Hadn't they just done this whole whirlwind ride to the infirmary recently? Rodney wouldn't put it past the Pegasus Galaxy to pull a Groundhog Day on him. The arrival in the jumper bay was chaos; throngs of medical personnel blocked the colonel's gurney from view, while another swarm gathered around Ronon as he was placed on a second stretcher.
Lorne made like the parting of the Red Sea, disbursing various military types and others who had waited around. Rodney was glad Elizabeth and Caldwell were bright enough to keep their questions to themselves until later as he followed the med teams to the infirmary where, once again, he was sidelined to being a mere spectator.
Carson's staff cut away the rest of the pilot's clothes, placed a sheet over him except for his leg, pulled off his boots and began pumping in much needed blood.
"Carol, what's his latest set of vitals?"
She looked at Carson with concern. "BP's 130/90, resps rapid at 17 and his pulse is thready at 140."
"That's an improvement, love. His heart rate was hoverin' around 160 before." Carson looked around at his staff. "Let's get him prepped and ready."
Rodney noticed his little group had grown; Elizabeth, Caldwell and Lorne were now accompanied by Teyla, and Ronon still paid attention from where he was being examined.
Carson turned to address those gathered. "We're going in to repair the vesicular damage. Things are gonna be dicey since we're trying to combat the overdose, but the Narcan seems to be doing its job and the beta blocker is helping with the ephedrine. I can't wait to operate so we're going to have to constantly monitor things."
"You expect a full recovery?" Caldwell inquired.
"I'm not an odds maker and I don't know the extent of any nerve damage to his leg so I won't answer that. Let's not forget he's suffered several other injuries on top of everything else."
"Like the ass kicking he's going to receive after he comes through this," Caldwell remarked.
Carson furrowed his brow. "We'll talk about that later. I need to scrub in."
Caldwell and Elizabeth spun, both sporting a very similar 'we want an explanation' expressions. Rodney sighed as Teyla calmly joined his side to listen in.
"I don't know what you expect from me." Rodney pointed at Ronon. "He's the one who knows what the hell happened. All I did was watch three dots knock the crap out of each other and in the end, Sheppard killed Voulsh. I don't know how; maybe he went to ninja school while we weren't looking."
"John killed Voulsh?" Teyla inquired.
"Isn't that what I just said?"
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at his rude remark. "And we know for sure?"
"Well...no... I mean... I never saw the body but his life sign disappeared and Sheppard's sidekick wouldn't have left if Voulsh were alive."
"McKay," Ronon growled.
Elizabeth wandered over to the Satedan's bed. "How are you?"
"Fine. Most of the feeling has returned."
Janice finished scribbling in his chart. "We're waiting on his x-ray results to determine the extent of his broken arm and wrist."
"His nose doesn't look right," Rodney said, staring at the disfigured and swollen lump in the middle of the runner's face.
"We're also waiting on a facial series, but it's probably broken as well," the nurse replied.
"Did you see the body?" Lorne asked.
"No, I couldn't move, but Sheppard said he was dead and I trust him. I think he'd be sure."
"Nevertheless, I'd like to have someone go and pick up that heap of trash. No need to pollute the mainland with his rotting corpse," Caldwell stated.
"I'd be happy to play garbage man," Lorne volunteered.
By the way the major enthusiastically accepted the assignment, it was clear he was ecstatic at the chance to get his hands on the hunter's remains.
Teyla touched Rodney's wrist and patted Ronon's arm. "I'm glad that all of you came back and John is being cared for."
"As we all are." Elizabeth faced the remaining team members. "When all of you have had a chance to rest and recover, I expect a full report."
Rodney snorted. "From whom? Ronon was knocked out during his round and Sheppard was high as a kite and probably had no clue what the hell he was doing."
"High as a kite?" Teyla asked.
Rodney sighed. "It explains why He-Man was unable to defeat Voulsh, but the gimp did. Obviously Sheppard was pumped so full of painkillers a truck could have plowed into him and he wouldn't have felt a thing."
He stopped his rant as his gaze dropped to his blood stained hands. They were still shaking.
"If it wasn't for McKay, we wouldn't have gotten Sheppard here in time. He did well in a crisis."
