RATING: PG-13 for language (Rodney is quite the potty mouth in this one, but he's entitled) and adult situations.
SEASON: First season somewhere. If I had to pick I would say sometime between Defiant One and Hot Zone but I'll leave it up to you.
MAJOR CHARACTERS: McKay, the poor baby, Sheppard with Ford and Teyla. Beckett gets one line.
CATEGORY: Action/angst/humor- you name it, it has it.
SUMMARY: Pajama-clad assassins + a poison dart+ a bedside vigil+ personal introspection equals angst with a touch of humor. McKay-Sheppard friendship. One-shot (complete)
SPOILERS: Oh, there are a few hints here and there but nothing gets spoiled. But anything from season one is fair game.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own SGA, SG1, Right Guard, Jane Goodall, Brownies, EpiPen, Life Savers, Barbie, Berretta, Telemundo, Tarzan, Chuck Taylor's, Chopin, or Picasso.
NOTES: This is not one of my POV stories as those are on hold until the new season starts because I don't want them to become AU. When I started writing this story, I never intended it to be part of the series. However, now that I look back at it, it could be seen as a prequel. Read into it what you will. Let's just say they don't have plans for Vegas, yet, but I can see it in their futures. Also, I took some liberties with creating past history for Rodney. It is based on comments from SG1 and SGA but may be slightly AU if they ever delve further on the show.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This story has not been Beta-ed, mainly because I don't have one. So, all mistakes are mine. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed my POV stories- this is all your fault, especially you angst-whores out there! Other than that, I blame the damnable bunnies!
re·dux (ree-duks) adj. Brought back; returned. Used postpositively.
It was dark, of that much he was sure. It was dark and there was sound breaking through on the periphery. It was an alarm of some sort; not the alarms of Atlantis but an alarm nonetheless, sounding shrilly in its unwavering persistence. It kind of reminded him of the buzzer on a clock radio he had had in college, only a little more high pitched and with no morning traffic report to accompany it. There were, however, voices. One of them was obviously Carson's brogue speaking with a tense, professional clip. He couldn't make out the actually words, but whatever was going on the physician was calm, calm in a way that started its own kind of alarms sounding. He was definitely out of charming bedside manner mode and into strictly business mode. There were other voices as well, all conversing in that same edgy yet precise tone.
He decided he should probably try to figure out what was going on. Perhaps there was an emergency, perhaps they needed him. They always needed him, once you got right down to it, whether they realized it or not. Problem was, he couldn't remember where he was exactly or what was going on. Maybe he was just deeply asleep. Yeah, right, like that ever happened. When was the last time he had slept long enough without interruptions to put the qualifier of deep before sleep? Antarctica? Sometime before? Hell, he couldn't remember where he was currently, much less when the last time he had gotten the doctor recommended eight hours in. But that was the only logical answer he could come up with. He must be fast asleep and all he needed to do was wake up.
He concentrated on waking, just waking up. Slowly he opened his eyes, blinking back at the harsh light shining in his face. How in the hell had he been able to sleep with a light like that beating down on him? He must have really been tired. Well, obviously he was tired, he was always on the verge of tumbling off the cliff of sheer exhaustion, but that was just the way it was on Atlantis. There was always another experiment to run, report to review, and problem to solve. Of course there were plenty of others on the expedition to do the work, but they weren't him. He was in charge, at least of the scientists, and therefore, he was responsible, and he took his responsibilities very seriously.
And then there were the missions; long days, strange situations, pretechnological people, and just one more item on his never ending list of 'things to do today'. Sure, why not add something else? Not like he had anything better to do beyond determining the use of every little Ancient device anyone came across, rummaging through the Ancient's database, and saving the city on a regular basis. Why not add to the list traipse across new galaxy on the off chance that the dirt farmers of Planet Extreme Body Odor and Open Sewage Trenches just happen to have a spare ZedPM laying around? It could happen, right? There could be some tribesperson sitting out there right now somewhere in this galaxy's back forty with a very decorative backscratcher that could be the salvation he was so desperately searching for.
So for that, he could make room on his 'to do' list. He could knock flossing off the list maybe; all those valuable minutes spent every morning and evening could be put to much better use. Oral hygiene was so overrated anyway, at least that appeared to be the opinion of half the cultures they had come across. Maybe if he lost a couple of teeth, he would be able to blend in a little better with the locals, buddy up with the head priest and they could regale each other with tales of painful mouth sores and root canals. Maybe trade him a case of Right Guard for the feather covered relic with the amazing power signature emanating from it. He could take one for the team; all in the name of scientific exploration, right? Right. Jane Goodall had nothing on him.
Still, as time consuming as they were, he actually secretly enjoyed the missions. They did occasionally find some amazing technology, he got to fly the jumper every once in a while, and he had a pretty decent group of people to hang out with, although he would never admit to that out loud.
Something teased at the back of his awareness, something he was supposed to be doing, something to do with the light currently blinding him. Oh, yes, waking up, that was it. He sat up, trying to clear his fuzzy vision, watching as shapes began to make themselves visible through the white opaqueness of the glare. As though he was watching an old Polaroid picture develop, three people came into focus. Well, speak of the devil, there they were.
"Hey," he called to the rest of his team, but they didn't respond. As the details of their faces became clearer, so did the reality that something was wrong. The three stood wearing their field gear, disheveled and muddy, their weapons hanging loosely in their grasps. His pack displayed the same look of wear as it sat haphazardly on the ground next to Major Sheppard's booted foot. Was he late? Did they have a mission and he forgot? He never forgot, especially not missions. He was always on time, or at least tried to be, made a point of it. But time didn't seem to be moving quite right at the moment. By the looks of them, they had already been on a mission and returned. Had he missed it entirely? God, if only he could remember. He moved toward them, trying to figure out what was actually going on.
Lt. Ford stood gritting his teeth, the tension of the act marring his features. As he approached him, the young marine took a deep breath, let out a shuddering sigh and dropped his gaze to the floor with a shake of his head. Teyla stood next to him, wide-eyed fear and desperation showing on her pretty face, her mouth drawn in a tight line. She raised a hand and wiped angrily at her cheek and he noted the faint trace of tearstain cutting a trail through the dirt there. He turned next to the Major, discerning a thin red welt around his neck. "What the hell happened to you?" he asked, knowing he should know the answer to that question, but unable to recall it. The Major's only response was to close his eyes and with a small growl turn and kick his backpack into the wall.
"Hey! Important equipment in there," he told the Major with a scowl and went to retrieve the pack. The Major had turned away from the other two, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes as his P90 swung carelessly from his shoulder.
He was about to ask just what the hell was going on when he heard Carson call out behind him, "Clear!"
He stood then, looked back to where he had originally awoken and saw his own body lying limply on the bed, saw Carson prepare to place the paddles on his bare chest, saw where they had cut away his shirt, saw the tube that had been placed down his throat, saw the nurse release the bag she had been squeezing to supply him breathing air, saw the flat line of the monitor alarming above his head.
"Oh," Rodney said with dawning realization, "this is not good."
With a jolt, he was drawn back into his body as it collapsed onto the hospital bed. He gasped. It was then that the pain returned, and so did the memories.
