Synopsis: Sometimes things go really wrong before they go right. Another simple mission turned complicated.
Rating: PG-13, mostly for language
A/N: Thanks to Ionah, Michele, and Annie for their beta work and to the others to read it just to make sure the story stayed true to the characters. Any errors you might find are all mine.
"A Glass Half Empty"
(set after the end of Season Five)
I'm too young to die!
The panicked thought kept repeating over and over inside Rodney McKay's mind as he struggled to keep his head above the rushing waters. He was being swept along in the rapid river current faster than he could grab anything to hold onto.
Damn that flower for making me sneeze and damn that riverbank for collapsing under my feet!
Rodney's arms flailed helplessly, battling for some modicum of control in the white waters. He was having trouble breathing, but that seemed minor compared to the notion of drowning.
He thought he heard someone call his name, but it was distant and his ears were full of water anyway. Nonetheless, he craned his head around and caught a glimpse of Teyla running along the edge of the stream, trying to keep up with him. She shouted something to someone ahead of them and Rodney prayed it was Sheppard or Ronon preparing to pull his soggy ass out of the water from some upcoming vantage point.
At least, they damn well better be getting ready to save him. It wasn't his fault he had a wide variety of allergies to plants, trees, and a potpourri of other things and it wasn't his fault that flower spewed pollen in his face and that his sneezing reaction caused him to stumble backward and into the water. It was their fault for making him come along to this godforsaken world that had no redeeming value whatsoever.
He'd tried to talk them into exploring M27-PX3 instead, but, no, they had to come here, because of an Ancient reference to an abundance of certain rare metals Atlantis was currently in need of. Well, damn the metals and damn the Ancients, too!
Rodney went to take a breath and inhaled water instead. Great, now he was choking and coughing, along with being swept to his doom. He could see Ronon and Sheppard on an outcropping extending over the river like a bridge that had stopped construction halfway through. Ronon had Sheppard by the ankles and Sheppard was dangling upside down over the water facing Rodney.
Oh, they are so not planning to pull me out of the water that way, are they? Crap! What if they miss me? It will take them a while to find another point to reach me and by then I'll have probably drowned already! Damn it!
Somehow, he heard Sheppard who was about ten meters in front of him call his name. At least Sheppard and Ronon were on the right side of the river to grab him, but Rodney was still out of position. Rodney tried to angle his way in the water to go closer to them without the risk of slamming into the nearby boulders sticking out of the water, because that would probably kill him, too, but there wasn't really time to do anything at all.
Sheppard waved his arms for Rodney to grab hold as he passed by.
Crap, they're serious. Oh yeah, I'm a dead man.
He would have given Ronon and Sheppard a stern lecture on the outrageously insane impracticality of their rescue attempt if he wasn't fighting so hard to stay above water. At least, it was early summertime and not the dead of winter or he'd be freezing, along with drowning. He could almost hear Sheppard telling him to be grateful for small favors.
Gratitude went out the window when Sheppard started yelling things at him indiscernible words garbled by the rushing waters, but Rodney didn't need to hear the words. He knew what Sheppard wanted him to do; it was just a matter of making his body cooperate. He extended his arms at the last moment, and by some miracle, Sheppard was able to grab them.
The jarring stop was almost enough to pull Sheppard and Ronon down into the water with him. Sheppard grunted as he was jerked hard to his left side with Rodney's weight, but he was able to keep his hold on Rodney.
Oh thank God!
Rodney envisioned Ronon digging back on his heels up top, straining with everything he had and then some, but Rodney's relief quickly evaporated when he considered what was involved to getting Rodney from his dangling position to dry land and he started cursing again.
Fortunately, Sheppard had a pretty good hold on Rodney's forearms, near his elbows or more specifically, he had a good hold on Rodney's jacket. Thank God, even though it was early summertime, it was chilly enough today for him to wear his jacket wet, slippery skin could have complicated things immeasurably. Now, all Rodney could do was pray that the tac vest he was wearing would secure his jacket enough to prevent it from slipping off of him at some inopportune moment.
But he wasn't out of the water yet, he thought, ignoring the bad pun. Even if Sheppard did have an ironclad hold on him, Ronon would have to pull Sheppard and Rodney both up by himself. Conan was big and strong, but he was no freaking Hercules by any stretch of the imagination.
"Don't just hang there, Rodney! Grab hold of my upper arms and pull yourself up over me! Ronon can't hold the two of us forever, you know!" Sheppard shouted through gritted teeth.
Rodney stared up at him in confusion. What the hell is he talking about? Surely, he doesn't mean for me to climb all the way up to Ronon. Surely, no, not that. I'm not some human spider by any means.
Blinking nonstop, Rodney remembered how he'd always failed the stupid rope climbing exercises in school. Why the hell couldn't he at least possess some semblance of physical prowess?
"McKay, move your ass before I drop both of you!" Ronon shouted.
Why are they so mad at me? I didn't ask to fall into a rushing river for Pete's sake!
Closing his eyes for a moment, Rodney took a breath, then he looked up. Squinting through the water still dripping down his face, he saw that the way Sheppard had grabbed his forearms did give him some space for his hands to grab Sheppard's upper arms.
Squirming in the open air, Rodney latched onto Sheppard's arms with all the strength he had. Sheppard grinned and said, "That's it."
When Rodney put more of his weight on Sheppard's left arm, Sheppard groaned and bit his lip. His face was flushed deep red from hanging upside down and the strain of holding onto Rodney, but he just pushed through it like he always did and said, "Okay, hold on. Gonna move my hold from your arms to your chest."
The thought of not having Sheppard holding onto him as a safety line made Rodney's heart begin to hammer faster, if that was possible. His breathing caught and he thought he felt his throat close a little tighter, making breathing even harder, and then the wheezing started. There was no mistake he was having more than a sneezing attack from that damn flower.
Sheppard noticed it because he looked at Rodney with alarm. "Oh crap, no allergic reactions until you're rescued. That's an order."
Then John took a deep breath and said, "Just hold on, Rodney. We'll get you back to Atlantis ASAP."
Rodney nodded. The whole process of Sheppard shifting his hold from Rodney's forearms to his chest lasted only a second, but it seemed like an eternity. In actuality, he didn't even have time to tell Sheppard to hurry before Sheppard took a firm hold of Rodney's chest.
Slowly, Sheppard began to pull Rodney's body higher until their faces were mere inches away from each other. With the increased nearness to Sheppard, Rodney could see the strain Sheppard was under, but Sheppard seemed to ignore it as he quickly said, "Reach up with one hand and grab hold of my tac vest."
Rodney sputtered, "But but that vest will just slip off of you, taking me along with it!"
Sheppard shook his head. "Don't worry, Rodney! I've got a good hold on you! Just do it!"
Rodney reluctantly let go of one of Sheppard's arms and felt very vulnerable as he gathered his strength and swung his arm upward. Grabbing a fistful of vest, Rodney looked back at Sheppard. "Now, what?"
"Go for my belt with your other hand."
"Are you totally whacked?" Rodney exclaimed. "I I can't reach that from here!"
Sheppard's tone was very measured as he said, "Don't worry, I'll be helping to lift you up when you make the move."
Rodney swallowed hard. His throat felt like it was closing up and he could feel the unmistakable sense of hives developing on his face and neck. His eyes were so irritated, he could barely see. He had no time to fool around.
At least the adrenaline still pumping through Rodney's system gave him more strength than he ever thought possible. Taking another shallow breath, he let go of Sheppard's other arm and started to reach for Sheppard's belt when the tac vest slid forward, dropping Rodney down a precious few inches. Sheppard quickly responded by tightening his hold on Rodney.
"Oh, God," Rodney gasped, his legs dangling in the air. "I'm going to die."
"Not on my watch. Now, keep moving!" Sheppard barked at him as if he were a drill sergeant.
Rodney's eyes bulged at the mere thought of what Sheppard wanted him to do. Rodney was not some Marine grunt for Sheppard to order around. And he was having a serious allergic reaction at the same time. Damn, he was so dead.
"Do it, Rodney!" Sheppard said through gritted teeth. "I've got you!"
Blinking rapidly, Rodney tried to ignore the slow downward movement of Sheppard's tac vest. He swung out with his other hand and his fingers brushed across Sheppard's belt, then he desperately clenched the leather just as Ronon's grip slid a little.
Looking up, Rodney saw Ronon's contorted expression. "Don't you dare drop us, Ronon!"
Then Teyla came into view as she knelt down flat on the outcropping and reached down with one arm. "Hurry, Rodney!"
"Oh, sure, no problem," Rodney muttered as he squeezed his eyes shut and tightened his hold on Sheppard's tac vest and belt. "You know me, I'm always ready to face certain death."
She didn't miss a beat, she just said, "Rodney, grab John's belt with both hands."
"I never thought my life would depend upon the strength of John Sheppard's belt!"
Sheppard grunted. "Just climb, McKay, we don't have all fucking day!"
Shaking his head, Rodney swung upward with his other hand, but his hand slipped and for a moment, he was dangling from only one hand well, dangling might not have been an apt description Sheppard's grip kept him from dropping back into the water, but Rodney's wheezing was worsening with every breath, and it wasn't a casual kind of wheeze, but the kind that usually made medical people start to rush around him.
"I can't I can't do this!" he proclaimed loudly to no one in particular.
Teyla reached her hand down until her fingers brushed against his. "Just a little more, Rodney, and you'll be safe."
Encouraged by what he saw, he moved again as John lifted him upward from below. This time, he was close enough for Teyla to grab hold of his arm with both hands. Rodney was able to move his other hand from Sheppard's belt to one of Sheppard's boots, just as his own boot kicked Sheppard in the head.
"OW!" Sheppard said, "Watch your damn feet!"
"You try doing this before yelling at me," Rodney said, then he wheezed loud enough for Teyla to hear him.
Her eyebrows went up as she stared at him and said, "Rodney, you are breaking out in hives."
"Tell me something I don't already know," he said as he gasped for air.
Teyla pulled harder on his arm, drawing herself up to her knees after Rodney's position was strengthened by a good grip on Sheppard's boot and he was starting to push up on his own. She pulled back on his arm until she nearly fell over, but by then Rodney had his other hand firmly on the rock formation.
Grunting hard, he pulled himself the rest of the way up with Teyla's assistance and he collapsed on the ground beside her. He went to inhale and nothing moved much. His chest felt tight very tight scary tight.
"Rodney," Teyla said a moment later, except her position had changed. She was now leaning over him as he gasped for air. "Where is your epipen?"
"My my what?" he said, trying to stay calm, but it was getting harder and harder to breathe and to concentrate. Then he realized what she was looking for and reached for the right inner pocket, but his hand just flopped over the area, instead of opening it to retrieve the pen.
Through his dwindling awareness, he heard Sheppard call from behind them. "How's he doing?"
Teyla's voice was even as she said, "He is having an allergic reaction."
She tugged on the velcro fastening over his pocket and pulled out Rodney's epipen, deftly opening it and positioning it over Rodney's thigh. She activated the pen's release and Rodney gasped at the pain, though it was nothing compared to not breathing.
By the time Rodney glanced in Sheppard's direction, Ronon was helping Sheppard stand. Sheppard seemed shaky, as if his muscles were quivering with fatigue and his now upright position after all, hanging upside down all that time couldn't have been fun. Sheppard grimaced and held his left arm tight against his body. He was bleeding from a scrape at his left eyebrow, but his whole attention was on Rodney.
He knelt close and put a hand on Rodney's thigh. "Hang in there, buddy."
Rodney heard the deep rales in his chest and got even more scared. The epinephrine wasn't kicking in. He was getting worse instead of better. He blinked madly, trying to clear his vision as his eyelids continued to swell.
He heard Ronon say, "I can carry him back to the jumper " then it sounded as if he was moving closer in preparation to pick him up.
Rodney caught sight of Sheppard shaking his head as he said, "No, we need to stabilize him or he won't last long enough to make it there."
Teyla glanced at Sheppard. "A second injection? Is that wise?"
Sheppard nodded grimly as he rifled through the pockets of his own tac vest for the backup epipen he always carried for Rodney. "I don't think we have a choice."
Teyla patted Rodney on the shoulder. "Rodney, you need to stay as calm as you can," she said softly.
Yeah, right, with a shitload of adrenaline pumping through my system? Calm is not in my vocabulary right now.
Sheppard's voice was low as he said, "Okay, Rodney, I've got your backup epipen. Brace yourself, this isn't going to be fun."
John Sheppard always did have a gift for understatement, Rodney thought as he nearly came up off the ground when the second dose kicked in. His whole body became one massive tremor.
"Easy," Sheppard said as he placed a hand on Rodney's chest and paused for a moment, then he said, "Okay, he isn't wheezing quite so heavily now. I think this is our window of opportunity. Ronon, you carry him. I'll run ahead to the jumper to power up systems and to alert Atlantis we'll be coming in with a medical emergency."
Sheppard was already up and away when Ronon picked Rodney up and tossed him over his shoulder in a classic fireman's carry with one smooth movement. Ronon began running and said, "Sorry, McKay, but I can move faster this way."
Damn, Ronon wasn't exactly what would be called skinny, but he had one hell of a bony shoulder and it was cutting into Rodney's stomach like a dull saw. Shifting didn't help at all. Teyla ran alongside them as she held his hand tightly in hers. "Rodney, hold on. We are almost to the jumper."
Rodney prayed that he could hang on long enough to make it to Atlantis and the infirmary, but he was never very good at prayers.
Upon awakening, Rodney managed a deep breath and he immediately relaxed. Breathing unimpeded had never seemed so sweet. When he opened his still swollen eyelids, he saw his team surrounding his bed and the next bed over where Sheppard was sitting on its edge with an ice pack on the back of his left elbow.
"Okay, Colonel, now that Rodney's condition has stabilized, let me look at your arm. Did the ice pack help much?"
Jennifer Keller lifted the ice pack from Sheppard's arm and put it on the nearby instrument tray she had pulled into the area. On the tray were also various rolls of adhesive tapes and ace bandages. Sheppard did his typical shrug. "It's not that bad. Rodney's the one you need to worry about."
Jennifer ignored his usual response. "Rodney's been treated and is holding his own. By the way, a hyper-extended elbow is not that good, either, Colonel, but not to worry, I'll have you fixed up in no time."
She picked up an elastic bandage and swiftly began wrapping it around Sheppard's arm covering an area from his forearm to his biceps.
"I was interested in sports medicine for a while when I was in med school after a boyfriend got into jujitsu. He was always hyper-extending his elbow and so I came up with my own combination of techniques to use as a wrap to immobilize the joint," she said.
Rodney watched Jennifer with an interested air as she worked. Jennifer was in her element. She always shone as a doctor, Rodney thought. In the next thought, he felt more than a twinge of sadness that things hadn't worked out between the two of them.
After watching for a moment, Rodney realized everyone was focused on Sheppard and not him, but for some reason, it didn't seem to faze him much. Granted, he'd nearly drowned, then had to claw his way to safety, only to almost die from an allergic reaction, and now their attention was on some minor arm injury of one of the rescue heroes, instead of him, but he didn't really care he was just happy to be alive and breathing.
"It'll be really sore for a few weeks, but if that stiffens up on you a lot, Colonel, let me know. In the meanwhile, I want you to see our physical therapy people about doing some ultrasound treatments. Ice and compression will be your closest friends for a while."
Securing the end of the elastic bandage, Jennifer patted Sheppard's forearm gently. "And you have to take it easy that means no golfing or much of anything else for a few weeks."
