A/N: written for the summer exchange over at sheppard h/c...this is my first attempt at an SGA story! Hope it works.
John wakes slowly. He's uncomfortably warm and his head feels thick and muddled with sleep as he stretches his arms above his head, groaning as he works out the cricks in his neck and shoulders. He falls back into his pillows with a groan and is contemplating just going back to sleep when his eyes shoot open and he sits bolt upright, swearing under his breath.
He fumbles for his watch, squinting at it in the half-light. 0800.
"Damn!" John hisses, throwing his blankets off and swinging his legs over the side. He's about to scramble into his uniform when he stops and lets out a low laugh, running a hand through his hair and shaking his head. After an accident with a river (Rodney fell in) on the last mission, Rodney's down with a broken leg, Teyla (who jumped in after him) has a concussion, and Ronon (who hauled them both in single-handedly) has a busted arm. John, miraculously, was the only one of them to come out unscathed. For once.
As a result of his entire team being out of commission and Carson's insistence that he's been looking 'a bit peaked of late' (which John argues is simply his naturally pale complexion and which Carson insists is a direct result of overstress and lack of sleep) they're all on leave until further notice, himself included.
To be honest, he's not sure what he's going to do with himself.
He finally decides to head out on his usual morning run and slips into his favorite pair of sweats. It isn't until he's tying his shoes that his finger smarts sharply and he remembers pricking it last night on something in his duffle.
"What the…?" John murmurs, looking at his finger. There are no visible marks, but it's throbbing and far more painful than it has any right to be. With a shrug, John finishes tying his shoes and steps out into the hallway, heading toward the west pier. He hasn't gotten very far when he hears Ronon behind him, the man's lumbering but somehow lithe gait unmistakable.
"Hey buddy," Sheppard says, pausing as Ronon draws up next to him. The Satedan's left arm is in a cast to his fingertips and strapped to his chest in a sling.
"Hi Sheppard," Ronon answers, grinning.
"You out for a run?" John asks suspiciously. "I'm pretty sure you're supposed to be taking it easy."
Ronon shrugs. "This is taking it easy."
John's expression doesn't change.
Ronon sighs. "Look, I've had worse, Sheppard. Besides, I like running. It…relaxes me."
John snorts and shakes his head as Ronon grins mischievously.
"Race you to the mess hall," he says abruptly, punching Sheppard in the arm. John swears under his breath and takes off after him.
He's alone for a second after Ronon turns the corner ahead of him, when a soldier in desert camo, the type he wore in Afghanistan, crosses in front of him so abruptly that Sheppard nearly barrels into him.
"What the hell!" He barks, staring down the hallway the soldier had gone down. It's empty.
"What?" Ronon asks, backtracking toward John.
"N-nothing," John murmurs, still looking down the hall. "Nothing."
The mess hall is quieter than usual. Teyla still isn't feeling quite up to eating yet thanks to concussion-induced nausea, and Rodney is nowhere to be seen, (John suspects he's either still in the infirmary or catching up on missed time in the lab) so it's just he and Ronon. They eat in near silence, but it's a comfortable quiet, and both men seem at peace.
John finishes half of his breakfast before he gets surprisingly full, and his whole hand is throbbing now. He wants to push the plate away, but Ronon would definitely pick up on that, so he ends up just shoving his food around with his left hand and hoping that Ronon will finish his own food quickly.
He's saved the trouble when McKay hobbles in on crutches, complaining loudly about how much they're hurting his armpits and how sore he is and how they're a real pain in the ass. Normally, Sheppard would laugh and tell him to suck it up, but he needs an excuse to get up anyway, and crutches really do suck.
"Hey McKay, let me help you out," he says, dumping his food and picking up a tray for Rodney. "What do you want to eat?"
McKay blinks at him for a minute before pointing out some oatmeal and fruit (and John figures he can't be feeling super great yet if he wants to eat that crap) which Sheppard obligingly stacks on his tray, then carries over to the table with Ronon.
