Jennifer Keller was just leaving Woolsey's office when the alarms rang and the gate room technicians leaped to cheerful alert. Curious, she strolled to the rail to wait for whoever was returning. Even after two years on Atlantis, she was still somewhat amazed by the technology that had taken her an entire galaxy from Earth and enjoyed watching the Stargate perform its amazing feat.
"It's Dr. McKay's IDC," a technician called. "I'm lowering the shield."
Jennifer grinned. Even better! She could welcome Rodney back and walk with him to his post-mission checkup in the infirmary. She was walking towards the steps that would take her to the arrival platform when the stargate buzzed with a strange zap of energy and the normally smooth event horizon flashed and fuzzed out like a snowy TV signal.
She jerked a glance back at the technicians who were now all looking very tense. Chuck's fingers flew over the piano-like controls of the Ancient panel. When Woolsey emerged from his office with an air of concern, Chuck called out, "Mr. Woolsey, there's a massive power surge with the incoming travelers. I'm compensating to try to keep the wormhole from jumping!"
Jennifer didn't understand the technobabble, but she got that something was wrong. And that Rodney was in the middle of it. She turned and ran down the stairs.
The familiar splut of an arrival met her only halfway down, but instead of strolling through the gate one by one, four figures were flung out like they'd been tossed by a giant slingshot. There was a soggy thud as the jumble of bodies slammed into the gateroom floor and skidded several feet.
Jennifer exclaimed in alarm, almost tripped on the stairs in her haste to reach the bottom. She got to Rodney first. He had been flung the farthest into the room and lay panting on his stomach, gasping as if he'd just run a marathon. For all she knew he had! She realized. She dug her fingers into his neck, but he swatted her hand away.
"Sheppard," he wheezed. "Sheppard needs help."
She hesitated, but Rodney just waved her away, so she stood, looking for Colonel Sheppard amid the remaining pile. The still-sparking wormhole finally collapsed. Two gate security guards also rushed forward. One crouched and began speaking to Teyla who was sitting up and cradling her arm.
Jennifer stepped around Teyla and saw Ronon. He was lying on his side, curled around Sheppard whom he held tightly in his arms like a cat he'd just rescued from a tree. She took a hopping leap over the pair and almost slipped. The floor and the men themselves were sopping wet. Ronon had strange pieces of wood tied to his shoulders. She crouched to get a closer look at Ronon's face and saw that there was wood tied to his feet as well. What the hell was that about?
"Shppard," Ronon panted. "Jennifer, help Sheppard."
"Ok, I will, but you have to let go of him first," she replied, realizing she didn't sound too sympathetic, but she was feeling a little overwhelmed.
Sheppard had his arms over his head like he was defending himself from flying debris. It wasn't until Ronon groaned and heaved himself upright to roll Sheppard onto the floor that she saw the blood-crusted left side of Sheppard's face.
"Oh, boy," she whispered. She dug her fingers into the Colonel's neck, feeling her own pulse quicken when his felt fast and thready. Sheppard drew his knees up and clawed at his skull.
"I need a trauma team, a backboard and neckbrace," she bellowed to the room at large. Sheppard winced and tried to curl onto his side at the volume and she bit her lip, glared at Ronon. "Why did you move him?" she snapped. Head injuries terrified her. Ever since she'd….lost…Elizabeth.
She immediately regretted her tone, however, when Ronon scowled deeply with a flicker of anger in his eyes.
"We weren't in a safe place," he answered, his voice no more than a growl. "He was getting worse."
"How long ago was he injured," she asked next, keeping her voice calm this time. It was Teyla who answered.
"A little more than an hour ago."
"Did he lose consciousness at any point over that hour?"
"Yes. That tree knocked him unconscious immediately. He was out for almost five minutes. He also passed out about half an hour ago and we couldn't wake him for almost ten minutes. The lightning and thunder seemed to really bother him." This answer was from Rodney and Jennifer looked up from her first aid checklist to see the whole, sopping team, plus Woolsey and the two SOs, clustered around her.
"Lightning and thunder?"
"He was disoriented from the moment of the blow." Teyla again. "And grew more so over the course of the hour. He also seemed to be in more and more pain, the longer we waited. He hasn't been truly aware of his surroundings for the past half hour."
"I see. He was getting worse," she repeated, throwing Ronon a slight nod of apology. She was surprised by the relief her approval brought to his eyes. It must have been a hell of a storm.