The three of them faced Ronon as the nurse tried to shove him back onto the bed and another injected something into his IV. Elizabeth patted the physicist on the shoulder as she looked at all of them. "Good teams learn from one another. It's what makes a unit."
Rodney hmphed. "When there are no good ideas left and you're desperate enough... a military solution has 'a going down in flames' appeal to it. Might as well get used to it since I'm sure I'm next on the Genii hit list."
Caldwell and Elizabeth exchanged heavily laden looks that even a blind man wouldn't miss. "What? Oh God, they've sent a hunter after me, didn't they?"
"No, Rodney, but I think you might find what's waiting for you in your lab to be very fascinating," Elizabeth hinted as she guided him away.
Sheppard's head was pounding, the gigantic gong inside his skull reverberating every time the mallet struck, the echo long and painful. The pressure was unrelenting, like a vice digging into his temples. He wanted to curl up on his side to hide from the mounting tension in his head, but moving proved to be difficult and resulted in a sickening swirl in his stomach. Bile burned the back his throat and the combination of the ferocious headache and his upset stomach made him bolt awake in bed.
There were gentle hands on his back supporting his shoulders and a soft, reassuring whisper in his ear. A dish appeared just in time as the dry heaves began, the hands strong and firm as the rest of him quaked. When his body had enough and his stomach was done trying to twist itself in knots, he was guided back down, a warm washcloth soothing his face and mouth.
Soft fingers pushed the hair back away from his forehead and he made a low sound deep in his throat. He never opened his eyes, praying for the throbbing in his head to go away and leave him alone.
The next morning the ache behind his eyes forced them open. The dimly lit area came into focus and the reason for his awakening stood over him, fussing with his leg.
He cringed at the grating of rusted metal that was his voice and took a long drag on his oxygen as reality settled in and let him know that he hadn't died on the mainland.
The Scot tucked the sheet back over him, pumped the BP cuff around his arm, and looked at his watch as a finger rested over his wrist. Satisfied, the physician crossed his arms in that 'I'm in a very foul mood' pose, though the dark shadows under Carson's eyes reflected the terrible stress of the past twenty-four hours.
"Glad to see you're finally coherent, Colonel."
There was nothing warm or fuzzy about the doc's voice. Sheppard knew there was no escaping what he ultimately deserved, but at least it didn't feel like his ears were about to burst from the pressure in his head. He didn't think there was a single part of him that didn't hurt or ache in some way or another. He wanted to test how badly the left side of his face had swelled up, but looked dumbly at his hand, noticing two braces around black and blue fingers that peeked out from the metal and foam.
"You fractured three metacarpals; those will heal in about six weeks."
Sheppard licked his lips as he studied his bound hand. "Don't remember how I did that."
"Maybe it's because you were a bloody idiot and decided to pump yourself full of whatever piqued your fancy."
Sheppard winced, definitely remembering both times he'd injected the drugs to allow him to move enough to take on Voulsh. It was after the second time that things became a little fuzzy. But not too fuzzy... his eyes went wide. "Ronon?"
"He'll be fine. He messed up the cartilage in his nose, but it's not broken. He suffered a fractured wrist and arm, but all in all, Ronon will be back to beating up Marines in no time."
"Thank goodness," Sheppard breathed.
Carson walked over to the end of the bed, picking up a chart, and scribbled down a few notes as he took readings from all the equipment. "You, on the other hand, ripped open your stitches, nearly bled to death and had to complicate things further by self medicating."
The physician wasn't done with him by a long shot; once the floodgates had opened, the rest came spilling out. "You overdosed on a combination of morphine and ephedrine by injecting them too close together and screwing up your body chemistry. You suppressed your respiratory system while sending your heart into tachycardia. You're lucky I was able to counteract most of the effects before surgery, but your body wasn't happy with ya at all as a result. I just took out the second IV, your constant nausea after surgery kept you pretty dehydrated."
Sheppard grimaced as the irate voice triggered a headache and his discomfort didn't go unnoticed. He felt a hand on his shoulder and the fire in Carson's eyes dulled to a more subdued level. "I'm sorry, lad, but what ya did to yourself... what ya did to the rest of us. I don't ever want to go through that again."
