Elizabeth stood alone outside the doorway to the infirmary. Dr. Biro had just left to get some rest after giving an update in person, the news that Carson had spoken and regained his memory being too important to send in an impersonal report. And now, the head of the expedition paused to mentally regroup.
Rubbing her hands up over her face, she peered through her fingers and took a deep breath. So close. They had come so close to losing an entire team, irreplaceable members every one. The cautious recommendations made to her from a number of individuals over the past few days warranted careful consideration. Perhaps a military contingency should make up the away teams. Perhaps civilians should be sent only after their safety could be insured.
Her breath escaped slowly, her arms falling to fold above her waist. How many times had they almost lost Rodney during the past two years? With all of his bluster and self importance, the bottom line was that he was correct. There truly is no one that could replace him. And now Carson. His genetic research proved to be invaluable, and without it Atlantis would have very few with the Ancient gene.
She glanced to her watch before stepping inside. Her mind still turning over her options, she missed spying Teyla and Rodney making their way down the hallway to follow after her. Instead she made her way to the center of the room and paused briefly to survey the members of her team that were still bedridden.
Dex, now dressed in familiar garb, reclined against the raised back of his bed. His dark gaze held hers until she looked away first.
Turning to find Sheppard also watching her closely, she was pleased to see the pale haunted complexion fading along with the dark bruises and black eyes. Multiple bandages were still visible but clearly Biro's cocktail of antibiotics was at work, the persistent infection under control as he no longer appeared flush.
But it was in finding Carson situated at a slight raised angle, no longer confined to lying flat, his sleepy, clear blue eyes filled with recognition that brought a small relieved smile to her face. He was still attached to various monitors, an IV still hanging at his side, visible signs of what he went through more than evident across his face and body.
Releasing a pent up breath, she sighed once more. "Gentlemen, have I told you how good it is to have all of you home?" The sound of movement behind her caused her to look over her shoulder and find Teyla and Rodney quietly standing near the door. Waving them to join her, she tucked her arm through the scientist's, causing him to scowl at the personal intrusion before he relaxed. He in turn crooked his other elbow to Teyla, which she appeared to understand as a symbol of unity and slid her arm through his.
The room grew quiet, filled with personal reflection of the past few unpleasant days. When Carson's eyes closed and his body shuddered, Dex was at his side, his large hand resting on the physician's shoulder. A second hand hesitantly touched his other side, and then one on his leg, another on his knee, and a final with fingers brushing lightly through his hair. For one brief moment his mind flashed back on the terrifying press of bodies against him.
"We gotcha, doc," Sheppard reassured quietly from at his side.
Carson waited a moment, letting his senses recognize the smells of his infirmary, the sounds of equipment he knew by heart, the feel of the mattress and blankets, before opening his eyes and finding himself surrounded by the concerned faces of the team. Not dead, but alive, living, breathing people who would stay with him literally through hell.
Even though his hands were splinted and wrapped, he still lifted them and placed one on the colonel and the other on the runner. "Thank you, lads," he tried to say, having to stop and clear his throat before the words would come out.
It had been a week since Ronon's rescue of Carson and the medical staff continued to find themselves working around extra individuals taking up space in the infirmary. All had been released except for the physician whose need for healing rest and observation made his stay longer. But to no one's surprise, Teyla could be found curled up on a nearby bed sleeping, her concussion plaguing her with headaches that she only found comfort from by being near the others. Sheppard, still weak from his ordeal in the prison and fight with the infection, discovered that his quarters were too quiet and confining. After his first restless night alone, he'd trudged back in wearing a rumpled t-shirt and jeans, took up another empty bed, and promptly fell asleep.
Rodney had to be next and the nurses started a betting pool on how long it would take before the scientist arrived with laptop in hand. When he showed up shortly after breakfast juggling a mug of steaming coffee, a pocketful of pretzels, his cane, and the expected laptop, they made their way to the office and checked the list to see who had won. The answer caused a rush of laughter that echoed out into the infirmary. Gathering the small items wagered, the head nurse placed the packets of cookies and candy bars on a tray and then made her way across the room.
"I believe these are for you," she said with a smile, presenting the items to her boss. The warm expectant smile and blue eyes looking back at her caused her to laugh. "How did you…? When did you…?" she stuttered, giving a sideways nod to the scientist now tapping away on a chair at his side.
Carson chuckled causing Rodney to look up, his attention instantly drawn to the treats. Before he got the chance to ask, the physician handed over a piece of candy that was quickly devoured around a mumbled thanks, then the keys started clicking away once more.
"I had a bit of help," he answered with a nod to the other side of the room where Ronon stood. A hint of amusement sparkled in the runner's eyes as he nodded back.
She'd almost forgotten about the large man that always seemed to be standing in the shadows keeping watch. Glancing between the two men and then back to the betting list, she quirked a brow. "Okay, but how did you know when?"
"Lass," he said quietly so as not to be overheard, "don't let his prickly exterior fool you, for he's never far from those who might need him." With that he gave a knowing look around the room and then back at her.
Her smile grew larger as she set the tray on the bed table. Hands then on her hips, she tipped her head to the side, "Dr. Biro said that today you are allowed out of bed." She was surprised at the speed in which he flipped back the covers, ready to swing his legs over the side of his bed. Before he successfully made it off though, he found himself stopped by Ronon's hand on his shoulders while Rodney stepped around pushing a wheelchair.
