RATING: T for language and minor violence and adult situations.

SEASON: Probably in the second half of the first season somewhere.

MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys, of course, (if you don't know who I'm talking about, you're in the wrong fic), and all their friends will make an appearance.

CATEGORY: a little of this, a little of that.

SUMMARY: Sheppard touches something he shouldn't, McKay deals with the consequences, Kavanagh gets a new hair style and Zelenka sings!

SPOILERS: There are a few hints, here and there, but nothing gets spoiled too badly, but everything in Season One is fair game.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, their friends, or any trademarked, copyrighted, or patented persons, places or things they may use on, discuss with or compare themselves or said friends to.

NOTES: This story is a follow-up to my stories in 'Triptych', although it is not what I would consider a sequel. Still you should probably go back and read 'Triptych' if you haven't as many references will make much more sense. Also, be aware this story moves around in time; don't panic, stay alert, pay attention to the time codes and you should be fine.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This one is for Koschka, since she asked nicely (i.e. whined incessantly) for another Rodney POV story only with John at death's door this time around. It wouldn't have been possible without her help, input, support, motivation and, shall we say, inspirational emails conversations. The frog socks didn't hurt either. Here you go, kiddo, a little angst to brighten your day…or something. Ah, hell, you know what I mean!

Steady State

by liketheriver

steady state (ste-dE stAt) noun Physics A stable condition that does not change over time or in which change in one direction is continually balanced by change in another.

Chapter 1- Contraction

T minus 0: Steady State

In 1905, a patent clerk in Switzerland with hair that makes Sheppard's look coifed and a mental capacity that makes most of my staff look like they should have chosen a profession that involved asking 'do you want fries with that', published a series of papers that among other things provided proof of the atom, laid one of the cornerstones of quantum mechanics, and bestowed the simple eloquence of the equation E equals mc2. Three groundbreaking ideas all published in one year while he worked with no University backing, no DoD funding, nothing beyond an unqualified love of science and a desire to explain the universe that he inhabited. Einstein's work was innovative, influential, and absolutely breathtaking. It's enough to give even me an inferiority complex.

And although all three concepts were worthy of a Nobel Prize in Physics, and one actually did win one, they were just a starting point for what would become his own personal quest for physics' Holy Grail. Einstein believed that all physical phenomena should ultimately be explainable by some underlying unity and he set out to prove the point through a Unified Field Theory. He never found it, but in his attempt he tackled one of the greatest cosmological puzzles of his time; if both Newtonian gravity and his own time-space curves were correct and everything is attracted to everything else, what keeps the universe from collapsing in on itself? It was quite a conundrum he had worked himself into, seeing as all observations indicated that the universe was not contracting but expanding. And as is often the case in science, what you can't explain, you prevaricate. You introduce the 'and then the miracle happened,' constant into the equation. For Einstein, that fudge factor became known as the 'cosmological constant' and for a time it seemed to work. The universe, and its density across time and space, where held in a steady state by counteracting the universal attraction. Theoretically, new matter would be created to fill in the empty space created by expansion. Others jumped on the band wagon and for several decades the idea of an expanding universe that doesn't change its appearance over time was considered the norm. It was an attractive notion in that it removed the need for the universe to have a beginning or an end; it simply was what it is and always will be what it was. And even for the layman, it is a comforting thought to think that if something changes in one direction it is continually balanced by change in the other.

Of course, later observations by Hubble showed that the galaxies at the edge of the universe were receding faster than those in the interior, so that the universe was anything but steady and the Big Bang theory quickly came into vogue. Einstein, being the slave to scientific observation that he was, publicly renounced the Steady State theory in 1933, calling his 'cosmological constant' the "biggest blunder I ever made." Believe me; it takes a big man to admit his mistakes, especially when he is already the biggest man in science. And from a purely scientific view, he was right to retract his stance; the Steady State theory has more holes than the plot of the last 'Matrix' movie.

However, standing here, trying to keep my own personal universe from collapsing in on me as I help situate Sheppard in the stasis chamber, I'm starting to believe that there may be more to the theory than originally meets the eye. Carson moves away from his left side as soon as he is sure that John isn't going to tumble out of the chamber due to his weakening muscles. I will myself to let go of his right arm and after a final gentle squeeze manage to release my grip.

Before I can take a step away, he reaches out, and for a split second I fear that he might do as Carson has worried and flop bonelessly to the floor. Instead, he takes hold of my arm, much like I had been holding his a few second earlier. "Three days, McKay." It is spoken as a statement, but the look in his eyes is questioning.

I force a small smile, knowing it doesn't go beyond the corners of my mouth. But I place my hand over the one weakly holding my bicep, trying not to think that just a few days ago this same grasp could have cut off the circulation below my elbow. He is so frail, so goddamned fragile that it's up to me to balance the equation and be the strong one here. "Three days," I confirm, knowing that the words may be lies even as they trip off my tongue.

"Three days," he restates and for a second the strength that I have come to expect is back. If only it would stay, if only I didn't have to do this, if only he hadn't touched the damned thing in the first place, if only I had been there to stop the whole fiasco, if only the universe would stop changing so fucking fast that I could actually catch my breath between crises, I might be able to do more than try to buy a little time, try to defy the laws of physics and try to maintain a Steady State that really doesn't exist.

I feel the tremors ripple through his fingers and they echo through me like a miniature convulsion. I realize if I don't do this now I'm going to run screaming like a lunatic from this room and never look back. I start to speak, to reinforce his time limit, but my throat is constricting so painfully that the words are trapped heavily in my gut. I nod feebly- he deserves more, but it's the best I can do- and move quickly and deliberately to the control panel.

I place one shaking hand on the controls, and look to the other two men in the room. Per John's request, the number of people here is limited to me to operate the controls, Carson to monitor his vitals during the process, and Radek to assist me in monitoring the energy flux restarting the chamber may cause. They both nod from their positions and I raise my eyes one last time to meet Sheppard's. He leans back against the wall of the chamber. "Let's get this over with so you guys can blow this popsicle stand."

