пятница, 5 октября 2007 г.

madkrazyghetto: FIC : Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis (1/3)

This wasn't supposed to be this long. Really. I'd meant for it to be a light, pleasant romp, but after two minutes, I had the idea and it all just sort of snowballed from there. Even then, I'd had vague notions of it only being so long. Those got quickly dashed. I started referring to it as 'the drabble,' because if I recognized it as an epic, it'd never get finished. The premise itself is the oldest of cliches, but that's what makes it fun? (PS: references to 'Business or Pleasure?' a few times, what with taking place in that general version of the Stargate universe.) Title: Mnemosyne (1/3)
Fandom: Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis
Characters: Cam/Sam/Shep/Vala, ensemble
Word Count: 28055
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: SG-1: 7x13, 'Grace'; 9x01, 'Avalon (1)'; 9x12, 'Collateral Damage'; 9x14, 'Stronghold'; 10x03, 'The Pegasus Project'; 10x08, 'Memento Mori'; SGA: 1x04, '38 Minutes'; 2x08, 'Conversion'; 3x07, 'Common Ground'; 3x10, 'The Return (1)'
Dedication/Thanks: to , who offered advice, wielded the stick with relentless aplomb on all occasions, and put up with me even during that dark final stage of the writing process where I hated the entire project and threatened to never write it again.
Disclaimer: No one mentioned belongs to me.
Summary: What begins as a simple task to help a friend ends in tragedy as John is stripped of his memories by a rogue alien device. Now Cameron, Sam, and Vala struggle to restore John's memory, even knowing he might forget his relationship with them.

Mnemosyne (1/3)
"Look on the bright side, it's not like we have to move Jackson out of his apartment," Cameron said, tracing the corner of the picture frame on the wall. Vala huffed. "I just don't see why we have to do it at all." She poked at the front of the enormous notebook Sam was holding, falling apart at the seams. "Aren't there strapping airmen here for just that purpose?" "Look at it this way," John offered with a grin, "it's another charming Earth ritual." The humor was lost for a moment when he remembered the last time he'd been around alien and boxes. Of course, this situation was much different, noted when Vala pinched his thigh secretly and beamed up at him. "There are other rituals I like much better." "Moving is generally followed by beer and pizza, on the credit card of the one being moved," Cameron offered. "Oh, Colonel Mitchell, as if I would have trouble running extraneous charges on Daniel's credit card." "What's got me," said John, "is that you guys are all SG-1. Why am I here?" "Because manual labor makes you sweaty and adorable?" suggested Vala. "What were you going to do with a free Saturday afternoon anyway?" said Cameron. John chose to ignore this. "You guys have weird ideas of fun." "This isn't even the type involving firearms," said Cameron. An airmen struggled past them under the weight of an enormous box of books. "Someone tell that guy we have forklifts," continued Cameron, plucking the journal from Sam's hands and tossing it cavalierly on top of the pile; it was a wonder the man didn't collapse. "Colonel Mitchell, I could use your assistance," interrupted Teal'c, who was holding a box just as big as the airman's, only his was tucked under one arm and he looked like he was completely fine with that. "With what?" said Cameron. "Wiping your brow of nonexistent sweat?" "Daniel Jackson has several artifacts that require relocation," Teal'c said serenely. "That's cool. You get the big huge boxes, I'll take the little statue things." Cameron glanced sideways at John. "I love how my masculinity goes unquestioned around here." Sam had a sudden coughing fit. "Need help?" John offered, barely smothering his own laughter. "They're only twelve inches, Sheppard, I think I can manage." "Oh, I'm not sure you could," Vala said blithely. "I'm going to need a moment," Sam excused herself, choking as she fled to the hallway. Vala wriggled her fingers at the boys before darting after Sam, probably so they could go off and giggle together. "Just don't break anything," said Cameron, taking the slights against him in stride, which either said good things about his character, or disturbing things about the frequency with which these comments occurred. "I'll be careful," said John, walking over to the shelf farthest from the door. In between the endless books were a few interesting-looking objects and relics, some from Earth's own ancient cultures, and some most likely from other points in the galaxy. Dr. Jackson certainly had quite the collection. John reached for the odd wooden statuette balanced on the top shelf, shaped like an old-fashioned bedpost. It was heavier than he was expecting, and he lost his balance slightly from the weight coming down on him. That was the least of his worries, however, as a surge of bright light filled John's vision, with a wave of white heat hitting him, and then there was nothing.
He woke up in a gray, institutional sort of room with lots of blinking, humming machines and nurse-type people milling about. He also woke up with a raging headache and a queasy feeling coiling in his gut. He pushed himself up to a half-seated position, balancing on the weight of his ill-used arms, feeling dizzy from the effort. A woman with a dark ponytail and a pursed frown seemed to notice his attempts to escape and came over to immediately shine a bright penlight in his face. "Welcome back to the world of the living, Colonel Sheppard. You had us worried for a while there." Her features swum for a moment in front of his eyes. He'd understood her perfectly, but at the same time, not at all. "What?" he said. "What's going on?" "You got on the bad side of an angry little piece of equipment, Sheppard," a male voice cut in, and a guy with a rumpled military outfit and tired blue eyes stepped out from behind the curtain. The guy smiled at him with familiarity. "Jackson's office should come with yellow police tape and a waiver." "I don't understand," he attempted to explain. "That thing you touched," the guy —was he military?— said, "it knocked you out cold for a few days. Jackson swears he didn't know it could do that." "Jackson?" The guy's brow furrowed slightly. "Yeah, Jackson. You were helping him move all that junk in his office, remember?" He shook his head and action made his vision blur a little. It felt like there was cotton where his brain should have been, light and airy, making him weightless and worthless, barely tied to the ground. He understood them, knew they were speaking English, knew he could speak English, hell, even knew what English was. But even though there didn't appear to be any language barriers between them, none of this was making any sense. "No," he said finally, willing the military guy and the doctor woman to understand. "I don't remember. I don't remember anything."
