Alright, he conceded... maybe it had been ill-advised. Unwise, perhaps.

But foolhardy?

That was going too far. Carson had called him that while he'd been throwing up. It had been grossly unfair as he couldn't at that point defend himself - not while clutching at the rim of a basin and trying to catch his breath between heaves.

Okay, so his temperature was up... his white count, too. It might have happened anyway, regardless of whether he'd decided to go walkabout.

He picked at the layers of hardened tape on his arm; it could take days to get all that off, and of course that was the point, wasn't it? So the foolhardy patient couldn't escape again.

He didn't want to escape, he wasn't stupid; but still he picked. The unsmiling nurse who had reattached his line, glared at him the whole time she bound round and round his arm. She knew exactly what she was doing; Rodney had absconded once on her watch and he wouldn't do it again - not easily, anyway.

He swept the back of an unsteady hand across his sweaty brow. The infirmary bed where he lay propped on pillows, was lumpy. The covers clung and tangled themselves around his legs. The heat within him made him want to crawl out of his skin; it itched... felt too tight on his bones. His eyes were gritty and sore, and he grimaced at the unpleasant feeling of his limbs being slippery with sweat.

Shifting uneasily, his eyes strayed again to the bathroom door, diagonally across from him. Another twinge deep in his belly had him frowning and wriggling. He looked yearningly at the door; could he make it? Well, he could definitely crawl there, but that was not such a good plan. If he showed them any weakness, he'd be catheterised again quicker than you could zip your fly...

They'd given him something... for the fever, but it had yet to work. He was dog-tired, feverish and now he needed the bathroom. He should call for a nurse; the button was right there. He sighed, it was just too undignified... hell, it was unnecessary.

Calling for assistance was what they expected; how amazed and impressed they would be, though, if he made his own... arrangements.

The infirmary was empty; he could go from bed to bed, clinging on and resting if he needed to. If anyone came in he could bluff his way, stand tall, smile, laugh, make a joke even.

As he drew back the bed linen, cool air prickled across his damp skin making him shiver.

He was sick; yes... he really was... no arguments there. Leaving the infirmary as he'd done earlier that day, had set him back a good deal. But he only had make it to the bathroom and that was a paltry little thing, easily achieved.

Just get to the bathroom, McKay... get in and get out, no biggie. Then sleep in a soggy, sweaty heap for the rest of the day, if that was what it took.

He'd done far more difficult things, after all.

Pivoting on his rear, he swung his legs around and lowered trembling feet to the cold floor. A queasy moment or two later, he pushed up and away from his damp bed, until he stood swaying by its side.

His legs felt like pins, thin and unsteady. His knees knocked and there was little he could do to stop them. A pinching sensation in his chest brought an unwelcome reminder of his recent injury. He could only imagine what kind of a mess he looked; the white faced scientist, half-naked and shivering. Way to impress the nurses, McKay.

He clung to the IV stand as if it was a lifeline.

Seconds passed. How many he didn't know. His heart was bumping against bruised ribs. He was sweating even more now, something he had thought was impossible.

Shit, shit, shit...!

All optimism had left him and he realised with a sinking heart that to venture off now would indeed be... foolhardy. The words of his Scottish doctor prickled him, but he knew for certain the truth and wisdom behind them.

As these unwelcome thoughts ran through his mind, he was startled into further unsteadiness by a familiar voice.

"Going somewhere, McKay?"

With a gasp he turned his head and saw Sheppard leaning easily against an adjacent gurney, his arms folded in front of him. He wasn't smiling.

Huh.. wasn't that just typical? Here he was, ready to go, almost naked, ghostly-white and looking like a breath of wind would knock him over, and in comes an audience to watch it all unfold. Well, an audience of one.

"It's alright, Sheppard, I'm not absconding this time, just... taking a walk," was his irritated reply.

"Where to? You don't look so good." Sheppard was probably eyeing the sweaty sheen on McKay's forehead - the way he stood bent over like an old guy.

"Bathroom, if you must know... " he answered testily, "... and I'd kill for a vanilla ice cream."

Unbelievably, he laughed... Sheppard laughed; the bastard actually laughed.

But he must have seen Rodney's wounded and horrified expression because instantly, his face fell, replacing the grin with a sheepish half-smile.

