Stealth Dragon

Rating – K+. Tis a gentle story.

Disclaimer – I don't own Stargate Atlantis, can't sue me, na na!

Synopsis – It's high time the Atlanteans get a day off. But where is John? I wrote this a while ago because I was feeling kind of bad for all the whumping I've laid on John. Of course, ironically, there's a smidgen of whump in this story. As Jack Sparrow once put it, " couldn't resist, mate." Plus it's kind of pertinent to the plot. No spoilers as far as I can tell, though there may be a vague reference to my story Just Keep Swimming. Very vague, so you don't have to read the story first or anything.


Elizabeth paced but never took her eyes from the influx of bodies flowing through the the gate like a methodical stream. Uniformed soldiers in tactical vests and handling P-90's like an extension of their limbs formed a dispersed wall around bedraggled and exhausted scientists, Athosians, and a scattering of those from a myriad of other worlds. It was quite a conglomeration of humans with the only similarities being that every one was soaked to the bone. Beckett's medical team spread among them against the flow, picking out the wounded and getting them onto gurneys for transport to the infirmary.

Elizabeth sifted through the mess of faces for the familiar, and names popped into her head every time her eyes landed on known features. She saw Dr. Zelenka (poor man, she doubted he'd ever go off world again), Teyla carrying a small child on her back, Ronon supporting an Athosian dressed man with a bad limp, Dr. McKay helping an elderly woman with a broken arm, Major Lorne, Sgt. Stackhouse...

But still no John.

Lorne broke away from the mass and hurried up the steps to the control room trailing small puddles and mud spatter. Weir stopped pacing but didn't look away from the gate or the continuing emergence of humans.

" Is that all of them Major?" she asked

" Yes ma'am. And the threat has been neutralized. Lt. Colonel Sheppard is hanging back to tie up some loose ends, but he should be coming through soon so asks that you keep the gate open and the shield down."

Elizabeth's muscles seemed to melt, easing the agitation enough from her so that she could finally stop pacing. She looked at Major Lorne, dripping, exhausted, and standing in a slowly forming puddle. She smiled at him reassuringly and gave a slight nod.

" Thank you Major. Colonel Sheppard can tell me the rest when he returns. Go get yourself cleaned up and tell your men to do the same. Beckett's going to have his hands full, so don't worry about the post mission check yet."

Lorne inclined his head. " Thank you, ma'am." And he took off. Down below, the influx had stopped but the gate remained active. Elizabeth stared at it in wait for the one face she hadn't seen in over a week - with this entire conflict having begun over two weeks ago. It had all started off with the disappearance of a few science teams, Athosians doing some trade, and several Atlantean and Athosian allies. The investigations had initially been focused on the Genii, which hadn't been too far off the mark. The questioning of several captured Genii soldiers led Colonel Sheppard and his men to a fanatically religious group known as the Nortas – heavy-duty Ancestor worshippers who had become a little beyond pissed when rumor finally reached them of the Ancestor home's demise. They blamed both the earthlings and the Athosians, wanted revenge, and got the Genii to help them out. The next thing Elizabeth knew, it was all out war. Sheppard with a large contingent of men headed to the Nortas world of operations to get their people back, and though Sheppard's team and men had come and gone throughout the days, the only one who seemed to become permanently scarce was Colonel Sheppard.

The rescue attempt had proved precarious, with wounded coming and fresh soldiers going. Both Ronon and Teyla had come back twice with injuries, but were quick to return as soon as they could. McKay had made more return trips – one for supplies, and two because Sheppard hadn't wanted him or any of the other scientists around during times of heavy gun fire. There had also been a time – thankfully short – when the Atlanteans had been cut off from the gate, but a few cloaked jumpers had remedied that.

Victory eventually came to the Atlanteans, what with them having the more superior weapons and all, plus the aid of a few angered folk who didn't like having their own kidnapped just because the fanatics didn't like the company they kept. There had been fatalities, but all in all, as Elizabeth was seeing now, mission accomplished. It had been a hell of a two weeks.

Elizabeth folded her arms as she watched and waited. The alarms had finally shut off, but the gate kept rippling like a piece of moonlit ocean. She would give into absolute relief when she saw Sheppard and remaining soldiers walk through that event horizon. Reports from subordinates were all fine and well, but Elizabeth wanted the details of what happened from the mouth of the man who'd been at the forefront, leading the charge. Ronon, Teyla, and McKay had painted verbal pictures of how the battles and rescue went, of John's plans, how he'd discovered the flaw in the Nortas' methods of attack – always going for the full blown frontal assault with as many men as possible, leaving their base (what used to be another Ancient city, now nothing but a shell of what it once was) vulnerable. Lorne provided a distraction by drawing the Nortas' out, while Sheppard, Ronon, Teyla, and several marines went in through the back of the city and incapacitated those remaining without firing a single shot.

