A Friend In Need

Summary: When John has an unfortunate experience offworld, Rodney blames himself. How could he ever have hoped to have friends when all he does is hurt everyone and everything he comes into contact with?
Central Characters: Rodney and John. (Friendship fic.)
Categories: Angst, Drama, H/C, Smarm.
Placement: Following "Childhood's End", before "Poisoning the Well". Sort of an epilogue to the former.
Rating: PG for some blood, violence, and minor language.
Spoilers: Lots for "Childhood's End", "38 Minutes", "Rising Part II", very vague incidental references to "Hide And Seek", "Home", "The Eye", "Hot Zone", "Letters From Pegasus", "The Gift", and SG-1's "48 Hours", and "Redemption Parts I, II".
Author's Note: This fic is for Heidi and Marla, who wanted (respectively) Rodney and Shep whumping. I put both the boys through the wringer physically and psychologically as best I could... ;) Hope you enjoy it. :) Oh, and I apologise to everyone reading this for the unrealistic medical stuff; consider it dramatic license and try to ignore it if you can't forgive it. Originally posted on AtlantisGenGate.
Disclaimer: Legally speaking, Rodney is not mine; nor is John. They belong to MGM, SciFi, et al. But this story and everything I do to Rodney and John in it is mine... So please don't use it without asking. :)

Author's Note, contd: This is a completed fic in 3 parts. The next two will be going up within a week or so; possibly sooner, depending on what kind of a response I get. I mean, if I get reviews shamelessly begging for more... :p Yeah, dream on. ;)


Part 1: M3R-571

John Sheppard surveyed the bizarre landscape around him with eyebrows raised disapprovingly. From horizon to horizon, there was nothing to be seen but disturbingly twisted rock formations. All were weirdly mottled in any of a number of shades of brown, and varied in size from two to two hundred feet high. All right if you liked that kind of thing, Sheppard decided, but not quite his piece of cake.

The strangest thing, he reflected, was the way the edges of one distorted monolith seemed to blend into another; the more you stared at them, the more confused the whole mess got. Between the color scheme and the design, it was very hard to judge any kind of distance. And he was sure it would be no fun at all to get lost on this planet.

John decided to give his eyes a rest from it.

He glanced to the side as a noise told him McKay had stepped up next to him.

"Kind of reminds you of, uh, Siberia, doesn't it?" Rodney asked.

John considered this, taking another look at the landscape. "Not really," he decided.

Rodney turned on him with his superiour face. "Have you ever been to Siberia?"

"Yeah." Sheppard paused. "Twice."

Rodney looked deflated. "Oh."

Aiden Ford joined in the conversation. "So what's it look like, sir? Siberia?"

"It's not really as... Brown," he informed his lieutenant.

"No, I see what you mean," said Rodney, determined not to be left out. "It's more a sort of grey in Siberia."

"Well," Sheppard couldn't resist saying, "it was white when I was there."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Whatever! I suppose it must have snowed. Who cares? All I meant was that it's very big, very bleak, and there doesn't seem to be anyone around."

"Well that could be anywhere. Why Siberia?"

Rodney turned quietly caustic. "All right," he said. "I was mistaken. What I should have said was, 'It reminds you of Mars, doesn't it?'"

"Have you ever been to Mars?" shot back the Major.

"No," McKay returned immediately, looking smug, "but neither have you."

As Rodney wandered away, Teyla addressed Sheppard. "I do not think there will be natives on this world," she said. "It seems very... barren."

"Yeah, I think you're right about that," he agreed. "We'll just wait for McKay to finish up with his scientific stuff, and then we'll get back to Atlantis."

Teyla nodded, and Ford said, "Right, sir."

Rodney came back a moment later looking very pleased about something. "Well," he told John, "my, um, 'scientific stuff' didn't turn up any signs of an energy source," he paused to smirk, then continued on a different, and slightly more sincere tack, "But these rock formations are absolutely amazing."

"Better than Siberia?"

Rodney ignored him. "I mean, I don't know much about this kind of thing, but some of the geologists are going to go nuts when they see this."

John blinked, feigning confusion. "Did you just say that you didn't know much about something?"

Rodney looked at him, halfway between honesty and grumpiness. "Frankly, I never saw the appeal."

"Oh!"

"What does that mean?"

"Oh? Well, it just means... Oh." He grinned at Rodney, who shook his head and made "What?" faces.

