A/N Thanks again for all the wonderful reviews (blushes furiously) for the first two parts. Once again special thanks to Koschka for the final once over, much moral support, and the news story about some very unfortunate German frogs. Once again, if you haven't read her stuff, you most definitely should!
Triptych (triptik) noun 1. a picture or carving on three panels, typically hinged together vertically and used as an altarpiece. 2. a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works.
Panel 3: Frogs and Dogs
When I was a kid, my grandfather had a dog, Winston; named after the statesman or the cigarette, I'll never know because the old man loved them both. Winston was enormous, half Yellow Lab, half German Shepherd and everything those two breeds imply; loyal to my grandfather and ferocious to anyone who wasn't my grandfather. I hated that dog with a passion born of fear and hunger, from his doggy breath snarls to his spiky haired hackles. I hated him almost as much as I hated going to my grandfather's house.
He lived four hours away by car; for most normal people that would entail an overnight stay, but not with my family. God forbid we did anything the normal way. My father refused to pay for a hotel based on the fact that my grandfather's house had plenty of spare rooms sitting vacant for our use. While at the same time, my mother refused to stay in her father-in-laws home based on an insult he had delivered to her family during his toast at my parents' wedding. Suffice it to say, never give the floor to an ill-tempered Irishman who is not impressed with the quality of the booze he has sampled in ample enough quantity to require a flammable label.
So, once a month we loaded into the car for the road trip from hell. It was four hours of Jeannie and I yelling at each other for crossing over that invisible sibling exclusion line that separated her side of the bench seat in the back from mine, followed by two hours of silence at the dinning room table while Winston growled at me and my grandfather chain-smoked and took food from our plates and fed it to the hell hound at his heel, culminating in four hours of my parents screaming at each other about the prospects, or the lack thereof, for the next month's trip.
Winston goes a long way in explaining half of my issues with food; you learn to eat quickly and possessively when everything on your plate is fair game to become kibble in the next five minutes. He also goes all the way in explaining why I am a cat person. For me, there is one big difference between cats and dogs- cats want and dogs need. I've never had any use for dogs; they are all about the walking and the petting and the reassurances. Need, need, need; not a moment to yourself to be had. I ask you, who would intentionally subscribe to that kind of all-encompassing, time-consuming headache? Needy people, that's who. People that need attention and need to be needed for their attention.
But cats are entirely different creatures. They are independent and self reliant. A cat isn't going to get upset if you stay at the lab for forty-eight straight hours; as long as there is sufficient food and water they're content. They aren't going to run away if you spend a week working on a science fair project only to be hopelessly lost forever because your dad was too cheap to buy a tag. And if they jump up on your lap for a scratch behind the ears, it's because they want the attention, they want to be with you, not to fulfill some insecurity driven need. No, cats are definitely the superior species.
Okay, I'll admit, there is something to be said about the fear factor associated with dogs. A cat has never scared away a burglar or kept a mugger at bay; German Shepherds are much more attuned at playing bodyguard than a striped tabby. Then there's the loyalty aspect. When my grandfather had his stroke, Winston never left his side. Never. He lay on the bed next to him for days on end, paced beside him down the hall to steady him when he wobbled with his walker, snapped and snarled at the nurses that came to care for him. When my grandfather passed away, it was just a matter of days before Winston followed suite. Loyal to the end and beyond. It was sad really, in a touching yet tragic After School Special sort of way.
"You and your goddamned ravenous frogs, McKay." At the sound of the voice, I snap my head up from the hazy doze I have been in. That would be my own Sheppard; John not German, but a damn fine guard dog in his own right. He sits at the mouth of the cave, P90 raised, taking pot shots at the fanged amphibians foolish enough to cross within the no hop zone he has established around the perimeter of our shelter.
Technically, they are probably closer in body shape to a newt or a salamander, but they hop, or should I say pounce viciously without warning, and ribbit like frogs, so frogs is how they have been designated by Sheppard. And who am I to question the man who would currently make Jeremiah wish he wasn't a bullfrog? Besides, fortunately, I'm not a biologists and really don't give a damn what he calls them as long as he continues to decrease their numbers and increase our chances of getting out of this mess alive. He fires again and by the faint glow of firelight, I can see the red creeping through the bandage on his shoulder and neck.
"Major, we should change the dressing on your wounds," I tell him as he shoots off another round into the frog-infested darkness.
He glances casually at his injury then turns back to his sentry duty. "It's fine. I'm more concerned with that leg of yours."
"Well, truthfully, so am I; massive blood loss does tend to make me worry as well as woozy. That doesn't change the fact that you look like Miss Piggy after a hot date with Kermit hyped up on X."
"You know, McKay, you just gave new meaning to the term horny toad."
"I am oh so happy that you have managed to maintain your nine-year old sense of humor during this whole ordeal." And actually, I am. Because I have a feeling that things are going to get pretty rough for Sheppard in a few minutes if I don't miraculously start regenerating the blood I've been slowly losing throughout the night. "Seriously, Major, you need to take care of those bites so they don't get infected."
He grins, "Don't worry, Rodney, a few frog hickeys never killed anyone." He squeezes the trigger and another frog bites the bullet and the dust.
"Hickeys no; gaping, bleeding wounds that sting like a son of a bitch, possibly." I check the bandage on my own arm, surprised it isn't seeping through like Sheppard's. I must have a superior clotting factor; thicker blood as a result of the harsh Canadian winters I have endured all my life. Although even my natural proficiency for coagulation can do little for the bleeding caused by a tree limb gashing deep into my upper thigh.
"My, aren't we just little Mary Sunshine, spreading hope and cheer everywhere we go?"
"As I often tell Weir, I get paid to think pragmatically; optimism will cost you extra." Even to my own ears, the sound of my voice is slurring sleepily.
"So we're getting paid for this?" I can hear his question, but find myself floating back to thoughts of dogs and cats, of frogs jumping out of the mud and Jumpers being buried in it, of shoes and ships and sealing wax. "McKay!"
I rouse at my name and try to recall what the great white frog hunter has asked me. "Uhm, yes, we are getting paid, although a fat lot of good it does us seeing as the closest ATM machine is three million light years away."
He fires his gun again causing me to jump like his latest victim. "Well, look at it this way, even the Cayman Islands can't offer the type of tax shelter the Pegasus Galaxy does."
"True," I concede as I try to sit up a little more from my slouch. Okay, big mistake. Big, big mistake as the inside of the cave starts to spin. I try to focus on the opposite wall, but the flickering fire light just makes things worse. "And with the hazard pay we should be getting for this mission, we'll need it."
