Title: Going Dutch
Genre: Gen h/c
Characters: John and Rodney and team
Word count: ~ 17,500
Spoilers: anything up through season 5
Author Notes: This fic was written for the Brotherhood 7 Zine. Thanks to yum@ and her wonderful crew of editors and proof readers for making this fic so much better!
Summary: When Sheppard comes down with an alien disease offworld, how far will McKay go to save his life?
The thing about meet and greets, I’ve decided, is that it all comes down to the food. For example, I hate going to M4X-431 because the Lavorans never serve food. Granted, the gate is located in a tropical region, so that most of the inhabitants wear little more than these strappy little leather bikinis. And the Lavoran women can give Teyla a run for her money in the taut and toned arena. Not to mention that they usually greet us with this dance that is a little like the hula and a lot like pole dancing… Okay, maybe M4X-431is a bad example, because, now that I think about it, I really don’t hate going there. In fact, I kind of enjoy it. But the point is, if they served a nice buffet to go along with the welcome show, I might be inclined to retire on that planet.
As it is, hunger eventually wins out over the… er, scenery, and it isn’t long before I’m checking my watch and coaxing Sheppard into calling it a day so we can head back to Atlantis before the cafeteria hot line closes for the night. Sheppard, however, could skip dinner all together when we’re on Lavos… in the name of diplomacy, of course, which is incredible considering he has all the body fat of an anorexic stick figure. And I’m pretty sure Ronon carbo packs for a day before we go there because he never seems to get hungry either.
On the other hand, it’s usually Sheppard who is telling me it’s time to wrap up the schmoozing and head back to the gate when we’re on M2P-866. The Marcotians may be a physically less attractive people than the Lavorans, but they sure the hell know how to cook.
"Hot wings down, McKay," the colonel tells me as he slips his sunglasses into place. "Time to hit the road."
Licking the remnants of the sauce from my fingers that is coating the remarkably tender meat I am eating, I look at him in surprise. "Already?"
"We’ve been here four hours," Ronon points out. "Even you should be full by now."
"But won’t it be rude to leave before we even get to see Yoran?" I argue. The Marcotian leader hasn’t made an appearance the entire time we’ve been on the planet. Not that I was a huge fan of the guy, but it is only polite to say hello.
"Evidently he’s visiting a sick relative," John tells me, frowning as I start loading a few of the little veggie puffs onto a napkin to take with me.
"Well, maybe he’ll finish up and stop in and say hi," I try again.
My delay tactics have Teyla lifting a perfectly arched eyebrow. "Your reluctance to leave would not have anything to do with the fact the desserts have not been brought out yet, would it?"
"Of course not." I swallow down a creamy tidbit of local mushrooms and eggs before continuing. "It’s simply that the Marcotians are a valuable trading partner, and we should make every effort to be hospitable guests."
Ronon crosses his arms across his chest as he inquires, "By eating everything in sight?"
I cross mine in return. "They wouldn’t offer it if they didn’t want us to eat it."
"Look, I know being on the receiving end of free food is one of your greatest joys in life," Sheppard starts.
I raise my chin defensively. "I don’t know if I’d go that far."
"Yeah, right," John snorts. "Remember the pizzas we had on our last trip back to Earth? The ones you promised to pay half for and I somehow ended up footing the entire bill?"
"I forgot my wallet," I counter. "It was a simple mistake, seeing as we never carry them on Atlantis."
"Uh huh." Apparently Sheppard isn’t going for my justification. "I’m still short thirty bucks."
"Fine. If you’re going to be that cheap, I’ll pay you the money as soon as we’re back on Atlantis."
"Well, then that’s just one more reason to get going." When I don’t follow after my teammates, instead I stare back toward the doorway to the kitchen where I know they will be bringing out those little berry tarts any second now, Sheppard sighs. "Rodney, you checked the shield, it’s working fine, and they still know how to operate it, right? That means our job here is done."
"Well, I did check the shield system, and it’s fully functional, but I didn’t get to see the kid who runs it…" I snap fingers as I try to think of the guy’s name. "The one Carson gave the gene therapy to so he could operate it…"
"Darik," Sheppard supplies. "And he’s the sick relative Yoran is visiting."
As welcoming and friendly at the Marcotians are, they also like to maintain a certain amount of control over the Ancient technology they found when they settled into the old facilities generations before. When I had managed to get the shield operational in the Ancient research station, they insisted that they be able to operate it without having to call us whenever they needed it. The thing about Ancient tech is that it does allow for a limited number of systems to be run by people without the ATA gene if the interfaces are set up properly. The problem on Marcotia was the interface had been destroyed ages before, and it would take months to even find the causes, much less repair them. Therefore, the decision was made to treat a limited number of the locals with the gene therapy. It took with four of them, and Darik seemed the most comfortable with the controls of all of them despite only being in his teens.
"They’re related?" I ask in surprise.
"Nephew," Sheppard informs me as he hooks my arm and starts dragging me out of the main reception hall. "Apparently in line to run the place one day."
