Rating – K+ for some whump and very little if any swearing.
Disclaimer – I don't own Stargate Atlantis, how dare you accuse me otherwise. That's it, I'm taking Sheppard and I'm going home. What do you mean I can't take Sheppard!
Synopsis – John in his element - water.
A/N: I swear this idea has been plaguing me for some time, I just didn't have the motivation for it quite yet. Takes place after Common Ground and could be thought of as a kind of tag, but many, many days later, long after all the whump the rest of you put him through (I'm kind of playing on all the wonderful CG tags that are out there, hope those of you who wrote one don't mind) so it's kind of a tag to the tags. Part of a two part element series. Next element will be... come on, take a guess.
P.S. - I know nothing about surfing except for what I've seen on TV during surfing competitions.
The surfboard was heavy under John's arm and getting heavier. He kept hefting it up but refused to switch arms. This was his shooting arm, it needed the work out, and there was no real harm in spiting its weakness. At least his legs were fine. A little sore from pushing the runs beyond what he was supposed to, but at least not trying to give out on him. He didn't have to lock them, or tense trembling muscles to stop the twitching. They were ready for this.
John stared out at the waves rolling into each other foaming like the outburst of an activated gate. The froth glittered diamond-like sweeping up the beach before sweeping back out leaving a sharp border between the pliable dry sand and the more solid wet sand. The breakers were high curling inward to form perfect azure tunnels.
John broke himself from his trance and moved toward them kicking through the sand. He felt like he didn't have much time. They would be looking for him. He was off-duty, grounded for reasons of mental health more than physical. Carson could say what he wanted but John wasn't naive. Okay, so John had lost a little weight from a body that didn't need to lose weight. Yeah, his appetite sucked, killed by vicious dreams and people who hovered making sure you shoved more than you could handle down your throat. John flinched, John twitched, John reacted to sudden movement, appearances, and unexpected touch. He didn't hit anyone for it, attack or fire without thought. He just flinched, twitched, and tried to ignore the pitifully concealed flickering looks of unease no one thought he noticed.
They tended to forget; he wasn't stupid. He was the antithesis, so said the Mensa test.
John hated it, hated it so much that he was starting to wonder if they were the stupid ones. It was a harsh assessment but he was so tired of it that, in truth, it was the most gentle way he knew how to react. They weren't getting it. It was over. He was alive, he was young, and it was over. What were they waiting for? What were they afraid of?
John was scared. All the worried looks, the unseen trepidation betrayed in suddenly tensing muscles, the constant demand for a physical. Did they see something John didn't? He had thought – hoped – he was acting normal. Not all that easy to do with people forever hovering, walking on eggshells around you, playing the part of stern but worried parents badgering you to talk it all out.
Let's crack open your skull and see what's inside. Just open wide and let it all pour out. John shuddered. What did they want for him to do, to say, how to react? He'd tried to play along but didn't know the game. Too many years of refusing to play had made him forget all the rules.
He'd been scared, hurting, hopeful and yet resigned. He'd admit to that if anyone asked, because he's human and all humans have a right to react. Problem was, no one asked. They asked him how he was, what he was feeling, what it had been like. They never asked if he'd been scared, had it hurt, had he wanted to live, had he been ready to die, was he grateful to be alive? The direct questions that didn't skirt the edges. Blatant questions for blatant answers that could go either way rather than all over the place.
It had hurt. No one could accept that as an answer. I hadn't wanted to die. They probably assumed he wouldn't answer in that way. They never asked the real questions. They tiptoed thinking he could never handle the real questions.
I was scared, it had hurt. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt. Yet here I am. I survived. And I'm relieved and happy to be alive. What more was there?
It was all too weird and stifling. The looks of worry, of awe, hell, even a few of suspicion. It was turning into a moon-landing conspiracy fiasco, with some believing it had never even happened, that it was all a video hoax cooked up by the technically challenged Genii who didn't even no how to build a proper atom bomb.
People could get quite creatively brainless when reality got too harsh. Sheppard wasn't in any kind of denial, and he was the one who'd been tortured. It pissed him off, all the self-delusional yahoos whispering behind their hands about how the Genii had set it up.
While you're at it, maybe you could pin the existence of wraith on the Jim Henson company. Blast those evil life-sucking muppets.
John's footprints vanished in the sand on the next wave washing warm around his bare feet. He wore dark blue trunks because he'd had no time to dig out his wet-suit from the junk under his bed. He'd been running away, after all – sort of. Not a permanent escape, just a traipse around the block, as it were, getting out of the house and into fresh air. Worry, wonder, and suspicion could really suffocate a man, and John had been choking. He needed to get out, so snagged a jumper and flew off into the wild blue yonder with the promise that he'd be back in a couple of hours.
He hadn't checked the time since departing. He new it was wrong – extra wrong since he was just going to blame it on all his 'psychological trauma' – but, hey, when push came to shove, he shoved harder.
He just needed a moment to breathe.
John's feet sank into the sand ankle-deep beneath the water.
He wouldn't refute the weight-loss deal, the eating issue. With his arm pressed against his side, it was impossible to ignore the sharp feel of his ribs, as though there was nothing between them and his flesh, like he was all paper-thin skin and protruding bones. He wasn't emaciated and tone-less, it was just an analogy. Still, it was why he had more tolerance concerning Beckett's worry. His appetite suffered sometimes when he was worried, busy, or nervous. This time around it was nerves. Yes, he wasn't over being fed on. He wouldn't be over it. And it was not some deep rooted psychological problem, it was simply a new instinct, one that made him feel a little like a kicked dog.