I can't stop the small choked snicker that escapes at his joke. God forbid that those are the famous last words of Major John Sheppard, but if they are, he obviously considers them appropriate. My reaction earns me a lopsided smirk and it remains on his face as he closes his eyes with a nearly indiscernible nod. At his signal, I close my own eyes, think stasis, and feel the unit hum to life under my palm. I find I can't reopen my eyes but I can hear the hiss as the media fills the chamber, slowing John's heart, his respiration, his blood flowing thick with alien poison. And in so doing, slowing the imminence of death until Ford and Teyla can find the necessary ingredient and Carson can concoct the antidote to stop it all together.

I talked him in to this and I know it's his only chance. That's the irony of the poison; it takes longer to brew the antidote than it does for the toxins to kill. I also know he hates it, for the same blue goop-tinged rationale that I hate it, and the only reason he overcame that claustrophobic dread and agreed to step into the chamber is because he trusts me. He trusts that regardless of whether or not we find a successful antidote, I will remove him and for good or ill, the stasis is just temporary. With a small beep the chamber indicates that it is full and the unit shuts down.

Einstein once said, "I never think of the future. It comes soon enough." Those are words to live by if your best friend's life isn't balanced on the edge of that slowly spinning event horizon known as the future that is rushing towards you at the speed of light. But right now, in this steady state that I find myself, in my own emotional stasis, I both welcome and dread what the future has in store. I find myself trying to figure out how I can want something so badly and fear it so completely all at the same time.

T minus 37 hrs 28 minutes

"McKay!"

I halt my stalk down the hallway at Sheppard's voice and turn to see him jogging to catch up with me. He's dressed for a mission- black clothes, black gear, black guns- and I can't help but wonder if he likes Johnny Cash more for his music or his fashion sense. The sight of him geared up and ready to go only infuriates me more, seeing as I'm in my standard lab attire…which, technically, is very similar to what I wear in the field, minus the vest, the pack, and the gun. Still, I miss their familiar weight…okay, miss may be an overstatement, what with all the tech I have to carry along with all the supposed 'essentials' that Sheppard makes me carry, it really is heavy. But that doesn't change the fact that the team is going and I am staying, as I'm still on medical down time.

"Hey, where are you off to?" he asks and I turn and continue walking, the slight limp even noticeable to me as I try to pick up speed.

"Oh, just one of my all time favorite tasks as babysitter for the greatest collection of preschool geniuses in the universe that is known in some circles as the Atlantis Expedition science staff."

"So what now? Someone solder the screw on your twirly stool again?" He grins and I just glare.

"First off, that was a great stool; it was the perfect height, spun at just the right velocity, never squeaked. I specifically chose that one to bring with me on what is quickly turning into the job from hell and some asshole decides it would be fun to destroy the small amount of joy that I receive in life by welding the spinning mechanism closed. Corporal punishment will not do justice to whoever did that." The grin just broadens and for a minute I have to wonder if he is the culprit, which would really suck seeing as I owe him my life and all. Still, it was a great stool and there is something to be said about quality of life versus quantity.

"Second, no, it has nothing to do with me other than the fact that they are members of my staff which Elizabeth interprets to mean that I have to be part of any discipline that is doled out. I may have multiple PhDs, but I can assure you that not one of them is in Criminal Justice or Elementary Education, so why I have to do this is beyond me."

He steps in front of me, putting a hand to my chest and stopping me in my tracks. "Okay, if you don't slow down, you're just going to make your leg worse and Carson isn't going to release you back to full duty anytime soon."

I grit my teeth. "One nurse maid is enough, Major."

"I'm just saying that you did this to yourself…"

I cross my arms and throw my head back. "Oh, so now I intentionally fell out of a tree and tore a giant gash in my leg. Yes, that was my plan all along, nearly bleed to death on an alien planet while being stalked by man-eating frogs, then spend weeks in physical therapy trying to overcome the insane amount of muscle damage that was done…"

"See, there you go. That's what I'm talking about. You can't have it both ways, Rodney. You can't expect Beckett to release you if you keep trying to play the sympathy card."

The nerve of the son of a bitch is staggering; to even suggest that I was using my injury, my life-threatening, near-crippling injury, as a pity ploy. So, I needed help early on? I was on crutches for Pete's sake. He really didn't expect me to carry my food tray did he, or my laptop, or that piece of Ancient equipment I asked him to move? And that whole rearrangement of my living quarters was just so I could maneuver better with the crutches. And it really hurt to bend my leg, what with the stitches and all, so what's the big deal if he had to stop by and tie my boots for me every morning? He just lives two doors down, it's not like he had to go out of his way, especially since he had to go to the cafeteria with me so he could carry my food tray anyway. And he has the nerve to accuse me of being whiny? I honestly hope he is the one that screwed with my stool so I can have a real excuse to kick his ass. Metaphorically, of course; I am still injured.

With a glower I warn him, "Watch yourself, Major, or I'll have to change my mind and insist that you really do need a scientist on your team and who knows who I'll assign."

It has been over three weeks since Sheppard and I returned from our vacation on Planet of the Frogs and while the Major was cleared for full duty two weeks ago, Carson's assessment of my leg has left me on the injured reserve list. I'll give John credit, he tried his damnedest to wait for me to be cleared, but with that Cocker Spaniel-like attention span of his, I knew he wouldn't last. Through sheer will power and brute determination, he actually made it two whole days before he was in Weir's office asking for missions for him and the rest of the team. In turn, I tried my damnedest to keep him grounded.

The sneaky bastard went to see her while I was in my staff meeting and if Peter hadn't been running late and just happen to mention that he had seen them going into her office on the way to the meeting, I have no doubt that she would have returned them to full duty without me. I, however, had simply turned the meeting over to Radek, set a new land speed record hobbling down the hall on my crutches, and successfully argued that the team needed a science advisor and seeing as I was going to be released any day, it was ridiculous to train up one of the other scientists to take my place for such a short time. In the end Elizabeth came up with a compromise; the team could go on missions without a scientist if they were limited to excursions within the city and to already pre-established friendly worlds, check-ins with trading partners and the like. Neither John nor I were happy, but neither were we so unhappy that we stopped eating dinner together in the evenings. Besides, he still had to carry my food tray, so he didn't have much choice in the matter.

