Type: angst/drama/HC/has been classified as pre-slash in some discussions
Rating: minimum PG-15
Spoilers: Duet and Critical Mass
Warnings: language and frank sexual discussions
Beta and hand holding: Klostes
His tray of food crashed to the floor as he jumped. Rodney spun around and Cadman grinned up at him unrepentantly. She wiggled her fingers in a tiny wave.
“You… you… bitch!” Rodney grated. “Stop it. Don’t touch me. Don’t tease me. And don’t get in my personal space. Do you understand or am I talking too quickly?”
“Aw, Rodney, can’t you take a joke?”
Rodney snapped, “We shared head space -- that doesn’t make us friends. I don’t care if this is the way that you treat people and they accept it. I don’t want it.”
“Oh and you don’t treat your ‘minions’ like this.” Cadman mimed speech marks.
The two scientists standing behind the lieutenant queuing for food shuffled backwards a step.
“I don’t touch them. I don’t malign their sexual prowess behind their backs.” Rodney deliberately leaned into the woman’s personal space. “I tell people exactly what I think of them to their faces.”
“Oh, Rodney,” Cadman began, her tone moving into sweetly sympathetic.
“No, I am not overreacting. If I stripped you naked – you would have me up on charges. If I pinched your bottom you would break my wrist. And this would be completely acceptable to your ‘cronies’.” Rodney mimed his own set of mocking speech marks. “You want to know where my boundaries are? They’re light years away from you. Touch me again, make a sexually suggestive remark to me, or insult me in any way and I will be making an official complaint.”
Rodney turned abruptly on his heel and marched out of the dining room.
“Rodney?” Zelenka asked as McKay stormed back into his lab. “What is the matter?”
“Nothing.” McKay stomped over the mini fridge at the back of the room.
Zelenka blinked, astounded by the lack of ranting and diatribe. McKay pulled out a cellophane wrapped sandwich and a capped carton of soup.
“Are you all right, Rodney?”
“Fine,” Rodney said tightly, obviously anything but. “I’m going to take the rest of the evening off. I’ll have my comm. but try not to disturb me unless there’s an impending Wraith attack.”
Hackles up, Rodney stalked away. Zelenka sat for the longest time. He knew Rodney, he knew his manner and his confidence, the weave of his arrogance and haranguing. When Rodney was angry, he didn’t hold it to his heart and nurture it – he let rip.
So Rodney had already spent his temper and what Zelenka had seen was – “How is it said?” he mused, “fed up?”
Radek carefully closed down the programme he was running and logged off his computer initiating the password protocols.
Rodney snarled at his door, wishing for once that it was a familiar Terran door that he could slam. Angrily, he thumped the food on the table beside the door, and with short, sharp movements stripped off his blue t-shirt, kicked his boots across the floor to clatter satisfactorily against a chair, pulled off his trousers, boxers and socks and stomped into the en suite bathroom.
His only need was a shower to fire needle hot spikes across the back of his neck and shoulders. A mental command closed and sealed the door of his shower wet room. He selected pin prick nozzles and angled them at the back of his neck. With a sigh of relief, he stroked the sensitive controls and, head hanging low between his shoulders, he let the hot water soothe. His wrists and elbows were aching; too long in front of a laptop typing stupid reports.
He stood there for a lifetime, indulging in glorious ZPM powered, unlimited heat. Slowly, he brought the other water nozzles into play, revelling in the play of water. The time of the communal showers in the designated military barracks were past. Shields were good, but some days showers were better. Slowly as his fingertips wrinkled, he reached for his shampoo. He scrubbed at his short hair, drilling his fingers into his scalp.
“Rodney?” a familiar Scottish voice asked tentatively. “Are you okay?”
Rodney thudded his forehead against the cool, droplet covered tiles.
“I’m in the shower, Carson. I’m fine. Just let yourself back out.”
“Laura said that you had had a bit of an altercation in the commissary and Radek said that you were a wee bit upset.”
“Tell your girlfriend that I was serious.” Rodney yelled. “If she ever tries that again, I’ll be speaking directly with General Landry.”
“She pinched my ass.”
Rodney stamped out of the unit. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist before entering his bedroom. He flicked soap suds out of his eyes and glared at his friend.
“Not ‘oh’. But, ‘yes, Rodney, I’ll tell Cadman never to do it again’.”
“You can’t really see that that would work, do you?”
“I’m not going to have this conversation with you, Carson,” Rodney said over the top of his gentle observation. “You’ve already decided that I’m overreacting. I’ve had a long day, a long week… no…no… a long month and it was a long Atlantean month. She stepped over the line and I told her.”
“D’ you think maybe you better finish your shower.” Carson pointed back in the shower room. “I’ll heat your soup in the microwave and make you some, uhm, hot chocolate?”
“Thank you, Carson. But if you don’t mind I’d like some time to myself.” Rodney shepherded the physician to the door, using everything that he had learned about moving body mass from Teyla.
Protesting, Carson was pushed out the door, skidding across the shiny floor. As Carson turned, Rodney forced the door shut and, hand planted on the door, he commanded it to lock and open for no one.
The next morning, his equilibrium returned, he bounced into his lab to take his pre-breakfast half hour to check with his staff before he headed out on a mission. Miko beetled in behind him, head down, looking at the floor.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” McKay waved off her apologies. “The phase adjustments on the Naquada generators. Where are your simulation outputs for the model mark IV?”