"I did what I felt was right." Sheppard licked dried lips. "And I'd do it again."
"And we'll always come in and save your sorry ass."
Both men watched Rodney slip in front of the curtain divider, Teyla, who slapped his shoulder at the comment, close behind him.
Carson let out an exaggerated sigh. "We can't be crowding the colonel; this is an ICU area after all."
"Then you can go. We'll just stick around now that somebody decided to stop throwing up every three minutes."
Sheppard smirked despite the increased awareness of how much of a beating his body had endured recently.
"All right, you two can visit briefly, but then one of you has to go." Carson turned to his patient. "You're not hooked up to a PCA machine right now; I switched you to Fentanyl as a precaution. If your stomach bothers you at all, just let Janice or Carol know and we'll give you some more Compazine, but I think we're past that hurdle as of now."
The physician had a few choice words for the scientist as he left, but Sheppard didn't hear the exchange as Teyla took the chair to his left side and rested a hand under the railing next to his undamaged one.
"You are looking better, Colonel."
Rodney snorted. "You're kidding, right? He looks like he went twelve rounds with Mike Tyson."
"I'm sure it's not that bad... I still have my ear, McKay."
"Well, maybe the freak knocked some sense into you."
Sheppard closed his eyes. He really wasn't up for this. What had transpired on the mainland was disjointed and fractured, and if he concentrated hard enough all he was left with was emotional overload: pain, fear, rage, shock and surprise. Thinking about it just made him dizzy, and all the other wonderful symptoms were eager to remind him that he had the joy of dealing with another recovery.
"Leave the colonel alone. He is still very ill," Teyla admonished their team mate.
He opened his eyes, recalling bits and pieces from hours ago and he looked at the Athosian. "You were here...earlier."
"Yes, she played nursemaid while you tried to let everyone see what your stomach looked like on the inside without an x-ray."
"Thank you," Sheppard said, struggling against the exhaustion that ate away at him.
Teyla gave him a sad smile. "I was unable to come to your aid with the others so the least I could do was comfort you during the worst."
Talking became a great deal of effort, the toll of his battle with the assassin leaving little room to combat the drugs and his body's desire for sleep.
"Rest, John. One of us will be here when you wake."
"You should...take it easy. You're still...recovering from the explosion."
"I'm doing well. I left the infirmary this morning, although my arm will take longer to heal."
"Looks like I get some much needed time in my lab since it's safe to say that no one will be going on any missions any time soon," Rodney added.
Sheppard knew his team was all banged up, but they were alive and that's what mattered in the end. He allowed the darkness to descend once again. A nurse came by to inject more medication in his IV as she explained to his visitors that one of them had to leave.
The problem with drug induced slumber was all the neat side effects on your subconscious, like an egg beater whipping up scattered images and hidden memories too terrible to deal with when you were awake. The worst were the things that you didn't see, but felt and the imaginary hands clamping around his throat caught him in between the planes of REM sleep.
Sheppard gasped awake, hands clawing at his neck and on the verge of hyperventilating.
"Its all right...everything's fine...just relax."
He didn't awaken fully, still battling the invisible force pressing down on his windpipe.
"If you don't cut it out, a nurse is going to come running and I know how much you love the attentions of fifty-something year old ladies.
That cranky attitude chased away the ghostly fingers and Sheppard rubbed at his eyes to get rid of the grit. "Whattimeisit?"
"Time... numbers on a clock," he gruffed out, his good hand rubbing his throat.
Rodney turned off his lap top and set it down on the floor, inching closer in the chair. "If you get out of here anytime soon, which I doubt you will...you might want to wear something with a collar."
Sheppard's fingers rose to trace the neck opening of his hospital gown. "You sure know how to cheer a guy up."
The physicist shrugged. "You're the one who did the whole 'fight outside in the parking lot'. Or, in your case, on the mainland."
"Someone had to take on the neighborhood bully."
"You forget that there is strength in numbers, Colonel."
"I could never forget that motto, Rodney."
That seemed to placate his guardian for the night and Sheppard tested out his sore jaw, wondering if he had a loose molar.
"I can get the nurse if you want."
"Maybe... in minute."
