A Matter of Command
by Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23)
Genre: Angst and humour. Seriously. H/c, too.
Spoilers: Yes. Spoilers for Search and Rescue. Real, proper spoilers
Summary: Aftermath. I can't say more than that for spoiler reasons.
Note: I mean it with the angst and humour bit. This story is seriously messed up. It's as if two separate stories had a horrible transporter accident and got hideously merged. The viewpoint character is in an angsty, hurt/comforty, character developy sort of story. Everyone else is under the impression that they're in a humour story. I'm really very sorry, and I wasn't going to post it, but I was urged to. Those who urged me can read it. Everyone else had probably better stay away.
"Sheppard!" He drifted through dreams of candlelight and flames, of friends drifting away from him, of pain spearing through his side, of being trapped. "Sheppard!" The voice came again, and he surfaced through water that was sheeted gold with sunlight, then his eyes fluttered open into a place that was somewhere else entirely. Dreams normally faded when you opened your eyes, but these ones solidified and became memories.
"Teyla," he tried to gasp, but no sound came out. He remembered, though – memory building on memory like bricks making a house. They had rescued her. They were back on Atlantis, all of them: his team.
"Sheppard," McKay said again. "Torren John. What's wrong with 'Rodney'? I delivered the baby. I didn't drop it. I touched… I saw… Seriously, that's not natural. And it was… Are they supposed to look like that, all shrivelled and…? But that's not the point." Sheppard heard him snapping his fingers. "Rodney's a much better name, quite classy. I brought her flowers, as well. Huh. I knew I should have gone for the roses."
"Baby…" It was hard to speak, but he moistened his lips, trying to tell himself that he could no longer taste dust and fire and his own sweat and blood, and managed a few more words. "…doesn't… look like a… Meredith."
Then the water claimed him again, and the candlelight turned harsh and fierce. A beam pressed down on his chest, and when his eyes fluttered open – a tiny moment of pale light amidst the darkness and the fire – there was no-one there. That was because they were all dead, buried under the wreckage --
"Sheppard," he heard, "this isn't good enough. I need you to get up and --"
No, not buried. Lost. Lost thousands of years in the past, all dust and ashes. One by one they passed away, leaving him alone in the desert, alone in his city, alone under the ruins, alone with the fires…
Then coolness, just for one moment, pale green and white. "Complications," he heard someone say, and McKay, old and wrinkled and so many years out of his time, said that he had always known the doctors were going to kill him one day, because he was fine before she had opened him up and started interfering. "Wasn't fine," Ronon said, his voice raw and rattled, and McKay said just what on earth was he thinking of, pulling that thing out, when Carson had always said…
Carson was gone, though. One by one, one after the other, they left, and he failed to stop them. That's why he was trapped here, impaled here, pinned. Not that the pain was bad. Pain was fire diffused over a vast ocean, dissipated, barely there at all...
"I…" He heard someone clear their throat – someone not normally at a loss for words, though he couldn't remember who they were. "I just… uh… Wake up soon, please, sir, before I…"
After that there were no words. The flames and the ocean were no longer fire and water, but were just the reality of being. He sank so deeply there were no words to describe where he was. Voices, far away, were meaningless. Something was wailing, and he stirred briefly for that, existence splintering into the beginnings of fire and pain, before hearing the soft sound of soothing.
Later, much later, that soothing brought him back to a place where words and meanings could penetrate, though time was still fractured. "Shoot him," he heard, and then the wailing again, which he remembered was a baby, Teyla's baby, and he knew that the soothing was not for him. "Quite obvious that I should…" McKay was saying, then Ronon said that he'd beat some sense into all of them, and maybe it was just after that, or maybe it was a lot later, that Teyla said something about babies and grown men.
"He's waking up," someone said, quite sharply, at one point.
"Good," McKay said. "At least we can have --" Sheppard didn't hear the rest of that, though, and the next thing he heard was a strange tap tap, like metal moving against metal as the wind slowly took a ruin down.
After that, at least he was aware that he was sleeping, then drifting back to almost-awareness, then sleeping again. Memories faded, though only a little bit, like someone turning the volume down from ten to nine; memories like these, he knew, never went away completely, and came out in the night or when you were tired. He had been far in the future. He had been trapped under wreckage with Ronon, facing certain death. He had failed Teyla, and now she was back again. And people needed him. People needed him, called for him, clamoured for him.
