Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, the characters and universe are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions and the Sci-Fi (Syfy) Channel. The content of this story is solely for entertainment purposes and no copyright infringement is intended.

This story was sparked after reading ValleyA's story 'Soul Drinkers' which I found at Beyond Atlantis Virtual Season 6. (search engine by Author - Beyond Atlantis VS 6) If you haven't read any of these stories then you should do that now. The first couple of episodes written for VS6 managed to get Atlantis back to the Pegasus Galaxy where she belongs. My story picks up after 'Soul Drinkers' and then takes a left turn from canon. Sorry to say it does not fall into the continuity of VS 6. I wanted my story to be more of a John and Dave story set on Earth with a B-story on Atlantis. Hope you enjoy.

Dumb Luck

Author: Kwillads

Chapter One

"What did you say to them?" Ronon asked as he and his teammates dove for cover behind a hedge of thick bushes.

"Nothing!" Shouted McKay. "I said nothing," as he panted for air after their impromptu sprint out of the village.

"Well you must have done something. Teyla was doing just great bargaining for more caapa fruits and Ronon and I were walking the perimeter. So it had to be you McKay." Colonel Sheppard checked the ammo in his P-90 and handgun before continuing his thought. "The Eenovarians just don't point spears at you for no reason. We've had teams trade with them before."

"I swear. I didn't say anything. I might ha…"

"Hold that thought McKay. Let's say we blow this fruit stand first. You can tell Woolsey all about how we lost his favorite fruit supplier when we get back home. Teyla you take lead, Rodney stay close to Teyla. Ronon and I will cover your six. Stay low in the tree line. Once we get close to the gate we'll figure out how to dial home without becoming shish-kabob. Warning fire only. That means stun to you Ronon. We might still be able to reconcile this mess. Ready…go!"

Teyla wrapped a hand around Rodney's wrist and pulled him up after her. Teyla set a pace that was near running; never once letting go of Rodney's wrist. They stayed inside the tree line, hunched over with their heads down, as they navigated the dense foliage. Behind them they could hear P-90 fire and Ronon's blaster. Every now and then a spear broke through the thick foliage. Teyla's acute awareness and fast reflexes were the only things keeping the spears from finding their marks. It was to their benefit that the Eenov people believed evil spirits lived within the dense forest of their world. Consequently they never ventured into them—at least not very far into them. It was the only reason why the team hadn't been caught. But that still left the gate and DHD area wide open for ambush.

Teyla pulled Rodney down into a squat, for which Rodney was most grateful; it gave him time to catch his breath. The DHD and gate were out in the open field. Large pillar like stones, the circumference of Volkswagens, had been placed in a sporadic-dotted fashion in front of the stargate deterring Wraith darts from entering their world. It also meant no puddle jumpers. This semi-circle of stone pillars was a safety measure left behind by the Ancients according to Dr. Stewartson, Atlantis's own anthropologist.

As Teyla surveyed the open field leading to the stargate, John and Ronon joined them. Off in the distance Eenov warriors were headed their way. Soon the spear wielding natives would catch up. There was very little time. By John's estimate they had about a five minute head start—maybe less. John and Ronon had stayed behind hoping to give the illusion that John's team was pinned down. It only worked for a short while before the spear wielding natives got wise and started after Teyla and Rodney.

Breathing heavily, "Teyla, you take McKay and work your way to that large pillar by the gate. I'll dial the gate while Ronon watches my back. Once I get the okay, you and Rodney go through. Ronon and I will be right behind you."

With one word, "understood." Teyla and Rodney moved off. John and Ronon sprinted out into the open field to the DHD.

Sheppard had dialed the first three symbols when he heard Ronon growl, "here they come."

"Stun only." John reminded his Satedan teammate then cursed. Ronon stunned three of the Eenov warriors while John dialed the remaining glyphs on the DHD. John slammed his palm down on the blue sphere. In the back of his mind he hoped that another team might be able to salvage this alliance if he just didn't have to kill anyone. John heard the gate whoosh to life though he couldn't see it for the large array of pillars. Two more spear wielding Eenov went down as Sheppard punched in his IDC and spoke to Atlantis. The two moved towards the gate circumventing the stone pillars. "Atlantis this is Sheppard, we're coming in hot. Once we're through raise the shield." Tapping his radio back to the team frequency he informed everyone. "Shield down Teyla, you and McKay get through the gate now! We're almost there."

Five spears heralded their way; three hit surrounding pillars, one went over their heads and the last whizzed by Sheppard's left shoulder landing in the soft ground beside him: much too close for his comfort. Sheppard's confident stride faltered a bit as the memory of recently being impaled was still fresh in his mind. Ronon and Sheppard made their way to the gate using the large pillars as cover. More spears rained down on their position from overhead. Ronon got a couple more shots off but didn't manage to hit his targets. The Eenov warrior's were mere steps behind him.

Rodney and Teyla entered the sanctity of Atlantis's gate room moments after Colonel Sheppard gave the all clear. Rodney was bent over, hands on his knees still breathing heavily from his sprint through the woods. A spear came through the blue puddle landing inches to his right. A manly 'yelp' escaped his panted breathing as Teyla pulled him to the side out of harms way. Two more spears sailed through the open wormhole crashing harmlessly on the gate room floor.

A ripple in the event horizon announced the arrival of the last two team members. Colonel Sheppard came through at a slight jog while Ronon backed his way in. His blaster still poised to fire. Before the shield was raised two more spears sailed through the event horizon. One clattered to the floor coming to a stop at the base of the steps. The other one lodged itself into soft human flesh.

"Medical team to the gate room!" Richard Woolsey shouted into his comm link as he made his way down the stairs. "And get that shield up!" The shield was in place before he finished his command although a little too late for the Colonel. In the commotion of the gate room two thuds were clearly heard against the shield before the gate connection actually shut down. Whether they were more spears or Eenovarians only time would tell.

By the time Woolsey got down to the gate room floor, Teyla and Rodney were lowering Colonel Sheppard to his knees while Ronon supported the weight of the six foot spear shaft. The only sound coming from Colonel Sheppard was a grunt. The spear managed to find the only area of his tac vest with no Kevlar plating. Because of the spears declining velocity had it hit the Kevlar back plating of his vest it most likely would have knocked him down rather than piercing his flesh. But instead it had pierced his left shoulder from back to front at a 67 degree downward angle. The spearhead protruded about two inches out the front of his shoulder which compounded itself in an uncomfortable amount of pressure due to his close fitting, supposedly protective vest.

Ronon continued to hold the large portion of the spear protruding from Sheppard's back so as not to put too much undue pressure on the wound. Teyla was undoing the front of Sheppard's tactical vest while Rodney supported Sheppard's weight from the right side.

As of yet Colonel Sheppard hadn't uttered a word. Not one 'oh crap' was heard in the gate room. His face was tight with pain; his breathing labored.

"Colonel, a medical team is on the way." Woolsey stated with concern and authority.

At the sound of Woolsey's voice Sheppard looked up. "Did someone put a target on my back?" John asked with pain filled eyes. Before anyone could respond Sheppard passed out, his dead weight still being supported by his teammates.

oOo

John blinked in his surroundings. He was lying on his right side with a white curtain a few feet in front of him. The last thing he remembered clearly was the gate room and Richard Woolsey. Now the antiseptic smells were reaching his nose and murmured orders from somewhere behind him entered his brain but he just wasn't coherent enough to comprehend. And pain: John couldn't mistake the pain. His brain finally made sense of everything; he was in the infirmary. He'd been speared in the shoulder. With that realization he moved to look at his shoulder only to gasp out a cry of agony. It felt like a thousand shards of glass had ripped through his shoulder, down his arm and across his back ripping his breath away in the process. He lay there panting through the pain scared to move a single muscle.

Dr. Keller entered the surgical prep area just in time to see her patient move then cry out. Bending down so she could make eye contact—though her patient had his eyes scrunched tight with pain—she gently laid her hand on his side letting the Colonel know he wasn't alone.

"Colonel, you're in the infirmary. Try not to move. We'll be taking you to surgery in just a few minutes. Dr. Lipsky is just going over your scans. We'll take good care of you I promise. Do you understand?"

John would have nodded but he was frozen in place too scared to move. He didn't want to feel those sharp glass shards ripping him to pieces again. He didn't think he could talk either without whimpering like a child who'd skinned their knee. He was still the Military Commander and had an image to uphold regardless of how much pain he was in. Never let them see you sweat came right after never let them see you cry in his book.

Dr. Keller must have seen his dilemma. She checked her watch then reached for a syringe and emptied the contents into his IV line. "Give that a minute and it should help." She cooed as she took a tissue and wiped the corners of his eyes.

And it did help. The pain radiating from his shoulder lessened; lessened enough that he managed to work his eyes open again to blink the image of his doctor into view. Keller was bending down with a smile on her face apparently happy to see him respond.

"Thanks." John managed to rasp out.

"You're welcome Colonel. In a few minutes we'll wheel you into the operating room where we'll get the last of the spear out of your shoulder. Dr. Lipsky is assisting. We'll see you afterwards. Okay?"

John had heard this all before. "'kay."

oOo

"…so let me see if I understand this correctly. The Eenovarian's pulled their weapons only after you took a scan of the area with the life signs detector."

"Pointed." McKay corrected.

"Pointed?" Richard Woolsey questioned. He had convened a mission briefing with the remaining three members of Colonel Sheppard's gate team in the infirmary's waiting area.

"Yes, pointed. And at me! You said 'pulled' before. The Eenov's didn't pull their weapons; they pointed them at us—well mostly at me. They carry these giant long spears with them wherever they go like a giant walking stick. So pointed would be the correct transitive verb."

"Dr. McKay let's stay on topic please." Switching his gaze to the other two people in the waiting area, "Teyla, were you aware the Eenovarian's were phobic to technology in general or just Ancient technology."

"I was not aware until today. I would have to say they only fear Ancient technology."

"Why's that?"

"Because Mr. Woolsey, we carry powerful weapons the likes of which the Eenovarian's have never seen before. And Ronon carries his Satedan weapon. We have been to their planet many times for trades in the past. This was the first time they became aggressive towards us. I tried to explain but their leader would hear nothing of it. Colonel Sheppard realized the situation was deteriorating and ordered us to start backing up slowly towards the woods."

"I see. Do you think they'll be open to negotiations in the future? Once this latest incident calms down I mean."

"Colonel Sheppard made it very clear that we were to use warning fire only. Ronon stunned a few Eenov warriors but we did not kill or injure them. I believe there might be a chance Atlantis could trade with them again. I would recommend, however, that the teams be appraised to leave all Ancient devices home or keep them well concealed."

"I agree. Well thank you for debriefing me. Please inform Dr. Keller that I'll be waiting for her rep…"

"I can do that now Mr. Woolsey," Dr. Keller stated as she entered the waiting area. Teyla, Ronon, Rodney and Mr. Woolsey all rose to meet her. "Dr. Lipsky is just finishing up with the Colonel. We've decided to pack the wound open for now. The Colonel went into shock and we didn't want to chance any complications right now. We removed the remaining segment of spear. Debridement of the wound didn't take as long as I thought. We'll take him back to surgery to repair the muscle damage once he's a bit stronger. All in all, his prognosis looks good."

"Can we see him?" Teyla asked.

Rodney and Ronon were flanking Teyla as they all three waited to hear the Doctor's reply.

"It'll be a couple of hours yet, so why don't you clean up. Maybe get some food or rest and come back later."

Teyla nodded her acceptance of the terms. Not sure if her two teammates acquiesced.

oOo

John could hear an encouraging voice off in the background. He couldn't make out what the voice was saying, but it sounded compelling. Insistent to the point he thought he was to do something. Now along with the persistent voice there came a persistent tapping to his cheek.

"…'re eyes for me Colonel. Come on, just for a minute. I know you don't want to but… That's it, keep going you're almost there." Keller encouraged.

John struggled to comply. When and who had glued weights to his eyelids. It was probably the same person who used sandpaper on his throat. John managed to get one eye open; barely enough to see out of. The other eye joined in and after a few more false starts managed to keep them open to his Doctor's pleasure.

