Author: omglawdork (on omgmetoo)
Pairing/Fandom: McKay/Sheppard, SGA (AU)
Rating: R, mostly for language
Summary: "Mmmm, no comments about my fat ass? You're off your game, McKay - and you were humming when you came in." Cadman leaned in over his desk, grinning wickedly. "Someone's got a daaaaaaate."
Prompt: Confucius say: Angel with wings not so hot as angel with arms.
Notes: This story would not exist without the prodding, encouragement, and spectacular beta skillz of wojelah. Thank you, beloved Woj, for holding my hand through my first full-length fic.
The first time Rodney McKay noticed John Sheppard, it was only because Sheppard had managed to spill coffee all down the front of his own shirt. Rodney glanced up just long enough to snort derisively and get a vague impression of spiky hair before turning his attention back to the journal article he was editing. Savaging, he mentally corrected, with a smug twist of his lips and a particularly vicious swipe of red pen.
The second and third time Rodney saw Sheppard, he looked exactly the same, minus the coffee stains. Same black REI jacket, same aviators, same pointy, gravity-defying hair. Rodney began referring to him privately as Spike, and noticed that he was always in on Tuesdays, always ordered cafe au lait and then added four Sugars in the Raw, and had managed to establish a rapport with the staff and an adoring fan base among the female (and some of the male) regulars.
The first time Rodney McKay met John Sheppard, Sheppard was sitting in Rodney's chair, at Rodney's table. Rodney had a very specific spot at the Caribou Coffee, hard-won through several years of showing up at the exact same time every day and sitting down at the table with his laptop, whether someone was already at it or not. Eventually the regulars got the hint and stayed away. At 9:35 am on Tuesday, January 9, however, Rodney walked in the door to find Spike sitting at Rodney's table. Rodney stalked up to the counter and slapped his cash down, leaning over the counter to demand, "Why is Spike in my chair?"
Ronon just handed Rodney his regular (40-ounce French roast, and for God's sake, no sugar or cream), and glanced over at Rodney's table. "'Spike?' Seriously?"
"Oh my God, what do they pay you for? That is my table and you know it!" Rodney hissed furiously. God, he had so much work to do. Cadman kicked him out of the labs every morning at 9:30 am, claiming that the staff needed some kind of respite. "Lab mom" his ass - Cadman was Der Lab Fuhrer.
"They pay me to serve coffee, Doctor McKay," Ronon replied equably. "If you're so upset, ask him to move. Or you could just park there anyway, like you did with everybody else."
"Fine," muttered Rodney as he took a fortifying swig of coffee and marched over. "You're at my table."
Spike glanced up from his copy of The Economist (oh, great, Rodney groaned to himself) and quirked an eyebrow. "Hi."
"Yes, fine, hello. You're at my table." Rodney set down his laptop case in the empty chair to make his point.
Setting down his magazine, Spike made a big show of inspecting the back of his chair and the tabletop. "Don't see a sign."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Ha. Funny. Every minute you waste space at my table, you are bringing scientific progress in the field of biomechanics to a screeching halt, for which you will be spectacularly sorry when you need a knee replacement in 10 years. Move."
"Oh really?" Spike asked, too-innocently.
"Yes, really, Gel-for-Brains." Spike's hand flew to his hair while he glared at Rodney from Rodney's chair. "That table you've so cavalierly commandeered gets the only decent wireless signal on this block, and since my dictator of a lab manager persists in banishing me from my own workplace every morning for an hour, I need that signal to continue working on things that are way too complicated for you to understand." Pointedly ticking each item off on his fingers, Rodney continued: "No signal means no access to the lab server. No server access, no sims. No sims, no data. No data, no groundbreaking work merging mechanical engineering and medicine to change the whole field of bioengineered and synthetic tendons and joint replacement. No groundbreaking work, no eventual Nobel Prize in Medicine. Get it?"
"Well, geez. Why didn't you say so? I'll just go." Spike reached behind him for his coat.
"No," Spike said flatly, turning back to the table. "There are two seats at this table. If you have to sit here, you can learn to share, because I got here first." He picked up his magazine.
"Oh, come on!" Rodney managed to avoid stomping his foot, but it was a close thing. Spike smirked, but didn't look up. "Fine. You know what? Fine." Rodney resisted the urge to slam his laptop onto the table. Dr. Weir had dubbed this laptop "Dr. McKay's Last Chance," and if he broke this one in a fit of pique, the next came out of his paycheck, as well as the other three he'd broken over the past year. He did not, however, resist the urge to type as loudly as possible and slurp his coffee in what he hoped was a thoroughly disgusting fashion.
After about fifteen minutes, Rodney had gotten too wrapped up in his work to even remember to be annoyed anymore, so he was startled when Spike extended his hand across the small table.
"Sheppard," Spike offered.
"Oh! Oh, right, yes - Doctor Rodney McKay," Rodney replied, awkwardly reaching over a teetering stack of papers and his laptop screen to shake Spike's - Sheppard's - hand.
Every Tuesday after that, even when the snow drifted six feet high, Sheppard was sitting at Rodney's table at 9:35 am, reading the pretentious magazine of the week.
On Tuesday, January 16, Rodney learned Sheppard's first name (John).
