Title: Mission Improbable

Author: Dr. Dredd

Spoilers: Trinity, Conversion

Season: 2

Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis, characters, concept, etc, aren't mine.

Summary: John's fed up with being stuck in the infirmary.

Feedback: Always appreciated.

Author's Note: Started out as pure humor, but insisted on becoming angsty half-way through.

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John Sheppard lay on his back on the uncomfortable infirmary bed and stared at the ceiling. He hadn't been kidding when he told Carson that he'd already counted the tiles up there. Twice. But he knew that if he gave the Scot any more lip he'd be bare-assed in a hospital gown rather than wearing the ubiquitous red scrubs. And that would make his escape much more difficult.

It had been almost two weeks since John's transformation into a giant bug had been halted at the last minute. Many of the physical changes had reversed, although his eyes still looked eerily like those of a cat. Daily blood tests showed that his DNA was halfway back to normal. Basically, John felt fine (except for a sore arm!), but the medical staff was insistent that he remain confined here until they were sure the effects of the retrovirus had been completely eradicated.

John was extremely bored and irritated by the complete lack of privacy. He also ached all over and wanted nothing more than to lie in the sun on one of the city's many balconies. Carson had flatly denied the request, though. Fed up, John had taken matters into his own hands. Most of the details of his escape plan were in place. Tomorrow at dawn he would be on his way to peace, quiet, and freedom.

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John was awoken from a light doze by a crash and the sound of Rodney's whining. "Ow! That hurts! Did you go to nursing school or veterinary school?"

"What hurts, Dr. McKay? I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wrong!"

John grinned as Rodney continued to carry on. He slid quietly to the floor and fished under the hospital bed next to his. After a minute, he drew out the small bag containing his clothes that Rodney had previously stashed there.

According to their plan, Rodney's next sentence would tell him how many men were stationed in the surrounding corridors. And sure enough... "If you bothered to put together the two brain cells you possess, you might be able to figure it out!"

Two guys, then. Probably Bates and one of the rookies from the Daedalus. Bates was most likely right outside the infirmary, but John wasn't sure about the other guy. By the transporter, maybe?

"Oh, you just wait until I leave!" yelled Rodney. "I'm going to cause a commotion the likes of which this city has never seen!" Good idea. Rodney would create a diversion to distract Bates while John snuck out of the infirmary. Then John would change out of the scrubs and make his way out of the inhabited portion of the city.

He listened with amusement as Rodney continued to harangue the nurse, but was careful to feign sleep in case anyone was watching. The nurse didn't seem too eager to question, though, since he was busy trying to get Rodney to lower his voice.

By the time Rodney wound up his diatribe, John was starting to get nervous. Carson was known to make early morning trips to the infirmary, partly to keep an eye on his patients and partly to keep his staff on their toes. The physician wasn't stupid; he would instantly figure out what they were up to if he saw Rodney's act.

The scientist finally stomped his way across the infirmary to the exit. Out of the corner of his mouth, he stage-whispered, "Bates, around the corner. Stackhouse, on patrol." John rolled his eyes at Rodney's feeble attempt at stealth. Still, Stackhouse was a worrisome development. He wasn't a rookie at all. With any luck, though, John would be able to evade the roaming soldier.

As Rodney left, John did a quick survey of the room. No one was around, so he got up and inched to the door, ready to move fast at Rodney's signal.

"Stop! Sir, you know you're not supposed to leave the infirmary... Oh, it's you." Bates said the last with some contempt.

As John took a cautious few steps into the corridor, he made a mental note to have a talk with Bates. Sure, Rodney could be whiny and annoying. And yes, he had made errors in judgment. But he had also saved the city more times than John cared to remember.

At the moment, the scientist in question was standing with his finger practically poking Bates in the chest. "Yes, it's me," he said sharply. "Were you expecting Einstein or Newton? Hate to break it to you, but they're dead."

Bates gave a loud, put-upon sigh. "Thank you for informing me of the sad news," he said sarcastically. "What are you doing here at this hour?"

"I would think it would be obvious. This is the infirmary. Injured people go to the infirmary. Do I need to draw you a diagram, Sergeant?"

As much as John would have liked to hear more of Rodney insulting Bates, he knew he couldn't waste this opportunity. Rodney had maneuvered the sergeant so that he was facing away from John, so John ran quickly around the corner and stopped, listening for sounds of pursuit. There were none, so he continued on his mission. The next thing he had to do was find a place to change into his civvies. The laundry facilities were nearby, so he headed there.

