"Dr. McKay, you can't go in there!"
A nurse - the one with the French braids whose name he'd never taken the time to learn - was blocking the way to the ICU.
"No?" He was breathing heavily from the jog he had taken to get down to the infirmary. His gaze settled on the nurse in her bright-red scrubs and he could see her trying to steel herself when his eyes narrowed. She had freckles. Rodney knew that Sheppard liked her. "Watch me."
He tried to move past her but she stood her ground, admirable strength in the slim body. "Dr. Beckett hasn't cleared Major Sheppard for visitors yet."
"I don't care what Beckett says."
"Well, I do. He's responsible for his patients and unlike you, he's the one with an MD around here --"
"No one is with the Major right now as far as I can tell. I don't see the very responsible Dr. Beckett anywhere around here. Do you?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Dr. Beckett has been in the infirmary for almost 48 hours without so much as a catnap before you found the Major. He's resting while Major Sheppard does the same. There is nothing we can do but wait for him to wake up, and it's absolutely not necessary for Dr. Beckett to be present the entire time." She propped her hands up on her hips. "I know that you think you can go without sleep for weeks, but Dr. Beckett does belong to the human race and needs sleep."
Rodney wondered briefly if - judging from the tense face and the flaming defense - the nurse had a thing for Beckett.
"Someone should be with the Major when he wakes up," he declared, stubbornly.
The nurse's features softened. "We're checking in on him every twenty minutes, Doctor. He's going to be fine."
"I'm sure that's what you tell everybody."
She smiled. "Only when it's true."
He'd been agitated when he came here and now he felt himself deflating, anger on the backburner because he couldn't be mad at her, no matter how hard he tried.
He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other and winced when the pain hit in a fresh wave.
The nurse reached for his arm, led him to a chair. "Why don't you sit down and I see if I can get you something for the pain?"
He nodded and sat down. "Thank you."
She smiled again and ran her hand up and down his arm in a comforting gesture. "I'll be right back."
He smiled back, lopsided. She winked. Sheppard would have been so proud of him.
Sheppard. From his chair, he could see the ICU in part, but not fully. Could see that ridiculous mop of Sheppard's hair, half-hidden by bandages. Tubes, IV's. Medical equipment.
Thought once again how none of this would have happened if Sheppard hadn't re-enacted the kamikaze act.
Anger welled up, fresh and raw.
Rodney looked to where the nurse had vanished and, seeing that she was busy with another patient who had just entered the infirmary, he pushed himself out of the chair.
Walked to the ICU. Looked over his shoulder one final time, saw that the nurse was still busy, and stepped in.
The infirmary responded to his mental command immediately, sealed the door behind him. He was welcomed by the city. Welcomed by the infirmary. On Sheppard's behalf.
The city's compliance and its will to please Sheppard was almost sickening. Rodney tried to breathe against the sharp worry that rose when he saw the major up close, saw the utter fragility of the limp body. Remembered how each and every one of those injuries had occurred. Atlantis had shown him. Had connected him to Sheppard in more ways than he was strictly comfortable with. All without asking his consent first. To help Sheppard after his idiotic suicide-run.
Next to the major's bed, he finally caved. In the smell of antiseptic and in the dry, warm air of the ICU, Rodney McKay exploded. "I'm sick of this. Do you hear me? Utterly, completely, mind-blowingly sick." Sheppard didn't move, didn't react. All it did was make Rodney more angry. Angry at the lack of movement. Angry at Sheppard for not waking up and trading a barb in return.
"There's millions of addlebrained brushcuts out there. But you had to be the one with the damn gene. Why did you have to be the only one to access this technology with ease? Why did you have to show off in front of Jackson and O'Neill and Elizabeth? Why did you have to come to Atlantis?"
He tried to picture life in Pegasus without Sheppard and failed, but his mouth moved anyway, unstoppable. "We didn't need you. Beckett would have given me the gene therapy sooner or later and we'd have done fine without you. I would've done fine. I could've done my work, not bothering with military personnel trying to bond. I would've been all right with Sumner. Of course, after a while, he'd have fed me to the Wraith personally, but at least I would have known what to expect. But not you. You had to care. You and your fucking sense of nobility. Damn. Without you, we'd never have woken the Wraith, not so soon at any rate, we'd have had time to prepare for their attack and I'd have been fine. Without a friend, but fine, not in this whole fucking emotional mess. This is all because of you, you stupid moron. Why did you have to care? Why did you have to insist on becoming more than just a military grunt to me?"
