blue flamingos

Fade Out to Black

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Category/Rated: Slash, R

Year/Length: 2007/ ~9786 words

Pairing: Laura/Katie

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

Summary: It's like a huge black space in her head where something should be, getting filled with the wrong thing.

Author's Notes: Prompt: amnesia

Beta: Beta'd by the lovely [info]domtheknight.

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

hr

Laura knows something's wrong as soon as she wakes up, and not just because she's obviously in a hospital somewhere. It's like there's a huge blank space in her head where something should be, like reaching for the coffee jar before remembering she threw it away, except she doesn't know what should be there, just that it isn't.

"Ah, you're awake I see." A doctor leans over her, smiling, and the Scottish accent is instantly familiar. She thinks of Sean Connery, James Bond, but it's not quite right. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," she says, without thinking, then realizes she actually is. She can't even feel any bruises, never mind something serious enough to keep her in hospital. She thinks, head wound, before she even knows why. "What happened?"

The doctor makes a face like he's uncomfortable with the question. "I'm sure Rodney will be able to explain it to you when he gets here."

Rodney, Laura thinks, but nothing comes to mind, just more blankness. Maybe it's more like clicking a dead internet link than reaching for something, like trying to access information that's been removed. Rodney, she thinks again, just in case, and that's when she realizes the doctor hasn't introduced himself yet, and he doesn't seem like he'd forget, or not bother. He's watching her with almost friendly concern, while she lies there and doesn't speak.

Laura Cadman, she thinks, with certainty. Lieutenant Laura Cadman, US Marines. She can hear her own voice saying it, other voices.

"Are you sure you're feeling all right, love?" the doctor asks again, frowning at her, and Laura figures she might as well get it over with. At least he might have some good news, like that it's temporary, or she's mistaken.

"Have we met before?" she asks tentatively, and the doctor's face falls. He catches it fast, but Laura's trained to be observant.

"I'm Dr Beckett. Carson," he says, and pats her shoulder. "Can you tell me your own name?"

Even with the face right in front of her, even knowing they've met, there's nothing, not even a flicker of recognition, a sliver of an image or a memory.

"Lieutenant Cadman," she tells him, and he nods, looking relieved. She knows how he feels, filled with relief that, even if she doesn't know the people around her, she knows who she is.

Before he can ask anything else, she hears voices in the corridor – there's no door to the ward, she realizes, which is weird, and not the SGC – and two men in uniforms come striding in, followed a moment later by a smartly dressed woman. The two men look as unfamiliar as the doctor – Beckett, or maybe they're friends and she calls him Carson – but there's something when she looks at the woman; she can feel her mind trying to make a connection that's almost right, like a jigsaw piece that nearly fits

The woman comes over to the side of her bed, the two men staying at the foot. They all look a little relieved, though the man in the black uniform seems cautious, as though he's waiting for more information before he really hits relief. She must have been in some kind of accident.

"Lieutenant Cadman, it's good to see you awake," the woman says with a smile. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, thank you, ma'am," Laura says, because she doesn't look like any kind of military – none of them do, the uniforms unfamiliar – but she's obviously in charge, and apparent memory loss is no excuse for lack of courtesy.

The woman's expression twitches though, and the other man makes a noise of distress, and Laura knows she's got it wrong. She had no idea how people can bluff through something like this; she's not even trying to and she feels like a failure already.

"It's fine to call me Dr Weir," she says, like Laura hasn't done anything odd. "I'm a civilian."

Laura's not sure if it's the name or the little bit of detail, but she gets a sudden image of Dr Weir, wearing a suit and welcoming Laura and a group of other Marines onto the expedition. There's more, she's sure of it, the fragment she remembers just the beginning of a speech, but the image fades out like her TV reception in a storm.

"Lieutenant Cadman?" Dr Weir asks as Dr Beckett says, "Laura?"

She shakes her head. "No, it's – I just remembered the beginning of your welcome address, at the SGC." She feels suddenly uncomfortable, talking to the woman in charge from on her back, and pushes herself upright. "Just the first sentence, then it's..." She gestures helplessly, stuck for the word.

"Oh dear," says the second man. Laura doesn't think he's military either, though the one in black has to be. He's got a look that Laura recognizes from COs in the past, like he's already gone past concerned and into worrying about how he's going to fix it. "That's what I was afraid of."

"Rodney?" Weir asks, frowning at him a little, as though she's trying to shut him up. Laura looks over at him – he's obviously impervious to Weir's frown – but there's nothing, not even the flicker she got with Weir. She's heard of short-term amnesia, but it seems overly precise for her memory to have cut out right in the middle of a speech.

Rodney pulls a small rectangular box from his pocket and holds it out to Dr Weir. It looks a bit like an attack alarm, with a round button on one side and some sort of connection point on the other.

Weir takes it carefully, by the corners so she doesn't touch the button. "This is the device you asked me to look up in the database?" she asks, almost nervously, knowing the answer and not wanting to hear it.

Rodney nods. "Dr Magritte was looking at it when Cadman came by. He had an idea about it being a memory capture device, taking a copy of memories and downloading them into the main unit, which would be just the kind of thing the Ancients would come up with, imagine the value to the –"

"McKay," the other man says sharply.

"Right, sorry. He dropped it, Cadman picked it up. She must have pressed the button by mistake..." He trails off and Laura resists the urge to shake him and demand that he explain what's happened to her, what memory capture devices they've got, and what she's doing in experimental labs that look nothing like Area 51 or the SGC.

"But it didn't copy her memories," Dr Weir says carefully.

"And it didn't take everything either." Laura's thinking of just calling this one the Man in Black, in her head, but it seems kind of disrespectful, even if it is his own fault for not introducing himself.

