NOTE: You have made it to the last chapter and I have several people to thank. Thank you to all of you who read and reviewed! I never have time to answer them all, but that doesn't mean I don't read them and love them and do a happy dance over each and every one. Thank you to Kathy for giving me ideas, sometimes doing the beta thing, and for letting me take Nick out to play so often. Thank you to TheNaggingCube for sparking the idea for the ending scene in this piece with a comment she made. See, the reviewers often lead me in the direction the story ends up going. Bless you all and I hope you enjoy reading as much as I've enjoyed writing.

Memories or Nightmares – Chapter 14

Sheppard wiped the sweat from his face with a towel as he stepped into Beckett's office. "Lydia said you wanted to talk to me when she was finished."

Beckett nodded. "Aye, get you some water and then come have a seat."

Sheppard continued into the office as he held up a half-full water bottle. "Already have some. Lydia's a slave driver so that was the first thing I did."

Beckett smiled. "So I've been told."

Sheppard plopped unceremoniously down in one of Beckett's chairs and took a swig from the water bottle. "So, what did you want to see me about?"

"I wanted to tell you that I'm releasing you to light duty today and I'm expecting I'll probably release you back to full duty in about a week."

Sheppard grinned and scooted to the edge of his seat. "That's great Doc. Thanks!" He sat there watching Beckett looking down at a folder on his desk for a second. The smile slowly dissolved as he cocked his head to one side, trying to read upside down. "You aren't smiling, Doc. What's the problem?"

Beckett sighed as if collecting his thoughts and then looked back up at Sheppard. "It's really not a big deal, but I just have a feeling you're not going to be happy. I've been talking to Lydia about your arm and, even though I'm releasing you to light duty, your arm isn't back to one hundred percent."

Sheppard frowned at Beckett, narrowing his eyes as he carefully controlled his breathing. "So what am I at?"

"About ninety percent. Now, Colonel, before you get too upset at that, let me point out that since it's your left arm and it's only a ten percent loss of strength, you'll likely not even notice. You're nerve function and range of motion are both good, but it seems there may have been some muscle damage that we didn't anticipate."

Sheppard sat staring at Beckett's desk, eyes searching for a written notation of what he'd just told him. "How . . . how permanent is this and who all have you talked to?"

Beckett didn't miss the look of near panic on his face or the sound of it in his voice. "Colonel, this amount of disability should not significantly affect your performance. Since you are right-handed, it will not affect weapons handling and it shouldn't affect your flight abilities either. We're talking about a difference of lifting 90 pounds instead of 100 or of having your left arm tire of typing reports faster than your right arm. And since I'm just now discussing this with you, I haven't told anyone else yet."

Sheppard shook his head. "You don't get it Doc, it's too much. When you send certain people on earth a report that says I'm disabled, they aren't going to care about what that translates into. All they care about is getting me out of here. I can tell you what will happen. They'll recommend that I come back to earth for an examination by their guys under the guise that they can help me, then they'll either up the percent disability as far as they need or stick me in a room with a shrink and say I'm unfit psychologically. That little word disability will get me in all kinds of trouble. That's a career ender for a pilot."

Sheppard sat on the edge of his chair rubbing his hands together while Beckett assimilated what he'd just said. Sheppard finally sat back in the chair. "What percent do I need to get that down to so that you don't note it in my file?"

"Colonel, I'm not sure you can get it down any smaller. That's what I was dreading to tell you, that your arm may be permanently weakened by this. I have to admit that I wasn't expected it to be this important."

"What percent, Carson?" Sheppard's eyes bore into Beckett's, desperation fueling his insistence for an answer.

Carson sighed. "I don't know that that is such a good idea. What if you start to have problems later down the line and this hasn't been documented. You're almost certain to be having problems when you get to retirement age and you can be compensated for that if it's in your record as duty related."

Sheppard laughed, throwing Beckett completely off guard. "Look Doc, no offense, I know you're trying to help, but you know what I do and you, of all people, know what shape I come back in half the time. Retirement is the least of my worries. Besides, if I actually live that long, I'd still rather not return to earth. I don't have any desire to request disability pay."

