"…Oohhh…that had to hurt." Rodney said, cringing as a wave wiped Sheppard off his surf board. "I don't understand why people think that is fun…do you know how hard your body hits the water?" Talking to no one in particular, just talking to be talking. Carson was watching John as well, wondering how much more his body could take.
Rodney was reaching for more sun screen, sitting under a make shift screen with Carson, trying to keep the sun from burning his delicate skin. Teyla and Elizabeth were stretched out on towels soaking up the sun, propped up by their backpacks so they could watch John surf. Carl, Ronon and Evan were out in the water at various locations watching as John rode wave after wave in towards the beach.
The weather was nice, the water temperature perfect, the waves were magnificent and John decided to take a day off. When he told Elizabeth he was going surfing, she couldn't believe it. John asked her to come along and watch. That lead to Carl asking Ronon to come since he would need someone to get John from the wheelchair to the board out in the water. Which lead to Lorne, Teyla and Rodney tagging along since they couldn't go on missions without Ronon. Carson came along purely as a doctor. So here they all were, enjoying the sun, sand and surf. At least John was enjoying surfing; the ladies were enjoying the sun and as for the sand, well Rodney was finding it a bit annoying.
So the gang had loaded up the surf board, snacks, drinks and plenty of sunscreen for Rodney into Jumper One. John took the pilots seat and headed for the sweet breakers on the mainland. John set the jumper down just off the sandy area. John watched as his friends unloaded and set up. Even his new improved wheelchair had limits and sand was one of them. Carl took his surf board down near the waters edge. Then it took Carl, Evan and Ronon to get the Colonel to the water. One on each wheel and one man in back; they picked the chair up and carried it. Carl took the board out into the water and held it, while Ronon and Evan picked up the Colonel and carried him out to his board. After that, John was on his own. He paddled out, caught a wave and rode it back in.
When he would wipe-out, one of the guys would swim to catch the board and take it back to John who got back on, swam out and caught another wave. John had no problems treading water; he just used his strong arms.
Since John wanted to surf, Carl discovered a large pool of sorts in Atlantis, while taking a walk, not one you could swim in, but you could at least tread water in it. Carl would not let John go surfing until he could tread water for at least thirty minutes, using his arms, which lead up to today's surfing off the mainland.
John caught another wave and rode it in towards the sandy beach, when he got close enough to the shoreline he slid off. Evan was there to get the board.
John told Evan to go ahead and take the board out to show everyone how it's supposed to be done. Carl and Ronon came towards John and helped him to the sandy beach to sit and watch Evan try his luck at surfing. Carl stayed with John, while Ronon went back out into the warm water.
Evan caught his first wave, carefully he stood up and rode the wave in. He almost made it before he was tossed off the board. After swimming to reclaim the surf board, he swam out one more time. Catching another wave and this time rode it all the way in.
Ronon thought he could do the same, it looked simple enough. So after Evan was done he gladly turned the surf board over to Ronon to give it a try. Ronon paddled out like he had seen John and Evan do. The wave was coming up behind him so he started paddling, when the wave made contact with the board, he got his long legs under his body in a crouch position. Carefully he let his hands go and stood up.
John was surprised, for his first try Ronon was doing great. Better than Evan did a few moments ago. "Ohhh…" John said as he closed his eyes at the sight of Ronon wiping out. Once Ronon's head popped up above the water, "you okay Big Guy?" John yelled.
Ronon waved an 'I'm okay' wave back at John, then he swam towards the board, paddled out again to try once more. His second attempt was much better.
Ronon and Evan took turns, while John and Carl sat on the side lines watching. The ladies were enjoying themselves tremendously.
Over the past two months, with Carl's assistance, John kept up with his morning runs with Ronon; sometimes with Carl. John learned to roll himself over during the night. He would set his watch to go off every three hours; his Military background always had him sleeping light. When he heard the beeps, he would roll over.
Carl also taught him how to get back into his chair if he ever found himself on the floor. That was a tough lesson to learn, but John was determined. Before Carl would teach John how to get back into his chair, John needed to be able to do fifty push-ups and one hundred sit-ups. Carl brought a mat up from the gym and put it into John's bedroom. The push-ups were fairly easy for John to do. He would lay on his stomach and press upwards, leaving his knees on the mat. When it came time for sit-ups, Carl bent John's legs and held them in place until he got the engineering department to build him a frame that John could lock his feet into and that was heavy enough not to move.