McKay lost himself in the frequency modulation patterns, but eventually decided that the adjusted ratios yielded no appreciable improvement over time. Leaning back in his chair, he contemplated the ceiling trying to figure out the best way to maximise the…
His ear piece chirruped and absently he tapped it. “McKay.”
“You were expected in the gateroom five minutes ago,” Sheppard said dryly.
McKay mouthed an expletive. “Be there in five minutes.”
“I will get you breakfast.” Miko bobbed her head.
“Go. Go. Go!” McKay waved her off. “Meet me in the ready room. Get something like a croissant or those pastry balls with sweet filling.”
“And coffee!” McKay yelled at her retreating back.
McKay fastened his BDU vest as he ran. Miko scurried at his side offering an assortment of pastries, which he stuffed in his front pockets.
His team waited for him, Sheppard standing impatiently, hands propped on the butt of his P-90. A second team stood beside his own team.
“What are they here for?” McKay pointed at a smirking Cadman, a bored looking Lorne and a Parrish bouncing up and down on his heels. McKay didn’t know their fourth member – he was big and burly and looked mostly like a juggernaut.
Team’s muscle, he decided.
“MX7 888: the island moon. Probably got interesting method of tracking tidal waves and tsunamis and the local shaman has an interesting line in plant pharmaceuticals, remember?” Sheppard said.
Parrish waved his fingers.
“Yes, botanist, very clever. So why do we need a tap-dancing, explosives expert?” Rodney asked.
“Suck it up, McKay, I’m going,” Cadman said. “If you going to request a change on the duty roster, come to the meetings instead of making a demand seconds before we go through the ‘gate. Not that you could have changed anything.”
“Okay, okay, if we’re going, let’s go.” Rodney strode for the shimmering wormhole.
“Hey, hey--” Sheppard caught the back of his vest, “--you know the way it works: military first.”
Cadman saluted sharply and Rodney bristled. Back straight and ever-so precise, she entered the wormhole. Rodney took a savage bite from his chocolate croissant.
More ruins, more boring, broken equipment. A single, standing obsidian crystal column survived amidst a forest of fallen pillars. Once upon a time a long time ago the facility had mediated the planet’s tsunamis, but no doubt movement of geologic plates over time had rendered the placement of the unit’s seismic energy disbursement probes ineffective.
‘Well,’ Rodney admitted, ‘that’s what I guess.’
Rodney ran his fingers along the column, picking out the few words of Ancient that he knew. The facility predated the exodus of the Ancients from Atlantis by a millennia.
“Talking to yourself, Rodney?”
McKay thudded his head against the standing column. “I’m working, go away.”
“Aw, it looks more like you’ve given up.”
“I’m not listening to you.” Rodney pulled his laptop out of the pouch on the back of his vest. If there was nothing here at least he could work on his theories on periodic natural phenomenon in non-relativistic wormholes. As he pursued his latest endeavour it occurred to him that finding one of the disbursement probes might yield some interesting material.
“So how’s it going with Katie Brown? You score yet?”
Rodney configured a basic cosine transformation into his data stream.
“I’ll take that as a no. It’s not surprising really, it’s obvious that you’ve never…”
“Leave,” Rodney said as he opened a word programme and began his letter to General Landry to support the Excel file that detailed the timeline of harassment. He was so off his game because of Cadman that he was resorting to Windows programmes – his life officially sucked.
Cadman leaned in closely, and said intimately, “I’m just trying to help you. I’m trying to make you open your mind to – well, for you – new experiences.”
“I don’t need your help and I don’t want your help. I don’t want you within twenty foot of me day or night.”
“Aw, Rodney, don’t be so sensitive. I’m just trying to--”
Rodney hit control-save viciously. “No, you’re just getting your kicks from needling me. I have told you repeatedly to leave me alone. And let’s just point out if you’re bugging me you’re not doing your job – go guard, be a marine.”
“Children, children, stop fighting and get back to work.” Sheppard slipped into view.
“I was working until I was interrupted,” Rodney said pointedly.
“I’ll get back to—uhm.” Cadman jerked a thumb over her shoulder.
“What was that about?” Sheppard asked as she began to clamber back up the massive blocks of fallen stones heading to her designated vantage point.
“I need a puddlejumper deployed so we can do a planetary orbit of this hemisphere – see if we can find any of the equipment that the Ancients used to moderate the planet’s seismic activity.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“No, I’m working. The puddlejumper?”
“Can you repair it?” Sheppard waved absently at the two storey high, carved obsidian column.
“I doubt it. It was old and decrepit before the Ancients abandoned the Pegasus Galaxy. It’s interesting, though.” Balancing the notebook on his lap he leaned over and pressed a camouflaged panel at the column base. It depressed and then the panel retracted. A cylindrical crystal popped out. It was as thick as Rodney’s wrist and as long as his forearm.
Rodney held it up. “A precursor of the -- you know, the plastic-like sheets in the biometric sensor array. I think I’ll take it for spectrophotometric analysis.”
“You want to tell me what’s going on with you and Cadman?” Sheppard said abruptly and at the same time moving into Rodney’s personal space.
Rodney took his time, secreting the crystal in a convenient pocket on his BDU vest. He guessed that he was supposed to keep a flare in it. Acutely aware of Sheppard standing close to him, he fought the impulse to shuffle away.
