It was a long walk, even after using two separate transporters to the room McKay was heading towards. He assumed they'd used it for some kind of observatory, but other times he thought they'd used it as he did, a place to be quiet and alone. It was at the very tip of the westernmost arm of Atlantis and was at the top of a tower completely walled in glass. He had discovered it not long after first arriving in Atlantis while he was chasing down the cause of some random power fluctuations.
Those had turned out to have a completely unrelated cause, but McKay had still found himself returning again and again. He'd even scrounged and stolen a few cushions to take up there, and sometimes would come late at night to work out formulas or solve other troublesome problems. The sight of the Atlantean night sky full of stars usually distracted and soothed him. He'd been late to more than one briefing after falling asleep out there. It was against regs, but Sheppard had never said anything to him about it. Oddly enough, it was the nights spent there he slept best. But lately there had been no time for sleep, or anything else.
He settled himself on the cushions, dug in his pocket for a Powerbar, and after scarfing it down absentmindedly, closed his eyes. To his very great surprise, he fell asleep, the fabric of the cushion nubby and rough under his cheek. It was an insistent voice in his ear that woke him finally, disoriented, the midmorning sun hot on his face and bright in his eyes.
"McKay, where the hell are you?"
It was Sheppard, and it took a few more disoriented minutes before he realized the voice wasn't on the radio, but out in the nearby hallway. He scrambled to his feet.
"Colonel Sheppard." He was so startled his voice came out as more of a squeak. "McKay cleared his throat and tried again. "In here," and he went to the door. Sheppard stood at the corner of an L shaped corridor. There were still sleep marks on his cheek, but his color was a little better.
"I didn't expect Carson to release you quite so soon."
Sheppard smirked and crossing his arms, leaned lazily against the wall. He wore baggy grey sweats that hung off his hips and a PROPERTY OF US AIRFORCE tee-shirt.
"When are you moving?"
McKay flushed. "I asked Elizabeth not to say anything."
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow. "About what? I've been expecting you to request larger quarters for weeks now. I went by your room to talk about the next mission and saw you were packed."
"Uh, right. Of course. Perfectly sensible conclusion to reach." McKay cursed internally. He was babbling. He saw Sheppard's eyes focus on him appraisingly.
"What's going on, Rodney? Lately you've been an even bigger pain in the ass than usual."
"And you've been strutting around like the cat who caught the canary, Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard! Fine, if you must know I've been offered a position with a research university, a very prestigious position, I might add. I've decided to accept."
"What?" Sheppard demanded, pushing away from the wall. "When?" McKay's hands flexed and he wished he had his laptop. The sun through the glass felt scorching on his face.
"I'll be on the Daedalus when it returns to Earth."
"Do you mean tomorrow?" Sheppard was incredulous. "You were planning to just…" He stopped for a moment, then glared at McKay, taking a few short steps that brought them face to face.
"You waited until you knew I'd be off-world," and he poked McKay in the chest with a stiff finger. "You were bailing out, running away. Because of Collins?" he asked, a curious expression on his face, easing back a step.
"I realize this might come as a surprise, but I won't be made a Lieutenant Colonel because of my discoveries here at Atlantis. My contemporaries, for the most part, aren't even aware that travel to another galaxy is possible, not to mention the alien technologies we've discovered and deciphered and all that it could mean. Do you realize that even if I would have succeeded in making the weapon on Arcturus work, I would never have won the Nobel Prize! Who would I tell? What journal would I publish my paper in?"
Sheppard was shaking his head. "I knew you were an arrogant bastard, Rodney, but I never figured you for a coward." McKay uttered a short bitter bark of laughter.
"Guess you know better now."
"No, I don't know better. Cut the crap, Rodney, what is this really about?"
McKay spun away and walked the length of the observatory to stand staring out the glass at the sea for a long time. When he finally spoke, Sheppard could barely hear the words.
"My performance of late hasn't been exactly stellar. How many of my people have died, just in the last month alone?" The heat poured in through the glass and sweat prickled on the back of his neck and between his shoulder blades, like the tip of a knife on his skin.
"Rodney, we've all lost people. It's dangerous out here. Even Ford…" Sheppard started, and then stopped.
"Oh no, Colonel," said McKay, turning to face him, a joyless smile on his mouth. "Don't stop there. Ford is just another example of my deft handling of people. And let's not forget my little recital in front of the senior staff and my own team when Cadman had taken up joint occupancy inside my head. I don't blame Elizabeth. She only did what she had to." He scrubbed a hand over his face swiping away moisture, whiskers rasping under his blunt fingers and he turned back to the window. "It's not as though I can blame any of you for not trusting me anymore."
