A/N: Thank you for all the wonderful reviews – I love you all. This is the final chapter. I know what you're thinking – Titan5 did a story in 3 chapters? Kind of shocked myself. And it was even pretty quick – the wonders of spring break. Thanks to Shelly for having me write this, it was fun! I hope you enjoy!
Dazed and Confused - Chapter 3
Sheppard heard a mixture of voices around him and he slowly began trying to understand them, to remember who the voices belonged to. They were familiar and yet unfamiliar. He listened for other sounds he would recognize, the sounds of airplanes flying overhead or helicopters taking off, the sound of explosions in the distance. None of these sounds were forthcoming, causing him to feel confused and misplaced. He was finally aware enough to realize there was only one way to figure out what was going on. He opened his eyes.
Several people surrounded his bed, sitting in chairs or on the edge of adjacent beds. He knew them, but was having trouble remembering names. They were there, he just couldn't bring them to mind. He looked around the room, deciding it was definitely an infirmary, although he wasn't sure where it was located.
Sheppard looked up into the familiar face of a doctor. Well, at least he had the Sheppard part right. "Yeah?"
The other people around the room had gotten quiet and were focused on him and the doctor, making Sheppard feel a bit like he was on display.
"Do you remember where you're at lad?"
"The infirmary . . . but not in Afghanistan I assume." The doctor looked disappointed and Sheppard sighed, feeling as though he'd let everyone down and he didn't even know why.
"You're in Atlantis."
"Atlantis, Sheppard, Atlantis!" Another familiar face appeared on the other side of his bed. The man was obviously agitated, waving his hands around wildly as he talked, a gesture that seemed oddly familiar to Sheppard. "My God, have you not figured out where you are yet? We came through the stargate to Atlantis over a year ago and we've been fighting the Wraith ever since. How can you not remember that? Snap out of it, already." He looked up at the doctor, his face red as he sputtered. "Do something, Carson. Can't you give him some kind of drug or hit him in the head again or shock him or something?"
Sheppard closed his eyes against the building headache. "I got it McKay!" He was remembering their names and where they were, a rush of information tumbling through his thoughts, causing the room to spin and his stomach to rebel.
He felt a hand on his and a soft voice asked, "John, are you alright?"
He opened his eyes to see Elizabeth. "Dizzy."
"Just lie still, Colonel, and it will probably pass in a minute." This time he knew who Beckett was. He knew who they all were and it seemed odd that he hadn't just a minute ago. He closed his eyes again as his thoughts swirled around almost as fast as the room was spinning. He just wanted to go back to sleep and start all over. But then the grip on his hand tightened and he felt the spinning begin to slow down.
"Colonel, is it any better?"
Sheppard opened his eyes and looked at Beckett. "Yeah, I think so," he whispered.
"Good, just take it easy." Beckett turned to McKay, pursing his lips. "And you, I'd better not catch you yelling at the Colonel any more. He's doing the best he can and you're not helping by getting up in his face and hollering at him."
McKay backed up a step as Beckett stepped forward. "Okay, I'm sorry. It was just getting frustrating."
"Then how do you think it feels to him?" asked Ronon.
McKay nodded. "I guess I didn't think of that."
Sheppard opened his eyes and looked around the room. Everyone looked somewhat beat up, but no one seemed to be seriously injured. "Is every one okay?"
"They're all fine, Colonel, now how are you?" Beckett proceeded to shine his penlight in each eye, but Sheppard just lay there and let him. "Do you remember what happened?"
Sheppard thought a few seconds before responding. "Part of it I think. We were captured by the prisoners on the island and held hostage. I think we were running from Wraith and then . . . nothing."
Elizabeth nodded. "You and your team barely made it back to Atlantis before the Wraith got you. Dr. Beckett said you probably hit your head once in the jumper crash and again coming through the gate. That's why you've been so disoriented."
Sheppard frowned. "Disoriented? Like when I woke up just now?"
McKay snorted. "It was a little more serious than that. You kept looking for your helicopter."
"Helicopter. You know, whirly-bird thing that flies through the air. You brought General O'Neill to the outpost in Antarctica in one."
Sheppard would have rolled his eyes, but he was pretty sure that would have been followed by losing his lunch, so he bypassed that idea. "McKay, I know what a helicopter is."
"Colonel, what Rodney is so . . . eloquently trying to tell you is that you were somewhat confused and sometimes talked as if you were reliving things in your past," said Beckett. "Not to worry, though, since you seem to have caught up with present day events."
Sheppard frowned and tried to remember what had happened between running from the Wraith and now. He vaguely remembered weird dreams, a mixture of Afghanistan and Atlantis, but none of it made any sense. "How long have we been back?"
