Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fan fiction, and as such is for fan enjoyment only. All recognizable characters/settings are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is made. I'm afraid that despite wishing that I did, I don't own these characters. Not even my muses' voodoo could make them mine (and believe me, they used a LOT of chicken blood and other such occult doodads), nor could my militant blue badgers. DO NOT MESS WITH THE BADGERS. Still, I suppose that having the boys out on loan for a while is better than nothing…
Summary: Episode Tag to 'The Lost Boys/The Hive'. Rodney's a changed man and John doesn't like the new version…
Central Character(s): Rodney, John plus a smattering of Carson.
Category (ies): Episode Tag, friendship, angst, H/C.
Placement: Season Two, not long after 'The Hive'.
Rating: +12 for moderately bad language from the boys and talk about drugs and addiction.
Spoilers: Season Two's 'The Lost Boys/The Hive'.
A/N: Yep, you guessed it, part… *mumble, mumble, scuffs toe awkwardly and blushes, mumble, mumble*… of my 'Aftermath' series. Another episode that everyone and their uncle have written a tag for, but this is my offering. A plot bunny jumped me in the middle of the night and my muse decided to feed it… to the badgers. Only joking! Technically, it's her fault. Sort of. Oh, and there's a brief dialogue snippet from 'The Lost Boys', by the way. Anyways, enjoy the angst…
"C'mon, McKay! Get your ass moving!" Lt Col John Sheppard's voice echoed in the gloomy corridor. He'd spent most of the morning wandering around aimlessly while the great Dr. Rodney McKay claimed to be doing important research.
Quite why the Canadian wanted to trek out to the uninhabited parts of Atlantis was beyond him, as was the reason for coming here in the first place. Activating Ancient tech, my ass, the pilot thought. Sheppard was tired, damp and hungry – and the sooner he got back to civilisation, complete with hot showers and coffee, the better. If he was being honest with himself, he wasn't overly comfortable in the company of McKay; not like the old days, when they'd spend most of their free time hanging out or exploring. Things had been strained between Atlantis' 'odd couple' for a while now and John didn't know how to fix it.
When Rodney had asked him to come down to the lower levels in search of new gadgets to play with, the pilot had been all too happy to agree. Now, however, he was regretting the decision with a passion. He'd thought that maybe he could get McKay to talk to him, to find out what was going on in that big old brain of his, but all of his efforts had been ignored by his team-mate.
"Alright, alright! Enough already! God, you're worse than a two year old!" McKay rolled his eyes and scowled at the pilot. They had not had the most successful of mornings and Rodney was frustrated. Unfortunately, there was no one else other than the American to vent said frustration upon – Radek was stuck in the infirmary with the Pegasus Galaxy's equivalent of German Measles (thus tying up Carson as well), while Teyla and Ronon were giving hand-to-hand combat lessons to the latest batch of new recruits from Earth.
The scientist was regretting asking Sheppard to play guinea pig since all the man had done was make infantile comments and sulk – apart from a couple of botched attempts to get him to talk, that was.
Like he was really going to do that.
It was none of Sheppard's business as far as Rodney was concerned and he didn't think John would understand anyway. It wasn't as if he'd been drugged against his will or dragged away from his team-mates at gunpoint or…
"My, we're a snappy little physicist today, aren't we?" John drawled, grinning laconically and cutting off the Canadian's train of thought. "What's the matter, Rodney? Afraid to admit that our little trek was a total waste of time?"
"It was not a waste of time!" McKay huffed. He took a deep breath, mentally scolding himself for wanting to belt the living daylights out of his friend and team-leader. I will not bust his nose. I will not bust his nose…
A thought struck Sheppard. "Hey," he called, "tell you what – how about I race you to the mess?"
Rodney, who had been fiddling with his Ancient scanner in an effort to distract himself from his near-homicidal thoughts, looked up. "I'm sorry?"
"I said, how about a race to the mess? Last one there has to clean the winner's toilet for a week."
