ATFERBURN

By Kidders

A Stargate Atlantis fic, set during the episode "38 Minutes." Takes place right after Major Sheppard is resuscitated, but before that last scene with Ford, McKay, Weir, and Teyla. This is what happens in between, courtesy of my twisted, evil mind g . Side note: I originally thought this was going to be only five pages or so. And with my DSL down for the last few weeks, I have no idea if everyone is tired of this theme or not. Hopefully the latter. (Actually, this has stretched into months, as real life illness and injury got me down).

No infringement on anything owned by SciFi, MGM, the studio, etc… All this is just a trip through the 'Gate so I can have a little fun. No profit, no foul.

Rated: PG-13, for a smattering of mildly bad language, graphic medical description, messy and painful wounds, and general suffering inflicted on Major Sheppard. His day's gone from worse to miserably rotten. Alas, I work in the medical field, so my stories typically always have someone hurt or wounded or ill. Can't shake the habit. Oh, well, write what ya know.

Author's Notes: This is my first Stargate fic, though I have written in other fandoms. Think of my offering here as a simple side dish, one that I couldn't get out of my head 'til I wrote it. Then I'm back to my staple fare with Lord of the Rings. Enjoy.

BTW: I appreciate feedback, though flames I prefer to avoid. If you don't like the show, you most likely won't like my story, so go no farther unless you like Atlantis.

Three beds in the Med Bay, and only one was occupied, thank God. They'd been extraordinarily lucky in keeping the casualty count to a minimum, until this latest incident had set everyone on edge. Having one of the Jumpers lodged in the Stargate, while not entirely without precedent, had stressed all members of her team to the limits of their endurance to try and pull off the impossible. And they'd done it—all six members of the Jumper crew had survived the experience without any lasting deficits, even Major Sheppard, who'd been the most seriously injured. All of them had performed beyond her wildest expectations. She was very proud, especially of John's group. The major had chosen his team members well indeed.

Speaking of which…

Elizabeth glanced down at the bed, having positioned herself to be the first thing John Sheppard saw when he regained consciousness after literally being brought back from the dead. It had been so close…they had almost lost him. Four shocks to get his heart started again, four times her pitch to convince John to come along on this mission flashing before her conscience. If he'd succumbed, she wasn't sure if she would've been able to forgive herself.

John moaned, dark lashes lifting to peer at the end of the bed, eyes gradually achieving focus. He blinked a few times, gaze fast-tracking to the ceiling before zeroing in on her. One hand slowly rose to the bandage on his neck, but his fingers brushed the oxygen tubing before they could get there. Recognition flashed across his face. "It's off, right?" John gasped, clenching fearfully at the tubing connected to the cannula in his nose. "Tell me you got that freaking thing off me!

Gone was the dazed look--green eyes bored into her, searching for answers. Funny. She'd never really noticed his eyes were nearly the same color as the waters surrounding Atlantis. "It's off, John," Weir said quickly, intercepting his fingers and squeezing them reassuringly. "And quite dead as well. Blown into the cold of space, and that was after Lieutenant Ford used the creature for target practice."

Relief unclenched his jaw, and he sagged weakly against the mattress. "Cool. Sigourney Weaver meets Dirty Harry. I like it." Sheppard winced, dragging in a breath. "So everyone on the Jumper came through okay?"

Weir smiled. "Yes, all your crew is present and accounted for. Safe and sound thanks to Rodney and Lieutenant Ford's last minute efforts."

"Good. That's good." Sheppard tried to shift his weight and grimaced. He gingerly rubbed his sternum, breathing growing more and more labored. When he finally managed to look at her again, his face seemed as ashen as it had when he'd been coding in the Bay. "Feels like…I got caught under the Jumper's skids. You sure I'm back to normal?"

"Well, Aiden did have to stop your heart, remember? And there was Dr. Beckett's effort to revive you." She stole a brief glance to the infirmary entrance, hidden by a swath of curtains. "They had to shock you several times, it's no wonder you're a little sore. And speaking of the good doctor, I really should go and tell him that you're awake."

"Yeah, I suppose I'll have to remember to thank him—" He suddenly paused, beads of sweat breaking out across his upper lip. "No…um, wait…it's more than that."

Though merely a whisper, the intensity of his words made the hair on her arms prickle under a hail of goose-bumps. Her stomach lurched uneasily, the corn flakes she'd had for breakfast feeling like a lump of cold oatmeal. "John, what's wrong?"

The monitors beside the bed, previously silent in their duty, suddenly began chirping shrilly. Sheppard's eyes opened wide, head tossing against the pillow, skin paling to a ghastly white. "Something's wrong!" Sliding his fingertips under the dressing on his neck, John yanked it off before she could stop him. Weir pinned his arm with her weight, leaning in across his chest, the rapid and panicked flutter of his breathing rolling beneath her like a riptide. At this level, she got a close-up view of his wound, and for a moment it was all she could look at. The puncture marks on the major's neck were a deep angry-red, swollen so the surrounding skin glistened with blisters, oozing fluid and scored blackish-blue at the edges. Fresh blood welled up to streak the pillowcase red. "John, tell me what's wrong! I can't feel what you're going through unless you describe it!"

