Sometimes it was easiest, with the hard reports, to start at the end and work backwards -- get the rough stuff out of the way first. After staring at a blank word-processing document for half an hour, typing and deleting first sentences, Sheppard decided it had to be worth a try. Otherwise he'd be at this all night.
We retrieved Dr. McKay and returned to Atlantis.
There, that wasn't so bad, now was it? Feeling a little more optimistic, he kept typing:
The puddlejumper has been written off as a lost cause -- in my opinion, we can't risk more lives attempting retrieval. Griffin's body also has not been retrieved.
And that was where it hit him again, and Sheppard couldn't suppress an involuntary shudder -- because now he couldn't stop thinking about that puddlejumper, flooded up to the ceiling, and how horribly cold Rodney had been when they'd dragged him out of it. He'd been incoherent on the flight back, babbling about Carter and Griffin and whales and God knows what else. Luckily Zelenka had been the one to deal with that end of things. It had been bad enough just listening to it.
Sheppard stared at the screen. The screen stared back at him. He'd gotten the worst part out of the way, hadn't he? Now all he had to do was write about everything leading up to it.
All he had to do was re-live the hours of gut-twisting fear that he'd managed, almost, to hide, even from himself. Knowing that the odds against Rodney's survival were astronomical. Knowing that the odds against any of their ideas actually working were just as bad. He'd been on dozens of search-and-rescues back on Earth, and he knew full well that concentrating on the negatives was the best way to ensure that the plan didn't work. He also knew, from experience, how often the only thing you retrieved on that kind of mission was a body bag. Which had, at least partly, been the case with this one ... except they didn't even have a body for Griffin, and as for the other ...
His hands were shaking.
He couldn't believe it. He couldn't write this report.
And he wasn't sure what was different about this one, because he'd done reports on missions that were far, far more FUBAR than this one had been. Missions where his people died. Missions where other people died. He'd done one for Sumner. He'd done one for Ford, for God's sake.
And he still couldn't write this one.
He deleted all that he'd written and got up with a sigh. Tucking the computer under his arm, he headed down to the cafeteria. It was late, but various shifts in the city worked around the clock, so they should have something. He'd occasionally found that on the really hard reports, the ones that made the demons rear up and bite him, working on them in a well-lighted public place could make it a little easier to deal with.
The mess was nearly deserted, with a couple of Marines at one table and -- oh hell -- Zelenka in a corner, his disheveled head lowered over some paperwork. Sheppard grabbed a sandwich and one of the last of the apples from the Daedalus's last run, and started to beat a hasty retreat, when Zelenka looked up, caught his eye and smiled.
He thought about smiling back and leaving. The old John, the Antarctica-era John, would have done just that. Instead, he found himself heading in that direction, doing a delicate balancing act with his food, laptop and a cup of coffee. Zelenka slid the papers over to make room.
"Hey Doc. You're up late."
"As are you, Colonel." Up close, he could see that Zelenka looked even more frazzled than usual -- the eyes behind the glasses were ringed with shadow, the narrow shoulders slumped.
That was when Sheppard recognized what he was looking at, spread all over the table: puddlejumper circuit diagrams. And he realized that he couldn't be the only one who had been mentally rewriting everything that had happened that day, running it around in his head and trying to make sense out of it. Of all of them left behind on Atlantis when Rodney vanished, there was only one who'd had a harder time than Sheppard during that long, terrible day.
"Wasn't your fault, Doc."
Zelenka snorted and slid his hand across the papers, drawing out another set of blueprints to study them. "I do not think Rodney will be so forgiving."
"I don't think he blames you." Although he wasn't sure of that at all.
Zelenka raised his head to stare at John from his bruised-looking eyes. "He is Rodney. Of course he will blame me. And if he does not, he should." And he lowered his head again, as if trying to hide, and went back to his diagrams.
A lot of words danced around the back of Sheppard's brain, words like That was a brave thing you did out there, Doc and Rodney'll come around and Who the hell on this mission hasn't made mistakes, anyway? But nothing came easily to his lips, because he knew what that kind of post-mission second-guessing was like, and platitudes didn't make it better. He ate his sandwich in silence, drank his coffee, and didn't open his laptop once.
After saying goodnight to Zelenka, he wandered, and somehow wasn't surprised to find that his wandering had taken him to the infirmary. Despite Rodney's ramblings to the contrary, he hadn't ended up needing much decompression at all, so Carson was simply keeping him overnight for observation -- something about lungs and seawater and pneumonia and unknown pathogens, yatta yatta, the usual. The lights in the infirmary were dim, and Carson was nowhere to be seen. Sheppard made a beeline for the only occupied bed.