"Thanks, Sheppard," McKay mumbles as he struggles to put his crutches somewhere out of the way. "Carson finally let me leave the infirmary and told me to get some rest, but I'm starving." So saying, he launches into his food with such vigor that even Ronon is staring at him, and John can't help but smile.
It's sudden, and surprising, when he sees the soldier from before walking out of the mess hall. He's still in his yellow-brown desert camo, and there's a gun slung across his back. It's so out of place in the sea of grays and greens that Sheppard can't help but wonder how no one else notices him, and stands abruptly.
"Where are you going?" Rodney asks loudly.
"I've, uh, I've got to fill out a report on the mission," John says absently as he strides toward the door. He can tell that Ronon and Rodney are watching him go, probably perplexed by his behavior, but he doesn't care much about that. He just wants to find this damn marine.
Predictably, once he gets out of the mess hall, there's no one there. John stops and runs a hand through his hair, wondering abruptly if he's maybe going crazy. He laughs lightly to himself (because really, how far off from crazy is he anyway?) and shakes his head, then heads towards his quarters. He really does have paperwork to fill out because Weir is riding his case about it (and, yeah, his last report was filed almost a month after the mission happened, but who's counting?) so he sits down at the small desk in his quarters and looks at the blank screen in front of him.
Sheppard stares at it for a few minutes, then sighs and shakes his head. He can't get that soldier out of his head. The man just seemed so out of place, and he kept disappearing, and maybe it was all in John's head, but why the hell is he seeing a soldier that isn't there?
John stands abruptly, frustrated and confused, and sways on the spot. His head is hammering and feels thick and heavy, like a wool blanket has been shoved between his brain and his skull and is muffling everything. He blinks a few times, eyes rolling, then folds in on himself. He doesn't feel it when he hits the floor.
He wakes up with the sun blaring into his face. It's hot, uncomfortably so, and his limbs feel heavy. Someone leans over him, blocking the sun from hitting his eyes, but he can't make out any features.
"Th' hell?" He mumbles. Sheppard struggles to sit up and is alarmingly grateful when a strong pair of arms slip under his and boost him upright.
"Major Sheppard, are you alright?" The man asks. Sheppard blinks, still trying to figure out where he is.
"Who 'r you?" He asks. The man in front of him leans even closer, and John can see that it's a soldier in full combat gear. Looking down at himself, he realizes that he's in the same uniform.
"Private Hardy, sir," the soldier says. "We took enemy fire, crashed the Apache. Donovan and Evans are both…they're both dead, sir."
Sheppard groans and puts a hand to his head. He has no recollection of the mission they were flying or of the men who were killed, but he still hates to hear it.
"Okay Private, what's our comm. situation?"
Hardy shifts uncomfortably. "They're out, sir."
Sheppard closes his eyes. "Did we fly off course at all before we landed?"
Hardy sounds nervous as he answers. John wonders if it's more because of their situation or because it's clear that he has no idea what's going on.
"Yes sir, at least a couple of miles."
"Okay. Sounds like we need to head back towards our original flight plan and hope they come looking for us, huh?"
Hardy nods, swallowing thickly. He looks terrified.
"Hey. We'll get out of this," Sheppard says. Hardy nods again, and it's clear that he doesn't really believe it. Looking out at the endless desert stretching out around them, the remains of the Apache scattered about, John isn't sure he believes it either.
"John? Sheppard! Can you hear me?"
John groans and cracks his eyes open for a split second before letting them fall shut again.
"He's awake. I saw it! Did you see that?"
"Yeah, I saw it McKay. Is Carson coming?"
"Yeah, yeah, he's on his way. Sheppard!"
Sheppard finally forces his eyes open, blinking in confusion when he finds himself on a soft bed.
"Hardy?" He murmurs.
"What? No, it's Rodney. McKay."
"Oh. Yeah. McKay," John mumbles.
"You alright, Sheppard?" This voice is gruffer.
"Hardy?" Sheppard repeats. This time there's silence before the first man-McKay- mumbles an expletive under his breath.
