Ophidia
A Stargate Atlantis Fanfic
Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A/N: After all this, I have only one thing to say… I think I make more jokes about Sheppard's sexuality than all other characters combined. And I honestly have no clue why.


Chapter 36: Apropos

It was gradual—

Both the improvement, and the decline.

They could see it now. That never-ending stillness was gone, replaced by what seemed to be a state of unconscious distress. Just a shiver here, a twinge there… A faster pulse and an even lower blood pressure, and Carson was amazed sometimes that the blood was even getting to John's extremities any more. He was losing weight, and at a noticeable rate now. And that damned infection, they'd thought they had fought it off, but it just kept rearing its ugly head…

They were coming in now more often. Without a team to go out with, Teyla and Ronon were hardly gone, except perhaps to sleep; Elizabeth seemed to find trivial reasons to check the state of the infirmary. Even Rodney visited more often than was normal, though he had a habit of disappearing when the colonel started to stir— and stir he did, even reaching semi-consciousness a few times, but each time was hardly long enough to do more than be surprised before he was gone again.

It was progress. But one had to wonder if it would come fast enough… especially when Carson revealed that he wouldn't be attending to John's care any more— realistically, he knew, he should have distanced himself from the start. It didn't keep him from stopping in between rounds on the floor, but still…

It was on one of these rounds, when Carson was doing his final sweep of the infirmary before heading off to bed when he found more than one half-conscious person in Sheppard's room.

Smiling to himself, the Scot leaned against the doorjamb, exchanging a conspiratorial glance with the marine who was standing in the opposite corner before turning to the closer figure. "Ronon. …Ronon!"

The Satedan opened one eye but gave no response.

"You should go sleep in your quarters."

"I wasn't sleeping."

Of course not. This argument was hardly new by this time, and Carson could no longer be annoyed with it, merely exasperated. "I could always have one of the technicians sedate you, then cart you off," he threatened, with mock severity.

"I'm sorry— excuse me," a nurse cut in, trying to slide past the doctor, who quickly apologized and moved for her.

Ronon, meanwhile, seemed to find the idea amusing and let out a somewhat disparaging snort, drawing Carson's attention back to him. "You could try," he corrected.

The doctor just shook his head. "You need your sleep."

"If I need to, I'll sleep here."

"I know you all think the staff won't call you if he wakes up," Carson started, "but you have to believe we will. God, man, if you don't get some real rest soon, you'll be so exhausted you wouldn't notice the colonel wake even if he were to leap up and start doing an Irish jig."

A good deal of that was lost on the other man, whose brows were knitted together but was grinning anyways. He then raised one eyebrow and seemed to lean further back into his seat, daring Beckett to try and move him from it.

Carson just rolled his eyes. "All right, if that's the way it's going to be—"

A sound from the unconscious colonel interrupted, and for a moment, all eyes were on Sheppard. The nurse glanced up apologetically, after she finished administering a syringe of some medicine into a port in the back of the man's right hand.

"He gets restless when we do that. It probably feels funny," she explained, giving a slight shrug of one shoulder.

The groan didn't die, though, instead escalating from barely audible to something a bit more sharp and distinctly strangled, probably from the fact there was a tube going down his throat. Suddenly, his whole body was wracked with a cough that one wouldn't have thought possible from such a debilitated person.

Ronon was on his feet and at the bedside before Carson could even get all the way in the door.

The four of them— even the guard had stepped up to help— managed to hold the colonel in place and keep him from hurting himself; meanwhile the nurse was talking steadily.

"Colonel, you need to stop coughing, you've been intubated, and that's why it feels like there's something stuck in your throat." Apparently, her voice had the calming effect desired, as the cough died down, with Ronon and the marine stepping back to let the medical professionals examine the colonel more closely. "It doesn't look like he dislodged the tube," the nurse was saying. "Although… hello!"

Her eyes widened in mild surprise; Sheppard's were open again. And this time, they didn't flutter closed. Carson watched in amazement as well, forgetting to actually talk to the man for a moment, waiting to see if he would slip back into unconsciousness.

"Colonel Sheppard… can you hear me?" For a moment, it seemed he hadn't, until his eyes slid to one side, and very slowly, he nodded.

"Sheppard!"

John's head actually turned so he could see past Carson, where Ronon was standing, wide grin on his face. The best thing they'd seen so far, he tried to smile himself— impossible to see past the tube and mask, but there was the softer expression around the corners of his eyes that made all these past days of worrying about him waking worth it.

And as much as Carson wanted to immediately begin talking with the man, he knew he had one other duty he needed to perform first.

He quickly tapped at his radio, calling quietly for their expedition leader, while Ronon stepped up to talk with Sheppard. While Carson waited for Elizabeth to respond, he snapped his fingers softly at the nurse. He mouthed the words 'pen and paper' at her, miming the both of them, and she nodded. Suddenly, there was noise coming through his radio again— "Elizabeth!"

Ronon meanwhile had a hand gripping Sheppard's shoulder softly. "Took your time," he remarked, trying not to let his overflowing relief show through.

John pretended to look incensed, as well he could; he couldn't exactly defend himself verbally, though even if he could, it probably wouldn't have made for a very convincing argument. At that moment, the nurse reappeared with a yellow legal pad and a pen which she uncapped and offered to Sheppard. John tried to reach up and take it, but he couldn't get his arm more than six inches off the side of the bed, and even then, his hand swayed around far too much for him to have gotten hold of the stupid thing.

Teeth clenching along with a sudden knot forming in his gut, Ronon watched the nurse patiently take the sickly man's hand in hers, first placing the pen in it then closing his fingers around the instrument. The pad of paper she placed next to him on the bed, then put his hand on it. Sitting up at enough of an angle, John seemed to be able to see the pad well enough to make it work.

All the same, Ronon hated seeing this. He realized his grip on Sheppard's shoulder must have unconsciously tightened, as he felt the man try to shift beneath his hand, and John glanced over at him. From where he sat, Ronon thought the other man looked worried or confused.

Forcing the grin back to his face; "So, you gonna stick around this time?"

Blinking away his confusion, the amused look started to return. With his hand resting on the paper, it was just steady enough, and John began to scratch something out.

Carson was, in the meantime, relating the news in an oddly tight voice, not daring to get too excited.

"He's awake."

"Oh?" Elizabeth seemed pleased at the information, though there was a hint of resignation to her voice; it was hard to tell, when all she said was, "Again?"

Carson exhaled quickly, trying to think of how to say this. "No. I mean, really, actually awake."

"Oh my… That's wonderful!" Suddenly, there was a newfound enthusiasm there that Carson wasn't sure he'd heard in… weeks. He almost hated to say what he did next.

"Aye, but I'm not sure how long it will last," he warned, silently implying that she'd better hurry.

"I understand," she assured him, and he knew that she did, even the implicit bits.

"Could you contact Teyla and Rodney?"

"Of course," she agreed.

"Right… so," Carson started again, clicking off his radio. He looked expectantly between the two teammates.

A wry grin was shot his way from Ronon, who had pulled up his seat and was now straddling it backwards. John was too busy with whatever he was writing— glancing over his frail form, Carson noticed the guard had shifted from his corner; standing, facing the colonel full on. Still, silent, but one hand rested against the hilt of his M9. The physician stared at the weapon for a long moment, before he glanced down.

Despite his obvious joy in seeing his team leader aware again, Ronon had his pistol too. This he didn't want to admit, but… Carson could see the reasoning behind it too. It went against so much of what he believed in and was trained in but still…

John had finished his message by then, only about half a line, but even that was tiring for him. He tried to reach over and pick up the pad, hand it to Ronon to read, but only managed to get a corner up off the bed sheets.

Deftly, the larger man reached over and scooped it up, taking only a moment to read the thing.

'Depends. Am I gonna live?' Ronon had to check the impulse to curl his hand into a fist and crumple the edge of the paper. The question was innocuous and innocent enough— one might have thought Sheppard was making a joke out of it.

But Ronon knew John Sheppard. And his scowl told John what he thought of his question.

"You'd better." The threat hung, unspoken but present. He laid the pad of paper onto Sheppard's stomach.

A dry, muffled laugh bubbled up in John's throat, shaking his chest weakly; he could just imagine Ronon threatening him with death if he didn't survive. The laughter turned to a strangled cough, impeded by the chest tube, and Carson— attention recaptured— quickly shooed Ronon away from John's side, missing the dirty look he received in turn.

"Stop it, now, he's little strength enough. We shouldn't be getting him excited." All the same, he couldn't hide the pleased look on his face, which only seemed to deepen when he took a good look at the man. "Hello, there, Colonel."

He got a feeble wave, and honestly, that about summed up John's condition: feeble, but aware.

"How much of the past two weeks do you recall?"

A slight shake of his head. Not much, he seemed to want to say. 'Bits', he scratched out on the legal pad, before pausing. He seemed to struggle to recall something, apparently not making much progress on that front.

Carson held up one hand; "You've been in and out of consciousness for several days now, though, this is the first time you've stayed awake long enough to communicate."

John looked up at him, patiently— expectantly. Even as weak as he was, he was still fairly sharp. In fact, he seemed to be doing quite well, so Carson could only hope that he was ready to hear what it was he obviously wanted the doctor to tell him, and that it wasn't just 'morning-amnesia' so to speak. The last thing Sheppard needed was more stress. When the gaze didn't fall away— by now, Ronon was staring up at him too— Carson wanted to sigh. It seemed he didn't have a choice, then, did he?

"You're in critical condition," he started. "You do have three gunshot wounds to your torso and upper abdomen, two of which were quite severe. A good deal of your organ systems have shut down or are on the edge of failing. Now, we're fairly sure you can completely recover," he rushed to add, seeing that John had started writing something down, looking a bit worried.

It wasn't what he had expected to see though. 'Goa'uld?' the paper read.

Ronon quickly and firmly asserted, "It's dead."

"It's been removed," the Scot clarified.

John nodded, before resting his head back against his pillow; his expression and his whole body seemed to relax with the relief that stemmed from that one statement. But it wasn't just that, Carson decided after a moment; anyone could see the man was exhausted. That was why he began to protest when John leaned forward again to start writing on the legal pad.

"You should rest now, you've been through quite an ordeal and can't expect to be anywhere close to full form—" Ronon cut off Beckett's tirade with a touch to the arm. The doctor let the words die in his throat, seeing what Ronon saw— John was obviously ignoring him, and still writing something.

