A/N: I have no medical schooling or training. The medical and scientific details in this section, and in the entire story, have been completely made up by me, so all mistakes are mine. The way I see it, when you're dealing with experimental gene therapy and critters that suck the life out of you, it's all fiction and anything goes. The symptoms and definition of septic shock, however, were taken from the WebMD internet site
Thanks are once again due to drschatten for the original plotbunny and to MachingMonkey for her beta work on the first half – I couldn't have finished it without you! Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed it, especially BigRedCanuck – that's absolutely the best compliment I could possibly receive!
Rodney was in the infirmary. Again. Trying to wait patiently for Carson to return with the results of his blood test.
He still felt sick, but it wasn't too bad. At least he was clean and dressed in fresh scrubs. He was mostly tired. And hungry, he was so hungry. The MRE Carson had given him just didn't taste right. He still had the taste of ashes in his mouth from that last Wraith: dry and papery, gritty and smoky. He'd managed to choke down a few bites, but his stomach was clenching and the bile rose in the back of his throat. He managed to grab a basin before losing the meager contents of his stomach.
A few minutes later, as he sat there shivering and trying to suppress dry heaves, he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to find Sheppard, looking nearly as bad as Rodney felt, offering a wet washcloth. He reached for it, and suddenly experienced that almost overwhelming hunger again.
"Get away from me," he rasped, snatching his hand back.
Sheppard looked startled. "Huh?"
Rodney scrambled off the infirmary bed, keeping it between himself and John.
"I want I'm hungry, Major, I'm so hungry. Get away from me, do you hear me?" His voice rose. "You have to stop me, John, I want it, god, I want it!" He was shaking with the need to grab Sheppard, or anyone who came near him, and suck as much energy as he could out of them. All those Wraith lives had filled him with cold power but hadn't fulfilled the deep-rooted appetite he felt now.
Something warm and wet dripped down his upper lip and into his mouth and he automatically licked his lips, tasting blood. He reached up to touch it and his fingers came away smeared with red. He was still shaking, his heart pounding against his ribcage, making it hard to catch his breath. He staggered, suddenly lightheaded, and sat heavily on the floor.
He heard Sheppard yelling for Carson and the duty nurse, and then the room spun away and he slipped into welcome darkness.
The first thing to intrude were the voices. His semi-conscious mind automatically tagged each one, and he let himself relax again as they were identified.
"…wasn't really expecting it, but it's not surprising. The mutation in his genes reached the point where it made an abrupt change to his body, trying to shut down his digestive system, taking the final steps towards relying solely on the energy he drained for sustenance. The nosebleeds you mentioned were probably early warning signs. He went into septic shock – his immune system finally sat up and took notice and initiated an extreme response to what it perceived as an infection. We managed to stabilize him long enough for the retrovirus to correct the mutated gene."
Medical voodoo, packaged in that mesmerizing Scots burr that made anything sound plausible. Whatever Carson was talking about, he didn't understand it.
He must have made some sound or movement, because suddenly someone was pulling up his eyelid and shining a bright light in his eye. He batted it away irritably.
"Rodney? Come on now, open your eyes. You've been asleep long enough."
"If you'd quit with the damn light," he muttered, squinting. "What happened?" He managed to pry his eyes open and found Carson, Elizabeth, and John smiling down at him.
"You were very sick, Rodney, but you're doing much better now." Elizabeth reached for his hand and he almost let her take it before the memories burst out of the fog of sleep into full Technicolor in his mind.
"No! You can't touch me, Elizabeth. No one can touch me!" He snatched his hand away, only to have it grabbed and held firmly by Sheppard. He tried frantically to pull it away, but John was strong and Rodney was in no shape to resist. Seconds ticked by and as Sheppard continued to stand there, a happy grin unfolding across his face, Rodney slowly relaxed.
"You aren't – you're okay. I'm – what, am I cured? I'm not turning into a Wraith anymore?" The relief was so great he closed his eyes so they wouldn't see how close he was to losing it. John's hand squeezed his gently before releasing it.
