AN: Lilas, I'll be looking and eagerly waiting! Rogue, that was funny, it's always a treat when a review can make you laugh out loud!

So, here we are at the end of the fic. It's funny, because when the challenge came across the wires, I originally envisioned only the short scene at the beginning of part one. It was only after I had written that, that I considered the readers (putting myself in your shoes) want for more, so I kept writing. Every now and then there comes along a story that practically writes itself, and this was one of those. I want to thank everyone for reading, reviewing, and enjoying. Being able to create stories, and know that they are entertaining others, is a wonderful thing!

V.

Consciousness returned to Sheppard slowly. Noise and light began to filter in, and soon his mind was processing sensory input from his body; and he rather wished he'd return to unconsciousness, because damn if it didn't hurt, even with the slightly light-headed, fluffy, 'you've been doped to your gills with pain killers' feeling.

What had happened? He had figured that he was in the infirmary, but just to be sure, he cracked his eyes slightly, and under lidded eyes, surveyed the room.

That would be a yes, then.

Memories have a funny way about them. They can scroll through your mind like scenes in a cinematic blockbuster, or they can flash erratically like broken connections on a circuit board. These – they were the broken kind.

He saw the goat's blood spattering on the floor, and McKay standing toe to toe, pissed at him for something, then it cut to an arena, and Ronon throwing a punch that hit him hard in the face – and then the memories sped up; him holding a sword to Klicktik's neck, and them running to the jumper, before finally, it slowed – and McKay was standing with an arrow to his side. One wrong move, and his friend would die, but it wasn't McKay that had been hit.

Sheppard could feel the slight tug of a chest tube, and the pull of stitches where the arrow had pierced his chest. Overall, he'd have to say he felt like hell.

Would it be possible to raise his hand, and say 'I quit, don't want to do this anymore, and by the way, could you please reverse all damage done to my body'? Of course, there aren't any backsies in the universe, except that time machine that his alternate self had crashed ten thousand years ago, with alternate Weir and Zelenka – and even that wouldn't undo the damage to his body, in fact, thinking about it only made his head ache, but come to think of it, that was a good one to backsie on, because otherwise they'd all be dead – again - and the current damage to his body would be irrelevant.

He was going to have to heal the long way, the painful way - time, patience, and a lot of drugs. He'd settle for the drugs taking away all the pain, instead of shaving off the edge, which is where he was at now. A few more days, and he'd be there, but by then he'd be impatient to get on his feet, and he'd take less than he should, and he'd hurt, still, anyway. Life's a bitch.

Somewhere along the way, he'd opened his eyes more, and begun to take notice of his surroundings. Because of that, he saw when Beckett walked in, McKay tagging on his heels.

"I thought you said he'd be awake by now," McKay was saying, clearly perturbed.

Carson hadn't seen Sheppard yet, but he looked dogged and harassed. He stopped walking, and turned about, causing McKay to pull up short. "Rodney, he is fine, I've told you at least ten times now. Would you stop hounding me already?" The tense lines around Beckett's mouth eased. "Look, we'll let you know when he wakes up. First to know, promise."

Sheppard tilted his head and upper body slightly their way to get a better look, and the movement caused that stupid chest tube to move, which sent a spike of pain through his side. "Ow!" he swore, trying to move back where he'd been, and get away from the pain.

"Colonel!" McKay forgot Carson.

Sheppard watched as Rodney walked towards him, and this time it was Beckett trailing on McKay's heels, but the doctor was looking relieved, with his hands tucked into the pockets of his white lab coat.

McKay's arm was in a sling, and his face was more pale than usual. His eyes were ringed with black, and he almost looked like a raccoon. "You look like shit, McKay," he rasped. Water – he needed water.

Beckett was already moving to a table by his bed and pouring a glass. Carson depressed the mechanical lift until Sheppard's back was at a forty-five degree angle, just enough for him to sip from a straw without spilling.

"And you look ready to leap tall buildings in a single bound," retorted Rodney.

Sheppard chuckled, or at least he tried to, but the pain it caused set off a fresh round of 'ow', and he aborted mid-laugh. He winced and said, "Don't make me laugh."

"Oh, god, I'm sorry," stumbled McKay.

