My apologies for the delay in finishing this story, I got a new computer and have been working with that for the last week or so ;) Anyway, thank you so much for the reviews. I'm deeply flattered at the comments:) Honestly, it really gives me great joy and satisfaction to know that people enjoy reading what I write. Thank you.
From the flurry of activity in that surrounded Elizabeth the minute she set foot in the infirmary, it was instantly apparent to her that Carson's team had only barely beat her there. She stood in the doorway for a moment, unable to tear her gaze from the gurney that held John and the brief glimpses of him she managed to see around bustling medical personnel. Her eyes drifted up to a steadfast Carson standing next to John's bed calmly but crisply issuing orders. For a moment, she caught a glimpse of John's face and she swallowed hard at the pale expressionless face that greeted her eyes. He looked so still... deathly still. Elizabeth drew in a deep breath. That wasn't far from the truth. She closed her eyes a moment as her thoughts touched on how close they'd come to losing him.
Looking across the room, Elizabeth spotted Ronon, Teyla and Rodney and she silently crossed the room to them. Her eyes passed over each of them before she nodded slightly. "Well done, all of you."
Even Rodney was uncharacteristically silent and, like Teyla and Ronon, settled for a quiet nod.
Elizabeth turned towards John's bed. "How is he?"
"Carson hasn't said much besides 'stay out of the way, Rodney'," Rodney said dryly. "Maybe you'd have better luck."
Elizabeth's smile was thin. "Probably not. Best let him come to us." She crossed her arms and stood silently with John's team and watched.
It seemed like an eternity before Carson slowly walked towards them. He looped his stethoscope over his shoulders and smiled slightly.
"Carson?" Elizabeth asked quietly.
"He's stable for now," Carson sighed. "He's still suffering from moderate hypothermia and there's the shrapnel and broken leg to deal with. He also has three broken ribs, a concussion and numerous bruises, contusions and cuts, but those are minor in comparison. He's going to be sore for a long time."
"Are you taking him into surgery soon?" Teyla asked.
Carson shook his head. "Not right away. His temperature is still too low to risk it. Hypothermia has touchy effects on the body not the least of which is increasing the chances of a heart arrhythmia or even cardiac arrest if the body suffers any sudden trauma such as setting a broken bone or even removing that shrapnel."
"He would," Rodney muttered, "Sheppard never does anything the easy way."
"Rodney," Carson sighed.
Elizabeth let her reprimand die on her lips as she stared intently at the worry lines that creased Rodney's face. Having built such an impressive wall around himself over the years, Rodney never was good at handling his emotions when he came into situations involving people he cared about... not that he'd ever admit how much John meant to him as a friend. Or vice versa... she thought wryly.
"The long and short of this is," Carson continued, "he needs to get a wee bit warmer before we take him into surgery." He absently scratched the back of his head. "Beyond the obvious method of using warm dry blankets he's also on a warm IV. That should help bring up his core temperature quicker."
Elizabeth looked past Carson, her gaze settling again on John as she absorbed the doctor's words. After a minute, she nodded. "Do what you need to," she said quietly.
The warm sun on his brow felt good... really good. He'd been so cold for so long. Slowly, John drew in a deep cleansing breath.
John's brow twitched at the female voice close by. He tried to say something but, in spite of his effort, he was pretty sure nothing more than a quiet moan came from him.
"Carson? He's coming around."
Carson... the lab... trapped! It was only then that John put two and two together. His eyes snapped open and he inhaled sharply, his body tensing reflexively. The pain that shot through his body was immediate and he squeezed his eyes shut against it. He drew in a ragged breath as he felt a warm, gentle hand on his forearm.
"John? It's okay. You're safe now."
"'lizabeth..." he peeled his eyes opened again and stared up at his 'sun'; a bright, warm light positioned over his body. He felt the weight of several blankets as the pain faded from his body. "doesn't hurt..."
"Aye. I gave ye something to help that, Colonel."
John slowly turned his head towards the voice and tried to find a small smile. "Carson," he whispered. His gaze refocused on the shrapnel still embedded in his shoulder, barely visible around the thick bandages that immobilized it. "Shoulder..."
Carson stopped next to his bed and smiled reassuringly. "We haven't got that far yet, Colonel. You were pretty hypothermic when we brought ye out. Too risky to try major surgery or set your leg until your temperature moderated a wee bit." His smile widened slightly. "You're just about there, son. We'll have ye fixed up in no time."
He felt a touch on his hand and his gaze left Carson to settle on Teyla who smiled gently at him.
"It is good to see you awake, John." She said quietly.