"No, I know that," McKay says impatiently. "After Cadman, er, passed out, we found something else on the database. It was set up to take some memories, not everything. To, er, delete them, in effect." He doesn't look at Laura as he says this, and she's glad, because she's got no idea what her face must look like. She's used to wacky stuff happening at the SGC, but none of that was so personal. Or so permanent sounding.

"What memories?" she asks, and it comes out a lot more frightened than she would have expected.

McKay looks at the other three, waiting for Weir's nod before answering. "Memories of Atlantis, we think. It might have been used on, maybe prisoners, or spies, to take what they knew and... We thought it was broken, it didn't do anything for Sheppard."

"That's true," the other man, presumably Sheppard, agrees. He smiles briefly at Laura.

"All right," Beckett says firmly. "I think you've upset my patient enough for one afternoon." He pats Laura's shoulder, and she feels oddly reassured. "We'll whiz you through a brain scan, see exactly what Rodney's machine did to you, and then Rodney can work out how to resolve it."

It's only because Laura's looking at him rather than Dr Beckett that she sees Sheppard elbow Rodney firmly into silence. It doesn't make her feel any better.

hr

The scanner is silent and mildly creepy, and she's beginning to realize that whatever Atlantis is, it's not a regular base. The architecture is smoother, the colors cooler, and the uniforms wholly unfamiliar, the apparent color coding not really matching up to the lack of rank markings, leaving her feeling even more adrift. She can't even address her CO by his correct rank; she got the same vague familiarity that she did with Weir, but nothing's connecting this time.

She's taken back to her hospital bed, where she thinks she's being kept more because she literally can't find her way back to her quarters than because there's anything really wrong with her, beyond having forgotten the last couple of years of her life, judging from what she *does* remember. It's unnerving, but the nurse supervising her scan told her a stream of stories about people recovering from worse, so she's feeling almost optimistic.

Optimistic, but glad the ward's empty, so she doesn't have to curb her impulse to grab people and ask if she knows them, particularly since the answer will almost certainly be yes.

There's an office on the other side of the wall, where she can see Beckett looking at her scans, then tapping the earpiece that she recalls Weir, Sheppard and McKay wearing, and saying something she can't hear.

The ward's not all that interesting; it doesn't look very different from the hospitals she does remember, and it's not telling her anything about Atlantis. She's seriously thinking about asking Beckett if she can leave, or at least have a visitor – if she's been here for the two years she's lost, she must have friends – when another man in a black uniform sticks his head round the open door and grins at her.

"Lieutenant Cadman. Still playing hooky, I see."

Laura grins back, because she recognizes him, instantly, and even knowing she's probably lost some memories of him, it's such a relief to feel normal, finally. "Dr Beckett's refusing to let me out," she says.

Something flickers across Major Lorne's face, and she decides maybe she does call Beckett 'Carson' after all. Everyone seems to expect it, at least, though she's not sure any of them really know her well enough to judge. "He likes to keep an eye on people," Lorne says diplomatically, and takes the seat next to her bed. "Probably worried you're going to faint again."

"Well, I did have two years' worth of memories sucked out of my head," Laura points out reasonably. Apparently, the scientists thought – or hoped – she actually had passed out, because she stood up and keeled over. No-one's said it, but she assumes they thought she was having her period and passed out from low blood pressure.

"True," Lorne concedes wryly. "Dr McKay's working on reversing the process, though, and he's usually pretty successful."

"Yes, sir," Laura says, resisting the urge to ask if anything like this had happened before. She can easily imagine how weird it much be to have someone keep asking about things she was there for; almost as weird as it is being expected to remember them.

"So." Lorne leans forward and smiles at her. He's always been good to work with, from the joint missions she remembers their teams taking at the SGC, and Laura's absurdly glad that he's here. "I suppose you might have a few questions?"

"A couple," Laura agrees. Starting with where the hell Atlantis is, and what she apparently signed up for.

hr

Atlantis, and its personnel, and their adventures over two years there – three, counting the year when they lost contact with Earth, which might just be the strangest thing about the whole weird story - keeps them occupied until Beckett reports that, other than the gap in her memory, there's nothing wrong with her and no reason for her to stay.

"Finally!" Laura says, and Lorne laughs, like he's never tried to sneak out of a hospital bed, which Laura knows isn't true because she caught him doing exactly that at the SGC, six months after she joined the SGC, not long after he came back from P3X 403. It pretty much set the tone for the rest of their friendship, which involved a lot of lying for each other to hospital personnel and roughly the same amount of watching each other's backs off world.

"You want to change and I'll walk you to the mess?" he suggests, handing her a bag. She's not that keen on him having been in her room without her, looking through her clothes, though she's sure he's spent time there with her, but she knows how fast news travels on a base and no-one else has been to see her. She's actually beginning to wonder if she has any friends here other than her superior officer, insane as that seems when she's been here two years. Even with attacks from the Wraith, which she can't picture even with Lorne's description, they must have some time to socialize.

It's not until she pulls out a long-sleeved bottle green t-shirt that Laura realizes Lorne hasn't brought her uniform, and she can't believe she didn't make the connection before. She doesn't even remember the way to the mess, she won't be any use as a Marine on the base. Lorne's probably been sent to tell her how long she's got before they decide McKay can't fix her and send her back to Earth.

"Everything all right?" Lorne asks with a frown when she steps round the curtain.

"Sure," Laura says brightly, but she can hear herself not pulling it off and caves before Lorne can ask again. Lying to medical personnel about where she's snuck out to has always come with worrying over her like she's his little sister. Fortunately, he doesn't mind that when goes the other way as well. "When do I get sent back to Earth?"

"What?" Lorne actually stops and stares at her in confusion. "You thought... why would we send you back? Colonel Sheppard just talked the SGC into letting you stay an extra year... unless you want to go. But you should give Dr McKay some time, the Daedalus isn't due for another week."

