CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: SHEPPARD MOON
A couple of days later found Sheppard wandering into the infirmary on Atlantis, nodding at the nurses he passed, catching the eye of the blonde one he had a crush on and turning around in a full circle as he passed by her, getting her to blush prettily.
Smiling even more brightly now, he nodded to Beckett off to the side, and received a nod in return as the physician continued talking to Doctor Biro about something.
Coming around a corner, he stepped inside a curtained area to find Rodney sitting cross-legged on his infirmary bed, typing furiously on a laptop. The scientist was frowning.
"What do you want?" Rodney groused, not looking up, "Can't you see I'm busy?" His fingers never skipped a beat—if anything, their speed increased.
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, "Someone's grouchy."
"Beckett spent the morning poking and prodding me everywhere I have a bruises and cuts," the eyes finally lifted, "how would you feel?" They fell again to the laptop screen, "Plus, he only allows me a few hours at a time with the laptop, and I'm barely making any headway on Enceladus' work as it is." The frustration in his voice was clear, and Sheppard understood much better now the reason for McKay's churlishness. "Can't wait to get out of here. I swear, Beckett just likes to prolong the agony."
"For him, or for you?"
"Ha, ha." The fingers slowed finally, lifting off the keyboard like a pianist's off the keys. He stared at the screen a moment, sighed heavily, then looked up to meet Sheppard's gaze. The colonel smiled, purposefully keeping his arms behind his back, tilting back and forth on his feet like a kid. Rodney's brow furrowed and his face softened slightly, the dark circles under them showing just how tired he was.
"Seriously," he asked, "why are you here?"
Sheppard just shook his head, "Rodney, I'm just here to check up on you. Part of being team-leader, you know?"
"Oh," Rodney frowned slightly, then offered a contrite look. "Right. Ronon still doing okay?"
Sheppard shrugged. "Healing. He's not happy with the sling—keeps taking it off. Teyla's dogging him, though. She clears her throat every time she finds him without it, and he puts in back on, scowling the whole time." He smiled, lowering his head, "It's actually pretty amusing. She has him under her thumb, and he's so clueless."
"He's not the only one," Rodney said, smiling cheekily. "I watched her charm Beckett into letting her accompany him to P7X-135 a little while ago. She said she was here to visit me, but the moment Beckett walked past, she was on him like glue."
"Oh, ho, really?" Sheppard's eyes lit up, "I heard Elizabeth was already planning on going along to see how Osheen and his people were settling in there." He grinned, "Poor Beckett!"
"Fly on the wall, eh? Just be grateful it's not us," Rodney smiled, and looked back at his laptop. He frowned slightly, then hummed a little as he started typing again.
"So how's it going, really?" Sheppard asked, moving to the head of the bed so he could see the screen.
"Slow," Rodney admitted, the frustration Sheppard heard earlier crawling back into his voice. "Enceladus' work was just so dense. I only saw one tiny piece of it." He sighed, "It'll take me weeks to get through everything we copied from the moon's database, and, even then, it'll take months to distill it into a form we can use for our own shield...if we even can." He frowned.
"Yeah, but you'll find a way."
"Hunh," Rodney grimaced slightly, and his typing sped up. "Maybe. So," he eyes flicked to Sheppard and then back again, "what are you hiding behind your back?"
"I was wondering when you'd ask," Sheppard replied with a cheeky grin, pulling his arms around to reveal two glasses, then reached inside his partially zipped jacket to pull out a single bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. Rodney stopped typing immediately, his jaw dropping in surprise. It just made Sheppard grin wider. "I got this from Dr. Stearns. I was hoping to find more than one bottle, but, well, we can split it. Move your laptop." Rodney did, sliding the laptop to the side, and Sheppard dropped the glasses onto the other man's lap before moving to make sure the curtain was pulled. Then he withdrew a bottle opener from his pocket. Rodney, completely dumbfounded, just fumbled with the glasses a little to keep them upright and watched Sheppard open up the bottle.
"Beer?" he asked. "But...why?"
"One of the last things you said to me," the colonel said, popping off the bottle cap, then nodding to Rodney to lift one of the glasses. "You said, when we got back, to drink a toast to your memory when we got home. Now, since your memory of nearly dying is apparently a little shaky—meaning you don't remember much after the radio went dead—I figure I'd rather toast to your not being dead." He moved to fill the second glass.
