Fixing the Jumper
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 for 'The Defiant One'. The boys need to repair the jumper to get home, but they need fixing first…
Central Character(s): Rodney and John, with Ford, Teyla, Elizabeth and Carson.
Category (ies): Humour, friendship, episode tag, h/c, angst.
Placement: Season One.
Rating: +12 for some strong swear words. Naughty Rodney… (*squishes him*)
Spoilers: 'The Defiant One'.
Author's Note: The next in my 'Aftermath' series. Yes, there are probably much better versions than mine, but I really wanted to have a go at this one. It can't have been that simple to fix the jumper, could it? And John really got an ass whupping didn't he? Poor Shep. Anyways, I have a deep love for angst (and plenty of it) and so I present my version of what happened next. And I'm about to make it much, much worse for both the boys… (*cue evil laughter*)
Rodney's eyes widened as he realised what was about to happen. Of all the hare-brained plans the Major had come up with, this had to be one of the most insane yet. He ran as far from the Wraith as he could, diving at the last second behind some rocks. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sheppard copy his movements and quickly ducked, curling himself into a tight ball as he waited for the world to end.
The Wraith stood swatting at the little glowy bugs that had been attracted by Sheppard's well placed power bar, oblivious to its forthcoming fate until the last moment. It looked up, its teeth bared while snarling in anger… and was blown to kingdom come as a drone collided with it.
As the smoke and dust began to dissipate, John cautiously poked his head up to survey the damage. Once he realised that the coast was clear, he got to his feet, wincing. "McKay?" he called uncertainly.
Rodney's head emerged from behind a pile of rocks and he waved an arm. "Still here!" he called back and John let out a sigh of relief.
They really had to stop trying to get themselves blown up, he decided idly. It was becoming monotonous.
And probably wasn't too good as far as their health went.
"Sir, this is Ford," Sheppard's second in command called via the radio. "The target is gone."
"Well it's about damn time!" John exclaimed, too tired and sore to care about what was coming out of his mouth.
"We got here as soon as we could, Major," Teyla responded, sounding slightly hurt and confused.
"That's not what I meant," Sheppard said. "Thanks."
"You're welcome, sir. We'll be there in a few minutes," Aiden informed him, and the pilot could hear the young man's infectious grin in his voice.
"We can wait." He turned his radio off and walked over to join McKay at the blast site. "Thanks," he said, trying hard not to groan out loud as his ribs protested loudly.
"Yeah, you too." Rodney wasn't' fooled by John's cover-up. "You okay?"
Sheppard gestured to his injured arm. "Other than this and a few cracked ribs." He looked at McKay quizzically – the physicist seemed to be unusually quiet and withdrawn, and that meant all was not well. "What about Gall?" he asked, his voice dropping slightly. He really didn't harbour much hope for the man – McKay had shown up by himself, and he knew all too well that the Canadian wouldn't have left Brendan alone. That meant…
Rodney glanced down at the floor, shaking slightly. "No," he replied sadly, and John closed his eyes in sympathy.
They began to walk over to the jumper. "We'll have to put the ship back together," John explained, trying to get his friend's brain working to pull him out of the dark mood he seemed to be in. "Provided that you can disarm the shield." He held his hands out wearily as if to demonstrate.
"Fine," McKay replied unenthusiastically. "As long as we get to go home."
"You can drive," John offered.
"Oh, thank you."
As they reached the ship, John grabbed Rodney's arm to prevent him from walking into the shield that the Wraith had initiated. It had stung like a bitch when he'd run into it earlier, and he didn't want Rodney to get a face full.
"Major, what are you…?"
"Just watch." John retrieved a small stone from the ground and chucked it at the jumper. It hit the shield with a bright blue flash and went bouncing off past them.
Rodney grimaced. "Great," he muttered.
"Can you fix it?"
"I can try."
