Rodney stares at the laptop screen in front of him. Kavanagh’s equations and accompanying notes on the inner workings of a recently-discovered energy recycling plant stare right back at him, and he has the distinct impression that they are mocking him. If there is anything that says it’s time to give up and call it a night, it’s the fact that a) he feels like equations are mocking him, and b) he feels like Kavanagh’s equations are mocking him.
“Doctor McKay.” A hand is laid gently on his shoulder, and he looks up at Teyla, whose eyes are ringed by dark circles. She looks, quite frankly, like Rodney feels. “I believe it is time we got some rest. We have been in the infirmary all night.”
Rodney blinks, and rubs at his own eyes, trying to rid them of the dry and gritty feeling that always sets in after an all-nighter. The noises of the infirmary which he had managed to block out after the first couple of hours of mindlessly staring at his laptop, trying to distract himself, begin to filter back into his consciousness.
“Yes, um,” he begins, and looks around for the source of the quiet voices he can hear to see Carson speaking with two nurses and another doctor by the doorway. The nurses aren’t the same ones that were here when he, Teyla and Ronon settled in to begin their vigil last night, so really, yes, they must have been here a long time.
Another sound makes itself known: the steady beep of a heart monitor off to Rodney’s right, on the other side of the infirmary to the bed his laptop perches on. He steadfastly ignores it, instead focusing on Teyla.
“Where’s Ronon?” It’s a safe enough question to ask. The subject he doesn’t want to broach yet is neatly side-stepped, and, anyway, the beeping tells him all he needs to know; all he wants to know right now, that Sheppard is alive, and alive is better than dead. At least, that’s what Rodney keeps telling himself.
“Ronon is in the gym, assisting Major Lorne with a training exercise for the marines who recently arrived. He was…most reluctant…to leave the colonel, until the major reminded him that Colonel Sheppard was most insistent on Ronon’s presence at the session.” There is a hint of a smile at the corners of Teyla’s mouth, and okay, that was possibly a stupid question, because it would have to be something that Sheppard had been adamant about to get Ronon to even consider leaving the infirmary in the first place. “I am going to return to my quarters, and you should do the same.”
She’s right of course, they’ve been here all night, and Sheppard isn’t going anywhere for a while. Carson was very clear on that, after the first course of the gene therapy had been administered.
He attempts to smile at Teyla, but it feels more like a bizarre sort of twisting of his lips, and the expression on her face suggests that she’s even less convinced by it than he is, so instead Rodney turns back to his laptop, saves the file he hasn’t been working on and sets about shutting it down. When he looks up again Teyla has joined Carson by the doors, his earlier gathering having dispersed.
The sound of the heart monitor draws Rodney’s attention to the screened-off corner of the infirmary, and suddenly he’s hovering by the gap between two of the screens, not quite sure how he got there. It’s dark, Carson has dimmed the lights, and the only illumination comes from the monitor to the right of the bed. It is, in fact, somewhat cave-like, and if that isn’t a terrifying thought then he doesn’t know what is, given some of the caves he’s spent time in recently.
Repressing a shudder, he moves forward a step or two, heart hammering in his chest; he’s not really sure if he wants to see this even as he’s coming up beside the bed. He keeps his gaze firmly fixed on Sheppard’s face, at the scaly blueness which has been working its way up Sheppard’s neck and past his jawline for the last few days, absolutely not looking at Shepperd’s cla--wait, no, hands.
“Still here I see, Rodney.”
Rodney’s having a heart attack. He’s sure of it, because if he thought his heart was hammering before, now it’s trying to bash its way out with what feels like a blunt hacksaw, displaying all the finesse of Ronon chomping his way through a meal.
Carson brushes past him to stand at the head of the bed and check the monitor as Rodney thrusts out a hand to steady himself. He grips the cool steel of the bed frame tightly until his breathing slows to something approaching normal.
“Really? What would I do without you to point these things out to me, Carson?” Rodney shoots back, but it sounds hollow and forced even to his ears, and Carson gives him an understanding smile. If blood could boil, Rodney’s would be. His hands curl into fists, the sudden urge to deck Carson almost overwhelming him and wow, that’s so not him. He leaves gratuitous violence to the marines.
Steady hands move over the glowing screen, making all the routine checks, then Carson turns to face the bed itself as he fishes one of his voodoo wands out of his labcoat pocket and uses it to take Sheppard’s temperature, and then unloops his stethoscope to listen to his heart. Apparently satisfied with the results, Carson slips past again and out of the cubicle, flashing another infuriating smile over his shoulder as he goes.
“Just you and me then, Colonel,” Rodney mutters, steeling himself before moving a couple more steps forward.
His gaze falls--naturally, what with it being the part of Sheppard’s body he least wants to look at--on the claw-like hand he was trying so very hard not to look at before.
Now, of course, he can’t stop looking at it; the scientist in him forces him to observe everything he sees, whether he wants to or not. The scaly skin is a sickening mottled blue colour, the nails which tip each long, gnarled finger are tinted black, and sharp enough, Rodney thinks with a shudder, to rip apart flesh without so much as a second thought.
Some poor minion of Carson’s had the joy of stripping the Colonel from the BDUs he had been carried back from the planet in, and replacing them with scrubs. Rodney’s eyes travel up the white cloth covering Sheppard from wrists to neck, lingering at the neckline where Sheppard’s skin is once again visible.
Here, the mottled blue is peeling, and Rodney is struck by the less-than-appealing image of a snake, instead of a bug, shedding its skin. The new skin peeking through is still blue, albeit smoother and a little lighter. He wonders exactly how long it will take for the real Sheppard, he of slouching grace and skin-tingling drawl and--more recently, in Rodney’s case--closed expressions and one-word sentences where before had been discreet touches and secret looks, to come through.