Trying my best to keep from dropping my snack, I let myself be pulled out into the bright sunlight, only to be stopped by another of the Marcotians who had received the gene therapy, this one a woman… something with an S or a Z maybe…
… or F.
Teyla greets the woman, and her own expression mirrors the worry that was obvious on Fara’s face. "What is wrong?"
"Your doctors are so much more advanced than our own," Fara acknowledges. "Would it be possible for one of them to come here?"
"Are you unwell?" Teyla’s confusion is understandable because Fara looks fine.
"I am fine which is part of my concern." When our confusion just grows at the confession, she continues. "It is Darik; I believe I may have unintentionally done something to make him ill."
"Why would you think that?" Teyla asks.
"Because, until recently, I had the same sickness."
My eyes widen at the news. "Wait, it’s contagious?" Shit. Contagious was bad. Contagious was people forgetting who they were and why we were here, including me. Contagious was people doubled over in pain and breathing their last breaths and the song Don’t Fear the Reaper suddenly popping into my head. "We could be infected? Oh my God! We could be infected!"
"John, if there is a chance we are infected as Rodney suggests…"
Sheppard cuts off Teyla with a grimace and wave of his hand. "Yeah, yeah, I know."
I, however, start checking my temperature and pulse with a hand to my neck. "What are the symptoms? Because, honestly, I’m not feeling so hot. Or, more accurately, I do feel hot; I think I might be running a fever." However, no one seems willing to want to double check for me.
"I’ll go to the gate and call back to Atlantis," Ronon volunteers. "See what Keller has to say."
"Good idea," John agrees before turning to me and slapping me on my back, completely throwing off my check of my pulse rate. "Well, it looks like you’re going to get to stay for dessert after all."
* * * *
"For the love of God, Rodney, cut it out."
Sheppard’s warning that he’s ground out between clenched teeth has me demanding, "What?"
"Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity," Ronon sings under breath as he walks by.
John’s annoyance just seems to grow when he hears it, and I suddenly have a pretty good idea why he’s bitching at me when he jabs a finger in my direction. "I don’t know about what’s making the Marcotian’s sick, but you’ve managed to infect us all with Blue Oyster Cult."
We’ve been sitting outside Darik’s family’s house for the past hour while Keller finishes her exam of the sick boy and Fara. Well, most of the others have been sitting; I’ve been pacing and fidgeting and considering how we’re going to die a horrific death with an elevated fever and wracking cough we can hear even from outside the dwelling.
Jennifer walks up behind us still dressed in her hazmat gear although the hood has been removed. "From what I can gather, BOC may be the only thing infectious around here because whatever is making the Marcotian’s sick isn’t. I’ve examined everyone who has had close contact with Fara, including her husband and children, and none of them has any of the symptoms. And neither does Darik’s family."
"Then it was something to which they were both exposed?" Teyla asks curiously.
"Maybe. Fara says they were both working in the Ancient labs before she fell ill." Keller, however, doesn’t sound too convinced. "But the onset of the symptoms wasn’t simultaneous. In fact, Darik didn’t become symptomatic until Fara started to recover, which is a mystery in and of itself given how ill she was just the day before."
Sheppard doesn’t seem to be too interested in the spread of the sickness. "Regardless of how they contracted the disease, can you treat it?"
"I need to run a few tests, but from what I can tell, it seems to be similar to rheumatic fever… chest pains, fever, joint pain, heart palpitations. Both complained of a sore throat prior to the symptoms becoming more serious."
"So, they had strep throat?" I ask in amazement.
"The Pegasus equivalent," Jennifer clarifies. "Only Fara was ill for weeks, whereas Darik went from nothing more than a sore throat yesterday morning to being almost nonresponsive today. I’m not sure the antibiotics will do much good at this point, that is if I can even find one the infection will respond to. The swelling of his heart is causing fluid to develop in his lungs. I can treat that with steroids, but if I can’t fight the infection, it’s little more than a delay tactic."
Sheppard nods, indicating he understands the severity of the situation. "Do what you can."
"Of course," she confirms before explaining, "I have some drugs I can start with now, and I’ll send blood work back to Atlantis and see what the medical staff can come up with there."
"And what about us?" I inquire with a bit of apprehension. "We’re good to go, right? No worries about us coming down with it since it’s not infectious."
"I’ll want to give you all full examinations before you return to Atlantis, but I don’t think there should be any problems." With a small smile, Jennifer heads back into the house to collect her blood samples.
"Great, more waiting," Ronon grumbles, swinging his arm sword-like through a clump of the tall decorative grasses growing in patches around the cottage.
John doesn’t seem much happier, but he tries to appease our restless teammate. "It won’t be too much longer. Besides, what do you have to do back on Atlantis besides try to kick my ass in the gym?"
Dark eyebrows rise at the question. "Try?"
"You don’t always kick my ass," Sheppard counters with an irritated frown that just has Ronon snorting.
Before the discussion of how badly Ronon will kick Sheppard’s ass can continue, Fara approaches where we are lounging under the trees.
"I was looking for Dr. Keller. Is she still here?"
"She has gone inside to collect more samples," Teyla explains.
