Rules of War
AN: Here it is. The last chapter. Have fun, kiddies…
"A good friend can tell you what the matter is with you in a minute. He may not seem such a good friend after telling."
Chapter Fifteen: Reason
(Days past) 1:25 pm, Daedalus Infirmary
He could hear voices drifting in and out.
"…three patients, all of whom were shot near vital arteries…absolute mystery the way all three bullets were…only thing I can think of is the will power…"
And consequently, he would pass out again. He didn't know how much time passed, but he scarcely remembered the brief moments when he was conscious.
Long ago, Sheppard had decided he didn't like the 'hospital' smell. He knew Rodney didn't, either—mostly because a lemon-scented cleaner was used to clean and sanitize most non-medical surfaces—but it wasn't until now that he really hated it. It was a very patronizing smell. If smells could talk, it would probably say "Hey, buddy, you're here again. What are you: a glutton for punishment?" and then laugh maniacally.
This time, Dr. Montgomery was standing above him. He found this out by opening his eyes. Such a simple task. Such a lousy reward.
"Welcome back to the real world, Colonel," said the doctor. "How are you feeling?"
Those were the first words out of his mouth. His voice was hoarse and his throat hurt. He'd been out for a while.
Montgomery had no change of expression whatsoever as he glanced at his clipboard. "Dr. McKay is…most likely eating lunch right now. He left about fifteen minutes ago."
"What?" Sheppard tried to sit up, but immediately regretted it. A sharp pain in his arm radiated into his chest and forced him to lie back down.
"Careful, Colonel," the old doctor warned him. "You did some heavy damage to that tendon in your arm. Not to sound prudent, but your arm would have been fine if you'd gotten it treated earlier."
"Yeah…" Sheppard grimaced as the pain dulled to a strange thudding sensation. "I had other things on my mind."
"If you only knew how many times I've heard that one."
The colonel opened his eyes again. "Carson?"
"Righ' here, I'm afraid," said a weary-sounding Scottish voice. Sheppard's heart did a double-take and he twisted his head to look at the occupant in the bed next to him.
"You're okay," he said ingeniously.
Beckett smiled grimly. He was reclining in his bed, with a sling around one arm and looking miserable and anxious—but not in pain. That was good. "Aye, that I am. Nothin' seriously damaged, and not a broken bone in me. I was damned lucky."
"I'd say," Sheppard replied, following up with a heavy sigh.
"An' what about you, lad? How are ye feelin'?"
"Like I want a second opinion."
Carson laughed a little, with an amused crinkle of his eyes. "Don't be expectin' any in this prison ward of a hospital, Colonel. Believe me, I've tried."
To that, Sheppard could not help but grin. "Getting a taste of your own medicine, doc?"
"I'd be careful what I say to him, if I were you," Montgomery said a little dismally, glaring at the Scot over the rim of his glasses. "He has all of my nurses wrapped tightly around his finger. If you don't want any extra surprises in your breakfast, you'd better be on your best behaviour."
"What can I say?" said Beckett, feigning innocence. "The lasses are charmed by mae attractive personality."
"Why is Rodney not here?" Sheppard asked, feeling a little stupid about the question, but needing to know the answer anyway.
Beckett's face became serious. "Rodney was released about three days ago, Colonel. It's…well, tae be honest, it's a bloody miracle. The nanites are completely gone, but he still managed to recover twice as fast as he was supposed tae."
"If it helps, Dr. Zelenka theorized that the nanites were originally programmed to protect and repair their host…like normal white blood cells would," Dr. Montgomery explained. "But he assumes Brandelis sent them one last command…which reached only part of the dormant nanites before he died. The ones that didn't receive the command followed their original programming and destroyed the rogues. When that was over, they went to work repairing the damage to his body."
Somehow, Sheppard both understood and believed the good doctor. It explained McKay's ballistic episode and how he managed to survive so long with his injuries. Funny, he thought, though it was anything but funny. The same damned nanites that were slowing killing him were also keeping him alive. Go figure.
"I thought the nanites were programmed to imitate a Wraith," he said groggily. He was fighting the edges of sleep now. Breathing kind of hurt.
"They received commands from Brandelis's virus," said the doctor. "The same way we remotely control robots to disarm bombs."
"Well," Sheppard said with a sarcastic drawl. "That's nice to know."
"Dr. Zelenka also said that the nanites are harmless. If anything, they'll be useful for the next time Dr. McKay is injured."
If I can help it, thought Sheppard. There won't be a next time.
Montgomery saw that the colonel was no longer paying attention and looked away. "Anyway, you need your rest, Colonel. Looks like you're not due for release until the next ice age."
"Aye, tha's what ye get for refusin' tae let me help ye," Beckett said reproachfully from his bed. "And ye should remember that, Colonel. I won't be so soft on ye next time."
Just as Montgomery started to depart, Sheppard lifted his exhausted head slightly. "Hey, doc…what about Lorne?"
The doctor paused. "We examined him. He's confused, but healthy. Now sleep. Wouldn't want you to precious recovery time, or piss off two chief surgeons in one week."
No, he didn't. Sheppard finally allowed himself to relax, until the monotonous sounds and tangy hospital smell faded away.
3:26 am, Daedalus Infirmary
When he woke, it was nighttime.
Well, it was a late hour, anyway. In the middle of space, there was no literal day or night. But the lights were dimmed, and the curtain was drawn between his bed and Carson's. By the sound of the gentle doc's snoring, he was probably the only one nearby who was actually awake.
