Title: The Right Thing to Do
The Right Thing to Do
Rodney's hands fluttered anxiously as he paced. He'd checked around, but no one knew where Sheppard had gone and at just past seven in the evening, no one seemed particularly concerned that he hadn't come back. Sheppard had been gone for over six hours now, far longer than he had on his previous mystery trips. Rodney wondered at what time he could convince someone to send out a search party. It was no coincidence that when Sheppard finally stepped off the elevator into the SGC, Rodney happened to be passing by.
"Where the hell were you?" Rodney rushed over, taking in Sheppard's disheveled appearance. His skin had an unhealthy pallor and his bloodshot eyes were ringed with dark shadows. Rodney didn't want to think about the stains on Sheppard's shirt. "Are you okay? You look like something the cat dragged in."
Sheppard opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came out. He just looked at Rodney, his expression flat and unreadable.
"Oh, my God, you're not okay, are you? Are you sick?"
Sheppard shook his head slowly.
"Are you hurt? Should I call the infirmary?"
Sheppard just shook his head again. He chewed his lower lip while his eyes wandered up and down the corridors as though he wasn't certain which way to go.
"Umm... How about we go back to your room?" Rodney suggested. "Maybe you need to lie down or...or shower...or something."
"I wanna go home." Sheppard's voice was barely audible.
Oh, crap. Fervently hoping there was no one around to see Sheppard in this condition, Rodney scanned the corridors, relieved to find them empty for the moment. "Come on." He turned and started down the hallway. After a few steps, he realized that Sheppard wasn't following him. "John?" Rodney turned back to his friend. Sheppard took a deep, shuddering breath which seemed to shake off some of the inertia. He began trudging down the corridor behind Rodney.
Questions raced through Rodney's mind as they walked. His mind flipped back and forth between trying to figure out what had happened to Sheppard and trying to figure out how he was going to help his friend. But by the time they reached Sheppard's temporary quarters, Rodney hadn't come up with any answers.
"Where's your key?" Rodney prompted.
For a moment, Rodney worried that Sheppard was just going to stand there in the hallway, unmoving and impassive, but he rallied himself enough to fumble through his pockets for the key. Sheppard surprised Rodney by handing it over without a word instead of opening the door himself. As Rodney accepted the key, he couldn't help noticing the tremors in Sheppard's outstretched hand.
After unlocking the door, Rodney led Sheppard into the room. Casting worried glances at his friend, he rummaged hastily through Sheppard's belongings, finding him jogging pants and a T-shirt. Sheppard said nothing about Rodney going through his stuff, which was disconcerting in and of itself. "Here." Rodney thrust the clean clothes at his friend. "Go take a hot shower, but pick up the pace a bit because I really don't want to have to come in there and check on you."
Sheppard accepted the clothing mutely and shuffled away toward the bathroom.
While Sheppard showered, Rodney took a minute to think. He prided himself on his problem-solving skills and his ability to generate solutions in a crisis, but he feared his scientific skills were no match for the current situation. He took a deep breath. Focus. Start with what you know, Rodney instructed himself. One. Sheppard's in trouble. Two. He shouldn't be left alone tonight... Rodney snapped his fingers. He had an idea. It wasn't a solution, but it was something and it would have to do for now. He crossed the room and picked up the phone. "Sam? It's Rodney. I don't have much time, so I'm going to get straight to the point. I need to call in a favor."
"Rodney, I don't think I owe you any favors," Sam said slowly. Rodney could hear bemusement in her voice.
"Okay. That's not the point. I just really need you to do something for me. Please."
Rodney figured Sam must have heard the undercurrent of desperation in his voice because she was suddenly very serious. "What do you need?"
Just as Rodney was beginning to worry that he might have to check on Sheppard after all, the water shut off. By that time he already had his laptop set up along with a large mug of coffee. Sam had delivered them with a look of curiosity and concern, but she hadn't asked any questions. She promised there would be a spare cot arriving shortly.
Sheppard emerged from the bathroom, walked slowly toward the bed and sank down on the side. It looked like the shower had cost him every bit of energy he had left. He leaned forward cradling his head in his hands.
"John?" Rodney began worriedly.
Sheppard lifted his head and squinted at Rodney as though the slightly subdued lighting in the room was much too bright. "I don't suppose you have any of that prescription Carson gave you for headaches?"
"Yeah, I do," Rodney sighed as he rummaged through his pockets for the small container. "But I don't think you're supposed to take other people's medication."
"Don't often do what I'm supposed to."
Rodney frowned, studying Sheppard. He felt sure there was some other meaning behind the man's words, but it eluded him.
Rodney located a packet and offered it to Sheppard along with a glass of water from the bathroom.
"Thanks." Sheppard swallowed the pills and sipped the water tentatively.
"You're welcome." Rodney shut off all of the lights, leaving his laptop to cast an eerie glow as Sheppard crawled under the covers and curled up.
