"I don't believe this."
Rodney thinks he'd *remember* this, stumbling through the ivy and moss covered gate, almost invisible against the side of the baby mountain. Pulling at the ivy with a rush of strength, Rodney looks blankly at the familiar symbols, rubbing at the greenish moss that fills the cracks with desperate fingers before Althea's cool hands wrap around his wrist and ease him away. "Dr. McKay, you will make yourself ill."
She's stronger than he is, and that's how he finds himself seated on the grass with her fingers circling his wrist, thumb pressing to the pulse point. He stares at the gate. "It's not *possible*."
Rodney pulls his hand from hers, jerking it toward the metal circle still half-buried beneath scrub, the smooth flat grass in front, and the total lack of a DHD device. "It's. Not. Possible." Pushing away her hands, he scrabbles to the normal interface area, where the DHD hooks into the gate, hands feeling the grass for a platform, something. "The gates had one basic design in infinite variation. But one basic design. There's the gate, the platform, the DHD." Where *is it*? "It's got to be here."
Althea comes to stand beside him, and when he looks up, the dark eyes are sad. "This is as it has always been, Dr. McKay--"
"No. They didn't *build like this*. These were made to be bidirectional." His head's killing him. There's no way he can figure this out today. "There's--a thing. Similar to a table. It has symbols that match this." But her blank expression never changes, and Rodney feels his fragile control begin to slip. Her hands catch him as his knees wobble, easing him into velvet soft grass. "I need to find--"
"You need rest," she says, arm circling his shoulders to hold him upright. He's shaking, he realizes in horror. "You are only just risen from your illness."
"I need to--"
"We will search when you are stronger," she says firmly, sliding her arm beneath his shoulders. "I promise you, what it is you seek, I will help you find, if you will come back with me now." Her fingers press against his wrist. "You do not understand, you are only *newly well*, you could relapse--"
Relapse. Jesus. "We have to find it. There have to be other--"
"When you are stronger, we will. I promise you, Dr. McKay." Bringing her feet beneath her, she slowly rises, pulling him effortlessly to his feet. "Let me take you back. Your friend--"
"I don't remember this," he says, tightening an arm around her shoulders, but his body isn't even trying to obey anymore. "We had to have been on a mission, but there's *nothing*, there's just *this*, and I don’t even know how much memory I *lost*." It's scratching relentlessly around the edges of his mind. No memory, no idea of the passage of time, how *much did he lose*. "I don't--"
"Please, Dr. McKay--" There's a desperate quality to her voice that cuts through the babble in his head, and her fingertips are pressed into his wrist with desperate strength. "You have to--"
"I need to--"
"You do *not*," she says, voice sharp and panicked in his ear, and she turns them around, fighting the pull of Rodney's body to nearly drag him toward the wagon. "You need to rest and be calm, Dr. McKay, you are becoming warm and you speak in nonsense now. Those can lead to *relapse*, and--" Her voice shakes, a quiver on the last word that freezes Rodney's tongue in his mouth. "No one survives relapse. No one."
Rodney looks back over his shoulder at the gate, only a single gleam of silvery metal where he pulled away the ivy. "I--"
"And your friend will *need you*." The quiver is gone, but her fingers on his wrist are still tight as she hauls him closer to the wagon. "He will awaken and he will--some--I have seen many after, and some--" She shakes her head, then stops, leaning him into the wagon, coming around to face him with a fierce look on her face. "You are not yet fully well and you are *needed now*. You must be well."
Rodney lets her push him up into the seat with a minimal of fuss, waiting until she flips her robes to climb up beside him. "Sheppard--"
"His fever was deep," she says, shaking the reins gently. The cart lurches into motion. "During, it was--difficult to keep him restrained."
No, Sheppard would not take that well. "He's military," Rodney says, then backtracks at the look on her face. "Warrior?"
