A man's past helps define who he is, but with his memories gone what will John do? Shep whump, and plenty of angst for his friends who are desperate to find him. Set in season 3 after Common Ground, with my favourite doc Carson still around.

Warnings:- Some violence and a little bad language.

Disclaimer:- SGA isn't mine. C'mon! The show would still be on if it was up to me!

A big thank you to my wonderful beta Sterenyk Strey, for all her help and suggestions. (Of course all mistakes are mine.)

This is dedicated to my friend Libero. Happy birthday, and I hope you have a wonderful day tomorrow!

THE PATH NOT TAKEN

CHAPTER 1

"You're going to need stitches in that."

"Wha…sorry?" John raised his head to look at the owner of the voice – Carson Beckett.

Carson stood back on his heels and narrowed his eyes. It was the concerned, suspicious expression John knew only too well. "I said…the gash on your arm is going to need stitches." Carson pressed the issue. "You zoned out on me for a moment, Colonel. Now, would you care to tell me if there's anything else I need to know, or will I have to keep you in for observation to search for any other problems?"

He was beat. All John wanted was to grab a sandwich then crash in the privacy of his quarters, but he quickly roused himself. Only too aware from past experience if he didn't come clean with his old friend, Carson would make good on his threat.

"Honestly, I'm just tired, Carson. I haven't slept since…hell I think it was Tuesday?" John rubbed his eyes, and blinked. "Once I catch some Zs, I'll be good to go in a few hours."

"No wonder you're exhausted, son, you've been up for nearly seventy two hours!" Carson tutted and shook his head slowly. The Scot then donned a pair of latex gloves and started to clean John's forearm with a sterile wipe.

"Marie…" Carson called the nurse who was passing by. "Could you set up a drip for Colonel Sheppard please." As Carson loaded up the syringe with local anaesthetic, he caught John's annoyed glare. It didn't faze him at all.

"This wound was almost dry, Colonel, and I don't need to run a battery of tests to tell me you're badly dehydrated." He stopped for a moment, and their eyes locked. "Look, John, just lay back and let the drip do its job – try to get some sleep if you can. Once the bag's empty, you'll be free to go to your quarters, but I don't want you back on duty for forty-eight hours."

He flinched as the needle pinched his arm. "No can do I'm afraid, Carson."

John was only too aware that Carson, as Chief Medical Officer, could ground him for as long as he wanted. So when the blue eyes narrowed, and the Scot opened his mouth to speak John straightened his shoulders, tried to make himself look like he wasn't as exhausted as he felt, and used his most persuasive tone.

"We have just over that, maybe less to get more than a thousand people to safety, after that Andulanan will become one big mass of molten lava. We're all tired, Carson. And yes, I'm the first to admit I need to get some rest, but we're overstretched as it is – I have to get back out there as soon as I can."

Carson stopped mid-stitch and his face was expressionless. Just when John thought he was going to have a fight on his hands, the Scot surprised him. "Aye, I suppose you're right, but I still don't want you back there until you've had a proper rest. You're off duty until twelve-hundred hours tomorrow. Take it or leave it."

A slow smile grew on John's face. "Deal, and remind me never to play poker with you, Carson."

Now it was Carson's turn to smile. "Not my game, Colonel. But if you ever want to pit your wits against me at Trivial Pursuit – you know where I am."

Carson picked up a pair of scissors and snipped off the end of the suture, then peeled off a self adhesive dressing and applied it to the two inch wound. He then smiled at Marie before taking the IV kit from her and deftly pushed the needle into the back of John's hand.

A quick check to make sure the fluid was flowing into the vein, and Carson ripped off his gloves. "There, all done." He nodded towards the bag, then back to John. "This shouldn't take too long, then I want you to get something to eat before you turn in." Carson was about to walk away but turned to give him a veiled look. "And, Colonel…no sneaking back to the planet before twelve-hundred hours tomorrow, or you and I will have a falling out. Do we understand each other?"

"Wouldn't dream of it." John slid further down the bed, nestled his head into the pillow and closed his eyes. He cracked open one and saw the Scot still looking at him. "Thanks, Carson."

John dozed, but with all the noise in the busy ward, sleep proved elusive. His head was pounding, and he was sorely tempted to ask for some Tylenol, but in the end thought better of it. He didn't want to give Carson any excuse to up the ante, besides, he reckoned the headache was probably due to lack of sleep, something he was going to rectify shortly.

