Category: gen, drama, hurt/comfort
Summary: An incident on a mission forces Sheppard and McKay to face the tension that has risen between them. (non-slash, one-shot)
Spoilers: "Defiant One," "Sanctuary," "Before I Sleep," very small for "Suspicion"
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Stargate Atlantis do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.
Author's Note: This takes place after "Before I Sleep," but it is mostly a result of my reaction to "Sanctuary." While I've written some fan fiction, including a couple of SG-1 stories, this is my first venture into Atlantis. This is intended as a friendship story, not slash. Constructive feedback is welcome!
It was a shack, nothing more. Long-abandoned by the looks of it, though Sheppard knew better than to make that assumption. Nevertheless, he was thrilled to see it.
Breathing harshly from the run, he paused to carefully scan the trees around them once more before he deemed it relatively safe. Then, still on alert, he shifted his unconscious burden from his shoulders to the leaf-covered ground.
McKay was completely limp. Needing reassurance, John felt for a pulse once more, breathing a slight sigh of relief when he found it strong.
An ominous rumble from the darkening sky over his head reminded him that shelter was an imminent necessity. Though he was loathe to leave his defenseless team member alone, he needed to check out this ramshackle little building before he and McKay moved in.
"I'll be right back, Rodney." With the whispered pledge and one last scan of the trees he shifted his P-90 into his hands and moved towards the door.
It was definitely abandoned. He cautiously stepped inside, gazing around the small single room. There was a dirty window beside the door and another along the back wall. He peered out the back window and into the dark corners, finding nothing threatening. After a fairly short yet thorough search, he deemed it safe.
As he stepped back outside a brilliant streak of lightening lit the sky to his right. He tried to mentally brace for the crack of thunder. When it came, it seemed to shake the very ground he was standing on.
He shook his head, muttering about their luck as he raised the gun once more, checking the little clearing again. The first pellets of icy rain began to hit him as he made his way back to Rodney. Shouldering the gun as he neared, he reached for McKay once more and hefted him back over his shoulder. As he made his way back inside, he gave into the urge to keep talking to his unconscious friend. "It may not be pretty, but its going to have to be home sweet home for the next few hours," he said lightly.
He'd never admit it, but he almost missed the constant chatter he should have gotten in return.
He settled McKay against the wall before keying his radio. "Ford?"
"Sir?" came the quick reply.
"I found us some shelter…such as it is. But it should shield us from the storm."
"How's Doctor McKay?"
"Still out," John responded. "But his pulse is strong. He should be fine. I don't know how soon he'll be able to move on his own, though."
"Do you want us to come to you?"
"Negative. Stay where you are."
There was a beat of silence before, "We're already halfway to the Jumper, Major."
John glared at a spot on the floor. "Ford, why are you out in the storm?"
"I thought you might need assistance, sir." There was a pause, then, "At this point, I think it will be easier to make it to the Jumper than back to the natives."
"Fine. Get back to the Jumper and wait it out." He paused and winced briefly as another clap of thunder sounded outside. "Call me when you get there, Lieutenant."
Restlessly he moved to make another circuit of the room, pausing to peer out each window and securing the door as best he could with his limited resources. As he moved, he couldn't help but ponder how he'd gotten himself into this mess.
But as soon as he'd had that thought he decided that no, no—it was Rodney who'd gotten them into this, not him.
He really hadn't expected it to be a simple mission. They were going to one of the specific sites that should have contained a ZPM, according to the older Weir's note. He had not, however, expected it to turn so bad so quickly.
Teyla had recognized the address; she'd traded with the natives before, though she cautioned that they weren't terribly friendly. She also knew where some ruins were located. McKay, of course, had jumped on that information. They, along with the added military presence of Sergeant Markham, had come through the gate and followed Teyla.
McKay had displayed a typical amount of excitement. As time went on, that had waned a bit. He'd eventually confessed that he might be able to do this much quicker if he had help translating the unfamiliar symbols on the stones.
