Warning: Mild infrequent swearing
Author Notes: If you haven't previously read 'The Laundry Ultimatum' you may not understand who the character Sgt Ward is, or what his role is on Atlantis. He does crop up in the other two stories, but that's the one that's also told from his perspective.
I originally wrote this for the sga_genficathon but then realised as soon as I finished it that this isn't gen. And therefore doesn't count. Which is where 'The Ancient Legacy' came from. Think of this as one possible outcome from the fallout of that story. :)
Many thanks also to for all the reassurances on this story. It's been...a toughie to write.
"One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching." (Unknown)
Restart session with new client?
"No! Sergeant, wait!"
John laid back and rested his head on one arm, staring up at the stars. "I may have gatecrashed the wedding."
"I know," the girl smoothed her dress down and laid down beside him.
"Marie, I'm being sent on detachment to Germany." He didn't look at her. "You gonna write?"
She smiled. "I don't really know you."
"Course you do. I'm your future husband."
"John, it's gonna kill - stop this!"
Marie laughed long and loud. John propped himself up on one elbow and stared at her feeling decidedly disgruntled."What?"
"Does that ever work?" she asked still laughing helplessly.
"Colonel, please, turn it off!"
After a few moments she shifted closer to him and leaned against his chest. He smiled and wrapped his free arm around her.
"John! Turn it off!"
John's eyes shot open and in the grueling, overwhelming disorientation that followed he was aware only that he was falling, down, down into sweet oblivion where calloused hands were waiting to catch him.
o o o o o
The first thing John registered, as he slowly woke, was someone holding his hand. "Marie," he sighed.
"Marie? Who the hell's Marie?"
John's eyes shot open. He was lying in a bed, three people stood around watching him. The woman sitting beside him gently squeezed his hand and smiled. The colours of the world seem abnormally stark and harsh sending a sharp stab of pain through his head. John clamped his eyes shut.
Who were they?
"Hey, don't go back to sleep again!" a man's voice, whiny and a little worried.
"Rodney," the woman warned.
'Rodney'. John's mind went on fast forward. His team, they were his team. This was Atlantis, not...not Earth. Then Maria - she - no.
"Jennifer, he's awake!" Rodney called, his voice cutting through John's brain.
"Not so loud," he muttered. He risked opening his eyes again and found himself looking up into the eyes of a young woman. 'Doctor Keller' his mind supplied after a brief pause.
"Hey," she smiled, "how're you feeling?"
"I'm alright," said John automatically. "What happened?
Keller and his team exchanged glances with each other over his head.
"What do you remember?" Keller asked instead, the smile gone from her face.
John strained his memory, trying to push through troubled and unwanted images. "We were on P3X 265," he said slowly. He glanced across at his team and noticed for the first time they all looked dishevelled as if they had been wearing the same clothes for a couple of days. "We got captured," he said eventually trying to keep the question out of his voice.
"That's right," said Keller nodding.
"Oh come on," Rodney snapped gesturing violently at John. "He's guessing."
"We do get captured frequently," Teyla agreed after a moment. She fixed John with a look. "It is not difficult to guess."
Keller frowned. "Colonel, what do you actually remember?"
Across the room he heard a sharp moan of pain.
John climbed out the car and stared at the house in front of him. He tugged his jumper down and pulled his bag out the car and onto his shoulder. He pushed open the garden gate and made his way up the path to the front door. He knocked twice and waited.
The door was wrenched open and Marie flung herself into his arms. "You came! You came!"
"I promised didn't I?" He smiled.
She reached up and slapped him. "You're three hours late!"
The after image of Marie briefly overlaid Keller, John shook himself and she disappeared. He released a slow breath. "I got nothing. We went to the planet, met the welcoming committee...that's it."
Again his team exchanged looks with each other over his head but Keller glanced down at her feet. John felt something in his gut clench painfully. "What happened?"
"They put us in a cell, then, after a few hours, we were separated from you," said Teyla gently.
Out the corner of his eye John saw Rodney twitch. "I don't remember."
"You were..." Teyla hesitated.
"We could hear you scream," Rodney blurted out. "I thought, I mean, but then, well, rescue finally arrived and they found us and then we found you. And you were strapped to a chair, Marmit -"
"Marlin," Teyla interrupted softly. "He was holding onto you. I think you were fighting him, turning his own device against him."