He was running. The jungle around him was little more than a blur, the leaves and branches making a slapping sound as he moved through the dense growth, then closing behind him with scarcely a ripple to indicate that he had passed. The leaves were large, green, and moist with dew so that his clothes were wet from the simple contact he had with them. He could barely see what was in front of him for the vegetation, just the wake Lt. Ford was forming through the sea of green, but it really didn't matter. All he knew was that he had to keep moving, keep going, so he was running.
No, that wasn't quite right. They were running on either side of him. He was doing little more than trying to keep up as they each held an arm and half dragged, half coaxed him through the flora.
"Move it, McKay," the Major whispered sternly in his ear.
He tried to move faster then, find his feet, but his right thigh throbbed painfully from the dart. He could feel the poison moving through his leg, felt it radiating like liquid fire from the entry wound. His toe caught on a root and his stomach clenched with the unexpected sensation of freefall.
"Dr. McKay," Teyla called as he started face forward into the leaf pack, stopped only by the firm grip of her and the Major's hands on his arms. With a small yelp of surprise that he managed to bite off, he dropped to his knees. Lt. Ford, jogging point in front of them, stopped at the sound, swung his P90 around and scanned the jungle behind them.
He knew they couldn't stay like this, knew their pursuers could be right behind them, above them in the trees, concealed in the foliage surrounding them. They could be anywhere, any damn where. They were sneaky like that, and resourceful, and deadly. They were sneaky, resourceful, deadly little pajama-clad bastards, and they could be any damn where. Yep, that pretty much summed it up.
He closed his eyes and gulped air, willing the burning sting in his leg to stop. As much as he knew they needed to get moving, he couldn't go any further, didn't want to go any further and when you got to the heart of the matter, that really sucked. The whole situation sucked in so many ways it was impossible to count them. He just wanted to lie down in the undergrowth and curl into a ball and pretend this whole mission had never happened. Pretend that they had never come through the gate and never come across those sneaky, resourceful, deadly little bastards that could be any damn where.
"McKay!" Major Sheppard barked in a low voice from his kneeling position by his side. "I've seen six-year-old Brownies run faster than you. Now, you either double time it on your own or I swear I will pick you up and carry you like the little girl that you are." He regarded the Major, seeing the anger in his eyes. No, not anger, not precisely, at least not alone. There was fear there as well and perhaps a little of his own pain as the circle around his neck was turning redder by the minute.
He knew the Major was trying to demean him into moving on his own. If preservation of his life wasn't enough to keep him on his feet, the man knew that pride and fury would be. Damn him to hell, but he was right. He pushed up from his knees, Teyla and Sheppard helping to lift him to a stand. With a glare at the Major, he began a limping run, feeling the burning moving up to his hip and down to his knee with each uneven step.
You know what, he thought as he moved through the growth at a lopsided trot, fuck him. I would like to see him running with a god damned poison dart wound in his leg. I mean, seriously, what the hell? If anyone is entitled to have trouble running it is the person with the neurotoxins coursing through his blood, which in this case is me, thank you very much! Asshole. He is such a god damned asshole. 'Double time, McKay!' 'Move it, McKay!' 'Drop and give me twenty, McKay!' Well, he hasn't done that one yet, but it's just a matter of time. Just a matter of god damned time with this son of a bitch. Save his fucking life and this is the thanks I get. Well, screw him. Screw him and this mission and the expedition and the whole Pegasus galaxy. They can all go take a giant flying ….
The Major's hand on his arm pulled him out of the rant that had kept him upright and to a stop and he saw they had reached the edge of the vegetation. Across the clearing sat the stargate, gleaming invitingly in the alien sunlight. The planet's equivalent of butterflies fluttered around the DHD. They had wings shaped like dragonlflies but were colored like butterflies and moved with an awkward lopping dither that was the result of overly large wings flapping around an inordinately small body. Lt. Ford had tried to dub them dragonbutters but Major Sheppard had decided that word fell under the category of 'sounds dirty but really isn't' and the lieutenant had dropped his attempt to rename the bug. He stood mesmerized by the movement of the critters, (they were really quite pretty in a clumsy, disproportional way), until the Major and Teyla pulled him to his knees. Major Sheppard moved over to where his second in command was scanning the clearing.
"Looks clear," the younger man told his CO.
The Major nodded then moved back to where he squatted next to Teyla. Rodney swallowed, feeling a tickle start at the back of his throat, and vaguely wondered if he had any water. His leg had gone numb and he wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one.
Major Sheppard resumed his hold on his arm and he was surprised at the way it tightened almost painfully on his bicep. "McKay?" he asked in alarm.
For a second, he couldn't figure out why the Major and Teyla insisted on shaking him so violently. Then he realized they weren't shaking him, his body was doing it on its own accord. His throat felt thick, like when he accidentally ate citrus, and he knew he didn't have much time.
"I don't think I can run anymore," he told him simply, "no matter how much you threaten me," then he struggled to take another breath. Okay, he decided, mental note to self, leg going numb is definitely a bad sign. The whole world seemed to tilt sickeningly to the left and he crashed unceremoniously into Teyla. Sorry, he tried to tell her as flecks of exploding light danced before his eyes, but he only heard a pathetic slur blow past his lips.
Major Sheppard called out a panicked, "McKay!" as the scientist reached out weakly to the other man trying to grasp something to pull himself back upright.
He felt Teyla's arms around him, one cool hand on his forehead pulling him securely back into her so that his head lolled onto her shoulder. She pressed her cheek to his temple and released a soothing "Shhh," into his ear. "Be still."
"Rodney, can you hear me?" the Major inquired and placed his hand on his chest.
Can't talk right now, he thought then wondered absently if the Major could feel his heart beating at the same rhythm that he could hear the blood pulsing in his ears. It reminded him of the metronome he had used to practice piano as a child but instead of the steady tock… tock… tock… tock, it was a pressurized thud… thud… thud… thud. Through the throbbing of blood in his skull, he heard Major Sheppard call to Ford and the younger man's face appeared above him as the lieutenant rummaged through his pack. Dimly, he thought he felt a pinprick, fearing that he had been hit with another dart. But at that point, it didn't matter, not really. It was overkill on the part of the natives and nothing more. But then again, he had to give them credit for being thorough. With this last thought, the image of his team swam before him and drowned in the waves of darkness that crashed over his awareness, leaving only the pounding surge of his heartbeat.
And the steady measure of the metronome.
Tock….. tock….. tock….. tock….. tock…..
He lay on his bed, the metronome resting on his chest, measuring out the seemingly endless minutes he had been there. Through his door, he could hear the muffled yelling from downstairs. The volume increased as his mother's voice raised an octave and he adjusted the tempo of the apparatus.
Tock.. tock.. tock.. tock.. tock..
The door to his room cracked open, hesitantly, and he turned his ten-year-old gaze to the pigtail-framed face that peered back at him.
"Rodney?" Jeanie called questioningly.
"What?" he replied in exasperation. It wasn't really a question, because he knew exactly what she wanted. It was the same thing she always wanted when their parents fought.
"Can I come in?" she implored.
He sighed dramatically. "Do you promise not to touch anything?"