Teyla offered to try to tempt a native. Sheppard sent Ford and Markham with Teyla, and he'd stayed with Rodney. That was logical, since McKay was more likely to need him and his gene should he figure this out, and Teyla was more likely to need the presence of the guns. Still, it wasn't exactly an enjoyable situation for him with the way things had been lately. Perhaps his feelings were too evident, for Ford and Teyla had exchanged a wary glance.
He had demanded to know what was wrong. They had exchanged another look before Teyla volunteered as tactfully as possible, "It is just that, lately, things between you and Doctor McKay have seemed a little…tense."
He shouldn't have been surprised that his other team members had noticed. What did surprise him was when Ford threw in that the entire base seemed to have done so as well.
He'd glared, told them he could handle one annoying scientist, thank you very much, and then belatedly offered them a flippant grin. If anything, they had looked even more concerned. But he was still in charge, and they had eventually done as they were told.
He came back to the present as McKay groaned behind him. He turned to see the scientist not fully conscious yet, but moving his head slightly. The fingers of his right hand twitched as though he were trying to move the arm. When he found he couldn't his eyes snapped open, panic easily visible.
John knelt in front of him, directly in his line of vision. "Easy, McKay. You're safe," he soothed, then took another look around the shack and added under his breath, "For the time being at least."
Whether from the words or his appearance, the panic receded a bit. Rodney looked at him fuzzily, a clear question in his countenance.
"Wraith stunner," John said shortly.
McKay shut his eyes briefly, apparently remembering now. When he reopened them, he took in the small room. "Where are we?" he croaked. Then, "Hey! I can talk this time!"
"Pity," John said dryly, earning a glare as he stood.
He felt McKay's eyes on him as he moved to the front window once more.
"Are they after us?"
He didn't bother to turn. "I don't know. It's been a good hour, and I think we're far enough in to be safe. But I can't be sure." Now that McKay was conscious and talking, his worry had eased. It was being replaced by a certain frustration with the situation…and with his scientist.
He thought back to the last few moments in the ruins. Rodney had been chattering away and actively ignoring John's less-than-helpful commentary when Ford's call had come in.
"Major, we've got Wraith incoming!"
It took a beat for it to sink in. Then he'd been barking orders at Ford and McKay as he tried to gather their gear. He could hear the rest of his team's efforts a short distance away, filtered through the more immediate, anxious complaints from Rodney.
"We can't leave yet; I'm so close!"
He hadn't had time for the arguments. With a sharp, "We'll have to come back later!" he'd grabbed McKay and physically hauled him away from the ruins and in the direction of the Jumper.
He had trouble believing this was coincidence, and he still very much wanted to know how the Wraith had found them here. But he hadn't had much time to think about that. He'd only seen the airborne darts from a distance. But he and Rodney had rounded a hill and nearly stumbled onto one of their own.
They'd both frozen for a moment, then Sheppard had instinctively pushed McKay back behind the rocks. Trying to ignore the battle sounds, he cautiously took a long look around. There were no signs of anything else moving about.
After a few minutes, he decided to check it out. With a short instruction to McKay to put down the gear and shoot anything blue, he'd crept towards the dart.
He'd found it empty, and wondered at this good fortune. Unfortunately, it didn't last. He'd barely climbed back to the ground when everything went to hell.
Sheppard spun, just in time to catch a glimpse of the stunner pointed at him before McKay suddenly obstructed that view.
"McKay!" he yelled, realizing too late what was happening. He sprang toward his scientist.
McKay put a couple of bullets in the Wraith before he was struck by the blast. It caught him somewhere mid-torso and sent him toppling backwards like a rag doll.
Sheppard had to wait for him to fall before he could fire. Then he emptied a clip into the Wraith.
It fell, though Sheppard was under no illusion that it would stay down for long. "Damn it, McKay!" he cursed as he slid to the man's side—pointlessly, since Rodney was clearly unconscious.
