Sorry it took me so long to get this out! RL got in the way big time and then for some reason, my muse went into hiding for a couple days. *rolls eyes* anyway, here it is! The last chapter of the story. Thanks so much for reading, reviewing and encouraging me. I really love to know that people enjoy my work :)
Elizabeth slipped through the door to the Jumper bay before it was completely opened and she trotted across the bay, heading towards the Jumper before it even landed. Ahead of her, the medical team stood ready to act as soon as John was offloaded.
Barely a few feet behind the team, she stopped and took a deep breath as the back hatch of the Jumper slowly lowered and she got her first glimpse of John… not that she could see much. Between Carson, the medical team and the blankets wrapped around him, it was a wonder she could see him at all.
"Get a warm saline IV started right away," Carson ordered as he grabbed a stethoscope off the neck of one of his team. "And get those warmed blankets on him. Someone page the orthopedic surgeon on call, I think its Kearson." Carson stepped back. "Onto the stretcher now, easy."
Elizabeth stood not so patiently at the bottom of the ramp and managed to make eye contact with Carson as he accompanied John's stretcher from the Jumper. "Carson?"
Carson spared her the briefest of glances. "I don't have anything for you right now, Elizabeth. We have to get him to the infirmary."
"Doctor Beckett his BP is 90/60 and his heart rate is 50 and irregular," a nurse quickly informed him. "Respiration is slow."
"Damn it," Carson muttered. "Let's move people!" He grabbed one side of the stretcher and pushed.
Elizabeth trotted a few steps to catch up with him and kept pace as they quickly hurried down the corridor. Ahead of the stretcher, Lorne and Hutchinson barked orders, demanding people move aside to make way. Rodney followed with a few scathing remarks of his own to help things along. Elizabeth remained silent as she watched Carson somehow manage to walk and yet hold his stethoscope under the blanket and on John's chest.
The snow was blinding.
John staggered forward, pushing through the deep drifts. He didn't have a clue where he was going, only that he had to get there… had to keep moving, if only to stay alive. The burn of fatigue in his calves and thighs starkly contrasted the numbness in his feet. He knew his toes were there, but he couldn't feel them.
His left arm blocked the snow from his eyes and he curled his gloved fingers against his neck, looking somehow to return some warmth to them, for they were about as numb as his feet were.
He couldn't remember how he got here, what had happened, or where he was, but to the intense instinct to survive that burned in his gut, none of that mattered. All that did matter was moving, fighting… surviving.
His exhausted legs buckled and he fell to his knees. He barely managed to catch himself as his arms sunk through the snow and ended buried almost to his shoulders. Snow brushed his face, only to melt from his marginally warm breath. On his hands and knees, John dug deep inside, searching… seeking that deep reservoir of strength that would push him back to his feet and keep him going, but it was elusive. Warmth spread through him. He knew it was false… deadly, but his resistance buckled as easily as his arms and legs did. Somewhere deep inside the fighter within him still searched, still looked for that wellspring of strength, even as the snow buried him and blackness took him.
Carson had a lot of practice with professional detachment. It was damn near a necessity when you dealt with the human condition, tragedy and death. But sometimes, it was a lot harder to practice that detachment… and this was one of those times. Mere feet from the infirmary, one of the strongest men he'd ever met had succumbed to the ravages on his body and arrested, sending a spike of cold fear through Carson's wall of professionalism as easily as a hot knife through butter.
The orders that tumbled from his mouth… IV meds, defibrillators, ventilation and cardiac leads, they all were automatic, but inside he struggled to stay focused. The man lying before him, dying, was a friend… and a good one at that. Sheppard had saved Carson's life more than once… and Carson was determined to return the favor.
