A/N - got a little dark last couple of chapters, so yanked some of the humor back kicking and screaming. Well, more like gibbering and flailing, really… XD Anyway, this is it, the final chapter. Eep! Prompt at end. Here's hoping I delivered. Thank you all for reading! Have another long Shep whumpy fan fic planned, but I must get back to editing my 85,000-word fantasy so's I can pack it off to a publisher asap. Keep all your crossable bits and bobs crossed for me. Mayhaps fortune and glory awaits…
*rides into the sunset, Indy style*
*rides back out of the sunset, Marcus Brody style* :-p
OMG - I missed out an entire paragraph of detail. Many thanks to Stealth Dragon for pointing out that something was amiss, because it was... My bad. My thanks go also to Piloteria for her feedback via PM. Oh, well, it gave me the chance to elaborate, and I did warn y'all that this was unbeta'd!
*rides off into the sunset once more* ;-D
The unlikely marriage of momentum, adrenalin and sheer bloodymindedness contrived to send Rodney on a collision course with the heavy door or send him crashing right through it. He braced himself to either ax, burn or even will the damn thing open. John needed him. Now more than ever. He pummeled the door with his fists, and then whalloped it with sticks. He was vaguely aware of his wrists jarring, sending shooting pains up his forearms, and ironically, he was also vaguely aware of splinters. Millions of them. Invading his palms like nanites.
How about that?
He barely heard Lorne's order for him to move aside, and let the marines do their job. Finally a soft hand rested on one abysmally bruised and aching shoulder, and Teyla whispered his name. Rodney turned to her, and in a miserable, faltering voice, whispered back, "Open, Sesame?" She merely gazed back, wistfully. Finally the grunts broke the lock, and eyed him suspiciously as they charged past him. Like he was some psycho or something. Then Rodney was inside, swept along in the slipstream of honed bodies hell-bent on rescuing their CO from certain doom.
Rodney didn't think even their tough training could ever have prepared them for the visual onslaught. The collective gasp from hardened marines said it all, and as a non-hardened, non-marine, it sent Rodney reeling. Even after everything they'd been through, even after everything the bastards had pulled, nothing could have prepared him for this assault on his senses. He fell to his knees as blood drained from his head and pooled in the pit of his stomach, churning it, vying with its contents as to which direction it should all head to exit his body, leaving him wrung-out and hurting.
"Oh, God, John. Nooo… " he groaned. Here was Sheppard, more brutalized than ever. John Sheppard was harnessed, and stuffed inside the open maw of a nasty piece of machinery roughly the size of a puddle jumper. He was kneeling, twisted up with his right arm pulled up straight over his head, his right hand trapped and pressed against a palm-sized panel. His left arm was strapped to his side. Blood poured from the back of his head, which was lolling against his left shoulder. The once neat, carefully wrapped bandages around his torso were trailing behind him, ragged and filthy. Sheppard had been dragged here. A short, jagged metal pole appeared to be propping him up, pressed as it was into the small of his back, gouging and scraping his abused skin still further. Sheppard had clearly regained consciousness at some stage, and had fought his restraints. Rodney guessed that a seat had once adorned the pole - plinth? - and the occupant of the machinery should have been seated comfortably. And treated better. Perhaps even deferentially. Rodney felt his insightfulness kick up a notch.
"Colonel! John! Hold on!" Teyla dashed to where John had been inserted, and subjected still further to the sordid whim of desperate alcoholics.
"I don't bloody believe what I'm seeing! What have they done to him this time? Why? What gain could there possibly be that could warrant this?" Carson was at Sheppard's side in an instant, his hands running over the presenting side of his limp, ashen body.
"Och, no, lad… Poor beggar… " Carson's voice was tremulous, unlike his usual detached, professional timbre when dealing with his patients, even John Sheppard.
Before removing Sheppard from the machinery, Carson gently felt for a pulse, then felt his neck and back, scanning too for visual cues as to any spinal damage, given the awkward angle of his body. He bent down, peeled away the blindfold, and lifted both eyelids, deftly whipping out his penlight. Teyla hovered, her eyes questioning, awaiting further instructions, and blinking back tears. "Help me lift him out, love. Gently. He has a new head injury. Where's the old man who was here? This is fresh blood. I'm thinking he had a hand in this."