"Don't apologize," Sheppard said, grimacing as he pulled his stitches again. "God damnit, Beckett, can't you give me something more, this hurts!"

"If you quit moving, it wouldn't hurt as much," remonstrated Beckett, but he was already pulling a syringe full of something from his pocket. "Just a wee top off, but you need to stay still."

Whatever, thought Sheppard, but he caught McKay's stricken face. The memories flashed again, back to the jumper, and Rodney holding on to him as if the act alone would keep John in this side of the world. He remembered something was important – something he'd said to McKay. Not your fault – "Not your fault," he echoed.

Rodney's jaw stiffened. "Give me time to think of a witty comeback."

Beckett injected the dose of painkiller, and Sheppard tried to keep his eyes focused on Rodney, but his eyelids were heavy. "No witty comeback," he slurred. "Just shit happens."

"Right, and sorry for saying so, but I appear to be the cosmic crapper, because shit keeps happening to us, and I have to think it wouldn't, quite so often, if I weren't around."

Did he just ask for Beckett to drug him? Because he needed to think clearly now, and his mind was floating fuzzily away, while Rodney was standing next to him admitting to the weight of responsibility he felt, and Sheppard was helpless to tear those layers of guilt away – maybe that's why McKay felt safe enough to admit it. He knew Sheppard couldn't confront Rodney's demons right now.

He fought to keep his eyes open, and he saw enough to see Carson frowning worriedly at McKay.

"This isn't finished," he murmured sleepily, before losing the battle to stay awake.

Which his why he missed McKay saying, "Yes, it is," before leaving the infirmary.

OoO

The next couple of days were passed in a haze of sweaty pain. Sheppard developed a fever, and while the antibiotics that Beckett promptly prescribed chased away the infection, it left him feeling even weaker than before.

He was mostly awake now, and the chest tube had been removed only an hour ago, but he still felt like curling up somewhere and dying. He knew that McKay was out there, somewhere, doing his job and going about his day, but feeling as wounded as Sheppard did; and he was helpless to do a thing about it.

And once you added up his hurts, his tiredness, and general malaise, and stirred in McKay's issues, you wound up with one irritable, pissed off Colonel, champing at the bit to get out of the infirmary, but too sick to demand it.

So when Ronon and Teyla dropped by for a visit, he knew what he had to do –

"Bring McKay, whether he wants to or not," grunted Sheppard, trying to find a spot that didn't make him acutely aware of the stitches that were beginning to itch unbearably.

Ronon seemed amused at the prospect, and Sheppard had a momentary lapse of conviction. "Uh, preferably standing," he amended.

Teyla lifted a washcloth from the basin on the table, and wiped away the sweat that dotted his forehead. The fever was mostly gone now, but he was still sweating, from the pain, from the remnants of the infection– it wasn't taking much to make him sweat right now.

"He has been avoiding you," she agreed, setting the rag back on the table. "He blames himself."

"He'll be here," Ronon added.

"Good," said Sheppard, but he felt compelled to add, "and remember, on his own two feet – no dragging him, or anything."

Whether Ronon actually resorted to threats, he would never know, but two hours later, McKay came stalking in to the infirmary, and latching on to Sheppard, seemed shocked at his appearance, and finished the journey with less bluster.

"Your slaves sent for me," he grouched. "I'm busy, so make it quick."

"If you hadn't been avoiding me, I wouldn't have had to send them after you," bitched Sheppard, groaning as another round of intense itching centered on his chest. "You know, you could have a little compassion, and realize that worrying over you isn't helping my recovery."

"Worrying over -" McKay spouted, and stopped, shaking his head minutely as if trying to clear his confusion, "What?"

"You think this is all your fault."

Sometimes blunt is best. Sometimes it works – then again, sometimes it doesn't.

"And?" drawled McKay, patently bored with him for stating the obvious.

Okay, so maybe it didn't work. "It's not," said Sheppard, not so patiently. "So get over yourself already."

"Oh, I'm sorry," started Rodney, sarcasm so thick it practically oozed off the walls, "I thought that it was my reaction over the goat sacrifice that caused us to be thrown in jail, and at that point you offered yourself up in my place; and, there's the time I was used as a pawn to get you to consent to their terms – and the time I was the one grabbed, and used as a hostage to get to you..." McKay ticked off events on his hand, and paused, looking hard at Sheppard. "Did I forget anything? Because the prevailing theme here is 'use Rodney McKay to get to John Sheppard', and it's pissing me off. I'm not going to be some fucking galactic pawn to your downfall."

Well, hell, he'd asked for that. Even pushed for it. But when confronted with it – Christ. What do you say? "Do you think none of it would've happened if it hadn't been you?" Sheppard finally asked.

"Exactly," replied McKay, without even giving it consideration.

"Then you're stupider than your degrees would seem to indicate," gritted John. "Because if you think you've got the corner on objections to alien actions, and the only path to my conscience, then think again."

McKay jerked his head back as if Sheppard had slapped him physically. "That was low, Colonel."

Yeah, well, so is bailing on your sick friend, thought Sheppard angrily. Everything was in what he didn't say. McKay didn't have a monopoly on the path to his conscience; McKay was his conscience. And how fucked was that – a sarcastic, obnoxious, arrogant man, who could break it down into simple degrees, and boil away the political morass to 'right and wrong'. McKay was his objection.

He knew that McKay wouldn't let him do something stupid, just as he knew that McKay knew that Sheppard would do the same for him, and if that didn't confuse you enough –

He tried harder to make better decisions, to be wiser, and better, faster, and righter, because of Rodney McKay. Because he cared more for McKay's life than his own, and one wrong decision could cost everything. He hadn't cared enough to do that in a long time, not since he'd disobeyed orders in Afghanistan, and cost his career because of it. And, that's why he wasn't going to let McKay turn his back on him now, and quietly skulk away from his team.

"Then quit sulking, and get over it. We both made mistakes, but nobody died," with a mirthless laugh he added, "none of us, at any rate."

He could see the emotions warring on McKay's face. Rodney got that it wasn't about surface issues. But, Rodney was, only now, getting the ramifications of what could happen, despite the dangers they'd faced previously. "Not this time," he finally said, staring hollowly at Sheppard. "It was close. I thought you were going to die."

"But I didn't."

"No kidding," snorted Rodney. "But you almost did. You almost died, Sheppard, and I couldn't do a damn thing about it."

Sheppard forgot his stitches, and pushed himself on his side. "And you haven't? Jesus Christ, Rodney, how do you think I felt when the Genii were threatening to kill you and Elizabeth, and all I could do was shout over the radio, knowing even if I tried, I couldn't get to you in time to stop it? Or when Kolya took you on that little side trip on Dagan? Do you ever stop to think it's not always about you? How many times has the shoe been on the other foot?"

McKay would've left, if it hadn't been for the sudden lack of color on Sheppard's face, and the latter slumping back on the bed, pushing a shaking hand against the wound on his chest, and sweating buckets.

"Stupid son of a bitch, you just keep pushing, don't you," swore Rodney, reaching for the same cloth Teyla had used only a while before; wetting it, and wiping the newly accumulated beads of sweat.

"I have to," whispered Sheppard, trying to slow his breathing, and recover from the pain his exertion had cost him. "You're not going to internalize this, and let it affect my team."

"Your team?" exclaimed McKay. "Well, see, there's your problem; it's my team. You're just there for protection. You're the grunt force, while I'm the intelligence."

"Keep dreaming, and maybe someday it'll come true," joked Sheppard.

McKay pulled up a chair, tossing the rag on the table. He supposed he'd stick around, if anything, to make sure Sheppard didn't get in over his head. God knows, he'd been instrumental in getting their asses out of the fire before, like the time on the jumper –

"I'm only staying because I want to, not because you did that amateur psychology crap," he mentioned, leaning his feet on the metal framing of the gurney. "And while we're on the subject, has Carson been hovering more than usual, or is that just me?"

Sheppard grinned. Whatever had done it, how it had happened, it didn't matter, because it'd worked. Rodney was back, they were alive, and god, his chest itched! He reached a hand to scratch while saying, "I think it's just you -"

"Stop itching, you'll only make it worse."

"I can scratch if I want to."

"No, you can't, Carson – Sheppard won't leave his stitches be!"

And so, life on Atlantis found its way back to the crazy normal –

THE END