That didn't mean he didn't frown. He was thrilled to see the colonel awake and trying to stay with them, but he hardly wanted the man to push himself so far it would set him back again. Though he hardly seemed to have a say in the matter.

"What does it say?" he asked as Ronon leaned forward to get a glimpse of what the colonel had written, sounding for all intents like he was sulking.

"'Scars'." He shot a pensive look up at the smaller man— he knew something about scars, even if his were gone now. Maybe it was unfair to Beckett, but his expression almost demanded assurance that Sheppard's would be too.

Beckett held up both hands— more to reassure John or stave off Ronon, the Satedan didn't know, but turned to address the former. "Since we caught the scars when they were relatively new and were able to treat them properly, yours, and everyone else's will completely heal."

Ronon, whose right hand had never left John's shoulder, gave it yet another squeeze— Carson shot him a disapproving look, probably thought he was giving him a bruise or something, to which Ronon replied with a smirk. He returned his attention to Sheppard, who seemed grateful for the connection. He pulled his left hand up, dragging mostly, to let his fingers rest loosely over Ronon's. Then the Satedan found the other man staring at him, and held that stare until Sheppard finally had to give in to sleeplessness. Even unable to speak, though, the message was clear.

He wasn't exactly used to expressing these things out loud; neither was Sheppard. But he made no move to pull away, even as the latter fell unconscious. He wasn't going to leave him.


It had been two more days, and John was finally starting to feel he was making some progress.

For one, he was staying awake long enough to actually pester the doctors about his condition. He was sure it would have gone faster if he could do more than a handful of words at a time, though, and it was too easy for the medical staff to ignore the most pointed questions or pretend they didn't understand his chicken scratch. As Carson had flat-out told him earlier that day, they didn't want to put any unnecessary stress on him— he was just going to have to trust that thing were under control.

Oh, some of it was obvious. For one, the chest tube forcing air in and out of his lungs, which clearly meant he was on a respirator. It took a little while, but John figured he was getting used to it now. That also meant he was getting any and all nutrition through an IV. All in all, he guessed it was fairly standard, for someone who'd been in a coma— for over a week, best he could figure.

But then there were all sorts of little tubes and ports sticking out all over him, some of which he didn't want to know about, like the one at the right side of his throat; others he wished he didn't know about. Then there were the two little ports on his forearm, the tubes of which were both connected to a machine off to his right. He hadn't had a chance to ask about those, but he could only guess that that red stuff running through the tubes was blood.

Adding to the puzzlement, a young male doctor came in shortly after John awakened this time. It wouldn't have been so strange— it was the same man who had been there yesterday night when John was up once, but he had figured then that it was just the on-call doc, and Carson had gone off to bed. But he was pretty damn sure it was morning now… He tilted his head quizzically at the man as he checked him over, before glancing to his left where Teyla sat.

"This is Dr. Wright," she provided, and said doctor gave an idle wave without looking up from his clipboard.

He quickly wrote, 'Carson?' on the scratch pad, and Teyla shook her head, giving pause before she answered.

She was wondering how to tell him, when the man in question came past the door, catching John's attention and making him struggle to sit up. When Wright frowned as his patient began squirming, Teyla quickly placed a hand on John's chest to ease him back down.

Teyla was about to call after Carson anyways, just to get John to calm himself down, but the short little struggle had attracted his attention anyhow, and he leaned in the door a little ways.

"Ah, how are we doing?"

"Just finishing up," Wright assured him, putting his stethoscope on and resting the diaphragm against John's chest.

The cold of the metal made John flinch, which in turn made the various wounds across his chest light up like someone was holding a branding iron to them. What could he possibly be listening to? I've got a tube down my throat breathing for me, John thought and none-too-kindly, but it was soon over, and Wright pulled away, replacing his 'scope around his neck and jotting down a few more notes.

When he departed, Carson stepped into the room— before he or Teyla got a chance to say anything, the colonel cut in with a gesture, wanting to know what that was all about. John jerked his head towards the door, where Dr. Wright had gone, before giving Beckett a questioning look with his brow furrowed.

He said nothing for a moment. Then; "I'm only overseeing your care, not administering it myself."

John tried not to scowl at the doctor; instead, he reached for the pen, noticing with a bit of pride that he was able to retrieve it without Teyla's help this time. Once he was finished, he pushed the paper towards Beckett.

'Feel better knowing you were my doctor.'

"…I'll still be here if you need me, son. Your routine care will just be handled by someone else, though." He said the words with a calm assurance, but the fact that Beckett had given his medical care over to another doctor seemed to say something of its own.

John watched Carson for a moment, before he rolled his head back and closed his eyes. The Scot exchanged a glance with Teyla, both seeming to think the colonel had had enough and was going back to sleep, when John tilted his head forward and started on the scratch pad. Just needed a moment's rest, the doctor thought, a smile warming his expression. He could feel the warmth dissipate as he bent to read John's message: 'That bad, huh?'

Carson's smile didn't disappear, but he closed his eyes for a moment.

It was Teyla who replied; "John," she started, taking his hands in hers. "You are not well."

He looked between the two of them for a long moment, before pulling one hand away. Both watched him scrawl the words 'I want to know…'; Of course he wanted to know. Beckett supposed, with a silent sigh, that Colonel Sheppard could handle the information fairly well. It didn't mean he should have to, though.

Then John had finished, adding the word 'everything' to the rest of the message. After a pause, he went back and underlined the last word, before staring pointedly at Carson again.

The corner of the doctor's mouth pulled to one side in a frown, but he nodded, regardless.


"That's right… keep coughing," the nurse encouraged him— it was a pleasant change from the usual instructions he would get. It was usually more along the lines of 'Knock it off, before you cough up the chest tube!' then looking at him like he was an idiot.

Oh, and, wait, pleasant? Silly me, John thought. He would have grated it out aloud, but he was in the midst of a coughing spasm so powerful he felt that he might just bring a chunk of his lung up with the tube. As it was, he felt like he was choking, despite the fact that he could still breathe through it.

At last, the damned thing slid free, and John fought to take a deep breath. Instead, he kept hacking, doubled almost completely over; dimly, he was aware of someone patting him on the back after a few moments, and eventually, he was able to calm his breathing back to a sand-papery rasp.

"Your throat will be sore for a good period of time," the nurse told him, and John glanced up at her with an inscrutable look on his face. Used to it, she continued; "It may feel for a little while like your breathing has gotten worse, but that's just because your lungs have gotten accustomed to having something else doing the work for them. It'll pass." And with that, she smiled and went to remove the respirator tube from the room.

"Yeah," John agreed aloud, dismayed at the sound of his voice— for a moment, he rubbed at his throat, before adding, "no sweat. I'll be out of here in no time."

An amused sound came from his left. The colonel looked over to see Dr. Weir wearing that 'Who you think you're you kidding?' look.

"He can't keep me here forever," John insisted; if he couldn't wear Carson or Dr. Wright down, he knew he could at least try and wheedle some sympathy from Elizabeth. The argument was somewhat weakened, though, by the fact that he sounded— and was— completely out of breath.

The woman had stopped by when she'd gotten word that today was the 'big day'. She couldn't contain a grin at John's arguments— he was almost like a little kid, trying to convince a parent to let them do something they shouldn't.

John missed the expression; "And I'm not exactly going to get stronger by staying in bed all day and getting fed through…" He gestured helplessly towards the IV line on his neck.

Elizabeth tilted her head forward, still smiling but entreating John to be serious for a moment. "They just don't want you to push yourself too hard. We all know you want to get out of here and get back on your feet," she added, sympathetically— funny, despite that, this wasn't exactly turning out how John had hoped— "And I know its hard, but you need to be patient."

"I am getting better," John muttered, checking the urge to cross his arms in front of him. God, he was sulking. Even realizing that, it didn't change his attitude. He had to pretend he wasn't panting though, and again stole some of the effectiveness from his display.

Instead of getting annoyed with his sullenness, though, Elizabeth placed one understanding hand on his arm. "I know," she said quietly. "We'd just like you to keep getting better."

John nodded along, even though it was reluctantly. Then, as a thought occurred to him, he seemed to brighten a bit. "Hey, they took me off the uh…" He paused to cough a couple of times, waving off Elizabeth's concern. "Ah, the uh, hemodialysis, yesterday."

"Yes, I heard," the woman assured him, smiling widely once more, concealing that twinge of worry.

"Now if I could just get them to get rid of this thing," he added, fiddling with the total-parenteral-nutrition line— the little tube going into his jugular vein.

She swatted at his arm; "Quit playing with it," she warned.

John looked hurt; "Come on, Elizabeth. I mean, it's not just uncomfortable," he complained, "it's creeping me out. And, I mean, now that I'm off the respirator, it's not like I can't just eat." What he didn't add was that the staff had informed him his digestive system had pretty much shut down while he was in his little medical coma. Considering his small intestine had been punctured by a bullet, Wright had informed him, he was in no hurry to taking him off the intravenous line.

Elizabeth got daily medical reports, though, so she wasn't exactly buying it.

Letting out a frustrated sigh— which of course prompted another round of coughing and wheezing— John leaned back against his bed, the back of which had been angled upwards so he could sit up without too much trouble. "See, this is why Carson won't treat me," he muttered. "'Cause he doesn't want to feel guilty for putting me through all this."

A half-suppressed laugh made John pretend to glare at her. "Somehow, I think there's more to it than that," she added, with one arched eyebrow.

"Yeah," John shot back. "He knows that when I turn on the puppy-dog eyes, I can talk him out of anything."

Elizabeth winced at his choice of words; "I don't think Carson needs a reminder of that," she pointed out.

John paused for a second, mouth hanging open, to rethink what he had just said. When it registered, he closed his eyes, wincing as well. "Right… Don't use that argument to try and get out of the infirmary," he noted, a little sheepish.

The diplomat shook her head, a wry grin adorning her face. Then her expression softened as she thought it over a moment. "You know, Dr. Heightmeyer wants to speak with you within the next few days." John couldn't help but grimace, but quickly tried to cover it up— he had suspected something like this would be coming, now that he was capable of staying awake for a couple hours at a time. Pretending she hadn't noticed, Elizabeth went on; "I'll talk to Carson… if he thinks you're capable, I'll see about having you go down to her office for it instead of her coming here."

For a moment, John couldn't reply— he was trying to make sense of what Elizabeth had just offered him. For one, he noticed, she had said Carson, not Dr. Wright, who she had to have known would flat out refuse. That alone buoyed his hopes.

