The quiet chime of Dr. McKay's watch woke John from his light doze. He felt the bed shift under Rodney's weight as he turned it off then settled back into his old pose.
"Two hours?" John asked because it was polite, not because he didn't know how long it had been. Accurate time sense was important in the military for about a million different reasons. The slow drying out of his skin, aloe notwithstanding, had been rising at the back of his mind.
"Yes. They may wait longer." Dr. McKay didn't sound particularly hopeful about it though.
"Beckett won't wait. He's already got everything ready and there is a captain out there waiting to debrief me." John had been listening off and on, switching between the steady heartbeat and respiration of the man next to him and ranging outward. The testing of the X-ray, CAT scan machine and all the laboratory equipment had been deeply unsettling. It had been hard to listen to that and not get up and smash it to pieces. Instead he would tune back into the warm body sounds of his guide and keep a firm grip on the animal panic. Besides, there were clearly a number of trained soldiers out there well equipped with armament he could steal later. Escape wasn't off the table.. "They've got a fun-filled day planned for us."
Dr. McKay snorted. "Sure, then we can go tune the dilithium crystals before we fight the Klingons."
John let a smile curl up at the corners of his mouth. "Which Trek are we in, anyway?" He shifted gingerly onto his back and then to his other side so he was facing McKay. His breath caught for a second on the pain before it faded into background noise.
"Deep Space Nine. Officious bureaucrats, few allies and a doctor too smart for his own good," McKay said after a long pause that was far too perceptive for John's comfort.
"Right. Well, that gives me hope for the local bar then, even if they rob me blind on the price."
"You are *such* a geek." McKay chuckled.
"Yes." John shrugged. He was used to people being surprised about it. "Military doesn't always equate to jock."
John raised one eyebrow slightly. "So tell me about the flashy light transporter thing."
McKay's gaze narrowed. "You're good, Sheppard. I wouldn't have expected that to be your first question."
"Special Ops - we're impatient by nature. That and my mother didn't raise an idiot." He didn't move, not so much as a twitch. He wanted to see how honest the guide would be with him.
"You aren't cleared for that yet - and I don't know much myself."
Truth. Interesting. "I get to know about stargates and Atlantis but not a transporter beam?" Pushing for more information was part of his personality, part of what made him so very good at his job. It was also letting McKay build a picture of his personality that wasn't completely accurate. He could be very patient when it suited him. It just didn't suit him today, not when he was still evaluating the situation.
"Please, Sheppard. My mother didn't raise an idiot either. Compartmentalized security clearances within a program. Ask me something else." Rodney's heartbeat and respiration were rock-steady.
Fine, a question he was sure he wouldn't get a good answer to then. "Why today?"
McKay did him the small favor of just being blunt."I don't know that either. What I do know is within a few hours of my knowing the rescue occurred."
"A rescue that could have theoretically happened at any time." He divorced all the emotion from the words, keeping his voice even and flat. "Or at least after I got a message out."
McKay nodded once, slowly. "I imagine so."
The door opening saved them from having to figure out what to talk about next.
Iron control kept Rodney from breathing a sigh of relief. The sentinel was clearly a force to be reckoned with, especially in a tenuous situation like this one. Every word needed to be measured and nuanced but take too long to answer and.... Still it was a pleasure to have someone to match wits against. It was also time for round two of 'Guide against the Establishment: the Sequel' because Carson was being a giant pain in the ass.
Rodney sat up and gave the medical technician with the wheelchair a glare that stopped the woman in her tracks. It stopped her escort of two marines as well. Behind them was Carson, holding a tablet and looking constipated.
Interestingly the sentinel hadn't turned around. He was curled carefully on his side, one hand braced against the blanket and eyes closed. Rodney slowly reached out and curled his fingers around John's wrist over the sleeve, only his pinky actually resting against skin. He could just feel the flutter of John's pulse. It quickened when there was the muffled rattle of a rifle against a TAC vest.
A moment later and John was twisting around to sit upright against the pillows. His gaze flickered around the room and then to his lap. "Now?" His voice devoid of all emotion, as flat as it had been when asking about the timing of his rescue.
Rodney had heard people like that before. PTSD head cases, POWs, victims of violence. His sentinel was all three at the moment. "Yeah," he offered quietly. He wasn't going to lie and say it didn't need to happen. There were just some marathons that needed to be run.
It still hurt when John pulled away, breaking the contact between them. It hurt even more when he held out his wrists, waiting for something.
Rodney's outrage meter tipped over to red when one of the soldiers stepped forward and pulled out padded restraints. "What? No."
"He's not leaving the room without them, sir. Standard procedure."
Rodney climbed awkwardly over the bed and John's legs, nearly falling onto the floor. He flailed his way to standing and put himself between John and the restraints. "I don't care. No handcuffs. That's ridiculous."
