Finally, it is finished! Hurrah!
I wanted to do a little epilogue on this fic to deal with both Sheppard's physical recovery and also McKay's feelings of guilt over Sheppard saving his life – again. So here it is.
Hope you like it and hope you enjoyed the fic – please do leave me some feedback and let me know your thoughts.
John Sheppard had never been quite so grateful for having such a strong natural ATA gene. The doors to the lab slid open for him with a thought and he carefully swung his way into the room, manoeuvring himself around the doorframe with care. Crutches were a pain in the ass and he'd very quickly learnt his lesson about how easy it was to catch them on something and get all tangled up. He'd nearly fallen twice just getting out of the infirmary before he'd finally gotten the hang of the damn things. Being able to open doors without using his hands at least made getting around on Atlantis that little bit easier.
He found McKay exactly where he'd expected to find him – hunched over a computer in the lab, a frown of concentration on his face, completely wrapped up in some project or another. So absorbed was he that he didn't appear to notice John's somewhat less than stealthy approach at all.
"Holy shi.." McKay bit off a curse as he literally jumped in his seat, turning to fix John with a glare of exasperation.
"Don't you know better than to sneak up on people when they're working? Just because you're off-duty for the next few weeks doesn't mean the rest of us are and I have some very important…"
McKay's tirade petered out in mid-sentence as his brain finally seemed to catch up with his mouth and he changed the subject abruptly, his face creasing into a frown of concern as he took in the crutches and John's lack of infirmary scrubs.
"Hey, what are you doing out of the infirmary? Did Carson discharge you? Does he know you're wandering around the city on that leg?"
John interrupted the barrage of questions with practised ease, an edge of sarcasm in his voice, "No Rodney, I snuck out of the infirmary, stopped to steal some crutches on the way, and ran away before Carson could catch me."
"Oh." Something flitted across McKay's face, an emotion that John couldn't quite pin down, before the familiar expression of impatience returned.
"Well, I wouldn't put it past you," he muttered grumpily, turning back to the computer. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm really very busy.."
It was a pretty obvious attempt at dismissal. John chose to ignore it.
He sighed. "Alright, Rodney, spit it out. What's up with you?"
There was an edge to McKay's voice, something more than the scientist's usual condescending tone. "Nothing is up with me, Colonel, I just happen to be very busy.."
"Oh come on, Rodney!" John interrupted. "Zelenka says you've been like a bear with a sore head this past week.." He saw McKay about to comment and forestalled him.
"More so than usual.." he qualified with a grin, "and you haven't been by the infirmary for days. Overnight you go from Carson practically having to force you to leave to hiding away in your lab.."
"I am not hiding!" There was a flash of anger in McKay's eyes before he stamped down on it and turned back to his computer, avoiding John's gaze.
"Anyway," he muttered quietly, "how would you know? You've been asleep most of the time."
John's face was serious now as he spoke to the back of McKay's head. "Yeah, well.. pain meds'll do that for you," he admitted softly. He sighed again, instinctively lifting a hand to rub at his eyes, and swore under his breath as his balance shifted, the crutch nearly sliding out from under him before he managed to grab ahold of it again.
He shifted uncomfortably in his precarious stance, aware of McKay watching him out of the corner of his eye, his body tensed as though to.. to what? To catch him if he fell?
"Is that what this is all about, Rodney?"
The scientist wouldn't meet his gaze, staring instead with a fixed determination at his computer screen, so Sheppard took a guess and pushed a bit harder. "This wasn't your fault, Rodney."
McKay's turned around at that, anger evident on his face, and for an instant John saw naked emotion in his friend's eyes; anger yes, but also fear and despair and.. guilt.
"Of course it wasn't my fault!" The scientist spat. "I didn't ask that damn thing to bite you, did I? Or for it's little friends to hunt you down?"
He turned back to his computer, the slight break in his voice not entirely masked by the tone of disdain that John had come to know as one of Rodney's favourite defence mechanisms.
"If it's anyone's fault, it's yours," he continued to rant, stabbing angrily at the keyboard. "Always have to be the hero, don't you? Throw yourself in front of the speeding bullet, risk your life to save everyone. Lt Colonel Expendable." John was shocked at the level of bitterness in McKay's voice.
"I'm still alive, Rodney," he pointed out gently.
"Yeah, well, no thanks to me!"
McKay froze and it was obvious he hadn't meant for that to slip out.
Before John could think up a suitable response, McKay rose abruptly from his seat, his face flaming crimson, clearly intent on running out on the conversation. He shoved back his stool as he stood and the metal leg clipped the edge of Sheppard's crutch, pushing it sideways. Unprepared for the sudden change in his balance, John could not redistribute his weight quickly enough and the crutch slipped, shooting out from under him before he could stop it.