McKay shook his head in utter disbelief. Of all the juvenile, idiotic suggestions… "Is there a reason you're acting like an overgrown schoolboy today, Sheppard? Because that has to be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
Despite his own bitching and the Colonel's asinine comments, Rodney had to admit that food was starting to sound like a damn good idea. The half a power bar he'd had for breakfast was becoming nothing more than a distant memory and his stomach growled. He took a quick glance at his watch and gave himself a mental head slap. It'd been far too long since he'd last eaten. No wonder he was feeling so grouchy. After what had been a lousy day, having a hypoglycaemic attack would be just peachy. A crappy end to an equally crappy morning.
Sheppard grinned. "You're just scared that you'll lose," he taunted. "What's the matter? Don't wanna risk a blow to your ever growing ego?"
Judging from the way the physicist glowered at him, John knew he'd hit the nerve he'd been deliberately aiming for.
"My ego has nothing to do with this! Besides, it's hardly a fair challenge. After all, Lt Col Flyboy, you've got your military training to rely on. I'm just a civilian. Not exactly what I'd call even odds."
Sheppard's gaze drifted lazily over to his friend. Over the past year and a half, the man's physique had improved enormously – McKay had lost the softness, fat being replaced by muscle. Running for your life every other mission had helped in that area, but John was aware that Rodney had started to use the gym more often and it was beginning to show. McKay's reflexes, while not as fast as his, were sharper than before and when it came to firing a gun… The scientist had always had a scarily good aim, but recently it had seemed to take on an almost deadly accuracy.
Hell, he'd even begun to attend hand-to-hand training sessions weekly rather than his usual once a month if he had time/bothered to remember/got dragged kicking and screaming from the lab.
The scientist's attitude had definitely changed in that respect – and it frightened Sheppard. He thought back to when he'd first met McKay. The Canadian hadn't seemed like the outdoor type and had moaned more often than not over the course of their first dozen or so missions. Now, though, the whining wasn't as vehement or often. It was almost as if Rodney had undergone an extreme attitude adjustment.
And more recently, there had been a couple times when John had seen a darker side to McKay – a rage-driven, feral, survival-at-any-cost side. The last time had been about a week ago, when his team were ambushed by supposedly 'friendly' natives. One of the bastards had grabbed Teyla before she had a chance to react, and she had found an extremely sharp knife in close proximity to her throat.
Sheppard and Ronon had been busy dealing with a small army of axe and spear wielding maniacs and had managed to dispatch them just in time to hear a single shot and see the native holding Teyla fall to the ground limp. Behind him had stood Rodney, the 9mm in his hand still smoking slightly, the fury only just contained beneath his surface. That look would haunt the pilot until his last breath.
Then, almost as soon as it had appeared, the rage dissipated, leaving the Rodney McKay they knew and loved. After the briefing with Weir, John had tried to talk to the scientist about it, but McKay had refused heatedly. Even the threat of seeing Heightmeyer hadn't persuaded him, so Sheppard had agreed to drop it.
Now, though, John wondered whether there was more to it than simple aggression or survival instinct.
It hadn't been that long ago that his team had been captured by Ford and his merry little band of junkies – and unwillingly dosed with the Wraith enzyme. Sheppard could still remember the look of utter horror in Rodney's eyes when he realised that the drug was starting to cloud his usually razor sharp mind… and that there was nothing John could do to stop it.
"Look, maybe you ARE on the enzyme. Maybe Ford lied because no rational person would think that was a good plan."
"Look, a million things can go wrong, I know, but just… look, stop! Shut up and listen. You fix that Dart, we all get outta here. I know it's risky, but Ford's not thinking straight, so…"
"What are you talking about?"
"I'll insist you're all on the away team. I'll scoop you up and instead of flying out to the hive ship, we fly out to Atlantis."
"That Dart's gotta have its own DHD, right?"
"Well then, get that thing flight worthy, we all go home!"
"Right, of course. Now, you see, I would have thought of that myself before I became a drug addict."
"I'm sure you would have."
But it hadn't been alright by any sense of the word. The look of utter despair in Rodney's face had been unbearable, and the fact that he hadn't picked up on John's idea straight away only proved how much the drug was messing with him.