"That's Ronon, John."
"Oh," John says. He can't understand what's going on. Isn't he supposed to be in Afghanistan?
A hand, cool and smooth presses against his forehead.
"Damn, he's burning up. I may need your help to get him to the infirmary."
Sheppard feels tired suddenly, which is ridiculous since he's pretty sure he'd just been sleeping. Maybe he wasn't.
"John, it's Carson. Can you hear me?"
"Yeah," John groans. "C'n hear you."
"Good. You stay with me, Major, we'll get you right fixed up."
"Kay," Sheppard slurs. His eyes feel really heavy, though, and when the darkness starts encroaching on his vision, he doesn't fight it.
"What is going on?" McKay roars as Ronon slings John's limp form into his arms, cast be damned.
"I don't know," Carson answers as they rush to the infirmary. "He's burning up and disoriented. It's possible he's just picked up a virus."
"Or? I hear a big 'or' in that statement, Carson."
"Or it's something else. I don't know, McKay."
Ronon tunes out the rest of the conversation, focusing instead on the man in his arms. Sheppard's hair is spikier even than usual, sweat causing it to stick up in random patches. He's warmer than is natural and his arm dangles limply. Ronon doesn't know what's going on, but he walks faster and hopes that Carson will be able to fix this.
When Sheppard wakes up this time, he's tied up, lying on a dusty floor.
"Major! Major, are you awake?"
"Hardy," John says, fairly sure who it is this time.
"Yeah. They gave you some kind of drug. You were, uh, you were out a long time."
"They?" Sheppard mumbles. Hardy sighs heavily.
"You passed out only a few minutes before we were captured by a group of men. I think they might be Taliban."
"Damn it," Sheppard murmurs, rubbing at his arms. It's chilly in this room.
"I don't know what they want, Major, but I'm-I'm scared. No one knows where we are!"
"Hey, we'll get out of this. We will," John says, trying to be as comforting as he can. Hardy nods and swallows thickly, then scoots next to Sheppard.
"I want to thank you, sir. It's been a pleasure serving under you."
"Hey, none of that," Sheppard says, frightened that the younger man is giving up. "We'll make it out of here, and you're going to be fine. Okay? We'll get out of this together."
Hardy chokes back a sob. He's trembling and as John rests a hand on his shoulder he realizes just how young the kid is.
"Just hang in there."
The door to their cell swings open abruptly and someone hauls him to his feet. Hardy is screaming his name before it cuts off suddenly, and John's stomach sinks as he's drag to another room and tied to a chair.
"What was your mission?" One of them asks in heavily accented English.
"I-I don't know," Sheppard answers. It's the truth. The men exchange some words in what must be Arabic, then one of them jams a needle into his arm. He screams as they throw him back into the cell.
"Major! Sir, stay awake. Please, stay awake, you hallucinate every time you go back, you've got to stay here-"
Sheppard comes awake more abruptly than he has since he's gotten sick. He looks around with wide eyes, finally settling on Ronon.
"Hey buddy," Ronon says, pressing the call button next to John's bed.
"No-not real," John murmurs, shaking his head.
"I'm real, Sheppard. This is real," Ronon says softly, hoping that maybe Sheppard will stay calm until Carson shows up.
"No. No! Hardy!" John yells, lashing out. The IV in his arm rips free, sending blood onto his gown and blanket.
"John, you're okay," Ronon says, gripping Sheppard's arms and holding him to the bed. "Carson! I need some help!"
"No! Let me go you bastards! Hardy needs me!"
Carson comes running in, a syringe ready.
"Hold him steady as you can," he says to Ronon, then moves in with the needle.
Sheppard sees it, and then he goes really berserk.
"Get that away from me! Stay off of me! Stay back, you sonsofbitches!"
Carson jams the syringe into his thigh and rubs at the injection site, murmuring soothingly under his breath as Sheppard's thrashing dies down until he finally stills.
