Season/Episode: SG-1/SGA crossover; SGA Season 2, between 'Siege 3' and 'Intruder', with references to the SG-1 episode '48 Hours'

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Disclaimer: Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate; Atlantis are not my property and I make no material profit from this story.

Spoilers: SGA 'Siege 3', sort of for SG-1 '48 Hours'

Warnings: none

Summary: Rodney McKay's lack of sleep finally catches up to him after the events of 'Siege 3'..

"Hey, Rodney, you ready to go?"

The voice that startled him out of the stupor into which he'd fallen was ten times more cheerful than it's owner had any right to be. Only three days had passed since Sheppard nearly died on that insane suicide run against the Wraith Hiveships. Three days since Lt. Ford flipped out, stole a Puddle Jumper and vanished through the Stargate. Three days since Rodney McKay had more than two hours of sleep in a row.

Rodney had been in constant demand both during and after the siege of Atlantis. He couldn't even assert that there was any repair or installation for which he hadn't genuinely been needed.

And there was no one who could take his place, either. Zelenka was just as exhausted as Rodney, and he seemed to be able to keep going on half-hour catnaps and Powerbars. Rodney himself had always been able to pull 20 hour shifts as long as he got 4 hours of sleep in between, but he'd had considerably less than that going on 3 weeks now, and the stimulants Carson had reluctantly given him had the unpleasant side effect of intensifying the nightmares that disrupted what little rest he'd been able to get.

Now he was at the point where the manic edge had worn off, but he couldn't fall asleep even if he lay quietly on his bed in his own darkened quarters. Although his brain rocketed along at it's usual frenetic pace, his attention wandered and his body was making it's displeasure known. He'd had a continual throbbing headache for days now, his eyes felt like hard, gritty pebbles in their sockets, and his stomach remained a yawning pit of hunger, even after he'd eaten, so that he felt a constant low level of nausea. He'd even experienced a frighteningly rapid heartbeat while high on Carson's stimulants, but that passed as soon as the drug wore off.

He'd have gone to the infirmary, but he knew that all he really needed was sleep. Besides, they were busy with the wounded. The worst cases had already been sent back to Earth through the wormhole, but there were enough minor injuries to keep the doctors and nurses hopping. Carson would just relieve him of duty and send him to bed, and as tempting as that sounded, there were still too many problems that required Rodney's direct attention. Especially since he, Carson, Elizabeth, and Sheppard were being recalled to the SGC on Earth for a full debriefing. The time spent on Earth would be no vacation, either. They would return on the Daedalus in four weeks, but Rodney was already dreading the prospect of dredging up the harrowing events of the last year for a bunch of desk-bound, half-wit, testosterone-drenched military men who had never stepped through the Stargate and had no clue how truly dangerous and terrifying the universe was.

"Rodney?" Sheppard spoke again, and the scientist sighed and shut down his laptop. He tucked it under his arm to hide the tremor in his hands and turned, surreptitiously leaning against the desk as the room seemed to dip and swirl around him, leaving him sickeningly light-headed. He took deep breaths, trying to focus on Sheppard standing in the doorway, and smiled weakly.

"It's time to go already? I just need to stop by my quarters and pick up my bag." He waited for Sheppard to acknowledge this and go away, but the soldier seemed to be in no hurry to leave.

Rodney desperately willed the dizziness and fatigue away. It took almost everything he had left to push away from the support of the desk and walk steadily to the door. Sheppard strolled beside him, showing no sign of having anything better to do than trail around after Rodney.

"You're awfully quiet, McKay," Sheppard commented.

"Oh – um – I'm just, you know, going over…stuff…in my mind," he waved his hand vaguely, "making sure I haven't forgotten anything."

"I'm sure Dr. Zelenka can handle it. We've got the shield now, so he just has to keep from blowing up the city from the inside."

It took a moment for the remark to sink in, but when it did, Rodney turned a startled gaze on Sheppard.

"You don't think – "

"No, no, Rodney, I was joking! Wow, you really do need to get away."

"Yeah," Rodney muttered. "Look, I'm going to be a few minutes, so why don't you go ahead and I'll meet you in the Gate Room?" If he could just get rid of Sheppard, he could slow down, put his hand on the wall to steady himself.

"That's okay, I don't mind," Sheppard replied.

So Rodney had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other while Sheppard nattered on about beer and potato chips and pizza, about all the football he'd missed, until Rodney figured he could stop trying to pay attention and just make noncommittal grunts every so often.