"Yes," she responded.
"And stay in that corner over there and leave me alone?"
"Yes." She opened the door a little wider, not wanting to give up any physical ground that she was gaining as a result of her plea. She held a small fake-leather case in her hand, which he knew was filled with Barbie paraphernalia out the wazoo.
"And promise not to leave any of your Barbie crap in here when you leave?"
"I promise, I'll pick them up," she said solemnly.
As if to drive the point home and keep her hanging a while longer, he told her, "I stepped on one of her stupid shoes the other night and it hurt like hell."
With a certain amount of confidence, she stepped into the room. "Mama says you shouldn't say 'hell', it's a bad word."
He let out a snort and rolled his eyes. Had she not heard the words that had been coming out of the woman's mouth for the past thirty minutes? Then again, she was only five. She probably didn't know what half of them meant. To be honest, he really didn't know what half of them meant either, at least in the literal sense, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to understand the intent behind them.
He looked back at his sister as she stood completely inside his room, but hovered with her bag near the open door. "Well, are you coming in or not?" he demanded impatiently.
She smiled then and took another step forward. "And close the door;" he ordered her, "it's loud enough in here as it is."
She did as bided, then went to her designated corner and opened her case. Rodney turned back to his contemplation of the ceiling, slowing the metronome so that it matched the rate of his heartbeat.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. tock… tock….
It was soothing, in a simple, easy to understand way. It was tempo, nothing more. Clean, precise, uncomplicated, basic; everything his family life wasn't. He closed his eyes, pacing his breathing with the device.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe in.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe out.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe in.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe out.
If only the world could be so unfettered as the rhythmic pulse of the metronome.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe in.
If only he could start the devise and stop the arguments.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe out.
If only such a devise existed that could stop the fighting, stop the worry, stop the fear.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe in.
A devise that could save them all.
Tock…. tock…. tock…. breathe out.
A devise like a ZedPM.
Beep… beep… beep… breathe in.
He opened his eyes to the rhythm of the medical monitors. Saw an exhausted Major Sheppard leaning forward in his chair with a look of relief and apprehension.
"Rodney?" he asked in the same anxiously hopeful tone Jeanie had used when requesting entry to his room.
"What we need, Major," he told him with groggy conviction, "is a good metronome and all our problems will be solved," then he closed his eyes once more.
"Metronome." He repeated the word as his teammate slipped back into unconsciousness. "Yeah, I'll get right on that, Rodney, just as soon as I'm done here."
John slumped back into his chair, scrubbing his hands across his face, feeling the stubble along with the fatigue that served witness to the length of his vigil.
Metronome. Yeah, he could see that. Set them up throughout the city and lull the Wraith back into hibernation. So simple. Why didn't he think of that? Maybe you needed some alien venom reeking havoc with your synapses to come up with ideas like that. Metronomes, huh, go figure.
It sure made a lot more sense than when the physicist had snapped at him about picking up his Barbie crap. Please, even he, the man who had taken the limitation of one personal item per expedition member as more of a recommendation than an actual requirement couldn't have figured out how to get a Barbie through the gate. Well, sure, maybe Barbie by herself. But what's the point if you can't bring her crap as well? There wasn't one; none whatsoever. It would be absolutely pointless.
As pointless as saving another man's neck just to loose your own ass, both literally and figuratively. Subconsciously, he reached up to the bandage around his throat before leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, studying the man in the bed.
"You are some piece of work, McKay," he told the quite form before him. Quiet for now. He really wasn't sure if he considered that a good situation or a bad one. Granted, the things Rodney had been saying for the past day and a half could be distressingly bizarre, leaving John to wonder just how much damage the toxins in his system had actually done. There was something even more disturbing, however, about seeing McKay and not hearing him. The man was the embodiment of the word vocal. As annoying as that trait could be, it was also one of the main reasons John liked him. There, he admitted it, he liked the obnoxious son of a bitch, actually enjoyed the time they spent together, because he always knew where he stood with the man. Sure, his standing often changed with the sweep of the second hand, but McKay was good at keeping a running play by play and keeping him up to speed. Besides, it was just a matter of time before the minute was past and he was back where he started.
When John barked, Rodney barked back and that was something John had rarely experienced. McKay never backed down. The man was fearless. No, that wasn't true, the man was fear itself. Everything terrified him, and if he didn't let you know in words, you could see it written all over his face. How many times had he seen it on the mission? When he pulled the trigger, when he pulled out the dart, when he pulled in that last ragged breath. And yet, he kept going, kept doing what was necessary, until his body finally gave out, but his will never did.
John firmly believed that was why he was still alive, still fighting the venom that threatened to silence his yapping self forever. That and pure luck. He hadn't understood everything that Carson had told him about the venom that was used to poison the dart, but suffice it to say, it had been closer to reptile venom and less like insect venom. Probably a frog, the Doctor had told him, or a lizard. John couldn't help but laugh at the irony of that. Evidently, that meant more neurotoxins and less histamines, which had probably bought them the time to make the difference between life and death for McKay given his allergies.
Beckett had told him he had saved McKay's life; he had realized the urgency and kept him moving to the gate even though the pain was excruciating, he had kept a level head and administered the EpiPens, both of them, when he went into anaphylactic shock.
But Carson hadn't seen the desperation on his own face as Rodney had collapsed to the ground with a curse of pain when the dart hit his thigh, hadn't felt the sickening panic when not long after he began convulsing and wheezing for every breath. It had been instinct and adrenaline, pure and simple that had pushed him to action. Sure he had been prepared; he had everyone on the team carry the epinephrine just in case the unthinkable happened.
He had learned long ago that to be an effective leader, you had to recognize the weaknesses on your team and compensate appropriately. With Ford it was youth and he took every opportunity to groom him into the potential that shone through him. With Teyla it was her temper and he…well, he was still working on that one. With McKay it was his body and that was easy, at least in theory. The team carried the EpiPens and plenty of snacks. He even had a special stash of pure sugary treats if the power bars didn't work. Yes, that was a roll of Life Savers in his pocket, and no, he wasn't just glad to see you.
So, the unthinkable had happened and his preparations had paid off. It had been adequate to keep his throat open long enough to get him intubated, had been sufficient in slowing the venom until they could get him through the gate and hooked up to a much more potent intravenous supply of epinephrine. It hadn't been enough to keep his heart from stopping, but the Doc had fortunately taken care of that. If Beckett thought that qualified as saving his life, then so be it. If that was truly the case, then he was just returning the favor.
But what McKay had done was quite amazing, when he thought about it. And he had definitely thought about it, sitting in the chair, listening to Rodney's heart beat electronically on the monitors, listening to him babble incoherently, listening to him lay eerily silently. What McKay had done was kill a man to save John's life. He had stood there in absolute terror and shot him so that his teammate could live.
The thing that stood out the most in John's mind from that day, more than McKay's collapse, his clinical death, and his subsequent resuscitation, was when Rodney had knelt beside him after the deed, placing two stabilizing hands on his swaying shoulders, and confessed in a quaking voice, "I've never done that before."
The man was absolutely the bravest coward he had ever met.
