Rain crawls on the gateroom's stained glass windows, making them seem oddly alive. Otherwise, most of the light comes from the blue-white and amber lights recessed into the stairs, walls, ceiling. John is reminded of streetlights coming on at dusk.
The small cluster of people at the gateroom's ops computers includes Dr. Weir, Beckett, Teyla and Ford. The latter two are kitted up for offworld travel. That can't be good. Ford glances at McKay, then looks away.
That's another problem with having McKay on the team, John thinks -- Ford's too much the polite young lieutenant to say anything about it, but his confidence in his teammate has been shaken, and that's a wedge that will destroy them if John doesn't do something about it.
"Major," Dr. Weir says, nodding to him. "I hope this is nothing, but Major Stackhouse's team was overdue returning from M35-2T9." Out of the corner of his eye, John sees the corner of Teyla's mouth twist slightly. She doesn't like the number designations; he gets the impression that she considers it disrespectful not to use the native names of the planets. "We sent Wayland's team -- they have an Athosian liaison, and we'd hoped that if a diplomatic problem had been encountered, Keysa might be able to defuse the situation. That was half an hour ago, and they haven't dialed back."
"Send a MALP," John suggests.
"We did," says the Canadian sergeant at the console -- Campbell, John recalls. "All it showed us is what we saw on the initial survey -- a meadow in the woods, with signs of what we think are Ancient ruins. No sign of either team. It's night there now, though, so we can't see much. There's only one thing that's different."
He types on the keys in front of him, marked with their alien glyphs. On the screen behind him, an image appears -- dark shapes that John manages to resolve into the dark forms of trees humped up against a sky full of stars. In the middle left part of the image, there's something blue and bright.
"What's that?" John says.
"We don't know," Elizabeth replies. "It's not the right color for torchlight."
"But it's the color of probably sixty to seventy percent of the Ancient lighting we've encountered so far," McKay says immediately. "The ruins were Ancient, you said?"
"Yeah," Campbell says, "but according to Teyla, there's someone else living there now." He inclines his head to her respectfully.
Teyla clears her throat. "Serona is the home of a nomadic people who have long been allies of Athos," she says. "They may not be near the Ring at the moment."
"Well, our teams went somewhere." John gives Beckett a searching look. "Doc, what are the odds you can clear me for gate travel?"
Beckett frowns. "A wee word with you?"
John follows him into Weir's presently unoccupied office. "Major," Beckett says as soon as they're out of earshot of the others, "I'm guessing from the way you're still holding your head that your symptoms haven't cleared up."
"No. But you told me that it's all in my head anyway."
"I said psychosomatic, not imaginary. I believe I also told you that the symptoms you're experiencing are very real, Major."
"I know." John swallows, feels the movement of his throat catching at the wound in his neck, the stiff and traumatized muscles. "But two teams have vanished, Doc. I'm responsible for those people. I can't send more men after them if I'm not willing to go myself. And I'm one of the few natural ATA carriers that we have, and the only military one. Those ruins might be Ancient, and Stackhouse and Wayland's teams may have run into some sort of booby trap."
"I understand that, but ..." The doctor cocks his head to the side, studying John carefully. "You also need to understand that your physical condition, the fatigue and your difficulty moving your neck -- it will make you a liability in the field."
"Do you? There's no commanding officer here to relieve you of duty, Major. Just me." For a minute, Beckett looks as tired as John feels. "Can you look me in the eye, Major, and tell me that you think you can do your job without endangering your people?"
Do you think you get to choose? John had said to McKay on the pier, weeks ago. Do you think any of us get to choose?
"No," John tells him. "I can't, because I think you're probably right. I'm not a hundred percent, not anywhere close. But I also know that we don't have a lot of options. I can keep throwing teams after the first two, and hope that they come back. Or I can go over there and see what I can do to help."
Beckett stares at him for a moment longer; then he mutters, "God help me," and rubs his eyes with one hand.
They rejoin the others. "Elizabeth, it's my medical opinion that the Major here is a stubborn fool," Beckett says. "But he's right. We don't have many options. We only have a few people so far with the artificial ATA gene, as we're introducing it slowly due to concerns about its safety" -- he gives McKay a look -- "and it fails to take in at least fifty percent of test subjects. And we have no more than a handful of natural ATA carriers, none with anything close to the Major's expression of the gene. Stackhouse has the artificial version, but it may not function the same way in him that it does in the Major."
"Major," Weir says, and looks him in the eye. "Can you do this?"
