Title: The Therapeutic Properties of Coffee
Category: Gen, h/c, futurefic.
Category: Gen, h/c, futurefic.
Word Count: ~23,300 (it got away from me, what can I say?)
Characters: John and Rodney and others
Spoilers: Anything up through Season 2 is fair game but Sunday is hit pretty hard.
A/N: When I first saw the dating challenge prompt, I realized I've written two slash fics recently that specifically dealt with John and Rodney dating. So, I decided to go in the completely opposite directions and approach the Sheppard and McKay friendship and the impacts their het relationships have on it. So even though there is a relationship at the center of the story, that's not really what the story is about. The fic springs from a canon moment in Sunday and goes several years into the future from there. So, you can think of it as a futurefic, a what-if scenario, and if you really, really squint and are so inclined, you can read it as pre-slash. Special thanks as always to Koschka for the beta.
Summary: What if Rodney really did ask Katie Brown to marry him?
The Therapeutic Properties of Coffee
“You asked her to marry you?” John’s fork stopped halfway to his mouth, the piece of pie balancing precariously on the tines as he looked across the table at his dining companion.
Rodney’s head bobbled and he seemed very interested in his pudding. “Yeah, kind of.”
“Kind of? You kind of asked Katie Brown to marry you?”
“It was really… odd. We were talking and I mentioned that I’d like to get married someday to someone like her.”
Sheppard’s disbelieving question had McKay finally looking up. “Why what? Why were we talking or why would I want to get married or why would I want to marry someone like her?”
“All three.” John pushed the piece of pie home and chewed as Rodney put his spoon down in a grump.
“What’s wrong with Katie?”
“Nothing’s wrong with Katie. That’s the point.”
With a frown, Rodney sat back in his chair. “So just because someone who is pretty and sweet and gentle is interested in me I shouldn’t return the feelings?”
“I don’t know, it just seems like you with someone like her could tear a hole in the fabric of space or something.”
Leaning forward again, McKay started ticking off points on his fingers. “She likes me, she’s female, she’s interested in spending the rest of her life with me, and, probably most important given our current situation, she’s co-located in the same galaxy as me. What are the chances that I’ll ever have those necessary qualities all line up like that again?”
John shook his head and took another bite of pie. “Convenience and availability aren’t a reason to get married, Rodney.”
“No, but they’re kind of a prerequisite if I ever have a chance in hell of not spending the rest of my life alone.” John’s shrug had Rodney demanding. “What? You don’t want to settle down some day and get married.”
“Been there, done that. Once bitten, twice shy. Fool me once… You get the picture.”
“Yes, I do, and it’s not a picture I want to be a part of. Christ, I’m closing in on forty. Unless I want to attend my children’s graduation from college in a wheelchair wearing adult diapers, I need to get going here.”
“Oh, so now there’re kids involved.”
“What is with you? Why are you so against the thought that I might have a chance at being happy with a loving family?”
“You mean like the one you grew up in?” John grinned in satisfaction over the rim of his coffee cup when Rodney glowered at him.
“Jeannie’s managed to be perfectly happy in her family life despite having grown up in the same dysfunctional mess I did.”
“Your sister also made some very big sacrifices for that happiness, as you well know. Are you willing to do the same?” When McKay’s eyes took on a kind of panicked look, Sheppard shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it, it’s not like you proposed proposed. You didn’t get down on one knee with a ring or anything. It was just a conversation. I mean the two of you are barely even dating.”
A little more morose, Rodney stirred halfheartedly through his pudding. “I guess.”
“I’m not saying she’s not the girl for you, I just think you should give it a little time,” John encouraged. “If it’s meant to be, then it’ll happen.”
“It’s just…” McKay sighed before finally admitting confidentially, “She takes care of baby ferns like they are the most precious things in the universe. It would be nice to think that she might take care of me like that, too.”
* * * *
“You proposed proposed?”
John had been getting ready for a late night date with one of the new nurses that had just arrived in the city the week before. Brenda Lane had been smiling at him during every post mission physical he had had since she walked off the Daedalus, and he’d decided to take the chatting and flirting up a notch. Strike fast and early is what he’d learned in all his years of combat training and he’d learned that it worked best in his romantic life, too. Especially when you lived on Atlantis with its limited gene pool, so to speak. But when McKay had showed up at his door practically hyperventilating, he decided he might be a little late for their get together. Instead he had taken Rodney to the empty cafeteria, put a cup of coffee in front of him, and had him explain what he had meant when he had dazedly told him “I did it, I really did it,” on his door stoop.
“The knee, the ring, the whole nine yards.” Rodney pushed his chair back from the table and dropped his head between his knees. “Oh, God, I think I’m going to puke.”
Sheppard pushed back himself seeing as it was his boots McKay was aiming at if he did hurl. “A ring? Where did you get a ring?”
