Carson was stomping through the corridors of Atlantis, his thick soled shoes sounding more like an army that a one manned mission. His jaw worked, and the occasion person that darted out of his way heard him muttering underneath his breath, something about, "insufferable git" and "brains of a larch". The mutters continued as he rounded the corner to Weir's office, where he paused right outside, took a deep breath, and waited. The door opened to show Elizabeth Weir sitting at her desk, casually dressed, and just as casually going over one of the many e-pads stacked before her. She looked up with a smile, and Beckett felt his blood pressure drop a few notches. "Carson! Come in. I'm surprised to see you at this hour."
"I could say the same for you."
"The hive ships won't stop for us to sleep."
Carson nodded, his face still showing signs of the tension he felt. He stood in front of Dr. Weir, waiting for her to look up. When she did, the expression was expectant. He launched right in without his customary apology for disturbing her. "Elizabeth, something needs to be done about Rodney. He's becoming irrational. Now it's funny ya mentioned sleep, how much do ya suppose he's had?"
Elizabeth set down her pad. "I would have thought you were keeping up with that."
"I'm not his bloody nurse maid! I canna leave my station every hour to make certain he's all nice and tucked in, can I? After the last siege there aren't enough beds to house him in the infirmary. I have too much going on with the injured to keep him tethered down."
Elizabeth thought briefly, then raised her hands helplessly. "Well, I suppose I could order him to sleep, but we all see how much good that does, plus with the news of twelve more hive ships coming, I'm not sure anyone on this station is getting proper rest." She glanced down at her e-pad, with full intention of returning to work, then hesitated. "Of course, in Rodney's case, we aren't talking just one or two days. He's been at it non-stop since we first found out about the hive ships."
"Aye, sleeping less and less until he wasn't sleeping at all. I've been giving him stimulants, and I'm afraid to give him more. It isn't healthy. What his body need is nutrition and proper rest, but believe it or not, that's not what I came to talk with ya about."
"Oh?" She folded her hands on her desk and gave Carson her full attention.
Carson nodded, his face pinched with concern. "There's something else going on, Elizabeth, and I don't think it has to do with the Wraith coming back or his lack of sleep. Something's eating at him. Ya've seen him work this past week, he was no more short-tempered that usual, but now everything is setting him off, and that's if he isn't flat-out ignoring ya." Carson leaned in. "There is something else on his mind, and that combined with the physical stress his body is going through, not to mention the situation we're in, will drive him to a nervous breakdown before too long. There is just so much the human body can take without totally shutting down, and he's right at that point."
Elizabeth shrugged, not certain what he expected of her. "So. . .maybe you should talk to him?"
"Me? I'm the last person he wants to see! He's convinced I'm lurking around corners as it is, waiting to stab him in the arse with a needle to put him down. No, someone else should talk to him."
"I see. Well, the last thing we need around here is a psychotic physicist. Who do you suggest?"
"See if Major. . I mean Colonel Sheppard will do it. He manages to get right up Rodney's nose, and right now coddling isn't gonna do a bit 'a good. He needs to be bullied."
"That sounds a bit rash."
"The situation calls for it. I'm telling ya, if he doesn't get this of his chest and get some proper food and sleep, a breakdown is inevitable."
"Breakdown. Huh. The only thing McKay ever breaks down is the lunch line." Newly promoted Lt. Colonel Sheppard stood in front of Rodney's lab, knowing full well he didn't want to enter, and knowing full well he had no choice. He raised his fist to knock, then sighed and used his ATA gene. That way Rodney couldn't refuse him entry, and at this extremely late, nay insanely late hour, he would be the only on in the lab, and would want privacy.
He wasn't surprised to see McKay bent over a piece of alien technology. He wasn't surprised to see the small coffee pot nearby with the remaining stash of beans in a bag beside it. He wasn't surprised to see the circles underneath the man's eyes, the shaky hands, or the disheveled hair. But he was surprised that McKay didn't shoo him out. In fact, he didn't seem to notice Sheppard at all.
Sheppard walked up to the desk and picked up a piece of electronic something-or-other, and tossed it aside. No response. Elbows on the desk, he leaned forward, so that the glare of Rodney's work light caught him full in he face. "You're up late."
"As you can see." Rodney's frowned deepened, but he didn't look up.
"Any particular reason?"
This caught the physicist's attention. "Oh, I don't know, Major, let me see. Twelve hive ships in thirty-six hours ring a bell? Or did the words get caught in your hair on the way to your ears."
"Actually I've been promoted. . ."
"How quaint. Your parents must be proud." He frowned back over his work.
"They would be, if I could tell them. Caught me by surprise, though, I didn't think that. . .but you really don't care about this, do you?"
"Not in the least." Rodney hadn't stopped. He fingered a wire, holding it up carefully to the light before inserting it into the back end of a silver box, which faced the new piece of technology.
"Thought not. . .so what'cha doing?"
"I'm trying to stay busy to save our asses! You mind?"
Sheppard blinked. "Trying to stay busy?"
"Well, you're right, trying is a irrelevant term, seeing as how I am busy, and I'm trying not to be interrupted. So far that isn't working very well, so maybe if you can use that special gene of yours and usher yourself out you won't have to suffer the indignity of my doing so."
"You don't have the balls." This provoked a startled glance from McKay.
"I have the necessaries, thank you very much, what I don't have is time for this conversation! Now if you would please get the hell out of my lab and let me do my job. . ." he scowled at the box, then crossed the room for yet another hand-held gadget. What it did, Sheppard had no clue.
"Carson says there's something on your mind, something you're not telling anyone."
