“Do I smell?”
Sheppard gave the team scientist an odd look at the unusual question. There were times when Rodney became self-depreciating. It was rare and usually involved a catastrophe of mass proportions, more often than not something resembling a supernova. The scientist’s personal hygiene, though, was never a subject that had arisen before.
“What?” Sheppard asked as he slowed to match Rodney’s sedate pace.
The mission was a follow-up to the planet they had made first contact with last week. It was an agricultural planet with no technology to speak of, but there were a few herbs the botany department was interested in as well as some grains the Athosians wanted to try out in their next crop.
Teyla glanced back at the two Earthlings and their relaxed manner, shaking her head at the line of conversation. To say that Colonel Sheppard was going out of his way to pick on McKay was putting it mildly. Ever since their return from the disastrous mission with the time dilation field it seemed like the colonel made it his personal mission to harass the scientist night and day. Rather than calling Sheppard on his behavior, McKay seemed to rise to the taunting, which puzzled her.
Lagging even further behind the bickering duo was the fourth member of their team, who seemed to be trying to keep his distance from the elder two members of their team. His patience with their antics as of late was wearing thin. She thought she could hear him mutter something under his breath as she returned her attention to the path before her. She had expected someone from the village to greet them upon their arrival, as their return had been discussed during the last mission. However they were in the middle of a harvest, so perhaps they were too short-handed to offer a greeting at this time.
“I mean,” Rodney continued, oblivious to the opening he was giving his tormentor, or the eye rolling of the massive Satedan behind him, “do I smell? Is there something offensive about me?”
Rodney started to raise an arm as if he really wanted Sheppard to confirm the question, but the pilot quickly shoved it down. He was so not going there. “You mean other than your sparkling personality?”
“I should have seen that one coming,” Rodney muttered, before continuing. “I mean, what’s wrong with me?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Sheppard smirked.
“I’m actually being serious here! I cannot for the life of me think what I could’ve done to piss him off to the point where he would so blatantly avoid me!”
Sheppard frowned. It sounded like maybe Rodney was trying to strike up a serious conversation. He could hold his snarky comments for a few minutes anyway, although he was sorely tempted to run down the list of McKay’s ‘offensive qualities’. At least the amusing ones anyway. It was fun to make the scientist’s face blow out like a puffer fish, but Rodney with hurt feelings was a little uncomfortable, and nowhere near as fun as irritated Rodney. “Who’s avoiding you?”
“Is there an echo in here? Yes Carson!”
“He’s been avoiding you?”
“Do I have to repeat everything for you? Next time I’ll just slowly enunciate—”
“Can it Snarks-a-lot,” Sheppard glanced at Teyla’s hunched shoulders and the way she was looking around. He frowned, and his hand unconsciously drifted towards the P-90 that had been hanging loosely on its strap. “I’m just asking because he’s been dodging me too.”
“Really?” McKay frowned, seemingly oblivious to the tension creeping up in his teammates’ postures.
“Now who has to repeat himself?”
“It’s just odd that he would avoid one of us without reason, much less both of us.”
“Maybe he’s still mad about that EKG machine.”
“Be serious for a moment, Colonel—” Rodney frowned, his gaze straying back to Ronon and seeing that the Satedan’s hand was brushing against his gun. He darted his gaze around the surrounding brush, voice dropping. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t know,” Sheppard muttered back. “Let’s group closer to Teyla.”
John turned back to signal to Ronon for him to join the rest of the team. A hard shove to his back sent him sprawling to the ground at the same time the loud retort of something resembling gunfire echoed throughout the small path. The returning spit of P-90 fire joined in by the whine of Ronon’s gun firing off almost drowned out the painful moan that joined him on the ground. Quickly he looked up to see Rodney gripping his thigh, red rapidly spreading across the gray material.
John cursed softly and covered Rodney’s body with his as he pulled the measly first aid supplies stashed in his vest. From the location of the wound he couldn’t risk a tourniquet, meaning they had to get him back to the gate quickly.
“Not so tight,” Rodney murmured between gasps of breath.
