A/N: No particular spoilers, though it's sometime in Season 4.
Rodney McKay woke to the sound of the pilot's voice announcing they would be landing in twenty minutes. A patch of spiky hair tickled his chin, waking him further. John Sheppard had fallen asleep on Rodney's shoulder, swollen fingers tightly clinging to his shirt.
The trip hadn't been easy for John. The flight to Las Vegas had been a squealing hell; the last minute arrangements put them in coach. Every noise made the colonel jump. Once, he may have given the child behind them the evil eye; Rodney handled the complaint from the mother. There was no way to apologize for a cranky person with a cast on each arm. During the layover, Rodney paid top dollar to get first class on their long flight to Vancouver. Only a few airlines had first class these days, making Rodney consider buying his own plane. After all, he had a pilot.
Getting through the airport had been difficult, until a wandering porter named Ferris arrived with a wheelchair. John had latched onto the poor man, but Ferris didn't seem to mind. For the first time in weeks, John smiled, wincing when his bruised face moved. A great weight lifted from Rodney when the colonel finally spoke. "Ferris wheels," was all John said. Rodney was immensely pleased the cheerful Jamaican would be the one to push the recovering colonel through the busy airport.
It occurred to Rodney that at some point, people would probably stare at the poor guy in the wheelchair. He started to invent wild stories to explain the colonel's heavily bruised face and the gash over his eye. But he settled on the near-truth – Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard was an Air Force pilot on medical leave. Simple, direct, not too many questions. People assumed he had been in the Middle East.
The privileges of being a first class passenger and being handicapped made Rodney smile. Not that he enjoyed lugging around an injured man and two duffle bags. But they got on the plane first, providing Rodney enough time to get John settled and prepared for flight. It was bad enough the pilot was uneasy when he wasn't flying the plane; now he was hurt and sleep-deprived. Not the best combination.
Gazing out of the window, Rodney mused that he didn't even mind sitting on the aisle. It was more important John was comfortable enough to sleep, than Rodney worrying about getting bumped by an attendant or a weaving passenger.
Blinking the sleepiness away, Rodney decided to wake John slowly. Squeezing the swollen fingers sticking out of the casts, he whispered the colonel's name. John's injuries made him weak and mostly exhausted; it was hard to rouse him once asleep.
Avoiding the injuries he could see, Rodney patted John's arm, saying his name a bit louder. Rodney hoped that the usual panic wouldn't occur; they were on a plane and a quiet one at that. This time, however, the colonel did wake gradually, blinking against the sunlight. It was early dawn when they left Colorado; now it closer to lunch time.
"Mmm," John said, stretching cautiously. The casts on his arms had already caused some additional bruises. "Mostly."
Rodney had noticed the shorter the answer, the better in John's case. He tried to only ask succinct questions, ones that fit into Sheppard's five-words-or-less perimeters. The debriefing had been a nightmare once he was lucid again; everyone's questions coming too fast for him. Then Colonel Sheppard stopped communicating altogether, drifting away into a nearly catatonic state.
Jennifer Keller had suggested sending John to Earth to recover. Rodney agreed, particularly when he found out Sheppard was more or less hiding in Atlantis. Not that he was afraid of job security, but the colonel was delving into every system Rodney maintained. Sometimes, John would fix the problem before Rodney and his team could get to it.
All from his infirmary bed.
John's involvement in Atlantis operations had weakened him further, since the patient wouldn't rest. The City proved a bigger hindrance than his team, who – according to the medical staff – came by way too much. Even the colonel's stubbornness couldn't get him out of this one.
Sam Carter dialed SGC to find out if they could send Sheppard away for a few weeks. She even approved the patient going through on a gurney and not waiting for the Daedalus. General Landry thought it might be best for the return trip on the deep space ship.
A week later, the SGC had an urgent request for Rodney McKay. Sam came running to his quarters in the dead of night. The emergency was medical, and required McKay's presence at the SGC immediately. Rodney dressed quickly, packed quickly, and nearly ran through the gate.
Frowning at the memory, Rodney watched John look quietly out the plane window. "You're a troublemaker, you know that, right?"
John's exhausted eyes glittered with amusement. "Yes."
Rodney felt relief at the colonel's humor. Maybe this was a good idea after all. Now, he just had to get him through three more weeks.