Food though was first on the agenda, and when John finally got released from the infirmary he was relieved to find the mess hall quiet.

As he picked up the tray, John caught sight of the white dressing on his arm and wondered how he'd managed to cut himself. It wasn't a serious injury, no more than a scratch really, but how and when did it happen?

He'd been doing everything from pilot to removal man during the last few days, including searching for a lost dog to calm a distraught child. Could it have happened while getting the reluctant mutt from under the bush? He didn't know, but it was small beans and didn't matter; it had been a crazy few days and they weren't finished yet.

John yawned, and when he heard a sound to his left turned round to find a line waiting for him to make up his mind. He hadn't even heard it forming, and felt the colour rise as he mumbled an apology to the pretty scientist behind him. Embarrassed, he quickly picked up a turkey sandwich and grabbed some OJ. It wasn't much, but was all he could face at the moment. At least it would keep the promise he'd made to Carson.

His legs felt like lead, so as none of his team were there, John headed for his quarters. He mentally opened the door, and started the shower to get it nice and hot while he slumped at the desk and picked at his meal. Ten minutes later, fed and clean once more, John felt almost human again as he slid between the sheets.

He was dog tired but as usual sleep didn't come at once. Images of the Andulanans, distraught at leaving their homes and everything they'd worked for, haunted him. He could empathise with their situation; it was the same old story wherever people had to re-locate. It many ways it was easier for those who didn't have much, as they had less to lose. For the wealthy, those who'd built up a good living, it was always a harder sell. Only one thing was certain. If they stayed behind, all the money in the world wouldn't bring the dead.

ooooOoooo

John couldn't say he was exactly refreshed when the alarm roused him from a deep sleep, but he felt less achy than before, and his headache was gone.

As he raked a hand through his tousled hair, John pulled the clock towards him for closer inspection. Even in the dim light he could see the small hand had just touched ten-hundred hours. He was mildly surprised he'd slept so long, but it was still too soon to leave the base or incur Carson's wrath.

Not that he was too worried, as the Scot's bark was worse than his bite, but the guy was not only his friend, he'd also saved his life on numerous occasions, so he wasn't going to challenge him - at least not unless he had to. If he was honest the hectic pace he'd been living for the last few years was starting to take its toll, so John decided to give himself a break for once and indulge in the luxury of taking a leisurely shower before heading for the mess.

When he'd first arrived on Atlantis, although John knew it could be a one-way ticket, he'd still felt optimistic about the future. Yet the fresh start had quickly soured after he'd been forced to kill his CO, propelling him into a position he hadn't signed up for. He took on the job – what else could he have done? But assuming the responsibility for the lives of not only the Atlantis expedition, but also the Athosian people, was then and still now a daunting task, especially in the early days.

Sumner's wizened face, his sad eyes pleading for release broke into his dreams, waking him drenched in sweat, his heart racing, too often for comfort. Deep down John knew he'd done the right thing - most of the time. At others the guilt stayed with him long after the nightmare had ended, leaving him troubled and sullen during the following day.

The hope for the future was still there, it had to be, because people were depending on him. He held on to it, looking for best, refusing to accept defeat even when sometimes death was staring him in the face. Even when that damned Wraith had stared at him, his eyes full of hunger before thrusting his hand onto his chest…

Despite what his father thought of him John wasn't a quitter, but even he wondered how long he could keep up the constant battle to keep his people alive in this galaxy. The Wraith, the Genii, the replicators and now Michael were all out there, and he'd already lost too many good men, not to mention civilians, during their endless struggles.

Now, it was Mother Nature entering the fray once again. It hadn't been long since his team nearly lost their lives saving the reluctant refugees from Taranian, but like déjà vu, just a few months later, a similar situation was about to happen in Andulanan.

At least on this occasion they'd been given more notice, and thanks to Elizabeth's powers of persuasion, their leaders had accepted the findings of the Atlantis geologists early enough for him to mount a proper evacuation.