"You got back about this time yesterday, so around twenty-four hours," said Elizabeth. "Do you remember anything?"
"Not really," Sheppard sighed. He hated losing time. He shifted in the bed and grimaced, bringing his right hand up to his left shoulder. He realized that the shoulder had been immobilized, spurring him to remember their captors painfully jerking his arms back around the pole.
"Guess I messed my shoulder up again."
Beckett smiled. "Not so bad this time. There is some inflammation and swelling, but I don't think you've torn anything loose. If you keep it immobilized for a few days and let it heal, I don't think you'll need surgery or anything this time."
Sheppard relaxed a little against the pillows. He really didn't want to do the surgery and physical therapy thing again.
McKay poked his head up over Beckett's shoulder. "What did you do to your shoulder?"
Sheppard was looking at Beckett, seeing knowledge in the man's eyes, knowledge about his original injury and the events surrounding it. There was something else there that he didn't like – sympathy. It made him wonder exactly what he'd said while he'd been 'disoriented'.
"It's nothing, McKay. I dislocated my shoulder several years ago and it keeps giving me problems." Sheppard looked down at his feet, suddenly feeling like the people around him knew entirely too much. He needed to steer the conversation in a different direction.
"Any chance we might recover the jumper?"
Elizabeth smiled down at him. "I don't think so, John. The Wraith were heading for the city when we left, so it may not be safe to go back there for a while. Rodney says the chances of fixing the jumper were somewhat remote, anyway."
McKay stepped forward. "They were remote without the proper materials or equipment, neither of which were available on the planet. If we could get the jumper back to Atlantis, or maybe go back with the proper equipment, I think I can repair it."
"Well, that may be a while," stated Elizabeth authoritatively. "I'm not risking any lives for a jumper we could use, but don't have to have." She moved her hand and brought it down on Sheppard's right leg.
Sheppard yelped and jerked his legs up as he folded his body momentarily into a V-shape. The sudden movement pulled on his shoulder and ribs and spiked his headache, causing him to groan softly as he eased himself back down into the pillows with his eyes tightly closed against the pain and dizziness. The world continued to swirl in a fog of pain and darkness for several moments until he finally began to focus in on the voices around him.
"Colonel Sheppard, I need you to talk to me. Just relax and try to open your eyes."
He focused in on Beckett's voice as the room settled and opened his eyes to find Beckett hovering over him, just as he'd expected. "I'm okay, Doc," he said softly, surprised at how weak he sounded. He swallowed a couple of times, still fighting the nausea.
"I'm sorry, John, I didn't know your leg was injured." Elizabeth was looking down at him, her brow furrowed in worry.
"Just a bruise."
"We did find a rather nasty bruise just over your right knee, Colonel. Any idea how it happened?"
Sheppard winced. That part he remembered perfectly, although he wished he didn't. Yeah, he had a nice visual image of what he probably looked like trying to snap the branch over his knee like Teyla had done and failing miserable. Just one more example of Teyla outdoing him. He realized if he dwelled too much on events like that, it could do serious damage to his confidence in his manhood. Better not to dwell.
"I know exactly how it happened and I'm pleading the fifth." He watched Elizabeth's eyebrows shoot up and gave her his best 'I dare you to ask' glare. He shifted his gaze over to see Teyla and Ronon smile as they shared a glance and it made him wonder if they had seen his little mishap. He decided that he really didn't want to know. Sometimes ignorance was bliss – or at least pretty close.
"Well, I'm guessing there's an interesting story in there somewhere," smirked Elizabeth.
"I'm not . . . " Sheppard broke off as his dry throat finally caught up with him and he launched into a coughing fit. It only lasted a few seconds, but was enough to push his headache up about three notches and start a fire in his bruised ribs. He was beginning to see spots in his vision by the time he relaxed back against the pillows. McKay appeared with a cup of water and he and Beckett helped Sheppard sit up so he could drink. The water felt so good going down that he tried to drink quickly, suddenly feeling very thirsty. Beckett pushed the cup away.
"Slow down, Colonel, not too fast. You'll make yourself sick."
Sheppard leaned back against the pillows as they eased him back down, savoring the cool moisture left behind from the water. He thought for a second that water had never tasted so good, and then he remembered another time. Suddenly images of Johnson asking for more water filled his head. "Oh, no," he whispered as he closed his eyes and willed the next part not to come. He jumped as he heard the shot in his head and saw the shocked look on the kid's face as he stumbled backwards in the cell, falling with a thump to the dirt floor. The horror and grief hit him raw and fresh, completely catching him off guard. "Shit," he mumbled.
