Acknowledgements: debs7, elishavah, quiller and murron for invaluable help in teaching this one to walk
Note: This story picks up directly after the events in "The Eye" - The storm still rages outside (realistically, there's no chance it was over after that huge wave), people haven't yet returned to Atlantis.
In search of a quick cleansing of her cuts and a small bandage, Teyla rounds the corner of the corridor leading to the infirmary. She's not here to make a fuss over her scrapes, but Dr. Weir insisted, and so did Major Sheppard, and she hadn't had the energy for a lengthy argument with either of them.
She's almost at the door when she hears agitated voices coming from the infirmary.
"You can't do that. You can't refuse!" Dr. McKay.
"Watch me." Dr. Beckett. An unusually terse Dr. Beckett.
"But … It's your duty to tend to the wounded and hypothermic!"
Teyla steps through the opening doors just as McKay walks deeper into the infirmary, following Beckett. They appear so engrossed in their disagreement that they haven't even noticed her approach. She ponders making her presence known, but stops behind a cloth partition, unwilling to disturb their argument. Now that they've stopped pacing, she can see around the edge of the partition, Beckett and McKay are standing on opposite sides of a bed, both looking bruised and exhausted.
McKay pulls ostentatiously at his wet shirt. "I spent a small eternity out there in the storm, it'll be a miracle if I haven't caught pneumonia on top of the knife-wound."
Beckett casts him a fleeting glance, but ignores the diatribe. "That's barely even a scratch, and I'm rather sure you can just go and put on dry clothes without help."
McKay and Beckett have such opposing temperaments. Teyla glances at the door, knowing she should go, but her feet remain rooted to the spot. The same feeling she had when she was a child and wasn't allowed to sit with the elders while they discussed matters of importance wells up and makes her stay. Curiosity, a touch of voyerism and a healthy dose of personal concern. Like looking through a peek-hole in a tent during a meeting years ago, she can't resist the opportunity to learn more of what – as she heard the major once say - makes these two peculiar men tick.
"A scratch? I didn't crumple under torture over a scratch!" A look of horror flickers over McKay's face and he launches into a new tirade, one that is clearly designed to distract the doctor from the subtle self-condemnation he just heard. "What's gotten into you? You're the doctor in charge, and none of your staff are here, which makes you the only doctor on Atlantis at the moment and you're going to let me bleed to death here?"
Beckett heaves a sigh that suggests his patience is wearing thin. "You're being histrionic. It's hardly deep enough to make you bleed to death, besides "
"Got that good a look at it, eh?"
"Besides, it's been hours since the incident. The bleeding has to have stopped by now." There's an edge to Beckett's voice now, and Teyla's eyes narrow as what little colour there was in his face seems to drain away.
McKay prattles on, apparently unaware of the looming trouble. "Is it my arm or yours? I am in pain and this wound is still bleeding, so will you stop telling me how to feel!"
"Will you stop trampling all over my nerves, you bloody hypochondriac?"
A pause. Then, softly, almost awed: "W-what?"
It's silent enough to hear the waves crashing against Atlantis, a sound that's usually only audible with intense concentration. Teyla holds her breath, moving to press her back tighter against the door. She has never seen Beckett lose his temper with a patient like that before. Shouting at Ford earlier was one thing, but Beckett was a fish out of water then. This is his very own sphere, the infirmary is the place she can see he belongs. She has seen him agitated before, strict and concerned, but this is different; his reaction is entirely out-of-proportion.
In all the time she's spent with McKay since coming to Atlantis, she has learned many things. The one that holds her still now is the knowledge that, even though his ego appears to be bigger than himself, reprimands leave him vulnerable, and she doesn't want to embarrass him any further by letting him know she witnessed all of this.
Beckett seems slightly pacified by the look of utterly shocked incredulity on McKay's face. "You're not the only one injured here."
"Oh." Another pause. "I'm sorry." McKay fidgets for a moment, the fingers of his right hand nervously tapping his palm. He appears uneasy as he squints, looking at Beckett with a look of acute concern that he rarely displays, studying the doctor for visible signs of injury. His query is tentative. "Can I help?"
Beckett doesn't answer. Several syringes fly off the table when he sways and grabs at the edge. McKay breaks into frantic motion, helping the other man onto one of the beds, running for a cup of water, for tissues to take care of the fresh blood drizzling from Beckett's nose, chattering incessantly while scrambling around the infirmary like a child lost.
