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The Consequence Of Caring

Chapter Text

John headed for the blocked doorway to deliver McKay's ultimatum.

"Teyla?" he called once he reached the debris pile.

"We are here, Major," she replied. "Why does Doctor McKay wish us to leave? Lieutenant Ford and Sergeant Bates have a plan for removing the rest of the debris that is trapping you. We could work on that while you both work to fix the stabiliser."

"He knows," Zelenka said quietly from behind Teyla. "He knows this arm will flood if the stabiliser goes critical."

"Hang on a minute," Beckett interrupted. "I thought there was still plenty of time."

"We don't have time for a coffee klatch," McKay yelled from the console. "Zelemka, give the supplies to Ford and explain the realities of life on your way back to the control tower."

Ford, Teyla, and Beckett all looked ready to protest McKay's demand; even Bates looked surprised. Zelenka just sighed and seemed a little sad.

"Ford, find something to start pushing the supplies through to me," John ordered before anyone could say anything. "Then all of you need to get to a safe distance."

"But Major --" Beckett started to say.

"No buts, Doc," John said. "If this goes sideways, McKay is right; you guys need to be clear of this area." He smiled. "However, when we have this all sorted, I'll radio you, and once we're out of here, you can read him whatever riot act you like."

"You'd better, Major. There are a few choice things I plan to say to both of you." Beckett stepped back from the small hole as Ford bent down and showed John the backpack ready to go.

John reached for the backpack tied to the pole Ford fed through the widened hole in the rubble. Once the tank had followed, John nodded to the huddle in the corridor. "Go on," he said with a smile. "We'll be right behind you."

He watched as Teyla, Ford, and the others walked back up the hall, then turned and headed back to the console.

"Finally," Rodney muttered and took the backpack. "I say we're on a short clock and everyone wants to sit down and chat." He pulled out the syringe, tubing, tape, and the rest of the requested items.

"If you want to be useful, you can go down and start removing the housing covers on the mechanism in the corner." He vaguely waved at a grey lump near the lower windows, pulled a pair of needle-nose pliers and a screwdriver from the set of tools next to him, and handed the rest to John.

John nodded and headed for the stairs behind the control console.

"Just take off the housing covers," Rodney reminded him. "The actuator arm is going to be moving in there. I'm going to have to work with the system up here to keep it out of your way while you work inside the machinery."

John headed down the stairs and over to the housing McKay had indicated on the schematics. He heard the room creaking again as he reached the lower floor and glanced up when he heard a telltale cracking. He saw Rodney doing the same thing, and McKay stared down at him, wide-eyed, as they both realised the glass from the window near Rodney's console had cracked.

"Sheppard?" McKay called.

"Yeah, I know," John replied and walked across the lower room a little faster.

John found the right piece of machinery without any trouble and studied the housing in front of him. It wasn't as elegant as other pieces of Ancient technology found in the city. To John, it looked almost Earth-like in its bulkiness. The housing came up to his chest and was a dull grey. As he looked it over, John noted the arm McKay had mentioned sticking out from one side presumably attached to the shaft that descended into the floor and worked the fins. It had a bulbous piece in the center sticking out of the top of the two housing covers he needed to remove. The problem was he didn't see anything like a screw holding the housing to the frame of the structure.

John stuffed the tools down the front of his vest and walked around the whole thing once looking for some way to get it open. Then he remembered the door panels he'd seen McKay pry open around the city. Looking closer at the edges, John finally found a piece with a seam. He pulled off the cover and found two latches underneath. Moving to the opposite end, he found another little panel and disconnected the latches he found under that one as well. Then he carefully removed the housing cover itself. He repeated the process for the other side, and once he had the covers off, he stared at the inner workings of the system.

Okay, this might be a little different from bleeding a brake line, after all, he grimaced.

While the schematic was nice clean lines, the actual stabiliser itself was less so. He stared at the jumble of wires, tubes, and various components in front of him, wondering if he'd need to find a way to get McKay down here after all. He could follow some of the tubes and lines snaking out of the dome in the middle; others were a complete mystery.

The room creaked again and shuddered slightly. John glanced up and noticed cracks in the windows near him as well.

"Sheppard?" Rodney called, and John could hear a note of rising panic in McKay's voice. "Do you have those covers off yet."

