Twenty Questions
(by Era Yachi)

AN: I feel the need to prove that the 'tap-click-tap-click' of a computer keyboard is far, far less noisy than a hamster in a squeaky exercise wheel at 4:00 in the morning. I'm writing a book called Things Far, Far More Annoying Than Pet Hamsters but I'm behind on my practical research. And sleep. And I have Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 stuck in my head.

Anyway, insomniac demon rodents and non-existent literature aside, here's the last chapter. (thumbs up)


"""""

Bedside

"""""

Three days later, McKay's heart stopped.

The infirmary exploded into chaos, jerking Sheppard out of slumber—sleeping off an argument with Carson about an extended stay took much longer than he expected. Beckett, Dr. Biro and several hands with names he couldn't remember crowded the tight space around Rodney's bed, charging the defibrillator repeatedly and distributing volts of electricity into the physicist's chest. Halfway through the second charge, Ronon burst into the room, looking rough and tired, as though he'd spent the night out in the hallway.

The next jolt didn't restart McKay's heart. Neither did the third. After that, Ronon had to pin Sheppard back to the mattress while a nurse injected him with a sedative. He fought back. Ronon held him, restless but silent.

They tried again.

And again.

After the sixth attempt, the shrill whine of the heart monitor cut through the atmosphere with a definite, fatal statement. Beckett's throat tightened. He leaned over the lifeless body, placing the end of his stethoscope down with a shaky hand. Taking a deep breath, so as to not mistake the blood pounding in his ears for a second heartbeat, he moved the small metal disc and listened intently. As the silence around the room grew, so did the one inside Rodney's chest.

Slowly, Beckett straightened and lowered the triangular piece of equipment so it hung about his neck. He felt everyone's eyes drilling into him expectantly. Voice raw with sleep deprivation and the loss of a good friend, he croaked, "He's gone."

"No, he's not," hissed Sheppard through clenched teeth. Even the sedative was no match for the adrenaline coursing through his veins.

"Colonel, it's true. I promise you, I wouldn't lie about this," the Scottish physician told him, aggrieved.

"I'll call it," Dr. Biro said gently. When no one objected, she placed a quiet hand on McKay's forearm. "Time of death is oh six thirty-eight zulu, six thirty-eight A.M. SGC standard."

As her voice droned on, Sheppard was stopped cold, watching the motionless scene unfold in front of him. It was the sick, old man all over again. The crash cart was there; some of the faces surrounding him were the same. No one reached out to shut off the monitor, though. No one gave up on McKay that easily, not when they'd suffered him this long and lived to tell about it.

"He's not dead," he insisted loudly, angrily while he fought off Ronon's restraining arm. When he invoked no response, he resorted to the only ears he knew were probably listening. "You here me, Rodney? You're not dead! Open your goddamned eyes and listen to me, McKay! I'm ordering you!"

Some of the nurses and even Dr. Biro averted their eyes uneasily. Beckett's face was flushed, and even his eyes were glassed as he turned on their struggling military leader. "Colonel, I'm askin' you tae not make this any—"

"Carson, shut up!" John barked. He glared daggers at Rodney's body. "I'm gonna make this simple for you, Rodney. Either you wake up right now, or I'm going to hunt your ass down and drag you back here with me. You're tougher than this and you know it, so stop it with the act and start breathing!"

Beckett gazed at him with soft, sad eyes. "I'm truly sorry, Colonel. I really am." His head turned to a nurse standing by. "Administer a stronger sedative for the colonel, luv. He needs the rest now."

"Rodney!" John only pried harder at Ronon's arm, acting on wild impulse. "Rodney, if you think I'm kidding, you're wrong! This is you last chance!"

A few of the military personnel present started to move toward him. They'd been reluctant to act against their commanding officer up until now, but they clearly thought Sheppard was behaving irrationally and started to intervene.

