Note: This is for Stealth Dragon, in response to the challenge she threw out at the end of chapter 19 of her current fic, Hound of Hell You Cry. By the way, if you aren't reading it, you should be, because it's awesome! Go there now.
Spoilers: Some spoilers from Season Three, particularly Common Ground and Phantoms.
Disclaimer: No rights to anything here.
Just Act Like You're Hurt
"Science fair? You had a project in a science fair?"
"And exactly why is that so unbelievable?" asked John Sheppard, narrowing his eyes at the scientist walking next to him down the halls of Atlantis. Each man carried a light pack, swinging from their hand in time to their gait. "Besides, it was required."
"Well," said McKay, "you just don't seem like the science project type. Anyway, I thought math was your forte."
John sighed heavily. "There is a mathematics category, you know, and that isn't the point. What I was trying to tell you was – "
"Wait a minute. How did you do? Did you win anything?"
Sheppard started shaking his head. "What difference does it make? That was years ago and it wasn't the point of the story anyway."
"Maybe not, but now that you've opened that can of worms, I want to know what kind they are."
Sheppard stopped and turned to stare at McKay. "You didn't actually just say that, did you?"
McKay gave him a little push down the hall. "Get moving, we're already late and Teyla might have her sticks with her."
Sheppard hit the controls to the transporter they had come to and they stepped in. "We're going to the north pier to swim. I doubt Teyla brought her sticks with her. Anyway . . ." Sheppard hit the appropriate control and the doors opened a few seconds later, allowing the pair to step out and continue their journey.
"Just tell me how you did and then I'll let you finish your story. You don't have to be embarrassed if you didn't win. Those things can be tough."
John sighed again. "Fine, I won. I got first in my category all three years. I got third overall in the 10th grade and got to attend the International Science Fair as an observer. I was surprised that I really had a good time. One week out of school and I got to meet kids from all over the country and some from other countries. Who knew I'd end up working with people from all over the world and a few from a different galaxy?"
McKay's eyes were wide and his mouth hung open a bit. "You went to the international competition? That must have been sweet. Our school didn't do science fair and I didn't really get a chance to compete."
"It was more fun the next two years because I got first overall and actually got to compete. I still felt like I was lost in a world of people way smarter than me, kind of like here. But I got an honorable mention as a senior and that was cool. My teacher was ecstatic."
Now it was McKay that stopped. "You got an honorable mention in Mathematics at the International Science Fair? How do I not know this? We've worked together for three years. How did I not know about this?" His tone had moved from shocked to insulted.
"Get a grip, McKay, it's no big deal. I got lucky is all. I wasn't the one building nuclear weapons in grade school or junior high or whatever it was. Now can I finish my story?"
McKay resumed walking to catch up with Sheppard, who had started forward without him. "Yes, yes, please continue. Why were you telling me this again?"
"Don't ever say I don't pay attention. You were telling me about your friend that tripped and almost fell on the way to the stage to get an award. What I wanted to tell you is what Mrs. Keenan used to tell us before every science fair awards ceremony. She told us if we fell on the way to get our award, to pretend like we were hurt so people would feel sorry for us and not laugh. I never was sure if she was serious or not, but we all paid close attention on our way up there and no one ever fell. I kind of think she hoodwinked us."
"You're making that up."
"No, I'm serious. She was always telling us weird and funny stuff, not like most of the teachers. I didn't even have to do a project as a senior, but I did one anyway. Mostly I just wanted that free trip and a week out of school. And I was pretty sure Ava would be there again. Man, she was hot!"
McKay rolled his eyes as they reached the door to the pier. "I should have known there'd be a girl involved."
"She was from Germany and, man, was she sweet. I wonder whatever happened to her."
"Come on, Kirk, we're here." McKay waved at Teyla and Ronon, already set up at the edge of the pier. Ronon was wearing swim trunks and Teyla a one piece swim suit they had brought back for them from Earth. Several groups had been using this pier for swimming and picnicking for almost a year now, resulting in several lawn chairs and a cheap plastic table having been set up. They were kept in a storage room off the pier when not in use so they didn't end up getting blown into the water.
"Hey guys, been here long?" asked Sheppard.
"No, we just arrived a few minutes ago," replied Teyla. "Are you swimming?"
