Word count: 2897
Characters: McKay (H/C), Zelenka, Sheppard
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Angst
Disclaimer: "Stargate" and all related characters are the property of MGM Television Entertainment
Summary: Rodney knew that he was a proud man. But he'd never admit it.
Rodney could smell the coffee, no matter how much he tried to pretend to himself that he couldn’t. The tangy, bitter smell drifted towards him, tempting him, tantalising him, from the full coffee pot on the other side of the lab. The full coffee pot of the really good coffee.
Next to him, his mug was empty, as it had been for the last hour. He had held it nearly upside down several minutes ago, until even the very last cold drops of liquid within had slid to the rim, to be caught by his waiting mouth. Right now, he was parched. But the coffee, he knew, was out of his reach.
He turned back reluctantly to his computer screen, and tried to ignore the delicious smell. His stomach suddenly rumbled in sympathy with his nose, and he groaned quietly, realising just how hungry he was, too. Without much hope, he fumbled through his pockets, but the only loot they contained was an empty powerbar wrapper, which he pulled out disgustedly and tossed into the bin next to his desk, with the others. He tipped the mug again and peered inside, but no more coffee materialised within it.
Glancing around, he reassured himself that none of the other scientists had noticed him, absorbed as they were in projects of their own. Actually, the lab was mostly empty right now. Almost everyone had taken a break for lunch. His stomach rumbled again at the though, but he angrily tried to suppress it His left leg was growing numb, but he didn’t want to shift his position, so he ignored that too. And buried himself once again in the schematics he was working on. He had got so far behind…
“You did not go for food?” a voice in his ear asked suddenly, after several minutes had inched past.
He looked up, and found that Radek had come in, and was now standing in front of his desk and fixing him with a disapproving expression, holding a wrapped sandwich. Its presence made his treacherous stomach rumble again, which in turn made him more irritated. “I’m busy,” he said shortly.
“So I see. But still you need to eat. Especially – ”
“I’m not hungry.”
Radek’s eyebrows rose slightly at the transparent lie, but his tone of voice didn’t change. “Too bad I happened to bring back spare sandwich, then.” He placed it on a corner of Rodney’s desk, on top of someone’s printed report which was almost obliterated underneath a hurricane of red inked notes. “Maybe in a bit you change your mind and eat it.”
Rodney paused, looking at it. “Thanks,” he muttered gruffly, after a moment, his voice low.
Radek shrugged, as if Rodney refusing food was a normal course of events. “Is nothing. You could have just asked.” He picked up Rodney’s mug. “I’m getting coffee. Shall I fetch more for you as well?”
“If you’re going to anyway…” Rodney conceded. He followed Radek’s progress across the room and back with his eyes, and gulped down half of the warm liquid as soon as he had it in his hand, nearly scalding his mouth, but the relief it gave to his dry throat more than made up for that. “Thanks,” he said again, and waited for Radek to go away.
Radek just stood there, watching him, as if waiting for him to say or do something else. “What?” Rodney snapped.
“Nothing,” was the slightly aggravated answer, and the Czech turned away to his own desk with a distinct huff of exasperation.
Rodney gave it a decent interval, checking that Radek wasn’t looking at him, and then tore the wrapping from the sandwich, wolfing it down in very few bites. If anyone noticed, they didn’t comment.
It was hours later, and he was blinking sleep out of his eyes, when John came to find him. He leant casually against the doorframe. “Still working, McKay?” he asked.
“What does it look like?” Rodney shot back, but with considerably less energy than usual. “You think this city runs by itself?”
“I think that since everyone else’s packed in for the day, you can afford to do the same,” was the calm reply.
“Thank you for your advice, Colonel. Much appreciated, I’m sure.” The words had been intended sarcastically, but they came out sounding simply tired.
They certainly failed in their purpose, which was to drive John away. He advanced instead. “You should be resting.”
“I am resting. Look, I’m sitting down.”
“Yeah, somehow I’m not convinced that was what Carson meant, and you’re lucky that no one’s blabbed on you to him. You need proper rest. Come on, I’ll give you a hand.”
Rodney waved him off with an impatient gesture. “I don’t need a hand, thank you very much. I’m just fine.”
“McKay, don’t be an idiot.”
He ground the heel of one hand into his forehead. “I’m busy. If you leave me alone, I’ll be done quicker.”
“McKay – ”
“I’m not tired. Why are you acting like my mother?”
John slid aside a pile of documents to make space on the desk, and then proceeded to sit on it. He picked up the sandwich wrapper which lay on top of them. “And if Zelenka hadn’t brought you that, would you have been hungry?”
“How did you know Zelenka brought me that?” Rodney asked immediately.