His body shuddered violently, and he hissed, "Can't breathe! I can't…breathe! Get me up!"

Drawn by the commotion, the nurse appeared from around the curtain. Elizabeth twisted her head and shouted, "Go get Dr. Beckett! Hurry!"

"He's down the hall in the lab. Be back in two!"

Two minutes. An eternity they couldn't afford. John's lips were already turning blue, and he was clawing at his neck, arching against her in a desperate attempt to get air into his lungs. Pushing her feet to the floor, Weir tried to raise the head of the gurney, but it wouldn't budge. No leverage, damn it! Kicking off her heels, she hopped onto the bed, straddling the major and locking her arms around his waist, pulling with all her strength. His upper body came up easier than she'd expected, John's head falling to rest just over her right shoulder.

Each breath the major fought for vibrated through them both, his sighs ragged against her nape, body radiating way too much heat as sweat soaked past the thin layer of cotton covering his chest and leeched into her blouse. We can't lose him, she thought. Not after beating all the odds! Not like this! Sheppard suddenly convulsed, ribs heaving as he gagged and vomited.

"What's happening?!" Dr. Beckett skidded to a stop beside the gurney and took a quick survey of the vital signs on the monitor, then silenced the claxon. "What are his symptoms?"

"Trouble breathing," Weir said, feeling a warm dribble slithering down her back. John's frenetic gasping had slowed now, just a choked heave every so often. "And vomiting," she added, cautiously relieved. Maybe the worst was over.

"It's good you had 'im upright then, so he wouldn't aspirate." She made to move, but Carson stilled her with a wave. "A moment, please. I want ta listen to his heart an' lungs." The doctor brought the back of the gurney to an upward slant. "That's good. Let's settle 'im back, nice and easy."

John's face was still about the same shade as the freshly changed pillowcase—bleach white. His eyes were screwed shut, and when she stepped down, they didn't even flicker. "Sorry, Weir," he whispered, clearing his throat with a cough. "Don't feel so hot all of a sudden."

"We'll get ya fixed up proper, don't you worry," Beckett stated firmly, relaying orders to his nurse. "Let's get a second line in, dextrose an' saline. Plus start 'im on a round of antibiotics."

Elizabeth gave Beckett her full attention. "I thought the major's injury had resolved into a stage that was non-life threatening. Why this sudden setback, Carson?"

"I'd thought 'im on the road to recovery as well." Beckett frowned. "Maybe a delayed allergic reaction, or a response to the creature's venom. We might have ta start viewin' this bug as something more than a tick, what someone back home might suffer after receivin' a snakebite or a scorpion sting. Or even a nip from the platypus—aquatic life has its predators as well."

"A platypus?" Sheppard echoed huskily. "You're kidding, right?"

"No, I'm quite serious," Beckett insisted. "That cute, little friendly creature has a sting that'll make most grown men cry. Many a fisherman has regretted tanglin' with it."

Sheppard gave the doctor an intense stare, and Weir thought she caught a mumbled, "Cute, my ass."

Shifting her shoulders, feeling wet and sticky now that the immediate crisis appeared to be over, Elizabeth ordered, "Keep me posted, Doctor," and told the major, "I'll check in on you a little later, John. I need to get changed and do a once-through in the command center."

His smile was so brief she nearly missed it. It wasn't even a smile, really. He met her gaze, eyes crinkling just enough to make him look years younger than he actually was. The only difference now being that those eyes were darkened by pain, the lack of sleep bruising a shadow underneath that she hoped would be lessened soon.

"Not going anywhere," he quipped. Sheppard watched until Weir rounded the corner and was out of sight before he let his face crumple. The nurse had finished redressing his wound, which still hurt like hell, and his ribs felt like they'd taken a shot from an alien drone; thankfully, oxygen no longer seemed in such short supply. However, Weir serving as super-absorbent Bounty while he tossed his cookies had not been one of his finer moments.

"So…" Dr. Beckett perched on the side of the gurney. "What's the real story, laddie?" The Scotsman inclined his head toward the monitors. "Your pulse is rising, your blood pressure is on the low side. And you're as pale as my legs in the middle of winter. What else is bothersome?"