"Does she believe she will be able to help Darik?" Fara’s worry is obvious as she looks back at the house.
"She’s going to do everything she can," Sheppard promises.
When the woman nods silently and continues to stand there as if waiting for something, Teyla places a hand on her arm. "Was there something else you needed from Dr. Keller?"
Fara gives a slightly embarrassed shake of her head. "It is probably nothing, but Dr. Keller asked me to tell her if I remembered anything from the time when I first fell ill." When Teyla coaxes her to continue, she admits, "Darik and I had been cataloging some items that had recently been recovered from a newly excavated area of the Ancestor’s laboratories. I had not been feeling well for several days before that, and I told Darik I was going to return home early. A few days later, I could not get out of bed, but when I awoke, this was sitting by my bedside."
Fara opens her hand to reveal a simple cube of gray metal a little larger than a die from a board game. "My husband told me he found it on the blankets of my bed, but I do not remember ever having it."
"What is it?" Sheppard asks with a curious frown.
"It was one of the items we had been putting into the inventory. I remember it because there was a second identical cube that went with it." With a smile, she tells us, "Darik and I often entertain ourselves by trying to guess how the items would have been used by the Ancestors. Darik believed this was a piece of a game, similar to one we play here were you roll cubes with markings, only ours is played with six instead of two. The odd thing is that I do not remember bringing it home; in fact Darik was the one who had packed them away into the storage boxes until we could research them in the database further. I suppose I may have taken it without realizing it. I know it is unlikely to be of assistance to Dr. Keller, but I thought she should see it. I was thinking… maybe… since it was in my bed when I recovered, it could be a healing device of the Ancestors, and she could use it to help Darik."
Perking up on the idea that we may have stumbled across a device that actually heals people instead of accidently killing them, I walk up behind Sheppard. "Were you able to find any information about the device in the database?"
"I have not had a chance to research it," she tells me, offering the cube up to Teyla. Teyla takes it and studies it inquisitively.
"I’m sure Dr. McKay can look into that." I frown at Sheppard’s comment and pause in my reach for the item so that John takes it from our teammate’s hand instead. "We’ll make sure Dr. Keller gets it."
"Hey!" I complain instantly, but my demand for him to hand it over vanishes when the cube turns instantly into a pile of dust in his palm and then quickly dissolves into his flesh. "What the hell?"
I’m apparently not the only one thinking that given the wide-eyed response from everyone present.
"Where did it go?" Ronon demands.
At the same time, Teyla asks in worry, "Did your skin just absorb the material?"
"McKay?" The tension in John’s voice is obvious as he takes two steps back and shakes his hand as if the cube will miraculously reappear. "What just happened?"
"I don’t know!" I admit, snapping at Ronon when he starts to grab Sheppard’s wrist to get a closer look. "And for God’s sake don’t touch him! For all we know this is how they got infected in the first place."
My supposition has everyone frozen in their tracks, except for Sheppard who takes another step back away from us.
"Well… hell… that’s just fucking great," he observes with another shake of his hand.
Teyla is standing beside me, staring anxiously at John. "How do we get it out of him?"
"I don’t know!" I repeat, rubbing at my forehead. "Just give me a second to think."
"I’m getting Keller," Ronon announces, already halfway in the house.
I point a finger at the leather-clad back disappearing through the doorway even as I wrack my brain desperately for an answer. "Good idea. She can… can…" Oh, hell what can she do? "Get you started on the antibiotics! Yeah, she can do that, and hopefully it will stop the infection before it can get a foothold."
"Look," John tries to reason, and I’m pretty sure, calm himself as much as the rest of us. "We don’t even know for sure that this… thing infected me. It could be doing good stuff inside me."
"Yes, because we’ve had so much luck with Ancient devices doing good things to us, especially ones that invade our bodies!" It’s as I’m waving my arms and jabbing an accusatory finger at Sheppard’s hand that it hits me. "Oh, Christ. The material was just like the Replicator base metal that I used to build F.R.A.N. Those are Replicator nanites in you."
Sheppard’s mouth is set in a tight line as he flexes his fingers, and Fara finally speaks up. "I had no idea… it did nothing when Darik handled them in the laboratory, or when I brought it here…"
"This," I announce angrily, "is why inexperienced people should not touch things they know nothing about."
"It’s not her fault, McKay," Sheppard starts.
I turn and snap at him, "That goes for you, too. Doubly so since you, of all people, should know better."
"You were going to pick it up yourself!" he justifies, hand still held out before him as if it might explode any second.
Hell, for all I know, it just might.
"Don’t try to change the subject. I’m an expert in the field of Ancient technology. I know how to handle these things."
"All I did was pick it up!" John defends.
"It does beg the question as to why it was absorbed by John but not by me." Teyla’s observation has me frowning, and she suggests, "Perhaps it has to do with the ATA gene."
"Unlikely," I dismiss with a shake of my head. "Fara has the gene, and it stayed solid in her hand."
"Then why me?"
