blue flamingos

Green Marks On The Wall

Fandom: SGA

Category/Rated: Gen/PG13

Year/Length: 2010/4995 words

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: What if the SGC thinks they're dead or he's dead, what happens when Elizabeth isn't there to say go and Carter isn't there to be angry and forceful and Woolsey isn't there to wring his hands and say this isn't what he had in mind? What if it's just Landry, and Landry hates John, doesn't want John's team

Author's Notes: Written for sheppard_hc's Secret Santa, for wildcat88

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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John makes a mark on the wall of his cell – they gave him a pen, the first day, or left him his pen, he doesn't remember. Does he carry a pen? He does, he knows he does. Ever since the mission where he and Ronon had to communicate by rolling messages round pebbles and throwing them between cells.

Or him and Teyla. Maybe it was Teyla. Maybe it wasn't his team – weird things happen to Teldy's team, maybe it was her's, or maybe it was before she came. Does he carry a green pen? Green means you're crazy, or it means you're smart – a green car, that's good, except the rental guy chose it, so not good. Meet The Parents. He saw that with Mitch and Dex, before they died. On the base – the base cinema, screen, cinema screen, big screen, not a cinema.

John looks at the row of marks. Did he just make one? He thinks he did. He doesn't make another – last time he couldn't remember, he made another, so now it's even. Balanced. Rodney wouldn't agree, Rodney would say... It doesn't matter what Rodney would say. Rodney isn't here. No-one is here. His team. John's team.

John's old team – John's original team. Not original. Original is Ford and they left him behind in Pegasus, and he's probably dead but maybe he isn't and what happens when he tries to dial the city and they aren't there? No, doesn't matter, they left already, Ford only knows one planet and now they're on a different one, before they came to Earth, they weren't on the planet with the whales, their planet has snakes. Giant snakes. Unless they don't go back. Maybe they won't go back there. Rodney would know. Robinson would know.

"Sir, yes sir." Robinson is the only one who calls him that now. "Sir, Colonel Sheppard, sir. Yes, sir. Are you sure about that, sir? Maybe things are different in Pegasus, sir."

Landry said, "Colonel Sheppard, I trust you're up to date on your paperwork?"

"Yes, sir," John lied. He was, almost, but saving Earth had taken higher priority.

"Good. Colonel Johnson from SG-4 has just been promoted and tasked to Homeworld, so they're looking for a temporary team leader, until a permanent replacement is found."

"I already have a team, sir. I was hoping we could be added to the mission roster here."

Landry looked out of his office window into the conference room. John's office didn't have a window, but it did have Lorne, their coffee maker, marines passing by. John missed it, weirdly; he didn't have an office at the SGC. Landry had summoned him back to the SGC two days after Atlantis got to Earth, and hadn't let him leave yet. "Specialist Dex and Ms Emmagan aren't cleared to work for the SGC, Colonel."

"What would that take?"

"More time than I'm prepared to put into it when we have plenty of approved team members here."

"They were both thoroughly vetted before being allowed to join my team," John said, and knew he'd made a mistake, saying 'my team.'

"But we have no need for 'your' team, here, Colonel. SG-4 are waiting in Conference Room C." John opened his mouth to argue again, and Landry looked up from his desk. "Dismissed, Colonel."

'Dismissed.' No-one says that to him in Atlantis. He doesn't even say it, the marines have learned that he doesn't do that. "If there's nothing else, sir..." "No, go on. Get back to work."

Back to work. John is... He has a pen in his hand, a green pen, but he doesn't think he's doing anything with it. He puts it in his pocket. There's a fresh mark on the inside of his elbow, another injection. No bruise. His left arm is bruised, but they switched to his right. How many days for a bruise to start? He has fifteen marks, but he thinks fifteen is too many, is wrong. His team should have come for him by now. Rodney and Ronon and Teyla. Unless they were captured too.

John tries to look out into the corridor – maybe he can see them, maybe they can signal – but the door doesn't have a window. None of the cell does. Just white walls and a gray metal door, and it makes him think of an asylum, padded walls except they're not padded, they're hard and uncomfortable and when he gets pushed into the cell and falls against them it hurts.

