A one-shot fic that was inspired by a discussion on the GW Shep Whump thread about what Sheppard would be like drunk/drugged up. Apologies if the medical stuff isn't totally accurate.. I've researched as much as I can but I have to take some artistic licence with some things... (however, I can personally attest to how much bruised intercostal muscles hurt!)

All feedback gratefully received.


Sheppard was slurring his words. Not a lot… hardly at all in fact but Rodney was a scientist and, above all else, a stickler for detail, and the slight thickness in Sheppard's voice distracted him, his words petering out as he peered suspiciously at the Colonel. Sheppard's answering look was intense, not quite the usual laid-back nonchalance that the pilot normally presented to the world. He looked for all the world like he was fiercely concentrating, though on what Rodney couldn't imagine.

"Hey, are you okay?"

"M'good."

Sheppard waved the question away with his usual dismissiveness but the movement wasn't quite right; it was sluggish, oddly uncoordinated. Rodney, who as it happened was very good at math, started putting two and two together and didn't like what this was adding up to. He laid his tablet down on the nearest surface, the research he'd felt urgent enough to bring him here banging on Sheppard's door at nearly midnight Atlantis time suddenly forgotten.

It occurred to him belatedly that Sheppard wasn't usually up at this time. Rodney was a night owl by nature at the best of times and when he got wrapped up in something his notion of the passage of time got a little screwy to say the least. Had he bothered to think about it, which of course he hadn't as he'd rushed straight here in his excitement, he would have expected to find Sheppard in bed at this hour and favouring Rodney with a few choice comments in recompense for disturbing him. Instead, Sheppard was fully dressed and the bed was neatly made to military regs standard and Sheppard had barely said a word since Rodney had arrived.

Rodney had already been talking, explaining, theorising, when Sheppard had opened the door, stepping inside and past Sheppard as though he were expected, his attention 95 percent on his tablet and the flood of ideas he was trying to verbalise and only 5 percent on the recipient of his diatribe. He'd been vaguely aware that Sheppard hadn't followed him into the room after the door slid closed, instead staying by the door, oddly motionless, simply tracking Rodney's progress around the room as he had excitedly expounded his theory, his responses, when Rodney had paused to allow comment or to breathe, monosyballic at best… and ever so slightly slurred. When Rodney set the tablet aside and actually looked at his friend, he finally noticed the pallor to Sheppard's skin and the unaccustomed rigidity to his posture.

"Sheppard?"

It took a moment, far too long of a moment, for Sheppard to recognise and react to the fact that Rodney was waiting for a response. Something was very wrong here. Rodney frowned.

"You don't look so good. I'm gonna call Carson…"

"Nno!" The objection came out slurred and indistinct instead of forceful and commanding. Right before Rodney's eyes Sheppard seemed to list a little to the side before shaking his head distractedly and righting himself with a scowl of concentration. "No. I don't need Carson." The words were clearer, Sheppard's enunciation careful and slow. Rodney's hand didn't move from where it hovered over his earpiece.

"I don't think…"

The door slid open before he could finish his sentence and Rodney was relieved to see the doctor in question, Ronon looming hugely behind him as Carson stepped briskly into the room and fixed Sheppard with a reproving look that made Rodney suspect that he was seriously out of the loop on this one.

"Colonel Sheppard. What the hell are you doing here?"

Rodney was surprised, not only at the question – why on earth should it be a surprise to find Sheppard in his own quarters at this time of night? – but also at Carson's language. Carson could dish it out with the best of them when he was in the mood but it was rare to hear the usually mild-mannered Scot curse. Sheppard wasn't immediately forthcoming with an answer and Rodney was alarmed to find Beckett turning on him next.

"And you! I should've known you'd be involved in this but honestly, Rodney, I expected better sense from you."

"Me? What've I done?" Rodney indignation was immediate.

"Did it not occur to you that I had a very good reason for wanting Colonel Sheppard to stay in the infirmary?"

