A/N: For Enola Jones, and greatly improved by the advice of Anso. Love you, ladies!
By San Antonio Rose
They were really in a pickle this time.
Teyla and Torren were both down with the Athosian flu, and Ronon had volunteered to look after both of them because so many people were gone either on leave or on away missions to Coalition worlds that needed help preparing for an upcoming “parade of homes” ’Gate-hopping... festival... tour... thing. So Sheppard had tapped Sam and Dean to fill in on SGA-1 when McKay got word of an Ancient ruin that needed investigating.
They hadn’t touched anything. Sam was quite sure he hadn’t even thought anything—there hadn’t been time. The four of them just walked into the ruin, got hit with a blast of light, and came to... in each other’s injured bodies.
Sam’s first thought on waking was that he’d been drugged somehow. His senses all seemed muted; gone was the feeling of raw power throbbing through his veins, and the buzz of nearby Ancient technology was almost imperceptible compared to what he normally experienced. He felt sluggish, slow... too human. He lifted a hand to scrub at his face and paused.
That was Rodney McKay’s hand, not Sam Winchester’s.
“Oh, not again,” Sam groaned. And then groaned again when he realized he hadn’t heard his own voice. Or McKay’s, for that matter.
He sat up and saw Sheppard—at least he thought it was Sheppard—start to stir. Groaning again, he forced himself to his... McKay’s... feet and stumbled over just in time to see Sheppard’s lips form a mumbled “Sammy?”
Sheppard—Dean blinked. “McKay?”
“No, it’s Sam. We’ve been whammied.”
The curse that crossed the lieutenant colonel’s lips was all Dean. “Who turned on the dark, dude?”
“You can’t see?”
“Yeah, but I can’t hear.”
Dean cursed again and held up a hand. “Help me up.” Sam did so, and Dean listened for a moment before signing, My voice, hurt. Over there. And he pointed somewhere behind Sam.
Sam turned and saw Dean’s body lying more or less where Dean had pointed. “That must be Sheppard—and your leg’s broken.”
Dammit. Dean started to stumble forward, and Sam caught his elbow and steered him toward Sheppard, who was starting to come to.
“Easy, Colonel,” Sam said. “You got a busted leg, and you’re not exactly yourself right now.”
Sheppard opened Dean’s green-hazel eyes and yelped, “What the hell?!”
Let me take care of this, Sam, Dean signed. McKay’s about to wake up, and if he’s got your powers....
Sam cursed quietly. “You’re right. Here.” He quickly steered Dean to the right spot and handed him a backpack before jogging over to his own body, trying to figure out what to say to keep McKay calm.
He didn’t have time. No sooner had he knelt by McKay’s side than his own eyes opened, focused on his—McKay’s—face, and blinked rapidly as if... trying to clear double vision. Then McKay frowned, looked over at Dean and Sheppard, and back at Sam.
“Take it easy, Dr. McKay,” Sam said.
“What the....” Then McKay looked down at himself... and screamed.
“McKay, calm down.” Sam could feel the EMF kick up even as he tried again. “It’s Sam—Sam Winchester. You’re gonna blow out our equipment if you don’t calm down.”
McKay looked back at him, wild-eyed, and spoke almost too fast for Sam to catch the motion of his lips. “Calm down?! I’m stuck in a body that’s got so-called demon blood and power like I haven’t felt since that time I almost ascended and I’ve got some weird kind of double vision and you expect me to CALM DOWN?!”
Sam grabbed McKay by the shoulders. “I’m telekinetic, pyrokinetic, and who knows what else. And I generate EMF when I’m upset or using my powers. You have GOT to GET A GRIP, McKay.”
McKay’s eyes darted back toward Dean and Sheppard, so apparently they were yelling at him. And Sam felt, rather than heard, something in McKay’s watch pop and die in a puff of acrid-smelling smoke. McKay glanced down at it, then back at Sam, then buried his face in his hands with what Sam could only assume was a groan. Then he took a deep breath and made a visible effort to relax.
It worked. Sam felt the EMF subside and blew out a sigh of relief, then gently rubbed McKay’s shoulders. “I know. It’s a lot. Just take it slow. You just... you can’t let the demon blood fuel your anxiety, man. People could die.”
