Act of Desperation – Chapter 6
Rodney came around the corner and stopped after a few steps, watching John as he limped toward him, one hand periodically going out to the wall to steady himself. He was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, a padded brace still supporting his lower right leg. Sweat stains mottled his tattered gray shirt, making it stick to his torso.
"All dressed up with no place to go?" teased Rodney.
John looked up from the floor and stopped in front of the scientist. "Oh, hey, Rodney. What are you up to?"
"Just came to see if you wanted to go to lunch. Physical therapy go late?"
John nodded tiredly. "Yeah, a little."
"I hear that new physical therapist is a slave driver," commented Rodney, noting how genuinely worn Sheppard looked.
"She is, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The harder she works me, the faster I'll get back on duty."
Rodney chuckled. "Yeah, if you don't drop from exhaustion first."
"Well, I only ran late today because I got a cramp in my calf muscle toward the end. She wouldn't let me leave until she was sure we had worked it out and then she made me drink some kind of electrolyte replacement drink." John made a face and a gagging noise. "Tasted like a flat, salty orange soda."
"Yuck. I'm guessing you don't want to walk all the way to the mess hall then. You look like you just ran a marathon."
John shook his head. "If I can just make it to my quarters, I'm getting a hot shower and lying down for a while. I can't believe how quickly I get tired." He leaned a little more heavily against the wall, annoyance crossing his face.
Rodney shifted uncomfortably, not sure how to make his friend feel better. "Uh, I could get us lunch and bring it to your quarters. You really should eat."
John seemed to think about it for a few seconds. "Okay, that would be good. I am kind of hungry, just too tired to walk that far."
Rodney smiled and nodded. "Okay, I should be back with food by the time you're out of the shower. Just don't leave the bathroom until you've got clothes on. I don't want any coronary-inducing surprises."
"Ha, ha," said John sarcastically. "Just bring the food, McKay."
Rodney waved his hand dismissively as John started back down the hall. He stood for a few minutes, just watching the pilot slowly but steadily make his way down the corridor and around the corner. The limp was much less pronounced that it had been and Rodney knew he was only moving that slowly because he was tired and hurting from the PT. John had definitely made a lot of progress, but he knew the pilot was getting frustrated with the slow pace of his recovery. And there was still the lingering question of why the colonel had gone on his disastrous little adventure in the first place. Sometimes Rodney wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer.
John emerged from the bathroom to find Rodney already sitting down, with two trays of food on the table before him. Dressed in some light running pants and clean t-shirt, John hobbled over to the chair using his crutches.
"Where's that brace thing you've been wearing?"
John nodded toward the corner. "Over there. I don't wear it all the time, just when I'm on my feet a lot and putting weight on it. Right now I need a break." He popped the top on one of the prescription bottles on the table and took a pill with some water.
Rodney winced in sympathy. "Does it still hurt a lot?"
John shook his head. "Not much, mostly during and after therapy. Sometimes at night if I'm up and down on it too much during the day. I've been doing a few extra repetitions of the PT exercises in the afternoon and Amanda says it's beginning to pay off."
Rodney frowned as he scooped up a bite of potatoes. "Does Carson know you're doing extra exercises?"
"Yeah, it's okay as long as I just do a few and don't work my leg too hard. Believe me, I'm careful. I'm not taking any chances on setting myself back. I cleared it before I started."
"You are getting around better lately."
John smiled. "Yeah, I think so too. Carson said he'll let me go on half day light duty next week."
Rodney choked and coughed, followed by gulping down most of his water. "Does he know you are for all practical purposes already doing that?"
John bobbed his head quickly to the right. "I have no idea what you're talking about. What kind of meat is this?" He made a show of prodding the meat on his tray with his fork, as if trying to identify it.
"I'm talking about going to your office nearly every day and dropping by the firing range and the gym, checking on your men. Then there's the clandestine meetings with Lorne for military updates. Oh," Rodney said, pointing at the meat on John's tray with his fork, "and I think it's a cheap cut of beef."
"Beckett never said I had to stay in my quarters. I have to wander around to avoid being bored to death. It's not like I have anything else to do after PT is over." John picked up the knife and cut into the chunk of meat on his plate, splaying it open to reveal the red interior. Blood ran freely across his tray, pooling beside the potato casserole that had spilled over the side of its compartment. John froze.
He was back on the mainland, his knife in his hand as he pushed it into the flesh of his leg and watched the blood spill out around the wound, soaking into his pants and running down the side of his leg. The red was so bright, standing out against the dull colors around it. The pain was fresh and sharp in his leg and he felt his stomach churn in revulsion.
