RATING: T for language and minor violence.

SEASON: Second season sometime after Grace Under Pressure.

MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys, of course, (if you don't know who I'm talking about, you're in the wrong fic).

CATEGORY: a little of this, a little of that, but mainly a short little friendship h/c fluff piece with whumpage.

SUMMARY: What's a little white lie among friends? Especially when you're making a life or death run for the gate. Sheppard-McKay friendship.

SPOILERS: Anything up to and including Grace Under Pressure is fair game.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, if I did, they'd have much less stressful and less painful life.

NOTES: This story is part of the Dictionary series. It's not necessary that you read the others but things might make a little more sense if you did. The list is on my profile page if you're interested. It is also in response to the "You won't feel a thing" opening line challenge on the SGAHC list.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks, as always to Koschka for her constant encouragement and betaing. And thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed my other stories…it really is very much appreciated!

White Lie

by liketheriver

white lie ('wIt 'lI), noun, 1. a lie not intended to harm, but told in order to avoid distress or embarrassment

"You won't feel a thing."

What's a little white lie among friends?

Rodney McKay is a lot of things… genius, scientist, egomaniac, pain in the ass, best friend… but a convincing liar he is not. And if not for the current excruciating pain I am experiencing and the way I know it's about to spike right out of the stratosphere, I would laugh in his face about his last statement. As it is, I manage to grit my teeth and strangle out an abbreviated snort.

"Sure…and the check's in the mail… you read Playboy for the articles… you'll still respect me in the morning…"

At the last one he grimaces, "You know, I like you Sheppard, you're a hell of guy, but even friendship has its limits."

Yeah, friendship does have its limits, but with Rodney he tends to push them pretty regularly. And while I don't expect our current escapades to end with a tumble between the sheets, I do expect him to occasionally follow a goddamn order and do what he is told. Riiiight. Who am I kidding? We have a better chance of ending up living happily ever after in marital bliss than that ever happening.

Still, it doesn't stop me from pointing it out when he doesn't. "You should have… gone with Ronon and Teyla… like I told you." Of course the ragged breathing and choked out words don't really convey the air of authority I'm going for, but you take what you can get.

"You shouldn't have played Baby Jessica, then," he retaliates. I intend to counter by telling him that technically it wasn't a well that I fell into but an open manhole that led to one of the underground irrigation ducts that run below the Frandish capital city, the very one that we are now sitting in. And that, furthermore, I never would have fallen down into it if I hadn't been running backwards trying to cover his ass and shoot back at the Capital Guards that were shooting at us. But I never get a chance to state my case because as soon as I open my mouth, he takes my arm and I try and fail to completely swallow a scream.

McKay's lips tighten and he looks a little wild-eyed at my reaction but he doesn't let up. I can hear him mumbling to himself, "Just pull and pop, simple, no problem, just pull and pop, pull and pop." He's on the ground beside me and he pivots in the water we are sitting in so that he is perpendicular to me. Ankle deep water's no big deal when you're standing, but when you're sitting in it, you tend to get soaked pretty fast. With a slosh of boots, he places both feet on my hipbone for leverage. "Just pull and pop," he repeats, then he does just that. He leans back with a vice like grip on my upper arm, using all of his weight to pull my dislocated shoulder out of its unnatural and ungodly painful position and pop it back into its socket.

Once again I try to cover the scream, this time with a guttural, "Motherfucker!" And just when I think he's going to rip my entire goddamn arm off, and that the pain is going to cause my head to explode, my shoulder shifts sickeningly and settles back into place. Even the instant relief from the lessening pain isn't enough to stop the fog of blackness that threatens to settle over me. But Rodney is there, catching me before I can topple forward so that I sit with my forehead resting on his shoulder, sucking in shattered breaths, shivering with the cold sweat and willing the nauseating spinning to stop.