John was used to calisthenics when he was a new recruit, but he preferred running whenever possible. Carl was a slave master, but John never felt better. He thought he was in the best shape he had ever been in his whole life. It only took John a couple of weeks to work up to fifty push-ups and one hundred sit-ups.
Beckett was also happy about this. John gained fifteen pounds, mostly muscle, but he was no longer in that 'skinny' or 'too thin' category Beckett always put him in.
John could also dress himself fully. He no longer needed Carl to help; but it was a nice feeling knowing that he was around if needed.
And speaking of Carl, he was now part of their family. Carl joined them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Met them for movie night in the rec room. And even helped with one of Sheppard's escape plans from the infirmary. John had another mild urinary infection a while back and managed to get Carl talked into helping him. John respected Carl a lot now; for all the things that had been given back to him. His independence, his morning runs, flying and surfing. At their first meeting on the pier that day so long ago, John hadn't been sure this could work. He knew he needed help, but could this guy really provide it? Carl came through for him, showed him that he could still do the things he loved, never letting John give up. All it took was re-training and John was never shy about training. Carl understood how John thought. That earned him his respect.
Teyla continued to teach John the new stick fighting moves. John could now block a strike from behind, unlike his first attempt. Every other day, Carl and John worked on his leg muscles, keeping them strong and healthy. Sometimes they used the exam bed Carl borrowed and other times, John found himself on the floor on a mat.
One night in the rec room John challenged Ronon to arm wrestle. Bets were being placed, winner take call. Ronon wasn't getting anywhere and Sheppard wasn't budging either. After fifteen minutes the match was called, stalemate. John and Ronon split the bets fifty / fifty. Four chocolate bars for Ronon, four for John. Two soda's for Ronon, two for John.
Dr. Zelenka, in his spare time was working on John's skateboard. He was pretty sure he could customize it for Sheppard. Carl had thought about the skateboard on many occasions, but never could figure out a way for it to really work out, but John had given the go ahead to try. John was fine right now just being able to run, fly and surf. Especially flying. So riding his skateboard or golfing was not a major issue.
The Daedalus landed yesterday. John greeted Col. Caldwell like he had on his previous three visits. Once the off-loading commenced, Major Lorne had a contingent of Marines ready to clear the pier. Each off-loading was getting better and faster.
John watched from the east pier doorway as Major Lorne instructed the Marines. Watching what was unfolding in front of him, John got lost in his thoughts. His mind took him back to that day in the infirmary, laughing and eating dinner with his friends…no family. He still could recite those few words he read over and over again on McKay's laptop. The file was short.
To: Lt. Colonel John Sheppard
United States Air Force
From: General Hank Landry
United States Air Force
Stargate Command Earth
Re: Status of Military Command
After reviewing your Military record, taking into consideration your current handicap and highly based on the recommendation presented by Colonel Steven Caldwell, USAF; I am hereby advising that Lt. Colonel John Sheppard USAF of the Atlantis Expedition will remain as Military Commander.
Gen. H. Landry
Attachment: Colonel Caldwell's recommendation.
Caldwell's visit this time made John nervous. He was being honored in a ceremony for saving the lives of McKay, Zelenka, Major Lorne and Lt. Ruiz from that burning lab fire months ago. John still hated to think back to that day, sure he saved his friends lives, but at what cost to them. He didn't think he should get a ribbon of bravery for what he did that day.
When John was notified of the ribbon, he was also told that Major Lorne, Dr. Rodney McKay, Dr. Radek Zelenka and Lt. Ruiz had all wrote up the citation and pretty much hounded the Air Force into giving Colonel Sheppard the ribbon over the past few months. That's how strongly they felt about it and about him.
John hated to dress in dress blues, he preferred his BDU's, sweatpants or jeans much better. As ceremonies go, dress blues were required. The stargate would be open and General Landry would make the announcement, while Col. Caldwell pinned the citation to his chest.