He nearly walked right past his own quarters and managed to pass it off with a sarcastic remark about the scintillating and distracting quality of Sheppard's conversation. He wasn't able to keep the major from following him in, though, and sitting on the bed while Rodney picked up his pack and thrust a few odds and ends in. He found the case for his laptop, tucked the computer inside, and took a final look around the room.

It was unusually neat for a place he lived in, but the fact of the matter was that he really didn't live here. He hadn't spent enough time in his own quarters to make a mess. Only the bed was a tangle of twisted sheets and blankets, a testament to the last time he'd actually been in it.

A nightmare had woken him, sweating and gasping and crying. He'd flung himself off the mattress and fled to his lab, desperate for some distraction from the image of Ford, one eerily changed black eye staring blankly. In the dream he'd watched the lieutenant put his hand on Zelenka's chest, watched the flyaway hair turn white and drift away like a dandelion puff, saw the Czech's face shrivel up and his bright eyes grow cloudy. When Ford let go, the body fell to the floor and shattered into dust. Then the lieutenant turned to Rodney with a grin full of needle-sharp teeth.

"Run, Doctor McKay, run. Can you fix the city all by yourself?" he hissed.

And suddenly he was running, the ZedPM heavy in his arms. He had to install it quickly, but he couldn't seem to find his way. The corridor twisted and turned as he raced past unfamiliar rooms. The halls were deserted, but he could hear the staccato thunder of the rail guns on the balconies, pounding nearly as loud as his own heartbeat in his ears.

Suddenly, Ford stepped out in front of him, followed by Teyla, her skin fish-belly pale and her hair stark white. He skidded to a halt and spun around, only to find Sheppard behind him, shark-eyed and snarling.

That, thankfully, was the point at which he'd woken up, heart racing, but the dream was vivid enough to linger still, so that when Sheppard stood and asked, "Ready?" he jumped a little.

Sheppard frowned at him. "Rodney, are you okay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine, Major, I just – I – keep thinking I've forgotten something…well, if I have, it's – it's too late now…"

He walked out of his quarters without another word. Sheppard frowned at the laptop Rodney had left on the desk, picked it up, and jogged after the scientist.

"Hey, I think you forgot this?"

McKay stopped, stared at the laptop Sheppard held out to him like it was something he'd never seen before. He reached slowly for it, suddenly looking so tired John was startled into letting go before Rodney had hold of it.

It clattered to the floor, leaving them both standing there with a hand outstretched. John looked up at Rodney's face, wincing in anticipation of the acid tongue-lashing he was sure he was about to receive, but Rodney's eyes were closed, his mouth turned down at the corners.

"That was…remarkably unhelpful, Major," was all he said before turning on his heel and stalking away.

Sheppard picked up the laptop and ran to catch up. "These are supposed to be shockproof, right? And it's in the case, which should have protected it a little. I'm sure it'll be fine."

Rodney took the laptop from him and kept walking. "Yes, they're supposed to be shockproof. That doesn't mean you should feel free to throw it on the floor."

The words were right, but the flat, quiet tone lacked any bite and set John's teeth on edge. He'd become used to McKay, depended on him to react to certain things in a certain way, so to speak. If he and Rodney could snark at each other, it was something he could hold onto, something in the desperate struggle to survive in the Pegasus Galaxy that was normal, that would continue in the same reliable pattern no matter what else happened.

"Seriously, are you sure you're okay? You seem…I don't know. Off. Tired. Normally you'd practically bite my head off for dropping your laptop."

McKay stared at him. "What, you want me to yell at you? Sheppard, how many explosions have you been too close to? Because I'm starting to think there've been a few too many, and we're going to see your brains leaking out your ears before long." He shook his head slowly. "I'm just not in the mood, Major." Rodney's tone held a dismissive finality that warned John not to pursue the subject, so he walked beside the scientist in unaccustomed silence.

A small group awaited them in the Gate Room. Elizabeth and Carson were going to Earth; Zelenka and Teyla were there to see them off. Colonel Caldwell had a packet of information to send through the Stargate with them, and would be setting off for Earth in the Daedalus the next day.

