"Colonel Sheppard? Can you hear me, son?"
"Why isn't he waking up?"
"Give him time, Rodney. He's had a pretty tiring time of it."
He's drifting. Voices float in the darkness but they are distant, disconnected. He sinks into silence.
"Carson. How is he?"
"Still sleeping, Elizabeth love."
"Is that normal?"
"He's exhausted, love. His body's been through a lot, it needs time to recover."
Carson. Elizabeth. He knows those names. Their words wrap around him and he feels safe. He sleeps.
"He still sleeping?"
"Yes. But Dr Beckett says that he should wake soon."
"You gonna sit there till he does?"
"I will let you know when he awakes, Ronon."
"Okay... thanks Teyla."
The voices jumble and overlap in the darkness. He feels so heavy. He lets himself slide into the dark.
"Colonel Sheppard? Come on now, son. Time to wake up."
The words slice into the comfortable darkness and the lilting accent conjures up a name. Carson. Dr Carson Beckett.
"Can you hear me, Colonel? I need you to wake up now."
The voice is insistent, chasing away the darkness, not letting him slip back into sleep. He grumbles, wants to be left alone.
"Sorry, Colonel. I can't do that. Come on now, open your eyes for me."
He moans and tries to turn his head away from the nagging voice. He's so tired. His head feels heavy.
"John. You need to wake up now."
The voice has changed now from cajoling, encouraging, to serious. It reminds him that he is needed, he has responsibilities. Much as he would like to escape into the warm darkness, it's a luxury he can't afford. His eyelids flutter as he opens his eyes. It takes more effort than he expected. His vision is blurry for a moment as he blinks groggily but then Carson's face comes into focus. The doctor is standing over him, a wide smile on his face as he watches John wake.
"Welcome back, Colonel. How do you feel?"
Sheppard takes a moment to review before answering that one. His body feels heavy, generally achy, and the view over Carson's shoulder brings the realisation that he's in the infirmary. Memory begins to filter through; he remembers the morning meeting, Elizabeth's concern, feeling dizzy. After that it all gets a bit vague. He recalls feeling cold, very cold and for some reason he thinks of Teyla's soft voice and a smile on her face.
"I'm good." His voice is dry and cracked and Carson reaches behind him and lifts the bed slightly, propping John up into a reclining position. The doctor's smile has morphed into a rather frustrated expression that Sheppard has come to know well. Beckett sighs as he reaches for a cup of water.
"The truth now, Colonel. If you don't tell me how you're feeling, I can't treat you properly," he fixes John with a stern look and lays down his trump card, "and the longer it'll be before you get cleared for active duty."
He brings the cup of water to John's lips and tips it carefully, allowing a trickle of water to flow into John's mouth. His sips carefully, the cool water sliding down his parched throat. He closes his eyes as he swallows. It feels wonderful. When he opens his eyes Carson is regarding him with an expectant look. John sighs.
"Feel tired," he admits, his voice stronger now, "really tired. And kinda achy."
"Painful anywhere in particular?" Carson is all business now, pulling out the ubiquitous pen flashlight and checking John's pupil reactions as he questions him. Sheppard grimaces the bright light, blinking away glowing afterimages as Beckett holds the digital thermometer in his ear.
"Not really," he mumbles, "just generally achy all over."
The thermometer beeps and John sees a look of satisfaction on Carson's face as he checks the readout.
"How'm I doing, doc?"
Carson's smile crinkles the skin at the corners of his eyes and Sheppard realises belatedly that the man looks exhausted.
"You're doing just fine, Colonel. Your temperature is back down to normal and the infection is responding well to the IV antibiotics."
John rolls his head on the pillow to look at his arms, noting the multiple IVs taped securely in place. Now that he's paying attention, a further sensation makes itself known amongst the general achiness and John realises he's also the proud owner of a urinary catheter. He grimaces, then turns his attention back to Beckett as the man's words filter through his sluggish brain.
"Aye, Colonel. You've had quite the adventure recently. You've had us all quite worried." Carson's voice takes on that lecturing tone again as he continues, "And in future, I'd appreciate it if you'd come and tell me you're not feeling well before you keel over in the corridors."