"You don't have to stay." Sheppard's voice was muffled under the blankets.
"No, I don't. But I'm staying anyway." Rodney sat down in front of his laptop pausing for a long time. "You hit the ground, didn't you?"
"Remember the pilots you told me about, the ones who keep trying to fix their own planes right until they hit the ground? You couldn't have let me help, could you? There was a note of accusation in Rodney's voice. "But now that you've crashed and splattered yourself all over the pavement, you ask me for a couple of pills?"
Rodney figured the imagery must have been a bit much when he heard Sheppard gag once and cough under the covers. Rolling over onto his back, he tossed the blankets aside as though he might get up again.
Rodney got up from the table crossed over to the bed and peered down at Sheppard. "Are you okay?"
Sheppard lay very still for a minute, panting slightly. He swallowed a few times then curled gingerly onto his side again as his pulled the covers back up. "Yeah. Got it under control now," he mumbled.
"I remember thinking the same thing once," Rodney commented. "Of course, that was right before I blew up 5/6 of a solar system."
Sheppard still looked like crap in the morning, but he got out of bed and started to get ready for the day as though nothing had happened. Watching him, Rodney grew more frustrated with each passing second. "You know, the next time you're called to a podium, it's not going to be a military one. You'll be up for an Academy Award."
"What?" Sheppard finally appeared to take notice of Rodney in his room.
"No one can put on a better performance of 'I'm fine. Nothing out of the ordinary here' than you can." Rodney began folding up his cot. "You act like it's an everyday occurrence to find yourself in such bad shape that your friend is sleeping in a cot at the foot of your bed."
"Don't say it. I don't need you to be sorry. I need you to do something about it and get better."
Sheppard looked at him for a long time. "I don't know what to do," he admitted softly.
"You could start by telling me where you went yesterday."
"I...I went to visit someone."
Rodney waited with his eyebrows raised expectantly. He wasn't willing to let Sheppard off the hook with an evasive answer.
"Colonel Everett. I went to visit Colonel Everett."
Rodney thought for a moment. "Isn't he the one who...? Oh..."
"Yeah," Sheppard sighed. Then he headed to the bathroom to shower, slamming the door shut on the way in.
As far as Rodney could tell, Sheppard did an admirable job of going through the motions during the day at the SGC. Maybe it was the work itself that kept him going. For Rodney, the work merely warred for attention with his worry over his teammate.
By nighttime, Rodney couldn't sleep. He told himself he'd had too much coffee. He told himself that it was just a coincidence that his late night stroll through the hallways passed by Sheppard's quarters, allowing him to notice the light spilling out from under the bottom of the door. He told himself it was just a friendly visit when he knocked on the door. Panic chased away the pretense when Sheppard didn't answer.
Rodney wished for a moment that he were on Atlantis and could just override the door controls, not that Sheppard ever appreciated it when he did - except when it was a medical emergency, and even then he wasn't overjoyed. Still, sometimes it was the only right course of action. Rodney jiggled the door handle, wondering how hard it would be to override lock at the SGC. Surprised to find it unlocked, Rodney eased the door open and poked his head into the room.
Sheppard was sitting on his bed with his back pressed against the headboard. His eyes barely flickered toward his teammate when Rodney called his name. With his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms clasped tightly around his legs, Sheppard looked unsettlingly scared and vulnerable.
"I can't sleep because I had way too much caffeine, even for me," Rodney babbled as he entered the room. "What's your excuse?"
Sheppard shrugged tiredly.
"When I'm actually trying to sleep, I usually lie down. You might give that idea some consideration," Rodney offered.
"Well, when I'm lying down, I usually have nightmares," Sheppard shot back. He froze for a moment, and then snapped his mouth shut as though trying to prevent any further confessions from spilling out.
Rodney froze, too. He was briefly taken aback by Sheppard's admission, but the gears in his head spun quickly. "Fine. We can deal with that." He moved to pull the folded cot out from a corner of the room.
"You can't sleep on the cot again," Sheppard protested.
"You're right. I can't. My back is still killing me from last night. You're going to sleep on the cot. I'm taking the bed this time." Rodney unfolded the cot and set it in place.
"I don't need a babysitter."
"That's good because I'm not a very good babysitter, much as it pains me to admit that I'm not good at something. Now, move." Rodney flapped his hands, shooing Sheppard off the bed. "I'm suddenly tired after all and the bed is looking really inviting."
"This is ridiculous," Sheppard grumbled. But he moved onto the cot and, despite the fact he really didn't look very comfortable flopped out on it with his feet dangling over the end, he was asleep within minutes.
Later that night, when Sheppard's demons crawled out of the shadows to wreak havoc, Rodney fought alongside his teammate. And neither of them said a word about it in the morning. Rodney wondered if they were doing the right thing.