"Yeah," John answered. "What do I do next?"

"First, you come back up here and get the oxygen tank," Rodney said, and John saw him leaning over the console, looking down at him.

"Rodney, sit down," John ordered as he headed back up the stairs. "Beckett already plans to give you a piece of his mind for making him leave," he added as he stopped next to the console. "You mess up that leg even more, and he won't let you out of the infirmary for a week."

McKay sat back in the chair with a grunt and John noted the thin sheen of sweat on his face.

"Take this," Rodney said as he handed over the tank and a roll of waterproof tape. At the end of the tubing opposite the tank valve, was another smaller valve and a makeshift holder for the small injection needle at the end of a narrower piece of tubing. All of it was heavily wrapped in the waterproof tape.

"When I tell you to, you need to insert the needle into the vacuum line. Gently," he added. "You pierce through the tube and none of this is going to work."

John glanced down at the mechanism below.

Rodney must have read his mind as he added, "The vacuum line will be a clear, narrow line running from behind the actuator arm, probably along the stabiliser shaft."

"Got it," John said with a nod.

"Once you get the needle in, tape it down and open the valve for the tank. Then slowly open the smaller valve. The second valve is acting as a pressure regulator. We don't want to blow the lines, but there is a balance we need to find so the oxygen flushes the water without damaging the rest of the system. Use the waterproof tape to hold the needle in place once you're done."

The room shuddered again, and the window near Rodney's head cracked further.

"We might want to hurry this along," he said, and looked up at John.

John read the combination of fear and worry on his face. He met Rodney's eyes, nodded, and tried to give him a reassuring smile before he turned back to the stairs, the tank under one arm.

He walked back to the uncovered piece of the stabiliser system, set the tank down and looked into the mass of wires and tubes. He followed the actuator arm, and after a few more seconds, found the small, clear tube that had to be the vacuum line. Unfortunately, the arm blocked his access to the line.

"The actuator is in the way," he called up to Rodney. "I can't reach the vacuum tube."

The room groaned again, and John saw a sheet of water running down one of the windows in front of him.

"Give me a second to realign it," McKay called back. "Wait for my signal; otherwise, it could take your hand off."

John waited and watched the water flow down the window faster as the crack widened in the window. And then the actuator arm slowly moved.

"What are you doing?" John asked as the arm slowly cleared the area he needed to access.

"Manually moving the fins," Rodney replied. "The good news is they are now rotating with the rest of the city. The bad news is, without the laser it won't last so work fast."

The actuator moved a little bit more, then Rodney yelled, "It should be clear now. Insert the needle."

John moved the oxygen tank until it was right beside the clear tube and wedged it in place between the stabiliser and the solid wall of the room. He glanced at the arm and selected a section of the vacuum line away from the play of its movement so the arm wouldn't break off the needle. Then he slowly inserted the needle along the tube and taped it down as the actuator fought whatever Rodney was doing to hold it away from his hands.

"Okay, the needle is in place and taped down," he told McKay.

John moved his hands out of range of the arm as it snapped back to its previous position over the line. He quickly replaced the housing covers and turned back to the oxygen tank. He opened the main valve then slowly started to turn the smaller valve.

"How's that?" he asked.

The walls shuddered again, and more water poured in from the crack in the window in front of him.

"Not nearly enough. Open it some more."

John turned the small valve until it was almost fully open. Before he could confirm with McKay the oxygen was working, the window next to Rodney's console blew out, sending him to the floor in a torrent of water.

"Rodney!" John shouted, and made for the stairs. He fought up the stairs against the flow of water pouring in from the broken window, and found Rodney trying to sit up, a red welt already forming where his head had hit something when he fell.

Rodney looked up at him, his eyes slightly glazed, then at the water coming in. "I guess we weren't quick enough," he said sadly as John knelt beside him.

"None of that," John said gruffly as he checked the welt. "We have a few minutes before the water reaches this level; we can still get out."

John stood and reached down to pull Rodney up as well. "Grab your computer and let's get out of here."

Rodney shook his head but let John pull him to his feet. Once upright, he wavered for a moment, balanced against the console and rubbed at the welt above his eye.

John watched him visibly shake off the dizziness, then he grabbed the computer, stuffed it back in his pack, and powered down the Ancient console to its previous low setting. The lighting in the room returned to the dimness of when they'd arrived, and John thought it made the water flooding into the downstairs area seem louder.