Is that where the bruise comes from? John pokes it. No, from the injections. Injections, injections, injections. Something going in that doesn't belong. Exjection. Taking out something that doesn't belong. He needs an exjection. He needs a doctor. He's not right, everything is too fast, and he feels light-headed, dizzy.

"I don't know anything."

Does he? What do they want to know? Maybe they don't want to know something – maybe they want his blood. His gene. Exjection. Taking out something that doesn't belong. His blood, his gene, they do belong, not an exjection, an injection. Something going in. Extraction, not exjection.

That's what he needs, an extraction. Someone to come and get him out. He can't get himself out. His hands shake all the time, and sometimes he doesn't know where he's going. Where's the door? He tries to think it open. He can do that at home – in Atlantis. Ssh. Don't say Atlantis. The city, the base, and he can make the doors open with his mind, but he doesn't, he uses the controls like everyone else, he pretends and no-one knows.

Ronon knows. Ronon knows, but Ronon promised not to tell. Don't tell. Don't mention the –

"Could I find your mission?" Nancy asked, smiling over her glass of wine. She'd called him: I heard you were in town, and so am I. Buy me a drink.

"In your secret agent files? I doubt it."

"Secret agent files, I like the sound of that." Nancy smiled again and John smiled back. He hadn't really wanted to see her when she'd called, but he'd owed her, after the funeral, her help with the replicators. He was having a better time than he'd expected. "This isn't like what you were doing when we were married."

She hadn't exactly asked a question, so John didn't answer it. He didn't know what the answer was – sometimes it felt like exactly what he'd been doing, and sometimes it felt worlds apart.

"I saw your brother last week," she said when he didn't answer.

John made a vaguely encouraging noise; he'd assumed Dave had told her he was back.

"He's doing well. Says you're heading out to visit with them in a couple of weeks."

John nodded and Nancy grinned. "I'm sure Andrea will tell me all about it. Did Dave tell you that she and I still have our monthly cocktail nights?"

John shook his head, slightly worried. The Sheppard Wives, they'd called themselves, and gone for cocktails on the last Friday of every month. John wasn't all that sure he wanted his sister-in-law and his ex-wife comparing notes about his visit.

"I got a letter from your father's lawyers," Nancy said, her smile fading. Oh, John thought. So this was the point of meeting up. "John, he –"

"Left you the cabin," John finished for her. He'd loved that cabin, tucked away in the woods with nothing around them but silence and trees and the sky, and had taken Nancy there more than once.

"They said it's taken so long because they – that they were sure the will was a mistake, because you..."

Weren't left anything. Dave had been the one to challenge the will, convinced that their father had intended to leave something to John, even when John said that it didn't matter and he didn't care. John figured it was punishment for never responding to any of the attempts to get in touch that he hadn't known about; either that, or those were a lie.

He didn't care about the will, but he wanted to have been left out as punishment, not because Dave was lying or wrong. Take that, Dad. Should have tried harder, before it was too late.

"I want to give the cabin to you," Nancy said. "It should be yours."

John shook his head. "He left it to you. This is what he wants."

John's not in a cabin in the woods. John's not anywhere – he's in a cell, but the cell could be anywhere, it could be all that's left of Earth. Not Earth. A planet, a planet, a planet in the Milky Way, gate address M35 something-something-something, but it's okay, because when he closes his eyes, he can see the symbols floating in front of him. Can't close his eyes, mustn't do it. Doesn't matter any more. Can't sleep. Injection, exjection, extraction, why has no-one come for him yet?

What if they're all captured, waiting for him to rescue them? What if they're dead? What if the SGC thinks they're dead or he's dead, what happens when Elizabeth isn't there to say go and Carter isn't there to be angry and forceful and Woolsey isn't there to wring his hands and say this isn't what he had in mind? What if it's just Landry, and Landry hates John, doesn't want John's team, he wouldn't leave them behind on purpose, but this isn't Atlantis, this isn't all of them surviving on the edge and feeling every death, this isn't Lorne who's loyal to a fault and Keller who'll pick up a gun if she has to and shoot it if she needs to, this isn't Zelenka and Nurse Marie and Banks in the control room and Stackhouse who's still there even after his team were killed in the siege and Teldy and her team.

