You Can't Just Walk Away

"You can drive," John had said. What he hadn't said, what he'd left unspoken, was he doubted he could fly home. McKay had enough to deal with, by the look of him, and his pain could be dealt with, alone.

Sheppard was in the back of the ship, digging for something to take, hoping to ease the sharp, biting sting from that gunshot wound in his arm. The bullet was still in, a fact he had neglected to tell McKay. It hurt like a son of a bitch. Sand had worked its way into the ragged opening when he'd taken the tumble down the other side of the sand dune.

That had been bad enough. An injury he could live with, but then he'd gotten into a one on one pissing match with the Wraith. One he'd decidedly lost. If McKay hadn't shown when he did, he knew he wouldn't be sitting here. His body would have become another skeleton littering the planet. The problem was, McKay had only shown up because Gaul had died.

Sheppard latched on to a packet of Tylenol, and eyed it skeptically. It was a fifteen-hour flight back home. Tylenol, under normal circumstances, was good for a headache, muscle strain, bruises…but a gunshot wound? It might, and that was a big might, take the edge off the pain, but it wasn't going to last fifteen hours.

He eased himself to the bench, and sat. Every breath in was a stabbing pain. His arm ached. Two scientists dead. God, what a total, and complete, fuck-up. He let his head fall back against the bulkhead, feeling the cold from the metal seep through his t-shirt. It felt good. It felt real. He was alive, McKay was alive, and it wasn't without some guilt that he acknowledged, if it had been anyone other than Rodney going back with him, he'd be feeling a lot worse.

"Major?"

Speaking of McKay…John leaned his upper body into the walkway, so he could see Rodney, who was looking over his shoulder. "What?"

"Nothing," McKay said, trying to sound casual, but failing miserably, "just checking."

Sheppard grimaced. Just checking. Translation, I wanted to make sure you were still alive back there. It would be a long time before they could put this fiasco behind them. But all they had, was fifteen hours. He almost asked McKay if he wanted company, then changed his mind. McKay was an arrogant bastard, and it'd kill him to admit he needed anyone.

He pushed himself back to his feet, ripped the package open, and swallowed the pills, tossing the empty package to the floor. He'd go to the front because McKay wouldn't admit it. Because, McKay needed him, and just maybe, he needed McKay.

He crept to the front, holding his injured arm gingerly against his equally injured ribs. "See anything interesting?" he joked, sliding carefully into the seat next to McKay.

"The usual; stars, space, vacuum." McKay turned and looked at Sheppard, "You sure your okay?"

"Cracked ribs hurt like hell, but it's not going to kill me," Sheppard reassured Rodney.

"What about that?" McKay pointed at the dried blood on his arm, and the bandage that had seen better days.

Sheppard knew it looked worse than it was, knew it felt worse than it was. "A little help from the Doc, I'll be as good as new."

"Maybe I should look at it? You know, shouldn't we clean it out, or something?" McKay tended to blabber when he was nervous, or upset. Right now, he was both.

"Probably," Sheppard agreed. "I'd rather not. Hurts enough as it is."

"Oh." McKay turned back to the view screen.

They fell quiet. It had been a tacit agreement that they'd fly back together, alone. Ford had offered, so had Teyla, but neither one of them had wanted company. It was a long flight home, and the effort required to keep up with small talk was more than Sheppard had wanted, and he figured McKay felt the same.

Unplanned for, he felt himself slipping into a doze, and he started to dream. The Wraith was coming at him, and this time McKay didn't show up in time to save him. It clutched its hand on his chest, and sucked the life from him, year by painful year, and he gasped from the pain, and horror of it. He came awake with a start, grabbing his chest, panicked from the nightmare, and not fully awake enough to realize that had been all it was. Just a dream.

"Bad dream?"

Sheppard turned his head, trying to catch his breath, "You could say that." He shuddered from the aftereffects of the adrenalin. Talk about shoveling a load of psychological crap on to the physical. He hadn't experienced true nightmares before the Pegasus galaxy, and now he'd just added another to the pile.

McKay was keeping his eyes glued to the front, making small adjustments that weren't necessary, but it gave him something to fiddle with. Rodney always needed to be in motion, even when he was still. A finger, a foot, something always moved. It had unnerved John at first, but he was getting used to it.

"Want to talk about it?" McKay asked, and it came out as pitiful and awkward as anything ever had.

Sheppard looked at him through the corner of his eye, and shifted his gaze back to the view screen, matching Rodney's attempt at keeping some kind of distance. "The Wraith killed me," he said. His gut reaction was to say no, he didn't want to talk about it. He was a private person. Keeping the pain and suffering close is what he did, but McKay was trying to reach out, in his own way, and he couldn't rebuff the attempt at being a friend.

His statement managed to pull McKay's attention off the front, and he looked at Sheppard, surprised by the revelation. "Really?" he asked, startled. "Did it hurt?"

"Did it hurt?" Sheppard gave a bitter chuckle. "Only you would ask that, McKay."

"I'm a scientist, I'm curious," Rodney defended.

"Yes, it hurt," Sheppard answered wryly, "but I think that's more to do with my ribs than a dreamt-up Wraith."

"Oh." McKay was staring at him uncertainly again.

"I'm fine, McKay," Sheppard's mouth twisted up. "Well, I will be, I'm not going anywhere."

"I didn't say you were."

"No, but you keep looking at me like I'm about to keel over." Sheppard wasn't one to skate around the obvious.

McKay's lips tightened. "I do not."

"Do to."

Rodney twisted his chair around to face him, and McKay was pissed, which took Sheppard off guard. "You could've been killed, Major. You ever do that again, and I'll kill you."