John dropped the silverware in his plate as he clamped one hand down on his mouth, fighting the contractions threatening to propel his breakfast forward. He tried to get up, but his leg wouldn't cooperate and he ended up falling, chair and all, sideways onto the floor. As soon as his body slammed into the hard surface, jarring his already throbbing leg, he lost the battle to keep his latest meal down. He leaned against his right elbow, left arm holding his heaving stomach until the retching stopped. It was all he could do not to just lay in the mess and pass out.
John jumped slightly at the cool touch of a damp cloth to his face. Taking the rag, he gave a slight nod to Rodney, all he could do for the moment. After he wiped his face, Rodney helped him up and handed him his crutches so he could make it over to the bed. Sitting down as gently as he could, he was barely aware as Rodney took the crutches out of his hands and kneeled in front of him.
"Sheppard, why don't you lie back and I'll call Carson."
"No. I'm okay now. It just . . . " John swallowed hard, the image of his damaged leg assaulting him again. He fisted his hand and hit the bed in frustration and embarrassment. How could he still be reacting to things like this? It had been weeks. He should be over it by now. Suck it up, Sheppard.
"I still say we should call Carson to look at your leg." Rodney wrinkled his nose. "Better yet, let's go to him and I'll call someone to clean this up. Whatever we do, we don't need to stay here."
By this time, the smell had made its way over to John and he could feel his stomach getting ready for second performance. "Okay, I don't care anymore, let's just get out of here. Can you hand me my brace?"
Rodney quickly grabbed the brace and helped John fasten it in place. "Do you need the crutches?"
"No, this is good. I think I'm too wobbly to use them." John limped heavily toward the door and Rodney looked at the crutches for a moment before following the colonel. As the door shut behind them, he tapped his radio button to call for a clean up crew.
Rodney sat on the edge of the infirmary bed, watching Carson examine John's leg as he asked the colonel questions. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he could see John grimace ever so often. A few minutes later, Carson helped the pilot sit the rest of the way up and handed him a pill and some water. Rodney laughed at the verbal argument that ensued, with Carson obviously winning out when John swallowed the pill. He started to get off the bed, but Carson pushed him back and lectured him some more until John eased back against the pillows, his arms crossed in defiance.
Carson backed up a step, watching John for a few more seconds before turning around and walking over to Rodney.
"Well, did he hurt himself?"
Carson shook his head. "No, just his pride. The jarring he took made his leg hurt, especially occurring right after physical therapy like that, but he didn't injure it further. He's pretty shaken up, although he won't admit it, so I gave him something to ease the pain and relax him."
Rodney nodded. "He . . . he kind of scared me for a minute. He just . . . totally zoned out on me. I wasn't expecting it. It's been several weeks now and he's handled everything so well that I just . . . I thought he was okay."
"It's all right, Rodney. It's just his way. He's bottled it all up like he always does and ever so often, something happens to break the dam, letting everything flow out at once. Then it's just too much to handle. That's why it's so important that his team keeps tabs on him after something like this. Stubborn fool won't let anyone knowingly help him."
"Stubborn fool is right," muttered Rodney as he ran a hand nervously through his hair.
Carson watched him for a moment. "I firmly believe that stubborn fools come in pairs around here."
Rodney's head snapped up and he narrowed his eyes in a muted glare. "Just what are you trying to say? Spit it out, Carson."
Carson sighed loudly. "I haven't heard you say much about what happened to the colonel, about what he did."
Rodney waved his hand dismissively at the physician. "Oh, that. I didn't need to say anything about what happened. I wasn't the one sawing my leg off in the wilderness in some hair-brained scheme to climb down off a mountain with one leg while bleeding to death. What is there for me to talk about?"
His voice had been slowly rising in volume and pitch, and as he finished, he noticed John leaning up on one elbow watching him. He had no idea what to say or do, so he just sat there looking across the room as John lay back down on the bed, silently staring at the ceiling.
"Maybe you should go talk to him," suggested Carson. "It might do you both a world of good."
Rodney shook his head. "No, Carson . . . I don't do the talking thing . . . and neither does he. We just . . . we don't . . . heck, I don't know what we do."
Carson smiled as he slid his hands in his coat pockets. "Then go do whatever it is that the two of you do do and you better go do it quickly."
Rodney looked at Carson blankly. "What?"
Carson gave him his patently warning glare. "You know what I mean." Carson didn't wait for an answer, but simply walked into his office.
Rodney continued to watch John for a few moments. He was still staring at the ceiling with his hands folded across his chest. Rodney finally slid off the bed and ambled over to the colonel. John's leg was propped on a pillow, splotches of faded bruises still visible here and there.