Sheppard stood stunned, staring at McKay's rigid back. He'd known McKay had been struggling, but the man had always put on such a good show he'd never realized how deeply the insecurity undermining him had gone.
"Of course we trust you," but even as he said it, his own words came back to him …That may take a while. McKay turned to face him, eyes red and haunted. Sheppard took a breath.
"At least you never shot me," he said sardonically. "And when did you last eat?" Sheppard was stalling but he needed time to figure out what to do. He'd never expected to have to deal with anything less than a supremely confident Rodney McKay. At least if he could get him as far as the infirmary he could tag team with Carson. Then again, he thought, wincing at the reception he was anticipating from Dr. Beckett, maybe he could get him to Zelenka's lab instead.
"I've got to finish up a few things in my lab before I leave it to Radek's tender ministrations," McKay said, seeming to regain his equilibrium. "Thanks so much for the pep talk, Colonel. It has been an honor serving with you," he said very formally, all mocking completely gone from his voice.
"Damn it, Rodney! We need you here! Zelenka's good but he's no Rodney McKay!"
"Something I should think you'd be grateful for," McKay snapped back.
"For God's sake, get a grip and stop feeling sorry for yourself!" bellowed Sheppard, completely losing patience. "You're not the first officer to make a bad decision and lose men!"
"I'm not an officer," McKay spat back.
"Same difference, McKay, and you know it! The real question is…"Suddenly, a wave of dizziness rolled over Sheppard and a black mist rushed up around the edge of his vision. . Falling back against the wall, he felt his legs give way and he slid down the wall, leaving a wet red smear behind.
"Sheppard!" McKay's eyes widened in horror and he tapped his earpiece, shouting for Beckett as he knelt down beside him..
"Is the colonel there with you, Rodney?" came the doctor's anxious tone over the earpiece.
"He just collapsed in front of me, Carson!" he cried, frantically scanning the slumped form and relaxing infinitesimally at the slight movement of Sheppard's chest rising and falling. " What the hell is he doing out of the infirmary?"
"Is he conscious? Where are you?"
"Out on the west pier. He's not talking, Carson."
"What in the bloody hell were the two of ye doin' clear out there? And he wasn't released! The son of a bitch sneaked out, to look for ye, I'd assume. We're on our way, but it'll take a bit to reach ye. How's his breathing? Can ye tell if he's started bleeding again?"
"Yes," Rodney's voice quavered, " from his back. And his breathing seems a bit fast, but other than that, it's steady."
"He must've reopened his stitches," Beckett muttered to himself. "Rodney, keep pressure on the wound and let me know if the bleeding doesna stop or slow. Next time I'm using restraints." McKay heard him growl before the radio went silent.
Sheppard's skin felt clammy under his fingers as McKay groped for a reassuring pulse. It was there, like he knew it would be, but still the steady and constant thumping against his fingers reassured him. steady and constant and he gulped with relief. Yanking off his jacket and easing Sheppard a little forward, he carefully tucked the wadded up fabric where fresh wetness turned the tee-shirt to black, mumbling under his breath.
"Stupid careless testosterone induced heroics. Carson should have sedated you! You'll be lucky if that's all he does next time." Very gently he settled the injured man back against the wall and sat down beside him, shoulder to shoulder, Sheppard's head lolling against him. Rodney scrubbed at the blood on his hands. He hated the smell of blood.
"What the hell is Carson playing at," he muttered, "and you, no better than a five year old runaway sneaking out of the infirmary."
"Yeah, but at least I'm not picking up my toys and going home to sulk," came a raspy response. McKay startled then leaned forward to peer into Sheppard's face.
"Don't ever do that to me again! Are you all right?"
Sheppard pushed against the floor, trying to raise himself a little. His face twisted with the pain.
"Maybe Carson was right about waiting to get up," he said, his color once again chalky white. McKay glared at him, his fear making him harsh.
"Carson is furious," he spit out. "He's going to strap you down after this. He's on his way here now."
"He's definitely not going to be a happy camper," Sheppard said ruefully, and let his head fall back against the wall. They stared at each other glumly for a moment, then McKay checked to see that the cloth was still in place against the wound. To his relief it appeared the bleeding was slowing.
"You do realize that is the third one of my jackets you've destroyed," he said conversationally. Sheppard glared at him.
"It's not like I'm having a great time over here!"
"I'm just saying it's a good thing I don't have to pay for my uniforms at the rate you manage to mutilate and destroy them."
