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Title: The Secret Language of Grief, Book One
Characters: J. Sheppard, R. McKay, C. Beckett, E. Lorne, R. Woolsey, and various OCs
Pairings: None
Warnings: Violence, Mentions of Major Character Deaths
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and her characters are the property of MGM.  All I lay claim to is my passion for the show and the original characters within this work of fiction
Summary: 20 years after the Wraith decimated Earth in The Great Culling, the SGC is once again ready to resume the Atlantis Expedition. Top brass wants only one man for the job, unfortunately for them John Sheppard has been MIA since the end of the War. A slip-up reveals John's current location, but will he be able to forgive the ultimate betrayal and return?


Chapter 25 - An Elusive and Precious Thing
Part One

It didn't happen with a burst of bright light. There wasn't a warning sign or a surge of energy to give her any indication that it would happen. Carrie Sinclair was simply reaching out to place her hands on John in the Infirmary one moment, then was dumped, unceremoniously, into the middle of a large darkened room the next.

The floor that surged up to meet her was warm and damp. She scrambled up to her feet as fast as she could, unnerved by the sudden and unexpected change in her scenery. Whatever she'd been expecting to happen after she'd touched the unknown Lantian device, this certainly wasn't it, and she searched her surroundings for some sign of the familiar. But all she could see in every direction was blackness, and her growing fear was only making it worse.

The room Carrie was in felt cavernous. The darkness pushed in on her, but she could also sense space and emptiness surrounding her. The very air was a moist, soupy mess and it clung to her skin and dampened her hair. There was a pungent, decaying smell to the place as well, and she had to cover her mouth and nose with a shirtsleeve just to keep from gagging on it. The whole thing reminded her of an old childhood memory... of one impossibly warm and humid summer day when she'd somehow managed to get herself locked in Aunt Eileen's greenhouse out behind the thrift shop. This was that same cloying dampness, that same aggressive process that both drenched her in wet and sucked the moisture from her very cells all at the exact same time.

Pushing the unwanted feeling away, Carrie forced herself to calm down a little and pay more attention to her surroundings. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she realized it wasn't quite as impenetrable as she'd originally thought, and she could just about make out the edges of the place. There was a wall, far off to her right, that was seemingly giving off a faint, almost otherworldly glow, and she headed off in that direction, approaching the light cautiously. The illumination seemed to be coming from within the very wall itself, and she took a step in closer to investigate, stumbling back a moment later in disgust.

The wall seemed almost alive. It pulsed and oozed with ropey bits of slime and for the second time in as many minutes, she fought against her gag reflex. It was absolutely disgusting and she knew she needed to get out of there, quick. Turning away from the grotesque scene before her Carrie peered back out into the murkiness, but couldn't find what she was looking for. Everything around her was too dark, the faint lights in the walls not enough to penetrate the grasping darkness around her.

Panic began to take shape in the back of her throat. It constricted her airway and she swallowed around it reflexively. How the hell was she supposed to get out of here if she couldn't even see?

Closing her eyes for a moment, Carrie forced herself to focus. There had been no instruction manual to the device she'd used. She had no idea what she'd just gotten herself into, but the woman she'd met on the balcony hadn't mentioned any dangers. So that meant there was a good chance she could find her way back to Atlantis if she just stopped worrying like a scared little girl and started looking at this like the rational adult she was.

Squaring her shoulders in determination, Carrie opened her eyes again and forced herself to search the murkiness, only this time she went slowly. There had to be a way out, and a moment later, she found it. Far off, nearly on the other side of the room from where she now stood, Carrie could make out a faint, flickering blue light. Taking off towards it, she rounded a opening in the wall and came face to face with something she did not expect.

In the direct center of the new room she'd found, stood a massive stone ring. Its grey face was covered in ancient symbols that glowed bright, even in the murk, but that wasn't what had grabbed her attention. In the middle of the ring was a field of undulating blue that looked like water yet felt like raw energy. It electrified everything in the room, and kneeling right in front of it, dressed in the gear of a solider with machine gun held tight at his side, was John.

