Force over Distance: Chapter 14
Their link would heal. It had to.
Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Loss of autonomy. Physical injuries. Boundary violations.
Text iteration: Sunrise.
Audio status: Proofing.
Additional notes: None.
Young came back to consciousness slowly. His entire body ached. He was lying face down, half on a gurney, half atop—
His chief goddamned scientist.
His head was on Rush’s shoulder. His right arm and right leg were draped over the guy. Gingerly, without moving, he brushed against the scientist’s thoughts and found the man dead asleep.
The memory of the previous night crashed over him. The debilitating vertigo. The way TJ had been forced to move a second gurney immediately adjacent to Rush’s so they could both get some sleep. The scientist’s glare had been one for the record books. Even the memory of it was enough to make Young wince.
How the hell they were gonna make it through this without killing one another was an open question.
Carefully, keeping the motion as smooth as possible, he threaded his leg free, eased his weight off Rush, pulled back, and sat. As soon as he was out of contact with the man, a dull ache began in his temples. His sense of the scientist was replaced by pure strain.
Young could feel the damn ship dragging on the man’s mind. Hard.
“You have got to be kidding me.” He reached for Rush’s shoulder. As soon as he had a grip on the man, the pain faded. His sense of Rush’s mind sharpened, approaching the level of clarity he’d experienced when their link was undamaged. The pull of the ship receded.
“Great,” he whispered. “That’s great.”
He did his best to dig up some optimism.
Their link would heal.
It had to.
Young sat cross-legged on his own gurney, braced his elbow against his knee, and studied the splint TJ’d constructed for his hand. It was made of tape, twine, and the casings of a spent pen. The hand itself was spectacularly bruised from its impact with the wall. Maybe a boxer’s fracture? It was hard to tell.
The silence of the infirmary was broken by the swish of opening doors.
“Camile.” TJ’s voice carried from around the corner. “What can I do for you?”
“I need to speak with Colonel Young,” Wray replied. “I understand he's here?”
“Damn it,” Young said, without sound. He glanced at Rush, then broke contact with the other man to slide off his own gurney.
“He’s here.” TJ's voice was guarded. “But he's exhausted. No visitors for at least two more hours.”
“He’s exhausted?” Wray said. “‘Exhausted?’ That’s the best you can do?”
TJ said nothing.
Silently, Young rolled his gurney into its previous position, doing his best not to stray too far from Rush. Six feet was almost unbearable, and, as soon as he got the stretcher roughly into place, he staggered back toward the scientist, collapsing against the gurney as he placed his hand, again, on the man’s shoulder.
“Damn it.” The headache was so bad his eyes were watering.
“If Colonel Young is unavailable, I'd like to speak to Dr. Rush, please.” Wray’s voice was cool.
“I'm sorry, Camile,” TJ replied. “That's not possible right now.”
“What's going on, TJ?” Wray demanded.
TJ didn't answer. Young could almost hear them staring each other down.
Wray was about ten seconds away from forcing her way past TJ, and—considering the events of the previous day—Young couldn’t really blame her. He boosted himself onto Rush’s gurney and positioned himself immediately next to the scientist. He tried to relax his pose as much as possible. Like he made a habit of up-close bedside vigils.
“I’m afraid I have to insist,” Wray said.
Young unclipped his radio from his belt and switched to the medical channel. “TJ,” he murmured. “It's fine, I'm up. Let her come back.”
TJ and Wray entered the room together. In the doorway, Wray hesitated. She lifted an eyebrow. Maybe at Young’s disheveled appearance, but, more likely, it was the fact he’d parked himself on Rush’s bed. She opened her mouth to get started, but before she could say anything, Young shook his head.
“Quietly.” He kept his voice low. “Let’s not wake him up?”
Wray nodded, then approached the head of the bed and took a good look at Rush. The scientist’s hair and the dark material of his jacket highlighted the pallor of his skin. Even in sleep, his eyebrows drew together, as if he were fighting a headache. Young adjusted his position, and managed to get his good hand behind him, in solid contact with the man, without being too obvious about it.
“He looks terrible,” Wray murmured.
“He's had a rough week,” Young admitted.
“Colonel,” Wray said. “Everett. What happened?”
Young sighed. He brought his aching hand to rest against his shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean,” she replied. “Why couldn't Homeworld Command switch Rush out? Why did they get you when they tried? Why did Destiny shut down when we were taken?”
She was perceptive. Too perceptive to lie to. And—she’d helped him. Him and Rush both.
Young steeled himself. “Rush has some kind of mental link with Destiny.” He faced down her look of concerned skepticism. “And also.” He cleared his throat. “Also with me.”
“With you? A mental link?”
Young nodded. “It is what it sounds like.”
Wray paced away a few steps and spun to face him. “Sorry, but I’ll need more than that. A mental link? To a starship. And you?”
“Yeah,” Young said, feeling his own exhaustion. “Remember when he was trapped in the chair? About a week ago? Destiny remodeled his brain and left him with a direct connection to the ship. It’s why all those extra power reserves activated.”
“The Mozart,” Wray murmured. “In the speaker systems.”
“To Destiny? That I can understand.” She paused. “Well, that I can somewhat understand,” she amended. “But to you?”
“I pulled him out of the chair,” Young said. “As a consequence, his mind is balanced between me and the ship. Without me, he gets dragged in.”
“Dragged in?” Wray repeated, incredulous and anxious and skeptical and about a hundred other things Young sympathized with. “Dragged into where?”
“I don’t know, Camile. Destiny itself, maybe? I can keep it from happening. When no one’s ripping my brain out of my body, that is.”
“So that's what happened yesterday when you were switched out?” Wray wrapped her arms around her ribcage. “He got ‘dragged in?’ Why did the ship shut down?”
“Rush may have done that himself. We don't know for sure. He doesn't remember.”
“He doesn’t remember?” Wray looked at Rush with knitted brows.
“Yeah, not sure why.”
TJ, who was standing just inside the doorway, cleared her throat. “I’ve got a theory about that.”
Young and Wray looked at her.
“I’m guessing a normal human brain can't support the amount of data those memories would require.” TJ shrugged. “When he’s with Destiny, his cognition’s shared with an entire starship. A human mind isn’t built to lay down memories that vast.”
Wray nodded. “And, to be clear, you two know he doesn’t remember because—you've talked to him?” Young could hear the anxiety in her tone. “Will he be all right?”
“We think so,” TJ said cautiously. “It was more touch than go for a while there, but he seems to be recovering.”
Wray nodded, then looked at Young. “Colonel,” she said quietly, “I appreciate you're concerned about him. I am too. But your presence is needed amongst the crew. Badly. There were five instances of unexpected consciousness-swaps on the stones, not to mention the trauma of an unexplained systems failure. People were caught out alone. In the dark.”
