The Physician's Desk Reference to Geeks and Goons
With supplemental first aid guide because Geeks and Goons
tend to hurt themselves
bug (buhg),noun, 1. any insect or insect-like organism. 2. Medical A disease-producing microorganism or the illness or disease so produced. 3. Science A defect or difficulty, as in a system, design, code or routine of a program. 4. Tactical An electronic listening device, such as a hidden microphone or wiretap, used in surveillance.verb, 1. To annoy; pester.
Physician's Addendum: It is important to remember when providing medical treatment to Geeks and Goons that they do not see the world the way us normal people do. How else do you explain the different reactions to someone's complaint of a bug? Whereas we as physicians would logically sweep the person to the infirmary for a full work up, the Goons would sweep the room for surveillance equipment and the Geeks would sweep the memory of said person's laptop. And while many Goons consider those of us in the medical profession Geeks and many Geeks with fears of pointy needles and bitter drugs consider us Goons, we are really neither and yet in some ways both. We are the medics in the field and the researchers in genetics lab, the ones bandaging up the bloody gun shots wounds on our Goons and ordering rest for the bloodshot eyes of our Geeks. Physicians are the fulcrum on the seesaw that pivots between mother science and the defense of the motherland, the third leg that steadies what would otherwise be a very wobbly stool and provides a stable seat for the mission to sit on. Together we make up the Holy Trinity of the expedition. And while we may each have a different definition for bug, we do reach a common ground in one aspect of the word… we can easily annoy the holy hell out of one another.
"Okay, we are so screwed, aren't we?" Colonel Sheppard asked…or perhaps I should say cursed, swore, and gritted between clenched teeth as he did his best to rip his skin off in plentiful chunks. Oh, to be sure, the gloriously purple vine had looked harmless enough as it meandered its way about what had been left of the long crashed Ancient ship. But from the spots appearing with the speed of lightning on the Colonel and Rodney's skin, the alluring tint was probably more predatory than decorative. Much like a certain biochemist who had caught my eye…ah, there was a woman. Beautiful, demanding of what she wanted, and appreciative of an engineer cunning in the art of linguistics…if one were to get my drift.
But…back to our most unfortunate duo. A much less interesting subject, but more pertinent at this particular time—unfortunately. I pushed up my glasses, folded my arms, and squinted at them from a nice, safe ten meters away on the ridge above. "Certainly it does not look entirely comfortable or healthy, but who am I to say?" I straightened and sighed. "And screwed, such a relative term, yes?" Brightening, I added, "Perhaps we blame vine too soon? Perhaps screwed is answer. You and Rodney have spawned new space disease of the…," I made a gesture involving both hands,. "…kind. It is possible."
"Radek, you evil, perverse son of a bitch." That would be Rodney of course. Always looking to blame others for the just deserved misfortune in his life. He yells at Miko like a castrated moose and the next day he is captured by the Genii. He refuses to share the credit for a momentous discovery and the following week is kidnapped and cloned. He disassembles my fembot and all his clothes mysteriously disintegrate, including the ones he is wearing at the time. Yes, yes, I helped a little with the last one, but it doesn't excuse his utter ignorance of karma. The man was beyond impossible.
"Do not blame me for your stupidity," I shot back smugly. "I say wait for botanist. I say what hurry. Ship has been here for ten thousand years, but no. You are the great and powerful Rodney McKay. You know all. And with scarecrow at side you go tripping down yellowbrick road." I shrugged. "It is karma."
"Karma?" As I watched fascinated, more spots bloomed across his angry face right before my eyes. They, like the vine, were purple. "I am so going to kick your scrawny Czech ass clear across Atlantis. You will rue the day you…."
I rolled eyes as he went on and continued to enter notes on my electronic pad. "Yes, yes. Rue the day. Whatever you say. Colonel, since you are already down there perhaps you can use scanner…before flying monkeys come. Oh, and probably best not to touch vine anymore."
"Shit," he said ruefully. "May as well, and yeah, a good idea comes a little late, Dr. Z." A hand stopped scratching long enough to thread itself into hair that caused me profound vertigo every time I was forced to face it. It was a strange mix of sea anemone and cheerful, fuzzy spider. It both defied gravity and nature, and it did nothing good for the eyes of a scientist, especially one with a hangover…which, yes, I did have, but would deny should anyone ask. "Okay, let's see what we have." He pulled out the Ancient scanner and operated it with his thumb as he used his other hand to scratch. "Huh. There's some sort of energy reading in the ship. I can barely pick it up, but…." Peering into the depths of the ruins, cracked in the middle much like the Titanic, he hissed, "Damn. I'm going to have to go in for a look."
Of course, the vine appeared to actually be growing out of the ship, and to enter would mean there was no way to avoid touching it. Suddenly I was less worried about the readings and more concerned about Rodney killing me for encouraging the Colonel to begin with. If I broke the Colonel…if I let anyone or anything else break him including a pretty little vine, my life would not be worth the living. Rodney did not have many friends, too impatient…too smug…too selfish with his food, but he was ferociously possessive of the ones he did have. He had strange ways of showing it, but it was true. If he lost me, he would mourn terribly…and who would not for one such as me? But if he lost his spiky headed American team-mate, I believe he would grieve unto the end of time itself. And that had been before the love that dare not be named. Oh certainly it dared to be demonstrated in the lab, the lab bathroom, the corridor, the dark corner of a deserted cafeteria…but named? Perish the thought.
"No, no." I waved a frantic hand. "We wait, yes? As I have said, it has waited ten thousand years. It will wait hour or two more."
"I won't touch any of the vine," the Colonel said absently as his eyes narrowed. "This reading almost looks like a…."
"I don't care if it looks like an entire Hooter's shift who've misplaced their T-shirts, you're not going in there." Rodney fastened a hand on the Colonel's shirt and gave him a shake. "We're already covered. Step in there and your damn skin will either fall off entirely or burst into flame. Don't be a moron, Sheppard."
The Colonel gave Rodney a cocky yet somehow gentle smile. "I love those pet names, McKay. Keep 'em coming."
My eyes rolled again, completely independent of my brain's control. While moron was not quite a pet name, somehow their surnames had become that. Sheppard…McKay, what had once been all business or all snipe, now had become something very different. My biochemist did not have a pet name for me yet, I frowned. What was I doing wrong?
Shaking it off, I called down, "What does reading look like, Colonel?"
"Get your gun out, Rodney." He jabbed an elbow in McKay's ribs. "As I was saying, it almost looks like the signature of a Wrai…."
And that's when it appeared. Ten thousand years old, hungering beyond sanity, and absolutely covered in large violet spots.
"Aye?" Carson sputtered with laughter. "Och, I can picture it, lad. But can I. So then what happened?"