"Thanks, Doc, but I think it will be okay," Sheppard said as he tested the strength of the support. Rodney rolled his eyes, knowing Jennifer's words of caution were a waste of breath. Gauging by her expression, she knew it, too.
Jennifer smirked as she picked up an arm sling and helped Sheppard put it on. "Too bad you didn't have better luck. I doubt you would have overextended that elbow if you'd have had to pull Teyla out of a raging river instead of Rodney. She weighs a lot less than Rodney."
Sheppard grunted, then agreed, "Yeah, probably. So, you're sure McKay's gonna be okay? I mean, his face is still pretty swollen."
Jennifer nodded and gave the rest of the team a firm smile as she moved the tray over to one wall. "I know it looks bad, but he'll be fine. You got him here in time for us to treat him and he's responding well to therapy. The swelling should go down in the next few days."
She paused, deep in thought for a moment. "You know, I'm trying to decide if his time in the water helped or hindered his allergic reaction. I'm sure it helped by removing the allergen, but the shock of his fall into the water and the danger involved couldn't have been good for his system."
"Damned straight," Rodney said softly, finally speaking, if one could call it that. The words came out scratchy and squeaky, his enlarged lips making it a little difficult to talk. "I could have passed on the whole affair."
Sheppard got up from his sitting position on the bed with a big grin on his face. "I can't wait to hear the story of how you fell into a roaring river all by yourself, Rodney. And for the second time in less than a year."
Rodney watched him for a moment before saying, "Normally, I'd just tell you to go to hell, but you've found me in a mellow mood. In fact, I'm in a really good mood."
There was an exchange of looks amongst his team members that told him they were more alarmed about his condition than he was. Brushing away their concern, Rodney put a hand over his eyes and started to rub them.
"No scratching!" Jennifer said sharply.
"Okaaay," Rodney said as he pulled his hand away, then his fingers gently probed the skin around his eyes, nose and mouth. Those areas felt grossly swollen. Maybe he wasn't doing quite as well as he thought.
"Sorry, didn't mean to bark at you, but scratching will only make things worse," Jennifer said in a chagrined tone as she moved closer. "How are you doing, Rodney?"
He went to speak and coughed instead. Teyla quickly poured him a glass of water from the pitcher on his bedside tray and extended the glass in his direction. "Perhaps this will help?"
Rodney nodded and took the glass gratefully, downing half of it in one gulp. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and grunted. "Thanks. After being in that river, I thought I'd never be thirsty again, but I am."
His voice wasn't quite so hoarse that time.
Jennifer sighed. "I'm afraid you'll feel a little dried out from the heavy dose of antihistamines I gave you and more than a little drowsy."
Rodney shook his head. "I'm fine."
Sheppard grunted. "Dude, you don't look fine at all. Your face looks like a melting Stay Puft Marshmallow Man."
Rodney sighed. "Okay, I'm not exactly fine but thank you so much, Sheppard, for the visual image I now have in my head. A melting Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Great. To be honest, I itch all over, but in general, I'm doing a hell of a lot better than I was in that damned river."
One of the nurses came in at that moment and handed Jennifer a report. She studied it for a moment, then frowned before looking over at Rodney. "Rodney, tell me about what triggered your allergic reaction."
He paused for a moment, recalling the incident and rubbed his forehead, stopping just short of scratching. He really hated the hives and edema that came from severe reactions, but even more he hated the way he always felt after receiving an injected dose of epinephrine, and he'd had two of them.
Luckily, the side effects had passed quickly enough and now he was happy to be alive. If all he had to worry about was a little itching, he wasn't complaining. Yep, there was a lot to be said for being alive.
He took a deep breath and said, "There was this patch of flowers along the trail. I was adjusting my backpack as I passed them and the ground was slippery. I tripped and fell into the flowers. One of them sprayed me."
Jennifer looked puzzled. Sheppard only smirked. "It sprayed you?" she asked carefully.
"Yeah, well, in a way I guess I knocked it with enough force when I tripped into it for it to shower my face with with its pollen, and then I started sneezing. I blindly backed away, not realizing I was so close to the riverbank, only to have the edge of the riverbank give way and there I went into the water."
"That's it?" Sheppard asked, shaking his head. "Seems to be a rather boring reason for almost dying. Collapsing riverbanks and spraying flowers."
"Do you want me to make something up more exciting?" Rodney asked in a mocking tone, but he couldn't get too acerbic. He was riding on the crest of not being dead. In fact, he felt awesome mood-wise. He couldn't remove the grin from his face, but he grew a little alarmed by Jennifer's serious behavior.
Jennifer's natural state was lighthearted and happy. It was a trait in her he often envied, because... well, Rodney's natural state was typically the opposite. Funny how his usual cloud of doom-and-gloom didn't seem to be hanging over his head right now. Maybe there was a lot to be said for surviving life-threatening experiences.
Jennifer pulled out her stethoscope. "Rodney, I need to check you out more closely. Your blood work shows you had a significant immune response to that pollen, which we already knew, but I hadn't anticipated the extent of that response. In addition, the neurotransmitters levels in your brain are little squirrely right now."
"What are you saying, Doc? He's already a lot squirrely," Sheppard said with a puzzled grin, like he was joking to cover his nervousness.
"Ha, funny, Sheppard. Real funny," Rodney said, falling into a standard dialog with Sheppard, but there was little of his normally withering sarcasm present in his words.
Jennifer's smile wavered and her gaze swept over the test results again. Sheppard's eyebrows went up in that little way they did when he was concerned and he stepped closer to her, lowering his voice. "Is it serious?" he asked.
Jennifer shook her head. "I don't think so, but it's better to play it safe."
Rodney noticed the others all had concerned expressions and hadn't moved away from his bedside. Their compassion warmed his heart in ways he had never thought possible a few years earlier. Their bond as comrades was the strongest thing Rodney had ever known.
Turning away from them, Jennifer waved a handheld scanner over Rodney's chest, focusing on its readings before moving the scanner toward his head. She asked, "Describe the flower. Was it listed in the Ancients' botanical index for the planet?"
Rodney shrugged. "Well, it was long and tubular, deep blue-green and the pollen was bright yellow. There was a bunch of them right next to the trail by the river. Teyla, did you see them or did you join the trail after that point?"
Teyla shook her head. "No, I do not remember seeing them."
Rodney nodded. "Understandable. I was the last one coming through that area and it wasn't a big patch of flowers. They weren't something I remember from the botanical index, but I really only had a chance to skim over it quickly before we left on the mission."
Jennifer stood silent for a moment. "The more I think about it, it's really too bad you fell into that stream."
The words "ya think?" normally would have sprung to the tip of Rodney's tongue, but he didn't feel the need to say them right then. The warm glow of life seemed to tame many of his standard more caustic responses. He looked at her and asked, "Why?"
She took a deep breath. "The water effectively washed away all the evidence of the pollen. I would have liked to have had a sample of it to identify more specifically and log the allergy into your chart."
Ronon straightened his stance. "I can go back for it if you want."
"I will accompany you, Ronon," Teyla said.
Sheppard nodded. "Sure, it wouldn't take us long."
Jennifer smiled and put a hand out towards them. "Whoa, hold on a moment. It doesn't have to be right away. You've just come back from a mission that involved a rescue. Give yourselves a chance to rest before you go back. Right now, it isn't essential to Rodney's treatment."
"Are you sure, Doc? We can go "
Rodney listened to them and felt a swell of emotion sweep over him. What good friends and teammates he had, offering to go for a sample of the plant without hesitation. If he'd been standing, he would have hugged them. He sighed with the depth of his feelings.
The others looked at him strangely in response. It took a moment to register with Rodney. He put out his hands, sarcasm creeping back into his voice, because he was, after all, Rodney McKay. "What? Can't I enjoy a moment of a moment of camaraderie? Here I am, under the weather, and you guys volunteer to do something that might save my life. It's very moving."
Ronon tilted his head slightly to one side as he stared at him oddly, forcing Rodney to reconsider maybe he was acting a little squirrelly, so he added, "I mean, if I was the kind of guy who would be moved by such things."
The lines of concern on Teyla's face deepened. Sheppard turned to Keller. "What the hell is wrong with him?"
Jennifer looked a little confused. "What?"
Sheppard extended a hand in Rodney's direction. "This this isn't Rodney, so what's the matter with him? And is it something you can fix?"
It would have been funny if Sheppard hadn't been so serious. Rodney began chuckling as he realized it was still funny. Sheppard looked totally bewildered at Rodney's laughter. When the others saw his reaction, their perplexed expressions grew, which made him laugh harder.
Jennifer gazed at him a little slack-jawed, then took a deep breath and glanced at the others. "Honestly, I can't find anything wrong with him except the allergic response and the neurotransmitters wait, that's got to be it."
She snapped her fingers rapidly in a gesture that was reminiscent of Rodney's own mannerism and glanced back at Sheppard. "There are dozens of different neurotransmitters that we've identified in the human brain. Four of the most important ones in Rodney's system are definitely out of whack. His dopamine level is abnormally high, along with his serotonin. On the other end, his GABA and glutamate levels are very low. All of them affects mood and behavior. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that increases pleasure with the use of drugs, causing the 'high' addicts feel. Serotonin also affects mood. Glutamate helps to regulate the fear response. GABA manages excitability. That's got to be it. Plus the high dose steroids I've got him on, which in itself can cause significant mood swings. It's all adding up to... this." She put out her hands in Rodney's direction.
Sheppard sighed, jerking a thumb toward Rodney. "So, he's high right now?"
"Ah, come on, John," Rodney started, "That's not fair. It's not that bad just because I'm in a good mood is no reason to jump to the conclusion that I'm high or anything."
Jennifer smiled, then nodded.
Rodney shook his head, mildly disturbed by their behavior. "No, I am not high. I'm just I'm just happy. What's so wrong with that?"
Sheppard looked at Ronon. "Yep, higher than a kite."
Teyla met Rodney's gaze and said, "I find it a refreshing aspect to your personality, Rodney, one that we do not see often enough."
"See? I can always count on Teyla to back me up," Rodney said with a nod, grateful for Teyla's support, at least until he realized what she had said wasn't much of a supporting statement. "Well, usually," he added, giving her closer scrutiny.
Sheppard stood unmoving with one hand on his hip. Slowly, he began to nod his head. "You know, this could be a lot of fun," he said with a roguish grin, then he wiggled his eyebrows.
Jennifer put up a hand. "I will not let you take advantage of Rodney's... condition, so go on, get some dinner. He'll be back to his cranky self soon enough."
Teyla nodded. "I agree. It would not be fair to Rodney "
"Rodney's right here," Rodney said, feeling like a spectator as he put up a hand.
Sheppard refused to let go of it. "Ah, come on, you can't say that if the roles were reversed, he wouldn't be begging to hang around."
Jennifer shook her head firmly. "Doesn't matter. Vamoose."
Rodney started to say something more, but Jennifer just put up a finger to silence him, then her gaze turned stern as she faced the rest of Rodney's team. "Go."
"You never let us have any fun," Sheppard muttered, which was something Rodney thought was hysterically funny and he began to chuckle. It quickly progressed to laughing out loud.
"Shush!" Jennifer said and Rodney noticed almost all of them were having trouble keeping a straight face. "You aren't helping here."
Sheppard waved his fingers at Rodney. "Well, Doc, if you insist, we'll just leave 'Happy' with you," Sheppard said.
"Yeah, Dopey," Rodney replied. "Doc and I don't need you. Take Grumpy and Snow White along with you."
Sheppard grunted. "Okay, let us know if you want us to go back to collect the flower sample. We'll grab some dinner and then be back for part two of Rodney, the Very Happy Incredible Melting Stay Puft Marshmallow Man."
Rodney sneered, but it was only halfhearted. Then a certain word caught his attention.
"Dinner?" Rodney said, his voice cracking as his head popped up.
John nodded. "It's Salisbury steak and chocolate cake today. Don't wanna be late for that."
Rodney glanced over at Jennifer. "I'm really, really hungry. Maybe, I could go eat and come right back."
Jennifer shook her head. "You need to rest. I'll have something brought to you from the mess hall."
Rodney muttered, "I bet by then there won't be any chocolate cake left."
Teyla leaned closer to Rodney and smiled. "Do not worry, Rodney, I will save some for you."
"God bless you, Teyla. You are a true blue friend indeed."
Rodney was encouraged. If there was chocolate cake to be had, Teyla would get it for him.
He nodded. "Just be sure to get in line ahead of Sheppard and Ronon so they can't hog it all. And and maybe some Salisbury steak, too. And mashed potatoes with some of the steak sauce on them. They always serve green beans with that, so some of those. And a dinner roll. But... but hold the butter."
When Teyla's eyebrows went up in an unspoken question, Rodney added, "Jennifer keeps insisting I need to watch my weight."
"As if all that other stuff isn't going to add up to mega-calories," Jennifer said, shaking her head. "But I'm not going to give you a hard time about it tonight. You've had a bad day. Eat what you want."
"Cool," Rodney said, catching Teyla's eye. "Then grab some butter, too."
Sheppard rolled his eyes.
Jennifer made motions again with her hands for them to leave. A moment later, they were gone. Rodney sighed, the room was infinitely lonelier without them there.
"How long will these tests take?" Rodney asked.
Jennifer didn't answer for a moment as she skimmed over his chart again, deep in thought. Finally, she shook her head. "Not long, Rodney. You'll be done with them by the time they come back with your dinner." She flashed him one of her best smiles. "Just relax, I'll be right back."
Rodney nodded and settled against his pillows. Relaxed was something he could definitely get into. Why wasn't he like this more often? He really needed to reevaluate the way he looked at the world. He sighed with contentment. Life was good.
Rodney bolted upright, gasping for air, feeling as if his nightmare still had him in its clutches. "Son of a bitch," he whispered and forced himself to breathe more slowly.
He swallowed and looked around the empty infirmary, its lighting dimmed because of the late night hours. He ran his hand through his hair, then over his face unable to stop moving in one form or another, unable to shake the images of his dream, and unable to ground himself in the reality around him.
The dream itself had been all too real. In it, the Genii had overrun Atlantis again, except this time, the takeover had been successful.
Rodney reached for his water glass with shaky hands. He took a long drink, then set the empty glass back on the bedside table. What he couldn't seem to let go of was the sense of futility he'd felt when he'd uncovered the Genii plot too late.
He never wanted to experience anything like that in real life, he told himself. He really did need to complete the defense project he'd been working on and bring it online before an invasion actually occurred.
Without realizing it, Rodney's fingers swept over the scar on his left forearm, tracing the line of the healed wound inflicted by Kolya and his knife-wielding thugs. That experience had been a bonafide waking nightmare and not some imaginary scenario.
There was a clatter a few doors away, probably from one of the medical labs, and Rodney practically leapt from his bed.
"Crap," he said shakily. Then he chided himself. "Get hold of yourself, McKay. It was just a dream."
He rubbed his pounding forehead in a way Jennifer probably would have thought was scratching, but it really wasn't well, not exactly, but damn, it itched! Unable to remain still, he threw back his covers and sat up, only to put his head in his hands again. He was still pretty woozy. His fingers slid down across his face and again he felt the grossly puffed up features on his face.
How long would it take for the swelling to go away this time?
Resisting a stronger urge to scratch, he realized the agitation he felt was worse than a dozen epinephrine injections. What the hell was wrong with him? Sure, he could get himself worked up over trivial things sometimes, but this this was over a stupid nightmare.