“Everyone is upset. I’ve covered for you as much as I can,” she continued, “but you’ll need to put in an appearance on the bridge and in the mess, if only for the sake of morale. We just had one of the worst crises we’ve had in months. And through the whole thing—no one saw you. No one saw Rush. People are starting to talk.”
“I’d imagine they are.” Young ran his thumb awkwardly along his jaw, trying not to jostle his injured fingers as he did so. “Believe me, Camile, staying down here wasn't my first choice.”
“So why did you?” Wray asked. “Stay down here, I mean.”
“Because, even after we got life support back, it took about seven hours of sustained work to drag Rush out of Destiny’s systems. And to do that, I had to be with him.”
Wray looked him in the eye, her expression carefully neutral, her delicate shoulders straight. Young had never been so grateful for her professionalism. “I see,” she said.
“I need your help on this, Camile,” Young said.
“Yes,” she said, her voice soft. “You do.” She glanced at Rush. “The question is, how much of this should the crew be told? And—” her eyes flicked to TJ. “Who knows already?”
“Only TJ, Eli, and Greer,” Young said.
“A tight-lipped bunch,” Wray commented, “with the possible exception of Eli.”
“He won’t let this slip,” Young said.
Wray cocked her head. “We'll see. You'll need to tell the crew something. I’d suggest explaining that Rush is connected to the ship, and that Telford tried to pull him out, which resulted in Rush and Destiny shutting down.”
Young raised his eyebrows at her.
“It's not perfect, I know. It doesn't explain your actions, for one thing,” she said, “but, support for you is high enough that you can probably just fail to explain yourself and people will assume you were doing something essential. Especially if Rush isn't undermining everything you say.”
“Yeah, well, no promises there,” Young said dryly, glancing at the scientist.
“Personally, I’d avoid mentioning this mental connection you have with him? All that will accomplish is making people nervous, especially considering your history.”
“Does it make you nervous?” Young asked.
“No, colonel, frankly, it terrifies me.”
“Well,” he said, taken aback. “You do a good job of hiding it.”
She gave him a small smile, which cut the sting of her previous statement. “So,” she said, “should we hold a meeting in the gate room?”
Young looked at Rush, and grimaced.
He tried to imagine waking the scientist and dragging him, maybe literally, to the gate room. He tried to imagine standing up there on that spiraled metal staircase, unable to separate from Rush by more than a few feet, in front of the entire crew of Destiny. He tried to imagine telling everyone that Rush had some kind of ‘psychic connection’ to the ship, but, not to worry, the whole thing was under control. On a good day, it’d be a horrible experience. And this—well, this was already not a good day.
“Can we try a different format? Maybe—town-hall style, split the crew up into two or three groups?”
“Like we did a few years ago.” Wray nodded. “I like that idea. I think we should start immediately.”
Young sighed. “I hear you, but I want Rush there.”
“He doesn't have to be,” Wray pointed out. “It’ll just be an additional stress. Let him sleep. He obviously needs it.”
Young exchanged a quick glance with TJ.
“Camile,” Young said. “If the crew’s gonna be told he has some kind of ‘psychic link’ with the ship, they’ll need to see him on his feet and they’ll need to know that he and I are on the same page.”
“Colonel.” Wray’s expression was grave. “The crew needs something soon. Very soon. Morale is terrible. More than that. People are actively frightened. They want to see you.”
“You can spread the word that three town-hall meetings will happen this afternoon. Tell them—” he looked at his watch, then at TJ. “What do you think?”
“I wouldn’t nail down a specific time.” TJ looked at Rush, her brow furrowed. “He never sleeps like this. He just suffered a huge, poorly-defined neurological trauma. We’re lucky he regained consciousness at all.”
Young nodded, then glanced at Wray. “I'll leave it to you to organize the groups. I’ll radio when I have a time.”
Wray hesitated, on the border of arguing. Young caught her gaze and held it. She nodded.
“Don’t forget,” Wray said, as she turned to go, “to leave time for your meeting with Colonel Telford.” She left the infirmary, her low heels echoing against the deck plating.
TJ approached, close enough to touch. “Do you really have to meet with Telford?” she asked softly.
“It was one of the conditions on which they sent me back yesterday. I can't risk them pulling me out again.” Young glanced at Rush.
TJ put a hand on his shoulder, and he leaned into her.
“This is a god damned mess, isn't it?” he whispered. “When he wakes up, he’s gonna be on an absolute tear.”
“With good reason,” she said grimly.
“Yeah. I know, TJ. But suppose, by some miracle, he manages to get over himself and buy into Wray’s plan—can he even stay on his feet for three of these meetings? If he passes out in the middle of one, it’s not exactly gonna inspire confidence. Not to mention Telford. How’ll that work?”
"One step at a time," TJ said. “I'll find you both some breakfast.”
Once she’d gone, Young studied Rush, more than a little disturbed by how dead-to-the-world the man seemed. Delicately, he closed the mental distance between them. The scientist’s network was running, a bright swirl of pure presence. It flickered, occasionally, with a forming concept. An image. An equation. A musical phrase.
Young was pretty sure he was looking at sleep. High quality, non-dreaming, good, old-fashioned sleep. The only thing strange about it was how deep it was.
“Gotta say, you seem like you should be a light sleeper,” Young fought the urge to shake the man, just to chart the consequences. “But I guess we’ll give you a free pass on this one.”
The scientist needed about a week off. Instead, he was gonna get a day from hell.
And that day would include David Telford.
Young wondered if he could use the same strategy on Telford that Wray’d used on Carter—claim to know what’d happened, then see what additional information he could get. He had an advantage over Wray, which was that, via Rush's dream, he’d likely witnessed the moment that ended the association between the two men.
He turned the fragment of memory over in his mind.
There’d been something about the setting—a detail Rush had noticed and that he hadn't liked, a detail that’d struck Young immediately—the room had been of Goa’uld design, but it had contained Ancient tech.
Young had seen that particular aesthetic before.
In a secret lab, built by the Goa’uld, Anubis.
Years back, Young had commanded one of the SG teams that’d destroyed all sensitive material remaining in the half-ascended Goa’uld's research station after his clone had nearly destroyed Cheyenne Mountain. Young's team had demolished the lab and most of its instrumentation. What they hadn’t destroyed, they’d taken.
There must have been more than one lab. Or, someone had recreated the set-up.
And, Anubis? Well, Anubis had been focused on one thing, and one thing only.
“You couldn’t have been working on ascension,” Young whispered, aghast, looking at his chief scientist.
Whether it was ascension, or something else—why had Nicholas Rush, of all people, been the guy barefoot in the middle of the room? Testing things on himself really didn't seem like the man’s style.
Young propped his splinted hand against his shoulder and considered the question.