He'd owned a dog that had been abused. Sweet animal with the only setback being if you raised your hand, then it would cringe and back away. After a year or two of not getting hit, the cringing went to flinching but staying put.
John hadn't lived through a lifetime of being fed on. He would flinch and twitch at the unexpected, probably for a few more weeks at most, then stop because nothing unpleasant followed the unexpected. Contact to his chest, especially by hands, would take longer – maybe even a year or two, until his brain finally registered that that human hand wasn't capable of doing any life sucking.
A wraith hand – well, one didn't have to be fed on to recoil from that.
John kicked through ankle high water until it was calf high. He set his board on the water and himself on top to start paddling out to the waves. He saw flashes of silver bodies within the waves that weren't foam. The marine biologists had named them sea-gliders, and had labeled them as human friendly. They were like a cross between dolphins but with sharply pointed snouts, and manta rays with their wide wings that worked in time with their tails to propel them forward. Their dorsal fins were long, high at the head and descending all the way to the end of the tail-flukes.
And they were wave riders, like him.
A wave rose up monolithic and fast, but gentle and slow in John's conditioned mind. He pushed up from the board and pulled his legs forward for his feet to be beneath him. He maneuvered the board using his entire body to cut through the wave, getting within where it curled forming a roaring tunnel. With one arm outstretched he touched the warm wall of water and followed it where it took him. He rode the wave all the way back toward the shore, then let it dump him into the water. He broke surface gasping and hauled himself back onto the board and paddled out.
The next wave was extra massive. It pulled the board up and John leaped to his feet barely catching it in time. He cut a path through the tunnel, steering up then whipping back down in a spray of glittering diamond foam. His heart raced with the ride, and his hand sliced through the wall of water. A badly timed turn had him wiping out and shoved beneath the surface. He went with it, diving down in case the board had been shoved with him.
He floated between the deep and the surface for a moment to set his bearings straight. He'd never had qualms about opening his eyes underwater, whether it be a pool, lake, or salty ocean. Ripples of light flashed off slick silver bodies. The sea-gliders darted and veered with the precision of being able to turn on a dime. And they sang, high-pitched echoing sounds like dolphin whistles and whale-song combined. One steered toward John to check him out by gliding in lazy circles around him. John circle with it, part out of caution, and part out of returning that curiosity. Then the creature darted away rippling its 'wings' and pumping its tail.
John's lungs tighten in a scream for oxygen, so he complied, kicking hard to shoot upward. His head broke the surface, and he gasped while twitching his head flipping water from his face. He then glanced around until he spotted his board several feet away being nudged around by a small pod of very inquisitive and overly brave sea-gliders. John swam over and the gliders scattered. He hefted himself onto the board, straddling it for a momentary respite. A pointed snout and glass-smooth ridged head poked out of the water two feet from John. The snout gaped open to emit shrill whistles, chirps and whiny grunts.
John grinned and patted the water, which usually worked when trying to catch a dolphin's attention at the Sea-World petting pool. It even worked with a wild dolphin once, sort of, closing the distance of five feet into three.
The hybrid looking alien ducked back beneath the surface. Seconds later John jerked his leg at the feel of wet rubber brushing the sole of his foot. Something pointed nudge his other foot, and jerking that leg caused him to lose his balance and slip into the water. John scrambled back to the surface and threw his arms over the board. The board, in turn, was being nudged again by more of John's curious groupies.
John felt another brush beneath his foot, and a light, painless jab in his hip.
" What the crap, guys?"
It took John a moment to realize that they were nudging and prodding John in the direction of some really massive breakers. John smirked.
" I get you."
He pulled up onto his board and paddled out in time to catch the next swell. The board lifted, and John slid and jumped to his feet. The wall of water was high, the tunnel huge, and John rode it along side the metallic bodies of sea-gliders. The creatures' bodies were natural surfboards -wide and flat. Where ever John steered, they steered in perfect unison as though it were a rehearsed dance. Didn't matter how sharp or sudden the motions, the gliders could copy it.
A second wipe out shoved John under deep and fast. He hadn't been ready for it, and reached out blindly for the board to pull himself back up. His hand contacted something slick and vertical, and without thinking he latched on. His arm jerked and his body lurched, and the next thing he realized he was being pulled through the water. John held to the long dorsal fin with both hands as the glider sped through the water like a chopper through the air. Then it rose, and broke the surface. John gasped in a loud lungful and continued to hang on. The creature hadn't stopped moving. In fact, it had increased its speed cutting through the surface like a motorboat. The creature was lifted by another swell, up and up, then turned and let the wave carry it. John kept one hand gripping the fin and the other gripped the wing at the joint. Water arched upward like a thin crystal wall high over John's head. He lifted his head, and howled out a shout of body-numbing exhilaration that made his heart want to leap from his chest. The creature didn't wipe out like him. It sank beneath the surface to let the wave roll away and crash far beyond them. The creature arched upward pointing in the direction of the surface, and that's when John let go.