He froze in place as the dream that had been lurking in the background slammed into his conscious thoughts again. What if they let it happen again? What if Atlantis fell into the hands of an enemy again? Dream or not, he was deeply troubled at the thought of losing Atlantis to outside forces and he began pacing.
Memories of the times the city's defenses had been compromised flooded his mind the renegade Asgard who had kidnapped him and Daniel Jackson, Michael and his hybrids, the Asurans, the Wraith, and of course the Genii.
He glanced at his watch. It was only nine o'clock, 21:00 hours in military parlance. It wasn't that late, and yet it felt far too late in other respects. Damn it, he couldn't let another takeover attempt ever happen again.
Determined to prevent that, Rodney was dressed and almost out the door before he realized what he was doing. He stopped himself.
"It was only a dream," he whispered as he rubbed his hands together.
And yet... he looked down at his hands and saw they were visibly trembling. Surely, all this couldn't still be the after-effects of an allergic reaction. He swallowed hard.
"What if Jennifer was right about this being an imbalance of some sort? First, I felt so good and now and now I'm a basket case."
He closed his eyes as he sighed. Just stay put in the infirmary, a small voice deep inside of him said.
The thought of finding Jennifer for a quick medical consultation on why he was so antsy lasted for about a microsecond.
He shook his head. "Jennifer might screw things up if she won't let me leave."
Glancing at his watch again, he tapped the face of the watch with a fingertip.
"It won't take long to check out things," Rodney told himself quietly. "No, not that long at all. Maybe I can initiate a few of the protocols, just to be on the safe side. This dream might be prophetic. Atlantis deserves the best protection possible."
Rodney left without looking back.
As he made his way through the practically empty corridors of the city, he kept glancing around. He swore he could almost hear Kolya chuckling at his antics, as if there was nothing he could do to prevent the inevitable.
Jennifer sat down with her salad, a cup of hot tea, and data pad. The mess hall was usually empty at this hour and that was fine with her. She needed a little peace-and-quiet in a place outside of the purview of the infirmary, at least for a few minutes.
Private Druian's appendix had chosen a bad time to rupture, drawing her away from Rodney's issues and into an extended surgical session. The best she could hope for was that the young man wouldn't develop peritonitis.
She took a sip of her almost too hot tea, and then picked up the data pad. "Okay, Rodney, let's see if I can decipher your test results using my limited understanding of the Ancient language and Carson's notes."
It had been something in Carson's notes that made her repeat a test Carson had once done on Rodney, right after Rodney overdosed on the Wraith enzyme. Those old test results and Rodney's annual exams would give her a baseline to compare to the information she now had. She just needed to glean the highlights of Rodney's testing from the huge amount of data that had been generated, and then she would have a better idea of what to do next.
She chewed on her lower lip as she flipped between the test results and the files detailing what was considered normal and what was abnormal, along with possible causes and cures. Ancient technology was an awesome thing, especially with its more advanced testing parameters, but it also required a much more advanced understanding of what was being evaluated.
She reached for her tea cup again, only to find the tea had grown cold in the long minutes while she'd been involved in the data. She took a quick sip, then scrolled down to the next section of test results. That was when she sat up in her chair.
Rodney's dopamine and serotonin levels hadn't dropped back into the normal range, nor had his glutamine and GABA come up from the tests conducted when Rodney was first brought in. What was worse, now Rodney's norepinephrine level was also very high and that disturbed her. Norepinephrine was involved in the body's fight-or-flight response, so if that was elevated, Rodney would be more easily frightened or panicked. That would be made worse without enough glutamine to control the fear response and GABA to rein in the brain's excitability. Finally, combine that with high dopamine and serotonin levels and it was a very dangerous mix indeed.
She tapped her fingernails on the casing of her data pad. None of the neurotransmitters were even starting to return to normal levels. In fact, their unexplained shift was increasing with frightening speed a trend that didn't show any sign of slowing down. If something wasn't done soon, Rodney would have significant psychiatric consequences as a result of the imbalance, perhaps even life-threatening issues.
She got up and rushed back to the infirmary, already planning out what she was going to do first to treat him. When she walked into the room, Rodney was gone and she felt as if her heart had leapt into her throat. Pillows and hospital scrubs were piled in his bed and covered with a blanket as if to mimic a body lying there asleep.
For a brief moment, Jennifer hoped he might have simply been in the restroom, but a quick knock on the door nixed that idea.
"Marie," she called as she went deeper into the infirmary.
When the charge nurse stepped away from an inventory of medical supplies, Jennifer asked the nurse, "Have you seen Rodney?"
Marie's glance darted back toward Rodney's bed as she shook her head. "I haven't seen him up, Jennifer. He was asleep the last time I checked on him."
"Damn," Jennifer whispered as she nodded with increasing frustration. "Yeah, he was sleeping when I went for dinner, but I didn't want to disturb him so I didn't pull back his blankets to check on his status. And he's not in bed now. Come on, maybe he's somewhere nearby."
They scoured the infirmary and surrounding areas, including balconies, to no avail.
They'd lost Rodney at the worst time possible. Who knew what the man could be up to? He definitely wouldn't be himself, but where would he have gone, what would he have done?
It was time to call in some help. She tapped her radio headset.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Colonel, but is Rodney with you?" Jennifer said, sounding more than a little concerned.
John frowned as he tossed another personnel file into his out box and slid his chair back from his desk. He had finally managed to work through most of his annual reviews after they'd sat on his desk for weeks, even though it had forced him to toil late into the night. Still, it would be good to return them to Woolsey, so Woolsey would stop bugging him. Well, bugging probably wasn't the proper term. Woolsey was always very diplomatic about it, but John preferred not to have the reviews hanging over his head any longer.
John set his pen on his desk, keeping his voice even as he replied, "No, I thought he was still with you. The last time I saw him, you were evicting us from the infirmary with orders not to return until morning."
Keller sighed. "It's my fault. I got tied up in surgery. I should have had someone checking on him more closely, but I honestly thought Rodney would sleep through the night. Unfortunately, it's been a while since anyone's seen him and he's not answering his radio."
"That's strange " John started to stand, then stopped, growing more alarmed as another thought struck him. "Say, you don't think this has anything to do with his elevated whatchamacallits? The neurotransmitters. You know, the test results that you were worried about."
There was a pause. "Well, actually, it might, I'm afraid. The last round of tests showed his levels of neurotransmitters were continuing to change instead of returning to normal. I honestly didn't expect him to leave the infirmary without medical approval, or else I would have had someone with him."
She sighed. "Usually, I have to pry him out of the infirmary... but after reviewing his most recent tests, I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't experiencing some sort of paranoia," she said finally.
"Yes, he might even have breaks with reality. His neurotransmitter levels are still changing and that's not a good thing. We need to find him fast so I can treat those anomalous levels."
John chewed on his lower lip as he walked out of his office, then said, "Don't worry about him, Doc. I'll find him."
"Be careful when dealing with him, Colonel. He's probably not himself right now."
"I'll keep that in mind. Sheppard out." John tapped off his headset, then thought for a moment and tapped it on again. "Radek, can you tell me where McKay is right now?"
"No, Doctor Keller was just looking for him, but I haven't seen him."
"Yeah, I know. Do me a favor. Locate his position using his subcutaneous transmitter."
Radek paused. "Okay, but only if you authorize it. I didn't want to volunteer that type of search for Rodney without authorization."
A moment later, he said, "He is in auxiliary control, probably something to do with his pet project, protecting the city from outside attack."
"Oh, yeah, he's been hanging out there a lot lately."
Radek sighed. "You know how he is when he's got a new project, Colonel. Though, it is strange that he has his radio off. When did you talk to him last?"
"Hours ago. I'll check out auxiliary control. Thanks for the info."
John had started to turn off his radio when Ronon came on the line. "You need some help, Sheppard?"
"Ronon?" John said as he stepped into the transporter. "How did you know I might need some help?"
"Passing by the control room on our way to the mess for a snack and heard your conversation with Zelenka. Teyla's with me."
"Thanks for asking, but I think I can handle Rodney on my own, even a Rodney McKay who's not quite himself," John said as he pressed his destination on the transporter's control pad.
"Not quite himself? You mean more than before? What's up?"
"Hopefully, nothing bad. I'll catch you later."
John signed off. When the doors from the transporter opened again, auxiliary control was down a long corridor in front of him. Only a few months ago, the expedition was using auxiliary control as their main control room, due to the destruction of the city's stargate.
John cringed as memories of the stargate's unexpected explosion came unbidden to his mind and he remembered how close they'd all come to dying but they hadn't because of the city's shields that had contained most of the blast. It took weeks to rebuild the old control room and for the cuts caused by flying glass that trailed down John's neck and back to fully heal.
Now, auxiliary control had been relegated back to its more obscure position at the heart of the city in the central hub. When John walked in, Rodney was working so intently at one of the computer consoles, he was oblivious to any other movement. He was also scratching madly at the back of his neck, leaving a big blotchy red area. Keller was so going to bust Rodney's ass for that.
When Rodney finally noticed his approach, he pulled his weapon in a swift move and aimed it at John's heart, making John stop and put up his hands.
"Whoa, buddy, you wanna put that thing away?"
Rodney finally saw who he was aiming at and immediately holstered his weapon, cursing under his breath as he scratched one arm vehemently. "What the hell are you doing here, Sheppard? You need to warn a person you're coming instead of sneaking up on them like some uber-ninja! I could have shot you!"
John cautiously started forward. "Sorry, Rodney, I would have warned you via the radio that I was coming if you had yours on, that is. You doing okay?"
Rodney nodded, but he still had a wild cast to his eyes and he was sweating heavily. His fingers roamed aimlessly over his body as if they were on the trail of an elusive itch, rarely stopping their scratching.
John took a moment to stare at the computer monitor behind Rodney, trying to see what Rodney had been working on, only to have McKay switch off the monitor with a feigned nonchalance and step in front of it, as if to block John from getting a closer look.
"Yes, yes, of course, I'm fine," Rodney said. "Other than being irritated at the interruption."
John paused a moment to take in the scene. Rodney had all the city's backup systems active and online, along with several access panels open. Wiring crisscrossed one area and another area was filled with cases of equipment and canisters. Control crystals were strewn about the place and there were more than a few toolboxes with various tools scattered around them.
Rodney's flushed face was sweaty, and dust-streaked, probably from working with the access panels. With alarm, John realized those weren't ordinary systems being accessed they were some of the city's most vital ones. Whatever Rodney was working on, it had to be something major.
John kept his voice light as he said, "Sorry for the interruption, but Keller's been trying to contact you."
Rodney's face went slack for a moment, but then he blinked several times as he processed the information. He scratched at his stomach with a vengeance and exclaimed, "Why does she want to bother me? I'm fine. She knows that as well as I do!"
John stepped closer that certainly didn't sound like Rodney. It usually took high level finagling on Keller's part to keep McKay out of the infirmary when he had a splinter, let alone a legitimate concern.
Rodney turned to check another computer before he pivoted back to John. "You didn't tell anyone you were coming here, did you?" he asked nervously.
John frowned. "Only Radek... Well, Teyla and Ronon know about it, too. Why?"
Rodney cursed under his breath. He took a deep breath before he nodded several times. "It's okay. I'll make it okay."
He turned and started typing rapidly. John came closer. "Rodney?" he asked softly. "What's going on?"
Rodney stiffened, then he appeared to force relaxation back into his expression, but apparently not into his body because it was as rigid with tension as a steel rod. "It's nothing nothing, really. Just a few safeguards I need to work through."
John craned his neck to get a better view at the monitor screens. "Need any help?"
McKay shook his head, then stopped, pinning John in place with a piercing stare as he sputtered, "How how have we survived in this city for so long using the security protocols we have? I mean, seriously, it's a miracle the city hasn't been overrun several dozen times over. We've got to be better at protecting Atlantis."
John stepped closer to Rodney. "Our security measures are solid, Rodney. Atlantis is well protected. What's got you so worried?"
Rodney didn't look up as he went from one console to the next, madly typing in commands in between fits of scratching. "Just think about it. Remember the craziness after Jackson and I were kidnapped and how you let the city's stargate blow up?"
John's curiosity mushroomed into irritation. "I didn't let anything blow up. You know what happened as well as I do "
"Okay, maybe let wasn't the right word to use. Regardless, we've got to protect Atlantis her computers, her essential systems, her power sources, her history, and her vast beauty. We've got to protect her at all costs. I mean, we've been incredibly naive in our thinking. I'm finally going to do something about it."
John straightened his stance. "What are you talking about, Rodney? What kind of safeguards are you trying to work through?"
Rodney scratched at an eyebrow with irritation. "I'll explain when I'm done," he said finally, turning his back to John. "It will all make perfect sense. You'll see the beautiful elegance in it all."
"Beautiful elegance?" John said.
He started to say something more, but Rodney put up a finger. "Busy, remember?"
John frowned. He didn't like this situation one bit. Something on one of the monitors caught John's eye. When he looked more closely at another nearby one, he saw there were actually multiple screens on the monitor, all trained on the different routes one might use to approach auxiliary control. Radek, Teyla, and Ronon were walking down a corridor other than the one John had used, probably on their way to make sure John and Rodney were okay.
Pointing a finger at the monitor, John asked, "Rodney? Why are you monitoring who comes and goes in the area?"
McKay glanced over and gasped in response. He whispered, "Oh no!"
He came to stand beside John and stared at the same monitor with such horror, it caused a chill to go down John's back. "What? Rodney, what is it?"
Rodney went to tap his radio headset, and then he looked at John in a panic. "God, I don't have my radio! You've got to tell them to get out of there! Now!"
Still confused, but trusting Rodney implicitly, John turned on his radio and almost shouted, "Ronon, get Teyla and Radek out of there!"
One more glance at McKay's face and he added, "Get out of there now!"
Doors closed and locks slid into place all around auxiliary control. On the monitor, the hallway outside of their location started filling with a white gas. Ronon grabbed Radek's arm and started pushing him and Teyla down the hallway. John didn't need to be able to read lips to know Ronon was shouting, "Run!" The three just managed to get through a set of bulkhead doors right before they slid shut.
Rodney went to a keyboard and started typing madly.
John followed him. "What is it, Rodney?"
"No time," Rodney said in a rush. "It's okay. It'll be okay. I'll make it okay."
He was barely finished speaking when he gasped again and said for the second time, "Oh no."
John was growing to hate those two little words. Klaxons started sounding as Rodney wrung his hands together. John raised his voice, trying to break through Rodney's panic. "Rodney, what the hell is going on here?"
Rodney put a hand to his forehead and watched the screen wide-eyed as he stammered, "Their their unexpected approach instigated an an automatic environmental control lockdown on auxiliary control before I had the other components in place."
Ronon's voice came over John's radio, temporarily derailing John's train of thought. "Sheppard? What the hell is going on there?"
Blinking a couple of times, John hoped Ronon would understand he was also talking to Rodney and said, "Wait a second."
Shaking his head, John caught Rodney's arm and turned so he could look directly into Rodney's panicked gaze. "Lockdown? What does that mean?"
John looked around as the details of the past few moments came together for him and understanding dawned. "What would have happened to me if I had arrived a few minutes later than I did?"
McKay's guilty look multiplied several times over and he rubbed a hand across his swollen face. "I wasn't thinking I mean, I was so focused on setting up the faux contagion lockdown that I didn't think to warn anyone about what I was in the process of doing besides, I didn't want to alert the wrong people."
"The wrong people?" John whispered as he bent closer to the monitor, watching Teyla, Ronon, and Radek as they pulled back even further. John wanted to make sure they were safely away before he turned to face Rodney.
