“I need your help.”
That’s all it had taken, just one statement from McKay, for John to walk through the gate and back to Earth. When Rodney had showed up with those words on his lips and a look of distraught determination on his face, John had stood and headed immediately toward the door to his office where McKay stood.
“What’s happened?” He was expecting another Wraith Hive ship on the way, or ZPM on the verge of implosion, or… hell, any number of other disasters.
But when Rodney blurted, “Jeannie’s been kidnapped,” and Sheppard took in the civilian clothes, the backpack, and another emotion in the scientist’s eyes that he was seeing more and more often… guilt… he knew he was heading through the gate. “Sam’s convinced the SGC I can skip the midway quarantine since we just got a clean bill of health last night from our post-mission physicals. And since you were cleared, as well, I was hoping…”
“When do we leave?” he asked, making his way at a quick pace down the hallway.
“Ten minutes. Is that enough time to gather a few things you’ll need?”
Stopping at the split off between the gateroom and the hallway that led to the rest of the city, John could see even that amount of time was too much in Rodney’s opinion. “Give me five,” he compromised and skipped on the toothbrush and change of underwear he could pick up back on Earth and instead went in search of the one thing they couldn’t get back there‒ Ronon.
That’s all it had taken, just one statement from McKay and Sheppard had crossed over into another galaxy. And it had just taken another one from the same man to have him crossing over into territory that had his stomach tied in a permanent knot.
When Rodney had told John he wanted to let the Wraith feed on him, Sheppard’s decision had been instantaneous and nothing, not even McKay’s anger or sulking or the thought that he might never speak to John again was enough to change his mind. John had put too much time and effort, too much of himself, into keeping Rodney alive over the years to have him just offer himself up to a Wraith as a midnight snack. He could understand Rodney’s position, could sympathize, but even though he knew there was a good chance he was condemning McKay’s sister to death, he couldn’t bring himself to let Rodney make that sacrifice.
Lt. Colonel John Sheppard could justify the hell out of why he wouldn’t let Rodney follow through with his plan. McKay was their best and brightest. The expedition needed him now more than ever, especially considering the threat of the Wraith and Replicators. The security of Atlantis was their top priority and Dr. Rodney McKay was key to that security.
But if John were honest with himself, the initial response had been a lot less strategic and a lot mores selfish. Carson, Elizabeth… he’d be damned if he added Rodney to the list of friends, of family, that he’d lost. And as much as he tried to use the strategic arguments to convince Rodney to meet his personal agenda, he finally pulled the rank card and flat out said no. Not that he was fooling himself into thinking that alone would keep the physicist from trying. McKay was a stubborn son of a bitch even on a good day, and when his logic was clouded by emotions…
That was the only reason Sheppard could come up with for why Rodney went into that building where he was abducted without waiting for John and Ronon to back him up. Hell, McKay going in first, without even a fucking gun, just convinced John he wasn’t thinking straight and it was up to him to make sure Rodney didn’t do anything rash, like swapping his life for his sisters. Which was why Sheppard had the lab where the Wraith was being held locked down before going to talk to Wallace. Because if McKay was nothing else, he was persistent to an infuriating fault.
Looking across the table where they sat in the cafeteria back on Atlantis, Sheppard knew that Rodney wasn’t about to let this go, either. And maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. Given the way McKay had looked at him when he realized what had happened with Wallace in the lab back at the SGC, John wasn’t sure the scientist would be able to meet his eyes again much less talk. But a week with his sister’s family must have had the relief John had seen in Rodney’s face winning out over the shock and the uneasiness at what John had done that had also been flickering there. And McKay strolling into Sheppard’s room upon his return, like it was any other day on Atlantis, and asking John to grab something to eat, which was the man’s answer to everything, had been the reprieve John had been hoping for.
“Something wrong with your sandwich, McKay?”
“What?” Rodney glanced up from where he was picking pieces of crust off the bread. “Oh, no. I just ate so much tofu based meats at Jeannie’s that I think my body may be rejecting the real stuff.”
John’s lips curled at the thought of Rodney sitting with a week’s worth of vegetarian meals in front of him, politely complimenting his sister for every single one. “Make any midnight runs for McDonald’s?”
“She kept hiding the keys to her new car,” he sighed.
“Doesn’t that thing just have a pushbutton start?”
“Son of a bitch!” Rodney grumbled with a shake of his head. “I could have been eating Quarter Pounders with Cheese instead of tofu strata.”
Sheppard’s grin just spread. “It probably did you some good.”
McKay shrugged. “It made Jeannie happy, and Caleb.”
Taking a bite of his own sandwich, John observed, “That’s what’s important. Isn’t it?”
“I suppose,” McKay relented. “Although I wish they had just let me buy them two cars and eat what I wanted… and have a good stiff drink.”
“Did Jeannie lock the liquor cabinet, too?” John asked with an amused raised eyebrow.