Space was limited aboard the Daedalus, so Rodney wasn't sure if it was by necessity or discreet design that he and Sheppard were assigned to the same quarters. Rodney had no objection to the arrangement for the return trip, but he wondered how long he could help hold Sheppard together. It could be a long eighteen days.
"You look tired," Sheppard noted with concern as Rodney got ready for bed.
"Yeah, well, coming down from an SGC coffee high will do that to you." Rodney pressed his lips together to avoid mentioning that the coffee had been consumed to keep him awake for his late night vigils.
Sheppard scowled at Rodney for a moment, obviously not taken with the excuse, then he sighed. "Look, I...um...I went to the ship's infirmary this afternoon." Sheppard rubbed his hand awkwardly over the back of his neck. "I...I got some sleeping pills."
"It's about time." Rodney tried vainly to plump the standard issue pillow into some sort of comfortable arrangement.
"I'm sorry I didn't go to the infirmary at the SGC. I was...I was worried they'd keep me there for a while."
"Their infirmary's not so bad. I've been there dozens of times."
"I meant I was afraid they'd keep me on Earth," Sheppard said softly.
"Oh." Rodney felt his stomach drop when he heard Sheppard's admission. With Sheppard, what you got was usually the tip of the iceberg. Rodney always took that into account. He thought he'd taken that into account this time, too. Obviously not. Maybe this time, what lay beneath was much more than he had reckoned on. He lay back on his bunk and stared at the ceiling.
Sheppard uncapped the pill bottle shook out the medication and swallowed the pills. "I hope you can get a decent night's sleep now." Sheppard turned out the light and climbed into his own bed.
"Hold on a minute." Rodney's voice was slow and tight. "You took the pills so I could get a good night's sleep. You didn't take them because you needed a good night's sleep?"
"I think I've done enough for myself." Sheppard replied huskily.
Rodney tried without success to puzzle that one out. "I don't suppose you'd care to elaborate on that?"
"I said 'no'. I can't deal with this now. Not here."
"When we get home."
Rodney started counting the minutes until they were back on Atlantis. Then he felt bad about doing that because it was partially his fault Sheppard was in such rough shape. Sheppard was left behind in Kolya's hands, fed on by a Wraith, because he had laid down cover fire so that Rodney could dial the Gate and escape, free and clear. He owed it to his friend to help him through this. Sheppard didn't have the corner on survivor's guilt.
Rodney was just drifting off to sleep on their fourth day aboard the vessel when he heard Sheppard gasp.
"Sheppard? John! Wake up!" Rodney snapped the lights on.
"I'm...not...asleep." Sheppard ground out. He groaned and curled up tighter with his hand still pressed against his chest.
"Then what's wrong? Oh, my God! You're not having a heart attack are you? I'll call the infirmary."
"No! Don't! J-just...gimme a minute."
It seemed to take forever as Rodney waited, his hand still poised to call the infirmary for help, but it was probably only a minute before the pain seemed to ease off and Sheppard uncurled as he shakily removed his hand from his chest.
"What the hell just happened?" Rodney demanded.
"It's happened a couple of times before," John explained in short, ragged gasps. "C-Carson said it might be nerve damage from...from the Wraith...from feeding."
"Nerve damage works better than the alternative explanation."
"What's the alternative?"
"That it's...uh...that it's nothing at all."
"Oh." Rodney was starting to question whether or not he could help keep Sheppard together. More and more, he was thinking that the problem was out of his league. But in his opinion, it was still his responsibility.
Rodney had been occupied working with the crew's science team for most of their first twelve days aboard the Daedalus. He didn't think that Sheppard was doing much except wandering the halls now and then, and sleeping. Sheppard did a lot of sleeping.
"I hate how these things make me feel," Sheppard grumbled as he tossed back another dose of his medication.
Rodney crawled into bed. "How do they make you feel?"
"Hello. Sleeping pills. They're supposed to make you feel tired."
"Maybe it's not because of the pills."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sheppard was instantly defensive.
"Nothing." Rodney scrambled to think of a way to rescue his last statement. He thought it ironic that his likelihood of saying the wrong thing seemed to increase in direct proportion to the delicacy of a situation. On the other hand, pretty much everything he said went over wrong with Sheppard for the last few days. Two nights ago, Rodney had resorted to saying nothing at all to keep the peace. For him, this required a monumental effort. Still, Sheppard had taken exception to his silence. "I just thought that maybe you were a little bit...stressed...and...and..."
"And what?" There was an edge to Sheppard's voice that made Rodney wish their bunks were a bit further apart.
"M-maybe you just need a little time to...rest, you know. Rest can be good." Rodney's voice squeaked a little with anxiety.
"Rest? You mean as in not on active duty?" Sheppard growled.
"No. I mean 'rest' as in 'have a nap.' Geez, Sheppard, way to jump to unfounded conclusions."
When Sheppard finally replied, the hostile tone had vanished. "Maybe you were right. Maybe it's not the pills..." He sighed deeply.