"I cannot believe I dragged myself out of a hospital bed to chase you into the depths of Atlantis so you could whine about your stupid jacket!"
"I never asked you to!"
It was so still this far from the heart of the city they could hear the waves breaking against the outer walls.
"You belong here, Rodney," Sheppard's face was deadly serious. "None of us would be alive if you hadn't been here." McKay dismissed his words, one hand flapping.
"For every time I've done something right, I've done something wrong."
"Rodney, listen to me," he paused until McKay reluctantly met his eyes. "You can't live your life like a balance sheet. You made a really big mistake. A man died. Let his death mean something by continuing the work he believed in."
"What if it happens again?" and McKay snorted and something inside him seemed to unclench a little. "Don't you mean WHEN it happens again?" Sheppard grinned crookedly.
"Welcome to the human race." The sounds of a cursing Scot were echoing down the hallway, and Sheppard's grin slipped a little. "Crap," he said and then slumped sideways, falling over. McKay's jacket fell on the floor, saturated with blood. Gaping at it, Rodney scrambled up, shouting furiously for Carson. In seconds Beckett was kneeling at his side, checking Sheppard's pupils for reactivity. The two medics behind him pushed McKay out of the way and he stumbled, blinking and shaking, to stand against the wall. He brushed against the wall and looked down to see his shirt smudged with Sheppard's blood.
He was flying. It was a great feeling. Almost like having the Ancient gene the way he could just think something and the plane would respond smoothly, easily. But then the jets started making a strange noise, like something had gotten sucked in. Something big, really big, by the sounds of it. Sheppard was flipping switches and preparing to radio for assistance when he woke up.
His eyelids felt so sticky he thought he'd have to pry them open, but he couldn't move his hands. Finally he was rewarded with a crack of light that slowly grew, blurry shapes resolving into the familiar confinees of the infirmary. Then he heard the jet engine again. It was right next to him. Turning his head, the only part of him free to move, it appeared, he saw Rodney propped in a very uncomfortable position, a patch of wet drool on his shoulder. The jet engine.
Footsteps alerted him and he turned to look the other way. Beckett was approaching looking relieved.
"Ye're awake then, Colonel," he said softly, mindful not to wake McKay. Without being asked he held a plastic spoonful of ice to Sheppard's lips. The cool liquid trickled slowly down Sheppard's dry throat and he closed his eyes at the sensation.
"What happened?" he asked after another spoonful of ice. Beckett scowled at him, the tips of his ears beginning to turn red.
"Which part?" he snapped, crossing his arms. "The part where ye tore yer stitches loose after hiking through half of Atlantis chasing this daft bugger?" And he gestured furiously at the snoring McKay. "Or d'ya mean when he didn't get ye back to the infirmary quickly enough for me to discover there was another bleeder I'd missed the first time?"
Sheppard started to lift his hand to rub his head nervously, when it came to an abrupt halt. He glanced down to see both wrists were tethered to the side rails of the bed; experimentally he moved an ankle and found it too was tied down. He glanced up to see Beckett watching with smug satisfaction.
"This time," he announced with great deliberation, "ye're stayin where I tell ye to!"
"You're joking, right? This was funny, Carson, now come on and untie me." Beckett sniffed and turning on his heel, headed to his office, stopping by the on duty nurse to point in Sheppard's directions and make several ominous looking gestures.
"Told you he was seriously pissed," said McKay, rubbing his neck and nonchalentlynonchalantly blotting the drool from his cheek.
"Yeah," said Sheppard, fiddling with the blankets. "I wonder how long he's going to keep me tied up." McKay wasn't paying attention; he was keeping very busy packing up his laptop into the carrying case, avoiding Sheppard's eyes. "So," and Sheppard knew he sounded angry, even though he was trying not to, "heading off to the Daedalus?"
"As a matter of fact, no," and McKay swung the strap of the laptop case over his shoulder and walked towards the door of the infirmary.
"No?" echoed Sheppard. McKay smirked over his shoulder at Sheppard.
"It left yesterday."
"Wait a second!" and he jerked at his wrists futilely. "Rodney, get back here." The scientist didn't even slow down.
"You know, Sheppard, if you really wanted me to stay, all you had to do was ask," he said over his shoulder as he went out the door. The colonel froze for a moment, then sighed, grinned and laid his head back down on the pillow. After a moment, he raised it to look around for Beckett.
"Carson? Carson, I promise I'll stay in the infirmary," he called hopefully. There was no answer. He sighed. "Ok, I promise I'll stay in bed!" Still no answer. "Carson?"