At the time, John had been too busy gasping air into his lungs to speak, but he had thought, Thank god you are such a damned perfectionist that you got it right the first time.
Then Rodney had said something that would even make some of his more recent delusional statements sound sane. "What's the deal with the pajamas?"
John let out a small tired chuckle at the memory and addressed his friend. "You know, you were right about the P.J.'s."
He could still feel the recoil reverberating through the grip of the Berretta and into his hand, sending a prickle all the way up to his elbow. He lowered the gun to his side, trying his best not to look at the lifeless body that lay on the ground and the growing pool of blood draining from it.
Major Sheppard staggered weakly, fighting to remain standing, and with a rasping breath sucked air into his greedy, burning lungs. He reached a steadying hand out only to find empty air that would no longer support his wobbling frame. His knees buckled, dropping him quickly to the ground next to that same body Rodney was finding impossible to ignore.
The Major yanked the cord away from his throat and tossed it as far from himself as he could manage. He gingerly raised his hand to his neck where an ugly red welt was already forming a painful necklace. Rodney went to his side, knelt beside him, and steadied his swaying shoulders with his tingling hands. As if against his will, he found himself staring back at the dead assassin behind him. When they first saw the natives and realized their intent, he had hoped against hope that they weren't human. Somehow it was easier to justify killing creatures that were more monster than humanform. Like the Wraith. They were fiends of nightmare come to life; as far from humans as a species could get and still be bipedal and sentient.
"I've never done that before," he told the Major softly, successfully holding back the threatening tears, and it was the truth. He had killed Wraith, at least contributed to their deaths, but he had never killed a man, had never had the desire to do such a thing until that day. And yet, looking back at the body in the undergrowth, there was no denying that was exactly what he had done.
He turned his attention back to Sheppard, relieved that his color was returning to normal as he continued to gulp air. He squeezed his shoulders partially to encourage his breathing and partially to convince himself that John was really still alive. The man would be dead now if you hadn't shot him, he told himself. You did the right thing. And he knew he had, only, he really didn't want to think about it right then, so he looked for something else to occupy his mind.
"What's the deal with the pajamas?" he asked, noting the clothing of the man he had just shot. "I mean seriously, they look like cheesy ninja costumes, like something out of a bad Kung Fu Theater Saturday matinee. Is it just me or do the aliens we come across seem to either wear burlap sacks or bedclothes? Its as if the more advanced the civilization is, the more comfortable the clothing gets. It was the same way in the Milky Way. Look at the Tok'ra, brown jammies and bathrobes, the lot of them. The only exception was the Goa'uld; the women dressed like dominatrix and the men like astrologers on Telemundo. But overall, I'm sure you can see what I mean."
The Major continued to breathe deeply although less desperately and Rodney distractedly rubbed large circles into his back as he continued to critique the fashion statements of two galaxies. "The irony of this is that on Earth, the more casual the dress, the less respect you demand. You show up to work in a sweat suit and you're a slacker, you show up naked and you're a fruitcake, but I guarantee no one ever accused the Asgard of having a screw loose and they don't own a stitch of clothing."
"Rodney," Major Sheppard managed to gasp out, "what the hell are you talking about?"
Before he could answer, Lt. Ford and Teyla crashed into the small clearing. "Major Sheppard," Teyla called in concern when she saw the men on the ground, "are you injured?"
Sheppard dismissed her concern with a wave of his hand, and then took one last deep breath before pushing up to his feet. "I'm fine, now," he dismissed, resting a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "How about you two?"
"We took out three of them about half a klick back," Ford supplied, "they're stealthy, almost seem to appear out of nowhere, but their weaponry is pretty archaic."
"Still pretty deadly," the Major informed him from recent experience.
Rodney scanned the jungle, looking for signs of any more pajama-clad assailants. He licked his lips nervously. "You know, maybe we should talk about this someplace where there are less ninja-wannabes hiding in houseplants and more modern conveniences, like, oh, I don't know, the cafeteria on Atlantis. I'll even treat. It's Salisbury steak night. Supposedly, it's made with the meat of an animal I've been told is very similar to an actual cow."
"McKay's right," the Major told his team, "let's move out. No telling how many more may be out there."
They reached the edge of the denser vegetation and Rodney grabbed his leg. "What the fuck!" he screamed as he dropped, pulling his offended appendage towards his chest. "I've been hit!"
Teyla looked bewilderedly at the front of her vest, grasping a small dart that had embedded itself in the fabric without actually passing through. Lt. Ford responded by spraying the trees with gunfire in the general direction the missiles had originated. After a few seconds another similarly attired body joined the one Rodney had shot earlier.
Major Sheppard and Teyla each grabbed one of Rodney's arms and dragged him into the jungle and out of view of any other would be assassins. Rodney continued to swear and the Major yelled over his cursing. "Rodney! I need to check you out."
He released his hold on his leg, allowing the other man to examine him. "Is it bad? Oh, god, its bad, isn't it? Holy shit, it stings like you wouldn't believe."
The Major furrowed his brow as he studied the dart embedded in the Doctor's leg. "Hold on, this might hurt," he told him then yanked the projectile from where it was lodged.
"Son of a bitch!" he screamed, hammering a fist into the ground. "Might hurt? Might? Let me tell you, it damned well hurt."
The barb was roughly the size of a pub dart, only slightly shorter, with blue feathers and a notch.
The Major ignored him, frowning at the green goop that was staining the feathers.
"What?" Rodney demanded. "What is it?"
The Major didn't answer, only took out his canteen and washed off his fingers then ripped open Rodney's pants and poured more water over the wound. "Oh god," Rodney moaned in realization, "its poisoned isn't it? I'm right, I know it. I'm right, aren't I? For Christ's sake, John, just tell me."
"It looks like it might be," the Major admitted as he began bandaging up the entry site and avoiding eye contact. "But we're going to get back to Atlantis and let Beckett take care of you."
Rodney lay back in the leaves and covered his face with his arm, "Oh, god, this is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening…"
"Take it easy, McKay, you're not dead yet."
"Gee, thanks for the pep talk, Major. My confidence in living to see the rest of the day is overwhelming. You know, you deliver an inspirational speech like that to your men and the Wraith won't stand a chance. They'll starve to death, seeing as you'll have already sucked the will to live out of all their potential victims."
"Well, it just goes to show you that a dart in the ass doesn't stop you from being a pain in the ass," he told him as he popped the activator cap off a tube that looked remarkable similar to a dry erase marker.
"What's that?" Rodney asked, twisting to see what the Major was doing.
"EpiPen, just in case."
"Oh, right. Well…good thinking. Thanks."
"Don't mention it," he said and auto-injected the epinephrine into Rodney's leg, massaging the area as Beckett had taught him. "Ford, see if you can find anymore of these darts on the guy who fired them. I want to take them back for Beckett to analyze. Just be careful and don't touch the tips."
"Yes, Lieutenant, take it from someone with first hand experience, you definitely do not want to touch the tips."
"Okay, McKay, on your feet, we've got a wormhole to catch."
Teyla and Sheppard pulled him from the ground and he let out another yelp of pain. "Damn, that stuff burns."
Lt. Ford returned with a small leather pouch. He placed it in Rodney's pack, which he then shouldered.
