A Cold Winter's Night
Disclaimer: I, Stealth Dragon, do not own Stargate Atlantis.
Synopsis: Power failures and freezing temperatures make for a long night on Atlantis. Spoilers for season four up to This Mortal Coil, though the story takes place sometime after that episode and it's second half.
A/N: I'm a season behind, so there may be things in this story that might make it slightly AU. Very slightly. They may be in an area on the new planet that may not have winters, for example.
Rodney's fingers were too numb to feel the shock. He did feel an unpleasant tingle in his wrist, constricting the muscles all the way up to his elbow and a little past. Yanking both hands out from under the module, he shook and rubbed feeling back into the nerves.
"Told you to wear gloves, McKay."
Rodney shrugged, tucking his hands under his armpits to warm his fingers. "And I told you they get in my way." When the armpits didn't work, he shoved both hands into the opposite sleeves of his parka and sweater, gasping when cold fingertips touched bare skin. "I'm almost done, anyways."
He heard Sheppard snort. "That's what you said thirty minutes ago."
Rodney didn't remove his hands until he was able to bend his fingers. Flexibility was all he needed to twist the wires and solder them in place. He hunkered down, half inside the panel of the power unit that was a nest of wires and patches of shadow and light from the surrounding electric lamps. Every exhale spewed streams of yellow-gray smoke from his mouth, condensing on whatever he happened to be closest to.
"Well," he said absently, touching the tip of the small solder to another wire bundle, "I am. Not my fault I can barely see or grip worth a damn. This should have taken fifteen minutes."
Instead, it was taking well over an hour, with the possibility of another hour if the third test-run didn't work. There was always a wire, somewhere in some console or module, that someone missed, keeping the entire system from powering up.
Rodney McKay would never bad mouth restoring individual systems ever again. He would be quite content with only one system powered up – heating, preferably. Irony was a cruel bitch with perfect timing and a PhD in everything. As much as Rodney enjoyed chewing up and spitting out the technicians who had caused the city-wide power-failure, even he had to admit that there had been no way of knowing how one little mis-repair in one little system would create a domino affect of Apocalyptic proportions. The failure had ridden like the four Horsemen on a connection not even Rodney had known existed, leaving them with only air filters, running water (not hot water, though), and the solitary system that kept this city floating.
And it didn't stop there. It was the middle of winter on this world, temperatures dropping deep into the negatives. McKay was surprised that weight of the accumulation of ice-crystals on the inner and outer walls didn't sink this city. He could see those same ice-crystals glittering on the sleeves of his red parka.
"You know," he said. "If you're bored, you could always go back to the 'jumper bay and lose half your DVD stash to Dr. Miller."
"People still play her knowing she counts cards?"
"They count cards back. Rumor has it she's resorted to sticking cards up her sleeve. The woman is persistent. I heard that's how she paid her way through college." Rodney gnawed the edge of his tongue as he twisted two more delicate wires together with dead fingers. "Seriously, though, you'd make Keller a happy voodoo priestess if you went back and warmed yourself up. She's liable to hunt you down and fill you with another quart of blood if you don't."
"I'm fine," John said. Rodney watched Sheppard in his peripheral when he wandered within range of the lanterns. Being illuminated from below darkened the shadows in the sunken places of his pale face, creating a ghoulish mask. Never had the term zombie been more appropriate.
McKay shook his head and muttered a flat, "Yeah, sure."
"Besides," Sheppard continued, "we're sitting ducks. Wraith or Asurans decide to pop in, the last thing you want to be is alone."
Point taken, except for there being plenty of grunts left over for Sheppard to order into baby-sitting duty. Watching the backs of ten scientists (less if some of those scientists had finished their repairs) didn't require the use of Atlantis' entire military contingent. Neither was there any real necessity for the military commander to be one of those baby-sitters.
No necessity, just habit: obsessive, control-freak habit.
Rodney opted for keeping his mouth shut about it. There was no point and he knew it, or some fresh-faced lieutenant would be chomping at the bit, already, instead of Sheppard.
McKay's reply was a distracted, "Fine." He'd meant it when he said he was almost done.
Sheppard continued to hover just within the ring of light, movements both stiff and casual. "So, when do you think we'll have heat again?" he asked, nonchalantly curious. "Because I'd kill for a shower."