"Right," Sheppard said. Having successfully confused McKay, he turned back to the Stargate. "Let's head out."

"What?" Rodney spoke up. "Aren't we even going to look around at all?"

John raised an eyebrow. Apparently Rodney's eavesdropping talents were confined to comments specifically about himself. "What for?"

"What for?" Rodney repeated, clearly baffled as to what to make of this answer. "What for? Don't you have any sense of curiosity whatsoever?"

John thought about it. There wasn't any actual hurry to get back to Base. If McKay wanted to look around for a few minutes, he supposed that was okay. As long as they didn't get lost, there was no reason to assume that the planet was hostile enough to cause any serious trouble in half an hour.

Besides, he wanted to have a look around himself.

Sheppard swung back to face the antagonistic scientist again. "Sure," he told him. "I'm curious. Let's go."

Rodney was taken by surprise. "Oh, all right. Good."

"Ford, Teyla," Sheppard told the other two team members, "stay by the Gate. If we're not back in half an hour, try the radio. If you can't raise us, call Weir and tell her what's up. I'm gonna go take McKay on a little field trip."

"Field trip...?" muttered Rodney in the background.

"Yes, sir," Ford said.

John gave Teyla a wave, and went to join Rodney, who was looking distinctly annoyed.

"'Field trip?'" McKay asked, as they started to tramp off. "I could have gone by myself, you know. I don't need a babysitter to watch me every time I go a few feet away."

"That's a matter of opinion," grinned Sheppard.

Rodney felt the beginnings of a smile threatening to ruin his composure. Oh, he had so walked into that one. But he pretended not to have heard, and studied the device he was holding more closely.

John bent his head to stare at the familiar-looking object Rodney was so absorbed in. "What is that thing?"

Rodney kept looking at it, but with a smug expression on his face now. "Oh, it's just something I picked up in Atlantis."

"An Ancient thing? Let me see..." John tried to grab it, but Rodney pulled it out of reach.

"You can look at it later!" he said peevishly. "I'm actually using it at the moment, if you hadn't noticed."

John cocked his head as Rodney bent over the device again. He finally placed the technology. "Is that one of those... people-finder things from the Jumpers?"

"The life signs detectors?" Rodney, intent on the readings, missed John's expression at his terminology. "Yes, yes, it is," he confirmed, sounding quite impatient for no good reason.

"Why have you got one of those?" John asked curiously. "Expecting company?"

"It's not just for locating life signs, Major. It's much more complex than that."

"So what's it do then?"

"It does a lot of things, actually," McKay explained proudly. "Mostly, it's useful scientifically for detecting radiation, EM fields, energy signatures..."

"Oh." John nodded sagely.

"Not too surprising, really. I mean, it's a similar concept."

"Right. What else does it do?"

"Well..." Rodney gestured vaguely, then owned up. "We're not really sure yet."

"So, you finding any of that stuff?" Rodney appeared to be about to ask for clarification, so John headed him off. "Radiation or anything?"

Rodney looked up. "No," he said.

"Well," John told him, switching to mock-serious condescension, "you can keep it up a little longer, McKay, but then the field trip's over."

Rodney failed to react; then he noticed something. "The Stargate's out of sight."

"I know."

Rodney got annoyed. "Oh, I'm sure you do. I was just wondering if that might possibly be a problem?"

John shrugged provokingly. "Not for me."

Sheppard then headed off to look at a rock which, he thought, kind of resembled a cow. If you looked at it the right way, that is.

Rodney glanced over at Sheppard, who was standing off by himself tilting his head back and forth at a big, lumpy rock.

Why did he bother? Seriously, Rodney asked himself, why did he even keep trying? No one ever wanted to talk to him for any length of time, and personally, he couldn't really blame them. Even if he was a genius, and the smartest person in Atlantis, he was still, to be quite frank, not much fun. He just wished that if they were going to talk to him, they wouldn't just make fun of him all the time.

It was his own fault; it must be. And it was very unscientific to assume, that after all these years, someone might actually want to hang around with him. None of the factors had changed: He was the same, and the world was the same. He just ought to get used to the idea that no one would ever like him.

And he had to stop letting people get to him. He'd told himself this over and over, as far back as he could remember. But still, some people always did.

And the people he admired did it the worst.

So Rodney responded in the way he always did when his feelings were hurt: he got surly.