"Ford, you take point." The Major nodded at Teyla to maintain her position on Rodney's left arm and he gripped his right. "Alright, McKay, let's move out, and I don't mean at a stroll."
With a firm jerk on his arm, Rodney found himself running painfully through the jungle. He tried to concentrate on the small things, like putting one foot in front of the other. Details, really. He was good with details. Let the Major concentrate on the big picture stuff, like getting them home. He would deal with the minutia, like breathing through the growing pain and fighting off the fuzziness that was encroaching on his mental capacities. It was all about the details. God, as the saying went, was in the details.
"Let's see some hustle, McKay."
God may be in the details, but the Major was all about results. And the result he wanted was for Rodney to move his injured ass to the stargate more quickly than he was currently able to. He started to tell him just that, that no amount of growling and grumbling was going to make his damaged leg move any faster but he figured why bother. They were at an impasse; he couldn't speed up and the Major had no intention of slowing down. Nothing would be gained by confronting the man especially when he was being so belligerent. And Sheppard was so incredibly belligerent.
His mind wandered as the green leaves blurred past him. There was something familiar about that; Sheppard and belligerent. The two went together in more ways than one. Something from before, before Atlantis, before Antarctica, before he even knew about the stargate.
The firm hold on his arms diminished and the breathing of his teammates and the creak of their gear melted into the sound of a piano. The greens of the jungle swirled around him, separated into blue and yellow, became luminescent and transformed into a translucent stained-glass window, and he found himself staring at the image of the belligerent shepherd he recalled from his youth.
He was the third shepherd on the right, the one not holding a lamb, not raising his hand to block the glorious heavenly light that shown down from on high. He was the one with the red tunic, leaning on his crook, his face appearing to have been cut from the glass to form a scowl. Rodney had often wondered if the artist who created the giant window that made up the back wall of the small Methodist church had meant for that expression to be one of fear or awe at the angelic choir that had been sent to announce the birth of Christ. But to the thirteen-year-old boy that he was, the shepherd had the look of someone that wasn't transfixed but more annoyed that the light had awakened him from a great dream. He could almost hear him yelling, 'hey, keep it down, some of us are trying to sleep'. So, he had dubbed him the belligerent shepherd.
Rodney had always been drawn to him, always found himself studying the glassy form as he waited for one of his parents to pick him up from piano lessons. That night it was supposed to be his father, but it could easily change. His parents had declared war on each other years earlier, neither willing to admit defeat and file for divorce, so they fought on using any weapons they could find to mount the next battle. One of the handiest happened to be their children.
The last time his father had been so late to pick him up, it had been to prove a point to his mother. That he could not support his family properly if he had to leave work and pick up his son from piano lessons. Never mind that the lessons were finished over an hour after his quitting time and he rarely worked late, unless of course he had a point to prove. Rodney figured it was something similar this time.
He had finished his lesson almost an hour before, listened as the following student completed her lesson, and was preparing to listen to the next. He hoped this new one was better than the last. She had been absolutely dreadful; sloppy form, missed notes, bad tempo- she played the adagio as more andante and her accelerando never proceeded past allegro. It was obvious she wasn't even applying herself, and she probably practiced less than an hour a day.
That sort of blatant disregard annoyed him to no end. If you were going to do something, then take the time to do it well. Technique was everything. He was an excellent technical performer. He took pride in the fact that he would work on a particular phrase of music over and over until he had every note played precisely and exactly how the composer had intended.
The next student sat at the bench and began running through her cord progressions. He listened absently as his teacher called out the series and the girl, who appeared to be about his age, complied. He roamed the church out of boredom, examining the stained glass windows that lined the aisles of wooden pews. His family weren't church-goers but his piano teacher played for Sunday services in this particular parish in exchange for the use of the facilities during the week to teach private lessons. Although the chapel was small, it was well designed with acoustics in mind, so that the pulpit, choir box, organ and piano sat back in a recessed bowl-shaped atrium that captured the sound and reflected it out toward the congregation.
Rodney completed his slow circuit around the aisles and found that he had returned to the back so that he was bathed in the blues, greens, reds and yellows of the shepherd scene being illuminated by the setting sun outside. Behind him, the girl had finished her startup exercises and was settling her book for her prepared piece. With the first few notes, he recognized the composition as one of Chopin's. Eh, not one of his favorites but enjoyable if played well.
As she continued to play, Rodney found himself turning away from the stained glass and watching the girl. She sat straight backed and intent on the sheet music. He noted she missed a few notes, but never stumbled. The casual listener would have never recognized the slip up. She played on for a few minutes, seeming to gain confidence as the song progressed. Then she reached the point where the phrasing changed, the tempo slowed and she closed her eyes, and leaned forward slightly over the keys. Rodney felt his breath catch in his throat.
He had never heard anything so amazing in his life. Her technique was flawless, of course, but there was more. It was something he realized he would never be able to duplicate, no matter how much he practiced. The music seemed to stop coming from the hammer and strings and instead radiated from the girl herself. It was as if she were giving as much to the piano as the piano was giving to her. They became one, the composition, the instrument, and the artist and for a fleeting moment Rodney understood the meaning of perfection.
He turned back to the belligerent shepherd and knew his own expression mirrored the one of the boy in red glass above him. It wasn't belligerence, but sadness, and anger, and awe. Maybe the stained glass artist knew what he was doing after all. He would strive for that kind of perfection all his life, may even achieve it at some point along the way, but never in music, never there. He would have to be willing to give something of himself and as much as he adored music he could never surrender to it.
There was something pure about that kind of perfection that involved the precise balance of give and take. When it happened it was clear, and clean, and white.
And when he finally had the chance, it met all of those criteria except one.
His intent was clear, the shot was clean, but the blood ran red, like the tunic of a belligerent stained-glass shepherd bearing witness to perfection in a small Methodist church.
The image of that same young shepherd leaning on his staff morphed into a young marine leaning against the railing of his bed.
"Dr. McKay," Lt. Ford asked, "did you say something?"
"Aiden," he inquired though dry lips, "why do they call it a clean shot when the results are always so messy?"
Well, the Major had warned him that sitting this watch would be odd.
"Dr. McKay?" he called, letting out a sigh and sinking back into his chair when the scientist didn't reply.
He had really thought this might be the time that he finally woke up and stayed awake. After all, he had called him by name, obviously recognized him. Not like before when he had been complaining to him in what might have been Italian. Something about accelerating and Allegra, you would think with all the drugs they were pumping into him the last thing he would want is more allergy medicine.
Still, in a way he was glad that the Doc had fallen back asleep. He wasn't sure how to answer that question he had asked and was actually kind of glad that he could just chalk it up as rhetorical. He did, however, have a pretty good idea where it had come from.
Major Sheppard had told him what had happened before he and Teyla had arrived in the clearing, at least part of it. He hadn't had much time before Dr. Beckett had ordered him back to his quarters for a shower, change of clothes and sleep, not necessarily in that order. His CO had managed to comply with the first two, but had already been back twice since he had relinquished the watch almost eight hours prior. Teyla would be there soon to relieve him if the Major didn't try again before she arrived. Although, Dr. Beckett had ordered a second bed brought into Dr. McKay's privacy-screened room and he had a feeling the Scotsman had decided that if Major Sheppard wouldn't sleep in his own quarters, maybe he would in here.
