Disclaimer: I do not own Stargate Atlantis or any of the characters associated with it. This is just for fun.
The title is from the poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. I'm borrowing that too because it seemed so very appropriate.
Alarms began to whine as the stargate in Atlantis was activated. "Off world activation!" shouted one of the techs in the control room.
Weir approached the console. "Do we know who it is yet?"
"We're getting Colonel Sheppard's IDC." Weir nodded. Sheppard's team had been stranded off world now for four days, unable to get back to the gate. Communication had been spotty at best and she had been getting worried.
"Colonel Sheppard, this is Atlantis. What is your status?" she asked anxiously.
They could hear the sound of gunfire in the background before they heard his frantic voice. "Open the gate! We're coming in hot and we have to go NOW!"
"Lower the shield," she said to the tech next to her. To Sheppard she said, "You're clear to come through."
As soon as the shield was lowered, gunshots echoed across the gateroom, bullets slamming into the far wall. A few seconds later, Teyla and Ronon dove through the gate and rolled across the floor. McKay tumbled through a few moments later, followed closely by Sheppard sliding several feet on his belly. The gate was shut down the moment Sheppard hit the gateroom floor. All four team members lay on the cold, hard floor, breathing heavily. It was easy to see that they were all exhausted, their faces, arms, and uniforms smeared with blood, sweat, and dirt.
Weir called for a medical team to come to the gateroom as she ran down the steps. She came to Teyla first and kneeled beside her, helping the woman sit up.
"I am fine, Dr. Weir. Thank you."
Teyla did not seem seriously injured, so Weir moved over to McKay, who was groaning as he sat up. "Rodney, are you hurt?"
McKay grunted. "I don't know. I think I may have sprained my wrist. Did I hit my head when I came through?" He put his hand to his head, feeling around for bumps.
"You'll live Rodney. Carson should be here..."
Beckett and a medical team rushed into the gateroom. Since McKay was the closest, they headed for him first. One of the nurses made her way over to Teyla. Ronon was already getting to his feet and making his way over to check on Teyla. Weir walked over to Sheppard, who had managed to roll over on his back and was just lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
"Are you hurt?" she asked, kneeling beside him.
"No...just tired. I was thinking of taking a short nap while I was down here."
"The floor's kind of cold and hard, don't you think?" She grinned, realizing that he was okay.
"Nah...I'm too tired to care."
"Care to explain what happened? You're about three days late and I was actually starting to worry."
Sheppard looked up at her from his position on the floor. "Well, to make a long story...and I do mean a LONG story, short, we waltzed in on a wraith cullling party without an invitation. They don't take kindly to gate-crashers apparently. So after a four day running tour of the planet, we finally got to dial out to the alpha site this morning. We no sooner step through the gate, than people start shooting at us. I think we hit a Genii team scouting the planet."
"Genii? Are you sure?"
"No, I didn't have time to ask them for ID. But it sure looked like their uniforms and the weapons were right. I don't think they were looking for us. I think we just stumbled on them out looking around. What can I say? Our luck really sucks."
Weir sighed. "That's an understatement."
Beckett appeared beside Weir. "Do you need a ride to the infirmary, Colonel?"
Sheppard sighed heavily. "No, I'll walk." With that, he began getting to his feet and Elizabeth extended her hand to help him.
"We'll have a short debriefing to fill in some of the gaps after you've all been checked. Then you can get some rest." Sheppard nodded and followed after his team.
One by one, the dirty and exhausted team members drug into the infirmary. Each was directed to a bed, which they promptly plopped down on. Nurses spread out among them, taking pulse, blood pressure, and temperature as Beckett checked them for injuries one by one. He began with Ronon, knowing he would probably be the easiest. Even when injured, he required and accepted little treatment. Beckett cleaned his scrapes and scratches, told him to get some food and rest, and released him.
Next he checked Teyla, who required basically the same care and instructions. Before releasing her, however, he decided to do a little research. "Teyla, before ya go I wanted to ask if there's anythin' I should know about Colonel Sheppard? He has a tendency to downplay injuries or just skip tellin' me about them all together."
