By the time they finish poking and prodding, and discover that I'm not the big fat, mortally wounded liar they take me for, Lorne and his team have already left. I have nothing to do but wait: wait for Lorne to finish his search, wait for Ronon and Teyla to come back, wait for Keller to finish the surgery... wait to see if I've wound up killing Rodney after all.
With nothing to do but wait, I take Hunnicut up on the offer to use the shower in the infirmary so I might look a little less like a refugee who just escaped from a war zone. I could go back to my quarters and use my own shower, but I'm closer to the OR here. They might let me know if something happens and Rodney doesn't... no.
No more ifs.
I busted my ass to get him back here, I had to leave Ronon and Teyla behind, and may have freaked out Woolsey and some other staff members in the process of all that—so McKay can have the common courtesy to not die on me now. End of story.
Hot, scalding water pounds down on my back. The warm water soothes some of the soreness there and begins to wash away the top layer of caked on blood, dirt, and grime. I can't lose myself in the sensation, because every second I'm in here I can't watch the door to the OR. When I get out, I find a fresh set of real clothes waiting for me instead of scrubs. I guess someone took pity on their poor, insane commanding officer. Stiffly, I pull on the new clothes and toss the dusty, bloody rags on my way out.
But the clock is still ticking, and I'm still waiting.
I have worn a very light trench into floor of the waiting room when Teyla and Ronon burst in. I pause on the four-hundredth pass across the room, and allow myself to just look at them. Ronon's a little ragged and sporting the beginnings of a shiner around one eye. Most of Teyla's hair has escaped its ponytail and her offworld uniform is a little dirty, but otherwise she looks okay. They're both all right, in one piece, and most importantly, here.
I'm preparing an explanation, or an apology, or something, but Teyla cuts me off. "We're fine, John."
Damn Lorne. He must have tattled on me about the... slight overreaction earlier.
I flick a glance to Ronon, but he just crosses his arms. "It was nothing we couldn't handle."
"Good," I say, and then return to my pacing.
I can feel both of their gazes on me, eyes tracking each step I take, and the weight of their stares slows my pace some. I'm not exactly sure what they think they see but I get the distinct impression I'm about to be wrestled down into one of the chairs lining the room.
"We have been told Rodney is in surgery," Teyla says quietly, trying to broach the subject as gently as possible. Since she's stating the obvious, I don't bother to answer. "What happened to him?"
My steps falter, and for a long moment the most I can do is study the intricate patterns of the stained glass windows in the waiting room. "Did you feel the earthquakes?"
"Yes," she says quietly. "After they started, the negotiations... took an unfortunate turn."
"They thought it was our fault," Ronon puts in.
I screw my eyes shut. Damn it...
"It was our fault," I tell them. "Something in the lab set them off." Or at least I think it did. I hadn't been listening to Rodney's theories on it. Just didn't seem that important at the time. I'm still not sure if it is.
They trade a twin look of concern, but it's Teyla who gently prompts. "And what about Rodney?"
"He got into an argument with a piece of the building that wanted to kill me."
Their expressions darken with understanding, and for a while the room is very quiet. Then Ronon loses his patience and manhandles me into a chair in between them. Both of them completely ignore my attempts at apologies for leaving them behind, and opt to fill the silence with colorful tales about the many cross-cultural heroes in the Pegasus Galaxy.
To them, you can't forgive someone when there's nothing to blame—except there's a small part of me that wishes they weren't so goddamn understanding. Guilty men shouldn't get off so easily.
This is so typically Rodney.
Making us worry, making us wait, making us sweat. Making some us try to write his eulogy while he's still alive and failing utterly at mediation. Well, I'm done with it. Gaping, life-threatening wounds or no, he should have a little bit of decency to just magically heal himself on the spot, because I do not want to go completely gray before I'm fifty. The Sheppard men have a long-standing reputation for looking much younger than they really are—and it's unfair that he's making me age prematurely.
When I'm not looking, Teyla grabs my hand and it gives it a brief squeeze. "I am sure we will hear something soon."
"Yeah." I extricate my hand and resettle in my seat, trying to ignore the wounded look I get for rejecting her offer of comfort. I don't need it. I am fine. "Any minute now."
It's been too long. Where the hell is Keller?
It can't be that hard to fix McKay. I mean, it's not like he was barely breathing when they rolled him away. It's not like he had a giant hole torn through his body that might require delicate surgery. Really, it's not like he could be dying in there right now...
Damn it, sitting is really not working. I need to do something, anything. Who says my contribution to this has to end at getting him to the doctors? Surely, there is something more I can do than just sit in this waiting room like I've done every single time before.