Cameron was bowed over the briefing room table, his face buried so far in his callused palms that it looked almost as though he was trying to get his hands to swallow him up. "Amnesia," General Landry proclaimed from Dr. Lam's report. "That's the good word," Cameron muttered into his hands. He felt Sam's fingers dance awkwardly across his shoulders for a quick breath before retreating. She was torn between comforting him and the propriety they were all expected to maintain. Cameron dropped his arms to blink wearily across the table at Vala, who was sitting unusually solemn and staring at her lap. "This is our fault," he said finally, returning his gaze to the cherry-red varnish of the table when Vala wouldn't meet it. "We made him do it. Hell, I'm the one who told him to move Jackson's statue things in the first place..." "This isn't your fault, Mitchell," Landry said with the sort of pseudo-fatherly almost-kindness that he displayed in the moments when his temper wasn't short with Cameron. Cameron wished the man would yell; it would've felt better. "Dr. Jackson has any number of artifacts in his office, from everywhere in the galaxy. Sometimes the things our people bring back have ill effects on base personnel. But the overlying mission of Stargate Command is to bring back materials we believe could be useful in the continued..." "Defense of this planet, sir, I know," said Cameron. "There was no reason to believe that there was anything suspicious about this situation, Mitchell. These things happen." "They happen a lot more frequently in our line of work, sir," Cameron said shortly. He was having reservations about agreeing to this stupid meeting in the first place. So far, all they'd done was pass 'no one is to blame' around the table like a hot potato, and rehash the finer points of Dr. Lam's medical evaluation. Goddamn amnesia. And the real kicker of the whole thing was, it was Cameron's second case in less than a year. It was a damn good thing he'd never had illusions of being sane; they would have been long since shattered by now. "We're doing all we can do right now. I've sent word to Dr. Weir about Sheppard's condition, and Dr. Jackson is already looking through his notes to find out where the damn thing came from. Colonel Carter, I'd like you to take a look at the device itself. And be careful." "Yes, sir." "And what are we supposed to do?" asked Vala. 'We' of course meaning those who hadn't been brought on board for their brains. Landry gave her an appraising look. "You and Mitchell are friends with Sheppard?" Cameron nodded tersely; he knew John wasn't exactly on Landry's list of top five favorite people ever. It didn't help that John was locked in a vicious cycle where he was judged based on his transgressions rather than his accomplishments, and he wore his insubordination on his sleeve just be to be difficult in return. Vala, on the other hand, wore her friendship with John boldly on her face. "Yes." Landry surprised Cameron by extending Vala that paternal-figure sympathy and understanding. "Then I suggest you pay Sheppard a visit. He could probably use a friend right now. Dismissed." Cameron stumbled woodenly to his feet as General Landry retreated to his office. After a moment, Teal'c joined Cameron and Sam in standing. "Do you require assistance, Colonel Carter?" Teal'c asked. He'd been so silent during the proceedings that Cameron had quite forgotten he was there. Then again, it was normal for Teal'c to be silent, and Cameron had been caught up in his own issues. "No, I'm fine, thanks," said Sam with a wan sort of smile. If there was anyone who'd suspect anything not up to snuff about their relationships with one another, it'd be Teal'c. But Cameron knew he could trust Teal'c to not say anything if the situation ever arose. "I should probably just get right to work." Teal'c bowed his head and departed, leaving the two lieutenant colonels and one alien alone to glance helplessly at each other. "I'll take you to the infirmary," Cameron volunteered to Vala, restlessness suddenly building in his muscles. The journey to the infirmary passed in silence as the both of them wallowed in their own thoughts. Cameron couldn't explain to Landry that it really was all his fault. John had been not exactly himself when he'd come back to the SGC after the Ancients kicked him out of his home. Cameron had gallantly offered him room at his apartment, pushing the limits by declaring loudly and often around the base that the place was 'too big' for him. John had agreed. That much was common knowledge. It was far from conventional, but Landry had cut him some slack for what was clearly a charity case. Cameron had purposefully kept things loose for awhile, relationship-wise, to give John time to adjust. Vala hadn't been allowed in the apartment, although the four of them would meet on neutral grounds while they waited for John's twitchiness to subside. It was hard losing your home, and while they couldn't quite grasp the enormity of John's pain, they all to some degree understood where he was coming from and wanted to help. All they wanted was to remind John he had friends on this planet too, people who cared about him. Cameron had been the one to suggest it might be fun to help Jackson out with his little dilemma. And John was suffering because of it. Never help your friends move.
"This is the device that hurt John?" Vala asked in Jackson's new office, reaching her hand out to the sleek wooden object. "Don't touch it," cautioned Cameron, grabbing her wrist and ceasing her curious grope. "We don't know what sort of effect it has, if it's widespread or not," offered Sam. "Actually, I have an idea about that," said Jackson. He leaned forward slightly on his messy desk, still surrounded by piles of unopened boxes. Numerous notebooks were opened and scattered over every free surface. He'd gone straight to work on the problem and hadn't even bothered to unpack. "You see, this," he waved at the offending statue, "was brought back from the Ori ship." "I thought I recognized it!" said Vala. "Isn't that the thingy I gave you?" "You gave him?" said Sam, eyes widening slightly with information that seemed a bit out of place. "He saved my life, after all, it was the least I could do." Vala ruffled the corners of one of Jackson's notebooks, steadfastly ignoring all of her friends. "You were smuggling things off the Ori ship?" said Cameron. "They used me as a vessel to get their spokesperson across the genetic border, then left me to my own devices on one of their own ships once I'd ceased to be useful," she said with a defiant shrug. "What else was I supposed to do? Call it industrial espionage." "Anyway," said Jackson, "I've been doing some background reading; there's a parable in the Book of Origin about a man named Lethin who had seen such atrocity in his life that he eventually left his village and went on a great quest. Along the way, he came across a man who offered him whatever he desired. And all Lethin requested was a way to erase the dark images from his mind. The mystery man revealed himself as a Prior, wiped Lethin's memory, and said, 'The path of Origin is the only truth, the only journey, and all you need to know.'" "It makes sense," murmured Sam in a low voice. "I mean, as much as any of this makes sense. Look at the design." "The staff of a Prior," said Teal'c. And upon closer examination, accompanied by a few unpleasant memories, Cameron recognized the object as a shorter, cruder version of one of the familiar staffs, sans crystalline power source. "But if both Jackson and Vala touched it, why did it only affect John?" asked Cameron. "Genetics," said Jackson. "The Ancient gene," said Sam. "Take would-be Ancients, make them into clean slates, convert them to Origin." "And Sheppard's one of the strongest gene-carriers we've got," Cameron said, crossing his arms over his chest tightly. He was done with this conversation. Once again, the Ori were out to screw him over. He was getting pretty tired of it. Vala must