Evan was running, his boots hitting the floor with the sound echoing out in puddles around him, his hand gun raised with his finger pressing down against the trigger. It was his own gun, he knew the flecks and dents in his Beretta the same way he knew the scars and tattoos of his own body, and the weight was familiar and comforting in his hands. He knew exactly how far he could press, where the edge was before the gun fired, and how to hold his wrist slightly to the side for the best aim. His eyes were sharp as he moved through Atlantis, ignoring how he was passing the main engineering lab for the fifth time and focusing on the third Wraith soldier that he could hear in the distance. The first two had been simple enough and for that Evan was grateful. There were so many times he had to get creative, use techniques that weren't in the handbook, so to speak, but right now he just had to be a soldier and a fighter. He could do that.
He rounded out into the main thoroughfare, relieved that the lack of other people fleeing or fighting gave him a clear shot. The sound of his pistol firing was louder that usual, the echo swallowed in the sound of a distant explosion. Evan didn't know how they'd been boarded, how the Wraith had landed foot soldiers when there was still fighting in the air, but it didn't really matter. His shot had clipped the Wraith but not enough to take him down and Evan kept moving. There were screams in the distance and the acrid smell of heavy smoke made Evan's throat and eyes burn. He paid as close attention as he could, listening for a clue that something bigger was happening, something more important than tracking down this lone Wraith soldier, but the flash of weapons fire further down the hall let him know he was on the right track.
They were back to the engineering lab when Evan closed on the Wraith, the alarms blaring and the smoke even worse here. It was hard to see but Evan didn't need to do anything but follow the sound of screams coming from in the lab. The Wraith was standing over the crouched form of one of the scientists, his hand reaching out menacingly as he moved. It seemed larger than life, dominating the room with its physical presence and the sheer terror that seemed to roll around it in boiling waves.
Evan raised his pistol in both hands and aimed for the head of the Wraith, sighting calmly until he was sure he had the shot, and pulled the trigger. It took three bullets before the Wraith went down, crumpling and seeming to shrink in size as it hit the floor. The blare of alarms reduced to a tolerable level and the smoke cleared enough that Evan could see and breathe again. He walked to where the Wraith was sprawled, ichor seeping out in a puddle around its head and soaking into its oddly smooth hair, and he waited. After a moment, his gun still trained on the head, Evan nudged it with the toe of his boot. There was no twitch, no movement, and its eyes were unfocused and cold. Dead.
Placing his gun back in his holster, Evan bent down and extended a hand to the scientist. The man, Dr. Donaldson, was still staring at the Wraith. He held a pistol in his hands, not unlike the one Evan was carrying even though it was an M9 instead of a Beretta, his finger nowhere near the trigger.
"It's okay, Doctor. The Wraith have all gone. It's safe to come out," Evan said, his voice calm and soothing.
"Gone?" Donaldson asked, tearing his eyes away from the Wraith corpse to peer at Evan. "It's safe now?"
Evan nodded. "It's safe. There's no more Wraith on Atlantis. Why don't you come out?"
Donaldson's eyes darted back to the Wraith, his hands tightening around the gun he was holding. "There's no more coming?"
"Not tonight. Listen, there are no more explosions. The attack has stopped," Evan said, using his hand to direct Donaldson's attention back to him and then raising a finger up to his ears.
Donaldson nodded and a moment later the alarm stopped completely and the lighting edged back toward normal in the lab. "They're gone," he said with obvious relief. He got to his feet, letting Evan take his hand and help him stay steady.
"That's right. They're gone. May I have this?" Evan motioned to the gun in Donaldson's hand.
Donaldson handed it over without responding, his body lax and calm and the scene dissipating around them completely as his fingers left the textured grip.
Evan woke, his hand clenching suddenly from where he'd been holding Donaldson's gun only a moment earlier. He swung his feet out of bed and rested there for a moment before he pulled off the shirt he'd slept in and used it to wipe the sweat from his face and his arms. A glance at his watch told him it was only two in the morning, still plenty enough time to get back to sleep and get another few hours before he had to be up on his feet. He'd only been on Atlantis for less than two weeks and he was already bordering on exhaustion. The physical labor during the day helped, repetitive work as he helped to clean up areas that had been damaged in the Wraith attack. The movements were soothing and it helped ease his own mind to see the city looking more like somewhere that was inhabitable and less like a war zone.
Nights though, they were something else entirely. The Wraith attack was prominent in everyone's minds, even the group who had arrived in time to help, and Evan was having a hard time finding a safe place to get some rest. Every time he found a semi-idilic place to settle for a few moments an attack would begin or alarms or some kind of panic and Evan would be on his feet and trying to solve the problem. He supposed it was a good thing, he'd been sent out here to help - though if he'd realized how bad it was he would have insisted that a team be sent instead of him - and he was doing his job. But he could sense the beginnings of a Wandering coming on and he wouldn't be of use to anyone if he was unconscious in the infirmary.
There were lots of names to describe what Evan was, though he usually preferred the self-descriptive Dream Walker because he felt that was a pretty accurate description of what he could do. It was fairly rare, there were maybe 10,000 people at any given time who had some manifestation of the gift and far fewer with the training to be able to use it like Evan could.
Evan picked up the tablet that he'd left at his bedside and made a note to look into Donaldson's file and training. At the very least he'd take the man down to the shooting range and work with him until he could actually bring himself to point a gun at a Wraith, though with some of the nightmares he'd been pulled into he was going to recommend that the civilians and several units of the military contingent be given more intensive weapons and combat training as well as running more detailed and prolonged drills in the city. He was a firm believer that once a person knew they could follow an attack or evacuation protocol, knew it so deep that even their unconscious agreed, then situations like the attack on the city wouldn't provoke so much anxiety and everyone wouldn't be pulling themselves apart like this. On the other hand, most of these people had spent the last year believing that they were going to die at any moment and that could do things to even those who were the most prepared and practiced.