"I am," said John. He dropped his training pants to reveal blue swim trunks underneath. Reaching down, he pulled his t-shirt over his head and dropped it on top of his pants.
McKay also removed his pants to reveal shorts. "I won't be swimming. I'm not a strong swimmer anyway, but Carson says nothing real strenuous yet and I'd say swimming is strenuous." He pulled his shirt off and folded it, laying it on top of his pants. When he stood, he noticed Sheppard staring darkly at the new scar on his chest. McKay shifted uncomfortably under the tense gaze.
"Sheppard, you're staring."
Sheppard jarred out of his stupor. "Uh . . . sorry . . . I was just . . . " He looked down at the ground as he pulled in a shuddering breath. "Jeez . . . I'm so sorry, Rodney."
McKay stood silently for a few seconds, watching Sheppard struggle with his emotions, with his guilt. He noticed for the first time how thin Sheppard was, his trunks hanging loosely from his frame. Carson had mentioned at one of his check ups that he didn't think Sheppard was eating or sleeping properly, but McKay had blown the idea off, thinking the colonel looked fine. He now realized how wrong he'd been. Between the trauma of the Wraith feeding on him, followed quickly by reliving a personal nightmare and shooting his friend, Sheppard looked thin, pale, and downright fragile.
"I think we've covered this and I'm pretty sure you've apologized about a hundred times. I told you, I understand that it wasn't me you saw and it wasn't me you thought you were shooting. Why can't you just let it go, I'm fine."
Sheppard brought his eyes up to meet Rodney's, while Teyla and Ronon watched silently from the sidelines. They knew this was between Rodney and John. "I shot you. First, I screwed up a mission and lost one friend. Then I screwed up this mission and shot my best friend. I almost killed you. I can't just let that go. How can you ever trust me again?"
"I trust you, colonel. What will it take for you to believe that?"
John looked as sad and lost as Rodney had ever seen. "Not to see fear in your eyes."
Rodney flinched. He wasn't consciously afraid of Sheppard. He understood what had happened and that it hadn't been the colonel's fault. But sometimes when Sheppard caught him off guard, he startled him and McKay would jump or pull back. He knew Sheppard had seen it and the man looked like someone had stabbed him each and every time.
"Look, I know you won't hurt me, it's just that . . . well, you know, I just startle easily right now. I'll get over it. I wish you would."
"I know, I'm trying."
McKay frowned, deciding it was time to lighten the mood. "Well, try harder. If you lose any more weight, you're pants are going to start falling off and none of us want to go there. So, are we here to have a good time on our day off, or what?"
John smiled. It was hesitant and a little forced, but McKay was happy to see he was trying to move away from the depressing conversation. "We're here to have fun." John turned toward the water and began to run past Ronon. "Last one in the water has smelly feet!"
Ronon immediately ran after him and they dived in from the edge of the platform, hitting the water at the same time. Teyla moved over to stand by Rodney, smiling and touching him gently on the arm. Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Some times I'm certain I work with children," he muttered.
Teyla arched an eyebrow at him. "I believe I know exactly what you mean." They both watched as the two soldiers surfaced, splashing at one another and arguing loudly over who had hit the water first. They climbed out a few minutes later, laughing and still flicking water at one another.
Rodney drug one of the lawn chairs up and sat down, enjoying the sun. He pulled a sandwich and a bottle of water from his pack. "I think I'll sit while the children play. Aren't you going in?" he asked Teyla.
"Perhaps in a few minutes. I think I will watch for a while." Teyla pulled up another lawn chair and sat down beside Rodney.
"You don't have to keep watch, you know. I'll be fine by myself." Rodney appreciated the company, but he didn't want to seem helpless, because he wasn't.
"I know, I am simply enjoying your company. I will swim after the children, as you call them, have calmed down a little." Teyla smiled warmly, putting McKay at ease.
John and Ronon continued to laugh and push one another playfully until Ronon picked John up and threw him in the water. He stood at the edge taunting the colonel until John quickly reached up and grabbed the Satedan's ankle, pulling him in with a big splash. Rodney and Teyla laughed as they yelled and splashed and raced for the next few minutes, finally climbing out of the water and wiping their face with their towel.
They watched as Ronon and John separated, with Ronon walking over to stand beside them while John headed across the pier. "What's he doing?" asked Rodney when Ronon was close enough to hear.