"Pain." Sheppard felt his eyelids droop, forced them open again. "My neck is burning like it took a hit from a hot poker, the tingling is back in my arms and legs, my throat feels like I sucked in a lungful of exhaust fumes, my ears are ringing, I see two of you, and my stomach just turned itself inside out." Exhaling shakily, John reached for the nearest bedrail, palm riding the smooth surface until the inevitable muscle cramp hit and his fingers snapped closed like they'd acquired a target. He groaned. "And that's just for starters. Doc. If I move at all, blink my eyes or try to snag the goddamned urinal, you can multiply what I just said by a factor of ten."

Beckett was nodding, face serious, cataloging it all. "I think I'm on the right track. The bulk of your symptoms are startin' to sound more an' more like an injected toxin or venom. The most exact analogy would be the stonefish or scorpionfish back on Earth."

Fish? What the hell? "Well, as I recall, I didn't go for a swim while I was on-mission."

"No, but you did suffer a bite." Beckett looked positively grim.

Sheppard swallowed hard, nearly choked on his own spit. "What?! How nasty are those critters you're comparing my bug to anyway? I mean, the thing's been off me for at least a couple of hours!"

"But the venom is still in ya, son. An therein lies the problem."

The pain was spreading. The twitches in his arms and legs were really starting to hurt. John felt himself go very still, afraid to move, reluctant to even breathe too deeply. "How bad?" he croaked, mouth now much drier than a second ago. Beckett's eyes warred with the desire to be truthful while not taking away all hope, and Sheppard sighed, weariness almost draining his resolve. "Look, Doc, if I'm going to fight this war, I gotta know what I'm up against."

"You're right." The Scotsman schooled his face into a mask of solid determination. "If the symptoms progress along the similar timeline of their aquatic counterparts, things are goin' ta turn much worse before they get better."

"Yeah." Sheppard winced. "Figured as much."

"You can expect pain an' swelling around the wound, though with antibiotics and antihistamines, I hope we can keep it to a minimum, so ya can still breathe under your own power."

"Breathe?" John blinked hard, and found he needn't have bothered. Every image he saw had an exact duplicate riding shotgun, with a bizarre yellow aura turning the Med Bay into a freaky version of a carnival ride from hell.

The doctor sighed. "If it comes to the point ya can't move any air, we'll have ta place a tube down your windpipe to assist respiration. But don't worry, you'll be sedated, so it sounds more painful than it actually is."

"Tell that to Ripley," John muttered.

Beckett looked puzzled. "Excuse me?"

"Never mind." Sheppard licked his lips, inhaling sharply when a cramp tore into his belly. "What other fortunes you got in your crystal ball?"

"This is all theoretical, of course."

"Of course."

"There may be periods of incredible pain, worse than any you've likely experienced."

"Worse than when that bug was on me?" Sheppard exclaimed nervously.

"Possibly."

Beckett's eyes were brimming with sympathy, so John closed his. "Swell. What else?"

"We can treat the pain as it presents itself, through intravenous medication if need be."

If what he felt now was a harbinger of future shock, there wouldn't be any doubt. "Oh, I'll definitely need," John said dryly.

"You might also brace for some of your previous symptoms to return: numbness and tingling of the extremities, intense pain settling in for several hours, convulsions, paralysis, fever, chilling and sweating, muscle spasms, abdominal pain, and difficulty swallowing."

"Wow, a barrel of monkeys pulling negative G's never had this much fun."

"Might I remind ya, Major, you did say ya wanted to know."

"Yes, I did." Chewing his lip, Sheppard asked, "Just how good is this medicinal cocktail you'll be serving?" He was trying to look past the next twenty-four hours, but it felt more or less like he was back on the Wraith planet, teetering on the edge of that crater. That, and the fact the doc had gone all stiff-upper-lip grim, which even alone was enough to trip his radar.

"There's no predictin' it, Major. Everyone reacts differently. What I can tell ya is if we start raisin' the dose too high, your lungs would cease functionin', and we'd be forced to intubate ya on the spot." Beckett paused, a smile coaxing forth a gleam in his eyes. "But I'd be gentler than any of those chest-burstin' rugrats hot on Sigourney Weaver's trail. And in space, 'no one can hear ya scream.'"

Sheppard snorted. "Thanks for that image."

"Happy to oblige."

"Guess I should be grateful, huh? Didn't get flushed into space when Ford blew the rear hatch, and my atoms stayed cohesive instead of being scrambled into primordial nothingness by the Gate."

Beckett nodded. "Small favors. Thinkin' positive, that's the key."

"I'm a positive kind of guy." John froze as a tendril of pain looped through his belly, lingering under his ribs. "Usually!" he gasped, panting. "I hate to seem pushy, but I'm already starting to lose altitude here. I'm thinking…I'd better…order the first round."

Serious once more, Beckett asked, "On a scale of one to ten, how bad is it?"

"We're at five, and holding…no…make it a…six." Gritting his teeth, Sheppard blew a sigh through his teeth. "Listen, Doc, I'm thinking this bug bite is probably going to turn…into my worst nightmare." He gulped, feeling the sweat drenching his face and the way his muscles were starting to twitch incessantly. "Maybe I should try and rest while I still can."