After he checked the area for hidden booby traps, John opened the bag. In addition to his clothes, it contained two small bottles of water, a sandwich, and a note written in Rodney's semi-legible scrawl. It read, "John: Here's some other stuff I thought you would need. Sorry about the lack of alcohol, but we both remember what Carson did the last time we tried that." John unconsciously rubbed his behind at the thought.

The note went on, "Your best course is to head to the fifth-level balcony on the south side. It's got sun most of the day, so you can fry yourself as much as you like. And fortunately for you, Radek and Eldon just happened to pick today to take the biometric sensors offline for calibration, so you shouldn't be detected. Don't worry, they won't rat on you. Eldon practically worships you, and Radek doesn't want to ruin the bets he's running." John snorted. Typical for Zelenka, but he hadn't thought that Eldon would get involved. He had to remember to thank the little guy. "To conclude, I must remind you that I'm a terrible bluffer and don't do well with interrogations. I don't think Carson would resort to truth serum, but you never know. He's going to be seriously pissed. So if I do reveal your location, sorry in advance."

Jeez, what a drama queen Rodney was! Still, he might have a point. John decided that he wouldn't change his destination, but he would watch his back closely.

John quickly changed out of his scrubs. Rodney had packed a nondescript pair of pants and a plain black T-shirt. He had also cleverly included one of his old lab coats. From a distance, John might be able to pass for one of the scientists.

John took one step into the corridor, but had to quickly jump back as Stackhouse walked by. He held his breath, but Stackhouse hadn't seemed to notice anything. Once the sergeant's footsteps had disappeared, John tried again. This time there was no one around, and John crept cautiously toward the nearest transporter. Part of him was annoyed that he had to go slinking around like this. Carson bore some responsibility for him being in this condition. The least the man could do would be to cut him a little slack now!

John sighed. Rationally, he knew that Carson was being a mother hen because he felt a sense of responsibility. But it was still irritating, and John therefore didn't feel too guilty about leaving the infirmary. If this worked, he would get at least half a day of freedom, and that was worth the consequences!

The transporter area was deserted, to his relief. John stepped inside and started to program his destination, but paused when he remembered Rodney's warning. It wouldn't hurt to use a less direct route. He punched in the destination code for the south-east corner, and figured he would walk the rest of the way once he got there.

The transporter deposited John at the entrance to a large, high-ceilinged room. Windows made up one entire wall, treating him to a fabulous view of the sweeping architecture of the central core of the city. He took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh of pleasure. Space! Room to move around! Quite a difference from the small, curtained-off cubicle that had been home for the last 11 days.

John could have stayed there for hours, but he was also eager to feel the sun and the breeze off the ocean. So he moved on, ghosting through the corridors of Atlantis like a displaced soul. Which in some way, he was, being neither bug nor fully human again.

At every corner, he stopped to look and listen for evidence that he was being followed. John thought that he heard footsteps one time, but figured it was due to Rodney's paranoia and his own overactive imagination. He would have known if someone had entered the transporter with him, and there was no possible way anyone could have gotten here ahead of him. Was there?

John could hear the sound of the surf as he approached the target balcony. Finally! He stepped up to the railing, closed his eyes, and stretched languorously. Then he opened his eyes again and froze. He was not the only one on the balcony.

"Elizabeth?" he squeaked, his voice rising an octave. Trying to regain his composure, he added, "What are you doing out here?"

Elizabeth grinned at him from the chair she was lounging in. "Waiting for you. But I could also ask you the same question."

He had to think fast. "Um... uh... vitamin therapy. Yeah." What vitamin did you get from sunlight? Oh, right. "Vitamin D therapy. Carson said I needed it."

Elizabeth nodded. "Uh-huh. And that's why he's yelling in my earpiece as we speak. His brogue is especially thick today. Must be upset about something."

John swore. "How did he figure it out so quickly?"

"There are only three patients in the infirmary. You don't think they'd notice one missing?"

"Oh." John hadn't considered that. He was slipping, he thought. "So how much time do I have before he gets here?"

"Oh, he doesn't know where you are, just where you aren't. And I'm not about to tell him."

"Well, how did you find me, then?" Then the second part of what Elizabeth said registered on him. "You're not?"

"Nope. I don't think you're going to suddenly go buggy on me. And I found you with the biometric sensors."

"But they're down for repair!"

"They weren't yesterday. I was curious as to what Rodney was doing out here all by himself, and when Dr. Zelenka told me about the 'repairs,' I figured it out."

"He has a crush on you, you know," said John, changing the subject suddenly.

"Who, Rodney?"

"Zelenka."

Elizabeth smiled again. "Yeah, it's rather sweet, don't you think?"

"Hmmph." Rodney had stacked some cushions in a corner. John grabbed them, propped them against the outer city wall, and leaned back. "Ohhhh, I definitely needed this!"