Carrie's heart replaced the panic in the back of her throat in an instant and she nearly ran to him. His name was on her lips, but something held her back.

The room she was in, it wasn't empty, not like the one she'd just left. This one held countless bodies, each of them crumpled to the floor and riddled with bullet holes. The corpses she was looking at were unlike any she'd ever seen before. Their skin was grayish blue in color and she stared down at them as she made her way forward carefully. The ones who didn't wear masks had strange faces with translucent fangs they barred even in death. They were terrifying just to look at and Carrie had a feeling she was finally getting her first look at the Wraith.

So this is what they looked like, those terrible beings that had come to earth so many years ago and torn the world apart. These were the faces of the unknown enemy the civilians of earth had only been given vague descriptions of. She'd never imagined in a million years she'd actually get see one up close and Carrie had to resist the urge to spit on them as she picked her way through their carnage. The people of Earth had suffered so much at the hands of these monsters, but to think that they might actually be monsters had never occurred to her.

But there would be plenty of time to think back on her chance encounter with the race that had changed the course of human history, later. Carrie only had eyes for John now who hadn't moved from his place on the floor near the flickering stone ring she could only assume was a Stargate.

Carrie's knowledge of Stargates was like everything else: a hastily constructed conglomeration of all the brief explanations she'd been given by various people over the past several days. It was a mesmerizing thing to behold and for a moment, Carrie didn't know whether she should grab John by the armpits and drag him through it, or worry that it held some greater threat. John was staring up at it silently and she approached him cautiously, trying not to startle him.

As Carrie neared the gate, John became nothing more than a dark silhouette painted against the backdrop of the strange blue force field. She could tell he was shaking. The blurry outline of his figure quaked and something inside of her yearned to reach out and touch him.

On either side of him lay a body, but these individuals clearly were not Wraith. They were human, one male, the other a woman, though it was only the man's face she could see. His eyes were open and staring up at nothing and Carrie knew for a fact that he was dead. She'd seen a stare like that before, many in fact, though that didn't make it any easier to witness again.

From the looks of things, John had somehow managed to drag these two poor souls into the room with him while still managing to take out an entire contingency of Wraith. It was almost as if he were waiting for something now, though Carrie didn't have the faintest idea of what it could be.

"John?"

She tried to say his name quietly, lest she startle him and earn the ire of the gun he held at his side. When he didn't move she tried again, louder this time.

"John."

He turned his head at that and what she saw race across his features, nearly broke her heart.

John's face was smattered in a strange mixture of blue and red blood. As soon as he realized who she was he began trying to pull himself up from off the floor, only he was too weak to do it. He collapsed back down a moment later with a pitiful moan and Carrie was on her knees at his side in an instant, something warm wicking up into the knees of her jeans. She realized with a small gasp that John was leaking copious amounts of blood from two gunshot wounds to the chest and that a small pool of it had formed beneath him. She wrapped her arms around the solidness of him, choked by the emotion of finding him alive and the shock of his current state, and John tried to push her away.

"You can't be here!" He moaned pitifully, his hands leaving behind dark smudge marks on her light clothing as he continued to try and push her off. "You can't be here, Carrie. Run. Run!"

Carrie didn't know what to do. This wasn't exactly the reunion she'd been expecting. Hell, this wasn't the version of John Sheppard she'd thought she'd find here.

Ever since the day they'd first met, John had exuded this kind of strength. It was something she'd assumed would always just be there, ingrained in the very fabric of his being. Even on those bad days in Blue River when he'd let small things about his past slip out (which was rarely) that strength still managed to shine through, but now it was non-existent.

He lay broken and trembling in the space of her arms and Carrie had no idea how to help him.