I shifted my shoulders and sighed, "As always. Colonel shoots. Bang bang. Rodney yells. Help. Help. I am little girl. Someone please to save me."
"You goddamn liar!"
From across the infirmary, one most purple Dr. McKay was glaring at me with righteous fury. Yes, it was to yawn. I flapped a dismissive hand at him. "Go back to playing with Bucky Balls under excuse of scratching. The grownups are having discussion." I turned back to Carson. "Are you sure isolation is not called for? Would be relief for ears."
"But not for the eyes," Carson commented dryly. "Do you not remember the first time then?"
I winced. "Yes, how could I forget…no matter how much I might wish to."
People ask…when did I know about the Colonel and Rodney? After all, I was a friend to them both. A protected geek of John Sheppard…a colleague and friend to Rodney. Surely I knew before anyone.
"So this replicator, it makes food just appear… out of thin air?" Ronon Dex lounged in the pilot seat of the jumper as I tried to locate the replacement cable Rodney had sworn was here in the craft. Long leather-clad legs stretched like a gangly teenager's so that I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him what my blessed Mum had always told me when I dared to slouch about the house- sit up straight or you will ruin your posture. Of course the next words out of my mouth would have been my Da's decree to get a hair cut and seeing as no mere mortal would dare to brave such an undertaking I concluded it would probably be best if I just kept my opinions to myself.
"Well, that was the gist of the contraption," I answered distractedly as I pawed my way through the bag of tools, wires, and circuitry.
"Dr. Beckett, I am confused," Teyla interjected. "From the reports that Dr. Weir has allowed me to read from Stargate Command, the Replicators were a hostile alien race capable of self regeneration and threatened or destroyed several worlds throughout the Milky Way Galaxy."
"True," I agreed, "that is what they are in real life. Quiet fascinating really, their ability to mimic the human form perfectly then degrade into what is for all practical purposes a pile of Legos."
"Legos?" Teyla tilted her head prettily to the side. "I am unfamiliar with this material."
"It's an earth toy, little blocks that snap together to build things."
"Your home was almost destroyed by toys?" Ronon asked, his expression hovering somewhere between disappointment and amazement.
"Well, they weren't really toys, just looked a great deal like them. And the Replicators really were a nasty lot. Even the Asgards were almost destroyed by them."
"The little naked guy on the Daedalus?" The large man snorted. "Now them I could see being overrun by toys."
"Aye, Ronon," I told him with thin patience as I opened yet another cabinet in the spacecraft, "the wee naked aliens with enough technological wonders to make even the Starship Enterprise look like a paper airplane."
"And that's the ship with the replicators that make food instead of the Replicators that are planet destroying toys?"
"Correct. Ah, here we are then." I pulled out a new cable to replace the one that Radek had diagnosed as damaged and sat to hook it up to my laptop.
"So, why didn't you just bring one of these food replicators with you to Atlantis when you first came through the stargate?" Dex sat up in his seat and regarded me quizzically. "I mean, it sure would have saved a lot of trouble trying to keep everybody fed."
I connected the cable to my computer and shook my head as I spoke slowly. "Because, Ronon, replicators don't really exist. They are fictitious machines that were featured on a television show called 'Star Trek'."
Teyla brightened. "Oh, the one with Dr. McCoy!" She smiled knowingly at her teammate. "The doctor that Dr. Beckett plays in real life."
Ronon seemed intrigued. "So you've flown on this Enterprise?"
"No, no, it's all pretend, all of it. The Enterprise, McCoy, Spock, Kirk…"
"I thought Sheppard was Kirk. At least that's what McKay calls him whenever he speaks to a woman off world."
I shook my head with a sigh. "Aye, well, he may not be too far off the mark there, but I assure you none of those people actually exist, just like a magical food generating replicator doesn't really exist."
"But I thought that's why we were here in the first place."
I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose, willing the growing ache that had started to develop there from spreading. I couldn't blame him really. The large warrior hadn't even been with us a year yet, and even I, a native of the planet, had to admit that Earth culture could be completely overwhelming, especially when it came to American iconography. Even Teyla, God love her, had struggled to immerse herself in everything she could to learn about the planet of what had become her adopted people. And she still to this day took on a bewildered expression when an unfamiliar phrase left one of our lips as naturally as breathing.
No I couldn't blame Ronon, but I could blame Rodney and his flippant use of the term replicator to describe the mechanism that we were here to examine. Although I couldn't completely absolve myself in the matter either. After all, it had been my investigation into the Ancient database that had first found mention of the medical research facility that was just a stone's throw from where I currently sat in the Jumper fidgeting with my laptop and explaining Gene Roddenberry references to two alien allies. And that fact alone made science fiction television shows seem more like a BBC documentary everyday.
The text I had found that had led us to this lovely little planet made mention of a device that could reproduce biological materials, in essence scan a microbe or a virus and regurgitate out additional samples for further research, thus providing a way to study a potential contagion without having to cultivate it in the lab. All in all it decreased the risks of cross contamination of samples and release of a communicable disease during the research phase considerably.
Of course Rodney had extrapolated beyond the bounds of normal human thought and come to the conclusion that if it could generate a bacterium then it should be able to generate a cheeseburger and chips with a few modifications. And never mind that the Ancients had never came up with that brilliant idea on their own, as far as he was concerned it was just because they were too short sighted to see beyond their all knowing noses.
But he was confident enough in his idea that he had brought along Zelenka to help map out the potential modifications and me to try to download any pertinent medical information before he tweaked it into oblivion, as I had no doubt he would eventually do. In addition, Dr. Weir was still antsy about letting Rodney run willie nillie with the technology as he was want to do. And who could blame her? The whole destruction of a solar system was still fresh in many minds, Elizabeth's the most of anyone except for maybe Rodney himself, even though it was months and months in the past.
And if I were honest with myself, I wanted to keep an eye on Rodney as well, but for a completely different reason. He had only been back on full duty a short time since his accident in the ice cave a few months prior. The man was lucky he hadn't been paralyzed for life and yet he had managed to convince me to release him for off world travel even though he was still undergoing physical therapy. I had seen him trying to hide the limp after long missions and figured now would be the perfect opportunity to reassess if he was really ready to remain on full duty or if I should change my diagnosis and restrict his grate travel once again.
I looked over into the dark eyes that were regarding me seriously from the scraggly face and decided right then and there that I had totally and completely lost control of the conversation. "Aye, Ronon, you are correct. We are here because of a replicator."
He leaned forward in his seat, rested his forearms on his knees, and asked me excitedly, "So can it replicate alcohol as well?"
I opened my mouth to answer that good God I hoped so, seeing as I was in desperate need of a pint if I was going to have to continue this little chat, when the warrior tensed and sat straight. Teyla obviously noticed the change as well. "Ronon?" she asked, already holding her P90 before her.
