katstales: (John-chair)
[personal profile] katstales
Title: It's The Little Things
Author: [livejournal.com profile] katstale
Rating: PG (mostly for violence and possibly a wee bit of 'colorful' language on Ronon's part *grins*)
Pairing/Characters: Gen fic with team and no pairings
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em & not making any money off this--if I did or I were, we'd SO be having a Season 6!!!
Timeline: Set early season 5, shortly after John's recovery from events in "The Seed."
Summary: The team is returned to Atlantis after being regressed to childhood while investigating an offworld Ancient facility. With no memories of their adult selves, the four must work together to not only find a way to cope with their current situation, but to eventually reverse the effects and save themselves from impending death. Chaos, mayhem, and madness occur along the way, of course!


The beginning of the story is here in Part 01.

This is where things begin to turn a bit more serious.

Part 4



With the noise of the computer to lull him, John settled back into the bed and closed his eyes. Sleep wasn't an option though, not with the whirlwind of his thoughts that Rodney's revelations had provoked. First, there was the fact that he was supposed to be a forty-something adult who was an officer in the USAF. It seemed totally absurd. For one thing, his father wouldn't have stood for it--no way was his eldest going to do something so totally mundane as joining the service, no matter which branch. No, Patrick Sheppard had been very clear from an early age that John would be expected to take over the family business when the time came for him to retire.

On the other hand, practically since he'd been old enough to walk there was only one thing that John had wanted to do--and that was fly. Even now, he could feel the lure of the blue skies calling to him. But how had he ever managed to defy his father like that? Patrick would have disowned him, of that he had no doubts. Did he really have the courage to walk out on him and Dave without a backward glance? Somehow, he doubted that.

And then there was the part about the ATA magic-gene-stuff. It was like something straight out of a bad B-movie. And yet...there was that constant little hum in the back of his mind that never seemed to go away. It was like it was calling to him, trying to lure him away to another part of the city where he could join with it completely. And as much as he tried to deny it, Ronon had been right about the secure lock up. He had a strong suspicion that he could go wherever he wanted in this city and the city would let him in--secured area or not.

The more he thought about these things, the worse his headache became. He had no option but to grin-and-bear-it though, as he couldn't stop thinking, nor would he call for a nurse to ask for more medication. Asking for more meds would likely bring far more trouble than discovery of McKay's efforts. They'd want to do all manner of tests and stuff that he really didn't want to think about, let alone experience.

"Someone's coming." Ronon's voice was low, but urgent. John immediately sat up, turning to catch the laptop.

To his surprise though, Teyla was standing next to his bed with the machine in question extended toward him. "I thought perhaps it might be easier and safer to pass it between us. Besides, you will need an opponent for your game, will you not?"

Grinning, John took it from her and quickly brought up the game, which Rodney had already opened. "I could play the computer, but it'll be more fun to have a real person to play against."

Before anyone could say more, the nurse breezed back around the curtains. "All right, Doctor McKay, hand it..."

She stopped short, stunned to find Rodney apparently sleeping. "Oh. I'm sorry. I just assumed..."

John smiled up at her, an angelic look on his face. "Me and Teyla decided to play a game while he's asleep. I'm teaching her how to play chess," he announced proudly.

The woman seemed to want to argue, her suspicions clear in both her expression and her attitude. "I'm surprised that he'd allow you to use his computer. He can be a bit...territorial about things."

"Yeah, we kinda noticed that. But we're his friends and he trusts us," said John, keeping his tone and expression to that of innocence personified. "Besides, he owes me after I beat him last night."

Rodney coughed, but continued to feign sleep in a fairly believable manner--much to John's relief. The nurse appeared to want to pursue the matter, but ultimately settled for a stern warning. "Well, just don't be overdoing things yourself. You're also running a fever now and need to rest."

"Okay," John agreed amiably. "But I just woke up a little while ago and I'm not tired yet. I'll try to sleep again once Teyla gets the hang of it a little better. A couple more games, tops," he offered.

The woman seemed to know she was being had, but she didn't protest. Probably because he really hadn't given her anything to object to, he thought. "All right, I suppose that will be acceptable. But I'll be back to check on you," she warned. "So don't think you're going to pull one over on me."

"Oh, we wouldn't dream of it," assured John. From the scowl that appeared on her face, he thought that he'd gone too far for a moment, but then she whirled around and stormed off.

"That was awesome," enthused Ronon. "But you'd better be careful--I think she's got it in for you for some reason."

"Yeah," he agreed, handing the computer to Teyla to deliver back to Rodney. "Wonder what bug crawled up...um, I mean, wonder what's bugging her? It's not like I've done anything to her. Yet," he added.