"Hold that thought, Major. The first drink is on the house."

"Care for a cup of tea, Weir?" Sheppard flung his wrist up as far as he could manage, flashing the tubing drilled through the vein in his hand. Her look of annoyance made him smirk, a brief distraction since the cramping in his belly almost had him bent double. The sheet draped across his chest was soaking wet, sweat pouring from every pore, dripping a small river down his spine and stinging his eyes each time he blinked. He was so unbearably hot, he'd have given anything to be sitting in the nosebleed section of Field McMurdo right about now. In two hours, he'd saturated his way through two pairs of scrubs, and was now relegated to wearing one of those skimpy gown things. Two hours, and his bug-bitten ass had graduated from pills to a morphine chaser, and the pain just kept getting worse.

John chuckled weakly, the sound scraping across his raw and abused vocal cords before it twisted into a choked gasp of pain. His fingers clutched wildly at the plastic switch hooked to the IV, thumb depressing the button promising a relief valve to the agony coursing down his legs. Didn't help, only by half, barely enough to swallow the scream waiting to get out. "Brewed special, fortunes read at no charge."

"John…" Weir's voice was soft, and when he looked up, the shimmer of tears on his lashes clouded her face into a singular display of pity.

"Don't!" he ground out, twisting desperately to roll on his side, barely able to move as fire danced up and down his legs and arms, burning until his every breath caught in a sob-ridden heave. Feet tangled in tubing, and a sheet that feel insubstantial as the flames seared away his skin and blistered a path from shoulder to toe. Sheppard's thumb convulsed on the gray button, over and over, he couldn't take this anymore. Morphine should take away the pain, right? It should help. It should make it stop! Cries held back gained voice in one, long shriek of agony, his head connecting with the bedrail when he curled forward, gasping and gagging.

"Just try to ride it out," Weir coached. Somehow, her hand found his, her fingers reassuringly cool where he clenched them in a weak grip.

"Kinda hard to do…when your engine flames out, and you dead-stick it in."

"Save your strength," she murmured. "You need to keep the hope alive."

"At sea level? Fat chance." A spasm shot though him, and he arched, spine going rigid, the movement sending the muscles in his legs into vicious cramps. "I'm running out of time, Weir. I can't sleep, I can't walk, I can't…" His voice cracked. "I don't understand how it can hurt so damn much when…the paralysis just keeps getting worse."

"Carson said the venom from the creature is still in your system, John. The pain is a result of neural toxicity. Dr. Beckett thinks you will heal given enough time."

"Time is meaningless. And I'm screwed." John shuddered violently, licking dry lips, the ringing in his ears louder than any rotor assembly. "There's no antivenin for what ails me." A small discomfited sound worked its way past his throat. "So how about some bigger and badder painkillers instead?"

"If they give you anything stronger, you'll stop breathing."

"And I suppose suspending operations isn't really an option." He smiled bleakly, tears and sweat running a deep gorge down the side of his face.

"John, you can't give up!" Weir knelt down, squeezing his hand. "I know it doesn't seem possible right now, but think of all the odds you've already beaten. Coming this far would have bested some people, but not you! You're stronger than that. You've proven that time after time, and that's all I'm asking for: just a little more time."

Finally meeting her eyes, Sheppard had a haunted look, the tear tracks on his face mute testimony to how badly he was hurting. "Sorry you brought me on this ride?" he whispered.

"No!" Elizabeth was disconcerted to hear how strangled and harsh her voice sounded. "And neither should you. A lot of our people are alive today due to your efforts. You should be proud of how you've conducted yourself."

"Yeah, I guess." He swallowed, body quivering with the effort of trying to mask the pain. A muffled sob got past his defenses, and he bit down on his lip hard enough to draw blood.

"Carson will find the answer, John."

"That's the same tune you've been humming for the last six hours."

His face was gaunt, pale cheeks covered by dark stubble, worn down by pain and exhaustion to a frail hope that teetered on the brink of extinction. And while his eyes were black with despair, she saw past that, and wasn't about to give up. "I like the melody."

"It is kind of catchy, isn't it?"

She nodded, and saw Sheppard's eyes weren't quite focused, that they tracked sluggishly to try and meet her gaze. "I'm going blind," he blurted, pupils so large they nearly blotted out the green of his irises. Pupils, she realized, that were not contracting in response to light.

"I know," Elizabeth whispered, kneeling so she could wrap his hand in both of hers. "Carson warned me."

"Once the optic nerve is destroyed, there'll be no way to reverse the damage." He sniffed, voice a backwash of tears that hadn't been allowed to fall. "If that happens, I won't be much good to you, Ancient gene or not."

