AN: Okay, so here it is, the end, and as much as some of you have
said you're sorry for it to end, I've got the same mixture of feelings,
because this fic really took me by surprise. It grew into a lot
more than I'd intended intitially, and that's largely due to my awesome
beta gaffer, who helps so much more than she knows! I've got to
say a huge thanks for those of you who take the time to leave feedback,
because it really does make a difference. Those of you who write
and read know what it means but those of you who just read, I promise
you, getting feedback is the highlight of the story, because you get to
hear how people react to the story and that's priceless...
Shivering in the cold, John rocked to keep himself warm. He was colder than he remembered ever being, and he wondered if the aliens had cranked the heat down lower, and he also wondered where McKay was and how he was doing.
It was dark, and stiflingly silent, and all he wanted was to go home. He let his mind shift to pictures of hot sunny beaches, and flying missions in his F-22, purposefully fighting down that which he shouldn't think about.
Wake up, Colonel Sheppard…
But he was awake, wasn't he?
John shook his head, "No, no – I'm awake!"
"If you're awake, then I'm Doug Mackenzie," said Rodney wryly.
"Rodney?" John blinked, and the cold dark room faded. He sat up, and realized he wasn't in his room. McKay was walking towards his bathroom –his, not Sheppard's - "How'd I get here?"
He heard the water turn on and a few minutes later Rodney poked his head out the door, toothbrush in hand and with a foamy mouth, "Same way I wound up in your room last night."
The head sucked back into the bathroom and he heard more water running, then McKay was back, tossing Sheppard a towel. "You can use my shower. I think your old uniform is still here. I had it cleaned."
Standing up, John stretched his back, groaning from the stiffness. "You know, this is getting disturbing. Musical quarters, and half the time neither one of us remembers moving during the night."
"But it's always with the nightmares," McKay said, sitting on his bed, and lacing up his boots. "I slept like a baby, but judging from you being on my floor, and looking like hell, I'm guessing it was your turn for it last night."
"Yeah, they were there, in Technicolor," he grouched, moving for the door. He stopped long enough to toss the towel back to Rodney. "I'm gonna shower in my own place this morning. Thanks anyway."
A shrug, and Rodney followed him out. "Meet me in twenty for breakfast?"
"I'll be there," Sheppard called over his shoulder.
As he left Rodney, and headed into his own room, he sighed with the frustration of it all. The midnight rovings had started after they'd been released from the infirmary.
Doctor Heightmeyer continued to see them, and they continued to have nightmares, trouble accepting reality, and an apparently constant need to always know where the other was.
She said it was normal. It was to be expected. They'd been tortured, mentally more than physically, but the deprivation and shocks had taken their toll, too. Kate said you didn't walk away from something like that without scars, and issues. They were clinging to each other because they were the only sure thing that they could trust in.
When he asked how long before they stopped acting like raccoons out on the prowl, she'd said that healing times weren't something you could estimate like taxes, and that the human psyche was resilient. Be patient.
It'd been two months. His patience was waning.
Rodney was handling it better than he was, but Kate had also said that had something to do with his personality. John was a person who liked to always keep things tightly controlled. Losing that control had left some serious trauma in its wake, both on the alien ship and the time after their rescue.
The shower felt good, and it helped ease the sore muscles. He dried off and got dressed, brushing his teeth while running his other hand through his hair.
Jogging to the mess hall, he arrived just in time, and saw Rodney approaching from the other side.
"Glad to see you can still tell time."
John settled for a pithy look at Rodney, and stepped in front of him in the line.
McKay emitted a suffering sigh, before informing him he'd talked to Elizabeth. "They've retrieved some debris from the alien ship."
"Really?" John picked up a tray and remembered Elizabeth saying the Daedalus was taking a team out to see if they could find anything useful. He'd wondered if Kate hadn't suggested it as a way to bring back just one more thing to show them that this was real.
He heard McKay fumble with a tray, before moving forward behind him. Looking at the options in front of him, he pointed half-heartedly at the eggs and bacon and watched as the cook slapped large portions of each on his plate, before handing it over the glass counter.
Frowning at the amount, he cast another look at the woman. She merely smiled noncommittally, and asked Rodney what he wanted. John couldn't help but think Beckett had been talking. Both he and Rodney had been losing weight. It was hard to have an appetite in the aftermath.
"Jesus, do you think we're reincarnations of Boss Hog?" Rodney spat, staring at the plate in disbelief.
"McKay," John said warningly. He nodded at the lady, before shoving Rodney with an elbow, and moved towards the coolers with juice, milk, and muffins.
He followed John but continued to rail at the amount. "Seriously, she could've left some for the rest of the people to eat." Rodney snagged a 2 milk, and passed on his muffin. "Carson needs to shut up."