John broke the surface with a gasp that became wild, hooting laughter. John had always seen surfing as a form of flying. But that... riding on that creature... that had been flying. His heart continued to pound with the rush of it, a rush that had infused his blood with so much adrenaline he was shaking. He didn't want to stop. He wanted more. He whipped around until he found his board being nudged toward another wave, and swam quickly after it. He climbed on, paddled out, and hopped up as the water swelled and lifted him. The board sliced the water, as did the silver bodies riding shot gun beside him. The roar of the wind was drowned by the roar of the wave, and with his arms up aiding in maintaining his balance, it really did feel like flying.
If John had wings, he'd never touch the ground – that's what his mother used to say, and she was probably right. Flight offered too much freedom, whether in the sky or temporarily riding a wave. All other aspects of life became nothing more than distant memories. At this height, this speed, tearing over water and through the air, nothing could touch him.
John didn't wipe out this time. The wave shrank and he followed it until there was nothing left to follow. He then dropped down onto his chest and turned to paddle back out. He wanted to laugh, and at the same time wanted to cry. This felt so right to be almost natural. Just him and the water and the waves. No one worrying, fussing, staring, prodding, and pushing. This wasn't respite or a time passing activity, it was escape, pure and simple. Freedom, wild abandon, mind-numbing, body-numbing, heart pounding, free-ride that took him no-where and everywhere. His drug of choice, his therapy, even if it didn't kill the nightmares or make him eat right ever again. It didn't matter. It was all his, all freedom, and a moment when nothing else mattered.
A swell lifted the board, John leaped up, and rode again. This wave was massive. John leaped at its peak and was momentarily airborne. He shouted out the overwhelming rush making his heart slam, then howled on the descent. He was breathless with shouting and laughter, and his hand brushed the slick, glass-bright skin of his fellow surfers.
The wave crashed down and plowed John deep below the surface, down and down. Then, resistance. His body impacted something solid and sharp. Rough, jagged edges sliced into is ribs and the pressure of the toppled waved shoved him further for the edges to slice down, all the way to the second to the last floating rib. Pain had John taking an involuntary gasp, and he immediately panicked when water tried to rush into his lungs. Blood clouded around him, obscuring his vision. He thrashed and clawed through the water trying to right himself. His lungs begged for air, and his chest tightened with the lack of it. Black spots began to pulse in his vision, and his heart jackhammered out of control.
He was drowning.
Then his hand thumped something slick. He grappled until his fingers wrapped around the vertical fin. His body was yanked through the water, on and on until his head broke through the border between water and air. His sucked in a convulsive breath, coughing and gagging in between. He was distantly aware of his body being pulled through the water, so had sense enough to hang on. It wasn't until his heel scraped sand that he realized where he was being taken. He released the fin, and floundered gasping, sputtering, and choking through the shallows until he was able to crawl like a wounded seal onto the beach.
John dropped to his chest on the warm, dry sand. Water continued to lap at his feet like a puppy wanting attention. He coughed, hard, through searing pain and lack of air. Oxygen poured into his lungs through hitching inhales. Then his stomach bucked and he pushed himself up onto his elbow in time to puke up streams of salt water. He rolled onto his back in order to avoid the mess, and lay there, eyes closed, just breathing.
It was when he tried to breath deep that his side burned as though stabbed, and he remembered his pain. He lifted his head to see blood spreading over the sand, dripping from the tissue deep gash in his side. So deep, he saw the blood-stained white of bone. John's eyes widened. He struggled to sit up despite the pain that made his breath catch then release on a broken cry.
This was bad, very bad. Looking across the beach, he saw the puddle jumper as a gray dot in the distance.
John pressed his arm against the gash to stem the bleeding, and hissed from the pain of it. He then glanced out over the water, where silver backs arched, and silver bodies raced with the waves. A small group was circling the shallows, poking their heads out at periodic intervals to emit high squeaks.
John's whole body sagged shivering from fading adrenaline and pain. What had happened was a haze to him, like a dream. Still was as blood padded softly to be soaked into the sad. John's chest heaved with lungs still craving air, and his mouth gaped in an utter loss of understanding. He couldn't explain why, but he felt as though he'd been betrayed, by water, by a damn ocean. Tricked into letting his guard down, then attacked for it.
John's throat constricted and he numbly shook his head. It was an accident, that was all, and it wasn't like it was his first. He'd hit rocks before, scraped his back up pretty good, punctured his leg, and broke his arm. It was only natural his ribs followed after.
No amount of simplification could shake the feeling of having lost something precious. A moment, a stupid moment that wasn't forever no matter how it ended.
But it had been one hell of a moment, lost to an accident, a dream tainted by an infringement of a nightmare. Weir would never let him surf again, Beckett especially.
He could no longer see the sea-gliders, and hadn't realized they had gone.
John pushed himself painfully to his feet and turned to stagger in the direction of the jumper that was a gray dot in the distance. Rivulets of blood drew red lines down his flesh before soaking into the waistband of the trunks, and drops of blood stippled the sand like in those cartoons where a character's trekking progress is marked on a map one dot at a time. John tried to stem both by keeping his arm pressed against the wound, staining his skin and giving the drops a place to drip from off the tips of his fingers.
Then John looked up. Surprise slapped him with momentary vertigo when he saw Carson standing with clasped hands before the open bay of the jumper. John lurched to a stop and just stood there trying to blink what had to be some kind of blood-loss induced mirage out of his head. Instead, his stillness prompted Carson to run toward him and meet him halfway.