“Capt. Myers…” Rodney gulped air before continuing his account, “she broke it off with her fiancé back on Earth.”
“You gave her a used engagement ring?”
“Hey, a diamond’s a diamond,” McKay justified as he seemed to gain some control and sat up again.
“Does Katie know where you got it?”
“She’s the one that told me about it.” Taking a sip of coffee, he took a deep breath then exhaled in relief. “Remember I told you how we had talked about getting married?”
“Yeah, a couple of months ago.”
“Actually, it’s been a little over six months.”
“Six months? Are you sure it’s been that long?”
“Positive. Katie reminded me our six month anniversary was coming up for two weeks before.”
Well, thought John, at least I wasn’t the only one to not realize it had been that long. And seeing as he wasn’t the one dating her, he didn’t figure it was really that big of a deal.
Rodney continued his story. “Ever since that conversation she’s been talking about marriage. First it was theoretical… If I ever get married, I’d like a sunset wedding on a pier just like this one. That sort of thing. Then after a few months it changed to if we ever get married, I think we should find an apartment with a balcony. Then over the past few weeks it’s been when we get married we should have a ceremony here and one on Earth, that way both our friends here and our families back home can attend.”
“So, it sounds like, technically, she proposed to you and you just went and made it official.”
“Yeah, I guess she did.” The thought seemed to please Rodney as a slow smile spread across his face and he chuckled in a giddy sort of amazed way. “I’m getting married.”
John found that he couldn’t help smiling to see McKay so pleased. “Looks like you are.”
“I want you to stand up with me. Be my best man. Okay?”
Sheppard blinked. “Really?”
“Yes, really. Of course, really. Who else would I ask?”
John left unspoken who would have been his first guess, because that just wasn’t going to happen, and even after six months, Carson’s loss was still an open wound with McKay… with them all. But, really, when John stopped to think about it, the two of them had probably spent more time with each other on Atlantis than anyone else. Sure there was the mission time, and staff meetings, and work in the lab when Rodney needed his gene. But then there had also been all the time playing the Ancient game that ended up being real, and playing chess when they couldn’t play the game anymore, and eating meals, and watching movies, and all the other times they ended up hanging out. Hell, Rodney had asked Sheppard to give his eulogy for God’s sake when they all thought he was going to ascend or die. And the thought that he might actually have to… John hadn’t felt so unbelievably helpless and completely terrified that he’d failed in one hell of a long time. Given that, maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised by the request, after all.
So, he just smiled. “I’d be honored.”
If possible, Rodney grinned wider. “Okay, then.” Taking another sip of coffee, he shook his head. “Holy shit, I’m getting married!”
“Yeah, about that… shouldn’t the two of you be, you know, celebrating?” Sheppard waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.
“Oh, Katie had to go check on the incubator temps for some seedlings. I told her I’d try to round up a bottle of wine and meet her in half an hour.” Checking his watch, he stood. “Crap, I’ve got to get on that.”
“Hey, I don’t have any wine, but I do have a bottle of that Tapgar sweet ale that we picked up on that last trading mission we had. You’re welcome to it if you want it.” He’d had other plans for the bottle, but John figured he could charm Nurse Brenda with his own God given talents if push came to shove.
“Really? You’d let me have it?”
“Sure,” Sheppard shrugged. “It seems like a best man kind of thing to do.”
Rodney started toward John’s room, so John figured he should probably go, too, and quickly caught up to the man walking briskly down the hall.
“So, have you two set a date yet?” he asked conversationally. Sheppard still wasn’t sure about the whole opposites attract concept of Rodney and Katie, but bringing up all the things that could go wrong with a relationship didn’t seem like the sort of thing a best man should do the night he’s told about the pending nuptials.
“No,” McKay frowned in concern, “we haven’t. Or exactly where we’ll have the second ceremony on Earth.”
“I wouldn’t sweat it,” Sheppard assured him with a pat to his shoulder. “You’ve got plenty of time.”
But evidently Rodney didn’t think so.
Several hours later, John was trying to think of an excuse to climb out of bed without waking the woman sleeping beside him but without making it seem like he was making a dine and dash sort of move. Which, if he were honest, was exactly what he was doing, but no reason to let her know that. He wasn’t an insensitive pig, after all. At least not on the outside. Luckily for him, his radio squawked to life.
“Sheppard, this is McKay. Do you copy?”
Brenda mumbled as John reached across her for the radio, never so happy in his life for some emergency in the city. She woke when he sat to put the earpiece in place and she gave him a befuddled look. Mouthing an apologetic, ‘sorry,’ at the woman, he answered Rodney’s hail. “Go ahead, McKay.”
