor, Lorne made his was over to where Sheppard was curled up on the ground. He wrapped Sheppard in the jacket once more and was startled to see tears running down the man’s face. Lorne carefully laid Sheppard’s head into his lap and wiped the tears away with his thumb.
‘It's ok, everything will be ok,’ he said softly, trying to convince himself.
He sat there stroking Sheppard’s shoulder with his thumb for awhile before unintentionally drifting off.
Chapter 4: Follow The Leader
He sat in the mess hall, eating his dinner alone. Again. His friends had more important places to be, better things to – no better people to be with. The familiar stab of loneliness returned. Even people who weren’t in relationships were busy. Too busy to spend any time with him. He wouldn’t mind it as much if they at least tried. So far he was the only one reaching out to spend time with them, and was rejected every time. Another tray slid onto the table before him, forcing him to look up for the first time since he sat down.
‘Mind if I sit?’
‘Sure, why not, nobody else is,’ he replied.
His companion gave him a strange look but asked no questions. As they ate together in silence, he realised that it was nice, it was the first time that he had eaten dinner in silence and it didn’t bother him.
He awoke warmer than he could remember and looked up into the face of the stranger that had followed him yesterday. There was something about him that seemed familiar somehow, like he had known him from before the darkness. The stranger shifted slightly in his sleep and he saw that he had something around his neck, something that he had seen before. Slipping one hand up, he pulled the object out from underneath the stranger’s top. Two metal discs slipped into the palm of his hand, identical to the ones he wore around his neck, but with different markings. The stranger stirred and he slipped back quietly, the material around him slipped and he grabbed it, keeping it in place, regretting the loss of heat as he moved away from the stranger. He stared at the stranger a bit as the stranger yawned and stretched, waking from his sleep, wondering if the man was a fried or a foe. The stranger was making noises with his mouth again and he heard some of the same sounds again, and he wondered what they meant, but he felt a longing somewhere in his chest. The stranger kept making the same sounds at him, so maybe that's what he was. If he was, then the stranger was a, what was those noises he made? He couldn't remember. He looked up and realised that the stranger was looking at him and he realised that he was expected to give him some kind of sign, but what it was or what for, he had no idea. The stranger sighed and headed out of the cave, and he was afraid that he would be left alone again, so he followed him. The stranger walked about a metre or so ahead of him, and began making sounds into a small black thing he wore on his face, and it was making loud, angry noises back at him. He kept to the shadows as they travelled, every now and again the stranger would look behind him to make sure that he was following, sometimes taking a minute to spot him. The material he had wrapped around him made moving silently difficult, but now that he had it, he was loath to give it up. Shortly after passing through the clearing in which he first awoke, the stranger slowed to a stop before coming back to stand by his side. He was making sounds again, and waving his arms around in what appeared to be a meaningful way, that “Home” coming up several times again. Eventually the stranger simply wrapped his arm about him and led him onward, keeping a tight grip, preventing him from slipping away to hide back in the cave. When more angry mouth noises reached his ears, he shrank back, and only the stranger’s grip on him and dragging him forwards stopped him from bolting. There were more strangers gathered around a large cave opening with no cave, and as soon as he and the stranger came into sight, they all made angry noises. He twisted and turned, until he was able to break free of the stranger, and make a run for it, but the giant stranger pointed something at him, and then he was returning to the darkness.
Chapter 5: Finding Answers
This chapter contains dubious use of medical knowledge (I made it all up) - there, you have been warned.
Lorne knew that there was a good chance of something going wrong when he and Sheppard reached the ‘gate, but he hadn’t counted on Ronon stunning the colonel. McKay stormed over, looking just as peeved as he sounded on the radio when he discovered that not only wasn’t Lorne missing, he had been with Sheppard the whole time. Becket came over to examine the fallen Colonel, prodding at the base of Sheppard’s skull where the stub projected.
‘I’d be careful with that if I were you doc, it seems to hurt him when you touch it.’
‘Aye, I’ll be sure of that lad, don’t you worry. Rodney, come scan this thing with your doo-hickey.’
‘Doo-hickey? Seriously Carson, where did you even learn that word?’ Rodney played about with his device, before his eyes widened and a look of horror came over him, ‘Carson you have to get that thing out, now!’
‘Calm down Rodney, and tell me what the bloody hell that thing is.’
‘It’s something Wraith, that’s what it is!’
‘Rodney, I canna take it out right now, there's no telling how far in that thing goes or what kind of damage taking it out will do to him. I’ll need to get him back to the city to run scans before doing anything.’
‘Is it on?’ asked Ronan.
‘The power’s on,’ snarked McKay.
‘But is it on?’
'Look, there's power running through the thing, but from what I can tell, it's not doing anything, like it's in standby mode. With no idea what it is or what it does, there's no way for me to tell what will turn it on.'
'Given the location, is it possible that it is John himself that turns it on?' Teyla asked hesitantly.
‘Possibly, in fact I would say it is probably linked to his brain so that it is only active when he is.’
‘Rodney,’ said Carson, ‘is it possible that it won’t reactivate until the Colonel wakes?’
'Probably, but until it activates or you take it out, there's no way to know for sure.'
‘So all I have to do is keep him sedated until I can take that thing out?’
‘Yes I suppose so, you’re the doctor Carson,’ Rodney said, waving his hand dismissively.
