Kriadydragon (Stealth Dragon)
Category: AU, Gen
Summary: Not all the old myths are myths.
A/N: This is based on a story I read as a kid called the Dream EAter. All myths, legends, and fairytales mentioned are things I've researched, read of, or heard from people who know their stuff. But a few things (such as the dream eater legend) I took some liberties on. There may also be some spelling mistakes concerning some of the myths, and I apologize for that. I posted the story here since attitudes concerning AUs vary so much, and I was nervous for it, so felt it safer to post it in my own journal.
The team kicked through the knee-high grass stirring up thin black clouds of sand-grain sized insects. The field ended not too far ahead at the disconcertingly perfect line of trees. Too perfect according to McKay, but he attributed it to Ancestor intervention, either to prevent soil erosion or to replace an already existing forest that had been destroyed.
For once, it was Colonel Sheppard who was troubled by the oddity. His feelings weren't betrayed in words. Teyla was staring at his back that was rigid, his shoulders knotted, his neck corded. She felt her story-telling wasn't helping, but Rodney and Ronon prodded her along with questions.
“So these Edos,” Rodney said. “Do you think they could be genetically manipulated humans?”
Teyla shook her head. “I do not know. Perhaps, perhaps not. It was said that not even those with my gift could sense them. Some legends say that the wraith did not control them, but that they controlled the wraith. Some stories tell of them existing before the wraith and the Ancestors. Others tell of them being created by the Ancestors to battle the wraith, but that they became angry for having such a singular purpose, and turned on the Ancestors.”
“Go back to the kidnapping thing,” Rodney said, twirling his hand in the air. “Did they kidnap any old age-group or set their sights on children?”
Teyla smiled. “They had no preference.”
“But whoever they took became like them, right?”
“Huh,” Rodney said. “Sounds more like vampires or werewolves.”
“Do such creatures exist?”
“So far, only in this galaxy,” John muttered under his breath.
“Did these Edos leave anything behind after they took someone?” McKay asked.
Teyla shook her head. “Not even footprints.”
“Huh,” Rodney said again. He was being evasive but Teyla already knew where he was going with this. The visitation of his sister had begun a rumor, started by her, that Rodney was a creature known as a 'changeling,' switched at birth by his sylvan parents that they might have a human child instead. Jeannie had meant it as a joke. The real legend circulating among the family of Rodney's mother's side was that Dr. McKay had been blessed by one of the lesser fae. Dr. McKay's father would not abide by such nonsense and had pushed his belief on Rodney. Rodney, however, out of respect for his mother, Teyla supposed, was neither here nor there on whether such creatures as fairies existed.
Even when Miko had confessed, off-handedly, about her cousin being part Kitsune (discovered after growing a fourth tail and forgetting to hide it) and showing everyone a picture of her cousin with all four tails, Rodney still chose to remain skeptical on the existence of elves. Kitsune were spirit beings, not fae, was his argument. Teyla believed McKay was just saying this because of the rumors. But he'd stopped trying to make his argument when he started his own rumor that Sheppard was part elf.
“The ears are proof,” he had said. “If anyone's a changeling, it's him.”
Sheppard hadn't even been angry, just amused, as though it were true but he wasn't about to confess it, or was so far off the mark it was a joke in and of itself.
“The stories agree that the Edos lured their victims to them through dreams,” Teyla continued. “Whether the Edos changed their victims the stories are undecided on. Some tales say they ate those they took, although I believe those stories may have been tainted by wraith legends.”
“Sounds like the Kemmen on Sateda,” Ronon said. “They have a howl that people can't resist. Creates illusions. But they only take one victim at a time. Friend of mine swears on the Ancestors one of his squad was taken by a Kemmen. They heard the howl during the night, then the next day his man was gone.”
“Sounds like the Wendigo,” said Rodney.
“Or a siren,” said John. They crossed the too-perfect tree-line like endless corridors with innumerable directions to choose from. “We should mark our path. It's too easy to get lost in here.”
Ronon nodded once and gouged a mark in one of the trees.
“The facility isn't that far,” Rodney said. “About a quarter of a mile from the field according to the database. So what do these Edos look like?”
Teyla shrugged. “No one knows.”
“Maybe they were like the Vyr,” Ronon replied. “Vyr were like people but with bird-wings on their backs and horns coming our of their heads. They liked to spy on people's dreams, but if they wanted to take someone they'd just come and take them, right out of the air. Our stories can't decide if they took people to save them from the wraith or to eat them before the wraith did.”
Rodney snorted. “I honestly hope your common theme of Pegasus galaxy fairy folk 'eating people' is because the stories keep getting mixed up with wraith legends, because it's really starting to creep me out.”
Ronon gouged at another tree. “None of your fairy people eat humans?”
“Well, if you're talking about sylvans, then no, although sylphs are said to be fairly vicious but that's mostly out of self-defense. Goblins, ogres, hell-hounds, Kelpies sometimes, those are your man-eaters but it depends on who's telling the story.
“Ogres eat people, so do trolls,” John said, gouging at a tree with his own knife. “Goblins just like to scare the snot out of people.”
Rodney looked up from his tablet to narrow his eyes at John. “Says who?”
“Cpl. Heller. His file says he was kidnapped by a 'non-human entity'. I asked him about it and he said he'd been taken by a goblin that hid him in a cave. Cops couldn't find him but their house's Dormovoy did – uh, house guardian, another spirit being.”
McKay chuckled. “That's what Jeannie used as her imaginary friend.”
“You seem to know much concerning these creatures,” Teyla said. She meant it as a compliment but wished she had kept her mouth shut when Rodney leered, nudging his elbow into John's ribs.
“Yes you do indeed, Colonel. Must be an elf thing to retain so much of that kind of knowledge.”
John scowled. “Better an elf than a fairy, McKay.”
“Maybe if you'd just confess I'd stop bringing it up.”
“I'm not an elf, McKay.”
“Uh-huh. I believe the ears say otherwise.”
John rolled his eyes and increased his steps, putting more distance between himself and Rodney. It was the first time Teyla had seen Sheppard become uncomfortable by the matter. It was a brief flicker of a revelation, but enough for Teyla's chest to twinge with guilt. She increased her own steps to catch up with him.
“I am sorry, Colonel, I did not mean what I said as a joke...”
John shook his head. “Don't be. I know you were being honest. McKay just needs to learn when to quit. The whole pointy-ear elf thing is getting kind of old and I'm sick of it.”
Teyla just nodded. Sheppard was unusually tense, the kind of tension that wears a man's patience thin, fast. He was holding both his knife and P-90 with a white-knuckled grip that had the tendons of his wrist pressing against his skin. Teyla placed her hand on his upper arm and felt the muscles flinch. “Colonel Shepard, are you all right?”
John nodded stiffly. “Yeah, it's just this forest... it's weird. Everything about this whole damn planet is weird. I don't like it.” His eyes were focused, sharp, but would suddenly dart like a startled animal all over their surroundings. The only time Teyla had seen John this alert was whenever she sensed the wraith, but she was sensing nothing except for Sheppard's unease.
It did not take long to reach the facility that was nothing more than a squat, square building of rust-proof metal. It was of Ancestor-make with a gene-activated door that slid open at John's proximity. The interior was much like the control room of Atlantis with its glowing consoles and transparent screens. Ronon stayed outside to keep watch while Teyla and John stayed with Rodney who was moving from console to console.
“Make this quick, McKay, I don't want to stay here any longer than we have to.”
McKay seemed thoroughly engrossed in what he was doing, but was a man who knew how to do many things at once. “Please, Colonel, I'll admit the trees are a little weird but it's not that creepy... Ah! Here we go.”
John and Teyla moved over to the console where Rodney was working. Information written in Ancient scrolled across both the transparent screen as well as Rodney's tablet that was translating. McKay held up a finger forestalling any future talking as he skimmed through the translations. A rather manic smile curved his lips, the smile that meant he had discovered something, something big. “Oh yes.”
John stepped closer to peer over Rodney's shoulder. “What? This place everything the database promised and then some?”
“No, it's merely the first step toward what's promised.”
John lifted an eyebrow. “ZPMs?”
“No, but it does involve something that'll probably make you drool for some time.”
John's other eyebrow lifted. “Drones?”
Sheppard's entire being seemed to light up, the discomfort from before completely forgotten. “Where?”
“Somewhere on this planet. But that's not all. This building we're in now is like a welcome center for this world. What I'm looking at is a directory, the rest of the consoles deal with communicating to the different facilities. I'm downloading the info now but we're going to have to come back. There's five different facilities scattered throughout the territory...” Rodney turned to face them wearing a self-satisfied smile. “One of these facilities was devoted souly toward defense – weapons, from guns to biological warfare, although the biological part we're probably going to want to avoid. Still, I'm pretty sure the focus was turned to the easiest way to stop the wraith once the war began.”
John smiled for the first time since stepping onto the planet. “Then I guess it's worth coming back.” It was a strained smile, however.
The debrief was short, the request for a return mission approved by Dr. Weir. After the post mission check, Dr. Beckett joined the team for dinner. Talk of the planet led to talk concerning scary forests and ghost stories. Ronon told them of the Mewlers that were solid black like shadows and would call to people in the voices of loved ones or friends, luring them to cliffs or fast-flowing rivers to die.
“Sounds like the Banshee,” Dr. Beckett said, tapping salt onto his meatloaf. “Well, no, maybe not a banshee. They didn't really lure anyone one to their death, but if you heard their wailing then you knew without a doubt someone was going to die. The Kelpie, that's it. Usually mistaken for a horse. You ride it, it takes you into the sea and drowns you. My mum swears a Kelpie tried to entice my brother out of the front yard once. I don't know if it was an actual kelpie or someone's horse had gotten loose, but me mum thought it was a bit too pretty to be a lost horse.”
“Did it get your brother?” Ronon asked.
“No. My mum stepped out to chase it off and she said it just vanished. She's always been a cautious type when it came to such matters. I once saw a wee fae in the backyard and told my mum about it. She told me to put a nip of sugar into a jar, set it outside, and hide in wait until the little bugger returned. I thought she wanted to see it for herself, then told me to stick it in the closet until it died. I felt it was a bit cruel, so I didn't.”
“I take it your mother was one of those who was afraid her baby would be snatched up by some elf princess,” Rodney said.
Carson shrugged. “She always did take to the darker stories more.”
Sheppard stabbed at his barely dented meatloaf. “You know, it's not like the entire fae society does that. You get a few who think it's okay to take what they want and everyone jumps to the conclusion that the race, in general, is bad.”
Rodney grinned around his fork, then pointed it at John. “You would know.”
Sheppard snorted. “It's a general observation, McKay. If it was common practice to take mortal children then everyone of us earthlings would be changelings.”
“The lad has a point,” Carson said. “Our stories tend not to be too kind to the immortal folk. We don't have enough interaction to discern fact from fiction. Although I wouldn't trust a kelpie as far as I could throw it.” He suddenly leaned forward a little for a peek at John's plate. “That all you're eating, then, Colonel?”
John shrugged. “Not that hungry.”
“Well, you should try to eat more anyways. Nothing happened this time, lad, so you've no reason to be losing your appetite again. I'll not have you going anemic and light-weight on me like the last time.”
John twisted his face in a slight grimace, shifted, then shoveled several more bites of meat and vegetables into his mouth. Beckett nodded curtly. “Better.”
Five teams were deployed to seek out each of the five stations, the weapons facility reserved for Sheppard's team. They went by puddle jumper, carrying extra passengers – Zelenka, Miko, Dr. Hashan, Dr. Leets, Dr. Brians, Lt. Meyers and Sgt. Hayes. The information in the directory had provided a gridded map pointing the way to each facility located in one of the mountains surrounding the valley. They flew over the perfectly arranged forest that Dr. Hashan, a mathematician, was fixated on. He kept having Sheppard pull up schematics and grids measuring the forest's configuration that he claimed was perfect down to .001 centimeters. The other scientists, Dr. McKay included, looked thoroughly impressed. Teyla was not fully familiar with all forms of Earth measurements except for miles, inches, yards, meters, and clicks. Still, what Dr. Hashan said sounded impressive, as well as unsettling. There had to be a purpose behind planting the trees in such meticulous order, but Teyla had come to learn that some purposes were best left unspoken of.
She shifted topics for herself by asking Miko more about her cousin's Kitsune heritage.
“It is on her mother's side, who is not related to us,” she said, “starting with her great, great grandmother who married a kitsune wearing human form. It is not uncommon for spirit beings to fall in love with mortals, but it is rare. It is a strong heritage, not diminished by time or generations. It will remain strong in her children and their children for many generations to come.”
“Aren't kitsune generally tricksters?” Dr. Leets asked. “Not that I'm accusing your cousin of anything...”
Miko just smiled and nodded. “Most play tricks, but only pure kitsune. Her heritage only allows her to change form, although she also has very excellent hearing and smell. While in her fox form, were she to concentrate hard enough, she could fly. The last I spoke with her, she was getting better at it.”
Sheppard's head twitched in her direction, then back to the view-screen. “How far?” he asked.
“Only a few meters off the ground, but she once flew ten miles from her home to the store when her car would not work. When in fox form, she can use illusions to hide herself. It takes much concentration to both fly and hide.”
It did not take long to reach the facility by jumper, no more than a half an hour give or take. The entrance was located at the base facing the valley. It was a round, metal door large enough for a jumper to slip through, and opened automatically when the jumper neared. Sheppard set the ship down in the large hanger and they piled out into the echoing cavern of a chamber.
“Okay, folks,” Sheppard said, cocking his P-90, “let's stick together, and I mean it. No wondering off after that interesting energy signature. We'll have plenty of time to chase down signals to your hearts content.”
The soldiers, Teyla, and Ronon surrounded the scientists as they made their way from the plain metal hanger to the Atlantis-like corridors that lit up as soon as they walked in. The resemblance to Atlantis was lacking the bubbling pillars and stain-glass windows that made Atlantis seem more alive, more open. This facility was too compact and enclosed, the lights too weak, the walls too smooth, the air stale and harshly cool.
Too artificial, it was all too artificial, like a caricature meant to mock rather than glorify.
The moment they entered the first room lighting up with blinking consoles and information scrolling across glass-screen, the scientists scattered to read and download. Teyla found herself drifting closer to John. Out of everyone here, he was the only other person registering any form of discomfort, and in the same way he had the other day with his spine stiff and muscles coiled like an animal catching a scent. She wondered if she should be feel guilty about the relief of not being the only one unsettled.
“Does this place feel odd to you?” she asked. Sheppard's stronger tie to the Ancestors made him more sensitive to their technology. Like Teyla's ability to sense the wraith, if there was something wrong with this place, then John would know.
“In terms of it being creepy or in terms of technology going haywire? Because in terms of being creepy I'll have to agree with you.”
“And in terms of technology?”
John shrugged. “It's kind of hard to explain. It feels different, kind of like...” he perked. “Kind of like the difference between talking to a person to get information or talking to a computer, or an automated voice over the phone. Atlantis would be the person and this place would be the automated voice. It's just... I don't know... has absolutely no personality what so ever.”
Teyla smirked. “And that bothers you?”
“Eh, this whole place bothers me. It's an obsessive-compulsive's dream come true. How much you want to bet all the rooms in this place were placed to form a perfect circle or square or something?” A shudder ran the length of his body. “It's cold in here.”
Maybe it was a trick of the light, but John looked pale, drawn, his gaze sinking inward. Teyla touched his arm lightly. “Col. Sheppard?”
John flinched and the moment was gone, clarity pushing away the vacant expression and color flowing back into his face. He smiled at her. “Beckett's right, I need to eat more. I feel beat.”
Their lunch is MREs and sodas from a cooler, or water. The scientists eat as they work, and everyone else sit out of the way by the door, listening to Lt. Meyers tell of the time he saw a pook.
“It was in the form of a dog, so I didn't think much of it until the thing started yelling at me for coming at it with a stick. The thing cussed worse than a marine. Needless to say, I got blamed for all the trash dumped all over the place.”
John leaned in toward Teyla. “Pooks are ghosts that take animal form. They like getting the living in trouble.”
“They sound like the Moorka,” Teyla said. “Small creatures that will steal a valuable and plant it in the tent of a neighbor just to start a feud.”
“We have the Gen,” said Ronon. “The Unseen ones. They create conflict for their own entertainment. Sateda once had a town protected by a device that kept it hidden from the wraith, but the town was found, and the survivors blamed it on the Gen.”
Lt. Meyers squinted thoughtfully. “How did they know it was the Gen when they couldn't see them?”
“You can sometimes hear them whispering, even feel them walk by you if it's warm enough. The Gen radiate cold.”
Teyla was sitting right next to Sheppard, her arm touching his, and felt another mild tremor vibrate his lean frame. The topic of conversation felt suddenly inappropriate in their surroundings, so she changed it by asking about the creatures known as unicorns. Miko joined them and told them of the Oriental unicorn, the Ki-lin of China and the Kirin of Japan, both deer-like with scales, and the Po that was more horse than deer.
“The American unicorn looks like a horse,” John said. “like a white mustang or Arabian. Very wild. They're good at avoiding people but they're anything but shy like the European unicorn.”
“Didn't know there was such a thing as an American unicorn, sir,” Meyers said, his brown eyes wide, making him look younger than his twenty-five years.
“Yep. American dragon too, but they sleep a lot. You've probably passed one a couple of times driving through the mountains of Utah. Their skin changes to match their surroundings. They're big on minding their own business.”
“You know,” Rodney said, sauntering over and plopping down on John's other side, “it amazes me how much you know about that little hidden world of ours.”
Sheppard balled up his MRE packet. “What can I say except I could have been MENSA.”
Rodney gave him a heavy-lidded, long-suffering expression while tearing open his own packet. “Yes, that's it exactly.”
John gave him a narrowed-eyed, withering look in return but said nothing.
They explored a few more rooms of the facility before finally 'calling it quits' just as evening was settling. Most of the teams had already returned early, making Sheppard's team the last to slip through the gate. They were checked over by Carson, then met with Elizabeth for a quick debrief before being dismissed to sleep. They could have stayed at the facility; in fact Rodney had argued for it, but John had been resolved to the point of being deaf to anything Rodney or the other scientists had to say. Teyla was glad of this. She preferred being able to sleep in her own bed, if not near her people then at least on the same world as them. And though the planet was uncomfortably odd, it was Sheppard's discomfort that troubled her more. The only word to describe his attitude when on that world was spooked: spooked to a level that the relief of leaving that world had left him drained.
Teyla slipped beneath the smooth, soft covers of her bed and was asleep the moment her head touched the pillow.
She wandered the too-perfect rows of trees like endless corridors with an infinite number of directions. It was a maze without walls, and no matter how long she wandered, she still felt as though she had circled back to the place where she had started from. It was twilight, everything gray-blue and black where lines blurred in the distance and shadows were soft, hiding forms that she had to stare at before recognizing what it was.
The wind sighed through the leaves, until Teyla looked up to realize that there was no wind. Whispers skittered around her, tickling her ears and the back of her neck, making the fine hairs stand on end. She spun around trying to find the source only to hear it still behind her. She turned again, then again, the forest spinning, the whispers dancing. Something laughed, sharp and clacking, like fingers brushing cold down her spine. Her heart started to pound and her chest tighten. The whispers smelled her fear and climbed in number, breathing straight into her ear, telling her the most amazing secrets. Too many to keep up with. The fear fled. Teyla breathed deep in wonder at the promises made if she just followed to where the voices led her: better places, safe places, where those who were taken awaited alive and well. So she started walking. Shadows darted in and out of her vision, always in her peripheral, following her, but she paid them no mind.
A shadow barely discernible in the dark flowed toward her, methodical as though with all the time in the world, each step as delicate as though the ground were thin glass. It reached out for her, breathing wonders of those thought lost being just within her reach. She reached out for it. Suddenly, an ink-black ribbon of darkness swam through the air, quick as a water snake, and lashed out with gaping jaws. The shadow-form shrieked in pain and terror, then crumbled to dust sucked in by the triangular shape of the wide-open snout.
Teyla snapped upright and blinked film and the remnants of dreams from her eyes, certain she saw a ribbon of sinewy black slipping through her door. She recognized her room when her eyes finally cleared and adjusted, recalled that she was in her bed on Atlantis, and let out a long breath of relief.
The dream had already started to fade into a misty memory, enough for her to feel safe to return back to sleep. She found this odd. It had been some time since she dreamed dreams that had her bolting awake drenched in sweat and with her heart pounding. The last one had been when the wraith was in the city, haunting her mind, making promises that were terrible and cruel. After it was captured and killed, after the attack by the wraith armada, she had not dreamed of wraith. She had not dreamed of death, destruction, or culls; not since coming to Atlantis. Some of the myths of the Ancestral city had their truths, after all, even if the same couldn't be said of the Ancestors themselves.
Teyla went back to sleep without dreaming.
“Well, Leprechauns are more an Irish legend,” Carson said, sprinkling a reasonable amount of sugar into his coffee. “But my mum always said the whole 'gold at the end of the rainbow' was complete tripe. Whatever treasure they find, they keep. And they don't really dress in cute little green suits – more like coats of moss and ferns. I've heard they're quite primitive, vicious little buggers, but that could just be the ones residing in Scotland. Is that all you're eating, Colonel?”
Teyla looked over at Colonel Sheppard stabbing his fork into his eggs. The food on his tray was more mutilated than eaten. In fact, Teyla wasn't sure if she'd actually seen John's fork lift from the tray to his mouth. And with that realization came others, like how pale he looked, tired, his shoulders bowed.
“You all right, lad?” Carson asked.
John flapped a dismissive hand. “Tired. Bad dreams.”
“Well, that's a first,” Rodney said. “I actually slept like a baby.” Both eyebrows shot upward in surprise. “Hell, I actually slept.”
John gave him a patient smile that didn't reach his eyes, the kind that said 'congratulations, now stop rubbing it in my face.' “Good for you.” He went back to spearing his eggs, then stopped to eat a bite of toast as though merely for the sake of proving everyone wrong.
Immediately after breakfast, the teams were given the go ahead to return to the planet the database called Encory (a recent discovery by Zelenka). Sheppard's flagteam was the first through just as the second jumper was about to descend from the bay. The half-hour flight seemed to do John good as color eventually returned to his face and he was sitting straighter. The tension was back, even more pronounced when they landed in the facility's hangar and disembarked, a nervous tension that kept John's eyes in constant motion. They were exploring more rooms and less databases today, and with each room they rooted through John would stand back, either in a corner or near a wall, like an animal trying to hide and knowing it is about to be cornered. He had yet to say anything beyond giving commands.
They spent all day into the evening searching each room. Rodney came across schematics of the structure that proved Sheppard's comment from yesterday of the place being constructed in a perfectly geometric manner – in this case an octagon that spiraled toward the mountain's peak.
“It's actually the opposite of most facilities we come across,” Rodney said, tapping keys to rotate the schematics. “Instead of everything being located in some basement, what we're looking for is going to be several levels up. Just how many levels, exactly, I have no idea, so don't ask.”
They didn't even get to the transports leading to the second level when Sheppard called a halt for the day. Only when they were back in the jumper and through the gate did John seem back to his normal self, smiling, joking, and bantering. When they were released from the infirmary to have dinner, Sheppard cleaned off most of his tray.
Most of it, not all.
She walked through the labyrinth of trees with the whispers at her back, brushing along her neck and shoulders. Her father remained several steps ahead half-hidden in twilight shadows. He was taking her someplace special today; someplace wonderful.
“Tell me of the city, daughter,” he said as they walked. “Tell me of the palace of the Ancestors.”
Where to begin? “It is so beautiful, father.”
“Are the legends true? Can the city fly?”
“Once it had the means,” Teyla said. “Now, I do not know.” What she did know was that power was needed, more power than they had.
“And the Ancestors?” Tagan asked. “What of them? Are they as the stories tell?”
Teyla smiled as though she were the parent and her father was the child. “They are are not the Ancestors, father.” They are better, even with their faults. It made her sad, sometimes, having ever meant an Ancestor. It was not that they were no better than most humans, but that, sometimes, they seemed much worse. Their whims, their needs, their goals were all that mattered. At least the earth-lanteans took responsibility for their mistakes. Most of the Ancestors seemed not to even see their mistakes.
“Show me, Teyla,” said Tagan. “Show me the city with your mind.”
Teyla took a breath to speak the thoughts about to pour from her mind. The forest wavered like heated air.
A flowing ribbon of darkness wound through the trees straight at Tagan. Her father halted and his image shivered, darkened, and screamed a sound that was more animal than human. His form broke into granules of black sand sucked into the fanged-jaws of the shadow beast.
Teyla wailed out of sorrow, then terror, then pain.
Her eyes snapped open to blue-black darkness and something slipping like oil through her open door. It vanished and the door hissed shut before her eyes had a chance to clear. A part of her prodded questioningly at why she wasn't scared. She was too tired to dwell on it, too tired to even recall the dream, so slipped back to sleep.
She dreamed of her father on Athos, sitting before a fire. She was a small child in his lap, wrapped in a quilt and safe in his arms.
“Tell me a story, father.”
Tagan smiled, took a deep breath, and told her of the city in the clouds where the old ones walked, and warriors had wings.
Colonel Sheppard wasn't at breakfast and, according to Ronon, had not showed up for their morning run, and now Carson arrived late.
“Looks like you'll be minus one team leader today,” he said, setting his tray down.
Teyla stiffened. “Is Colonel Sheppard all right?”
Beckett's mouth twisted ruefully. “He is and he isn't.”
“Which makes absolutely no sense,” Rodney snapped.
“Because you didn't give me a chance to finish, ya daft bugger. Ronon spilled the beans that the colonel hadn't been up at his usual hour. I took the liberty of trying to contact him, and when he didn't answer I went to check on him. The lad was so bloody exhausted he could barely lift his head, and from the smell of his breath I think he's been vomiting. Probably something he ate seeing as how he doesn't have a fever. Running blood work didn't reveal much, though. A few days rest should clear things up so long as his condition doesn't decline.”
“So it's another stint in the infirmary for him,” Rodney said. “He must be loving that.”
“Since it wasn't serious I let him stay in his room. No sense for all the fuss until there's something more to fuss over. He does better in his quarters anyhow.”
Teyla's immediate reaction was a desire to check on John herself, but they had to leave in a few minutes. Major Lorne was assigned their pilot after Elizabeth told them in fewer words that Sheppard would not be able to join them. It was the first time Teyla was actually glad for this. It wasn't right that John was sick, but neither was him having to go back to that planet. That world was doing something to him and that made Teyla nervous. She hoped his illness was not connected in some way.
Their next journey to the facility turned up better results. They found a chamber with drones, twenty out of what should have been thousands, but they would take what they could get, although not today. A second jumper would accompany them tomorrow to transport the drones safely. For today, they were through.
Teyla was surprised to see John at the debrief. He was a little pale, but other than that seemed perfectly fine. After the meeting, he followed his team to the mess hall for dinner.
“I only puked twice,” he said. “A little nap and I felt great enough for a light lunch.”
“Please spare us the details on the puking,” McKay said. They entered the crowded mess and drifted to the line reaching almost to the door. “But what was for lunch?”
“Reheated tuna-noodle casserole,” John replied. “And pudding.”
Rodney stuck his hands into his pockets and rocked on his heels. “Well, glad to hear I didn't miss much, then.”
The moment they sat, John pulled a small bundle wrapped in cloth and tossed it onto the table. “Made you guys a little something during my downtime.”
Rodney snatched the bundle before anyone else had a chance to and flipped it open. Inside were three palm-sized metal rings wrapped in yarn, trailing leather ropes with feathers and beads, with string weaved into a web in the center.
“You made us dream-catchers?” Rodney said, both bewildered and amused.
John shrugged. “Yeah, that anthropologist gal helped me. Christy Redfeather.”
Teyla took the dream-catcher with the blue yarn and held it up. She recognized the beads as Athosian make: various shades of brown, red, and black with cream or white whorls. “She is the one who told me of the skin-walkers.”
“Shape-shifters?” Rodney asked.
“More like wicked sorcerers,” said John, “who get their kicks out of making people miserable. They like curses, killing crops and spreading diseases and stuff. They wear animals skins, but I think they can also change their form. Make sure to hang those near your bed.”
“Why?” Rodney said. “The Sandman in a pissy mood?”
John's smile weakened a little. “Something like that.”
Sheppard was sick again the next day.
“I can't bloody-well explain it,” Carson said during breakfast. “It might be stress related or an allergic reaction. Seeing as how no one else has gotten sick I can't keep blaming it on food-poisoning.”
Teyla stopped by John's quarters before it was time for them to depart. His room was dark, like late dusk, with soft light veiled by gauzy curtains. John was curled up in his bed with the blanket bunched below his shoulders. Teyla knelt to be at eye level with him and brushed his hair back as a gentle alert to her presence. His face seemed gray in the pale light from the windows, his eyes sunken and bruised. He took a deep breath, stirring, and Teyla snatched her hand back since she knew he wouldn't be comfortable with the contact.
John's eyes opened with effort. “Hey Teyla,” he croaked.
Teyla smiled. “Colonel.”
Sheppard shifted in a stretch, grimacing, then sagging boneless as though exhausted. “Don't you have a mission you need to be on?”
Teyla forced her smile to stay though concern tied her stomach into knots. “Soon. I thought I would visit you first and see how you were doing.”
John lifted a hand and flopped it back onto the bed. “Less crappy than this morning. I'll probably feel better later.”
Teyla rested her chin on the mattress, ignoring the faint sour-scent of old vomit every time John exhaled. “Carson does not understand what is wrong.”
The colonel shrugged indifferently. “Sometimes it takes a while to diagnose someone.”
“And you are not worried?”
John shook his head. “Not yet.”
Teyla furrowed her brow thoughtfully. “John... is it the planet? Could the planet be responsible?”
“I don't see how. I'm the only one who's sick.”
He had a point, but Teyla did not buy it. It had to be that planet. John had not been feeling poorly until they started visiting that world. Teyla opened her mouth to say as much when her com crackled and Lorne's voice sounded over the line, calling the team to meet in the jumper bay. Teyla snapped her mouth shut and smiled wanly at John. “I must go, now, Colonel. I will visit you again when I return.”
Teyla rose and was just turning to leave when a weak grasp around her wrist stopped her. She looked down at John who had lifted his head off the pillow.
Teyla just stared at him and the fear he didn't try to hide. It was all that she was aware of until Lorne's voice finally broke through, repeating her name.
“I am coming, Major,” she replied. “I will see you later, John.”
They were not at the facility long. The database was difficult to root through, every new download of information only partially complete. Each room was a separate lab devoted to one particular aspect of whatever weapon or chemical was being created. Like an assembly line, Rodney explained. The casing for a drone would be made in one room, then taken to another room for the inner workings of the drone to be added. So if they wanted the information concerning the drone's inner workings, then they had to go to another room.
Except the information wasn't there.
“Probably erased to keep the wraith from getting it,” Rodney surmised. They settled for gathering the directions on making a corrosive chemical compound that could eat through anything except for the special containment cylinders found only in the facility.
They returned home well before dinner, but according to Carson, Sheppard was out for the rest of the day.
“Hes' doing better though,” Beckett assured them as he checked their vitals and took blood samples. “He was able to eat a wee bit and got a bit of color back to his skin. He might be up and about around this time tomorrow.”