"You think he's responsible?"
John did, actually. "It might have been Kate," he offered, feeling just a little bit of guilt over being angry at someone who was just worried about their health.
They found seats and sat down, trying to ignore the stares that still came their way. Everyone knew. The self-destruct countdown had been kinda hard to miss.
"Not likely," Rodney said crossly. "She's concerned with the mind – Beckett's the one all up in arms because we lost a pound."
It'd been more than a pound. Rodney had lost six, John four. But, he wasn't going to point it out. McKay knew.
"So, coming to my lab after we're done?" Rodney opened his milk, and took a drink, before frowning at it, and setting it back down.
"Sure," John said. He didn't have anything else planned for the day. "I wonder how much they managed to get?"
"Quite a bit, actually."
John watched as Rodney forced a few mouthfuls down, before realizing he really wasn't hungry. He glanced at his plate, and back at McKay, who had paused and was watching him.
"Better eat," Rodney mumbled around the mouthful of food.
He hated this. But John still lifted the fork, and took a bite of the eggs. Then another.
"Good morning, Colonel, Rodney," Teyla said, sitting beside John while Ronon grunted their way and sat beside McKay. Her eyes drifted to the large helping on their plates and she tried to hide the smile, failing miserably.
"Morning Teyla, Ronon," John said. "Sleep good?"
Ronon's shoulders bobbed as he dug into his plate. The runner's table manners had improved over the months, but he still didn't waste time when there was food in front of him. Probably lingering issues with his days of trying to stay alive, always on the run.
"I did." Teyla's tight smile said she knew that John hadn't, and he hoped the dark circles under his eyes weren't too noticeable, or he'd have Beckett breathing down his neck, again.
"You know what, I'm done," McKay said, pushing away his tray.
It was only half-eaten.
John took a few more bites and said, "I'm done, too."
"Colonel, Doctor Beckett's concerned about both of you not eating enough," Teyla said carefully. "Perhaps -"
Shaking his head, he took another drink from his carton of orange juice, before lifting the tray to take to the trashcan. "We're getting there, Teyla. You can't force something like this."
Ronon looked at John's muffin and asked, "You gonna eat that?"
John tossed him the muffin.
As for Teyla, she looked ready to say more, but finally she settled for a small incline of her head and said, "For now." Letting Sheppard know that it wasn't an issue she'd remain silent on for much longer.
He wondered if she knew how tiring it was dealing with everyone else's worry over them…
John looked away from Teyla, to find Rodney waiting impatiently at the door. Sighing, he shook off the uneaten food into the garbage, and set the tray and plate inside the portable tub that was next to the can. He waved casually at the other two members of his team, before following McKay out the door.
The trip to Rodney's lab seemed to go inordinately fast, but that was probably because as curious as John felt about viewing the debris, there was an equal part that didn't even want to revisit the ship in that limited sense.
And then they were there, looking at pieces of metal and things they couldn't identify.
Rodney quickly moved to a middle piece that was shaped like a box, while John figured he'd hover on the outside perimeter and look at the smaller pieces. There were quite a lot, and John knew it was only an impossibly small fraction of what the ship had actually been, because the thing had been huge.
"Do you think they were telling the truth?"
His question took John by surprise, because he was examining a particular piece of wreckage, and what he suspected it to be had him frozen, inside and out.
But Rodney's question prodded in, and John knelt down next to the wrecked pieces. "I thought we'd been through this, McKay."
"Right, and us being through this consisted of you telling me that because they were mean little aliens, they couldn't possibly be telling the truth."
John shrugged, and poked more into the debris – he was pretty sure he recognized what it was. "It's logic, something as a scientist you should appreciate."
"And as a soldier, you should appreciate gut instinct," derided McKay, pulling the box he'd centered on over to his counter for closer inspection.
Dully, John lifted a piece of what he now knew for certain was trainer two. Ironically, it looked like the shock gun piece, and what were the odds of that surviving?
Rodney had stopped talking, and taken the time to look over at him and now asked, "What'd you find?"
John tossed it back in the pile before wiping his hands. "Nothing," he said, walking over to McKay. "Nothing at all."
Staring for a moment, Rodney didn't look like he believed him, but he let it go, nonetheless. He shifted the bulky box to where it was between them. "I think this is some kind of electronic transceiver."
"You mean their version of a black box? Or a distress call?"
Rodney lifted a screwdriver, and attacked one end. "Both," he replied, gritting his teeth as he tried to wedge the end panel off.
Neither one was expecting the bright light that burst through when the panel popped off with greater ease than the effort Rodney was expending would indicate, and then the harsh, discordant, but painfully familiar, sounds.
