Well this update is long overdue but it's here at last! And for the first time since chapter 1, we have proper John Sheppard POV – yes folks, our boy is awake at last! Of course, the whumpage continues.. and so does the McKay angst.
Hope you enjoy the chapter – please do review and let me know your thoughts :)
It was three days before Sheppard opened his eyes. Three days with no change in his condition. Carson had said that was a good thing – no change meant his condition was stabilising and it was "encouraging" that he hadn't suffered any further setbacks. McKay quickly decided he hated that kind of mumbo-jumbo doctor speak. He suspected Carson would soon be telling them he was "cautiously optimistic". McKay was not by nature an optimistic man; as far as he was concerned, no change meant no improvement. Sheppard remained pale and still and unconscious, his body a tangle of wire and tubes, a machine doing his breathing for him.
McKay spent as much time as he could in the infirmary during those three days. The Colonel remained in intensive care and Carson continued to restrict access to his patient, limiting visits to 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Sheppard was still being closely monitored; a never-ending array of nurses and doctors checking his pulse and blood pressure, his EKG and ECG, urinalysis and blood chemistry, his medications continually being adjusted to manage his symptoms and to prevent further crises. His little corner of the infirmary was a constant hive of activity.
Elizabeth, Teyla and Ronon had all spent their share of time in the infirmary too but somehow there seemed to have been an unspoken decision to defer to McKay when it came to apportioning the limited visiting hours. A small, prideful part of Rodney's psyche almost resented being treated differently, his team's assumption that he was somehow more fragile or emotional than they, but the truth was the events in that darkened corridor had shaken him more than he liked to admit. Sleep had been hard come by during the last few nights, haunted by dreams of death and destruction from which he awoke sweating and panting, goosebumps shivering his skin, trying to shake off the imagined sensation of blood on his hands.
He felt unwillingly drawn to Sheppard's bedside - sitting there watching the rise and fall of the Colonel's chest as the ventilator pushed air into his lungs was a kind of sweet agony, equally as terrifying as it was reassuring. The need to see for himself that Sheppard was still there, still hanging on to life, warred against the fear of something else going wrong, of Sheppard being abruptly snatched from them if he should once allow himself to believe that things were going to be okay. He found himself almost holding his breath as he sat there, watching the Colonel obsessively, terrified of missing some change in his condition that would signal disaster, anticipating each rhythmic hiss of the ventilator, half-convinced that the sound would suddenly stop, that Sheppard's breathing would cease.
He knew this wasn't doing him any good, wasn't helping the nightmares, but the need to watch over Sheppard had become almost a superstition; some deep, primeval part of his soul fearing that if he stopped his self-imposed vigil, gave up his fear and his hope, then Sheppard would die and it would be his fault. He was distantly aware of Carson keeping a concerned eye on his bedside visits and knew it would not be long before he was being pushed towards talking with Dr Heightmeyer. He could even accept that, at some point, that would probably be a good idea. Right now though, talking was the last thing he felt like doing.
After three long days of nothing, of the slow, continuous hiss of the ventilator, Rodney didn't know whether to laugh or cry when Sheppard's eyes slowly opened.
Sheppard blinked slowly, his eyes drifting open as he slowly swam back to consciousness. For a long moment he was beyond conscious thought, processing only vague sensation as he stared sightlessly at the pale green ceiling above him. He felt slow, disconnected, his mind fogged by drugs and confusion.
He was only vaguely aware of sounds, muffled and distorted, beeping and clicking, voices talking. He was wrapped in a pervasive lethargy that weighed him down, making him sluggish and woozy. He frowned as he struggled to make sense of his surroundings.
A loud voice pierced through the fog in his mind, making him flinch. He tried to speak, to answer, and found he couldn't. The world rushed back into focus with a snap as he realised his mouth and throat were blocked, his chest rising and falling outside of his control; an odd, uncomfortable sensation as air was forced into his lungs. The ceiling sharpened into focus and he realised distantly he was in the infirmary, on Atlantis. A surge of panic began to well up in him as he focused in on the array of thick plastic tubing partially blocking his view, tubing that originated from somewhere just under his nose… he felt himself starting to gag helplessly, his body instinctively fighting what he realised was a ventilator, forcing him to breathe.
He felt trapped, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to breathe. His muscles tensed instinctively and a sudden sharp pain in his belly cut through his medicated numbness, making his attempts to breathe hitch, increasing his fear. He tried to raise a hand to the tubing blocking his airway and found he could barely lift his arm, his muscles trembling with fatigue. Panic sent adrenalin surging through him and he clawed weakly at the tubing with a clumsy hand, unable to get a grip on the smooth plastic.