Lorne helped the Scotsman load the Colonel onto the stretcher, feeling like it was about to get a whole lot worse. A few hours later and the device was still inactive, the only good news that could be found. The prognosis had been dire, Sheppard’s cranium had become home to several dozen wispy tendrils that originated from the stub in the back of Sheppard’s head. Beckett wasn’t happy, he said with so many tendrils tapping into Sheppard’s brain, it would prove to be impossible to remove with surgery without significant damage.
'It looks like most of the tendrils are tapping into the colonel's brain here, here, and here,' said Carson, highlighting the relevant area of Sheppard's scan as he spoke, 'this area deals with visual input, this one audio, the last one is a major pain receptor. From what I can tell, they've somehow merged with his neural pathways, almost like they've tapped into those systems.'
'From what little I've been able to discover about the device, it seems to be powered by the electrical energy generated by Sheppard's brain. Also it seems to be gathering data from two different points, but due to being unconscious there's not enough power being generated for it to be sent anywhere. The nub sticking out seems to incorporate a type of subcutaneous transmitter. Theoretically, when Sheppard is awake, it would transmit everything he sees and hears back to the wraith.'
'So someone stuck the equivalent of a camera in his head?' Lorne asked slowly.
'Didn't I just say that?'
'Rodney, do ya have any idea what the third cluster is used for?' asked Carson frowning at the scan, 'If the other two are gathering data, is that what the third one is doing?'
'No, when you touched it during your examination, it sent out an energy pulse. My best guess, would be a kind of anti-removal feature. Try to move the device, it causes you pain, the more the device moves, the more pain you receive.'
'Diabolical is what it is,' muttered Carson.
'So, turn it off,' said Ronon.
'It's not that simple. The device is powered by Sheppard's brain, the only way to turn it off is if Sheppard's brain turns off. In which case, he'll be dead. I can jam the signal, but I've never seen this kind of technology before so it will take awhile to figure out how it works.'
'So until further notice, Colonel Sheppard is to be considered a security breach,' said a new voice from behind them.
Beckett and McKay jumped slightly, turning to look at Woolsey who had joined them unnoticed.
'Not an intentional one, I assure you,' said Rodney, 'but I would recommend taking him off world until the voodoo witch doctor here can figure out how to remove that... thing.'
'I'm not a-' started Carson.
'Why doesn't John seem to recognise or understand us? If it is truly the wraith's desire to spy upon us, then why would they hinder that by removing his ability to communicate with us?' interrupted Teyla.
'Well, the device is powered by his brain, so maybe it's a side effect...' Rodney trailed off.
'Or it's intentional,' put in Ronon.
'Why would the wraith do that?' asked Teyla.
'Knew you'd find it. Figured that if Sheppard doesn't understand then we would think they wouldn't either,' Ronon responded with a shrug.
‘How dangerous is it really?,’ asked Lorne, ‘from what I’ve seen, Sheppard doesn’t understand anything anyway.’
‘Doesn’t mean that whoever gets the feed won’t,’ McKay snapped, 'it's like recording a video in a language that you don't speak. You don't have clue what the hell your saying, but the people who watch it do.'
Chapter 6: Waking Up
It was lunch-time and the two of them were sitting together, he couldn’t remember them ever eating together, just the two of them. He was a friend sure, but even though there were two of them stitching the marines back together, he hardly had time to eat in the mess. He didn’t complain though, any company was better than none, and there had been a lack of eating companions as of late. He heard footsteps as someone approached, he looked up to see his companion, the both of them looked at one another, before he gestured for them to join.
He awoke slowly; he was lying in a strange place, in some kind of strange room built out of material, thin enough in places that light was coming through. There were sounds coming in to him, those mouth sounds that the strangers would make, but they made no sense, at least to him. There were footsteps and His Stranger, as he now thought of him, and another person entered his material cave, looking surprised to see him.
His stranger put his hand onto his chest, uttering those strange mouth sounds again, before pointing at the other and making more, but different sounds.
The Other stranger made a noise and His stranger made one in response.
He swivelled his head between the two of them, he had a feeling that this was a continuation of whatever they had been making noises over outside. The Other stranger pulled out a white thing that seemed rather sharp and pointy at one end.
Other stranger made a noise while pointing at his head, before pointing at the White thing and made more sounds.
He tilted his head, not sure as to what exactly what was going on, and didn’t resist when Other stranger pulled his arm, but attempted to jerk it away when the pointy end was jabbed into it. His stranger waited a few moments after his arm was released before touching the bump in his skull, it hurt, but not as much as it usually did.
His stranger pointed at the pointy thing still in Other stranger’s hand and made sounds.
Other stranger rolled his eyes and left, but His stranger picked up a flat object with things that made a hungry inducing smell, stacked upon it.
His stranger placed it in front of him, making noises again.
He looked up at His stranger for a moment and the motions he was making, before realising that he was to eat. He took that as an order to start ripping the food apart, shove it into his mouth, and swallow as fast as he could. His stranger rolled his eyes and murmured quietly to himself.