"What the hell was that?" Ronon growls. McKay, who had been banished to the waiting room with a footstool to avoid taxing his leg, has hobbled back inside and is staring at Carson with wide eyes.
"I don't know, lads. His blood work shows an unknown substance, but we don't know what it is, or what's causing it. The best we can do at this point is treat his symptoms as they appear, and hope that the lab techs can come up with something soon."
"Do you have any ideas about this? At all?" McKay asks, his voice tremulous.
"Did anything happen to him planetside? Anything at all?"
"No," McKay answers. "Nothing."
"Not that I know of," Ronon says. "But he might have been favoring his right hand this morning."
Carson frowns and picks up Sheppard's hand. Sheppard groans slightly, though he doesn't wake.
"I don't see any marks, but something's bothering him about it. I'll need to run some tests."
"We should go through his stuff," Ronon says, looking at McKay. "See if we can find anything."
McKay nods numbly, then fumbles his crutches under his arms.
"Let's go," he says, brushing past Carson. Ronon grins lopsidedly and follows him.
"Hardy?" John mumbles as soon as he's awake. "You okay?"
The private is curled on his side, facing away from Sheppard. He doesn't move in response to Sheppard's words.
"Hardy," Sheppard says, dragging himself to the younger man's side. "Come on, private, wake up."
Hardy's face is swollen and bloodied, almost unrecognizable. His breathing is wheezing and shallow, the kind that comes with broken ribs.
"Shit," Sheppard mutters, dragging Hardy up to rest against his chest in an attempt to ease his breathing. "You're gonna be okay, buddy, just hang in there."
He's praying with everything he has that he won't be thrown back into the strange world of hi-tech machinery and strange metals and even stranger people that he keeps getting thrust in, praying that he can stay and help Hardy, and if nothing else, be there for the younger man when his time comes. If his time comes.
"Hang in there," he says, ripping a strip off his undershirt and dabbing at the blood trickling from a cut above Hardy's eyebrow. "Just hang on."
Hardy's unconscious again, breaths whistling heavily in and out, and John can feel himself following. Sheppard fights it, struggles to keep his eyes open, but yet again, he can't ignore the darkness that beckons him.
Ronon is sure not to let McKay overhear Carson's panicked call saying that the Major's gone missing. Instead, he tells McKay to keep looking, steps out into the hallway, and books it down to the infirmary.
"Where is he?" He demands as soon as he steps through the door. Carson shakes his head.
"If I knew, I wouldn't be callin' ya, now would I!" He barks, shaking his head. "He was right here one minute, then I stepped out to get some restraints and when I came back, he was gone!"
"I'll find him," Ronon says tersely.
"I'll send someone with you-"
"I've got it," Ronon answers. "You can send someone else out, but not with me."
"Okay," Carson says, raising his hands. "Best of luck."
"You too," Ronon says, heading out of the infirmary.
"Damn Sheppard is always getting into trouble," McKay grumbles, scooting painfully along the floor. He's gone through Sheppard's vest and pants (and that was a nightmare) and so far come across nothing.
"He gets through one mission without getting injured and then he has to come down with a fever of 160 and hallucinate and basically die-"
He stops abruptly. He's just turned over Sheppard's duffle when a bug, as big as his palm, drops out of it. McKay yelps and jumps backward (as far as he can with a bulky cast on a broken leg) and is about to smash the thing with the nearest heavy object when he realizes that it's unmistakably dead.
"Damn it Sheppard, can't you have one non-lethal encounter with a bug?" McKay groans, using one of Sheppard's shirts to pick up the bug. He folds the shirt carefully and tucks it into a plastic bag (he has one on his person at all times, just in case he comes across something interesting) and seals it tightly.
"You know how much I hate bugs, Sheppard," McKay grumbles, wrestling the crutches under his arms. "You owe me so much. Like drinks for the rest of my life. And you have to carry chocolate on all of our missions without making fun of me. And-and- you have to stop getting freaking injured!"
Ronon finds John outside, huddled on the railing of a balcony off the East Pier.