John reached a tall platform about the time Ronon answered. "He's going to see if he can climb that platform and dive off."
McKay put his hand up to shield his eyes against the afternoon sun. "That thing must be ten or eleven meters high. Should he be doing that?"
Ronon shrugged his shoulders. They watched as Sheppard used some bars scattered down the side to climb up to the top of the platform. He walked over to the edge and looked down, apparently making sure he wouldn't splatter himself on the pier below. Satisfied, he turned and waved before giving a mock salute. Facing the edge of the platform, he took a deep breath and ran to the edge, pushing off away from the structure as he curled up and moved through two rotations before straightening and entering the water with barely a splash.
"That was incredible," stammered Rodney. Now he had learned two things about Sheppard in one day.
"That was very nice. I did not know the colonel could do such things," said Teyla, smiling and watching for Sheppard to surface. She waved when his head bobbed into view.
"That's okay, neither did I," mumbled Rodney. They watched and waited for Sheppard to swim to the end of the pier, but instead he remained where he was, spinning around as he tread water. Rodney finally got up and walked over the edge, near the water. "What's he doing?" The others joined him, watching the colonel spin around, looking carefully around the water.
"Oh my gosh!" exclaimed Rodney as a grin spread across his face. "I know what he's looking for. Look!" Rodney pointed to the water about two or three meters from the pier. Floating on the surface were Sheppard's swim trunks. "Oh, this is too good to be true." He looked around the pier until he found a long pole sitting near the wall. Retrieving it, he began trying to fish Sheppard's trunks out of the water, the action catching the attention of the colonel.
"Rodney, leave those in the water." Sheppard's voice sounded on the edge of panic.
"No, no, no, colonel. I don't think so." McKay could hear Ronon and Teyla laughing as he balanced Sheppard's trunks on the end of the pole and lifted them carefully out of the water.
Rodney swung the pole around slowly until it was over the pier and then set it on the ground. He walked over and picked up Sheppard's dripping trunks, holding them in the air triumphantly. "Missing something, Sheppard? What would Elizabeth think if she could see her military commander now?"
"McKay, this isn't funny. Throw those to me right now!" Sheppard was red in the face, either from anger or embarrassment.
"I don't know, I think Teyla wants you to come out as you are."
Teyla smacked Rodney on the arm. "Rodney! Perhaps you should give them to him."
Rodney continued to grin. "In a minute. I get to have a little fun first."
Ronon, still laughing, decided to get in on the fun. "Come on in Sheppard, there's no reason to be embarrassed. Or is there?"
Sheppard began to stroke slowly toward the pier. "McKay, so help me, if you don't give me those trunks right now, I'm going – "
Sheppard's words were abruptly cut off as his head jerked under water. Ronon and Teyla stood a little straighter, straining to see where the colonel had gone.
McKay just smirked. "Nice try Sheppard, but I remember the story. You just told it to me a few minutes ago, remember? You can cut out the act now. I think you're scaring Ronon and Teyla."
Teyla glanced hurriedly at Rodney and then back to the water. "Rodney, are you not concerned for the colonel?"
Just then, Sheppard's head broke through the water, leaving him coughing and gasping for air. His arms flailed beside him, churning up the water.
"Sheppard!" called Ronon. "Do you need help?"
"No he doesn't need help. This is an act to get sympathy," said Rodney.
Sheppard opened his mouth and called to them, but it was cut off when he was pulled under again. They watched in shock as he surfaced a few seconds later. He seemed to be fighting and struggling against something. Ronon grabbed a knife from his stuff and dived into the water, followed shortly by Teyla. Rodney watched in horror as they swam towards Sheppard and the colonel looked as if he were being pulled backwards by something before being yanked violently under again.
When Ronon and Teyla reached the spot where Sheppard went under, Ronon dived under the surface. He came back up couple of minutes later, said something to Teyla, and then dove again. It seemed like much longer still before Teyla was grabbing at something and then dragging an unconscious Sheppard through the water. Ronon joined her a few seconds later as they swam for the pier, the colonel in tow. As they neared, Rodney gasped at the blood trail they were leaving behind.
