“Where…?” The question died on Sheppard’s lips as his eyes widened in recognition of the planet I had brought us to. “What are we doing here? You don’t expect me to go back into the time dilation field again, do you?”
I ignored his question, instead telling him simply, “We did everything possible to get you out of there as fast as we possibly could. I know from inside it may not have seemed that way, but Teyla, Ronon, me, all the others back on Atlantis, we were doing everything we could think of to get you out.”
“What’s that have to do with the fact you’re trying to ship me off to the Genii?” The accusation in his voice wasn’t as forceful as it had been earlier, and I hoped that was a good sign.
“Do you remember the first thing you said to us when you saw us in that field?”
His lips curled in mild humor. “What took you so long?”
“I honestly couldn’t decide if I wanted to punch you for being so unappreciative or hug you for being alive and not ready for the geriatrics ward.”
Eyebrows shot up at the confession. “Hug? You? I think time might have stopped all together if that had happened.”
“Metaphorically, of course.” The hand I waved only had him grinning a little wider. Evidently the fact that we were away from Atlantis and no Genii were in sight had him a little more relaxed. “Besides, I can hug. I am more than capable of hugging. Not you necessarily, but I hugged Jeannie before she left.”
“Great, you’re a hugging fiend, a megalomaniacal teddy bear of snuggleness. But I repeat, what does that have to do with anything?”
“Because it was my fault you went through that portal in the first place. I mean, sure, MALP on a stick only tells a person so much. But I said go and you went. You trusted me and I let you down.” It wasn’t easy for me to admit I was wrong, especially since I so rarely am. But it was the truth and I thought he deserved to hear it. Now, more than ever.
“I make my own decisions, McKay. You didn’t put a gun to my head…” Realizing what he had just said and what he had done earlier, he winced and rubbed at his eyes again in a combination of pain and exhaustion.
“I didn’t have to, Sheppard. You had faith in my advice and you took it and as a result, you paid the price. It was a stupid mistake and if anyone on my staff had made it, I would have been shipping them back to Earth. As it was, I did everything I knew how to do to fix it and I’ve done everything I can to keep that from happening again. But evidently it wasn’t enough because here we are and you think I’d betray that trust once more. And not just me, but Teyla and Ronon and even Elizabeth.” Taking a breath, I blundered on awkwardly. “So, anyway, I’m sorry I let you down but it wasn’t done intentionally and I think you know I never would do it intentionally. At least normally you would when you aren’t wigged out on psycho drugs.”
“You don’t get it. Being trapped in the dilation field has nothing to do with what’s going on here. It’s more, it’s…” Long fingers scrubbed at his face and he growled in frustration. “God, it was so clear last night and this morning, when you were talking about sending me to the Genii, but now… I don’t know. I don’t know why I would think that, but I do… at least I did until you started helping me escape. And now... Christ, all I do know if that I can’t go back. I can’t. You have no clue what it was like, no fucking clue. It fed on me, Rodney.”
He stared straight ahead, his sights locked on the trees outside the Jumper, jaw flinching with the memory he was reliving. “Kolya stood there and smiled, that sick, sadistic fuck. Stood there will a self-satisfied look on his face and watched while that… thing fed on me. Just sucked the life right out of me one excruciating time after another. And there wasn’t a goddamn thing I could do about it.”
Red-rimmed eyes turned to regard me and I fought not to look away from the pain I saw there. “I kept telling him that you would come. My team would come for me. I didn’t doubt it for a minute. But it didn’t stop him from draining me dry. You have no idea what that feels like to have your life flowing away like that, to feel so goddamn helpless.”
“You’re wrong, Sheppard. I mean, you’re right that I have no idea what it’s like to have a Wraith feed on me.” And if I had any say in the matter, I never would. “But I do know what it’s like to feel helpless. We all did when we watched it happen and had no idea where you even were to stop it.” No, I never wanted to feel the hand of a Wraith on my chest. But more than that, I never again wanted to have to sit by and watch someone I knew and cared about have it happen to them either.