Sheppard’s question has me throwing my arms up. "Maybe Teyla’s right, but it only responds to the natural gene. Maybe it’s random. Maybe it’s an alien entity that’s just curious to find out how your hair stands up like that."
"McKay…" John grinds out in warning.
"I don’t know!" I declare yet again.
Keller and Ronon come back out of the house, Jennifer wearing her hazmat hood once again. "Colonel, Ronon told me what happened." Taking his hand, she turns it in the light. "Is there any pain in your hand? Any symptoms I should know about?"
"No, no pain. It kind of tingled when it first happened, but now it’s fine." Sheppard clears his throat before asking, "Any ideas?"
"I can honestly say I’ve never had to deal with anything like a metal cube dissolving into someone’s flesh before," she confesses. "But I can also honestly say this isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with something I’ve never dealt with before." Jennifer’s reassuring smile disappears when John clears his throat again. "Colonel Sheppard?"
With a grimace, John admits, "My throat is a little raw all of a sudden."
Taking up a pen light, Keller has Sheppard open his mouth for a closer look. Her frown is all the answer we need. "You’re already developing white patches in the back of your throat and what looks like the beginning of exudates from your tonsils."
"Already?" I swallow testing my own throat, then again when I can’t be sure if that’s a tickle or not.
"But we have only been on the planet for a few hours," Teyla points out.
"It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been here if the cube is the cause," I remind.
"But that’s been less than two minutes."
Ronon’s remark only has Keller looking more determined. "Then we need to know everything we can find out about the cube. In the meantime, I’m going to start you on the same broad spectrum antibiotic I have Darik on. I’m also going to be calling in some reinforcements from Atlantis."
John gives a very unconvincing smile, no doubt recalling the less than glowing prognosis Keller had given for Darik just a few minutes earlier. "Sounds like a plan."
"I’m going to do everything I can," Jennifer promises with a gloved hand on his shoulder. "And catching it early like this can make a huge difference."
Sheppard doesn’t answer, only looks at his hand as he spreads the fingers wide, as if the cube will suddenly reappear if he wills it hard enough… if we all will it hard enough.
Teyla gives an encouraging smile to match her words. "And I am confident Rodney will be able to find something in the Ancient database to help."
"Yeah. Of course. In fact, I should get on that."
Unfortunately, I sound about as unconvinced as I feel.
* * * * *
"It’s a small, grey, metal cube," I tell Radek through the small camera attached to the MALP that has been sent through to simplify communications between those of us quarantined here on Marcotia and those working the problem back on Atlantis. "More than likely composed of Replicator base materials. And it apparently has a duplicate."
"It is unfortunate quarantine protocol does not allow for the colonel’s return to Atlantis," the Czech responds from the other side of the galaxy. "A full body scan could tell us a great deal about the nanites in his system, if they are truly there."
"I guarantee that’s what’s causing this. He’s the only one who’s contracted the disease out of the entire team and the only one whose body sucked up an Ancient device. That’s no coincidence."
"Still…" Radek’s head bobbles in that way that says he isn’t completely convinced. "If that is the case, how did the boy become sick? The woman, Fara, said he handled both cubes and had neither break down in his hands."
"I don’t know," I snap, irritated that he is once again questioning my conclusions and as a result leaving me grasping at straws to defend my theory. "Maybe it sucked the disease out of Fara and transmitted it to Sheppard."
"So how did the boy become sick then?"
"I don’t know, and at this point, I think it is completely irrelevant as to why Sheppard is sick and how to get the nanites out of him."
Zelenka sighs. "It would help to see device."
"If I could show you the device, chances are I wouldn’t be talking to you through a wormhole and could research it myself. In fact, chances are I wouldn’t really be that interested in finding out about it seeing as Sheppard wouldn’t be sick."
Ignoring my frustration, Radek asks, "How is Colonel Sheppard doing?"
"Not good," I admit gloomily.
Keller has examined the rest of us and found no signs of the Pegasus strep. Sheppard is the only one who has any symptoms, and they are literally growing worse by the minute. The elevated fever set in within the hour, accompanied by joint aches. It is just a matter of time before the heart problems start. The only promising news is Darik seems to be responding well to the antibiotics, but so far they don't seem to have any effect on Sheppard, which is why I need to get back to the house and deliver the new ones that just came through the gate that Jennifer wants to try on John.
Radek pushes up his glasses in the small screen on the MALP. "And you cannot find this second cube? It would help considerably to be able to study it."
"Gee, you think?" I snort. "Teyla, Ronon, and I tore the lab apart looking for it with the woman who had been sick first. We also searched her entire house to see if it was there with the other one and nothing."
"I will look in the database and see what I can find," Radek promises. "Still, it seems odd..."
With a roll of my eyes, I demand, "What now?"
"I am just thinking, if there are two parts to the device, one would think that you would need both to operate properly."
I blink as an idea hits me as Radek’s words sink in. "What did you say?"
"It is just that usually when there are two parts to an apparatus, both must be functioning to make it work."
"That’s it! They’re connected somehow, and if we sever the connection, the one in Sheppard might stop working, and therefore, stop making him sick." I smile happily. "Radek, I’m a genius!"