Bizarrely, time seemed to both slow down and speed up at once. He was acutely aware of the crutch slipping, of his balance shifting, but everything seemed to move in slow motion and he couldn't keep hold of the crutch, couldn't stop himself from falling. And then time seemed to shoot forward and the next thing he knew he was on his back on the floor, gasping for breath, hot pain radiating outwards from his leg, with McKay hovering over him anxiously, a look of terror on his face.
"Oh my god! Colonel Sheppard, are you okay?"
John focused on the ceiling beyond Rodney and struggled to draw in a breath. God, his leg felt like it was on fire. Must have landed on it when he went down.
"Oh, god. I'm sorry! I didn't mean to… I'll get Beckett.."
"Mnno.." He forced the word out through gritted teeth, halting Rodney in his reach for his radio earpiece. "I'm good."
Rodney's expression was, quite frankly, disbelieving. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah." He spoke haltingly, fitting the words in between his gasps for air. "Just.. winded. Knocked the… breath out.. of me."
Some of the bitterness had crept back into McKay's expression and his mouth twisted as he knelt on the floor beside Sheppard. "Still the selfless hero, eh?"
John frowned. He'd had about enough of this and pain was seriously fraying his patience right now. He sucked in a breath and swallowed back the pain.
"McKay, whether you like it or not, it is my job to protect the members of this expedition. That goes for you, Elizabeth, Carson, Lorne, Zelenka.. hell, even Kavanaugh. Everyone. You understand me?" His voice was tight, pain and frustration twisting at his gut. He needed to make Rodney understand.
"But if it hadn't been for me.."
"Then that thing would have attacked someone else.. Ronon or Teyla, or me." He looked up at McKay, seeing the misery behind the walls of sarcasm and anger. "Come on, McKay – you saw the teeth on that thing. If I hadn't pushed you clear it probably would have killed you with one bite and then come back for the rest of us too. I would have done the same thing if it had gone for Teyla or Ronon."
Rodney still glared at him but some of the anger had faded from his eyes.
"You nearly died," he said, accusingly.
"I know. I'm sorry. Can't promise it won't happen again though.."
McKay's lips pressed together in exasperation but John could have sworn he saw the corner of his mouth trying to twitch upwards into a smile.
"You're an idiot."
"Compared to you, McKay, everyone's an idiot." The pain in his leg was beginning to ease down to a dull throb now and John was starting to feel pretty stupid lying here on the floor having this conversation.
"Hah. Flattery will get you nowhere, Colonel." McKay's tone was dismissive, as condescending as ever, but a certain smugness told John that he was secretly pleased by the compliment.
"Well, how about getting me off the floor?"
"Huh, what? Oh, right." McKay had the grace to look embarrassed as he realised belatedly that John couldn't get up on his own. John brushed away his concern as he carefully levered himself into a sitting position, grimacing a little at the still-throbbing pain in his leg as he used his hands to carefully position the limb so that, with Rodney's help, he could struggle gingerly to his feet; or, more accurately, foot. He swayed for a moment, trying to balance on one leg, and felt Rodney's grip on his arm tighten before the scientist hooked the errant stool closer with his foot and helped John lower himself onto it. He caught Rodney looking suspiciously at him and wondered if he looked quite as pale and wobbly as he felt.
"Are you sure you don't want me to call Carson?"
Well, that answered that question. He sighed.
"I'm good. I just need my crutches."
McKay huffed in exasperation but rescued the abandoned crutches from the floor and handed them back to Sheppard. The scientist still looked kinda shaken but some of the tension had eased from his shoulders and Sheppard figured they were okay again.
He tested the water. "You too busy for a coffee?"
"Well," John grinned as he levered himself slowly to his feet, resting his weight carefully on the crutches, "I've been living off nothing but infirmary food for the past week so I figure a trip to the mess hall wouldn't go amiss right about now."
"Really? I like infirmary food." McKay commented, hovering somewhat nervously as Sheppard swung himself towards the door.
"Great. Next time, you can have my infirmary food and bring me your meals from the mess hall instead." The door slid open smoothly at his thought.
"What do you mean, next time?" Rodney's voice was exasperated, rising rapidly in pitch as he followed John out into the corridor.
"Well, you know, next time I have to save your life.." John could tell from the splutter of indignation that McKay knew full well that he was being teased but, as ever, the scientist simply couldn't resist being goaded.
"I don't recall asking you to shove me face-first into the undergrowth, Colonel. I suppose I should be thankful you didn't tip me into a patch of the local equivalent of poison ivy.."
"Well, if you didn't keep getting yourself into trouble all the time…"
"Well, if you didn't keep trying to play the hero all the time…"
Sheppard grinned. "Let's just say that saving your life is getting to be a bad habit, McKay."