When he had found out how the Canadian had escaped from Ford's guards, the Air Force man had been livid… and scared. It had taken Rodney quite a while to overcome the after effects of the overdose. His mood swings had been even more sudden than normal, he was often withdrawn and sullen, and Ronon had even seen him crying on one of the piers.
Rodney McKay, crying for no reason: there was one mental image that John wished he hadn't been subjected to.
Even worse was the physicist's behaviour around his staff. He had been like a caged tiger pacing around in his lab, barking out orders and in one case, reducing a grown man to little more than a snivelling wreck. Okay, Rodney chewed out his people a lot and ruled his department with an iron fist, but all of his teams respected him. He inspired loyalty like the Air Force man had never seen so the unprovoked put-downs and rants were definitely new – and less than welcome.
The Colonel suddenly became aware of McKay talking. He grinned, trying to mask the fact that he'd zoned out.
"Are you even listening to me?" Rodney said in exasperation.
"I've been doing nothing else since this morning," Sheppard replied. "I can't help it if your voice is sending me to sleep."
"Touché, Colonel." Rodney rolled his eyes. "Your wit is as sharp as ever."
"So, are we on?"
"No." For some reason, Rodney felt incredibly angry. He had always had a bit of a temper, but this was different… and it had nothing to do with his normal low blood sugar-induced crankiness. He was suddenly furious – and the fact that deep down he knew why only served to fuel the anger.
He wanted a hit. He needed the enzyme…
"Aw, c'mon, Rodney! It'll be a laugh. I'll even give you a head start."
McKay's face seemed to grow cold and impassive. "I said no."
"What's the harm…?"
"DAMMIT, I SAID NO!"
Sheppard frowned at the sudden bite in the physicist's tone. "Okay, Rodney," he said, holding his hands up in surrender. "Sorry."
As soon as the anger had surfaced, it disappeared again. McKay swallowed heavily and ran a shaking hand down his face, leaning against a wall for support. He felt like he'd turned to jelly – probably due to the unexpected adrenaline rush leaving his system.
Sheppard watched as his team-mate sank down to the floor. "McKay?"
Rodney closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he spoke, his voice shook. "I'm… I'm sorry, Colonel. I don't know what came over me." Feeling a slight weight in his shoulder, he opened his eyes to see Sheppard crouched next to him.
"You okay?" John asked, hand pressed firmly to the scientist's shoulder. "You look a little pale."
McKay gave a small laugh. "It's probably my hypoglycaemia," he stated matter-of-factly. Feeling the familiar cold sweat on his forehead, he studied his hands. Sure enough, the tell-tale tremors were running through them. "I'll be fine. Just gotta eat something."
Sheppard was one step ahead of him, shoving an open power bar into McKay's hands. He watched as the physicist nodded gratefully and wolfed the snack down. Taking out his canteen, he unscrewed the lid and handed it across. After Rodney had taken a few sips, he retrieved the water and stowed it away again before sitting down next to the scientist.
"You know," he said quietly, "we've been worried about you lately."
"Why?" asked McKay, confusion pulling at his features. He had always hated this part – the confusion, the tiredness, the slightly blurred vision. It made him feel like he was slowly losing the plot. That combined with the frantic messages for a fix of something… anything… that his body was sending him made him feel like he was about to fly apart.
Sheppard took a deep breath, hoping that he wasn't about to plunge headfirst into a proverbial dragon's nest. "You've been… different lately," he said. "Like back on M8G-622."
Rodney looked down at his feet, obviously uncomfortable. "I don't want to talk about it," he muttered.
"I think you should."
"There's nothing to tell."
McKay's words had sounded light, but from the way the man's shoulders had tensed, John knew that it was a lie. "Dammit, McKay, that's bull and you know it!"
Sheppard growled. "No. If this is because of that damn enzyme, I need to know. If you're going to be a liability in the field…"
"Tough. You're gonna talk to me, Rodney, even if I have to lock you in a holding cell until you give in."