"So . . . I guess you have to stay for nap time."
John continued to look at the ceiling. "Yeah. I told you not to bring me here."
"Well, you are an adult and could have gone your own way at any time. I didn't have a gun to your head."
John grunted. "True." After a few moments, he shifted his eyes down to Rodney. "So, I've been a little dense lately. How are you handling all this?"
Rodney's face flushed slightly as he looked down at the floor. "I'm okay. Like I told Carson, I'm not the one who . . . you know."
"I know, but you had to see the aftermath. I guess I've been so busy trying to bury my own demons, I didn't think about how it might affect you guys."
"I'll be fine, colonel. I thoroughly expect to be able to close my eyes one day soon without seeing you poised over your leg with a bloody knife, looking like death warmed over."
John winced as he looked down at his leg. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm kind of waiting for the mental images to fade myself. Are Ronon and Teyla okay with this?"
Rodney pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat down. "Oh, yeah, better than either of us. Ronon says he knew a guy that cut off his arm when he was trapped in some rubble. You know him, a story for every situation. I don't guess there's anything he hasn't seen or done."
John smiled at that. "Probably not. What about Teyla?"
Rodney nodded. "I think she's okay, too. Worried about you mostly. You know how she likes to mother us all."
John chuckled without answering and then got quiet. "Rodney . . . I'm sorry. I just . . . "
"You've already explained this, colonel. I see no reason to go over it again. I understand. I have no idea how you could do something like that, but I do understand why you did it. I just . . . could never do that myself."
They were silent for several minutes before John raised up on one elbow again. "If it makes you feel any better, I could never do it again."
Rodney laughed. "I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse. Do us all a favor and don't ever get yourself in that position again."
"Humph. I'll try to remember that." John yawned and lay back against the pillows again.
"I have one more question that you never answered. What was the point of the nature boy trek? You never told me what you had to think about so badly that you felt the need to risk life and limb . . . literally."
John rubbed the side of his face and then his eyes. "Rodney . . . I don't really do this well. I have a hard time . . . you know." His mind was suddenly filled with images of his talk with Teyla and the way she kept filling in the sentences he couldn't finish. But Teyla wasn't here and he had no idea if he could finish one complete thought on his own.
"I do know, colonel, because in case you haven't been paying attention, I'm not very good at this stuff either. Just . . . tell me what's wrong."
John stared at the ceiling again. "Rodney . . . "
"Now, colonel. I'm not leaving until you spill it. Or at least leak enough so I'll know if I need to worry or not."
John laughed at that. Maybe he could leak enough information so McKay would be happy. "You have to understand, McKay, I've spent my life . . . pushing people away. I lost my mom when I was pretty young. When you move around a lot as a kid and nothing you do is good enough for your dad, you figure out early it's just . . . easier if you keep everyone at an arm's distance. Especially when the few times you do let yourself get close to someone . . . you disappoint them . . . or they end up dead."
Rodney was silent for several seconds while John shifted around uncomfortably. "I think we have more in common than you think," said Rodney softly.
John looked at the man and then back down at his feet. "Maybe so. Anyway . . . I guess I've recently figured out that . . . well, uh, this whole thing with Ronon kind of made me realize that I've let certain people . . . oh, crap, Rodney, don't make me do this."
John squirmed around on the bed, trying not to jostle his leg too much as he looked for a blanket to pull over his head. He finally gave a quick glance at Rodney, not sure what type a reaction he would be getting.
John went still. "What?" He brought his eyes up to meet McKay's.
Rodney just smiled. "I think I understand now. I think maybe I was holed up my lab for the same reason you were playing nature boy, it's just my lab is apparently much safer than the wilderness."
John suddenly realized why he and Rodney clicked, why they seemed to be able to communicate even though neither of them had the social skills to verbalize their emotions. They carried a lot of the same kind of baggage and apparently erected the same kind of walls, just in different ways. He thought about how much Rodney had changed over the past three years. Rodney's walls were crumbling in the same way John's were.
John started laughing. He'd gone to the far reaches of the planet for answers that were right in front of him. He'd almost gotten himself killed fretting over the revelation that he finally had a family after all these years, people who really cared about him. He felt like such a dork.
Rodney laughed with him for several minutes before calming himself. "Why are we laughing again?"
John smiled, his eyelids fighting for the right to close. "Because we're okay, Rodney. We were both okay all the time, we just didn't know it."
Rodney took a deep breath, smiling as understanding began to creep in. "Yeah, I guess we are."
Extra big thanks for everyone reading and reviewing. You guys give me such a rush. Hope you enjoyed and I'll see you next time. TTFN.