A/N Thanks again for all the wonderful feedback, without it, I wouldn't bother doing this. And now, the conclusion of…..

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 3- Expansion

T plus 73 hours 16 minutes

"Hey. Sorry I haven't been down to see you lately, well, at all, but things have been a little crazy. We thought we had the whole power distribution problem in Section A taken care of, but then Schuller expanded into another lab without authorization and it overloaded the system. I swear, if people would just learn to follow the proper protocol, things like this wouldn't happen. Ended up wiping out all the sensors in the city. Radek and two of the other engineers spent fourteen hours crawling through the ductwork trying to find the right access panel and when they finally did, the crystal was blown out and we had to scavenge another one. Anyway, it's been a nightmare these past few days but everything is finally up and running again.

Oh, before I forget, Radek says 'hi' and he sent you this photo as a kind of get well present. I think the copper bikini turned out well and it really sets off the honeybun hair. He thought you would appreciate it. Kind of in keeping with the whole Han Solo persona you have going now, although Carrie Fisher makes a much more attractive Leia than Kavanagh. I think it's the lack of glasses…and the presence of breasts. Kavanagh hasn't seen it yet, so if you could, just keep it quiet because Radek's in enough trouble as it is.

Ends up he did have a counteragent to remove Kavanagh's braids. Problem was it removed all the hair pigmentation as well. All of it; left is pure white. You probably heard the screams down here. It put the entire city on high alert. Bates thought the Wraith were attacking and locked down the entire wing with Kavanagh's quarters and set up a perimeter around his room. A few minutes later, Kavanagh came running out, pasty faced, long white hair flowing, ranting about killing Zelenka. Sgt. Smith mistook him for a Wraith and actually shot him with a stunner. An hour later, when Kavanagh finally got the feeling back in his extremities, they had to lock down the entire wing with Radek's quarters after Kavanagh attacked him with a multichannel pipette and a pair of calipers.

Radek's under house arrest for a few days. It didn't help his case that he kept calling Kavanagh Brittany and Miss Spears during the disciplinary hearing. Although I have to admit singing 'Oops! I Did It Again' when he was being led away by the guards was a nice touch.

Yeah, things have been a little strange since you've been down here. I'm actually missing Radek singing along with his iPod, although he really has horrible taste in music. Ford's on light duty because of his ribs and he's pulled the guard station outside Radek's door, so I've been able to see him a few times even though he's not allowed to have visitors. Last time I stopped by he was listening to his women of country music collection. Have you ever heard a grown man sing 'Coal Miner's Daughter'? It takes the term disturbing to a whole new level.

Of course, Elizabeth isn't speaking to me because I disobeyed a direct order, so it would be hard to get in any more trouble with her. Carson and Kavanagh have found common ground in the form of being contrary with me and are actually bonding. Once they finish the antidote, Carson has promised to help him whip up some hair dye.

I haven't seen much of Teyla; I tend to walk off in the opposite direction if I see her in the halls. And seeing as I think we may be engaged, it looks like I'm well on my way to a marriage to rival the dysfunctionality of that of my parents. Not that Teyla wouldn't make a great catch for some guy out there. I mean, she's attractive and brave and well respected among her people. But I have a feeling she's a real Alpha female in the bedroom. She's probably the type that would climb on top of me and demand that I call her name and as hot as that would be I also find it a little frightening. I mean, I certainly perform well under pressure; it's just that I tend to bruise so easily. So, anyway, I really wish you were out because I could definitely use your advice on how to extricate myself from this one without completely destroying the expedition's diplomatic relationship with the Athosians, or if nothing else, I'd like you here to be my best man.

You know I really miss… it's just… it's just not the same without you around. For one thing, I have the whole backlog of Ancient devices that I need your help with. And you still owe me that Jumper flight. And there's no one to get me an extra helping of apple hash at dinner, or keep me from throttling the technicians when they screw up the gate diagnostics, or help me filter when we're in staff meetings, or chat with me on the radio when you're doing surveys of the city, or interrupt me in the lab just to watch a movie, or disagree with me on just about everything, or…well, I think you get the picture. It's just been…quiet without you around and…boring. I know that sounds absurd considering everything that has been going on, but it's true. It's not as much fun with you down here and me up there and that really sucks because that sort of thing never really mattered before and now it does. So, I guess what I'm saying is that I'll just be glad when you finally get out of there, that's all.

Speaking of getting out, that's what I need to talk to you about. I know it's been three days, and I know I told you it should only take three days but we ran into a snag that's held things up, so it's going to take a little longer. And I know I promised that if it looked hopeless after three days, I would take you out, but the fact is that it's not hopeless. For the first time since this all happened, it's actually hopeful. Yeah, I know, unbelievable, huh? I keep looking over my shoulder waiting for a rowboat full of Genii to show up or a Wraith Dart to buzz the city or an asteroid to fall from the sky, but so far our typical luck hasn't struck. Well, if you don't count the fact that you were actually poisoned in the first place… and Kavanagh was shot… and Ford and Teyla barely escaped an angry drug kingpin. But things have really calmed down since then, relatively speaking. The antidote is going along with no problems, your vitals are holding steady and the stasis field is fully operational, so I see no reason to remove you just yet.

Carson says two more days and the antidote will be ready. Two days isn't much, its nothing really. A piece of cake, right?"

For the first time since activating the unit, I force myself to look up, for the first time I see John in the stasis field. This isn't so bad, I tell myself even as my breath stutters in my chest. He stands with that same lopsided smirk that he gave me when the stasis cycle started, the same hospital scrubs, the same bed head gone wild, the same perpetual two days growth of stubble. I find that I'm actually waiting for an answer, even though I know it's not going to come, so eventually I answer for him.

"Yeah, piece of cake." I let out a sigh and swallow painfully. "I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry I can't take you out of there yet. And I'm sorry I've left you down here all by yourself this whole time. But I'm going to make it up to you, because if you have to stay here, then so will I. Fairs fair, right?"

He still doesn't answer me, as much as I want him to, as much as I wish he could, as much as I'm glad he can't. "Right," I answer for him again.

But two days isn't much, not compared to a lifetime, not compared to his life. I take a cleansing breath, exhale, confident in my decision and reassured by his silent concurrence. I rub my hands together as I shoot a smile in his direction. "So, roomie, what do you want to do first?"

T plus 83 hours 5 minutes

I look up from reassembling the blinking bowls as Radek calls my name. I almost don't hear him as I've been trying to block out the sounds of "Baby Got Back" and "Mama Said Knock You Out" being sung in an East European accent. Rap. The man actually listens to rap music. It almost makes me long for the rendition of "Stand By Your Man" he was singing the other night. I glance over at Sheppard's suspended form, momentarily envying the stasis field that buffers him from this karaoke nightmare where I have found myself trapped. "This is all your fault," I accuse in a mumble.

"Rodney, check levels now. They should have evened out."

I key up the monitor and shake my head. "They're better in Section C, but Section A still has the spike."

He comes to stand behind me and lets out an abbreviated sputter. "Is not a spike, is more of a blip."

"A blip? Need I remind you what happened the last time we had a 'blip', or should I just start removing the access panels to the ductwork now?"

He shakes his head with a small snarl. "That was not blip, that was spike. And my knees still hurt. Schuller is lucky he is already going bald."

"Just a word of advice, you might want to lay off messing with other people's hair for a while."

He sighs. "Perhaps you are right. Hair is too obvious. At least hair on top of head."