He grabbed the defibrillator paddles from one of his nurses just as his lead medic, Carolyn, ripped aside the last of Sheppard's shirt. "Clear!" he barked as he positioned the paddles and fired them.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Sheppard's body arch off the bed before again falling limp, but his gaze was focused on the cardiac monitor and the signal that continued its erratic journey across the screen. "Still in v-fib. CPR! Charge again!" He held the paddles, waiting as Carolyn continued chest compressions, until the defibrillator beeped insistently at him. "Clear!" Again, he shocked Sheppard and again, the signal wavered, refusing to convert. "Damn it, Colonel! Buck up!" He smacked the paddles down on Sheppard's chest again. "Charge!" he ordered. Once again the defibrillator reached full charge and once again, he shocked Sheppard, his hands staying in place as Sheppard's body convulsed from the electrical shock.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Somehow, John managed to lift his head out of the snow and his gaze fixed on the source of the voice that had so rudely pulled him back from the warm darkness. "Wha…" he managed through numb lips. He pushed himself up on one, shaky elbow.
"I said, what the hell are you doing?" Standing before John, Rodney McKay crossed his arms and stared sourly at him. "After all that's happened, you're just going to give up?"
"…'m tryin…" John managed. Both hands flat on the ground, he pushed himself up out of the snow, only to fall back down when his arms collapsed under him.
"You're going to have to do better than that, Colonel." Rodney replied, without sympathy. "Get the hell up!" he shouted. "Now!"
From somewhere deep inside, anger sparked, and sent a hot flush through him. Damn that McKay! Standing there berating instead of helping! I've got half a mind to punch him in the nose for this! With a growl, John forced himself to his knees. He sat back on his heels for a moment and glared at Rodney.
"That's right!" Rodney shouted. "Get mad! That'll keep you alive and you're too pig headed to give up now! You know it and I know it so GET UP!"
"God damn it, stop yelling at me!" John lurched to his feet but when he turned towards Rodney, he saw nothing but empty snow. Slowly a smile formed around his chattering teeth. A determined mask fell over his face as he continued his trek.
Carson drew in a deep breath and nodded as the erratic signal turned regular and the blaring alarm from the cardiac monitor was replaced with a reassuring regular beep. "Sinus rhythm." He pulled the paddles away and paused a moment to take a couple breaths. "Continue warming measures, and let's get him on an anti-arrhythmia regimen." Carson set the paddles aside and rested his hand on Sheppard's cold chest, reassuring himself with the rise and fall under his fingers. "Damn it, son," he muttered, "ye put ten years on my life." He looked up, meeting gazes with Carolyn for one moment. She spared him the briefest of smiles before she injected medication into Sheppard's IV. Mindful of the cardiac leads, Carson pulled the blanket back up to Sheppard's chin.
He turned to the colonel's leg and pulled the blanket back. Leaving the splinted break alone, Carson grabbed a set of scissors and carefully cut away Sheppard's tattered pant leg, revealing a ragged gash from the attacking Malnek's bite. He shook his head and turned to Lansing. "Get this cleaned and bandaged. I'll address suturing it after we take a look at that break." He turned to a nurse. "Get radiology in here. I want a full set on that leg and his chest and let's do a skull series to be on the safe side."
Carson turned and nodded once at Dr. Kearson as he swiftly walked up.
Kearson's gaze narrowed for a moment as he stared down at his patient. "Colonel Sheppard?" He looked at Carson. "What in God's name happened to him?"
"Long story," Carson responded. "He was caught in an avalanche and suffered what looks like a fractured tibia in the process. I don't know any details, I haven't been able to further diagnose it. Right now, my main concern is arrhythmia from hypothermia. We just pulled him back from an arrest so he's not stable enough to go poking around too much with that fracture. Not until he warms up some. But, we'll get some pictures and see where we are."
"Knew you could do it."
McKay's voice was smug… knowing but all John could focus on was the warm sun that replaced the cold snow. John sank to his knees, his head falling back as the sun bathed him. "Yeah," he managed.
"Now there's a highly intelligent answer I'd expect from you." Rodney responded. "I hate to say I told you so, but…"
John looked at him. "Just say it."
"I told you so."
Carson's gaze was fixed on Sheppard, as the Colonel's head moved slightly. He walked back up to the bed and looked down. "Colonel? Can you hear me, son?"
Sheppard's eyelids fluttered before opening. It took a moment, before his eyes locked onto Carson's.
Carson smiled slightly. "Rest easy, John. You're going to be all right."
