McKay should have been sleeping. They all needed a good, long rest, but the rest of them had actually gotten it, while McKay had, according to Zalenka, spent the last eight hours working straight through to repair semi-critical systems that had gotten ever-so-slightly fried by the lightning that had powered the shields. Elizabeth had tried to get him to go to bed, but he'd apparently ignored her the first few times, and the one person who could be counted on to pry Rodney out of the lab was Carson, and he was stuck in his own infirmary thanks to his concussion. There was no way of getting him out short of sending in a pair of soldiers to remove him by force, and John's men had a healthy respect for McKay that bordered on terror, so they were making themselves scare just in case they were "volunteered."
Therefore, it fell to John to pry him out. As the ranking military commander, and McKay's team leader, not to mention his friend, Elizabeth had oh-so-kindly picked him for the job. John would rather tangle with a rabid grizzly, and he was firmly of the opinion that if Rodney wanted to kill himself repairing their systems they could always drag his unconscious body off to bed once he collapsed, but Elizabeth was afraid he might damage the circuits out of sleep deprivation, and oh yeah, she was concerned about his personal health too.
John wasn't too worried. The worst he'd get from this little adventure was a bad head cold and a cut on his forearm. Small potatoes, when he could have ended up dead. And hey, McKay bounced back surprisingly fast for a hypochondriac. He'd be fine.
With this in mind, he felt surprisingly cheerful when he poked his head into the lab. "McKay, when are you going to get your ass to bed?"
"Go away," McKay said, halfway under the console, his hands wrist-deep in circuitry. "I'm busy."
"I noticed," John said dryly. Rodney had gotten rid of his soaked clothing at some point, and had traded it for the pants and t-shirt he wore under combat gear. The medical staff had gotten ahold of him, because the bandage was way neater than the haphazard mess he'd done before, and it rested against bare skin instead of hastily wrapped over a torn sleeve. "You gonna answer my question?"
"No." He carefully rotated his head the other direction, avoiding the console, and raised his voice to a shout. "Zalenka! Where the fuck is my updated system key!"
On their third offworld mission, John had been surprised to discover that when McKay was tired, he lost his clever tongue in a way he didn't when he was in fear of his life. When McKay was tired, all his cutting repartee was reduced to saying "fuck" a lot. It was oddly entertaining, and John settled himself against the doorway to watch.
Zalenka came over, some mechanical device about the size of a wrench in his hand. He slapped it into McKay's outstretched palm, a scowl on his face, and when he yanked his arm back it brushed against McKay's bandaged one.
McKay immediately froze, the system key falling out of suddenly slack fingers. His other hand twitched, as if he wanted to grab at the wound, but he controlled the movement and just sat very, very still for a second. "Owfuck," he said, in one pained hiss of breath. "Zalenka, you fucking moron."
"Sorry!" Zalenka said. "But you are the one who works with cut arm, McKay!"
"Thank you, that's not very helpful, go away now," Rodney said, still holding himself unnaturally still, and when Zalenka glared at him and stormed off, McKay turned slowly back towards the console and picked up the security key again.
He apparently noticed John staring at him, because he scowled and said, "What the fuck, Sheppard?" and John had a hard time holding in a grin, because a cursing Rodney was so different from Rodney's usual glib tongue that it was hard not to laugh.
"It's just a cut, McKay," he said. "You talked fast enough; they couldn't have done that much damage."
He hadn't meant to hurt McKay's feelings or whatever, but apparently he did, because McKay went white in a way he hadn't when he couldn't move from the supposed pain, and he slapped the security key down on top of the console. "You don't know a fucking thing, Sheppard," he said, and then he hauled himself to his feet with his good arm. "Zalenka!"
"What!" Zalenka yelled from the connecting room.
"I'm going to bed after all. You fix the security system."
"I will if you will go away!" Zalenka yelled back, and McKay scowled at the empty doorway before turning around and scowling at John even more fiercely.
"Move," he said, and John complied, watching with interest as McKay had stomped off down the hall, the cut arm cradled against his chest. John shrugged and went back to the control room.
Elizabeth was in her office, doing something that was probably vitally important on her laptop. "Sheppard," she said, when she noticed him lurking around her doorway. "How'd it go?"
"Mission successful," he said, coming in and slouching into one of the chairs in front of her desk. "He was on his way to bed when I left."
"Who?" Carson said, coming to the doorway. He looked a little pale, still, but otherwise fine. Good to know the bump on his head hadn't knocked anything important loose.
"Rodney," Elizabeth answered. "He started repairs instead of going to bed like the rest of us, so I sent Major Sheppard to pry him out of his lab."
"How'd you manage that, then?" Carson said, settling stiffly into the other chair. "Usually it takes a bribe and a crowbar to budge 'im."
"I'm not sure," John said. "I think I hurt his feelings." He shrugged. "Got him out of there, though."