have been pretty tired of it, too, because she got to the point. "Can it be reversed?" "I don't know if it was meant to be reversed," Jackson shrugged apologetically. "There's another way," said Sam, and she trailed off when they all looked at her, as though she hadn't meant to speak aloud. Under scrutiny now, she said, "The memory device from Galar." Cameron sighed hard enough to expel the past two hours from his past. "Is that a good idea? We don't have Sheppard's memories, you know." Cameron carefully didn't look at any of them. "Any military contacts who could have been of use either hate him or are dead." "I was thinking we could use some of the expedition members' memories as a primer," Sam said. "With the hopes that it'll jump-start the rest of his memory." "Dr. Lam suggested it would be useful to bring in people from his past," Teal'c said. "Running into Daniel Jackson helped restore Vala Mal Doran's lost memories." "I don't think it's easy as all that," Jackson said uncertainly. "What happened to Vala was a fluke with a zat gun. But this is a device specifically designed to wipe memories. We don't know how big the effect is, how lasting..." "We have to try," Vala interrupted passionately. "He doesn't know who we are and we're keeping him prisoner." Of any of them, Vala was perhaps the best source as to what John might be going through. It was evident in the ragged lines of her face that she was taking this personally, was making this a mission. Cameron thought he saw a glimpse of tears she'd be too proud to shed. It was only because of Jackson and Teal'c's presence that he didn't grab her and hold on for dear life. Jackson sighed, shuffled his glasses down his nose and rubbed the line they'd made on the bridge. "Believe me, I feel as responsible as any of you, and am all for restoring Colonel Sheppard back to his former glory. But Dr. Lam said we should take it slow. What Colonel Sheppard has gone through in the past three years is more than enough for any brain to handle. We don't want to overwhelm him." "Yes," Vala said, tweaking the elbow of Cameron's sleeve with a ghost of a grin, "don't do with Colonel Sheppard like you did with me, and try to make me believe a whole crock of alien nonsense." She was making the effort, it was only fair that he return the favor. Anyway, the smile blossoming was natural, if not weak. "You yourself are a whole crock of alien nonsense." "I better get back to work," Jackson said, his polite way of saying 'you've ceased to be entertaining, get the hell out.' "Right," said Cameron, stepping back and shooed his team out of the room. It was only when Teal'c was a safe distance away that Cameron leaned in to mutter, "I'm against the memory device, you know that, right?" Sam's face was raw with pain and frustration. "I know you had a bad experience, Cam, but this is our only option. And it worked for Ferguson, didn't it?" "Ferguson's situation was something else entirely," he forced out the words, eager to get off the subject of Fergie. "We're trying to rebuild the Eiffel Tower with used Legos and no blueprints, here." "There's something else." Sam bit her lip and ushered them farther away from Jackson's door, although it was more than likely he was already immersed in his tome again and not listening. "We can't guarantee that any of this will work. Even if it does, it might only be a fragment of restored memory. We don't know how much of any of this he's going to remember." "And by 'this' you mean us," Vala confirmed. Sam nodded. "It's not like we can input any of those memories into the device." Cameron felt the urge to punch a wall. He resisted. "Right." They stood dangerously, tellingly close, wanting to offer some level of comfort, but all knowing how futile it would be. Jackson hadn't exactly shown confidence in the idea of being able to reverse the device's effects. Vala had experience working against her, knowing how hard it was to get memories back once they'd been lost. And Cameron and Sam both knew what it was like to be overwhelmed with memories you didn't understand, moreover, ones that weren't yours to begin with. Trepidation left them at a standstill. Their mission had barely begun and already it seemed a little hopeless.
Vala hovered at the edge of John's bed. He was asleep, or feigning it well. She wasn't quite sure what to do; would he rather be by himself and not have to deal with another stranger trying to force information down his throat, or would waking up alone frighten him? After escaping from Athena, Vala often relished being alone, hiding from a past she didn't understand, afraid someone would hurt her or worse, she'd hurt someone. Conversely, she craved company, because being alone with nothing but her memories was terrifying. She didn't have time to decide how to treat John before he stirred, the time of reckoning. He groaned, lifting one hand to his face to dig the heel in his eye, and it was a moment yet before he registered her presence. "Hi," he said groggily. "Hello," she said, hating how stilted her voice sounded. A part of her was fighting the urge to run. Let the others deal with it. The wound was still too raw for her. Then again, she knew better than anyone what John was going through and was in the unique position to help. Vala straightened her shoulders and gathered her resolve for the task ahead. "Are you another doctor?" he said. "You should be so lucky." She flashed a flirty grin, stuck out her hand for a shake, and said clearly, "A friend. Vala Mal Doran. I know you don't remember me, but you'll wish you did." "I already sort of do," he said, with a crooked half-grin. At the core of him, she was pleased to note, he was still John Sheppard. "Do you play cards?" she said, holding up the pack she'd stolen from Cameron's desk. "I have no idea." "I'll teach you, then." Vala pulled up a stool before he had the chance to refuse her. "Now, I'll have you know, I can con you at a number of games from this and other planets. But I'll go easy on you." "All right." John arranged himself comfortably as Vala dealt the cards on opposite sides of his lap tray. "You said you were a friend?" "Yes." Vala rewarded him with a smile and played around with the remainder of the deck. Cameron and Sam had warned her independently of one another that she was to be very cautious with John and not blindside him with details. He was in a fragile state, they'd said, as if she didn't know. But Vala distinctly recalled craving answers for the fragments of memories that flashed at her during her time with Sal. It was a fine line to dance and she was fond enough of John she wanted to be extra-careful with him. "You and I have worked together on a few occasions." She held up her cards. "Do you know Crazy Eights?" It was the first game Cameron had taught her, similar to one from her own childhood home, one that offered little opportunities for gambling. John nodded, an uncertain smile forming. "A nurse took pity and taught me. I even won a couple." "Oh, Colonel Sheppard. Taking pity on you is letting you win." They played two hands, one which she won, and one which she lost. She didn't even cheat. She started to shuffle the cards for the next round when John said, "So how are we friends?" "We've worked together," she said. "You mentioned that. Are you with the military?" "I'm a... consultant." She smiled, pleased with herself. "I'm on Colonel Mitchell's team. And you live with Colonel Mitchell. We're all friends together. See?" "Sort of. Mitchell." John frowned as he pieced together the information in his mind. "The crazy sort of guy?" "No more than the rest of us," she agreed. "I remember him. Well, you know what I mean. He was in here this morning. He seems nice." "He is nice. But don't tell him I said that." John eyed his cards. "I won't." Vala lay an eight on the pile of discards between them and met John's gaze. "Hearts." There was a slight pause before he started drawing cards from the second pile. She thought she saw a smile playing. "Why am I not surprised?"
