Title: No Relief in Waking

Author: linda.ljc

Summary: A sleepover mission for the team that goes awry for one member.

Betaed by: Annie. I think I need to apologize for sending this to her twice. The first time it was a mess. Thank you, Annie.

Category: Angst, Drama, Humor, Team, H/C, Friendship, Action/Adventure

Warning: A little swearing. The science is the best I can do. Brief mentions of topics from various episodes: “38 Minutes”, “The Storm”, “Grace Under Pressure”.

Genre: Gen

Series: SGA

Characters: Team SGA-1: Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Teyla Emmagen, Ronon Dex, Torren

Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis belong to Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Film Corporation. All other publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis or any other media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story was written by linda.ljc with the love of the show in mind.

 

......

..0..

 

Quote:

I drag myself out of nightmares each morning and find there's no relief in waking.

-- Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

 

 

......

..1..

 

No one had been very enthusiastic during the briefing, not even after a spate of missions that ended with, “coming in hot!” But boring missions weren't eagerly anticipated either. An easy mission would be nice, but no one expected it. Missions had a really bad habit of failing to live up to expectations.

 

The next planet on the schedule had been listed in the database as “unpopulated but with a mild climate”. Neither of those attributes evoked much confidence however. If the climate was so mild, why didn't anyone live there? It was a question that needed an answer. Still, both characteristics were good things for an Alpha or Beta site.

 

When their discussion did turn to the lack of population, McKay pointed out that the database had also described it as being permanently cloud enshrouded. “So, not exactly a vacation spot,” he commented sourly. But since there was no mention of man eating rabbits or a sun in the process of going nova, no one could come up with a good reason to avoid going there.

 

If inhabitants had arrived in the last ten thousand years, then the mission would become a first contact mission. If not, hopefully it would be deemed suitable for their use. If not, if it had some wicked little twist, then it might only serve as a diversion; a place to lose someone, like Replicators. Or hungry Wraith. Or Wraith worshipers. Or Genii. Or some other new and unusual brand of Pegasus craziness.

 

MALP telemetry confirmed the planet was still there, and had breathable atmosphere, so, SGA-1 had gamely headed through the Gate. They'd dutifully tramped about the eerily constant twilight and treeless landscape for hours while various readings were recorded for later in-depth analysis. This was something Dr. Rodney McKay, or one of his minions, did on virtually all missions, but this one seemed especially tedious to him. He seriously questioned whether he was becoming an adrenalin junkie. Which was just absurd. He wasn't Sheppard, for one thing. For another, he liked sleeping in his own bed, on his own prescription mattress, thank-you-very-much, not traipsing around on an alien planet with nothing more interesting than ... shrubs, as far as the eye could see. He should have sent a minion.

 

Dr. McKay didn't think he could really be blamed for his constant muttering today, because really, any diversion was okay in his opinion if it helped to relieve his boredom. And Sheppard always seemed to catch on when Rodney's words or intonation changed. He seemed to use it as an estimate of threat level. All Sheppard had to do was hear frantic chatter in rising inflection and he knew that that was bad. When Rodney inserted phrases in the vein of “we are so screwed”, it had become “worst case scenario bad”. Today ... he was just bored, and he wanted company that understood the magnitude of his boredom.

 

Sheppard, you never listen to me. If this is all there is here, we should have brought a jumper. If this place gets any more boring I'm going to be sleepwalking.”

 

What are you going on about now, McKay?”

 

Trees, lack thereof. As far as the eye can see. Need I say more?”

 

Sheppard glanced around lazily. “Doesn't seem dangerous enough to use a jumper. Kind of nice, actually. Different. You can see if anyone's sneaking up on you.”

 

Yes, yes. But that goes two ways you know, there's also no cover for us. And walking is for grunts.”

 

Walking is good for you, McKay. Keeps you in shape, since you avoid training like the plague,” John said with a grin. “You should have spoken up during the briefing, or did we discuss that when you found something more interesting on your computer?”

 

McKay's snort was not unexpected. “As if I had a real chance of changing anyone's mind. Getting back to my point, considering the Ancients’ predilection for arboraceous landscapes, don't you think it's weird they put a gate here at all?”

 

Maybe. But ten thousand years ago would have been the earliest that the gate could have been placed here, so maybe the climate changed and these shrub-things survived.”

 

Hmph. Says our fly-boy Colonel. What did you say your “BS” was in?”

 

Sheppard just grinned. “You're the Chief Science Officer. You want to argue about “trees, lack thereof”?”

 

McKay sniffed. “No. I'm an astrophysicist. But I was just wondering why these shrubs survived when nothing much else did.”

 

The other two members of the team had only been listening up to this point, then Ronon nudged Teyla and said, “Maybe McKay thinks this is some Triffid planet.” to which she just smiled.

 

McKay threw his hands up in a gesture that could be disgust, but could more likely be translated to, do you know how moronic that sounds? “Did Sheppard let you watch that movie with the walking plants?”

 

Yeah. Pretty funny.”

 

For that, I pick the movie next time.”

 

Yeah, fine, whatever,” Ronon replied with a bigger grin, which just earned him a bigger glare.

 

...

 

Rodney never needed any encouragement to vocalize his thoughts. He needed no actual reason to verbally “poke” at one or another of them.

 

Sheppard. Are you still listening to me?”

 

Sure I am,” John drawled with a lazy smile. “Just enjoying a pleasant walk with friends, on a planet where no one has shot at me, or tried to eat me. There's no T-Rex, no volcanoes, no world sucking black hole. So, all-in-all, I'd call it a good trip.” Then he added softly, “At least, so far.”

 

I saw that! You twitched. Tell me you're not superstitious. You were looking for wood to knock on, right?”

 

Sheppard just twitched again. That was as much agreement as McKay knew he'd get.

 

Then what was I talking about?”

 

Sheppard sighed. “High levels of ozone.”

 

Hm. Do you know what that means, Colonel?”

 

Not a candidate for an Alpha or Beta site. Air pollution.”

 

Oh.” Rodney's shoulders slumped. “Well, someone should come back and find out why.”

 

Teyla asked, “I thought that on Earth, air pollution was caused mainly by ... factories.”

 

Factories, yes, at least in part, which is why these readings surprise me. It's mainly the burning of fossil fuels that keep the factories running, but also vehicles for transportation. It's much worse in the spring and summer when a string of warm days encourages the formation of toxic compounds. But here,” and Rodney with a wide, dismissive swing of his hand encompassing the surrounding flat countryside covered in varying depths of very homogeneous green stuff, “there's only plants.”

 

Maybe Parrish would like it here,” muttered Ronon from their six.

 

Yes. Dr. Parrish will be positively overcome with scientific zeal.”

 

...

 

They had scheduled a two day walk-in/walk-out, so in late afternoon, Sheppard scheduled the evening break near fresh water. Fresh water was a point in the planets favor, but they dutifully took samples for the scientists on Atlantis to analyze in depth.