"You're just pissed because she sees through that schoolboy charm you're oozing all over the place, unlike some people," grumbled Rodney.

"I'm not the one who's pissed around here," countered John. "And I'm not the one who got beat at chess last night either," he added. "Which is the only reason you're siding with her and we both know it."

Before Rodney could reply, Teyla stepped in to make peace between them, a task that she was rapidly tiring of if the look on her face was any indication. "Perhaps it would best to leave this discussion for another time and concentrate on the more pressing matter of getting the machine to work in reverse?"

McKay didn't answer, but he did return his attention to the machine in front of him. "I still want a rematch," he griped.

Snickering, John couldn't stop himself from replying. "Anytime, Rodney. I'll never tire of watching you eat your words."

Teyla and Ronon exchanged a knowing look, but said nothing. Ronon tilted his chair back into the main aisle and once again took up his watch. Teyla settled into the chair between his and Rodney's beds, busying herself with some book that John didn't know the name of and didn't care to find out. Satisfied that all was in order for the moment, John settled back into the pillows to continue his contemplation of their situation. A very short time later, he drifted off to sleep.

~A~



When John next awoke, it was to find Ronon and Teyla watching him, a grave expression on their faces. "What?" he demanded. "What's happened?"

His eyes followed theirs to the next bed, where Rodney lay amid a myriad of monitors and tubes attached to his unmoving body. "No! Damn it! Did he finish? Did he get the program done before...why didn't somebody wake me up?" he asked, his eyes flashing with anger.

"Nothin' you could do," answered Ronon. "Besides, the doc was here and he said not to wake you. Teyla was gonna," he added, "but he stopped her."

"We did not wish to compromise your health as well," she added. "I do not believe that he was finished when he...when he lost consciousness." Her eyes were full of compassion, yet they were also desperate. "You are the only hope we have now of reversing the process that was done to us."

"Me? No way! In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not a genius and I'm sure as heck not a scientist. No, no way. I can't do it." His mind was whirling, trying to find a reasonable solution to the problem--one that did not involve him playing Bill-Nye-The-Science-Guy, or any other version thereof. "Wait a minute, where's the computer? Let me see how far he got," demanded John.

Teyla passed the machine to him and he quickly booted it up. "Did they say how long he has?" he asked, waiting for it to bring up the program screen. When neither answered him, he looked up, glaring at them. "Well? Did they or didn't they?"

"They refused to say directly, but Ronon overheard some of them talking." She paused, her eyes filling with tears. "Mr. Woolsey told Major Lorne that he likely has less than 48 hours until he...until it is too late."

Stunned, John looked down at the screen, not seeing what it told him for several long moments. At last, he looked up at them, determination radiating from every part of him. "Okay, so I guess we find a way to finish this and get us all back to the place where they have the machine. Because there is no way Rodney is gonna die. We are not going to allow that to happen. Everyone clear on that?"

The other two shared an uncertain look, but nodded. "Of course. Just tell us what you need us to do and we will see to it."

"Yeah, what she said," echoed Ronon.

John watched them for a moment, gauging the seriousness of their commitment. Satisfied with what he saw, he wasted no time issuing orders. "Okay. Well, for starters, we're going to need to figure out a way to sneak out of here. I need to go to that room we saw with the chair-thing in it. If I'm right, that's where we'll find the answers we need to get us back to the way we were before."

Ronon shook his head. "They aren't gonna let you out of here after what happened to him," he said, pointing to Rodney. "Maybe me and Teyla can get it if you tell us how."

"I would gladly assist in any way, but I fear this something that John will have to do himself, is it not?" Teyla appeared calm and collected, but John could feel her underlying concern and anxiety.

"I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who can operate the chair. That ATA gene thing Rodney was talking about? I'm pretty sure you need that to operate the chair and neither of you guys have it." Picking absently at the cover underneath him, John avoided looking either of them in the eye.

"Okay. So we need to figure out the best way to get you out of here without being noticed." Ronon didn't protest or question John's explanation, even though it was based more on intuition than fact. John wasn't certain if he should feel flattered or frightened that the two had such trust in him.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, John realized that he had to step up and be the leader they wanted, that they needed. "Okay. Here's what we're going to do. You two start thinking about some possible escape plans while I see if I can figure out how close Rodney got to finishing. If we don't have a complete program, then getting to the chair room will be a moot point. Maybe if Rodney got far enough, that Radek guy can figure it out and take it from there and we'll still have a chance at getting everyone out of this."