"How are you feeling?" asked Elizabeth. "More bedside manner practice," she said when John raised an eyebrow at her.

"Actually... not fabulous," he admitted. "But it's nothing they can help with in the infirmary. I'm getting bored and claustrophobic, never mind feeling like a human pincushion!" he griped.

She looked at him sympathetically. "I know this isn't easy for you."

"No, it's not!" John snapped, suddenly angry again. "And whose fault is that?" He sighed and ran a hand through his unruly hair.

"You blame him." It wasn't a question.

"Yes. No. Hell, I don't know how I feel," John replied. "I know we need all the weapons against the Wraith that we can get, but..."

"Have you talked to anybody?" asked Elizabeth.

"Carson wants me to see Heightmeyer, but I don't know what she could offer me. And I really don't like shrinks. They make me nervous."

"Kate wishes she didn't have that effect on people."

"I'm sure she does." John didn't like the mood he was getting into, so he deliberately switched topics again. "How are you holding up? I see that Rodney's still alive, so he can't have been that much of a nuisance." He offered Elizabeth one of the water bottles.

Taken by surprise, Elizabeth actually giggled. "No, I haven't killed him yet, but Dr. Kavanaugh might. Somehow they've managed to start a full-scale war between the physics and chemistry staffs. Other than telling them to avoid any actual explosions, I'm letting them blow off some steam, so to speak." She took a quick swig from the bottle.

John cracked a grin, but he wasn't entirely fooled by Elizabeth's levity. The disasters had been flying hot and heavy over the past few weeks, and both of them needed to regain their equilibria.

They sat in companionable silence for awhile. There was no real need to say anything else. As best as they could, they put aside the personae of the leader of the Atlantis expedition and her ranking military officer and became two friends enjoying each other's company. John gradually felt himself relaxing, so much so that he had almost fallen asleep by the time they heard the familiar voice coming from a nearby room.

"Fun's over," John whispered. "Time to face the music."

"Mmmhmm..." mumbled Elizabeth, having dozed off herself.

"Colonel!" Although both of them were expecting the angry shout, it still made them jump to actually hear it. "You're in a heap of trouble, son. You... Elizabeth. Didn't see you at first, love." Then Carson scowled and fixed them with his ice-blue glare. "What's going on here?"

"It's my fault, Carson," Elizabeth said meekly. "I helped him sneak out."

"No you didn't." John interrupted firmly. "I'll take responsibility for my actions, but I'm not telling you who aided and abetted." He shook off any offer of assistance and stood up. But when he met the physician's eyes, he couldn't help himself. "Damn it! You could work with me a little, you know. Other than this, I've behaved myself..."

Carson snorted.

"Okay, maybe not completely, but I've been fairly compliant with most of the poking and prodding. Is a little peace that much to ask for after nearly dying from your retrovirus?"

John hadn't really meant to sound so accusatory, but it came out that way anyway. He turned away and leaned against the railing, ignoring the slight hitch of indrawn breath that was the only evidence that his barb had hit home.

After a minute, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Lad..."

John interrupted. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't really mean that." But he still didn't turn back around.

"Colonel -- John, you have every right to be upset. To hate me, even." Carson leaned against the railing next to John and stared out over the ocean. "Now that we managed to get you back, I don't want to do the wrong thing by you," he said sadly. "I didn't realize you were really that miserable."

"I don't hate you, doc. But it's not as if I'm asking to go to the mainland or offworld. All I really want is some privacy. I know you're probably worried about stress causing a relapse, but, honestly, this is causing me the most stress of all."

Carson was silent for a long minute. "All right, son, I'll make you a deal. I want you to agree to see Kate, and in return I'll authorize an hour a day outside the infirmary. We can increase the tme if you continue to do well."

"Two hours."

"Ninety minutes."

"Deal."

Looking at John, Carson saw a few gray hairs that had not been there a year earlier. He couldn't even blame the Wraith. It was the constant state of hypervigilance that was causing premature aging, not lifesucking alien vampires. He supposed that none of them were immune from this particular threat, but they could do their best to minimize the damage. Maybe this concession would help.

Behind them, Elizabeth cleared her throat. Carson looked at her with some amusement. "Did you plan this?"

She laughed softly. "Not really. But I did take advantage of the developing situation. This was a conversation you both needed to have. Are we good here?"

"We will be," said John, finally turning to face the city and his friends. He probably also needed to have a talk with Rodney, about trust and redemption.

The three of them began the long walk back. A thought struck John, and he looked at Carson. "You didn't really use truth serum on Rodney, did you?"

FIN