The responsible supervisory part of me wants to tell him that that is not what I was getting at, that the location of the hair being messed with is really irrelevant. But the other part of me, the part that suggested rather loudly that Schuller should save me the time and effort and go throw himself off the nearest balcony, that part is curious to see what Radek has in mind.

I decide to let the two sides battle it out for a while longer as I take the flashlight Radek holds and climb into the wall opening myself. "There has to be a way to give Dr. Rajm the power she needs to finish the fiasco Schuller started without shutting down a critical system." No, I can't go after body hair, but I can demote someone to the bottom of the food chain, and believe me, hair grows back much faster than a reputation.

"Naquedah generators were not meant to power so much, especially since the ones we have are already picking up slack for two that were destroyed."

"Don't remind me. Anytime anything happens in the city, the generators are the first thing Sheppard goes after. He tosses them out like fish treats at Sea World. Never mind that they are the only thing keeping his scrawny ass alive right now." I raise my voice with that last comment so that it will carry across the room to the stasis chamber. "Hand me those wire clippers."

Radek gives me the tool as he tells me, "Well, you did tell him how to overload generator for detonation and it was you who threw other through gate."

I don't stop working. "Yes, and the alternatives were to watch you and Ford and all the others grab your heads and keel over when your brains exploded from the nanite virus and to let that pissed off energy being suck the power dry and turn the stargate into little more than an oversized ornamental archway."

"All I am saying is…"

"What? That the moral to the story is that sometimes we do what we have to do even though it sucks having to do it? Well, I've read that story way too many times and I'm really getting sick of it. Rumor has it that some stories don't have morals; that instead they end 'and they lived happily ever after'. When the hell do I get to experience a story like that?" I make a final connection between wires. "Check the levels now."

"No better," he tells me.

I climb out and look at the readings with a resigned scowl. "You know, it is starting to look more blip-like." Radek pushes his glasses up and crosses his arms in irritation. "But, it still needs to be monitored."

Before Radek can complain about the hours he spent tweaking with the system, Lt. Ford comes in. "Uh, sorry to interrupt, but I need to get Dr. Zelenka back to his room before the morning shift starts."

Radek brightens when he sees Ford. "Ah, Lieutenant! So glad you are here to liberate me from slave labor camp and return me to my comfy bed in solitary confinement."

I frown at his retreating back. "If that's the way you're going to thank me for springing you, you can just stay in there tomorrow night for all I care."

"Is this promise? Will you sign papers stating this as fact?"

"You know you're miserable locked up like that," I tell him.

"Yes, yes, is horrible. All I can do is sleep whenever I want, listen to music, watch 'Girls Gone Wild' DVDs. How I will ever survive such torture, I will never know."

I frown even deeper, suddenly seeing the merits of removing body hair from annoying staff members. "You have 'Girls Gone Wild' and you made me listen to Wynona Judd?"

Ford just grins as Zelenka completely ignores me and walks past him to the transporter. "Don't worry, Doc, I'll bring him down again tomorrow. That is if you're still going to be here."

I turn back to my Ancient bowl box. "Not going anywhere," I tell him in resignation.

"So, what are you doing down here, anyway?"

I blink at the question. "Oh. I, uh, have to monitor the energy fluctuations. Wouldn't want a repeat of the sensor malfunction."

"Right." And I choose to ignore the patronizing tone he uses. "Hey, you're not staying down here and having coma talks with the Major are you?"

"Coma talks?" I ask innocently.

"Yeah, you know, like on those old buddy cop shows like 'Starsky and Hutch'. One of them would get shot and the other would sit by the bed telling his partner what a great guy he is, asking him not to die, begging him to just wake up. You know, coma talks."

I roll my eyes. "First of all, Lieutenant, Major Sheppard is not in a coma, he's in stasis. If I wanted him to wake up, all I would need to do is push a few buttons and he would be awake, no begging required. Not that that would be the best thing to do right now, but it could easily be done. Second, you saw what happened when we lost the sensors. Now, if you don't think it's important to monitor the energy fluctuations, I can always leave. But don't complain when I volunteer you to climb through the ductwork and assist Dr. Zelenka when he has to make additional repairs."

He holds up a defensive hand. "Hey, I'm not complaining, just asking a question, that's all." I cross my arms and acknowledge his pseudo apology with a nod and a small glower. "See you later, Doc," he tells me, then turns with a quick salute to the stasis chamber. "Major." He grins at me one last time then heads out to sneak Radek back into his quarters.

"Coma talks," I snort and shake my head as I turn to address John. "Ha! Can you believe him?"

T plus 98 hours 14 minutes

"Dr. McKay?"

My name is accompanied by a light tap on my shoulder that I choose to ignore. I pull the blanket around me tighter, turning away from the female voice and touch, hoping she will take the hint and see that I would rather be sleeping. There is another tap and I can only hope that I'm wrong and Elizabeth hasn't done as she has threatened and sent Heightmeyer to see me. I had thought when she sent the cot and food down, Elizabeth had decided to let me stay and work in peace. However, a second call of my name by a woman's voice leads me to think the worst. With a suppressed groan I roll over, deciding at this moment that a fabricated teary-eyed confession that John and I are secretly lovers might be enough to feed Kate's slash fetish and chase the psychologist away in search of a cold shower, or privacy, depending on how full her schedule is for the rest of the day. Consequences of any lies be damned, I'm in no mood to be told that my reaction is perfectly normal because even I know that is the furthest thing from the truth.

I open my eyes and instead of Dr. Blondielocks, I find Teyla. I jerk back in shock, pulling the blanket up modestly as I sit, even though I am fully dressed.

My sudden movement startles her as well and she takes a step back. "Dr. McKay, forgive me, I did not mean to alarm you."

"No, no, quite alright," I reassure her as my eyes dart nervously around the room, hoping against hope that someone else might be with her. "I, uh, is there something I can do for you?"

"Doctor, there is something I must discuss with you."

Oh, god. Here it comes. I knew we would eventually have to have this conversation, I was just hoping that it would wait until after Sheppard was awake and maybe he could have it with her instead. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? I was hoping it would just go away and I could pretend that damned kiss had never happened. I mean, it was all so innocent at the time. I was excited. I was sleep deprived. I was stressed. I wasn't thinking rationally. This is what happens when you loosen up for thirty seconds and disregard the personal space rule. I make a silent promise to never get closer than three feet to another living person, ever again. Then realize I am breaking that promise at this exact moment as Teyla leans in with a concerned frown, the bruising still visible on her face.

"Dr. McKay, are you unwell?"

I jump to my feet and am around the other side of the power consol before she can reach out and touch me. "Fine, fine. I'm just fine, thanks for asking." I roll my eyes at how moronic I sound even to myself and Teyla's frown deepens.

"Perhaps I should request Dr. Beckett's assistance, although that is partially why I am here." She turns to leave and as tempting as it is to let her, I don't want Carson down here. Besides, we're going to have to have this conversation sooner or later, so I might as well go ahead and get it over with.

"No!" I force myself to lower my voice. "No, really, I'm fine and we really should talk about this."

"Very well. I am quite upset about some recent events and am not sure how to proceed."

I cringe inwardly but try to maintain a level face. "That's something of an understatement, but believe me I understand."

She looks at me oddly, "So you are upset about this as well?"

"Of course, who wouldn't be? I mean, it impacts me just as much as you."

"I am so glad that you understand, Doctor." She begins a lopsided pace around the room, favoring her injured knee. "I mean, given my position as a team member as well as an advisor to Dr. Weir…well, I am sure you can see how this is frustrating, even insulting."