"Infirmary? What?" Rodney was starting to feel that he was seriously lacking in the relevant data to be participating in this conversation and it was not a sensation he enjoyed. "I don't know anything about anybody being in the infirmary!" he bristled. Carson didn't seem to be paying much attention to Rodney's excuses, his attention already turned to Sheppard who seemed to be listing again even as Rodney watched. Before anyone could say a word, Ronon shot out a hand and steadied the Colonel as he tried to brush away from Carson's touch and wobbled briefly on his feet. Rodney watched the goings-on appraisingly and told Carson pointedly, "If you ask me, the infirmary's where he ought to be right now."

Carson let out a sigh, his voice tinged with impatience as he explained, "He was in the infirmary, Rodney."

"Well then, what's he doing here?"

Carson shot him a look spoke of profound impatience that Rodney didn't really feel was fair – was it his fault that nobody had told him what was going on here? – and turned his attention back to the increasingly unsteady-looking Sheppard, ignoring Rodney's perfectly relevant question.

"Come on, son. Let's get you sat down before you fall down."

Sheppard seemed distracted, his face creasing in a stubborn frown, but he reluctantly let Carson guide him over towards the bed, Ronon following closely, his hands hovering expectantly as Sheppard swayed alarmingly. Rodney was surprised to see a couple of Ronon's fingers were taped up. What, had everybody had a trip to the infirmary today while he wasn't looking? And what the hell was wrong with Sheppard anyway?

Sheppard moved gingerly as, at Carson's urging, he lowered himself to sit on the bed. He looked white as a sheet and his face was set in that expression of closed, fixed determination that Rodney knew far too well and that, he suspected, Carson had come to dread. Sheppard's eyes however were glazed and bright and even sitting down he listed slightly to one side, seeming to be favouring his right side. Carson fussed over him for a moment, doing the whole penlight thing that Rodney knew Sheppard hated, and before Rodney could repeat his demand to be told what was going on, Carson straightened, his hand moving to his earpiece.

"I'm going to call for a gurney to take you to the infirmary."

"No." Sheppard's response was immediate, if mumbled.

"Colonel," Carson breathed out in a sigh of frustration, "you need to be in the infirmary. I can't leave you here alone like this; you need to be under supervision."

Sheppard shook his head mulishly, swaying slightly in place. "M'fine."

"Colonel Sheppard, the drugs I gave you are quite strong and you're in no fit state to be left on your own right now.."

"You gave him drugs? What for?"

Carson's hand was still hovering over his earpiece and Rodney's interruption did nothing to calm his exasperation.

"The Colonel has bruised his intercostal muscles, Rodney. It's not a dangerous injury but it can be extremely painful…"

"Where the hell is an intercostal muscle?" Rodney wondered aloud, raising his hand abruptly as Carson opened his mouth to answer the question. "Never mind," he hastily assured the doctor, "I really don't want to know!"

Rodney gave the pale-faced, woozy Colonel a considering glance; Sheppard loopy on painkillers was an interesting prospect - one that, despite Colonel Kamikaze's numerous infirmary visits, Rodney had never been confronted with before. Carson was always banging on about Sheppard's much vaunted tolerance for pain (which, if you asked Rodney, was just another of Carson's schoolteacher tricks for keeping discipline in his infirmary – "Look at the Colonel, he's not complaining and demanding attention and drugs. Let's all be good boys and girls like Colonel Sheppard here") and, given the choice, Sheppard usually preferred not to bother with pain meds. And when he wasn't given the choice, it was usually because he was hanging on to life by his fingernails and wasn't in any fit state to dictate what medication he was given. Whatever an intercostal muscle was, it must hurt like hell for Sheppard to have let Carson dose him.

Rodney's attention wandered back to Ronon's taped fingers and he gave the two macho idiots a withering glance. "I was going to ask how you managed to get injured in the space of one afternoon without even leaving the city but I suppose that's a silly question," he told Sheppard dryly.

"What did he do to you?" he asked Ronon. "Break a couple of fingers?"

The Satedan shrugged in that annoyingly, nonchalantly confident way of his. "Just one," he grunted, as though a broken digit were nothing worth mentioning, a mere inconvenience. Rodney suspected Carson had had a fight on his hands to even get the stoic ex-Runner to let him tape it up.

