Rating: T to be safe, just for one scene that was in the episode
Summary: Sheppard grapples with the mental fallout from his Sakari hallucination ... aided by some forced spiritual counselling and a little help from Teyla. Episode tag for Remnants. Beware season 5 SPOILERS inside.
Classifications: Friendship/Team Fic, slightly angsty.
Pairings: suggestions of Sheyla but nothing concrete.
Spoilers for: Season 5 Remnants, also for Season 5 Inquisition. Minor spoilers for Season 4 – so minor I can’t really trace them back to any specific episodes.
Acknowledgements: As always I've used Gateworld transcripts to supplement my viewing of this episode. That's basically all the dialogue completely in italics. So thank you Gateworld!
Disclaimer: I am unfortunately not associated in any way with the creators, owners, or producers of Stargate or any of its media franchises. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, equipment, etc are the property of whoever owns them. Any original characters, plot, settings, and anything else I made up are the property of me, the author. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright (c) 2008 ShaViva
Surface Impressions versus Inner Realities
Sheppard deliberately stood to the back of his team, wanting to avoid being confronted by yet another village 'mystic'. Not that he was worried they'd actually rip something from his head that he didn't want to share, just ... after his most recent run in with Kolya he didn't want to allow even the possibility of soul searching or anything else that would have him looking internally. He'd thought Kolya but when it came down to it he should really have described it as a confrontation with himself - one aided and abetted by the artificial intelligence of the Sakari seeding machine.
"John?" Teyla stepped back, looking at Sheppard in concern.
"Sorry," Sheppard smiled casually, trying to look as unconcerned as always. "Did I miss something?"
"This is Asarra," Teyla urged Sheppard forward with a hand under his elbow. "She has been the spiritual counsel for the Ruomur for many years. Asarra, this is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, second in command of our base."
"Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard," Asarra acknowledged him in a rich, melodious voice. She was old by Pegasus standards, although perhaps only a few years older than John and still attractive in a regally hippie kind of way.
"Call me John," Sheppard invited, intent on glancing at her face for only a moment but finding instead that his eyes were held firmly by the expression in hers. In the brown depths he saw wisdom, knowledge, sadness ... and at the back of it all pity. For him? Dragging his gaze away with a frown Sheppard turned back to Teyla. "You've known each other for a while?"
"Since before Teyla's father was taken by the Wraith," Asarra answered for both of them. "A difficult time for anyone but even more so for a leader, charged with the protection of others. I believe this is something you are personally aware of John."
"Not like that," Sheppard answered evasively, deciding to bring the conversation back on track before any more cryptic statements could be made. "I'm sure Teyla told you why we’re here. We have medicines, tools, methods for farming and irrigation we're offering in exchange for the provision of various necessities at your harvest time."
"You will need to speak with Eras, the leader of our village," Asarra replied. "I will escort you."
Sheppard followed along with Teyla, motioning for Rodney to walk with him while Ronon brought up the rear.
"What was all that about?" Rodney asked half under his breath, keeping to the narrow path through the trees.
"No idea," Sheppard replied casually. "You know these village mystic types - they're not happy unless they're saying something to confuse everyone."
"Well I've scanned the area and there is absolutely nothing of technological interest anywhere nearby," Rodney complained. "I don't know why you insist on dragging me out for all these trading missions. Do you realise how many research projects I could be steering in the right direction as we speak?"
"We get it McKay," Sheppard said with teasing sarcasm. "You're brilliant ... but clearly not enough to remember the number of missions that started out just like this one where we ended up needing your skills." When Rodney's eyes shot to his and a puzzled frown appeared on his face, Sheppard slowed with a glare. "What?"
"Nothing," Rodney kept walking, forcing Sheppard to get moving again or be run over by Ronon. "Just ... when the Sakari AI created my hallucination of Zelenka he called me ... well I guess I called me brilliant too. It just struck me ... you using the same word."
"Just a coincidence McKay," Sheppard drawled. "And when I say brilliant I mean annoying but useful to have around."
"Har har," Rodney muttered weakly. "You know, you never told us anything specific about your hallucination."
"No point since none of it was real," Sheppard said dismissively. "Now pick up the pace before Teyla realises how far behind we're lagging."
"Maybe the actual events weren't real," Rodney persisted, hurrying his pace to keep up with John's longer strides, "but the emotions, the internal thoughts - those were all real."
"For you maybe," Sheppard said impatiently. "Just drop it okay - now is hardly the time to be talking about it anyway."
"See now I know something happened," Rodney looked at John in concern. "You're being particularly cagey even for you."
"McKay!" Sheppard glared at Rodney grimly, picking up his pace even more. "Ronon," he called over his shoulder as he left Rodney behind. "Walk with McKay - I'm gonna catch up with Teyla."
The village was just like every other settlement they'd seen in Pegasus with people similar in developmental terms to the Athosians. Sheppard sat beside Teyla on comfortable pillows in the main meeting tent, listening to the fine level negotiations but contributing little. He'd worked out pretty early on that besides lending his presence as a representative of Atlantis leadership it was best to let Teyla do all the talking. The deals she got for them were always better than Sheppard could have achieved for himself, and not just because she was a native to Pegasus and he wasn't.