On Tuesday, January 23, Ronon made an offhand comment about the previous night's Stars game, which meant that Rodney spent most of his time in the coffee shop ranting about the traitorous bastards who deserted the hockey fans of Minnesota for the barbaric wilds of Texas. Sheppard was so startled (whether over Rodney's decibel level or his knowledge of a sport - any sport - Rodney never figured out) that he spilled coffee on his shirt again. This time, Rodney laughed long and hard while Sheppard squawked and patted himself dry with the New York Times. After that, Sheppard made a point of memorizing the names of all the Dallas Stars players and rubbing every one of their goals in Rodney's face.
On Tuesday, February 13, Rodney and Sheppard sat in companionable silence while Rodney pounded away furiously at the most recent synthetic ACL strength sims and Sheppard took meticulous notes in that week's Foreign Affairs. Rodney absolutely did not glance up and grin at the way Sheppard death-gripped his pen all the way down at the point, or the way he muttered deprecations worthy of Rodney himself while reading the article on Kosovo.
On Tuesday, February 20, Rodney informed Sheppard that the Minnesota Wild were playing the former NorthStars that night, and the presence of Sheppard's overstyled, pretentious-magazine-reading ass was required so that Rodney could gloat through the Stars' inevitable crushing defeat. "Hey! My magazines aren't pretentious!" Sheppard protested. "Please," Rodney smirked, shrugging into his jacket, "any publication that uses the words organic-economic growth paradigm isn't even worth using to mop coffee off your shirt." Sheppard responded by throwing February's New Republic at Rodney's back as he left for the lab. Rodney grinned, undeterred, and shouted over his shoulder, "I remain invulnerable to your pathetic attempts at intellectual debate, Sheppard! Wild versus Stars, Buffalo Wild Wings, seven o'clock!"
Rodney found himself in a spectacularly good mood for a Tuesday morning as he walked into the lab. Only when Cadman's head snapped up and her eyes narrowed in on him did he realize he was humming. Oh my God, he was humming. Why was he humming? Feeling not unlike a field mouse being circled by a hawk, he immediately knew that, having overheard the humming, Cadman's descent would be swift and deadly. Oh, sure, she looked cute enough, all petite and blue-eyed with her strawberry-blond hair, but in reality, she was made of evil. Pure, unadulterated, nosy evil.Sure enough, he wasn't five steps in the room before - "Rodney..." Cadman drawled from her desk in the corner of the lab. Rodney pretended not to hear her, bustling over to his own desk. Even though he'd only been on the lab's permanent staff for a few months, his desk was already completely buried under piles of medical and engineering journals, covered in scrawled insults and corrections, not to mention the articles and paperwork that Rodney was regrettably required to deal with in his new position. He almost wished for the days of his research fellowship, when he could just come in and focus on his projects. He sat down at his desk and sighed when Cadman stalked over, carrying a file folder crammed full of what was no doubt more administrative minutiae for him to deal with.
"I swear to God, Cadman, you are making up paperwork just to make my life miserable. No one else has this much. Not you, not Zelenka, not anybody." Rodney snatched at the folder from her and batted her hands away from his piles. "Hey! Hey! I told you, no touching the system!"
Cadman rolled her eyes. "Filing system? Are you serious?" Rodney just glared at her. "Fine. I won't touch your 'filing system.' Also, you don't get more paperwork, you just put yours off and let it pile up until the day after it's due, and even then you only do it because Dr. Weir calls you herself and asks where it is." She ignored Rodney's indignant shout as she shoved a pile over to perch on his desk.
"Mmmm, no comments about my fat ass? You're off your game, McKay - and you were humming when you came in." She leaned in over his desk, grinning wickedly. "Someone's got a daaaaaaate."
"What?" Rodney said, baffled. "I don't have a date."
"Oh, come on, McKay. Walking in humming, in a pretty decent mood, at least for you - " she grinned and leaned back " - and we've all heard about you and that hottie at the coffee shop," she finished, just loud enough for everyone in the lab to hear. Several heads nodded over their work in assent. Zelenka just shared a look with Cadman and smirked at Rodney over his glasses. Rodney added "accidentally lose Zelenka's publication request" to his mental to-do list. Leadership did offer the occassional perk.
"What?" Rodney looked from Zelenka to Cadman, completely lost. "What the hell are you talking about?" Confusion was not a feeling to which Dr. Rodney McKay, Ph.D, M.D., was accustomed, and he didn't like it.
"The guy you sit with all the time. The hot one? With the hair?" Cadman waved her hands around her head in illustration.
"Wait, Sheppard? Tall, spiky...wait a minute, you think I have a date with a guy?!" Rodney felt his voice go up at least one octave out of simple shock. "Why the hell would I go on a date with a guy?"
"Uh, because he's totally hot?" Cadman looked at Rodney like he'd suddenly lost 150 IQ points, and a few of the other lab occupants nodded appreciatively in Rodney's direction. He felt his face flame as he realized that everyone in the building would know about this by the end of the day - hell, knowing this lab, they probably already knew about it. "Come on, McKay. You've been practically bolting out the door at 9:30 on Tuesdays, and I have to throw you out kicking and screaming every other day. I mean, from what I hear, you two've been practically holding hands under the lunch table."