Beckett watched Sheppard's face go from relaxed to being twisted in pain as he closed his eyes and whispered to himself. Beckett was beginning to lean toward Sheppard when the pilot jumped in response to something the rest of them couldn't hear. Sheppard then rolled over on his side and curled up as he once again mumbled to himself and made a whimpering sound. Beckett was connecting the dots in his head when Sheppard suddenly gagged, prompting the doctor to pull Sheppard over to the side of the bed and hold him as he hung over the edge, vomiting. Beckett supported him until the dry heaves had ceased and then eased Sheppard back onto the bed. Sheppard curled up, wrapping his arms around his aching ribs and panting shallowly.
One of the nurses heard the commotion and came quickly to Beckett's side, bringing a damp cloth with her. Beckett took it and began wiping Sheppard's face, now coated with a thin layer of sweat. "Get me some Compazine," he directed her. When he had Sheppard settled, he turned back to his surprised visitors.
"I think you should go now. I'm getting him some Compazine for the nausea and it'll make him drowsy, which is okay because he needs the rest. He probably won't be up to visitors again until tomorrow." Taking in their worried, confused faces, he decided they probably needed more reassurance. "He'll be okay. I think some things that happened combined with the injuries have awakened some memories that aren't very pleasant for the Colonel. He just needs some time to sort through them and deal with them. This has been a little more serious that his standard bump on the head and it's going to take him some time to get over. You just need to be patient with him and don't push. He'll talk if and when he's ready."
They solemnly nodded and began filing out of the infirmary. Ronon walked over to Sheppard's bed and leaned over close to his head. Sensing his presence, Sheppard opened his eyes and looked up at him, his face tense and drawn.
"Have Beckett call me if you need me. It does get better with time, Sheppard."
Sheppard saw a reflection of what he felt in Ronon's eyes and he knew the man understood better than anyone. "Thanks. I know."
Ronon nodded and left. Sheppard looked up to see Beckett injecting something into his IV port and smiling down at him.
"Just give it a few minutes to work, Colonel, and you should feel better."
"Thanks, Doc," he whispered. He closed his eyes and waited, wishing there was something Beckett could give him to make the sight of Johnson's bloody body go away with the nausea.
Beckett finished probing Sheppard's ribcage and offered him a hand, helping him up to a sitting position. He then proceeded to move Sheppard's arm to different positions, asking Sheppard about how that felt along the way. Sheppard answered and occasionally winced as the doctor checked his shoulder and made notes on his chart. When he had finished, Beckett stood back and crossed his arms, frowning at Sheppard.
"You've been awfully quiet these past few days."
Sheppard absently rubbed his shoulder, now aching from the movement. "Nothing much to say I guess. How's my shoulder?"
"Well, it's healing. You still have some pain with backward movements, but it's getting better. You don't need to do much with that arm for a few more days, but we don't need to immobilize it any more. Everything else seems okay and you've been pretty coherent the last couple of days, so I'm going to release you to your quarters. I don't want much physical activity from you for the next few days and get plenty of rest. I want you to let me know if you have any more dizziness or nausea or if the headaches get too bad."
Sheppard nodded. "Okay, Doc. I can do that."
"Colonel, I don't know how much you remember about your first twenty-four hours in the infirmary, but you talked a little about some events from your past."
Sheppard frowned. "Like what?"
"About trying to help Mitch and Dex, and about someone you called Big Dog and a kid named Johnson. You were pretty upset about the death of Johnson."
Sheppard quickly diverted his eyes to the floor. "I hadn't thought about him for a long time," he said quietly.
"Colonel, I know how much you hate talking to Kate, but if you ever need someone to listen, I'm here. And I think Ronon would probably be a good listener too." Beckett smiled. "Goodness knows he doesn't talk much."
Sheppard looked up, his brow furrowed. "Ronon?"
Beckett nodded. "He was in the infirmary with his leg and I think he heard most everything. He informed me that I'd better take good care of you. I think he's now your unofficial watchdog."
Sheppard moved his gaze back to the floor. "I don't think he's very impressed with me. He thinks I'm weak. I can see it in his eyes."
Beckett snorted. "Well, lad, I think you'd better look again, because if he thought that before, he certainly doesn't think that now. We both heard enough to curl our hair and I think we were both impressed that you're still on your feet."
Sheppard just shook his head as he continued to look at the floor. "Nothing impressive here, Doc."
Beckett sighed. "And that opens another can of worms. How long have you had the impression that you are expendable?"