Leaning over, McKay grabbed Sheppard under the arms and pulled him onto the pier, continuing to drag the naked, unconscious man until he had Sheppard several feet from the edge of the pier. He paused a moment, staring at the mangled flesh of Sheppard's right leg. Large bleeding gashes were interspersed between chunks of flesh and muscle hanging by a thin thread of tissue or missing entirely. It almost looked like someone had used a meat grinder on his limb.
Shaking off the shock and kneeling beside him, Rodney began checking Sheppard for signs of life. "I need help. He's not breathing and there's no pulse." Teyla was already calling for a medical team and joined Rodney when she had finished. As she checked the colonel's airway and began rescue breathing, Rodney did CPR at the appropriate intervals. Ronon was doing something out of his line of vision, he assumed something to do with stopping the bleeding or trying to keep Sheppard's leg attached. It seemed like ages before Carson rushed out to meet them with a gurney and two nurses.
Rodney and Teyla moved out of the way as Rodney trying to explain. "Something in the water grabbed him. He was under for several minutes I think, hard to tell, you know. When we got him out, I couldn't find a pulse and he wasn't breathing."
Carson nodded, but didn't speak to Rodney as he called out requests for information or instructions to the nurses. Rodney noticed that Ronon had thrown a towel over Sheppard's midsection and wrapped his leg in another two towels that were soaked through with blood. He stared with some fascination the pool of blood under Sheppard's leg, slowly moving out in a ever-widening puddle. Strange red welts snaked around his uninjured leg, as well as his stomach and chest, oozing blood in a few places.
They all watched as the medical team worked, first intubating the colonel so that one of the nurses could manually squeeze air into his lungs with the ambu bag. A second nurse started an IV as Carson hooked up the heart monitor to reveal a relatively steady beat. At least they had kept him alive. Several minutes later, the towels had been removed and the wounds irrigated with some water so Carson could see what he was dealing with. He and the nurse quickly wrapped the leg with pressure bandages. Rodney and Ronon helped as they moved Sheppard's limp body to the gurney and headed for the infirmary.
They stood staring at the pile of blood soaked towels and rags surrounding the smeared and pooled blood where Sheppard had lay just a few seconds before. Rodney realized he could smell the blood, bringing images of Sheppard's mangled leg into his head. He suddenly backed away from Ronon and Teyla, turning and staggering a few steps before his stomach started emptying itself. A strong hand around his waist supported him as he wavered and another hand gently rubbed his back.
"He'll be all right, Beckett will see to it," said Ronon in an unusually comforting voice.
"The colonel is strong and will not give up," reassured Teyla as she continued to rub his back.
"I . . . I know," Rodney croaked. He stood up and backed away from the mess on the ground, turning his back to the water that had almost taken Sheppard. Ronon handed him his bottle of water and he rinsed his mouth. "Thanks."
"Come, let's go check on Colonel Sheppard," suggested Teyla, her brow still knitted in concern for both Sheppard and McKay.
Feeling a hand on his forearm, he looked into Teyla's concerned eyes. "It was supposed to be funny."
"I know," she said sadly.
Rodney leaned over to pick up the still wet trunks, clutching them to his chest as the three team members and friends began the long walk to the infirmary.
Elizabeth hurried through the infirmary door, spotting Ronon's large form almost immediately. As she drew closer, she could also make out Rodney and Teyla, their expressions grim as they talked quietly to one another.
"I came as soon as I got your message. I've been tied up in a meeting with the Sarpedarians about access to the ruins near their city. What happened?" Elizabeth sat down beside Teyla to try and catch her breath.
Rodney looked at his watch frowned. "That was almost five hours ago. How are you just now getting the message that Sheppard almost had his leg chewed off by a sea monster?"
Elizabeth stared with an open mouth for several seconds before she found her voice. "The Sarpedarians were very clear that negotiations could not be interrupted, so I left instructions that we were not to be disturbed. I didn't find out until we got finished a few minutes ago. I'm sorry Rodney, I thought . . . I knew no teams would be off world today, so I thought everyone would be all right for a few hours."
Teyla touched Rodney on the arm. "Rodney, you are upset about Colonel Sheppard, we all are. But none of this is Elizabeth's fault and she could not help it that she was in a meeting. That is part of her duty as leader of Atlantis."