The first thing that came to mind, of course, was the neural interface chair. Rush’d wanted to use it, but had been hesitant to risk himself, an attitude that’d pissed Young off to no end and led to several arguments, the most intense being the one after Dr. Franklin had been injured.
I'm not stopping you Rush. Go. Sit. Be my guest.
And Rush had.
He had gone.
Over and over.
How many times, now?
At least four.
The first two times Rush had sat in the chair he'd constructed a software buffer between his mind and Destiny. The third time had been in the midst of an attack—there’d been no chance for Rush to erect any barrier between himself and the ship.
That was when all of this had started.
That was when the lights had begun behaving strangely, when doors had started opening for Rush before he reached them, when Destiny had, in Eli's words, decided that it liked him.
Involuntarily, Young shivered.
He’d gotten, maybe, some of his assumptions backwards.
“You haven’t been fucking around with the AI,” Young whispered.
Rush had, instead, been skirting the AI. Using workarounds. Constructing barriers. Wresting control of systems away from an Ancient computer program that’d taken the form of his dead wife.
“The AI’s been fucking around with you.”
Young took several deep breaths, staring at a point on the ceiling.
“Okay,” he whispered. “Fine.”
It was unsettling, but it didn’t change much.
It didn’t change Rush’s Machiavellian track record. It didn’t change the fact he’d brought them all to Destiny in the first place. It didn’t change the man’s consistent, predictable, maddening tendency to lie about what he knew.
The guy had taught math to college kids. For his whole goddamned life. He wasn’t career military. He wasn’t even an SGC career scientist. That was the thing Young kept coming back to.
Something had to have happened to him.
And, yeah. Standing in a lab designed by Anubis, in his bare feet, while a USAF colonel threw a switch?
Seemed like the kind of thing that might leave a little bit of a mark.
Young wished he’d paid more attention to the scientist during their time on the Icarus base. Rush hadn’t been impressed with Young’s track record or command style or—anything at all, really. He’d made that pretty clear.
Young hadn’t been impressed either. For all his supposed mathematical genius, Rush had struggled, hard, when it came to opening the gate. In the end, it was Eli who’d done it.
But Rush had proven himself, time and time again. Sure, maybe he wasn’t saving the day with Carter’s calm confidence or McKay’s snappy commentary, but he was, consistently, saving the day.
It was the only thing that made the man tolerable.
And, tolerable or not, he was now Young’s personal responsibility.
Maybe if he classified Rush as a “mission,” rather than a difficult, hostile colleague, that’d help. Young had gone on plenty of difficult, hostile missions in his day.
They tended to be a lot of work.
He’d been building toward this anyway, before the catastrophe with the communications array. He’d already decided to take Rush out of the chain of command. He’d already decided to help the guy where he could.
As a mission objective, “help” was pretty vague.
In this scenario, “help” definitely meant keeping an eye on the scientist to make sure he wasn’t tearing open his goddamned feet to hold his ground against a ravenous starship. “Help” also meant doing what he could to encourage their damaged link to heal, or at least not stressing it further. “Help” probably meant figuring out what’d happened between Telford and Rush, ideally in a way that didn’t irreparably piss the scientist off.
TJ returned from the mess with bowls of paste and bottles of electrolyte solution. Young forced down his breakfast, then spent the next ninety minutes mapping the limits of his capacity to physically separate from the scientist. It was roughly consistent—a six foot radius was about all they had before the separation started to get painful enough that it disturbed Rush’s sleep. Investing in some solid physical contact and sustained mental attention before an attempt seemed to up their separation tolerance.
With that little insight in mind, Young found a chair, dropped into it, pulled up the sleeve of Rush’s jacket, closed his hand solidly around the scientist’s forearm, and brought their thoughts as close as possible.
The better shape the guy was in when he woke up, the better things would go.
Rush resurfaced in the late morning. The flickering of his thoughts intensified. Images stuck longer, seared brighter. Concert halls. Lecture halls. Dicing onion by hand while Gloria—
Rush slammed straight into consciousness. He tried to sit, but, this time, Young was ready for him.
“Easy.” He held the man in place. “You’re fine.”
A burst of wild, uncontrolled panic exploded through their link, accompanied by disorganized flashes of river water, of clear water contained by glass, of something that wasn’t water at all, pressing against his eyes, already in his lungs—
Gasping, Young hauled the man into a seated position.
They stared at one another, breathing hard. Rush’s fingers dug painfully into Young’s biceps. Panic and disorientation reverberated through their link until Young wasn’t sure whose anxiety was making whose heart race.
“What the hell was that?” Young breathed.
“I—” Rush said faintly. “I don’t know.”
“Bullshit,” Young growled. “What was that stuff? Some kind of gel?”
“Stay the fuck out of my head,” Rush hissed. He shrugged out of Young’s grip and pulled a foot beneath him on the bed.
“I’m trying to help you.” Young hung onto his composure by the width of a fingernail.
Young took several deep breaths, trying to rid himself of panic and anxiety that weren’t his. “You need water.” He unscrewed a bottle of electrolyte solution and poured it into a waiting cup. “TJ said if you don't drink at least two liters you’re getting an IV."
Rush took a sip, grimaced, and looked at Young, his expression full of mistrust. “I don't know what that is, but it's not water.”
“Yeah, TJ put some stuff in it," Young said. “Salt, I think? I probably should’ve mentioned that.”
Rush stared at him.
“Damn it, Rush, I'm not trying to poison you. It's budget Gatorade. You’re dehydrated as hell. Just drink it.”
Rush rolled his eyes, and irritation flooded their link. This time, Young did a better job keeping track of who was feeling what. He, himself, was fine. Rush was irritated. Young couldn't decide what specifically was annoying the other man, but he figured the aggravation was a good sign.
“An’ what are you so fuckin’ happy about?” Rush picked up on Young's relief as he sipped his salted water with obvious distaste. “This is terrible.” He made a vague motion with two fingers between his temple and Young's general direction, from which Young inferred that he was talking about their link, rather than the salted water, though that was probably also terrible. “How am I supposed to get anything done?” Rush continued. “Presumably you have things to do as well, though what exactly those things might be remains unclear.”
“Look.” Young tried to keep the conversation as professional as possible. “At least for today, this won’t be a problem—”
“If you think I'm going to stay here for an entire day—”
“No.” Young held up his splinted hand. “Nothing like that. Wray and I are setting up three consecutive town-hall meetings with the crew, which you and I can do together. The idea is to stem some of the rumors that have cropped up after yesterday and explain—” Young paused at Rush's increasingly frozen expression, but decided to forge ahead. “Explain why your—”
Rush's gaze looked capable of melting lead.