This is Earth, where they don't belong and no-one knows them and – not Earth. He's not on Earth because if he was on Earth, the marines would have come for him by now. He has marines. Marines because he lives in a city on the sea, but his marines are gone, scattered to all the winds or all the seas, so maybe he has to rely on the army. Army boys. Combat engineers. Combat, engineers, combat, combat, combat, like a wraith attack where you think you're going to save someone and instead you get more people killed. Maybe they're all dead. Maybe his team are dead or maybe he could save them except he doesn't know what his captors want.

He wonders if he'd give it if he could. He thinks maybe he would. He'd do anything for his team, Ronon and Teyla and Rodney.

He blinks. His eyes feel like they're full of sand and his hands are shaking, but for a moment, he thinks, crystal clear, That's not right. He's not here with Ronon and Teyla and Rodney. He was with, he was with, he came out here because – because Dave will be pissed at him. He's got fifteen green marks on the floor, fifteen green bottles standing on the wall, and if one green bottle, and that means two weeks, it means two weeks and he was supposed to go to Virginia, see Dave and Andrea and his nieces who he hasn't seen since Denise wasn't even talking, talking, he should talk, he should tell them what they want because no-one is coming for him, no-one is going to come for him, and he thought he'd die in battle, he thought he'd die fighting but he doesn't want to die like this, he doesn't want to live like this –

The door opens.

There are usually two of them, but today there are three. More is never good. John stands up, ready to fight them off with anything he can use and anything right now is him, his hands, his fists and feet and the sweet move Teyla taught him last time they sparred.

"Sheppard," one of them says. That's not good, they don't know his name, they always call him Lieutenant, because when he has nothing to say he still has to say something but he can't be witty right now, when his brain is fried and he's been awake for fifteen days or maybe not fifteen, maybe less, maybe more except more would probably have, so he gives name rank and serial number, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and they don't know what any of it means, they don't know they're demoting him every time they speak to him.

He shakes his head and the world spins. A merry-go-round, he went on one when he was a kid, sitting in front of his mom and holding on, it was pink and he picked it and Dave refused to go on a pink horse but John wanted to, wanted to go again, tucked in close to his mom's body, and he misses her, she's gone and he misses her.

He blinks and sees her, trapped between the two guards, blinks and can't see anything at all, not real, not real, and they're coming closer, one of them is coming closer. "John, we are here." He needs to blink his ears, because he knows that voice, almost, almost, doesn't know who it is, just, blink, like a rabbit or an elephant, fold his ears down.

She touches his arm and it burns. John screams, throws himself backwards, stumbles over his own feet, hands coming up defensively. "Get away, get away." His voice sounds weird. How long since he said anything? How long in here? Fifteen green marks, fifteen green bottles, concentrate John, come on.

The figure crouches down, her hands out but not touching him. Her eyes are bright, bright, light in the darkness and everyone is a shadow, even John. He watches her eyes. Her eyes are new, no-one else had eyes like that. He wants to check to see if the guards do, but he isn't sure what will happen if he stops looking at her.

"John, do you know who I am?" He shakes his head. He does, he knows her, but he can't remember, he doesn't know who she is but he knows her, knows her, she's not his mom but he knows her, she's important. Safe. "My name is Teyla Emmagan. I belong to your team, and I am your friend. Can you understand me?"

Teyla, Teyla, Teyla, Teyla and Ronon and Rodney, not his team, not now, but they are because SG-4 aren't his, he's borrowing them, or they're borrowing him. "Teyla."

"Yes, John." Her voice is pleased. John reaches for her and she catches his hand. He shakes harder. He wants to weep, but he can't, he's a lieutenant in the Atlantis marines, a lieutenant colonel, the air force, he's something, someone, and he doesn’t cry. "We are here now, but we must go. Can you stand up?"

