Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Disclaimer: Once when my mind was manipulated by nanites from the Replicator’s I woke up in ShadowWriter Studios, owner and producer of Stargate Atlantis & SG-1. However, here in the real world, I believe that honor belongs to MGM Global Holdings Inc. etc.
I do not own Stargate Atlantis, or any of Johnny Cash’s songs. No profit was made from this story and no infringement of copyright was intended.
They’d all seen the Johnny Cash poster hanging in his quarters as well as the acoustic guitar that always sat stationary beside his bed. Occasionally different personnel around the City swore they’d heard him whistling the lonesome tunes made famous by the man in black. And those that took the time to compare the two men to each other might have even seen a few slight similarities; both of them had that lonesome solitary look about them, both wore black – though in the latter’s case black was the primary color of his military uniform – both smiled but never quite looked happy, and both had the same first name – or a variation there of.
However, the real similarities between Lt. Colonel John Sheppard and his country music idol had yet to be witnessed by anyone on the expedition – and were fast being realized by everyone.
The Wraith had been on a culling frenzy hitting more world’s than the expedition could hope to keep up with and everyone had been running ragged for nearly a month straight.
Sheppard’s team – accompanied by Lorne’s team and some extra Marines – had just returned back to the City late the previous evening from searching for survivors in the smoldering ruins of yet another culled world.
There were no survivors.
Sheppard supervised the disposal of the bodies according with that planet’s customs and the group was just gearing up to head back when a few leftover Wraith appeared out of nowhere and attacked.
Weary and worn as everyone had been they fought the Wraith back with a vengeance brought on by an anger fueled from sorting the wreckage of yet another innocent world.
The rough and ragged group had all trudged back through the gate to Atlantis sporting an assortment of injuries that kept Beckett’s staff busy, but not a Wraith left that planet alive.
Most of the injuries weren’t all that serious, some bruised ribs, cuts, scraps, bruises, one of the Marines had a broken arm, Sheppard had suffered a pretty hard concussion, but all in all they came out relatively unscathed – unless you listened to Rodney list all the life threatening ailments he had acquired that Carson’s voodoo quackery was unable to detect and would most assuredly have him dropping dead at any moment – which everyone took as a sign that the physicist was just fine.
So far since the teams had returned there hadn’t been any reports of more world’s being culled; they could only hope the Wraith had had their fill and that it would stay that way for awhile.
Carson had ordered Sheppard’s and Lorne’s teams to relax for a few days along with just about half the rest of Atlantis’ personnel. Everyone had been working on fumes and the Doctor had decided it was high time people remembered how to breath, eat, and sleep before they all dropped from exhaustion – Sheppard’s team especially as they hadn’t had a break since it started. The minor injuries they had all incurred was just the excuse the Scotsman had needed to stand them down for a few days.
The colonel had had to spend the night in the infirmary for observation as was standard procedure for a concussion. While Beckett hadn’t been overly concerned about the knock to the hard head, he and the others had been noticing some slightly out of character behavior from the colonel – which also wasn’t completely uncommon for someone with a concussion – but so far Sheppard had never exhibited such a reaction before.
Still Beckett had released him that afternoon knowing that his team would keep an eye on him. It hadn’t been all that long ago that Sheppard had been captured and tortured by Kolya, and his team was still a little over-protective of him.
Somehow the colonel had disappeared on them towards evening though, and Ronon, Teyla, Rodney, Carson, and Elizabeth had joined forces to look for him. After searching out all of the colonel’s usual haunts they finally contacted Major Lorne via radio to see if he had seen Sheppard.
The major’s amused voice had replied over the com-link that they should come down to the rec-room.
Confused the group headed down to one of the lower tower rooms that had been set up as a comfortable place that civilians and soldiers alike could hang out in when they were off duty. It had couches, a big TV, tables that often hosted poker games and chess matches, a small bar that primarily served sodas and snacks but did host the occasional liqueur – whoever tended the bar was to keep a close eye out that nobody drank enough to get drunk (not only was liqueur hard to come by, but the last thing anyone wanted was a bunch of rowdy drunks carousing in the most powerful alien city in two galaxies) – John had also been trying to get a pool table for the room, however, his last three requisitions had been denied and the colonel hadn’t figured out how to smuggle one onto the Daedalus, yet.
They heard the noise long before they reached the room and upon entering the crowded space the five were temporarily stunned speechless.