She nods, flush slowly fading. "We could not--it was not easy to restrain him. He will need familiarity when he awakens, so he does not--relapse."
Oh. Rodney nods blindly. "Right."
"Rest," she says, touching his wrist gently. Rodney shuts his eyes. "Later, when you are stronger, we will discover what you need to know."
The other Healer is waiting for them on the steps, wringing her hands like someone out of a Tennessee Williams play. It's very, very strange. "Sheppard. Your friend. He found his weapon, threatens us--"
"How did he get that?" Althea asks sharply. Her eyes flicker to Rodney. "How did he find--"
"They were in my room." Both turn to look at him. "I--moved them." How Sheppard found them is anyone's guess, but Rodney stopped trying to figure out Sheppard a long time ago. Just something about him and weapons. Leaning into the cart, Rodney forces himself straight, the headache settling behind both eyes. Outside is too bright. "Where is he?"
"The fever," Althea says, grabbing for his arm. "He is not fully well. He does not understand--"
"He did not listen."
Rodney snorts. "That's nothing new." But it does pause him, just a little, a weird little twist of unease tightening his stomach. The last time Sheppard lost his stability, he'd also been converting into a bug. The last time he lost his temper, a few dozen Genii had died. There are reasons on reasons that dealing with an unstable Sheppard is an uncomfortable thought.
On the other hand, he doesn't think Sheppard will shoot him. Usually. "Show me."
They lead him inside, past frightened patients and presumably other Healers, up the stairs, and Rodney stops at the door that everyone is carefully staying out of range of, and Rodney feels every one of their eyes on him, dark and troubled and scared. Althea's hand on his arm stops him. "He may not--"
"He won't hurt me." That he knows. That, he's always known. Sheppard doesn't hurt anyone except in what he can't give. "Just wait here."
But he's not stupid. Standing beside the door, he leans enough to knock. "Sheppard?"
The silence is unnerving, and Rodney finds his gaze fixed on the bullet-pocked door. Angle tells him that Sheppard's dead center of the room, probably back against the wall. He's a soldier. He wouldn't leave his back exposed.
"McKay?" Sheppard's voice is perfectly clear, drawl absent, and if Rodney listens, he can almost hear the shift of the gun in Sheppard's hands.
"Yeah." Does he--should he try to prove it? Sheppard's field lessons hadn't ever included what to do when your commander's just crazy enough to be dangerous. "We um--do I need a password or something? Because we never covered this." And come to think, they *should have*. They're in the Pegasus Galaxy. Rodney's been possessed--sort of--once. Things *happen*. "Colonel?"
From inside comes a scraping sound. "Who's with you?" The cool voice is sharper, edged with wariness.
"A whole bunch of scared people. I'm coming in. Try not to shoot me?" Sheppard doesn't need to see if he's holding a P-90. A nice clean arc will take care of everything. "And hey, seriously. *Don't shoot me*." Putting a hand against the door, Rodney takes a deep breath. Sheppard won't shoot him. Probably won't shoot him. "Hey, um--anyone have anything in bulletproof?" He wishes longingly for his vest.
From the blank looks of those around him, the bullet-proof thing isn't something they're familiar with. Great.
Reaching down, Rodney opens the door, but instinct is instinct and he can't control his body clinging to the wall beside the door. Sheppard probably won't shoot him. Probably. "Colonel? I'm--I'm coming in now."
It's too dark to see properly. The shutters--God help him, he's staying in a place that has actual working shutters--were closed at some point, which puts him and Sheppard even, because he can't see a goddamn thing. "I'm--I'm at the door."
"Close it behind you." Without the wall between them, his voice sounds more strained. Not that strain changes the fact he's holding a gun.
What little light he's getting from the hallway is snuffed out, along with the worried looks of the healers gathered outside. Rodney takes a deep breath, leaning against the door. "I'm alone, Colonel."
"Take four steps and stop."