Chapter 7: Camp
The plan was to pretend that the camp was being used as a one of several temporary bases, while an outbreak of an unknown disease was being treated in Atlantis, and spread false information when in range of Sheppard. In reality, they were out on the mainland, with anything relating to the device in Sheppard's head banned from discussion, all data being collected was hidden in McKay's temporary lab. In the end they'd chosen the mainland as Rodney had insisted that he could block the device from transmitting a location while still sending audio/video data. There was a marker to the south of the camp where they could gather to discuss anything vital, well out of ear-shot of Sheppard (even when shouting), otherwise it was left until they were back in Atlantis. Before they departed, Teyla had argued the merits of attempting to teach Sheppard to communicate.
'It would be easier if we could communicate with John, and it may even help him remember at any rate,' she had argued, 'further more, it would help belay suspicion that we suspect anything about the true function of the device.'
'Stop him from getting bored,' added Ronon.
'We don't know what kind of capacity Sheppard has to learn, so don't be disappointed if it doesn't work,' said Carson, caving to the two of them, 'But I think it would be a good idea if the major would do it.'
'Why me?' asked Lorne.
'I want you to hang around, he seems to trust you, and having a familiar face around might keep him calm,' said Carson simply.
The SGC had been updated on the situation, and while they were willing to put a hold on sending a replacement military commander, they decided that they would keep searching for one, just in case. There was an upside however, since this technology was mostly biological, there was a chance that they could kill the tendrils and simply remove the nub afterwards, as it didn't penetrate very far, just past the skull wall. The trick was to find something that would poison the tendrils without endangering Sheppard. Woolsey hadn’t been happy with the situation, which had later led to an argument between McKay, and Lorne while they had been waiting for Sheppard to awaken at the camp.
‘McKay, no one is going to let Sheppard anywhere near Atlantis if they think there’s any remote chance of him being compromised by the wraith!’
‘No one’s going to believe he hasn’t so long as he can’t speak English!’ McKay had yelled back, ‘Nothing I say is going to change that Major.’
'Enough!' interjected Carson, 'time to give the Colonel his “medicine”.'
McKay had wondered off muttering to himself, Lorne and Beckett had headed into the tent set up for Sheppard, to find the colonel sitting up and awake.
Deciding that it couldn’t hurt to introduce new words to Sheppard, Lorne repeated what he had done in the cave, ‘Evan. Lorne. Doc. Carson. Beckett.’
‘Major-‘ started Beckett, clearly not agreeing with Lorne's method.
‘Doc,’ Lorne cut off.
Beckett seemed to give in and pulled out a syringe filled with the first round of a substance that would hopefully kill the tendrils without killing Sheppard.
‘Hurts. Make. Not. Hurt,’ Beckett said soothingly, with a touch of sarcasm, adopting Lorne's method.
Evan watched as Beckett administered the shot, then reached forward and gently touched the nub so that Sheppard understood exactly what the shot was for.
‘Needle,’ Lorne said pointing to the syringe still in Beckett’s hand.
Beckett had rolled his eyes and left, so Lorne picked up the tray that had been left out and given it to Sheppard where he still sat on the ground.
‘Food, John, eat,’ Lorne said, feeling weird for using Sheppard’s first name.
‘Eat,’ Lorne said, making eating gestures, giving permission for Sheppard to start shovelling food into his mouth, causing Lorne to mutter, ‘no wonder you get along with McKay.’
Sheppard finished in record time, but as soon as he finished, he seemed lost, like he didn’t know what to do with himself, and Lorne didn’t know what to do with him either.
After a few minutes of staring at each other Lorne broke the silence, ‘want a tour?’
Sheppard didn’t react other than tilting his like a puppy and Lorne sighed, grabbing the other man and hauling him to his feet. Dragging the colonel out of the tent, he decided that showing Sheppard where the essential tents were was the best place to start. The basic layout of the camp was simple enough; Sheppard’s tent was in the centre, mess tent and med tent where on one side, temporary quarters on the other. McKay’s “lab” was behind, forming an arc between the tents, a cloaked jumper hidden under a section of the canvas of the tent. Lorne told John that the purpose of the lab was to provide power, in reality its main function was to monitor the nub, though so far not much more had been discovered. The latrines were in the woods, about a half-mile away, although a path was cleared for easy access.
The personnel would rotate out every couple of days, with only McKay, Beckett, and Lorne there on a permanent basis. Beckett because they needed a doctor on site at all times, and he had been on the planet they had found John, leaving Keller to run things on Atlantis. McKay had insisted that studying the device was a delicate operation that required his genius, although everyone knew he was worried about his friend. Lorne was the eternal babysitter, although Ronon and Teyla were supposed to be helping out when they could. With both him and Sheppard out of Atlantis, the both of them were needed to keep both the SGC, and Atlantis under the belief that everything was going well, even when they weren't. Lorne just hoped that he could keep Sheppard occupied in the meantime.
He sat with the others, watching a screen, yet seeing nothing that happened upon it, his attention being diverted elsewhere. They had invited him easily enough, but sitting there, he couldn't help but feel that his invite had been an afterthought. His six companions were split into three groups of two, paying more attention on their partner than on the film they were supposed to be watching. He decided that it wasn't worth hanging around, he was the proverbial third wheel in three situations, and he wasn't having any fun. Muttering his excuses, he left, feeling a pang as his departure didn't even register with any of the three happy couples. The pang continued to grow the further he walked, not taking heed as to what direction he was going in. He sat against a wall, and heard a door open in front of him, causing him to look up, embarrassed. In the door-frame was his companion, who was the first person to look at him and actually see him all night. He couldn't say what made him do it, but the next thing he was completely aware of was leaning into the embrace of his companion. His companion wrapped one arm about his torso, and stroked his back with their other hand. The two of them ended up inside, his companion backing up until they were sitting on the bed, still intertwined.