Laura's too polite to actually interrupt her superior officer when he's being her superior and not her friend, but she does her best to telegraph interruption with her expression until Lorne stops talking and she can say, "No, sir, I just thought..." She gestures at her clothes.

"Oh." Lorne grins, looking kind of embarrassed. "Sorry, I should have explained, I forgot... you're on medical leave until this is sorted out. No firearms, no uniform, no paperwork."

The last at least sounds good – paperwork's bad enough when she knows what she's writing about – and she feels a little embarrassed herself at her freak out. "Do I remember you saying something about dinner?" she asks, and Lorne leads her out of the infirmary.

Atlantis is apparently more than ten thousand years old, but Laura doesn't think she'd be able to tell if she didn't know: everything looks new, shiny and smooth, all muted colors and abstract patterns. She's used to alien technology from the SGC, but this isn't like anything she saw then. It's amazing, and she barely pays attention to the path they take, even knowing that she'll regret it when she tries to find her way later.

The mess is more familiar, and she even recognizes a few faces, remembers them from the SGC and, in a couple of cases, postings before that. No-one gives her a second glance, but she's still glad when Lorne leads the way to an empty table in a corner; she feels too hot, hyper-aware of the fact that these people all know who she is while she can't even pick out who's military and who's not with any confidence. She wonders if this is what being a celebrity feels like.

She's almost finished her pudding cup – butterscotch, which she hates, but Lorne keeps glaring at her when she stops eating – when a voice to her side says, "hi, Laura," softly.

She turns, braced for the same blank feeling when her mind tries to remember something it can't, and instead she's hit with a rush of images in 3D surround-sound: awkward introductions, a drink, tentative kisses outside a hotel room, then Katie, Katie, Katie, stripping her clothes, her soft skin under Laura's hands, gasping her name, over and over.

"-work in Botany," Katie's saying when Laura managers to pull herself out of the rush, amazed that she's not gasping for breath, that no-one's noticed. "I wasn't sure if it would be okay to come over, but Major Lorne's probably busy and I thought you might like someone to show you round a bit."

She trails off, looking nervously from Laura to Lorne and back, and Laura forces herself to get it together. She doesn't know what people know about how much she's lost, and she can hardly ask Katie if she remembers two days spent in bed years ago. Not in front of Lorne, anyway; she decided early on that military friendships were easier if she didn't ask anyone else to keep that secret for her.

"That sounds great," she says, watching Lorne nod from the corner of her eye. "Thank you. Oh, and hey, you want this?"

She holds out the pudding cup, ignoring Lorne's glare, but Katie shakes her head. "I don't really like butterscotch," she says softly, and Laura tries not to shiver at her voice.

hr

Katie gives her a photocopied map of Atlantis before they leave the mess: most of it's shaded out, indicating unsafe or unexplored areas, but she points out the mess, the control room and the living quarters. It's a lot easier for Laura to orient herself as they walk once she's got a picture of the place in her head.

Laura asks questions as they walk, getting Katie to expand on some of what Lorne told her – she got trapped in Dr McKay's head? She's almost grateful to have that one gone – and Katie fills the silences with quiet talk. Laura learns that the scientists have a ladies poker night, to which Laura's specially invited in return for giving self-defense training; that Katie takes classes for her when she's off-world; that she and Katie always go to the base's movie nights together... she stores it all away, but it's like listening to stories about someone else, none of it gelling into a cohesive whole in her head.

The whole time they're walking, she's hyper-aware of Katie, the way she looks at Laura, the way she moves closer or steps back in the transporters, trying to find evidence that there's something between them, left over from those two days in the hotel, of if they're just friends. If Katie even knows that was Laura; if Laura-before-the-amnesia even remembered it was Katie, or if she's only able to make the connection now the rest of the stuff is gone.

She remembers it with vivid clarity: she spent a week's vacation by the beach, went to the gym every day for different classes. She liked the tai chi, except the class was a little beyond her and a young botany PhD student helped her with a couple of poses. They went for coffee after, then for a drink that turned into several, and they didn't leave Laura's hotel room till she had to check out.

They'd agreed, then, when Laura was packing for her flight and still hadn't said what she did for a living, that a relationship on opposite coasts wouldn't work, grinning over holiday flings. Laura finds it hard to match the image of Katie then, her hair pixie cut and dyed black, with her now, but they've both changed physically since then. It's not that hard to believe neither of them made the connection in the chaos she knows moving to a new base brings; they only knew each other by first names anyway.

"Laura?" Katie asks. They're in the botany labs, and Laura realizes she was tuning out on Katie's explanation of the medicinal value of some bright purple flowers.

Katie's standing very close, frowning in concern, and it's on the tip of Laura's tongue to ask, except she's still a Marine. Anyone could walk in right now, and she's not sure loss of memories will be an acceptable excuse for making out with a female scientist on a lab bench.

"Sorry," she says, half-faking a yawn. "I'm kind of tired, do you mind if we finish the tour tomorrow?"

"Of course!" Katie says, flushing. "Do you want me to walk you back to your room?"

"That's okay." Laura taps her map, where Katie's marked Laura's living quarters. "I'll think of it as a test of my new memories."

"Okay," Katie says tentatively. "Shall I – I could come by in the morning and we could go for breakfast?"

"Sure. That'd be good," Laura says, and leaves before she can do something stupid like kiss Katie to see if it triggers any memories for *her*.

She ends up taking a transporter to the residential corridor, because she turned the wrong way out of the labs.

hr

She sleeps badly and wakes up disoriented and confused. She dreamt about Atlantis and the people on the expedition, but she can't tell, awake, if they were real memories or something her subconscious made up from what Katie and Lorne told her. She'd like nothing more than to pull the blankets over her head and go back to sleep, but that's not an option.

She thinks her room feels familiar, but that might just be because the things in it are, and she's always organized her possessions the same way, so it doesn't mean anything when she reaches for her hairbrush and puts her hand right on it.