"Insulting may be a little harsh." I bristle slightly, it's not like I wouldn't be a decent catch. "I mean I'm not without a certain amount of rank myself."

"Exactly! And that is what makes this all the more offensive."

"Offensive? Really? I can see why you may not be happy, but…offensive?"

"Then how would you describe it?"

"Uhm, well, how about a mistake?" I snap my fingers in sudden thought. "Or, misunderstanding! Yes, misunderstanding is a very good way to describe it."

"No, this is much more than a misunderstanding." Her eyes flash dangerously and I move so that the consol is between us. "This is a blatant disregard for my feelings."

"Blatant is such a strong word. It was never meant to be blatant."

She lets out a sigh, stops pacing and crosses her arms. "Perhaps you are right, Doctor. How do you suggest we proceed?"

"Me?" I can't keep the shock from my voice. "You mean I have a say in this?"

"Of course, that is why I came to see you."

"Oh, well, in that case…" I think for a few seconds. "It seems that you see this as an affront to your honor… and you somehow need to restore that honor…so how about a fight with those sticks of yours?" I know I don't stand a chance against her, hell Sheppard can barely hold his own against her, but maybe if I fall down quickly after a few light raps she'll let me off the hook.

Her eyes widen in surprise. "Do you not think that is a little extreme?"

I half laugh, "Oh, and getting married because of a simple kiss isn't extreme?"

"Kiss?" she asks in confusion. "To what kiss are you referring?"

I blink at her question. "The one I gave you…in the gateroom…" Her confusion just seems to grow. "When you and Ford…" and then it dawns on me. "Ford! That lying piece of…" I turn and address Sheppard. "This is all a result of your influence on him. He was a perfectly decent young officer until he started hanging around you."

"Lt. Ford told you that we would have to get married because you kissed me?" I turn back and see an expression somewhere between bewilderment and amusement. I bobble my head in confirmation. "And you believed him?" I close my eyes in shame and nod my head. She just starts laughing. "Well, I guess the Lieutenant does not have a poker 'tell' after all."

My eyes fly open at the statement and the way she stumbles over the Earth slang. "You knew about this, didn't you?"

"Doctor, Lt. Ford and I had a great deal of time to converse on the planet before we could obtain the Wraith's Blood. He mentioned your conversation from the cafeteria and how he planned to find a way to prove you wrong. But I assure you, I was not involved in his deception." She snickers again.

"But your reaction when I kissed you, you just seemed so…" I search for the proper word.

"Surprised that a man who is so protective of his, as you say, 'personal space', would kiss me? I believe under the circumstances, that was an appropriate reaction."

"So, just to be very clear about this, we don't have to get married?"

"Oh, no!" Her eyes widen in alarm as she shakes her head in a broad arc. "Absolutely not. No, no, no, no, no."

"A simple no, stated once, would have been sufficient." I tell her with a frown. Seriously, any woman would count herself lucky to have me. I mean looks, charm, and genius to spare; what's not to love? The genetic input to any offspring alone should have them fighting over me.

Yeah, okay, I'm not buying it either. Still, she doesn't have to make it sound like I'm a leper or something. I decide to move on to another topic. "So, if this wasn't about the kiss, what are you talking about?"

"Dr. Beckett and Dr. Kavanagh will not allow me entrance to the lab where they are preparing the antidote. I merely wish to check their progress, but evidently Dr. Kavanagh has devised a way to override the locks on the doors with the assistance of Dr. Beckett's genes."

"Oh, that," I snort and start checking the energy readings on the panel. "Sorry, can't help you there. I've been on the no fly list since day one."

"No fly list? This has nothing to do with the Jumper."

I shake my head. "It's an Earth expression, it comes from…well, that isn't important. It just means I can't get in either."

She lets out a sigh. "It is so frustrating, just waiting, not being able to help."

"No?" I ask in mock surprise. "Really, ya' think?"

She seems to realize for the first time that through this entire ordeal I have played a very minor part, relying almost entirely on her and Ford, Beckett and even Kavanagh to do what I couldn't. And all in all, I've come to the conclusion that it really sucks being the Answer Man when no one is asking any questions.

With a sad smile she asks, "Why are you down here, Doctor?"

I start to feed her my typical monitoring the energy level spiel, but something in her expression silences me. "Why are you here?"

She nods in understanding, then asks, "Would you mind if I stayed a while longer?"

How many vigils have we sat together waiting for word on someone we both care about? How many has she sat with the others waiting for word about me? It's an unwritten rule about being on a team; if one member is hurt, then all the members are hurt. Believe me; it shocked the hell out of me the first time I realized that, to learn that I was part of something more than myself. It had always been me; me orbited by others, good, bad or indifferent. Only here on Atlantis, the indifference has somehow slipped away and for good or bad, I find myself connected to other people in a way that is at once bewildering and beguiling. And maybe that feeling of connection is what I have been missing out on these past several days almost as much as Sheppard's company.

With a shrug I tell her, "Be my guest." I then add, "As long as you're sure we don't have to get married."

"Positive," she assures me then goes to stand before John. "Major Sheppard, you must forgive me for not coming to see you sooner," she begins, and I realize with a sense of relief that I'm not the only one who has been missing out on the companionship being a member of Sheppard's team offers.

T plus 121 hours 45 minutes

"I'm telling you, he heard that joke I just told," Ford insists. "He's smirking a little more than he was a few minutes ago."

"Aiden, you are mistaken," Teyla insists right back. "His expression has not changed."

Ford just shrugs. "Sorry, but you're just not looking close enough."

I let out a weary sigh and turn off the screwdriver I'm using to reassemble the Ancient technology. "Okay, for hopefully the last time, there is no way his expression changed. He is in stasis; he's incapable of any movement. His heart is barely beating for Pete's sake; there is no way in hell he would be able to smile. Besides, it was a stupid joke, so even if he could move he still wouldn't."

Ford shakes his head, "I don't know, Doc, he sure seems to be smiling more than he was earlier."

Somewhere along the way, I let this situation get away from me. What had started out as a simple request from Teyla to stay a while longer has turned into a damned team reunion when she returned from the cafeteria bringing food and Ford along for the trip. Since then, the two of them have been down here on and off for the past day and a half, talking to Sheppard, talking to me, talking to each other, hell talking to themselves. At first the company was kind of nice, breaking up the monotony, making me feel that I wasn't completely loosing my mind to be talking to what is for all practical purposes an inanimate object. But now… I swear to god, even Dr. Phil would be telling them to shut up already.

And now Ford has developed this bizarre fascination with trying to make Sheppard react, no matter how many times I explain that it is physically impossible for such a thing to happen. It's just a matter of time before he gets a goddamned stick and starts poking at the man.

"Lieutenant," I ask him with as much subliminal meaning as I can force into the question, "isn't it about time to start your guard shift for Dr. Zelenka?"

He checks his watch, "Nah, don't worry, I still have a couple of hours."

I roll my eyes at his oblivion and with gritted teeth go back to my project. I can't explain why I decided to reassemble the box with blinking bowls. It's just that once I moved down here and got the final pieces apart, I suddenly didn't want to throw it away like I had originally. Instead, it just seemed like the most logical next step was to start to put it back together again. I still have no idea what it is supposed to do, and I still don't really care, but for an entirely different reason. Maybe it is just a Junior High shop project, but what right do I have to destroy something that evidently meant enough to someone else that it has sat around for over ten thousand years waiting for someone to come back and turn it on again? I've come to realize that there is a certain give and take to the universe; that to really appreciate the good, sometimes you have to make it through the bad. Sometimes it's as horrible as putting your best friend in stasis so that he has a chance to live, other times it's as simple as suffering through bad jokes and worse singing so that your colleagues can keep you company, still others it's as seemingly pointless as attaching a green bowl to a metal frame so that it will blink back at you when you touch it. But really, it all seems to balance out in the end.