"Shut up, McKay." Sheppard hissed. "Before you say something you'll regret, and before you make me say something I'll regret."

"Shut up, McKay," Rodney mimicked snidely. "Is that your answer for everything? You sure use it a lot."

Sheppard was getting madder. "Maybe it's because someone needs to hear it."

"He died for you, you know that?" McKay snapped.

Sheppard paused, "Who?" he snarled irritably. McKay wasn't making any sense.

"Gaul. He knew I wouldn't leave him. He shot himself."

Sheppard blanched. Shit. He hadn't seen that coming. That psychological crap pile just got about ten stories higher. It wasn't often that he was rendered speechless, but he was now. What could he possibly say to that? "He would've died anyway." Damn, probably not that.

McKay's jaw was working. "That's not the point," he finally replied, urgent and slow at the same time.

"What is?" Sheppard wheezed, the pain from his ribs, and all this conversation snatching away what little oxygen he was getting into his lungs. Shallow breaths didn't do a whole lot to meet the body's requirement.

"That you're not Captain Kirk. He's make believe. There isn't any Scotty to beam you up, or Spock to Vulcan nerve pinch the bad guys. You've got me, Major, a pencil pushing scientist who doesn't even know when to keep his mouth shut."

"I don't need this," Sheppard snarled, and got to his feet. "Wake me when we get home."

"You're running away." McKay wasn't going to let him off that easy.

"I'm not running away," John gestured at the stark blackness beyond the front window. "No where to go, is there? I've got nothing to say, and talking to you is using up what little air I'm managing to get."

That stopped McKay, and Sheppard felt a thrill of victory at the guilty look that flashed across Rodney's face. He didn't give McKay a chance to say anything. He made his way to the bench in the rear, stepping over the wrapper he'd tossed on the floor not long ago, and stretched out on his good side, trying to lean his back at an angle against the wall, easing the pain from the arm and ribs at the same time. He closed his eyes, and hoped this time the dreams would stay away.

Later, at Atlantis…

"He'll be fine, Rodney, why don't you get some sleep," Beckett said gently.

McKay was sitting in a chair, next to the bed that contained Sheppard. He was still wearing his uniform, having only recently been cleared from his post-mission exam. "Why the IV? He told me he was fine." McKay said, ignoring Carson's suggestion.

Carson smiled grimly. It was clear something bad had gone down on this last mission. "He is fine. His arm has a small infection, it's just a precaution, intravenous antibiotics pack a stronger punch than oral. He lost some blood, and is running a low-grade fever. It's normal for what he's been through."

The medical litany didn't help. "What about his ribs? He said he had cracked ribs."

"I know, we've bound his ribs. Rodney, I wouldn't lie to you, he's fine."

"Did you check everything? You know how he blows off -"

Beckett put a restraining hand on McKay's shoulder. "Rodney, listen to me, Major Sheppard will make a complete recovery." Physical, at least. If McKay was this shaken…"If you need to talk- "

"I'm fine," Rodney interrupted Beckett. "Just, let me sit with him, okay?"

Carson sighed. "A little while, but then you need to get some rest." He pulled the privacy curtain around Sheppard's bed, including McKay and his chair, letting the nurse know McKay could stay, and to come get him if anything changed.

McKay put his head in his hands, feeling the weight of all the lives in Atlantis on his shoulders, and more, the lives that were no longer in Atlantis.

"For someone trying to run from you, I don't seem to be getting very far."

McKay's head shot up, out of his hands, "You're awake?"

"I knew there was a reason they gave you that Ph.D."

"I was just," McKay waved his hands in the air, "Making sure you were all right."

Sheppard grimaced as he moved, trying to adjust to a more comfortable position. "I'm fine," he gave McKay a hard look. "Why are you really here, McKay? I thought you said all you needed to say in the Jumper."

Rodney stood, and started pacing, which wasn't far because the privacy curtain limited the area, a lot. "Look, Major, I'm not very good at these things."

Sheppard snorted.

McKay shot him a dirty look, but continued. "I know you were doing what you thought was best. And, you were probably right. I just…I blamed myself for Gaul's death, and I wanted to blame you because it hurt, and if I could shove off some of that hurt on you, maybe it would feel better."

Sheppard didn't give an inch. "Did it?"

"No." Rodney winced. "You're not making this any easier."

"You called me Captain Kirk," Sheppard accused. "Why should I? Now, if you'd called me John Wayne…"

"I'm a nerd. Our heroes are science fiction characters, not western gunslingers."

Sheppard started laughing. McKay stared at him, getting angry because he thought John was mocking him. "What?"

"It was a compliment," Sheppard pressed his good hand against his wrapped ribs. Laughing and cracked ribs wasn't a good combination. "I've been insulted and complimented at the same time."

Rodney grinned ruefully, "Yeah, well, get used to it. I'm not going anywhere."

"I'm not either, McKay."

And therein was the crux of their problem. They'd had to face their own mortality by facing the mortality of the two men who hadn't made it. Why them, and not us, would be with them for a long time to come. McKay sat back in the chair, and stretched his legs out, propping them on the bottom of the bed. "Good, now that that's settled, I could use a nap."

"You do that." Sheppard pulled uncomfortably at the IV tube that always seemed to be in the way. He kept a lidded watch on McKay till he saw the physicist's eyes close for good, and then he allowed his own to close. Sleep would come, and so would tomorrow, for both of them. They'd always regret that for two others, tomorrow would never come, but they'd have to learn to live with it. Together, he figured they would manage. They had so far.

THE END


AN: Debenham, fixed. Sometimes the mind moves faster than the fingers, and rereading your brain thinks it sees what it should. I know, I know, betas, but this was just a short tag.