"We are in agreement," Eras held out a hand to Teyla with a pleased smile.
"We are," Teyla agreed, touching her hand lightly to his. "We look forward to many seasons of successful interaction."
"As do we," Eras completed the formal element. "We would be pleased if you would stay for the evening meal - to celebrate and cement our new ties. You are welcome to spend the night here before returning to your base."
"We would be pleased to stay," Teyla looked at John quickly, waiting for his nod before passing on their agreement.
"I will have someone show you to guest dwellings," Eras motioned for one of his attendants to step forward.
"Get Ronon and Rodney to accompany you," John told Teyla quietly. "I'm gonna hike back to the gate and report in to Woolsey. I'll be back in an hour."
"Alone?" Teyla asked in surprise.
"It won't take long," John reiterated. "Save a spot for me at dinner."
"John, are you sure you are well?" Teyla put a hand to his arm, waiting for him to make eye contact.
"I'm fine," Sheppard kept his expression bland as he put a hand over hers, he hoped reassuringly. "I'll see you in an hour." Not waiting for further protests Sheppard turned and walked quickly back through the village.
Dinner had actually been quite pleasant and Sheppard found himself mellowed enough to enjoy the atmosphere as the Ruomur laughed and told stories about their past. It was like being back at camp as a child, sitting by the fire with friends - in this case Rodney who'd run out of things to complain about hours ago, Ronon, silent and watchful as ever, and Teyla, relaxed in a way she only got when surrounded by an environment that reminded her of Athos.
"We talked of many things your base can offer us," Eras told John casually, "but our offer to you centred only on food supplies."
"That's because it's our biggest need," Sheppard explained, looking across the fire at the village leader. "We don't have the resources to grow or bring in what we need by ourselves."
"I comment only because there are other things my people have to offer," Eras explained. "We are a very spiritual people, connected to the emotional undercurrents around us. We have ways of assisting those requiring internal resolution."
"That's a nice offer," Sheppard tried to be accepting rather than disbelieving, "but we kinda have people back home whose job it is to help with that."
"And yet you personally do not avail yourself of this service," Eras commented, his words stating a fact rather than asking a question.
"Ah ... not really," Sheppard admitted with a frown, trying not to give away that he was bothered this guy thought he needed help with anything. "It's not always suited ... it's not something that's equally effective for everyone."
"Our methods are effective for everyone," Eras said proudly, motioning a familiar figure over. "Asarra would be happy to demonstrate, with your cooperation."
"That's not necessary," Sheppard held up a hand to ward off Asarra's purposeful approach.
"John," Teyla put a hand on his arm with a warning in her voice. "It would be ... impolite for us to refuse what is seen as a great honour. The Ruomur rarely invite others to benefit from their skills in this area."
"Okay," John smiled over at Eras as he countered the offer, "Teyla can be your test case ... I'm happy to take her recommendation on whether your methods would work on my people."
"Teyla Emmagen has no need of my services," Asarra said sternly. "It would not be a fair test."
"Fair enough," Sheppard changed tact abruptly. "McKay will do it - he's messed up enough to make it a challenge for you."
"Hey," Rodney protested loudly. "You're at least as messed up as I am! And besides -"
"But I'm in charge," Sheppard talked over him. "That means I get to -,"
"It must be you John Sheppard," Asarra knelt down next to him and put a hand on either side of his head, drawing his gaze firmly to hers. "You carry the weight of harsh experience beyond anything I have ever seen."
"And I like that weight," Sheppard jerked his head away from Asarra's hands, angry all of a sudden and struggling to contain it. Peripherally aware of his team all poised to 'rescue' him should he need it, he looked at Eras. "Is this a prerequisite for us becoming trading partners?"
"Trust is an essential element between partners," Eras replied. "As such I would never force anything upon you. But trust comes with knowledge and experience ... we know little of each other apart from what each of us has seen on the surface. True friendship can only be forged by allowing us to see beyond that ... and letting yourself do the same."
"What do I have to do?" Sheppard kept his eyes away from his team, especially Teyla who always saw just a little bit more than he showed her willingly.
"If you let me I can receive more than just vague impressions from you," Asarra explained. "You do not have to say or do anything physically beyond being open to my presence within your mind ... and to my guidance."
"Okay," Sheppard agreed abruptly. "Just let me ... just give me a few minutes okay." Motioning for his team to follow him he moved outside the circle of the fire towards the edge of the village, stopping and waiting for the others to gather around him.
"You sure about this?" Ronon asked worriedly.
"No," Sheppard admitted. "But we need this agreement and I don't think they're gonna trust us with the full service unless one of us does this. Asarra doesn't seem interested in the rest of you so ... lucky me."
"You do not have to do this John," Teyla said earnestly. "Eras will still stick to the agreement we forged today."
