The gym was dark and empty that late at night, for which Aiden was grateful. He needed to get the anger and embarrassment out of his system without an audience. He had spent days believing the worst about McKay's actions during the storm and the Genii invasion.
He walked over to the heavy bag in the corner, found a pair of gloves, and started hitting the bag for all he was worth.
Sheppard had tried to tell him back on the mainland, he realised.
You were there …
I really didn't think after all this time, I'd need to still be wondering …
Aiden gave the bag several quick hits in succession as he remembered the disappointed look on Sheppard's face. He'd believed Sheppard had been blinded to McKay's obvious faults, that he refused to see the truth about McKay due to their close friendship. It turned out he was the blind one, willing to believe the worst in a teammate on little more than rumor. His grandmother would be ashamed of him, he knew.
He is an honorable man.
I choose to believe there is more to what happened than what we know.
Teyla's words echoed in his head as he dropped back a step and landed several power punches on the bag. Aiden realised he had made one of the biggest mistakes a Marine could make. He had assumed.
He had assumed McKay had panicked during the storm.
He had assumed the ridiculous bandage wrapped around his jacket was merely attention-seeking.
He had assumed McKay would give up information at the first opportunity.
Now he knew there was more to the story, just as Teyla had said.
He'd been shocked at the damage to McKay's arm once Beckett removed the bandages. McKay's forearm had looked like mincemeat. Between the cuts and the stitches, never mind the swelling and the angry red streaks from the infection, Aiden had nearly bolted before Sharon came back into the room. Aiden had been so sure McKay was exaggerating the extent of any injuries he had to save face. Now he knew, if anything, McKay had underplayed things.
He stopped the bag from swinging and leant against it for a moment with his eyes closed. He wasn't an idiot. He knew Beckett had recruited him to help because Sheppard had suggested it.
Because you had refused to listen, Aiden chastised himself. He let go of the bag and landed several hard blows in succession. He finished with a series of rapid-fire jabs, then stepped back from the bag, breathing heavily, as he looked around the darkened room.
He remembered the last time he'd been here. Bowers and Stephens gossiping about the invasion and Aiden silently agreeing with their assessment that McKay was to blame. How Thompson had glared at all of them and gave Aiden such a disappointed look as he walked out of the room.
Thompson, who barely knew McKay, had known better than to take the stories at face value, Aiden reminded himself. If the code of conduct hadn't prevented it, Aiden was sure Thompson would have ripped into him right then and there for throwing a teammate under the rumor mill bus.
Three days ago, Aiden had watched McKay stagger through the 'gate dragging Sheppard behind him, and he realised he'd make still more wrong assumptions.
That McKay had been the one injured and thus slowing down Sheppard.
That McKay wouldn't do whatever he had to, to watch Sheppard's back.
That McKay was somehow weaker than the rest of the team because he wasn't trained military.
Maybe he was an idiot, after all, Aiden thought as he gave the bag a few more solid hits.
"Lieutenant Ford?" Teyla called from the doorway to the gym. "Doctor Beckett paged me. He said you may need someone to talk to." She walked across the gym and stood against the wall next to the heavy bag.
Aiden snorted and sat on one of the benches along the wall. He pulled off the gloves and sat with his elbows braced on his knees, and hung his head.
"What has happened?" she asked as she sat next to him.
"Major Sheppard took drastic measures," Aiden said cryptically at the floor.
When Teyla made no reply, Aiden glanced over at her and sat with his back against the wall. "He maneuvered Doctor Beckett into having me help him with Doctor McKay's arm. Sheppard wanted me to see exactly what Kolya had done to him, I guess." He looked down at his hands and shook his head. "I didn't expect … that." He glanced at Teyla. "What Kolya did was torture, plain and simple. Doctor McKay's arm looks awful."
"This is what Doctor Beckett calls 'tough love'?" Teyla asked.
Aiden chuckled. "Yeah, I guess," he agreed. "Not sure he needed to go that far, though."