I hate this goddamn room.
I escape the confines of the chair and resume my efforts to wear a trench into the floor. Ronon lets out a soft, exasperated grunt, and Teyla softly calls my name. Nothing else is said though, because we've been here a thousand times before and said it every time in every variation known to man. And it's a hell of a lot easier to be dying on the other side of that door, instead of being on this side—just waiting.
I'm so sick of waiting and trying to figure out what I'm going to do if Keller walks through that door looking tired and defeated, instead of just tired and weary. I spent an entire month trying to figure that out when that brain parasite stole pieces of Rodney from us daily. I had a whole month, and I still couldn't figure it out. And if there hadn't been the eleventh hour save at the Shrine, I can't make any guarantees that I wouldn't still be trying to figure it out even right now...
I could have been Mensa.
I'm a smart guy. Maybe not as smart as Rodney, but still enough to get by in this crazy galaxy. Smart enough to think up some sort of contingency plan if worse comes to worse.
We're still waiting, but in the meantime I've come up with the perfect plan:
If for some reason Rodney does decides to walk into that bright, beckoning light—I'm going to charge into the afterlife guns blazing and drag his loud ass back from the beyond.
Of course, this plan is a work-in-progress. I haven't worked out some of the more minor details, such as how one might cross metaphysical boundaries and make McKay pull his best Lazarus impression—but it's still feasible.
I'm pretty sure I can get Ronon on board with the idea. He can never turn down a good fight, and he's been looking pretty bored for the past five minutes. I could make it a big team activity, a real chance to work on our group bonding... but something tells me that Teyla might not be so eager to take up the cause. Ever since she entered motherhood, she's become far too sensible—and I'm still too enamored with the plan to be able to hear any constructive criticism yet. She'd probably try and poke holes in my sound logic with statements like: "that makes no sense", "what you suggest is impossible", "one does not simply walk into Mordor", and maybe even the slightly true "John, I think you need to get some sleep".
"What are you thinking?" Ronon rumbles. He looks ready to spring into action, just waiting for me to give the word that "Operation: Hellraiser" is a go.
I'm back in the chair. Ronon threatened to sit on me. Teyla threatened to let him because my pacing was making her dizzy. I threatened to keep on doing it anyway just to spite them. For some reason that didn't really scare them like it should have.
I'm starting to wonder if I really do need to get some sleep.
It's tempting, but each time I close my eyes I can see the life bleeding out of Rodney in the copilot's seat. Can hear the echoes of that horrible sound that he made when I pulled him off the rebar. It's possible that this is normal for most people—but most people aren't me. They haven't done this a million times over now. I've been in this room—in this same stupid chair—so many times that it should be easier to endure the repeat performances of this song and dance.
The door opens, and it's a fight to see which of the three of us can make it out of our seats first.
Ronon and Teyla aren't far behind me as we don't-quite-crowd Keller, who is looking tired and... weary. Just tired and weary. That rush of cool air washing over me and making everything go out of focus for a second could be considered relief I guess. With how many times I've done this, you think I would be able to tell.
"It was close," she says quietly, "but we were able to repair the damage."
I don't ask her to qualify exactly how close, because I don't think I want to know the answer. And if I choose to read into the tense way she holds her shoulders and the tight smile, I already know anyway.
"You can see him after we move him out of recovery—but only for a few minutes. I don't expect him to wake for several hours." Which is Atlantis Chief-of-Medicine speak for: "I know you're going to ignore me anyway, but if you wake my patient I will not hesitate to order invasive physicals for all of you." Her and Carson are cut from the same cloth in that way.
Keller looks at me, a little too closely for my comfort. I think we're about to start another round of "What injury is John Sheppard hiding today?", but she just gives me a small, sad smile instead. "He's going to be okay. I promise."
Good to hear. "Operation: Hellraiser", as brilliant as it was, still needs some tweaking. I'll have most of the kinks worked out the next time...
"That is very good news," Teyla says, giving me a curious look.
It is good news, great news. Except...
I shouldn't be thinking about "next time" already.
Rodney's squirming wakes me. I didn't even realize that I had fallen asleep, because I was sure that the horror movie reruns were going to keep me up all night. Guess I really was tired.
"Your feet stink," he croaks. "Do you ever wash your socks?"
I pull my feet from their familiar perch near the head of his cot and slowly stand and stretch. The lights in the infirmary are still low, and I can hear Ronon snoring from the cot he "acquired" when the nursing staff wasn't looking. Teyla is stretched out across several chairs she collapsed on after checking in with Kanaan and Torren for the night. I'm fairly certain she would have been a lot more comfortable in her own bed, or at the very least a cot, but there was no moving her once she was out.