"And will he come back with the same next time?" Sheppard asked seriously. When Teyla hesitated John smiled grimly. "I didn't think so. Having a reliable ... long term supply of basic necessities is something we can’t pass up, especially since we lost a lot of credence when the Replicators and the Hoffan virus swept through the galaxy."
"How much is she gonna be able to access anyway?" Rodney tried to bring it to the scientific arena.
"I know of no one personally who has undergone the Ruomur mental healing," Teyla admitted, glancing at John worriedly, "but from what I have heard they are able to glean much from the participants mind. It is a service of immeasurable value amongst many worlds, in part because it is offered so rarely to outsiders."
"Don’t you have a whole lot of classified information up there?” Ronon asked curiously.
“Good point,” Rodney looked worried. “We need to find out how specific this thing is.”
“Let’s go ask Asarra,” Sheppard deliberately kept his mind on the task at hand, steering clear of the vast array of things he didn't want to share. Leading his team back to the camp fire he looked only at Asarra as he sat down again. “Will you be able to pick up specific information during this healing thing?”
“The level of information shared depends entirely on the participants,” Asarra replied. “There is much I will need to know in order to properly guide you but do not fear John Sheppard. It is the sacred law of our people that anything learned during the mental healing process remains secret. To break this law garners the most severe of punishments, resulting in never being able to perform the service again.”
“Ever?” Sheppard asked incredulously.
“Yes,” Asarra said complacently. “The procedure will not be successful unless there is trust between healer and participant. How can this exist without the assurance of confidentiality?”
“Satisfied McKay?” Sheppard raised an eyebrow at Rodney expectantly.
“Does this thing hurt?” Rodney frowned at John before turning to grill Asarra himself. “Because Sheppard has the knack of volunteering himself for things and ending up injured.”
“The procedure is not a physical thing,” Asarra sought to reassure everyone.
“Well forgive me for saying this but that isn’t exactly reassuring,” Rodney countered grimly. “We’ve seen things that can kill you in your sleep.”
“Ah,” Asarra looked at each of them with renewed respect. “Rest assured Doctor McKay. Your friend will not be harmed in any permanent way.”
“What about non permanent?” Ronon growled. “Sheppard has a lot of experience with that too.”
“You're making me sound like a disaster zone guys,” John complained semi seriously.
“The procedure can be ... confronting,” Asarra admitted. “Particularly for those well used to repressing their inner feelings.”
“Now do you want to reconsider?” Rodney’s expression was a strange mix of teasing because they all knew John was terrible at sharing anything of what he was feeling, and concern because Rodney was well aware there were good reasons for that.
“No,” Sheppard replied insistently. “This will be kept between us right?”
“Yes,” Asarra replied serenely. “Are you ready to proceed?”
“Yeah,” John agreed, waiting for Asarra to get the ball rolling.
“You must have one person in attendance,” Asarra revealed. “They will not be able to see what is occurring but should you need outside assistance they will be on hand to provide it. Who would you choose to fulfil this role?”
“Teyla?” Sheppard looked at her reluctantly even though the choice was easy. Rodney was uncomfortable with emotions despite his inherent curiosity to know everything and Ronon had seen enough personal horror in his life without being subjected to someone elses, even in a support role. Besides, Teyla already knew more about John than anyone else on Atlantis ... he didn’t want to delve too much into why that was, just that he felt comfortable with the idea that after this was done she might know a hell of a lot more.
“I would be honoured to assist,” Teyla said formally.
“Very well,” Asarra looked to Eras expectantly.
“My people,” Eras called for his fellow Ruomur to pay attention. “Our new friends have agreed to pay our customs the utmost respect. Colonel Sheppard will undergo mental healing with guidance from Asarra.”
Everyone clapped and cheered like the idea was exciting ... to them it probably was. Sheppard smiled weakly, raising a hand in a half hearted attempt to acknowledge the praise.
“Proceed,” Eras bowed his head to Asarra regally. She returned the gesture before rising and holding out a hand to John.
Taking it he stood up slowly, still reluctant even though he’d agreed to go ahead with this. Sheppard looked across at Ronon and Rodney somewhat uncertainly. “I don’t know how long this is gonna take so take turns at watch and ah ... I guess if we’re not done by morning you should probably check in with Woolsey.”
“Ah ... good luck?” Rodney said hesitantly.
“John will be fine,” Teyla reassured her other team mates before turning and following Asarra and Sheppard to a small stone structure in the centre of the village.
Leading them inside Asarra paused to light candles at the doorway, casting the entrance in a warm glow.
“This is the healing chamber,” she explained softly, taking up one of the lit candles and motioning them to follow her further inside. Tipping the candle into a slot on the floor she stepped back as fire spread from there, forging a liquid path of light inside the moat they could now see circling the outermost edge between wall and floor.
Now revealed the chamber was just one large circular room, the middle composed of two low to the floor chairs beside a nest of comfortable looking pillows.
“Please lie down here,” Asarra told Sheppard, motioning to the pillow ‘couch’. “Teyla, if you would sit here,” she pointed to one of the chairs.