He gave the training schedule he'd started to draft a few days previously one more glance over before he turned off the tablet. There would more time to look at that tomorrow evening before he went to sleep. Evan tossed his shirt to the end of his bed and laid back. The last time he remembered being this tired was during the Anubis attack on Earth; everyone had been so wound up, even veterans from when the program had first begun, that it had taken weeks for everyone to really believe that Earth wasn't going to be destroyed or enslaved at any moment. Evan had wound up leaving the mountain and spending three weeks in a sanctuary just to recover. He was a long way from Earth and any of the sanctuaries and the safety of the dreams of his brothers was forever lost to him. He wouldn't have even come to Atlantis if he hadn't been alone, if it hadn't seem like the best way to distance himself from everything. Maybe there was such a thing as too much distance.
Resting his head against the pillow, Evan watched the moon hover over the ocean outside his window. He just needed somewhere quiet and restful for a few hours and then he'd be good to go. His eyes flickered closed and he felt that brief lapse where he was in his body but not awake before he slipped away to roam Atlantis.
Evan blinked, deep blue filling his vision until that's all there was; no landmarks, no distinguishing features, nothing but blue and a feeling that he was drifting. He struggled against it for a few moments, trying to find his limbs or orient himself or anything to reassure himself he wasn't lost in some kind of trance or coma, but eventually stopped and just was. He could feel his body trembling from the effort, even though he couldn't find his body anywhere in the area that he could see. His heart was beating, filling his ears with a steady thump that slowed as he calmed. He blamed the initial panic of being disembodied that he didn't realize that it wasn't his heartbeat that he was hearing until he felt something tickling against the bare skin on his back and neck, because he suddenly had a back, and a neck and a body.
He sat up slowly, still feeling more than a little unsteady but grateful for the presence of a horizon line. The field around him was soft, nearly golden in a stark contrast with the blue of the sky above him. Leaning forward and resting his forearms against his knees, he was a little surprised to find himself still in his loose pajama pants and without shoes or a shirt. Usually he was dressed however he needed to be, to be whoever was required of him. Maybe this was his own dream, even though Evan had never heard of such a thing before; Dream Walkers didn't have their own dreams. The only time he'd been far enough away from any other person to be unable to reach them, when he'd been stranded by himself on P3X-782 for two days, he'd dreamt with the local wildlife.
Evan shifted on the ground, finding a large sycamore tree spread out behind him. The green leaves filled the sky, almost creating a wall in the space surrounding them. Underneath the tree, John Sheppard was sitting, his long jean clad legs stretched out in front of him and his back resting against the dark trunk. "Colonel Sheppard?" Evan asked, a little grateful that he at least knew whose dream he was in now.
"What are you doing all the way out here?" Sheppard asked, craning his head to see where Evan was sitting in the sunlight.
Standing, Evan turned slowly in the space, trying to get a better feel for the dream before he answered. The steady thump was still in the background, what Evan had originally identified as his own heartbeat but when he pressed his fingertips to his wrist he could feel that it wasn't. The landscape seemed like it stretched on endlessly, but when Evan took a few steps he could feel the perspective around him change. It was more like he was in a room, an impossibly large room that had been designed to look like this open field, with the tree behind Sheppard the only truly distinguishing feature. Architecture was usually fairly fluid in dreams, locations meshed together or looped and doors and hallways that weren't physically possible, but they usually were a little bit more representative than this. "What did you study while you were in school, sir?" Evan asked, returning his gaze to where Sheppard was sprawled.
"Math," Sheppard returned evenly, raising one of his eyebrows. "Yourself?"
"Art, sir. This looks a little like a project one of the modern art guys did for his final." Evan took a few steps closer, the branches of the sycamore hanging down between them so that his vision of Sheppard was obscured a little. The branches waved in the nonexistent wind and the thumping sound speed up a beat. Evan came to a stop and ducked his head down. "Can I help you with anything?"
John shrugged and waved one of his hands in the air, the branches rustling back a little so that Evan had a better view. "Do you see anything to do here, Major?"
Evan looked around again, still a little uncertain. "No, sir. Looks like a summer day out in the Midwest."
"Then I suggest you kick back for a little bit, while we have the opportunity," Sheppard said, digging the heels of his feet down into the loose dirt surrounding him.
Jumping a little when Evan felt the movement from John's feet like a small aftershock, Evan took John's advice and sat down. He didn't try to get closer to John, even though leaning against the tree with him in the shade sounded pretty good Evan didn't think the tree would let him get any closer. After a few more minutes when nothing was happening, no Wraith darts flying overhead and no soldiers firing on them or climbing out of the ground, Evan relaxed a little further and leaned back against the ground, wiggling against the tufts of grass to make a place for himself. When he was settled in and completely still, the branches of the tree shifted again so that they were hovering over him, shading him from the light without an identifiable source.
Evan let his head slowly roll to the side, not wanting to be attacked by Sheppard's semi-sentient tree, and found Sheppard watching him through half-closed eyes. There were questions he could ask, he could try and figure out exactly what was happening and why he'd been brought here, but it was nice to stay still for a few moments. Evan closed his eyes and stretched out his legs, trusting that Sheppard's tree would let them know if something got too close. He could afford to stay here for a little while. The low steady sound slowed again and when Evan touched his wrist again he found that it was in sync with his own heart.
Evan looked up when a tray was placed on the table across from him, a little surprised to find Colonel Sheppard in the process of sitting down and settling in at the table. They'd only had the mess hall up and functioning again for the past two days, it had previously been a triage center for overflow from the infirmary and the last of the patients who were going back to Earth had only recently been moved to the Daedalus. The ship was heading back later that day, Colonel Caldwell having finished getting everyone as settled as possible and armed with an emergency list of supplies to bring back as soon as possible. What they'd brought had been desperately needed, and from the number of dreams that Evan had recently stumbled into that revolved around food from Earth, there was still a lot that needed to be done to resupply the mission.
"So, today I was going to ask you who you wanted on your team and talk about the division of responsibilities between us," Sheppard said without preamble, pausing to take a large bite of his sandwich.
"Was, sir?" Evan finally asked, feeling a little odd sitting across from his CO with his uniform jacket off and his face and shirt still grubby from the repair work he'd been helping with on one of the piers.
"You're not staying, are you? See, I was under the impression that you were going to be my second in command." Sheppard said, one of his hands clenched around his fork.
Evan blinked, understanding why Sheppard might have come to that conclusion. "I'm not leaving on the Daedalus today, if that's what you mean."