He began to caress the skin of his companion, who leaned forward to whisper in his ear, 'stay.'
He awoke to see Other stranger, who he was now calling Jabby, playing around with another pointy white thing. He held still as Jabby jabbed him with it, feeling himself relax as His stranger walked in with food for the morning. Even though there was a room to eat in, He still ate in this room, by himself, His stranger leaving him on his own after that first meal. As His stranger turned to leave, He reached out and grabbed His stranger's arm, wanting to know what the word from his sleep meant. He tried to make the sound come out, but it came out wrong, it sounded nothing like it should have. Jabby and His stranger looked at him, exchanging sounds before Jabby left and His Stranger sat on the ground next to him. His stranger began pointing to all the items on the tray one at a time and making a different sound each time, some of which he had heard before. He listened carefully, he wanted to know as many sounds as possible, they seemed important somehow. None of them where the one from his sleep though, and he was convinced that the Loud one was in it, although he couldn't tell who else was, it was too blurry. He had met the Loud one the previous day; Loud one had made loud noises, hence the name, before making Him and His stranger leave.
'John,' said His stranger, snapping him out of his thoughts, gesturing at the food.
He began eating mechanically; not really paying attention to what he was doing, too startled that he had made a connection between the noise His stranger made and himself. "John" must be what he was. When He, John, was finished, His stranger pulled out something from one of the many pockets. It was some kind of stick and a white tube that rolled flat.
His stranger used the stick to draw something on the flat white stuff and made a sound, pointing at it. John wondered if His stranger meant the thing, or the thing drawn upon it. He was shown another drawing, this one different to the first, with a different but familiar sound. John felt confused, the picture was of something unfamiliar, but it was the same sound as something he had eaten. If he had eaten the second, did that mean he could eat the first?
John pointed at the first one and made a strangled sound that he hoped made sense.
His stranger looked confused, so John repeated the sound pointing at the second picture instead, making an eat gesture that His stranger had made to him before, then pointing at the first one and repeating the process.
His stranger shook his head from side to side. John tilted his head to the side, not understanding this weird behaviour. His stranger drew his hands together to form a ball, then quickly drew them apart, spreading his fingers and making a sound. It seemed familiar, and His stranger did it again, this time making a different sound, but louder. John mimicked the movement with his own hands, trying to mimic the noise, before pointing towards where the Loud one was the day before. He did it several times before His stranger started emitting an unfamiliar sound and holding his sides.
I had this chapter all finished and ready to go, when my stupid computer decided to crash and my file corrupted. This is a re-write of an early draft that was saved to my back-up drive, so it's a little rushed and might be a little disjointed.
Who wants to guess what "sound" Sheppard was calling McKay?
Chapter 9: A Theory, And a Nickname
'What do you mean it's not wraith?!'
Rodney winced and pulled his radio away from his ear, nervously glancing around even though he knew he was too far from camp for anyone, specifically Sheppard, to have heard Woolsey's shout.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Rodney took a deep breath before replying, 'I said it's not entirely wraith.'
'And how exactly did you miss that?'
'Look when we- I first examined the device I was picking up a broadcast that was purely wraith. The device's coding that I was able to gather was wraith. So what did I think it was? Oh that's right, WRAITH!'
'So what changed?'
Rodney had begun pacing irritated, 'Sheppard woke up, and when he did, the rest of the device powered up. From the new data I received I realised that there were two types of coding used: one wraith, one I have never seen before. Given that this is something that I've never seen before, it makes sense.'
'So where did it come from?'
'No idea, probably something that they came across during a culling. Look that's not important, what is important is that we might be able to use this to our advantage. If we can figure out how the device was originally designed to work we should be able to turn it off and remove it without the wraith realising that it was us. Of course this would be a lot easier if I could study the damn thing back in Atlantis!'
'I don't care how many assurances you make, you are not to bring the Colonel back into the city! If the jamming signal were to fail, even for a second, the information that the wraith-'
Woolsey's voice was suddenly cut off as Rodney switched off his radio. Rodney sighed and turned to head back to camp, only to see Beckett leaning up against a tree, watching him.
'How long have you been standing there?'
'About as long as yer been pacing,' answered the doctor, 'so exactly how is the device not wraith?'
'The device itself isn't wraith. The coding has had changes made to it, and replaced with wraith coding, hybridising it. Additionally the transponder on the end is pure wraith, stuck on afterwards and adapted to work with the device. I'd bet Zelenka that the changes to the coding were to integrate the transponder.'
Carson shifted slightly as he listened.
'You found something didn't you.'
'Aye, so do ye want the good news or the bad news?'
'Is there any news that isn't bad these days?'
'We can't poison out the tendrils.'
'It seems that the damn things are identical enough to brain matter that anything I use to get rid of them most likely will be harmful to Sheppard and it would appear that they're less organic than at first glance. I actually came out here to update Atlantis, but then I heard ye talking and I got thinking.'
'About what, how screwed John is?'
'I was studying the scans we took of the device and realised that there was something about the tendrils that was bothering me.'
'I'm failing to see the good news.'
'When I heard ye say that the device was altered, I suddenly thought "what if that's what's bothering me"?'