It's obvious when she and Katie walk into the mess that last night's ordinariness was through oblivion not any kind of blasé attitude to someone forgetting the place they live and work. The noise level drops then goes up again, fast, and she sees people glance at her then look firmly away. She wishes for her uniform because at least then she'd blend in.

"Are you all right?" Katie asks quietly, stepping in front of Laura in the line for cereal.

"Yes," Laura says firmly. She can handle a few looks, and anyway, she thinks she'd probably be looking if this had happened to someone else. It's still a relief when Lorne gestures for them to join him and a couple of officers Laura recognizes.

They greet Katie politely and she smiles back, but she ducks her head as soon as possible, easting her cereal and not making eye contact with them. It doesn't look like there's much division between the scientists and the military, but Laura wonders if maybe she's the only one Katie has much to do with. If that's a sign that Katie remembers her as well.

"Here," Lorne says suddenly, handing over an ear piece like she's seen everyone wearing. "I meant to give you this yesterday, sorry." Laura takes it and clicks through the channels while Lorne explains who uses each, and which she can pick up. "You might as well wear it around Atlantis, saves us having to track you across the city."

Laura fits it over her ear, turned to the general channel, and listens to a voice demanding to know what happened in chemistry lab 2. It's easy to tune it out, just listen for anything that sounds urgent or starts with her name.

Lorne nods. "Colonel Sheppard's getting Dr McKay to brief on what he's found so far in twenty minutes, so you should come, then Dr Beckett wants to see you for a check up. Do you need someone to walk you to Dr Weir's office, or are you all right on your own?"

"I can take you," Katie volunteers quietly. "It's mostly on my way."

Laura calls up a mental image of the map, which indicates that the central area with the stargate and Dr Weir's office isn't really on the way to botany at all, but she doesn't argue. Lorne's slipped into the officer-in-charge mode she recognizes from when he was senior officer on joint missions off-world, and they both have to work harder to maintain the right level of formality when he does that; she suspects that even here she would have carried on avoiding that where she could.

"All right, then. I've got fifteen minutes to make three anthropologists understand why straying into crumbling towers is a bad thing," Lorne says with a wry grin, and leaves, taking Roberts and Matthews with him.

"Do you think McKay will have figured it out?" Laura asks, watching Katie drink the last of her tea, and abandoning her own cereal in favor of the coffee.

"Maybe," Katie says cautiously. "Sometimes he takes a few days, though, so..."

"Don't get my hopes up?" Laura asks.

Katie nods. "But I'm sure he will," she adds confidently, and Laura wonders whether she really believes it.

She doesn't need to be told not to get her hopes up, because she's already started trying to relearn things. Not just how to get around and what they're doing here in the first place, but other stuff, things she doesn't need to do if this is temporary, like who lives where, from the room chart at the end of each corridor. She told herself, staring at it the night before, that it was just something to keep her occupied until this was fixed, but the sick, nervous feeling in her stomach as she walks next to Katie makes her wonder.

They went through the control room the night before, and looked down at the stargate, so some of the shook and awe has worn off. There's a team gathered to the side of the gate when they walk in, and Dr Weir is standing against the balcony, talking to the team leader. Laura reminds herself to ask if she went through the gate other than the time she got merged with Dr McKay, and to request the mission reports if she did.

Katie touches her arm lightly. "If you're free after Dr Beckett checks you out, we could have lunch," she suggests. "Or you could come by the lab. Our laptops are all on the network, so you could... if you wanted to find some stuff about Atlantis."

Laura decides, right then, that even if they never remembered the conference, Katie is undoubtedly her friend, probably one of her best friends. "I'll come and find you in the labs," she promises, then Dr Weir is giving the go-ahead for the team to go through the gate, and ushering Laura into her office.

Dr Weir takes care to refer to Doctors Zelenka and Magritte by name so Laura knows who they are, but beyond that, she might as well not be in the meeting, which boils down to they're working on it, but they've currently got nothing. McKay declares loudly that of course they'll be able to reverse it, don't they always, and it's just a matter of time, but Laura doesn't miss the look Zelenka and Magritte share, which has none of the confidence of McKay's words. She thinks, first time for everything, and keeps quiet.

Eventually, Dr Weir promises to look through the Ancient database for a reversal, calms McKay down, and sends them all away. Colonel Sheppard stops Laura and Lorne on their way to the infirmary, and draws them away to a quieter corner, where he clears his throat, obviously uncomfortable with what he's pulled them away to say.

"You should know," he says, keeping his eyes firmly on Laura, so she knows Lorne's talked to him, "that even if McKay can't reverse this, there's still a place for you on Atlantis. We get new people every couple of months; you'll soon pick it up again."

"Yes, sir," Laura says, and doesn't point out that, even if she relearns things and people and places, she'll still be surrounded by people who remember things about her that she doesn't; that won't ever stop being weird.

Sheppard must pick up some of this, because he says, "Or if you decide you want to go back to Earth, we can arrange that as well. It'll be your decision, if it comes to that."

"No, I want to stay here," Laura says firmly, a little surprised to realize she actually does. Even after less than a day, she knows that Atlantis is amazing, like nothing on Earth or even the Milky Way, and if she asked to stay an extra year, she must have had reasons. She'll just have to find them again.

"Good," Sheppard says, looking pleased, and Laura thinks she probably likes him, even if he's a lot more hands off the commanding side than any other CO she's ever had. She thinks she would be as well if she could make a city light up with her genes, and anyway, she'd rather do this with Lorne than Sheppard any day.

hr

Dr Beckett confirms that her head's not about to explode from the stress of lost memories, and that he can't see evidence of her losing more, which is less than reassuring, since he can't see evidence of her losing the ones she *has* lost either. Lorne's got mission prep with his team, so Laura's left to her own devices. She's most of the way to the labs before she even realises that's where she's going, and then only because a Marine Staff Sergeant she hasn't been re-introduced to steps in front of her.

