“I expected to die with my boots on,” he tells the room at large, studying the backs of his withered hands, unfamiliar as a stranger’s and less useful. When he looks up, Sheppard is staring uncomfortably at the wall, as though unable to bear the sight of what his only partial success has wrought. Mack’s already lectured him about the guilt, but it’ll take a while to take properly, if it ever does. Complete failure might have been easier to accept. Might have, although apparently Sheppard rides himself harder than anyone (except, perhaps, O’Neill) ever realized.
“You still could, sir.” It’s a good attempt at nonchalance, but not enough to keep him from getting called on it.
“That’s the sort of feel-good bullshit I expect from someone like Ford—you of all people should know better, Major.” Mack’s never been one for pulling his punches, but this one doesn’t land the way he expects it to, because now Sheppard finally looks him in the eye, one corner of his mouth quirked up ever-so-slightly.
“I meant, I could go get them for you if you’d like, sir. I’m sure Dr. Beckett wouldn’t notice.”
And Mack shouldn’t laugh at that for many more reasons than one, but he can’t help it, even though the first creaking, ragged run of it makes Sheppard wince, makes Mack’s throat feel like it’s peeling apart inside like old paint and his lungs burn and he can’t stop laughing but he also can’t breathe—
Somewhere, distantly, Sheppard shouts for a doctor, but even as world goes spottily black around him, Mack thinks that there’s worse ways to go out.