John patted him on the shoulder, somewhat unnerved by the lack of a scathing comeback or complaint. "Good man. I'm gonna sit down for a while if it's all the same to you. Fighting an über-Wraith really takes it out of a guy."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Rodney asked. "You're breathing kind of heavily. He didn't… you know… have a nibble or anything? I can't see any grey hairs or wrinkles and there's no handprint…"
Despite himself, Sheppard laughed at his team-mate's panicky babbling. "No, no, I'm good, McKay. Like I said, it's just a couple of cracked ribs. Besides, I'm too lean to be tasty." The Major sank down onto the hot sand with a muffled moan and gingerly lay down. "Oh, man, that feels good."
McKay shook his head, rolling his eyes at his team-mate. "More like wiry," he muttered quietly. Taking a deep breath, he spent a few moments composing himself before starting on the task at hand. He stared at the jumper and then peered inside: he could see instantly what the problem was. The Wraith had obviously messed around with the control crystals in the rear hatch, probably programmed them into the remote. After all, the jumpers needed an ATA gene for that very reason – to stop their tech from falling into enemy hands. Rodney was fairly certain he knew which systems the wretched thing had managed to hack into (the blue tint had given it away) but fixing it…
That was going to take a fair bit of doing.
Ideally, Rodney needed to be inside and knew that was easier said than done. His initial, theoretical idea of reprogramming the remote to override the crystals was off the table: in fact, that was looking even more unlikely than option one. The remote that the Wraith took from Gaul was in a billion miniscule particles thanks to the drone, and he seriously doubted that Sheppard would still have his with him, what with all the shooting and heroic running around and stuff...
And nearly being eaten by a Wraith.
The Canadian let out an involuntary shudder at that thought before he growled at himself under his breath. There wasn't time for this: he had a job to do and he was damn well going to do it. He'd already seen one colleague die today and wasn't about to let the Major die of heatstroke while he 'um'ed and 'ahh'ed over a problem that even Kavanaugh could put right. Come on, genius, he thought to himself. You can fix this. Get your ass in gear and move! Damn heat. It was making it difficult to concentrate and he was still slightly winded from his mad dash back from the Hive Ship, but it didn't stop him from walking up to the edge of the jumper. Now that he looked properly, he could see the little groove in the sand and the much larger furrow from where he assumed Sheppard had taken a dive.
"Where you running when you hit the shield?"
"Actually, I was," John said. "How did you know?"
McKay looked back and saw a slightly puzzled look on John's face. In reply, he simply pointed to the pilot-shaped void: Sheppard uttered a soft "oh", followed by, "Be careful," and closed his eyes again.
Rodney thought for a moment. Both the Major and the stone he'd thrown at the force field had been violently repelled but they had been travelling at speed, hadn't they? Therefore, it stood to reason that if he moved more slowly, he should be alright.
He steeled himself before cautiously reaching forward, holding a hand out…
At the most, he'd been expecting a zap of sorts. It was pretty much a given following John's demonstration with the rock, but he didn't consider the fact that the shield would be strong enough to send him flying backwards. He landed in an untidy heap a few feet away. Jesus H tap dancing Christ that had hurt! It was like being stung by thousands of tiny and extremely pissed off bees.
There was a sickening crack, not unlike bones snapping...
The Canadian opened his eyes to find a very concerned Major crouched next to him. "Ow, ow, ow," he moaned.
"What did you do that for?" John demanded, helping Rodney to sit upright.
"I had a burning desire to maim myself!" McKay spat angrily. "What the hell do you think? You wanted it fixed! I needed to see whether slow moving matter would be able to pass through it and, as my little test flight just established, the answer is a resounding 'no'."
"Jesus, Rodney…" John was staring at the scientist's left hand – his middle and index fingers were bent at an unnatural angle and swelling rapidly. "You could've just asked! I already proved that theory and have the bruises to show for it."
"Oh, God," Rodney whimpered, the pain hitting home with everything up to and including almost lethal force as he realised he'd hurt himself. "Oh, God, I need my hands! Shit!" Cradling his injury close to his chest, he began to thrash around.
