Title: The Long Haul

Author: Titan5

Recipient: roo1965 for the Sheppard h/c summer exchange

Rating: PG13

Warning:Some brief violence.

Word Count: ~16,650

Summary: When injured during a mission, Sheppard discovers it's a long haul back to Atlantis. And that's only the beginning of his journey.

Author's Note: The story is set two months after Irresponsible (season 3). Many thanks for the very quick beta by sharpes hussy. I did some tweaking after she was done, so any mistakes that are left are mine. The prompt is at the end.

The Long Haul

John was pissed. Royally pissed. All he could think of was stupid Genii. If an Ancient or an angel or a magical fairy popped in and told him he could pick one enemy to banish from existence forever, he wasn't sure if he'd pick the Wraith or the Genii. Okay, that wasn't completely true. He'd pick the Wraith. But the Genii would be a close second, a very close second. Stupid Genii.

"Keep it moving," he said, prodding Rodney forward. "We've got a lot of ground to cover."

"Are you sure you can't get a jumper through the gate?" Rodney looked exhausted and he had to admit, he'd been pushing them hard to catch up with their prey.

"No, Rodney, I can't. And neither can anyone else." Glancing at the sky for a moment and taking in the sun's position, he sighed. "Okay, ten minute break."

Ronon whirled around, almost snarling at him. "We need to keep going. We can catch them soon."

John frowned and shifted his eyes to Rodney for a second before looking back at Ronon. The Satedan sighed heavily and growled under his breath. "I'll scout ahead."

Rodney was already sitting on a rock and swigging from his canteen. "Better slow down, Rodney, you'll make yourself sick. And be out of water," John warned.

The scientist pulled the container away from his face, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He scowled at John. "What's his problem? He never needs to rest."

"Training."

"I have training," said Rodney.

"Yeah, but you didn't have seven years of knowing if you slowed down you were Wraith chow. Nothing we've got compares to that." John closed his eyes a minute, allowing his body to relax so he'd be prepared for what was coming. And he was sure it would involve a firefight since the Genii were involved.

They had arrived on P3X-499 in response to the panicked call of Barros. Their village was being attacked and they needed help. By the time the Lanteans had arrived, several homes had been burned down and most of the food supply had been stolen. One man had been killed trying to protect his home and several others had been injured.

The village was actually a composite, about half Paneirians and about half Ventonians. Both worlds had recently been heavily culled, leaving a population too small to support itself. Neither group had felt safe on their world anymore, so the Lanteans had suggested they merge together on another planet. After much discussion and negotiation, they had agreed on P3X-499.

The village was set up almost five klicks from the gate, the closest position where the soil was good enough to raise crops. The area between was filled with rocks and trees, unsuitable for farming or jumper landing. Tall trees near the gate made jumper access impossible, but it also made it dart proof as well. Now all they had to worry about was hive ships.

Atlantis had helped set up the village and get the first round of crops in almost a year ago. The village seemed to be doing well. The two groups were beginning to mesh a little better so that it was fast becoming one village instead of two in the same place. A couple of marriages had helped that along.

A few months ago they had discovered they were not alone on the planet. A group of men dressed like raggedy soldiers lived in the mountains beyond the village. Scans had not detected them, leading Rodney to think they lived in caves with minerals that shielded them from sensors. But the men made no attempt at interacting with the village. A few would come down from the mountains about once a month to pick up supplies being brought through the gate. Sometimes new men would trade places with the old ones. But they never bothered the villagers, so the initial tension that had been raised at the discovery had faded with time.

Today, things had changed. John thought back on the conversation with Barros.

"Do you know how many men there were?"

Barros frowned and pursed his lips. "Maybe twelve. I cannot be sure. They had weapons like your small ones. We had no way to defend against them."

John stared at the man. "Like ours?" He pointed to the gun in his holster. "Like these?"

Barros nodded. "Not exactly, but very close. A little bigger perhaps."

John was getting a sick feeling in his gut. "What kind of uniforms did you say they were wearing?"

"They seemed old, but well kept. I believe they were gray, with brown at the collar and shoulders."

"Crap, are you guys thinking what I'm thinking?" asked John.

"Genii?" asked Rodney, his eyes wide. "Why would they do that?"

"We suspected they had other bases hidden away," said Teyla. "What I do not understand is why they would chance discovery by attacking the village."

"I might know a reason for that," said Barros. "The past few cycles we have been keeping someone stationed near the gate, as you suggested. The deliveries of supplies stopped two cycles ago. I believe they did not have food and that is why they took ours."

"Two cycles," John repeated with a frown.

"Isn't that about when Kolya was killed?" said Ronon.

"Yeah," John drawled. "Just what I was thinking. He probably had people scattered around in several old bunkers so he'd have a variety of places to go hide. When he died, the supplies stopped."

"What are they still doing up there?" asked Rodney.

"They most likely do not know of Kolya's death," said Teyla. "His surviving men must have gone their separate ways, not bothering to tell those in remote locations what had transpired."

"Great," said Rodney. "So what do we do now? Send them a news report about their crazy boss's demise?"

"No," said John evenly. "We go retrieve the stolen supplies and tell the Genii to pack up their stuff and leave since they don't play well with others."

"Or kill them," added Ronon.

"Or kill them," John echoed.

"Shouldn't we wait for backup?" Rodney asked, hope in his eyes.

"Can't," said Ronon.

"But, they've got –"

John shook his head and interrupted. "He's right, we can't wait. We need to catch up to them before they get back to their base. We'll have a much better chance of taking them out in the open than with them hunkered down in a cave, and that's assuming we could figure out which cave they're in."

They had brought a team of five marines with them to the village. John had sent one back to the gate to call for reinforcements. He left two men at the village to begin helping sort things and keep an eye out in case of trouble and he took two men with him. He figured his team was going to need all the help they could get.

John shook his head and climbed to his feet. "We need to go," he said. "Ronon," he said softly into his radio.

"Keep straight on the trail. I don't think we're far behind them. Better tell McKay to put a cork in it from this point forward."

John's eyebrows raised a second and he shook his head. He turned around to find Rodney frowning at him. "I heard," he said with a shrug, but he shouldered his pack and stood ready to go.

The marines gave him a quick nod, as did Teyla. "Let's move. Ronon says they're close, so stay ready." He headed out setting a quick pace so they could catch up to Ronon, who he knew would have slowed down a little for them. Teyla would keep an eye on Rodney and the marines would continue to bring up the rear, keeping a watchful eye on their six.

The ground was back to being rocky and was sloping upward at a pretty good angle. Scattered trees and shrubs made navigating the uneven ground even more difficult, especially when trying to run silently in the descending darkness. After fifteen minutes, John jerked his gun towards a shadow moving out from the trees only to discover it was Ronon. The big man put one finger to his lips as he quietly approached.

Once the others caught up and were standing in a circle around Ronon, he began his whispered report. "They're about five minutes ahead of us. They're tiring from moving the carts with the stolen supplies and they aren't being careful. They don't seem to think anyone would follow them. Heard them talking about a small clearing up ahead where they plan on stopping for a break. If we can get around them and stake it out, I think it would be a good place to take them."

John nodded. "They'll be out in the open and thinking about getting to sit down and rest. Likely their guard will be down. Okay, Ronon and I will circle around to the other end. Marshall and Bowers, you guys get on either side of the middle of the clearing. Teyla, you and Rodney come up behind them on this end. Two clicks of your radio means you're in place. Wait for my order to attack. Questions?"

John went around the circle, making eye contact with everyone. Rodney looked terrified, but everyone else looked ready to go. With a nod, John sent everyone off. "Good. Go fast but go quiet. They have us outnumbered, but we have the element of surprise. We're getting those supplies back." Turning, he and Ronon moved as one to either side of the path they had been following. He was aware of the marines moving right behind them.

Twenty minutes later, John was in position. Just as he was about to hit his radio, the final two clicks he needed to hear sounded quietly. That was undoubtedly Ronon. He hit his radio button twice, letting everyone else know he was also in position. The soldiers were just entering the clearing and the uniforms were definitely Genii. John hated them so much. It seemed like half the anguish and hardships in his life these last few years had been caused by these people.

There were two men each pulling two large carts filled with food and supplies from the village. Stolen goods. Food and medical supplies taken from good, hard-working people who had survived the horrors of the Wraith. John felt fury burning inside him at these good-for-nothing parasites, undoubtedly following the ravings of a madman. A madman who was finally dead. John sighed. Even killing Kolya hadn't stopped the man from wreaking pain and destruction on others.

The men had reached the center of the clearing and seemed to be looking around for a good place to relax. John counted eight men loosely surrounding the carts. "Go," he whispered into his radio, bringing his gun up as he stepped forward and began firing. The next few minutes were chaos. His team began firing at the same time as John, immediately dropping five of the soldiers. The others scrambled for cover and began firing back.

The team moved in, getting closer to the Genii hiding behind the carts and rocks, felling a couple more of the enemy as they went. It was dark now, making it hard to tell friend from foe, especially through the haze left by the Genii guns. A flash to John's left caught his attention and he realized one of the soldier's was making a run for it. John fired, but the guy was smart, running bent over and close to the ground, continually zig-zagging and making himself almost impossible to hit.

"Got a runner, I'm going after him," John yelled into his radio as he took off. He could barely see the man ahead of him, but he trailed him through trees and around rocks. One foot slid on gravel as he dodged around a huge bolder, twisting his right knee and jacking up the anger factor. John took a shot at the guy just because he was mad, knowing it would take a lot of luck to get a hit under these conditions. This wasn't like it was on TV.