“Explain that you and the ship are linked. I thought—”
“Yes,” Rush said. “Precisely. You. You thought. Y’couldn't even fucking wait until I was fucking conscious to fucking plan our fucking day. Well, I have news for you. First of all, I don't know what a 'town-hall' meeting is, and I don’t want to know. Second, I'm not doing it, and certainly not three times in a row. Third, and most importantly, there are more pressing things to address. Specifically? Evaluating the platform and the neural network that define Destiny's AI.”
“That doesn't have to be you, and it certainly doesn't have to be now.” Young was peripherally aware of the rising volume of his voice.
“What a perceptive assessment.” Rush’s words and thoughts bled out of his control. “Of course, given your less-than-stellar track record, you’ll forgive me if I think that means fuck all.”
“You're a lot of work.” Young spoke through clenched teeth, fighting the urge to say something less constructive. A familiar headache began to build behind his eyes.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Rush snarled.
“With me?” Young growled.
“Town hall meetings? A lot of work? Do you have a background in middle management? Were you traumatized at one of Dr. Jackson's ‘Cultural Sensitivity’ seminars? Don't tell me I'm ‘a lot of work,’ tell me what you actually mean.”
Young leaned in close and stared Rush down from beneath lowered brows. “You're manipulative, impulsive, and hostile,” he growled. “Yet again, you’ve put the lives of the entire crew in jeopardy, this time by tying your own very tenuous existence to the solvency of this ship. I am trying to help you. I've been trying to damn well help you since day one, and what do you do? You lie to me. You hide things from me. You undermine my command at every god damned opportunity.” He broke off, breathing heavily, looking away from Rush's unreadable stare, wishing he could leave, but knowing there was nowhere for him to go.
There was nowhere he could go.
“I guarantee you,” Rush said icily, “that if we're listing past grievances? This will rapidly become an argument that I am going to win.”
“You think I don't know that?” Young whispered.
Rush turned away. He pulled his knees up, curling into himself, his head in his hands. The scientist’s thoughts were a hopeless, impenetrable swirl, but Young didn't need to see what the other man was thinking.
Misery was written in every line of his body.
God damn but the man could push his buttons.
“We can't do this right now,” Young found it hard to get the words out. “Neither of us.”
Rush didn't say anything.
“Believe it or not," Young said, trying again, “I didn’t set out to pick a fight with you. You don’t want to do these meetings? Fine. Done. They’re off the table. You tell me where you need to be, and that’s where we’ll go.”
Finally, finally, it seemed like he’d said the right thing.
Rush's shoulders relaxed. He lifted his head, his eyes still shielded by his hands.
Young gave him a thirty count and then, very carefully, he shifted his position on the gurney. Deliberately, he put his hand down between Rush’s shoulder blades. He projected a wordless wave of uncertainty, asking for permission.
He got back a wordless assent, and Rush relaxed incrementally. Underneath his palm, he could feel the scientist's heart, pounding fiercely through his thin frame. Slowly, Young dropped every latent barrier and allowed his thoughts to come into careful apposition with Rush’s mind.
His headache drained away.
//Sorry.// The scientist’s thoughts coalesced to form the word, then dissolved back to unreadability.
//You're having a bad week.// Young pressed his thumb into the tense muscles along the edge of Rush’s shoulder blade.
//I'm having a bad decade.//
//Yeah, I'm getting that.// The words had a rueful edge that Young hadn’t meant to give them. He dragged his thumb along a band of tense muscle, repeating the small motion, trying to encourage it to relax.
Eventually, Rush raised his head and reached out to pick up his water. Young pulled his hand back.
//What time are these meetings supposed to be happening?// Rush asked.
//Don't worry about it,// Young replied.
//I can do some of the necessary coding to interrogate the AI via laptop.//
Had he just received a major concession? Young tried to tamp down on the shock he was feeling. He could tell he was only partially successful because—
“Oh give over,” Rush whispered. “I’m only completely unreasonable when you’re completely unreasonable.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Young switched back to projecting. //If you’re open to it, you can work through the meetings. Wray’ll do most of the talking. The main thing is for you to be present so that no one thinks we're concealing anything.// Young grimaced. //Which is, of course, not true.//
//I think our deception is fairly iron-clad, as no one would ever suspect us of cooperating. I can barely believe it myself.// Rush reached for the bottle of salt solution. //So, Wray knows everything?//
“I got it.” Young took his cup. //She doesn't know everything. I didn't tell her about the genetic changes. Or that we damaged our link.// He couldn’t help the grim tone of his thoughts. //She was upset enough without all the gory details.//
Rush sighed. //It’s as bad as all that, then?//
//We’ve got a radius of about six feet,// Young admitted.
“Bloody fantastic,” Rush whispered.
Rush tapped his fingers absently against the side of his cup and sent Young a stream of directed, sequenced images. No words. Just concepts.
//Was that your to-do list?// Young asked. //Because I think I missed about ninety percent of that.//
//Meetings and programming.// Rush verbally tagged an image of the mess and a burst of code. //Interrogate Destiny's AI, then—// Rush's projection switched from verbal to visual as he shot Young a series of images that were interpretable as “miscellaneous.” Sort of.
Young tried to clamp down on his unease, but Rush picked it up.
//There's one more thing on the list,// Young said guardedly. //In order for Carter to send me back, I agreed to report to Telford sometime today. We can send someone to switch with him at our convenience, but it's gotta be today, and he’s coming here.//
Rush said nothing. His thoughts split into multiple streams that were almost impossible to follow. Almost. From the onslaught of images, because he was looking for it, Young caught a glimpse of a darkened chamber, where the light of Ancient crystals reflected off a pale, liquid sheen over the floor. Goa’uld script, gold and ostentatious, flowed down the walls.
He tried to latch onto the memory, but couldn’t.
//What did you see?// Rush asked sharply.
//Nothing. Some circuits. Goa’uld maybe.// Young focused on the perfect truth of the words.
“I can’t talk to Telford.” Rush switched to speaking, mentally pulling away from Young as much as he was able. “Not today.”
Young was tempted to push the issue, but—something stopped him. Maybe it was that they had a long day ahead of them, and he didn't want to destroy their fragile ceasefire. Maybe it was that he didn't feel that he could control his own reactions where Telford was concerned, let alone defang Rush if he became upset. But, as he looked at the scientist, he was pretty sure it wasn't either of those things.
"You don't have to talk to him," Young said carefully. “You don’t even have to see him.” He sent the scientist a brief visual of what he had in mind.
Rush nodded in agreement.
Young pulled out the power bar TJ had given him earlier and handed it over. “Don't let it be said that near death experiences and an unfortunate habit of missing meals don't have their occasional compensations.”
“Perish the thought.” Rush tore the packaging open.
“It's one of TJ's last power bars.”
“I'm sure.” Rush broke off a piece and handed it to Young.
“Nope. You need the calories more than anyone.”
