Three days flat on his back had left Rodney testy, bored and miserable. He couldn't even sit up without being swamped by a wave of dizziness that left him so sick and disoriented he couldn't tell floor from ceiling, and Keller's painkillers barely blunted the tip of the icepick digging into his skull.
"You can't expect to be back on your feet in a day, Rodney," she said when he accused her of withholding the better drugs to teach him a lesson. "I drilled a hole in your skull. With a power drill. You're not going to bounce back immediately after that."
It still seemed as if modern medicine ought to be able to give him something better than this, though. He couldn't focus on his laptop for more than a few minutes without the headache and dizziness roaring back to leave him shaking and clinging to the bed, feeling like a ship tossed in a storm. He refused to use a bedpan -- he'd had enough humiliation already to last a lifetime, thanks -- but the alternative wasn't much less embarrassing: clinging to a nurse as he shuffled through the infirmary to the bathroom, hoping he didn't compound the embarrassment by throwing up in front of the whole room.
By the third day, several of the nurses were no longer speaking to him and even Keller's normally pleasant face had developed a slight tic when she was around him. "Rodney, there's no medical reason to keep you here any longer, but you're off duty for the next week and on light duty afterwards, and I want you to follow the instructions this time, all right? Unless you want to be back here with a brain aneurism."
"Aneurism?" Rodney repeated nervously, clutching the bedsheet against his chest. "Should you be letting me leave? Is this proper medical practice?"
"You're healing fine, as long as you don't try to do too much, too soon."
"A brain aneurism isn't what I call healing fine! I want a second opinion!"
Keller groaned. "Look, the Colonel will be here in a few minutes with some clothing for you. Take the painkillers on schedule, and let me know if your vertigo becomes so acute that it interferes with your ability to eat; I can prescribe an anti-emetic as well."
"Is it going to?" Rodney demanded over the top of the sheet.
"How's the patient?" Sheppard strolled in with a pile of folded clothes in his arms. "I hear you're going over the wall today."
"Before the rest of us go out of our minds," Keller said cheerfully. "Thank you, Colonel; and I'm going to ask for your help in making sure the patient remembers that he's a patient and doesn't overdo it."
"Sure thing, doc."
"Judas," Rodney muttered.
Sheppard set down the pile of clothes on the foot of the bed. "C'mon, Rodney; I have a set of Batman DVDs and a laptop all booted up in your quarters and ready to go."
"Be careful with video; it might contribute to his vertigo," Keller said. "Rodney, I have to consult with another patient, so John will see you out, okay?"
Rodney had planned to sail triumphantly out of the infirmary, a resounding ha! in the face of the medical profession. This plan lasted until he swung his legs out of bed, fully clothed at last, and ended up slumped against Sheppard, swallowing hard to make sure his stomach continued to honor their tentative truce.
"Wow, you just lost all the color in your face," Sheppard said in an interested tone, but the hand on Rodney's arm was gentle, supporting him without clinging. "I didn't know it was possible to be that pale. Are you sure you're supposed to be leaving here?"
"I'm fine. The doctor said I was fine."
But he didn't feel fine after an interminable walk back to his quarters; the icepick was back, stabbing into his temple, and suddenly DVDs seemed like a terrible idea.
"Look, I'll bring you by something to eat later, okay?" Sheppard said, helping him lie down, fully clothed, on top of the bed. Rodney was too busy coping with the stabbing pain behind his eyes to even summon enough energy to resent the unwanted assistance. "I hear that it's steak night in the mess."
Rodney's stomach lurched. "Soup might be better," he mumbled, and pressed his face into the pillow, wondering how it could still be two hours until his next dose of painkiller.
Being bored in his quarters turned out to be even worse than being bored in the infirmary, not that he had any intention of admitting this to Keller. At least there, he'd had people around to annoy whenever he felt like it. Keller dropped by once a day to make sure he wasn't bleeding out his ears or anything like that, and Sheppard "just happened" to be passing by his quarters on a statistically unlikely basis, but otherwise he had nothing but his laptop and four walls to keep him company.
Focusing was easier now, and so was sitting up, so at least he could get work done on his laptop. Still, after two days of being a virtual prisoner in his quarters, he found himself wide awake at two in the morning, staring at the ceiling. There would be no one in the labs to rat him out. And he had half a dozen experiments in progress that really could not be left to the minions any longer, even if he was able to keep tabs on them via email now. Rodney knocked back his next dose of painkillers and made his getaway.