Yes, is the answer, but John doesn't remember the question. Fifteen green marks and now they're here for him. Someone grabs his shoulders and he tries to wrench away, what if she's not Teyla, what if she's lying, and a low voice says, "It's just me. Relax." Ronon. Dex. Ronon Dex.

"Hurry up."

"Major Lorne, come in please."

"Go right here."

"We are making our way back to you, is the way clear?"

"Is he okay? We should have brought Jennifer with us, I told you this wasn't a good idea."

"She's in the jumper. Nothing she can do here."

"This way. Major Lorne says there are no guards near us, but we must hurry."

"Now you want to hurry. Sure you don't want to stop for another chat with our crazy military leader?"

"Shut up, McKay."

A jumper. Lorne flying a jumper and his team come to rescue him and maybe that shadow is a marine, John loves his marines, he loves his team and this has to be real, has to be real, because he never mentioned Jennifer, he doesn't say Jennifer, he calls her Dr Keller and she calls him Colonel Sheppard and he thinks he knows that figure up ahead, not a marine.

"You got him?" Southern accent, and a hand on his arm for a moment so brief that John doesn't even cry out, just feels it. "He okay?"

"He's alive."

"Good enough for now. Teal'c's gone hunting, he's on his way back." Hunting and Teal'c, which makes this guy Cam Mitchell and what are SG1 doing out in Pegasus? More Ancients in their machinery, ghosts in the machine, Elizabeth in a computer and now she's somewhere else, someone else, but she's still their's, still their first commander.

The air is hot then cold, pressing down on him, cold, cold, and then the jumper is there, reaching out for him and swallowing all of him, swallowing him whole.

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John blinks and he's looking at the ceiling of the jumper.

Blinks and Teyla's looking down at him.

Blinks and Keller is there, speaking, but he doesn't know what she's saying.

Blinks and hears Rodney's voice and Lorne's, both of them raised in irritation, and a jumble of voices, and then he sees Rodney looking down at him.

Blinks and sees walls flashing past. He closes his eyes, confused, and then there's a hand on his arm and a voice saying something that sounds reassuring, even though he can't hear the words and then –

Nothing.

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"- a very wise woman, to whom many of her clan would come for advice. One day, two young women came to the wise woman, and asked for her council. One of the young women wished to journey to other worlds as a warrior, but the other wished to train with the artisans on their own world. The two women were great friends, and did not want to be parted, and so they asked the wise woman what they should do. She told them..."

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"- believe they can be this wrong. Even without access to the data coming out of the SGC – oh. Oh no, that's just... Did they maybe print this equation backwards? In another language? A non-Earth language? Honestly, Sheppard, you could do better. Ronon could do better – hell, Lorne could probably do better with a decent calculator. Oh that is it. That's just – you know, getting printed in here used to be a sign that you were someone with something valuable to say, their standards have really sunk since I left the galaxy and wasn't around to bless them with my brilliance, I'm going to..."

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"- all right, isn't he?"

"It was touch and go for a while, but he's getting much better. Why, worried you'll be left with his job?"

"I've got more than enough to do with my own paperwork, I don't need to end up with the Colonel's as well."

"Don't let anyone else hear you say that. You know everyone thinks you do all of it..."

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"- wants to take me into San Francisco one night. She says she wants to sample the night life. Mitchell keeps telling her no, but I don't think she's listening. I'll have to go with her – Teyla thinks she might get arrested otherwise. Not till you're better though. We could all go. Invite Keller and SG1. Told you I read those stupid memos about building better working relationships. On Sateda..."

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"- doesn't look all right. He looks like he's in a coma."

"He's not in a coma, Colonel, and if you poke him one more time to check, I will throw you out of my infirmary."

"I wasn't going to – okay, but only gently!"

"No-one pokes my patients except me."

"Whatever you say, Doc."

"Oh, for – get out of my infirmary."

"You know, you're a lot scarier than Dr Lam."

"Colonel Mitchell, I believe we should do as Dr Keller requests..."

