Part Five (Conclusion)
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: ONE MORE WRINKLE
People talking. No…shouting.
Rubber soles on marble floors, squeaking.
Metal objects dropped on the ground.
Blown air tickling his nose.
Carts crashing into each other.
"Aw, crap," Sheppard sighed, opening his eyes reluctantly. He was in a hospital.
He frowned when the world came into focus, and he found himself staring up at a very un-hospital like ceiling. It was actually a very pretty diamond patterned ceiling, rising up away from him in a delicate way.
Okay…not a hospital
The smile fell.
The infirmary on Atlantis.
"Double crap," he mumbled, turning his head to one side. He was looking to the noise. It was what had woken him up. The sounds of people calling out to each other, voices raised in worry and stress, feet running around in a small space.
Beckett's voice above them all.
"Bloody hell!" the doctor shouted, "Stop doing this, you radge bastard! Tara, get the crash cart! Hurry!"
Sheppard blinked some more, and rolled over to see more clearly what was happening on the other side of the room from him. There was a thin, gauzy curtain blocking his view, but he could easily see people moving around on the other side, silhouetted by bright light.
"Rodney, this is getting tiresome!" Beckett's strained voice yelled. "I can't keep rebooting you like a damned computer! Stop it!"
"Ready doctor," nurse Tara's voice called softly.
"If he survives this," Beckett swore, "I'm killing him, you hear me?"
"Yes doctor," the young nurse replied, handing him the paddles from the crash cart.
Sheppard grimaced, watching miserably as the silhouette of Beckett worked to start McKay's heart beating again. It didn't sound like it was the first time.
A few minutes later, John was propped up on his arm, leaning over the metal bar lining the edge of the infirmary bed, letting its coldness against his bare arm remind him he was alive. His fingers curled around the smooth, metal surface, the tight grip turning his knuckles white. He stayed that way until he heard Tara declare McKay had a normal rhythm and the tension behind the curtain seemed to ease. When he let go of the bar, his fingers throbbed at the abuse…not that he noticed.
Not long after, Beckett, still swearing softly, walked out from behind the curtain, wiping the sweat from his forehead. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he looked almost as worn as the major felt.
Sensing the scrutiny, the Scot looked up and met Sheppard's gaze. He smiled, and changed the direction of his gait.
"Oh, hello there Major. I thought you might come around soon—you're recovering amazingly quickly, considering. Are you actually awake this time, or is this just another semi-conscious eye opening?" He walked over and sat…or rather, collapsed…into the small chair next to Sheppard's bed. Blowing the air out of his cheeks, he wiped his hand down his face, then put on a false smile to look up at the hazel eyes focused on him.
"I'm awake," John answered, then he looked away for a second. "At least, I think I am. Is this Atlantis?"
"Then I'm awake."
"And how do you feel?"
"Like strained spaghetti, Beckett. And you?"
"Oh…," the doctor waved a hand about, "you know. Exhausted, stressed, desperately in need of a decent night's sleep. The usual." Blue eyes showed a hint of life after that, but the look quickly faded as he realized Sheppard was looking towards the curtain again.
"And how is he?" the major asked softly.
Beckett's dour expression locked back into place.
"How is he?" the Scot shook his head, "I've honestly no idea."
Sheppard frowned, turning back to him. Beckett had placed his hands behind his head and was leaning back in the chair.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, that every time I think I've made headway against whatever the poison is in his bloodstream, something else breaks down." He shut his eyes. "You were remarkably astute in your description of his condition, Major. It's somewhere in between hypothermia, dehydration and some sort of poisoning, though not radiation. It's more like an infection—some living thing in his blood stream, not bacteria, that is attacking his internal organs one by one. The hypothermia and dehydration I could deal with. The poison…." He shook his head.
"What is the poison?"