"To the best of my ability, ma'am."
He's aware he hasn't answered the question, not really. He can see that she knows it too. But she nods. "Get your gear and go. Take a jumper. The other teams went on foot, but there may be something in the air."
In the room they've designated for gearing up, John pulls on a tac vest and clips his P90 to it. The vest chafes his sore neck uncomfortably, but he's also aware that the itch beneath his skin has vanished. He's still sore and fatigued, but he's doing something, and it makes a big difference.
His chest feels so tight he can barely breathe, like there's not enough air in the room. He pushes it aside. Accept the fear, one of his COs told him when he was just a green lieutenant, no older than Ford. Look at the fear. Know the fear. Then push that shit away from you, Lieutenant, and do your fucking job.
The rest of his team have followed him down, including McKay, who is now hovering next to their makeshift row of lockers -- scavenged from various labs, utterly mismatched. He looks miserable as he puts on his vest; he keeps looking at John and then looking away.
"Teyla, Ford," John says. "Meet you in the jumper bay."
"Yes, sir." And Ford's out the door. Teyla follows, but she gives John a supportive smile over her shoulder.
As soon as they're gone, McKay says, "There's Ancient technology involved, so I guess I'm -- I'm on this one, right? I mean, I am the foremost expert." He sounds a little more confident on the last part, but there's still worry lurking underneath.
And John realizes, as he watches McKay's shaking hands trying three times before he gets the buckles on his tac vest snapped, that he's not the only one who's struggling with the idea of going out in the field again.
McKay did fuck up. He panicked. He froze. He only managed to stay on task as long as he had someone keeping him on task. And John knows that isn't going to work in a field agent on a first-contact gate team.
And McKay knows all of that, too.
John also knows, from the inside out, what it's like to make bad choices under pressure. Lord knows his own record hasn't been one trouble-free decision after another. And he knows for a fact that he fucked up in Afghanistan. It was the right thing to do, but that doesn't make it the legal thing to do. He could've earned himself a five-year stint in Leavenworth for disobeying orders. He'd do it over again in a minute, but he still knows he fucked up bad, and for whatever reason, his superiors, including O'Neill, thought it was worth giving him a second chance. And now, here he is, in the rain on another world. He doesn't know yet if it's better or worse than what he might've had otherwise, but he's pretty sure it's more than he deserves.
Being a leader isn't just telling people what to do. It's knowing when to put your own ego aside to do what's right for someone else. And, having been given that chance himself, he can't deny it to someone else.
"Yeah, you're on this mission," John says. "And no, in answer to your question. You're not off the team."
McKay looks startled and grateful. "Really?"
"Really," John says.
They come through the gate under two fine slivers of moon, one slightly fatter than the other. There's a stone sitting on John's chest, and he has to breathe, breathe, as blackness telescopes his vision and the hurt in his neck is hot and deep. He fights through it, staring ahead at a star-studded sky. The jumper is graceful under his hands, coming around in a big sweeping arc. There are no bugs here, just trees and grass and the fallen remains of a building that must once have looked like a classical temple. There's no sign of any light but what they brought with them, blue or otherwise.
Ford shoots John a questioning glance. John nods tightly, and Ford taps his radio. "Sergeant Stackhouse? Sergeant Wayland? Come in."
There's no answer. The dark grass ruffles in the jumper's landing lights as John sets the alien vessel down lightly between two fallen stone pillars, segmented like old Greek columns.
"When was the last time you were here?" he asks Teyla, still breathing deep, and hoping she doesn't notice the heaving of his chest. He feels like a racehorse that's just crossed the finish line, but he also feels like, in some weird way, he's won. He's back out in the field, not stuck behind a desk, and this isn't going to be like the last two times: the time he shot his CO, the time he almost died and ended up in the infirmary. This time, he's going to find their people and bring them home. All of them. Including himself.
"About two and a quarter Athosian years ago. It was the month before the harvest season," she says immediately. "A year and six decimals of the trading calendar, or almost two of your years."
She can convert between timekeeping systems more quickly in her head than any of the scientists can do it with laptop or calculator. John asked her, once, how she does it. After giving him a Mona Lisa smile, she'd told him that there are many mathematical tricks for converting numbers, and showed him a couple of them in Athosian base-twenty math. The general concept is similar to the trick John figured out when he was a kid for quickly calculating a fifteen percent tip: divide by ten, multiply by two, and split the difference -- that's fifteen. All gateworld traders know dozens of such tricks, Teyla had explained.