"An Ancient device," said Rodney. "So naturally your gene was beating his."
"I shot him," said Ronon succinctly.
"Why didn't you write?"
"Don't be like that."
"Be like what?"
"That! Christ I've got my mother complaining I only come home to visit you, I've got some much work on and now when I get my only 20 minute phone call of the week you start on at me!"
"I'm not! I was worried!"
John closed his eyes, fisting his hands in his sheets in an effort to reassure himself he wasn't moving.
"Colonel?" Keller asked.
"Headache," he muttered.
"Okay, okay, I'll get you something to help," said Keller soothingly. John heard her shift beside him. "I think it's best if you all leave, for now, he needs rest."
"Doctor," a new voice, one of the nurses? John risked opening one eye and caught a glimpse of a medical uniform. "I've got Sergeant Ward's blood test results for you."
John frowned and opened his eyes. "Did laundry explode again?"
"No," said Teyla gently. "He was part of the -"
Marie pulled him into the living room and dragged him in front of her parents. "Mum! Dad! He proposed! He proposed!"
Marie's mother stared at them both in shock. "Marie, I need to talk to you." She stood up and dragged her daughter from the room. He shuffled awkwardly on his feet and nodded to Maria's father.
Her father smiled. "Remember what I told you when you asked for permission?"
He nodded again. "You said if I hurt her you'd break both my legs and then drop me off the edge of the cliffs at Bridlington."
"Right. And that's nothing compared to what Joanne will do."
He swallowed hard. "I understand."
"He's in the military! That's no life for a girl like you!" Joanne screeched from the kitchen. "He'll ruin you, and take your best years. And then where will you be?"
"I love him!" Marie yelled back.
"He's an idiot!"
John turned to Philip. "You didn't tell Joanne?"
Philip snorted. "Son, I'm not stupid."
John blinked and stared at the concerned woman stood at his beside.
"Colonel Sheppard?" she said again.
He suddenly realised she was addressing him. "What? Uh, sorry, I'm kinda finding it hard to..." he shook his head and trailed off."Headache," he ended lamely.
"Of course," she said with a slight frown.
John stared at her as slow memories clunked into place. Teyla. A stranger, no, not a stranger, Rodney, stood at the foot of his bed drew his attention by suddenly slapping his hand against his ear. "What is it? Can you not...? No, no, no, no, no, what do you mean it's still running? Switch it off!...Damnit! Fine!" He suddenly pushed his way past Teyla and bent down to John's level, his hand gripping his shoulder."Sheppard, I need you to focus, the device you were hooked up to is still running. Are you see-"
"This," Bunny slurred drunkenly shoving a traffic cone on his head, "is, is like a trophy thing. To celebrate you being, being, ummm, emancipated."
John reached up and straightened his traffic cone. "Married," he said. "'m gettin' married, Bunny, not eman - emansid - the other thing."
"Man, 's like prison, only with girls," Archie told him, weaving into a bush. "Argh! 's prickly!"
He laughed long and loud at his friend, his traffic cone slipping down over his eyes. "I can't see! It's dark!"
Sam reached over and pulled the cone off his head. "Hey!" Bunny protested. "I got him that!"
"You stole it," said Sam, setting it down in someone's garden.
"Yeah, for him!" said Bunny slinging his arm round John's shoulders.
Sam shook his head. "Urgh, 'm too sober for you lot - to the pub!"
"Jennifer! Get over here!"
"Not so loud, Bunny," John mumbled, blinking rapidly. He held on again to the bed as the world seemed to lurch around him.
"Rodney," John realised as his teammates stared at him in concern.
"I think the device is still affecting you," said Rodney quickly. "I need you to focus, you keep zoning out. But you've got to focus, concentrate."
"Zoning out?" John rubbed his face. Atlantis, he was on Atlantis, right. "I keep seeing things and I can't, I can't control it."
"Earth," John admitted.
An alarm blared in the corner of the infirmary. "What's happening?" John asked trying to push himself up in the bed to see.
"It's Ward," said Ronon looking over.
"Ward? Did Laundry explode again?" John asked confused. "Is he alright?"