“Okay, now what?” John had taken the reclining position but didn’t feel comfortable enough to just lay his head back and look at the ceiling. Instead he was raised up on both elbows, still looking around the room warily.
“What do you know of meditation?” Asarra asked, taking the seat beside John’s head and putting her index fingers one to each temple. Without consciously meaning to Sheppard found himself straightening his arms and allowing Asarra to guide him down to full recline.
“Enough to know I’m not good at it,” Sheppard answered, thinking back to his time at the Sanctuary.
“What is a Ferris wheel?” Asarra frowned in confusion, her eyes meeting Sheppard’s as she maintained her physical connection between fingers and temple.
“You got that?” Sheppard asked in amazement. Glancing at Teyla he added “A Ferris Wheel was my ‘relax’ scene with McKay during that whole ascension thing.”
“John’s home world is vastly different to anything in this galaxy,” Teyla explained to Asarra with a smile. “He is particularly fond of Ferris Wheels although I admit I have no understanding of what he is referring to.”
“It will do,” Asarra said, her eyes boring into Sheppard’s now, her fingers pulsing on his temples in a way that was uncomfortable but not painful. John closed his eyes, responding to something in her that commanded him to block the outside world.
There were no words in his head, just pictures, images that captivated his attention. The Ferris wheel spun, gondola rocking wildly as it picked up speed. John tried to keep track of his position within the wheel even though up, down and all around looked the same to him with no sky or ground to anchor himself to.
The image shifted and suddenly he was standing outside himself, watching the wheel without participating in the ride. He felt compelled to count each gondola as it passed, red roof, blue roof, green roof, faster and faster they passed him. Rather than blurring his vision the speed drilled his attention down to the centre where motion appeared slower. Beams of wood made up the spokes – he could see the individual grains covered by peeling paint worn completely away in places. The wheel spun and John felt dizzy, floating, unable to tear his eyes away from the molecules that made up the wood used to build the wheel.
“John,” Asarra’s voice drew his attention abruptly away.
She stood in the forest on the mainland of New Lantia. Sheppard glanced back behind him and found he too was now surrounded by that forest.
“Are we ...?” he broke off without completing the question.
“Inside your perceptions?” Asarra queried, waiting for his nod before answering. “Yes. This backdrop is being created entirely by those concerns most pressing to your mind at this time. Do you know where we are?”
“The mainland, back on our planet,” John explained, glancing around as if expecting Kolya to make an appearance next. Nothing happened and John looked to Asarra for input. “Why are we here?”
“That is for you to determine,” Asarra replied cryptically. “My talent is to set your mind on the path and guide you as you traverse it. I cannot interpret the meaning behind the why ... just question you such that you might do this for yourself.”
“Can I get out of this if I want?” John asked suddenly, surprised at himself that he hadn’t thought to ask that before he began.”
“Not until you have faced yourself,” Asarra said serenely.
“So I’m trapped here unless I play ball?” John swallowed the sudden feeling of nausea attacking his stomach. He knew why they were in that forest but he wasn’t sure he was ready to confront those images again so soon.
“Just as you are trapped within your own mind every day you refuse to acknowledge your experiences,” Asarra explained.
“Listen, if I have to confront every bad experience I’ve ever had we’ll be here for days,” Sheppard said it mocking sarcastically despite the inherent truth.
“It was not experiences matured and weathered that drew my attention to you John,” Asarra moved to stand directly in front of him, her footsteps silent where they should have rustled in the grass. “Your torment is recent, fresh ... you struggle to bury it as you have other events from your past. This one was different.”
“Only because it was all a hallucination,” John explained casually. “It should be easier for me to put it away because none of it actually happened.”
“And yet you struggle to do so,” Asarra didn’t let him off the hook, not that he’d expected her to. “Show me what happened here.”
And then they were spectators, watching the John Sheppard of last week as he was stunned, tied up, and then escaped. Sheppard watched himself react in disbelief as Kolya revealed himself, insisting that he was alive when John knew he’d killed him on the second planet they’d run into Lucius on.
“What are you gonna do?” his past self demanded.
“Send an explosive through your Gate, cripple the city's defences. But, for that, I'm gonna need something from you,” Kolya’s tone was conversational as he pulled on a set of gloves. “I think you call it an I.D.C.”
“Go to hell,” past John ground out.
“Yeah. I thought you would need some convincing,” Kolya’s tone was unconcerned, not even that threatening.
And then the beating began. John turned away, not wanting to watch himself resisting.
“No,” Asarra said firmly. “You must watch.”
The scene reappeared in front of Sheppard ... he turned to avoid it and found himself standing in front of that tree, watching Kolya bent over his tied up form. Stubbornly he turned away again but the scene was still in front of him.
“This troubles you,” Asarra commented without emotion as they both watched Kolya repeatedly slamming his fists into John’s face.
“It’s a little odd,” John countered, admitting nothing. “Plus I know what’s coming up next and it isn’t pretty.”
“You felt nothing of fear until he threatened your people,” Asarra stated. “Is this bravery ... or something else?”