"Yeah," Aiden sobered. "I was there when Doctor McKay brought Sheppard through the 'gate. I saw how bad off Sheppard was, and I saw Doctor McKay drop as soon as they were home." He blew out a breath. "I figured out pretty fast at that point I'd made a big mistake."
"So what will you do now?" she asked.
Aiden stood with a sheepish smile. "I apologise to Doctor McKay and hope he doesn't shut off some vital system in my quarters."
Teyla smiled. "Somehow, I doubt that will happen," she told him as they left the gym.
Aiden turned down the hallway to his quarters and stopped. "How did you know?" he called to Teyla.
"Lieutenant?" she replied, coming back to the junction where they'd separated.
"You seemed to just know Doctor McKay wouldn't betray Sheppard. How could you know that?"
"They are chaguo ndugu," she said simply.
Aiden shook his head. "Brothers by choice, yeah, I remember. So?"
Teyla frowned at him. "It is more than just a phrase, Lieutenant. They are bound to each other by ties of more than mere friendship. They are family, with all of the responsibility that entails. One could no more betray the other any more than he could betray himself."
Aiden was still thinking about that when Teyla smiled gently. "Good night, Lieutenant. I will see you in the morning."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney woke to something tickling his face and tried to brush away whatever was making his nose itch so he could go back to sleep.
"You must leave that alone, Doctor McKay. It is there to help, " a gentle voice said.
With far more effort than he thought it should take, Rodney managed to get his eyes open enough to see someone beside him. He blinked a few times, and the someone came into focus as Teyla, sitting in a chair.
"It is good to see you awake," she told him. "Doctor Beckett said you may have some water if you wish." She held up a cup with a straw, and Rodney nodded.
"John?" he croaked once he'd had a few swallows of water.
Teyla smiled and moved. "He is here. Doctor Beckett says he will heal. You both will be fine."
Rodney looked over at the other bed and saw John sleeping peacefully. He no longer twitched in his sleep, and the fever seemed to be gone, too. Rodney sighed and closed his eyes. Against all odds, he'd managed to get John back in time.
"How long?" he asked in a hoarse whisper. He opened his eyes when Teyla didn't answer right away.
"You have been back four days," Teyla replied, and Rodney frowned.
Four days? Rodney asked himself. How had he lost four days?
"You have been very ill," Teyla said as if reading his mind.
Rodney didn't remember being sick. Wasn't John the one who was sick? He glanced down at his arm and saw the clean bandages.
"Not your arm," Teyla told him. "Doctor Beckett said you had something called pneumonia. That is why you still need the oxygen."
It was getting harder to keep his eyes open, and Rodney let them drift shut again.
"That is also why you are so tired," she whispered. "Go back to sleep."
The next time he woke up, the voices were different.
"If I catch you getting out of that bed again, I will find a set of restraints and tie you to it," Beckett's voice growled.
"I just want to sit with him," Sheppard replied.
"You are sitting with him, Major. He's right there. He's not going anywhere, and neither are you."
"Hey," Rodney tried to yell, but it came out as little more than a wheeze. "Trying to sleep here."
Rodney felt a hand on his shoulder, opened his eyes, and saw Carson peering down at him. "So you've decided to rejoin us, have you, lad?" Beckett said with a smile. "How do you feel?" he added as he looked over the monitors next to the bed.
"Hurts to breathe," Rodney admitted with a twinge of panic.
"Aye, that's not a surprise. You've come down with a touch of pneumonia, but you're going to be fine."
"John?" Rodney looked around Beckett and found Sheppard watching him.
"Hey," John said with a wave. "I'm fine. Better than you, in fact, seeing as I didn't catch pneumonia falling in a river."
"I fell in a river?" Rodney asked and furrowed his brow in puzzlement. "I don't remember that."
Beckett's expression changed to one of concern. "What's the last thing you do remember?"
Rodney glanced from Carson to John. "Umm, Sheppard was hurt. I had to get him back to Atlantis."
"Aye, and you did that," Carson said with a smile.