Some people might be amazed by the fact that no one had required any of them to maintain a vigil by Dr. McKay's bedside. That instead they just did it on their own accord. But he wasn't; it was as natural as posting a rotating watch on an overnight mission. It was just expected, would have seemed wrong somehow if it didn't happen.
And they all gladly took their turn, no matter how much they hated hospitals and, man, did he ever hate hospitals. They reminded him of his mother and the sickness that slowly stole her away from him. But he did it, regardless of the antiseptic smells that still turned his stomach until his nose acclimated and the beeps and whirls of the machinery. At least he wasn't on a respirator, not any more, that one got him more than anything else. No, he did it because they were a team and he knew that if the tables were ever to be turned, they would do the same for him. And somehow he found that comforting and so the act of the vigil provided its own form of comfort.
His thoughts wandered back to the question the Doctor had asked him about clean shots. According to the Major, he had definitely gotten one off, waited until he found the perfect opening and taken the shot.
He had seen him on the shooting range and he knew how to handle a gun. There was a big difference, however, between shooting at a paper target and shooting at a living breathing person who was choking the life out of a friend. And Dr. McKay could be a very emotional person. He thought back to the way he had reacted when he got hit by the dart. Someone would have thought he was dying on the spot.
Okay, Aiden admitted to himself, maybe that is a bad example.
Still, to maintain your cool during a combat situation could be difficult for even the most highly trained soldier. And there he had been, a man with less experience than most new recruits, taking out an armed assailant with a victim for a shield.
He had evidently experienced what his grandmother called a moment of clarity, when everything just falls into place and you know exactly what you have to do. Others might call it divine intervention, a Zen moment, or just blind luck. And, maybe, they were really all the same thing. It just came down to a matter of perspective, and maybe that was the answer to the question Dr. McKay had asked him before.
"It's just a matter of perspective, Doc," he told him, not knowing if the man could hear him or not, "that's really all anything ever is."
When the first two had jumped out of the trees, all he could think was, you've got to be kidding me. They were wearing pajamas for Pete's sake, colored so that they blended seamlessly with the foliage, but they were pajamas nonetheless. It was like they had stumbled across some bizarre slumber party taking place in the middle of a Tarzan movie.
Then they had pulled out their weapons, a long knife and a staff, and still all he could think was, you've got to be kidding me. They had been on the planet less than an hour and already people were threatening their lives.
The Major had tried his peaceful explorer routine, Teyla had spoken up with her typical trade negotiation bit, Ford had smiled nicely with a wave and even he had complemented them on their attire. But when their only response had been to charge at them with a battle cry, he knew no amount of niceties were going to keep the situation from deteriorating into an all out race back to the gate.
Teyla had drawn her own blade and quickly disarmed the knife wielding native and Ford managed to reduce the one with the staff into a pile of collapsed jammies with a well placed butt of P90 to face. Then, the running had begun.
"Just once," he yelled to Major Sheppard as they jogged shoulder to shoulder through the growth, "just once I would like to take a nice leisurely stroll back to the gate without being chased by natives, or attacked by mysterious fogs, or threatened my Amish-imitating paramilitary organizations. Is that really asking too much?"
"Evidently," the Major told him as a figure materialized out of the bush and he swung his weapon to clack him in the temple. The would-be assailant crumpled soundlessly and the two barely slowed their velocity.
From behind them he heard gunshots and both men stopped to look for Lt. Ford and Teyla. They had become separated in the chase. Rodney had glommed on to Major Sheppard when they began their flight and he knew the man had slowed his pace so that he could do so. But in the dense foliage, the other two had become lost.
"Maybe they're just firing to scare them," he offered
"Let's hope so," the Major responded then "Down!" as he reached up to Rodney's head pushing it down and forward so that he stumbled back behind Sheppard and landed on his hands and knees. He turned to see the Major smashing his fist into the oncoming face of a sword brandishing attacker then finishing him off with an uppercut courtesy of his rifle.
More gunfire sounded in the distance and Major Sheppard keyed his earpiece. "Ford, report." He got no response. "Teyla," he called but again there was no answer. He frowned and reached a hand out to Rodney to pull him to his feet only to be jerked backwards suddenly and dragged into a small clearing.
Rodney blinked in surprise as Sheppard disappeared from sight then quickly jumped to his feet following the sounds of struggle. The man attacking the Major was several inches shorter, so that John's back was arched as he was pulled down and back by a leather cord around his neck. Already, his face was a deep shade of red, darkening by the second. His hands clawed at the simple weapon that was effectively cutting off the supply of oxygen to his lungs.
Rodney pulled his sidearm from the holster and disengaged the safety in one smooth move, bracing the grip and wrist of his right hand with the left. The assailant paid him no attention, maybe didn't even know he was there. After all, when he attacked, he was on the ground, obscured by the leaves, maybe he hadn't seen him.
And that left him with a dilemma. Did he call out to warn the man and hope that the gun would be enough to scare him into releasing the Major? Or did he take the shot when offered and use his obscurity to his advantage?
They had shown no fear of the guns up until that point, which meant by calling out he could be guaranteeing Sheppard's death. However, firing without warning, was that not the equivalent of shooting a man in the back? In the wild west an act such as that was paramount to murder.
The Major's face had darkened to an alarming shade of purple and his struggle was also visibly weakening. He needed to make a decision and he needed to make it quick. It was then that the Major made eye contact with him for the first time, saw him standing with the Berretta in his hand, and with a shift of his body that opened up a spot on the assassin's chest, cast the deciding vote.
It's all just a matter of perspective, he told himself, and silently took the shot.
The 9-mm was nothing more than an extension of his arm, the bullet flew true and Rodney attained his first moment of tainted perfection.
Although it had flirted with him in the past.
She was perfection made flesh, at least that's how she seemed to his twenty-year-old libido. He had been taken with her the first moment he saw her, blue eyes, shoulder length blond hair that had a habit of slipping seductively across one eye, a teasing smile that accompanied the sweeping motion that trapped those same locks tenuously behind her ear. Absolute perfection.
And then, to be seeing her the way he was, bare back tapering into a firm buttocks, pelvis undulating, the hint on one firm breast peeking out from the obscuring form of a shapely arm as she ran a hand through her golden tresses. It was almost more than he could stand.
He had met her in his Advanced Theoretical Mathematics class. She was a double major; mathematics and art history, a bizarre combination at first glance. But when she presented her midterm project, an elaborate mathematical equation describing Picasso's cubism masterpiece 'Guernica' he had felt a growing pressure in both his chest and his jeans. She was utterly amazing.
He had spoken to her several times; they had even studied for an exam together, along with several others from the class. She had made a point of sitting next to him, her knee brushing against his under the library table as she leaned over and completed a formula in his notebook, and he had started to think maybe, just maybe, she might be interested in him.
