John woke up with a headache and the inability to open his eyes. Great, he thought, I’m hungover. Although he couldn’t really remember attending a big party at all. Groaning, he rubbed his face, feeling linen cloth instead of his own skin. Practical joke… nice! he thought wryly. “Whoever did this, it’s not funny,” he sighed and started to tug on the cloth to get it off his face.
Carson Beckett looked up from one of the nearby exam beds where he was assessing another of his patients. Moving over to the wall for the comm system, he quietly alerted Doctor Carolyn Lam, the CMO of Stargate Command, that one of their patients had just woken up. Sighing, he ran a nervous hand through his hair as he tried to remember the plan of what they were going to say and how. There was just so much that his friend did not know and likely would not remember.
Dr. Lam walked into the extended dorm of the infirmary and looked around for the patient that she had been informed was now awake. Seeing who it was, she could not help but to curse to herself. Moving over to Sheppard’s side, she pulled his hand down gently to keep him from messing up the bandages around his head.
“Colonel,” she greeted softly. “Please remain calm. You are back at the SGC…”
He couldn’t really place the woman’s voice and sighed. “I don’t believe that I’m back at the SGC,” he said, slightly frustrated. He didn’t really mind practical jokes but he hated it when they’d prank him while sleeping off an alcohol binge. “I’m not in the mood for jokes.”
Carolyn looked up at Carson with a sorrowful expression. He came over and put a hand on John’s shoulder gently. “Aye lad, but it is true,” he said. “We are back on Earth. You were injured pretty badly, my friend.”
He frowned upon hearing Carson’s voice. “What happened?”
“What do you remember?” Carolyn asked as she softly re-adjusted his bandages.
“I was having dinner with Elsa,” he said, trying to think carefully. “Or lunch…”
Carson nodded, knowing about the little date his friends had. His colleague had planned an extended lunch on that unfortunate day. “Yes, it was lunch. What else do you remember?”
“Just tell me,” John said, frustrated, at not being able to remember anything beyond the point of that lunch and looking into Elsa’s eyes when she was laughing because of a silly joke he had made. “And why am I at the SGC? Isn’t the Atlantis infirmary good enough? And where is Elsa?” Since Elsa was a doctor, and practically married to the infirmary, he half expected her to be at the SGC as well.
The doctors looked at each other. The uncertainty of how to answer his questions was evident in the electricity of the room and in the silence that only was only broken by the faint echoes of beeping from various medical devices.
Carolyn bit her lip and sighed. “Now may not be a good time for the answers to those questions. You should let yourself rest and recover a little longer so that you can be strong enough for the information…”
John had dealt with casualties among their friends before, and he knew something was wrong. He himself had used the same words over and over again on Atlantis, when one of his people had lost their team in some way or the other. He slowly nodded, sighing. Whatever the news would be, John was now confident it was not something he wanted to hear.
“What happened, what you went through there, knowing will be hard for you, son, but you’re not alone in here,” Carson said. “I really want to ask you to behave yourself.” The doctor knew John’s track record in the infirmary all too well; the colonel hated it. “You may feel as if you’re in tip top shape, but that’s the medication talking. You’re not leaving this bed.”
“Fine,” John sulked, knowing that he’d probably be of more use doing something, anything. “Are you sure?”
“Yes John, I am,” he replied. “If I felt that you were strong enough to know all the details, you know I would tell you. However, please get some rest now. I will bring up something for you to try to eat shortly. If you can keep it down, we can remove the feeding tube.”
Feeding tube? “That bad, huh?” He sighed. “I need to stop being stupid in case things work out between me and Elsa, because she’d kill me if I’d get hurt.”
Carson didn’t reply, but did let out a disappointed sigh as he wrote updates on John’s chart. He had been happy to see the colonel and his fellow doctor forge a friendship early on and was quite proud to learn that they had also began to explore their relationship further. For Sheppard, it was a monumental step to let people into his life, past being a colleague or friend. But now, all Carson could do was pray for the man and hope he did not fall back to the dark place he found after they lost Elizabeth and during the time Teyla had been missing.
John couldn’t help but hear the alarm bells go off in his head. He couldn’t remember the event that had gotten him in such a shape that he had to be fed by a tube, and Carson wasn’t answering his questions, nor did he mention Elsa in any way. “Who else is here?” he carefully asked, wishing that his brain would cooperate and do the math.
“Colonel, it’s best if you go back to sleep,” the woman’s voice sounded. “We’ll fill you in on the details later. For now, I’ll give you a sedative to help you sleep.”
“Please don’t,” he started to say, but already started to feel sleepy. He hated doctors. He could feel Carson patting him reassuringly on his arm as he slowly dozed off to his medicated dreams.
“I don’t wish to be him when it’s time to tell him what happened,” Carolyn said softly as they walked away from the colonel’s bed, now knowing why Carson had warned her that John wasn’t the easiest patient ever.
He ran through a smoke-filled corridor, being fired at by shadowy people with revolvers and real bullets, only to find himself tending to Carter’s wounds a second later while the ground shook as if something was exploding.
“Ronon’s hurt,” a disembodied voice, probably Teyla’s, said. “Torren is safe. John?”
“Carter’s gone.” His own voice echoed while the image took him to another corridor, shooting at the fuzzy people who were shooting back at him. He might have been hit, but he didn’t care; he needed to do something, if only he could remember what that was. He felt the need to panic but managed to stay rather calm, even when another explosion rocked the floor beneath his feet. Damn, that had to be close.
He woke with a start, sitting up with a jolt. A burning feeling in his arms indicated that he had accidentally ripped out the tubes. It took him a moment to realize he was still in the infirmary and fell back onto his pillow. “Carter’s gone,” he muttered, “Torren’s safe…”
“Good afternoon, Colonel,” a cheerful voice sounded. One of the nurses made her way over to his bed after hearing the small commotion. “Tsk tsk, you need to be careful with your IV lines. There is very important medicine in there to help fight your infections and wounds. Now lie back and rest. Are you hungry at all? Doctor Beckett has some notes to try you on a clear liquid diet.”
“I’m not a kid,” he muttered. “I’m fine.”
The girl chuckled. “That’s what you all say. We just want to see you get better and if it takes having to mother our patients, we will do that. Now, food? Yay or nay?”
“Are you blond? You remind me of someone,” he said, carefully shaking his hurting head. “I’m fine, as in I don’t need food.” The only persons he would remotely allow to ‘mother him’ would be Teyla and Elsa, not this nurse who sounded as if she were just fresh out of school.
“Hmm, okay then,” she said and made some noise as she wrote something on the clipboard that was hanging on the foot of his bed. “If you need anything at all, just press this buzzer and someone will be right with you,” she explained as she put the device in his good hand.
“I need to talk to Carson, or Elsa,” he said stubbornly. “That’s all I want right now.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll find Dr. Beckett for you but I don’t know any Elsa on the base. Sorry,” she said before walking out to find the man in question.
She’s still on Atlantis, John thought, or off base… or… He sighed; he hated to lie still and be unable to do things. For some reason, they had weighed down one of his arms, and why was he blindfolded? Maybe he had been right before; he wasn’t at the SGC and perhaps the Asurans had found their way back into existence. At this point, it almost seemed the most plausible explanation.
Carolyn returned after her nurse had been unable to find Carson. “Colonel Sheppard. What can I get you?” she asked as she rechecked his vitals and IVs.
“You’re not Carson,” he said, suspiciously.
“No, I’m not. I am Doctor Carolyn Lam. We met a few years ago when the expedition was recalled back to Earth. Don’t you remember?” she asked. “Dr. Beckett actually left an hour ago to check on your friend Teyla at an off-base house.”