The hallways were dim and deserted. Stepping into his lab -- his domain, his home -- made something tight in his chest uncoil, and pushed the stabbing headache back a notch. He'd only take a few minutes, just long enough to peek at the proto-ZPM that he really felt he was nearing a breakthrough on, and of course he'd had a few new ideas for the combo cloak-and-shield for the jumpers that Zelenka was working on -- oh, and maybe he'd check up on the deep-space-telemetry modifications ...
When his radio gave a burst of static in his ear, Rodney jumped -- sending a shock of pain through his skull -- and looked at the clock in the corner of the computer in front of him. 5:30. Crap. The first shift would be in at any moment.
"McKay," Sheppard's voice said in his ear, "that light under the door in the labs better not be you."
"Are you seriously outside the door right now?" Rodney demanded. The door opened promptly to reveal Sheppard slouched against the wall, looking completely unconcerned, except that Rodney knew him well to recognize how deceptive it was -- Sheppard's body was coiled with tension like a spring about to snap.
"How long have you been out there?"
"I just got here. I always take my morning run down this corridor, but there's usually no one up yet."
"That's because they're sensible enough not to be. I can't believe you get up at five in the morning voluntarily." Well, at least he hadn't been following Rodney around; that would just be creepy.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "And yet, being up at five in the morning after brain surgery is perfectly normal?"
"I couldn't sleep," Rodney said, pushing away from the countertop. A wave of dizziness washed over him -- Shit, not now. He gripped the edge until it subsided.
"You look like you're about to fall off that stool." The voice came from right behind him this time. Rodney dared moving his head enough to glare over his shoulder.
"You know me, Sheppard; do you really think I'd be here if I thought I was endangering my brain? I'm indispensable everywhere, you know."
"Right." Firm, gun-callused hands helped him off the stool; by now the headache had surged back with a vengeance, and black dots danced in the corners of his vision. "Can you make it back to your quarters?"
Rodney panted through a wave of nausea. Damn it, he'd felt fine when he was sitting at the computer; he'd been so lost in his work that he hadn't even noticed the headache for a blessed change. "What else am I supposed to do, lie down here on the floor so that people can step over me in order to work?"
Sheppard steered him out into the hallway. The movement was too much for him; Sheppard, seeing the look on his face, pushed him towards a wastebasket, but there was nothing in his stomach to throw up but coffee. "All right, new question," Sheppard said, steadying him when he was done. "Quarters or infirmary?"
"Quarters are closer," Rodney managed when the spike in his skull receded to the point that he could think again. He'd suspected that throwing up with the headache from hell would be a bad idea, but he really hadn't wanted to test that theory.
"Quarters it is, then."
Rodney didn't remember most of the trip back to his quarters; the next thing he knew, he was lying on the bed and Sheppard was stripping off his jacket and boots with surprising efficiency. "Should I call the doc?"
"Maybe," Rodney groaned, throwing an arm over his eyes to block the light, which felt like it was spiking straight into his brain.
"Oh shit, sorry." The world behind his eyelids went dim; Rodney took his arm away after a moment to see that the overhead light had been turned off and the desk lamp was on. A stripe of light showed under the mostly-closed bathroom door, and he heard a voice murmuring -- Sheppard talking into the radio? -- and then splashing.
"Sheppard, if you're going to use my bathroom, for God's sake shut the door all the way."
Sheppard laughed from behind the door. "If you're well enough to complain, I guess you're gonna live." He emerged with a folded cloth in one hand and a glass of water in the other, and Rodney regarded him, as he approached, with as much horror as he could muster past the headache trying to tear his skull apart.
"Oh no, no way; there will be no mopping of fevered brows as long as I'm still conscious." He snatched the wet cloth away from Sheppard as soon as it was within reach, and dropped it on the bedside table. "That doesn't help anyway. It's a myth." He closed his eyes and groaned. "God, my head hurts."
"And whose fault is that?" Sheppard wanted to know. Rodney didn't answer, just concentrated on keeping his stomach down and his head still. Something rattled nearby. "Are these your pills?" Sheppard asked. He didn't wait for an answer, just pressed something small and hard into Rodney's palm. "C'mon, McKay, work with me here; are you going to lie there and moan, or do something about it?"
"Your bedside manner sucks," Rodney gritted out between clenched teeth. He felt an arm slide under his shoulders, and Sheppard lifted him up a little and pressed a cool glass into his other hand.
"I would have held it to your lips, but I didn't want to deal with the bitching." There was laughter in Sheppard's voice, along with worry. Damn him anyway.
"I'm only supposed to take these every six hours."
"Doc said it was okay as long as it's been at least three hours since the last one."