Ignoring the pain in his knee, he silently cursed the man ahead of him. Why did the Genii always have to be such trouble? He lost sight of his prey for a second, slowing to peer ahead for any sign of movement. A shot pinged the tree just ahead, right about where his head would have been if he had continued at top speed. This guy was really pissing him off.

"Kolya's dead," John yelled into the darkness, heading in what he thought was the right direction. "I should know . . . I killed him." He limped slightly, the pain in his knee beginning to fade, another sign he'd only twisted it. Jogging ahead, he tried to keep behind trees and rocks for the most part, darting from cover to cover. "He's not coming back for you." John stopped and listened, squinting his eyes in the darkness.

"He's not dead." John whirled around to his left, aiming his P-90 at the man he'd been chasing, who was also pointing a gun at him. "You're lying. Kolya's too smart to be killed by the likes of you."

John snorted. "Kolya was a power hungry, egotistical maniac who let his greed blind him to common sense. He came after me and I killed him. Not sure why you're so surprised since this wasn't the first time I beat him. I threw him out of Atlantis didn't I?"

The man's face reddened and John almost felt sorry for him. Having your hero dethroned was a hard pill to swallow, but if the man picked Kolya for his hero, then how smart could he be. "You're Sheppard," he spat out, as if something foul had been in his mouth.

"That's Colonel Sheppard to you. You need to put your gun down. I don't know if you noticed back there, as fast as you took off, but we've put a dent in your rob the village blind and leave them to die plan. You and any of your friends that are still alive will be removed from this planet. Then I'm thinking we could turn you over to Ladon Radim."

"Commander Kolya will never allow that. You are now my prisoner. He will greatly reward me once he finds that I have captured you."

Sighing, John narrowed his eyes at the man before him. He had to be kidding. No one was this dumb. "Okay, first, Kolya can't give you anything, given the fact that he's been dead for two months. Second, you may have noticed that I have a weapon, same as you," he said, bobbing his gun up and down once. "You haven't exactly taken me prisoner yet."

"I will."

The anger rose up and seemed to take John with it. "Are you really this stupid? Kolya is dead and he's staying that way and good riddance." The loud retort of the gun caught John completely off guard, as did the pain burning its way through his right shoulder like a hot poker. His gun went off as an automatic response.

The next thing he knew he was lying on the ground, looking up through the trees at the stars scattered in the sky. He just lay there for a while, until his shoulder screamed too forcefully to be ignored any longer. Grunting, John rolled to his left side, groaning as the pain sharpened. Using his left arm, he pushed himself to a sitting position and almost puked from the agony. His head swam as he swallowed several times, trying to bring things under control. When the world settled, he looked around. The Genii was lying several feet away, unmoving.

Stupid Genii.

His right arm was useless. He was still bleeding from the shoulder wound, but it was sluggish. He brought his left hand up and started to gently probe, but quickly abandoned that activity when the pain flared sharp enough to almost make him pass out. Pretty sure his collar bone was broken, he decided that was why moving his arm wasn't such a good idea. He knew there was more damage than that, but there wasn't much use dwelling on it now. He needed to see if the Genii was alive and then get back to his team. Taking a deep breath, he focused on tucking his injured arm into his tack vest so it didn't flop around.

It took several minutes, a lot of cursing, and the support of a large rock to get John to his feet. Stumbling over to the fallen soldier, he didn't need to touch the man to see he was dead. The bullet hole in his forehead and the open, sightless eyes pretty much confirmed that diagnosis. Idiot, you didn't have to die.

He needed to contact his team. He brought his good hand up to tap his radio, which was totally lifeless. It had apparently gotten broken sometime during the encounter with the trigger-happy Genii. Great. In that case he figured he might as well start walking back to his team. He hoped they had seen a little more luck than he had.

If he was going to take a stroll, he probably needed to at least try to stem the bleeding. Looking at the wound near the top middle of his shoulder, he realized there was no way he was going to be able to secure a field bandage using only his left hand. He was bleeding, but it had slowed down a lot and he wasn't that far from the clearing. Putting any pressure at all on the wound was probably going to make him pass out. The pain was that bad. Making what might be a bad decision, he started walking toward his team and the help he needed.

Every step was a small slice of hell, sending lightning bolts of pain through his shoulder. He was getting worried because he didn't remember any shoulder injury hurting this much. That stupid Genii must have really messed him up. Concentrating on the anger, he let it fuel his trip back to the clearing. He was almost to his goal when he caught a flicker of movement up ahead. Pressing himself against the nearest tree, he strained to hear any sign of what was coming.

After a few moments, a familiar voice caused the tension to flow out of him. "Sheppard," Ronon whispered.

John rolled to his left, keeping his good side against the tree for support. "Ronon?"

The big Satedan stood a few feet away, looking at him. "Good thing, I heard you coming ten minutes ago. Did you get our runaway?"

"Yeah," John breathed out. He saw Ronon looking at the way his arm was tucked away. "Unfortunately, he got me too."

"How bad?"

The first thing that popped into John's head was bad enough, but he didn't say that. "I'll make it. Everyone else okay?"

Ronon nodded. "We've got three survivors, with one injured. The others are all dead. They thought Kolya was still alive and just having trouble getting them supplies."

"Yeah, my guy was apparently a big fan of the former commander. Didn't take too kindly to me claiming to have killed him, much less my opinion of the guy."

Ronon chuckled. "I bet. Come on, let's get you back so Teyla can wrap that shoulder. Looks like you're still bleeding."

"Hmm, fun times," John said as he pushed off the tree and choked back the scream that threatened to escape. Ronon paused to wait for him and then fell in step beside him. John had the distinct impression he was being closely monitored all the way back to the rest of his team. Since every step was an exercise in keeping upright without screaming his head off, he appreciated knowing there was someone there to catch him if he keeled over.

He was barely aware they had reached the former battlefield until a voice pierced through the haze that had built up. "Finally, we were beginning to wonder. Where the heck was he and did he . . . oh, crap, he's bleeding. Shouldn't he sit down before he falls?"

John stumbled past Rodney's panicked face. "Thanks, Rodney, I'm fine. My hearing works too if you want to talk directly to me." Ronon took his good arm to steady him as he sank down onto one of the large and relatively flat stones. Teyla was rummaging through the first aid kit and Rodney was staring at him like he thought he might disappear. Ronon was standing over the three men on the ground. Two were tied up and one was unconscious with a field bandage wrapped around his head and another around his leg.

"John?" Teyla knelt before him, her eyebrows raised slightly.

John took in a deep breath and blew it out slowly before nodding. Her lips thinned as she reached for the zipper on his vest. "This will probably hurt," she apologized.

"I know," John replied, bracing for what he knew was to come. Ronon had moved closer to stand right behind him. He wasn't sure why until Teyla moved his arm to pull the vest off. There was a bright flash of pain followed by the world around him spinning out of control and then nothing.

oOo

The throbbing in his shoulder woke him up. Opening his eyes, he felt a twinge of panic when he couldn't see anything. He could hear the rustle of movement and quiet whispers, but it took several moments before outlines began to emerge from the darkness.

"John?"

Teyla's soft voice beside him caused him to turn in search of it. As he focused, he found he could see enough of her to identify it was really Teyla. "Yeah," he said softly, his voice rough and low.

"I am going to help you get a drink," she said. "I will be as careful as possible." The pain in his shoulder flared as she slid her arm underneath to lift his head a little. He managed to get some of the water into his mouth even though most of it seemed to stream down his neck. As she eased him back down, he could tell his shoulder was heavily bandaged and his arm secured to his torso.

"Thanks," he mumbled. "What's . . . status?" His eyes were adjusted enough that he could see they had moved into the trees at the edge of the clearing. He was relieved since being in the open made him feel like a sitting duck.

"Major Lorne arrived with reinforcements a few moments ago," she said, even as he noted the increased manpower around their makeshift camp. "He and Ronon are discussing plans to find the Genii's base. Ronon questioned the prisoners about the location and number of soldiers left, but they refused to talk. I do not believe they think Commander Kolya is really dead."

John snorted. "Too bad . . . didn't take pictures."

Teyla gave him that look that was supposed to be scolding but held a hint of amusement underneath. "I do not think taking photographs of those we have killed would be appropriate."

"Just . . . Kolya. Need to see . . . Lorne." John tried to shift to his left to relieve the pressure on his shoulder, but only succeeded in stirring up the pain enough that it forced a groan out.

"The medic that came with Lorne said you should try not to move. The bullet did much damage and did not exit. He believes that your collar bone and . . . scapula, I think, are broken."

John had discovered an IV line in his left arm and he followed the tubing to a bag draped across a rock near his head. Watching him, Teyla nodded to the IV. "You have lost much blood. Lt. Jackson said you needed fluids to get your blood pressure back up."

"He gave me drugs?" John asked. He was hurting, but not nearly as much as he should be hurting if what the lieutenant thought about potential damage was true. Plus, he felt slow and sluggish, like he did when he was on heavy pain meds.

"You were in much pain and he said that too much pain on top of the blood loss could send you into shock. We are still many hours from Atlantis."

John let out a long sigh. He knew they were right, but he didn't have to like it. "Okay . . . I get it. Still . . . need to see . . . Lorne."

Teyla stared at him without speaking for several moments; he was convinced she wasn't going to honor his request when she suddenly got up and walked away. He fought the urge to close his eyes and melt away until he could make out several dark forms coming his way.