The wording was a poor choice that made Rodney cringe internally. His thoughts drifted back to a bloody and wild-eyed Sheppard stepping through the gate, shouting orders in a voice rubbed raw from previous shouting. That had been fives days ago... had it been five days? Felt like less, fresh as yesterday. The Lt. Colonel could be a scary SOB some days, and on that day in particular Rodney had half expected him to start mowing expedition members down with his P-90.
In retrospect, it had been an unfair impression. Rodney still didn't know why he had thought it.
"Hopefully by morning," McKay replied, shoving the memories back to the dark places of his mind where they belonged.
Sheppard sighed. "Promises, promises."
Now that was uncalled for. McKay went rigid, pulling his head from the console to jab the solder at him. "Hey! We're doing the best we can with what we've got, and if you think you can do it faster then you're welcome to try because, frankly I..."
Sheppard stepped back raising both hands in surrender. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hey, McKay. Ease up, there. I wasn't talking about you. I was just speaking in general. It's been a bad week, one thing after another. I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised if this took two days what with all the other crap that keeps popping up. It was nothing personal."
In other words, Sheppard wasn't thinking positively, and that surprised Rodney. Surprised him and made him a little uneasy. When the eternal spring of optimism that was John Sheppard started drying up, then you knew you were screwed.
Or maybe the man was just tired. He looked tired. Damn, how he looked tired, like the very air was weighing him down and his eyelids couldn't open beyond half-mast. Sheppard was also sporting a rather wild and gamey physique, his clothes too big and his face a sharp configuration of sallow planes. It seemed impossible for him to wear a coat that heavy and not be crushed by it.
It was all nothing more than the result of blood-loss and infection. So of course he was tired, too tired to play the "let's placate the skittish physicist by using obnoxiously sunny outlooks" game. Nothing more. Just exhaustion.
Rodney's mind wandered to Sheppard stepping bloody and manic through the gate. They hadn't known most of it was his blood until Keller had found the gash extending the length of his ribcage. It was always only a matter of time before some projectile or blade found its way to the gaps in the flanks of the vest.
"I think we're due for a little break, don't you?" McKay said, pushing for chipper, and ducked back into the unit's opening. Sheppard didn't always have to be the optimistic one from time to time.
He heard John murmur an insouciant, "I suppose."
Rodney shook his hands to force the circulation to his finger tips. He was anxious to be done, get back to the bay, get warm, and fill up on MREs and canned deviled ham. Two more wires melted together, leaving four more to go. He muttered curses with each fumble until he was forced to sit back and warm his hands up.
It took a moment for the pressing silence to register. No more gentle tap of boots as Sheppard wandered back and forth. Rodney searched until he spotted the pilot huddled against the wall like a discarded lump.
McKay's skin prickled in alarm. "Uh... Sheppard? What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" came the muffled reply.
"Sitting still, in the cold, which Keller specifically told you not to do."
John shifted, tightening his huddle. "It's just for a moment."
"Isn't that what all the hypothermics say?"
Sheppard's head turned just enough for the weak light to flash off one hazel eye. "You can time me if you want."
Rodney already set his watch. "Don't think I won't. I'm giving you two minutes, then you're back on your feet or I'm calling in Keller."
John grunted a reply before burying his face into his arms.
McKay should have agreed to a minute when the silence went from pressing to oppressive. He leaned forward, back into the safety of the console, only to lean back out when his spine twinged. Might as well use the same two minutes to give his vertebra a break.
As much as Rodney didn't want to, he couldn't help but let his eyes wander the chamber. There was a window, somewhere, or maybe it was a reflection, spilling a little blue light from somewhere off to the left. It defined the shapes of the room, separating pillars from walls, smooth floors from geometric designs. It also hid corners behind perfect black.
Creepy: that's what everyone kept saying. Atlantis was creepy in the cold and the dark, as creepy as the first day they'd arrived.
No, they were wrong. It wasn't creepy. Not one bit. It was worse than that. The first day they'd arrived, there had been light and warmth. Without the two, the city might as well still be under the ocean, a solitary thing, a dead thing, and that was far more frightening than darkness and strange noises.