“I’m making an official complaint about her behaviour. Don’t worry, I’ll send it to Landry, I won’t make you… uhm … get involved. I know you like her.”
“Official complaint? Involved?”
“Is it an ‘official complaint’? I mean do you have different terminology in the Air Force? I’ve given her three verbal warnings, in just the last week. I’ve asked her not to touch me inappropriately or insult me. I could also do without the constant innuendo.”
Sheppard’s mouth opened and closed. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting? It’s just a little fun.”
“No, I am not overreacting. I’ve endured two months of her sly comments, digs and attempts to humiliate me verbally and, now, physically.” Rodney finally raised his head from the laptop and looked up at Sheppard standing over him, up the long length of his body.
“Is this about her kissing Carson?” Sheppard’s eyebrow rose.
“That is probably the only thing I could excuse her. There was a good chance that she was going to die. It was an impulse.” McKay manufactured a smile. “Now, I’m going back to work.” He unfurled a USB cable with a cobbled together Ancient dataport and poked it into the space left by the removal of the crystal.
“I’m tempted to look for pods. You’re not acting like yourself. Who is this calm, coldly vindictive Rodney? Why don’t you just yell at her?”
“Please,” Rodney mocked. “Been there. Done that – when we were sharing consciousnesses and the first two weeks. This is different, though, this is harassment. I’ve taught at Universities. I’ve supervised younger postgrad students. I know the rules. Cadman has crossed the line. I will not respond in kind. You don’t go down to their level. You document the harassment and you make a report.”
“Rodney, it probably--”
Above them Cadman yelled, “Wraith!”
Oh, saved by the Wraith, Rodney thought as he reached for his laptop, seems appropriate, somehow.
“Direction?” Sheppard demanded.
Cadman was directly above them clinging to a stone block about halfway up the steeply sloping structure. She pointed straight over their heads.
“Duc--!” she called.
The Wraith-bolt hit Sheppard in the back of the head, just above where the neck met the base of the skull. White lightning coruscated, silhouetting him against the blue sky. Already unconscious, Sheppard thudded to the ground to the weight of gravity.
Fuck! Rodney snatched at mid-air but Sheppard was down on the cold paving stones in a tangle of limbs faster than he could blink.
Abandoning laptop and cables, Rodney unceremoniously grabbed Sheppard by the scruff of his neck and dragged him face down into the vee of two fallen columns. Frantically, he felt for a pulse. Crystal clear memories of his own experiences of a full-face Wraith blast and Biology 101 meant that he knew now the part of John’s brain which controlled breathing and heartbeat were likely paralysed.
Rounds spanged overhead, superimposed by the high pitched whine of Wraith blasts.
There was no pulse.
They were tangled up in a sweaty heap in a tight space. He couldn’t get John laid out in the standard position for textbook mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“Damn!” Even though he was lying on his side now, Rodney yanked John’s head back, pinched his nose shut and blew in two harsh breaths. Air back-washed over his cheeks. The angle was wrong as they lay facing each other. Rodney canted his head to the side and covered John’s mouth completely.
“Retreat!” Lorne hollered.
“Now’s not the time for kissing,” Cadman yelled.
Popping up above the fallen pillars, Rodney caught Sheppard’s vest and yanked him onto his back in the space he had just vacated.
“McKay, move it,” an unknown voice ordered.
Rodney fumbled with the fasteners opening Sheppard’s vest and pressed him hard, once and then twice more, over the sternum.
“I need help!” McKay shrieked. He grabbed John’s collar and tried to lift, but the man was floppy like a dead thing. His position had no leverage.
Lorne was suddenly there, lending a hand, yanking Sheppard by the collar. John’s head flopped back on his neck with a bone chilling crack. Together they got him sitting upright. McKay planted a foot on a pillar, put his back into it and dragged John up to the musical score of Wraith blasts.
A year ago he would not have had the strength, but now he could set his shoulder to John’s gut and take him in the perfect fireman’s carry.
“You got him?” Lorne asked.
“Cover us,” McKay said simply and ran.
The wormhole was cold. He knew the physics. He knew that his body was disassembled – yet how did he feel the sweat freeze on his back?
A hairsbreadth on the other side of the event horizon, Rodney dropped to his knees, dumping the limp body. He scrabbled, grabbing a hank of John’s hair to stop his head bouncing off the floor.
Voices passed overhead. He hoped that someone was calling for Carson.
There was no pulse.
Fingers interleaved, he planted the heel of his hand over John’s sternum and pushed. ‘Force the blood through the body. Force the blood through the body,’ went the litany in his head.
At a count of fifteen he switched, tilting John’s head back and extending his throat. He had spent two breaths before he remembered he should have checked his airway first.
Swearing, sweating, almost crying, he backed off and flicked his fingers in a dry mouth. He could not remember, was he supposed to do two or five breaths?
“Two breaths. Five compressions,” Lorne said as he thudded painfully to his knees to take up the position to begin compressions.
“Out the way!” a familiar Scottish voice demanded.
Rodney fell -- flopping exhausted, his spine compressed, his lips burning -- to the floor. Gingerly, he touched his bottom lip. His fingers came away bloody-red. He must have caught his lip on John’s teeth when he mashed against his mouth.
A hand touched his shoulder and Rodney rolled onto his back to face his nemesis.
“Are you okay, Rodney?”