"Sorry, ma'am, you can't go in there."

Laura doesn't sigh in frustration, though she's tempted – they've been wiped from her mind, not the other way round – and wishes she had some kind of ID on her. They don't seem to bother with that on Atlantis, presumably because everyone already knows each other.

"The labs are off limits to the Marines?" she asks, surprised when he nods.

"Yes, ma'am. Off limits to everyone, Colonel Sheppard's orders."

"Why?"

His face kind of twitches before he gets his expression under control, and Laura suspects this is going to be good. "I'm not allowed to disclose that," he says formally.

"All right." Laura watches him carefully, but she can't see any sign that they have the sort of working relationship where she can persuade him to tell, and even if they did, she probably wouldn't be able to get it out of him. "By the way, I guess you know this already, but I'm Lieutenant Cadman."

"Yes, ma'am." He smiles this time. "Staff Sergeant Rikeman."

"Nice to meet you," Laura says. "I know this is probably a little strange, but do we know each other well?"

"Um, fairly," he says, looking faintly awkward. Laura knows how he feels. "You're in my basketball team in the Atlantis league."

"Really?" Laura asks. She's always been too short for basketball, although she hasn't noticed all that many tall people on Atlantis. "Are we any good?"

Rikeman leans in slightly and grins. "Yes, ma'am, second place right now."

"Who's first?" Laura asks.

"The geologists," Rikeman says with disgust. "They're freakishly tall, ma'am."

Laura laughs. "Well, that won't do at all." She pauses, then figures she'll have to get used to asking some odd questions, at least for a while. "I assume we don't yell ma'am and staff sergeant during the game?"

"No, ma'am," Rikeman says, smiling ruefully. "My name's Adam."

"So, Adam – what exactly are the labs off limits for?" Laura asks. "And bear in mind that I can probably convince Major Lorne to tell me," she adds when Rikeman doesn't seem inclined to do so.

He looks both ways along the corridor, then leans a little closer. "Dr Parrish brought some fern samples back from MX2-5ZY, and it turns out the spores are some sort of soporific. The botanists are all asleep in the middle of the lab." He grins, then sobers up again. "Colonel Sheppard doesn't want to risk anyone else being affected."

Laura thinks of Katie asleep over her lab bench, hair falling over her face, like a science fiction Sleeping Beauty, and her hands twitch with the desire to run her fingers through her hair. "How long till it wears off?"

Rikeman shrugs. "Probably twenty-four hours. Dr Beckett's going to keep them in the infirmary just in case." He puts his hand to his ear, listening to the same message Laura is.

"Okay, I'm gonna go." She's had enough testing for one day, so she's happy to avoid Beckett. "Thanks, Adam."

"Yes, ma'am."

hr

Lorne's still in his pre-mission briefing, and Laura doesn't want everyone listening to her ask over the open channel, so she makes her way down to the control room, hoping to run unto Sheppard. He's leaning against the balcony rail, talking to Dr Weir, presumably about the soporific spores. Laura waits where she knows he'll see her, wondering idly what the third thing in their run of bad luck is going to be.

Sheppard finished up with Weir and comes over to her. "Everything all right, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir." She takes a deep breath and says, "I wanted to ask about my work on Atlantis."

An hour later, she's in her room with a laptop open in front of her, and a list of missions and exercises she was part of on the bed next to her. For the first time since she woke up in the infirmary, she wishes she had more friends on Atlantis, so someone would come and interrupt. She knows Katie or Lorne would have told her if she'd been part of anything terrible, but neither of them knew she was going to look at her own mission reports.

"Don't be such a wimp," she tells herself firmly. "What's the worst that can happen?"

They might remind her of something, she thinks, looking at the list for the mission number. McKay never said the memory loss was permanent. Never said it couldn't be reversed either, but she thinks that a part of her is already resigned to her memories being gone. There's no other reason to be reading through the reports, and she's always been quick to adapt to change. It's what makes her a good Marine, a good member of the SGC.

"Do it," she says, and clicks the first file open.

Two hours later, she knows what the worst that can happen is: she won't recognize anything in the reports, even reading her own phrases.

She keeps going anyway, because she has to know these things that everyone else does, even if she can't remember them; she at least needs to know what questions to ask. Anyway, some of the reports are pretty entertaining. She's pretty sure that in at last one of them, Major Lorne ended up married to a cow – the report doesn't say, but she wrote it, and she knows how to read between her own lines.

She reads until it's too dark to see the list, then shuts down the laptop and goes down to the mess, expecting it to be mostly empty and finding it two thirds full. She hasn't adjusted to Atlantis' increased day length yet. Or readjusted, she supposes.

A glance at her watch tells her Lorne's team will have gone already, and no-one nods to her to join them, so she sits at a corner table by herself. It's a little like the first day of school, except she's never normally had a problem with going up to strangers and talking to them.

She's still poking at her pasta, trying to decide if she really is hungry enough to eat something with a purple sauce, even if it does taste like tomatoes, when a shadow drops over her plate. She looks up to see a small woman with caramel hair, dressed in cammies and a turquoise vest. She smiles kindly at Laura. "May I join you?"

"Sure," Laura says, waving to the four empty seats. "I guess we know each other."

"Not well, but yes, we have met." She twirls her fork neatly in her pasta, but doesn't eat it. "My name is Teyla Emmagan. I am leader of the Athosian people, and a member of Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard's gate team."

"The people of the mainland?" Katie told her a bit about them, but Laura doesn't remember her mentioning one of them working on Atlantis.

"That's correct," Teyla says, eating a mouthful of pasta. Laura figures if she can, Laura can, and scoops up a forkful. "Colonel Sheppard mentioned what happened to you, with the device."

