John was lying on the infirmary bed, dressed in the white cotton surgical scrubs, knees propped up on pillows to keep his feet elevated. He had only been here three days, had spent the first day mostly sleeping, but he felt like he was literally dying of boredom. He had caught up on his backlog of reports and paperwork, had actually let himself get a little ahead of schedule on War and Peace, and was making his way through a recently discovered source of reading material: Nurse Nancy's smuggled collection of romance novel PDF files. But the physical inactivity was driving him slowly insane. As Beckett walked up to the bed, John told him, "When you said 'on your back in the infirmary' I thought you meant 'walking around on crutches.'"
"Now why would you think that?" Beckett said, making a note on his PDA. His expression was preoccupied and his mind obviously wasn't on the banter. He pulled up a stool, sat down, and regarded John seriously, a worried frown creasing his brow. "Major, is there anything you'd like to discuss with me?"
"You want to go over the supply lists for the field medical kits?" John asked hopefully. He was that bored. It didn't help that he had a mostly private bay to one side of the lab area, away from the main ward, though it had made it easier to sleep the first day.
"No, no. Ah." Beckett tapped his PDA nervously. Sounding uncertain, he began, "You see, a rather disturbing report came in just a little while ago from the Nevians."
"What report? Why didn't I get a copy?" John demanded, wiggling backward so he could sit up on his elbows.
"Elizabeth marked this one as classified--"
"Classified? My security clearance is as high as hers. And I was there!" John didn't know why this was pissing him off, it just was. "How the hell--"
"Major, I'm trying to tell you what's in it!" Beckett lowered his voice with effort, shifted around again, fiddled with the PDA, and finally said reluctantly, "It was about something the Isveni prisoners said. About why they abducted you. That it was for the purposes of...assault."
"Oh, that." John flopped back on the bed, disgruntled. "Yeah, there was an attempted assault."
"It was...incomplete?" Beckett asked carefully.
John lifted a brow, finally getting why Beckett was so anxious. He looked like he was about two seconds from taking out an anatomically correct doll and just communicating by pointing at it. "It didn't have a chance to get started."
"Oh thank God." Beckett slumped in profound relief. He wiped his forehead on his sleeve and got to his feet, setting the stool aside. "I'll just let Elizabeth know."
John frowned up at him. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality. "Hold it, how many people have heard this?"
Beckett was already starting away. He waved the PDA. "The report came straight to Elizabeth, and she asked me privately to speak to you about it. Let me just call her, I know she's very worried."
John called after him, "Can I have crutches now?"
It was at the end of the staff meeting the next morning, the part where all the important issues had been taken care of and Rodney was using the leftover inane-things-other-people-wanted-to-discuss time to catch up on his email, when Elizabeth said, "I wanted to talk to you all for a moment about Major Sheppard."
"What?" Rodney demanded, looking up sharply from his laptop. "What happened? Does he have an infection? I told Carson he was hobbling around barefoot in that cave--"
"Rodney, he's fine," Elizabeth assured him firmly. She folded her hands and looked around at the others. "Normally, Carson would release him from the infirmary tomorrow, but that would be under the condition that John would agree to spend most of the time in his quarters and only use the crutches sparingly. I think we all realize how likely that is."
"I think he would agree to those conditions," Teyla said with a faint smile.
"Yeah, he'll agree," Ford added helpfully. "He just won't actually do it."
"I'm aware of that, lieutenant." Elizabeth lifted her brows. "I'm also aware that a military staff meeting was held in the infirmary at the Major's bedside yesterday, after Dr. Beckett specifically requested that he not be disturbed."
"Yes, ma'am, but when the Major gives me an order, I...." Ford shifted uncomfortably under Elizabeth's gaze. "Yes, ma'am."
Rodney said impatiently, "Look, we all know he's going to limp around collecting sympathy, getting in the way, and trying to back-seat drive the city; he does it every time."