“Keep September nineteenth open and also the twenty-third through twenty-sixth. We’re looking at a wedding here in the city followed by a small family ceremony somewhere in the Caribbean.”
John glanced at the clock. Three thirty-four in the morning. If he hadn’t been so relieve to have an excuse to leave and go back to his own quarters, he would have killed McKay for waking him at this hour to make travel plans. As it was he just nodded with a studious frown. “Copy that, I’m on my way.”
“What? No, you don’t need to come meet me for anything…”
Climbing out of the bed he told him, “Understand. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Finding his boxers he winced in disappointment as he told Brenda, “Sorry, duty calls.”
“Sheppard, what are you talking about? Where are you? Are you… are you even in your room?”
“No, I’m on my way now,” he told Rodney meaningfully as he zipped his pants.
“Oh my God, are you using me as an excuse to escape from that nurse’s bed?”
“Affirmative.” Brenda was furrowing her brow in confusion and he leaned in for a quick kiss and whispered. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Okay?” She nodded and he took that as his cue to get the hell out of Dodge.
“You’re hopeless. You know that, don’t you, Colonel?”
“Says the man condemning himself to a life of internment.” He had a slight spring in his step as he made his way down the hallway.
“Just keep your hands to yourself when we’re back on Earth for the wedding. You’re not to touch Katie’s younger sisters.” The way McKay said it suggested the elder sibling was listening in but that must have changed because Rodney lowered his voice and told him conspiratorially, “But her best friend is smoking hot and single.”
John grinned at the news. “No kidding?”
“And she has a tattoo on her...” The voice changed again, back to all business. “So, note those dates on your calendar. McKay out.”
“’Night, Rodney,” Sheppard snorted. “Hope you can hide those whip marks in the morning.”
“Ass,” came the abrupt response and John wasn’t sure if that was an insult or if McKay was just finishing telling him where the tattoo was located, and it was followed by an equally hasty, “Goodnight.”
* * * *
Ends up that was exactly where the tattoo was located, in the shape of her namesake, Lily, as John found out the night of Rodney and Katie’s second wedding ceremony. This one on St. Bart’s and legally binding as opposed to the one on Atlantis which was more of an informal exchange of vows with Halling providing an Athosian blessing over the couple.
John had done the best man thing as best he could given the fact that they were in another galaxy from the nearest adult video rental location. Fortunately for him, science geeks have rather impressive porn collections, so the bachelor party wasn’t as uneventful as it could have been. Star Whores was everything you would expect from a movie that included Princess Lay-ya’, Luke Starfucker, and a wookie that looked remarkably like a giant hairy phallus. And Hand Solo truly lived up to his name… numerous times. Much to the pleasure of Darth Vader, who ended up being a female dominatrix who did some really interesting things with Luke’s lightsaber. Although the fact that Radek managed to drink Ronon under the table and still win the DVD from Dr. Randell in a speed chess round was the highlight of the evening.
Rodney had been perfectly calm during the Atlantean celebration but had nearly passed out half an hour before the ceremony on Earth. Sheppard had stripped him out of his tux jacket, placed him in front of the air conditioning unit in his hotel room and draped washcloths soaked in ice water on the back of McKay’s neck until the man actually regained some of the color from the sunburn he had received waiting for the shuttle from the airport to their resort the day before.
“Rodney, you’ve already done this once before. What’s the big deal?” John swapped out the washcloth, McKay shuddering at the icy touch.
“That was Atlantis,” he justified, head in his hands.
“So? There were hundreds of people there. Here we’re talking a dozen.”
“Yes, but except for a handful, I outranked all those hundreds of people. How the hell am I supposed to outrank Katie’s parents and sisters?”
“I don’t know, maybe because she’s marrying you.”
McKay seemed to ignore his logic. “Not to mention that I’m totally outnumbered when it comes to her family. Two parents, three sisters, a brother-in-law and a niece…”
“Jeannie and her family are here, too,” Sheppard reminded him.
“Yeah, all three of them.”
Rodney’s sulk had John whacking him upside the head with the washcloth. “I’m here.”
Blue eyes shot up, widening in realization of what he had said. “Oh, I didn’t mean… I mean, of course, you’re here and I really appreciate it. Really. You have no idea…”
“I get it, McKay.” Shoving McKay’s head back down before he had to try to find a paper bag for the man, Sheppard placed the cloth back in place and squeezed where it rested on his neck. “Besides, I think I can probably convert Lily over to our side by the end of the reception.”
Rodney started snickering then and John soon joined in, stopping only when there was a knock at the door and Jeannie called, “Mer, are you ready? The minister’s here.”
McKay stared at the door with a slight deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, and for a second Sheppard thought that he might dart for the window instead.
“You’re up,” John told him, tossing the washcloth aside. Rodney was starting to pale again and Sheppard frowned. “You want me to tell them you need a little more time?”