Rodney jumped to his feet and paced nervously back and forth. "I know . . . I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I'm just . . . he was so . . . he wasn't breathing when we pulled him from the water and Carson's had him in surgery for hours and it was all my fault because I wouldn't throw him his trunks and he couldn't get out of the water. And then I laughed and I thought he was joking and he wasn't because that thing was chewing his leg off and I – "
Elizabeth's sharp voice got Rodney's attention, forcing him to realize he'd been rambling, almost incoherently. "Oh, sorry . . . I guess I'm just scared."
Elizabeth nodded and looked at Ronon, sitting in a chair across from them. His right forearm was bandaged and he had welts and small cuts on his upper left arm and the right side of his neck. "Ronon, are you all right?"
"I'm fine. One of the nurses cleaned everything and bandaged the worst of it. I don't know what it was, but it had Sheppard good. It had . . . tentacles, I think, wrapped around him, helping to pull him under. I just kept hacking them off until it let go. It tried to get a few around me, but I just cut them off as well. The mouth was huge, lots of big sharp teeth. I think I saw one of its eyes, big and cold looking, but . . . intelligent I think."
Elizabeth shuddered at Ronon's description. "But you don't know what it was?"
"No, never seen anything like it. Not a fish, but . . . I don't know. It was big, really big. It had Sheppard's whole leg in its mouth. I may have done some damage pulling him loose when I finally got the tentacles off. He was kind of . . . hung up on some of the teeth."
"Better that than leaving him there. Thank you Ronon. And this was at the north pier?"
"Yeah," said Rodney, pacing again. "Guess we'd better tell everyone to stay out of the water, maybe post some No swimming, diving, or wading signs. Well, maybe not thewading part, but no swimming or diving"
Teyla frowned and looked from Rodney to Elizabeth. "Have people not been swimming there for almost a year now? Why are we just now being attacked?"
Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it's just now finding us. Maybe it was swimming by and there we were . . . or rather there Sheppard was."
"Beckett," said Ronon as he stood up from the wall. The others stood up to meet the physcian as he emerged from surgery.
"Carson . . ." Elizabeth started before he held his hand up.
"Surgery went well, at least as well as can be expected. We still have him on the ventilator and we're still putting blood back into him, but he's doing well considering. No bones were broken, amazingly enough, but there is extensive muscle damage. He'll need more surgery later, I'm afraid, but we did what we could for now and I believe we have the bleeding stopped."
"So, he'll be all right?" asked McKay, hopeful but hesitant.
Beckett sighed and looked at Rodney. "Since we don't know how long he was without oxygen, we'll have to wait until he wakes to assess his neurological condition. As for his leg . . . he'll require more surgery and extensive physical therapy and then I think he'll regain nearly full use of his leg back. But it's going to be a long and painful recovery, so the colonel's going to need a lot of support and encouragement."
McKay looked a bit stunned. "So . . . is that a yes?"
Beckett smiled. "It's an I think so. And before anyone has a chance to ask, you can have a minute or two with him and that's all. We have to keep the area around his bed clear. He's not out of the woods yet and we have to be able to get to him quickly. Now, follow me." Beckett led them to Sheppard's bed and the cluster of machines around it, along with a nurse hovering nearby, keeping watch.
They couldn't see much of his face because of the ventilator tube, but what they could see was far too pale. The sheet was pulled up to his waist, with his right leg visibly larger with the heavy bandaging. Bandages were also wrapped around his abdomen, covering the many welts and cuts left by the tentacles. Wires led from a heart monitor to patches on his bare chest and a pulse oximeter was clipped to one finger.
"As you can see, we're keeping a close eye on him and we'll continue to do so until he's more stable," explained Beckett. They stood in silence, just watching the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest as the ventilator breathed for the unconscious colonel. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to leave now. I'll let you know as soon as there's any change."
The group reluctantly took one last look at Sheppard and then left, walking slowly out of the infirmary. Beckett turned to the nurse and looked at the latest set of vitals she had just taken. "Leave it to Colonel Sheppard to find a sea monster," he muttered.
John felt detached, almost like he was floating above his body. He knew he hurt, but the signals were confused and he wasn't sure what part of him hurt. As awareness slowly crept in, he began to feel things. Nasal cannula, IV, heart monitor, finger clip, catheter, all the normal stuff he often woke up with. They felt distant, like the pain, so he figured he must be drugged to the gills. Good, he probably needed it.