There at one of the center circular tables sat Sheppard playing his guitar like he was born doing it, and singing the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s ‘The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer’ like a professional musician – complete with back-up singers as Lorne and some of the Marines were getting into the song; making swooshing noises like the steam drill and tapping glasses together for the clacking of John Henry’s hammer.
“Can you turn a jack, can you lay a track,
can you pick and shovel too?
Listen hear this hammer swinger is
talkin’ to you.”
Sheppard sung the song word for word; the music as close to the real song as a single guitar could make it, and had everyone in the room – which was a bigger crowd than normal – completely absorbed.
No one had ever seen Atlantis’ military commander so relaxed before, and while baffling, it was also enjoyable.
They made their way up to the table as John was finishing the last verses of the song – which was met with loud applause – and soon realized that there was more to the colonel’s relaxed mood than a long overdue day off and concussion. Empty shot glasses littered the table; more than a few in front of John.
“What the bloody hell is goin’ on here?!” Carson cried out in alarm, “Who said ya could have any alcohol?!”
“Oh, hey Doc!” Sheppard looked up with a big smile, having just noticed their arrival, “’Bout time ya joined the fun, you’re always talkin’ ‘bout everybody workin’ too hard it’s time ya take your own advice. Sit down and take a load off.”
“Bloody hell Colonel!” Carson spluttered, his accent increasing as he became more agitated, “Ye’ve got a concussion and are on pain medication for cryin’ out loud, ye ain’t ‘sposed to be havin’ liqueur! How many of those bloody things have ye had?!”
“I don’t know.” Sheppard stated unconcerned as his fingers absently strummed the guitar strings, “I been charging a shot per request and I’ve had…” His eyes squinted as he tried to recall how many songs people had asked him to play.
“You’ve been making people buy you drinks in order to sing for them?!” McKay yelled indignantly, the astrophysicist couldn’t decide what shocked him more; that his friend he’d known for three years had never once let it slip that he could play a guitar and sing like a professional, or that he was charging people drinks to play for them – and actually getting remunerated for it.
“Hey!” John defended himself, “They were the ones that came up with the idea!” He gestured to the room at large.
McKay was speechless – an almost unheard of occurrence – and Beckett was still silently fuming.
Ronon and Teyla were both rather amused by the whole affair; though both were equally shocked by Sheppard’s completely open demeanor and singing ability.
Elizabeth decided the harm had already been done and there was no need to continue making a scene in front of half the expedition and so drawing on her amble diplomatic skills quietly told Carson to let it go.
The Scott finally relented but not before announcing to everyone in the room that the colonel would be taking no more requests; effectively cutting off John’s supply of whiskey or whatever alien alcohol the City was currently stocked up on.
The good mood was contagious and soon the rest of John’s team had joined them at the table along with Doctor’s Beckett and Weir.
“Forgive me Colonel,” Elizabeth said, as she accepted a beverage from Major Lorne, “but I didn’t realize we had a professional singer in Atlantis. You should have said something sooner,” she continued earnestly, “we could’ve used the extra entertainment.”
“Hell Elizabeth,” Sheppard said with a shrug and a smile, “I’m no professional.”
“No?” Rodney asked sarcastically, “You sound almost identical to Johnny Cash, well your voice wasn’t quite as deep and…”
“McKay what do you know about Johnny Cash?” Sheppard asked amused, “Aren’t you the one always complaining about American music, country in particular, and that you can’t risk listening to the monotonous droning for fear it’ll, let’s see how did you put it…” “No, no, no!” The astrophysicist squeaked, not wanting John to repeat that particular phrase in front of everyone, “Whatever I may or may not have said is entirely beside the point! And what I know about Johnny Cash is that I’ve been forced to listen to every song the man ever sang at least a hundred times over thanks to you…”
“Hey it’s not my fault that you don’t have any taste in music and that I had to do my duty as a teammate and friend and introduce you to a little culture.” Sheppard interrupted.
“…but that’s beside the point.” McKay continued with his tirade as though John hadn’t spoken, “The point is that you’ve had that guitar in your quarters for three years actually knowing how to play it, and never once saw fit to tell anybody.”
“You’re right Rodney what was I thinking! I mean here all this time I kept an extremely important life saving piece of knowledge from everybody on Atlantis. People could’ve been killed! Instead of flying a nuclear warhead into that hive ship during the siege I should have simply opened up a channel and played ‘Don’t Take Your Guns To Town’ and sent them running. How could I be so stupid?” Sheppard stated in mock consternation.