“But we never stopped trying until we did find you.” Talk about your need for a metaphorical hug. To see him not only still alive but looking better than he had when I had last seen him in person… it was just one more thing to add to the list of impossibilities that had taken place since arriving in the Pegasus Galaxy. “And we’d never stop trying if it happened again. Just like you didn’t stop trying when my Jumper went down.”
There was no denying that I hadn’t put much faith that anyone in Atlantis would be able to find me. My lack of faith had nearly killed me. But they had, against all odds they had found me… and Radek had lorded that fact over me for months afterwards. And while there were times Radek’s gloating had me longing for the peace and quiet of cold, wet, impending death, I’d had people that refused to had refused to let that happen.
“Just like you found Teyla when Michael took her, just like we found Ronon when the Wraith took him, just like you found me and Ronon on the Hive ship.” I frowned in thought. “In the future, maybe we should concentrate more on not losing people to begin with. It would sure save a lot of trouble in the long run.”
“It would help if you didn’t try and hand certain people over to the Genii in the first place,” he murmured, studying the gun in his hand.
“Colonel, believe it or not, I have plenty of things to keep me occupied besides having to save my teammates. I’m not a make work kind of person. The fewer death-defying rescues I have to undertake, the happier I tend to be, mainly because I prefer not having to defy my own death.” I put my hand out and indicated the gun with a tilt of my head toward the weapon. “I know the drugs are messing with your head, but you have to trust me here. We aren’t sending you to the Genii.”
He considered the gun then my hand, blinking to bring them into focus. “How do I know for sure that you’re telling the truth?”
“You don’t.” I shrugged. “It’s impossible to know anything for sure. But let the record show the odds are in your favor.”
“So noted.” The textured grip landed in my palm and I pulled it quickly away before he could change his mind. “I’ve been known to take on impossible odds now and again anyway.”
He wasn’t the only one. When he slumped down further in his seat, I decided to push my luck. “How about we head back to Atlantis and let Carson take care of that leg?” Although the fact that he was obviously coming down off the drugs had me more worried than the knife wound.
“I don’t… I don’t know.” Hazy eyes drifted my way in confusion. “Isn’t he… aren’t they… “
“It’s okay. They won’t hurt you; I promise.”
He squinted at me before squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head. “Something’s not right… something’s wrong, McKay.”
“All the more reason to get you to the infirmary.” Without waiting for his approval, I dialed the gate back to Atlantis.
With a hand on the dash in front of him, he tried his best to steady himself. “I can’t… what’s happening?”
“Hold on, Sheppard,” I ordered tensely as I turned the Jumper to face the gate.
You can’t technically floor a Jumper seeing as there aren’t any pedals to press into the floorboard of the craft. But you can coax them into an extra burst of speed with a thought and the panicked, ‘Holy shit, we need to go, now!’ I was screaming mentally must have done the trick.
The relief on Elizabeth’s face at the reappearance of the Jumper so soon after our departure quickly vanished when I ordered, “I need a medical team to the JumperBay, immediately!” As the ship moved up into the hangar area, I could see Teyla sprinting to meet us.
“Rodney, what’s wrong?”
I answered Elizabeth’s worried inquiry as I let the ship dock itself and moved to Sheppard’s seat. “He’s crashing. Hard.” His head lolled drunkenly to the side and I gave him a little shake then a harder one when the first didn’t cut it. “Sheppard?”
Eyes slivered open in response to my action. “Hey, Rodney,” he slurred with a small twist of a smile. “What’s up?”
“You are,” I told him as I slung one of his arms around my shoulder and pulled him to his feet. “Although that’s changing awfully damn fast.”
His staggering steps had me bashing into the DHD. “I thought you only gave metaphysical hugs.” He stopped and considered what he had just said. “That’s not right. Not metaphysical. Metamucil maybe?” The thought had him sputter laughter. “I guess that wouldn’t be right unless you squeeze the living shit out of someone.”
“Yes, each of my hugs has a full serving of dietary fiber.” I rolled my eyes and we staggered the opposite direction.
“Metamucil’s not right. Metaphysical’s not right, either.”
“Phoric,” I corrected, trying to move him toward the back hatch.