Every trade, every skill, every occupation seems arcane from the outside, but once you learn it, you understand that it's just a lot of simple concepts, all put together into something that looks hopelessly difficult to the uninitiated. Bracing himself for the sharp pain under his collarbone that comes when he twists his head around, John glances back at McKay, seated behind the pilot's chair at the jumper's monitor station. He wonders if he'd managed to get across, in those lessons on the West Pier, that firing a gun and hitting what you aim at is nothing more than a series of simple steps, elegant as an equation.
"What's the plan, sir?" Ford asks, already on his feet.
"Reconnoiter and fall back at the first sign of trouble." John checks his P90, mostly out of habit. He can feel the fatigue lurking under a thin veneer of adrenaline, ready to take him down. But it's a fight, like any other. He can win this one too.
"McKay?" John asks, turning to the scientist who's still studying his screens. "What do you have?" It's easy, he finds -- like falling into the rhythm of a dance. McKay is on the science stuff, Ford at his side, Teyla watching his back and ready to step up with her quiet, sage advice. He chose this team carefully, to complement each other. They've made mistakes, sure -- but they've only been on one mission so far, and it was a FUBAR mission from hell. He's not sure if it's just the fatigue making him imagine things, but he's aware of them settling into each other, clicking into place around him. "McKay?"
"What? Oh. Uh, energy readings, mostly. Weird ones. They're all over the map."
"Wraith?" John feels his jaw tighten as he asks it, sending a sharp bolt of pain down his injured neck to lodge beneath his breastbone.
"No, no, not really. Um, I don't think so?"
Well, this galaxy doesn't seem to deal in sureties, after all. "Okay. Let's go find our missing people."
They step out of the jumper into a balmy summer night. Somewhere a bird, or something, cries out sharply in a series of ascending, yodeling notes. John catches himself trying to identify it, but, yeah, right: alien world, and it could just as easily be a flying snake or a yodeling rabbit as any kind of bird. The wind carries a warm blend of smells: flowers and brown sugar and a sharp, spicy scent that bites at John's nasal passages. At his shoulder, McKay hisses, "There might be some kind of poison in the air. You've seen The Wizard of Oz, right?"
Ford chokes off a laugh.
"No death poppies in Pegasus, McKay." John glances in the direction of Teyla, their expert on all things Pegasus. "Are there? You smell anything that might cause us trouble?"
"No, Major." She carries her P90 comfortably, holding it as he's shown her. John hopes she doesn't have to use it yet; she's been practicing diligently on the range, but he'd like her to get more familiar with the weapon before she has to use it for real. "This is a peaceful world, largely uninhabited, and most of the predators are too small to attack a human."
"Most?" Ford says.
John catches a glimpse of Teyla's quick smile. "No world is completely safe, Lieutenant. But my people never feared to come here."
McKay holds up his hand, and John sees a little glimmer of light between his fingers. It's one of the life signs detectors, probably the one he'd used to track John down, back on Atlantis. Smart to bring it, John thinks. He hadn't thought to pick one up from the jumper; he's used to planning for missions in a certain way, going down a particular checklist, and he kept forgetting to take the alien technology into account.
"No life signs except us," McKay says. "I think I can modify this thing to detect energy too ... give me a minute ..." He fumbles a screwdriver and penlight out of his pocket, and holds the light in his teeth while he pops the back off the LSD.
While McKay leans against one of the fallen pillars and fiddles with the LSD, John asks Teyla, "Did your people come here often?" He feels terribly exposed in the open clearing, even with the jumper right there. But the woods would be worse; he tries not to think about how you wouldn't be able to see cobwebs in the dark, not until you ran into them ...
"When I was a girl, we used to," Teyla replies, smoothing back her long auburn hair and tying it with what looks like a scrap of rawhide. She leans a hip against the pillar herself. "I remember climbing on these rocks when they were much taller than me."
"Did you ever explore the ruins?"
"Only a little. There was never really time; we would come to do business, and my father liked me to watch as the trading was conducted, knowing that I would have to do it myself someday." She looks wistful when she mentions her father.
"The other Athosian, the one who's on Wayland's team ..."
"Keysa," Teyla supplies.
"Yeah, her. Would she know her way around here?"
"No better, or worse, than I," Teyla says after a moment's thought. "I am sure she would have been here a few times when she was young, but she married a leatherworker and I believe she spent most of her time at the campsite after that."
John wonders if it was the Wraith attack that turned Keysa from a homebody into a woman willing to strap on a gun and go through the gate with strangers from another world. The Wraith attack we caused. He tries not to dwell on that.