So it turned out the Daedalus wasn't needed after all. The ship wouldn't have arrived for another day at any rate.

Elizabeth's chest warmed in a surge of pride for her military commander. Not a single hostage had been killed, and though some had died, the number of lives lost wasn't exactly staggering. Still, she was pretty certain John wasn't happy about it. One lost life was always too many in his mode of thinking.

Elizabeth couldn't wait to rub this in Caldwell's face. The man's low opinion of John pissed her off. John risked his hide day in and day out for this expedition, and all Caldwell could do was nit-pick the flaws in the Lt. Colonel's methods, and all because they were not Caldwell's methods.

Elizabeth lifted one hand to rub a knuckle against her chin. Watching the rippling event horizon was having a hypnotic affect on her, the lights dancing and writhing on the floor. Minutes dragged, coming up on twenty, getting close to shut down time. Elizabeth's tension returned to knot her muscles, making her heart pound and her mind wondering if something had gone wrong.

Then with an abruptness that made Elizabeth jump, the soldier occupying most of her thoughts at the moment stepped through with four other grim-faced marines trailing. John, hair extra spiked thanks to it being wet, and his clothes dripping, turned his head to look over his shoulder. He said something to a tall, black marine who nodded and said something in return.

Smiling, muscles snapping from tension like rubber bands, Elizabeth turned and hurried from the control room and down the stairs to meet with her military CO. John was almost to the stairs when he stopped, turned, saluted then dismissed his men. They moved around John, giving a "ma'am" to Elizabeth before heading off down the hall. John turned back to continue on to the stairs, but stopped again – flinching – when he looked up to see Elizabeth.

Elizabeth almost dropped her smile, and had to struggle to hold it. John was looking the antithesis of when she last saw him. His face was pale, almost gaunt, his eyes a little sunken but a lot shadowed, with a scabbed cut on his forehead over his eyebrow, another on his lip, and a bruised jaw darkened by stubble. His shoulders were sagging, his breathing thick and heavy as though he'd been running, and he was shivering. When he clipped his P-90 to his vest, Elizabeth caught the glaring red of scabbed knuckles and cut fingers on his pale hands.

All in all, he looked horrible – and exhausted, utterly exhausted.

" Colonel?" she said, going for being professional to hide her alarm. John rested his shaking hands on the butt of his weapon.

" I doubt we've heard the last of them," he said, his voice sounding just as tired as his body looked, " but we've rendered their base useless and got them to scatter, so we shouldn't be hearing from them for a while, and I mean a long while."

Elizabeth nodded. " Better than nothing, I suppose. And by rendered useless you mean..."

John smiled his crooked, and at the moment somewhat smug, smile. But more of a shadow to his usual smile, as though even the muscles of his mouth had no energy left. " Blew it all to hell. Not much left of the place anyways. So, for now, I think their major concern's going to be finding a new place to live." John dropped his grin and raised his shaking right hand to rub at his face, eyes closing and face slacking. Just looking at him was making Elizabeth tired.

Professionalism time was over. " John, are you all right?" She placed her hand on his arm, snatching it back on making contact with the drenched and arctic cold sleeve of his jacket. " My gosh, what happened? Did it rain then snow? Go get warmed up before you drop from hypothermia."

John nodded tiredly, then gestured rather drunkenly toward the corridor. " Yeah, I will, I just gotta go see... uh... Beckett about something."

" I think he's kind of busy at the moment."

" Shouldn't be too long. No one was critically wounded." John checked his watch. " Jumpers three and four'll be coming in with the casualties. Three – Billings, Henderson, and Schmit."

Leave it to John to know every soldier on the base. And just as Elizabeth expected, John's expression became solemn. She reached out again to clasp his arm.

" Go talk to Beckett John. I'll handle the rest. And get warmed up."

He nodded, then made his sluggish way around her and up the stairs. It was then that Elizabeth noticed, when she turned to watch him go, that he was limping, and had pressed his hand to his side.