The scientist finally looked over to John, and the Colonel was shocked to see how weary his friend seemed. "I'm tired of being the weak link, Sheppard. The one who has to be looked after all the time because he's a civilian."
"What are you talking about?" asked John, confusion pulling at his boyish features. "I've already made it clear that I don't think you're weak."
Rodney shook his head. "No, you're wrong. Every time we go off-world, you, Teyla and Ronon have to watch my back. Don't misunderstand me: I really, really appreciate it but… It's making your job harder than it should be."
"It's my job to protect you," John replied quietly. "And I know I've told you that before, but it's worth saying again. You're a civilian, not a soldier. No one expects you to have to be an expert in hand-to-hand. I don't expect you to have to act like a marine."
The Canadian looked away with a guilty expression. "Ever since the overdose, I've felt different. I… The last couple of weeks, I've been…" He took a deep breath, trying to regain control of his emotions. "It's kind of hard to explain," he said, sighing. "It's like I've been angry all the time for no reason. It hasn't always shown, but I know the fury's there, just under the surface. It all seemed to explode when that maniac got a hold of Teyla."
"You did what you had to do," the Air Force man insisted. "Any of us would have done the same."
"But you're all fighters," Rodney replied, "and at least two of you are military." He swallowed heavily, looking sick. "I shot a man, John. I shot him and I didn't even flinch. I mean, okay, so it was only a shoulder wound, it wasn't like I killed him or anything, but… For a moment or two I really wanted to. I wanted to throttle the son of a bitch, rip him apart with my bare hands. And it felt good." A look of horror and disgust settled on his face. "It… it shouldn't feel like that. I shouldn't feel like that." He shuddered violently, his face becoming ashen. "For a few seconds, that… that feeling was such a buzz."
Sheppard looked shocked – not only had Rodney called him by his first name, the scientist was actually talking to him. The fact that the scientist was admitting to – what, enjoying? – shooting a man even in self-defence was terrifying. McKay was never usually one to discuss things like emotions with anyone, yet here he was baring his soul. The American suddenly felt a wave of sympathy for Rodney and snaked his arm around the Canadian's shoulders, trying to provide some kind of physical support. "It's the enzyme," he replied. "It's screwing around with your head. We both know that you're not that kind of person."
"But I could be," McKay whispered, his blue eyes showing the fear and pain all too clearly. "If it only takes a drug to turn me into that… that man…" He trailed off, covering his face with his hands. "What if I've always been like that? What if I just needed that extra push or…"
"No," John said firmly, cutting him off. "I don't buy that for a second, Rodney. I've seen you do amazing things, terrible things, but you are not a monster. Okay, so you let your ego get the better of you with Doranda, but you've proved to me that you can learn from your mistakes." He gently pulled his friend's head up to face him. "And I know that you'd sacrifice everything to save us. That's not such a bad thing." His hazel eyes shone with regret. "I can't imagine what it must have been like for you while we were on the hive ship. I…" He hesitated for a moment, hating how bad he was at this kind of thing before deciding that honesty was the best course of action. "All the time we were there, the one thing going through the back of my mind was how you were coping. I kept telling myself that those two goons hadn't hurt you… and that you'd found some way to get back to Atlantis."
"Being stuck on Ford's planet was awful," Rodney admitted. "Not being with the rest of you, knowing that something was wrong… It almost killed me, not being able to help…"
John felt him tense and realised just in time that Rodney was going to be sick. He quickly manoeuvred the physicist onto his hands and knees and supported him while McKay emptied the small amount that was in his stomach. Soon enough, the vomiting was replaced by dry heaves, and John could do nothing but rub small circles on Rodney's back, trying to comfort him.
"God…" the Canadian whimpered, screwing his nose up.
Sheppard heaved McKay away from the mess and scooted them further down the corridor before he handed him the water. After swilling his mouth out, Rodney took a couple of ginger sips and relaxed when they didn't make an immediate reappearance.
"Feel better?" John asked.
"Not really," Rodney replied in a low whisper. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it," the pilot assured him. "Seen worse when I was at college. Anyways, you were telling me about Ford… and the enzyme."