Looking at Sheppard a mound in the shadows like an inhabitant left behind, waiting to die and become nothing more than a pile of cloth and bones... that made it so much worse, sending ripples of dread down McKay's back and ice expanding in the hollow of his stomach. He ducked back into the console, twisting wires with partially working fingers. When his watch beeped, he ignored it until he was done for the sake of finishing already.
"Finally," he breathed on soldering the last of the wires. He pulled himself out, arching his back until it popped. Looking at Sheppard still unmoving, the dread returned, making his heart pound.
Time to return to the land of the living. Rodney forced his stiff joints and frozen muscles to push and pull him back onto his feet. With a grunt, he stretched, circulation slow and his body unhappy about it. He shuffled over to Sheppard and forced himself to crouch.
McKay shook John's shoulder. "Colonel. Hey, I'm done. Come on, let's get out of here."
Sheppard didn't move, didn't even twitch. Rodney's dread expanded, clenching his airway, and his stiff fingers groped the cold skin of John's neck until it found a pulse.
The Colonel still didn't rouse. McKay shook harder.
"Sheppard! Come on, wake up. Damn it!" He should have listened to his watch. Hell, Sheppard should have listened to him. Blood loss and below-zero temperatures did not mix, and being back on one's own feet did not equal a complete return of health. McKay was losing his touch when it came to badgering common sense into people.
Rodney gave Sheppard's shoulder a hard shove. "Sheppard! I swear, Sheppard, if you don't wake up right now I'm calling in a stretcher. And won't that be quite the entrance. Doubt it's going to do any favors for morale, and I know how much you hate it when morale goes down. Sheppard!"
There was a low moan, almost a keening, followed by coughs that ended in a sharp inhale. Finally, Sheppard stirred, body, then head when it lifted to blink heavy and groggy eyes.
"Has it been two minutes?" he asked.
Guilt slapped Rodney upside the head. "Uh... more or less," then he quickly added, "I'm done, so we can go now." He started helping John up by the arm before the pilot could reply or ask any more questions. Sheppard was unsteady on his feet, with his knees constantly trying to buckle. It took a few minutes before he found his footing, and even then had to lean against McKay in order to stay upright.
Rodney pulled the other man's long arm across his shoulders, wrapping his own arm around the narrow waist. He could feel Sheppard's heavy shivering that was bleeding over to make McKay's own body quake.
Keller was going to kill them.
They started off in a shuffle that eventually escalated to baby-steps, out of the chamber and down the deserted hall, forced to take the long way without the convenience of transporters. One darkened hall after the other, breathing hollow sounds where there should have been ear-numbing silence. Their own breathing, the whisper of their shuffling feet, only added to it rather than lessened.
The farther they went, the more weight McKay was forced to take on. He almost laughed out loud at how backwards this all was. There'd been no danger, no fight, no injuries. There'd been guard duty, with Sheppard the one intent on protecting Rodney. And yet here Rodney was dragging Sheppard's skinny ass back to the 'Jumper bay. And wasn't it only days ago the same man had stepped back into the city wearing a look that, quite possibly, really could kill?
Things were very messed up.
The desire the laugh deteriorated into a desire to whimper, although he did a hell of a job keeping it a desire only. There was something horribly final, like the last nail in the coffin, about the man in charge of protecting and caring for everyone needing protection and care. The final straw, the last piece removed or added to send it all toppling down. McKay had never really thought about it before – truly, deeply pondered it – until now, with nothing heat-of-the-moment to distract him, just how screwed they really were.
Crap, he'd hate to see what would happen if Sheppard ever died. The thought alone made him disregard his own opinion toward manhandling, and he tightened his hold on Sheppard's waist.
No, he wasn't going to think about that. And he definitely wasn't going to think about what it would be like if the wraith and Asurans did show up in this, their rock-bottom hour.
He really needed to stop thinking, right now, before irony got any ideas.
When they finally reached the bay, Rodney breathed a sigh of relief while John merely sighed, then coughed.
"Great," Rodney muttered, trying not to slump in defeat. "Please don't tell me you're getting sick again."
Sheppard answered with a shrug and a helpless look. They shuffled into the bay converted into a communal sleeping room a mess of mattresses clustered like nests near as possible to the open hatches of the 'jumpers. Luckily, the malfunction had traveled only by wire rather than signals, leaving the puddle jumpers untouched and presently acting as space heaters. Together, the 'jumpers raised the temperature from negative twenty to a balmy forty degrees, which was fairly decent considering the size of the bay.