"You were never turning into a Wraith, Rodney. I don't quite know what you were turning into, but I think it's safe to say you wouldn't have survived it, so it's good we got you back in time," Carson said.
Elizabeth's face became serious. "I don't care what's happening to you, Rodney, don't ever run off like that again. We almost lost you. You have responsibilities here – and friends who need you and will help you."
He could feel his face turning red. "I had to go. I had to. You don't know what it was like, I couldn't trust myself. And then I thought – Chaya made me believe – that you were all dead."
"I still can't believe you went to her. What were you thinking?" The major sounded outraged.
"I thought – I hoped she'd know what was happening to me. She has to know more about the Wraith than anyone else in this galaxy. I thought, since I wasn't asking for direct help…but she didn't know, either." His tone grew sour. "And then she messed with my head and sent me after the Wraith. Can't we…I don't know, do something to her?"
"Like what?" Sheppard sounded resigned, "how do you spank someone who can turn into pure energy? The best punishment is to stay as far away from her as possible."
Rodney huffed irritably and decided to change the subject. "So what was happening to me, if I wasn't turning into a Wraith?"
"For the most part," Carson began, "my conclusions are only speculation, educated guesses. The substance the Wraith introduce into their victims that makes it possible for them to feed on humans interacted with the artificial ATA gene I gave you and caused a mutation. It must have started very quickly, because the Wraith was not only unable to feed on you, it was drained of energy…I really need to study that chemical more," he said as he warmed to his subject. "It must spread through the cells incredibly swiftly, like a neurotoxin. Imagine the applications if you could use it to deliver medication…"
"Carson!" A chorus of voices pulled him back to his audience.
"Where was I…the mutation gave Rodney the ability to draw some kind of energy from humans and from the Wraith. He was not, however, turning into a Wraith. They feed on – on a person's life force, for lack of a better term. It's certainly something that we can't detect or measure at our current level of technology. None of us who were touched by Rodney aged like a Wraith victim does, so I think it's safe to say that he was taking something different."
"Wait a minute," Sheppard interrupted, "why did we just get really tired when Rodney…ummm, did what he did…but the Wraith turned into so much dust?"
"Actually, it was Rodney that gave me that solution when you told me what he said to you on the hiveship."
Rodney's mouth dropped open. "I did? To tell you the truth, I don't really remember much about it…"
"You told the major that you thought their molecular structure was unstable. I think you were right, it's part of what allows them to regenerate damaged tissue. But when you drained energy from them, there was nothing to hold them together. They weren't dust, Major, they were dead cells."
Sheppard looked mildly nauseated. He wasn't the only one.
Carson hastened to add, "That was dust is mainly composed of: dead skin cells." This statement didn't really help the general feeling in the room that this was definitely more than they wanted to know.
"I'm almost afraid to ask," Rodney muttered. "What did you do to me?" He paused, realizing how accusatory he sounded. "I mean, don't think I'm not grateful, I am. You saved my life. I'm just a little curious about how you did it. Should I be watching for any side effects?"
The doctor looked thoughtful. "Well, you might find your ATA gene works a bit better."
Rodney sat up straight looking like someone had just told him tomorrow was Christmas and there were fully charged ZPM's under the tree.
"Keep an eye out for a bit more hair on your head, a certain feckless disregard for orders, and an overwhelming urge to shoot things." Carson couldn't keep the grin off his face as everyone looked puzzled. "I was able to reverse the mutation by giving you a stronger version of the ATA gene. The strongest I've come across, in fact."
All heads swiveled automatically to Sheppard, then to Rodney.
"You mean we're related now?" Rodney asked in mock horror.
The grin on John's face was even bigger than Carson's. "I always wanted a little brother," he said casually.
No one missed the brief expression of startled delight that crossed Rodney's face, quickly replaced by a horrendous scowl. "My mother always said you can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives."