A/N: I apologize for the delay. Damn writer's block has been acting up a bit. I'll try my damndest to be better with the updates. Also, I'd like to take this moment to thank miera_c for a kickass job on beta'ing. :P
Elizabeth settled back against the passenger seat, further shielding her eyes from the morning sunlight by dropping the visor into place. John stepped out of the motel lobby and got in to the driver’s seat. His hands skimmed the steering wheel before he turned the ignition, and she raised an eyebrow when the first thing he did after starting up the car was slide in a CD.
“Can’t go wrong with the classics.”
He flashed a smirk that swiftly cast her mind back to their first conversation together - the one that had been set thousands of feet in the air up in his rusty old plane. She’d been different then, professional, cool, and utterly oblivious to the fact that John Sheppard was more central to her plans than even she realized. The entire time, he‘d been flirting with her like crazy.
Now here she was, nursing feelings and memories from a night that never existed for him. It was almost comical, but in a way the roles had been reversed.
Elizabeth glanced away from him to the dashboard. “We should stop to fill up the gas before we hit the highway.”
“You always do that?
He paused, eyeing her, then shook his head. “Never mind.”
“No, now you’ve got my curiosity peaked.”
He shrugged. “You drift off and… I don’t know, your mind goes somewhere else. It makes me think…”
“Honestly?“ John replied with arched eyebrow. “It makes me think you’re trying to read my mind.”
Elizabeth stiffened. “I would’t do that. Not without express consent.”
“I know,” John offered. “I figured as much, but I just wanted to make sure you don’t go messing around in here.” He tapped his forehead. “Trust me, you really don’t want to know what’s going on in my head.”
Elizabeth nodded. “You don‘t have to worry about that,” she insisted. “Unless we’re talking extreme circumstances--”
“No,” John cut in, voice steeling. “Not even in extreme circumstances. Never. No exceptions. You don’t go messing around in my head, got it?” He dropped his tense shoulders and took a breath. “Look, I don’t mean to be an ass about this, but it’s important.”
Elizabeth paused, eyeing him. “Okay.”
Awkward silence settled in, and a few minutes later, he pulled the sedan into an empty gas station and turned the ignition off. Her eyes followed him as he swung the door open and rounded the front end, headed into the convenience store to pay cash. Elizabeth glanced around the interior of the car for a few moments, then popped open the glove compartment. Inside, a pile of crumbled paperwork rested half on top of his 9mm. She glanced toward the store, spotting the mess of spiky hair at the register as she quietly palmed the gun in her hand.
The feel of it was heavy, but not as much as her own Glock. She'd never liked guns, hated their singular use. They were blunt, tactless, and Elizabeth had always been of the mind that such force should be the last resort of any situation. As an FBI agent, though, it was just one of the many things she had compromised over to do her job. She was, if nothing else, willing to do everything in her power to do her best.
None of which had changed her feelings, but John? John’s feelings regarding guns and violence went another route. She had disconcerting proof of it in the memory of his vicious killings on board the Nautical. The recollection of the night Rodney died made her shiver, and she tried to block out the various horrifying imageries and sensations it inspired, one of which included being trapped in a darkened room while John violently dispensed with one man after another.
He had shown no remorse. No hesitation. No mercy.
As much as she wanted desperately to trust John, she knew just how deadly and dangerous a part of him could be. She’d seen his level of control over the homicidal rage hidden underneath his skin, and granted, it had been impressive. But that was from a man that was over two years older (and from a different reality), and God, those were based on her fragmented memories. Who knew their reliability?
She placed the gun back in the glove box and closed the lid. When John returned and stepped in between her door and the pump, she rolled down her window. “In the interest of getting something out of the way,” Elizabeth said as she slipped her sunglasses off, “those men back there in the hanger that attacked us? Was it…” she hesitated for a split second, trying to find a diplomatic way of saying it.
John saved her the trouble. “Was it all self-defense, or was my alter ego just having way too much fun?”
She hid a flinch, but there it was.
He tapped the grade level button and detached the nozzle. He kept his gaze away from her. “If I said both?”
“Then I’d say at least you’re being honest.”
He tossed her a look over his shoulder, eyebrow quirked as he moved to fill the tank. “That wouldn’t scare you?”
“What? Your alter ego? Or you being honest?”
His lips twitched upward. “If I said both?” She rolled her eyes and he continued, squinting against the sun as he focused on something in the distance over the top of the car. “Truth is, I‘m not safe to be around sometimes.”
Elizabeth watched him for a second, and then said almost conversationally, “You know, there was a seven year old girl I met once in Greenville, North Carolina that could talk like the Chipmunks.”
John stared at her for a second. “What?”
“She could mimic sound,” Elizabeth clarified. “I mean, any sound you could think of, she could duplicate. That was her mutation. Her favorite thing to do was to talk like the Chipmunks. The cartoon Chipmunks. You know, in that really high-pitched voice?”
John leaned against the top of the car, elbow bent as he loomed over her window. His proximity instantly raised her awareness of him, and the aroma of his aftershave conjured up other memories of when he‘d been so nearby - closer, even - but she beat back the rush of emotion.
He raised an eyebrow, and then played along with her story. “That must have been cute.”
“It was,” she agreed, recovering. “She was. Sweet little girl. And one day she sees this opera singer on the T.V. shatter glass with her voice. She decides to try and succeeds. She goes higher, and higher, and higher, and then she runs to tell her mother and finds her collapsed in the kitchen. Her voice went so high it had ruptured the blood capillaries in her mother’s brain.” Elizabeth paused briefly, remembering the image of the girl‘s tear-stained and guilt-stricken face. “Cerebral aneurysm. That little girl watched her mother die.”
John slowly pushed off the car. “Well… that’s a depressing story.”
“I’ve done this job for nearly five years, and I’ve met hundreds of mutants. In that time, not one of them - not one - ever thought they were safe to be around.” She waited a beat, holding his gaze. “Not even a seven-year old girl that liked to talk like the Chipmunks.”
John nodded slowly. “So the moral of this story is--”
“You may not believe it,” Elizabeth cut in, voice unwavering as she put her sunglasses back on. “But you’re not alone, John. None of us are.”
Two hours on the road and another twenty-five minutes later left them wandering the UCLA campus near a large lecture hall on the southwest wing. Elizabeth pushed open the heavy doors, her heels rapping against the stone floor as she passed the archway and into a white-walled corridor. The building was antiquated, with a dome ceiling in the center and wide open hallways that boasted a large crowd of students milling about. John entered the building behind her, and as she stopped and set her gaze upon the students, Elizabeth struggled to maintain composure. To anybody else, it was just a hallway full of young kids in between classes; cell phones in hand, backpacks kicked to the floor, groups of people hanging out in small cliques as conversions ebbed and flowed.
To Elizabeth, the congestion was something else entirely.
I should probably wear that bla—
I can’t believe I failed the last test. This is gonna pull my average—
Bio in an hour and then I can run afterwar--
God, I’m hungry—
“Elizabeth,” John’s voice cut in. “Did you hear me?”
Elizabeth snapped her head up. “What?”
John paused, staring at her worriedly. “You all right?”
The voices continued to blend and whirl inside Elizabeth’s head, but she forced a deep breath and tried her best to block them out. It wasn’t easy, but slowly with concentration the sounds faded into the background, to mere whispers.
She really hated crowds, and today her telepathy was off more than usual. She normally didn’t have this much of a problem, but it was obvious the impact of Chaya’s assault was still playing havoc with her head. Everything was just a little too intense, a little too loud, a little too much.
“I’m fine,” Elizabeth said. “Room 200, right?”
She brushed past him without waiting for a response. When they finally found the right room, they entered through the back of the lecture hall, which was full to the brim of hushed undergraduates lining the curved rows.
In the front, standing on the lone platform, was Daniel.
The sight of her brother immediately tugged at something within her. He had changed over the years – gone were the sweater vest and wide-rimmed glasses. He had gained weight but most of it was apparently muscle. There was a fashionable suede jacket shrugged over his shoulders, and his floppy mess of hair had been cut into a short crop. She came in expecting to find the same man she had known a decade ago, but the sight that greeted her was barely recognizable.
Where was her dorky half-brother?
“For administrative purposes.” Oblivious to her presence, Daniel continued to lecture. He rested an elbow on the podium. “Ancient Egypt was divided into district or nomes, colloquially called sepat. These subdivisions could be traced back to the Predynastic Period before 3100 BC, when nomes originally existed as autonomous city or states. They remained in place for well over three millennia---”
Wait, did he say sepat or sepert?
We should have saved the notes from last semester—
Elizabeth closed her eyes and again forced the voices back, forced them to recede into something more manageable before they grew in fervor. She knew what it was like to have a hundred voices in her head, all tangling and vying for dominancy. That was what had landed her in a psyche ward before, incarcerated for four years in a padded white room that did nothing to keep the voices out.
Hey, I should pass this on to Sandra—
Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep--
Egyptian nomes. How do you spell that? With a K--
Below them, Elizabeth didn’t even notice that Daniel was suddenly having problems controlling his own telepathy.
“Uh,” Daniel stumbled, losing his train of thought. “The nomes numbered in, ah, 42. Twenty comprising the lower region.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, concentrating with effort, and repeated, “Twenty in the lower region, and twenty-two in upper Egypt.”
John pressed closer to her, whispering in a low voice. “What’s going on?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Our telepathy,” she tried, head cradled in her hand as she warded off the beginnings of a headache, “it becomes amplified when we’re in close prox--”
Daniel broke off his lecture and snapped his head upwards, eyes honing in on her like an eagle. It didn’t matter that she stood at the far end of the auditorium, separated from him by hundreds of students across a large space. They might as well have been the only two people present in the entire room. The awareness was instantaneous and overwhelming, gazes locked, and a moment of blissful silence sank in as they acknowledged each other.
… And then the two threads of telepathy latched onto each other, twisting into a spiral cord and augmenting the voices in her head a thousand fold.
The voices grew to screams.
The connection damn near buckled her knees, and it was only because John was right behind her and quickly caught her around the waist that she managed to stay standing. She closed her eyes, colors dancing across her vision and leaned back heavily. John’s arms encircled her waist and he tried to talk to her, but the other voices drowned him out. The connection, the utter awareness of everything in the room - from the number of students sitting in the third row to the faucet dripping water in the restroom down the corridor to the flutter of confusion that swept through the crowd at Daniel’s abrupt break in narrative – all of it rolled through her mind in an unstoppable wave before she was able to regain control.
By the time she had managed to push off from John’s support, Daniel struggled with his own disorientation and regrouped. He quickly dismissed the class. The throngs of students gathered their belongings and Elizabeth dropped heavily into one of the back seats, grateful to avoid the brush of physical contact with the large numbers making their mass exodus.
John slipped into a seat beside her, his brow creased in concern and frustration. “Your telepathy increases around his? You just forget to tell me that on the two-hour drive over here?”
It was a sour subject with Elizabeth. After all, while they both shared the same strain of mutation, Daniel had mastered his telepathic ability in mere months while it had taken years for Elizabeth to parse the voices in her head. She spent the first four years of her mutant life in a mental institution because of that, and during that time, her brother had managed to scrape together his existence again with his dignity and mental composure intact. Unlike her.
Because of the complications of their dual telepathy, he had never been able to help her through the most difficult time in her entire life. He had walked away. He couldn’t have afforded the risk, not without dragging both of them back into padded white rooms. She knew that was true.
But ten years later, in her heart of hearts Elizabeth still hadn’t forgiven him for that abandonment. Justified or not, it had stung Elizabeth in a way she had never recovered from. They had never recovered from it, and now she was at the point where she barely recognized her own brother.
She shrugged, and tried to match her voice to her answer. “I can handle it,” she said, turning back to John. “The disorientation will pass.”
John threw her a disbelieving look.
The last of the students made their way out of the large auditorium and Elizabeth risked eye contact with Daniel again. Both of their mental wards were in place now, but the tug of uncontrollable power made Elizabeth wince.
The strain these last few days had forced on her was nothing in comparison to the tension of being reunited with this man.
“You gonna say something or what?” John asked her. “I can leave you two alone-”
“No,” Elizabeth cut in, quickly. She cleared her throat and tried again with more composure, rising from her seat. “No, there’s no need.”
As she slowly descended down the steps of the auditorium, Elizabeth’s gaze was fixed on Daniel as he stood rooted in his spot. He was clearly thrown by her sudden appearance, shock momentarily paralyzing him in a way that Elizabeth understood all too well.
“Daniel,” she greeted, when she finally reached the bottom step. She walked onto the platform and tried for a faint smile. “I know it’s been a long time.”
After a hesitation, Daniel finally recovered. “Yeah,” he replied, brow knit together into a little crease at the bridge of his nose. “Long time.”
There was pregnant pause that followed as their gazes held, and while combined they knew over thirty languages and had advanced degrees in four different fields, all the linguistic skills in the world seemed useless in helping them find the right words. Or any words, for that matter. Daniel tugged uncomfortably at the cuffs of his shirt, and his eyes fell to the stack of papers set aside on his podium. Elizabeth watched as he reached for the distraction and shuffled the loose leaves of paper together in his hands, quietly settling them into his briefcase.
She recognized his nervous quirks so easily, even after all these years. At least that much hadn’t changed.