Sam angled her head over the memory device and wished fervently there was a minimum requirement of an hour of meditation between each word that spurted from McKay's throat. "Rodney. I'm not asking for your life story. I just want a few select memories of Atlantis missions so Colonel Sheppard will have some sort of primer to work from." "Seems like a flimsy idea, if you ask me." "Thankfully, no one did." "Have you really taken all possible options into consideration? What if he starts thinking my memories are his? What if he thinks he's me?" "God forbid." The world did not need two Rodney McKays. "We're just hoping to spark some recognition of the expedition." "This is a ridiculous plan that will never work." "Funny, that's what Cameron said." "Throw a stone enough times, eventually it'll strike something. I don't notice you hitting up anyone else for their adventures." "McKay," she began with as much patience as she could muster, "you're the only available member of the frontline team. John's team." "Oh," said Rodney. And because he wouldn't admit he'd been wrong or had skipped over a detail, he clung petulantly to, "So he's John now? You're suspiciously friendly." "It's only suspicious because you're paranoid." Time apart from Rodney McKay had warped her memories of him into the idea he was an eccentric source of amusement. Fifteen minutes of cold, hard reminders, and she was beginning to think John was a saint for putting up with him regularly. Amnesia was practically a vacation. Sam shook her head to rattle the dismally unfavorable thoughts out and returned her focus to the delicate nature of the memory device. She'd learned basic functions, the recording and viewing of a set of memories, like programming a tape in a VCR. She'd been working on speeding up the expiration of the memories, a way to have them fade away. Her goal was to plant the memories into John's subconscious while he slept, so he would have the images to build from, but with a dreamlike quality that hopefully wouldn't damage John's psyche, like they'd seen happen in the past. Rodney held still as Sam fixed the receptors to his temples. He might gripe and moan about the process, but Sam knew he'd help John out at all costs. In spite of all his faults, Sam respected Rodney immensely for that. "Now, don't just pick the missions that glorify you." "I think you're severely underestimating my net worth." She slapped the last lead on his head. "Just pick things you think it's important he remembers, okay?" "Share my nightmares with the populace. I'll get right on that. This is stuff most people wouldn't watch in horror movies, you know." "You'd be surprised what makes it into theaters these days." "I haven't been getting out much," he returned and Sam smiled before she was aware of it, before she could stop it. It was almost a friendly moment. Rodney, naturally, did his best to resolve that. "Do you want me to throw in Sheppard's love affairs with alien priestesses while I'm at it?" Sam rolled her eyes. "If you think it's necessary." It wasn't as though this was the first time using untested technology, or even the first time using untested technology on a friend. Still, Sam couldn't help being antsy about the whole situation. Cameron's puppy-dog eyes and Vala's retreat into herself didn't help matters. Nor did the knowledge that McKay would delay his return to Area 51 and instead spend his time hovering and criticizing every moment until this was fixed. Then again, while certain aspects of Rodney's personality wouldn't be appreciated, his input would. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and worry was running her ragged. She'd shelve her pride, even her short-term sanity, if it meant saving John.
Vala opened the door to her quarters to find Sam there with bags under her eyes and her fingers digging into her forehead. "Is he behind me?" "Who?" asked Vala, peering. There were only the usual airmen. "McKay. I've been in the lab with him all day." "Poor Samantha, you need a reprieve," Vala said with genuine sympathy, herding the colonel into her room and shutting the door. She even forwent the customary flirty wave at whomever was on duty. "I downloaded memories from McKay, but Dr. Lam and Dr. Beckett have taken over from there." Samantha frowned at nothing in particular and sat on the edge of Vala's bed. "Apparently, I lack the medical training necessary to continue at this stage." "They're kicking you off the project?" "They're suggesting I take a break. If the modifications I made are viable, then everything progresses as planned. If not, I take the device back and make the appropriate changes. I wish they'd let me monitor the whole thing. It's not going to be any easier to fix things if I don't know firsthand what went wrong." The subtle notes of Sam's statement weren't altogether lost on Vala. "You don't think it'll work the first time." But apparently they'd been lost on Sam. She looked up, surprised when she realized what she'd said and implied. She attempted a smile, it came out as a grim squiggle of the lips. "I guess Cameron's pessimism is rubbing off on me." "He's had a bad experience," Vala said. She wasn't concrete on the details of the situation, Cameron had been unusually unresponsive the one occasion the topic had come up. Vala understood it had something to do with a murder and a killer gone free, but had been discouraged from pushing the issue further. Vala leaned over and kissed Sam's forehead. The colonel's eyelids fluttered closed. "I believe in you, Samantha." "Thanks." "Have they barred you from visiting him?" "No." Vala smiled. "Good. You can come with me. Perhaps the overwhelming nature of our combined beauty will shock him into regaining his memory." The comment had the desired effect and Samantha laughed a little. Even that sounded worn out. Vala tugged at her hand. "Come on. John's adorable when he's asleep. You all are, actually, except for Cameron, because he snores." Samantha, chuckling and helpless, followed Vala out of the room and to the elevator. The mood sobered considerably in the elevator car; it was hard not to feel grave when they had no idea what they might face. But the scene that greeted them was mild compared to their worries. John was playing cards with Cameron, the latter of whom was wearing a look of consternation. "Ladies," Cameron greeted. "We're playing cards." "We can see that," Sam said wryly. "He cheats," said Cameron. "I taught him how," Vala said proudly. "Hello, John." "Vala, hi." John's smile was bright and filled with obvious recognition, and Vala flushed with pleasure. "How are you feeling?" she asked, going over to give him a kiss on the cheek as a prize. She'd learned not to show blatant physical affection with the other hyper-sensitive members of her team, but the rules had always been a tad loose for her and John. She loved that. "I'd like to get out of this damn bed," he said. "I think we could arrange something," Cameron said, not looking up from his cards. "Damn. I fold. Hey Sheppard, you know Carter, right?" John looked over at Sam. "Yeah, you've visited before. Hard to forget you; people talk about you a lot." Sam blushed, and Cameron cut in, "Sam's the one in charge of working on that memory device I told you about." John sought out Vala's eyes as if he needed her validation of this information. Vala realized it had come about that of the three of them, he