"How is he?" John asked the next day. Rodney lay still, an IV attached to his arm. Around him the machines beeped rhythmically.
"He's well enough now," Carson replied, resting one hand on Rodney's cool arm. He carefully tucked in underneath the blanket. "He's damned lucky."
"What was it?"
Beckett waved John over to a quiet corner. "Best I can say it was an allergic reaction of a sort. Something he ate exacerbated his illness, to the point where he was acting as though under the influence of a narcotic."
"He was high?"
"More like a hallucinogen."
"I guess that explains why they think he went crazy. That was the night he ate, and was ill . . ." John sighed and nodded. "He got sick, and I left him by the tree. I shouldn't have left him." He let his head thump back against the wall.
"You couldn't have known. Did he really fire a gun into the air?"
"I hope so. I mean, I hope it was into the air. No one was shot. It would explain what Ford heard, and why the people went nuts. He may have realized what he did and ran off, there's no telling. I'm not sure he'll remember it."
"Probably not. I wonder why he did it?"
"If he was hallucinating . . ."
"Aye. No telling what he thought he was aiming at."
"So now what?"
Carson consulted his chart. "He'll remain on the IV for the rest of the day. He'll have quite the headache for a while and placed on a restricted diet and limited activity until we can get his stomach healed properly. Add to that a touch of flu, probably from the rain, and I can guarantee he'll feel like crap for a few days." He gripped the top of the chart and let his arm to the side. "But I think there's something else." His postured had gone from typical doctor pose to one of open conversation.
"Yeah?" John frowned and shouldered himself off the wall. He pocketed his hands and listened.
Beckett glanced back toward his friend, who lay unmoving on the bed. "He was saying things." Carson leaned in closer. "He thinks you were killed right beside him, shot to death right there."
"He says . . ." Carson shook his head, "he kept apologizing. He says you were wrong, that he was sorry he got you killed, I don't know. It was all babble. But something bad happened back on that planet, or at least he thinks it did."
John's brows were drawn tight. His gaze was pinned to the floor. "When can he talk?"
"I'll see what mood he's in when he wakes, and let you know. Right now his rest is more important. The talk can come later."
"Right." John sighed again, and looked back at the bed. "They were gonna kill him, Carson. Just because he was sick."
"Aye, but if he shot a gun in the air and went mad, can you blame them?" He waved away John's glare. "I'm not justifying their actions, son. For all their success in trade, they are a more primitive culture than we thought. It was not the best way to handle things, no, and you got him home."
"And if I hadn't?"
"I'd rather not think about it." Carson patted John on the arm. "I'll call you when he wakes up, all right?"
"Right. Think I'll go talk to Ford, see how he's doing." John glanced back at Teyla, also sleeping.
Carson smiled. "I was going to release her, but she came down with a minor infection. I'll call you when she wakes as well. She will be glad to see you."
"Ditto." John smiled and walked on.
The call came late that night, but it wasn't what he expected. First, there was the pounding on his door, which startled John out of his sleep. Next thing he knew his room was filled with one angry medical doctor, ready to explode.
Carson marched in and didn't stop, stationed himself in the center of the room, and stayed there while John orbited in confusion. "You," Carson said in a low voice, "you damned . . .bastard!"
That stopped John in his tracks. "Excuse me?"
"I cannot believe it! I refuse to believe you would treat Rodney that way, I don't care how much he grates on your nerves, but . . ." he tried to calm himself. "I told him it didn't happen. I told him he was ill, that he . . .but to just ridicule him like that? And you knew the man was taken ill! What the hell were you thinking?"
John stared. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"The jungle, when you found Rodney, that's what!"
John took a step closer. "Carson," he said firmly, "I found Rodney on his knees with a knife to his throat."
"Och, gun to his head, do you mean?"
John walked forward. "Knife to his throat! Trust me, it's an image I haven't been able to shake yet! What's he saying? No, wait, I thought you said he was hallucinating?"
"I wasn't there, Major!"
"No, you weren't, were you!" John pulled out a chair. "Now sit!"
"I'm not a bloody dog!"
"And I don't deserve this ass-chewing! Now sit!"
Carson glared, then calmed himself by breathing deeply, and sat.
"Now start at the beginning, as you know it."
Carson's eyes fell to the floor as he collected his thoughts. When he looked up, most of the anger had gone. "He said you found him in the jungle, and everything was good, considering his condition. But then you began to berate him. He said you didn't want him on the team, that he was a liability, and that you were tired of cleaning up after his mistakes. You said . . .whatever else you said, I can't even remember . . .he feels worthless." Carson looked up. "He doesn't want to see you. Apparently you hit him where it counts. He's hurting, Major."