"But you're not staying either. You're staying as long as you need to make your assessment and give recommendations, and then you're going back to Earth," John said as he sat back in his chair, his posture defensive.
Evan fought back the urge to sigh or look away. He was used to a variety of reactions when people learned about him, many of them curious or excitable - movies and tv shows had done a lot over the past twenty years to romanticize Dream Walking and people usually wanted to know if he could do things that their favorite character could do - but some still tended to react with fear and hostility. He'd encountered it before in the course of his work, a CO who was offended by Evan's assessment or overly concerned about keeping secrets. "I'm staying as long as I'm needed," Evan finally replied. He hadn't been given a specific return date, though when the orders came that he was needed somewhere else he would go without question.
Sheppard didn't seem to know how to respond to that and set down his fork with more force than was necessary. He took another bite of his sandwich and they ate in uncomfortable silence for a little while. "You studied art?"
"Painting and drawing, mostly," Evan replied, a little surprised. Most people, even when they remembered their dreams had been touched by a Dream Walker, couldn't remember most of the contents or details.
"There was a large panel of stained glass in the main atrium, shattered in the attack. McKay found a machine a while back that repairs it without much of a fuss, but I'm not sure that we could get it back like it was. Maybe you could do something with it?" Sheppard asked.
Evan nodded, the project intriguing him despite his limited experience working with stained glass.
"And put yourself together a team, we can discuss what you'll be in charge of later," Sheppard continued, getting to his feet and picking up his empty tray.
"Sir?" Evan asked, confused by Sheppard's apparent sudden change of heart.
"Well, you're here with us for at least another six weeks, which can seem just as long as a tour of duty anywhere else, and you're next in the chain of command following me. Might as well act the part," Sheppard said.
"Yes, sir," Evan said quickly, because what else could he really say to that. He watched Sheppard leave the mess hall, Sheppard's eyes and attention focused entirely on the city around them as he moved.
After he finished lunch, Evan went to the atrium that Sheppard had mentioned and found a tarp where the panel of stained glass used to be as well as a crate that someone had swept the broken shards into. He sorted through the pieces, the colors in the varied shades of blue and green that seemed to dominate the Atlantian color scheme with orange and deep yellow mixed in for contrast. Sifting through the pieces, some larger panels still intact while most of it was in shards around the size of the palm of his hand or smaller, Evan started picturing designs and patterns that would complement the surrounding area. It was nice to work on something like this again, he hadn't had the opportunity to do more than sketch in what felt like years, and he resolved to go get the Ancient device from McKay sooner rather than later.
Dropping onto his bed, Evan only bothered with pulling off his boots and belt before he rolled onto his side. He'd dropped his jacket and shirt on his desk as soon as he'd entered his quarters, too tired to even bother picking up his laptop and updating the information and preliminary reports that he'd been putting together. He nearly had a revamped training schedule, and since training had been one thing that Sheppard had virtually just handed over to him, he wasn't even concerned about fighting to have it implemented.
Evan found his eyes drooping shut and blinked back awake. As tired as he was, something else he was blaming Sheppard for, he wasn't quite ready to go to sleep yet. The dreams on Atlantis had become slightly less harrowing over the past weeks, moving slowly out of the realm of being terrorized by the Wraith and more into fairly standard nightmare fare. In the past week he'd encountered a whale, which he couldn't explain at all, a particularly vicious Rodney McKay who was about a foot taller than he was in real life and in the process of threatening one of the lab techs with being locked in one of the bio-containment fields - Evan would have loved to tell McKay about that particular dream if he hadn't always kept information learned in dreams entirely confidential - and a singing carnivorous plant out in one of the greenhouses. Evan had woken up with stiff shoulders from that particular dream, sore from helping the botanist in question hack at the plant with axes until he'd thought to borrow from C-4 from a red-headed Lieutenant who'd asked to stay and observe the explosion.
Overall, he took the greater variety of dreams to be a good sign, that as the city started pulling back together and schedules became as normal as they ever could be when living in a different galaxy everyone was becoming a little more settled. It didn't mean that he was any less tired though. Between helping Sheppard manage military matters in the city, working with the clean up crews, putting time into the stained glass panels and managing his own team, Evan barely had time to breathe in between waking up and falling back to sleep.
His team had gone off-world for the first time a few days ago; he'd picked two bright-eyed marines who didn't actually seem that bothered by Pegasus galaxy as a whole and the botanist who'd dreamt about the singing plant that encouraged homicidal tendencies, mostly because in their line of work imagination was a very useful trait. Their mission had been successful, or successful in that they all came back with only minimal injuries and hadn't made any enemies that were particularly vicious. It was what counted as a success back at the SGC, so Evan figured that they could work by the same measure. The trip had been overnight, mostly because they were temporarily cut off from the 'gate by angry villagers rather than that having been the original plan, and Evan had discovered apart from Coughlin having someone special he missed on Earth that he would probably be able to sleep near his teammates without many problems.
Arching his back, Evan managed to pull the blankets down from underneath him and rolled so that he was under the covers instead of sprawled on top. He fell asleep almost involuntarily, even though he could have stopped himself if it had been absolutely necessary. As his consciousness left his body, he felt something almost drawing him towards it and he let himself move in that direction without a second thought.
The shock of being surrounding by blue wasn't as bad this time, even though it still took him a moment to regain his orientation and find his body beneath him. He spent a while just relaxing in the grass, raising one of his hands to block the light from his eyes as he stared at the crease where the ceiling met the wall in the distance. He tipped his head from side to side, which was the only way he could manage to distinguish where the pieces of sky connected, and nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a voice from behind him.
"Are you going to stay out there all night, Major?" Sheppard called, sounding amused.
"I was thinking about it. The sun is pretty nice, are you sure you don't want to come out here?" Evan offered, rolling onto his stomach so that he could look up at the sycamore tree.
There was a light breeze that wound its way through the branches of the tree, the openings letting him see where Sheppard was in the same place as before: leaning against the tree trunk with his bare feet pressing down into the dirt beneath him.
"I think I'll stay here," Sheppard said, one of the branches flicking near Evan seemingly in concert with Sheppard's head tilt. "Wouldn't want to get a sunburn."