John really hated pomp and circumstance. Putting on his dress blues, hat laying in his lap, John headed to the control room. Below, in the gate room people were gathering to watch and listen to the ceremony. A reception would be held afterwards. John just wished it was all over.
Getting into his position so that the camera could pick him up and General Landry could see him while he addressed the merits of the citation. Elizabeth stood to his left. Caldwell was to his right. Major Lorne, Lt. Ruiz, Teyla, Ronon, Zelenka and Rodney stood behind. The Stargate burst open; John took one last calming breath before General Landry's face appeared on the viewing screen in front of him.
"Good Afternoon, Dr. Weir. Col. Caldwell and Lt. Colonel Sheppard." General Landry started out saying, nodding as he went along.
"Nice to see you General." Weir responded.
"Time is short, so let's get started. Col. Caldwell, are you ready?" General Landry asked.
"Yes Sir." Caldwell nodded.
"Lt. Colonel Sheppard, it is my privilege and honor to present to you a citation of bravery. Your conduct, quick thinking and selflessness under harsh conditions saved the lives of four people. Your peers petitioned the Air Force to honor you in such a manor. Col. Caldwell if you please." General Landry waited while Caldwell stepped in front of Sheppard and took the ribbon out of the small box and pinned it to his chest. Shaking his hand and saluting. Colonel Sheppard returned the salute.
"Thank you Col. Caldwell. Thank you General Landry." John responded.
"You deserve it son. But we are not finished." General Landry said. John had a puzzled look on his face but tried to maintain some semblance of Military decorum. What was going on, all he was supposed to get was a ribbon for bravery. "Lt. Colonel Sheppard, please raise your right hand." The General watched the viewing screen as John slowly raised his right hand. Although he had no understanding as to why he needed to, John raised his hand. "It is my honor to announce that Lt. Col. John Sheppard, United States Air Force has been promoted to Colonel, with all rights, pay and privileges hereby awarded. Colonel Sheppard, do you solemnly swear to uphold the rank bestowed upon you to the highest Military standard and to conduct yourself accordingly?"
"I do." John said. 'What just happened?' He said to himself.
"Col. Caldwell, please do the honors." General Landry instructed.
Col. Caldwell once again stepped in front of John and one by one, removed his silver leaves. Replacing them with the same eagle pin he wore, an eagle behind a shield with olive branch clutched in its claw. When Col. Caldwell was finished, he shook the Colonel's hand. It was customary for a kiss so Col. Caldwell nodded to Dr. Weir and she bent down and lightly kissed John on his cheek. Whispering congratulations in his ear.
"Colonel Sheppard, please accept congratulations on behalf of the President and myself. I wish we could keep the gate open longer, but duty calls. Landry out."
"Yes Sir." John mumbled, doubting that the General heard his reply. As the gate shut down, John was still in shock over the proceedings. The gate room erupted in clapping and brought John out of his daze. Hands were all over him, patting his shoulder, grabbing his hand for a shake. Congratulations being called out from all around, above and below him. John was suffocating, he just wanted out of there.
Elizabeth picked up on the panic she saw on John's face. "All right, everyone…please. John will be down in a minute, please go ahead and help yourself to refreshments." She stated out loud. Turning to John, she told him to follow her.
John followed as Elizabeth made her way out onto their balcony. John took a deep breath in; the salt air was just what he needed. His nerves started to calm down. He wanted to stay here forever, he didn't want to go back inside where all those people were. Even if they were his friends and now his family. He reached up and loosened the tie around his collar; he felt like he couldn't breath.
Elizabeth didn't speak, she just looked out over Atlantis and into the deep blue ocean. Occasionally she would look over her shoulder to make sure John was still breathing. Waiting for him to make the first gesture to talk.
"Elizabeth…did you know?" John softly whispered looking up at her.
"Col. Caldwell told me yesterday." Elizabeth replied.
"Who?" John asked. John knew it had to be a different superior officer who had recommended him for promotion. All the senior officers he knew would never promote him.
"I think I can answer that Colonel." Caldwell stated as he came through the door just in time to hear his query. "I did."