"I am so glad you have come up with this theory on your own," he notes dryly. "Still, if you cannot find second device…"
I wave off his protests. "I don’t need to have the second device if I can cut the connection, and I can probably cut the connection by…"
"… taking Colonel Sheppard through the gate," Radek finishes for me.
"Exactly!" Gathering up the supplies, I order, "Have a medical team standing by at the Alpha Site."
* * * *
"You want to do what?" Sheppard asks from the bed he is propped up in.
"Take you through the gate," I tell him, trying not to think too much about how he’s gone downhill the short time I was gone. His face is flush from the fever, eyes glassy, and he winces even as he shifts, trying to find a more comfortable position that can’t be found because of the increasing joint pain.
He coughs before shaking his head and settling back against the pillow totally winded. "Can’t break quarantine… can’t risk exposing Atlantis to this."
Keller agrees with him. "I’m sorry, Rodney, but Colonel Sheppard’s right; we can’t break the quarantine protocol. And even if I allowed it, Woolsey never would."
"We’re not going to Atlantis. We can go to the Alpha Site or any other location you want." When Jennifer frowns at even that idea, I press her. "Look, all I need to do is sever the connection with the other device, and I think we could stop the progression of the disease."
"You think," Ronon challenges.
"All right," I admit, "it’s just a theory, but it’s a damn good one, not to mention the only one we have at the moment. And seeing as nothing else seems to be working, it’s at least worth trying."
Teyla steps forward. "And what are the risks to John?"
"Risks?" Honestly, I hadn’t taken the time to consider the risks.
"If the nanites in John are truly receiving some sort of signal from the second cube that is allowing them to function, is there not some sort of risk inherent in breaking that connection?"
"Well, obviously, there is always some risk inherent in anything that is still in the theoretical stage," I reason.
"I’m not sure I like the sound of that," Sheppard admits before starting to cough again.
"And I don’t like the sound of your cough, or the way you’re starting to wheeze, or the way you look in general." Exhaling in frustration, I slice a hand through the air to point at John as I ask Jennifer, "Has he shown any response to the antibiotics you’ve given him?"
"No, none," she admits reluctantly.
"And, yet, Darik is responding. Do you think the strain has mutated so quickly that it won't respond to the same antibiotics without something else interfering?"
Jennifer shrugs. "It does seem highly unlikely."
"And if none of the other antibiotics work and his health keeps deteriorating at the rate it is now, how long does he have?"
"Given the rapid onset of the illness and the steady decline, I’d have to say a day at the most."
I cross my arms defiantly at Jennifer’s diagnosis. "So, basically, we can sit here and watch him die or we can try to take him through the gate and see if that helps."
I ignore Teyla’s chastising tone and wait for an answer from Keller.
"I still have several more drugs to try before I’m willing to give up on finding a cure…"
John cuts the physician off before she can continue. "Bottom line, Doc. is there any reason to think these will work any better than what you’ve already tried?"
"At this point I’m just grasping at straws," she finally confesses. "If I had more time to study the strain, I could probably find an antibiotic that will work. But that could take days in itself. For now, it’s all best guesses based on Earth-based strains."
"No offense," Sheppard manages to choke out between coughs. "But you’re not guessing so hot. I say we try Rodney’s plan."
"All right," Jennifer concedes, "we’ll try it. But I want a full medical support team waiting on the other side of the gate at the Alpha Site."
With a smug smile I inform her, "I’ve already taken care of that."
Keller rolls her eyes at the news. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Hey, nothing like having the wherewithal to be prepared."
Evidently she isn’t too impressed with my justification. "Uh huh, more like having an ego huge enough to let you believe you can’t be wrong."
"Well, it’s not like it’s not a justifiably large ego," I defend with a lift of my chin. "There is precedence, after all."
With a shake of her head, Jennifer heads out of the room. "Give me a minute to brief my team here, and we’ll go."
When Keller is gone, Teyla approaches where I stand next to Sheppard’s bed. "Rodney, are you sure this will work?"
"I’m sure nothing else is working." When Teyla just stares at me, evidently not satisfied by my answer, I confess, "No, of course I’m not sure. But it has to be better than the alternative of waiting around and hoping something will."
But about twenty minutes later, we’ve all come to the conclusion the alternative might not be such a bad idea after all.
We’ve hauled Sheppard to the gate on a stretcher seeing as the simple one mile walk was more than he is capable of right now. Teyla dials the gate, looking back to make sure John really wants to go through with this when the event horizon has stabilized.
"Let’s go," Sheppard orders, and Ronon and I lift the stretcher once more and pass through the gate.
It’s the middle of the night on the Alpha Site, and the medical team is waiting with flashlights and hazmat suits when we walk through the gate. Jennifer steps off the embarkation platform to meet them and give her directions. I barely have time to acknowledge their presence, however, because John lets out a gurgle of pain as he attempts to curl into a ball on the stretcher. Another spasm has him nearly falling off onto the ground, and Ronon and I lower him to the platform before that can happen.
