"Easy, Colonel." Beckett spoke to Sheppard using soft comforting tones, but Sheppard had no idea why he was being comforted. A hand rested on his shoulder. "Easy now."
Confusion swept over Sheppard and he began to struggle despite Carson's gentle tone, his arms flailing. "Let me go," he said through clenched teeth.
He was very cold, but his clothes were wet with sweat, and he was trembling like crazy. He tried to push up against the hand holding him down, a hand pressing against the center of his chest. Flashbacks to Kolya's wraith feeding on his chest became all too real, even as he heard Beckett say, "Please, Colonel, the more you move about, the worse the pain will be."
Not listening, Sheppard continued to struggle, then saw Carson reach into his medical kit and pull out a pre-filled syringe. He swiped Sheppard's upper arm with an alcohol swab and then plunged the needle in.
"No," Sheppard whispered, but soon felt his muscles relax despite his agitation.
"Don't worry yourself. It's not enough to knock you out, but it will help settle things down a bit until we can get you out of here," Beckett said, patting Sheppard's arm.
"You can start that second IV now," Beckett said to the medic with him. "We've got to get his blood pressure up. The sooner we can get him back to Atlantis and its medical facilities the better."
Sheppard faded again and the next thing he knew Beckett was looking at his leg wound, his pants leg cut completely away. There was a noise beside him. When he glanced over, he found McKay sitting next to him.
"What's wrong with my leg?" Sheppard asked.
"A piece of rebar went through your thigh."
"Ouch," he said quietly. The funny thing was he wasn't as disturbed by that revelation as he thought he should be.
"Yeah, ouch." McKay looked away, rubbing a hand over his mouth, looking pale.
Sheppard let out a long breath, then he remembered the emergency situation earlier. "What happened with the overload?" he asked, disturbed at the way he slurred his words.
"Zelenka and I were able to abort the sequence."
"Good," he murmured as he sighed. He seemed to be floating in an odd haze of contentment. What had happened to all the drama and danger earlier? Now, everything else seemed so unimportant now.
"Okay, Colonel, we'll be moving you in a minute," Carson said, patting him on the arm. He paused to look back at Sheppard's leg and sighed. "This is no bloody way to spend Christmas."
McKay barked at Beckett. "What the hell does Christmas have to do with anything?"
Sheppard chuckled as his head lolled to one side. "McKay, you really are the Grinch. I bet Santa gave you chunks of coal in your stocking every year."
"No, he didn't. I mean, I never got – ah, hell."
That comment made Sheppard chuckle even more. McKay sighed with irritation. "You wouldn't be laughing so much if you really paid attention to that 'that thing' sticking out of your leg."
Sheppard looked to Beckett. He couldn't seem to remove the smile that was plastered on his face and his voice sounded almost whimsical as he asked, "Yes, Carson, when are you going to get that 'thing' out of my leg?"
"I'm not going to do it here, son. But don't worry yourself. We'll get it out when we get you back home to Atlantis. Now, tell me, how's the pain?"
Sheppard paused, frowning as he looked for discomfort and found none. "Not bad. In fact, nothing hurts much now. What did you do?"
"There's something in the IV to help with the pain."
"Ah," Sheppard said. He nodded as the realization sunk in. That explained everything. He smiled at Beckett. "It's the good stuff, right?"
"Aye, Colonel, it's the good stuff. Now, rest. You've lost a great deal of blood and the trip up to the surface won't be easy."
"I'm good to go," he said with a salute.
"Sure you are. Just rest a moment."
McKay leaned over to Beckett. "You gave him too much. He's downright loopy."
"He'll be needing it in just a few moments."
Beckett turned to Lorne. "We need to get him back to Atlantis and its medical facilities ASAP. I've got him as stabilized as I can manage for the moment."
Lorne nodded to his men. "Let's get moving."
They picked Sheppard up using the litter. They started to walk away as McKay helped Beckett gather the last of his medical paraphernalia.
"Wait!" Sheppard shouted suddenly, putting out his uplifted hands.
Everyone stopped. Sheppard craned his neck to look back. "We can't leave without the Grinch."
"I am not the Grinch."
Sheppard smiled when he caught sight of McKay. Rodney merely sighed as he caught up to them, saying, "Just shut up and let them get you to the surface."
Sheppard nodded, his eyes glassing over as his eyelids drifted shut. Lorne grinned despite their grim situation. "Get moving, guys. The sooner we're back to Atlantis, the better."