Rodney was seriously beginning to doubt that Sheppard had been held together at all, for any part of the trip.
Rodney was relieved when they finally reached Atlantis. Here, there were others who could look out for Sheppard, too. Carson, Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth, Rodney made a mental list. He felt as though he'd been freed from the weight of looking out for Sheppard. But his sense of freedom lasted all of half an hour. He never was good at delegating responsibility.
Sheppard made himself scarce once they returned, so Rodney barely saw Sheppard the first couple of days after they arrived home. To be more precise, he didn't see much of Sheppard in person. He had his laptop set to monitor Sheppard's subcutaneous transmitter. A small window in the corner of his display tracked the Sheppard-blip 24/7, and it beeped to alert Rodney whenever Sheppard was on the move. Rodney knew Sheppard would be totally pissed if he ever found out. Hopefully, he wouldn't be holding a P-90 if he did. Still, given the circumstances, Rodney rationalized that keeping an eye on his teammate was justified.
It quickly became apparent that Sheppard had stopped taking the sleeping pills once he was back on Atlantis. The blinking dot on the screen roamed the corridors of Atlantis throughout the night. Rodney sat up at night monitoring the dot.
During one of Sheppard's rare appearances, Rodney almost gave himself away. Rodney placed his lunch tray on the table and sat down with his team. He was relieved to see that Sheppard had joined them. Rodney had been in meetings for most of the morning, so he'd not been able to keep tabs on his friend as much as he would have liked.
Sheppard eyed Rodney warily, as if he were half-expecting him to suddenly spill his secrets to everyone. It probably didn't help that they were sitting at the same table where Rodney had embarrassed Sheppard about the foot fungus issue. As he eyed Rodney, Sheppard's wariness quickly turned to a look of concern. "You don't look like you've slept very much."
"Look who's talking," Rodney snapped back, grumpy with fatigue. "You spent most of the night wandering the halls." As soon as the words were out of his mouth Rodney realized his mistake.
The wariness was back in Sheppard's eyes. "How would you know where I was last night?"
Rodney's brain scrambled for a plausible explanation. "Because...because, I saw you. I saw you in the hallways...a few times." Rodney hoped it didn't count as a lie to omit saying that his vantage point had been his laptop.
"I didn't see you." Sheppard narrowed his eyes challengingly.
"You were...far away when I saw you. I didn't want to disturb you." Rodney felt his mouth go dry. Deception wasn't his thing. It required his brain to pause and process what he was going to say before he spoke. It was beyond unnatural to him.
Sheppard didn't look as if he entirely accepted Rodney's explanation, but he went back to stabbing at his lunch and pushing it around the plate with his fork. It soon became obvious that Sheppard wasn't actually eating.
"Are you not hungry?" Teyla inquired.
Sheppard's jaw tensed. He gripped the utensils even tighter as if he were fighting to keep himself under control.
"If you're not going to eat that, I will." Ronon started to reach for Sheppard's tray. Rodney wondered if Ronon was still hungry or if he were trying to give Sheppard an easy out.
"I'm eating," Sheppard snapped as he blocked Ronon's hand. He proceeded to shovel in several mouthfuls of food, but he seemed to be having a hard time swallowing it.
Mercifully, the awkward lunch soon came to a conclusion. Sheppard stood up first to leave the table. "I'm off active duty for a few days," he announced without preamble. Then he hurried away before anyone had a chance to say another word.
Rodney returned to his lab after lunch. He tried to work but his mind was on the Sheppard-blip on his laptop. He felt himself becoming irritated. He knew it wasn't quite reasonable, but he was beginning to resent that Sheppard was taking up so much of his time. Dr. Heightmeyer had suggested to him that it was easier to be angry at Sheppard than to work through his feelings of guilt over what had happened to his friend. Rodney didn't buy that mumbo-jumbo.
When the program beeped, Rodney spun around on his seat and peered closely at the screen. Sheppard was in his quarters and heading...into the bathroom. Rodney scrunched up his face. Too much information.
With an exasperated grunt, Rodney was drawn away from his calculations again when the laptop beeped for the third time in 90 minutes. Sheppard was in the bathroom again. "It serves you right for trying to cram down your lunch instead of admitting you weren't hungry," Rodney muttered. But there was no malice in his tone.
Ten minutes later, when the blip hadn't moved out of the bathroom, Rodney's hand hovered near his earpiece ready to call Carson, but he couldn't figure out how he was going to explain the basis for his concern. Damn. Why did the right course of action have to be so fraught with dilemmas? Rodney hopped down from his lab stool and hurried off to Sheppard's quarters, hoping to come up with a reasonable explanation for his visit along the way.
Rodney knocked on the door for the third time as he called Sheppard's name. No answer. Expecting that the door was probably locked, he palmed the door controls and was surprised to see the door slide open. Sheppard was nowhere in sight, but the bathroom light was on and the door was partially open. Bracing himself for what he might find, Rodney scurried over.