Sheppard's eyes adjusted to the shape sitting at the end of his bed.
Scratch that. He was one of two people who were awake.
Scratch that. He was the only one.
McKay was slumped in the chair—probably had fallen asleep waiting for him to wake up. There were no bandages on his head, or any indication whatsoever that he had been shot and nearly bled to death three days ago. At least, he thought it was three days ago. He still expected a worse sight than a slightly drooling scientist hunched over the foot of his bed.
Furling his brow, the colonel looked at his side table, and found something he could use. With clumsy hand-eye coordination, he reached over and plucked the empty plastic cup from a nearby tray.
He then chucked it at Rodney's head.
It bounced off with a soft 'tuh', and landed on the physicist's lap. McKay jerked awake, blinking in a moment of complete bewilderment. Then he saw Sheppard glaring at him, and deflated a little.
"Oh…hey," he said.
Sheppard carefully and slowly pulled himself backwards so that he lay propped against his pillow. Someone must have given him painkillers, because he could barely feel the hole in his arm anymore. "Hey," he responded in a brusque tone. "Bad night?"
The scientist's confusion returned momentarily. "No, actually…I, uh…just stopped by for a couple of hours…thought you might be awake and—
There was purpose in the way that McKay avoided making eye contact. That 'look' came over him; the one where he knew he was in trouble and had no viable defenses left to hide behind. "You…you're really mad at me, aren't you?"
"You think?" Sheppard almost growled, clenching his fists as they dug into the sheets beside him. "You shot yourself, McKay! What the hell was going through your head that made that seem like a good idea?"
McKay's voice stayed perfectly even, though it became harder and more forced. "It just…did…at the time. Look, can we…not discuss this right now? I mean, it's late and now's a bad time, and I'm not really supposed to be here…"
"Why, Rodney?" the colonel demanded, refusing to drop the subject. There was never a good time to discuss this, and McKay would shirk it forever unless he was cornered.
His teammate's face lost all expression, except for the smallest twinge of his mouth. Finally, he said, "I was faced with a tough decision, and…and I made it. I did exactly what you would have done if you were in my position."
"And that's supposed to make it okay?" Sheppard was livid now. It was all he could do to remember to keep his voice down, or else risk waking his neighbours.
McKay displayed a similar amount of self-control, though he was probably angrier. "Come on, I did what I had to do, Sheppard! I can honestly say that it doesn't get any more complicated than that, all right? And yes—yes, I'd do it again, if I were somehow magically transported back to that exact time and place. And do you want to know why, Colonel?"
"Because you're an idiot!"
A distant look came over Rodney. "No," he said lowly. "Because…I would rather have died than live, knowing that this hand—" he lifted his right hand unsteadily "—was responsible for killing my best friend. Knowing…that I was powerless to stop it. That's why."
There was no mistaking the dead seriousness of his tone, or the rocky glaze of his eyes. Hell, thought Sheppard. He'd forgotten that McKay had been through hell and back since the first time the blue lights came on. And despite the fact that he was still furious over what McKay had tried to do, he couldn't hold it against him. Not even if he wanted to.
The beeping of a heart monitor broke the uneasy silence. Looking somewhat tired, a little bit hurt and overall defeated, McKay stood out of the chair he'd been sitting in for five straight hours.
"This is pointless," he muttered, and started to turn away.
For once, the scientist overcame his stubbornness and froze in place.
"What?" he demanded snappily.
Sheppard stared at his teammate's back without blinking. "Thanks."
"For what?" Rodney whirled on him as the strings of his patience snapped tight.
But the colonel was looking at him with the barest hint of a smirk twisting his mouth. "You know," he said casually.
No, he didn't know. That was the infuriating thing between him and the Colonel—clarity. They each had their own rules, so if McKay had violated them somehow by nearly killing himself to save someone else's life…then they were stupid rules. Garbage. Absolutely useless.
Instead of replying, he turned away again to leave…only to be stopped by Sheppard's voice.
McKay looked back. "Now what?"
"I forgot to say, y'know, before…happy birthday."
The scientist's frown deepened. "That was days ago, Colonel."
"Yeah, I know. Doesn't hurt to say it, does it?"
A moment of consideration later, and McKay made a dismissive 'huh' sound before stepping away from the bed. He tried not to imagine the colonel's smug expression as he ventured through the infirmary and out the door.
Somehow, the dread he felt for his next birthday didn't seem so bad.
3:29 am, Chief Medical Office
Leaving the military leader and his scientist companion to their consultation, Dr. Montgomery strolled into his office, but not before he glanced at the vitals of some of the critical patients. They were slow to recover, but then, guns were instruments fashioned to make a thorough killing. This was something he had learned first-hand just a few days ago.
Tossing the clipboard down on the desk, the grizzled doctor then sat down with a deep crease in his brow. For a moment, he gazed at his reflection in the dark computer screen.
Wrinkled, old, unattractive and weak. He saw these things and more. Dr. Montgomery was a man, however, with very few secrets and a perfect record of performing his job well.
Overall: not a bad outcome. He recalled clearly when he had aided the other physicians, pulling the young, healthy Major Lorne out of his pod and treating him. He remembered this as though it were his own memory.
The first rule of war: do nothing without an alternative plan.
Montgomery was his.
He looked down wretchedly at the weathered hands of his new body. And Brandelis began to plot the best way to go about his revenge.