"Made a travois so he wouldn't have to walk." Rodney stared up at the ceiling, trying to remember. "I remember the river. We were on the wrong side. Had to figure out how to get across." He looked over at Carson. "I don't remember falling in, or how we got back for that matter."
"I'm not really surprised. With how low your blood sugar was, I'm not sure how you were still walking at all."
"Had to get John back to Atlantis," he mumbled as he looked down at his arm.
He didn't see Carson and Sheppard exchange a concerned glance or John's signal for Carson to leave them alone for a few minutes.
Rodney felt a pat on his arm. "I'll be right back," Carson said. "And I'll have a couple of trays brought over from the mess hall now you're awake."
"Rodney -" John started to say once Beckett was gone but was interrupted by Ford coming through the privacy curtain.
"Major," Ford greeted John with a nod. "Doctor McKay, it's good to see you awake."
Rodney looked up in surprise, unsure how to take Ford's comment. The last time he'd seen him, Ford had been angry and distant. He had made no effort to hide his opinion that he thought Rodney was a liability to the team. Rodney glanced at John, but Sheppard just stared right back, no help whatsoever for figuring out what he was supposed to do next.
He realised he had taken too long to reply when he saw Ford shifting his weight from foot to foot and toying with the cap in his hands. He's nervous? Rodney realised. Why was he nervous?
"Umm, Doctor McKay?" Ford said with a hesitant glance at Sheppard. "I … umm … I wanted to apologise for how I've been acting lately." He glanced at Rodney, then down at his hands playing with the cap. "I jumped to some conclusions, and … well … they were wrong … I was wrong. And I just wanted to say I'm sorry for that. I understand a few things better now, and it won't happen again."
Rodney studied Ford for a moment in stunned silence. No one had ever bothered to apologise to him before. What was he supposed to do? He noticed Ford watching him intently and glanced at John. Sheppard raised an eyebrow, and Rodney shrugged.
"Umm, okay," Rodney said to Ford.
Ford looked a little stunned. "That's it?"
Rodney frowned. "What did you expect?" He gave John a confused look, wondering what he'd done wrong.
Ford snorted and smiled. "I just thought I'd be grovelling for a few days at least just to keep you from shutting off my hot water or messing with the environmental controls in my quarters."
Rodney gave him an evil smile. "Oh, I never said I wouldn't do that, Lieutenant. But, since I'm apparently not getting out of here for a few days, you have that long to try and convince me not to do either of those things." He glanced at John again. "The sanitation system in that section of the city probably needs to be shut down and flushed."
"Okay, okay," Ford said, holding out his hands and grinning. "I still have to grovel."
"Lieutenant," Sharon greeted as she came around the screen with two trays on a cart. She gave one tray to John and the other to Rodney. "You should probably let them eat now."
"Oh, yeah, okay," Ford said, and with a wave at both of them, left with Sharon.
"You were awfully forgiving," John commented as he lifted the cover on his tray and started to eat.
Rodney shrugged. "The truth is I don't really blame him for thinking the worst. People are usually perfectly happy to only see what they want to see. Besides, I wasn't too proud of my actions, either."
"Rodney …" John drawled.
"I know, I know. I get it. I do." Rodney took the cover off his tray. "People rarely expect me to do the brave thing, is all."
"Ford should have known better," John retorted. "He's supposed to know you better than that."
Rodney glanced up at John. "I think you're more upset about how everyone acted than I am."
"Maybe I am," John replied, his tone gruff and he focused on his food.
Rodney twisted his lips in a crooked smile. "Thanks," he said.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
A week later, Rodney had finally been freed from Beckett's clutches with orders to get plenty of rest and not over-exert himself. He still had to take the antibiotics, his right arm was still bandaged, and he limped when he walked, but he was able to get back to work, and that's what mattered most.
Thanks to Zelenka, he was up-to-date on the current state of the science department, and for once, everything was running smoothly. No city systems on the edge of going critical. No research projects in need of his personal supervision. The more Rodney thought about it, the more suspicious he became. Radek was running interference for him, he realised. Probably on orders from Beckett.