'Rodney,' after a brief glaring contest Rodney made a go ahead gesture, 'all the tendrils seem te be deliberately placed, but it confounded me as te why some were designed te cause pain when they were identical te the rest, as though they could be integrated to any region in the brain. Then ye mentioned changes and I thought what if it were designed as a bridge? Te send information from one part of the brain to another, like synthetic synapses, in case of a tumour, or-'
'Yes, yes, yes,' said Rodney snapping his fingers, 'that actually makes sense. We need to go back to the jumper in my lab so that I can compare. So if I'm right we just need to... PADD, need my PADD. Right it's in the jumper so. I wonder if...'
'Rodney yer rambling.'
'Camp, we need to get back to camp.'
Without another word Rodney grabbed Beckett's arm and began towing him back towards the direction of camp, the latter grumbling about the rough treatment. Rodney was charging past Sheppard's tent when he heard laughter coming from within. Momentarily derailed from his mission, Rodney paused in curiosity as to who would be laughing. He was certain John wasn't capable, Lorne wasn't cruel enough to laugh at another's misfortune, and Ronan and Teyla weren't due in until the afternoon. Without announcing himself first, Rodney barged into the tent to find Sheppard and Lorne sitting together, Sheppard looking pleased with himself, and Lorne looking amused.
Catching sight of Rodney, John began to look excited, bringing his hands together in a ball, before spreading them outwards and announcing, 'Oom.'
This of course sent Lorne into a fit of giggles and there was a snort from behind Rodney, coming from Carson. When Rodney didn't react, John started to look abashed.
Lorne picking up on his facial expression quickly pointed to himself, 'Evan,' then at John, 'John,' before turning to Rodney with a grin, 'Boom.'
John grinned like he knew he was being called a good boy.
'What have you been teaching him?!' demanded Rodney.
'That's the best part,' replied Lorne trying not to start laughing again, 'I was trying out familiar sounds. It was Sheppard who decided that you sounded like an explosion.'
Rodney's mouth opened and shut several times before he about-turned and left the tent, the sound of laughter following him. He wouldn't blame John, no the poor guy's brain was scrambled, as for Lorne... Rodney hoped the guy liked cold showers.
Chapter 10: A Conversation
Carson watched as Rodney walked off in a huff, he suspected that it might be awhile before the scientist would be ready to begin investigating their theory.
'Guess there's still something in that head of his huh,' commented Lorne still grinning.
'Aye, so what's with the paper major?'
'Oh, I was thinking that visual cues might help, but I think that I gave him the impression that it was something to eat.'
Carson picked up the paper and looked at the two pictures upon it. The one on the left was an oval, the right was a bee. He turned it around so that Sheppard could see it, pointing the oval. Sheppard made a motion as if to eat, causing Carson to raise his eyebrow.
'Egg,' supplied Lorne watching the both of them curiously.
Carson pointed to the bee, only to be rewarded with the same gesture, although this time it was accompanied with a perplexed expression.
'Buzz, buzz,' muttered Carson to himself turning the paper to look at it once more.
Sheppard seemed to perk up at the sound, 'Zzzz,' he said, making a motion with his hand as though mimicking something flying.
Carson and Lorne both stared at Sheppard, while he stared innocently back. It was less convincing than the looks he used to flash Weir while trying to convince her that he was not responsible for whatever trouble was going on during the early days of the expedition. Practice really did make perfect.
'Think he remembers what a bee is?' asked Lorne hopefully.
'Maybe, but there were insects on the planet where we found him, perhaps he's remembering one of them. Without knowing what exactly is causing the memory loss I couldna say for sure. In either case, I'd like for ye to keep working with him, see if you can't jog something loose.'
'Why am I the eternal babysitter?' grumbled Lorne.
'Because everyone else is busy, and besides, I thought that ye'd relish the chance to teach him how to do paperwork properly, and to do as he's told while ye have the chance.'
'He does his paperwork properly, getting him not to whinge about it and done on time is the issue.'
'Oh good, ye can teach him responsibility then.'
Before Lorne had the chance to finish his complaint, Carson had ducked out of the tent to go and see what Rodney was up to. Strolling cheerfully across the short distance between Sheppard's tent and Rodney's lab, he felt like whistling just for the hell of it. He found Rodney sitting in the back of the jumper, stabbing irritably at his PADD, scowling at whatever was on the screen.
'What's got ye stumped Rodney?'
'There's no way for me to rig a cold shower for someone without running the risk they won't be the one who uses it.'
'Just threaten the marines with the lack of a coffee supply if they let Lorne push Sheppard off onto them. If you want I'll tell Ronan and Teyla that Sheppard responds best to the major and that they ought ta watch him to see how it's done before looking after Sheppard on their own.'
'I didn't say it was Lorne.'
'Ye didn't have te. Now what progress have ye made regarding my theory.'
'Well from what little I've looked at the data, I'd say that there is something to your theory, although I'd argue about exactly what the thing is actually used for. The good news is, now that I know what I'm looking at, I should be able to turn it off and retract those tendrils. The only problem is I don't know how Sheppard's brain would react to that, which is where you come in.'
'I don't know what the damn things are doing now, let alone when ye start messing around with that infernal device. We should have him back in Atlantis where's there's proper equipment ter monitor the Colonel, but Woolsey won't listen ter reason.'