"Ol' Andy? It was him, you know. I recognized him." Rodney spotted the bloodied hammer, tucked under the machinery as if attempting to slink away in shame for its part in Sheppard's torment. He also spied a broken-off bucket seat. The thick tangle of exposed wiring snaking out of the machinery and reaching towards Sheppard didn't bear thinking about, given the metal hooks which regaled the front of Sheppard's harness. More hooks... Conductive metal... Rodney shuddered. Then he heard a grunt. It didn't come from Sheppard. Nothing came out of Sheppard's mouth, not even with all the manhandling. Apart from the distinct lack of rigor mortis, there was nothing much to indicate that Sheppard wasn't already quite dead. Except that blood was still pumping out of him, indicating - what, a strong pulse? Rodney wondered how he could possibly feel relieved and horrified and sickened all rolled up in one.
"Ronon… " Teyla flashed a smile of relief. "Are you injured?"
"Got shanked. No big deal."
Teyla scanned him, nonetheless.
"Lie down, Ronon. I'll be with you shortly." In triage mode, Carson did a quick visual on Ronon, who hadn't even paled. Sheppard, on the other hand, was sallow, clammy and unresponsive. Rodney would have been satisfied with a moan. Anything. Even an insult. Sheppard wasn't dead, but he could be dying. The blood wasn't pumping now, it was dripping, indicating - Pulse, weak... That, or blood, drained... Oh, nonononono... Rodney was grateful that Carson had set about wrapping a dressing around Sheppard's head.
"Lorne, assemble your most strapping lads. I need to get the colonel into a neck-and-back brace, just to be on the safe side, and onto a stretcher and back to Atlantis asap. Ronon, if you won't lie down, then at least blow the bloody thing to Kingdom Come… "
And for the second time in recent days, Rodney found himself bringing up the rear, and deferring to Sheppard on a stretcher. This time, he harbored no resentment. Only love.
How about that, he uttered to himself once more.
A week or so later, Rodney set out to annoy Sheppard into fully waking up now that all the lifesaving fooferah and voodoo was over. He typed on his keyboard extra loud with his one uninjured finger, which mercifully was his right index, and sighed with relief as his friend's eyelids began to flutter then open to unseeing, glassy-eyed hazel slits.
"Atlantis. 'M not dead?"
"For the umpteenth time, yes, you're in Atlantis, and no, you're not dead. Just half-dead. Much like you are not a wit, only half. You still have a ways to go before you earn your fully dead patch. Keep working at it, why don't you. Don't mind us. It's not like we care or anything." But care he did.
Sheppard's head had bled profusely, and even with all of Carson Beckett's reassurances over the past several days that yes, the scalp bleeds easily and is hard to staunch, and no, Sheppard wasn't going to die or be left brain damaged or vegetating, and no, a broken ankle wasn't life-threatening; days of staring at a mummified Sheppard looking desperately ill, and only slowly coming to did nothing to alleviate his worry. For some strange reason, there in the infirmary, it was still as if there was only the two of them, back there in the cold and filth and with death threats hanging over them, and that Sheppard might even now leave him to rot alone. Not even the supposedly comforting presence of Jennifer, Carson and sundry nursing staff could alleviate the empty feeling.
Heightmeyer, here I come, he thought. No, Heightmeyer. Heightmeyer was - gone. Grodin. Gone. Weir. Gone. Ford ? MIA. There but for the grace of 'insert in-vogue deity of choice here', go I…
"As for getting your wits about you, Sheppard, I will despair of that forever."
"So, not… dead?"
"As usual. Look at my hands, Sheppard. I was maimed. Maimed! While saving your skinny ass." Rodney held out bandaged hands. Jennifer threw him a mock glare in reprimand.
"Yes. No! More like stakes, really." Rodney frowned, as he turned to Jennifer to be ministered unto. Now was the perfect time to practice those Sheppard-style puppy dog eyes.
"Also not dead."
"Right here, Sheppard."
"I am also here, John."
"Not dead," Sheppard mumbled, before settling back down to sleep.
Rodney rolled his eyes.
Another week later, and Rodney accompanied Woolsey to the infirmary to find a marginally de-mummified Sheppard playing merrily with his Nintendo DS, and Ronon slumped in the chair beside him, snoring heavily. Woolsey closed his eyes momentarily, perhaps to gather his thoughts before speaking. Woolsey cleared his throat, causing Ronon to leap up with a growl before slouching back in the chair again, glaring the while.
"Ah, Mr Dex. I see you got my memo. Colonel Sheppard, if I might have a word. I sent Mr Dex here along with Major Lorne's team to several worlds, all located via the Atlantis database, thanks to our very own Dr Rodney McKay, and over to you, Dr McKay." Rodney basked in the praise, then continued where Woolsey left off.