John hoped for a better outcome this time, but sometimes the burden of command, the responsibility for saving yet more lives while keeping his own people safe, really got to him. He was tired. The last few hectic days had especially left him drained and lethargic. Still, shaved and dressed in fresh clothes made him feel better, so on a whim John decided to make a diversion into the gate room and invite Elizabeth for an early lunch.

ooooOoooo

The blue reflection of the event horizon glinted off the marble floor, heralding the return of yet another rescue party. Even before John got a good look to see who it was, he could see their exhaustion in the slump of their shoulders. He nodded, and waved away the salute they were about to give as he watched them wander, weary eyed, towards the infirmary for their post mission medical.

He was proud of them. They were a fine bunch of dedicated men and women who risked their lives on a daily basis, with little downtime, and even fewer vacations. The civilian staff also impressed him with their bravery and commitment. John was pretty sure none of them had expected to face the dangers they'd met in Pegasus, but people who had rarely before ventured out of their labs, were even now standing alongside their military colleagues to help the fleeing refugees.

Their camaraderie was uplifting to watch, and not for the first time John realised what a lucky man he was to have such people under his protection. It was a privilege, and regardless of how he felt sometimes, it was a job he would continue doing for as long as he had a breath left in his body.

He started up the stairs towards Elizabeth's office and saw Rodney and Zelenka coming towards him.

Suddenly, Rodney looked up from the data pad he was holding, and stopped dead in his tracks. Unprepared, Radek nearly crashed into the back of the scientist but made a good recovery by dodging to one side. He made a face behind Rodney's back which made John quickly suppress a laugh, before Radek went to continue his journey.

"Good morning, Colonel."

"Hi, Radek – you okay?" John barely got the words out before he was interrupted.

"Him? He's fine - better than you by the looks of it." Rodney blurted, staring at his white dressing. "What happened to your arm?"

John let out a long sigh. "It's only a scratch -"

"Yeah, right." Rodney rolled his eyes. "Beckett doesn't put stitches in a scratch, Sheppard."

John shrugged and tugged at his sleeve, wishing he hadn't pulled it up so tight. "Anyway…how's the search going? Have you found a new home for these folks yet?"

Rodney waved his free hand from side to side. "Maybe." He glanced back at the screen in his hand, and then back to John. "There's a couple of possibles, but MX9 1472 is looking like the best fit. There's good breathable atmosphere, and a wide expanse of arable land for the farmers, but we haven't had time to send out a MALP yet. At any rate, Elizabeth has still to run it by the First Minister before any decision is made."

"Sounds promising, good job, Rodney." John nodded, and slapped his team mate on the back. "The sooner we get these folks relocated the better. It's getting pretty tight in the alpha site and if we don't get them moving soon, overcrowing is going to become a problem."

The scientist raised his eyebrow, and gave a surreptitious nod towards the dark curly hair bent over the laptop in the office he'd just left.

"Elizabeth has been up all night trying to work out how to eke out our supplies to support these people. We didn't have much to spare in the first place - we're practically starving as it is." Rodney rubbed his slightly rounded stomach, and John tried not to smile. The smile died on his lips when he saw his friend looking worried. "Try and get her to take a break will you?"

If John was surprised at Rodney's concern, he didn't show it. That was the thing about McKay, the guy was a real enigma. On the one hand he could be an arrogant, conceited pain in the ass who moaned constantly, but he was also brave and had put his life on the line for Atlantis many times – as he would tell anyone prepared to listen. But smug or not, Rodney had a compassionate streak as big as his intellect. Still, John knew if he called him out on it, neither of them would enjoy appreciate the conversation.

John studied the face pouring over the data pad. The dark circles made Rodney's pale complex look even whiter than usual. "How are you holding up, Rodney?"

McKay's tired blue eyes sprang open. "Me? I'm exhausted. My hypoglycaemia is starting to act up because I haven't had time to eat, and I look like the waking dead. Apart from that I'm just, what is you say? Oh yeah - peachy!"

"Well scoot – go - get something to eat. Consider it an order." John told him, and stood aside to wave him down the stairs. "We can't have our resident genius laid up in the infirmary."

Rodney gave him a suspicious look but John managed to keep a straight face. He was concerned about his friend, but almost from the moment they'd arrived in Atlantis, the scientist was always adding to the list of ways he could die. His friend's hypochondria aside, John was only too aware that in this particular regard, his condition was genuine.

"Fine." Rodney huffed, still wearing a doubtful expression. "Will I keep you a seat?"