"John," said Teyla slowly. "I explained before, do you not remember?"
John shook his head.
"He was part of the rescue team that came for us," Teyla explained patiently, worry bleeding through into her expression, Ronon hovering behind her.
"what happened to him?" John asked. "Was he..."
Bunny surveyed him critically. "What the hell happened to your hand?"
John quickly hid his right hand behind his back. "I trapped it in the car door."
"It looks like you finger's about to drop off," Bunny teased. "I bet Marie was thrilled." He stepped back and peered through the doors into the Church. "I thought you were keeping the wedding small!" He squinted. "I didn't think you knew this many people."
"I don't." He shrugged. "She's got a big family."
Bunny sighed loudly and rocked on his heels. "She's late."
"She's not late."
"She's fifteen minutes late," said Bunny pointing at his watch. "Maybe her mother's convinced her not to marry you."
John turned and glared at him. "What're you talking about? She's on her way."
Bunny held up his hands in mock defence. "Relax, I'm joking. It'll be fine."
"She is late isn't she?" he asked after a moment. "She's not coming."
"What? She is coming," said Bunny hastily. "I was joking."
"I'm not good enough for her," he admitted quietly.
"Of course you're not," Bunny agreed. "But she's still marrying you." He nudged his shoulder and pointed. "I can see the bridal car."
John gasped and rubbed his eyes furiously till Atlantis blurred back into focus and the knowledge of who the people around him clunked back into his brain. The alarms from before had stopped but there was still no sign of Keller in the immediate vicinity. Rodney has disappeared but Teyla and Ronon were still at his bedside. His head felt unbearably tender. "It happened again," he said.
"McKay's gone to try and stop it," Ronon told him. "He'll fix it."
"He thinks there might be more than the mental component keeping it in operation," Teyla explained. "You managed to turn it off originally at the site."
John winced. Teyla's voice echoed through his mind: "Colonel, please, turn it off!". "I remember, I heard you."
"That's good," Teyla gave him a small smile.
"You keep forgetting," Ronon muttered.
"Do you remember what happens when you," Teyla appeared to chose her words carefully, "zone out?"
John hesitated. "I see...events, things happening on Earth."
"Premonitions?" Teyla asked.
"No," said John quickly. "It's in the past."
"You've mentioned people called Marie and Bunny," said Teyla.
"Bunny Warren," John nodded, ducking his head so he wouldn't have to look at them. "He's a friend."
"I, I don't remember," John lied. A thought struck him. "Ward! Is he ok?"
"I believe he is stable," said Teyla with a quick glance up at Ronon, who nodded once. "The machine had a more adverse affect on him than you."
"He was affected too?" John asked, he sat up quickly. "What's happening to him? Is it the same as me?"
"Sheppard." John stilled and looked up at Ronon. "We've told you twice now."
"Then tell me again."
Keller hurried over, looking tired. "Colonel, how're you doing?"
"He has had at least three more episodes," Teyla told her. "They appear to be increasing in duration. Much like on the planet he is completely unresponsive."
Keller nodded tightly and turned to examine the monitors behind his head.
John stepped into the house and kicked off his boots. "Marie!" He called, "I'm home!" He shucked off his jacket and hung it on the coat rack. "Marie?" He turned right heading down the hallway into the kitchen. He stopped short in the doorway at the sight of Marie scrubbing the hob, the fumes from the cleaning fluid permeating the room. "Hi. You having fun?""
"I'm cleaning," she said tightly.
John gazed round the room. "I thought it was fine before."
"Well it's not fine," Marie snapped, scrubbing harder, the sponge squeaking against the surface. "This is our first home -"
"It's only married quarters," he corrected absently.
Marie whipped round to face him. "It's still our home. I don't want my mother coming here and having her thinking we live in some kind of hovel."
"It's your mother, not a march out," John snapped back, annoyed. "I've been at work all day, I don't want to be doing this right now. Besides she should be pleased to see you not -" He stopped short and shook his head. "No wait, I forgot, your mother's insane." He sighed. "What do you want me to do?"
Marie threw the sponge at him.
"What the -?" John threw his hands up as he came aware of a blinding light being flashed into his eyes.
"You had another episode, Colonel," said a doctor, her lips pursed unhappily. "Your readouts are showing activity similar to that of someone in a dreamstate."