"Good Colonel, don't try to talk or move just yet. You're in recovery." Jennifer dipped a spoon into a glass producing crushed ice. "Open please," she said as the spoon rested on his bottom lip. While the Colonel enjoyed the relief the ice had on his irritated throat Jennifer brought him up to date on his condition. "Between Dr. Lipsky and myself we removed the remaining section of spear. We cleaned out the area but we couldn't repair the muscle. Your vitals …"

John panicked when the Doc said they couldn't repair his muscle. Everything else she was saying blurred into blah, blah, blah nothingness. He needed his shoulder fixed; just like the last time he got impaled. Didn't she understand that? The ice in his mouth took an unexpected turn causing him to cough. Each cough was pure hell on his shoulder as well as his throat. John could feel hands on him lifting and rolling him onto his side more. It helped some, but the panic over his shoulder made it harder for him to breathe.

A mask was held to his face and sweet oxygen flowed in like a river. "That's it Colonel, slow, steady breaths." John nodded and stared pleadingly into the face of his doctor. Jennifer Keller realized where she went wrong, "I'm sorry Colonel. I didn't mean to upset you. Your vitals took a wrong turn; you went into shock on the operating table. When you're a little stronger we'll take you back in to repair the damage. We've left the wound open for now and just packed it. Are you following me? We'll fix your shoulder I promise."

Once again John nodded that he understood. He mumbled out, "sorry," before his endurance took leave and he fell back into semi-pain free oblivion.

Colonel Sheppard wasn't aware that his teammates had come to visit him. Or that they had sat with him through his fever of the last several days. Teyla had been sitting with him that first day when she noticed the heat radiating from his forehead. Colonel Sheppard's fever finally broke and though he hadn't woken up as yet, Dr. Keller was making preparations for his second surgery. The fear that she'd made a mistake by leaving the wound open was foremost on her mind. The Colonel's wound was never meant to be left open for an extended period. A day at most, but then the fever accompanied by an infection came and it was too dangerous to operate.

John had that floaty feeling: the unmistakable feeling that 'good drugs' coursed through his veins. Along with being lethargic he was floating and yet weighed down at the same time. How was that even possible?

Blinking in his surroundings he found himself alone. The area around him was quiet. There was no Teyla humming or stroking his hand. No Ronon with his feet on the bed leaning back on two legs of a chair cleaning one of his many knives. No Rodney typing away on his laptop with intent concentration. And no doctor. Maybe he was still asleep and this all was part of a dream.

John decided that laying on his right side sucked. His right shoulder burned from the pressure forced on it and his arm was full of pins and needles. He started to roll backwards. When his left shoulder touched the mattress all the bells and whistles in the room blared to life. This was so not a dream. John's right hand gripped the metal bed railing as if it were a life preserver; knuckles instantly going white. His breathing sped up, his eyes shut tight. He couldn't think of a time when he'd been in so much pain.

Okay, that wasn't true. The Iratus bug on his neck still held the number one spot on his personal chart of worst pain ever. Having his life sucked away by a Wraith came in second. This pain, now, he would have to say landed solidly in the number two position.

John tried to roll back taking the pressure off his left shoulder but he just didn't have the strength to do it. The pain in his shoulder and the pins and needles in his right arm made it difficult to concentrate on what he wanted to do and how to get the job done. Thankfully the cavalry showed up. Hands were everywhere and if he thought rolling onto his back hurt, then rolling the other way became just as painful.

An oxygen mask was strapped to his head again, vitals were taken, monitors were silenced and someone even tried to pry his hand loose of the railing without much success. When the pain settled enough John opened his eyes. His Doctor was waiting for him.

"Hi." Came a muffled greeting from under the mask.

"Hi back."

"Shoulder?"

"It's sore." John snorted. That was an understatement if he'd ever heard one. Jennifer smiled coyly. "We…Dr. Lipsky and I, we repaired the damage best we could." His Doctor looked apprehensive.

"And?" John begged.

"And…do you remember me telling you that we left the wound open and packed because you went into shock?" John nodded thinking where was she going with this. "Well you developed a slight infection and fever. Your fever just broke this morning. Your wound was left open too long and it looks like there might be some nerve damage. And I stress the word 'might'. I won't know for certain until you're back on your feet."

Nerve damage, open wound, fever, infection, muscle damage, all spelled trouble. "PT?"

"I'm optimistic that with physical therapy you'll regain the use of your shoulder and arm. I don't have to tell you how painful it's going to be this time. I'll give you medication to alleviate the most severe pain. Last time it was a small rod, no infection, no fever and you were in physical therapy within a few days. It's been almost ten days now. It will take at least a week for your incision to heal from the two surgeries before you'll be allowed to start PT."

"Okay." He wanted to be left alone now. He needed time alone to think. To digest what he's been told about his condition. He was so damn tired too. The stress of keeping his eyes open any longer were taking its toll so he closed them hoping for oblivion to take him away.

Keller watched her patient shut down. The news wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. She knew how tenacious the Colonel was and she had no doubt in her mind that he'd put 110 percent into his rehab. "Colonel…" At the mention of his title he opened his eyes again. "…it'll turn out okay. You'll see." She gave him a smile and squeezed his good hand to convey her confidence.

"Tired."

oOo

Rodney was on his way to see if Dr. Jennifer Keller wanted to have lunch with him when he spotted Colonel Sheppard coming out of the physical therapy room. From this distance the Colonel looked to be dead tired. It had now been three weeks since the Colonel had been speared in the gate room and he was able to start PT. Sheppard's last week in the infirmary hadn't been pleasant for him, his team or the staff. His temper was short and all too often he was taking his frustrations out on his teammates or the medical staff. Even with his high threshold of pain his shoulder still hurt no matter the amount of pain meds the Doc was giving him. Rodney jogged to catch up to him before he got into the transporter. The Colonel had been doing a good job with the avoidance thing these last couple of days. "Hey Sheppard!" He called bringing the Colonel to a stop. "How was PT today?"

Colonel Sheppard schooled his expression, took a deep breath before he turned to face his teammate with somewhat of a 'glad to see ya' look. "Fine."

Rodney had realized long ago that Sheppard's answer to any and all medical questions was 'fine', whether he had a scratch or one of his limbs was barely hanging on by a thread. And this time Rodney didn't think the Colonel looked fine. "Wanna try again Colonel?" This time Rodney raised his brows, jutted out his chin, and crossed his arms trying to give more credence to his question.

John knew this posture; it was Rodney's attempt at intimidation. It didn't work on his minions and it surely didn't work on Sheppard.

"It's only my second day McKay. How well do you think it should be going?" John snapped back.

Rodney took an involuntary step back. The Colonel's mood as of late was unpredictable—changing from one extreme to the other in a split second. "Really? It's been three weeks."

"Don't remind me." John ground out, and then decided to go for redirection. "How're things in the lab?"

"Just like you'd expect…I had to stop Winston from blowing up Lab 3. Reroute power to Woolsey's quarters so he could plug in his new wine cooler and humidor. Helped Radek out with cataloging two more devices, searched the database for information on M13-882 and managed about an hour working on a new process Sam sent me. You know the usual."

"Sounds like you've had a busy day."

"Morning."

"What brings you here?"

"Oh, Jennifer…I was going to ask her to have lunch with me. Say, you want to join us?"

"Thanks McKay, but no. You two need to spend time alone together. If you're going to be a couple, you need to act more like a couple."

"I can't help it if she's busy all the time." Rodney shot back grinning.

John started to laugh but it turned into a painful groan seconds later. His healing shoulder didn't like that kind of movement; especially after physical therapy. Rodney moved closer placing his hand on Sheppard's good shoulder torn between trying to ease his friend's pain or yelling for medical help. Sheppard jolted away from the hand frightened at the thought of what happened to Rodney on the 'soul drinker' planet; of what he had done to his teammate. He didn't need a repeat of that incident here: Injured shoulder or not. That sudden jolt caused even more pain to shoot out through his shoulder, across his back and down his arm. Out of the corner of John's eye he could see that Rodney was cringing at the thought of causing him to startle and had pulled his comforting hand away as if it were burned. Rodney's attention was centered back on John and the pain his friend was in. Deciding that medical help was necessary Rodney headed for his comm link.

"Don't call anyone Rodney, I'm fine. Really. You remember what happened to you last time don't you?"

"Yeah do I. I never would have thought you could toss me over your shoulder like that."

John could feel his mask slipping. "Well, just don't sneak up or touch me and you'll be fine. Now go ask Keller to lunch and I'll check in with you later."

"Are you sure? I mean I could … Are you sure you're okay?"

John reached his good hand out and placed it on McKay's shoulder. "I'm sure McKay. Now go get the girl."

"Right. Yes. Get the girl. I can do that." Rodney turned still muttering to himself and John shook his head in utter amazement. After all these years and one failed relationship Rodney still had no social skills when it came to dating.

Sheppard waved his hand over the transporter door mechanism. When the doors opened he stepped inside and allowed the doors to shut and lock before anyone else wanted in. He groaned in agony and dropped to his knees. Tears ran down his face like a waterfall. No amount of drugs could ease this kind of pain. Every movement, every touch was like glass grinding into him. Once he managed to compose himself he pulled himself up off the floor; selected the living quarters and headed straight for his room.

oOo

Colonel Sheppard fell into a daily routine. His mornings were all about physical therapy on his shoulder: getting back his movement so he could one day soon lead missions off world with his team. As it was now, his teammates were paired with other gate teams who needed their special skills. Rodney had a mission to M13-882 he wanted to check out after his search of the Ancient data base returned information that M13-882 was used for laser research.

In the afternoons, Colonel Sheppard would hide out in Major Lorne's office. There was still a base to run, missions to coordinate, drills to run, security measures to oversee, disputes to arbitrate, schedules to prepare, maintenance issues and paperwork to be completed. The Doc told him to eat, rest, and concentrate on his rehab. That's all—nothing more. Light duty was weeks away if not months. But Sheppard was feeling guilty that his recovery was taking so long. He'd hide out in Lorne's office and do what he could to help Lorne and keep Atlantis running safe.

By the time evening rolled around Colonel Sheppard was exhausted and yet sleep didn't come easily for him. No matter how tired he was Colonel Sheppard spent most of the night in a state of flux. No matter what position: lying flat, sitting up, or on his side, he just couldn't get comfortable enough to fall into deep sleep. Even taking his prescribed pain meds hadn't helped. They did dull the constant throbbing ache but it wasn't enough. The last thing he wanted to do was start taking sleeping pills. He needed to be alert if trouble came knocking. So John just put up with the few hours he managed to get.

None of this bode well for base personnel. Colonel Sheppard's short fuse took many Marines and Scientists by surprise. Two scientists approached him in the mess hall one day to see if their mission had been put on the schedule. What they got in return was a half hour tirade on the policies and procedures of how to check whether or not a mission was scheduled. When the Colonel finished he left two stunned scientists and a mess hall full of people in utter silence. Scientists were not the only ones to catch the wrath of Colonel Sheppard. Several men and women under his command got a dressing down for minor infractions. Captain Jacobs's team didn't return with the correct number of latp'soh crates. Corporal Miller didn't put the correct number of blankets in Jumper Two. Lieutenant Butler was told to get a haircut and Airman Stockard got dressed down for dropping a batch of metal bowls in the kitchen he was putting away.

As the weeks progressed the base finally caught on to seeking out Major Lorne in the mornings if they had questions or concerns knowing full well the Colonel was in therapy until noon. Everyone on base was giving the Colonel a wide berth. They understood that his shoulder hurt even though the Colonel never said it. The Colonel's physical therapy sessions were getting more intense, more agonizing. Keller had scanned him twice trying to figure out a way to reduce all the pain the Colonel was experiencing. She had even upped his pain meds to no avail. The scans weren't of any help and she had to finally tell the Colonel he would have to work through it.

