Rodney’s hands are steady on the controls, fingers numb where they grip the ancient tech tightly in his fists. He, for once, is flying the jumper in a straight line as they head for the gate as fast as Rodney can get the jumper to go. His mind is strangely blank, almost slow as he focuses on the task before him. If he was thinking more clearly or more objectively he would wonder how surprised Sheppard would be at his newly apparent natural ability to fly, now he’s not over-analyzing what it takes to make a jumper function or of how dangerous it all is. But he’s not thinking, he only has that thought hours later. It’s only when he has to break concentration to reach for the DHD controls that he feels his other senses come back online all at once. The sharp rusty scent of blood; Teyla and Ronon’s voices rising and falling behind him, where they work on keeping their team leader alive; the lump growing in his throat; the pain radiating down his side from his own wound.
“John! Breathe! Breathe! Please John!”
“Sheppard?! Teyla those paddle things, his heart stopped again.”
“Ronon, move back.” WHIZ THUNK WHIZ THUNK
“John! Thank the ancestors…”
Rodney freezes only a moment to listen, then punches in the address for Atlantis. Still in a daze he puts in their IDC, and when prompted gives voice verification. His voice is strangely flat as he requests immediate medical assistance be directed to the jumper bay. He ignores Elizabeth’s questions as he steers the jumper through the space gate, and home. When the automatic piloting program takes over to steer the jumper back to its birth, he lets himself go limp in his seat, watching blankly out the front of the jumper as the control room and then the jumper bay sweep past his view. The med-team is ready and waiting when they touch down, and Rodney is quick to lower the rear hatch for them.
Staring out the front of the jumper at the fairly blank wall of the jumper bay he hears Teyla and Ronon. Hears them moving away and making room for Carson and the rest of the med-team. Hears Teyla, usually stoic and calm, explaining in strained nearly frantic tones what has happened. Primitive guns, three shots to the chest, losing blood fast, heart keeps stopping. Rodney doesn’t move from his seat, doesn’t turn to watch, can’t turn to watch. He doesn’t want to see. He doesn’t want to see John’s pale face, doesn’t want to see his red blood, or Carson’s eyes. You can always tell a patient’s chances if you know how to interpret Carson’s eyes, and Rodney knows how. Carson is one of his best friends, and Rodney is impossibly observant when he chooses to be. He can’t bear to look into Carson’s eyes. He knows what he’ll see there. He knows that John is already gone.
There’s a part of him that wants to order them to stop, to just stop, please stop. Just leave him alone! But Rodney bites his tongue, and stares out the jumper windshield and he breathes through his mouth to avoid the smell of his blood and Teyla’s and Ronon’s, but mostly John’s. It’s mostly John’s blood pooling on the floor of the jumper and Rodney knows it. He hears the squeaky wheels of a gurney, the grunts of 3 men picking a body up off the floor, Carson’s voice ordering them to be careful, and to hurry, and to squeeze the bag harder goddamn it, he needs oxygen. Then Rodney is alone, still sitting in the pilot’s seat, still staring out the front window, still trying not to cry. It feels like an eternity passes before a large hand closes on his shoulder. He looks up. Ronon. His face is carefully blank, but Rodney has learned to read his eyes too in the last 5 years. He knows Ronon, can see the pain in his eyes, the hint of worry and desolation in his brow.
“Come on, McKay, you’re bleeding all over yourself.” He carefully pulls Rodney to his feet, pulling his left arm over his own shoulder, helping to support his weight, without pulling too much on Rodney’s injured right side. Rodney doesn’t fight his prodding, doesn’t respond to his words, he just lets himself be pulled along by the larger man. He loses his footing half-way to the hatch, and Ronon catches him easily. Rodney tries very hard not to let the reason for his slip and skid fully process. Doesn’t look down at the blood they're stepping through. There’s too much to step around. Ronon half carries him out of the bay and into the nearest transporter.
“Teyla?” he manages to ask.
“With Sheppard,” is the gruff reply. “I stayed with you.”