John hurt to a degree that not even his pain tolerance could handle. Every joint, every muscle, was loud in reaction to every movement. The loudest of all was his right ribcage that had taken the brunt of the impact when a three-hundred pound mass of muscle and flesh had tackled him to the ground, crushing John under the solid weight. It hurt to breathe, and the wrong movement sent waves of white-hot agony through his flank to go crawling up and down his spine, spiking his headache from a throb to a stab. His shoulder where the big man had impacted was sore, then there was his feet, the left one tolerable, but the right one feeling as though his heel were developing small cracks. So like breathing, it also hurt to walk.

It didn't help that his body felt like a ton of bricks had been dumped onto his shoulders, trying to press him down and get his knees to buckle. He was hungry, and cold, so shook with both. Now to add insult to misery, the adrenaline rush he'd come to depend on for the last couple of days was wearing off, turning the shivers into all out trembling, stoking his headache to ignite with more pain, and blurring his vision.

Beckett was going to be pissed with him. John knew it as fact, but didn't care. There had been no time to put into maintaining his well being. Although even John was regretting not taking a moment to munch a few more power bars or grab an MRE. At the time, he'd been a little too preoccupied to remember, and at other times felt eating to be a distraction, which even he realized was a ridiculous notion. But, man, things had been happening fast, refusing to let up and give two seconds for a breather. The fanatics had been pushy, and if they weren't attacking, then they were finding ways to sabotage and spy. They'd nearly lost jumper five thanks to a Nortas who'd managed to procure a jacket and vest from one of John's fallen men.

The SOB had been quite smug about the attempt until John had started pounding the crap out of him, up until Ronon finally stopped him, pulling him back. John had been having a bad week, but that particular day had been worse. He'd known the kid whose vest the fanatic was wearing personally. A kid who'd been one of the original soldiers to arrive at Atlantis, survived the wraith attack, only to be grave robbed by a pathetic little weasel of a man whose sabotage attempt went only as far as a damaged LSD.

John's progress to the infirmary was slow, and on arriving his heart sank to see a crowd still gathered outside, either waiting for people they knew or waiting to get checked. Soldiers, scientists, Athosians, and others – John had never fully realized just how many had been involved in this thing, either for the rescue or because they were taken. He saw Zelenka, the little man shaken and his face bruised. He saw a small girl – three, maybe four - holding her arm to her chest, and a little boy being carried by an older man who was probably his father, the boy's foot bright red with blood.

Self-righteous psycho dirt bags, John bitterly thought, and felt no qualms about smacking around that dead-robbing little weasel.

Beckett really did have his hands full. John considered just dropping in for a request for Tylenol from one of the nurses. But knowing Beckett, the Scot would over hear, because he always did, and would want to check John over even with his plate already overloaded as it was.

John backed away, moving out of sight around the corner into a less used corridor that was dimly lit. He leaned his good shoulder against the wall, and proceeded with shaking hands to undo his vest and jacket. Taking them off was a nice little slice of hell for John. He tried maneuvering in ways that wouldn't aggravate his shoulder and ribs, but was a miserable failure. By the time he got both apparel off, his head was pounding in time with his heart, his ribs felt like something was going at them with a pick-ax, his stomach was threatening to expel acid since it didn't contain much else, and tears of agony rolled down his face. John turned, stiff and trembling, to press his back against the wall. He slid down to the floor, wrapping his arms around his chest and bringing his knees up. On the plus side, half the reason for the cold was finally gone, but he was still freezing even though his shirt was only moist and not soaked. Nausea continued to make itself a growing nuisance, and sitting did nothing to relieve the burning pain in his flank. So he slid sideways to the floor, turning on his left side, and closed his eyes, which helped.

Beckett was going to be really, really pissed.


Carson removed the blood-pressure cuff with a rip of Velcro from the solid muscle arm of the young marine sitting on the edge of the gurney.

" Everything looks fine, son," he told the young man. " Now off with ya. Warm food, warm clothes, and rest."

The marine smiled and slipped from the gurney to go dragging his tired self off, another marine following close behind. Carson turned to glance at Teyla talking to the father of the little boy whose foot Carson had just wrapped. The boy was being held by his father in preparation to head back to the mainland. Teyla's people were quite anxious to return, though Carson would have preferred they stayed overnight for observation in case of complications.

Carson turned his head in the other direction to see Ronon on another gurney being looked over by a nurse, and scowling because of it. The runner had suffered a bullet graze a few days ago, then a knife graze the day after, and was now having to suffer through a post mission check he probably saw as completely unnecessary.

The infirmary was as close as it could possibly come to being quiet. Those not severely injured were already heading home or were back in their quarters, those more severely injured were tucked away in every available infirmary bed, and Carson was pretty much complete with the post mission checks say for a few waywards that had yet to appear. Carson was tired, but a good kind of tired, the kind that still allowed room for him to work but would ensure a deep sleep tonight.