Dr. Addleman had the Colonel's arm in her grasp when the gate room alarms began blaring throughout Atlantis. Like any morning over the past several weeks she was deep into the Colonel's PT. When the gate alarms sounded the Colonel ran out of the room sprinting towards gate operations holding his left arm tight against his body. He left in such a hurry that he forgot to grab his sling. The adrenaline high he got with any emergency temporarily dulled the constant agony he felt in his shoulder.

The Marines stationed on the gate room floor were getting into defensive positions checking their weapons and flicking off the safeties when he arrived. All six Marines, three to a side, pointed their P-90's at the shield covered wormhole. Climbing the stairs he found Mr. Woolsey standing over Chuck's shoulder. "What's going on?" Sheppard breathed out heavily.

"We're not sure yet Colonel. We have an unknown off world gate activation and so far we've been unable to establish radio contact." Woolsey informed. "Amelia is cross referencing the gate address."

"Has …" John was about to say something when a thud impacted the shield. "Oh Christ… Chuck, are you scanning for radio signals all bandwidths and frequencies? Where's McKay and Zelenka!?" Colonel Sheppard shouted.

"They're on their way Sir." Chuck wanted to say he knew how to do his job but for right now he kept that statement to himself. "I'm not picking up any rad…wait…I'm getting something now on the low end frequencies." Chuck supplied.

"On speaker." Richard Woolsey stated while Chuck's fingers touched a few crystals on his console.

"Timin? Timin answer me. Are you through? Is it safe? Can I send the others?" The woman's voice, if you could call her that, sounded more like a child's voice. It broke off when there was screaming in the background. More voices, all overlapping, shouting, screaming, crying. Whatever was going on it wasn't good. "Marla we have to go. We can't wait any longer. They're getting too close. Please."

Sheppard turned to Chuck, with little patience in his voice, "have you isolated their frequency? Can I talk to them?"

"Yes Sir."

"Marla…this is Lt. Colonel John Sheppard can you hear me? Don't send anymore of your people through the gate. It's not safe. Marla, do you hear …"

"Hello? Let me speak to Timin. Timin…Timin answer me. What have you done with Timin?"

"Marla, Timin can't answer you. Can you tell me what your situation is?"

"I want to speak to Timin right now. The Wraith are on our world. We need to come through the portal. Timin!"

"No! No! Marla you can't come through the portal. If you do, you'll be killed like Timin. Marla, we have a shield on our gate to keep the Wraith from coming to our world. Timin…he ah…we didn't know Marla. We didn't know. Now listen, I need you to shut down your gate. I'm going to dial you right back and come to your world to help you, okay?"

Colonel Sheppard, Woolsey, the gate operation techs and the Marines down below along with late comers McKay and Zelenka couldn't help but hear the sorrow coming from Marla as she cried over the loss of Timin. Screams continued to filter through the background noise.

"Lorne, get five teams to the gate room now. We have Wraith attacking an unknown population. Sounds like kids."

"On their way, be there in two."

"Make is one." Tapping his comm link back to Marla's frequency Sheppard pleaded. "Marla, please shut down your gate. I'll send help. I promise."

The whole gate room seemed to be holding their breath. Down below Marines were bounding into the room from both sides.

"Marla …" Colonel Sheppard started to make his plea again when the gate shut down. "Dial them back! Now! We need to get to them before the Wraith have a chance to dial up the gate."

Chuck was already dialing the stargate the micro-second it shut down. Having Colonel Sheppard shouting in the control room was nerve wracking. The stargate finished dialing then whooshed into life. Down below six teams were geared up and ready to march through instead of five. Four of the men held anti-tank missile launchers. "Hold your positions!" John shouted down. "Marla, this is Colonel Sheppard, I'm ready to send help. I need you and everyone else to stand off to the side. I don't want you or anyone else to get hurt when my men come running through. My men will be dressed in black and carrying guns, large guns to kill the Wraith. Do you understand?"

"Yes. Please hurry." Marla pleaded her voice anxious and shaky.

Colonel Sheppard signaled for the teams to move out then started down the stairs himself. When he came to the first Marine guarding the gate room he took his weapon. Dressed in sweatpants, t-shirt and runners he was going to help, his shoulder pain long forgotten in the adrenalin high of a rescue. All that mattered now were the people on the other side of the wormhole and they sounded like children.

"Colonel Sheppard!" Woolsey barked out from the small balcony overlooking the gate room. "Stop. You're not cleared for off world duty." Woolsey quickly moved from the balcony to the stairs.

Colonel Sheppard stopped five feet from the blue shimmering puddle. "I have too. I told her I'd come."

By now, Woolsey was standing next to Colonel Sheppard. "I know you want to help, but this is not the way." Woolsey moved in a bit closer so the Marine standing nearby wouldn't overhear what he had to say. "Look at yourself Colonel. You can barely hold that weapon. You'd be a liability if you stepped through the stargate and you know it. Your men know what to do. You've trained them well. Let them do their jobs."

"I need…she needs…I promised." John uttered realizing just how much his gun arm was shaking under the stress. "Damn it!" Why now? Why is this happening to me? Frustration rose, his hand clinching the P-90 was shaking. Slamming the weapon into Woolsey's chest Colonel Sheppard activated the comm link he had with Marla on the planet.

Listening to the background noise for a minute he could hear the sounds of automatic gun fire, rocket launchers, whining darts, and crying children. Yelling into the radio he hoped the young girl would hear him. "Marla."

"Yes…I'm here." A scared voice came back to him.

"Marla I can't come to you right now, but I sent Major Lorne. He will see to it that you and the others are safe."

"He took men to our village. He left some men here to guard the gate."

"That's good Marla. The men he left will protect you. I promise. I'm going to talk to him right now and then I'll be back to talk to you, okay?"

"Okay."

"Major Lorne, report."

"Sir, we've taken down five darts in the process of reaching the village. More IP's are in the trees making their way to the stargate. I left Major Ryan in charge at the gate. I suggest you ask Teyla if she's up for house guests. The Wraith destroyed the village."

"Copy that, will do." The Colonel made his way over to Teyla who was monitoring the situation. Without even asking Teyla was already agreeing. "Major Ryan, what's the situation at the gate?"

"I've got two teams on perimeter. We have about three dozen or so children anywhere from infants to fifteen. The indigenous personnel are making their way to us from the western tree line."

"Teyla's agreed to take them in on New Athos. Once the gate shuts down I want your men to escort them to New Athos. Get those kids and people off that planet ASAP. Am I understood Major?"

"Yes Sir. Understood loud and clear. Sir."

Colonel Sheppard tapped his comm back to Marla's frequency. "Marla, my men told me that your village has been destroyed. I know a place, a nice place where you will be safe."

"What about the rest?"

"They'll come too when they get to the stargate but I'd feel better if we could get you to a safe place now; you and the others there with you. That was what you and Timin were trying to do. Right?"

"Yes. We activated a wrong symbol but we didn't have time to try again. That's why Timin volunteered to go through first. To make sure it was safe for the rest."

"I'm sorry about Timin, Marla." Sheppard expressed his regrets. John added one more life to his tally. "You'll love the Athosian's."

oOo

The two hundred plus lives Atlantis saved three weeks ago seemed like a lifetime ago. The Drii spent a week on New Athos until a decision was made on where they wanted to live. Atlantis gave them a list of seven planets that were known safe while the Drii checked a few they knew about. One was the planet that Marla and Timin had been trying to reach. Atlantis helped them get settled, helped with building and planting as did the Athosians. It was a bitter-sweet end to the Wraith culling. The only remembrance John had of the whole incident were a few photographs taken by Lorne. One was the group of children Marla and Timin had been getting to safety, one of the remaining populous of the Drii on their new home world and one of Marla by herself. A young, yet brave 12 year old girl with short dark hair and dark eyes.

Colonel Sheppard was in his quarters prowling. It had been a total of six weeks now of physical therapy and John still couldn't raise his left shoulder or arm without stabbing pain. The pain was still unbelievable and at times unbearable yet somehow deep down inside him he found the strength to endure it day after day after day. Dr. Addleman was doing everything her training had taught her yet it wasn't enough.

The last time his shoulder was pierced he was back on duty by now. His slow progress this time was scaring him. More often then not John found himself thinking about the 'what ifs', not liking the answers his sub-conscious provided.

On his pass by his desk he swept his arm across the top sending everything crashing onto the floor. Lamp, books, picture frames, laptop, reports, the works. A frustrated growl and heavy breathing accompanied his belongings. That's for being weak!

Chest heaving John continued his prowling. Looking at the mess he'd made just made him madder at himself, at the whole situation he currently found himself in. Damn infection! Damn my shoulder! Deciding that clearing off the desk wasn't satisfying enough John pushed over his nightstand. That's for the pain! For the pitying looks! Another lamp went flying and more glass shattered adding to the melee of destruction. Damn Eenovarians. But it still wasn't enough. Still not satisfying. The rush of adrenalin he was getting gave John the strength to hurl his skateboard across the room one-handed. That's for Timin! Marla, the other kids, the Drii! John took notice as the nose of the board landed dead center on his laptop. But that wasn't enough either—not yet. Damn Wraith! Couch cushions went flying next: Damn you Keller for waiting! Damn you Chuck for not raising the shield fast enough! Damn Woolsey and his regulations! As John picked up the next cushion, I hate PT! I hate Addleman's constant encouragement! Grunting, groaning and struggling with one arm John levered the couch over with a guttural aarrrgghhhh! That's for all the yelling I've done! John needed more destruction. He stood heaving from exertion eyeing his room for his next prey. Choosing his closet as the next victim to succumb to his rampage he began tossing clothes. This is for not being able to go with my team! When his clothes were thrown every which direction he started on his dresser. Damn you Rodney! Once the dresser had been emptied and drawers tossed about John pulled down his curtains. Damn Ancient technology! The five iron from his golf bag sailed through the air followed by his driver. Damn techno-phobic aliens! Two more golf clubs sailed through the air in another direction. Why me? Why now? John prowled his room stomping on anything in his path. He pushed his desk chair over and followed it with his desk. I'm sorry! The small refrigerator he kept cold beers, water, and pudding cups for Rodney in was next to reap his anger. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

When John's rampage came to an end only two things in his quarters remained intact: his bed and his bathroom. If it wasn't nailed down he'd thrown it, smashed it and stomped on it. If it was nailed down he dislodged it before he threw it. Sitting on the undisturbed bed hot angry tears flowed freely down his face. Damn it! Once John managed to reign in his emotions and get his labored breathing under control he stared blankly at the devastation he'd managed to incur. It shouldn't be taking this long!

Berating himself for pulling down the curtains, John realized he'd have to suck it up come morning. It was approaching twenty-one hundred hours when John had a scheduled check in with Major Lorne. Major Lorne had taken the Colonel aside about a week and a half ago. Summing up his courage Lorne told his CO, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to lay low for a while. Lorne promised to keep the Colonel in the loop via e-mail. It was in the Colonel's best interest, which was Lorne's way of saying 'you're screwing up Colonel'.

Walking—or more like stumbling over to where the laptop lay John used his foot to kick the skateboard and a leaking beer can out of the way, then brushed the broken glass off, before picking it up. Hope it still works.

Sitting back down on the only clean surface, his bed, John opened the laptop. There was a fizzle, snap and some cracking noise before a loud pop. "Looks like I need a new one," he said to his room. Gathering his courage, he tucked the laptop under his right arm leaving his room. Without a second glance John sought out Radek. He just couldn't face the third degree that McKay was sure to give him.

Finding Radek also found Rodney. Just my luck. Should have known they'd be together. Plastering on his carefree façade he entered the lab. "Hi guys."

"Colonel Sheppard what brings you…?" Radek stopped short his jubilant greeting after a sweeping glance over the Colonel. The Colonel's face was flushed, his shoulder's sagged, and it looked like he hadn't slept in days.

"Oh…ah…I need a new laptop Radek. This one's not working for some reason. I was wondering if you could copy all the data from this one to the other. If you could I'd really appreciate it."