He frowns as I wave a piece of paper in his face. "Maybe I'll assign one of my problem children I'm dealing with today."

He snatches the paper from my hand. "So are you going to tell me what's wrong or just blow past me in a gimpy rage?" With a sigh, I indicate he should unfold the paper he is holding. "Well, that's a new look for him," is his only response. 'Him' would be Kavanagh and the 'new look' would be French braids to rival the Swiss Miss girl.

"Oh, believe me, he didn't choose that look for himself. Evidently someone, which is just code for Radek, drugged his dinner last night, snuck into his room while he was in a narcotic induced stupor and provided his new hair style." John snickers but silences quickly with my glare. "He then decided to photograph his handiwork and use it as a backdrop for the weekly work assignment schedule that was handed out at the staff meeting this morning." I roll my eyes heavenward looking for patience, for guidance, for a lightning bolt to drop from the sky and put me out of my misery.

"That's not the worst part. Before he started braiding, Radek treated the hair with a concoction of his own creation that can only be described as hair gel blended with superglue and they will not come out." Sheppard lets out a sputter and as much as I try to glower once again, I can't keep the giggles from my own voice. "Kavanagh's running around in a black stocking cap today trying to keep them covered. If I didn't know better, I would think that the National Science Foundation started funding black ops training."

We continue laughing and I let my head drop into one hand with a groan. "I swear to god, if Carson doesn't clear me for a mission soon, I will not be held responsible for my actions. You'll help me, won't you, Major? Cover my tracks when certain members of my staff just start disappearing?"

He throws an arm around my shoulder and resumes walking me toward Elizabeth's office. "Sure, Rodney, that's what friends are for. I'll even help you push the bodies back in the ocean when they start floating up on the North Pier. And when anybody asks what happened to all the chemists, I'll just say, 'what chemistry staff?'"

"I always knew you were a pal, even after you stabbed me in the back and went back to work without me."

"Oh, yeah, diplomatic missions, your favorite. Tell me honestly that you would rather be out admiring crops and counting livestock than playing with all your Ancient goodies in the lab and I will cancel all the trips we have planned for this week."

I grimace because he's right. There really is nothing worse than exchanging pleasantries with a head tribesman. Teyla has it down to an art. She knows exactly when to comment on the girth of his livestock, the appeal of his produce and the beauty of his daughters. I, however, have a tendency to confuse which qualifier goes with which item and for some reason most tribesmen take offense when you compliment them on the girth of their daughters and give you odd looks when you comment on the appeal of their livestock. I shake my head, not letting him get the best of me. "Don't try to twist the facts; you'll just end up confusing yourself. You still get to go through the gate and fly the Jumper. That makes up for any ambassadorial misery."

"Look, if it's the Jumper you miss, I'll fix you up. I'm dropping Teyla on the mainland tonight to help settle a land dispute, tag along and I'll let you fly back."

I try my best not to look like a teenager being told he can stay out past curfew. I haven't flown the Jumper in months. Months! And once I'm in the pilot seat, I'm sure I can convince him to let me joy ride for a while, or at least grip the controls tight enough that he can't pry me away. Still, I don't want him to think this gets him off the hook for returning to duty. I frown in thought. "Hmmm….let me see if I can rearrange a few things and I'll get back to you."

"Well, if it's going to put you out…"

"No!" I clear my throat at the mischievous glint in his eyes. "No, I think I should be able to make it work."

He looks at his watch as we reach the entrance to Elizabeth's office. "Oh, hell, I'm late."

"Where're you guys off to today?" I try not to sound as sullen as I feel.

"Just surveying a portion of the city; Level 3, Section C."

I frown, "That's the same area as the viral lab we found."

"Yep, but our survey is nowhere near that lab."

"Still…just be careful. Don't go touching anything."

He roll his eyes as he walks away, "Yes, mom."

"Smart ass!" I call after him.

He turns with a smirk and a salute, "That's Major Smart Ass to you," then he is gone down the corridor.

T plus 8 minutes

I stare at my shoes, at the consol, at Carson's back, at Radek's toolkit, anywhere except at the stasis chamber.

"Energy levels are stabilizing," Radek tells me and I simply nod.

"His vitals look good," Carson sighs, "I'll stay and monitor them for a while longer then make periodic checks."

I hear Radek tell him that he thinks he can tie the readings into the displays in the medbay so that Carson can monitor them from there, but at this point I'm not really listening. My heart is pounding so loudly that the blood is throbbing in my ears and the room just seems to be getting smaller by the second. I mumble an "Excuse me," and head quickly for the door.

As I work my way down the corridor I hear Carson call me from behind. Without looking back or slowing down I hold up a shaky hand with a raised index finger. Give me a minute, Carson, is what I'm trying to say, just… one minute.

I move as fast as my sore leg will carry me, round a corner and put a hand on the wall, my knees suddenly wobbling precariously. I can't tell if Carson or Radek has followed me and, besides, I don't want to do this in the hall, so I find a room, any room, and duck inside. The lights come on as I step in, and I absently note it's a practically empty living quarters, but I don't want the lights either so I think them off. The darkness descends, pushing me heavily against the closed door. I rest my forehead on the cool metal, pull in deep, ragged breaths and take my minute.

One light-year, two light-years, three light-years, four light-years…

Goddammit, goddammit, goddammit, goddammit… I let out a small whimper that is quickly smothered by the weight of the darkness.

Ten light-years, eleven light-years, twelve light-years…

I ball my hand into a fist and pound it into the door frame. It feels good, so I do it again…and again…and again…

Nineteen light-years, twenty light-years, twenty-one light-years, twenty-two…

I add a kick and a guttural "Fuck!" that seems to echo through the nearly vacant room.

Twenty-eight light-years, twenty-nine light-years, thirty…

I roll my head on the door, soak in the chill of the surface, breath in the coolness as I pant through the rawness in my throat, feel the tingle in my fingers as I open my hand and place them flat against the same smooth metal. "Fuck," I whisper past the catch in my voice.