Greetings Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay.
John and Rodney paled, and stared at the box in shock.
This is an interactive program keyed to your biological signatures. You see, we've left you a…message.
"Get someone," urged Sheppard. The noise was causing a headache, and he wanted someone else here to verify what they were hearing.
Rodney tapped the ear piece, calling with clipped words, "Carson, Elizabeth, I need you both in my lab."
"Rodney?" That was Beckett, then Elizabeth, "Understood."
Neither one could say more because the mental voice grew louder.
We are not an aggressive people, and though we do protect, there has been no reason for weaponry…till now. Your people have only created a delay. We know of your existence, and we know how dangerous your continued unfettered movements prove to be – as example, that you are hearing this message because of the destruction of our ship.
We will create offensive technology, and we will be back.
There was a booming sound in John's head that made him cry out in pain, and then everything faded to white…
"He's waking up."
"Are you sure, because he doesn't look like he's waking up to me," Rodney said to Carson – and John could just picture McKay leaning over him.
John tried to get his eyes to open, but they only went halfway. "M'up," he slurred.
"And you sound just like it, too," scoffed Rodney.
"Wha -" John finally had his eyes open, but now he tried to sit up, finding it a lot harder than he thought it should be. He blinked at McKay, who was dressed in scrubs and sitting up in a bed next to his, while Carson was standing between the two, and not looking very happy. "What happened?" he tried again, this time getting the question out correctly.
"It seems that the debris wasn't as harmless as we thought," admitted Rodney. "After delivering a very Terminatoresque warning, it blew up."
John was beginning to feel like a very slow turn on an old LP record, because he wasn't catching up. "What blew up?"
Carson frowned, and drew out his penlight, moving in for the examination. He flicked it a few times across John's eyes, and grunted. "Seems fine, how do you feel?"
John's shoulders were aching from trying to stay propped up, and he let himself fall back into the pillows. "Confused," irritably, he tried to ignore the throbbing in his forehead.
"Any queasiness, blurry vision?" prodded Beckett.
Looking uneasily at Rodney, John answered honestly, "Yes, and no."
Now concern replaced Beckett's frown and he moved his hands to John's head, massaging through the colonel's hair.
"Ouch!" John yelped, when Carson hit a tender spot.
"You must've hit your head on something," Beckett muttered, pulling his hands away and taking another look in Sheppard's eyes, and held up two fingers. "That explains why ye took longer to wake than Rodney, now, how many fingers, Colonel?"
John blinked. Two. He was pretty sure there were only two there. "Two," he replied, and looked around Beckett to see Rodney, who was watching with a hooded stare. "McKay – did you know the thing was going to explode?"
The hooded stare disappeared. "Oh, right – I knew it was going to explode, and I thought 'Hey, we haven't been patients in the infirmary enough', so I let it blow up in our face." Insult was painted in every line on his face.
"A simple yes or no is all I need." God, his head really hurt.
"Regardless of what either one of you want, you'll both be staying overnight." Beckett tucked his penlight back in the pocket on his lab coat, and folded his arms. "Rodney, before the explosion, you called for Elizabeth and I to come down to your lab, do you remember why?"
Rodney thought back to those moments leading up to everything blanking out for both of them, and John could see he was concentrating on the events. Sheppard himself thought back, but all he remembered was finding a piece of the robot trainer that'd been assigned to him, and then nothing.
McKay's mouth dropped open in surprise. "I don't remember," he said panicked. "Why can't I remember? There was a warning…"
Carson reached over for McKay's shoulders, and twisted him gently down into the bed. "It's okay, Rodney – it's possible you bumped your head, as well. It'll come back…or maybe it won't. It doesn't matter."
"But it does," Rodney protested, and Sheppard had the same gut feeling that it did. "What was it about? The explosion?"
Turning the lights down low, Carson waved a nurse over and told her to check on them in three hours. "I've got to go brief Elizabeth on your condition," he explained. "Rest, and we'll keep taking it a day at a time. It'll either come back, or it won't. Getting upset won't help."
Rodney jerked his head numbly, and Sheppard didn't say anything, so Carson frowned at them both one last time before leaving.
They stared at each other for a moment, before Sheppard went first. "Something important happened in your lab, Rodney. I can feel it."
McKay chewed his lip. "I know. But what?"
And they stared some more, because neither one could remember…
The End…or is it?
Additional AN: Just had to note that the Boss Hog reference comes from a popular show when we were growing up - Dukes of Hazzard (Rodney McKay and John Sheppard - both their characters and the actors - are my age and this show was mega popular so I'm going to take a leap and guess that McKay would've seen it at some point being our next door neighbor and knowing that they do tend to get USA aired shows).