The Air Force man had to duck to avoid getting smacked in the face. "McKay! Calm down."
"But my hand! Look at it! No, no, no, no, no, I'm going to end up crippled…"
"Pack it in!" John barked, trying to nip the panic in the bud before it became uncontrollable. He quickly grabbed Rodney's wrist. "Hold still for a minute."
"What? Why? What're you going to…? ARGH!!!"
There was another cracking sound as Rodney screamed – John had decided to put the dislocated digits back in place.
"Sorry, but if I'd warned you, you'd have wimped out on me, buddy," the pilot said as McKay's screams died away to muffled groans and whimpers. He bound his friend's fingers together with a few pieces of ripped cloth and a small ruler he found in Rodney's TAC vest. Not the world's greatest splint, but it would have to do for now. And they had needed to be fixed pretty quickly… "Rodney? Hey, come on now, don't you faint on me!" John grabbed Rodney's shoulder and squeezed it tightly.
The Canadian's face had blanched, leaving him a shocking shade of white. "I don't faint," he managed after a few moments. "I pass out… manfully."
"Course you do," John said, smiling a little at the inside joke and grateful for the weak but biting reply.
"But at the moment, I think I'm going to be…" McKay doubled over and retched violently.
John held Rodney upright while he vomited to stop him pitching face first into it, and then managed to pull him away from the mess when he'd finished. Grimacing as the movement jostled his already sore ribs, he held out his canteen which the physicist took gratefully. McKay rinsed his mouth out before handing it back.
"No, keep it," the Air Force man told him. "You need to keep your fluids up out here. Don't want you passing out from dehydration."
Rodney nodded and took a few small sips, shaking his head at the gentle barb. "Thanks," he mumbled.
"I'd offer you some Tylenol, but it's all in the jumper," Sheppard said apologetically. "And my last power bar went boom along with our friend."
"You mean you didn't give him a name?" McKay asked, resting his head on his knees.
"The Wraith," Rodney clarified. "You didn't name him? I mean, that's kind of your thing, isn't it?"
"I was a little busy, what with all the shooting and unaided flight and trying to avoid having the life sucked out of me!" John replied heatedly.
John blinked and stared at his team-mate as if he'd gone completely mad. "Sorry?"
"'S got a nice ring to it," Rodney continued, oblivious to the Major's growing confusion. "Andy the Wraith. 'S better than Steve."
John shook his head softly, a half grin forming on his face. "Steve's a good name," he defended. "But, yeah, if you want. Andy the Wraith." He gently patted McKay on the back. "Actually, that kinda works…"
McKay raised his head and blinked owlishly. "Don't think I can fix the jumper," he admitted quietly. "I really messed up this time. Brendan… God, he…"
John was about to reply when his radio chirped. He rested one hand on Rodney's neck in silent sympathy while the other clicked on his earpiece. "Sheppard here."
"Sir, we're about two minutes out."
"That's good to know, Ford," the pilot replied. "I need you to bring some Tylenol and water with you, and as many power bars as you can find."
"We've run into a small hitch," John said smoothly. "Nothing serious, but Andy locked us out of our ride and Rodney found out the hard way. He's okay," he added in an effort to stop the forthcoming questions. "We just need some painkillers is all."
"Yes, sir. Sit tight and we'll be there in a mo." There was a small pause then a very confused, "Andy?"
"I'll tell you later," he said. "Sheppard out." John looked back to the scientist. Something in his gut told him that Gall hadn't died from the feeding, but at the moment, there were more important things to worry about. Like getting out of the sun as quickly as possible before they both ended up with heatstroke or worse: Rodney's skin was alarmingly hot to the touch and the Major could already see the tell-tale flush of sunburn colouring his cheeks and neck. "You can fix anything," he said.
"Where are you getting your information from?" The question was so quiet that even John with his military trained ears only just caught it.