"I located seventeen stills in all," he began, waving his bandaged hands in an exaggerated manner. "Yes, it was actually a still, Sheppard, would you believe. But not just any old still. It was gene activated, and that's where you came in. Several societies once venerated their gene bearers, who morphed into royalty with little recall as to their humble origins."
Rodney paused to clear his throat, and to make sure everyone present was either still with him or at least awake. So far, so good. This might even be a record.
"In many cases, it was conveniently swept under the rug. Royal coats of arms containing a pear and other fruit especially bananas - or banana-like symbols - still bear lasting testament to said origins. In others, the stills even became shrines, though without working knowledge or even historical documents. Not that religion needs supporting evidence, of course, being faith-based. Some even worshipped a pear-shaped object. Which is even sadder, in my opinion. Bananas and other phallic fruit were also prevalent, and some even worshiped elongated vegetables, including a purple cucumber. Though technically, the cucumber is a fruit, but I digress. At that point, we decided to leave well enough alone. However, then we have those who didn't fare quite so well. Basically, they were kept prisoner under appalling conditions. There we intervened. Those stills we eradicated. Five stills had already been demolished, or had simply crumbled over the millennia. Our new friends, meanwhile, have had to go cold turkey. Oh, what a shame. We disabled their gate. Temporarily." Rodney grinned as he finished his report, but kept his bandaged hands on public display.
Injured man, here. Wounded horribly in the line of duty. Hello?
And now, over to you, Mr Dex," Woolsey stated.
"Planted C4," Ronon stated with a grin.
"Quite. Colonel Sheppard, did you catch any of this?"
"Ronon... planted C4?"
"Ah, I see you read Mr Dex's mission report, which comprised the following, if my recollection is correct. Ahem. And I quote: "Planted C4. Godzilla-stills went boom."
Ronon winked at Sheppard, then looked at Woolsey with his best poker face.
"Ronon, trim… the fat... off your next… mission report, will ya," Sheppard said with a return wink.
"I'll think about it."
"Colonel Sheppard, if you are up to visitors, I'd like you to meet Mr and Mrs Niklam Zirremil plus their newborn son." Just then, a young couple, escorted by Teyla, entered timidly, hero worship written all over their faces.
Figures, thought Rodney.
"Colonel Sheppard, we'd like you to meet our baby boy. Without you - " Mrs Zed turned to Woolsey for guidance. Woolsey nodded encouragingly. "Anyway, we wanted you to know that we are going to name him 'John' after you. Thank you."
Rodney tutted even as Sheppard stared, open mouthed, in disbelief. Rodney wondered if this was quite the right moment. One minute the man was recovering steadily, the next he looked like he was about to fall apart. Sheppard's breathing pattern was growing more and more erratic. Where was Carson? Rodney wanted Woolsey to back off, and glared at him when he continued unabashed.
"Colonel Sheppard, the following is a list of bearers who have been liberated, the circumstances of their incarceration and treatment have been submitted for the record - an elderly woman known solely as Ma Gassop; the entire redheaded Exlay clan; one hundred and ten unrelated and extremely diverse slaves who want to stick together, and who are to be allocated a new homeworld, and a three-year old girl being used to run a diagnostic, whose name and homeworld we have yet to determine."
"McKay has been scouring Atlantis's database for a possible match."
Sheppard frowned in puzzlement. "Who… "
Rodney chuckled. He noted that Woolsey was getting better at interpreting Sheppard's typically monosyllabic post injury responses. There was hope for him yet.
"We have appointed several linguists to transliterate and translate the cryptic markings on a medallion around the child's neck. She sobs out one single word, 'Mellamy.' We are not certain if that is her actual name, a baby version of her own name, or perhaps even a word meaning 'Mother.' Teyla is looking after her for the time being. Colonel Sheppard, what I would like to say is - these people are all safe now, safe because you didn't walk away. You knew… You - understood the consequences."
Rodney looked at Sheppard, whose head had dropped into arms folded across knees. Not exhaustion this time. It was all too much. It had to be. John had endured so much, and now he was finding out names and faces of actual people who had benefited after all his suffering. Not that he would likely see it that way. Rodney watched transfixed as his friend finally broke down and sobbed. Rodney had never seen the like, and doubted he ever would again.
Sheppard slowly nodded twice, his face hidden from view, his shoulders quivering. Then he tossed his head back into his pillow, and stared at the ceiling, as if blanking everything else out. He slung one arm across his eyes. Rodney recognized the gesture; Sheppard was ashamed of his tears. Woolsey shuffled uncomfortably, Ronon folded his arms and Teyla pushed a tissue into John's hand.
