12 Hours later:
Lieutenant Miller stood nervously at the doors to the Infirmary, fidgeting while he waited for an invitation to enter. He'd had several hours in the place himself yesterday afternoon as he waited for his post-mission checkup and endured the merciless teasing and tormenting of his fellow trainees, growing more and more frustrated and humiliated at the endless talk about Sheppard's rescue. He really thought he might just haul off and slug the next guy who called him "Wraithbait."
Once he had finally escaped he'd crashed hard in his quarters, forgoing the usual, unofficial, post-training parties, to sleep off the weekend's exercises and culminating excitement. When he'd reported to the Duty Room this morning to receive his day's assignments, he'd been told to report to Colonel Sheppard in the infirmary first.
Miller's stomach knotted with anxiety. He'd only been on Atlantis for a week and had just about convinced himself that he was about to become the fastest washout in the history of the Stargate program. In fact, some small part of him was looking forward to being chewed a new one so he could just be done with it and go on his way. At least then, maybe, the guys would let up a little if he did get to stick around for the rest of his tour.
Dr. Beckett finally walked by, looking distracted. The Doctor stared at Miller for a moment, passed a hand over tired eyes, then exclaimed, "Oh, yes. You're the lad the Colonel wanted to see." Miller gulped, now suddenly imagining his commanding officer on his deathbed and intending to court-martial him with his last dying breath.
That thought gained weight as he was led to Sheppard's bedside and caught a glimpse of the man's appearance: the Colonel looked like someone on his deathbed. He lay basically on his back, but was propped up with an elaborate construct of pillows such that his heavily bandaged shoulder blade and immobilizing sling were free of painful pressure. Sheppard's fist clenched tightly around the edge of the canvas sling, and his face was pinched with lingering pain, bordering on a grimace. As Miller came to a stop at the foot of the bed, Sheppard grunted an exasperated sigh of annoyance and he rolled his head with fretful discomfort.
"Stop your bellyaching, Sheppard. He's here."
Miller jerked his head towards the voice and suddenly realized that Ronon, Dr. Weir, Teyla and Dr. McKay were all scattered around in the general area and watching the Lieutenant curiously in various positions of casual vigil. McKay sat idly poking at a laptop between watchful glances, Teyla seemed to have fallen asleep in one of the few comfortable chairs, which wouldn't have been surprising had Miller known she'd been by the Colonel's side since returning from the Beta site.
Not used to being in such intimate circumstances with so much Senior Brass, Miller tensed himself even more rigidly to attention. It suddenly, powerfully, hit the cocky and sometimes-arrogant young man that not only were these people Colonel Sheppard's peers in command and rank, but they also must be his friends. The epiphany unexpectedly revealed the Colonel as much more human -- likable. And that made Miller nervous. "Lt. Miller, sir. Reporting as requested?" He choked the response out with a shaky determination.
It was Ronon who had spoken from his seat close to Sheppard's head. The Satedan warrior was slouched comfortably with his feet propped up on the lowered rail of the bed, pushing the front legs of the chair up off the floor to rock riskily on the rear legs. "Over here." Ronon lowered the chair and moved his feet out of the way so Miller could stand close enough to see and be seen by the Colonel.
Sheppard studied Miller's face for a long moment through pain-squinted eyes, and then asked in a tone of genuine concern, "Are you OK, Lieutenant? You were out from that Wraith stun for a long time…"
"Uh, yeah…sir." Miller was so surprised by the unexpected question that it took him a moment to form his reply, "Dr. Beckett said that some people just take longer than others…to wake up, I mean. Especially their first time." Miller blushed furiously in annoyed embarrassment at McKay's snicker from behind him, but Sheppard only nodded.
"Good." He closed his eyes again and shifted a little as if waiting-out some swell of discomfort. When he opened them again, his face was sterner, although his voice belied his weakness. "Do you know what you did wrong yesterday, Miller?"
Here it is, he thought, here's where I get kicked off Atlantis. He braced himself to attention again and heard a touch of bravado creep into his voice. "Yes sir. I didn't get out of the way, sir."
Sheppard chuckled, surprising Miller again. "Do you know why you didn't get out of the way?"
Miller opened his mouth to answer, then snapped it shut. He'd been about to say 'because I wasn't fast enough', or 'because I made an error in judgment.' That was what any other commander he'd worked under would have wanted him to say. But Sheppard was frustratingly confusing. Deep down, Miller knew that he had made an assumption based on past experience and forgotten the new rules when the thrill of the moment was upon him. Just like Sheppard had warned them against. Miller didn't want to admit that to this man he still stubbornly held reservations about, and he kept his mouth clamped shut.
Sheppard watched him struggle for a long moment, then sighed. "I think you DO know exactly what happened. You're just too damn proud to say it out loud. All right then. We can play by the rules: Lt. Miller, your performance in combat yesterday was unsatisfactory." Miller frowned, then stared ahead in stoic acceptance. Sheppard went on, his voice beginning to sound breathy as he tired from the intense encounter, "If you ever pull anything like that ever again…I'm gonna kick your ass." He finished quietly with a faint smile, then abruptly grimaced and sucked in a painful gasp, closing his eyes.