John had demons, Carrie knew that. She'd seen the aftermath of them first hand, in fact. She'd been the one there for the nightmares that pulled him from sleep so violently he cried out at times. She was the one who'd nursed him through the debilitating headaches that usually followed the worst of the attacks. She knew he'd gone through hell, but she'd never, ever, imagined that it could be as horrible as this.

These rooms had been real for him once. John had lived through the moments Carrie had just waded through and she could tell, right then and there, that she would let him go if it came right down to that. He'd been through so much already, and making him come back, it seemed selfish and wrong anymore.

So she would do it.

She would say her goodbyes and let him go, but only once she reminded him that his life had not only been darkness and doom.

There had been light in it as well.

And love.

And friendship.

...and a city called Atlantis that was so much more than just an intergalactic spacecraft.

"It's alright, John," Carrie found herself whispering into the damp hair tucked beneath her chin. John no longer had the strength to continue his efforts at pushing her away and his head had fallen forward so that it rested lightly against the flesh of her neck. Blue and white light from the Stargate before them danced along the flagstones of the floor and Carrie just held him for a moment. She wanted to tear off the military gear that separated her warmth from his, desperate to feel only him against her once more, but couldn't bring herself to do it. He felt so fragile, quaking like a leaf and mumbling words into the skin of her throat.

"You have to run. They'll come back. They always come back. Run... run... run..."

The begging was so mournful that Carrie felt tears well up in her eyes. She realized then that she was woefully unprepared for what needed to be done here. In the space of a moment she'd convinced herself that she would get John to remember all the good he'd done in his life, only she didn't know enough about him or his past to do it. Rodney McKay or Carson Beckett, now they were the ones who should have been here with him at the end, not her, and for a second, Carrie panicked.

This world she'd suddenly found herself in was so foreign and so surreal. It was taking all within her not to buckle under the weight of just knowing it existed, and now here she was, trying to save the love of her life from the dangers it posed. And John was dying. She could feel the life draining from him even as she held him against her and she knew she was running out of time.

But this couldn't be the way it all ended, could it? Atlantis.. her visitor on the balcony... they had both promised a way of getting John through this. But now that she was here, now that she'd seen the state he was in and how very close he was to loosing whatever battle had raged here before she'd arrived, she just couldn't see a way out.

She was too late to try and save him and she tried not to fall apart as that realization washed over her.

Carrie ran a hand through John's sweat soaked hair and hushed him with a kiss to his temple.

"It's alright, love. I'm here."

Even if she couldn't save him or offer him up memories of the things that had given his life meaning, as least she could give him herself. So she pulled him in as tightly as she could, ignoring the bits of his uniform that dug into her skin, and held on for dear life.

"I love you," she whispered into the dark and closed her eyes as the tears finally released from her lids and rolled.

John was barely conscious now, his breath on her neck the only indication he still lived. They were pressed so close together it was difficult to tell where John ended and Carrie began. If the universe was going to insist on taking John Sheppard back into its embrace, then Carrie was going to make sure he went out on her terms.

"I know this feels like it's real, but it isn't, John," she soothed, letting the words flow without much thought. "You didn't die on this ship. You made it out, John. You made it out."

John's breathing slowed.

"You're a good man. You did amazing things. Remember those things, John. Hold tight to them and never let them go."

He shuddered in her arms.

"Remember how much we all loved you. Nothing is stronger than that.

...nothing."

The puffs of air on her skin ceased.

Carrie pulled the still body in her arms closer still, and rocked with the force of her sobs.

He was gone.

A hollow spot opened up at her center as if his passing had physically pulled something out from inside of her. The empty place it created ached uncontrollably and she knew she would never again find anything that would make her truly whole again. She would exist now as half a person, the better part of herself off in whatever place people went to after they died.

"John," she choked one final time... and then it happened.

It started as a warmth that began at her center and slowly rolled out into her arms. It was a peaceful, caressing sensation and she tried to let it push away the grief that surrounded her so completely now.