"Good, " he said, quietly, after a while. "That's good."
No, Sheppard would never fall apart. He was just overwhelmed. That was it. Overwhelmed. As Ronon would say, no big deal. Sheppard scrubbed a hand across his face, and sniffed.
" …Is young Garrek? In the bed next to you, with a broken arm," Woolsey continued. Garrek grinned, and raised his casted arm. It wasn't so much signed as decorated with cartoon images. Rodney remembered how Grunt One and Grunt Two had spent an hour with Garrek, scribbling away with markers and rough-housing with him, as they themselves recovered from their run-in with poisoned darts.
Sheppard must have zoned out briefly, because within moments, he asked after Garrek again. Rodney winced.
"Pay attention, Sheppard. We already told you. He's right here. At least for another day or so. We thought of handing him over to the Athosians, but that would involve wrenching him away from his culture, everything he's ever known. Halling has offered to give the boy a vacation, take him a-huntin' an' a-fishin' and other macho survival stuff, most likely involving athlete's foot and crotch rot and even more broken limbs, then we send him home with the threat to sic Conan here on his parents if they so much as lift a finger to him."
"Did… his father hurt him?" Sheppard's eyes did the puppy dog thing.
Sheppard instantly looked fit to kill. He clutched the rails of the infirmary bed, struggled to extricate himself from the confines of his sheets, and as his heart rate shot up, alarms went off, and Carson flew in. Finally. Rodney changed the subject as Carson did his voodoo thing, and Sheppard's readings went back to within the confines of whatever Carson apparently deemed satisfactory.
"Halling has expressed an interest in adopting Mellamy, if we can't track down her people. Said he always wanted a daughter."
Rodney shuddered to think of Madison, his niece, being snatched away from Jeannie and Kaleb, and wondered exactly when he'd gone soft.
"What about… the AI," Sheppard asked flatly. Another week on, Sheppard was three-quarters demummified. He was clearly getting antsy. And annoying to boot. It was part of the routine.
"AI?" Rodney looked at Jennifer, who looked at Teyla, who looked at Ronon, who looked at Woolsey. Who looked at Rodney. As did Sheppard.
"Come on, McKay. AI. Artificial intelligence? In the damn machinery."
"Ah, yes. We - kinda sorta hoped you didn't get to that stage."
"Why? What's wrong? Rodney? McKay?"
Rodney looked around, his face flushed. Ronon put his hands up in mock surrender with a huge grin, Jennifer blushed, Teyla frowned and Woolsey shuffled silently on the spot. Rodney mouthed 'thanks for nothing', and glared at them.
"Well, according to the Ancient data base, the original plan included a specialized piece of hardware designed to, erm, " Rodney cleared his throat, "encourage the volunteer -"
"Um, yes. That would be it. Moving on now, guess what's for lunch today? Would you believe - chicken pot pie! Not actual chickens, more like velociraptors, really, though 'velociraptor pot pie' doesn't quite have the same appetizing ring to it. "
"One hundred and ten freed slaves, Sheppard, that's twice the number of Genii soldiers you reckon you killed in cold blood… "
"It was an orgasmatron."
Sheppard mouthed the word slowly. Then burst out laughing. "I guess I drew the short straw… "
Sheppard never ceased to surprise him. One minute he's fragile, the next -
"Yes, you did. The AI supposedly first makes auditory contact, then visual and then - well, you get the picture. This place was once a resort, after all. Those hedonistic Ancients knew how to party. Activating the still wasn't considered a chore back in the day."
"Just my luck, huh? The damn thing backfired on me."
"Only because of Ol' Andy's incompetence. Yes, several members of one gene-bearing royal family had permanent grins. We put it down to fine living at first. Anyway, moving on." Rodney turned to Ronon."Godzilla-still? Seriously?"
"Do we have the plans? Eh? Wait! Where are you all going? Well, looks like it's just you and me, Sheppard. Chess? Yes? No? You're eyes are closing again, Sheppard. I'll take that as a no, shall I?"
Rodney swung by a few days later bearing gifts. Sheppard had been in the infirmary for nearly a month. He was ninety five percent bandage-free, give or take. Or was that five percent bandaged?
Waning crescent, five percent full.
Yes, keeping a wary eye on Sheppard's current demummification was like watching phases of the moon though one cycle. It was also inversely proportional to Sheppard's growing more and more stir crazy. While Jennifer busied herself with checking Sheppard's charts and vitals, Rodney pulled up a chair, and got straight to the point.