Carson headed over to Teyla, the father and son departing as he approached. Teyla looked over at the Scottish doctor and smiled wearily. She was pale, slouching, in need of a few days rest and some good food, but other than that and a sprained wrist she was fine.

" You should go rest, Teyla," Beckett said, draping his stethoscope around his neck. " Not much left for anyone to do here, except for me of course. I've got a few who've yet to show up. Two more minutes and I'll be trackin' 'em down myself."

Teyla smiled again. " I believe many had grown tired of waiting. Or perhaps do not know that they no longer need to wait."

" Aye. I'm inclined to save it 'til tomorrow, but don't like leavin' things to chance. So what keeps ya lingerin'? You've helped yer people, not much reason left to stay."

" I was hoping Colonel Sheppard would be here by now."

Now it was Carson's turn to smile. " Thought as much. I suspect Ronon's bein' patient with the nurse for the same reason. Rodney'd still be here too if I hadn't a sent him off to make sure Dr. Zelenka got to his quarters without dropping. Actually, Colonel Sheppard's the first I plan on huntin' down. If I find him debriefing Dr. Weir or hidin' in his quarters, I've a right mind to smack the lad upside the head. When ya last saw him, how was the Colonel's appearance?"

Teyla's smile became more melancholy and her expression thoughtful. " Very tired. But then we all were. So much was happening, and Colonel Sheppard barely slowed down. It was like he was everywhere and no where at the same time. It was difficult keeping up with him. He would not stop until our people were rescued."

Carson nodded, then turned to head out of the infirmary, Teyla following beside him. " Aye, that'd be his way. I need ta find him, then. He probably has injuries even he isn't aware of. Then I need to find Major Lorne, Sgt. Anderson, Lt. Miller, and Lt. Strum..." He stumbled to a stop just as Lt. Miller walked in, and Beckett handed him over to a nurse. Completing his exit from the infirmary, Beckett tapped the radio at his ear.

" Dr. Weir, this is Dr. Beckett. Major Lorne, Sgt. Anderson, Lt. Strun and Colonel Sheppard haven't come in for their post checks and I was wonderin' if ya've seen 'em?"

" I believe Lorne, Anderson, and Strun to be in their quarters. I kind of sent them there since I said you'd probably be busy. They needed to warm up."

Beckett smiled. " And they're probably asleep now. I guess a quick visual of their well-bein'll have to do if that's the case. What about Colonel Sheppard? He back yet? And he'd better not be in a meetin' with you. Sorry, lass, but health is more important than debriefings."

Silence for a moment, then, " That's odd. When Colonel Sheppard left, he was on his way to the infirmary. Said he needed to see you about something."

Carson stopped, with Teyla stopping as well and arching an eyebrow in silent questioning.

" Huh," Carson said. " Well that's a first. He might have headed to his quarters on seein' the crowds. I'll have ta corner him there. Beckett out."

Teyla raised both eyebrows in concern. " What did Dr. Weir say?"

" That John should already be at the infirmary. No worries though. He's probably passed out asleep like the rest of his men."

Carson wasn't worried, until he reached Colonel Sheppard's quarters to find it empty.

" All right then," he said, looking around the room, even stepping in to peer into the empty bathroom. " This is very odd, and getting odder. Maybe he took another route and got to the infirmary after we left."

Teyla nodded, but didn't hide her trepidation, which Carson knew he was mirroring. It was strange enough that the Colonel would voluntarily head to the infirmary, and down right spooky that Carson couldn't find him. Carson tried not to think about it, but the only time Colonel 'I'm fine' Sheppard ever verbally announced that he needed to speak with Beckett was when things were really bad, the kind of bad involving a lot of pain and possible surgery.

Heading back to the infirmary, Carson's gaze roved the halls, averting quickly to adjacent corridors. And that's when his eyes landed on a mass on the floor down the dimly lit hall to Carson's left. He veered, forcing Teyla to halt before colliding into him, and dropped to his knees by the unmoving and huddled form on the floor. Teyla came over to crouch beside him.

" Oh bloody hell," Carson breathed, carefully rolling Sheppard onto his back. John's face was white and tight with pain, his eyes were closed, his breathing was fast and shallow, and he was shivering. Carson reached out to place his fingers on the cold neck and felt the racing pulse. This roused John, enough to get the Colonel's eyes to slide open to slits. Carson placed his hand on the Colonel's shoulder and leaned in.

