Technically, I know I should have called a nurse the moment I suspected that the Colonel was awake. It had been only six hours since he'd been shot, and the staff had been extremely reluctant about leaving anyone alone with him so soon after surgery. However, all the monitors were beeping steadily, and considering where we were, I felt it would be better not to involve any outsiders before I had confirmation he was ready.
I was still reeling a bit from the trust placed in me by the rest of the Atlantis first contact team, which is why it took me a while to notice the gradual shift in the air behind me. My peripheral vision was carefully keeping an eye on him, but my attention was on the corridor between the line of unoccupied hospital beds and the door, ready to defend my incapacitated commanding officer and Dr McKay at a moment's notice should the need arise. The man who had shot the Colonel at 9:53 am this morning had been apprehended swiftly and the threat ostensibly neutralized, but every soldier who had spent any time around Sheppard at all knew better than just assume no other hostile would unexpectedly sneak into the hospital.
The fact that it happened slowly was a sure sign that the first thing the Colonel knew upon waking was no threat, something that allowed him to drift back into consciousness at a pace his body much preferred to instant combat alertness. I've been where he was now often enough myself to know that in light of no immediate threat, the subsequent discovery of drugs and pain and IV-line was secondary.
The marines and airmen standing guard had all served under Colonel Sheppard for three years at the least, yet none of us would ever presume to know what goes on in the man's head at the best of times. From my position at the foot of his bed, however, I thought of what I would notice next if I were the one hooked to that IV-line, especially if I were keeping my eyes as carefully closed as the Colonel was currently doing: The faint whisper of Dr McKay reciting (“...nine, eight, six, two...”) – was it still pi? The telling smell of the disinfectant doctors and nurses are so fond of, I thought, with something unfamiliar to it; the combination with the surroundings off. Not our infirmary, not Atlantis. Not the SGC either, because while two ships with beaming technology were around and Dr Keller had been on her way in a limousine few streets down, regular paramedics had been the first to get to him.
Somewhere on Earth – Wisconsin, to be more precise - in a regular hospital.
I briefly wondered if the thought of being in the hands of doctors he didn't know, doctors without security clearance, would be enough to warrant a true reaction from him. But it quickly became obvious that there was something else he had discerned without opening his eyes, something that was keeping him from panicking, and when I thought about it, I wasn't surprised at all. Of course he knew it was Dr McKay reciting numbers in a chair next to the bed the doctors had put him in. (“...four, eight, two, five...”) Hell, maybe he could even sense that Teyla had only left the room to conduct her briefing outside a few minutes ago, along with Ronon. For all I knew, he had already identified me.
“...nine, eight, two, two – no, one...”
As far as I could tell, Dr McKay hadn't yet noticed that the Colonel was awake. He was also being disconcertingly passive, too quiet for usually being such a verbal guy. The keyboard Teyla had left with him had remained entirely untouched, and he hadn't eaten anything since I had arrived. He was hunched over on his visitor's chair, still wearing his wedding getup under the scrubs, holding himself unnaturally still while spouting those numbers as if he were clinging to them, and it was starting to worry me.
No-one but the Colonel had been injured during the incident. Apart from him being shot at all, I think all of us escorting Dr McKay and Dr Keller to Wisconsin were a bit shaken at him being shot with a gun, and not an arrow, or a spear, or a stun-beam. The marines who where guarding the hallway outside would have been even more shaken if they knew what I know I was not supposed to overhear Ronon tell Teyla: That the man who had fired the shot had an uncanny resemblance to the man the Colonel had once... persuaded, one should perhaps say? Persuaded to do the right thing looks so much better even in sections left out of official reports than fed the bastard who'd endangered McKay and his sister to a Wraith.
“...five, one, three, two, eight...”
Just as I was about to make some noise to alert Dr McKay to the situation, the Colonel blinked his eyes open. His gaze seemed a bit unfocused at first, which was only natural considering the nice, if of-moderate-quality, drugs the doctors had pumped into him, but I caught the exact moment he spotted the shiny black piece of clothing peeking out from under Dr McKay's scrubs. His face shifted slightly in confusion as he probably asked himself what McKay was doing, sitting there wearing a tux, and I watched as the realization sank into him that something important had been scheduled to happen today. I didn't have to guess what he was thinking when it came back to him, though, because it was written all too plainly on his face, followed by a small, utterly miserable, animal sound.
I don't want to hear my commanding officer or anyone else ever utter that sound again.
Dr McKay startled at the sound and finally noticed the Colonel staring at him.“...six, four - you're awake!” he exclaimed, and the alive and not dead and so stupid got carried along with the words as if he'd said them out loud. I was waiting for a whole tirade the man was sure to have all ready in his head, but when he opened his mouth to unleash it on the Colonel and everyone else who happened to be around, (me), the great mind that solves mysteries of the universe failed him.
I kept my face blank and stared straight ahead, aware that the Colonel was now officially awake and it was therefore my duty to quit noticing anything private, anything that was not relevant to guarding the perimeter. Since the only thing that could get me out of witnessing the ensuring conversation was an actual attack, I tried like hell to act as if I could hear nothing at all, to give everyone the illusion of privacy.
