The first thing Rodney was aware of were voices coming down a long tunnel.
"You need to take care, and not overuse that shoulder," someone said.
"Got it," a gruff voice replied.
Rodney turned his head slightly at the sound.
"Come back and see me tomorrow and I'll change the dressings. And you need to take the antibiotic."
Rodney shifted on the bed and felt a hand on his arm.
"I think he's waking up again," a third voice said.
"Rodney? You with us, son?" the first voice asked.
"Mmm," Rodney replied.
"Why don't you open your eyes and prove it," the third voice said, and Rodney realised it was Sheppard.
The voices faded as Rodney started to drift again, and he was almost asleep when he felt his arm squeezed and John whispered, "Hey, you need to try and stay awake. Ronon's going to think you don't like him."
Rodney heard a low growl and cracked open his eyes. "J'n?"
"Yep. You going to stay awake this time?"
Rodney looked to his right and saw John seated in the chair next to the bed, with Dex sitting on the edge of the bed behind Sheppard. As Rodney blinked and tried to clear the sleep out of his eyes, Carson came around the bed and stood on his other side.
"Rodney?" Carson said. "How are you feeling?"
Rodney frowned and thought for a moment. "Tired. Sore. Hungry."
John smiled slightly and looked up at Beckett.
"I think we can do something about that last one at least," Carson replied. "Once we're done here, I'll see about having someone bring you a tray."
Rodney shifted on the bed and felt an odd heavy weight on his left side and pushed the blankets aside. His left leg rested on a couple of pillows and was encased in a hard plastic boot held closed with a series of nylon straps.
"I won't lie to you, lad," Carson said as he pulled on a pair of gloves. "You did a fair amount of damage to yourself. You have several lacerations that required stitches, and both bones in your lower leg are broken."
Rodney grimaced when he tried to move his leg. At least it was still there, he told himself. He would just have to cope with the weeks of hobbling around on crutches.
"I won't be able to put you in a hard cast until the lacerations heal and I can take the stitches out," Carson told him as he started his exam.
"I told you not to move around so much," Dex said from the other bed.
"Oh, thank you," Rodney snapped tiredly. "The I told you so's are always so helpful."
Dex shrugged and stood. "I can go, right?"
Carson nodded. "You can go. Just remember what I told you."
"I'll come by and see you later," John added with a glance at Dex.
Dex nodded at John and left.
"What about me?" Rodney asked as Beckett checked the cut on his forehead.
Beckett shook his head. "You picked up a nasty infection in that leg. I want to make sure we have it under control before I release you."
Rodney crossed his arms, mindful of the IV. "How long?"
"A couple of days at least, maybe until I can remove the stitches and set your leg in a regular cast."
Rodney sighed and dropped his head back on the pillow.
John stood. "Tell you what, I'll go get you something to eat while Carson finishes checking you over."
"Good idea, Colonel," Carson agreed, and John left the infirmary.
Rodney was dozing when John came back with a tray from the mess hall. "Carson said nothing too heavy," John told him as he moved the rollaway table over the bed and set down a tray with scrambled egg, toast, and a glass of apple juice.
Rodney looked up with a frown.
"Before you even ask, the no caffeine rule is in effect," John told him as he sat back down in the chair next to the bed. "No coffee until you're off the prescription pain meds."
Rodney pursed his lips and picked up the fork. "How bad?" he asked after eating a few bites of egg.
John looked around the rest of the infirmary and hesitated. Rodney followed his gaze and saw Volkov in a bed across the room reading what looked like a journal. Corrigan was a few beds down from Volkov talking to Ortega. Several others were asleep.
"Mostly broken bones," John said after a moment. "You and Volkov seemed to have got the worst of it." John glanced over at him. "Doctor Wallace died."
Rodney set the fork down and scrubbed a hand over his face, wincing when his fingers found the cut on his forehead. He hadn't really known Wallace, he'd been one of the new arrivals and wasn't much more than a photo and an impressive résumé. Still, he had been part of the science department, and therefore Rodney's responsibility.
"Doctor Heightmeyer is recommending Doctor Marçon be sent back to Earth when Daedalus returns," John added. "She's taking Doctor Wallace's death hard."
Rodney frowned. "From what I saw, I thought they hated each other."
John shrugged. "He saved her life and lost his. Survivor's guilt can be hard to live with."
Rodney twisted the juice glass around in tiny circles on the table. "If I'd only remembered sooner," he started to say, but John interrupted.