He planted his hands on his hips. "No. I don't care if the regulations say you have to do the hokey-pokey before you take a piss in the morning, marine. He's not wearing them."
"Now, Rodney," Carson tried to interject himself into the confrontation. "For any full sense sentinel that's been in combat --"
"Spare me, doctor. Keep it up and you'll be the one in handcuffs." He blinked and mentally played back what Carson had said. "Wait, what?"
John answered from behind him, still seated on the bed. "We're unpredictable machines of war, Doctor McKay. They need to muzzle us in case we go feral on them." His tone was dry as dust. "After all, we might break something valuable."
Rodney turned just enough to see John out of the corner of his eye. He didn't trust the marines to come closer when he wasn't looking. "Have a history of doing that, Colonel?"
As he'd hoped both marines came to attention and saluted, staying locked in position.
John gave a tired snort. "You had to bring rank into it?"
Rodney gave him a prim, closed mouth smile. "I'm not afraid to use all the tools in the toolbox."
"At ease, marines." John relaxed a little, leaning back against the pillows. "I know what the regulations say, but I also have to listen to my guide. To get us all out of this situation I suggest you find someone of higher rank than a light bird to sort it out. Civilians do not count."
"Yes, sir!" Both marines turned smartly on their heels and marched out, taking the medical orderly and the wheelchair with them.
Carson was left standing there with his mouth open as Rodney waved goodbye with a few fingers.
"That's what you get for the strong-arm tactics, Beckett." John's voice was cold, the warmth drained out of it. "Last time we met you almost killed me. Today you seem bound and determined to do it again, or put me in a coma. I do not consent to being treated by you."
"Seconded," Rodney added before Carson could get a word in edgewise. "As his guide of record I concur and request that Dr. Lam be brought in. You're a geneticist anyway, not a bedside doctor. I have no idea why the hell you're here. It's not like his DNA sequence would have changed."
"I've had enough of this, from both of you." Carson turned and stomped out, pushing on the door hard enough to slam it into the wall.
"Petty," Rodney muttered under his breath before turning to completely face his sentinel. "Sometime very soon you're going to need to tell me what other draconian regulations exist that I need to yell about."
"So noted." John's voice was faint. His hands were curled into tight fists and he was staring down at his lap again.
Right. Smart-assery and bravado were only going to carry the man for so long before they gave out. It was time to provide some comfort. "Are you up to being touched or do you want to try to sleep again? My guess is we have some time before they can get Lam here."
John shrugged but didn't say no.
Rodney would take it for assent. Between the military and the treatment of the last few months John wasn't about to admit to needing anything if he didn't absolutely have to. "Your skin is drying out again; I've got some stuff that will help."
He leaned over and pulled open the drawer on the small wooden nightstand that was on John's side of the bed. Inside were the few sentinel-safe products he'd been able to get his hands on while the man had showered. Aloe, chamomile soaked compresses in a sealed bag, apricot oil, and soft cotton cloths. There were also a few glass bottles of water, peanut butter and some packages of crackers. He set one of the water bottles on top of the nightstand with some of the food. "For you, when you want it," he murmured.
Next he settled on the edge of the bed and took John's left hand in his, turning it so the palm faced upwards. He poured a few drops of oil onto the skin, watching how fast they were soaked up. He added a few more drops then carefully began rubbing it in, using small circles and only pressing hard enough to spread the oil over the surface.
John's breathing hitched in his chest before smoothing out again.
Rodney pushed the sleeve of the shirt up just a little so it didn't get wet from the oil as he spread it further, covering the ball of the thumb and then gently down each finger. He went slowly, making sure to stop periodically and add another drop or two of oil and giving John the chance to assimilate the sensations. When Rodney finished with that he gently turned the hand over again, resting it on a clean cotton cloth he'd pulled out of the drawer and draped on John's thigh. Rodney applied a little more oil on the unbroken skin, carefully skirting the raw, open spots and scabs. Next he gently tugged a chamomile cloth out of the bag and held it out between them. "It'll take some of the itch out, if you can handle it."
John took a deep breath and nodded. He winced as the cold compress touched his skin but didn't move. Rodney covered the back of his hand with the tea soaked compress and layered a clean cloth over it.
It was easy to fall back into the gentle rhythms of caring for someone. Their breathing patterns, while not synchronized, were both slow and deep.
Rodney risked a glance upward and saw that John's head had tipped forward a little, his eyelashes fanned against his cheek. He was heartened to see some more natural color back on the sentinel's face, with a gentle flush along the cheekbones and down his neck.