"First of all, I don't know how you know anything about who I drink coffee with. Second, I don't know how to make this a whole lot clearer to you beyond grabbing your boobs and scratching my crotch, but believe me when I tell you that I am straight. Straight as an arrow, and Sheppard and I are not going on a date, we are going to watch a hockey game and drink beer." Rodney yanked the oldest file of backlogged intern reviews on his desk out of a pile. Discussion over.
"Oh yeah, McKay - nothing says manly like a bunch of guys and their really big sticks wrestling each other while you liquor up your latest conquest." Cadman waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Rodney gritted his teeth. "I swear to God, Cadman, if you don't - " She just grinned and hopped off of Rodney's desk.
"I heard about the hottie from a couple of nurses I know; the fact that he sits with you and you alone, I heard from Ronon. Don't worry, McKay, your secret's safe with us." Cadman flipped her hair over her shoulder and smirked as she sat back down at her desk.
By six-thirty that night, Rodney had gone home, showered, shaved, and changed into a button-up shirt that Cadman had once described as "maybe the most acceptable piece of clothing you own, McKay." As he drove from his place on Pill Hill to Buffalo Wild Wings, he very resolutely did not think about the fact that he was two splashes of aftershave and a gas-station rose away from his usual date routine, because this was not a date.
By seven-thirteen, Rodney had finished his first beer and half of a basket of garlic parmesan wings, and Sheppard was nowhere to be seen. Rodney glanced at his watch for the third time in two minutes and tried very hard not to feel like an idiot. Maybe Sheppard didn't know where Buffalo Wild Wings was; Rodney definitely should have gotten his phone number before leaving this morning. He craned his neck around to look around at the other tables and was about to switch chairs so he could see the door better when the waitress came by again. Nice rack, Rodney thought, comforted by the fact that Cadman was obviously crazy. If this were a date, would he be checking out the waitress's rack? Clearly not. Well, maybe not. Okay, hopefully not, because he'd like to think he'd learned something from that one date back in Boston where he had, and his date had slapped him right before she stomped out.
"Hey, you waiting for someone?" the nicely-racked waitress smiled.
"Who, me?" Rodney pointed at himself. "Me? No. No, no, no. Well, yes, but it's not a date. Definitely not a date."
"Oh, okay." The waitress looked amused. "I just figured you were meeting a buddy to watch the game. Big one tonight, dontcha know."
"Oh, right! Right, absolutely. That's exactly what I'm doing. Me and my buddy, watching the Wild." He tapped his fingers on the tabletop and tried to regain his composure. "Another beer?"
"Sure thing." She smiled in what Rodney considered to be a far-too-knowing manner - there was nothing to know! - and went to another table. Seriously, where the hell was Sheppard? Rodney tore viciously into another wing and deliberately focused his attention on the pre-game commentary.
"Hey, McKay!" Sheppard slouched into the chair across from Rodney, covering a cough with one hand and brushing snow out of his stupid hair with the other. "Sorry I'm late. Did I miss stick-off?"
Rodney felt his shoulders slump as he all but sighed with relief. Not ditched, after all. He recovered quickly, stabbing a half-eaten wing in Sheppard's direction. "Stick-off? It's face off, you philistine, and no, you haven't missed it, it's at 7:30. Seriously, am I going to have to explain everything to you?" Rodney congratulated himself for not berating Sheppard on his tardiness. What did Rodney care if Sheppard was a couple minutes late? This was not. a. date.
"Nah, I just like jerking your chain." Sheppard grinned again and flagged down the cocktail waitress. Rodney threw a bone at him and Sheppard just laughed. The cute waitress came back over and blushed just looking at Sheppard, who tapped his chin with the menu and finally pronounced, "A basket of the hottest wings you got, and...do you have sweet tea?"
The waitress batted her eyelashes and nibbled the end of her pen suggestively. "Hmmm, tea with sugar? Sure."
Sheppard sighed. "Nah, that's okay. Just regular iced tea." The waitress winked and sauntered away in what Rodney was sure was a far more suggestive manner than she had when it was solely for Rodney's benefit.
"Sweet tea? In Rochester, Minnesota? Sheppard, I'm from Canada and I know you can't get sweet tea anywhere north of Bumblefuck, Alabama." Rodney rolled his eyes. "Besides, what's with the sweet tea? Why not just have a beer?" Rodney didn't drink often, but he didn't think it was possible to have wings without beer.
"I had this insane sweet tea in Philly one time, so I figure it never hurts to ask. Plus, I actually can't have a beer. I gotta fly home in the morning, and FCC rules dictate - " Sheppard slipped into a fake-authoritarian voice that didn't fit his hair at all - "no alcohol may be consumed for twelve hours before operating an aircraft." He reached over and stole one of Rodney's wings. "Garlic parmesan? Seriously? Are they even allowed to call these wings? Seems like some kind of FDA labeling violation."
"Considering my appalling stress levels and high coffee intake, I am at high risk for an ulcer, and I don't feel like exacerbating it with ridiculously spicy food that will no doubt make me wish for death. Speaking of death, when your tea gets here, keep the lemon at least three feet from me at all times - that is vitally important. I am deathly allergic to citrus, and I mean deathly, and I'm sure you wouldn't want the field of biomechanics set back several years due to my senseless demise due to anaphylactic shock." Rodney slapped Sheppard's hand away from his wings. "Hands off. I have no intention of eating your death wings, so keep your hands off mine."
