oOo

As much as he wanted to wait patiently at the scientist's bed side, Ronon Dex found it impossible to be still all the time. He'd taken to pacing around the infirmary, circular routes that always returned to McKay's bed. The others would come and go, too, rotating through their own orbits; Carson, Sheppard, Teyla, the scientist who had all the alcohol... Radek, was it?

Crossing the infirmary, for what was probably the tenth time, he paused as he overheard someone mutter a familiar name.

"He's here to visit Dr McKay. Maybe they're friends..."

There was a laugh then, unpleasant, mirthless, before another man spoke.

"I don't know why... they're nothing alike. McKay's a pain in the butt to everyone here. Prima Donna type, thinks he's a genius."

Ronon turned back to the curtained alcove he had just passed. He moved closer and craned his neck to see around the almost transparent drape.

Two uniformed men sat on a gurney swinging their legs impatiently. Both had their left shirt sleeve rolled up, obviously preparing to recieve a shot. Ronon recognised the second voice as belonging to one of Sheppard's men. The colonel had organised some hand to hand training; Ronon was helping out with it. This soldier he remembered very well - a loud and over-confident young man, who didn't listen; Ronon hadn't thought much of him.

The first man spoke again,

"Well, I heard he is a genius... we need him, that's for sure."

"Scientists! Leave 'em in the lab, I say. 'Specially that one. Wouldn't know his arse from his elbow in a fire-fight. Let me tell you, if he was ever on my team... ? I'd make his life a living hell."

Ronon tensed; his chin dropped and his eyes flicked up.

If he had been Carson he would have let it go; Teyla, then he would have admonished them calmly but sternly; if Sheppard, he would have threatened to put them on report or maybe signed them up for some unpleasant sanitation duties. But, because this was Ronon Dex, proud son of Sateda, friend and protector to Rodney McKay, he simply went straight over there and punched Airman Spinks on the nose.

Blood shot out and down and up... spectacularly. It was an economical blow, delivered quickly and only resulting in slightly bloodied fingers, for Ronon. He calmly wiped them off on the airman's uniform jacket.

"I'm sorry,", and his voice was a flat mechanical growl, "..I tripped."

Spinks' jaw was hanging open, dripping blood as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He seemed to be lost for words.

oOo

"I don't care", he said, sounding bored in a way that only Ronon could.

Just outside the infirmary, Sheppard had cornered him. Inside, Carson was tending to a subdued airman with a broken nose. Both servicemen involved told the same story; that Ronon Dex had tripped on a carelessly discarded bed pan and had fallen into them, so causing the unfortunate injury. Sheppard wasn't buying it, though... nothing about the story rang true. The big man responsible, was standing hunched against the wall, glowering with his arms folded in that familiar get lost, kind of way.

"But you have to care, buddy. This is the military... you can't do that kind of thing - at least, not unless it's to one of the bad guys. Spinks is one of us, Ronon."

"No.", he snapped, eyes flashing, "... he isn't."

John took pity on the man when he saw his hollow eyes and tired demeanour. McKay was not doing well, and they were all waiting for better news. His tone softened,

"Look... Ronon. I hear ya.. I really do, and maybe the little weasel deserved it... but if you're going to fit in here you're going to have to... I dunno, tone it down a little?"

Brown eyes just smouldered...

"Understand?", he tried again.

Ronon made a non-comittal sound, pushed off from the wall, and walked back in to the infirmary.

That grunt he just made... probably meant yes, thought Sheppard, realising that was all he could really hope for today.

oOo

Poison...

Flowing through his veins... sickly, liquid death. It burned him, seared and scorched him; his body was a furnace. Heat and pressure pulsed, to the beating of his heart. Colours swirled, and images formed; of Sheppard; of Elizabeth; of Ronon Dex.

Then... something happened.

As if his veins suddenly ran with cold water, the fire was quenched.

Where was he? Was he alone? He was confused, agitated, tired, scared... he was... warm.

Was he awake? It was dificult to tell; he felt awake.

He could feel something covering his face, making it hard to breathe. He tried to say, get it off, but no sound came and he didn't even think his lips had moved.

The thing on his face was gone; then, it was back... gone... back... gone...

"Leave it...", growled a familiar voice.

Only then did he realise that his right arm was windmilling back and forth to his face... had been doing this for a while, and every time his hand succeeded in scrambling the thing away, it would only appear again.

Anger surged up, and became a single word...

"Off...!", he spluttered breathlessly.

A sudden warmth circled his wrist and his hand was stilled.

"We got back. You're safe...", said the voice, and all at once Rodney identified its owner: Ronon Dex.

Things were slowly becoming clearer; he thought that probably, the thing on his face was an oxygen mask. He was breathing in raspy little catches of air, that hardly felt enough to sustain a kitten, and he could feel sweat standing out on his forehead. He was lying in a bed, in the infirmary, and today, he was missing an organ that he'd had last week.

He heard the shift of booted feet, felt a waft of air as someone moved away, mumbled voices.