"What?" John rubbed his eyes furiously. "I don't - wait, I..." A thought worked its way to the forefront of his mind. "The guy, um, Mckay, has he had any luck?"
"Not yet," the doctor frowned.
"Doctor!" a voice called urgently.
She hurried away leaving John alone once more with, with... Ronon and Teyla.
After a moment he realised they were staring at him with obvious worry and shifted uncomfortably. "Hey, I'm fine."
"Rodney will figure it out," said Teyla eventually. "Of that I am sure."
John stared down at his drink mournfully. Bunny nudged his side. "Hey, what pissed on your bonfire?"
"oh," Bunny took a generous swig of his drink. "Shit." He glanced sideways at him. "Is it yours?"
"Bloody hell!" John snapped turning on him. "Of course its mine. Jesus!"
"I'm only saying," said Bunny holding up his hands in mock surrender. "What're you gonna do?"
"What can I do?" John sighed and gently swirled the liquid in his glass. "I can't believe she did this to me."
Bunny snorted. "Yeah, I'm sure she planned it all."
"I'm not ready for this!"
Bunny drained his drink and set it down on the counter. "Hasn't it got to cook for a while? You've got time."
"I'm not good with kids," John muttered. He resisted the urge to groan as his surroundings shifted. Atlantis. Still Atlantis. Always Atlantis.
"Yes, he is still 'zoning out'," said Teyla beside him, her hand resting gently on her radio. She looked up at him. "Rodney, I believe John is with us once more." She unhooked her radio and passed it to John. "He wishes to speak with you."
John took the radio from her and put it on. "McKay?"
"Finally!" Rodney's voice boomed in his ear. "You're not focusing are you? You've got to concentrate!"
"Concentrate?" John tried again.
"I can't get it to turn off, you're not thinking it on are you?"
"From here? What am I turning it on with? My mind?" John asked incredulously. "No! Isn't there an off button?"
"If there was don't you think I would've pressed it by now! This thing's been so mangled by those stupid, stupid morons you're lucky it's not already melted your brain! Wait! What do you mean -?"
John headed up through the garden towards the payphone on the other side of the gate where Marie was sitting, the handset pressed against her ear. "Yes, I know," said Marie into the phone. "No, we've tried that...and that...no, nothing's shifting him..." she rubbed her bump and sighed heavily. "No, tried that too..."
John waved to get her attention. 'Is that your mother?' he mouthed.
She nodded. "Yes, mum... No, no, he's here...you want to speak to him?"
John shook his head vehemently. Marie handed him the phone. "Joanne," he said bringing the handset up to his ear. "How are you?"
"What are you playing at?" the strident tones of his mother-in-law pierced his eardrum. "She's uncomfortable, why aren't you helping her?"
"I'm doing everything I can," John protested. "We've tried everything. Spicy food, long walks -"
"No, no, you're an idiot. The best way to get things moving is to go have s-"
"Please don't ever, ever complete that sentence," John interrupted hastily.
Marie poked him in the ribs. "What's she say?"
"Don't shoot it! Are you insane? We have no idea what that could do to them!"
"He's gonna die!"
"And that could kill him faster!"
"Shut up!" John snapped, wincing as a flash of pain cut through his temples. He blinked. Two men were stood just to the left of the foot of his bed, a curious flat-bottomed spherical device sat on a trolley beside them. "What's going on?"
The woman at his bedside squeezed his hand. "You name is Colonel John Sheppard. We are your friends. Try to remember."
John stared at her and felt a sudden, familiar sense of disorientation sweeping across him. "I'm in the infirmary."
"Good, you're back with us," Rodney shoved past Ronon and pushed Teyla aside. "The linguists are telling us that the device is a 'walk a mile in somebody else's shoes' kinda thing which is concurrent with what the readings are showing as you and Ward both have matching spikes in your brain activity. When you zone out, you said to Teyla you see things, things that have happened in the past."
"It's my life," said John defensively. "There I don't -" remember here at all. He stopped three beds down he could see a cluster of medical personnel surrounding an unbearably familiar grey haired man, his face pale and scrunched up in obvious agony. "What's wrong with him?"
"We think he's experiencing the same thing as you," said Rodney.