“Shut up,” John returned as he tied the quick bandage, wishing he could ignore the way it was rapidly changing colors. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“What are you talking about?” Sweat had already starting to bead on the other man’s forehead.
John made sure that the wrapping was secured before roughly grabbing Rodney’s arm and slinging it over his shoulder. With a groan he heaved both of them off the ground. In the midst of all of this Ronon had disappeared into the brush where the fire had been concentrated and Teyla had taken up guard at their side, gun at the ready for the next sign of ambush.
Ronon stormed out of the foliage, eyes wild with rage. “There were five of them.”
Ronon furrowed his brow, having to think back to their time with Ford’s bandits to place the name, but shook his head. “Olesian.”
“Torrell,” Sheppard growled as the hand around his shoulder fisted into his jacket and the man he was supporting tried to stifle a whimper of pain.
“He wasn’t there,” Ronon tossed a look at the forest surrounding them. “Two managed to get away, probably going to warn the others.”
“I really don’t feel like waiting for the cavalry of ungrateful prisoners to return,” Sheppard jerked his head in the direction they had come. “Let’s get out of here.”
Teyla pursed her lips, having to suppress her worry for the kindhearted villagers they had met only days before. Dr. McKay was injured, and from the quietness of the normally loud man, as well as the heavy way he leant on the colonel, she feared for his wellbeing more.
“Guess Carson’s going to have to stop avoiding us,” Rodney whispered quietly, his voice laced with pain.
“Way to force the issue, Rodney,” Sheppard murmured back, eyes sweeping the jungle as the foursome began the arduous trek back to the gate.
* * * * *
An unscheduled arrival of a gate team never boded well – even more so when it was Sheppard’s team returning early. Carson’s mystery was forgotten as he was presented with one of his best friends bleeding profusely and twitching in pain. He didn’t even have time to put away the incriminating file on his desk as Rodney was whisked to surgery.
It was later, after Rodney had been settled into the recovery room, that Carson had been able to think again.
He dropped into a vacant chair near his friend’s cot, opposite to the rest of the team. Ronon was stretched out across two chairs, using one as an ottoman to rest his feet. The Satedan’s eyes were closed as if he were in slumber, but from the way he twitched when Carson sat down he could have just been feigning sleep. Teyla had set herself up near the head of the bed and was using one of her arms as a pillow. Her free hand had snaked up at some point and was lightly resting over Rodney’s hand. The scene was bittersweet, and all-too familiar.
“Hey,” a soft voice greeted, tired beyond exhaustion.
Carson raised his eyes up to see the final member of the foursome. Rather than his usual haphazard perch on his teammate’s cot, John had segregated himself from the group. One hip rested against the wall and his hands were jammed in his pockets as if he were trying to convince himself he was at ease. Something about the rigid pose told Carson that John had probably been standing that way for a while.
“We have to stop meeting like this.” Carson forced a smile.
In the darkness of the dimmed infirmary he couldn’t see the emotions play across Sheppard’s face, but did spy the silhouetted shoulders tensing. “We really do.”
The statement hung in the air, heavy and entirely too true. Carson pursed his lips, watching as John’s shadowed figure shifted on the wall but did not come any closer to the bed.
“Are you all right?”
A derisive snort, a little too like Rodney’s for Carson’s comfort, came from John. “I’m fine. I didn’t get shot.”
Even for the situation, he had put too much of an angry, almost self-loathing emphasis on the word ‘I’. Carson had been too busy with trying to stop the bleeding to ask for specifics on how everything happened. He decided to play it safe. “He’s going to be fine.”
“He should already be fine,” John’s voice had dropped low. “I’m going to kill him.”
“That’d be rather counterproductive to the healing process, Colonel.”
“It all happened pretty fast, but I’m pretty damn sure I felt someone push me to the ground.” The statement was almost growled.
Oh. Well, that explained it.
If the subject of their conversation had been awake at the moment, Carson was fairly sure he would be crying hypocrite about now. He wasn’t Rodney, though, and didn’t think that baiting Sheppard would help much. Sometimes the scientist being unconscious was better for this type of thing.
“Maybe you should sit down,” Carson suggested softly.
John bristled and remained standing. “I don’t want to sit.”
