John opened his eyes, just a fraction, to get his barings. It wasn't the first time he'd woken, just the first time he'd woken feeling the most lucid he'd ever been. But he'd gladly shove lucidity aside to drift back into oblivion. It was warm, comfortable, timeless, and made it easier to avoid the arduous yet dull process of healing in an infirmary bed. Yet to open his eyes, even a slit – to return to consciousness period – was always followed by a demand that he make more of an effort to return to full lucidity, and he wasn't ready for that yet.
He smiled slightly when no demands for him to open his eyes wider were forth coming. The world was a blur of gray-walls and bed-shapes, but no people shapes in white coats. The infirmary was empty. It also wasn't the Daedalus infirmary. John was a cautious man – not paranoid, cautious – so when the scenery changed, no matter how foggy the world or his brain, he knew it right down to the subtle nuances. Actually, it was usually the subtle nuances that gave it away, such as the coloring of the walls, the position of the beds, plus sounds and smells – mostly smells since all infirmaries sounded the same. He couldn't describe the differences in scents, they were just there.
"It's about damn time."
John turned his head. He'd been wrong, the infirmary wasn't empty, he'd just been too lazy to look around and fully realize it. Rodney was in the other bed – a made bed, sitting on top of the covers, dressed in a dark blue sweater with a red Maple leaf over the heart, Khaki pants, and tennis shoes. He was typing on a laptop that he seemed thoroughly engrossed in, and knowing Rodney and his multi-tasking abilities, he probably was.
John opened his mouth to start asking questions, but could only produce a dry croak that tickled his throat and elicited dry coughs. Rodney was on it, smoothly transferring the laptop to the side so he could slide from the bed, grabbing a cup from the side table and plunking a straw into it. He raised the head of John's bed enough to get the straw within reach of his mouth so he didn't have to sit up. John took the straw, and a few cautious sips. He knew the routine – not too much or he'd just puke it up. He stopped drinking before Rodney had to snatch the cup away. Rodney set the cup aside, then stuffed his hands into the pockets of his pants and rocked back and forth from heel to toe.
"Where are we?" John finally asked.
John nodded. "Thought so." He let his eyes roam over the infirmary, then himself and the bed. His heart thudded when he realized the bed was absent one little ball of colorful fluff. "Where's...?"
Rodney stepped to the side. John looked over at the neighboring bed to see Sherbet curled up beside Rodney's laptop.
"Carson was getting a little frustrated, and the nurses a little freaked. He though it would be best if Sherbet stayed out of the infirmary for a while. I tried to tell Carson that you'd probably suspect the worst, but he wouldn't listen..."
John relaxed with a contented sigh. "Suspect the worst, maybe, but not freak out. Was I out for the whole trip?"
"Pretty much except for a few waking moments Carson said you probably wouldn't remember."
John gingerly stretched, elongating his spine and testing the expansion threshold of his ribs with a slow inhale. His vertebra popped, and his ribs pulled a little, but other than that and sleep-stiff muscles he felt pretty good. "I remember them, just not the details."
"Well, you probably would have been a little more awake if Carson hadn't felt the need to keep you mostly sedated the whole time."
John stopped stretching to shoot Rodney an appalled look. "What?"
Rodney held up his hands. "Hey, take it up with Mr. Hypnos. The man thought it would be a good idea if you stayed under for the rest of the trip. Something about nightmares and making sure you avoided them so your body could get the rest it needed."
Rodney's explanation made sense, but it still didn't lessen the horror. "Rodney, considering how long it takes the Daedalus to reach earth... That's a long freakin' time to be under just to avoid a bunch of nightmares."
Rodney remained non-plussed. "Yeah, well, it wasn't as though you were bed ridden the entire time. Carson did manage to get you out of bed and walking around a little when he felt your feet were up to it. But I doubt you remember that. You were practically sleep walking. But, yes, I will agree that that was the longest nap I've seen anyone take who wasn't in a coma or intubated for long."
John looked away, sinking deeper into the bed. A black cloud of depression covered him like an overcast sky. Days spent in bed meant days of physical therapy just to get strength enough to walk. It meant that until he got that strength back, he'd probably be confined to a wheelchair. It meant the weight he'd gained back he probably lost.