“Seriously though,” Elizabeth interjected before Rodney could reply and continue the pointless debate, “you are good, did you ever consider doing it professionally?”
“Yeah I guess.” Sheppard hesitated only slightly as a distant look came in his eyes, “Once upon a time it was all I wanted to do… but that was a very long time ago.”
“So what changed your mind?” Beckett asked.
“Yeah,” McKay asked sarcastically, “how do you go from country-singer-want-to-be to fly-boy-Air-Force-pilot?”
“Things…changed.” John said cryptically, “Besides it’s ancient history.”
“I don’t get it.” Ronon spoke up, misunderstanding the colonel’s reference, “What does the history of the Ancient’s have to do with it?”
They tried, they really did, but none of them could help but burst out laughing at the Satedan’s innocent question. Teyla looked just as confused as the ex-runner.
Weir was the first one to recover her composure and proceeded to explain the Earth term to the two Pegasus natives.
As they talked John’s fingers started strumming out a rhythm and soon the room quieted down as he started singing:
“Ira Hayes, Ira Hayes;
Call him drunken Ira Hayes
he won’t answer anymore,
Not the whiskey drinkin’ Indian
nor the Marine who went to war.”
Soon everybody in the room was tapping their feet to the beat and those who knew the words would join in on the chorus. The Marines were particularly enjoying the song and all raised their glasses at the line:
“There they battled up Hiroshima Hill
two hundred and fifty men,
But only twenty seven lived
to walk back down again.”
Many of the Marines were always skeptical of the Air Force pilot being their commander when they first arrived on Atlantis. They mistook his easy going and flippant manner as a sign of weakness; a mistake that the expedition’s enemies often made. But it usually only took one or two missions through the gate with the easy going pilot to have even the toughest of Marines singing a different tune.
Lt. Colonel John Sheppard led by example and from the front, he never sent his men somewhere he wouldn’t go or have them perform a task he wouldn’t do. He was easy to get along with and didn’t much care about formality when it came to salutes and standing at attention, so long as everybody did their job and never abused their authority; harassed those of lower rank than them or bullied civilians.
It didn’t take long for most of the soldiers to realize their mistake in believing that their CO’s reluctance to engage in battle was due to weakness or cowardice, but rather that the colonel merely had no desire to see people die if it could be prevented. However, when Sheppard was crossed, the Marines learned that their Commander could be one scary SOB.
As a result there was not a soldier on Atlantis – unless they had just arrived on the Daedalus and hadn’t been on any missions yet – that wouldn’t follow their CO into the pits of hell, or in this case into the heart of Wraith territory (which they all figured would have been Dante’s description of the ninth level had he known about the Wraith).
The evening wore on pleasantly and everyone was enjoying themselves. A few folks had even danced to a few of the songs that Sheppard sang. The colonel continued taking requests even though he could no longer accept payment with Beckett sitting there, Sheppard said he’d be taking rain-checks from them though.
Carson suggested that they should teach Teyla some lyrics some time, as he remembered the lass had a beautiful singing voice, and have the two try some duets.
“What is a duet?” The Athosian leader asked.
“It’s where two people sing a song together, each person having their own part that they’re supposed to sing.” Elizabeth explained.
“I would like that.” Teyla said with a tilt of her head.
“Sounds good.” Sheppard said with a smile; his reply had everyone wondering if he’d still be so amicable about the idea once the concussion cleared. But they had witnesses so the group intended to hold him to it.
People finally started thinning out of the room as the night grew late, Sheppard had taken requests for ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, ‘A Boy Named Sue’, ‘One Piece At A Time’, ‘I Walk The Line’, and many more before finally finishing the night out with ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’.
ghost riders in the sky.”
Soon it was just John, Rodney, Teyla, Ronon, Carson, Elizabeth, and Lorne left in the now quiet rec-room.
The Major was next to leave after thanking his CO for a good show. Lorne was surprised by the side of his boss that he’d just seen. He’d known he shouldn’t have let the man start drinking with the concussion and everything – though in his defense the colonel out-ranked him so it wasn’t really like he had a choice – but Sheppard had been having fun; everyone else right along with him. And Lorne was pretty sure that despite the easy smile and casual jokes that Sheppard was famous for the man could use the fun; Lorne knew that Sheppard only showed what he wanted people to see. The 2IC just hoped his CO wasn’t mad about what happened when his mind cleared of the concussed and alcoholic haze, he was bound to be embarrassed, after all, there had to be some reason why the confident and competent man had never revealed his musical talent to anyone in the last three years.