His hand comes up and squeezes lightly on my neck and I realize he's shaking as much as I am. He pats a few times in encouragement. "There," he tells me in a winded voice, "piece of cake, just like I said."

When I think I can move without passing out, I lean back against the wall of the aqueduct we are sitting in and try to force a grin. "You're with the government and here to help, eh, McKay?"

He turns and leans back in a mirror position. "Only for as long as my contract period, then you're on your own."

"It's not expiring anytime soon, is it?"

It's hard to think of Atlantis without McKay, the two seems to go hand in hand in my mind. The city may have come glowing to life at my bidding but it was Rodney that knew what to with it once it did. Over the past year, the number of those of us that first stepped through the gate and into the city of the Ancients and the adventure of a lifetime has been slowly dwindling. Some have left by choice; others were never given the chance to choose. And those of us that did have a choice and chose Atlantis… well, I don't want to say we're an elite group, but there is definitely a kind of upper classman approach to introducing the wonders of Atlantis to the newbies. And as wonderful as Atlantis and the Pegasus Galaxy are on their own, I think it would be a little less so without McKay around to discover it with.

Rodney slides suspicious eyes in my direction. "Why do you ask? Looking to replace me on the team or something? Should I keep my eye on Radek? The two of you seemed to work pretty well together when I was trapped in the Jumper."

"We did actually," I admit, "although I was ready to strangle him if he started singing 'Under the Sea' one more time."

"Surprised it wasn't 'Yellow Submarine'."

"I warned him about that one before we left." I shift and wince in pain when I do. "But he can actually follow orders, unlike some people I know."

McKay grimaces in sympathy then begins digging through his pack even as he continues to argue. "There was no way I was going to climb back up there after I had gone to all the trouble of finding you down here in the first place."

"You shouldn't have come back for me in the first place."

He pulls out his first aid kit and a long bandage. "It's not like I ran back dodging bullets and jumped in after you, Colonel. I do have more than a modicum of self-preservation instincts, unlike some people I know. I simply found the next manhole and climbed down in it and backtracked to find you while Teyla and Ronon lead the guards away." I open my mouth to speak and he cuts me off. "And don't say I should have stayed with the others. Honestly, I think we're safer down here than they are up there." He bobbles his head. "At least for the time being since they haven't come after us."

"Yet," I point out in annoyance.

"Based on the way I found you, I have a feeling they think you're dead." Yep, thank God for good ol' SGC know-how and nearly impenetrable body armor. Even more so, thank God for lazy ass soldiers who simply fire a few rounds into the back of a downed enemy instead of climbing down a hole to confirm their kill. "And by the time they realize you aren't, we'll be gone." He urges me to lean forward with a tug on my vest. "Let's get this shoulder immobilized and start moving."

"To where?" I ask, but do as directed and sit up.

"Well, the lake we saw when we came through the gate was manmade, there was a dam," he reminds me as he places my arm in a makeshift sling. "If these aqueducts carry irrigation water, then it makes sense that they are being fed by the water from the spillway."

"So we follow the tunnels back to the dam and make our way to the gate from there."

He nods and unravels the bandage. "Pretty much."

"And you can navigate your way through these tunnels to get us there?"

He pauses and blinks at my question, before busying himself with the dressing. "Sure, no problem."

Once again, the man couldn't lie his way out the bed he has made for himself. "Rodney," I warn. I could just see it now; survive the guards hunting us only to die lost in the catacombs of the city.

He ignores me as he's too busy moving on to his next fib. "This won't hurt a bit," he tells me as he starts to wrap the bandage around my arm to immobilize it against my body.

Any concern I have about how we are going to get out of this is instantly lost when he starts binding my injured appendage. I hiss in pain, nearly biting a hole through my bottom lip as I fight to keep from crying out. He finishes his stint as the Atlantis expedition's own sadistic Florence Nightingale and fixes his handiwork with an appraising eye. "There, good as new." At my more than dubious glare, he backpedals. "Relatively speaking, of course."