McKay said something, but his face was still buried in his hands, so Sam couldn’t see what it was.
“What was that?”
McKay moved his hands just enough that Sam could make out “Wraith enzyme.” Then he dropped his hands and looked at Sam. “What, are you deaf?”
“At the moment? Yes, actually.”
McKay blanched. “Did... did I....”
Sam shook his head. “Woke up this way. I don’t think I’ve ever blown out anyone’s eardrums. Just the lights and the intercom in the isolation room at the SGC,” he added with a wry smile, trying not to think about what he’d done to Lilith and other demons that was far worse than mere deafness.
McKay didn’t look reassured. “I’ve... I’ve been telekinetic before. For, like, a week. That part, I’m okay with. And it’s not an ascend-or-die scenario like the last time, either. The EMF and the pyrokinesis... not so much. And this stuff in your blood....”
Sam nodded. “I know.”
“And what’s....” McKay gestured to his eyes.
“What you’re seeing is both the body and the soul. Most of the time they match up, but not with a demon, and with the Tok’ra I could see both the host and the symbiote. Just so you know, Dean and Sheppard have switched; Dean-in-Sheppard is blind and Sheppard-in-Dean has a broken leg.”
McKay nodded and relaxed a little more. “Okay. Thanks.”
“And... I don’t know if it’s possible, because the last time this happened to me I didn’t try, but... I wouldn’t recommend that you try to access any of my memories. I did literally spend a century in Hell.”
Sam didn’t realize his face could look that pale without his being sick or injured. “Yeah,” McKay nodded. “Okay.”
Then McKay looked away, and a moment later Sam felt fingers brush his shoulder before turning into a more firm Dean pat. Sam turned and looked up to see Dean supporting Sheppard, his sightless eyes hidden behind Sheppard’s aviators.
“Hey,” Sam said with a grin he hoped Dean could hear.
McKay jumped up, wobbling briefly as he got used to being half a foot taller, and took Sheppard’s weight, leaving Dean free to sign.
We go, said Dean. Sheppard not sure only leg broken.
Sam stood. “Okay. You want my shoulder or my arm?”
Dean considered a moment, then reached up to where Sam’s shoulder would normally be. Sam chuckled and gently brought Dean’s hand down to the right spot. Dean huffed in frustration—then grinned and ruffled his now-shorter brother’s now-shorter (and thinning) hair.
Dean laughed. “Lead on, McShort Stuff.”
Sam rolled his eyes and started back toward the ’Gate.
Torren, who was snuggled against Teyla as they both napped, suddenly stirred. “Mama?”
“Mm?” Teyla replied sleepily.
“Som’n’s wrong wi’ Unka Rodney... he’s really scared. ’N I can’t hear Sam no more.”
“Anymore,” Teyla corrected automatically, then realized what Torren had just said. Sam somehow had the Gift... but Rodney did not. Torren couldn’t normally sense Rodney. Frowning, Teyla reached out with her own Gift and also failed to find Sam. What she found was Rodney—a very, very panicked Rodney, though he was doing his best to control his emotions.
“Hey,” said Ronon, coming back into the room and seeing her awake.
“Ronon, what’s happened?”
Ronon shrugged. “Dunno yet. Somethin’ happened on the planet; Sheppard, McKay and the Winchesters came back early. Dean’s pretty banged up, looks like, and McKay’s deaf and Sheppard’s blind. Only Sheppard says he’s Dean.”
Teyla’s eyes went wide. “They’ve traded bodies. That’s why Rodney now has the Gift and Sam doesn’t.”
“Traded—y’mean, like what happened to Jennifer?”
“Todd’s cranky,” Torren mumbled. “Think he’s worried.”
Teyla kissed his forehead. “They are all back in Atlantis. Uncle Carson and Uncle Radek will figure something out.”
“Hope so. Uncle Rodney’s loud.”
Teyla and Ronon both chuckled at that.