 

They fell easily into their routine to set up camp. They cleared the area as usual down to bare dirt for a campfire and pulled out some meals-ready-to-eat.

 

Great. MRE's. Again.” Sheppard commented with no real angst.

 

I like ...”

 

Yeah, McKay. We know. You like MRE's.”

 

Rodney scowled at being interrupted.

 

Ronon took a big bite of his and mumbled around his food, “They're good.”

 

McKay said, “SEE,” to Sheppard, and turning to Ronon, “Thank you. I'm glad someone agrees with me.”

 

The weather seems very mild, John,” said Teyla in an obvious attempt to redirect the conversation. “Perhaps we will not need the tents tonight.”

 

Ronon nodded heavily in agreement but kept eating.

 

Sheppard looked around doubtfully. He half shrugged. “Really? How can you tell with all these clouds?”

 

Teyla's answering shrug was diffident. “The weather has been constant for the time we have been here, nor have I seen obvious signs of weather damage. I have not noticed any signs of change.”

 

I guess we can take a chance on the weather for tonight. Whoever's on watch can warn us if something comes up.”

 

McKay glanced around without much enthusiasm. “Mild weather patterns would be a plus if they're really constant, but it'll take more than our little walkabout to be sure of that. If it seems to be worth the time and effort, we could send a science team back to set up a weather station to take long term readings.”

 

Sheppard, too, seemed less than enthused as he added, “I don't think I'd want to stay here long if it's like this all the time, though.”

 

McKay looked around thoughtfully. “That's odd.”

 

What's odd, McKay? You disagree?” and added softly as he grinned. “That's not odd.”

 

No, no, no. Well, actually I do agree, but ... It's just that we usually have to fight off bugs and stuff when we have food out.”

 

Sheppard stopped chewing and seemed to flinch. He looked around carefully, seeming to check out Rodney's observation with all due diligence. He turned back to the campfire and again muttered softly, “No bugs. Another good point.”

 

...

 

They'd had a long day of walking, and the prospect of a shift on guard duty had them deciding to turn in not long after full dark. The thick clouds prevented any moonlight or starlight from reaching them. With the campfire being the only source of light, it was a very dark night indeed.

 

They rolled out their sleeping bags and settled down quickly, Teyla having volunteered to take first watch. Rodney was the last to settle.

 

Sheppard had stretched out on his sleeping bag and watched with a grin as Rodney meticulously arranged handfuls of leafy branches from the knee-high shrubs into layers, patting them carefully and precisely into the shape of what could only be a very green mattress.

 

Rodney obviously knew he was being watched. “Laugh if you want, Sheppard. We'll see who laughs loudest in the morning.” Rodney settled his sleeping bag on top and carefully crawled inside, then glared when Sheppard stifled a laugh.

 

McKay, are you done yet?”

 

He wiggled to settle himself and huffed out a breath. “Yes. I am. This is really quite comfortable. This could turn out to be the best night's rest I've had since we got to Atlantis. At least, until I got my mattress unpacked.”

 

I sleep fine in Atlantis. And how did you get that thing approved on the manifest.”

 

Chief of the Science Division! I had an allotment just like everyone else. Well, how can you sleep at all on those tiny, stiff, and ancient Ancient mattresses? I'll never understand it. But my delicate back needs support and just the right amount of padding or I'm stiff and sore the next day.”

 

Sheppard dropped his head to his arm, which was doing duty as his pillow but still couldn't hide another chuckle. He glanced up at Teyla who was not even trying to hide her smile. Ronon just shook his head and rolled over.

 

Laugh all you want, but I bet I'll be well rested tomorrow.”

 

Goodnight, McKay.”

 

Goodnight.” Rodney thought a moment, smirked and added, “'Don't let the bedbugs bite'.”

 

McKay!”

 

Rodney felt a little bit guilty, but just for a moment, when John said his name with just a hint of a whine. He felt a little bit contrite about reminding Sheppard of the “Bug Bite Incident” twice today, but then he grinned mischievously. “Sorry. John-Boy.”

 

Teyla looked at John quizzically, but John just shook his head.

 

Goodnight, Meredith.”

 

Ronon snorted softly.

 

Hmph.” McKay let that comment go. Until tomorrow.

 

 

......

..2..

 

Rodney woke with a strange sense of déjà vu. He woke slowly and glanced around him. A half remembered nightmare teased him with a feeling of heaviness, and of being trapped or tied up. He sat up abruptly as a feeling of being held down made his adrenalin spike. Probably a memory of another mission. One that went bad. But he couldn't remember specifics, which was unusual for him.

 

While he settled his thoughts and let his dream fade further, the early morning light changed slowly from very dark gray to a lighter gray. At least, Rodney thought the lightening of the sky meant that it was morning and the sun was up, unless there was some other astronomical activity going on. There could be a dozen moons up there and a Saturn and a Jupiter and who knew what else Pegasus could come up with. They'd never know without the readings he took.

 

With a deep sigh, he pulled out his LSD and gladly pronounced it morning, and not some planetary weirdness. The rest of the team proceeded with a quick breakfast, then packed the camp up even more quickly, and moved off for the trek back to the Stargate.

 

Why does returning seem twice as long as going?”

 

Ronon grunted. “It only seems twice as long because we're not being chased.”

 

Laugh it up, Conan,” Rodney groused. He then shifted his pack to a slightly different position and sighed, then yawned widely.

 

Didn't sleep well, McKay?” asked Sheppard with an unmistakable smirk. “You insisted on your choice of bedding.”

 

Yes, of course. Sleep in the dirt or on a near-grass-like substance. Some choice.”

 

Sheppard drawled, “Well, we were quite comfortable in our sleeping bags. I have no complaints.”

 

No, of course you wouldn't. I bet you could sleep on rock.”

 

I have slept on rock, and I'll have you know there are worse things.”

 

My point exactly!”

 

At that point in their conversation they came over the crest of a hill and the Stargate was clearly visible below.

 

Rodney sighed. “Well, at least I have a lot of data and some samples to make Parrish's day. I'm sure he'll be after you to make another visit here soon.”

 

Sheppard answered, “What would really make another visit worthwhile is if he could find a way to get rid of ozone. Now that would be worth the trip.”

 

Well, at the proper levels it does protect us from solar radiation,” Rodney replied as he headed for the DHD and dialed Atlantis. Looking at the low clouds he muttered, “Not that we'd need to worry about that here. And that's one good point.”

 

...

 

During the next few days Rodney began to think longingly about that soft bedding on P4X M2R. He'd begun to wonder if it just might be the last good night’s sleep he was ever going to get.

 

The first night had started out innocently enough. Twisting and turning, and NOT sleeping. Then when he finally did get to sleep, he had terrible nightmares.