" Colonel Sheppard? Ya all right lad? I need ya to wake up more for me, son. Can ya do that?"

John lifted his head on an unsteady neck, glancing around with half-lidded eyes. " My turn?" he asked, his voice low, quiet but hoarse.

Carson smiled in minor relief. " Aye lad, it is. Sorry for the wait." He looked at Teyla. " Go fetch a wheel chair for me, would ya lass?"

Teyla nodded, stood, and hurried off. Carson returned his attention to the disoriented Lt. Colonel. John had set his head back on the floor, but his eyes were still open. Not even a minute had gone by when Teyla returned with the chair. Carson patted John's shoulder, both out of comfort and to get the man's attention.

" Colonel, we're going to move ya into the infirmary now. Think you can stand? Does anythin' hurt?"

John lifted his head again and rubbed the side of his face. " My side hurts like hell," he mumbled.

" All right then. We're gonna help ya stand. Tell us if we hurt ya."

Teyla took one side and Carson the other, hauling John up by the arms. John's body stiffened, his arms going rigid down to his nicked fingers. He uttered a broken, choked cry of pain that had Carson cursing himself for not bringing a syringe full of pain meds with him. When they finally got Sheppard into the chair, he was still stiff, shaking, and was panting heavily, sweat slicking his face in a solid sheen and his arms hugging his chest. Carson hurried him into the infirmary, and the painful process was repeated when he and a nurse lifted Sheppard again onto the edge of a gurney.

" Crap that sucked," John spat between gritted teeth. " Don't cut the shirt, doc. I'd like to save a few if I can."

Beckett prepared a syringe of pain medication, swabbed John's arm at the crook, and injected it. " If ya insist, lad. But cuttin' it would be less painful."

John shook his heavy, drooping head. " I don't care."

His voice was so quiet Beckett had barely caught it. He and the nurse moved deliberately in removing the moist shirt. John hissed occasionally, gulped, but didn't cry out or utter a word. His gaze was downward, staring at a spot on the edge of the gurney, like a man sleeping with his eyes open.

When Carson and the nurse finally had the shirt off, Carson took a step back to look John over, and gaped, appalled.

John was uncomfortably thinner, his body covered in small cuts and bruises, but his right side sporting the largest and nastiest of the collection, going from front to back and from armpit to floating rib, darkest in the center.

" John, what happened?"

John's eyes flicked to and from Carson sheepishly. " I... uh... got tackled... by someone bigger than me."

" How big?"

John cringed slightly and did another flick with his eyes. " Really, really big. Bigger than Ronon big."

Carson stepped forward and began probing the individual bars of John's ribcage. He stopped when John yelped and doubled over with his hand shooting around to cover his side protectively.

Carson grimaced apologetically. " Sorry! Sorry, son. I am so bloody sorry..."

John shook his head. " You're just doing... what you're supposed to," John panted, saliva flying from his mouth. He remained doubled up with back hunched and backbone protruding against his skin.

He began to list to the side but Carson caught him, and with the nurse's help eased him to lie flat on the gurney. The moment John was down his eyes slid closed and his breathing began to even out. Carson wasn't surprised by the Colonel's level of exhaustion, he just didn't like it. Beckett placed his stethoscope to his ears for a listen to John's heart and found it to be racing. Again no surprise, what with the pain John had just gone through. But his heart was slowing thanks to the pain medication making that pain short lived. He listened to John's lungs and heard the beginnings of congestion.

They took him in for X-rays, then started him on I.V.s for the pain and for dehydration. On getting the X-rays, Beckett was able to confirm what he suspected, that John had broken ribs, three to be exact, and two cracked. When they raised him to tape his ribs, John's eyelids fluttered open for a moment only to slip back shut. When done, they eased him back onto the gurney. The nurse fetched a warming blanket, Beckett removed the sodden BDUs, but they had to leave John on the gurney since they had no available beds.

" We'll leave him here for tonight," Carson said, " then get him to his quarters in the mornin' so long as he's stable."

The nurse nodded then went off to check on their numerous other patients. Beckett remained by Sheppard's bed, hovering he knew, but not ready to pull away yet. Not much else for him to do at any rate, so he could take his time to hover if he wanted to. Sheppard seemed forever destined to be Carson's most problematic patient. Sometimes it was his own fault when he let himself become too preoccupied to take care of himself. Most of the time it wasn't his fault, but it was his fault when he aggravated the injuries or illness by playing them down or pushing for an early release.