Rather than offer the food and water again, Rodney got up and went around the bed, sitting on it properly this time and started the process of massage and oil on John's right hand. He went slower this time, the yellowing bruises on the knuckles and around the fine bones of the wrist cautioning against more than the slightest pressure. When he finished he sat up straight and felt the slight cramping in his lower back fade away. Drying off his hands thoroughly, he was impressed they'd gotten all the way through the process without an interruption.
John lifting his head brought Rodney's attention back to him. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." He offered up a grin that was returned.
The sentinel tilted his head toward the door and raised an eyebrow.
John nodded and straightened his head back upright but otherwise stayed in the position Rodney had tucked him into. "General O'Neill and Dr. Lam. Oh, and a still pissed off Dr. Beckett."
"Right." Rodney didn't get up off the bed, he just made sure the oil was closed up and everything tucked away on his side of the bed just as the doors swung open without warning. "Really? This is how you treat a sentinel?"
"Yup." Jack's smile was quicksilver fast. "Besides, he knew we were coming. Stay seated, Sheppard. I don't want people yelling at me about you. At least, not more than they are already."
"So. This is a mess." Jack looked back and forth between them. "Someone want to tell me what is going on?"
Carson spoke up, "Because he wouldn't consent to an exam."
"Oh. Right." Jack nodded. "Sheppard, let Dr. Lam here take a look at you. Don't give her any trouble or I'll have to you know, yell."
A slight nod from John. "Understood, sir."
"You aren't going to go wacko, are you Sheppard? Because that would be disappointing."
"No, sir. I'll save my wacko moments for off duty and off base." John matched Jack's dry tone. "Anything else, sir?"
"No." Jack turned around and gave Beckett a seemingly absent-minded glance. "You should go now and not come back. Am I clear?"
Everybody got the subtext, especially Rodney who had gone to Siberia after a conversation like this. Carson kept his mouth shut, turned around and left.
Jack looked back at Rodney and Sheppard. "When you're ready I'd like to find out what happened. It's interesting about how I didn't hear about this until now, given that you work for me. So."
Rodney was keeping his mouth shut out of sheer force of will. There was so much he just didn't get about the military -- and about Jack O'Neill -- that even he understood there was wisdom in keeping his head down.
Dr. Lam took a few steps forward. "General, I'll let you know when they're ready for a debriefing. Until then, it's your turn to go away."
Jack raised his hands in surrender and left.
Rodney took his first deep breath since the man had arrived as the door closed behind that particular force of nature. Beside him he could feel a lot of the tension leave John's body.
Dr. Carolyn Lam stayed where she was, sharp gaze assessing both of them. "Colonel Sheppard."
"If you agree, I'll become your doctor of record for as long as you are here as well as with the Stargate Program." She took a step closer and pulled on a fine chain that had been tucked under the collar of her blouse. Two charms hung from the end of it.
Rodney realized she'd angled herself to block the most likely camera angles from seeing. He had to squint a little but he could just make out the shapes. "Oh." She had heightened touch and hearing.
She gave him a hard look and he shut up even as she tucked the necklace away again. "Do you consent, Colonel Sheppard?"
"Yes, ma'am. If my guide agrees."
Rodney nodded. "You have big needles. Also, you know, you're mean."
Dr. Lam rolled her eyes. "Well, Doctor McKay, if you trusted my science a little more I wouldn't have to be quite so firm with you, would I?"
John's chuckle was genuine. "I can see this is going to be...." His voice died away and his glance darted to the doctor.
Rodney watched as her lips tightened. She looked away first, her glance going to the floor then Rodney before going back to John.
"I'm sorry. He--"
John overrode her sentence. "Nothing, Dr. Lam. It's nothing."
"What - what did I just miss?" Rodney knew he'd missed out on something but had no idea what. Stupid regular hearing.
"Just gossip, Guide." John raised one hand slightly, as if he was going to wave the words away then looked startled. He seemed to have forgotten the compresses and wraps on his hands. He held out his right hand to Rodney. "I think we're done with this for now, right?"
Rodney ignored the double meaning. "Not even remotely." Still he took the cloth off and was pleased to see the irritation had faded a little. "I need you to tell me what you heard, Sentinel."
John winced and darted a glance at Dr. Lam who shrugged. "When you put it like that you know I have to, even if it is hearsay."
"Yes, yes I do." Rodney didn't have his job because he was nice. Some of it was because he was smart but a lot of it was because he was pragmatic. Some not quite defined percentage was also meanness but he didn't care about that right now. He needed more data if he was going to unravel how they'd all ended up here.
"Dr. Beckett said a few unprofessional things."
Rodney stopped his unwrapping of John's other hand and looked up at John. "You're still listening for him?"
"He was my doctor of record until a minute ago and clearly a threat to the tribe." John had a dull flush coming up on his face. "A threat to us cannot be ignored. I'm working on disconnecting from him but it isn't complete yet."