John came up behind her. He glanced between the two, rocking on his heels and lifting his eyebrows suggestively to Elizabeth.
“You, ah,” Elizabeth cleared her throat, “you look different.”
“So do you,” Daniel offered, snapping his briefcase shut. “Good, I mean. You look good. So, to what do I owe the honor?”
She didn’t need to be a psychic to feel the barriers going up. “I… I just wanted to say hello.”
Daniel forced a smile. “You remember when we were kids and Dad taught us to play poker?”
“Let me guess,” Elizabeth volunteered, “I still need to work on my bluffs.”
“You were never any good at lying, Elizabeth.”
“Point,” John muttered under his breath. She tossed an annoyed look at him and he shrugged. “What? You do suck at lying. I’ve been with you all of two days and even I know that much.”
Darkly, Elizabeth thought they’d both be surprised by the number of secrets she lived with every day. “Yes, well,” she said, moving on swiftly. “John, this is my brother, Daniel Jackson. Daniel, this is—”
“John Sheppard,” Daniel cut in, eyes glancing briefly towards him. “Yeah, I know.”
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow as she felt John stiffen behind her. “Your telepathy is still as strong as ever,” she said to Daniel.
“You’re projecting more than you know,” Daniel countered softly.
“And you’re both starting to creep me out,” John concluded, his voice wry. “And I thought my family had issues.”
Despite sputtered protests from Elizabeth, John skipped out shortly after the introductions had been made. Just because he was the only one that wasn’t a psychic in the group didn’t mean he hadn’t noticed the awkwardness and distance that had been pulsing between the two siblings. He quickly walked away from the auditorium and left the two of them to talk things over. A retreat also had the added advantage of leaving Elizabeth with the sole responsibility of divulging or keeping secret as much she thought necessary, because quite frankly, he didn’t have the stomach for this cloak-and-dagger bullshit.
He stepped outside, slipped on his sunglasses and passed his gaze over the crowd. The courtyard outside the building was wide and long, two rows of benches lining the square. The autumn sun was setting beyond the stone buildings of the campus. A group of girls stood off to the side, near the front entrance he had just exited from, and when John caught their gaze for a moment, they looked back and then turned to each other and dissolved into giggles. He repressed the urge to roll his eyes.
He reached the first row of benches and sat down under the shade of a tree, legs stretched out before him. It couldn’t have been more than ten or fifteen minutes before he grew agitated as boredom set in. He stood up and paced, taking a deep breath, and that was when he noticed it. A faint smell, something nearly indiscernible even with his heightened senses.
A mutant was nearby. So was the smell of gunmetal.
John's whole body stilled for an instant before his blood boiled and he let his gaze wander the horizon with renewed interest. The group of gossiping schoolgirls was still nearby, but John easily dismissed any of them as the source. Another, larger group of students was further down the courtyard, their scents insignificant. He swept his eyes past the surrounding buildings, scanning the bushes and trees, intent on finding someone that obviously wouldn’t want to be noticed. He found nothing, and just as he decided to reenter the lecture hall and warn Elizabeth, he spotted a figure crouched behind the shadows of the main pillars of the building in which Daniel and Elizabeth were located.
The bullets whizzed towards him almost faster than John could react. He jerked his body back and the bullets impacted soundlessly into the bench, the silencer making the assault hushed and unobtrusive. John broke for a spot behind the tree, pressing his back against the bark. The students hadn’t noticed a thing.
He internally cursed, and then breathed in deeply, tracking his prey the only way he could. The smell emanated from somewhere close by, but he couldn’t narrow down the position. John removed his own gun from the small of his back, and then stuck his head around the edge of the tree branches that obstructed his view. He caught the eye of one of the schoolgirls again, but instead of letting her smile back at him again, John purposely moved his gun into plain sight. Her eyes went as wide as a saucer, and then she whispered fiercely to her friends and the group quickly melted into panic.
Another bullet whizzed by his head and John evaded it in the nick of time. He whirled around and fired back. His bullets slammed into nothing but the stone walls near the archway, and he caught a glimpse of his assailant as the figure escaped back behind the pillars.
The noise from his gun did far more damage than his bullets.
The group of girls screamed and scattered across the courtyard. Soon after, all the students nearby took notice and the crowd broke out into a frenzied mob. Flickers of obscure colors and shapes, the stench of bodies and sweat and fear, the sounds of screaming and movement all threatened to impair John’s concentration.
His senses looked beyond the pandemonium and suddenly narrowed in on the mutant moving through the crowd.
