by Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23)
Words: c. 5000
Spoilers: The Shrine, plus mentions of events in Broken Ties and Search and Rescue. Set a few weeks after The Shrine, and written as an indirect response to it.
Characters: Mostly McKay and Sheppard, with some Ronon and Teyla
Summary: Sheppard's badly injured, Rodney's falling apart, the enemy's closing on them, and recent events are circling, ready to come to a head.
Note: After 95,000 words of outsider viewpoint adventure, I felt the need for some post-episode angsty wallowing. Written as gen (Sheppard and McKay friendship), but entirely compatible with the beginnings of something more, if you wish to see it that way.
"Oh, no, no, no," Rodney chanted, gasping raggedly for breath after every few words. "Oh no, no, no. Don't--" He almost stumbled, his ankle going over on a twig. "Don't collapse. Don't die. Don't ruin our nice… our clean escape. What part of… happy ending… escape… don't you understand?"
Sheppard gave him nothing back. That made things worse. That made things, like, seriously worse, the totally-screwed-o-meter cranking up to ten. No, no, to eleven, to a hundred and ten percent, because their pursuers were howling behind them, actually screeching, for God's sake, and although he was fit, although he worked out, he--
"You can't," he gasped, pressing his free hand to the stitch in his side, the loose end of the sheered-off chain thumping against his thigh as he ran. "I can't… I mean, seriously, Sheppard, this… this isn't good enough. Open fields. Blue skies. A warm lab. Come on."
Nothing. Nothing. Silence was better than crazy talk, though, wasn't it? He'd felt so helpless when Sheppard had been babbling – so alone, so desperate to have Sheppard back again, telling him what to do. No, no, crazy talk was better. At least when someone was babbling, you knew they were still alive.
"And I know your legs are still moving, so that… that probably counts as a clue that… you're alive – quite a big clue, actually – but… I mean, it's you. Wouldn't put it past you to still... when dead. So say something, Colonel. This isn't… really isn't good enough."
"Kind of… busy, McKay."
Oh, thank God! Thank God! Then Sheppard lurched sideways, his body almost wrenching free from Rodney's grip. A horn sounded behind them, three short blasts. "I'm doing irreparable damage to my back, I'll have you know," Rodney said, because the wrong words always came at times like this; sometimes the wrong words had to come, because the alternative was.... "You're heavier than you look, and--"
A branch tore at his hair, like living fingers – "No," Sheppard murmured, "no, no, don't" – and there were splashes of mud all the way up to Rodney's chest, for crying out loud. His hands were speckled with it, streaked with it, and pain was tearing through his chest with the effort of running, and his muscles were screaming with the effort of supporting Sheppard.
But it was worse, far worse when Sheppard pulled away and tried to totter on alone. Rodney wrapped his arms around his chest, kneading the strained muscles in his shoulder, then snatched at a branch, moving it out of Sheppard's way. The screeching was louder – war-cry, horns, some ungodly musical instrument… whatever it was, though 'musical' was a total misnomer for something like that, nothing like what he had produced on… on piano, and…
"John." The name tore out of him – John! John! Where are you, John? He clenched his hand; reached out uselessly. "Don't do this."
Sheppard was a dead man walking – wavering, but refusing all help. Rodney thought they had been on the run for almost two hours. For well over three quarters of that time – eighty-two percent, he thought. Eighty-two point three. Figures. Numbers. Accurate… measurements… – Sheppard had refused to be supported. He shied away from Rodney's touch like smoke.
"I didn't mean it about my back." They were in a bowl now, surrounded by trees, and the sound of screeching filled it like a nightmare. "It's… I've got this thing, you know? I say the wrong thing. I react to life and death situations in a certain way, and… God, Sheppard!"
Where Rodney's hands were covered with mud, Sheppard's were streaked with blood. Rodney had blood on him, too – Sheppard's blood, seeping into his clothes. Could the poison transmit itself even through that? God, what if he had cuts…? You tended to get those when clawing your way out of a wooden cage. You tended to get those when wrestled to the ground by a dozen men with red robes and silver masks – real silver masks, like some crazy, psychotic carnival-goers – and when the way back to the Gate apparently led through some ridiculous decaying swamp, full of mud and scratching branches and hideous pendulous flowers and things that screeched.