"Of course," I grind out and wonder if I bang my head repeatedly against the stone wall at my back will I be able to knock myself unconscious once again and oblivious to the agony of my shoulder. Before I can put my theory to the test, McKay freezes and I can almost see his ears perk up. I follow suit and there in the not too far distance, I can hear the sounds of troops in the street above.

"Uh, Sheppard, not that I'm not enjoying soaking in cold water and tending your wounds, but…"

I cut off his whisper with one of my own. "Time to go." I try to push myself to a stand but Rodney is already tugging on my good arm and hefting me to my feet. I wobble slightly with the accompanying head rush so that McKay slips a hand under my elbow to steady me. "Which way, Sacagawea?"

He considers our options as he checks his detector, for what I have no clue and by the frustrated look on his face, neither does he. I can almost see the mental eanie, meanie, minie, moe running through that jumbo brain of his; probably short circuiting those over stimulated reasoning centers of his with all its childlike randomness. Finally he decides, and I have to credit him for the confidence that he displays in his choice.

"This way." He points out into the darkness with conviction born of complete denial that he could ever be wrong.

"You sure?"

"Positive," he tells me then studies me before asking, "You good to go?"

Just to stay in the spirit of self delusion that he has embraced so whole heartedly, I assure him, "Never been better."

"Excellent," he says in an overly cheerful voice. "Let's move out, shall we?"

McKay leads us down the corridor he has chosen, a flashlight in his hand lighting the way and our splashing footfalls echoing off the walls. That was how I came to in the first place… one minute I was free-falling through a hole, landing hard on my shoulder and dimly hearing three shots fired from above, the next I was waking to the sound of Rodney calling my name. I had cracked open an eye, lifted my water drenched head and watched as a bouncing beam of light grew closer and splashing steps grew faster and louder when he saw me move.

He had dropped to his knees beside me with a worried, "Sheppard?"

"McKay," I croaked out, "what the hell are you doing here?" The weight of my head finally overcomes the small amount of strength I had and I let it fall back to the ground, the cold water actually almost pleasant against the hammering in my skull. "Told you to stay with the others."

"Good to see you, too, Colonel," was his response, his tone as sharp as the painful wasp-stings on my back. He ran the flashlight beam over my body then stopped to pull three soft slugs out of the back of my vest. "Christ, we saw them shoot in the hole, we were afraid…" he rid himself of the thoughts of unhappy potentials with a shake of his head. "Can you sit up?" I tried to push up with my left arm that was under me and cried out when the pain radiated out from my shoulder and through my body. Rodney's eyes widened in worry and he started his scan of me again, trying to see what he had missed. "What? What is it?"

"Shoulder," I managed to grind out between clenched teeth. "Aw, fuck, that hurts!" I reached out my good arm. "Help me up."

He hefted me up and colors exploded behind my closed eyelids from the pain. I concentrated on breathing deep breaths through my nose as Rodney babbled beside me. "Oh, that's just… I mean a shoulder shouldn't be… the angle is all wrong."

"Dislocated, Rodney…son of a bitch… it's dislocated."

"That's… uh… that's not good."

"No shit," I snorted. "You need to fix it."

"What?" he demanded in alarm. "How? How do I fix it?"

"Pull and pop, McKay," I told him, "pull and pop."

And at that moment he was probably as pale as I was. But with an indrawn breath he found his resolve and just nodded. "Sure, no problem. Pull and pop. What could be simpler, right?" He tried for a confident grin before assuring me. "You won't feel a thing."

McKay draws us to a halt at another juncture in the duct system and I draw myself from the memories. Shoulder throbbing in time with the pounding in my head, back aching, this whole ordeal is wavering in my mind like the walls around me. I place my good hand on Rodney's shoulder to steady myself and keep my knees from buckling under me.

"Almost there, John," he promises. "Then we'll be through the gate and telling Carson how his caring and compassionate nature nearly did us in."