"Rodney?" I look up at the unexpected sound of Carson's voice. Elizabeth stands behind him and both are smiling. "The antidote is ready. You can go ahead and revive him."

"Where is it?" I notice he has come empty handed and there is a part of me that just can't really accept that what he says is true without seeing proof.

"It is in the infirmary. The rest of my team will be here momentarily to move him up. But from the last time we revived someone from stasis, I know it take as few minutes before the unit will release him from the chamber."

I look to Ford and Teyla, as if to confirm that I'm really hearing what he's telling me. They both smile back cheerfully, so I do the same. "Okay, then. It's about goddamn time!"

I place my hand on the control consol and think, Wake. Once again the unit hums to life as it did five days ago. This time I open my eyes, watching as the chamber slowly empties of the media, the cloudy image of John becoming clearer by the second. About halfway through the process, the medical team arrives with a gurney and Carson's kit, but I barely acknowledge them. My heart rate increases in my chest and I realize I'm actually starting to shake, the jitters a combination of excitement and trepidation. I now have to face the fears I've been putting off for these past several days. Up until know my concern has been keeping him alive until the antidote could be completed. Now that it is waiting to be administered several floors above, I admit that we really don't know if it will even work. So at the same time that I'm thrilled to be removing him from the chamber, I may be signing his death warrant as surely as I activated the unit.

The unit beeps twice, indicating that the stasis is ended. He still hasn't moved, but that is to be expected, as well. The chamber maintains a supporting force field around the individual until the body awakens completely, which from our experience with the alternate Weir can take several more minutes.

"All right, then," Carson tells me with a hand on my shoulder, "let's get him moved."

Between the med team and his team mates, we manage to get Sheppard situated on the gurney. He is still not completely awake, although the tremors he was experiencing when we put him in stasis are returning.

"It's to be expected, lad," Carson reassures me when he sees my frown, "we haven't given him the antidote yet."

He quickly checks his vitals, then with a nod of his head, he signals the med team to move out to the transporter. I elbow my way into a position near his shoulder. Ford and Teyla are much more polite about it and simply follow at his feet; however they make it perfectly clear with their body language that they do not intend to move out of arms reach of the gurney.

The trip up to the infirmary is quick and uneventful. As we reach the doors, Sheppard stirs, mumbles incoherently, but doesn't open his eyes. "Major?" I call but he doesn't respond. I look questioningly to Carson as we move into the room he has prepared.

"He's coming around, but he's still mostly under." He turns to a nurse. "Let's get the IV going and I'll begin administering the antidote."

She moves in and efficiently crowds me out of the way to do her job. I move back, but a second mumble has me peeking over her shoulder. Carson grabs my arm, extracting me from the work zone, "Rodney, give us room to breathe. He'll be awake soon enough."

He injects the antidote, a translucent, ruby red liquid, into the IV stream and leans in himself. "Major Sheppard, can you hear me?"

A soft, sleepy, "Doc?" comes in response. Smiles erupt around the room.

"Aye, lad, 'tis me. Do you remember what happened?"


"Here!" I bounce forward at my name and Carson shoots a glare in my direction.

"That wasn't a page, Rodney."

I ignore him and move to the opposite side of the bed. "Major?"

His eyelids seem to flutter and Carson encourages the motion. "That's it, now. There are quite a few people anxious to see you." He frowns slightly at me as I lean in as well. "Some obnoxiously so."

The fluttering stops abruptly. In fact, everything seems to stop abruptly. With a sharply drawn breath, Sheppard arches his back slightly then goes stiff. My wide eyes follow Carson's gaze to the IV tubes, noting the bulbous of antidote has almost completely entered John's blood stream. Before I can ask what's happening, John's eyes fly open with a frightening alertness. He seems to consider Carson for a second, his eyes widening in what seems to be fear.

"Major?" Carson calls calmly. "Everything is okay. You're going to be fine."

The fear in his eyes burns away in a flash of rage and his mouth twists into a snarl. Carson stand straighter and Sheppard actually starts to rise towards him.

It is in complete bewilderment that I yell out, "John!"

He turns toward me, completely forgetting about Carson, and lunges. We go crashing to the floor, him on top, effectively pinning me to the ground with his forearm pressed heavily across my throat. I struggle for a breath that will not come, flailing against his arms and shoulders to no effect. He won't budge. I try and fail to draw breath again. He is staring at me, through me, and there is not a single shred of recognition in his eyes. I want to say his name because there is a small part of my brain that is trying to deny that any of this is happening and that if I can just say his name he will snap out of it. But with no breath I have no voice to call to him, or to even call for help.

Finally, Ford is pulling at him, Teyla helping, so that his force against my throat loosens and for a split second I can gulp air. But he fights against them, insistent on his task and pressure soon returns. Carson and one of the medical techs join in as well, and the four of them are able to pull him back enough that I can scramble out from under him.

He lets out a scream at his failure to finish me off, fighting against the four of them, trying to get back at me. I stand to the side, hand to my throat, breathing in deep breathes of blessed oxygen. Carson is yelling above John's screaming, telling the others to hold him down on the hospital bed. I realize what he's doing at the same instant John does, and Carson already has one leather restraint around his wrist before I can protest. John's screams escalate and I manage to creak out a weak "Stop!" as they secure the second.

I move back toward the bed, my voice returning, "Wait, there has to be something else…" When he hears me, Sheppard turns his attention my way, fighting even harder against the bindings, screaming with a rage I never knew he was capable of.

Carson turns to me, panting, his face taut, "Rodney, get out!"

I stop where I stand, completely caught off guard by his reaction. "No! Carson, you can't just tie him up..."

He looks to Ford then points a finger in my direction. "Get him out, now!"

John continues to scream bloody murder and fight against the restraints, never taking his hate filled eyes from me.

"John!" I call as Ford places a hand on my chest and pushes me toward the door.

I resist the attempt to move me even as he coaxes, "Come on, Doc, let's go."

I push back with a "No! Carson, you can't do this…"

All Carson says is, "Now, Lieutenant!"

Ford presses his shoulder into my chest, wrapping his arms around me and pushing me backwards toward the door. "No, get off me! Carson, don't! John! Ford, stop it! This is insane!" Ford bulldozers me through the door and the screams instantly dim but don't disappear even as it slides shut. With a final shove, Ford sends me staggering back into the hallway and assumes a protective stance in front of the door.

With a rage of my own, I start forward, intent on re-entering the infirmary. "Just who the hell do you think you are doing something like…" I stop as Ford sags, one arm wrapped protectively around his ribs. "Lieutenant, are you okay?"

"Hell, no!" he exclaims. "First I have to watch my CO attack you, then I have to pull him off of your sorry ass and hold him down while he gets tied to the bed, then I have to haul your same sorry ass out of the room, all with busted ribs." He leans against the frame of the door. "Jesus H., that hurts!"

I grimace. "I'm…sorry. I forgot about your ribs."

"Yeah, well, that understandable given the situation. Just don't make me have to stop you again."

I feel bad about what I'm planning, I honestly do. But when opportunity isn't knocking on the door but is instead blocking it with sore ribs, a well placed elbow is all I'll need to get back into the infirmary. I am just about to put my plan into action when the door slides open and Carson comes out followed by Elizabeth and whole new set of screams. The sound makes the hairs on my arms rise and my panic and outrage return with a vengeance.

