"You should have refused." Teyla's tone was much less critical than her words. She understood what she had seen. "John rarely works out with you, and even then, it is only to practice technique. This was just an effort to…"
"Punish himself? I know." Ronon looked down at her as they walked along the corridor.
"Yes." She inclined her head a fraction. "John feels guilt over what he did. It is only natural."
"That's why I agreed to spar with him. He wanted a…more strenuous workout and I could control just how strenuous it was." He shrugged matter-of-factly. "Look, Sheppard needed to get it out of his system, so I said yes."
She accepted his reasoning. "It is an indication of his trust in you that he participated with such abandon."
Teyla witnessed much of the session before she went to the mainland with Elizabeth early that morning. Sheppard had been so focused in his determination to do himself damage that he did not notice her arrival. To the untrained eye, it would have appeared brutal, but Ronon controlled the action with skill. Well, at least most of the time.
The worst injury of the workout was a nasty bruise on the Colonel's hip. He'd taken Ronon by surprise with an attack that the latter fought off with a little more zeal than intended. That throw ended the session. All of them had been alarmed by the thud. Sheppard hit the wall and mat at the same time. He remained motionless for several seconds then relieved their fear of serious injury when he allowed Ronon to haul him upright. With a silent 'Ow', he grinned and clapped Ronon on the shoulder as he limped out of the training room.
"Sheppard's much better when he doesn't think about what he's doing. He's too much in his head when he fights." Ronon chuckled as he carefully rubbed his left shoulder. The Colonel caught him with an odd move that toppled him off the edge of the mat. He'd said it was a football tackle, whatever that was.
She glanced up at him with a smile. "Yes, I know. John is not overly fond of hand to hand combat because he tries to think it through. Perhaps we can work on that."
It had been five days since they went to M4R-592 and Sheppard was tired. He was tired of reading reports, of meetings, of civilians watching him suspiciously out of the corners of their eyes, of sitting around and doing nothing, and of trying to say as little as possible to Kate Heightmeyer while telling her everything she needed to know. Even some of the Marines watched him, but their attitude was more one of protective concern than fear.
Well, he thought, at least they accepted him as CO. That had been a struggle since day one. Marines didn't seem to trust anyone except other Marines. The rest of the military was merely tolerated. Being an Air Force pilot was not the best place to start with them. And, being the Air Force pilot who had killed the Marine CO of Atlantis on the first day in the Pegasus Galaxy put him in a hole, a deep one.
He'd worked out with Ronon this afternoon, something he almost never did. For good reason. Teyla regularly left him bruised in body and ego. Ronon left him wondering if he was insane and whether he wanted to live or die. And, the big Setedan pulled his punches with him. Thank God. But, he still felt like he had when his Black Hawk was shot down in Afghanistan.
It was now quite late. Most of the personnel were in their quarters, sleeping or doing whatever it was they did at this hour. Only the night watch and a few insomniacs were up.
The Colonel left his quarters, intent on a long walk around the inhabited parts of the City. He did this frequently. There was a running joke amongst more than a few people that it was almost like a father checking to make sure the kids were tucked safely in bed, and the doors and windows were closed and locked against trespassers.
An hour later, Sheppard was beginning to ask himself if the late night exercise was a good idea. He hoped it would clear his head and work some of the aching from his bruised muscles. Even though his body felt better, his mind was still churning through the things he didn't want to dwell on. He was second guessing the decision not to take the sleeping pills offered by both Kate and Beckett. Sleep had been difficult the last couple of nights, something no unexpected. Another reason for the midnight stroll. He hoped it would tire him sufficiently to help him get through the night without seeing their faces as they died. He didn't care for drug-induced sleep, though. It left him feeling, well, drugged.
Was the momentary loss of good judgment when he asked Ronon to spar with him a need to dispel the vague numbness that still held him, a touch of masochism, or perhaps an attempt at penance? He decided it was probably all three. Even though he knew these feelings would fade soon enough, they were very…uncomfortable right now. He just had to give it time.
Still deep inside his thoughts, he turned a corner near the Gate Room and literally walked into Elizabeth. He barely caught her before she fell.
"Hey! Sorry. Are you alright?" He backed away after steadying her.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine." She glanced at her watch then half smiled, half frowned at him. "What are you doing wandering the corridors at this time of night?"