 

The tortured dreams continued nightly without a break. Every time he awoke, he felt like he'd been fighting a great weight to reach the surface, and sometimes he awoke gasping deep gulps of air. Waking up hyperventilating didn't make for a restful night. Tonight, that final struggle toward wakefulness made him once again give up on sleep.

 

The memories that the nightmares brought up were usually what clinched the deal on whether to try once again to get some sleep. He'd had enough of “drowning” nightmares after the puddlejumper incident. He'd thought he was over the worst of those nightmares, and he certainly had no wish to see Heightmeyer about it again.

 

And he'd begun to really feel guilty about teasing Sheppard about the bug incident.

 

When he finally became desperate for restful sleep he decided to give in and go to bed early and hope the extra few hours of rest would add up to something resembling a good night's sleep. He was worried that if it kept up it was going to affect his health. He just knew he was going to get sick. His immune system had to be run down. Even his voice was hoarse, which made him wonder if he was yelling in his sleep. That would be embarrassing if he did it on a mission off world. He felt so run down that he wondered if maybe he'd caught a Pegasus Flu. Maybe Carson would know.

 

The attempt to rest in the hope it would be enough hadn't really helped. He found himself on the balcony in only his t-shirt and shorts as the sun rose on the horizon. The nightmare was still so real but so vague. They all seemed so incredibly vivid but they faded so fast that Rodney couldn't get a handle on what the trigger might be, just impressions of vague terrifying memories. More often than not, he woke with the feeling of an overpowering weight dragging him down against his will. He took deep shuddering breaths, and slowly his breathing evened out, but still he was shaky and upset. Maybe his blood sugar was low.

 

When he had calmed down further, he sat on the edge of his bed and tried to think. He knew they'd think he was overreacting, but he slowly dressed to go to the infirmary. Something was wrong. He could feel it. Carson would just have to listen.

 

...

 

Oh, Carson. I'm glad you're on duty tonight.”

 

Just checking in before I head to the mess for a late meal.” Carson squinted questioningly at his friend. “Come with me. I'll take a look at you.”

 

Rodney sighed in relief, mostly because Carson seemed genuinely concerned.

 

Tell me what's going on with ye now.”

 

Rodney sat on the exam table and told him about the nightmares and how he'd ended up hyperventilating tonight. He still felt on the verge of an anxiety attack, but he wouldn't admit it out loud, even to Carson. He couldn't seem to unclench his hands, and he held them close to his body, finally just wrapping them around himself. He couldn't meet Carson's eyes. He found he didn't have the right words to explain it, which was ridiculous. He had two PhD's. It was just a nightmare. What else could he tell Carson? He was disgusted with himself.

 

Carson did some tests, but couldn't find anything physically wrong.

 

Rodney, the tests don't show anything conclusive. Blood pressure's up a bit, but that's probably because you're tired, can't sleep, and are a bit overwrought.”

 

Rodney knew Carson had tried to be comforting but he'd heard words like that too often when people dismissed whatever had upset him. “I'm serious, Carson. I'm not a hypochondriac,” he ended plaintively.

 

Well, there are other tests that can be done, but I really think that a sleeping pill will take care of the prob—”

 

Sure! Give the neurotic a pill and make him go away. I know medicine isn't an exact science but you should just break out your beads and rattle and wave it over me instead of pretending that you can actually shed some light on my condition. Actually, that might bore me to sleep. If that's the best you can do, then ... goodnight! I'm better off on my own!”

 

Rodney. Wait!” But Rodney had slid off the table and was gone with the door swishing shut behind him before Carson could even begin to reach out to stop him.

 

Rodney was soon back in his room. He knew that he shouldn't have blown up at Carson that way. He'd never admit it to anyone else, but a visit to Carson, voodoo medicine or not, had always made him feel better. Carson had always taken him seriously. Usually. But he just couldn't sit there and have him look at him like he was, well, Carson would say 'daft'. Because he wasn't. Something was wrong. It just didn't show up on Carson's tests.

 

He rubbed his face tiredly. It seemed that fighting through nightmarish dreams was as physically exhausting as tramping about off world. Who knew? It was almost as tiring as running for your life, or saving the city, or anything else he had encountered so far in Pegasus. He glanced out the window, but morning was still little more than a smudge on the horizon.

 

He decided to hit the shower instead of trying to sleep again. He'd certainly managed with less sleep than this before, as long as he had enough coffee to sustain him that is. No matter what came up, it was going to be a long day.

 

He made it to the mess hall before the crowd arrived but just grabbed a few power bars and smuggled out an entire pot of coffee. The mess hall staff was used to scientists coming through with huge mugs, though the crew tried to discourage them from outright thievery of the pots. There was a reason the science department had their own supply, and they knew that certain rules had been made just for them.

 

This morning Rodney just didn't care. He couldn't wait to make a pot of his own. He needed the coffee now. And lots of it. He'd bring back the pot soon because he knew that it wouldn't do to make the mess crew too mad. His minions would not be sympathetic if the rules were “updated”.

 

Radek seemed to be in a good mood this morning, which only highlighted Rodney's foul mood. Radek only raised an eyebrow and let out a deep sigh when Rodney picked up the pot of coffee and put it down on the far side of his favorite laptop. Rodney just glared at him without comment because he needed coffee to face even Radek this morning. Besides, if Radek was as smart as he said he was, he could read the signs. He must know what it meant that Rodney hadn't waited to make his own pot of coffee in the lab, and that he wasn't willing to share this one.

 

They worked in silence for some time, until Dr. Parrish came in with his datapad. He hurried across the lab and directly to Rodney. He had a recognizable gleam of scientific delight in his eye, and Radek edged several steps away to another console when he saw Rodney's grimace. Kusanagi tugged surreptitiously on Simpson's sleeve and they both found something interesting to do in a far, far corner.

 

Dr. McKay. Do you have any data on the levels of nitrogen oxide gases and volatile organic compounds at various heights of the atmosphere on P4X M2R? This plant produces isoprene and nitric oxide! I have to get readings for comparison. Oh, wait. You hiked in. Do you think Colonel Sheppard would approve a Jumper for my use for several missions?” He added hurriedly, “They'd be short term missions, I assure you. I need data on ozone levels in the tropopause at various times during the local year to compare with Earth readings. And readings for the exosphere all the way down to the troposphere to get a complete picture of—”

 

Doctor Parrish! I know you're beside yourself with scientific excitement, but try to keep it manageable, if you don't mind. Some of us are actually doing valuable work in here.” Rodney managed to glare at Radek, Simpson, Kusanagi, and Parrish during that last sentence.

 

Parrish's eyes widened in scientific righteousness. “B-but I'm doing important work, too. This could be immensely important to pollution studies. The Jumper would allow accelerated data collection. And I could set up miniature weather stations to collect more data. I-imagine what a method to provide ozone protection to planets endangered by high levels of ultraviolet radiation would mean to the people there. It is important.”