Well now that the cat was out of the bag Lorne had no doubt that the Atlantis personnel would be demanding a few more concerts in the future.
“I still can’t believe you never said anything about this before.” McKay declared still somewhat affronted, “As if the women didn’t swoon at your feet enough as it is, next thing you know you’ll have a host of alien bimbo groupies following you around! You’re taking this whole Captain Kirk thing to new levels of disgusting. Well what other secrets have you been keeping the last three years, no wait, let me guess; back on Earth you actually own a million dollar mansion with…”
“Cut it out Rodney.” Sheppard interrupted, “Besides if I was a multi millionaire do you really think I would have been shuttling you and the rest of the world’s most annoying scientists around back at McMurdo? And you call yourself a genius.”
“I’m just saying!” McKay mumbled loudly, “I mean you could of been MENSA, you could of been a country music star, what else could you have been that we don’t know about? Hmm?”
“Good night Rodney.” John said rising to his feet, “I’m going to bed. See you all in the morning.”
“Oh no ye don’t Colonel,” Beckett stood up as well, “Ye’ll be spending the night in the infirmary.”
“What?!” Sheppard cried.
“Ye heard me lad, don’t think yer gonna mix drinking with a concussion and medication and not have tae spend the night in the infirmary for observation.” The Scotsman informed him, hands on hips.
“Oh, come on Carson, I’m fine.”
“Oh fine are ye? Ye haven’t been actin’ like yerself since ye hit yer head, which should be obvious considering the little concert ye just put on. The Colonel Sheppard I know doesn’t exactly like bein’ the center of everyone’s attention.”
“What if I stayed with him?” More than a few eyebrows rose at the Satedan’s offer. “Seriously,” Ronon continued taking pity on his friend; he hated being confined to the infirmary too after all, “I can keep an eye on him, if he starts acting strange or something I’ll get him to the infirmary.”
“How would you be able to tell the difference?” McKay asked sarcastically, which earned the astrophysicist a death glare from the colonel.
After much cajoling Beckett finally relented but not before giving the two men a stern warning about what was off limits; no drinking, no sparring, no running. Finally John pointed out that it was almost one in the morning and all he intended to do was sleep.
Everybody bid everyone goodnight before heading to their respective quarters, except for Ronon who went with Sheppard.
“Thanks for bailing me out back there big guy,” John said appreciatively, “but you don’t have to hang around, I’ll be fine and Carson will never know.”
“I gave him my word I’d keep an eye on you. That’s what I’m gonna do.” Ronon stated matter-of-factly as they walked down Atlantis’ empty halls, “Besides you don’t want to piss Beckett off Sheppard, remember he has the big needles.”
“I never thought the day would come when I’d ever have to say this, but you’ve been hanging around McKay way too much.”
Ronon tried to glare at his team leader but found a grin breaking through despite his best intentions. “Yeah, well the man is a genius.”
“So he keeps telling us.”
They reached John’s room and the colonel asked if he wanted a cot or the floor.
“Neither.” The big man replied, which caused John to raise an eyebrow, “Now grab your stuff and come with me.”
Gathering pillows and blankets John followed Ronon down the hallways in silent question.
Ronon inwardly smiled at the curious man, as well as the fact that the colonel would follow him without question. It had been a long time since he’d had someone’s complete trust like that. And even longer since Ronon had trusted someone else that completely. But Ronon trusted John Sheppard with his life and the ex-runner wasn’t sure he’d ever trusted anyone like that before; not even on Sateda.
His gut still clenched at the thought of how near they’d come to loosing the colonel when Kolya had captured him. Specialist Ronon Dex had seen many people fed on by the Wraith before, but it had never hurt so bad to watch as when it had been his best friend whose life was being drained dry right before his eyes. Instead of nightmares about it like he knew the others did, he had dreams about how many different ways he could kill Kolya. So far he had it narrowed down to the top five:
Dismemberment (after beating him to an unrecognizable pulp with his bare hands)
Disemboweling (after beating him to an unrecognizable pulp with his bare hands)
Beheading (after beating him to an unrecognizable pulp with his bare hands)
Feeding him to a Rothgar – a creature on Sateda that eats its prey from the inside out (after beating him to an unrecognizable pulp with his bare hands)
Feeding him to a Wraith – after which he would also kill the Wraith (after beating Kolya to an unrecognizable pulp with his bare hands)
Ronon had several more creative ways he wouldn’t mind trying out on Kolya, but much to the Satedan’s disappointment, he knew he’d only be able to kill the bastard once.
