Title: "Desperation" (1/1)
Author: Kristen999
Character(s): Rodney McKay and John Sheppard
Genre(s): Stargate Atlantis: General; H/C
Rating: T for language
Words: 6,500
Summary: Nothing is ever black and white in the Pegasus galaxy. John and Rodney face a deadly threat where time is not the only enemy.

Notes: Thanks to my beta Everybetty. This was a tough one.

He can't breathe; his heart pounds and shakes within its bony cage and no matter how much he tells himself to get a grip, his mind screams at him that he is so screwed. His hand is sticky, what feels like warm molasses covering it. He presses hard on the wound, rivulets spilling out between his fingers to pool on the slate floor under his numbing legs. He cannot freaking stand the sight of blood, let alone the feel of it. And the sound of it squishing between the webbing of his fingers…

He's not going to faint. Please. He can't, not now. Just breathe.

"It's not working!" Sergeant Davis is frantic, pawing at technology he undoubtedly knows nothing about.

Rodney sends him a scathing look. "Of course, you idiot! You jammed the thing five minutes ago!"

He feels the pins and needles inch their way from his knee up his thigh. He doesn't know what's worse: the numbness, or the feeling of an army of ants marching along his skin. The smell of copper permeates the air, and his stomach rumbles and swirls, the bile burning his throat. Throwing up will not help, but he can barely keep the contents of his stomach from revolting.

"I... I think I can override it somehow," Davis comments nervously.

Rodney's hand is cramping, tired from staunching the wound. His head swims, the room's fuzzy, and for a moment he forgets that he's on the floor.

"Colonel Sheppard will know what to do," the airman mutters, drawing back as a stream of blue sparks flash in the man's face.

Rodney can feel both eyes bug out of his head when he screams, "Well Colonel Sheppard is currently bleeding to death in my lap! So I don't believe he's of any help right now!"

That doesn't stop Sergeant Idiot from jamming a metal tool into the control panel and frying the thing.

He can feel himself begin to hyperventilate, sweat beading on his brow. A lone drop slowly dribbles down his forehead and over his nose to splash to the floor. Sheppard's mop of spiky glory is getting damper, the front part matted, the rest sticking out like static electricity. Rodney's fingers slip between the leaking sieve and what used to be one of his shirts.

Sheppard groans from the movement.

"Hey," Rodney whispers or tries to, voice in a full on stutter. "Just...just...um... lay still."

The colonel's eyes don't even open and Rodney watches the man's grayish pallor ashen before him. His other hand supports Sheppard's head cradled in his lap, one finger resting over the carotid. The weak, thready beat underneath is not reassuring at all. Rodney sneaks a peek at the colonel's t-shirt and can't help thinking that he never knew the color black could stain like that.

His chest constricts even more, his mouth running dry, but he has to focus. He can work miracles when up against death, though those are Sheppard's words and he'd give anything to hear him barking orders or yelling at him to shut up. Anything would be better than the occasional grunt of pain.

Rodney looks up to see Sergeant Davis aim his P90 at the wall, finger ready to squeeze the trigger.

"Stop, you moron! Don't fire!"

Davis allows the weapon to drop uselessly from his hand and walks over to the invisible barrier between them, his steel blue eyes clearly showing he's contemplating touching the shield. His face is bloody; split lip, oozing cuts, bruises swelling up over his left eye.

"Unless you want to fry what little brain is left in your head, I wouldn't do that." Rodney doesn't flinch when the jarhead glares back.

"We have to get him out of there… can't let the Colonel down," Davis insists.

"Afraid you've done that already, want to try again?"

Rodney shifts his legs carefully but his ass is numb and he really wants to get up and do something. He can solve Ancient equations in seconds, spout out theories about fusion and anti-matter geek talk. Yet he can't think straight long enough to crack the case of a stupid force field. He watches as crimson spreads over his pants, the laws of physics diverting the flow into random cracks in the floor.