She clasped his cold, nearly lifeless fingers and rubbed them vigorously. "Carson is working as fast as he can. Lieutenant Ford and Dr. McKay returned with a venom sample from the creature only an hour ago."

"A…a sample? From the bug?" He frowned at her. "I don't understand."

Delaying the news until a successful return had been made by those involved had been her decision. Not wanting to get his hopes up, only to have them cruelly dashed if the mission had been a failure. "Yes, a team went back to the planet to collect a sample for Dr. Beckett's analysis."

"So some of our people actually went back, found another bug…and milked that thing?"

"Yes. Judging from McKay's behavior, the situation must've turned pretty hairy for a while there. When they got back, Rodney was rattling off three sentences to Ford's one. I think Aiden was ready to bind and gag him."

"You shouldn't have let them go," Sheppard said woodenly. "Too risky just to save one person."

"Just like you went into harm's way to try and rescue Colonel Sumner?"

He sighed. A slow blink signaled concession. "Point taken."

"They're all quite worried about you, Major. Ford, Teyla, even Rodney…now that they are back on Atlantis, it's been all I could do to keep them out of here."

Sheppard sucked in air around a noisy swallow, his left hand slipping free of her grip. He dropped the medication trigger to grab at the bedrail instead, fingers closing jerkily until the knuckles turned white. "No!" he rasped, "no visitors!" His arm shook alarmingly, tension vibrating along the metal hinges as spasms wracked his body. "Eight minutes…eight minutes before…ahhhh!" Forehead pushed to the rail, John's eyelids wedged shut, gasps drowning in whimpered cries he no longer had the strength to control. "…before I can fill up a-another quart…might as well be eight…ahhh…hours for all t-the…" His voice rose shrilly, pain spiraling it up an octave. "…good it d-does m-me."

"John…" Weir fought for control of her own voice. "Maybe letting someone else in would help take your mind off the pain. Carson hopes to have something workable in perhaps another hour. Until then, perhaps a little company might do you some good."

"I don't want them to s-see me l-like this," he whispered, shifting his face slightly, eyes now fixed open, wide and tear-stained.

"All of them were trapped with you on the Jumper. They watched you die. It can't get much worse than that." He was frowning, looking pale and uncertain. She played her trump card. "They're part of your team, Major. You back each other up on missions, and I know you rely on their strength and knowledge as if it were you own. You trust them to take your six—trust them with this."

"Okay, okay," he said thinly. "I see your point. By all means…let the festivities begin."

"Try to curb your enthusiasm, Major," Weir observed, her steps soft, tread barely registering on the station's polished floor.

Sheppard hugged the sheet to his shoulder, shifting to his left side. Facing the infirmary door, his vision was just good enough to track the approach of three familiar but blurry faces. "Welcome to my humble abode," he rasped, swallowing past the dryness in his throat.

"Nice digs, sir. Room service, Jacuzzi and pool open 24/7, ocean view." Ford's voice sounded just like it always did, no worries except what was for chow later. No, wait, that was McKay… "Uh…Dr. Weir briefed us, but how are you really doing?"

"Peachy." John slowly let out the breath he'd been holding, wondering how the hell his voice had nailed mid-C. "Fresh out of party favors, but the bar's probably still serving."

There was a clatter of wheels sliding over the floor, and Ford's face swam into a hazy focus inches from his nose. "Not a problem, sir." The lieutenant grinned, spinning around on the stool he'd appropriated. "Brought my own." He proffered a bottle of pink Snapple. "Shaken, not stirred."

"Hate to burst your bubble, Ford," lectured McKay, "but if you keep upping the centrifugal force on that thing, don't even bother to arm the ejection seat. Your Nestea plunge will expunge very messily."

Ford laughed, rolling in the space between the beds like a kid on a new bike. "My stomach's a rock," he joked. "Cast iron."

McKay's shrug was evident in his voice. "Perfectly good waste of rations."

"Negative, Doc. MRE's may be your idea of dinner at O'Charley's, but I plan on hooking something bigger. Get my daily allowance of Omega 3's."

"We haven't even begun to survey the oceans around Atlantis," McKay returned. "Who knows what we'll find…and certain species have been known to bite back."

"Oooohhh," Ford taunted playfully, "is it safe to go back in the water? Or are we gonna need a bigger boat?"

Pain tolerable for the moment, Sheppard felt his lips twitch in the beginnings of a grin. "Lieutenant, I think you and McKay are way too obsessed with food."

"No way," denied Ford. "Hypoglycemic reaction? Hello?"

"That's a bit harsh," snarked McKay. "I did save our lives."

John cleared his throat noisily, pointed to the bandage on his neck. "Boys, let's save the shark stories for a later time." There was a lengthy, almost embarrassing silence, and he got a whiff of something sweet, not perfume exactly, maybe some exotic flower. Had to be Teyla…he indulged for a nice moment of visualizing a big pink bloom tucked behind her ear, then every muscle around the wound in his neck tried to strangle him. He choked, nearly gagging when he could breathe again.