Radek took the proffered laptop turning it over in his hands a few times taking in its appearance. The dent was the most obvious as were the recent scorch marks. Glass shards sprinkled out here and there as Radek turned it. And there was a distinct odor of alcohol. Looking up at the Colonel, the Colonel just shrugged his one good shoulder. "I dropped it." He finally admitted.

"I'll just…" Radek pointed to the laptop then the door. His exit from the lab was swift. No way did Radek want to be in the lab when McKay started to harangue the Colonel about how Earth technology was not that easily replaced.

Rodney watched the whole exchange without uttering a single comment. The dent in the laptop was not hard to miss nor was Colonel Sheppard's appearance. He looked like he'd been through a tornado.

"You know, I think I've had enough power relay equations for one day. What'd ya say we go grab Teyla and Ronon and watch a movie? We haven't done that in a long time. We'll use my laptop." Rodney was already shutting down his programs. Then he grabbed the black laptop off the bench and started for the door. Halfway there Rodney realized that John wasn't following. "Are you coming or not?"

John looked up, "aren't you going to say anything about…"

"You dropped it. Shit happens. Radek will have your new one ready to go by morning. Now come on, movie, popcorn, more explaining Earth's idiosyncrasies to our two alien teammates. Should be a fun night."

John was so confused with Rodney's behavior that he could have said the Wraith were attacking Atlantis right then and he wouldn't have cared.

When John fell in step beside Rodney, Rodney called his two teammates and told them of the plan. Ronon was to get the popcorn and enough for all of them. The twosome joined up with Ronon and Teyla in the hall just outside crew quarters. Each was caring a large bowl of popcorn. Rodney couldn't help but grab a handful, the smell was too much to resist.

"Sheppard's got the drinks in his room plus all the good movies. Let's go." Rodney, Teyla and Ronon started towards John's quarters which were just a few doors away.

John's befuddled mind finally caught up to his surroundings and the current topic of conversation. "No!" He shouted at the three of them. Eyes wide with panic. "Let's use the rec room, or…or…your room McKay."

"Rec rooms busy." Ronon chimed in.

"Can't use mine the plumbing is backed up again. And I don't want to go to Ronon's room because we end up sitting on the floor. It does a number on my back and Teyla, well I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you have too many candles burning. It takes away from the popcorn aroma. Your room is the better choice Sheppard."

"My feelings are not hurt Rodney. Thank you for being honest with me. In the future I will consider your words."

The threesome headed off once again for John's quarters. John lagged behind trying to come up with a last minute good reason why they should find somewhere else to go but his slow thinking brain couldn't come up with one. Even thinking 'stay closed, stay closed, stay closed' to his door when Rodney palmed the door control didn't work. He didn't seem to be in Atlantis' favor.

John's three teammates stood at the door's threshold absorbing the mass destruction that had taken place within.

"Hey look, the bed seems okay." Rodney blurted out before carefully making his way across the floor to the clear, clean bed, picking up a chocolate power bar along the way. "I call headboard." Just then he flopped down shoving a pillow up behind his back.

Ronon entered next followed by Teyla. Neither said a word. John stepped inside enough for the door to close behind him embarrassed that someone passing by in the hall might look in. John was even more embarrassed that his three teammates were carefully making their way through the rubble. Ronon was in the process of setting right a nightstand so the laptop could be viewed by the four of them.

"Guys."

"John, you should sit next to Rodney. Use the headboard to lean against. Ronon and I will sit at this end."

"That's it! What is wrong with you guys? What is going on here?" John shouted. He'd been doing a lot of that lately, hence his XO's warning to lie low. John couldn't seem to extinguish his flash boiling point when things didn't go right or people didn't move fast enough for his liking.

"I thought that was obvious. We're going to watch a movie." Rodney commented before his hand dipped into the popcorn bowl. "Well as soon as you find one for us to watch that is. Anything you want, your preference tonight Sheppard."

John gave each of his teammates a stern thorough look. If this was a joke they were doing a really good at keeping a straight face. "Surely you can see something is amiss here guys. Aren't you going to ask? Aren't you the least bit curious about what happened in here?" John waved his hand around indicating the room.

"Would you like for us to ask?" Teyla inquired.

Stunned by her calmness, John was completely thrown off balance, in light of the disaster that surrounded them. "No. Yes. Maybe." John rubbed the back of his neck, "I don't know."

Getting Colonel John Sheppard to talk took extraordinary talent and extreme measures, two things that John's team was very good at when they wanted to be.

"John, come sit down. You look exhausted." Teyla began. "Maybe you should tell us what happened here. You have been avoiding us as well as avoiding talking about what happened to you."

John was tired but the thought of talking scared him too. His shoulder twinged sending pain radiating down his arm and back, his adrenalin high long gone. He needed to take some of the pressure off it that was for sure. Slowly he shuffled through the destruction towards his bed.

Teyla was patting Rodney's legs getting him to move without saying a word. "Ronon, see if you can find another pillow still…intact, John will need it to rest his arm on."

Ronon righted the upturned couch, set up the empty golf bag, and looked under the shredded ten thousand year old draperies before he found a pillow that fit Teyla's criteria. He passed it over to Teyla who was insisting that John lie down. Sheppard's state of mind was so off that he hadn't even given a thought to arguing with Teyla who was mothering him. He hated being mothered.

Stretched out on his bed with a pillow tucked up under his elbow to keep further pressure off his injured shoulder John began to relax a small amount. Teyla sat on the side near his knee. Rodney, being uprooted from the headboard of the bed, decided to take over the nightstand. Ronon sat down at the foot of the bed.

"Comfortable?" She asked.

"Yeah. Thanks."

"Do you wish to explain what took place in here?"

John's face pinked a little more at the embarrassment of the whole situation. "Not really, no."

Teyla was holding John's hand while stroking his forearm. The mood in the room was of calm understanding.

"I'm surprised it took you this long Sheppard. Most people would have cracked up weeks ago. I've never met anyone who could hold in so much pain and frustration for so long."

"I agree with Rodney. I just wished you would have come to us John before you destroyed your room. Perhaps we could have helped you talk out what was bothering you."

"Not his style." Ronon added. "Warriors don't talk, they cope or they die."

"Ronon's right. Not my style."

Rodney chimed in again. "Can't say that I blame you, I don't like talking either. No offence Teyla. At least now that it's out of your system the whole base can relax and breathe a little easier. Everybody's been walking on eggshells not knowing when Mount Sheppard was going to explode."

"Rodney." Teyla admonished. Had Ronon been sitting closer he would have reached out and head slapped McKay.

John was startled to find out that not only his teammates expected him to break down, but the whole base did too. Had he really been that bad? He tried to keep his frustration at how slow his progress was in rehab to himself, but his constant shouting and short temper must have given him away.

"Well it's the truth. I blame myself…if I hadn't…and I know Jennifer blames herself. Just look at him Teyla, really look. Even lying there doing nothing but breathing is hurting him. But does Colonel Stoic ask for his pain meds…no. Instead he just lies there like nothings wrong when the whole city can see otherwise. It's irritating. That's all I'm saying on the subject."

"Not your fault. Not the Docs fault either. It's mine." John weakly murmured out from his exhaustive state of being.

Rodney snorted, "not only are you in pain, but you're delusional as well."

Teyla and Ronon both looked at Colonel Sheppard; really looked and she realized Rodney was right. John had pain lines etched around his eyes, his brow was furrowed and small lines, almost invisible lined his mouth. John was certainly in pain and exhausted.

"John, where is your medication? There is no need for you to suffer like this."

Rodney was right, Teyla was right, Ronon was right, John knew that. He pushed through the pain everyday to the point of collapse. Sleepless nights hadn't helped either. It was so hard to get comfortable no matter how exhausted he made himself. His shoulder just wasn't getting any better. The angst of it only escalated his frustration level more every day. The first time he was impaled he was back to full duty within six weeks. This time was definitely taking longer. He was giving everything he had and more to his therapy sessions.

"Bathroom."

Ronon jumped up, "I'll get it." Coming back Ronon passed the pills and water off to Teyla then gently lifted his friend's head and shoulder up enough to take the meds. When John was finished Ronon eased him back down.

That brief movement forced out a grunt of pain. "Rest John." Teyla cooed using her thumb to wipe away the wetness that ran down John's face. "Rodney and Ronon are going to make a path to the bathroom for you. I do not want you to fall or step on something causing more injury during the night. All you have to do right now is rest and let the medication help."

As Teyla explained, the other two men in the room began clearing a path. She continued to sit by John holding his hand, rubbing his arm and cooing peaceful thoughts until John's breathing evened out and he slept.

oOo

Stepping out into the hallway, "I do not like the idea of leaving John's room like it is. I believe if we are quiet we should be able to clean up the room while he sleeps."

Though Teyla expressed her concern as a statement, it really was more like an order her two teammates would not chance to ignore. Moving back inside the three worked silently righting overturned furniture, picking up clothes, putting golf clubs back in their bag, books back on tables, supplies back in the closet, DVD's in a pile and items no longer of any value into the trash.

Teyla took all of John's clothes, after she shook out the glass and wood splinters, to get laundered. On her way back she stopped off at her room and selected a warm blanket. She didn't like the way John whimpered in his exhaustive sleep or the way he kept shifting. By the time she returned the room was mostly back to normal. Rodney was sweeping up the last vestiges of the broken glass.

Teyla ever so gently laid the blanket over John. He stirred but didn't wake. Its weighted warmth pushed him down further into a deep healing sleep. John was so deeply asleep not even the door chime could raise him. Ronon was the closest to the door, when it opened he reached out, grabbed whoever it was and yanked them into the room his other hand covering their mouth. The whole process took less than five seconds from start to finish.

Radek tried to yelp. His glasses sat askew on his face. Teyla made sure she had Radek's full attention before Ronon removed his hands. Pointing to the sleeping man in the room she held her finger to her mouth; the universal sign for 'be quiet'.

"I came to give Colonel new laptop." Radek whispered. Taking his first look around the room Radek found it sparsely furnished. The poster of Johnny Cash that had held honors over the bed was missing as were the lamps and several picture frames he was accustomed to seeing.

"This late?" Rodney scolded.

"It does not matter the hour. I am sure the Colonel will be pleased to find it when he wakes. My concern is what to do with the windows. Colonel Sheppard is exhausted and in need of much rest. I fear the sun will wake him much too early."

"Give me a minute; I think I can figure something out." Rodney opened his black laptop setting up the parameters of his theory. Radek peered over his shoulder.

Whispering softly, "what happened to drapes and other furnishings?" Radek inquired.

"Sheppard's redecorating." McKay snapped back. "Okay, we'll need: a ladder, black cloth, tape and more power bars." McKay informed his accomplices that had just increased by one.

John continued to sleep as morning turned to afternoon. The team had spent the night in John's room watching over him. Teyla was becoming concerned when John hadn't woken or even stirred. She had watched the rise and fall of the blanket for hours. When Ronon took over watch around mid-morning Teyla sought out Dr. Keller to ease her mind. Dr. Keller did a quick check on the sleeping Colonel then explained that everything was okay. The Colonel had truly exhausted himself with his physical therapy and the added responsibility of commanding the military contingent. Teyla vowed that for the next week that would change. Major Lorne was most capable and while Colonel Sheppard was on medical leave the Major had full authority anyway. Sheppard was always thinking of how to protect others. He more often than not failed to take care of himself.

John woke mid-afternoon to hushed voices talking somewhere in his room. He could make out that McKay was berating someone, while Teyla kept telling him to keep his voice down. He felt that she was close. A smile spread across his face as he laid there slowly waking up.

"Ronon is bringing you some food John. Rodney is here to assist you with your shower and dressing. I want to change the bedding."

"Morning, Teyla."

Teyla smiled, "Afternoon, John."

"Really?"

"Yes." Teyla confirmed.

"Must have been your blanket. That's the best sleep I've had in weeks."

"If my blanket allows you to rest then I am most grateful for the gift Charin made for me." Teyla turned to where Rodney was quietly sitting at the desk. "Rodney, assist John. Now please."