There was no time to hesitate; it could be up again in a heartbeat. He put a couple more bullets in the Wraith for good measure, then swung his P-90 over his shoulder and reached for Rodney.
He took a precious moment to check for a pulse. He found it easily. He didn't pause to think of what he would have done if he hadn't.
John levered the limp physicist up into a fireman's carry and stood in one fluid motion. Then he made for the cover of the nearby tree line.
It had been an interesting run. At some point, he had taken note of the quickly darkening sky and approaching rolls of thunder. Still, he hadn't even paused until he was sure there was nothing immediately following them. Then he'd spoken with Ford, who told him the natives had ushered everyone into hidden underground passages as the Wraith flew overhead. While the Wraith knew they were down there somewhere, they couldn't easily sense them. The natives were sure the Wraith wouldn't hang around for the storm, which would apparently be quite heavy on the lightening and electricity. Ford had seen the darts fly off, apparently deciding they weren't worth the trouble, and was fairly certain they were safe.
Sheppard was less certain, unless this really was some fluke and they hadn't been after his team specifically. But at this point, for the moment, he was fairly certain they were safe in their little shack.
Adrenaline would do great things for a soldier. Despite that McKay was certainly in better shape now than when they'd first come to Atlantis, he'd also gained a few pounds of muscle. He was no lightweight, especially as unconscious dead weight. John had hardly been aware of the strain as he ran. He was beginning to feel it now, however. Adrenaline had faded. He finished his sentry duty and returned to sink to the floor near McKay, grimacing as he rolled his shoulders.
"Are you in pain?"
John shot him a glare. "Yes," he ground out, and offered nothing more.
"Are you injured?"
"No; I am sore because I had to carry your sorry ass through the jungle after you got yourself shot!"
Rodney blinked at the hostility, but he was not one to let such a remark go. "Okay, A, that is not a jungle, that is a forest. B, I got myself shot trying to save your sorry ass! C…"
Sheppard was not in the mood for a lecture. "It was stupid, McKay!"
Rodney stared at him for a moment, mouth working soundlessly. Then, surprisingly, his lips curled into a grin. He laughed a bit, sounding giddy. "Ultimately a failure, was it?"
It took Sheppard a moment to place that reference. When he did, his anger abated a bit in surprise. "Well, we are both still alive," he said grudgingly, eyeing McKay warily.
"But we're in a shack instead of a jumper. And you're stuck here, because you can't leave me. And we're probably going to die here so, ultimately, it was a pointless act."
"We're not going to die," John sighed, rubbing at his forehead as he closed his eyes briefly. "Can you move yet?"
Rodney groaned, moving his head and his fingers a bit. "Chest and back are still pretty numb. Though really, I think I prefer numb to the pins and needles that are coming."
John pushed himself up and came to kneel beside him. He took Rodney's right wrist in his hand, lifting the arm and starting to massage it from the shoulder down. If anything happened to him, he wanted Rodney in a position to defend himself.
He'd made one pass down the arm and was working on the hand when he sensed Rodney tensing. He glanced up and was somewhat concerned by the panicked look in the scientist's eyes. "McKay?" he said sharply.
Pained blue eyes caught up in a memory met his own. Finally he whispered, "I did the same thing for Gaul. So he could hold the gun."
John froze, still holding McKay's fingers.
It made him rethink his plan. He was suddenly very uncomfortable with putting a gun in Rodney's hand. Not that Rodney would ever…
After an uncomfortable silence he carefully lay the arm back at McKay's side and stood, pacing to the window once more. He scanned the area as best he could through the downpour.
He glanced back at McKay, noting that he still looked pained. He was probably reliving it now.
John probably should have said something. After all, he'd been the one who'd tenaciously stuck by Rodney after that incident, trying to help him through it and testifying that Gaul's sacrifice had been heroic. But things had changed between them since then.