When Rodney tried to sidestep him to go across the room, John just tightened his grip on Rodney's arm and growled, "What the hell is going on? Did you just try to gas our own people?"
Rodney shook his head. "It wasn't on purpose and it wasn't lethal "
"McKay!" John shouted. "You better tell me what's going on and you better tell me fast!"
Rodney flinched. He threw up a hand in self-defense and John almost felt sorry about yelling, but then Rodney straightened and pulled his arm from John's grasp. Between the swelling in Rodney's face and his overwhelming jitteriness, Rodney looked bad, really bad. Even so, he stood his ground and raised his chin in defiance.
"You can't tell me you haven't woke up in the middle of the night with nightmares of the Genii or some other force invading Atlantis! Or the way the city's stargate blew up, nearly killing everyone, including yourself, because of outside interferences beyond our control! No, you can't, because you know I'm right, damn it!"
John took a deep breath while Rodney leaned closer. "The iris on the stargate cannot be our only defense!"
John's face scrunched up in confusion and he shook his head without conscious thought. "We have a whole rule book of other defenses, Rodney! You know that. We've learned from our mistakes and used that knowledge to protect Atlantis even better than before."
Rodney grabbed John by the shirt. "We aren't doing enough, damn it! If we don't move decisively, Atlantis will be lost!"
Words failed to come to John's lips. What had happened to the mellow, laid-back version of Rodney that he'd left in the infirmary only hours before? It was all John could do to keep from shaking some sense into the man, but he remembered the abnormal neurotransmitter levels Keller had mentioned. This wasn't a rational Rodney talking to him, but some overblown version.
Crap, he needed Keller's expertise here, but he was going to have to wing it.
He put his hands over Rodney's wrists and gently pulled them away from his shirt as he took a deep breath. He nodded and said, "Okay, Rodney, I hear what you're saying. We can talk about this and figure out a way to do a better job of things, but first you need to reverse the measures you've taken and get your ass back to the infirmary."
Rodney pulled back even further and licked his lips. "I I can't reverse it. At least, not right away."
John studied Rodney for a moment in disbelief. "Why?"
"Because because the defensive system I designed for auxiliary control was activated before it was ready! I I can't just turn back a dial and, voila, everything's back to normal. Not with the kind of stuff I've been working with!"
"What kind of stuff is that?"
Rodney swallowed hard. "Let's just say we're stuck here for a while until I can reprogram some things."
Ronon's deep voice was grim as he interrupted over the radio. "Sheppard. What can we do "
John let out a sigh of pure frustration and shook his head, speaking to both Ronon and Rodney. "Just just listen for a second."
He took a deep breath and looked into Rodney's eyes. "Rodney, you're sick sicker than you know. You need to be back in the infirmary."
Rodney started to scratch his scalp, but caught himself and straightened his shoulders. "What are you talking about? I'm fine. Well, except for the aftereffects of an allergic reaction. I've got enough to worry about here without having to watch Jennifer's every move."
John was taken aback. A Rodney McKay not complaining about at least one ailment was alien to him. Rodney must have caught some hint of John's reaction, because he patted him on the shoulder, then gestured with his head to one corner of the room.
"Don't worry. I moved a month's worth of provisions in here, just in case. It won't take me long to have all of the city's automatic systems funneled through here so I can have control of everything important."
John shook his head. "We don't need to control everything important. We need to get out of here. Keller is worried about you. I'm worried about you, too."
Rodney gave him a quick smile, as if touched by his concern, and then said, "Thanks. I will get us out of here, but it's just not going to happen quickly. Granted it would go faster with more manpower, but that's not possible right now. Just just try to relax. I can make this okay."
John chewed on his lip, not quite sure how to handle Rodney in his altered state of mind. Normally, he'd goad him for not being smart enough or fast enough, knowing that would spur him to pull his usual 'pulling a rabbit out of the hat' type of miracle, but now with Rodney like this... John was unsure.
The confident McKay persona wavered and Rodney stepped away from John, wringing his hands absently, as if unable to stop himself from moving. "You see, I tried to correct the alterations in the computer's programming before I realized I had to move much faster and that I'd have to take more drastic measures in hand than I'd originally planned."
He caught Rodney's eye. "Alterations in the computer's programming?" he asked. This was becoming more and more involved. "What alterations?"
Rodney glanced around with apprehension and shook his head as he began to pace a little and scratched at the palms of his hands. "You haven't seen it? How could you not see it? It's so obvious! So damned obvious! There's a plot to overtake Atlantis!"
Rodney's accusation stunned John, so much that he couldn't speak for a moment. This was going pear-shaped. "By whom?" he uttered finally.
There was a monitor a few feet away and Rodney pointed at it. The screen showed Ronon, Teyla and Radek walking down a more distant corridor. Both Teyla and Ronon were on the radio. John knew Ronon was listening to their conversation and Teyla was probably talking with Lorne or Woolsey, maybe both. Radek stopped to access a computer terminal while conversing with someone else.
John squinted at Rodney before he stuck a finger in the direction of the monitor. "You can't be talking about them, Rodney. Snap out of it. Those are your friends. Two of them are members of your team. Each one has saved your life countless times!"
Rodney chewed on his lip, then shook his head. "Maybe not them per se, but I really think people from within the expedition are involved. I can't be certain until more data is processed, but it's gotta be someone pretty high up. I mean, my God, it would have to be high up to achieve a security breach of this magnitude."
John swallowed, trying to figure out the best way to play this out. He put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Rodney, you should have told me about this about what you were doing here. I could have helped you. It didn't need to become confrontational."
Rodney took John by the arm and ushered him toward another terminal. "John, you have no idea about the extent of their infiltration into the city's systems. They could they could have killed everyone in the city with no one the wiser until it was too late."
John nodded. "When did you discover all of this?"
"This evening, after I left the infirmary."
John's breath caught. Crap, it had to be related to Rodney's altered neurotransmitters and whatever was causing Rodney to be so paranoid.
John forced himself to nod. "Good thing you found out about this. We're going to have move fast."
Rodney nodded in response. "Yes, yes, exactly. With the two of us working, we can solve the problem so much faster. Here, you take this terminal. I've isolated a segment of the basic operating code that is the most vulnerable to alteration. Look for breaks in the code that might indicate corruption points."
John followed Rodney's instructions, waiting for a moment where he could incapacitate him without hurting him too badly. Crap, who knew what damage Rodney had already done to the city's systems?
Rodney stopped when a nearby monitor beeped. John paused. "What's that?"
Rodney's gaze quickly darted over the various monitors and equipment as his mouth gaped open a little in disbelief. "A power buildup. I rerouted things to this location pretty quickly. I had to otherwise, I would have been caught and stopped before the plan was in play."
"And?" John waited, knowing deep down he didn't want to hear the reply. "What now?"
Rodney swallowed hard and went into what was now his mantra. "It's okay. It's okay. I can make it okay. I can fix this. I just need to isolate the buildup and contain it."
The last two times Rodney had said he could fix things hadn't proved to be that successful, John thought with a sigh. He saw one of the operational computers flashing across the room.
"The overload must be over there," John said as he took several steps in that direction, intending to find the source.
John's gaze stopped when he heard McKay mutter, "Oh, crap."
He recognized Rodney's tone of despair, the one that meant they were truly screwed, then Rodney shouted, "Sheppard, get away from there! It's going into critical overload!"
John didn't need to be told twice. He turned and ran towards Rodney, sweeping out with his good arm in an effort to shield Rodney as much as possible from the impending explosion. He managed to push Rodney down to the floor, but before he could follow, the ensuing explosion threw John up and across the room. He collided with the raised control modules of a work station and its unmoving edges, then went over that and into some computer equipment, hitting several different surfaces. Pain erupted in his injured arm as well as his ribs, abdomen, and head.
He heard Rodney shouting his name, but he couldn't catch his breath enough to speak and then his consciousness faded fast. All he could think of was who would help Rodney now, but he knew there was no one but him, and he couldn't do a damn thing about it.
John groaned, vaguely aware that the sound came from his own lips. His thoughts were jumbled as he fought his way back to consciousness. Off in the distance, he could hear Rodney muttering and he listened for a moment without moving.
Rodney was talking very fast fast even for Rodney so fast John couldn't follow all of it, though what he did understand alarmed him.
Rodney moved closer and John was able to make out what he was saying. "This was so not my fault! How could I possibly know things would work out like this? I was just trying to protect Atlantis. Why did Sheppard have to come here, anyway? Why? If he hadn't been distracting me, I would have caught the overload then no explosions so he wouldn't have been hurt. No, this so wasn't my fault."
John coughed. Air that stunk of burnt wiring burned his airways, but he couldn't detect any lingering smoke, though who knew how long he'd been out and what had happened while he was. John checked his bandaged left arm. The wrapping had lost some of its well defined edges, but had basically held up despite the explosion. He put his right hand on his ribs, probing gently, sucking in a low slow breath to keep from gasping when he touched an especially tender area.
It sounded like Rodney was moving, crisscrossing the room at a brisk pace.
John cracked his eyes open enough to see he was covered with Rodney's jacket. If Rodney had looked crazed before, it had only worsened as he stopped and came towards where John lay on the floor.
"Why, Sheppard?" Rodney asked, holding out a hand. "Why do you always complicate my life so much? You shouldn't have come here, damn it!" Rodney paused, and his voice was much softer as he added, "But then you usually wind up saving my ass in the end. Oh, God, what did I do?"
Rodney sighed heavily and ran a hand through his short cropped hair. He sounded tired and wired at the same time as he said, "If only Jennifer could get in here. She could help you "
Rodney stopped short. "No, she can't. We're in lockdown. So I need to open things up as fast as I can " He paused and John could practically feel the unspent energy roiling off him. "But what about the plot to invade Atlantis? I can't leave Atlantis unprotected. Damn, what do I do?" He pulled at his hair. "What the hell do I do now?"
John cleared his throat and said, "Just use that genius brain you keep telling me about to figure it out. You know better than anyone else how to fix this. Trust your gut."
Relief washed visibly over McKay and he knelt at John's side. "Oh thank God! I thought you were going to die on me!"
"Can't, mostly because it would really screw with my plans for the weekend. Remember? Going surfing on the mainland."
"You're going surfing. Ronon's going surfing. Me and Teyla are going to relax."
John took a careful breath and glanced up at Rodney, his gaze sweeping over Rodney's still swollen face and body as he checked him for injuries. The man was still scratching like crazy, but John couldn't see anything else wrong... other than the obvious. Still, he had to ask anyway, "Are you okay? Did you get hurt in the explosion?"
Rodney shook his head. "For reasons I can't begin to imagine, I'm okay. I should be lying there beside you with that blast, but I'm not. Not a scratch on me. It's almost like I was meant to come through it unscathed, so that I can save you and Atlantis."
John chewed on the inside of his cheek. Rodney had that awestruck tone to his voice again and his eyes glittered with wonder. John went for sarcastic banter instead of delving into the subject of preordained destiny with McKay.
"Well, get to it already."
Rodney's expression bordered on incredible as he whispered, "No, seriously. I think I emerged unscathed to ensure the safety of you and Atlantis, like it was some divine intervention."
John waved his fingers, mostly because that was all he could move without causing himself pain. "Yeah, yeah, divine intervention. Right. How about doing some intervention of your own, like getting our asses the hell out of here?"
With that, Rodney seemed to vibrate with tension and anxiety, his moods changing faster than John could keep up with. Rodney's guilt-ridden expression was hard to watch as it locked into place. These mood shifts left John feeling helpless and he really hated feeling helpless.
John started to rise, but Rodney stopped him with a hand on his chest. "Don't move. You're injured."
John frowned. "Tell me something I don't know, but it's okay, I'll be fine."
Rodney shook his head as he reached into a duffle bag and pulled out a small bottle of water. He tapped the bottle against the palm of his hand in a nervous gesture. "No, damn it, you won't be. You're bruised and bleeding and have been unconscious. You could be about to die for all I know."
"Ah, thanks for that thought, Rodney, it really helps to boost my spirits."
McKay exhaled sharply with a flash of his usual sense of humor, then asked, "Do you want some water?"
John nodded. Rodney opened the bottle and helped to support John's head as John took a long drink. John pulled away and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth, and then he continued, "Listen, just think positive. I'm still alive."
Rodney replaced the lid on the bottle and held up the bottle of water. "I suppose you're going to say this bottle is half full and I'm going to argue that it's half empty. Some things never change."
"There's nothing wrong with a little positive thinking."
"Yeah, well, you live with your frame of mind and I'll live with mine." Rodney scratched at his hairline by his temple. "How's this for positive? I'm almost positive you have some cracked or broken ribs. The left side of your rib cage is pretty bruised and you've been breathing funny."
John grunted. "Not as funny as you were when we pulled you out of that river."
"Yes, let's mock the concerned friend," Rodney said, his tone bursting with sarcasm. For a moment, things seemed almost normal between them again.
"Why change the way I do things now?" John said.
"Just take it easy, Norman Vincent Peale," Rodney said as he put a hand on John's shoulder, his seriousness almost completely lost in the smirk that appeared with his gentle jibe. "I swear you should be an advance man for the powers of positive thinking."
"Can't. Already got a job. Come on, we've got things to do," John said, shaking his head as he started to sit up. Rodney pushed him back down.
"You're not doing anything. I'll get to work in a second "
Woolsey's voice came over the intercom system. "Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay, please respond if you can. We detected an explosion in your area several minutes ago and have been trying to hail you without response. Please respond if you can and if you can't, just know we are working to find a way to get to you."
Rodney's head pivoted as Woolsey spoke, taking in the surveillance monitor above them, which showed Woolsey with Lorne, Ronon, Teyla and Zelenka, along with several others rapidly filling in the rec room being used as a command center on the video feed.
Rodney cursed under his breath.
John raised his head. "Rodney, why aren't you answering him?"
Rodney turned back to John and sneered, "Why should I talk to him?"
Just like that, Rodney went from John's friend to a perfect stranger. There was fear and anger and agitation coming off McKay in huge waves. Rodney was preparing to move away, but before he could get too far, John caught his forearm and held onto it.
"You have to trust them, Rodney. There is no plot. They only want to help us."
Rodney shook his head and pulled away from John's grasp. "Sure, sure, they want to help... Help themselves right in here so they can prevent me from derailing the traitors and their devious plot."
John sighed and closed his eyes. "Rodney," he said.
Rodney patted him on the arm. "Don't worry, I'll take care of you. I just need to do a few things before I can tend to you properly."
"Listen, Rodney "
Rodney stood before John could grab him. John tried to follow him, but fell back to the floor when the movement nearly sent him back to unconsciousness.
"Rodney," he said hoarsely, putting out his hand.
"Sorry, no time to stop," Rodney said without looking back as he walked across the room to one of the main computer consoles.
Realizing he was still wearing his radio, John quietly double-tapped his headset and whispered, "This is Sheppard, can anyone read me?"
Zelenka came on the line, speaking very quickly, "Colonel Sheppard! Thank goodness! We were very worried when we could not raise you on the radio. How are you?"
John watched Rodney for a long moment to make sure he was paying more attention to what he was doing than what John was up to. Still whispering, John said, "I can't say much. I'll leave my radio open. You can talk to me, but I might not be able to respond directly."
"Understood," Woolsey said. "Can you at least update us on your situation?"
John shook his head, only to realize they couldn't see his response. He said quietly, "Rodney's definitely not himself. Get Keller and stand by. Going quiet."
John had just finished speaking when Rodney turned around to check on him. John nodded. "How's it look, Rodney?"