Evan craned his head back to look at the sky, unable to find a representation of where the light and heat were coming from. "No sir, wouldn't want that," he replied with a bit of a smirk.
"I think if you're going to hang around in my dreams, you can probably call me John." The tree branches swished aside again and Sheppard moved closer so that he was kneeling a few feet closer to Evan, nearly surrounded entirely by the branches that had come down to shelter him.
Evan found himself smiling a little as he moved up so that he was sitting. "In that case, you can probably lose the 'Major' and just call me Evan."
John's eyebrows flickered in a way that indicated both his amusement and approval. "I think I can manage that." One of the thinner branches of the tree reached out and brushed its leaves against Evan's temple and along his hair line.
"I think your tree likes me," Evan pointed out, unable to stop himself from blushing.
John laughed, a low chuckle that swept through the long grasses in the field that surrounded them.
Evan took a moment to look around again, noticing that the thump of a heartbeat, John's he was assuming, was no longer audible even though he could feel the pulse in the ground beneath him. He wondered what would happen if he reached one of the walls where the sky was, if it would be solid or if he'd be able to push through to somewhere else. Usually there weren't visibly delineated areas in dreams, not in Evan's experience at least; more typically he found corridors that wound back upon themselves or rooms that merged into unexpected places. John wasn't a typical Air Force officer, Evan had been able tell that from the moment he'd seen the man, but his dreams suggested there was a lot more to it than that.
"See anything interesting?" John asked, the tree branches retreating a little to return to him.
Evan turned his attention back to John and made a show of stretching out his arms and leaning back as if basking in the warmth. "It's peaceful. Quiet," he said, "I didn't expect that."
John nodded and moved back again so that he was resting against the base of the tree. "You can come under, if you want. It's a good place to sit."
Understanding what John was offering, a temporary place in his sanctuary, Evan smiled tentatively. "Thank you." He crept forward slowly, still a little wary of attacking trees - even more so after getting to know the botanist on his team a little better - and made it to the place beneath the tree where the branches became thicker and less mobile. He stopped a few feet short of the trunk and settled in, finding the loose dirt beneath him to be warm and soft, more like sand at a beach than soil that was used for planting.
John and Evan both watched each other for a few moments as they settled in, John finally tipping his head back against the tree and closing his eyes. Evan took this as a sign of good faith and let his own head rest against the ground. The pulse was even stronger directly beneath the tree and Evan let the steady beat soothe him. His shoulders relaxed, tension he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, and when he opened his eyes he found himself staring up into the kaleidoscope of branches. From where he was now, without some of the larger leaves blocking his way, he could see a mess of images, colors and what Evan imagined thoughts might look like if they were visible.
"See anything interesting now?" John asked without opening his eyes.
Evan stared, trying to make sense of any of it before giving up and rolling onto his side to watch John instead. "Everything," he replied, waiting for John to open his eyes. When John did, smiling faintly as he saw where Evan was looking, he reached out with one of his feet, resting his ankle across Evan's and closing his eyes again.
Taking a slow breath, Evan let his own eyes slip closed and rested, perfectly content to let the beat of John's heart stay with him until he woke.
It was Evan's first Hive Ship and he was disconcerted to discover that the nightmares he'd walked through were a pretty accurate representation. He'd already had the opportunity to learn that the Wraith were just as vicious and deadly as the nightmares of the general populace made them seem, but the ships he'd figured were a bit of artistic embellishment. That wasn't the case at all: Hive Ships were just as horrifically creepy and unsettling as every nightmare that had taken place in one. Evan was pretty sure that if he could dream his own dreams, he'd be having his own nightmares for a few days after this.
The Hive Ship was a crashed relic, the local population having moved in when none of the Wraith had apparently survived the impact. Personally Evan felt the willingness of the locals to actually live and make their city in the Hive Ship should have been a clue as to their personality, but then Evan hadn't been on the team that had made first contact and it was always easier to see the clues after a team had been kidnapped and imprisoned. Naturally, as Evan was discovering as he dug through the mission reports from the past year, it was John's team that had made first contact and subsequently been attacked. If Evan thought he could manage it he would insist that John was too valuable to leave the city, along with their lead scientist and the ambassador to the Athosian people, and that their team should stay on Atlantis. But he knew that was not something that would happen, not ever. John was one of those men that had to be out in the fray, proving that whatever happened to his people he would be the first in line, and the rest of his team had bonded to him and were now inseparable.
Evan's team, minus one barely field-trained botanist and plus a team of marines, had gone in search of John's team when thirty minutes had passed from the scheduled check in. They'd spent the thirty minutes gearing up and hovering by the 'gate, waiting for Doctor Weir to give the signal for Chuck to dial. She waited by Chuck's side, giving Evan a reluctant nod when the thirty minutes had gone by without any indication that John was just running late. If Evan had to guess he'd say that very few teams were ever late without a very good explanation and wondered if he could convince the senior staff to reduce the waiting time to only fifteen minutes. The dreams of the people who'd survived the first year on Atlantis were more than enough to illustrate what could happen off-world in thirty minutes even if he'd already learned those lessons during his short time at the SGC.
The Hive Ship was big, and Evan was only beginning to appreciate how big considering how long they'd been walking. They'd found Teyla and Ronon almost right away, both unconscious and only a few floors beneath the surface. The native populace had scattered after telling them they had imprisoned the team as potential offering to the Wraith should they return, even though the Wraith hadn’t been to the planet for generations. Apparently it was what they traditionally did with off-worlders, and though Evan had a lot to say about that he figured it was mostly their superior weaponry that had convinced the leader to let them pass to retrieve John's team from where they were being held. They had been scattered throughout the Hive Ship, apparently a transporter that was malfunctioning operated as their delivery method, and though the life signs detector that powered up from Evan's touch reveled the location of John's team they didn't have anyone who could fix a Wraith transporter.
Doctor McKay was the next one they found, wandering through the halls with a bleeding head injury but still determined to find the rest of his team and get them all back out. Evan found a whole new respect for the acerbic scientist even when he had to basically bribe him to go back to the 'gate with one of the marines, even after promising that they would get John and that the rest of his team was safe. John, of course, had been transported the furthest and the deepest into the Hive Ship, and without a more reliable method of transportation Evan and his team had been reduced to walking through the winding corridors and climbing down slimy access hatches for miles as they moved closer to the blip on the sensors that indicated John's location.