However, the whole thing came with a quid pro quo— the only way he was getting out of here, even for just a while, was to go talk to the psychologist. And the trip to Heightmeyer's office wasn't exactly the excursion he had had in mind… still. John nodded, a bit numbly, before grinning. "That… would be awesome."

Elizabeth tried not to roll her eyes at his choice of descriptor; "You're welcome," she replied, tone heavy with irony. John just beamed back at her in that charming, annoying way.

She finally gave in and let out a laugh. "You're full of it," she remarked, prompting a rather hurt look from John. It didn't matter though… for the first time in a while, Elizabeth wasn't doubting that Colonel Sheppard was going to recover… if only through sheer stubbornness.


John sat impatiently on his bed; this time, to his immense relief, it was Carson Beckett and a nurse seeing to him, instead of Dr. Wright. Not that the guy wasn't a competent doctor… he was just boring. And, John added silently, impossible to cajole.

For the moment, though, his curiosity won out over cajolement, as he watched the nurse remove the nutrition bag.

Glancing over at Carson on his other side, he joked, "What, gonna let me try and eat later, too?"

In truth, it was probably just so he wouldn't have to bring three dozen IV stands with him to his interview with Kate Heightmeyer, but hey, a guy could hope—

"Possibly," Beckett remarked, flatly and without weight.

"…Wait. Seriously?"

Sheppard saw the nurse smile at his incredulity; honestly, he didn't care. The possibility that he might get to regain yet another bit of normalcy in his life was enough to drown out any indignation he might have felt

"Possibly!" Beckett repeated, though he looked amused as well. "It depends on how well you're doing after your session with Dr. Heightmeyer. All right dear," he said, turning to the nurse and handing her the length of tubing that had connected the bag to Sheppard; "That should be it." She departed.

John, on the other hand, was starting to frown. That's it? What about… "Hey, if I get to try and eat, don't I get this taken out?" John looked quite indignant now, and Carson could guess well enough what this was supposed to mean. While the tubing and bag were being disconnected, the port was staying in.

"Just because you're capable of eating doesn't mean your system is going to be able to handle everything; you may not even be capable of keeping anything down," Carson warned, and John made a face at the image he got from that. "Besides, that will be later. For now," he continued, "we're just detaching part of the line so you can leave the infirmary." A moment later he had done so, and Sheppard twisted his neck experimentally. Still uncomfortable, but not unworkable.

"Great!" John started to swing his feet over the side of the bed, only to be stopped again.

"Ah! Not like that, you're not."

Sheppard's forehead crinkled with his confusion. He glanced down. "What, how I'm dressed?"

Making a loud noise of frustration, Carson rolled his eyes. "No, not how you're dressed, I don't give a damn how you're dressed. I meant walking."

The change in John's expression was instantaneous. "Aw, come on—"

"No arguing." Beckett was holding up a single warning finger. It was clear, there was no room for fighting this one. "It's in a wheelchair or not at all. We're not going to have you killing yourself by running all across the City."

"I am not going to kill myself."

"I know. Because you'll be in a wheelchair." He made another warning sound. "You still want to try eating later?"

Sheppard gave him an incredulous look, but no argument; he was too busy gaping in shock. Satisfied, Carson turned to make some notes on John's file on the desk nearby. "That is blackmail," the man said at last, voice heavy with accusation.

"I know," Carson replied cheerfully.

He didn't quite expect John's angry response. "Why won't anyone let me even try to push myself, just a little harder?" Beckett spun, but not fast enough to cut off Sheppard's next words. "I'm going no where!"

"Are you so determined to get better that you're going to push yourself to your breaking point like an idiot?" Carson demanded.

"Why does everyone think I'm going to break??" John demanded right back.

"Because you will!"

Both men's attention was suddenly caught by movement at the doorway— the nurse had returned, and just as quickly, halted when she caught their argument. Before either could say anything, she had backpedaled out the door. Carson watched her go, before turning back to Sheppard, who looked away, slouching where he sat. Feeling a twinge of frustration, Carson strode over to the door and waved his hand across the panel next to it, waiting for it to close before he tried to reach the colonel again.

"You know you will," he clarified. "Is that what this is all about?" Beckett asked all of a sudden. "You're worried you're not going to make it, and you're desperate to fight this?" Sheppard didn't turn to face him, but he saw his expression tighten. When he got no reply, Carson went on to ask, almost disparagingly, "Or are you actually trying to get yourself killed?"

"No!" John replied hotly, finally looking at Beckett and now sounding offended. "That's not…" He seemed to struggle with the answer, and gave up, sighing loudly. Carson waited a beat before he tried to respond.

"John. You've made progress. But you're not out of the woods yet." The other man's eyes slid shut, and he slumped even further over. Carson crossed back to him and put one arm across his shoulder— "I know you don't want to think about it. It's hard to deal with. Trust me," he added, with earnestness. "I know."

John just shook his head. "It's like no matter how hard I try, I'm accomplishing nothing."

"If you try too hard," Beckett broke in, "you'll be working against yourself."

"I know," Sheppard said in a soft voice. "But if I don't, then nothing happens either. Like… I dunno. I'm running up a slippery slope. I can try to go half way or all the way, I just end up right back at the bottom." He let out an exasperated sigh. "Hell, I feel even weaker now than I did a week ago."

Carson reminded him, "That's to be expected, Colonel; you've been taken off of practically all life support—"

"Yeah well the machines were doing a better job of it than I am."

"…Well, yes," Carson admitted, with a hint of a smile. "They were machines. But you will get better."

The other man was unconvinced. "Hardly seems worth it—"

"Don't you dare." Startled, John glanced up at Beckett, who now looked almost angry at what was implicit in those four words.

"…All… all right." He nodded, looking truly sheepish. "Fair enough." Carson seemed to relax; John hadn't really meant it. The man in question tried to force a smile to assure him of this. Then, his expression shifted, as he thought of something new. "Y'know, speaking of how I'm dressed…"

The other man's eyebrows came together in confusion, before he realized what John was getting on about. "Oh for heaven's sake, didn't I just tell you I don't give a damn how you're dressed?"

"Exactly!" John leaned forward, entreatingly. "So why should it matter if I'm wearing different clothes?" He was desperate to get out of these stupid hospital scrubs. When Carson seemed to balk, he adjusted his request; "Just a pair of sweat pants and some sneakers, then. Please?"

After a few moments, Carson rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'll send someone to pick them up from your quarters. And then one of the nurses will help you dress."

Sheppard pretended to perk up with interest. "Really. Which one?"

"One of the male nurses," Carson corrected, dryly, and John seemed to deflate.

"Doc. I know we're checking for signs of personality change here," he said as the Scot started to depart the room. He called after, "But I don't think I'm that far gone!"


It was maybe thirty minutes later, and John was drumming his fingers on his thighs impatiently.

"Quit that, you're ruining the reading," the nurse admonished him. "We're going to have to wait for it to correct itself," she added, and John shifted uncomfortably.

He should have known this was all too easy. He was disconnected and doped up and even changed into some of his own clothes— admittedly, sweats, running shoes, and a white scrubs top was not his preferred choice of apparel, but it was better than the all white, mental-facility-outpatient look— now all he needed to do was get in the damned wheelchair and get pushed to Heightmeyer's office.

But no. It couldn't be that simple. Carson was running one more barrage of tests on him. Currently, he had a blood pressure cuff around one arm, and a thermometer under his tongue, which he was sure had already gotten a reading, and the nurse was just leaving there so he couldn't talk.

Finally, it seemed, they had gotten all the readings they could possibly get— "Got enough to make another me?" he quipped as Carson came back into the room.

"Hardly. Now, we're just going to bring the wheelchair in, and—"

"Carson, I can walk out into the infirmary," John replied, sounding a little disgusted with the level of mothering he was getting from the man.

And, true to form, Carson asked, "Now what did we just talk about?" John was waiting for him to add, young man, but luckily it never came so he could avoid retching.

Instead, he said, a bit waspish though it was, "I am perfectly capable of standingup." And just to give Beckett a heart attack, he scooted off the edge of the infirmary bed and did just that; true, he was unsteady for a moment, but he only needed to catch himself on the infirmary bed once before he was able to stand without it. Grinning in triumph, the colonel gave a cocky smile.

"What do you think you're doing? Standing is one thing," he said, cutting off John's reply, "Walking is another."

"It's twenty feet," Sheppard said, gesturing helplessly towards the door.

"Fine!" Carson threw his hands up in the air, and John grinned like the Cheshire Cat, knowing he'd won. "And forgive me when I laugh as you fall flat on your face in the process!"

"Will do," John assured him in his patently annoying-yet-cheerful way.

He made it from the bed to the door easily enough— Crap, didn't realize this was going to pull at the stitches so badly, he thought to himself, fighting to conceal the expression of pain on his face. Carson moved to try and help him when he leaned against the wall momentarily, but then Sheppard pushed off from it, determined to do at least this much on his own.

He walked a bit faster than maybe he should have out into the main infirmary, where he saw Teyla and Ronon standing with the nurse, who had the wheelchair. By the time he reached them, his heart was pounding in his chest, but he wore a grin anyways, pathetically proud of what he'd just accomplished. "Hey guys," he said, casually, sounding only a little out of breath.

"John, this is… incredible!" Teyla sounded delighted, which made the colonel's grin spread even wider.

Ronon's only comment was, "Nice," but it was more than enough for Sheppard.

"Oh, I try," he said in an offhand manner.

"All right," Carson cut in, "enough of that. Let's get that chair set up," he instructed the nurse, who nodded and unfolded the thing.

"You know, Beckett even promised to let me try eating later," John continued, ignoring the fact that the doctor was now trying to get him into the wheelchair, and that he was perceptibly swaying where he stood.

His friends' happiness was clouded by worry now, and John felt a surge of disappointment that they weren't as excited over the news as he'd hoped they'd be; Beckett came up beside him and placed one hand on his shoulder. "Maybe. Now sit," he ordered. "I'm still not sure you're up to this, so let's not get ahead of ourselves."

John frowned, looking almost betrayed. The hell? "Oh come on, you already agreed to let me out of the infirmary." No, forget betrayed; angry. They had already been over this! Hadn't he just proved that he wasn't as fragile as they all thought he was?

"For the afternoon. You have to take this in baby steps, colonel, and frankly, I don't like how hard you're pushing yourself!" Carson shot right back.

Whatever John was about to say was cut off as he suddenly winced in pain. Then, he was doubled over, breathing heavy, one hand at his chest. Immediately, there were hands on each of his arms; Sheppard tried to push them back. He just needed to catch his breath. Just needed—

Shit! Sheppard lit out a hiss as another stab of pain went through his torso, but that too was interrupted, this time by a cough, which made the pain practically roll across his chest in waves. God, he could barely breathe now.