Rodney hauled and maneuvered Sheppard around people and mattresses until they reached their own little cluster. Teyla and Ronon were already their, playing some Pegasus Galaxy version of a board game. They quickly abandoned it at the two men's approach - Ronon moving to meet them halfway and Teyla moving toward the make-shift infirmary on the other side of the chamber.
"You're in for it now," McKay mumbled out the side of his mouth.
"I was in for it the moment we walked in," John slurred. "Saw Keller look up. She saw me."
A fact proven when Keller arrived with Teyla trailing after, just as Rodney dumped Sheppard onto his mattress.
"Wait, Dr. McKay. I need him taken into one of the 'jumpers," Keller called.
It really never did end. With another slump of defeat and a plaintive moan, Rodney crouched and pulled Sheppard back to his feet with Ronon's help. Together, they practically dragged the pilot's almost dead weight into the cockpit of the 'jumper. Keller and her medical staff were the only ones allowed to close the cockpit door in order to create a private exam room.
The console lit up as soon as John entered, which gave Rodney a pathetic excuse to stick around: a moment of delirium leading to an unscheduled flight to an unexplored mainland. Hey, one never knew. For that reason, an extra pilot might be needed in order to fly them back.
If Rodney were honest with himself, and he might as well be since it was just himself he was being honest with, he'd sufficiently worried himself into needing to know if John was going to be all right. He knew he should have been more persistent in getting Sheppard to return to the bay. The persistent SOB shouldn't have been in the cold, not with his low blood-volume issues. The problem was, Sheppard was rock solid when it came to his resolve, and he'd seemed fine at the time. Practically bouncy and chipper. Okay, maybe not bouncy, but he had been chipper.
Neither Keller nor Sheppard noticed he was still around when the door slid shut, or maybe saw no reason to acknowledge it. Dr. Keller helped John removed the layers of vest, coat, jacket, sweater and T-shirt until finally reaching the skinny, pale body splashed with bruises and white gauze pads taped to his right side. All the while, she gently berated him on being out in the cold for so long in his condition.
"Your blood volume is still correcting itself, and with the weight loss it's making you more susceptible to the cold. I told you this." The weight loss wasn't severe – as in Sheppard wasn't some skin and bones, emaciated stick of a man. There was still muscle, just not enough to hide the faint outline of his skeleton. When tired, like now, it made him seem sickly and frail. When wired, on alert, like the day he'd stepped through the gate soaked in blood, and even as he lay in an infirmary bed giving orders and taking in updates, it made him like something wild, desperate and dangerous.
Two sides of Sheppard Rodney never liked seeing. Too much a reminder of what John was capable of, the directions he could take, neither one good. It scared Rodney, sometimes – more than sometimes – the lengths John was willing to go, especially for the sake of others.
Keller took his temperature first, which she tsked over. It was low, not dangerously low, but low enough to make her unhappy and make Sheppard shiver even in the sweltering 'jumper cab. Heart and lungs came next, lungs showing signs of congestion – again. It was an on again, off again thing.
"I want you to stay in here for a while and warm up, all right?" Keller said when she finished. "In fact, I'm going to get one of the electric blankets set up for you. I want you to stay wrapped up in it, which means no going anywhere. I know you have a duty to this city and I know you want to help, but you pushed it and its set you back. I won't be surprised if you end up with a mild fever. So food, warmth, and rest, got it?"
John merely nodded with a heavy head, his painfully obvious exhaustion making him downright docile.
Satisfied, Keller made a quick exit only to return seconds later to wrap a blanket around Sheppard's bare shoulders. "Make sure he stays, Dr. McKay."
Rodney stiffened in alarm. "What? Wait, I... I have work to do, I can't -"
"Just for a moment until the blanket's ready," Keller replied, and made a second quick exit to avoid further protest.
Rodney sagged in his seat with a quiet squawk of indignation. Total and complete role reversal. Good crap, he was right, they had hit rock-bottom. Nothing said "you really are screwed" like the protectee having to watch the protector, because the protector was just as broken as the damn city he was supposed to be protecting.