The Colonel, not poised to make this an easy task, got one hand under his back and started struggling to sit up. He needed to stop doing that immediately, else I would be forced to risk his wrath calling a nurse, and become subject to Dr McKay's ire, too. I was saved from having to make the decision when Dr McKay put his palm flat on the Colonel's chest, and while I couldn't see it the way I was standing, I could just imagine him giving off his most forbidding, stop-touching-that-artifact-right-this-second look. The struggle increased, however, and I started to wonder if the Colonel for some inexplicable reason had suddenly stopped recognizing Dr McKay, when Dr McKay figured out that the Colonel wasn't trying to get out of bed, he was trying to get a look at Dr McKay's hand.
“What? No,” he yelped, tapping his unadorned ring finger with his other hand, “you just got shot, you idiot! On your way to the church, granted, but what a stupid-ass self-sacrificing thing to focus on – of course I'm not married! Someone tried to put a bullet in your brain!”
I winced and scanned the corridor for any nurses alerted by the shouting. Behind me, Dr McKay took a deep, angry-sounding breath to quiet himself, possibly also thinking he could do without being interrupted yet. The Colonel looked hard at Dr McKay for a moment, then slowly let himself sink back into the cushions. He was shaking his head as if to get rid of some drug-induced cobwebs, and while I suppressed a sigh of relief at the continued absence of outsiders in the corridor, I thought what he was probably thinking as well - of course Dr McKay hadn't gotten married without him, he was the freaking best man.
Then Dr McKay added in a slightly more composed voice, “As a matter of fact, I'm not going to get married. To Jennifer. At all.”
It was all I could do not turn around then, seeing as I was equally as shocked as the Colonel. Wha-, I thought, but Dr McKay was already continuing:
“Oh, it's not that it would be all that difficult to postpone the whole thing,” dismissive, and I relaxed my stance enough so that I could see his right hand still firmly in place on the Colonel's chest. I hoped the Colonel was soaking up some warmth from it through the bandages as he lay there, blinking up at the man. “Theoretically, we could always have Woolsey or Caldwell do it,” Dr McKay said, “only Jeannie would kill me if I did that, so we should probably wait for our next leave or something. If we were going to do it. Which we aren't – look, she said I should be at the wedding!” The last part was a genuine whine, and I could just imagine his eyes, all wide and hurt and indignant.
It seemed to take a lot of the Colonel's strength to force out a rough-voiced, “Sorry,” while I was still stuck on thinking Even crazy-assed, hyped-up-on-Wraith-genes Kanaan knew better than that. He tried to turn his head away, but I guess the movement hurt too much, and Dr McKay's hand moved away from his chest to catch his wrist, grip looking confident and strong.
“No, no, that's not what I meant,” and the movement of the hand that wasn't gripping the Colonel's had to be too fast for Sheppard's hazy mind to track. “And come to think of it, that's not what she said. She said, 'I'm supposed to get married right now', which, yes, the thought had crossed my mind, because, you've got the most terrible timing in the universe, but – Her implication wasn't exactly 'and Colonel Sheppard should be safe and sound and make all the bridesmaids swoon throughout the service.”
For the first time, the Colonel's eyes did a quick flicker over at me, but I was staring straight ahead, gaze sweeping the perimeter, not acknowledging anything that happened behind me, no, Sir. I'm sure he didn't truly believe my obliviousness. It still takes my breath away to think that it had taken him so long to acknowledge me, that he trusted me enough to believe the sincerity of my pretense. Dr McKay as well. The good Doctor had laid himself completely bare in front of a soldier whose name he still didn't remember, and I know how afraid he is of gossiping women.
He didn't have to worry about it. What Dr McKay was really saying, I got it, and I knew as certain as I knew that I would never tell anyone about this that the Colonel got it too. Dr McKay may never return or even fully understand what no-one who calls him- or herself a soldier on Atlantis will ever talk about: the exact nature of the Colonel's feelings for him. But he would also never willingly commit to spending the rest of his life with a woman who didn't wholeheartedly and without reservations get the importance of the first contact team.
I thought that Dr Keller, no matter how hurt or spitting, fuming mad she might feel initially, would feel really bad once she realized just what it had been she had said. Once Teyla came back to let Dr McKay go find her to explain things, that is, for I didn't think he'd had time to do that yet. Because for all that many of us soldiers wanted to dislike her for what her relationship with Dr McKay had been doing to our commanding officer, Dr Keller wasn't like the people some of us had been dating since joining the expedition, very few of whom had lasted on Atlantis for more than a year. Dr Keller may feel conflicted about her life in Pegasus sometimes, but these very issues make her one of us, one of the Atlanteans. I don't think the Colonel would ever have consented to stand on the wrong side of Dr McKay in a church if she hadn't been.
Carefully not looking in my direction, the Colonel squeezed Dr McKay's hand. I almost wished I could leave them alone, give them some real privacy, but I couldn't do that. Since he had to know that Teyla had ordered me to this post, he wouldn't ask it of me. At the same time, I felt fiercely glad for the opportunity to gain such a huge glimpse into this intensely private man. He clung to Dr McKay's hand for exactly the amount of time that was justifiable by tiredness and drugs. Then his eyes slipped shut, and Dr McKay turned to me to demand “You! Man just out of severe coma here, would you call a nurse already?!”, as if he wouldn't have ripped my head off if I had actually followed the regulations on that.
I successfully fought the urge to smile at him but hesitated, didn't raise my hand to my radio before the Colonel tilted his head in my direction and gave me a small nod. As I quietly informed the hospital staff of the changed state of their patient, I watched the small, barely visible smile ghosting over the Colonel's face and couldn't help but feel strangely grateful to Henry Wallace's brother or cousin or whatever for choosing this day for seeking revenge.