Summary: Rodney checks in with Mr. Woolsey, Ronon, and John individually, following his ordeal with the Second Childhood, and his return from the Shrine of Talus.
I didn't plan on ever writing fan fiction again; it's been years. I've written an episode tag for The Shrine before, but this time I came at it with the perspective of someone who has actually lost a family member who had been struggling with Alzheimer's, like Woolsey had. I also wanted to touch upon the bro feels -- the way Ronon and Rodney's friendship had grown leading up to this point, as well as how deep and visceral John and Rodney's friendship truly is. Could be read as pre-slash/McShep.
Richard Woolsey ran his hand over his face wearily; all the decisions Elizabeth Weir and Samantha Carter had made that he'd questioned, he'd chalked up to emotional response. He'd honestly thought himself better suited for the position because he was a man, and therefore less emotionally-driven than they were, but he'd made a call just as questionable. He'd allowed his chief medical officer, his ranking military commander, the two Pegasus-native members of his premier gate team and a civilian to escort his dying head of science and research on a very risky off-world mission, based only on legend, a potentially-faulty childhood memory and the slightest chance that Dr. McKay might be restored to his former self -- for a single day -- and then die anyway.
It was a call he shouldn't have made, yet found himself glad he had. He had doubted, as had Dr. Keller, the efficacy of this shrine Ronon Dex had spoken of, but Ronon had spoken with such obvious love for Dr. McKay -- and struck such a familiar chord with Richard, given his own memories of his father's decline in health -- that it had ultimately been impossible to deny him, let alone Mrs. Miller. Dr. McKay was his employee, but to his sister and his team, he was much more than that. He was family -- and though Richard clung to that memory of his father's brief moment of clarity, he would have given nearly anything for one last day with his father. Had he known such things existed at the time, yes. He would have flown a puddle-jumper into a Wraith-infested valley and gone spelunking in damp caves in search of a mythic shrine, just to hear his father's voice once more -- clear of the fog of Alzheimer's -- to share a meal and a conversation as they had when they were both younger men.
Of course, Richard also recognized that, had he said no, Colonel Sheppard and his team would likely have stolen away with Dr. McKay and his sister in the night, perhaps without Dr. Keller's assistance, and then the field surgery which had saved both Dr. McKay's life and his inestimably valuable mind would have been impossible. Dr. McKay would be dead, and the Atlantis expedition would be much poorer for it. He would write in the report that it had been a calculated risk, but there had been no calculation on his part. Only empathy.
A knock on his door startled him from his reverie and self-pity, and he took pains not to spill the glass of wine in his hands -- his third that evening, though he typically limited himself to two -- as he stirred from his armchair. "Come in," he bade, smoothing the lines of his tailored suit.
"Mr. Woolsey?" Rodney McKay stepped into the room, dressed casually. The stitches on his forehead and the worried expression he wore were the only visible reminder of his recent ordeal. "I, well, wanted to thank you."
Richard waved his free hand in a dismissive gesture; he thought better of offering the man a glass of wine in his current condition, or asking whether he was supposed to be out of the infirmary at all. "You have nothing to thank me for, Doctor. Your team -- and your sister -- are incredibly persuasive. They love you a great deal."
"You didn't have to let them take me to... to the shrine of Talus," Rodney said humbly. "I've never been so frightened in my life."
Richard studied the man standing before him; it was impossible not to see his father in him now. Intelligent, honorable, beloved and fragile. "While you were... incapacitated, I told your team about my father. He died years ago, after a long battle with Alzheimer's. I saw him reduced from the man I looked up to as a child, to a shell who was more child than man. Though his transition was much slower, I know intimately the pain your family experienced -- witnessing your decline, helpless to ease your suffering, your fear. If I had been given the opportunity for the chance they had, I would have taken it as well."
Rodney smiled at Woolsey's use of the word family. "Yes. Well, I would do the same for any of them."
"I know you would." Richard swirled the wine in his glass, grateful for something to do with his hands. He took a sip, patiently. "Is there something else I can do for you, Dr. McKay?"
"Actually, there is." Rodney's fingers ghosted over the stitches on his forehead. "Ah, Jeannie and I -- my sister."
"I know who she is," Richard said gently. "Go on."
"Well, she was only able to make the call to overrule Dr. Keller's decision because she's my next of kin. If she hadn't made it in time, or hadn't been able to leave Earth, I would be dead now. Or as good as. She -- we decided that Colonel Sheppard is the best person to make those sort of calls, in her absence, and I was hoping you could file the appropriate paperwork for that."