Rodney didn't bother to hide the sarcasm in his voice. "Wonderful. The two of you spend the afternoon beating each other up and then have to spend the next few days on light duty so that the whole team has to wait around for you to heal from your self-inflicted injuries. I'm sure Elizabeth will be thrilled." He met Ronon's unperturbed gaze with a scowl, "Did you bruise his inter-wotsit muscles because he broke your finger or did he break your finger in retaliation? Honestly the pair of you need a chaperone to keep you out of trouble. I swear, at times I…"

"Sheppard didn't break my finger sparring." Ronon interrupted Rodney's tirade just as he was getting warmed up, adding with a ferocious grin, "He's not that good."

"Hey!" Sheppard's protest was a little slurred but he obviously wasn't so out of it as to let that jibe go uncontested. And then he suddenly swayed drunkenly and Ronon, Carson and Rodney all instinctively lunged forward to catch him before he toppled over. Sheppard's brow was sheened with sweat and he was limp and heavy in Rodney's grip as, between the three of them, they laid him back gently onto the bed.

"Good god, Carson! What on earth did you give him?!" Rodney demanded.

Carson was fussing over Sheppard, his gaze focused on his watch as he pressed his fingers to Sheppard's neck and counted his pulse. He spoke without looking up, frustration evident in his voice, "I had to give him an intramuscular injection of Demerol because he was being a stubborn fool and refusing to take any pain medication. It means the effects of the painkillers are rather more pronounced than if he'd just taken the pills and it's precisely why he should be in the infirmary under supervision!"

"Well, then why isn't he?"

"Because the bloody fool snuck out the moment my back was turned!" Carson snapped, glaring up at Rodney.

"Oh." Rodney wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Sheppard hated hanging round the infirmary any longer than he felt was necessary, it was true, and it wasn't unheard of for him to sneak out without permission… but usually with good reason, like an urgent threat to the city or something he felt he had to deal with personally. It wasn't like him to go AWOL against Carson's express wishes just to come back to his quarters and go to bed.

Carson stood up with a sigh, his hands on his hips as he regarded his recalcitrant patient. Sheppard was sprawled limply on the bed, his legs still twisted to one side, feet on the floor. He looked drowsy and kinda vacant but he still had that stubborn look on his face as he blinked up at his friends, the frown of concentration that said he was fighting the pain meds, struggling to stay lucid and in control.

Control.

Carson was already lifting his hand to his earpiece when Rodney had a quiet revelation.

"I'm going to call a gurney and…"

"Nno..." Sheppard's protest was a tired mumble but he was already struggling to sit up, his movements slow and uncoordinated.

"Let him stay here."

Carson regarded Rodney with a look of incredulity mixed with annoyance at his interference. "He can't be left alone like this, Rodney. He needs to be under supervision."

"I'll supervise him."

"What?"

"Does he need actual medical supervision?" Rodney demanded. "Are the drugs you gave him going to do something horrible to him if he's not monitored? Or does he just need someone to keep an eye on him while he's high as a kite and make sure he doesn't fall out of bed and brain himself on something?"

"Well…"

"Because I am well acquainted with that stubborn look on his face and I can tell you right now what your options are: you can take him back to the infirmary and spend the rest of your night chasing him around the city every time he sneaks out when you turn your back for a moment – although I suppose you could always tie him to the bed but I don't imagine that would go down very well and he tends to get very grumpy about things like that – or you can leave him here, where he is obviously much happier to be and where he might actually get some rest, and let me keep an eye on him." Rodney eyed a speechless Carson only slightly condescendingly. "I'm far and away the smartest person in this city, I think I can cope with babysitting one drugged-up Colonel."