McKay turned a glare onto John because, really, this was all his fault. If he hadn't been so damn eager to help... It was like being in momentum with him – once on the defense, he remained on the defense, and had to be actively defending in some way or would crash and burn. Like real momentum, going and going even long after the destination had been reached.
Rodney wanted, so much, to say a thing or two about learning to relax once in a while and take the quiet moments when they came – turn off that kill or be killed mindset before it wore him down.
Except he couldn't. Sticking with being honest to one's self, it would be rather hypocritical of him if he did. All right, completely hypocritical recalling his mini-panic attack on getting Sheppard back to the bay.
Sheppard was also curled up and fast asleep in the chair.
McKay leaned back in his own chair, rubbing his aching face, then folding his arms across his chest. He stared at Sheppard, watching him sleep. Lucky bastard, getting an electric blanket. He would have probably been ordered to sleep in one of the 'jumpers if they hadn't been needed for those still recovering and anyone in need of immediate surgery. As of now, only this 'jumper and 'jumper five were open for surgery purposes, and it was only this morning that some young lieutenant had needed to be opened up when he'd started another round of internal bleeding. The rest were packed with the ill and injured.
It had been a rescue mission, nothing more, and it had gone horribly, horribly wrong. That was all McKay knew because he still couldn't bring himself to read the reports. An Asuran weapon had been involved, and some very bad people. So bad that the rescue party had lost more than they had rescued. Ten men out of seventeen had been killed. Ten. After that, rescue became neutralizing a threat, because the hostiles had managed to torture a gate address from one of the scientists.
If Sheppard hadn't been guarding the wounded, he never would have come back... literally. He never would have passed out within range of a nurse, and the slice down his ribs wouldn't have been discovered until he was dead.
Even then, he couldn't stop: stop ordering, stop protecting, stop guarding. Rodney wasn't a stranger to it, he'd just never seen it go on for so long, to the point where Sheppard finally dropped from it. And that's the only way Rodney could describe Sheppard being able to nod off completely in an uncomfortable chair – dropping.
McKay grimaced. He couldn't imagine it, losing ten men. He couldn't imagine the amount of anger that had to be involved, the guilt, maybe even a feeling of failure. He did know it was there, though. It was just who Sheppard was. For him, losing one was one too many. To lose ten... even McKay's limitless mind couldn't fathom it in terms of John Sheppard.
What Rodney could imagine was loss itself. So much loss. Too much. And always so damn fresh if he thought too long and hard about it. Hell, he hadn't even really liked the Athosian kids, and now they were gone and he suddenly missed the way the smaller urchins would latch onto his leg as soon as he stepped through the gate.
Way too much loss, and Sheppard was a man with the bad habit of taking all loss personally. Good, gosh, it's a miracle he hadn't collapsed sooner.
Rodney didn't know how much time had passed when Keller returned, announcing that the blanket was warmed up and ready to go.
"Help me get him dressed, would you, doctor?" she said.
McKay slid out of his seat to move in closer. "For the record, just because I have a DR in front of my name doesn't make me a lackey for the medical community."
Keller smiled beatifically. "No, it's your proximity to my patient that makes you a temporary one."
They roused Sheppard enough to get him back into his T-shirt and sweater, get him out of the jumper and to his mattress where a pile of blankets awaited. He was wrapped in the electric one first as Teyla removed his boots, then wrapped in a heavy knit followed by a quilt given to him by Teyla as a birthday present. An MRE was forced on him before he was finally allowed to lay down and slip back into sleep.
With Sheppard warm, fed and comfortable, Rodney rose, clapping his hands together and giving them a vigorous rub. "Well, my work here is done. Back to my real job." He turned to go only to be snagged by the wrist and tugged back down onto his own mattress.
Keller was stronger than she looked. She gave him a penetrating look that pinned him to the spot. "Colonel Sheppard isn't the only one who needs rest. I better not hear about you sneaking off to fix anything else. It can wait the night."
Rodney's jaw dropped. "But..."
"No, no buts. I've already had the rest of the repair team called in. It's going to get even colder now that it's closing in on midnight and I don't want anyone else out there tonight. Medical order." And with that, plus another pointed look, she left.
Rodney gaped, too irate to say anything coherent. He stammered until the right words finally popped into his head, then the weight of a blanket settled around his shoulders. He turned his head to see Teyla crouched next to him, adding another blanket.