"Can we at least wait until after he gives me the good drugs?" I can't keep the childlike whine from my voice. But at this point I don't care. If it wasn't for the fact that McKay wouldn't leave me, would sit here with me as the guards surrounded us and finished us off, I would have sat down and never stood up again long ago. Hell, I probably never would have stood up in the first place. He is one stubborn son of a bitch sometimes. Which I know I'll be thankful for once we get home and get out of this mess, but right now… fuck, I hurt all over and just want it to stop.

He snorts. "Seeing as he almost got us killed on this mission and managed to do it while he's safely ensconced on Atlantis, he owes us big time. I may ask for some of the good drugs for myself, and I'm not even injured." He moves the detector in his hands in a slow arc looking for some indication of where to go. "And he better damn well give them to us or I'm sending a report to the Veterinary Licensing Board in the next data transmittal to Earth."

It's not really Beckett's fault that we're in this situation, but he is at the root of the problem. Negotiations were going well with the Frandish. They had a soil amending process that Teyla and the Athosians were interested in obtaining. It resulted in a heartier crop that was more resilient to fungal infections, a problem the Athosians were dealing with for the first time in the wetter climates on the Mainland. In exchange, we were offering medical supplies, in particular the antibiotic Keflex was requested by name. It seems the Frandish had heard about this miracle drug from some of the other worlds we had traded with and were very interested in obtaining it themselves. Carson had come and taken some random blood samples from the populations just to ensure that the drug would work as promised and discovered that a high percentage of the people here produced an enzyme that caused a potentially lethal allergic reaction to the drug. Fearing a replay of the whole Hoffan disaster, Carson refused to allow us to trade the Keflex. Not that I could blame him. I had no desire to be at the helm of wiping out half a planet's population.

The team had returned to the planet today to explain the situation and convey Beckett's offer to continue his tests and find a suitable alternative. That's when we learned something about our new allies, they're a suspicious lot. Convinced that we were holding back the drugs for ulterior motives, the head negotiator had accused us of breaking the trade treaty, an act the Frandish equate with an act of aggression and declaration of war. When they ordered us held for trial, I decided it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. And the rest, as they say, is history… pain-filled, water-logged history.

"You're not really going to give him shit over this, are you?" I ask as I release his shoulder and attempt to stand on my own. So far, so good.

He releases a sigh. "No, I suppose not. He'll feel guilty enough on his own without me fanning the flames. Besides, I don't have enough booze or patience to go through another night of Perna memories, at least not until you're out of the infirmary and we can tag team him." He puts away the hand held detector and indicates the middle tunnel. "This way."

"How do you know?"

"What? You don't believe me?"

"No, I'm just wondering how you know this is the way?"

"Life signs," he tells me without hesitation.

"You're picking up life signs down here?" That thought makes me grip my P90 a little tighter.

"Yes, lots of little critters and creepy crawlies and things that I have no desire to see as more than a blip on the screen."

"And you're leading us away from them?"

"No, toward them. I figure the closer we get to the lake and spill way, the more aquatic life we're going to see on the detector."

"Really?"

"Yes, really, now let's go. They're serving those alien apple hash browns for dinner and all the crispy corners are going to be gone if we don't get back in time."

It's a pretty good story. A believable story, except for the way he won't look at me while he's talking. He starts to move forward and I return my hand to his shoulder, this time to bring him to a stop. "Rodney, give me the detector."

"Why?"

"I want to see these life signs for myself."

"No."

"No? What the hell do you mean, no?"

"As in a negative response to a request, the opposite of yes… it's a simple word with a simple meaning. I thought that you would have heard it enough by now to know the definition."

"Dammit, McKay, give me the stupid detector."

"No."