Teyla takes a step forward, the compulsion to help overpowering her earlier decision to stay hidden. She quickly stops as she hears Beckett's voice murmur a half-amused: "Rodney." Her concern eases slightly when Beckett, looking more tired than Teyla ever thought possible, props himself on an elbow and half-smiles at the other man.
"You'll be fine, Carson. Just give me a moment." The dread in McKay's movements and voice is almost endearing. "I'll know what to do in a second."
"You're bleeding and you crashed. Excuse me for being ever so slightly freaked out that the only person with medical knowledge in this city right now is breaking down in front of me. But I'm sure that you're going to tell me that you're perfectly fine and you bleed and crash quite regularly, I'm just never here to see it."
"No, I'm not. Headache from hell, dizzy, abnormally sleepy, blurred vision, nausea…" The concern on McKay's face grows with every new word. Teyla knows those symptoms, but apparently the physicist doesn't.
"My point exactly," McKay blurts. "I know I saved the day several times today, but regrettably, you're not a machine, Carson, so I don't know how to fix you."
Eyes closed, Beckett rattles off a number of examination procedures, his accent so thick Teyla has a hard time understanding him. "Check the vital signs; examination of the head, face and neck for signs of trauma; complete neuro exam including a mini-mental status exam and tests of coordination …"
McKay looks even more lost than before. "Remember voodoo, Carson?"
Beckett grins. "Would the medical scanner make you feel more comfortable?" McKay's relief is visible, and Beckett takes the time to talk the other man through the procedure of using the scanner.
McKay is handling the ancient device with an intuitive understanding she wouldn't have had and Teyla is now certain that her help isn't needed. She moves a step back again, lessening the chance that they will sense her presence. It would help none of them if she were forced to admit that she had been observing their interaction. Which, unfortunately, means she has to stay until a distraction presents itself - the doors are in plain sight of the bed Beckett's lying on, and the chances of slipping out unnoticed are slim.
"It's not life threatening," Beckett appeases after a quick glance at the results of the scan. "The readings indicate a concussion and a cracked nose. That lass had quite a swing."
"You were knocked out by a girl?" Something flashes in McKay's eyes.
There's a very clear warning in Beckett's voice: "Don't go there, Rodney."
"No, never. You know me. Mister Silent-as-a-grave."
Beckett's eyelids are fluttering as the urge to sleep becomes too strong, something Teyla has seen often with warriors.
"No, no, no, no, don't do this to me, Carson. You'll stay nicely awake and tell me what else to do here."
"I won't be much help to you while I'm in this state, I'm afraid."
"Oh, you noticed?"
The doctor forces his eyes open one last time and looks pointedly at McKay's arm. "Make sure you clean and bandage that cut and get out of the wet clothes as soon as possible."
McKay follows the other man's gaze as though remembering only now why he had come to the infirmary in the first place and Teyla feels a rush of pride when she realises that in his concern over Dr. Beckett, McKay seemed to have forgotten all about his own problems. "What about you?"
"Some rest will do me good. Just make sure you don't leave - concussion needs to be kept under watch. Play nanny until the first of my staff are back." The doctor doesn't fight the pull of sleep any longer, his voice already slightly slurred.
McKay reaches for a blanket from another bed, places it awkwardly over Beckett. "And you'll be all right here? No side-effects, anything like that?"
"Short-term memory loss is a frequent corollary." Beckett settles under the blanket, his voice now barely audible. "If you're really lucky, I won't remember that you were about to leave me out in that corridor to die."
Silence. The slow and even breathing indicates that Beckett has succumbed to sleep.
Teyla sees McKay's composure fall apart as he stumbles away from the bed, his shoulders drooping.
While running through the corridors, helping Beckett along, she had heard McKay's words on her radio, too, but she never once drew the same conclusion Beckett did. It was a matter of logic, not of desertion. The decision of a warrior. But even to McKay it must have felt different, the decision, as easily made as it seemed, is gnawing on him. His face is drained of colour and he appears to need all his strength to not fall apart as the enormity of today's events comes crashing down on him.
The desire to comfort is overwhelming when she sees him sink to a chair, shaking hands covering his face, breathing heavily. But she slips out of the infirmary noiselessly, knowing that making her presence known now would do more harm than good. With a pang of regret she finally allows him the discretion she's been violating all along.