It meant too much after having already gone through it once. It also meant that he'd be spending his Earth-side leave cooped up in some hospital or care center, maybe even the SGC infirmary. It meant that his vacation was completely shot to hell. He felt himself giving way to self-pity, and a full-blown sulk in the works.
"Guess you won't have to babysit me after all, Rodney," John said.
Rodney snorted. "Guess again, oh great but accident prone savior of the Daedalus. You've simply made my job of making sure your skinny rear is well taken care of a hell of a lot harder. Everyone agreed that it would be cruel locking you up in some hospital or something, so you'll be recuperating at my place after all, but with the added bonus of a physical therapist and nurse dropping by to make sure you don't croak. And don't think you're spending the entire time sprawled on my couch. I've checked the papers and know of a couple of local carnivals and fairs with wheelchair access going on, complete with ferris wheels."
The cloud of self-pity departed, and John felt like smiling. "I'm already looking forward to it."
"Good, because Ronon'll probably listen to you about carrying concealed knives into a family friendly place a big no-no."
"I'll get right on it," John said, shifting to get more comfortable. He was ready to slip back into that warm, floating feeling, when a realization struck. He looked over at Rodney, who had turned back to his own bed, grabbing the laptop before hopping back onto the mattress.
"Hey, Rodney," John said.
"Yes?" Rodney replied, delving back into multi-tasking.
John licked his suddenly dry lips. "How is everyone?"
"Good, safe, relieved. A few suffered a little smoke inhalation, but nothing bigger."
"Except for me."
"Except for you."
John rolled his head to stare daggers up at the ceiling. "Do I have a big bullseye painted on my back or something?"
"It was inevitable," Rodney said. "You pissed baldy off and he wanted retribution. I'm pretty sure he knew you were in that F-302 so shot it down with relish. Face it, Colonel, sometimes you do bring these things down on yourself. If it's not the ATA gene, it's that all bad guys can sniff out the hero complexes like a starving lion closing in on the wildebeest. That guy hated you from the start. If he was going to go down, he was taking you with him."
John shrugged a single shoulder. "I guess."
"No guesses about it, it's fact. You piss people off for all the right reasons, and they're going to make you pay. The rest of the time it's just bad luck."
"I thought you didn't believe in bad luck."
"I'm starting to come around."
John grinned. "Then the world must be a balanced place. With all the bad luck that seems to get dumped on us, you'd think we'd be dead by now."
Rodney stopped typing, and looked up suddenly, staring at the far wall. John winced internally and braced for the berating on how unfunny that comment had been, and there was nothing laughable about all their close calls. John waited for it. Rodney, however, continued to stare, his expression turning gradually pensive.
"I've realized something about you," he said after a time.
John swallowed. "What?"
Rodney looked at him. "I don't think it's so much luck that we're alive, but that you're too damn stubborn to die, or let anyone else die."
John arched an eyebrow. "I don't know whether or not to take it as a compliment."
"It's an observation. And... Kind of an apology. I accused you of having a death wish – on more than one occasion. And it's a bunch of crap. People with death wishes don't fight as hard as I've seen you fight to live. Usually, they're dead by now. Did you know that when you were brought back from that death march, Carson had given you a low survival percentage? He told us not to hold out too much that you would live. But it was still a higher percentage than what he would give most people. He said that knowing you, you'd fight to live, and you did. So it was unfair of me to accuse you... the way that I did. And I apologize for that. Not that I'm accusing you of being afraid to die, or anything," Rodney quickly added.
John gave him a lopsided grin. "I know. It's not like I'm looking forward to it either."
Rodney nodded. "Good to hear."
"Letting me do what I needed to do, even though it ended in another close call."
"Oh," Rodney said. "You're welcome." Then he pointed at John. "But next time you decide to take on a pirate ship in one little F-302, I'm calling in Carson and making him sedate you."
John smirked, closing his eyes. "Next time I won't be in a cast, and I'm taking a whole squadron with me."
"Now that I can put up with."