Rodney could hardly wait to get the sendoff over and done. The sooner they went through the Stargate, the sooner they could get the initial meet-and-greet over with, and he could find a bed somewhere and collapse into it. Besides, in his utter exhaustion he found himself skirting the edges of maudlin sentiment, so he gruffly shook Radek's hand and told him to take care of Rodney's city; tried to shake Teyla's hand as well, but she pulled him into that strange Athosian hug, touching her forehead to his and holding him there for longer than she really had to. He was embarrassed and touched to see tears in her eyes.

"Safe journey, my friends. I know you are eager to see your homeworld again, but we will count the days until you return," she told them, and then they were leaving, and he stepped through the Stargate, blinking furiously to clear his vision.

The bright fluorescent lights of the SGC GateRoom seemed overly bright after the gentle backlighting and sunlit rooms of Atlantis, leaving no shadows and creating hard, stark edges. The cool, recycled air, fed through air conditioners and moved by fans, tasted stale and close. Drab, bare concrete walls towered claustrophobically over them. As he walked unsteadily down the ramp, Rodney already wished he were back on Atlantis. He'd grown so used to the nearly silent, mostly empty city, the distant lap of the waves, the sunlight that filtered through the many windows.

He hadn't expected to feel such a rush of – well, the only thing he could call it was homesickness – so quickly. Or at all, in fact. But Atlantis was home, despite all the danger and the deaths and the strangeness. Four weeks seemed like entirely too long to be away, and then the return trip on the Daedalus would take another eighteen days.

General O'Neill wasn't waiting for them, nor was Samantha Carter. Instead there was the new guy, Landry, who gazed at them with shrewd and cautious deliberation; a pretty female doctor with a vaguely Oriental look about her; and Daniel Jackson, sporting a light beard that lent him an air of assurance he'd previously lacked. Rodney stumbled down the ramp in Elizabeth's wake, allowing himself to be greeted and herded out of the GateRoom. Jackson plied Elizabeth with excited questions, Landry and Sheppard traded standard military responses in brief, wary salvos, and Carson chattered happily at the woman – Lamb, or Lam? Rodney thought he'd heard when Landry introduced her – about a variety of unintelligible medical subjects.

No one buttonholed him for conversation, for which he was immensely grateful, and he trudged along in the wake of the others, wondering vaguely where they were headed. He thought perhaps he'd zoned out a bit in the GateRoom and missed something, but his mind was too fuzzy and dim to care or worry.

Fatigue was catching up to him again, and he drifted closer to the wall, reaching out one hand to drag his knuckles along it to keep himself walking in a straight line. A moment later he found himself moving with his eyes closed, and he forced them open. The others had drawn ahead of him, and he tried to speed up his pace, but lapsed back into a slowing shuffle after a few quicker steps. Another lengthy blink, and another, and they were well ahead of him again.

Suddenly he collided with large, solid object. He pried his aching eyes open, found an expanse of black in front of him, lifted his almost unbearably heavy head to follow the black up to a broad brown face that stared impassively down from what seemed like a great height. The movement robbed him of his balance as his heart leapt and fluttered in his chest. He tried to push back the weariness one more time, but his leaden limbs were suddenly light as air, his entire body floating effortlessly, as the floor seemed to rush up to catch him.

Sheppard glanced back to see where the unusually silent McKay was, and spotted him at least 20 yards away, back at the other end of the corridor. A huge black man stood in front of him, blocking John's view. Suddenly Rodney seemed to be falling, only to be caught before he hit the floor by a pair of massive hands that clamped around his biceps. John sprinted back as the man slowly lowered Rodney to the floor, reaching them in time to put one hand under Rodney's head to cushion it and check his pulse with the other, warning the black man off with a glare and hardly noticing the ostentatious gold design stamped on his forehead. Doctor Lam was beside them a moment later, checking pulse and pupils and calling for a gurney. Carson followed, loosening Rodney's collar and tucking his own pack under Rodney's feet to keep them elevated.

The scientist's skin had an unhealthy gray tone, the dark circles and puffy skin under his eyes no longer softened and concealed by the gentle light of Atlantis. Lam and Carson bandied medical jargon back and forth, her mouth tightening when Beckett told her how little sleep he thought Rodney had gotten lately, and that he'd given the physicist stimulants just a few days ago.

"There was just so much to do, and not nearly enough people to do it," Carson explained weakly. "He just kept going, even after I refused to give him anything else to keep him awake. We were fighting for our lives, and then we were just trying to make sure no one else lost theirs. When the ZPM was installed, so many resources came to light, things that could mean the difference between life and death for so many people, even after the Wraith had gone. He's usually very assiduous about taking care of himself – I thought that once the crisis had passed he'd get some sleep, but that was when I was busiest, and I hadn't a moment to check on him."