McKay started walking slightly ahead of Beckett. He mumbled, "I think I liked him better when he was grumpy and in pain. A Sheppard that talks of Grinches and Santas is weirding me out way too much."
Beckett chuckled. "Aye, I'd have to agree with you there."
"You're no fun, McKay. You really need to learn how to lighten up," Sheppard murmured from the litter.
"Maybe it's not possible for a Grinch to lose his doom and gloom perspective," McKay muttered.
He caught Carson's questioning expression that turned into a smile. "Aye, lad, it is. But it takes lots of practice and patience. And patience isn't your strong suit. Come on, let's be moving. I've got patients to take care of once we make it to the surface."
Sheppard wondered why everyone was so grim. It seemed to him that things had taken a definite turn for the better. Everyone was getting out safely, including the Grinch, Wendy Who, the baby, and even himself. What more could a person want for a Christmas present?
"Colonel? Can you hear me?"
Beckett? John opened his eyes and saw that he was in the infirmary at Atlantis. A part of him relaxed, but the strong emotions from his fading nightmare stayed with him.
"You were dreaming, Colonel. Just take a moment to let it pass."
Sheppard started to speak but coughed. His mouth was dry and his throat sore. Beckett got a cup from the bedside tray and dipped a spoon into the ice. "Here, try this."
He gave Sheppard the ice chips and said, "You are in recovery. We had to take you into surgery to stop the bleeding in your leg and to repair some of the damage there. Take it slow."
Sheppard nodded, grateful for the ice chips. They were soothing, and cooled the burning in his throat. He closed his eyes for a moment and must have drifted to sleep again, because the next thing he knew, he was shouting again.
In this dream, he was back in Kolya's hands, back with the wraith that fed on him, tightly bound in a chair with a gag over his mouth and he could feel the wraith suck years from his life without being able to stop it.
"Easy, Colonel," Beckett said, rubbing Sheppard's shoulder. "Try some slow deep breaths."
Sheppard nodded, trying to follow Carson's instructions, but it wasn't easily done. He hadn't dreamt of the feedings in a long time, so why now? Beckett had a cup of water for him this time. Sheppard took it with shaky hands and tried to drink it in one long gulp, but Beckett stopped him.
"Not all at once," he cautioned.
Sheppard nodded and drank more slowly. He handed the half-full cup back to Beckett and looked around. It had to be nighttime, because the lights in the infirmary were dimmed.
Beckett set the cup on the bedside tray. "How are you doing now?"
Sheppard shook his head. "I'm fine. It was just a dream – "
"Were you having a lot of them before this mission?"
"No, not really."
"Maybe it's just the stress of being injured, combined with the anesthesia and pain medication that's brought them on. Just take a moment to settle yourself."
"I'm okay, Carson."
Beckett looked like he didn't believe him, but didn't press the issue. Sheppard reached for the water again and this time his hands weren't as shaky. Beckett leaned against the bed next to Sheppard's and didn't say anything for a long moment, then his expression turned serious. "I know you don't like to talk about your time with Kolya and the wraith, but maybe we should."
Sheppard felt his expression tighten, then he forced himself to relax. "I've told you before that I'm okay with that. I've made my peace with it."
"But if – "
Sheppard shook his head. "We aren't going there."
Beckett backed away, looking a little disappointed. "I suppose not. I didn't mean to intrude."
John stretched his neck and nodded finally. "I know you didn't. It's in the past. I'm over it."
Beckett looked at him hard. "Are you really?"
He pointed to the monitors surrounding Sheppard. "These monitors suggest otherwise, as do the nightmares you've been having, but I won't press you on this right now. Just remember if you ever need someone to talk to . . . "
Sheppard nodded. When he spoke, his voice determined as he said, "I dealt with it before, I can deal with it again."
Beckett smiled sadly and straightened. "I better let you sleep. I'll be working in my office. Press the call button if you need anything."
Carson walked slowly out of the room and Sheppard let out a slow breath. He tried to straighten himself in the bed, but his movements were limited by the pain coming from his leg. "Get a grip, John," he whispered to himself.
He took a deep breath and made himself relax. There was a certain frame of mind he needed to find. After spending time with Teena and the Ancients from the sanctuary before they ascended, he supposed one might call it a meditation. Whatever it was, it always helped to calm him down whenever the nightmares came.
He thought about Atlantis, focusing his thoughts on watching a spectacular sunset from the west pier, the soft sound of the waves lapping against the edges of the city, the laughter from his team members as they stayed in the mess hall long after everyone had left.