"I happen to have a very reliable source," Sheppard told him. "I think you'd like the guy. Egotistical, arrogant, smartest guy in two galaxies… and brave to boot."
"Yep. So come on, Answer Man, do your thing." He gave Rodney's neck a quick reassuring squeeze before letting his hand drop back down.
Rodney looked up dejectedly. "I can't," he repeated in a small voice. "I need the remote for the jumper and Andy got it blown to hell."
"You mean this?" John asked, producing the small machine with a theatrical gesture. As soon as he'd done it, he regretted it – his ribs felt like they'd been set on fire by the small herd of elephants that had taken up residence in his head. Thankfully, he managed to stifle the groan that threatened to emerge.
Rodney looked at the little device like it was the Holy Grail, the despairing expression on his face morphing into one of bewilderment. "Where did you get that?"
"It's the spare," Sheppard told him, forcing a cocky grin onto his face. "Never leave home without it."
McKay smiled slightly and took it with his good hand. "Now we're talking," he replied. "Just give me a minute…"
John watched as Rodney made a few adjustments to the remote – even with only one fully functioning hand, he still managed to get it done in what seemed like mere seconds – and then handed it back to him. "Want to do the honours?" he asked.
Sheppard lifted the remote and aimed it at the ship, pressing the 'cloak' button that McKay had indicated… and the shield collapsed with a faint hum. "Have I told you that you're a genius today?" he asked.
"Not yet. Thanks."
They managed to get to their feet and unsteadily weaved their way into the ship, relieved to be out of the sun. In the shade of the jumper, John could see how pale his friend looked under the sunburn, and he was certain that it wasn't all pain related. "Ford?" he asked, reaching up to tap his earpiece.
"Good news. Rodney's fixed our jumper so you can hold off on the delivery run. I want you to land near the downed Wraith ship and do body retrieval for me." He thought for a moment before adding, "Oh, and keep an eye out. I'm pretty sure that Andy was the only one, but he could have had some friends hidden away somewhere. Remember, they don't show up on the LSD when they're hibernating."
"Understood, sir." John could hear the mix of grief and unease in the young Lt's voice and hated himself for asking… but there wasn't much of a choice. Neither he nor Rodney were in a fit state to do it, and if his hunch was correct as to what had actually happened to Gall, he wanted to keep the Canadian as far away from that damned ship as possible.
"John, are you sure that you and Dr McKay are well?" asked Teyla.
"Yeah," he answered. "We'll be fine. Once you've done that, go back into orbit and wait for us."
"Major, wouldn't you like one or both of us to come back with you?" asked Aiden.
"Negative, Ford." He cast a quick glance at Rodney, who was sitting on the bench, head leaning back against the side of the jumper, and moved to the cockpit. "We need some time," he explained quietly. "Something happened to Gall and Rodney's real quiet. Knowing him, I need to dig it out with a damn pickaxe. We'll be fine – we can follow you home."
"Very well, John," Teyla answered. "We will wait for you."
He disconnected the line and moved back to Rodney – who hadn't moved an inch. "Hey," he called. "I've got a couple of Tylenol with your name on them." He held out a bottle. "Are you hungry?"
"Not really," McKay said, taking the pills without any protest. "How about you?"
"Already took some," he replied as he sat down on the bench next to Rodney, hoping the lie wasn't as obvious as it felt. He'd deal with his aches and pains later, once he'd fixed his geek. "So," he began after a few minutes. "Want to tell me what happened on the Wraith ship?"
The physicist started to shake. "I-I gave Brendan the gun, like you told me," he said in an oddly hollow voice. "But before that he wanted to see what Andy had done to him. I never should have shown him, but… he really begged." He looked over to Sheppard, his eyes full of guilt. "He was so freaked out when he saw his reflection and…" He trailed off and looked away.
John nodded, knowing that he'd have asked the same if their roles had been reversed. "What happened?" he asked again.