Pushing off the door, Rodney takes the four required steps, then pauses. His eyes are adjusting. Sheppard's in a professional looking sprawl against the wall, one knee drawn up, the muzzle of the P-90 resting on one knee. "What now?"
He thinks Sheppard's not sure either. "We really should have worked out a code," Sheppard says finally, sounding amused and out of breath both. Considering how shitty Rodney feels right now, Rodney's surprised Sheppard's still upright.
"You still pissed about the solar system thing? Because I was right."
"Or not a code." The barrel obligingly shifts away. "Hello, Rodney. How are you?"
"Shitty since my commander started going Rambo on all the nice people keeping us alive." Taking anther step, Rodney gives up and just sits down. "It's been a long week. How do you want it?"
"Short and to the point. How long have we been here?"
Rubbing his hand over his face, Rodney winces from the feeling of his skin, jerking his hand back. "A month, give or take. Some kind of fever."
"Where is here?" Sheppard's face is still too dark to see, but his finger's still uncomfortably near the trigger.
"No clue." Rodney'd do a lot right now to be prone and have Althea fussing over him. Maybe more of that fruit juice. Or those not-biscuits. Something. "We were ill. We ended up here. They've been caring for us. That's all I got. Tell me you remember more."
Sheppard's finger moves from the trigger. "I remember--" He stops, and Rodney moves a little closer. Even that much exertion is draining. Whatever adrenaline had gotten him this far is draining away fast. "I remember you told me you'd be back." Sheppard's voice is expressionless. "And it was hot."
"That'd be the aforementioned fever." Taking a deep breath, Rodney moves within arm's reach of Sheppard's knee. "We're at a hospital, sort of. The fever was kind of--long."
Sheppard's head moves in the approximation of a nod. "And?"
"We survived." There's no way to be careful here. "Apparently, the fatality rate is very high. We beat the odds. As usual."
He can hear Sheppard's breath quicken. "McKay--"
"Some people go crazy. Some don't wake up. Some--"
Thank God he didn't have to say it. "Yeah."
For a second, Sheppard stops breathing. Just a frozen second, silence and uneasy quiet, Sheppard's hands tightening around the butt of his gun, knuckles white from strain. Then. "Did you contact Elizabeth?"
"We can't. I mean, not yet. I looked at their Gate and there seems to be some key components missing. Like a DHD."
Sheppard's breath catches. "Fuck."
Yes. "Likewise." Leaning heavily on one arm, Rodney tries to get a glimpse of Sheppard's face.
"How are you?" Sheppard asks softly, coming with the sound of moving, Sheppard shifting from the wall, one careful hand braced on the floor, close enough for Rodney to touch. Rodney reaches out, covering Sheppard's hand, moving closer so Sheppard doesn't have to strain himself to reach.
"Alive." Licking his lips, he tries to decide what to say. "Better than I was." Sheppard's fingers grip his tightly, then slide across the unhealed marks, lingering.
"Thought. Remember all those vaccinations they gave us before we went through the gate?"
Sheppard's fingers stutter over his skin, freezing on his palm, then a callused thumb strokes over the raised, itchy skin, slow and careful.
"What is it?" Sheppard pushes awkwardly off the wall, and now Rodney can see his face. Dark ringed hazel eyes, bloodshot and red-rimmed, focused and blank as a whiteboard before it's been touched. Rodney swallows as Sheppard's fingers skirt up his wrist, stuttering over the welts. Rodney grits his teeth. "McKay--"
"This is where Carson would be useful," Rodney says, forcing himself not to jerk away from the cool fingers. Sheppard must feel it anyway, hand pulling back so suddenly that Rodney can still feel him on his skin. "It looks--I mean, from a completely non-medical perspective, if I were guessing--which is exactly what Carson does, don't let him fool you--"
"It looks--somewhat--like smallpox."
Sheppard's free hand clenches on his knee. "You're kidding." The P-90 is slowly lowered to the floor, and Sheppard's head goes down. "You are fucking *kidding* me. I was vaccinated for that!"