"I think we're on the right level now," Evan said as he slid out of the access hatch and pulled the life signs detector out of his filth covered vest. He was thankful that what passed as washing machines on Atlantis seemed to be able to handle just about anything he'd thrown at them so far, even the particularly viscous mud from his third mission.
"You've got a fix on Sheppard's location?" Coughlin asked, taking care to unstick his weapon from its holster as he joined Evan.
Evan frowned at the little device, wishing that he had a better way to accurately gauge distance with it instead of just general location in respect to the location of the device itself. "Another thirty minutes? Alright over there?" Evan suggested as Reed tumbled out of the hatch with a curse and started violently wiping at his uniform.
"Fine, sir. I think something is alive in this ship though. Like the goo is sentient or something," Reed said as he got to his feet and shot a particularly disgusted look at the walls surrounding him.
"Well, let's go get the Colonel and get out of here then, before the walls have a chance to mount an offensive," Evan said, mostly joking but with the way things seemed to work in the Pegasus galaxy he wasn't entirely discounting Reed's concerns.
Evan found that keeping his flashlight on the ground was the best idea of all because shining it on the Wraith corpses that were still encased in the walls of the ship made him entirely too paranoid. His team walked closer together than they might otherwise have and he didn't have to glance back to know that both Coughlin and Reed had their free hands hovering by their weapons, ready to draw and shoot at any indication that any of the Wraith might still be alive. Evan just hoped that the retained enough sense to not shoot John if it was his movement they spotted.
They walked for another twenty minutes, Evan fervently hoping that John would be conscious and capable of walking because he had no idea how they were going to get him back up through more than a dozen levels and miles of hallway if he wasn't able to walk. They could do it, and they would if it came down to it, but Evan would be much happier if Weir didn't have to send another team just because they were taking so long. He glanced down at the life signs detector and noticed that John's dot was moving toward them, the space in between closing quickly. At least that answered the question of whether or not John was mobile.
"Sheppard's up ahead, don't shoot him," Evan instructed, directing the beam of his flashlight toward the hallway where John was approaching from.
His team directed their lights that way as well and moments later John appeared, stumbling over detritus that was scattered on the floor.
"I was hoping that was you, Major," John said when Evan rushed over and helped him to his feet. John looked a little worse for the wear, as filthy as Evan and his team, but without any injuries that were visibly life threatening.
"Without a doubt, sir," Evan replied, offering John his backup gun and flashlight when he noticed John was without anything but the clothes he was wearing.
"My team. They got Rodney before I could reach him," John said, one of his hands going to the back of his head.
Evan moved to shine the smaller flashlight he'd pulled from his vest on the spot John was touching but couldn't see anything through John's mess of hair. "We already found them all and sent them back to Atlantis with the marines. Rodney was hurt but he'll be just fine."
John looked at Evan's face as if he was searching for the truth but seemed satisfied with what he found there. "Let's go home."
Evan nodded and his team plus John started walking back through the ship.
"I hope you remember the way out, Major," John commented wryly.
"Don't worry, sir. I left a trail of breadcrumbs," Evan smiled to himself. The Hive Ship felt a lot less threatening now that he had John back and even the corpses of the Wraith still hanging out of the walls didn't seem quite as horrific. If he stopped to think about it, Evan would have been concerned by this revelation, but they had a two hour trek before they reached the surface and Evan wasn't planning on stopping for anything until he was in a hot shower.
Collapsing into his bed was quickly becoming the way that Evan got to sleep. The thought had crossed his mind that living and working on Atlantis was the best exercise program that he'd ever encountered, including basic training. He'd already noticed an appreciable muscle build, not that he'd been too shabby in that department anyway, and the lack of fast food and take out meant that his diet was already considerably lower in saturated fat than it might otherwise be. When he'd arrived on Atlantis, not right away but a few days after the initial crisis had passed, he'd noticed that the whole expedition looked fit and trim with even the scientists being able to give a few of the newer military recruits a fairly good competition. He hadn't attributed it to anything offhand but was starting to get an idea of how running from one place to another all day could do that to a person even if they weren't in the field.
Evan's shoulders burned a little from climbing through the Hive Ship and he didn't doubt that John and the rest of both their teams were currently sleeping the day off somewhere. Well, maybe except for Ronon, who looked like he would hardly be bothered by any physical encounter he experienced. A part of Evan was looking forward to sparing with Ronon even though another part that housed whatever self preservation he still possessed was adamant that it was a spectacularly bad idea. Evan figured he'd wait until Ronon had a chance to get more settled on Atlantis before he offered to spar, wait until he was sure Ronon had the idea that when they sparred, people from Earth generally liked to be conscious afterward.
His eye fell down to where his boots were still tied on. They were his backup pair; his regular pair were still drying from where he'd rinsed all the muck from the Hive Ship off of them. They weren't as comfortable as his usual boots, though the SGC had taught him not to get overly attached to any pair of boots or uniform because as soon as he did they would be either ruined or removed from him while he was off-world. The most important factor is that they were far away from his hands, far enough away that he'd have to possibly sit up to unlace them and pull them off. Evan yawned, unable to stop himself and closed his eyes. He could sleep a few hours in his boots, which wasn't particularly abnormal anyway, and when he woke up feeling a little more coherent he could take the time to undress and actually get under his blankets.
Evan rolled onto his side and found his mind already reaching for John. After the day they'd had he could use a few hours of actual rest and he figured that John might want the company as well. Usually his mind was pretty good at automatically finding where he was needed, but after being in John's dreamspace so many times he could reach out and find it without really having to put a lot of effort into it. It was almost like being back with his brothers, not biological brothers but the small team of Dream Walkers who he'd trained with and known their minds as intimately as he'd known his own. They were gone, that fact seemingly felt more acutely every time he remembered, and the knowledge of their absence propelled Evan into sleep and his consciousness away from his exhausted body.