Rodney swallowed the pills, waited a minute to make sure everything stayed where it was supposed to be, and then took a few more sips of water before Sheppard let him back down.
"She also said to make sure you ate something. Teyla's on her way over with some soup and tea."
Rodney closed his eyes again. "Teyla's tea tastes like it's been strained through sweat socks. I don't think it's the best thing for me right now."
"Yeah, well, you're not supposed to be having caffeine right now."
Rodney cracked an eye open. "It was habit! I'm never in my lab without drinking coffee. I can't work that way."
Sheppard sat down on the edge of the bed. "Rodney, do you want to end up in a coma? Because Keller says that's what's going to happen if you don't follow the rules."
Rodney shut his eyes to block out the too-open concern on Sheppard's face, and twisted his head to the side, pressing his cheek into the pillow and wishing the painkillers would kick in already. "I've been off my game for weeks, damn it. I've had it with this." With being coddled, he thought; with people looking at me like you are right now. "Tell me you wouldn't be out there flying puddlejumpers and attacking hive ships in my place."
There was no immediate answer. The bed creaked under Sheppard's weight; then a hand awkwardly patted his shoulder before withdrawing. The door chimed and the bed rose under him as Sheppard got up to answer it.
The painkillers were starting to kick in, thankfully, and just lying down seemed to be easing the dizziness and nausea. Now he just wanted to sleep. Rodney wavered on the edge, tuning in and out of a soft conversation in Sheppard and Teyla's voices, before a lighter weight made the edge of the bed dip down and Teyla said quietly, "Rodney, can you eat?"
Somehow it was a little easier to handle Teyla fussing over him than Sheppard. He vaguely remembered her doing this during his illness, but he tried not to think about it. At least she didn't try to feed him, just helped him get propped up a little with a tray in his lap containing soup and bread and a cup of that awful Athosian tea that Teyla tried to force on any member of the team who showed the slightest signs of illness.
After he'd spooned up a few mouthfuls of soup, the distinctive smell of bacon reached his nose. Rodney glanced suspiciously sideways. Teyla and Sheppard were both sitting crosslegged on the floor with a second tray between them. Apparently she'd brought breakfast for more than just Rodney.
"Is that bacon?"
Sheppard pointed at Rodney's tray, and said -- through a mouthful of bacon -- "That's right, and I'm not cleaning it up off the floor. Keep some soup down and we'll see about later."
"You just want it all to yourself," Rodney muttered, and took another mouthful of lukewarm broth.
"That's right, Rodney, that's my only reason." But he'd shifted a few strips of bacon to one side of his plate. So had Teyla. Rodney tried, and failed, to fight back the warm feeling flowing through him.
The door chimed again; Teyla got up to answer it. "What is this, Grand Central Station?" Rodney demanded.
"He's complaining," Keller said, stepping over the breakfast spread out on the floor. "He must be feeling better."
"Funny, doc; that's what I said," Sheppard said, and crinkled his eyes at Rodney in that not-quite-a-smile way that he had.
Rodney submitted to a cursory examination. By now the pain had receded enough that he could shift his head without feeling like he was about to throw up or pass out. "You're fine; you just overdid it," Keller said, tucking things away in her medical bag. "Maybe now you'll believe me about staying put until you're healed."
Rodney sullenly glowered at her over the soup.
"Lucky you," Keller said to Sheppard, stepping over him again. "Call me if his condition changes."
After she was gone, Rodney had a little more soup and a couple slices of bacon slipped to him by Teyla, and then put the tray to one side and let himself ooze down onto the bed. The painkillers made him drowsy when he wasn't too wired; normally he hated the fuzzy feeling, but right now it felt kind of good. "I think I'm gonna nap," he mumbled. "You guys can go do whatever it is that you do when we're not on missions."
"Paperwork, in my case," Sheppard said, and reached for Rodney's laptop. "Which I can do here. If I'm in my office, people can find me."
Teyla set the tray aside and folded her legs into a sort of lotus position. "Kanaan has Torren this morning, and I believe that I need to meditate."
"Guys," Rodney said, irritation surfacing through his foggy state. "I'm not going to wander off when your backs are turned."
Teyla just smiled at him, and then closed her eyes and placed her hands palm-up on her knees. "That is not why we are here, Rodney."
Sheppard didn't say anything or look up from the laptop, but the tips of his ears turned pink.
Rodney floundered for something to say. There wasn't anything, really, so he let his eyes drift shut, and floated away to the sound of keys tap-tapping and Teyla's soft humming, guiding him down into the dark.