Beckett's eyes opened and he sighed, sharp blue eyes focusing on the major. "Actually, I was hoping you could tell me. You have…the same strange poison in your bloodstream, though it doesn't seem to be doing any harm. What happened in that room? What exactly did you encounter?"
Sheppard grimaced, then, as succinctly as he could, he told the doctor everything he could about the Weapon. When he was done, Beckett was staring down at his hands.
"And this entity was alive?"
"Then it left some of itself behind," the physician's eyes looked up. "And though it's leaving you alone, it's killing him."
Over the course of the next day, Sheppard found himself visited by literally scores of people. Even Sergeant Bates stopped by, though he looked stiff and awkward the whole time. Weir's visit had been one of the best—she'd patted his arm, encouraging a quick recovery. Her face looked strained, though, making her seem older—being in charge of Atlantis was aging her, and it was even more noticeable when the machines behind the white curtain on the other side of the room went off again. This time, it was his kidneys. It was the third or fourth time since John had first woken up that Rodney had nearly crashed on them again. They kept equipment like the dialysis machine, the crash cart, a ventilator and others on constant standby.
The most enlightening meetings he'd had had been with Teyla and Ford, listening to both of them try to recall exactly what they had said to Rodney when he was communicating with them in the Great Eye. It took some work, but they figured out why McKay thought getting into that chair was what they wanted.
Teyla had looked devastated as she realized it had been her words, primarily. Ford just couldn't stop looking guilty. He'd muttered some self-hating words about failing in his orders to protect the doctor, and Sheppard had a hard time convincing him that circumstances had just been beyond his control. Truthfully, the whole thing had been beyond all of their controls, and, based on McKay's lack of progress…still was. But, deep down, they still all blamed themselves… especially Sheppard himself.
Eventually, it was night again, and the major was alone in the infirmary with Beckett, the nurse Tara and the dark skinned doctor who's name he just couldn't remember. He felt stupid asking, especially when he learned the man had saved his life and also seemed to know a lot about him….He had been hoping to here someone call the man by name, but not once did it happen. He was beginning to think it was a conspiracy.
He had propped himself up on the metal bar on his bed again, and was watching the shadows through the curtain as Beckett checked McKay's vitals. Rodney's lungs had stopped working this morning, but apparently he was breathing on his own again, because Beckett was talking with Tara about removing him from the ventilator.
Not long after that, McKay's heart stopped again. This was the second time in twenty four hours, and the third time since they had been brought back from Deucalion three days ago.
Sheppard closed his eyes, wishing he could close his ears as well.
He must have dozed off, because, when he opened them again, he found Beckett sitting in the chair next to his bed.
"You don't look too comfortable there, major," Beckett smiled tiredly.
Sheppard leaned back from the cold bar, pretending not to notice the imprint the metal had left on his arms. Propping up the bed, so he could see the doctor clearly, he looked towards McKay's curtained-off area then back at Beckett again, eyebrows both raised.
Beckett sighed, answering the silent question with a shrug. "I don't know." He shook his head, "to be honest, his body can't take much more of this abuse. At some point, I won't be able to bring him back." He swallowed, "At some point," he repeated, "we're going to have to let him go."
Sheppard stared openly at the doctor, his jaw muscles flexing. "You don't mean that."
Beckett grimaced, and Sheppard could see the exhaustion in every line of the man's face. He didn't look like he had gotten any sleep at all for days. And he probably hadn't.
The major leaned back, staring up at the ceiling over his bed. Beckett sighed, lowering his head and closing his eyes…just for a minute, he promised himself.
Sheppard cursed and mumbled something, and Beckett opened his eyes again.
"Just," the major sighed, "how could I have let this happen?"
Beckett frowned, "I'm not following…."
Sheppard sighed, "I just keep thinking, if I had figured it out sooner; if I had been in there when Ford and Teyla were talking to him; if I hadn't let him try and fix that thing without me there; if I had been able to get the truth from those people faster…." His eyes drifted again to the white curtain across the room, not noticing Beckett shake his head. "I should have prevented this," the major finished, "It should have been me, not him."