Sheppard pouted. "Aw, c'mon, McKay. It's not like I'm asking for some of your coffee." Rodney sighed around a mouthful of chicken and shoved the basket toward Sheppard, who made a big show of taking the biggest wing left in the basket and eating it with great gusto. Rodney found himself staring helplessly as Sheppard absently licked grease off his hand, pink tongue darting between his fingers before finally sucking the last of the grease off of his thumb with a pop. Swallowing hard, Rodney swigged the last of his beer, coughed, and choked out, "So, flying?" Jesus, anything to get away from that insane line of thought. "Back where?"
"Rangely, Colorado," Sheppard drawled.
"And where is that in the great square scheme of Colorado?" Rodney could not understand why anyone would want to live outside of a major metropolitan area. As far as he was concerned, the only thing that made Rochester livable was the Mayo Clinic and accompanying rich clients and the coffee shops and restaurants that catered to them.
"Northwest corner." Rodney just looked at him. "Okay, so it's not the bustling metropolis of Rochester, but I like it. It's quiet. Hey, look - stick-off!"
"You know what? I'm not even going to dignify that with a response." Rodney took Sheppard's wings and tea from the waitress and ordered another beer. "Here, take your death wings. Okay, now look. See that guy right there, Parrish?" Rodney leaned over the table toward Sheppard and pointed at the screen with a greasy finger. "He's the captain. You can tell because he's got the C on his jersey."
Sheppard turned to gaze at Rodney, all wide-eyed innocence. "Oh really? Is that what that C means?"
"Yeah, and the A on that guy stands for - "
"Adulterer?" John smirked.
"No, jackass, alternate captain." Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Oh, that guy with the A? You mean Brian Rolston? Utility forward, known for his position in the Wild's powerplay, team captain in February, October, and November of 2006 under the team's rotating captain system? That guy with the A on his jersey?" Sheppard didn't even blink. Rodney just gaped as Sheppard smirked and turned back to the game. Jackass.
Five minutes into the third period, the Wild were ahead by two goals and Sheppard was coughing and picking at the half-basket of wings he still had left.
"A little too much for you, there, Sheppard?" Rodney smirked. The beginning of the third period was not too early to gloat when you had a two-goal lead. Actually, it was never too early to gloat, as far as Rodney was concerned. Enjoy your victories early and often, that was his motto. "Well, you know what they say, if you can't stand the heat..."
"Come to Minnesota?" Sheppard grinned and took a big swig of iced tea, then coughed. "Man, too much tea. Be right back." Sheppard swayed a little as he stood, hand shooting out to grab at the table.
"Hey, you okay?" Rodney stood up quickly and realized he was none too steady on his feet, either. "You haven't even been drinking. Did that waitress put a roofie in your tea?"
"What? No, I just got up too fast. No big deal." Sheppard straightened and started toward the restroom.
"She was licking her pen at you, Sheppard," Rodney called after him, sitting down heavily. Yes, definitely more beer tonight than he'd had in a while. He had to admit, though, it was really kind of nice to just sit and watch the game with someone who didn't actively hate his guts or want to talk about his work. Rodney couldn't exactly figure out why Sheppard didn't seem to mind hanging out with him, though. He felt like he'd been invited to sit with at the cool kids' table in the cafeteria, and a tiny part of him kept wondering when the atomic wedgies would start. It was during that depressing teenage flashback that Sheppard came back to the table, cute waitress trailing in his wake. She gave Rodney a dirty look when he ordered another beer that indicated she'd heard exactly what he said about her designs on Sheppard. He cringed, changed his order from easily-spit-in draught to safely-sealed bottle - which he'd open at the table, thanks - and pretended to study the menu while she smiled winningly at Sheppard and refilled his tea.
"Wow, McKay, are you horrible to all service workers, or just this girl and Ronon?" Sheppard asked as the waitress walked away. He seemed more amused than annoyed, which made Rodney unreasonably happy.
"I am not horrible to Ronon. I tip him very well. This waitress...well, I think I'm a little drunk, and I will admit to a slight loss of volume control when I've been drinking." Rodney tipped his chin up defensively, but Sheppard just half-smiled, shook his head, and went back to the game. "So, um, flying?" Rodney asked.
"Yep." Sheppard nodded, eyes fixed on the television.
Rodney looked at him expectantly. "Yes, and? Flying why? Specifically, flying to Rochester why?" Rodney realized that he had no idea what brought Sheppard to his Caribou Coffee and his table every Tuesday morning.
Sheppard rubbed his neck and turned away from the game. "Well, flying because I like to. Flying to Rochester for a few reasons, I guess."
Rodney sighed. God, this was like pulling teeth. "And what might those reasons be?"
Sheppard smiled at the returning waitress, popping the cap off of the beer with the edge of the table and handing it to Rodney before continuing. "I fly some people in for medical treatment here at Mayo from the rural areas out near Rangely. If they sign up with Angel Flight and can get to Rangely by Monday night, I'll bring them to Mayo for their treatment. A lot of 'em live on ranches or up in the mountains, you know, and they couldn't get here otherwise. I mean, I'm making the trip anyway, so might as well be useful, right?"