The infirmary is a mad-house when they step inside. Nurses and Orderlies rush back and forth, back and forth, calling out to each other, all of it revolving around one gurney, in the center of the infirmary. Rodney tries hard not to look. Ronon snags one of the newer doctors, who stands at the periphery watching, but not participating, drags him and Rodney over to a bed in the corner. He half lifts Rodney up onto the bed, and draws the curtain closed around them.
“He’s hurt. His right side. Fix it.” Ronon’s orders are usually followed quickly and efficiently, especially when he uses that particular tone of voice. This is no exception. The doctor says nothing as he starts unbuckling Rodney’s tac-vest. Ronon grips Rodney’s shoulder tightly but briefly before pulling open the curtain and stepping out, closing it behind him.
The wound on Rodney’s side is ragged, deep, and turning pink around the edges. Infection, Rodney thinks blankly. He’s still too numb to care about anything so trivial. He stares at his muddy and bloody boots, and answers the doctor’s questions in low flat tones, his words short and concise. “I guess” to “Does it hurt?” “No” to “Have you taken anything for it?” “Awhile” to “How long ago were you injured?” “Gun” to “What kind of weapon caused this?” He’s aware of the doctor cleaning the wound, of the sting of antiseptic, the pull of stitches, the ripping of tape and press of bandage. His ragged, torn t-shirt, sticks uncomfortably to his freshly bandaged side. The doctor is quick and efficient, exactly what you would expect from someone working under Carson. The doctor makes him lay down on the gurney, puts a pillow under his head, and a blanket over his body.
Rodney leans back and stares at the ceiling. With his wound bandaged, and the IV in his arm delivering antibiotics and pain meds in equal measure, he has nothing to do but stare with unfocused eyes and listen. Pounding feet, a beeping machine (Rodney can’t tell if it’s a ventilator or a heart monitor), calls for medication, for a surgical bay to be prepared, the wheels of the gurney, squeaking as it’s rolled away. Rodney makes a mental note to have Zelenka send one of his engineers down with a can of spray grease. Once John is gone the infirmary goes nearly silent with an absence of activity. He hears a quiet discussion going on behind his curtain. He thinks he hears Teyla’s voice, calm once more, and Ronon’s gruff tone, speaking in slow short sentences. He thinks he hears Elizabeth, asking anxious quiet questions. Hears his name mentioned, and the voice of the young doctor who had bandaged his wound explaining his condition. A flesh wound, deep, but not serious. Some infection. 17 stitches. Antibiotics and pain meds. Shock. Staying overnight for observation. It’s nothing he didn’t already know or expect.
Struggling against the medicine and the pain, he rolls onto his left side, curling in on himself. His mind is still running slow, and he knows it’s the shock, it’s the pain, and the medication, and the horror of seeing his best friend dying. No not dying. Dead. John was dead. He knew he was. He knew he was gone. That they wouldn’t be able to save him. It was too late. He’d lost too much blood. The damage was too extensive. John was dead. He knew it, and he’d seen it in Carson’s eyes. That it was hopeless, but that Carson would try anyway.
He loses track of time. He knows it passes. People come and check on him. Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth, Carson. He remembers nurses, the doctor who stitched his side, the equally new and young doctor who takes his place at shift change, a woman this time. They’d talked to him, but hadn’t seemed to expect much of a reaction.
He comes out of his fog early the next morning. The sun has not yet risen, but the sky is beginning to lighten, turning a strange sort of green, that the meteorologists on the expedition think is an atmospheric phenomenon particular to this planet. Something about the ocean, the angle of the sun at sunrise, the chemical make-up of the upper stratosphere, and their position near the equator, Rodney hadn’t been paying much attention to their 20 minute explanation at the monthly science staff meeting a few weeks after moving Atlantis to this particular planet. Rodney blinks rapidly as his brain seems to kick-start into motion once more. Suddenly, desperately, he needs to see Sheppard. He needs to see John. Needs to say goodbye.
He sits up abruptly, ignoring the pain in his side that steals his breath temporarily. He pulls the IV from his arm, looking up absently to see what they had him hooked up too. Saline, and antibiotics. Huh, no pain meds? He thinks. He stands up from the gurney, and looks around him. It’s early still, and the infirmary is quiet.