Rodney stares at Sheppard for a second, the dark head coming up, messy hair in blind eyes, but the corner of his mouth is curved up in a disbelieving smile, and Rodney finds himself matching it. They're crazy, Rodney thinks contentedly, the urge to laugh bubbling up in his throat. Just completely fucking insane. "Well, so was I."
Sheppard makes a soft sound, close to a laugh, then leans his head back against the wall. "I don't believe this." The hazel eyes flicker in his general direction. "You're okay? No--crazyiness? Fatality?"
"Hideous scarring," Rodney says as Sheppard starts to shift against the wall. The too-thin body freezes for a second, then continues smoothly on, finding the wall with one palm and using it to push himself up. "Not crazy, not dead, not--er. Anything else."
"You can say it, Rodney," Sheppard says, sounding amused. "Blind." Giving up, he sits back down, mouth tight. "I haven't felt this bad since--" He stops, shaking his head. "Not in a long time."
"Maybe we could get you back into bed in a non-homicidal mood?" Rodney says, pushing himself on his knees. "And the nice healers come in here and do whatever they do to keep us alive? I'm not staying here alone, Colonel, so if you're thinking of working yourself into another fever, just *forget it*."
Sheppard's mouth curves up in a slow smile. "Always thinking big picture, McKay. I like that about you." Hand braced on the floor, Sheppard smoothly pushes himself up, weirdly graceful except for the part where he stumbles. Rodney reaches out, catching one arm before Sheppard tips over, standing up more carefully, trying to balance them both. It's not easy.
The arm he's holding is wire-tense. "McKay." It's said pleasantly enough, but Rodney can hear the order beneath.
"Shut up." Gingerly, Rodney slides an arm under Sheppard's arm, taking the drag of Sheppard's body before he puts a hand to the wall, getting his balance. "The bed's the other way."
"This isn't my room."
"What part of shut up didn't make sense? You think I'm dragging your ass halfway down the hall because you couldn't bother yourself to just *wait* for me to get back?" Turning them, Rodney takes the few steps toward the bed at a stagger, and when the mattress is in range, lets himself drop them both. Oh God, never had straw under cotton felt that good. "Oh God, I think you broke my back."
Sheppard, breathing lightly beside him, turns his head. "I need to--"
"Rest," Rodney says. "I'm calling the healers in." Sheppard goes tense again. "They're okay. If you're into Middle Ages peasant drag. We'll figure this out."
Sheppard's quiet for a second. "I'm glad you're okay. I thought--" His voice trails off, and Rodney watches the hazel eyes close tightly. " "I thought--"
Rodney tightens the arm still trapped under Sheppard. This, he thinks, could be considered as close to a warm and caring moment as they've ever come. "Yeah. I know."
Sheppard's had always been a good patient, Rodney thinks resentfully as the healers come and go from his room, each one treated to a blinding smile and amused voice, very Sheppard if you didn't notice one hand wrapped in the sheet, tightening with every casual touch. The problem with being a good patient is, Rodney's learned, people take that to mean you *like* their presence, which means Sheppard's hosted a stream of people coming and going, fetching him juice and food and blankets, touching him indiscriminately, and somehow managing to miss every almost invisible flinch.
Or maybe it's just that Rodney knows him well enough to see it. "Everyone get out," he says when he goes to Sheppard's room after lunch the next day, receiving a reproachful look from Althea and an expression that could be guarded relief from Sheppard. "No, really. Out. Other patients, break, whatever you do when you aren't hovering over him, he's not going to *break a tooth* on bread, thanks, bye now."
Sheppard's head tilts, turning in the direction of Rodney's voice. It's so--weird. The pupils don't dilate, don't focus, but that's the only change he can see. He forgets for minutes at a time that when he nods, Sheppard can't see it, can't read his expression. Unless he's told, Sheppard can't even tell who's touching him. It's a suddenly chilling thought. "Nice to see you too, McKay."