Laura looks down at her plate. "I guess everyone knows now?"

"It is difficult to keep people from knowing things here," Teyla agrees. "He meant no harm in telling me."

"No, I know." And she does, she likes Sheppard, she's just not sure why Teyla's talking to her when she's already said they didn't – don't – know each other well.

They eat in silence for a minute, Laura waiting for Teyla to say something else because she's got nothing. She wonders if Teyla's feeling sorry for her.

"We have been training together," Teyla says abruptly. "A lot of the people from Earth are learning. They call it stick fighting, though the correct term is bantos fighting."

Laura gets a split second flash of sticks spinning in the air but before she can catch it, it resolves into a guy she trained with, showing her eskrima fighting.

"Are you well?" Teyla asks with concern.

"I'm fine," Laura says firmly. "You're teaching me stick fighting?"

"Yes," Teyla says. "Perhaps you would like to try tonight."

"Um." Laura thinks about the reports she hasn't read yet, about Katie in the infirmary, and how good it will feel to do something that doesn't make her feel like she's missing something, or remind her of the blankness where her memories should be. "Sure. That sounds great."

They arrange to meet in the gym in two hours, after Teyla's session with someone else, so Laura has plenty of time to change into her training clothes and drop by the infirmary.

Six beds are occupied with sleeping bodies, the lights dimmed in deference to this. A nurse looks up when Laura walks in. "Are you feeling all right, Lieutenant Cadman?"

"I'm fine," she assures him. "I just wanted to see Dr Brown."

"Of course." He nods to the end of the row of beds. "She's asleep though."

I know, I just wanted to check on her," she says again.

Katie's curled on her side, her back to the rest of the room, one hand tucked in a loose fist under her cheek, breathing softly. Laura perches on the edge of the bed and keeps her own hands carefully in her lap.

"Your timing could be better, you know," she tells Katie softly. "It'll be all your fault if I get beaten up by Teyla and her sticks." Katie doesn't say anything, and Laura looks carefully round the infirmary. The nurse has gone, sitting at a desk in the little office, tapping industriously at a tablet. She resists the urge to lean closer; there's no-one to hear her and she'll only look more obvious if she does. "We're going to talk when you wake up," she promises Katie quietly. "I remembered something, and I think you're going to want to hear it."

Katie shifts slightly in her sleep and Laura wonders if she might be waking up, but she just curls up tighter and goes on sleeping.

Laura sits in the chair by her bed with a magazine open on her knee until it's time to meet Teyla at the gym.

hr

Stick fighting with Teyla isn't easy, because Teyla's freakishly good at it, and smiles when Laura tells her this, but it is fun; Laura's always been good at hand to hand, even if she never gets to use it anywhere but classrooms and gyms, and her sense of rhythm, perfected over years of tap dancing, helps a lot. She doesn't manage to throw Teyla, and she's drenched with sweat and nursing incipient bruises when Teyla touches their foreheads together, but she feels good, can see why she's doing this. She only wonders why it took her two years to start.

An unfamiliar voice says her name in her ear piece as she's walking back to her room and she stops, forcing herself not to look around for the speaker. "Go ahead."

"Request from Colonel Sheppard that you take your appointment with Dr Beckett tomorrow morning and meet with Dr McKay at 1100," the voice says.

"Understood," Laura tells him. He's obviously forgotten that she won't recognize his voice, and she doesn't know whether to call him sir or not. "Any particular reason?"

There's a pause where Laura decides she probably should be saying sir after all, then he says, "Engineering are looking at a late night," and she figures that makes up their three bad things for this week. Maybe that means she'll get good news tomorrow.

"Yes, sir," she says.

"Thank you. Garrow out." That doesn't help any, so Laura spends the next hour scouring a personnel list and trying to at least memorize names and ranks, wishing she had photos to go with them.

hr

The infirmary's empty when Laura gets there the next morning, apart from Beckett in his office making notes. He jumps when she knocks and says, "Good morning, my dear." Laura's not sure, because no-one's saying and it wasn't something she wanted to ask Katie, but she thinks she and Beckett might have gone out at some point, though she doesn't get the impression they still were before the incident. He's sweet enough, in an excessively gentlemanly way, but she can't imagine she wouldn't have gotten bored with him after a while. She always has before, and with people far more exciting than an intergalactic Scottish doctor.

"Morning." She waves a hand at the empty infirmary, feeling oddly awkward without Lorne there to act as a buffer. "Everyone better now?"

"Aye, all awake with no after effects." Beckett taps something to blank his screen and stands up.

"So they're all back at work?" Laura asks. It comes out like an idle query, but she can't help thinking it sounds like an odd thing to ask.

Beckett shakes his head. "No, confined to quarters till tomorrow. Shame the spores didn't come with instructions: do not operate heavy or dangerous machinery for 24 hours after inhalation."

Laura laughs, imagining Katie fighting to be allowed back to her labs; it's already obvious that any excuse will be used by medical to get the scientists to sleep. "No door guards?"

"That was coming next," Beckett assures her with a smile, and pats the scanner bed. "Up you get, my dear."

The scan takes twenty minutes, and Laura closes her eyes, taking a couple of deep breaths, emptying her mind. She still does the yoga exercises she learned in college, the relaxation ones more and more since she joined the SGC. She thinks about asking Teyla if she'd be interested; she's got the same calm Laura remembers from her yoga teacher. Maybe Katie as well, or even Dr Weir – she's a little surprised Atlantis doesn't have this already, if it has a basketball league, and she reminds herself to ask someone who'll know. For all she knows, she already leads a yoga class, though she suspects someone would have mentioned it by now.

The twenty minutes are over in what seems like a lot less time, then Beckett's peering at his screen while Laura fastens her boots again. "Still nothing?" she asks.