"Hurt his feelings how?" Elizabeth said, looking concerned. As if McKay's feelings were fragile, instead of cast-iron. They'd taken potshots at each often enough for John to know.
"Teased him for banging his arm, was all," John said. "Guess he took it kinda personal."
Carson immediately looked just as concerned as Elizabeth had a moment ago. "He banged his arm? Did it open up again?"
John gave Carson a weird look. "It's just a cut."
Elizabeth was looking at him with dawning comprehension. "You thought he broke too easily under torture," she said, staring at him like he was a whole new species of moron. He was used to that look from McKay, but not so much from her. "And you told him that, didn't you?"
"What? No!" Okay, that was a lie. "Not exactly…"
Elizabeth looked disappointed, which had been happening less and less frequently lately, but still had the ability to make him feel like he was seven again and acting up in class. Carson let out and explosive breath and shook his head at John, looking equally disappointed.
"It wasn't just one cut," Elizabeth told him, a little harshly. "You may think Rodney is a coward, Major, but his main field of expertise is highly reactive generators. The man has nerves of steel, in his own way."
John raised an eyebrow. "I never thought that McKay was a coward," he said. Not since the incident with the energy creature, anyway. "But I definitely would have noticed if he'd had more than one cut." Unless it was somewhere hidden… No, Kolya hadn't had time for that sort of thing. Had he?
"It was multiple cuts, in the same place," Carson explained. "One of Kolya's men had a serrated knife with a dull edge, and Kolya spent about half an hour running it over the same cut, over and over again. I didn't treat the cut myself, Major, but I did see it before it was bandaged. His arm looks like so much raw hamburger."
John felt a little sick inside. Elizabeth seemed to catch it, because she added in a much gentler voice, "Not many people can withstand torture of any kind, John. And even after he gave up the information, he still stepped in front of a gun for me, talked Kolya down. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him- and honestly, neither would Atlantis. It would be extremely unfair of you to take anything out on him when we owe him so much."
McKay had saved the city, even if the original idea had been Zalenka's. John remembered telling him that none of them thought he was Superman, remembered McKay's irritated huff, but not ten minutes earlier he'd told Elizabeth that McKay would save the day, because didn't he always? It seemed they all thought he was Superman after all.
"I have to go," he said abruptly, and left before either of them could say anything. Elizabeth's knowing, sad smile stuck with him, though, as he walked down the hallways to McKay's room.
He paused outside his door, not sure that he wanted to risk waking him up, but he heard the sounds of someone moving around in their, and took his chances with disturbing him. "McKay? It's Sheppard."
There was a pause, and then a few seconds later he heard McKay's palm slap against the door sensor on the other side of the wall, and the doors slid open. McKay stood there, wearing nothing but a pair of black drawstring pants and a towel around his neck, looking damp and more than a little exhausted.
"What do you want, Major?" McKay said, and he even sounded tired, in a way he hadn't before John had gotten him out of his lab. John hoped his shower had worn him out, because the alternative was that John's careless insult had done it, and he didn't want to think about it.
"I owe you an apology," John said, a little stiffly, but he figured he could be forgiven. The concept of apologizing to McKay was a little foreign, since it was pretty much always McKay who was giving offense, or at least giving as good as he'd got.
"Well that's new," McKay said. He didn't make any move to stop blocking the doorway. "What for?"
"What I said," John said. "About what Kolya did."
"Oh, the torture thing?" McKay said brightly. John winced.
"It's forgotten," McKay said, waving his uninjured arm airily.
"McKay-" There was no way that McKay was going to let it drop, just like that.
"Seriously, Major. What're a few insults between friends? I call you a moron who's only evolved a bare step beyond apes every day, what's the harm?"
But the harm was there, written clear across his face. John knew, suddenly, that McKay had been killing himself over giving in, over telling Kolya the truth, ever since it had happened, and John's comment had just been salt in the wound.
If McKay hadn't talked, though, where would they be? They wouldn't have had a good reason to keep Elizabeth alive, and Kolya would have killed them both anyway when he learned that all he needed to do was stay in the control room, and John never would have even made it into the control room.
"A fair-weather friend," John said. He paused and grimaced. "No pun intended."
"Pun not forgiven," McKay said. "You're worse than Zalempka."
"I still shouldn't have said it," John said doggedly. They both knew he wasn't talking about the inadvertent pun. "I didn't know-"
"Oh God, Carson talked to you, didn't he?" McKay rolled his eyes.
"And Elizabeth," John admitted. "Still. Doesn't mean they didn't have a point."
"It's not as bad as Carson was making out to sound, I'm sure," McKay said. "He's a pessimist." Which was a direct contradiction to what McKay said when he was brought into Carson's tender care with some minor scrape and Carson told him that he was fine. "It's just a scratch."
