Carson worked through the case notes for Sheppard on his laptop. They'd been combined with Kate's work for a report to send back to the SGC and the IOA. Elizabeth had held the report off as long as possible but of course, as soon as the Daedalus made it back to Earth, with Hermiod in stasis, two dead marines, and an injured Ronon, there wasn't anyway to cover it up.
The IOA were always big on conclusions and suppositions, the bottom line coming down to whether Sheppard would ever be fit for his command position.
Unfortunately, right now, the answer was no. Sheppard was not fit for duty. Carson couldn't find anyway to paint a rosy picture, and he wasn't going to lie. None of them had walked off the Daedalus without scars. Carson had nightmares for a week, and taken liberties as a doctor by self prescribing sleeping pills for a few days. Kate struggled as much as he did, but they had the advantage of being able to support each other, and she'd pushed herself hard to be able to help Rodney and Sheppard. The scientist was taking longer than usual to get back to normal. The sight of Sheppard strangling Hermiod had shaken Rodney's faith in the Colonel's humanity to the core. Clearly the Colonel was crazy, but if he could attack Hermiod, one of the good guys, was everything he said to McKay just an idle threat? Rodney had felt safe, now he didn't and now he was struggling with the twist on their relationship. How did you work with a guy that you knew, with certainty, was capable of killing anyone – friend or foe – in his way?
He decided that he really did hate the Pegasus galaxy. The whole expanse of inhabited planets only had one ambition – beating up Atlantis and her inhabitants.
Carson had spent the first two weeks after Sheppard's return getting him stable enough to sleep without waking up and screaming his head off, or watching his heart rate go through the roof. He'd used a combination of alprazolam and beta-blockers to get Sheppard through, then tapered off the alprazolam, cut the beta-blockers and started him on a longer course of buspirone, combined with an SSRI. He'd performed numerous scans, to check the position of any device tendrils and found only two, both half the diameter of a single human hair and coiled within the sinus. The scans seemed to indicate that they'd previously been positioned through the sinus floor and into the brain. Presumably the tendrils had been the Grays' method of controlling Sheppard and inhibiting the other key component of using the A.TA. gene – the mental component. Disconnected from the device they seemed harmless and he'd decided to leave them where they were unless they caused further problems.
Kate was working with Sheppard as much as possible, using combat stress control protocols. Get them grounded, get them healthy and get them back on missions, because ironically the theory was that if you told soldiers they were still great at their job of killing people, it made them confident human beings.
Sheppard wasn't falling for that any more. Especially the mission part.
About the only good news was that the ulcers had actually healed. The skin was still prone to breaking down, but for the most part, Sheppard was good to go. Physically at least.
Carson rubbed his face. He was tired, wished he could just forget everything that had happened. Memories made people what they were, and memories undid them. He wished he could just take them all away.
The case notes sat there, roughly typed. He had to run the spellchecker, do a read through because someone with a grammar fetish was bound to mark up the report with a red pen and Post-Its. As if they had nothing better to do – and they probably didn't.
He scrolled through the rest of the notes, the reports, made sure he did a copy and paste of all the important parts, got the dates right. He read the text again, and he kept coming back to the same part.
Only a couple of years ago, he may have argued about the morality of the course of action he was considering. Then again, a couple of years ago he wouldn't have believed it if someone had told him that Carson Beckett was conducting genetic experiments on aliens and turning them into humans. Humans that experienced only a temporary soul without the daily administration of drugs.
There were choices to make on behalf of those who weren't capable of making them. There was a chance of redemption and damned if he wasn't going to grab hold of it, even if the redemption was personally delivered by the devil himself.
Rodney had taken John and Teyla for a stroll around one of the landing decks. It was on the deserted side of the city, and wasn't being used. It had become the impromptu Atlantis 'beach'. Deck chairs were arranged on one side with a few tables. Brightly colored umbrellas over the tables shielded the inhabitants from the sun. Three surfboards sat in a rack near the door. Someone had even rigged up a diving board.
In summer the place was usually packed, someone from the cafeteria had even come up the bright idea of setting up a cobbled together snack bar.
It wasn't summer however, nowhere near it. It was one of those spring days where the cold of the night couldn't quite be chased away by the morning sun.