"Colonel Sheppard!" He flinched when a face loomed over him. Beckett. Beckett was here. He tried to force himself to calm down but he couldn't breathe, couldn't get any air… A firm hand gripped his wrist and pushed his arm back down, holding it in place when he struggled
"Colonel, it's okay. You're in the infirmary. You're on a ventilator to help you breathe. I know it's uncomfortable but I need you to calm down for me and stop fighting it. Let the machine breathe for you. You're okay, there's plenty of air.. just calm down. Don't try to breathe yourself, just let the machine do its job…."
Carson kept talking, his voice calm and soothing, and Sheppard tried to do as he was told, closing his eyes as he focused only on Carson's voice, trying to push down on the panic flooding through him, trying to suppress the urge to breathe for himself, trust in Carson that he would be okay, that the machine would breathe for him.
It was a terrifying feeling; his body was not his to control, he had to surrender utterly to the machine and trust that it would work. John was not a man who found it easy to give up control.
"That's it, son. Easy now.."
He concentrated on Beckett's voice. He could trust Beckett…
"There now, you're okay son.."
He could feel the tubing in his throat, feel his chest rising and falling rhythmically. He tried to force himself to relax, concentrating on letting the tension ease from his muscles.
It took him a moment to open his eyes, the panicky feeling still fluttering at the edges of his control.
Beckett was smiling down at him, his expression an odd mixture of concern and relief. "Can you hear me, son?" Unable to speak, John fixed his gaze onto Carson's face, trying to convey to the doctor his barely-contained panic and frustration. Beckett seemed to understand, nodding his satisfaction that Sheppard was aware of his surroundings.
"Now, I know that the ventilator feels odd, Colonel, but the fact that you struggled with it is a good sign – it shows your respiratory function is trying to work spontaneously. Just give me a while to check you over and we'll see about getting you off that machine, okay?"
John's eyes roamed randomly across the ceiling and what he could see of the room as Carson fussed over him, poking and prodding and checking readings. He realised belatedly that the beeping he'd been aware of in the background was a heart monitor. A glance up to his left showed an IV stand with a couple of different solution bags hanging from it. He wondered just how long he'd been in the infirmary.. under the generalised numbness that he recognised as pain meds, he felt weak and exhausted, his limbs heavy and aching. Now that he wasn't focused entirely on the desperate need to breathe, he was becoming more and more aware of the insistent throb of pain in his belly and he realised that he didn't even know what was wrong with him, didn't remember coming to the infirmary. He frowned, biting his lip against the flaring pain, trying to remember. Nothing. He could feel the panic stirring in him again, the awful sensation that he was not in control of his own body and mind, when a noise nearby caught his attention and another face loomed over him.
Not Carson. McKay. He looked awful. Tired and worried and… lost.
"Hey," Rodney's voice was subdued, not the usual McKay arrogance at all.
Sheppard stared up helplessly at his friend, unable even to speak to him, and the frustration made him want to scream. He couldn't stop himself from tensing up, wanting to move, to do something, and the pain in his belly brought a grimace to his face, his grunt of pain stifled by the hard tube in his throat.
"Carson?" McKay called for the doctor with a look of sheer despair on his face as John struggled to get a grip on himself.
"Okay, Rodney. It's okay. Take a seat for a moment and let me look after the Colonel."
McKay let himself be ushered aside, without even a protest Sheppard realised, and then Beckett was leaning over him, blocking out the ceiling as he fiddled with the tubing of the ventilator, snapping open fastenings as he began to disconnect the machine.
"Okay, son. Let's get rid of this nasty thing, shall we? Give those lungs a chance to do some of their own work, eh?"
With a final soft click he disconnected the tubing from the mouthpiece and set it aside, leaving just the mouth piece and the endotracheal tube.
"Now, this is going to be a wee bit uncomfortable, lad. I need you to breathe out for me.."
John did his best to follow Beckett's instructions, breathing out as Carson took hold of the mouthpiece and pulled, gagging slightly as he felt the tube slide up his throat. For a moment he thought he was going to be sick and then the tube was clear and he was coughing, the pain in his belly tightening, as Carson quickly placed an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose, gently lifting his head from the pillow as he slid the elasticated strap into place. His mouth and throat felt dry and raw but it was a wonderful feeling to be able to breathe in for himself, tasting the ozone tinge of pure oxygen as he sucked in a breath.
"There now. Much better, eh?"
He nodded weakly, raising a shaky hand to move the mask aside, only for Carson to stop him with a frown.
"No, no. Leave the mask on for now, son." He pushed John's arm back to the bed with disturbing ease.
"Is he okay?" Now that he could move his head enough to look around him, John realised Rodney was still hovering nearby, anxiety written on his expressive face.