"There's something I don't get. Sheppard. Why wouldn't you give in?"
Sheppard rolled his head, and grimaced. So Sheppard.
"They weren't planning on letting either of us go once the still was activated, Rodney," he squealed. "They were going to hide us offorld. They held this one guy in solitary confinement somewhere for ten years. They told me he died alone. I - didn't want that for you." Sheppard bowed his head and looked away. "Did you get some chocolate to the kid?"
"To the Deliv- the delivery boy? I mean, Garrek? I did. Promised we'd bring more for him and the other little tykes on our follow up. He likes me, you know."
"What's not to like? Kids are drawn to you, McKay. You're a natural."
"I'm a big kid. It helps. Speaking of big kids - would you quit poking at your scabs, Sheppard? That is just gross!"
"Aw, McKay. Have a heart. They've just gotten to the fun, itchy stage, They're… nice and crusty around the edges." Sheppard pouted in concentration, and picked at a large scab near his left elbow. It wasn't quite ripe for the picking, and started weeping profusely.
"And you call me a big kid."
"Takes one to know one."
"Speaking of which - brought you something." Rodney dropped a hastily wrapped package on Sheppard's bed, and grinned. He suppressed the urge to hop on the spot. He did, however, clap his hands and rub them together.
"For me? Wow." Sheppard tore the package open. "You shouldn't have."
"No, really. You shouldn't have," and Sheppard held up a three-pack of Tigger boxers between his thumb and forefinger.
"Sheppard, that's brand new underwear, not a dead mouse. To replace, you know, your girlie ones. I couldn't get Wol ones for myself. Turns out he's not such a popular character. Go figure. Hm. Anyway, I settled for an Eeyore pair instead. It even has a pin-on tail for fun and games."
"TMI, McKay." Sheppard glared.
Jennifer dropped the chart. She blushed, slapped Rodney playfully on the shoulder, and left the area, leaving him to stare after her in puzzlement. Then Rodney remembered he had a singular talent for clearing rooms. At least Sheppard wasn't going anywhere anytime soon... He was a captive audience, stuck as he was in the infirmary. Maybe that's why Rodney liked him so much.
"You do love 'em, don't you?"
"Yeah. Sure I do."
"I knew it!" Rodney bounced on his toes. "Or should I have bought Squidward ones?"
"No! Thanks all the same." Sheppard grimaced again.
"I'm good," Sheppard replied, and he wriggled to get comfortable, then snuggled down to sleep.
"Like you'd ever tell anyone," and Rodney smiled a fond smile he usually reserved solely for his laptop after a very long haul.
"One hundred and ten, you say?" Sheppard said, opening one eye to a slit.
"One hundred and ten exactly. Do you feel redeemed yet? I know you still beat yourself up over the Genii thing."
"I don't. Slaves, you say?" He struggled to open the other eye, to no avail.
"Wow. Anyway, still doesn't make it right… Those Genii soldiers, they weren't exactly bugs on a windshield… " Sheppard's words had that sleepy slur to them.
"Freed slaves. Hello? New parents, some little old lady who gets to see her family once more before she goes to meet her maker and all that, a lost tribe of carrot tops, and a little girl who will find her family or at the very least is guaranteed a loving home. And then there's Garrek and all those other rugrats. And the next generation. Justification."
"It was all worth it."
"It was. What was?"
"This," and Sheppard stared long and hard at his slowly healing body, until his eyes glazed over once more, whereupon he closed them.
Sleep the sleep of the just, Sheppard.
And so, one Dr Rodney Meredith McKay thanked his ever-elusive 'insert in-vogue deity of choice here' for the existence of one Lt. Col. John Sheppard, who sought no accolades, no laurels, no prizes; no medals, no kudos, no points; and yet when it came down to checks and balances, Sheppard gave more than he took. And that, he decided, is what Sheppards do best.
The End. *sigh*
Prompt from Sidhartinas aka Steve Austin aka John's Cat:
'I really, really wanted to read a fic in which Sheppard gets whumped (of course) but in a primitive society just to have the Atlantis team impress the villagers with the medical advances they have… and that I could read a little more comfort between the moment Sheppard gets help to the moment he awakens in the infirmary.'
A/N - The comfort for our boy was on-and-off throughout via Rodney rather than slap-bang at the end. Since I'm not up on medical stuff, I made the villagers dumber than a dumb thing to make myself look vaguely knowledgeable. ;-D :P