There was another, muffled bang as the window downstairs broke as well, and the water started rising faster.

"Come on," John said, and pulled Rodney's arm over his shoulder. "Time to go."

"Past time if you ask me," Rodney replied, and grabbed up his pack in his free hand.

They were almost to the debris around the door when John saw one side of the pile start to shift, then fall in at them. He skipped back, balancing Rodney against him, and wondered if a window in the corridor had broken as well and more water was about to pour into the room.

Instead, he saw Ford, with Bates next to him, pry bars in hand, waving him out to the hallway.

"Major, you gotta hurry, sir," Ford said with noticeable relief as he handed off his pry bar to Bates.

"Ford?" John asked, confused, as he looked through the newly created opening.

"The bulkhead that way," Ford pointed in the direction opposite the corridor with the transporter, "is already closed, but Doctor Zelenka said this area was starting to flood. If we don't leave now we'll be trapped when he has to close the other one."

By now John was at the door with Rodney still gamely hopping next to him, looking exhausted. The narrow passage wasn't wide enough for both of them, so John manoeuvred Rodney through the hole first to Ford.

Ford took the backpack from McKay and gently pulled Rodney through the remaining debris blocking the doorway.

Once Rodney was clear of the debris, John followed him. The water was up to their level now and gently sloshed around their feet as Ford pulled John out of the room.

John nodded his thanks to Ford and frowned when he saw Rodney sag against the far wall.

"How far to clear the bulkhead, Lieutenant?" John asked as he resettled Rodney's arm over his shoulder.

"It's about fifty feet, Major, in the next corridor. We lost one or more of the repeaters through here though so there's no way to let Doctor Zelenka know when we're clear. Teyla is waiting at the transporter and will let him know when she can see us."

"Or when the water gets too high?" John glanced over at Ford.

"Or when the water gets too high, yes sir," Ford confirmed.

Ford looped the strap for McKay's backpack over his shoulder and led the way back up the corridor. Bates brought up the rear, carrying the pry bars and other tools they'd used to break up the debris around the door.

"Bates," Sheppard called as the water rose above their ankles. "Go tell Teyla we're on our way."

"Yes, sir," Bates confirmed and squirmed past Ford.

John hoped that would buy them a little extra time before the bulkhead was closed if Teyla knew they were out of the room.

The water was rising faster as they turned the corner from the maintenance corridor, and McKay moved more slowly as a result. John readjusted his hold on him as Rodney leant more and more against him as the weight of the water pulled at his injured leg and sapped what energy he still had.

The water was over their knees when they cleared the bulkhead and turned the corner for the transporter where Teyla anxiously waited. John saw her tap her radio, and a few seconds later, the barrier slammed closed a few feet behind them.

John let out the breath of relief as the water stopped rising. They were still a hundred feet or so from the transporter, and John half-carried Rodney the rest of the distance. Once they were all inside, there was still a standing pool of water in the transporter with them, and Rodney had enough energy to make a face at John before he closed his eyes and leant against the wall.

A few seconds later, the transporter opened on the corridor leading back to the control room with a near-silent whoosh, and the water that had transported with them sloshed out onto the waiting welcoming committee of Weir, Beckett, Zelenka, and a medical team. John allowed himself a private smile as he watched them dance out of the way when the water rolled down the hall.

Ford helped John carry Rodney, who was asleep on his feet, out of the transporter and over to the waiting gurney. As they helped Beckett get McKay situated, Sheppard asked, "I'm going to assume his plan worked?"

He took a towel Weir held out to him and dried off his face and hair. He and Rodney were both soaked, Ford, Teyla, and Bates only slightly less so.

"Yes," Zelenka replied. "The oxygen flushed the seawater out of the system, and the laser is tracking again. There is an engineering crew suiting up now to fix the leak permanently."

John nodded and followed the gurney down to the infirmary, Teyla and Ford in tow. "Better get another one ready to go fix the windows down there," Sheppard said.

"Already in the works, Major," Weir assured him. "And Doctor Zelenka thinks he can rig up a pumping system to clear the water down there once it is watertight again." She stopped at the door to the infirmary. "Once Carson clears you, get cleaned up, and we'll meet in my office."