"Give me the goddamn detector!" I reach with my good hand and he actually pulls it away and tucks it close to his body. I grab at it again, even as he squirms to hold it tighter. "McKay, I swear to God I am going to…" but at that moment I trip and I'm unable to catch myself. I go tumbling forward, knowing there is no way to stop myself from doing a face plant onto the watery floor beneath our feet. I tense against the inevitable pain just to have an even worse pain cause me to shriek when Rodney catches me by my bad arm.

"Oh, Jesus, I'm sorry," he tells me instantly as I sink to my knees in agony and he is right there beside me.

"You son of a bitch!" I snap automatically. "Why the hell did you do that?"

"I didn't mean to," he insists. "It was instinct, I just saw you falling and my first response was to stop you. I didn't want you to break your nose or something."

"Breaking my nose," I grate at him, "would have hurt a hell of a lot less."

"I'm sorry but it's your own damn fault for trying to take the detector away from me."

Oh, he is just incredible. "My fault? Oh, you are delusional, McKay. Out of your fucking mind with your own…"

"Shush!" he raises one hand and stares back the way we came.

"Did you just shush me?"

"Yes," he whispers frantically with a glare, "now shush!"

I do as he commands and am rewarded with the sound of footsteps behind us… lots of footsteps that are running in our directions. "Oh, shit."

"Up," he demands as he tugs on my good arm, "up, up."

I make it to my feet and tunnel tilts wickedly. "Rodney…" I slur but my legs tremble and I concentrate on standing instead of talking.

He slings my good arm around his shoulders and starts us moving. "Just a little further, Sheppard."

"You've been saying that for an hour, McKay." My voice sounds muffled to my own ears and even the flashlight beam that swings in front of us seems to dim. My feet tangle beneath me and the arm around my waist jerks me back into a little more clarity.

"Don't you dare fall down on me, Colonel," he threatens. "I'm really tired of sitting in the water; it makes my boxers cling in a very disturbing way."

"Disturbing, yes," I agree, "but not altogether unpleasant."

"Thanks for sharing, John. I'll be sure to schedule a session with Kate to help me through the mental trauma that that tidbit of information has caused me."

Dimly, I can hear the footsteps closing in. "Rodney, they're catching up."

"Simple, move faster," he tells me matter-of-factly.

"I can't," I respond in little more than a mumble, "but you can."

He is shining the light at the roof instead of the floor of the tunnel and looking up to try and follow the beam makes the room spin violently. "Not without you."

He has to be one of the most bullheaded people that I have ever met, that has ever drawn breath. There is absolutely no reasoning with him, but I try anyway. "What's the point of both of us being taken down when you have a chance of getting out of here without me?"

"We're not going to be taken down," he informs me, "we're going to take a trip up instead." I glance to the where the light is shining and see a ladder affixed to the wall leading up to a manhole cover.

"I can't climb a ladder with one arm," and with the way the world is fading in and out of focus, I'd be hard pressed to do it with two.

"Yes, I know that, which is why I'm going to be your arms." He puts the light in a vest pocket and steps onto the lower rung of the ladder. "Grab hold of my pack."

I do as directed and he turns off the light. Instantly the footsteps behind us slow as they have lost their only visible means of following us. If at all possible, the vertigo is worse in the dark as all sense of top from bottom is lost. "Uh, Rodney?" I call hesitantly and move my hand to his shoulder, so I can at least feel when his arms are moving to anticipate when to take a step. It's then that I feel how much he's trembling and it dawns on me what he's been doing this entire time and where he's been doing it and that's one hell of an accomplishment for a paranoid claustrophobe.

"Step when I step, Colonel," he instructs me and I squeeze his shoulder reassuringly.

"Piece of cake, right, McKay?"

"Yeah, piece of cake." Then he takes his first step up.

Twenty-three rungs we climb this way, one bitch black step at a time. By the time we reach the top, our pursuers are close enough that I can hear their gear creak and their lanterns are providing enough illumination that I can start to see shadows of McKay's back before me. They obviously see us too as someone calls out and they begin to run again.