He stood then and walked toward the back of the Jumper. "Alarms. I hear alarms."
Oh, well, that could not be good. Could only be bad. Terribly, terribly bad. Sheppard and McKay bad. I followed the other two out the hatch of the spacecraft and we headed back toward the facility, the skies gray and heavy with an impending downpour. The ground was already wet and spongy from the rain that had preceded it, squishing under foot as the tall grass bent beneath our feet and rippled in the winds running ahead of the storm.
Then the wind changed direction and I heard them as well, a low pitched repetitive squawk carrying across the clearing. Alarms that I hadn't heard since…
"Oh, bloody hell," I exclaimed and pushed past the others at a dead run toward the building.
"Dr. Beckett!" Teyla yelled behind me but I ignored her and kept running and didn't stop until a large hand closed on the back of my vest yanking me to a halt.
Teyla jogged up beside where I thrashed to get out of Ronon's grip. "Dr. Beckett, it would be prudent to assess the situation before running into it blindly."
"Don't you recognize the sound?" I demanded. She had been there; she had experienced the lockdown, worn the biohazard suite and witnessed the panic brought on by the nanite infection. "The alarms, they're the quarantine alarms."
Her eyes widened in recognition and fear. "The others…" and she took off running just as I had, calling to Colonel Sheppard on her radio as she did so. But there was no response.
We made our way through the hallways of the facility, the alarms getting louder as we approached the room with Rodney's replicator. Once there the alarms weren't the only thing I could hear.
"Goddamnit, Radek, go get Carson!"
Rodney's frantic voice bellowed over the whine of the klaxons and the sputtering machine that was smoking and sparking behind him. The astrophysicist was kneeling on the floor over the unmoving form of Colonel Sheppard, his hands red from the blood coming out of the man he was tending at a distressing rate.
The engineer in question nodded his head in wide-eyed amazement, then turned and ran straight into my chest. "Ah, yes, is good, you are here."
Before I could even ask what had happened, a mechanical whir came from the device and in a final show of absolute destruction, the side panel flew off and came rushing straight toward us. Rodney threw himself flat over the Colonel, so that the piece of metal skimmed over his back, and the four of us near the doorway threw up arms in a futile attempt to block the large shrapnel heading our way. Only we didn't really need to, considering it stopped a few feet from us. It slammed abruptly into what appeared to be the thin air and dropped to the floor in a sparkling ripple.
The four of us looked to one another in dazed relief. Only then did I notice the blue shimmer of a force field, the force field that was surrounding the two men and isolating us from them… and in effect isolating them from any help we might be able to provide.
I had never seen Rodney move so fast. Never.
And speaking as one who had nearly lost a hand reaching for a power bar near his work-station, I could speak with great authority on the subject.
But this time…this time it was different. The Ancient roast beef duplicating machine had exploded, as Ancient machines invariably do. There had been flames, flying metal, and the alarm. All of us were more than familiar with that spine chilling sound. When it happened, Rodney and I were at the controls, which were suspended in a small balcony four feet up the far wall. The Colonel, unfortunately for him…for us all really, was not. He was helping to unpack some of our less delicate equipment. And while he was not precisely at ground zero, he was at ground point five perhaps. Close enough that we lost sight of him in the billowing smoke as the alarm began to wail like the esteemed Dr. Kavanagh when faced with actual work.
I clutched the edge of the control panel to keep on my feet. "What….?"
"It's an overload in the power flux modulator," Rodney shouted over the noise.
Like I did not know that. Like the lowliest test tube washer on Atlantis would not have known that. Of course it was an overload in the power flux modulator. Did he imagine me to be a moron? Did the Stargate program recruit me from the local dog groomers? "Yes, I realize this," I shouted back with exasperation. "If you let me finish, you would hear…what biohazard was released?"
The Ancient form of the Bubonic Plague? A Wraith engineered Ebola? Whichever it might be, it didn't seem to concern Rodney in the slightest. The hypochondriac so very massive that he sucked up all lesser hypochondriacs into his gravitational field to be crushed to a point of nonexistence. The man who had lost unconsciousness at the thought that he might starve as a result of wearing a personal shield. Yes, the thought. I cannot emphasize this enough…the mere thought alone.
Yet now…now he wasn't sparing a single thought for a rampant germ that may or may not have been lurking in the air to annihilate us all. In fact, it seemed his only thought was for what the dissipating smoke had revealed.
The spreading blood.
The deathly still form.
A fallen Colonel Sheppard.
And then Rodney…he flew. He vaulted over the rail down to the floor and ran. I knew he saw the shield glittering blue against the smoke. I knew that he knew what it meant. I knew and if I knew, yes, Rodney knew as well. But yet he didn't hesitate, not for a moment. He vaulted the rail and hit the floor. He almost lost his balance, but regained it and ran. He ran and passed through the shield and never paused. Did not even entertain the thought. He did not look, but only leaped. From the frying pan into the petri dish. The toxic, pestilential petri dish.
He knelt beside the Colonel and lifted his head with gentle hands, hands that were immediately covered in blood. He turned towards me. The Colonel did not look good. His face was pale and slack with blood coursing fast down one side. He did not look good, no. But Rodney…Rodney looked far worse. Where the Colonel was pale, Rodney was transparently white. Where the Colonel was lost in the realm of unconsciousness, Rodney appeared to be lost in hell. And his eyes when he looked up at me….
I hurried down to the floor, taking the stairs instead of vaulting, but I did move with great speed nonetheless. All that I could muster. "Rodney!"
I saw his mouth shape my name silently and for a crazy moment I wondered if the shield blocked sound as well and never mind the wailing siren. Then he tried again, pulling air hard into his lungs. "Goddamnit, Radek, go get Carson!"
Nodding frantically, I turned to slam into our doctor's chest." Ah, yes," I sputtered, "is good, you are here." But before he could respond there was another explosion and, despite myself, my body attempted to dodge what my brain knew could not reach me.
We looked up from our crouch at Rodney's desperate shout, and I saw Dr. Beckett's round face tighten with determination. "I can pass through then?"
The voice of reason, too frequently it falls to me. My reward the vast majority of the time is Rodney screaming in my face and on occasion even accusing me of professional jealousy. Yes, Rodney could be an incredible ass, quite impossible…beyond impossible, but I forbear as the incredibly forgiving person that I am. And he was my friend, and it could be that I had a tiny flaw here and there of my own. Regardless of that friendship, Rodney was not going to be at all happy with my sense of logic now.
"Yes, technically." I took his arm as he started to move forward. "But yet you cannot."
"What? Are you daft, lad? The Colonel is bleeding like a butchered pig in there." He tried to shake his arm free.
"I know," I said apologetically, "but also he is exposed to biohazard. Rodney too. And if you go through, you as well. And then who will do doctoring if you succumb? You need biohazard suit first, yes?"