He tends to exaggerate timetables, doubling and tripling estimates based on the level of threat. Math can be funny that way, crunched until the variable fits the solution. He can see how many pints of blood Sheppard is losing before his eyes and screams at the damn scientific part of his brain that tells him the human body can only hold nine.

He feels his hypertension go through the roof. He can't ignore the amount he's already sitting in, and he can't help but notice the irony of his rising when he knows that Sheppard could really use a boost to his blood pressure about now.

His head spins as the weight of the collapsed pilot grows heavier. Rodney's brain races with answers. They don't dwell with the circuits, because there are none. Maybe it's a series of microchips embedded with fiber optics. He shakes his head, discounting that possibility. Crystals. There are tiny shards in the control grid and others in the adjacent room.

Davis is pacing outside of the cell, mumbling to himself about breaking the panel.

He can feel the adrenaline surge though his veins as his mouth catches up to his brain. "Meathead, just cut the power! If you turn off the source, we can get out of here."

Davis's face twitches, nostrils flare like he's going to go off again. "We gotta get outa here... gotta go before..."

"Go. Find. The power center," Rodney orders. It's like talking to a child. Maybe if he drew a picture it'd help. Of course there are no pencils around and his mind briefly, darkly contemplates finger-paint... there's enough blood.

"Don't let him die! The men... they... they...we... count on him," the sergeant growls as he begins to pace again.

Great. He's losing it. Rodney just presses harder on the wound. "Force field between the bleeding man and Atlantis," he grumbles.

"I joined the expedition just to serve under him." The awe in Davis's voice betrays an almost boyish manner, a glimmer of something softer under the rock for a head and the serious gaze taught in flyboy officer school no doubt.

"Yes, yes. And the pied piper also had a bunch of kids following him. Doesn't change the fact that you need to listen to me and move."

The grunt looks at him and Rodney can feel an incipient aneurysm. "Now!"

The meathead isn't paying attention. The insanity of the situation is almost humorous. Almost.

"I spent a year applying to get here. Extra training hours, ass kissing, did whatever it took to stand out. I even trained with Naval Seals to increase my value for Special Ops."

"How cute. I'm sure you get up every morning to see if the day's previous activities earned you a gold star."

Davis stands, voice acidic. "You don't respect the military, the family we all serve with. The colonel would do anything for his team."

Sheppard battles consciousness, only succeeding in a moment's awareness, eyes flickering to half mast before rolling back in his skull, gravity lolling his head to the other side like a rag doll. Rodney shifts enough to ease it back against his body to keep it from sagging like...like Sheppard's...

Rodney shudders at the thought, reaching to gently push back the colonel's hair, inadvertently dripping blood on the pale cheek. He panics, trying to dab it away with his thumb, but only spreads the reddish stain over the waxen canvas under it.

God, is he ever going to get away from all this blood? He's going to dream about drowning in it... hands never coming away clean. Like MacBeth, out damn spot!

Rodney's chest hitches, clutching his dying friend and trying not to weep. Sheppard would only make fun of him if he did. The only thing keeping him from just cracking up is rage.Pure, unadulterated rage. His eyes open to slits of fire at the grunt who could be saving them.

Davis's hero worship knows no boundaries, babbling about tactics learned, or stories he's heard. Colonel John Sheppard, Savior of the Pegasus Galaxy.

"They all talk about him, back on Earth. The missions here, the battles he's led and fought. The odds of some of the strategies used to defend Atlantis. People can't decide if he's a genius or just crazy. I think they just don't understand him..."

It's cooking to a boil, the adrenaline racing through his veins, the inability to stop all the bleeding. He can feel Sheppard's heart pump out its life's fluids, can feel it flow out, the dam cracked and just his hand to clog the hole. Rodney adjusts his burden carefully, watching the rise and fall of the colonel's chest become slower and less frequent.

Unable to control the pressure cooker from within he slowly lifts his head to come eye to eye with the guy who hasn't stop talking about Captain Kirk and his missions to slay all the evil in the known universe.

"Is that why you stabbed him?"