He was getting tired again, his body letting him know that it wasn't ready to fire on all cylinders yet. "When I get out of here and back on flight status... I'll show you some maneuvers, if you want."
Rodney's eyes lits up. "Really?"
"That the drugs talking or you loopy from pain?"
Despite how much it hurt, Sheppard grinned. "Never know when we'll need you in a pinch."
"Is this besides every time something breaks or you need some impossible miracle solution?"
"Got to practice...just in case...we have to cover each other's jobs."
Rodney snorted. "Yeah, you get working on the PhD at the end of your name and then we'll talk about doing a switcharoo in a crisis."
"Are you waiting for your whole body to be on fire before asking for the good stuff?"
"Shut up, Rodney... and... go get me the nurse."
Sheppard closed his eyes, knowing when he fell asleep that he didn't have to worry whether he was going to wake up again.
Elizabeth sat behind her laptop, fingers aching from the recent reports concerning the last few days. Her recommendations for stepping forward with an alliance with the Genii were lacking in clear mission directives since many of her decisions on the matter rested on the conversation she was about to have. Her ears burned from the constant feedback from Colonel Caldwell and Major Lorne regarding their opinions on the matter. John wasn't in any shape to give his analysis on the situation and, while she valued both Rodney and Ronon's two cents, they shared too much mistrust.
She was sick and tired of being the lone lighthouse in this part of the galaxy; they would not follow in the same footsteps of the Ancients, isolated and alone in their fight.
Ladon knocked and she signaled for him to enter; he came alone, thankfully having left behind his talking heads. This time it was just the two of them and, with luck, it would prove to be a refreshing discussion.
"Dr. Weir, I'm glad we'll have a chance to talk before I head out," he said as he took an offered chair.
"I'm glad to hear that Mr. Pelmon will be making a complete recovery and that'll he'll be able to return to his duties again."
The leader of the Genii smiled, pulling on his bruised and stitched up face. "I'm not sure if I'll be able to hold his council in an objective manner after this week and I again apologize for his behavior during the crisis."
She raised an eyebrow. "That's all right, the incident forced my security staff to improve inspection and safety measures when it comes to searching for loaded weapons."
Ladon's stoic grin grated on her nerves; his cool and casual manner spoke of a man who was either completely unaware of the treachery of his own people or who was comfortable with deceit and mind games, the hallmark of the Genii tradition. Elizabeth felt neither choice was acceptable.
"Just how did Larkin get explosives past my men? A gun is one thing, but a bomb? I just don't think my MPs are that sloppy."
The Genii would make out like bandits on card night. Ladon didn't even blink. "I'm not sure, but I imagine it was concealed inside his belt and buckle; we tried that a few times during other missions. It doesn't take much material, but, as you know, the blast was too low level, hence the reason we've always been interested in your C-4."
"So you knew."
"No, I was never aware of his plans. It wasn't until the bomb exploded that I put two and two together."
"Why play dumb Ladon? It doesn't behoove you."
"What leader would ever want to let on that members of his inner circle plotted such treachery? It wouldn't exactly put me in a position of power."
"But letting us think that it was Voulsh all along and that we allowed you to be placed in danger would what? Earn you sympathy points?"
"I thought I'd let it all die with Voulsh and we could close another chapter on our history."
Elizabeth relaxed, now calm as the man in front of her. "I don't like lengthy novels that go over the same old plots."
"Why don't we start a new page with the arrests of those responsible for hiring Voulsh? My investigation carried a lot of momentum after the bombing and I have as much at stake as you do. The people who plotted to kill the colonel had their hands on this; flushing out the rest of Cowen's loyalists will benefit us both."
She tapped her finger on the side of her keyboard and pulled out a data chip. "This is a code you can use to contact us in the future. Make sure it doesn't get into the wrong hands."
Ladon accepted the peace offering. "I'll make sure that this is safeguarded and that only a select few will be aware of Atlantis' existence."
"I'm counting on that."
"In the meantime, I'll keep you informed about our investigation. You'll see that our justice is swift and that those responsible for Colonel's Sheppard's injuries are made to see it as well."
"A review of your reports would be acceptable," Elizabeth said, standing up from her seat.