Sherbet was the star of the SGC. Rodney threatened to get a restraining order to keep the biologists away. He actually caught one of them trying to pick the lock to his room after he'd stepped out for lunch. He'd chased the man off, only to discover Sherbet wasn't in the room, but had slipped out running amok through the SGC halls until he ended up in the infirmary by John's side. Dr. Lam finally relented to letting the Mir'ka stay since he didn't leave John's side unless someone took him, and Landry was getting annoyed.
As Rodney had suspected, and hoped, Sherbet hit it off big with Sam. She tried to keep a straight face and a clinical, exploratory attitude, until she melted into an almost motherly puddle of goo when Sherbet hopped onto her shoulders and rubbed against the back of her neck. Teal'c was a bit of a surprise when he picked Sherbet up, looked him over, and remarked, "He is a very pleasant animal to look at, and very soft." Okay, so it wasn't melting into a puddle that instigated talking to Sherbet in baby-talk, but it did incite a few smirks from the rest of SG-1. Daniel pretended indifference but couldn't stop trying to get Sherbet to chase his own tail. Mitchell was the most gung-ho about interacting with Sherbet than the rest. He kept Sherbet occupied while Sheppard was taken for his daily Physical therapy. They played catch up and down the SGC halls, sometimes with a ball, sometimes a miniature Frisbee, even a stick on one occasion. Mitchell even taught Sherbet to jump through a hoop, and some how Sherbet figured out how to use the elevators, though the concept of floors was totally beyond him. He would be found huddled in a corner, yowling piteously until someone brought him back. And yet he always managed to avoid the biologists.
About a week was spent at the SGC, long enough for Sheppard to work enough strength back into his legs to get around for short time. There would be no long walks through fairs and carnivals for him, but he wouldn't be resigned to having to depend on a wheelchair when going from the couch to the kitchen. Also during that week, Rodney made frequent stops at his place to clean up and get things ready. Carson drilled Rodney in what seemed a two-foot long list of instructions concerning how Sheppard needed to be cared for. Once Carson deemed those instructions thoroughly burned in Rodney's brain, he left to catch a flight to Scotland.
He immediately called the next day from his mother's house to go over the instructions one more time. Then again five hours later.
When the week was up, and John was more mobile, they were transported over to their new home away from home, and Sherbet was allowed to go with them. It hadn't been the battle Rodney had expected it to be. Sherbet had earned a lot of rights thanks to his part in saving the Daedalus and John. You don't lock heroes up in kennels that they'd just break out of anyways.
They were taken by limo to Rodney's place. The driver kept trying to guess what breed of dog Sherbet was until McKay finally snapped that it was a mutt. The man, unperturbed, then tried to guess the breeds that made up Sherbet. Ronon simply tuned the man out, and Sheppard was no help since he'd fallen asleep. The ride seemed to take forever.
When they did arrive, Rodney couldn't get out of the car fast enough. He would have bolted to his door, but needed to help Sheppard, who was groggy from sleep and slow because of it. For that reason, he had to endure the driver's continuing litany of dog breeds as he helped carry the luggage as Ronon handled the folded up wheelchair.
Rodney fumbled a bit with his keys before managing to fit the right one into the lock. John was leaning up against the wall by the door with arms folded and one hand holding tight to Sherbet's leash. He was still lethargic, and looked cold, even with his blue-windbreaker, a gray zip-up sweater, and a red sweater under that. For it being summer, the weather was actually very mild and a little on the cool side when the wind blew. It was still weather that allowed a T-shirt, which Rodney was wearing now, but John would probably be wearing a jacket for a while, even when it finally warmed up. He'd lost weight, again. Nothing dire but enough to be annoying. And one tended to be cold when too thin, waking up from a nap, and still being tired.
Rodney opened the door to his now clean apartment that no longer smelled of dust and mothballs. He'd scrubbed every inch of the place, changed the sheets on the bed, and even stalked the kitchen with enough food to hopefully outlast Ronon, but Rodney doubted it. The luggage was deposited by the door, and John deposited himself on the couch with a relaxed sigh.
"Nice couch, Rodney," he breathed, sinking into the thick cushions. He then grinned. "I call it."
"Oh no you don't," Rodney said, heading into the kitchen. "You get the bed, I get the couch. Ronon can have the inflatable bed."