"We will see you later, Major," Teyla said. "I need to let Halling and the others know the crisis has passed."

John nodded and allowed himself to be led to a corner of the room where Rodney was groggily complaining about being wet.

"He gonna be okay, Doc?" John asked, standing at the end of McKay's bed as Beckett examined Rodney's knee.

"I think so, Major," Beckett started to say before Rodney interrupted.

"Did anyone bother to ask if my plan worked, or are we all just waiting for the inevitable?" McKay asked and tried to sit up.

Beckett pushed him back down.

"Yes, Rodney, the plan worked," Beckett told him with a long-suffering sigh. "Doctor Zelenka has a team going out now to fix the leak and check on the damage to the east pier."

"Good … that's good," he slurred, and John noticed the syringe in Beckett's hand at the same time Rodney's eyes closed.

Beckett caught him watching and set down the empty syringe. "I'm going to need to drain that knee, Major. He'll be much happier not feeling it," Beckett explained.

"But he's going to be fine?" John asked.

"Oh, aye. I'll do a scan just to be sure, but I don't think he did any serious damage to the bone or ligaments. He can spend the night here, and I'll release him in the morning."

"Good," John said and started for the infirmary door.

"Just where do you think you're going, then, Major?" Beckett asked as he stood in John's path.

"Doctor Weir called a meeting to talk about what happened," John replied, and tried to dodge around Beckett.

"Yes, well, you can do that after I take a look at that arm." Beckett steered him back to the bed. "Did ya think I wouldn't notice, Major?" He removed the hasty dressing on John's arm as well as the one on his neck. "And I'd like to know exactly how you think running around getting yourself half-drowned is taking it easy."

John didn't even try to answer that one, he just sat, rather meekly, and let Beckett fuss. He was fine, Rodney was going to be fine, and Atlantis was safe. He couldn't ask for much more.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

The next day, Teyla led Doctor Weir through the Athosian area of the city to Iranda's quarters. She tapped on the doorframe and called, "Iranda? It is Teyla. I have brought Doctor Weir with me. May we enter?"

"Teyla Emmagan, come in, come in," Iranda said as she pushed aside the colorful door hanging. She and Teyla touched foreheads, and Iranda turned to Weir. "Doctor Weir, I am honored by your visit, please enter."

"Please call me Elizabeth," Weir said as she ducked under the door hanging and sat on a cushion next to Teyla.

"Elizabeth," Iranda said with a smile. "I have tea. Would you like some?"

"I would love a good cup of tea," Weir replied.

Iranda nodded and went to the corner where the kettle whistled. Teyla wondered how she always managed to time that so well.

"Is Isla still well?" Teyla asked as Iranda poured tea into three cups.

"Isla?" Weir asked as she accepted her cup.

"My daughter," Iranda explained, "she is with child and due soon." She passed a cup to Teyla and added, "Yes, she is well, thank you. I believe she will deliver early; the baby is squirming more than ever."

"Have you spoken to Doctor Beckett?" Weir asked and sipped her tea.

Iranda shook her head. "There is no need. This is not Isla's first child, and Olette is a midwife."

Teyla watched as Weir accepted the statement with a nod. She sipped her tea for a moment, then said, "We have come to thank you, Iranda."

"Yes," Weir agreed, setting aside her cup. "I wanted to thank you for telling Teyla of your vision. Without your warning, we may not have discovered the stabiliser problem in time to fix it."

Iranda bowed her head. "And I thank you, Doc -- Elizabeth, for taking the warning seriously." She glanced at Teyla and added, "Some of my people were unsure if you would heed the vision."

Weir met Iranda's eyes. "I hope Halling feels differently now."

Iranda laughed. "Well done, Elizabeth."

"I do not understand," Teyla said as she looked from Iranda to Weir and back again.

"I take it Halling has not talked to you about what happened while you were trapped in the jumper?" Weir said to Teyla.

Teyla shook her head in confusion.

Weir turned to Teyla with a sigh. "He wanted to perform a ceremony to allow you to prepare for death," Weir explained. "I refused to let him, saying we didn't give up and I wouldn't tell all of you to expect to die." Weir ducked her head. "He didn't take it well," she admitted and touched Teyla's arm. "I hope you can understand why I had to do that."