He moved his left arm just to see if he could; there was a pinch in his hand and he felt something tug at him... it stung.

Memory flooded back; the hangover that never was, the chill of fever making him shake, his own humiliating weakness, begging for morphine, the smell of vomit, the certainty of death... and through it all the big Satedan, his new team-mate... scary, enigmatic, a man-mountain of strength and capability...

...his salvation.

"Stop yer waggling, Rodney. Ye'll have yer line out.."

Well, that was easy... he knew that voice.

"No talking, lad... for the moment, anyway. Just listen instead. You've been very sick, but you're on the mend now."

As Carson talked, Rodney felt increasingly breathless, and small feelings of panic grew. His eyes were open but all he saw was a blur of watery colour; he realised his hands were clenched and his body seemed to vibrate. Would he shiver and shake right off the bed? He thought he heard a whimper and knew it came from him.

Anyway, Carson must have seen his distress and Rodney heard the doctor rap out an order,

"Let's get this O2 increased... Melissa? Thanks."

There were clicks and swishes.. a wave of coolness crept slowly up his arm, and he began to feel light-headed and strange. He would have giggled if he'd had the breath for it.

A hand came down on his, impossibly large... he could feel its roughness, but its warmth was instant.

"Take it easy, McKay", and Dex's soft rumble sounded to Rodney like scratchy woollen blankets, settling over him.

Rodney was still gasping in little puffs, but that hand was his lifeline.

oOo

"Thanks... for what you did... you know, taking care of me, and all", said McKay, quietly, finding he wasn't able to lift his eyes.

He was sitting up; gone was the oxygen mask of yesterday, and he had just managed to get down half a bowl of clear soup. Rodney could not believe how something so simple as half a bowl of soup could make a body feel so much better.

Ronon gave him one of his looks... it said, you're welcome, we're good... but don't hug me.

They were all slowly learning these non-verbal cues that were part and parcel of Ronon Dex; the one that meant, don't mess with me; the one that said, McKay, you're a jerk; and last but not least, the rare but magnificent, I am amused.

Rodney's team-mates had come and gone. Teyla had just about made his day by leaning over and, with a sparkle in her eyes, kissing him on the cheek. Sheppard had told him that he looked better, but said little more; Rodney was just grateful to see the worry gone from the colonel's face. Ronon was still sitting in the ugly plastic chair that he had made his own over the last few days; it didn't look like he was in a hurry to go anywhere.

"I want to ask you something", said Rodney, hesitation evident in his voice.

"You've been working with Sheppard, haven't you... helping with training?"

Dex nodded.

He felt suddenly foolish, sure that he'd be laughed down, but he continued anyway.

"Think you could... I dunno... train me? .. a bit? .. sometime?"

There was no response; he searched Ronon's face but only found a steady and neutral expression resting there.

Hurriedly, he went on talking, doing what he always did best... blustering.

"I can shoot; I know, theoretically, how to disarm someone; I - I - I know those goofy hand signals; I can dismantle, clean and reassemble my Berretta, and...", at this point he raised a finger dramatically.

"... if you ever need to know, I can show you a great place to dig a latrine."

Dex was now contemplating his feet, his legs stretched out in front of him.

Still McKay was undeterred, as if, once started, this verbal avalanche was unstoppable.

"But, I don't know enough. I need to learn more...stuff. Since I got here, I never wanted to.. learn, I mean. I'm a scientist, not a soldier. Didn't think I could do anything like that, anyways. But things have happened... to me, to all of us, and - and I don't want to let anyone down"

He felt all at once deflated, spent... weary.

"I'm tired of being the weakest link.", he said, hating how petulant he sounded.

Still nothing from the Satedan.

That was it... he'd had enough. The indignant scientist reacted suddenly, throwing up his hands, one clipping the night stand and dislodging an empty plastic beaker. It clattered off... spectacularly loud.

"You think it's hopeless, then? I'm hopeless? For God's sake say something!", he screeched, exasperated and now feeling distinctly tired and grumpy.

Then there was silence; McKay thought Ronon looked like a mystical oracle who'd been asked a really difficult question. He took a measured breath in, and said,

"Back on the planet... everything I said... I meant it."

"Oh", he said, desperately trying to remember what had actually been said. He had to admit, a lot of it was kind of fuzzy. Something about fate and destiny.. there was tea, of all things, and then something about a wife... Ronon's wife.

McKay sensed that now was not the time to bring that up... but he would; friends talked about stuff like that, didn't they?

Heaving himself out of his seat, the Satedan stretched, his toes flexing, arms up and hands touching; he looked like he was about to dive into a swimming pool.

"Let me know when you're ready"

Oh, wow... guess that means yes, then...

"Yeah... great." Rodney was speechless - well, almost.

"You going now?"

"Yeah... get some more rest... you'll need it", and there was a wry twinkle in the man's eye.

He looked closely at McKay for a long moment and then said,

"You'll be alright."

And as he watched his team-mate leave, Rodney thought that perhaps he would be.

The End

Thanks so much for your interest and kind reviews! x