“And I don’t want another of you stuck here. You’re exhausted, now sit.”
After a moment, the silhouette shuffled forward, grabbing the fourth, final chair and plopped down in an extravagant display of his reluctance. John crossed his arms before giving Carson a reproachful look. “I hope your being here means you’re going to stop dodging us.”
Carson sat up a little further from his slouch. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh, you do.” John fixed him with a stare, and Carson couldn’t help but fidget under the intensity. “I just can’t figure out why.”
“I’ve been busy.”
It was apparent that Sheppard’s anger at the ambush was still simmering underneath the surface and Carson realized that he had just set himself up as an easy target. He sucked in a quick breath, wondering what he should say, if anything.
“But I’ve got a feeling it has something to do with that damn folder you’ve been carting around everywhere.”
Carson pursed his lips. “This really isn’t the time or place for this conversation.”
“What are you hiding?”
Carson opened his mouth, but quickly shut it when a raspy voice from the bed interrupted their conversation. “Can’t you two let a man die in peace?”
John shot Carson a look, clearly signifying that the argument wasn’t finished. Carson ignored him and instead went to his patient’s side, checking on Rodney’s vitals. The bustling woke the other two slumbering teammates. There were too many extra witnesses for them to finish anything at the moment.
The talk would have to wait until Carson could get both of them alone. Hopefully by that time he would figure out what exactly he was going to say.
* * * * *
“For the last time, I swear I tripped.” Rodney was sitting up on the cot he’d been stuck on for what seemed forever. “I’m sorry it dealt a blow to that massive hero complex. But if you don’t stop the macho pout, I swear to you I will jump in front of a bullet!”
“You’re being dramatic.” John resisted the urge to cross his arms, mostly because it would only lend credence to Rodney’s claim that he was pouting. Which he was not.
“Me being dramatic? I’m the one who was shot and you’ve been moping around here for days.”
“I’m not moping,” John huffed, then quickly added, “or pouting.”
“Well, then you’re definitely brooding.”
“When did you say you were getting sprung again?”
“Tomorrow, and you’re changing the subject.”
“Because the subject is annoying.”
“And apparently true,” Rodney pointed out as he reached for the crutches next to his cot, only to have them slapped away. “You know, I’m pretty sure you have other things to do than mope around the infirmary. You’re not even sick!”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Transparent is what you are.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe I’ll just have Carson kick you out.”
“Oh, so he’s talking to you?”
“Well, I haven’t been sending him death looks and trying to ambush him in corners for interrogations.”
“He’s hiding something from us.”
“Oh, you get a cookie for figuring that out! Of course he’s hiding something. The man can’t lie worth a crap.”
“Coming from you.”
“Shut up. And I just so happen to be lulling him into a false sense of security. You catch more flies with honey, or so I hear.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Again, shut up.”
“All right, so obviously the good cop-bad cop routine isn’t working. We’re going to need to try something different.”
“Different how?” Rodney frowned. “We say pretty please?”
“No,” John tapped his chin in contemplation, “we don’t ask him.”
“Great idea. That will break him.” Rodney rolled his eyes and once again reached for the crutches. Without breaking his contemplative look, John slapped his hand away again. “Knock it off! I’ve got work to do!”
“Nah, you’re drafted.”
“Drafted?” Rodney sputtered. “For what?”
“I think you’re striking GQ poses just fine on your own. Thank you very much.”
A corner of John’s mouth quirked up into a half-smile. “What do you say?”
“About what? You’ve been staring at the ceiling this whole time!”
The half-smile spread into a full-out grin.
“Oh no, I don’t like that look. It usually involves me doing something very embarrassing.”
John bobbed his eyebrows.
* * * * *
“I hate you!” Rodney hissed as Sheppard casually ambled away. “This is a very bad idea!”
Sheppard just hushed him and motioned for him to commence.
“I’m doing this under protest,” Rodney mumbled, annoyed.
He was ignored by his partner-in-crime, who was doing his best to blend into the background of the infirmary. With an aggrieved sigh he levered himself up with his crutches. He needed hazard pay just for Sheppard’s crazy ideas. Rodney began to hobble in the last general direction he’d seen Carson.