Nodding, the two moved off and began to discuss the situation in earnest--whispering to avoid being overheard, John was pleased to note. He watched as they'd moved to the end of the curtains to ensure they'd be able to see anyone approach, also to his approval. Satisfied with their efforts, he shot a quick, worried glance at Rodney before turning his full attention to the screen in front of him.

To his surprise, he understood far more of McKay's work than he'd anticipated. Unfortunately, he hadn't a clue as to whether it was complete and if not, how to go about finishing the thing. He read it through several more times, grasping more of it with each successive reading. He was no closer to finding the answers, but he now felt confident enough to explain to Radek what Rodney had been trying to do. Surely a scientist would be able to determine if it was done or not, he thought. Maybe he could even finish it if it need be.

Setting the computer to the side, he rubbed his eyes and massaged his temples. The ever-present headache had ratcheted up a few more notches while he was reading, but time was running out and there was no time to dwell. "Okay, what's the plan?" he asked, looking first to Ronon and then to Teyla.

"We go at night," said Ronon. "Less people to deal with."

Teyla nodded in agreement, but her expression clearly indicated that this was as far as the accord reached. "Ronon insists that he can stun everyone in the infirmary before an alarm is raised. I feel that there are...other ways which would be better suited to ensure our success. We could use a stun grenade, or knock out gas, or any number of other things that would affect them all at the same time." Not backing down for an instant, she matched his glare and held it. "Your way leaves far too much chance for one of them to sound an alarm."

"Keep working on it," instructed John, throwing back the covers. "I'm sure we can come up with something that works for all of us." Hopping down off the bed, he grabbed the laptop and headed for the opening in the curtains.

"Hey, wait. Where you going? You're not supposed to be out of bed; they'll stop you and take that away for sure."

John paused, grinning at Ronon. His eyes danced with mischief as he revealed his plan. "I'll tell them I'm going to the bathroom. And if they try to take it, I'll just have to make them reconsider."

"How will you do that?" asked Teyla.

"Easy. I'll just act like I'm gonna cry and tell 'em that I promised Rodney I wouldn't let it out of my sight. Protect it with my very life and stuff, you know? And I can even do real tears if I have to. Girl...um, I mean, women are suckers for that kinda crap."

Teyla wasn't happy with him, judging by the look on her face, but he didn't have time to deal with it. After they were big again and the whole mess was behind them, he thought, then he'd apologize. As much as she wanted him to, in fact. Which was probably going to be a lot, because he had the distinct impression that in her eyes, he'd apparently been doing and saying a ton of stupid things over the last few days. But that would have to wait because right now he had a whole lot more important stuff to do--and very little time to do it. "So. The Plan, remember? Work on it," he called, heading for the far end of the ward.

"Notice he never said where he was going?" As he turned the corner, John heard Ronon complaining to Teyla. He knew from the volume that it was more meant for his own ears than for hers though, and he couldn't help but smile.

It didn't take him long to reach his destination. The hour was late and he easily avoided the on-duty personnel until, at last, he stood hesitantly in front of the doorway. It hadn't been his original destination and he wasn't entirely certain how or why he'd ended up there. But now that he was standing before this particular door, it felt like the right thing to do. In fact, the more he considered the matter, the more certain he was that this was the best course of action. Checking on the computer tucked under his arm, he took a deep breath and placed his hand on the control. He thought the word 'open' at it, but the barrier remained firmly closed.

Frowning, he concentrated harder, willing the stubborn lock to open. Sweat beaded on his forehead, the creases deepening. Giving it one final burst of concentrated thought, he was relieved to hear the mechanism engage and the door slide open.

The room was dark inside; its lone occupant fast asleep on the bed. John silently crossed the room to stand over him, debating on the best way to awaken him and present his case. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. His legs began to feel wobbly and he sank into a nearby chair to avoid collapsing completely, still clutching the computer tightly to his chest. A minute, he thought. He just needed a minute.

"John? Is that you, lad?" Carson threw off his blanket and brought the lights up just enough to see more clearly. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes and stretching, he yawned. "What in the name of heaven are ye doing out of bed and how did ye get in here?"

John didn't answer him immediately, staring down at the computer while he tried to sort his thoughts. Before he even realized he was speaking, the words were out. "We know."

"Oh? And what is it exactly that ye think ye know?"

Scowling, John looked up to meet his gaze at last. "All of it. We know about the device, about us really being adults and not kids, about how Woolsey plans to ship us off to Earth away from Ronon and Teyla--and we're not going, by the way--and how..." He paused, his expression changing from angry to fearful and back again. "We know that Rodney's going to die soon. And that the rest of us won't be far behind, especially me." His eyes flashed with defiance, daring Beckett to contradict him.