Teyla nodded understanding and smiled. "I do not believe the Colonel was injured. But..." she shook her head and stopped.
Beckett frowned. Seemed like there was always a "but" with Sheppard. "Tell me, lass. I can't help him if I don't know."
"It is nothing. I just...I don't think the Colonel slept much while we were on the planet. Every time I was on watch duty, I would see him up...checking with me or walking the perimeter of the camp. When he would finally lay down...it did not seem as if he slept. I believe he is still upset about the loss of Joe Taylor on the last mission."
"Oh, yeah. Wasn't that the lad's first off-world mission?"
"Yes, and he was killed while on guard duty as the rest of us slept. I believe the Colonel feels responsible and that is why he could not sleep."
"Knowing him, you're probably right, lass. Anythin' else?"
"No. I do not believe any of us were injured."
Beckett smiled warmly at her. "That's a small miracle in itself. Okay, you can go. Be sure to get somethin' to eat and then get some rest. I'm tellin' Elizabeth the whole team needs tomorrow off to get some sleep. You're all exhausted and bordering on dehydration. Be sure to drink plenty of water over the next day or two."
Beckett next turned his attention to McKay. "Okay, Rodney. What all is wrong with ya this time?"
McKay spent ten minutes telling the doctor why he was sure his wrist was sprained as Beckett examined it. "Ouch! Sprain, remember? Do you have to keep jerking it around like that?" McKay whined.
Sheppard smiled at Beckett's frustrated expression. He was so relieved to be home, his team safe and basically uninjured. Not like the last time. He'd screwed up royally on the last mission, allowing a gun-ho, yet inexperienced young soldier to do guard duty alone. He knew better than to do something foolhardy like that. His stupid mistake had cost the soldier his life. They had been attacked by an angry mob of villagers who thought they were there to steal from them, as others had apparently done in the past. He guessed they believed in shoot first, ask questions later. Taylor had been taken by surprise, managing to warn the camp, but not to save himself. Sheppard had really liked the kid's attitude and been certain he would be a fine soldier. But he'd put too much on the kid too soon.
Sheppard closed his eyes, seeing the kid's bloody, battered body as he rubbed his temples against the headache he knew was a product of his exhaustion. He hadn't slept more than two or three hours in four days and he knew he was at the end of his rope. He felt like his mind was...fuzzy...unfocused. He just wanted to go to his quarters and sleep.
"Colonel?" He opened his eyes to see Beckett, looking at him in concern.
"Hey doc. My turn?" He looked around. Only Rodney was still there, a nurse wrapping his wrist. "So, is he sprained?"
"No, I think he just twisted it, but that was the only way to calm him down. How are you?"
Sheppard looked at Beckett, knowing the exhaustion he felt had to show. "About as tired as I've ever been."
Beckett nodded. "That's how you look, son." Beckett checked Sheppard closely, but found nothing except a few scratches, as on the other team members. He cleaned the abrasions and was about to give the Colonel his eat/sleep/drink lecture when he noticed that Sheppard's eyes were closed. He watched a second, trying to decide if the pilot was actually asleep sitting up, when he noticed the Colonel slowly starting to lean to one side. He reached out and steadied Sheppard as he spoke.
Sheppard's eyes opened and he yawned as he shifted to a more upright position. "Doc, we done?"
"Yes, we're done. I want you to get something to eat and then get some sleep. Drink lots of water over the next day or two. The whole lot of ya are bordering on dehydration. Teyla told me you didn't get much sleep out there. Sleep deprivation can have some serious consequences."
Sheppard looked down at his hands self-consciously. "Just trying to watch out for my team, doc. I've already gotten one kid killed this month. I wasn't looking to add anyone else."
"Colonel...you know you didn't get Taylor killed. People die in war. You can't change that."
"Yeah, well...this one could have been prevented."