He looked directly at her, and took a moment’s pleasure as she jerked back.
“This is your fault! You left your post. You were covering that quadrant. I will have your ass for this!”
“Rodney!” Carson cracked out, “not now.”
“Your career is over.” He scowled at the woman. “So over.”
“Rodney! What happened?” Carson demanded.
“He took a Wraith blast to the back of his head.” Rodney spat a gob of snotty blood at the floor. “It switched off his breathing, heart, everything.”
“Stopped his autonomic functions.” Carson made a swift decision. He pointed at Dr. O’Riordan, the smallest member of his staff. “Lassie, get yourself on top of Colonel Sheppard the second we get him on the gurney and keep up the compressions. We’ve got to get to infirmary, asap.”
Rodney scrabbled at his short hair and realised that he had spread the blood from his still-seeping lip up over his temple. He was going to look like he had been mugged. The medical team swarmed over John the second that the gurney was locked into position in the emergency suite.
“EKG now!” Carson ordered.
A nurse holding the ambu bag and mask over John’s face paused and stared expectantly at the ventilator stationed beside the emergency bed.
“Keep going,” Carson ordered.
“Carson, we need to crack his chest. We have to physically massage his heart,” Biro said.
Shockingly, at her words Carson moved rapidly away from the bed, but smacked into a junior technician entering the room. Their heads connected with an audible crack. The resultant swearing was short, sharp and perfunctory and very, very loud. Carson snatched a device that, for all intents and purposes, resembled a metallic spider from the younger man. Eyes widening in understanding, Biro caught O’Riordan by the scruff of her neck and yanked her off John as Carson spun on his heel and sped back across the emergency suite.
John’s hairy chest was already bared by the medical team. Carson bypassed his entire staff and two handed dropped the heavy device smack over the colonel’s rib cage. The spider legs quivered, extended and then like claws bit into his sides.
Carson slapped his hand over the central unit and closed his eyes.
Everyone held their breath.
The man’s fear and resultant lack of skill with ancient technology was legendary. As still as a cold frosty, November morning, Carson’s breath smoothed to nothingness.
The blip on the ECG startled everyone.
Carson opened his eyes and smiled, sublimely. He patted the device. “Ancient automatic life support. I guess that the Ancients every once and a while came up against someone who had had a bad reaction to the stunner. I remember when Markham got hit in the tummy; the poor boy made quite a mess of himself.”
“That thing’s keeping his heart regulated?” Rodney checked, his focus on John’s ever so still face.
“Yes and extending his rib cage to draw in air.”
“You excel once again, Carson. One of these day’s I might actually stop calling your job voodoo.”
“And I will be ice skating in hell.” Carson whipped out his pen light and leaned over John blocking him from Rodney’s view.
Rodney blinked and sagged, he felt like his blood sugar had just bottomed out to the depths of the Marianas Trench. There was a gurney next to his hip, waiting as if prepared. Rodney saw no problem with taking it for his very own.
Slumping tiredly, he pawed at his lip, it was swollen up like he had eaten a lemon.
“I’m going to be scarred for life,” he mumbled.
Carson straightened, gnawing on his bottom lip and brow furrowed, he was a picture of disquiet but not fear.
“Carson?” Rodney asked trepidaciously.
Carson raised a finger to emphasise his words. “He’s stable. It’s been what, less than ten minutes since Colonel Sheppard was struck by the stunner?”
Major Lorne nodded mutely.
“It usually takes about twenty minutes for a cerebral stun intervention to begin wearing off.” He turned to O’Riordan. “I want CBC and arterial blood gases. We need dopplers – transcranial and carotid. And get the tech to pull in the fMIR – I want to see what’s going on in his head.”
Orders given, his staff separated.
Carson blew out a heavy sigh and then turned on his heel. He pointed at the entourage hemmed around the bed.
“This isn’t a theatre show.” Brow furrowed, he catalogued field BDUs and everyday clothes. The finger continued to point, singling out the field staff. “You. You and You and Laura. Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney into the examination suite so we can clear you. Elizabeth, I’ll find you later.”
Making shooing gestures, he waved them out of the emergency suite.
“Rodney, I’ll take you. That lip looks like it needs stitches.”
“Will John be all right?” Rodney mumbled as he waited for the local anaesthetic on his lip to take effect.
“Stop talking,” Carson ordered as he gently took a vial of blood from Rodney’s arm.
“-Arthon?” Rodney tried again.
“You’ve took a stun to the head yourself, Rodney. Inside of ten minutes, I expect to see a lot of improvement.”
“W-at abou- -ain –amage?”
“Brain damage?” Carson double checked. “Laura tells me that you got him to the ‘gate in under four minutes and that you had administered artificial respiration en route.”
Carson noted his expression but continued, “Plus his brain is essentially in hibernation reducing its oxygen demand.”
“Tho he’s okay?”
Latex covered fingers dabbed at Rodney’s bottom lip. “Ten minutes. Less than ten minutes now. Can you feel me touching your lip?”
“Nah,” Rodney mouthed.
“Okay, you just need a couple of stitches inside and out.”
Rodney closed his eyes, hating the sight of the needle and surgical thread. The distant pull on his flesh made his skin crawl viscerally.
“What is the problem with you and Laura?” Carson asked conversationally as if he didn’t have his fingers in Rodney’s mouth. “I know that she can be a little uhm… forceful and all, but basically she’s a nice uhm… lady.”