Beckett stuttered around a minute before regaining his composure. "We will not discuss the probabilities of whether you'll make it to retirement or not, because if I have anything to say about it, you most certainly will. But I understand what you are saying. I'm still not sure it's the way to handle this. I can assure everyone of your complete ability to do your job. I would not release you to duty otherwise."

"I appreciate that, Doc. But these people don't care what you think. I'll ask you one more time. What percent do I need to get that down to so that you'd be willing to skip the disability notation?"

Beckett frowned and shook his head. "Five percent at most, but I'm still not happy about it. And to be perfectly honest, Colonel . . . I'm not sure you can do it."

"If it means staying in Atlantis, I have to. Can I do physical therapy twice a day instead of once a day until I go back on full duty?"

"I'll talk to Lydia, I'm sure she can work something out. Just don't overdo it. If you injure your arm at this point, I can almost guarantee you won't make your goal. And I can give you some time. As long as you are taking physical therapy, there's room for improvement and I won't make my final report, within reason that is."

Sheppard nodded. "That's all I can ask, Doc. Thanks."

"Just watching out for all of us. We need you here, Colonel."

Sheppard nodded as he turned and left. Beckett sighed and closed the file sitting on his desk, hoping he was making the right decision.

oOo

Sheppard set his tray down and slid into the seat across from Rodney. McKay looked up from his plate, nodded, and then did a double take. "Hey, you've got on your uniform."

Sheppard smiled wryly. "I can't get anything past you, can I?"

McKay swallowed and then poked his fork at Sheppard. "Don't be such a smartass; I know you weren't wearing those when we had breakfast this morning. Why now?"

"Beckett put me on light duty after physical therapy, so I changed into these after I showered. It looks more official when I check on my men. They take me a little more seriously in these than in sweat pants or jeans."

"Any hint of when you go back on full duty?"

"Looks like about a week."

McKay watched Sheppard eat for a few seconds, his motions mechanical and emotionless. "So what's the problem? You don't seem too happy for someone who just got cleared for duty."

"Nothing. Just something I need to work on."

"Like?"

Sheppard stopped chewing, paused, and swallowed, shifting his gaze up to McKay. "Just need to work my arm a little harder, that's all."

McKay swirled his spoon around in his pudding. "Somehow I doubt it's that simple."

Sheppard started to reply, but quickly stood up instead and waved across the infirmary. McKay turned to see Nick wave back and send Kelly on ahead in the chow line. Nick walked over to stand by their table. "Hey guys, is supper any good?"

McKay shrugged. "It's edible, but just barely. It all tastes the same tonight, just different textures."

Nick scowled. "Great, I can hardly wait. How are you guys doing? Hey, I heard you got cleared for light duty," he said, directing his comment to Sheppard.

"Yeah, I did this morning."

Nick studied him for a few seconds and then slid into the chair next to Sheppard. "Carson talked to Lydia and she can take you in the afternoons too. She's working out a program tonight."

Sheppard looked at Nick, his brow furrowed. "Sounds like you've talked to Carson. Do you think I can do it?"

Nick smiled. "If it was anyone else, I'd most likely say no, but in your case I'm going with probably so. Just please take it easy and don't push too hard. I'd hate to see you cause a set-back."

"I'll be careful. Have you talked to Kelly yet?"

Nick smiled and turned to wave at her in line. "Yes, we had a long talk earlier today. She's not very happy, but she understands what I want to do and said she would support me in it. She even volunteered to go with me if we needed nurses. Of course, I'm not willing to let that happen."

Sheppard grinned at him. "You better be careful with that. You can't expect her to support you going off world and then tell her she can't. It's a two way street you know."

Nick looked back at Sheppard. "So, you're telling me that you would be happy to have Dr. Weir go on missions with you?"

Sheppard's expression darkened almost immediately. "That's not the same thing. We aren't dating and she's the leader of Atlantis. If anyone's life is to be kept safe around here, it's hers."

"Oh, and your only motivation for keeping her on Atlantis is her being the expedition leader?"

Sheppard flushed slightly as he stammered. "Well, yes, of course. I just told you, she's irreplaceable. And there is nothing going on between us."