Above me, I can hear Teyla calling a distressed, "Jennifer!"
Ronon and I are on our knees beside John, Ronon holding his shoulders as Sheppard arches his back off the platform, eyes squeezed shut in pain.
"Sheppard?" I call. "John!"
As his body relaxes momentarily, I’m rewarded with him opening his eyes, wide and wild and desperate in the silver moonlight as he grabs my arm. "Not… best idea… had… Rodney." His body tenses again, and Ronon manages to stop his head before it can clunk back on the metal of the platform. John grits out something that sounds like, "Oh, fuck!" as his hold on me has me thinking he might be able to snap my forearm in half with his bare hand.
"What happened?" Jennifer demands as she drops on his opposite side.
"It didn’t work!" I yell what should be blatantly obvious to anyone witnessing the episode. "What the hell do you think is happening?" I manage to peel John’s hand off of my arm when he goes limp once again.
"Colonel? Can you hear me?" Penlight in hand, Keller flashes the small light into Sheppard’s eyes, and he tries to jerk his head away. Only Ronon’s hold on John’s head keeps it in place, but Sheppard clenches his hand closed once again, and this time it’s my own hand that is caught in his vice-like grip.
"John!" I call out desperately as the pressure and pain on my hand rises along with the tenor of my voice. "JohnJohnJohnJohn!"
Teyla helps me pull my hand free when this spasm passes, holding John’s arm down as I cradle my hand delicately as the next one has his body seizing yet again.
"Maybe it’s like what Carson gave us against the Wraith virus," Ronon suggests, still struggling to hold our team leader in place. "Maybe the seizures are part of the recovery."
Jennifer is trying to listen to John’s heart, and when she shakes her head, I know it can’t be good news. "Then the recovery is going to kill him in the process."
"Take him back," I order. "We need to get him back through the gate."
The severity of the spasms are increasing as we move him out of the path of the activating gate, and he’s in full blown seizures by the time Ronon hefts him up. We practically manhandle him back to the bright sunlight of Marcotia. The seizure begins to subside as soon as we pass through the gate, and it’s little more than tremors by the time Ronon eases John to lean limply back against me and Teyla. The two of us support him while Jennifer checks him over, all of us working to catch our breath and stop our own shaking.
Sitting back with a relieved exhalation of breath, Keller informs us, "Okay, he’s starting to stabilize."
"Any more big ideas, McKay?" Ronon asks, but I really don’t need the Satedan’s sarcasm to make me feel like total shit for putting Sheppard through this.
Teyla steps in before I can respond. "If nothing else, we have proven Rodney’s theory that there is something here on Marcotia that is contributing to John’s illness."
John stirs against my shoulder, although he doesn’t seem strong enough to lift his head from Teyla’s. He does manage to crack his eyes open and slur, "Happened?"
"You proved a point," Ronon tells him, brown eyes narrowing to target me.
"Oh," John considers groggily, his eyes already sliding shut again. "Don’t wanna’ do that again."
"Me either," I assure him, patting his chest exhaustedly then wincing at the pain in my fingers.
"So, what do we do know?" Jennifer asks me, apparently convinced that if we are going to save Sheppard, it’s going to come down to stopping the nanites in his body.
I tell her the only thing that I can think will give us any chance in hell of finding a way to shut down the device killing John. "We find the second cube."
* * * *
By the time we can make out Ronon and one of the villagers jogging toward us with the replacement stretcher from the settlement, Jennifer has almost finished bandaging my hand.
"This just proves my point that hand holding with a sick friend is fine in the figurative sense, but a bad idea in the literal one."
Keller grins as she checks the circulation of my fingers. "I’ve seen Lamaze coaches holding newborn babies with casts on their hands after particularly difficult births."
"Don’t remind me," I grimace, partially at the memory of Teyla’s iron grip during Torrin’s delivery and partially from the pain when Jennifer pinches my pinky.
"I’m pretty sure nothing is broken," she assures me, "but it wouldn’t hurt for you to go back to Atlantis and have it checked out. I think we’ve proven the colonel’s illness is directly related to the cube now, so there’s no reason why the rest of you couldn’t return to Atlantis if you wanted to."
I shake my head as I glance over at where Sheppard is lying with his head in Teyla’s lap, still more out of it than in thanks to the seizures. "I don’t want to." When Jennifer sighs and starts to tell me once again I can’t blame myself for John’s reaction to the trip through the gate, that he himself was the one who agreed to it, I cut her off. Because, believe me, I can blame myself… although pushing it off on Radek does have a certain appeal. "Besides, you’re going to need my help when we find that second cube to figure out how to make it stop."
"I don’t suppose I could interest you in some pain meds, then?"
I eye the two pills she’s shaken out into her palm before grabbing one and dry swallowing it down. "You know, just to take the edge off."
"Of course." She doesn’t even attempt to hide the knowing smile as she drops the other back into the medicine bottle.
"Hey!" Ronon yells to Keller as soon as he’s in range. "You need to get back to the settlement."
"What’s wrong?" she asks in worry. "Is it Darik?"