"Come on," he urged. His hands were useless – reaching and snatching back; reaching and snatching back. Sheppard was smoke drifting away from him, and he was water, unable to bring himself to settle on Sheppard, to hold him up against his will. "I can't carry you," he said. "I'm not Ronon. My strengths lie elsewhere, not brute brawn. But--"
"No." Sheppard brought one hand up as if swatting an insect. Maybe he was; Rodney just knew that he had been bitten all over. "No. Not as far gone as that. Got to…"
But his body gave the lie to his words, as he fell forward heavily onto both knees, reached out blindly for something that was not there – Rodney lunged for him late, too late – and fell sideways into the mud.
"Stupid." Rodney was on his knees beside him, hands fluttering over his body; even now, Sheppard had his hands up and ready, deflecting Rodney from the place where the blade had entered. "Stupid."
"Always quick… with the… encouragement, McKay. Not good… motivational…"
"Stupid!" He scraped his hands across his face, smearing mud even there. Rain started to fall, penetrating the bone-like branches.
"Was… slower… when you helped me."
It wasn't true! It wasn't true! Well, yes, perhaps… Staggering along, both off balance, but that wasn't the point. The point was… God! Rain streaking down his face now. The point was… And he was suddenly furious, furious as hell, and terrified, too, and was that blood on Sheppard's lips? Sheppard pressed his lips together, wiping it away, and perhaps it was just mud… No, of course it was blood, because they always were screwed that way. If anything could go wrong, it did, and…
And they were coming. Their pursuers were coming, and it was impossible to put a distance and a direction on that unearthly shrieking, and they could be almost on top of them already, or they could still be a long way away – whole, lovely, precious minutes – and he didn't know what to do, he didn't know what to do.
"Sheppard!" He tried to get his arms around Sheppard's body, and Sheppard moved, and Rodney thought for one moment that he was co-operating, but then he turned heavy in his grip, flopping onto his back. Rodney took his arm, and heaved, but his hands were slick with mud, and he bit his lip, and looked back over his shoulder; bit his lip harder, and looked back at Sheppard; felt blood in his mouth, and looked beyond the trees, trying to see if silver and red showed beyond the black.
"Go." Sheppard's eyes were wide open and steady; Rodney's gaze slid away from them. "Go. Rodney. Please."
"No." Slithery with mud, his hand reached Sheppard's, and stayed there.
"Please. I can't… I'm not… Rodney. Look. Without me slowing you down…"
"No." Rain was cold down the back of his neck, like ice on his spine. "You're delirious. It's the crazy talk again."
"Not any more." Sheppard's eyes were still trying to find him, but he wasn't looking, he wasn't looking. "Rodney, it's fatal. You heard them. And that other guy…" He tugged his hand out of Rodney's, as if looking at his watch, but their captors had taken that along with all their equipment, replacing it with a cold metal band. "They… stabbed him 'bout two hours before me, and he died just before we… just too late. He was lucid at the end, and he--"
"He wasn't you!" Rodney screamed.
The shrieking was louder, filling everything, inside and out. A dark-winged bird rose up from a branch, flapping away with thrumming wing-beats.
"I can feel it," Sheppard said quietly. "My heart. My lungs… I can't see much. The Gate… You'll be there in an hour."
How could you be desperately worried for someone, and want to hit them, both at the same time? "Not without you."
"McKay, I'm going to die."
"'m not gonna get that far." His voice was quiet, but steady. Rodney was separated from him by a fraction of an inch, but Sheppard never reached out. Perhaps he was saying things with his eyes, but Rodney refused to look. "Please, Rodney. Say goodbye. It's been a pleasure – really, it has. You've come a long way. I'm proud…" His voice cracked a little. "Proud to call you my friend. Now go. Please."
The rain made things so blurry he could hardly see. It was ice on his skin, but inside he was blazing. "You're stuck with me." (Stuck with me, he heard.) "I can't." (I can't. ) And, setting his jaw, he scraped his hands clean of mud and grabbed Sheppard's shoulders, hauling him up, and when Sheppard moaned a little with the pain of it, he tightened his grip and pulled harder. "I'm just going to… keep going until… until I'm carrying you, and I'll be crippled for life, so why don't you… get your sorry ass into gear and…" He adjusted his grip, his arms around Sheppard's body, and Sheppard's head slumped forward against his shoulder, and… "God!" he gasped. "Your heartbeat! Is it supposed be doing that?"
"Kind of… the point I was… making." Sheppard's voice was little more than a whisper, lips moving against the fabric of Rodney's shirt, but he cooperated, and in an ungodly tangle of limbs, the two of them managed to stand.