I finish stretching out the worst of the kinks, except there's a huge knot that's formed between my shoulders from falling asleep in that position. Rodney grunts, managing to effuse it with both confused concern and disgruntled impatience. Oh, guess I forgot to respond to his oh-so-witty stinky sock remark.
"These are a clean pair." I tossed out the socks I was wearing earlier with the rest of the physical reminders of our unfortunate adventure on P2Y-459. "But hey, you're awake."
"Yeah," he croaks, looking both tired and annoyed, "Captain Obvious."
"That would be Lieutenant Colonel Obvious, if we were going to be technical about it."
Instead of responding like he usually would, he looks at me intensely—or as intense as someone on a party cocktail of pain killers can—as if he's searching for something.
I don't exactly squirm, but I do shift a little under the scrutinizing gaze. "What?"
"You look like hell."
That might be because we barely escaped there alive. "You're a real charmer, McKay."
He blinks lethargically, and I'm guessing that the drugs are already pulling him back down. "John..."
He utters it just tired and soft enough that I have a brief flashback to him degenerating with that thing in his brain. I blink, and its gone. He's still blinking heavily as he struggles to stay awake, so I muster a smile and answer him. "Yeah?"
I'm about to ask him what he means by that, but his eyes drift shut and his breathing evens out as he slips back into sleep. I let the fake smile drop, but don't sit down right away. It was probably the drugs talking, because from where I'm standing, things aren't back to "okay" just yet.
The infirmary is just a little too crowded these days, so I slip out at the first opportunity. There's a lot of paperwork to catch up on, so much that I'm practically drowning in it. A lot of what I'm sorting through are things Lorne usually takes care of, but I'm already here and working. Besides... he can have a little break. He brought my team back—well, two-thirds of it.
The personnel and dry mission reports are beginning to make my eyes cross, and I'm starting to remember why I usually delegate this kind of work. I knead at the tension bunching up at my temples, when another message appears in my inbox. Some sort of mission request that I open without really looking at any details, including the sender. It's all a giant blur of text, nothing really registering until I finally see the designation of the planet the science team wants to revisit. The plastic casing of the laptop creaks in protest as I practically slam the lid shut.
"No. No way in hell," I growl to the open doorway.
"How did you know I was here?" A familiar voice drifts in from the hallway.
"Oh." There's a quiet click of a laptop being shut before Rodney drags himself in, slowly letting his gaze wander the office as if searching for something. "Huh."
"What?" I ask impatiently.
"I thought you'd have at least one suitcase."
"...why would I have a suitcase in my office?"
"Well, you left on this guilt trip a few days ago. It would make sense to pack an overnight bag."
He's hardly impressed by the glare I give him, and instead decides to finish letting himself in. He's still entirely too pale, and looks like he's going to fain—pass out before he'll make it to either of the chairs set up in front of my desk. I watch him, careful to keep my jaw clenched tightly together so I don't let my annoyance boil over into anger and say something I don't exactly mean.
He's sweating by the time he makes it, taking care to set the laptop on the desk before he collapses into the seat. "Okay, in theory... that was a much shorter walk."
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I ask tightly.
"Right now I'm ruining your upholstery. God, I'm sweating like a pig." He pauses in mopping his brow. "Although pigs don't really sweat. Which sort of defeats the purpose of the metaphor."
"I mean what the hell do you think you're doing out of the infirmary in your condition?" He still looks like death warmed over, and it's been days since our mad rush to the gate. "How did you convince Keller to let you leave?"
"I took a page out of your book," he says, tipping his head back and closing his eyes for a moment as he tries to catch his breath. "I forgot to ask for permission."
"That's not going to win you any points with her."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he says lightly.
Uh huh. Sure.
"I don't," he insists. "Besides, I needed the exercise."
I quirk an eyebrow. "Is that the best you can come up with?"
"At the moment... yes."
I take in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. He has about fifteen seconds before I get on the radio and give up his location. "McKay."
"Fine." He exhales heavily before finally opening his eyes. "Seeing as you've developed a sudden aversion to the infirmary, I had to come here to talk to you."
"Didn't need to come here to do that." I tap the newfangled piece of technology that we use every day. "I have a radio."
"Well, I don't. Jennifer won't let me have one. She keeps saying things about micromanagement leading to strokes, and not wanting to deal with that in addition to impalement this week."
"How lazy of her."
"I know, right?"
"I'm telling her you said that."
His eyes bug out. "You can't—"
Usually the action makes him resemble an irate chipmunk, but with the way he's wilting in the chair he looks more like a kicked puppy. And that takes all of the fun out of messing with him. "I'm kidding."