Good news came in equal measure with the bad. She was very concerned about the team's description of the Colonel's disorientation, but a quick look revealed no asymmetrical dilation of the pupils. His blood pressure and heart rate was up, and he was obviously very sensitive to light and sound - he flinched at any noise around him and kept his face buried in his hands – but at least he was conscious. She felt much better when she spotted the trauma team racing out of the hallway towards the arrival platform. She grabbed for her scanner and stethoscope the second they shoved their way beside her.
"Get the neck brace on and get him on the backboard. Alert the infirmary that I want the scanner warmed up and ready for us immediately. Start an IV…"
The words flowed. She fell into the rhythm of her training and felt the fear recede into the part of her mind that wouldn't interfere with 'The Dr. Jennifer Keller's work.
The colonel resisted lying flat on the backboard, preferring instead to curl on his side and cover his head. When they finally wrestled him flat, he lay so tense and tight, she felt a flood of sympathy. She hated seeing a patient in pain. She hated not being able to do anything about it and pain-killers were out of the question until she knew the severity of the injury.
"Colonel," she whispered as she waited for the trauma team to finish their work and they could move him, "it's Jennifer. Dr. Keller. We're taking you to the infirmary. I'll try to help you with the pain as soon as I can, but you need to hang in there for a little longer."
"Okay, okay," he gasped and Jennifer was encouraged by his seeming comprehension. She smiled and looked up to share it with the Colonel's team who hovered just beyond her own. They all looked cold, wet and exhausted, but they returned her smile with hopeful looks. Rodney still had a chunk of wood tied to his head.
Sheppard muttered something, then repeated it more loudly. Jennifer bent to listen closely.
"What happened?" he said. His expression, even with tightly closed eyes, was confused and worried.
"Your friends brought you home, John," she answered. "Everyone is safe and you're home. That's what happened."
The Colonel finally relaxed a little, began to breathe deeply as if trying to manage the pain rather than simply endure it.
"That's…the answer…I wanted," he said softly.
"So we went through all of that and he's only got a concussion?"
"Hush, Rodney," Jennifer chided softly and Teyla suppressed a smirk when Rodney obediently snapped his mouth shut.
The three of them were standing in a secluded corner of the infirmary near John's bed where he lay now dressed in maroon infirmary scrubs and curled around an array of pillows and blankets. Teyla had waited until Jennifer had completed the scans of John's head and decided upon his treatment until she returned to her own quarters to change and clean up. Well, in truth, it was Jennifer who had insisted she change and clean up. The well-meaning doctor had shooed all of them out with the promise of no information or updates about John's condition until they'd rested.
Ronon hadn't returned at all, yet, and Teyla was grateful that the powerful man had allowed himself time to recover from the grueling rescue.
"There's no such thing as only a concussion, Rodney, and Colonel Sheppard has a severe concussion. You got him home in time for us to manage the brain swelling without surgery, but yes – the good news is that there is no hematoma or contusion of the brain. He will probably be very uncomfortable for several days and will need to rest for several more."
"Uncomfortable, how?" Teyla asked, eager to understand so that she could prepare comfort. "Will the head pain we observed him experiencing continue?"
"Most likely, though pain-killers will help. I also expect he'll feel dizzy, nauseous. He continues to demonstrate extreme sensitivity to light and sound."
"Which is why it looks and feels like a mortuary in here," Rodney groused. The lights were indeed dimmed to almost-dark and Jennifer had put John in a bed far from any other patients or activity. But Teyla thought the room felt more like a place of calm healing and hope than death and despair.
"Go and check on him already," Jennifer snapped, to Teyla's surprise. And apparently Rodney's surprise as well.
"Fine. I will."
"Fine. But be quiet. Remember that he feels like he's got a super-sized migraine and an inner ear infection all at the same time."
"Oh, wow. I had an inner ear infection once as a kid after some Neanderthal's down my street decided to throw me in the creek to teach me how to swim. It was more a runoff ditch than a creek and the water was filthy. It took two rounds of antibiotics to –."
"Rodney. Go." Jennifer interrupted with a shove.
Teyla watched Rodney lumber over to John's bed and then go respectful and quiet.
"He's just worried," Jennifer said, her voice low and her expression endearing as she watched Rodney. Teyla bit her lip to hide the amused smirk that threatened her lips. "He kept asking me if the Colonel suffered any brain damage." At Teyla's eyebrows up look of concern, Jennifer hastily waved away the worry. "John will have to be very careful about future head injuries – new evidence all the time indicates the consequences of multiple concussion are cumulative – but there is no current indication of any permanent effects."
"I am glad to hear that. It was very…disconcerting when he was so disoriented. He kept asking what happened. He couldn't remember where he was." She trailed off with a shiver of dread.