Rodney looked across at John, his blue eyes full of guilt. "The only reason I took the fucking stuff was because I felt so damn helpless. I had to get back to Atlantis, had to try and help you. I know it was stupid and dangerous and completely irresponsible, but I was so desperate. I couldn't have taken those two gorillas out without an extra edge." He frowned, bobbing his head as he mimicked, "You want the crystals, you're gonna have to go through us. That's what they told me."
The Air Force man felt a surge of anger at that. He knew that McKay had taken on the men left by Ford and that they'd fought back – the bruising around the physicist's face was still visible – but hearing it from Rodney somehow made it worse. "Bastards."
"So I did. I took it. A lot of it. Too much, but what else could I do? I wasn't a match for them without it." Rodney smiled a bit as he remembered the look on their faces when he'd squared up to them. "They were so surprised that I fought back, like they were expecting me to just give up and sit quietly. I really was amazing." The grin fell. "And afterwards, when I thought you were all…" He shook his head as his voice cracked, swallowing heavily. "I thought I'd let you down again. It was unbearable. I thought that everything I'd been through had been a waste and I was so angry. I kept thinking that maybe I shouldn't have waited so long, or taken a smaller dose… I could have killed myself and it would have been for nothing."
John felt McKay tense up under his grip. "I'm sorry, Rodney."
The scientist waved a shaking hand dismissively. "Nothing to apologise for, Colonel."
Oh, but there is, Sheppard thought to himself. If only I'd been paying more attention… The realisation that Rodney blamed himself for things out of his control worried John. He'd have to try and make it up to the scientist somehow. "We'll get through this," he replied. "I mean it. It'll be okay."
McKay grimaced. "I don't think so. Not this time. It's like someone's flicked a switch in my head." He slumped down further. "All I can think of is this… craving… deep down. It feels like there's this aching gap inside me, like an itch I can't quite reach. I… I tried to dull it with some of Zelenka's rot gut but it wasn't enough. Nothing's ever enough…"
Hearing the physicist's words beginning to slur set off the alarm bells in John's head. Pressing his fingers against McKay's neck, he was worried to find a rapid, irregular pulse beating back at him under skin that felt cold and clammy. Dammit.
The Colonel watched in horror as his friend crumpled to the floor. "Hey, Rodney, stay with me."
"Don't feel so good," Rodney mumbled, trying to curl up. He felt like he was burning up from the inside out.
John tapped his earpiece. "This is Sheppard. I have a medical emergency in section E16, corridor 3. Get a med team down here stat."
"Understood, John," replied Elizabeth over his radio. "What's the nature of the emergency?"
Sheppard grimaced as he tried to pull McKay more upright. "It's Rodney. I don't know what's wrong. It might be hypoglycaemic shock but it's come on awfully quick."
'John? It's Carson. Can you describe Rodney's physical condition for me?'
The Colonel fought the urge to scream down the radio. "Yeah, doc, it's bad. He's white as a sheet, sweating, barely conscious. His tremors are getting pretty intense and his pulse isn't so hot. I gave him a power bar about fifteen minutes ago, but I don't think it was enough: he was getting confused and slurring his words. I only had the one with me and Rodney's vest is pretty much empty. I'm not sure when the last time he had a proper meal was." He thought for a moment then added, "And he's been sick."
"Och, Rodney, you daftie," Carson said softly.
"Is it his blood sugar or a withdrawal problem?" the Air Force man asked, although he had a fairly good idea about the answer already.
"It could be either, son, but I won't know until I can examine him," Beckett replied calmly.
John struggled to force his panic down. "What can I do to help?"
"Stay with him, Colonel, and try to reassure him. The team's already on the way. I need you to keep him awake and warm if you can."
"Sure thing, doc." Sheppard switched off the radio and tugged McKay back into a sitting position. "Hey, Rodney, can you hear me?"
McKay looked out blankly through half closed eyelids. "Wha…?"
"Beckett says you gotta stay awake." John reached across and pulled the scientist close to his chest, holding onto him as if his life depended on it.