Carson was looking at him like he had grown a second head but Sheppard was sitting up on the bed, listing to one a side a little, admittedly, and beneath the frown of concentration, the stubborn set to his features, his eyes were full of hope… and not a little gratitude. Ronon was still hovering near the bed, as though expecting to have to catch Sheppard again at any minute, but he was now regarding Rodney consideringly. Carson looked uncertainly from Rodney to Sheppard, and Rodney knew that Carson had seen what he had in Sheppard's eyes. The doctor's shoulders slumped in defeat and Rodney saw relief relax Sheppard's features before Carson even spoke.

"Alright then. He should be fine, he just needs.. whoah!" The three of them lunged forward again as Sheppard toppled but Ronon was there waiting, catching hold of Sheppard and lowering him back to the bed. This time, Ronon swung Sheppard's legs up onto the bed too and Sheppard didn't protest, his eyelids drooping heavily as his iron will relaxed a little.

"He just needs someone to keep an eye on him," Carson began again, his voice slipping into the lecturing mode than Rodney knew all too well from his own experiences as a patient. "The Demerol has made him pretty drowsy so he'll more than likely just sleep but if he does wake up... try to keep him from moving around too much and don't let him go anywhere on his own. If he falls and breaks anything I shall hold you responsible and if he bangs those ribs on anything he'll regret it in the morning and will probably make sure you do too."

Carson looked down at his patient; Rodney could already see the relaxation of previously tensed muscles, the frown lines smoothing out on the Colonel's forehead and he suspected that Carson was realising that this was probably for the best… Rodney had been telling the truth when he'd suggested that Sheppard would get no rest in the infirmary…

"The Demerol should keep his pain under control for another couple of hours but I'm going to send someone along shortly with some oral painkillers. If he wakes up during the night and is in any pain, try and get him to take some."

Rodney gave Carson a pitying look. "For all the good it'll do," he huffed.

"Just try Rodney, please," Carson sighed, his weary tone betraying his exasperation. "I know Colonel Sheppard doesn't like way the meds make him feel but he's not doing himself any favours by refusing pain relief."

"Hey, preaching to the choir here," Rodney assured him. "Remind me to be especially careful of my inter-thingy muscles..."

"Intercostal," Carson murmured helplessly.

"…if they hurt that much. How did he bruise them anyway? I've never even heard of inter-whatever.."

"He doesn't block properly," Ronon murmured and Rodney favoured him with a disparaging look.

"I was right then, wasn't I? You two were beating each other up with sticks and then suddenly you're surprised when you end up with broken fingers and bruised inter-thi…"

"Intercostal. They're the muscles between the ribs," Carson interjected, a pained expression on his face. "I believe Colonel Sheppard may have bruised the muscles in his fall on PX7-8TG the other day…"

"You said he was fine after that mission! You did his post-mission check-up yourself!"

"He was fine, Rodney. It's possible to bruise or strain the muscles without any visible external bruising and the symptoms are often not felt for a few days. Colonel Sheppard was unlucky enough to catch a blow in the same area during his sparring with Ronon today and…"

"He wasn't unlucky," Ronon disagreed, "he doesn't block properly…"

"…and that aggravated the injury," Carson resolutely ignored Ronon's interruption, raising his voice a little as he talked over him to finish, "and resulted in some quite severe pain."

"M'sorry…"

Rodney had assumed Sheppard had dozed off. He'd been silent throughout the conversation, his eyes closed, his breathing deep and even. Rodney had figured the drugs had finally knocked him out. No such luck.

Sheppard looked like he was struggling to keep his eyes open as he waved a vague hand in Ronon's direction. "M'sorryboutyrfingr," he clarified drowsily.

"Not your fault," Ronon shrugged easily.

Sheppard frowned and Rodney could see him visibly struggling against the effects of the drugs. "Yes, it was," he said, pronouncing his words carefully and clearly, his expression serious.

Ronon simply grinned, that wild, slightly feral grin that made something instinctive in Rodney's soul want to squeak quietly and cower, and told Sheppard, "I'll make sure you pay for it next time we spar."

To Rodney's surprise, Sheppard laughed, a rather goofy laugh that was verging on a giggle. Oh yes, Sheppard on loopy-juice. This was going to be fun.

