Word Count: ~2800
Characters: John, Rodney, Ronon, Teyla, various cameos
Summary: In Woolsey's absence, John is in charge. What could possibly go wrong?
A/N: Written for coolbreeze1 who wanted to see John exhausted. Many thanks to kristen999 for the beta.
“Tell Teyla I will be back before the Tendol Feast,” Woolsey said. “The meetings with the IOA shouldn’t go long.”
“That’s what Sam said,” McKay muttered.
John cleared his throat loudly as he dug an elbow in Rodney’s ribs. “Have a good trip. Give my regards to the committee.”
Woolsey’s mouth quirked upward. “I’m sure you mean that in the best possible way, Colonel. I’d tell you not to blow up the city while I’m gone, but that didn’t work out very well last time, so…try to keep the damage to a minimum.”
“I’ll do my best.” John valiantly ignored McKay’s snickering. He waved as Woolsey stepped through the gate and waited until the wormhole disengaged before rounding on his supposed friend. “Don’t you have work to do?”
McKay gave a smug smile and bounced on his toes. “I’m running shield diagnostics as we speak.”
“No, no. In fact, it’s been so quiet lately that I’m nervous.” McKay’s grin faded. “We’re never this lucky. Might as well make sure everything is functioning properly before the other shoe drops.”
“Ah, there’s that McKay optimism.” John shook his head as he headed toward his office. “See you at lunch.”
John stepped over the box of office supplies and skirted the ever growing pile of knick-knacks from trading partners to plop into the most uncomfortable desk chair in two galaxies. He opened the window – it only took him two years to find that toggle – and breathed in crisp ocean air while his laptop booted. God, he loved this place.
His jaw dropped when he opened his email. “Ninety-eight messages? How can that be?”
The mystery was revealed when he spotted an urgent notice from Woolsey, notifying the base that all correspondence was to go to John while he was gone. Apparently, the science department had taken it to heart. John was copied on every single project update, request for funding, and personnel issue. Heaving a sigh, he scrolled to the bottom and began to plow through them.
John was up to email sixty-two – not counting the forty-six that he’d received since he started – when the call came.
“Colonel Sheppard to the control room.”
He was out the door before Chuck could finish. The pinched faces in Ops proclaimed the seriousness of the situation. John raced up the steps. “What’s happened?”
“We’ve got systems shutting down all over the place,” McKay said. “Bulkheads are slamming down sporadically. Electricity is flickering in the east and northwest sectors. Sanitation is completely out. The gate’s down, and-”
“Shields and sensors?”
“Shields are still off-line, but that’s hopefully because of the diagnostics. Long range sensors are operating at the moment but internal sensors aren’t. And,” McKay held up a hand, “before you ask – no, I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Sweat trickled down John’s back. “Environmental controls?”
“Working everywhere but the main tower,” Chuck answered. “Doctor Keller reports the infirmary has no power at all.” His lips pressed tight. “She was in the middle of surgery.”
“Call Renfro and get the portable lights and generator up there now,” John ordered. “Rodney…”
“I know. I’m working on it.”
“What can I do?”
McKay glanced at him, fingers still flying. “Hope the Wraith don’t show up.”
John flopped on the bed with a groan. He should take a shower. Hell, he should at least take his boots off, but he had used his last ounce of energy walking from the transporter to his quarters. Twelve hours of system glitches had resulted in seventeen people injured, one seriously, and an all-nighter by the primary Ops staff to make sure the virus planted by Elizabeth’s Replicator friend, Koracen, was wiped completely.
But sleep was elusive. The image of Elizabeth stepping through the gate that last time had painted itself on the inside of his eyelids. He and Rodney had spent days trying to figure out a way to bring her back, even though she had made them promise not to, but short of building a human body for her, they couldn’t help her. John was holding out hope that they would eventually find one of Michael’s cloning labs.
After tossing and turning for a couple of hours, John dragged himself to the shower then to the mess hall. Pre-dawn glow lit the horizon. He grabbed a large mug of coffee and a slice of toast then propped his feet on the railing to watch the sun rise.
“May we join you?”
John jerked at Teyla’s voice. “Oh, hey. Sure, have a seat.”
Teyla dropped in the chair with a sigh as Torren whined in her arms. “He is teething.”
“Ah. Won’t go to sleep?”
She shook her head. “I understand the stargate is working again. I would like to take him to Athos for the day.”
“Athos?” John sat up. “Really?”
“Yes. It is still too scorched to be livable, but some of the deep forest remains. Many of the plants have medicinal value.”
John smiled knowingly. “And it would be nice to have a day away.”
Teyla flushed. “That, too. If you need me, Kanaan can-”
“Go. Enjoy your day.”
“Thank you, John.” She curled her fingers around his and squeezed. “You should get some rest, too.”
He yawned and stretched as fatigue tugged at him. Maybe he could catch a quick nap before morning staff meeting.
“Colonel Sheppard to the control room.”
A squawking radio yanked him out of another nightmare. Two whole hours of sleep. Great. He blew out a couple of breaths, trying to calm his thundering heart, and reached for the device with a shaky hand.