"S-sorry…" McKay's voice was only just audible.
"Pack that in," Sheppard growled. "I don't wanna hear it. You just stay with me, okay?"
"Trying…" Rodney's eyes closed and didn't open again.
Cursing, John shook the physicist as he felt his friend go limp, causing McKay's head to loll forwards. "Rodney! Dammit, McKay, open your eyes! That's an order!"
There was no response.
"HURRY UP!" Sheppard bellowed into his mic.
Some time later, in the infirmary…
Sheppard sat in the chair next to McKay's bed and sighed.
Rodney had been through hell. He'd been punished for something beyond his control, for no good reason, and made to pay a heavy price for something he didn't deserve. It had almost destroyed him in the process.
He was pissed with himself for not realising that Rodney had been struggling with the lingering feeling of dependence from the enzyme, for not seeing sooner that he needed help. He let out another long and frustrated sigh.
John had always thought that if Rodney had a problem, the physicist would come to him for help. He'd done so in the past. But that was before Doranda, a little voice said bitterly in the back of Sheppard's mind. Before you made that stupid 'trust' comment… Their friendship had been rocky for a while after that incident (which hadn't been helped when a group of marines decided to take vigilante revenge), but John honestly thought they'd manage to rebuild the burnt bridges so to speak.
Obviously, he'd been wrong.
McKay had been fighting a losing battle, and John had been blind. As he watched his team-mate sleeping, he made a silent promise to set that right, effective immediately. And the best way to start would be to let Rodney know that he didn't have to suffer alone.
He heard footsteps and looked up to see Carson stood next to him.
"You look a bloody mess, lad," the physician said.
John shrugged. "I'm good."
Beckett rolled his eyes as he sat down in the seat next to the pilot's. "Aye and I'm the Queen of England." His face softened as he saw the worry on John's face. "He's going to be fine, Colonel. The glucose IV is sorting his levels out and the rest will do him good. It won't be too long before he's up and about again."
"I hope so," the Air Force man replied quietly. "Honest to God, Carson, it all scared the hell out of me."
The Scotsman nodded. "Tis a frightening thing to witness, but I promise you that our boy will be fine. And that was thanks to the quick thinking on your part, son. If you hadn't had that power bar, we'd be having a very different conversation."
Both men swallowed heavily at that particular implication.
"What's actually wrong with him?"
Carson sighed. "A little of this, a little of that. His blood sugar was a wee bit low. Normally, eating a power bar would have solved that quickly, but Rodney's body has been overtaxed of late. The overdose and his withdrawal left him with a weakened immune system. Nothing serious, son," he added quickly when he saw the worry on the Air Force man's face. "Just enough to make things a bit more difficult than normal."
"Can you fix it?" Sheppard asked, not liking the sound of the physician's prognosis.
"Aye, Colonel, we can." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "That's the easy part."
"Did you know how bad he was?" asked John, nodding at the sleeping scientist. His eyes flicked to the faint bruising around Rodney's wrists and he gave an involuntary shudder. Still, at least the Canadian wouldn't be too freaked when he woke up – the pilot had insisted that the restraints be removed from whichever bed he was put in.
Carson sighed. "I had an inkling, but the daft sod has avoided this place like the plague. Not that I blamed him, mind you. The last time he was here was nae pleasant for either of us." His normally pleasant face took on a haunted look as he remembered the scientist's ordeal. "I never want to see him like that again, John," he said quietly. "He was hurting so badly that for a moment, I…" He trailed off shaking his head.
"I can imagine," the Colonel replied, placing a hand on Beckett's arm. "I'm really grateful that you were here with him."
Carson patted John's hand. "I wouldn't have been anywhere else, lad. Look, I know you don't want to betray his trust, but if he said anything that makes you think he needs something to take the edge off…"
Sheppard shook his head. "No, doc. Nothing like that," he lied. He knew that the last thing Rodney would want would be drugs to dull the need. Rodney had hinted as much in their conversation earlier – swapping one drug for another, regardless of the form it took, was not the answer.