"Now walk," Rodney said. "Run. Stagger. Whatever." He looked over his shoulder, and as he did so, Sheppard extricated himself. Three steps later, Sheppard was almost falling again, but his wildly lunging hand managed to land on a tree trunk, and he sagged there, his shoulders heaving.
"Or we can stay." The last of the anger drained away from him, and now all he felt was the ice. "It wasn't such a bad cage, as cages go, and ritual sacrifice is better than mud."
"No." Sheppard pushed himself away from the tree, and for a while – for the space of two hundred steps, plus a few he lost count of – he actually led them. Rodney followed, hands reaching uselessly, then snatching back to curl against his chest. Every tenth step, he looked over his shoulder. Seven to watch Sheppard, one to turn, one to look, one to turn back. Seven to watch Sheppard, one to turn, one to look, one to turn back. Seven to watch Sheppard…
It was, of course, entirely inevitable that they would be caught. It was that damn shrieking – impossible to judge what direction it was coming from. It was those red robes and silver masks, because apparently they wore grey and brown underneath that, and streaked their face with mud so they couldn't be seen, which was cheating, because you saw no red and silver and thought you were safe. Rodney was still looking over his shoulder – of course he was – but "they crept up on me," he protested, but perhaps he hadn't been looking properly, not really, because Sheppard had been walking slower and slower, his steps growing ever more wavering, his shoulders heaving with his unnatural breathing.
They made for Sheppard first. "Don't!" Rodney shouted. "He's-- " Dying "-- hurt. Haven't you done enough?"
One of the attackers turned towards Rodney, knife in one hand, and club in the other. Rodney swallowed, and took a step backwards, finding tree roots beneath his feet. Nothing, he thought. Nothing. No weapons. He should have prepared a branch, for God's sake! Or… Oh! The chain! Eight links of heavy chain dangled from his wrist and… He dodged sideways, remembering everything he had ever seen Sheppard do, everything Ronon had ever tried to teach him. Clenching and unclenching his fist, he brought his arm up sharply, but his attacker stepped sideways, and the chain lashed through empty air, pulling him off balance, and as he tried to recover himself, his attacker darted forward and--
Rodney screamed. He saw the attacker's hand withdraw; saw the red blood on the bone-white blade of his knife. He stabbed me, he thought. He stabbed me. And then he screamed again, his voice dissolving into something closer to a sob. He sank to his knees, because it hurt, oh, God, how it hurt! His hand flew to his upper arm, and there was a line of pain, a burning, agonising line of pain, from his shoulder halfway down to his elbow, and blood welled between the webbing of his fingers, and poison, he thought. Poison on the blade. That's why it hurts so much. Sheppard said. Sheppard said…
I'm going to die, he thought. Sheppard's going to die. And, biting his lip, he hauled himself to his feet, because he had to fight on. Sheppard would fight on. He could push pain and panic aside to save people with his brain, and he had to do it now. He had to… He blinked, rain in his eyes. Have to fight. Have to defend… And there was Sheppard on his knees, supporting himself with one hand, with an attacker limp in front of him, and another one groaning stupidly, blood sheeting down across his face.
"Good idea," Sheppard said faintly, "with the chain."
"You…" He swallowed. The pain was a blazing sun. It was barbs racing its way through his veins. "You…"
"I can see that."
He was going to die. First came the agony, then came delirium, and death came in two hours. He was going to die.
"Need to bandage that," Sheppard said, pushing himself upright, changing his tune.
Rodney dared remove his hand from his arm, and looked at the blood on his mud-smeared palm. The pain was knives in the back of his eyes, pricking forth tears. "You didn't say… how much… it hurts," he forced out. (Hurts like a bitch, Sheppard had said, jaw clenched. Just that.)
"Then we need… go on," Sheppard said, tucking the blood-stained knife into his belt, though it took him three attempts to get it there.
He just wanted to curl up and cry. He wanted to scream for help. (John! John! Where are you, John? ) But he made himself move forward, one step, then two.
He was still half a dozen steps short when Sheppard crumpled sideways. By the time he dragged himself to Sheppard's side, Sheppard was unconscious, his pulse barely there at all. Although Rodney screamed at him, shook him, and talked himself hoarse, there was no waking him.
By the time the rescue party found them, Rodney was delirious. He thought the jumper was a pendulous flower, one with petals of silver and white, and he smiled to see the spirits that came out of it, all sparkly in the rain.