The plane finally touched down; John had latched onto Rodney's arm until the craft came to a complete halt. A flight attendant escorted them through before the crowd became too much. If Rodney could tip her, he would give her an insane amount of money. Having John out of the plane and in a wheelchair quickly was all that mattered.
Flipping open his phone, he juggled the two duffle bags, pointing at the car rental counter. The porter, who was unfortunately not called Ferris, wheeled John in the same direction. Taking a deep breath, Rodney waited for his sister to answer her phone.
Jeannie was going to kill him.
Jeannie Miller sighed with relief as she closed Madison's door. She didn't think the five-year-old would go to sleep. School would be starting soon, and there was no end to Maddie's questions. Her backpack was packed and ready to go; the little girl was afraid something would be forgotten.
As Jeannie reached the last step, the phone rang.
"Mer? What are you – Are you, um, in town?" Before she could stop herself, Jeannie glanced at the ceiling.
"Actually, I am," he said quietly. "Look, I need a favor."
Jeannie frowned, looking around at the loads of laundry to be done and the breakfast dishes in the sink. Her to-do list was glaringly yellow on the refrigerator. "What is it?"
The hesitation on the other was uncharacteristic for her caustic brother. "I – we – need a place to stay for a couple days. There's some convention in town, and I can't get a room. We –"
"Who's with you? John?"
Another pause. Something was going on.
"I – yes. It's a long story, and he needs to get settled in one place. Can we – Is it okay?"
"Yes, definitely, Mer. Is everything all right?"
Rodney pulled a long breath and let it out in a huff. "I'll explain when we get there. Is Maddie around?"
"Yeah. She's taking a nap right now."
"Good, good. We'll be there in about thirty minutes." Another sigh. "Thanks."
Jeannie hung up, feeling apprehension settle on her shoulders. Something was wrong with John, and Mer sounded tired. Gathering the laundry, she walked to the guest room. As she made the bed, Jeannie remembered Kaleb's excitement over the downstairs guest suite. No snooping relatives upstairs, he had said. The room was on the small side, but cozy and warm, and no one complained in the past. It had a large window that faced east; Jeannie frowned at her withering flowers outside being assaulted by the change of weather.
By the time she finished folding the guest towels, there was a tentative knock at the door. Her heart leapt; it had been two months since she last heard from her brother. Jeannie dashed out of the room and around the couch to answer the door.
"Mer!" she said breathlessly.
Standing stiffly on the porch, Meredith gave a small, embarrassed smile. "Hey, Jeannie."
Over his shoulder, she saw spiky hair falling limply over a bandage. John clung to Rodney's arm, looking for all the world like he would fall without support. His pale, gaunt face was dotted with bruises, and both arms were encased in casts. John seemed focused on remaining upright, staring at the step in front of him.
"While Surrey is generally nice this time of year," Rodney began, "I'd rather not spend my vacation on the stoop."
Jeannie blinked her surprise, stepping aside. "Sorry!" Rodney winced at her volume; John startled and tightened his grip. "Sorry," she said softer. "Come inside."
Her brother marched forward, John Sheppard following closely behind. "Finally." Rodney turned to his charge, holding his shoulders. "John, I need to get the bags out of the car. Can you wait here with Jeannie?"
If John wasn't so dizzy, he'd roll his eyes. "I'm not a kid, Rodney." He swayed dangerously to the right; strong arms caught him. The colonel made a small, frustrated sound.
"Okay, I'm taking you to bed right now. Jeannie?"
She tore her gaze away from the injured man. "I'll get your bags, Mer." Walking down the driveway, Jeannie tried to compose herself. The John Sheppard she knew was always moving, energetic, and talkative. The man she saw was grey and shaking and broken, his eyes haunted. Jeannie snatched the duffles, and lugged them inside.
She entered the guest room, never thinking she would ever see her brother hug another person, let alone John. Quietly, Jeannie deposited the bags in the corner of the room. "Um, hey," she whispered, not sure what was going on. Based on John's last reaction to loud noise, she moved slowly showing both hands. "Do you need any help? Sorry you gotta share."
Rodney smiled briefly, John's head on his shoulder with eyes closed. "No, this'll be fine." He squeezed John's fingers; the colonel blinked blearily at Jeannie. "It's past time for his meds, and he really needs to sleep."
"Okay. I was about to make a sandwich. Are you guys hungry?" She watched her brother arrange John on the bed, pulling off shoes.