"I see," Teyla said calmly and tried to hide her frustration. This explained, at least in part, Halling's continued pushing of tradition while she dealt with the latest crisis. "I do understand your reason, Doctor Weir, and I apologise Halling put you in that position in the first place."

"Halling and some of the others grow restless, Teyla Emmagan," Iranda told her. "They are men and women used to hunting and farming. They do not know how to make themselves useful in the city of the Ancestors." She glanced around the room. "I'm not sure how much longer they can carry on here," she added sadly.

Teyla nodded. Iranda wasn't saying anything she didn't already know. She just didn't know what to do about the growing feelings of dissent. The city was at least safe from the Wraith, not something she could say about any other planet in the Pegasus galaxy now.

Doctor Weir must have sensed the tension in the small room as she quickly finished her tea, and gracefully stood. "I should be going," she said. "Iranda, please know if you ever have any other visions regarding Atlantis, you can come to me." She turned to Teyla. "Teyla, I will see you later?"

Teyla shook her head and stood as well. "I will walk with you, Doctor Weir." She bent and touched foreheads with their host. "Iranda, thank you for the tea," she said softly with a smile.

Teyla's pace was slow as they left the Athosian living area. She gazed around at the candles and the colorful hangings, inhaled the sense of peace, and sighed.

"Teyla?" Weir asked as they walked back to the control room and Weir's office.

"It is nothing, Doctor Weir," Teyla said with a sad smile. "Iranda has said nothing that I did not already know. We must do the best we can in the current circumstances. It is not safe for my people to leave Atlantis."

"If there's anything I can do to help …"

"Thank you, Doctor Weir," Teyla replied and turned down the corridor to her quarters. Some time in meditation might help her settle her mind, she thought to herself.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Rodney sat out on one of Atlantis' balconies enjoying the warmth from the morning sun, a set of crutches propped against the wall beside him and his legs resting on another chair in front of him.

"You missed breakfast again," Sheppard said from behind him as he closed the balcony door and set a cup of coffee on the table next to him. He pulled up another chair and sipped from his cup. "How's the knee?"

Rodney shrugged. "It'll be fine. Assuming, of course, I can stay away from Carson. That man has far too many needles for my liking."

Sheppard smiled. "Had to drain it again, huh."

"Yes, but hopefully that's the last time." He looked over at Sheppard. "How's the arm?"

Sheppard glanced down and the fresh bandage on his arm and shrugged. "Beckett had to stitch it closed, but he says it'll heal fine."

Rodney watched the water below as they sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.

"Ran into Zelenka in the mess hall while I was getting the coffee," Sheppard said. "He tells me Jumper Two is all back together again."

"Good. Carson wouldn't let me do it. He won't let me do anything really for at least a week. At least now Zelemka will know that system almost as well as I do."

Sheppard shook his head and smiled. "You do know the man's name is Zelenka, don't you?"

"It is?" Rodney said, surprised. "Why can I never remember that?" He shook his head. "Anyway, I had Zelenka," he emphasised the correct pronunciation, "rebuild it. Should be good as new. Well, as good as ten-thousand-year old technology can be, I guess."

Sheppard gave him a sideways look before he asked, "Did you get what you needed?"

Rodney snorted. "How subtle of you, Sheppard."

Sheppard smiled. "I told you we weren't done with that conversation yet."

Rodney picked up his cup of coffee and stared out at the water.

"I was absolutely convinced you were gonna die because I couldn't get you back to Atlantis," he said in a near whisper. "We were stuck with the 'gate counting down to automatic shutdown, that bug-thing was doing god only knew what to you, and I couldn't do anything to help either situation."

Rodney glared over at Sheppard and said louder, "And then you go and get that hare-brained idea of shocking yourself and you really were dead." He slammed the cup back on the table and sloshed hot coffee on his hand. "Gah!" he yelped and wiped the coffee off on his trousers.

"It all worked out in the end," Sheppard said as Rodney examined his hand.

"It all worked … that's your take away from this?" Rodney asked with a scowl. "I'll keep that in mind the next time you're three seconds from death," he added. He realised he was still yelling and took a deep breath, as he tried to calm down.

"That's part of my job, Rodney," Sheppard said. "My job is to keep this city and its people safe. If that means I have to die to do it … well … I admit that wouldn't be my first choice, but it is a choice I'm willing to make. Do you understand that?"

