"And you asked me why I wasn't dead?"
Rodney actually took a step back. Sheppard responded by taking another step forward, and Rodney was certain that wasn't supposed to happen. By his taking a step backward, he was signaling that the tension between them was too much, that his personal space was being invaded, that he was damned uncomfortable with a conversation that shouldn't be taking place. Despite his natural need for approval from others, it wasn't worth the verbal ass-whumping he was about to receive.
Sheppard wasn't backing down. "You took how much?"
"It wasn't . . ."
"How much, Rodney?" he shouted.
"A lot, okay? I don't know how much, I wasn't exactly measuring at the time!"
"Beckett told me. You know that? He told me. Not you. He did."
Rodney shook his head in puzzlement. "What difference does that make?"
Sheppard pressed his lips together in anger and pointed a finger at him threateningly. But nothing happened, and he was forced to turn away to collect himself.
"Never, NEVER . . . do that again. Do I make myself clear?"
Rodney shook his head sightly, then with more vigor. "No. No, you don't. What the hell did I do wrong, huh? Why is it every time I save your ass lately, you resent it? You didn't resent when I shot that Wraith that time, when you were on the ground with no defense. You remember that? You thanked me. You goddamn well thanked me!"
"That's not the same."
"How? How is it not the same?"
"You could have died, Rodney!"
"And so could you! And Teyla! And Ronon, and Ford!"
They were nose to nose, Sheppard glaring down at the shorter man, who was glaring back with an equally menacing stare. Both were breathing hard, and trying to keep it unnoticeable.
"It goes both ways," Rodney said in a low voice. "And dammit, if it doesn't, tell me now."
"Why didn't you say something," Sheppard responded in an equally low voice. "That's all I want to know right now." It was all, because he no longer had a firm argument against Rodney's reasoning.
"Because it was my business," he snapped. "Because either way, it worked, and it doesn't matter what the risk was. It was taken, I took it, and you're fucking welcome!" And he turned sharply on his heel and stormed off.
Sheppard found Carson walking slowly along the corridor an hour later. The hunched shoulders screamed fatigue. It took several tried to get his attention from a distance, and only a hand on Carson's shoulder jolted him from his thoughts. "You okay, doc?"
"Colonel! I'm sorry, I was . . . thinking." He managed a smile and slapped on his professional face. "What can I do for you?"
"You can have a cup of coffee with me." Sheppard's voice was unusually soft, and his eyes were pleading.
The commissary was nearly empty. They chose a table on the balcony, away from the few people that sat conversing, some going over large sheets of paper marked with ink. Carson had to smile as he glanced back at them through the glass. "Looks like college all over."
"Guess they don't know when to quit. McKay must've booted them from the lab."
"Or they were trying to keep their work away from his scrutiny." Carson smiled over the rim of his mug, then st it down with a sigh. "I know why you wanted to share a cup. Guess it's best to get to the fact."
"I have no idea what you're . . ."
"Rodney, lad. You want to know what happened."
"Well, you weren't very forthcoming on the details earlier," Sheppard reminded him.
"Aye, and there's a good reason for that!" Carson responded sharply. "There are things that happen during times like that which are best kept between the doctor and patient."
Sheppard pinned him with a glance. "Times like what?"
"No." He shook his head. "I'm not falling for it."
"Carson, god, just . . ." he ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "Look. I'm not asking for all the gory details, I just have to know. Was it bad?"
Carson's nod was barely perceptible, and he refused to blink. "Aye, son. It was bad."
Sheppard watched Rodney for a few days. Looking for a sign that something wasn't right. Checking his work over his shoulder to make sure it was still incoherent to him in the proper way, and not true meaningless gibberish. He was waiting for the right moment, and it came two days later, when he found Rodney in one of the store rooms. He leaned against the door frame, such as it was, and folded his arms. "Whatcha looking for?"
Rodney didn't turn, but his tone was amiable. "Staples. Can you believe it? Millions and millions of light years away from our solar system, working on alien technology, and I need fucking staples."
"How about a paperclip?"
"You know, I wish I had invented that. Such an incendiary device that no one can live without. Papers get shuffled in those things, oh hell, you know what? Fine." He snatched a small box from the shelf in front of him. "Last time I had one of these thing in the lab Radek strung them together."
"I hate that."
"I made it up to him. Plugged one end into the power relay system and set the box on his desk."
Sheppard chuckled and followed Rodney out. "You headed back there right now?"
"Well, yeah? Some of us have work to do when not out gallivanting on hive ships or wooing a lady old enough to be your," he winced in thought, "grandmother to the 200th power or something."
"Not going to ask how you're figuring the math on that one."
"You should know. Anyway, what do you want?"
Sheppard stopped alongside Rodney and studied him. He was wearing his jacket, probably because the lab had a tendency to be chilly at night. His hair was slightly ruffled, maybe from running his had through his hair in frustration? His eyes were tired, he was still wincing slightly. "What have you been doing?"
"Looking for staples."
"Napping on the east balcony, if you must know. I'm still a bit tired, why?"
Well, he read that one wrong. "Can we talk?"
"You channeling Joan Rivers now?"
"Rodney . . ."
"It never ceases to amaze me how many people around here assume I forgot my name, and feel the need to remind me of it. Think it's all I've heard all day."
"We need to talk."
"No, apparently you need to talk. I need to work." He started off, but two words stopped him.
Rodney stood still, his posture stiff. Sheppard walked around him, facing him, and saw the firm mouth set in a partial frown, his eyes lowered, but his proud chin held high. The circles underneath his eyes were very evident in the mild light. Sheppard sighed. "I should have said something earlier, I know. I just . . ."
"You had your own mess to work through. I get it."
"I talked to Carson." He touched Rodney's shoulder briefly as the man tensed. "He didn't talk. He wouldn't. But it told me all I needed to know. I saw Ford go through withdrawal, and Teyla and Ronon got a pretty good taste of it." Rodney wouldn't look at him. "I've seen it. It ain't pretty, but it isn't anything to be ashamed of, especially considering the circumstance."
Rodney swallowed, his chin held higher, and his expression showing how uncomfortable he was. "I'm not ashamed of what I did. More. . .what I did after. But . . . thanks for that," he added. "Of course, I didn't ask how you survived the hive ship. Just, I mean obviously you did, and you don't. . .didn't look harmed. Never mind we thought you were dead. But then I guess we should be used to that from you." His look was challenging, and Sheppard realized that it was too easy to embark on a plan without considering the consequences when a friend's life was on the line.
He took a deep breath. "Yeah. Touche."
"Like I said. Both ways."
"No right to get pissed, you know."
"Bullshit!" He steadied himself. "But you know that."
"I'd hope you would do the same for me, you know, like what I did . . ."
Sheppard's gaze was steady. "In a heartbeat." And his eyes didn't leave Rodney's.
It was done then. "So, I guess we'll just have to agree to get pissed and get over it."
"Just as long as you keep coming back."
Rodney nodded minutely, his face softening. "Yeah. You too."