Slowly, cautiously he walks forward, toward the door. No one sees him. No one stops him, and Rodney gives no notice to his bare feet, or hospital scrubs. When had they changed his clothes? He doesn’t remember. The transporter is not that far, but his progress is hampered by pain and dizziness. He knows where the morgue is, knows that’s where John is by now. It’s a five minute walk from the transporter to the refrigerated room they had hastily created their first few weeks in Atlantis. Rodney hates it there. He hates the smell, and the chill, and the fact that the even need such a horrendous place in a city as beautiful as Atlantis.
The room is nearly empty. The Daedalus had just returned to Earth, and there is only one gurney in the room waiting for it to make the long journey back to retrieve it. Rodney takes a deep breath stealing himself before approaching the black body bag. He tries to prepare himself for it. He tries to picture in his head what John’s face will look like cold and still and dead. The eyes closed, the face lax, with no motion or quirk of the eyebrows to animate it. He remembers John’s pale face in the jumper, as Teyla and Ronon fought so hard to save him and shudders.
The floor is ice cold against his bare feet, so cold it should hurt, but Rodney takes no notice. He does not feel the cold air on his bare arms, or the chill leaching through his scrubs. He feels numb, physically and emotionally. He won’t let himself cry, not here in front of John. That can wait until later, when he has time and the freedom to do so in privacy. He doesn’t think John would mind the indiscretion. Opening his eyes, he reaches forward, holding his breath all the while, to pull the silver zipper down, and open the body bag.
His breathing hitches, and his hands recoil away from the face bared by the opening in the body bag. Lt. Carpenter, his brain supplies. The young Marine, who pissed off some natives two days before, while on mission with SGA-6. He’d smiled at the Chief’s daughter the wrong way, or complimented her or something equally offensive, and been struck dead before anyone could react. Rodney drops his hands to his sides, and lets his eyes slip closed.
He ignores the sound of the door sliding open behind him.
“Dr. McKay? What are you doing down here?” It‘s Dr. Keller. Rodney turns to look at her and blinks his eyes open. She looks confused and very concerned.
“I needed to see,” he says quietly. She frowns at him, looking past him at the open body bag.
“Lt. Carpenter?” she asks, stepping forward. “Dr. McKay, you shouldn’t be here. Especially dressed like that. And you’re barefoot!” she admonishes, stepping forward. She reaches past him to zip up the bag, hiding the Lt’s immobile face once more. She smiles at him tentatively. “Did you escape from the infirmary?”
“No. Col. Sheppard?” His response is flat, and tired sounding, even to his own ears. She stares at him a moment.
“Col. Sheppard’s not down here. He’s still up in the infirmary. Why did you think he’d be in the morgue?” she asks, ushering him toward the door.
“Isn’t that where the dead are usually taken?” he replies, stepping into the corridor. Keller steps out beside him, closing the door with a wave of her hand.
“Yes, I suppose so. But Col. Sheppard hardly fits that description!” she laughs. Rodney freezes where he walks beside her. He turns his head to look at her, horror and fear, and hope warring across his too open face. Comprehension dawns. “You thought he was dead!?” she asks, reaching out to touch his arm. “Oh, no! Rodney, he’s doing much better. Carson thinks he’ll be just fine once he heals up some.” Rodney does not bother responding. Instead he turns and runs down the hallway. He stumbles twice, on his way to the transporter, once because of his previously numb feet, and once because of the pain in his side, as his stitches rip open. He clutches at the wound jumping through the transporter doors which open much faster that normal, as if Atlantis itself senses his desperation. He does not waste time waiting for Dr. Keller, and he does not respond to her calls to slow down, and be careful, and to wait up.
The infirmary is a buzz again when he comes stumbling through the doors. His being missing has caused a stir. Nurses, orderlies, doctors, and marines scramble back and forth, the curtain that he had left securely closed around his empty bed is torn open wide, his bed as disheveled as he left it, obviously found empty by some nurse. But Rodney pays them no mind. He rushes toward the back of the infirmary, to the ICU room. The door is open, and he stops in the doorway at the sight that greets him.
Sheppard’s awake. Talking. ALIVE. He’s pale, and his hair is greasy and stiff with blood, but they’ve washed his face free of it and he’s scruffy with a day old beard.