"Really? I thought we were taking vacation time for this little outing."
Vacation time. No, not one of my better ideas, I'll admit, but not to John, never ever going to admit that one to him, especially not while he's taking out his aggressions on the indigenous species of Planet M3C-what-the-fuck-is-up-with-all-the-frogs. "That officially changed the moment we started on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," I deflect, closing my eyes against the kaleidoscope of light and shadow hopping across the opposite wall.
"Yep, one hell of a ride." I hear another abbreviated croak as another shot hits home, then, "Rodney?"
I realize my head rush is causing me to drift off again, so I turn my attention back to Sheppard, his black form stable against the darkness outside. "Major, how much longer until dawn?"
"I'd say two hours, maybe a little less, but we're already a couple of hours overdue. There's probably a search party looking for us as we speak."
"They'll never find us in the dark, not with the Night of the Living Toad going on outside."
"Don't worry; I've got plenty of ammo to handle our hungry little tadpoles out here until the sun comes up."
"You're a veritable killing machine," I mumble to his black back. Black shirt, black vest, black jungle behind him… "When you head back to the gate at first light, try not to trip over all the little toad corpses littering the way."
"At first light, we're heading for the gate. We've already gone over this; I'm not leaving you behind."
A black that seems to expand across the rock face and roll around the room… "John, not to be argumentative," I tell him as the blackness curls around to where I'm slumping, "but I really don't think you're going to have much choice."
"McKay! Goddamn you, stay awake! Rodney!" I can hear him barking, like the loyal guard dog that he is. But the blackness is on me, surrounding me, pulling me down then lifting me up into the light of Atlantis.
"Vacation? You want us to take a vacation?" Major Sheppard leaned towards Elizabeth's desk as if he hadn't heard her correctly. I sat in my seat beside him, trying to keep my face as neutral as possible. "We've already been off duty for over a month. Granted, I don't remember three weeks of it, but seeing as I was sleeping in a tank of slime for all that time, I think I'm pretty well rested."
Elizabeth sat with her hands linked demurely on her desk. She was the picture of poise and patience as she explained the situation to Sheppard. "Major, Dr. Beckett and Dr. Heightmeyer and I all agree that you and Dr. McKay are ready to return to duty. However, we also agree that even though you two have not been on active duty these past several weeks, you have been under tremendous stress and getting away from the city, even for just a day, could be invaluable to both your physical and mental health." Elizabeth concluded with a caring smile and slight tilt of her head as if waiting for our reply. It was a stunning performance; I couldn't have asked for better.
Throwing up his arms with a shake of his head, Sheppard turned to me as he flopped back in his seat. "Can you believe this?"
I shrugged, sputtered noncommittally, and gave him my best 'what are you going to do?' eye roll.
He leaned forward again and motioned harshly between the two of us. "We are not stressed out." He might have been more believable if he wasn't clenching his jaw when he said it.
The sigh Elizabeth released was brilliant in all its restraint and compassion. "John, you stormed out of Dr. Heightmeyer's office during a simple evaluation. It is obvious your return to Atlantis has been just as stressful, if not more so, than your time away."
He shot a glare in my direction. Even after the watch, he was still holding that session against me. I pretended not to notice, instead, I decided it was time for me to interject. I had planted the seed with Heightmeyer about a minivacation, it was time to cultivate it with my own blend of verbal bullshit. "Elizabeth, if I may?" She nodded and I continued. "Maybe we could go on a small mission. I believe it's time to swap out the seismic sensors on M3C-882. It's a simple task that can be completed easily with two people on a very nice planet. If we were to take eight to ten hours to complete the task instead of the normal one to two, would that satisfy your request?"
M3C-882 was one of the planets we were considering as a potential Alpha site. It really was quite nice; lakes, waterfalls, tropical vegetation, throw in a cabana and a nice buffet and you could have the Club Med-Pegasus. The only downside to this potential paradise was the geothermal activity that produced some very relaxing hot springs but also manifested in seismic activity. So far it had been limited to a few rumblings but the geologists wanted to make sure we weren't walking into a tectonic nightmare before we established it as our home away from home…away from home...or something like that. As a result, they had set up a series of sensors to measure the activity and the data loggers needed to be changed out every month or so.
Weir smiled happily and I thought, 'I gotta get me some of whatever she's taking'. "I think that would be an excellent idea. Major Sheppard?"
John crossed his arms and looked suspiciously from Elizabeth to me and back again. "Fine, we'll do it. But after this it's full duty, full team, no restrictions."
"Agreed. Get a briefing from the geotech staff and you'll be clear to go."
After our dismissal, we started toward the geology labs and Sheppard frowned at me. "Why are you so happy?"
I realized I was grinning and it was too late to deny it. "What's not to be happy about? We just got cleared for duty, we get to spend a day on Fantasy Island, and I get to piss off the geologists because I'm taking their fluff assignment for the month."
"You really do like making people miserable for your own amusement, don't you?"
"It's not so much for my amusement, especially with the geologist; they carry hammers and picks after all. No, I look at it as a way to continually reassert my authority, which is why I'm leaving Kavanagh in charge while we're gone instead of Radek."
"Haven't you punished Zelenka enough?"
I shook my head. "The man is up to something. He's been meeting with Kate, trying to butter her up by concocting homoerotic fantasies involving Bates, zip-ties, and the drone chair."
John shuddered. "Bates and Zelenka? Really?"
I dismissed the notion with a wave of my hand and a shake of my head. "Please, the man is straighter than a laser level. He has photos of women doing things that would make even you blush. No, he's trying to woo Heightmeyer over to the Dark Side. But he's wasting a perfectly good alien technology bondage fetish if he thinks he can turn my little slasher-shrink against me."
"Still, do you think it's a good idea to leave Kavanagh in charge?"
"It's ten hours, most of which will be in the middle of the night here on Atlantis, how much trouble can he cause? Besides, if anything happens to me, it doesn't matter who I leave in charge, bureaucracy will eventually fail and Darwinism will take over. I have no doubt that after a 'Lord of the Flies' inspired period of chaos, which might result in Kavanagh's pony-tailed head displayed on a spike in the gateroom, Radek will prove himself fittest and prevail as head scientific advisor."
John grimaced and stared straight ahead as we walked. "Why do you say things like that?"
"What? That Zelenka will declare himself chief of the science tribe? Because it's true. He may be small, but he's crafty."
"No, the part about something happening to you."