"She is right, Rodney. You need to rest. And you know John will come looking for you if you go back out there."
For the third time, Rodney succumbed to another slump of defeat. Teyla was right, Sheppard would come looking for him. Not send anyone, not order him back over the com, but make a personal appearance. Then he would wait in the darkness and cold until McKay had finished.
So if he wanted the Colonel to stay, he was just going to have to stay. Besides, he was pretty tired.
Rodney shucked his boots and parka, then rolled into the blankets with a third and fourth added on top by Teyla. He was still just cold enough for warmth to take its sweet time in collecting, so passed the time before he did by watching the even rise and fall of the blankets piled on top of Sheppard. He could just see the top of the man's face beneath the tufts of hair sticking out of the covers, the eyes sunken and gray. Even in sleep, he looked so damn tired.
Rodney shivered, and not because he was cold. Tired as he was, warm as he was becoming, he couldn't drift off. He lay there, watching Sheppard sleep, then watching Teyla as she crawled into her bed, then Ronon into his bed. He listened to the gentle murmurs of the awake drift away as sleep claimed them or others hissed for them to shut up already, followed by the whisper of collective breathing.
Images slipped into Rodney's mind without warning – Sheppard covered in blood: a wild and frightened animal, huddled in the dark and alone in a city beneath the sea. The last one left. Left behind. It was so damn cold, but death wouldn't come. So he waited, and waited, as Rodney watched without being able to move. Why the hell couldn't he move, speak? All he had to do was speak, and John would know that he wasn't alone, wasn't forsaken. He wasn't lost, not like all the others. He wasn't lost...
They didn't leave people behind.
Except... sometimes it happened, and it couldn't be helped. Bad stuff couldn't be helped. John wasn't lost, but he could be one day.
Rodney snapped his eyes open with a small gasp and shudder. He blinked, clearing his vision to see Sheppard staring back at him, face sharp in the dimmed lights of the nearest 'jumper.
"You awake?" he croaked.
Rodney huffed out a relieved breath. It had been a dream, just a dream. Relief then turned to irritation. He'd finally fallen asleep, and John had the nerve the wake him.
"I am now," he snapped. "What do you want?"
"Tomorrow's Christmas," he said. "Just remembered it." He then yawned, rolled over onto his other side, and promptly went back to sleep.
Rodney narrowed his gaze. Why wasn't he surprised? But it was more irony for those who indulged in the Holiday. Might as well be just another day as far as he was concerned.
And yet, for some inexplicable reason, he felt like crying. Him, crying. He didn't cry, was neither hormonal nor a child. So what was up with the sudden need to blubber like a baby?
Crap, life sucked.
He closed his eyes to let sleep happen. Not that it would.
"Hey, McKay, wake up," Sheppard said.
Rodney squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face into the pillow. He hoped his helpless groan of protest silenced the Colonel. This wasn't a damn slumber party, this wasn't the time or the place to yammer into the night telling ghost stories and sticking people's hands into a bowl of warm water (which had led him to swearing off sleep-overs. Rodney still wondered why he'd even tried to stick it out the entire night at his first, and last, overnight stay...)
Rodney grunted louder. The man-child was too damn persistent for his own good.
"Come on, McKay. It'll be worth it, I swear. Get your lazy ass out of bed, just for a couple of minutes, then I'll let you sleep in until the Ancients come home."
Insufferable and sadistic, and after Rodney had carried his ailing carcass all the way back to the bay. With a growl, he shifted and shuffled until he was on his back to push himself up by his elbows. He turned sticky eyes on Sheppard sitting up on the edge of his own mattress. The pilot was cocooned in a heavy blanket, pale, bleary-eyed and his hair giving a whole new meaning to the term bed-head. But he was smiling, holding a metal mug of something steaming in both hands.
Rodney blinked in surprise. "Is that uh... is that what I think it is?"
"Coffee?" John said, then arched an eyebrow. "No. Even better. I managed to grab you a cup so, come on, get up before it goes cold."
"Not if it's oatmeal or soup," Rodney said.
"Better than both. Come on, up and at 'em McKay. It'll be worth it, trust me or I wouldn't have gotten you up at all."