He nodded slightly and tried to give her a small smile. He looked up at Ronon as the big Satedan walked up behind Teyla. As groggy as John felt, he still made eye contact with Ronon. Memories of cold water, failing strength and death whispering to him dampened his smile. He'd been so close; the blackness of water shrouding him... until something found him; grabbed him, snatched him back to the living. He could still feel strong hands on his shirt, hear Ronon's voice and feel his unwavering support as John fought his way back from death's doorstep. He swallowed hard and let a slight smile once again turn up part of his mouth. Even if his smile was subtle, the crinkle around Ronon's eyes left no question that he'd seen it. "Thanks," John managed.
The smile stayed small but spread to Ronon's mouth. "Any time," he replied.
Behind John, a monitor beeped insistently, but his eyelids drooped anyway.
"Ah," Carson exclaimed quietly, "you're core temp is much better, Colonel."
John managed to pry his eyes open as Carson looked down at him.
"Ready to get that chunk of metal out of you shoulder?" Carson smiled.
"more than... ready," John muttered. He watched through barely opened eyes as Carson drew up a syringe of medication and reached for the port on his IV.
"Just relax Colonel. This'll be over before ye know it." Carson slowly injected the medication.
John felt a warming feeling spread through his body and his already heavy eyelids grew that much heavier. Succumbing to the medication, John surrendered his hold on consciousness.
Carson really wasn't sure the last time he'd seen a group of people look so exhausted as the four faces that stared at him as he exited the recovery wing of the infirmary. He pulled the surgical cap from his head, scrubbed his fingers through his sweaty hair and gave them all a tired smile.
"Carson?" Elizabeth was the first to speak.
"He's out of surgery." Carson answered, holding his smile. "We removed the shrapnel and repaired the damage done to his shoulder. I don't think there will be any long lasting effects, but he's going to need a considerable amount of physical therapy to regain full strength." He paused for a moment as around him, he heard faint, relieved sighs.
"What about his leg?" Ronon asked.
Carson nodded and flashed the big Satedan a reassuring smile. "Clean break. We set the bone and cast the leg. He'll be off it for about 6 weeks but shouldn't have any long lasting effects from that either. The rubble that pinned him actually immobilized it fairly nicely without compromising blood flow. The trauma to the surrounding tissue was minimal, probably caused when we freed him," Carson's smile faded.
"Hey," Elizabeth reached out and squeezed his forearm, "you didn't have a lot of options at the time. We all know that... including John."
Carson's smile was thin; a reflection of the underlying guilt he felt, in spite of the firm reasoning of Elizabeth's words. "I know. I just get a wee bit irritated at causing my patients further harm. But," Carson sighed deeply, "he's going to be all right. He'll be in the infirmary for a while and it'll be a long time before he's on active duty again, but I don't see why he won't make a full recovery."
"Can we see him?" Teyla asked quietly.
Carson shook his head. "Not now, no. He's in recovery. Besides, he's still unconscious and I expect he'll be that way for hours. No," Carson looked at each of them, "the best thing all of you can do is get some rest and come back later."
"Not tired." Ronon muttered.
"Really?" Carson retorted. "So, the black circles under your eyes are normal? Ach, no. I'm the CMO, so don't make me order you."
"I rarely sleep," Rodney added, "I fail to see why you feel the need to shoo us from the infirmary like a bunch of chickens."
"Rodney, if ye having sleep problems, I can give you something for it. An injection of course," Carson arched a brow at Rodney who backed defensively away from him.
"You wouldn't," Rodney answered.
"Wouldn't I?" Carson's expression turned mischievous.
"Come on, McKay," Ronon pushed firmly on Rodney's shoulder, steering him towards the door, a quietly chuckling Teyla right behind them.
Carson turned his attention to Elizabeth. "You too, lass," he said gently.
Her smile was hollow. "Carson..."
"He really is okay," Carson reassured. "Get some rest... and get something to eat. Don't think I haven't noticed you've been getting too thin." His expression turned warm and understanding. "I know, things have been hectic lately, but you need to take care of yourself." He nodded towards the door. "Go on."
Elizabeth smiled and arched an eyebrow. "I thought I was the expedition leader, Carson."
"And I'm the CMO," he answered, still smiling. "Now go. Doctor's orders." Carson sighed quietly as Elizabeth followed the others from the infirmary. After a moment, he turned and walked back into the recovery wing.
Stopping next to John's bed, Carson looked down at the unconscious colonel. Tough as old boot leather... Carson shook his head in slight amusement. For all the colonel's easy going mannerisms and bearings, underneath it all he held an unwavering strength that, even to this day, still surprised Carson in its intensity. "You're one strong bugger," he whispered affectionately. He looked up, his eyebrows quirking at the understanding smile one of his medics, Lansing, gave him.