"I look forward to meeting with the colonel when he is feeling better."
Considering the circumstances surrounding John's infirmary escape, Elizabeth wasn't sure when both men would share a real conversation. "I certainly hope that will happen."
The Genii leader didn't remark about her cryptic response and she didn't offer up anything else, since her own report concerning the matter was still incomplete. Ladon exited her office under the best conditions since they'd meet the militaristic people and she slumped back in her chair, praying that one day their encounters wouldn't require the skills of a chess champion.
She still planned on visiting John now that he was in stable condition, but she didn't want to face him until the meeting with Caldwell and that was something she definitely wasn't looking forward to.
Colonel Caldwell strolled the halls of Atlantis, deep in admiration and awe of such a beautiful and formidable city. It was every commander's dream; majestic, imposing, alluring and a wealth of military and intellectual spoils. He held his chin higher as he roamed the magnificent base; the very aura of the great Ancient stronghold demanded respect and deserved to be protected.
He clutched the data pad in his hand, tapping it against his thigh in annoyance. He hated indecision, but he especially loathed having a conscience, and a nagging one at that. Glancing at one of the windows to observe the towers in the distance, he allowed himself the pleasure of overseeing such beauty, of being in control of something that any leader would die for. Before continuing towards his destination, he paused outside one of the gyms, observing a handful of Marines practice hand-to-hand.
He didn't know their names, but their techniques were sound as they started off with almost graceful movements that ended in a grappling and brawling for control.
"Jameson, if Ronon caught you pullin' that move, he'd wipe the floor with you!"
"Shut up, ass hat. You're the one who got his ass kicked by Teyla!."
"Shit, she can kick all of your butts!"
Caldwell chuckled to himself; the Athosian could indeed teach some Seals he knew a few lessons in defense.
The sergeant who had been giving his buddies a hard time shook his head. "We're lucky that they're both down for the count. Maybe we can get some practice in before the colonel goes back on duty."
"If you had half the brains the colonel had then you wouldn't be such a piss-poor excuse for a Marine. Who knew that the Air Force could spit out someone like Sheppard? If only half our unit had the balls he had."
Caldwell sighed, spinning on his heel, and made his way towards the infirmary, that nagging voice growing louder and more insistent in his head. He scanned the curtained areas until he glimpsed the one he was searching for. It was an oddly familiar situation, but this time there were no guards on full alert and no sense of foreboding.
The head of Sheppard's bed was raised and he tapped away awkwardly, one-handed on his laptop, oblivious to his superior's presence, making Caldwell wonder how the colonel was ever able to pull off so many tactical maneuvers when he was so easily distracted. He was about to clear his throat when the other man's posture stiffened and his back straightened to attention, even in bed.
'Never underestimate your opponent,' he thought. "Colonel Sheppard?"
The pilot closed his computer as he looked up. "Yes, sir!"
Caldwell waved his hand absently. "Please, Colonel, at ease."
He had waited several days before visiting to allow the man to recover a little from his injuries and to let the pilot stew a little over his predicament. Sheppard looked like he'd been mugged with the cuts and bruising that covered his jaw and eyes.
"Just writing my report now that I can think a little more clearly."
"I can't wait to compare it to my own."
Sheppard played with the end of one of his finger braces. "Well, sir--"
"--Since I know you couldn't possibly recall any of your actions after you took matters into your own hands and mishandled your pain medication."
The pilot looked up at him sharply, clearly confused by his words and Caldwell gave him an expression that told him to keep his mouth shut and to listen as he read from his data pad.
"Beckett's medical report indicates that the amount of morphine you injected adversely affected your cognitive skills and impaired your ability to make appropriate decisions."
Sheppard stared at him dumbly and Caldwell glared at him intensely. "The unusual combination of medications sent you into a paranoid and delusional state in which you stole narcotics and a jumper. You confronted Voulsh, and, with the aid of Specialist Ronon Dex, neutralized a threat to Atlantis."
"After reviewing matters with Dr's. Weir and Carson, it's recommended that you seek counseling for the psychological trauma you suffered from your attack and the constant stress of being targeted for assassination."
Caldwell closed his PDA and regarded the befuddled expression of the man before him.
