“So you’re telling me that McKay’s going to revert to…” John pauses and glances around at his team, unsure how to finish. He’s never felt this helpless before, not even back in Afghanistan when he watched Holland die. The idea of McKay not being… well, McKay.
Keller crosses her arms tightly around herself as she nods curtly. “He’s already regressed at an alarming rate and it’s only going to go faster from what I can tell. I don’t know what more to do for him.” She glances to the monitor which shows McKay’s scans. “I’ve told Mr. Woolsey to request his sister come back so she can say goodbye.”
John’s knees nearly buckle at that. Saying goodbye? He shakes his head. “Listen, Doc, there’s gotta be something-”
“Don’t you think I’ve tried?” she shoots back.
Teyla and Ronon exchange a glance. Ronon clears his throat. “Doc?”
John barely pays attention to Ronon’s explanation of a shrine, catching just enough to grasp the hope of getting McKay back, even if only for a day. Keller shoots them down though, claiming it isn’t worth the risk, especially since she doesn’t feel it has any merit whatsoever.
Teyla, ever the diplomat, puts a stop to any arguing from Ronon and John, though John wants to rail at her for it. How could they just give up on Rodney like that?
Keller sighs. “You can visit with him, but try to take it easy on him, okay? No upsetting him and no trying to talk him into going anywhere. He’s my patient!”
The three of them nod and head to Rodney’s bed. “Hey, buddy,” John says, plastering on a smile he doesn’t feel. His heart thumps oddly at the look of delight in Rodney’s eyes at the sight of his friends, though it’s quickly shadowed.
“Jennifer told you?” Rodney asks quietly, his fingers plucking at the bedspread.
“She did,” Teyla confirms with a slight nod. “We will be here for you, Rodney. You will not be alone through this.”
Ronon grunts in agreement, but stays quiet. One look tells John that it’s for the best, because Ronon appears more than a little pissed about the restrictions placed on them by Keller. Clearing his throat, John awkwardly pats Rodney’s shoulder and adds, “One of us’ll stay with you at all times, okay, buddy? Least while you’re awake or until Doctor Keller kicks us out.”
Rodney’s smile and look of utter trust has John’s stomach doing summersaults. “Okay, John.”
They talk for a little while longer before it’s time for John and Ronon to go. Teyla’s taking first shift. Ronon and John both turn at the door to glance back and they both grin at the sight of Teyla sitting at Rodney’s bedside, patiently explaining an Athosian tea ritual to him – the very ritual Rodney had done for Teyla two years before when he’d nearly Ascended.
As they walk to the transporter, Ronon nudges John’s arm. “You okay?”
John snorts, rolling his eyes. No, he’s anything but okay. How can he be okay when he’s having to watch the one person he cares about — loves, even — lose every part of himself. His whole identity. How can John be okay, when he’s never going to get the chance to let Rodney know how he feels? Not that that wasn’t by choice, but that was the rub, wasn’t it. That had been John’s choice and now there was none. Because how could John ever clue Rodney in on his feelings when Rodney wasn’t really Rodney anymore — not as far as being a consenting adult went, at any rate.
Instead of voicing his thoughts however, John merely shrugs, studiously avoiding catching Ronon’s eye. Stepping into the transporter, John stabs at his destination point, perhaps a little more viciously than necessary and says, “No, of course I’m not. Neither are you.”
Which is true. John knows Ronon well enough by now to realize he cares a great deal about his friends. Though like John, Ronon holds his emotions close to the vest. As unlikely a friendship as Ronon and Rodney have, it is nonetheless a good one and it’s obvious — to John at any rate — that it pains Ronon to see his friend in distress. Especially when there is something that can be done for him, short lived as the solution might be.
Ronon nods, huffing, “I don’t get why Jennifer-”
John holds up his hand. “I know. Trust me, I know.”
With a sigh, Ronon rolls his shoulders. “Wanna spar?”
The non sequitur almost startles a laugh from John. Shaking his head, he grins. “Nah, gotta check in with Major Lorne, see how the newest batch is holding up.”
“Later,” is all the response John gets to that as Ronon turns and heads toward the gym.
No doubt there’ll be a few marines in need of the infirmary later, John thinks. Pushing everything to the back of his mind as best he can — something he’s had ample training at over the years — John concentrates on the task at hand and goes to search out his second in command.
A few hours later, John is headed back to the infirmary to take his turn to sit with Rodney. He’s got his laptop under one arm, and a bowl of popcorn under the other. Watching movies should be a safe enough activity, he hopes.
Jennifer is by Rodney’s side, taking some readings and chattering away. John struggles to hide his dismay as he realizes that she’s flirting with Rodney and Rodney is actually flirting back. “Sorry, I can come back later,” John says, already backing up.
Rodney’s face lights up with a smile that reaches his eyes as he hears John. “John! You’re here!”
The enthusiasm in Rodney’s voice makes John’s heart trip a few beats. Like nothing in the world could have been more welcome to Rodney than John. Managing a smile, he walks up to the bed, placing the laptop at the end. “‘Course, buddy. Told you I would be. Even brought snacks and movies.”
He side-eyes Keller, who blushes as she quickly makes a few notes and mumbles, “I’ll be back later. You two have fun.”