"I see," said the doctor, not sounding at all surprised. He seemed unable to look John in the eye now, instead studying the fabric of his blanket as he picked at it. "Well. I wondered how long it would take Rodney to find a way in. Honestly, I didn't think it would take him as long as it did. I was actually kind of hoping that he'd find a solution to the problem of reversing the process before he...well, let's just say I'd hoped he'd find it sooner."

"He did."

That brought the Scot's head whipping up again in a flash. "He did? Do ye have it with ye? I'll need to get this to Mr. Woolsey as soon as possible so a mission can be scheduled. We don't have a moment to lose here."

"We need to show Zelenka first." Seeing Beckett's confused expression, he elaborated. "We aren't sure if Rodney got it finished or not before he...before the coma. We'll need for Radek to figure out if it's complete or not and maybe finish the last part of it if it isn't already done."

"May I see?" asked Carson.

Nodding, John powered up the unit and handed it to the doctor. "Rodney said that it had something to do with the ATA gene triggering it, but Zelenka and the other adults weren't looking at it from the right angle. He said it was complicated and didn't want to waste time explaining it, but I was looking at what he's done so far and I kind of understand it. So I think Zelenka should be able to follow it without a lot of trouble."

Carson accepted the device and quickly read through the program. John could see the hope drain from him as he read. When he finished, he handed the computer back. "I'm very sorry, but I don't think that bringing in anyone else will help. I'm no science wiz by any means, but I was there at the briefing. Radek made it very clear that they've gone over and over the data and concluded that the ATA gene isn't the answer. Even if I did ask anyway, I have no doubt he'll take one look at this and refuse to consider it further."

It took some effort, but John managed to rein in his temper and remain calm. "I-we know what they've concluded--I already told you that. Look, I can't explain how, but I know I'm right. This IS the answer to our problem--I know it is. We just have to make sure how far Rodney got and finish it if need be. But we need Zelenka's help since Rodney can't do it. Please, you have to help us--before it's too late."

"I've done everything I can to help already--and I think ye know that. If Mr. Woolsey finds out I allowed Rodney to have access to the computer, he'll...he'll not be happy with me. At all."

Sensing his chance was rapidly slipping through his fingers, John made one last, desperate plea. "I'll take the blame! I'll tell him I snuck it to Rodney without your knowing about it. The computer, I mean. Now will you call in Radek to help with this or not?"

He looked for a moment like he was going to refuse, but at the last moment changed his mind and nodded. "All right, you win. I'll speak to Radek and see if it looks like this will give you all a chance. But right now, ye need to get back to bed and rest. We don't need ye joining Rodney just yet, now do we?"

John wanted to argue--badly. But in the end, he knew that the doctor was right and agreed to accompany Carson back to the ward. By the time they'd reached the curtained area where Ronon and Teyla were watching over Rodney, John was all but dead on his feet. With no more than a nod to each of them, he climbed into this bed and snuggled in. A short nap wouldn't hurt, he thought. "Tell him this is our only chance," he said, almost on the verge of slurring his words. "If he won't help us, we will find a way without him--and he'll have to answer to us once we're big again." His eyes flashed with defiance, daring Beckett to contradict him.

"All right then," agreed the doctor. "I'll pass on your message." He tucked the machine under his arm without further protest. "I'll go speak to him right now, in fact. But ye need some sleep, lad. If ye push yourself too hard, ye'll wind up in the same state as our friend here." His gaze lingered on the comatose boy, a sad almost wistful look on his face. "We need all of ye back to normal, but not at the cost of any of your lives."

"I won't do anything stupid. I promise." His vow made, John settled in and quickly drifted off.

~A~



John poked his head up from under a mound of blankets, blinking fuzzily for several moments as he oriented himself. Teyla, noticing his movements, was immediately on her feet and at his side. "John! Thank heavens you are finally awake. We were afraid...it does not matter. The important thing is that you are awake now."

In that instant, it all came crashing back to him at once. From the moment he found himself inside the ruins with the three strangers who felt more like family than his own brother, to their escape upon returning to the city and consquent escapades, to waking up to find Rodney in a coma, it all played in his head like a movie. Rodney's program. It was on the computer. Yeah, the computer. He needed the computer.

"Teyla, do you..." He didn't even get the entire question out before she was offering the machine to him. His shoulders sagged in relief as he accepted it, smiling broadly. "Thanks. Did Zelenka figure it out while I was asleep? How long was I out anyway?" he asked, powering up the unit.

There was a long moment of silence. His eyes narrowed as he watched his two friends exchange a worried look. Finally, she began to explain. "It has been almost ten hours since you and Doctor Beckett returned."