Davis stops long enough to suck in a breath, his voice shocked. "Well, he left me no choice."

The sergeant seems contemplative, eyes skirting to a far distance but when he speaks again his voice is rich with admiration. "Colonel got me good though. Think my wrist's broken," he says, lifting his unused left hand, then licks the corner of his still bleeding mouth. "He disarmed me appropriately, but he didn't understand that he was going to screw up the plan. He wouldn't listen to reason."

"You call stabbing your commanding officer in the stomach reasonable?"

Rodney can't comprehend this madness as it stares back at him wearing an Atlantis uniform. If he ever gets out of here alive he's going to have a talk about background checks and maybe trying to weed out the nut jobs.

Davis wipes at his pants, covering them with Sheppard's blood. "He wasn't supposed to get here yet. Wasn't supposed to show up 'til all of you were dead."

His brain freezes on the words all of you and dead. "What?"

"You guys were going to come here to check things out and then… well… BOOM." Davis's eyes darken in glee and with something so much more insidious.

"Oh, God." Rodney feels the pit in his belly widen into a chasm.

Damn Sheppard! Damn him and his need to protect them all. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Go after the madman. ALONE.

"Don't worry. Things still might work out. I'll go try cut the power and come back to take him back. " Davis pulls out a knife, and smears more blood all over his clothes.

"That's Sheppard's," Rodney blurts out.

The sergeant looks down at the bloody blade. "Yeah. He was sure surprised when I used it on him. You should have seen his expression," Davis says, shaking his head. "The colonel didn't even notice when I grabbed it during the struggle. When he's better, I'm going to have a talk with him about that."

"You asshole."

John Sheppard's number one fan smiles. "Sit tight, doc." And Davis leaves to follow Rodney's earlier instruction.

Rodney has never boxed in his life but the idea of pummeling Davis and making his face the same type of bloody mess that is Sheppard's belly is a pleasing idea. Being left alone with said ailing colonel's fight for life has earned the top slot in the list of nightmares since getting to the Pegasus galaxy.

"He... gone?"

Rodney's heart skips a beat, stuttering back to life as he looks down.

"Have you been playing possum the entire time?" His voice is equal parts angry accusation and relief.

"Not... the... entire... time," Sheppard whispers, eyes rolling then flopping back into place.

"You have a plan?" Because Sheppard always does and why else would he be pretending to be unconscious at a time like this? Minus blood loss and the mortal wound and all.

"Gun," Sheppard grunts then pants for breath.

"What gun? What are you talking about?" Rodney sputters.

The colonel's alabaster face blanches even further, eyes squeezed shut against intolerable pain levels. Rodney's read that injuries to the stomach are some of the most awful and he cannot even imagine the force of will the colonel is using to fight it, let alone babble about guns.

He shakes his burden slightly. "Colonel! What gun?"


What pocket? He pats down the bloody BDUs and the man's vest and his fingers brush over something metal. It's tough, trying to keep his now numb hand over the injury while making sure Sheppard's head is still nestled over his thigh. He manages though and pulls out an automatic.

"Okay, got it," he breathes.

It's silent inside the cell, except for a tick tick ticking. He can hear his damn wristwatch mocking him. "Now what?" he moans.

His eyes snap open when Sheppard rasps, "Use it."

"You want me to take down GI Joe? Are you nuts?" Rodney checks the safety and it dawns on him how natural of an action it's come to be. "How did you even manage to keep your gun?"

Despite how horrible Sheppard looks, how close to death's door he is, the man smiles. "It's his." Sheppard laughs, then sputters, and finally coughs from the exertion.

"Glad you did the whole switcharoo, Colonel, but next time let's not get gutted by your own knife." His voice softens. "Teyla and Ronon should be here soon. I mean we got separated when I triggered a stupid door. It's made of really thick steel and all, but Ronon's an expert tracker, part bloodhound." He peers down. "Right?"

"The... best." Sheppard's voice hitches with a sharp intake of breath.

