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Title: Reasons to Breathe
Author: islandofwords
Recipient: that_which
Pairing: Sheppard/McKay
Rating: PG (couple of swears)
Disclaimer: They’re not my characters?
Author's Notes: N/A
Summary: He can't believe Rodney still doesn't get it, still thinks every time Sheppard throws himself at a probably lethal problem, he's not doing it to end things but to make sure they keep going.

-o-

Sheppard comes to in the infirmary. It's dark, and Atlantis brings the lights up to a gentle glow before he even has to ask. Everything is a little fuzzy from the pain medication, so he doesn't immediately remember what landed him here, but it must have been bad if Keller's got him on the good stuff.

He glances around, notes a dull ache in one shoulder (great, he probably got shot again; that's gonna hurt like a bitch later), and spots McKay asleep in a chair next to his bed. His head is tucked into his shoulder, which doesn't look comfortable at all and about which he will probably complain later. There's a tablet computer on his lap, listing dangerously toward the floor, and he's still wearing his off-world uniform, streaked with grime what's probably Sheppard's blood. Sheppard guesses he must have bullied Keller into letting him stay. Carson would never have been so cowed, but he wasn't the Chief Medical Officer anymore, and he also wasn't still feeling awkward about a fairly recent break up.

Sheppard watches McKay sleep for a little while. It's so rare to see the man actually sit still that Sheppard can't help but indulge in a way he rarely lets himself.

It's not the first time Sheppard's woken up to a member of his team keeping a vigil over him in the infirmary--he's done himself. They look out for each other. He's touched by the gesture, even if McKay did probably (definitely) need a shower.

McKay is a little pale, the faint grey of exhaustion, and his face is drawn, tense even in sleep. Sheppard is torn between waking him up for some company and letting him sleep. McKay gets so little sleep between all the crises and his pet projects, even after all the nagging Sheppard does. It's a little better now that the Replicators are gone, the Genii are allies (more or less), and the Wraith are busy fighting each other, but they're still living in a ten thousand-year-old city full of dangerous and unstable Ancient experiments, and sometimes the power conduits just go. They're no longer fighting for their lives every moment of every day, but Sheppard wouldn't exactly call theirs a relaxing job.

He's saved the trouble of deciding what to do when McKay makes a sound like a snort and jerks awake. He throws out a hand to catch the tablet before he's even opened his eyes, just as it's about to slide off of his lap. He opens bleary eyes, sets the computer on the empty chair next to him, and turns to focus his attention on Sheppard.

"You're awake," he says around a yawn. "How are you?"

"Shoulder hurts a little," Sheppard admits. He rolls it experimentally and is rewarded with a sharp pain that quickly subsides into a dull ache. He can't keep the wince off his face.

"Don't do that," McKay admonishes. "Jennifer--uh, Dr. Keller--" McKay frowns--he hasn't gotten over the awkward aftermath of workplace dating either. It's made worse by the fact that he has to see Keller fairly often, whereas he rarely has to cause to visit the botany department, where his other ex-girlfriend (and her brand new paleobotanist husband) works.

McKay continues, "Anyway, she said not to move that shoulder. She made me promise not to let you as a condition of me staying."

That sounds like Keller, Sheppard thinks, knowing Rodney was going to stay regardless and using it to do her job.

"You could have grabbed a shower at least," jokes Sheppard.

McKay just shrugs. "It's what we do. You try your damndest to get killed, and one of us waits around to make sure you haven't succeeded."

Sheppard frowns. It's not like he does this on purpose. But someone has to make sure everyone makes it home, and it's Sheppard's call to make. "Look, Rodney, if there had been another way--"

McKay cuts him off. "You didn't even let us try! I could have rigged something up--"

"There wasn't time!" Sheppard interjects. "You said there wasn't time."

"We could have made time!" McKay nearly shouts at him. "You just charged in like you always do, like you're fucking Batman, regardless of what might happen to you." McKay's on his feet now, jabbing a finger in Sheppard's face. "Do you hate your life so much that you're willing to jump on the first blaze of glory that might take you out?"

"I had to," Sheppard tries weakly. "You could have died."