He'd had a lot to ponder of late and it was all the hard stuff that Rodney hated to have to try and work out. The easy stuff he'd solved first. There had been the problem of whether the Grays would come back. It seemed they had placed specific 'alert' points on a variety of planets where they'd been experimenting. The Ancient tech in the bar of the planet that had started it all was a prime example. But that was a simple one to fix. If a team went to any planets with few natural users, Old One legends, and dust covered Ancient devices then they should turn around and run away as fast as possible.
The hard stuff, the stuff he hated, was people. What made them tick, and what made them break – he avoided if possible. Give him some quantum mechanics and he'd be tucked up in front of his laptop for hours, wouldn't even consider taking a break. People, however, didn't follow neat linear paths, nor were they made up in a way that allowed their actions to be predicted with total certainty and accuracy. Oh yeah, Theory of Mind said that kids eventually worked out some rules for interaction but for some it was harder than others. Maybe his preschool teacher, Miss Malone, had summed it up best when she'd repeatedly written the phrase, "Rodney will not share his toys, nor does he play well with others." The sandpit incident, where he dinged another kid in the head with a plastic spade for daring to criticize his carefully constructed castle, seemed to have set a precedent. The same child had taken offense and proceeded to grab a handful of hair and use the same spade to smack Rodney in the face. There had been crying, flailing, and sand throwing. Yeah, three-year-olds were brutal. Or more to the point, ordinary three-year-olds did not like peers who could read, add, subtract, multiply and do long division.
His parents gave up their attempts at letting him be a 'normal' child and took him home.
Walking with Teyla and Sheppard around the area, he felt like he did at preschool. Bewildered. That was his most common feeling of late. Bewildered by the sight of John Sheppard partying with a full blown psychosis on the Daedalus and bewildered by the new version of John Sheppard that seemed to have transferred in afterwards. Although, maybe the old one was still around. Sometimes he caught a glimpse, but the new guy that had come in as a replacement wasn't so inclined to joking and mostly kept his mouth shut. The new guy scared Rodney, just a little.
Rodney had taken a few weeks to get back to his usual self. He'd made up an excuse for his non appearance in the lab by saying that he'd picked up the flu. Not that it helped. Rumors and gossip had been flying around Atlantis ever since the Daedalus had arrived. People tended to abruptly stop their conversations whenever Rodney or Sheppard turned up and their faces were usually etched with sympathy.
It was embarrassing.
Worse, Teyla seemed to have assigned herself the task of unofficial babysitter.
He glanced back at John, who was lagging. As usual. He moved slowly these days, seemed to have to put a lot of effort into just getting one foot in front of the other. Kate and Carson had told Rodney that exercise helped improve mood, and concentration, so both men spent their time trudging around and around the deck. Teyla trudged with them.
Kind of Zen like and meditative, if one was to believe all the nonsense from Kate. The woman was laboring under the delusion that psychology was a science. Psychology was about as scientific as astrology.
Still, even if it was no better than astrology, he liked talking to Kate.
"Hurry up slow poke," he said over his shoulder. John had been walking but keeping his attention focused out to the waves, much as he always did. He refocused on Rodney, quickened his pace enough to catch up.
Rodney rolled his eyeballs. That single word seemed to have become Sheppard's sentence for all occasions of late. "For pity's sake, stop apologizing for every single thing you do. It's enough to drive me crazy."
The sentence rolled out his mouth before the censor in his brain could stop itself. Sometimes his self control was useless – his internal censor barely worked and always seemed to catch on to the fact that he'd insulted someone after the event.
John didn't seem insulted. He merely smiled and said, "I'm sorry for being sorry."
Yeah, sometimes there were glimpses of the old Sheppard. It hurt.
Teyla got a familiar look of sadness on her face, the expression that cropped up regularly. She'd trusted Ronon to take care of Sheppard, taken Sheppard's word about calling Beckett and the entire disaster had unfolded without her. Teyla wasn't one for blaming herself or trying to imagine how things might have been, but Rodney could tell she felt guilty. Maybe she thought she could have stopped it somehow, maybe with Ronon and her fighting side-by-side she could have made a difference. Maybe Ronon wouldn't be by himself at the SGC.