It disturbed Carson that John had wanted to come to the infirmary, and made his gut clench that he wasn't able to get to the Colonel before he'd collapsed from exhaustion.

Sheppard's current appearance made Carson's heart sink. He recalled last week a healthy Lt. Colonel Sheppard geared up and ready to go. The stories and reports Beckett had heard concerning the conflict had put in the doctor's mind that same healthy Sheppard doing what soldiers did – what Sheppard did – which was push forward until the objective was reached.

It was difficult picturing the Sheppard lying unconscious on the gurney before Beckett as that same Sheppard. Too unnervingly frail, too battered, and too spent to be the soldier Beckett had pictured on listening in to the reports. But Sheppard now was that soldier, the aftermath of that soldier. A nice little reminder that soldiers were human, had their breaking points, and that Sheppard had just hit his.

" He didn't collapse."

Beckett looked up, startled, to see Ronon standing on the other side of the gurney, his eyes shadowed and his shoulders sagging, which is as far as the Satedan went in showing weariness.

" What?" Beckett asked.

" Back on that planet, before Sheppard came up with his rescue plan, there was a moment when we'd thought we'd run out of options. He'd been looking tired for a while, but at that moment I thought he was going to collapse. I was surprised that he didn't. I never saw him eat, and he looked sick. Then that jumper came back telling us about the city, what they discovered. He came up with his plan, and you'd think the whole looking sick thing never happened."

Carson looked down sadly at his incapacitated friend. " Aye, that's Colonel Sheppard for ya. Push until the job's done, then drop."

" He wasn't the only one," the runner said. " No one wanted to stop until the mission was complete."

Beckett snorted. " I don't doubt that. Why do ya think I kept ya sedated until we got that wound cleaned? I just wish the Colonel wouldn't push himself so relentlessly. I know he's the military leader and our safety is his responsibility, but he never gets the rest he properly needs once he's beyond infirmary confines. We get a few quiet moments, then there's some other mishap that pulls him in 'cause it's his duty to deal with 'em. Either that or is constantly tense as a bow string waitin' for the alarms to go off. He needs rest." Carson rubbed his aching, tired face. " Bloody hell, we all do."

The Satedan didn't reply. He gave John's arm a gentle clasp, then headed out the infirmary. Carson glanced around, and spotted Teyla asleep in one of the chairs. He went over and shook her awake, telling her to go and rest in her quarters. She wouldn't until Beckett assured her that John would be all right. Carson then headed from the infirmary himself in search of his three missing patients. As assumed, Lorne, Anderson, and Strun were asleep, and Carson left them as thus. He then went to seek out Rodney to make sure Zelenka had made it back okay, and was shocked to find the physicist in his own quarters, sleeping in his own bed rather than on some stool in the lab with his head resting on the counter.

Finally, his path brought him back to the control room of Atlantis, then Elizabeth's office. She was at her desk, pouring over the various reports concerning the rescue. She looked up when he entered and beckoned him in with a wave of her hand. Beckett sat before her desk and clasped his hands in his lap.

" We need to talk," he said.

Elizabeth nodded. " All right. But first, did you find Colonel Sheppard?"

Carson started in surprise, having totally forgotten to inform Elizabeth on that matter. " Oh, yes, I did. Sorry lass, totally slipped my mind. Which is funny seein' as how he's the instigator for me bein' here. I found the poor lad pretty much passed out just around the corner. He was waitin' his turn, and though I understand why he waited, I wish he hadn't. He's got three broken ribs, nasty bruising to his shoulder, is showin' signs of malnutrition, and is sufferin' from severe exhaustion. And I won't be surprised if he comes down with somethin'. He's going to need lots of rest, not just for a recovery but for a full recovery."

Elizabeth leaned forward to fold her hands on top of her desk, her brow lined and features tight. " And he'll get rest. Keep him grounded until he does."

Carson shook his head. " Dr. Weir, ya know that never works. We ground him, but every time somethin' comes up, he becomes agitated and pushes until he can become involved. He's too passionate about keepin' us all safe to do otherwise, and it's not just him. Everyone here is showin' signs of exhaustion, and after what just happened, I think we're all over due for some proper R and R."

Elizabeth squinted. " What do you have in mind?"


Elizabeth walked into her conference room to see everyone gathered, including, to her alarm, Colonel Sheppard. He still looked like crap – no longer wet and shivering, but still pale and weary enough to drop at any moment. And Beckett was right, John was showing signs of being malnourished. His clothes were looser than normal, and his collar bones more sharp in detail beneath his long-sleeved black shirt. Everyone else showed smaller signs of being tired; dark smudges beneath the eyes for the most part, and McKay was being unusually quite. Even more surprising, he didn't have his laptop with him.

