"I don't think that's such a good idea, Rodney," Colonel John Sheppard said as the physicist rose from his spot against the tree. Only an hour or so had passed since Dr. Rodney McKay had taken a graze to the head from a bullet fired by one of the natives of P4C-926. The bleeding had barely stopped and McKay had gotten none of his color back; as though Rodney wasn't pasty-looking enough as it was.
And neither of them could afford to have their only chance of fixing the DHD jeopardized due to a Rodney McKay fainting spell.
"Much as I would like to finish this little siesta, a better use of my time would be to get started fixing this thing." Rodney didn't miss the skeptical look on the colonel's face. "Don't worry, I'm not going to pass out, if that's what you're thinking."
John shot back a lop-sided grin. How did the man always know what he was thinking?
"I wasn't thinking that," John countered, following McKay as he headed to the damaged dial home device.
"Oh please, you think I can't see beyond that patented clueless expression? Maybe you can use that to fool Elizabeth or Carson or Teyla. Well, maybe not Teyla. But you can't fool me." Rodney rushed to reach the DHD; falling into it was all that kept him upright.
"Yeah, and your verbal misdirection doesn't fool me. Sit down before you fall down," John ordered as he helped ease Rodney to the ground.
"It just so happens I need to be down here to work, Sheppard. Don't think…" Rodney stopped talking and closed his eyes, swallowing hard. A quiet groan joined the cold sweat that suddenly appeared over the scientist's face and neck. Rodney raised a shaking hand to his head, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"You okay?" John asked, kneeling in front of his teammate, frowning worriedly.
Rodney breathed through the onslaught of nausea. "I, um, the gate's moving and I think I would have remembered dialing."
John rubbed Rodney's back, hoping the action would help calm his injured friend.
"Look, I think we took care of the bad guys. Why don't you give yourself some time to get your bearings? You shouldn't be moving around anyway. That was a nasty blow."
Rodney reached for the area of his head just above his left ear. John grabbed his hand and eased it away.
"Don't. It's stopped bleeding. And your ear got a little charred there. That's gonna hurt if you fool with it."
Rodney opened his eyes and scowled at Sheppard; like it didn't already hurt like a sonofabitch. But he also saw the concerned look on John's face. Maybe he would feel better if he just rested a bit.
"All right. I'll just rest my eyes for a short while."
Rodney did just that. The quiet was disconcerting to John. He was about to check that Rodney wasn't asleep, or worse, when McKay suddenly spoke.
"You think Teyla and Ronon got through okay?" he asked wearily.
They hadn't had a chance to talk about the events of the morning. The rest of the team had charged through the gate just before the natives discharged a weapon that caused an explosion from the DHD and caused the wormhole to abruptly disintegrate. Sheppard and McKay were heading up to it when there was suddenly no vertex to go through. There seemed little chance that Teyla and Ronon would have had enough time to re-materialize on the other end before the sudden failure.
John looked at Rodney, a mix of worry and pain and sickness evident on his friend's expressive face. He didn't want to think about what the scientist suggested. It was important for them to remain positive. It was important for John to keep Rodney positive. He had learned a lot about this man in their time in the Pegasus galaxy. The one thing he knew over everything else, over every other frustrating thing there was to know about Dr. Rodney McKay, was that he never gave up. But he had also learned that Rodney could get mired in the negative, in the bad things that had happened out here. Rodney felt deeply, more deeply than most people would know based on his outwardly abrasive demeanor. John knew that if Rodney thought that Teyla and Ronon were lost to them, it would be the worst thing for their own chances of getting back to Atlantis.
Rodney opened his eyes when he didn't receive an immediate answer from the colonel. John was looking up to the sky, but he seemed to know that Rodney was looking at him. He looked from the sky to his friend and said, "I'm sure they're fine."
They looked each other square in the eye, recognizing that even if neither of them believed that was true, now was not the time or place to express that belief. Rodney nodded carefully and closed his eyes.
"Wake me in thirty minutes," he slurred as he leaned into the base of the DHD.
"Right, like I'm going to let you sleep, McKay. Carson would have my head. Speaking of which, don't I need to do some neuro exams on you?"