Rodney paced up and down next to the bed, his feet protesting, the cuts shooting fire up his nerves when he put his full weight on them. "I don't know if you noticed, but I never asked for friendship. I was fine without friends. Stable, sane, un-troubled and with enough sleep to keep my brain going. But you, you just had to come and waltz past every sign that said 'Keep out, not welcome here'. I never asked to care. Why did you have to make me care?"
Sheppard's eyes seemed to move under closed eyelids, but only briefly, as if the effort was too taxing. Rodney tensed, felt his heart stutter to a sudden stop. Saw that nothing further happened and explosively released the breath he'd been holding. Ran a hand over his face, fighting disappointment. It was as if Sheppard was baiting him.
"You incredible bastard." Rodney pulled up a chair, the metal legs scraping loudly over the ICU's floor. Sat down with a huff that managed to cover his sigh of relief when the weight of his body was taken off his feet. "Stupid, arrogant, selfish bastard. Did you even once think about what you were doing before you took that jumper? But, oh, I forget. It's you."
His hands were moving of their own accord, he couldn't stop them even if he concentrated on it. His agitation grew with every new word. "You obviously never think. See John Sheppard, the hero. See him quip in the face of death. See him fly the jumper undaunted. See him heroically finishing the mission. Heroically die. Let me tell you one thing, Major, your false sense of StarWars-like heroism is completely outdated. Suicide-runs became uncool even before the middle-ages. Self-sacrifice isn't attractive or cool or heroic. It's selfish. And you almost dragged Carson into it as well. You may not think your life worth much, but there are others who disagree strongly, so how dare you just make that choice for me --" He stopped short, realising what he'd just said. "Us. For us."
The lapse and the knowledge of the admission that had just slipped out took the wind out of his sails. He rested an arm against the mattress of Sheppard's bed, trying to find support. Closed his eyes for a moment and felt a wave of fatalism surge over him.
"What's the use?" He ran a tired hand over his face, stubble scratching his palm. His head dipped forward to rest on his arm, weariness pulling at his limbs. "Like you'd listen to me. Next time you'll just do the same thing, putting yourself on the front line without thinking twice."
Something brushed against his hand and his gaze snapped up. Sheppard's face was a meshwork of blues and greens, of bruises, patched cuts and abrasions. The white bandage around his head stood in stark contrast to his dark hair. Hair that even now that it was held together by gauze and bandages seemed intent on escaping. But none of those observations held Rodney's attention for long - every newly catalogued bruise just fuelled guilt and helplessness and a fresh wave of anger.
Rodney bent forward, leaning even more on the bed and bringing his face close to Sheppard's, willing him to hear even though he knew that the Major was still unconscious. "I'm not going to let you do it," he whispered sharply. "Do you hear me? No more stupid heroics if I have to knock you over the head and stick you in Steve's old cell."
The brush against his hand came again, more defined this time. Rodney's gaze travelled down to his hand just in time to see Sheppard's hand stretching and lifting off the bed, the movement weak enough to show the physical exertion. Then Rodney's brain went into lockdown.
Sheppard's hand closed around Rodney's, like a baby holding the index finger of its mother; surprising strength in the simple act.
He felt green eyes settle on him from under lowered lashes. Dark, vulnerable eyes, watching him for seconds only before they closed again, the attempt draining strength from the man who appeared so remarkably fragile among the white infirmary linens. But there had been life in that gaze, a spark of recognition. Not the eyes of a man with brain-damage, then. Rant forgotten while every single one of his senses fine-tuned itself on the major, he waited anxiously, impatiently, for Sheppard to gather up the strength to open his eyes again. Seconds seemed to drag into hours. Nothing happened. Sheppard's lips moved; once, twice; trying to form words but failing. The desperate anger welled up in Rodney one final time.
"Did you ever once think about the people you left behind without a choice?" His voice had lost all of its edge, was breaking, cracking. "You stupid bastard. Did you think none of us would care?" Just a whisper now. No more strength left. "Did you think at all?"
The rest of what he'd been meaning to say, what had accumulated in him for so long slipped away from him when he felt the other man's hand curl around his tighter. Sheppard couldn't talk, couldn't even keep his eyes open. But he moved his thumb in the tiniest of reassuring circles against Rodney's hand in a gesture that was as small as it was overwhelmingly large and Rodney stilled, inside and out. Body and soul in a fragile peace for as long as Sheppard's hand was connected to his. It was warm against his cold one and everything Rodney had wanted to say was irrelevant suddenly, hollow against the depth of Sheppard's unspoken consolation.