“No, no, I’m good.” Standing, he retrieved his jacket and put it back on. “I’m better than good.” When John didn’t seem too convinced, Rodney smiled. “Really. I know… I know you’re not much for this whole marriage thing, Sheppard. And I know you have your reasons…”
“Look, you shouldn’t take my prejudices…”
“I’m not,” McKay assured. “I love Katie and I know she loves me. And I don’t expect you to understand why I do or she does or for you to love her… honestly, I’m kind of glad you didn’t because it gave me a shot at her without competing with the whole flyboy flirting thing you have going…” Realizing he was going totally off track, Rodney waved his hands and tried to reign himself in. “The point is, even though you don’t understand or agree or whatever, you’ve been here the entire time. And you did it because I asked you to. You did it for me. I know that, and I appreciate it and, well, thanks.”
John didn’t really know what to say to that, so he simply straightened Rodney’s lapel and gave him a heartfelt if slightly embarrassed, “You’re welcome.”
“Mer?” Jeannie called with another knock.
“You ready?” Sheppard asked needlessly, because Rodney’s body language had shifted entirely and he was grinning with a bit of boyish excitement. When the scientist nodded with a deep breath in anticipation, John reached into the hotel trash can and pulled out a plastic garbage bag to stuff in the pocket of his own jacket. “In case you decide to blow chunks in between I do’s,” he smirked and followed Rodney out the door.
McKay was right. John didn’t understand their attraction at all. But he couldn’t deny that Rodney was smitten with Katie and had been genuinely happy over the past year that they had been together. And that evening, during the small reception on a private balcony at the resort, John thought he may have fallen a little bit in love with Katie himself.
He was sitting chatting with Lily over drinks… some fruity frozen concoction the waiters kept bringing and he kept pushing aside in favor of the stubby little bottles of Red Stripe but Lily was sucking them down before the ice could melt… and, as a result, he was well on his way to persuading the shapely maid of honor to join his team, just like he’d promised Rodney. He was just about to suggest that maybe they find someplace with a little more privacy when he heard a sound he was, unfortunately, more than familiar with.
The wheeze had his smile disappearing and him standing in search of McKay. It wasn’t hard to find the man, he was turning a dark shade of red as he gasped for air and let go of the glass containing the same drink John had ignored all night so that he could grasp the railing of the balcony. Rodney’s new father-in-law, with whom he had been talking, jumped back in alarm from the noises Rodney was making, as well as the broken glass that went flying when the drink that obviously contained citrus shattered at his feet.
“McKay,” Sheppard gritted out, moving toward him and automatically reaching for the epi-pen he always carried in his vest… only he wasn’t wearing his vest. And they weren’t on Atlantis, which meant he wasn’t planning on going on a mission, which meant he didn’t have a goddamn dose of epinephrine on him and there was no infirmary right down the hall. But Rodney would have some. Rodney always carried it. Right?
Tossing a chair aside to reach his friend, he was patting at McKay’s pockets even as he helped to ease him down to the floor. “Get a doctor,” he told Katie’s dad who was staring somewhat shell-shocked at the events taking place before him. “Tell him it’s an allergic reaction and it’s closing off his airway.” Turning his attention back to Rodney, he kept searching through his jacket. “Come on, McKay, you have to have one here somewhere.”
His wheezing was getting worse, and Rodney shook his head, grabbing John’s arm to stop his hunt. “Room… In… my… room.”
“Where the hell’s your key?” Because John didn’t remember finding it in any of his pockets either.
Of course, he’d come down to get ready in Sheppard’s room so that Katie could have their’s for her and her sisters. Katie!
“Katie!” John was yelling because he couldn’t see through the various people that were standing around them and none of them were wearing a wedding dress. Where the hell was she? She was the bride for God’s sake; she should be at her own damn reception.
“John,” Jeannie was pushing through the waiters and Katie’s family to get to them. “Where’s his epinephrine?”
“His room.” He was already digging in his pocket for his own room key. “His key is in my room. He brought a duffle bag down…”
But then he heard, “Excuse me, coming through, coming through… MOVE!”
Shoving her youngest sister out of the way, it was obvious Katie Brown-McKay had made a mad dash for their hotel room. She was flushed and breathing heavily, her hair was hanging down on one side where her veil had been ripped out and when she hiked up her wedding gown to kneel beside her husband, John could see she was missing a shoe. Her hand opened to reveal two epi-pens and she asked in a frantic rush, “What do I do?”
Sheppard didn’t waste any time in taking one from her, showing her how to pop it open, then slamming it home. “In his thigh, like this.” Pulling it out and sitting back on his own haunches, John told her, “Now rub the area.”