"Ah-ha!" Rodney brandishes the LSD. "Energy readings ahoy. It's not nearly as refined as the readings I can get with the equipment in the jumper, but better than walking around blind. And I can toggle back and forth between life signs and energy signatures -- see?"
Rodney looks briefly baffled. "Uh, same way where the blue light was on the MALP image? That hasn't changed."
The entrance to the ruins looms out of the dark as they approach it, a square of velvet blackness against the washed-out gray of the crumbling stones. And John realizes that he's sick with terror, the muscles of his shoulders knotting until it feels like he's being stabbed in the neck with a red-hot pitchfork. It's not just the awareness that there could be more of those bug things, or Wraith, in the darkness. That's part of it, he knows, but there's so much more to be afraid of. They're in another galaxy. Nothing that he learned on Earth applies anymore. There could be God knows what in the shadows, in the trees, in the yawning blackness in front of him. Hell, maybe Teyla's wrong and the grass itself is toxic.
"Major?" Ford prompts him softly, and he realizes that he's stopped walking. His shoulders hurt, his chest hurts, he can't get enough air -- Oh my God, he thinks in mortification and disbelief, realizing that he's on the verge of a full-blown panic attack at the prospect of nothing more dire than walking into a cave.
And he also knows that if he doesn't do this -- if he gives in to the fear, lets it control him -- that he may as well trade in his pilot's wings for that desk job back on Atlantis, because he'll be flying a desk chair for the rest of his career.
John steps forward. One foot, then the other. It's like walking through heavy mud, but each step is a little easier. He flicks on his P90's flashlight, and the beams of the others' lights join his -- McKay is using the penlight, since he doesn't carry any weapon bigger than the Beretta at his hip. Need to add "big flashlights" to the jumper equipment inventory, John thinks, focusing on the commonplace to keep from dwelling on what he's doing. Have to talk to Bates about that for the city exploration teams, too...
Cool air from inside the ruins washes over him, like the breath from a tomb.
There could be anything in there. Bugs. Wraith. Alien technology that's about to kill them. John's never thought of himself as a man prone to fear -- actually, reckless and self-destructive are words that have occasionally been bandied about in his hearing. But this -- nothing in his life, nothing in his training ever prepared him for this.
Why did you join the Air Force, Major Sheppard?
But that wasn't ever the real reason -- part of it, sure, but not the whole thing. And somewhere in there are six men and two women who need his help.
Stepping over the threshhold of that tomb-like entrance may be one of the hardest things he's ever done. But he does. The others follow him, and if any of them feel the same paralyzing fear, they don't show it. McKay is engrossed in his modified scanner, Ford looks around with the same bright-eyed interest that he shows on Atlantis, and Teyla appears calm, cool, watchful.
There's a low throbbing headache sawing at John's temples, but otherwise he feels -- okay. Better, maybe, than he has since he walked into that cobweb on his first outing with his team. He's starting to feel like things might, just maybe, be okay.
They've walked maybe twenty paces into the ruins when everything around them lights up brilliant blue.
John flings up a hand to shield his eyes, squinting between his fingers. The light is coming from a series of glyphs at the top of the wall, where cracked stone meets the rain-damaged tiles of the ceiling. They begin here and march ahead as far as he can see, lighting up the tunnel to where it curves out of sight.
McKay makes a small, strangled sound.
"Doc?" Ford says.
The life signs detector falls to the ground with a thump, followed a minute later by McKay himself. He's having some kind of seizure, his back arched and head straining back. Teyla follows him down, her hands on his chest, trying to keep him from thrashing around.
"What the hell?" John says, lingering panic beaten back by sheer astonishment. "Ford, keep watch," and he follows Teyla's example, crouching beside McKay. The seizure ends, McKay relaxes for a moment, and then seizes again.
"I do not know what is wrong with him." Teyla's voice is quick and tight.
"I feel okay. Do you?" John asks, and she gives him a nod. "Ford? You okay?"
"Feeling great, sir," Ford says anxiously, swiveling with his P90 to point first one way down the tunnel, then the other.
The second seizure ends and McKay slumps, unconscious or maybe just stunned. John's got a bad feeling about this. Stackhouse is an artificial gene carrier. Wayland isn't, but if John remembers correctly, Wayland's team includes Corporal Duncan, one of the early volunteers for the gene therapy.