Lam waved him to silence with the hand not holding Rodney's wrist at the pulse point. "I do understand, Dr. Beckett."

At that moment, McKay twitched and sighed.

"Rodney?" Carson and Sheppard spoke at the same time, Lam following a moment later with, "Doctor McKay? Can you hear me?"

A small moan escaped the scientist and his eyelids fluttered briefly.

"Come on, Rodney, open your eyes for us." Sheppard picked up his cold hand and massaged it. Rodney blinked, squinted, and pulled the other hand out of Lam's grasp to shield his eyes from the overhead lights.

"'m sorry…" he mumbled, "…'m s'ry, didn' wanna…"

"You didn't want what, Doctor McKay?" Lam asked.

"Give up," he said blurrily. "…wrong about the buffer…she did it, though, she got you out…'m sorry…"

The huge black man looming over them intoned calmly, "There is no need for apology, Doctor McKay. I bear you no ill will."

But Rodney wasn't listening, and he reached out to grasp Sheppard's sleeve. "Gotta get back, Major. Too much to do…so many…"

Sheppard grimaced and patted the hand he still held. "Everything's under control, Rodney, you can rest now."

He ignored Sheppard and tried to sit up, but Lam's firm hand on his chest held him down and he had no strength to resist. They listened to his continued fretful mutterings until the gurney arrived. When the others would have followed them to the infirmary, Lam stopped them.

"There's nothing you can do for Doctor McKay right now, and I can see you're all exhausted as well. General, I'd appreciate if you see to it that our guests are given time to rest before attending any meetings." The look she directed at the Atlantians was decidedly disapproving. "They look like they could do with a few hours of quality sleep and a good meal."

Sheppard was mildly bemused by General Landry's extremely deferential attitude toward the physician, until she made it clear that they wouldn't be permitted to visit Rodney for a full 24 hours. Amid protestations, she asserted, "There won't be any point. He's going to be sleeping. If there are any changes or updates on his condition, I'll let you know, but my initial diagnosis is simple exhaustion."

They had to be content with that, but Sheppard privately began to make his own plans, wondering if he could persuade Jackson or the huge black man who had turned out to be SG-1's Teal'c to help him…

"So, what's the official diagnosis on your newest patient?" Landry asked.

Lam sat in front of his desk and crossed her legs comfortably. "I'm amazed he isn't in worse shape. From what Doctor Beckett told me, he probably hasn't slept more than five hours – total! – in the last seven days, and not much more for the two weeks prior. Beckett was giving him caffeine tablets for several days – the man must have a remarkable tolerance for caffeine, the amount he took would have been an overdose for most people."

She shuffled through the file she'd brought with her. "His blood pressure is a little high, but since he doesn't have a history of it, I'm hoping it's just a side effect of stress that will correct itself. My biggest worry is that his immune system is depressed, which is a very common symptom of sleep deprivation. I'm very surprised he hasn't picked up a virus or bacterial infection. The isolation ward is empty, so I've put him there for now. It has the added bonus of being quieter than the main ward. The problem is that right now, not sleeping has become such a habit that he literally almost can't fall asleep. When he does doze off, he has nightmares that wake him up. I'd hoped it wouldn't be necessary, but I'm about to sedate the man just so he can get some rest."

"Well, I've postponed Doctor McKay's meetings indefinitely, and moved the others to tomorrow. We'll just have to hold the initial debriefing without him. Any idea when he'll be fit for duty again?"

Lam raised an eyebrow. "'Fit for duty?' May I remind you that Doctor McKay is a civilian?" He offered her a slightly sheepish smile. "My best guess, barring any complications? Give him four to six days, and even then, he'll tire easily. This kind of sleep debt doesn't just go away with one night's rest, and he'll probably experience sleep disturbances for a while. Beckett's files on him indicate that he's had regular sessions with Atlantis' resident psychologist. I'm going to recommend that he continue them."

"Is there any reason he should be taken off the roster for return to Atlantis?"

"Physically? No. Mentally and emotionally, I'm not really qualified to say, but I think that the fact that he was able to keep going like this for three weeks straight is a good indication of his resilience."