Lansing nodded slightly. "He sure is." She looked down at John's face, her own version of affection blanketing her expression.
Carson stifled a chuckle and said nothing. For three years, Carolyn Lansing had admired the Colonel from afar, never, as far as Carson knew, getting brave enough to say anything to him. The colonel, being wrapped up in the affairs of Atlantis and, Carson reluctantly admitted, being male, had never noticed how the normally unfazed medic blushed around him, or sometimes stumbled over her words. Carson's expression was understanding as Lansing looked up at him and blushed. "It's all right, lass," Carson reassured. "Your secret's safe with me. But, I think you should say something to him one of these days."
Lansing's blush deepened. "Maybe." Her tone was non-committal as she turned and walked away.
Carson watched her for a moment before shaking his head and turning his attention back to John. Looking up at the monitors over John's head and satisfied with what he saw, Carson stared again at John's face. "Heal thy self, Colonel," he said quietly before walking away.
John let the heavy book fall back on his lap as the infirmary doors opened, admitting Rodney and Elizabeth. He smiled. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," Rodney snapped.
John's gaze narrowed at the horse rasp to Rodney's voice and the congestion he sniffled against. "McKay?"
Rodney's glare intensified. "I have a cold."
"Aww..." John's expression turned mischievous.
"Fine, sure. Tease the sick guy," Rodney stopped next to John's bed. "Keep it up and I'll sneeze all over you and share the misery." He stifled another sneeze with his hand. "It's all your fault you know? Traipsing around in near freezing seawater, it's a wonder I don't have pneumonia!" Rodney coughed deeply before his eyes widened in mild panic. "That wasn't good. Maybe I have..."
"No, Rodney you don't have pneumonia." Carson crossed the infirmary just in time to head off Rodney's hypochondria. "I told ye, it's just your garden variety cold virus!" Carson rolled his eyes.
John rolled his eyes at Rodney's unconvinced expression and looked at Elizabeth with cynical amusement.
"You're sure?" Rodney questioned Carson, oblivious to John's reaction, "because I'm really susceptible to illness, I mean there could be complications..."
John arched an eyebrow as Carson's annoyance deepened.
"Rodney," Elizabeth interrupted also, apparently interpreting Carson's expression. "The lab?"
Rodney shot Carson one more annoyed look before he turned back to John. "Yes, the lab. It took us three days, but we repaired the outer hull and drained the room, so I finally got a look at that technology."
John nodded. "And?"
"And, it looks like the Ancients used that lab to study geothermal energy. It was only recently activated when we got the city up and running under ZPM power. Until now, everything there has been shut down. Looks like the experiments they were running took tremendous amounts of energy to complete." Rodney paced next to John's bed. "As close as I can tell without spending days studying it, the power regulation controls took some damage, probably from the storm last year. When power returned, there was nothing to control it, so it cascaded into an overload."
"And exploded in my face." John finished.
"That doesn't explain the doors though. Why couldn't the colonel get out?" Carson questioned.
"Ah, but it does." Rodney sniffled deeply, coughed and pointed at him. "The lab was located on the extreme edge of the pier, It had to be in order to conduct geothermic scans of the ocean floor. Considering the power levels they were maintaining in their experiments, certain safeguards needed to be in place to protect the city in case something like this happened. When the power overload reached a critical level, the rooms were automatically sealed off to contain the damage."
"We're sure there's some way to override it," Elizabeth added, "but we haven't found it in the database, yet."
"And we might not for a long time," Rodney continued. "We've only indexed a fraction of the information in the database." He scratched his head. "What I don't get is why the power spiked all the sudden. We've had ZPM power for months and have routinely powered up the East Pier for scans. This should've happened a long time ago." Rodney's gaze narrowed at John. "You're sure you didn't touch anything?"
John shook his head. "No I..." his voice trailed off as memories came back to him. He resisted the urge to look up at the sound of Rodney's loud, exasperated sigh.
"You didn't... You did, didn't you?" Rodney's voice turned accusatory. "You know, when I say 'don't touch anything,' I really do mean it! Why do I bother if you don't listen, Colonel 'I have to mess with everything!' Sheppard!"
"Of course," John retorted his irritation flaring. "I throw myself into danger just to piss you off, McKay."
"Well you succeeded!" Rodney snapped.
John bit back his annoyed reply at Elizabeth's quiet, but insistent interruption. He sighed. "It was an accident," he continued, calmer, "I tripped and grabbed a console to keep from falling. I must have powered up the lab in the process."