Personally he thought that if she'd been on the Daedalus she might have wound up a crispy critter too, and he'd tried telling her that but she didn't seem inclined to listen. Mainly she just spent her time making sure Sheppard was okay when Rodney was working and she wasn't on a mission.
Everyone spent time making sure Sheppard was okay. Kate worked with him every day; Carson insisted that he continued to sleep in the infirmary. Even Caldwell was in on the act, assigning the odd trivial piece of work that Sheppard could handle over a few days or week. If Caldwell was going for the sympathy line around Sheppard, then Sheppard was well and truly screwed. He'd noticed that Sheppard didn't exactly welcome all the companionship with open arms. He tolerated it because he had no choice but every opportunity he had, he tried to get away from people. The bathroom in the infirmary seemed to be a favorite spot, presumably because it was the one place people didn't pursue him, or at least they held off. Sheppard apparently spent a lot of time sitting on the floor.
Aw, fuck it. He was sick of walking. He went to the edge of the deck, and sat down. Dangled his legs over the drop, peered down to the water. Idly wondered if he should consider taking up fishing. Sheppard mimicked his actions and Rodney couldn't help but note the brief look of fear in Teyla's eyes. He'd become irritated with Little Miss Perfect of late. He used to have a secret crush on her, but she scared the crap out of him, so he'd managed to keep his mouth shut, which for Rodney McKay was like trying to ask a kid to sleep through Christmas Eve. Besides, he always thought that from the first time Teyla had turned up with Sheppard in Atlantis there was maybe something going on, even if neither of them was likely to admit it. These days, the beautiful face didn't matter so much. Just the fact that she kept hanging around.
"Relax; no one's going off the edge."
"Speak for yourself, McKay." It was Sheppard. It was supposed to be a joke. No one laughed.
Teyla didn't sit, just stood there, tense and alert, apparently ready to haul them back from the edge at the first lemming like twitch. He concluded that she was about one second away from contacting Beckett, or Kate, or even both of them. Rodney put his stubbornness to good use. It had been under exercised of late and needed a decent workout. He remained on the ledge, swinging his feet. Sheppard didn't do any feet swinging, just went back to aimlessly staring at the horizon.
She watched them like a hawk, and after about ten minutes, Rodney thought he might have tormented her enough.
He tugged at Sheppard's arm. "Come on, Florence Nightingale is getting nervous."
Sheppard wearily climbed to his feet, pursed his lips. "I make everyone nervous these days."
"Well, next time, try to avoid the whole abduction by evil Asgard angle."
He watched as Sheppard tensed briefly, just around the shoulders, an involuntary shrug. No, not a shrug, more like the gesture a person made when they were cold.
Teyla frowned. "Dr. McKay, I do not think that is an appropriate topic of conversation."
He didn't take any notice of her, just watched as Sheppard visibly forced himself to relax.
Sheppard said, "You know, I wish to God every day that it never happened. I wish I didn't remember a single thing."
McKay nodded, wearily, briefly clapped a hand on Sheppard's shoulder before pulling the hand away.
"You and me both."
Elizabeth couldn't believe what she was hearing. She looked from Carson to Kate. Didn't speak for a few seconds.
"You're a doctor. You're supposed to protect your patients."
Beckett ran a hand through his hair, frustrated that she didn't understand. Not yet anyway. "Bloody hell Elizabeth, I'd never do anything to hurt him. But we don't have a choice – he doesn't have a choice. He will come back from this, he's tough, but the John Sheppard left at the end of this, is not the John Sheppard that walked through the stargate. Who he was, who he's going to become, they're not the same."
"Carson, if you're telling me he's going to change personalities, I find that hard to believe."
Kate shook her head, took up where Carson left off. "It's not a matter of changing personalities, it's a matter of every experience we've ever had molding us into the people we become. People who haven't been repeatedly traumatized don't really understand…" She broke off in frustration. "They're like kids with their faces pressed up against a window, staring into a house. Inside it's warm, there's a family and they're laughing and everyone's happy. Outside it's cold, and it's lonely but it's what they know. It's safe. It's known. They might try and find the door, they might even open it, but they're never going to enter. That ability, to step inside – it's gone."