"Well, Major," observed McKay, "you look, ah…ah…"

"You make a crack about the gown,' Sheppard whispered, "and you'll be the one needing medical attention."

"Touchy, aren't we?" He heard the physicist bounce on the balls of his feet. "Tired—I was going to say you look tired."

"Dr. McKay is right," agreed Teyla. "You look exhausted." She was standing at the end of the bed, too far for him to accurately judge her expression. "The pain still troubles you greatly?"

Shivering, John could feel the sweat drying on his skin. His swallow didn't go as planned: throat tightening until he was choking again, his gasps for air became like trying to suck a too-thick milkshake through a straw, numbing cold sapping his strength and twisting along trembling extremities, stiffening them into tighter and ever more painful knots. Sheppard groaned, squeezing his eyes shut until tears leaked through the gaps in his lashes. "You could s-say that," he croaked.

"Is there anything we can get for you?"

Teyla obviously wanted to help, but he'd pretty much exceeded maximum gross weight on this bird. Coughing, John wheezed, finally caught his breath. "How about an Ancient that can heal with a kiss?" he joked weakly. "Or maybe a Genie in a bottle?"

"Sorry, sir," Ford said. "That's a little out of our price range, even if we get Dr. Bellows on board."

John grimaced. "Maybe I need to win the lottery, make my problems disappear."

"Okay, I'm casting you a line, sir—what would you wish for?"

No brainer, extra point would be a breeze. "Number one, we get back to Earth before all my hair turns gray and falls out. Two, the Wraith go beddie-bye real soon, and three…that the doc can pull another magic tadpole out of his Petrie dish and—" The room suddenly blackened, what was left of any light eaten up by the advancing black hole inside his head. The pounding behind his right eye teetered from critical mass into total, vision-sucking meldown, pushing an agonized whimper past his lips. Sheppard palmed his brow and forced himself to look through splayed fingers, only to meet an impossibly bleak darkness. "The base didn't just suffer a burp in the power, did it?" he gulped.

"No," McKay replied quickly. "Energy output from our Naquada generators haven't shown any fluctuation since we flushed out the stowaway last week. Why?"

"That's what I figured." Sheppard pushed his forehead to the bedrail, closing his eyes since there wasn't any reason to keep them open now. The metal was cold, but it eased the throbbing inside his skull. Panic circled in his mind, Can't see! Can't see! I Can't See! Playing over and over, drowning out the others until all he could sense was that the light was gone and pain remained, red-hot twinges dancing down nerve endings and burning all the way to the bone, until the onslaught drove a jagged cry from his throat. Holy Mary, hurts so much… A gush of warm blood soaked the bandage on his neck, and the pain just kept coming. Dodging around blind corners to score hit after hit, and he curled into a tight ball, head rapping out an S.O.S. against the rails.

"Major!" Teyla was gripping his shoulder, just like she had in the Jumper. "You are not alone. If you wish to take refuge in privacy, we will take our leave, but know we will not abandon you to your fate, whatever that may be. The doctor is working hard, and as quickly as he can. I am confident he will have an antidote soon. You must hold on."

"Eas-sy for y-you to say," he gasped. His throat closed up so only a sob could emerge. Panting, he ground out, "Can't see…completely b-blind."

Someone pushed the sweat-plastered hair off his forehead, coaxing his face away from the metal bars. Hands smooth and gentle, a cool crosswind blowing across the moist heat fueling a constant, feverish kiln beneath his skin. "There is still time for a cure, John," Teyla asserted. "Do not despair."

"Roger that, sir," Ford piped in. "Beckett's a genius when it comes to biochem and gene therapy. Cooking up some anti-venom will seem like child's play."

"Right, our esteemed physician has some experience in xenobiology." McKay this time, sounding worried and a lot less smug. "You should heed their advice, Major. You are a vital member of this expedition. The base wouldn't have achieved the same level of operational success without your input."

"You mean they need the gene," Sheppard ground out wearily. "I'm your source for a brave new world."

"I wouldn't say that…exactly. Or inexact, as the case may be."

McKay's tone resonated doubt, so John said, "Of course you would. It's an all day pass for the Ancient Arcade. Step right up and get your hand stamped. Front seat in the House of Horrors."

"You like that ride, too?" Ford had shit-eating grin in his voice. "'Cause it scores pretty high in my book. RBI single."

"We don't need a play by play," differed McKay.

"Hah! Nothing like a boatful of fright to get your date close for the night."

"The only thing close around here better be Beckett coming with the words, 'I can cure you'." Fearing the uncomfortable silence, Sheppard spent the next few moments trying to fill his lungs, nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt something snake along his arm.