"Radek." This time Rodney did not shout my name. He said it only with a sense of betrayal so thick that it hung as heavily in the air as the smoke and fumes of dying equipment. I did not blame him. With what I'd seen in his eyes, how could I?
"Aye." Beckett's eyes went to the Colonel and he winced before repeating, "Aye. You're right. Teyla, Ronon…."
"We will go to the gate, Doctor," Teyla offered calmly. "We will bring back a team and the gear."
He swallowed. "Good. Thank you, lass." He didn't watch them leave; he was already at the shield, tossing his kit through to Rodney. "It'll be all right, Rodney. I'll talk you through it."
Rodney's eyes dropped to his red stained hands and his shoulders squared resolutely. "Then hurry up, damn it, while John still has blood to bleed."
Dr. Beckett had him feel delicately for a depression in the skull. When none was found, the doctor directed him to hold pressure on the gash that ran nearly three inches along one side of his head. And when that failed to work, the doctor talked him quickly and gently through temporarily closing the wound with staples. Throughout it all, Rodney did not once balk, nor did his hand shake…even the smallest amount. When it was all done, my friend wiped the blood from his hands carelessly on his pants before easing the still unconscious Colonel's head into his lap with exquisite care.
"Hey," he said softly, hand resting on Sheppard's pale forehead. "All that hair and it didn't do you one damned bit of good." Following that, he leaned back heavily against the wall and closed his eyes. Now he shook, hard, but Dr. Beckett and I both pretended not to see.
Although, I for one had already seen something. Or at least I thought I had.
The thing about head wounds, the terribly nerve wracking thing, is that they can fool you. They can bleed like there's no tomorrow and drop a man into an unconsciousness that makes a coma look like a light sleep, then the victim wakes with nothing more than a headache to rival the ones after a Saturday night out with his best mates. Others seem like nothing more than a bump to the noggin that ends with swelling of the brain and emergency surgery to decrease the cerebral pressure before the night is out. And that was exactly what Colonel Sheppard's injury did, it fooled us, but not in the normal way at all.
"John?" Rodney's excited voice pulled me away from the data port Radek and I were using to determine exactly what the two men behind the shield had been exposed to during the explosion. I looked down from the control platform to see the Colonel stirring from his resting place on Rodney's leg. "Carson?" the worried scientist called when he received no response from the other man.
"Give him a moment, lad," I told him as I made my way down the stairs to the boundary of the shield, flinching unconsciously as thunder rumbled directly overhead from the storm that had started almost thirty minutes before.
From his lap, Rodney was rewarded with an indistinct mumble. "Okay, that is even less coherent than usual. You're going to have to do better than that. John," he called as he patted his face, "enough of this sleeping the day away. Time to wake up and face the music, the gut wrenching, head trauma induced music."
"Better, but not good enough. Still haven't convinced me you haven't suffered permanent brain damage. Well, even more brain damage than you inflicted on yourself during your teen years." He patted the face one again. "Come on, Sheppard, my leg is falling asleep here."
Colonel Sheppard's eyes fluttered open then winced against the light, he raised a hand to the staples and Rodney swatted them away. "No touching."
"Rodney?" He struggled to rise and Rodney placed a firm brown-tinged hand on his shoulder.
"And no sitting. Just stay where you are and enjoy the accommodations. Not everyone gets to use me as their own private pillow."
"Thought you said… your leg was… falling asleep," he croaked out, sucking in a breath as he opened his eyes once again.
"I'll live, you I wasn't so sure about."
"McKay, what the hell happened?" Completely ignoring Rodney's advice, he raised his body half way up, only to collapse back with a moan.
"You destroyed it. I have absolutely no idea how, but I also have absolutely no doubt that you are somehow to blame."
"My replicator. Do realize how long I've been waiting for a way to make an In and Out Burger Double Double animal style without having to go back to Earth? And now it's all shot to hell because of you."
"I'm overwhelmed by your concern for my well being, McKay." He draped an arm over his eyes and groaned.
Rodney squeezed hard on the shoulder he was holding down. "Well, a man has to have his priorities."
Rodney sighed heavily and for the first time in the hour since the explosion, he started to regain a little color of his own, the familiar banter with his closest friend doing more to treat his concerns than anything I could have. I'll admit it did a great deal for mine as well.
"Seriously, Sheppard, just stay down. You scared the hell out of me…out of all of us, what with the massive amount of blood draining out of you."
Colonel Sheppard snorted lightly. "It couldn't have been that bad."
Rodney regarded his stained hands, wiping them once again on his pants legs in a futile attempt to rid them of the dried blood. "Yeah, yeah it could. Otherwise, I might not have… well, that's not really important seeing as you are evidently returning to your fully cocky and indestructible self image. No such luck that you could lose that attitude instead of the blood."
"Rodney, I swear you give new meaning to the term melodramatic."
"Colonel, best to listen to him for the time being. You took quiet a blow from that damnable machine."
At my suggestion, he rolled his head to peer in my direction from under his forearm. "Doc?"
"Aye, lad. And for once, Rodney isn't exaggerating about the severity of your injury or the worry you caused. I swear my nerves were never meant to handle the likes of you boys."
"Why are you… oh, hell, that isn't what I think it is, is it? Please, tell me that's not a shield."
"Sorry, Colonel, I've never been a very good liar."
"And you're on the outside because of what's on the inside, right?"
"Well, just until Teyla and Ronon return with the biohazard gear, then I'll be on the inside with the two of you."
"You can pass through the shield?"
I blinked in surprise at his question. "Yes, it tells all about it in the database, the shield was a safety protocol whenever the bioreplicator was activated as well as during an accidental release. It was to allow workers to move in and out of the area during routine activities and medical treatment to be passed through to an infected individual in just such an event as this. Uncontaminated material can pass back and forth without restriction. That's how Rodney ended up in there with you in the first place."
Rodney shot me a nasty look as Colonel Sheppard pushed himself up with a growled, "McKay!"
"Forgive me if I have an aversion to watching people bleed to death before my eyes." He crossed his arms defensively and frowned at the man glowering at him, but the frown turned to concern as the Colonel dropped his head to his hands. "Sheppard?" Then more softly, "John?"
I watched as the Colonel reached a hand out and clasped the one that Rodney had resting on his shoulder. "Its okay, Rodney, just one hell of a headache."
Rodney shot me an unsure look then quickly extricated his hand from the Colonel's grasp. "Not surprising seeing as you took a direct hit from an exploding piece of Ancient machinery. No doubt scrambled what little sense you had left."
Sheppard looked at his empty fingers, then as if realizing what he had done had made Rodney ill at ease, gave both Rodney and me an embarrassed smile. "Yeah, things are a little fuzzy around the edges." He waved the hand awkwardly, "Sorry."