“This is Sheppard.”
“Sorry to wake you, Sir. Captain Diega’s team is an hour overdue, and we can’t raise them.”
“I’ll be right there.”
John stumbled out of bed, hopping on one foot while the other tangled with the sweat-soaked sheets. Kicking free, he splashed cold water on his face, raked his fingers through his hair, and dressed quickly. He was half-way to the transporter when he realized he’d left his earpiece and sidearm in his room. By the time he retrieved them and reached the control room, McKay was pacing in a tight circle and draining a huge cup of coffee.
“Rodney, why are you here?”
McKay squared his shoulders defiantly then he slumped as the fight drained from him. “Zelenka’s with them.”
“Damn it.” John turned to the gate tech. “What do we know?”
“Not much, Sir. They were on M8H-445 helping rebuild a village after a flood. They missed their check-in.”
John pinched the bridge of his nose, wishing away the pounding behind his eyes. “Who’s on standby?”
“Lieutenant Nmefu’s team.”
“Tell them to gear up. They leave in ten minutes. And get a MALP ready.”
“Here.” McKay handed him some coffee. “You look like you need it.”
“Takes one to know one.” John gulped the hot liquid, groaning as the caffeine hit his system. Two hours of sleep in forty-eight hours was doing a number on him. “Thanks.”
“You should get some sleep.”
“I’ve been trying. Why is it all the bad stuff happens during the nightshift while I’m in charge?”
McKay shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.”
When the MALP rolled into the gateroom, followed by Nmefu and her team, the tech dialed the planet. Moments later, the video feed coalesced. As the camera panned upward, the scene shifted from huge mud puddles to a spectacular lightning show that accompanied a torrential downpour.
“The village is gone again,” McKay whispered. “There should be huts everywhere.”
The feed wobbled then slid sideways. “What the hell?” John gaped as the scene flipped upside down.
“Looks like the wind is blowing the MALP.” The tech manipulated the controls. “I can’t get it upright.”
“Shit. Shut it down.”
“What?” McKay exclaimed. “You can’t leave them out there.”
“You know how heavy a MALP is. That has to be hurricane force winds. I’m not risking the lives of another team.”
“Then take a jumper.”
John sighed. “Not even I could fly in that.”
“Fine.” Rodney stalked over to the DHD. “Move.” When the tech scurried out of his way, McKay slid into the chair. “I’m dialing every hour on the hour.”
Seven hours later, the bit of camera not covered in mud showed clearing skies. Nmefu’s team went through then called back for a medical team. John spent the afternoon and evening coordinating a rescue for survivors trapped in debris. Zelenka and Diega’s team, bedraggled and waterlogged but alive, were carted to the infirmary while the remaining villagers were welcomed by Teyla and escorted to New Athos.
By the time everyone was settled, John had drunk so much coffee that he didn’t bother trying to sleep. He trudged to his office and read his email. All six hundred and seventy-one of them.
“Where is he?”
“Ronon is fine, Colonel,” Biro said. “Just a few bruises and bumps.”
“I want to see him.” The vice squeezing John’s head tightened when she didn’t move. “Now!” he snapped.
Biro backed up a step, blinking in surprise. “Of course. This way.”
His eyes were so gritty he suspected someone had put sandpaper behind his lids and the hollow ache in his middle throbbed in time with his pounding pulse. He shoved trembling hands in his pockets and followed Biro to the exam area. Ronon sat on the side of the bed, staring fiercely at an unimpressed nurse as she wrapped a bandage around his bicep. A welt near his temple was the center of a massive bruise that reached his chin, and small cuts extended down his throat to his chest.
Ronon grimaced when he spotted John. “They shouldn’t have called you. I-”
“What the hell were you thinking?” John hissed.
The nurse froze then rapidly tied the bandage and hustled out.
Ronon raised an eyebrow. “When was the last time you slept?”
John’s mind wandered back to the urgent call about Diega’s team, but his fuzzy mind couldn’t calculate the hours. “This isn’t about me. What did you think you were doing?”
“How’d you know I was here?”
“I heard the call on the radio in my office. Now, stop avoiding the question.”
Ronon shrugged. “I was bored.”
“So you thought prowling around in the damaged sections of the city in the middle of the damn night was a good idea?” John strode a few steps then whirled. “Damn it, Ronon, I don’t need this right now, least of all from you.”
Ronon contemplated him for a minute then hopped off the bed and stepped close. “You need some sleep.”
John’s cheeks burned. “And you need to act a little more responsibly.”
Ronon walked away, stopping at the doorway. “Get some sleep, Sheppard.”
John stared after him, certain that he was missing something. Ronon was right; he needed sleep. His mind was sluggish, too sluggish to be anything but a hindrance. The caffeine high had worn off, and his energy reserves were depleted. Maybe some breakfast and a shower would relax him enough for sleep to come.
John turned, unable to place the meek voice. A small woman in science garb gave him a tremulous smile. Her arm was in a cast and she was going to have one hell of a shiner in a few hours.