At first she wondered if it was just the heat from a fresh wave of John's blood, something expelled by the last ragged beats of his heart, but as she looked down at her skin, she found that wasn't the case. A faint glow had begun to illuminate her arms from within, and she worried for a moment that the Wraith ship was somehow effecting her. But the warmth was too calming... too wholesome to be something of the Wraith's making. Everything it touched seemed to lighten somehow and as that power slowly worked its way out into John, things began to change.

It was subtle at first, barely noticeable. The shuddering of his shoulders came back and he drew in ragged, lungful of air which he expelled roughly against her skin. He started to shift slightly in her arms again, only this time it wasn't the agitated movements of a dying man. It was as if the light were feeding him energy somehow, pulling him back from the brink until he reached out a hand to grip her forearm tightly. She felt it all happen, barely daring to breathe lest she disturb whatever power was working its magic on the man in her arms and was speechless when John sat up, actually frickin' sat up. This time when he moved away from her, she didn't stop him. She let him go but captured his face in her hands when those penetrating blue eyes she never thought she'd see again met hers.

"John?"

Light still pulsed along the connection her hands made with his skin, but even as it worked, she could tell immediately that something wasn't quite right.

"Carrie..." he choked back, but his eyes darkened and they darted around the room in a panic.

She was losing him again. Whatever was happening with her hands, it wasn't strong enough yet.

"No no no no, John! Come on, stay with me!"

The light was leaving his eyes. She could see it draining away as he began to break apart again right in front of her. She pleaded for the power to stop it from happening, and this time, the prayer was answered.

This time there really was a flash of light and a surge of pure energy.

Something physically snapped into place around them and Carrie's palms exploded in a blinding flash of white hot light. She somehow managed to find his eyes again in the brilliance and he was back, looking at her with with surprise and her name forming on his lips. She smiled, wanting nothing more than to draw those lips into a kiss, but something was pulling her away. The tether that had kept her bound to reality was flinging her back towards the present. It happened so quickly that the connection she'd felt with John seemed to rip apart and she stumbled backwards a few feet in shock when she found herself suddenly deposited back under the dazzling light of the Atlantis Infirmary.

The energy that had been coercing through her body stilled in an instant. There was a faint smell of ozone in the air and several people were staring at her like she'd just performed some death defying feat on the trapeze.

But she had no time for them.

She made herself look down at John, even though she was terrified of what she might find there when she did.

But John's eyes were open, and Carrie nearly collapsed in on herself.

His eyes were open and when he blinked and looked over at her, the very earth stood still.

She'd done it... she saved him.

The moment and the realization of what she'd just done was so overwhelming that black spots began to invade her field of vision. A moment later, Carrie lost the battle with consciousness, and slipped into a darkness that carried her away almost instantly.

..

\oO0Oo/

..

It was a strange thing, coming back from the dead. It was a little like floating and a lot like trying to get into an unsteady boat from a stationary dock. He flitted in an out of consciousness for a time and his lucid moments were always brief, though he did manage to retain bits of them from time to time. He could remember choking around some invasive object stuck in his throat. He could recall hearing Rodney and Carson call out to him and had vague memories of Carrie capturing his face with her hands. But most of it was just a rolling jumble of muddled chaos inside his head and one he just couldn't make sense of quite yet.

John existed in that strange, in-between world for a long time trying to find the scattered pieces of himself and to form them back into consciousness and coherent thought. He'd gone through the process before, but this time it felt bigger, like he'd taken a larger step up to that serrated edge of oblivion than he had any other time before.

It took everything he had to pull himself out of it, but eventually he did, and John awoke to a sun drenched room that felt familiar.

Dust moats played in the slats of sunlight making their way into the room through the blinds on the window. Something was attached to his face and tickling his nose, but it was the thirst that assaulted him first. His mouth was bone dry and his arid tongue did little to sooth the parched skin of his lips as he ran it over them. Someone shifted in a chair beside him and a moment later, a coolness touched his skin and delicious water trickled over his lips and down into his throat. He sucked the ice chip in greedily and when he opened his eyes again, someone was standing over him.