 

Rodney could see Radek sit back in surprise. They'd both noted that Parrish had stuttered through that argument, but he'd also managed to stand up to Rodney. Astonishing. Daring. Foolhardy.

 

Rodney. He has important point,” Radek offered diffidently.

 

Rodney's glare turned fully onto Radek. He knew a weak attempt at verbal diversion when he heard it. Rodney spoke sharply, “Really,” and turned a full, undiluted glare on his “minions” in the corner.

 

Radek also glared at Kusanagi and Simpson, whose strategic retreat had left him on his own. He had no recourse, so he crossed his arms, and stood his ground. He couldn't stifle a sigh of relief when he saw assistance standing at the door. “Yes, Colonel?”

 

Hey, Radek. McKay. During the mission you mentioned that, too. In the right circumstances, it might save lives. Do you think he should write up a proposal for you to look over?” Sheppard was leaning casually in the doorway.

 

Rodney stood and glared at Sheppard. “Do you KNOW what introducing a 'so-called remedy' to an alien planetary ecology could mean? Do you KNOW what introducing foreign plants and insects have done, just on Earth? That's the most idiotic … Parrish, you of all people should know better. It's a good thing I'm the Chief Science Officer!”

 

Rodney. Really. Just a proposal for study. That's all I suggested,” Sheppard interrupted softly. “Hey. Come on. Let's get some coffee. I think I could use a break about now.”

 

I don't think so. I have work to do.” Rodney glared at Parrish and grudgingly offered, “A proposal. On my desk in the morning.”

 

Parrish flashed a quickly aborted smile, nodded, and left hurriedly.

 

Sheppard smirked at Radek, who went hurriedly back to work, as did the others.

 

...

 

Rodney worked long into the night, until he could no longer stay awake. When he awoke with his face mashed into his computer, he rubbed the indentations roughly and staggered to a cot they kept in the corner. He was almost sorry that he'd awoken. It was the first non-nightmare sleep he'd had in days.

 

He settled down with a heavy sigh, disgusted once again for having allowed a nightmare to keep him from needed sleep for so long. There were too many nights on Atlantis when he was needed for emergencies. Succumbing to nightmares was just wasteful and dangerous for everyone.

 

But that seemed to be the last of the nightmare-free sleep for him that night. Rodney lurched awake as the now familiar nightmare tripped him up, jerking him awake again, and yet again. But the third time he woke he found that some idiot had covered him with a blanket. Instead of being some comfort, it seemed to have a life of its own and only managed to tangle him up in a knot. When he finally got himself free he flung the blanket into the corner. He managed to get his breathing under control and stormed off toward the transporter and his quarters.

 

Rodney groaned silently in frustration as Elizabeth turned and smiled when she heard him in the corridor outside the lab. “Rodney. You're awake. I hope I didn't disturb you.”

 

It was you!” Rodney snapped, thinking uncharitably about the blanket he'd tangled with.

 

Elizabeth's expression became less cordial. “Well... I came down to see how you were doing since I'd worked quite late tonight. I thought I'd tell you that I talked to Dr. Parrish briefly before dinner and—”

 

Parrish. Of course. That idiot thinks he's going to make some brilliant advance in 'plant science' and 'cure' the ozone problem. Does he really think that we can just introduce non-native species with no consequences.”

 

Now, Parrish and I talked only briefly, but he's well aware of the possible consequences. He made no mention of introducing non-native species of any kind, to any planetary ecology. He seems to—”

 

I told him to write up a proposal. I'll look it over. You don't have to be involved.”

 

Dr. McKay. I'm afraid I'm already involved. I told him I would gladly look over the proposal and give my opinion.”

 

I am the CSO, Doctor Weir—”

 

Elizabeth's stern tone, crossed arms, and firm stance were enough to warn Rodney off before he could say more. “I … am the leader of this Expedition. I can give my opinion on certain aspects of his proposal. And yes, you are the Chief Science Officer. It will be your decision whether to study it or not, or to implement it or not. Now, I believe you were heading to your quarters, or at least you should be. Maybe after a good night's sleep you can be a little more civil. Good night, Dr. McKay.”

 

Rodney held his tongue until he reached his room. He tried to slam his door, but that didn't work well on Atlantis. The effect was very unsatisfactory. So he threw himself down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He was angry; unreasonably angry, but he let that anger work for him to fight sleep for as long as he could.

 

Still, the nightmare managed a return appearance. Dozing, and only half lucid, Rodney fought it as he was pulled down into it once more. Darkness encroached, but he fought free ... at least he thought he did. Then John was there. Wasn't he? What was he saying? Rodney panted harshly and tried to focus on John's words, but their whisper was no match for the chaos of the nightmare. John's appearance in his nightmares couldn't be a good sign. He needed to wake up.

 

Wake up, McKay. Where's your radio?” Sheppard said as he shook Rodney's shoulder gently.

 

Sheppard?” He rubbed roughly at his face and fumbled for the radio on the table by his bed. “Emergency?”

 

Yeah. You need to wake up. That's why I'm here. Come on. Get dressed. I'll meet you in the control room.”

 

Right ...” And Sheppard was out the door leaving Rodney to pull himself together. The nightmare had been interrupted, and Rodney felt almost relieved. This was what he was used to, being awakened because he was needed. He really should be used to being awakened in the night. It seemed to be part of his job description that he was always needed elsewhere, immediately, especially in the middle of the night. And right now, he only felt relief. Or maybe that was the adrenalin.

 

 

...

 

For the next few days it was one emergency after another, with no time for sleep. Rodney was glad for the hectic pace. Sometimes he felt like he was running in an endless maze. But no sleep meant no nightmares, and maybe the cycle would be broken when he finally had time to sleep again. If he slept again.

 

Another storm, another real life nightmare almost as bad as the last one, but without the uninvited invading army. And then there were all the repairs that needed to be done. After feeling like he'd been running in circles for days, sleep would be good.

 

Maybe real life nightmares would scare away fake ones. He so desperately needed sleep.

 

...

 

Dr. McKay? Dr. McKay?”

 

Um, Dr. Weir? Yes?” Rodney looked groggily around the conference table. “Oh, you wanted a time line for repairs ...”

 

You already emailed that information. Is there anything else you need to speed things up?”

 

Hmmnn.”

 

What was that, Dr. McKay?”

 

I – I could use about twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep,” he muttered.

 

Elizabeth grinned sympathetically. “Granted.”

 

What's granted?”

 

Elizabeth smiled tiredly. “I should say, barring another major catastrophe, you are granted your wish for twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.”

 

Oh. I said that out loud?”

 

Go, Rodney. Sleep. You deserve it.”

 

Oh. Accepted.” Rodney looked surprised and a bit groggy from lack of sleep, but had responded quickly enough to earn some tired chuckles from the rest of the senior staff.