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John wakes up with the odd sense that he's surrounded by people and not minding it. He feels simultaneously as though he's been sleeping for days and as though he's been running for days without any sleep at all. He thinks, for a second, of the siege, how he pretty much fell over and was dead to the world for two days when he got back to Earth, but this actually feels worse.

There's no way they just went through something like that and he's forgotten, but his memories feel fuzzy, and he's not sure what happened last.

Opening his eyes is much harder than it should be, but worth it: the first thing he sees is Ronon, feet kicked up on John's bed, watching him. "Hey," he says.

John tries for 'hi' in return and makes a sort of strangled sound. He manages to raise an eyebrow instead, verbal shorthand for 'everything okay?' that Ronon knows him well enough to read.

"Everyone's fine." Ronon stands up, raises John's bed a little and holds a cup of water for John to drink from. John doesn't even try to take it – he can see his own hands shaking on top of the sheets. "Got you out without a shot fired." He sounds disappointed.

It's just me. That had been Ronon. In the cell, coming to rescue John, bringing his team and Lorne and Mitchell and Teal'c, Jennifer in the jumper waiting for him.

John has no idea what he was being rescued from.

"Relax." Ronon touches John's shoulder just long enough to get his attention. "You're fine."

John nods, still not ready to try speaking. Fortunately, he's saved from it by Keller hurrying over. She looks annoyed, glaring up at Ronon like the height difference doesn't exist. John realizes, suddenly, that he's in the Atlantis infirmary, not the SGC, and some line of tension he hadn't even felt seeps out of his spine.

"Did I, or did I not, say to call me as soon as he woke up?"

"It's only been a minute," Ronon protests, stepping back.

"As soon as," Keller repeats, but she drops it, her attention focussing on John. "How are you feeling?"

John shakes his head. He doesn't actually know how to describe it, even as memories start to clear up. The wraith attack on Earth, the 302 flight, the city in the bay. Landry had loaned him out to command SG-4, and there'd been... It's right there, and he can't catch it.

"Colonel," Keller says. She smiles when he looks at her. "I'm going to do a few quick tests, and then you can go back to sleep, okay?"

He nods. He's not actually sure he wants to go back to sleep, but just keeping his eyes open is difficult enough. He looks behind her, sees Ronon leaning against the wall of the infirmary, watching him patiently. Maybe sleep will be okay.

"Now look at me," Keller says, sounding amused, and John complies, feeling warmer than he did a moment ago.

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Every time he wakes up, there's someone sitting by his bedside, mostly his team. They tell him about how SG-4 was ambushed, how he was grabbed as they tried to retreat. About the massed force on the gate that meant they couldn't get through to rescue him, and their ships too far out to get back quickly.

"Using the jumper was Teyla's idea," Rodney says, sounding admiring. "Of course, I found us a planet to gate to and fly in from."

"Of course," John says. His voice still sounds weird, but it's getting better.

They explain that the people who captured him were drugging him with a stimulant that kept him from sleeping, induced some kind of hyper-awake state that wore him out faster than a regular stimulant would have.

"You were not yourself when we found you," Teyla says, and John flushes, remembering the brief moment where he'd thought Teyla was his mom. "It was – troubling."

"Sorry," John says.

"It was none of your doing," Teyla says firmly. "We are glad to have you safely back with us."

"How long was I..." John remembers the green marks on the wall. Someone probably has his green pen, and he's not quite ready to start asking around to get it back.

"You were missing for ten days."

Ten days isn't too bad. Pretty close to the fifteen he thought it had been. "Okay. Thanks for coming to get me."

"We would never leave you," Teyla says.

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Keller keeps him in the infirmary for three days, until he can stay awake for a couple of hours at a stretch.

"You are to go back to your quarters and stay there," she says firmly. John doesn't know who taught her that glare, but he's got to get them to teach him, because it works shockingly well. "No trips down to the barracks to check on the marines, no stopping by your office or the control room or the shooting range. Absolutely no trips to the gym, no sparring, and no running. You report to me every morning and evening for blood tests, and if you're good, you can go to the mess or the rec rooms."