“It was probably for the best. After everything we’d been through, I doubt I would have stopped after one.”
Sheppard knew that feeling all too well. The only thing that had kept John from nursing a hangover the next day had been the fact that he’d been too exhausted to get drunk. He’d being awake for too long, going through corporate paperwork, searching for clues to McKay and Jeannie’s whereabouts, and then the adrenaline of the rescue only to find out that they were nowhere out of the woods yet, that the hard part had just begun. By the time it was all over, the first beer he’d had with Ronon in the hotel bar had wiped him out and he’d gone back to his room and collapsed to sleep until it was time for the final debrief and trip back to Atlantis.
But John tried to keep the conversation light. “Afraid you’d make a fool of yourself in front of the family? Start singing the Canadian national anthem with a tofurkey on your head?”
“Afraid I’d slip up and tell Jeannie what really happened,” he mumbled.
Sheppard’s sandwich froze in midair. “You didn’t tell her?”
“Not everything. Not what I was going… or what you… did.” He couldn’t imagine how Jeannie would have reacted to that news, but John doubted it would be with enthusiastic approval, so it was probably for the best that McKay had withheld that information.
When John simply nodded in understanding, Rodney dropped his sandwich back to his plate, and finally met Sheppard’s eyes. “I brought a bottle of whisky back with me. You want some?”
The balcony they went to was one that gave them a view of two of the visible moons, and they were sitting with their backs to the wall, halfway through the bottle, when Rodney finally said, “He really wasn’t a bad guy.”
Sheppard didn’t have to ask who Rodney was talking about. He knew all too well, because he’d been thinking the same thing even before he went to talk to Wallace. Truth was, he’d been counting on that fact.
“No, he wasn’t.”
John had told himself before he walked into the room where Wallace was waiting that there was a line he wouldn’t cross. He’d told himself he wouldn’t ask the man to give himself up to save Jeannie, but he knew, if push had come to shove, he probably would have. He’d presented the facts, guilted the hell out of him with a few photographs, and waited to see if the man had a soul after all. Ends up he did, maybe more than John did himself.
McKay took another drink straight from the bottle and passed it over to Sheppard. “I mean, sure he kidnapped me and my sister, intentionally injected Jeannie with nanites, and nearly killed her as a result. But his heart was in the right place.”
With a shrug that dragged his shoulder along Rodney’s, John took another drink himself. “Can’t say as I’d have done any different if I’d been in his shoes.”
“Can’t say as you didn’t.” McKay held Sheppard’s gaze for a few seconds before staring up at the moons.
John let his own eyes follow up to the sky. “I couldn’t let Jeannie’s family go on without her. Not if there was a chance to stop it.”
Rodney’s eyes never left the heavens. “It means a lot to me, you know, that you care enough about Jeannie and her family to do something like that.”
“There’s more to Jeannie’s family than just Caleb and Madison, and there were more reasons than the welfare of the Millers to keep her alive.” John took another drink, because, really, if not for the booze, he doubted he would have admitted as much as he had already. “And if you ever suggest doing something like you did again, I’ll kick your ass until you’re the one with two broken legs.”
With a roll of his head along the wall they were leaning against, McKay snorted. “You had no right to stop me. It was my choice. I was the one who would have had to live with Jeannie’s death hanging over my head.”
“And who do you thing would have had to live with your death hanging over his head if I’d let you?”
“This wasn’t your fault, John.”
“Maybe not, but it wasn’t your fault either.”
“But I dragged Jeannie into it when I started emailing her…”
“And you dragged me into it when you told me what you wanted to do. You tell me you plan to kill yourself; I’m going to stop you. Get used to it.” John slammed the bottle back into Rodney’s chest. “Actually, don’t get used to it because it’s never going to happen again. Am I clear?”
Rodney gave him a condescending grin. “Turnabout’s a bitch. Huh, Sheppard?” The smile remained even as he took another swig.
“Don’t try to turn this around on me, McKay. We’re talking about you.” Taking the bottle, John lifted it to the smirk on his own lips. “You should like that; it’s your favorite topic.”
“How selfless of you.”
Rodney snorted again. “You stopped the only selfless act I’ve ever attempted.”
“That’s not true,” John argued, but when McKay just stared at him blandly, John frowned. “Not entirely, anyway.”
Seemingly satisfied, Rodney turned his attention back to the stars with a sloppy twirl of his hand. “It would have been a good way to go. Noble. Self-sacrificing. It would have been a hell of way to be remembered.”
“I don’t think Jeannie would have liked to remember you that way. Ever stop to think how she would have felt to wake up and find out what you’d done?”
“It would be a better way to remember me than as the man who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the Pegasus Galaxy.”
“Rodney,” John sighed exhaustedly, “we’ve been over this before. You can’t blame yourself for what the Replicators have done.”