“Teyla’s on Earth?” he asked in confusion, thinking that she’d at least be in Pegasus, maybe visiting her people in his absence. “What about “Torren?”
“Her son? A cute kid. He is with her. I can see if Carson can bring them to visit you if you would like. I did hear that they have been asking about your condition often.”
“What exactly is my condition, Doc? Why have you blind-folded me and weighed my arm down?”
Sighing, Dr. Lam looked at him. It was hard to keep information from patients, but she had been ordered to keep silent because of how the colonel had been known to react to such tragic news at times. “If I tell you, I need you to remain calm?” she asked as she made sure to double check his restraints just to be on the safe side.
“Do I have a choice?” he muttered as he could feel her tugging on something. Figures. He sighed inwardly at the possible restraints. “I’m not turning into a bug again, am I?”
“No,” she chuckled. “That is the good news.”
“Alright,” he nodded. “As long as I’m not turning into a bug, I can stay calm.”
She looked at him, scrutinizing his sincerity. “Okay then. Atlantis was attacked almost two months ago,” she said carefully, watching for his reaction.
“Two months…” He frowned. “You put me into a coma?”
“I’m sorry, but I wish that were the case. You were in coma when you were brought here. Severe head trauma, GSW to your abdomen, knife wound to your right chest wall that punctured a lung, and a number of broken bones including your right femur and pelvis,” she said reading off his chart.
It was as if she was reading from a shopping list in Walmart, but it was nothing he hadn’t had before; he had been knocked around in the past, been shot at, had broken a dozen of his bones at least twice, give or take, over the course of his career, heck, he had even crashed a helicopter or two. “You want fries with that?”
“If only it were that simple,” she said with a smile in her voice. “The head injury you sustained led to multiple blood clots. One caused an aneurysm in your ocular region which is the reason for the bandages. We are unsure of the level of vision you will have, or exactly what kind of damage there is with the scarring. I don’t believe you would like waking up and being blinded by lights that are only dim, Colonel.”
He sighed, knowing full well that due to his current condition, he would be seated at a stupid desk for the rest of his life, doing stupid paper work. “So, what does that mean? I get better, go back to Atlantis?”
Her silence then spoke volumes. Very carefully she tested the water of his mental status. “There is no more Atlantis.”
“Wait, what?” he blurted, and regretted it the moment he did because it felt as if a nail had been driven through his head. Groaning, he wanted to rub his head, but couldn’t.
“I am sorry,” Lam said taking a deep breath. “I wish Carson were back, to be able to tell you from a witness’ point of view, but I will try with what I know from the SGC’s involvement and reports. I need you to remain collected, otherwise I will be forced to sedate you again.” Pulling out a syringe and vial from her pocket, she drew up a dose for the IV just to be ready.
“You’re telling me that my home is gone,” John said. “I will try to stay calm because apparently, doing anything else hurts my head.”
The doctor nodded even though Sheppard couldn’t see her. “The reports I read indicated there was an uprising of some sort, a power play, if you will, by the Wraith. They started with attacks on Atlantis’ allied worlds, beginning with the Athosians, which forced them to evacuate to the city. Eventually, a large Genii faction requested sanctuary, saying that their world was being attacked too, and they were brought in as well.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but there was no Wraith uprising,” he said quickly, remembering the Genii now, telling him about the Wraith.
“There was, but it was only one hive ship. Not the intensity that the Genii claimed. “That is why the Athosians were able to make it to the gate.”
“Let me guess…” He sighed. “The Genii decided to besiege us from the inside this time.”
“I am afraid so, John,” came the familiar voice of Carson, who had arrived to hear the last part of Carolyn’s explanation. She excused herself to let the men talk amongst themselves.
“Knowing them, they’d have taken out anything of importance first, like the spare control room, didn’t they?”
“Aye,” Carson’s voice sounded. “It got really messy, really fast.”
“How many casualties?” He didn’t want to hear it, but he had to.