"Right," Rodney mutters. He's sure the runner would do a good job of pulverizing Sheppard's newest friend.

Couldn't Xena and Conan find their way around a stupid door? How freaking large was this facility? The whole point of the mission with Davis was to explore the warehouse of little mini labs. That was before the Team found out Sheppard had left early with Sergeant Psycho in tow. Before Rodney found Sheppard laying on the floor bleeding. Before the lockdown.

"You're just not satisfied with women falling all over you, now you have to attract stalkers? Murderous, homicidal maniac stalkers."

"Just... jealous."

"Oh, ha ha. Now's not the time for your humor defense mechanism, Colonel. We have to get out of here. The only way is when your number one fan comes back."

Sheppard battles to stay awake and it's costing him dearly, holding back what would probably have had Rodney screaming madly. There's more gasping for air and squirming and Rodney tries to keep Sheppard still. The pilot takes another painful breath and locks eyes sunken in a chalk colored complexion with him, deadly serious.

"You're... you're gonna have to shoot him."

Rodney gulps, terrified, the gun growing heavy in his hands. Sure he's shot at Wraith and other bad guys but while running. Or firing blindly at faceless enemies. Never up close, and certainly never a deranged member of his own damn expedition.

"I don't know... I mean, that's your department, Colonel. I can't recall the last time I shot a real person." In fact Rodney doesn't think he's ever killed anyone before in his life, Wraith notwithstanding. He's always had people like Sheppard to protect him.

This time the pilot can't contain a gasp of pain and tries to grab the 9 mil away, but Sheppard's fingers aren't working so well.

"Now stop that, didn't I say to lie still?"

Sheppard's hand shakes badly and it's obvious that the man is too weak to hold the gun. "Damn it," he curses at his ineptness, the weapon slipping from loose fingers to slide to the floor.

"As usual it'll be up to me to get us out of another one of your messes."

"My... turn... next time." Sheppard's voice is barely a whisper now.

Rodney reaches for the gun just as the force field zaps loudly and all the lights go out. Sergeant Davis has shut down the power and now they're blanketed in darkness. Rodney fumbles for the gun with a shuddered cry, not sure where it is.

Whistling. He can hear a cheery tune that might as well be the theme from Psycho.
Sheppard's dead weight in his lap and he can't find the damn gun. The balled up shirt that's been a pressure bandage is sopping, drenched and he can't stop pressing on it.

The room is shadows, eerie shades and ghosts as Davis enters, sweeping a flashlight across the room, stabbing Rodney in the eyes with it.

"We don't have a lot of time." Davis flashes the beam over his fallen CO and frowns. "He doesn't look so good."

Sheppard's out for the count again and Rodney's left hand still searches empty space, never taking his eyes off the man who had no business posing a risk. Wraith, bandits, Genii, pirates, viruses, bombs, Ancient devices are all threats in their universe. No one expected having one of their own men pull a "Misery".

Davis's boot makes a squishy noise and Rodney knows it's because the man is stepping in Sheppard's blood. His stomach almost rebels.

The sergeant looks at the wound and reaches out to check the colonel's pulse.

"Don't you dare touch him," Rodney seethes, his voice a stranger's filled with bile and venom.

The sergeant smiles devilishly. "I'm going to get him out of this abandoned lab and take him back to Atlantis where's he's going to create a new team. One that deserves to serve under him. One that doesn't have an out of shape, useless, civilian."

Davis moves closer, hand going back down and Rodney's as close to the edge as he's ever felt. "Back off or you're going to see just how ugly it looks when this civilian cracks."

"Not a single one of you are even part of the armed forces. Two aliens and a stupid scientist. The colonel could do so much better."

"We've done just fine, thank you." Rodney's hand still searches for the gun.

Davis shakes his head. "Do you really think he could ever respect you? Ever consider you part of his unit? He just needs someone to show him a better way."

Rodney's hand feels something smooth and cold. "He's my team leader. And more my brother than he'll ever be to you no matter how much you imagine it. That's something your twisted, demented little mind will never, ever comprehend."