Still, there was no doubt in his mind that Rodney had that same mentality. He wouldn't let a friend die, not if he could do something to prevent it. And, heroic though that might be, John wasn't about to set up such a situation. He wasn't leaving Rodney, and he was not letting him die for him, whatever the situation.
Whenever there was danger to his physicist, his protective instincts flared. This reaction told him that he still very much cared for the brilliant and often abrasive man who he had come to consider a close friend. But their relationship had been eroding in the past few weeks—since their almost violent disagreement over Chaya. He hated it. He missed the ease of their banter. But as much as he would like for things to go back to normal, he was still harboring a healthy dose of anger himself.
He sighed, knowing that they were going to have to talk it out. He finally turned from the window and started back towards McKay.
A vivid lightening streak lit the room from behind him. As he was bracing for the thunder, his radio suddenly crackled to life.
He actually jumped as it was quickly followed up by the deafening crack of thunder. McKay raised an eyebrow at him, and John glared. "Ford?" he responded sharply.
"We're back in the Jumper, sir. Wet, but all accounted for. No sign of any Wraith. Markham's firing things up, but I don't think we'll be flying for a bit."
"No, you stay put until it calms. Can you locate our life signs?"
McKay had raised both eyebrows at this. "We're lost, aren't we?"
"Well I didn't exactly stop for directions while fleeing for our lives," Sheppard snapped.
"What?" he barked into the radio.
Ford was clearly a bit taken aback. "Er…we have located you. I don't see any convenient place to set down near you…but once the storm clears, we'll get as close as we can and come help you out."
Sheppard took a steadying breath, calming himself. "Thanks, Ford. And hey…I'm sorry I snapped at you."
"It's all right. How's McKay doing?"
"He can talk."
There was a beat of silence before, "I'm sorry, sir."
"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed, insulted.
John cracked a smile. "We'll talk again when it lets up. Watch your back, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir. You too."
In the silence that followed Sheppard studied Rodney for a moment, then plopped down to sit cross-legged in front of him. "All right. Since you're not going anywhere, and I can't storm out and leave you alone, we might as well talk about this."
McKay eyed him warily. "What?"
"The whole incident with Chaya, and everything since."
"Ah, yes. The great Sheppard magnetism. Even works on highly advanced species. You should advertise or something. Put in the part where you go head over heels and completely forget your responsibilities to anything but your libido. When they learn that, even the Wraith females will be all over you."
Rodney really had a talent for making his emotions seesaw.
Sheppard had a long moment in a reddish haze when he fervently wished that McKay had been hit in the face again. His fists clinched at his sides as he tried to convince himself not to pummel someone who was physically incapable of defending himself. Before he could calm down enough to say anything, Rodney was off again.
"Though really, one would think the Ancients would have gotten beyond that when they ascended. Human interaction of any sort is overrated."
That threw him for a moment, even distracting his anger a bit. "You don't believe that."
Rodney went on as if he hadn't spoken. "But then, that is why they rejected her, isn't it? She got too attached to those people…"
"McKay!" John interrupted sharply, demanding his attention.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't speak ill of your girlfriend," he said sarcastically.
"She is not…" he cut himself off and took a few calming breaths, determined to have a civil conversation whether Rodney was willing to help or not. "She wasn't a danger to us, Rodney."
"Sure, this one turned out to be an Ancient who was just hot for you. But she could have been anything, out to get anything. She could have killed us all, starting with you."
John thought this was a bit overdramatic, but he held his tongue and said instead, "You sensed something off about her from the start."
McKay shrugged, or rather moved one shoulder a fraction of an inch in a manner that suggested he was trying to shrug. "That's not some great talent of mine, Major. In my experience, trust isn't something you should give freely. People always want something from you, and things will be ten times worse if you want something from them as well."
Sheppard's brow furrowed, and he steered off topic a bit. "Do you trust us?"