Carson made careful note of all the symptoms Rodney was describing while Marie worked on patching up John. Ordinarily, Carson wouldn’t pay as much attention to Rodney’s hypochondriac ramblings, but he’d spent enough time with the Winchesters since their arrival in November to know that Sam’s body could be a minefield for Rodney to live with if he couldn’t get his anxiety under control. And the fact that Rodney had insisted on seeing Carson rather than Jennifer was cause enough for concern, even though he understood Rodney’s concern for Jennifer’s feelings (and he suspected that Rodney was a wee bit jealous that he wouldn’t always look like Sam).
He was just about to start explaining what he knew to be normal for Sam when the infirmary door burst open and Todd strode in, roaring, “What is the meaning of this?!”
Rodney paled, but Sam stood in Todd’s way, hands up to stop him. “Todd, it’s okay, really.”
“You are not Rodney McKay!”
“No. You’re right. I’m Sam Winchester.”
Dean shivered, and Carson couldn’t help wondering if John’s body retained some connection to Todd after the escape from Kolya’s hideout or whether Dean were flashing back to Hell (or both). Dean had once confided to Carson that the last host of his chief tormentor, Alastair, had borne a striking resemblance to both Todd and Halling.
Todd noticed Dean’s reaction with a sharp hiss, then looked at John, who was waving lazily, and Rodney, who was clearly trying not to freak out completely. And his voice was quieter when he turned to Carson and demanded, “What has happened?”
“That’s what we’re trying to sort out,” Carson returned. “They’ve switched bodies, but how and why’s not clear yet.”
Todd grunted in acknowledgement. “What can I do?”
“Quit yelling,” Dean replied tightly, which was a definite tick for the flashback column.
“We’ll let you know,” Carson said more kindly.
Todd seemed to take the hint and left more calmly than he had come in.
Rodney blew out a shaky breath. “Carson, you gotta put me in isolation. I just—like I told Sam, the telekinesis I can handle, but this EMF thing....”
Carson studied him for a moment, then nodded. “Aye. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll arrange it.”
“Not goin’ alone, Rodney,” John drawled, sounding oddly more Texan using Dean’s voice and under the influence of the painkillers than his usual Virginia-California accent. “Dean’d never leave Sam alone in isolation, and I ain’t leavin’ you ’cause you’re my friend.”
“What?” Sam asked Dean.
Dean signed the exchange for him, then added with hands and voice, “Maybe we all should go. Be less awkward all around, and between us we ought to be able to help McKay cope.”
John snorted. “Yeah, not like you could do my paperwork even if you could see. And I don’t have a problem pushin’ my own body too far, but I’d rather not take chances with yours.”
“Thanks,” Dean said dryly. “I’ve only had that one for two years, and I’m not sure the shotgun holes would come out next time.”
Rodney looked rather more disturbed by that remark than John did.
“You’ll accept visitors, I trust?” asked Woolsey, coming around the corner.
“Don’t see why not,” John shrugged with one shoulder, wincing as even that slight motion pulled on a bruised rib. “Not like I’m turning into a bug this time.”
“A bug?” the Winchesters chorused.
“Tell ya later.”
Rodney looked miserable. “Depends on who it is and why. The fewer people who know, the better—and Sam, why didn’t you warn me about the joint pain?”
Sam, naturally, didn’t hear and was focused on studying the body his brother was currently occupying. Dean answered for him. “The other powers were a more immediate danger, dude. Same with the Wraith Radio thing. Honestly, I’d have warned you about the pyrokinesis before the lupus myself.”
Sam blinked and looked at Rodney in concern. “Dude, you gave yourself a flare? How bad is it?”
Rodney considered. “Not as bad as a kidney stone, if that’s what you mean.”
Sam rolled his eyes.
“I think I could walk if I had to. Not sure how far.”
Sam nodded. “My immune system’s messed up six ways from Sunday now. Might be reacting as much to the swap as to the fact that you used my powers.”
“Or it could be part of the curse,” Dean ventured.
“Curse?” echoed everyone but Sam.
Sam nodded. “Last time this happened to me, it was a spell.”
Rodney scoffed. “There is plenty of Ancient technology that could account for the swap.”
“What about the fact that we’re all injured—differently?” Dean countered. “Sam’s deaf; I’m blind; you’re flaring; and Shep’s beat to hell, too banged up for just having been thrown.”