“I'm trying to have a moment and you're ruining it.”
That comment surprised a small smile out of Young, and, with a shrug, he reached out and took the proffered piece. It wasn't one of the standard-issue energy bars that came with the MRE's. It must have come from a civilian, but Young couldn't imagine anyone surrendering a store-bought power bar that was half-covered in chocolate.
“Where did TJ find this?” he asked, examining it.
“They're hers.” Rush said. “She insists on giving them to me at intervals, even though I keep informing her that intermittent power bars do not stand between me and starvation.”
Young raised his eyebrows, surprised that there was anything about TJ that Rush would know but he wouldn't, wondering how active a role TJ had played in keeping Rush on his feet for the past two years, wondering what Rush's caloric intake generally ran, wondering why TJ had been carrying chocolate covered power bars with her when she'd had perfectly good SGC power bars in excess, wondering whether he really remembered what chocolate tasted like.
“I think you've contextualized the whole experience enough,” Rush commented, having picked up on at least some of Young's thoughts. “I'd just eat it.”
“Now you're ruining my moment.” Young said.
He bit down through small, crunchy, synthesized beads that tasted vaguely like oats and almonds and peanuts and, god help him, heart-breakingly familiar, safe, Earth-based preservatives before he hit the chocolate, which was waxy and brittle and so fucking sweet that it was painful.
“Oh my god.” Young shut his eyes. He chewed, swallowed, and tried to fix the entire experience in his memory. It was the best thing he’d tasted in years. Literally.
He opened his eyes to find Rush watching him, eyebrows quirked. “That,” he said, “was indecent.” The scientist's tone radiated disdain, which was entirely belied by the dry amusement Young felt coming through their link. “You want the rest of the thing? I could leave you two alone together.”
“Oh give it a rest,” Young said. “You've been eating these the whole time.”
“Not that enthusiastically, I can assure you. I save my oral fixations for things that deserve them.
Young looked at him dubiously. “Such as?”
“Cigarettes.” Rush shut his eyes.
“Ugh. Those things kill you.”
The scientist smiled faintly. His gaze swept the room, as though looking for something, without finding it. “The best things always do.”
In the back of Rush's mind, Destiny flared to life, roaring forward with a darkness that Young could neither penetrate or understand. He grabbed Rush’s shoulder and shoved the ship back. Reluctantly, it went.
“What the hell was that?” Young growled, shaken.
Rush cocked his head, as if to indicate that there was nothing to worry about. He looked pointedly at the grip Young had on his shoulder.
Young let him go
“So,” Rush said imperiously, shifting to grab one of his metal crutches from where it leaned against the wall at the head of his bed. He used it to deftly snag one of his boots off the floor. “I’ll need someone to carry my computer. After I find it.”
By 1300 hours they’d been cleared by TJ and located Rush's computer (still where he’d left it in the control interface room). They entered the mess a little behind schedule to find Wray sitting silently in front of a third of Destiny's crew. What little conversation there was ceased as soon as they stepped through the doors.
The crew could probably count the number of times Young and Rush had purposefully entered a room together on one hand. Maybe with one finger.
The visual, Young was sure, was both striking and intensely uncomfortable. The walk from the doorway to where Wray was seated was long. Agonizingly slow. The entire way, Young kept pace with Rush. Without helping him. Just. Sticking there. At the guy’s flank. Really goddamned close.
Wray stared at him, a what-the-hell-are-you-doing expression on her face.
Park whispered something to Volker, who rolled his eyes in response.
Half the military personnel were looking away; half were looking at Young as though he was about to issue some a goddamned order. The civilian scientists glanced at one another, all except for Eli, who sat at the edge of a table in the middle of the room, glaring at Rush.
“Hey,” Eli said as they approached, his voice carrying easily in the tomb-silent room, light and exasperated. “I see you're alive. Yaaay.” The kid waved a tiny, invisible flag. “A radio call would have been nice. Just a, ‘Hey Eli, thanks for saving the day’!”
“Eli.” Rush snapped out the kid’s name like a rebuke. As though that were even remotely appropriate.
But, then again, maybe it was, because the room lost its terrible silence. People began whispering again, shifting. Rush paused, not looking directly at the young man, and then added, “No less than I expected.”
“You're welcome.” Eli did a passable job of hiding his smile. “Feel free to just, y’know, implement barely understandable insane-sounding poorly explained plans and then tell me to repair all the consequences with no warning. It's super fun for me.”
Young's mouth twitched.
Rush rolled his eyes and continued to the front of the room. Young dropped into a seat beside Wray. Rush, of course, sat as far from Young as he could get without stressing their link, which turned out to be about three and a half feet, at the end of the table.
Young wordlessly slid him his laptop. He opened it and began coding, without so much as looking up.
Young made a herculean effort to tamp down on the surge of irritation this produced. He was pretty sure he’d been successful, because Rush didn’t so much as glance his way. The scientist’s thoughts were an anxious, preoccupied swirl.
Wray looked uncertainly at Rush, then shifted her gaze to Young.
He motioned for her to get started.
It didn't take long to explain the basics of why the ship had lost power. The story Wray outlined was straightforward, and the crew seemed to take it okay, judging by the relaxed postures and the intermittent wry commentary that came back at her.
At the end of Wray’s explanation, she turned to Rush and asked him if he had anything to add.
Young could’ve told her that was a terrible idea.
At her question, Rush looked up, pushing his hair back with one hand. “No. No, not particularly.” He refocused on his computer, then, in a lethally casual tone, added, “I'd advise against leaving me for dead, unless y’want to lose life support.”
It took all of Young's self control not to visibly wince. //Thanks for that,// he shot at Rush. He did his best to avoid glaring at the scientist.
//They need to know,// Rush replied. //I just happened to pick an example from within my repertoire of experience.//
“Yes.” Wray lost her polished delivery. “Well, uh, I’m sure we'll all keep that in mind. Any questions?”
There weren't many.
//Would it kill you to maintain a professional demeanor for, what, less than two hours?// Young did his best to avoid glaring at the scientist.
//I'm not a ‘team player,’// Rush replied absently. //This shouldn’t be news to you.// The scientist was intensely preoccupied; there was a powerful, anxious drive to his thoughts as he structured his code.
“That could have gone smoother,” Wray hissed, as the first group began filing out.
Rush ignored her.
“Camile,” Young said quietly. “Let it go.”
“Hey." Eli stopped in front of their table, his eyes on Rush.
The scientist didn’t look up. His thoughts were spiraled in on themselves.
//Rush, pay attention.// Young coupled the words with a mental shove.
“What?” Rush hissed, looking at Young.
Young pointed at Eli.
“What?” Rush hissed, shifting his gaze to Eli.
Eli glanced between them, unnerved. Wray pressed a hand to her forehead.