The moment Doctor Lam left the infirmary, Sheppard made his move. Daniel Jackson, flashing a momentary grin full of mischief that was at odds with his usual air of earnest solemnity, created a diversion by complaining loudly that he'd spilled hot coffee on his hand. The instant attention he received allowed John to slip quietly by. He searched for several minutes before a large, hand-written 'Do Not Disturb' sign taped to a door with the legend 'Isolation Ward' caught his eye. The plate-glass window afforded him a view of a darkened room with several beds and a single occupant. Despite the dimness, the thin blade of Rodney's nose was unmistakable, and John swiftly let himself in.

He stood just inside the door for a minute, allowing his eyes to adjust to the low lighting. His ears alerted him to the scientist's restless sleep first, small moans and whispers disturbing the quiet of the room. When he stepped closer to the bed, he could see Rodney twitching and shivering, hands fisted in the bedclothes, eyes moving rapidly under bruised-looking eyelids.

John couldn't help but marvel at Rodney's unexpected stamina. He'd heard the man claim several times that he'd hardly had any sleep, and assumed it to be the usual exaggeration Rodney indulged in; but the pinched face, gray skin, and dark circles under his eyes testified to the truth of his assertion. Even when the immediate danger was over, he'd kept going, knowing the importance of getting Atlantis' systems online.

He sat on the bed next to Rodney's and released a heavy sigh, feeling a little of the tension bleed out of his muscles. After only a few hours away, he'd found he actually missed the subconscious awareness of the Ancient city, thrumming gently up his spine. Since the installation of the ZPM, he'd been able to feel the city waking, powering up, the systems surging into full operation everywhere he touched, and it was both invigorating and exhausting. Here on Earth, the floor was dumb and lifeless beneath his feet, the doors opened only because he pushed them.

And the people here didn't look at him like he was their last hope, like he knew what he was doing.

One of the things he liked best about McKay, Sheppard thought, was that he never looked at John like that. Rodney never expected John to save him, not since they'd been threatened by the energy-eating black cloud Jinto had accidentally released. That one time – just that once – McKay had faltered, had allowed his fear to rule him completely. After that, he'd watched Rodney step up to the plate time and again, despite his very visible terror.

John wasn't even aware that his eyes had closed until a whimper roused him. He looked up to see Rodney's face twisted with fright, his breath coming hard and fast. He moved restlessly, tangling the blankets around him, unwittingly constricting his own movements and adding to his unconscious distress.

Sliding off the bed, John laid a hand on Rodney's shoulder and gently shook him.

"No!" the scientist wailed, sitting straight up and narrowly missing a collision with the major.

"Rodney, watch it!"

He stared at John, chest heaving as he dragged air into his lungs with painful gulps.

"What – where am I? We did it, didn't we? Atlantis – ?"

"– is safe. We fooled them, remember? You made the Wraith think we blew up the city. We're back on Earth now, Rodney, calm down."

Rodney just stared at him for a moment, then sank limply back onto the bed, covering his face with shaking hands.

"Rodney? Are you okay?" As soon as the words left his mouth, John mentally smacked himself. Of course Rodney wasn't okay, or he wouldn't be here in the SGC's infirmary, still unable to rest.

McKay rolled onto his side, facing away from John, and curled into a fetal position. His voice was muffled behind his hands, but the weariness and despair were clear. "I don't think I can do this anymore."

"You're just tired, that's all. Everything seems much worse when you're tired. All you need is a good night's sleep." John spoke with more assurance than he felt.

"Sleep? I'd love to sleep, Major, but that's the one thing I can't do." His voice broke on the penultimate word. "I've been awake for so long, it feels like I've forgotten how to sleep. And when I finally pass out, I dream that – that I'm alone in Atlantis, and I can't find my way, and the Wraith are coming…"

They were both silent for a long moment.

"You're not Superman, Rodney."

McKay abruptly twisted around to look at him, eyes wide and red-rimmed and full of astonishment that was quickly turning into outrage.

"I think we forget that sometimes," John continued. He had no idea what he was going to say next, feeling his way slowly into the idea. "You pull off the impossible so damn often that we start to think nothing's impossible for you. But you need time to rest and recover just like everyone else."

Rodney watched him, the outrage fading into thoughtfulness.

"The soldiers really don't have all that much to do until the action starts, but the work never really ends for you scientists, does it? Even when there's no impending crisis to deal with, there's no shortage of things to do. And as chief scientist, you have to keep track of everything everyone else is doing, too."