"Oh, dinnae gie yerself in a’ fankle," the physician muttered, crossing his arms and leaning his head forward to rest his chin on his chest, his eyes closing once more. Sheppard blinked at him, not sure he heard that right.
"Oh, nothing," the Scottish man replied, cracking an eyelid and waving a hand about. "Was just muttering. Too tired not to slip into slang."
"Fankle?" Sheppard couldn't resist a tiny smile, "Is that even English?"
"Not the Queen's, no. Major, look," he sighed, "I was just saying you shouldn’t twist yerself up in knots o’er this. You did everything you could. He’s as much to blame as you, and those Deucalion people e'en more so." He closed his eyes again, "But it’s up to me now…and it’s me that cannae figure it out." His accent had gotten thicker as he spoke, and the words were heavily slurred, "Jes' need more time…."
The Major watched as the physician slumped deeper in the chair, chin pressing more into his chest. After a few moments, a soft snore rumbled form his throat, and Sheppard smiled wanly. Leaning more up onto his arms, he looked out across the quiet infirmary. Tara was putting things away along one wall, while the young doctor he'd met back in the hidden room appeared to be writing things down in some sort of log.
After a moment, he sighed and sat the rest of the way up. Watching Carson out of the corner of his eye, he slid his legs sideways off the bed on the other side and prayed the marble flooring didn’t look as cold as it did. Reaching for the blanket on the bed, he wrapped it around his shoulders over the pathetically thin hospital gown, then looked at the floor again. He wiggled his bare toes, grimaced, and slid off the bed.
Tiny pinpricks of pain from the iciness of the ground had him shaking his head in sadness. Nuts.
Turning, he made sure Carson was asleep again, tugged the blanket tighter around his shoulders with his right hand, and grabbed for the IV pole with his left. Pushing the tall pole in front of him, wincing a little at the metal squeak it made and at the jelly-like feel of his muscles, he pushed off the bed and shuffled away towards the gauzy curtain hiding McKay.
Tara looked up as he sidled passed, her eyes darting from him, to the back of Carson’s still sleeping head, then back to the major. He gave her a his best disarming grin.
A noise from the right showed the young dark-skinned doctor standing up. Sheppard waved him back down.
"Know my limits, not going far," he whispered, still bee-lining at his slow pace for the curtain. "Just have to talk to Rodney."
The doctor gave a small smile at that, and sat back down. Tara, meanwhile, still watching the major, walked over to a cupboard in which they put some linens.
Sheppard wasn’t sure what he would find when he finally rounded the edge of the curtain, but the sight of the normally frenetic McKay lying completely still, hooked up to all sorts of strange machines, was not it. He’d seen people in the hospital before. In combat, he’d seen plenty of blood and, to be blunt, gore, in field hospitals, but this silent, desolate picture was a completely different level of disturbing.
Releasing his jaw, which he hadn’t known he was gritting until he felt the muscles around his mandibles cramp, he walked up next to McKay’s bed and sat on the small chair there. He wondered how many had sat here today…or yesterday….Teyla, Ford, Weir, he could guarantee. Zelenka? Grodin? Maybe.
As he was thinking, Tara materialized beside him. She smiled, holding a blanket to her chest. Without a word, she leant over and put in on his lap. She also put a pair of slippers on the floor.
"My toes thank you," he told her softly. She just nodded and backed away, disappearing back around the curtain. Slipping his feet into the slippers, he returned his attention to Rodney.
He looked the same. There was a little more color in his face than when he'd last seen him in that room, but it was just flush.
"Why aren’t you getting better?" John asked softy, reaching forward to touch the man's arm lightly. At least it was no longer icy cold. "What’s wrong with you?"
"I have a theory," the young doctor said, appearing on the bed’s other side and causing Sheppard to jump a little. "Though I haven’t told Dr. Beckett yet."