Those were tangible things that brought him solace, almost as effective as Ferris wheels and blue skies. Those were the things that came when he thought of home. And they were the things that now made all the difference in his life, the things that helped to keep the past where it belonged, in the past. Somewhere in his self-styled meditation, he fell asleep, a deep relaxing sleep that came from the satisfaction of being home again.
The next day, McKay brought Sheppard a gift. John was more alert, having shaken off most of the aftereffects of surgery. "What's this?"
"What does it look like?"
"It looks suspiciously like a Christmas present." Sheppard looked up at him, slightly puzzled and frowned. "Why?"
"Why? Do I have to have a reason?"
"For someone who doesn't believe in Christmas, this is a serious change in attitude."
Sheppard continued to frown at him.
McKay sighed. "Oh, for heaven's sake. Maybe I was hoping you'd stop calling me a Grinch."
Sheppard chuckled. "Yeah, but the bigger question is did your heart grow three times its size?"
McKay straightened, pulling something from a pocket. He handed it to Sheppard. It was a picture of Zalea and Masan.
Sheppard smiled, a sigh of satisfaction slipping from his lips.
"They are doing well and send along their regards. Zalea wants us to return to her planet when you are able to travel again. She wants us to be in a ceremony for Masan. Something about being 'special ones' for Masan. I guess it's the equivalent of a godparent."
"Sure." John nodded. "How do you know about all of that and where did you get this picture?"
McKay looked a little uncomfortable. "Well, I am nothing but thorough and I wanted to make sure the power generators were operating properly. I mean, you did volunteer my services."
"And while you were there, you went to see Zalea."
"Yes, yes, what's so strange about that?"
"Masan got to you, too, didn't he?"
"Yes, well, I did help him come into this world. And he's not too unpleasant as far as small people go . . . "
Sheppard looked at McKay's Christmas gift in his hands. Maybe McKay's heart had grown three times as big. He shook the package. "This is too heavy to be a candy cane or Christmas cookies."
"I looked around but couldn't find any chunks of coal to put in your stocking, so this will have to suffice."
"I don't have a present for you. You made it abundantly clear that you didn't want to be involved in the 'ritual' as you called it."
McKay shook his head. "Stop trying to analyze my motives."
Sheppard shrugged, deciding to drop the subject. "So what is this? It's heavy but not as big as a bread box."
"You can continue to guess what it is or you could open it and save me the monotony of listening to your incessant guesses."
Sheppard gave him a disgruntled look and tore off the wrapping paper. He recognized it right off. "My laptop, what a novel idea to give me something that was already mine."
McKay sighed. "That's not the present. Turn it on."
Sheppard's mouth dropped open when he saw the new addition to the desktop icons. "Dead Things II? I didn't think that game was going to be released on Earth until the spring."
"It hasn't been released. I have a few connections. Pulled a few strings. It arrived today with the Daedalus. A very top secret operation."
"Sweet!" It was all Sheppard could think to say as he clicked on the game.
McKay smiled and pulled out a couple of game controllers from his jacket pocket. "I get first choice on characters. I'm the Grim Reaper."
Sheppard's eyes widened as he stared at McKay. "Hey, that's my guy. Besides, I should get to go first. After all, you said this was my gift."
He gave McKay his best begging look and topped it off by rubbing his bandaged leg.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Crap. You really think that pitiful expression is going to sway me? I got you the game. That means I get to choose."
Sheppard sighed, letting his head sink into his pillow.
"Oh please, give it up already. Okay, you can be Grim Reaper if you're going to pout, but be warned, I already know all the cheat codes."
"Hey, that's not fair!"
"Of course, it is. I need every advantage possible when it comes to you and playing this game."
"Well, let's get to it."
They began to play and were on the fifth level when McKay looked over at Sheppard. "So, you're, uh, okay after everything? I mean, there was a lot of crap going on after the quake. You're a tough guy and all, but even so . . . "
Sheppard looked at him curiously, especially at McKay's stumbling way of checking on him. "Yeah, I'm okay with it. Just another day at the office."
"Good," McKay said smiling, then his smile turned evil as he raised an eyebrow. "I just wanted to make sure before I pulled off the kid gloves and kicked your ass."
John snorted. "You wish. Prepare to get your ass handed back to you on a silver platter."
"Like that's going to happen." McKay grinned maliciously and they started playing the game in earnest.