"Yeah. They had to sedate him not long after we left." Ronon drops the stretcher to the ground. "Ends up he went into seizures at about the same time as Sheppard."
"That’s a little bit too coincidental for me," Jennifer observes.
Ronon nods his agreement. "That’s what I thought."
"Do you think he’s somehow connected to the second cube, as well?" Keller asks me, already gathering up her pack.
"I think it may be in him," I correct, grabbing my own and starting to follow after her. "Or maybe there’s a third cube we don’t know about or just the two cubes are making them sick, and there’s another device controlling them."
"It just doesn’t make any sense," Jennifer notes as she adjusts her field kit on her back. "If what Fara says is true, Darik handled both cubes when they were working in the lab and nothing happened. Why would they suddenly activate? Not to mention the fact that Fara had the cube in the first place when she doesn’t remember even touching it."
"Maybe the kid can tell us something." Ronon chimes in. "He’s getting better, right?"
Keller gives a small shrug. "Well, he was improving, although he still wasn’t well enough to speak before we left. And if he’s been sedated because of the seizures, it could be hours before he’s lucid enough to answer questions, even if he continues to improve. If the seizures set back his progress, it could be even longer."
Teyla speaks quietly so as not to wake John. "What I do not understand is why the devices are making them sick in the first place."
"It could be some sort of research into how the body’s immune system works," I suggest.
"Since Fara recovered and now Darik is improving, do you think the devices do not intend to kill the person but only study the body’s response to the illness? That, given time, perhaps John will recover on his own, as well?"
I frown at Teyla’s theory. "Do you really want to take that chance?" Because I’ve taken all the chances on testing theories I want to for the day.
With a hand resting on John’s chest, Teyla shakes her head. "No, of course not."
I pace a few steps, scowling in thought as I attempt to reason through the puzzle before me. "If we could get a better idea of what the nanites are doing exactly, we might be able to figure out why they are doing it and how to stop it. I think I can modify one of the medical scanners to detect the nanites if I can find the right signal strength…"
With an idea in mind as to exactly how I can modify the scanner, I start toward the village. When Jennifer pauses, realizing she’ll be leaving one patient to go look after another, Ronon waves her on.
"Go, we’ll be right behind you with Sheppard."
Teyla gently lowers John’s head to the ground before she stands, as well. "How can I help?"
"Come with me," I order. "As soon as I finish tweaking the scanner, we’re going back to the Ancient lab to see what we can find in the database. There has to be something in there about the cubes."
"Would it not make more sense for me to go now and begin the search?" she suggests. When I hesitate, she points out, "I am more than familiar with the Ancestor’s database on Atlantis. This one should be comparable, correct?"
The thing about Teyla is that she’s a quick study… a real quick study. The fact that she grew up in what was for all intents and purposes a third world village hasn’t stopped her from catching on to many of the intricacies of the Ancient systems. Still, I’d already searched through the database for a couple of hours, so the only hope I had of actually finding something in there was to find out more about the nanites themselves. But I also understood about the need to feel like I was doing something to help, so if she wants to give it a try before I have any useful data, I don't see any reason why she shouldn’t.
"Yeah, okay." I hand over my electronic pad so she’ll have access to the translator program. "The cabling to link up the tablet with the Ancient system is still in place. All you have to do…"
Teyla snatches the pad and turns to go. "I remember how to connect them, Rodney."
"Well, just don’t break it," I warn, before calling after her. "I’ll join you as soon as I finish with the scanner."
"I will call you when I find something," she counters.
For once, I won't mind being showed up, because that would mean we are just one step closer to saving Sheppard’s life.
* * * *
I’m sitting in the chair beside Sheppard’s bed, reconfiguring the scanner, when he finally wakes again.
"What happened to your hand?" John’s voice is barely above a whisper.
"Oh, you… uhm…" I wave the bandaged appendage and dismiss the question with a shake of my head, turning back to my work. This would sure be a hell of a lot easier if I had the use of both hands. "Doesn’t matter."
"I did it?" The ashen skin and fevered eyes can’t hide his concern over what exactly happened to my hand.
My evasion has him frowning. "Sorry."
"I’m the one who’s sorry." I shake my head again and sigh. "If I’d known that was going to happen, that your body would react the way it did, I never would have…"
Even with his voice so low, he stops me with my own words. "Doesn’t matter. I agreed."
"Yes, but only because you trusted me."
"Won’t make that mistake again." Pale lips curl minutely at his joke. "Should have learned my lesson after you stiffed me on the pizza."
"Christ, you’re just not going to let go of that pizza thing, are you?" I respond with a roll of my eyes. "I’ll be taking shit over that longer than I have the Dorandan solar system."
"Well, it was two whole pizzas and only five-sixths of the solar system," he notes.
"See, I keep telling people it was no big deal, and now you’ve confirmed that it’s less important than a pizza." The hint of a smile remains on his face, but his eyes are starting to slide shut again, so I call out, "John?" to try to keep him awake a bit longer, at least until Jennifer can return from Darik’s room down the hall to check Sheppard over once more. When the eyes open again and look to me questioningly, I scramble for something to say. "So, how are you feeling?" Lame, I know, but sometimes desperation sets in.