"He's in pain," John realised, watching the man some more. "He can't be living what I am. It's not, it's good."
At the end of the bed John caught sight of Ronon as the man started to pace in agitation.
"John," said Teyla, with a quick glance across at Rodney. "Sergeant Ward has yet to awake."
John crouched down in front of the pushchair, beside him Bunny mirrored his actions. He gazed in pure adoration at his son.
"He's got a lot of hair," said Bunny after a pause.
"Yeah, the nurses said it was pretty unusual to see a newborn with such a lot of hair and eyebrows as well," said John proudly.
They stared at the sleeping baby some more.
"Is he breathing?" Bunny asked suddenly, sounding anxious.
"What? I think so." John watched his son uncertainly. "No, he must be."
"I'll poke him and see," said Bunny immediately.
"Connor Warren, you wake that baby up and it'll be the last thing you ever do," Marie hissed behind them.
John groaned and pressed the heel of his hands against his eyes.
He moved his hands, suprised at the sudden pang of regret that shot through him. "Colonel?" he echoed.
"Yes, Colonel," said the tired looking woman stood at his bedside. "Colonel John Sheppard."
"Yeah," he said after a moment. "Sorry, it's getting, messed up." He turned away from her surreptitiously looking for an exit.
"Given the circumstances that's understandable," she gave him a small smile.
John crept into the house and kicked off his boots. He hung up his jacket on the coat rack and padded quietly across the carpet into the living room. Marie was stretched out across the sofa fast asleep, one hand resting on their son in his car seat. John smiled and knelt beside the car seat. Baby Connor stared blankly round the room, seemingly content to suck on his fist. "Hey little man," he whispered. "Have you worn mummy out?"
John closed his eyes.
"Is he asleep?"
He risked opening his eyes, panic slowly curling round his insides.
"You had another episode," a young woman told him. "Shorter this time."
"I'm being posted to Lossiemouth," said John.
Marie paused for a split second before continuing to rock Connor. "Where's that?"
"Scotland," he admitted.
She seemed to digest this.
"So, it'll just be us? On our own?"
"Do we get fitted carpets this time?"
"So you're ok with this?"
Marie reached up and pulled him down for a kiss. "I love that you think I have a choice." She smiled and passed him the baby. "When do we go?"
There was an alarm blaring and a flurry of movement happening somewhere to his left. He opened his eyes and frowned. There was a woman sat at his bedside, her expression calm but her eyes seemed worried as they stared into the distance. "You ok?" he asked.
"I am fine," she said with a feeble half smile. "Rodney has made some progress with the device."
The woman frowned, her expression tugged on a passing memory but he struggled to hold onto it. "Do you remember where you are?"
"I..." he trailed off and stared at his surroundings.
"Colonel," she prompted.
"I'm only a JT," he muttered absently. "Bloody hell my head hurts."
"No," she said firmly. "You are Colonel John Sheppard of Atlantis."
"Why am I here?" he asked finally after an uncomfortable pause. He paused to do a mental check of himself. He had a headache, throbbing painfully behind his temples, he felt bruised but not incapacitated. "What happened? Did you call Marie?" His voice sounded odd to his own ears. He sounded almost...American? He huffed a small laugh.
"You are under the influence of an Ancient device," she told him. "We believe it is causing you to zone out where you experience things which are not real."
John opened the front door door and stepped inside. "I'm home!" he called, tossing his bad to one side and kicking off his boots.
There was a squeal of delight from somewhere within the flat and Marie hurried out and threw herself into his arms. "You're back, you're back," she chanted happily.
He tilted her face up and kissed her. "That wasn't so long was it?" He glanced down at her belly and pressed his hand against it. "My boy's getting big."
She swatted his hand away with a laugh. "Its a girl, I'm telling you." She kissed him again. "I missed you. Felt like longer than a month."
"Likewise," he smiled. "Where's Connor?"
"Finishing up his nap," she said still smiling. "You want to go get him? I'll put the kettle on."
He reluctantly released her and headed down the hallway towards Connor's room. Connor stood up expectantly in his crib when he came in. "Hey little man!" he greeted him cheerfully. "Did you miss Daddy?" He lifted him up out of the cot and hugged him. But to his surprise Connor suddenly burst into tears, pushing at him with tiny hands. "Con'? Connor, it's ok, I've got you."