 

....

 

He should have enjoyed the relaxation of sleep, but he awoke once again with his covers twisted and hanging half off the bed. He was exhausted but his mind wouldn't let him rest. He drew a shaky breath and sat up. His knew his heartbeat was too fast, and he felt dizzy. A fleeting thought of his friend, Carson, crossed his mind, but he couldn't face him, not again. He'd just want to do another round of those useless tests, and maybe add worse to the mix. No. Not going there.

 

A smirk twisted his mouth and he muttered theatrically, “To sleep, perchance to dream; Ay, there's the rub, For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,”

 

Rodney dropped his head to his chest in disgust. He flung off his covers and muttered darkly to himself, “Now I'm quoting Shakespeare. Jeannie's English Major husband would laugh his ass off. Maybe I could just ask Carson if he's got a few sheep I can count.”

 

He had one more tactic to try. Maybe his mind would rest if he was exhausted physically. More exhausted physically. Well, he'd tried everything else.

 

So he dressed in sweats and started walking. He figured he'd walked a half dozen kilometers when he thought he began to understand John's and Ronon's seemingly endless runs through Atlantis' twisting corridors. He might even have to apologize to Teyla for brushing off her many attempts to get him to meditate. This might actually work. His mind was so bored that it seemed to be running down in self-defense. In the interest of self-preservation maybe he'd keep that to himself, since the Colonel could order him to exercise more, and either of his other teammates could beat him up with one hand tied behind their back. Oh, who was he kidding? They could do it hog-tied and blindfolded. That image actually made him chuckle until he visualized himself as their “victim”. It was too easy to imagine.

 

When he finally could walk no more, he realized he was a long way from his quarters. Even the closest corridor with a working transporter was just a dim, blurry memory. He found himself near one of the piers and decided to head outside. He stared at the placid water for a long time, wondering why water, or struggling under a terrible weight like he was drowning, had become part of his own personal nightmare scenarios. He really thought he'd put that trauma behind him.

 

He sighed deeply and finally sat down against an outside wall, safely far from the pier's edge. He didn't think he would sleep because it was nearing early morning and getting cold. He just needed to rest his weary body for a minute, but sleep did catch him unaware and he slumped into a tight ball. He hadn't expected that the white noise of waves made a perfect lullaby.

 

A scream almost escaped his lips as he struggled awake to find that Ronon was a safe arm’s reach away from his flailing arms watching and waiting silently.

 

Rodney's exhaustion made him snap groggily, “Go on. I'm awake. I'm awake. I'll head back now that I'm ... rested.”

 

Ronon crossed his arms. “You don't look that rested.”

 

Rodney could see his look of disbelief as Ronon stood there in the early morning light.

 

This is a pretty out of the way spot for a nap.”

 

I was walking.”

 

Of your own free will?”

 

Yes. I couldn't sleep.”

 

You seemed to be doing just that.”

 

Well, yes. Now I think I can.”

 

Are you sure you're all right to get back to quarters?”

 

Rodney sighed and tried to relax his limbs. “I'll be fine. Don't let me interrupt your run. Go, go.” And he awkwardly tried to shoo him away with a flap of his hand.

 

If you're sure.” Ronon reluctantly took off once again on his run.

 

Rodney was relieved that Sheppard wasn't with Ronon this morning. He didn't think he'd have gotten off so easily. He was still tired, and as he stood up he realized how stiff he was from sleeping slumped on the pier in the damp air.

 

Now I'll probably get pneumonia,” he muttered. “At least Carson will take me seriously then.” He sighed deeply. He was so tired of fighting this cycle of nightmares that had taken over his life.

 

...

 

Rodney faced one situation after another throughout the next few days with only dogged determination to keep him awake and on his feet, but there was a change. He'd become an insomniac by choice. Sleep was bedlam, not serenity. It was to be avoided until he had to sleep. Fear was a great motivator. He wondered if Carson had a pill for somniphobia.

 

He groaned as once again he woke to darkness and draped half off the bed, but this time his mic was squawking loudly in his ear. “McKay. Wake up. We've got a situation.” With a groan, he landed on his backside, tangled in his bedding. This was a habit he had to break before he broke his neck. He finally gave up on that and tapped his mic. He must be needed, he thought in relief.

 

SGA-2 had been next up on the roster and their mission had turned into a rescue mission. Sheppard was in the control room when Atlantis got the message that they needed help with an evacuation. Flooding had almost destroyed a village belonging to allies and several people needed to be evacuated for medical reasons.

 

On my way,” and Rodney signed off.

 

...

 

Great. Rain. There's sure to be mud. I really am going to get pneumonia,” Rodney muttered as they were waiting for the signal to go.

 

What's that, McKay?” Sheppard asked.

 

Rodney spoke louder. “Nothing. Are we ready yet? Let's go. Let's go!”

 

Sheppard gave a surprised nod and said, “You heard the doc. Dial it up.”

 

Their progress from the Stargate was agonizingly slow as they struggled heavily through the muck. In places the mud was over their boots, and the downpour gave no sign of letting up. They were soaked through to the skin before they were out of sight of the Gate.

 

Rodney took one look around and grumbled, “This isn't rain. It's a monsoon. Our own storms aren't bad enough. Now we have to seek them out.”

 

They are our allies, Doctor McKay,” reminded Teyla firmly.

 

Yes, yes. I'm not saying we shouldn't help.”

 

You have been very tired lately. Did you not sleep well yet again?”

 

I'm here, aren't I?” he said, but he felt … drifty, if that was a word.

 

Teyla's words seemed to come out of a fog. He tried to concentrate harder and he could see her look searchingly into his eyes. “Are you awake, Doctor McKay?”

 

What?” asked Rodney in confusion as her words seemed to snap him back to the present.

 

Maybe some coffee would help. We brought some supplies of warm food and beverages.”

 

Oh. Yes. I'll be okay till we get a break. Thanks,” Rodney answered quickly, fearing more questions, although he was afraid turning down coffee was a bad choice.

 

When they reached the village, small channels were flowing freely down the dirt paths that passed for roads, making them impassable to carts. The almost-goats, especially the young ones, were having a hard time, as the villagers tried to get them to higher ground.

 

As the light was waning, one of the village leaders rushed up to Teyla. “There is a problem. There are still children sheltering in the clinic that your Doctor Beckett helped us set up. The water has just washed out the path and we can't reach them.”

 

Come with me.” Teyla hurried to Colonel Sheppard and told him of this new problem and he had Ronon and Rodney come with them.

 

The clinic was now an island in danger of being washed away. When they saw the extent of the damage, and the danger of the water crossing for the children, Rodney knew what they'd have to do, and the thought scared him. He whispered tersely, “It's just water. Cold, dark, and wet. But really not so deep. Okay. I can do this.”