John's mouth fell open in shock. Before he question them further, Ronon continued where Teyla had left off. "Everyone's getting worried. Last nurse who was here said your temp was rising even faster than McKay's did. They been pretty worried you might be gonna go into a coma, too."

Scowling, he gave the pair a disgusted look. "Well you should have known better. I have to fix things so we can get turned back into adults again," he said, pointing to the screen. "With Rodney out, it's all up to me. Now let's get to it. I have work to do and we're all running out of time here."

"We meant no offense," said Teyla. "We were merely worried about you--and not because you are our best hope for finding the answer. You are our friend, John; we care about you."

John rubbed tiredly at his eyes. "Yeah, I know. Sorry, I'm not mad at you guys. I'm just pis...um, frustrated because I lost so much time. I figured I'd rest for a couple of hours and then find out if the program was finished or not. I didn't plan on being out for ten hours. I just hope I can...well, anyway, tell me what's been going on. Did Rodney get the program done or not?"

Teyla and Ronon exchanged another long look before he got his explanation. "Yes, Rodney did finish the program. However, Doctor Zelenka does not believe that it is of any value and it has been discounted as useless. He said there is a problem with the interface and has convinced Mr. Woolsey that there no way to make it work. They are still working on a solution, but from the whispers we have overheard, they have little hope of finding a workable solution in time."

John ran a hand through his hair to the back of his head, leaving it to rest on his neck while he tried to think through the situation. "They left Rodney's program on the computer though, right?" he asked, looking anxiously at his two friends.

The two of them shrugged in unison. "Guess so," said Ronon.

"We have not turned on the computer since Doctor Beckett returned with it to explain what Doctor Zelenka found. He has already reported their findings to Mr. Woolsey."

John quickly located the file he needed and scanned through it. Much to his relief, it appeared to be unchanged from what he'd seen earlier and he smiled up at the other two. "It's here. Doesn't look like they've messed with it."

"So? Zelenka says it won't work. What good does that do us?" Ronon slouched against the side of the bed, his arms crossed and a confused look on his face.

A slow, knowing smile crept across his face as John explained. "Zelenka is right about one thing--as is, the interface won't work. But the key to the whole thing is in the database somewhere, I know it. That's where the chair comes in. I need to access some of the files and systems through it to get what we need. Don't ask me to explain it. I don't know how or why I know, but I do. So. What's the plan to get in and gain access to the chair without being detected?"

"As you know, we agree that the best time would be in the early hours of the morning. Fewer people will be up and about, plus it will be easier to hide our absence from the infirmary. If we use pillows and blankets to make it look like we are asleep in our beds, they may well not realize we are not here until it is too late. This means that we will need to go very soon, as it is quite late already." Teyla laid out the basic part of the plan they were in agreement on, but John could tell from Ronon's tense posture that there definite areas of contention.

"I need my blaster out of Beckett's lockup," he insisted.

Teyla bristled at the request. "Ronon, no. It is far too risky. We can evade anyone we might encounter. Firing your blaster at everyone we meet is certain to attract the very attention which we seek to avoid."

John thought a moment. "You're both right." His pronouncement stopped the disagreement cold.

"Huh?"

"I do not understand."

He indulged in just a moment of satisfaction at the looks on their faces, but time was wasting and he quickly got down to business. "Teyla's right that we can't afford to attract attention by stunning everyone we meet along the way. But Ronon is also right. We'll need to have a way to fend off any intrusions once I'm in the chair. It's vital that I stay in there long enough to get the information we need. I'll need to connect the computer to the chair so that I can download the information we need when I find it. So, first stop is Beckett's lockup and then it's on to the chair room. Agreed?"

"Perhaps it would be best if you were to retrieve the blaster alone. We will need to make the beds appear as if we are in them and asleep; it would save time if Ronon and I remained behind to do this while you retrieve the weapon. As you said, time is running out for all of us."

"Good idea. Okay, so you guys rig up the beds; I'll grab Ronon's blaster and meet you back here. We can head out to the chair room as soon as I get back. Anything else we need to discuss or are we ready?"

Both shook their heads, signaling the end of the conversation. "Okay then, I'll be back in a flash." After a brief pause to check the vicinity for any adult presence, he slipped away to retrieve the weapon. It was late enough that he encountered few people and all of them were easily avoided.

When at last he stood in front of the lockup, he placed his hand on the locking mechanism and concentrated. At first, nothing happened, much to his annoyance. He thought harder, but still the door did not open. Tamping down his irritation, he sent a final, determined 'open' at it. To his relief, the door slid open and he hurried inside. He went straight for the weapon, ignoring everything else in the room.