Thirty-six light-years, thirty-seven light-years…

I turn, slide down the door, pull my knees up, feel the pain in my leg from my injury, in my hand from the punches, in my foot from the kicking, in my soul…

Forty-three light-years, forty-four light-years, forty-five…

But the pain means I'm alive and the stasis means John's alive and that means we still have a chance and when Ford and the rest get back later tonight Carson can start the antidote and when it's done I can take him out of that fucking tank…no, not a tank, a chamber, a goddamned chamber…right, like there's really any difference…

Fifty-three light-years, fifty-four light-years, fifty-five light-years…

No, there's really no difference; I may be able to lie to John but I can't lie to myself. I take a final deep breath, run my hand through my hair, exhale loudly.

Fifty-eight light-years, fifty-nine light-years, sixty.

My minute is up and as tempting as it is to take a few more, I know I can't. People are depending on me, he is depending on me. I wipe at my eyes, sniffle once, and push myself to a stand with a grunt. I open the door and blink at the light from the hallway. No, I can't lie to myself, I think as I head back down to the stasis room, and I'm not sure how many more times I can lie to John, either.

T minus 36 hrs 16 minutes

"Rodney, I cannot let something like this go unpunished." She leans forward and links her hands on her desk. I glance meaningfully at my watch, wondering how much longer we are going to go round and round about this.

"Elizabeth, it's just some braids and the hair goo will eventually wash out."

"Forget what he did with his hair; that would fall under the heading of a prank. I'm talking about the fact that he drugged him in order to do it; that falls under felonious assault."

I throw my hands up in the air in frustration. "Fine, you're right. Radek is a horrible, horrible person, an absolute menace to society. Now, what do you suggest we do to him? Shoot him? Public flogging?"

She grimaces at my sarcasm. "I don't think anything that drastic will be necessary."

"Post an armed guard at his quarters? Oh! I know, lock him up like Steve the Wraith and let Sheppard walk around the outside of the cell and taunt him mercilessly."

"Rodney, that's enough."

"Well, then you tell me, because I cannot do without him in the labs. He is too valuable and I can't trust anyone else to run things when I'm on a mission."

Elizabeth raises an eyebrow. "Really? A month ago you left Dr. Kavanagh in charge."

I roll my eyes. "A month ago Radek was trying to have me committed in a planned coup d'état, but the endorphin levels in his system have finally evened out and he has seen the error in his seditious ways."

"And so now that he's not grubbing for your job you can't function without him?"

I sigh and shake my head. "Of course I can function without him, I could function without any of them, probably with less stress and more sleep, even. But when I finally get released to full duty, someone is going to have to keep this place from falling down around your ears when I can't be here."

"And I take it that someone is the new kinder, gentler, Dr. Zelenka."

I bristle at her patronizing tone, sit straighter, and raise my chin. "Yes."

"I think Dr. Kavanagh would disagree with your assessment of Dr. Zelenka's character."

I scowl at her. "Look, Zelenka isn't the only person wanting to get his hands on Kavanagh, he's just the only one ballsy enough, and not restricted by their supervisory position," I tell her pointedly, enclosing my own personal limitations in air quotes, "to actually do it. The man has a suggestion box on his desk filled with ideas provided by the other scientists. Hell, I even have a few in there myself."

"So, how do you suggest we handle this?" she asks as she leans back in her chair.

"Send him on a mission."

"I thought you just said you needed Radek here."

Lord, give me patience. I speak slowly so as not to confuse her anymore than I evidently already have. "Not Radek, Kavanagh."

"Kavanagh?"

"Obviously he is not getting along with the other scientists and he just as obviously needs to learn a little humility. I was perfectly content to sit back and let evolution take its course, but since you don't agree with my management style…"

"Survival of the fittest is a law of nature, Rodney, not a management style," she interrupts.

"When in Rome, Elizabeth, when in Rome." She shakes her head with a frown and crosses her arms. "Now as I was saying, since you insist on interfering instead of letting this situation run its natural course, send him out with a military team. Believe me, he will learn a lot about interpersonal skills when he is thrust into that sort of dynamic, especially when people are shooting at him…preferably not his own teammates, but I'm not going to hold my breath. And there will be no better growth experience than running for his life to the gate, whether from hostile aliens or armed marines."

"Well, if anyone can provide eyewitness testimony in that arena, it would be you, Rodney." She smiles sweetly and I open my mouth to reply when the radio keys in my ear.

"Medical team to Level 3, Section C." It's Ford and I barely register the worried frown on Elizabeth's face as I rise as quickly as my pulse rate and head for the door, already plotting the quickest course to that segment of the city.

"Lieutenant," Carson breaks across, "how many people are injured?"

"No one is injured," John grumbles in my ear and I let out a small relieved breath without slowing my stride.

"Sir, no offense, but I think we should let the medics make that determination."

"Lt. Ford is correct, Major," Teyla interjects, "you should be examined by a doctor."

"Its just a few scratches," Sheppard insists.

"Cuts, sir; scratches don't bleed that much."

"Don't play semantics with me, Ford."

I tap my radio, "Major, just listen to your team and sit tight."

"No one asked your opinion, McKay," he growls.

Carson comes across again, "Yes, but they did ask for mine, and I'm telling you to stay where you are, a team is on its way."

I reach the transporter at the same time as the medical crew and we travel to Level 3 together. Teyla meets us at the door and leads us to the room where Ford is standing guard over Sheppard, whether to protect him or keep him from bolting is unclear, but I'm guessing the latter. John sits on the floor amidst a field of broken glass with a multitude of small cuts running crimson on his face and arms.

"I told you not to touch anything," I tell him as the medic squats next to him on the floor.

"You know, Rodney, one of the perks of having you grounded was that I was supposed to get to cut back on my daily dose of asshole."

I raise my eyebrows at that comment and Ford chuckles, "Uh, sir, did you just say what I think you said?"

I watch as the gears turn in his head and he rethinks his last statement then he closes his eyes and hangs his head, "Oh, hell, you know what I meant."

"Check him for a head injury," I tell the medics, "he's even less coherent than normal."