"And you almost did die!" McKay stares at him defiantly, breathing heavily. His hands are shaking, and his face is bright red with frustration.

Sheppard wishes he could make Rodney see--he's nearly died a hundred time; it's just what they do. It's all so much borrowed time, and anything he can do to give his team more of it is worth it. He never thought he'd make it so many years out here anyway, not with everything they've been through. One of these days his number will come up; that's just how it is.

"I've been shot before, Rodney," he says.

McKay just deflates. He collapses back into his chair, and he suddenly looks very, very tired, all of his years visible on his face. He scrubs a hand over his head, then says finally, "You didn't just get shot." He takes a breath and explains. "When the ship went up, there was shrapnel. You got hit, and there was… there was so much blood. We got you back in time, but only just. Jennifer said if it had been a couple millimeters to the left, it would have hit an artery, and you would have bled out. This one was… really close. Jennifer wasn't sure she could fix it. She almost didn't."

"I've had close calls before." Too many to count, really.

"Not like this."

It comes back to Sheppard then--a damaged Wraith cruiser on a populated world emitting mysterious (deadly, of course) radiation and not enough time to shut down the source of the leak. The radiation had interfered with the C4 remote detonators (as well as their radios), so Sheppard had to blow the leaky components manually. He sure as hell wasn't going to let anyone else do it.

But he's fine now, mostly. His shoulder will hurt when the drugs wear off and he'll be confined to desk duty for a couple of weeks. He lives to fight another day, he didn't lose anyone on his team, and they saved the locals. That's a win in Sheppard's book.

He knows McKay is just worried and tired. He's done his fair share of worrying; hell, when McKay had had that parasite, he'd practically moved into the infirmary, much to Keller's chagrin. "I'm okay, Rodney," he says.

"You almost weren't." McKay sighs. "Look, I have to tell Jennifer you're awake. Don't move your shoulder." He gets up, grabs his tablet, and turns out the light on his way out, leaving Sheppard alone in the dark.


Sheppard spends nearly a week in the infirmary, at Keller's insistence, even though he feels fine, more or less. She says if he's really fine, she can replace his morphine drip with Tylenol. He takes her up on it for about thirty seconds before the pain is too much and he caves.

McKay doesn't come back. Ronan visits, and so does Woolsey. Even Lorne drops in to commiserate (and tell him how pleased he is that Sheppard will finally have time for all of his paperwork). Teyla comes by with Torren on the last day of his prison sentence.

The baby he carried off of a Wraith hive ship is just older than two now, wobbling around on unsteady legs and learning to speak in sentences. Teyla pulls up a chair beside the bed while Sheppard is struggling to put his shoes on one-handed. She sits the boy on her lap, and Sheppard ruffles the kid's hair affectionately and tickles him while he and Teyla chat about the things he's missed while he's been out of commission.

He doesn't ask after McKay. Sheppard's not sure what he did to piss him off (besides save his life and almost die), but he's pretty sure McKay will come around eventually. He always does.

Teyla doesn't bring him up either, but as she's leaving, she says, "Despite his absence, I'm sure Rodney will be pleased to know you are recovering well. Come along, Torren."

"Bye Uncle John!" says Torren cheerfully with a pudgy wave. They leave.


Keller recommends eight weeks off of active duty. Sheppard is pretty sure he'll lose his mind after that many requisition forms, so they compromise on six, provided he comes in three times a week for physical therapy. Physical therapy's no picnic, but it beats making duty rosters until his eye cross, so he agrees.

McKay continues to avoid him by eating at odd hours and rarely leaving the labs, and after four of the six weeks, Sheppard has heard enough horror stories from McKay's staff about his worse-than-usual temper that he decides enough is enough. Plus, as much of a stubborn bastard as Sheppard is, he misses the company of his friend.

He doesn't particularly want witnesses, so goes to the labs around 2300 hours, when most of the scientists have gone to bed. He runs into Zelenka on his way out, heading towards his own quarters.

"It is about time," says Zelenka frostily. His hair is in an even worse state than usual, probably from pulling at it constantly. "He is completely--" he breaks off with a frustrated sound and throws his hands up. "Please talk to him." Then he stalks off down the hall.