John stared. "What he thinks I said – When did this happen?"
"When you found him in the jungle. He was ill, and you wouldn't even help him." Carson still sounded angry, but underneath there was a plea. Don't let this be true.
John shook his head rapidly in denial. "No, nonono, that's not it." He sighed and turned away, running his hand through his thick hair. "Dammit, I searched for him, and that storm came. I never found him in the jungle. I didn't even see him until he was back in the village and those people had him on his knees with a knife to neck, and I have no idea how he got there!"
"He called you a liar."
"Carson," Sheppard gritted his teeth and clenched his fist in frustration. He knelt down before the man, "do you honestly think I would do that to him?"
Not much analysis was required. "No," Carson said softly, "I don't suppose I do. But he does. And I'm sorry, but I had to be certain."
John gave a nod, his face falling. He gripped the arms of the chair, but didn't stand. "So you think maybe he was hallucinating the whole thing?"
Carson nodded thoughtfully. His face was still tense. "But to hallucinate something of that nature . . ." his eyes widened expressively as he sighed, "it shows that there are apparently some underlying issues that the two of you need to resolve."
John gave a sigh of his own. "Well, that might be a little hard if he won't talk to me."
Carson shrugged. "He's not going anywhere. May not have much choice."
"I thought you said his rest was more important."
"I didn't know we would be confronted with the likes of this." He rose. "I apologize, John, truly. He was going on so much, and it just . . .he's so certain."
John noticed the circles under the doctor's eyes. "First Teyla, now Rodney. Have you slept?"
"Who's in the office?"
"Then I'm making a medical order of my own. Get some rest. I'll look in on Rodney."
"Major, I'm not sure that's . . ."
"This needs to be dealt with, and the sooner the better."
Carson agreed. "I should be there, though, in case he becomes overwrought."
"Then we better go, because you have a date with your pillow."
The meeting didn't happen. Right as they entered the corridor that led to the infirmary, Carson was called to Dr. Morris' quarters. John lingered for a moment after the emergency medical staff hurried off, and looked in on his friend. Rodney was awake, thank god, and staring at the ceiling. He would blink on occasion, his lashes seeming disturbingly long. John realized it was because he was staring at the scientist, watching his every move, his every breath, trying to read him. A coldness crept over him as he studied the set of Rodney's jaw, and the way the ever-moving hands clenched slightly, then unclenched and picked at the blanket. Maybe now wasn't a good time.
John moved on.
Rodney was released the next day with nothing to do. Carson had made him promise not to go to the lab for the day, to instead sit on a balcony somewhere with a book. It was the most repugnant thing he could imagine doing, but he found himself leaning back in a chair with a book in his hand, not reading, but staring out over the sea.
John had been watching him for a full five minutes before swallowing his pride and intruding.
"You need some shorts, or at least take off your shoes," he said, casually walking to the rail. "Though I admit the best way to fight off the Wraith just might be to show them your Day-Glo legs." He looked thoughtful as he leaned on one elbow. "On the other hand, you're even paler than they are. Just grow your hair out, dye it, and you can sneak on their ship and get us some useful intel. How about it?"
"Who told you I was here?"
"Damn him, then. Go away, I'm busy."
"You look it." He pulled up a chair, overlooking the fact that Rodney scowled and shifted as though to get away. "So, you want to tell me what happened out there?"
Rodney had picked up his book. "No."
John realized he was not only throwing caution to the wind, but taking his life into his own hands as he yanked it away. "You sure?"
"Oh, that's just so childish! Look, I don't have time for this, just give it back!"
"No!" He pulled away as Rodney snatched for it.
"I said give it back!"
"Now who's being childish?"
"YOU are! Just . . ." he snatched at the object, his fingers just grazing the cover.
"Uh-uh. You can have it back after you talk. What is this anyway?" John tilted the spine towards him, "A hand guide to . . . I can't even pronounce this! What the hell is this? Light reading?"
"I'm using it for research, thank you." He reached out again, snatching at the cover. The jacket slid and ripped.
Both men looked at each other. John slowly handed the book back. "Sorry."
Rodney just sighed and pitched it to the grey floor between them. He stared at it.
John was quiet. The sadness and anger on Rodney's face was unmistakable, and he knew his friend really didn't want him there. And yet, he must have, or he would have driven him away in true McKay fashion. "Rodney . . ." he stopped and released his breath, looking out over the water.
"I really want to be alone."