"Making the trip anyway? Why on earth are you making the trip anyway?" Rodney had a horrible vision of Sheppard being treated for some rare disease, cooped up in a hospital bed, tied down by tubes and wires. His stomach clenched, but Rodney was pretty sure that was just too much beer and too many wings.
"Visiting a family friend. He came up here for treatment and just got too bad to leave. He's actually in hospice on the Mayo campus now." Rodney let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Sheppard's face had gone completely blank. How did he do that?
"Oh. I'm sorry." Rodney was at a loss for words. He never knew what to say in these situations - his bedside manner (or lack thereof) had a lot to do with why he was a researcher and not a practitioner.
Sheppard shrugged. "Nothing to be sorry about."
"Well, I know, I mean, obviously it's nothing I could have done anything about, but still. He's your friend, and I'm sorry." Rodney fidgeted with a napkin, twisting it and tugging at its ends, a tiny corner of his brain calculating the increase in tensile strength.
"He was my father's friend."
Rodney's glanced up at the flat tone of Sheppard's voice. "What?"
Sheppard rubbed his forehead, and Rodney suddenly noticed how completely exhausted he looked. "He's not my friend. He did me a favor once, I guess, but he was my father's friend." Sheppard sounded nonchalant enough, and Rodney was well into a comfortably alcoholic buzz, but he still thought the words carried a bit of an edge.
"Wait, you don't even like this guy, do you?" Sheppard just shot Rodney a look that in a later and more sober hour, he would look back and recognize as a warning. "So you're flying almost a thousand miles each way to come see someone you don't even like? Why would you do that?" Rodney was genuinely puzzled. He didn't like his family all that much, but he had to see them at holidays. Visiting family friends, had they existed, would have been at the bottom of his priority list, behind "clean out cat box" and "rearrange coat closet in the lab" and maybe, "paperwork."
"You don't get it, McKay." Sheppard sighed and scrubbed at his face with his hands. "Just forget it. It doesn't matter." He stood up, coughing, and threw a twenty on the table. "Thanks for the invite. I'll see you around." He grabbed his jacket and was out the door before Rodney could do more than sit there with his mouth open.
"What the fuck was that?" Rodney murmured under his breath, utterly baffled. He threw his own twenty on the table, then, remembering the pen-licking comment, tossed down another for good measure. Looking around, Rodney realized the game must have ended a while ago; he and Sheppard had been the only people left at the bar. He walked about halfway to his car before realizing he was in no shape to drive. He sat down on the curb of the parking lot and called Zelenka's cell phone - Radek would almost certainly still be awake, and was probably still at the lab.
The phone rang three times before Zelenka picked up with a cheery "Hello, Rodney! How was your evening?"
Rodney sighed. "Radek, would you just shut the hell up and come get me?"
"You know, Rodney, your romantic life would be much more successful if you did not expect them to put out on the first date," Zelenka supplied helpfully.
Rodney manfully refrained from throwing his phone across the parking lot in frustration, but it was a close thing. "It was not a goddamned date, Radek. Now seriously, just shut up and come get me at Buffalo Wild Wings, and maybe I won't accidentally spill coffee all over your desk every day for the rest of the week, how's that?" Rodney waited to hear Zelenka's muttered "fine" before hanging up. He turned around to go back - oh, fantastic. They were locking up, and wasn't that just the cherry on the crap sundae of this whole stupid night? Wrapping his arms around his knees, gut churning with miserable confusion, Rodney waited for Zelenka and cursed the Minnesota cold.
The next morning, Rodney called in sick, pulled the covers over his head, and slept till eleven. As he dragged himself upright and trudged to work in the snow that afternoon, he went over the last night's conversation with Sheppard for the fiftieth time. He could not figure out what had gone wrong. They were talking, the Wild were winning, and he was getting drunk. The next thing he knew, Sheppard had vanished, he was freezing his ass off on the curb by himself, the Stars had pulled it out, and he had a low-grade headache. How had it all gone wrong? This - this was why Rodney was a researcher. People were completely unreliable. If you ran the same test on the same synthetic tendon 100 times, you always got the same result. Barring human error, of course, but didn't that just prove the point? Rodney sighed and altered his course to hit the Starbucks on his way in. This was definitely going to be a two-coffee-run day. At least.
Walking into the lab, Rodney kicked the slush off of his shoes and refused to even look at Cadman. He could not deal with her this morning.
"Hey, McKay!" Cadman called out from the other side of the lab. Rodney feigned deafness as he threw his parka in the general direction of a hanger and pulled on his lab coat. "McKay!"
"Give it a rest, Cadman. I called in and told Zelenka I was going to be late this morning, and I'm sure you knew that because you two probably talked about me all morning. I have a blistering headache, and I am not above hacking your personnel file and putting things in there that would make your mother's toes curl in her combat boots." Rodney sat down and very gently laid his head on his desk.
"I was just going to say that I'm impressed. I mean, I knew you were socially awkward, but apparently you're downright dangerous." Cadman actually sounded a little awed.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Rodney groaned. He really should have drunk more water before he went to bed last night. And, you know, gone to sleep before six am.