"That is not unexpected with this severe a concussion, but I also suspect the light and thunder had a lot to do with his disorientation." She looked at John and Rodney again. "Even The Lt. Colonel John Sheppard can be distracted by that much pain."
"Thank you for your care, Jennifer," Teyla whispered. She knew the words were not necessary, but she spoke them anyway.
"You're welcome, but I'll need your help to keep an eye on him over the next two weeks. Make him rest. Really rest. Once the pain recedes, he'll feel normal, but he will need time to completely heal. Let me know immediately if you notice any symptoms of depression, moodiness, irritability, lack of concentration."
Teyla nodded solemnly. She was listening, but she also needed to see John for herself, to prove to herself that he was on the path to recovery. Jennifer must have figured that out as well because she made a pretense of patting her pockets for her scanner and walked over to the bed to stand beside Rodney.
Teyla followed. Rodney was talking very fast in a hissing whisper.
"Chuck said that the surge caused by lightening striking the stargate was almost enough to cause the wormhole to jump to a new gate and who knows how that would have worked out. There are way too many space gates in the Pegaus galaxy for my comfort, which is probably why the Ancients built in some extra power buffering controls. The gate techs were able to compensate until we arrived. I've been talking to Woolsey about building some of that code into the Milky Way network which would –."
Jennifer finished a quick scan of John's vitals, then grabbed Rodney's arm and began to pull him away from the bed with a grin at Teyla.
"- give them the same control. Are we going somewhere? Oh, OK. Get better Sheppard. We still have to go over the data Major Teldy collected and I found another reference to another planet with an Ancient power source – ouch!"
Jennifer finally succeeded in dragging Rodney away leaving Teyla alone with John. She spent a moment studying him before she spoke. He was on his side, his arms wrapped around a pillow that he clutched tightly to his chest. Delicate wires were attached to his brow and temples and more trailed through the v-neck collar of his scrubs. A stack of machines blinked softly beside the bed, each tracing John's every heart-beat and even, perhaps, every thought.
His face was pale and sweaty and he swallowed constantly around deep breaths. She had sat with children suffering from flu and stomachaches often enough to recognize the discomfort of one enduring extreme nausea. The blood had been cleaned off of his face and a crisp white strip of gauze was wrapped around the black fluff of his hair, but a dark purple bruise darkened his left temple down to his tense, tightly-clenched jaw.
"Is he gone?" came a very soft whisper and Teyla ceased her scrutiny to see John cracking his eyes open ever so slightly.
"Yes," she whispered back in deference to his sensitive hearing, unable to keep the grin off her lips. "He was very worried and wished to check on you for himself, but I think Jennifer will keep him away if you want her to." John just breathed in what Teyla assumed was relief. He was lying too still to even nod. She debated whether to say anything more, it seemed such an effort for him to speak.
"What happened…" he began and Teyla stiffened, feeling a thrill of worry tickle her spine until he finished, "to you?"
Confused for a moment, she finally realized that he was shooting small peeks at the bandage she had wrapped around her elbow.
"I bruised my elbow when we were thrown through the stargate. It is not serious. I just forgot to remove the wrap after holding some ice on it."
"Ronon…okay?" This time, John didn't bother to open his eyes to speak.
"He is fine, just exhausted. I believe he said something about increasing your exercise and decreasing your caloric intake before he had to carry you a mile and a half over rough terrain again."
A ghost of a smile touched John's lips so Teyla asked the question that was truly burning in her heart, "John, how do you feel? Do you need anything?"
There was a long pause and Teyla had almost decided John had fallen asleep.
"Talk to me?" he said at last.
"You…want me to talk to you?"
"Yes. Tell story."
Teyla was growing amused. Perhaps he was more confused than she thought, but his brow knitted in concentration.
"Can't read. Can't listen to music. Head hurts. Talk to me…"
A rush of sympathy flooded her chest and she patted his shoulder before jogging over to grab a chair. He was watching her when she settled into the hard seat and leaned back.
"What story do you wish to hear?" she asked.
There was another long pause. John managed to look sheepish when he finally answered.
"Tell me how I hit my head and how we got off the planet."
Teyla frowned. "You still don't remember?"
"Remember some, but all fuzzy. Mostly remember that my head hurt."
Her smile returned. Yes, Jennifer was right. Even John Sheppard could be distracted by pain. He was not "scrambled", in Rodney's words. He was just a man who'd reached the limits of his endurance. It was frightening only in how unusual that was, but when it did happen, his team was there for him. As she was there for him, now.
"Do you remember the village?"
"Then I had better start from the beginning…"
This was written for kodiakbear for the Sheppard H/C Summer Fic Exchange. You can also find the story on my LJ!
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