His headache intensifies with sudden sharpness, stabbing at his temples. Is this what happened to Stackhouse, to Duncan -- to McKay? John closes his eyes, squeezing them shut, and the dimness behind his lids suddenly lights up with a glowing grid filled with symbols, like the display on the jumper's HUD. The only other time he's ever had anything like this happen to him was that one time he sat in the alien dentist's-chair thing in Antarctica.
Even when he opens his eyes, he can still see the glowing lines overlaid on everything around him. It's clearly a display of some kind. Concentrating on it is like focusing on those magic-eye pictures that used to be popular in the '90s -- it's a matter of letting his eyes go out of focus in just the right way.
"Major?" Teyla asks. He raises a hand to hush her. The display flickers, and a bolt of pain goes through his head. It takes him a second to realize that the lights around them had flickered at the same moment, too; it wasn't just him.
John turns his head. It's weird -- he's not just seeing the gridlines, but he also knows what they mean, like someone is dumping the information directly into his brain: these are walls, these are contour lines showing height ... As he realizes that, a part of him screams Get out of my head! He pushes, and the gridlines abruptly vanish. So does the blue light, so suddenly that for one awful minute John thinks he's gone blind, until his eyes adjust to the glow of their flashlights.
"Major?" Teyla says again. He stares at her, blinking owlishly. She's holding his shoulders, staring into his face with open concern.
"Hey! Why is no one worried about me?" McKay's voice demands weakly.
"I'm okay." John bats away Teyla's hands and closes his eyes again -- it doesn't really seem to matter if his eyes are open or closed, but shutting out his surroundings makes it easier to concentrate. This time, he's able to pull up the display without too much difficulty. It really is very like using the chair, except the chair didn't give him this headache.
As he considers that, he's supplied with new information: that the power is very low, and everything he does drains it a bit more.
Can you show me life signs? he thinks at it, and even as he asks, it does, responding at the speed of thought to show him the bright splashes of his own presence and his team's.
I need a wider field of view -- and he's zooming out, a dizzying effect, especially when another brown-out jabs an icepick into his skull. He wonders what'll happen if he's still using the interface when the power goes out completely, as it seems about to do. He decides that he probably doesn't want to know.
Besides, he's located a cluster of life signs -- eight of them, and he breathes a sigh of relief. He's having trouble using the interface to figure out where they are, though. Looks like they're under his team, but maybe he's just having trouble figuring out the three-dimensional display --
It helpfully gives him a more detailed diagram, and okay, they are under his team, in some kind of chamber. And there's a door, almost directly under his team as well --
John can guess, now, what must have happened. First Stackhouse's team, then Wayland's, tripped whatever sensor his team had tripped, but they didn't pass the test and so down they went, into some kind of holding cell. He opens his eyes again to find his whole team staring at him with puzzled frowns, even McKay, who's sitting up against the wall.
"Move back," John says, pointing towards the opening into the ruins. "That way."
Ford immediately scrambles to obey. The two civilians just continue looking at him. "Now!" John tells them. He can feel the power grid teetering on the brink of collapse. "I need to do a thing. I can't do it with you guys there."
Ford takes Rodney's arm and hauls him along. John finds himself leaning on Teyla. "Is this far enough?" she asks, helping him sit down against the wall.
"I think so." He concentrates again, and there's a low rumble and a metallic shrieking sound. Part of the floor begins to pull away, just like the diagrams are currently showing him, and he hears a sudden babble of voices, including Stackhouse calling, "Hey! Hey up there! Can anyone hear us?"
Then the gridlines die, the rumbling stops with a screech of tortured metal, and pain explodes behind John's eyes. He's dimly aware of Teyla catching him, and then, nothing.
He gets the whole story later, in the infirmary: that he'd passed out in the tunnel ("Fainted," McKay says gleefully), and the trap door had stopped responding as well, but there was enough of an opening that Ford and Teyla could help the two imprisoned teams climb up through the gap in the floor. As John had guessed, they'd been trapped but unharmed -- Stackhouse and Duncan had headaches, as did McKay, but no one was seriously injured. John's team had carried him to the jumper, and Stackhouse piloted them back.
"Unfortunately, the power source for the facility, whatever it was, seemed to be completely drained," Mckay says. He's lying on the bed next to John's, with his laptop on his knees, going over the data from the planet. "We're definitely sending a team back to explore, when we can. Finding a fully charged ZPM is a higher priority right now, of course, but for all we know, the ruins on M35-2T9 could be a whole ZPM factory. Right now we're stretched so thin that we can't spare anyone to investigate. Do you realize they sent me out here with only four electrical engineers? Four! Although it turns out we have some double degrees, thank God ..."