"No you don't. I've got a concussion, but it's mild. My head is going to hurt for a long time. You know I have a low threshold for pain."
"You don't say?" The rejoinder from Sheppard earned him another scowl from McKay, though the scientist said nothing and simply closed his eyes again. "Just rest, Rodney, but when I ask a question I'm going to expect an answer, Answer Man."
The slightest of grins graced McKay's face. It had been a long time since Sheppard had called him that. The camaraderie, the friendship that had developed between the two men seemed to have been lost of late. After the Arcturus incident, McKay was sure that he had ruined that friendship. But both men had worked hard to put that fiasco behind them. Rodney had put a solid effort into channeling his ego into activities over the last few weeks that had helped to improve life for everyone in Atlantis. And he had worked even harder to keep that ego in check during meetings, where in the past he would not have thought twice about saying something that was sure to offend. Sure, he was still Rodney McKay, and those aspects of who he was would never disappear altogether. But the effort was there, and that was what counted.
And though Rodney had a number of people on a list to whom he owed apologies and more due to his actions on Duranda, he concentrated his efforts on regaining Radek Zalenka's trust and camaraderie, Elizabeth Weir's confidence, and most obviously to John, their own tenuous relationship had clearly been Rodney McKay's top priority. John knew that Rodney had taken to heart what John had suggested just after the disastrous destruction of a solar system.
Through his work on Atlantis, his improving social skills and his continuing invaluable contributions to Sheppard's team on away missions, and other teams as an advisor, Rodney McKay was slowly but surely earning back the trust and admiration of all Atlanteans. That effort wasn't really all that difficult when you factored in Rodney's continued amazing work with ancient devices and gadgets that made life better and easier for everyone in the city.
Combine that with Rodney McKay's uncanny ability to save lives on this dangerous and fascinating expedition, and you understood everyone's willingness to cut him a break.
John scanned the area as Rodney rested. He was worried about his teammate's capitulation when he suggested that a rest was best before diving into the DHD repairs. It wasn't like McKay at all, and was all the evidence John Sheppard needed to tell him his friend was injured pretty badly.
After a second walk of the perimeter John sat next to Rodney, shoving up against the scientist's shoulder and said, "How's it going?"
No response and very deep breathing spurred him to shake the genius' shoulder.
"Rodney, wake up." No response, though the fact that Rodney was breathing comfortably kept him from panicking. "Rodney," Sheppard said, shaking McKay harder and adding a light slap to the cheek to emphasize the command.
Rodney jerked awake. "What the hell?"
"Rodney, you wouldn't wake up. I needed you to wake up," John said, concern unmistakably driving the agitation in his tone.
"I'm awake," Rodney said irritably as he lowered his head into his hands.
"Well, stay awake, will ya? You have a head injury, remember?"
Rodney lifted his head and answered with words what his expression was already conveying quite clearly. "Ya think?" Rodney asked loudly, followed by a stifled, "Ow."
"Yeah, I do." John pulled out the med kit and handed Rodney some Tylenol. "Sorry I can't give you anything stronger."
"Story of my life," Rodney replied quietly. Rodney swallowed the pills with a little water. The unhealthy pallor of McKay's face foretold of the probable reappearance of those pills sometime soon. Rodney's eyes were closed, and he was the picture of abject misery.
John decided some conversation was in order to keep Rodney's mind off his current situation.
"So, what do you think of Kate?" No answer brought an elbow nudge to McKay's ribs.
"Huh? What?" Rodney asked groggily.
"Stay awake," John ordered.
"I am." Rodney had his head cocked to the left, favoring the side where he took the bullet. John didn't like the look of it one bit.
"Then answer my question."
"Um." Rodney reached up for his ear, but John intercepted the hand once again.
"Kate?" John asked as he placed Rodney's hand back in his lap.
"Kate?" Rodney asked, confused.
"What do you think of Kate?"
"Are you dating another Kate?" John asked with a lopsided grin.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Ouch. No eye rolling."
"Yeah," John said worriedly.
"Don't look so worried. I'll be okay. I think I would know if something really serious was going on."
"Your head hurts when you roll your eyes, McKay."
"Mmm. Good point. Thanks ever so much for the reminder, Dr. Sheppard." John decided these smart-ass remarks from his favorite scientist were goods signs.