"Help me sit up," John said firmly, making sure it came out more like an order than a request.

Lorne and Ronon arrived at his feet and looked at each other before moving to either side and kneeling. He thought he heard Teyla protesting as they pushed his torso up and maneuvered him to lean against a tree, but the rushing blood in his ears as he gritted his teeth against the agony in his shoulder kind of drowned out the specifics.

" . . . okay? John, can you hear me?"

Once the world finally came back into focus and John had regained control of his faculties, he gave a tiny, tight nod to Teyla. He couldn't tell if she was worried or mad. Probably both. He accepted the drink of water she gave him, grateful for the cool liquid that seemed to clear some of the muck from his throat.

"I'm okay," he mumbled. One of them snorted, but fortunately for them, John couldn't tell who. He chose to ignore it. "Update me."

Lorne nodded. "Ronon did a little scouting before we got here and he thinks he's found the path up the side of the mountain to their base. We figure they stopped here to rest because it gets pretty steep after this, but we think it's not far away. We're going to leave a couple of guys here with Rodney and Lt. Jackson to help watch over the prisoners, although I don't expect them to cause any more problems. We should be back by morning."

"Don't worry Sheppard," Ronon said. "We can take them."

John rubbed his face with his good hand. He was more awake, but he still felt slow, like he was moving through knee-high muck. "I know, I just . . . hate not being there."

"That's the control freak in you." John glanced up to see Rodney had joined them at some point. When Rodney came up without you noticing, that meant you weren't firing on all cylinders. Good thing he was staying here. "You look awful by the way."

John sighed. "Thanks. I figured. When are you guys leaving?"

"Probably as soon as I brief everyone on what we know," answered Lorne. "Sorry you'll be missing this part, sir."

"Yeah, me too. Be careful and bring everyone home."

"I'll make sure of it," Ronon said. "You be okay til we get back?"

With a wry chuckle, John nodded. "I seem to have some good drugs on board, so I'll be fine. Go. Let's shut these bastards down."

Lorne grinned as he snapped off a crisp salute. "Yes, sir."

John just groaned and closed his eyes. "Get out of here." He heard Ronon chuckle as they moved away. Someone kneeled beside him and he opened his eyes to find Lt. Jackson checking his IV.

"How are you doing, sir?"

John glanced at the huddle of men getting their instructions from Lorne and Ronon. "I'll be better when they're back and we're headed home."

oOo

The night was a blur. As John's eyes fluttered open he realized he could see more details in the dim light of early morning. All he remembered of the hours before was an occasional touch or flurry of soft voices talking over him. He suspected Lt. Jackson had added a little something to his IV line when the pilot wasn't paying attention.

The noise level rose, movement and the loud sounds of voices trying to be quiet. Shifting, he found himself lying on a blanket with someone's jacket serving as a pillow. He had definitely missed a few things. He wanted to sit up, but the pain combined with weakness and a lack of coordination to prevent that from happening without assistance. Opening his mouth to call for help, he shut it again when he saw Lorne, Teyla, and Ronon headed his way.

"He's not asleep," commented Ronon.

"We probably woke him up returning to camp," said Teyla, her brows knit in obvious concern.

"What happened?" John asked, then coughed to clear his throat.

All three of them dropped to the ground as soon as they were next to John. They were dirty and looked exhausted, but none of them looked injured.

"We found the base," said Lorne. "About two klicks almost straight up. They built it into the side of the mountain, sort of part cave and part building."

"How many?" John asked.

"Five. We ended up having to kill all of them. They wouldn't believe Kolya was dead and they wouldn't give up," said Ronon.

"Stupid Genii," John muttered. That seemed to be his catch phrase lately, but it was true in so many ways. "Help me up."

This time Teyla didn't protest when the two men sat him up and leaned him against the nearest tree. "What about their base?"

Lorne grinned and exchanged a look with Ronon. "We blew it up," said Teyla. "I think they enjoyed that part a little too much," she added, arching one eyebrow at her two comrades.

John couldn't help but add his grin to the lot. "Wish I could have seen it."

"We set some C4 in your name, sir," said Lorne with a proud nod.

"I knew you were a good man," said John. "Casualties on our part?"

"Just a few bruises and scratches, sir," said Lorne. "How are you doing?"

John sighed, long and slow. "I've been better, but I've been worse too. Not looking forward to the walk back. It's going to be a long haul."

"We could carry you," Ronon offered with a smirk.

Pulling a face, John glared at the others.

"I'll take that as a no," Lorne said with a small chuckle. "We're going to get something to eat and let everyone rest a few minutes before we head out, sir."

John nodded. "Have you talked to anyone in the village?"

"Yes, sir. Dr. Beckett is there with Major Teldy's team. He's treated the villagers and reported that none of the injuries were severe. He's been advised that you and one of the prisoners were injured, so he's waiting for our return."

"How bad is the prisoner?" John asked.

"Concussion and gunshot wound to the leg. He's been in and out of consciousness. Lt. Jackson says we'll need to carry him," said Lorne.

"So between moving the carts of supplies and us injured folks, we're going to be moving pretty slowly," John said. "Can we make it back by nightfall?"

"We can," said Ronon.

John frowned, wondering if he meant at Ronon speed or supporting injured while pushing heavy carts speed. Sighing again, he figured it didn't matter. They would move at whatever speed they could and they would either make it by nightfall or they wouldn't. At least they didn't have to worry about being attacked.

"Lt. Jackson wants to check your bandages in a moment," said Teyla. John looked past her to see the medic taking care of the injured prisoner. He guessed the man was doing his version of morning rounds.

"Okay, thanks for warning me," he said. From the look Teyla gave him, John didn't think he was meant to take it that way. But he knew any poking or prodding or moving or touching was going to hurt . . . as in hurt badly. He kind of wished they were already up and moving toward the village.

oOo

Had he really been wishing they were walking toward the village earlier? Because John was pretty sure that had been a serious error in judgment. The bandage check had hurt for sure, but nothing like the stabbing pain that each step jolted through his shoulder. It didn't take long for sweat to coat his brow, and it wasn't from being hot. The morning was actually comfortably cool, with a slight breeze to stir the air as they walked. Unfortunately, all John could think of was step, pain, step, pain.

Two hours in, John had narrowed his focus to keeping on his feet and keeping those feet in motion. And not screaming. He'd talked the medic into removing the IV for the walk back to the village. He'd also popped a couple of pain pills at breakfast, which for him had just consisted of water since he knew food wouldn't stay in his stomach for long. The medic had assured them they were better than plain Tylenol, but not strong enough to knock him out or make him too fuzzy to walk.

"John?" He heard his name but it didn't really register on his conscious. A touch to his left arm however got his attention and drew him out of his fugue. He realized everyone had stopped and most of them seemed to be looking at him.

"What?"

Teyla smiled. "We are stopping for a rest. Would you like some help sitting down?"

Glancing around, John nodded. "Yeah," he breathed out. Now that he was stopped, his energy seemed to flow out and he felt weak and shaky. Teyla must have sensed it, because she tightened her grip on his left arm, steering him to sit in the shade under a huge tree. There was a nice bed of moss, making the ground almost as soft as a cushion. John found himself wanting to curl up and go to sleep.

"Water?"

A canteen appeared in front of John's face, and he gratefully accepted the water. After drinking until his throat no longer felt completely parched, he handed the canteen back to Teyla. "Thanks."

"Do you feel like eating anything?" she asked.

John's stomach turned over and he shook his head, closing his eyes as he tilted back to lean against the tree. "No, thanks. Just need to catch my breath."

Teyla snorted at this, but he ignored her. He tried to put the pain out of his mind and get his body to relax. His team and his men were depending on him to stay on his feet.

Lt. Jackson had asked him if he wanted to ride on one of the carts, but John had turned him down. Initially it had been his stubborn need to walk back to the village, but once he'd seen how badly the cart bounced and jumped, he'd decided the decision was a wise one. The injured prisoner was being transported on one, but he seemed to be unconscious most of the time, a blessing to be sure.

"Are you all right?"

John forced his eyes open to find a worried Rodney McKay staring down at him. "Yeah, I'll be fine once we get back to Atlantis."

Rodney sat down beside him and poked the dirt with a stick for a minute. "Your shoulder . . . that medic guy seemed kind of worried. I just wondered . . . well, you know . . . I just wanted to make sure you'd be okay."

John frowned, now realizing what Rodney was asking. He was asking the question John had been hoping to avoid for a while. "If you're asking what I think you're asking . . . I don't know. Just have to wait and see what the doc says. And he may not know until it heals." He looked up to see fear in Rodney's eyes. "If it's up to me, I'll be around for a long time. I've been in the Air Force almost my whole adult life. What else would I do?"

"Well, I can think of a lot of things, but we need you here. So just, you know, follow what Carson says and get all healed up right so they don't send you away." Rodney grinned. "That's an order."

John snorted, but he also smiled. "Yes, sir, Dr. McKay sir."

"Well it took you long enough to figure out the proper chain of command around here."

John's grin faded and he groaned as Lt. Jackson approached. "Think you can order him to go away?"

"I can try," Rodney said.

oOo

Ronon watched Sheppard struggle to keep moving. He winced when the colonel stumbled, a groan slipping from his lips as Teyla grabbed his arm to keep him from falling. Ronon had broken bones before and he was very familiar with the pain of moving around before they had been properly set. He was also familiar with how much walking jarred the body, with each step sending shock waves through the injured limb. Sheppard had to be in agony.