"Yeah?" John says, turning a page in War and Peace. "Good for you."
Both Stackhouse and Duncan have long since been released, but McKay insists that he needs to be monitored for awhile just in case there are lingering effects. Beckett seems to have given up on arguing with him. John, on the other hand, has the opposite problem.
"I don't see why I need to stay overnight, Doc," he'd said.
"You were unconscious for almost two hours, Major. On top of your other health issues, that's nothing to mess around with." Beckett had studied him for a moment with eyes that were much sharper than the "simple country doctor" persona he cultivated. "How's your neck feeling?"
"Like a giant alien bug bit it, Doc."
But the weird thing is, the muscles around the injury site are more relaxed than they've been in days. He can actually turn his head again. John refuses to believe that it's actually that simple and pat -- going out on a second mission, or a third, isn't going to fix all that ails him.
Still, the last few nights he's been so fatigued by evening that he can hardly walk, but too wired to sleep. Tonight, he's tired but not completely exhausted, and he feels like he might be able to sleep.
The small, cluttered suite of rooms that they're currently using for an infirmary has a number of high, narrow windows, and John's bed is up against one of these. The infirmary staff either haven't been able to spare anything to use for drapes yet, or it hasn't been a priority for them, so John can look out the rain-washed glass at the reflections of Atlantis's lights on the dark ocean. The rain's rhythm takes him back to his childhood, lying in bed with Dave in the next room over, listening to the rain pattering outside their windows. He's always found it easier to sleep on rainy nights.
Is it worth it? Kate Heightmeyer asked him.
His father's voice speaks out of the darkness and the rain, out of a memory he'd pushed aside but never quite managed to bury, flat with recrimination: So this is what you want, then.
"Yeah, Dad," John whispers, speaking to the night and the alien city and the ghost of the past. "It's what I want."
McKay breaks off in mid-monologue. "Sorry, what?"
"Nothing," John says. Maybe he's trying too hard, maybe he's not trying hard enough, but usually he gets there, in the end. He closes the book and places it on the bedside table. He's about to draw the privacy curtain, but then he hesitates. "Hey, McKay."
"Mmm?" McKay's still engrossed in the data on the laptop.
John kinda wants to tell him that he did okay out there today, despite not actually doing much of anything, but it might come out sort of insincere, since John was unconscious through most of it. What comes out instead is, "Now that you're a member of the alien DNA club, you think we're gonna get superpowers?"
The rapid-fire typing slows and stops. McKay raises his head. "Say what?"
"Superpowers," John says. "Me, I'm hoping for flight."
"You would," McKay snorts. As he resumes typing, he adds, "I always wanted to be Batman, myself. All those gadgets."
"You don't need alien DNA for that, though."
McKay snorts again. "Just my luck I'd end up with one of the really stupid powers, the ones for second-string superheroes that get called in when the important ones are off saving the planet or temporarily dead or whatever. Like ... I don't know, making flowers bloom or turning wine to water or something."
"We could call you Waterboy."
"And we could call you Birdbrain," McKay retorts, which startles a laugh out of John. McKay shoots him a wary sideways look, like he was expecting John to be offended. "Because of the flying, obviously," McKay adds.
"I thought you were going to sleep."
John gives him a quick grin. "Maybe now I'll dream about superheroes rather than Wraith."
As John starts to draw the privacy curtain between their beds, McKay says, "Laser beams."
John pauses. "Huh?"
"Laser beams. Like, from my hands." McKay takes one hand off the keyboard long enough to mime a throwing motion. "That's what I used to want, when I was a kid."
"Hey, that was on my list, too. I was thinking from my eyes, though, like Cyclops in the X-Men."
He thinks for an instant that he might have gone too far with the geekery, but McKay just rolls his eyes. "You want a superpower that'll turn you into a social outcast?"
The urge to say I've already got one is so strong that he has to bite it back, but instead he just says mildly, "Think what it could do to the Wraith, though."
"Okay, that is a pleasant thought."
McKay's still smiling to himself when John draws the curtain. He palms off the lamp beside his bed, leaving himself enclosed in a small dim alcove. Light filters dimly through the curtain, and after a moment's silence he can hear the soft chatter of McKay's laptop keys resume, a backdrop to the patter of the rain and the quiet voices and clicking footsteps of Beckett's staff moving about the infirmary.
John gazes out the window at the rain falling on an alien world, and lets the sound carry him off to sleep.