"No," John replied. "He's dealing with it."
"Maybe so, but he's been… off lately."
"I know. Trust me, Carson. I'll make sure he gets through this." John sighed and looked back at his team-mate. "I owe it to him."
Beckett studied the pilot's face and saw the intensity in his eyes. He gave a small grin. "I know you will, son," he replied. "Just… don't forget that I'm always here if you need me."
Sheppard smiled. "Gotcha." He looked back over at Rodney, surprised at how still the man seemed. It was almost unnatural seeing him so quiet – McKay was always moving, always talking. "How long's he gonna sleep for?"
"He should be coming round any minute," Beckett said, moving to check Rodney's vitals. "Like I said, he was lucky. Now that his reaction's under control, this is just exhaustion, plain and simple."
As if on cue, McKay groaned and cracked open his eyes.
"Hey, buddy," John said, standing up. "How you doing?"
Rodney grimaced and looked around blearily. "Feel like crap," he whispered.
"You don't look so pretty either," Sheppard quipped, grinning as he saw the eye roll from his friend.
"Now, Rodney, play nicely," Carson scolded, checking McKay's pupils with his trusty penlight. "You gave us all a scare."
"Ow! Dammit, that hurts!" Rodney grumped, trying to push the light away from his sensitive eyes.
"He'll be fine, doc," John said as they heard a rather colourful curse involving sheep come from the bed.
Beckett laughed. "Aye, I think you might be right," he replied.
"Way to treat the crazy man," McKay snapped.
"You're not crazy, Rodney," Sheppard said, making the Canadian's jaw drop open in surprise.
"I'll leave you to it," Carson said. He squeezed Rodney's shoulder. "If you need any help, you get your bum in here, lad, you hear? I mean it. I'll not have you suffering if there's something I can do to help."
Rodney sighed, but nodded.
"Good. Now, I'll let Colonel Sheppard sit with you for a while, but you need to rest." He turned to John. "Don't tire him too much."
"Understood, doc," Sheppard replied with a nod.
As Beckett wandered back in the direction of his office, John leant against the cot next to the scientist's and crossed his arms, watching as Rodney sat up.
"So," he said after several long and silent minutes, "how long have you been trying to drink yourself into oblivion?"
Rodney turned his head away. "It's none of your business," he snapped defensively.
Sheppard quirked up an eyebrow. "It is when it's a member of my team," he replied. "You have a choice, McKay. You either talk to me or I'll have Elizabeth schedule compulsory visits to Heightmeyer and make sure that you're grounded until she gives you the all clear."
McKay turned back, a look of anger and indignation on his still pale face. "You wouldn't," he hissed. "You wouldn't sink that low."
Staring at his team-mate, Rodney saw the by now familiar look of resolution and knew that John wasn't kidding. He sighed. "Okay."
"Good. Now talk, genius."
"Alright, first of all, it was the one time only," McKay said hotly, holding up a finger. "Just one time. And secondly, I did not 'drink myself into oblivion' as you so colourfully phrased it. I had four shots of that paint stripper and threw up."
"Never knew you were such a lightweight," John quipped.
"Oh… shut up."
McKay growled, pulling his legs up and wrapping his arms around his knees. "Look, if you're just going to stand there and insult me, then I'm not saying another word."
Sheppard held up his hands. "Okay, okay." He let out a breath and gnawed on his lip. "Why didn't you come to me?" he asked softly. "Why didn't you tell me what was going on? I thought we were friends, Rodney. Friends are meant to be there to help each other."
Rodney grimaced and looked embarrassed. "I… I didn't think that you would want to talk to me," he mumbled.
This time it was John who looked shocked. Managing to snap out of it, he gave the scientist a cool stare. "How can you say that?" he asked, suddenly angry and more hurt than he'd ever admit. "Dammit, McKay, you know better than that. If you couldn't come to me as your friend, you should have come to me as your team-leader. Don't you trust me?"
Rodney ducked his head into his arms. "Of course I do," he whispered. "I just didn't know if you trusted me."