"Hey, none of that," he said, and tapped Rodney's arm. "That room had been cleared by Stackhouse and a team of Marines while we were on Earth. They didn't spot the grenade, either. And why would any of us suspect the Ancients would have stored Wraith ordinance in a research lab?"
"I think it was a booby-trap," Rodney said after a few seconds silence. He picked up the toast and took a bite. "The Wraith could have found out the Ancients were collecting all that stuff and they started planting bombs." He glanced down at his leg. "Too bad we found it instead."
"Heard from Teyla this morning," John said a few minutes later as Rodney finished eating. "She says the trade mission is going well and she and Halling should be back in a few days. She also met a couple of old friends."
Rodney stopped trying to rub his leg and glanced over at John.
"You remember Prin and his son Mica when we were looking for that ZPM on Lurra a few months ago?"
Rodney shuddered at the memory of trying to survive after the jumper crashed.
"Prin told Teyla the spring thaw has started," John continued. "It might take some fast talking, but we might be able to get back up to that cave with the drawings in a few months and see if we can find the ZPM the Ancients left there."
"Would Elizabeth be willing to risk them finding out the truth about Atlantis?"
John shrugged. "Not sure. Teyla knows them, and I think the risk would be small enough that Elizabeth might be willing to let us try."
Rodney leant back against in the bed as he considered the possibilities. "It couldn't hurt to have a second Zed-PM going spare," he said a moment later.
"There ya go," John said with a grin. "Once you're back on your feet, we'll talk to Elizabeth about a trip back to Lurra."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"These look to be healing nicely," Carson said as he checked the cuts on Rodney's leg several days later. "A few more days, I think, and I'll take the stitches out and put a hard cast on." He looked up. "How does your leg feel?"
Rodney shrugged. "It aches," he said shortly, his temper wearing thin due to the boredom of lying in the infirmary with little to do.
"That's not surprising, all things considered," Carson told him, ignoring Rodney's snappish tone as he rebandaged the lacerations, set his leg back in the brace, and tightened the straps. "I'll get you some ibuprofen for the ache," he added and walked away.
Rodney settled back in the bed resigned to the fact he wasn't escaping the infirmary any time soon. He stared at the ceiling and thought again about John's idea of asking Dex to join the team.
While they hadn't got off on the right foot, either on the planet or in the lab, Rodney could see why John thought Dex would be a good fit. He was a survivor. He'd survived the attack on his home planet and capture by the Wraith. Rodney couldn't even imagine what that had been like. To wonder if your world and everyone you knew was gone and no one was going to come to the rescue?
Then, Dex had spent seven years with a target on his back, hunted by the Wraith in a sick sort of sport, unable to stay in one place or trust anyone he met not to sell him out to the Wraith. Rodney was no stranger to trust issues. He'd spent most of his life believing the only person he could count on was himself, and for the most part he'd been right. Until Carson, and later John, Elizabeth, Teyla, and Zelenka had come along, no one had proved him wrong.
He thought back to their conversation in the tower and Rodney telling Dex with utter certainty that Sheppard would get them out of the destroyed lab. He'd been shocked at how easily he now expected Sheppard would come for him. Mason and Ford aside, Rodney had slowly learned to trust his team. Maybe it was time for him to repay that and convince Dex he could trust them, too.
"How the patient today, Doc?" John asked as he came through the infirmary door carrying a bag.
"Grumpy," Carson replied as he walked back over to the bed with John and handed Rodney a paper cup and glass of water. "So he must be feeling better."
"Oh, ha-ha," Rodney groused, swallowed the pills, and looked curiously at the bag.
John grinned as he dropped the bag on the end of Rodney's bed. "Well, if you like, I can take him off your hands for you."
Rodney looked from John to Carson, both of whom studiously ignored him.
"If you're sure, Colonel," Beckett replied, and Rodney caught the teasing tone. "It would be nice to have my infirmary back in order."
Rodney felt his mood lighten immediately at the idea he was getting out of the infirmary. Not only would he be able to get back to work, but he needed to talk to Dex, preferably without John there to hear what he said. He was happy to let Sheppard think Dex had come to the conclusion to stay without any input from him.
"There are conditions, Rodney," Carson told him, and pulled a bottle out of his coat pocket. "Antibiotic, three times a day," he said, and handed over the bottle. "You had a nasty infection in that leg, no skipping doses. Make sure you take those with food."
Rodney nodded and set the bottle on the table beside the bed.