"R'dney?"

"Welcome back, John," the scientist said with a wide grin, and John tried to offer one back. He had a feeling it came out as more of a wince, but Rodney wasn't paying attention to him anymore. He was too busy pulling a chair over to the side of the bed so he could sit and face John.

"What happened?" John tried to ask next, but the words came out as little more than a whisper.

Rodney had a cup in his hands and for a moment John hoped he was about to get a sip of water, but it ended up being just another ice chip. He took it, albeit begrudgingly, and angrily darted his eyes back and forth between Rodney and the cup.

"Just ice for now," Rodney replied sympathetically, seeming to understand what it was John was trying to say. "Dr. Beckett's orders."

He started to argue, but what Rodney had just said stopped him short.

"He's alive?" John forced out and Rodney smiled again.

"He's alive John. Alive and well and giving the infirmary staff a run for their money. I swear, he's even worse than you usually are."

John cocked an offended brow at that.

"Well it's true!"

"What happened to me, Rodney?" The ice was helping and the words came out a bit clearer.

Rodney sighed and dug the spoon he'd been using to feed John the ice back down into the cup.

"Where do I even start..." the way the scientist said it had John worried for a moment.

"The beginning?" His pathetic attempt at humor worked and Rodney cracked another smile.

"What do you remember?"

John thought back to those last desperate moments in the cabin. They blazed across his mind like the flash of a muzzle. "Fitzpatrick shot me."

"Twice, actually," Rodney added, "and one of them nearly hit your heart."

John looked down at his chest but the god-awful gown he was dressed in was covering whatever mark Sean Fitzpatrick might have left behind.

"Oh I wouldn't worry about any scaring," Rodney said conspiratorially from beside him and John looked back over at his friend in confusion. "You're girlfriend somehow managed to find herself an Ancient device and healed you."

John's eyes widened in shock. "She healed me? Carrie?"

"Yep," Rodney replied with grim smile, "Scars and all, though it took a while, and Carson says you're still not out out of the woods completely."

"How long was I out?" John shifted on the bed and his muscles protested. He'd definitely been lying there for longer than he would have liked.

"All and all, you've been unconscious for three weeks."

"Three weeks?" John's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. It couldn't be. It felt as though the events in the cabin had happened only yesterday, but he didn't have time to focus on that just yet.

"Is Carrie okay? What about Carson? What happened to him?" In his agitation, he tried to sit forward, but Rodney put a hand on his shoulder and eased him back down.

"Easy there, Rambo! Sheesh! It's going to take some time for you to recover your strength, so just relax. Everybody's fine." Rodney soothed easily enough, but John could sense he was about to get more distressing news.

Once Rodney was convinced he was situated again, he continued. "Carrie doesn't remember anything about the device she used, only that a transport took her somewhere in the lower levels. I've been going through the logs, but I can't find anything in them to indicate where she might have gone."

"But she's okay?"

"Yes, John, she's fine. It just took a lot out of her, is all." John could sense Rodney was holding something else back. It was in the way his eyes flicked away for just a fraction of a second, but John let it lie for the moment.

"And Carson?"

"He's doing great!" Rodney brightened immediately, seemingly happy to finally have some purely good news to impart. "No lasting effects from the cyanide and he got released back to light duty today, actually. Clean bill of health, and it's all thanks to you."

John waived a hand dismissively, or tried to rather. Fatigue was beginning to settle over every inch of him and he had a feeling he wasn't going to be able to stay awake for much longer.

"Hey, don't shake that off, John. You're quick thinking saved him. He wouldn't be here if it weren't for you and Lorne."

"Tell me more about Carrie," John continued, trying to change the subject. Rodney looked like was about to argue, but gave up with a shrug.

"Like I said before, as far as we can tell, she used an Ancient device to heal you. It was pretty amazing, actually. You were coding and she showed up in the infirmary with glowing skin and..."

