When Sheppard woke, he felt hung over, with gritty eyes and a head full of cotton wadding. But he'd slept, and not been tormented by dreams for the first time in so long he'd lost count. He was face down, and realized at some point someone had drew the blanket over him, and on his own he'd twisted and pushed his head till it was eventually under the pillow.
At a noise to his left, he yanked his head out from under the pillow, and stared blearily at Rodney. He was sitting, typing on his computer and taking a bite of a Danish. When he saw John looking at him, he raised the Danish in the air and said, "Hope you don't mind. I got hungry waiting for you to wake up."
"What are you doing here?"
McKay smiled smugly. "I'm the ghost of Sheppard's past."
Granted, Sheppard had just woken up, but huh? "Rodney, I was sleeping. Finally. You woke me up." He ignored the ghost comment – for now.
"I didn't," he insisted, and then pointed the Danish at his head, "at last, the secret of Sheppard's hair is revealed. You know, there's a betting pool on how you manage the 'ruffled but sexy' look."
John looked at him like Rodney was the one that had gone off his rocker, causing McKay to add defensively. "Katie's words, not mine. She said if I could find out she'd make it 'worth my while'." Rodney appeared thoughtful for a minute. "Although, she may have been joking, you can never tell with women. She did say something about it being a 'hot topic' around the water cooler -"
Sheppard pushed the blanket off him, and got up tiredly, moving to the recessed sink on the wall, splashing water against his face and toweling off before turning back to Rodney. "You okay, Rodney, 'cause you're acting weird."
McKay looked at him steadily. "Define weird. That's such a subjective word."
"Watching me sleep while you work, eating a Danish, thought you hated those, and babbling about my hair. I'm sure there's more, I just didn't see it."
"I'm here to rescue you," Rodney admitted, his jaw jutted out stubbornly and he put the Danish down on a table nearby. "And I do like Danish, as long as it isn't stale, which you have to admit, the first year, supplies were more than a little lean, don't you think?"
Rescue him? It would have been funny if it hadn't been true, but seeing how he'd been planning on getting McKay to help him bust out of here, it was almost scary that Rodney knew him that well.
Before he could formulate a response out of his muddled thoughts, the room filled with music from Mission Impossible, coming from McKay's laptop.
"Are you nuts?" growled Sheppard, striding over and hitting the mute button – or trying to, because Rodney pulled the laptop back, and to the side, making him miss. He tried again, only for McKay to pull another move. Giving up, John hissed, "Do you want to bring the guards down on us?"
"Sound proof room, Colonel," McKay said. "It's mood music."
"I don't need mood music, I need to get out of here!"
At that exact moment, McKay grinned and hit a button on the computer with exaggerated precision, and the room filled with the wails of the alarm that the city did so well. Smugly, Rodney asked John, "You were saying?"
"What did you do?"
"I told Atlantis there was a viral agent, and the city just put itself into quarantine."
Sheppard arched his eyebrow, "Impressive." He thumbed at the door. "But what about thug 1 and thug 2?"
Shutting the computer, McKay sighed and dramatically said, "O ye of little faith." He got up and went to the panel, entered some commands, and the door slid open to reveal – nothing. No guards.
Sheppard peered suspiciously at the empty hallway, before turning to Rodney. "What'd you do? Or do I want to know?"
McKay's face flushed minimally. "You don't want to know," he said. "The point is that there's no one to interrupt us. So, come with me, Colonel, and let's take a trip."
A trip? John didn't want to take a trip, figuratively or literally, in fact, all he wanted to do was escape to a Jumper, lock himself there, and try to wrestle the remaining demons to his subconscious, never to rear their ugly head again – at least, not for a long long time.
"McKay, look, I appreciate the spring, but I want to be alone now."
"Wrong, Colonel. I'm risking my position as head scientist by organizing your little 'prison break', so if you don't mind, humor me." McKay guided him down another hall and into a transporter.
Sheppard almost went his own way, regardless of the help Rodney had given him, but there was something almost feral in McKay's eyes. "Where are we going?" he asked, reluctantly giving in, for now…
Tour guide McKay decided to rear his ugly head, and Rodney pulled them up short at a door. "First, we're going to drop off my computer, but secondly, this room belongs to me." The door opened, despite the wailing alarms. "And, as your 'Ghost of Christmas Past' I want you to realize how many times you've saved my life."
Sheppard narrowed his eyes, but followed into McKay's room. "How are you getting these doors to open if the city is in quarantine?" he asked, suddenly suspicious.
"It was really quite ingenious," crowed Rodney, as he put the computer on the desk. "I've got Atlantis believing we're not really here, yet coded the doors to open to us wherever we need to go, including the transportation devices."