He had watched Sheppard during their break as he tried to pull himself together so he could remain strong during the long walk back to the village. The big man had briefly considered going over to talk to Sheppard, offer him encouragement to help keep him going. But he had no idea what to say. Comfort wasn't really his thing and Sheppard knew that. He finally decided if he said very much, Sheppard would probably think he was dying and no one had told him. Then Rodney sat down beside him and Ronon knew the scientist would do what was needed. Rodney was no better at comforting than he and Sheppard were, but he was usually good for a laugh.

Ronon had immense respect for his commanding officer, built up in layers over the last few years of working together. Every time he thought he'd seen everything the pilot had to offer, he surprised him. The evolution from thinking Sheppard was a goofball to realizing he'd follow him anywhere in the galaxy had been a slow one, but sure and steady. Like right now. Sheppard was insisting on walking and refusing to acknowledge the pain he had to be in. Ronon knew the man wanted to set an example for his people, that when times were tough you kept on pushing. You didn't slow down unless you absolutely had to.

Ronon shook his head. He was going to have to pay more attention in case there were any loose Genii wandering around the area. Teyla was taking care of Sheppard and McKay was walking right behind them. They could keep John on his feet, but it was up to Ronon to make sure they all stayed safe. He dropped back a little from where he'd slowly moved up on the group to check on his CO. He had a job to do and he would not let Sheppard down.

oOo

Teyla grabbed John's left arm as he stumbled, keeping him from falling, but jarring his body all the same. A low groan slipped out. John's face drained of color and she thought for a moment he might pass out, but he straightened and grit his teeth.

"John?"

After a few panting breaths, John blew out a deep puff of air. "I'm 'kay." His voice was tight and constricted, as if forming the words had been hard work. "Uh, thanks for the catch."

Teyla gave a slight nod. The mask he'd had on when they first started that morning was beginning to slip. At that time, the only real sign of the pain John was experiencing was in his eyes. If you didn't know him well, you'd miss it. But Teyla knew him. She had seen him in all sorts of situations and conditions. She knew full well if you really wanted to know how much pain John Sheppard was in, you didn't ask him, you looked in his eyes. They were truly to the window to his soul when you knew how to look at them.

Teyla also knew that John was aware of how well she could read him, which explained why he refused to make eye contact. He probably didn't want her to worry, especially in light of the fact that there was nothing she could do. John did not like to be fussed over and he hated being injured. It wasn't that he avoided medical care when he really needed it or liked pain when it could be relieved. He just pushed through it as best he could whenever there were other things he needed to be doing. Things like fighting Wraith or getting his people home.

Teyla grinned, thinking of the huge amount of respect she had for her teammate. John eventually turned his head slightly to look at her curiously. "What?" he finally said.

"Nothing," she said, shaking her head. "I was just thinking about how nice it will be to get home."

"You got that right," he drawled. "I think I hate this planet. Or maybe just the stupid Genii."

oOo

Rodney was hot and tired. Really tired. But every time he opened his mouth to complain, he managed to be looking at the colonel as he struggled to walk across the rocky, uneven ground with a shoulder that was apparently all broken up. From what the medic had said, Sheppard would need a lot of luck to make his typical astounding recovery. Johnson or Jackson or whatever his name was had regaled him with the tale of some friend of his who ended up with a medical discharge from a similar wound.

Sheppard seemed to stagger for a moment until Teyla latched onto his good elbow. Rodney stepped forward to add one hand to the colonel's back. Sheppard seemed to shudder a moment before straightening his posture and regaining his balance. "M'okay," he mumbled.

"How much longer?" Rodney called to anyone listening who might have an answer. Lorne turned around, his brow furrowing when he saw Sheppard.

"Should be less than hour. We're almost there." The major stood, letting others go around him while he watched his CO until they had almost reached him. "You going to make it, sir?"

"Of course," Sheppard snapped and made a point of standing tall as he walked around Lorne.

Teyla flashed Lorne a grin as they passed and Rodney gave the man a two-fingered salute. Lorne smiled as he gave him a nod. Rodney would admit that he'd had doubts about Lorne at first. The man had seemed rude and impatient to Rodney, even though everyone else thought he was nice enough. They'd eventually gotten used to each other and he found Lorne rather tolerable now. He wasn't Sheppard, but he was pretty sharp for a military man. He obviously knew how to motivate the colonel. Nothing like a challenge to keep the man moving when he was almost dead on his feet. Sheppard was nothing if not stubborn.

oOo

When they could see the edge of the village, John had this brief desire to just sprawl out under the nearest shade tree. He was exhausted. And so hot he felt like he'd been walking through an oven all afternoon. The morning hadn't been bad with a gentle breeze keeping them cool. But after lunch it seemed he just got hotter and hotter.

"We are almost there," Teyla reassured him. She'd kept a pretty close eye on him all day, along with Rodney from his position behind them. He nodded, not sure he could speak at the moment. He'd had his jaws clenched together against the almost unbearable pain in his shoulder so long that his face ached.

Someone had apparently called ahead to let them know they were coming because Carson met them three steps past the first house. He took one look at John and a look of horror washed across his face, quickly replaced by what John called his 'neutral doctor's face'. The relief at seeing Carson was such that John was able to loosen his jaw enough to quip, "That bad, huh?"

Carson looked appalled and then began babbling about how they were going to fix him right up and not to worry. John would have laughed if he wasn't so afraid it would up the pain level. Teyla had taken him by the arm so he must have looked like he was going to pass out or something.

As they walked, he was aware of Lt. Jackson, who had appeared from somewhere, telling Carson about his patients. He began trying to get Lorne's attention to see what was to be done with the prisoners.

"Let it go, Colonel," said Rodney, moving up to his side. "Major Lorne will take care of everything. He knows what he's doing."

John must have looked quizzical because Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "What? I have the utmost trust in Major Lorne." Teyla snorted.

"In here, Teyla. Let's get the colonel onto a bed so I can have a look." Teyla steered him in behind Carson to a tent Atlantis has set up. It was apparently set up as a medical tent, because there were several beds occupied by injured villagers. Fortunately none looked serious.

John knew it was going to hurt to change positions that much, but he almost blacked out at the pain initiated by simply lying down. And that was with two people helping him. Things got a little fuzzy for a few minutes and the next thing he knew, he was looking up into Beckett's face.

"There you are. Back with us I see. I've decided not to unwrap your shoulder here. I think it will be best for both of us if that waits until we're back in the infirmary. We've started an IV as you were a bit dehydrated and your blood pressure was a little lower than I like. I'm going to give you a pretty strong dose of medication for the pain before we move you to Atlantis."

John frowned. "Wait, doc-"

Carson shook his head. "Colonel, we're going to have to carry you on a stretcher to the gate."

John thought about the rough trail that led from the village to the gate. It would take a while to get there carrying a stretcher and there was no way John was doing any more walking. He was pretty sure he couldn't even sit up at this point. "Painkillers sound pretty good right now, doc."

Carson smiled. "I thought you might see it my way this time around. Don't worry, son. We'll have you back in the city in no time."

John gave a tiny nod. "Doc . . . my arm . . . "

"You let me worry about sorting out that shoulder. Your job is to relax and let me know how bad the pain is. The real version, not some watered down account of how you're fine."

John sighed and then swallowed hard, clenching his jaw from a sudden wave of pain. By the time it passed, he was almost panting. "Make you a . . . deal, doc . . . you be honest . . . about my shoulder . . . and I'll be honest . . . about the pain."

Carson seemed to be studying him a moment before he finally nodded. "Agreed. No sugar coating from either of us. Now, since I can't give you an answer yet, you get to start."

"Let's just say . . . you can bring on those painkillers . . . any time now."

Carson smiled and patted his good arm. "I'd be happy to oblige, colonel."

oOo

Elizabeth hurried down the hall while trying not to look like she was in a rush. As the leader of the Atlantis expedition, she always felt the need to look calm and in complete control, even though she wasn't feeling very in control at the moment. When they'd carried John through the gate almost an hour ago, he'd been so pale she first thought he was dead. She was pretty sure she hadn't started breathing again until Carson assured her that he was not critical, just in need of some concentrated medical attention.

She stopped a few feet from the infirmary doors, careful to make sure no one was watching before straightening herself and taking a deep breath. Calmly strolling into the infirmary, she quickly spotted John's team and moved to join them. "Did everyone get checked out?"

Rodney, who was pacing back and forth while rubbing his hands together hesitated only a moment and then resumed his back and forth motion. "Yes, yes, we're all fine. Even Conan over there managed to get away with just some scratches."

She glanced at Ronon, who had a chair leaned back against the wall with his arms crossed. He did look a little scraped up, but she didn't see any bandages. He gave her a short nod, which she returned. Moving her eyes, she studied Teyla, sitting beside Ronon. "Teyla?"

"I am well. We are just worried about John. His shoulder wound seemed quite severe."

Indeed. All the time Carson had been assuring her that John would be alright, there had been a tenseness that was hard to read. And as soon as he made eye contact, he would quickly shift his gaze. She rubbed her arms at a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the temperature.

Ronon's chair banged loudly on the floor. By the time she looked up, he was up and moving toward Carson as he came from behind a curtained area. "Carson?"

Carson nodded at them and then sighed. "Well, he has broken both his clavicle and scapula. The bullet fragmented, along with some of the bone and caused a host of soft tissue damage. We've got damaged muscle, tendons, and ligaments. I've called Dr. Larson in to do the surgery and I'll assist."