John almost let him. He almost stood. "Carson told me what happened in the infirmary. Some of it, anyway."
"Did he." It was more an accusation than a question.
"Good for him."
This clipped tone was supposed to be flooded with words. John found Rodney's lack of enthusiasm for speech troubling to say the least. He shifted in his chair to face him. "You realize what you saw, whatever it was, it didn't happen."
Rodney was staring out at the water. He slowly turned his head, incredulous. "Is that supposed to make me feel better? Is that your magic cure? 'Oh, don't worry, it wasn't real'? That sucks, Major."
"Look, if you would just tell me . . ."
"What did Carson say to you?"
He had been hoping to skirt the issue. So he tried. "Rodney, I'm here. I'm alive. It was a sucky thing that you saw . . ."
"I'm talking about what you said, Sheppard. In the jungle. Was Carson good enough to avoid any patient/doctor confidentiality and spread the gospel of the military man and the hapless geek?"
"Dammit, Rodney, I wasn't there! How the hell am I supposed to know what happened? I wasn't there, I didn't say a damned thing, now stop accusing me and tell me what the hell is going on!" Rodney stood and braced himself on the railing. His hands clenched on the bars, unclenched, ran over the surface. He made a point of not looking at John, and John made a point of not getting up. "Listen," John continued, "it's your decision. You can either get over your ego and talk to me, or you can suffer alone. You're not the only one with important things to do."
Rodney glared over his shoulder. "You really are an ass. I've told you to go away, and you won't."
John said nothing. He let the point make itself.
"Dammit. You . . ." Rodney started, and almost laughed in desperation. "How can I trust you? I mean, I know that I was suffering from some sort of bad hallucinogen, like there's such thing as a good one, but it was real to me." He turned to John. "It was real. I can hear you say those things, and I can still see it in your eyes. I can see it because I've seen it there before, and I know what it looks like. And I have to wonder if I tapped in to something you're not telling me."
"What do you see?"
"Oh I don't know, a mirror of my own physical incompetence, maybe? Or maybe the way you roll your eyes when you know I'm right? Oh, maybe it's all the times we go off world and you pair me with someone else with disdain. I know I'm not the pick of the litter, but if you don't want to work with me all you have to do is say so!"
John shook his head in confusion. "Where did all this come from?"
"I mess up, okay? I may be a genius, but sometimes I get us in over our heads. You think I don't know this? You think I'm deaf and can't hear people talking about McKay's latest escapade? You think I haven't heard you instigating the conversations?" He swallowed hard and gripped the rail tightly. "In that jungle, you said I was a fuck-up and you were tired of cleaning up after me. Well, are you?"
John couldn't move. He didn't know how to fix this.
Rodney swallowed. "It was you," he said. "I mean, it was you. Only you would never say those things to me. Right?" The eyes that turned to his were suddenly heavy with need.
Now he understood. Every insecurity Rodney felt was made real in that jungle, and this was the only way he could confront it. "Look, I know we argue and all, but that's just who we are. I mean, that's what we are together. We – actually . . ." he sighed, not realizing such a simple talk would be so damned difficult. "Look, I want you on the team. Okay? Not just for your brain. I've come to think of you as a . . ." god he couldn't believe he was saying this, "as a friend." His body tensed, and he pointed an accusatory finger in Rodney's face. "This doesn't mean you get to gloat. It doesn't mean we're attached at the hip. It doesn't even mean I'll invite you to dinner. But to hang out, yeah, sure, and . . .talk." He stopped himself again, taking in the startled expression across from him. "I mean, we do seem to hang out a bit, huh?" he verified.
Rodney actually smiled. "Must be as hard for you to admit to friendship as it is for me."
"I think in this case it's just having to admit it to you," John groused, and turned on his chair to face the sea fully. He waited for a moment, then leaned over and picked up the small case he had brought with him. Angling the small table that sat between the two chairs, he opened the case and started to unload chess pieces.
Rodney watched, saying nothing as John set the board. Two closed fists were held out to him. Rodney hesitated, then tapped one. White king.
The sun bled into the water. It was picturesque, well, it would have been for Rodney if his stomach didn't churn at the waves rolling the color toward them. Still, it was worth sitting there just to soak up the moment. He had a feeling it wouldn't come again.
"It's amazing the crap I have to go through to get a simple validation from someone," he muttered.
"Didn't realize you were looking for one." John's eyes didn't meet Rodney's, but they didn't need to. "So . . .feel better now?"
Rodney groused and made his first move.
The two colors blended before them, a mirage of the fiery sun cooling in the waters below.