John thought about it. “You’re right; it does feel more like I’ve been spending some quality time with the Genii.”
“It wouldn’t have to be one or the other,” Sam noted. “It could be both. Wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen to any of us.”
Woolsey nodded thoughtfully. “Well, we’ll know more soon. Dr. Zelenka is preparing a science team of non-gene carriers to return to the planet and investigate. In the meantime, Dr. Beckett, do you agree that all four of them need to be kept under observation?”
“Aye,” said Carson. “Especially if Sam’s body is reacting to more than just Rodney’s use of his powers, we need to keep an eye on him so we can treat this flare appropriately. And neither Col. Sheppard nor Dean would be in any shape to go offworld. Sam might, since he’s only deaf, but....”
“’M not leavin’ Dean alone in the dark, Doc,” Sam said quietly, putting a hand on Dean’s shoulder.
Dean leaned toward Sam until their shoulders touched and signed something against Sam’s leg. Sam squeezed Dean’s shoulder and leaned against him.
“See?” Rodney whispered to Carson. “John and I don’t do that. They can’t help it; they’re brothers, and they’re each down a sense. But when it’s those bodies... y’know, the whole thing’s just weird enough without people getting the wrong idea.”
And by ‘people,’ Carson knew, he didn’t just mean Jennifer. Rumor mills being what they were, any number of wrong ideas could make the rounds.
Carson sighed. “Right, well. Suppose I’d best see to the isolation room. Mr. Woolsey?”
Woolsey took his leave, and as Carson went into his office, he heard Sam ask suddenly, “Oh, McKay—besides citrus, what food allergies do you have?”
Radek muttered and cursed his way through his examination of the ruins on M3X-559, but he was thorough, and so was his team. Every inscription and scrap of graffiti within 200 meters of the place was carefully photographed. Every energy reading, every piece of equipment, every stray artifact was noted and catalogued. Parrish even noted every subspecies of plant that grew around the ruins—for his own research, he said, but though neither of them would admit it, both he and Radek knew that with the Winchesters being who they were, even accidental plant-based magic (hoodoo, Lt. Ford had called it once) wasn’t completely out of the question.
And as clear as it was that the technology in the ruins did have something to do with what happened, Radek’s skin prickled and crawled the entire time they were on the planet. Something was wrong there that had nothing to do with technology.
But his Czech curses died on his lips and were replaced by a wholly spontaneous and heartfelt prayer of thanks when he came back to Atlantis and saw Col. Carter talking with Chuck.
She looked around at him, surprised. “Zelenka! What’s wrong?”
“So very glad you are here, Colonel,” Radek replied. “We will probably need your help with this problem.”
Col. Carter blinked. “You knew I was coming on a supply run, didn’t you?”
“Yes, yes, forgot. This has been very stressful day. Very confusing. Will brief you in the conference room, if you don’t mind.”
Chuck cleared his throat. “Uh, Dr. Zelenka, would you mind if... I offered to help, too?”
Now it was Radek’s turn to blink. “Why?”
“Sam and Dean are my third cousins, and I... know a little about the family business.”
Another prayer of thanks slipped out. “Yes, yes, that would be very good. Come with me.”
It took a couple of days to sort through all the data. While Radek and Carter worked through the technological side, Chuck went through the plants, human artifacts, and graffiti, talking with Teyla and Ronon about certain suspects and sending a few emails to his sister Gwen and their American cousins Christian and Mark. The Campbells, it seemed, had an even longer tradition of hunting the supernatural than did the Winchesters. Chuck even copied the graffiti out by hand, pressing hard enough on the paper that Dean would be able to trace the lines with his fingertips.
It was two days too long, however. By the time Radek, Col. Carter, Chuck, Teyla (fully recovered), Ronon, and Mr. Woolsey joined Carson and filed into the isolation room for a briefing, the four occupants of the room were about to get on each other’s last nerves. Rodney was in dreadful pain, had accidentally fried three computers, and was taking it out on everyone, especially Dean; Dean had managed not to kill anyone only because he couldn’t triangulate where they were and Lantea wouldn’t help him; Col. Sheppard’s many wounds weren’t healing, and he persisted in taking out his own pain by loudly sharing negative opinions of Dean’s music and Rodney’s taste in movies; and Sam was pointedly ignoring the lot of them in favor of disproving one of Rodney’s pet theories. Carson had to ask Lantea to get their attention before the briefing could begin.