Carson moved in for a last fuss over Sheppard, checking his pulse again and doing the penlight thing with the eyes, easily dodging an uncoordinated attempt to brush the intrusive light away, and giving the same lecture to Sheppard as he'd given Rodney – stay in bed, try not to move around too much, no wandering off, and take the damn painkillers if you need them.

Ronon slouched over to the door, waiting patiently for Carson to finish up, and Rodney couldn't help but notice that the Satedan was eyeing him appraisingly with what, on anyone else, Rodney would have suspected to be a hint of a smile playing about his lips. Ronon's gaze left Rodney with the unsettled feeling that he had been somehow evaluated… and that he'd passed the test. The fact that he had no idea what the test had been or how he'd made the grade was incredibly disconcerting.

"Rodney."

"Hmm?" Rodney absolutely did not jump when Carson called his name and Ronon most definitely did not break into a wide smile.

"Can you put the Colonel to bed yourself or do you need me to stay and help?"

"What? Can I what now?" Rodney's noble little gesture had pretty much a spur of the moment thing and he really hadn't thought in any great detail about what might be involved beyond just making sure Sheppard didn't run amok or keel over. He hadn't realised Carson was signing him up to be Sheppard's nursemaid.

"Rodney, if you're not willing…"

"I'm okay." Sheppard was sitting up, slowly and mostly steadily, on the bed, the look of fierce determination back on his face and his words carefully enunciated. "I can manage to undress myself, Carson." The look on his face dared Carson to disagree.

"Colonel Sheppard.."

"He'll be fine." Rodney could see the hint of desperation in Sheppard's eyes, the strain of keeping up the concentration necessary to appear coherent enough that Carson would just go, just leave him be. "I'll look after him," he found himself blurting. "I'll.. uh.. I'll put him to bed and everything." Rodney could feel Ronon's eyes on him and resolutely ignored both the Satedan and the rising heat in his face. Sheppard was so going to owe him for this one.

Carson was still reluctant but Rodney wasn't altogether surprised when Ronon backed him up, amusement tempered with feigned impatience in his voice as he grunted, "C'mon, doc. Sheppard'll be fine."

Carson let the tall warrior chivvy him towards the door and Sheppard stayed sitting up on the bed, sheer bloody-minded determination keeping him upright in the face of Carson's uncertain gaze.

"I'll want to see you for a check-up in the morning, Colonel," Carson advised as Ronon steered him out into the corridor.

"Mmm." Sheppard's grunt could just barely be considered an affirmative response.

Ronon gave a quick wave of his taped-up hand and a last piece of advice to Rodney, "Try not to let him break any of your fingers too." Rodney was pretty sure the Satedan was grinning as the door slid shut behind him.

It took approximately 0.003 of a second for Sheppard to flop limply back on the bed, his head lolling loosely. He gave a noise that was somewhere between a groan and a sigh.

"What did he mean, break my fingers too?" Rodney demanded, wide-eyed. "Is that supposed to be a joke? What did you do to him?"

Sheppard murmured something indistinct and Rodney realised that his eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling rhythmically.

"Oh, no you don't!" He crossed to the bed and gave Sheppard a shake. "I'm not facing the wrath of Carson because I didn't put you to bed like a good nursemaid. Come on, you said you could get yourself undressed – get to it."

Sheppard groaned protestingly but one eye cracked open to regard Rodney blearily. "Jusgimmeminute," he mumbled.

Rodney sighed in frustration. Trust Sheppard to make things difficult.

"Come on, sleepyhead. No nap time for you just yet." He gave Sheppard another shake and pulled experimentally at his arm, trying to coax him into movement. It worked, but not in the way Rodney had wanted. Sheppard's eyes snapped open and he sucked in air through his teeth, relaxed muscles tensing up all over again as he jerked his wrist from Rodney's grip with a grimace.

"Oh crap! Sorry! I'm sorry, I… I didn't think!" Rodney apologised helplessly. "Are you okay?"

Sheppard glared at him and muttered something under his breath that Rodney was actually pretty glad he couldn't make out.