John nodded as he went to move past him. "Make that two. Hook or by crook, I'm going to prise Elizabeth from that desk."

ooooOoooo

Despite everything going on in the 'gate room Elizabeth was startled when she heard a knock on the glass door. She looked up to find John Sheppard standing in the entrance.

"John! I'm so sorry." She blurted, feeling the colour rise in her cheeks. "I should have visited you in the infirmary – Carson told me you'd been hurt."

John cringed, and looked uncomfortable as he hastily covered the wound with his other hand. "Like I told Rodney, it's no biggie, just a scratch. It wasn't as if I was kept in overnight."

She sighed, while running a careless hand through the limp curls that were sticking to her face. "Still, I should have at least checked up on you."

"From what I hear you've had your hands pretty full trying to feed the five thousand." John smiled.

Elizabeth put down her pen, and leaned back on the chair. "It's three thousand, seven hundred and ninety two – not counting the expedition members." She returned his smile, with a wry one of her own.

John let out a low whistle. "That many, huh?"

She pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to ignore the mounting headache that had started the night before.

"Well, we can just about manage for another few days, but any more is going to be a problem." She sighed, but tried to remain positive and give her military commander some good news. "At least the Samaures have agreed to take some people in temporarily, and the Ralaamens have generously offered to send some of their harvest to help boost our resources. It's just as well for us they had a bumper crop this year."

John came over and perched on the edge of her desk. "From what McKay tells me, it shouldn't be long before we can get these folks relocated. That at least should be cause for celebration, so take a break and join me for an early lunch."

Even tired, John Sheppard still exuded a boyish charm that Elizabeth found hard to resist, but she had built up immunity when necessary. "Thanks, John, but I really don't have the time."

John bent towards her and whispered. "I'll set Carson on you…"

She sat up straight and stared. "Did he put you up to this?"

"No. But you look beat, Elizabeth." The smile faded, and John's expression became concerned. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Atlantis won't fall apart in the few hours it will take for you to grab a bite to eat, and take a nap."

Their eyes locked, and Elizabeth was ready to object when she realised John was right. Her irritation melted away, and she smiled. "That line sounds familiar. Haven't I used that on you?"

"Funny…I thought I'd heard it somewhere before." John grinned, his eyes sparkling with amusement as he extended a hand to haul her to her feet. "C'mon. What's say we get to the mess before Rodney snags the last blueberry muffin."

"He'd better not…" Once on her feet, Elizabeth let go of his hand, but didn't move away.

"John…you don't have to go back to the planet. Lorne is more than capable of finishing up the evacuation." When he opened his mouth to speak, she interrupted. "Even with some rest, you still look exhausted. Look. I know it's been a rough few years for all of us, but its you that's taken the brunt of it. I'm just worried it all hasn't been too much."

The smile vanished from his face, and John's expression hardened. "Exactly what are you saying - I'm no longer fit to do my job?"

"Oh, no – not at all!" Elizabeth blurted out, as she realised John had taken her concern the wrong way.

"I don't know what I…Atlantis, would do without you. And for the record, I do not want to work with Caldwell or anyone else." She hastily reassured him."It's just that for the last few months…ever since your abduction, you've looked strained. I'm concerned about you, John. Atlantis needs you fit and well, so maybe when this is all over you should take a time out…or even a vacation to recharge those batteries."

John's hand automatically went to rub his chest, and Elizabeth cringed, immediately regretting raking up the painful memory of the Wraith feeding.

For a moment he went quiet and looked away while chewing his bottom lip, before turning back to face her. "Huh…and I thought I came out of that looking younger."

He tried to smile, but his lame attempt at humour didn't fool either of them.

"Honestly, Elizabeth, I won't deny I'm tired, but so is everyone else on the base. Tell you what…when this mission is done, I'll go over to the mainland and visit Halling for a few days. The weathers getting warmer so I could catch some rays and I'll even take my board...it looks like there could be some decent waves on the north shore."

A couple of days weren't what she'd had in mind, but John Sheppard wasn't a man who could be railroaded into anything, so she remained silent…for now.

"I'll hold you to that, Colonel – now how about that brunch?"

ooooOoooo

TBC

Hope you enjoyed the start, and of course there is a more to come!

And please review. I love to know what you think!