There were a lot of 'bloody-hells' and John's personal favorite, 'what the hell did you do to yourself this time, son' as though all injuries were a conscious effort on his part. The frantic Highland physician pulled and hustled his forever wayward patient into the back of the jumper and forced him to sit on a bench. As the doctor did his thing pulling out gauze pads, gauze strips, crystal clear bags of fluids, lines, and I.V. needles from his medical bag, he berated John while simultaneously explaining they'd been out here for the last thirty minutes looking for him. Ronon, McKay, and Teyla, and another marine were out combing the beach. Beckett surmised they must have passed John when he was under water at some point in time.
In between the explanations were expletives and high-pitched reprimands over how worried they'd been when John hadn't returned from his promised four hour long swing over the ocean in a puddle jumper. Beckett demanded an explanation without pausing for breath so John could give one.
John wouldn't have given one anyways. He'd been honest in his promise to be gone only four hours. Time, however, had ceased to exist only for him while out on the waves.
John hadn't meant for this to happen, any of it. He could have blamed Carson for refusing to let him go to the beach, and Weir in the same breath for the same reason, but didn't. He wasn't going there. Blame games were idiotic when he knew good and well it was his own fault. And now everyone was worried all over again.
John's stomach clenched. He honestly, truly, had not meant for this to happen.
Carson packed on the gauze pads over the wound and tied the strips as tight as comfortably possible, but John still winced. Carson threw a blanket around John's shivering shoulders then hauled him to his feet to dump him into the copilot's chair.
" I need ta keep an eye on ya," Beckett said, gruff, angry, but worried. The worry was underlining yet struck John like a slap. This shouldn't have happened.
Beckett planted himself in the pilot's seat and lit the console up relaying messages to the second jumper parked in front of the first, to Atlantis, and to John's team that he needed to bring John in fast. The puddle jumper rose vertically, turned, and shot off into the blue fading to gray sky. The journey was halfway complete when the horizon bisected the sun, and the sun tossed a choppy orange path over the water that looked solid enough to walk on. Then Atlantis swam into sight tall and glittering sharp with its glowing turrets and innumerable lights. Beckett announced his arrival and ordered a gurney before easing the jumper over the jumper bay sunroof and lowering down.
Beckett's piloting had been smooth, almost natural. Some tasks you had to put your mind to, but others required the mind to be elsewhere. Beckett accomplished more with Ancient technology by being absent-minded about it than Sheppard did just from touching the objects. John's lips twitched in a short-lived smile of pride for the doc.
The jumper touched down, the bay doors opened, and the gurney was wheeled on board and lowered to the floor. Carson helped John out of the seat then helped ease him to his good side on the gurney. The gurney was snapped back into place and wheeled from the jumper to the bay then to the hall. Down the hall and to the infirmary where he was transferred with a one, two, three from the gurney to a bed.
The rest echoed off into a fog. Beckett shouted for a bag of blood, and John flinched when he felt his trunks pulled away... after a sheet was draped over him, of course. The whole time no one had attempted to straighten John from his tight fetal position. It was a lot warmer curled up into himself, and far less painful. Warmth flowed through his veins and thickened the fog in his mind that spilled over into his eyes. His eyelids saw no point in remaining open with nothing much to see, so slid closed, and John let them.
He hadn't meant for this to happen.
" The fever's broke but I'm still a bit worried. I'm havin' a hard time wakin' him up..."
The accented words echoed like a voice heard underwater. John was content to float but the words kept trying to tug him to the surface like a fishing line.
" Is he all curled up like that because he's cold? He looks cold. Making me cold just looking at him."
John would know that petulance and could probably pick it out from an ocean of voices.
" He did lose quite a bit of blood, Rodney. And he's been ill. Although I'd like to get him straightened or else he's gonna be right bloody sore when he wakes up."
" Hey, a nice little payback for nearly giving everyone here a coronary. Maybe next time he'll learn not to listen to the funny little voices in his head telling him to hijack jumpers just for some fun in the sun."
John wanted to tell Rodney that the only voice in his head was the one Rodney put there nearly twenty-four seven, but couldn't find the surface of this water he was drifting in. Water he could breathe in too, oddly enough; thick, sweet and cool with oxygen brushing up into his nose. This was the best haze he'd ever found himself in.
" Probably one of those situations that made sense at the time," said Carson. " I suggest that when he does wake and is strong enough you let him say his peace before burnin' him with the third degree."
Good 'ole Carson. John was really, really liking this haze a lot.
" Hey, I'm all for the nicey-nice but I'm not the only one who's going to want to chew him up and spit him out. He's been a bad, bad Colonel. You hear that Sheppard? Very, very bad. Weir's already got Heightmeyer breaking out the straitjackets."
Yes, a wonderful haze that John felt content enough to stay in, thus letting Rodney live another day.
" Come on John, wake up lad. I know yer in there."
John felt a touch like a light patting on the side of his face. It made the haze retreat, just a little. John pulled it back and wrapped it around himself until he was back to floating languidly. So the persistent touch moved away to end up on his shoulder and squeeze it.
" John! Come on lad. Just for a moment then ya can sleep."
The touch lifted off his shoulder and John mentally turned away back into the water.
The touch came to his chest, right on his sternum, pressing in hard. Instinct tore through the haze pushing sensation throughout his body until he became aware of the pain, the cold, and an antiseptic stench. He jerked back fighting to get his eyes open and his voice to work for a yelp. The yelp came out as a strangled, wheezing gasp and his eyes were led-weights that he could only lift to slits.