John looked like he was going to pass out. Why of all people would Caldwell recommend him for a promotion. Not that he was not grateful; but he really didn't think himself worthy and deserving of the honor. "Why Sir?"
"You are deserving Colonel." Caldwell stated. "You consistently demonstrate that you can do this job even with your limitations. You work under the worst circumstances, alien threats, and you do your job with tenacity. You have protected your people and your city at a great cost. And whether you know this or not, many of the Marines that return to Earth on the Daedalus after serving here have filed countless petitions to have you promoted."
John had never heard Caldwell talk that way before. Sure the recommendation he wrote was glowing, but not promotion material. He had Caldwell pegged as a career hard ass. His own special devil in the Pegasus Galaxy that popped in every six weeks or so. "Thank you Sir. That means a lot. I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything. Just keep doing your job…Colonel Sheppard." Caldwell emphasized 'Colonel' as he turned and walked off the balcony.
"John. Why don't we join the others?" Elizabeth said.
"You go ahead. I need another minute by myself if you don't mind." John said.
"Sure…take your time. I'll be waiting inside for you when you're ready." She smiled and left John sitting on the balcony.
A couple of times teams were in need of rescue. Captain Polansky's team had gotten caught by hostile natives while on P2C-194, so John took Jumper One in to retrieve them. With Major Lorne's team on board, they persuaded the natives to release Capt. Polansky and his team and everyone made it back to Atlantis in one piece. Because a plan had been put into place so that if a rescue necessitated the use of a jumper, John insisted he would be the one to fly the missions. Swooping in and saving his people. At least this way John got to go off-world once in a while.
John had been keeping busy too, not all fun and games. Some of the stuff he thought was boring before was actually fun to do now. John kept Elizabeth happy by getting all his requests and reports done. Elizabeth was overjoyed with the current arrangement. John took over most of the mission briefings so Elizabeth could deal with the general issues of running Atlantis; keeping squabbling scientists in check.
John ran the Marine orientations when the Daedalus brought in replacements. Most of the new Marines hadn't ever seen a handicapped CO before, but when John ran them through their paces they had a lot more respect for their Commanding Officer. He never wavered, never faltered; he was the strength that kept the Marines going. Of course he assigned Lorne and Ronon to handle the off-world training on the Alpha site.
And speaking of Lorne and Ronon; they had become good friends, might even say buddies. You saw them in the mess hall together, even working out in the gym. Seems the whole team had found in Major Lorne what they found in Colonel Sheppard over two years ago. Trust. Friendship. Understanding. Rodney and Lorne snipe back and forth like an old married couple. It hadn't taken long for Lorne to give back as good as he got.
Caldwell still liked to put his two cents worth in, but now John listened, considering his superior officer's suggestions. John understood that Caldwell was only trying to help, not take over. And after reading the recommendation he submitted on his behalf, John has a clearer understanding of the Daedalus Commander.
Tonight was movie night; the night John didn't have lessons or exercises. So John was hosting movie night in his suite; at least for a few friends, not the whole base. John had put a sign on the rec-room set that it was out of order just after breakfast. He couldn't believe it when no one checked the set. John had Ronon and Carl bring the huge screen up to his quarters. He told Carl it was his turn to pick out a movie. Lorne was moving a couple extra chairs in from the neighboring rooms on this floor.
There were sodas, popcorn, chips, pretzels, cakes, they had it all. Good food, good friends and a good movie. John had never had so many people in his quarters before. Probably because his old quarters could fit in his current bathroom. But it was nice having everyone here; Elizabeth, Rodney, Carson, Teyla, Ronon, Evan, Radek and Carl. John had everyone settle in, told them Carl had picked out the movie. As he pushed the play button on the remote, the movie began.
"That was a beautiful movie, Carl." Teyla told him.
"Thank-you Teyla…my favorite part is the ending." Carl replied.
When it was over, one by one they left. John told Evan not to worry about the extra chairs; they would take care of them tomorrow. As for the snacks, John would clean that mess up in the morning. It was late and he was tired, he didn't feel like cleaning up tonight.
"Colonel, is there anything I can do for you before turning in?" Carl asked.
It had been six months now and Carl had become a part of his family. John looked at him square in the eyes and said, "Yes…get me my chocolate bar."