Carson sighed. "He was prone to being a loner and now it's even worse. He walks around with Rodney, but only because we essentially force him. I don't know if he can stand to be around anyone long enough to complete a mission."
It was Elizabeth's turn to sigh. She felt trapped, wondered if what they were proposing was going to make the situation even worse, and didn't think she could stand to think how things could get any worse. She directed her next statement at Carson. "He'll never forgive you if this goes wrong."
Carson nodded sadly. "Aye. But I think we have to be prepared to take that chance."
He'd woken up early in the morning, as always, at five. Found the usual babysitter nurse sitting in a recliner. Today it was Marcy. Presumably waiting for Richard to turn up. He'd didn't care about the extra presence any more. Mostly he pretended they weren't there.
Marcy noticed that he was awake. She glanced at her watch. "You're like clockwork," she said.
"Go me," he replied. Then he rolled over so that his back was to her and he could ignore her. If he was normal again – whatever the fuck normal happened to be – he would have just acted like the adult he used to be and got himself out of bed, slipped into his sweats and gone for a run. These days if he tried to do anything that used to be normal, someone chased after him.
As usual, he'd never get back to sleep. He'd remain in bed like a sack of concrete and wait for Richard to turn up. At least he'd get breakfast.
"Do you want me to get you anything?" Marcy's voice drifted up from the other side of the room.
"No. I'm good."
He found it distressingly easy, even after all of these weeks, to just let himself drift off, disconnected from the real world. Time would pass and sometimes he'd blink and he wasn't even aware of it. The medication that Carson had prescribed helped, at least stopped him from startling at every single sound or too rapid movement. But he still wasn't inclined to active engagement with people.
The door opened. He'd expected Richard in another hour or so but instead, Carson walked in, with Kate, and Richard bringing up the rear. It was way too early for any of them.
Something about the delegation made him nervous. He started to sit up, trying to make sure he had a clear bolt path. The bathroom would be the safest, he could hole up in there, the one place with a guaranteed water supply. They'd have to drag him out or starve him out and that would take weeks.
They seemed collectively anxious, all saddened, and deeply unhappy about events he didn't understand. Carson cleared his throat.
"Son, before we start, I'd just like to apologize, and I hope to God you never remember this."
Sheppard looked towards Kate. Her eyes were brimming with tears and he thought it was ridiculous, crying so early in the morning, especially when he didn't know the reason.
Two marines seemed have slipped in unannounced. Lorne was one of them, and another guy he didn't know.
This wasn't good.
He muscles were taut, he was coiled, ready to go.
Lorne and the other marine stepped forward, got on either side of the bed before he could get himself ready and Lorne had a hand on his right shoulder, gripping his upper arm, the other guy on his left shoulder, gripping the other.
"Sorry about this sir," whispered Lorne.
"You want to tell me what the fuck is going on?"
Carson and Richard stepped forward, seemed they'd been hiding restraints behind their backs. Oh no, no way was he going there.
He summoned up the energy that had been so hard to find and began to fight and then everyone was on top of him, and it was more hands again, more than he could ever deal with. Someone was tying down a leg, someone had managed to get a wrist into a cuff and loop it around the safety rails.
He struggled, writhed, bucked, kicked with the leg that was free, tried to punch with his one free hand but he was overwhelmed. He'd found that long missing energy and it was pouring out of him and he couldn't jam it down. He arched his back, shouted, but there was nothing left to be done and then he was prone and immobilized and he couldn't escape.
"Hello, Colonel. How are you?"
The voice was sickeningly familiar.
Royce was standing in the doorway. Moustache, cheesy Hawaiian shirt, baseball cap and all. He smiled and a shiver ran down Sheppard's spine.
He snarled, pulled against the restraints, pulled against the others.
Richard was off to one side drawing up the drugs, looking like he was about to throw up. Kate and Carson were by his bed, trying to calm him down.
"I fucking saved you Carson! How can you do this to me!"
Kate gently placed a hand on his forehead, trying to soothe him but he wasn't about to be mollified.
"He knows John, he knows. You saved us. And now we're going to save you."