"You are not helping," he snarls.

"Actually, Major, that shelf did hit you rather hard on the head."

He turns his glare to Teyla, "You're not helping, either." He winces as the medics start dabbing at the cuts.

"So, what exactly happened? Not that you're known for your world renowned grace or anything but you're rarely this much of a klutz."

At my question, Ford snickers again and even Teyla bites her lip to keep from joining him. Sheppard just glares at them, "Oh, you think it's funny, huh? Well, watch this; just for god's sake keep a hand on him so he doesn't do the same thing I did." I give him an odd look and he hitches his head toward the far wall. "Look what's on the shelf over there."

I squint in the direction he indicates and take a few tentative steps forward when I see it, a large jar containing a perfectly pickled killer frog. And even though the rational part of my brain is telling me it has been dead for over ten thousand years, the self preservation part that is still wound so tight its about to snap, causes me to jump back with an "Oh, shit!"

Teyla grabs my arm before I can slam into anything and furrows her brow. "That is the same reaction the Major had."

I lick my lips, still wanting to back away a few more steps. "Yes, well, perfectly understandable reaction on his part."

The medical team has just about finished with Sheppard, telling him that a few of the cuts seem to still have glass in them and a few more will need a couple of stitches and that he will need to report to the infirmary. They help him stand and he sways slightly but shakes off the hands offering to support him. I step in on one side and Teyla on the other, knowing that if he does start to topple over he'll be more willing to accept our assistance than that of the medics.

He tugs at his clothing, trying to shake free any glass slivers that remain then looks down with a simple, "Hmmm."

"What?" I ask, getting ready to put a hand to his elbow and lead him to the transporter if he doesn't start moving on his own.

He bends down and picks up a single crystal tumbler, the light casting oily rainbows across its smoky surface, "It's the only one that didn't break."

"Fascinating," I tell him impatiently as he places it on another shelf, "now let's go see Carson so he can practice his cross-stitch on you."

T plus 5 hours 57 minutes

I sit in my lab and take apart the Ancient box with the inverted salad bowls. I have no idea what the damned thing does other than light up when I touch it, each bowl a different color, like some kitschy Tupperware Christmas tree. But the not knowing has finally pissed me off to the point that I want it in as many tiny pieces as I can reduce it into with a cordless screwdriver and drill set. I swear this thing must be the Ancient equivalent of a Middle School woodshop project; an atrocious knickknack that some Atlantean mother felt obligated to display because her child made it for her for her birthday. And now, ten thousand years later, I have finally had the common decency to do what that poor woman should have done all those millennia ago; throw it in the recycle bin.

It is late; late enough that most everyone is in bed other than the standard skeleton night crew in the control room and roaming security. But Ford's team is due back in a few hours, so I don't want to go to sleep just yet. Ford's team; not Sheppard's, Ford's. The thought makes me rev the screwdriver with a renewed vengeance and chases all notion of sleep from my mind. As if I could sleep even if I wanted to, which I don't. No, what I want to do is DeWalt this blinking piece of multicolored shit down into a pile of spare parts. I am about to go to work on another goddamned twinkling bowl when I hear the door slide open.

Radek strolls in wearing his iPod and earphones, half humming, half mumbling the lyrics to whatever he is listening. He casually glances in my direction; he flips open the laptop at his workstation without a word, and begins typing. I blink in surprise that he doesn't speak and that he is here at all. I watch him for a few seconds, listen to his quiet singing until I recognize the song, then roll my eyes…'Mama Mia' by ABBA. I wait for him to say something, to do something beyond click the mouse on his computer and mangle Swedish pop music, but when he still doesn't acknowledge my presence I shake my head and return to my disassembly.

We work this way for a good half hour, he on his laptop, me on my Ancient piece of crap, without speaking, without looking at one another, without anything more than just being present. My screwdriver begins to struggle sluggishly and I turn it off to change out the battery pack. I rummage through the workbench, looking on the lower shelves for the spare pack, swearing I will clean up the clutter so a person can find the goddamned battery pack when he needs it as soon as I finish taking out my aggressions on this glorified hunk of scrap metal.

"So now go…walk out the door…just turn around now…you're not welcome anymore." I catch myself singing along with Radek, who has decided to forgo the mumbling when it comes to singing Gloria Gaynor. I raise my head above the table level and see the back of his fuzzy head bobbing in time with the music, working little hand motions in to match the lyrics. I let out a weary sigh. This is so not what I need right now. What I need is the satisfying thud of a red salad bowl falling to the ground as a result of a fully charged yellow power tool tearing it violently from its current point of attachment. Unfortunately, the requisite power tool is sitting powerless in my hand while I listen to the off key soundtrack for a Czechoslovakian drag review.

"Radek," I call, but he just continues to sing. "Radek!" Still no response. I walk around the bench so that I'm standing behind him. I look over his shoulder, only to find that all this time that I thought he was catching up on some paperwork, he has been playing Minesweeper on his computer. Its…What? One thirty in the morning and he is sitting here in the lab listening to seventies disco music and playing factory installed games on his computer. I pull one of the earphones away from his ear. "Radek!"

"Do prdele!" He jumps and clutches his chest. "Are you trying to give me heart attack? Is one friend is stasis not enough? Do you need other on life support in hospital, also?"

I close my eyes and try to loosen my grip on the screwdriver that, at this moment, I oh so desperately want to turn into what the crime scene investigators will undoubtedly call a blunt object. "What are you doing?" I ask with every shred of patience I can muster from within me.

"Listening to music and playing Minesweeper." I just stare at him. "It is good game. I have never played before tonight." I just continue to stare at him and he just stares back, perfectly content with his answer.

"Don't you have anything better to do?"

He rolls his eyes at the ridiculous nature of my question. "Of course I have better things to do. I could be sleeping in bed, dreaming of American cheeseburgers and German figure skaters. I could be flirting with pretty biologist with big breasts studying nocturnal birds nesting in city spires. I could be folding laundry I washed today. There are many better things to be doing."

"Then why don't you go do one of them?" My teeth ache from grinding them and the grip of the screwdriver is going to leave a permanent pattern on my palm if I don't stop squeezing it so hard.