And there it was, the reason I'd orchestrated this entire outing. It really could be grueling manipulating the puppets, pulling one string so that I got the reaction that I wanted from one without tangling the lines of the others. Maneuvering Beckett, Heightmeyer, and Weir exactly where I wanted them without letting Sheppard know; it was absolutely exhausting. The subtlety involved was probably the most arduous undertaking of my life; it made working on a nuclear warhead look like an episode of Monster Garage. And the irony of the whole thing was that the man for whom I had done it all, the one who should fall to his knees in thanks for all my hard work and effort, would threaten to wring my neck if he even suspected what I had been up to. Not that he would, mind you. No, he had way too much of a conscience to actually follow through on something like that. He was like Jiminy Cricket with a Jesus complex and his own personal dippity-doo enhanced crown of thorns.
And that's where I came in. He needed to get away, take a break from all the emotional transference issues that were floating around in that spiky-haired head of his. But he was too busy brooding about his mortality and my own to realize it. On top of that, he had been plotting how he was going to get past my impenetrable security systems so that he could sneak off and retrieve a certain dead body. You would be amazed by what can be accomplished with something as simple as a pair of wire cutters, some strategically installed spare detector parts, and a willingness to sleep fully clothed. But he just couldn't seem to figure out how I was always showing up in the control room when he just happened to be checking the Jumpers in the middle of the night. It was kind of cute, really, like watching a dog try to lick himself with one of those surgical cones on his head. So, seeing as he was otherwise occupied, it was up to me to step in and save him from himself; no matter how thankless a job it was. The son of a bitch had no idea how lucky he was that I had chosen him as my best friend.
"Why do I say it?" I stopped walking and shook my head in exasperation. "Because it's us, because it's the Pegasus galaxy, that's why. My God, for some reason that combination is more volatile than sodium and water. Because you insist on going back through the gate even though there is this giant cosmic bulls-eye on our chests and a big neon 'shoot here' arrow flashing above our heads." I used my hands to demonstrate the blinking action of the sign, but he didn't seem impressed. Instead, he seemed morose, his mood suddenly blacker than his clothing.
"Then maybe you shouldn't go." He said it in a barely discernable mumble.
Right. Altruistic asshole. The Atlantean Sea would freeze into a hockey rink and I'd be skating power forward against the Wraith before that happened. "And let you have a free shot at all the space bimbos out there? I don't think so. Eventually one of them is going to see past your inner child and outer Shatner and realize what a man who can apply the harmonic oscillation principle to more than just neutrinos has to offer."
I got a smirk, just as I had hoped. The self-sacrificing bastard was so easily distracted by anything involving sex, it was pitiable; it was like dangling a sparkly object in front of a Wheel of Fortune reject. "You know, McKay, no matter how many trips you make through the gate, the chances are slim that you're ever going to find a mute, empath in a miniskirt."
"Ah, Gem, every Trekker's fantasy girl; beautiful, quiet, and able to heal you if you find yourself tortured to the brink of death. Three traits I'm coming to appreciate more and more the longer I'm in Atlantis. No, I refuse to give up hope, because it only takes one, Major, it only takes one."
"McKay! Do NOT do this. Do you hear me? Do not give up on me." I can hear him call me, but can't for the life of me open my eyes. The darkness is too deep, too thick. From off to the side I hear the distinct hiss of a frog on the attack, "Son of a bitch!" followed by gunshots, but soon even those are swallowed by the blackness that I am flying through.
Sheppard landed the Jumper where the geologists had directed us; on a small beach next to a crystal clear lake edged by cliff faces and waterfalls on three sides. There was just enough room to set it down between the water and the twenty-meter cliff that formed the northern edge of the lake. Through the windshield I could see water dripping from the trees and low grey clouds hung heavily on the horizon. "I ask you, what the hell is it with our missions and rain? What rain god have we offended so horribly that he follows us from planet to planet, just to ensure that I am soaked to the bone every time I walk through the gate? I might as well be walking through a naquadah powered carwash."
We exited the back of the Jumper, sinking into mud with our first steps. "Nice," I groan. "No one said anything about mud."
"It usually goes hand in hand with the rain." John lifted his foot and scraped a mass of muck from his boot onto the outside of the Jumper. "All this potential and not a bikini clad wrestler in sight."
I pulled my own foot out, feeling the suction of the substrate. "Great, we pull sensor duty during the monsoon season. No wonder Richardson was smiling when I told her we were coming here today. This just goes to show that you can never trust a geomorphologist who says she would rather work in the lab than the field." I took out the detector and saw the blip indicating the power signature of the seismic stations. "Well, it's about a kilometer that way. Let's get this changed out then see if we can find a drier spot to spend the rest of the day." We started to head out when I realized that neither one of us had our radio with us.
"Forget it," Sheppard told me. "We'll be done in about half an hour and be in visual contact the entire time. Besides I don't want you tracking mud all through my ship."
"My God, it's like you're channeling some weird combination of my mother and Captain Kirk."
"Well, listen to your matriarchal space captain and keep your damned dirty boots out of the Jumper."
I squished my way over to where he waited and we started off into the overgrowth. We reached the sensor array with little problem, the ground thankfully firmed up as we left the beach area, and quickly switched out the data loggers. As I was putting the last one in, the ground rumbled beneath us. The Major and I exchanged glances, but it only lasted a few seconds, then was over.
"Hmmm, I guess that's why we have these things here in the first place," he reasoned then with a hitch of his head, "Let's head back, go cruise the planet for hot chicks."
"Oh, no, you were one of those weren't you?"
"One of those? Care to elaborate, Rodney?"
"One of those guys in high school that cruised around with his buddies in a Firebird or a Vette…"
"A bitchin' Camaro, thank you very much."
"I knew it! Driving endless circles around the mall listening to…hmmm, let me think about this for a minute…not Flock of Seagulls, although by the current hairstyle I wouldn't be surprised…rock, because I'm guessing you didn't become enamored with Johnny Cash until you were at least in college…but something with a little more edge and spikier hair than Van Halen…no, I'm going to go with Billy Idol...or maybe the Ramones…"
He had stopped so suddenly that I ran into his back. "Major?"
"Oh, hell," was all he said.
Peeking around his shoulder, I saw what had halted him in his muddy tracks. "Oh, hell." Yep, that pretty much summed it up. Evidently the little tremor we had felt, combined with the saturated soil, had triggered a landslide from the cliff face we were parked beside. The entire back half of the Jumper was buried in mud, debris, boulders and trees.
"Do you, uh, do you think it has enough power to pull out of that?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, she has enough power. Problem is we can't get inside to start her up."
"Oh." Then what he was saying really sunk home. "Oh! Of all the stupid… Advanced race my ass! Who the hell designs a space craft with only one way in or out? I mean seriously, what the hell is that all about? Didn't they have any fire codes, for Pete's sake?"