Carson felt as if he'd bathed in mud. He was dirt, and filth and he didn't think he was ever going to get himself clean.
It had taken Lorne and the other marine to hold Sheppard still long enough to put the saline lock in. Sheppard had gone beyond the ability to argue or reason. He was uncontrolled rage and anger and he made it hard on them all. Carson had blown the first vein he'd tried for, Lorne had wound up putting his full weight on the wrist just to keep Sheppard from jerking his hand back, despite the restraints. Sheppard had become determined to fight with the sudden influx of adrenaline.
He was abnormally grateful that the restraints were padded with wool. At least the man wasn't going to abrade his wrists and ankles all over again.
Sheppard screamed at him again, snarling like a rabid dog. 'You're a fucking bastard!" There were other names too, ones Carson hadn't heard used in a long time.
The port was in, at long last. Carson stepped back, let Royce get in there. Royce seemed unperturbed by the bedlam, just calmly inserted the needle into the port, and just as calmly injected the contents slowly and methodically, while Sheppard's hand was pinned to the bed. Did the same for the second syringe.
The drug took a little longer to kick in this time, presumably because John was struggling. He slowly relaxed though, enough to lie back against the pillows. Royce set about setting up his machine, the one that could apparently alter memories.
Royce attached the pads to Sheppard's head, put the cardiac monitor pads onto the chest. Sheppard watched him warily, not smiling, but too drugged to be able to do much.
"How're you doing there, Colonel?"
Sheppard spat at Royce. The spit landed on the side of Royce's cheek. He didn't react, just pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket, and wiped it away.
"I see you're in a good mood."
Carson didn't have time for this. "Can you hurry it up?"
"Patience is required here Dr. Beckett. I've got to trace every memory he has and make sure I've wiped every trigger he's got. Smell, sight, sound. It's going to take a lot longer than enhancing them."
That wasn't the answer Carson wanted to hear. "You'd better get this right. If he remembers even one single thing…"
Royce briefly gave into his emotions at that point, turned on Beckett, his eyes dark and unforgiving.
"He won't. I am very, very good at my job. Right, everyone else, get out. You, Dr. Beckett, are going to have to stay because I need you to monitor his vitals."
They did as they were told. Carson remained, feeling out of place and older than he should.
Royce turned his full attention back to Sheppard. "John, I need you to think back for me. To when you first woke up on the planet."
Sheppard's brow wrinkled, the screen on Royce's memory device flashed a series of changing shapes and changing colors.
As the memories came up, as Sheppard gazed up at the ceiling, remembering all over again, sobbing quietly because that was all he had the strength to do, Royce started tapping on the keyboard, deleting as he went.
Rodney sat in the recliner and observed the figure in the bed. Still. Pale. A cardiac monitor showed a steady heartbeat. The automated blood pressure cuff showed a normal blood pressure. He'd been like this for two days.
Carson had said that Sheppard had suffered a set back of some sort, gone into a coma. Sounded like crap to Rodney and even Rodney could tell Carson was lying his head off. It hadn't taken much prodding to get the full story.
Beckett had taken him into the office and explained the situation. Rodney had gone ballistic. He'd yelled at Carson, been right in the Scot's face, ready to punch him. Thankfully Teyla had been there, as well as Kate, and they'd been able to pull him off.
"It was for his own good, Rodney."
"His own good? He's in a freaking coma! How's that for his own good?"
"Because without any memories, there's nothing to be traumatized about. He's going to be back to his old self. Royce assured me that the coma was normal. He should come out of it in the next twenty-four hours or so."
"What's the game plan after that? Any bright ideas about what the fuck you're going to tell him?"
Kate was pushing him towards a chair. "Sit down, let us explain."
"Oh, so you were in on this brilliant scheme as well? Let me congratulate you on your decision to sanction medical torture."
Teyla appeared to be confused, wasn't entirely sure on all of the jargon. "I do not believe Dr. Heightmeyer or Dr. Beckett would ever approve of torture."
Rodney sat in the chair, feeling the anger draining out of him. Probably why Kate had made him sit in the first place. A good way to put him into a lower position than everyone else, make him subconsciously submissive to the group dynamics. "If you didn't torture him, then maybe someone needs to explain to me what you thought you were doing. Or what we're going to tell him."