Spying one of the harpies heading in his direction, Rodney quickly ducked behind a privacy curtain in order to avoid getting caught. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Sheppard stop too. He craned his neck around so he could shoot the pilot a look that illustrated his feelings on this stupid plan. All he got in return was a grin and a thumbs up.
Of all the—
The nurse moved on, and he picked up his hobbling pace, finally spotting Carson checking the inventory of supplies. Tucked under his arm was a folder, Carson’s newest appendage, stuffed almost two inches thick. He took a deep breath and thought of all the work he was missing. He exhaled deeply before hobbling into the Scot’s line of sight.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Rodney looked up, doing his best to feign surprise. When he realized the folly in relying on his acting abilities, he started reciting the periodic table in his head.
As Carson stormed over, Rodney stopped himself at Argon. “Oh, hello Carson.”
“Don’t you hello me.” Carson pointed a crooked finger in the direction of his bed. “What did I tell you about trying to find that laptop?”
“I’m not looking for my laptop,” Rodney said innocently, because he wasn’t. He was thinking of ways to hide Sheppard’s body after this stupid plan of his went to hell.
“I see you’ve been practicing your poker face, very good,” the Scot commented sourly. “Now get back to bed.”
By this point, Sheppard had managed to circle around behind Beckett. Despite the fact that he was skulking around the infirmary like a spiky-haired ninja, he had managed not to attract any undue attention. Hell, he was even decked out in all black.
“But I needed to,” Rodney licked his lips, trying to think of something, “uh, pee.”
“The bathroom’s the other way.”
“Oh, that explains it not being over here.”
Carson was not fooled one bit. “Rodney, don’t make me tell you again.”
Behind the doctor, Sheppard motioned for Rodney to go into the next step of their plan.
“This sucks,” Rodney muttered.
“What was that?”
And despite the great urge to take his crutch and lob it off at the miming Air Force officer, Rodney did like any good Canadian would and took one for the team.
“Fine,” he sniffed, “obviously your powers of deduction are too shrewd. But mark my words, Carson Beckett, I will find my laptop!”
And with that he swiftly turned around, swinging his bandaged leg out to where it delicately bumped into a nearby cot. He yelped loudly, dropping one of his crutches.
“Damn it, Rodney,” Carson slammed the folder down onto an adjacent cot and came to the physicist’s aid, “this is why I don’t want you wandering around here.”
“Ohhh,” Rodney groaned loudly and fell back onto the cot, dramatically clutching his leg. “Ow!”
“Daft bugger,” Carson muttered and knelt down, gently taking the injured leg. “You better not have broken the stitches.”
Rodney moaned again, louder, clenching his eyes shut.
“Well, it doesn’t seem like you started any bleeding—”
Rodney cracked open an eye in time to see Sheppard snatch up the abandoned folder. “Oh, the pain!”
Sheppard leafed through the folder casually, which elicited a real, strangled moan from the physicist.
This only served to fuel Carson’s concern. “Maybe I should take a closer look.”
“No!” Rodney shouted in panic. “It’s, it’s—”
Carson reached for the bandage, starting to slowly unwind it. “I think I should be the judge of that.”
Rodney groaned as Sheppard flipped a page. Unless Carson was writing the Great Scottish Novel, there was nothing fascinating enough for him to have to keep up this charade. There was a reason he hadn’t joined the drama club in high school.
“What the heck is this?”
Carson whipped around to see Sheppard leafing through the file.
“Oh, now you decide to give yourself away!”
Carson slowly turned back to Rodney, eyes narrowed dangerously. “Are you meaning to tell me you just faked getting hurt?”
All of the sudden, Rodney was reminded of how Sheppard’s plans usually ended. “I, um...”
Rodney quickly grabbed one of his crutches and smacked it against the floor, trapping part of Beckett’s lab coat beneath it. “Run, Colonel! I’ve got him pinned!”
Carson took a firm hold of the crutch and lifted it, pulling his lab coat free.
“Oh,” Rodney commented softly, and then began to make erratic motions at the oblivious pilot. “Go, go, go!”