Not that Ronon ever intended to tell Sheppard of his many contemplations regarding the Genii commander; somehow he didn’t think the colonel would fully appreciate all his careful thought on the matter.
At last Ronon reached his destination and led Sheppard outside onto one of the Piers. Throwing the blankets down to make two makeshift sleeping bags he stood back and stared at Sheppard for his approval.
A grin of pure delight spread across the colonel’s face as he stared up into the billions of un-chartered stars, “Now this is what I call a good place to sleep.”
They both settled down on their respective beds, a comfortable silence settling over them as they listened to the waves gently rolling around them and gazed at the stars shining above them.
It had been a fun night for everyone; Atlantis would probably be hoping that it’s military commander got a concussion and good buzz going more often.
John couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a good time, nor the last time he’d played his guitar or sang in front of people. There was a slight feeling in the back of his mind that said he shouldn’t have and that he wasn’t thinking quite straight but he had ignored it all evening so why bother listening to it now.
How many songs had he played anyway; he couldn’t quite remember. People had requested so many, who knew there were so many Johnny Cash fans on Atlantis. The only song he’d refused to play when it was requested had been ‘Burning Ring Of Fire’, more than one person had asked to hear it but John couldn’t bring himself to sing it.
Not yet. Not after the whole Kolya and being fed on by a Wraith incident.
John remembered being fed on by that Wraith –Todd he’d mentally called it – he remembered wondering how anything in the world, or in this case galaxy, could ever hurt so bad.
Sheppard had endured torture before, he’d been a POW in Afghanistan and been guest to a few not-so-friendly hosts on missions gone bad when he was in the Special Forces, but nothing had prepared him for Kolya’s twisted version of imprisonment. Being stuck in a dank dark cell next to the very thing that you knew would be systematically sucking your life out over the next few hours, being strapped to a chair and having your own personal torture session broadcast via video feedback to your friends and who knew how many other people.
No amount of training or real life experience could prepare a soldier for that. Hell he’d personally killed his own Commanding Officer to ease his suffering when Sumner suffered the same fate.
A part of John’s mind had wondered if it was his just punishment for pulling that trigger.
And yet by some twisted stroke of luck he, John Sheppard, had come out of the whole thing physically unscathed. Not that he wasn’t immeasurably grateful, but a part of him thought that it wasn’t fair. After all he was the one who woke the Wraith prematurely causing thousands of untold deaths, the one who’d murdered his own CO just to save him, and yet he was the one who survived the very fate he’d unintentionally inflicted on so many others.
But somewhere among the mind-blowing pain he’d endured while the Wraith had feasted on his life force, Sheppard heard Johnny Cash’s voice singing in his head “I fell into a burning ring of fire, falling down, down, down as the flames went higher” and he’d grasped onto that as he’d tried to ride out the unendurable agony.
Only somewhere along the way his brain begin to change the words and the next thing he knew his mind was singing, “It feels like a burning ring of fire, I’ll drown, drown, drown as the pain gets higher, oh it burns, burns, burns, this Wraith is fire.” Sheppard shuddered at the memory and forcibly stopped himself from recalling the rest of the words he’d changed in the song.
Yeah, it would be a long time before he could sing that song again; if ever.
Trying to force his thoughts away from his living nightmare and abyss of guilt, John thought instead of his friends, his team.
They had came for him – though he wasn’t entirely sure he deserved such loyalty – albeit too late but still they had came. And they always would. And really, what more could a man ask for?
Nothing would erase the memories of countless burned out planets culled by the Wraith, nor the feeling of being fed on by one.
But gazing up at the brilliant sky and countless stars with a friend who’d fight his way through hell for you, sometimes you could let yourself forget just for a little while. John slowly started humming to himself and as his mind drifted through the sea of stars above him he whispered one more set of lyrics by Johnny Cash:
“I fly a starship across the Universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I'll be back again, and again and again and again and again.”