He's holding his breath, because Sergeant Psycho's left eye twitches and insanity swirls in the icy blue orbs, in the sick, slow motion style of one of those Japanese horror movies that are all the rage back on Earth. His hand grips the object hard, ready.

"You hear that?" Davis whispers.

Rodney swallows, straining at the silence in the room, until his ears pick up on what he'd assumed was the ticking of his wristwatch.

Sergeant Davis smiles wider. "Guess how much time you have left until…" and his lips purse and separate in an explosion of air.

The conversation from earlier replays and Rodney realizes that that the original plan was to murder the team and the only thing that makes that noise is a bomb. His eyes go wide in the low light.

Davis plays with the strap of his P90. "This wasn't the plan, you know. Only you and the other two were going to come here with me. I'd have you here all alone and everyone would die in a little accident."

"Move out of the way so we can get him some help," Rodney pleads ignoring the chilling plot exposition.

"He surprised me; ordered me to come here early to 'investigate' the warehouse alone. I didn't want to, but he just wouldn't listen to me." Davis shakes his head.

"Get out of the way and we can all go back," Rodney's desperate, appealing like this.

"He started making these wild accusations, said I needed help. I told him he deserved a better team, a more loyal one. He wouldn't listen when I explained why aliens couldn't be trusted, how civilians make too many mistakes."

"Maybe when we get back he'll consider your suggestion." Stooping this low makes him want to gag.

No one's home or paying attention in deranged land. Davis just keeps on talking. "He began to get hostile."

"He's going to die."

"Then I guess none of us will serve under him." Sergeant Davis wipes the bloodied knife once more over his knee.

Rodney pulls Sheppard's body closer with one hand, out of options.

"How does it feel knowing that you can't do anything?"

"Almost as bad as knowing what I can do," Rodney whispers as he lifts the gun and pulls the trigger.

He'll always remember the sound, the deafening report of the weapon's discharge. Nothing is as thunderous, earth shattering as the impact of a projectile entering human flesh, breaking bone and rupturing vessels.

Rodney knows deep down, that he never heard any of it; it's nothing but his overactive imagination on overload. Sergeant Davis gasps in shock, then wheezes as his lungs collapse and he drowns in his own blood. He writhes on the ground, the gurgling noise the only sound left in the room.

Rodney only has two hands, and one's in a death grip on the 9mil and the other is still pressing firmly over Sheppard's gut. There's a flashlight on the ground, the beam shining over the floor in a useless direction. He hasn't stopped shaking, but passing out is out of the question. He has to escape, has to drag Sheppard to safety, but he still has no clue how to find his way back and is even more unsure if he can even get off the floor.

He lays the gun down and slips his hand under Sheppard's head. He supports the pilot so his skull doesn't crack on the floor when he eases numb legs out from under the limp man. Pins and needles assail his lower limbs and he almost falls over when a wave of dizziness washes over him. He's not going to jump into a one of his bouts of hysterics, even though his blood sugar has bottomed out and he can't lift up the colonel. And there's no way in Hell he can carry his friend to safety.

"Some help please!" he shouts at Sheppard, but the colonel is motionless.

Rodney grabs Sheppard by his vest and tries to pull the man up, to no avail. Sheppard is wiry, long limbs and a heavier body than his lean frame would seem to suggest. Rodney slips the gun into his waistband like in the movies and manhandles his team leader, his back protesting as he stands on dead legs and almost tilts sideways again.

"If you don't get your lazy ass in gear we're going to die!"

Rodney staggers under the weight, but Sheppard's legs will not work.

"There's a bomb, Sheppard! A big, loud scary explosion that'll make our day much worse than a Stephen King novel!"

Some part of his tirade connects to the pilot's instincts because Sheppard's feet begin to move. It's not much, but instead of collapsing into a heap, the duo lurch forward.

"There we go," Rodney encourages. Trying to navigate in the dark is a bitch. He thinks about scooping up Davis's flashlight, but if he reaches down for it, there's no way he'll be able to haul them both back up.