His eyes were starting to roll back in his head when his knees gave out— someone caught him before he hit the floor and people started yelling, but John was too busy fighting off unconsciousness to hear what they were saying. He clenched his eyes shut, trying to make his body respond to what he wanted it to do.

Damn it! It felt like someone was sitting on his chest. He tried to thrash away, and felt himself fall a short distance— must have pulled away from whoever had him, but they caught him again— but that pressure didn't ease up. John opened his eyes again, and all he really saw were patches of black and spots of color. He thought he could feel someone's hand on his chest, and tried to push it away, but his hands wouldn't move how he wanted them to.

"He's going into tachycardia!"

Everything felt wrong— vertigo, John knew, being a pilot, they put you through all sorts of shit and he hated getting vertigo. Part of him wanted to just close his eyes and fall back into unconsciousness, which would have been eminently easier and less painful, he was sure. Then, like someone had flipped a switch, the pressure began to ease— though something in his left arm hurt like a bitch, and he tried to pull away from that. The muffled sounds around him began to clear.

"Damn it!" Beckett was saying, and John just knew he was blaming himself. "This is why you can't push yourself, John! Come on, help me get him back in his room, I'm going to call Heightmeyer and—"

"No," John managed to get out, trying his hardest to push whoever was 'helping' him away. "No, don't. I'm okay."

Blinking repeatedly, his vision swam to the point of being nauseating, before seeming to resolve itself into Ronon and an orderly, supporting him on either side, and then Teyla and Beckett and that pretty nurse whats-her-name out in front, watching him with great levels of worry on their faces.

"No you're not," Carson said in a high voice, sounding as though John had just tried to leap off a bridge instead of— what was it he had said? Falling on his face. "You're going to go rest— I knew this was a bad idea," he muttered to himself.

John looked back and forth between his friends, wondering why they weren't backing him up on this. "I look worse than I am," he assured the lot of them.

Teyla was shaking her head. "John, you do not realize—"

Growing irritated, he cut her off. "Look, I almost passed out, but I didn't—"

"Pass out?" Carson's vehemence and incredulity surprised John a little. "You didn't just 'almost' pass out, your heart almost stopped!"

That was news to Sheppard, who could do nothing more than blink for a few seconds in shock. Then all he could think of to say, was, "What?"

Carson let out a quick breath, not quite keeping the tremor from it, and Sheppard felt a pang of guilt. This was all because he had insisted on walking to the stupid chair, when they could have just brought it to him— "All right," the doctor was saying, "help him up," and he felt himself being lifted from either side.

"Wait! Wait, no!" The tech didn't look like he was going to comply, but Ronon stopped to listen, and John made sure most of his weight was leaned towards that side. "Look… I'm sorry," he said first, knowing that might make all the difference. And he was— "I just let myself get excited… I can still do this," he said, trying make Carson see. And he really was sorry… The silence seemed to stretch on and on, until Sheppard was sure he was going to collapse again, and prayed Carson would at least answer before then, or else he'd have no chance of getting out of here for another week. He needed to show Beckett that he could deal with this… He'd made a mistake, but it wasn't going to beat him.

"…All right," Carson said at last, giving in. "Get him in the chair," he added for Ronon and the orderly, shaking his head and wondering what the hell he was doing.

Sheppard allowed himself to be settled in the thing without even fussing, eminently relieved to be sitting before he fell on his ass. "Carson… thanks," he said, and the doctor just exhaled loudly, turning away to be alone with his thoughts. "You know, now that I think of it," John commented easily, "the wheelchair might just be a good idea."

He kept his smile even when Beckett turned and glared at him. Even when Beckett walked over, clearly unamused. Then Beckett smacked him upside the head—

"Ow! What was that for??"

Ignoring the other man's complaints; "An orderly and nurse are going to accompany you down there… and Teyla and Ronon as well, I assume," he added, seeing the latter straighten up when it was presumed they would be leaving their friend behind.

"The session's supposed to be private," Sheppard was quick to remind him.

Carson raised one eyebrow. "Then someone will wait for you outside her office."

Predictably, the colonel began to balk. "Look, it's probably going to be a while— too long to ask someone to wait. I'll radio for one of you when I'm done," John assured him.

And… Carson wasn't buying it. "I'll have Kate radio me when you're done," he corrected.

To Beckett's dismay and Sheppard's delight, Ronon bent down and said, "Radio one of us," he said, gesturing to himself and Teyla.

"You're not helping," Carson muttered.

Ronon grinned and Teyla smiled, stepping towards John. Then, quietly, she asked, "You are sure you do not want us to wait for you there?"

God, this is going to be hard enough without thinking you're right outside the door. Instead, he said, "This is probably going to take forever. Go get some lunch or something…"

The look Teyla gave him told him she was suspicious, but luckily, John was saved by Ronon, who said, "We thought we'd wait and have lunch with you. You did say you were going to let him try eating;" he turned to the doctor— "didn't you?"

When the Scot didn't answer, Sheppard did. "Yes, well;" John glanced over at Beckett, who was regarding the three of them with a sidelong glance; he was pretty sure the man cursing him for telling Teyla and Ronon; if he hadn't, there would have been no witnesses, and he could have pretended he never agreed to it. "Leaving the infirmary and eating in the mess hall? Not sure Napoleon would let me."

"Keep that up," Carson warned, "and I can tell you exactly what the answer's going to be!"

John held up his hands in surrender. "I'm behaving!" Then Ronon was behind the wheelchair, and they were headed for Heightmeyer's office. Even with the hassles he was putting up with, and considering where he was going, Sheppard's face was lit with a grin. He tilted his head all the way back, glancing up at the large man above him. "Y'know, I didn't know you did a chauffeur service."

Ronon snorted at him. "Don't get used to it."


Surprisingly, it didn't take quite as long as John had guessed. I didn't take long for him to realize this wasn't going to work. At all.

And where was that enthusiasm now?

Question after question, she pressed in and drug up things Sheppard had battened down. At one point, he was oddly reminded of the Goa'uld, and felt suddenly sick.

"Going back to the cell— what were you thinking, particularly about your teammates and colleagues?"

"I… I wished they would bring me a cot or something," he offered, but Heightmeyer didn't seem quite that amused. "I don't know, I wasn't focused on them so much as the parasite."

"Even though the parasite wasn't in you?" One eyebrow was arched.

John fumbled over his answer. "I… guess. I mean, I didn't know it wasn't…" What had seemed so plausible before now sounded just stupid. "Everyone thought it was in me— okay, I guess I was angry about that." Duh, idiot, he told himself and winced. "Frustrated that everyone was treating me like the enemy." Heightmeyer nodded along, jotting down notes. John hesitated for a moment, before he piped up. "Dr. Heightmeyer—"

"Kate," she insisted. "What is it?" the psychologist asked gently after.

His face resolved itself into an uneasy smile. "Never mind… I forget."

She watched him carefully for a few long moments, but he wasn't forthcoming; Kate was left with little to do but pick up where she left off. "Do you think that experience caused you to change your feelings about any one person or thing in particular? Even if only temporarily," she added.

"I…" Damn it, now his voice was shaking? "I hated the Goa'uld… what I— it had done to me," he quickly corrected.

And Heightmeyer didn't miss a beat. Flipping back several pages; "You said before, you blamed yourself 'for letting it in'," she read. "You hated what happened, and yet, you think it happened because of you?"

Unable to hide his disturbance now, but still feebly trying, John muttered, "I never said that…"

"All right… What do you feel about it?" she asked then, poising her pen over her paper. "Now, for instance, looking back… would you have done anything differently?"

John hesitated… and suddenly found he couldn't answer. Couldn't, didn't want to— he just wanted to get out of there. And the whole thing went downhill from there.

With answers ranging from monosyllables to 'I don't know', the session started to wrap up quickly— despite all her efforts and frustration, Kate just couldn't coax any more out of him. John felt bad, but he couldn't help but feel there was nothing he could do either.

It seemed they had at last reached the end— both of the interview, and their respective wits.

Heightmeyer flipped through several pages, chin resting tiredly on one hand. Then she let the book rest and looked up at him. "And that's it?"

"Look, Doc— Kate," he amended with an bit of exasperation before she could correct him. "That's all… I swear," he added, for all the good it did. John was lying and they both knew it, but Kate felt as if it really was all he was capable of sharing… it wasn't pride or shame. He had just locked up. It was the exact same problem she had encountered with the other heads of staff, only now in full force— and after everything the colonel had been through, the psychologist could understand his open aversion to her attempts to delve into his mind.

"…All right then."

For his part, John was surprised, then suspicious, when Dr. Heightmeyer gave in that easily. But then… She was a psychologist… maybe she understood this more than even he did. God, John could only hope she did. He tried to relax his body, sink further into the chair, but his chest ached and the bandages pulled painfully.

Heightmeyer was filling out a piece of paper work, then typing something into her computer. John tried to wait patiently; he even tried to politely hold back the cough that his lungs were trying to force out. Tried, at any rate.

Finally, she pulled out a small pad of medical slips, and scribbled something down. Is it over yet? he wondered. Damn it, should have asked Rodney what to expect— well, except, that would require, y'know… getting to talk to McKay.

And apparently, something was very wrong between the two of them. Either that, or McKay had disappeared off the face of the planet.

Kate handed him the slip of paper. It took a moment for John to realize it, and he hastily reached forward, hating how his hand shook as he tried to take the stupid thing. He finally managed to snatch it, and pulled it back to give it the once over.

His eyes went wide for a moment, before they narrowed in accusation; glaring up at Kate, he demanded, "You can't be serious?"

"Colonel," she started.

"No," he snapped. "This is bullshit." He pushed himself up out of his chair, swaying for one uncertain moment before he was able to catch his balance.

"Sit back down," Heightmeyer ordered in a voice that might have cowed someone else; if John hadn't been so damned pissed, he might have listened anyways.

But as it was, he was practically fuming. "No," he repeated, a sarcastic and unamused smile on his face that faded as he went on. "I am not going to accept this." And with that he turned on a heel, and stormed out of her office.

He could hear Kate yell from behind him, following him out into the corridor, "Colonel Sheppard! John!" but ignored her, as well as his own heavy breathing. He could hear the psychologist break into a run, coming after him, but didn't stop.

