Ch 11 Toothpicks
"Come on tell me about the tooth picks..."
"I told you ... tooth emergencies. Very handy... for strawberries. I like strawberries"
Sheppard was reclining, if you could use such a comfortable word for it, on his plastic chair, ankles crossed and propped on Rodney's bed.
Rodney, now sporting a nasal canula beneath his nose, was still sitting upright, albeit crookedly, as he was sifting through the contents of the blue back pack he had recently been reunited with.
John thought he looked stronger; Carson must have thought so too, as on his last visit he rid McKay of his uncomfortable oxygen mask. Lunch had been light, and Rodney ate half of the soup that was brought for him, and all the jello.
"Sorry Rodney, but I just don't buy it. Try again", and his eyes narrowed shrewdly.
Rodney gave a long-suffering sigh, and patted the box on his lap with what looked like real affection.
"Alright. It happened in Antarctica. There was a piece of alien tech... somehow, it cycled into overload. I could see right inside the casing, but couldn't open it. We needed to break all the circuits at once and only had the tiniest access spaces... we needed something small, thin, non-conducting...", he stopped to take a few rapid breaths.
"Also known as... toothpicks?", John provided.
Rodney nodded, swallowed, and went on.
"Obviously we didn't... I didn't," he corrected, "have any, so... had to do a re-think", his head dropped back against the pillows and his eyes closed.
Suddenly anxious, John said, "McKay? Y'alright..?"
"Just... give me a... moment.."
So he did, and after a good half minute during which Sheppard thought the story teller had fallen asleep, McKay's bleary eyes fixed on his and he continued.
"So, I ran with it... went top side... threw it into a canyon in the ice."
"You did? I don't believe it... really?", and John couldn't quite keep the amused admiration from his voice.
"You don't know the half of it... the tales... I could tell you", a weary smile was now on McKay's lips, but his shoulders rose and fell in time with his laboured breaths and John thought with a guilty pang that the man now looked exhausted.
"Have to be ready... always ready... 'f only.. had tooth picks... ", Rodney seemed to be rambling, his eyes were closed and John wondered if he actually was asleep.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, buddy.. you can't save everyone.", John said quietly, realising he'd said a similar thing to Rodney already today.
But then there came an unexpected and equally quiet answer, spoken on an exhale...
"Doesn't stop me trying."
Now there was silence and John knew that Rodney, like himself, was thinking back to opportunities missed and people lost.
They stayed like that for a while, in companionable silence, quietly supporting each other, like they always had.
It was Carson hurrying in that tore Rodney from his thoughts.
"Alright, colonel, my patient needs to rest"
His heart sank; he really didn't want to be left alone, with nothing but his morose thoughts to keep him company. He saw that John was already half way out of his seat.
"Look.. Sheppard, don't go, 'm not that tired. So boring... being sick.", he looked hopefully at Beckett, who had been fussing with the lines and now stuck a thermometer in his ear.
Carson clicked his tongue, and smiled slowly.
"Well, your fever's coming down nicely... but that doesn't mean you don't need your rest.", he said the last, quite severely, and Rodney tried to look suitably hurt.
"Please, Carson..", and he took a moment to appreciate the expertly delivered whine.
"I'll be back in twenty minutes, and you...", he stabbed a finger at John, ".. had better be gone", and with that he stalked off.
A yawn came from nowhere and threatened to detach his jaw from the rest of his head.
He looked around owlishly,
"My pack.. where...?"
"Right here... in front of you, doofus..", said John, nodding to the large pack, that was still by his side.
It was big and heavy... comfortingly so. He ran his hands over the rough pocket flaps and broad straps. It would be re-stocked, he would make sure of that. There'd be a new towel, bandages, a new wooden ruler. He'd have his way this time.
"Have to be ready...", he said again.
"You can't fix everything, Rodney.. I thought you'd got that...", Sheppard said quietly.
McKay erupted with fiery indignation,
"Hey..! Genius here.. I might not be able to fix everything, but I'm all we've got. Besides... have some faith."
He had deflated somewhat towards the end of his outburst, the last few words mumbled, with his eyes downcast.
"I do have faith, Rodney.. and you constantly amaze me - especially with your modesty", and Rodney could hear the amusement in his voice.
"Yeah, well.. like I said.. ", and another huge yawn broke in, "...genius."
Sheppard rose from his chair, and announced, "Well, I'm off. You should get some rest. Carson'll be after me - Where'd he go off to anyway?", he asked and squinted down the length of the room towards the doctors office.
"I'll be back later, and if you're good, I'll bring you a surprise."
He stooped to grab his field pack, and swung it over one shoulder, turning to glance back at Rodney as he did so.
"Just do me a favour, McKay...?"
But Rodney was already asleep, his jaw hanging slightly open and snoring gently. He had nodded off with both hands still clutching his battered old pack.
John smiled and finished his sentence, "... never change", he whispered.
He stood quietly, and leaning over, turned off the bed light.
As he carefully lifted away the pack, Rodney's hands slid off and plopped gently down onto his chest.
John placed the precious pack on the chair, close at hand in case it should be needed, and headed to the mess hall in search of strawberries.
Well, that's it... hope you enjoyed it. I have to say again how wonderful all my reviewers are, I know it's a drag sometimes to take the time, but you are so kind and have helped me a lot with this fic... thanks a million!!