“Hi,” Eli said, uncertainly.
“What?” Rush snarled.
“Sooooooo,” Eli began, “if you're going to ignore a meeting that's about you, which, by the way, is really awkward for everyone, in order to work on some secret coding thing, then here.” Eli thrust Rush's glasses at him. “TJ stole these when you were in a coma and gave them to the Science Team. Brody improved your crap repair job, but he's scared of you. So here you go.”
Rush took the glasses and inspected the delicate metalwork that had replaced the mostly destroyed frames.
“You found the machine shop, I see,” Rush said mildly.
“Well, we were wondering where those canes came from. Crutches. Whatever.”
“Y’know,” Rush said, slowly sliding his glasses into place, “you really shouldn't be wandering around unsecured areas of the ship.” The man’s entire demeanor radiated approval.
Young rolled his eyes.
“Maybe you should start leading by example.” Eli raised his eyebrows. “See you guys later.”
The discussion with the next group went more smoothly. Wray didn't ask Rush for any comments. Rush spent the entire time writing code. As Eli had pointed out, this was less than ideal, but it beat the alternative. The scientist was on the receiving end of some very concerned looks, which he ignored.
Young was pretty sure that the man’s focus was so intense that he wasn’t actually aware of the scrutiny. The scientist was in the zone, clicked into what he was doing so hard that he’d effectively blinded himself to his surroundings. The amount of effort it would take to derail him was huge, and increasing.
About halfway through the third meeting, Young noticed his headache making a slow comeback. He shifted his chair, subtly, toward the scientist. He tried to narrow the distance between their thoughts as much as possible, without getting swept up in the hypnotic flow of Rush’s Ancient coding.
It was a fine balance.
Greer and Scott were in the last group to be briefed. As the questions petered out, Young motioned to them to come forward as the rest of the crew filed out of the mess.
//Snap out of it, genius// he projected into the hyperfocused spiral of Rush’s thoughts.
Scott and Greer stepped up to the table. “Sir?” Scott asked.
“Lieutenant, sergeant,” Young said tiredly. “I need to borrow you two for about half an hour.”
Rush’s typing had slowed.
//We gotta do the Telford thing,// Young projected. //Then you can be right back at it.//
Rush’s fingers stopped, hovering over the keys. He projected a wordless wave of dread in Young’s direction.
//You and me both,// Young agreed.
“You got it, sir,” Scott said. “What do you need?”
“Not here.” Young glanced at Wray.
She shot him an unimpressed look in return.
Rush closed his computer and slid it over to Young. He grabbed his crutches. Young stepped in to help him to his feet, but Rush snapped free of his grip as soon as he was steady, and shot him a steely look.
//You realize physical contact is helpful, right?// Young growled.
//Of course I’ve realized that. Doesn’t mean I fuckin’ capitulate to expedience.//
//Your funeral,// Young said darkly.
Scott cleared his throat. “Sir?”
//God damn it,// Young dragged his eyes from Rush in time to catch the end of Greer’s eye roll. “Let’s go.”
They kept to a slow pace. The walk to the communications room wasn't long, but, by the time they got there, Rush’s energy was flagging. He hadn’t had much to begin with, and the man’s flow of concentration during the town hall meetings had likely been costly. The scientist seemed to take his fatigue as a personal failing. Young could feel him pushing himself hard.
“Lieutenant,” Young said, when they were standing in front of the door to the communications room. “Give me your weapon.”
“You'll be switching with Colonel Telford.”
The other man's face tightened. “Understood.”
“We're gonna seal you in the communications room.” Young pocketed the clip from Scott’s weapon before doing the same with his own gun. He set both unloaded weapons on the floor. “Go ahead and switch. I'll follow you in a few.”
Scott nodded. His eyes flicked to Rush and Greer. The LT was probably wondering why they hell they were there. He hesitated, then turned on his heel and entered the room. Young sealed the door behind him, then sighed, bracing himself against the wall.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” Rush asked conversationally.
“Sir?” Greer said quietly.
Without looking, Young clamped a hand around Rush’s shoulder. His sense of the other man’s mind sharpened immediately. The scientist was exhausted. Young’s entire body ached with it. “What do you think?” he asked. “Right next to the door?”
“Okay.” Young guided the man against the wall.
“What the hell is this?” Greer asked.
Young shot him a look.
“Sir,” Greer added, belatedly.
“When Telford yanked me back, it damaged our link,” Young said. “We can’t separate.”
“Well shit,” Greer replied.
“Sit.” Young braced Rush’s upper arms, took most of his weight, and eased the scientist into a cross-legged position on the floor. Greer stepped in to help. Rush glared at the pair of them.
“Sergeant,” Young said, still crouched next to the sealed door. “Make sure Telford doesn’t make it out of that room. I doubt he’ll get past me. I doubt he’ll try. But all the same.”
Greer nodded, balanced on the balls of his feet and his fingertips. “Got it, sir.”
“And,” Young said wearily, “in the meantime, can you keep an eye on Rush?”
“What.” Rush said darkly.
“I’d like nothing better.” Greer smirked at the scientist and reached for his sidearm.
Young grabbed his hand and gave the man a short shake of the head.
“An’ what the fuck do y’think I’m going to do?” Rush hissed venomously.
Young dug his hand into Rush’s shoulder and gave him a subtle shake, which, predictably, just pissed the man off. He writhed away from Young, trying to wrench his shoulder free. Young didn’t let him go. He dragged him back and pinned him in place against the wall. “He’s in bad shape,” Young said to Greer.
Rush shot him a murderous glare.
Greer looked skeptically from Rush to Young and back again.
“I get this is a lot to ask, sergeant, but can you just—keep him talking?” Young growled. “He’ll seem—off. That’s fine. But if he stops being able to speak, you’re gonna need to come get me.”
“Excuse me.” Rush’s irritation flooded their link. “I'm right here, you realize.”
“For now you are.” Young eyed the scientist grimly. “Let’s keep it that way. And do not, under any circumstances, re-break your damn foot for this, Rush.”
“Would that be an order?” Rush asked icily.
“No.” Young turned to Greer. “Sergeant, come get me if he starts trying to break his own bones?”
“Uh, got it.” Greer looked askance at Rush.
“So you do understand the concept of a workaround,” Rush said dryly. “I’ve never been certain.”
"And you.” Young glared at Rush. “Stay here, right here, and don't make this difficult."
Before Rush could respond, Young levered himself to his feet and hit the door controls. He left Rush and Greer sitting on the corridor floor, regarding each other warily, and stepped into the room.
Scott had already switched with Telford. No question about it.
The other man leaned against the table where the terminal was positioned, arms crossed, expression impatient. Young entered the room and stepped laterally to lean against the back wall at the point corresponding to Rush’s position in the corridor.