John slowly rolled his head a little to his left to see Rodney typing on his laptop. His throat felt like raw hamburger and he was pretty sure he'd used all available energy just letting his head roll to one side, so he was content to just watch his friend.
After a couple of minutes, Rodney stopped typing, having that being watched feeling. Looking up, he saw a pair of hazel eyes watching him and almost dropped the computer in the floor. "You're awake." Setting the computer aside, he stood and made the two steps to the bed, eying Sheppard critically. "So, are you really there this time, or just doing that spontaneous eye-opening thing again? Carson is getting annoyed at my false alarms."
John frowned in confusion, unsure of what Rodney was babbling on about. Rodney smiled in response. "Hey, a reaction. Must mean you're really awake this time. Hold that thought."
Rodney moved out of John's line of sight, but he didn't have the energy to shift his position, so he waited. He thought he heard Rodney talking, but he couldn't tell what he was saying and his mind began to drift, the drugged lethargy beginning to tug at him.
"Colonel, open your eyes for me for a few minutes." John blinked a couple of times before getting his eyes to open again. He looked up into the face of Beckett.
"Aye, that's more like it lad. We just took you off the ventilator last night, so I know you're throat is hurting. I have some ice chips for you." Beckett slid a couple of small ice chips into Sheppard's mouth.
John was never sure if it was the coolness or the moisture of the ice that felt the best, especially after being taken off the vent, but it was almost like a little slice of heaven. He tried to smile his appreciation to Beckett, but he didn't feel like he had full control over his muscles, so he wasn't actually sure if he succeeded. Beckett seemed to get the message though, slipping another chip in John's mouth as the first ones disappeared.
"How do you feel, Colonel?" asked the doctor.
John swallowed and tried to speak. "Floaty," he rasped softly.
Beckett nodded. "So the pain is not too bad?"
John slowly shook his head. "Hmmm." John tried to focus on Beckett, but could feel his eyelids drooping.
"Do you know where you are?" asked the doctor.
It took a moment for John to process the question. "Mmm, lantis."
"Good. Okay, you can get some more rest, Colonel," said Beckett.
John felt a hand on his arm, but his eyes had closed and he knew there would be no opening them right now. He thought he heard Rodney say, "I'm sorry, Colonel," just before he drifted off and he wondered what Rodney had to be sorry about.
John opened his eyes to a strange scratching sound. When his vision cleared, he watched the nurse standing beside his bed finish writing on his chart. When she had finished, she smiled at him. "Ah, sleeping beauty awakens. I'll get Dr. Beckett for you."
John blinked slowly and yawned. His head was clearer than the last time he woke up, but the pain was clearer too. Definitely coming from his leg. It felt like he was being stabbed about ten places at once in his right leg, reminding him of what it had felt like in the water. He shivered as he remembered how helpless he felt struggling against whatever had clamped onto him as it drug him under again and again.
"Colonel, nice to see you with us again," said Beckett as he came up to the bed with a cup in his hand. He proceeded to raise the head of the bed enough that Sheppard could take a sip of the water he'd brought through the bendy straw hanging out of the plastic cup. Sheppard had taken only three small sips when Beckett pulled it away. "That's enough for now. We don't want it coming back up on us. You can have a bit more in a minute. Now, how do you feel?"
John tried to honestly assess his body. The leg hurt, but not unbearably so. He noticed that the nasal cannula was gone, making him a little happier. "Not bad," he said, his voice still rough and low. "Leg hurts a bit."
Beckett nodded. "I'm afraid it probably will for a while. Do you remember what happened?"
John nodded. "Something grabbed me by the leg, drug me under."
"That's right. Ronon managed to get you away from it. Apparently whatever it was had tentacles that had quite a bite and lots of very big teeth. I'm afraid your leg was quite a mess. We've already had you to surgery twice and there'll probably be two or three more before we're done. There was extensive muscle and skin damage and a wee bit of nerve damage as well."
John frowned at the doctor, wishing he'd just get down to the nitty gritty. "Is my leg going to be all right eventually?"
"Aye, I think so. But you'll require some pretty tough physical therapy to get there. This one isn't going to be easy, Colonel. We're talking several weeks at least, possibly several months."
John sighed and closed his eyes, bringing his hand up to rub his forehead. "Well, crap. All I wanted to do was go swimming. Nothing is ever simple here, is it?"