A few days later, she had stopped by his table at the bar just off campus. He had been there with his roommate, John Rhonehart, a young man destined to take his place in the family ambulance chasing law firm of 'Rhonehart and Rhonehart' when his grandfather retired in a few years. He was just prelaw and already redecorating the old man's office to suite his tastes. His future was set in a way that Rodney envied. No matter how lousy a lawyer he may turn out to be, he had a place waiting for him. He figured it was cheaper that way for the family, didn't have to keep changing the signs or the stationary as long as the line of succession was maintained.
John could be an okay guy to hang out with once you got used to the slime. He had a quick wit and a trusting smile if you didn't look too closely at his eyes. And when they went out, there were always women stopping by the table or smiling from the bar, so there were some advantages to being the guy's roommate.
But she had stopped by to say hello to him. Actually sat down and chatted for a few minutes, laughed at John's jokes, had a drink, then excused herself and rejoined the friends she had come with.
The muscles in her back quivered and he was amazed that the simple act of a hand running down her spine could elicit such a response. She let out a throaty moan, arching that beautiful back so that her hair spilled down between her shoulder blades. She reached back, placing her hands on the bed to better maintain the position and experience the ecstasy the sensation brought her.
What had he done to deserve this? For her to be in his room like this? For him to see her like this? He found he was shaking, unsure what to do next. He swallowed painfully past the lump that was forming in his throat as she let out another shuddering groan of delight.
"Jesus, McKay!" John yelled from beneath her, "Why don't you get a damned video camera?"
He cleared his throat, stood wide-eyed as he searched for his voice, willed it not to crack when he finally spoke. "What the hell, John? You could at least lock the door. How was I supposed to know?"
She had giggled then, doing little more than wrapping her arm around her breasts in a futile act of modesty. He bolted from the room with that silvery laughter echoing in his ears, closed the door, then leaned his head against the opposite wall, trying his damnedest not to hyperventilate.
Fucking John. Fucking John and his god damned slimy charm. He knew I was interested, knew I had a thing for her. He knew it and he did it anyway. He turned and slid down the wall, running shaking hands through his hair. Asshole. Why did I ever introduce her to him? Why? I should have known he would do this; should have known he would stab me in the back like this.
Only John hadn't taken a knife and stabbed him in the back, he had pulled one out of his leg. No that wasn't quite right either. It had been a dart he had pulled out of his leg and it had been a different John, hadn't it?
A pair of beat up red Chuck Taylor's came into view, the right sole held on by a piece of worn duct tape. Federman, Rodney put a name to the shoes with a groan. The last thing he wanted to do was explain himself right then.
"McKay, the Major is asleep right now, should I wake him?"
"What?" He looked up expecting to see his dormmate from down the hall and instead saw Teyla looking down on him with a questioning expression.
"Major Sheppard is sleeping but I can wake him if you would like," she offered with a warm smile, and then as if to explain, "You said his name."
"Teyla?" he croaked out, his mouth felt dry and sticky.
"Yes, Doctor. How are you feeling?"
"Like I thought I was in love."
She furrowed her brow in surprised confusion as he drifted off once again. Not because of how strange his response to her question was, because he had made many strange comments over the past couple of days. No, what caught her off guard was the way he had phrased the response, placed that preface of thought in the statement. She couldn't help but find it sad that Dr. McKay found it necessary to 'think' about everything, even love.
Emotions, she knew from experience could not be rationalized; they just were what they were. She had never been in love only to discover later that she had not really been in love, had only 'thought' she was in love. When she felt it, it was real. It may have only been for a short time, but for that time it was love nonetheless. It was like saying 'I thought there was wind,' after a breeze has passed and the air has calmed. Just because you do not currently feel it does not mean it never existed.
Her people had a saying, 'Love returns and love is returned.' The meaning was simple; people may love many throughout their lives, some for a short while, some for eternity, but the best way to ensure that it continues is give it so that the recipient may return it. If it is not reciprocated by one then it will eventually be reciprocated by another.
That was one of the most unusual traits she had discovered about the Earth people; they had to think about everything. They rarely trusted their feelings or their intuitions, something that just came naturally to her especially since she relied on those feelings to sense the Wraith. And trust was something that was hard earned with these newcomers, as she had learned the hard way.
She looked behind her at the sleeping form of Major Sheppard. He had trusted her, as had some of the others, and for that she was grateful. If not for him, she didn't think that her people would have stayed on this planet. Now, they lived peacefully side by side and she had made many new friends that were growing dearer to her each day. She had even been made a member of Major Sheppard's team, an honor she did not take lightly.
It was amazing to watch the friendships develop in the city. Even though they had come across the universe together, most of the expedition members had known each other for just a short while before they arrived. In reality, they were a band of strangers thrust through the stargate and now forced to become more. Personalities that probably never would have done more than acknowledged each other with a passing glance back on Earth were forming bonds that were quickly moving from friendship to family.
With a faint smile she looked from one sleeping man to the other, knowing these two were a prime example of that fact. There were days when she thought she might have to physically restrain these two from clawing out each others eyes, yet she knew Major Sheppard would not be sleeping in the infirmary if it were just anyone lying in the opposite bed.
It had taken both she and Lt. Ford to convince him to just lie down while she took over the watch by Dr. McKay's bedside. Of course the threat of chemical sedation from Dr. Beckett didn't hurt their arguments. As they had all expected, a few minutes after his head hit the pillow, the Major had been fast asleep. So she had found herself sitting watch over two men instead of one, listening to the occasional delirious mumble of one and the soft snores of the other. But given who they were, she really didn't mind.
Yes, love returns and love is returned. The same could be said about friendship, which was really just a different name for love. She stood and looked down on Dr. McKay, taking his hand in hers. He was lost somewhere in there, searching for a way back to them, his team, his friends. From the snippets of speech she had heard, he appeared to be reliving the past, circling back, looking for the correct path. Love returns. Friendship returns. And hopefully, she thought, Dr. McKay returns.
"Are you ready to return to us?" she asked with a squeeze of his hand. "We're ready for you to come back."
"Get your ass back here, McKay," Major Sheppard told him with a yank on his shirt collar. "What have I told you about just taking off like that. Ford has point, that means he leads, not you, him."
"Thank you for the lesson in Military Parlance 101, Major," he told Sheppard as he shrugged out of his grasp, "but I think I can take two steps beyond the gate without getting myself into too much trouble." As if to prove his argument he walked forward a few feet and with a smug smile looked back at the Major who just rolled his eyes with a childish sneer in return. He then pulled out his life signs detector and took a few more steps while reading the display. "Well, it's just as I susp…whoa!" He tripped over a rock sending him and the detector sprawling to the ground.
Major Sheppard let out a self satisfied sigh. "That's what I like about you, Rodney; you just seem to go out of your way to prove my points."
Teyla helped him to his feet as Ford handed him the retrieved Ancient devise. With a glare at Sheppard as he passed by him, he yanked the offered detector from the marine's hand. A large purple and red mass appeared, fluttering drunkenly in his face. With flailing arms, he bobbed and weaved his way evasively behind the Major. "What the hell is that?"
"Looks like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly," supplied Lt. Ford with a smile as he reached out a probing finger to touch the bug.
"Don't provoke it," he told the younger man as he peeked around Sheppard's shoulder, "you might incite its swarming instinct."