“--he’s a –itch, -Athon,” Rodney said flatly and opened his eyes, knowing that he had crossed a line.
Carson simply continued to place a neat stitch in Rodney’s lip.
Rodney shrugged slightly.
“Talk to me, Rodney.”
Rodney crossed his eyes trying to peer at the fingers in his mouth. Carson blushed, the faintest hint of colour touching his cheeks. Leaning closely, he concentrated on the next stitch.
“Dr. Beckett,” a voice called through the privacy screen. “We’re getting an EEG reading of delta waves – mid range, high amplitude. Expected rhythm. Pulse-ox: 97%.”
“Thank you, Carol.” Carson smiled at Rodney. “Just as we expected. He’s now registering as unconscious or as if in a deep sleep.”
Rodney inhaled and tasted latex. He was starving hungry and in imminent danger of a hypoglycaemic reaction and eating was going to be a total bitch.
John was going to be all right.
Distantly, he felt a warm grip encircling his wrist.
“Lay back, Rodney.”
Competent hands guided him down and he felt a bolster being tucked under his feet. The world greyed out into something close to sleep.
The hissing was relentless and annoying and persistent like a dripping tap. Rodney rubbed his cheek against warmness and shuffled down.
“Rodney,” a voice carolled. “Oh, Rodney.”
Rodney cracked open an eye and saw the edge of a blanket. He was cocooned and shielded from bright light.
“I know you’re awake, Rodney.”
That voice was unmistakable. Abruptly, Rodney rolled onto his back and stared at a healthy Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard lounging in white pyjamas on the bed next to him.
Sheppard winced. “That looks nasty?”
Sheppard pointed at his own lip. Gingerly, Rodney touched the split, feeling the spider legs of stitches on his chin.
“Yeah.” A bit confused, Rodney sat up, the blanket puddling on his lap. Unlike Sheppard he was still in his BDU trousers and jacket, but he had lost his tactical vest and boots somewhere along the line. There was an IV stuck in the back of his right hand.
“The Doc said you saved my life.”
Rodney jerked his head around. “I…,” strangely he felt lost for words. “I was there. I was there. And I … shouldn’t have had to!”
Sheppard blinked. “What?” he offered tentatively.
“Cadman left her post. If she hadn’t you wouldn’t have been shot. You were dead. If it hadn’t happened right before my eyes, you would be still dead. I wouldn’t have been able to give you the kiss of life. I wouldn’t have ripped my lip off.”
Rodney clasped his hands over his eyes and shuddered. “Stupid bitch.”
“Rodney, you’ve got to get over this.”
“This is all your fault, Sheppard,” Rodney hissed, dropping his hands. “She was going. You gave her permission to stay. To continue making my life a misery.”
“She’s Carson’s girlfriend. I thought that they deserved a chance to see if could be serious.”
“Whatever.” Rodney peeled off the tape and with a short, sharp pull yanked out his IV. Abandoning blanket and bed without a backwards glance, he stalked sock-footed out of the infirmary.
John reached for his own IV and began to carefully tease it out of the artery in his wrist. Arterial lines always hurt like a bitch.
“What are you doing, Major Sheppard?” the lilt was unmistakably Scottish.
“Doc,” he returned, patting the tape back in place.
“Where’s Rodney?” Hands deep in the pockets of his white coat, Carson stopped by the end of John’s bed.
“He left.” John gestured aimlessly to the door.
“Idiot,” Beckett chastised. “You stay there, Major Sheppard. If I find that you’ve left that bed I’ll ground your arse for a month. And I kid you not.”
John settled back, arms folded over his chest wincing at the pull over his sore ribs. Carson strode to the door, but paused at the threshold, turned and raised a finger.
“Not going anywhere, Doc.” John flashed a smile. “And it’s Colonel,” he said under his breath.
Plainly distrusting, Carson glared but, obviously concerned, he chose to hare after Rodney. The second he was out the door, John drew the long needle from his wrist, kicked off the blankets and set bare feet on the cold tiles. The cabinet beside the bed held, as per usual, a folded up robe. John shrugged it on. He had to suck on his wrist to hem the bead of blood as he headed in the opposite direction from Carson. He wasn’t too sure of Rodney’s direction but he had headed south, away from the Operation’s Tower, central labs and designated living space. The man was running, hiding and that was not the Rodney McKay that he was learning to know.
The marine looked him up and down like a residue found on his heel. John raised an eyebrow at the blatant disrespect. Barrett respected the uniform, he didn’t respect the man.
Sheppard tucked his hands in his robe pockets and met Barrett’s gaze. “Have you seen McKay?”
“He was heading in the direction of the south pier – the viewing window,” Barrett said, “sir.”
“Back to duty – keep protecting.” Sheppard sauntered off in the most calculatedly offensive manner possible. Barrett needed a reality check, but first things first: McKay.
The viewing window was one of the few places open on the south pier. It offered an unparalleled view of Atlantis’ marine pool and the organisms caught within when the city rose from the seabed.
Rodney gazed up at the open aquarium. He crossed his arms and leaned up against the transparent plastic. A long tailed sea lizard-esque thing eeled through the water, its motion a pure sigmoidal wave. Rodney generated a descriptive formula on the spot.
Rodney rested his head on the cold plastic before straightening and turning to face his bête noire.