The touch returned to his shoulder for another squeeze. " Oh, bloody hell, I'm sorry lad, I completely forgot."
" At least it got him to wake up."
" Rodney! That's no bloody way for the man to wake up. Yer all right, John. That was just me bein' daft."
John brought up a shaky hand to rub his eyes and pull the lids up farther. The sensation of the long-gone touch lingered on his chest like a small weight, there was a burning, itching, stabbing pain in his side, loud fast beeping making his ears ring, cool air soaking into his skin, and a desert dry throat that wouldn't let him swallow. When he tried, he coughed, and the pain in his side ignited to become pain throughout the upper half of his body. The touch drifted to his back to start rubbing up and down along his spine between the shoulder blades. Something solid and cold was slipped into his mouth, and drops of icy water soaked into the parched membrane of his throat, smothering the itch and ending the coughs.
" There ya are, son. Take it easy now, yer all right."
John missed the haze. Things had made sense there with no sensations or sounds to clutter it all up.
" C'rsn?" His voice sounded small and rough. He wanted to lift his head but the action wouldn't go beyond being wishful thinking. The hand that had been rubbing his eyes had dropped to the bed with no intentions of moving again no matter what his brain commanded.
" Aye lad, it's me. You in any pain?"
Rodney snorted. " Oh like he's going to tell you that."
John found sense enough to feel affronted. He was tired but the pain wasn't going to let him sleep, so why wouldn't he tell?
" Y-yeah... Yeah..." came his forced, breathless reply.
" Whoa," he heard Rodney say. " That can't be good. It's not good when he confesses, right?"
" Settle down, Rodney. I know this may come as a shock but the lad's generally cooperative when it really matters. But, aye, I'll agree that when he confesses you know he's bloody well sufferin'. I'll get ya somethin' for the pain, John, just hang on a sec."
There was silence, except for the beeping and the soft rustle of cloth from someone moving. A moment later, something warm and pleasant flowed with his blood and the pain shrank away.
John breathed out an unsteady sigh. " Th'nk you..." he slurred.
The touch went to his eyelids and pried them apart so they could be assaulted by a stab of blinding white light he had no strength to pull away from. The second eye suffered, then the touch returned to his back tugging at the ties of his hospital gown. The blankets were pulled away to his waist, and his arms manipulated from the sleeves of the gown so it could be pulled below his chest. John had already been shivering, and it turned into trembling when the cool air rushed in from all sides.
" Just a quick listen to your heart and lungs, lad," Beckett said. John felt something hard press into his chest, and he wanted desperately to pull away. It remained where it was for several heartbeats, then shifted position to his back.
" Breathe in... Good. Again..."
The object was pulled away. Next came a pull to his skin and a slight, ignorable sting on his side.
" Oh, that's just nasty!"
" No one's askin' ya to stick around, Rodney. Hm... Looks better, no longer inflamed, stitches still holding. Hand me that scanner there, Rodney. I'd like a quick peek at his ribs without havin' to move him."
John gave up the fight to keep his eyes open - not being able to see anything anyways through the blurry film covering them - and let them shut since Carson had yet to tell him to do other wise.
" Thank ya lad. All right then... Things look well in there. Some of the smaller cracks look to be fusin'. All right, Colonel, I think we've sufficiently frozen you. Just a quick cover up of that wound and you'll be warm before you know it."
More touching, mostly along his side, then at his back when the gown was lifted and tied. Heavy blankets were pulled up to his neck, and John curled tighter beneath them to have them up to his jaw. Warmth pooled around him and the haze crept back in to let him float away.
" You never asked him what the hell he was thinking when he took the jumper." Rodney's voice had that echo quality to it again.
" Rodney," Carson admonished.
" What was he even doing on the mainland?" Rodney pressed.
" Ronon and Teyla found an 'odd shaped board' as they put it. They left it there but I've got my suspicions."
" He was surfing?"
" Oy, ya really are a genius lad."
" Bite me, Carson. What the hell was he doing surfing, and by himself? You know what? I don't want to know the answer. This just proves what I've been saying – he's freakin' lost it. Who the hell surfs an alien ocean ninety percent likely to contain alien sea monsters? I've been under that ocean, Carson, and let me tell you there are some freaky things down there. Overly horny whales for one thing."
" I though you said that whale was just looking for conversation?"
" Yeah, well, I've done a little research on whales and most of their 'talk' usually centers around trying to get a date. Now I ask again, what kind of whack job surfs an ocean full of monsters and alien whales in a mating mood?"
John heard a hollow, scratching sound, like pen on paper attached to a clipboard. He could make a game of this. Name that infirmary sound.
" Well, when you put it that way... There can't help to be a bit of questioning concerning the colonel's psyche."
John's heart tried to shrink to the size of a pin head. It was just a rock, I smashed into a rock. No alien sea monsters, a rock! A rock that moved. John had checked out the section of coast he'd chosen to ride using the HUD, and gone for the beach devoid of the bigger, more wide-spread coral reefs.
Recalling the distance to the jumper when he'd dragged his bleeding body from the water, John had been the one who had moved. He'd been careless and paid for it – no need to blame the ocean and its plethora of sea monsters. This was John's fault and he would say as much when he was able to.
Even if it meant he could never go out there again.
" Although, knowin' the colonel," Carson continued, " a passionate whack job sounds more appropriate."