McKay studied the floor. "I didn't know what to do. I was terrified that Andy would come back or one of his crewmates would suddenly appear. I was worried about you – for all I knew, you could've been dead or dying." His voice cracked slightly and he ducked his head, obviously embarrassed. "Anyways, Brendan must have known that I wouldn't leave him and there was no way he'd be able to make it all the way back here even if I carried him so he… He shot himself while my back was turned."
"God, Rodney, I'm sorry," John said, snaking an arm around his team-mate's shoulders. He already knew McKay's opinion on suicide.
"You know what he said?" asked the Canadian, laughing bitterly. "He told me to go. 'Save the day, Rodney'. He said that I wanted to get out there, that I'd changed." Rodney stood up angrily, shaking off his friend's embrace. "Maybe I have. I mean, if I hadn't have been so fucking insistent with Elizabeth, maybe him and Abrams would still be alive."
"Hey, Rodney, no," John replied, shaking his head and ignoring the lancing pain. "Don't even think about going there. The 'what if' game is a load of bull. Besides, I argued as much as you did! If anyone's to blame, it's me. I'm responsible for the well being and protection of you and the rest of your geeks and I failed. I'm sorry."
Rodney scowled at the Major, but didn't reply. His chest heaved as he fought to keep control of his emotions, and when he felt that he was about to lose the battle, he wheeled away and started to work on the control crystals.
He tried to ignore how badly his hands were shaking.
Sheppard watched him with a mixture of sadness and worry. "McKay," he called.
The physicist pointedly ignored him, continuing to tinker needlessly with the crystals.
"Rodney," John tried again, and was rewarded when his friend's hands dropped back down to his sides.
"It's not fair," McKay whispered, his back still facing Sheppard. "They were good men, good at their jobs. They didn't deserve that. Did you know that it was Abrams' first time off-world? He wanted to be assigned to one of the Gate teams so I thought I'd try him out with the satellite trip, see how he coped. I… He was only a kid, John."
"I know," John replied, dragging himself painfully to his feet. "It isn't fair and it isn't right. I'm not going to patronise you by telling you that they're in a better, happier place, but as far as what Gall did goes… You saved my ass back there. If you hadn't shown up when you did, I'd be Wraith chow and we both know it." As he spoke, he managed to move closer to his team-mate. "You've changed alright," he continued, his voice gentle, "but for the better."
Rodney's shoulders were shaking hard as he struggled to remain in control. "I don't understand why he… how he could do that," he replied, his voice tight. "He had a chance. If we could have gotten him back to Atlantis, maybe Carson could have…"
"No, Rodney. You're fooling yourself by thinking that he could have survived. You said it yourself. He knew he wasn't going to make it and that by staying alive he was holding you back. He knew exactly what he was doing." John reached out and rested his hand on McKay's shoulder. "If he hadn't shot himself, we'd both be dead."
"Brendan said that Andy left him… left him with enough life so that we'd watch him die," Rodney said chokingly. "Sick son of a bitch."
"The Wraith aren't like us, buddy, you know that. They don't care about our friends or family. All they want is their next meal." John paused for a moment, suddenly finding it difficult to catch his breath. "As hard as it may seem, you've got to let it go and move on. It'll kill you if you don't. You have to keep doing what you do and living your life or their deaths become worthless." He managed to pull Rodney around to face him and was only mildly shocked to see tears running freely down the scientist's face. "Don't let their deaths be shallow."
Rodney nodded, unable to speak. He jerked his head away, swiping furiously at his face, ashamed of his break down. When he felt composed enough, he lifted a hand to his earpiece. "Aiden?"
"Hey, doc," Ford replied. "You okay?"
"No," McKay replied honestly, "but I will be. I want you to do me a favour."
"Sure thing, McKay."
"Can… can you get Gall and Abrams' patches for me?"
If Ford found his request odd, he didn't let it show in his voice. "No problem. Are you sure you and the Major are okay?"