"It's okay Teyla I can manage on my own. Rodney's probably got a lot to do."

"You're wrong Sheppard. I've already berated my minions, assigned them all safe projects for the day. Answered all my e-mails, checked on my projects, downloaded several new games to your laptop and organized it by color-coding. I'm free unless Atlantis decides to start sinking. Now come on, chop chop, up and at 'em, rise and shine and all that. Teyla gave us both an order."

With Rodney and Teyla's help he was sitting up on the edge of his bed. Looking around he saw his room had been put back together…somewhat. Blankets were duct taped to the windows at odd angles.

"Duct tape?"

"Hey, if it worked for MacGyver it certainly can work for me."

"This…" Teyla swept her hand at the windows. "…was only temporary. Now that you are alert John, we will hang new curtains. I secured a new set from another room earlier this morning. We did not wish to wake you last night. You needed to rest."

oOo

John eased his throbbing left shoulder into the protective sling. It was the end of week eleven being off duty. Being grounded for so long was not helping his recovery. His physical therapy was taking too long. The pain was lasting too long. When he got impaled on M33-Y24 by the Soul Drinkers his recovery had taken half this long. Even with the tissue damage, massive blood loss and surgery to repair the damage he was back to work within six weeks. It was the pain that was slowing down his recovery. However, during his PT John never let the pain stop him from doing what Dr. Addleman instructed no matter how much he wanted too.

Granted this time the spear was at least an inch thick compared to the quarter inch thick rod. He'd had two surgeries ten days apart, fever, infection and nine weeks of PT so far and he was still no where near being ready for active duty. Eleven weeks total off duty. Eleven weeks stuck in the city. Eleven weeks with no flying. Eleven weeks of relentless pain. According to his physical therapist Dr. Addleman, John was far below the norm. Her perusal of normal progress charts confirmed that Colonel Sheppard should be past the pain at this stage of his rehab.

As John made his way to his room he rehashed his latest conversation with the pretty Dr. Addleman.

"The muscle was torn rather badly. Dr. Lipsky, the orthopedic surgeon and Dr. Keller have both done an amazing job repairing the newest damage, but it didn't help that your shoulder was not completely healed from the last time, nor that the reparative surgery was delayed for ten days. It's going to take more time and someone other than me."

"What're you saying Doc?"

"I'm saying its time that you see a specialist. I've conferred with Drs. Keller and Lipsky about your progress. The chronic pain you're still having and the slow progress you've made over the last two months are big indicators. Red flags if you will that your shoulder injury needs a specialists. It also doesn't help your recovery that you can't seem to stop working."

"I have people who depend on me Doc to save their lives. Regardless if I'm not on the active duty list or not. I have a job to do, just like you."

"I understand that, but it hasn't helped your recovery. We are all in agreement over this. I can recommend three specialists but they're all on Earth."

"If I go to Earth, see these specialists, what are my chances?"

"I'm not an odds maker Colonel. You're chances of gaining full mobility is strictly up to how much effort you put into it. From past experience I know that you'll give your rehab 110 percent plus just like you've been doing for the past nine weeks. In my report to Mr. Woolsey it's my recommendation that you go to Earth and see a specialist. You should be hearing something by the end of next week. Until then, we'll keep working. All of us here on Atlantis have done all we can, including you Colonel. I thought you should be aware."

Damn, his shoulder still hurt.

I'm screwed, John thought. This injury was affecting more than him, it was affecting his whole team. Last week his team took care of him after his little episode; giving his body some of the much needed rest it deserved. Teyla made sure he ate and rested. She also made sure that John had no contact with Major Lorne or Mr. Woolsey for that week as well.

Lost in thought he made his way back to his quarters for a shower. He had a lot scheduled this afternoon. The pain med Dr. Addleman gave him was finally kicking in taking the harsh edge to his pain down a few notches. He managed to get his left arm out of the sling with minimal whimpering. After his shower John checked in with the control room before heading to Major Lorne's office.

oOo

Sheppard's door chime woke him up. He'd spent the afternoon working out on the dock directing the unloading of supplies from the Daedalus. She'd arrived two days ago and after briefing Col. Caldwell of the past six weeks events it was time to unload the new supplies. What little Colonel Sheppard could do to help still managed to suck down his energy so he figured he could take ten minutes to rest. Checking his bedside clock it was 17:43 hours; most likely one of his teammates coming to get him for dinner. He hadn't meant to sleep this long. John really wasn't in the mood for dinner. Or company. His door chimed again.

He swung his legs over the side of his bed. Getting up he stumbled over his boots that he'd left in the middle of the floor which jarred his left shoulder. "Ah crap." His sling was draped over a nearby chair. He wasn't in the habit of wearing it when he rested. John's right hand immediately went to his left bicep holding it firmly to alleviate the sudden ache. Reaching the door he swiped his hand over the sensor surprised to find Mr. Woolsey on the other side.

"May I come in?"

"Sure." John stepped back then headed for the chair grabbing up the sling with the immediate intent of putting it back on.

"I just received a communication regarding you Colonel in our weekly check-in with Earth."

"I thought Addleman's recommendation would take longer with Air Force red tape and all." John had his arm now back in the sling. He sat while adjusting it.

"Because of your position here Colonel, it was streamlined. The SGC and IOA want you fit for duty as soon as possible. I seconded that motion."

"When do I leave?"

"Zero eight hundred tomorrow. I was informed to expend the energy to get you to Earth as soon as possible. You have orders to report to Travis Air Force Base in California for a medical evaluation."

"I thought I was supposed to see a specialist first. Why the review board?"

"You will be seeing a specialist. Once you are evaluated specialized physical therapy will be available. I'm sorry Colonel."

The unspoken if you pass the evaluation that is hung in the air between them. John knew his days were numbered long before Dr. Addleman sent off her recommendation. Actually, he was surprised they had allowed him ten weeks, twelve if he counted the time he spent in the infirmary with fever. Three months was a long time to have your military commander out of commission.

John looked up, what was Woolsey sorry for? He had nothing to do with this. He was just following orders. "Me too." John paused giving him time to say what he needed to next. "If anyone asks tell them I've been called to Earth for meetings."

"And if they ask when you'll return?"

"Tell them the truth. You don't know. If you'll excuse me I have some packing to do."

Woolsey tipped his head and left. John sunk lower in his desk chair, his fist clinched, and thrown head back staring at the ceiling.

'We really screwed up this time John.'

"Shut up. Don't you think I know that!"

'I like it here. It's the first place that we've called home. Not to mention we have a family here. What are we going to tell Rodney, Teyla and Ronon?'

"I don't know—nothing right now. I like it here too."

'There was something about Atlantis from that first day.'

"I knew I'd found my home."

'You know that if we go back to Earth we'll never see Atlantis again. Never see our home or our family again.'

"Don't think like that! We'll be back. I'll make sure of it."

John pulled himself together. Pulling his military black duffle from the closet shelf he started tossing in clothes: sweatpants, t-shirts, socks, underclothes, trainers. Then he headed to the bathroom to pack up his kit, leaving it on the side of the vanity until after he showered in the morning. Standing in the doorway of the bathroom John looked around his room committing it to memory. When his eyes scanned the picture of his team sitting on his desk he walked over, picked it up and put it in his duffle. Next was the picture of him and Evil Knievel followed by a picture of Torren.

'Don't forget the pictures in the dresser.'

"Oh…right."

John sauntered to his dresser. The top drawer was where he kept pictures of the Atlantis personnel. Mostly candid shots he gathered over the years taken at parties, off world trade festivals, and even Athosian celebrations. He had pictures of Elizabeth, Ford, Sumner, the first Athosian Harvest Festival, the Air Force verses Marines football game from two years ago and many more. He gathered those up and put into his bag as well.

John realized he'd been talking to himself. He shook his head and closed the duffle with a final mutter. "Good one John, talking to yourself. If I don't get booted out for not passing the physical then I sure as hell will get booted out for being crazy."

oOo

"Welcome to Earth Colonel Sheppard." General Hank Landry stated from the bottom of the metal ramp.

John had his duffle bag slung over his right shoulder as he made his way down the ramp. After his shower John had warred with himself as to which uniform he should wear, his Atlantis uniform or his Air Force uniform. Air Force won. His left arm was secured in the sling. When John reached the bottom and stepped down he let his duffle slide off his shoulder to the floor in order to give General Landry a military salute. "Sir."

"After you're cleared by Dr. Lam there's a transport waiting to take you to Peterson. We're holding the flight to Travis for you. Walter here will have your itinerary and personal documents waiting for you before you leave."

"Yes Sir."

"Airman, please escort Colonel Sheppard to our infirmary."

"Yes Sir." The Airman bent down to pick-up Sheppard's duffle as he said, "Follow me Sir."

John stopped the young Airman from picking up his bag. "I got it. Lead the way Airman." Hefting the black bag back onto his right shoulder he stayed two paces behind the fast moving Airman. The last thing John needed right now was a collision.

John allowed Dr. Lam to take the mandatory 'welcome to earth' blood sample and vitals. This whole situation just sucked. It was damn bad luck that he'd gotten impaled a second time. A one in a million shot and he was paying the ultimate price.

When Dr. Lam was done poking and prodding John asked, "Would it be possible to get something for my headache? I've got a long flight ahead of me."

John reached the mouth of the mountain; his transport to Peterson idling just a few feet away. Master Chief Harriman held out a brown envelope. "Colonel, in here is your ID, a credit card, your wallet with $100 cash in various denominations and a pre-programmed cell phone. If you would sign here for me." Walter pointed to his clipboard.

John tucked the brown envelope in his sling so he could use his right hand to sign. "This is your itinerary Sir. Johnson will take you to Peterson where a C-130 will take you to Travis. You'll meet a Major Doctor Carver upon arrival. I've secured a BOQ for you. Lieutenant Baker will be your driver for the duration of your stay. If there is anything else that I can do, just let me know. I'm speed dial number 3 on your cell."

"Thank you Master Chief I appreciate everything you've done." John stuffed the itinerary in next to the brown envelope before picking up his duffle bag. He signed out one more time as he passed the security check point. Tossing his bag in through the opened back door of his transport John climbed into the SUV after it. Dr. Lam had given him something better than just Tylenol. John could feel the pain med starting to work. Closing his eyes he leaned his head back onto the headrest. He figured he'd have about an hour to rest before the next leg of his journey.

oOo

"Lieutenant Baker…right?" John stated reaching the bottom of the lowered C-130 ramp.

"Yes Sir. Lieutenant Sam Baker. If you'll follow me I'll introduce you to Dr. Carver." Lieutenant Baker took Sheppard's duffle and the two men walked across the tarmac to the waiting jeep. The California weather was dry and seasonably warm. "Colonel Sheppard this is Major Ryan Carver. Dr. Carver this is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard."

John held out his hand taking Dr. Carver's in return. "Nice to meet you Colonel Sheppard, welcome to Travis."

"Nice to meet you though I can't say I'm glad to be here under the circumstances."

"That's yet to be determined, Colonel. I'll give you a fair evaluation." Dr. Carver stated sweeping his hand towards the jeep. "Shall we?"

John nodded and got in. "Doctor, do you meet all your patients on the tarmac?"

"Not usually, no. Just the important ones."

oOo

Lieutenant Baker was at his door precisely at zero eight thirty ready to take him to David Grant USAF Medical Center to meet up with Dr. Carver. Last night had been spent getting situated in the base officers quarters that Master Chief Harriman had set up for him. Then the Lieutenant and Doctor decided it was time for dinner. After dinner in the commissary the two showed John around the base including the training grounds, which had a quarter mile track, the PX, library, which had computers available, and of course the hospital.

Throughout the whole sight-seeing tour and dinner neither Colonel Sheppard nor Dr. Carver brought up his medical situation. For that John was grateful. Dr. Carver had only mentioned during the sight seeing tour that he was planning on putting John through his paces. So when they dropped John off at his BOQ at the end of the evening, he was told to dress accordingly.

"Right on time Baker. Let's go." John said easing into the jeep. He was wearing sweat pants, t-shirt and trainers. The same as if he and Ronon were going for a run.