He opened his eyes, and managed to moan a single word. "It's about time," McKay said, when the doctors had done their bit and had finally stepped away.
"Time," he echoed. His throat hurt and his mouth was dry. "…long?"
"Four days," McKay said with feeling. "Four horrible days. I counted every second."
"Was it --" He coughed painfully, struggling to find a comfortable position, and failing. "-- very bad?" But of course it was bad; his body told him that.
"Bad?" McKay's hands flailed up in the air. "Every second was a trial. Can you believe what that man did? It should be me. Huh! It so obviously should be me. And now you're back you can tell him so."
Sheppard tried to reply, but it came out as a groan. This time the water was soothing, barely fiery at all, but it took him under, all the same.
The light was different next time he awoke. He heard a soft snuffling, and opened his eyes to see a baby, and Teyla sharing her smile equally between her son and him. The tapping noise became Lorne on crutches, pacing up and down behind her. He hurried over when he saw Sheppard awake. "Sir," he said, "I don't often ask… Please can you talk to him. I don't know how you stand it, sir. I --"
Confusion took him under again. The next time, he was able to sit up against pillows, and the doctors told him that there had been complications after surgery. "Told you not to play around in my insides," he rasped, remembering Keller's unwelcome attempt at humour. She flushed, but stood her ground, telling him it was an infection picked up from the dirt on the metal that had penetrated his side. "Tough," she said. "Resistant to our drugs, but you're on the mend now." He wondered if doctors learnt to talk like that at doctor school; almost said something about it, then remembered Rodney saying much the same about the things he said and 'colonel school.'
"What…?" he asked instead. "…happened?" Far in the future. Everyone dying. Wreckage and Ronon. Teyla… and court martial! He had to surrender himself for court martial, and Teyla was back, and the baby, and the team was together, and he didn't regret it for a moment. He would do it exactly the same again, even if the court found him guilty and removed him from his post and there was no more Atlantis for him, and no more team. At least they'd be together, just not with him.
He remembered Ford, now, in his dreams, there beneath the ocean, beneath the wreckage, beneath the sands of the desert. You failed me, but you didn't fail her. The ghost felt eased, rather than jealous. Scars over scars, and the last one healed.
"It's been… difficult." He saw her hesitate, and lashed out and grabbed her wrist, then released it again, seeing the fading bruise of that half-forgotten, always-to-be-remembered frozen moment in the infirmary on the Daedalus.
"What's happened?" His hands were back on the bed, fingers curling into the sheets. "Is it Michael? Is he…?"
"Oh. No. Nothing like that." Her laugh was nervous. "Maybe Teyla can tell you, or Ronon… No, they were involved. It's…" Her hands moved like McKay's, but less expansively. "Colonel Carter left, you see, back to Earth, and there's no Midway station now. I think we forgot. It's been there almost the whole time I've been on Atlantis and…" She smoothed her hair with nervous hands. "Anyway, she knew she was going to be away for several weeks so she --"
"Left Rodney in charge," Sheppard finished for her, wondering how many transfer requests had been put in. Five days… He calculated it quickly in his head. If it was exponential – none the first day, one the second, and that meant…
"No. Oh no." Keller shook her head. "McKay didn't know she was going until he bumped into her on the way to the Gate. He was distracted and didn't even think to wonder…"
Sheppard fought his body's urging to sleep. "Teyla can't do it. She's tough, but even she needs a few days off after having a baby."
"Major Lorne broke his leg," Keller said, her face surprisingly impassive, "but it was clean break, and Colonel Carter remained in command after she broke her leg."
Sheppard closed his eyes briefly. "Has he shot McKay yet?"
Keller's laugh sounded as if it escaped from her without her wanting it to; when Sheppard opened his eyes again, she had her hand over her mouth. "He threatened to, but Ronon threatened to shoot both of them and said his gun's bigger."
Sheppard felt torn between two urges. His body was desperate to slip back into sleep, but his mind knew that it had to get better as soon as possible. Snatches of things glimpsed through the ocean of fire started to assemble and make sense, then drifted apart again. Waves surged in his head, and for a moment, he stopped hearing her.