Rodney looked across to John and frowned deeply. The pilot had become progressively paler and had started to sweat profusely. And now that he looked closely, he realised that his friend was breathing oddly. "Actually…" he began, but John cut him off.
"We're fine, Lieutenant," he replied, although he was seriously beginning to wonder if that was strictly true. It was really far too much of an effort to get enough air into his lungs, and his ribs felt like they were on fire.
"Major?" asked Rodney, suddenly concerned by his friend's appearance. "Look, why don't you sit down?"
That sounded like a really good idea, actually. Every breath he took felt like his lungs were filling with white hot lava. Sheppard started to move back to the bench but his legs suddenly gave out beneath him. He felt a pair of hands grab him in an effort to prevent him from face planting the floor of the Jumper and briefly wondered what the hell was wrong with him. The last thing he heard before the world disappeared was Rodney's panicked voice requesting help over the radio.
When the Major opened his eyes again, he found Teyla hovering over him. He frowned, wondering where he was.
"You are in the Jumper, John," the Athosian replied, seeming to sense his confusion. "We are about three hours away from Atlantis."
"Rodney?" he managed to croak.
"I'm here, Major," McKay called, pressing a button on the control panel before racing out of his seat to join them. "Autopilot," he explained when Sheppard pulled a face.
Rodney smiled slightly. "Better than you, Hotshot," he retorted. "And don't even think about taking that IV out. Christ knows it took me long enough to find a vein."
John wouldn't have noticed it if McKay hadn't pointed it out, but he became aware of the familiar prick of a needle in his hand and grimaced. "What happened?"
His team-mates exchanged looks. "You tried to get fresh with the floor," Rodney told him, trying for a light tone of voice and failing miserably. "I caught you before you got to second base and then called for help." He nodded to the other two members of SGA-1.
"We high-tailed it over when Dr McKay radioed, sir," Ford said from the other bench. "Markham and Stackhouse are in Jumper Two with… with the remains."
John blinked and nodded slightly. For some strange reason, his side felt uncomfortable, like someone had jabbed him with something hard. It wasn't painful as such, more weird. "Hand?" he asked, looking pointedly at Rodney.
The Canadian grimaced, but nodded. "Is fine, thank you." He held up the offending ligament and the Major was relieved to see that the swelling had gone down – and that someone (probably Aiden) had managed to put Rodney's fingers into a proper splint. "As for you, you're an idiot."
"Dr McKay," Teyla admonished quietly.
"No, he is. Why didn't you tell me how badly you were hurt?" Rodney demanded. "You punctured a lung, Major! You could have died!"
"I… I didn't know," John replied quietly. "Honestly, I thought they were just cracked. Blame it on the adrenaline high I was coming off of."
McKay raised an eyebrow, but accepted the explanation.
The Air Force man's brain caught up with his ears and a confused frown passed over his face. "Hang on… how did you know I punctured a lung?"
"You were coughing up blood, Sheppard," the physicist replied. "And normally, human lips don't turn blue."
"As soon as Dr McKay realised, he did what he could to assist you and once we were in range, contacted Dr Beckett," Teyla added, placing a calming hand on John's hair.
"Then this…?" Sheppard motioned weakly to the improvised tube sticking out of his side.
"I, uh, I had to perform a little field surgery," McKay said, looking queasy from the memory.
"It's okay, sir, he did a good job. And Beckett guided him through it."
"Rodney saved your life," the Athosian said, giving the physicist a warm smile. "His actions were admirable."
"Twice in one day," John replied. "New record."
"Yeah, well, don't get used to it, Sheppard," McKay replied, managing to look both pleased and uncomfortable at the same time. "You owe me big time for this." He stood up and patted John's arm awkwardly before returning to the cockpit.
"How's he been?" John asked.
"I am worried for him," Teyla said before looking over to Ford. The two exchanged a silent look and the Athosian then rose from her seat on the floor to join Rodney in the front section of the jumper.