Radek, of course, couldn’t hear what she did, but all four of them yelped and covered their ears—even Sam, who then shot a death glare at Carson and ground out, “Doc, just so you know, there is some music even the Devil won’t listen to.”
Carson looked painfully innocent.
Dean closed his eyes wearily. “Please tell me you’re all here because somebody’s found something.”
“We have,” replied Col. Carter. “We’ve actually found quite a lot.”
Sam watched her mouth as she spoke, then blinked in surprise and looked away briefly. “Huh.”
“Oh, nothing, nothing, it’s just—Lantea’s suddenly playing nice, playing back what you say on, like, a two-second delay.”
“That’s a relief,” muttered Dean. “Don’t think my ASL would hold up.”
Mr. Woolsey smiled a little. “Well! Dr. Zelenka, would you do the honors, please?”
Radek cleared his throat and stepped forward. “There was a lab in the ruins. Almost nothing of value was left when the Ancients abandoned it, except for some experimental data and a partially-depleted ZPM—and yes, Rodney, we did bring it back.”
“Good,” Rodney returned. “Not sure a ZedPM was worth this, though.”
Col. Sheppard frowned. “Well, if the lab was empty, then....”
“We think they eventually intended to come back,” Radek resumed, “so they left their security system armed—and it is extremely sensitive. Anyone whose DNA doesn’t completely match what was known for humans or Ancients at the time would trigger it.”
Almost everyone’s eyes widened at that. Rodney simply frowned. “Wait, wait—why us, then? I mean, Sheppard and me? Sam and Dean have the Tok’ra markers, sure, but....”
“And some other unusual genetic markers,” Carson interrupted, “and Sam’s demon blood. John’s got residual iratus DNA in his system still. And you, Rodney—even if there’s no lasting effect from the ascension machine, your DNA’s still been tampered with because of the ATA gene therapy. It’s a bloody miracle ye weren’t all killed,” he concluded, his accent thickening slightly with emotion.
“So is that it?” Col. Sheppard and Dean asked at the same time. Dean continued, “All of this—the blindness, the body swap, everything comes from that security system?”
“No,” Radek replied hesitantly. “The data we gathered suggests that only the switch is the result of the technology. We have had to consult with some... experts on Earth about the rest,” he added with a glance at Chuck.
“What—” Sam broke off, his eyes going wider still. “You’re kidding. Chuck’s one of those Campbells?”
Dean looked startled. “Seriously?”
“Of the Vancouver Campbells,” Chuck confirmed. “We haven’t figured out all of it, but it looks like the humans on the planet tried to set some kind of wards. Dr. Zelenka got pictures of some hex bags, and Teyla and Ronon helped me figure out that some of the plants that have grown wild were planted to ward off evil. We’re not clear on how Pegasus hoodoo works, but that probably isn’t the source of the curse. The hex bags might be, but I think the real problem is with these inscriptions—some painted, some carved. Gwen couldn’t make sense of ’em; maybe you guys can.” And he slid the pad of paper under Dean’s left hand.
Sam came over to Dean’s bed to read over his shoulder while Dean traced the drawings carefully with his fingertips. “Some of these are Enochian,” Sam murmured.
Dean nodded, frowning slightly in concentration. He sometimes signed something with his right hand, and Sam would whisper something back that Radek couldn’t catch. Just about the time Rodney was about to start fidgeting or snarking, Dean took his left hand off the tablet and signed what could only be a summary to Sam, who made affirmative noises until Dean finished. “That’s what I thought,” Dean finally said aloud.
“What?” Rodney snapped.
“We should double-check with Bobby, but it seems like both intergalactic telephone and simple human error are at fault. Some of these sigils aren’t too different from wards we know on Earth, but the differences are significant enough to completely change their effect.”
“Meaning?” Woolsey prompted.
Dean sighed. “Whatever their original purpose, these symbols translate into a curse—whoever trips the alarm will be cursed to live with one of his greatest fears.”
Col. Sheppard blanched, presumably at the thought of being blinded. The Winchesters didn’t notice.
“Except the effects got scrambled,” Sam added, “probably because the curse hit while we were in mid-swap.”
“Well, maybe. Losing hearing or sight would be pretty damn terrifying to a pilot, and Shep does like his music. But McKay... yeah, you lose your sight, not that easy to work in that field.”
Rodney made a non-committal noise. “I could... find ways to make it work. Couldn’t go offworld much, obviously, but if I had competent assistants and the right kind of screen-reader software, yeah. But deafness....” He swallowed. “I... wanted to be a concert pianist when I was a kid. My teacher stole that dream from me, but she couldn’t steal the music I could hear.”
Sam nodded. “I fear losing control of my powers, and Dean fears being physically useless. Among many other things,” he added with a chuckle.
Sightless eyes narrowed. “Just be glad it wasn’t clowns, Samantha.”
Rodney laughed, and an annoyed Sam signed something into Dean’s hand. Dean grinned and signed something back that made Sam smile in spite of himself. Radek wasn’t at all sure he wanted to know what they’d said.
“So!” said Col. Sheppard with what was probably forced cheerfulness. “We know what the problem is. How do we fix it?”
“We’re looking at two stages,” Col. Carter replied. “First we get you switched back to the right bodies. Then we blow up the ruins, which should break the curse.”
Rodney snapped his fingers as he thought. “There was something in Janus’ lab—kind of like a portkey, according to the database, only it switched souls between bodies the way the communication stones do. The idea was that you could prepare better for ascension if you’d been able to view life through someone else’s eyes. Two people touch the device at the same time, and they’re swapped until they touch it again.”
Col. Carter frowned. “Like Ma’chello’s device, only you can still switch back to the body you started from.”
“Exactly. Apparently it worked exactly the way it was supposed to, but the Council wouldn’t allow Janus to use it—apparently they thought it was too likely to be abused in ways that the communication stones weren’t. And given what Young and Telford have done with those things, that we know of, and given what Ma’chello tried to do to Daniel, the Council probably had a point.”
“What did it look like, do you know?”
Rodney shook his head. “I don’t remember if we’ve found it yet.”
Dean frowned a little. “You’re sure it’s touch-only? We wouldn’t, like, randomly swap back in the middle of the night?”
Rodney huffed. “It’s been two years since I looked at that file, Dean.”
“I will make sure it is safe,” Radek interrupted smoothly before anyone could start another argument. “If it is our best option, and if everyone agrees, we will use it. If not, we can figure out something else. And,” he added, anticipating Rodney’s next sniping grumble, “I will have Dr. Kusanagi help me.”
Rodney relaxed against his pillows with a relieved sigh. “At least she knows not to touch anything in there.”
Col. Sheppard looked at Col. Carter. “I guess you’re gonna have to go to M3X-559 and explain why we want to blow up those ruins.”
Col. Carter grimaced. “Yeah. I... might need to take Sam and Dean with me to prove that the ruins are dangerous.”
Dean snorted. “That’ll be fun.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” drawled Col. Sheppard.
“Think I’ll make that ‘don’t do anything that would get either of us shot,’” Dean shot back with a slight smile.
Col. Sheppard chuckled.
Dean Winchester, thought Carter, was a dang chameleon. She knew John Sheppard well enough to know which mannerisms were his and which were Dean’s, but right now she might almost—almost—believe that the man beside her actually was the man he appeared to be and that the eyes hidden behind the aviators could actually see. The leader of the Azken hadn’t met John or Rodney before, so he had no way of knowing that John’s usual stance was slightly different, as was the occasional turn of phrase, or that Rodney wasn’t usually this quiet and respectful.
Come to think of it, Sam wasn’t doing a bad job of playing Rodney, either.
“I still do not understand,” the Azken leader said at last. “The Ancestors told us that only people from Atlantis should enter the ruin. My people set wards around the perimeter to keep out the Wraith and any other intruders who are not human.”
“The wards are precisely the problem,” Dean drawled. “Do you know what they do?”