McKay shook his head as he scratched his back. "I'm way behind schedule. I'll never get all of the systems switched over at this rate. It's going slow, way too slow. I've got to find a way to pick up speed."
Seeing an opportunity to update the others, John said, "So, routing all of the city's vital systems through auxiliary control will enable you to prevent the plot you've uncovered to gain control of city by parties unknown?"
Rodney looked at him strangely for a moment, and then nodded.
"What if our people pick up on the transfer and try to stop you?"
"It's already too late to stop me they just don't know that yet."
John nodded as Rodney turned back to face his computer screen. They do now, buddy, he thought.
Zelenka's voice was quite serious as he said quietly, "Yes, we have already detected some of the changes and are working on a way to restore normal operations, Colonel."
Woolsey spoke, "Just relay us information as you can, Colonel, and we'll continue to work on finding a way inside to help you and Doctor McKay."
Lorne came on the radio. "Sir, we will also be monitoring the chatter to find a tactical advantage. Pass along any information as you can. We'll get you out of there soon."
"Roger tha," John said quietly, his voice breaking off when he moved the wrong way.
Woolsey spoke, "Colonel, you sound like you are injured. Do you need medical assistance?"
John paused, then said, "McKay needs it more."
"I see," Woolsey said cautiously. "So I take it that means you're hurt badly enough to be unable to take care of the situation with Doctor McKay on your own."
John didn't reply, mostly because Rodney turned to check on him again. This time, he looked a little suspicious. "Did you just say something to me?"
John shook his head. "No," he said, "Just muttering under my breath. Moved the wrong way."
Rodney watched him for another moment before his expression softened. He nodded and turned back to his console. "Maybe you should get some rest. I'll be at this for a while."
"No problem," he said with a nod. Rodney didn't glance back at him.
John went to take a deep breath, only to gasp and hold his abdomen tightly. "Damn," he whispered.
"Colonel?" Woolsey asked anxiously.
John just tapped his headset twice to let them know he'd heard them but couldn't speak.
Woolsey sighed. "Very well. Do the best you can. We will be monitoring this channel and working diligently to get through to both of you. Woolsey out for now."
John cautiously touched his ribs again, then explored the surrounding area of his upper abdomen. Nausea swept over him in the next instant after pressing against the tender spot and it left him sweaty and shaky. It wasn't outside the realm of possibility there might be some internal injury as a result of his collision with the work station following the blast.
John scratched his forehead and found a goose egg on his right temple that was sticky with blood. Damn, he didn't have time for this. He had to get Rodney to the infirmary one way or another.
Jennifer hurried from the transporter to the base of operations that had been set up in an unused lab near auxiliary control. The weight of the medkit hanging from her shoulder seemed especially heavy, but not as heavy as the guilt she now bore. Things couldn't have gone any worse with Rodney if she had deliberately choreographed the events herself.
The mere fact that he had sealed off auxiliary control while in control of many of the city's main systems was frightening. It was compounded by the fact that there had been an explosion and now Sheppard was apparently injured. Rodney would not be in the right frame of mind to deal with such power and control.
Woolsey had asked her to come to the scene in order to provide more information on Rodney's condition and to be on standby for immediate medical care. Jennifer was surprised to see the number of people who were milling about, all directed at performing various tasks, apparently following orders.
She saw Ronon across the room first, mostly because he towered over the crowd, then she noticed he was with Woolsey, Lorne, Zelenka and Teyla. Ronon looked frustrated as she approached. He pointed a hand toward auxiliary control and asked Doctor Zelenka, "Why can't we just blast our way in there?"
Jennifer tried hard not to smile, remembering how Ronon had blasted his way through the Daedalus when Todd and his people had taken control of the space vessel. The tactic had helped on the Daedalus, but this wasn't the same situation at all.
Zelenka shook his head. "We really don't want to do that unless we have no other alternative. Not with the adaptations Rodney has done to the computers and the city's systems. He has effectively bound our hands for a frontal assault."
Major Lorne rubbed the back of his neck. "Okay, if we can't storm in there, we at least need to see what's going on in there, Doc, and we need it now."
"I'm working on it, but Rodney has put up many roadblocks." Radek chewed on his lip. "It will not be easy to override the barriers Rodney has created, and it will be especially difficult to do so without being noticed. It's a good thing I know how his mind operates and I should be able to work around most of it at least enough to access a video camera, maybe sound, too, but the rest Well, the rest could take considerable time."
"Unfortunately, time isn't something Doctor McKay has a lot of," Woolsey said with his arms folded in front of him. "And perhaps Colonel Sheppard, either."
He glanced at Jennifer, as if noticing her presence for the first time. "Ah, Doctor Keller, thank you for joining us."
Jennifer studied Woolsey. His calm, measured voice sounded like he was thanking her for attending a cocktail party instead of a standoff situation. He smiled and continued, though his expression became more solemn and she could see tension in his body language. The man was anything but relaxed.
He asked, "Doctor, could you go into more detail about Doctor McKay's condition? We need as much information as possible so we can make an informed decision as to how to tackle this incident."
She set the medkit on a nearby table. "If things are continuing on the same course they were when I conducted my tests on Rodney earlier this evening, then I would have to say we have a very urgent situation."
"You mentioned something about abnormal levels in Doctor McKay's neurotransmitters?"
Lorne put up a hand to quiet them for a moment. "Let's get Colonel Sheppard in on this. It will be intel he needs to hear."
He pointed to Zelenka, who nodded and pressed some buttons, then Lorne spoke into his radio. "Colonel Sheppard? We are linking you to this radio, so that you will be able to hear what Doctor Keller is telling us about Rodney. If you are ready, just tap your radio twice."
There was a double click. Zelenka nodded. "Okay, now the colonel can hear our conversation, too."
"Okay, well," Jennifer started, then paused, wondering how she could explain things in a way everyone there would easily grasp. "As far as what caused Rodney's condition, we have some facts, but not nearly enough."
She licked her lips as she thought for a moment. "Most of the time our body's neurotransmitters operate without incident, but, sometimes, life's difficulties begin to impact and change our neurotransmitter levels. Like an overheated automobile, we begin to have difficulty operating properly."
She paused. "With Rodney, something threw his neurotransmitter levels totally out of whack. It might have been the pollen, the allergic reaction, the treatment we used to deal with the allergic reaction, or something else completely, but whatever it was, it was significant enough to wipe out some of Rodney's neurotransmitters while dramatically elevating others. Rodney's dopamine levels were high. We saw some of its effects in the infirmary earlier this evening."
Teyla studied her. "Rodney's relaxed behavior?"
Jennifer nodded. "Rodney was almost euphoric, despite the fact he was reeling from two near death experiences. His serotonin levels were high, too, which helps to explain his laid back, blissful state of mind. With mild elevations, the effects are pleasurable, but things change when they go too high."
Jennifer put her hands on her hips as she thought for a moment. "Those who know Rodney well will think the symptoms I'm about to mention are commonplace with him, but I'll list the effects of too much dopamine and/or serotonin anyway: irritability, edginess, an increase in the startle reflex, jumpiness, restless sleep, etcetera, but those are minor things when compared to the bigger picture."
"The bigger picture?" Woolsey asked.
Jennifer took a deep breath and nodded. "As Rodney's dopamine and serotonin levels increase, the 'high' we saw earlier will dissolve into nervousness and agitation, suspicion and paranoia."
"That's already going on, Doc," Lorne said. "We've been listening to McKay's rambling with Sheppard for the last half hour and I swear it's gotten worse in that short time."
Jennifer nodded. "As I feared. What we have to watch for now are signs of hallucinations, delusions, and the inability to separate his inner world from the real world. Things can grow worse from there, up to and including death."
She paused for a moment as the others reacted to the information. "The last test I performed on Rodney showed his norepinephrine levels were also rising. A panic attack is the equivalent of your automobile's dashboard warning lights coming on indicating a very high stress level. Rodney has dealt with panic attacks before, but he's been better at controlling them in the last few years. Panic attacks can also be called surges of norepinephrine, something Rodney is quite familiar with.
"One of the neurotransmitters that can help regulate norepinephrine is GABA. By inhibiting the effects of norepinephrine, it reduces the brain's excitability. Unfortunately, Rodney's GABA levels are quite low, hence Rodney will feel the effects of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine all the more acutely. Glutamine is another neurotransmitter. It regulates the fear response. That was also quite low, meaning Rodney's real or imagined fears could run totally rampant."
She shook her head. "It's bad, really bad, and I need to begin treating him as soon as possible to correct those imbalances. Worst case scenario, the elevations in Rodney's heart rate and blood pressure could become life-threatening, and that's not adding in the effects of those abnormal levels on the rest of the body's systems. We need to get in there and soon."
Lorne let out a long breath. "Well, Zelenka and his team of combat engineers are working to see if they can find a way around the blocks McKay's put in place. Everyone knows we've got to get in there ASAP."
Teyla caught Jennifer's eye. "Could there be any correlation with the parasite infestation Rodney had last year and the abnormal neurotransmitter levels Rodney has now?"
Keller stared at Teyla for a moment, her eyes widening. "It might. I mean, it might have compromised his nervous system enough to be more vulnerable to an imbalance of this type in the neurotransmitter levels. I hadn't thought of that. Good point, Teyla."
Teyla smiled graciously. "Only if it becomes useful."
Ronon scratched at the beard on his chin. "I knew McKay's good mood was too good to be real."
Then he rolled his head on his neck in obvious frustration, nearly growling, "There's got to be something we can do to help."
Woolsey nodded. "I can understand that sentiment, Ronon. I'm feeling it most acutely myself at the moment. We just have to be ready to move when the opportunity arises."
Jennifer looked at Ronon, then at Teyla. "The two of you volunteered to go back to the planet earlier to collect plant and pollen samples. Are you still willing to do that?"
Both nodded vigorously. Their enthusiasm made Jennifer smile. "I need more information about what we're dealing with. If you could get us some samples, it would be an enormous help to my people."
Teyla glanced at Ronon, then at Jennifer. "Consider it done. We will leave immediately," she said, already stepping away.
Woolsey stopped her. "Take a jumper and a team of marines. Time is of the essence and it will be dark there now. I recall reading that there are a variety of dangerous nocturnal predators in those forests."
Ronon grunted and started walking away. "You can send whoever you want, but we're leaving the moment the jumper is ready."
Lorne looked at one of his men. "Get Stackhouse and his team to the jumper on the double." He glanced at Ronon. "I'd take you back myself if I wasn't needed here."
Teyla nodded. "We will return as quickly as we can."
Then she rushed to catch up with Ronon.
Chuck came up to Doctor Zelenka and spoke quietly to him as he pointed to a tablet computer. When Radek looked up as Chuck left, his expression held relief. "There might be a way to override the contagion lockdown Rodney has activated on the auxiliary control room's entry points. My team is working on it as we speak, though it's going to be very tricky to do so without alerting Rodney. I'm going to join them."
Woolsey nodded, then his gaze went distant as he looked toward the ceiling and spoke into his radio. "We'll get back to you, Colonel, when we have more information."
There was a double tap, then Zelenka pressed a button ending the conference call. He glanced at Woolsey and Jennifer. "If you will excuse me."
Woolsey nodded just as one of his aides brought a tray of coffee cups. Woolsey handed a cup to Jennifer and then took one for himself. "I believe we will need this. I'm afraid we might be here for the night."
Jennifer nodded and held the cup of coffee to her mouth, inhaling its rich scent. She wasn't really a coffee person, but at this hour, she would take what she could get. Woolsey was probably right. If they were lucky, they'd get through before daybreak. If not, they'd need a whole lot more than coffee.
Jennifer's words kept echoing through John's thoughts long after the radio conversation was over. "As Rodney's dopamine and serotonin levels increased, the 'high' we saw earlier would have dissolved into nervousness and agitation, suspicion and paranoia...
"What we have to watch for are signs of hallucinations, delusions, and the inability to separate his inner world from the real world. Things can grow worse from there, up to and including death."
Jennifer rarely sounded as grim as she had right then and worry for Rodney was evident in her every syllable.
John wondered what the Jennifer of John's alternate time line would have thought of all this the Jennifer who had loved and married Rodney, the time line where originally Teyla hadn't been rescued from Michael. Teyla had died, along with Ronon and Carter. The Rodney McKay of that time line had devoted the rest of his life to the sole purpose of saving John, so that he and the others could rescue Teyla and restore all that had ever been good in their lives on Atlantis.
What would that Jennifer have told John to do with this altered version of Rodney, a version where practically any mood could be seen from one moment to the next. Would she say be gentle with him? Or intimidating?
John shook his head. He had no idea what he should do.
Unfortunately, Jennifer's medical prediction of what Rodney would be experiencing was spot on. Rodney stood at the main computer console, debating with himself. Not only were Rodney's moods shifting, but so was his concentration. "If I initiate that system, then it will slow down the integration of the... but but if I don't activate it, then that whole system will Oh, God, what do I do? I have to think. Just stop and think. I do it all the time. Why is it so hard to think now?"
Rodney was unraveling before John's very eyes. "How's it going, buddy?" he called out.
Rodney shook his head as he scratched a shoulder. "I I can't decide which is more important bypass the self-destruct system or monitor the system for signs of an outside attack or finish the rerouting of the system reconfiguration, then there's that anomaly in the software we uploaded from the Coalition last week that needs to be looked at more closely... What what do you think, John?"
Rodney craned his neck around to look at John with a frantic cast to his expression as his fingers raked across the base of his neck. Before John could reply, Rodney put his fingers up to his face and went off on another tangent.
"Geez, I wish I could stop scratching. Jennifer was right. Scratching just makes it worse. But but my face doesn't feel quite as puffy. Do you think the swelling's going down?"
Rodney's fingers fluttered around the edges of his cheeks as he paced. Rodney needed a mirror, John decided, because if he had one, he could see for himself that the swelling in his face was just as grotesque as it had been in the infirmary, if not worse from all of Rodney's exertion.
It also wasn't a good sign that he looked just as sweaty and breathless as he had after John had regained consciousness. Rodney couldn't keep up his constant moving indefinitely. His body just had too much working against him for that.
"Easy. You'll get it done," John said softly. "Why don't you take a break? You've been going at it pretty hard for a while."
Rodney started to respond, but then his gaze darted around the area and he shrank back against the console he'd been standing by. John raised his head, wondering what was going on now.
"Rodney?" he asked.
"No! No, you can't be here. You're lying. You always lied," Rodney stammered as his gaze darted all around the room.
John raised his head, his heart pounding a little harder as he tried to see what Rodney saw. "Rodney? What's going on?"
Rodney gaped at John. "Can't you hear him? Can't you hear him threatening us?"
"Kolya! But he's dead. I saw his dead body myself," Rodney said as he started to hyperventilate. He pointed at an empty corner and shouted, "Be quiet, Kolya! John killed you! I saw him do it! He killed you and you're dead! You're dead!"
John held a hand out to Rodney. "That's right, Rodney, Kolya is dead. What you're hearing isn't real."
"No, no, he's talking to me, taunting me, in fact can't you hear him? He says he's got another way in here and that when he gets here, he's going to carve out my heart with the same knife they used to cut my arm."
John shook his head. "No, Rodney, listen to me, only to me. What you're hearing isn't real. Listen to my voice. I wouldn't lie to you."
Rodney's gaze suddenly seemed to bore a hole into John's heart. "No, you wouldn't, would you? Not about this, especially not after what Kolya did to you in that prison of his Okay, I - I believe you, even though it's damned hard to tell myself Kolya isn't going to kill me after hearing him threaten me so clearly."