"Just thought I'd stretch my legs before hitting the sack." He raised an eyebrow at her. "What's your excuse?"
Elizabeth, who hadn't seen him since yesterday afternoon, could tell he was tired. She thought it was better to approach the subject carefully. "Reports. I was going through the feed we're sending to the SGC tomorrow and lost track of time. Feel like a cup of tea, coffee?"
He nodded and they turned to head for the mess. "Maybe not coffee, but I am hungry."
"Are you limping?" Elizabeth watched him as they walked.
"It's nothing, really. Just bruised my hip." He flashed a quick grin when she raised her eyebrows in silent query. "I foolishly thought it would be a good thing to spar with Ronon this morning."
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I thought you decided you would never do that again after the last time."
"I plead temporary insanity." He grinned again, but saw the glibness wasn't going to fly with her. "Okay, okay. I was bored. Teyla was going with you to the mainland, and Ronon wanted to work out, too. He was just showing me some moves."
"Why not one of the Marines? They all know hand to hand combat, don't they?" She asked.
"Yes, but they're mostly not willing to risk damaging their CO." He was a little defensive. "Look, Ronon did take it easy on me. I was distracted and fell. It's just a bruise, that's all."
They arrived at the mess. Elizabeth went to pick out a teabag and mug for herself, but Sheppard stopped her.
"What would you like?"
She looked around at the selection and sighed. "Just tea and one of those Athosian fruit bar things, but I don't see any."
"Go sit down. I'll be right back." His expression was conspiratorial as he limped around the serving counter towards the kitchen.
She watched him disappear then headed for a small table in the far corner of the nearly deserted room. A few minutes later, he reappeared with a tray. He set a cup, a small steaming teapot, a jar of honey and a plate with something that looked like an odd granola bar in front of her. At the place opposite her, Sheppard set down a tall glass of milk and two sandwiches. Elizabeth peered closely at the sandwiches.
"Peanut butter and jelly? And milk?" She blinked skeptically.
Feigning offense as he sat down, he frowned at her. "And, what is wrong with peanut butter and grape jelly? We don't get milk very often, even this long life stuff. I happen to like a nice cold glass with my PBJ."
Elizabeth chuckled as she dropped a small amount of the honey on her fingertip and tasted it. She then carefully peeked inside the tea pot, happy to see real tea leaves instead of the generic bags normally served. The scent was deliciously inviting. After a moment, she looked up and smiled at Sheppard.
"How did you manage this?"
He shook his head twice with a look of mild reproof. "Can't reveal my sources."
"Not fair." She tried to look like she was trying to discipline an errant child.
He grinned then watched as she began to turn the teapot this way and that, waiting for the tea to fully steep. While he was distracted, she took the opportunity to study his face. When he picked up one sandwich, she poured a cup of tea and drizzled a little honey into it. "John, how are you doing?"
He paused with the sandwich halfway to his mouth as she spoke. Instead of answering, he offered it to her first. "Want a bite? I have two here. It's crunchy."
"No, thank you. And, you haven't answered my question. Are you alright?" She persisted.
"I'm getting there." He took a bite of the PBJ and looked at her while he chewed, challenging her to persevere.
She nodded after a moment's consideration. He'd actually said more than she expected. She picked up the cup and breathed in the aroma of a rare Earl Grey blend she loved. It was more than a little disconcerting that he found out and procured one of her favorite, and hard to find, teas without her knowledge. One day she would discover how he was getting these details about her.
"So, how was the mainland today?" Sheppard asked.
"Fine. It was long overdue." She carefully sipped the hot tea. "It it's amazing how far along the settlement has come in such a short time. They have cleared more land and have planted enough grain to easily see them through the winter and give them a surplus for trade. They've found more fruit trees and some kind of nut tree, but it will be a couple of months before they're ready to pick."
"Are they still talking about going back to Athos?"
"Some still want to, but most seem content to stay here. For the foreseeable future, anyway." She paused, thoughtful. "I think they understand that it is safer here and that they will be able to Athos return later."
"There isn't anything to go back to." He shook his head. "The Wraith practiced a scorched earth policy for miles around the Gate. It's going to take years for it to be habitable again, if ever."