He halts when he sees Ford leaning against the door. Before he can resort to doctor mode, I descend on him with an arm pointing sharply into the medbay. "What the FUCK was that?"

"Rodney, please, try to calm down," Elizabeth pleads from his side.

I shake my head frantically, eyes wide and I'm sure a little wild. "No goddamned way am I calming down until I know just what the hell Dr. Feelgood here did to him."

"It is a side effect of the antidote," Carson tells me as calmly as he can, sending Ford into the infirmary in search of a nurse.

"Side effect? You have got to be shitting me! Side effects may include drowsiness, headache, stomach upset or pain at the injections site. They do NOT include wigging out," I flail my arms around spastically, "and attempting to strangle the person who has been trying to keep you alive for the past week!"

"Rodney, it's the Wraith's Blood; it's a very potent stimulant. After talking to Teyla and the drug dealers, Kavanagh's convinced it is a more powerful hallucinogen than LSD and what we gave him was an almost pure dose of the drug. There is no telling what he is seeing when he looks at you."

"Did you know this would happen?" I demand.

He hangs his head with a sigh. "I started to suspect something might the more I learned about the drug from Teyla, and from what Kavanagh told me about its chemical composition." I frown and cross my arms, pissed beyond speech that he didn't warn anyone about this. "But I couldn't know for sure what the reaction would be and it's not like we had a choice in the matter. If I didn't administer the antidote, he would be dead by now."

He's right. Of course, he's right. And that just seems to piss me off even more. But yelling at him will only make me feel better and very little else. I run my hand through my hair and exhale loudly. "What do we do now?"

"We wait it out. Let the drug run its course."

"And how long will that take?" Elizabeth asks before I can.

He shakes his head with uncertainty. "I really have no way to tell. The reaction was almost immediate, which may suggest it metabolizes very quickly. If that's the case it could be a few hours. It could also suggest that the Major is very susceptible to it, which means it could last for several days."

"And in the meantime you're just going to keep him strapped down while he screams like madman." I don't even attempt to keep the disgust from my voice.

Carson scowls and leans towards me as he speaks. "It's not like I have much choice in the matter. As tempting as it might be, I can't have him running around trying to kill you every chance he gets, now can I?"

Elizabeth places a calming hand on his shoulder. "Is there another way to subdue him until this is over? Sedation maybe?"

Again he shakes his head. "I don't want to administer any other drugs. I have no idea what complications the potential interaction may cause."

I cringe as another scream makes its way through the door. "Well, you can't let him keep this up. He's going to scream himself hoarse."

"I agree," Carson admits reluctantly. "I had hoped he would calm himself when you left the room, but it really made little difference, especially since he's restrained. I'm afraid he's going to injure himself if he keeps fighting against them. If he doesn't calm soon, we're going to have to find alternate accommodations for him."

"Do you have something in mind, Doctor?" Elizabeth asks.

"Aye, but I don't think anyone is going to like it, least of all Major Sheppard." He hesitates, then tells us, "The Wraith holding cell."

Elizabeth's eyes widen in alarm. Mine do the same, although I have a verbal component to my outrage as well. "No fucking way!"

"You said it yourself, Rodney," Carson points out. "We can't keep him strapped down, screaming on a bed."

"Yes, but I didn't mean we should lock him up in a cage."

"At least he'll be able to move around. It might help to work off some of the aggression he's experiencing. Maybe he won't feel so trapped. It might calm him without hurting himself or others."

"He's not a goddamned Wraith, or wild animal for that matter!"

"Rodney," Elizabeth calls calmly, "as much as I dislike the idea, I think it may be John's only choice."

I turn to her pleadingly, "Elizabeth, you can't be serious about this."

"Give me an alternative to consider." And as much as I want to provide an idea that will satisfy the yearning I see in her gaze, I can't. I shrug in defeat and she pats my arm reassuringly.

Carson takes a breath. "All right, then. I'll monitor him for a while longer. If he doesn't seem to be calming, I'll make arrangements to have him moved." He starts for the door back to the infirmary and I move to follow him. "I'm sorry, lad, but you had best stay out here."

"Carson, please, this is ridiculous…"

He raises a hand to silence me. "Rodney, you'll only upset him more. Once he calms himself, we'll see. Until then, I can't allow you to come near him." I stand dumbly, wanting to protest, but unable to voice a sufficient argument. He smiles sympathetically and walks through the door. Elizabeth does the same and she too is gone.

I can do little more than blink at their retreating forms and wonder how everything went from great to fucked in such a short amount of time.

T plus 136 hours 12 minutes

I push my loaded utility cart down the corridor, smiling cheerfully at those that I pass along the way. I even throw in a "Hey, how ya' doing?" to two of the geologists as I back it into the transporter. They actually slow and regard me warily and I waggle my eyebrows and rock on my heels as the door slides shut and I transport to the level below. I catch myself humming 'The Reflex' fle-fle-fle-fle-flex, a remnant of my last visit with Radek and his homage to the '80s, as I make my way to the holding cell.

My good mood increases as I see who is guarding the door. "Sgt. Smith, isn't it?" I ask with a smile.

"Yes, sir," he answers hesitantly.

"You're the young man who shot Dr. Kavanagh, right?"

He reddens. "Stunned, sir, but yes, that was me."

I beam at him. "Well, good shot." He blinks in surprise so I continue. "No, really, when it comes to potential Wraith invasions of the city, I prefer to have the military a little more on the 'shoot first, ask questions later' side of the fence. An itchy trigger finger tends to get a bad rap, unjustly so in my book."

He seems unsure how to respond to my praise. "Thank you, sir?"

I lean in and lower my voice. "Although, you've never pissed off a chemist before, I take it."

"No, sir."

I bobble my head with a sympathetic smile. "Well, the next few weeks should be interesting, then."


I dismiss his concern with a flick of my wrist. "I'm sure you'll have nothing to worry about. It was an honest mistake, after all. Anyone could have made it. Although you were the only one that actually did." His eyes widen slightly. "Still, if it would make you feel better, I could have a little chat with Dr. Kavanagh; make sure he understands that it was nothing personal on your part."

"You would do that, sir?" He brightens at the possibility.

I shrug. "Consider it done."

"Thank you, Dr. McKay. I would really appreciate that."

I let the gratitude roll off me with a little 'pish' sound then really get down to business. "So, how's the Major doing today?"

"He's calmed quite a bit ever since Dr. Beckett gave him the ball to bounce off the force field, but he still doesn't seem to recognize anyone."

"Ah yes, the ball. I heard about that. Seems he likes to watch the 'zap' when something bumps up against the shield. I guess the ball is better than the alternative of touching it every time he wanted to see it."

He smiles. "Yes, sir. We were all glad when Dr. Beckett came up with the idea and he stopped hurting himself."

"Yes, Dr. Beckett can be one of the faster ducks on the pond when he puts his mind to it." And he could be. I'll give credit where credit is due. After slamming himself forcefully into the shielding around the cell several times, Sheppard had seemed more intrigued by the little spark of light that accompanied the collision than actually trying to escape. So much so, that he kept touching it repeatedly even though he received a good shock to the system every time he came in contact with the field. Carson, seeing the calming effect the little light show seemed to have, had produced a stress ball and the Major had been happily bouncing said ball instead of himself off the walls ever since. Yes, Carson is smart, but I am a genius. As such, I had seen a potential to gain access and contribute to his recovery all with one blinking, bowl covered box.