Richard nodded. It had become evident, through Dr. McKay's illness, that there was one person whom he trusted implicitly. One name that he never forgot, even when it took him a moment to recall his own, and he couldn't even remember what galaxy he was in. One place he was drawn to, almost instinctively, when he awoke, terrified and alone, in the middle of the night. Only one man whose touch could calm the frightened McKay in the throes of unimaginable fear, disorientation and despair. It was a friendship Richard himself was achingly envious of. "Of course, Dr. McKay. I'll see to it first thing in the morning."
Rodney had returned to the infirmary after speaking with Woolsey, at Jennifer's request. She wanted to continue to keep an eye on him for a few days, to watch out for signs of possible infection, given the substandard conditions she'd had to operate under. He wasn't expecting to wake up to see the hulking form of Ronon Dex in the chair beside his bed, draped with a thin infirmary blanket, sleeping fully upright with his arms crossed. "He's been here all night," Jennifer told him, handing him a breakfast tray. "I tried to shoo him off to bed a couple of times, but he wasn't going anywhere."
Pancakes, eggs, and little sausages, with coffee and juice. A meal fit for a king -- with a hole in his head. Rodney excitedly tucked in, and was surprised when one of the little sausages disappeared. "Nice of you to join us," Rodney said, around a mouthful of pancake. "Get your own."
"Make me," Ronon said, smirking, and tore off a piece of pancake to wrap around the already half-eaten sausage. He brazenly dunked it in the little cup of fake maple syrup, an eyebrow raised in challenge.
"Careful, boys," Jennifer said lightly, winking at them. "Remember, Rodney sharing food is what got us into all this trouble in the first place."
Rodney grinned, and so did Ronon -- as he stole the cup of orange juice as well.
"Oh, come on!" Rodney protested. "I'm recovering, here. I need all the strength I can get."
"Scare me like that again, McKay, and I'll kill you myself," Ronon replied, after washing down an ill-gotten bite.
Rodney didn't respond, but he did turn his tray so that Ronon could reach the pancakes without dragging his arm through the eggs again.
"This is my big 'I told you so' moment," John said, bumping his shoulder against Rodney's as they sat on the pier, just like they had that night Rodney had come to him, lost and afraid. "I don't get a lot of these with you, so you're gonna have to bear with me while I enjoy it. I told you I wasn't going to say goodbye, and I didn't have to. So I was right, and you were wrong, and I told you so."
Rodney smiled and raised his beer in salute. "Yes, I suppose you did."
John switched his beer to his other hand and made a big show of feeling Rodney's forehead. "You sure you're okay? You just admitted I was right."
Rodney shoved John's damp, slightly clammy hand away playfully and attempted to scowl at him. "Well, don't get used to it. It doesn't happen often."
"Me being right, or you admitting it?"
"Precisely." Rodney grinned, and John couldn't help but return it.
They sat in silence for a while, silhouetted against the pink-orange sky and the setting sun, until John mentioned, "Woolsey had me sign some stuff yesterday, so I can make decisions for you if... something bad happens again."
"Something bad always happens," Rodney pointed out. "I know. I asked him to. Jeannie feels safer knowing that if... you know, and she can't get here fast enough..."
"Me too," John said earnestly. "Listen, I know you like Keller and everything, but--"
"I love her, apparently." Rodney grimaced slightly. "I hardly know her, but I told her I love her. It's on video. Day six. Six! I wasn't even that far gone yet."
"You could barely remember what galaxy you were in," John reminded him. "For you, that's pretty far gone. Anyway, I know you like her, but I just... Rodney, she was gonna let you die here, a gibbering wreck, while she kept trying to figure out a way to get rid of that thing in your head. It's gonna take me a while to forgive her for that."
"Jeannie told me about the surgery," Rodney told him, touching his stitches. "That the whole thing was your idea, that you twisted Jennifer's arm to do it."
"Yeah," John admitted, defiantly. "I'm not sorry."
"Good." Rodney nodded. "I wasn't going to... I wanted to thank you. That's all. For that, and-- for being there. I remember bits and pieces here and there from when it was awful, and I remember you always being there. Holding me, actually. Like I was a little kid, and you were protecting me."
"Well, that wasn't all that far from the truth at some points," John said, running his free hand over the back of his neck awkwardly. "You know I've always got your six."
"I do. And, well. I hope you know that I have yours, for whatever it's worth."
John was quiet, taking a long sip of his beer before saying, hoarsely, "It's worth it all, McKay."