Sheppard waves a hand at the door sensor and peers into the lab cautiously. He's expecting yelling and thrown objects, but instead, he finds McKay sitting calmly in front of a laptop, typing at his usual absurd speed. There's a cup of coffee near his elbow and a couple of PowerBar wrappers on his other side. His back is to the door.

"McKay?" Sheppard tries.

"I'm busy," responds McKay without stopping or looking away from the screen.

"Come on, Rodney," Sheppard tries again, a bit of a wheedle in his voice this time. "You're scaring the lab rats. I heard Miko swear."

That gets McKay's attention: Miko is practically a saint when it comes to dealing with his tantrums. He turns just enough to peer over a shoulder and quirk an eyebrow at Sheppard. "Well, she did it in Japanese," admits Sheppard, "but one of the Gate techs assures me that what she called you is not a word for children."

"Huh," says McKay with something like pride. He appears to have momentarily forgotten his irritation, but he remembers it a second later and turns away again. "I'm still busy."

Sheppard crosses the room, takes up a spot right next to McKay, and leans a hip against the table he's working on. McKay tries valiantly to ignore him, but Sheppard is an expert in pushing his buttons. Sheppard steals his coffee mug, and McKay glares at him.

It's not a good-natured glower, either. Sheppard has seen lesser expressions terrify his minions into sudden and complete silence, and Sheppard spends enough time with the Geek Squad to know how difficult it can be to shut them up. He's a little unnerved by it himself, truth be told. McKay doesn't usually turn that expression on him. He's seen it directed at others pretty frequently, and Rodney gets pretty mad at him sometimes, but not like this.

Sheppard suspects this is not a good time to crack a joke.

Instead, he sets the mug back down and offers, "I'm sorry I didn't give you more time."

McKay slams the lid of the laptop closed and turns his chair to face Sheppard. "Do you really think that's what this is about?" he demands.

Sheppard's not really sure what else it could be about. He gets that running back into the Cruiser to blow it up was reckless and probably stupid and could have killed him, but what was the alternative? McKay might have been able to cobble something together, maybe, but there was a clear solution for the time they had. Was he supposed to let the radiation kill them? Leave Torren without a mother and wipe out a whole village of people?

Sheppard has enough deaths on his conscious already.

McKay observes his confused expression, then rolls his eyes and says, "You're a moron, Sheppard." His tone is a little nasty, no trace of the joking tone he usually uses to insult him. "It wasn't that you did something stupid and reckless--that's practically your middle name. But you didn't even hesitate."

But he had, Sheppard wants to shout. He'd done the math--one maybe dead beat hundreds definitely dead, and he had done his best to make sure he got out of there alive.

"If I hadn't," Sheppard says defensively, annoyance creeping into his voice despite himself, "we all would have died."

"Which is obviously not ideal," McKay snaps. "But neither is you getting killed when I probably could have fixed it."

"You said there was nothing you could do!"

"Of course I said that! I always say that! Impossible takes a few minutes, remember?"

"You also said the radiation would kill us in minutes."

"Yes," McKay agreed testily, "but I meant five, not two. I can work with five!"

"Why the hell didn't you say this then?"

"I was going to but you decided you were Colonel Death Wish and ran off before I could!" Sheppard turns his own glare on McKay, but McKay continues, picking up steam. "I could have rigged a remote detonator that wasn't affected by the radiation or triggered a critical system overload in that section. I could have tried at least, but you were so eager to die--"

"I don't want to die, Rodney!"

This stops McKay short. He just blinks at Sheppard for a moment, the rest of his lecture stuck in his throat. Sheppard sighs and rubs a hand over the back of his neck, then continues, quieter this time, "I didn't go back in there because I thought it might kill me. I did it so none of us would die. The shrapnel was just bad luck. I don't want to die."

McKay looks sort of unconvinced and great, now Sheppard's going to have to talk about his feelings, the ones he generally refuses to acknowledge, much less discuss. Especially with McKay, who is generally too busy trying to marry blonde women for it to even come up.