“It’s my job to protect everyone in the city,” Sheppard explained indignantly.
“At the expense of yourself?” Asarra asked mildly.
“If the occasion calls for it,” Sheppard replied.
“And how do you work out what type of occasion it is?” Asarra asked, turning her gaze back to John’s remembered hallucination without his reply.
“You're here in the Pegasus galaxy to protect your people, but half the time you can't even do that. That's what drives you, isn't it? Your past failures,” Kolya taunted. “You're just putting off the inevitable. It's over – you can't protect them. You, those scientists, your friends back at Atlantis – they're as good as dead.”
“They are important to you, your team?” Asarra asked.
“Of course,” John agreed without hesitation. “It’s my job to lead them and protect them ... and before you ask, yes with my life if necessary.”
“Again, who decides what is necessary?” Asarra looked at John almost sadly. “Even in our current endeavours you let the needs of others condemn you to something you did not wish to do.”
“You didn’t really give me a choice,” John pointed out.
“You could have walked away instead of putting the future supply needs of your people ahead of your own personal desires,” Asarra pointed out. “Is your value determined by your own feelings or by the feelings of others?”
“It’s not about value or importance,” John protested. “Although Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney are all critically important to us surviving here in Pegasus.”
“And you?” Asarra asked mildly. “Are you important to that success as well?”
“Ah ... I guess,” Sheppard replied with a frown, “although with the military there’s always another grunt to take your place if you fall.”
“And feelings?” Asarra queried. “What importance is placed on them?”
“My team ... they know I ah ... care about them,” John looked away uncomfortably.
“I am sure they do,” Asarra agreed. “But I find two things interesting. That you find it so difficult to express your feelings, even to a complete stranger within the safety of your own mind. And that you are uncertain in their regard for you.”
“For Gods Sake!” Sheppard turned away angrily, impatient with the direction Asarra was taking. “What the hell does any of this have to do with my Kolya hallucination?”
“Let us see,” Asarra invited John to once again observe himself.
The scene had moved on. John was standing between two of Kolya’s men, his left arm extended and his face grim with the certain knowledge of what was about to happen.
“Last chance, Johnny boy. Are you gonna give me that I.D.C.?” Kolya asked like he didn’t really care about the answer. Past John just stared at him, afraid but determined in his silence. “Didn't think so,” Kolya acknowledged, raising the blade above his head and slashing it down with rapid force towards John’s wrist.
Sheppard flinched, eyes held rigidly to the sight of blood gushing from his severed wrist, his amputated hand lying grotesquely in the grass, Kolya observing without expression.
“Shit that looked worse than I remember,” Sheppard commented weakly, rubbing a hand over his eyes as though he could wipe the memory as well. “Hurt like a son of a bitch but when I thought about it later, not as much as it probably should have. I should have realised that, worked out it wasn’t real.”
“Did you consider why your mind had Kolya acting in this manner?” Asarra asked.
“Not really,” Sheppard admitted. “I have always wondered if the Ancient technology has that flaw ... maybe my subconscious was trying to give me the answer.”
“Or perhaps you feel that Kolya took something from you,” Asarra suggested. “Part of yourself you never acknowledged as lost - your ability to suppress all fears regardless of their origin?”
“That’s crap,” Sheppard denied with a harsh laugh. “I killed him ... took something he can never get back.”
“Except in your mind,” Asarra corrected. “It appears he lives on there, able to influence you despite your belief that he is gone.”
“That’s not ... I can’t see the point of this,” Sheppard ran a hand through his hair, his agitation clearly evident.
“Then look some more,” Asarra commanded.
“You're an interesting man, Sheppard,” Kolya was commenting. Past John was sitting propped against the tree, bandages covering the stump where his left hand used to be. “You travel to another galaxy, risk your life defending a bunch of people you don't even know. You ask me, you're either someone with a death wish or someone running away from something. So tell me: what are you running away from?”
“Did the real Kolya ever exhibit such insight?” Asarra asked curiously.
“Not really,” Sheppard admitted. “He was more interested in gaining control of the Genii – the fact that none of his plans succeeded demonstrates he knew little about what motivates people.”
“Do you think you have a death wish?” Asarra waited for John to answer, watching him intently.
“I think anyone who likes to go fast, who gets something out of the adrenalin rush has an element of that in their personality,” Sheppard finally replied. “Nothing they’d court in an active sense but ... the risk of death does give life an edge it wouldn’t have otherwise.”
“And you need this ... edge?” Asarra asked.
“I don’t need it,” Sheppard denied. “I’m just not afraid to feel it – to use it when the situation calls for it.”
“You do not fear death,” Asarra commented casually. “What do you fear? Do not deny this aspect of yourself ... we all have something that calls to the fear we all possess.”
“You already know the answer,” John grimaced at that. “The Kolya in my hallucination, hell the real Kolya knew it too ... and used it against me.”
“And will you admit it to yourself?” Asarra asked like it was of no import whether he did or not.