A wry smile lifted the corners of Rodney's mouth. "Would you believe I actually miss working in Russia sometimes? It was such an enclosed little world at the research facility. We never saw new faces, nothing intruded from the outside, there was no sense of urgency. If I stayed up all night working on a project, I could sleep in the next day. No one was – " he faltered a moment, "no one's lives were depending on me."

John nodded. "I know what you mean. That was the hardest part for me, after Sumner…died. Suddenly I was responsible for all these people, with no superior officer to give me orders or set procedures. After spending a couple of years in Antarctica as a glorified taxi driver, it was kind of a shock to be back in the hot seat like that."

Rodney stared, disconcerted by John's uncharacteristic candor. "How do you deal with it, then? How do you stay on top of everything?"

"Ford," John replied. "Bates. Stackhouse and Markham. Elizabeth. Beckett. And you."

Brows knit over blue eyes turned gray by the dim light.

"Spread the responsibility, Rodney," he explained. "Delegate. You've got Zelenka, Simpson, Corrigan…even Kavanagh, god help us. The man's so anal retentive, put him to work on administrative crap and he'll be happy as a Wraith who's just fed. Let me and Elizabeth support you, it's our job. You may be a genius, but you can't do everything all by yourself. Besides, we aren't cut off from Earth anymore. You'll have more help now. You don't have to do it all alone."

Rodney slowly nodded. "I'm not good at that – delegating, I mean. If I do it myself, at least I know it's done correctly. But I'll work on it. And you're right, we have backup now. I can slow down…make Kavanagh do the paperwork. Everybody likes Corrigan, I can make him deal with all the stupid interpersonal stuff…" His voice faded and his eyelids fluttered as he suddenly ran out of steam.

"Go back to sleep, Rodney. You can plan all this when we get back to Atlantis."

Fear flashed across the scientist's face. "No, I – I'll dream again. I'd rather stay awake. I'm up now, I might as well stay up."

"What if I sat with you?" John asked suddenly.

Rodney gaped at him. "What?"

The soldier shrugged with studied nonchalance. "I don't have anything better to do. The doc here put her foot down: no meetings until tomorrow. And I didn't think to bring my book with me. You said you have nightmares about being alone in Altantis. Maybe if I sit here with you, you'll subconsciously know you aren't alone and you won't have nightmares."

"Really?" Rodney sounded dubious. "Did you get this idea from Heightmeyer?"

"What, you think I couldn't come up with it on my own? I've had my share of counseling, Rodney. I may not be a cute blonde, but I'm not completely ignorant."

Rodney's gaze became speculative, prompting a suspicious "What?" from John.

"I was just trying to picture you as a blonde. Don't ever dye your hair, Major; I think it would be enough to scare off even the Wraith."

John grinned at him. "Noted. Well? Do you want me to stay?"

Rodney glanced away, flushing. "Don't let me inconvenience you, Major. I'm sure you can find something much more important to do than watch me sleep." The snark was half-hearted at best.

"Not really. In fact, I think I'd like to take a nap, myself."

The look Rodney gave him was full of unspoken gratitude. "Then by all means, Major, pull up a bed."

John tugged his shoelaces undone and toed off his boots, letting them drop to the floor. He lay back on the bed, lacing his fingers behind his head.

The room was quiet for less than a minute before Rodney said quietly, "Do you miss the sound of Atlantis? There's a kind of low hum at night, like the city's breathing, very slowly."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I'll be glad to get back there, I think."

"Yeah. Me too."

The soft snick of a closing door woke John. He'd long ago acquired the knack of knowing exactly where he was when he woke up, so he lay quietly in the semi-darkness. Someone had placed a light blanket over him, and he gratefully tugged the edge up over his shoulder.

He must have been more tired than he realized to fall asleep so quickly and effortlessly. It was a chore to pry his eyes open to check on Rodney.

The scientist lay on his side, facing John. His lips were slightly parted, a thin shiny line tracing his cheek from the corner of his mouth to the pillow. One hand was loosely fisted under his chin, the other somewhere beneath the blanket. John listened to his slow, steady breath, slightly louder than the almost silent hiss of the air conditioning.

The sound, absurdly comforting, was as familiar as his own respiration after dozens of nights spent in close proximity on other planets and bedside vigils in a different infirmary in the city he now thought of as home. It quickly lulled him back into restful, dreamless sleep.