Rodney's head shot up. "What? Wait, wait, why Dr. Larson? He's only been here a few weeks. Why don't you do it?"

Carson let out a long sigh. "Because this is exactly why I requested Dr. Larson. His specialty is orthopedic surgery and lord knows we need a lot of that here. He's much more qualified than I am to put the colonel back together well enough that . . . " He blanched, as if he'd said something he hadn't meant to.

Elizabeth frowned. "Carson, what is it?"

"His shoulder's in bad shape, isn't it?" asked Rodney.

"Aye, I'm afraid so. I didn't want to say anything negative, but . . . there are no guarantees with this kind of injury. But let's not jump the gun here. Dr. Larson is an excellent orthopedics man and we all know the colonel will put whatever effort is necessary in his recovery. I'm sure he'll be fine."

Elizabeth snorted and Carson looked miffed. She chuckled as she explained. "Just don't let John here you talk like that. And he thinks my bedside manner needs work."

Carson smiled. "I'll try to remember that. The rest of you may as well go get yourselves some dinner. The surgery is going to take a while. I'm afraid it may take some time to put humpty dumpty together again."

They all stood there looking at him for a full minute before Carson finally threw his hands up. "Bloody heck, get out of here. I'll call you if there are any problems and I promise, no matter how long you take, you'll still be back before he's out of surgery. Now shoo."

Groaning and mumbling, the group turned around and shuffled out of the infirmary. Elizabeth decided to tag along with them, partly for the company and partly so she could get a more detailed account of what had happened. The only thing she was sure of right now was that it had been a group of Genii still loyal to Kolya. They were apparently still holding down their base, even though he was dead. It reminded her of the Japanese soldiers that had been found manning bunkers and protecting jungle territory years after World War II had ended.

Elizabeth let out a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. Even after supposedly making peace with the Genii, they still managed to be a constant thorn in their sides. Anger bubbled inside her, making her clench her fists a few times as they walked. Most days she wished they'd never met or even heard of the Genii. This was definitely one of those days.

oOo

"Colonel, can you wake up for me?" Carson patted the cheek of his patient, smiling at the frown that immediately furrowed his brow. "That's a lad. Now open your eyes for me."

John's eyes fluttered a moment and then he groaned, closing them again. Drawing in a long slow pull on the nasal cannula, John attempted to lick his dry lips. Carson responded by picking up the cup of ice chips and sliding one onto the plastic spoon. He then touched the spoon to the lips of Colonel Sheppard. "Okay, Colonel, open up and I'll give you some ice."

John responded by opening his mouth just enough for the chip to slip in. A few moments later, the lids began their fluttering act again. This time, however, when they settled back to stillness, there was a small slit between the upper and lower lid.

Carson broadened his smile. "Good job, Colonel. I have some worried people who'd like a chance to see you for a moment."

At the mention of John's team, the struggle to open his eyes began in earnest. About the time he got his eyes open, the pilot licked his lips again and made a rough, croaking sound. Carson chuckled. "I'll interpret that as you'd like another ice chip." This time he spooned two into the man's mouth. John groaned in obvious relief.

"Team?" he rasped out.

"Everyone is fine," said Carson, not surprised at the question. "Well, everyone but you that is. I'm afraid that Genii did a number on your shoulder."

John groaned out loud this time. "Stupid Genii," he said a little more forcefully.

"Aye, I believe your team would agree. They've been cluttering up my infirmary, along with Elizabeth. Major Lorne keeps popping in as well in between taking care of the prisoners and checking on the men he left on the planet. I think they would appreciate seeing that I was telling them the truth when I said you were going to be fine."

John gave a small nod. "What about shoulder? How bad?"

Carson frowned. "I'm afraid the bullet pinged around a bit and broke into fragments. I believe we fished them all out, but they caused quite a bit of damage, along with the bone fragments. The clavicle had quite a bad break and the scapula was cracked along one side. There was a wee bit of damage to some of the muscles and tendons and such. You're in for quite a bit of physical therapy."

John continued to stare at the doctor, making the man nervous. "Back to duty?"

Carson hated questions like this. "I . . . I can't answer that just yet. I believe it to be quite possible, but the damage to the tendons and ligaments could be problematic." He couldn't miss the look of fear in the colonel's eyes. "Now don't go assuming the worst. All I'm saying is there are no guarantees. I think with proper physical therapy and proper time for healing, there is an excellent chance for a full recovery." He patted the man's leg. "Just don't get lazy on me," he said, knowing he needed to be worried about exactly the opposite.

John gave him a small smile. "Not to worry, doc."

Carson's expression sobered a bit. "Aye, that's what I'm afraid of. But you won't be doing anything of the sort for a few days. Rest is what you need right now."

"You said visitors," John said, then closed his eyes and frowned for a few moments.

"Breathe, Colonel," Carson instructed, noting the clenched jaw. After a few seconds, John took a shuddering breath and opened his eyes again. "Pain level?"

"Starting to creep up," John said, sounding a little winded.

Carson nodded. "All right. I'll get your visitors and then be back with something to help with the pain. Keep me in the loop on where we stand with that."

John gave one tiny nod. "I remember."

Carson went over to draw the privacy curtain back and motioned for John's team to come over, along with Elizabeth. "You can have a few minutes with him, then he needs to rest."

Rodney stopped as the others went in. "You said he'd be fine."

"I believe that he will," answered Carson.

"If I'm not mistaken, this is where you usually keep ICU patients and I can't help but notice the monitors set up around the colonel. That doesn't look fine to me."

Carson sighed. He was tired and his patience was almost at an end. He reminded himself that Rodney was just concerned about his friend and not purposely trying to irritate him, at least not this time.

"Rodney, the colonel has just come out of a difficult surgery that he had to wait almost 24 hours for. He lost a bit of blood and got bumped around in the meantime. And he's developed a bit of hematoma . . . uh, blood clot, that is getting close to the space around the heart. It shouldn't be a problem, but I think it prudent to keep him under strict observation. I don't expect problems, but I like to be prepared in case they happen."

Rodney glanced at the man in the bed. "Oh, right. Well, considering who we're talking about, that's probably a good idea. I'll just go . . . " Rodney waved his hand in John's direction and then nodded before walking over to join the others. Carson rolled his eyes.

The doctor returned a few minutes later and made his way over to administer the promised drug. The crowd around his patient was chuckling and John was smiling as well. "Did I miss something?" Carson asked.

Elizabeth grinned. "John was just making some suggestions about the Genii." She gave a little fake cough and then glanced down at her bleary second in command. "I think he's a little upset with them right now."

"Stupid Genii," John muttered with a slight slur.

"Can you blame him?" Rodney asked. "They've been nothing but trouble from the moment we met them. Personally I'd be thrilled if we never laid eyes on one again."

"What about the prisoners?" asked Ronon.

"Oh, I'm sure you could think of something to do with them," Rodney offered.

Ronon grinned in a way that was feral and more than a little scary. "I could take care of them."

"Ronon!" Teyla snapped. With a huge sigh she turned to Rodney. "You should not encourage him in that way."

Rodney's shoulders slumped and frowned at the floor. "Usually I'd agree with you, but when it comes to the Genii, I think I could make an exception. This isn't the first time they've almost killed Sheppard . . . or the rest of us for that matter."

"This wasn't the Genii, per se," offered Elizabeth. "It was a band of rogue soldiers loyal to Kolya. Since Ladon took over command of the Genii, we haven't really had any problems with the general population. What I'm worried about is that there may be more of these splinter groups, either still carrying out Kolya's missions or not aware of his death. We'll need to be careful."

"Need . . . need some intel," John said softly, his eyes almost closed. "Tell . . . tell Lorne . . . " His eyes drifted closed to unintelligible murmurings and then he was asleep.

Rodney shook his head. "He just can't stop himself, can he?"

Elizabeth grinned and shared a look with Teyla. "No, he can't."

"Which is going to cause me all sorts of grief for the next few weeks," said Carson with an audible sigh. "All right, the lot of you out of here. He needs to rest and so do you."

As they all filed out, Elizabeth hung back and Carson knew she wanted a more detailed report. They stood looking at the sleeping pilot for several moments before he spoke. "I'm assuming you want a full report."

Elizabeth chuckled under her breath. "You know me pretty well."

"Aye, well it's not like this is the first time we've had this dance. He should be fine. We had to plate and screw the clavicle back together as it was a bit of a mess. The scapula was really just a crack, not even separated. The bullet fragmented and did quite a bit of damage to the surrounding soft tissue. He's darn lucky an artery didn't get hit or he'd have bled out long before they got him back."

Elizabeth shuddered. "I keep wondering how many more times he can cheat death. He promised me he'd try to stop this."

Carson laughed. "You realize that's like getting a shark to promise he'll be a vegetarian."

Rolling her eyes, Elizabeth shook her head. "Yes, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try. What about his recovery?"

"Right now I'm worried about infection because he went without real treatment for so long. I know they did what they could in the field, but the situation was not ideal, for sure. I've already started him on antibiotics because I feel the chances are so high, so hopefully that will keep any brewing infection at bay. Or at least minimize it. I'll keep his shoulder pretty much immobilized for probably eight to twelve weeks, until the bone has healed. Because the damage was so severe to the clavicle, I don't want him starting PT too early, especially since we know he'll do his own continuation when we aren't looking."

Elizabeth chuckled again. "Seems like you know him too."