"That puppy's not coming out without some help." He looked at his watch then at the sky as if weighing our options. "Well, we can hang out here for the next nine hours or so until we're overdue and Weir sends a search party to find our asses, or we can head back to the gate and dial home."
Something suddenly dawned on me and I frantically checked my pockets, relieved to find the GDO. "So, how far to the gate?"
"Oh, I'd say about fifteen, twenty miles, tops."
He nodded his head. "Tops."
I leaned back against the exposed end of the Jumper. "Tops. Sure, that makes all the difference."
He slapped me hard on the shoulder, harder than he really needed to, that was for sure, and smiled. "Enjoying your vacation so far, Rodney?"
I scowled at him. There was no need to hit me so hard and there was definitely no need to blame me for what had happened, at least not as far as he knew. I was just about to tell him that when something dark blue with green wavy stripes hopped down from the pile of mud and landed on the windshield of the Jumper. I leaped back away from it. "What the hell is that?"
Sheppard took a step toward it and it let out a little ribbit-like sound. He bent to get a closer look. "It looks like some kind of frog."
Another gun shot pulls at me through the murky darkness. I try to form the words, try to tell him 'Don't touch it,' but they won't come. I can feel a hand on my chest, long fingers at my neck. "Rodney, please don't do this," he pleads. "This is the wrong fucking time to pull something like this on me." He laughs but there is no humor, only fear and panic. I want to tell him it's okay, but the blackness won't let me through to where he is now, so I go back to where he was then.
He stuck out a curious finger toward it. I swear to God, the man could not help but touch anything he came across; it's like some variation on an obsessive compulsive disorder for him. I mean, seriously, who the hell sits down in a chair that moments before almost blew you out of the sky? Major John Sheppard, that's who. I slapped his hand away. "Don't touch it. You don't know what it's capable of."
"It's a frog." He told me, as if that designation alone gave it the snuggleworthy seal of approval. Foolish, foolish man.
"Technically, I think it's probably closer to a salamander."
"It hops, it ribbits: it's a frog."
"It's also bigger than your hand and looks like it has teeth."
"What is it with you and your fear of ravenous frogs?"
I wrapped my arms around myself and grimaced. "I went to this conference in Hamburg once and the hotel I stayed at had a pond with all these frogs. Ends up there was some sort of fungus or bacteria or something in the water that was causing all the frogs to explode."
Sheppard sputtered, "Exploding frogs?"
I stood straighter and frowned defensively, "It was a very traumatic experience. You couldn't get to the main lobby of the hotel without going past the pond and you never knew when one was about to blow. They were like little toad grenades, for Pete's sake, all swollen up and bloated and then, Pow! Frog parts were everywhere; an old lady even slipped on one. She could have broken her hip, may have for all I know. She was sure moaning like she had."
"I'm impressed, McKay, stopping to help an old lady."
"Well…no…I was running late and was presenting a paper. But I did tell a bellhop on my way out and waited to make sure he went to check on her."
"Gee, Rodney, I'm surprised you didn't get some sort of commendation for compassion."
"It's not like I stepped over her body on my way out. I was practically at the lobby when I heard her behind me. And I'm not a medical doctor; I couldn't have set it or anything." I shook my head, determined to bring the conversation back to the current predicament. "Besides, that's not the point. The point is you shouldn't touch that thing." From beside my boot, I heard a croak. I looked down and saw another one at my ankle. I took a quick step back and felt another one under my foot. "What the hell?" I looked back at the Jumper and saw four more on the windshield.
"They're coming out of the woodwork," Sheppard observed.
I looked up to the landslide escarpment, noting dozens upon dozens of small burrows that had been exposed by the slide. The associated creatures were hopping around the slope, the Jumper, and us. "It's the rain. They must have been hibernating and now that the rainy season has started they're waking up. The landslide just exposed their nests."
John looked at three more that had hopped up behind him. "Okay, even without your post traumatic frog disorder, this is starting to freak me out."
Just then, one of the larger ones on the Jumper let out a hissing sound and pounced onto a smaller creature beside it. The smaller animal squealed, but was silenced quickly in a spray of blood. I jumped back another foot and found myself next to Sheppard who had done the same. "Holy shit!" we exclaimed simultaneously.
The larger amphibian munched contentedly on his victim, hissing at the occasional fellow frog that started to move in for a taste. I bounced nervously, snapped my fingers and pointed to stress my next statement. "I, uh, I think they may be hungry now that they are awake."
The Major nodded his head in agreement without taking his eyes off the critters on the Jumper. "Okay, we're getting out of here. All in favor of heading for the gate raise your hand." Two hands shot up in the air, and Sheppard hadn't even cast his vote yet. "It's unanimous, let's go."
We headed into the jungle, noting with growing dismay the presence of even more frogs along the way. They seemed to be in groups, like whole colonies were hatching out simultaneously. For the time being, they seemed content to watch us pass and occasionally cannibalize one of their own. The rain started about two hours into our hike, sloshing down in buckets and causing an increase in the number and activity of the indigenous fauna. Sheppard led us on, taking only short breaks where the frogs were least plentiful and occasionally climbing a tree to sight the ridge where the gate sat. I didn't mind the short rest stops, regardless of how exhausting the hiking was, and found myself almost grateful when he had us move on. The frogs were creepy as hell, sitting on rock outcrops, in trees, on the ground. It was if they were watching us, their little froggy eyes following us as we passed, just waiting for the right moment to strike.
"Did you ever see the movie 'The Birds'?" Sheppard asked me and I realized I had been thinking the same thing.
"God, that movie terrified me as a kid," I admitted as I ran a hand through my drenched hair, trying to keep the water from flowing down my face. "I wouldn't go near a phone booth for years, not until I started watching Dr. Who."
"The fireplace scene got me. I stuffed the sofa cushions in ours the night I watched it. My mom just about killed me, black soot all over her white upholstery, not a pretty sight."
"I can't walk past a jungle gym on a playground without thinking of that movie. It's funny how things like that stay with you. After our last little escapade in the tanks, I'll never be able to eat blue jello again."
John walked in silence for a few moments, then asked, "Aren't you curious about who took us, and why?"
I had wondered how long it would take him to try this ploy to get us back to the planet, the 'how can you deny your inborn desire to know the answer to everything?' bit. I was actually surprised it had taken him this long to get to it.
"Sure," I confessed, "I even have a couple of theories."
"So do I."
Well, that was surprising, especially since he hadn't shared them with me. Of course, I hadn't shared mine with him, but I just didn't want to encourage him. "Okay, tell me yours first," I coaxed.