“Dr. Beckett isn’t very happy with you, McKay.” Sheppard smiled.
McKay waved an idle finger at Sheppard’s lack of dress. “I think that you’re in more trouble.”
Sheppard shrugged. “You want to tell me what the problem is, McKay? What is it with you and Cadman?”
McKay pushed away from the wall. Sheppard was the epitome of cool, exuding laissez faire and water rolled off his back like the proverbial duck. Somehow, McKay doubted that he had ever been in the same embarrasing boat.
“Tell me, John,” he emphasised. “Supposing that you had went to bed and the next thing you know you wake up in a strange place, naked. Cadman’s bed. But most disturbing is that you’re clean, all over.”
“Clean,” Sheppard echoed.
“Clean, as in, scrubbed, as in washed very carefully. And, shock, aside, I didn’t have…” McKay petered to a stop.
“Cadman.” McKay tapped his temple. “In my head taking over when I was asleep.”
“And you ended up in her bed. And that’s a problem because?”
“Are you being purposely dense?” McKay gestured at his groin. “I couldn’t. I didn’t.”
“Get a morning erection?” Sheppard clarified.
“Yes, I couldn’t get an erection.” McKay rolled his eyes.
“I don’t have any evidence, it was a stressful situation and… But her cracks are very suggestive.”
“So you’re annoyed because she’s teasing you?”
“No!” Rodney bawled. “I’m furious because I’m pretty fucking sure she molested me, and she’s shared her experiences of living in my brain with her friends and everyone thinks it humorous.”
“Suppose you’d – I don’t know – been to the dentist and you thought something had happened … But you can’t really know…” McKay couldn’t find the words. It didn’t matter. No one was going to take it seriously, least of all Sheppard, man of confidence.
“I’m sorry, Rodney,” Sheppard said seriously.
McKay’s head jerked up. The man’s expression was sincere; his hazel eyes were clear.
“What?” McKay mouthed.
“I believe you.”
“Believe me?” McKay shook his head. The words didn’t compute.
“I will talk to Cadman immediately. I was planning on asking her about her actions on MX7 888. I’ll discuss your concerns. You said that you had prepared an official complaint? I’d like to see it.”
McKay opened and closed his mouth. This was unprecedented. It wasn’t that people didn’t listen to him – when he held an important grant or ideas that could change worlds that made people listen. Instead this was personal -- this was a complaint against a person, a person who was liked by many. McKay had no illusions; he knew that he was not popular.
“Rodney?” Sheppard moved into his personal space, so closely that they shared breath. “There isn’t any precedent for Wraith beam head swap issues. We do, however, have rules against harassment.”
“And she left her post on MX7 888,” Rodney said cynically.
“Yes,” Sheppard responded, honestly. “But she left her post, if I recall correctly, to taunt you about Katie Brown.”
“You heard.” McKay felt the blush on his cheeks. Damn, Sheppard had heard. But he stood tall, firming his shoulders.
“I heard,” Sheppard said simply. “Rodney,” he ventured.
McKay stepped back. “No.”
Sheppard matched him step for step. “This whole thing hasn’t been like you. I expected you to give as good as you got, but she’s made you shut down and that’s not the Rodney McKay of bluster and fireworks that I know. Not being sexually experienced isn’t a crime, you can’t let it--”
“Oh, God.” McKay threw his hands up forcing Sheppard back. “Fuck, this is beyond embarrassing.”
“I’m thirty six years old -- it’s embarrassing. And I don’t need you or Cadman…”
“Don’t put me in the same boat as Cadman, McKay,” Sheppard said flatly.
“I’m sorry,” McKay said. He bit his lip, wincing as he grazed the spider web of stitching. Sheppard slowly lifted his hand and very carefully laid it over Rodney’s heart. The sincerity in his eyes cut McKay to the quick.
“I was with you on Dagan,” Sheppard pointed out. “Did I tease you about Allina’s crush on you?”
McKay snorted. “A little.”
Sheppard snorted right back. He moved his hand from Rodney’s chest and held his finger and thumb a hairsbreadth apart. “A tiny bit.”
Rodney hung his head. A cool hand cupped the back of his neck and drew him to rest against a firm chest. The drape of Sheppard’s robe was soft against his forehead. Minute shivers worked up the man’s body. Rodney opened his eyes and saw bare feet, so cold that they were pasty white. Incongruously, he noted that Sheppard’s second toes on both feet were longer than the big toes.
“Hey, you were shocked unconscious hardly an hour ago.” McKay pulled free. He shrugged out of his jacket and swung it around John’s shoulders before he could voice a word.
Sheppard’s protest was automatic, but he curled into the body warmed material.
“Hey, we better get you back to Carson and the infirmary, before he explodes into tiny pieces of irate Scottish haggis.”
Rodney curved an arm around Sheppard’s shoulders, to draw him near, to share body heat. He looked into Sheppard’s changeable eyes, close enough to kiss.
Sheppard caught his gaze. “Only when you’re ready, Rodney.”
Breath stuttered in the back of his throat. There was honest affection in eyes which now could only be described as green.
“I… don’t understand.”
“There you are!” the Scottish brogue was unmistakable.
“Carson,” Rodney blurted, “I was just bringing John back. I think he’s catching a chill.”
Carson bustled in, all motherly indignation and professional ire.