"You think I want your job this way? You've got to be doing something right if a hostile enemy tries to take you out."
Sheppard's laugh was like a short bark. "Or making the wrong impression."
"You have a knack for that too, Colonel."
"Sir, I --"
"--Don't know that you're a very valued member of this expedition whose death would greatly affect his team members. You have commanded the respect of your men and those around you; don't screw it up by not recognizing your self worth. Most officers would kill for such loyalty."
Caldwell had enough of the pep talk. "I'll be sticking around until you're back to full duty."
Sheppard nodded his head. "Of course, sir. It should be a few weeks--"
"I hear over a month. Don't do something stupid and push yourself; this city requires its commander to be at a 100 percent."
There was no need to linger; the pilot looked like he'd had enough for one day and it was time to adjust the team rosters exactly how he liked them.
"Get some rest, Colonel, and I expect your report to reflect our conversation."
Caldwell exited the infirmary, deciding to take the long way back to the gate room and enjoy the view from the west side. If Atlantis was his for only a short while, he was going to enjoy every moment of it.
Sheppard stood outside on the pier, annoyed that he twirled a cane in his left hand instead of a golf club. The green lay there mocking him, the tee still sticking out, wishing for someone to launch one off of it. He watched the waves crash against the city, wondering exactly how many little white balls lay on the bottom of the ocean floor and thinking he'd need to order some more on the next supply run. He couldn't practice his swing, his fingers still too messed up to grip the clubs, but next week the braces came off and he planned on visiting the shooting range.
He cringed, knowing thatAttila the Hunhad sent the big guy after him for his therapy session.
"I know... I'm late."
Ronon came up beside him, staring off into the distance. "We had a deal. If I kept the stupid cast on, you'd do what you were told."
Sheppard shook his head. "I always get the bad end of the bargain."
"You're the one who made it."
"Yeah, yeah," Sheppard complained as he spun his cane between his fingers, walking closer to the edge to peer into the deep blue below.
"Aren't you supposed to use that?" Ronon asked, pointing to the stick that was more of a distractive toy.
"You sound like McKay."
The Satedan glowered at him. "The sooner you heal the sooner you'll be cleared by the doc."
Sheppard exhaled in frustration. "My limp's not that bad and I hate this damn thing." He spun around. "Besides, you can always go out with Lorne when you're ready. Your cast comes off in a week."
The water was vast, like the skies above, another plane to get lost in and experience total freedom. Sheppard rubbed at an ache that flared up, his hand massaging the heavy Ace wrapping that helped support his thigh.
"You know... he never really said a damn thing, only mumbled something about honor and a glorious death."
"What did you expect?"
"Nothing...I dunno... guess something more."
"Words don't have as much meaning as you guys like to make them out to have. What is... just is."
Actions, John...they recite volumes.
He smiled, stabbed his cane into the ground and began his trek towards one of the smaller gyms he spent three times a week in with his physical therapist. "When I'm done, let's go to the mess hall. I think that one chick is working today and we can snag an extra pudding."
"You going to pretend that you need help with your tray again so she'll carry it for you?"
"I can't help it if I can't balance my cane and my dinner. Sometimes you have to accept help, even when it's not asked for," he said, smiling.
Ronon clapped him on his back as they strolled away. "That's something that we've all learned the hard way."
A/N: That's it...the end. Excuse me while I take a second to thank everyone who has supported this story. This was my first long Stargate Atlantis fic and I'm ecstatic from the response and that I didn't really mess up too much. I always write for my own enjoyment, but everyone's enthusiasm was amazing and really gave me the extra boost as I finished it.
I want to thank Beth my wonderful beta who had her hands full with extra long chapters and deadlines. You were amazing at getting these chapters back to me and giving me the support when I was ready to throw things at the computer. Thank you so very much!
Also a big thank you to Mandy who was invaluable when it came to reading my raw content, who was never fearful of offering suggestions, giving me advice and doing it in such detail and so quickly!
Lastly, a thank you to Valarie for answering all my medical questions at the beginning.
Expect some one shots as I unwind from this extra long project. I think my husband would like to spend a little time on the computer, but I have an idea for the next larger story.