John turned around again from the cow-rock (which he'd discovered really looked more like a goose from some angles) to see McKay angrily stuffing his Ancient device into his vest, and scowling at the ground.

John raised his eyebrows as he sauntered over. "Done already?"

Rodney avoided his eyes. "Yes, I am. There's nothing here, so let's just go."

"All right," conceded the Major. "You're the one who wanted to go for a walk."

"Oh, right," Rodney replied, overreacting, "and I dragged you all the way out here for absolutely nothing! I'm so sorry to have put you to the trouble!"

Sheppard eyed the scientist's hunched back in surprise.

"You feeling all right, McKay?"

Rodney's reply was deeply sarcastic. "Yes, perfectly wonderful, and you, Major?"

Sheppard didn't answer. McKay, he realised, had been out of sorts all day long. You could never tell what his next mood-swing would be when he was like this. It was best, he'd found, to just talk as little as possible.

"Are we going or aren't we?" Rodney half-turned to ask impatiently.

"Sure," Sheppard said affably. "Let's go."

Rodney waited for him to get ahead, and then followed a couple of paces behind.

He felt guilty. He shouldn't have lost his temper like that. It was just one of those days when things didn't go right at all... If he had found a ZedPM here, it would have been like back on that kiddie planet - M7G-677, where everything had turned bad. No matter what he did, it always seemed to come out wrong. He hated that.

Still thinking, Rodney looked up, and stopped. Sheppard stopped, too, turning to see what the matter was. "This isn't the way to the Stargate," Rodney asserted.

"Yes it is," John told him. "It's just a little different."

"Meaning...?"

"It's a short-cut."

Rodney rolled his eyes, and started after the Major again. "Oh, of course it is. I just hope you don't get us both hopelessly lost."

John smiled to himself. Getting lost with McKay. Yeah, that would really be a picnic.

Sheppard thought for a second that he glimpsed a movement at the edge of his vision, a little ways up ahead. But when he looked again, there was nothing there, just the endless patterned brown rock.

He stepped towards it to investigate, ignoring McKay's irritated question behind him. No, there was nothing there. Or... He went closer. There was something there. Some kind of animal about the size of a cat that blended in with the rock, lying right across the path he and Rodney were on. It was almost impossible to see, except when it moved - or if you got, really, really close.

Too close, Sheppard's instincts told him. One thing he'd learned very quickly, was that you stay away from aliens, be they birds, bugs, or whatever.

He started to back off slowly.

"Some sort of animal," he informed McKay over his shoulder. "I think we should go-"

As Rodney watched, a piece of the rock seemed to suddenly detach itself from the ground and fly at John, who threw up one arm to shield his face. The creature latched on for a couple of seconds before Sheppard was able to fling it to the ground. While Rodney continued to stare, paralysed with shock, John whipped up his gun, and fired almost point blank at the animal. He gave it a few extra bursts to make sure it was dead. Then he just stood there.

"Major?"

Rodney hoped this wasn't as bad as he thought it was. The Major was still on his feet... But now he was swaying a little unsteadily. Rodney finally managed to move, and went at a run to where Sheppard still stood, about a dozen feet away.

"Major, are you all right?"

"Yeah..." Sheppard answered, though he didn't seem sure. "Yeah, just a little... a little dizzy."

Rodney instinctively caught him as he collapsed, and lowered him into a sitting position.

John was confused. Why did he feel so bad? It took intense concentration to come up with the answer. He remembered the sharp pain in his arm... "Poison."

"What?" Rodney sounded scared.

"That thing... bit me." It wasn't easy to talk. Hell, it wasn't easy to breathe. This wasn't good...

He felt Rodney start to move away, and grabbed the scientist's sleeve.

"Don't touch it!" he ordered. Snakes, jellyfish - all kinds of poisonous things could still give you a fatal dose of venom after they were dead. He couldn't explain. He just hoped McKay would have the sense to do as he was told.

"Right, of course," Rodney said absently, and stayed put. John managed to glance up at the scientist. He looked even more scared than he had sounded. But his voice didn't show it any more.

Sheppard gathered himself together. It was going to have to be now, or quite literally never. He started trying to squirm out of his vest.

"What are you doing?"

John fell back. It was too hard. He just didn't have enough strength...

"Take... my jacket... off," he panted.

Thankfully, McKay didn't ask any questions now. He leaped into action, and had the vest and jacket off in a flash. It hurt, and it made the fog of unconsciousness come way too close, but there wasn't a choice. And still John had to hold on, to keep his wits about him a little bit longer.