now knew her best. She swelled with an odd sort of pride. "They tell me I'm part of a secret branch of the Air Force that goes to other planets," said John. Vala nodded. "Through the Stargate." "You realize that sounds crazy, right." "Crazy as completely losing your memory?" Cameron muttered softly to no one in particular. "Trust me, the Stargate Program's completely real, Sheppard. We're not pulling your leg. I thought it was nuts when I first heard about it, too. Thought my CO had taken one too many blows to the head." "The device that made you lose your memory was alien," said Sam, perhaps the best versed in explaining things, as she'd logged the most time doing so. "And the one that will bring it back is alien, too." "So you guys go to other planets, and all the alien technology in the universe exists to screw with my head," said John flatly. "Ain't it a bitch?" quipped Cameron, rising. "On that disturbingly sour note, I need to steal the girls from you. Think you're all right on your own?" "I'll be all right. What with my steady flow of nurses and all. Even though everyone swears there's nothing wrong with me physically." "The nurses just think you're cute," said Vala. She cheerfully ruffled John's defiant hair. "I do, too." "Watch it," said Cameron, and once again, it wasn't quite clear who the target of his comment was. With his back turned, Vala felt free to stick her tongue out at him. John needed some positive reinforcement, and Cameron was being a stick in the mud. "We'll see you later," Sam said to John. "I'm sure I'll be here." He was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to pass the comment off lightly, but it made Vala ache a little inside. She darted back and kissed his cheek again before Cameron dragged her out of the room. "What did I say about going easy?" he said. "He needs a friend, Mitchell, and you're too scared to be one for him. You don't know what he's going through." She watched as his fingers curled in and out of a fist. "Just be careful." Vala couldn't help thinking that being careful wasn't always the best way to do things.
Although he hated the stagnant nature of his day, trapped in his new quarters, shuttled from there to the infirmary, from the infirmary to the lab, and from the lab back to his quarters, there were a few things John had come to appreciate about his crappy life in Cheyenne Mountain. The people, mostly. John was certainly never lacking for attention. There was a string of visitors coming by, encouraging him to 'keep fighting' and telling him somewhat fantastical stories about John's work in the project. Or else doing junk to his head. "It's just a quick CT scan, Colonel Sheppard, nothing to worry about," Dr. Beckett said soothingly as John propped himself up on the bench for yet another infirmary visit. "Oh, yes, let's by all means aim more objects at his brain. That'll really help," said Dr. McKay with a heavy eye-roll. "When we're done, can we get a scan of McKay?" said Major Lorne. "I've always wondered what it is about his brain chemistry that has made people been unwilling to kill him after all these years." "Very hilarious," snapped McKay. "The emphasis of course being 'brain,' which you lack." "Rodney," said Dr. Beckett. The mild admonishment appeared to be enough, causing McKay to clamp his jaw shut and even prevent Lorne from rebuttal. Dr. Beckett pushed at John's shoulder until he lay down on the bed and shared an amused smile with him. Ever since he'd arrived at Stargate Command, McKay had been following John around, and engaging his apparent favorite pastime of yelling at people and telling them what they were doing wrong. Still, it was clear even despite his unlikable nature that McKay was spurred by equal parts ego and good intentions, and for better or worse, was concerned about John's welfare. Beckett at the very least seemed to find him amusing. "How about everyone who isn't a medical doctor leave the room?" Dr. Lam cut in. Lam didn't seem to find anyone amusing. She scared John a little bit, and judging from the chastised demi-smile on Lorne's face, he wasn't the only one. John liked Lorne, funny, sarcastic, and evidently his military second-in-command, although he wished Lorne would stop calling him 'sir.' He felt uncomfortable accepting Lorne's obvious respect, since he couldn't remember why or how he'd earned it. McKay, for his part, wasn't impressed by Dr. Lam. "You know, I gave up a very important project over at Area 51 to come here and help out, and I don't know how anyone expects me to do so if they keep kicking me out of the room." "You can go to the observation room if you like, Rodney," Beckett said with unerring patience. McKay grumped but seemed to respect Beckett enough to follow the suggestion. And thank God for soundproof glass. John closed his eyes and tried to lose himself in the low hum of the machine as it ran its scan. But in the dark, the sound shifted and somehow he was elsewhere. He recognized it as a background noise, one that managed to inspire both a sense of safety and a distinct wariness. It made him restless and he couldn't figure out why. "You're all done, Colonel," Lam said a few moments later, and John gratefully jumped to his feet. He wanted to ask about the sound, find out why it should be so familiar, but he didn't know with whom, if anyone, he could bring it up. It was a sound, an innocuous and unthreatening hum. "Can I go?" he asked impatiently. Lam gave him a look he couldn't read at all. "I suppose so. I really think—" "He's got an escort, Dr. Lam," Carter's voice floated over them. John glanced over; she was standing in the doorway and flashed him a brief but instantaneous smile. "That is, if you don't mind the company." "There are worse people I could spend the time with," John acknowledged. "I heard that!" McKay ranted, so loud it came muted but clear from beyond the observation window. John found himself sharing a smirk with Carter, who said this time so only he could hear, "Let's get going before he can catch us." What John liked about Carter was that although she was clearly much smarter than anyone around the base, she didn't lord it over anyone (unlike McKay), and gave her friendship out easily. She was quick to smile at his lame attempts at jokes and listened to him without interruption. The immediate feeling of comfort he had around her was enough to prompt him to ask, "I have a question." "Shoot." "This is a little embarrassing, but have you ever heard this sound before?" And he prompted a low growl of a hum from the back of his throat in a poor imitation of the buzz he'd heard in his head. Carter cocked her head to one side, listening to him seriously. "In terms of what?" she said. "I don't know. I think machinery, maybe." "That's what I thought. I don't know, it almost sounds like the Prometheus. The engines." "Are you sure?" "I once spent four days stranded on it," she said authoritatively. "Not to mention I helped build it. And all those hours clocked doing deep-space recon last year..." "I get the point," he said, silencing her with a wave of his hand. "But I've never been aboard the Prometheus." "No," she said. "But you were on the Daedalus." "The Daedalus," he echoed, and it came to him in a flash: silver-gray hallways and lots of blinking lights. A distinct feeling of claustrophobia. "I remember it." Carter blinked at him. "Really, John?" He blinked back