"John regained consciousness yesterday."
Rodney didn't look up. Couldn't Teyla see that this was very important work? "I know," he said.
"He has been lucid since last night."
"I know." Typing with one hand was hard. It meant that his thoughts flew ahead far faster than the written word could keep up with. That was why his work had gaps in it. That was why he sometimes stopped, staring into space, or struck the desk with a furious flat of his hand. Because his body was betraying him. Because he was injured.
"He has been awake and lucid for most of the day."
"I know." Dull pain, muted by drugs, tore through his body as he instinctively tried to grab his pen with his right hand. It was not a particularly deep cut, they had told him. They had stitched him up, kept him in the infirmary while he rode out the delirium and purged the poison, and sent him on his way with a sling and faintly disappointed look, as if he was failing somebody somehow. That had been three days ago. Sheppard had been deeply unconscious then, kept alive by machines. Sometimes, when Rodney closed his eyes, he was like that still. Others time he was there on his knees in the mud. Other times still…
"You have not been to see him."
The pen slipped from his clumsy left hand, clattering to the floor. "He's telling tales now, is he?"
"Jennifer told me."
"Then she's not as smart as all that, because I did, too. Last night." When Sheppard had been asleep, pale and unmoving. He'd almost touched his neck to feel his pulse, but had curled his hand back in on itself, and slipped away again. "It was the only time I could spare," he said. "I was out of action for two days because of… this thing. I need to make sure… Zelenka, you know…? He's not bad, but, well, he's not me. I've got to make sure he's not done anything inept that will lead to us all dying horribly in the near future."
"He asked after you. It was the first thing he said when he woke up."
His voice hoarse, struggling to speak after having a barbaric tube shoved down his throat. Rodney remembered only fragments of his return to Atlantis, and it was all shot through with memories of sparkles and flying bears and enormous flowers, but the words "respiratory arrest" echoed over and over in his memory, along with an image of Sheppard's hand – the only thing he could see of him past the people working on him – so limp and so still.
He grabbed blindly for his coffee, his left hand closing round the handle. It was cold, and he slammed the mug back with a crash, splashing dark liquid on his printouts. "I'll go after I've finished my work," he said, watching those stains seep through the paper. "Important job, remember?"
Important job, yes. Important, and necessary. He sensed rather than heard Teyla walk away, and pressed his forehead ever so briefly into his hand, curling the fingers into hard bone. He needed this job – needed it – because there had been whole weeks when he hadn't been able to do it. His thoughts, his intelligence, everything about him had just crumbled, floating away from him like leaves in a storm. He had to work, to prove that he could. He had to work, to prove that he was himself again. He had to produce good work, because if he didn't… If he didn't…
Then it might be starting all over again.
The figures on his screen looked meaningless to him. His scrawled notes were illegible, not even looking like words. His trains of thought always felt sound, but whenever he started to pursue them, he hit a block. Time moved strangely. Eight-something moved to nine and then to ten, without him having anything to show for it but a few pages of abortive thoughts.
"You didn't come." And then the clock read eleven. "Teyla said--"
"You're plotting against me now?"
Ronon looked quite pathetically bewildered by the remark. "Sheppard's worried about you."
"Of course he is." He tried for the coffee again; it was still cold. A sudden headache pounded between his eyes, and his shoulder was throbbing. "He's got to be worried about someone. Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard: everyone's CO. Got to worry. Got to be responsible. God forbid that anyone should dare worry about him. "
"Don't know what you're talking about." Ronon clapped a hand on his uninjured shoulder. "Did something happen--?"
"Of course something happened!" Rodney shouted. "Sheppard almost died."
"Did you have a fight?" Ronon persisted. "'Cause I don't see why else you'd stay away from an injured--"
"No. No, we didn't." The mug was trembling in his grip.
Ronon leant against the edge of the desk. "It's always hard when someone almost dies on you. Hard to face them afterwards."
"You think it's my fault?" His hand were hurting, knuckles white on the mug. "Is that what you're saying?"
"No," Ronon said, solid and placid. "Think you should go see him, that's all."
"Fine." He slammed the mug down. "I'll do that." He pushed past Ronon, heading for the door. The hallways were empty, and the windows showed an Atlantis that was shrouded in night, stars gleaming in the black. He slammed his hand against the controls of the transporter, and emerged near the infirmary. "Rodney," he heard Jennifer say, but he pushed past her, his steps crashingly loud in the near-silent room.