"…claims it was a mistake," she was saying, when the room was solid around him again. "He says she clearly meant for it to be him and that Lorne should join the ranks of the injured and useless in the infirmary and let him get on with putting the city to rights."
Sheppard curled his hand tighter into the sheet. Keller noticed, and did something to his IV. Things became fuzzy after that, and Keller's voice somehow segued into Ronon's.
Zelenka's locked himself in his lab and says he won't come out until someone stops McKay from being so insufferable. He asks why can't he rule the city? Why does it have to be McKay or soldiers?"
Then Ronon became Teyla. "They point out quite reasonably that delivering a baby is not a command skill and that it does not leave Rodney any more qualified than --"
"Gave him tips," Ronon said, "on how to deal with him. Chuck has it three to one that he --"
"Some big announcement expected," McKay was saying, far too loudly, "and we all know the IOA doesn't like the militarisation of Atlantis. It has to be a civilian."
The words wove with other words from dreams and memories. He had dreamed in stasis, too, emerging with an overwhelming weight of an eternity of dreams that all faded to dust as soon as he moved, and left behind only an echo, like sand on the wind.
"He stole my crutches!" Lorne protested, and someone else said that no, of course he didn't, he wouldn't be that petty, and Ronon snorted as if to say that, yes, he would.
"Shh!" Teyla whispered. "He's sleeping."
Light faded and flickered. He felt as if he was only under shallow water now, carried by gentle waves in and out of consciousness. "Zelenka's put up a placard!" Rodney squawked. "A placard! He can't secede."
"I believe it was a statement against your attempt to rally the scientists against the…" That was Teyla, but then they moved away. "…will remain until you stop your…"
He drifted for a while, and came back to hear Lorne, sounding fraught and intense. "It's only until you're back on your feet, sir. I hope you get better soon. I'd give in, but it was an order. Colonel Carter ordered me…"
"…need a man with experience," McKay was saying. "A firm hand. Lorne's injured. I saved his life, you know, down in the wreckage, when I…? No? Well, anyway, the younger soldiers… they'll be surfing off the pier if you don't…"
"Two more weeks," he heard someone say quite clearly. "Two more weeks. God help us all."
And suddenly all the disparate parts of Sheppard's mind came together: the dreams, the memories, the snatches of things he had heard, then pain in his side, and the steel that allowed him to ignore it. He opened his eyes, and clawed at the bed until he was sitting up. No-one noticed him at first. Of the people he had heard speaking, all were gone, some of them perhaps hours ago, or even days.
"Hey." His voice felt rusty, and he cleared his throat. "Any chance of room service over here?"
Keller appeared from somewhere and hurried over, and words must have been said on the radio, because then Teyla was there, the baby wrapped close against her body with an embroidered blanket, and then Ronon came, clapping Sheppard on the shoulder in that wordless way that had meant so much under the wreckage, when Sheppard had thought they were going to die there together.
"So where's McKay?" Sheppard asked, after they had all said those small, necessary words of waking. "Making Lorne's life a misery?" They nodded, and he used the steel to push away the pain, and asked them to send for both of them.
Surprisingly, neither of them objected when he told them that he was taking command of Atlantis. Lorne sagged with relief, then hid it behind impassivity. McKay opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again.
Keller was the only one who resisted. "You're still far from fine, colonel. You're on heavy medication. You need rest, and lots of it. There will be times when your judgement --"
"Then take me off it." He almost snatched at her arm again, but stopped himself just in time; he had shown her too much already. He thought of the time in the wreckage, struggling to focus past the undrugged pain, and his time on Michael's ship, with only mild painkillers to get him through. He thought of what he had overheard – his city fractured, his people, his team, his family.
They had died. There, far in the future, all of them had died, and several men had still died in Sheppard's wild attempt to deny that future. But Teyla was back, and Michael was gone. Atlantis pulsed with life, alive in a silver sea. He would do anything to keep it that way. He would do anything.
"I need to think clearly," he said. "I'll let you do what you need to do. Hell, I'll ride in a wheelchair if I have to, but I'm going back out there. I've been away for too long." Forty-eight thousand years too long, and seven hundred more.
She started to speak, but he just looked at her, this time saying nothing, this time not touching her. After a while, she let out a breath. "Well, it has been kind of… interesting without you."
"But now I'm back," he said, and it meant so much more than she could ever know. Now I'm back.
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