"To be honest, he's been really quiet," Aiden said in a low voice, "and that's not like McKay at all." He hesitated for a moment, chewing at his lower lip before continuing, "Sir, Gall's body…"
"I know, Ford," Sheppard replied. "Suicide."
The young man looked shocked. "Whoa," he croaked. "That's just… messed up."
"He saved our lives."
Ford nodded. "Did the doc see it happen?"
"As good as."
"He'll need us," John said. He felt almost overwhelmingly tired and put it down to the morphine that he was sure they'd pumped him full of. "Did you get the patches for Rodney?"
"Yes, sir. I'm not sure why he wanted them, though."
John blinked lethargically. "It's like dog tags," he said. "Civilians don't have them, but the patches were the closest thing."
Aiden nodded, understanding. "Try and rest, sir," he said. "We'll be home soon and Dr Beckett will have you patched up in no time."
"Good idea," Sheppard slurred and let himself drift off into a drug induced sleep.
A week later, and John was recovering in the infirmary. Carson had already given him the 'lucky to be alive' speech five times, but had commended him for his quick thinking with Rodney's hand. As it was, the Canadian would have to wear a finger splint for a month, but that was infinitely better than some of the alternatives that had crossed John's mind.
"Mind if I join you?"
John looked over to see Elizabeth hovering near his bed, looking worried. He smiled and pointed to the empty chair next to his cot. "Knock yourself out."
She sat down and regarded Atlantis' Chief Military Officer with a critical eye. "You're looking much better than the last time I saw you."
"Well, considering that I was half dead and drugged up to the eyeballs with painkillers, I'll take that as a compliment."
"Sergeant Bates sends his regards."
John snorted a laugh. "Oh, please. I'll bet he's loving all the paperwork that Ford's got him doing."
Elizabeth chuckled. "That's one way of putting it." She fiddled with her hair – a sign that something was up. "Teyla told me that Jinto is looking forward to your next visit."
Sheppard narrowed his eyes. "Dr Weir, has anyone told you that you really suck at small talk?" he replied, seeing through her tentative smile. "What's wrong?"
Weir bit her lip. "I wanted to wait until you were better, but this is important," she explained, and John felt his stomach sink. "It's Rodney."
The Major's gut tightened. "He okay?"
The leader of Atlantis hesitated for a moment before answering, "Not really. John… he's put in a request to be removed from your team."
"He wouldn't give me a straight answer when I asked him for his reasons," she continued, "but I suspect that it has something to do with Gall and Abrams."
John closed his eyes and let out a low sigh. Normally when he was a resident of the infirmary, Beckett had to have the physicist forcibly dragged away to get some rest, but this time, he'd not been by at all. He should have realised something was up. "I have to talk to him."
Elizabeth nodded. "I thought you might say that," she said with a tight smile. "Carson said you could go if you used a wheelchair."
"No way," John shot back. "I'll crawl."
Weir gave him a conspiratorial smirk. "I figured as much. That's why I came down here…"
Elizabeth helped the Air Force man to the balcony door and once he'd found his balance, he nodded at her. She stepped back as the doors opened, wanting to give the men some privacy. This was one negotiation that she was glad not to be involved in.
John gingerly limped outside and spotted McKay sitting down against the wall. He slid down next to him, cringing a little as the movement pulled at his stitches. "Hey, buddy," he said.
"You shouldn't be here," Rodney snapped.
"I'm not changing my mind. I know Elizabeth put you up to this."
"That's not why I'm here," John replied. "You wanna resign then that's your decision and I'll respect it. All I'm asking is for you to talk to me."
Rodney made a strange growling sound and looked across the ocean. "I screwed up," he said after a while. "I shouldn't have given him the gun."
"I told you to. You were following orders."
"That's not the point. The only thing we brought back from that planet was two body bags, John, the bodies of two men who shouldn't have died in the first place. And the only reason they did was because I wanted to get my hands on some Wraith tech."