But God knows, Sheppard isn't going to *say* that. He just keeps smiling and nodding and eating neatly sliced bread and cheese, lets himself be fed soup, and acting like this is all par for the course. "Some of us don't spend all our time being fed and petted, Sheppard. Close the door behind you, thanks," he adds to the last reluctant healer, stumbling into a chair. He watches the door close reluctantly, then turns his attention to Sheppard, who stopped pretending to eat. "Eat. You look like crap."
"I wouldn't know," Sheppard says lightly, but he reaches slowly for a piece of bread, fingers feeling their way casually across the plate. "How are you feeling?"
Rodney has to think about it. "Tired. I have never, and I will repeat for emphasis, never been this tired in my life." And he hates it. Even this walk from his room to Sheppard's has left him enervated, and he reaches for a piece of Sheppard's bread, almost too tired to eat. Almost. "God I am tired. Also, Althea won't let me go back to look at the gate until I'm better. Whatever that means."
"When you don’t sound out of breath walking forty feet? Also, stop stealing my food. You have your own." One hand spreads protectively over the bite sized pieces of bread and cheese left.
"I didn't," Rodney says, swallowing quickly. They make amazing bread. Rodney really, really wants to know what's in it, and how they can duplicate it on Atlantis.
"I can still hear. You make very--distinctive sounds." Somehow, Sheppard makes it sound intensely dirty. One corner of his mouth quirks up for a second. Pushing the semi-touched plate aside, the hazel eyes curve down. "What's it like here?"
Rodney watches the long fingers trace the edge of the sheet distractedly, lingering on the loose threads, the flaws in the weave. Experience with four senses, not five. Earlier, unobserved by the healers, he'd seen Sheppard reconnaissance his bed by touch. Headboard, footboard, straw mattress tick, sheets, bedside table. All very casual, interspersed with comments to those around him. But Rodney hasn't spent over a year on Sheppard's team for nothing. Sheppard's building a body memory of his surroundings.
"Nice, if you're into Renaissance Faire, Pegasus Style. Everyone's very--friendly." Perhaps too friendly, but he's hit his quota on trauma. There's a nasty, uncomfortable part of him aware that half his reason for being in this room with Sheppard alone is that Sheppard can't *see* him, and what the hell does that say about *him*? "There are things that are not horses, but kind of could be if you think of horses mating with gophers. I try not to. There's grass, trees, and water." One eyebrow raises at him. "Right. You want something more specific?"
"It'd be nice, yes." Absently, Sheppard's hand finds the plate again effortlessly, skidding with the realization the cheese and bread had shifted during the move, finding a piece and eating it, all without a change of expression. "Sky blue, grass green, all that?"
"Indigo more. Something to do with the light spectrum? I should look into that. Grass has a bluish tint. Okay, definitely a shift." Moving carefully, Rodney prods the bread and cheese closer to Sheppard's hand, then steals another piece for himself.
"Stop stealing food." Sheppard has, he admits, some spectacular reflexes, and apparently, doesn't need to see to slap at Rodney's wrist.
"Then eat faster." Leaning back, Rodney tries to think. "Um. Village thing. Very much like a village--hey, you ever watched Smurfs?" Sheppard blinks. "I'll take that as a yes. Okay, the entire mushroom roof thing apparently caught on in a big way here. Though sadly, not actual mushrooms."
Sheppard winces. "I'm regretting the loss of my eyesight less and less."
Rodney take a thoughtful bite of bread. "It's nice weather. Summer maybe? I should ask." Finishing the bread, Rodney eyes Sheppard's plate. "Eat it or lose it."
Another piece of bread and cheese makes a leisurely journey to Sheppard's mouth. "The gate?"