"Colonel, you have to let it go. Guilt will eat you up." Beckett patted him on the arm reassuringly.
"Tell me about it," Sheppard whispered softly. He looked back up at Beckett. "Look, as soon as the debriefing is over and we get something to eat, I plan on sleeping for a day or two, okay? Can I go now?"
Beckett sighed. "Yes, Colonel, you can go." He watched as Sheppard joined McKay and they left the infirmary together, both tiredly dragging their feet.
Sheppard and McKay were the last ones to arrive for the debriefing. Each sat down heavily in a chair and faced Elizabeth. Once again, she noted the tired eyes and the exhaustion that played out in each team member's body language.
"I know you are all worn out and need sleep, so we'll make this as brief as possible. You were only supposed to be gone for one day, two at the most. What happened?"
"Wraith," said Ronon matter of factly.
"Yes...I knew that. Could you be more specific?"
"We met the people at the village of Cowlan, as we had planned," began Teyla. "They were very agreeble to a trade relationship. We were about halfway back to the gate when wraith darts flew over us, headed toward the village."
Sheppard picked up the story at this point. "We did a 180 and went back to the village...but it was too late. The village was destroyed and everyone was either dead or...gone. We started to head back to the gate until some of the wraith on the ground began to chase us. We circled around back to the gate, barely staying a step ahead of them. It just took us an extra three days to get there. I guess you could say we took the scenic route. Anyway, the wraith were hot on our trail, so we decided to come home via the alpha site in case they were checking gate addresses. As soon as we stepped through, we were being fired upon. We never made it past the DHD. McKay dialed home while the rest of us layed down cover fire. We didn't get a real up close and personal look at them, but I suspect they were Genii. I think I glimpsed a uniform or two and the weapons are right for Genii."
Teyla nodded in agreement. "I also saw a uniform briefly and I believe our attackers to be Genii."
Elizabeth was not happy with the news. "There goes that alpha site. Guess we know what the next mission will be. It's a big galaxy. You'd think we'd quit running into them everywhere we go. Teyla, do you think it was just coincidence that the Genii were at the alpha site?"
"I do. There is no way they could have known about the alpha site. I believe they were just checking the planet out and we happened to come through at that time. It all happened so fast, I'm not sure if they knew it was us or not. It is possible they fired as a reflex action without knowing who they were firing on. They have been known to react that way in the past."
Elizabeth nodded. "We'll still need to find a new site. We can't risk running into the Genii there."
McKay decided to put in his two cents. "Not only were we running for our life for four days, but we had no provisions. We only took a couple of power bars and a little water because it was supposed to be a one day mission. We almost starved and Carson said we were all bordering on dehydration. Plus, we're all scratched and scraped and bruised. It's a miracle we weren't killed. You know..."
"Okay, Rodney. I get it," interrupted Weir. "Do we know if you are the reason the wraith attacked or if you just happened to be visiting at the wrong time?"
"I'm pretty sure it was bad timing," said Ronon. "It looked like they came for the village and we just happened to be there."
Elizabeth nodded, turning to Sheppard. "Would you..." she trailed off as she noticed Sheppard's head was bowed, his chin touching his chest. Was he snoring?
"Colonel?" No response. "Colonel!" she said, somewhat louder.
"What?" he said, jerking his head up. He moaned softly and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Be careful, Colonel," Elizabeth smirked "You'll give yourself whiplash."
Sheppard glanced around to see everyone looking at him, amused smiles on their faces. "Well, I may not be able to stay awake, but at least I've provided the entertainment portion of this meeting."
"Okay, I think I get the general idea. I can get specifics later. Why don't all of you get some food and then some sleep. You have tomorrow off, as per Dr. Beckett's request. Colonel, I'll need your report in a couple of days." Elizabeth nodded at them, indicating the meeting was over.
The tired group slowly got to their feet and shuffled out of the room. Elizabeth noticed Sheppard rubbing his neck as he and McKay exited the room. She grinned when she thought she heard him mumble, "Man, I think she really did give me whiplash."