"I don't think even you have managed to put a date in the hospital before, McKay," Zelenka murmured over his newest hip prototype.
Rodney sat bolt upright and immediately regretted it. "Wait, what? Hospital?"
"Yeah. Apparently your boy came into the ER this morning. Couple of the guys from the airport brought him in. It was all the news at the coffee shop this morning - how did you not hear already?" Cadman appeared at Rodney's elbow with two Aleve and a Red Bull from her secret hangover stash.
"Well, and what? What's wrong with him? Was he in an accident? Did his plane crash on takeoff or something?" Rodney thought of Sheppard, bruised and bloodied in a hospital bed, and felt like someone had punched him in the chest.
"Rodney, whoa, hey, I'm sorry, I don't know." Cadman jogged over to the coat closet. "I heard it from one of the Rochester Methodist ER nurses, so I assume that's where he is. Now come on." She brandished Rodney's parka at him as he stood up.
"Come on, what?" Rodney tried very hard to stay calm. Deep breaths.
"Come on, put your damn coat on and get your ass over to Rochester Methodist. I'll find out what room he's in and send it to your Palm." Cadman practically shoved Rodney out the door of the lab. "That's an order, McKay. Go!"
"You just want me out of the labs," Rodney argued half-heartedly. Cadman just looked at him and pointed down the hall. Rodney gave Cadman one swift, grateful look and, for once, did as he was told.
He skidded around the corner of the floor Sheppard was supposed to be on less than five minutes later. The email from Cadman had said: "He's in Room 467. Maggie is the shift nurse right now, and she knows you're coming. Do not be an asshole, and she should let you in to see him. She's got a soft spot for twu wuv." He had typed back furiously while in the elevator, "GODDAMMIT IT WAS NOT A DATE." Date or not, he apparently he looked more than pathetic enough to melt Maggie's heart, sweating and gasping for breath, because she just smiled knowingly and pointed to the room directly to his right. Rodney froze, half-in and half-out of his parka, and turned to look through the window. Sheppard didn't look injured, but he was nearly as white as the sheets he lay on, cannula running under his nose and over each ear, eyes shut. Rodney turned to Maggie. "What...what's wrong with him?"
"Viral pneumonia, if you can believe it. He must have run himself down something terrible. We're not exactly sure what the underlying virus is, but we think it may be chicken pox. You've had it, right? Otherwise I can't let you in there." Maggie looked at him over her reading glasses.
"Oh, oh yes, of course, I was nine, it was miserable, my horrible little sister brought it home from her stupid dance class." Rodney started to wave his hand dismissively, remembered the admonishment against being an asshole, and pretended to scratch his head instead.
"Fine. Well, go on then, honey - I think he's up." Maggie nodded toward Sheppard's room, where sure enough, he was awake and looking straight at Rodney, expression perplexed.
Rodney shrugged the rest of the way out of his parka and walked into Sheppard's room, stopping just inside the doorway. "Um. Hi." He half-waved at Sheppard.
"Hi," Sheppard rasped, then coughed and tried again. "Hi." He lifted two fingers in greeting. "How did you know I was here?"
"Oh, um, well. You wouldn't believe the rumor mill over at the coffee shop. My lab manager - "
"Yeah, Cadman. She heard at the coffee shop from a couple of ER nurses here that you'd been brought in this morning." Rodney inched a little farther into the room.
Sheppard frowned. "So, why would she tell you?"
Rodney cringed. "Well, apparently some people at the coffee shop told her that we'd been having coffee together, and she thought I'd like to know."
"So she sent you over here in the middle of the work day? Your lab manager?" Sheppard had the look of a man who knew he was missing something .
"Well, kind of. Yes." Rodney shrugged. "You know the type. Think they know everything." He paused. "So. How are you feeling?"
Sheppard's face closed off abruptly. "I'm fine. I'm sure I'll be out of here in no time, it's just an upper respiratory infection."
Rodney heard Maggie snort out at the nurses' station. "Bullshit," Rodney pronounced, pulling Sheppard's chart out of the caddy by the door and flipping through it.
Sheppard struggled to sit up, breathing shallowly. "Hey! Get out of that!"
Rodney just rolled his eyes. "For God's sake, Sheppard, I was number one in my class at Harvard Medical School and I work at the Mayo Clinic. Let me read your damn chart." Rodney scanned the pages quickly. "Chicken pox? Seriously? You got viral pneumonia from chicken pox? I thought she was kidding! What are you, eight?" Rodney shoved the chart back in its cubby and walked over to Sheppard's bed.
Sheppard flopped back sulkily, half-heartedly swatting at Rodney's hands as Rodney checked Sheppard's glands and his temperature. "You know, I have a doctor."
"Again, top of my class at the best medical school on this continent. Quit arguing. Now, seriously, how the hell did you get chicken pox?" Rodney counted out Sheppard's pulse, fingers on his wrist.
"Fine. One of the doctors at the coffee shop asked me if I wanted to come talk to some of the kids in the pediatric wing about being an Air Force helicopter pilot - " Rodney dropped Sheppard's wrist.
"Air Force? You're military? That hair is military?"