"He's doing much better, Rodney," Carson looked more than pleased.. he looked relieved. John was beginning to wonder how ill he'd been if this was "much better" because, honestly, he felt pretty darn rotten. The burning pain in his abdomen was constant now, despite the lingering effects of the pain meds in his IV, and he felt weak and shaky, so much so that any movement was an effort. And he still didn't know how he'd landed himself in this mess in the first place.
He tried to speak, despite the mask, but found his voice wouldn't work, nothing but a dry croak emerging, muffled by the oxygen mask.
"Just a moment, Colonel, your throat's going to be very dry from the ventilator. Rodney, could you get Colonel Sheppard some ice chips, please?"
McKay seemed reluctant to leave but, with an encouraging push from Carson, did slowly move away from the bed, keeping his eyes on John until he'd moved out of sight. Sheppard turned his tired gaze to Beckett and the doctor didn't need words to understand the question there.
"He's been pretty worried about you, Colonel. We all have. You gave us quite the scare.."
Some of John's confusion must have shown in his face because Carson's expression turned quizzical, his voice gentle as he asked, "Do you remember what happened, son?"
John frowned, the effort it took even to shake his head leaving him exhausted.
"You pushed me out of the way is what happened!" McKay returned with ice chips in time to catch Carson's question and see John's response, some of the old McKay bluster coming back into his voice as he shoved the cup carelessly into Carson's hands, glowering down at Sheppard almost angrily.
"Rodney.." Carson admonished gently, setting the cup of chips down as he carefully lifted the oxygen mask from Sheppard's face, letting it hang loosely under John's chin.
Fatigue was starting to catch up to Sheppard and he couldn't keep pace with McKay's lightening mood changes. He lay still, concentrating on trying to ignore the grumbling pain in his abdomen as Carson carefully slipped a couple of ice chips between his dry lips. The sensation of the ice melting in his mouth, the cool water sliding down his throat, was heavenly and he let his eyes slide closed as he savoured the refreshing moisture.
"Is he okay? Should he be doing that?" Sheppard knew McKay well enough to recognise a note of panic in his voice that bordered on hysteria. He opened his eyes tiredly to find his friend hovering anxiously once more, looking to Carson for reassurance.
"I'm fine." He was surprised by how much effort it took to talk, even those two quiet words, and by how faint and hoarse his voice sounded.
"You're not fine, you're anything but fine!" Rodney rounded on him with a fury that shocked John. "You nearly died, Colonel. All because you had to play the damn hero and push me out of the way!"
Sheppard looked groggily to Carson for confirmation and saw in the doctor's solemn face the exhaustion and concern of a man who has spent hours fighting to keep his patient alive.
"Out of the way of what?" Was that really his voice? It sounded so… frail.
Sheppard could see McKay's exasperation warring with concern at his lack of memory. "Of the great big explosion, Colonel Kamikaze! Remember? The one that took out half of my lab and left you with a chunk of metal the size of the Empire State Building sticking out of your.."
Rodney's tirade cut off suddenly as Carson in vain tried to shush him. Sheppard wasn't listening any more, his face creased in a frown as he fought to pin down a memory… a vague recollection of darkness and the crackling of tinny voices. He had a sudden picture of Rodney holding a flashlight in his teeth, his hands red and glistening in the harsh white light. Was that… was that real?
He tried to force himself to remember but the effort of concentration made him dizzy, his head beginning to ache and the fire in his belly making his muscles tremble.
He was dimly aware of Carson moving the oxygen mask back over his face. He felt so tired, so lost. Everything was confusing; his head felt heavy, his thoughts jumbled. It was all too much to deal with right now. More than anything he wanted to sleep, to just let the world slip away for a while, but the pain nagged at him and he couldn't help the smallest of groans, his exhaled breath steaming up the mask.
With an effort of will he focused his eyes on Carson, the doctor leaning over him as he spoke.
"I'm going to give you something for your pain, Colonel. This will make you a wee bit woozy so you just sleep now. Don't worry yourself. We'll be here when you wake up."
His eyes were drifting closed even as he felt the tug of the IV line in his left arm. He lay still, too tired, too weak to move, and listened to the murmur of voices as Carson and McKay talked over him.
"Is he going to be okay?"
"He's exhausted, Rodney, and in pain. He needs rest."
"But he'll be okay now?"
"His condition is stabilised and he's breathing on his own. He's making good progress."
"Making good progress! What does that mean anyway? Can't you just give me a straight answer? You doctors are as bad as politicians! Hey, where are we going? Shouldn't you..?"
"Dr Steadman can keep on eye on the Colonel. I think you'll find visiting hours are over now.."
The voices grew quieter even as the pain slowly receded, a delicious numbness creeping over him, sinking him further into lethargy. He was so very tired…
John Sheppard slept.