Right. He had to remember that this was a soldier, not a scientist that was a supertaster, or one who could see things without the benefit of a microscope. Not to say those people weren't protectors too, but this was a finely honed specimen in front of him. One who had been trained -- over-trained his brain kept trying to supply -- to assess threats. "Carry on then."
"Dr. Beckett was protesting to General O'Neill about me."
"What exactly did he say?" He got the definite hint that John was going to leave things out if he wasn't specific about what he wanted.
John threw another, almost desperate glance at Dr. Lam. She looked unhappy but didn't say anything. Couldn't, Rodney realized, not without making it clear to the surveillance that she clearly didn't trust she had heightened senses too.
John looked away and began reciting what he'd heard like he was line reading from a script. "Beckett: General, he's mine.
O'Neill: You mean your patient.
Beckett: Yes, that. I need to test him. See what the outcome of the last six weeks has done to him, especially since I got baselines in Antarctica.
Beckett: He's not human, General.
O'Neill: Pardon me?
Beckett: He's not. He's an alien. He's got an amazing ATA gene and --
O'Neill: Stop talking now before I shoot you.
Beckett: But, I need--
O'Neill: That makes me an alien. Non-human too. Am I going to be next on your dissecting table, doctor? I'd like to know before the cuffs go on.
Beckett: You're not a sentinel. You aren't driven by animal instincts like Sheppard is.
O'Neill: Like the human traits of greed and the holy altar of science you are worshipping at now are better?
Beckett: Yes. You need to give him to me.” John stopped talking and just looked at Rodney. “Then O’Neill punched him and Dr. Beckett starting yelling about suing him and cursing in Gaelic. Should I keep going?”
“No. Well, only if it looks like Beckett is winning, but that’s not going to happen with O’Neill around.” Rodney felt sick. “I don’t understand. I mean, Carson can get as lost in the science as anyone, but I’ve never heard him like this.”
“He was gone on vacation for a few weeks,” Dr. Lam offered up as, with a glance of permission, she settled on the chair next to the bed and got out her stethoscope. “He’s been spouting off odd things since then.”
Rodney started to freak out again. “Is he –“
“No!” Carolyn gave him a hard look before he could really get a head of steam up in a panic. “They checked for that. No snakes. He’s apparently just an asshole.”
“No doubt from long exposure to the military,” John murmured as he crossed his legs and pulled his shirt off.
“It doesn’t make sense though.” Rodney was just stumped. Granted people did that to him, but still.
“Why not? Just because he’s a medical doctor? I wouldn’t be surprised if he has Trust sympathies.” She tossed a glance at the cameras. “That, I’m willing to go on record about. I mean, he set off that drone thing. He’s got ideas about eugenics that creep me out. There is a reason he’s in research and not clinical work, McKay. He’s all about the biological machine if you know how to look for it. The whole Ancients thing is a bonanza for him.”
“Right,” Rodney said faintly. He was re-ordering what he knew about Carson Beckett. It wasn’t a good picture. “He’s on the list for Atlantis, you know.”
“Expert on the ATA. Of course he is,” she said as she finished her quick exam and took a few notes on a pad she’d pulled out of her pocket. “He’s been lobbying for human test subjects to try Colonel Sheppard’s DNA on for the last month. He’s convinced he’s worked out how to do it without causing a catastrophic failure.”
“Killing them, you mean.” Rodney’s queasy feeling was coming back.
“That’s what it normally means in medicine, yes.” She met his gaze with a clear one of her own. “I totally get that we’re in long shot territory with the whole mission. I really do get it, but I think sometimes between you, Dr. Weir and Dr. Beckett that we’re going to end up paying a price for victory we’ll regret.”
Rodney nodded slowly. One tiny step led to the next and next thing they'd find they'd killed off a species.
John deliberately leaned in between them to get his shirt. “I knew there was more to this than spaceships and an archaeological trip.”
Rodney blinked and focused back on him. “Right. I keep forgetting you don’t know anything yet.”
John’s raised eyebrow spoke volumes of what he thought about that statement.
“Okay, okay. You know lots of things about – things. You just don’t know about this.”
“And right now I don’t care. I want to eat, sleep and be persuaded from hunting down Dr. Beckett and handing him off to some people who need test subjects for their new torture techniques.”
Dr. Lam’s chuckle sounded a little bitter. “I suspect Jack is way ahead of you on that last one. Jack being General O’Neill.”
“I’m totally willing to get in line – as long as I get a shot at him.”
Frighteningly, Rodney totally believed him. Maybe it was time for a distraction. “So peanut butter and crackers?”
“Sure, until they give me a gun and a knife again.”