"Well, see," he looked down, "you said the Weapon was aware, right?" He looked up, a frown on his face, "What if the residue of whatever the Weapon left in his blood stream is also…."
"Aware of what it’s doing," Sheppard completed, nodding.
"Yeah, and it's trying to finish what the Weapon was supposed to finish. To kill him."
Sheppard nodded again, looking back at Rodney's pallid features.
"And I was thinking," the doctor licked his lips, "if you really could talk to it before, maybe you could do it again? Tell it to stop trying to kill him? Because I really think that’s what is happening. Dr. Beckett saves one organ, and it simply goes to try and shut down another…."
Sheppard looked at him, then shook his head. "But then, wouldn’t it be doing the same thing to me? You said I had it in me as well, right?"
The doctor’s shoulders slumped, "Oh, yeah, I guess it would."
"I had actually thought of that, you know," Beckett’s voice said softly as he walked around the edge of the curtain, wiping sleep from his eyes and sounding more awake—his brogue was less pronounced. He gave a tiny smile to his younger associate standing there, "You shouldn’t be afraid to come with me with ideas like that, doctor. I won’t dismiss them. Hell, it’s the best explanation for this, if it weren’t for the fact that the same residue seems to have gone away in the major."
"It's gone away?" Sheppard asked, surprised. "But yesterday you said—"
"Well, it's gone now. No traces left—it faded away last night while you slept. I suppose your strength defeated it."
"Your youth, vitality, however you put it."
"McKay's a year younger than me."
"I know that, but he was also in a lot worse shape that you, Major. You only fired that thing once; he did it five times." Beckett held up a hand, five fingers outstretched, emphasizing his point. Sheppard grimaced, then shook his head.
"Still, you could try talking to it," Beckett shrugged. "Lord knows, nothing else we've done has worked."
Sheppard nodded, watching as both Carson and the dark-skinned doctor backed out of the curtained area, leaving him alone with McKay. The major sighed, turning his head back to his friend, eyes searching Rodney's face for signs of animation.
He thought more about what Beckett had said, about his strength, and frowned. It didn't ring true in his mind. The Weapon was a lot stronger than him—his "strength" shouldn't make a difference, it shouldn't have been the reason the poison went away. They were all like deer in headlights to the Weapon—it really didn't discriminate between healthy and sick. It killed with equanimity.
But what if the poison wasn't the Weapon, exactly? What if it was the energy itself?
What if…what if the poison faded in him…because he wanted to live? The energy adopted the purpose put to it, right? If he wanted to live, and he did, then the energy would fade once he basically recovered, it's purpose complete. Hadn't Beckett said he had recovered "amazing quickly?"
But if McKay didn't want to live….or didn't think he should live….
His jaw clenched.
Damn it, if he was doing this to himself….
Beckett would have to stand in line.
Sheppard leaned forward in the chair, staring at the line of McKay's face in profile. It looked so drawn and stretched, like it belonged to someone else.
"McKay," he whispered, resting his arms on his knees, "Rodney, I need to talk to you."
Not surprisingly, he didn't get a response.
"Look, I have a feeling that, though you don't seem able to, I think you can hear me. And there's something you need to hear. I think some of the entity is inside you, and it's doing to you what you're telling it to….to kill you. I want you to stop that. I want you to think about beating it— about wanting to live."
He waited a couple of minutes, his eyes lowering to his clasped hands.
"Listen, McKay, I don't understand…what's going on in there. I'm guessing that Weapon messed with your head somehow, and maybe still is, telling you its more important for you to die than to live." He looked up, at the slack features again, frowning. "I only know that you're insane to think that. To my mind, there are at least two reasons, two very good reasons, why you need to fight." He licked his lips, looking off to the side as he spoke.