"Rodney, go!" He pushes the cover off and sunlight pours in on us as they fire their first shot. "Return fire."

"What?" The panic in his voice causes it to rise an octave.

A bullet hits the wall by my foot sending rock shards stinging into my leg. "Fire your goddamn gun!"

He pulls the nine mil with a curse and starts shooting blindly into the guards, but it's enough. Our weapons are much more powerful that theirs, the range longer, and it sends them scattering backwards for cover. "Move!" I yell when they give us the minute we need to get out of the hole.

He starts climbing again and I grab the edge of the manhole when I can reach it so that he can scramble out on all fours. He turns instantly and takes my arm to pull me the rest of the way out and steadies me when I wobble. We scan the area surrounding us blinking in the daylight after being in the dim tunnels for so long. We are in a field on the outskirts of the city and in the distance I can see the stargate. It's probably a mile away, maybe less, the majority of the intermediary distance across open country… nowhere to take cover, nowhere to hide if the guards spot us. Below us I hear the guards approaching the ladder and fire my P90 into the hole. There is yelling as they retreat back once again. Rodney looks to me and I can see the same thoughts playing out in his mind… that's a lot of open space between us and the gate.

A mile really isn't that far. The average person can set a leisurely pace and walk a mile in fifteen minutes. At a jog, that time can easily be cut in half, even for McKay. The man has even reached the point that he doesn't start bitching on our jogs together until he reaches the mile and a half mark, and I honestly believe it had more to do with the fact that that is when we can start to smell the breakfast pastries baking in the cafeteria than the actual distance. No, on a normal day under optimal conditions, I could be across that field and through the gate in about five minutes with little more than a slightly elevated pulse rate.

But seeing as we are being chased by armed soldiers, this isn't a normal day and the fact that I have already broken out in a sweat from the simple act of leaning against McKay definitely means these are less than optimal conditions.

"We're almost home, Rodney," I tell him with a grin and fire a burst from my gun down into the tunnel a second time just for good measure.

"Just a stroll through the park," he returns as he takes my arm around his shoulder once again and pulls me into motion.

If only, I think as we start across the meadow at a bone jarring trot. At least a park would have trails, probably paved but at least worn flat. As it is, the field has high grass that catches at our feet and more than once the only thing that saves me from falling flat on my face is Rodney's hold on me. The spray of bullets has done what I had hoped and evidently caused our pursuers to rethink coming up that particular manhole. But even if they backtrack to the previous one, it will only buy us a short amount of time. With a glance over my injured shoulder, I see that I'm right. We're less than halfway across the field and I can see the dozen or so armed guards heading our way and closing in fast. There is no way in hell we're going to make it. But without me, Rodney probably could, especially if I provide a little suppressive fire to cover him. Problem is, he won't go without me, not like this, not with us literally joined at the hip. And I really have no desire to die knowing it was my fault he died as well. With a resolve born of desperation, I decide what I need to do and brace myself for impact.

It's actually pretty easy to tangle my feet with his… it's been an act of sheer concentration to keep it from happening unintentionally… besides McKay isn't exactly grace incarnate to begin with. And I have to give him credit that he is able to shift our weight when we start to topple so that he takes the brunt of the fall and spares me of the lion's share of the impact. Still, the blow to my shoulder is enough to make my eyes water and breath stutter in my chest. McKay is already scrambling out from under me, trying to drag me up with him, but I go dead weight… not that much of a challenge, really… and I refuse to budge.

"Come on, Sheppard, a little help here would be nice."

"Rodney," I fight to force the words out and keep them as even as possible, "I'm not going to make it."

"There's that never say die attitude I've come to know and love," he states sarcastically even as he tries to take my arm again.

"Go on to the gate."

"Like hell I will," he spits angrily and tugs at my arm again.