Carson’s eyes widened as he turned back, recognizing what John was leafing through. “Hey!”
John looked up from his reading in time to see a very irate Scottish physician bearing down on him. He slapped the folder shut and dodged behind another cot.
“Give that back!” Carson lunged for the folder.
John leapt up onto the cot, landing on his stomach with a wince. “Okay, didn’t think that one through.”
“Give it here!” The Scot was trying to reach out over Sheppard’s shoulder to grab the file back.
“Rodney, go long!” Sheppard threw the folder like a frisbee. It spun across the short distance and landed on the edge of the mattress, spewing papers across the cot and McKay’s lap in the process.
Rodney looked down at the folder, and then looked back at Sheppard with an irritated expression. “‘Go long’? Are you serious?”
Sheppard, still trapped under Beckett’s mass on the cot, just squirmed uncomfortably.
“What am I? A quarterback?”
“Either way, I’m on crutches!” Rodney waved said item in the air to emphasize his point. “Exactly what do you expect me to do? Dive forward and make a last minute save?”
“Touchdown?” John tried feebly.
Rodney swept the stray papers from his lap and snatched the folder from its resting place, all the while grumbling about the stupidity of American sports. He leafed through a few pages of his own medical history, bypassing the ones on Sheppard because there were just some things he was sure he didn’t want to know. As he came upon the next stack of papers, each one almost identical to the next, he felt himself slowing down.
“What the hell?”
He was unaware of the silence that had descended upon his soft statement. Snatches of text stood out from the majority of the gibberish on the page. The labels of subject “McKay, R.” and “Sheppard, J” might as well have been written in bright yellow text and underlined several times. Below their names (and a bunch of information that he really didn’t bother to look at) was the result of the analysis: a twenty-five percent DNA match.
“What in the hell, Carson?” The piece of paper crumpled under the pressure of his hand balling into a fist as he displayed the offensive item.
John looked between his two friends, watching as Carson’s face crumple into an expression that could only be described as guilt while Rodney’s was quickly giving way to righteous indignation. “What is it?”
Rodney snorted an angry breath and shook the paper in the air. “Why were you comparing our DNA?”
John went still and slowly turned to look at the Scot. “Carson?”
These days invariably whenever John thought of someone looking at his DNA, he could only think of his slow transformation into a bug. He exhaled a shaky breath, subconsciously running a hand through his hair. “I’m not relapsing am I?”
“Huh?” Carson snapped out of his guilty reverie to see John’s rising agitation. “No, no, Colonel, it’s not about the retrovirus—”
“Way to make it about you, Sheppard!” Rodney jeered, still holding up the piece of paper like a prize kill. “My name’s on here too!”
He ignored Rodney as the tension drained from him. It wasn’t about the retrovirus. It was just about—
“Did you just say he was comparing our DNA?”
“Welcome to the conversation, Captain Oblivious!” Rodney chunked the paper at him. Being only partially crumpled it only flew forward about a foot before lazily drifting to the ground. “What’s more is there’s a match!”
“What?” John quickly scrambled to pick up the paper, unfurling it so he could read the information for himself. Sadly, it seemed Rodney wasn’t joking. “I don’t understand.”
“Your Frankenstein DNA experiments are turning me into him!” Rodney cried, using his crutch to punctuate his statement.
John cursed and grabbed his calf, turning to glare at the scientist. “Watch it!”
“Rodney,” Carson said softly, “I’m afraid that’s not what it’s saying.”
“Stupid ATA retrovirus,” Rodney muttered to himself. “Knew it was too good to be true. Before you know it my hair is going start standing on end and I’m going to begin hitting on anything above a B-cup.”
“I’m still here you know,” John remarked sourly, rubbing his calf.
“It doesn’t work like that,” Carson ignored the panicked ranting. He had to address this topic, now. He just hated that he had been forced into it before either John or Rodney was properly prepared for it. “I’ve been trying to track down samples from since we came here in order to be certain.”
“Certain of what?” John asked, starting to connect some of the dots in his mind, even though they really didn’t make much sense.
“That the results I was getting weren’t anomalous or from the manipulation of your DNA since we’ve come to this galaxy.”