Elizabeth nibbled at the fruit bar while he ate, happy to see his appetite was returning. She was grateful that the two or three people who wandered in for food left them well alone. She poured a second cup of tea and stirred honey into it before talking again.
"Rodney seems to have settled down. Were able to talk to him?"
"Yeah." He swallowed the last of the milk. "I cornered him last night in his lab."
She nodded, remembering the astrophysicist's distress on their return to Atlantis. Elizabeth had witnessed McKay's panic, fear and various neuroses before, but this had been something different. She was very serious when she mentioned her concern to Kate about the friendship between him and Sheppard. It took a lot of effort on her part to follow Kate's advice and not try to intervene.
"That must have been interesting." She prompted.
He half shrugged. "It was actually pretty easy. All I had to do was lock the door and turn everything off to get him to stand still."
"I bet he loved that." She smiled at his nod. Then she became serious again. "So, will everything be okay between the two of you?"
He considered for a moment. "I think so. Rodney just needed a little time to get over the initial shock. He wasn't prepared to see what he did. I don't think even Teyla or Ronon quite expected it. I tried to tell him to leave, but you know him."
"Yes, he is obstinate…not unlike some other people I know." She looked all innocent as she raised her cup to her lips. After taking a sip, she continued. "Has Kate indicated when she's going to clear you for a mission?"
He shook his head. "She wants to see Rodney and me together first."
Elizabeth couldn't suppress a snicker. "Couples counseling?"
Sheppard rolled his eyes upwards and groaned. "Thank you for that image. Now I am scarred for life."
"Well you two do act like an old married couple sometimes." She said, still trying to control her mirth.
"Oh, please! Just don't let Rodney, or anyone else hear you say that." He chuckled then became a little more serious. "Maybe next time I tell him to do something, he'll listen."
"Nah, but one can only hope."
"You know, John did a lot of the work with Rodney the last couple of days." Kate Heightmeyer sat back in her chair, data pad on her lap. "I admire his patience. He's handled the situation very well."
"Yes. I've seen them talking." Elizabeth nodded. She thought for a moment. "Did you know that John is the only one who will take Rodney on missions? Oh, the good Dr. McKay has gone with other teams once or twice, but the missions didn't go well."
"I've heard that." Kate smiled. "I believe that helping Rodney was therapeutic for John as well. As you know, Rodney is more than candid. During the sessions I had with them together, it drew John out a little more than he would go on his own. He made himself more vulnerable to help his friend."
"It doesn't surprise me. John is quite protective of his team. Actually, he's protective of everyone here." Elizabeth mused.
"Yes, I have noticed that." Kate turned off the data pad and set it on the table next to her. "To Rodney's credit, he responded with greater empathy than I thought possible for him. I believe the death of Dr. Collins has helped him to have some understanding of what this cost John."
"Thank you, Kate. I appreciate your help." Elizabeth was relieved.
"They can resume full duties, including going on off-world missions." Kate smiled. "That is what you wanted to hear, isn't it?"
"Yes. Thank you." Elizabeth exhaled. She still had the odd reservation, but those were always there when it came to Rodney going on missions. "Anything I should know?"
"Other than Rodney still having all of his neuroses and phobias?" Kate raised her eyebrows. "No, not really. Like I said, I will keep an eye on them. I've scheduled a couple of sessions with each of them over the next few weeks."
"I'm happy to hear that." Elizabeth smiled and stood up. "Okay. I'll give them a green light. Thank you, Kate."
Kate smiled back. "You are very welcome."
Two days later, Elizabeth watched from the walkway outside of her office as Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon stood below her. They were waiting on the edge of the Gate Room floor, geared up and ready to go. The Colonel glanced at his watch just as McKay hurried down the stairs.
"Rodney, so glad you could join us." He raised an eyebrow at the astrophysicist. "Are you quite ready? Or, do you need another day off?"
"I was just…" McKay pointed up the stairs then saw expression on the Colonel's face. "Oh, ha-ha-ha. Let's go."
Sheppard looked up to the technician and signaled to dial the Gate. The wormhole opened and his team started forward. As he turned to follow, he looked up at Elizabeth, grinned and waved. Then he disappeared through the event horizon.
Elizabeth folded her arms. She whispered so that no-one else could hear. "Be safe."