DUMB BOOKS - by NotTasha
Rodney woke with a start, feeling worn out, but warm. His chest hurt, his throat was sore and his joints ached, but he could breathe again. That alone felt blessedly good. There was that strange disconnected sensation that came with 'good drugs'. He opened his eyes and looked out. The infirmary. Atlantis. He was home. He smiled, and turned his aching head slowly.
"Hey," he heard Sheppard speak. Everything was blurred, so he blinked, clearing his vision until he could make out the colonel on the next bed, puttering about on a laptop. "You're awake." Sheppard smiled as if he was unusually pleased about something.
Rodney was going to comment about the obvious statement, but when he opened his mouth, all that came out was a gargling hoarse sound that tore at his throat and made his chest ache all the more.
"Yeah," Sheppard said. "Keller said it's going to be like that for awhile. Don't talk. Just keep still and don't get yourself excited. You are a very sick man."
Really, McKay wanted to say. Wow, what a surprise. I'm sick! Who would have thought that? Of course, I know that I'm sick. I am the one LIVING this experience.
He felt so weak, as if he could barely move, and the colonel's strange cheerfulness confused him.
"I think you rattled the doc pretty good," Sheppard went on. "She put you on that breathing machine. Said something about you being too tired to do it on your own anymore, and said that your throat is going to be sore when you eventually woke up."
Sheppard went on, "She told me to tell you that you shouldn't try to talk. Not that it'll do any good, because you didn't listen to me when I said exactly that, two days ago."
Two days? Rodney thought, creasing his brow.
Sheppard paused, seeing the expression, and asked, "You remember what happened?"
Of course, Rodney thought. How could he possibly forget nearly freezing to death on that foresaken planet? How could he forget the mother of all colds? It was hell. It was pure hell! His chest hurt. Where was Keller with a fresh round of good drugs?
God, he was pathetic. There was nobody who succumbed to illness quite as easily as he did. Sheppard must have been pretty fed up about the whole thing.
He strained, trying to remember what had happened. Something important. It was extremely important. One of the most significant finds they'd come across since arriving in Atlantis. But… what was it?
The books! He turned to Sheppard, with wide eyes.
"What?" Sheppard asked.
McKay struggled, wanting to speak. Where? Where was it?
Alarmed, Sheppard sat up. "You okay? Want me to get Keller?" He was on his feet, turned toward the doctor's office.
McKay dry swallowed. He struggled, he tried… and finally managed to gasp out, "Book?"
"Oh… yeah," Sheppard responded, dropping back into his seat. His face went blank as if he were trying to hide something. "Don't worry about it."
Rodney watched him critically, wondering about the response. "Where?" he ground out.
"About that." Sheppard looked away. "There were complications, you know. Ah, sometimes, in order to ensure the safety of one's team, one must do certain things that might appear to be …"
Rodney's eyes widened as he realized what Sheppard was getting at. No! No! He couldn't have burned it! NO! He wasn't that dumb, was he? How could he even considering sacrificing something that valuable? What was he thinking?
He struggled, wanting to get up, wanting to smack Sheppard so hard he'd see… Why was it so damn hard to sit up? Oh God, it was getting hard to breathe again.
"Rodney?" Concern tinged Sheppard's voice. "I'm getting Keller."
"No!" Rodney cried. He wanted to suck in some air, but ended up coughing again. God, would the coughing EVER end? But this time, it felt more productive, as if he was actually doing something, and after a moment the sensation passed.
He was aware that Sheppard was beside him, holding a cup and helping him sit up. Sheppard was saying something about 'scaring him to death' and how everything was going to be 'okay', but how could everything be okay? The book!
Wait… wait. Maybe he'd misunderstood what Sheppard had been saying. His mind was a bit muddled, and any scientist knows that they should test understanding when there is any chance of confusion.
"You didn't?" Rodney squeaked out. "Didn't burn?"
"I did," Sheppard admitted.
Rodney's expression fell. Couldn't he have been wrong just this once? Damn… damn it all. "Swore," he accused.