Sheppard sighed. "No, Rodney, this hair is ex-military. I retired a little over a year ago." He was getting that flat sound in his voice again, so Rodney bulldozed on.
"Chicken pox. Stay on track, Sheppard." Sheppard just rolled his eyes.
"Anyway, probably one of the kids or one of their siblings had it. And before you ask - " he put up a hand to forestall Rodney, whose mouth was already open, " - no, I didn't have chicken pox when I was a kid."
"You know, they actually have these things called vaccines now, and they keep you from getting sick. I hear they're all the rage with the kids." Rodney dropped into the chair by Sheppard's door.
"I'm just saying, if you're going to be around those little biological weapons, you should make sure you're up on your shots. Going to pediatric is like going to a third world country, with all the germs those little brats are carrying." Rodney shuddered, remembering his pediatric rotation in medical school. Absolute, hands down, worst time of his life. He hated kids, and so, of course, they were drawn to him like cats to people with dander allergies. It only ever ended in tantrums on both sides, and everyone was glad when his rotation was over.
Sheppard chuckled, which quickly turned into a coughing fit. After, he managed to croak out, half-smiling, "You are really something else, McKay."
"I know." He watched as Sheppard's eyes started to drift closed. "Okay, I need to get back to the lab. Maybe I'll stop by again sometime, see how you're doing?" He stood up, pulling on his parka.
"Yeah," Sheppard half-whispered. "See you tomorrow. And, McKay?" Rodney paused in the doorway. "Bring coffee."
The next morning, Rodney walked into Caribou Coffee and Ronon handed him his 40-ounce French roast. "Oh, hey, can I get a decaf cafe au lait, too?"
"What?" Ronon leaned over the counter, hand cupped behind his ear. "I must not have heard right, because I could have sworn you just said decaf."
"Shut up. It's for Sheppard." Rodney dug in his back pocket for his wallet.
"Really? Huh." Ronon looked appraisingly at Rodney for a few seconds, then went to make the coffee. "How is he?"
"Oh, like you don't already know," Rodney snorted. "I know all about the little information black market you've got running here." He took his coffee and Sheppard's and backed out the door. "If I hear from Cadman about this little exchange, I am so switching to Starbucks."
"Don't tempt me." Ronon called after him.
Rodney raised the coffee cups in greeting as he walked into Sheppard's room. Sheppard lit up when he saw Rodney. Fine, okay, he might have been lighting up over the coffee, but Rodney chose to believe that Sheppard was just really excited to see him.
"McKay, you're a hero." Sheppard was practically drooling.
"Yes, yes. Decaf cafe au lait, four turbinados." Rodney set Sheppard's cup on the bedside table.
Sheppard's brow wrinkled. "Decaf? Come on. You're kidding, right?"
"Yes, of course it's decaf. Let's see - viral pneumonia presents with dehydration and blood pressure issues. You're on lots of medicine. I can't imagine why I wouldn't want to add a diuretic stimulant into that equation. Also, whining? Not a good look for you." Rodney pulled the chair up to Sheppard's bed and flopped into it.
Sheppard wrapped both hands around the coffee cup and inhaled deeply. "Oh, man. This totally makes up for the crappy hospital breakfast."
Rodney grinned, unreasonably pleased. "See, me? I like hospital food. Consistent. I know what's in everything - no surprise citrus."
Sheppard just snorted, shook his head, and went back to his coffee.
For the next three days, Rodney came by every morning at 9:45. He did most of the talking; Sheppard was prone to coughing fits, which only served to frustrate both of them. Plus, if Rodney was honest with himself, he'd always done most of the talking anyway. Sheppard never seemed to mind. He just gave Rodney funny little half-smiles and drank his cafe au lait while Rodney monologued about the new idiot med students working in the lab or the previous night's hockey game, with occasional riffs on the obscenities of paperwork.
On the fourth day, Maggie waved Rodney over as he stepped off the elevator. "He's not having a good morning, Doctor McKay. It might be better if you came back tomorrow." Rodney set down the coffees on the nurses' station.
"What do you mean, 'bad morning'?" Rodney willed his hands not to shake as he pulled his gloves off. His brain helpfully ticked off some of the myriad things that could go wrong with viral pneumonia: secondary bacterial infection; severe dehydration; respiratory failure; heart failure -
"Well, he was having some pretty bad chest pain, so we dosed him up with some Tylenol with codeine early this morning, and again about twenty minutes ago. He's pretty out of it." Maggie rolled her eyes, which told Rodney that, unsurprisingly, the idea of codeine had gone over with Sheppard like a lead balloon. Stupid macho military types, turning down perfectly good painkillers.
Rodney's eyes slid shut from sheer relief. "Oh! Oh, okay. I was worried - " Rodney stopped himself. "I'll just take his coffee in there for when he wakes up." Maggie nodded, and Rodney picked up the coffees and walked into Sheppard's room, expecting him to be asleep.
Rodney almost dropped the coffee, which would have completely ruined his day, when he heard a quiet "hey, McKay," from the bed as he crossed the room.