 

Sheppard quickly laid out the plan. “Ronon. Do you think you can cross this washout? It would help if we could anchor a rope to that tree by the clinic.”

 

Ronon took a measuring glance, and Rodney could tell that he knew the risk. He might be the biggest and strongest but it was still going to be a difficult crossing.

 

Then Rodney had a sudden thought. Ronon might be more use on this side if Rodney's sudden inspiration could be implemented. Ronon's strength would be more useful helping the children across the washed out path and up the embankment on the other side.

 

Everyone was doing their part to get ready for the rescue, and Rodney used the distraction to gather a length of rope to take with him. While Ronon was tying one end of a rope around his waist, Rodney had grabbed a second length of rope for himself and tied it off at their anchor point. He glanced quickly around, then took a deep breath and without another thought, headed straight into the flood.

 

Water never felt so scary. It was only six inches deep, but moving swiftly downhill toward a large stream that Rodney could see was well above flood stage. He tried to be positive. He told himself he'd been in more water than this. It would be fine. He leaned heavily against the flow and stepped carefully making sure his feet were firmly planted.

 

His mind was on his footing, but he was also planning ahead. He thought the older children would be able to navigate this flow by themselves if it didn't get much deeper. And if they had a safety line. And a harness he'd rig up for them. And Ronon waiting on the other end to scoop them up.

 

Step by careful step he went. He quickly glanced back at his team. He waved quickly, but kept a firm grip on his line. They stood there looking stunned for a moment at his preemptive move. His attention returned quickly to watching his step as they went into rescue mode.

 

He finally made it to the clinic side and wrapped the rope around a tree with the help of one of the village medics stationed there. Rodney looked over the situation, and his hasty plan seemed to fall into place. He pulled rope out of his backpack and created a harness for the larger children. He fashioned a much different harness for the smaller ones.

 

He found the medic that had been helping him and asked if he could anchor the rope high in the tree. Then he tried to explain a zip line to the medic and gave up and just knotted the rope and hooked on a metal clip, making it as secure as he could. He turned to Sheppard and tapped his mic. “Hey, Colonel. I'm sure you've used a zip line. Right?”

 

Sheppard smiled, “Right on it, McKay.” He shared Rodney's message with Ronon and they braced themselves as best they could for the kids. Sheppard and Ronon would pass them off to Teyla. Rodney knew this would work for the lightest and youngest, but the older kids and adults would still have to walk.

 

Rodney didn't realize he was holding his breath during the whole first trip. He turned and hugged the medic without giving it a thought. Soon the youngest were across. They tried two more and Ronon had to move into the water to catch them. They decided to send the rest with their simple harness and an adult. Ronon, Sheppard, and Teyla would continue to help them out of the water on their side.

 

Rodney was the last one. He checked the rope anchor one more time and stepped cautiously to the edge of the water. His team was waiting for him, ready to catch him on the other side. Rodney was relieved to see Ronon standing almost knee deep in the water. Knee deep. That was much higher than when he'd crossed before.

 

Before Rodney could step off, the viscous mud of the bank flowed out from under his feet, and he went down with it. He clung to the rope, and had a harness on, but he was covered by water and dragged down by the thick mud clinging to his heavy boots. He fought until his breath burned in his chest, and his hands turned cold, and he was too disoriented to tell which way was up.

 

He thought he could hear Sheppard yelling, “I am not telling Jeannie that you died saving kids.”

 

McKay,” Ronon bellowed.

 

Rodney! We are coming,” yelled Teyla.

 

Their voices faded into the distance. Faded away with the rain, and the struggle. Faded to gray ...

 

 

......

..3..

 

... morning light. Was that Ronon?

 

McKay. Wake up.”

 

He was so tired. Maybe Ronon would let him sleep on the pier a little longer.

 

Then Sheppard joined in with the shaking. Sheppard was here, too? “Come on, McKay. Wake up. Come on. We need you to wake up! We need your help with this!”

 

Rodney slurred a question. “Is't a'mergency?” If Sheppard needed him ... maybe he could wake up for Sheppard. Why was it getting harder to breathe? Why couldn't he move his arms?

 

I need to sleep, Sheppard. M'tired.” He muttered thickly.

 

He could see and hear Teyla, and he wondered why she was shaking his shoulder so roughly. Hadn't Ronon been on the pier, not Teyla? Rodney blinked in confusion. Was he in his quarters? Was Teyla in his quarters?

 

Yes, open your eyes. Stay awake, Rodney. You must fight this.”

 

He felt hands pulling at him, at his clothes. He tried to brush them off. “Stop it. Leave me 'lone. Need to sleep. 'Lizbeth said I could.”

 

Ronon grabbed his shirt with both hands and pulled at him. He roared in his face. “We're under attack, McKay. Wake. Up.”

 

Rodney blinked his eyes open wide in growing awareness and shied back in fear. Ronon had already turned to the side and was wielding a very large knife and was hacking at his blanket. No. Not a blanket. It was green. What were the shrub-things from P4Xwhatever doing on the pier? They did make a really soft mattress he thought dazedly.

 

Then he drew in a shocked breath and looked around wildly. Through the heavy, gray morning light he could see that Teyla was using her knife on the blanket of shrubs that was tangled around his legs.

 

Sheppard looked at him sharply. “Are you with us now, McKay?”

 

Rodney nodded jerkily and tried to move his arms but he seemed to be tucked in tight. Sheppard hacked at the restraints around his arms and it hurt.

 

I – I'm awake. Hurts. Hurts. Sheppard!”

 

Rodney. Don't freak now, but they're anchored in your skin.”

 

What!!” And really, Rodney thought he should be forgiven for that little-girl-like shriek. But Ronon managed a tight grin, and Rodney knew there would be a great deal of teasing in his future so he kept the next one from being more than a tiny, little, really miniscule squeak. But he also began to fight. Even though it hurt, a lot.

 

They finally loosened enough tendrils to pull his hands and clothing from the clutching tendrils and get him up off the ground. He swayed but managed to stay on his feet. Ronon held on to Rodney. Sheppard and Teyla grabbed their packs, and they all headed to the Stargate as fast as Rodney could move.

 

They moved quickly but warily, and Rodney was glad to see that the shrubs they passed were behaving themselves, as shrubs should, now that he had been freed from their oppressive embrace.

 

None of them said much on the hours-long trek to the Stargate, saving their energy for walking and vigilance. Teyla stepped up to the DHD and dialed Atlantis and Sheppard sent his IDC. They were acknowledged and went home. No problem.

 

...

 

They arrived to klaxons blaring a warning to all present while a quarantine shield formed around them.

 

Rodney groaned softly and Ronon let him sink down to sit on the floor to rest. Their day wasn't over yet, it seemed.

 

Elizabeth stood on the balcony near the control room. Chuck was busy at the console and Rodney listened to the conversation with as much concentration as he could muster.