"What now?"

"Sleeve... Cut my sleeve."

He tried to get out his knife, but Rodney beat him too it. Good, McKay had got the point. Halfway through that thought, John lost consciousness.

Rodney didn't notice. He was too busy using the knife to cut and rip the fabric until John's right arm was visible. Rodney winced. There were several small puncture marks in the skin of John's forearm. All of them were swelling up and turning an unpleasant dark color.

Rodney didn't know what to do. He couldn't think. Right, he had to get the Major back to Atlantis. Carson would know what to do. It would be all right. Oh, it would have to be all right...

He was alarmed to see that Sheppard already seemed to have lost consciousness. He cursed himself for sitting around, wasting time that the Major's life might depend on. But as he started to lift him off the ground, John's eyes fluttered open, and looked into Rodney's clearly for a split second.

"Tourniquet," he said. The word was rasped out very quietly. Rodney wouldn't have been able to hear it if he had been any farther away. Then John's head fell forward again.

Tourniquet? Of course! Tie something tightly around his arm to keep the poison from making it into his system. Why hadn't he thought of that?

Rodney frantically made a long bandage from the scraps of John's shirt. Hoping that he was doing this the right way, he wound it once around the major's arm, just below the elbow, and pulled it tight.

Now what?

Radio! Radio back for help, that's what he should do.

"Ford, the Major's hurt, get Beckett here right away," he said into his mic.

Ford's voice came crackling over the radio as Rodney hoisted the unconscious John off the ground. "What happened?"

"Some alien bit him, he's poisoned, now just call Atlantis, and tell them to hurry!"

"Right!"

Rodney started to haul John towards the Stargate. He had to half-drag, half-carry him, and no matter how quickly he tried to go, it seemed far too slow.

He tried not to think about how many more of those things could be lurking in front of him, and he wouldn't even know it until it was too late... No, not a good idea. Just focus on getting the Major back while there's still time.

Ford's voice came over the radio again, startling Rodney. "We're gonna come find you."

"No," Rodney practically yelled back, "don't do that! There might be more of those things anywhere, and you'll never be able to find us anyway."

Teyla came on, "You are certain you know the way to the Stargate?"

Rodney groaned inwardly. He had been sure - until they'd started asking about it. This had to be the right way... It just had to be, and he couldn't waste time thinking about it.

"Dr. McKay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm sure."

"Teyla's gonna call Atlantis," Ford informed him. "Beckett should be through with a team in a few minutes."

Then there was silence. A horrible, blank silence, broken only by the sounds of his own footsteps, his own gasping breaths, and the sound of John's feet dragging against the stony ground.

The weird patterns of the rocky landscape all blended together, contributing to the nightmare feeling growing inside Rodney. He tried to look ahead, but it was all the same, and it confused him when he tried to make out the path...

He turned his eyes down to the ground. Just one step at a time, don't look any farther ahead, or you'll get lost. Don't think ahead, just do what you have to now. Thinking won't help.

Unfortunately, Rodney couldn't help thinking... And the Major felt very limp in his arms... Almost as if he...

Rodney stopped himself with a desperate effort. That wouldn't do anyone any good!

Rodney kept on, trying to go faster. If he could just get John to the Stargate, it would be all right... A pang of fear shot through Rodney, almost making him stop dead. Where was the Gate? Shouldn't it be in sight by now? Surely they hadn't walked that far coming here...

Doubt almost overcame him. If he was going the wrong way, then every step in this direction was killing the Major. It might even be too late already...

"McKay?"

Rodney turned, hope rekindling in his eyes. The Major was conscious! So maybe it would be all right after all.

"Major! How do you feel?"

John moaned in response. Rodney started to walk again, even faster than before.

"What's goin' on?" Sheppard's words came out slurred, causing Rodney to frown worriedly.

"Beckett's got a team coming through the Stargate any second now. You're going to be all right, Major, just hang on." Oh, just a little bit more, and surely the Gate would be in sight!

"Hot... McKay, s' hot..."

Rodney frowned harder. Sheppard was right; McKay could feel his head lolling against his shoulder. He hadn't had time to notice, he realised with a new pang of guilt. "You're burning up," he said, more to himself than to John, and tried to put on an extra notch of speed. "Don't worry, you'll be fine once we get you back to Atlantis." He knew he sounded confident; he had to. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to convince himself.

Rodney half-pulled John and himself up over a rise... And there at last was the Stargate, only a dozen yards away!

Just then his radio crackled into life. "McKay, Beckett's on the way. Where are you?"

"We're in sight now," was all Rodney could spare the breath to say. He started to scramble down the slope, trying not to hurt John against the rocky ground, but trying not to let the terrain slow him down either.

He was halfway to the Gate now... And suddenly Aiden and Teyla were there before he'd even heard them coming. Rodney stood back as the other two started inspecting the Major's arm. He didn't look good at all, Rodney realised. His eyes were closed again, and his face was too white. And his arm... Rodney stared at it, appalled. How long had he taken to get him back? Because the Major's forearm was now covered with horrible dark blotches, and it couldn't possibly have gotten like that in a few minutes.

He'd failed. He'd gone too slowly, or something. And now it was too late.

The Major was going to die. And it was all his fault...

A voice came out of nowhere.

"You do this?"

It was Aiden. Rodney had forgotten he was even there. He was pointing to the tourniquet.

Rodney spared a glance, then turned his eyes back to the Major's unnaturally white face. "Yes, the Major said... Is it wrong?"

"It's good," Aiden told him shortly, and looked away again and said something to Teyla.

Why? Rodney thought. Why did he have to ask to go look around? He'd known there wouldn't be any energy signs within walking distance of the Gate, or he could have detected them from there. It was just his stupid curiosity. He'd simply wanted to look around, for no reason, really - and now because of that, the Major was going to die.

Rodney realised now just how much he depended on, admired - liked Major Sheppard. He usually tried not to think about things like that, because the feeling was never mutual. And if you let yourself go there, you lost your reserve, your shield, and then people could hurt you. And laugh at you. It didn't matter if people laughed at a mask you put on; but if they laughed at you yourself, without any defenses - well, that was the worst.

Sometimes he wondered, if he opened up a little more often, would it change anything? But his whole life, from childhood onwards had taught him that that kind of experimentation was far too risky.

It was always his fault. He'd almost wiped out an entire planet of people, just because he'd taken their ZedPM for testing. That had been his idea. And it would have been his fault if... if it had gone the way it logically should have. It was only pure luck, really, that he'd gotten the shield back on in time.

And even worse, he had put all the rest of his team in danger as well. If the natives had killed them, the way they'd planned, that would have been his fault, too.

He'd wanted to do better. He guessed he'd wanted to prove to the Major and everyone else that he could behave responsibly, that he didn't just do things without thinking, and get people hurt.

And now that's exactly what he'd done all over again.

At some point, Rodney thought to wonder what Aiden and Teyla were doing. He looked over, and saw that Aiden had taken out a knife. As Rodney watched, the lieutenant used it to cut John's arm, right along the fang marks. Of course, Rodney's numb mind told him, he was going to try to suck the poison out.

Rodney felt sick at the thought.

He tried to quell the voice that came into his mind: It's too late. Nothing can save him now...

Oh, if this nightmare would just end...

Aiden carefully cut along the teeth marks of whatever it was that had poisoned the Major. He'd learned how to do this in a survival class back in high school, before he'd joined up. It might be too late for it to do any good, but something he'd discovered was that it never hurt to try. This couldn't do any harm, and it might help somewhat.

As Teyla held John's arm still, Aiden bent down and started trying to suck the poison out. Teyla would have made a good nurse, back on Earth, he thought. She didn't seem to be a bit squeamish, just quietly and competently did as she was told without asking pointless questions.

When he thought he'd gotten as much as he could, Teyla handed him a bandage, and Ford wrapped it around the wound. Dr. Beckett would just take it off again, of course, when he showed up... Aiden hoped that would be soon. The Major looked just awful.

"Right, the doc should be here any second now," he said, standing up and making his voice sound confident with an effort. Teyla continued to hold John's head, trying to make him as comfortable as possible until help arrived.

Ford glanced around to look at the Stargate, and caught a glimpse of Rodney's face. He hadn't had time to notice before, but now he saw that McKay looked almost as bad as Sheppard. He was just standing there, not moving, not making a sound, and staring fixedly at Sheppard. Aiden was surprised to note that the scientist was as pale as a ghost.

"Dr. McKay, you all right?"

Rodney didn't seem to hear him. His wide, guilt-haunted eyes didn't leave the Major's face.