"No, Rodney, it's all in your head. You're sick. That's why you need to get back to the infirmary. You're just hearing things that aren't really there."
Rodney put a hand to his temple. He looked at John, as if in a moment of clarity. "Something's really wrong with me, isn't it? I can't stop my mind from racing in twenty directions at the same time. I can't I can't " His voice broke off and he shook his head.
"Damn," he whispered. "I should be thinking about you and how to get you the medical care you need and all I can think about are imaginary voices and the way my face looks," he said quietly, but his tone was full of emotion. "Some friend I am."
John raised his head. "No, Rodney, you're a good friend. You're a very good friend. Just try and do one thing at a time. Which system do you need to tackle first to release the contagion lockdown that's keeping us in here?"
Rodney's gaze darted over to the environmental console, but he didn't make any move toward it right away. Instead, he hung his head. "There's too much there's just too damned much that needs to be addressed and so very little time in which to do it. And there's more than just the contagion lockdown to deal with, though that's the most crucial system involved in the lockdown."
He began to pace again, his hands waving in the air, and John knew he'd just lost Rodney to his madness again. "I need to think bigger. By incorporating all the data I have, I can figure out who's behind the plot to take over Atlantis and get us out of here. That's my problem, I haven't been thinking big enough!"
"No, Rodney," John whispered.
Rodney stopped at a console and began typing something, his head bobbing up and down. "Yes, yes, that's it."
Damn it, John thought, I need to help Rodney, not lie here like some useless floor mat.
He rolled over onto his side, preparing to get to his feet, but started coughing instead. John's vision grayed at the edges as the coughing flared the pain in his abdomen to the point where he was sure he was about to pass out.
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder gently patting him as he was rolled back onto his back. In his haze of semi-consciousness, a water bottle was placed to his lips. John drank the water greedily, knowing it would help quiet the coughing and also help hydrate him.
John pulled away and Rodney capped the bottle again. Rodney ran a hand through his hair and pointed to where John's fist was pressed lightly against his abdomen. "Let me check those bruises again," he said, gently pushing away John's hand.
Rodney's mouth dropped open a little when he pulled up John's shirt. John glanced down and saw what Rodney had seen. His ribs certainly were covered in bruises, but his abdomen had the darkest, scariest ones. When Rodney started to probe the area, John gasped and smacked his hand away.
"I'm fine," he said hoarsely.
"Oh, you so are not fine!" Rodney shook his head. "God, you need medical attention and you need it fast. I'll drop everything and work on "
John put a hand on Rodney's knee to stop him from getting up, deciding to play up the dying angle with Rodney maybe that would get through to him when nothing else would. "I think you might be right this time, Rodney. I need for you to open things up for a medical team to get in here ASAP. I think it's bad. I I might not make it without your help."
John met Rodney's eyes and held them. Rodney's gaze became distant as he looked upward, deep in thought and said, "If I can bypass a few of the subsystems' main routers, I might be able to speed things up, but if I don't do it just right, it could well, it could... "
John raised his head from the floor. "What?"
Rodney's gaze turned rock hard as he glanced back down at him. "It could cause a dramatically more significant overload than the one that blew you up and it would probably destroy auxiliary control."
John gave him a crooked smile. "Then I suggest you don't do that."
Rodney chuffed. "Ya think?"
He looked down at John. "Is there is there anything I can do for you? Are you in a lot of pain?"
John let his head lull to one side. "I can handle it."
Rodney chewed on a fingernail as he paused and thought again. "You know," Rodney said, "it wouldn't be that hard to "
He broke off abruptly and glanced around at the various monitors. "Crap," he whispered after a few moments.
John followed his gaze. "What?"
"I shouldn't have let my attention wander," Rodney said angrily.
John kept looking around for some clue as to what set off McKay's anger. "What?" he repeated.
Rodney was already up and moving toward the main console. "They're making a move," he said tensely.
John's gaze swept over the screens. He couldn't see anything wrong at first, until he saw what Rodney was staring at. One of Lorne's men had managed to get into a ventilation shaft. The flashing signs of movement were what had alerted Rodney to the attempted break-in into auxiliary control. John put out a hand.
"Rodney," he warned.
Rodney shook his head. "Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt him! But, damn it, you can bet if I had tried a maneuver like that they'd come after me with everything they've got."
He punched several keys, then hit the intercom. "You better get your man out of there in the next minute, Lorne, or I'll flush those vents with halogen gas."
On the screen that showed Woolsey's base of operations, there was a rapid flurry of activity people changing positions, typing in urgent orders, and other people showing up to join the group.
John pulled his gaze away from what was happening there and repeated more emphatically, "Rodney."
Rodney nodded several times. "And you call me paranoid!" Rodney pointed at the screen. "That's an excellent reason to keep a constant vigil right there!"
John shook his head. "With the decontamination grid still up, there's no way that man could have gotten in through to us anyway. You know that as well as I do."
"Yeah, but it's a sign. They aren't going to back down until we're both in cuffs or dead."
"That's a pretty big leap "
"Shush!" Rodney said, his head whipping around, his gaze darting about until he stopped to stare at one empty corner of the room in horror. John squinted slightly to see what Rodney saw, but there was nothing there.
What now? he wondered.
"No, no, no, no. Not that not Collins!"
John blinked in confusion. "Who?"
"Collins. You know, Doctor Dwight Collins, the scientist we lost at Doranda. It isn't enough my dreams are haunted with memories of what happened that day. Now, they're trying to stab at my heart with images of his dead body! How are they projecting that in here?"
Rodney began to canvas the area, searching for a projector of some sort.
"Oh crap, that Collins," John whispered, wondering if they were going to be visited by every dead guy Rodney had ever known.
Rodney slapped his hands over his ears. "No, not the screams... How could they be so cruel?"
He began to back away until he ran into a console. John had seen Rodney terrified on numerous occasions, but this time, Rodney was going into a full blown panic attack.
"Oh God," Rodney whispered as he started to hyperventilate. He pressed his hands harder over his ears and trembled violently as he whispered, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
John pulled himself upright, one hand pressed against his abdomen, the other held out to Rodney. Grinding his teeth together against the pain, nausea, and dizziness that erupted at the movement, John managed to stand. It was only a few steps to Rodney, but it seemed like it was a marathon.
As he finally approached his old friend, Rodney was now rigid with fear. John made another staggering step forward, both arms wrapped around his middle. Taking in big gulps of air, he reached out to touch Rodney.
"It's okay, buddy. You're okay. Just take a deep breath and listen to my voice."
"J-John?" Rodney said, his voice breaking as his eyes radiated with unabashed fear.
"Yeah, it's me, Rodney. Close your eyes and listen to my voice. There's nothing here that will hurt you. You've got to trust me."
Rodney closed his eyes, and then shook his head. "Can't you hear him screaming? Oh God..."
John gave a quick sigh. "Rodney, there never were any screams from Collins. It all happened too fast. He was gone in an instant. Just listen to me and shut everything else out. I can get you through this. You just have to trust me."
Rodney's breathing slowed down a little and he rasped, "I I don't do well with trust issues."
"I know, but just try to be quiet and listen to me."
Rodney opened his eyes and his chin trembled uncontrollably. "I'm so scared," he whispered. "My heart is pounding so hard I think it's going to explode from my chest."
John put his hand to Rodney's shoulder. "Take a couple of deep breaths and listen to me. I'll keep you safe, okay? Nobody's gonna hurt you. I'm here and together we'll get out of this."
Rodney took a deep breath, his gaze never wandering from John, and he nodded. It was a tentative nod, but it was encouraging.
John gave Rodney a smile and squeezed his shoulder again before he let go of him. "Do you still hear the screams?"
Rodney's gaze darted around and he shook his head, closing his eyes in embarrassment. "No, it's quiet now." He paused, then whispered, "What's wrong with me?"
John patted Rodney on his shoulder. "This isn't your fault. You're sick, but Keller can fix it. We've just got to get you to her. Now, focus on what we need to do. I'll help as much as I can "
Without warning, the room spun around John and he swayed widely, almost toppling over.
Rodney's eyes widened as he reached out with both hands to help steady him. "Oh, God, you better lie down."
Cursing under his breath, John nodded and let Rodney help him back to the floor. If John passed out, Rodney would lose his only contact with the real world and Rodney couldn't afford a loss like that.
By the time John was lying down again, the room was really spinning in high speed revolutions, but none of that mattered. He had to help Rodney. His friend was getting worse by the minute. The bottom line was they had to get out of there before one of them died.
Jennifer saw Teyla and Ronon rushed back into the staging area. Teyla was a little breathless as she said, "We left the flower samples with the medical lab and came directly here. What have we missed?"
Jennifer sighed and shook her head. "It's not good. Rodney's condition is quickly deteriorating. He's started having hallucinations "
She paused when Rodney started ranting again. Radek had managed to get a video feed from auxiliary control, then patched into Sheppard's radio, so they could see and hear what was happening there on a small laptop. Radek had placed the laptop in a blind spot where Rodney couldn't pick it up on his video cameras, just to be safe.
Jennifer glanced over at Teyla and Ronon, but their attention was riveted on the screen before them. Teyla licked her lips. "John does not look well," she said simply.
Jennifer shook her head. "No, he isn't well, not well at all. After watching him for a while and by what they've said on the radio, I can only guess he has some type of internal injury."
"Rodney, Michael isn't here," John said, his voice sounding very frail.
Ronon sighed. "You said he's seeing things?"
"Yes, and it will only get worse from here. They both need medical attention and they need it now."
Ronon looked toward where Lorne, Radek and Woolsey were talking. "Any progress finding a way to get in there?"
Jennifer sighed. "Not much. Rodney keeps countering Radek's efforts, not realizing he's hindering treatment for himself and Sheppard. He thinks he's protecting Atlantis but the only thing he's accomplishing is bringing about their possible deaths. Radek has the others occupying Rodney while he's working on a specific way to shut down Rodney's systems long enough for Lorne's men to get in there."
Ronon folded his arms in front of him, then Jennifer closed her eyes as they heard John trying to talk Rodney down from another panic attack. "Teyla ended Michael's miserable existence a long time ago, buddy. Breathe, just take slow deep breaths."
Jennifer shook her head. "It's been like that for a while now. Rodney keeps hallucinating and the hallucinations are becoming more involved both auditory and visual."
No one said anything for a moment. In the interim, Sheppard continued talking to Rodney on the radio, their conversation filling the air. "Come on, Rodney, try to chill... "
Teyla's eyes widened with concern when the two men went quiet again. "This is all very disquieting."
Jennifer nodded, her teeth gritted together as she dealt with her own frustration. If only she could have been trapped in there with Rodney, she could be doing something to help the situation instead of standing at the sidelines, impotent.
Finally, Jennifer couldn't stand it any longer. She had to do something. "I'm going to go back to the lab to see if I can speed along the analysis of the flower. I'll send Doctor Kent to be here in case there's a need for immediate medical attention. Otherwise, radio me if something comes up where I can help."
Teyla said, "I will. Good luck with the samples. Hopefully, they can provide more insight into how to treat Rodney."
Nodding, Jennifer walked away.
John watched Rodney work for a moment, cradling his injured arm against his ribs, and then he raised his head in alarm and asked, "Rodney, are you working on the self-destruct system?"
He paused and John knew Rodney had switched channels again as he looked at the control crystals inside the access panel. "Yeah. You know, that configuration of crystals almost looks like an elaborate set of angel's wings, doesn't it? I mean, I've never been a religious man, but some of the things I've seen tonight makes me begin to wonder like I'm meant to be here, doing what I'm doing to save Atlantis like if I wasn't here, Atlantis would be lost. I mean, the spaghetti in the MRE I had while you were out earlier gave me a clue as to how to finish hooking up the last of the power integration controls. Then there was "
Rodney rambled on and on, but John refused to be distracted. "But why do you need to be fooling with the self-destruct?"
Bristling with irritation, Rodney said, "I'm not fooling with anything, thank you kindly. I'm working on the self-destruct system, because I have to prevent any hostile force from initiating it in an effort to destroy us." Rodney paused and glanced over at another access panel. "But if I activate the program I wrote to increase the security protocols on the computer system, that in itself might "
Rodney stopped without warning, got up and walked over to the main computer console, not finishing his sentence, almost as if he'd forgotten John was still in the room.
"Damn it, Rodney," John whispered under his breath.
At the moment, Rodney had the attention of a gnat. He would spring from one thing to the next, barely starting on what was in front of him before dashing off to work on another system. John's main concern was the self-destruct system itself. What he could see of the system graphics from where he lay was alarming to say the least and the open access panel revealed all kinds of scary patches that Rodney had obviously done in a hurry.
Rodney continued, "You know, there's no one on Earth or Atlantis who can do what I'm doing all by myself. I'm not bragging. I'm just stating fact. Hey, I just realized I haven't been as itchy as I was a few hours ago. That's a good thing, don't you think? It was driving me crazy. I had hives once when I was a kid so bad that... "
Careful of his injured left elbow, John turned onto his right side in an effort to mask what he was up to. Rodney continued talking as John whispered, "Radek?"
Zelenka was there almost immediately. "Yes, Colonel?"
"Tell me that you're making progress."
"We are," Radek said and John could see him nodding on the screen above him. "While Rodney is monitoring almost all activity, his attention is spotty enough to allow us to insert an override. I hope to activate the program in the next hour. Once that's up, we should be able to force our way in."
John sighed with relief. He could really use some backup and McKay desperately needed treatment. Lorne spoke next and John could see him leaning over Radek's work station as he looked up at the camera. "I've got men on standby, sir, ready to move in a moment's notice."
"Minimal use of force when you get here. Rodney's already in bad enough shape. Maybe I can talk him into cooperating when the time comes."
"Absolutely, sir. And just in case that doesn't work, there'll be a doctor right behind us, ready to sedate him." Lorne paused. "Because, honestly, sir, the whole cooperating thing hasn't worked well so far."
"He'll listen when it matters," John said, shifting as he tried to find a more comfortable position.
It didn't help that he was chilled to the bone. Even with Rodney's jacket on top of his own, it wasn't enough to take the shivers away.
Rodney approached a monitor displaying the staging area and everyone as they worked. Rodney's scowl was filled with apprehension and disdain.
"Look just look how they stare up at the camera. They know I'm watching."
John tried to minimize the situation, turning onto his back again. "Well, that doesn't exactly take a PhD to figure out, Rodney. Of course, they know you're watching. You have just about every piece of observational equipment in the city at your disposal."
"And I don't like what Zelenka is up to. I wonder what his price was for giving up Atlantis to the highest bidder? I bet it was more than thirty pieces of silver."
Rodney jumped without warning, slamming back into a computer bank, as if he'd just discovered he'd been cornered by a pack of wolves. "Ah, geez," he whispered. His roiling nervousness mushroomed a thousandfold, and he started backing away.
"No, no, stay away," he said, his voice almost a moan of fear as he started to hyperventilate.
"There's no one there, Rodney," John said carefully.
Rodney shook his head, his eyes wide, his breath coming fast and hard as his voice squawked, "It's a Wraith!"
Turning back to the imaginary figure, Rodney waved his hands in front of him and whispered, "No, you don't want to kill me. I may not know who you are, but I have connections with certain Wraith alliances in the area, and in particular with a powerful Wraith queen. Trust me, you don't want to kill me."'
"Rodney," John said firmly. "There are no Wraith in the room."
"Yes, yes, there is. It's right there. Oh, God, we are so dead."
"No, Rodney, look at me."
