Rating: PG this chapter, NC-17 eventually
Summary: Healing begins....
Thanks to my beta who suffered more pain than I usually inflict on her, with this chapter. It's written in a different voice for no reason other than that's the way it started writing itself and it took me along for the ride. For anyone who finds it jarring compared to the rest of the story, I apologize. Anyway, here we go....
Rodney doesn’t know what to do with himself after Biro throws them out of the infirmary with the admonishment to get some rest. Carson is not in any shape for visitors. All three are exhausted, John’s hand has been rebandaged, no one really wants to go back to real life, or as real as life on Atlantis gets. He wanders by the mess hoping for an early breakfast but ends up settling for a power bar and passing out fully-clothed in his room. When he wakes at noon there is a lunch tray on his desk. The note beside it written in John’s hand, tells him that there’s been no change in Carson’s condition and Dr. Ikejaku goes on shift at two PM.
Dr. Biro doesn’t suffer visitors in the infirmary gracefully, making it hard on everyone who is waiting for news of Carson and Radek. Ikejaku is more understanding, he won’t let anyone sit with Carson for fear of exposing him to infection but they are allowed a few brief minutes. Visits with Radek are longer but just as silent, the conversations just as one-sided. The Czech scientist’s condition adds to the burden, he hasn’t shown any signs of regaining consciousness and the longer he lingers, the more worrying it is.
Zelenka without his glasses; the sight unnerves Rodney as much as seeing him walk into the lab naked would. The stark white bandage isn’t anywhere near as disturbing as seeing Radek’s face without it’s armor. Rodney wonderes if he’ll ever look up again, just in time to see the man push his glasses back up his nose?
Teyla and Ronan stop by around three, inviting Rodney for a cup of coffee and snack, but find him nodding off over his laptop. When he declines, Teyla insists on walking him back to his quarters, “You must go to your room and rest, Doctor.”
It goes on like that for the next few days. Someone makes sure Rodney eats and sleeps, runs interference for him with his staff, makes sure he knows when he can visit. When it isn’t Sheppard’s team, it’s Weir. Even his scientists pitch in, magically refilling empty coffee cups and making sure that power bars appear when needed. No one says anything to him, for which he’s grateful. Even Kavanaugh remains silent, accepting whatever caustic comments the boss doles out without seeming to notice.
The only relief from the tension is Radek’s recovery. He wakes early one morning when Rodney and one of the nurses are the only people in the infirmary. They feed him sips of water and send him back to sleep, smiling at each other for the first time in days. Through it all, Rodney realizes somewhere in the back of his mind that he is being taken care of, that these people care about him. He has been living in the shadows of his former life with such determination that he can’t let himself think about that too closely. He should be angry about it but when he tries, he can’t. One more thing he’s failed at and he just doesn’t care. Add it to the list for things to fix later, right now it feels too good and damnit, he deserves a break.
“Hey, how is he?” John saunters in and leans against the empty bed across from Carson. The doctor is off the ventilator after only 48 hours, once he started triggering it on his own. It’s a been a day and a half now, Biro and Ikejaku keep telling them that it’s just a matter of time before he wakes up.
John reaches into his pocket and tosses Rodney a power bar. Now that Carson’s not critical anymore, Rodney has staked a claim beside his bed and even Biro’s wrath hasn’t been able to budge him. Ikejaku finds the whole thing amusing, and stops by the Infirmary in his off hours to check on his patient and watch the fireworks. This is Rodney at his best, the old Rodney, stubborn, snarky, insulting, underneath it all, caring. Ikejaku and John have a bet on how long it will take Biro to throw something at him.
“What’s this for?” Rodney catches it and snaps.
“You need to eat. Shut up and don’t argue.” John uses his best Team Leader look on him, which has Rodney scowling. “Rodney, just accept it.” Rodney stares at the bar in his hand then up at John, who is still leaning, the casual stance completely at odds with his uncertainty. When their eyes meet there’s a pool of unspoken regret in the hazel ones and grudging acceptance in the blue. There’s still too much to be said for it to be over, but for now, it will do.
“So answer my question.”
“A veritable font of entertaining chatter.” And he gives Sheppard a look that says, ‘Even you, Colonel, are sharp enough to see he’s still sleeping.’
John just smiles in response because this is the Rodney that they’ve all missed. It’s a good sign and Sheppard is inordinately glad to be flayed by Rodney’s tongue even if the edge is a little blunted. They settle in for a few minutes, the silence isn’t strained like it has been in the past few days. Biro has declared Carson out of danger, though no one knows what the long term effects on his lungs will be. If it’s bad enough he will have to return to Earth permanently, but that’s too far off to worry about now.
“I wish he would wake up.” Rodney doesn’t know why he says it, and to Sheppard of all people. Elizabeth he could understand, the sympathetic female soul and all that.
“Me too, I owe him an apology, a couple actually.” Rodney doesn’t really have a response for that, so he just sits without saying anything. “Owe you too.” This is dangerous terrain John’s scouting, not sure if he’s going to come out in one piece.
“Just a couple?”
“Well, I did babysit him for you. That should count for something.” John ducks his head at Carson and now Rodney is staring at him, those intense blue eyes focused like they focus on the Ancient technology, and he has it figured out.
“How many others know?”
“Officially? Just the Team, Weir, Lorne. Unofficially? Anyone who hasn’t guessed is stupid or doesn’t want to know.” Rodney doesn’t know how he feels about being out. This expedition is heavily military, and while most people don’t have a real problem with gay relationships in theory, having one rubbed in their face is entirely another matter.