It was only in the last dozen steps that he slowed, only in the last half dozen that he faltered. He stopped two steps away from Sheppard's bed, his free hand hanging uselessly at his side, his hand opening and closing as he tried to think of something to say. Perhaps Sheppard was asleep. Perhaps he could count to ten, then turn and leave. See? he could tell Teyla and Ronon. I went to see him but he couldn't be bothered to talk to me. Maybe just five. Maybe just three…
But he found himself moving to a chair, pulling it out, sitting down. "Hey, Rodney," Sheppard said quietly, opening bruised eyes.
Rodney looked at his uninjured hand on his lap; at his fingers poking out of the sling. Sheppard said nothing to reproach him for not coming earlier. Sheppard said nothing at all.
"Are you…?" Rodney gestured vaguely, opening his hand.
"Still on the good drugs."
There was no other sound in the infirmary, just the distant hum of machines and the soft buzz of Atlantis herself.
Sheppard blinked. "You okay?"
The hand closed again, knuckles white. "Yeah." They were supposed to leave it at that, weren't they? Ask, and answer, never digging for more. "Of course I'm okay." Sheppard was still horribly pale. "You were the one who…" He trailed away.
"That doesn't mean--"
"You wouldn't say goodbye," Rodney blurted out. He had not planned it; didn't really know where it had come from.
"When I was…" He brought his hand up to his brow, moving the fingers in a loose circle. "You wouldn't say goodbye. I wanted to… and you wouldn't."
"That was three weeks ago."
"You wouldn't say goodbye." The anger was back now, sharp and bitter, and he knew that he would never have said a word about it – would never, perhaps, have even realised that it bothered him so much – if Sheppard hadn't… If he hadn't almost… Please, Rodney. Say goodbye. "I wanted you to," he said. "I needed it. Damn it, Sheppard, I needed it, but you wouldn't even talk about it, just like you refused to agree to read my eulogy that time."
"I'm sorry, Rodney, but--"
"No buts," he blazed. "No excuses. You wouldn't let me, but then when you…" Please, Rodney. Say goodbye. "You wanted me to go. You wanted to say goodbye. You told me to go. You're a hypocrite, Sheppard – just a hypocrite."
"It's not the same." Sheppard was just a voice; Rodney couldn't look at him.
"But you wouldn't let me go," Rodney accused him. "You brought me back. Just so you could say goodbye the way you wanted to say it, at a time that suited you. What gave you the right? I was ready to die. I'd said my goodbyes, and--"
"You didn't understand the situation properly!" Sheppard hurled at him, but his voice was still marred with hoarseness.
Rodney blinked and blinked again. "No, I didn't understand quite how screwed I was, but you brought me back. You brought me back to full awareness of the fact that I'd lost everything that matters to me – my brain, and… and…" He swallowed again, his hand clenching. "You brought me back, made me think I was cured, and then told me that… told me I was going to die. Just because you think that goodbyes can only happen when you want them to."
"I did it because it was--" Sheppard snapped his words off. His breathing was tight, too tight, shaking with emotion or perhaps with pain. But when he spoke, his words were controlled, and, God! but Rodney hated him sometimes – hated that he could be like this. "Is this what this has been about?"
"No," Rodney said reflexively. "Yes. Perhaps. No. I don't know." He brought his hand to his face, then lowered it again. "I didn't think… I didn't realise it was bothering me, but then…" He let out a breath. "God, Sheppard. You have this hero complex, and I hate it. You expect us to leave you to die, but you won't… you won't let…" His fist was shaking, knuckles white. "You need to have people needing you. You won't…"
"What?" Sheppard asked, when Rodney had been silent for far too long. His voice was unreadable, closed in on itself.
"Let people touch you," Rodney blurted out shamefully, "except when it's on your terms, and you're the one in control, and they're the weak one." John! he remembered. John! Where are you, John? And Sheppard's hands on his shoulders, clapping him on the back, holding him when they were the place with the waterfall, supporting him… and slipping away like smoke and water when Rodney tried to do the same to him. Pulling away. Insisting on walking alone.
John! he remembered. John! Where's John? And the worst thing was: the parasite that had stolen away all the good things about his memory had left him with that. "You won't call for help," he said miserably, furiously. "You never need us." Me. "You don't… It hurt like hell, Sheppard, and I just got a shallow cut; you got the full stab wound. But you never called for help. Never called…" Rodney, he thought. Rodney! Please! Where are you, Rodney? "It must… It… it must bother Ronon, you know? He was screaming for you when he was coming off the enzyme, but he knows… If the situations were reversed, you wouldn't have called for him."