Miller just stood there. Nothing about Sheppard was like anything he expected, and Miller wasn't sure he could get used to the man's bizarre command. He liked structure and familiarity and the comfort of strict discipline towards superficial objectives. An awkward moment passed, then Ronon nudged his calf with a foot, "He said you're dismissed."
Miller turned smartly and darted away from the infirmary as fast as he could without appearing rude. With barely acknowledged regret, the Lieutenant decided that Atlantis might not be the place for him after all.
Ronon watched the kid beat a hasty retreat, then turned back to his Sheppard-watching, feet again on the rail and his chair again tilted back. His friend had only just regained consciousness after surgery and recovery, and was in considerable post-op pain. Ronon had briefly tried to talk John out of meeting with Miller so soon, but Sheppard's stubborn streak won out. And, Sheppard had a point that the kid needed to see the consequences of his actions, even if it did mean breaking the usual "never show weakness so your troops think you're invincible," rule.
Even from a Satedan military point of view, very few of the usual rules applied to Sheppard, thought Ronon with a chuckle as he watched the man writhe again and moan very, very softly in discomfort. "Stop your bellyaching, Sheppard." Ronon groused again, good-naturedly.
Dr. Weir frowned slightly at the seemingly insensitive words from where she had moved to sit on the edge of John's bed in response to the heart-wrenching sound. She patted John's free forearm awkwardly. But Ronon only grinned. The strong but all-too-feminine Elizabeth Weir just didn't understand that the ribbing was Ronon's way of acknowledging his friend's pain without embarrassing him. It was a guy thing, or perhaps a soldier thing; but it worked. Sheppard looked mildly amused, and returned Elizabeth's affection by snatching at her tentative hand and giving it a solid squeeze.
"So, John, do you think you got through to the annoying Lieutenant Miller?" Elizabeth asked lightly, trying to distract her colleague with conversation.
"No." Answered both Sheppard and Ronon in unison.
"Really?" interrupted Rodney in surprise, moving closer to butt into the discussion. "After all you did to get him out of that dart and getting yourself all sliced up?"
Sheppard just shrugged, or tried to, then actually yelped with the resulting consequences. "If you stop moving around, it won't hurt, you dimbulb," Ronon quickly soothed to another frown from Elizabeth. They all waited in supportive silence as John exhaustedly worked his way back on top of the pain again, then Ronon went on as if answering Rodney's question. "But Anderson is going to be an asset. Peterson did all right too. There were a couple from Lorne's group that performed well during the retreat."
Sheppard nodded, closing his eyes and drifting towards sleep. He understood completely, even if Elizabeth and Rodney were staring in confusion at the seeming non-sequitor. Some men, like Miller, only understood power and intimidation and would never really learn the lesson about teamwork and duty and trust that Sheppard tried to teach. But Sheppard hadn't risked his life and those in his command to teach Miller a lesson. Sheppard did what he had to do, because of who he was and what he believed. Miller might not have figured that out, but the others had.
"You checking out on us you lazy bastard?" Ronon murmured quietly to draw the others' attention to the fact that John needed rest as much as he needed their company. Elizabeth gave up frowning, finally catching on to the game, and slipped off the bed with one last pat. McKay also threw a distracted wave goodbye and tucked his computer under his arm to walk out with Elizabeth.
"You got a problem with that, you short-tailed mother's son of a song?" John's voice was low and sleepy.
Ronon guffawed heartily at the butchered Satedan insult, almost tipping his chair too far and having to jerk forward suddenly. "It's 'son of a short-legged stang,'" he corrected, still laughing.
"Whatever…" And John was asleep.
Weekly Command Briefing:
Elizabeth paused at the threshold of the Duty Room to take in the crowded space, warm and stuffy with bodies, noisy with the chatter of excited soldiers exchanging gossip and news. This time as she worked her way through the room, she heard more than one snatch of conversation that went something like, "Yeah, and then Sheppard…" or "Sheppard fought this huge sucker…" Elizabeth grinned with undisguised amusement. The story of the harrowing training weekend was clearly still the talk of the town, and she was pleased to hear Sheppard's role well regarded in the retelling of it. The new guys who'd been in Sheppard's training group were relishing the attention from their peers, new and old, as they were plied for more exciting details.
With guilty curiosity, she looked around to see if she could find out how Miller was taking it all…but with just a small regret, she wasn't able to spot him and continued on through the room. He wasn't in the front row again drawing attention to himself, at least, she noticed.
As she continued to pushed her way to the front to greet Major Lorne, Rodney called and waved frantically from a few feet away where he was being prevented from reaching her by a knot of burly Marines, deep in some intense conversation. "Elizabeth, wait up for a second!"