With an annoyed huff of breath, McKay finally relented, part out of curiosity but a larger part anxious for what he hoped was a silver-lining start to what would otherwise be another crappy day. He wrapped his blanket around his shoulders as he settled on the mattress' edge. Sheppard shifted over to sit beside him, grabbing a second mug from off the floor. McKay took it, wrapping it with both hands, his palms soaking up the heat like a dry sponge in water.
The liquid was a creamy brown with swirls of white froth. Rodney sniffed it, then sipped, chocolate with a hint of caramel assaulting his tongue with pleasurable sweetness and warmth. He started in surprise.
Sheppard nudged his arm with his elbow. "Caramel hot chocolate. With marshmallows... or was. Damn, they melt fast. There's mint flavor, too. The cooks had it requisitioned two months ago for the Christmas party we were supposed to have."
Rodney took a longer sip and let the liquid sit in his mouth, suffusing his tongue with the taste. When he swallowed, he could feel it warming him from the core out.
"Zelenka and a couple of scientists managed to hook up those emergency hotplates to the 'jumpers. There's oatmeal, Cream of Wheat," he lifted his mug, "and hot water for hot chocolate."
McKay made his sips more deliberate, savoring each hit of sweetness with eyes closed. It was heaven. It was working heat, hot showers, and sitting in a hot tub surrounded by beautiful blond women. It was winning the Nobel prize... while being surrounded by beautiful blond women. With high I.Q.s, of course.
"Oh, man, this is good," he moaned.
"Would you like me to leave you two alone?"
Rodney opened his eyes to Sheppard's mildly amused look, complete with a tired smirk.
"If you wouldn't mind," Rodney kidded. "I suppose this is our Christmas miracle for the year, then." He took another slow, blissful swallow, this time managing to hold back a groan of delight. It felt like forever since he'd indulged in something other than the generic. Although, he supposed that was spoiled thinking since there were scientists in the remote places of earth that had no hot chocolate at all.
Rodney had honestly thought, more like hoped while trying not to – it being pointless - that he would have woken up to lights and heat.
A bony shoulder bumped against his own shoulder. "This city in one piece and us still breathing is our miracle. We're damn lucky to be alive," Sheppard said
Rodney would have snorted if he hadn't had hot chocolate in his mouth. I doubt Elizabeth would agree, he wanted to say, but knew in advance he would only end up regretting it. Besides, now that he thought about it, Sheppard did have a point.
McKay let his eyes wander the chamber to clusters of scientists and soldiers, huddled in coats and/or blankets: scientists among soldiers, soldiers among scientists, drinking from mugs or eating hot cereal from Styrofoam bowls. All of them chatting amiably with smiles on their faces, some of them laughing even if it did feel out of place in their current surroundings.
Except, because they had been through worse, much worse, it actually didn't seem that out of place at all.
Hell, Sheppard had more than just a point, he was completely right. Rodney looked over at John taking even slower, but longer, drinks from his own mug. Pale, cheeks hollow, eyes sunken and shadowed; there seemed little change from yesterday, except for the noticeable slack of once tense muscles and an expression of peaceful contentment. Even with the blankets between them, Sheppard was warm against Rodney's side: warm and alive and where he needed to be.
A completely different man from the one who'd stepped through the gate, and the one huddled lost and alone in the cold dark.
McKay shifted in a surreptitious scoot closer to Sheppard, though there weren't too many centimeters distance left to close. Personal space be damned. Today, Rodney McKay was a selfish man who liked the reassurance this proximity afforded. He wanted that reassurance. Hell, he needed it. He needed to remind himself of who was still here.
Teyla and Ronon soon joined them, sitting across from them on Sheppard's mattress, their own mugs in hand. They launched into a conversation about whatever there was to talk about, including stuff they'd talked about a dozen times before, and laughed about a dozen times. Three of the cooks made rounds with a trolley, ladling hot cereal into bowls and handing them out to make sure every one received their fair share. There was even choices of milk, honey, cinnamon and syrup to give the bland mush more flavor.
The bay was barely illuminated by 'jumpers and lamps, the heat still off, and yet Rodney had never felt more content in his life.
It took someone telling them to finally notice that the lights and heat had been restored.
A/N: I had wanted to get this out either before or on Christmas, but wasn't able to figure out the ending until afterwards. I had no idea where I was going with this story, but enjoyed figuring it out. Hope it worked for you all.