"Ummm.." He hovered uncertainly, unwilling to leave Sheppard sprawled atop the bed fully dressed but not sure what to do for the best without making things worse. "Sorry," he said again. "Guess those drugs aren't all that good after all, eh?" He gave a nervous grin.

Sheppard didn't look amused. "They work just fine as long as nobody tries to lift me by my arm!" he snapped.

Rodney's defensives raised automatically at the criticism and before he could stop himself, he was snapping right back. "Well, just think how much worse you'd feel if Carson hadn't given you something, Mr "I don't need painkillers"!"

With a frown of effort, Sheppard rolled himself clumsily onto his left side and, struggled to swing his legs around and off the bed, muttering under his breath something that sounded like, "I'd rather have the pain than feel like this.."

Rodney scowled at the sight of his CO struggling to even sit up. "You're an idiot," he told Sheppard bluntly and used a careful hand on Sheppard's shoulder to help nudge him the rest of way upright. "What on earth is so bad about taking painkillers when you're in pain?"

Sheppard ignored the question and for a moment Rodney thought he was just giving him the usual John Sheppard silent treatment, the blank façade that Sheppard seemed to retreat behind anytime the conversation got a little too personal, until Sheppard swayed slightly and Rodney realised he was actually zoning out a little.

"Sheppard!"

He clicked his fingers in front of Sheppard's face and that seemed to snap Sheppard back into focus. He blinked at Rodney for a moment and then seemed to remember what he was supposed to be doing and leaned forward to reach for the laces on his sneakers. Rodney caught him before he toppled off the bed, but only just.

"Okay, that's not going to work." Shepard was heavier than his skinny frame would suggest and Rodney gave a grunt of effort as he heaved him back onto the bed and held him steady while he caught his balance. "Stay," he instructed and Sheppard gave him a woozy glare that suggested he wasn't too keen on being ordered around like a naughty puppy. Rodney knelt beside the bed and started picking at the knotted laces.

"If you'd just taken the damn pills when Carson wanted you to, you wouldn't be tripping the light fantastic right now – and I wouldn't be stuck here having to baby-sit you," he lectured impatiently. He succeeded in undoing one set of laces – seriously, how many knots had Sheppard put in this? – and slid the sneaker off.

"Thanks, Rodney."

Sheppard's voice was so quiet as to be almost a whisper but the words were clear. Rodney looked up to find Sheppard regarding him seriously, seeming suddenly lucid and sincere. Rodney cleared his throat uncomfortably and ducked his head to focus on untangling the second set of laces, muttering dismissively, "What? For undoing your shoelaces as if you were a five year old? Seriously, how do you get the laces this tangled anyway..?"

"For babysitting." The second sneaker came off and Rodney found John was grinning down at him, looking ridiculously like a five year old… a dopey, spiky-haired five year old who'd stayed up long past his bedtime. Good lord.

"Come on," he huffed, clambering to his feet. "Can you stand up without falling over?"

It turned out Sheppard could stand up but he definitely needed a bit of help with the not falling over bit. Rodney ended up with a hand on each of Sheppard's shoulders, holding him vaguely upright – and determinedly averting his gaze – while Sheppard fumbled with the waistband of his loose sweatpants and managed to shove them down off his hips before sitting back down again in what was essentially a controlled collapse.

With a put-upon sigh, Rodney pulled the sweatpants off over Sheppard's feet and dumped them on the floor with the discarded sneakers. Sheppard, in t-shirt and boxer shorts, curled up on the bed, stuffing his face into the pillow and burying his head under one arm.

It was like dealing with a recalcitrant child. And Rodney was seriously not good with kids. He usually made them cry.

"No, no, no! Not sleepytime yet, Sheppard." He gave a t-shirt clad shoulder a cautious shake and got a muffled grunt in response. "Sheppard? Sheppard!"

"M'tired." He sounded it, his voice, muffled by the pillow, heavy with fatigue.

"I know, and you can sleep in a minute, I promise. Let's just get you into bed properly." Babysitting kids was probably easier than this; you could just order them to do as they were told, instead of having to coax them. Rodney wasn't good at coaxing. "C'mon, Sheppard…" he absolutely didn't whine.