And she might just have caught up with him, if her office wasn't so close to a transporter. John slumped against the back panel as the door slid shut, unable to feel satisfaction from ditching the psychologist like he did. The transporter did its thing, and the door opened onto a new hallway, but he didn't move to leave just yet. Glancing down, Sheppard saw the slip of paper from just a minute ago, now half-wadded up like a piece of garbage in his hand. God, he wanted to throw it away— wanted to burn it, more like. Instead, he just sighed, resting his head against the wall.

She could not be serious.


"So no more inclement weather in the 'Gate Room." The old sarcasm was back, and the expedition leader had to force herself not to smile— what Rodney said wasn't that funny, and he'd guess easily enough that she was more amused by his antics than his words.

So all she said was, "Pity. I was hoping to see a rainbow one of these mornings."

Rodney snorted, rolling his eyes, and Elizabeth indulged in a grin. "Yes well, I'm afraid you'll have to do without."

"That's quite a sacrifice you're asking me to make."

"You know, I never pegged you as the 'unicorns and rainbows' type."

"I'm not," Elizabeth replied, a bit of a sly grin on her face. "Nor am I the 'indoor waterfall' type."

It had taken a while to find a way to cover the Jumper Bay's upper doors while the replacements were under construction— it wasn't so much that it rained down into the Control Room. Rather, it rained into the Jumper Bay, which then poured down all the collected water at once whenever a Jumper needed to be used. They had tried to refrain from using the ships; however, Elizabeth had finally put her foot down and put Rodney on the problem, much to his consternation. This was a problem for Zelenka, or one of the engineers… when that hadn't worked, he had reasoned, why not just leave it as a water feature?

Rodney's expression tightened a little at her unspoken jab, and Elizabeth came right out and laughed. "Good work, Rodney," she said at last, to hopefully placate the incensed scientist. "I appreciate it."

As usual, the ego stroking served to mollify some of his irritation, though to Elizabeth's dismay, he wasn't quite going to let her off that easy. Tilting his head and holding a finger to his ear, he asked, "Excuse me, what? What was that? I don't think I quite caught that last bit."

Her expression now looking more than a little admonishing as he started fishing for compliments; "Rodney" Then suddenly, her eyes were wide and her face was blank, and the woman was staring at something over Rodney's shoulder. He started to spin to look, but hadn't turned all the way around when Elizabeth exclaimed, "John!"

Colonel Sheppard was storming across the control area, at least as well as he could. He was angry, that much they could see, and clearly headed for Elizabeth's office— all of a sudden, when he got fairly close, he ground to a halt, the same shocked expression on his face as on theirs. The only difference, Rodney noticed, was that John was staring at him.

The man was starting to backpedal, but before he could wheel around, Elizabeth was up and at the door, and she had the advantage of being at full health. "John! No, come in," she insisted, even as he tried to run off. "You're not in the infirmary!"

"Yeah, I was doing so well…" The colonel hesitated. "I, uh… really, it's not important," he said, almost sheepishly. "Seriously, it was… it was nothing."

"All the same," Elizabeth said, now firmly, taking the few steps towards him and gently taking hold of his arm— it wasn't like John could even pull away, either, to his disgust. "We haven't had the chance to really talk to you for so long."

It was obvious she wasn't going to let him take off, now that she'd caught him out of the infirmary without an excuse. It wasn't that he minded that, so much, as… He really didn't know how he was going to deal with Rodney, as the man had seemingly been avoiding him like the plague. And he really didn't want to talk about what he had come here for with the man there. So, it was reluctantly that John let himself be led into the small office.

"Rodney," he greeted, awkwardly. "Look, you guys were talking about something important, I don't want to interrupt—"

The scientist was already up out of his seat, even as Elizabeth took hers. "It wasn't and you're not," he said, brusquely. "Sit."

Trying to sound defiant, John replied, "I'm fine standing." He ended up sounding like he was whining.

Making a sound of disparagement; "Please. You're about to fall over, now sit before you collapse and we have to call Carson and his flying monkeys." John stubbornly refused to listen, though he did give in enough to put one hand on the back of the chair and lean on it. Rodney caught himself giving the colonel a glare, and quickly changed it into rolling his eyes.

Elizabeth had been watching this exchange carefully, and she wore a measured look of disapproval when John declined to sit, but… Short of physically forcing him into the chair, there's not a lot we can do. From the looks of things, though, that wouldn't have been too hard. In fact, he was breathing pretty heavily…

"So, what was it you needed to see me about?" she asked, trying to keep her voice amiable.

"Nothing," John said, innocently, though his free hand tightened, and Elizabeth only then noticed that there was something— a piece of paper, it seemed— clutched there, now getting well and truly crumpled. Weir was ready to call him on it, when she noticed that his whole body seemed to be trembling.

"John? Are you all right?" she asked, rising half way back out of her chair.

The soldier was about ready to reply with another 'I'm fine,' when he suddenly realized he wasn't. Breathing was suddenly getting a lot harder. His hands starting to clench, as he tried to steady himself, only— they wouldn't. He didn't even have the strength for that.

Breaths now coming as panting, John heard Elizabeth and Rodney calling his name, and his vision started to darken.

No, no, not again, come on… He was trying to focus, to pull himself together and force his overtaxed body to relax. After a while, it seemed to work. John opened his eyes— opened? He hadn't even realized he had closed them.

And now he was… staring at the ceiling? Elizabeth and Rodney were leaning over him.

"Wha…?" John's eyebrows drew together, not understanding.

"Are you all right?" Elizabeth's face was full of worry; John was just trying to figure out what had happened.

"Yeah I… think so. Did I fall or something?"

She just smiled pityingly at his confusion. "You had a moment there." Elizabeth had taken his hand, trying to help him sit up— to the colonel's vast embarrassment, he couldn't muster the strength to do so, and struggled for a moment. Then she and Rodney had each taken an arm and pulled him into a sitting position. "You had us worried," she added, giving the colonel a stab of guilt.

He rubbed one hand self-consciously across the back of his head, before he jerked his hand away a few inches, like he had touched a live wire. Trying to act natural, John closed his hand into a fist and brought it down to his lap, smiling sheepishly; Rodney and Elizabeth knew full well what he had touched that provoked the reaction, and said nothing.

Trying to steer the conversation away from this new source of awkwardness, he said, "Well, sorry. Guess I overdid it a little."

Quirking one eyebrow upwards, Elizabeth asked, "You think?"

"Hm, yes, just a little, though it was very subtle, barely noticeable," Rodney said dryly, rummaging around for something. John took the opportunity to shoot a helpless glance at Elizabeth while Rodney was distracted. She grinned back, but was saved from having to reply as the scientist looked back up at them, producing a piece of paper and holding it out for John. "Oh, by the way, you dropped this."

Sheppard's eyes widened in alarm, before he snatched it from Rodney's hand as best he could, glaring at the scientist, who went from looking worried to offended.

"Wha— It's not like I read it! God, you can be such a little kid sometimes," he added in a mutter as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Elizabeth cleared her throat, before the two of them could get into a bickering match. "John," she started, before pointing at the slip he was clutching so possessively. "Can I assume that's what this was all about?" The question was rather pointed.

And again, he wouldn't admit anything, shifting to try and stuff the little paper in his pocket, acting nonchalant. "It's not important."

Rodney was blatantly unconvinced. "It was obviously important enough that you had to run down here then get yourself so worked up you fainted—"

"I did not faint!" John protested.

"It's the proper medical terminology," Rodney reminded him smugly.

"Boys." Elizabeth was not amused; the two of them looked chagrined enough that she let it go one more time, but her patience was steadily wearing thin. Sighing, she turned to John. For a moment, she held his gaze— silently, he pleaded with her.

She held out her hand.

Despairing, John continued to watch her for a moment longer, before he finally gave in. Digging back into his pocket, he pulled out the abused little slip of paper, handing it to Elizabeth without looking at her.

Her reaction was almost the same as his when she read it— "She put you—"

"Elizabeth!" John wanted to kick himself for sounding that petulant, but he really didn't want everyone to know. He desperately didn't want anyone else to know.

Rodney, meanwhile, was looking quite offended and a little hurt. "Oh, yeah, thanks. Sitting right here, you know?" he added, waving his hand a little.

Elizabeth shot him an apologetic look, but she wouldn't say whatever it was that Sheppard was obviously keeping from him. Returning her gaze to John, she said, "There's nothing I can do about this."

Apparently, this was something really awful, as John just about exploded. "Come on!"

His incredulous outburst did nothing to sway Elizabeth, who had taken that, 'It's my decision and it's final' look, and this time, even as he protested, John knew that he wasn't going to win this one. "If that is Dr. Heightmeyer's professional opinion—"

"This is completely unnecessary—"

"Then that's what we're going to do," Elizabeth continued, raising her voice above the colonel's and giving him the cold stare that told him, he'd better back off, and now. "And you're not going to keep fighting this."

Appearing somewhat wounded, John gave it one last try. "Elizabeth," he pleaded, but it wasn't going to work this time.

"Drop it, John," she said, and that was that. "Personally," she added after a long silence, and just a hint softer; "I think Kate's right."

Rodney watched as John's expression changed into something aghast, and had to wonder just what Heightmeyer had written about him. Geez, it couldn't have been that bad, could it? He'd had his fair share of poor psych reports, and hell, he'd just gotten over them. Feeling completely out of the loop, he coughed once, awkwardly. The scientist had to repress a sarcastic remark when both Elizabeth and John started, as though they had forgotten he was there.

Trying not to get annoyed, he acted as if it hadn't happened, blithely changing the subject back to John's condition. "Maybe we should be calling Carson? Before Captain Unconscious here gets himself excited again."

Composing herself, Elizabeth nodded, while John shot Rodney a dirty glare. "I did not faint." Appealing to the diplomat again, he gave her one of those looks. "Come on, cut me some slack here, would you?"

"You passed out in the middle of my office," she reminded him.

"Fainted."

"Rodney."

"I collapsed. I wasn't even unconscious," he added, with more than just a little resentment.

Rodney gave a skeptical laugh that earned him another glare from John, and a disapproving look from Elizabeth. "Oh yes you were. And you can staunchly refuse all you like on the off chance that it will make it true, but I somehow doubt that's going to happen."

"I wasn't," John repeated, even as he started to think that maybe he had in fact lost consciousness, even if he hadn't realized it at first. Then, aware that he was beginning to sound like a two-year old again, what with the 'Did not!' 'Did too!' back and forth, John tried to explain the whole thing away. "Look, I was just… I don't have a lot in me right now," he admitted, and that was the truth. It just wasn't why he fainted— damn it, collapsed! "There's nothing Carson can do except shove food down my throat and tell me to relax, and I can do that well enough myself," he said, a bit more vehemently than he intended.