John glanced at them coldly before fixing his eyes on McKay again. He knew this was crazy, and logic told him he was probably losing it, but he knew there was something left. When Rodney was gone, he expected a…void or something. Some really big, annoying chunk of the city would go missing. It just didn't seem that way yet. He wouldn't believe a damn thing until he was absolutely sure there wasn't a part of Meredith Rodney McKay left in the Pegasus Galaxy.

A few seconds passed. Nurse needles-a-lot was approaching, but he flat-out ignored her. He waited; tense, listening. And finally it happened.

The monitor beeped.

It might as well have been a gunshot for the way it affected the occupants of the room. There was a second-and-a-half lag before it beeped again, and then again, establishing a slow, but completely normal rhythm.

Suddenly, McKay's eyes shot wide open. His lips opened partially and his head jerked forward, gasping and drawing in mouthfuls of air while he choked, as though surfacing from the depths of a deep pool of water. At once, his entire body began to thrash violently.

"He's going into convulsions!" someone shouted.

"Oh my God," Beckett swore, voice mixed with both sheer disbelief and immense relief. He fell upon McKay, trying to restrain one flailing limb and issuing commands to every last medical personnel in sight. Bending his head low, he spoke firmly to the half-conscious Rodney on the bed, still twitching despite everyone's best efforts to hold him down. "Rodney, can ye hear me, lad? That's it, look righ' this way, at me."

"C-Car…s-s—" McKay sputtered. His eyes darted around the room frantically. "Sh-Sh-Shep…Shep'rd…?"

"I'm right here, buddy," Sheppard told him, unable to hold back the laugh in his voice. I hate my fuckin' job. This really makes it official. Rodney, you son-of-a-bitch, you're too goddamned hard to handle sometimes. Geez…

Maybe Rodney heard him, and maybe he didn't. A moment later, his flickering eyes rolled back in his head and he passed right out. The monitor blipped happily away as though nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.

There was a collective sigh of incredulity and release around the circle of physicians. All three nurses decided to edge away, giving Beckett a reasonable amount of space to collect himself. Carson turned to face Sheppard.

For a moment, they simply stared at each other. Even Ronon felt the strange vibe in the air and withdrew his arm, releasing the colonel. When no one else made a statement, the Satedan dropped his eyes to his team leader. "What the hell."

"Yeah…I know," said Sheppard, relaxing against the bed. He was too busy concentrating on the steady beeping of the heart monitor to come up with a more sophisticated answer. Besides, his body was starting react to the sedative. He was getting very tired.

"I'm sorry, Colonel, but this is a bloody miracle," Beckett said gravely. "Things like tha' just don't happen an a day-tae-day basis. You know something we don't."

"Yeah, I guess I do," the colonel sighed. "Let's just say…that I know that McKay won't do a damn thing until he's...well, he just needed a little convincing, that's all."

"Convincing?" said the doctor with a tremulous voice packed with bewilderment. "Rodney's just died and sprung back to life because he was in need of a wee bit of encouragement? Oh, well, that explains a lot!"

"I'm convinced," Ronon offered with a broad grin.

"There, see?" Sheppard said, his voice gravely with exhaustion. "Ronon believes me."

Recognizing that the colonel was about to lose consciousness, Beckett's softhearted nature got the better of him and he sighed. "Alrigh' then, be that way. We'll see what Dr. Weir has tae say about this."

"Tell her I say 'hi'," came the complacent reply. Sheppard's eyes closed and he was out like a light.


In all the time he'd spent in Atlantis, Zelenka could not remember the city being so quiet. Many of the techs and fellow scientists that joined him in the lab hardly spoke a word. Perhaps Rodney's penchant to expressing his mind as vocally and abusively as possible made them feel more comfortable in a working environment. Or maybe McKay's self-proclaimed 'underlings' really did feel a fondness for their tyrannical Chief Scientific Advisor.

Radek was inclined to believe the latter. Early this morning, Dr. Chautervi—a relatively new addition to the science division with a personality akin to a cactus—had publicized his belief that Atlantis would be better off with McKay out of his own misery. He might have assumed at the time that others would openly agree with him, fueling his colossal ego. This was not the correct thing to believe.