Sheppard was huddled on the floor in front of the toilet. Groaning, he rocked forward gripping his stomach tightly. He didn't react to Rodney's presence.
Sheppard's head snapped up. He squinted against the light. "McKay! What the hell-?"
"I could ask you the same question," Rodney shot back as he lifted his hand toward his earpiece.
"Don't bother calling Carson," Sheppard rasped. "Saw him already today."
"I can see that you look so much better already."
"Are you finished here for now?"
Sheppard shrugged miserably.
Rodney turned on the tap, filled a glass of water and handed it to Sheppard. Sheppard hesitantly uncurled from his spot on the floor and got to his knees as he rinsed his mouth and spat out the water. For minute, he stayed in that position with his head hanging over the toilet, panting as though he might be sick again. Eventually he swallowed and sat back on his heels. "I'm done," he muttered.
Sheppard protested feebly when Rodney grabbed his arms to pull him to his feet, but he didn't have the strength to break away at the moment. He allowed Rodney to continue holding on to one arm and steer him across his room. When they reached the bed, Sheppard sprawled on it face down.
"You need help."
"Saw Heightmeyer already today, too."
"I'm glad Carson made you go."
"He didn't make me go. I just...went."
"Oh. How'd it go?"
"It takes time." Sheppard sounded incredibly weary as he mumbled into his pillow.
"How much time?" Rodney pressed.
A small burst of energy fueled by anger allowed Sheppard to turn his head to glare at Rodney. "McKay, where do you get off-"
"What? Trying to look out for you because you're not doing so well right now?"
"I can look out for myself."
"How do you figure that?
"I survived being fed on by a Wraith."
"I don't know that I'd call getting captured and tortured 'looking out for yourself'."
"Get the hell out of my room," Sheppard snarled and rolled over face down in the pillow once again.
Sheppard stood with his hands jammed in his pockets, his back to Kate as he stared out her office window. "I don't know. I don't know how I'm doing. Not good, I guess."
"Why do you say that?" Kate inquired.
"Because I'm treating my friends like crap and generally acting like a complete jerk toward everyone else. I can't seem to get any control over it." Sheppard ran his hands through his hair in frustration as he turned to face Kate. "Maybe I should be confined to my quarters...with no visitors."
"Do you feel as if you have better control when you're in your room, when you're alone?"
"No. I was thinking more along the lines of minimizing collateral damage," Sheppard answered twisting his mouth wryly.
"Ah." Kate nodded, pausing briefly before continuing. "Colonel, I can't help but notice that you often respond to questions about how you're feeling or what you need, based primarily on how it will affect others."
"They're my responsibility. It's my job."
"We need to focus on you right now."
Sheppard sat down facing Kate. "What I need is to get back to my job," he stated emphatically.
"And you will be able to do your job when you've addressed your own needs and you're functioning better," Kate said encouragingly.
"I think I've given more than enough thought to my own needs for a long time to come."
Kate pursed her lips, thinking. "You made a similar statement yesterday. Perhaps we could explore that idea a bit more."
Sheppard shifted uncomfortably in the chair. "Look, I just need to be able to get back out there. What if the Wraith show up and I'm lying around on my bed off duty or sitting here talking about myself?"
"That's a good question. What do you think would happen?"
"Lorne would have a pretty big job on his hands," Sheppard quipped dryly.
"I meant you," Kate persisted patiently. "What would happen to you?"
"To me? Nothing. Nothing would happen to me. Other people would get hurt...or die. They'd get hurt or die because I wasn't doing my goddamn job!" Sheppard's voice rose until he was shouting, his breath coming in furious gasps.
Kate waited silently until Sheppard had regained control.
"I'm sorry. I-"
"It's alright," Kate said gently.
Sheppard lowered his head into his hands. "God, I'm so tired." He sat motionless for a long time. "I don't understand," he said softly.
"You don't understand what?"
"Why I can't handle this. Why I can't get through this," Sheppard gestured vaguely. "I thought I was stronger than this."
"Colonel, you are getting through this. It may be hard to see that right now, but you are. And the difficulties you are experiencing are not a sign of weakness. It takes an incredible amount of strength to fight your way through this."
Sheppard rose stiffly. "I don't know about that. I don't know if I can do this." He dropped his head forward, looking utterly defeated and walked out of the office.
Rodney worked late in his lab. His laptop sat silently on the table beside him. He fretted as he checked on the unmoving blip. Sheppard was on a balcony near his quarters, but he hadn't moved in over an hour. Not that Sheppard didn't spend a lot of time doing nothing these days, but not on the balcony.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth's voice broke the stillness of the lab.
Startled, Rodney jumped up and slammed the screen shut on his laptop, concealing the evidence of his surveillance activities. "Elizabeth! W-what are you doing here," he stammered?