"You take all the fun out of being off-duty," John tells her.

"I'm taking shameless advantage of how the city's half-empty," she tells him cheerfully. "I'm hoping I can train you, for when we're back in Pegasus."

Back in Pegasus. The words sound really good.

"You'd be bored if we all behaved."

Keller makes a weird face. "As much as it depresses me, I think you might be right."

John's team show up to walk him to his quarters, and he ignores the way they're all hovering like they expect him to fall over any moment. He's actually feeling much better – his hands have stopped shaking, and most of his memory is clear. It's only after they started drugging him that it all starts to go fuzzy, which he's not complaining too much about. God knows, he's had periods of being captured that he wishes would go this fuzzy.

"Well, and here we are," Rodney says brightly, activating John's door lock. "In you go, Colonel."

Ronon glares at John until he sits on the bed, pushes himself back to lean against the wall. Teyla busies herself making tea, and Rodney hands over a stack of what might be new comic books.

"I still can't get used to being able to hop on a shuttle and just... buy whatever we want," Rodney says. "It doesn't feel right."

"Don't want to spend your ill-gotten gains?" John teases, instead of agreeing with him. His first instinct when Rodney handed over the comics was still to ask who Rodney bribed for them.

"Drink this," Teyla says, handing over a steaming mug. "It will help to raise your energy and dispel the last of the drug from your body."

"Thanks." John accepts the mug and realizes he's the only one who has tea. "Are you – I guess you've got things to do."

Ronon shakes his head. "No-one to run with while you're lazing around." He settles himself at the foot of John's bed and takes one of the comics.

"I too am feeling at something of a loose end," Teyla agrees. "I will make more tea for us all."

They all look at Rodney, who shuffles his feet a little, then sighs. "Fine. I suppose I can let Zelenka run riot in the labs for another day without risking the entire city. Just don't tell him I said that."

"Wouldn't dream of it," John says, instead of, 'thanks.' They none of them really say that, too close to need it spoken, the same way they know without him saying that he doesn't want to be alone just yet, not after all those days in the cell, and then three days of always having someone there when he woke up.

"Would you like to watch a movie?" Teyla asks, handing out mugs of tea. "Jeannie sent me The Chronicles of Narnia on DVD."

"It's a kids' movie," Rodney points out.

"So's Ice Age," Ronon says.

"You promised not to mention that!"

"Didn't."

Teyla rolls her eyes, but she's smiling, and John feels it reflected on his own face. "I will collect the DVD from my quarters."

Rodney and Ronon have devolved into did – didn't before she's even stepped out of the door, so John nudges Ronon with his foot. "Pass my laptop?"

"You're not supposed to be working," Rodney says immediately. "Do you know what Jennifer will do if she knows I let you work?"

"I'm really sure I don't want to know," John assures him. "And I don't want to work."

"What do you want it for then?"

"I need the internet."

"For what?"

"For something that's none of your business?"

"No, no, no, Colonel. If I'm going to suffer through the tales of four children in a magical wardrobe with talking beavers, the least you can do is tell me what you're doing."

"I'm emailing Dave to rearrange visiting him, then booking a flight, if that's all right with you."

"Oh," Rodney says, sounding oddly chagrined, the moment gone suddenly awkward.

"Good idea," Ronon says. He shoves himself to his feet. "Going to make popcorn."

"Not toffee!" Rodney and John say in unison.

"You'll eat what you get," Ronon says over his shoulder, hunting through John's meagre supplies.

"Do you have toffee?" Rodney stage whispers to John.

"No, but I don't think that'll stop Ronon."

"True," Rodney says resignedly, and hands over John's laptop.

Teyla returns as Ronon's shaking the popcorn into a bowl. "Oh, toffee," she says happily, sniffing the air.

"Pegasus thing," John says. Rodney nods sagely, but also takes a huge handful.

The last thing John really remembers is the children waiting to be picked up from the station, but that's okay. He has his team, and he's back on Atlantis, and they came for him. They'll always come for him.

It's more than enough for him to sleep peacefully.


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