John awoke on his own accord for a very dire reason.
He had to go. And on a fortunate note, John's condition had recently stepped up to the removal of the catheter.
John pushed back the blankets and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He slid off onto bare feet and quaking legs that tried to give way under him. He caught the edge of the bed and pushed himself until he got his knees locked. He then gripped the I.V. pole and used it as a crutch to shuffle across the chilled floor to the bathroom. The infirmary was dark, and as empty as an infirmary could get not including the other sleeping patients (two in all).
John took care of business and shuffled on out. He expected to see a nurse with hands on hips on exiting, or an irate Carson with red creeping up his neck into his face. Instead he was met by a still dusky infirmary and sleeping patients. John stared across the infirmary at his empty bed with the rumpled blankets. He didn't want to go back to it. Being up and able to go to the bathroom on his own meant that the questions would begin to be dumped on him the moment the sun rose.
John cringed. He would never see another wave let alone ride it for as long as he lived. And for some reason, that made him suddenly claustrophobic. John shuffled over to his bed and pulled the top-most blanket off. With the blanket bundled under his arm, he sealed his fate by forcing his unsteady legs and aching body to the infirmary's balcony where lawn chairs and benches were already set up as a reward for the good little patients who knew how to stay in their beds.
Another step up was the change from a gown to scrubs, and on this warm, breezy night John was indescribably grateful.
Pulling the blanket around his shoulders without dislodging the the I.V. was hard work, and by the time he was wrapped up he was also breathing heavy from the exertion. John eased himself into the nearest lawn chair and stared out to the horizon where ocean met sky.
John shoved back the impending doom of Carson discovering him AWOL – again – and focused on the clarity of the sky; a perfect clarity as though the Pegasus Galaxy held more stars than the Milky Way. Except that wasn't true. During a clear night in Antarctica one could see enough stars to believe that you could almost reach out and touch them.
Maybe here he could swim to them, just jump onto his board and paddle out until he ended up someplace new. He'd read a book where that was possible thanks to some kind of dimensional fluke. One just had to set sail to the horizon and instead of hitting Bermuda they ended up in some backward, twisted, alternate version of their own world. Funky story, but fascinating in its own right. John had loved the whole daemon concept; your alter ego in animal form. He'd always wondered after reading what his daemon would have been. A hawk, maybe an eagle. Had to be something with wings.
John dozed a little and woke up just in time for the most spectacular sunrise he'd ever seen. It was all flaming gold, warm orange, and fiery red like a reverse sunset. But there was something about this sunrise that seemed more wild and unhindered, like something long pent up finally released. Birds bursting from trees, insects flushed out of the grass, and horses released into a field for an endless run kind of thing. This wasn't John's first witness of an Atlantean sunrise. They'd awed him before, but this one pact more of a punch. He'd been doing a lot more appreciating lately, whether noticing for the first time the iridescent colors rippling through Atlantis' walls when the light hit it just right, or – obviously – watching the sun rise on another day.
Or catching a wave and riding it after too many years of never having the opportunity.
Something in John's chest tightened. Even from the height of the balcony, John could hear the whispered rush of the ocean, and he could have sworn it was apologizing to him.
It had been an accident, a damn accident, that had driven him from the water.
Didn't mean the water had wanted him to go. A rock was earth and earth had never been John's element. So of course it would screw him over.
But the water had shoved me under. But it's water. Water doesn't think, it just acts. Get over it. But he couldn't. There was more at stake here than just having been injured. He'd shattered trust, and scared the hell out of people – again.
" Ya need the words 'caution: fool' stamped on the front of your noggin' lad."
John closed his eyes in premature weariness over the coming verbal onslaught. But more than that, had he had fur, it would have been standing on end. He literally began to bristle, his heart pumping hard and his blood scraping his veins.
" Don't call me a fool," he growled. He was tired of it. He knew he deserved it – pretty much earned it – but his ire had a differing opinion. John opened his eyes to see Carson moving out of his peripheral taking seat in the chair next to John.
" Then what would you call bein' out here all night in nothin' but scrubs and a blanket when you're still recoverin'?"
John had been about to say escape, yet instead spouted, " Desperation." He didn't quite know where that had spawned from. Still, it had felt right to say. " It was getting a little tight in there... I needed to get out."
A moment of silence stretched uncomfortable before Carson asked the five-cent question.
" You all right lad?"
A sardonic smirk curved Sheppard's mouth. " Try that question again, doc. Don't be afraid. I'm not going to crack and shatter... or crack and pounce. Too tired for either anyways."
" You tellin' me to be brutally honest with the questioning then?"
John waved his I.V. free hand. " Interrogate away, doc. I know you and everyone else have been wanting to ask it."
He heard Carson shift making the chair squeak. " All right then, I will. What the bloody hell were you thinkin' takin' off to the mainland without a word and surfin'?"
John took a long, deep breath stopping just at the point where his ribs twinged. " Carson," he said. " I have no freakin' idea."
Carson snorted. " Oh, that's a lovely answer. You know we were worried sick about ya?"
John's smile faltered until it faded. He nodded, swallowing against a suddenly tight throat. " Yeah." He then took another deep breath, this one less steady and a little harder to pull in. " And I'm... I'm sorry for that." Finally, he turned his head to look at the Scottish doctor. Carson was leaning on the arm of the chair with a stern and expectant look that demanded more answers than words ever could.