Dr. Beckett was only half right. Teyla walked into the control room after hearing that the mission had been canceled for the day due a security matter that occurred in the night. She was called to the conference room instead, where Elizabeth, Rodney, Lorne, Ronon, Carson and Col. Sheppard were already seated. Teyla did a double-take at seeing John, who was anything but better. His face still had that gray pallor with sunken eyes, his shoulders were sagging, his back was stooped and his constant, ever-ready tension was gone. But his eyes were clear, focused, which seemed an odd contrast to the rest of him, as though his eyes were in the wrong body. She was surprised, even a little irritated, that Carson had not sent John back to his quarters. But knowing John, when there was a threat to the city, his health came in second and there would be no dissuading him otherwise.
Teyla sat next to him.
“Sometime after Midnight,” Dr. Weir began, “Dr. Addison of Stackhouse's team came into the control room with a gun and attempted to dial out. She only managed to dial two chevrons before she was stunned. She woke up this morning with no recollection of what she had done or where she was trying to go. Dr. Heightmeyer is talking with her now so maybe we'll be able to learn more. Until then, all off-world missions are suspended until tomorrow.”
Rodney stiffened and shifted, looking ready to argue but didn't. It had to be admitted, even by him, that tomorrow was a reasonable length of time. His impatience, however, practically vibrated the air.
“We'll also need double the security at the control room,” John said. “And for the night crew to be armed with stunners.”
“Could Dr. Addison's action have something to do with the planet?” said Teyla. The words came to her automatically as though she had been waiting to say them for some time. Maybe she had been. John's illness and Dr. Addisons' actions were odd, but what she found even more strange was how badly she wanted that planet to be the cause. It seemed almost childish, like the time she wanted to pin the blame of her doll going missing on the girl who everyone thought was so wonderful, so perfect, just to give her faults and not feel ashamed in her presence. But no one had believed her.
Those days, however, were buried far in the past.
“No one else has been acting strange,” Rodney said.
“Yeah, well,” said John, “that nano-virus didn't hit everyone at once, either. And please don't make me bring up the Lucius incident again.”
Everyone grimaced or cringed. Teyla felt a swell of relief and gratitude at John's support.
“Fine,”Rodney irately conceded, “let's say it is the planet. What do we do about it, then?” He stabbed his finger into the table-top. “We can't stop going just because one person decided to blow a mental gasket. There's too much valuable information to abandon - ”
“We're not, Rodney,” Elizabeth said, leaning forward. “What we are going to do is consider the possibility and investigate it. We'll send a team in hazmat gear tomorrow, let them check out the facility and the rooms Stackehouse's team entered.”
“And I'll run a full diagnostic on the team,” said Beckett. “See if I can catch any anomalies.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Good idea.”
The meeting was adjourned. Sheppard's team escorted him back to his room so he could rest. When evening came, he joined them for dinner looking less gray but still worn and tired.
“Maybe this galaxy has sirens,” Rodney said after collecting his tray. They picked a table out on the balcony to watch the sky fade into starry twilight.
“Sirens?” Teyla said, slipping into the seat next to John. “People... with bird bodies?” She recalled someone having mentioned them: the man from a country called Greece.
“The body of a bird and head of a woman,” John said. “They had these singing voices that would lure sailors to the rocks. The sailors would crash their ships and the sirens would eat them.”
Ronon smirked ferally. “So you do have man-eating fairy people.”
John grinned back. “They're not fairies. Just good old fashioned, hide-under-your-bed, man-eating monsters. I know Carson has a copy of The Odessy since I borrowed it once. You should ask him for it, Teyla. It's kind of hard to read but it's got a nice collection of immortals you can learn about. My personal favorite are the Eumenides... except they aren't in The Odessy, so never mind.”
Teyla scrunched her brow. “The... what?”
“Three furies,” Rodney replied around a mouth full of pasta. “Three women who give new meaning to the term 'bitchy'.”
“They're all about justice,” John said. “Although it verges on incredibly vengeful and nasty. You wouldn't want to run into one in a dark alley at night, even if you didn't do anything wrong. They'd make a wraith cry.” He swirled spaghetti onto his fork only to let it slide off. “You know, I'm not really that hungry. I think I'll turn in.” He started to rise.
Teyla placed her hand on his arm. “John?” But she didn't know what to say, what to ask. They'd already had the discussion of what was wrong with him, and since Carson didn't have an answer then neither would Sheppard.
Except Teyla wasn't so sure. John seemed so calm despite everything being so wrong. He smiled at her like a patient but weary parent.
“I'm just tired.” Then he left.
Teyla looked over at Rodney who gave her an irritated but helpless expression, followed by a shrug. “Maybe he is just tired.” It was a poor attempt at assurance, and Teyla would have appreciated it, but worry was tipping toward fear, making it difficult to appreciate anything.