Kate leaned against Carson's desk. "That's the point, Rodney. We've got a cover story. You need to be in on this."
"What if I don't want to?"
"Then you'll undo all the hard work. True, it won't be as bad because he'll have no memories of the events, but he's going to feel betrayed."
For the first time, Rodney noticed how shattered Carson appeared. He had dark circles under his eyes, and his eyes were bloodshot.
"Rodney, I'm begging you. This is our one shot. Please, just agree that you'll keep your mouth shut."
He considered them for a moment, considered what Sheppard had been like recently. Okay, yes, he could do that. Shut up and lie. Or at least do his best to lie. He doubted he could pull it off. He was no good at lying.
"So, everyone's going to be in on this little charade? Caldwell, Ronon – everyone?"
They all nodded. Even Teyla.
"All right," he said. "I'm in."
Elizabeth Weir sat in her office, keeping her desk between herself and Royce. He sat, his usual inscrutable smile on his face, his ever present suitcase parked to one side of his chair. She was once more reminded of an oil slick.
He indicated towards the edge of her desk. The beer he'd left behind for Sheppard was still where she'd placed it. She didn't know why the carry packs were still there, just that putting them away in a cupboard would have seemed as if she was putting away Sheppard.
"I see you've kept my gift."
"I was going to get rid of them. It slipped my mind."
"Sure it did." He pulled out a cigar, he didn't bother to ask her permission. She doubted he ever would. He lit up, puffed out a few smoke rings. They floated lazily towards the air conditioning vents.
"You know, he'll be fine. He'll wake up, as good a new. Or more to the point he'll wake up as good as the old one."
She stood up, turned to observe the control room through the office window.
"I suppose you expect me to thank you."
"Well, not that I want to be appear to be fishing for compliments, but you and Dr. Beckett were the ones that called me here. And you're damn lucky Sheppard has his supporters, or more to the point, they're not going to throw the 2IC on the garbage heap without at least one shot at redemption. "
The smoke drifted her way and she coughed slightly. The diplomat in her grudgingly admitted that she had to at least acknowledge her gratitude even if it made her feel like she was aiding and abetting in medical experimentation.
"I want to thank you but you can probably imagine how difficult it is."
"Sure. Hey, I get the same reactions back at SGC. Ol' Royce comes a calling and they all start quaking in their combat boots."
He stood up, the cigar stuck in his mouth. He absently chewed on the end.
"Time I was going anyways. My boss will worry."
"You have a boss?"
"Yeah, and I've said too much all ready."
He came up to her, stuck out his hand and she reluctantly shook it. His hands were cold and sweaty and she thought it was like shaking hands with a corpse.
"Hope to see you again soon, Elizabeth. No hard feelings."
He strolled out towards the control room, got one of the technicians to start dialing up the address for Earth. Sauntered down to the stargate itself. The event horizon roared into life, Royce turned his head, looked up at her, smiled and waved.
It was one of the creepiest things Elizabeth had ever seen.
Waking up was hard work. Sometimes he could hear sounds but they'd fade away. A snatch of a conversation or the smell of antiseptic would briefly filter into the range of his senses and then drift away. He thought he heard someone ripping something off the walls, sounded like they were tearing off wallpaper. Someone or maybe it was lots of someone's kept telling him that he was okay, that he should wake up because everyone missed him. The voices were male and female. He recognized some of them. Rodney for one. Teyla. Didn't hear Ronon though.
He managed to get there, in the end. He'd been hearing more conversations over the past hour but they were confusing. Sometimes he thought he was back in Afghanistan. Sometimes Antarctica. It was like his brain was trying to boot itself back up but having problems processing the input in a coherent way.
"The EEG is looking good. He's been climbing up all morning, so I think he's going to be with us very soon. In fact, let me just check here."
A hand touched his arm. Someone with a Scottish accent was encouraging him to open his eyes.
"Colonel? Can you open your eyes for me? Just a wee bit, let me know you're awake."
