Well, here's the final chapter. It's been a long old trek, but I've had fun. Thanks to those of you who loyally reviewed! A final thanks goes to Kodiak, for her skill as a beta and support as a friend: you're the best, sweetie!
Rodney approached Sheppard's bed quietly, taking in the scene before him. Elizabeth sat gently holding the sleeping mans fingertips, her face full of concern and hurt.
On hearing McKay near her, Elizabeth turned and smiled sadly.
"How is he?" Rodney asked, though he had a pretty good idea what the answer to his question would be.
Weir shrugged her shoulders, letting go of John's hand as she did so.
"He let out a lot of frustration, actually. I think you sort of unpopped the cork that was keeping his emotions in check."
Rodney smiled his usual lopsided grin.
"Yes, well, they don't call me a genius for nothing, Elizabeth."
"No, I don't suppose they do," she mused. Turning back to look at John, Weir let out a huff of breath. "He's hurting so badly, and there's nothing we can do to help him, is there?"
McKay looked down at his hands.
"Not really. We can only offer our support. He'll be much better now that he's got some of whatever he was feeling off his chest. It's not easy, you know."
Weir suddenly realised that she'd forgotten that Rodney had also suffered a similar fate as Sheppard.
"Oh God. I'm sorry. In all the commotion, I hadn't thought about how any of this must be affecting you."
Rodney shrugged, and a sudden expression of pain graced his face.
"Ironic, isn't it? The cowardly scientist copes better than the brave military man does. Only he's suffered so much more than I have. In his position I'd be frustrated, but I couldn't care less about being looked after." McKay laughed softly, being careful not to wake Sheppard. "I actually think I'd quite enjoy the attention. He's not me though, is he?"
Elizabeth looked at Rodney.
"No, he's not," she replied, her mouth twitching in response to McKay's words. "One of you is more than enough, I think."
McKay looked momentarily insulted, but seeing Weir's smile, relaxed.
"I'll take that as a compliment. I'm unique and irreplaceable, I know…"
"And yet so unusually modest," Weir quipped. Rodney bristled at Elizabeth's joke. "You do make me smile, though, and right now – well, I really need that. Are you okay?"
Rodney considered Elizabeth's question, and irritation reared its head in response.
"Well, other than Sheppard deciding to burn the skin off my thighs…"
"I think that's a slight exaggeration, Rodney. Your legs were just slightly pink, I didn't even need to treat them…"
Carson's interjection took Rodney and Weir by surprise
"Well, they still hurt you know. I have very delicate skin, and it scars very easily," Rodney whined.
Beckett gave McKay a withering look.
"There's not much that's delicate about you, Rodney. You're fine." Carson looked across at Sheppard. "How's my patient?"
Elizabeth looked at John, and back at Beckett.
"No change from the last time you visited ten minutes ago," she replied jokingly.
Carson pulled up a chair, and plopped himself down.
"Well, his vitals seems steady enough, and a sound sleep will do him the world of good. You did very well, Rodney. We'll make a psychologist out of you yet, though I'm not sure Kate would approve of some of your methods."
Rodney smiled lopsidedly, looking rather pleased with himself.
"Hey. If it works, use it," he replied as he shrugged his shoulders. "I feel pretty whacked. I'm just going to lie down over there for a while." McKay pointed to a bed in the corner of the infirmary. "Wake me if he does."
Beckett nodded, then turned his attention to Weir.
"Off you go. Elizabeth, I suggest you head off too. I need to make some checks on the colonel anyway." Weir started to protest, and Carson raised his hand to quieten her. "No arguments. I need to do some wound checks, and you can't be here for that – so, go and eat something, then sleep. That's an order," he said firmly.
Elizabeth grudgingly stood, and turned to leave, glancing back one last time at the still sleeping Sheppard.
"He'll be fine. You and Rodney have really helped him turn the corner, I think," Carson assured the anxious woman.
"I hope so, Carson. I really do."
When consciousness returned to John, the first thing he noticed was that his head felt heavy, and that he felt mentally exhausted. As he blinked his surroundings into focus, he saw that he was alone, and sighed in relief. He remembered his freak out and throwing his soup over McKay. He resolved to apologise the second he saw the physicist, and hoped he hadn't damaged the man's infamously sensitive skin.
John's thoughts then turned to Elizabeth. God, he'd really lost it with her. Well, another humiliating episode to stand alongside the rest of them. He'd apologise to her too. How could he have lost control like that? Breaking down in front of Weir rated even worse than some of his physical needs being attended to by other people. What a mess, what a hell of a mess.
"Good morning, Colonel. How are you feeling?"
John turned his head to see Carson standing beside his bed.
"I've felt better," he answered honestly.
Beckett grimaced in sympathy.