John swallowed again and cleared his throat. The unseen vice around his chest was being twisted, and another had been placed around his throat. " The thing is," John lifted his hand feebly then let it flop. " This wasn't supposed to happen. Me getting hurt, you having to pick me up, another stay in the infirmary." John huffed a choked laugh that jerked his chest. " Here's the thing, Carson. I wanted brutal questions, got 'em, so it's only right I be brutally honest. And, hey, if you want to reiterate what I say to Heightmeyer that's cool too, because you know I'll never be this honest again."
Carson shifted as though expecting to stick around for the long haul. John suppressed the need to shrink away under his gaze. Not because of his inexorable expression, but because of the underlying concern that John didn't think was all that necessary.
John had to clear his throat yet again. It was getting way too hard to talk. He opened and closed his mouth a few times before succumbing to another cleansing breath that bought him a moment.
" Carson," he began. " Carson, listen... I'm fine. Not one hundred percent or anything but definitely not standing on the precipice of needing to be dragged off by men in white coats to be strapped in a straitjacket. The nightmares are hell and I can barely choke down the first course of a meal let alone contemplate seconds. But, hell, Carson it's not like this is the first time it's happened to me. Remember all those sleeping pills I asked for couple of days after we got here because I couldn't stop dreaming about killing Sumner? Granted, I still have those dreams off and on. You know, between dreams about iratus bugs and being mutated? But I don't take the pills anymore. Hell, I've had nightmares and still slept the whole night through. But I'll admit, what happened to me - being fed on – that's going to hold the record for the longest running nightmare of the bunch."
Now it was John who leaned on the arm of his chair. " But here's the deal, Carson. I'm going to be all right. But it's a little hard trying to get on with life every time you look at everyone's face and get hit with the constant realization that they saw what you suffered. I know you guys can't help that and I understand. You've got nightmares of your own and I've hardly seen Rodney all that much with all the time he's spending with Heightmeyer. It just... It got to me after a while, 'cause it wouldn't stop. It's been weeks and though I know for a lot of you it's going to take longer to get over it, but some people hadn't even been witness to anything and they still gawk at me like I'm the walking dead. And I... I got tired of it. Actually, it started pissing me off. Everywhere I go I keep getting one look after another like a constant sucker punch. So I took off, escaped, got out, and went nuts doing what I love. I knew you would worry... and for a time..." John winced, " I kind of didn't care. I mean I did but... I guess that I kind of hoped that by getting you all worried then coming back unharmed, you would all – maybe – let up a little. Have something to be mad about, then maybe laugh about..."
John shook his head and sighed with shoulders sagging. " I don't know. It's sort of like why I came out on the balcony. It was a desperation thing, only involving a lot less thinking. A random act of stupidity that just gave you something else to stress over."
John fell silent, and flicked his tongue nervously over his suddenly dry lips. He averted his gaze to the floor for a moment to try and combat the increasing ache in his chest and throat. Realization over what he'd done, at this juncture, when so many were still fighting their own demons, and him going ahead ripping a still bleeding wound, continually hit him again and again, with a force greater than the last. Shame shoved him down and tears pricked along the edges of his eyelids.
" I am so sorry, Carson," he said. He blinked trying to stem the salty flood, but drops escaped and slid down his face. His voice, however, remained steady and clear. " I'm sorry... I'm sorry I ran. I was being selfish, a little vindictive, and an ass, and I'm sorry for that."
Silence was John's response making him want to cringe back like a kicked dog. This was one of those times where he wished he could shrink out of existence and spare everyone the anger that was inevitable when they finally confronted him.
A long, tired sigh broke the silence. John tentatively lifted his eyes to see Carson without the stern expression or even the worry. He was smiling, actually, kind of. Small and not quite reaching his eyes but still sincere.
" I'd be a bit of a hypocrite if I called ya a selfish ass, John," he said. " We all have our breakin' points lad. Granted yours was a bit extreme, but you were the one on the wrong end of that feeding ordeal, so the way you crack wasn't going to be along the same lines as the way the rest of us were goin' ta crack. You know how I cracked, John?"
John shook his head.
Carson chuckled softly and sat back in his chair. " I felt bad about takin' so many blood samples from ya I damaged one hell of an expensive microscope just to get myself ta stop. I mean I knew I bloody well wasn't gonna find anything new, but I suppose – since we're confessin' things – that taken blood and all those other tests was just an excuse ta see ya in the flesh and remind myself yer still alive. Haven't ya noticed that, John? Not just all the looks, but the fact that so many of the same faces are always cranin' their necks to look at you?"
It was hard not to notice. John's team had always done the most looking, along with Elizabeth. McKay calling him in to light mundane objects even Carson could activate without having to concentrate. Teyla wanting to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, tea, and more than one sparring session with him. Ronon had become his shadow, and John had actually caught the Satedan arguing with Teyla over who got to spar with him next. Ronon and Teyla never argued about that. It used to be they'd be too tired sparring with each other to want to spar with him if he got there late. And Elizabeth, she was always bumping into him way more than she ever had before.
" I know Ronon shot a hole through a punching bag when Dr. Weir denied him permission to hunt Koyla," said Beckett. " McKay, I hear, has been unusually amiable with his staff. And I even heard a rumor that he's taken up hitting golf balls off the east peir."
John couldn't help a soft snicker on hearing that. " He really has cracked."