“My fears have always been about the people I won’t save,” John admitted, finding it easier than he might have expected because Asarra didn’t seem invested in the answer.
“Anyone, or someone specific?” Asarra persisted.
“Look, I’ve lost people okay,” John found himself angry again, protection against other stronger emotions he never let out. “Sometimes I wasn’t there, but when I was, it was ... I can’t do that anymore. I never really could. If it comes down to a choice to save me or them, it’s gonna be them every time because I can’t live with myself otherwise.”
“Them?” Asarra raised an eyebrow curiously.
“McKay, Ronon,” Sheppard said impatiently. “Everyone on Atlantis.”
“And Teyla,” Asarra stated confidently.
“You’re determined to have all my secrets aren’t you,” John said bitterly. Laughing mirthlessly he capitulated. “Fine, especially Teyla ... and Torren. And before you comment, no I won’t be telling her, and not just because she’s involved with someone else.”
“You could have said something many years ago,” Asarra acknowledged, “but you made the deliberate choice not to.”
“And I still believe it was the right one,” John insisted. “I’m not bothered by that.”
“And yet something weighs heavily upon your mind,” Asarra commented. “Show me more of this hallucination.”
They watched as John freed himself once more, ruthless and deadly efficient as he eliminated all the other genii present until it came down to just him and Kolya. Sheppard looked on dispassionately as his past self dangled grimly, hanging above certain death should he fall.
The illusion was revealed as the hand he’d believed gone reappeared and he climbed too easily back to safety. The AI’s explanation of the Sakari race was poignant in the power of their scope and determination to save their people, something Sheppard entirely understood.
“As a soldier, you were a threat,” the AI Kolya explained. “If anyone was to use force to secure the repository, it would have been you, the military man. So I connected with your mind to distract you.”
“What troubles you here John?” Asarra asked quietly. “That the Sakari AI so easily deceived you?”
“No!” Sheppard denied. “Rodney confirmed there was no way either Woolsey or myself could have known it wasn’t real.”
“Perhaps it is as simple as their belief that of everyone on Atlantis, military or otherwise, you posed the most pressing threat of violence against them,” Asarra suggested instead, turning back to the hallucination still playing out rather than demanding a response.
"Distract me?” past Sheppard asked in disbelief. “Making me think the Jumper had been sabotaged would have been enough of a distraction.”
“You would have discovered the subterfuge,” AI Kolya countered. “I'm unable to maintain a static illusion over time. It was necessary to keep your mind occupied.”
“And that's what you chose?” past Sheppard glared at Kolya incredulously.
“What you chose,” AI Kolya insisted. “I didn't have full control over your hallucination or the direction it took. It was your mind driving the diversion. I merely played along.”
“Okay, I think we’ve seen enough,” John tried to call a halt before he had to listen to any more of something he hadn’t wanted to hear the first time.
“On the contrary,” Asarra denied. “I think we are approaching the crucial element.”
“I said I don’t want to do this anymore!” John turned away, stalking through the trees even though he knew he wasn’t really going anywhere.
“You cannot hide from yourself John Sheppard,” Asarra stood in front of him, blocking his path.
“I can,” John stated grimly. “Been doing it for years, very successfully I might add!”
“You deny yourself everything that is real because you target your risks only to what you are prepared to lose,” Asarra said harshly. “Your life because in the end that is easy ... cowardly ... although it appears brave to others.”
“I am not a coward!” Sheppard turned back towards the clearing, as much to get away from Asarra’s knowing stare as to prove that statement. Despite his resolve, his footsteps slowed as he approached himself, standing with a look of unwelcome shock and distaste on his face as he faced down Kolya.
“You're saying I tortured myself?” he watched himself ask, remembering vividly that sick feeling of dread and fear that had washed over him as he realised the truth of that.
“You torture yourself every day, John,” AI Kolya pointed out sadly. “But in this case it was your mind manifesting your darkest fears. You were the architect of your own self deception.”
“These are the words playing over in your mind, distracting you, tormenting you,” Asarra spoke from directly behind him. “Rather than replaying the violence, the amputation of your hand, the return of an enemy you thought defeated, it is these words that haunt you.”
“I can’t work out why I’d do that to myself,” Sheppard admitted, swallowing hard at the emotion bubbling inside him.
“Can you not?” Asarra asked softly.
“I don’t think I torture myself all the time,” Sheppard denied.
“Torture,” Asarra stated instructively. “The act of distorting something so it seems to mean something it was not intended to mean. In that context can you not see the patterns in your behaviour?”
“Just because I hold myself accountable for things doesn’t mean I’m torturing myself!” John insisted stubbornly.
“It does when you distort events such that you feel responsible for each disaster ... for every loss,” Asarra retorted.
“It’s not a distortion when it’s the truth!” John burst out harshly. “Lieutenant Ford? I didn’t stop him when I could have – everything that happened after that mistake was my fault. Elizabeth? I took her on that mission and then left her behind when I should have made her come back with us. Kate Heightmeyer? Died in her sleep because of an alien entity I brought to the city!”