"Dr. McKay." Aiden put his hand on the other man's shoulder. Rodney's eyes moved, looked at him from far away.

"What?"

Aiden had seen enough battles, and the aftermaths, to know what needed to be said here. "Hey, it's not your fault."

Rodney didn't answer. Ford wasn't sure the reassurance had even gotten through to him at all. McKay's gaze drifted back to John's pale, sweat-covered face. "Is he going to die?"

The childish directness of the question took Aiden aback, as did the hopeless tone it was uttered in. He swallowed worriedly. "I hope not," was all he could say.

A noise behind him caused Aiden to turn. The Stargate had activated, and seconds later, Beckett and a team of medics came through. Ford waved to them and shouted, "Over here!" The team started for them at a run.

Rodney saw Beckett and his team as if from another plane of existence. Hoping against Hope takes a lot of effort, and Rodney had almost lost his last shreds of defense against despair.

He heard the whine of the defibrillator charging up, saw the doctors clustered around, heard the thud as the charge was sent into the major's chest...

Heard Beckett give the order to try again...

And through it all, the long, high-pitched shriek of the monitor, matching the rising scream in his own mind and signalling that the Major was still, technically, dead.

And as the seconds went on, and still nothing happened, Rodney could feel his new friend's life slipping away forever...

And there was nothing he could do to help him.

Rodney shuddered, remembering those few minutes in the Jumper all too vividly. It had taught him how much he valued the lives of those around him. And the life of Major John Sheppard particularly. Maybe the Major would never care to treat him as a friend, but at moments like that, he just didn't care.

There was something so eerily similar about the scenario being played out in front of him now. All the medics bending over the still form... And nothing Rodney, with all his science and all his knowledge, could do to help. He could only stand, and watch... And try to keep on hoping.

But while he watched the doctors busily inspecting John's arm, and preparing for the trip back to Atlantis, a little light rekindled in the dark world. They didn't seem to think it was hopeless yet. If it were definitely too late, they would hardly be acting that way, would they?

But then a nasty thought killed his new-found optimism: It was still his fault. And even if the Major did live through this somehow, Rodney wouldn't be the reason.

Everyone was helping except him! Aiden was briefing Beckett on the situation. Teyla was making herself useful to the medics. Rodney just watched. There was nothing for him to do. At least when he'd made such trouble on the planet with the ZedPM, he'd been able to do something to try to fix what he'd ruined.

But this time... He was just useless. No, he was worse than useless, because not only was he not helping - nothing would even have happened if it hadn't been for him.

Oh, what did it matter? If only the Major would get well again, he didn't care. Maybe he'd resign from the team. That would probably be a good idea. Then at least his stupid mistakes wouldn't put anyone in danger any longer. It would be better that way.

He watched the medical team bustling around the Major's prone figure. He didn't want this to happen, ever again. Yes, it would be better to stay away from the people he cared about, before he did something no one could fix.

Carson Beckett injected a stimulant into Sheppard's left arm. The man was pretty badly off, but he was responding well. Lieutenant Ford had done well to try to get the poison out before it had been in his system too long. And Rodney had, according to Teyla, brought John back to the Stargate in amazing time. He'd also applied a tourniquet, and radioed in ahead for help.

In cases like this, it was good thinking and quick reactions that counted. And Sheppard's team had done everything anyone could have done, and done it all well.

And because of that, it looked like Major Sheppard was going to be all right.

Beckett left John to the rest of the doctors, and spoke to Teyla and Aiden, who were standing close by, watching worriedly. "Well," he told them, and there was a cheerful note in his voice that made them brighten up immediately, "he's not out of the woods yet - but I think he's going to be fine."

Teyla's face relaxed into a relieved smile, and Aiden gave a huge, shining grin.

"If you hadn't reacted so quickly, it might be a different matter. But the venom seems to be non-persistent, and with careful watching for a little while, he should make a full recovery."

He smiled at the two, then realised something.

"Where's Rodney?"

Aiden and Teyla exchanged a glance, and Aiden motioned with his head to where the scientist was standing, off by himself.

That wasn't like Rodney, and Carson could see that his teammates were thinking the same thing.

Teyla shook her head, concern in her face again. "He believes this to be his fault."

Beckett continued to look at Rodney's lonely, motionless figure. "Would you like to tell him the good news, that the Major's out of immediate danger?"

"Tell him yourself, doc," Aiden suggested in a subdued tone. "He might listen to you more than he would to us."