"Oh," Rodney just frowned, still not really up to speed. "But, obviously, when I said 'memory,' I didn't mean my actual—"
"I know what you meant, Rodney," Sheppard said sharply, putting the empty bottle on the side table and then taking one of the half-filled glasses from Rodney's hands.
"Oh," Rodney said again. "Okay, but, well, then shouldn't it be champagne?"
Sheppard laughed, "Damn, expensive, aren't you? No, no, this is much better. Champagne is what you drink at weddings...and funerals. Beer," he smiled, "is what you drink with friends." He raised the glass, and arched an eyebrow.
McKay gave a real smile at that, clearly pleased, and raised his own glass. Sheppard then downed all of his, while McKay drank about half of his, grimacing a little at the taste on his dry tongue. Then he finished it, determined.
Sheppard smiled again when his friend was done, and took the empty glass away from him.
Rodney gave a him an inscrutable look, then gave a small smile. "Thank you, Colonel."
"No problem." He gathered up the empty beer bottle and the glasses into his hands again. "Just get better. We need to get back out there." As he spoke, he grabbed a tissue from the side table and covered the sticky top of the empty bottle with it, then slid it back inside his jacket.
"Right," McKay nodded. When Sheppard looked at him again, he flushed slightly and looked down at his hands. "You know, I lied a little."
Sheppard pursed his lips, and this time, it was his turn to say, "oh?"
"I remember a lot of what happened after we were cut off."
"But you didn't want to share it," the colonel said understandingly.
"Yeah," McKay glanced up, then down again. "Exactly."
Sheppard just smiled, "Don't worry. I understand, believe me."
"Yeah, I guess you would. Still remember your amazing lack of memory about what happened when you visited Chaya that second time." McKay chuckled, and pulled his laptop back onto his lap.
"Exactly," Sheppard grinned. "And, look, uh, in return..." he licked his lips, "don't tell Beckett about the beer, will ya?"
McKay gave a short laugh, "Are you kidding? God, no." He started typing again. "I'm not that dumb." The eyes were once more absorbed in the information on the screen—the scientist unable to keep away from his true love for too long.
Sheppard watched his friend work a moment, then smiled affectionately.
"All right then, Answer Man," Sheppard said. "I'll see you later."
McKay glanced up from the laptop, gave a small smile and nodded. "Thanks. You don't have to, though, you know. I'm okay."
The colonel wrinkled his nose and turned, already walking away. "I'll see you later."
Behind him, the fingers clicking away stopped, then started again.
Sheppard stopped at the edge of the curtained area and turned, to find McKay still watching his screen. "Yeah?"
"Do you, uh...do you know what a Shepherd Moon is?"
"A what moon?"
"Shepherd. With an H. Don't get cocky, they're not named after you." And McKay smirked, arching an eyebrow at the colonel before returning to his work. He started typing again.
"Well, then obviously, no, I don't."
"Shepherd Moons shape and stabilize ring systems. They constrain and maintain the rings through gravitational forces, essentially keeping the ice, dust and rock that make up the rings in place. In other words, Shepherd Moons stop things from flying out of control and potentially causing great damage." McKay shrugged a little, fingers attacking the keys in a steady prattle. "Saturn has a bunch of them keeping the rings in place around it. P1H-369 probably does too."
Sheppard just gave a nod to show he understood, "Oh."
"I was just thinking," the fingers paused again on the keyboard, then started again, "if Enceladus had found away to utilize the stabilization factor of a Shepherd Moon, he...I mean, his moon...might have been better able to handle the stresses. Been more effective, you know? Stronger."
Sheppard gave that a thought, then shrugged. "Sure, maybe so."
"No, I'm pretty certain." McKay's fingers were flying now over the keys, almost to distraction. "It would have been stronger."
"Well, I'm sure you're right. You usually are." Sheppard smiled, "See you, McKay." And he turned again, headed back out of the infirmary.
The clicking continued unabated in the background, but Sheppard heard McKay's reply anyway.
"Because I know I am," the scientist said softly.
The small smile on Sheppard's face grew as he disappeared out the doors.
I hope you enjoyed it! And, again, thank you all so much for the reviews! Much needed, believe me!