Ford smirked, "Yeah, you hear about deadly swarms of butterflies attacking people all the time."
"It's not a butterfly," Rodney reminded him, "It's an alien insect and we don't know what it could be capable of."
"You're right," the Lieutenant agreed, "it's not a butterfly; we should rename it. How about a Dragonbutter?"
The Major hung his head at yet another attempt by his 2IC to name something in the Pegasus Galaxy. "You might want to rethink that name, Ford."
"Why, what's the matter with it? I think it's kind of catchy."
"Have you ever heard the term 'drain the dragon'?"
Rodney spoke up, "I've heard of 'draining the lizard'."
The Major slapped the physicist on the shoulder, "Yeah, well, I guess that just goes to show that not all of us can be overachievers."
"I must confess, I am unfamiliar with both of these terms." All three men stopped and exchanged worried looks at Teyla's statement. The Athosian stood with one eyebrow raised in question.
Finally Rodney turned to the Major, "Should we do rock, paper, scissors to decide who tells her?"
"Nah, I'll just pull rank. Ford, you explain it."
"Maybe you'll think twice before you try to name something again."
Ford sulkily took point and headed into the jungle. Teyla trotted up to him, anxious to hear the answer to her inquiry.
Behind them Rodney walked next to the Major, studying the life signs detector while at the same time trying to watch his footing. "You know, these things are absolutely useless in a place like this. It picks up every little alien creepy crawly within scanning range. All I see are a hundred little dots, anyone of which could be waiting to make us lunch. They could be venomous snakes, predatory lizards, frogs…"
"Frogs? You're worried about frogs?"
"We're on a different planet, Major, in a different galaxy. In all likelihood, evolution took a completely different branch here. For all we know frogs, or at least the creatures that would be considered most froglike to our Earthcentric view, could be at the top of the food chain."
"Well, don't worry, Rodney, I've got your back when it comes to imminent death by ravenous frog."
"How can you be so flippant when it comes to things like this? This could be a real concern and you're out here walking around like you don't have a care in the world."
"Easy, I know you've got my back, in return."
Rodney stopped in his tracks, stunned by the Major's confidence in him. The Major continued walking a few steps, then turned and regarded his teammate. "I swear to god, McKay, you're either bounding headfirst into trouble or lagging behind waiting for it to bite you in the ass." He motioned him forward with a jerk of his head, waited until Rodney caught up, then fell into step beside him as they headed deeper into the jungle.
Rodney looked up from his detector and turned to see the sleeping form of Major Sheppard in a bed opposite his. He was curled on his side, knees pulled up and arms wrapped around the pillow he lay on. For a second, he couldn't seem to process where he was. He had thought he was in a jungle, but that obviously wasn't right. At some point he had could have sworn he had been in his room at home, at piano lessons, in his dorm room, but all of those images were hazy, like a dream he couldn't quite remember upon waking. But the jungle was more vivid. He could almost smell the earthy decay of the leaves, feel the moisture from the air, and hear the multitude of animal sounds in the trees.
He blinked a few times, trying to clear his thoughts. Major Sheppard shifted slightly in his sleep then resettled. Only a dim light shown in the room, its small glow casting the Major's face in shadows, a monitor beeped softly above him. Outside the curtained area he could hear someone walking quietly through the medbay, probably a nurse doing rounds. The medbay, he was in the medbay. He was back on Atlantis. He was back on Atlantis and alive.
"I'm back," he tried to say, only it came out as a hacking cough.
The sound of coughing startled Major Sheppard out of sleep. With a flailing jerk he started to sit up, only to roll clumsily off the side of the bed and onto the floor.
"Oww," he said as his head clacked on the tile.
The coughing lessened and a weak, dry voice asked, "Are you okay?"
From his position on the floor, he looked up to see McKay peeking through the railing of his hospital bed. He was pale, drawn, with a three days growth of stubble. He looked like absolute shit. It was the most wonderful sight he had seen in days.
"Gees, McKay," he said as he pushed himself up from the floor, "warn a guy before you rise from the dead, why don't you."
The head of a nurse appeared inside the room, evidently drawn by the exchange. She looked from floor to bed to floor again. With a smile to mirror the one on Major Sheppard's face, she nodded and went in search of Dr. Beckett.
"Sorry," Rodney told him, then dissolved into another coughing fit.
John rose, took a glass from the side table, poured water and dropped in a straw. He helped Rodney sit up slightly and held the glass as the other man sipped.
"Staws," Rodney commented after a few gulps, "of all the things we could have brought with us to Atlantis and Carson manages to bring straws. He might as well have brought little paper umbrellas, too."
"Yeah, but they're the flexy kind." John noted with a demonstration of the gadget's capabilities, "I think they have some sort of magical healing powers."
"You may be on to something there," Rodney conceded.
John offered more water then placed the cup back on the table when Rodney shook his head no. "So, how're you feeling?"
"Do you remember when you let me land the jumper and I kind of hit that tree?"
"Well, I feel like the remains of that feather covered beaver-thing that the tree fell on."
"The Chicken McBeaver?"
"That would be the one."
"Have to admit, I did like Ford's name for that one."
"How long…" he left the question hanging, not sure how to finish it.
"…have you been in here?" John looked around, as if a calendar with the Atlantean dates would suddenly appear on the wall. "Honestly, I'm not really sure. But you're always telling me that time is relative, so no worries, okay?"
"No worries," he replied with a tired smile, closing his eyes as the exhaustion of the last few minutes activities caught up with him.
"McKay!" John shouted and grabbed his arm. With a jolt, Rodney's eyes flew open and darted around in alarm. "Sorry," John told him in a quieter voice, "just wanted to make sure you didn't go drifting off on me again."
Rodney studied the other man for a moment, noting the dark circles under his eyes, the hair wilder than normal, the barely contained worry in the set of his mouth. He patted the hand that still gripped his arm, the same hand that had pulled out the dart, moved him through the jungle, and injected the life saving epinephrine. "Not going anywhere," he told him, "thanks to you."
"Thanks to you, too, or I wouldn't have been there to help."
"Yeah, well, then, thanks to both of us, I guess."
"Yeah, to the both of us."
Rodney's eyes drifted closed once more, and John again called out a quiet, "Rodney?"
"You're not going to let me sleep, are you?"
"Sorry, it's just been a rough couple of days."
"Not to mock your apparent natural talent for stating the blatantly obvious, but, no shit."
John laughed, "It's good to have you back, McKay."
"It's good to be back. Now, as touched as I am by the whole alarm clock with abandonment issues persona you seem to have going here, I really would appreciate it if you would shut up and let me sleep."
"Go to sleep, Rodney, I've got your back."
"I know you do, Major," he told him drowsily, "how do you think I'm able to sleep?"
"Oh, now you're just being irritating."
Rodney reopened his eyes with a sigh at what he knew was coming, and Carson and his slew of assistants went to work on him. John sat back on the bed, grinning like a damned kid on Christmas morning. Soon he would go find Ford and Teyla, but for now, he was content to watch the medical team poke and prod, watch McKay bitch and moan, and watch his friend's back through the whole ordeal.