This pretty much just reinforced John's belief that McKay was a lying bastard. If it was just a scratch, he'd be bitching up a storm. "Then you won't mind letting me see," he said.
McKay stared at him with wide eyes. "What are you, nuts?" he said. "No. Go away now."
"I want to see, McKay." He grabbed McKay's wrist, and made sure to wrap his fingers tight before he did anything crazy, like stroke the skin or let McKay get free to slam the door in his face. "C'mon."
"No," McKay repeated. "Go to Beckett; make sure you don't have a brain tumor causing this latest bout of insanity. Don't come back till you have a clean bill of health."
"McKay," John said, and McKay sighed, rolled his eyes, and backed into his room, dragging John after him by default because John wouldn't let go of his wrist. John let go once they were both in the room, and shut the door behind him because he didn't want anyone else to wander by and see what that fucker Kolya had done to his friend's arm.
McKay went over to the desk and propped his elbow on the chair back, carefully unwinding the gauze and letting it drop to the desktop. He was wincing more than a little as he peeled away the last couple of layers, but he didn't say anything when John crossed the room and held his arm, just below the elbow, and bent down to look more closely.
Carson had been right. It did resemble raw hamburger. Not all of the cuts had been in the exact same groove, and the end result was three deep cuts, very close together. The skin surrounding them was red and swollen, the whole arm puffed up slightly, and the cuts themselves were a sickly red-purple color. The wounds glistened with a pinkish mixture of blood and ointment.
John felt a little sick to his stomach just looking at it. "It doesn't look a good color," he said, because it didn't. "Infected?"
"The capable if frightening Dr. Biro assures me that it's fine. It'll heal in a couple weeks, and then I'll have a couple scars that make it look like I tried to commit suicide." McKay shrugged. "They'll be charming conversational pieces, I suppose."
"You're so full of it, McKay," John said. "I apologized, alright? You don't need to play it off anymore."
"Look," McKay said, tilting his head down to peer intently into John's face. The movement made him aware of how close they were still standing. "I get it, okay? You didn't think I could do it. That's fine. I'm used to doing the improbable, even the impossible. You'd all be severely fucked without me, and I'm happy with that even if you're all idiots who don't seem to realize it."
John remembered McKay saying, "Did you ever doubt me?" and Elizabeth replying, "Yes, several times." He wondered if Elizabeth had made her own apologies. He wondered if McKay had acted like it was nothing with her, too.
"I know," he said, his voice a little dry. "I know you can. You always do."
"I know I do," McKay said.
"I even told Elizabeth that," John said, talking a little faster now. "Before all this. I know I can count on you."
"Yes, of course you can," McKay said, still peering at him intently, an odd expression on his face, "but it's good to know that you know it, too."
"Well, I do," John said, and then stopped. He looked down, at his hand still wrapped around McKay's arm, above the cuts. Then he looked quickly back up to McKay's face, and McKay's laser-like gaze, which was still trained on him.
Time seemed to slow down for a minute. Rodney was looking at him, and he was looking back, and they were standing way too close, and he thought maybe-
And then Rodney leaned away and carefully unwrapped John's fingers from their loose grip around his arm. John snapped out of his daze and immediately took a step back, shaking his head very slightly. "I, uh, should probably go away and let you go to bed," he said quickly, already turning on his heel to go.
"Wait, hang on, I gotta wrap this up again first," Rodney said, nodding to his arm. "You mind grabbing me some gauze?" Like nothing had happened, damn it. Then again, nothing had.
"Sure," John said. "In your bathroom?" He could play it cool. He could. Even if it felt like finally calling Rodney "Rodney" in his head, instead of thinking of him as McKay, as just another member of his team, had ripped of the Band-Aid he'd slapped over a poorly concealed craving for Rodney's broad shoulders and his wide, clever mouth.
"Counter," Rodney said, and waited patiently while John retrieved the little spool of gauze. "Here, hold it down for me, will you?" he asked, and so John stood a careful distance away and gently pressed two fingers over the trailing end of the gauze , watching as Rodney wound the gauze quickly around his arm. He seemed to do it competently enough this time, though it still wasn't as neat as Dr. Biro's earlier job, and John figured that Rodney would get yelled at about it by someone, probably Carson.
"Right," Rodney said, and grabbed the loose end John had been holding, brushing against his fingers in the process. John jerked his hand back as if burned. "Thanks," Rodney said absently, and tucked it away.
"Right, I'll just be going now," John said, and turned away, only to be stopped by a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, where do you think you're going," Rodney said, and reeled him back in. John turned around to face him, feeling disturbingly small next to Rodney's bulk, even though he was actually the taller of the two. Rodney looped his good arm around his waist and pulled him close, grinning at him. "Better," Rodney said, and then he kissed him.
Oh, John thought, and kissed him back.