She did as she was instructed, sitting so that Rodney could lean against her, and John felt his own breathing even out as McKay’s did the same. Katie murmured gentle reassurances as she held Rodney’s hand tight, and for the first time in a long time, Sheppard was willing to trust someone else to take care of a friend. His team was the closest thing to family John had had since he couldn’t remember when. They took care of each other. End of story. And now, someone else was going to take care of Rodney. That wasn’t exactly the easiest thing for him to accept. But Katie had kept her head; Sheppard had to give her credit for that. Instead of losing it and running toward Rodney in a panic, she had run to where she knew help could be found. And when Katie looked over, sparing enough time from a nuzzle against McKay’s temple to give John a sweet, thankful smile just for him, acceptance that maybe she was up for the job became a little easier.
Convinced that everything was going to be okay and another dose wouldn’t be necessary, Sheppard gave her a minute nod before standing and fisting a hand in the lapel of the nearest waiter and pushing him up against the edge of the balcony.
“You have exactly thirty seconds to remove every drink from this room. Do I make myself clear?”
Eyes widened in stark contrast to the narrowed ones boring into him, and the waiter nodded enthusiastically. That taken care of, Sheppard went in search of the director of food and beverage for the resort who had met with them the day before to go over the menu. Why the fuck was it so hard to understand the concept of no citrus? Period.
Evidently, a best man’s job was never done.
The next morning he was awakened by a knock on his door and Rodney holding two Styrofoam cups of coffee. “Hey, did I wake you?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Waving him in, John ran a hand through disheveled hair and yawned. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, I’m fine. Good as new.” Rodney handed him a cup, raising an eyebrow at the pastel pink pump that still rested in the middle of the floor.
John gave a grin. “Lily was grateful that I didn’t let her best friend turn into a widow on her wedding night. Although it was Katie that did all the hard work.”
“I don’t suppose you corrected Lily in that misconception?”
The grin grew. “I figured Katie was a little too busy last night to meet Lily’s particular needs.”
“You’re all heart.” Rodney rolled his eyes and took a sip of his own coffee.
“So, how’s Katie doing after the whole you stopping breathing thing?”
“She was a little frazzled. She’d never actually seen me having a reaction before.”
“I can imagine that would be a little disconcerting.” It sure the hell had been the first time Sheppard had seen it.
“But she’s tougher than she looks.” McKay started gathering up his belongings from the day before and stuffing them in his duffle bag.
“I know. I saw that for myself. Maybe she’ll be able to handle you, after all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m just saying we do dangerous, life-on-the-line stuff every day. And it’s hard to be the one sitting at home waiting for someone to come back when you know that that’s what they do.”
“She knows what I do, Sheppard. She’s always known what I do. Nothing’s going to change just because we’re married now.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” John appeased but he didn’t sound too convincing and he doubted Rodney believed him.
But instead of arguing about it, the newlywed changed the subject. “The manager of the resort stopped by this morning and apologized for what happened last night. Ends up the food and beverage director called him at home last night in tears to explain what happened.” John winced. He hated when women cried in front of him, especially when he was threatening their jobs. But, goddammit, no citrus means no citrus.
Rodney, who had no gumptions at all about reducing the women, or men for that matter, on his staff to tears, gave him a small approving smile. “They’ve decided to comp us pretty much anything we want for the rest of our stay. So pick a spa package, hit the golf course, whatever you want.”
“I was thinking of taking out a sea kayak this afternoon.”
“Anything you want. Just tell them you’re part of the McKay wedding slash near-death party and you’ll be taken care of.” Hefting his bag, Rodney made his way toward the door. “Oh, do you think you could take Madison for a horseback ride? Evidently kindergarten girls have a thing for horses and Jeannie’s allergic and Caleb… well, he’s never been near a horse in his life and I think he’s a little scared of them.”
“Sure, I can take her. But what about you?” Sheppard teased. “Why don’t you take her?”
“One brush with death per honeymoon is enough for me. Katie’s tough, but she’s not made of steel.”
* * * *
Katie was tough. In the first year of her marriage to Rodney she had to deal with her husband receiving three minor concussions and one major one, second degree burns to his right leg, a total of twenty-three stitches in various places, an accidental drugging, and a run in with an Ancient device that had him only speaking their native language for almost three weeks.
But Katie was also starting to tire of the trips to the infirmary and when Rodney returned from a simple equipment check mission on their one-year anniversary with a sprained knee, it was starting to show. She came into the infirmary, took one look at where McKay was snapping at a nurse who was trying to position an ice pack on his leg, and turned and glared at John and the rest of the team.
Sheppard had blinked in surprise, because, really, it was a non-life-threatening injury and Rodney was carrying on way more than he needed to, as usual, and he’d simply tripped and slid down into a ravine of mud, so he looked a lot worse than he really was.