"Yes, we do," Elizabeth agreed. "And I think we all know how much we depend on John." There were some fervent nods from the science team members further down the table. "And that even if there are no pressing emergencies, he doesn't seem to take time off unless he's unconscious. This could have been a permanently crippling injury, and it could have been a lot worse if the Tasiben hadn't intervened." She winced and shook her head slightly. Rodney shifted uncomfortably; he hadn't seen anything but the bloody bandages, then the clean dressings Carson had done after Sheppard was in the infirmary. It had already looked damn painful, but Elizabeth wasn't a squeamish woman, and her expression seemed to indicate that it was worse than he had thought. Taking a sharp breath, she finished, "Carson has said that another couple of weeks of rest would help enormously, and I'd like to send John to the mainland for that."
Teyla smiled. "It is an excellent idea. My people would be happy to have him there, and away from the city there would be no temptation to resume his duties."
Everybody looked at Ford, who spread his hand helplessly and said, "I have to follow his orders. I can't--" Elizabeth fixed her eye on him again and he finished lamely, "Yes, ma'am."
Rodney snorted, shutting his laptop. "Good luck convincing him to go."
John had gotten out of bed three times that morning in an effort to force the crutches issue, and the third time Carson had actually gone hoarse yelling at him. John thought he was doing pretty good in his campaign to get out of the infirmary. Then something in Ancient Tech Lab 4 exploded and the medlab went crazy, and John felt guilty for causing trouble.
Fortunately nobody was killed or seriously hurt. From the reports John was hearing on the headset and the comments from the medical personnel rushing around, all the injuries were minor, just broken bones and bruises. John heard Rodney at one point in mid-tirade, passing by outside in the corridor. In the middle of that, the gate room channels came alive with chatter as Stackhouse's team returned with an envoy from the Sentians, who were apparently trying to jack up the barter price for their lousy fruit again. The fruit tasted terrible, but it had a compound that the lab used in making the antibiotics that were their main trade item, so it was a potentially nasty situation.
John was listening impatiently, waiting for a chance to break in, when Nurse Harpreet came to confiscate his radio and laptop. "What the hell?" John demanded.
"I don't know," she said impatiently. The medlab was still a mess; the injuries had been minor, but there were a lot of them. Apparently most of the Ancient Tech team had been standing around the thing that had decided to explode. "I only know they're sending you to the mainland and we were told specifically not to let you take these."
"Sending me to the mainland?" John repeated, incredulous. "What for? How long?"
"I don't know. Dr. Weir is supposed to come down and talk to you. Now give me the radio or else."
Since Harpreet was under five feet tall and looked as delicate as a china doll, wrestling with her wasn't an option. John set his jaw and handed over the radio.
He had half an hour to wonder what the fuck was going on, then another half hour to decide he knew exactly what the fuck was going on. Then Harpreet brought the radio back and told him there was a call from Elizabeth.
He hooked the headset over his ear to hear, "John, I wanted to come down and talk to you about this, but between the lab explosion and the Sentians, I just can't get down there." Elizabeth sounded harried.
"So you're sending me to the mainland," John said flatly.
"Yes, for at least two weeks. We talked it over in the staff meeting yesterday. I'd like you to go out on the afternoon jumper, if possible."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, and cut the connection.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and sat back down at her desk. Peter Grodin, who was helping her sort through their extensive records of the Sentians' various trade agreements and the infringements thereof, said in surprise, "He agreed to go?"
"As far as I could tell," she said grimly, bringing up another file on the laptop. "He's furious, of course. But he needs the rest and he's going to get it whether he likes it or not."
John got dressed, and another nurse finally brought the damn crutches, and they packed him off to the jumper bay. Markham flew him over with Smith as co-pilot, which was just insult added to injury. John spent the trip lying down on the bench in the back, but he must have been seething enough to make them nervous, because their conversation stayed at a bare minimum of self-conscious remarks on how great the weather was.
Landing at the settlement was a little better, because everybody acted glad to see him and it made it easier not to act like an asshole. By that time it was getting on toward evening, and John ended up getting stinking drunk with Halling.
Teyla showed up the next morning while John was still sprawled on a pallet in Halling's tent, nursing his hangover. "I brought some of your things," she said, unsympathetically dropping a pack on his chest and smiling brightly. Teyla had absolutely zero patience for hangovers, especially John's and Halling's hangovers. "I would have come out with you yesterday, but there was so much chaos it was impossible. Everything is fine now, though."