A few feet shy of the door, he heard voices and all but dove behind a shelving unit to hide. Thankfully, he'd closed the door behind him, though he hadn't relocked it. With any luck, those outside wouldn't realize that. The chatter continued for several long moments--to John it seemed like an eternity had passed before the voices began to grow fainter. He continued to wait, still crouched in his hiding place and willing them to just leave once and for all. At last, the noise faded into nothing, and though he was relieved, he stayed hidden for awhile longer. After what felt like a reasonable amount of time had passed with no further noise, he slowly and quietly stepped out and over to the door.

Again he waited, listening for any sign of humanity in the area. When nothing but silence met his ears, he heaved a sigh of relief and cautiously opened the door. Steeling himself against possible discovery, he stuck his head out and scanned the immediate area with an expert eye. Finding it clear, he slipped out and relocked the room before sneaking back to join his companions.

Ronon and Teyla had done an excellent job of making it appear that the three of them were indeed fast asleep in the beds. John went over to his bed and plopped the backpack containing the blaster down next to the 'dummy' version of himself. Gathering the laptop from the table, he stuffed it into the bag with the pilfered weapon and began searching for the connectors he'd need to hook it up to the chair. Unable to locate the needed items, he turned to his partners in crime. "We'll need to swing by the labs first."

Ronon stepped forward and pointed to the bag. "I'll take my blaster."

Annoyed, John shook his head. "You can have it when we get to the chair room, not before. Well, maybe sooner if there's someone in the lab, but not before that. Evasion and avoidance, not search and destroy--remember?"

Though pouting, Ronon didn't back down. "I remember fine. I can still carry it myself. I'm not a baby and I won't let you treat me like one anymore than Woolsey."

It was a struggle to keep his temper, but John managed--despite the edge in his tone. "If you don't want to be treated like one, then you gotta stop acting like one. The equipment all goes in the bag. Period. Deal with it. Now it's time to head out--you in or not?"

Still glaring, Ronon didn't answer him. John shook his head and turned toward Rodney. He reached out and awkwardly patted the still arm, careful to avoid the many tubes and wires running from his friend. "We'll be back soon, so don't go and do anything stupid while we're gone. Or I'll...I'll...just don't, okay?"

After a determined look at the other two members of the little group, he started toward the door. "I can do this with or without you guys. I'd like for it to be with, but the choice is yours. Rodney's running out of time fast--heck, we all are. If you're willing to follow orders, come on and let's get this done. If not, stay here and I'll be back as fast as I can."

"I will accompany you," said Teyla, already trailing along behind him.

John could feel Ronon's eyes shooting daggers at his back, but he kept on going. A stealthy glance back over his shoulder found Dex looking over at McKay's bed. "I'm in," he said, trotting over to catch up with them.

Smiling, John led them out into the hallway and headed straight for the labs. There had indeed been a minimal amount of personnel up and about so avoiding detection had been incredibly easy. The lab itself was another story, however. Although not heavily populated at the late hour, there were several scientists moving about. Ducking into a niche near the door, John turned to the others. "Okay, any ideas on how to get in and out with out being noticed?"

"We need a diversion," announced Teyla. "Perhaps Ronon and I could distract them while you locate the items you need?"

"Nah, too risky. We're supposed to avoid being seen, remember?" Ronon's expression clearly said how pleased he was to have the opportunity for that little dig, throwing John's words from earlier back in his face.

"He's right," said John, looking apologetic. "We need something else." He thought for a moment and then pulled the computer from the bag. "Maybe if we can figure out how to get into the mainframe, we can kill the lights in there."

"I believe I can assist with that," said Teyla. "I was watching Rodney work on disrupting the internal sensors earlier. I am confident that I can find what we need."

Caught by surprise, John looked up from the screen as the unit booted up. "Really? Cool, that will save a lot of time." When it was ready, he handed it to her. "There ya go, all yours. Knock yourself out."

After a brief frown at the colloquialism, she quickly got to work. John grew more nervous as time passed, wondering if they'd done the right thing and second-guessing his decision. Just as he was about to question her progress, the lab went dark.

Teyla quickly shut down the unit and handed it to John, smiling broadly. The three of them stayed hidden, listening to the cursing and grumbling from within the lab. John wondered if his companions were having as much trouble suppressing the urge to laugh as he was. One of them giggled, but before he could say anything there was a distinct 'oof' as the other party delivered a physical warning to stop. John was pretty sure that Ronon had been the offender and Teyla the dispenser of punishment, but the sound of footsteps approaching robbed him of the opportunity to say anything to either of them.

He held his breath as people exited the lab and passed by them. He didn't recognize anyone in the dim lighting and none of the voices sounded familiar. The wait for them to pass out of earshot was agonizing, and he was certain that one of them would turn back at any moment to berate his little band. Thankfully, that didn't happen and he heaved a sigh of relief when they were finally well out of hearing. "Okay, come on, let's go."

John didn't question how or why he knew exactly where to look for the needed cables and equipment. Heading straight for the drawer where he knew they'd be, he retrieved the items and shoved them into the bag with the weapon and the computer. He was about to close the door when a familiar object caught his eye. He thought for a moment, then picked it up and added it to their loot. At last ready to go, he nodded to his cohorts and headed for the doorway.

They'd barely set foot outside the lab when the lights came back on. The three of them froze for a moment, sharing a worried look. A loud crash came from the back, after which someone shouted in a language that John didn't recognize. He didn't wait around to see why, taking off at a dead run toward the chair room and silently waving the others to follow him. They ducked down several side corridors and finally into an empty storeroom. "Any sign of pursuit?" he asked, breathing hard.

Ronon, bringing up the rear, shook his head. "No, I don't think they were yelling at us. Hasn't been anyone behind us the whole way."

"Let's give it a minute or two just to make sure," he said, still winded.

He saw a worried look pass between his two cohorts, which immediately got his dander up. "Knock it off," he snapped. "I'm fine." He waited a moment longer, happy to find that neither of them argued. Hearing no sign of anyone else in the vicinity, he stepped out of the room. "All right, let's go."

Their little stunt cutting power to the labs had the unfortunate side-effect of making the hallways a bit more populous than normal for the early hour. Still, it had been unavoidable, but thankfully the team didn't have all that difficult a time evading detection, even with the addition of the newly-awakened among the adult population. When they at last arrived at their destination, John was more than a little relieved to find the room empty.

The trio ducked inside and John instantly set to work. He first closed and locked the doors, moving next to connect the computer to the chair. Once the cables were in place, he turned to the others. "Here," he said, handing the beloved blaster over to Ronon. "Anyone one comes through that door before I'm done, stun them."

Grinning like a kid who'd just been given the keys to the candy store, Ronon took the weapon. "Got it." He immediately took up a defensive position and hunkered down.

John handed the smaller stunner he'd found in Rodney's lab to Teyla and pointed to the computer. "I'll need you to watch this for me. If anyone gets past Ronon, you have to make sure they don't disconnect it before I'm done."

She nodded solemnly. "We will not let you down."

Taking a deep breath, he climbed into the chair. He heard Teyla's gasp as it lit up but he ignored her reaction and got right down to business. The large structure dwarfed his current size, but he managed to find a comfortable position that still allowed him to reach the control pads at the end of each arm.

The odd tingling sensation he'd had ever since their arrival intensified, and he soon found himself swept away into a tide of strange images and sensations. His physical surroundings faded into the background as he fought to navigate through the maelstrom he'd entered. He closed his eyes, concentrating with every ounce of energy he had. Fear slowly began to wedge its way into his mind, but a renewed sense of determination pushed it aside as he sought the way among the flood of information assaulting his mind.

Sweat broke out on his forehead, but he stubbornly pushed on. Bit by bit, the information coalesced into systems and pathways that began to make sense to him. He could feel the tremors in his limbs as his strength was sapped by the alien technology, but the thrill of the knowledge taking form gave him a hefty dose of adrenaline and allowed him to keep going. He wound his way through the maze, system by system. Through life support, power readings and controls, shield schematics, and star drive files, he searched for that elusive bit of information he needed.

Nothing existed to him outside of the chair. His breath hitched as he realized fully what this was: Atlantis. He was immersed so deeply in the flying city that the distinction blurred as to where he ended and Atlantis began. A sense of giddiness came over him as he continued working his way on through her files and systems. He found the section that referenced the access by the group of scientists working on the reversal process. He moved quickly past it, however, knowing with absolute certainty that his answers would not be found there. But where were they? Where did he need to go to find them?

"Help me! I don't know where to look--tell me where I need to look, please?" Communicating with the city seemed as natural to him as breathing and somehow he knew she would not let him down. "Please, our time is running out. Rodney's program is only part of the answer--we need the interface, too. Please, hurry!"

The tingling in the back of his mind changed, though he wasn't certain he would be able to describe the difference. It was suddenly just...more. In the blink of an eye, she had morphed, going from a faint presence to an almost tangible being inside of him. It was an odd sensation, but not at all scary or threatening. It felt...right. She had no visible form, but she reached out and took his hand nonetheless, pulling him along the pathways and circuits at a dizzying speed. He didn't attempt to track where they were going, instead allowing himself to be pulled along, content to know that she would never allow him to come to any harm. He would find out where they were going when they arrived, and strangely enough, he was totally okay with that.