John wrote it off to anniversary dinner plans being ruined and went on. But the next week, Rodney didn’t invite him to dinner at their place like he usually did once a week. And the week after that, when Sheppard casually commented that he hadn’t seen Katie in a while and maybe they should get together, Rodney made up some excuse for her caring for some delicate spores Lorne had collected off-world. The next week the dinners were back on, but something had changed. All talk of missions was off limits. Katie had always listened to their stories, laughed along with them, but that night she changed topics whenever a story started. Rodney took her cues as if he should have remembered not to talk about the team’s work in the first place, and John, seeing what was going on, followed along.
Teyla and Ronon noticed it, as well. The change from friendly greetings in the hallways to polite but abrupt hellos and the absence of Rodney from almost anything that didn’t involve an official team briefing wasn’t exactly a subtle change.
“It must be difficult for her,” Teyla observed at dinner one night. “To watch the person she loves leave and not know if he will come back again.”
“He comes back,” John justified. “We always bring him back.”
“Yes, but sometimes not in the same condition that he left.”
Ronon shrugged at Teyla’s comment. “It’s part of the job. She knew that when she married him.”
“Knowing something to be true and experiencing the effects of the truth are not the same thing, Ronon.”
John shook his head, pushing food around his plate more than actually eating it. “It’s like she doesn’t trust us to watch out for him any more. Like it’s our fault when Rodney comes home with a twisted ankle.”
“All I’m saying,” Ronon told them, “is that it’s a little late for Katie to start complaining now.”
But Sheppard knew it was never too late for anything. And four months later, the team found that out the hard way.
The booby-trap had been set to detonate as soon as the door was opened. Rodney had spent almost twenty minutes trying to override the locking mechanism to access the lower levels of the long abandoned facility. Power levels were at a minimum and the planet showed no large life signs, so no one was really expecting anything too exciting. Teyla and Ronon were scouting the corridor they had just traveled down to the alcove with the door, checking the rooms that lined the halls for anything of interest, and John was providing the light with his P-90 for McKay to work.
When Rodney turned to look at him with a satisfied grin on his face and there was a minute snick indicating the lock had released, Sheppard had grumbled, “It’s about damn time.”
But then the door behind them slid shut and a tiny light started blinking and John barely had enough time to grab McKay’s shirt collar and yank back as hard as he could before the door Rodney was squatted in front of exploded and the world went black.
He woke to Teyla calling through his radio, “John, Rodney, respond!”
“Here,” he groaned, trying to sit up in the dark and letting out a yelp with the familiar pain of a couple of busted ribs, not to mention the throbbing of his head. “Where are you?” Where was he, for that matter?
“There was an explosion but when we returned to your location, the outer doors were locked and we could not reach you and when you did not respond we feared…” Oh, yeah… the facility, the locked door. He could hear her pull in a breath to regain some control and he wondered how long she’d been calling to them. “Ronon has returned to the gate to bring back help.”
“Yeah, evidently when McKay opened…” Oh, fuck, McKay! “Rodney?” Patting around in the dark, he found a booted foot. “Rodney!” He traced the leg up, feeling a tacky wetness as he approached the edge of McKay’s vest and then his fingers skipped across something sharp and solid and Rodney let out a gasp.
John was torn between relief at confirmation that McKay was alive and dread for what he would see when he turned on the light to Rodney’s P90 that was still attached to his vest. Unhooking the gun, he flicked the light from Rodney’s pale, dust covered face, to the piece of metal sticking out of his side. Easy peasy, Carson had told Teyla when she had a similar injury. But that had been Carson, and that had been Atlantis with a nice, clean OR just down the hall.
“John?” Teyla called in worry and he realized he must have mumbled something in the radio.
“Is Ronon bringing back a medical team?”
“Yes. Is Rodney badly injured?”
“You could say that. How long has Ronon been gone?”
“A little over fifteen minutes. He should easily be there by now.”
Nodding his head in understanding, Sheppard finally remembered that Teyla couldn’t see him. “Okay. Just get us out of here as soon as you can.”
“Of course,” she responded before asking, “Are you okay?”
“Few bruises, but I’ll be fine. That is until we get back to Atlantis.” He gave a humorless laugh. “Katie is going to fucking kill me.”
“John, this is not your fault.”
“Yeah, well, you try explaining that to her.” McKay’s hand twitched and he moaned softly. “Rodney? Can you hear me?”
“I’m right here, buddy. Help’s on the way, so just hang tight. Okay?”
Blue eyes peered out from under heavy lids. “That bad?”
“You’re going to be fine.”
“Oh, God, it is that bad.”
John started digging in his vest for a bandage to at least try to stem the flow of blood around the shrapnel. “Listen, you are going to be fine. End of story. It’s bad enough I have to take you back busted up. There is no way in hell I’m delivering bad news to your widow. Got it?” Rodney cried out when he started to secure the bindings, but John ground his teeth and went on with it.