Baker dropped him off at the main door. Instructed him to go to the third floor and said he'd be back later before driving off.

John found Dr. Carver's office with ease. "Good Morning, Colonel. I believe you have some records for me." John dipped into his jogging pants pocket and pulled out two data sticks. On one Dr. Keller had downloaded a censored version of his entire medical file and on the other one was his most recent injury and physical fitness reports from Dr. Addleman. "Have a seat won't you? Give me a few minutes to review these before we begin."

Instead of sitting down, John walked around the modest office stopping to look at photographs, academic accreditations, inspirational posters and a few of the pamphlets the Doc had laying around. He found himself staring out the window which overlooked the community that made up Travis AFB becoming totally lost in his thoughts.

John figured by now McKay and everyone else knew he was on Earth. And knowing McKay like he did he was sure he had stormed into Woolsey's office demanding to know why. Then McKay would fire off a poison e-mail citing what a jerk he was for not telling him he was leaving and why. At that thought a small smile turned the corners of John's lips upward. He missed Atlantis—his home—and it hadn't been but a few hours. He missed the connection of his family and of the support he had there. Atlantis was more his home than Earth had ever been. Atlantis was his family. And speaking of family, John thought he should call his brother Dave while he was here on Earth. Just to check in and see how things were going. Over the last couple of years they had managed to set aside some of their differences.

"Colonel." Dr. Carver said from his desk. When he got no response he tried again. "Colonel Sheppard."

John continued to stare out the window at nothing; at everything. Caught up in 'what ifs', 'should haves' and the 'boy am I screwed' thoughts. Dr. Carver having no verbal luck getting the Lieutenant Colonel's attention went to stand by the man. Peering out the window he hoped to see what was holding his patients interest. Not even his approach or close proximity tore the Colonel from his thoughts. Finally Dr. Carver laid a gentle hand on Sheppard's good shoulder while speaking lightly. "Colonel Sheppard…are you alright?"

Feeling a hand touch his shoulder caused John to flinch slightly and jerk away. At least it wasn't his normal reflex action that would have had the offending hand and body it was attached to flying through the air to land flat on their back. Ever since his mission to M33-Y24 where he tossed Rodney over his shoulder in a waking dream, John had tried to curb his military ingrained attack response.

"Sorry Doc, you startled me."

"Are you alright Colonel? You seemed miles away."

John gave a huff of laughter. If you only knew. "Yeah…guess I was. So…"

"So…let's get started." Dr. Carver turned and John followed the doc into a physical therapy room just down the hall from his office. "I want to start with some basic range of motions. You'll be evaluated according to Air Force standards for those soldiers stationed in a combat zone. Then I'd like to take a few x-rays, get an MRI and maybe an ultrasound. Your medical file was extensively edited. I don't suppose you could tell me what type of projectile impaled you?"

As the Doc outlined what was going to happen, John began removing his sling. "The first time or the second time?"

Carver looked on with concern. "Both."

"Where and who are classified; but the 'what' I can tell you is the first time it was a metal rod about a quarter of an inch in diameter. It first penetrated a door before skewering my shoulder. I had to literally throw myself off the rod for safety reasons at the time. Lost a ton of blood and ended up with a transfusion. The second time it was a native's spear about an inch around that got me pretty much in the same location. The first time I didn't have my vest on not that it would have done any good with the amount of force behind the rod. The second time the spear was in a downward arc at the end of its trajectory and managed to hit me in the one place where there was no Kevlar. As for how the Doc got it out I honestly don't want to know."

"I see. Your base must be remote I take it."

"Yeah you could say that." Three hundred million light years remote to be exact, he said to himself.

"Okay Colonel hands down at your side. I want you to slowly raise your right arm out to your side and over your head in a half circle motion."

John finished working the sling off his left arm while listening intently to what the Doctor was saying. "Wrong shoulder Doc."

"Yes I know. Bear with me."

John did as he was told. Moving his right arm out and up over his head in a slow sweeping arc.

"Good. Now your left arm. Slowly. Stop at the first sign of pain even if you think you can raise it further. Then we'll take it slowly from there. Understand?"

It was embarrassing to say the least. Just having his arm hang down by his side not moving was painful. "I understand Doc. And ah…as for the pain…" John left the sentence incomplete.

"It's painful in this position?" John nodded to the Doc. "Okay. I wasn't expecting that after ten weeks. Do you think you could try and move it slowly out but stop when it gets to be too much."

John took a deep breath in before slowly lifting his left arm away from his side. The pain was there but so far manageable. The Doctor split his vision between the slowly rising arm and the pain lines evident on the Colonel's face. When Colonel Sheppard squeezed his eyes shut the Doctor knew it was time to call a halt. Looking at the slow moving arm it was now in the neighborhood of about 30 degrees. Dr. Carver knew the minimum dexterity for those in combat zones was 90 degrees for just this range of motion.

Somehow the Doc had a feeling Colonel Sheppard already knew this was not good enough. "All right Colonel, stop." Carver reached out and held the injured limb gently until the Colonel was able to bring it back in against his chest.

John panted from the exertion. "Sorry Doc."

"Nothing to be sorry about Colonel, give yourself a few minutes before we try the next one." The Doc went to a nearby table and poured a glass of water.

John drank it down in two large gulps. A few minutes passed by before John said he was ready for the next exercise.

"This time extend your right arm out in front of you shoulder level. I want you to keep your arm parallel to the floor while moving it out to the side and as far back as you can go."

John nodded his understanding and held is right arm out in front of him. Sweeping it out to the side and back.

"Good. Between 110 and 115 I'd guess. Now let's try with the left."

John managed somewhere between 20 and 25 degrees. Not good enough to pass a review board. Over the next couple of hours Dr. Carver had John doing a variety of range of motion exercises. Evaluating each one as his patient did them against the Air Force standard guidelines. Not all range of motion exercises were limited to his upper torso. The Doc took him through similar exercises for his legs, hips and knees. Before they left the exercise room John's hand strength was tested using a handgrip dynamometer. Dr. Carver demonstrated the correct hold and position of the meter stressing that no other body movement was allowed. Once John squeezed the grip the Doc counted off five seconds. His right hand measured in the excellent category of greater than 64 kilograms. John's left hand measured a disappointing, very poor score of less than 40 kilograms.

For the next couple of hours John endured pain staking x-rays and an MRI. Dr. Carver also tested the nerve endings which he thought might be the cause of all of Colonel Sheppard's pain issues.

John was struggling a bit as he put his overtaxed left arm back into the sling. "Doc, do you know if the PX sells Tylenol?"

"They don't. But I can get you something if you need it."

"I do. This was worse then my physical therapy sessions back on base." John admitted. "I don't think there's a single joint on my body that doesn't ache right now."

Dr. Carver went to a non-descript cupboard on the far wall of the exam room, took a key out from his pocket and unlocked the door. Finding what he wanted he locked the cabinet door before pouring another glass of water and offering his relief to the Colonel.

After the Colonel swallowed down the meds the Doctor sat down across from him and begin talking. "I'm going to be blunt Colonel. You seem like the type of man who would appreciate honesty. From what I've seen here today I would say you've been in therapy for mere weeks…not months. That leads me to two possible conclusions: one, you're not working hard enough on your rehab maybe in the hopes of getting reassigned to safer duty. Or two, you're working hard but the damage done to the tissues, muscles and nerves after being impaled twice are extensive. I'm leaning towards option two. From the tests we performed today I can confidently say you have mononeuropathy nerve damage: caused by inflammation and compression of the surrounding nerves and tissues."

"Then you'd be right Doc, at least about the working hard part. I like where I'm stationed. I'm the commanding officer there and I want to go back. I have people who depend on me to protect them and a very important job to do. This mononeu… whatever, was it caused by the injury or by how the injury was taken care of afterwards?" John saw Dr. Carver tense at his question. "Hey…no. That's not why I'm asking Doc. I'd go to hell and back for Dr. Keller, or any of the Docs we have on base. They're the best of the best. Dr. Keller pulled me back from the brink of death more times then I can count. I was just asking for myself."

Dr. Carver relaxed somewhat, still apprehensive about talking about another doctor's work when that doctor wasn't around to defend their actions. "From what I read in your medical file had Dr. Keller tried to repair the muscle and nerve damage during your first surgery you most likely wouldn't be sitting here. You'd be six feet under in your families plot back home. When you went into shock your organs weren't getting enough blood or oxygen. The longer you stayed in the operating room the lower your chances of survival were. Dr. Keller made the right call. It was unfortunate you came down with a fever and infection. Had I been your doctor at the time I would have made the same call."

"Thanks Doc for giving it to me straight. Now what is it going to take for you to sign off on me so I can get back to my base?"

"Colonel, you know as well as I do in your current condition you have no business being in a combat zone. You've lost considerable strength on your left side. Not only your shoulder but your left leg is weak as well. And when your shoulder heals I doubt you'll have full range of motion or the dexterity you once had."

"How much time do I have before you submit my eval?"

Dr. Carver was a little surprised by the Colonel's question. "Not as long as it would take for you to qualify. That is 'if' you can qualify, which I highly doubt. I'm sorry Colonel."

"Damn it!" John barked as he slammed his fist into the chair arm and got up to pace the width of the room. "There's gotta be something you can do. You're the god damn specialist and the reason why I was sent here. I don't want to hear 'I'm sorry Colonel'. I need you to fix this." John pointed to his shoulder.

Carver realized just how much this meant to the Colonel. But regulations were regulations. His conscious wouldn't allow him to put innocent men and women at risk. A soldier needed to be at their best and that included base commanders.

"I'm sorry Colonel. I can't endorse you for combat duty, but I can recommend that you be given a desk job. You'll retain your rank and commission. That's the best I can do. In time with extensive physical therapy the pain you're experiencing will dissipate as your shoulder heals, but your range of motion is permanently compromised. No matter how much therapy you do the strength and dexterity on your left side will still not meet Air Force minimum standards. Don't think that I haven't noticed your slight limp. I can only assume that when you're extremely tired or exhausted like you are now your limp presents itself."

"You do realize that this is a death sentence for a pilot. You put any of that in an official report and I can kiss flying goodbye. And I'm not talking just for the Air Force. Hell, I probably won't even be allowed to fly a damned kite!"

When John exited the building Lt. Baker was waiting for him. The drive back to base quarters was a quiet one.

oOo

"That's enough Colonel. Stop." Dr. Carver stated forcefully watching his patient struggle. "If you keep this up you'll cause permanent damage. Now stop. Please Colonel, if you don't stop now it will not be a question of reassignment but a full disability discharge for you. Is that what you want?"

"No…" John panted. Still trying to raise his left arm up to meet the Air Force standards but falling way short. "I can do this. I have to do this. I need to get back to my home."

Part of the evaluation to be certified for duty includes a satisfactory forward elevation of the shoulder to 90 degrees and abduction to 90 degrees. His left arm struggled to maintain its parallel position. Sweat beaded and ran down John's face and neck. Pain was most evident in the lines across his forehead, around his eyes and the way he kept his mouth tight with concentration.

Dr. Carver had been in awe of the Colonel's persistent perseverance all week long. In awe of the amount of physical pain the Colonel put his body through, pushing through one exercise after another in the hopes of qualifying. Dr. Carver couldn't imagine a post anywhere on Earth that was worth going through this much pain to get back too. Colonel Sheppard referred to it as 'home' on several occasions which Dr. Carver thought was odd. He'd been stationed in war zones around the world; some hot, dry and sandy, others cold, wet and humid. None of his postings would he ever consider to be a 'home' or warrant this much effort to return too. His earlier talk with Colonel Sheppard about his willingness to fight for what he wanted never rang more true then it had this past week. The Colonel poured every ounce of conviction into his therapy sessions to the brink of collapse.

Now his patient was once again on the verge of doing damage to himself. It didn't appear his patient was going to heed his request to stop. Dr. Carver reached out and took the injured, extended arm carefully in his grasp, bending it at the elbow and bringing it to rest against his patient's heaving chest. John immediately brought his other arm up to cradle his injured one.