"I think that someone is trying to clone an Ancient, that's why they took us and not Ford and Teyla. They could tell we had the ATA gene, which is what they were interested in."
Well, yes, that was quite the obvious answer. No need to tell him that though, he had just as obviously been brooding this over along with all the other things he found…broodworthy. I swear I don't know how he found time to get out of bed with all the thinking and dwelling and internal reflection he had been doing lately. "Yes, that is one of the things I had thought about."
"And have you thought about who or why?"
"Sure, but I really don't care. Whoever did it, more power to them. Although the abysmal failure they had in creating our clones makes me think they probably won't be very successful. Still, if they are, then good for them. I hope they make an entire army of them, maybe send one or two back to Atlantis so they can show me what that damned box with the inverted salad bowls all over it is supposed to do. Or better yet, how to build a ZedPM. Now, that would be worth three weeks of tank time."
"Maybe; but I don't think it would be worth what they did to the clones."
"God, nothing is worth that or what everyone on Atlantis went through trying to take care of them." Or how the aftermath had impacted us, I added silently.
Sheppard may have thought that I couldn't care less about the man sitting dead back on that planet, but he was wrong. That had been the second time I had seen John Sheppard, or a close facsimile, clinically dead… the first being when a giant tick had decided to take up residence on his neck… and that was two times too many. Even though I had started to sound like a broken record by telling him it wasn't him that was dead, it was almost more for my own good than his. It had shaken me. Hell, it had scared the shit out of me. And as long as there was at least one living, breathing, Major Sheppard strutting into my lab, touching things he shouldn't and whining about having to touch the things he should, I was not about to tempt fate and return to the fire; the frying pan was cozy enough, thank you very much.
I decided to share one of my favorite theories before he sank into more brooding. "But if I was a betting man, I would have my money on the Chaya theory."
He raised his eyebrows with a smirk, "The Chaya theory, huh?"
"Yes, cloning little John boy-toys to fulfill her every heart's desire."
"More than one?"
"Of course. Maybe one for every day of the week, or maybe one for every room of her temple, who knows what is running through that lascivious mind of hers."
He chuckled. "That would explain why she needed me, but why take you?"
"Simple: target practice."
"Ha! As tempting as you make it sometimes, even I wouldn't let Chaya take pot shots at you."
"Oh, you, or more precisely your clones, would have little choice seeing as she would have them all wrapped up in her glowing tendrils of Ancient love. And if for some reason one of them was able to break free and tried to save my clones, she would just trade it in for a new one. That's why she kept us, for the replacement parts."
He shook his head with a laugh, sending water flying in a distinctly canine manner, then scanned the treetops and checked Kavanagh's watch. "It's starting to get dark, we're going to have to decide if we want to keep going or find some sort of shelter for the night. I've noticed some caves in the cliffs around us, one of them might work."
"How far have we come?" I bent at the middle and put my hands on my knees. My body was built for housing my brain, not walking cross-country.
"Oh, I'd say about ten miles; the rain slowed us up a bit. We need to check our bearing, make sure we're still heading toward the gate."
He started to take his pack off and I halted him with a wave of my arm. "I'll go, you climbed the last two."
"Are you sure?" he asked, but it was half hearted, we were both beat and although he was in much better physical shape than I was, because, let's face it, what else did he have to do all day expect come into the lab and bother me and work out, he was also carrying most of the gear.
I nodded as I staggered dramatically toward the tree. "Just give me a leg up to that branch."
He cupped his hands and boosted me with a grunt. I worked my way up through the branches until I popped out of the canopy. The clouds still hung low and heavy and I knew we were in for a wet night. Across the distance I could see the ridge. "Looks good," I told him. "Just keep in the same direction we're going. It should open up in a few more miles, I think."
I started to climb down, when I heard a croaking hiss beside me. "Shit!" I scooted back to get away from it and in so doing overtaxed the branch I was sitting on. It gave one small snap and dropped about two inches in anticipation of its ultimate failure. "Oh, crap." Then the entire branch collapsed and I was falling, banging sharply into lower limbs on my way to the ground where I landed with a hard thud.
"McKay!" Sheppard was on his knees beside me in an instant. "Just hold still." I struggled to recover the air that had been forced roughly from my lungs by the impact. "Where does it hurt?"
I took in a ragged breath, "Where doesn't it hurt?" I responded when I was able. I started to sit up, but was pretty much unsuccessful, so I lay back into the leaf-covered undergrowth.
"Give it a minute," His hand rested on my shoulder to needlessly hold me in place. "Oh, Jesus," he muttered then started taking off his pack.
"What?" Honestly, I was just one giant hurt, nothing was sticking out as hurting more or less than any other part. But it was obvious he had seen something that suggested something should be hurting more than the other parts. He dug out his first aid kit then pulled out the field dressing from his vest. "What?"
"You, uh, must have hit a broken branch or something on the way down," he told me then pressed the dressing into my thigh. Okay, something definitely started hurting more than the other parts. I hammered a fist into the ground and clenched my jaw closed to keep from screaming. "Sorry, I've got to do this." Then he leaned into the pressure and the pain really started. I closed my eyes and tried to find my happy place.
The cosine squared of x plus the sine squared of x equals one.
Some people chant, I recite trigonometric functions. Sure, it's not repeating the Buddha's name, but I find the familiar rote soothing.
The secant of x equals one over the cosine of x.
The cosecant of x equals one over the sine of x.
The cotangent of x equals…oh God, that hurt!. Sheppard had leaned in harder sending a shooting pain through my leg. I took a breath, trying to concentrate on the functions, trying to picture them being written with white chalk on an empty blackboard. Happy place, happy place, happy place…the cotangent of x equals…Jesus, what is he doing? The cotangent of x equals…
"Cosine of x over the sine of x."
"What?" I wasn't sure if John had actually finished my thoughts or said something completely different.
"The cotangent of x is equal to the cosine of x over the sine of x." I opened my eyes and looked at him, his face intent on his job. "Or one over the tangent of x, but since you hadn't said anything about tangent yet, I figured you weren't going for that one."
Evidently I had been reciting out loud. "I know that."
"Well, I certainly hope so, seeing as every college freshman does, too."
"I know that, as well. I'm just trying to…Holy Mother! What did you just do?" I clawed a hand into the muddy ground. Even through the drenching rain, I felt the sweat break out across my forehead.
He stopped pressing and looked at the wound. "Ah, hell, I think there's still a piece of wood in there. Get ready."