One foot at a time has him sweating buckets, one arm wrapped around the colonel's middle, the other one securing the man's arm slung over his shoulder. It's going to take days to get his vertebrae back in place, if he survives. Never mind that Sergeant Davis is still hacking and coughing. Rodney's own guts twist about what he plans on doing, leaving the guy behind. The bastard stabbed Sheppard, but something about the colonel's motto is ingrained enough to cause some guilt.

He tries to maneuver around the dying man and is just stepping over outstretched legs when a hand grabs his ankle and almost sends them both crashing down.

"No freaking way!" he screams.

Davis really watches too many B-movies. The dying man has wrapped desperate fingers around Rodney's ankle.

But Rodney has had enough and jerks out of the man's grasp. It's survival instinct that guides his foot when he stomps on Davis's hand. He knows he'll have nightmares from the sound of crunching fingers.

He can't decide whether to go the way he came, even if there's a big door in the way of where he got separated from the rest of his team or fumble in the dark with no sense of direction. He's in better shape than a year ago, but he's no athlete by any stretch of the imagination.

"We're going to have a talk with SG Command about their psychological exams. No more recruits who plot to murder team mates so his commander will notice him."

Sheppard coughs and at least he's still breathing. The belly wound might not be as bad as it seems. The amount of leaking blood appears horrendous, but it's just as deceitful as a head wound, Rodney assures himself. He keeps telling himself that until it sounds logical and buys him hope.

"You supposed to be overseeing a dispute between the marines and airmen this afternoon," he accuses.

Then things begin clicking in place as soon as he says it. The colonel's convenient disappearance before the mission.

"You knew! You knew he was plotting something and confronted him, am I right?" he demands, still dragging them down the dark corridor.

"Not... exactly."

His blood pressure spikes. "Not exactly? Oh wait, I forgot in between your duties on Atlantis, training and missions, you found time to get a degree in psychology and knew exactly what you were doing when you gated alone with a madman."

"Do you even know where...we're goin'?"

Everything collapses like a deck of cards: adrenaline, fear, anger, frustration and Rodney trips and face plants on the floor, the colonel right on top of him. He can still hear the gun going off in his ears, feel the blood all over his hands.

"No! I have no clue where we're at, where I'm going. As many self-defense classes you make me take, or extra hours of target practice, or hours of survival training, I'm still just a scientist! With several PhDs, yes, but I'm not exactly trained for this type of thing. I got Sergeant Psycho to cut the power and free us. And, oh, by the way, shot the guy point blank. So, no, for once I don't have a miracle or any other rabbits hidden up my sleeve!"


"We're going to die here. Or more than likely you'll die first, and then we'll both get blown up. All because of some grunt's fixation on the one and only Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, gallant hero and one man army out to save all creatures great and small!"

He's exhausted to the bone and it takes every bit of his waning reserves to get his bearings and keep from hyperventilating after his diatribe. Sheppard hasn't said anything to counter his rant and Rodney's pounding heart stutters.

"Oh, no you don't!" He struggles from under Sheppard's body and searches for a pulse. He finds the rapid, weak flutter under his fingers and almost sobs in relief. "Sorry, God, I'm so sorry."

Rodney apologizes over things he can't fix. That he has no ability to do anything about, because despite the high IQ, the diplomas in nice neat frames, and the theories published in journals no one reads, his intellect has failed him. His brain power has saved Atlantis on numerous occasions, even kept certain Lt Colonels from the clutches of death before, but now, with no piece of equipment to repair, or computer equation to solve, Rodney feels as useless as the jarheads he used to make fun of when faced with puzzles that required a modicum of brain cells. If he was in shape like Ronon he could carry John. If he was a medical doctor like Carson he could do something more useful than being the Little Dutch Boy.

"Damn it," he curses, realizing that when they fell, his hand has slipped for the first time since he found Sheppard laying on the floor.