He did as he'd been asked, managed to pull his eyelids open a fraction, watched as a fuzzy face came into view and then morphed into Carson. Carson was smiling at him.
Okay, he had questions. Things were a little whacked out at the moment. He opened his eyes some more, felt slightly sick, closed them again.
"That's to be expected. Don't worry about it. You've been in a coma for a good while now, and there's going to be a few side effects. If you need to sleep, just go back to sleep."
He didn't argue with that logic. He was confused as to why he'd been in a coma because he didn't remember anything except that stupid planet, but he was sure someone would explain it to him later.
Carson had learnt that he could indeed lie, and lie expertly. As an added bonus he could produce a cover story without blinking. He was lying as he explained to Sheppard about his coma. He told a slight lie when he said that Sheppard's strange scars on his back and heels were the result of pressure ulcers that had developed early on, during the coma. He'd told a big lie about how Ronon had been injured during a separate, routine mission and was currently on Earth receiving medical care.
Sheppard had taken a few more days to get fully cognizant but he seemed to accept that his confusion was a result of everything that had happened. He even accepted that Kate would need to evaluate him to ensure he was fit for duty.
They'd had to be careful. They stripped the infirmary room and the tent on the mainland of all his belongings, put them back into his quarters. There was some worry about items being out of place, but Kate had cooked up another story about having to clean up. Rodney had stripped the ceiling and walls of the shielding.
Sheppard was propped up in bed, eating scrambled eggs. Not so much eating as wolfing them down. He'd been hungry since he'd woken up, and to Carson's relief, piling away the calories.
The man with a sudden hankering for eggs and sausage waved a fork at him. "I don't usually go for this type of meal."
"I wouldn't worry. Your body still has some mending to do. It'll tell you when to stop."
"It had better. Oh, good, someone put butter on the toast." Sheppard ripped off a chunk of the toast, took a satisfied mouthful.
"As I was saying, your team got you back from the planet but by that time you arrived you were in bad shape. Turned out you'd contracted a virus, sort of like sleeping sickness. Took a darn sight longer than I expected to develop a treatment. Even had to send samples off to SGC."
"I don't remember getting sick. I just remember going to sleep on the planet."
"The memory is a tricky thing. You were febrile when you got here, woke up off and on before going into the coma. It's possible that you were simply too sick for your brain to even bother to form a long term memory."
Sheppard stopped eating. "I was really out for over a month?"
"Yes. Six weeks. You had us all scared, believe me. Almost had to ship you back to Earth."
He pulled a face. "Great, that would have capped off my life really well. Lieutenant Colonel Coma Boy."
Carson tried to laugh at the joke and not make it sound forced. He decided to change the subject. "If you've just about finished, let me check you over and then I think you can actually get out of here for a while. Go and visit Kate. Rodney's volunteered to walk over with you."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "That a hint Doc?"
"Maybe. It'll do you good to have a change of scenery. Take a shower, get dressed into clothes, as opposed to the gown."
Sheppard gave him a broad grin. "That's great! Man, you're in a good mood today. Normally you're in a 'just to be safe mode' and I wind up having to lie here bored out of my skull."
He returned the smile. "Not today, Colonel. I'd be more than happy to see you up and about."
Sheppard didn't bother to finish the breakfast, just pulled the covers back and bounced out of bed. As he watched the pilot walk off to the bathroom, it occurred to Carson that he'd slipped up. If Sheppard had any inkling of medicine, he'd know that after six weeks of being flat on his back, the last thing he was going to do was get himself upright and walk around.
Crap, crap, crap.
Okay, he needed to calm down. As long as they didn't make any more slips they'd be all right. As long as they maintained a collective untruth, no one would be harmed.
Sheppard walked with a spring in his step, happy to be in shoes, BDUs, his jacket. Rodney walked beside him, uncharacteristically silent. In fact, he seemed a bit down.
"What's up, Rodney? Cat got your tongue?"
The scientist didn't reply immediately and Sheppard thought he caught a familiar expression. One he'd seen on the faces of the infantry men and woman on the ground in combat zones. The haunted look of people who'd seen more than they should.
"Yes, I'm fine," said Rodney, recovering quickly.