"Aye, I've had a bit of experience in that area. He'll be chomping at the bit to get back to duty so he'll push himself hard. In a few weeks I'll set him up with physical therapy so he can do some exercises that strengthen the surrounding joints and keep them functioning properly. That will give him something to work on that won't damage his shoulder. And we may be able to let him work on range of motion in about eight weeks, depending on how things look."

Elizabeth was quiet for a few seconds and Carson braced himself for the next question. "What about long term prognosis?"

Yep, that was the one. "As I was telling the colonel, there are no guarantees. It is very possible, probable in fact, that he will regain full use of his shoulder, although full strength and range of motion may take a while. But there can be all sorts of complications with this type of injury that we don't see until later on."

"So, basically we'll have to wait and see."

"Aye, I'm afraid so."

Elizabeth seemed to wilt a little. "He's gonna hate that."

"I know. I think we all are."

oOo

Carson set John up with a morphine pump the next day. He was hurting enough that he used it, much to the doctor's delight. But the result was that the next few days passed in a drugged haze that left John wondering what parts of the scattered images and conversations in his head were real. On the fourth day, he decided he'd had enough and told Carson to get the thing away from him. Carson was thrilled it had lasted as long as it did and obliged the colonel with no lectures or complaints.

John was propped up with enough pillows to take the stress off his shoulder. He'd be the first to admit that he was a grouch right now. His shoulder hurt. Not the way it had on the planet, but it was constant and unrelenting and wearing on his last nerve. On top of that, he had to do everything with his left hand and he was very definitely right handed. He couldn't wait for the fallout when he had to sign something and some poor schmuck had to read it. Actually, considering what his signature had degenerated to lately, there might not be much difference.

"Are you still imitating Oscar the Grouch?" asked Rodney as he bounced up to John's bed.

John cast him a sour look. "Let's trade places and see you be Mr. Sunshine."

"That would be a yes, then." Unfazed, the scientist pulled up a chair and plopped down. "Well, I've come to cheer you up."

John scowled, irritated by the man's buoyancy. "You're kidding, right?"

"Nope," Rodney replied, continuing to grin. "You remember how we never could detect those Genii soldiers on P3X-499, even when we knew they were there?"

"Yeah," John drawled, his interest beginning to perk up.

"Well, we went back and got some samples of the rock around that cave they were based in. Guess what?"

John waited, but Rodney just grinned at him, bouncing his feet up and down. "What?" he finally growled.

Not noticing the irritation in John's voice, Rodney continued to grin. "Radek and I have isolated properties in one of the minerals that disrupt any attempt at scanning. We're going to test it for cloaking properties next. We think it may be one of the key elements used in making the shield and the cloak."

John was glad he was no longer in ICU because the heart monitor would have gone crazy. He hadn't been this excited since the last time they thought they'd found a ZPM. "So, we might can make our own shields and cloaks?"

"That's the plan. Now that we know what we're looking for, we've found some new stuff in the Ancient database. It's not going to be any time soon, mind you, but I think we can eventually manufacture our own shields and possibly cloaks. If we can find a power source, we might be able to set up protection for some of these planets, as well as fortify our own."

John grinned, his mind already whirring with the possibilities. "That's great, Rodney. You'll have plenty of time to work on it since our team won't be gate ready for a while," he said, nodding at his shoulder. He tried not to think about the possibility he might not ever go out with his team again.

Rodney's expressions morphed into worry for a few seconds. He must have picked up on John's moment of self pity and John mentally poked himself for the slip. "Oh, well, yeah, that's good I guess. But knowing you, you'll be crashing into my lab and pulling me away from important stuff to go meet and greet some new village of buffoons in no time."

"Yeah, no time at all," John said, trying to sound upbeat and failing miserably. Rodney was floundering, trying to think of something to say and John had no idea what to do. They were both saved by the arrival of Ronon and Teyla.

"McKay, we've been looking for you," said Ronon. He looked irritated.

"You could have just . . . " Rodney trailed off as he reached for his radio only to discover it wasn't there. He suddenly remembered taking it off in the lab because Dr. Simmons kept radioing him with stupid questions, keeping him from getting anything done. "Oh, sorry. What did you need?"

Teyla walked over to put her hand on John's left arm, carefully avoiding the IV. "John, are you well this morning?"

"He's a bit grouchy," said Rodney.

"Where have you guys been?" asked John. "I'm actually lucid today and there hasn't been anyone to talk to. Unless you count the nurses and they're always busy taking your temperature or your blood pressure or something."

"I am sorry no one was here for you," said Teyla. "Ronon and I went to check on Barros and the people of the village. Dr. Beckett said you were still running a fever and would likely sleep."

John rubbed his face, feeling bad he'd sounded like he needed someone at his bedside all the time. He did still feel overly warm, which was probably contributing to his bad mood. "No, that's okay. I got Carson to get rid of the morphine pump so I'm not as out of it as I was. The stuff he's got me on now makes me kind of sleepy, but not all lost in a drugged haze like the morphine."

Teyla frowned. "Does it not leave you in more pain?"

John went to shrug his shoulders and gasped at the pain caused by the mistake. It took a few seconds for the wave to pass. Not doing that again. "Some, but not intolerable. It's worth it not be so zonked."

"Nice move, Sheppard," commented Ronon with a big grin. Leave it to the big guy to notice what he'd done. Glancing at Rodney's smirk and Teyla's furrowed brow, he realized they'd all seen his little goof.

"Thanks, Chewie," John ground out. He took in a deep breath and blew it out slowly, allowing his tensed muscles to relax. "How are Barros and the villagers?"

"They are doing well," said Teyla, her expression relaxing. "Elizabeth has kept a rotating group of soldiers to help with the repairs and to watch in case any of the Genii escaped. She has also kept medical personnel there to help the injured. Barros thinks they will no longer have need of our help by the end of the week. Fortunately most of the food stolen was recovered, so he believes they will have enough after harvest is completed to make it through the winter."

"That's good," said John. The knowledge that the settlement would be okay left him feeling better. He hated it that one had been killed, but there was nothing they could have done to prevent it.

"Hey, you never did answer my question," Rodney said. "What did you want me for?"

"To eat," said Ronon.

Rodney's eyes widened. "Right, it is lunch time, isn't it. I'm in."

John's face fell a little, but he quickly recovered and smiled. "You guys enjoy lunch. I'm sure they'll bring mine any time now."

Ronon grinned and smacked the bottom of John's foot. "Don't look so sad, Sheppard. We'll bring you a tray."

"Actually, we were going to bring our trays back as well so we could eat together. We have not done so in many days," said Teyla.

John's smile grew into a wide grin. "That'd be great. Thanks guys."

"Be back in a few," said Rodney as they left. John sat thinking about his team and how well they knew him. He'd never intended for it to work out this way, but he was sure glad it had. His grumpy mood had pretty much evaporated and he found himself looking forward to their return. The pain in his shoulder had been a lot easier to ignore with the distraction of his friends present. In that moment, he finally realized that he would do whatever it took to get back to these people. No more doubts. Just a clear focus on his objective.

oOo

John let his eyes rove the mess hall, but did not see any of his team. He was actually a few minutes early, having nothing else to do but meet his team for lunch. Carson had finally released him from the infirmary that morning after ten long days. His shoulder was still really sore and trussed up so as to keep it from any movement. It had been less than two weeks and he was already tired of this. Recovery was months away still. Looked like he was in for another long haul.

Moving forward, he decided to go ahead and get his tray and find them a good table. When he got to the end of the line with a loaded tray, he realized he wasn't going to be able to manage the thing with one hand. Wow John, that was smart.

"Colonel, can I give you a hand?" Lorne had been in front of him in line and had apparently set his tray down and then noticed John's dilemma. He hated to ask for help, but it was either that or hold everyone behind him up.

"Yeah, actually I could. I seem to have forgotten that I need two hands." John felt his face flush with heat. He hated being dependent like this and he felt like he was imposing. Lorne's team watched as their leader carried John's food tray to the table in the far corner. He gave them a nod as he went by and they waved.

Lorne set the tray down. "There you go. I'm guessing your team is meeting you here?"

John nodded as he sat down. "Yeah, I was bored out of my mind, so I came down a little early. I figured it beat sitting in my quarters staring at the wall. Thanks, Evan."

Lorne grinned and shrugged his shoulders. "My pleasure. I seem to remember you carrying my tray a few times last year when I sprained my ankle and was on crutches."

"Oh, yeah." John had forgotten about that. For some reason, that made him feel so much better. He had been more than happy to help Lorne and he could tell that the man was genuinely happy to return the favor. "Thank you," he said, and he meant for more than just carrying the tray.

"You're welcome, sir." Lorne gave him a nod before returning to his table. John was pretty sure he'd gotten the intended message. Taking a drink from his glass, he saw Teyla and Ronon enter the mess hall and wave, followed a minute later by Rodney. It wasn't long before his friends were plunking their trays down and taking the seats around him.

"So, what have you been doing this morning?" asked Rodney. The scientist had escorted him to his room that morning after his release and then hurried off to the lab at Zelenka's call.

"Whole bunch of nothing," said John, trying to figure out how he was supposed to cut up meat with one hand. That hadn't been a very intelligent selection. He started trying to cut it with his fork. "What happened in the lab? I didn't hear any explosions."

"False alarm. Those idiots wouldn't know a power overload if it blew up in their face," Rodney said. He cut off a big slice of meat and stuffed it in his mouth. "Hey, this is pretty good," he said once he'd swallowed.

John was still trying to saw off a piece to try. He'd gotten a lot better at eating with his left hand, but trying to cut meat with a fork just wasn't working. He finally gave up and scooped up a bite of potatoes.