“No. They were set many cycles ago, before the Great Holocaust.”
“Do you know where your people got the sigils?”
“No. They are not recorded in our lore.”
“They’re not wards,” Sam explained. “They spell out a curse in a language that’s even older than what the Ancients spoke. And the trouble is, they were set so long ago that even someone with the Gift could trigger the curse.”
The Azken leader frowned. “I did not think any of the Atlanteans had the Gift.”
“There’s an Athosian on my team who does,” Dean replied. “We’re lucky she didn’t come with us.”
“So there is a risk to anyone who enters?”
“And there is nothing there of value.”
“And the Ancestors will not return.”
“If they do,” Sam said dryly, “we can blame it on the Wraith.”
Carter coughed so she wouldn’t laugh. Typical little brother comment, that.
The Azken leader nodded. “If you are sure you can break the curse without harming our people, then yes, you have our permission.”
Carter nodded. “We can guarantee that. Thank you.”
After a further exchange of pleasantries, Carter and the Winchesters turned and headed back to the ’Gate slowly. Their stance was casual, but Carter wasn’t sure how well Dean could navigate without someone actually touching him. So by unspoken agreement, she and Sam flanked him and matched their pace and step to his, hovering just at the edge of his personal space, as they had done on the way into the village.
Once they were out of sight of the village, though, she sighed. “Okay.”
“I hate this,” Dean grumbled.
Sam, who hadn’t heard either of them, stepped closer and put a hand on the small of Dean’s back, and Dean put a hand on Sam’s shoulder as easily as if they’d been in this situation for far longer than they actually had.
“Holy Hannah,” Carter breathed. “You two can get used to anything, can’t you?”
“Except Lucifer wearing my brother,” Dean returned grimly.
Sam looked at Dean. “What?”
Dean smiled a little and squeezed Sam’s shoulder. “Nothing, Sam.”
It took another two days for Zelenka and Kusanagi to find the portkey-ish device in Janus’ lab and determine that was indeed what they needed, that it worked only on gene carriers, and that the transfer was one-way until both parties touched the device again. Kusanagi also figured out that since the four victims had been switched by another means and would be switching “home,” figuratively speaking, the danger of an accidental swap back was virtually non-existent. That was a relief to everyone.
Dean wasn’t looking forward to swapping back into a body that probably felt like it’d gone three rounds with a poltergeist, but at least he’d be in his own skin and able to see again. Plus, Carter was in orbit over M3X-559 when the scientists brought in the device and would zap the lab as soon as the swap was finished, so maybe he’d get some relief quickly.
He briefly thought about calling Cas but then thought better of it. He’d survived worse without the angels’ help.
Sam, big nerd that he was, had spent the time finishing up his proof and now saved it and made sure it was the first thing McKay would see when he looked at his tablet. At least, that was what Dean surmised he was doing based on the noises Sam was making. Then both Lantea and his big-brother radar alerted him that Sam was approaching moments before Sam touched Dean’s arm.
“Ready?” Sam asked.
“Let’s do this,” Dean replied.
Sam steered him toward the cart by Sheppard’s bedside and pulled his right hand forward, over but not touching the device he could sense but not see, before letting him go. “There. Just push your hand straight down on my mark. Ready?”
“Ready,” said Sheppard as Dean flashed a thumbs-up with his left hand.
“Okay. One, two, three, mark.”
Dean slammed his hand down, felt a jolt, and opened his own eyes to the welcome but odd sight of McKay’s face looking at him with Sam’s patented worried puppy expression. He sighed in relief and pulled his hand away from the device, then groaned as his mind finally registered the pain signals that were coming from just about everywhere. Sheppard, meanwhile, stumbled back a couple of steps, and Sam and Beckett steadied him.
Sam looked from Dean to Sheppard and back. “Dean? Did it work?”
Dean nodded. “Yeah, Sammy.”
“Good thing this is temporary,” Sheppard ground out, waving a hand in front of his eyes. “Not sure which is worse, being in pain or not being able to see.”
