CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: THE MEANING OF HOME
Sheppard jerked awake when he felt himself nearly fall out of the chair he was sitting on, feeling seriously disoriented. Grabbing the blanket around his shoulders more tightly, he blinked the scum away from his eyes and swallowed some of the dryness from his throat. He ached from having slept in a chair all night, and it took him a few minutes to figure out why.
Oh right, Rodney. He was sitting next to his hospital bed.
He scratched at his head and yawned.
And that's when he looked up...and saw McKay watching him.
Hazel eyes widened.
"Rodney?" he whispered, his voice filled with hope.
The blue eyes blinked, but stayed open. The scientist's dry lips lifted into a tiny smile.
"Rodney!" This time Sheppard yelled the name, jumping up out of the chair and nearly tripping over the blanket that fell off his lap. He grabbed McKay's arm, seeing the blue eyes follow him up, then turned to face the rest of the room. "Beckett! Doc! Tara! Get over here! He's awake!"
Beckett was there first, stumbling around the curtain, fighting back his own yawn and looking more grizzled than a bear. Tara didn't follow him—instead, another nurse (who's name Sheppard was pretty sure was Karen)—rushed up beside Sheppard to start checking machines. The young doctor came next, also wiping sleep from his eyes and what looked like drool from his face. He actually had a yellow post-it note stuck to his cheek, but Sheppard wasn't going to tell him that.
They pushed past him, talking rapidly to each other and to McKay and taking down readings.
Still grinning like a fool, Sheppard backed away, pulling his IV with him and one blanket.
McKay's blue eyes followed him, never letting up on their fixed stare.
Until, finally, they closed.
Sheppard's smile faded, and he looked towards Beckett, trying to gauge his reactions. It wasn't until the doctor stood up and turned to look at him, a wide smile on his face, that Sheppard let out a pure whoop.
He was going to be all right.
About a week later, the first of the Decualion crop came through the gate. Ford oversaw its delivery, smiling proudly as case after case of food was brought through. He had his arms crossed over his puffed chest, giving a thumbs up to the people upstairs watching.
Up on the balcony, McKay was sitting in a wheelchair, leaning forward with his arms crossed over the railing, his chin resting on top of them, taking everything all in with a strange expression on his face. Sheppard stood next to him, bending over the railing with a foot on the lowest rung, a crooked smile on his face.
Weir stood not far from them, smiling beatifically as Teyla appeared through the Stargate, waving up at them, a small box under her arm.
"There is not much more," she called up. "Sergeant Stackhouse is dealing with the rest."
Weir nodded, "That's fine. Nice work."
Teyla grinned, and headed over to stand next to Ford. After a few minutes, and once Ford spoke a little with Grodin, both Team One members turned and headed upstairs to the control room.
"Um," McKay said, still eyeing the boxes being carried through, "not to seem, you know, untrusting, but, uh, how do we know this stuff isn't poisoned?"
Sheppard arched an eyebrow at him, "What? Why would they want to kill us now? We saved their lives!"
"True enough," McKay shrugged, sitting up in the chair, "Just hard to reconcile, I guess."
"Ah, you're such a worry-wart."
McKay paused, turning to peer up at Sheppard with a surprised expression, "A what?"
"You heard me."
"If the shoe fits...."
"Yeah, if it belongs to a six year old," the scientist barked back, shaking his head, "What kind of term is that for a grown man?"
"I thought it was appropriate."
"Okay then, if I'm a worry-wart, you're a doofus."
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, and he looked squarely at McKay, "Did you just say, doofus?"
"If the shoe fits...." McKay grinned.
"Oh, you don't want to go there, McKay."
"Would you prefer," McKay looked up for a second, then grinned, "oh, I don't know, lame-brain?"
"Lame....oh, you asked for it!"
"Maybe stupid-head is better," McKay tapped at his chin.
McKay's eyes widened at that last one, and, despite himself, he started to laugh. Sheppard's eyes widened, and he tried to explain something about accidentally combining the names of Mr. Magoo and Professor Plum, but it only made McKay laugh harder. Soon he was laughing so hard, he had to lean over in his chair, gasping for air. Sheppard tried not to join him, but it lasted about two seconds, and soon he was practically on the floor. Both men were completely oblivious to the amused yet silent group of people watching them. Even down below, Grodin and the workers dealing with the crates had stopped to look up.
"You're both completely mental," Beckett's voice wafted across the control room, headed from the stairs in back. "Fully certifiable," he added, walking up next to Rodney and leaning over. "Keep breathing, Rodney, and calm down now," he patted his back, "you're not well enough to laugh yourself sick yet."
Sheppard's laughter calmed a little at that, as did Rodney's, who was finding it a little too difficult to catch his breath. Still, soon enough he was grinning up at Beckett, his chest still heaving but looking truly happy for the first time in days. The physician smiled despite himself, shaking his head.