"Aye. I'm sure you have." He sat in the chair at Sheppard's bedside, and looked at John seriously. "Let's have a talk."
John nodded, and chewed his lip.
"Okay," he reluctantly agreed. "I think I need to apologise. Is Rodney okay? I didn't mean to lose my temper with him. I certainly didn't want him to get covered in boiling soup because I lost my cool…"
Beckett reached out to pat John's arm.
"He's fine. Not a mark. He slept like a baby last night. He tried to make you angry to get you to open up a bit, you know."
Sheppard's face showed his surprise.
Carson smiled, and studied John's features carefully, assessing his patient's mood.
"Rodney's become a bit of a psychologist, though I don't think Kate need feel worried yet…"
John turned his head away in embarrassment.
"I feel like such an idiot. I broke down in front of Elizabeth. How could I do that?" John shook his head, and turned to look at Beckett. "She must think I'm a complete head case, as well as being mentally unfit to be military commander here. I'll hand in my resignation. I don't want to go back to Earth though. She'll let me stay here, right? I mean, I could go to the mainland, and help the Athosians…"
Beckett closed his eyes, and held his breath, trying to calm himself down a little before he answered John. Opening them, he exhaled.
"Stop right there. Elizabeth trusts you and relies on you more than anybody here. She doesn't think you're weak or unable to resume your duties. She understands you needed to vent some frustration." Carson saw John's face and shook his head in warning. "No, listen to me. We all care about you, and understand how you're feeling. Of course we have sympathy for you, but we don't pity you. We admire you. You've got a few things out in the open now, and I'm optimistic once you've smoothed things over with Rodney, and spoken to Elizabeth, that you'll get past this."
John took in a hitching breath.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…" Sheppard stopped as he felt his grip on his emotions start to crumble.
"That's okay, Lad. You don't need to keep apologising. I want to resume your PT now. Do you think you can manage that? The sooner you're on your feet, the sooner you earn your ticket out of here," Beckett promised.
John smiled falteringly, but nodded his head in agreement.
"Yeah. I'll be fine. I'll be good, I promise."
Carson stood and patted John's shoulder.
"I know you will be. Let's get some breakfast in you, just something light. How about fruit juice and toast?" John nodded. "I'll see to that and call Ronon, and then we'll get started."
An hour later and John was returned to his bed. Sweat dripped down his forehead, and pain was etched into his handsome features, but he felt good. He knew he'd achieved something. He'd managed to walk, albeit with Ronon acting as a human crutch – but, John hadn't fainted or felt dizzy, and despite his exhaustion, he felt positive for the first time in what felt to him like an eternity.
Melissa approaching his bed with clean scrubs and washing materials didn't even phase John. He watched silently as she closed the privacy screens behind her.
"Colonel? Let's get you all clean and fresh. I heard you excelled at your PT. Well done," the nurse praised.
John smiled warmly, but exhaustion pulled at his features.
"Yeah. I did okay. I think I'll feel even better when Doc agrees to let me have a shower," he admitted, hoping the nurse would take the hint, and try and persuade Beckett on his behalf to let him actually have one.
"Nice try, Colonel. I'm glad to see you're up to your old tricks again. However, it's a little premature for showers yet. You'll just have to put up with me, I'm afraid."
Sheppard grinned back.
"Well, it was worth a try, and you're not so bad. I'm sorry I've been a pain. I'll really try to behave from now on."
The nurse cocked her head slightly, and her face became serious.
"You've got no reason to apologise. Just get better, and keep trying to manipulate us like you usually do. Then I'll know you're really getting better. Come on, let's get you cleaned up. Dr. McKay is waiting to see you."
"Round three of apologies 'r' us. I don't think I've ever said sorry so much in my life. Did you hear what I did to him?"
The nurse nodded, and bit her lip to stop herself from laughing.
"I'm sure he understands…" she began.
"This is McKay we're talking about. I'm surprised he hasn't been asking for skin grafts…"
"I heard that, Sheppard," a disembodied voice bellowed form outside the privacy curtain.
John laughed, and didn't even protest as Melissa carefully and slowly eased off his scrub top, and began to wash her patient.
"Finally! How long does it take to wash an invalid? I could feel my hairline receding waiting for you to get clean."
Sheppard allowed the corners of his mouth to twitch.
"Nice to see you too, Rodney."
"Yes, well. I'm glad you're feeling better. You look terrible, but Carson tells me you're doing good, so…"
Sheppard closed his eyes briefly, as he prepared for his next words.
"I'm sorry for burning you with the soup last night. That was unforgivable. And I just wanted to say…thanks – for everything. You've been through hell, but you've been there for me. I won't forget that."
McKay's face betrayed his emotions, and he coughed before answering John, attempting to clear his lumpy throat.
"Yes, well, fortunately my legs are fine. And – you're welcome. What are friends for?"
Sheppard grinned lopsidedly.
"Yeah. Thanks, Rodney."
McKay shook his head.
"God, you can be such a diva, though. I don't know how much you remember about your little freak out, but, boy, can you act like a girl…"
John closed his eyes as Rodney launched into a monologue, citing John's terrible behaviour. He felt himself pulled into soft, comforting darkness, and relished the normality of Rodney's rant as it grounded him. Maybe everything would turn out okay, after all.
When John next woke up, it was to find Elizabeth walking towards him, tray in hand.
"Good afternoon, John. You look better," she said warmly.
Sheppard nodded, but couldn't quite manage a smile. Firstly, he knew he needed to talk to Weir about his breakdown earlier, and that was something he wasn't looking forward to. Secondly, Elizabeth had come to feed him – again, and he just couldn't bear the thought of that. Steeling himself, he watched as Weir put down the tray on the table, and pushed it across John's legs.
"Yeah. I am." Looking awkwardly down in his lap, John bit his lip.
Elizabeth noticed his discomfort.
"Hey. You okay?" she asked in concern.
John looked up, and exhaled.
"I'm getting there. Listen, I owe you an apology…for what happened. I'm…I'm not good at showing my feelings, and I'm sorry I lost it. I don't know what happened." John returned his gaze to his lap. "If you want me to stand down as military leader – well, I couldn't blame you. I'm a mess, and hardly fit to do that job right now…"
John felt Weir's warm hand on his arm.
"John? Listen to me. Of course I want you as my military commander! Nothing's changed. You've been very sick, and suffered emotionally and mentally beyond my comprehension. You need time to heal, and you're doing really well. Now stop being so silly and let's get some food in you, you're looking positively skinny," Elizabeth teased.
Sheppard lifted his head, and the corners of his mouth twitched.
"I'm not skinny, just – lean," he retorted. His face returned to one of seriousness. "I'm sorry about, you know, breaking down. I feel pretty humiliated about it."
Weir sighed in frustration.
"You're human, John. You needed to let off steam, and I'm glad I was there to help you through it. I don't think any less of you, and what happened is between you and me. Okay?"
John nodded. "Okay. I still feel stupid though."
Elizabeth started to stir the soup on the table, and grimaced in sympathy.
"I know, but you're just going to have to get over it. I think it's chicken noodle today, or should I say pseudo chicken noodle," she laughed, trying to lighten the mood. Seeing the uncomfortable look on John's face, Weir dropped the spoon. "What's wrong?"
Sheppard let out a deep breath.
"Look, don't take this the wrong way, but I really don't want you to feed me. It's not that I don't appreciate you helping me, because I do. It's just…" John faltered, and looked pleadingly into Weir's eyes.
"You just can't cope with your boss fussing over you? John, I'm your friend…" Elizabeth explained.
"I know. Please try and understand? I'm trying really hard not to freak out over what's happened to me, but I like and respect you, and this is making me feel…pretty useless. It's bad enough the nurses having to care for me, but at least it's their jobs…" John stopped again, at a loss to explain why he felt so strongly about such a seemingly trivial thing.
Weir smiled warmly, trying to reassure he friend.
"It's okay. I wouldn't want you feeding me either," she admitted a bit sheepishly. "I won't take it personally."
John looked momentarily horrified.
"It's nothing personal, you know that. I don't particularly want Teyla to do it either, but I'm scared she'll kick my butt if I tell her that, and I'll avoid a good butt kicking at any cost," he joked.
"It's good to see you're getting your sense of humour back again."
"I wasn't joking. I am scared of Teyla!"
Weir raised her eyebrows.
"Well next time you're misbehaving, I know where to go to get help." Weir's features softened. "I'll go and find a nurse to come and help you. I'll come back later."
John smiled warmly at Atlantis' leader.
"Thanks – for everything."
"You're most welcome. I'll check in on you later, I really need to do some paperwork," Weir sighed, as she walked away.
Melissa approached a few minutes later, smiling at her favourite patient.
"Colonel? Dr. Weir said you'd like some help with your food?"
Sheppard returned the nurse's smile.
"Yeah. Thanks," he replied easily, pleased at himself for being able to accept help without so much as breaking out in a sweat.
John ate his soup with relish, and the nourishing broth was quickly gone.
"Well done, Colonel. You've really turned the corner," Melissa said as she swept up the tray. "Perhaps you could manage some toast soon?"
Sheppard nodded enthusiastically.
"Yep. Sounds good. Thanks."
John settled back in his pillows, and as he closed his eyes he felt tiredness throughout his body, but a good tiredness, one that told of John's strength and determination. He fell asleep looking forward to the following day, knowing that, although his recovery was just beginning, that his friends would help him through everything. He knew he'd get better now, and that everything would finally be good again.