Off-world missions were hard on Sheppard’s clothes. On all of their clothes, really, but Sheppard’s seemingly more than everyone else’s. His were the shirts that got ripped by grazing bullets; the tac vests that got sliced by angry natives’ knives; the boots that got stained with ritual markings; and on one repressed occasion, the pants that got dissolved by primordial pond ooze.
The Daedalus brought new supplies, but as the weeks since the last shipment stretched out behind them, the quartermaster tended to resort to needlework and rationing. The last requisition form Sheppard had signed off on requested twice as much stock in Sheppard’s sizes than anyone else’s. Pointedly, Sheppard suspected. When the puma-thing shredded his left boot on P5X 245 – his foot was fine, not that anyone asked – Lorne got a week’s paperwork relief in exchange for collecting the replacement, so that Sheppard could avoid wincing guiltily under the quartermaster’s matronly glares.
Clothes were more valuable in trade than even porn. McKay had once given him a case of brandy in exchange for all but his smallest t-shirts. So, when Sheppard came to change out of the infirmary scrubs for the first time since breaking his leg on P4A 890, he couldn’t bring himself to slit either of his remaining pairs of pants to fit over the cast. His last pair of sweats had been sacrificed after the late night flood of the water reclamation plant left them greenish and stubbornly smelly. Until the cast came off, his choice was between the loathed scrub trousers and all they represented, or throwing himself on the mercy of the quartermaster.
Instead, he threw Lorne while he loitered half-dressed in the infirmary. He knew he was in trouble as soon as he saw Lorne approach him with his most innocent, blank face. Sheppard narrowed his eyes at his 2IC. “What?” he asked slowly.
Lorne handed over a large plastic bag. Sheppard peered at him suspiciously then reached inside. He pulled out an extra large, blue, fluffy terry bathrobe, and stared at it with plummeting spirits.
“Apparently it’s standard for medical leave. The sergeant said you can re-apply when you go back to full duty.”
“In… six weeks,” Sheppard checked. He shook out the robe as if some sweats were going to drop from within its folds, but his disbelief was already fading into a kind of depressed resignation. Something like this had been coming for months.
“It’s deep looped,” Lorne offered helpfully. Only his eyes gave away that he was silently cackling with mutinous glee. “You’ll be warm while you go through all that paperwork.”
“You’ll be wanting to keep your leg elevated,” Beckett added, strolling past, “So I hope your underwear’s presentable.”
Sheppard grimaced his laughter-lines into creases and twitched a nod. “Thanks,” he lied.
Sheppard survived the limp back to his quarters. He was on crutches, still pale and mussed from his infirmary stay. One trainer, one sock, a black t-shirt and a bright blue dressing gown. He wondered if he could trade up using his spare left shoes.
The people he passed nodded at him in sympathy. Four scientists and a marine each separately offered him help back to his room. Nobody laughed, but even Atlantis’s gossip network took a few minutes.
He survived lunch in the mess hall with Ronon and Teyla. He got some baffled looks, but rank had its privileges.
“Is that not a night-time garment?” Teyla wanted to know.
“Is all that leg hair an Earth thing?” Ronon asked.
A wave of stifled laughter radiated out from a nurse in the corner, a table at a time.
He met Zelenka to go over the repairs to Jumper Four.
“It is decent of you to assist in repairs,” Zelenka thanked him.
“Progress has been scant,” Zelenka apologised.
“The cloak is at two thirds coverage,” Zelenka reported.
“It will be breeze,” Zelenka assured him.
“Next time we need a linguist off-world, I’m taking you,” Sheppard threatened.
He cried off supervising the unarmed combat class.
He made it halfway through the senior staff meeting before he cracked.
Beckett was right, his leg throbbed and he wanted to raise it up on something. He surreptitiously propped his cast on the cross-struts of McKay’s chair. Every time he shifted to ease the ache he jostled McKay, who shot him a series of scowls; and every movement disturbed the carefully arranged bathrobe, sending his paranoid hands to check the coverage of his lap.
“…some strategy specialists on the next Deadalus run so we can take the offen-“
“God, would you stop fidgeting?” McKay cried. Elizabeth closed her mouth and raised an eyebrow, and everyone turned to look at Sheppard.
“Sorry,” he muttered sulkily, slouching lower in his chair, tugging the bottom of the robe to follow his lap as he went.
“Do you need to be excused?” Elizabeth asked sympathetically. “You’re only supposed to be on light duty.” She was blithely ignoring his state of undress and he couldn’t decide whether that made him feel less conspicuous, or just self-consciously depressed by the need for charity.
“I’m fine. Great,” he replied with as much dignity as he could muster given that everyone else was fully clothed and he was swimming in a too-large bathrobe and not much else.
There was a pause as everyone refused to be the one to challenge him on the blatant lie. Elizabeth studied him for a moment, then smiled bracingly and returned her attention to the paper she was explaining. She opened her mouth to resume the meeting.
“It’s just-“ Sheppard blurted. “Does anyone have some sweats I can borrow?”
Ronon shook his head mutely, his eyes crinkling with a smile he’d held all day.
“I am afraid I do not,” Teyla told him regretfully.
“I had to incinerate mine as a biohazard,” Beckett told them. More than one head switched their scrutiny away from Sheppard. “Blood,” he was quick to add. “From Corporal Gates’ head wound in the gym last month.”
“I was wearing mine during the water reclamation flood,” Elizabeth said. “Trust me; their fit on you would be the best thing about them.” He filed that away as a maybe. He wasn’t proud; he just wanted to be vaguely decent at some point over the next month and a half.
That just left McKay. Sheppard fixed him with his most hopeful look, wincing in anticipation of rejection.
McKay eyed him speculatively, from tousled head to empurpled toe. “What do I get in return?”
“Huh.” McKay was smirking in that slightly-less-than-completely-obvious way that meant he was trying to hide it. “Okay, you’re on.”
Sheppard just figured they were waiting until they were away from the Diet Police before they talked about how many dessert rations he’d just given Rodney
They made their slow, pentapedal way back to McKay’s room after the meeting. There, Rodney presented him with a pair of old, worn, grey sweats. They were big for Sheppard and the elastic was going. He lay his crutches on McKay’s bed, awkwardly pulled the sweats on under the dressing gown and sighed with relief. “Thank God,” he groaned, letting himself sink down onto the foot of the bed, mindless of drafts or flapping fabric for the first time all day. “Seriously. Anything,” he reiterated, meaning it.
McKay cleared his throat. “Uh, how about the bathrobe?” he asked.
Sheppard squinted at him, surprised. “That it?” he asked, shrugging obediently out of it. He balled it up and tossed it.
McKay caught it absently, and stared at him for a moment for no obvious reason. Sheppard figured McKay must have things to do and it was time to excuse himself. He climbed back to vertical. The sweats rode lower on his hips than he would like and there was a strip of bare flesh where his slightly-too-tight t-shirt rode up, but he wasn’t technically indecent and that was the only criterion he cared about.
“So, uh, thanks again,” Sheppard said, frowning slightly. McKay was being unusually quiet, and maybe on another day he would have quizzed him on it, but he sensed that McKay was about to ask something of him and he feared it would be dessert related. He hoiked the sweats up a touch, but they dropped back down almost instantly to perch precariously low. “Catch you later,” he said.
He didn't see that McKay’s grip on the bathrobe was tight enough for his knuckles to be going white. The door closed before McKay managed to control his voice. “Any time.”