Elizabeth was eyeing him suspiciously, and Rodney with outright disbelief. John was suddenly aware that he wasn't making a very convincing argument, seated on the floor of Elizabeth's office, shaking enough that the techs out in the command area could probably see it, but he wasn't going to give up, not on this one. He had suffered enough indignity in the past five minutes, he figured— it was about time for his karma to give him a break.

"So, wait," Rodney said all of a sudden. "You say Carson released you from the infirmary?"

John could feel the scientist's eyes on his shoulder, and he glanced down, remembering the TNP port, which was showing half way past the edge of the scrubs shirt. Damn it. "Ah… I didn't say that," John replied, innocently, casually pulling at the collar of the shirt. "I said… I was doing so well, and he agreed to let me have the afternoon. So long as I take it easy," he added, prompting a sound of amusement from Rodney. Ignoring him; "I even get to try eating, did you hear?" He threw that last bit in to hopefully lend a bit more credulity to his story.

Eventually, Elizabeth leaned back a little— still looking a little mistrustful of John's intentions and that perfectly innocent expression on his face— and said, "All right. I won't call Carson. If," she stipulated, "you agree to eat something, and then go lay down."

"Yes," John agreed in a heartbeat, flooded by a wave of relief. "Absolutely." He tried to push himself up— that was a bust; thankfully, Rodney helped pull him up without saying anything— John was sure he was just waiting until Elizabeth was out of earshot, but still— he stood for a moment, making sure he was steady, before he started for the door.

To his surprise, Rodney was already there, and gestured for him to hurry. When John just gave him a puzzled look, he gave an exasperated and over-dramatic sigh. "Hurry up, would you?"

True to nature; "What?"

"Oh yeah, right," Rodney shot back; "Like I'm gonna let you run off on your own— probably would have skived out of it anyhow."

John snapped his head around to look at Elizabeth, who instead of rescuing him, seemed amused. She merely waved her fingers at him as Rodney began to drag him out of the office.

Talk about unfair— John hadn't even thought about skipping eating! For once, he had fully intended to follow orders, and this was what he got for it? "Gimme a break," he muttered under his breath.

Apparently, it wasn't quiet enough. "Quit whining," Rodney shot back over his shoulder as he pulled the poor man past the command consoles and into the hallway beyond.

"You know, I'm perfectly capable of finding the mess hall on my own, Rodney," he replied, in that 'Okay, this is cute, but it's getting old, fast,' tone of voice.

"Of course you are." The man let out a snort. "But we can't exactly have you passing out in the middle of the City; Carson's already going to have our necks if he finds out we didn't call him the first time," he remarked, a bit ruefully.

John eyed Rodney, trying to take the measure of his response… Was he mocking him? No, he decided at length… Rodney was actually being… conversational.

And that was more strange than Rodney biting his head off.

McKay was still uneasy with him… he could hear it in his voice, could feel it— quite literally— in the way Rodney was gripping his arm. Oh yes, he could feel it all the way down to his blood starved fingers. But mostly in the way Rodney kept holding back, catching himself, only letting himself get upset when John was ignoring his own well being.

"All right," he said at last. "I'll quit whining… if you quit acting like I'm gonna break."

Rodney stopped, before he released John's arm suddenly, as if he had forgotten he was still holding it. While the soldier massaged his elbow, Rodney smiled, ruefully, pointing one finger at John. "Right." When he looked away, John glanced heavenward— now he wanted to kick himself. He wasn't trying to make McKay feel guilty, damn it!

Trying to take a new approach, he said, "Hey, McKay—"

"Ah!" The physicist held up one finger to the side, still not facing John and apparently not ready to talk.

"Rodney. Take it easy, would ya'?" he asked, his voice lightening up.

"…What?" Rodney spun to face the colonel, looking completely baffled. "Take it easy?"

John looked confused himself— this wasn't a difficult concept, so what was wrong? "…Ye-eah."

"After everything that's—" he caught himself, clenching his eyes and teeth before he started up again. "Look, I have to live with what I did, and, right now, that's kind of hard to do and pretend that everything's fine between us and—"

"Rodney!" The scientist was shocked out of his rant enough for John to get a word in edgewise. "Everything is fine between us. I don't blame you— for anything. You want me to forgive you? There's nothing to forgive!" he insisted with a smile. "Now lighten up, would ya'?"

He started down the hallway on his own, leaving Rodney a few paces behind, still somewhat in shock.

There was no way it was that easy. There was just no way.

He watched Sheppard's back, and found himself suddenly suspicious. The colonel was hiding something from him. And, Rodney realized with a start, even though he was the one who had been upset, John was the one who shut the conversation down.

Definitely hiding something.


It was a pretty good reunion in the mess hall— apparently Ronon and Teyla had waited for him, just in case. It made John feel a little less guilty about walking out on Heightmeyer. After all, there was no way Beckett would have let him out after that… besides, it might have taken even longer, and then he would have made them wait. And right now, as Teyla and Ronon leapt up to greet him, that was what he cared about, not some psych session.

"John!" "Beckett let you go?"

"Yeah, I was doing really well, even after my session with Heightmeyer, so he agreed to let me come down here and have lunch with you guys," he said, earning a raised eyebrow from Rodney. "So I took a detour," he added under his breath.

Teyla, meanwhile, asked in amazement, "Without the wheelchair?"

"Wheelchair?" Rodney demanded, now rounding on John with blatant suspicion.

"Hey, I made it down here, didn't I?"

"Oh, I don't call—"

"Ah…" John cut Rodney off, before he amended his words. "More or less."

Teyla and Ronon watched the exchange with a good deal of suspicion themselves. All John could do was smile innocently, which seemed to make them even more suspicious. But, it also brought similar grins to their faces; that was good enough for him.


"Are you gonna play with that or eat it?"

John tried his best to look indignant at Ronon's question, even though he knew the guy had a point. "I am letting it cool," he stated, tilting his him up a little.

"If you need it to be that cool, I could go get some ice for you," Teyla offered, a grin on her face. John's expression changed into a frown, and he pulled his soup a little closer to himself.

"Funny," he remarked, looking a bit disconcerted, and his friends— all three of them— laughed.

To be honest, he hadn't wanted to eat the soup to begin with— he'd wanted what they were having, but for once Sheppard had let common sense get the best of him, and went for the health-in-a-can, chicken soup instead— though he did indulge in a roll as well, refusing to go for a liquid diet. Now, though, he just plain didn't want to eat. That TNP line didn't seem quite so villainous, when his stomach was threatening mutiny.

But he didn't want them getting suspicious again, especially after his knees had almost given out while waiting in the chow line. So, John picked up the spoon and forced himself to gulp some of the stuff down. Then he grimaced— damn, it is getting cold.

For a while, he was content to lean on the table, and watch his teammates, who seemed to understand that he wasn't quite up to a lively discussion just yet. He added his own two cents here and there, but mostly… he watched.

Especially Rodney. The man was even more animated than usual, and heck, he had John suspicious. The Canadian scientist had gone from upset and guilt-ridden to laid-back and excited, in the course of about ten minutes. Hell, it had been awkward enough being around Rodney in the first place— especially with his interview with Heightmeyer so fresh in his mind, it was hard to shake everything that had happened between the two of them. As well as… well, things it had made him come to realize about what had happened. So now, this, on top of that, was just weirding John out.

Rodney didn't miss the slight tension from the colonel— he was looking for it, sure, but he didn't think that he was just seeing what he wanted to see. Something wasn't right, and he was going to find out. For the moment, though…

"Yeah, some high and mighty pilot you are," Rodney was saying.

"Hey!" John shot back, indignantly.

He was met with half a laugh. "Oh please. The Goa'uld had access to all of your piloting skills and then some, and it got shot down by Beckett."

"One— the Jumper was not shot down," John corrected, hotly; "He practically sat the damn thing on top of the other. That is not the same. And two… I was both bleeding and fighting the Goa'uld," he declared.

"What," Ronon asked, "by bleeding?"

"No," John replied, pretending to get sullen again as the others laughed. In truth, he was ready to laugh along with them, just because he hadn't in so long.

"Why are you all debating this?" Teyla broke in, though she was still trying to compose herself after Ronon's question. "If Dr. Beckett had not bested the Goa'uld in the Jumper, the results would have been dire."

John just smiled, though a bit of the life went out of his expression. "Yeah," he admitted, slowly, returning his attention to his lunch.

Sensing the mood had died down a little, McKay went to change the subject. "Mm;" Rodney wiped at his mouth with a hand, swallowing whatever it was he had been chewing to get to his question. He turned to face John, who returned the gaze, despite the fact that his shoulders tightened, almost imperceptibly. "Did Lorne stop in and see you?"

Sheppard nodded, a bit distracted, and stirred his soup some more. "Yeah… he seems to be handling my job quite nicely," he added, with a not quite sincere smile.

Teyla rolled her eyes as though he were being ridiculous. "He is not going to replace you, John."

"Yeah, someone even suggested he go out with our team while you were down. He refused," the Satedan concluded. It seemed that act had earned the major a good deal of respect in Ronon's eyes; Sheppard suspected it had more to do with Lorne being afraid that he would conveniently fall down a ravine or something if he went out with this lot in his CO's place. John felt touched, but he also felt that Lorne's concerns might have been justified.

"I dunno," Rodney remarked, waving his fork. "Maybe not on the team, but, he's gotten a taste of power now." He paused to spear something that looked vaguely like a carrot. "Probably gonna have to beat him off when you're ready to come back on duty," he added casually.

"Probably," John agreed, before glancing at Teyla and rolling his eyes towards Rodney. He had to hand her this, she was good at suppressing her laughter, but her lips did press into a thin smile that threatened to break and reveal her amusement.

"So what was that whole argument with Elizabeth about, earlier?" Rodney suddenly questioned, both pointedly and deliberately in front of Ronon and Teyla so John couldn't just ignore him and pretend he hadn't asked.

They were perking up; Ronon looked interested, and Teyla was raising an eyebrow. John gave Rodney a smile that the scientist could see was a little strained, if only because he was expecting it. "What argument?" the man replied, as if he had no clue what Rodney was talking about.