He lets out a sigh of relief. "That's not very funny."
"Sorry, bad habit."
"Yeah," he says, and finally looks up at me with that same searching expression he's had since he woke up a few days ago. "So..."
"So, what do you say about the mission?" He waves his good arm at my laptop.
"I say the same as I did two minutes ago: the answer is still a resounding 'hell no'."
I curl my hands around the arms of my chair, because if not, I just might slug him. Seeing as how he doesn't stand much of a chance when he's not recovering from nearly fatal injuries, it wouldn't be a very fair fight at the moment.
"What possible reason could you have for going back to P2Y-459?" I finally say, unable to keep my voice even. "Want a postcard? Grab a souvenir? Get a matching scar in your other shoulder?"
"I thought the lab needed further study."
"What do you expect to find there other than rubble?"
"Just a little proof for a working hypothesis."
"And what hypothesis would that be?"
"That despite the fact that you believe the universe revolves around a Sheppard-centric system, none of what happened is actually your fault."
"I don't think it's my fault."
"Oh, good. Then you won't mind looking me in the eye when you say that."
My fingernails dig into the skin of my still slightly-irritated palms, but I look him in the eye.
"You could have died." Missed it by inches, through shoulder instead of through the heart. Almost missed getting him here by mere minutes. Or seconds... I don't know how much on time, because I still haven't gotten the guts to ask Keller. "You nearly did."
"Really? That had never occurred to me, what with all of the horrible, mind numbing pain, pieces of metal sticking through my shoulder, and let us not forget all of the blood transfusions."
"It's not funny."
"Do you see me laughing?" His glare isn't nearly as intimidating when he's so damn pale, but I'm pretty sure the anger is just as potent now as it would be if he were his normal hypertensive, borderline-stroke bright red. "I was there. I'm painfully aware of exactly how close I came to not being able to sit here and berate you."
How close my decision to make a run for it came to killing him.
"Stop that!" he barks.
"I didn't say anything."
"That doesn't mean I still can't hear you." He levels me with a look. "Seriously, the martyr syndrome is getting more than a little old."
"Would you rather I be happy about what happened?"
"It wouldn't hurt!" I just look at him, pretty sure I didn't hear that right. He closes his eyes, and looks so tired and worn out that some of my anger drains away. "Would you rather be dead right now?"
I don't need any time to think about that. "No."
"Well, same here," he mutters. "I don't know why you can't be a little happier about that part."
"About not being dead?"
"Yes! Would it kill you to appreciate that just a little?"
"I do appreciate it."
"Really?" He cracks an eye open. "Because I haven't heard you say anything like that until just now."
"There were extenuating circumstances—like making sure you didn't die in the process. I was just a little too busy at the time to say 'thank you'."
"You're welcome," he says airily. "That wasn't too hard, was it?"
Have I mentioned that Rodney McKay is an asshole? Probably not enough. "McKay..."
"What? Oh right." He waves his good hand in the air dismissively. "Turnabout is fair play and all. Thank you for the very intense, insane, and borderline disturbing rescue."
"You don't sound so sure about that."
"I'm not sure I exactly followed anything past 'martyr syndrome'."
He gives me a narrow-eyed look. "You're lying."
"I think it's past time you went back to the infirmary."
"Now just hold on, I'm not done yet."
I roll my eyes up to the ceiling. Of course he isn't.
"I just..." He lets out a ragged sigh. "You didn't leave me there."
I can't help but arch a brow. "And this surprises you?"
"Yes. I mean, no, not really, but... just... okay, this is really hard to do hopped up on pain killers."
"I'm calling Keller."
"Don't." He leans forward a little too quickly, and winds up grabbing the desk for support with one hand.
He lets out a stuttered breath, before continuing, "John, just... give me a second."
I allow him to try and regain his composure, although my finger is hovering over the radio's call button. He leans back and very carefully wipes away at the sweat gathering at his brow. "I really didn't think this through."
"You're telling me."
"Think it's the meds?"
"Could be." Having experienced the magical Keller Pain Cocktail on many an occasion myself, I can understand the tendency it has to lead to the occasional delusion of grandeur/lack of judgment. "Look, let me just call her in here. You really don't look like you should be up."
"That eager to get out of this conversation?"
"I haven't turned you in yet." Against my better judgment—he's looking entirely too worn down from the short walk here from the infirmary.
"Thanks." He stares at his hands, fingers twitching absently. "And I do mean that, you know... for back there."
"There's nothing to—"
"Just don't interrupt me, okay? That whole thing, it really sucked for me—but I know that if it had been the other way around... look, I know it was probably just as bad for you."