'You too huh,' said Rodney absently flicking through the data he was examining, 'just because the SGC is worried about security, the man's turning into the paranoid god or something. He's completely beyond reason.'
'Rodney ya know that between the increased wraith attacks on known allies, and that dart deliberately taking Sheppard-'
'We don't know that it was deliberate, non of us saw what happened, all we have is the word of an old man who can barely see past the nose on his face!' Rodney took to his feet, voice growing louder with each word,.
'Rodney, keep yer voice down, the jumper isn't fully soundproof remember?'
Rodney glowered but sat back down.
'What the hell is it going to take for him to see reason and let us treat him somewhere with supervision, I mean who knows what kind of things Lorne's teaching him!'
'Rodney do yer have a problem with the Major.'
'No. Yes. He's gets to hang with John and I'm sitting here completely useless, confounded by something a monkey should be able to figure out.'
'Rodney yer not useless, besides, I don't think that the Major is entirely responsible for what Sheppard's learning.'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, I canna be sure without knowing exactly why the Colonel is having problems, but I have this feeling that whatever that thing has done, it's starting to wear off.'
'What like some kind of shock?'
'Aye, almost as though now that it's been in there awhile, his brain is beginning to adjust to the intrusion and is returning to normal. I canna prove it but it's like looking at the damn scans, I just know that there's something there.'
'And you keep telling me that medicine isn't a voodoo science.'
Chapter 11: Strangers
John watched from where he was standing, watching as His Stranger spoke to two new people, although John could sort-of remember the giant one shooting him, and the woman looked familiar somehow. Jabby and Oom soon arrived and joined in whatever they were doing, leaving John by himself to watch. He didn't mind, he likes watching them, and but he was frustrated by the sounds everyone kept making, he thought that he had learned a lot of them, but he didn't know any of the ones that they were using. It didn't help that they kept looking over at him, and he was sure that he had heard them speak his name more than once. John kept thinking about earlier, Jabby and His Stranger seemed happy that he had learned Oom's name, but Oom hadn't looked happy. Maybe he hadn't said it right, it did sound a little different to the way others said it, but they still seemed to know what he had said, even if John himself didn't really know.
John looked over and saw Oom waving towards him. John shifted and started walking over to them, if they were going to be talking about him, he might as well join them.
'Oom,' he says when he reaches them, looking at the loud man.
The newcomers looked happy, the giant one making those odd snorting noises at his word. Oom on the other hand doesn't seen all that happy. He hissed something and poked a finger into His Stranger's chest, but that just seemed to make everyone happier. The others spoke with each other for a few minutes more before His Stranger pulled him off to one side, and the giant handed him a pair of sticks that he hadn't noticed was there. The others were all moving apart as well, leaving him in a circle with the giant, who now also had his own stick. John looked behind him to His Stranger, who simply smiled and nodded towards the giant. John looked down the sticks in his hand and wondered what he was supposed to be doing with them. He looked at the giant who had one in each hand, and was spinning one around slowly. John tried to copy the giant, but ended up dropping the stick.
'John,' said the giant, taking a step forward.
John quickly grabbed the dropped stick and brought them up, something about this was familiar, and it was telling him that he had done this with the giant before. The woman walked up to the giant and said something to him, but all John understood was his name. The giant just grunted and handed the sticks to the woman, before walking back to the outside of the circle. John watched the woman carefully, he had no idea what what going to happen, but his gut was telling him that something would. He was proved right when she swung the right stick at him, the movement obvious and slow, but even so John nearly didn't block it in time. Shifting on her feet, the woman then swung again, John quicker to block this time. After several more swings and blocks John was bored of the movement, so he swung his stick before the woman had a chance to and she blocked it perfectly, knocking it out of his hand. He scrambled to pick it up and shifted his weight, bending his knees slightly. She watched him carefully before quickly striking at him. John's body moved automatically, his arm coming up to block before he had even thought to do so.
'Good,' said the woman.
John wasn't sure what was good but he was getting the hang of this. He moved automatically as she swung at him again, but failed to noticed that she had followed the first strike up with a second until he was on the ground looking up. He heard the others call out to him, but he ignored them, getting back onto his feet and taking an unsteady step forwards while brandishing his sticks. The woman grinned and swung at him, and he swung back. Soon they were trading blows back and forth, John's body moving automatically for the most part, but he was still able to implement some strategy. He had a feeling that she was going easy on him, his body expecting a stinging blow that never came. Eventually he began to tire, and made no move to reclaim his stick after it was knocked out of his hand, instead leaning on his remaining stick, breathing heavily.
'Good, John, good,' she said, giving him a smile.
John didn't respond, just concentrated upon getting his breath back. He heard the others moving around him, and as he straightened up, he noticed that Oom was looking delighted and was dragging Jabby, who was protesting, by the arm off to one side.
John looked to his left and saw His Stranger holding out his hand for John's other stick, John handed it over before looking around to see where Oom and Jabby had gone, but they had disappeared.
'John,' said His Stranger, 'Ronan,' he pointed at the giant, before pointing to the woman, 'Teyla.'
'W-w-wonan,' stumbled John, 'T-t-t-t.'
'Ro-nan,' repeated His Stranger, dragging each sound out.
'Wo-nan,' Repeated John carefully, not sure if it sounded right.
The giant, Wonan, grinned.