He shrugs and turns back to his computer game. "Because I make promise to Major and must keep it."

The power tool clatters to the floor. "You made a promise to Sheppard?" He nods without turning around. "What kind of promise?"

"To keep you company so you no get lonely and cry like little girl who has lost puppy dog."

"Major Sheppard asked you to keep me company so I don't get lonely?" I ask in disbelief.

"Well, not in so many words, you see, but that is meaning behind them. No, what he says was 'try to keep McKay out of Beckett's hair,' and 'don't let him beat up the scientists too bad'. You are getting picture, yes?"

Yeah, that sounds like John. And I mean really sounds like him. Who knew Radek was the Czech equivalent of Rich Little? "That was…impressive," I tell him.

"You like?" He furrows his brow as he says, "Son of a bitch," in John's drawn out drawl, then smiles proudly.

"And kind of spooky." I suddenly find myself wondering how much he's been cataloging away about Sheppard and why.

He shrugs again. "It is all in inflection." He smiles broadly and points at the computer screen. "Aha! See, I have won. It is good game."

I stoop to pick up the screwdriver, still intent on taking apart the Ancient device, but not necessarily homicidally so. "So, how long are you planning on doing this?" I ask, noting as I stand that he has already started a new game.

"How long is Major Sheppard to stay in stasis?"

"A few days," I tell him, "less than a week," I tell myself.

He purses his lips and nods his head in contemplation. "If necessary, laundry can wait for week." He pushes his glasses up on his nose and returns to his game.

I look past his shoulder and see what I have been searching for. "Radek, could you…"

He doesn't stop playing his game, but says "You are such a pain in the ass, McKay," with perfect Sheppard inflection. He turns and smiles. "Feel better, yes?"

I frown, "Actually, I was just going to ask you to hand me that battery pack."

He laughs nervously as he hands me the pack. I snatch it from his hand with a scowl and turn to make my way back to my bench, hiding the first real smile I have had in days.

T minus 23 hours 42 minutes

"You know, that one above your eyebrow is going to leave a scar," I tell him as I scoot my tray down the cafeteria line, pointing out one of the half dozen cuts that had required stitches.

Sheppard grins as he grabs his own tray and places it beside mine. "Chicks dig scars."

"On nineteen year-old skateboarders, yes. On baby-faced bull riders, maybe. On thirty-seven year-old Air Force officers that have been gobbled up and spit out by the stargate a few too many times, not so much." I take a piece of Athosian flat bread, gnaw off a corner and start chewing as we continue down the line. "Besides, what are you going tell all these chicks? That you knocked over an Ancient glassware display trying to get away from a dead frog? I think that might kill the mood."

With a satisfied glimmer he tells me, "I'm thinking 'knife fight in Borneo' has a nice ring to it. Throw in a couple of marauding raiders, a young woman's virtue to protect, and I should have a pretty decent story."

"Ha! That's rich, telling tales of protecting one woman's virtues to try and get at another's. How very noble of you." I wave my bread in his face. "Kind of throws that whole notion of an officer and a gentleman out the window, though. But then again, you never were very good at multitasking."

He shoots a mocking sneer my way then suddenly smiles smugly. "Oh, look, we're having lemon bars for dessert, my favorite."

I scowl deeply and glower at the Private serving the food. "I thought we ran out of those fruits last week."

The fruits in question are the Pegasus Galaxy's second cousin to the lemon and we had obtained them as part of a trade mission almost a month ago. During the intervening weeks, the cooks had gone crazy, putting citrus in every damned pot in the kitchen. After administering one EpiPen myself and John administering another two nights later, he had finally had a talk with the kitchen crew, limiting them to one dish per meal, very clearly labeled, so that I could avoid choking to death on my own swollen tongue in the middle of dinner.

The young marine darts his eyes nervously between me and Sheppard and I realize with satisfaction that the conversation he had with the cooks probably involved very little talking. "We found another crate in the storeroom, but the cook only put them in the dessert, nothing else, I swear."

As if that is supposed to make it all better. They can't put it on one of the vegetable sides. No, they have to go and ruin dessert. I leave the frown firmly in place as I ask, "What've we got tonight, then?"

The Private goes over the menu, pointing to the industrial sized vats that house each item over a steam table. "Fish from our own backyard, that six-legged feather covered animal from M9C-455…"

I turn to Sheppard, "Was that the one that tasted like garlic beef?"

He shakes his head, "Uh-uh, more like sweet pork."

"Oh, yeah. Okay, I'll take that, and don't be stingy with the gravy, and some of the purple carrot-like things and the fried stuff that looks like hash browns but tastes like apples." He starts to scoop some, but I stop him. "No, further back, where they're really crispy and put that other helping beside that one on the Major's plate." He does as directed, for once without a sarcastic eye roll, and I ask him, "What's the pink stuff?"

"Something new; texture of mashed potatoes but tastes kind of like broccoli."

I scrunch my nose and shake my head, "Don't like broccoli," then turn again to Sheppard, "but you do, right?"

He nods, "Got to eat your greens…or in this case pinks," and I have the Private put a helping on my plate. John finishes off his order, stops me with a jerk on my shirt collar before I walk past the dessert table so that he can place my allotted share of death pastry on my tray and we head over to find a table. We sit with Ford and a few of the medical technician. As soon as I'm in my seat, I take a napkin and use it to place the lemon bar on Sheppard's tray, careful not to touch any of the actual cake. He picks up his plate and scrapes the apple hash browns onto mine and then I do the same with the pink broccoli mash onto his.

Believe me, the process is a major pain in the ass, but John came up with it after I kept getting death threats, in the form of both anonymous letters and verbal coercions, for allegedly taking extra helpings during our early food shortages. Since then, we've managed to find several trading partners so the food has been plentiful, if bizarre, but it has really become a routine that we have yet to abandon.

Ford and the techs are discussing a poker game for later tonight and are thrashing out the stakes and what any of them have that might be worthwhile to throw in the pot. Honestly, most things have been won and lost three times by now, but they just keep playing cards and the junk just keeps making the rounds. I dig into my meal and listen to the prattle for a few minutes, finally snorting when Ford starts to boast of his poker prowess.