Sheppard watched his dangling feet as he swirled them around in circles. "At least since I joined the military, maybe before. They pretty much let you know that in the beginning. They aren't mean about it or anything, it's just they want you to know from the get-go that when you send soldiers into combat situations, people are going to die and you have to learn to live with that. It's just part of it."
"Well, I don't happen to agree with that and I'll be doing my best to change your mind from now on."
Sheppard stilled his legs and looked up at Beckett. "I appreciate what you're saying and your concern, but it doesn't change anything. You don't have to like it and you don't have to accept it – it's just the way things are."
Beckett just shook his head. "I have one more thing to say before you go. You should talk to Elizabeth and Rodney about Atlantis"
Sheppard cocked his head to one side. "What about Atlantis?"
"That she talks to you."
Sheppard sighed. "Crap. What didn't I run my mouth about? Remind me to wear a helmet next time I go through the gate."
Beckett chuckled. "This was a very enlightening experience for me, Colonel. I think I've learned a lot about you." Sheppard narrowed his eyes as he looked at the doctor. "Don't worry, Colonel, my lips are sealed."
Sheppard nodded. "Thanks, Doc. I'll think about talking to Rodney and Elizabeth soon, but I'm not ready yet. I'm still figuring this thing out."
"Fair enough. Now, where was I?"
Sheppard grinned. "I think you were about to release me."
Sheppard slowed to a stop and leaned heavily against the railing, breathing hard as he watched Ronon stop and turn several yards ahead. He turned his back to the railing and slid down to a sitting position. Opening his water bottle, he squirted water in his mouth and then all over his face, feeling the coolness run down his hot, sweaty skin. At least he could drink water again without wanting to heave or cry. He guessed that was progress.
"You're slow and out of shape," said the Satedan, looking down at Sheppard.
"Yeah, I know. That's what happens when you're on medical leave for three weeks." The headaches and dizzy spells had persisted for almost two weeks and he'd thought at one time Beckett was going to slap him back in the infirmary. He was extremely happy when they finally disappeared. Beckett had finally cleared him for physical activity yesterday and he wasn't sure but what he wasn't regretting it about now.
"Sheppard, you were always slow."
Sheppard raised his index finger and smiled. "But not always out of shape."
Ronon walked over and sat down beside Sheppard, getting out his own water bottle and taking a drink. "Are you okay, Sheppard?"
Sheppard turned and looked at Ronon, trying to read his expression. "I'm fine. Something make you think I'm not?"
Sheppard sighed. "Exactly how much did you hear while we were in the infirmary. I don't remember what I talked about, but Carson has filled me in on part of it and I know I said way too much."
"I heard enough."
Sheppard still couldn't read the stone features of the former runner. "I guess I look pretty pathetic, don't I?" Sheppard looked down at his feet, still trying to get his breathing back under control.
"For a smart man, sometimes you're pretty stupid."
Sheppard's head snapped up as he frowned. "What do you mean by that?"
Ronon shook his head. "I thought about leaving for a while."
"Leaving my team . . . leaving Atlantis . . . what?"
"Both. I've watched you avoid fights on several occasions and try to deal with people when I would have blasted them. I had decided you were either afraid, inept, or, as you put it, lazy. I have no desire to follow anyone like that, so I was getting ready to go my own way."
"Was? Does that mean you changed your mind?"
"I saw a different side of you when you were pressed on that planet. And I saw a different side of you in the infirmary. You're not afraid or inept or lazy. You're just tired of watching people die and you avoid it when you can. You haven't become calloused to it like I have. It still bothers you to kill people and to have the people around you die. When you're careful, it's not because you're watching out for your own skin, you're watching out for everyone else. That's something I can respect. That's someone that I can follow."
"You're wrong about one thing. I am afraid."
"We're all afraid to some degree. You have the good, keep you alive fear, not the crippling, makes you a coward fear."
They sat in silence for several minutes. Sheppard finally looked back at Ronon. "You know I am lazy, though, right?"
Ronon grinned. "I'll help you work on that. We need to run another thirty minutes, so get up." Ronon got to his feet and held out his hand.
Sheppard looked at the hand a second and then took it, using Ronon's leverage to pull himself to his feet. "Thanks."
"Sometimes we all need help Sheppard. The trick is learning to accept it. I'm just getting used to that part myself."
Sheppard nodded. "Maybe that's something we can work on together."
"Maybe. In the meantime, last one to the mess hall carries the other one's lunch." Ronon turned and took off running.
"Ronon, I'm not racing you. Ronon?" Sheppard started running after Ronon, desperately trying to catch up. "That's not fair and I'm not carrying your lunch. Ronon!"