"The first, and, believe me, I wouldn't admit this if you weren't unconscious, but….you really are the smartest guy here. And you know you are, McKay. Heads and tails above everyone else. They're all brilliant—Zelenka, Kavanagh, Grodin, that cute blond chick Stackhouse keeps hitting on, that guy you always yell at because he's always about five mental steps behind you—but you work on a level beyond all of them. I can't even express how fast your minds works. I've never seen anyone make connections between things that you do as quickly as you do." He paused, taking a breath, and his eyes returned to the man's face. "And they need you, Rodney. If Atlantis lost you, it'd send all of us back ten steps. What chance would we stand against the Wraith without you there? I've gotten so used to you be able to save the day with some amazing, genius scheme…so used to believing that "McKay'll think of something"…losing you would be like…like losing the starting pitcher the night before the world series begins."
Hazel eyes studied the face before him. Not even a twitch. After a moment, they lowered.
"And you'd miss it too," he added softly. "You love doing this, even though everything here scares the pants off of you." He smiled, "You should live for it, as much as it needs you to bring it to life. Oh sure, I can make it all work…but you're the one who actually knows what it does."
Slowly, the smile faded, and Sheppard sighed.
"The second reason," he said, his fingers gripping more tightly together, "is more personal." He jaw muscles flexed, and he looked again at the unresponsive scientist. "Fact is, McKay," he looked down again, "I don't think I…would do so well if you weren't here." He gave a half smirk. "I don't know if you've noticed," he looked up again, "but we have the same sense of humor. You're the only one who can keep up with me. Teyla and Weir…teasing them is more dangerous than walking into a tigress' den and trying to steal her cubs. You saw the way Teyla reacted to the idiom thing—I had to apologize! And Ford's a great kid, but he can't fight back either. When we first flew over the planet, I was going on about g-force, and you should've seen his face, he…." He trailed off, but continued to smile. "Anyway, my point is, you wouldn't have taken the teasing. You probably would have found a way to get back at me, or just ignored me in that way of yours that drives me nuts." He grinned stupidly, eyes focused on his hands again. The smile faded as he wrung them together, his eyes flickering back up to McKay.
"Listen," he swallowed, "with the exception of flying, I…have more fun fighting with you than I have doing anything else, and I don't just mean since we've been here on Atlantis. I haven't had so much fun working with anyone in a long time. If you left me here alone with the rest of these folks, I think….Well, let's just say that, after a while, I'd probably be spending a lot more time up in the air." He sighed, and his voice became softer. "When it comes right down to it, if I somehow ended up stranded on a desert island somewhere, and I saw that footprint in the sand…okay, first I'd probably hope it was a girl, but after that…I'd hope it was you. I have a feeling you're the only one who would keep me sane. We'd probably bicker and yell at each other most of the time, and I'd probably hate your guts for half of that," he flashed another quick grin that didn't reach his eyes, "but you would keep me going. You would keep me…me. And I'd miss that." He shook his head, then leaned it forward onto his hands. He chuckled and took in a deep breath, his back expanding with the air, then released it slowly. After a moment, he lowered the hands away and looked over at the scientist.
"So," he said, finally, "what I guess I'm saying is, stop letting it kill you, McKay. You're needed here too much. Wake up, answer-man, wake up and come home."
McKay stood there, staring up at the hole in the ceiling of the black room, Sheppard's words ringing in his ears. Wake up, answer-man, wake up and come home….
Sunlight streamed down, blanketing him in its warmth.
He looked around, saw the hologram watching him from the shadows, its brown eyes glittering in the half-light, felt the stinging icy-heat of the Weapon all around him, heard the pleading of the Deucalion's in the back of his mind, begging him to stay and fix their machine.
"It's an illusion," the hologram said. "The major is not really there. The real Sheppard doesn't want you to live. He wants you to die."
McKay's eyes filled with tears, and he looked back up at the blue sky.
"He's not there," the hologram pressed.
McKay frowned, "But—"
"It's an illusion. What you heard was not real."
Rodney's head was spinning, and he turned to look again at the hologram.