One of the men turned his head to see who'd spoken, then stepped aside, hastily slapping at his friends to do likewise. "Oh, hey. Thanks!" Rodney exclaimed, surprised. Even Rodney seemed to have gotten some mileage out of the adventure and McKay was beaming as they passed by a knot of soldiers animatedly describing the condition of the damaged DHD and McKay's feat in pulling the power just in time to prevent Miller's dart from escaping.
Major Lorne was calling the room to order as Elizabeth and Rodney reached the front, joining him in preparation to address the group before the regular weekly briefing that Lorne would run this week. As the room quieted down, someone called out, "Major! How is Colonel Sheppard, sir?!" Lorne smiled and nodded at Elizabeth who had come to answer just that question.
"Colonel Sheppard underwent surgery two days ago to repair damage to his shoulder as a result of a knife wound in the back. The surgery went well, and he is expected to recover full use of his right arm after a bit of healing and physical therapy. He will remain in the infirmary for a few more days, then he assures me he'll be back to 'annoying you people', his words, next week when he returns to duty."
There was a rustle of pleased acknowledgement and Elizabeth stepped back to return the floor to Lorne who dove into the day's business. "Dr. Weir has asked that we begin an immediate search for a new Beta site, so beginning in two days, teams will be assembled to scout and tag potential planets for further exploration. Dr. McKay has also recommended, based on recent experience, that all personnel take basic DHD and Stargate technical training should any of you find yourselves in the situation our teams found themselves in this past weekend without Dr. McKay along."
Lorne's face twitched as he delivered the last, knowing that McKay himself wouldn't see the humor at all. And, in fact, as the room twittered in amusement, McKay indeed stood looking importantly thoughtful… "Lastly, Colonel Sheppard has asked me to pass along to all offworld teams the recently acquired intel that some Wraith do carry knives, and that this information should be included in the inventory of ways they can hurt you." The chuckling was much louder this time, and Elizabeth was pleased with the way Lorne had managed to work in the reminder of their COs experience and sacrifice.
Someone called out, "Maybe some Wraith like Shish kabob!" And the chuckles devolved into boos and hisses at the bad joke. Lorne resolutely tried to call them back to order.
Her part finished, Elizabeth began to edge to the side, intending to return to her own duties as Lorne continued the briefing throughout the morning. Before she got very far, however, a nervous voice called out and hastily asked, "Wait, Ma'am! Before you go, could we ask you a question?!" Elizabeth shot Lorne a look of surprise at the interruption and waited for Lorne's shrug of approval before she nodded.
"Um… well.." the soldier stammered around for a bit, seeming to have used up all his courage in interrupting the briefing, so the exasperated friend who'd been egging him on finally piped up himself, "Ma'am, we just wanted to know if Colonel Sheppard really did kill that Wraith this weekend single-handedly?"
Elizabeth bit her lip to keep from grinning and finally managed to answer solemnly, "That's the way I heard the story," she said.
"I saw him do it!" called out Peterson excitedly, seeing that they weren't going to get reprimanded for speaking, "The thing had him on his back and he pulled out that knife and, crunch, stuck it in the sucker's head up to the hilt!"
There were murmured oohs and aahs before the first voice called back, "You told us that already, Peterson. We just thought you were full of shit!" There was much hooting and laughing during which Lorne and Elizabeth just exchanged looks of amused defeat as the briefing again dissolved into chaos.
Once the noise started to die down a bit, another voice crowed, "Hey! Did Sheppard really blow up two Wraith Hive ships by flying a nuke into a hangar bay?"
"No," Replied Rodney immediately, joining in on the fun, "he only got one Hive ship with the jumper. The Dedaduls took out the second one during the Siege." There were more oooohs.
"The time Sheppard took out two Hive ships, he was alone flying a Wraith dart." Major Lorne wasn't about to let Rodney have the last word and as the room erupted into amazed cheers, Elizabeth took the opportunity to slip towards the door at last. Lorne and McKay could handle the Q&A, she decided, and she thought she just might pop in on John before returning to work to pass along the concern and well-wishes from his troops.
As she was stepping out the door into the hallway the happy babbling was dying down again and she idly wondered if that would be the end of it even as she walked briskly down the long and beautiful corridors. Just before she reached the first turn, she swore she heard an excited voice drifting down the hall towards her, "Sir! Sir! It is true…..?" Chuckling, Elizabeth turned the corner and the murmurs faded away.
A/N: Thanks again for the fun and the feedback. A large part of this story was written as a deliberate exercise in "increasing tension and suspense," so let me know if you think I got things tense and suspenseful enough, or too much etc.! You can blame the great book I'm reading, "Plot & Structure: (Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers From Start to finish) (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell." Chapter 3...
And lastly, I apologize for all the Satedan cursing. I hope no one was offended! But you know what they say: the Satedan equivalent of "Curse like a Sailor" is "Swear like a Specialist."
Dimbulb - an expression referring to a flowering annual on Sateda on which one out of twenty buds will bloom in the middle of the night instead of during the sunlight hours. The dimbulb is the errant bloom which is perceived as ass-backwardly stupid.
Short-legged Stang - I'm just really not going to go there...