"Don't give me that," Rodney replied, blowing off the colonel's obvious desire to keep his secret, well, secret. "He came storming into Elizabeth's office," he then informed Teyla and Ronon, much to Sheppard's dismay. "He had something from Heightmeyer, a psych eval, probably," he continued conversationally, attacking the lasagna. With a full mouth and kind've distorted; "Was pretty upset about it too." He reached for his drink.

Teyla had turned to John with a new concern in her eyes; John swore silently that he was going to murder Rodney in his sleep, probably with a lemon. In the mean time, he took a large bite out of his roll, watching McKay silently; Teyla was staring at Rodney as well, almost looking as though she were about to rebuke him. "You should not press John for information he wishes to keep private."

"Yeah," Ronon agreed with a frown. "Like you all say, 'don't ask, don't tell'."

Suddenly, Rodney was spewing his drink back into its cup and John was choking on his food; Ronon started pounding the latter on the back, looking alarmed, while Rodney broke down in laughter. After a second, John waved Ronon off. "Not… quite…" he answered, continuing to cough weakly for a bit, before he seemed okay, even if he was wheezing a little. "I believe what you're trying to say is, ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies."

"Oh, I don't know," Rodney threw out there, jovially; apparently, the possibility of Sheppard choking wasn't enough to keep him from finding this hysterically funny— as it was, he was barely containing his laughter now, and was shaking from the effort. "I think they're equally applicable in Sheppard's case."

Oh, definitely going to murder Rodney, John thought venomously. And forget the lemon. He was gonna shove a freaking grapefruit down McKay's throat.

"But no, I mean— come on, it had to be something really bad;" …And, Rodney just went right on. "And we aren't just talking 'weird interpretations of dreams bad', come on, this is Sheppard. So we should probably be worried." Oh, and just to make things better, Teyla was starting to hesitate— what, did she think Rodney had a point? "And honestly, I'd rather be the jerk that's pressing him to spill than not know until he goes crazy and kills somebody," the scientist finished off, all too cheerful, gesturing with his fork again for emphasis. But, to John's chagrin, now both Ronon and Teyla were looking like they might actually agree with him!

"She put me on suicide watch!" John suddenly snapped. In an instant, the table was silent, except for the fork that fell out of Rodney's hand. He flashed a sarcastic smile. "So I guess the only one you have to worry about me killing is me."

And with that, he pushed away from the table, abandoning his food and his friends before they could even protest; a second later, he was through the door and into the hallway.

For a long few seconds, none of them spoke. And then—

"Shit." McKay closed his eyes, and rested his forehead in his palms.

"Suicide watch… what does that mean?" Ronon asked the scientist.

It was like Rodney hadn't even heard him; "Shit!" When he looked up, he looked fairly distraught, and after a moment, he pushed out from the table as well and hastily followed after Sheppard.

Ronon was about to do the same, when Teyla caught his arm. She then looked up at him— the Athosian looked disturbed. Very disturbed, though she didn't seem to fully understand the implications either. Even so; "Give them a minute."

Slowly, Ronon nodded, and seated himself once more. Suddenly, he just wasn't hungry.


McKay rushed after his teammate, cursing at himself mentally. Great, idiot. You wanted to know why he was uncomfortable with you— gee, wonder if it's 'cause you pull stunts like this? He passed an outer door, before quickly coming to a stop and backtracking.

Sure enough, out there— alone— was Sheppard.

"Colonel!" Rodney cried as the door opened, sounding far too relieved— John turned part of the way at first, but then catching McKay's tone, grimaced, and turned back towards the ocean. Wincing, Rodney stepped over the threshold, trying to think of a way to repair the damage.

"What, thought I was going to throw myself over?" The humor in his voice was dry, and he was probably just a little miffed at what Rodney had just implied.

"No!... Maybe," Rodney admitted. "Well come on," he said, indignant, as John gave him another dry look, "How am I supposed to know if it's justified? I've hardly gotten to speak to you the whole time you've been awake!"

Sheppard replied evenly; "And whose fault is that?"

Rodney raised one finger to contest that, before he realized the answer. "Touché," he replied instead. Then, he sighed. "Look, I… I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't known there was something wrong. Between us," he added, when John wouldn't reply. "I didn't realize…"

The other man let out a bedraggled sigh. Funny, how he had thought the same thing, earlier. And now, he found himself the one trying to avoid McKay.

"Rodney, we're fine," he assured the other man.

"No we're not, we're not fine— no, look, will you shut up and listen for a minute?" he demanded as John tried to cut back into the conversation. "I mean… for God's sake, I shot you… Not once, but three times! You could be dead or—"

"You did what you had to," John cut in, speaking very firmly, as Rodney started to work himself up into hysterics.

The physicist's expression morphed into an open glare, though he settled back down. "God, did you always want to be a martyr when you grew up?" He rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Remind me to never let you near anything long and sharp enough for you to impale yourself on." Then, realizing what he had said— damn it, you did it again!— he bit his tongue.

"Yeah… well it's not like you have to worry about that now," John shot back, with an almost… disgusted… look on his face.

Incensed; "Look, I'm not the one who issued the damn watch order, so quit biting my head off!"

"I'm not going to try and kill myself!" Unexpectedly, the colonel let out a dry, harsh laugh that sounded a little high. "Like I'd be able to bring myself to do that… God," he muttered, shaking his head and continuing to laugh in that strange, pained way. "Of course you'd think I could…"

"What?" Rodney said, after a beat. Offense was mixed with surprise, as he ran over what Sheppard had said mentally. What the hell is he talking about? "Why would I… How is this my fault?"

"I didn't say it was your fault," John grated, but McKay was slightly unconvinced, given the way in which he said it. "I don't want to talk about it!"

"Tough!"

Sheppard shot him an angry glare. "Tough?" he echoed, sarcastically.

McKay lifted his chin, just a little defiantly. "Yes. Start talking, or… Or I call Carson."

After a moment, John just shook his head and looked away. "Go right ahead."

"What… really?" He had expected that to work— crap, what was he on about?, Rodney wondered. "God, what is your problem?"

John let out a long, weary breath. Apparently, even if the threat of Beckett being sicked on him wasn't enough, he just wasn't up to being pestered by Rodney nonstop. "It was that whole stupid interview with Heightmeyer… She… she kept going at how I felt about letting the parasite in, and after it was gone, and…" He shook his head, like he was trying to shoo away a fly or a disturbing thought. "She made me realize… I felt like I made a mistake. And I hate myself for thinking that," John trailed off into a whisper. Letting his eyes slip shut, he turned away, head hanging.

At last, McKay understood— it took a second, but then his eyes were widening in recognition— that hate in the colonel's attitude wasn't for him… but it obviously wasn't just for the Goa'uld either. Self-loathing was a strange expression to see on John Sheppard's face, and the despair it mixed with… well, it frightened Rodney a little. 'Cause it wasn't like Sheppard was known for acting on his emotions. Or just doing plain stupid shit. Maybe Heightmeyer was right after all.

He tried to think of something to say; taking a breath to steel himself, Rodney started; "…That's what this is about? You, you… you wouldn't have sacrificed yourself again? Whoop de doo," he said, hiding the slight disturbance with the sarcasm. "I wouldn't have sacrificed myself once, so you've got me beat there, happy?" Sheppard shot McKay a droll look, before rolling his eyes and looking away— something about it made Rodney wonder if that wasn't it. Everything Sheppard had been doing to him, how he'd been acting… It finally clicked with Rodney. "No…You regret it," he realized, a bit numbly. "You regret doing what you did… for me."

His body faced away, Sheppard buried his head in his hands, before leaning his elbows onto the railing and running his hands through his hair. McKay thought he could hear heavy breaths coming from the man, and wondered if he shouldn't be trying to reassure Sheppard. Honestly, he was still trying to come to terms with the realization himself. He feels like saving me… no, like giving himself up, he corrected, was a mistake… He ran a hand through his own hair, noticing dimly that it was shaking.

It was easy to see why the colonel had indulged in self-hate— he must have felt like he had completely betrayed McKay by wishing he had never stepped up the way he did.

Sheppard turned to face McKay at last, expression resigned into an unreadable tableau. "Yeah." Well, that was redundant— he had figured that part out already.

McKay surprised the both of them as he suddenly rolled his eyes. "Oh, join the club!" He didn't have to force the sarcasm very far; in fact, the shock he had felt at first was quickly giving way to exasperation— and the look on John's face almost made up for it entirely. His voice had just the hint of a tremble as he said, "I regret you doing it," but it seemed the colonel was still too stunned to notice. "It was completely insane and idiotic— let's give the evil alien access to the strongest ATA gene in the galaxy. What were you thinking?"

By this time, Sheppard's pained expression had resolved itself into incredulity, with the tiniest hint of a smile. "You're right," he agreed sardonically, "what was I doing trying to save your life?" still obviously confused about why he was suddenly being berated.

"Yes, yes," McKay continued dismissively. "So you wouldn't let a Goa'uld into your head one more time in an attempt to be brainlessly heroic— congratulations, Colonel." By now, Rodney wasn't even trying to hide his sarcasm, "for once you're acting completely normal. So quit angsting like an emo teenager. The important thing is… you saved my life," he said, a little stiffly. "And you don't regret that, regardless of whatever sacrifices you wish you hadn't made… You don't regret that, right?" He seemed to all of a sudden remember Sheppard's statement of a few seconds ago; John actually had to laugh at his expression.

Clapping Rodney on the shoulder, he said, "Course not. Who would I blatantly antagonize then?" A wide grin split his face— McKay had to wonder if he wasn't forcing it, and more than just a little— even for Sheppard, this was too sudden a mood change.

"Well, I just wanted to say… thank you, and… I'm actually a little relieved. That you wouldn't… do that, you know, again. What you did." Sheppard cast him an unreadable look; perhaps he needed to get on with it. "Because… well, because honestly I felt really guilty about the parasite being in you when it should have been in me. And then… everything that happened… thereafter."

McKay cleared his throat and shifted back and forth awkwardly. It didn't help that Sheppard continued to stare at him with that same strange expression… it made Rodney nervous. At long last; "You couldn't have done anything."

A derisive snort was not the reply the colonel had expected. "Yes, well, neither could you, as you obviously have some mental instability that predisposes you towards valiantly suicidal tendencies."

"…Obviously."

"Yes, anyways, I think we should both agree to just not feel guilty." There was a long pause. "I mean, this whole situation has to… cancel itself out or something."

"Just like that?"