"Lie down here before you fall down Colonel." Carver coaxed his patient over to a cot in the corner of the physical therapy room. "I've given you your week. I've done everything medically possible, enough is enough. I think you know the truth as well as I do." Dr. Carver pressed down on his patient's shoulders to get him to sit.

"Ow! Damn it Doc, watch it." John cursed. The touch was like a hot laser cutting through his flesh.

"I'm sorry Colonel. Just a minute." Carver went to a locked cabinet in the room while John made himself as comfortable as he could under the circumstances on the small cot. Using one of the pillows he positioned it so it would be under his elbow. Ever since Teyla had done that that one night it had made resting or sleeping much easier. John rested his aching shoulder and arm and breathed slowly. John closed his eyes so he could concentrate on willing the stubborn pain aside. Concentrate on keeping the flow of angry tears from running down his face like a two year old. He concentrated on anything and everything so he wouldn't have to think about his future in the Air Force disappearing before his very eyes. Or how he failed his friends and would never see them or his home again. Right now, in this place and at this time, life sucked.

This time when the Doc returned he held a syringe, not the two white pills he'd been giving his patient all week long. Quickly swabbing an exposed area of arm the Doc injected the contents of the syringe.

Startled by the swift action John began to raise. "What the…?"

"Relax Colonel, it's the same pain reliever anti-inflammatory medicine you've taken since you got here, only this time you've over done it. I think you need relief much faster. No need to wait an hour while tablets dissolve."

"John."

"What…?"

"Call me John. We both know my 'Colonel' days are numbered." His speech started to slur after that as the medicine made its way through his bloodstream. John's last thoughts before falling into a painless drugged sleep were there was definitely more in that syringe then pain medicine.

Dr. Carver stayed close, watching his patient sleep hour upon hour. It was testament to the Colonel's determination and resolve how he was able to put up with the pain; doing more and more each day trying to get his shoulder within Air Force regulations so he could remain Military Commander of his base. The fortitude of the man before him was immeasurable. Not many men could. In fact most men he'd had the privilege of working with hadn't shown this amount of valor.

A soft knock on the door had the doctor moving. "Hi Dr. Carver, sorry to interrupt your session but do you know where Colonel Sheppard is? He wasn't outside. I was getting wor…"

"It's all right Lieutenant. Colonel Sheppard is still here. In fact, why don't you come in, unless you're needed elsewhere."

Lieutenant Baker entered the PT room his eyes sweeping the room for the Colonel when his eyes found said man sleeping on the cot in the corner. Smiling he said, "He'll sleep until seventeen hundred hours or so."

"Why do you say that?"

"Oh…well…it has become his routine since John, sorry, Colonel Sheppard, started his physical therapy with you. When I pick him up at noon we go to the commissary. I go in and bring the Colonel back a sandwich and water. He usually manages to eat half the sandwich before he lies down. Then around eighteen hundred or so he calls me and we go back to the commissary for dinner. After dinner it's to the library. He types out an e-mail or two before I take him back to his quarters for the night."

"How do you know he's sleeping Sam?"

"Well that first day he left his sandwich in the jeep. I didn't notice it right away, but as soon as I did I turned around. When I got to his door there was no answer but the door was unlocked so I went in. I found him passed out on the bed. I tried to wake him, but he was out. From then on, I've made sure he at least eats half his sandwich in the jeep. I take the long way from the commissary to his quarters. I don't think he's noticed. You won't tell him will you? That I take the long way."

"No Sam I won't. It'll be our secret. I appreciate you looking after him."

"It's my pleasure. He's not like most officers. John's really easy going." As soon as Sam finished his statement he knew he screwed up by calling the Colonel by his first name. But over the past week when just the two of them were together that's how the Colonel wanted it.

Dr. Carver and Lt. Baker sat and talked quietly the rest of the afternoon keeping a careful, watchful eye on Colonel Sheppard. Out of the blue Lt. Baker commented, "maybe I should get him something to eat, he's going to be real hungry when he wakes up."

"You got that right, Lieutenant." John mumbled as he worked on getting his eyes open. This didn't feel like his bed in his BOQ quarters. There he'd pass out and wake up cold from his dried sweat, here he was warm. Eyes open now he discovered that someone had laid a blanket over him while he slept.

"Sam, why don't you get the transport ready? The Colonel and I need to talk. Then you'd better get him some food."

"No problem Doc. Ah…Colonel, I'll just be outside in the jeep whenever you're ready." Sam called out before leaving PT Room 2.

John had managed to get himself upright. Well sort of. He was sitting on the edge of the cot. "I thought I told you to call me John."

"You did. Alright, John…"

"…only the important ones." John marveled, the thought coming out of left field popped into his head. John had no idea why it suddenly had come to mind.

"What did you say John?"

"Oh, you said 'only the important ones' out on the tarmac. What'd ya mean by that?"

Dr. Carver thought back eight days to when he'd first met Lt. Colonel Sheppard. "Oh… Well…it's not everyday you get two Generals calling you telling you to clear your schedule for an important VIP patient."

"Really?"

"I swear John."

"Huh."

Dr. Carver let John soak in that bit of information. "I think you know what I'm about to say."

"Yeah, I know. Just my dumb luck striking me down again, so what happens now?"

"Now, you go get yourself some dinner, rest and I'll see you back here tomorrow morning at nine. I'll let you read my official report then you can ask any questions you like before I file it with the Air Force."

"Thanks for everything Doc. I mean it. You didn't have to give me this past week. I just want you to know I appreciate everything you've done."

Little did the Colonel know that both General's had instructed Dr. Carver to do whatever he could for Colonel Sheppard. They both stressed how important the man was to his current post and how vital he was in saving lives here on Earth. The 'earth' comment still didn't make any sense to Dr. Carver.

John followed his Doctor's orders almost to the letter. He had to make a couple of calls first.

oOo

John stood outside the door poised to knock. He was dressed in his Class A uniform with the addition of a sling. His shoulder still ached from his physical therapy yesterday. He allowed his head to fall forward resting it on the closed door taking deep breaths in and out. This really wasn't the place; in the hallway of all places to have a little melt down. Standing tall John pulled himself to full height and knocked.

"Enter."

Taking another deep breath John opened the door and entered. Closing the door behind himself he made his way to the large desk that sat in the room. Standing at attention he saluted the man sitting behind desk.

"At Ease, Colonel before you strain something. Take a seat."

"If it's alright with you General I'd prefer to stand. I've been sitting for the past few hours." John informed. He really didn't want to sit down for this. In fact, he really didn't want to be doing this at all.

"Oh, of course. How was the flight back from Travis?"

John flowed into a respectable parade rest position. "Long."

"I bet. I was just going over your medical evaluation from a Major Doctor Ryan Carver in more detail. Are you aware of his findings and recommendations?"

"Very familiar, Sir. He allowed me to read his report this morning before he filed it."

General O'Neill stood closing the file that lay open on his desk. "Good, then I won't bore you with details, the why for's, the whereas's. It's all mumbo jumbo red-tape speak if you ask me. I'll make this quick so you can rest. You look dead on your feet Sheppard. I've made a few calls and called in a few favors. Your next duty assignment will be with Home World Security based in Washington D.C. You'll report to Major Davis on Monday and he'll get you squared away. Walter's making all your arrangements." General O'Neill moved around the desk to shake hands welcoming Sheppard to HWS.

"No, Sir."

"Come again, Colonel."

John gulped pushing the bile rising in his throat back down. A bead of sweat trickled down his neck. "Thank you for the offer, but I decline."

Stunned, Jack did a double take. Resting his hip on the corner of the desk. "What? You don't like working for me? Or is it HWS? I've worked it out that you'll still be able to contact Atlantis."

"It's not you or Home World Sir. It's…I'm not cut out to be a paper-jockey. I'm a pilot. You should know that about me. The only time I'm up to date with my reports are when I'm on medical leave."

"I was the same way Sheppard. You do know that with your shoulder you won't be flying anymore. Your medical report states that very clearly."

"I do Sir. With all due respect, thank you. But I've decided to take a medical discharge. If you ever need my special services in Antarctica for the protection of this planet; I'll be available."

"John, have you thought this out? I mean really thought this through." O'Neill asked.

"I have. I've thought about it everyday for the past several weeks even before I was called back to Earth. When I saw no improvement I had a good idea and then Dr. Addleman recommended the specialist. I've given this even greater thought especially over the last 48 hours. There is one favor that I would like you to do for me."

"And what would be this…favor? I already pulled enough strings to get you assigned to HWS."

"And I appreciate what you did for me Sir. I do. I know I don't have the clout or leverage that Dr. Weir had with the President that forced the Air Force to promote me, but if you could do me this one favor I'd be in your debt, General." John paused to study the General's facial expression. Seeing nothing forthcoming John pressed on. "If you could see fit to put Major Lorne in Command of Atlantis's Military I know you won't be disappointed. Lorne's a good man, excellent officer, has an outstanding service record. Everyone, including the scientists respect him. Putting anyone else in charge would disrupt the cohesiveness that's been built over the years. Lives could be lost with an outsider."

Jack rubbed the back of his neck taking the time to word his response carefully. "When the time came it was the Joint Chiefs' intent to place a full bird Colonel into that position."

"Then promote him to Colonel, Sir. Lorne has an excellent service record." John reiterated a bit more forceful then he intended. "Sorry, Sir. I was out of line."

"No you weren't Sheppard. You just can't stop protecting Atlantis or its people. That's what makes you so damn good at what you do. And a damned loss to this program. You care. I'll make your recommendation to the Joint Chiefs—personally. If you're sure about taking a medical discharge I'll have Walter get the paperwork started. In the mean time I think we better find you some quarters. I'm getting to old to be picking junior officers up off the floor when they keel over."

John grinned at the thought. "Yes Sir, Thank you, Sir." John was about to turn away but had one last question to ask. "Sir, where's General Landry? I know he and I don't get along ever since I stole that jumper and rescued you and Woolsey but I thought he'd be here to…"

"To what, Sheppard?"

"Well Sir, to rub it in. All things considered."

"General Landry and SG-1 took the Odyssey out to Orilla, the Asgard home world. The Asgard are dying; the President thought…"

"They might give up some of their technology?" John finished.

"Unofficially…yes. Officially it's a humanitarian effort for one of our biggest allies. And just so you know, unofficially speaking, General Landry applauded your decision. He thinks…we all think that Atlantis and the people stationed there will one day be our salvation. Now get some rest. Walter!"

"Thank you General, it's been a pleasure." John held out his hand for which General O'Neill returned the sentiment.

oOo

John sat on his bunk thinking. Walter had put him in one of the VIP suites the SGC reserved for visiting dignitaries. It wasn't like a suite you'd find at a Marriott, but it did have its own private bathroom, desk with internet connection and double bed. That alone was a luxury compared to his bed back on Atlantis. The Master Chief even rounded up a laptop for his use while his discharge was being processed. Walter said it normally took three to five months for all the paperwork to make it through the appropriate channels, but he'd have it done in three to four days. 'You just have to know who to talk too', the Master Chief had stated. And if anyone would know, it was Walter. The bald man knew everything that was going on within the SGC and how to work Air Force red tape.

John plunked away one-handed on the laptop. After the week he had he was giving his shoulder time off. Dr. Carver gave him a list of exercises but his shoulder still ached. John was dealing with a different kind of ache now. He was attempting to tell his team—his family that he wouldn't be coming back to Atlantis. He understood that by writing each of them a personal letter was taking the coward's way out. John didn't think he could face telling them in person how he had failed.

A knock on his door drew his attention away. "Enter."

"Sorry to bother you Sir, but the cafeteria was serving real turkey sandwiches and rumor around base says they're your favorite. You're sort of a legend around here Sir. So I took the liberty to bring you two along with some chips and pudding before it was all gone." Airman Whitaker sat the tray he was carrying down on the desk.

"Thanks Airman…"

"Whitaker, Sir."