On entering, John gave Elizabeth a weary smile and his "I'm fine" face. As usual, he was failing at it. Elizabeth made her way around the table but didn't sit. She planned to make this short and sweet, then send everyone off to bed.

She did lean forward with her palms flat on the table as a way to get everyone's attention. Not that she needed to. Weariness had everyone mildly riveted.

Riveted but not necessarily listening.

" The reason I called you all down here," she began " is not to give a report on what happened with the Nortas. I've been getting plenty of intel over the past few days, and a final report can wait. I called you all here to announce that gate travel will be suspended for all teams for a week, as well as further exploration into the city."

That got everyone's undivided attention, and they perked, shedding some of their weariness. Except for Sheppard who seemed more vaguely curious than surprised.

" Basically, I want you all to think of this as a mandatory vacation. Say for any emergency repairs that may pop up, there is to be no work, no studying of Ancient devices which means no calling anyone to activate them," she looked pointedly at Rodney, who gaped. " No training exercises say for recreational purposes," She looked at Ronon. " No drills, supervising or paper work of any kind," she looked at John, who grinned at her. " Although the Athosians are free to gate off world for trading purposes," Teyla.

" You've all deserved a well earned break, and I expect you to take advantage of it. I want everyone on this base doing what they've been wanting to do, not what they feel like they have to do. I don't care if it's just sitting around in your quarters or going camping on the mainland, just as long as you come out well rested and unscathed. I believe Beckett would also like a little time off, so please, don't do anything that would result in injury." She straightened, and clasped her hands behind her back. " That's all. You're dismissed."

Everyone began to rise to leave, except for Rodney who seemed frozen to his seat. " Seriously? No activation what so ever?"

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. " No Rodney. And I'd better not hear about you badgering or guilt tripping anyone into it." As she said this, her eyes glanced in John's direction. He was still smirking as he rose slowly from his seat, the smirk turning into a wince and his hand going immediately to his side. She looked back to Rodney, giving him her most meaningful expression of warning.

" Really," Rodney pressed. " Not even one?"

" No, Rodney." She turned back to give her meaningful look to Sheppard, but he was already gone.


Keeping Caldwell off Sheppard's back concerning the situation with the Nortals had turned into an ordeal, almost like a game that Elizabeth found rather amusing. It had started out annoying when Caldwell began his hounding of Sheppard by hounding Elizabeth concerning the Lt. Colonel's where abouts. John wasn't answering his com when Caldwell tried, which wasn't a shocker since no one was answering their coms as part of the mandatory vacation rules. Only Elizabeth and Beckett kept their coms in their ears for emergency purposes, which had yet to arrive.

Things became interesting when Caldwell began searching out Sheppard without trying to appear as though he were searching. Except the way he kept asking around was kind of giving it away. Both Elizabeth and Carson had spread the word that Sheppard's where abouts were not to be divulged, which was easy enough, because no one knew where John was. Not even Rodney, Teyla, or Ronon. Some had tried to find him to warn him about Caldwell, but were having no luck.

Elizabeth wasn't worried. Sheppard could write the book on the proper ways of making oneself scarce. Coms may not have been in use, but were required to be carried around in pockets or bags in case of problems.

What Elizabeth was was curious. Everyone else could be found, normally in their usual haunts. Rodney in the lab relaxing by catching up on some theorems non-Atlantis or Ancient related, Ronon in the gym, in the mess, or running, Teyla on the mainland with her people, and Lorne and several marines and scientists also on the mainland camping on the beach. Elizabeth had been quite surprised to learn that Sheppard had not gone with them. She'd thought for sure he'd take off to the mainland the first chance he got for some surfing, injured or not. Neither was he at his own haunts on the balcony or on one of Atlantis' many jetties feeding the two-legged otters. He had yet to pester Rodney, which Rodney found rather unusual. The assumption was that he had taken off to the more uninhabited parts of the city, which he sometimes did when he wanted to be left alone.

Two days into the mandatory vacation, two days of not seeing Sheppard, and Elizabeth couldn't take it anymore. She found herself heading to Carson's quarters, because she had the suspicion that Carson might hold the clue as to where John was. After all, John was wounded, and Carson would want to know where John was at all times for checkups. And since Carson wasn't acting all that worried about John, it could only mean that John wasn't all that AWOL.

In fact, Carson seemed more amused about the difficulty in finding Sheppard than Elizabeth.