John clenched his jaw. "Dammit, Rodney!" he snapped. "We're at war! I know you're a civilian, but there are going to be casualties regardless of what we do. We can't afford to second guess ourselves."
"I know that," Rodney replied. "I'm not an idiot."
"You could've fooled me."
"Screw you." McKay got to his feet and started pacing angrily. "I'm resigning from the team."
To hell with respecting decisions, John decided. "Over my dead body."
Rodney rounded on him. "That's the point! You nearly died and we would have had three body bags, not two! I'm a liability!" He leant against a post shaking. "I shouldn't have given him the gun," he repeated.
"If I'd known he'd do what he did, I wouldn't have ordered you to," John said quietly, "and I certainly wouldn't have left the two of you alone. It wasn't your fault, Rodney, and I'll keep telling you that until it gets through that thick skull of yours."
"But you had to," the physicist replied. "I know I argued with you, but you were right. God only knows what would have happened if Andy had been able to get the subspace radio to work…" He shook his head. "I guess they're right about hindsight being twenty-twenty."
John watched as his friend gave a self depreciating smile and stared at the wall. For all of the man's caustic exterior and egotism, Rodney McKay had one of the gentlest souls the Air Force man had ever seen. It was clear that McKay blamed himself and that wouldn't do at all. "Do you remember what I said in the jumper?"
McKay nodded mutely, looking more harrowed and gaunt that Sheppard would have believed possible.
"Good. Then I won't repeat myself. All I will say is that if you give up now, then their deaths will mean nothing." He stared fixedly at the physicist until McKay returned his gaze. "Do you understand?"
Rodney sank down to the floor, trembling. "I really, really fucked this one up. I should have been watching him more closely. If I hadn't turned my back on him, then maybe I could've stopped him, reasoned with him…"
"No," John said forcefully, grunting as a spike of pain shot through his side. "I know it feels that way but he'd made his choice."
"I'm still a liability," McKay said miserably and the expression on his face made something inside Sheppard break a little.
"You saved my life not once but twice," the Major said quietly. "I picked you for my team because I saw how brave you could be, how quickly your mind worked. You don't need to prove anything to me, Rodney, and I don't want a different geek. I trust you." He smiled gently. "Besides, I've only just finished your training routine. I'm not gonna let all my hard work go to waste."
McKay snorted a laugh and looked across at his friend. "What am I, a pet?" he replied, but there was no heat in his words. "Thank you."
"Anytime. Now how about we go back inside?"
Rodney stood up and helped the Major to his feet. "You should be in a bed, Sheppard, not on a balcony. Carson'll pitch a full-on Celtic hissy fit when he finds out what you've been doing."
"Maybe," John replied, "but this was important." He looked at Rodney, his features serious. "It'll get easier, you know. Dealing with the guilt."
"I hope so."
The Major gripped McKay's jacket tighter as a bout of dizziness snuck up on him. When it had passed, he gave the Canadian a sideways glance. "You aren't going to resign, are you?"
McKay thought for a long while, but eventually shook his head. "No," he said. "You know…" He shifted uncomfortably for a moment before continuing, "I trust you too and believe me, considering that you're military that's one hell of a compliment. Now, enough of this emotional crap already. I'm hungry and you need to be in the infirmary." He walked his team-mate over to the door and opened it, only to be met by a sheepish looking Elizabeth and an irate Scotsman.
"What the bloody hell d'you think you're playing at?" Carson demanded, ushering John into the awaiting wheelchair. "If you've pulled your stitches…" His accent became thicker and more unintelligible as he went on. The boys exchanged confused glances as they heard what they thought was the word 'beetle'. As the Scotsman continued to rant, switching between English and Gaelic, they laughed.
John knew that it had been a mission from hell, but his team was whole and in one piece. They'd lost two good men, but life went on. It had to.
"One question," Carson said, his anger beginning to dissipate as his two friends tried to stifle their mirth, "why did you call the Wraith 'Andy'?"
John and Rodney looked at each other and grinned.