"Ghosts in the city," murmured Sheppard, getting more of McKay's meaning every minute. "Look, you're not going to take me around and point out everything that wouldn't be if it weren't for me, are you? 'Cause isn't that more like a Ghost of Christmas Future?"
"It's my idea, and I say past because all of this happened in your past." Rodney looked exasperated. "Why do you always make things more complicated then they are?"
"The same reason you make things into 'oh no, we're all gonna die' every time something goes wrong," retorted Sheppard sharply. "I'm not gonna do this."
"Yes, you will, or I'll end the quarantine, and you can go back and sit in your little pity party, and talk to Kate till she pries out everything that is Colonel Sheppard, and let Carson keep you drugged," McKay snapped, and held up a small remote. "This is all it takes, Sheppard. One push."
"You're a real bastard, you know that?" Sheppard said it like he meant it, because right now, he kind of did.
McKay didn't look insulted in the least. Instead, he looked almost flattered. "I can be," he admitted. "But so can you, now let's go, places to see and we've only got about an hour before Zelenka figures out what I've done and how to undo it."
The next stop was outside Weir's quarters. John looked at the door, just as the sirens cut-off. McKay was sober.
"You've saved Elizabeth more than once. You know it, and she knows it. Can you imagine what might have happened if you hadn't kept Koyla from taking her through the gate?"
Sheppard's mind retreated back to that day. The Genii invasion. He'd killed a lot of people that day, and done so without a flicker of remorse, but it'd come later. Sixty people had been dematerialized and gone from the universe by his push of a button. He'd done what he'd had to do, to save Elizabeth and McKay, and he knew he'd do it again.
His mouth went a little dry. "If I'd never stepped through the gate in the first place, she wouldn't have been at risk."
McKay snorted in disbelief. "And people think I'm egotistical?"
"What?" snapped Sheppard, annoyed at being patently insulted. "It's true. I picked up the locket. I set off a chain of events that led us to that point. It was me, McKay. No one else shares the blame for that."
"Colonel, would the wraith still be here if you hadn't came on this expedition?"
"Yeah, but -"
"No, no buts, Sheppard. Think of it like this – the Pegasus galaxy is a big pond, and the wraith are the 'big fish' on the block. In a pond, you have a finite space, and regardless of where the smaller fish are in the pond, eventually, they'll run into the 'big fish', and if they don't know to be watching, they'll be eaten." McKay explained angrily. "Your screw-up with the locket wasn't intentional, but it set off a chain of events that ended in us escaping total annihilation by the wraith. What do you think would've happened if a Hive ship showed up to a happily filled city full of little Earthlings, with no idea of how big and bad the fish up in the sky was? And what it would've meant for Earth?"
Sheppard hadn't thought of it that way. He'd always looked at the chain of events in the worst way possible. He knew what would've happened if it'd gone McKay's fictional path, and the effect was stunning. He felt almost driven to his knees at the consequences. The expedition would've been wiped out, and before all of them were sucked lifeless, someone would've given up Earth's location. The Stargate would've been left intact, allowing them a portal to Earth. The wraith would've been able to find ZPM's, or some way of getting to their home. And then Earth, unprepared because there had been no way of contacting the SGC, would've been at the mercy of beings who would've embarked on a feeding frenzy.
He suddenly felt very cold. "Disaster," he whispered to himself.
McKay nodded, remaining silent, but he started walking off, expecting Sheppard to follow.
And surprisingly, Sheppard did.
McKay took him past door after door. Sometimes he offered specific names and events, not that Sheppard didn't already remember, but maybe Rodney thought he needed someone else to point out the obvious. Except, it hadn't been obvious. He'd never considered events in the light that McKay was now illuminating.
Cadman, Zelenka, Beckett – a lot of personnel from the nanovirus, names he barely knew, but then McKay brought him up short before another door, and Sheppard almost turned and ran. He knew this room. The memorial room, chapel, reflection or meditation, whatever you wanted to call it.
"I've gone along with this, Rodney, but I'm not -" he drifted off. He wanted to say he'd go anywhere but in there, because in there were memorials to people he'd personally put in the proverbial ground through his own actions. And one that wasn't there yet, but might be soon. Ford.
"You will," vowed McKay, releasing the door, and pulling him in.
Why he let Rodney do that, he had no idea, except that maybe his mind recognized the need. He was tugged all the way to the memorial stones. They were created from the rubble of Atlantis, and the meaning of hope and beauty from death and destruction wasn't lost on him. He knew it was Elizabeth who had suggested it.
"Rodney," raggedly he tried to step back, "Don't do this -"
"Face it, Colonel, before it eats you up so badly that soon I'm placing another stone in here, this time with your name on it."
Sheppard noticed for the first time just how bleak McKay's features had become. He hadn't taken the time to consider the affect of watching your team leader – friend – falling apart in front of you, would have. The air was thickened between them, and he swallowed the lump painfully out of his throat.