Nick just smiled as he patted Sheppard's arm. "Now whose fault is that? Well, anyway, Kelly is okay with me going with you guys periodically. I'd appreciate it if you didn't say anything to Dr. Weir just yet. I haven't talked to Carson and I'd like to run all this by him first. He's been a little preoccupied with your situation and it didn't seem like the right time to be asking for favors."

Sheppard nodded. "I'll hold off until you give me the word."

Nick stood up and pushed the chair back under the table. "Keep your head up, we'll figure something out. Hey, are you guys going to movie night tonight?"

"I have no idea. What are they showing?"

Nick shrugged his shoulders. "No clue. I heard several people got a bunch of new stuff on the last Daedalus run and they were going back to having movie night once a week for anyone who wanted to go. Carson said I could be late so Kelly and I could go. It starts in about thirty minutes. I'd better go catch up to Kelly so I can get a tray. See you guys later."

Sheppard gave a quick wave and turned back to his food. "You want to round up Ronon and Teyla and see the movie?"

McKay nodded. "Might as well, I guess. I don't think my eyes can handle any more computer screen time today, although I'm not sure a movie screen is much better. You going to fill me in on that?" McKay nodded his head toward Nick, now moving through the food line.

Sheppard sighed, wishing he'd taken Nick aside for their discussion. "This stays with us, McKay."

McKay's eyes widened at the prospect of hearing something clandestine. "Okay, mum's the word."

Sheppard eyed him for a few moments. "I'm serious, Rodney. This stays right here with us. Got it?"

McKay nodded, somehow looking even more eager.

"Okay, I'm trusting you. First thing is that Nick wants to come with us on missions, mostly the ones where we are likely to need medical assistance. He wants to clear it with Carson before I go asking Elizabeth. Second thing is that . . . "

Sheppard hesitated, not sure he could talk about this yet again. He just wished the whole situation would go away. He certainly didn't want to end up with anyone's pity. McKay caught on as he tried to put what he wanted to say into words.

"I'm guessing it's something to do with your arm. Are you not back to one hundred percent?"

Sheppard nodded, his features relaxing now that the subject had been broached. "I'm at ninety percent and possibly holding. I need to get the percent . . . disability down so they don't send me back to earth. I need it down far enough the word disability doesn't have to be used."

McKay nodded, understanding full well that the powers making the decisions were not happy about Sheppard still being here. But he wasn't going to worry about it, because he knew that if anyone could pull it off, it would be the swaggering, sarcastic pilot in front of him. "You'll do it."

Sheppard looked at McKay, studying his eyes and expression. He finally decided that the scientist meant it. He had the support system he needed, and for that he was grateful. He was beginning to relax and think that he just might get out of this one yet. Feeling better, he turned to McKay. "Let's go get our team. It's movie night and we're going to relax."

oOo

It was thirty minutes later when they finally rounded up their team mates and opened the door to the rec room. It was dark and crowded, the movie sounds indicating they were either watching the opening credits or the previews. McKay crept in first, followed by Sheppard with a bowl of popcorn, and then Ronon and Teyla. McKay spotted a large open spot on the floor, but they had to crawl over several people to get there.

"Why can't they move in and leave the area next to the door open so we don't have to crawl over a herd of people," whispered McKay over his shoulder. He was met with several versions of "Shhhh!"

After several fumbling minutes and a host of apologies, they finally reached their seats on the floor at the far end of the room. The movie was in full force by the time they got settled. McKay leaned over and whispered to Sheppard, "Pass the popcorn."

He looked down at the popcorn bowl, tilting lopsidedly in Sheppard's hand, as if it were about to be dropped. Sheppard's other hand had been filled with popcorn, but now lay limply in his lap with the popcorn spilling onto the floor around him. McKay looked up to Sheppard's face to see if he knew what a mess he was making, but stopped short of saying anything when he saw the Colonel's shocked expression. He wasn't sure if all the color had drained from Sheppard's face or if it was just the light from the screen reflecting off his face that made him look like he'd just seen a ghost. He heard Sheppard murmur, "Crap," softly under his breath.

McKay looked up at the screen, just in time to see a big hairy tarantula crawling around. It was then that he realized what movie was showing tonight. Arachnophobia.

THE END

Yes, I know I left a few things unresolved. That John and Nick story I spoke of will pick up shortly after this and finish those thoughts. The plot bunnies have been hard at work.