It's odd what you notice when you know you're going to die. When I made the run to the Wraith Hive ship during the siege of Atlantis, it was the fact that all the ships in the Wraith armada were oriented the same way. I couldn't help but recall Rodney making the point once that direction is relative in space, that the concept of up and down only exists in relation to a fixed position, and I couldn't help but wonder who set the fixed point and how for all the Hive ships and Cruisers and Darts that were flying around in the vacuum of space. Here in this field it is the buzz of insects in the grass, the blue sky spinning drunkenly behind McKay and the glare of sunlight that has me squinting up at him. It's a nice place, actually. The kind of place to have a picnic, play a little tag football, spend a lazy afternoon just hanging out with friends with a cooler of beer and a Frisbee. I almost regretted that I won't get to do that with Rodney and the others. But that's better than an eternity of regretting if I get him killed.

It's not just direction that is relative in the universe, sometimes the amount of damage you're willing to inflict on a good friend is relative as well. And as much as I know he will be damaged when I don't make it back, the only position I'm willing to accept is one in which Rodney has a fighting chance at making it out of this alive, regardless of how much I know he doesn't want to do the only thing that will give him that chance. With my sights set on that fixed point in space, I do what I have to do.

I pull my arm away. "That's an order, McKay. Get your ass moving to the gate."

"Order, order?" he considers dramatically. "Let me see, I'll have a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, hold the pickles. That's the only goddamn order I'm interested in, Colonel. Now, as you so eloquently put it, get your ass moving to the gate."

I figured it would come to this and I hope I'm able to pull off my little farce as effectively as he had his with the detector leading us through the tunnels. I heft the P90 and point it at him. "I'm not letting them kill you Rodney. Either head for the gate or I'll do it myself."

His eyes narrow angrily. "You wouldn't dare."

"They shoot you or I do, either way I'm responsible," I reason. "At least if I do it, it will be quick and painless. What's it going to be, a bullet to the head from my P90 or the gate?" He studies me for a second and I waggle the gun with a menacing smile. "You won't feel a thing."

At my promise he scowls and pulls his own M9. "Oh, so this is how you want to play it? Okay, fine." He ejects the empty clip, letting it fall unheeded to the ground.

"Rodney," I explain calmly, "I don't care if you threaten me. I'm dying one way or the other."

"I'm not going to shoot you, Sheppard," he informs me as he slams in his extra magazine. "I'm going to stay here and protect you from them until you get up and start moving to the gate." He fires off all the rounds in his gun at the guards in the distance. They are still too far away for him to hit them unless it was by sheer dumb luck, but it is enough that they fall to the ground and halt their progress toward us.

"McKay, I gave you a direct order," I growl at him but the effect is wasted on him as he simply ignores me.

"Give me another clip," he commands with impatient fingers.

"Fuck!" I scream at the cosmos in general. Why? Why did I ever have to meet this loud, obnoxious, stubborn, egotistical piece of shit? What horrible crimes against the universe did I commit in this life or the last to deserve him as my goddamn best friend? When I don't provide him with the requested ammo he starts rummaging in my vest on his own. I slap at his hand with my good one. "Rodney, cut it out and go to the gate."

"No." He slaps back and resumes digging until he finds what he is looking for and reloads his gun again. Once more he empties the clip into the approaching group of men that are creeping toward us. And all I can think is if he still refuses to go the gate, at least I'll be deaf from the sound of gunshots being fired across my body so I won't have to hear him bitch at me anymore. "Where's your other one?" he demands and goes back to searching my vest. Nope, I can still hear him, but maybe after the next round.

This time I just lay here and let him hunt, overwhelmed once again by the force of nature that is Rodney McKay. Force of nature? Hell, even they quake in his presence. He's his own goddamn law of physics…the McKay Effect, an astrophysicist that is confronted with an obstacle in his path will exude a force against the obstacle with a level of annoyance that is exponentially greater than that of said obstacle.

"Rodney," I plead, "please, go to the gate."