“I asked who it was for.”
Traitor, he thought. Annoyance stirred him up enough that he could momentarily forget his exhaustion altogether, and expel it from his voice. “If you don’t have anything useful to say, please get out of my lab. I’m working.”
“I’m just trying to help.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t want your help, Colonel,” he shot back sharply. “So why don’t you run along and save your pity for someone who wants it?”
For a moment, it looked as if John was still trying to be understanding. But then his face closed off. “Fine,” he replied. “Suit yourself.” And he strode out of the room without looking back, the lights turning off as he left, leaving Rodney illuminated only by the dim light from the monitor.
He waited until the sound of John’s heavy footsteps had faded, and then mentally ordered the lights back on, with a muttered swear-word under his breath at the childishness of the act. Then he paused, and looked around him.
Now that the quick flash of anger had passed, he was already having reservations about snapping at John like that. He could have asked him to fetch some more coffee. More importantly, the distance to his room suddenly seemed interminably far as he measured it in his mind. Maybe… maybe he could have done with a hand, after all.
He couldn’t sleep here. He may indeed have been sitting down, but his body still ached and resented the position.
“On three,” he muttered to himself abruptly, knowing that if he waited, he’d be able to talk himself out of the decision. “Ok, one, two, three – ah!”
He gasped in pain as he pushed himself upright, the deep and barely-healed stab wound in his abdomen wrenching by the movement and streaking liquid fire down through his nerves. He grabbed the desk for support, leaning over it until he no longer thought that he was about to fall, and his other hand went to his radio, ready to apologise to John, even ready for a second to beg for his help. But then, fatally, he paused to consider, and his hand fell back to his side. No. He would rely on no one. The week he had spent in the infirmary had been different, then it had been unavoidable, but now he had been released. And in no way would he give Carson the satisfaction of knowing that he had probably been right to be so reluctant about his departure, nor John, for backing him up. Especially after what John had shouted at him, leaning over him on that stony floor while he screamed, convinced that he was about to die, as Teyla tried to stop the bleeding. “Shut up, McKay, it isn’t that bad! Just suck it up!”
Grimly, with a set face, he groped his way along his desk, and held his breath as he stumbled to the neighbouring one, and then to the wall, where he had to pause for several long moments before he managed, with its support, to lurch across to the doorway, grabbing the doorframe and clutching to it as if it was his only lifeline. His vision was beginning to swim, and he could feel sweat beading on his temples.
He tipped his head backwards and groaned aloud. He had covered, what? five metres?
It was on purpose that he had waited until everyone else had left. It was also on purpose that he had arrived before everyone else that morning, and hadn’t moved from his seat all day. He couldn’t stand anyone else seeing him like this. Weak. Dependent. But the pain he had suffered through that morning was nothing compared to the agony he was enduring now that he had stiffened up. Again he reached for his headset, and again he didn’t touch it. But he told himself that if anyone came along the hallway, he would ask for help. They would be there anyway. It would be different from having to call for it.
As if in answer to his wish, footsteps blossomed into hearing, and got louder and louder. They paused momentarily just out of sight, and then continued on until he could see their owner. One of the marines. He didn’t have any idea of the man’s name, not that that was unusual.
“You ok there, sir?” the marine asked him.
Rodney hesitated. No longer moving, the pain had dulled somewhat to a more manageable throb around his midsection.
“I’m fine,” he said stiffly, and waved the man on, waiting until he disappeared.
With his next step, he realised what a stupid thing he’d just done as the fire flared up again through his chest, reaching his lungs and making it hard to breath. A glance at his watch – once its digits unblurred – reaffirmed the point; it was a couple of hours after midnight, and he was hardly likely to meet anyone else.
Trying to put as much of his weight against the wall as he could, he managed to get a little further, before stopping and gasping, realising also just how much he was trembling. His knees were threatening to give way. He looked ahead of him down the unending corridor. Why had he been so insistent that Carson let him out? Right now he could think of nothing better than lying safe in an infirmary bed with food on a tray nearby and a nice cocktail of painkillers in his system. He would probably even be allowed a laptop.
To hell with this. Pain finally won out over pride, as he should have let it do a long time ago, and this time his fingers made contact with the smooth plastic of the radio. And then another spasm splintered through him and before he could prevent it, his suddenly-clenching hand had knocked the radio from his ear altogether. Far too slowly, he made a grab for it, but missed by several light-years, and it hit the floor and bounced a couple of times, spinning off ahead of him across the smooth surface, and coming to rest against the opposite wall, and a good few metres away forward.
Rodney swore viciously. To reach it again would require bending down, which meant that it may as well have been at the bottom of the ocean. He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the coolness of the wall, silently wishing that he was anywhere but there. He may have actually spoken that aloud; he wasn’t sure.