"I killed him, Rodney. Did you know that?"
"The wraith did. They are responsible, not you."
Sheppard thought McKay misunderstood. "Not the wraith. Me. I held that gun, got Sumner in my sights, and I pulled the trigger," he said coldly. "Do you know what it's like to kill another expedition member with your own hand? I can't do it again, Rodney. I can't, and God forgive me, because Ford may be the ruin of us all because I couldn't."
But Rodney had understood. "He was already dead, Sheppard. I read the report, I talked to Ford. What was left was a husk. There wasn't any chance for Sumner, and you knew that. He knew that. The only outcome would've been compromising Earth if you hadn't shot." The anger burned low in McKay's voice, and when he continued his own was haunted. "And I do know what it's like. Gall killed himself because of me. Because I wouldn't leave him and go help you. He knew that if he were gone, I'd go, so he blew his brains away. So you see, Colonel, you aren't the only one with blood on your hands."
"Oh, hell," muttered Sheppard. He found a chair and dropped into it, suddenly feeling the weight of a thousand worlds on his back. "How do you go on from here, Rodney?"
McKay sat down beside him. "You just do, because you have to. Is there anyone you'd trust more to do your job?"
Sheppard smiled painfully, and shook his head. "No," he admitted.
"Then you do it because of that. And you do it because the living depend on you. Maybe, even, we can save Ford. Remember those fancy stun pistols? As much as it pains me to admit, that's a good idea. Maybe, where there's life, there's hope. And Ford still has a life, and though he's a little – psychotic," Rodney coughed slightly over the word, "-he's mostly sane, as much as any of us, not including me of course, because my sanity has never been in doubt -"
"And please, can you get over this breakdown because being this nice and considerate is using up my supply for the year, and I still have my job performance review coming up, and Elizabeth threatened to take away my supply of coffee if I got anything less than acceptable." McKay had a look of disgust on his face, "Do you know what they consider on those evaluations? Peer relations – as if I have to treat my underlings better. Hello, underlings. I chose science so I wouldn't have to be polite."
"Where's the benefit of being in charge if you can't be an -"
"McKay," interrupted John.
Irritably, he snapped, "What?"
"I got it," said Sheppard. And he meant it.
Between Ronon's simple acceptance of the way things were, and McKay's insight into other…things, he felt some level of peace inside now that hadn't been there before. The nightmares would probably still happen, but he wasn't afraid anymore.
Just then, the comms crackled and a voice boomed through the city. "Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay, report to the infirmary, STAT. I repeat, Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay, report to the infirmary, STAT."
McKay paled. "Elizabeth," he whispered. "Oh, no...Zelenka was faster than I'd thought."
"You didn't have a back-up plan?" asked Sheppard, surprised. "Everyone knows you always have a back-up plan."
"I didn't see you volunteering one," accused McKay.
"So, basically, we're dead."
Rodney nodded miserably.
"Were you daft, man?" shouted Beckett.
Rodney cringed, but his anger wasn't easily cowed. "Oh, excuse me, I missed the part where you helped him…you know, about the time you started treating Sheppard was about the time he started rapidly declining, and I don't believe in coincidences!"
Sheppard slunk lower in the bed, and tried to make sure neither one remembered he was here.
Carson turned a shade of red that John had to admit was pretty impressive. "Rodney, are you insinuating that I made the Colonel worse?"
"If the shoe fits," shrugged McKay.
"May I remind you that your suggestion almost landed Sheppard in a very compromising state?" Beckett said, his voice so cold Sheppard could've swore the temperature dropped ten degrees.
"At least it didn't make him a reincarnation of the kid from the Exorcist!"
If Sheppard hadn't been so tired, he probably would've laughed at that one, but as it were, the sleep he'd started getting was only fueling the fires of exhaustion, as his body lapped it up eagerly and begged for more.
He dimly heard the ranting continue, but his mind shut down, and he felt his eyes shut. The sounds of his friends ushered him into a deep dreamless sleep –
"- of all the egotistical, idiotic, narcissistic -"
"Shut up, Carson," ordered McKay, looking past the doctor to the bed behind him.
"What?" spluttered Beckett.
With an insufferably pleased expression, Rodney pointed over Carson's shoulder. "He's sleeping."
Beckett turned abruptly, and realized that Sheppard had indeed fallen asleep, and the most amazing thing of all, was the soft smile that remained on his lips.
"Aye," said Beckett quietly. "That he is."
AN: Okay, you all probably knew the end was coming, and here it is! Thanks so much for taking the time to stop and read our slice of 'Sheppard's mental breakdown after the rough events of season one and start of season two'! It's been wonderful reading the reactions, and I don't think it's possible to say enough how much it's a thrill to get those reviews and comments. Thanks again! Merlin7 and Kodiak Bear