"Wait, she was glowing?"

"Yeah! And believe me, I've been searching everywhere for that device. I mean, the possibilities are endless! Can you imagine what having a device like that would do for the expedition, John? And Carrie says the city showed her the way. The city! Carson's testing her for the ATA gene now, but the results aren't in yet. She has to be a carrier. Otherwise, how would she get any ancient device down there to work for her? And if she is a carrier... well, now that just opens up a whole new set of possibilities..."

John could see the cogs in Rodney's mind beginning to turn and knew he needed to get the scientist back on track.

"How'd she do it?" Bullet holes seemed like a pretty big thing to come back from and he worried about what such an act might have cost her. "And where is she?"

"Oh, I imagine she'll be along shortly. She stepped away for a bite to eat a few minutes ago. As to how she managed to heal you, we're still looking into that. I wanted to get started running tests on you right away, but Carson made me wait until you regained consciousness. Something about consent... I don't know what he gets on about sometimes." Rodney muttered the last part a little impishly and John nearly chuckled. Leave it to Rodney to put the search for the truth ahead of common courtesy.

"You can do your tests, Rodney," John offered up amicably and the scientist's face broke out into another grin.

"Really?"

"Yeah, buddy. Really."

"You should have seen it John!" Rodney sat forward looking as wide eyed and excited as his first day on Atlantis. "Whatever device Carrie used gave her some kind of Ancient healing ability. It seemed to draw its power directly from the ATA gene and when hers wasn't enough, it went for anyone else in the room who had it. It even pulled me in, and mine wasn't exactly naturally occurring. It was unlike anything I've ever seen or felt before, and it worked!"

"But you're okay, right?" John asked, sensing a change come over Rodney. "Everyone's okay?"

"We're all fine, John, I promise. Just a little... different?"

"What do you mean, 'different'?"

Rodney looked down at his hands. "It's not a big deal..."

"Come on, Rodney, just spill it." John's strength was waning fast and he didn't have time for the usual run around.

"It's just that... well, some of us lost our ability to connect with the city."

John took what he was hearing and rolled it around in his brain.

Rodney looked back up at him. "Carson thinks it might come back in everyone who had the gene occurring naturally, but I'm afraid I might be SOL until he gets his gene therapy research back up and running again."

"But he will." John offered helpfully. There were worse things in the universe than losing the ability to run ancient tech. "Carson had all that crap figured out years ago. He shouldn't have any problem getting you all back to normal again, right?"

Rodney snorted, "As normal as we've ever been, I suppose."

John ignored the comment. "I'm just glad no one was hurt."

"But someone did get hurt, didn't they, John." Rodney replied, sobering quickly. "You were hurt and we nearly lost you. Do you remember any of it?"

It seemed like a dumb question. Of course he didn't remember any of it, he'd been unconscious. But the truth of the matter was, he did. In some small, nagging way, he knew it was all there, just beyond his grasp, but accessible if he tried hard enough. Question was, would he want to even try?

"I remember bits and pieces, like waking up and choking on something..."

"That would have been your intubation tube. It took us a long time to get you calmed down after that one." Rodney interrupted.

"I remember Carrie being there and hearing you guys talk around me, but other than that, it's just a mess up here." John gestured slightly towards his head.

"Maybe that's for the best," Rodney shrugged.

John didn't argue.

"So... three weeks, huh? Anything else interesting happen while I was out?" John could feel the pull of sleep intensifying, but he fought against it. Carrie would be on her way back soon and he wanted to see her before he fell back under. He wanted to be able to touch her without the threat of bombs or cyanide gas dangling over their heads. He just needed a little help to stay awake.