at her, for an entirely different reason. It was the first time she'd called him John, and it had tripped off her tongue with such obvious familiarity it almost drove the spaceship from his mind. There was something about that triggering his memory, as well. Something light, something known, dancing to the forefront of his memory and then skipping away in less than a breath, like a word on the tip of his tongue instantly forgotten. "Run away from me, that's mature," sneered McKay, coming up the hallway behind them. Carter shot John a commiserating smile and he was left with the sour feeling of his only moment gone. "We don't need you breathing down our necks, McKay," Carter said. "Oh, no, I'm sure the two of you have already logged a number of hours breathing all over each other and doing God-knows-what-else..." The notion made the hair on John's neck rise. "McKay," snapped Carter, unbothered by the accusations, which made John think they came with frequency and therefore meant nothing. He tried not to be disappointed. "Make yourself useful." "For your information, I'm protecting Sheppard from the hacks that you people like to call 'personnel.'" "Oh, please. As if you—" "It was your fault he's in this condition in the first place, you know! Typical SG-1 'we're untouchable' neglect. No wonder you and Sheppard are all buddy-buddy, he's got the same bad attitude." "Who are you to talk about bad attitude?" she retorted. John stepped slightly between them, though he had no idea why he of all people had to play mediator. "If you guys want to keep this going, I think I can find my own way back." Carter grimaced. "Sorry." Her eyes were apologetic. "Yeah," he said helplessly. Of course, in the wake of his outburst, they'd both fallen silent, and he realized he'd really enjoyed a moment where the people around him were not focusing on him in the slightest. He felt as though everyone held themselves carefully around him, trying to make a good first impression all over again, now that he no longer recalled which bad habits of theirs he'd seen before. This exchange had been a breath of fresh air in the stale command center. Major Lorne jogged up to join the group. With four of them, they were officially blocking the hallway. "Dr. Beckett wants to see you," Lorne directed at McKay. "He wants to talk to you about putting 'undue stress' on Colonel Sheppard." "It's coming at me from all sides," McKay said, throwing his hands up in the air. He made it five steps back to the infirmary when he pointed at Carter and declared, "I'm not done with you." "Oh, I'm sure you're not," she said through a tight smile. Lorne beamed at her. "He pisses you off too, huh?" "He was pissing me off before you ever were a blip on his radar, Major," she said with surprisingly good cheer. "Trust me, you're not alone." "I don't know if I should be comforted by that or not," said Lorne. "Join the club." "Well, my work here is done. I'll leave Colonel Sheppard in your capable hands?" "I think I can manage." John wondered briefly if he was imagining the playful twinkle in Carter's eye as she cast him a sideways glance. "All right," said Lorne with a genial nod. "Colonels." "Major," Carter answered as he took off. "You've got good people looking out for you, Sheppard." "Yourself included," he said. "You guys are doing your best, I only wish I could meet you halfway." Her voice was steady as she said, "It'll happen."
Elizabeth Weir looked haggard as she stepped off the elevator. "Colonel Mitchell." "Dr. Weir," he said, as cheerfully as he could manage. They could both have used some cheer, although it seemed a little too difficult to pull off. "General Landry briefed me on the situation," she said, in a chastising tone suggesting she should have been called sooner. "He said SG-1 was making it their personal mission to see to John's recovery." "We do have some experience with this sort of thing," he acknowledged. "Dr. Jackson's flipping through his notes for anything that might be useful, and Carter's working on the memory device still." "And that's where I come in?" "Well, you have a unique perspective of Sheppard's career." Cameron fought back a nervous cough and escorted her down to the lab he'd come to think of as the nightmare room, judging by how many crappy memories they were harvesting from former expedition members. He had his reservations about the idea of implanting memories as abstract dreams; if they didn't do what Sam thought they might, then more than likely, they'd only serve to screw John up more. "Dr. Weir, you've met Bill Lee?" Dr. Lee smiled brightly and Weir only nodded, not in the mood for pleasantries. Cameron didn't know her all that well, but it couldn't have been easy for her, losing Atlantis and then having this happen to one of her friends and coworkers not long after. "Carter's taking a much-needed break," he explained, "so Dr. Lee's going to hook you up." "Right," said Dr. Lee, waving his hands at the chair Weir was supposed to sit in. "What I need is for you to concentrate on some select memories of Colonel Sheppard's history with the expedition that you feel are important to his character." "That won't be easy," she said, settling in. "John takes... took the Atlantis mission very seriously. I couldn't determine what was unimportant enough to weed out." "Yeah, those 'best of' specials always inevitably leave something out," said Cameron. "Just go with your instincts. Whatever pops up first is probably best. We don't know what he'll pick up on anyway." Weir murmured her understanding and Dr. Lee set to work. Cameron made himself as comfortable as he could on a stool by the door and watched the proceedings. Sam always kicked him out of the lab, saying he made her nervous. She had a vested interest in the project in the first place and his backseat driving didn't help. After forty-five minutes on the machine, Dr. Weir sat up and rubbed at the red spot on her temple where the lead had been affixed. "Colonel Mitchell, you're still here." "It does tend to block out the world around you, doesn't it?" he said. "So you've been hooked up to the machine before?" "Yeah, I was the guinea pig when we first came across the technology on Galar." He tried not to reveal his bitterness. "But if you're asking if I've donated memories for Sheppard, the answer's yes." Dr. Weir studied him and there was something like respect in her eyes. "You're really invested in this, aren't you?" He felt like he could at least tell her some of the truth. "John's been crashing on my couch since you all got sent back. He's got friends at the SGC, too, Dr. Weir. We're all worried about him." "I can see that. Well, I suppose at the very least I'm leaving him in capable hands with Colonel Carter. And with you, Dr. Lee," she added as an afterthought. Lee lifted his hand in acknowledgement. "But let me guess. You expect to be kept abreast of the proceedings?" "I'm not technically associated with the SGC, so I don't 'expect' much of anything. In fact, I think Landry only issued my invitation to Stargate Command as a courtesy." Dr. Weir's lips turned up in a wry approximation of a grin. "But I'd appreciate any news you have to offer. I'm sure you understand." "Believe me, I do. And I'll do whatever I can." The funny thing was, he kept making this promise. To his team, to John, to himself. And yet, he had his doubts that nothing he was doing was quite enough.