“Why?” John pressed.
“It was an accident the first time.” Carson sighed, moving past John to pull a privacy curtain around them. The area of the infirmary they were in was relatively deserted, but this wasn’t a conversation that should be happening in the open. “I didn’t even realize I had cross-referenced your samples against each other until a few days later.”
“You didn’t—” Rodney’s voice pitched higher. “Malpractice!”
“Knock it off!” John shot the scientist a deadly serious glare. “It explains the extra tests.”
Carson shrugged, almost guiltily. “Look, I know it wasn’t exactly honest—”
“Exactly,” Rodney snorted softly under his breath, returning Sheppard’s warning look with one of his own.
“I didn’t want to bring it to you until I was sure I knew what the DNA was telling me.” Carson didn’t look at either of them, and instead bent down to pick up the papers that had fallen during the impromptu round of folder-frisbee. “I triple checked all of the machines, but they all came up normal. All of the samples were clean. I even did a Y-chromosome analysis—”
“Oh, no, no, no, no!” Rodney muttered to himself as he tightly gripped the crutch he had used to smack Sheppard.
John had learned enough about various paternity suits through snippets of conversations from his father to recognize the term. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
Still kneeling, Carson pursed his lips. “I’m afraid I’m not.”
“I’m dreaming this, just dreaming this.” Rodney’s litany had dropped to a soft murmur.
“A twenty-five percent match usually means—”
“Don’t say it!” Rodney snapped.
Carson looked up, giving him a tight smile. “You know, uncles and nephews share twenty-five percent, as do grandparents.”
“If he’s my grandfather, I’m killing myself now.”
“Hey!” John had the grace to look a little offended by that. “No need to get nasty.”
“How do I know that at some point you don’t stumble across a time machine and decide to sow some wild oats in ye olden Canada?”
John just shook his head and turned back to Carson, almost hopeful. “What about cousins?”
The Scot shook his head. “Twelve and a half; unless you happen to be double cousins?”
“Dad was an only child,” John sighed.
“I’m not listening to this,” Rodney announced before he began to loudly recite the periodic table.
Carson stared at the Canadian with no small amount of concern.
“Don’t worry, he’s paying attention.” John smiled wanly.
“How can you tell?”
“Scandium, Titanium, Vandium—”
“Guess that leaves one option.” John directed the statement at Carson.
He slowly stood, papers clutched in hand. “From what the DNA is telling me, yes.”
“Well, I always wanted a little brother.”
The barb elicited the desired response. “Hey!”
“Told you,” John muttered to Carson, who just shook his head.
“I am not the ‘little’ brother!”
“You’re two years younger than me,” Sheppard pointed out. “Although maybe in girth—”
“Shut up.” Rodney waved his crutch threateningly. “And I’d like to point out that I don’t have the ATA gene naturally, much less freakily so like Colonel Bedhair here.”
“Rodney, we’ve never determined if it’s a patrilineal trait,” Carson reminded.
“It still smacks of favoritism!”
John snorted. “Because that’s a serious consideration during—”
“Don’t finish that sentence!” The crutch crept higher in the air to back up the threat.
John ignored his imminent bludgeoning and turned back to Carson. “So. You said Y-chromosome… so that means my father--?”
“Who said it had to be your Dad?” Rodney bristled.
“I don’t see a mild-mannered Canadian knocking up a woman like my mother and merrily humming ‘O Canada’ on his way home.”
“That’s because it was your mom humming it!”
“We’ve seriously descended to ‘Your Mom’ jokes?”
“Well, why can’t it be my father? Why do you always assume the Sheppard genes have to dominate the globe?”
“Because my father owns a gun?” A whole collection of them actually.
“Hey! My dad can beat up your dad! Okay, maybe not, but still--!”
John waited for the rest of the statement, but Rodney just gestured to the empty air.
“The hair.” He pointed feebly to the various tufts of hair defying gravity. “Is it a Sheppard thing?”
John thought of his father’s short cropped, always business-appropriate hair cut. “No, it’s not.”
He sighed with relief. “Well, at least I don’t have to worry about mine becoming like… that.”