"Car…son…" Sheppard whispered. His body trembled slightly as shivers started coursing through him. "C…cold…"
Carson gently tucked the blanket in tighter around him. "I know, son, but it's a good sign. You're starting to warm up. Just take it easy. Once you're a wee bit warmer, we'll take care of that leg, okay?"
"M…kay… Mal-neks…" he shifted weakly in the bed. "R-onon…"
Carson put a gentle but firm hand on Sheppard's shoulder. "They're okay. Ronon took a few bites and will be laid up for a while but he'll be fine. Teyla and Rodney are fine as well. Relax and concentrate on yourself, lad."
"…kay…" Sheppard's eyes slid shut.
Carson gave his shoulder a light squeeze. "Okay," he muttered back.
"Dr. Beckett?" one of his nurses pulled the digital thermometer from Sheppard's ear. "He's back up to ninety point two."
Carson nodded. "That explains the shivering."
"I'll want him to at least ninety-six before we address that leg," Kearson added.
"Aye," Carson agreed. He returned his gaze to the nurse. "I want vitals every ten minutes until he hits ninety-six." He stepped away from the bed as two technicians wheeled a portable x-ray machine up to Sheppard's bed.
There were times, Elizabeth was sure, when time went slower. How could it have only been thirty minutes since they'd brought John to the infirmary? She looked away from her watch. It seemed like it'd been thirty hours. She walked slowly to a pillar and leaned back on it, letting her head rest on the cool surface as she wondered how they'd got to this point. All John's team had done was gone off world to get some intelligence. Routine on most days, but apparently, today was the exception.
She lifted her head as Teyla and Rodney both walked towards her. "You two okay?" She asked quietly.
Teyla nodded. "We have been cleared medically, with orders to rest for a few days."
Elizabeth smiled and nodded before she looked at Rodney.
"Sore," he replied. "But the x-rays were clean. Something I could've told them without subjecting my body to radiation, but did they listen? No."
"I think Dr. Biro just wanted to be sure, Rodney," Elizabeth placated. "You were attacked by a Malnek."
"Hmm. Don't remind me." Rodney muttered.
"Any word on John?" Teyla asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. "No. Not since they told us they'd managed to bring him out of arrest." She looked away from Teyla, her chest still tight at the thought of how close they'd come to losing him.
"He is strong, Elizabeth," Teyla said quietly. "He will be fine."
"He's too stubborn not to be," Rodney added.
"Yes," Elizabeth agreed, "he's…" her voice trailed off as movement behind Teyla and Rodney captured her attention. Elizabeth's gaze narrowed. "I don't think you're supposed to be out of bed."
From behind Teyla and Rodney, Ronon stopped and stared evenly back at her. He still wore scrubs and his feet were bare as if he'd just gotten out of bed, which was probably accurate. Next to him, he pushed a portable IV stand, the tubing from the bag snaking down and disappearing under his taped arm.
"Oh for…" Rodney turned around. "The last thing we need is you collapsing in the middle of the infirmary."
"I won't." Ronon answered blandly. "Heard you guys were back. No one could tell me anything, so I thought I'd find out myself." He looked back at Weir. "How is he?"
"Alive," Elizabeth answered. "Beyond that, we don't know."
"And we're fine too, thanks for asking," Rodney snapped.
"Could tell that, McKay," Ronon's voice was unfazed.
"Ronon," Teyla walked up to him before squeezing his arm. "It is good to see you. We did not know…" her voice trailed off.
"Yeah," Ronon smiled down at her. "It was close."
In spite of the situation, Elizabeth smiled slightly at the relieved look on Teyla's face. Even Rodney looked relieved, although she suspected he'd deny it if confronted and suddenly it made sense. They'd had no idea if Ronon had survived. Elizabeth sighed quietly as her respect for the team's strength; a strength to go on in spite of all odds, only deepened.
Her attention was grabbed by the doors to intensive care opening. Slowly, Carson walked up to them. He fixed Ronon with a no-nonsense stare. "And what do ye think you're doing?" Un-cowed, he glared up at the big man.
"Wanted to know how Sheppard was," Ronon answered. "No one would tell me."
Carson sighed. "All right, but after we're done here, back to bed with you!"
Ronon cocked an eyebrow but said nothing.