“Phoric? Pyrophoric hugs?” With a snort his knees wobble precariously. “I think I’ll skip the hug if it means I’ll burst into flames.”
I answered Teyla’s call from outside the Jumper. “Here. I could use some help.”
She entered the open hatch and moved to Sheppard’s opposite side. “Hey, Teyla! McKay, look, Teyla’s here.”
“Imagine that,” I drawled and started us moving again, this time in a much straighter line.
“Don’t get to close to Rodney,” he whispered to her loudly. “You’ll spontaneously combust if he hugs you.”
“I will keep that in mind,” she assured him with a confused glance in my direction.
“How about we skip the hugs and just get you to the infirmary?”
“Yeah, good idea,” he agreed with my suggestion. “Wouldn’t want to get all mushy and sentimental. It’s why I didn’t hug you when we pulled you out of that sunken Jumper.” He turned his unfocused gaze at Teyla. “Or why I didn’t hug you when we got you back from Michael.” He sighed dramatically. “I had to settle for metaphorical hugs. Ha! That’s the word!”
“Metaphorical hugs are more than enough, Colonel.”
He squeezed my shoulder in some sort of appeasing and understanding gesture before continuing. “You know, Elizabeth hugged me when I came back from the suicide run during the Wraith siege.”
“Really?” I asked in amazement. “She really hugged you?” Why the hell didn’t she hug me? It’s not like I hadn’t risked life and limb, too.
“Yep. Although, to be honest, that was kind of weird.” His conspiratorial tone brightened as we stepped out of the Jumper. “Actually, the only person that seems to like to hug is Ronon and he doesn’t really come across a huggable type of person. But he sure laid one on Carson when he blew up that Wraith. Now that was a Metamucil hug if ever I saw one.” He looked around curiously, as if he would finally get his hug from his missing teammate. “Where is the big guy anyway?”
Teyla and I exchanged concerned glances, mine with an unspoken question: was he okay? Teyla nodded as she answered. “Ronon will meet you in the infirmary. He is fine.”
“Fine? Why wouldn’t he be fine? What…?” Sheppard blanched white as his memories answered his own question. “Oh, shit. I shot him.”
The three of us went down when his knees finally buckled under him. “John, there is no need to worry," Teyla assured him. "Carson says the wound is relatively minor. The bullet passed through cleanly.”
“I tried to shoot the two of you, too,” he observed in desperate awe that he would attempt something like that.
“Yeah, but you missed,” I grunted as I tried uselessly to stand again and pull him to his feet. “Makes it harder to hold against you. Although it won’t stop me from trying.”
“I’m sorry.” His arms around our shoulders tightened, pulling the two of us in toward his chest. “God, I’m so sorry.”
And that’s how the impossible happened and I found myself involved in my first group hug, nothing metaphorical about it. When his eyes rolled back a few seconds later and he went limp in our arms, maybe Teyla and I did continue to hold him a little bit longer, at least until the medics arrived. But it was purely to keep him from bashing his skull open on the tiles of the hangar floor. Wouldn’t do to save his life from a drug-induced paranoid rampage only to have him lose it in a freak hugging accident. Although, with us, stranger things had happened.
By the time he opened his eyes in the infirmary the next afternoon, we were back to a more acceptable definition of personal space. I had taken the chair next to his bed while Teyla floated between the foot of his bed and the foot of Ronon’s that was situated nearby. Teyla was sitting and chatting with Ronon when Sheppard stretched and blinked his eyes open.
I looked up from my laptop to see Teyla smiling at him. “You slept well.”
“Evidently,” he agreed in mild confusion as he pushed himself up to sit.
“Better than we did.” My grumble gained his attention.
“How long was I out?” His reach for the water beside his bed was preempted by me holding it for him.
With a check of my watch when I returned the glass, I informed him, “About twenty-six hours. But Carson says the drugs have pretty much flushed from your system.”
“So, that’s what it was? Drugs?”
“You do not remember?” Teyla inquired.
“I can remember some, but the details are all kind of hazy. Like the week of spring break my sophomore year of college.”
“So you don’t remember threatening to shoot me or Teyla or actually shooting Ronon?”