Rodney seemed to want to listen to John's instructions, but was unable to do it. He put a hand to his shirt to pull the collar away from his throat as if it was restricting his breathing.
John raised his voice and bellowed as loud as he could, "Rodney!"
"Oh God," John moaned immediately, clamping his arms around his middle. Shouting like he'd done felt as if it had caused additional damage to his wounded abdomen. In an instant, he was covered in sweat.
Rodney had thrown up his hands in front of him with John's shout. John felt bad for startling Rodney, but at least he'd gotten his attention.
Rodney glanced around his hands, seeing John again. He turned toward John, almost in a daze, and John continued in a softer tone, "Rodney, you have to trust me. I wouldn't let anything happen to you."
Rodney blinked a few times, his breathing slowing a little, then glanced back at the wall where the imaginary Wraith had been. "It's it's gone now."
"That's good, Rodney," John said softly. "That's really good. Now, how about you take a break? You haven't stopped since I've been here and that's been hours. Come on, sit down."
Rodney started to come closer to John when a monitor beeped.
"Damn it!" Rodney exclaimed and stopped instead.
John raised his head. "What? What is it?"
"Zelenka's goons are making another run at us."
Rodney went to a console and his fingers typed out rapid fire instructions. John bit his lip. Damn Rodney and his brilliance. Even in his compromised state, little got past him.
"Rodney, don't hurt anyone," John called out.
"Don't hurt anyone? They'd certainly try to hurt us! There! Take that, you double-crossing traitors!"
John held his breath as his eyes darted over the various monitors, desperately searching to see what was going on. "What did you do?" he asked breathlessly.
"Don't worry, I didn't hurt anyone. The treacherous scum is still alive. I only blocked their access to the environmental contagion lockdown control system singlehandedly! Nobody ever understands the sheer brilliance of my ideas, but they will now. They will after they see what I did this time."
John swallowed. "What did you do?" he repeated.
Rodney thrust out his chest. "I've saved Atlantis once again, that's what. They think they're smarter than me, but they aren't. Wait "
Rodney paused and looked around, and then his gaze went distant. "Wow, it's almost like I can hear their thoughts in my head. You know, like when I had ESP. Yeah, yeah, it's like that. It's very much like that. That's why they'll never be able to sneak up on me. I'll hear them coming. Ha!"
John sighed and closed his eyes, the pain in his abdomen causing him to curl up. He felt a gentle hand on his back and when he opened his eyes, there was Rodney again, concerned and focused.
"Hang on, John. You're going to be okay. You have to be okay."
"Rodney, we both need doctors. We aren't going to make it without medical help. You have to see that."
Rodney inhaled sharply, his gaze darting upward. "John," he said, awe echoing in his voice. He squeezed John's shoulder. "I can do more than just read minds now, John. I just knew you were going to say that, like I heard it from a future time! I can see the future now. We'll be fine, John. We'll be just fine. Maybe my new powers are like the old ones I had when I was able to heal Ronon's scars. Maybe I can heal your injuries.... "
Rodney started to put his hands close to John's abdomen, then blinked a few times, and his hands went up to his forehead instead. "Oh, wow, I had another flash and saw that Atlantis will emerge from this safely, too. You'll be fine and I'll be better than fine. The true traitors will be punished for their treachery and we'll be okay."
He touched John's arm. "Sometimes, I wonder if the Ancients always meant for someone like me to come here. You know, maybe someone who also had the gift of prophecy and saw that I would be here one day and that I would save Atlantis from certain destruction. It's pretty heady stuff."
John shook his head. "Rodney, we need help. If you've ever trusted me in your life, you have to see that I'm telling you the truth and you have to get us out of here now."
Rodney only smiled and rocked back on his heels. "It's going to be okay. Let me get you something to eat, then I'll get back to work."
John gripped Rodney's forearm. "Rodney, I'm not hungry. I I just want to tell you that I believe you. I believe that you're onto something big, but you have to believe in me, too."
Rodney stopped, the sweaty sheen on his face reflecting the lights in the room as he leaned closer. John thought he saw a quick twitch in the muscles above Rodney's left eyebrow. "You you always believed in me, didn't you, John? I mean, right from the start, you always believed in me. No one's ever done that before. Nobody before Atlantis."
John nodded. "Yeah, I did. Just remember that. I'm your friend. I'm always looking out for what's best for you."
Rodney absently patted John on the arm. "I do trust you, John. With my life. So many times over the years."
John put his hand over the hand Rodney still had resting on his arm. "Then let's get out of here. How much is left to do to release the environmental controls for the contagion lockdown?"
"Not much," McKay started, but then there was loud beeping across the room.
Rodney sighed and wiped at the sweat on his forehead. "Damned self-destruct. It wants to initiate on its own."
John swallowed hard. "Initiate on its own?"
John's gaze flickered over to the screen with the staging area on it. Radek was looking up at the camera. "It's okay, Colonel. It's just something to keep Rodney occupied so I can continue to work on the environmental controls."
John sighed with relief. Rodney hadn't noticed John's brief lack of attention.
In fact, Rodney continued, "I must have patched it into the city's main systems too quickly. I'll have to take it offline for a minute."
For a moment, John didn't know who to believe. As he'd just told Rodney, he was conditioned to trust Rodney's declarations and he found himself saying, "Are you sure?"
McKay laughed and patted John on the leg as he got up. "Don't be such a scaredy-cat. Of course, I can do it. After all, with everything I can do right now, there's no stopping me."
There was a slight pause and Radek said, "Yes, Colonel, I'm sure. This is a glitch of my own making to distract Rodney away from the environmental controls so I can release the lockdown."
"Just make it fast," he whispered to both men.
Closing his eyes against the pain in his gut, John let out a slow breath. At the rate Rodney was spiraling into madness, they didn't have much time left.
"I've almost got the environmental controls released, Colonel," Radek said over John's radio. "Five more minutes at the most."
John opened his eyelids, surprised they had shut when he wasn't paying attention. He was shivering with cold, unable to stay warm no matter how he tried to retain body heat.
"Once the lockdown is released, Major Lorne's team can use C4 to blast their way through the fortified doors Rodney had installed in the auxiliary control area and they'll be there to assist you."
John clumsily reached up and tapped his radio. He went to speak, but coughed instead. Damn, but that hurt. He squeezed his eyes shut as he wrapped his arms around his middle and he thought he was going to be sick for the briefest moment. A low moan escaped his lips in the aftermath.
Rodney was still ranting in the background, so he apparently he hadn't heard John at all. "Damn this self-destruct system. It doesn't want to take my inputted codes at all! That's it! I'm disconnecting the entire system right now!"
Radek started speaking very quickly. "No, no, Colonel, that would be very bad."
John glanced over at Rodney as Radek said, "Rodney should know better. You cannot simply disconnect a self-destruct system without a great deal of preparation, because it is tied into so many systems. I hadn't anticipate a reaction like this from Rodney. You must keep him busy while I reverse what I've done with the self-destruct so that he will relax. Give me a few moments."
John nodded. He licked his lips and called out, "Rodney."
When Rodney didn't respond, he said in a louder tone, "Rodney!"
Rodney spun around, shocking John when he pulled his handgun from his holster and aimed it at John in one swift move. "What?"
There was such madness in Rodney's eyes that John almost didn't recognize him at all. For a long moment, it seemed Rodney didn't recognize him either, and John worried Rodney really would shoot him as his fingers tightened around the weapon.
Then the disorientation passed and Rodney's demeanor dissolved into an apology. He put away his gun and rushed to John's side. "Oh God, John, I'm so sorry. I didn't see you there. I I could have shot Oh God, I almost did shoot you... "
John put a hand on Rodney's forearm and said, "It's okay, Rodney. Really, it is, but I could honestly use your help right now."
He'd decided the truth was the best ploy to use at the moment. "I'm really, really cold. In those supplies that you have, do you have a blanket or something I could use to get warmer?"
Concern flashed in Rodney's eyes. "I've already got the ambient temperature up in here because you were shivering earlier."
He put a hand to John's forehead, then pulled it away. "Your skin is cold and clammy. You're you're in shock. Oh, no, don't die on me please don't die on me."
He moved to put a box under John's feet and grabbed a blanket from another box, fussing as he spread the blanket over John. He rambled, "As soon as I get you situated, I'll try a healing treatment. I should have done this earlier, but I I got distracted with everything else. I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with my head. Can't seem to concentrate on only one thing at a time, but it's okay. I'll make it okay. You'll be fine. And I'll finish what I'm doing. Once that's done, it's just a simple matter of waiting for the IOA to send reinforcements from Earth to help secure our position."
Rodney rubbed his hands together as if to warm them, and took a deep breath before he held his hands over John's abdomen.
"Rodney," John said, desperate to reach the sane, logical Rodney McKay he'd known for so long, but Rodney ignored him.
Instead, Rodney spoke with closed eyes. "Move your hands away, John. I'm going to see what's going on there."
Letting out a sigh of frustration, John did as requested, deciding he'd do whatever it took to keep Rodney busy, even if it meant suffering through an imagined healing session. Then again, it felt like he was betraying Rodney's trust by allowing him to participate in such a farce.
"Give me a minute," Rodney said in a hushed tone, his entire concentration on assessing John's ailments with his imaginary godlike powers and again John thought he saw the muscles of Rodney's exposed skin twitch involuntarily.
Before he could react, Radek's voice came over the radio, nearly startling John. "Good work, Colonel. The contagion lockdown is almost released. Then all we will have to do is break into auxiliary control."
That was Lorne's cue. "Okay, Zelenka has already blocked the use of any gas in the hallways, so McKay can't stop us that way, but he did fortify the entry doors into auxiliary control so we'll have to use some C4 like Zelenka mentioned earlier and that will be a little noisy. We'll try to contain the blast as much as possible, but... well, you get the picture. Give us a minute to set the charges."
John reached up as if to scratch his ear and double tapped his radio instead.
John was surprised when Keller spoke, "Just remember, gentlemen, the last thing Rodney needs right now is something else to tax his overactive nervous system. The initial analysis on the flower sample Teyla and Ronon brought back showed the flower's pollen has some highly psychoactive properties, more than enough to account for the shift in Rodney's neurotransmitters. Added to Rodney's hyperactive immune response, this pollen must have predisposed him to significant problems.
"The bottom line is I now know what I need to do to treat him. I just need to be able to get to him and in the right time frame in order to make a difference. If things progress too far before I can reach him, then I won't be able to save his life."
As Keller spoke, an entire muscle group on Rodney's forearm quivered violently.
"Rodney, are you having muscle spasms?" John asked, looking up at Rodney, hoping he was wrong.
"Muscle spasms," Jennifer asked with concern. "How frequently?"
"Not sure," John said.
Rodney opened one eye and peeked down at him. "Who cares? I'm trying to save your life. Now, shut up."
Rodney closed his eyes and went back to concentrating. Rodney waved his hands gently over John's abdomen, then John noticed Rodney's handgun as it sat in its holster right in front of John.
The only thing John could think of was how that handgun could be a very big problem when the others stormed auxiliary control. He had to get it away from Rodney before anyone came busting in. Rodney was a lousy shot, but who knew what could happen under those conditions. People could get hurt or worse.
Biting his lip, John braced himself, knowing full well what he was about to do was going to hurt like hell, but he forced himself to cough anyway. He made a show of it and dramatically curled up on his right side, reaching up to grab Rodney as if in great pain, but grabbed Rodney's handgun with his right hand while his left hand clutched at Rodney's shirt.
The action startled Rodney and he reacted by shaking off his trance and crouching closer to John in an effort to comfort him. By the time John had returned to laying on his back, he had Rodney's handgun safely tucked underneath him.
Rodney had apparently missed the entire thing, because he was saying, "I I don't understand. The healing treatment should be working by now."
"It's it's helping," John said between gasping breaths, barely having to exaggerate his role of a badly injured comrade. His abdomen hurt like hell and he felt like he was close to passing out. "Just just keep it up."
Rodney nodded and resumed his previous pose. His forehead wrinkled, then smoothed and he began to wave his hands over John's abdomen again.
Rodney stopped suddenly and glanced over at the self-destruct system again, shaking his head. "No, no, I can't leave that half done. I'll be right back."
John grabbed his arm before he got away. "No, Rodney, whatever you were doing was helping. You need to keep it up."
Relief flooded Rodney's expression. "I'm glad it was. I wasn't sure if it would work with my face all swollen like it is and since I didn't drink my pomegranate juice at breakfast. You know, I should probably do a healing session on myself after I finish taking care of you."
John blinked. Rodney was making less sense with each passing minute.
Rodney glanced back over at the self-destruct and pointed a finger at it. "On the other hand, I really need to do something about that self-destruct. I'll be back in just a few seconds, and then I'll finish your healing treatment."
John shook his head. "Rodney, please, just stay with me. You need to rest."
Rodney waved off his concern. "Paraphrasing that old saying, eternal vigilance is the price of survival. I need to make sure they can't get to Atlantis through that self-destruct system. We have to stay on guard, because there are so many who want us to fail, who want Atlantis to fail. It's up to us to keep the city safe."
John met and held Rodney's gaze. "We will keep the city safe. Don't worry."
Rodney nodded and John continued, "You have to believe that there is also good in people. They aren't all bad. There are those who wish us only the best, and there are people who care what happens to you specifically "
John swallowed and added with a smirk, "Even when you are being an ass."
"Being an ass? Nice. Where did that come from?" Rodney snapped sarcastically, sounding more like his old self. "I'm trying to save this city and especially your life, and you're calling me an ass."
John grunted, happy to see old Rodney, if only for a moment. "Sorry, Rodney, but you needed a reality check. You were getting a little too high-and-mighty there."
Rodney made his usual disagreeing noises and John made his plea more emphatically. "Not everyone is out to get you."
Rodney caught John's gaze, pinning him in place with his honesty. "I know that. I mean, I don't think you are out to get me, for example."
John licked his lips. "There are others besides me."
"Damn, will you look at that?" Rodney exclaimed, scrambling to his feet before John could stop him.
Instead of going to the self-destruct, Rodney went to another system. There were lights flashing on the monitor above it, and Rodney raised his voice. "Okay, okay, you want me to look for the good in others? It's pretty damned hard to do that when we have our friends at the Coalition trying to do us in. Remember, their communications array they had us install so that we could directly communicate with them via subspace and not have to worry about activating the gate? Well, from what I've uncovered tonight, that that abomination could very well spell the doom of Atlantis! That's what we get for making friends of enemies! Well, the enemy of my enemy still isn't my friend!"
Rodney turned back to the self-destruct system and was off on another rant and there was no breaking through to get his attention this time.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, the environmental controls are proving more stubborn to release than I first thought," Radek said. "Just a few more minutes."
John sighed. It might as well be a lifetime. If something didn't change soon, well, to quote his old friend, they were so totally screwed.
"Rodney, what are you doing now?" John asked, knowing he had to distract Rodney before he started dismantling the self-destruct system and destroyed them all.
John tried to get up, but dropped back to the floor, feeling too damned weak to do much of anything at all. Rodney spoke without turning around. "I can't I just can't concentrate on anything else until I know that self-destruct isn't going to go off, but maybe I should just ask that clown in the corner what to do... "
John smacked his lips together. Why did the really weird stuff always have to involve clowns?
"Colonel," Jennifer Keller said quietly. "Sorry to interrupt, but I might be able to help here at least until Doctor Zelenka and Major Lorne are ready to move."
"What's that?" John asked softly, still watching Rodney's back.
"Play into the delusions of grandeur Rodney's having right now. He's basically unable to separate reality from his inner thoughts. Play up that angle. That should occupy him long enough for the others to get in there."