"Where do you think you are going to hobble off to on a broken foot, Hopalong?" The snide remark from the scientist brought on an unexpected, greatly missed, chortle from the physician.
Beckett's hand reached out and tapped the cane leaning against the chair. "Considering your current state, Rodney, you're not exactly one to be calling someone Hopalong." With Ronon's help, he slid happily albeit painfully off the bed and was maneuvered into the chair. His booted foot propped up on the footrest by Rodney, he found himself draped with a blanket over his lap by Teyla, and a grinning colonel at her side. "Where do the lot of you think you are going?"
"Wherever you are," Ronon answered for the rest of them. Taking the handles, he slowly pushed the chair at a speed he knew wouldn't be too fast for the others to keep up with and led the way out of the infirmary.
Light hearted teasing and bantering started the group off on their small journey but soon each member grew quiet. Memories awakened as sore muscles and various aches and pains slowed their steps, they found themselves coming to stop on an exterior balcony overlooking the city and the ocean. The afternoon sun was high overhead, its bright rays spreading warmth like a comforting blanket to envelope all as a gentle wind caressed their faces and mussed their hair.
Rodney was the first to slide down along the wall until he was seated. Stretching out his sore leg, he faced the open water, closed his eyes, and let the sound of distant waves wash over him. Before he knew it, Teyla was next, and then Sheppard.
Ronon continued to stand alongside the wheelchair. When he looked down and noticed Carson watching the others, he stepped to the front, and with the gentleness he'd shown on the planet, picked up the physician and placed him beside his friends. And then joined them.
"I remember being along the water," Carson finally said, breaking the stillness. "I felt safe there."
Sheppard's eyes blinked open. Staring out across the water, he pondered what had happened. "I've been in some pretty tough spots, but this time..." he shook his head, "…I wasn't sure if I was coming back."
Carson shook his head. "Nae, that's not true. You gave me the courage to keep going. Kept telling me to hang on, that the others would be coming soon."
"Doc, when they took you that last time, when you let them take you instead of me, there was nothing I could do to stop you." Suddenly angry, Sheppard smacked his hand on the floor only to be rewarded with pain flooding up his arm. "You should have stayed with me," he growled, "or let them take me instead."
"I had plenty of time to think while you were gone, colonel. And each time they dragged you back," Carson paused, his eyes bright as he remembered what they'd gone through, "after the beatings, the hanging, I knew it was one less chance for Atlantis to survive."
Awkwardly Sheppard was on his feet and made his way to the railing. "What the hell are you talking about!" he shouted as he turned to face the physician. "You're the one that is needed here. I'm just a damn grunt! If I'm gone, it's not like the SGC doesn't have another to replace me."
"No, Colonel, you are the one with the gene that made this," Carson said with a waved hand in the air, "all happen!"
"And you are the one who made it so others can have that gene." Sheppard's hands scrubbed hard over his face as he tried to get his emotions under control. "Military first, civilians second. You shouldn't have been there in the first place."
"What?" Rodney yelled from his spot along the wall where he'd been quietly banging the back of his head against Atlantis. "Who in the hell came up with that stupid ass idea? I know of only one other military person who could maybe, possibly take care of this city, and she's not here! Every time you go through that gate, you don't know what you're looking for. And if you did find something, God forbid you'd touch it and all hell would break loose." Arms folded over his heaving chest, he looked deadly, if it wasn't for his legs splayed out in front of him with the cane draped across his thighs. "Science goes where military goes."
Sheppard was ready to blow. "Well you need to listen when we go off world!"
"Two way street, colonel." Rodney paused, realizing that what he'd just said gave Carson every right to be a part of the team. "We're all in this together. We need you, you need us."
Angry, emotion filled silence hung heavy around them.
"I shot McKay when he was trying to get to the gate," Ronon said from his position.
"What!" Carson and Sheppard snapped simultaneously in disbelief as they stared from the scientist to the runner.
Pulling himself up to his feet, Rodney glared at Dex. "Oh, not now!"
Carson was confused. "Is that what's going on between you two?"
Teyla, tired of the fighting and her head beginning to pound, stood up and placed her hand on Rodney's chest. "It was an accident."
"That's what I said, but he keeps bringing it back up."
The sound of soft laughter caught the angry individuals by surprise and they stared at Beckett, still sitting on the floor, like he'd suddenly grown a second head. When his laughter grew stronger, the rest couldn't help but join in. "You bloody buggers, if Kate were here right now she wouldn't let the lot of us ever off world ever again."
Rodney plopped back down beside him, hissing slightly when he jarred his leg.
"How's your leg?" Carson asked, leaning slightly to get a better look at the scientist.
Irritable pale blue eyes stared back at him. "Oh, for Pete's sake Carson, don't even think of playing doctor." Next thing he knew, Sheppard was sitting on his other side with a look of concern on his face. "No! Not you too. I'm fine and the last thing I need is for you two invalids to go all Heightmeyer on me."
Teyla glanced past the squabbling trio to find Ronon still seated beside Beckett on the opposite end of the group. His face gave away nothing as he stared back…until he tipped his head to the familiar fighting. Then he smiled.
They were talking. And as long as they were talking, that meant that they were going to be okay.
A/N: Thank you all for following along on the latest adventure. Your kind words definitely helped when I was finding RL swamping my muse. Take care. Jen