"Well, I'm known for my bedside manner."
"Actually, you do have a surprisingly comforting way about you. Unusual, really, for a military man."
"Thanks. I think. So, Kate?"
"I'm not dating her," Rodney sighed, exasperated. Why did he think that little charade would ever work?
"I know that, Rodney. Everybody knows that."
"Uh. Um. Oh, I don't feel so good," Rodney answered, wiping a fine sheen of sweat from his brow.
"You're avoiding my question," John accused.
"Colonel!" Rodney said urgently, and then pushed John hard out of the way. Rodney fell to his hands and knees and threw up. John stayed nearby, keeping a consoling hand on Rodney's back. He could see the sweat on his friend's neck and dripping down the side of his face, mixed with tears, slowly dampening the ground below.
"So much for the Tylenol, huh?" John asked as the last of the dry heaves wracked Rodney's body. John helped Rodney up off the ground and back to the far side of the DHD, away from the mess now on the ground.
"Mm-hmm," Rodney answered, still catching his breath. "Can, can I lie down for a bit? I won't sleep."
How was John supposed to deny that request?
"Sure. Hold tight, let me grab a blanket for a pillow."
Once John had Rodney settled, Rodney asked, "Why are you asking about Kate?"
"You sure you feel up to talking?"
"You want me to stay awake? We talk," Rodney replied tiredly.
"Okay." John waited a moment, taking another look around, though he felt fairly confident that they were in no further danger, before sitting next to Rodney, leaning his back against the large rock base that housed the DHD.
"I think I need to talk to someone, and I wanted to know what you thought of her. As a therapist."
Rodney considered John from his spot on the ground. He laid on his right side, his head propped up on a blanket that Sheppard had rolled into a surprisingly comfortable pillow. His nausea had eased some, his head throbbed incessantly, and he knew he would be unable to lie to John Sheppard, even when he felt at the top of his game. No, the only play with he and John Sheppard from this point on was to be candid with each other. Nurturing that trust was all that mattered.
"As psychiatrists go, she's right up there with the rest of the mediocre lot."
John raised his eyebrows.
"I don't feel up to lying," Rodney admitted.
"Have you ever?" John asked incredulously.
"No. It's one of my many charms."
"Yet you still beat my ass in poker, rummy…"
"Yes, yes, yes. For someone with your mathematical abilities, you really are surprisingly unable to apply it to the simple act of playing a card game."
"That's all more about memory and luck and you know it," John defended.
"True. But still…" Rodney considered.
"Okay, so you beat me at cards. I'm better at puzzles," John boasted proudly.
"Oh, please. Solving one puzzle does not mean you're better at solving them, even if solving that one did save our lives."
"I wouldn't say only one. I figured out how you tick," John offered.
Rodney looked at John thoughtfully and answered, "Yes, and none too soon, apparently."
John leaned toward Rodney and placed his hand on his friend's arm, grabbing hold tightly. "Hey, we're past that. We're good."
"Good," Rodney responded, blinking the tears away that the conversation had brought to the fore. "That's good, then."
"It's all good, Rodney. I may not have said anything to you lately, but I want you to know that your efforts of late have not gone unnoticed, and I appreciate how hard you've worked lately to regain…"
Rodney interrupted. "Oh god, you think I'm dying. I must look worse than I feel." Rodney reached for his backpack, nearly falling flat on his face.
"Rodney, what the hell are you doing?" John grabbed the bag. "What do you need? And I don't think you're dying!"
Rodney leaned back on the blanket. He looked tired and John was sure he felt just as bad as he looked. But Rodney definitely did not look or act like he was dying.
"Then why are you saying nice things to me?" Rodney asked, completely sincere.
"Because I mean it and I haven't said it to you. And that's just wrong."
Rodney closed his eyes, pleased with the honesty he felt coming from his friend.
"Hey," John said, shaking Rodney's arm slightly. "Don't fall asleep."
"No." Rodney opened his eyes. "So, you think you need a therapist? What's your problem?"
John laughed. Rodney McKay a sympathetic ear? Not likely, though the physicist had more than once shown his compassion to the Air Force colonel. Sadly, that side of McKay had been evidenced all too often when they had lost a friend or colleague during their time in the Pegasus galaxy.