If there was something suspiciously feeling like tears stinging in his eyes, Rodney ignored it. And if those not-tears made their way down to his cheeks, that didn't matter either, did it? Sheppard's hold on his hand was feathery, the palm exuding warmth; dry, cracked skin rough against his own. Despite the blood loss, the major's slim hand was still more tanned than his own. The knuckles were bandaged shockingly white. Rodney's fingers were slowly reciprocating the gesture, curling around the major's hand. He could feel Sheppard's pulse from where the other man's thumb pressed against the back of his hand. The rhythm was steady, calming his frayed nerves, stopping racing thoughts. Something that had been missing for this past week found its way home again, quietly clicked into place.
Fatigue swept over him, causing him to sway on his chair. If he just closed his eyes for a few moments, this would pass, he was sure of it.
He knew Beckett would have his head if he found Rodney here, especially considering their latest argument, but Sheppard hadn't released Rodney's hand yet and didn't seem inclined to do so.
Rodney drifted. The warmth from Sheppard's palm seeped into his, creating an oddly peaceful sensation. He could still feel the major's pulse, assuring him that the other man was indeed alive, not another hallucination. The chair was uncomfortable, already his back was starting to protest. But god, he was tired, much too tired to stand up.
It was when he had jerked upright in the chair for the fifth time after almost slipping off that he felt a hand on his shoulder, carefully urging him awake. "Rodney, get up."
He blinked rapidly a few times, squinted against the light reflecting off a white lab coat. Carson Beckett.
Rodney blanched, painfully reminded of the end of their earlier argument. Protest was immediate, didn't need thinking. "I can't leave now."
"Get up, please." Beckett's voice allowed no argument.
Rodney rose reluctantly and felt Sheppard's hand tighten around his. Beckett regarded him with an unreadable gaze, making Rodney immediately defensive. "Look, it's not as if I was staying here simply to annoy you, Carson, I --"
"Step aside for a moment."
Rodney glared in irritation, his eyebrows drawing closer together. Beckett didn't even listen to his protest and to his explanations. He simply removed the chair, then disappeared.
Maybe Beckett was off to get security to remove him. Heaven knows he'd have enough reasons to. Some of the things Rodney had thrown at him had been out of line, he had realised that later on. But Beckett gave as good as he got, didn't he? And he had been part of the conspiracy with Elizabeth, he had been the one to exile Rodney from Atlantis. They were both culpable in their own ways.
There was silence for a few uncomfortable minutes, broken only by the gentle shush of the ICU's air-condition and the occasional blip of one of the medical devices. Then the rattle of metal on metal became audible and Beckett reappeared, pushing a gurney in front of him. He didn't look up from his task, simply wheeled the gurney over to Sheppard's bed and patted the sheet on it wordlessly.
Rodney blinked. Blinked again. And again.
The question, the ever-present why burned on his tongue, but for once, he didn't voice it. Met Beckett's gaze and found a tired sadness that twisted something tightly in his heart. Rodney climbed on the gurney, felt Beckett pushing it closer still to the major's bed. He thought of saying thank you, then decided against it. There had been enough words.
A blanket settled over him, and he felt Beckett, no, he corrected himself, Carson, pat his head carefully, a little clumsily, the wish for exculpation radiating from the other man.
Rodney didn't fight the grateful smile.
Didn't fight the uncomfortable position Sheppard's grasp on his hand left him in.
Didn't fight sleep anymore.
His eyes closed and among the quiet noises of the infirmary, he could hear Sheppard breathing. Could feel his pulse and the warmth of his hand and accepted how they drew him under.
Sleep came with velvet steps.
Once again, the greatest possible thanks to murron and Auburn. No me without you.
Tracklist while writing:
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy
Emiliana Torrini - Lifesaver
Naked Raven - Paper Boy; Brave; Sink
Morcheeba - Never an easy way
Angela McCluskey - Love is stronger than death
Kemopetrol - Slowed down
Turin Brakes - Panic Attack
Kings of Convenience - Misread
Title reference (explanation from . The brothers of Morpheus (the principal Greek god of dreams and sleep) — the Oneiroi — are rulers of dreams, and also include Icelus, Phobetor, and Phantasos.
Morpheus sends images of humans in dreams or visions, and is responsible for shaping dreams, or giving shape to the beings which inhabit dreams. Icelus assisted with those aspects of dreams that reflected reality.