Carson stepped closer and laid a hand on Rodney's arm. "Don't go pushing yourself," he added softly. "Your body is still recovering. You need to take things easy and get plenty of rest. No all-nighters in your lab."
"Don't worry, Doc, we'll make sure he sticks to his curfew," John teased.
Rodney glared daggers at John who gave him a cocky smile in return.
"All right, then. Get changed, and I'll find you a set of crutches," Beckett said and left.
Twenty minutes later, Rodney was dressed in a uniform shirt and an old pair of his tan uniform trousers that had the left leg cut off at the knee to accommodate the brace on his leg. John helped him off the bed as Carson handed him a pair of crutches.
"No weight on that leg," Beckett told him as Rodney stuffed the bottle antibiotics in his jacket pocket and tried to find his balance on one foot. "And you need to keep your leg elevated when you're sitting down. You can take ibuprofen for the pain. Come back tomorrow morning so I can check the bandages."
Rodney nodded. "Thanks, Carson."
"You're welcome, lad," Beckett replied with a smile. "Try to take care of yourself."
"Where to?" John asked once they were in the hallway outside the infirmary.
Rodney considered his options for a few seconds. "Umm, lab," he replied, hopping slightly on his one good leg as he overbalanced.
John nodded. "Lab it is," he said, and tapped the control for the transporter.
"You don't have to come with me, you know," Rodney said as John stepped into the transporter with him. "I think I can find my own lab."
"You don't seem too steady on those crutches," John replied. "Carson will kill me if you break something else five minutes after he released you."
Rodney couldn't deny he felt more than a little unsteady, a fact that was made clear when he exited the transporter, and someone bumped into one of the crutches. Rodney felt John's hand on his arm as he fought to stay upright when the crutch went out from under him.
"Injured scientist here," Rodney exclaimed once he had the crutch under his arm again.
"Sorry, Doctor McKay," the man said. "I didn't see you."
Rodney muttered under his breath and aimed for his lab.
"You going to be all right?" John asked once Rodney was seated at his work table, his left leg resting on the spare stool.
"I'll be fine," Rodney said, and tried to ignore the throbbing pain in his leg from the encounter in the hall. Maybe talking to Dex could wait a few days, he thought then changed his mind. He needed to talk to Dex before he made a stupid decision like leaving.
"I'll be back in a couple of hours to get you for lunch."
"I can --"
"How do you plan to carry a tray?" John asked pointedly.
Rodney looked at the crutches leant against the end of the table and sighed. "You make a good point."
"Glad you agree. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
Rodney nodded, and John squeezed his shoulder before he left.
Rodney waited until he was sure John was gone, then carefully made his way back out to the hall and the transporter. He wasn't sneaking, he told himself. He was free to come and go as he liked. Still, he was just as happy to get into the transporter without Zelenka or one of the other scientists seeing him.
Dex wasn't in his quarters or the mess hall, and Rodney was getting tired as well as frustrated when he couldn't find him.
In the end, he found Dex more by luck than anything when he spotted a Marine standing watch in front of the door to the balcony near his own quarters.
Rodney nodded to the Marine, another of the new ones he didn't know, and tapped the door release. He managed to get through the door sideways and slowly made his way around the balcony until he found Dex leaning against the railing staring at the water.
The tap-click of the crutches every time he took a step meant there was no way Rodney was going to sneak up on Dex, but he felt he needed to say something to let him know he was there.
Dex glanced over at him, and for a split second, his mask was gone, and Rodney saw a deep-seated pain in Dex's expression rather than the usual anger or indifference.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Rodney thought to himself as Dex turned away and stared out over the water.
"You know what? Never mind. This can wait," Rodney said, and started to back away.
Rodney got himself turned around and had started back for the door, when the tip of one of the crutches caught on something, jerking him off balance. Rodney let go of the other crutch and lunged for the railing hoping to save himself from a painful, not to mention embarrassing, fall. Instead, he felt Dex grab him around the middle and drop him onto one of the nearby chairs.
"Sit down before you kill yourself," Dex growled, picking up the crutches, and leaning them against the railing.
"What do you want, McKay?" Dex asked, and turned back to face the water.
Rodney picked at the edge of the chair as his resolve dried up. He was never good at these sorts of conversations. All of the carefully planned speeches about friendship and common causes he'd thought of the last few days in the infirmary vanished once he had Dex in front of him. What made him think he'd be able to convince the man to stay? he wondered.