"John?" Ronon says gently, scooting near Sheppard. He's really concerned that one wrong move is going to send John tumbling over the edge.
"I just- I'm so confused," Sheppard murmurs, looking up at Ronon with red-rimmed eyes. "Don't know what's real anymore."
"This is real, John. This is Atlantis, your home."
John turns back out towards the sea. "But Hardy needs me. He's- he's dying, and I need to be there. I need to help him."
"John, he's not real," Ronon says. "This is real. Right here."
"If I jump," Sheppard murmurs, "I'll sleep. I'll be there and I won't have to come back here anymore."
Ronon's heart rate jumps and he reaches toward Sheppard so that he's close enough that if John makes any sudden moves, he'll be able to reach him. Theoretically.
"You don't want to do that, buddy," Ronon says. "You want to come with me and we'll get you fixed up, huh?"
"I just. I don't know," Sheppard says, sounding more lost and forlorn than Ronon has ever heard him.
"I do. I know, John. Come on, come with me," Ronon says, wrapping his arms around Sheppard's shivering torso and hanging on as John jerks in surprise. For a second he remains stiff and resisting in his arms before finally going limp, his breathing harsh and rough. Ronon carries him to the infirmary, breaking into a jog partway there.
He can only hope that McKay has something for them to work with.
As soon as McKay enters the lab, someone swarms him and takes the dead bug-thing, then shoos him out. He stands there for a second feeling surprisingly helpless before heading back towards the infirmary. He's nearly there when Ronon barrels past him, John once again limp in his arms.
"What the hell!" Rodney yells, scrambling as quickly as he can to catch up with Ronon.
"Escaped," Ronon says tersely. "Had to talk him off the balcony."
Rodney pales and swears under his breath as Ronon deposits him onto a gurney. Carson and his team are there right away, sticking needles and pads and who-knows-what-all into him, and Ronon and McKay are shoved back against a wall. They stare in silence , Rodney trembling slightly. Ronon didn't say anything when McKay pressed up against his side. He might even slide his arm across the smaller man's shoulders.
Hardy isn't moving anymore, and they've taken to torturing Sheppard for longer amounts of time. They also like waterboarding now.
They start the process over again, the water pouring over his face, and he's drowning, holy crap he can't breathe and he's drowning and Hardy's dead-
And it all becomes too much.
And John Sheppard lets go.
Sheppard stops breathing at the same time a tech bursts into the room, a vial of anti-venom held up like a trophy.
"Hang on, buddy," Ronon mutters under his breath. "Come on."
Beside him, McKay is shaking and muttering, wringing his hands. Teyla is still in her bed in the hospital, but has finally roused, and she's demanding updates on Sheppard every two minutes. She's angrily and loudly (and those are two words typically not associated with her) berating every nurse who doesn't give her the information she wants.
They can't see Sheppard at all now, he's so surrounded by medical personnel. Ronon thinks he hears the high-pitched whine of a defibrillator, but he isn't sure. He can feel McKay drooping at his side and gently ushers him out of the room.
They sit side by side in the quiet room and wait for news.
Fifteen minutes later, they get it.
John wakes slowly. He's comfortably warm and actually feels pretty good.
"He moved. I swear he just moved."
"Shut up, McKay."
"He did! Did you see that? He just moved!"
Sheppard groans and opens his eyes. He isn't really surprised to see McKay and Ronon leaning over him. Teyla's at the side of the bed.
"Hey guys," he says, waving an arm. "What happened?"
"You got bit by another bug, that's what happened," McKay says. "And I had to carry it!"
"Wow, thanks buddy," Sheppard says, grinning. A sudden flash of memory, of sitting on a railing, races through his mind. He turns to Ronon.
"And, uh, thanks to you too."
Ronon looks vaguely uncomfortable.
"You're, uh, you're welcome."
There's an awkward silence for a second before McKay rolls his eyes and speaks up loudly, shaking a finger in Sheppard's face.
"Well now that this lovefest is over, I think we should talk about what you owe me…"