"Want me to cut it up for you?" asked Ronon with a smirk.

John glared. "No, I do not. I'm fine, I just don't want any right now."

Rodney chuckled. "Right. That's why you just spent ten minutes sawing on that piece with your fork. Just swallow your pride and ask for help like a big boy."

John could feel the heat of his face flushing in embarrassment. He couldn't do much of anything for himself right now and it was pissing him off. He was supposed to be the military commander of the city and he couldn't even cut up his own meat. He was so busy fuming that he almost missed Teyla pulling his plate over.

"John, do not give into your pride. Everyone needs help on occasion." She was actually cutting up his meat. John looked at the table, unable to look at the smirks on his friend's faces.

"We just don't usually need our food cut up for us. Hey, if you're nice, maybe she'll feed you too," said Ronon. He and Rodney bumped fists. Ronon. And Rodney. He didn't know they ever did that.

Teyla slid the plate in front of John, but he'd lost his appetite. He knew they were kidding, but it was still humiliating.

"Perhaps you two are the ones who need to be fed, for you are acting like children. Maybe you need a nap or a lesson in manners." Teyla's sharp voice cut the smile right off the two men's faces. They both mumbled something that sounded like an apology and quickly filled their mouths with food.

John glanced at his silent teammates and then back to Teyla. "Uh, thanks, you know, uh, for the help."

The stern look on her face melted into a beautiful smile and she set her hand on his. "John, I am always happy to help a teammate. We are friends. We take care of each other." The stern look returned as her eyes moved to the two men across the table. "Right?"

Ronon and Rodney nodded and made garbled noises around their food. Elizabeth came up with her tray about then and joined them at the table. After getting settled, she looked at Teyla and nodded toward Rodney and Ronon. "They're awfully quiet."

Teyla arched one eyebrow. "They have said enough for today."

John almost choked on the bite he was chewing. He managed to swallow and wash it down with some water.

"I'm guessing you're glad to be out of the infirmary," Elizabeth said.

"Always," John answered. "Hey, whatever happened to those Genii prisoners we took from the planet?"

Elizabeth frowned as she poked her fork into the potatoes. "We gave Ladon a call and told him what happened. He took them off our hands. I get the impression they'll be spending some time in a Genii prison."

"At least they won't be burning and pillaging villages," said John.

"True," she replied. "It's good the village only lost one person. It could have been a lot worse."

"It always seems to be bad if the Genii are involved," muttered John.

"What are you up to this afternoon?" asked Elizabeth.

"Probably more watching the paint age on the walls. I'm not allowed to do much of anything yet."

Teyla rolled her eyes and Elizabeth chuckled. "That's called recovery, John. I think I'll have a few minutes this afternoon if you'd care to drop by for a game of chess."

John looked at Elizabeth and knew she was trying to save him from himself. "You're on," he said, grateful for the distraction.

Rodney apparently got his courage back because he suddenly chuckled. "Hey, maybe you could get Teyla to go with you and move your –"

"McKay!" John snapped, pointing his finger at the scientist. "Maybe you need to work on your hand to hand combat techniques. I know a couple of marines I could get to tutor you. Tailor made instruction, just for you."

Rodney's face drained of color. "Uh, no, no, never mind. I was just . . . hey, look at the time. I need to get back to the lab. See you."

Ronon laughed as Rodney hurried from the room. The laugh cut short when he turned back around and saw John looking at him. "Ronon, if you're bored I think there might be some archaeologists that need an escort to –"

"I've got to meet someone . . . somewhere . . . now." Ronon jumped from his chair and left almost as quickly as Rodney.

Teyla sighed. "John, do you feel better now?"

Leaning back in his chair, John grinned. "As a matter of fact, I do."

oOo

Breathing hard, John lowered himself onto the bench and leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. His sweat soaked shorts and t-shirt clung to his body. His hair was plastered to his face at the hairline. He could feel a drop of sweat making its way down the side of his face, tickling as it went, but he didn't have enough energy to lift his hand and wipe it away. He was exhausted and his shoulder ached and burned.

"Good job today, colonel."

John opened his eyes to look up at Kyle Jamison, his physical therapist. "Thanks," he breathed out.

Kyle grinned, which annoyed John to no end. "Be sure and take some pain relievers when you get back to your quarters. I know you'll want to do some extra reps on your own, but wait a few hours and let your shoulder rest first." He picked up John's bottle of Gatorade and held it out until John took it. "Keep hydrated."

John just nodded. He felt pretty lucky he got his body to do that much motion.

"You, uh, need a hand back to your quarters?"

John shook his head. "Minute . . . to rest."

Kyle nodded. "Okay. I don't have anyone scheduled for another half hour, so if you change your mind, just let me know."

John nodded again. After a few moments, he took the lid off his Gatorade and drank most of the bottle. He wished there was a tub of cold water sitting here that he could just roll off into. Walking back to his quarters was going to be hell. He might have zoned out for a few minutes, because Ronon's sudden and loud voice made him jump.

"Sheppard."

"What?" John snapped, opening his eyes to see his teammate grinning down at him.

Without a word, Ronon held out his hand. John stared at it a moment, contemplating being difficult before he finally took it and let Ronon pull him upright. He rubbed at his shoulder a moment and moved his arm back and forth, trying to loosen the tightening muscles. Yeah, he was thinking about maybe ten ibuprofen when he got back to his room. If only Carson didn't count every single one he gave him, he might actually entertain that idea.

"You coming?"

"Yeah, yeah, don't get your panties in a wad." At least his breathing had slowed enough he could talk now. They headed out of the PT room, Ronon letting him set the pace. "You checking up on me?"

"Maybe. The doc said the first week of PT can be brutal."

John snorted. "Not my first week, Chewie."

"First one where they really made you work. That other stuff was for kids."

Well, the man wasn't wrong. The range of motion exercises had been pretty easy. Nothing compared to what he was doing now, work wise or pain wise. It had been around three months since he was shot and his shoulder was still very sore. The swelling and bruising had taken forever to start going away. He still got little lightning bolts of pain, burning, or tingling across the area, but Carson had assured him that would go away as the nerves healed. He was just so tired of all of it, the pain, the inability to use his right arm for all but a few simple tasks, the lack of energy from being so inactive, the boredom.

Okay, the boredom issue was getting a little better. He'd finally talked Carson into letting him do light duty, which meant paperwork and meetings, but it was better than nothing. He just wanted to go back to normal and that was still weeks away at best. Rodney had been happy to work in his lab the last few months. Ronon and Teyla had been helping out some of the other teams on their missions. Every time they left without him, John got this sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He wondered if that was how Elizabeth felt when they gated out.

"We're here," Ronon announced, making John realize he'd been walking on autopilot while his mind was a million miles away.

"Yeah, okay. Thanks for the escort."

"Need anything?" Ronon looked concerned, which was a new look for the Satedan. John wondered how bad he looked to warrant that.

"Nah, I'm gonna shower and then lie down for a while I think. Kyle really wiped me out today."

Ronon nodded. "I'll drop by when we head to supper."

"Sounds good. Hopefully I'll feel human again by then."

Ronon stood a moment, looking awkward. John opened the door, but paused, thinking the Satedan needed to say something else.

"I . . . I know you're tired of all this, Sheppard. Just . . . you know . . . don't give up." He quickly turned and hurried off down the hall before John even had a chance to process what he'd said. When it finally sunk in, John smiled.

"I won't Chewie." With a little more energy than he'd had before, John headed for the shower.

oOo

"Hey!"

Elizabeth looked up to see John Sheppard standing in her doorway. "Hey yourself." He sauntered in like only John Sheppard could do and draped himself across one of her chairs. "What's up?" Because he was definitely up to something.

It had been almost four and a half months since he'd been brought through the gate looking dead and it still gave her nightmares. She knew everyone under her was supposed to be of equal concern, but it just didn't work like that. John was her friend, her confidante. They had worked together through many trials and losses and suffering to keep this city going. They shared a love for Atlantis that she was pretty sure no one else understood. To them this wasn't a job or a posting, this was home, where they belonged. For very different reasons, she figured, but it was still home.

John had plastered that cocky, lop-sided grin on his face, the one that always meant trouble. With a deep sigh, she braced herself. "How's the physical therapy going? Carson assures me you're making great progress."

"Yeah, that's what they tell me. He even admitted this morning that he feels confident I'll make a full recovery."

"That's wonderful! I know the possibility of complications has had you worried." She was a lot more relieved than she let on. The possibility of losing John permanently had left her shaken. She wasn't sure what would have hit him hardest, being sent back to Earth or the medical discharge that would take him away from his beloved aircraft. And she would have probably been stuck with Caldwell as a replacement. Steven was a wonderful Air Force officer and she was always grateful for the help he afforded when needed. But she just couldn't see him as a permanent fixture. She really thought he would be too rigid to be the best commander of Atlantis's forces. No one could do last second out-of-the-box survival plans like John Sheppard.

"Yeah, so, I was just thinking. I haven't been off world in over four months and –"

"John, there's a reason for that. I know you're progressing well, but I'm pretty sure if Carson had cleared you for active duty I'd have heard it by now."

He frowned, or maybe it was more of a pout. "I know, I know. I've just . . . Elizabeth, I'm going crazy sitting around doing paperwork and weapon's checks and playing with the duty schedule. I've got cabin fever like you wouldn't believe." He was starting to sound whiney and it wasn't like him to do so. He must really be going nuts.