He was feeling rather queasy by the time they reached their destination, but managed to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged. Ignoring the unpleasant sensation, he looked around. "Where are we?" he asked, not recognizing any of their surroundings.

The answer was a gentle whisper, and yet she did not speak to him in words. He suddenly just knew that they were in a section containing the archives of failed experiments for various projects. John was puzzled, wondering why they were there. He didn't need theoretical applications, he needed a solid solution, one that would work to interface between Rodney's program and the Ancient device that had changed them.

She knew what he wanted without him even voicing the question and suddenly he had his answer. There was an interface in one of the failed experiments that would work for them. It hadn't performed exactly as planned in the original experiment, but combined with Rodney's program it would do what was needed and allow the reversal to take place. He had barely completed the thought that he needed to download the interface to the Rodney's computer when Atlantis began the process. It was if she knew what he was thinking and feeling before he could even communicate it to her. "Cool," he said, already knowing that she was aware of his feelings even before he spoke.

While the download was in progress, John took the opportunity to wander a bit and have a look around. There were programs here from every type of scientific division imaginable. There were applications for chemistry, astrophysics, bio-mechanical engineering, agricultural engineering, environmental systems, and much, much more, all there at his fingertips and waiting for someone to return to them. Before he could delve any deeper, he felt an insistent tug in the back of his mind. He frowned, realizing almost instantly that it was not Atlantis and that whoever or whatever was responsible was attempting to separate him from the city. He resisted, not willing to give up the amazing connection just yet.

He gradually became aware of hands on his arm and a vaguely recognizable voice was calling his name, begging him to sever his connection. "No," he insisted. "Not yet."

He'd barely formed the words when he felt Atlantis begin to pull away. Again without her speaking in words, he felt her in his mind, telling him that he must go now, that it was too dangerous for him to stay. John was confused by her plea for him to leave, as he could feel how much she wanted him to stay. "Why are you doing this?"

She answered him with a final push, severing the connection. He was stunned by the depth of her sorrow at the loss of his presence, her feelings nearly overwhelming him as the link was terminated.

His senses returned gradually and he was surprised to find himself gasping for breath. The heat was stifling and he wished he'd noticed it while he was so deeply immersed in the city's systems--he could have fixed whatever was causing the problem. Only after a persistent tap on his cheek did he notice that someone was speaking to him. "John! Och, lad, what have ye done to yourself now? Come on, look at me, son. Are ye back with us now?"

John was shocked to find that his body felt so heavy and disconnected that he could barely move his head enough to turn toward the sound of the voice. He knew that voice with the familiar accent, but the name refused to come to him. He blinked several times as the room insisted on going in and out of focus, until at last his vision cleared and he saw three anxious faces peering at him. "Crsn?" He coughed, wondering why his voice didn't seem to work either and tried again. "C-Carson?"

"Aye, lad. It's good to see you're back with us again. Ye had us worried there for a moment or two." John frowned, wondering why it was that they had been so worried. He was fine, after all; he simply needed to rest a minute or two.

His eyes had no sooner slid shut than he was being shaken awake again. "John! Ye need to stay with me a wee bit longer, lad. Ye can rest soon, I promise."

John tried to answer, but his tongue seemed to be glued to the bottom of his mouth and the best he could manage was an incoherent mumble. Beckett didn't seem to mind though and continued to offer encouragement. "That's a good lad. Now I need ye to let go of the chair." He tried to do as Carson asked, but along with every other part of his body, his fingers refused to work and remained firmly locked in a death grip on the arms of the chair. He wanted to tell the doctor that he couldn't do it, but his voice still wasn't working either.

A loud scream filled the air at exactly the same moment that unknown hands began to pry his fingers loose, and it took a moment for it to sink in that the sound was coming from him. Pain flooded through him, beginning in his hands and flowing in giant waves up his arms to spread throughout his entire body. Dimly he could hear Ronon and Teyla join Carson in calling his name, but the pain was too much and he couldn't answer any of them. Blackness danced at the edge of his vision, slowly growing until it nearly enveloped him entirely. The lights seemed to dim, but he had no energy to spare for anything beyond the all-consuming fire that was racing through every cell in his body. He could hear Ronon and Teyla yelling at him, demanding that he stay with them; unfortunately, he simply was not capable of doing as they wanted. Unable to stand the pain any longer, John sent a mental apology to his friends and surrendered eagerly to the beckoning darkness.

~A~


Part 05

Part 01
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katstales

May 2009

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