 

When he heard the cause of the quarantine, his patience wore out. “Elizabeth. It's a dangerous-organic-substance quarantine. Not a virus or bacteria. Wait, wait, wait. Get Dr. Parrish. He knows all about this … stuff.”

 

Elizabeth and Sheppard shared a confused glance.

 

Sheppard said, “Well, I guess it makes sense. He's our plant guy. Get Parrish.”

 

Elizabeth nodded to Chuck, and Parrish arrived soon, datapad in hand.

 

Rodney roused himself enough to speak, “Parrish. Atlantis quarantined us because of the shrubs on P4X-M2R. You have the data on it. We need something to kill whatever material we brought back with us. And not kill me, because it's in my skin.”

 

Parrish looked faintly revolted by that last sentence, as did most of the crew present. “B-but Dr. McKay, you only just got back from P4X-M2R. The only data is what you collected. You have it with you.”

 

Rodney felt ready to browbeat the hapless Dr. Parrish and then he just seemed to deflate. “That can't be! We were on ... whatever ... we were on a rescue mission. Monsoon! Flooding! Doesn't that ring a bell with anyone?” He looked at Elizabeth and his team, waiting for their confirmation. When it didn't come, he just looked bewildered. “What were we doing back on P4X-M2R? We couldn't've just got back.”

 

Sheppard knelt beside him. “Rodney. What's going on?”

 

I. I've been having nightmares for weeks... ever since coming back from there.”

 

Sheppard looked at his team worriedly. “Parrish is right. We just went there yesterday and came back today. Not weeks ago.”

 

Elizabeth leaned forward with her hands on the balcony railing. “Rodney. What were the nightmares about?”

 

Rodney seemed to pull himself together with effort. The plant tendrils were starting to cause him more pain, or perhaps the adrenalin was fading and he was feeling it more acutely, but he was trying to think things through.

 

Heaviness. A feeling of being weighed down and not being able to escape...,” He added sheepishly, “I thought it felt like I was drowning. The nightmares wouldn't let me rest and then there was another storm, and one emergency after another. Huh.”

 

Rodney glanced around to his team. “Not drowning, I guess. No storm even?”

 

Sheppard rested a hand carefully on his shoulder. “Not drowning. No monsoon. No more storms. You couldn't escape the shrubs by yourself though. It took one of Ronon's very big, very sharp knives. It was a close call, buddy.”

 

Then the flooding, and the rescue ... the children ... didn't happen,” he stated despondently. “That never happened either.” He took a long slow breath and nodded once sharply. Things were finally starting to make a crazy kind of sense. For Pegasus anyway.

 

When he looked up he looked directly at Dr. Parrish. “Parrish, I'll download my data to the database. I don't seem to be going anywhere soon, so the sooner you figure this out, the sooner we'll be out of quarantine, and the sooner we can see Dr. Beckett.” As Parrish turned to go, McKay added, “You get to save the day today, Parrish. No pressure.”

 

Parrish looked startled, and then fled.

 

...

 

Carson had arrived soon after the quarantine lockdown but was prevented from ministering to Rodney by the quarantine bubble.

 

Colonel Sheppard, you'll have to act as Rodney's medic for the time being.”

 

Sheppard glanced at Ronon and Teyla before saying, “Sure thing doc. You want his vitals I suppose?”

 

That would be a great start.” As the team pulled out their small field kit, Carson tried to get more information from Rodney.

 

Rodney still seemed a bit dazed which seemed to worry Carson and his teammates.

 

Well, I remember ... no that was part of the nightmare, I guess. Well, P4X M2R has these shrubs, and I tried to make a cushion for my sleeping bag. When I woke ... when I really woke up ...” He turned to Ronon and glared, “Ronon was shouting in my face that we were under attack!”

 

Ronon shrugged and grunted. “Well, we were.”

 

Hm. Well, anyway, I seem to have been ... attacked ... by the ... “

 

Carson waited a moment for him to continue, then asked impatiently, “By what?”

 

Rodney huffed in embarassment, “Shrubs.”

 

Plants?”

 

No. Shrubs. Creepy, crawly, dig-into-my-skin shrubs.”

 

Really? Dig in where?”

 

Rodney looked down at his hands and scratched.

 

Stop that right now! Are you daft? Hold them up so I can see.”

 

Rodney sighed dramatically and held them out. Carson gestured for him to turn his hands over, at which Rodney sighed deeper and did so.

 

Are they moving?”

 

If possible, Rodney turned three shades paler and peered at them in a panic.

 

Sheppard pulled one arm to the side and slapped a blood pressure cuff on it and glared at Carson. “That's all the questions for now Doc. Doing the vitals here.”

 

Carson looked surprised for a moment and then sheepish. “Right. You do that, Colonel.”

 

Sheppard tended to his “patient”, and with Teyla and Ronon's help, tried to make him more comfortable.

 

At that point Parrish arrived out of breath. He asked excitedly, “Dr. McKay?”

 

McKay reached up to rub his face and obviously thought better of that idea. He sighed tiredly and asked, “Yes?”

 

Was the planet, uh, P4X …”

 

Yes, yes. I know which planet,” Rodney snapped. “The one that caused us to be quarantined.”

 

R-right. Yes. Of course. Uh…”

 

Rodney hung his head and couldn't hold back another sigh.

 

Well, that planet … it had high humidity and was warm but cloud covered? Totally cloud covered like the database said?”

 

Ye-e-s.” Rodney really was fighting to stay calm. He knew that Parrish was a nervous type. How he'd ended up on the Atlantis Expedition was beyond him. Oh, right. He'd chosen him because he was a brilliant 'plant guy'. He looked around at the team, and saw Sheppard grinning at him. Rodney just ground his teeth harder.

 

There was no insect life?”

 

There wasn't anything that seemed to bother us.”

 

It might have killed off the problematic species over time.”

 

Rodney had been scratching absently at his hand again, where some tendrils had been pulled out... or hacked off. He suddenly stopped and looked more closely. He didn't want to imagine tiny plant mouths biting him but it was impossible not to, because they had. “They ate the bothersome insects?” he asked with trepidation.

 

That would be my guess.”

 

Rodney hoped Parrish was going to get to his point soon. “Well?”

 

Do you suppose, well, I think maybe it could be like ..., but that couldn't be, could it? It's a totally different galaxy, but ...”

 

Par-rish.”

 

Yes.”

 

Just say it.”

 

Oh. Well, it's kind of like, see it produces the same toxic compounds in the atmosphere. It fixes nitrogen. It produces ozone.”

 

Oh for god's sake, Parrish!”

 

Okay. Here goes. It's kudzu-like.”

 

Rodney thought for a minute as his gaze drifted back to his hands. “You mean: Stand there much longer and the kudzu will cover you ... that kudzu?” When he turned a glare Parrish's way he was just in time to see him bounce on his toes.