Sam huffed in relief and let Beckett guide Sheppard back to the bed Dean had been occupying while Zelenka wheeled the device over to McKay, who was making a visible effort to reign in the EMF. At a questioning look from Sam, though, McKay nodded and held his hand over the device. Sam did the same and counted off again, and he and McKay touched the device at exactly the same moment.
There wasn’t a flash, but both bodies jerked, and McKay’s body swayed before Zelenka caught him. Sam let out a groan that could have been pain, relief, or both and pulled his hand away.
“Sam?” Dean called.
Sam, in his own body, looked over at him and gave him a thumbs-up. Zelenka heaved a sigh of relief and began packing up the device.
And a split second later, to everyone’s surprise, Torren bounded into the isolation room squealing, “SAA-AA-AA-AA-AAM!” and punctuated it by pouncing on Sam and trying to hug him to death.
“OOF!” Sam got his arms around Torren and chuckled quietly. “Careful there, buddy. I’m hurtin’.”
“Sorry,” Torren replied into Sam’s shoulder.
Teyla stopped in the open doorway, shaking her head in amused relief. “I’m sorry, Sam.”
Sam grinned. “He’s fine.”
“I’m fine,” McKay announced to the room at large, sounding both amused and annoyed as he wobbled back to the bed Sam had been in. “Thanks for asking, if anyone did.”
Sheppard reached unerringly for his radio earpiece. “Hammond, this is Sheppard. We’re clear.”
And a few seconds later, Dean’s pain eased significantly, and he and Sam let out identical groans of relief.
McKay’s eyes went wide. “I heard that.”
“So did I,” Carter said through the radio. “Everything okay, Atlantis?”
“Is on my end,” Sheppard replied, his eyes focused on Dean. “Winchesters?”
“Better,” Dean replied. “Broken leg won’t just go away, but… I’m better.”
“Here, too,” Sam agreed, patting Torren’s back to prompt him to finally let go. “Flare’s gonna take some time to let up, but I’m already feeling better control over everything else.”
Carter’s grin was almost audible. “Glad to hear it. Hammond out.”
Beckett held up a portable scanner and looked around at the four of them. “We should do a scan on all of you to make sure there’ll be no lasting ill effects, other than the unhealed injuries and the lupus flare. But I imagine I can release you all and clear John and Rodney for active duty.”
A mixture of sighs and exclamations of relief filled the room as Beckett started scanning McKay. And they all waited more or less patiently while he scanned Sheppard, Dean, and Sam and gave them all the green light, though Torren made the rounds after Beckett to deliver other hugs and make sure the other men were okay. He ended up crawling back onto Sam’s bed, though, to Dean and Teyla’s amusement.
“You’re still sick?” Torren asked Sam.
Sam nodded. “Yeah, buddy. Getting better, but it still hurts.”
“I’ll come take care of you.”
Sam laughed. “Better ask your mom.”
“Hey, TJ,” Dean called, “you gonna just look after Sam?”
Torren looked almost offended. “No, Dean! You, too!”
“Just checking. Sam’s right, though; you still need to ask your mom.”
Torren looked hopefully at Teyla, who laughed. “We will see.”
Sheppard chuckled, too. “Well, Rodney, I think we’d better get out of here, try to start catching up on the work we’ve missed. Sam, Dean, wish I could say it’s been fun.”
Dean grinned. “Hell, as curses go, this was tame. Ghost sickness, now, that was a curse.”
“I’ll tell you that one if you tell me about turning into a bug.”
Sheppard laughed. “Deal. And I’ll throw in the nightmare doppelganger for good measure.”
McKay looked uncomfortable. “Can we not go there, please?”
Sheppard laughed again. “We’ll catch you guys later. C’mon, Rodney.”
McKay grabbed his tablet, waved the brothers farewell, and followed Sheppard out of the isolation room, reading and muttering as he walked. Teyla and Beckett, meanwhile, had brought wheelchairs for each brother and gently helped them out of bed; Torren hovered between the beds, unsure what to do to help until Dean got situated in his wheelchair and held out a hand for him to hold.
The five of them were just leaving the isolation room when they heard McKay’s yelp upon reading Sam’s proof. And seeing Sam throw back his head and laugh at that sound was totally worth the entire ordeal.