Beckett nodded, and walked over to where McKay was standing. "Rodney?"

Rodney shook himself a little, like someone coming out of a trance, and blinked at the medical doctor. He didn't answer, and there was such a deeply anxious expression in his eyes that Beckett felt a twinge of alarm.

Carson laid a hand on his friend's arm. "He's still got a ways to go, but we think the Major's going to be just fine, Rodney."

Rodney's eyes lit up, but he asked disbelievingly, "Really?"

"Yes, Rodney," Carson replied gently, surprised again at the look of joy that this provoked. "He should be out of danger now, thanks to you and Lt. Ford and Teyla."

Rodney didn't hear the last sentence. He wasn't listening any more. He was smiling as hard as he could, an uncontrollable, honest smile. All he could think of was that the Major was actually going to be all right. Really all right! It was unbelievable, but apparently it was true. And Rodney sure wasn't going to argue. ./p

He hardly noticed as Beckett moved away, going back to where his team still hovered over their recovering patient.

He hadn't really thought it could turn out all right; and still it had, after all. And Rodney found himself being very, very thankful for that.

He noticed Teyla coming towards him from where she had been standing by John. "Dr. McKay," she said with a kind smile, "Major Sheppard is conscious."

"What, really?" he asked her, with a look that almost amounted to fear. "He is?"

"Yes," she nodded. Rodney stood for a minute, looking confused and opening and closing his mouth without saying anything.

How could he be awake already? Wasn't that impossible? What would he say?

The questions raced around in his head, one emotion following another. But it all stopped as he felt a small hand unexpectedly slip into his own.

Teyla was looking up at him, a smile on her face, and her brown hand holding his. "Come and see, Dr. McKay."

Rodney let himself be led to where John was lying on a stretcher, surrounded by doctors. Rodney had a brief impression of Carson's gaze on him, and Aiden grinning. Then he was looking down at John.

He was still very pale, and Rodney glanced concernedly at the bandage around his right arm. But he no longer had that look, the look of someone mortally ill. Rodney couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something that looked so much... better about him already. He smiled to himself. Now he could believe it.

And the best thing of all, was that the Major's eyes were open, and they most certainly weren't the eyes of a man who was dying. He was staring up at Rodney with an attempt at normalcy slightly hampered by his physical weakness.

"How - how do you feel?" Rodney heard himself ask inanely.

"Lousy," John answered deliberately in a low voice.

Rodney's face fell.

"But lousy's a lot better than dead."

Rodney's smile came back again. He cleared his throat, a little of his usual manner starting to come back. "Yes. Good." He really didn't know what to say.

"I heard what you did," John said, turning serious. "Thanks, McKay."

Rodney felt the guilt return, along with a lot of confusion that John should be thanking him of all people. He waved one hand around nervously, trying to explain. "No, no! Um, it was Teyla and Ford and Carson... I couldn't... I didn't do anything."

John raised his eyebrows a bit. From what he'd heard, and what little he remembered, that wasn't quite right. And now Rodney's unhappy eyes were staring down at him, and his right hand was still up in the air, waiting to see if John understood.

John managed a little grin. "Then thanks for nothing."

Rodney flushed, and smiled a small smile. Then the sad look came back, and he shifted from one foot to the other, avoiding the Major's inquiring eyes.

"Major, I... I just wanted to say..." His gaze came up again to lock directly with John's. "I'm sorry."

John saw the real contrition in the scientist's face, and even though he knew Rodney didn't have anything to apologise for, he answered, "It's all right."

Rodney let out a deep breath, and turned away, suddenly feeling a little unequal to all this. He felt Aiden take his arm as Beckett called out to his team to get the Major back to Atlantis.

"You all right?"

"Fine," Rodney answered mechanically. The Major was fine, that was what mattered.

He started walking back to the Gate with Ford and Teyla, following the stretcher and the medics.

He still blamed himself. It had been his fault, his mistake that had caused this, and that hadn't changed just because it was all right now.

But at least the Major had forgiven him.

And Rodney swore that he would never, ever be the cause of anything like that again. No more stupid mistakes. No more doing things without thinking. No more putting others in danger.

And vowing that, he stepped through the event horizon back to Atlantis.


End of Part I.
TBC


Author's Note: So... What do you think? Please send me a review if you liked/despised it. :) Part 2 of 3 is coming soon...