On entering the Scot's quarters, she found him lounging in one of those blue nylon covered portable lawn chairs with the built in foot rest, reading a Tom Clancy novel. He kept on reading for a few seconds after Elizabeth had entered, then placed a book mark between the pages, set the book down, looked up, and smiled.

" What can I do for ya lass?"

Elizabeth folded her arms and smirked. " I have the sneaking suspicion that you know good and well what you can do for me."

Carson shrugged, over doing it on his look of innocence. " I have no idea."

Elizabeth tilted her head to one side, squinting at Carson in silent challenge. " You can tell me, Carson. It's not like I plan on hunting him down to bother him about anything. I just want to know where he is purely for curiosity's sake. It'll be kept between the two of us, you can be certain of that. I want John rested and relaxed just as much as you, which won't happen if everyone knows where he's hiding."

Carson kept right on smirking at her, not saying a thing for a whole fifteen seconds. " Ya know what I find hilarious?"

Elizabeth smirked back. " No, what?"

" How we tend to go blind when it come to the obvious. Have ya really considered every possible place Sheppard could be? Are ya sure ya haven't overlooked one?"

Elizabeth furrowed her brow, thinking carefully. " no I..." Then it hit her, and had Carson not been present she would have literally kicked herself. She pursed her lips and nodded.

Carson picked his book back up. " Knew you'd catch on sooner or later." He opened the book and buried his nose back in. " Since you'll be droppin' by, you can bring the Colonel his lunch. Something wrapped. Takes him a bit to get around ta eatin'."


The small cooler thumped Elizabeth's thigh as she walked. She kept flicking a glance over her shoulder, making sure she wasn't being followed or noticed, and did it even more on arriving at Sheppard's quarters. She slowed on approach then stopped. Beckett had told her, before she had left, to dispense with announcing herself and go on in, which didn't sit right with her. For all she knew, Sheppard was just now getting out of the shower and getting dressed, or wasn't in the mood for visitors. It took her a moment to sum up the courage to go on in, and halted, taken back, when she entered.

The room was a mess of various shades of shadows, dimly lit in blue from the curtained off window. It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust, shapes gaining detail. His pack, Atlantis dresser of clothes, photos taped to the wall, guitar, skateboard under the bed, small CD/ radio and Johnny Cash poster. Elizabeth's eyes then went to the bed, and the splayed form of Sheppard lying on his left side, almost on his chest, the covers bunched around his waist and one leg with a bare, pale foot completely uncovered. He was in black sweats – or what appeared to be black in the darkness - and a long-sleeved dark gray shirt.

John's sleep was peaceful, his thin face relaxed, his breathing slow and even. Elizabeth didn't have the heart to wake him, and understood now what Beckett meant when he said it took John a while to get around to eating. She crept without making a sound closer to the bed, setting the cooler on the floor by the small table holding several bottles of pills – pain medication, antibiotics, and something for congestion - plus several bottles of water, two of which were empty.

Free of the cooler, Elizabeth adjusted the blankets to cover John's leg and the rest of his upper body to the shoulders. He stirred, and Elizabeth snatched her hands away, grimacing. But he didn't wake up, just bury himself deeper into the blankets and pillow. Relaxing, Elizabeth crouched to open the cooler and remove her own sandwich and drink. There would be other lunches in which to catch up with her Military CO and see how he was doing. At the moment, he appeared to be doing fine if he was sleeping that deeply. According to the way Ronon, McKay, and Teyla talked, he should have been awake by now, delirious, and searching for a weapon.

Elizabeth turned and began creeping back the way she had come, stealthy as a cat, which made her smile with pride.

" Thank you."

Elizabeth froze, then whirled around. Even in the darkness, she caught the glint of wan light off of John's barely open eyes. He was smiling at her, and something deep inside told her John's thank you wasn't souly concerned with her bringing him lunch. There had been too much gratitude within the quiet, groggy voice for that one act alone.

Elizabeth smiled back. " You're welcome John."

His eyes slid back closed. Elizabeth watched him sleep for a moment, then turned and left him to his peace.

The End

A/N: Writing this story made me sleepy. I don't consider this one of my better stories, but wrote it mainly for the last bits with Elizabeth trying to find John and no one knowing where he is. I mean, seriously, how often does he end up in his quarters? He's usually still in the infirmary.

I don't know if anyone would consider Carson a Clancy fan, I just went with the first writer that popped into my head. Anywho, hope you enjoyed. I know John's quite content. He hasn't tried to run away.