“I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation.” She blushed a brilliant red. “Sir, Ronon wasn’t in the damaged section. I was. I got trapped when some debris shifted, and he was in Ops when I called. He got hurt saving me.”
John felt gut-punched. Why hadn’t he given Ronon the benefit of the doubt? He should have known better. “What were you doing there?”
The blush deepened to scarlet. “I, uh, I’d rather not say.”
John braced against the wall as a wave of dizziness washed over him. He’d have to apologize to Ronon and deal with this woman later.
“Colonel Sheppard, the delegation from Droxia has arrived.”
The heaves finally subsided, and John pressed his forehead to the cool tile floor then slowly collapsed on his side when his arms and legs refused to hold him up any longer. The Droxian food had been luscious but the headache he’d been nursing since Woolsey left had turned into a full-blown migraine during hour eight of negotiations. A crash of thunder had woken him and the blinding strikes of lightning had ratcheted up the pain until his stomach rebelled and drove him to this undignified position in his bathroom.
“Colonel Sheppard to the control room.”
“Oh, hell no,” John muttered.
“Colonel Sheppard, please respond.”
His body begged for sleep.
Nothing was getting him off that floor.
“Sheppard!” McKay came on. “Long range sensors show a hive approaching.”
John crawled to the nightstand and swatted until the radio fell into his hands. “How long ‘til they get here?”
“Sheppard? Is that you?”
“Of course it’s me, Rodney. How long?”
“You sound terrible.”
John counted to five. “How. Long.”
“Two weeks, three tops.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
John pushed to his feet and staggered back into the bathroom. He barely recognized the man in the mirror – bags under his eyes, deep grooves in his forehead, skin almost gray, bloodshot eyes and hollow cheeks. He’d taken command of Atlantis before, had dealt with impossible situations, but this series of minor incidents were turning into a perfect storm that made the Wraith siege seem mild.
He tugged on a clean t-shirt and a pair of jeans and shuffled to the transporter. Thunder rattled the stained glass of the gateroom atrium as he made his way to Ops. Radek hunched over his computer while Chuck and the other techs focused on their workstations. McKay, Ronon, and Teyla huddled near a monitor, studying the sensor data and talking quietly. John smiled, appreciating the efficiency and professionalism of his people. They were the best at what they did. He trusted them.
They could handle this.
“McKay, tell me what you know.”
Rodney turned. “That would take years… What the hell happened to you?”
John always knew exactly where he stood with McKay. “I’m not feeling good.”
“Thought I told you to get some sleep,” Ronon said.
“So you did.” John leaned against a console as the room wavered, hoping to look nonchalant. “And I’m going to as soon as Rodney gives me an update.”
McKay moved so John could see the display. “These two are hive ships, and we think this one might be a Travelers ship. It looks like it’s shadowing the hives.”
“For the Travelers, no. One of the hives might be Todd’s. The other one…” McKay shrugged.
Lightning flashed, and John’s stomach roiled. “Okay. Backtrack them to see if we can determine where they came from.” He gripped the console and swallowed thickly. “Ronon, get with Lorne and develop a preliminary defensive strategy. Rodney, make sure the shield and the control chair are in optimum condition. Teyla, see if you can keep the rest of these people from killing each other for the next few hours. I’m going to my quarters.”
McKay’s jaw dropped. “You’re leaving?”
“Are the Wraith arriving in the next twelve hours?”
“Then, yes, I’m leaving. If anything changes drastically, wake me.”
“Nothing will be that drastic,” Teyla promised. “Will it, Rodney?”
John huffed a laugh. “Thanks, guys. Ronon, walk with me a minute.”
Ronon followed him to the transporter then down the corridor toward his room. John trailed a hand on the wall to keep his balance, getting a bit of tunnel vision as he neared his hallway and stumbling over a chair.
“I’m okay.” John dashed at the sweat on his upper lip with the back of his hand. “Almost there.”
John concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and prayed his legs would hold out until he got out of public view. When the door finally slid open, he headed straight for his bed and collapsed on it then tossed an arm over his eyes.
“Could you do me a favor, big guy? I need something to cover the windows. The lightning is killing me.”
A few grunts and a couple of screeches later, the room darkened. John let his arm fall and squinted at Ronon’s barely visible silhouette. “Thanks.”
“Is that it?”
“Yeah. No, one more thing. Why didn’t you tell me what really happened when you got hurt?”
“It mattered to me, Ronon.” John pushed up on an elbow. “You should have told me.”
“You needed to let off a little steam.” Ronon’s shadow moved toward the door. “Better me than someone who wouldn’t know you didn’t mean it.”
“I’m sorry. I-”
“John, go to sleep before I have to stun you.”
He could practically see the wide grin on Ronon’s face. “You enjoy that way too much.”
Ronon’s laugh rumbled with the thunder. “Never gets old.”
John rolled on his side when the door slid shut. Rain pattered against his window, its steady rhythm soothing frazzled nerves. He was asleep in seconds.