"And actually, that is exactly why I'm here. I'm dropping off something that should help him even more than the ball." I start to roll the cart into the room, but he steps in front of the opening and blocks my way.

"Sorry, Doctor, but I'm not allowed to let you in."

I smile reassuringly. "That was before, but now that he's calmed down I can see him."

He looks at me and I can tell he is trying to decide if I'm telling the truth or not. "I haven't received word from Dr. Beckett that that order had changed."

I release a dramatic sigh. "Look, Sergeant, I can understand your hesitance, but I'm sure that you'll agree that he has calmed dramatically since he was first brought down here." He nods so I continue. "What can it hurt if I just go in and drop this off? If he starts to get the least bit agitated, I'll leave, scout's honor." I can see the battle taking place in his conscience. Fortunately mine has decided to take the day off, so I don't even flinch when I make the scout comment. "I'm just trying to help, just like I want to help you by talking to Dr. Kavanagh." I stress the last part of my statement meaningfully and he finally gets where I'm going.

He moves aside. "As long as he doesn't get upset again, I guess it would be all right."

"Thank you, Smith. You're a good man," I tell him as I wheel the cart into the room.

The holding cell sits dead center in the room; only a pale blue-tinted light illuminates the compartment so that I make my way through shadows as I approach. John sits cross-legged on the floor, tossing the squishy ball that Carson no doubt obtained from some Earth-based drug rep dazedly against the shielding. I can hear the 'zap, thud…zap, thud' as I make my way across the space between us.

At the sound of the wheeled cart he stops, stands, and peers into the darkness, the tension obvious in his stance. As I move into the circle of light, his eyes narrow, his jaw tightens and he actually lets out a guttural, throaty sound that could be taken as a growl.

I roll my eyes. "Don't make me get a rolled up newspaper." He follows my motions as I move toward the door of the cell with those same unrecognizing, unremorseful eyes he had when he attacked me. When I reach the door I push one of the bowls and it lights up a blinking green. For a split second his face softens with an almost childish fascination, and just as quickly the spite is back. I push a red bowl next and it blinks cheerfully. Finally, I push two bowls at the same time and the entire box starts to twinkle as all the bowls flicker on and off repeatedly. His whole body seems to relax and I see the start of a smile.

I lift the box awkwardly from the cart, switch off the shielding and open the door. He watches me suspiciously as I take two steps inside and place the box on the floor. "Here, knock yourself out," I tell him and immediately step back outside and re-secure the cell. I may be willing to tempt fate but I'm not going to taunt it. He looks hesitantly between me and the box, curiosity finally winning out so that he walks the few steps over and activates a bowl. He releases something between a snort and a laugh, sits on the floor and begins activating bowl after flashing bowl.

Satisfied that he's content with his new toy, I take my laptop from the cart, settle myself on the floor just at the shadowy edge of the light, and start working on the monthly generator energy consumption report.

T plus 139 hours 49 minutes


I jerk awake from my very uncomfortable position on the floor, sending my laptop skidding away from where it was leaning against me. "I'm awake! I'm awake! Whatdaya need?" I blink in confusion, trying to orient myself as to where exactly I have awakened. My attention is drawn to the lit area just in front of me and I squint to see Sheppard staring in wide-eyed wonder from his kneeling position in the cell.

"Major?" I realize he had called me by name and for the first time since coming out of stasis he seems to recognize me.

He swallows visibly. "You're alive." And his voice hitches on the last word so that I can't tell if it is a statement or a question.

I crawl forward so that I'm completely in the light. "Yeah, I'm alive."

He takes a shuddering breath and asks, "What about the others?"

"They're alive, too," I assure him.

He drops his face to his hands and lets out a muffled, "Damn" into his palms. He scrubs his face roughly and looks at me again with moist eyes. "I thought they had… I mean, when I woke up and there were all those Wraith… Jesus… I tried to kill one, but then they locked me up down here. Christ, I thought they had killed all of you."

I shake my head, trying to keep from laughing bitterly. He had thought I was a goddamned Wraith! More than that, he thought he was exacting revenge on the sons of bitches that had killed me, had killed all of us, and in his confusion had almost accomplished in reality what he thought his fantasy already had. How's that for fucking irony?

"John, we're fine. There are no Wraith in the city. It's the antidote, its affecting your mind. Everyone is perfectly safe. We had to lock you up so you wouldn't hurt yourself." Or anyone else for that matter, me in particular, I add silently. But no need to distress him more than he already is.

"The antidote?" he asks in confusion and as I nod in confirmation I can see the understanding and the memories wash over him. "For the poison. I was in stasis."

I smile excitedly. "Yes! That's right."

"And there were no Wraith?"

"Not unless you count Kavanagh." He gives me an odd look and I just shake my head in dismissal. "Not important right now. What is important is that you're finally acting more like yourself. How do you feel?"

"Disoriented. Kind of bed-spinney. You're sort of…" he waves his hands back and forth, "scattered."

"It's the drug," I reassure him.

"As in medication?" He continues to watch his hands as he moves them back and forth.

"Partially, but primarily as in 'Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test'."

He sits back drunkenly on his butt and with a goofy smile tilts his head from one side to the other repeatedly. "Cool."

"Yes, well, that's one way to describe it. A nightmare spawned from the depths of hell is another, more appropriate way. But cool works, too."

He seems to notice the box with bowls for the first time, "Oh, wow, what does this do?" He crawls excitedly over and touches a bowl. When it twinkles to life he flashes me a broad, wide-eyed smile. With a slow, meaningful nod of his head, he hitches a thumb toward the device. "Heeeey, pretty neat."

"Yeah," I draw the word out and accentuate it with a snapping fist pop. "So, I'm going to go call Carson and you just keep…doing what you're doing."

He doesn't look up from the box, having already figured out how to activate all the bowls at once. " 'Kay. See you later."

And with an indulgent shake of my head and a smile that just won't seem to go away, I head out and find Smith still at the door, borrow his radio, and call Carson.

"Rodney, what the bloody hell are you doing down there in the first place?" He demands and I realize I'm busted, but I don't care.

"What you couldn't. Now get down here."

"I'm already on my way." And a few minutes later he appears around the corner from the transporter. "How is he?" he asks as soon as he sees me by the door.

"Stoned," I tell him, "and in more emotional unrest than a pregnant woman. But he knows who I am and seems to remember at least part of what happened to him."

He doesn't slow when he reaches us, just brushes past and into the room. I follow close behind.

"Major Sheppard?"

Sheppard looks up from the bowls and smiles happily. "Hey, Doc! Have you seen this?"

"And just where did that come from?" He frowns as he glares at me.

I raise my chin. "He found it soothing."

"And you opened the cell and gave it to him? You really are completely mad, aren't you?"

"Well, he's better now."

"As much as you like to deny it, I am the only one with a medical degree currently present in the room, so I think I will be the one to make that determination." He deactivates the shield and has John move to the edge of the cell.

I fold my arms across my chest. "Aren't you going to let him out?"

"No," he tells me with a simple shake of his head and begins to examine him through the bars. After running through his vitals, he reactivates the shield.

"You aren't going to leave him in there, he's fine," I insist.

"No, he isn't." He holds up a hand when I start to protest. "His pupils are fixed, his pulse is rapid, and his blood pressure is elevated. He's still under the influence of the drug and I won't let him out until I'm sure he won't resort back to violence."

I look over as John lets out a laugh. He kneads the thumb of one hand into the palm of his other, shakes his head as if to clear the fuzz and goes back to his blinking box, "The only things violent are his mood swings; he's not going to hurt anyone."