"Starving." Rodney placed a duffle bag on each side of the colonel's narrow body, propping his arms up. "I'll be right back."
John frowned, then closed his eyes. "I'm fine."
He watched Rodney leave the room, observing how tired he looked. This is my fault. Again. John made a silent promise to his friend's retreating back that he would stay calm, take all his meds, get rest, and even eat. Rodney wouldn't regret this trip. Snuggling against the cool pillows, John found himself drifting off.
Everything would be fine.
Rodney ticked off a list of items he needed to do today. "He needs to eat something with those pills. Maybe toast. Ooh, apple juice. He likes that. Maybe –"
"You are aware you're talking out loud, right?"
"Mmm," he said closing the fridge. Rodney continued mumbling to himself as he made toast.
Jeannie leaned against the counter, making herself an obstacle. "All right. Are you gonna tell me what happened?"
Her brother sighed, leaning heavily against the counter. "I will. Just... Let me do this first," he said quietly, suddenly looking as tired as his injured friend.
Jeannie threw her arms around him, giving Rodney the tightest hug she could muster. "Oh, Mer. It's okay. I'll try to be patient." Stepping back, she searched his face. "I'm just worried about both of you."
The sadness in his eyes warred with relief. "I know, I know. Me too."
She gave him another squeeze. "You've lost weight."
Rodney chuckled into his sister's hair. "It's amazing what two solid months of running for your life will do for you." Moving away from her, he collected toast and juice, and shuffled towards the guest room.
John woke with a start. Rodney returned, bearing food and drink. The colonel eyed the toast dubiously; he wasn't quite ready for anything resembling food. The juice looks promising, though. Glancing up, John assessed his friend. Rodney looked so worried; he always gave away everything with his eyes.
John cleared his throat. "Hey. Toast."
"Yep. Ready for your happy pills?"
"I guess," John said, shifting stiffly into a sitting position.
Rodney placed the small plate within reach of clumsy fingers. "Eat what you can; those pills on an empty stomach aren't good. Brought you some apple juice, too, though you may have to fight Madison for it later."
"Thanks, Rodney," John said quietly. He swallowed the four pills with a gulp of juice. Munching on a piece of toast, he watched his friend shuffle around the room unpacking clothes. Rodney placed a small, padded pack on the night stand. John had dubbed it his diaper bag, since it held everything that could keep him in a pain-free haze and temporarily calm.
Halfway through the second piece of toast, John dropped the remains on the plate. His eyes kept drooping; there was no way he could help Rodney with the unpacking now. When the scientist let out a stifled yawn, John had an idea. "Take a nap?"
"Sure, if you want to. It's not like we've got a pressing engagement." He checked his watch. "I'm gonna talk to Jeannie for a bit so you can stretch out."
Immediately, John shook his head. "No. You..."
Rodney stopped folding. "Me what?" He started opening drawers again. "You know, we should just buy you all new clothes. There's no way you're going to fit into anything anytime soon –"
"Sleep. You..." John closed his eyes against the sudden barrage of unbidden images and words. He tapped his leg with a casted arm, fingers barely forming a fist.
"Hey, hey. It's okay," Rodney soothed as he sat down next to John. He stilled the wavering arms, looking directly into John's eyes. The doctors thought the colonel would have brain damage due to the blow he received. So far, the only thing Rodney had seen was a bad headache, and the inability to concentrate when he was upset or tired. "Not to sound too much like your mother, Colonel, but take a deep breath and take your time."
John swallowed closing his eyes, focusing on the warm hands resting on his own. He felt a little smile curve his lips. I'm too tired for this. Following Mother McKay's advice, John took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "You should sleep."
Nodding slowly, Rodney stood, covering another yawn. He placed the shirt he held into a drawer. "Fine. But you know I'm not into cuddling. Lie down and go to sleep."
Waiting for Rodney to settle next to him, John felt suddenly like he had accomplished something. Not that Rodney ever did anything he suggested, but it did make John feel better. Now, if he could only stop clinging to his best friend's sleeve like a security blanket. Rodney wasn't even there, for God's sake!
Rodney lay on his back, fingers linked across his chest. Within a minute, John could hear him snoring lightly. Turning on his side, he watched him sleep. The colonel twisted his fingers in the sheet instead of Rodney's shirt.
Everything would be fine.