“There’s only a small amount of people that were lucky enough to make it, lad.” Carson gently patted him on the shoulder. “There wasn’t anything that could have been done, they had learned from their previous siege, and they had greater numbers this time.”
John felt the tears behind his eyes, knowing that the reinforcements from Earth would probably have set the self destruct on Atlantis so that the Genii wouldn’t get it – although if he was to believe Carson, they got pretty damn close anyway.
“You’re free to roam around in this part of the city,” Richard Woolsey’s voice sounded, but all John could see were blurry people looking like they were Genii by what he could make of their clothing. “Anywhere else, you will be required to have an escort.”
“I was responsible for the security of Atlantis and I failed,” John said softly. “It’s my fault-”
“Now now, don’t blame yourself. No one else does. Security was appropriate. They simply had a plan with multiple ways to execute it,” Carson reassured him. “You were even awarded a medal last week for your efforts in bringing who you could home.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” he asked bitterly. “And the security wasn’t good enough, we should have had anticipated that they’d pull something like this,” he continued.
“Zelenka’s dead!” Rodney’s voice sounded from underneath a table in the smoke. “Oh my God, Sheppard, what the hell is going on? Get out of here, now!” Rodney pushed him out of their little alcove. “I can’t work with you breathing down my neck, I’d rather you shoot things!”
“How many casualties, Carson?” he asked again.
“Too many,” Beckett answered sorrowfully.
“That nurse… she said she didn’t know an Elsa on base…She’s gone?” he questioned in a small voice.
His friend looked at him, unsure of what to say. There was a lot that they didn’t know about the missing or dead. Who, when, how…Dr. Gutierrez was one of those people that they knew didn’t make it through the gate in time. “I don’t know. Last anyone knew, she was with you. No one reported seeing her when you were found unconscious by a small group of scientists on their way to the gate. We were actually hoping you could tell us when you woke up.”
“I don’t know,” he said slowly. “What about Rodney?”
Silence was the only answer as Carson found it difficult to say anything. Rodney had also been his closest friend.
“I’m sorry I failed you, Carson,” John said, quietly. It seemed as if a rug had been pulled from under him, and made his entire world collapse. He didn’t have anyone, anything, anymore and on top of that, he was sure that his Air Force career was over.
Beckett shook his head. “No, you didn’t fail us. You helped get the first of us home and held the Genii back for even longer. L’il Torren was one of the first to go through the gate to Earth as Teyla had him with her while visiting with Colonel Carter. They are okay, Teyla and the boy, and ask about you every day.”
“Not good enough,” John said. “Everyone should have made it back, Carson.”
“Colonel, they were looking to kill all of us. The fact that any of us made it was a miracle. You’re their miracle!”
“Whatever…” John sighed. He was tired all of a sudden, and all he wanted was to get out of the infirmary and just wither away in a dark place, or get drunk first and do something stupid. Life was not supposed to go this way. He knew very well what he was getting himself in to, like any of the people who had signed up for the Atlantis expedition. They all had known that the shit could hit the fan as badly as it had, but knowing didn’t make it easier, as all that he had known for the last seven years had been blasted away. His friends – family – almost all were gone.
Carson looked at John’s chart briefly before he spoke again. “I would really like you to try to eat something now. I know it will be difficult but humor me. Ronon is scheduled to return today so you may receive a visit later tonight if you are not asleep.”
“I’m not hungry,” John insisted. “And where is he coming from?”
“Just a cup of broth. Please?”
Frustrated Carson shook his head. “I was hoping that you wouldn’t get like this. We suspected as much, but… I will have to talk to Teyla about her wishes to visit. She has been deeply worried for you.”
As much as he wanted to hear another familiar voice, he managed to shrug. “I’m not hungry, so I will not try to eat something,” he said. “I’m more than happy to leave your infirmary and manage to get around on my own.”
“You are not going anywhere, Colonel Sheppard! I know very well that you would harm yourself in some way, whether it would be some ridiculous sport or by eating your gun! Who do you think has been keeping the IOA psychologist away from you since you awoke? He’d bloody put you in a padded room the rest of your life!”