The blue sky had disappeared by the time Evan opened his eyes, the temperature cold enough that Evan was glad he hadn't changed out of his boots and jacket before he fell asleep. He couldn't tell if it was nighttime or if a storm had just blocked the sky completely. It was light enough that Evan could make out the shape of John's tree from across the field. He was further away than he'd ever woken up before and he made his way across the field as the cold seemed to cut straight through him.
"John?" Evan shouted when he reached just outside of John's tree. The walk had taken longer than Evan had imagined and he got the feeling there was definitely some shifts in perception and location happening despite the open space that seemed to characterize John's dreams. The branches of the tree were lashing wildly as if fighting off an enemy that couldn't be seen or felt. "Are you in there?" Evan asked, wondering if this was John's version of a nightmare.
"Evan?" John responded, followed by a short huff of breath being forcefully released. "Of course it's you. No one else ever shows up here."
Evan rubbed his hands against his arms, wondering if he'd made the right decision to come to John. Maybe John just needed some space and time to himself and here Evan was invading the only private place that John had. "Everything okay in there?" he asked, because he couldn't leave without making sure.
The branches, while not coming to a stop, slowed considerably and a space opened enough that was large enough for Evan to duck through.
"You staying out there all night?" John asked when Evan hesitated, repeating a question that seemed to be asked almost every night that Evan showed up.
Evan ducked in the space the branches were offering him and remained as calm as he could manage when they closed immediately behind him. The space covered by the tree was much warmer and there was a soft glow that surrounded them that seemed bright after the dark of the outside. John was pressed against the trunk of the tree, his hands tangled in the thick roots that had risen slightly from the ground. He looked tired, even in his dream, and Evan again wondered if he was intruding.
"Come over here, it's warmer," John said, holding his hand out in invitation for Evan to move further in.
Evan looked to the branches to see whether or not the movement would be construed as an invasion but they seemed occupied with warding off whatever it was that lurked outside. He stepped closer and sat down between two of the exposed roots, close enough that he could reach out and rest his hand on John's arm or leg but far enough away that the trunk of the tree was out of reach. John was right, it was warmer closer to the center of the tree, and Evan shrugged out of his jacket and set it on his lap.
John reached forward and lightly traced along Evan's wrist, the more delicate lines of his tattoos evident on his exposed skin. The touch was accompanied by a small electric pulse from the root that Evan's leg rested against and they both stilled though still connected until Evan's breathing settled again.
"Everything alright?" Evan asked again as he watched John's fingertips gently make their way up the inside of Evan's wrist.
John turned his attention away from Evan for a moment, looking to where the silent storm raged outside the tree. "Better now," he said. He shifted so that he was sitting with his back against the truck of the tree and his legs stretching out against Evan.
After a moment of consideration, Evan left his arm where John could still trace the tattoos and moved so that he was resting down against John's leg and thigh. He waited to see if John would push him away or if the tree would react and enforce John's personal space. When there was no objection, Evan lowered his head so that it was resting on John's thigh and after a minute, John's fingers resumed their delicate path along the lines etched in Evan's skin.
Evan looked up, noticing that the whirlwind of images that were contained in the branches had changed. Not all of them, or even most of them, but the ones that were closest to the bottom branches were colored darker and were more evenly patterned than what he recalled. When he realized that the images were the inside of the Hive Ship, Evan recoiled a little against John, even more surprised when John's hand left his arm to come up and soothe Evan's forehead.
"It's okay. You came for us," John said as his hand ran back into Evan's hair.
"I always will," Evan said, wondering how it was that he came with the intention of being there for John but wound up the one being comforted.
John paused at Evan's words but let them pass without comment, which was as loud as saying something.
Evan looked up and found an image of them sitting in the mess hall on Atlantis floating down through the branches and immediately remembered their conversation. He found himself smiling as he pulled his legs up so that his feet were closer to the warmth of the tree. This was something he could fix and fix without having to do much more than wait for the return of the Daedalus in a week. He moved the hand that was still in reach of John and after a moment found John's other hand and intertwined their fingers, giving him a light squeeze that was intended to be reassuring. John squeezed back and they rested together at the base of the tree.
It was only after the Daedalus had been and gone again that Evan looked up from where he was kneeling in front of the panels of stained glass to find John watching him from the steps.
"It's perfect," John said, nodding to the pieces that Evan had already finished working together.
Evan set the Ancient device McKay had given him to work on the glass with aside and rose to his feet. "It's not done yet. Probably another month on this section before I start restoring some of the smaller panels."
"You're going to work on more of them?" John asked, his voice carefully blank.
Wiping his forehead with the shirt he'd discarded earlier, Evan came over so that he was sitting on the steps next to John. "I sent back my request to remain on Atlantis back with Colonel Caldwell when the Daedalus left. Told them I was needed here, which is the truth, by the way. They'll trust my judgement and I imagine that this will be my posting for at least a few months." It wasn't as long as Evan wanted to say but he knew better than to promise what he couldn't know for sure.
John froze for a fraction of a section before smoothing his reaction into a nonchalant slouch against the steps behind him. "Decided to stick around for a while? Atlantis does seem to have that effect on people, well for the most part."
"I'm not staying because of Atlantis. Not just for Atlantis, at least," Evan said a little boldly. There was no one in the area and even if it was a little forward to say it, Evan needed John to hear it. "I want to stay because of you, John."
John's eyes skittered around the room before fixing on the edges of the glass where Evan had stopped working. "Atlantis needs people like you," he said after an uncomfortable moment.
Evan resisted the urge to say something more or to put any pressure on John. They had a comfortable camaraderie and sometimes a level of closeness in dreams could make things seem more than they were in the waking world. Part of him was quickly insisting that this was just a reaction to missing his brothers, looking for someone to fill the spot they'd left behind in his mind and his heart, but an even greater part knew there was something about John that drew Evan to him. He couldn't name it or describe it but John had become someone important to him and he knew that John sensed it too, even if his feelings were maybe not quite the same as John's. Evan startled a little when he felt John's hand on his shoulder, his fingertips tracing the edge of one of vine tattoos that started below his shoulder blade and wound forward to rest over his collar bone.
"Do you mind if I touch?" John asked, his fingers pulling away so there was an inch of space between them.
"I don't mind," Evan said honestly, his heart rate increasing as he thought of the last time he'd sat with someone who was touching and working on his tattoos.