Rodney's shoulders actually sagged in disappointment. "Is that why you're here? Spare yourself the effort. The only thing on my mind is how to destroy the Wraith hive ships without destroying the city in the process. Something which you military types have yet to figure out, and most of my incompetent staff is sound asleep, so that leaves just me. As usual. Besides, it's my mind and I'd welcome you to keep your grubby hands away from it."
Sheppard pushed himself from the table with a nod. For a moment he was willing to leave McKay alone. He'd had his doubts about being able to get the man to talk anyway. But for some reason he didn't move. "You hear about Ford?"
Rodney winced. "Yeah. I did." He wiped his fingers and slapped the towel onto the desk top. His eyes were drawn tight as he bent over his project, the lamp casting unfamiliar shadows along his features.
"No idea where he's gone. Ditched the jumper."
"We'll find him." There was a steady determination in McKay's voice that almost sounded like a dismissal. Sheppard knew better. It was a positive statement, one that showed that the scientist was holding out some hope against all odds. That was unusual for him, he was the supreme pessimist of the station. To show the least hint of optimism meant he was scared to death, and as a result, introspective.
"Yes, we will." Sheppard studied the face under the light. He watched the hands maneuver two tiny tools into a side panel. "So what do you think our chances are?"
"Better if we tuck tail and run."
"Not an option."
"Then why work so hard?"
Rodney sighed and set his tools down. "On the off chance that I can pull another miracle rabbit out of my hat. Don't get too excited, I seem to be short on supply."
His voice was tired. Talking seemed to be an effort. "Look," Sheppard said, "why don't you take an hour and close your eyes, huh? I'll make sure no one bothers this."
"Can you reassemble this while I sleep?"
"Then forget it." Rodney picked up his tools after rubbing his eyes.
"You said you were trying to stay busy. That implies wanting to not be busy, which implies something keeping you from wanting not to be busy. Now what is it?"
Rodney's confusion was comical. "What?"
"Something's bothering you, Rodney, and it isn't just the Wraith!"
"You think I'm not allowed a bit of tension because, oh let's see, TWELVE ships are headed out way? How many did we just take out? Huh? What are our odds this time? How many more people will have their brains blown out, or disintegrated, or beamed up? You care to guess?" His light eyes were fevered with anger.
Sheppard braced the desk with his hands and faced Rodney square on. "How many will die if we just give in?"
"Did I say I was giving in? Did I say that?" A sweat had broken on his brow. His fingers fumbled and dropped the tool. "All this damn nobility. That's what's wrong with the military. It's all self-sacrifice and the greater good. You know why I'm alive? Self-preservation. I did all this," he waved his hands to the room, "so I can live. Me. My survival, not some glorified, hallelujah Oma-be-praised sacrificial lamb-baked idea that gets people killed. I look for rational solutions, I don't rush in to get my head blown off, and by the way, it is my ideas that seem to have worked so far, and dammit, I'm still alive!" This last bit was shouted, with his fist slamming the table. He winced and turned away. "What the hell good does it do to sacrifice yourself for something that may not work? You don't get a second chance."
Sheppard straightened. "Look," he said softly, "if this is about what I did. . ."
"Oh, of course, it's all about you. The great John Sheppard. No one else plays in your little drama."
"What the hell are you talking about, McKay?"
"They could have died, you imbecile! I told them to put their lives on the line to protect me, and they did! I didn't think they'd take me literally, no one else around here does!"
John's expression fell. He watched as his friend paced the small area behind the desk. "I told them. I said they had to protect me at all costs. Put their lives on the live for me. Elizabeth didn't care for that, of course, but who was going to get the ZedPM up and working if not me? Huh? I'm important enough to be protected, aren't I?" He stopped. "They did it, too. They herded me along, pushed me into dark corners, pulled me like I was on a leash, slammed me into walls when they heard a sound, and within seconds. . ." His voice lowered. "I didn't even think about it at the time. I just wanted to get the ZedPM up and running. Teyla saved me, you know? Damn clip fell out of my gun. And we just ran off. And after the shield was up, I thought I was done. I went back to my room to go to sleep; I actually pulled the blanket up under my chin and didn't even take off my shoes. And I suddenly remembered those two soldiers. And I wondered if they were still just lying there in the corridor." Sorrowful eyes looked to Sheppard's, wanting confirmation that things had gone as they were supposed to.
Sheppard had none. But now he knew why Rodney wasn't sleeping.
"Look," he said softly, "you don't have to go back to your room. I tell you what, mine's closer anyway. Go there," he raised a hand at Rodney's protest, "I'll stay right here. Get an hour's sleep. That way you're nearby if you're needed, okay? Just for an hour. So you can get that brain recharged and do the scientific thing and save our asses." He pinned Rodney's gaze with his own.
Rodney's glare softened. He hesitated, then nodded and shuffled about, shutting down machinery. The monotonic drone eased. "One hour."
"One hour only. I've got things to do too, you know."
"Of course you do." He gave Sheppard a weak clap on the shoulder as he walked around him and to the door. "And Colonel?"
Sheppared turned, recognizing the new title, and the respect McKay gave while saying it. "You already knew, didn't you?"
"Of course I did, don't be so obtuse." He twirled a finger at Sheppard's head. "Think maybe you can invent some hair goo to tame that mane while you're in here? Much bigger and it'll interfere with our deep space sensors, and as you know that's our only warning system. I'm not going to be held responsible for our downfall if we couldn't see them coming." His eyes widened. "Of course! We can just sit you on top of the shield. That hair will not only bounce back whatever they throw at us, it may well catch the ships in orbit as well."
"Asshole. Go to sleep."
Rodney managed a small smile with his wave as he walked out. And Sheppard sat in the vacated chair, watching over the external efforts of the scientist, just as he watched over the internal ones.