I decided to step in then and save the two men from what was turning into a very uncomfortable moment. "Perfectly normal reaction. Sure you were just feeling a little light headed, right, Colonel?"
"Yeah, that's it." And he forced a smirk that was written with regret, but I couldn't help but think that is was not that he had taken Rodney's hand, but that Rodney hadn't taken his in return. Rodney was busy trying to pretend that it had never happened in the first place.
I swallowed a sigh, knowing this couldn't end well for their friendship, not if what I had just seen was really how Colonel Sheppard felt for McKay. But that wasn't a matter for here and now, we had much more pressing concerns at the moment. "Any other problems? Double or blurred vision? Nausea? Confusion? Rodney, I'll need you to check his pupils."
Rodney followed my directions and after my cursory exam from the outside of the shield and the expected diagnosis of a concussion, we turned to the other issue at hand, what exactly they had been exposed to. Radek joined us then with what he had been able to find.
"We have narrowed to three possible contagions. The first gives a rash on chest and stomach, itching, burning, very painful, lasts for many days, but is relatively harmless."
Rodney scowled, "I think we need to discuss the meaning of harmless, Radek."
"It means it is nonlethal, Rodney," I provided.
"Ah, well, I have a feeling I'm not going to enjoy hearing about the other two."
Radek grimaced at his fellow scientist's comment but continued. "The second appears to be respiratory infection. Starts with small cough and within a few days lungs fill with fluid. Killed thirty-five percent of all persons infected."
"Then the odds are in our favor," Colonel Sheppard provided dryly.
"Aye, they are," I confirmed, emphasizing the positive. "Not only that, but I believe a high dose of antibiotics will increase those odds significantly. And I plan to start administering them as soon as the team arrives from Atlantis."
"And the third?" Rodney asked nervously. "I can't imagine we'd be so lucky as to have it be the common cold. A little fever, a little achyness, lay around in our jammies with chicken soup for a couple of days then we're fine."
"Unfortunately, no." I took a breath and continued. "It is Wraith engineered, and a nasty bugger at that. Probably a form of biowarfare and was lethal in ninety-three percent of all cases of infection."
"But the Ancients had found a cure, right? After all, they were the super advanced race that had all the answers."
I shook my head, "No, Colonel, they hadn't. It appears that they had just begun research on the contagion when they decided to abandon Atlantis."
Rodney looked to the man trapped with him behind the shield. "Why am I not surprised? Did the Ancients ever finish anything beyond constructing the gates? Which I've concluded aren't the glorious portals of wonder that we originally thought they were. I swear they were a race of demented Monty Halls, only instead of a goat behind Door Number Two its ultimate doom followed by impending death." With a disgusted huff, he turned and walked to the back of the shielded area.
Colonel Sheppard watched him go then turned to me. "Can you finish it, Doc?"
"I plan to do everything in my power, John, if that is indeed what you were exposed to. At this point, we don't know which one that was, but as soon as my team arrives and I can get some blood samples I'll be able to tell you."
"Teyla and Ronon on foot to the gate…" As if on cue, thunder rumbled again. "…in a storm. It could take them five or six hours just to reach Atlantis."
"I have to admit I have had the same concerns, Colonel. I could fly the jumper back now. I was hesitant to leave with you still unconscious. That was quite a blow you took, I was afraid you may have experienced a complication which would have required immediate attention. Plus it gave me a chance to research the potential contagions."
"Sounds like heading back might not be such a bad idea. How long do we have if we have been exposed?"
"The virus has a short incubation period. If you have been exposed, the first symptoms should start appearing shortly."
"What sort of symptoms?"
"Fever," Rodney supplied as he turned a pale face to us from where he leaned heavily on the far wall. "Dizziness and, oh, pretty much all around weakness."
Oh, bloody hell, that could only be one of the three and of course it was the worst of the lot. My mind instantly starting cataloging through what meds I had in my field kit, the symptoms as they were described in the Ancient database and how in God's name I was going to keep the men trapped behind the shield alive long enough to come up with a cure. Treating them symptomatically was my only option at this point, which meant there was no way I could leave and return to Atlantis without risking losing one or both of them the short time I was gone. And if they both fell too ill to care for themselves or one another? Best not to linger on that bridge until it was time to cross it.
"McKay?" Colonel Sheppard closed the distance between them in three long strides, just in time to keep Rodney from toppling to the floor when his knees gave out.
"The room just started spinning." The physicist twirled his hand around as the Colonel looped his arm around his waist and kept him upright. "Really kind of annoying, you know?"
"Its okay, Beckett's going to take care of everything." He eased his teammate to the floor.
Rodney slumped back against the wall, "Did I suddenly sprout wool? Because I seriously doubt it or it wouldn't be so damn cold in here. But it would be the only way in hell that Carson is going to be of any help to us."
I didn't even flinch at the derogatory comment. He had a thousand and I had heard them all, some of the particularly nasty ones involving my lineage and livestock more than once. This was Rodney McKay, pure and simple, a natural defense mechanism as real as raised hackles on a dog when threatened. And I didn't hold it against him. He was in for the fight of his life, literally, and I only prayed that I could help him from where I was trapped in the corner of the ring.
John ran a gentle hand along Rodney's forehead and neck, "Jesus, you're on fire."
"So its not just the heating system is on the fritz, huh?" With a weak, self-deprecating chuckle and a teeth-chattering shiver Rodney dropped his head to his arms he had crossed across his knees.
Colonel Sheppard squatted in front of the ailing man and rested a hand on the back of his neck. "You're going to be okay, Rodney." He received a muffled snort in response. "I'm telling you, McKay, we have not been through all the crap we have to call it quits because of a damn flu bug created by sentient ones. Do you hear me?"
Rodney lifted his head and regarded the Colonel with resigned feverish eyes, "Sheppard…"
"And none of your doom and gloom bullshit. We deserve better than this. We deserve a chance…"
"John, don't do this," Rodney pleaded quietly.
Sheppard lowered his voice and hissed, "I don't give a damn about…"
"I do," Rodney snapped in the same low whisper. Then with an indrawn breath he lowered his head back down and murmured, "I do. Although soon I guess it won't matter anyway."
Rodney lifted a placating hand without lifting his head. "Fine, fine, positive thoughts, you can feel them radiating off of me. Or that could be the fever. Hard to tell."
After a final squeeze to the back of Rodney's neck, Colonel Sheppard stood and walked purposefully to the edge of the shield.
"Colonel, you'll need to take Rodney's temperature. In my kit you'll find acetaminophen, 'tis only Tylenol, but it will have to do for the time being until…"
He ignored me and fixed me with a steely gaze. "You need to fix this."