"Okay, okay, okay, getting ready, getting ready…" I blew out two quick breaths. "Getting ready…"
"The tangent of x…"
"What?" I was supposed to be getting ready. How was I supposed to get ready if he just kept throwing random statements out like that?
"The tangent of x equals…?"
"Right, okay, the tangent of x equals the sine of x over the cosine of x."
"Tangent squared of x plus one…"
"Tangent squared of x plus one equals the secant squared of x."
"One plus the cotangent squared of x…"
"One plus the cotangent squared of x equals the cosecant squared of x."
"The sine of x plus y…"
"The sine of x plus y equals the sine of x times the cosine of y plus the cosine of x times the sine of, oh my fucking God!"
"Got it!" He breathed as heavily as I did, wiped at the rain running down his face with one bloody hand then leaned forward again. Having removed the wood he returned to his pressure and recitation. "The cosine of x plus y…"
"The…uh…the cosine of x…" I swallowed past the pain and willed my voice to steady. "…plus y equals the cosine of x times the cosine of y minus the sine of x times the sine of y."
We continued on like that for I have no idea, but it worked. The pain was there but distant, lingering just below the area of the curve. Suffice it to say that we had worked our way through most of the hyperbolic functions and through a progressively darkening sky when he finally said something that did not involve math.
"McKay? Are you all right?"
I lifted my arm from where it rested across my eyes. "I don't know, you tell me."
"It's a pretty nasty gash, but I think I've got the bleeding at least slowed. Still, I think we should find some shelter until morning."
The light was fading quickly and I nodded my head in agreement. "Help me up."
He got me into a sitting position and I breathed through a wave of nausea. Evidently I had been bleeding pretty heavily, because my pants leg was dark with it and so were his hands. When he saw me look at them, he rubbed them on the wet ground, trying to remove as much as possible. Two of the frogs hopped over to where he was cleaning his hands, followed quickly by three more.
"They seem to be getting more active," I observed nervously. "They must be nocturnal." From off to my other side, a good half dozen started advancing.
"I think it's more than just the dark." Sheppard frowned as he wiped his hands on his pants. "I think it's the blood. We need to get moving."
He draped my arm around his shoulder and started to haul me up, when one of the frogs finally got brave enough to strike. It jumped down from above and landed on my chest. "Get it off! Get it off! Get it off!" Sheppard dropped me back to the ground as he swiped the creature away with his hand. It landed on its back, rolled much quicker than an amphibian should and hissed in anticipation of another attack. The sound sent a shiver down my spine and I swear that little bugger was eyeing my leg like a top sirloin. Several others joined in, evidently emboldened by the designated leader's actions.
From his squat beside me, Sheppard fired off a single round from his P90 and the offending frog exploded more violently than any German frog I had ever had the displeasure of seeing. A few of his comrades in arms fell upon the remaining pieces, but others seemed to just be driven into a frenzy by the gore. I saw one launch itself and raised an arm in defense. It landed and a hundred razor sharp teeth bit deep into my forearm. I swung my arm and its blood mingled with my own as I smashed it against the tree trunk. John fired once more then yelled out as two landed on his shoulder. The others started closing in and I reached for my Beretta, only to find my holster empty. I had yet to replace the one that still rested limply in a dead man's hand. With a curse, I reached for the 9mm strapped to the Major's leg, the only weapon in sight. As he pulled the two beasts off his neck, I pulled the gun from the holster and started firing. I honestly don't know if I took out a frog with each round, but sixteen shots later, the slide locked in place and I surveyed the macabre scene of frog legs and guts surrounding me.
"I'm out!" I shouted as I ejected the magazine and put a hand out behind me for the extra clip. They were coming from all directions and closing in fast. Instead of metal, I felt flesh as John's hand hoisted me to a painful stand.
"We're going. Now!" His other hand was slapped over a wound on his neck; blood was seeping through his fingers and running unhindered down a second one on his shoulder. I nodded tersely and threw an arm around him for support, trying my best to avoid his injuries. His other arm went around my waist, a thumb hooked into my belt loop and he moved us quickly and efficiently away from the gauntlet of green and blue skinned assailants and toward the cliff face and hopefully shelter above.
"Rodney? Can you hear me? Wake up. Come on, you can do this. Just open your eyes." I try, I really do, and for a second, I think I can see the inside of the cave. But instead of being illuminated by firelight it is lit by the flashlight on a P90, and I realize I'm seeing it for the first time all over again.
The cave he had seen was tall enough for us to sit in, but just barely. The roof sloped back about fifteen feet until it finally intersected with the floor. Sheppard shined his light into the inky darkness, revealing a bramble of dry grass, leaves and twigs off to one side. "Probably some sort of nest," he volunteered.
"Anyone at home?" I asked hesitantly. With our luck, we would leave the frogs behind only to be mauled by voracious packrats.
"I don't think so; the droppings I see look pretty old. But there's one way to find out." He pulled out one of those Athosian Zippo's that Teyla had given him. The fire shot across the cave and the pile ignited with little effort. Nothing scampered out and went for our jugulars, so he motioned me forward with a nod of his head.
I half dragged, half crawled into the cave and took up residence against the wall opposite the fire, panting heavily from the exertion of the climb and the throbbing in my leg and arm. Sheppard followed and sat beside me. "Home sweet home," he mumbled then set to pulling out his first aid kit.
"Here, let me," I offered and began cleaning the wounds and bandaging him up as best I could given our limited supplies. The wounds were messy and stomach-turningly raw but, thankfully, not too deep. Next, we turned to my arm, which was similar in nature to his own injury. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm really looking forward to an antibiotic injection from Carson when we get back."
"You and me both." I handed him back his sidearm and he reloaded it with a clip from his vest. "Where's yours?" he asked, noting my empty holster for the first time.
"You have to ask?" I avoided answering directly; talk about a raw wound.
"I mean, why haven't you replaced the one you…lost?" So he wanted to avoid a direct answer, as well, not that I could blame him.
I sighed wearily. "Do you know how much paperwork is involved in getting a weapon issued, especially when you are reporting one missing at the same time? The last thing I want to do is go into an explanation of why I need a new one." Actually, I just wanted to avoid thinking about where the other one was and the tasks for which it had last been put to use.
"You should have just told me, I can get you one easy enough. I've made a career out of avoiding paperwork."
"Right. And give you just one more reason to justify returning to that planet. I don't think so."
"I told you I'm not going to try and go back there."
"Watch it, Pinocchio, there isn't enough room in here for your nose to grow."
"Are you accusing me of lying?" I swear I could actually see his hackles rise at the insinuation. To the casual observer, it would have been impressive, intimidating, even. But I wasn't a casual observer and could see very clearly that the anger never really reached his eyes, so I continued on offhandedly.