Sheppard thought McKay was going to pass out again, but he didn’t… barely. Instead he fought to keep talking. “She’s… she’s pregnant.”
“Katie… we’re having… a baby.” Rodney laughed, wincing when it turned into a cough. “I’m going… to be a dad. How scary… is that?”
Not nearly as scary as the way his eyes started to drift shut, John thought. So he shook Rodney’s shoulder to try to keep him alert, doing his best to make eye contact to help him focus. “Pretty damn scary, that’s for sure. And why are you waiting until now to tell me, you son of a bitch? This is the type of shit you share a beer over.”
“Just… just found out… this week.” The words slurred and Sheppard shook him once more, taking his hand and squeezing hard.
“Rodney!” The eyes opened again and John tried for a smile. “Hey, you have to stay with me here. There is no way you’re pinning me with a widow and unborn child. Got it? Think of me for a change, why don’t you?”
“Selfish… bastard.” The hand in his squeezed minutely.
“That’s better,” John grinned in response.
“John, Ronon has returned with help. Dr. Zelenka is here to override the locks on the doors.”
“No time,” Sheppard ordered through the radio to Teyla. “Blow the goddamn door and get us out of here.”
Lorne came across then. “Copy that, Sir. Give us a second and we’ll have you out.”
“Hear that, McKay? We’re going home. No avoiding those dirty diapers after all.”
Rodney roused at his name. “John?” Oh, God, he was using his first name. This was worse than he thought. “If I don’t…”
“We’re going home, Rodney.” His tone said he wasn’t going to argue the point.
McKay ignored it. “I want… my kid… to know… tell him about us… our team.”
“You tell him, McKay. You’re better at making yourself look good than anyone else ever could. And how do you know it’s going to be a boy?”
“True,” he conceded weakly. “Do me a favor… don’t sleep… with my daughter.”
Sheppard snorted thickly. “I’ll be at the lecherous old man stage before she’s even old enough to consider doing anything with.”
“What’s… your point?”
“Fine, if you truly believe that, then you’d best stick around and keep me on the straight and narrow path.” Rodney sucked in a harsh breath and Sheppard’s smirk vanished as he gripped the hand tighter. “McKay?”
“And tell Katie…”
“Rodney, don’t do this,” John pleaded.
It shouldn’t have been harder than it had been in the past. It should have been hard enough worrying about getting his friend home safe and relatively sound. And there was no denying it had been hard when that was all he had to be concerned with. But then, it had been about him─ John Sheppard on the verge of losing the best friend he’d ever had in his life. No one else’s problem. And when he had been able to look at it in those terms, under those parameters, it was manageable. Sure there would be others that would mourn Rodney’s loss, but no one that McKay was responsible for. And John had been able to convince himself that he would be able to bury the pain of that loss, if it came to that, deep in his subconscious like he had all the others over the years. He was fooling himself, he knew, after it was over and done with and Rodney was out of the woods he would allow himself to admit that. But at the time of the crisis, it had always been enough to let him focus on the task at hand, keep it together, and get them the hell out of the predicament they had found themselves in.
But then Katie had come along and the world had shifted a little and now with a kid on the way… reality had fucking flipped upside down. John could feel the weight of them, of Rodney’s family, crushing his chest from the inside out. Suddenly, it wasn’t just McKay’s life on the line but all of them. And for the first time in a really long time, John was terrified.
“Just don’t do this to me.”
“You’re… only one… I trust… to do it.”
Leave it to McKay to ratchet up any situation a few exponentials higher. But, thank God for Lorne and C-4, and not just because it meant help was on the way.
“Fire in the hole,” the major called in his ear and John finally had something to do besides panic. Leaning forward over McKay’s head, careful of his wound, he covered the injured man as best he could to guard against the blast.
It really wasn’t necessary. The explosion was well controlled, little more than a loud pop on their side and a spray of masonry from the wall, but enough to let the rescue team in.
John flew the Jumper home, didn’t say a word to Lorne, just ignored the threatening nausea and dizziness he felt from the blow to his head, sat in the pilot’s seat and started her up as soon as they had McKay loaded in the back. Katie was standing next to Elizabeth when the ship came through the gate, eyes wide and lips thin and hands gripping the railing in desperation, and the two of them darted for the Jumper bay as soon as he moved the craft up.
She ran right past Teyla and Ronon without a word, didn’t even glance up when John stood to join the gurney moving toward the infirmary, took Rodney’s hand and looked like she was never ever going to let go of it again. And Sheppard wasn’t that far off on that assessment.