"When it comes down to us or some pretty alien girl? Apparently I can't. Besides…you didn't trust me."
It stung, partially because it held some truth and mostly because he knew trust was hard to come by with Rodney McKay. He'd broken it, that was the reason for the drastic reaction. It was the reason they couldn't just go back to their normal snark and be comfortable with each other.
He knew he'd have to offer some sort of explanation. "I was drawn to her, Rodney. I can't really explain it."
Rodney snorted. "I can. Do you really need me to give you a lesson in the birds and the bees, Major?"
"No thank you." He drew out the words, reaching for patience. "I meant…obviously, I've been drawn to women before. But not like this—I've never been that infatuated that quickly. Maybe it was an Ancient, gene thing, I don't know."
"If that were the case, I probably shouldn't have disliked her on sight," Rodney shot back, though he did seem a bit intrigued. After a moment he asked, "Did you really feel like you weren't in control?"
He almost went with it, wanting this to be over. But he knew better than to lie to Rodney at this point. "No. I knew perfectly well what was going on and what I was doing." He paused, then continued with a helpless shrug, "She liked me; she wanted me. It felt good."
"Everyone likes you, Major. Half of the base probably wants you as well."
John raised his eyebrows, but forewent the snarky response on his tongue and tried for honesty. "Well…I have to work with all of them. I'm ultimately responsible for all of them. Chaya had responsibilities to her people too," he shrugged. "I just felt connected to her, without being accountable for her." He sighed. "It seemed harmless."
"Yes, and you jumped to that conclusion rather quickly."
"Maybe. But in my defense, you were particularly unpleasant from moment one. You can't tell me that was all just normal distrust."
"The whole planet was too civil, too perfect, too good to be true. Nothing is ever that easy. I was just waiting for the demons to come out from behind the trees."
"And you figured Chaya for the demon?"
"I was speaking figuratively, Major. But yes, it all seemed to go back to her. And she certainly wasn't willing to help us. I wrote her off then and there. But you insisted on bringing her into Atlantis like a lovesick teenager. I realize you didn't come out here with the intent to be in charge, Major. But you are. We need you to be. And nobody should have that kind of influence over you, off or on Atlantis."
John studied him for a moment as Rodney looked away, and really thought about what he'd said. "You're probably right."
Rodney opened his mouth to retort, then shut it with a snap as his eyes went wide. "I'm sorry; I'm what?"
John rolled his eyes upwards, then shifted to bump Rodney's shoulder affectionately, knowing the meaning would be significant even if McKay couldn't fully feel it yet. "Heaven help me, you're right. About this. There's a couple of other things in there we should talk about, like the comment about human interaction, but you are right about my role. And…I'm sorry. Sorry that I dismissed your concerns so quickly. And sorry for everything that was said." He decided to risk a bit of levity then, and gave an overdramatic sigh. "It's lonely at the top."
"That it is," Rodney responded in kind, humor in his own tone. "That it is."
They sat in an almost companionable silence for a bit. Unfortunately, Sheppard knew it wasn't that easy. Eventually he cleared his throat and decided he might as well clear the air about everything while he was on a roll. "Rodney, when we were talking to Elizabeth's older self…when I was needling you about your death being a failure…" he trailed off, not really sure how to put this.
Rodney took up the issue for him, saying softly, "It felt serious. I'm used to our witty banter, Major. But it's felt a bit harsh lately. Less teasing and more…"
"Hurtful. Yeah, I noticed."
"I'm just as guilty here as you are," McKay admitted. "And…I was a bit difficult with Chaya. I'm sorry, too."
John smiled. "Don't go repeating it or anything, but it was a perfectly honorable death. I was impressed, though not all that surprised." He watched Rodney look at him in surprise before looking down. He decided to add solemnly, "People think you've changed a lot since you've been on my team. But I can see things differently, especially knowing how you died in that timeline. You always had it in you. You're a good man, Rodney McKay."