“Told me, yeah. One night when he was ripping me a new one for being such a lousy friend to you.”
“I would have liked to see that.” Rodney can’t help but grin a little. The idea of Carson coming to his defense warms him. He’s seen the good doctor frustrated, annoyed, solemn, in charge, and a whole host of other things, but never truly angry. Judging from Sheppard’s face it is impressive.
“You would have liked the scene in the conference room with all of us, even better.” That gets Rodney’s attention . “It was…memorable.”
“Remind me never to piss him off.”
John follows the other man’s gaze. Taking in the still too pale skin and the shallow rise and fall of Beckett’s breathing. “Too late. Trust me.”
Another three hours of sitting and waiting and Rodney is finally rewarded. There have been stirrings for the last hour, signs, Ikejaku says, of him waking. Rodney works, oblivious to the passing time until some slight change in the room draws his attention away from the work he’s doing. Looking up he sees what he thinks is the most breathtaking sight in two galaxies. Blue eyes blink, barely open, trying to adjust to the light.
“Hey.” Rodney can’t hear if Carson answers him, his heart is beating so loudly. He reaches for the ice bucket automatically, spoons out a minute chip, slips it between dry cracked lips. The eyes close again but there is gentle pressure on his hand where he’s holding onto Carson’s.
Later that morning Biro shoots Rodney a dirty look as she leaves Carson’s side, long since resigned to his continued presence. “He’s awake for now, don’t tire him out.”
When Rodney enters he’s greeted by blue eyes and a weak but brilliant smile. It is the best day ever in Atlantis. “Hey.” He pulls the chair up close once more, takes Carson’s hand and sighs. It feels good having him respond. “Biro says you’re going to be okay.”
“Feel like shiet!” The words are weak, but the brogue is there and it makes Rodney laugh.
“You know she’s the second coming of Atilla the Hun, don’t you? You owe people here a lot for not killing her by now.” The slight laugh turns into a cough and Rodney reaches for the ice again, holding some up for Carson to take.
“S’a good doctor.”
“Yeah, but they miss you. You’re all soft and squishy. Makes the voodoo easier to take.”
“Squishy my arse.” It is almost strong enough to really sound outraged.
“TMI guys.” John has slipped in quietly to avoid Biro but he can’t help grinning at what he’s hearing and seeing.
The next few days Carson sleeps more than he is awake. The pain from his shoulder is still intense and the pain killers make it hard to stay awake. Eventually though, he can stay with them for two or three hours at a time. Rodney spends time in the lab, time visiting with Radek who has been discharged to quarters, and time by Carson’s side, working if the Scot is sleeping when he visits.
“Rodney.” It’s Elizabeth. He tenses, the memory of the last time she called him unexpectedly still too fresh. Relaxing, forcing slow breaths as he puts the artifact he’s holding on the lab table, he answers, “Here.”
“Dr. Ikejaku says you can join Carson for lunch, you can even bring him some soup, bread and pudding.”
They eat in silence, Carson relishing his first real meal in more than a week. Blue jello and broth have gotten old quickly. He doesn’t eat all of it but what he does tastes like heaven, though it makes him sleepy. “I’m not gonna last long, luv. Sorry.”
One small word and it brings the great Rodney McKay to a screeching halt. They have been dancing around the issue since Carson was awake enough to remember all of what happened. Sheppard, the team, Weir, even Radek have all kept their counsel but it has been increasingly hard. Rodney has let down his guard enough to accept their friendship again, though even that is tentative. But now that he is out of danger, letting Carson back in is a totally different matter. Scary.
Rodney looks up and reads intent in the other man’s eyes. Leave it to Beckett to push it, even as sick as he is. “Look, Carson, I….” It would almost be comical if Rodney’s wide eyes and panicked breathing weren’t directed at him.
“Shhh, listen to me, Rodney. ‘Meant what I said. I love, ye. But I understand if…well…if thas not what you want.” Carson has given him an out. He can walk away, maybe they’ll still be friends, but really, how likely is that? He doesn’t think that either of them could stand it. So here he is, faced with the choice between courage and safety. If he chooses safety he and Carson will be acquaintances, still social but no more than that. They will have less and less to do with one another until one of them finds someone else and whoever is left out will watch painfully from the sidelines. And then a thought strikes him. If he says no, Carson will leave Atlantis. It will be the easiest thing for them both, Beckett’s research be damned. He realizes that Carson would give up all of this just to make him happy and what a sacrifice that would be, because Rodney knows that despite the fear and the homesickness, Carson loves the challenge that Pegasus represents and the people he’s come to call family.
Swallowing and stamping down the voice in his head that is panicking and telling him to go ahead and be selfish, be safe, accept the sacrifice as his due, he leans forward and kisses the lips that he’s missed for longer than he wants to admit. It’s a gentle kiss, shy, tentative because he really, really is scared to death. Carson knows it, sees the longing and terror in Rodney’s eyes. Reaching up with his good hand, he wraps it around the back of Rodney’s neck and deepens the kiss just enough to say ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ without speaking a word.
When they part Rodney leans his forehead against the other man’s. He plans on just enjoying the contact, but instead words begin to pour out, “When I saw you impaled on that damn thing and there was so much blood and you acted surprised that I would even come…God Carson don’t ever put me through that again. You wouldn’t stop bleeding and I almost lost you and damn if you didn’t go and almost die again. I really hate it when that happens because you know, I am just not gonna be able to rescue one of you one of these times and that would so totally suck…” Fingers brush across his lips pressing, stopping him from saying any more. They trail across his cheek, through the wetness that has poured out along with the fear and reach to pull him into another kiss.