Rodney shook his head and watched the water far below. "Everything was easier when I didn't care," he admitted softly.

Sheppard nodded and replied in kind, "Maybe that's true, but did you really like living like that?"

"I'd been doing it for so long it was just habit." Rodney sighed. "I haven't talked to my sister in over four years, did you know that?"

Sheppard shook his head.

"Even when we were kids, we weren't that close. It sounds petty, I know, but our parents just liked her more than me." Rodney looked anywhere but at Sheppard. "Taking me to special classes and schools was a chore for them. They would constantly fight over whose turn it was to deal with me that day. Even with the scholarships to university, my parents still saw me as a burden. Jeannie, though, was different. Maybe it was because they'd already been through it once, who knows." He picked up the coffee cup and drained it. "It was a relief when I could finally get away from their anger."

Sheppard didn't say anything, and Rodney wondered for a moment if it was such a good idea giving someone this much power over him. He'd never dared share so much of himself before to anyone fearing they would just use it against him. Sheppard seemed different, though. He'd trusted the man almost from the moment they walked through the 'gate, and Rodney was shocked to realise he'd never really questioned why. Now, months later, he couldn't imagine trying to live in the Pegasus galaxy without the cocky pilot.

Then they were attacked by the Wraith, and the jumper got stuck in the 'gate. Sheppard was dying in front of him, and Rodney realised something else, he cared, damn it. His friend, his best friend even, could have died while he stood there and watched, doing nothing to help.

Rodney shivered and said quietly, "There was this feeling I had after we got you back here and before Beckett got your heart going again. Like everything had just stopped, and I wasn't sure how, or even if, I wanted it to start moving again. I didn't feel that way when my parents each died. But you … I … " He glanced over at Sheppard as he stumbled to a stop.

"Chaguo ndugu," Sheppard said softly, and looked Rodney in the eye. "I guess she was right."

"What?" Rodney asked, confused. "Who was right? About what?"

"Something Teyla said to me last month." Sheppard glanced over at Rodney. "While we were digging you and Ford out of that mine."

Rodney shuddered at the memory of being trapped and his absolute certainty no one would bother looking for him.

"She said we were chaguo ndugu, brothers by choice. I guess she was right."

Rodney mouthed the strange words and pondered what Sheppard had just said.

When he was a child, he'd dreamt of having an older brother, someone to protect him from bullies, someone who took an interest in what new discovery he'd made. Of course, he soon realised said imaginary brother would probably hate him as much as the rest of his family, and the pipe dream would fade. Instead, he'd learnt to protect himself, usually by keeping everyone at arms-length, or even farther if possible.

Sheppard, however, knew him and actually seemed to like him. He'd told Rodney he would always help him out of trouble and any time Sheppard wandered down to his lab, he did seem interested in whatever project he was working on.

More to the point, Rodney discovered he wanted to be around Sheppard as well. He wanted someone to talk to about things other than physics and engineering. He could just be Rodney with Sheppard, with all his faults, and not Doctor McKay. He'd felt lighter, happier, since coming to the Pegasus galaxy, and a big reason why was sitting next to him.

Chaguo ndugu …

Rodney smiled. "Never had a brother before. Might be kinda nice."

Sheppard's grin looked slightly evil as he replied, "Oh, I already have one younger brother. I know exactly how older brothers are supposed to treat the younger ones."

"Jeannie is younger than me. I know all the tricks," Rodney smirked.

"Yeah, but sisters are different from brothers," Sheppard replied.

Rodney's smile slipped, and he looked away. "Just promise me you'll try and lay off the self-sacrifice stuff," he said softly a moment later. "I can't keep watching you die."

"You're one to talk," Sheppard retorted. "What do you call that stunt in the maintenance room where you tried to get everyone, including me, out of danger while you stayed behind?"

"That was just logic," Rodney replied.

"No, that was you doing what you thought you had to do to protect someone you cared about," Sheppard stated. "I already told you I can't make that promise, for exactly the same reason you can't."

Rodney sat back in his chair. "Chaguo ndugu. The consequence of caring, I guess." He looked over at Sheppard. "I can learn to live with that, I think."

"Good," Sheppard said, and Rodney watched as he leant back and closed his eyes. "I think I can, too."