“Gee, thanks,” he said wryly.
Carson quietly asked a passing technician to dim the lights before turning back to his friend. “I want to try to take off the bandages over your eyes. Maybe if you can see things for yourself, you attitude might change a bit.”
Sighing, John nodded, realizing full well that he was being an ass. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“It is understandable you are upset. We are just trying to do what we can for you without having those that want to write you off completely see you do something stupid,” the man said as he slowly began to unravel the bandages. “You need to tell me if the room is too bright, dark, hazy…”
“I know the drill,” he said, seeing light coming through the bandages. It didn’t seem to be that bad, quite dark actually, and Carson was a little out of focus but he could feel his eyes trying to compensate. “You’re out of focus and I can make out your white coat. I think it’s okay if you switch the lights back on.”
He nodded and pressed on the comm to slowly increase the lights until John said otherwise. Carson was pleased that they were almost to being fully lit before they stopped. “That is good,” he said softly. “Can you see me any better?”
“Yeah,” he said, “you look like you’ve been through hell and back.” Carson looked tired, dark circles were underneath his eyes and he had a beard that was at least a week old. “I’m sorry,.”
“No, no,” he said waving his hand. “It’s been a long week actually. One of the gate teams came back badly injured and I was in surgery for a long time. That and Teyla having nightmares, she’s been keeping me awake there. Ehh, I hope you don’t mind but we have been staying in your flat since we returned to Earth. We felt that something familiar to her here, other than the base, would be more appropriate for her to get accustomed to the change. She has been sharing your bedroom with Torren.”
“It’s fine,” he said, “I forgot I had an apartment. But is she okay, doc?”
Carson shrugged and thought about it. “Physically she is fine. The adjustment has been difficult for her but she and Ronon speak frequently so that helps some. I doubt you would recognize your place when you go there. She has been cleaning and rearranging things frequently to occupy herself when no one is around. It’s the nightmares that are bad. All I know is that it has to do with the attack, but she won’t share the details of the dreams.”
He nodded slowly. His brain felt as if it were gooey and going banging, knocking, sloshing… back and forth against his skull now that the bandages weren’t holding his head together, and he closed his eyes. “I can only imagine what she’s seen…” He looked down his arms, confirming that he was indeed restrained and hooked up to IV’s. He was still tired, and felt as if he could sleep for days, but he had so many things to process, so many things to try to remember. Such as what happened to Elsa, and why couldn’t he save Rodney. “Alright…” he said quietly. “I’ll try some soup, but then I’ll go to sleep.”
Smiling, Carson was pleased that John was beginning to be more cooperative. He feared, however, that his friend was simply going to humor him as long as it would be necessary until he could do what he wanted without anyone to stop him. Still… “Alright lad, I’ll be right back.”
Carson grabbed a chair, removed one restraint and sat down to watch John eat the soup he had brought over. John made a face after the first bite. Disgusting soup, it was even worse than Teyla’s. “What the…”
“It’s chicken broth, lad.”
“You know Stargate Command never were much for formal eating. We just want to make sure that you are able to keep it down through the night. Then we can wean you back on food and take you off that feeding tube.”
“I’ve had chicken broth before, but this is really disgusting. It tastes like… I dunno, piss.” He shrugged and started to feel sick. “I think I’ve had enough…”
Carson smiled and took the cup back. “Well done. I will see about jello for breakfast, hm?”
“Maybe,” he said and lay down, while Carson restrained his arm again. “Do you really have to?”
“It’s you, of course I have to,” Carson replied, before lowering the lights for his friend to return to sleep.
“Night,” he muttered and as soon as he closed his eyes, he fell asleep. Sometimes it was good to be able to fall asleep anywhere at any time, despite the horrible bed, the noise of beeping machines and people talking softly and walking around. On top of that, he was just really that tired.