Maybe now that they had repaired their broken friendship – maybe Rodney was just the right person to listen to his problems. Maybe…
John felt a breeze blow across his face, though no breeze had been evident in the entire time they had spent on this miserable planet. John stood up and looked around.
"Hey, did you feel that McKay?"
"Feel what?" Rodney asked, his head laying heavily on the makeshift pillow and pain lacing his words.
"I felt a breeze," John replied, frowning at his friend.
Rodney tilted his head up and immediately regretted it. "Ow. Look behind you."
The Air Force colonel in John Sheppard immediately grabbed the P-90, readying for a threat. What he saw when he turned was a sight to behold.
"Hey, one of my babies," Sheppard exclaimed of the puddle jumper before him. Ronon and Teyla hurried out of the cargo bay to greet their team leader.
"Hey, what a relief," Sheppard started. "We thought…"
"We thought you might think that, Colonel Sheppard. That is why we are now here," Teyla provided helpfully.
"How did you get here? The Stargate's busted."
"No kidding," Ronon replied.
"What Ronon means is that we knew there was a problem. We contacted some of our allies and were able to determine the location of another Stargate not a great distance from here," Teyla explained.
"Close enough for the jumper," Carson Beckett added.
"You drove my baby?" John accused, eyes narrowing.
"You're the one that wants me to practice, Colonel. Now, where's Rodney?"
John was surprised by the question. "Why…"
"Because Colonel Sheppard, we have been here two minutes and I have no' heard Rodney complainin'. That canno' be good."
"It's not," John agreed. "Over here. He took a bullet, a deep graze from his left temple across and to the top of his left ear. He's pretty scorched. In pain," John added.
"Aye," Carson said in sympathy as he approached and took Rodney's wrist in his fingers.
"And he's thrown up."
"You would too if you felt the way I do," Rodney offered with a yawn. "Hi Carson."
"Hello Rodney. Let's take a look, shall we?" Doctor Carson Beckett smiled as he spoke.
"Yes. Let's. Can you tell Colonel "Doctor" Sheppard over there that it's okay if I fall asleep? It's just a minor concussion with extremely painful cuts, burns and holes in my head."
"Well, how about you let me be the judge of that," Carson stated firmly. He looked up at Colonel Sheppard and winked, clearly an indication from Atlantis' chief medical officer that Rodney would recover just fine from his injuries.
Not long after the arrival of the cavalry, Carson had Rodney ready to transport.
"How's it look, Doc?" John asked.
"He'll be fine. Keeping him awake was the right thing to do, though this time I think Rodney was right on the money with his diagnosis. Except for the gunshot holes in this head, of course."
"Of course," John agreed wryly.
"I won't give him anything for pain until we get back to the infirmary and make sure of a few things. He'll be fine, though he's a wee bit dead on his feet just now."
"I know he's tired, but it's good to know he'll be okay. Thanks Carson," John said as he went over to Rodney strapped into the litter.
"Hey there," John said as tired blue eyes took him in.
"Hey," Rodney barely managed to respond, tossing John a weak wave.
"Beckett says you'll probably live."
"Good to know," Rodney said quietly.
"Yes it is." John enjoyed the sight of his friend, relief in the knowledge that he would be okay evident in his demeanor. "Look, I gotta fly this thing. Let the doc keep an eye on you."
"I'm fine. I told you I was fine."
"Yes you did, though in this respect, fine seems to be a relative term," John kidded.
"Hmm." Rodney yawned for what seemed to John to be the one-hundredth time since getting locked into the litter. "Hey, how about you? You going to see Heightmeyer, despite my thumbs down review?"
John smiled. "Nah. I think I'll stick with my current therapist."
"Yeah? Who's that?" Another yawn.
"I think you know him. Smart. Full of himself, ego a mile wide and equally high. I.Q. to fit, by the way. Compassion to spare, though he shows it sparingly."
"Hmm. Sounds expensive," Rodney slurred as he headed toward the short sleep that Carson had agreed to allow him on the ride home.
"You have no idea how dear," John said quietly as he squeezed his friend's hand, reluctantly releasing it in order to pilot them home.