He rolls the pilot over and franticly searches for the sodden, folded over t-shirt that's been the pressure bandage.


Fingers claw at the cold stone floor, the soaked ball of fabric lost somewhere in this never ending prison. Desperate and not thinking straight he does the first thing that comes to mind; Rodney presses on the wound with his hand.

Sheppard cries out, pulling from the source of pain. Rodney dumbly realizes he could have used his jacket and berates himself for breaking down like this when he hears the most precious sounds ever.


Since he doesn't believe in ghosts, he sits up and does the only thing that comes to mind. He screams for help.

Ronon and Teyla bring a source of light with them but also a barrage of stupid, pointless questions, that he doesn't have time to answer.

"I'll explain later," he snaps for the third time.

Teyla is unfolding a field dressing from her vest and trying to use it but he rips it from her hands and presses down.

"Where is Davis?" Ronon growls, vengeance on his mind.

"Dead, and so will we be if we don't get the hell out of here," he barks. "Now let's move. Sheppard is done donating to the blood bank of this place and that lunatic set a bomb and hello, I have no clue where it is, or how long before it explodes."

It seems his other teammates have caught on to the desperation of the situation.

"I'll carry him," Ronon orders more than requests.

Even though he knows this is the best course of action, Rodney isn't too willing to just hand Sheppard over.

"Careful," he frets.

The runner, with more grace than he'd give him credit for, picks Sheppard up easily. Rodney only lets go enough to get to his feet with Teyla's help. He lists to the side, until she steadies him.

"Are you all right, Rodney?" she asks concerned.

"Remember, tick tick tick," he mutters, brushing off her worry.

"Let's go," Ronon orders.

They run as if the hounds of hell were at their heels, Rodney lost in a growing haze of endorphins. He doesn't know it but his right hand is curled into the tightest fist, its purpose suddenly severed.

When they leave, it feels surreal. Dialing the gate. Being sucked in by the swirls of light just as the warehouse explodes. He swears he feels the heat of the flames warm his back before the ice cold of the wormhole sweeps them away.

Somehow, his next realization is that he's standing in the middle of the infirmary with no recollection of how he got there, the medical staff busy with their newest patient. He's completely disoriented. He ignores the concerns of Teyla and Elizabeth. The rare worried look from Ronon is new, but also summarily ignored. When a nurse sweetly asks him if he wants to sit and maybe get cleaned up he looks up at her utterly confused.


The nurse shares a worried glance with the others to the side and speaks to him as if he's a child. "Because you're covered in blood, Dr. McKay."

Rodney stares at his fist, the fingers still curled into a ball and then at the crimson stains drying most on the front of his shirt, splotches all over his arms, and his hands covered in fresh and crusted over blood. He idly wonders how much of it is Sheppard's and what's arterial spray from Sergeant Davis.

Rodney smiles; at least he thinks he does. "Oh." Then he promptly passes out.

The words stress, anxiety and blood sugar are heard through a haze of warmness. He ignores it all until something nags at him to wake up. At first he doesn't want to because this zone of carefree is nice and so much easier to deal with than the feeling of being cranked up on a gallon of caffeine. Then the nag becomes a sense of urgency, and he nearly bolts up in bed in a panic.

"Rodney, calm down. You're all right, lad."

Carson's voice both reassures and reminds him why he's jittery. "Where's Sheppard?"

"He's sleeping."

He looks around until his eyes land on a very still form in another bed. "How is he?"

Carson gently encourages him to lay back down and Teyla's there, patting his hand. "John's going to be all right," she assures him.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Rodney."

He looks up at Carson, halfway tempted to bolt over to check for himself. "It was really bad and I couldn't do anything... and--"

"You saved his life, son."

He wants to laugh, because that's got to be a lie. "Don't coddle me, Carson."

Carson stands in his line of sight. "If you hadn't applied constant pressure to the wound he'd have bled out. "

"Really?" His voice is tiny.

"Really, Rodney. Injuries to the abdomen are tricky. The knife nicked several major blood vessels. It's a miracle he's even alive, but he pulled through the surgery."