"What?" he asks at the sound.

"You have a tell," I inform him around a mouthful of six-legged meat.

He frowns. "I don't have a tell." But he starts to look unsure when I shrug indifferently at his insistence. "Do I?"

I use a skewered purple carrot for emphasis. "You tap your cards on the table when you're bluffing." I pop the carrot in my mouth with a smile when he frowns deeper. "What you don't believe me? Ask the Major…" It's then that I notice Sheppard has yet to take a bite of his own meal. Instead he is sitting with his eyes closed, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Major?" I ask and at my tone, Ford and the others stop talking.

He opens his eyes, looks at me in confusion for a second, then shakes his head. "It's nothing, just a headache that won't seem to go away."

"Well, you did take quite a clunk on the head from that shelf, sir." Ford supplies with a nervous smile.

"Yeah, I figure that's it, just would have hoped the acetaminophen would have kicked in by now."

I take a bite of the hash browns then use my fork to accentuate my point. "Did you get it from Carson? Because, I honestly think he's been handing out sugar pills instead of painkillers lately. I'm just not sure if he's running secret experiments or we have a shortage that he's not telling anyone about."

"Maybe he's just trying to wean you off the good stuff slowly so you don't go into withdrawal like you would if he were to cut you off cold turkey." He picks up his own fork and stabs into his meat as Ford and the others snicker under their breath.

"Oh, yes, let's make fun of the injured man and his excruciating yet valid need for pain management."

John gives me a gloating smile and lifts his fork. At first the tremor in his hand is small, barely noticeable, but by the time he lifts it to his mouth he is shaking so much that the meat is flinging gravy over to my own plate. His eyes go wide and he drops the fork with a clank and begins rubbing the offending hand with his other.

"Sheppard?" This time there is no hiding the concern in my voice.

He looks up from the fork on his plate to meet my gaze with bewildered eyes. "What the hell?"

I stand, walk around the table, and pull him up by the arm. "Come on, you're going to see Carson. Now."

I usher him out the door and down the hall at a brisk clip. "Scottish snake oil salesman. I swear he must have done his residency with the carney folk, hocking elixirs and tonics to cure everything from baldness to hoof and mouth disease while people stood in line to see the bearded lady."

"McKay…"

I ignore him, not giving him a chance to protest this trip. "How the hell could he miss something like this? You get hit on the head and what does he do? Puts a few band-aides on your cuts, gives you a couple of Tylenol, and sends you on your merry way."

"McKay…"

I continue walking; tightening my grip on his arm in case he starts to pull away. "Less than twelve hours later you're all but developing palsy before my eyes, on the verge of an epileptic fit in the cafeteria. No wonder he was so worried about FDA approval. I doubt he could even produce a diploma from a legitimate medical school, unless you count the flyers from the county fair."

"McKay…"

We are within sight of the infirmary door when the slur and the sudden extra weight in my hand bring me to a halt. Sheppard tries to reach out for the wall but misses and just goes limp onto the floor, dragging me with him. "Major!"

His head lolls drunkenly and he seems to be trying to lock onto my face and failing miserably. His hair is damp with sweat and he is panting. "What…the…hell?"

"John?" I place a hand on his chest and feel his heart beating wildly and erratically, racing for a few seconds, then slowing, then racing once again. Oh, fuck me, this is not good and this is not a simple bang on the head. "John!"

"Rodney…get…Beckett."

Leave it to him to keep his wits while he's lying here dying on the floor. "Carson!" I call hoping someone in the medbay will hear me. "CARSON!"

A nameless, faceless, generic marine exits the door and freezes when he sees us on the ground. I give him a second to respond, but when he doesn't I scream, "Has whatever alien STD you've sought treatment for rendered you an idiot or were you just recruited that way? Go get a fucking doctor!" He disappears back into the medbay and I turn back to John. His legs have started to twitch as if his synapses are firing randomly.

"Oh, no you don't," I tell him fiercely, "you will not go into a seizure on me."

His eyes roll around, still trying to find me. "Rodney?"

"Right here." I take one trembling hand in mine and at this point I'm not sure who's shaking more. "Not going anywhere and neither are you."

"Beckett?" he slurs out.

"Well, if anyone can manage to tear him away from the latest copy of 'Sheep Shearing Monthly' he should be here any second."

"Rodney?" The slur seems a little weaker, fainter.

"Here. I'm right here." Where the hell is Carson? Just, where the fucking hell is he? "Carson!"

He runs out of the infirmary door, followed by a flurry of white lab coats and scrubs. "What happened?" he demands as he drops on John's opposite side.

And I hear the words coming from my mouth telling Carson, see the medics with their equipment working on John, but feel the grip held in my hand weakening by the second.

T plus 8 hours 22 minutes

I make my way to the infirmary, Radek following close on my heels. It isn't until we reach the door that I realize I'm still carrying the screwdriver, having left the lab in such a hurry as soon as Ford called me on the radio. I look at it then around at my surroundings, finally deciding that Radek will make a damn fine toolbox for the time being.

"Here," I tell him as I shove it into his unexpecting arms, "and you better stay out here. No need to add insult to injury."

He nods with a smirk and I enter the medbay. Ford and Teyla stand to one side while Kavanagh lies cursing on one of the beds with Carson working on his arm. "What happened?" I demand.

"They shot me!" Kavanagh screeches. His black stocking cap is barely on his head and one braid hangs haphazardly on his shoulder.

I turn to Ford with an apprehensive tilt of my head and motion between him and Teyla, "You two didn't…" and I make the shape of a gun with my hand.

"As tempting as it was, no, it wasn't us," Ford assures me with an amused expression.

"It was those goddamned drug dealers you sent me to see!" Kavanagh explains. "The Columbians would not have been impressed with their operation."

Well, that explains how he had managed to pay for college. But as long as they were able to get the drugs, I really don't care. In fact, I'm ready to chalk this up to one hell of a growth experience for Kavanagh and move on to working on an antidote. "So, where is it?" I ask Ford.