"I thought Colonel Sheppard might be here," she said, glancing around the room.
"He's not." Rattled by nearly being caught, Rodney's response came out unintentionally abrupt. "He doesn't hang around here much these days," he added, hoping to soften the reply.
"Do you have any idea where he might be at the moment?"
"I haven't seen him since early this afternoon."
"That's not what I asked," Elizabeth replied, narrowing her eyes slightly with a look of suspicion.
Rodney sighed, reaching for the laptop. He wasn't good at subterfuge and Elizabeth was far too sharp for that sort of thing. "He's here." Rodney opened the screen and pointed to Sheppard's dot, still stationary on the balcony.
Elizabeth's brow furrowed as she peered at the screen then tipped her head questioningly at Rodney.
"I was worried about him," Rodney offered, twisting his fingers together.
"We're all worried about him, but you can't just-"
"Look, I'm sorry, but we'll have to deal with this later," Rodney said as he glanced at his screen. "It's now exactly an hour and a half since Sheppard has moved. I...I have to go check on him...in person."
Elizabeth nodded in understanding. "But we will talk later," she said pointedly, making it clear that Rodney was not off the hook. "Keep me posted," she added.
John sat sprawled on the balcony propped up against one of the walls. Listing badly to one side, a hand planted on the floor seemed to be the only thing keeping him semi-upright. A clay jug sat on the floor beside him.
"Sheppard?" Rodney stepped onto the balcony taking in the scene before him.
John lifted his head and turned toward Rodney, blinking as though trying to clear fuzzy vision. "McKay. Lemme alone," he slurred.
Rodney's eyes widened. "You're drunk."
"Prize for statin' th' obvious." Sheppard reached for the jug and started to lift it to his lips again.
Rodney closed the gap between them and snatched the jug away. "That's enough. In fact you've had more than enough"
Sheppard tried to wrestle the jug back but wasn't able to coordinate any sort of resistance. "Wasn' nearly 'nough," he protested dropping his arms back down in defeat.
"Enough for what?" Rodney asked.
"Wasn't enough t'make e'rything go away." Taking a deep shuddering breath, Sheppard pressed his palms against the floor again, trying to straighten up.
"There isn't enough alcohol in this entire galaxy to make everything go away," Rodney noted.
"Oh," Sheppard said in a small voice, looking crestfallen. He frowned for a moment, appearing to consider this. "Maybe on Earth?"
Rodney shook his head. "No. Not on Earth either."
Rodney recorked the jug and set it down out of Sheppard's immediate reach. "Where did you get this rotgut?"
"H-Halling gave it t'me after...after the Wraith. It's for a cel-cele-celebration of life."
"I think Halling probably had something larger than a party of one in mind when he gave this to you."
"There's only one surviv'r t' cel-celebrate. I didn't save the rest." Sheppard shook his head sadly as one arm slowly gave way and his body started to slide towards the floor.
"Oh, no, you don't." Rodney grabbed him by the shirt and tugged him upright again. He lowered himself to the ground beside Sheppard, using his body to keep his friend propped in a sitting position. "I think you should go back to your room before you pass out because I am not carrying you back."
"'Kay," Sheppard said, suddenly agreeable. Then using the wall for support, he tried to pull his legs underneath his body. Rodney hadn't quite been prepared for Sheppard's attempt to rise. Although he grabbed for Sheppard's arm as the man's legs buckled, he wasn't able to stop him from sprawling on the floor again.
Rodney moved to kneel in front of his teammate. "Let's try this again."
"F-feel sssick now. Don't wanna leave a trail of puke from here t' my room." Sheppard swallowed and placed a hand across his stomach as though trying to keep the contents in place.
"I suppose you think it would be better for someone to find you in the morning, passed out here, face down in your own vomit?" Rodney challenged.
Sheppard's hand fumbled ineffectually trying to wipe the sweat off his forehead as he swallowed again. "Not gonna ha-happ'n."
Rodney studied Sheppard for a moment. "How do you figure that? It looks like it's heading that way pretty fast."
"Cause you won't let that happ'n." Sheppard looked at his teammate, his eyes wide with sincerity. Then he groaned and screwed his eyes shut.
Sheppard cracked one eye open. "M'okay."
Rodney tossed his hands in the air, thoroughly exasperated. "You've pickled your liver on Halling's homebrewed concoction and you're trying to tell me you're okay."
"'M not okay?"
"No. Not really. Not right now."
"'M gonna get bett'r, right?"
"Yes. Yes, you are. It's just...it's going to take some time and hard work."
"'M gonna be sick."
"Oh, for crying out loud!"
Rodney hauled Sheppard off the balcony floor and deposited him at the railing where he immediately started to retch as his body tried to purge itself of the alcohol still in his stomach.
"They don't pay me enough for this. They barely pay me enough for saving Atlantis with my scientific genius. But for this, the pay doesn't even come close," Rodney muttered as he held Sheppard upright.