"Are you real?"
The scientist swallowed, and looked back up at the hole.
Suddenly, Sheppard's face was there, framed by sunlight. He was smiling down at McKay.
"Hey," he greeted cheerfully.
"Hey," McKay replied, not hiding his bewilderment.
"Where you're needed. You coming?"
"But where is that?"
Sheppard's head tilted, "You know where. Now stop being an ass, and take my hand." He reached an arm down into the black room, hand outstretched. "Come on, I'll lift you out."
"But," McKay stared at the hand, blinking rapidly, "what about Deucalion? The Weapon? The Wraith?"
"The Wraith're already gone. We beat them. Time to go home now."
"He's an illusion!" the hologram shouted. "Don't listen to him!"
"Like hell I am!" Sheppard shouted back. He made a face at the hologram, then looked back at Rodney, his expression serious now. "C'mon, answer man! You going to trust him? Or me?"
McKay stared at him, then back at the hologram.
"Come on, Rodney," the major waved the hand impatiently, "I need your help here and I don't have all day. You want to come home, you'd better take my hand. Just trust me!"
"But," Rodney squeezed his eyes shut, his hands gripping into fists, "That's just it! I don't trust you. I do trust him more than you. He's never lied to me."
Sheppard's smile faded, the hand he offered, though, stayed dangling. After a moment, the major frowned.
"I've never lied to you either."
"Yes you did! You said you never leave people behind! But you told me to sit in that chair! You ordered me to die!"
Sheppard stared at him, and, after a moment, he drew his hand back.
"Fine. Think whatever you like about me and don't take my hand if that's what you're afraid of. But I don't want you to die, Rodney. I want you to come home. You're needed there. If you won't accept my help, then climb out of this hole yourself. Don't stay here just because of me, or because of him. Climb out and come home—Atlantis needs you!" And with a final glare, Sheppard leant back away from the hole and disappeared.
McKay lowered his head, trying to think around the headache pounding in his skull.
"He left you again," the hologram taunted, smiling a little. "He left you to die again."
McKay's jaw firmed, and he stared over at the projection. He shook his head, "No, he didn't." He arched an eyebrow up at the hole, the grimace still on his face. Turning around, he moved over to the console…and climbed up on top of it.
"What are you doing?"
McKay grabbed the edge of the hole, finding his grip.
"I'm going home," he replied, as he pulled himself up into the sunlight.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: THE MEANING OF HOME
Sheppard jerked awake when he felt himself nearly fall out of the chair he was sitting on, feeling seriously disoriented. Grabbing the blanket around his shoulders more tightly, he blinked the scum away from his eyes and swallowed some of the dryness from his throat. He ached from having slept in a chair all night, and it took him a few minutes to figure out why.
Oh right, Rodney. He was sitting next to his hospital bed.
He scratched at his head and yawned.
And that's when he looked up…and saw McKay watching him.
Hazel eyes widened.
"Rodney?" he whispered, his voice filled with hope.
The blue eyes blinked, but stayed open. The scientist's dry lips lifted into a tiny smile.
"Rodney!" This time Sheppard yelled the name, jumping up out of the chair and nearly tripping over the blanket that fell off his lap. He grabbed McKay's arm, seeing the blue eyes follow him up, then turned to face the rest of the room. "Beckett! Doc! Tara! Get over here! He's awake!"
Beckett was there first, stumbling around the curtain, fighting back his own yawn and looking more grizzled than a bear. Tara didn't follow him—instead, another nurse (who's name Sheppard was pretty sure was Karen)—rushed up beside Sheppard to start checking machines. The young doctor came next, also wiping sleep from his eyes and what looked like drool from his face. He actually had a yellow post-it note stuck to his cheek, but Sheppard wasn't going to tell him that.
They pushed past him, talking rapidly to each other and to McKay and taking down readings.
Still grinning like a fool, Sheppard backed away, pulling his IV with him and one blanket.