"Maaa!" Connor wailed.
"You're ok, you're ok," John soothed fruitlessly. "It's me, it's daddy, remember? You're ok. You're ok."
Marie hurried into the room. "What's going on?"
Connor reached for her and John wordlessly passed him over, a lump settling in his throat. "I don't know what's wrong with him. I... I don't think he recognises me."
Marie rubbed Connor's back in circles till his crying eased. "You were gone for a month," she said simply. "Life doesn't stop when you go away."
"He doesn't recognise me," John said numbly.
"One month," she reminded him. She leant across and gave him a quick kiss. "And its post nap grumpiness -" She gave him a mischievious grin "- can't imagine who he gets that from."
John inhaled sharply and struggled with a sickening swoop of disorientation as he took in his surroundings. "What-?"
"Sheppard!" A blue eyed man suddenly appeared in his field of vision. "Finally, I've been trying to get through to you for ages!"
"What?" John repeated confused. "I don't -"
"It's you, you're the one keeping the device running," said the man. "You have to turn it off. Do you remember? Oh God, you don't remember do you? This is bad, really bad, you have to think 'off'. Are you doing it? Come on! Think 'off'!"
"I'm not entirely sure where I am."
John frowned and shifted his grip on the payphone handset. "Bunny is that you?"
"Of course its me!"
"You called the payphone outside my house?" John scanned his small front garden and nodded in satisfaction when he saw Connor was sat on the blanket where he'd left him.
"I'd have called your house phone if you had one," Bunny snapped.
"How did you know I'd answer?" John paused. "Wait, hang on." He let go of the handset and hurried forward to close the garden gate. "Connor," he called, "you stay there, Uncle Moron has done something stupid that Daddy has to take care of, ok?" He backtracked and picked up the phone, twisting on the spot until he found a position where he could still see his son clearly.
"Did you just call me a moron?" Bunny demanded as soon as John held the handset to his ear.
"No, of course not," John lied. "But if I disappear suddenly its to grab Connor."
"You abandoned your soon-to-be eldest child to answer a payphone?"
"Bunny," John sighed heavily. "You called me, now what do you want?"
"Oh right," said Bunny sounding momentarily confused. "Yeah, I'm not entirely sure where I am."
John watched Connor studiously pushed his truck round the edges of the blanket. "Well I can't help you there."
"Oh. Really?" The phone beeped three times. "Argh! The three pips! Hang on."
John heard the muffled sounds of Bunny fumbling change into the payphone. "I'm sort of impressed you remembered this number."
"I'm gifted. Has Marie dropped the sprog yet?"
"No. Should be soon though." John focused on the garden again. Connor had found his bucket and spade. "She's gone window shopping with her sister."
"You've got one of Satan's Minions staying over?"
"Yup, and The Mistress of Darkness herself is coming up next week."
"Sounds like fun."
"Always," John sighed again.
There was a gusty release of breath on the other side of the phone. "How the hell did I get here?"
"I don't know, mate, you'll have to tell me."
"I dunno, that's the problem," said Bunny heavily.
John moved the handset and stared at it as if it could offer him answers before putting it back against his ear. "Is this about you being lost? Seriously, just go to the nearest house and ask."
"No, it's... yeah, okay."
John glanced across at the garden and froze. The toy truck his son had been playing with had been abandoned on the blanket. "Bunny, I've gotta go, speak to you later." He hung up without waiting for a replied and ran into the garden. "Connor!" He spun on the spot, his gaze taking in every tiny space between the bushes and flowers. "Connor, where are you?"
The front door stood slightly ajar and he hurried indoors. "Connor! Come on, its not funny to hide from Daddy!" There was a muffled giggle from the kitchen. "Connor, what're you doing?" He jogged down the corridor and into the kitchen.
"Hi Daddy!" Connor beamed up at him, waving his tiny plastic spade in greeting showering the floor into white powder. "
John felt his heart sink. Connor had dragged out their carefully rationed box of washing powder from the cupboard and had tipped it all out onto the floor. Some of it had been arranged into clumsy heaps but a larger portion was foaming gently in a sea of orange squash.
"Daddy?" Connor's expression fell.