"S-sss'rry," Sheppard gagged and spat into the ocean.
"Don't. Don't talk." Rodney turned his head as far as he could from Sheppard and gulped in fresh air. "Just...get it over with so we can get you back to your room."
Sheppard responded by nodding once and then almost jerking free of Rodney's grasp as his body spasmed and violently heaved up another stream of liquid.
"Sheppard, I'm warning you, if you tumble over this railing, that's it. I am not going in that now disgustingly unsanitary water to fish you out."
When Sheppard's stomach finally stopped trying to turn itself inside out, Rodney led him away from the railing. He had hoped they might try to make it the short distance back to Sheppard's room but it looked like they weren't even going to make it off the balcony when John's legs gave out again.
"Do you think you could try to stay on your feet long enough to get back to your room?"
With no other option, Rodney guided Sheppard to the floor and sat him down propped against the wall again.
Sheppard started to shiver even though the air was warm. "I'm c-cold and I ne'er drink 'cause I make a lousy drunk an' I feel crappy."
"Now who's looking for a prize for stating the obvious?" Sighing, Rodney removed his jacket and wrapped it around Sheppard.
"Thanksss." Sheppard occupied himself studying the fabric of his friend's jacket. "Rodney, can I tell you something?"
"As much as my naturally inquisitive nature screams to say yes, I'm going to have to say no to this one because I have the feeling you'll regret it in the morning and you'll hate me for letting you say whatever it was you shouldn't have said."
"I'm goin' t'say it anyway."
"I was afraid of that."
"You're the smartest man I know," Sheppard declared magnanimously.
"See, I knew you were going to say something you'd regret in the morning."
"There's more." Sheppard hiccupped. "I ne'er lock my doors anymore."
"That's not a revelation. I noticed that."
"I left 'em op-open for you."
"That, I didn't know. Do I want to know why?"
"It's the only way I c-could figure t'ask for your help when things got bad. 'M not good at that." Sheppard scrubbed one hand tiredly across his face. "Tonight, I was really hopin' you'd find me. I wanted you to find me 'cause you're really, really good at fixin' things that get broken."
Sheppard's disclosure seemed to have worn him out completely as he slid to the side again, slouching heavily against his friend.
Rodney sat uncharacteristically quiet and still for a few minutes. It was hard for him to know what to say to that, but he was spared from having to come up with a response. Sheppard had fallen asleep.
"I wish I were better at fixing the things that matter the most," Rodney whispered, sighing.
Kate took in Sheppard's disheveled appearance. His rumpled clothing looked as if he had slept in it and his hair was more disarrayed than usual.
"I'm going to take the medication," Sheppard announced twisting his face in an expression of disdain as he sat down across from Kate.
"You don't seem particularly pleased with your decision," Kate observed.
"I didn't have a choice."
"I was under the impression Dr. Beckett offered medication as an option."
"It was either take it or continue to act like an ass. And before you ask, no, I am not taking it in consideration for others. I'm taking it to forestall further embarrassment to myself."
"It was still a choice," insisted Kate. "You may not have liked either option, but it was still a choice."
"I guess." Sheppard shrugged doubtfully. "It wouldn't be my choice."
"What would your choice be?"
"To get my act together and get back to my job – today."
"There is no quick fix for a normal reaction to the events you've experienced."
"So...not one of the possible choices. I get that," Sheppard sighed.
"What is it that bothers you about taking the medication?"
"It proves the point."
"What point is that?"
"That I'm not fit to be the military leader of Atlantis."
Kate's brows knitted together as she considered that statement. "I wasn't aware that was an issue."
Sheppard laughed bitterly for a moment. "You have to be kidding."
"I'm not," Kate replied seriously. "Has someone suggested you should be removed from the position?"
"No. I..." Sheppard scowled as a look of confusion played across his face. "I just...I just thought that after...after the Wraith..." Sheppard pinched the bridge of his nose as though fighting a headache. "I thought people would... They'd have to be questioning my ability to do the job."
"Who do you think is questioning your ability?"
Sheppard got up and walked toward the window, staring at the view for a long time. "I'm not sure..." Sheppard began slowly. "Somebody must be. I don't know. I know I would if I were them."
"Do you doubt yourself now?"
"Of course, I do!" Sheppard snapped as he turned to face Kate.
"What is it about the Wraith incident that you think casts doubt on your military leadership?"
"I... I..." Kate watched the color drain from Sheppard's face as he considered the question. When he finally spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. "I survived. I saved myself." He shuffled over and dropped back into the chair. "I'm supposed to save others but I didn't. I couldn't... I..." Sheppard let his head drop forward as he leaned over, resting his forearms across his knees. "I shot Colonel Sumner to save him from the Wraith but I managed to get myself restored. Colonel Everett is in a veteran's hospital, but I'm here on Atlantis. And Ford...Ford is..." He raised his head to look Kate in the eye as his voice cracked with emotion. "I don't know where Ford is. He was under my command. I was supposed to look after him..." Sheppard raised a hand and rubbed it across his chest. "If I figured out a way to save myself, I should have figured out a way to save them, too." Biting his lower lip, he squeezed his eyes shut, appearing to fight for control over his reactions.