"That's just great," he told her. "I'll be outside throwing up."
But as exiles went, it really wasn't bad. The weather was fantastic; it was spring, and everything was intensely green, the breeze cool and fresh and the sun bright. John could get around pretty well on the crutches, and the soft grass or packed dirt was a lot easier on his feet than Atlantis' metal floors. He and Teyla were staying in the tent that she kept for her visits, and it was absurdly comfortable, with thick rugs and woven straw mats, and pallets that were made up of feather-stuffed mattresses, furs, and knitted blankets. The kids were an endless source of entertainment of the "tell us stories about Earth," "arm wrestle with me," and "look at this strange smelly thing I found in the stream" variety and Halling tended to wander over in the evening with a bottle of his latest wine-making experiment.
It would have been fun, if not for the strain of trying to hide the fact that John was alternating between ragingly pissed off and depressed.
On the fourth day, John was sitting on the grass near the outer ring of huts with some of the kids, when he heard the jumper land. People stirred out of the huts nearby, going to meet it, but John stayed where he was. He wasn't going to hobble out there and look pathetic. If the pilot had a message for him, which was probably unlikely, he could give it to Teyla or Halling. Damia looked up at him with big eyes and asked, "The jumper is here. Do you have to go?"
"No, I'm staying here with you guys for a while longer." John tried to sound at least mildly enthusiastic about it. He knew the kids had probably picked up on the fact that he wasn't happy, but they seemed to be attributing it to the fact that he had been hurt. He told himself to forget the damn jumper, and went back to the lesson. "When you hit someone in the chin, remember to use the heel of your hand." He corrected Damia's stance slightly. "Like that."
"Major Sheppard," Jinto asked. "Is it really true you can kill someone with a small stick?" He held up a twig. "Like this?"
"Sure. You just have to drive it up into their brain, through the nose or the eye socket. Now don't try this on each other, but--" He looked up, blankly surprised for a moment that the person crossing the clearing toward him was Rodney.
John hadn't realized until that moment just how much he didn't want to see anybody. Especially Rodney. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you, what do you think?" Rodney looked around at the kids suspiciously. "What are you teaching them?"
"Well, you saw me." John grabbed the crutches and shoved to his feet. "We'll finish this later, kids," he said, and limped away.
He reached the doorway of their tent, pointedly said, "Bye," and ducked inside.
Rodney, impervious to hints, followed him. He looked around the tent with an air of surprised approval. "This is cozy."
John dropped down on the low bed, dumping the crutches beside it. "Yeah, it's fantastic." He fell back on the bed. His feet hurt like hell because he had been walking again that morning. He had gone too far, because he missed being able to run. He picked up the battered copy of War and Peace and pretended to read, figuring Rodney would use up his short supply of patience, get mad, and leave in a minute.
Instead, Rodney sat down on one of the low stools and stared at him. "Can we have sex again?" Rodney blurted finally.
John squeezed his eyes shut, counted to ten, and managed not to get up and murder Rodney bare-handed right there. He opened his eyes and said, calmly, "No."
Rodney looked aghast. "What? Ever?"
John took a lot of satisfaction in saying, "Never."
"Why?" Rodney sounded outraged.
"Because I had sex with a team member once, and then he went insane." John pretended to look thoughtful. "Oh right, that was you."
"Is this about the Chaya thing?" Rodney demanded. "I was right, she was lying about who she was! And okay, fine, she wasn't evil, and I said I was sorry!"
"No, you didn't," John pointed out deliberately.
Rodney subsided. "Oh. But you're over that by now."
John looked at him, eyes narrowed. Rodney sucked at concealing any emotion, especially guilt. But the whole problem was that Rodney might not see this as something to feel guilty about. "Did you tell Elizabeth about me and Vanrin?"
Rodney looked startled and appalled. "No! Why would I-- No!"
"Then what did you tell her?"