Sheppard groaned his discontent but the rumpled head reappeared from under his arm and he sluggishly pushed himself into a vaguely upright position. It took a bit of complicated manoeuvring for Rodney to keep hold of a wobbly Sheppard with one hand and free the rigidly tucked-in bedsheets – stupid military - with the other but eventually he cleared enough space for Sheppard to fit himself onto the mattress where he immediately curled back up onto his left side, huffing a sigh of relief as he huddled into the pillow. He didn't react when Rodney settled the covers over his shoulders.

Rodney was suddenly at a loss for what to do with himself – he'd done the nursemaid thing and gotten Sheppard into bed and now he had an enjoyable night of babysitting to look forward to… making sure Sheppard didn't fall out of bed, wake up and go wandering and brain himself on something etc etc. He waited a long moment, but Sheppard's muffled breathing was slow and even and he seemed to have dozed off straight away. With a sigh, Rodney dialled down the lights to an unobtrusive glow. His datapad still lay where he'd discarded it and he carried it over to the comfortable chair Sheppard had squeezed inbetween his bed and his desk and flopped heavily into it. Within five minutes he was absorbed in his research once more, going over and refining the figures that had brought him excitedly to Sheppard's door in the middle of the night.

"I hate feeling like this."

Rodney nearly jumped out of the chair when Sheppard's muffled voice broke the silence. The lump under the bedcovers hadn't moved, Sheppard lying on his left side, his back to Rodney, his head still buried beneath his arm.

Rodney waited till his heart stopped pounding before he spoke. "Feeling like what?"

The lump shifted slightly and Rodney heard a sigh. "Hazy. Everything's muffled. Can't think straight. Feel like I'm not… not…"

Sheppard's voice trailed off and Rodney thought back to the revelation he'd had, the reason he'd offered to baby-sit so Sheppard could stay in his room instead of the infirmary. His voice was quiet as he finished Sheppard's sentence for him, "Not in control?"

The rough sound that came from Sheppard was technically a laugh, though it sounded anything but amused. "Yeah…" he slurred, sounding inexpressibly weary.

Rodney thought about that for a moment. "Is that why you snuck out of the infirmary?" he asked.

There was a silence for a moment and he wondered if he'd pushed too far – Sheppard, for all his easy charm, was one of the most emotionally-guarded people Rodney had ever known. He didn't let people in easily and, even with his friends, he kept things mostly superficial, rarely spoke about anything remotely personal. Rodney didn't really get that – he much preferred to speak out whatever was on his mind, usually the moment it crossed his mind - but he usually at least tried to respect Sheppard's very obvious boundaries. He did not doubt that Sheppard was capable of forming very deep attachments – he was also the most insanely loyal person Rodney had ever met – but his seemingly ferocious need for control meant that he was always that little bit guarded, always kept himself at something of a distance.

Somehow, here in the half-lit stillness of Sheppard's room, the wooziness of the painkillers eroding his carefully built-up defences, it seemed like those boundaries were crumbling just a little. Without moving, his back turned to Rodney and his head still buried under his arm, Sheppard let out a sigh and spoke hesitantly, his voice still slurring a little from the drugs. "I couldn't stand it in there. Felt so out of it, dizzy and stuff… and there were too many people… I just felt… horribly exposed. All I could think was that I just wanted to get away, be on my own…"

For once in his life, Rodney kept quiet, not wanting to disturb this strangely intimate atmosphere of confession. Sheppard's iron control had slipped, revealing a glimpse of a part of himself that he never shared, and Rodney felt strangely humbled to be the one Sheppard opened up to, even a little. He also knew Sheppard would probably regret it in the morning.

"I don't like… I hate feeling like I'm not in control and painkillers make me feel… fuzzy. Thick-headed. It's like…I know I'm not thinking straight but I can't… can't snap out of it."

Sheppard's halting words ceased and the only sound in the room was the soft huff of his breathing, the slight rustle of the bedclothes as he shifted a little. The silence went on long enough that Rodney thought that was it, Sheppard was done, when he suddenly spoke again, his voice quiet and oddly vulnerable.