"No, lad, it doesn't seem to be. Oh, and I wouldn't advise skinny dipping in uncharted waters in any galaxy. You're taking a mighty risk."
John looked confused for a second. "Skinny dipping?" Then it hit him what the doctor thought. "Oh, no, I wasn't skinny dipping." He could feel his face getting warmer. "I sort of took a high dive off this platform and . . . well, I lost my swim trunks when I hit the water." Jeez, could this get any more embarrassing?
Beckett looked relieved. "I'm glad to hear it son. I was beginning to think you'd taken leave of your senses."
"I can't believe Rodney hasn't told the whole base. He fished my trunks out of the water and was refusing to throw them to me. I was honestly beginning to think he was going to make me get out in my birthday suit right in front of Teyla."
Beckett looked like someone had just turned all the lights on for him. "Was this going on when that creature attacked you?"
"Yeah, I was starting to swim in while threatening Rodney when it grabbed my leg."
Beckett nodded. "Now it all makes sense. He's been hovering around here like an old mother hen for the past few days and mumbling about how it was all his fault."
John's mouth dropped open. "That's just ridiculous. It wasn't anybody's fault."
Beckett nodded toward the entrance to the infirmary. "I wish you'd tell him that." They both watched as Rodney strolled over to John's bed.
"Rodney, I was just about to call you," said Beckett. "You can visit for a while, but don't tire him out."
Rodney nodded to Beckett as the doctor left and then turned back to Sheppard. "You look a bit more lucid than the last time you woke up."
John looked at Rodney, a mixture of annoyance and worry on his face as he took note of the dark smudges and lines of exhaustion around the scientist's eyes. "What's this I hear about you thinking this is your fault?"
Rodney sighed loudly as he dropped into the chair. "Well, it is. If I had thrown you your swim trunks when you asked – "
"Then I would have had more clothes on when Beckett came to put me back together. I'd have still been in the water, Rodney, and I still would have been fish food. Unless you were controlling that thing with a remote of some sort, then this is in no way your fault. There is no way you could have known that thing was out there or kept it from attacking. Now be sensible and let's drop this whole thing."
A smile began to flicker across McKay's face. "Are you really sure you want to drop it? I'd have thought you'd have had enough of dropping things lately."
"McKay, that isn't funny."
"Maybe not, but it's the naked truth."
John rested his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes. "Come on, McKay, my leg is killing me. I think I liked you better when you were on a guilt trip. I change my mind, it was your fault."
"Nope, too late. You've already revealed yourself, in more than one way I might add."
"Carson!" John didn't usually like to call for reinforcements, but this was getting out of hand. And his leg really was starting to hurt.
McKay finally figured out that Sheppard was actually hurting and his expression sobered. "Okay, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were really in pain. I thought it was like your sympathy story. I'll be good and I really am sorry."
Beckett walked quickly across the infirmary to stand beside John's bed. "What is it Colonel?"
John stared at McKay, trying to read his expression. He finally looked over to Beckett. "My leg is really starting to bother me, Doc."
Beckett looked from John to Rodney and back to John. He knew something more had been going on because Sheppard never yelled for him like that to request pain medication, but they seemed to have sorted out the problem. "All right, Colonel, I'll get you something. Rodney, don't be stirring up my patient or I'll be throwing you out. He's still weak and has a long road ahead of him." Beckett turned and headed for the drug room.
"Thanks for not kicking me out. I'll lay off, at least until you're better," promised Rodney.
John sighed. "I'm never going to live this down, am I?"
Rodney couldn't help but smile. "Probably not."
Beckett returned a few minutes later and injected the requested painkiller into Sheppard's IV port. John felt the pain-dulling relief take hold within minutes. He was vaguely aware of Rodney and Carson talking as he drifted off, exhaustion able to lay hold of him now that the fire in his leg had been temporarily doused. Their familiar voices comforted him and he focused on them as he slid deeper and deeper toward sleep.
"He just told me while ago. Have you told Elizabeth yet?"
"No, I thought I'd let Sheppard bare his soul to her and reveal the true story."
The last thing he heard was McKay giggling as Carson scolded him. "You've got to stop that Rodney, or the colonel might be tempted to feed you to the native aquatic population."
Mrs. Keenan had been wrong. People laughed at you even when you really were hurt.