Rodney spent the next few minutes filling John in on all that had happened while he was unconscious and he was pleased to hear that everything had been pretty much been quiet around Atlantis. There were no more attacks, no further subterfuge, and even the city herself seemed to be at peace around him. Rodney had lost his use of the ATA gene following Carrie's impromptu rescue mission, but John could still feel his as active as ever in his veins. Atlantis reached out to him every so often as if making sure he was still there and he smiled at the sensation each time it came over him. Normally it was something he could ignore, become used to, but today it felt intelligent - persistent - like for once, it wanted to be acknowledge and felt; like a puppy seeking the affection of its master.

John tired to pay attention to what Rodney was telling him, but the door to his room cracking open a while later instantly pulled his focus. There was only one person he wanted to see in that moment, and he tried not to be disappointed when Carson Beckett stepped in and glared over at Rodney reproachfully.

"You we're supposed to come n' find me if he woke up, Rodney McKay!" the doctor accused, eyes narrowing.

"Don't get mad at me! He literally opened his eyes..." Rodney glanced down at his watch, then stopped. "Well, I'm sorry, alright? He started asking me questions!"

Carson shook his head with an irritated sigh and came up to the other side of John's bed. The doctor seemed to want to reach for his hand, but stopped himself at the last second. John almost wanted to tell him to just go ahead and do it. He understood where that compulsion came from, but it would have been just too uncomfortable. They settled instead on a shared look of acknowledgement passed between them in grim silence.

"How're ya feelin', laddie?" Carson asked softly and John tried to answer honestly. He felt okay. There was some pain still, but it was far off and looked to be kept at bay by whatever was dripping from his IV. He felt weak and diminished, but he was alive.

"I'm okay."

He didn't say fine - Carson would have seen right through 'fine' - and the doc nodded.

"Any pain?"

"A little." Carson adjusted the IV with a knowing nod then turned to Rodney.

"I'll need the room for a minute, Rodney," he said, and the physicist instantly went on the defensive.

"Oh come on, Carson. I…"

"Bloody hell, Rodney! I just need to do an exam on the man and I dinnea need you're pryin' eyes leanin' over m' shoulder as I do it!"

John bit back a chuckle. Rodney looked pissed, but deflated a moment later under the stern warning look Carson threw him. He headed for the door in defeat, but John called after him. The scientist paused near the door and looked back.

"Will you bring Carrie with you when you come back?" he asked.

"Of course I will, John," Rodney smiled brightly back, as if the question were a silly one. The door closed behind him with a soft snick a moment later and John collapsed back down further into himself. He was bone tired and his lids wanted nothing more than to fall closed and send him off into dreamland.

"You are going to be the death of me one day, John Sheppard. Ya know that?" Carson sighed when they were finally alone and John forced his eyelids open again.

"That bad, huh?"

"Understatement of the century, my friend."

"Am I okay, Carson?"

The doctor scrutinized the read out of the monitor beside John's bed. "You're vitals are all lookin' good. I dinnea know what that device did to you, per se, but there doesnea appear to be any lingering side effects from what's been done."

"So I'm okay."

"Aye, laddie. You're ok."

"But there's something else, isn't there?" John could tell Carson was skirting around something and that he was frustrated with having to do it. "Is it Carrie?"

"Now tha's a conversation you'll have to have with the lass, John. It isnnea my place to tell."

"Carson..."

"Don't even bother, General," the physician replied with a hand held up. "I willnea break the lady's trust."

"Well, then can you at least promise me she's okay?" John pushed, refusing to give up without a fight.

Carson sighed and relented a bit. "Aye, laddie. That I can do. She's fit as a fiddle and ready for love, as the kids would say."

John was hardly placated (probably wouldn't be until he saw for himself that Carrie was okay) but he let the matter drop for the time being. Carson continued on with his exam and John let his eyes fall closed for just a moment.

He was only going to let them rest for a minute, just linger in the blackness behind his lids for a fraction of a second, but the pull of sleep was evidently too great. He was lulled back under into that healing haze of sleep.

The last thing he was aware of before he slipped away was a soft squeeze on the arm, and a "It's good to have you back, laddie," whispered at his side.


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