And suddenly, John understood. He knew why McKay had chosen to deal with this alone, why he hadn't asked for help he so desperately needed, and he felt a massive wave of guilt and shame.
"No, Sheppard," McKay said softly. "It's okay. I fucked up. I've done it before and I know I'll do it again. You have every reason not to have any faith in my abilities. I sure as hell don't at the moment and the last thing you need on the team is a drug addict." His shoulders shook. "As soon as Carson lets me out of here, I'll give my notice to Elizabeth. You should start to look for a replacement. Radek'll do it, I'm sure, but if not, you should seriously consider Gregson. I think that's his name. Not as smart as Zelenka but he has a lot of promise..."
The pilot walked up to the side of McKay's cot and pulled his head away from his arms. Rodney's mouth was pulled into an unhappy frown, and for some bizarre reason, it made John feel like he'd just kicked a puppy. "Rodney McKay, you are a stupid, stubborn man. I don't want a replacement! I chose you."
"But I'm a liability!" McKay snarled. "I can't do anything right at the moment!"
"Welcome to the human race, buddy," John replied gently. "Nobody's perfect, even if they are the smartest person in two galaxies. You're not a Goddamn robot!"
"No, Rodney. I refuse to accept your resignation. Giving up and running away isn't the answer. It's a quick fix that'll only make you feel better for a little while. It's like… putting a band aid over a gunshot wound: it'll only work for so long." He shook his head, smiling ruefully. "Everyone screws up now and then. I woke up the Wraith! It doesn't get much more fucked than that."
McKay looked down at his wrists, fingering the bruises. "It hurts," he said eventually. "It hurts so badly sometimes that I… I just want to…"
"I know, buddy. And I'm sorry you felt you couldn't come to me." Sheppard gently wrapped a hand over Rodney's, stopping the fretful movements. "I can't even begin to imagine what you must have gone through."
"But you were with Ford when he… you know."
"True," John conceded, "and it scared the crap out of me. Knowing that you went through that…" He trailed off, shaking his head. "What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to be alone anymore."
Rodney closed his eyes and swallowed heavily. "How do I make it go away?" he asked quietly. "How do I stop the itch?"
"By doing what you do best," Sheppard replied. "By trusting your friends and not giving in." He pulled his hand away and sat down in the chair. "You could always ask Carson for something…."
"No," McKay spat vehemently. "No, I don't want that… It wouldn't help. I can't swap one addiction for another. It'll just make it worse."
"That's what I said. Not in so many words of course."
McKay gave his friend a sideways glance. "How'd you know?"
Sheppard grinned. "Because I know you, Rodney." The grin faded slightly. "And I do trust you. I know what I said after Doranda, but… You did good, trying to save us."
"Are we… are we okay then?"
"Always. Just promise me one thing."
Rodney nodded. "Shoot."
"Talk to me. Come to me if you have a problem. Trust me."
The Canadian smiled, properly smiled, the first one in what felt like months. "Technically, that's three things, but you've got a deal, Colonel."
John grinned and patted Rodney's arm. "Good. Now if you promise not to antagonise Carson or his staff, I'll see if I can persuade him to let you have your laptop."
"Scouts Honour, Answer Man," Sheppard said, laughing at the look of wide eyed, innocent surprise. "Okay?"
"Okay." Rodney fidgeted for a moment, resisting the urge to rip out his IV. "Thank you."
John stood up. "Don't mention it. I meant what I said though. You need me, you come and find me. You're not alone this time, Rodney. Me and the others will be here every step of the way." He looked over to Carson's office and gave the Scotsman a small nod. "Remember, I've always got your back, buddy." Giving McKay a mock salute, the pilot sauntered out of the infirmary, whistling tunelessly under his breath.
As Rodney settled back in his cot, he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his chest. Even better still, the rage had died away slightly. It was still there, but nowhere near as overwhelming as before. He could do this. He could get over it and the fact that Sheppard was willing to help only made him more determined to get back to normal.
John trusted him again…
He closed his eyes and drifted off into the most peaceful sleep he'd had in months.