“But if we had just left their planet when we had the ZedPM…”
Sheppard cut him off. “Did you hear what you said? We, McKay. You want to take the blame, fine. But that means you’re blaming me, too. Is that what you want to do?” When Rodney remained silent, John asked warily, “Rodney?”
“We… we should have thought things through a little better before turning the kill switch back on in the Replicators.”
“We don’t always have the luxury to think things through,” John sighed.
“Did you have that luxury back at the SGC with Wallace?”
John had thought about it, no doubt, even given their limited time frame. And there had been plenty of reasons not to approach Wallace. But every one of them went out the window when he remembered Rodney standing there offering to sacrifice himself for his sister. When he got down to the heart of the matter, the fact was Jeannie didn’t deserve to die. She had done everything in her power to help Wallace and, while McKay may have unintentionally brought her onto the businessman’s radar, Wallace was the one who took her, Wallace was the one who infected her with the nanites, and Wallace was the one who could make it right. More than that, Wallace was the one who should make it right. Sheppard had just presented him with the chance to do that.
“I don’t regret talking to him, Rodney.” He might have regretted that it had come to that, that he was the one to do it, but in the end, Jeannie had lived and so had McKay. “He was the one who screwed up in the first place and he knew it.”
“He’s not the only one.” Rodney shook his head. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes on this expedition since we first arrived in Pegasus, haven’t we?”
Sheppard looked into the blue eyes staring at him, pleading with him to… what? Agree? Disagree? Clarify which because he really wasn’t sure?
“Yeah, we have. But we always did it with the best of intentions.”
“Just like Wallace,” Rodney observed.
“Just like Wallace,” John agreed.
McKay leaned his head back again and closed his eyes. “He wasn’t a bad guy.”
“He’d lost everything… everything except what made him want to do whatever it took to save his daughter. He just took that same resolve and applied it to righting a wrong, applied it to saving Jeannie. He’d crossed a line and he was willing to do whatever it took to cross back over.”
“He wasn’t a bad guy,” Rodney repeated.
John looked at the bottle in his hand, considered taking another drink, then decided against it. It’s not like he could dull away his memories of watching the Wraith feed on Wallace anyway. Just like he doubted Rodney would numb the guilt associated with the deaths on the worlds destroyed by the Replicators. So many choices, so many consequences, so many lines crossed, and for some, there was no crossing back. Which was why Rodney would be haunted in the night by one hundred and fifty thousand faceless dead, and why John would always be haunted by the dying face of the one. But as long as he could still see the face of the man sitting next to him in the light of day, John thought it might be okay. It sure helped him to think that he’d made the right choice when he crossed through that doorway and presented Wallace with the situation they were facing.
“He wasn’t a bad guy,” Sheppard admitted. “And neither are we.”
There was a lot to be said about doing things for the right reasons, listening to your gut, your heart, even when your head was telling you something else.
“You think?” McKay asked with more than a little desperation in his voice.
“I know it.” And he did, without a shadow of a doubt.
“I think I might know it, too.”
John raised his eyebrows at the less than confident concurrence. “Way to be decisive, Rodney.”
“Well, the last time I made a decision you shot it down.”
Sheppard was unfazed by the grumpy response. “That’s because it was a shitty decision. I hold veto authority over shitty decisions.”
“And that’s another thing; you seem to be under some delusion that you outrank me somehow…”
John cut him off before he could get into that. “Would you rather I had said yes?” Rodney went silent with his mouth still open. “Just waltzed you right in there, slapped you on the shoulder, and told the Wraith to chow down?” McKay’s mouth snapped shut and John snorted. “You should be thanking me for exercising my veto rights.”
“Thanks.” Sheppard’s smug grin wavered when Rodney clarified. “Not for saying no, but for finding another… alternative.”
“I wish I could have thought of another one. Because you’re right, Rodney; Wallace wasn’t a bad guy.”
John thought now would be the time to take that next drink, but McKay stopped the bottle before it could reach his mouth. “Neither are you, Sheppard.”
“You think?” John asked with a bit of skepticism.
But this time the doubt, the indecisiveness, in Rodney’s answer was gone. “I know it.”
That’s all it had taken, just one statement from McKay to loosen that knot a little bit that had seemingly taken up permanent residence in John’s gut. A lot of people might not have considered Rodney’s opinion that critical, but John wasn’t a lot of people. And given the fact that the next time Sheppard had to cross a line, chances were good McKay would be taking the steps right along with him, it meant a hell of a lot to him.
Sheppard gave a small smile to mirror McKay’s and recapped the bottle, deciding that is was his drinking buddy more than the drinking itself that he’d really needed tonight. Rodney’s brow crinkled at the act, as if John meant to call it a night, but when Sheppard set the whisky aside, shifted comfortably beside him, and returned to watching the skies, McKay did the same.
Sure, John found that one statement of faith nice, but the companionable silence spoke volumes of its own.
Besides, with McKay, the quiet was always a nice change of pace.