"I thought you called that part 'insane' and 'borderline disturbing'."
"See, you were listening." Rats. Caught. "And it was disturbing. You were going to let a building come down on you for no good reason."
I feel the nerve in my jaw twitch. "There was a good reason."
His fingers stop twitching and he just stares silently for a moment. "Yeah, okay. But... if by chance the universe hates us and we wind up in that situation again—just leave, okay?"
His face hardens, but he still doesn't look up. "Look, I appreciate the sentiment. But if it's one hundred percent certain I'm going to die... like I'm locked in a room filled with space raptors or something equally absurd—" It's the painkillers talking, I must remind myself, "—I would prefer that you could forget your insane death wish for a few moments and choose to not die. Mutual destruction for the sake of itself... it's just wasteful."
I think there might be a backhanded compliment buried somewhere in all of that, but I don't feel like digging it out. "I'm only going to tell you this one more time, Rodney, and I want you to remember it."
He drags his head up to look at me with that tired, annoyed gaze. "What?"
"You're stuck with me. You just need to accept it."
He narrows his eyes, looking like he wants to say something witty in response. I'm guessing the Keller Cocktail is working its magic because instead of letting loose with any scathing remarks, he just glares.
"And," I push up from my seat and circle around the desk, coming to stand behind his chair, "I think it's time for you to get back to your cot—maybe re-up on your happy juice. You're getting a little crabby."
"Have I mentioned that I hate you?"
The pitiful, angry glower he directs at me can't help but make the corners of my mouth tug up in a smile. Yep, it never gets old. "You may have said something along those lines once or twice. Just in passing."
"Well, it bears repeating," he grumbles, very carefully pushing himself to his feet. "You also suck."
"I've heard that one too." I back off, giving him enough room to walk on his own—but still close enough in case he needs a little help. "You're like a broken record, McKay."
"You're a broken record," he sneers right before his step falters a little.
"Ooh, burn." I grab a light hold, careful to avoid the areas swathed in bandages, and help put him back upright. "What's next? I am rubber, you are glue?"
"You try having a razor sharp wit when your mind is dulled by drugs." He uses his good arm to grab a handhold of my sleeve, effectively wrangling me as a human crutch.
"I'll pass. One user on the team is enough."
"Hey!" he squawks. "I'm not a user—or where you referring to Ronon? He does look like he might use a little bit of steroids. No way is that amount of bulk naturally obtained."
"He'll be thrilled to hear that."
"How is he going to know I said it? Unless... you traitor!"
"Haven't sold you up the river yet." I tip my head down the hall, and give him a physical nudge in the correct direction. "Trust me, I've gotten some pretty tempting offers in the past."
"Really?" He narrows his gaze. "How tempting?"
"Eh, about Katharine Ross level of temptation."
"Katharine Ross. The younger girl from The Graduate. Seriously?"
"You'll notice I didn't take them up on the offers."
"And what onscreen bimbo would test your loyalties?"
I've always had an appreciation for Angelina Jolie. That would not elicit the proper reaction, though. "Shatner has a certain onscreen charm."
This time when he nearly trips, I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with pain meds or injuries. "That's... what the hell kind of offers have you been getting that involve actors instead of money? And what exactly were you supposed to do to me? Wait, I don't even want to know."
I help him find his equilibrium, and continue herding him down the hall. "Probably best that way."
"Sometimes you really disturb me," he says without any venom. He tightens his grip on my sleeve, tugging at the material as he tries to get better purchase. "You... you're okay, aren't you?"
After the past few days... the honest answer should be a no. I don't even know why he's asking it, considering which one of us is infirmary bound. So no, I'm not terrific or fantastic... but Rodney is here and alive, even if he's a little doped up and more confessional than usual. I'm here too—and not a Shep-kabob back on that planet—and I guess that's not too bad either. So, all things considered...
"Yeah, I'm all right."
It's not the most Earth shattering revelation. Like a lot of things in life—lousy coffee in the mess after ten a.m., Ronon wiping the gym floor with every marine on base, Rodney's inability to stay silent for more than five seconds, and me somehow still being stuck with him five years later, like Butch and Sundance going out together at the end—it just is.
And I'm good with that.
Assignment: Rodney taking a hit of some kind -- shot, stabbed, anything -- to protect John.
This one shouldn't have nearly been as difficult to write as it was, seeing as I've already basically written that prompt three times this year alone. (It's a fic kink, I admit it.) But I've never really dealt with John's issues and the emotional fallout as well as I'd like to—and hey, I've never whumped Rodney with a building before, so I had to try. Hopefully the twist on the prompt doesn't deviate too much from what jennytork was wanting.