All traces of the smile on his face vanish and he shakes his head. I open my mouth, but no words will come out. I run my hand through my hair, shift my weight, then fix Kavanagh with my glare.

"Oh, you cannot blame me for this, McKay," he insists. "The stuff was no where near the grade we had been promised. It was cut-brick."

"I'm sorry, but it's been a few decades since I last watched 'Miami Vice', could you please explain just what the hell that means."

"It means it wasn't pure, nowhere near it, it was cut with something else, probably plant sucrose of some sort." I just stare at him, too stunned by what I'm hearing to even know how to begin to react. "This is why you sent me along in the first place. I did what you asked, although it was well beyond the bounds of my job description here on Atlantis, determined the stuff was crap, and got shot for my troubles, which is also beyond the bounds of my job description."

I'm not sure what it is exactly that infuriates me so much about him. Maybe it's the arrogant tone of his voice. Maybe it's the perpetual sneer he seems to wear. Maybe it's the way that ridiculous stocking cap matches the frames of his glasses perfectly. I don't know and right now, I don't care. All I do know is that I wish I still had that damned screwdriver. "Job description? Job description? Do you even know what your job description is? Because I have a sneaking suspicion that you think it has something to do with whining and finger pointing." I move toward the bed and Kavanagh's eyes widen. "Your job, Doctor, is to do anything and everything possible to keep this expedition going and in this case that means doing everything in your power to keep the ranking military officer alive."

"You know what, McKay, screw you. While I was out getting shot at by this galaxy's equivalent of street dealers, what were you doing? Oh, I know, sitting around feeling sorry for yourself because you had to put your best bud in cold storage."

I let out a growl and move to close the small distance between me and the bed but Ford and Teyla are already dragging me backwards. Carson stands and places his hands in the air. "All right that'll be just about enough out of the both of you. Rodney, I'll not have you trying to beat the crap out of someone that is about to go into surgery to have a bullet removed from his arm."

Kavanagh raises his chin with a smug smile, "Thank you, Dr. Beckett."

"And you," Carson's eyes narrow dangerously, as he points an accusatory finger in Kavanagh's face, "will shut that trap of yours and leave off any more comments about the Major or I will bloody well shut it for you."

I almost smile at the open-mouthed gape Kavanagh is giving Carson, even though I'm still pulling against the hold my teammates have on me. "Let it go, Doc," Ford says from my shoulder. "He may be a dick but he did do what he said. He even tried to get extra, thinking he could purify it once we got back, but they didn't have enough to make a difference."

I try to let go of the tension in my body and succeed enough that Ford and Teyla loosen their hold. Teyla squeezes my arm and gives me a questioning look. I nod as I tell them, "Go get your post-missions over with and I'll meet you outside."

With a final glare at Kavanagh, I exit the infirmary, and find Radek leaning casually against the wall, revving the screwdriver off and on. "So, Carson is to start making antidote now?"

I take up a spot next to him, "No, they couldn't get what we needed."

His face drops and we fall into a gloomy silence. Kavanagh, that whiny piece of shit. Whiny, but truthful. What the hell was I doing? What the hell could I do? I was reduced to sending him on a mission because I couldn't go myself. Couldn't do much of anything except sit around and wait for everything to go one hellish step closer to the accursed ride in a hand basket. No, there was one thing I could do; it was the same thing I did on most missions we went on. It was why I tried to keep Sheppard grounded until I was cleared as well. He may have been born with a gene that puts him one glowing rung away from full Ancient, but I'd come to the conclusion that it had been at the cost of any shred of self preservation. And so far, Carson hadn't been able or willing to try to cook up that particular gene in his lab. I, however, have enough survival instincts for the two of us, which had, up until this point, managed to keep us both alive.

"So, we are off to Plan B, then?"

Radek's question pulls me from my thoughts and I let out a bitter chuckle. Plan B. Sure, why not Plan B? I've already lied to John about everything else, why not Plan B as well? I just need to talk to Teyla about that one, first. "Sounds good to me."

He offers me the screwdriver. "You want to take something apart?"

"No thanks."

"You want I should call you pain in ass again?"

"Maybe later."

"You want I should sing 'I Will Survive' again?"

"Absolutely not."

"You want I should stop asking questions?"

"I knew they gave you that doctorate for some reason, Radek."

Fortunately he stops asking questions and once I take the screwdriver away from him so he stops turning it on and off, we wait for Ford and Teyla in silence. After several minutes, they exit the infirmary and I stand from my slouch against the wall.

"Teyla," I start, but she grabs me by the arm and starts walking me down the hall with Zelenka and Ford following close behind.

"Dr. McKay," she tells me earnestly, "we must talk."

I'm afraid of what she might say, that she will tell me she can't do what I'm going to ask, so I pull away and stop our progress. "Teyla, look, I know I have no right to ask you to do this, because it is so incredibly dangerous, but it's his only chance…" I trail off as she tries to hide her smile and glances at Ford who is trying to do the same thing. "What?"

"Doc, we were going to ask you if you could get us through the gate." Ford tells me in a loud whisper. "We're just going to grab some chow and extra gear and we'll be ready to go in an hour."

I can't keep the smile from my own face. "Are you serious? You're willing to go?"

"Major Sheppard did not want us to do this and Dr. Weir will not authorize it, which is why we were hoping you…"

I wave my hand, effectively silencing Teyla's worries. "I can handle both of them after you get back. And I'll get you through the gate if I have to hold the tech at gunpoint."

Radek speaks from behind me. "Guns? Rodney, you have been spending much too much time with military. Have you forgotten very critical diagnostic that must be run in hour? Without it, gate may explode, kill everyone in city, would be very tragic to read about in newspapers if we had any chance of surviving such disaster."

I smile even wider. "You know, Radek, I had forgotten all about it. Thank god you came along to remind me."

An hour later Radek and I are sprawled under the control consol using our beloved DeWalts to randomly remove and reattach panels, the gate tech on duty had been sent away for his own protection, and Ford and Teyla are through the wormhole on their search for raw, unadulterated Wraith's Blood.

TBC