Rodney sat opposite Sheppard’s infirmary bed, perched on a gurney where he had been told in no uncertain words not to shift. He sucked on the tip of his finger, at the corner of his mouth, avoiding the line of stitches on the other side. Carson had ran a finger-stick glucose test, and it had been like the man had been mining for gold. Sheppard was cocooned in warmed white blankets and had two IVs, both of which had made him yelp when the nurse had inserted them.
Carson stalked back into the ward from the dispensary holding a tiny cup filled with purple syrup.
Rodney grimaced. The stuff tasted foul; but evidently his blood sugar was bottoming out. He accepted the cup without a word.
“Right, you’re grounded.” Carson jabbed a finger at Sheppard. “No puddlejumping, no off world missions. You’re going to really enjoy the tests I’ve got lined up.”
“None of the ‘aw, Doc’ – I told you to stay put. You had a full systemic neurological block and you’ve got three cracked ribs. I’m bloody well going to make sure that you’re all right before you go anywhere.”
Rodney eyed the door. Now would be the perfect opportunity to make an escape while Carson was berating the Colonel.
“You!” Carson spun on his heel, evidently reading his mind. “Stay put. Amy’s bringing you your supper. You keep it down and then you can go to your room.”
“Yes, Carson,” Rodney opted for meek; it had been a sort of day that he never wanted to repeat. If meek got him out of here quickly, he’d go for meek. He just wanted his bed or to escape to his lab and a wagon load of food wouldn’t go amiss.
Meek was a mistake and so uncharacteristic that he was rewarded by Carson taking his pulse. Rodney pulled his wrist free and dredged up snark. “I thought that you promised me food, not abuse.”
“You two are going to be the death of me.” Carson caught his wrist again. He held himself still and Rodney matched his stillness – for a heartbeat.
“Yeah, yeah,” Rodney couldn’t help saying. He mashed his fingers and thumb together in the talking hand.
“Look, Rodney, I’m going to have a word with Laura. I don’t understand what the fight’s about. She’s never said a word to me not even when we’ve been out with her friends, but…”
“Carson, don’t go there.”
“Doc,” John called out. “It’s a military matter, now. Cadman’s on report for leaving her post. I’ll be dealing with it. End of subject.”
Carson paled. “I…”
Rodney licked his lips, hating the syrupy sweetness of glucose solution, anything to distract himself from the hurt in those blue eyes. If Cadman got canned, demoted or transferred Carson was going to feel the pain, because the man’s heart was too exposed. And if he started blaming Rodney for the transfer, their friendship was going to be jeopardised.
Although to be brutally frank, Rodney mused, Cadman probably treats him like shit, so it’s probably for the best.
Rodney licked out the bottom of the cup. Food, he knew, would improve his outlook on life.
Hypoglycaemia made it suck worse.
“Carson, if I promise to go straight to the commissary, can I get out of here?” Rodney asked.
“Why does nobody listen to me?” Carson bellowed. “Do you think I give orders just for the fun of it?”
Rodney jerked back across the gurney out of immediate reach. Yup, the guy was feeling the burn of his love life about to go down the Suwannee River.
The nurse, Amy, entered carrying a laden tray. She came to a dead stop, reading the tension in the air. Plastering a plastic smile on her face, she crossed to Rodney’s side and began to unload half the contents on his side table.
“I got you your favourite: lasagne,” she prattled.
Carson took the interruption like a gift, scurrying away, muttering under his breath. Rodney concentrated on the food being laid out before him. The lasagne looked a bit congealed and charred around the edges – so pretty tasty. Food was always his comfort, so he dove in.
He mashed the pasta, mince and sauce into a gloopy mess that he could get past his sore lip and arranged the chopped up broccoli at twelve o’clock on the plate beside the peas. Once everything was in order, he began.
Surreptitiously, he looked up every now and again as he systematically worked on clearing his plate from left to right. John was poking a broccoli spear, but had yet to eat a single mouthful.
What had happened at the viewing window? Rodney wondered. John had been so understanding and in his world life didn’t work that way. He pushed the cleaned plate away. His stomach contents remained happily in place and his head was no longer aching.
“Can I get out of here?” Rodney asked the world at large.
Amy, stationed at the observation desk at the end of the ward, looked up. She regarded him steadily for a long moment, before standing and moving over to his bed. As she unfurled her stethoscope, Rodney leaned over, hauling up his t-shirt so she could listen to the back of his chest. His eyes met John’s across the ward as she instructed him to take a deep breath.
John cracked a half-hearted smile and lay tiredly back on his pillows, abandoning the jellified meal before him.
Rodney started as she stuck a digital thermometer in his ear. He kept still, waiting for the beep, which hopefully would signify escape.
He jumped again at the beep. Amy took an inordinate amount of time reading the LCD display.
“So, what? Can I get out of here? How long does it take you to read a line of numbers?”
“Pulse is okay, lungs are clear, your temperature is fine. You’re good to go.”
“Thank you,” Rodney said insincerely as he jumped off the bed.
“You’re not cleared to work until tomorrow morning,” Amy said absently, turning away back to her observation desk.
Rodney had no intention of following those instructions; he hadn’t checked any of his lab experiments for hours.
“Hey, Rodney,” John called as he practically raced for the door.
Rodney straightened and made a point of focusing on the man. Every part of his body wanted to get out of the infirmary, away from the people, to get to his lab, and lose himself in a stream of numbers.