"A lot like any other gate, except for the non-functioning part." Shifting in the chair, Rodney closes his eyes. "The platform could be overgrown, but that still leaves the DHD unaccounted for, and in a more depressing turn of events, I'm not even seeing an interface to the gate. Which could be just the growth of plantlife, but--" Rodney takes another bite. "I need to look around more. The Ancients didn't build monodirectional gates. Therefore, the DHD was removed. And I will find it."
Sheppard takes another piece of bread and cheese. "McKay--"
"You can't carry a DHD through a gate with you if it's supposed to be attached to the gate you're actually using." Though Rodney supposes it's possible. Just really highly unlikely. And not something he's going to spend any amount of time thinking about. Trauma, one at a time.
Reaching for another piece of bread, Rodney wrist is suddenly captured in a firm grip and jerked down to the mattress. "Like I said, Rodney," Sheppard says, with a ghost of a smirk. "Get your own."
The thumb pressed to his wrist shifts, and Rodney winces at the brush against the unhealed skin. He can feel Sheppard's reaction, going briefly still, and he catches his hand before it pulls away. "Just brushed against--" He stops, the awkwardness setting in. "Did they tell you that you didn't scar?"
Sheppard shrugs, but the fingers pressed to Rodney's wrist are almost exploratory, a light brush of the tips that Rodney can feel way too vividly. "Itches?"
"Like you wouldn't believe." It's hard to let someone touch--even the healers and their creams, even Althea's completely impersonal hands, are too much, and God, he *hates* it, hates knowing what he looks like, hates every reminder that their touch gives him, that Sheppard's fingers give him.
Sheppard's face is carefully blank. "How bad?"
Rodney draws in a slow breath. "It's better than being dead."
A glimpse of a pink tongue as Sheppard nods, and Rodney feels the second he starts to pull away. But this--this is how Sheppard *sees* right now, and he remembers the careful way Sheppard touched the sheets, studied the bed, learned it, watching Sheppard endure the touches of people he couldn't identify. "It's okay," he says, tightening his grip, trying to keep his voice light and not completely freaked out. "I mean, it's really not, but everyone here--" He stops again. "I never knew I was that vain."
Sheppard's eyes flicker down, like he can see the plate. "That bad?"
Rodney takes a deep breath. "They say it'll heal." He can't imagine it now. "About--" Rodney draws in a breath, Sheppard's hand pulling from his, skating over the surface of the sheet restlessly. "Sometimes, it heals. The blindness, I mean. They told me--"
"Don't." And in that word, there are legions. He wonders suddenly if all the attention is unwelcome, really; alone, God alone knows the thoughts that run through Sheppard head. Hell, Rodney's nights suck beyond words to describe.
"Right." Sheppard fumbles a piece of bread and cheese, and Rodney fights the urge to help him, because he knows Sheppard and right now's not the time to even *imply* he could possibly, possibly need help.
"I could use some rest," Sheppard says finally, lightly, lifting his head, eyes picking up all the light from the window, breathtaking and blank as sheet of new paper. Nudging the tray, he starts to pick it up, then stops, a flash of frustration crossing his face before he starts to lean over, like he can possibly get that to the floor without disaster.
Rodney grabs it, and damn Sheppard's pride, setting it aside. "Right. I'd better get back for another afternoon of extreme boredom." Starting to get up, he pauses, but Sheppard's face is turned away, toward the day outside that he can't see. "Do you want--"
"Just some time alone," Sheppard says, still light. Pushing at the blankets, he removes one of the pillows behind his back. "I'll see you at dinner?"
Rodney nods, then winces. Tentatively, he reaches across the space between them and pats Sheppard's shoulder awkwardly. "Yeah. Get some sleep." Standing up, he grabs the tray and goes to the door. Opening it, he looks back once, but there's only the straight, rigid line of Sheppard's spine beneath the sheet, dark head tilted downward and still. Right. They're just not good at this sort of thing. "See you."
Sheppard doesn't answer.