"Never actually committed to that 'swear' of yours," Sheppard reminded. "Listen, Rodney, it was a pretty long night. Ronon and Teyla had some trouble with the locals, and that's why it took them so long to return."
Oh no, Rodney thought, giving Sheppard an anxious look. They're okay? They have to be okay!
Sheppard held out his hands, understanding Rodney's thoughts. "They spent the night in the jumper with half the town surrounding them. Ronon wanted to blast his way out, but Teyla reasoned with him that they were better off staying put. They thought that we would either join up with them, or send help when we made it to the Gate. When Carter dialed the address before dawn, they were able to communicate what had happened."
Rodney nodded, accepting this information, but his thoughts were drawn back to the books – burned, forever destroyed. Didn't Sheppard understand the importance of the information? Didn't he see value? Good God, the information contained in them could have given them the foot-up they needed in their fight. The knowledge could have saved so many people.
Sheppard, in his infinite wisdom, had destroyed the most valuable documents that Rodney had ever laid hands upon. Gone. They're gone.
Rodney sighed defeated, and sank back into his pillows. Obviously, he hadn't tried hard enough to protect the important tomes. Obviously, he'd failed to learn everything he could.
"You were sick as hell, Rodney," Sheppard told him. "And the only reason Keller didn't serve my head to me on a platter for letting that happen was because I'd been able to keep you warm and alive."
Rodney watched him with accusing eyes.
Sheppard sat back, crossing his arms over his chest. "If you want me to apologize, you're going to have to live with disappointment. I'm fine with my actions. Damn it, Rodney, you were shaking and hardly breathing. You might have died. If burning a couple of books would stop that from happening, I'd do it any day."
Rodney closed his eyes, feeling the destruction of the books, regretting everything that was lost. Imagine what they could have discovered! There was so much potential lost.
Sheppard let out a long exhale and asked, "So, you remember any of the 'good' stuff that you'd read? Anything we can use?"
McKay opened his eyes to stare up at Sheppard. Yes! Yes, he'd read something – something that was very helpful and cool and very possible. Yes, yes… now if he could only…
He searched his mind, trying for all he was worth to remember. His eyes darted as he searched the files of his mind, but it wouldn't come back to him. It was all shadows and smudges. No… no… come on! Nothing. Nothing. He could find nothing! He wouldn't meet Sheppard's gaze, realizing his defeat, so he shook his head and looked away.
"Well," said Sheppard. "It'll come to you, right?"
McKay felt hopeless at his inability to recall. It was gone. Damn… damn. He hated himself for being unable to retain the information. How could he have forgotten everything? He closed his eyes in frustration and embarrassment.
Sheppard went on, his voice light. "No matter. I mean, we're right in the same spot where we started. No loss, right?"
Rodney sighed. Yes, there was the wisdom of John's word. No use crying over spilt milk, right? No use battling for a lost cause. He was tired, and his eyes didn't want to open. He sighed and rested into his pillows.
"We won't miss them," Sheppard stated, then quietly added, "You saw potential in those books. I see it someplace else."
Rodney snorted softly, not entirely understanding. But he was tired, and sleep was calling.
Rodney could hear that Sheppard had settled back on the next bed, and then begin poking at laptop keys. He slit open an eye and watched. Sheppard frowned at a screen in concentration.
Finally, curious, Rodney croaked out, "What're you doing?"
With a chagrinned expression, Sheppard turned the laptop to show him what was displayed. Rodney recognized it as the program he'd helped Elizabeth set up – a program to teach basic Ancient to the new scientists.
"Figure it wouldn't hurt," Sheppard told him and made a face as he examined the screen. "Well, wouldn't hurt much. I've been here four years. I guess it's high time I learned some of this."
Rodney chuckled softly, which made his chest hurt, which made him cough. And he found himself sitting up again, with a cup pressed to his lips. It took a moment for his coughing to quiet down. Then, he was lying down again. Sheppard told him to go to sleep.
It sounded like a good idea, so he did.
Thanks for reading!