"I can sleep on the floor," Ronon said, wandering the house, looking everything over. He still wore his leather coat, but under that had on a plain white T-shirt and a pair of jeans. The women at the SGC had nearly dropped dead from all the blushing and trying not to ogle. Damn Ronon's chick-magnet ways. The man could have been wearing a pink shirt with Tinkerbell on it and still pull of the rugged wild man look all the women swooned over. It was the hair, always the hair – spiked and messy or tied up in dreads. Damn chick-magnet hair.
"Hey, I bought the thing, the least you can do is sleep on it." Rodney pulled a pan from one of the bottom cupboards, then a frozen pizza from the freezer. "You'll like it, better than an actual mattress."
"Then why don't you sleep on it?" Ronon challenged.
Rodney ripped the wrapping from the pizza, plopped it on the pan, and shoved it into the oven. "Because I don't like sleeping close to the floor." He then opened the fridge and checked how cold the cans of soda were. There was to be no alcohol for John while he was taking painkillers, and it wasn't exactly fair to torment him by guzzling beer while he was resigned to Pepsi, Coke, or milk.
When Rodney stepped out of the kitchen it was to see Ronon standing in front of the TV.
"This the box your people watch all the time?" he asked.
Rodney answered by heading to the TV to grab the remote and turn it on. He then pointed out the remote's function. "These buttons change the channel, this one turns up the sound, and this one turns it down. I'm surprised Sheppard didn't show you."
Ronon took the control and began flipping. "He's asleep."
Rodney turned to see John's head lulled back against the cushions, his mouth gaped open in a quiet snore. Rodney pursed his lips. "Help me out."
Ronon set the control down and moved with Rodney to the couch. Rodney took John's head while Ronon took his feet, and they gently maneuvered him so that he was stretched out across the couch. Rodney tucked a throw pillow under his head, then went to the hall closet and grabbed a dark green blanket to drape over John. Ronon had returned to flipping through the channels. Sherbet was running all over the place dragging the leash behind him. Rodney decided to leave it on since it made the mir'ka easier to find.
Rodney dropped himself into the easy chair adjacent to the couch, and let out a sharp breath. He leaned his head back, and closed his eyes for a light doze. He snapped awake to the ding of the oven timer, and hauled his stiff body out of the chair to fetch the pizza. He grabbed an oven mit from a drawer and pulled the pizza from the oven, setting it on the stove top. It was already cut into slices, so he got out a wooden tray to set the pan on. He then gathered paper plates, forks, knives, and three sodas from the fridge, shifting everything constantly as he transferred it all to the coffee table.
"Foods on!" he announced. Ronon perked like a dog hearing the can opener. Sheppard, however, took a little longer to rouse. By the time he did, Rodney and Ronon were already dished up, Rodney with two slices, and Ronon with three. John pushed himself up into a sitting position, shoving the blanket aside and smiling tiredly.
"Hey," he said. "Pizza."
He put four slices on a plate. Rodney and Ronon stared at him in slight slack-jawed incredulity. John just shrugged.
"What? I'm starved."
Ronon grinned, and Rodney just shook his head. Sherbet ran up, grabbed a slice off the pan, and ran off.
"Hey!" Rodney barked.
John chuckled softly. "I think he's earned that slice, Rodney."
"Not if he's going to get it all over the carpet."
As though in answer to that, Sherbet took it into the kitchen and inhaled the thing. Rodney waved dismissively. Ronon picked up the remote he'd set on the coffee table and started flipping again. When it landed on a football game, John beamed. "Hey."
"Oh no way!" Rodney reached out trying to snag the remote from Ronon, who held it just out of reach. He then flipped the channel again.
John stiffened. "Hey!"
The show he landed on was...
"Conan the Barbarian," Rodney said with narrow eyes. John doubled over in hooting laughter, while Ronon arched an eyebrow.
"I don't look like that guy," he growled, shooting McKay a scathing look. McKay rolled his eyes and dropped back into his chair with a rather defeated sigh.
"This is going to be a long vacation."
A/N: It's over, Wahhhh! Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it. And by the reviews, I can assume you did. It really was a blast to write. I'm even contemplating a sequel – well, more like a tag, because the idea of Ronon at a county fair, contemplating the smelly horned animals people call cows, is too amusing to pass up.