"John, I am going to do everything I can, but unless we learn something new to work with…"
But I was cut off as a hand fisted in my jacket… Colonel Sheppard's hand that had passed through the shield with little thought and even less resistance. And that could only mean one thing; he wasn't infected. He wasn't infected, but how? He was standing next to the bleeding things when it blew for Christ's sake. If anyone should be infected, it should be him. And given the speed of the last Wraith contagion he was exposed to… Then I suddenly understood why. The virus was Wraith and Sheppard had been infected with a Wraith retrovirus of my own concoction. Evidently it had been enough to produce a natural immunity to the disease that was quickly disabling Rodney before our very eyes.
"Fix this, now." He ordered between clenched teeth.
And that's when I realized that his head wound had fooled us. That Colonel Sheppard wasn't going to be in mortal danger as a result of his injuries but that instead the man may be the salvation that Rodney needed to survive.
"There is nothing worse than hypochondriac," I grumped as I kneeled on the other side of the shield from Rodney. "Once again you find way to make me do all the work. Scrub floor, Cinderelly. Fix dinner Cinderelly. Fix obliterated replicator, Cinderelly. You are very lazy man, Rodney McKay. You make mother and Einstein weep."
Fever bright eyes found mine and Rodney propped up on one elbow to scowl as his teeth chattered. "You have a date, don't you? The hell with the fact I'm dying; you want to jet your scrawny Czech butt out of here and go grovel for some nookie. I should've let you keep the fembot. You were a much better worker when you were actually getting some. Leave the rest of the staff alone. They know better than to touch your perverted fuzziness with a ten meter pole anyway."
"Actually would be meters of 4.5454545454…."
He cut me off, "Shut up, Radek, all right? Just shut up and let me die in peace. You can say something nice at my eulogy and then you'll ascend to my throne. It's what you always wanted, right? To plot a sneaky takeover as you've done in the past. So just let me go."
I regarded him as he closed his eyes. The only thing worse than a hypochondriac lay before me…a hypochondriac who was genuinely ill. A friend who might die within the hour. That was worse. Far, far worse. I cleared my throat and said softly, "Rodney…."
The eyes opened again and this time the fear showed, for all the world and me to see. It glittered as brightly as the fever. I summoned the most reassuring smile I had and went on with words gentle and true.
"If I say something nice at service, would be lie. You wouldn't want I should start glorious career as head of science with lie, would you? What would staff think? I am honest man. I am full of honesty, in fact. To tip top I…."
A fist slammed into the shield exactly at the height to have hit my nose. Instead a rainbow hued arc of sparks flared in the air and Rodney snapped, "You're full of it all right. Full of shit, you sneaky, thieving, egomaniacal bastard. You'll be head of science over my…you'll never be head of science. Got it? Never. If I have to live just to make sure of that, I will. And the second I get out of here I'm kicking your ass all the way back to the gate and demoting you to bottle washer. Try getting a date when you smell of chemicals and bleach twenty-four seven because it is so not going to happen." Already sitting up, he began to struggle to his feet. "Do you hear me, you fuzzy headed piece of…."
The Colonel crouched beside Rodney and wrapped his arm around his shoulders to firmly ease him back to the floor. "Hey, whoa there, McKay. Let's try using that energy for fighting the virus instead of fighting Dr. Z." Hazel eyes pinned me sharply, seemingly unsure whether to take me to task for upsetting Rodney or to thank me for distracting him from his fear. "Carson's figured out something about the shield," he continued. "Something I thought you two geniuses would've known about first, but I realize the whole brawling like kids in a playground might have distracted you."
I folded arms and settled back on my heels. "Rodney started it, and, yes, Colonel, I did see. Arm go through shield. Dr. Beckett do small Highland dance of joy." I grimaced. "Though no kilt or bony knees, for which I am grateful."
"That's enough of that, laddie," came Carson's firm if annoyed voice. "I put up with enough of that from Rodney. There's no room for the likes of one more. Are we clear then?"
At the sight of the unusually large syringe in his gloved hand, I decided, most wisely, to leave the Scotsman baiting to Rodney. So instead I watched as the Colonel stuck his arm through the shield to have his blood drawn with that enormous needle without even a flinch. I gave an internal shudder and thought that I would've flinched, yes, quite possibly flinched my way into a full on seizure. But the Colonel was the Colonel, stalwart and true or just simply not that bright. And as I'd seen evidence that the latter was not so…his math skills had Rodney green with jealousy…I was forced to admit stalwart and true was the correct answer.
Still, I might not be heroic, laconic, and spiky haired, but I did have things to accomplish if Rodney was to survive this. And do those things I would. I touched the shield with an absent finger, lost in thought as Carson continued to discuss matters with Sheppard.
"Lad, I really believe it would be best if you went back to Atlantis," he said earnestly. I couldn't be sure what a Scottish accent sounded like to non-Czech ears, but to mine it sounded like a fat old tomcat was purring rustily around a mouthful of cream and you could not be sure if you would get a rub on the calf or a bite on the ankle. With Carson it was an easier estimation which it would be. For Sheppard and Rodney, the bite, for all the rest of us the rub.
The Colonel was folding up his jacket and easing it under Rodney's head. "I don't know," he said with uncustomary hesitation. Sheppard might not always make the right decision, but he always firmly believed in whichever one he did make, good or bad. "Rodney needs someone here and you can't come through the force-field without being at risk too."
"That's right," Rodney wheezed as he crossed his arms to tuck his hands into his armpits and shiver. "I can take care of myself, but I would hardly have the time or the energy to take care of your wooly self as well. Forget it. John…." He looked up at Sheppard and said more gently, "You should go. Really. You'll be in the jumper, at Atlantis, then back here with the isolation equipment before you know it. I'll be fine until then. I swear."
Rodney swearing he would be fine, facing up to his mortality with nobility and bravery. I shook my head. What bizarre and twisted things love could accomplish. And I had been wondering for weeks who kept leaving the storage closet a whirlwind of disaster with the occasional discarded pair of boxers. I had thought Miko had finally whittled down Rodney's obliviousness with the sexy glitter of her oversized glasses, but no…. I snorted aloud and feeling all eyes on me hastily scrambled for my laptop and began pressing keys.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Colonel shake his head. "Yeah, I get that, but…." He shifted his shoulders and once again kneeled at Rodney's side. "I worry, Supergeek, you know?" Two sets of eyes, hazel and blue, met for a long moment and then slid in the direction of Carson and me. Two very wary set of eyes. For weeks they had fooled me. It was unbelievable. The wary eyes, the warm eyes, the cow eyes, the no doubt lust-filled eyes and I had not a clue. Could there be anyone more utterly ignorant and oblivious of the world around him.
"Aye, I'm sure you're very concerned, Colonel Sheppard, but no more than the rest of us are," Carson offered. "And it has to be done."
Very well. One person then.