McKay's blue eyes followed him, never letting up on their fixed stare.
Until, finally, they closed.
Sheppard's smile faded, and he looked towards Beckett, trying to gauge his reactions. It wasn't until the doctor stood up and turned to look at him, a wide smile on his face, that Sheppard let out a pure whoop.
He was going to be all right.
About a week later, the first of the Deucalion crop came through the gate. Ford oversaw its delivery, smiling proudly as case after case of food was brought through. He had his arms crossed over his puffed chest, giving a thumbs up to the people upstairs watching.
Up on the balcony, McKay was sitting in a wheelchair, leaning forward with his arms crossed over the railing, his chin resting on top of them, taking everything all in with a slightly bemused expression. Sheppard stood next to him, bending over the railing with a foot on the lowest rung, a crooked smile on his face.
Weir stood not far from them, smiling beatifically as Teyla appeared through the Stargate, waving up at them, a small box under her arm.
"There is not much more," she called up. "Sergeant Stackhouse is dealing with the rest."
Weir nodded, "That's fine. Nice work."
Teyla grinned, and headed over to stand next to Ford. After a few minutes, and once Ford spoke a little with Grodin, both Team One members turned and headed upstairs to the control room.
"Um," McKay said, still eyeing the boxes being carried through, "not to seem, you know, untrusting, but, uh, how do we know this stuff isn't poisoned?"
Sheppard arched an eyebrow at him, "What? Why would they want to kill us now? We saved their lives!"
"True enough," McKay shrugged, sitting up in the chair, "Just hard to reconcile, I guess."
"Ah, you're such a worry-wart."
McKay paused, turning to peer up at Sheppard with a surprised expression, "A what?"
"You heard me."
"If the shoe fits…."
"Yeah, if it belongs to a six year old," the scientist barked back, shaking his head, "What kind of term is that for a grown man?"
"I thought it was appropriate."
"Okay then, if I'm a worry-wart, you're a doofus."
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, and he looked squarely at McKay, "Did you just say, doofus?"
"If the shoe fits…." McKay grinned.
"Oh, you don't want to go there, McKay."
"Would you prefer," McKay looked up for a second, then grinned, "oh, I don't know, lame-brain?"
"Lame….oh, you asked for it!"
"Maybe stupid-head is better," McKay tapped at his chin.
McKay's eyes widened at that last one, and, despite himself, he started to laugh. Sheppard spluttered, realizing a second too late what he'd said, and he tried to explain something about accidentally combining the names of Mr. Magoo and Professor Plum, but it only made McKay laugh harder. Soon he was laughing so hard, he had to lean over in his chair, gasping for air. Sheppard tried not to join him, but it lasted about two seconds, and soon he was practically on the floor. Both men were completely oblivious to the amused yet silent group of people watching them. Even down below, Grodin and the workers dealing with the crates had stopped to look up.
"You're both completely mental," Beckett's voice wafted across the control room, headed from the stairs in back. "Fully certifiable," he added, walking up next to Rodney and leaning over. "Keep breathing, Rodney, and calm down now," he patted his back, "you're not well enough to laugh yourself sick yet."
Sheppard's laughter calmed a little at that, as did Rodney's, who was finding it a little too difficult to catch his breath. Still, soon enough he was grinning up at Beckett, his chest still heaving but looking truly happy for the first time in days. The physician smiled despite himself, shaking his head.
Still grinning, McKay pointed at Sheppard, his eyes lit up, "Did you hear what he said?"
"Unfortunately," Beckett smiled. "And it confirms some things I've thought about his level of maturity." McKay started laughing again while Sheppard mock glared at the physician, but Beckett ignored them both, kneeling down to look more seriously into McKay's face. "All right then, you had your fun, Rodney. Time to head back now."
"No, no," McKay waved him away, choking back his laughter, "I'll be good."