"I didn't tell her anything!" Rodney waved his hands, rapidly going from horrified to mad. "Ford did the debriefing, and there wasn't anything about sex in it! With anybody!"
John watched him a moment more. That had to be the truth; Rodney wasn't that good an actor when lives weren't at stake. "Okay." He looked pointedly at the book again. "Bye."
Rodney glared at him. "Wait, wait. Why did you think I said something to her? Did she say something about it?"
John sunk down in the bed a little. "No." If it wasn't that, then it was the other thing. And that was worse, because it wasn't something he had had any control over. And he really didn't want to talk about it.
Rodney shook his head, baffled and incredulous. "Then why did you think-- Do you have a head injury that Carson failed to find?"
John gritted his teeth. "No."
"Then what is wrong with you?" Rodney persisted acidly. "And I know the answer could take hours and range over a large list of topics, but I'm actually asking what is wrong in this specific situation at this moment in time."
John slammed the book down so he wouldn't be tempted to throw it. "Look, it could have happened to any one of us. And you know, I'm glad it was me, because I don't want to think about you or Teyla or Ford or anybody else in that situation. And I didn't do anything wrong, I sure as hell didn't ask for it. The guy was mad because I shot two of his men, that's the only reason he grabbed me."
"Of course!" Rodney flung his arms in the air. "Is there anybody who is stupid enough not to understand that?"
"Then why the hell did you send me out here?" John demanded.
"We sent you here for your own good--" Rodney stopped, tilted his head, and snapped his fingers. "Oh. We've all been very stupid. And by we I mean us but also you. Did you think you were being punished? We sent you out here to recover."
"Fine, I'm recovering," John snapped, and before he could stop himself, added, "It beats Antarctica, anyway."
Rodney blinked, and John looked away.
Rodney shook his head slowly, and then said with pointed emphasis, "If you were in Atlantis, you'd do what you always do, which is to drag your broken body up to the operations tower and park your ass in Elizabeth's office and try to annoy her into putting you back on duty early by a bizarre combination of charm and sulking."
"I do not!"
"Carson would put you in restraints, but he knows you'll tear the bed apart or chew your way free--"
"I was not in my right mind when I did that--"
On a roll now, Rodney got louder. "And if you're anywhere in the city, people will come to you with questions and problems and Elizabeth can't order the military to leave you alone because Ford's practically your Mini-Me and you've managed to hypnotize all the others into blind obedience--"
"What the hell else--"
"So she had to send you out here so no one can get to you!"
"Okay, fine!" John shouted.
Halling stepped into the tent then, saying, "Dr. McKay, I think you have cheered the Major up enough for today." Then he very politely threw Rodney out.
Left alone, John was caught between fuming and re-thinking a lot of assumptions, never a comfortable position. He was pretending to read when Teyla walked in. She sat down on the folded pile of furs, propped her chin on her hand, and waited expectantly.
After about thirty seconds, John gave in. He leaned back and stared grimly at the ceiling. "So I guess you heard most of that."
"We tried not to, but Dr. McKay's voice does carry," she admitted.
"Yeah." He hesitated, not sure if he wanted to hear her confirm or deny it. "So you were in that staff meeting...."
Teyla nodded. "He was telling you the truth. I think Dr. Weir fears that the demands of keeping the city safe will kill you, if the risks you take do not. She only wanted you to rest, and in a place where Ford and Bates and all the others would not be able to continually go to you for instructions and advice. And she knows my people enjoy your presence."
John sunk a little lower against the pillows. "So I've been an idiot."
"No. I think in the past you have been treated as unwanted for so long that you can no longer recognize the opposite." She stood, brushed her fingers over his forehead, and smiled. "But I think you will eventually learn to," she added, and walked out of the hut.
The weather turned the next morning, with an overcast sky and a light rain. It was just cool enough that Teyla had built a fire in the little stone hearth in the center of the hut, and three of the older women had brought them extra blankets and sweaters, apparently in the belief that soft city living had made them unable to cope with this situation on their own.