“And the millions of people who have perished since your people arrived in Pegasus?” Asarra didn’t let herself be distracted by the personal losses John had thrown down.
“What about them?” John asked in confusion.
“Those culled by the Wraith merely for food,” Asarra went on. “Those wiped out by the Replicators because of the attack command you helped reactivate. Those who were experimented on by Michael or who perished at the hands of his Hoffan virus because of his desire to seek revenge against your people.”
“We already stood trial for all that and in case you didn’t hear, they found us not guilty,” Sheppard said sarcastically.
“Your Mr Woolsey won his case with bribery and coercion,” Asarra retorted. “Without that the outcome would have been very different.”
“I don’t deny that maybe I feel responsible for the Wraith waking up,” John offered. “But I’m not torturing myself over it.”
“Still you are dishonest with yourself,” Asarra said in frustration. “I have never known a participant to be so stubborn.”
“It’s part of my charm,” Sheppard dismissed lightly. “Are we done here?”
“If you will not face up to yourself alone then I shall be forced to bring in reinforcements,” Asarra threatened.
“You do what you have to do,” Sheppard felt confident he’d gotten past the worse, that he could convince any of the Ruomur he’d done enough confronting for one day.
“John?” Teyla’s voice was both puzzled and curious as she suddenly appeared in the forest, looking curiously around her in such a way that John knew instinctively it was the real Teyla and not just a figment of his imagination.
”Okay, enough is enough,” he strode over to Asarra angrily, getting right up into her face as he demanded an ending to the session. "I didn't agree to this!"
“It will only be enough when you admit the truth to yourself,” Asarra countered. “If you will not admit it to me then perhaps you will admit it to her. Shall we show her your hallucination from the beginning?”
“NO!” John squeezed his eyes tightly closed, focussing all of his efforts on controlling his thoughts, not sure he could influence the outcome but unwilling to let it happen without a fight.
“John,” Teyla was standing in front of him now, her face concerned and worried. “What hallucination?”
“The one from the Sakari AI,” John looked at her grimly before glancing back at Asarra. “She thinks it’s an event I haven’t faced up to.”
“You never spoke of what you experienced,” Teyla said simply. “I am willing to share this with you if Asarra thinks it will help heal your mind.”
“You think my mind needs healing?” John asked, dismayed deep down at the thought.
“I think that you hold too much of yourself, of your feelings inside,” Teyla said evasively. “You have people who care about you and yet you hold yourself apart from everyone.”
“You’re thinking of Woolsey,” John dismissed lightly. “He’s the one holding himself apart.”
“He is just more open and obvious about it,” Teyla looked at John pointedly. “You give the appearance of belonging because you are sociable and friendly and you are always there when others need you. I believe you have genuine feelings for us and yet you struggle to express them, despite the fact that you are intelligent and articulate in all other respects.”
“I’m sure there was a compliment in there somewhere,” John quipped, “but I’m struggling to see where.”
“Show me what took place here,” Teyla commanded, looking at Asarra expectantly.
John’s past self appeared in the forest, stalking the sounds he’d heard. John turned away angrily, unwilling to watch Teyla’s reactions as the whole thing played out.
“John,” Teyla approached hesitantly some minutes later, putting a hand on his shoulder and keeping it there even when he flinched away. He kept his back to her as he waited for her to say something more, but she didn’t.
“I’m a lot more screwed up than even you would have thought huh?” John finally asked ruefully, determined to joke even after what he’d inadvertently revealed to her.
“You are a very strong and capable man who takes responsibility for everyone despite being without the means to control every outcome,” Teyla stated, pulling him around to face her. “You may have awoken the Wraith but you are not responsible for all the deaths that have taken place since then.”
“If I’d listened just once to someone else instead of thinking I knew best, all those people would still be alive,” John insisted heatedly. “I woke the Wraith – not Atlantis, not Earth – me personally.”
“And I would be dead,” Teyla said softly. “The Wraith would have awoken in time and just as many lives would be lost ... but without the hope we now share that we can defeat the Wraith dependency on humans as their only food source.”
“And you think the loss of millions of lives justifies that?” John demanded, pulling away from her and pacing in agitation from tree to tree in front of her.
“Of course not,” Teyla insisted impatiently. “But would you have millions more die for generations to come because we were too cowed to fight back?”
“No!” John bit back. “But I can’t deny some of the responsibility for the way this has all gone down. Somebody else here would have made different choices that resulted in different outcomes.”
“Perhaps,” Teyla allowed for the possibility. “But there are many who are alive today because it was you. Are they less important because others died while they survived?”
“It’s not about that ... I just ... I can’t reconcile the contradiction within myself,” John swallowed hard, suddenly fighting to maintain his anger over the stronger 'weak' emotions breaking through. “We don’t leave people behind is a great ideal and I believed that when I went to rescue you in the very beginning but now? I left Elizabeth behind ... and I abandoned every person in this galaxy to become pawns between the Wraith, us and Michael. Where’s my fine ideal in that?!”