"Sorry, buddy... not funny, huh?" He had stood away from the gurney and now his hands were loosely in his pockets. He looked contrite.

"Come on... " said Sheppard, and he held out his arm.

McKay blinked.

"I can't promise you ice-cream," went on the pilot, "but I can get you where you wanna go."

Rodney hesitated. Sheppard was his friend, they'd been through a lot together, and he should accept this offer of help. It wasn't easy though. He was embarrassed, both by his weakened condition and the frankly disgusting mess he was in; sweating profusely, unshaved, unkempt and decidedly unwashed.

He just wasn't sure he could do it. Maybe he'd wait for Carson. With Carson it was different; he was a doctor, and used to such things... but no, his body was telling him that waiting for Carson could be a very bad idea.

The decision was taken away from him at that point as, seemingly unphased by his friend's scruffy state, Sheppard slid his shoulder under Rodney's, grabbed his wrist, and effectively hauled the surprised man upright.

There was a brief loss of equilibrium but then they settled into a kind of solid framework, capable perhaps of making the trip across the room and back. Their faces were inches apart and Rodney hoped his wasn't showing his unease.

Sheppard's face, though, was a blank; it showed nothing, no embarrassment, no disgust and for that Rodney felt a deep and genuine gratitude.

Slowly and carefully they made their way across the shiny floor, Rodney's knees still knocking. His clammy right hand ensured the IV followed them on its squeaky little wheels.

In no time at all they were at the washroom door.

"I think I can manage from here..." he mumbled, breathlessly, and he unhooked himself from the other man's shoulder. Sheppard looked relieved and simply said, "Good.."

After taking care of what needed to be done, the scientist deposited his used hand towel in the trash, and as he did so caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He looked old, old and sick... no real surprises there then.

Taking hold of his ever present IV buddy he pushed open the door to find Sheppard patiently waiting, hands in pockets again. Without any hesitation this time, Rodney took the hand that was offered and allowed himself to be draped more or less across the pilot's broad shoulders.

"Your bones stick out..." he grizzled, but found he was unable to say anything more.

"Shut up, McKay," Sheppard said amicably, as they shuffled off.

Rodney was breathing heavily now. Over the last few minutes he had begun to feel worse and worse. His chest was tight and sore. There was a humming in his head like a badly-tuned radio. He found his right hand was no longer wrapped around metal. Instead, it was fisted onto the front of Sheppard's dark shirt. The colonel didn't seem to mind it being there.

Rodney screwed up his eyes; the infirmary didn't look right, it was all brightly lit and mushy, and he could swear the floor was tilting.

He clung even harder to his friend, and John, as if he guessed what was going on, lengthened his stride and tightened his grip on the scientist. There were quiet words spoken, but all Rodney heard was a comforting mumbling, against a background of ever increasing radio static.

He was just wondering why they hadn't reached his bed yet, when the static became unbearably loud, and his head was filled with deafening sound and electric white light.

Faintness came washing over him like a chilling wave, and he was only just aware of an abrupt but gentle fall.

When his eyes opened everything looked almost normal... a good sign, he thought.

Blinking at the ceiling, he heard soft voices speaking.

"Will he be alright?"

A sigh, "He's much better now. His fever's down, he's resting easy. Being up and around just about exhausted him, add to that a depressed system, no wonder he fainted."

Rodney felt an indignation that was almost physical. Why did they have to call it that?

Carson was talking again.

"Lucky for him you came along when you did, Colonel."

Rodney took a second or two to ponder on that one.

Lucky? Hell, yes.

Lucky to be alive... to be considered important, and not just for his brains... Lucky to be cared for, because, let's face it... when does that happen to a socially challenged astro physicist? Lucky to have good friends... a crazy Scotsman, two dangerous aliens, and a stubborn pilot for whom giving up was just never an option.

The pillow felt soft beneath his head. His bedding had been changed... it smelled of clean air and detergent.

What was that song...? Dreadful song, something about being lucky; McKay ferretted around in his brain to remember it.

Oh yeah... Hot Australian girl... that's the one, and he was still humming it to himself when the others arrived with the ice-cream.


The End

Thanks for your patience... I'm so embarrassed that this story has been going on for so long.

Never again... (She says, hopefully!) and, as always, THANKYOU for reading this stuff I write, I hope you enjoy