They sat staring at one another for several moments before Elizabeth got a brainstorm. "Hold that thought." She keyed her radio. "Carson, it's Elizabeth."

"Aye, lass, what can I do for you?"

"Are you still going to the Athosian village to do a medical clinic tomorrow?"

"That I am. Teyla and Ronon are tagging along as well. Is there a problem?"

"No, no problem. I wondered if I could get you to consider taking one more with you?"

"Colonel Sheppard is up there begging to go off world, isn't he?"

"Why Carson, you're down right psychic."

"No, it doesn't take special powers to see that one coming. He's been bugging me about when I'll clear him for duty. I've actually been waiting on something like this. Well, it should be a very simple day and I'll be right there with him to make sure he doesn't try to do anything stupid, like playing football with the young ones. He can come."

"Thank you, Carson. I'll have him check with you on the time." Clicking her radio off, she grinned at John. "Alright, I know it isn't exactly what you had in mind, but you can go with Carson to see the Athosians tomorrow. Teyla and Ronon are going as well."

John sat up straight and grinned. "That'll work. Anything to get me out of here for a while. Hey, maybe I can talk Rodney into coming." He jumped up and hurried out the door, only to make a quick turn and stick his head back in. "Thanks Elizabeth!" Then he was gone. Elizabeth smiled. If only he was always so easy to please.

oOo

John entered his quarters and immediately paced a circuit around the room. He felt like he needed to bounce off the walls. He'd been so excited about the trip to New Athos. And while it had been good to get out of the city for a day and he'd enjoyed the openness of the settlement, it had been a bit disappointing as well. Or maybe frustrating was a better word.

It had started with Jinto's look of disbelief when John explained why he couldn't play football with them. His arm was no longer in a sling and he was getting a pretty good range of motion, but even he knew he'd never make it throwing a football. The kids had just stared at him like he was lying and walked off. Teyla had explained they were just disappointed, but John felt like all the disappointment was aimed at him.

Then Carson had refused to let him do anything. No helping carry things on or off the jumper, no helping set up, nothing. Halling had distracted him by taking him on a walk to show him the local fishing stream, but when they got back, the women, apparently having heard he'd been injured, kept trying to shove a drink in his hand and make him sit down. You need to rest, they told him. He'd finally snapped at some older woman who was especially persistent. She kept telling him he needed to take a nap before dinner.

"I'll sleep when I'm dead," he'd yelled, his patience at an absolute end. Then she apologized and he could see her tearing up as she turned away. He followed her back to her tent apologizing and trying to explain that he wasn't really mad at her, that he was just frustrated with his situation. She'd forgiven him, but he was pretty sure Teyla hadn't. He was almost certain that she'd filed that little event under her list of reasons to beat the snot out of John Sheppard when he's back to sparring.

"I'm so stupid," he mumbled. "But not as stupid as the Genii." Hopefully he'd never be that stupid. He decided to do some exercises since he'd missed PT that day. Oh, he'd done a few exercises when he got bored, but nothing like the workout he got when he went to PT. Changing into his shorts and a t-shirt, he grabbed a water bottle and headed for the PT gym.

John spent the next hour pushing himself like never before, determined that he would regain what he had lost before he completely flipped out and lost what was left of his mind. He was taking a break and holding the still cool water bottle to his face when Ronon came in.

"Thought I'd find you here."

John just grunted. He didn't really feel like talking. Ronon seemed to realize that, which made sense when you considered he didn't talk much himself. After a while, when John felt less like collapsing into a sweaty heap, he got up to continue.

"Need any help?"

John looked over at his friend, deciding he looked like it was a sincere offer. "Actually, yeah, if you don't mind. There's some stuff I can't really do by myself."

Ronon stood and came up next to him. "Just tell me what to do."

John grinned, feeling better for some reason. "Okay. Uh, thanks." And he began to explain how Ronon could help with the next exercise.

oOo

John sat on the exam bed, swinging his legs. Carson was going over the results of the tests and the physical exam he'd just spent the morning putting John through. Everything had been done in a back room to give John some privacy. He figured Carson was trying to protect him in case things didn't work out. If he failed, the IOA had made it clear that John should probably return to Earth to finish his rehab. John figured that was a one way ticket home. But then, he always thought that. He guessed that was his pessimistic side coming through. That or his worst nightmare.

He knew it was going to be close. Range of motion had been fine, but he felt like he'd cut it a little close on the strength and endurance. It was getting better all the time and he knew he could keep going with it, Carson had even told him so. But the IOA was impatient and thought six months was plenty of time. He'd heard Carson tell them it could take nine months to a year to get his full strength and mobility back, but they had cut him off and made their wishes clear.

John thought the whole thing was because some of them still wanted him out and saw this as their chance. He'd been handling all the military stuff for months now, he just couldn't go off world on missions. But he knew plenty of military commanders who hardly left their office. He wasn't one to sit in a comfy chair at a desk while his men slogged through mud or deserts dodging Wraith and wild animals and crazy Genii. But for the short term, he could still do his duties as military commander. That meant there was still a faction out there that wanted him gone. Well, they'd have to fight for it.

He smiled when he remembered arriving early to his meeting to find Elizabeth and Carson both arguing with some IOA suit via a link to keep him on Atlantis. He'd been so flabbergasted to have people defend him so fervently that he'd been speechless. Carson and Elizabeth had been a bit embarrassed when they realized he'd heard the conversation and had assured him that he wasn't going anywhere. He'd just been thrilled to know how much they wanted him to stay.

"You're looking awful chipper," said Carson as he approached the bed.

"Just, uh, thinking about something," John replied. He tried to read Carson's expression, but the man had such an unreadable doctor face when he wanted to.

"Well test results look good, the bones have healed nicely. I didn't see any residual signs of damage to the tendons or ligaments in your scan. A little scar tissue that might impede your range of motion, but I think it'll be slight enough you don't notice."

John nodded. That was almost exactly what he'd told him at his last check up, so nothing new there.

"Your range of motion is well within acceptable limits. The strength and endurance tests were not quite as good, bordering just on the edge of accepted parameters. I do believe if you continue your exercises on your own, that you'll see those things continue to improve. I know you're still having some pain and stiffness at times. The continued exercises should help with those issues also."

John looked at the doctor, trying to figure out if he'd missed his answer or if the physician had even given him one. "Doc, what are you saying?"

Carson finally smiled. "I'm saying I'm clearing you for active duty, you ninny."

John let out a loud "Whoop!" to which Carson backed up and covered his ears. But he had to laugh at John's enthusiasm.

John jumped down off the table and Carson stepped in front of him. "Colonel, I do expect that you will let me know if you have any new pain or if it gets significantly worse. And if you experience any grating or unusual pulling, I also want to know. Otherwise, just continue with the exercises and I'll continue the monthly checks, probably for the next several months."

John nodded. "You got it, doc."

"What about those shooting pains along the top of the shoulder?"

John shook his head. "Not in . . . .probably six weeks."

"Okay. Grab your shirt and you're free to go. I'm pretty sure there's a mob of people in the waiting area. You'll probably want to go celebrate."

"Thanks, doc," John said, pulling on his t-shirt. He was almost to the door when he turned around. "You want to join us? You had a lot to do with this being a good day."

Carson chuckled and shook his head. "You did the work, colonel. And thank you, but I'm on duty and have a couple of sets of stitches to check on. Enjoy your celebration. You've earned it."

John nodded and met the doctor's eyes. "Again, thank you. You have no idea how much staying here means to me."

"Oh, I have an idea," Carson said as John went through the door. There actually was a bit of a crowd in the waiting area. His team, which he expected, along with Elizabeth, Lorne, and even Radek were all standing around looking expectant.

"Looks like you're stuck with me," he said, a broad smile breaking out across his face.

"Oh, thank goodness," Rodney said, slumping against the wall as if exhausted.

"Aw, Rodney, I didn't know you cared," John teased.

"I don't. But I had the mess hall make a cake and it was going to be kind of embarrassing if you failed and the cake said congratulations."

John's head shot up. "There's cake?"

Teyla took his arm and smiled up at him. "Yes, there is cake. We had faith in you."

"Thanks guys. What kind of cake? Chocolate?"

"Unfortunately, no. The mess hall ran out of cocoa so it's a white cake," said Rodney. "Apparently part of our last shipment never made it to the mess hall. I'm betting the Chemistry Department hijacked it. They're always complaining about there not being something chocolate for dessert. But this month, not a word."

Teyla rolled her eyes and John grinned at Rodney's theory. "So, what about the cocoa substitute we get from the Cimeroan market sometimes? You can't really tell much of a difference between that and the real thing." John wasn't usually so into chocolate, but this was a special occasion and he at least wanted chocolate frosting.

His team went suddenly quiet, most of them looking at the wall or the floor or anywhere but at him. John scowled. "Okay, what gives?"

Ronon growled and then looked over at John. "You aren't going to like it. We went there to get some but the Genii had just purchased it all. Some kind of a huge celebration they have every year."

John groaned. It just figured. Stupid Genii.

THE END

Prompt:

3 things you want (words/phrases/plot points): (Author only has to pick one)
"i'll sleep when i'm dead"
shoulder injury,surgery & aftermath
battling the elements and time- can be Pegasus/Atlantis or Earth bound

I tried to get all 3 in because I found it challenging and because I love to please. In doing so, I may have shortchanged the details a little. I tried not to but that deadline kept rearing its little head and distracting me. Anyway, I hope you enjoy!