Radek had been forced to—painstakingly—step between the cowering Chautervi and the several lab techs that were…'helping' him reevaluate his opinion. The Czech had then ordered the foolish man out of the lab. One of the marines who had come to investigate the upheaval, 'accidentally' tripped him on his way out, and Radek didn't feel the least bit sorry when no one offered him a hand up.

Today was a very large headache. He would have been content to resign early and head to the mess hall, but Dr. Weir then paid him a visit. She told him about the incident in the infirmary just this morning, the actuality of Rodney's situation and how narrowly he had pulled through.

Before she left, he read in her face something else—and after knowing Rodney for a few years, Radek was accustomed to reading people. Maybe she wanted to tell him another thing, but she could not express it properly.

"Is there…something else, Doctor?" he had queried carefully.

"No." But she read 'yes'. "It's getting late. You need to get some rest. The past few days have been tough on everyone."

His intention was to follow her counsel, of course. After they parted ways, he went straight to his personal lab to recover a few items he would need for tomorrow. The hour was late in the city and most residents were already back in their quarters.

As soon as he reached his destination, he knew something about its interior had changed. He was good at remembering where he placed specific items and in what order. There was something in his lab that did not belong.

It did not take long to spot the brown paper package on top of his desk. Radek frowned suspiciously before approaching it. Even in the dim lighting, he could make out the thick letters drawn on its side in black marker. Dr. Zelenka.

There was no doubt that this parcel was meant for him. There was also something oddly familiar about the handwriting. Cautiously, he sat down at the chair and picked up the package. An object inside its paper folds shifted. When he tilted it, it shifted again. With precision, he tore the end of the paper open and allowed the item inside to slide into his hand.

It was a shiny silver disc, attached to a blue and red striped ribbon. He had seen medals such as these before, given to soldiers who had performed deeds of great sacrifice and bravery. But this could certainly not be for him. He was no soldier, and he had done nothing to deserve a medal of any kind. He spotted a single, pale yellow sticky note attached to the inside of the brown paper. He took it, not quite understanding.

Thanks.

That was all it said. There was no other explanation. Bewildered, he looked about the room for some other clue, but found none.

He suddenly felt as though he had missed something important. He very much doubted that it was unrelated to the mission on H4W-020, but even so, his involvement had been minimal. And whoever had sent him this token, they clearly did not wish to make it a public event. Therefore, it was a private business. For now, he would just have to assume it was the right thing to do.

Glancing down at the object, he murmured his disbelief in Czech and shook his head.


Carson extended Sheppard's stay in the infirmary by forty-eight hours. His struggle with Ronon had irritated his fractured collarbone, so the colonel spent the better part of the next few days sleeping off the painkillers. It didn't stop the nightmares about screaming Wraith darts and stun bombs. But he wouldn't tell anyone about those.

After his release, he made it a routine to visit the infirmary every day during visiting hours. He arrived early—though not nearly as early as Ronon, which brought him to wonder what the guy actually did in his spare time—and he stayed until Beckett kicked them all out.

Rodney was improving, slowly. His kidney was toast—he'd have to make due with just the one from now on. On the bright side, the infection that had settled in the wound was a minor one, and within days of his crash, his fever ebbed to a relatively normal ninety-nine point one. But he didn't regain consciousness for a week.

It happened when Sheppard and Teyla were knee-deep in a competitive debate about their worst off-world encounter. Ronon had fallen asleep in one of the chairs, albeit lightly (Sheppard didn't doubt the man was listening to their whole conversation). McKay's very unhappy groan caught them unaware.

Sheppard jumped to his feet and paced over to the side of the bed. Ronon was right with him (he'd been right about him—the little faker) and soon all three were surrounding the bed, waiting for some other indication of life from their grounded teammate.

Rodney's eyelids flickered open. He stared up at them. There was some annoyance behind his glare. "…you."

"Yes, Rodney, us." John tilted his head, smirking. "And how's our favorite injured genius today?"