It was workable. Barely. The bulkheads were thick. His headache escalated to just short of unmanageable. He was getting only a shadow of Rush’s mental presence. The only thing he felt was strain.
“Everett.” Telford’s tone was clipped.
“David.” Young crossed his arms, pressing himself against the metal behind him.
“You’re back to full power, I see.”
“We are,” Young confirmed.
They stared at one another.
“So, how did he do it?” Telford asked.
“I'm not sure myself,” Young said mildly.
“Don't lie to me, damn it. I'm your commanding officer.”
“Are you?” Young asked. “You don't outrank me, and you're here at my discretion. I consider you the military liaison between Destiny and Homeworld Command. That’s it.”
“Insubordination won’t look good when it comes time to evaluate your record.”
Young smiled, brief and humorless. “You wanna talk evaluations, David?”
Telford said nothing.
“My assessment is that you should be pulling chopper detail at the Antarctic base by now, not inserting yourself between me and General O’Neill.” He fixed Telford with a steely glare. “This isn't your command, David, not anymore.”
“Your opinions count for jack shit, Everett.” Telford said, his eyes dark. “I need to talk to Rush.”
“No.” Young’s voice was flat.
“Are you refusing a direct order?”
“Dr. Rush is in the infirmary.” Young skirted another chain of command argument. “TJ says no visitors.”
“Bullshit.” There was a flicker of uncertainty in Telford’s eyes.
“I wish it were,” Young replied.
“What’s wrong with him? McKay reported he’d been trapped by the neural interface chair—”
“Yup,” Young said shortly. “It was rough as hell on him. You know what didn’t help? Spending a day without life support.” He glared at Telford. “If he dies, I’m holding you responsible.”
“Is that—likely?” Telford asked, his brows drawn together, eyes moving in rapid jerks over the floor.
“Do you give a damn?” Young asked conversationally.
“He's my senior scientist.”
“In the loosest sense of the word.” Telford's voice rose. “You've almost killed him yourself how many times now? Not that I blame you; the man's a damned viper.”
“Takes one to know one, David.” Young deliberately echoed Rush's dream of the dim, hybrid chamber. “He told me about your work together. He told me what happened.”
“What?” Telford whispered, like Young had yanked the word straight out of him.
Young said nothing.
“And you believed him?" Telford recovered his equilibrium and straightened. He pushed away from the table.
“Well there's your mistake right there. How many times has he screwed you over in exactly this way?” Telford paced away a few steps and then turned back to Young. “How many times? The star. The tracking device. The chair. The code.” The other man took a deep breath. “Why would you ever side with him against me?”
“I'd like to hear your side of it.” Young’s breath was shallow and quiet in the back of his lungs, his face as unreadable as he could make it. Pain pounded behind his eyes. His sense of Rush amounted to nothing more than the ache of a distant, unsustainable effort. Nothing of what was happening on the other side of the wall was coming through.
"He might not have liked what he was doing," Telford snapped, "but he hardly had a moral high ground there. No one liked it. Everyone agreed it was necessary. Lam, Jackson, O'Neill, Landry, all of them. We didn't know what the ninth chevron led to, but we knew that in order to access whatever lay beyond it we’d need to hit certain benchmarks. That much was clear from what Dr. Jackson had uncovered.”
Telford paused, running a hand over his mouth. “What did he tell you? That we forced him to do it?”
Young cocked his head. He raised his eyebrows. He tried not to react to the rising vertigo he was feeling.
“I'm sure that's what he said.” Telford spit the words. “The fact was that he was the best candidate. That's why I picked him for the project. He was the farthest along the spectrum that we'd encountered. Ever. Better even than John Sheppard, if you can believe it. The lab lit up for him like he'd built the place.”
God damn. What “spectrum?” What “lab?” Whatever it was, if Shep’s name was getting thrown around, it must have something to do with Ancient genetics.
“He hated it,” Young said, hoping that Telford would keep talking.
“Of course he did,” Telford continued. “We all hated it, Everett. It was disgusting, learning from Anubis. From Anubis for god’s sake. Jackson could barely sit through the briefings. But there was no point in pushing Icarus forward if we couldn't at least bring one person to the minimum threshold requirements laid out in Jackson's wall carvings. The entire thing would have been a wasted effort. And he agreed to use the device. He agreed. Without coercion. Of his own free will.”
Young blinked through the rising agony of his headache.
“Some things happened between us that I could have handled better,” Telford admitted, “but you've survived as long as you have on this ship because of me. Because I pushed him. Without me, there’d have been no access to Destiny's systems. You think a software buffer would’ve been enough to protect anyone else from contact with the neural interface? Not a chance in hell. So he can cast me as the villain in this story all he likes, but I had reasons for what I did, Everett.”
“You were compromised,” Young snarled. “What were you going to do with him when you’d succeeded? Hand him over to the Lucian Alliance? To Kiva?”
Telford looked away. “With my help or without it, he was and is a target for them. I’d have protected him from Kiva.”
“Yeah,” Young said dryly. “I'm sure you would have done a bang up job of that.”
“What did he say to you,” Telford asked, “that you're so firmly on his side now?”
“That's between me and him.”
“It's a mistake to trust him. A mistake to let him in.”
Young's headache had turned unendurable. The ground pitched beneath his feet. Though he hated to give up his line of questioning, he had to cut this short before he collapsed on the floor or lost Rush to the pull of the ship. It was on the verge of happening. He could feel it.
“Time’s up, David.” Young said. “I have another meeting.”
“You can't dismiss me.”
“I just did. But hey. Stay in this locked room by yourself for as long as you like.”
Young pulled out his radio. “Sergeant,” he said, “open the doors please.”
“Everett," Telford said, advancing rapidly. “You can't do this.”
Young half-turned in the open doorway to face Telford, forcing his eyes to focus on the other man. “Don’t try it,” he growled.
Telford stopped his advance.
“Don't call us,” Young said, half-blind with vertigo. “We'll call you.” He hit the door controls, trapping the other man in the room. Gripping the wall, barely able to see, he dropped into a crouch, steadying himself on Rush’s shoulder.
“Hammer group,” Greer snapped. “Rush. Hammer. Group.”
As Young’s vision cleared, he realized Greer had his hands clamped on the scientist’s jacket and was supporting him while—
“Come on. At this rate there's no way you're gonna clear your pathetic personal best of forty-seven seconds.” Greer said.
—while Rush attempted to assemble Greer’s assault rifle, which was, currently, in pieces on the floor. The scientist’s movements were slow. His brow was furrowed. His gaze was vague.
“My fourteen year old cousin is better at this than you are,” Greer snapped. He glanced uneasily at Young. “Come on. Get with it. Optical sight group.”