John didn’t actually get to talk to McKay until the next day. He and the rest of the team had been allowed to see him briefly when he’d come out of surgery. At least the doctors had let them, Katie wouldn’t even acknowledge their presence, and seeing as Rodney was sleeping from the painkillers, the visit had been short.
But when he showed up in Rodney’s hospital room the next afternoon and saw Rodney sitting up in bed with Katie in the chair next to his bed, he only had to take one look at McKay’s face to see what was about to happen. Katie stood to go, mumbling a quick greeting, paying more attention to the infirmary floor than to John’s face and Sheppard found he couldn’t move beyond the foot of Rodney’s bed.
“How’s your head?” McKay asked, dragging his I.V. line up as he waved a hand at his own head and explained, “The nurse told me you had a concussion.”
“Yeah, they kept me overnight for observation. Kind of a pain. At least I got some painkillers for the ribs, though.”
“So, better then?”
John was suddenly glad he had a cup of coffee with him, because it gave him an excuse to do something besides yell, ‘get the fuck on with it’, at McKay. Instead he nodded and took a sip.
Rodney looked around uncomfortably before saying, “Listen, about what I told you yesterday. I’d… We’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything, at least for a few weeks longer and we know everything’s going to be okay.”
“I won’t say a word,” John promised. “I’ll even pretend to be surprised when you guys do tell everyone.”
“Good, good.” McKay studied his hands resting on the blanket of the hospital bed for a few second, glanced up once at John, then back to his hands before taking a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking…” he started, stopped again, and shook his head before trying again. “With the baby coming and everything…”
“Radek,” John cut him off. When Rodney’s head popped up, he clarified. “I’ll take Radek as a replacement. Coleman would be good, too; she seems able to keep her head in a crisis. But the way I figure it, if you and Zelenka are in the labs together all day every day you’ll kill each other before the end of the first month. And what would be the point of pulling you out of the field for your own safety if you’re just going to go ahead and do that?”
McKay gave a sharp nod of his head, somewhere between relief that that was settled and regret that it had come up in the first place. “I’ll talk to him about it today.”
“Tell him not to worry; Ronon won’t let anything happen to his camping buddy.”
Rodney forced a grin to match the one Sheppard was giving him before finally giving up. “I wish… I’m sorry this…”
“Hey, look, if Katie hadn’t pushed the issue, I probably would have.” When McKay furrowed his brow, John continued. “You have responsibilities now, different responsibilities… good responsibilities. Katie and the baby are going to need you in ways me and Teyla and Ronon never will. But they’re your responsibilities, not mine.”
“Sheppard you’re not responsible for my safety…” When John simply raised a disbelieving eyebrow as he took another sip of coffee, Rodney sighed. “Yeah, okay, I get it.”
“I don’t want you feeling like you have to choose between taking a risk to protect your teammates and what the impact of that choice will be on your family. It’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to us.”
“You’re right, I know. It’s just… we had a hell of a run, didn’t we?”
“The best.” And John gave him a genuine smile then. “And if you have to leave the team, this is the best reason I can imagine for it happening.” Rodney nodded again and Sheppard added, “Besides, you’re the one taking the dangerous assignment here. I’ll take pissed off Wraith over midnight feedings and exploding diapers any day.”
McKay gave a slightly bemused shake of his head and chuckled. “It’s all a little surreal to even think about that.”
“Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult.”
John shrugged and admitted over the rim of his coffee mug, “Neither am I.”
The amusement wavered and Rodney asked hesitantly, “We’ll still see each other… around, right?”
Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Christ, Rodney, just because you’re not on my team anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t be my friend anymore.”
“Oh, yeah? Name one person you would consider a close friend who isn’t on your team?”
John had a moment of panic at the question, then recovered quickly. “Elizabeth.”
McKay shook his head as he disagreed. “She doesn’t count. She’s a member of the team by benefit of the fact that she’s the leader of the expedition.”
“Okay, fine, how about this? You’re still a member of the team, only in semiretirement. Team member emeritus. We’ll call you in for the occasional consultation from your cushy lab.”
Rodney grinned, a little melancholy but real. “Yeah, okay, that’s good.”
“So are we on for dinner on Thursday?”
“If they let me out of here by then, sure.”
“If they don’t, I’ll bring it here.”
“Sounds like a plan.” McKay sighed. “You were right, Sheppard. I am going to have to make sacrifices. I just didn’t realize they were going to be so hard.”
“Guess that’s why they call them sacrifices.”
Rodney nodded in agreement and Sheppard started to leave, but McKay raised his finger. “One last thing.” John frowned in confusion, not sure what Rodney was going to ask of him now. “Can I have some of that coffee? They won’t give me any in here and I’m about to go freakin’ nuts from withdrawal.”
With a smirk, John handed over his cup, watched as Rodney drank deeply with a contented sigh, then sat in the chair by his bed to chat with his friend.