"Relax, sir, it's just me." Ford again, sounding so cheery he wondered how the guy did at poker. "Major, come on, stay in the game. Let's talk Ferris Wheels. You dig wild rides, right?"

"I l-like anything hoping to m-make you lose your l-lunch. Just not at this v-very moment."

"What is a Ferris Wheel?' Teyla wanted to know.

His reply got lost in a bout of coughing, so Ford jumped in. "Big, circular, motorized wheel with seats on it that go around. Gets you up high so you can see out over a town and stuff."

"Oh." Teyla seemed unimpressed. "I think I prefer the view from your ship while in orbit, or going through the stargate."

Ford chuckled. "Oh, yeah, the Jumper's definitely got the juice when it comes to the cooler ride. No contest. Right, Major?"

"Sure." John felt his throat move in a swallow, but drool spilled out his mouth instead of going down the way it should. "Cool space stuff."

"Ah, I'd wondered where everyone had gotten of to," Beckett said as he bustled into the infirmary. "How do ya fancy a party crasher, then?"

The doc was parked bedside, holding something. John squinted, couldn't focus. He sighed shakily, hardly daring to hope. "The cure?"

Beckett presented a syringe right in front of his nose. "Hair of the dog that bit ya."

John opened his mouth, but breathing sapped his energy. McKay was the one who spoke. "Necessity really is the mother of invention. That has to be the fastest protein synthesis ever. Maybe even set a record."

"Finagle the stats later," John muttered hoarsely. "Just get on with it."

This time, the silence festered with all kinds of nasty possibilities. "I really ought to perform the standard allergic testin' before I administer the compound," hedged Beckett.

A violent shudder rocked the gurney. "Screw the testing, Doc!" Sheppard rasped. "I'll be blind in another hour!" The shout stole the last of his breath, leaving him gasping. Agony exploded in his head, exquisitely bright streaks of green and red and blue crisscrossing his narrowed field of vision, heat flushing his face while jagged slivers of glass ripped into his eye sockets, leeching caustic tears down his cheek. Sheppard grabbed his head and cried out, the wail using his remaining oxygen, tension twisting along his spine like a screw threaded too tight, one choked inhalation not near enough to halt the half-formed sobs clogging in his throat, a dam about to burst. Back and neck arching beyond his control, darkness reached in and sucked him under.

"He's seizing," someone said, far away, meaningless chatter.

"We can't afford ta wait…give the doses as one infusion…five percent dextrose…"

Sound wavered, faded into the distance. All that remained was the pain. Muscles twisted bow-tight, chest bound so breathing was a constant battle. Then it was over, leaving him shivering and spent, practically welded to the bedrail. He couldn't take much more. It had to end soon. Fingers brushed the tubing he'd somehow lost in the spasm, John flinched, eyes opening to fearfully search the darkness. Suddenly, a warm hand came to rest on his forehead.

"Ride the wave, Major," urged Teyla. "Go where the pain wishes to take you. Do not struggle."

His stomach contracted, sending a burn of acrid bile into his mouth. Sheppard hastily swallowed. "T-T-Teyla?"

"The pain need not engulf you," she assured him. "Swim to the surface and ride each wave as it crests. Catch your breath before the next one arises."

"Zen and the art o-of s-surfing. Knew there w-was a reason I got all the premium ch-channels." Concentrating, Sheppard pushed away the pain and pictured Teyla in a nice, skimpy bikini. No, don't go down that road, she's a member of your team…but it was the perfect distraction. Clinging in all the right places, canary yellow against her bronze skin… Pain intruded, and John grabbed for the railing. Fingers curling around the bar, his shivers rattled the metal with a spastic clatter. It was bad, he couldn't seem to stop. Fantasy forgotten, he managed to blurt out. "C-c-cold, r-really…really c-cold!"

A warm body spooned along his back, and he startled. "Ford, that better n-not be your h-hand on m-my ass."

"No, sir!"

"Sorry, Major." Teyla's hair brushed his ear, her fingers skimming carefully over his right side. A blanket soon draped them both. "Just getting settled. I'm afraid I slipped."

There was a snicker, probably Ford. "I'm not," he mumbled, the pain finally leaving his head and neck, allowing heat to seep into weary, knotted muscles.

"Not what?"

"Sorry," he breathed, sighing deeply. "Tired. Just wanna be able to rest my eyes a m-minute. You feel really…nice, Teyla."

This time, the short bark of laughter came from McKay. "At last, a universal constant."

Teyla folded her arms across John's chest, cautiously avoiding all the tubes and wires. "I am sure the major will be a perfect gentleman, won't you, Sheppard?" The only answer she received was silence. Then, the sound of the major's slow, even breaths. It was the most normal thing she had heard since their return, and the relief made her smile.

"Wow, he's asleep," whispered Ford. Not even a squeak emitted from the stool bearing his weight. "Way to go, Teyla!"