Sheppard winced at my question. “I wish I didn’t remember all that.” Turning back to our Satedan teammate, he started to apologize. “Look, Ronon, you know that I would never…”
Ronon simply shrugged. “Forget it, Sheppard. It’s not like you haven’t done it before.”
The wince grew more pained. “Are you ever going to let me live that down?”
“No,” Ronon and I answered simultaneously.
After a quick frown at my involvement in the conversation, he turned back to Ronon. “Well, I wasn’t exactly in my right mind in either situation. So, I just hope you keep that in mind the next time we spar in the gym.”
Ronon’s mouth twitched in humor. “Weir shot me and I haven’t torn her limb from limb.” Sheppard’s relief was short lived as the Satedan added ominously, “Yet.”
“Ah, Colonel, you’re awake.” We were joined by Carson who immediately set to work with his penlight. “How are you feeling, lad? Any pain in your leg?”
He flinched away from the pinprick of light. “It’s no worse than my head.”
“I’ll have the nurse bring you something then. But I’ll have her wait until after you’ve eaten as it will probably make you sleepy again and it’s been a while since you had a substantial meal.”
“You said I could get out of bed today.” Ronon’s statement said he was going to get up whether the physician relented or not.
“Aye, I think that’s a good idea,” Carson consented. “But just a short stroll and you’ll need assistance.”
“I will walk with him if that will do.”
Teyla’s offer had Carson smiling with a nod of his head. “That will do just fine.”
As Carson and Teyla set to helping Ronon from his bed, the large man doing his best to cover the way he grit his teeth as he stood, I retrieved the lunch tray that had been left for Sheppard a few hours before.
“What about me?” Sheppard asked, ignoring the food set before him.
“We’ll talk later, Colonel. For now, eat and I’ll have the pain medications brought by when you finish.”
“See you later, Sheppard,” Ronon taunted as he made his way slowly out the door. “And I expect a hug of my own when I get back.”
Carson trailed after Teyla and Ronon, as if to ascertain that he would remain standing and I grimaced almost as much as Sheppard did. “Did I really… you know… hug…”
I turned to retrieve my laptop and raised a halting hand to stop him from going any further. “Just eat your lunch, if I tell you, you’ll only lose your appetite.”
He forked a piece of alien vegetable, sniffed it warily, then popped it in his mouth. “I thought you said yours would be the first face I saw when I woke up in the infirmary.”
Looking up from my half-open computer, I answered his accusation with one of my own, “I thought you said you couldn’t remember the details of what happened.”
“I remember enough.” Hazel eyes flicked my way then back to the piece of meat he was moving around his plate.
“Well, you got to awaken to Teyla’s smiling face instead. Don’t say I never did anything nice for you.”
“I don’t think it’s possible to say that, McKay. Not after the past couple of days.”
This time he did keep his gaze on me and I shifted awkwardly. “We do the impossible every day, Sheppard. Nothing’s really impossible.”
“Maybe some things should be.”
I gave him a small smile, “Maybe they should,” before reaching putting my computer aside and taking the chocolate cake from his tray.
“Hey, that’s mine.” And just as I had hoped, the unspoken thank you was forgotten under the duress of lost confections.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Colonel. It’s just that I missed getting any of my own yesterday because I was too busy having my life threatened by you.”
He leaned back against his pillows with a groan. “I’m not going to ever get to eat dessert again, am I?”
I took the spoon from his tray and leaned back myself. “Sure you will; when it’s lemon bar night. In fact, I’ll give you mine, as well.”
Sheppard rolled his eyes as he took another bite of his food. “Gee, you’re a real pal, McKay.”
And as impossible as that might have seemed a few years prior, he was right. We were pals, buddies, friends… the best. Like I said, we overcame the impossible everyday, and our friendship was at the top of that seemingly endless list. Let’s face fact, I wouldn’t have done what I did the day before for just anyone, and he knew it. And he knew I knew he knew it. Which was why he didn’t say anything when I propped my feet on his bed, crammed a large bite of cake in my mouth and gave him a smug, frosting-coated grin. And why I had no compunction about doing it.
We’re talking about chocolate, after all.