 

Yeah! That kudzu!”

 

Tell me that's helpful.”

 

Parrish's grin disappeared.

 

Well, maybe. If it's like-kudzu enough.”

 

Rodney ground his teeth again. “Tell me how. Right now.”

 

Well, although some herbicides actually aid its growth, Picloram herbicide is useful against it.” Rodney glared at him until he stammered on, “B-but you know that, and you wouldn't want it on ... never mind. Burning it, and mowing it are useful against it too, just so you know, but those require at least four years, or more, of attack to be effective ... on the plants. And-and that wouldn't be helpful to you either.” He glanced at Dr. McKay and hurried on. “But! These kudzu-like plants adapted to a sun-free, humid environment. I think that bright sunlight might kill it.”

 

Just sunlight? It was trying to … ingest me!”

 

Parrish paused but finally answered slowly as if processing new information. “But, you didn't bring back full grown plants with healthy root systems. Kudzu is normally hard to kill, but these are immature. I think this will take care of our problem.”

 

Our problem, he says. But will killing it kill us? Me? That's the question I want answered.”

 

Parrish brightened. “Oh, no. It's just sunlight. Like a hot, dry Las Vegas day. Or, maybe a little brighter. Atlantis' sensors will tell us when it's gone.”

 

Rodney muttered softly, “Just sunlight.” Then to Parrish, “Set it up. It's something we can try quickly. If it's that bright we could use protective eyewear. And send down my sunscreen.”

 

Sheppard coughed softly. “Better not. We want to kill it, not make sure it gets a nice little tan.”

 

Fine,” Rodney snapped. “Do it, Parrish.”

 

Parrish and Chuck finalized the requirements for brightness and duration. It was Carson's opinion that the shrubs hadn't affected anyone's eyes so protective sunglasses were delivered for the team as well as the crew remaining in the Control Room. The med team still waited for the team's release from quarantine.

 

...

 

Carson was watching Rodney closely because he was obviously beginning to feel the painful effects more acutely as they waited to begin “treatment”. “Rodney. I wish I could give ye somethin' for the pain, but I don't dare till I can give ye a thorough exam.” Carson was worried, and everyone knew it. Freaky plants were not among their favorite encounters, although bugs would probably rate closer to the top of the list.

 

Rodney bit his lip and tried in vain to keep from scratching the backs of his hands. He'd slept with his pack stuck under his head, thankfully, and his limbs were covered for the most part so his hands seemed the most affected. “I'm trying not to scratch. That seems to make it more painful. You'd think it would ease it at least for a minute.” He turned to the rest of his team and asked worriedly, “Are you itching, too?”

 

Teyla abruptly stopped rubbing her hand. She looked a little embarrassed, but answered readily enough. “We used our sleeping bags on bare ground. Our only contact was trying to pull you free, Rodney. I think we will be fine if you are.”

 

Dr. Parrish. Are you ready?” questioned Dr. Weir, who had abruptly stopped rubbing her own hands and arms in a sympathetic reaction.

 

Uh, yes. I just ran one last simulation. It should work. We can start whenever you say.”

 

Well. Since it should work you might as well get started,” muttered Rodney darkly.

 

Elizabeth pointedly put on her protective eyewear and waited for everyone else to do the same. “Well, Dr. Parrish. Whenever you're ready.”

 

Um, the quarantine will lift when Atlantis' sensors read clear, and I calculated that it would take approximately thirty-five minutes. Only the quarantine area will receive the dose of direct sunlight required but it will be brighter, and warmer than usual in the control area because we want the sunlight as well as the dry heat for the most effect. We'll start in ten seconds. The countdown will begin … now.”

 

As the count began, ten, nine, eight … Rodney could be heard to mutter, “Thirty-five minutes of a sunny Las Vegas day. I'm going to look like a well-boiled Canadian lobster. It's a good thing we have good health care.” … three, two, one.

 

Elizabeth held back a chuckle at Rodney's words, but everyone jerked in surprise at the brightness focused on the team when the light was actually switched on.

 

After fifteen minutes, Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon, as well as Rodney, were all sweating profusely.

 

Rodney was trying to ignore the itching which did seem to be fading, except for the itch from the sweating. He looked at his team waiting stoically for the “treatment” to be over and muttered, “How did I get stuck with the “cool” team? You're standing there sweating and wearing your “shades” and you look like cover models for 'Survivors 'R Us'.”

 

Sheppard grinned as he wiped his hand across his brow but didn't even bother to shed his jacket.

 

Teyla stated wonderingly, “This Las Vegas. It must be quite warm there.”

 

At least it's not Death Valley,” Sheppard said with a smirk.

 

Death Valley?” Ronon asked him, and just shared a wondering glance with Teyla when he realized he wasn't kidding. He snorted faintly before muttering, “No wonder McKay makes his own sunscreen.”

 

Sheppard had rolled up McKay's jacket and tucked it under Rodney's head before the light treatment began. Now he leaned down toward Rodney. He asked softly, “You doing okay? Is it causing any more pain?”

 

Rodney sighed. “Actually I'm feeling pretty good. Look at my hands. The little creepers, or whatever they are, look like they're drying up. Of course, I feel like I just might spontaneously combust in this heat, but I think I'm feeling better, otherwise.” He couldn't keep his hands still, partly from the itching, partly from guilt. “Hey, Sheppard?”

 

Yeah? What can I do for you, Rodney?”

 

Nothing. It's just, you know the comments about the...,” and here Rodney waved his hands jerkily.

 

About?”

 

The bug thing. I shouldn't have.” He was well into being flustered and Sheppard patted his shoulder.

 

I know you were teasing. It's nothing to worry about.” Sheppard chuckled and leaned back. “But there is something you might want to prepare yourself for. If he pulls this off, you will have to tell Parrish he did save the day.” Rodney rolled his eyes and crossed his arms awkwardly, and Sheppard chuckled as he slowly stood up.

 

When thirty minutes had passed, Chuck began to announce the time at one minute intervals. Rodney was holding his breath as it neared thirty-five minutes. He really hoped that the simulation was correct and that Parrish had … oh my god … saved the day. It was a long five minutes, but finally the release klaxon sounded briefly and the med team swarmed in to check over Rodney and the rest of the team.

 

...

 

Carson insisted that the whole team be held overnight for observation. Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla gathered around to hear the tale of Rodney's nightmares, which he edited judiciously. He glanced dejectedly at each member of his team. He asked plaintively, “So, I didn't almost die saving children?”

 

Sheppard snorted, Ronon shook his head, but Teyla said kindly, and truthfully, “Yes. In your heart.”

 

Sheppard smiled and nodded agreement, and Ronon grinned as he shrugged and held out the lotion for his reddened face.

 

They were glad to note that Rodney didn't toss or turn much at all that night as he eased finally into sleep.

 

Finis