"And just how is he?" Rodney demanded.
Carson nodded. "Better. He's starting to warm up and that alone is stabilizing him. He gave us a scare with that arrest, but I think we're coming out of the woods with the hypothermia now. Last check his body temperature was up to ninety-four."
"How cold was he, Carson?" Elizabeth asked.
"Eighty-eight," Carson answered quietly. "Damned cold. It's amazing he was conscious at all, much less coherent." Carson took a deep breath. "Couple more degrees and Kearson's going to deal with that leg. He's got a spiral break mid shaft on the tibia, but there shouldn't be any healing complications once it's set." Carson ran a hand through his hair. "We'll anesthetize the Colonel to set it. He's got a pretty deep laceration above the knee where the Malnek got a hold of him but with some well placed stitches, it should heal fine. Couple of broken ribs will make him sore for a while but those should heal fine as well."
Elizabeth nodded as she absorbed all Carson had told her. "So, he's going to be okay?"
Carson smiled. "Aye, I think he will. Give him some time to heal, and he'll be back to his old self." Carson looked over his shoulder for a moment. "He's been in and out of consciousness the last twenty minutes or so. I can let ye see him, if you'd like, but only for a couple minutes."
Elizabeth nodded and smiled. "Yes." She didn't need to look at the other three to know their reaction was the same.
Carson eyed Ronon for a moment before nodding. "Only a couple minutes for you, mister, then back to your bed you go."
Ronon's expression was amused and he nodded once. "Deal."
Carson turned and swiped his hand over the door crystal before leading them into the ICU wing.
Through the buzzing in his ears, John was able to make out one word. He furrowed his brows before lifting them high as he tried to pull his eyes open.
"That's it, lad. Can't have you unconscious, you have visitors."
John groaned and tried again, this time succeeding. He squinted against the bright infirmary lights before his eyes adjusted and fixed on a face peering down at him. He tried to smile, but knew he came up short. "…lizbth…" His eyes cleared and he saw her smile widen.
"John," Elizabeth said quietly. "You've looked better, you know."
John's mind continued to clear and he managed a weak chuckle. "Felt better… too." He felt something poke his ear, before beeping quietly. Another voice, this one strange cut in.
"Doctor, his temp is ninety-six."
John turned his head slightly and met gazes with Carson who also smiled. "Aye, that's much better, Colonel. You're more lucid as well I see."
John swallowed hard. "Carson." That was all he could manage, but it seemed to suit Carson just fine. John's brows furrowed as memories came back to him. Leg… "Doesn't hurt," he muttered.
Carson's brows quirked. "Gave you something for that."
This time, John did manage a small half smile. "Happy… drugs."
Carson's dimpled smile deepened. "Aye."
It was then that John's awareness awakened enough that ne noticed three more people at the foot of his bed. He refocused his gaze and his smile widened slightly as he stared at Ronon's satisfied expression. "Ronon." Relief swept through him. He'd known something was wrong, even if Rodney had denied it. To see his Satedan team mate standing near him, was a relief he couldn't deny. His gaze fixed on the IV stand and the bandages sticking out from under the short sleeve of his scrubs. "You okay… buddy?"
Ronon's smile widened. "Better than you."
John chuckled weakly and winced as his ribs protested, in spite of the cocktail of pain meds Carson had given him. He shifted his attention to Rodney. "McKay," he said quietly.
"Glad you're awake," Rodney responded shortly, then smiled.
John stared at him for a moment, memories of Rodney's staunch defense of his life coming back to John. In spite of the blustering, Rodney was one tough cookie if he had to be. "You did good… Rodney," John offered.
Rodney stared back at him, his expression challenging. "Yes, well, someone had to save your ass."
"I believe it was I that saved yours, Rodney," Teyla smoothly interjected.
John looked at her as she walked up next to Elizabeth.
"Teyla…." John started only to be interrupted by Teyla.
"There is no need for words, John," she said and squeezed his arm.
"As much as I hate to interrupt," Carson broke in, "Ronon you have an appointment with your bed, and the Colonel has one with surgery, so all of you need to leave."