"Actually, Doctor Beckett," Teyla said, walking forward from where she had been standing with Ford. "I think Doctor McKay should be here for this."
Beckett grimaced, but stood up, "For what?"
"The Deucalions asked me to give these to Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay," she said, pulling the small box out from under her arm. Rodney glanced up at Sheppard, and the major shrugged in reply.
Teyla walked to one side and placed the slim box on the table next to one of the laptops. Opening it, she smiled, then looked across to Doctor Weir. The head of the SGA walked over, saw what was inside, then returned the Athosian's smile. Reaching inside, she lifted out two medals, both hanging from identical burnt-orange sashes. They were both a pale bronze color and in the shape of the many pointed star that had marked the floor of the Central Courtyard. In the center of both, a tiny white piece of quartz was embedded.
"I think these are for you," she said, turning. Walking over, she handed one to Sheppard and the other to McKay.
"They represent the Deucalions highest commendation," Telya explained. "Colonel Luphron only regrets not being able to present them himself."
They both looked at them, and then looked at each other.
McKay smiled, "Think the Deucalions might be feeling a tad bit guilty?"
Sheppard nodded, "Looks like."
"Think Ford should have asked for more food?"
Sheppard grinned, "Yup."
"Hey!" Ford stood up for himself.
"He's just a kid, though," Sheppard said to McKay, his expression serious again. "Still learning."
"Hey!" Ford said again, looking a little baffled at the same time.
"Teyla was there too," Sheppard noted, fingering the orange sash. "She probably could have done better as well. Could have gotten more than food, I expect. Who knows what items we might have gotten?"
The Athosian's jaw dropped, and she drew herself up. "Major, I will have you know—"
"Well, she's young too," McKay shrugged.
"I am not young!" she retorted, then frowned, "I mean, that is, I am not—"
"They're teasing you," Weir informed her softly.
"Of course," McKay was still watching the Major, "Elizabeth herself knew what Ford and Teyla were negotiating for. For all her great experience, you'd think she could have encouraged them to—"
"Okay," Weir interrupted, stepping up closer to them, "You have had your fun now. Doctor Beckett, perhaps you should take—"
"Cutting me off," McKay said, shaking his head at the major, "Isn't that a sign of someone who is afraid to hear she might have done better? Classic defense mechanism."
"Oh, absolutely!" Sheppard agreed.
Weir's lips pursed, and she crossed her arms, "Are you two done?"
They looked at her, then back at each other, and grinned.
"So sensitive," Sheppard told McKay. That was all it took to set the doctor off laughing again…only to have it degenerate into a nasty cough.
Beckett sighed, and he grabbed the handlebars of the wheelchair, twisting it around towards the direction of the transporter on this level. McKay's coughing subsided, his chuckling returning even though he couldn't see Sheppard anymore.
"Right, that's enough," Carson snapped at the major's grinning face. "I'm taking him away now. It's obviously too dangerous to his health for you two to be in the same room." Beckett pushed away, and McKay had to grab the arms of the chair to keep his balance, nearly losing his medal. As such, neither man saw the flash of pain that crossed Sheppard's face at Beckett's words. He quickly covered it back up with a grin though, as McKay turned in the chair and gave a silly wave.
Sheppard waved in return, while everyone else either smiled or laughed.
"It's good to have him back," Weir said, smiling softly over at Sheppard as the two men disappeared, "even if he and you are as obnoxious together as always."
"Yeah," the major replied, his smile fading. Weir frowned at the sudden seriousness, but before she could ask what was bothering him, he had turned around to look down at the main room, fingering the ugly Deucalion medal held loosely in his hand. He was just in time to see the event horizon shut down behind Stackhouse, carrying the last box.
His eyes lifted to the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows behind the Stargate, the beautiful sight hidden whenever it was open. A sense of calm blanketed him, and he smiled—for some reason he didn't quite understand, seeing them meant hope to him.
"Yeah," he muttered, "it's good to be home."
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