"Carson told me you helped get me out of the rubble," he finally said. "You left the infirmary before I knew that and I wanted to, umm, say thank you for that." He glanced up at Dex's back.
Dex shrugged, never turning around. "You're welcome."
When Dex showed no interest in continuing the conversation, Rodney sighed and started to get up. This had been a bad idea, he decided as he got his one good foot under him and pushed against the arms of the chair. He'd talk to John instead and let Sheppard do the convincing. He was better at it anyway.
"The Wraith need to pay for what they did to my people," Dex said so softly Rodney almost didn't hear him.
Rodney settled back in his chair. His leg ached, but he ignored it for the moment. "Logically, you'd have more success with that if you stayed here with us."
"Sheppard said the same thing."
Rodney nodded even though Dex couldn't see him. "He's been known to have a good idea from time to time."
Dex grunted. "I owe him."
Rodney frowned. "Who? Sheppard? No one's keeping score here."
"I told Sheppard I'd help him find Ford."
"And as I seem to recall, you did that. Saving my life in the process."
"And I let him get away."
"Oh good grief, not you too," Rodney snapped irritably, his former hesitancy forgotten. "Ford chose to do what he did. You couldn't have stopped him, and you aren't to blame his actions running into that culling beam any more than Sheppard is."
Dex refused to turn around, and Rodney could see the muscles jump in his shoulders as he gripped the railing.
"Sheppard doesn't want you to stay out of some misguided idea of guilt or some debt you think you owe him," Rodney informed him. "He wants you to stay because we need your help." Rodney paused, took a deep breath, and added, "And I think you could use ours."
"He's right, you know," John said, and Rodney jumped, banging the brace against the leg of the chair.
"Gaah!" Rodney groaned, and tried to rub his leg as the pain flared. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack? Next time say something."
"I knew he was there," Dex said, and turned so his back was braced against the railing.
"See. Ronon knew I was standing there."
"Well, I didn't," Rodney groused.
"Obviously," Dex said.
"Why are you here?" Rodney asked John.
"I was looking for Ronon before coming to get you," John replied, and leant against the wall beside Rodney's chair. "Teyla's back. I told her we would meet her in the mess hall in an hour to hear about her trade excursion. I didn't expect to find the two of you together." He bent down until he was at eye-level with Rodney. "Especially since I remember leaving you in your lab."
Rodney glanced over at John. "I, umm. How much did you overhear?"
"Enough." John straightened and looked over at Dex. "And I couldn't have said it better myself."
Dex held John's gaze for a moment then looked back out over the water.
John let the silence hang for a few minutes then glanced at his watch. "Come on. Carson said you needed to eat something before taking the antibiotic."
Rodney started to push against the arms of the chair again but stopped when John offered him his hand.
"Ronon?" John asked as he helped Rodney to his feet and handed him the crutches.
Rodney was quietly grateful John kept one hand on his arm as he got the crutches settled under his arms.
"I could eat," Dex said, and pushed away from the railing.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Ronon sat in a chair in his quarters facing the window, and watched as the light from the setting sun danced on the water. Every now and then he glanced down at the necklace Melena had given him, the leather thong twisted through his fingers as the charm spun lazily in his grip.
Beckett had removed the bandages on his back, and after a short exam, had proclaimed Ronon right as rain, and sent him on his way. It was at that point Ronon realised not only had he been in Atlantis for over a week, longer than anywhere else he'd dared to stay in the last seven years, but he found he wasn't eager to leave, either.
Was he betraying his people? Melena? he wondered once he realised what he wanted was to stay in Atlantis. What about his promise to destroy the Wraith for what they had done to Sateda? Could he do both? Stay in the city and fulfill his vow? He had still been wrestling with the questions when McKay had found him on the balcony that afternoon.
That was another surprise. Of all the people in Atlantis, McKay was the last person Ronon had expected would try to convince him to stay in the city. Yet again, McKay had done the complete opposite of what Ronon expected, and he realised he didn't really understand the scientist at all. Sheppard he could respect as a warrior and a leader. Likewise, Teyla was a fellow warrior and a survivor of the Wraith destroying her planet. McKay was none of those things and Ronon had no idea how to deal with him.
He twisted the necklace in his grip and watched the light reflect off the charm. Sateda was gone. He was free of the Wraith. He needed to decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Staying in Atlantis, accepting Sheppard's offer to join him, and Teyla, and even McKay, in their fight against the Wraith could turn out to be a future he could live with.