Rodney hated to admit it, but he still tired easily. Carson had told him it was to be expected. Something about exhaustion, low blood sugar, and pneumonia taking its toll, but that didn't make it any less irritating. He had things to do. He didn't have time to waste on naps.
"What would help would be some coffee," he grumbled under his breath as he walked down the hall to his lab.
Carson had cut his coffee consumption to one cup, at breakfast only. What was worse, it seemed he had managed to get the entire base to conspire to help him, led by Sheppard.
Rodney entered the lab, turned on the light over his work table, and froze. A box sat on the table. A box he didn't remember leaving there. He reached out to touch the box and jerked his hand back when something inside the box started ticking.
The ticking continued for a few seconds then stopped. Rodney stared at the box, debating who he should call and wondering why someone would leave a booby-trap in his lab when the ticking started again.
"That sounds like …" He stepped closer to the table a listened to the tapping.
He couldn't help the silly grin on his face when he realised what the sound was and pulled the top off the box. Inside was a telegraph, just like the one he showed Jinto and his friends how to make. He lifted the telegraph out of the box and set it on the work table.
"Sheppard," he muttered and shook his head.
The receiver started clacking again, and Rodney grabbed a pen and paper.
Before John could repeat the message again, Rodney sent a hasty reply and left the lab. He stepped outside a few minutes later and immediately regretted the jacket he'd left hanging on the back of his chair. It was a nice day. The sky was clear, and sunlight danced on the waves, but the ever-present wind was cool.
He saw John sitting on the end of the pier and shrugged. It wasn't that cold, he told himself. He'd been outside without a coat before. It wouldn't kill him.
Rodney walked to the end of the pier and sat down beside John, dangling his legs over the edge of the pier. "Something wrong with the radio?"
John grinned. "Nope. This was just more fun."
Rodney shook his head and smiled. "How did you even know I knew Morse Code?"
"You said you'd learned the principles of how a telegraph worked. I figured that included Morse Code."
"That was a long time ago," Rodney pointed out. "I could've forgotten, you know."
John smiled. "I've been in your head, remember? I don't think you've ever forgotten anything you've ever learned."
Rodney couldn't deny that, so he changed the subject. "When did you make them?"
"Last couple of days," John replied. "Zelenka had some ideas on how to extend the range." He glanced at the telegraph on his other side next to a thermos. "Works pretty good."
Rodney shivered in a gust of wind.
"Why didn't you bring a coat?" John asked. "Carson will kill you if he sees you out here in just your shirt-sleeves."
"Didn't think to grab it," Rodney replied, rubbing his hands together.
"Here," John said and handed him the thermos cup. "If you tell Beckett where you got this, I'll deny everything."
Rodney sipped at the cup and closed his eyes with a blissful expression as he swallowed the coffee. He opened them a moment later when he heard John chuckle.
He took another sip, savoring the flavor, and held the cup in his hands. "Why the sudden inclination to give me contraband?" Rodney asked. "I thought you were Beckett's main conspirator keeping me away from coffee."
"You're cold," John said with a shrug. "We'll tell him it was medicinal."
Rodney took another sip. If John was willing to risk it, he wouldn't argue. He finished the coffee and gave back the cup. "Was there any particular reason you wanted to meet out here?" he asked. "I do have a nice warm lab we could be sitting in."
He shivered again, and John shook his head as he took off his jacket and handed it over. "Here."
Rodney grimaced and was about to refuse when another gust blew past, and he shivered again. He took the coat without a word and zipped it up.
"I thought Canadians were supposed to be impervious to cold," John said. He poured another cup of coffee and took a sip.
"I tolerated winter," Rodney replied. "Why do you think I left? You still haven't answered my question. Why are we out here instead of my lab?"