"You don't know that, Rodney. And as much as I hope you're right, I'm not going to take that chance."

I start to protest further, but we both notice John is no longer activating the Ancient device. Instead he stands and begins pacing the cell, flexing his hands repeatedly.

"Major, is there a problem?" Carson asks.

He starts shaking his hands, as though he is trying to fling water from them. "It's just kind of small."

"What's small?" I ask as he tugs uncomfortably at the loose scrub top.

"This room, this cell, my fucking skin." He stretches his arms over his head, as though trying to work a kink out of a tight muscle. "I can't move," he tells us as he continues his pacing. "Goddammit! It's too small!"

"Major, you need to try to calm down…"

"Damn! I can't move!" He stops pacing, bends and puts his hands to his knees, breathing rapidly. He looks around frantically, like a trapped animal. "I need to move! It needs to be bigger!"

"John…" I start as he eyes the door to the cell.

He moves quickly to where Carson and I stand by the entrance. "Let me out, Rodney."

"Major, I'm sorry, we cannot let you out," Carson explains. "It's for your own protection."

He is rocking now, bouncing on his toes, looking at me anxiously as I look between him and Carson trying to decide what to do. Finally, I decide the glint in his eyes is a little too panicked to trust him roaming free in Atlantis. I hang my head, "Sorry, Carson 's right."

He starts pacing again, swinging his arms in broad sweeping windmills. "I can't stay in here. It's too fucking small!" He pushes his hands deep into his hair, holding his head even as he continues his back and forth motion across the floor. "Goddammit… Goddammit!" He wraps his arms around his body, shortening the distance he is moving so that he is basically walking in a small, tight circle. "Goddammit!"

He's shaking his head, rubbing his arms as if he's about to crawl out of his skin and watching him I'm about three seconds behind him. I find I'm wiggling my fingers, feeling the walls close in myself. " Carson , there must be something you can do."

"It will pass, Rodney," he tells me sadly but surely, "just give it time."

"No, it won't!" Sheppard insist from the cell. "Now, let me out!"

Carson shakes his head. "Major, we can't."

"Let me out!"


I lick my lips, the nervous energy coming out of the cell rolling across the room in waves.

"Let…me…the fuck…out!" With each word he throws his shoulder brutally against the force field, sending blue sparks flying. Carson is trying to remain rational, calmly calling his name, trying to sooth him down from the frantic emotional wall he is climbing.

But I have had enough. I turn off the shield and he slams hard into the bars of the cell. Both men freeze and stare at me, John rubbing where he arm impacted the metal. "Do you swear to me on Johnny Cash's soul and your entire stash of Snickers that you won't bolt on me?"

He nods excitedly as Carson protests my plan. "Rodney, you cannot let him out into the city."

I swing the door open. "We're not going to be in the city." Sheppard just kind of stares at me, as if he can't quite believe I'm letting him out. "Well, are you coming or not?"

He moves forward and I take him by the arm, leading him quickly out the door of the holding room. Smith opens his mouth then closes it again with a confused look, but he doesn't challenge me. I'm really starting to like that young man between his obvious awe of me, his willingness to shoot Kavanagh, and his easy to remember name.

Carson jogs up behind us as we enter the transporter. "And just where the bloody hell do you plan to be?"

I wait until we exit on the main floor and start down the hall before answering. "Stretching our legs. Spreading our wings, so to speak."

I don't slow and although I keep a hand firmly latched onto his arm, John simply follows my lead, socked feet padding in time with my booted ones, showing no indication of trying to escape. He barely seems to notice the people that scatter and stare at our little party as it moves deliberately down the middle of the hallway.

Carson finally realizes what I am planning when we reach the Jumper Bay , "Are you insane?"

We make our way to Jumper One and I round on him, "Look, we've done it your way long enough. Now it's my turn."

"This isn't a playground, Rodney. He's not a toy to be passed around, he's a human being."

As the hatch opens I throw my arms up in exasperation. "Exactly! He is a human being in need of wide open spaces and I plan to give him the widest open space I know of."

John enters the Jumper and heads for the pilot seat. With a jerk on his arm I swing him toward the second seat. "Not yet. No DUI's in the Jumper Bay ."

I sit in the pilot seat and start up the ship. Carson enters into the back end and calls to me. "Do you have any idea what you are doing?"

"Yes, I do. Now take off your jacket."

"My jacket?"

"It gets cold in here when we're in open space and the Major is only wearing scrubs, so give him your jacket."

"I'm not letting you go without discussing this further."

"Fine, come with us. I just feel I should warn you that I plan to let him fly once we leave the atmosphere."

Carson takes a shocked step back. "The man is drugged out of all rational sense. He can't be trusted behind the controls of a flying spacecraft."

I roll my eyes. "We will be in open space, thousands of light years from the nearest vessel. What's he going to run into, a moon? I think even he would be able to avoid something that big. In or out, Carson , I'm shutting the hatch."

The big baby backs out with a last threat, "I'm going to talk to Dr. Weir about this."

"Great, that means I don't need to call her and log a flight plan. Tell her we'll be back…eventually. Oh, and Carson , one more thing."

"What now?"

"The jacket." With a grumble he takes it off and tosses it into the Jumper.

The hatch closes and I activate the roof opening of the bay. I guide the ship up and out into the midday sun glistening across the ocean. I stay low, weaving my way through the spires of the city before dropping down even lower and opening her up. John leans forward looking out at the sea passing in a blur less than a hundred feet below us. After a few minutes of skimming the waves, I pull the ship straight up, rushing through the lower atmosphere and a layer of high, thin clouds, climbing higher and higher until we pop out into the black of open space.

"Big enough for you?" I ask as I look over at my traveling companion.

He has a contended smile on his face and with an exhaled breath he leans back into the seat. "Thank you."

I put us into orbit around the planet and retrieve the jacket from the back of the Jumper. "Well, it doesn't seem to have an excessive amount of lanolin on it and hopefully the Scottish flag won't have you saying words like 'bloody' and 'cheeky', but it should keep you warm."

He takes the jacket and drapes it across himself like a blanket. "It is a wee bit chilly in here," he tells me with a smirk.

"Oh god, it's affecting you already. You with the accent and Carson with the spiky hair and both of you with the sole goal in life to drive me completely insane. It's like you two are twins separated at birth."

I start to sit back in the pilot seat, then ask, "Do you want to drive for a while?"

He lets out a yawn, perfectly comfortable where he sits. "Maybe later."

"Well, whenever. No rush, we've got all the time in the world. That is, until the next disaster strikes."

"How long was I out?" he asks quietly from his seat, never taking his eyes from the view of the watery planet below us.

I knew he would ask this question, knew I would eventually have to fill him in on all that has happened since he went into stasis. I look at my watch, tempted to tell him that it has been exactly 140 hours and 31 minutes since I activated the chamber. But floating here in space, with the whole universe to our backs and home spinning by below us, the numbers really don't mean anything anymore.

"Too damned long," I tell him expecting him to demand more.

Instead, he settles down further under the jacket before sighing, "I figured as much," and says no more.

We sit in silence for a while, watching the planet revolve below us, watching the sun set then rise then set then rise again. The third time around I find myself thinking that relativity can really bite you in the ass when you make a promise of three days and you just watched the equivalent rotate past you in a manner of minutes. And yet I stand by my previous statement that it really had been too damned long. Einstein was only partially right, the future didn't come soon enough, but it did eventually come. And I'd much rather think of the future than dwell on the past. Still, for now, I'll be content to hover in low orbit, somewhere between past and future, the heavens and the planets, the crisis coming to an end and the ones yet to come. I know it is a temporary reprieve, but I'll take whatever the space-time continuum is willing to offer. I listen to John's breathing as it evens out, slows and deepens into sleep. And relatively soon after, my own follows suite.