"Are you sure? You seem…" He stopped. Didn't have the right words at the moment, couldn't quite figure out a way to broach the subject.
"Seem? Seem, what?" Rodney snapped his fingers. "Come on, Colonel. Don't leave me hanging."
Sheppard smiled. Maybe he was mistaken. Rodney was more intense than usual, which was saying a lot, but then again, Rodney had a tendency to get worked up post mission. After the pressure was gone, he tended to let off steam by becoming even more hyper.
"It's nothing. Forget it."
They stopped outside Kate's office. Sheppard went to knock on her door, hesitated, put his hand back down. "Hey, Rodney, any idea what Kate's like? I mean as a psychologist, not as a person."
Rodney blinked owlishly at him for several moments, and Sheppard could see the cogs turning.
"Um, no. Haven't you seen her before?"
"No. Managed to avoid it up until now."
"Huh. Really. Right. Okay. Well, she's good. So I hear. Very good. Saved someone's life recently, along with Carson."
"Anyone I know?"
"Well, time for me to head back to the labs, see what my underlings have destroyed in my absence."
"Underlings? Has anyone told you that you need to work on your relationship skills of late?"
"All the time." With that, Rodney turned on his heels, his shoulders hunched and walked back down the corridor.
Sheppard would have gone after him but the doors opened. Kate Heightmeyer smiled at him, welcomed him into her office. He stepped inside, sized the area up. The couch certainly looked comfy, and he liked the way the sun hit the stained glass in the windows and created patterns on the floor.
"Hey, nice place you have here."
The smile didn't leave her face. "So I've been told."
She waited in her office for John Sheppard to arrive. First time they'd had a meeting in over a month. First time she'd seen him in over a month if she was honest with herself. Yeah, just one more thing to feel guilty about.
At the rate things were going, she'd need to schedule her own visit with Kate.
"Anyone at home?"
She jerked out of her thoughts, saw that John was standing in her office, smiling at her. He sat down in a chair, folded his arms.
"Hi there." She couldn't keep the sheer joy out of her voice.
"I got the reports back from Carson and Kate. They've both cleared you. If you're feeling up to it, there's a trading mission I thought you might like to go on. Leaves at oh-nine-hundred tomorrow."
"I'll be there with bells on." He abruptly changed the subject. "Hey, did anything happen while I was off in the land of nod?"
"Nothing much. Colonel Caldwell took over your duties for a while but apart from that it was pretty quiet."
"So quiet you forgot to tell me about someone delivering beer?"
He was pointing at the cartons on her desk and she couldn't believe she'd forgotten about it again. Or maybe she could. Maybe it was some sort of subconscious reaction to all that had happened. That she could claim bragging rights because he was never going to find out about Royce. Never. She'd made it clear that the first person who breathed one word of Royce would be shipped back to Earth.
She stood up, picked up a carton and passed it over to him. "It's a small present from myself and everyone else. Sort of a welcome back present. We had them shipped in on the Daedalus."
He grabbed the carton off her, chuckled. "I'm going to have to ration myself because I suspect I'm not going to have the opportunity to sample again for a while."
"I get the feeling that Colonel Caldwell might get upset if part of his supply run involves shipping alcoholic beverages." She reached across, grabbed the other pack. He was now happily loaded up with one dozen bottles.
"I guess I'd better go and see if Rodney can rig me up a cooling unit of some kind. I wanna keep these puppies cold."
"He's going to love helping out."
"Sure. I can hear the complaining even now."
He turned to walk out and Elizabeth stepped forward, for one brief moment she considered telling him the truth, spilling her guts so that her own darkness would leave, so that none of them had to feel as if they were trailing a dank slime wherever they went.
He stopped, turned around to face her, his features relaxed. No concerns, no signs of where he'd been. He waited for her to finish.
"I just wanted to say that I'm glad you're back."
He didn't answer her, just smiled slightly, ducked his head because he was embarrassed and walked out of her office, clutching the beer for all it was worth.
Elizabeth walked back to her desk, and opened her laptop. There was one last item of business she had to complete before she could safely say all of the memories were gone. Before everything was back to square one and awkwardly tied up and Sheppard was none the wiser.
She started working her way through the files and reports, hitting delete as she went.