"Hey, Sheppard. Feel like going on a trip?" Mitchell asked. John looked up from the report he'd been reading about SG-8's visit to an Ori-controlled planet. It featured his name, but it sort of read as fiction. "As long as it's not back to the infirmary." "I'm not that cruel. Come on." John got up obligingly and followed Mitchell into the hall. "SG-6 is due back in ten minutes," Mitchell explained. "I thought maybe you'd like to see them come in." John wondered if this excursion was to see Stargate Command in action, or personal commitment to any of the members of SG-6. "I'm just glad to be going somewhere different. You can't let me off the base?" "Until you get your memory back, you're a liability. There are plenty of Trust members lurking around who'd like to pry inside your head." "Maybe we can borrow some of their junk to fix me," said John. Mitchell looked over sharply at the muttered comment. "Believe me, you don't want anything to do with them. And Sam's doing the best she can. If you were yourself, you'd know that." John was properly subdued; he knew enough about Carter to know that now. Mitchell recognized this and was kind enough to spare him the indignity of apologizing. "We're all wound a little tight right now." He didn't say anything else for the duration of the venture to the illustrious level 28, but the air between them was thick with things unsaid. Maybe in the 'before' part of John's life, they could have said those things easily, but John had no way of knowing this. And no matter what John thought of Mitchell, Mitchell was distinctly holding him at a distance. Mitchell took him to an empty room with an office on one side and a big picture window on the other. The briefing room. John was propelled to the window by something beyond him, and stood looking down through the glass at the hulking Stargate. After a moment, he said with utter clarity, "The Atlantis one is different." "Of course it is," Mitchell said distractedly. "Different galaxy, different constellations." "No, I mean the 'gate itself is designed differently. The symbols light up when the chevrons lock." Mitchell's head whipped around as he stared John down in shock. "Wait, what? How do you know that?" John looked down, watched the vortex of the wormhole whoosh out of the giant stone ring, and didn't even jump. This was his first time seeing it, and he felt he should have been startled by the thick, watery eruption issuing forth. Yet he wasn't surprised at all. "I just know." "Does that mean you remember?" said Mitchell, trying so hard not to sound anxious that forced casualness choked him. "I remember that," John said helplessly. But he did. He looked down at the Stargate and saw the Atlantis one in his mind. He couldn't picture anything around the Stargate, though. It was like putting together a puzzle, but only being handed a few pieces at a time. "That's good, though," said Mitchell. "It's a step in the right direction." "Actually," said John, "there was something I wanted to ask you." "Yeah?" "But it's personal," he hedged. "Oh." Mitchell nodded his head at the hall, indicating they should take this conversation elsewhere. What John really wanted to ask about was his and Mitchell's own history. He couldn't deny that he was attracted to Mitchell, but given the military thing and Mitchell's own uptight nature, he wondered if he was completely stretching with the ideas he had about their relationship. Still, he didn't think the question would go over well in this facility, so once they reached the safety of the elevator, John asked his secondary question instead, "Do Vala and I have a history?" Mitchell was silent for a long moment, long enough to make John wonder if he should ask again. But finally Mitchell said, "You should know she flirts with everyone." "I got that impression," John said, but he wasn't bitter at all, merely amused. Vala was fun. "But I got sort of a vibe..." "Oh. Well." Mitchell exhaled sharply. "You two are sort of like-minded when it comes to flirting." Which prompted a slew of questions about John's own habits and reputation. But he pushed those aside for now; Mitchell's hesitance to answer had suddenly sparked an idea in John, a bad one. "Wait... you're not with Vala, are you?" "Do you really want to be asking this?" said Mitchell, a definite attempt to deter, but one that didn't really give clues about the answer he wasn't giving. "I want to remember," John said stubbornly. "You guys said we're all friends, so this is information I already know." Then the doors opened back on John's floor and a trio of Marines clamored to get in. Mitchell forged a path out for himself and John, and used the moment as a way to pretend John's questions didn't exist. Never mind the top-secret nature of the Stargate Program and his involvement in it. John was getting the feeling his toes weren't even in the shallow end of everything going on.