“Let me up! We have to find him! He’s hurt. Ronon!” Sheppard yells. Ronon grunts but doesn’t reply. He has Sheppard by the shoulders, and is holding him down to the hospital bed. His hold is firm but gentle. John pushes at his hands, before groaning and going limp. Ronon lets him go, watching Sheppard press his hands, both sporting IVs, to the wounds on his chest. Sheppard winces, turning his head to look at Teyla, sitting quietly beside him.
“We know this, John. But he could not have gone far. If you will promise to stay in bed and rest, Ronon and I will go and join in the search. We cannot do that if we know you will re-injurer yourself in our absence!” Teyla explains. She’s using her stern voice, and Rodney winces on Sheppard’s behalf.
He stands in the doorway, unable to move, too relieved and shocked to step in further, or to even make a noise. His arrival has gone largely unnoticed by the infirmary, which Rodney will reflect later, is vaguely disturbing. It’s John who notices him first. He tilts his head back, his eyes closed in acceptance of Teyla’s words. He sighs, opening his eyes and lifting his head. His eyes focus on Rodney’s form standing in the doorway. He grins.
“Hey, Rodney!” he says. Ronon and Teyla both turn to look and Rodney waves, leaning against the open doorframe and breathing shallowly in pain. They’re both there in an instant.
“Rodney! Sit down,” Teyla orders. Ronon drags him over to sit in her empty chair, but Rodney refuses to sit down in it. Instead he turns out of Ronon’s grip, and sits down on the edge of John’s bed. He stares at him, and John stares back.
“Where were you, Rodney?” John asks quietly. Ronon grunts again, standing behind Rodney with his arms crossed over his chest, while Teyla goes to get Carson.
“I was looking for you,” Rodney says. His forehead drips with sweat. He’s in pain, still weak from blood loss and shock. He’d done too much too quickly, as usual. John stares at him with those eyes of his, analyzing.
“Where did you think I was?” he asks. Rodney’s face goes tense, his brow furrowing. John nods. “Ah… I see. You should know me better than that, McKay,” John says with a pained smirk. “I don’t die just from a few bullet wounds. How many times do I have to get shot before you realize that?” Rodney frowns, looking away. He’s angry all of the sudden.
“Well you don’t have to keep proving your asinine little theory! Even you are going to run out of extra lives eventually Sheppard. You don’t have to keep being so fucking stupid with your own safety!” Rodney snarls. His head whirls at the force of his own words, and Ronon reaches out a hand to steady him. Sheppard rolls his eyes.
“What was I supposed to do? Let the natives shoot the three of you?” John asks.
“They already had. We could have made it back to the jumper without you flinging yourself in front of a bunch of idiots with bad hygiene and surprisingly accurate yet primitive hand guns!” Rodney yells. John stares at him in shock, even as Carson jogs into the room pushing a gurney. Rodney stares back at him, their gazes locked, angry. There’s a moment of tense silence before they simultaneously break out into loud pained laughter, chests heaving and both of them crying out in pain at the sudden movement it causes their wounds.
Carson shakes his head, nodding at Ronon, who helps Rodney up off the bed and over to the gurney. Rodney lets himself be pushed to lay down, still chuckling weakly. Carson clucks his tongue.
“I should have known not to leave you unattended, Rodney. You always manage to get yerself into the worst sorts a trouble!” Carson says. He tugs Rodney’s scrub top up, to look at his side. “Three ripped stitches.” He tut-tuts at Rodney, shaking his head and pulling up the side bar on the gurney. Rodney sighs, regaining his composure and relaxing back into the pillow. He feels like a giant John-sized weight has been lifted off of his shoulders. He takes one last look at John, who looks just as tired but lively as he feels, and prepares himself to be moved back into the main infirmary. But instead Carson pushes the bed to rest parallel to John’s, with Rodney situated to John’s right. Rodney looks at Carson in confusion. “I figure if the two of you are going to give my poor overworked staff a hard time, you might as well be kept together. At least that way I won’t have to suffer through your bouts of whining about how bored you both are. You’re best friends. At least this way you can entertain each other while ye heal!” Carson says, stomping down on the break to lock the gurney in place. “Now stay put the both of ya. I’ll be right back to tend to that wound. And I swear to God, John, if you don’t stop messing with the settings on that morphine pump I’m going to order a nurse to come in here every 2 hours and administer your pain meds in yer rear end. Using a large bore needle!” he warns.