“Need this, McKay?”
He started, and looked up to see that John had stepped from a hitherto unnoticed position in one of the doorways just ahead, and was now swinging Rodney’s radio from one hand.
Rodney was too exhausted, too wracked with pain, to demand what he was doing spying on him, or to protest it. Instead, he said in a very small voice, “I think I need some help here.”
John raised an eyebrow. “I’d say so.” He stuffed the radio into a pocket and arranged his arm around Rodney’s shoulder. “You think you can manage to walk a little further? Or shall I call Carson for a gurney?”
“I can walk,” Rodney said immediately. He began, to prove his point. Taking small steps, and with John supporting him, it was much easier than his previous exertion. Still hurt like hell, though, and used up all his breath, which his companion was quick to take advantage of.
“Why the hell are you doing this to yourself?” John asked, almost casually. “A week ago you were on Beckett’s table with half your guts spread out around you and several gallons of blood MIA. And now you suddenly decide that you can’t even ask for a coffee refill when you’re parched.”
Rodney mentally added another item to the list detailing why Radek was an irredeemable traitor, and also to the list entitled ‘Gross exaggerations of a Lieutenant Colonel’. But he couldn’t say anything aloud. Walking was using all his energy.
“You’re too damn proud,” John was continuing, his voice growing increasingly frustrated. “Come on, you haven’t gained very much by ‘proving’ to everyone that you could get back to work this fast, have you?”
“Hmm,” Rodney muttered, which somehow didn’t seem to be as good a comeback as he’d intended. He took another small step, and found that John wasn’t moving. “You’ve stopped.”
“Yes, because we’re outside your room.”
“Oh.” He allowed himself to be helped inside and onto the bed, where he simply lay down and closed his eyes.
“I’m calling Carson now,” John informed him.
“‘M fine. Leave me alone.”
“For God’s sake!” John seemed to feel that now was a good time to continue his lecture. “You can’t keep being so stubborn, McKay. Let people help you. Your scientists aren’t suddenly going to lead an uprising if you let them see that you’re actually a human being – although they may just faint from shock.”
“G’way,” Rodney muttered.
“You’re going to hear all this from Carson, you know.”
“Don’t need it twice.”
His eyes were still closed, and he had no intention of opening them, but he heard the bed creak and felt the mattress dip as John sat down. And then a drawn-out sigh. “You think it’s luck that Carson didn’t track you down somewhere in your experiment in being obstinate? We gave you a day to work this out on your own, but the message clearly hadn’t sunk in. Just what exactly do you think you’re trying to prove?”
“Look who’s talking,” Rodney replied sulkily.
“‘S what you do. And Ronon. And Teyla. You just get on. You told me to man up.”
“Oh, Christ.” The groaning sigh elicited from John then was heavy, and deep, and very real. “I was trying to make you mad enough that you’d stay awake while we got you back to the Gate. I wasn’t trying to give you the gospel on survival. I didn’t even think you’d remembered it.” He paused for a second, and Rodney couldn’t tell what expression he had on his face as his voice demanded, “Why didn’t you say anything before, if it was bothering you this much?”
“Doesn’t matter.” His hold on his state of awakeness was slipping, especially with his eyes closed, but something told him that it was very important that this conversation was seen through to the end.
“You know what?” John asked, so suddenly that it actually got his heavy eyelids to open. “Forget that. Just forget what I said back on that planet, and I’ll forget how damn stupid you were today. If you were trying to teach me a lesson by being that stubborn, I don’t care and I don’t want to know. Just don’t do it again. You’ve earned yourself more vacation time in the infirmary as it is, and I doubt you want to add to it.”
“You done yet with the sermon?”
A scowl. “No.”
Rodney groaned. “Can’t you just summarise the rest?” he asked. “You’re clearly longing to tell me that pride goes before a fall, so just say it and get it over with.”
John’s hand checked in the act of reaching up for his radio, probably for the delayed call to Carson. “Nah,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that.” And then, “Well, maybe I would. Actually, I’m going to.”
“Told you so,” Rodney muttered, letting his eyelids slide shut. Dimly, he felt John tugging off his boots, but didn’t have the energy to feel embarrassed about it. He heard John speaking into his earpiece, but he couldn’t make out the words within the drone of his voice. Doubtless he would get everything again from Carson in the morning, right down to certain clichés about pride. And falling.
And maybe he managed to say that thought aloud, or at least mumble it, because he suddenly felt John’s hand resting on his shoulder, and his voice saying, quietly, but perfectly clearly, “Don’t you worry about that. We’ll catch you.”