John squints up at Beckett, hoping he's just being teased. "I passed out? Really?"
Carson can't help a slightly malicious grin at Sheppard's obvious discomfort. "You fainted, Colonel, right outside the conference room. Gave the staff in the control room quite the show."
Sheppard closes his eyes with a groan. This just gets better and better. Fatigue pulls at him, making him drowsy; he feels like he could sleep for a week. His eyes fly open again as a thought occurs to him. "How long have I been out?"
"You'd picked up a very nasty bacterial infection, Colonel. You were running a high fever and were disoriented and delusional."
Sheppard's gut tightens at that. Delusional? That sure doesn't sound good. A vague half-formed memory takes him by surprise and he screws his eyes shut, frowning at the recollection.
"We had to sedate you, I'm afraid." Carson's voice is gentle, tinged with a sympathy that Sheppard doesn't want. He opens his eyes defiantly, pushing the memory away, as Beckett continues his explanation.
"The infection wasn't responding to broad spectrum antibiotics and our tests couldn't pin down the bacteria. It wasn't until we got a sample from the planet that we could correctly identify the bacteria and prescribe a targeted antibiotic. It took a while for your temperature to come down but the treatment is working well. You should be back on your feet in no time."
John's mind focuses on a particular phrase in amongst all the medical information. "Sample from the planet?" He still feels kinda groggy, struggling to make sense of all that has happened. It's a damn weird feeling to know he's missed three whole days. Three days gone by and he has only a handful of vague memories to show for it.
"PM4-77G, Colonel. It seems you scratched your leg on a rusty piece of metal whilst exploring the ruins there."
Sheppard has a sudden recollection of Teyla asking him something about.. he frowns, trying to pin the memory down.. something about a scratch on his leg?
"Caught my pants on something.." he murmurs distractedly.
"Aye, that's it. Your team went back to the planet and took samples. They probably saved your life."
John's starting to drift now, the effort of conversation has sapped what little energy he had and it's becoming a struggle to keep his eyes open. He's vaguely aware of Beckett's voice growing quieter, moving away from the bed as he continues, "Speaking of which..."
Carson's voice fades into silence and John focuses on his surroundings enough to realise that he's alone. Beckett is gone. He's happy to let himself drift back to sleep when a babble of voices disturbs him. He smiles drowsily. He can pick out Rodney's strident tones immediately, the scientist apparently part way through berating Beckett for keeping them all waiting for so long. Them all?
He opens his eyes in time to see Beckett lead Rodney, Teyla, Ronon and Elizabeth into view. His team-mates gather around the bed, grins plastered across every face. Even Rodney breaks off his tirade to smile delightedly at finding Sheppard awake.
"Hey guys.." He's surprised to find his voice slightly slurred. He can't keep his eyes from closing, jerking into wakefulness again at Rodney's accusing question to Carson.
"Have you been drugging him again?"
"No, Rodney, he's exhausted. It's only to be expected." John can hear the strained patience in Carson's voice and wonders sleepily just how much McKay has been bugging Dr Beckett during the past three days.
"He needs rest and plenty of it. Providing he does as he's told," John isn't too groggy to miss that pointed comment thrown in for his benefit, "he'll be back on his feet before you know it."
Teyla and Elizabeth are hovering round the bed, the smiles on their faces speaking to the relief of letting go of days worth of worry. Worry over him. John hates that he's caused them concern. He hates feeling weak and helpless like this.
"How are you feeling, John?"
He sees Elizabeth share a quiet, rueful smile with Teyla and realises they're on to him. Over to his left Rodney is continuing to gripe at Beckett, expressing how unfair it is of Carson to tire the Colonel out before his friends have chance to talk to him. Ronon stands at the foot of the bed, as talkative as ever, the grin on his face making words unnecessary.
John can't help the drowsy smile that curves his lips. He can feel sleep tugging at him, his exhausted body losing the fight to stay conscious. But that's okay. His team are here. They've got his back. It's John's job to protect Atlantis, to be responsible for the safety of everyone on this base, including his team. But sometimes, he realises, it's okay for them to be the ones protecting him.
John Sheppard sleeps.