"I know. I know," Sheppard snapped, a hand pushing through the thicket of his hair, perhaps to be lost forever. "Just…shit. Shit. Rodney, what…Rodney? Rodney."
I slid the laptop to the floor, lunged to my feet and moved to the shield. The Colonel had one hand on Rodney's chest shaking him lightly and one cupping his face. And Rodney…Rodney was not with us. Lids had fallen to half-mast over glassy eyes and his face was flushed and slack. "Carson," he rapped, voice hard steel. "Do something."
"All right, lad. Calm down," Carson ordered, the hound dog face tight with a worry he wasn't concealing as well as he probably would've liked. "He's breathing fine. I can see his respirations from here. Take his temperature for me."
The Colonel obeyed, inserting the odd little gun shaped device into Rodney's ear. It beeped a few seconds later. "One oh five." Sheppard raised his eyes and repeated starkly, "Oh, Christ, it's one oh five."
The next few minutes was a whirlwind of action. Carson barking orders to the Colonel. Chemical cold packs being placed in Rodney's armpits and groin and then packed around him. At one point the good doctor simply could not stand it anymore and started for the shield. I stopped him instantly, my hand fisting in the back of his field jacket. "You cannot," I said reluctantly. "You say Colonel immune due to buggy virus from little Wraith girl. You will do Rodney no good dying on floor beside him."
"Damn it," he swore under his breath. "What good are all these blessed worthless Ancient medical toys now, I ask you? Not one bit. Not one bloody bit."
We stood side by side and watched tensely as the Colonel cajoled a semi-conscious Rodney. He kept his hands on him at all times…whether it was to link fingers and squeeze or to touch his jaw or rest on a pale forehead. Always he was telling Rodney that he wasn't alone, that someone was with him. And who knew that the Colonel had that in him? Not I. He was heroic and brave, yes, protective of his men, ferociously protective of his geeks, but when it came to the finer emotions…Sheppard did not give his heart. His time, his flirtations, his various and sundry body parts, yes…surely. At any opportunity. He was Kirk, was he not? But his heart…no. That I had never seen. Not until now.
Not until Rodney.
After several minutes he came around…Rodney. Awareness returned. He blinked several times, reached out with a hand that was immediately clasped, then said hoarsely, "Radek must've been talking." He coughed once, then shivered. "That's the only thing that could put me into a boredom coma." Sheppard gave what sounded like a laugh, but I had the feeling resided far on the other end of the spectrum.
I threw up hands and tried to ignore the relief that I felt down to the very tips of my toes. "I do not have to take abuse. I go now and save day. I shall return fifteen minutes. If could do me favor of not sleeping on job again, I would be most grateful." There had been something in the data banks that had the possibility of being helpful in this situation, and since it was obvious the Colonel could not…would not leave now, we needed all the help that we could get.
"Where are you going?" The Colonel and Doctor Beckett's voices rang together as I gathered up my equipment.
"There is mention in database." I slid the laptop in a carrying case and looped the strap over my shoulder. "Of small shield…ah…like personal shield, yes? But can be used for samples. Bacterial, viral, blood." I cupped my hands in example. "Encircle. Poof…can go through big shield. For examination. Testing. You see?"
"Aye," Carson answered with excitement. "We could take a sample of Rodney's blood, pull it out here and I could inject the vaccine into it. We could test it before we administer it." He nodded towards Rodney. "It's much safer that way, it goes without saying."
"Hell, yes, it goes without saying," Rodney snapped weakly. "You're damn sure not giving me something you haven't tested yet. Christ. I'm not your guinea pig, Carson. It matters whether I live or die."
"If Radek can't find this device, you will be a guinea pig and you'll like it. So let us think good and positive thoughts for his mission," Carson shot back, the stress more than apparent in this thickening brogue.
"Children. Children." I raised benevolent hands. "I go. Embrace only love while I am gone…or Colonel Sheppard will knock heads together like Stooges."
From the taut look on his face Sheppard was more than feeling the stress himself and completely capable of head knocking, if only the verbal sort. And unlike us, he made his way to the point quickly. "What about the gene?" he asked bluntly. "Sorry, Dr. Z, but if you find what you're looking for, can you even turn it on?"
It was a valid point, which I had, of course, already thought of. "Then I will call on radio for Dr. Beckett. He will trot down, zap zap, trigger device or devices. All will be well." I was already walking. We did not have the time to waste discussing this. Rodney did not have the time.
"Radek." Rodney's faint voice followed me and I looked over my shoulder. "We don't know what's in the rest of the base. You don't have to do this."
"Please." I waved a magnanimous hand. "I go to save day. Is not a problem. Is what I do." And go I did, knees knocking the vast majority of the way. It brought back memories, very bad memories, of waiting in the Jumper bay during the Wraith attack. Every clot of darkness held glittering hungry eyes. Every sound was the hiss of a sentient predator. It was weeks after before I slept through the night. Months before the nightmares stopped. I was a scientist. I dwelled in the lab and happily so, but here I was. On the brighter side, this was not Snake World. Those nightmares never stopped. Wretched slithery creatures.
The database had indicated there was a lower level…there's always a lower level. Dark, grim, wet and miserable…it was a law of the universe. The specimen shields were stored with all other equipment in the lower level. Yes, that was the Ancients. They carefully put away their toys before they disappeared. Even the ones that did not work. So enjoyable working on a device for months before you figure out it's not that you cannot figure out its purpose, it's that it was broken and had been since the days of its creators.
Anal retentive bastards. Could not throw anything away. Pssssh. Like sticky fingered grandmas they were.
But that was neither here nor there.
What was here, very much here, were rats. Large rats. Mutant rats. Two-headed rats the size of German shepherd dogs. They came swelling up out of the knee-deep black water. Their eyes were glowing and white, their teeth jagged and yellow. And they made sounds…horrible, horrible sounds.
It is well known that unless I am in a virtual reality game I am not a good shot…despite repeated training, repeated geek bootcamps. No, not a good shot. Never would be a good shot. It seemed the rats knew this as well. They didn't fear my bullets at all; they simply came on. I was almost there. I could see the door to the storage facility, and I could also see I was not going to make it. I was not going to make it there….
And I was not going to make it back.
I could handle a gun.
Not that I wanted to, mind you, seeing as it went against the very fiber of the oath I had taken years before to preserve life and not destroy it. But I had spent a great deal of time on my grandda's farm growing up. And it was true that the man had kept sheep among other things, although I would deny it to my dying day to Rodney McKay as I would never hear the end of the harassment if he were to find out. But I had spent much of my glorious youth roaming across the fields searching for lost lambs and chasing away the occasional predatory feral dog that lurked in the woods. Granted, I was armed with a shotgun and not a P90, but my aim was true and I persevered when the occasion called for it.
So, I could handle a gun.
And when I had to take up arms, it wasn't completely foreign, although the two headed creatures with their low guttural growls that stood before me were.