McKay snorted, sounding less indignant and more like a hamster sneezing. "Can I have a moment…? I just woke up, for—" He stopped, squinting at Sheppard strangely. "You're hurt."

The colonel glanced down at the sling around his neck and made a twisted expression. "Oh, this? It's nothing. Just a teeny tiny fracture line in the lower left clavicle." The lopsided grin returned. "Beckett taught me that."

"Oh," said the physicist. "Didn't I…?"

"Yeah."

"Then that means I'm—"

"Yep."

"And you're all—"

"That's right."

"Are you going to let me complete a full sentence without interrupting me?" Rodney snapped angrily. A moment later, his face contorted painfully. "Ow…okay, that's not good. Why am I still in pain? Where's Carson?"

"You were speared by a tree, Rodney. What'd you expect?" John raised an eyebrow at him. "But…now that you're awake and all, how about sharing with us the answer?"

The blue eyes narrowed. "Answer? What answer?"

"To the game, man, the game! Remember we were playing on the way back to the 'gate?"

"What?" the physicist squeaked. "I am recovering from being stabbed through my own intestines and the one thing you care about is the answer to a stupid game?"

"Does that mean you won't tell us?"

"Forget it! If you're so inconsiderate of my health, you don't deserve to know." McKay's voice was cracked and somewhat hoarse, but that didn't stop the full ferocity of his grumpiness. A second later, he averted his eyes. "Besides…you still had two questions left."

"I'm sure Teyla's willing to give them up for the answer, right Teyla?" Sheppard twisted around to look at the Athosian standing behind him.

Teyla's smile was both warm and somewhat enigmatic. "It would be a fair trade."

McKay glanced at her warily. "Fine," he muttered. "It's you. Happy now?"

Feeling victorious, Sheppard exchanged looks with both Ronon and Teyla. Ronon rolled his eyes. Teyla moved closer to the edge of the bed, and to McKay's surprise, laid her hand over his and squeezed it gently.

"We are happy that you are still alive," she said gently. "We were all worried. Including Colonel Sheppard," she added, giving John a sharp look.

Sheppard was grinning again. Only the insane would wonder what was in his mind. Rodney decided that half-drugged and cranky was good enough for him. He sighed, closing his eyes to express his irritation. "What is it now?

The colonel snickered. "You think Teyla's pretty," he teased in a singsong style. "Ow! Hey!"

Teyla had punched him in the arm, and felt it was deserving of another. He flinched away before her fist made contact again. "Perhaps you would enjoy another stay here in the infirmary, Colonel?"

"Guys," said Ronon.

Both Teyla and Sheppard turned to find the Satedan thoroughly trained on the occupant of the bed beside them. When they looked, McKay's eyes were closed once again and his breathing had evened out. Clearly he had already spent what little energy he had by simply being awake. There was, however, a slight curve to the edge of his lips.

"Maybe we should go," Sheppard suggested, scratching the back of his neck. "I have a feeling Beckett'll take our hides if he finds out about this."

As a group, they moved away from McKay's bed and started to leave. John paused briefly to look over his shoulder, just to make sure Rodney was still breathing. He had to check. This was going to be something permanent in his treatment of the scientist now—the fact that accidents happened, even Wraith-related ones, now seemed too likely for comfort. No more treating even the easiest missions lightly. He had proof that even those could go wrong.

But for now, they'd be okay.

It was nice that way.

Thinking back to Rodney's answer, he found himself smiling again. Teyla must have noticed, because she frowned. "Colonel, what are you thinking?"

"Oh, nothing," he responded, laying the 'I'm-too-innocent-to-be-wrong' a little thickly in his voice. Then, under his breath, he started to chant, "Rodney and Teyla, sittin' in a tree. K—I—S—S—"

The corridors of Atlantis echoed with the muffled sounds of John Sheppard being pummeled.


AN: There you have it.

If it seems rushed, forgive me. I'm no good at long bedside conversations. Anyway, hope you enjoyed and thanks for the feedback!