"All I'm saying is that you sure seem very interested in doing midnight inspections of the Jumper bay all of a sudden. So, if the wooden boy allegory fits…"
He leaned forward from his spot against the wall and took a breath as if he were ready to lay into me like an insubordinate cadet, then just as quickly expelled the breath with a quizzical scowl. "How the hell are you doing that, anyway?"
"Doing what?" I asked innocently.
"Popping up like a goddamned Toaster Strudel every time I turn around. Even if you did put an alarm on my door, there is no way you can dress that quickly. Are you sleeping in your clothes or something?"
I scowled right back. "First of all, my choice of sleeping attire is none of your business. Secondly, Ha! Like I would ever reveal my trade secrets to a heretic like you."
"Since when am I a heretic?"
"Since you took the fork in your life's path that lead to a subscription of 'Guns and Ammo' instead of the 'Journal of Applied Mathematics'."
He snorted. "Be careful what you wish for, McKay. If things had turned out differently, I could have been plotting with Zelenka right now on how to overthrow your ass and you could have been sharing this heart to heart with Ford."
"Please! Radek would chew you up and spit you out before you could spout the first ten Fibonacci numbers and Ford would have found some excuse to 'accidentally' shoot me after the first mission. No, as blasphemous as it is to say it, things have turned out just the way they were supposed to…except of course for the ravenous frog attacks."
He chuckled. "Maybe you're right. Anyway, you don't have to worry anymore, or sleep in your clothes for that matter, I'm not going anywhere."
"Yes, you are. At dawn, you're heading to the gate and bringing back help."
"We'll head back at dawn."
I shook my head. "My leg is still bleeding. I barely made it up the slope to this cave. No amount of mathematical mantras is going to get me to hike another five miles."
He set his mouth in a firm line and fixed me with a hard gaze. "We go together. End of discussion."
God, I hated when he got like that; trying to pull rank on a civilian, it was ridiculous. And not just any civilian, he was trying it on me, the man who had told a two star General to his face that he was insane. I ask you, what are the rantings of a lowly, hypersensitive Major compared to that? Little more than emotionally charged white noise, that's what. And don't think I didn't know where it was coming from. He had left one person behind and only because I had talked him into it. He was intent on not letting me get away with it a second time, especially since this time I was the one he would be leaving. "Major…"
"And don't try to feed me any of your 'Major' shit. We go together or not at all."
"You cannot be a…frog!" I backed away as best I could as one of the sharp toothed bastards appeared in the mouth of the cave.
Sheppard furrowed his brow in confusion. "I can't be a frog?"
I pointed behind him as I rolled my eyes in frustration. "No, I'm sorry but you can't be a frog, however, you can damn well blow away the one sneaking up behind you."
He turned in wide-eyed shock and shot the threat hopping into our temporary shelter. He scrambled over to the opening of the cave and let out a curse. "They're all over the place. I swear to God, these things go after their food even more aggressively than you, McKay." He blasted out into the darkness. "If their mouths were just a little bigger and they could spout theories on wormhole physics, I would think it was you on Mac and Cheese night."
And with that, our long night of slow bleeding and sharp shooting began in earnest.
"Rodney! Come on, that's it. Wake up." I struggle to open my eyelids, to chase away the darkness that is all around me. Finally, I pry them open, watch the room swirl sickeningly around until it comes to rest on Sheppard's worried face above me. He sits back on his haunches and runs his hand through his damp hair. "Jesus H…don't do that to me!"
"What?" I manage to whisper.
"Slump over, stop talking, go limp, all of it. I thought… Dammit, just don't do it again."
I try to explain, but all I get out is, "Head rush…light headed…can't stay awake."
"Oh, so you're admitting there's something you can't do?"
I try to roll my eyes but the room just rolls along with them. "Asshole." I mouth the word more than speak it.
He smiles in relief. "That's better." Sitting cross-legged so that he can still see the entrance, he props my feet in his lap. "Let's see if this helps. With a head as big as yours, we need to keep as much blood flowing in that direction as possible. With the demand it must put on your system for oxygen delivery, I'm surprised you don't faint from blood loss when you nick yourself shaving."
"Didn't faint." I force my lips to form the words. "Passed out."
"Of course, my mistake. Well, as long as you stay awake now, you can call it an afternoon siesta for all I care." He leans his head back against the rock wall, lets out a weary breath, and picks up the P90 again. "I think they know it's almost daylight. They seem to be slowing down a little. You were right, they must be nocturnal." He shifts my legs into a more comfortable position, leaving one tired yet possessive arm draped protectively across my ankles.
With my feet elevated, I actually do start to feel a little better, at least enough to form complete sentences. "Major," I tell him weakly, "I know you don't want to hear this, but you really do need to go to the gate."
"McKay, I've told you…"
I cut him off with a boot toe to the chest. "John, just hear me out. I can't sit up without passing out. Do you honestly think I can walk another five miles to the gate? You could be there and back with a Jumper in less than two hours. Grab Carson while you're at it, he could use the fresh air, and make sure he brings the good drugs. None of those little pink pills, I want the intravenous stuff. And throw in a couple of Snickers; I know you have a stash hidden somewhere."
"Rodney, I have no idea what you're talking about." Even as dizzy as I am, I can see the mischievous glimmer in his eyes.
"Cheap son of a bitch, I get you a new watch and this is the thanks I get?"
He looks at the watch and twists it on his wrist. Underneath the chuckle, I hear him mumble, "Whiny little shit." Out loud he tells me, "Fine, when we get back through the gate, I'll give you a Snickers."
I let out a frustrated sigh. "And you have the nerve to accuse me of being sanctimonious."
"Sheppard, you might as well come down off of that cross right now, because no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to hammer in the last nail."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You cannot save everyone and you cannot continue to feel responsible for everyone you don't save."
"I don't feel…"
"Afghanistan, Colonel Sumner, our clones, me right now…should I go on or do you get the point?"
He hangs his head. "Don't go including yourself in there just yet."
"Why? You already have. Do you know what Carson told me about the other Sheppard? He didn't leave my clone's side for three days. For three whole days he sat in a chair and watched him die. At first I found that comforting, to think that I had a friend that would be willing to do that for me. But now, I'm afraid that you're doing just what he did. You know I can't go with you, but you're afraid that I won't be here when you get back. Christ, you're as bad as my grandfather's dog."
"What does your grandfather's dog have to do with anything?"