"Well thank you Airman Whitaker that was very kind of you."

"You're welcome Colonel and again, sorry for the interruption." Before John could say another word the Airman disappeared out his door.

Setting the laptop aside John decided to eat. He hadn't felt like eating breakfast when he woke. Instead he chose to remain in his room plunking out letter by letter his goodbyes. But who could pass up real turkey sandwiches.

A little after twenty hundred hours came another knock on his door. John answered the door to find Airman Whitaker holding another tray of food. "Airman, what is all this?"

"I didn't see you in the cafeteria during chow and I asked around, nobody had seen you so I thought you might be hungry. You know with working all day. I know how time can get away from us sometimes when we're busy. I hope you don't mind." Whitaker sat the tray down on the desk exchanging places with the one he'd brought earlier.

"No I… Don't you have regular duties to attend too Airman?"

"Yes Sir I do, but it's my break right now." The young Airman squirmed under the scrutiny.

"Thank you Airman Whitaker…again."

"My pleasure, Sir. Goodnight." And off he went with a huge smile and a tray of empty dishes.

oOo

"Enter."

Carolyn Lam entered her father's office seeing a man buried behind a mountain of files. "So you actually do work. I thought all you did was shuffle it from stack to stack until it magically got done by the office fairies." She said for openers.

"Most of this stack," he pointed to his left. "…is Colonel Sheppard's discharge paperwork. Who knew leaving the service generated this much paper. The rest are mission reports, budget reviews, lab reports, utility bills and requisitions. I'm leaving that stack for when your father returns. So…what brings you down here?"

"Colonel Sheppard actually. I just finished reading Dr. Carver's evaluation; he mentioned that the Colonel is still suffering residual pain from the mononeuropathy nerve damage he sustained. I wanted to check on him and if he needed it get his prescription filled. I had hoped to casually 'run' into him in the halls or cafeteria, but no ones seen him since he got here."

Jack looked surprised at that information. Sheppard had been here for over 36 hours. "Walter!" He yelled and the bald man stepped into the office. "Did you find quarters for Colonel Sheppard on base or is he staying off base?"

"On base, Sir. Colonel Sheppard is quartered Level 18, Corridor A, Room 6. Is there a problem Sir?"

"I don't think so, just no one has seen him in over 36 hours and Dr. Lam wants him in the infirmary for a check-up."

"Actually Sir, Doctor, Airman Whitaker took him lunch and dinner yesterday and most likely breakfast this morning."

"Why would he do that?" Carolyn asked the Master Chief before the General could ask the same question.

"Colonel Sheppard saved Airman Whitaker's brother about two years ago. The team Whitaker was on was separated when there was a Wraith attack. Sergeant Whitaker ended up alone with a broken leg and no back-up. The rest of his team barely made it back to the gate. When Colonel Sheppard realized they were a man down he went back for him after sending everyone else through the gate."

"I remember reading that report." General O'Neill stated. "Colonel Sheppard and Sgt. Whitaker evaded the Wraith for two days. According to Sgt. Whitaker's report, the Colonel carried him from place to place until the Wraith left the planet."

"That's correct Sir. When Airman Whitaker found out that Colonel Sheppard was here on base he wanted to do something to say thank you."

O'Neill raised his brow, "So Sheppard has him bringing his meals to him?"

"No Sir. According to Airman Whitaker the Colonel is busy working in his room. Airman Whitaker is doing this on his own time Sir. I don't think Colonel Sheppard has put the two together yet. Dr. Lam, would you like me to inform Colonel Sheppard that he's wanted in the infirmary?"

"No, Master Chief. I'll get him. Level 18, A6?"

"Yes Ma'am." Walter turned to the General, "Sir?"

"That'll be all Walter."

oOo

Knock Knock

"Whitaker if that is you again I'll…" John swung his door open ready to pounce on the goody-to-shoe Airman.

"You'll what Colonel?" Dr. Lam asked when the door swung opened.

"Sorry Doc, I thought you were someone else. Did you need something?"

Carolyn smiled, "may I come in?"

"Of course. Sorry the place is a mess." John started picking up some of his clothes from the bed, floor, and the backs of chairs. He hadn't been in the mood lately to keep his quarters tidy. John looked around for a good place to hide his clothes before deciding to toss them back onto his bed. At least now they were all together in one place. "Is there something wrong with my discharge?"

"No. I'm sure your discharge is coming along fine. I wanted to check on your shoulder. I had hoped to catch you in the hall…"

"I've been busy." John said hurriedly. "A lot of loose ends to tie up before I turn command over and leave the Air Force."

If John was reading the Doc's look correctly, she wasn't buying his story one bit. "I see you're still wearing the sling. Dr. Carver's eval mentioned you still had residual pain. He also wrote out a prescription you've failed to have filled at the dispensary. Is your shoulder still giving you trouble, Colonel? And know this, I will know if you lie to me."

Dr. Lam was all new territory to him. He wasn't used to dealing with Dr. Lam other than the usual blood test and vitals she took each time he came to Earth. Rumors on the other hand said she was one tough cookie. Should I tell the truth, lie or something in between? Would she really know if I was lying?

"It aches. After what Dr. Carver put me through this past week it would make anyone's shoulder ache, but nothing that I can't live with. He said it would hurt for a few months, but as long as I wear the sling and allow my shoulder to heal properly eventually it will stop. And that's the truth."

"I believe you Colonel. Can I examine your shoulder now or do you have somewhere to be?"

"I don't have anywhere to be Doc." This wasn't Atlantis: open skies, tall spires, blue ocean, puddle jumpers and stained glass. This was the SGC: gun metal gray, concrete, recycled air, no sun, all buried deep under a mountain. Here he was just a visitor—could probably count the number of people he knew here on one hand.

John began by removing the sling then moved onto unbuttoning his black BDU shirt.

Carolyn helped to remove the shirt careful not to jar the injured shoulder. She then indicated to the Colonel that he didn't have to take off his t-shirt. She could already see how much pain he was in with just a button down the front shirt. What she needed to do she could do through the soft material. "What was that about Airman Whitaker?" She asked hopefully taking the Colonel's attention away from her probing fingers.

"Oh…he's been bringing me meals and for the life of me I can't figure out why. Seems to think I'm working so hard that I forget to eat. I thought that was him with lunch. I told him this morning when he dropped off breakfast I didn't want to see him again. But the kid's got a stubborn streak a mile wide and I thought it was him at the door."

"I'm going to move your arm now Colonel." Lam said as she manipulated the injured limb. "You might consider asking him why he's doing it. Does that hurt?"

"Yes. Do you know what's going on? Are you or O'Neill responsible for this?"

"I know lots of things Colonel and I know pain when I see it. This is no 'ache'. I'm going to send up some pain meds for you and you're going to follow my instructions to the letter. Do we have an understanding?" Carolyn eased the black shirt back into place automatically doing up the buttons. Then she reached for the discarded sling on the desk. John only winced three times during the whole redressing process. The faint ache in his shoulder was now newly reawakened to a full out throbbing after this impromptu examination.

"Yes."

"I'll send one of my nurses back with your meds. She'll watch you take them before she leaves. Then I want you to rest for the remainder of the day. No more working. No more laptop. If I catch you working the laptop is mine."

"Yes Ma'am." He said with a wary grin. Right now he'd welcomed Tylenol along with a few hours of sleep.

"I was hoping that Colonel Carter or Vala would be back from their mission by now and we could try the Goa'uld healing device. It might have eased some of the discomfort if not heal your shoulder."

Why hadn't anyone suggested that ten days ago—before he went to Travis or even three days ago when he got back here—before he voluntarily ended his career on a medical discharge? Before John could think up an appropriate response to that there was a knock at his door.

John went to the door and sure enough Airman Whitaker stood there with a tray of food. Since the Doc was still here he gave a second thought to dressing down the young man. Then he remembered Dr. Lam making a cryptic statement earlier about talking to him. So instead, John invited the Airman in.

Dr. Lam left the two men to talk.

oOo

"…and right here." John signed where Harriman pointed not really paying any attention to what he was signing. He figured if the Air Force wanted to screw him who was he to stop them. His days of flying were over and so was his career. "Thank you Colonel, I'll just make you a copy of this and be right back."

Silence fell in the conference room. "Well…this is awkward." General Jack O'Neill stated. The conference room seemed rather overpowering at that moment. But the large table was needed for all the paperwork. "Do you have somewhere to go…to stay?"

"Yeah. The Master Chief has arranged transportation for me to Virginia. Thought I'd stop in and see my brother for a few days. Then…I don't know. Guess I'll play it by ear. As soon as I get settled somewhere I'll let you know in case you need my gene."

"That's not a condition of your discharge you know."

"I know, but all the same. I'll be living here on Earth from now on. I'd like to think I'm safe from alien invaders." John paused for a moment not sure he should ask. It wasn't like he could do anything about it anyway. "Hey…what did the Joint Chiefs say about Lorne?"

"When Atlantis dials in tomorrow I'll swear him in." Jack stated with a pensive smile.

"Full Colonel?"

"Full Colonel." Jack confirmed.

"That's great. Wish I could be here to see his face. You're making the right decision General. Lorne will do an excellent job."

"I'll have Walter send you a copy of the tape."

John smiled at O'Neill's attempt at levity. Reaching into his jacket pocket John pulled out a data stick. He slid it across the table in Jack's direction.

The General picked up the slim stick. "What's this?"

"I ah…I wrote some stuff. It's letters for my team and a note to Lorne on how to handle Rodney and Ronon. I'd appreciate it if you could transmit them tomorrow." Jack raised an eyebrow. "Don't worry I explained everything; that this was my decision. McKay shouldn't give you too much grief. I told Mr. Woolsey to tell them I was called to Earth for meetings. While I've been back I've e-mailed McKay a few times that the meetings dealt with military armaments."

"Armaments?"

"It was all I could think of on the fly. I didn't wa…" John was interrupted with the return of the Master Chief carrying several official looking envelopes.

"Here you are Colonel Sheppard; in this envelope is a copy of your medical discharge from the Air Force. This envelope contains your personal effects: wallet, id, plane tickets, itinerary and reservations. This envelope contains an edited version of your medical records. Dr. Lam insisted that you have a copy to give your physician. She also included a prescription for your medication and wanted me to tell you, and I quote 'I'll be watching' end quote. She also has an appointment lined up for you with a physical therapy specialist in Virginia. The details are inside. Lastly, this envelope contains your Air Force retirement benefit package: Life Insurance; Health Insurance; Pension information. It's required that your first check be mailed; therefore, I'm having it sent to your brother's address. All others will be directly deposited into your previous account. Also included in this envelope is your DD 214 – Military Discharge Certificate. Is there anything else I can do for you Colonel Sheppard?"

"I think you've handled everything just fine Master Chief and with superior efficiency. I'd give you a raise if I could. Anyone who can take a five month process and get it done in four days is well deserving, thank you." Taking the stack of envelopes he pulled out his wallet, id, and plane tickets putting those into his jacket pocket for easy access. Everything else he stuffed into the remaining room he had in his duffle bag. "Well General I guess this is it. I have a plane to catch."

"There's a car waiting for you to drive you to the airport. And if I have any trouble with McKay I'll hunt you down."

"You do that Sir." John hefted his bag but not before General O'Neill and Master Chief Harriman gave him a salute. Something that John knew O'Neill didn't do a lot of. He walked out of the conference room surprised to find the hall lined with servicemen all standing at attention, all saluting.

Swiping his elevator card, he set his bag down while he waited and returned the salute just as the door dinged and opened. The elevator doors only opened again when he reached Level 1 of the mountain. Once again he was surprised to find the hall lined with more saluting servicemen. As he passed he gave the men and women of the SGC a nod of appreciation as he had done down below. He didn't know them, but he'd been told that he carried the status of 'legend' and was an inspiration to them all. Airman Whitaker stood by the security desk; John gave the young man a firm handshake. He'd had a good talk yesterday. He signed out of Cheyenne Mountain for the last time; turning in his elevator key card. He snapped off one final salute.

TBC