"It scares me."

Rodney stared at the lump under the bedclothes, his mouth open but no words coming out.

"It scares me what I might do… what I might say…while I'm not in control. I don't… I don't want people to see me like that."

Rodney's mouth twisted impatiently. "See you like what? Being human?" he chided a little acerbically. "You'd rather be in pain than accept that you're not infallible? And people say I have a big ego…"

The lump in the bed shifted suddenly to reveal a tuft of messy hair and one bleary eye. "I can deal with the pain," the muffled voice told him.

"Really?" Rodney made sure that his tone of voice conveyed just how truly stupid he thought that statement was. His gaze narrowed as a thought occurred to him and he looked suspiciously at Sheppard.

"How did you break Ronon's finger?" he demanded.

Without moving, the lump of bedclothes somehow contrived to look just a little guilty.

"Sheppard?"

"He was trying to help me onto the infirmary bed."

"And?"

"And moving really hurt, okay? And I may have grabbed ahold a little harder than I should have." Sheppard muttered his confession into his pillow.

Rodney took a moment to process that information before asking incredulously, "You held his hand so tight you broke his finger?!"

"I wasn't holding his hand!" Sheppard objected indignantly, "You make it sound like…"

"Whatever." Rodney waved his hand dismissively. "Let me just get this right – you were in so much pain that you broke Ronon's finger without realising it… but you refused to take the painkillers Carson offered you? That's your idea of dealing with the pain?"

"And then Carson stuck me," the pile of bedclothes complained sullenly.

"He what?"

"He was pretty mad that I wouldn't take the pills. He said he was going to get something to fix Ronon's finger and when he came back he snuck up on me and stuck a needle in my thigh!"

Sheppard actually sounded indignant. Well, he sounded like an indignant five year old who thinks it's not fair that he's been grounded but still. Rodney sighed. "And then you got your revenge by sneaking out of the infirmary?"

"While he was busy taping up Ronon's finger," Sheppard agreed, with something that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.

"And lumbered me with babysitting you so Carson doesn't drag you back to the infirmary by the ear!" Rodney complained.

"You volunteered," Sheppard reminded him quietly, the laughter gone from his voice now.

"Hmm. More fool me." Despite his acid tone, Rodney couldn't really be mad at Sheppard for pulling a jailbreak from the infirmary. Carson's drugs really had done a number on him and for someone so private, being in a relatively public place like the infirmary while his defences were down was abhorrent. What Sheppard had told him just in the last five minutes was information that Lt Col. John Sheppard would never normally choose to reveal to anyone. He'd probably feel mortified enough in the morning at having bared his soul just to Rodney, if he'd had to spend the night in the infirmary…

"Thanks, Rodney. I mean it." Two eyes were peeking at him from under the blankets now and the words, though slurred, were sincere.

Rodney rolled his eyes a little but his voice was serious when he replied, quietly, "You're welcome."

The sleepy eyes regarded him for a long moment and then the sound of a wide yawn came from under the bedclothes.

"Get some sleep," Rodney ordered. "You're gonna feel like crap in the morning."

"M'kay." The blankets shifted again as John rolled back over onto his side, burrowing once more into the pillow. Rodney watched him for a moment as he got comfortable and then turned his attention back to his datapad.

He worked on his data for maybe ten minutes or so before giving into the urge to get up and check on Sheppard. The pile of blankets was still except for the slow rise and fall of Sheppard's breathing. There was no reaction to Rodney's touch when he leaned over and pulled the blankets away from Sheppard's face a little; he was fast asleep, his mouth slightly open, his hair sticking up in clumps, one arm flung out limply across the pillow. Rodney rearranged the blankets around Sheppard's shoulders and sat back down in the easy chair, picking up his datapad again.

For the next few hours the only sounds in the room were the soft huff of Sheppard's breathing and the quiet tap of fingers on the datapad. In the safety and comfort of his own quarters, John Sheppard's friend watched over him as he slept.


Fin.