"Cameron." "Buh," said Cameron, lifting his head from his desk. A growth had appeared on the side of his face during his nap. It turned out to be the top page of his mission report. He pried the offending paper off and peered up blearily at whoever had interrupted his nap. Sam was hovering over him with her arms crossed. "You okay?" "Peachy," he said. "What's up?" "Landry thinks I should get out of here for a little while." "Landry's right. Why don't I give you a ride home?" he offered. He even worked up to a smile. "There could be a pretty sweet dinner in it, if you're lucky." Sam melted into a chair, eyes closed. "That'd be nice." "You holding up okay?" "As much as to be expected. Everyone thinks I can just come up with instantaneous miracles, but the notes I have on the memory device are incomplete thanks to our tenuous relationship with the Galarans—" "That's not all my fault," he felt the need to pipe up. "I never said it was," she said patiently. "It doesn't matter anyway. Any time I think I'm making any progress, Dr. Lam heads me off on the pass because it deals with specific brain chemistry." "And while you're brilliant in many respects, you're not a neurosurgeon?" he filled in the blanks. "Not the exact words I would've used, but something like that." Cameron rooted in the top drawer for his keys. "What about the esteemed Dr. Jackson? Has he made any headway on the Ori mind-wiper?" "I think he's hit a wall. The Ori aren't exactly forthcoming with the secrets behind their magic." "Ruins their allure," he said dully. "So we're back to square one. Wait for John to get his act together." "Yep." Cameron could no longer stomach the idea of sitting around and discussing it at length. He hopped to his feet. "C'mon. Let's get some good home cooking into you, see if we can't perk that genius brain right back up." "Who says your cooking's good?" she replied. "Ouch. I take back everything." But he smirked at her, relieved she could make a joke. Cameron took hold of her wrist and hauled her to her feet. "You all set?" "Yeah." She leaned into him for the half-second trek from the chair to the door, and he had to admit, it felt good to be needed, even for a moment. And he didn't even so much as blink to see Vala sitting on the floor outside of his office. "It took you long enough," she said, glancing up at them. Cameron didn't even feel like commenting. "Want to go for a ride, Vala? I'm taking Sam home." "Ooh." She got up gracefully. "Shotgun." "She can have it," Sam said, sensing Cameron's impending argument on her behalf. Cameron couldn't let the bone drop before he'd had the chance to gnaw it. "I offered you the ride first." "I'll live, Cam. No one cares about these things but you." "Some people find my quirks charming," he defended himself, which had Sam laughing all the way up to the surface. Cameron was granted the brief bliss of normalcy for the duration of the drive back to Sam's house. Vala fiddled with the radio, Cameron made fun of her song selections, Sam rolled her eyes at their antics every six seconds. For awhile, it was easy enough to pretend that things were the way they used to be, with the three of them waiting for John's next visit from Atlantis, and having to find ways to make do. Of course, there was a painful reminder waiting for them in Sam's living room: one of John's shirts tossed sloppily over the back of the couch and forgotten in the haste to get to work and clock in. Vala sank onto the couch and swept the shirt into her lap. "Can't we just bring him off the base?" "No way. Athena's still out there, not to mention there are new Trust members cropping up every day." "A fact which I am well aware of, thank you very much," she said, her voice narrowed razor-sharp. Cameron watched her clutch at John's shirt and bit back the things he wanted to yell. About how he slept at his desk because he didn't want to go home. John's things were scattered all over his apartment (their apartment), the Johnny Cash poster tacked to the back of the closet door, the guitar that gathered dust and got passed from corner to corner. John wasn't Vala's alone, after all; they were all invested. Sam read the anger in his face and touched the back of his hand with a commiserating look. She went to join Vala on the couch, but he knew she wasn't choosing sides. Cameron took a deep breath and said, "How about I go start dinner," his lame attempt at keeping the peace. He thundered around like an elephant for a few minutes, clattering pans, running water, and making the grimace on Sam's face deepen. Any ideas he'd had for dinner were tossed aside just as quickly when he realized how bare her kitchen and pantry were. It looked like spaghetti would have to suffice. At least Vala loved it. He thought it was odd he hadn't been interrupted, until he dragged two plates over and found Sam asleep with her head on Vala's shoulder. Vala had resigned herself to not moving and was flipping quietly through a magazine. "The Astrophysical Journal?" he read the title, handing Vala a fork. She set aside the publication. "Samantha is very, very smart." "Don't I know it." "Should I wake her?" Cameron looked at Sam, propped awkwardly, her torso at an uncomfortable-looking angle to properly pillow her head against Vala. "Only to get her into a real bed." "Poor Sam," said Vala. "Between this and the Merlin doohickey..." "What's going on?" mumbled Sam sleepily, perhaps trained to respond to the words 'Merlin doohickey.' She struggled to pull herself from a slumped to a seated position. "We're taking you upstairs," Cameron made the executive decision, taking hold just above her elbow. "C'mon, up." "I'm fine," she attempted to wave him off. "You're not fine. You're exhausted. And you have every right to be exhausted, so don't bother pretending you're not. You're going to take an aspirin, you're going to take a nap, and Vala is going to eat all of your food." In the interim, Vala had picked up her dinner plate and started scarfing down warm pasta. She waved her utensil, caught. Sam laughed. "All right." "And we're going to keep you company," Vala announced, swallowing. "Because the second we leave, you'll just run over to one of your thirty thousand computers and try to work from home." It wasn't an entirely untrue statement, but Cameron got the impression that Vala didn't want to be alone and didn't want Sam to be alone. Hell, Cameron didn't really feel like it, himself. He would've been perfectly content to crash on the couch rather than head back to the base and putter around uselessly. "Now, can you make it up the stairs all right, or do you need me to carry you?" he said to Sam. "Oh brother. I'm fine." She headed upstairs, stripped down to her underwear, and crawled under the covers. Vala perched on the edge of the mattress next to her. There was a long beat where they all three stared at different points in the room, and finally Sam's tremulous voice cut the silence. "I miss John." Cameron pressed his back into the molded wood of the doorframe, making sure to keep his distance. It seemed sort of traitorous to go anywhere near them now, worse even than when John was still in another galaxy. "Did you ever consider," Vala said in a tiny voice, "that John is choosing not to remember? He's seen a lot of dark things. Maybe he's happier now, not knowing." "You were a Goa'uld host," Cameron said abruptly, his fists pressing tightly into his ribs. "I'm sure you had a lot of flashes of memory that had nothing to do with kittens and rainbows." Vala looked at her hands. She didn't like to talk about her time as Qetesh and almost never did. "But you were strong," he insisted. "John's strong, too." "Plus he's safe in the SGC, with lots of people working to fix him," Sam said. Cameron wasn't sure if she was convincing Vala or herself. Cameron, the restlessness settling again and making his limbs move of their own accord, darted across the room and pressed his lips first to Vala, then Sam. "We'll figure this out," he swore. "We always do, right?" continue on to part two

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