John inhaled sharply, fell to his knees and began scooping up the remaining dry powder back into the box. "Your mother is going to kill me."
His muscles felt stiff as he flexed his fingers. John opened his eyes and frowned. The room didn't look like anything he remembered, although thinking about it sent a sharp stab of pain through his head. It had an unnaturally high ceiling and his seemed to be one of two occupied beds in there, though there was another with machines all around it like it was just waiting for an occupant. People milled about the beds talking in hushed tones.
"Excuse me," he said and frowned. His voice sounded different.
Three people detached themselves from the rest and crowded round him.
"What's going on?" he asked warily.
"Thank God," said one of the men, in obvious relief. "You were out for ages. No time for that. I know this might be strange and you've probably no idea what's going on, but I need you to think 'off'."
"off?" John asked confused. "I don't -"
"Please," said the woman, her voice soft and troubled. "Concentrate on turning off this device." She gestured to a flat bottomed spherical device sat on a trolley. "All it requires is that you think 'off'"
"Crap! He's zoning - John! Concen-"
John grunted, snapping awake as someone continued to poke him in the side. "What? What is it?"
"My contractions have started," said Marie, rocking on the bed and breathing heavily.
"Really? Do we need to go to the hospital yet? Isn't it going to be a while?" John asked hurriedly.
"No," Marie gasped. "We have to go now!"
"Rodney are you sure you want to do this?"
"JOANNE! JOANNE!" John ran into the living room, almost falling over as he tried to pull on his trousers at the same time.
Joanne woke with a start and squinted at him through the darkness.
"Marie! Baby!" John struggled valiantly to fasten his trousers as he spoke. "Hospital now! Watch Connor!"
"She's in labour?" Joanne asked, swinging her legs out of bed and pushing herself to her feet. "Go then! And be careful, the snow's deep." She offered him a rare smile. "Take care of them."
John nodded, snatched up his car keys and hurried to the front door where Marie was waiting, still in her nightdress, with boots on her feet and her coat tucked around her. "Ready?" He held onto her tightly as they made their way out of the house and into the cold winter's night.
Another contraction hit as he was helping her into the car. "This is worse than with Connor," Marie groaned.
"It's going to be fine, its going to be fine," John chanted and he dived round the car and threw himself into the drivers seat. "See, look at things being fine."
"Just calm down and drive!"
John drove as fast as he dared, out of his street and onto the main road.
"Lou - argh!" Marie grabbed hold his arm tightly as she rode through another contraction.
"Let go, sweetheart," said John urgently as her nails dug in painfully to the exposed skin on his arm. "I need to change gear!"
"Sorry, sorry," Marie let go and groaned. "My waters broke."
"In the car?!" Marie glared at him. "Right, right, priorities, sorry."
John gripped the steering wheel tightly as they began their aching slow descent down the steep road towards Elgin. A patch of ice threatened to send them skidding off the road but John kept them moving.
John turned his head sharply at the sound of a new voice, a male voice on his back seat. "What the hell?!" He reached out in panic for the steering wheel only to find himself in the back seat, his fingers meeting nothing but the coarse fabric of the seat in front of him.
"Sheppard! John, calm down! It's me!"
John surged forward in his seat as Marie cried out. "Marie, it's ok, I -" He stopped short in shock. There was another man in the driver's seat, looking like a picture of terrified concentration. He was broader than John, his hair already flecked with grey at the sides.
John fell back, hard against the back seat, but the two in front didn't pay any attention. "What's going on?" he asked with a mounting feeling of dread. "Who's that?"
The man sat beside him made as if to reach out, then stopped. "You're in a memory. This is Sergeant Ward's memory -"
"No, no she's my wife," John insisted, his heart sinking. "She's having my baby, we've got a son -"
"John," the man cut him off. "This isn't your life. You're seeing Ward's memories, but it's killing him, and you have to stop this because if he dies we think the shock of it might kill you too." This time he did reach out and awkwardly grasped John's shoulder. "You know me."
John stared at him then groaned and clutched hold of his head. "Rodney. I don't understand."
"I'll explain later," said Rodney quickly. "Just trust me. Turn it off."
John glanced across at Marie.
"She's my wife, Rodney, we've got a family!"