John’s gaze drifted to Rodney’s thinning hair line. “I seriously don’t think that was ever going to be a concern for you anyway.”
Rodney lifted his lip into a sneer. “At least I don’t look like an overwatered chia pet!”
“Better a chia pet than an overgrazed pasture.”
“That was just lame,” Rodney sniffed. “So lame, it proves that you can’t possibly be my brother.”
“You’re right,” John grinned devilishly, “I could always be your grandfather.”
Rodney’s face scrunched up in disgust. “That’s almost worse than the thought of your father Kirking my mother.”
“Better watch it: you’re part-Kirk now.”
“No, I’m not! Because this does not happen in real life. People do not go on top-secret missions to other galaxies where they encounter vampiric alien life and find their long lost hitherto unknown half-brother. It’s ridiculous!”
“Well when you put it like that, yes, Rodney. It is.” John rolled his eyes.
“Oh yeah, well it can get worse—”
“How? Either way I’m already related to you!”
“Oh, hardee har har!” Rodney snapped back before pinching his cheek. “Ow!”
Carson, who had been silent up to this point, spoke up. “What are you doing?”
“Pinching myself so I can wake up!”
“You’re not dreaming,” the Scot gently reminded him.
“Then this is the worst episode of Punk’d, ever!”
“I’m starting to feel a little insulted,” John muttered to himself.
“You can’t seriously want to be related to me?” Rodney snapped, starting to swing his legs out over the cot until he was physically halted by Carson’s intervening hand.
“Rodney, calm down—”
“Why? Why should I calm down when you told me that someone who was a perfect stranger up until about two years ago—” John, almost imperceptibly, winced at that, “is supposedly my half-brother?”
Carson muttered something about his patient hyperventilating, and immediately started searching for an oxygen mask. John, seeing the rapid breathing, snapped into team leader mode.
Rodney turned to look at him with wide eyes.
“Calm down, right now.” The whole ‘stern soldier’ thing didn’t work half the time, but it was all he could think of off the top of his head. John didn’t want any of this, and he wasn’t about to have McKay collapse from a nervous fit because he thought he might be related to John. Which was just strange and a little insulting to hear, even if it was only voiced in his own mind.
To his surprise, Rodney’s quick gasps began to slow and deepen. Carson stopped his frantic search as the panic attack eased. He let out the breath he’d been unconsciously holding and cautiously approached behind John.
“Perhaps this is a conversation that should be continued at another time—”
“No,” Rodney let out a shuddering breath, “I’m good.”
“Are you sure—?”
John nodded in one succinct movement. “Trust me. I’m not going to sleep well as things hang right now.”
The scientist bobbed his head, indicating his agreement with the statement.
“All right,” Carson eyed them both, hating himself for the conflicting emotions he could see playing across both of their faces, “but I’m not very comfortable at this point…”
Sheppard grabbed his elbow and guided him closer to the cot, all the while smiling like he was attending a state fair. “I think this is something that won’t wait until morning. Don’t you think so, Rodney?”
“Yeah,” McKay said distractedly, almost as if he were snapping back to the conversation.
Carson looked between both of them, seeing the hardened determination on John’s face and the frail uncertainty on Rodney’s. He wanted to smack both of them upside the head, the Hippocratic Oath be damned, and sedate them into next week. It would certainly make his life easier… although nothing about this was easy.
He heaved a heavy sigh. “Okay, honestly, all I have is the DNA profile. What we decide to do with it beyond that is up to both of you.”
John took a few steps away from his friends in order to compose himself. “Okay, according to your tests, somehow he and I are related, right?”
“Yes,” Carson answered, almost reluctantly.
“Well the only way that would have happened,” Rodney began, “is if one of each of our parents cheated on each other—”
The explanation cut off as his eyes widened in sudden understanding.
“Well, I was a bit young at the time, so you’ll forgive me for not noticing—” John started, oblivious to the shocked silence from the cot.
A thousand ugly images assaulted Rodney, reminding him of what he had spent years trying to push down to the recesses of his mind. The raised voices, the harsh words, and the sentiments that they never thought he had heard. Out of nowhere, Rodney heard his own voice, echoing something he had told Samantha Carter several years ago.