Kate waited until Sheppard opened his eyes again before proceeding. "Colonel," she said gently, "have you considered that the difference was that you were able to survive in your situation simply because you were presented with better choices?"
Rodney was grateful that between Heightmeyer and Carson, they did a pretty good job of patching Sheppard together again over the next few weeks. He was sleeping instead of wandering the halls, which was especially good because it allowed Rodney to give up his late night vigils. Sheppard looked healthier. And he wasn't quite so damned difficult to be around. But, Rodney knew the repair job was incomplete because Sheppard was still not quite Sheppard.
It was hard to pinpoint exactly what was different. It was little things. It was the number of times Sheppard lost at chess to Rodney. Occasionally he'd come close to a win, but he'd never quite make it. Rodney felt sure Sheppard had thrown at least a few of the matches on purpose, but he wasn't sure what purpose. It was in the way Sheppard ate his meals, or rather in what he chose to eat. With a limited appetite, Rodney figured his friend would choose his favorite foods from the menu. He never did. It was in the way he laughed during the movie night, or almost did. He stopped himself. Patched together, but not fixed.
So, Rodney came up with another plan.
Rodney had to admit there were a few flaws in the plan. He had to pilot the Puddle Jumper to the mainland since Sheppard wasn't allowed to fly. Still, even when Rodney's chosen flight path skimmed the treetops much too closely, Sheppard didn't grouse about it as much as Rodney had expected. But maybe that fit with Sheppard's mindset. Flying was pure joy for Sheppard and as near as Rodney could figure it, there was no way he was going to allow himself to have fun.
Then there was the matter of their chosen camping site. Rodney had let Ronon choose that – and Ronon liked terrain with a challenge. It seemed that even short hikes from the site required far more exertion than Rodney thought appropriate for a vacation. Sheppard didn't complain about that either. In fact, there were moments when he seemed to be enjoying the place. Rodney thought it stood to reason that Sheppard would opt for a challenge that had him close to dropping with exhaustion. Maybe it was a better kind of pain than torturing himself with guilt. Maybe it didn't matter as long as he enjoyed himself.
On the plus side of the plan, the view was incredible. Rodney noted Sheppard smiling faintly when he sat perched on a lookout point with a particularly magnificent view. The location also featured a sea cave at the foot of one of the less steep trails to the shore. It was accessible at low tide. Sheppard had been unable to resist the simple pleasure of exploration with his team.
Teyla had looked after many of the provisions for the trip. Her meal choices seemed to rely heavily on Sheppard's favorite foods. For the first day, Rodney exchanged worried glances with Ronon and Teyla when Sheppard barely ate. But he still had some of his instinct for self-preservation. So, when the combined effects of the fresh air and physical exertion made him ravenous, he ate. And sometimes, he couldn't help but appreciate the taste.
Each night, when evening fell, the team sat around the campfire in a companionable silence. On their last night, under the cover of darkness, Sheppard broke the silence. "Ford would have loved this place," he said softly.
"I believe he would have enjoyed it very much," Teyla replied, her voice equally quiet as she stared into glowing embers. "And I believe he would very much have wanted his friends to share his enjoyment."
"Yeah," Sheppard replied. "He really would have wanted that."
Later, Rodney lay awake, enjoying the familiarity of the slow, rhythmic breathing of his teammates as they slept under the stars.
Rodney heard a soft rustle of fabric as John turned over in his sleeping bag. "Rodney?"
Sheppard's voice was slightly slurred with sleep. "Thank you. You really are good at fixing things."
"You're welcome." Rodney smiled contentedly to himself. He and his teammates drifted off to sleep as they had done so many times on foreign worlds, huddled together for safety, and warmth and comfort. They did it, not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the best thing to do.
Author's Note: After I read the prompt, I originally conceived of this story as a tag to events which paralleled one another in "Rising" and "The Siege." Once I developed it a little bit more, I realized this story would be taking place a year and a half to two years after "The Siege." In fact, it would most likely have to be set after "Common Ground." The specific events from "Rising" and "The Siege" used in this story tied so closely to the events in "Common Ground" that this tale also became a tag to "Common Ground." Then it dawned on me that my story for Flashfic Challenge One was also a "Common Ground" tag. At that point, this story was already more than halfway complete. What could I do? The muses had spoken. Besides that, can there ever really be too many "Common Ground" tags?
Spoiler Notes: There are spoilers for "Rising," "The Defiant One," "The Siege," "The Intruder," "Trinity," and "Common Ground."