Rodney's eyes snapped to his, scanning suspiciously for truth. He found it, for his gaze softened and for just a moment John could see that he had broken through all those barriers. Rodney looked down, hiding the emotion. When he looked back up again, he had veiled it and his eyes sparkled with humor. "Like Charlie Brown?"
That did it. Somber mood gone. Sheppard gave a burst of laughter and joined in the banter. "Somehow, I never pictured you as the Peanuts type. I wasn't thinking that, but now I will be…every time I see you. I may even have to start calling you 'Chuck.'"
"Only if I can call you Snoopy."
"I'm sorry, did you just demote me to a dog?"
"Please! Everyone loves Snoopy; he's the hero! Which…makes that a less-than-good insult."
John shook his head and chuckled. "Aw…that's sweet, McKay. I'd be happy to be your hero."
This time, the glare sent his way had a definite undertone of humor, as did the tone. "Oh, spare me."
With another laugh Sheppard stood, needing to check the area again. He noticed as he gazed out each window that the rain was quickly tapering off now.
He was satisfied with their security for the moment by the time Rodney spoke from behind him. "John?"
He turned back, surprised at the use of his first name and the slight timidity in the tone.
Rodney continued, "I wouldn't mind so much if I'd died for you. Be it trying to help from someplace else or stepping between you and a Wraith. You know, if I wasn't dead and past caring about things like that." Despite the joke to ease the seriousness, there was a definite vulnerability in Rodney's face. John responded to that, and the sentiment.
He went back to him knelt again, pulling the scientist into a quick, fierce hug. "The feeling's mutual, Rodney." He held on a bit longer than he'd intended when Rodney let his head rest heavily against his shoulder. McKay didn't have all of his motor control back yet, but he managed to maneuver his arms enough to grasp the sides of John's jacket in his fingers. Sheppard shifted a hand to rub his lower back in slow circles, pressing firmly. "Can you feel that yet?"
"A little, yes. You're easing the pins and needles, actually."
John smiled, then gave his a firm pat on the back before shifting him away and carefully settling him against the wall again. "You know, it seems to me that all Charlie Brown really needed was his friends. A little positive human interaction, you know?"
"What Charlie Brown needed was hair and a good shrink. But…" Rodney paused, lips quirking into a slight, sincere smile, "…point taken."
Ford called at that moment. Markham was flying them to the nearest large clearing, at which point he and Teyla would head out to help them. Sheppard told them to bring a stretcher, just in case.
Rodney protested, "I'll be able to walk," shifting his legs a bit and bending his knees to prove it. John had doubts, but he decided to humor him. He might be able to do it with help.
"All right. Let me know when you think you can stand. We've got a jumper to catch."
They didn't use the stretcher. With John on one side and Teyla on the other, McKay hung on and hobbled back to the Jumper. John didn't miss the pleased glances that went between Ford and Teyla as he and Rodney exchanged verbal barbs, minus the venom and heavier on the underlying affection.
They didn't meet any Wraith. John still felt wary and couldn't simply chalk it all up to chance. But, for the time being, there was little he could do about it.
Rodney was out of the infirmary by the time of the debriefing, absently rubbing at his legs or arms and avoiding any questions about whether Carson had actually released him or not. He was all set to go back to the planet and try for the ZPM again, convinced that he had been close and only needed a bit of help from the natives. Unfortunately for him, Beckett was not so easily shaken and soon appeared to demand he spend at least the night in the infirmary. Rodney whined and complained as Weir agreed, and looked to John for help. The Major simply shook his head, grinned, and told him to enjoy his night off. McKay rolled his eyes and rather ungraciously allowed himself to be led away.
Sheppard was rather glad for it. He didn't want an argument, but he didn't think it was such a good idea to go back so quickly, and he said so. Weir agreed, at least for the time being.
They would move on to the next possible ZPM.
He was sure McKay would find the search for that one fascinating as well.