Carson nodded, beaming. " Aye, quite. But ya best watch yourself or else he'll be comin' to you for lessons. Consequently, lad, we may be buggered about your sudden departure but in all logic ya can't be blamed for it. I know ya think it with a passion, son, but it's not your fault. We drove ya off. Help's all well and good but every soul needs his space which doesn't happen when ya've got every living human in this city bein' your shadow. Aye, ya cracked, John. No blame in it and no shame. The blame really is more on us, and all the worse since ya got injured as the result."
John opened his mouth to deny this claim, but Carson held up his hand.
" However, knowin' you won't rescind your side of it and we won't rescind ours, let's just leave it at being no body's fault. Your injury was an accident, you lived, so's best to live in the moment and be glad for what we've got." Carson's features sobered. " It's all right, lad. Ya gave us a scare, but I for one ain't gonna hold it against ya."
The ache loosened in John's chest. His throat, on the other hand, remained tightened. " Thank you Carson."
Carson nodded. " Aye, your welcome. Just next time ya wish to go surfin', clear it with me, first."
John shrugged abashedly. " I was going to but knew you'd say no."
Carson became thoughtful. " True, I probably would have, with no bloody reason to back it. Look, I'll make a deal with you. We could all do with a bit of R and R. When that wound and those ribs heal, I'll convince Weir to consider a trip to the mainland. Fun in the sun as Rodney might put it, only this time with the lot of us. We can all bloody well run away."
A small smile spread on John's lips, and more moistures gathered around his eyes. " Really?"
Carson nodded. " Really. Now, lad, keepin' to the blatantly honest. Are you all right? And I mean physically. Any pain? You cold?"
The blanket was thick enough to withstand the morning chill. Pain, however...
John smiled tiredly. " A little pain... and I could probably go for a nap."
Carson slapped the arms of the chair and rose. " How about a wee nip of breakfast, then a nap." He moved over to John and kept one hand on his shoulder as he also rose using the I.V. pole to pull himself up. Together they headed into the infirmary, and Carson helped John back into the bed.
" I'll send someone for your breakfast," said Carson. " And I'll talk to Elizabeth before she comes to talk to you. And everyone else. You've had your lecture and you don't need another."
John tucked his bottom lip under his front teeth and nodded. Carson smiled and moved away from the bed to hunt down a nurse.
" Carson," John said. The Scottish doctor stopped and turned. John looked up. " You really don't need to worry about me. I'll be fine."
Carson placed his hands in his pockets and inclined his head. " Aye. Ditto for you, lad. We'll be fine as well."
John smiled. " Good."
John stood on the solid wet sand slowly giving way with each wave that rolled in. Water pushed sand up over John's bare feet trying to bury them. The waves were high, folding into crystal azure tunnels that exploded in glittering diamond froth. Flat silver forms cut through the waves spraying water in crystal arcs over their bodies.
" You absolutely sure about those thing?"
John turned his head to grin at McKay standing two feet back dressed in Khaki shorts and a faded Hawaiian shirt.
" Positive Rodney."
John proceeded on out wading through the shallows until the water came knee high. He set his board on the surface and stretched himself on top to begin paddling out. More silver bodies clustered around him nudging the board towards the waves. John both laughed and shouted at the gliders to quit it. He fought back by grabbing onto the nearest dorsal fin and letting the glider haul him out to the next swell. The wave rose taking the board with it, and John pushed himself up onto his feet. The board cut through the water swathing a path of spraying liquid. Wide-winged silver bodies mimicked him on either side. The wind roared through his ears rushing over his body, and the exhilaration expanding in his chest climbed into his throat to explode out as a howl of heart-slamming elation.
Speed, wind, and water – it was all he could ever ask for.
John didn't wipe out. He let the wave carry him closer to the beach, and coasted into the shallows before lowering back to his knees then his chest. He was about to steer around for another go – the gliders already nudging him into action – when the sound of what he could have sworn was applause pulled his attention from the next swell to the beach.
McKay, Elizabeth, Carson (with Cadmen beside him), Teyla, Ronon, Radek, Lorne, and several other marines and scientists taking advantage of this sunny day were clustered either on the beach or in the shallows, clapping, and a few whistling.
John grinned but had to turn his face away to hide the fact that he was blushing.
" So that is surfing," he heard Teyla call. John forced himself to look back.
" Yeah, that's surfing."
" Can I go next?" Someone shouted.
" Are those ray things safe?" said someone else after John had already explained more than once that they were.
" What's it like?" This was said by Ronon.
John flashed him a quick grin before moving the board around to head out to the next wave.
" Like flying."
John let the gliders do the work.
The ocean swelled into another blue wave that lifted John up. John leaped to his feet, raised his arms to touch the tips of his fingers to the wall of water, and soared with the silver birds.
A/N: Thus it ends. Man that was hard writing and I'm still iffy about certain aspects, but like it matters. I initially didn't intend this to be some sort of CG aftermath, but it gave the story more of a plot beyond just surfing. The book Sheppard thinks of when pondering dimensional rifts and Daemons (if you don't already know) is the His Dark Materials series by Phil Pullman (The Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, and Amber Spyglass) just in case anyone was curious or interested. An odd series, but intriguing.
Anyways, there you have it. A surfing story. Next, a flying story.
Oh, and anyone who had their own surfing story in mind (or gets their own surfing story idea) I encourage you to write it. They are quite fun.