Still grinning, McKay pointed at Sheppard, his eyes lit up, "Did you hear what he said?"
"Unfortunately," Beckett smiled. "And it confirms some things I've thought about his level of maturity." McKay started laughing again while Sheppard mock glared at the physician, but Beckett ignored them both, kneeling down to look more seriously into McKay's face. "All right then, you had your fun, Rodney. Time to head back now."
"No, no," McKay waved him away, choking back his laughter, "I'll be good."
"Actually, Doctor Beckett," Teyla said, walking forward from where she had been standing with Ford. "I think Doctor McKay should be here for this."
Beckett grimaced, but stood up, "For what?"
"The Deucalions asked me to give these to Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay," she said, pulling the small box out from under her arm. Rodney glanced up at Sheppard, and the major shrugged in reply.
Teyla walked to one side and placed the slim box on the table next to one of the laptops. Opening it, she smiled, then looked across to Doctor Weir. The head of the SGA walked over, saw what was inside, then returned the Athosian's smile. Reaching inside, she lifted out two medals, both hanging from identical burnt-orange sashes. They were both a pale bronze color and in the shape of the many pointed star that had marked the floor of the Central Courtyard. In the center of both, a tiny white piece of quartz was embedded.
"I think these are for you," she said, turning. Walking over, she handed one to Sheppard and the other to McKay.
"They represent the Deucalions highest commendation," Telya explained. "Colonel Luphron only regrets not being able to present them himself."
They both looked at them, and then looked at each other.
Then McKay smiled, "Think the Deucalions are easing guilty consciences?"
Sheppard nodded, "Looks like."
"Think Ford should have asked for more food?"
Sheppard grinned, "Yup."
"Hey!" Ford stood up for himself.
"He's just a kid, though," Sheppard said to McKay, his expression serious again. "Still learning."
"Hey!" Ford said again, looking a little baffled at the same time.
"Teyla was there too," Sheppard noted, fingering the sash. "She probably could have done better as well. Could have gotten more than food, I expect. Who knows what items we might have gotten?"
The Athosian's jaw dropped, and she drew herself up. "Major, I will have you know—"
"Well, she's young too," McKay shrugged.
"I am not young!" she retorted, then frowned, "I mean, that is, I am not—"
"They're teasing you," Weir informed her softly.
"Of course," McKay was still watching the Major, "Elizabeth herself knew what Ford and Teyla were negotiating for. For all her great experience, you'd think she could have encouraged them to—"
"Okay," Weir interrupted, stepping up closer to them, "You have had your fun now. Doctor Beckett, perhaps you should take—"
"Cutting me off," McKay said, shaking his head at the major, "Isn't that a sign of someone who is afraid to hear she might have done better? Classic defense mechanism."
"Oh, absolutely!" Sheppard agreed.
Weir's lips pursed, and she crossed her arms, "Are you two done?"
They looked at her, then back at each other, and grinned.
"So sensitive," Sheppard told McKay. That was all it took to set the doctor off laughing again...only to have it degenerate into a nasty cough.
Beckett sighed, and he grabbed the handlebars of the wheelchair, twisting it around towards the direction of the transporter on this level. McKay's coughing subsided, his chuckling returning even though he couldn't see Sheppard anymore.
"Right, that's enough," Carson snapped at the major's grinning face. "I'm taking him away now. It's obviously too dangerous to his health for you two to be in the same room." Beckett pushed away, and McKay had to grab the arms of the chair to keep his balance. As such, neither man saw the flash of pain that crossed Sheppard's face at Beckett's words. He quickly covered it back up with a grin though, as McKay turned in the chair and gave a silly wave.
Sheppard waved in return, while everyone else either smiled or laughed.
"It's good to have him back," Weir said, smiling softly over at Sheppard as the two men disappeared, "even if he and you are as obnoxious together as always."
"Yeah," the major replied, his smile fading. Weir frowned at the sudden seriousness, but before she could ask what was bothering him, he had turned around to look down at the main room, the ugly Deucalion medal held loosely in his hand. He was just in time to see the event horizon shut down behind Stackhouse, carrying the last box.
His eyes lifted to the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows behind the Stargate, the beautiful sight hidden whenever it was open. A sense of calm blanketed him, and he smiled—for some reason he didn't quite understand, they meant hope to him.
"Yeah," he muttered, "it's good to be home."
A/N – yup, I left some things open. I did that on purpose—can't resolve everything in one story, right? That's what future stories are for. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you all so much for reading this and sticking with me (despite the nutty length), and for all your reviews! Even though I had sworn to myself I would post even if I got no reviews, getting them made me so ridiculously happy! I posted this much faster as a result, and they kept me constantly inspired. So thank you all so much!