"Jesus! Are you trying to give me heart failure? I thought you were asleep!" Rodney set the coffees down on the bedside table with more force than was strictly necessary and glared at Sheppard. Wow, the nurse had not been kidding - Sheppard looked like hell. The chest pain was obviously bleeding through the codeine, at least a little, judging from the tightness in Sheppard's jaw. His breathing was shallow, like every breath was an effort, and his face was as white as it had been the first morning he was admitted. Rodney was sure his face was hiding his shock about as well as it hid everything else, so he tried to cover by checking Sheppard's glands. "So, chest pain? What, were you not getting enough attention with just the viral pneumonia?" Rodney snapped, annoyed with himself.
Sheppard huffed out a laugh-cough and half-opened his eyes. "My chest pain - " he paused to breathe, " - brings all the nurses to the yard."
"Oh, ha very ha, jackass." Rodney pressed the back of his hand to Sheppard's forehead. Hot, but nothing to worry about. He pulled his hand away and stepped back awkwardly. "Um. Still want your coffee?"
Sheppard shook his head, closing his eyes again.
"Okay, well, I'm just gonna - " Rodney jerked his thumb in the general direction of the door.
"Wait!" Sheppard coughed. "Stay. Just for a minute."
"Okay, okay." Rodney sat in the chair next to Sheppard's bed. "So, you'll love this. Yesterday I caught Zelenka and Doctor Weir - " Sheppard stopped him, waving his hand.
"Hold on." Sheppard whispered. "Talk to me about...this." He gestured vaguely at his own chest.
"You've got chest pain and shallowness of breath." Rodney had thought that much would be obvious.
"No, all of it." He looked at Rodney. "Recovery time. Long-term effects."
Rodney felt like someone had thrown him in a snowbank. This was a conversation he'd been studiously avoiding having with himself, much less Sheppard.
"Don't you have a doctor to tell you all this?" Rodney groused, hoping to distract Sheppard.
"Number one in your class, right?" Sheppard gave him a pale shadow of his usual smirk. "I wanna to hear it from you."
"Fine." Rodney sighed, studiously looking anywhere but at Sheppard. "Well, let's start at the beginning." He ticked off the bullet points on his fingers. "One: You were an adult with no chicken pox immunity, because you don't believe in vaccines and yet enjoy blanketing yourself in child-germs. Two: When you did manage to get chicken pox, that put you in a very high-risk group for complications. Three: your complication flavor of the month was apparently viral pneumonia."
"Okay," Sheppard rasped. "Viral pneumonia."
"Right," Rodney continued, intently focused on the venetian blinds, "viral pneumonia. It isn't usually a problem with someone of your age and fitness level, but somehow you managed to run yourself down spectacularly. Do you sleep, ever?"
"Nightmares." Now Rodney was sure Sheppard was flying high on codeine; he didn't seem like the type who would admit to a weakness like nightmares. As though Sheppard asking him to stay hadn't been evidence enough of his altered state.
"Okay. Viral pneumonia takes longer than bacterial pneumonia to recover from because you can't just take a broad-spectrum antibiotic and be done with it. Also, and this is probably why you're still hospitalized, rather than in outpatient care, there are other possible complications from the chicken pox that might not have presented yet," Rodney pointed out.
Rodney blinked. "Yes. Like encephalitis. But that's pretty rare."
"Not rare enough." Sheppard sounded miserable, and Rodney stared at his hands so he wouldn't have to look at his face. "You know what would happen? With encephalitis?"
Rodney watched his own hands clench involuntarily. "Top of my class - "
"It would be over, McKay," Sheppard interrupted, shallow breaths coming faster.
Rodney shifted uncomfortably in his chair and transferred his focus to his shoelaces. He did not want to talk about this. "I told you, it's rare - "
"My whole life. My whole life would be over," Sheppard interrupted, voice angry and harsh from coughing. "Encephalitis means brain damage. Brain damage, and then - " he paused to breathe, " - then what? No more flying - " another few gasps, " - I'd end up half-there and half-gone, like fucking Sumner over in that goddamn hospice, and I can't, I can't - " he broke off, coughing, and Rodney looked up, worried at how agitated Sheppard was getting.
Sheppard's color was high and raging on his cheekbones, and the dark hair at his temples was soaked with sweat. Oh, shit, his fever was spiking even with the Tylenol, and Rodney shot up out of his chair, about to call for Maggie -
"McKay." Sheppard grabbed Rodney's wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. Rodney froze and stared at Sheppard's sweating face. Sheppard stared back, fear naked in his eyes.
Rodney found himself babbling, "it's okay, it's okay, you're gonna be okay - " before Sheppard slumped back onto the bed, gasping, and Rodney began shouting for Maggie. She ran in, took one look at Sheppard's sweat-drenched hair and flaming cheeks, and unceremoniously shoved Rodney aside to strip off Sheppard's hospital gown.
"Doctor McKay. Doctor McKay!" Rodney shook his head, trying to think. "I need you to move so the other nurses can help me." Maggie turned to a man and a woman in scrubs who had appeared from nowhere. "We need to get his temperature down. You, go, get a sponge and lukewarm water. You - " she pointed at the female nurse " - go page Doctor Beckett, and pick up another dose of Tylenol - no codeine this time." The nurses jogged out of the room as Maggie turned back to Rodney. "Doctor McKay, no offense, but the best thing you can do right now is get out of our way." Rodney nodded dumbly, picked up his coat, and walked out.