"Like the remaining sixth of that solar system," he answers and starts to cough.
I put aside the scanner as I move to sit beside him and support him during the episode, then ease him back when the coughing subsides, thankful, yet again, that he’s not contagious. "Sure you don’t mean the five-sixths that were destroyed?"
"You know me… Mr. Optimistic." Sitting this close, I can hear the rasping, almost gurgling sound when he pulls in a breath. Jennifer said the fluid would start building up in his lungs, but I had no idea it would be happening this fast.
"We’re going to find out how to stop this," I promise. And who knew I could be so optimistic? But with Sheppard, I refuse to believe we won’t find a way to beat this. He always finds a way to beat the odd. Always. Whether it’s going on a suicide run to a Hive ship with a nuclear bomb, surviving a Wraith feeding, or fighting off his evil twin in a dream, he always finds a way. And this time it won’t be any different if I have any say in the matter.
"I know." John fights back another cough and tells me, "I trust you."
I raise eyebrows in challenge. "Thought you said you wouldn’t make that mistake again."
"Mr. Optimistic, remember?"
"Ahhhhh. So, hope springs eternal, I guess."
"You’ll get it right one day, McKay… and pay for your own pizza."
"Oh, I see. Screw my incomparable intellect and scientific prowess; your true faith in me rests in my ability to go Dutch on a thin crust with the works."
"You’re talking about food again?" Jennifer says as she walks up behind me. "Ronon said you already ate enough today to feed most of Atlantis for a week."
"He’s just jealous because I ate the last skewer of the spicy meat."
My response just has the physician rolling her eyes. "Yes, I’m sure that’s the reason." Turning her attention to John, she asks, "How are you doing? Any improvement in the joint pain?"
"Maybe a little."
Neither Keller nor I buy it.
"John," she sighs, "you have to be honest with me or I won’t know if the new drug regimen is working or not."
"No better," he finally admits. "Actually some worse."
Nodding with a worrisome expression, Jennifer makes a note on her electronic pad before taking her stethoscope from around her neck and sitting on the edge of the bed. "I’ll increase your pain meds."
I wait until she finishes listening to Sheppard’s heart and chest before asking, "Any change?"
"Yeah. Unfortunately, not for the better." Wrapping the stethoscope back around her neck she explains, "The Prednisone I gave you doesn’t seem to be decreasing the swelling of your heart."
John nods as he starts to cough again, and the two of us support him until he sinks back exhausted. "What about Darik?" he manages to choke out.
"Improving." The frustration that Sheppard isn’t doing the same is obvious in Jennifer’s tone. "And thanks to that and the sedatives he was given when he started convulsing, he’s now resting comfortably."
"How long before he might be able to answer some questions?" I inquire. If he could tell us what happened, confirm that he had contact with the other cube from the lab, it would definitely help us find out what’s going on with Sheppard.
Jennifer shrugs. "It could be hours. He’s improving, but his body has been through an incredible ordeal, and he’s still extremely weak as a result, not to mention the sedation." She hitches her chin toward the scanner I’ve been working on. "How’re the modifications going?"
"Almost done," I promise, taking up the device once again and moving to the table across the room to resume work. I can tell by Jennifer’s expression that she thinks any information we gather using the scanner will be as useless as the drugs she’s been administering, but it’s all I can do, and it keeps me occupied so I keep at it. Besides, I’m convinced that the more we know about the nanites causing this, the better chance we have of stopping them. When she joins me a few minutes later, I tell her so. "This will work."
"It better," she confides quietly, "because nothing I’m doing is. The steroids, the diuretics, the pain killers, nothing is having any effect on his symptoms, and the antibiotics aren’t even touching the infection."
"How much longer?" I ask in dread.
"A few hours, maybe. I’ve never seen anyone’s condition deteriorate so quickly."
I glance over to where John lies curled on his side. A tremor passes through is body, his face contorts, and I realize it’s caused by the pain coursing through him. Without saying a word… because, really, what can I say?... I turn back to the scanner modification.
I’m just about to reassemble the device when Teyla’s voice comes through the radio. "Rodney, I believe I have found the correct file on the device."
"Seriously?" I respond in surprise.
"Yes." There is a hint of exasperation in her voice. "I went back through Darik’s personal files and found it in there."
"Oh." I consider that we had never thought to do that before. "Good idea."
"I am pleased you approve of my methodology." The sarcasm vanishes as she asks, "Should I download what I have found or will you come to the lab?"
Slipping the cover of the scanner back in place, I tell her, "I’ll be there in ten minutes." Handing over my tools to Jennifer, I start to instruct her how to reconnect the pieces. After a few seconds of blank looks accompanied by wary head nods of supposed understanding, I stop my explanation and decide it will just be quicker to do it myself, even with only one hand, not to mention I’ll know it was done correctly, and I take the extra five minutes needed to complete the task. After a quick lesson on how to take the readings, I jog out the door, off to meet my other two teammates in the lab.