"I wanted to test the telegraphs," John said nonchalantly but refused to look at Rodney. He finished the coffee and toyed with the cup from the thermos for a moment before he added, "I talked to Zelenka a little while ago. He had your scanner -"
"No wonder I couldn't find it," Rodney grumbled. "What's he doing with it? I have those algorithms set up in a particular way. He better not think he can make 'improvements'." He mimed the quote marks.
"It's nothing like that," John said. "He told me that since you didn't remember a lot of the trek back to the 'gate, and I was kinda out of it, he wanted to see if there was a way to track the path you followed to get us home."
"Why?" Rodney asked. He tried not to sound defensive but found he was sitting with his arms tightly crossed over his chest, and it wasn't because he was cold.
"What?" John asked.
"Why is everyone so fascinated with what happened?" Rodney asked and flung his hands away from his sides. "I spent that entire day in pain and afraid. Afraid we'd be caught. Afraid I wouldn't be able to get you back to Carson in time." Rodney hunched his shoulders and rubbed his bandaged arm. "The last thing I want to do is keep reliving the experience."
"Rodney -" John started to say, but Rodney spoke over him.
"And then, once I did manage to get you home, I collapsed in a graceless heap as soon as we were through the 'gate." He glanced out at the water. "Not one of my better moments. The rumor mill must have had a field day with that part. I guess I should feel grateful I was stuck in the infirmary. Made it easier to avoid the gossip."
"That's not what happened," John said, his expression serious.
Rodney snorted and shook his head.
John studied him for a moment, then said, "The way I heard it, the Marines want to find a way to preserve that sled you made. They were really impressed by what you did. I hear Thompson wants to hang it in the armoury as a good luck charm."
Rodney felt John watching him, waiting to see how he would react, but he didn't know what to say. "It was the best idea I could come up with at the time," he replied and fiddled with a loose thread in the jacket sleeve.
"Well, it worked," John said. "Zelenka told me he thinks you hiked about ten miles getting back to the 'gate."
Rodney snorted and looked over at John. "His math is wrong," he said dismissively. "The village wasn't more than a few kilometers from the 'gate."
"True," John said, "but we weren't in the village, and you didn't walk in a straight line. You kept changing direction."
"Couldn't afford to get caught," Rodney replied. He remembered that. Vividly.
John tapped his arm, and Rodney glanced at him.
"Thank you," John said and draped an arm over Rodney's shoulders. "Seems your best was good enough after all."
Rodney looked anywhere but at Sheppard. "It was my turn," he mumbled.
John pulled Rodney closer and then relaxed, leaving his arm across Rodney's shoulders.
"Ford told me Elizabeth was able to make a deal with Rowland for the seed the Athosians need," John said a few minutes later. "She was also able to get Rowland and Terris to talk to each other and come up with a plan for evacuating the two villages if the Wraith try to cull the planet."
Rodney grunted. He was glad they got the seed, but he really didn't care what happened to the people on that planet. John must have sensed his mood and changed the subject.
"You know, I heard most of what you said. About Ford and not understanding people. About Kolya."
Rodney tried not to react to the name but couldn't help the shudder down his spine. John tightened his hold for a moment.
"We beat him, remember?" John said. "He's not going to hurt you again."
Rodney took a deep breath and nodded.
"And, Rodney?" John said and waited for Rodney to look at him. "It's our team. Got it?"
Rodney smiled. "Yeah. Got it."
"Good," John replied. He dropped his arm and climbed to his feet.
Rodney frowned when he heard John's hiss of pain and saw him press a hand against his side. At the same time, he felt an odd tingle at the base of his skull and rubbed the back of his head. What was that? he wondered as the tingle faded.
John reached for the thermos, but Rodney got there first. "I've got it," he said and picked up the thermos and telegraph before John tried to bend over again.
"You said something about a nice warm lab?" John asked. "Kinda cold out here without a jacket."
Rodney smiled and stood. "Sure. As long as there's more coffee in the thermos."
John draped his arm back over Rodney's shoulders. "Carson is gonna kill us."
"Only if he finds out," Rodney replied, hugging the thermos close to his chest. "I'm not going to tell him."