“I had a not-so-comfortable childhood. My parents hated each other, blamed me.”
It wasn’t as if his father had ever said anything directly. Hell, the man was a saint compared to Rodney’s mother. But only a deaf person could have missed the way his name seemed to crop up in just about every argument. He had always attributed it to him being so much trouble growing up.
He was too. His father had nearly had a coronary when the CIA had shown up at his front door wanting to talk to twelve-year-old Rodney. Foreign government agencies aside, he had disassembled almost every piece of electronic equipment in the house. Just about drove the poor man through the roof.
“McKay?” Sheppard leaned forward, having noticed the silence coming from the cot.
McKay felt all the color drain from his face. When particularly pissed off about whatever his genius son had done, Rodney’s father liked to use the phrase “your son” with his mother. Just the usual shifting of responsibility to the other parent; it wasn’t actually supposed to mean something.
“Rodney?” It was Carson’s turn to be concerned.
Always, ‘your son took apart my television during the commercial break’, ‘look what your son did’, and of course ‘your son has been building atomic bombs in the basement again’. All of those long buried moments came rushing back. Each one gave more credence to Carson’s cracked half-sibling theory, and a disturbing new insight into his own past.
“Rodney,” Sheppard insisted harder, lowering his head so he was eye-level with the scientist.
Rodney snapped back to the present, staring at Sheppard with wide eyes. “I…”
Sheppard watched him patiently, waiting for the rest of the statement.
“I need air—” Rodney shoved past Sheppard, using his crutches as a lifeline.
Sheppard and Carson exchanged quick concerned looks.
“Rodney, you really shouldn’t be—”
“If you don’t want me to walk, give me a damn chair!” The scientist snapped as he wobbled, trying to get his balance. John reached over to steady him, only to have his hand frantically slapped away. “Just let me get out of here right now!”
“Carson!” The name came out strangled.
Carson eyed his patient. True, he had intended to release him from the infirmary in the next day or so, but it was too early for him to be hobbling across half of Atlantis on crutches. “Take a chair.”
Rodney fidgeted, casting a nervous glance beyond the pulled curtain.
“I think I saw one near your real cot.” The Scot really didn’t like the wild look in his patient’s eyes. He could drug him until the panic abated, but that would only delay the problem. “Just be careful. You’re still healing.”
Rodney didn’t need to hear anymore than that, and possibly fearing forced sedation, fled the impromptu isolated section faster than he should’ve been able to. The fading staccato of crutches hitting the floor signaled his exit.
Sheppard started after him, but Carson caught the pilot by the arm.
“John,” Carson’s firm tone caused the Air Force man to look at him, “he needs some space. He just had a big shock.”
“Yeah, well I think I got the same shock.”
“No offense, but you just gained a brother.” Sheppard sucked in a quick breath at that. “Rodney may have just lost a father.”
For John, the tiny curtained area had become far too small, far too quick. Actually, the almost deserted infirmary seemed a bit too crowded at the moment. “You know, I think I might like some air too.”
Carson frowned at him and Sheppard smiled feebly.
“Far away from Rodney,” he assured the physician.
“Not too far,” Carson said softly, eyes straying to the direction Rodney had left. “Maybe I should trail after him?”
“I’ll get him.” John’s gaze followed the same path. “Just give him enough time to cool off.”
“I’ll be here if you need anything.”
Carson moved to give Sheppard a reassuring squeeze to the shoulder and tried not to let it hurt too much when his hand was shrugged off.
“Thanks… I’ll bring him back soon,” John said absently.
“Aye,” Carson agreed.
The colonel turned to him to say something, but then seemed to think better of it, and shook his head. With a quick muttered goodbye, he too was gone.
Alone in the infirmary, Carson sighed, picking up the discarded folder and stuffed the papers he had gathered in it. Guilt gnawed at him. Two of his friends were now hurting because he couldn’t contain his curiosity. He looked down at the folder, his own Pandora’s Box. Once opened, it could never be closed.
Quickly he took the offensive item to his office, and shredded it, over and over, until nothing on the pages was close to legible.