Rodney scoots over and straightens up against the headboard, patting the space next to him. “Sit, sit. We can put the laptop on the tray and watch without either of us getting a crick in the neck.”
John only hesitates a moment. As often as they’ve sat by the other’s bedside for one reason or another, and as many movies as they’ve watched during those times, this is something they’ve never done before. Yet the thought that he refuse Rodney, now of all times, doesn’t sit right. Besides, how could he deny himself the chance to be close to Rodney like this? He just has to be careful, is all.
So they settle together on the bed, long legs stretched out, the bowl of popcorn between them as they watch Grease. Rodney chuckles as Olivia Newton John appears on screen. “Man, she’s hot.”
John nearly chokes on a popcorn, laughing in spite of himself. “Still have a crush on her, I see.”
Rodney pulls himself up semi-indignantly and glares at John. “Of course I do. I mean, look at her! She’s hot! And I might be going senile, but I’m not blind.”
Abashed, John can feel the tips of his ears burn. “Right; sorry buddy,” he mumbles.
Mollified, Rodney turns his attention back to the screen while John divides his between the movie and his best friend. It’s clear to see Rodney enjoys the movie a lot, even humming along to the songs now and then. John has never seen Rodney this relaxed and laid back before. He is torn between liking that side of him, and hating it because it means his Rodney is fading away, never to return.
After the movie they play a couple of games of chess on John’s computer — a program that Rodney had set up for him a few weeks after arriving on Atlantis — and to John’s dismay he wins more than he loses. He aches every time Rodney capitulates because normally, Rodney and he are evenly matched and he never gives up easily.
When Ronon shows up for his shift, John is more than ready for a break, though he’d never admit to it. Part of him is loathe to leave his friend, to not be there in these final moments. But to watch this rapid recline? It’s torture, and even John has his limits. After a promise to return in the morning before work, John escapes the infirmary.
He can’t handle being in his room though, so he drops off his laptop and heads to the jumper bay. As soon as the hatch of Jumper One closes behind him, John releases a sigh of relief. Smiling softly, he pats the console gently. “At least you never change,” John murmurs as he sits down.
For a while, all John does is sit in quiet reflection, but before long he lets out a deep sigh. Running his fingers along the console, he whispers, “What am I supposed to do? I feel so… so helpless.”
Resting his head back against the chair, John closes his eyes, allowing the feel of Atlantis — of Jumper One — to filter through. Welcoming. Caring. Almost understanding, it seems to him. “He kinda snuck up on me, you know? Before Rodney, I never had a best friend aside from Holland. And I had to watch him die, too. Holland was the only one that never gave a damn that I was a Sheppard. All he cared about was whether I loved to fly as much as he did, was good at what I did, and whether I had his back. Everything else was gravy for him.”
Sighing, he pauses for a moment. “Hell, Lyle Holland was probably my only friend up until Atlantis. David and I were never friends. We were barely brothers. Did I ever tell you about that? Why my own brother hates me so much? Dad does, too, for that matter. They both blame me for mom dying when she gave birth to me. Dad never forgave me and David… well, he followed dad’s lead. Didn’t help that he’s almost a decade older, either. He had no use for a baby, or so he’d tell me every chance he got.”
John huffs, shaking his head. “Didn’t matter what I did, either. For either of them. No-good disappointment, is what I am to them. A burden. A black mark on the precious family name. There wasn’t anyone else, just me, dad, David, and the odd nanny.”
Silence hangs heavy in the air as John’s words settle around him. He imagines he feels Atlantis reaching out to him, Jumper One trying to soothe him. John’s lips twitch with a small smile. “Thanks, baby,” he murmurs, patting the wall. “You’re right. I have a family now, here, on Atlantis.”
That’s something John still marvels at every day, though he tries not to dwell on it too much. “Guess everyone sort of snuck up on me,” he admits quietly. “Especially Rodney. Teyla, too, actually. It’s easy with her, you know? When I met her, she had no idea who John Sheppard was. No idea about who my family was, or about that black mark on my record. It meant nothing to her. She saw me for me and she liked what she saw.”
John smiles fondly as he thinks back to that first meeting. “It was easy after that. Well, sort of. Easier, at least. And then Rodney!” John huffs a laugh. “Man, I had never in my life met anyone quite like him before. He didn’t give a crap about rank or anything. I think he held people by two standards: Smart or Not-Smart, and most everyone falls under Not-Smart with him. Nothing else really seems to ever matter to him, and if it does, he just blusters over everybody anyway. Equal opportunity asshole, some people called him. I kinda liked that, though. I know, I know, I’m weird.”
He shrugs. “It’s not easy keeping up with him, you know, but I think he was surprised that I even tried, never mind was able to — to an extent, at least.”
He watches his fingers trace idle patterns on the armrest for a while. “At first it was easy to just rile him up. Took me a while to figure out that we were friends, you know? I nearly died — did die — before that sunk in.” Shuddering, John mumbles, “Freaking hate bugs.”
After a few minutes, he adds, “Then that whole fiasco with Cadman and Rodney being… fused. Watching him kiss Carson.” John shakes his head, fingers running through his hair. “I’d never been jealous before.”