John's fingers came back down, starting at the bones where his shoulder lead out into his arm and slipping back to run parallel to his shoulder blade. He paused at the end where the leaf became more detailed and then slowly followed the loops before moving over to trace the loops on Evan's other shoulder.
Evan scooted so that he was sitting on the step below John and in between his legs, leaning forward a little and resting his elbows on his knees so that John had unrestricted access and view to the tattoos. It felt nice, the touch warm and just barely there, almost like they had stolen a moment from John's dream and tucked it right into their day on Atlantis. He moved forward a little more when John's hands, both of them exploring now, dropped down to run along the stems and leaves that ran over Evan's sides. He squirmed slightly when John's hand hit a particularly sensitive spot, almost laughing as his muscles tightened involuntarily.
"How did you get this done if you're ticklish?" John asked, sounding equally amused even though he restricted his touch to outside of the area that had made Evan tense.
"Peter was very good," Evan said, his smile slipping a little and his eyes squeezing closed for a moment.
John's hands paused, having reached a few inches above Evan's belt and as low as they could go and still maintain the illusion of propriety. "What do they mean?"
Evan twisted his head around to check John's expression, leaning back into where John's hands were still pressed, and decided that John did actually want to know. He turned so that he was facing forward again, pressing his boots down against the steps. "They're identifiers. Each of the Dream Walkers in my Clan, my brothers," Evan paused and took a steadying breath, "had their own set, and each Clan has marks that are unique to them. There are some symbols that are nearly universal throughout all the clans and have specific meanings. I only have one of those. The rest will allow another Dream Walker to be able to recognize who I was trained by and who would be considered my family."
John's hand moved up Evan's spine and stopped at just below a vertebra where his shoulders sloped up to met his neck. "This one is not from your Clan?" he asked, tracing the circle with lines spreading in eight directions and a red dot in the center.
"Peter and I did almost all the tattoos in our Clan for our generation. The ones that are different, like that one, were all done by our Guide. The Norda indicates that I've taken a life within a dream walk," Evan said, trying to sound as casual as he could manage. Being able to kill in a dream was something that wasn't well known, something that was considered more myth and exaggeration than fact.
"It was a mission?" John asked, his hands remaining steady as one of his hands stayed on the mark they were discussing and the other moved to stroke the circles on Evan's left shoulder.
"Yes, shortly after I started working with the Air Force as a Dream Walker. Before that I'd only done consults." Evan relaxed a little when it became clear that John wasn't going to be horrified or become frightened of him.
"Your brothers are gone now?" John asked, his voice quiet.
"Yes," Evan said, the sharp echo of loss reverberating through him as he fought to contain it again.
John leaned forward, his hands still on Evan's shoulders, and placed a soft kiss on the side of Evan's neck. "I'm glad you're staying. And not just for Atlantis."
It took him a few seconds until Evan was able to lean back into John's touch and let John's arms slip around his shoulders. They stayed like that for long minutes, Evan hyperaware of John's pulse beating through his wrist against the soft skin at Evan's throat. "I've put some thought into doing a seascape in the panel on the far left," he said quietly. "Too much blue, do you think?"
"Not at all," John said, leaning back again and bringing Evan with him.
It was only two months later that Evan found himself sitting at John's bedside, barely conscious and barely functioning while John was quiet and still except for the steady rise and fall of his chest. The doctors still couldn't say what the Wraith Queen had done to John even though there was nothing physically wrong with him. Rodney, after he'd woken and gained a semblance of coherency, explained how the Wraith Queen had placed her feeding hand on John's head. Even Ronon and Teyla had never heard of a Wraith doing that before. Whatever the Wraith had done hadn't left a mark or anything that would suggest how to go about helping John.
Evan hovered at John's beside as much as he could get away with, which wasn't much considering how often John’s team camped there and how many things were his responsibility while John was incapacitated. He'd spent the entire previous night trying to reach John's dreams and jerking awake every twenty minutes when he was forced back from his mind every time.
It hadn't actually taken much convincing to get Weir and Beckett to agree to letting him do an exploratory dream walk to see if he could contact John in someway. He didn't tell them that he wasn't planning on coming out until he'd found John and he was safe in the knowledge that the nearest person who could pull him out was more than six weeks away on the Daedalus. Beckett had set up a monitor for his vitals, even after Evan gave him a multitude of a reassurances that he wasn't in any danger. It was mostly true, as long as John didn't latch onto him and keep him from waking Evan would be fine. He also didn't mention that there was a very real possibility of that happening, much like someone drowning latching onto the person who'd swam out to save them and pulling them both back under the water.
Evan's shirt was already draped over the back of his chair and his boots set on the floor nearby. He climbed into John's bed, letting Beckett help to pull John forward enough that Evan could slide behind him. When John's head was safely resting on Evan's chest, Evan moved his hands down so that they were resting over John’s heart and worked toward pushing away his own fear and exhaustion and concentrating on the field and John's tree.
"We'll be right here waiting for you, Major," Beckett said as Evan slowed his breathing.
Evan's eyes fell closed as he drifted away from himself, all of his focus on John's heartbeat.
It was silent when he opened his eyes and if it wasn't for the barest light surrounding John's tree he would have thought he was in the wrong place. Evan jogged quickly across the field, ignoring the path his boots made when the strands of long grass shattered when he stepped on them. He reached the tree quickly enough and paused, a little afraid to touch it after what seeing what he'd done to the field. All of the branches and limbs had flopped down and were motionless. Evan knelt and touched the ground, relieved that even though he couldn't hear John's heartbeat he could at least feel it weakly beating through the soil. Kneeling gave him the vantage point he needed to see a way through the branches and Evan carefully moved forward and into the space sheltered by the tree.
The inside was only barely warmer than beyond the branches and Evan tried not to think about what that might mean. His teacher, his Guide, had always been very adamant that dreams were representations within representations. It was what made killing someone in their dream so difficult; finding a person's life force and destroying it took knowing that person better than you knew yourself. Evan knew better than to believe that the tree was John's life force; no one would have it out like this where anyone could wander in and see it or touch it. But the near death of John's dreamscape, the only dream he'd ever seen of John's, worried Evan even more than seeing John being carried through the 'gate.