Higher still, to his jawline, where a hint of pink shows through, and the skin is smoother too, not so scaly. At his cheekbones, it’s as though Sheppard, aided by Carson’s wonder-drug, is starting to win the war already. New, smooth pink skin is over-powering the blue scales, and Rodney’s heart is hammering again, although this time it’s from sheer, heart-felt relief.
He gropes blindly behind him for the chair he remembers being in the corner of the cubicle, closing his fingers around the curved edge to pull it forward, and his legs give out just at the right second. Collapsing heavily onto the chair brings him face-to-claw with Sheppard’s, um, claw, and he quickly scoots left with a shriek of metal legs on the infirmary floor that shatters the serene quiet to put him level with the head of the bed.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” Carson skids to a stop at the gap between the screens looking annoyed beyond all belief.
Rodney feels his chin tilting up and crosses his arms across his chest, projecting all the dignity he can muster.
“Can I help it if the shoddy workmanship that went into these things causes a noise loud enough to wake the dead?”
Carson winces and glances involuntarily at the figure in the bed. Rodney follows suit, but it appears Sheppard has not been disturbed by the commotion.
“Clearly, then, the Colonel is still alive.” Rodney expansively gestures towards the bed.
Carson rolls his eyes and disappears again, and Rodney gives a satisfied hum as he returns his attention to Sheppard.
Yellow, slit-pupilled eyes meet his and Rodney is so surprised that he almost falls off the offending chair. He bites down on his bottom lip, hard, and tries to resist the urge to scoot away from the bed again.
Anything, even, yes, an up close and personal experience with those claws--hands, godammit, hands--would be preferable to this. That gaze is freezing Rodney in place even as his brain, ever the font of genius inspiration, is telling him to run, run, RUN, out of the infirmary and away from those terrifying eyes.
He can’t see anything of John Sheppard in those eyes.
“What are you doing here, McKay?”
Sheppard’s voice sounds rusty, like he hasn’t used it in a long time, and there’s something about it that isn’t quite right. Rodney feels his cheeks heating, blushing like a kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, for God’s sake.
“We--uh, that is, Teyla and Ronon and myself--we, uh, didn’t feel that you should be left on your own, Colonel.” There goes his chin again, lifting up in an attempt to retain a shred of the dignity his inelegant blustering is rending from end to end.
Sheppard laughs, or, at least, tries to; it comes out sounding more like retching than anything else. Rodney cringes, expecting Carson to reappear with a security detail in tow ready to toss Rodney out on his ass for harassing the patient, chief scientist or no.
“And, what, you volunteered to play nursemaid?”
“Last one standing,” Rodney fires back, frowning even as the words fly out of his mouth because no, he has no idea what point he’s trying to make either.
Sheppard quirks an eyebrow slightly, and maybe, just maybe, he’s still in there after all. All of a sudden, Rodney feels more at ease. Those eyes aren’t quite so terrifying. At least, not as terrifying as they first appeared.
“Well, that’s something. I’d hate to think you were doing it out of the kindness of your heart.” Sheppard’s voice is getting stronger with every sarcastic comment that drips off his tongue. He gifts Rodney with one final stare, then closes his eyes again.
It suddenly strikes Rodney that this is the first time since Duranda where he and the Colonel have been in a situation where it is just the two of them, one on one. Oh, they’ve been out on missions, exchanged views and jibes across the briefing table, but Sheppard has been going out of his way to make it clear that he doesn’t wish to spend any time with Rodney outside of work hours, thank you very much.
Well. No wonder he doesn’t seem too thrilled faced with Rodney keeping a vigil at his bedside.
“I--” his voice catches, and he tries again. “I wanted to be here.”
Sheppard cracks one eye open.
“Somehow I doubt that.”
“Oh really? And telepathy was one of your new superpowers, was it, hmm?”
The other eye opens, and Sheppard’s full attention is on him.
“It might be a bit fuzzy round the edges, but I remember your face, in the gateroom. Doctor Rodney McKay, intergalactic motormouth; terrified into silence. I don’t need pity, Rodney.”
“So, scratch telepathy of the list then,” Rodney snarks as he leaps to his feet with an energy he really shouldn’t have given that he’s been up all night. “I want to be here.”
“No-one wants to be here,” Sheppard murmurs, looking away from Rodney at an indeterminate spot on the screens in front of him.
Rodney takes a breath, and no, he’s really not sure that he should be doing this, not sure that he wants to be doing this, but it seems to him to be the only way he can prove to Sheppard that he’s not here out of some warped sense of duty, or worse, out of pity.
Carefully, he lifts a hand, and slowly, slowly, reaches out to curl his fingers around Sheppard’s own, which are peeking out of the scrub sleeve he hasn’t quite been able to hide them in. His skin is warm, if a little rough.
Sheppard tenses, and his eyes snap back to Rodney’s face before looking down at their hands. He tries to tug his hand away, but Rodney tightens his grip. His thumb strokes a path carefully up and down the back of Sheppard’s hand, inside the sleeve of his scrubs. Slowly, the tension leaves his body.
“Oh,” he mumbles. Rodney rolls his eyes.
“Yes, oh.” He reaches for the chair again and sits back down, scooting it forward so he can keep a hold on Sheppard’s hand.
Sheppard’s eyes drift closed again, and as his breathing evens out Rodney keeps up the gentle rubbing, for his own comfort as much as Sheppard’s.
The hold on his own fingers tightens slightly, and Rodney realises that what’s on the outside, what he can see, isn’t so very horrifying anymore.
Because John Sheppard is still in there.