“Oh, can I request Cathy?” John asks, perking up a bit. “I think she likes me!” John says, smiling at Rodney and Ronon and bouncing his eyebrows at them. Rodney rolls his eyes and Ronon cracks a wide smile, even as he shakes his head.
“No, John. It’ll be Boris, the burley ex-marine!” Carson replies. “And you know how he feels about Flyboys like you! Commander of the Atlantis military or not!” He stomps from the room, passing Teyla on her way back in. She looks at the two of them with scrutinizing eyes, before coming over to Rodney.
“You should not have disappeared like that, Rodney,” she says softly. She sounds disappointed, and Rodney suddenly feels four years old again. He frowns.
“I thought he was dead,” Rodney says quietly. Her brow furrows in reaction. “I went up to the morgue,” Rodney looks down. She sighs, reaching forward to grip the sides of his face with her hands. She leans down, pressing her forehead to his.
“He is going to be fine,” she promises. He nods, swallowing thickly. She smiles at him, pulling away. Teyla looks at Ronon. “You will take first watch?” she asks. Ronon shrugs, moving the empty chair to sit between the feet of the beds, and plopping down in it.
“Teyla, we don’t need you guys to keep watch. This is Atlantis. No one is going to attack us in our sleep here,” John protests. They all stare at him with incredulous looks on their faces. “OK, so it’s happened before. But really the chances of it happening tonight are slim to none. You guys need to get some rest! You were both injured too and Torren needs time with his mother!” Teyla does the Athosian version of rolling her eyes: a cock of the head, and lift of the eyebrow.
“Do not presume to tell me what my son needs, John. I will go and tend to him now. And relieve Ronon later. Kannan is an excellent father. He can watch over our son while I am busy watching over the two of you. I guarantee he will have the easier time of it.” Teyla says, before turning and walking regally from the room.
Rodney rolls onto his left side again, groaning at the pulling the motion causes his wound.
“I still can’t believe you got me shot. Again!” Rodney says. John rolls his eyes.
“Just be glad it wasn’t another arrow to the ass. I bet that’s a fun scar to try and explain to your girlfriend!” John says with a smirk. Rodney narrows his eyes at him.
“Scars are manly. Women dig them! Don’t they, Ronon!?” Rodney replies. Ronon looks at him out of the corner of his eye and grunts. “See! Ronon agrees with me!”
“Ronon’s from Sateda,” John says. “His opinion hardly backs up your theory about Earth women liking scars. And if they like them so damn much, why are you complaining? This will be just another story to regale some young unsuspecting female scientist with. How you saved the day yet again!” John says with a grin. Rodney rolls his eyes.
“I save the day a dozen times each week. Quite frankly it’s getting a little old. Besides that’s twice in a row it was me saving your ass from death. You owe me big next time!” Rodney retorts, shifting to get more comfortable. Carson’s arrival stops John from replying again. The Scottish doctor re-stitches Rodney’s side, reinserts his IVs, and then resets John’s pain pump to the appropriate level.
“If I catch you lowering it again it will be Boris you see coming in here next,” he warns ominously. John nods, giving him an innocent smile. Carson glares in suspicion, tugging the machine another 6 inches away, before he turns and leaves the room.
The three of them sit in silence for a few minutes. Rodney curls on his side unable to stop watching John. John lays flat on his back, watching the early morning light spill across the infirmary ceiling. Ronon sits watching the hustle and bustle of the infirmary on a Monday morning from his chair by the door.
“Just so you know, I’m not done yelling at you,” Rodney says quietly, slurring slightly, and blinking slowly, the pain medication making him sleepy. John smirks, turning to look at him.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way McKay,” he says amused, but there is something soft, almost indulgent about the look on his face. “Go to sleep, Rodney.” Rodney’s eyes fall closed at the quiet command, Carson’s drugs finally knocking him out.