"Easier said than done," he muttered.
"I can help. Call to him."
John blinked a few times, trying to get a handle on what Keller was telling him to do. "Rodney," John said. There was no response.
"Rodney, you need to listen to me," he said in a louder tone.
Rodney nodded. "Yeah, that's what I just said."
"But you didn't say anything."
"Huh? Are you sure? I distinctly heard someone say that I needed to pay more attention to you."
"No, Rodney," John said with a sigh. "Nobody said anything like that until I said it, but it's good advice."
"I must have thought it then," Rodney muttered.
Jennifer spoke in the silence of the next moment. "Tell him he's right. His powers must be growing if he's starting to hear your thoughts, too."
John cleared his throat. "Your powers must be getting stronger if you can hear my thoughts before I actually say the words. Come on, buddy, let's test it. What am I thinking right now?"
Rodney finally stopped and turned toward him, a curious smile on his lips. He looked so innocent in that moment something that was totally bizarre given that the fact he could blow them all up, killing everyone on Atlantis without meaning to.
Rodney took a step closer to him. "You think I should be resting."
"And why would I be thinking that?"
"Because, well, because I've been a little under the weather physically."
John nodded and patted the floor beside him. "You're right. Come over and sit down."
Rodney put up a finger. "But mentally I've never been better. I'm flying high right now and not for the reasons you guys gave me a hard time about earlier. All of this power is so exhilarating."
"Keep it up, Colonel," Jennifer encouraged.
"But you're taking too many risks. You need to take care of yourself."
"What? Are you my mother? And, besides, you don't take risks? Hello, Pot, I'm Kettle. Good to meet you."
John grunted, then had to press his hand to his side. "Okay, okay, I deserved that one." He paused for a moment, then asked, "What's it like? What's it like to be able to do so much?"
Rodney stared at him for a moment and John couldn't read what was in his expression, and then Rodney stepped forward. "It's like flying on an angel's wing, high above everything else. It's like having the remote control to the biggest, baddest game system in the universe. It's like that and so much more. The whole world is open to me. I can feel, taste, see, hear, and smell everything. It's fantastic. It's like a whole new level of being."
As John watched, he saw the exposed muscles in Rodney's face and arms begin to twitch involuntarily, and then he noticed the erratic way Rodney was moving. John rolled to his side, then pushed himself up from there, propping himself up on one hand.
"Rodney? What's the matter? Are you having a lot of muscle spasms? They seem to be getting worse."
John heard Jennifer curse. "Frequent muscle spasms are a sign that things are about to get very dangerous for Rodney. He could go into a seizure, or a series of seizures. Death wouldn't be far after that without medical treatment. I need to be in there now."
John swallowed as Rodney's gaze slowly took in the whole of the auxiliary control. "It's all this this power I have. It's almost like it's more than my body can control. Maybe if I start flying that will expend the excess energy I have pulsing through my muscles. It can't be that hard to fly after everything else I can do. In fact, it's hard not to fly around here with all this power."
"All this because of a spraying flower," John whispered bitterly.
Rodney gave John a withering look. "The spraying flower wasn't my fault. I didn't do it on purpose. I slipped. The flower just went off on its own "
John felt his hand start to lose its position on the floor and suddenly he was sliding fast. He would have gone down hard if it hadn't been for Rodney who scooped in and caught him before his head hit the floor.
Still the jarring stop hurt like hell and John wheezed with pain. "I need " he started, looking up at Rodney as he held John up loosely against his knee. John licked his lips. "I need... for you to... listen to me. Forget... everything else and listen me."
Rodney nodded rapidly. "Okay, okay, so I'm listening. What's so damned important?"
Having Rodney's undivided attention for the first time in a long while threw John off for a moment, but Jennifer filled in the blanks. "Tell him you need his help. That you think you're dying."
John made a face. The begging for help routine was running pretty thin.
"Down," he whispered honestly, feeling nauseated. "I need to lie down or I'm going to puke and that won't be any fun at all."
"Oh, don't you dare puke on me," Rodney said with disdain. "Hold on, I'll help you."
As Rodney lowered him to the floor, he felt Rodney's nine-mil sticking into his back. Damn, he'd forgotten all about that. Luckily, the jackets and his blanket helped to shield it from Rodney's view.
Zelenka said, "Okay, Colonel. The environmental controls are released. Major Lorne is readying his people. The first detonations should be in the next sixty seconds."
John glanced at Rodney. His red, swollen complexion hadn't changed. Neither had the wild gleam in his eyes. If anything, it had gotten worse. And the muscle twitching bordered on grotesque.
"You better hurry," John said as he reached forward and placed a hand on each of Rodney's wrists. He would have to subdue him when the blasts occurred.
"Roger that, sir," Lorne said.
Keller followed with, "I've got a syringe ready and I'm right behind Lorne's men. Just keep Rodney as calm as you can until I get in there."
"Hurry for what?" Rodney asked absently. He looked down at John's hands holding his wrists with a bewildered gaze. "And why are you holding onto me like that?"
"Can't you read my thoughts, Rodney?" John said with a sigh. "We need to get the hell out of here before something really bad happens."
At that moment, all the entrances into auxiliary control exploded and John felt Rodney tense. Rodney struggled for a moment, but before he could pull away, he went into a seizure and fell over on top of John.
John was sure he was going to pass out from Rodney's weight on top of him, but somehow Rodney rolled off of him in the next instant and onto the floor. John panted as he tried to control his pain.
Lorne and his men came barreling into the room in the next second, but all John could see was Rodney. Keller's words came pounding back in John's ears. "Death wouldn't be far after that without medical treatment. I need to be in there now."
He glanced up as Keller knelt beside Rodney with the syringe in her hands. "Help him, Doc," John said breathlessly, his hand on Rodney's side.
Without a word, she injected Rodney and thankfully the seizure slowed almost instantly.
Keller's people came in right behind her and she went about issuing orders to them as she checked on Rodney. John found himself being tended to by another medical team, but his attention stayed on Rodney.
Lorne knelt beside John. Zelenka came to a stop behind Lorne.
"Wow," Radek said when he saw all that Rodney had done. "This is going to take some time to restore."
John nodded, but then his attention diverted to Keller as she looked up at her team. "Okay, I've got him as stabilized as I can for the moment. Let's get him to the infirmary before he has another seizure."
They put Rodney on a gurney and whisked him away. John let out a long breath of relief. A huge burden had just been taken off his shoulders. Rodney was finally getting the help he needed.
"Colonel," John heard and he turned toward Keller's voice. When had she turned in his direction?
"I'm going to have them start an IV for you. It's your upper left abdomen area that's causing you the most problems, right?" she asked as she started pressing around on his belly.
He hissed and tried to escape her touch, but she stopped and placed her hands over his. "It looks like you might have some internal bleeding. We'll get you back to the infirmary and under a scanner to see what damage you've done to yourself. Just hang tight."
John nodded his reply, too tired for words.
"You did a good job with Rodney," she said softly when she caught him glancing back toward the exit where they'd taken Rodney. "Now, it's my turn to take care of him and I promise I'll do a better job than I did the last time. I'll see you in the infirmary."
He smiled a little, then his eyelids slid shut and didn't open again.
"Who are you gonna call?"
The sappy 80's theme song to the movie, Ghostbusters, played incessantly and with way too much energy to suit Rodney as he lay sprawled on his stomach across one sofa in the rec room. He could hear Sheppard and Ronon on the other sofa chuckling about something and he briefly wondered what they were up to, but then he decided it wasn't worth the energy it would require for him to open his eyes and find out.
It had been a week since he'd had his allergic reaction and all the drama that followed and he still felt like he'd been run over by a truck. Jennifer had told him it would take some time for his system to get back to normal or more specifically what passed for normal for Rodney, but, geez, this was ridiculous.
Think of it as a really, really bad hangover, Rodney.
Yeah, well, this was the mother of all hangovers and it felt like it would never end.
"McKay," Ronon called out. "We're going to pause the movie and go get some snacks. You want anything?"
Rodney groaned and slapped a hand over his eyes. "A new body? Mine is still in no shape to care about snacks."
Sheppard grunted. "We better get Keller again. Something must be wrong if McKay doesn't want to eat."
Ronon quipped. "Yeah, but he's whining again so that's a good sign."
Rodney opened his eyes to glare at them through still slightly swollen eyelids, but before he could rip into Sheppard and Ronon, Teyla did it for him. "John, Ronon, I warned you earlier not to provoke Rodney. He is still recovering and Jennifer said it would be unwise to aggravate him at this point."
"Yeah, but it's so much fun."
"Maybe for you," Rodney muttered.
John shrugged, then flinched when the motion seemed to hurt him. He put a hand to his abdomen, but spoke, as if oblivious to his own pain. "Whatever. We'll still bring you back something. How about a Ding Dong? Zelenka got a shipment of HoHos, Ding Dongs, and Twinkies from home. He said he'd share."
Rodney licked his lips. "Hmm, a little chocolate sounds good. It might give me a little energy to keep on living... " He let his voice drift off on purpose, just to hear the snorts from John and Ronon.
"Yeah, yeah, you just hang on long enough for us to get back, then we'll start the movie again. It's at a good point. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is about to make an appearance."
"Great. How long is it going to take for you juveniles to grow up and stop calling me the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?"
"When your face is back to normal."
"Or when you stop acting like that dwarf, Grumpy. Personally, I think I liked you a lot better as Happy."
Ronon leaned against the back of the sofa. "Hey, I thought I was Grumpy."
"Funny. Behave yourself before I sic Snow White on both of you."
Teyla raised an eyebrow and her chin, giving both John and Ronon a stern look.
John's sarcastic expression vanished and he straightened. "Right. We'll be back in a minute. Teyla, all you want is popcorn?"
"Okay. Be right back."
Rodney noticed how Sheppard still guarded his side but he wasn't wearing the arm sling any longer and he had more color in his face, which was reassuring. He'd recovered from his surgery to correct the internal bleeding much faster than Rodney had from his ordeal. Rodney still cringed when he thought about how close he had come to inadvertently killing Sheppard, and possibly destroying all of Atlantis.
"Rodney, I hate to be repetitive, but you are to avoid scratching as much as possible."
Rodney followed Teyla's gaze and saw he had one hand idly itching his shoulder.
"Damn," he muttered. "Most times, I don't even realize I'm doing it. Man, when is this infernal itching going to stop?"
Teyla gave him a sympathetic smile. "Jennifer said it will pass soon. Do you want to use more of the steroid cream she gave you?" she asked as she stood and went to the table where the tube was lying.
Rodney sighed. "I guess I better. I'm never going to that abominable planet again as long as I live," he mumbled as he rolled over onto his back. "You guys can go by yourselves."
Teyla handed him the cream. "Well, Lorne's team determined a few days ago that the rare metals the Ancients referenced must have already been mined because there is very little remaining that shows up on our equipment."
Rodney opened the tube and began slathering it over the back of one hand that was driving him crazy. Luckily, most of the swelling was gone from his face and body, but there were still patches of hives that stubbornly remained, despite the use of high dosed steroids and antihistamines.
"No wonder we couldn't find anything."
"Doctor Parish did determine the flowers that caused your reaction were not native to the planet and that was why they were not in the Ancients' database."
Rodney set the tube aside and sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose, as if that would relieve the bitter headache he had. "Just my luck," he muttered softly.
He glanced down and saw his tablet computer lying on the floor beside him. Picking it up, he halfheartedly scrolled across the information displayed. Then he felt a hand on his forearm. When he looked up, he saw Teyla in front of him.
"Rodney, you have had quite an ordeal. Take some time to relax. If you are not up for a movie, especially this movie, allow me to escort you back to your room."
He started to answer her, but his voice cracked and he started coughing. Teyla handed him her glass of water as he sat up, and he took it gratefully, drinking deeply as he knew it would help.
With his cough now quieted, he said, "Thanks. I wonder when I'll stop feeling so dried out."
"I believe Jennifer indicated the oral medications you are still on will dry you out, but you will be off of all of them soon." She patted him on the arm. "Would you like some more water?"
He shook his head, holding up the glass. "Nah, this is still half full."
He stared at it for a long moment. "Huh."
"What is it, Rodney?" Teyla asked.
He shrugged a little. "Sheppard must be rubbing off on me. Normally, I'd say it was half empty. Isn't that strange?"
Teyla smiled and sat on the coffee table in front of Rodney's sofa. "I will share something with you, Rodney," Teyla said after a moment. "When I first met you after arriving from Athos, it seemed many things made you fearful. Then, during your ordeal when you were stricken with the allergic reaction, you lost almost all of your fears. It was two ends of the same spectrum, two sides of the same man, but I believe you have found a balance between too much fear and too little. Part of that comes from trusting yourself and those around you."
Rodney grunted. "I wasn't very trusting in auxiliary control."
"No," she said, patting his hand, "but you allowed John to help you. Deep down, even as sick as you were, you knew what trust was. Your attitude even now is much more positive compared to when I first met you, so a half full glass of water, instead of a half empty glass, does not surprise me."
"Oh please, don't let Sheppard get wind of this," Rodney muttered, wondering how Teyla understood him so well. "If he thinks I've found the positive side of life, there will be no end to the comments I'll get."
Teyla smiled and sat back in her seat. "We will keep it between the two of us."
"You know, Woolsey's still upset about the whole affair. He's been ensconced in his office, writing up a whole new set of protocols designed to prevent one man from taking over the controls of Atlantis."
"You were only protecting the city."
"And I almost wound up destroying it."
"Not in the end and that is all that matters. Besides, if you had not done what you did, we never would have known our communications array with the Coalition had been compromised. Vital security information could have been inappropriately obtained and that could have been used against us one day, with us none the wiser, until it was too late."
"Yes, well, there is that. I guess some good did come out of that nightmare."
"Now, we must find out who was behind the sabotage."
"Don't worry, Sheppard will get to the bottom of it if it's the last thing he does."
Before Teyla could respond, Ronon and John came hustling into the room with their arms full of goodies.
"Good grief, you must have stolen Radek's whole stash!" Rodney exclaimed as Ronon let an armful of Ding Dongs, Hohos, and Twinkies fall into Rodney's lap.
"No, just half, but he said it was okay. It seems he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, at least not as much as his sister thought he had, but don't worry, we left him half of that micro-brewed beer I got as a thank you from Caldwell on the Daedelus's last trip. I wasn't that crazy about the beer anyway, but Radek was. It was a win-win situation."
He handed Teyla a bowl of freshly popped popcorn, then sat down carefully beside her and snatched a handful for himself. "Grab the remote, Ronon, and start the movie."
"Ah, come on," Rodney complained as he slouched back down into the sofa and closed his eyes. "I'm not watching this movie right now. I'm resting as per doctor's orders."
"Rodney, don't pout. You love this movie."
"Okay, I promise I won't call you the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man any more. Besides, you don't really look like him now anyways."
"Oh, did you mean to say the melting Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? You've got to get all the adjectives right."
"Not any more. Now, be quiet, the movie's starting."
"Oh good grief," Rodney muttered.
John started singing, "Who are you gonna call?"
Ronon chimed in with, "Ghostbusters!"
Teyla shook her head and chuckled before she patted Rodney on his arm and returned to her seat.
As the action on the screen resumed, Rodney allowed himself a small smile. After Rodney had been rescued from the river, through the haze of his post-allergic reaction in the infirmary, he'd thought life was good, but he'd been wrong. Being with his friends, relaxing as they were, this truly was the good life.
~ Fini ~