Young dug his fingers into Rush’s shoulder and snapped the man free of Destiny’s pull. As his mind grounded itself back in his body, the scientist’s motions sharpened. The butt plate and magazine came together in short order.
“Frame and trigger,” Greer snapped. “You're already at thirty seconds.”
“I'm aware,” Rush responded testily.
Greer relaxed his grip on the front of the scientist's jacket. As Rush completed the assembly, Greer checked his watch. “Thirty four seconds,” he said. “I could’ve killed you at least three times over.”
“Congratulations,” Rush said.
“You need to work on this. Chloe is better than you. A lot better.”
“Are we done here?” Rush hissed.
“For now,” Greer said warningly.
“Thanks, sergeant," Young said, as they helped Rush to his feet. “Telford and Scott should be switching back shortly, if they haven't already. Keep an eye out until you can confirm we’ve got Scott back.” Greer nodded and moved to stand in front of the door.
Rush leaned against the wall of the corridor, his eyes half shut. “Get anything useful?”
“You could say that.” Deliberately, Young pulled back to keep his thoughts distant.
It was too much, right on the heels of everything that’d just happened. Rush eyes lost focus and his knees started to buckle. With a surge of alarm, Young reached for him mentally and physically, snapping him free from the pull of the ship.
“Sorry,” Young said, stabilizing the scientist. “Sorry.”
Rush glared at him. “What. Did you find out. From Telford.”
“I will tell you. Later.” Young glanced at Greer, then did a double take. The sergeant was giving the pair of them an uneasy look. He locked eyes with Young and subtly lifted his eyebrows, tightening his jaw.
“An’ what the fuck is your problem?” Rush hissed.
Greer stepped in, glaring at Rush.
Young laid a hand on the sergeant’s chest and pressed him back. “Knock it off, both of you.”
“Yes sir.” Greer posted himself back in front of the doors.
Young looked at the scientist. “You want to take a break?”
“No,” Rush snapped. “I have to interrogate the AI.”
Young dug deep, summoned every ounce of patience he had, and nodded. He unclenched his grip on Rush’s jacket, straightened its lines, and stepped back. “Where do you want to be?”
Rush shot Greer a final glare, then focused on Young. “CI room.” He turned and started along the corridor. “Unfortunately, I’ll have to do this the long way. Bring my laptop.”
Greer bent to pick up Rush’s computer and handed it to Young. “Nice,” the sergeant said dryly. “Real nice.”
Young nodded at him, then turned back to Rush. “The ‘long way’? What’s the ‘long way’?”
“With a computer.” Rush leaned heavily into his crutches as they started for the CI room.
“As opposed to?”
“Without a computer,” Rush said unhelpfully. “I doubt you'd get me back if I tried that right now.”
It was three hours before the scientist was satisfied there’d been no damage to Destiny's central processor. Young was sure it would’ve taken longer if Eli hadn't shown up at the halfway point and volunteered his services. Around 1800, TJ slipped into the room with their dinner rations and another bottle of electrolytes for Rush.
“Just how often are you tracking him down and bringing him dinner?” Young growled as he accepted a bowl.
“When necessary,” TJ murmured.
“Not in your job description, lieutenant,” Young said. “I was gonna pry him out of here in a few minutes.”
“You can both go straight to hell,” Rush said conversationally from two feet away. He glanced up at TJ. “Thank you, Tamara.”
“You’re welcome,” TJ smiled at him.
“Oh, he’s aware of his surroundings.” Young muttered, passing the man a bowl of paste. “What a treat.”
“Get him out of here as soon as you can,” TJ whispered.
//Try it, and it’ll turn into a very long night,// Rush warned him.
//Tell me something I don’t know,// Young fired back.
“There are other people here that wouldn’t mind dinner,” Eli said plaintively from across the room.
“Off with you then,” Rush said absently.
“Oooh I feel so valued right now,” Eli shot back.
“If you hurry, you can catch the end of this meal shift,” TJ said.
Eli shut his laptop and headed for the door. TJ closed her hand over Young’s shoulder, then followed the kid out.
Young methodically worked his way through his bowl of paste and watched Nick Rush do his thing. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed there was at least some chance that his sustained attention was helping the guy out. About an hour after TJ left, the hypnotic swirl of Rush’s thoughts started to break up and collapse back into something less directed.
“How's it going?” Young asked.
“No damage,” Rush murmured. “None anywhere.” He sounded perplexed.
“Seems like a good thing.” Young swallowed a yawn.
“I don't believe it,” Rush whispered.
“Because I haven't seen her.”
“The AI,” Rush clarified.
“Don't you think that's because you're with me?" Young asked quietly.
“Maybe.” Rush looked at him. “Hopefully.”
“Come on,” Young said. “You're dead on your feet, and no good to anyone like this. We'll figure it out tomorrow.”
“That's a terrible idea,” Rush said.
“Yeah, I hear most of my ideas are terrible.”
A ghost of a smile passed over the scientist’s features.
Young grabbed Rush's left arm and pulled it across his shoulders, careful to avoid stressing the other man's injured wrist.
“Unnecessary,” Rush said.
“Humor me.” Young stood, taking as much of the scientist’s weight as possible.
“Oh I suppose,” Rush breathed.
“You realize,” Young said, grimacing at the almost intolerable pain his feet, “that we’re gonna have to sleep in the same place.”
“I fuckin’ noticed what happened last night, didn’t I?”
“Your quarters or mine?” Young asked. “Mine are nicer, yours are—yours.”
Rush rolled his eyes. “Yours are closer.”
By the time Young hit the door controls, Rush’s thoughts had already started in on the random-fire pattern that seemed to happen when the guy was on the verge of sleep. “You still with me?” he asked, dragging the man inside.
Rush nodded. “I’ll take the floor.”
“Yeah,” Young said, as they crossed into the bedroom. “Sure.”
“I am not sleeping in your bed.” Rush pulled away and dropped towards the floor in what definitely would have turned into a semi-coordinated fall if Young hadn’t dragged him back up.
“Fine,” Young said. “Fair enough. You can have the floor, just—sit while I look at your feet.” He forced Rush into a seated position on the bed and bent down to untie his boots.
“The fuck d’you need to look at my feet for?” Rush asked.
“Well, you’re not gonna do it,” Young growled. He loosened the laces all the way before gently easing the boots off. He checked to make sure Rush hadn't bled through TJ's bandaging job. Satisfied, he stood, sweeping the man’s feet onto the bed and shoving him back in the same motion.
“Ugh.” Rush shot him look that was equal parts disgust and betrayal.
“It's happening. Deal with it.”
Young took off his own boots and jacket before lying down beside him, keeping the maximum possible distance between them.
Rush crashed straight through REM and into an unnerving, mostly dreamless sleep. Despite Young bone-deep exhaustion, he stared at the ceiling for a long time before he relaxed enough to follow.