"It's not your life," said Rodney. "Its his, and if you don't turn this off now you're both going to die."
John reached out for Marie, who was panting heavily with an oncoming contraction.
"Turn it off!"
John nodded once. He closed his eyes and concentrated.End session?'Yes'.
John opened his eyes again, the car, the snow and Marie had all faded away into oblivion. He turned his head to see Rodney lying on the bed beside him.
"Rodney!" an excited voice called. "The device has powered down!"
"Ronon!" Rodney sat up and swayed. "Get it to the gate and space it!"
John rolled over and saw Sergeant Ward buried under a swarm of medical personnel.
"Colonel Sheppard, its done, you're ok, you're ok now."
John closed his eyes.
o o o o o
John woke up in the Infirmary and for a moment his mind was a blissful blank. He turned his head to the right and saw three people were stretched out close to him. A woman, curled up on the next bed, and two men, sprawled on chairs beside him, all asleep. John tried to squash the sudden rise of disappointment that Marie wasn't there.
He rolled onto his side and saw a grey haired man laid out on an Infirmary bed, the machines around him bleeping softly, rhythmically.
And then his traitorous memory rushed to supply him with more than he wanted to know. Marie wasn't coming, Marie wasn't ever coming. Not for him. She didn't even know him.
John started and looked back to see Ronon staring at him. "I'm fine," he whispered back, unwilling to wake anyone else up.
Ronon gave him a searching look.
"I'll be alright," John amended.
o o o o o
Four days later
John started at the sudden, brisk knock on the office door. "Come in," he called reluctantly.
Louis came into the room and stood to awkward attention. "Sir." Even after all this time he still looked pale, like someone trying to recover from a long illness.
Every part of John wanted to flee the room but he'd be damned if he didn't see the flicker of a shadow that looked suspiciously like Rodney before the office door closed. "Yes, Sergeant?"
Louis hesitated, mouth opening and closing with aborted words before he eventually settled on "permission to speak freely?"
John nodded, bitter guilt stopping his tongue.
"I don't blame you, it was an Ancient device and there's nothing you can do to guard against that kind of shit," said Louis carefully.
"No," said Louis shaking his head. "Sir, its my fault you saw all that in the first place. I thought... I thought I was going to die-" John winced "-and it made me think of my wife and everything we've been through. The only reason you saw...lived all that was because it was what I was thinking." Louis looked suddenly guilty.
Silence descended on the room.
"My family is great," said Louis eventually. "I've had a lot of time to think and I'm alright with you knowing that, knowing them. They're more than I deserve, even Bunny was..." he trailed off. "I've made my family wait for me long enough." He smiled weakly. "I came to request a transfer back to Earth."
John nodded. "I understand. I'm... I'm sorry, Sergeant, I'm so sorry."
"Its fine, sir, really," Louis offered him a half smile. "I recommend Peterson to replace me in Laundry."
o o o o o
"I nearly killed him."
"You didn't know. You had no way of knowing, you were under the influence of an ancient device."
And this is it, this is the thing John can't tell anyone. The hideous, shameful secret that let him torture one of his men. For all the new psychologist's platitudes about being under the influence of an ancient device John knows that he is the reason Louis Ward nearly died. But the worst part, the absolute worst part, is that if the chance was offered to keep living the family life from where he left off... he can't say with certainty he'd turn it down. Because for all that it was Louis' memories he was reliving, for all that he was actually just playing the part of Louis, it felt real every beautiful, shameful second of it. He can't disentangle himself from Louis completely, a part of him always expects a British accent when he speaks, a part of him expects to one day soon go home to Marie and their kids.
Only they aren't his kids. Marie isn't his wife. He has never met her, he never married her, if he met her today she would have no recollection of him and the thought makes his heart clench painfully. He loves her, or at least he knows with absolute certainty that Louis loves his wife, but he can't separate himself from Louis' feelings to work out if he loves Marie as well.
He can't tell anyone he wakes up in the morning and expects to find her lying beside him.
He will never tell anyone that sometimes he can't remember his name.
He is not a family man.
Louis Ward has the family.
John Sheppard has his team, and Atlantis. And that's... that's enough.
"It's, it's not who I am. But it was me, it felt like me for a little while and..."
"You liked it."
"One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching." (Unknown)