“Before you start disobeying instructions, you might want to have a shower; you’ve got blood in your hair.”
“Ewwww.” Rodney carded his fingers in his hair and came to a full stop as he encountered a matt.
John raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Very attractive.”
“It’s your fault,” Rodney snapped back automatically. “Well, it’s Cadman’s – oh fuck it! I’m going -- I’ve had enough of today.”
“Rodney,” John began, but he ignored him, opting for escape and a world that he understood.
No. No. No… Rodney ground his teeth together. He had almost made it to his lab and safety.
“Cadman,” he said through gritted teeth. The ease, so carefully won from a hot meal followed by a hot shower, dissipated.
“Look, Rodney, I just want a word.” Cadman ran a hand awkwardly through her long hair.
“No. I’ve got work to do.” Rodney palmed the door open and made it into familiar environs. Miko and Zelenka, huddled over a mess of Ancient tech. looked up at his entrance.
Cadman, of course, followed him in.
“McKay!” her voice cracked like a whip.
“Out of my lab!” Rodney yelled back, his finger jerking at the door.
“No, we need to talk about this.” She crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him steadily.
Rodney brought his hand down with a loud slap on the lab bench beside him. “We have talked about it. I told you to leave me the fuck alone. You’re the one who kept pushing.”
“No, I’m talking. You’ve groped me; you’ve felt me up; you’ve told your friends stories behind my back; you’ve invaded my privacy; you’ve humiliated me in front of my colleagues and you’ve enjoyed every moment of it. But you know what’s worse? I let you get away with it, because you were cutting too close to the bone. You knew that and you’ve used it to every advantage – like a shark in bloody water or a… school bully. You know, that’s what you are – you’re the juvenile, school yard bully. I admit it. I admit it--” Rodney flung out his arm including everyone in the tête-à-tête, “-- I’m crap with women – so what? You’re crap with people – grow up, act like a professional human being, and maybe Sheppard won’t can your ass when he gets out of the infirmary. I’ve made an official report and I’m leaving it in General Landry and Sheppard’s hands. Get out and don’t let the door hit you on your ass.”
Rodney stamped over to his desk and computer, he had work to do.
When he finally looked up, Cadman was gone.
Hours later, the tiredness finally won. He knew that he was going to plant his face on his desk if he stayed a moment longer.
“I’m heading for bed.” Rodney leaned back stretching his arms above his head until his back cracked.
Zelenka jerked up, blinking sleep out of his eyes. “Good. Good.”
“Were you asleep?” Rodney asked.
Zelenka rubbed his hands through his hair, making it stand up like he had been shocked.
“You were.” Rodney checked his watch; it was gone three in the morning. “You don’t normally do all nighters; you crash at midnight.”
Zelenka rolled his eyes as he began to pack up his laptop.
“You were keeping an eye on me,” Rodney suddenly crowed.
“And I do not know why,” Zelenka said waspishly. Tucking his laptop under his arm, he stood. “Get some sleep, McKay; you look like you need it.”
Chortling, McKay packed up his own laptop, initiating the security protocols before shutting it down.
“Rodney,” Zelenka said soberly so soberly, McKay gave him his full attention.
“It is a difficult situation, yes? Cadman strikes me as a very strange type of woman. It is not just that she is a loud American woman. I would not call her a lady.”
“Is there a point to this conversation?” Rodney interrupted.
“I am talking. Cadman probably has a lot of friends who are really only acquaintances. When you know who your friends are.”
Rodney held up a hand, and spoke when Radek finally burbled to a halt. “You’re a geek as well, Radek, you know that it doesn’t work that way. Cadman has lots of friends, including Carson. I know what you’re trying to say, though.”
“Really? That is good, because I do not.” Radek shrugged, embarrassed. “I am not good at this.”
Rodney snorted out a laugh. “Birds of a feather flock together.”
“We know how the world works, even for us it is not always what you know but who you know. But I tell you this, Rodney, your Colonel Sheppard will stand by your side if this gets nasty and Cadman is a person who cannot help herself, she will tease you again. He is your colleague and your friend, perhaps, dare I say, best friend.”
Rodney heaved out a sigh, put his elbows on the lab desk and sagged. “I mean what is the woman’s problem?”
“You are a virgin. That is a subject of fun and mockery once you are over eighteen – it is almost irresistible for a woman who is as confident as Ms. Cadman.”
Rodney’s jaw dropped, he opened and closed his mouth but couldn’t find any words. When Radek said he wasn’t good at the emotional, touchy-feely stuff, he wasn’t kidding.
“Yes, Rodney, it is that obvious,” Radek continued punishingly. “But in the science community it is not unusual -- merely something that we do not talk about. The only person that I have slept with is my wife. Miko has slept with no man. Kavanaugh was a whore and would sleep with anyone – that makes him a subject of ridicule and wonderment. Biro likes women, but prefers chastity. I have a Ph.D. in engineering, Miko loves origami, Kavanaugh can mix the perfect Martini and if Biro had an extra hour a day she would spend it doing yoga. Our sexual orientations or lack of experience is only one aspect of our personalities. And now, I will go to bed. Do not let Cadman get to you – you are better than that. And what you try to protect is an open secret and is not important to those that call you friend.”
Exuding calm and a profound satisfaction, Radek left.
Rodney sat opened mouthed for a very long time.