"Nothing, everything, hell, I don't know. Things are starting to get all jumbled up again. All I do know is that you won't go and I can't go, so you're staying and waiting. And I'm just worried about what you're going to do with yourself when the waiting is over." I eye the cold blackness of the 9mm that has been reloaded and restrapped to his leg. His clone used mine, but his would be just as efficient.
"It's not your fault, none of it. The fact that we were captured, the fact that we were cloned, the fact that the clones' DNA was held together with the genetic equivalent of spit and bailing wire, the fact that the Jumper was buried and I fell out of a tree and we were attacked by ravenous frogs and my God, our lives really are fucking bizarre, aren't they?"
I laugh and so does he as he reminds me, "And that's only talking about the last month."
"I mean, I always knew we didn't have your typical nine to five jobs, but when you start saying it out loud like that, it's really kind of overwhelming."
Through his snickers, John asks me, "You know what we need, McKay?"
"A career change?"
"Nah, you'd be bored out of that egotistically enhanced brain of yours if you were doing anything else and you know it. No, what we need is a nice, long, vacation."
We both burst out in a renewed fit of laughter, and as much as I'm enjoying it, it really is a bad thing, because the black spots are dancing before my eyes. "John," I tell him between the rapidly retreating sound of giggles, "don't panic, but I'm about to pass out again."
I open my eyes to the familiar whiteness of the medical facility on Atlantis. You know it's bad when you've spent enough time in the infirmary to immediately recognize where you are when you wake up there. Off to my left, I see Carson's back as he tinkers with one of his many medical tools of torture that he likes to display on a little tray next to my bed. I've personally never seen him use any of them, but he always makes sure to wheel them out in all their sharp, shining, metallic glory anytime I'm in here, so I'm under the distinct impression that they are purely there as a form of intimidation. To my right is Sheppard. He's in a chair and not a bed, which is good. And I'm in a bed and not the morgue, which is even better. He's pulled the chair up close, so that his head rests on his crossed arms on the edge of my bed and he is asleep. My God, he is just like Winston. Although at the moment, watching John sleep, I can't for the life of me remember why I hated that dog so much.
"Well, just what the doctor ordered, you're finally awake and the Major is finally asleep," Carson whispers as he takes out a penlight and shines it in my face. "So, lad, how are you feeling?"
"Groggy," I admit as I blink away from the harsh little light.
"And that is to be expected, but give it time. We've given you a unit of blood, some fluids, antibiotics, and painkillers; they should do the trick and have you up and about in no time. And, yes, I gave you the good ones, Major Sheppard made sure of that."
I look back over at the man snoring by my knees. "How's he doing?"
"He'll be fine. We redressed his wounds, started him on the same antibiotics that you're receiving, gave him some muscle relaxants for his back…"
"Yes, seems he strained something carrying you through the jungle. Which reminds me; we need to have a little chat about all those powerbars you keep horded on your person."
I scowl at the insinuation that is evident in Carson's comment. "Well, it was five miles back to the gate, maybe more…"
"True," he concedes as he makes notes in my medical file. "But the search team found the two of you right after daybreak. He had only walked about fifty yards from the cave you spent the night in."
"Then, he obviously didn't use the proper lifting technique, didn't bend at the knees."
Carson gives me a patronizing, "Obviously," then heads for the door. "I'll be back to check on you both in a bit. In the meantime, let the Major rest and you'll probably find you want to get some more yourself. Don't fight it; it's the best thing for you now."
I decide that for once, Carson may be right; about getting more rest, not my eating habits. I shift slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position without waking Sheppard, and fail miserably at both. John opens his eyes and blinks sleepily.
"Sorry," I tell him and I genuinely am because he looks like shit and smells one stop away from it. He reeks of sweat and mud, smoke and gun oil, human blood and amphibian entrails. If Kirk had a cologne, this would be it; James T., the fragrance. It's obvious that he hasn't even taken the time to shower or change clothes since we got back.
"You're awake! I should go get Beckett." He gives me a glazed smile and starts to rise, but I motion him frantically back down into his seat.
"Sit! Heel! Stay!" He stops in mid rise with a confused frown and I realize that didn't come out how I had wanted. "Sorry, I didn't mean it that way, but he was just here, and he's going to be pissed if he comes back and finds out that I woke you up. He'll probably take away the good pain meds as punishment; give me chewable baby aspirin and a kiss on my boo-boo instead. So, please, just stay where you are."
"I really don't want to know anything about Carson kissing any part of you, McKay."
"Believe me, neither do I, so just lie back down, go back to sleep, and pretend this conversation never happened."
Fortunately he complies, letting out a yawn as he does so. I let out my own sigh of relief, and only partly because I'm afraid of how Carson would exact his revenge if he hadn't. As pathetic as it is recognizing the infirmary immediately upon regaining consciousness, it is even more pathetic knowing that Sheppard will be within arms reach when it happens. But right now, I honestly couldn't care less how pathetic it may be. I have had a real shitfest of a day and if it makes me feel better to have him nearby, then so be it. I think I'm entitled. Blame it on the blood loss, blame it on the drugs, hell, blame it on the posttraumatic frog disorder for all I care
He closes his eyes, but asks, "So, how did you like your vacation?"
"Oh, you know, crappy weather, antagonistic locals, shitty accommodations, kind of like my last trip to Moscow."
"Yeah, I went to Jamaica once; a hurricane hit and destroyed the hotel I was staying at and it was still a better trip this one."
Without lifting his head, he scoots the chair in a little closer and nuzzles in a little deeper into the mattress, like a dog settling in to a favorite sleeping spot. I can't help but wonder if he's here out of guilt or loyalty, need or want, or some combination of those that can be summarized as plain old friendship. He opens his eyes and sees me staring at him.
"You were actually going to carry me five miles to the gate?"
He shuts his eyes again and shrugs. "Didn't have to; Ford and Teyla found us before I got very far."
"Still, you didn't know that when you started out."
He expels a breath and I can't tell if it is a sigh or a yawn. "You're right, Rodney, I can't save everyone, but I'd be damned to hell if I didn't give it everything I had to try and save you."
Well, what do you say to something like that? 'Gee, thanks, you're a real pal'? Hardly. And how do you even speak past the lump in your throat when you can't figure out if what you're feeling yourself is guilt or loyalty, need or want or all the fucking above? Asshole. Self-sacrificing, life-saving, asshole. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to expect a response, probably doesn't even want one. He just lies there, already drifting back to sleep, my own Sheppard, John not German, but a damn fine best friend in his own right. I settle in myself, close my eyes and try to remember when along the way I became so needy and when I started to enjoy being needed, and just when the hell did I became a dog person?