Despite the hours since his ordeal, Rodney was still as white as the sheets under him. There was almost no color contrast at all between his skin and the stark white bandage on his forehead. An IV was taped to his arm, and another tube snaked to his nose that John guessed, based on past experience, would be supplying oxygen. His head was turned to the side, his eyes closed, the long lashes casting a translucent shadow on his pale cheek.
Sheppard turned quietly to go. Rodney obviously heard him, though, because his eyes popped open, their blue very startling in his pale face. "Oh God, don't leave! I'm bored out of my mind and that damned Scot won't give me anything to do."
"I thought you were asleep."
"I'm pretending to be asleep, because every time Carson wanders by and sees me not sleeping, he threatens to sedate me." From the plum-colored shadows under his eyes, it appeared that he could use some sleep, in Sheppard's opinion. But it had never been his desire to ride herd on his team's personal lives, so he just sat down on the hard-backed chair by the bed.
Rodney rolled over slightly, so that he could see Sheppard without having to strain. He propped up his head in one hand. "What are you doing wandering the halls, anyway, Colonel?"
"Looking for inspiration." At Rodney's blank look, he held up the laptop. "My report on this whole thing is due on Elizabeth's desk first thing in the morning."
"How fun for you. Wait ... you have to write a report on this? We didn't even go through the gate!"
"Hmm, let me think about it, Rodney ... puddlejumper sunk, head scientist sunk with it, one man dead, other puddlejumper almost sunk along with chief military officer ... yes, they're going to want a report."
He opened the laptop and settled back in the chair. The blank document stared back at him balefully. So did Rodney. "I thought you were here to entertain me."
"When did I ever say that, McKay?"
"Fine, fine ... since you have no intention of being interesting company tonight, can I borrow your computer for a while? Carson won't give me one and I've got some experiments I need to check up on, via email since he won't let me out of here."
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow at him. "Giving you the computer would kind of make it impossible for me to write my report, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, because you're getting so much of it written right now."
"Only because you won't stop talking to me." Sheppard closed the document and handed the computer over with a sigh. "Just don't poke through my personal files."
Rodney shuddered. "As if I want to do that. I don't need your depraved sexual tastes adding to my nightmares." His mouth snapped shut on the last word, as if trying to cut off the brief glimpse into his psyche that he'd inadvertently offered.
Nightmares. They all had them, although the key players in Sheppard's continued to change over the years. One nice thing about being in the Pegasus Galaxy was that he hadn't dreamed about Afghanistan in years. There was so much more fresh nightmare fodder available here. He suspected that drowning would figure heavily in his dreams tonight.
Just thinking about sleep was making his eyelids drift. He leaned back in the chair and tried to stifle a yawn, then realized that Rodney was looking at him. "What?"
Rodney humphed. "What do you mean, what? You look like the walking dead, Colonel. Why are you still awake, anyway?"
He waved a half-hearted hand at the laptop that Rodney had commandeered. "I told you, I need to write a report, and I can't do it right now because you're using my computer."
"Yes, and I'll probably be a while, so you may as well get some sleep." He waved a hand towards the bed next to his. "Pull up a cot. There are plenty to go around."
Sheppard wanted to argue, but frankly, he was just too damn tired. He heaved himself from the chair to the bed and stretched out. He didn't even bother to take his boots off. Rolling his head to the side, he saw that Rodney was watching him with a tiny smirk that vanished as soon as the scientist realized John was looking at him.
"Remember, McKay -- touch my porn and die."
"As if," Rodney sneered, and went back to typing. Sheppard closed his eyes and faded away to the sweet, familiar clickety-click of the computer keys.
He opened his eyes some time later, bleary and disoriented and remembering no dreams at all, to be greeted by a nearly complete silence. Quiet as the grave, his mind supplied, and then he remembered where he was and looked quickly to the side. Rodney was fast asleep, crumpled with one limp arm over the computer like a child who'd drifted off holding a favorite toy.
Sheppard grinned and slid quietly off the bed. He carefully worked the computer out from under Rodney's arm without disturbing the sleeping scientist. Sitting on the edge of the cot, he powered it up. May as well try to half-ass something to show Weir. He opened the blank report file and found that it was no longer blank.
At the top, where Sheppard had included all the usual headers from his standard report template, Rodney had added his own name, with appropriate titles and doctorates, below John's. In the body of the document, there was only one line of text. It said:
Colonel John Sheppard and Dr. Radek Zelenka saved my life.
In the end, and after cc-ing a copy to Zelenka, that was exactly what he turned in to Elizabeth, along with a hand-written note that said: Any questions? Ask me.
She never asked.