She thought a moment, frowning. "But I did nothing. The real strength and resiliency lies within Major Sheppard. It was he who summoned a great pillar of endurance to his side."

Ford stood, silently stretching before offering her a tired smile. "Yeah, the major's a true Rock of Gibaltar."

"Gibaltar?" Teyla echoed, confused.

"Big rock, long story," McKay spouted hurriedly.

"Don't forget Herc and Zena," Ford reminded, smirking. "And not to be confused with Ayers Rock."

"Oh, please," McKay grumbled back. "They're hardly the same thing."

"Hard as a rock, you mean."

"No, that would be you leaning between a rock and a hard place, Lieutenant."

"Rock on, Professor."

"I resent that comment. And, might I add, Ginger and Mary Ann often found brains to be more alluring than brute strength. Just thought I might point that out."

"In what reality? They totally dug the Skipper…"

Teyla closed her eyes, having long since lost the thread of the conversation. She didn't mind, though. The quietly whispered debate was somehow comforting. Normal. McKay and Ford always argued, over anything and everything. Usually it grated on her nerves, for she valued silence, or at least the peace to gather one's thoughts. But not now. Right now, she could listen to them and their endless chatter for hours if it meant Sheppard would remain asleep. Able to regain his strength so he might heal. Teamwork had prevailed, thank the Ancestors, and they would all live to fight another day. And Teyla would not have it be any other way.

The nurse redressing his wound had a light, easy touch, but Sheppard couldn't help flinching when she probed the raw and abraded skin on his neck. The blisters had ruptured, leaving behind a sticky, oozing mess that was exquisitely sensitive to the touch. He'd come to dread the twice-a-day bandage changes, even though they were a necessary evil. This time, though, didn't hurt near as bad as the last one, when a sizable chunk of dead tissue had sloughed off during the procedure. When she finished, he heaved a sigh and opened his eyes, able to appreciate how hot she was with the blonde hair clipped up in one of those half-ponytails, how nice she smelled…

"Ah, I see our fearless leader has awoken," announced McKay, the scientist following the young woman's departure, fiddling with his wrist.

John saw he was taking his own pulse, and rolled his eyes. "McKay, you are such a back-seat driver."

"What? Even I occasionally window-shop, though I do have very discriminating taste."

"Discriminating?" Ford appeared at his elbow. "You do a full-spec analysis before you even shake hands."

"I do not!"

"Look, McKay, you've got to face facts—no one is ever going to measure up to the pedestal you've put me on. Just ain't gonna happen," teased Ford.

"Hah!"

"Boys and girls, play nice." John frowned—boy did his voice still sound shitty. Didn't matter, all he cared about was his vision was back to 20/20.

"I don't have to tolerate your juvenile sense of humor," McKay complained. "I'm going to bed." He turned to leave, then glanced back. "Glad you're feeling better, Major."

"Good night, McKay."

"Don't let the bed bugs bite," Ford threw in as his parting shot. He sobered as soon as the scientist rounded the corner. "Sorry, sir. Couldn't resist."

"No," Sheppard sighed. "It was good advice."

"Think I'll turn in, too," the lieutenant decided. "See you tomorrow, sir."

"Pleasant dreams," bade Teyla as she, too, departed the infirmary.

Which left Weir, who'd been standing quietly in the background. She approached the bed, offering him a weary smile. With a start, John realized she probably hadn't slept since he'd gotten sunk behind the buggy 8-ball. "I seem to be repeating myself," she said softly, "but you did good, you know."

"Which was better, the vomiting, the screams, or the seizures?" At her stricken look, he felt embarrassment ignite along his face. "Sorry, that didn't come out quite like I intended."

She clasped his hand, squeezing it firmly. He was just glad he could still feel it. "John, no one else could have fought a harder battle, waged a better war than you just did. There isn't a person on this base who thinks less of you for what happened. They see your strength—you won, against all odds. That's something to be proud of."

He glanced away, his hard-won composure threatening to crumble. Sheer exhaustion made it impossible to think clearly. "Maybe," he conceded.

"Definitely," Weir insisted. "And don't you forget it."

"No ma'am."

"Get some rest." She smiled. "You're going to need it."

"Yes, I will." He settled into the pillows, squirming to get comfortable.

"What were you going to tell me?"

He met her gaze, brow furrowing a little. "When?"

"Back on the Jumper, when…you know, when you thought… I didn't want you to say it at the time, but now I'm curious."

Thinking back, after all he'd been through…John found he really couldn't remember. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"No, I didn't think so." Weir released his hand, retreating as the lights began to dim. "Good night, Major."

His team—they'd pulled him back from the abyss. Another Hail Mary, all the way. John wasn't about to tempt fate and try to figure out all the answers. He was just glad the night was almost over, and that he was alive to fight another day.

THE END