"Look," says Sheppard awkwardly, "I don't have a death wish. Maybe I used to, a few years ago, But it's different now. I'm different now." Sheppard's going for sincere here, but it'll all just words to McKay. Neither of them has ever been good with words. McKay can string together one hell of an insult, but when it comes to things that really matter, it's just noise.

What the hell is he supposed to say to make Rodney understand? A few years ago, there was no point, really, and he was just existing. Everything was so fucked up after Holland, and then he wound up in Antarctica where nothing really mattered, but it was quiet and he got to fly, at least. And then he found something, maybe, in a city that lit up at his touch, but then there was Sumner and the Wraith and a galaxy-worth of deaths, all on his hands. There was Ford and Elizabeth, and things were pretty dark there for a little while.

But it's not like that anymore, not most days. He's got a flying city ship that can read his mind and Teyla, who can also practically read his mind, and the child she named for him. He's got Ronon, who's been through it all and understands without needing to read his mind.

And he's got Rodney, infuriating and impossible, simultaneously the smartest man in two galaxies and the densest person Sheppard's ever met. He can't believe Rodney still doesn't get it, still thinks every time Sheppard throws himself at a probably lethal problem, he's not doing it to end things but to make sure they keep going. How can he not understand when Sheppard knows a version of Rodney spent 25 years trying to change the past to keep Sheppard in it, when a version of him drowned trying to save people he hardly knew and certainly didn't care for.

But Sheppard can't make any of that come out in sentences. He and Rodney, they're both men of action, and Sheppard thinks there's no other way to make Rodney see. Sheppard will risk his life for these people, for anyone who needs protecting. He's no stranger to taking chances; this is just one more Puddle Jumper with an A-bomb.

So he takes a deep breath and, unable to keep from cracking a joke in the face of tension, even in his own mind, tells himself that if this goes as poorly as he thinks it probably will, he can always quit the Air Force, steal a Puddle Jumper, and join the Travellers. He'll miss Teyla and Torren and Ronon and the city, but Sheppard thinks he's willing to make the sacrifice.

Then he leans down and kisses McKay on the mouth.

McKay goes very still, and Sheppard retreats to the end of the table, mentally composing his letter of resignation. He considers making a break for it now--is there anything from his quarters that he really needs? But then McKay looks up at him with wide eyes and says articulately, "Bwuh?"

Sheppard almost laughs. He's rarely seen McKay rendered so completely non-verbal. He's seen him backtalk heads of state and Wraith Queens without missing a beat, but apparently Sheppard's lips have the power to short-circuit his brain. He files that information away for future use on the (probably very) off-chance his gamble has paid off.

"You kissed me!" McKay accuses finally, observant as always.

"Yes, McKay, I kissed you," responds Sheppard dryly.

McKay processes that for a moment. Then he demands, "Why?"

Sheppard does laugh now. "Because I wanted to, Rodney. Because I don't want to die."

McKay stares at him for a second more, and then all of a sudden, it's like a ZPM slots into place in McKay's brain, and finally, he gets it. It's like dormant systems waking up, lights turning on as he comes in the room. It reminds him of his first steps into Atlantis, the first mental touch of her. It's a little weird and definitely alien, but just so cool.

And then McKay is on his feet and across the room. "I didn't know," he says, and then he yanks Sheppard forward by the lapels and crashes their mouths together.
It's fast and hard and McKay's teeth knock against Sheppard's bottom lip so it hurts a little, but something in Sheppard seems to release a breath he didn't know it was holding, and it's a little bit perfect anyway.

Then they line up the kiss properly, and they have no more need of any words at all, just sounds. Sheppard turns a little so he can sit up on the table, and McKay presses in close, getting between his knees. He slides a hand around the back of Sheppard's neck and into his hair. A shiver runs down Sheppard's spine, and he wraps an arm around McKay, pulling him in close, flush against his chest.

They kiss for a long time, and eventually, they stop to breathe. They lean their foreheads together, like the Athosians do, and Sheppard can suddenly see the appeal of the gesture. They remain tangled in each other's limbs, and McKay says, "You never said."

Sheppard shrugs a shoulder. "Couldn't."

"Wouldn't," corrects McKay.