"Obviously," Rodney answered. "and with the power regulation controls damaged there was no way to control the raw energy from the ZPM that flowed in. My guess is the sudden spike of that much power froze the regulation controls in the control room and prevented Radek from being able to shut it down." He absently scratched his cheek. "Have to look into those safety protocols..." he muttered. Rodney stopped pacing and looked at Elizabeth. "We were lucky."
"Lucky?" John shifted in his bed and winced. "I don't feel lucky."
Rodney turned an annoyed glare on him. "We as in the whole city. The amount of power flowing into that section could've easily destroyed the entire level and half the East Pier. The resulting flooding... well we could've lost Atlantis." Rodney's gaze narrowed. "You and that damn gene of yours. The rest of us have to actually concentrate to make things work. All you have to do is touch it."
John grimaced. "Next time I'll just fall," he quipped sarcastically.
"That'd be better," Rodney answered dryly.
John sighed. "Great," he muttered, "so it was my own fault?"
"Essentially, yes." Rodney started pacing again. "What I don't get is why a catastrophic overload didn't occur. The power regulation controls were completely non functional. The overload should've been much bigger than it was, but when I reviewed the records, at the last second, the power dropped. Obviously not enough to prevent this," he waved his hand over John's body, "but, enough to contain the damage and not outright kill you or destroy the pier."
John laid his head back on his pillow. "She likes me," he answered.
"What?" Rodney's voice was exasperated. "Who?"
"Atlantis." John smiled. "She's always liked me."
"Oh great," Rodney rolled his eyes. "I know those rakish looks of yours attract almost every female within 100 miles of you, but aren't you taking this a little far?" Rodney waved his hands around his head. "It's a city... as in inanimate object, not some twitterpated woman!"
"Twitterpated?" Elizabeth questioned.
"It's from Bambi, you know, infatuated. Twitterpated." Rodney looked back and forth between Elizabeth and John.
"Bambi?" John teased in amusement.
"Oh, just... stop!" Rodney glared at John. "My sister loved it. Do you realize how many times I had to watch that movie when I had to..." Rodney sighed. "The point is, it's a city, not a living being!"
John arched an eyebrow at Carson who returned an understanding smile. From the first moment John had set foot on Atlantis, he'd felt the city. Initially, he'd been unsettled, not knowing what his senses kept perceiving, and being edgy because of it. Gradually, he'd come to realize he felt the wax and wane of power, the joy as each sleeping system came alive at his touch and he found a romantic satisfaction in it all. He'd suspected that, for some reason unknown to him, this was unique to people who had the gene naturally and Carson's understanding look, combined with Rodney's disbelief, only confirmed that theory. It was something only a few shared with the city and apparently him the most. He was sure his 'damn gene' gave him an intimate connection to Atlantis that in many ways he relished. "How else can you explain the power levels dropping?"
"There could be a hundred reasons!" Rodney's voice was exasperated. "Maybe something else overloaded, or the controls have a power cut off, maybe the ZPM controllers have fail safes! The point is, I'm sure there is a scientific reason! After all, if the city likes you," Rodney snorted, "then why couldn't we get the doors open?"
"Because we were taking on water," John retorted. "That could've jeopardized the whole city, not just me."
"Oh whatever!" Rodney rolled his eyes. "You can rationalize anything if you try hard enough!"
John's eyelids drooped. "You have your theories, Rodney, I have mine."
"All right, I think that's enough for now," Carson interrupted smoothly. "The Colonel needs his rest."
"Fine." Rodney snapped.
John opened one eye and watched the acerbic doctor stalk from the infirmary. He opened his other eye and looked at Carson. "Thanks, Doc."
Carson's smile widened. "Aye. No problem." He turned and walked away.
"Get some rest, Colonel," Elizabeth briefly touched his forearm.
"Will do." As he watched her leave the infirmary, John's thoughts lingered on Atlantis. Part of him agreed with Rodney. There had to be a rational reason for the power levels dropping just in time... besides me just being lucky! But another part of him; the part that found the pure joy and freedom in flying or the contentment in a blue sky day; that part just knew there was more. He felt it every time he walked down the corridors of the city, or sat in the control chair, or flew a jumper. It was there; that underlying support, the quiet contentment. It made him believe without a doubt that there was more to Atlantis than just girders and metal. The Ancients could build mental components into technology, why not a city too?
John let his eyes fall shut as he pushed his head deeper into his pillow. In that quiet moment he could feel the hum of the city; comforting... reassuring. He smiled. Thanks, Old Girl.