"Ronon said this?" Sheppard's voice was hoarse.
"No," Rodney had to admit. No, this whole messed-up situation was all about him. No, of course it wasn't. It was about Sheppard and his damn hero complex, his stoicism, his distance. It was about Sheppard.
"And you fought them off," he said miserably. "You told me to carry on without you – said you didn't have the strength to carry on yourself… But you fought two of them when I was…" He looked at Sheppard for the first time – pale, propped up on pillows, still attached to monitors. His heart was beating very fast; Rodney could see that. The last of the anger left him, though nothing had changed, not really. "It's always for other people, and that makes me… God, Sheppard, you've no idea how it makes me feel. It didn't used to, because I didn't use to care, but now… You keep going when it's for others – I mean, that thing you did when Teyla… That thing…" He gestured at his side. "I just wish you'd…" He trailed away.
Sheppard did not ask him to finish what he had saying. Sheppard said nothing at all.
"Need people." The words dragged themselves free. John, he thought. John. Where are you, John? and Ronon screaming for Sheppard, and Teyla shouting his name through the door on Michael's ship.
A doctor walked past, paused fractionally, and carried on. Sheppard's hand was clenched tightly on a handful of sheet. Rodney pressed two fingers against his headache, and wondered if almost losing your mind made you say the wrong things even weeks after you got better. And don't wriggle out of this, he wanted to say. Don't change the subject. Don't bury it in light words. But part of him actually hoped that Sheppard would. If Sheppard hadn't almost died, he wouldn't have said anything, and everything would have gone back to normal, as if nothing had happened at all.
"So why didn't you leave?" Sheppard's voice surprised him, almost made him start. "I asked you to go. I wanted you to go, but you didn't."
There were many things he could have said. "Because I wasn't ready to give up on you," Rodney found himself saying, his eyes on Sheppard's hand.
"Yes," Sheppard said quietly. Just that.
Yes. Rodney let out a breath. You're stuck with me. Just accept it.
"Like we weren't ready back then." Sheppard's hand tightened, then stilled. "Like I wasn't ready."
The doctor returned, deliberately not looking at them. Rodney tasted stale coffee and worse things on his lips.
"I'm sorry," he said. Sheppard's eyes were closed. "I shouldn't have said any of that, not when you're sick." And if you're a hypocrite, he thought, then so am I, because I wouldn't… I couldn't…
Sheppard opened his eyes. "It's not true that I don't… That's why I couldn't let you say goodbye. That's why I couldn't let you… back on Earth. Selfish, huh? Because I didn't--"
"Are you hungry?" Rodney asked him. "Seriously, I haven't eaten for hours. I'll ask them to bring you…" He trailed away. He had started this, after all.
"I'd do anything," Sheppard said, "for you, for any of you. And I know…" He shifted, and of course he showed pain, of course he showed that he needed relief, he just showed it in ways that didn't involve screaming someone's name. "I know you'd all do the same for me, and that…" He shifted again, his breathing tight. "Scares me." The words sounded as if they'd been dragged from him with hooks, scraping his throat on the way. "Because… It's easier playing the hero, you know?"
I started this, Rodney thought. He tried to remember why he had ever felt angry. "I'm sorry," Rodney said. "You should sleep. Do you need more of the good drugs, because I think… I think the crazy talking's coming back, and…"
He thought Sheppard was asleep; he really did. He let out a breath; let out another, slower, steadier. In slow, careful increments, he leant back into the hard plastic chair.
"I do," Sheppard said, his voice little more than a whisper.
"What?" It was a croak, barely voiced at all.
And this time it was Sheppard who reached out for him, his hand closing briefly round Rodney's forearm. He said no words, though, and in this, at least, no words were needed.
"So that's good, then," Rodney said, but this time Sheppard really was asleep. "We're good." He said that quieter, and he said it again when Ronon and Teyla found him at Sheppard's bedside much later. "We're good."
"I am glad," Teyla said, as if she had feared something worse, but Ronon clapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Of course you are," as if he had never doubted it.
And they were still there when Rodney woke up in the darkest hour of the night, stiff from sleeping in the plastic chair, with Sheppard turned towards him in his sleep, only inches from his hand.
Good, he thought, because they were. Good.