He put the gun away and his body moved with a mind of his own. He raced down the pathway and through the courtyard, plowing into two students and a professor along the way, sending two of them careening onto the ground and the other toppling over them. He didn’t pause, didn’t slow down to watch the others buckle under him or leap out of his path.
When he reached the pillar, the gunman was gone but his scent wasn’t. It guided John back inside the building, through the heavy double doors and down the white corridor. Around him, students continued to scream and run away from him, and it was only then that he noticed he had transformed completely.
He didn’t care.
He barely acknowledged Elizabeth’s hail, following the scent down the hallway with a singular focus.
He snarled in annoyance and shoved his shoulder against a door, breaking the wood a little as he quickly scanned his eyes across the empty classroom inside before moving on to the do the same thing to the next door over.
Elizabeth caught up with him in the middle of the hallway, her hand seizing his forearm to stop him mid-stride. She didn’t seem to notice how dangerous the contact was for her, or how close his reptilian side came to taking his anger out on her for the slight. “Damn it, John! Stop! What’s going on?”
He felt a vague touch of something calm and reassuring enter his mind, and he took a shuddering breath. “Mutant,” he answered gruffly. “Fired at me.”
Daniel jogged down to them. “With a fireball, or a gun?” He paused at the look John tossed him. “What? It’s a legitimate question.”
“Somebody’s probably already called the cops,” Elizabeth said. “We can’t do this here.”
“They fired at me,” John answered, “this is going down—“
“Not here,” Elizabeth insisted. “If the police show up, they’ll shoot the blue mutant first and ask questions later. We need to--”
She broke off, and both she and Daniel suddenly snapped their gazes down to the far end of the hallway in unison. It was creepy, even for a mutant that was decked out in blue scales, to realize that they both were sensing something with their psychic ability that he could only guess at.
Elizabeth waved a stalling hand at both of them, withdrawing her own gun as she took the lead. John bit back his growl of objection, and fell into step behind her, his body pushing into her personal space as she edged down the corridor. She threw him a look over her shoulder and he reluctantly eased off, but his body was too wired and tuned up to react.
“Third door,” Daniel said behind him.
“I know,” Elizabeth replied, edging forward cautiously.
She stiffened and paused, and a moment before there was any movement, John knew Elizabeth had sensed the third door was about to open.
“Don’t shoot!” a voice came from the other side, “I’m coming out, unarmed!”
“Do it slowly!” Elizabeth warned. “Hands behind your head!”
The door creaked open, and a man emerged from behind. His fingers were interlaced behind his head, and there was no sign of a weapon. He looked like he hadn’t seen a shower in a couple of days. Slick, oiled hair was combed back over a receding hairline, and wide, buggy eyes stared back at them. He was a short man, no taller than 5’7”, and his body was draped with a heavy beige overcoat despite the fact that he was sweating buckets.
John lowered his gaze to the cuffs that were dangling out of Elizabeth’s back pocket, and snatched them. He rounded Elizabeth and approached the man with a snarl curling his lips.
“John,” Elizabeth warned, “we need him for questioning.”
He tossed her a look, and then took a deep breath, forcing his alter ego back. When he blinked at her with normal vision, she nodded for him to continue.
John turned back to the greasy guy. “Who are you?”
“Name's Torrell,” he said lightly. “At your service.”
John circled the man and grabbed him by the forearm, bringing his arm down behind his back to cuff him. A beige sleeve slipped down, and John’s fingers brushed onto skin that was coated over with a wetness, but it took a split-second for John to realize the smell and texture of it didn’t seem like sweat.
“Or maybe not,” Torrell offered with a snide smile.
A static haze worked through John’s body and he blinked, stepping back in disorientation as his gaze fell upon the oily substance coating his hand. He looked back up and locked eyes with Torrell as realization hit, the ability to control his own body fleeing as it did.
“John?” Elizabeth tried.
Torrell shook his head. “No need to bother, love. He’s under my spell now.”
Blinding, uncontrollable rage worked through John, staggering him with its intensity before the feeling solidified. Torrell simply smiled serenely as John abruptly transformed again, the mutation called fully forth without will or reason. It wasn’t like before, where in his anger or sensing danger he could slide into his mutation without even noticing. No, this time he actively tried to repress the mutation, and whatever other issues he had with his control, he’d always been able to do that at the very least.
This time, the reptilian side of him had control and wasn’t yielding it to John at all.
Torrell nodded his head sideways towards Elizabeth and Daniel, and said to John, “Kill, puppy, kill.”