Ronon has his feet propped up at the end of the colonel's bed, sharpening one of his knives. The very sight of that glint of metal has Rodney sweating.

"All that blood," he mumbles, and stares at his hands.

"It's all gone, son," Carson stresses.

Rodney flexes his sore hand and wiggles his fingers. Before he drifts back asleep he laughs. "The Little Dutch Boy."

Sheppard is paler than his bed sheets, his dark hair a stark contrast. There are tubes for everything; oxygen, IV fluids, antibiotics, drainage and other unmentionables. Until now he hasn't been awake for more than a few minutes, weak from blood loss and the toll of his injury. His hands shake when Rodney reluctantly hands him a glass of water. More ends up on his chin than in his mouth.

Rodney wrests the cup away easily. "Stop being so stubborn."

The colonel sighs, relenting to being helped.

"I hear Ronon is going to be teaching you some more defensive moves."

Sheppard shifts uncomfortably, his face pinching in pain, but blurts out an 'I'm fine' before Rodney can summon a nurse.

"You have a hole in your gut, Sheppard. It's perfectly manly to be doped to the gills for a few days."

Sheppard shakes his head. "Wanna be able to talk for more than a few seconds."

"About what? Protocols for confronting possibly deranged sergeants?"

Normally it's easy to snipe at the colonel, but Rodney feels like a bully, picking on someone who can't really lash back. Even Sheppard's spiky hair is deflated.

"I thought the element of surprise would give me some answers about his behavior. I forced his hand, 'gating with him early to the site. I didn't tell you guys because I didn't know the full extent of his…"


John gives him a look. "Yeah, well things got pretty crystal clear soon enough."

"Well, certain things should have been warning bells, not that any of us noticed," Rodney relents. "The odd fire in my lab, Teyla's P90 malfunction a few days ago. Though I'm all ears when you decide to tell us when you began to suspect something."

John is tired, drawing heavily from his oxygen and Rodney is about to call it quits about this subject matter. "Look, you need to rest."

He gets up, but Sheppard grabs his wrist with more strength than he gave him credit for. He freezes at the force and the seriousness with which the pilot stares at him. The colonel wets his lips, resting his head to the side of the pillow. When he speaks his voice is thick. "What I really wanted to tell you was that I'm sorry."

Those are the last words he expects. In fact, Rodney figures he owes those very same ones to the man laying there. "What? I mean why?"

Sheppard doesn't share 'emotions'; those are things kept under lock and key. Anything of heavy subject matter is camouflaged by a joke. The way the colonel stares at him now, swallowing harshly and looking very ill at ease, is not a sight often seen.

"For the position I put you in."

This isn't the thanks for saving my life speech they've got memorized.

He knows what this is about and for once he doesn't want to talk about it. "Well, you know... if things were reversed."

"This was different."

Rodney likes the spotlight, enjoys the glow and the fun of basking in it. Not right now.

Sheppard looks down, a real tell, and then back up. "You killed someone and that's going to eat away at you for a long time."

He doesn't say anything.

"You're a brave man, Rodney McKay. And... and I'm glad you're part of my team."

He can't look at the colonel right now because if he does he might not be able to control what's going through his head. Sheppard doesn't mince words, in fact he knows what's being said in between the lines and that's the damnedest thing of it all. Instead of responding with a snarky response, he grabs the colonel's hand and squeezes it briefly.

Growing up, he'd never cared about belonging to anything and, frankly, he was too good to waste his time with others. Now... now being part of a team- The Team- is one of the most important aspects of his life. It means more and transcends the mere simplicity of any definition. It's worth every heartache, every painful choice made in its defense.

"You're welcome."

Sheppard falls into a heavy and restful sleep. The pain lines are not etched as deeply but despite that, Rodney doesn't leave. When Ronon and Teyla stop by later and take a couple of seats they don't disturb them.

Rodney drifts to sleep in the chair and although it may not be as restful in the future, it's worry free right now.