He pulls my second clip and loads the gun yet again. "I'll be happy to do just that, John, as soon as you get up and go with me." And once again he fires the weapon, this time actually winging someone. He grins in satisfaction to himself as he asks, "Do you have more or just the one in your holster?"

I shake my head in defeat. "Just my sidearm." He tosses the empty gun to the ground and leans across to pull my own. "Hey, that's government property."

"Not my government," he informs me and removes the nine millimeter from my thigh holster.

"Well, I'm responsible for the inventory. So cut me a little slack, why don't ya'?"

He snorts and shakes his head. "Sheppard, we're both about to die here and you're worried about paperwork? You take your responsibilities way too seriously."

"Yeah," I admit quietly, "I do."

He lowers the gun slightly at my statement and gives me a melancholy smile. "I guess that makes two of us then."

"Rodney, this isn't your responsibility."

His snort is disbelieving and slightly hurt. "Colonel, if you honestly believe that, then you either haven't been paying attention or I've given you far more credit than you deserve in my perceived level of your intelligence." I'm saved from having to respond by him raising my gun and firing once again. When he finishes, he passes the empty handgun back to me. The Frandish soldiers are evidently close enough now that they are willing to take a few shots of their own. McKay ducks his head, leaning over me as the bullets land several feet short. They aren't quite close enough, but they are definitely getting there. When he realizes this, he dares to rise slightly. "Okay then, I guess we move on to the P90. Not my weapon of choice, but it will do in a bind."

I'm about to protest when the gate activates behind us. Both of us turn to see the chevrons engaging and then the event horizon whooshing into existence before it blinks out a moment later. To the casual observer, it would appear that no one had come through before it shut down, but I saw the nearly imperceptible ripple of the surface and from the broad smile on McKay's face, he saw it too. Our pursuers, however, didn't and the small cease fire they had taken when the gate glowed to life ended as soon as the wormhole did.

I key my radio and I yank Rodney down and into the grass. "Atlantis Jumper pilot, this is Sheppard. If you copy, uncloak immediately. Repeat, uncloak immediately."

The ship wavers into existence above us and has the desired effect of stopping the gunfire from the Frandish. "Colonel Sheppard," Lorne calls back cheerfully. "Ronon and Teyla thought you might need a little help. Are you and Dr. McKay all right?"

"We are now," I assure him with a grin. Rodney rises to his knees only to slump back exhaustedly on his haunches in absolute relief.

"I have a message from Dr. Weir," the Marine informs us. "The two of you are to report back to Atlantis immediately or be prepared to suffer the consequences."

"She's pissed, huh?" I ask with a grimace.

"Not nearly as much as she would be if I came back without you." He sets the ship down and the back hatch opens to let us in and let a team of Marines out to cover our approach. But it's really not necessary as the guards have scattered in all directions at the sight of the craft.

"Now will you get up?" Rodney asks impatiently from my side.

"I was just waiting on you, McKay," I tell him with a groan as he helps me to stand, once again supporting me as we move toward the waiting Jumper.

"Sorry to hold you up, Colonel," he replies dryly.

"Eh," I shrug, then suck in a breath when my shoulder flairs with the action. His arm around my waist tightens minutely and he takes a little more of my weight. "No biggie. But I swear to God, if you ever disobey a direct order again, I will kick your ass into next Tuesday."

He regards me inquisitively and I try for my best glare. But it's hard to conceal the gratitude that has to be written all over my face and the gruff words do little to hide the thanks encrypted within them. And really, what's a little white lie among friends, especially when they're best friends willing to sacrifice everything for one another.

He tries for a frown back, but when he turns his eyes back to the Jumper and squares his shoulders, I can see the slight upturn of his lips. "You're welcome," he mumbles back and then he completes his self appointed task as he leads me into the back of the ship and our ride home to Atlantis. "And just so you know, Colonel," he tells me as he eases me into my seat. "Even after all that we've been through today, I'll still respect you in the morning."

The End