'Tey-la,' continued His Stranger.
'T-tywa,' uttered John.
'Tey-la,' He repeated.
John just cocked his head to the side, he was sure he wasn't going to get it right any time soon. The woman with-the-hard-to-say-name smiled and took him by the arm, leading his towards the place that the other people John saw, but never spoke to, ate. As they neared the tables, John could feel a pressure grow within his head, with every step that he took, it grew worse. At half a dozen steps, he began to see another image superimposed over his sight. He saw a view that should have been impossible, a balcony overlooking a vast ocean, spreading outwards in every direction, further than the eye could see. The pressure increased in his head to unbearable levels and John collapsed to his knees.
'John, John, what is wrong?' he could hear someone calling to him.
John looked up and met a pair of eyes.
'Teyla,' he gasped out before everything went black.
Chapter 12: Bomb, What Bomb?
Rodney, Jennifer, and Carson watched John sleeping the sleep of the sedated, from their vantage point of the observation deck of the isolation room. Their silent camaraderie was interrupted by the quiet arrival of Woolsey, looking worried as he hastened his pace towards them.
'Doctors,' he greeted, 'I hope that you have an update of the situation, Stargate Command have become rather insistent that this incident not escalate anymore than it has.'
'Aye,' said Beckett, 'the good news is that there appears to be no injury to the Colonel, minus some minor bruising from when he fell.'
'The bad news being that we have no idea what the hell happened exactly,' added Rodney.
'And the bomb?' asked Woolsey anxiously.
'Defused for the time being,' Rodney stated.
As Woolsey walked away, Jennifer looked at the other two in alarm, whispering, 'What bomb?'
Both men looked away guiltily.
'Well, I may have... lied about it,' admitted Rodney after an awkward moments silence.
'YOU WHAT?!' yelled Jennifer.
'Keep yer voice down lass,' cautioned Carson.
'When we radioed through the emergency I was given the impression that unless lives other than Sheppard's were at risk, we weren't going to get the evac we wanted. So I lied, and told him that I thought that the device was prepping itself to explode,' huffed Rodney irritated.
'And what are you going to tell him later on?'
'That the readings I received were the result of a power surge, that may have caused the device to overload, which in the heat of the moment, I mistook it but better that I erred on the side of caution. Of course I won't actually make this discovery until after the two of you have conveniently had enough time to run many, many tests scans or whatever.'
'You've been hanging out with Sheppard too long,' said a voice behind them.
The three of them turned to see Ronan and Teyla standing just behind them. Rodney just shrugged in response.
'So,' said Carson, 'What exactly happened after we left?'
'Major Lorne attempted to teach John our names, with some success, and then I was guiding him towards the mess tent when all of a sudden he fell to his knees and collapsed,' replied Teyla.
'Grabbed his head right before he passed out,' added Ronan.
'Ok what aren't you telling us?' asked Jennifer.
'Right before he passed out, he looked right at me, and I swear he knew exactly who I was,' said Teyla softly.
'Said her name perfectly too, even though he couldn't pronounce it not even two minutes earlier,' commented Lorne joining them, 'also is there any particular reason as to why an hour ago, listening to Woolsey, you'd think that there was a 50 kiloton nuke sitting inside of Sheppard's head, but as of now its "McKay has it covered" and he's kinda pissed about it?'
'He knows,' said Ronan simply.
'Great,' muttered Rodney.
'How did the two of you know that something was wrong? we didn't radio you about John, and yet you knew that he was in trouble,' asked Teyla curiously.
'I was keeping an eye on the devices' readings during the sparring match when I had this thought: if the wraith can see and hear everything that Sheppard can, why can't we? I was going to try and see if I could pull up the feed when I saw the power surge and decided that it wasn't good.'
'Wait, if you haven't been accessing the recordings of the device up until now, what have you been doing?' asked Lorne.
'Trying to find out how the damn thing works, and if someone of my brilliance can't work it out, then no one is going to ok?'
'You going to access it now?' asked Ronan.
'Yes, yes, yes. Maybe it will give us some insight into what happened.'
Without another hesitation, Rodney grabbed his laptop that was sitting on a table nearby, and began accessing the data he'd previously saved from the device. Within a few minutes, he had the file set up and ready to go.
'Ok this should be from today,' muttered Rodney to himself, starting the video, 'hmm, the sound must save separately, how annoying, ok so this is the sparring match so we're nearly there.'
the six of them crowded around the laptop that was now sitting on the floor, watching the event's through the Colonel's eyes.
'Why does it flicker every now and again?' asked Lorne.
'Blinking probably,' answered Jennifer absently, absorbed by what she was watching.
Rodney skipped forward to the end of the sparring match before continuing, all of them watching carefully until the end.
'What was that?' asked Carson after the footage had reached it's end.
'I don't know,' said Rodney returning the video to the end of the sparing match, 'it was weird though.'
Playing through the video again, Rodney paused it right before the end.
'So if that's the mess tent, then why does it look, I don't know, distorted, or something?' asked Lorne.
'Could this have been the device malfunctioning?' asked Teyla in response.
'Possibly, to be honest I haven't studied the thing long enough to be sure and I have nothing to compare it too anyway.'
'It's Atlantis,' exclaimed Carson suddenly, 'If yer look carefully at the distorted points, yer can almost see another image overlap. This is what you'd see if yer were standing in the mess hall facing the balcony.'