“You did not abandon anyone!” Teyla let anger colour her voice now. “You place yourself on too high a pedestal if you truly believe that the fate of the entire galaxy has resided on your shoulders alone.”
“I don’t think that,” John denied with a frown.
“Then there is contradiction in this as well,” Teyla pointed out. “You cannot take the responsibility for every death since your arrival without also claiming influence over every event that led up to them.”
“I never said I was logical,” Sheppard protested weakly.
“You punish yourself,” Teyla stated quietly.
“Maybe,” John finally admitted.
“Tendencies you had before you came to Atlantis,” Asarra broke in at that point. “They have only gotten stronger as you have endured stresses in situations beyond any one man’s power to influence. You have denied yourself any real connections ... and support ... because you felt that your actions didn’t warrant them.”
“I have friends,” Sheppard insisted somewhat childishly.
“Who only know a small part of you,” Teyla pointed out. “I believe that you have let us in more than you might have deliberately intended ... but less than we deserve as your true friends. Perhaps because you don’t feel that we can truly care about you after what you feel you have done.”
“I woke the Wraith!” John turned away, feeling that burning sensation behind his eyes, knowing he was too close to losing it if she kept pushing at him.
“We care for you John,” Teyla ignored his last statement completely, coming up behind him and putting her arms around his middle. Laying her head against his back she sighed. “You make it difficult at times and it saddens me to discover that you doubt our feelings. You are a good man ... honourable and just. As Rodney would say – what is not to like?”
John put his hands over hers, understanding what he’d been doing for months now just from Teyla’s efforts to get through to him. It took time for him to absorb her words, time during which he was powerless to stop the moisture from gathering under his eyes while Teyla hugged him silently.
“There are things, lots of things I can never admit to, even if I wanted to,” Sheppard finally spoke, his voice quiet and hoarse. “Plus ... that awkward, completely clueless person trying to tell you he cares? That really is me.”
“I know,” Teyla smiled complacently as she let him go, waiting patiently for him to compose himself. “I would not expect you to change everything John. But would it hurt to let us help you deal with things from time to time rather than bottle them all up?”
“Probably,” John complained, relenting when Teyla glared at him reproachfully. “Okay – no it wouldn’t hurt. I’ll try ... not promising I’ll just start suddenly confiding in everyone but ... I’ll try.”
“I would ask for nothing more,” Teyla smiled graciously, pleased when John smiled back.
“Well done,” Asarra reminded them that she was still there, her tone approving and relieved.
“Now are we finished?” John asked hopefully.
“You are on the road to knowing yourself better,” Asarra agreed. “I am hopeful it will lead you to a place of mental peace in the future.”
John nodded, blinking to find himself waking up in the healing chamber. Looking across at Teyla who was also just waking up he smiled awkwardly. “That was ... um ....”
“Enlightening?” Teyla suggested with a teasing smile.
“I guess,” Sheppard agreed, getting to his feet and holding out a hand to her. “You ready to find Rodney and Ronon?”
“They are probably both anxious by now,” Teyla agreed, letting John pull her up from her chair. Turning to Asarra she bowed her head. “Thank you for your efforts this night.”
“You are welcome,” Asarra smiled, looking at John slyly before adding “please feel free to send him back if he persists in being stubborn.”
“Hey!” John protested while Teyla smiled and assured Asarra they would.
Back on Atlantis Team Sheppard gathered in the Mess Hall as they did most days. Rodney had finally run out of complaints about he and Ronon’s long hours of boredom on Ruomur while they'd waited for the others to reappear.
“You never said how it went for you?” Rodney pointed out suddenly after a few moments of silence.
“It was ... different,” John admitted, glancing at Teyla and acknowledging her pointed, encouraging look. “In a good way. I was ... bothered by that hallucination the Sakari AI gave me. What Asarra did ... it helped.”
“I knew it!” Rodney crowed.
“Yeah well, you would've been bothered too if you’d been there,” Sheppard excused.
“What happened?” Ronon asked.
“I ah ... conjured up Kolya returned from the dead,” Sheppard began, settling down to tell the rest of his team all about it. It felt strange, being so open without any tactical or strategic need to do so. But it felt good too ... helpful and even somewhat liberating.
My sole inspiration for this one was that troubled and tormented look on John’s face when AI Kolya said John had tortured himself. I just had to explore how he’d reconcile that within himself. The mental healing thing is probably not especially original (along the veins of the ‘you must participate in our ritual or we’ll kill you’ plot) but I couldn’t think of another way to force John to do some thinking and after five years on the show it’s pretty clear he wouldn’t do it without being forced! Also apologies if the end seems a bit abrupt – I didn’t think a post mortem with Ronon and Rodney about the actual healing would add anything and rather liked the idea of the fade scene with John talking about his experiences.
Also the title comes from a quote attributed to Joe Flanigan on Gateworld where he described Remnants as a character piece, suggesting 'It's about surface impressions versus inner realities" - since that was exactly what I was trying to get at here I decided that should be the title too. The definition for 'torture' used here I got from Rhymezone.