He's not exactly right, but he's not exactly wrong either, so Sheppard doesn't refute it. Instead, he says, "I'm sorry."

McKay runs his hand down Sheppard's neck and across his shoulder, brushing his fingers over his shoulder injury. It's mostly healed (the Ancient medical tech that Keller and Carson understand well enough to put into use is pretty incredible and Keller is an excellent surgeon), but his range of motion is still pretty limited on that side, and it still twinges painfully when he moves wrong. There's a pretty ugly scar there, and McKay runs his fingers over its edges lightly.

"Don't do it again," he says. His voice is soft, and he sounds tired and a little scared. "Let someone else be the hero for once."

The corner of Sheppard's mouth twitches up near a smile. McKay knows better than that. "I can't do that."

Rodney sighs. "I know. Could you at least, I don't know, consider it for more than a second? And maybe only if there's literally no other option?"

"Yeah, okay," agrees Sheppard. He catches McKay's free hand in his and laces their fingers together. McKay continues to trace his fingers over Sheppard's scar.

Hi still might go out with a bang, Sheppard thinks, chasing the things that want to kill his team right into hell. But that hasn't been the best-case-scenario for a while. He can't rule it out completely because these are the people he'll do absolutely anything for. Pegasus is a dangerous place, and the whole damn universe, it seems, is full of things that want to kill them, some of them him especially.

But Sheppard won't let them.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
clotpolelis
Dec. 18th, 2014 12:03 am (UTC)
GORGEOUS OMG.
islandofwords
Jan. 2nd, 2015 07:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
brumeier
Dec. 18th, 2014 04:45 am (UTC)
Oh, really, really good! I liked the insight into John's seemingly self-destructive tendencies, and the way you acknowledge that for a while it was like that but now he has a real home and people he cares about.

McKay stares at him for a second more, and then all of a sudden, it's like a ZPM slots into place in McKay's brain, and finally, he gets it. It's like dormant systems waking up, lights turning on as he comes in the room. It reminds him of his first steps into Atlantis, the first mental touch of her.

This was a great visual! I loved that!

And of course smoochies and touching and feeeeelings. Perfect!
islandofwords
Jan. 2nd, 2015 07:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm really pleased with that part. : )
popkin16
Dec. 18th, 2014 08:28 am (UTC)
Oh, my poor boys. Of course John would run headlong into danger, and of course Rodney will be so upset by that. I love that we gauge how terrible Rodney is being by Miko's language XD I love that despite John's stubborness, he misses his friend and thus seeks him out. John and Rodney are definitely men of action, so I loved that he leans in and kisses Rodney - and Rodney's reaction was AMAZING. I love that a kiss from John can stop Rodney's brain, heh. What adorable idiots :P

Great fic - I really, really liked reading it!
islandofwords
Jan. 2nd, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you! : )
danceswithgary
Dec. 20th, 2014 12:14 am (UTC)
Great 'what goes on in John's brain' fic. :-D
islandofwords
Jan. 2nd, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
tarlanx
Dec. 21st, 2014 12:12 am (UTC)
Sweet story.
islandofwords
Jan. 2nd, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
that_which
Dec. 29th, 2014 04:31 am (UTC)
Oh, my.

This makes me really happy. It's gentle and sweet, and it deals with one of my favorite tropes (McKay is pissed off about Sheppard's self-sacrificing tendencies) but it still feels fresh.

It's lovely, Santa. Thank you.
islandofwords
Jan. 2nd, 2015 04:10 pm (UTC)
Yay, I'm so glad you liked it! I was so worried since you requested humor and this came out decidedly not humorous. : )
ami_ven
Dec. 30th, 2014 08:18 am (UTC)
Very nice!
islandofwords
Jan. 2nd, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you! : )
squidgiepdx
Jan. 7th, 2015 06:25 am (UTC)
Wow..
This is, hands down, some of the absolute BEST McShep that I've ever read. You managed to capture both John and Rodney as perfect as they were on the screen - as well as the angst and their imperfect friendship. Bravo, this was amazing!!!
islandofwords
Jan. 7th, 2015 01:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow..
Oh my, what a compliment! Thank you so much, it means a lot to me. : )
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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