The others squinted at the screen.
'He's right, there's something there now that I know what to look for,' said Jennifer, 'but what does it mean?'
'Sheppard's brain broke it,' answered Ronan confidently.
'Don't be stupid,' snapped Rodney.
'He might be right, Rodney,' interjected Carson, 'if one of the Colonel's memories resurfaced, it coulda interfered with the device. If it works like I think it should, it wasna designed to be integrated with healthy synapses, but damaged or blocked ones.'
'Doctor,' prompted Teyla.
'The device wasna created by the wraith, and I believe that it was supposed to be some kinda bridge, to help with sight, or some other function, that was then reused by the wraith as a tool to spy on us.'
'So it was designed to help people, but due to misuse, it's hurting Sheppard,' stated Jennifer slowly, 'can you turn it off?'
'Possibly, and I think Carson maybe right, from what I can gather from the device's coding, there was a function to send information already built into the device, but it looks like the wraith rerouted it to the transponder that they added to it. The only pertinent question would be if it was designed to be permanent, or if it is removable?'
Chapter 13: A Memory Or A Dream?
He was sitting at a table in the mess hall, alone, contemplating his isolation. He glanced up at his so called friends sitting across the room without him. He sighed, burying his face in his hands. He peaked through fingers at the purple tuber thing on his plate. He frowned squinting slightly from the midday sun as he looked about the room noting it's emptiness. Looking back at his plate he prodded the offending vegetable cautiously, he was sure that they only served these things at dinner. Almost at once the lights dimmed and John's head snapped up to see that the bright sunlight had been replaced with pale moonlight.
‘What the hell,’ he whispered to himself.
Twisting around he took a closer look at the few people around him. Drs. Parrish and Zelenka were nursing cups of coffee and participating in a rather heated debate. Two marines were bent over a tablet, occasionally eating from the trays next to them. There was a nurse/doctor/someone John vaguely remembered arriving on the Apollo the previous week asleep at his table. He remembered this. John had missed dinner that night because some newbie thought he could actually bully McKay into helping him and Rodney had reduced the guy to tears. The idiot had run to John deluded enough to think that John would make Rodney change his mind. But something wasn't right, even though it was now night outside, his friends were still lit as though they were bathed in sunlight. Wait, why were they still there? If he was right about when this was they shouldn't be here. Rodney had been catching up on the work the sergeant had interrupted, Ronon was running a night combat class for the new marines, and Teyla was visiting her people with Major Lorne's team. Catching sight of his companion lurking behind his friends, John stood up and made his way over to them. Just as John opened his mouth to ask what was going on, his companion pressed a finger to their lips, tapped their ear, and then tipped their head towards the trio seated at the table. Shutting his mouth, John leaned towards his friends and strained to hear what they were saying. It took him a moment to realise that despite being so close, and his friends chatting and laughing animatedly, he could hear nothing. The murmur of the marines, and the slightly louder debate of Parish and Zelenka drifted across the room to his ears, and yet, from his friends, silence. Turning back to his companion, John realised they'd disappeared. There was a puff of air against his ear and the ever whispered stay was heard. As the blackness threatened to take him, John fought back, clinging to the one word that was endlessly repeated in this place.
He blinked furiously, as though the act alone would banish the black spots across his vision, surprised that it seemed to be working. Retaking in his surroundings, John realised that he was back to movie night, but something was different. It took him a moment to put his finger on it, the movie was the same, the company was the same, but it was different. Popcorn, John realised after a moment, there was popcorn this time, he could feel the bowl pressing against his leg. Taking a closer look around, he took in the other small changes. Rodney was still sitting with Jennifer, but instead of being all lovey-dovey, he was shooting scathing looks towards him. No, not him, Ronon, who was hogging all the popcorn. He remembered that Ronon had told McKay that if he wanted some, all he had to do was ask, but Rodney was being stubborn and was trying to make Ronon share without asking. And Teyla, Teyla was... asleep. Looking over at her, he saw that it wasn't Kanaan she was leaning against, but some kind of pillow. He wasn't a third wheel three times over, he was a guy who was hanging out with his friends. He had left early that night, but why did he leave? As if to answer his unvoiced question, his earpiece chirped with an incoming message. John's hand automatically reached up to answer it, but he heard neither what he was called about, nor what he said in return. Moving as if on autopilot, John walked out of the room and down the corridor that he remembered running into his companion, but it that wasn't how it happened originally, but he couldn't remember how it happened. Focused on his task at hand (not that he knew what it was) he didn't see the other person coming until they had collided with his side as they tried to pass. Both parties stumbled on their feet for a moment, before righting themselves. Looking at the newcomer, John realised three things, one: he'd just run into Cadman, two: she'd just entered the corridor through the door that his companion had, and three: he remembered what happened. Several Marines had gotten bored and had made a game out of seeing how long it would take to be kicked out of various labs. Several scientists had complained so John was sent to sort it out. He'd run into Cadman on the way, who had volunteered her services in keeping them entertained. The way John had heard it the next morning, she'd had them running laps around the city until they dropped, literally, before allowing them to return to their beds. Surprisingly, or maybe not, there hadn't been a single problem from any of them since. Cadman's offer to repeat the exercise if there ever was probably had something to do with it. The corridor in which he stood had begun to fade and he heard it again: Stay.