As his team filed out of his view, John's attention returned to Carson who smiled reassuringly at him.
"Easy peasy, Colonel," Carson reassured. "We'll have you in and out before you know it."
"Thanks, Doc," John muttered. He watched as Carson injected something into his IV before a warm rush flowed through him and consciousness fled.
"Colonel, you'll use both crutches, or you'll stay abed!"
John sat on the edge of his bed and stared up at Carson. "Doc, I only need one…"
"Both!" Carson interrupted.
John's frown deepened. He considered arguing the point further, but when it came to the welfare of his patients, Carson could be a tyrant… even to the patients themselves. John sighed. "Fine."
Abruptly, Carson's expression turned good natured. "Good," he said with a chipper voice. "Nice and easy now, you're going to be weak, Colonel."
"Right," John answered dismissively. He'd been in that bed for days. Inactivity was making him crazy and he was damn near ready to leap out of it, just to move. He braced his hands on the crutches and quickly pushed himself up, only to have his good leg buckle and send him unceremoniously back down on his bed. He sat there for a moment, before looking up into Carson's smug gaze.
"Let that be a lesson to you," Carson pointed at him. "I swear Colonel, I've never had a more stubborn, pain in the ass patient, then you."
John sighed heavily before once again rising, this time more carefully. He felt Carson's hand on his arm as he stood for a second, letting his body get used to standing again.
"Much better," Carson encouraged. "Just a short walk today, Colonel, and then back to bed."
"How long are you going to treat me like an invalid?" John groused quietly.
"As long as necessary," Carson smoothly replied, "and no amount of grumping from you is going to change that."
John shifted the crutches under his arms and braced his palms on the hand holds. "You're a tyrant, Carson. The lovable doctor face is just a façade."
"Aye," Carson agreed as he walked slowly beside John who crutched his way across the infirmary. "Ye know my secret now."
John let the conversation drop as the doors opened and Ronon walked in. Released only a couple days before, John had heard the argument Carson had with the big guy about routine checkups. Only the threat of keeping Ronon in bed in the infirmary for another week, had made Ronon promise to check in daily until Carson was satisfied he was healed.
"Ah Ronon," Carson hailed the Satedan, "just in time to see the Colonel's maiden voyage."
"Cute," John muttered as he crutched towards his friend. "I've been on crutches before."
"Aye," Carson agreed, "and with your track record, you'll probably be on them again."
John grunted and shot a cold look at Carson, before meeting gazes with his teammate. "Lookin' good."
Ronon cocked his head slightly. "Still better than you," he teased.
John chuckled, before his smile faded and gratitude replaced mirth. He stared at Ronon for a second, looking for the right words, before the big man shook his head.
"Don't," Ronon insisted. "Don't need the words. Already told you that twice."
One side of John's mouth turned up in a small smile before he looked down for a moment and then nodded. Abruptly, he could feel the strength leave his body and he had to close his eyes against a wave of dizziness. He felt Carson's hand wrap around one arm, as Ronon grabbed the other.
"Aye, that's the cue to get you back to bed, Colonel." Carson pulled gently but insistently.
John blinked hard and looked at Carson as he slowly crutched his way back to the bed. "How'd you know?" he muttered weakly.
"You're about five shades paler, son," Carson answered. "You're as white as a sheet."
"Oh," John whispered. With Ronon and Carson's help, he slowly sat back down on his bed and surrendered his crutches. He'd never admit it, but the bed felt good. As he laid back, Carson pulled the blanket and sheets over him.
"You're lucky to be alive, Colonel. Accept that it's going to take a while for you to heal."
John nodded, his head sliding up and down against the pillow as he relaxed into his bed. He closed his eyes and listened as Carson led Ronon away, muttering something about a cast to make sure Ronon didn't tear his stitches.
John took a deep breath, ignoring the twinge from his healing ribs. The air filling his lungs felt good. He felt alive, and with the events of the last week, he was grateful for it. He was on the path to healing, and heal he would. There was too much left to do, too many worlds to explore, too many enemies running around for him not to get better.
It'd take time, but John accepted it. Time was one luxury he had, and he intended on taking full advantage of it.
Content, he let the healing power of sleep take him.