"Still nothing," he agrees. "Off you go to Rodney and Colonel Sheppard now, see what they've come up with. I might be seeing you again today."

Laura stares at him, lost, and he adds, "For another scan, if they reverse it."

"Right," Laura agrees, reaching for her ear piece and reattaching it, listening to silence for a minute. "See you later."

hr

Major Lorne's still out, so it's just Laura and the command trio. She knows as soon as she steps into the conference room that this is bad news, even before Dr Weir says, "sit down, Lieutenant." She and Sheppard don't give anything away, but McKay's got the worst poker face she's ever seen, and his whole posture exudes defeat.

She smiled anyway, taking the free seat, and asks, "Is there any news?" They probably all know she's guessed, but she needs the time to force her reaction down.

Dr Weir tells her, soft and apologetic, that they found the device in the database, with a link to a project designed to restore accidentally deleted memories. It was abandoned, she says, not long before the war with the Wraith got serious, because the Ancients couldn't see a way to make it work. McKay's team will work on finishing it, she says, but –

"It's permanent," Laura finishes, and sees genuine distress flash over Colonel Sheppard's face. She snuck a look at some of his reports when she was reading her own, and for a fleeting second, she's grateful it happened to her and not him; she can't imagine having the connection to the city that he seems to have, much less imagine losing the memory of using it. "Okay." It's more of a shock than she would have expected.

There's silence for a minute, before she forces herself to look up in time to see Sheppard nod his head for McKay to leave. Once he's gone, it's easier for her to sit up straight and wait – they're dealing with her as a Marine now, not as a person.

"We want you to stay on Atlantis," Sheppard says. "It's your decision, but we want you here."

"Yes, sir," Laura says easily, because that's never been a real question. "I do, too."

"Good." Sheppard's posture loosens slightly. "Then I'd like to get you back on active duty. You were rostered off today anyway, but you're down to join an escort for a scientific exploration team in the city tomorrow. Report to Captain Garrow at 0800."

"Yes, sir," Laura says again. Everyone there will be new to where they are, and she wonders if she really was rostered on.

Sheppard nods at Weir, who taps the tablet in front of her. "I want you to see Dr Beckett for a scan ever day for another week," she says, "and then we'll review. We're not expecting anything to go wrong, but better safe than sorry."

"Yes, ma'am," Laura says, and thinks that would have been better advice a couple of days ago.

"I'd also like you to make an appointment to see the base psychologist, Dr Heightmeyer," Weir goes on. "This isn't a usual situation, and I think you might benefit from having someone to talk to."

"Yes, ma'am." Laura's never needed to be talked into seeing a psychologist – it's always helped her to be able to say things she'd never say to someone she knows, and be confident no-one will find out. "I'll go today and sign up."

There's more after that, about accessing details of things she was involved in, and not needing to try to get the memories back, and McKay's team is very good... but Laura's desperate to get out, only sitting still because she's had years of practice, and Sheppard eventually picks up on this, dismissing her.

She puts her hand to her ear piece as soon as she's out of sight of the control room. Stops before she activates it, watching her hand tremble and wondering what her voice will sound like, on an open channel where everyone can hear and *know*. She stuffs her hands into her pockets and starts walking instead.

She knocks at the door before she remembers the doorbell crystal, and she's about to touch it when the door slides open. Katie's in jeans and a long sleeved white t-shirt, her hair pulled back and her feet bare. Behind her, Laura can see an open laptop; when she looks back, Katie's face has fallen from welcoming to distressed.

Her hand on Laura's arm is gently, drawing her into the room and sitting her down on the bed. "What happened?" she asks softly.

Laura draws a breath to explain about the failed experiment, what Weir and Sheppard said, but what comes out is, "you went to tai chi classes at a gym by your school when you were finishing up your PhD, and slept with a girl you met there."

Katie's eyes go wide but Laura can't tell what it means. She really hopes she's not making a horrible mistake. "You slept with a girl on holiday, called Laura," she says. "You had black hair, and the two of you agreed it couldn't go anywhere."

"She never said what she did, but she was a Marine. She came with the first Marines after the siege and it was her job to show the new plant scientists around." Katie sounds like she's repeating something – Laura's words, she assumes – but her expression doesn't change. "I recognized you my first day here, but you never said anything, and I didn't want –"

"I remember," Laura says, wondering if saying that will ever feel normal. "I remember now."

"Yeah," Katie agrees quietly, and leans in and kisses her. Laura kisses back immediately, forcing herself not to tangle her hands so tight in Katie's hair that she hurts her, pressing at Katie's mouth until she can slide her tongue over Katie's lips, tasting raspberry lip gloss, then something sweet, like she's been chewing gum.

Katie lets them kiss like that for a few moments, Laura desperate and too hard, before she puts her hands on Laura's shoulders, and carefully pushes her away.

"Sorry," Laura says instantly, feeling her face flush. "Sorry, I shouldn't have..."

Katie kisses her again, softly, until she stops trying to talk. "It's okay," she says. "More than okay," and she's blushing as much as Laura. "I just thought – maybe you wanted to take your boots off first?"

Laura looks down and realizes she's curled her legs up and into Katie's body, her boots catching the corner of the comforter. "Right," she agrees, and takes her ear piece out while she's at it. Nothing ruins the mood like suddenly hearing your CO's voice in your ear.

"Much better," Katie says, and pushes Laura down onto her back, kissing her again almost before her head hits the pillow.

Laura remembers Katie being more passive when they slept together before – not unresponsive, just willing to let Laura lead. She's changed since then, one hand on Laura's cheek, tilting her head so she can slip her tongue into Laura's mouth, the other hand stroking over Laura's breast through her t-shirt and her bra. Laura closes her eyes, tightens her hands on Katie's waist and holds on, just for a while. Just until she knows where she is.