Another awkward silence. Then, Rodney gave a decisive nod. Then a not-so-decisive shrug. Who was he kidding, there was no way he was going to be able to forgive himself, even if Sheppard did— but he didn't want to see the colonel doing something stupid to himself. Personally, he thought Heightmeyer's suicide watch was entirely warranted, he'd just never admit it in front of Sheppard— not if he wanted to keep both of his legs unbroken.

As John continued to stare him down, the scientist shifted uncomfortably. Damn it, he wasn't a good liar; it didn't help that Sheppard was an excellent liar, and consequently seemed to know whenever Rodney was trying to hide something.

At last, Rodney couldn't take it, and just burst out.

"So, what, you think you'd never try it now," he started, startling John just a little. "What, because you hate that you gave yourself over to the Goa'uld? You think this is about you not wanting to get hurt? Please!" He gestured wildly, like it was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard. "You're a lemming! Even an evil, alien, snake-parasite can't change that. That's like, fundamental Sheppard."

"Is this supposed to make me feel better?" John demanded.

Ignoring him completely; "I know you. And I know you would still try and save someone, or protect someone, even to the point of stupidity, even at your own expense." Rodney began to glare at Sheppard now, tone full of accusation. "Why wouldn't you tell me what was wrong, then?; what, because you were being selfish? Or because you didn't want me to have to deal with it?" John opened his mouth to try to cut in and answer, but should have known better; Rodney cut him off, with "You know I'm right!" The colonel closed his mouth, glancing down, and McKay paused for a beat. "…So maybe you wouldn't take a Goa'uld for me," he started again. "Sheppard— John…" Funny, he'd never been awkward using people's given names… until now, apparently. The topic at hand didn't help any, he was sure; the scientist continued, uncomfortably. "I know you'd still try to save me. Whatever it took, would never stop trying. I don't… doubt you," he said at last, fumbling over the words a little. They sounded strange coming from him. Quietly, now; "…I don't want you to do something stupid, either. And yes, I mean kill yourself," he added after a moment, sounding a little perturbed.

"Rodney—"

"I know what you're going to say," Rodney cut back in, "you're going to say you won't, but it wasn't fear of dying, it was just the Goa'uld—"

John stopped him before he could get going again by grabbing his wrist. "I know," he stated simply.

The two held each others' gazes for a moment, before Rodney tried to keep going. "…Look, if you keep beating yourself up over it like this, how long until you really do try and hurt yourself?" he asked, in a strangely small voice; God, he's actually… afraid, for me, John realized— "And then after everything you've had to go through, because of what I did—" and now Rodney couldn't stop even if he'd had conscious control of what he was saying; as it was, everything in him that had threatened to bubble over this whole time was just spilling out— "and after all the progress you've made, you'd still end up hurt or dead or—"

"Rodney!" Sheppard moved his hand from Rodney's wrist to his shoulder— "How the hell do you get on me for not talking, and then… this?" he asked, incredulously, waving a hand vaguely between them.

"…What?"

"You're clearly upset about something that's not me," John pointed out.

"Clearly…" Rodney gave the other man a perplexed look, trying not to sound disturbed. "Why are we suddenly talking about me?"

John gave half a shrug. "You didn't think I'd let you get away with making this entirely about me, did you? …So, what… the whole thing in the Jumper?" he hazarded. "…You want to talk?"

Rodney seemed bewildered for a moment, before he refocused. "No… No, look, with me, it's… it's over, it's done with, I can't change it."

"No…" John agreed. "You can't."

"Just what if it happens again?" Rodney asked all of a sudden, anxiously. "I mean, your life was in my hands and I shot you and almost killed you, and—"

"Rodney;" John used the tone of voice you usually reserved for a child when they knew they had done something wrong and didn't want to look at you. "I trusted you…" The other man pressed his lips together, and rolled his eyes, glancing upwards, but John could see he was upset, past that sardonic smile. "…And I still trust you."

McKay snapped his head back down, staring at Sheppard in amazed disbelief. "What… even after…"

"Even after," John assured him as the other man trailed off.

"Huh." He paused, seeming to go over this again. "So let me get this straight. When you do something that ends up hurting you, it's bad. When I do something that ends up hurting you, it's good…?"

"Funny how that works out." Despite John's smile— and for the first time today, Rodney noticed it looked genuine— despite that, Rodney wasn't laughing. A bit more sedately, John added, "I'd rather you than it."

"I'd rather not me," Rodney pointed out quickly, raising one finger. "I mean, not it," he added after realizing what he'd implied. "Just… not me either."

John held up both hands, and raised his eyebrows. "Hey, I'd rather not get hurt at all. So we agree."

"Funny how that works out," Rodney echoed.

That impish grin was the only reply he got, and for a moment, Rodney considered a cool, sarcastic comment, before he realized that John's smile had faded and yet he still hadn't said anything. Actually, he looked pretty pale, and weak, and—

"Sheppard?" Rodney asked tentatively.

Suddenly, John felt his knees give way, and just caught himself on the railing—

"Shit! Sheppard!" The colonel let out a long hiss of air, afraid that if he opened his mouth any further he'd start cussing at the top of his lungs— damn, he could feel those bullet holes now. Then Rodney was at his side, under one of his arms, helping ease him to the ground. "Are you okay?"

"What do you think?" John said through gritted teeth. Once he was down on the ground and the pressure from his arms was let up, the soldier sighed, painfully. "Look, I'm all right," he told the scientist, who was now pacing a tight circle on the balcony floor. "I just got a little dizzy and caught myself at a bad angle. I'm going to live," he assured the man.

Rodney just gestured idly with one hand, still looking concerned. "I'm sure you are, but— maybe I should call the infirmary anyways…"

"I'm fine, Rodney! Hell, you're as bad as Beckett!" John shot up at the scientist, who could be described as doing no other thing but fretting.

"You're fine, yes, obviously not fine," Rodney was muttering to himself, "all things considered, but for now you're—"

"Fine. I'm okay. Geez…"

"Yes, yes, you're okay… though, I mean, over all—"

"Rodney!" John cried, growing exasperated.

"I'm just saying," the man replied, indignantly.

Looking both bewildered and incredulous at once; "Saying what?" John demanded.

The scientist shot him a dirty look. "I'm saying, that despite being in a good state at the time of discussion, you really can't be called okay. Neither of us can," he added, muttering. A beat passed, then; "I mean… things between us still aren't really… okay, are they?"

"Well, I mean, I wouldn't say things are okay…" John started, looking like he was weighing the options. "For one, I don't think I can get back up," John admitted, and Rodney had to fight the natural instinct to give him an amused, disparaging look. "But as far as between us… Well hell, I'd say they're looking pretty good," he said, with a bit of a shrug.

"Yeah?"

Rodney seemed pretty hopeful. And John saw no reason not to be… if he was honest about it, he was feeling exactly the same way… that same exact worry that things weren't going to turn out quite right. The anxiety. The hope you almost didn't want to have, in case you were wrong.

John never got the chance to answer though, as the sudden sound of someone talking, quite heatedly, actually, broke in— Rodney flinched and pulled one hand up to his ear reflexively— which is when John realized it was Rodney's radio that he was hearing.

The brogue that came through— livid, from the sound of it— was unmistakably Carson.

"Uh, I, uh… don't know what you're talking about," Rodney was saying.

"Don't give me that crap, Rodney, I know he was with you, I talked to Dr. Weir. Where is he now?"

John didn't have his radio, and yet he could hear the angry Scot perfectly. So he was wincing a little bit, both for Rodney and his eardrums… and the trouble he was going to be in when Carson found him.

Rodney seemed to be thinking along the same lines; silently, he watched John deflate a little, obviously not looking forward to the reaming-out he was going to get. Actually, he was paying more attention to the colonel than he was to Beckett, so it took him a moment to realize the aforementioned had stopped talking.

"Yeah, actually, you know what? He stormed off in the middle of lunch. Said something about heading over to the east pier…? Good luck with that!" he tacked on the end, as Carson got off the frequency, muttering and as angry as a wet cat.

John raised one eyebrow. "East pier?" he repeated.

"Well, you know," Rodney replied, waving one hand vaguely. "Minor geographical error… He obviously heard me wrong."

"Obviously… I mean, it couldn't have been your mistake," John said, voice laden with irony.

Rodney snorted. "Of course not."

Watching his teammate for a long moment, John then just shook his head, a wide grin splitting his features, and he leaned back against the railing, resting his head against one of the posts. Rodney came up and leaned on the upper rail where he stood; both just enjoying the scenery and the breeze and the peace before they got caught.

It was definitely going to get worse before it got better, John thought, his grin becoming wry for a moment, when he thought of how Carson was probably going to strap him down and force feed him through a tube in his nose after this.

But it was going to get better. He was going to get better… maybe slowly. Maybe he wasn't going to have a choice, especially if the Scottish tyrant had his way, he realized with a bit of a grimace.

John closed his eyes for a moment, abandoning that thought and letting the wind roll across him; letting it play in his hair and tickle his face where he was in desperate need of a shave. The hair on his arms stood on end in the coolness over the water— the smell of which permeated the air more sharply than he'd really taken the time to notice, of late. And through all of it, John couldn't help but marvel at just every sensation and feeling that was all his and just how alive he felt.

I can live with that, he decided at last, opening his eyes to take in the scenery one more time. I really can.

END


A/N: And, here we are— the end at last! If you were wondering at all over the past week why this was taking so long, well… There ya' go.

And, you did just sat through all of that, so I won't keep you long, I promise. Just a few notes to finish us off:

Thanks, to: Deana, Silverthreads, flah7, ruthiemac, Alpha Pegasi, Mercury's Winter, krysalys, Gracie, Gingercake, Emma, Hanmyo, gabumon, Raven2004, wnii, tracy, twinchaosblade, 'lemons and wraith oh my'— and to everyone who has ever stopped in, glanced this over, and decided to stop and read a while. You guys have no idea how great it is to see the hit counts soar like they do— not saying that I honestly need the ego trip, but y'all make me feel the story is so well liked I get teary-eyed. :)

I hope to see some of you in the future! I don't know if my next piece is going to be SG-1 or Atlantis, so keep an eye out for me on both. Whatever comes next, for a little while, they'll probably be shorter (okay, definitely shorter) than this one— think oneshots and single-digits in chapters. I don't know that I can keep another work-in-progress going, especially on a daily schedule, these days. As has happened too often with Ophidia, I fall behind, miss updates, and y'all are the ones who have to deal with it— doesn't mean I'm about to stop writing as much as I can, though!

And let me tell you, it feels weird to be finished.

Here's to keeping the weirdness alive! And most of all, to you, faithful readers and friends— ;D

::DemonicK