Evan stopped at the base of the tree with extra care not to step on any of the exposed roots, peering up to see what was closest to the lower branches. There was barely anything at all, mere flickers of what Evan recognized as a Hive Ship and the Wraith Queen, all the rest of the tree dark.
"John!" Evan shouted, his voice being immediately swallowed by the branches. He looked around, planning on going back out and testing his theory about the walls in John's dreams but the branches had closed in even closer now that Evan was inside. Still wary about touching the tree, Evan walked around the space that he had, circling back behind as he realized that he'd only ever seen John in the one location. The damage to the back of the tree made it immediately evident why. "Oh, John," Evan said softly as he bent down and let his hands hover over the scarred and deadened surface of the trunk.
He turned around slowly, his eyes having adjusted to the near dark and realized what had caught his attention. It had been almost silent the entire time he'd been here, even the sound of his own voice unnaturally muted, and he waited until he heard the cry again before moving forward. There was a large crack in the wall behind the tree in the area that where the branches were only painted onto the wall instead of living, moving things. Evan ducked his head and went through, ignoring the fact that he was purposefully breaching a wall of privacy in John's mind. It was a Dream Walker technique, a signal to outsiders that this was a part of their mind that others were not welcome in. The Guide had taught Evan how to build his when he was seven years old and no one had been near there since. Looking beyond how John even knew how to do such a thing, going through was a violation on a level that Evan couldn't explain to anyone who wasn't a Dream Walker. It was almost naturally anathema, something they all understood without ever having to ask. But Evan's priority was rescuing John, even if John never wanted to speak with him again afterward. With any luck John would sense the intrusion and move toward him without Evan seeing anything he shouldn't.
The inside of the wall was no more comforting than the quiet and deadness outside and Evan desperately wanted to turn back. He pressed forward, aware that the feeling was a natural defense designed to push him away, and kept his goal firmly in mind. He had to find John and get both of them out. Repeating this to himself, Evan exited the open room and walked along the hallway, leaving the doors alone for the time being. The padlocks, silver and shining, affixed to each of the doors was enough of a deterrent. His boots echoed on the hardwood floor, the wallpaper seemingly regal and immaculate but peeling along the edges. There were no other sounds and no other movements and Evan kept a careful eye on his surroundings.
The house seemed endless with furniture all arranged carefully in the open areas he came across, with the exception of a broken lamp that Evan knelt next to and examined carefully before moving on, and enough locked doors that Evan couldn't begin to count. He imagined that he'd gone by more than a hundred in his wandering and would be worried that he couldn't find his way out again if he didn't know that he'd have John for that journey.
A quiet voice caught Evan's attention and he turned down a small corridor that he otherwise would have walked by. It was bright at the end of the hall, brighter than he'd seen anywhere since he'd arrived and Evan quickened his steps. A pair of glass doors were wide open, leading out into an atrium with a sycamore tree growing in the middle. John was sprawled beneath the tree, his head tipped back as he stared up into the branches.
"John," Evan called as he stepped into the garden, recoiling when he was inundated by noise and voices. He reflexively put his hands over his ears as he moved forward, trying to block out the sound and reach John. The sound of a helicopter filled the background, even as he could hear shouts and cries and a loud voice that made the ground shake beneath him. John seemed unaware of the cacophony as he stared blankly, his body limp and eyes unfocused. Evan made it to John, dropping down and shaking his shoulders in a desperate attempt to catch his attention.
It took a minute, noise battering away at Evan's head the entire time, but John slowly turned and managed to focus on Evan.
Evan thought about shouting, trying to be heard over everything else, but he doubted that John would be able to hear him anyway. He wrapped his hand around one of John's and steadily looked him in the eye, trying to convey his intentions without saying a word. At long last, John sat up and they walked hand in hand back to the doors and into the house.
The sudden silence was enough to convince Evan that he'd gone deaf, at least temporarily, and he moved his hands to ears only to feel blood dripping down the sides of his neck.
"What are you doing here?" John asked, looking as though he only just realized Evan was there.
"Getting you out," Evan said, relieved that he could actually hear John, even if he sounded like he was calling from far away.
John frowned and looked around, obviously unsettled by Evan's presence.
Evan held up his hands, barely aware of the stains of blood. "I know, I shouldn't be here. But later, okay? We can talk about that later," he said, mentally adding a whole list of things he wanted to talk to John about.
"Or not," John replied tersely, but turned to lead the way and Evan hurried to follow him.
John made his way through the house far more quickly than Evan could have on his own, slipping through rooms that Evan hadn't seen the first time around. It was nearly difficult for Evan to keep up, John seeming almost insubstantial inside the house; his body thinner and his expression blank and unfocused. He continually looked around him, on guard for whatever was lurking nearby and startled at noises that Evan couldn't hear. John broke into a run in the last hallway, leaving Evan scrambling to keep up as they rushed to the sanctuary of the hole in the wall.
"Hurry," John shouted, stopping at the wall and holding his hand out for Evan even as his gaze was focused further down the hallway, fear overtaking his eyes.
Evan ran as fast as he could, already winded and dizzy, grateful when he felt John's hand grab his arm and pull both of them through and back into the field. They dropped to the ground as they tumbled over each other, Evan's arms instinctively wrapping around John as they hit the dirt. The area underneath the tree was warm again and when they came to a stop by the trunk of the tree, Evan was grateful to feel John's pulse in the dirt beneath them and the branches were already lighter and swaying slightly in the nonexistent breeze.
After a few minutes, John pulled away, pressing himself against the trunk of the tree like if he could cover the damaged area Evan would forget that he'd seen it.
"It's okay," Evan said firmly. "I'm not even going to ask."
John waited as if testing the truthfulness of Evan's statement but eventually gave a jerky nod and let his head drop back against the trunk of the tree. "I'm really tired," he said, his eyes blinking heavily.
Evan moved so that he was sitting next to John and carefully settled an arm over John's shoulder. "Close your eyes for a while, I'll be here."
They were still until John let his head roll over onto Evan's shoulder, letting Evan pull him close and his eyes fell shut. Evan let out a slow breath and concentrated on keeping John safe in his arms, determined not to let John sink away from him again.