Katie breaks the kiss, plucking at the hem of Laura's shirt. "Take this off?" she asks quietly, and Laura nods, pulling it over her head and taking her sports bra with it. Katie hums softly and ducks her head to mouth Laura's left nipple, her fingers cool as she strokes over the other one. Laura groans a little at the sensation, running one hand over Katie's hair, the other sliding under her shirt to rub against her spine, the soft curve of her back.

"S'nice," Katie murmurs, her breath on the damp skin of Laura's breast making her shiver. Her shirt is soft against Laura's skin when she lowers her head again. Laura slides her hands into the back pockets of Katie's jeans, pressing them together, groping Katie's ass a little, laughing when Katie gasps in surprise; she's always liked it when girlfriends did that to her, usually in public, but it seems to work just as well in bed.

She ducks her head, pressing kisses into Katie's hair until Katie looks up from where she's sucking gently on the side of Laura's breast, then leans in and kisses her again. She remembers liking the way Katie kissed, not quite tentative, but not hard and dirty like some of Laura's lovers. It's sweet, and this time Laura shudders instead of shivering.

Katie's arms go round her immediately, pressing them close. "It's all right," she says quietly.

"Take your shirt off," Laura says, then makes it really difficult by kissing Katie's neck until Katie giggles and pushes her away. "Here."

Laura peels Katie's shirt off for her and slides her hand into Katie's bra as they kiss again, Katie's hands settling on Laura's waist, her fingertips skating up and down, brushing against the waist band of her cammies.

She groans when Laura rubs her nipple between her thumb and forefinger. "Yeah, that's nice," she says, and her voice shoots straight down Laura's spine to her groin. She presses harder, just to hear Katie groan again.

She's always liked women more than men, the way that foreplay is part of sex, the feel of another woman's breasts rubbing against hers, the way touching slides seamlessly, endlessly, into fucking, and Katie's no exception. They seem to touch for hours, hands and mouths sliding over each others' bodies, then she's fumbling at the zipper of Katie's jeans and sliding her fingers over the damp cotton of her underwear like it's just one more way to make her feel good.

Katie gasps and tightens her thighs around Laura's hand. Laura obligingly presses harder, sliding one fingertip under Katie's underwear and over her clit. Katie's hips press down into the movement and her hands still on Laura's spine for a moment, then start again, a little faster, more frantic.

Laura slides her fingers lower, teasing, as Katie grips at her shoulders, tilting her hips again, trying to get Laura's hand in the right place, gasping against Laura's neck. Laura rubs her slowly, letting her fingertip slip inside Katie then out again, until Katie breathes, "please, please," and she slides her finger in, pressing her thumb against Katie's clit, pressing her finger in over and over until Katie shudders on top of her for a drawn out moment before she reaches down and pulls Laura's hand away.

"Mm," she groans into Laura's shoulder and kisses her, hard and deep, her tongue brushing over Laura's. Laura doesn't notice that her cammies are undone and Katie's hand is inside them until Katie's fingers press against her. She wraps her hand around Katie's, moving it where she wants it, and Katie kisses her again, and rubs her fingers in just the right place, and Laura comes, sudden and urgent.

Katie looks down at her while Laura's still catching her breath, her face soft and worried. "They can't undo it?" she asks softly.

Laura shakes her head, the same choked feeling back again, but worse, and she can't stop the rush of things she won't ever get back, all the little things that aren't in mission reports or exercise logs, that no-one remembers but her, that no-one remembers right, and she won't ever even know everything she's forgotten, everything that's missing from her head when her mind reaches for a memory that isn't there.

"Ssh," Katie says quietly. She wraps her arms round Laura, rolls them so Laura's held against her, her face pressed against Katie's shoulder, muffling anything she can't keep quiet.

"Do you think," Laura whispers when her voice no longer trembles. "Do you think I remembered? Before?"

Katie's quiet for a long time, tracing random patterns along Laura's spine. "I thought so," she says finally, hesitant. "I thought, sometimes, that you did, but you didn't want to... that you couldn't do anything about it."

Laura closes her eyes and thinks, Remember, as hard as she can, but there's nothing there. "I do now," she whispers, and hopes Katie knows it's a reassurance.

hr

Katie wakes her up at five thirty the next morning, and they kiss for a long time before Laura manages to drag herself out of bed and back to her quarters. She expects her uniform clothes to be stiff and new, but of course they're not, she's been wearing them for two years now. It's oddly more reassuring than she thought it would be, walking the corridors of Atlantis in her uniform, because at least now she blends in, looks like everyone else, even if she isn't. She passes two Marines who snap out, "morning, ma'am," without breaking stride, and it's easy to greet them in return and keep going. That, at least, hasn't changed, and the scientists she and another two Marines are accompanying are the same: they introduce themselves and then forget all about their guard, engaged in what they're doing until they need something held or moved.

She spends most of the day watching the scientists, but she's still exhausted when she gets back to her room, grateful for the hour she's got to rest before meeting Katie for dinner.

She's changing out of her shirt to take a shower when she notices the box sitting on her desk, and she reaches for the gun she checked back into the armory before she comes to her senses. She's still cautious when she opens it though, half-expecting to hear a voice in her ear reminding her to check for trip-wires.

There isn't a bomb inside, of course. Instead, there's a stack of photos bound with an elastic band, a pile of what look like newsletters and another of hand-labeled files. There's no note or explanation, but she sees her name on the papers, her face on the photos, and suspects Major Lorne's hand somewhere. She doesn't think Katie would have done this.

Katie comes knocking for her, an hour later, and doesn't say anything about Laura's red eyes, or the paper spread around her. They go to dinner instead, and Laura practices greeting people by name.

She doesn't think about two years of a friendship being gone, or what she did then; instead, she focuses on Katie, right beside her, and tries to be grateful for second chances.


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