John was stretched out on the bed, propped on one elbow, wearing a bulky brown sweater Halling had loaned him and actually reading War and Peace. He was beginning to accept the fact that this relaxing thing might have something to it, though he wouldn't have admitted it aloud yet. He heard the jumper pass over the hut, coming in low because of the weather, then touch down in its landing spot in the center of the village. He remembered days and duty shifts, and said, "That's Markham, right?"
Teyla nodded, frowning as she poked at the soup she was trying to make. Cooking was not one of Teyla's skills, though she refused to give up on it. Fortunately the entire camp seemed aware of it and people tended to drop by at mealtimes with casseroles and stews they had just happened to make double portions of.
"Maybe he'll stop by," John said, trying to sound casual. With all the yelling at Rodney, John hadn't had a chance to interrogate him on what was happening in the city.
"He has been forbidden to," Teyla said calmly. She tasted the broth and winced.
John swore under his breath.
Teyla lifted a brow. "What was that?"
"Nothing," John said grudgingly. Cooking also made Teyla testy.
They both looked up a moment later as footsteps squished through the mud outside the tent. Rodney burst in a moment later, his jacket dotted with rain. His face was set in anxious lines, but he stopped when he saw them, lifted his chin, and said, "Oh. Here you are."
John sat up, shifting his first "Atlantis is under attack" impulse to "Rodney is freaking out over something."
"Dr. McKay," Teyla said, worried. "Is everything all right?"
"What? Oh, in the city, yes, it's fine. Ah." He looked at John. "Could I talk to you in private?"
"I will go next door to Halling," Teyla said hastily, pushing to her feet. She squeezed Rodney's arm briefly as she passed him, and ducked out of the tent.
"What's wrong?" John said.
Rodney paced back and forth once, then blurted, "I read the report. Elizabeth's report, with the information the Nevians got from the prisoners. Why the slavers took you. You told Carson nothing happened. Was that true?"
John blinked. "Yes."
"Oh, well, then." Rodney sat down abruptly on one of the carved stools.
John stared, startled and beginning to get pissed off again. "Wasn't that in the meeting where you all decided to send me into exile for my own good?"
Rodney waved his hands, recovering rapidly. "Please, two weeks of exile in bucolic nature is what sane people call a 'vacation' and obviously you're still wallowing in your vat of self-pity and of course it wasn't discussed in the meeting! Elizabeth wouldn't violate your privacy like that. For one thing, I'm sure it's against some sort of employment regulation--"
Exasperated, John interrupted, "Except for where you read all about it in a report that got passed around--"
"It wasn't passed around!" Rodney said, outraged. "I had to break into the admittedly pitiful security on her laptop to get it!"
John just stared at him, floored. "Are you stalking me, and I just never noticed because we work together and eat in the same messhall and live on the same corridor?"
"I was worried!" Rodney jumped up again to pace. "I started to actually think about what you said, about not doing anything wrong, and the rest of us in that situation, and you teaching small children how to defend themselves by giving someone a lobotomy with a twig."
Rodney was staring at him, white-faced and worried again. John took a deep breath and said, "They drugged me, it didn't work, but they didn't know that. I killed both of them and then Vanrin busted in and got me and the Nevians out of there."
"Oh." Rodney sat down again, then shifted uneasily. "But he would have been there in time, even if the drug had worked. Right?"
John wasn't sure. The drug had started to hit him then, making him lose consciousness at least a couple of times that he remembered. He knew he had lost some time, and he had no idea how long, but Rodney looked like he was starting to freak a little, so he just said, "Sure."
They stared at each other for a long moment. Then Rodney looked at the pot sitting on the little square hearth. "This concoction Teyla was working on seems to be burning."
"I don't think she'll notice." A little self-consciously, he added, "You want to stay for dinner?"
"Yes." Rodney was still frowning at the pot. "That's not it, is it?"
"Yeah, but somebody'll bring something else." John shifted to lie down on the bed again, propping himself up on one elbow. "Can you go get Teyla? She'll be worried."
"Oh, right." Rodney stood up, wiping his hands absently on his pants. Then they were staring at each other again. "So. Can we still not have sex again?"
John's mouth quirked. "Maybe."
"Bastard," Rodney snapped, and went out to get Teyla.