T plus… several days

"Okay, stop…. I just… need to rest." I bend at the middle and gulp air into my burning lungs. A few people slow and stare as they make their way through the corridors of the city. By the looks they give, you'd think they've never seen a man on the verge of self-inflicted death before. I glare at them as best I can given my near hypoxic state. My t-shirt is drenched with sweat and I hate to even think about what sort of bacterial happy hour is taking place in these shoes.

Sheppard drops back, jogging in place beside me as I wipe my arm across my forehead. Aside from wearing the most god awful track suit that should have been put out of its misery several decades earlier, he barely looks like he's done more than stroll casually through the hallways.

"So…" I try to speak between gasps. "How many miles…do you do…a day?"

"Usually five, although I try to work in a couple of seven or eight mile days at some point during the week."

"And this…" gasp "is one of those days?"

"Nope," he tells me as he continues to jog beside me.

The bastard isn't even breathing hard, has barely broken a sweat. "You mean we haven't gone five miles yet?"

"Not quite, but almost."

"How much further?"

He points to a door leading to a balcony a little ways down the corridor. "See that doorway, there?"

"That'll be five miles?" I ask in growing anticipation that the end of this torture is within sight.

"No, that will be two. Only three more to go after that," he tells me cheerfully.

I had hoped that he would forget about the promise to go jogging with him, but when he hadn't, I had tried several other ploys to get out of it. First I used my leg injury, but when Carson cleared me for full duty a day later, that excuse went out the window. Then I had explained that I didn't have the proper shoes; I couldn't be expected to jog in boots or boat shoes and those were the only ones I had brought with me. The next morning he had shown up at my door, hands behind his back, smiling. My dread-filled "What?" was met with his right hand revealing a pair of previously worn running shoes. When I then informed him that there was no way on any level of hell that I would wear someone else's germ infested and disease laden shoes, he had only continued to smile and pulled out the can of Lysol he held in his left hand. Seeing as he was obviously not going to give up, I took the shoes, soaked them for a full day in bleach, then sprayed the entire can of disinfectant on them. Sheppard had to take me to the infirmary when I nearly passed out from the fumes in my room. Which did manage to delay the jogging for one more day, but this morning I had nothing.

I lean against the wall and slide down to the floor. "Forget it; I should have just let you die from your own stubbornness. Would have taught you a valuable lesson."

"Relax, McKay, I never intended for you to go five miles on your first day. The whole idea is to extend your life, not end it abruptly with a coronary."

"So, are you going to keep running? Because if you are, you might want to swing by the infirmary and send Carson down with a crash cart in a few minutes."

"Nah, thought I'd take you to breakfast to celebrate your new healthier lifestyle."

"Oh, well, in that case, help me up."

He gives me a hand as he tells me, "Besides, I need to make sure you don't blow it by eating any extra pastries this morning."

We start to the cafeteria and I shake my head. "Oh, no. I agreed to you developing an exercise program for me, not changing my diet."

"The two go hand in hand, Rodney. You can't do one without the other."

"Yes, I can. I didn't sign up for any two-for-one package deal."

From a side corridor a very angry Kavanagh appears with electric blue hair, "You did this on purpose, I know it."

Carson follows behind him, frowning. "I did no such thing."

"Oh, and you just expect me to believe that my hair turned this color by accident?"

"For god's sake, man, I'm a doctor, not a hairdresser!"

"I should have known better than to trust you. You're just one of them." Kavanagh spits the last word, glaring meaningfully at us as he blows past in a full blown hissy.

John and I blink innocently as he storms away and leaves Carson standing in the hallway. Carson looks as if he is about to follow then crosses his arms. "Well, at least we don't have blue hair!" he yells after him and for a split second I can see a mischievous glimmer in his eyes. With a scowl he mumbles, "Good riddance to bad rubbish," but he's whistling 'Oops! I Did It Again' as he strolls back toward the infirmary.

We watch him go with a mirrored, straight-faced, "huh," at the oddity of the little drama that was just played out before us and resume our walk to the cafeteria, filled with a sense of relief that the balance of good and evil has returned to normal and all is right with the world.

"Besides," I continue as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened, "you don't have much to worry about; if the pain burning a hole in my side doesn't make me lose my appetite, that jogging suit you're wearing will. Where the hell did you get that thing, anyway?"

With a pout he runs a hand down the striped arm. "What's wrong with it? I think it's pretty styling."

"Yeah? So did Mr. Roper when he wore one just like it on 'Three's Company'."

"Well, you're one to talk, 'Genius'." He rolls his eyes at my t-shirt.

"Hey, there is nothing wrong with truth in advertising. Unlike some people who are one Mercedes Benz hood ornament on a chain away from being the lost member of Run-DMC. We should stop by Radek's room, the two of you could sing 'My Adidas' together. But you better hurry; Elizabeth's granting him parole tomorrow."

Before he can respond, Ford calls out behind us. "Sirs!" We stop until he catches up to us with a smile. "Just wanted to let you know that I saw Dr. Beckett this morning and I've been cleared for full duty."

"Congratulations!" Sheppard tells him with a clap on the back. "Just one more reason to celebrate. Come join us for breakfast; we're having fruit and oatmeal." I just frown at his sideways glance in my direction.

"Do you realize what this means, sir? With Teyla released yesterday, the entire team is clear for duty, all at the same time."

With dawning understanding, we stop in our tracks. I look to John. "My god, this hasn't happened for months."

"We need to see Weir," he tells me already turning, just as I am.

"Now," I agree and we start walking in the opposite direction back toward Elizabeth's office.

From behind us, we hear Ford say, "Well, I guess I'll go get some breakfast. Alone."

Sheppard waves absently behind him, even as he begins discussing possible missions. "I still have the briefing from the one we were supposed to go on after the planet where we were put in the tanks."

"I remember that one. The gate was in orbit, we can take the Jumper." I'm unable to keep the excitement from my voice as we walk briskly toward the control room.

John makes some mental calculations. "We can have a quick briefing and be out of here before lunch time."

"That should put at least one of us back in the infirmary and at death's door before Carson goes to bed."

John glances at his watch, lips pursed in thought. "Yeah," he agrees, "that's about right."

We stop and regard each other, considering the joke we have just made, knowing with our luck it may not be much of a joke at all. Its not that I believe our team is cursed, but let's just say we never did get around to rearranging the furniture in Sheppard's quarters. But given the alternative, the play it safe mentality that equates to not playing at all, I'll take our chances. May not be the smartest decision I've ever made, but I'm convinced it's the best.

Einstein once said, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." He also said, "I should've been a plumber." Just imagine what a waste it would have been if Einstein had taken his own advice and changed out toilet gaskets instead of changing the way we look and interact with time and space. Well, Sheppard and I may be two of the biggest idiots ever to wander out into the infinity of the universe, but what a waste if we didn't.

"So, what are you waiting for, Major?" I ask with a grin.

He raises his eyebrows with a smirk and a hitch of his head. "After you, McKay."

We head down the hall toward Elizabeth's office, toward the next mission, toward what the universe has in store for us, good or ill. I've decided that the Steady State may be comforting, but with a good friend at my side and a good team to back me up, the Big Bang is more exciting…

…and a hell of a lot sexier.