I sprayed the gunfire across the flooded hallway, holding tight when the weapon in my hand tried to take on a life of its own and jump away. Colonel Sheppard had warned me it would do that, previously when I had fired it at a hay bale during what he called his geek bootcamp and again when he had passed the weapon through the shield moments before in response to Radek's frantic radio call for help.
We had heard the gunfire from below us, muffled by the floors between. The Colonel was instantly alert and calling a wary, "Dr. Z?" on his radio.
"Krysa! Cubčí syn ona ar ohromný! Dva zprostředkující zařízení krysa!"
"Zelenka!" Sheppard called when we heard even more gunfire. "What the hell is krysa?"
"Rats," Rodney shook his head from where he lay, "I'm dying and he's freaking out about rats. Tell him to cowboy up, since he loves them so much, be a man, ignore the mice and get that shield."
"Huge! Two heads!" Another gun shot and what could only be a stream of Czech cursing came across the radio. "Son of bitch! No more bullets," and more cursing and splashing.
"Dr. Z?" But there was no answer. "Zelenka?" Still no response. "Shit!" With that exclamation, Colonel Sheppard grabbed his P90 and his field vest that he had shed and started for the shield.
"John, what's going on?" Rodney was pushing himself up, ice packs tumbling away from his body as the worry tumbled over his fever. "What's happened to Radek?"
"Rodney, lad, lie back down. You need the ice packs." But he was already up on his knees, swaying drunkenly, glazed eyes blinking back against the head rush he was obviously experiencing.
At my orders to Rodney, Sheppard turned to look back at the physicist. "Aw, hell, McKay, what do you think you're doing?"
"Radek…" he started then toppled forward to his hands and knees.
"Shit." The Colonel took a step back toward Rodney, hesitated, then looked back at me.
"I'll go," I told him with all the conviction I could muster, my hand going to the small side arm at my hip, and suddenly the fifteen shots that always seemed like overkill didn't seem like nearly enough to kill alien rats. "Get Rodney settled again, keep those ice packs on him or a vaccine will be for naught."
With a tense nod, he handed the P90 through the shield. "Suppressive spray, Doc. Hold tight and don't let her get away from you. Remember from the training? If they're hungry, taking one out may be enough to slow the others… or it could work them into a frenzy, so be ready." Then it was my turn to nod, although I couldn't keep the grimace from my face at the thought of monster rodents on a blood-driven rampage. Finally, he handed a second clip for the nine millimeter. "Stick to the P90, use the M9 only as a last resort." I took the clip with shaky hands and put it in my vest as he told me, "Stay in radio contact. If you need me, I'll come."
"God willing, it won't come to that," I informed him with a nervous sigh.
"Without you, we're dead in the water, with or without ice packs, so watch you're back. Get Dr. Z, get the shield, and get out."
"No worries there." With a final nod, I turned and ran for the basement level of the building where I found flooded corridors from the rain and vicious creatures from out of nightmares. And when the spray of bullets hit home on one of the beasts, it turned out Colonel Sheppard had been right on both accounts, the other three animals stopped their advance on me to feast upon their fallen comrade in a fury of fur and teeth to set my own on edge. And the fact that the second head on the maimed creature continued to fight off the others even while they tore at the first sent a shiver throughout my body to rival Rodney's.
"Mother Mary and Joseph!" I exclaimed across the radio without realizing it.
"Doc, you all right?" Colonel Sheppard called back anxiously.
"It's horrific!" I told him aghast. "I've never seen anything like this in all my days."
"Yes, is horrible," an accented voice called from above me. "Please to finish with the killing of devil creatures so that I can climb down."
"Radek! You're alive. He's alive," I called happily over the radio.
Sheppard let out his own relieved, "Thank God," from the room above.
"Yes, alive, wet, and soon to be in need of new underwear if fixture does not hold," Radek informed me from his precarious perch on a large lighting sconce on the wall directly above the carnage taking place in the waterlogged hallway. "So shoot, shoot, yippee kay yay, mother fuckers, so I can resume saving of the day."
"Right," I agreed and winced as I once again fired across the creatures. It was easier then than before, mainly because they were so engrossed in their activity of eating the other alive that they didn't move about and require a lot of pesky aiming. Two others fell under the rain of bullets and the third yelped, leaving a bloody wake as it slithered under the water and away from us down the hall.
I looked up to the engineer. "You can come down now, lad. The coast is clear."
With a shake of his head, he asked, "Could you, maybe, move floating corpses away from landing spot?"
I shot him a disgusted look. "I killed the cursed things; I shouldn't have to move them as well."
"Kill… move bloating carcasses, what is difference?" he reasoned.
"About five meters distance, that's what," I shot back defensively.
"Doctor, please," he pleaded, "use gun, very multipurpose, just give little push so they…float away." He accentuated his request with a little poking motion of his hand.
With an aggrieved sigh I waded over to the area and prodded the nearest rat. The creature was evidently not completely dead as it flinched at the touch of gunmetal. "Oh, bloody hell!" I fired a very uncontrolled burst of bullets into the rodent which succeeded in finally killing it and pushing it and the other corpses further away. "Medical school does not prepare a man for such as this!"
Radek splashed down into the water beside me and placed a grateful hand on my shoulder. "Neither does engineering degree."
"Carson, you two okay?" Colonel Sheppard's voice in my ear caused me to jump.
"As well as can be expected," I shuddered once again as the bodies floated in the water just beyond arms reach, "which isn't very well, I might add."
"I may never sleep again, or go anywhere near the mice in the bioresearch lab, but we're unharmed."
"Good. Now finish up down there and get yourselves back up here."
"With pleasure, Colonel, with pleasure."
I handed Radek the extra ammunition clip that Sheppard had given me, waited until he reloaded his gun then motioned down the hall. "After you."
The Czech raised eyebrows at my invitation. "You have biggest gun, you go first."
"I would be more than happy to hand it over to you," I offered.
"No, no, is not allowed. Was stipulation from Colonel for finally passing bootcamp. No guns bigger than nine millimeter and only decaf coffee before missions."
With a resigned furrow of my brow and a whimper I started down the hall, a P90 in my hands and an armed and evidently undercaffeinated engineer close at my side, both of us watching for any movement that might indicate more of the rats lurking about.
Like I said before, I could handle a gun
That didn't mean I had to like it when I did.
"Just a question, lad, but how did you ever pass bootcamp?"
Ten minutes later and we were still in the watery, ratty depths of hell and I was as happy about that as I had been in the beginning. Not at all. Wretched place, devil creatures, a stench that would set up in my hair and very probably follow me the rest of my days. Why did we not have a union on Atlantis? Americans were fond of unions. If we had one, at least I would be paid overtime and hazard pay for this trip. Not to mention a bonus for my mental suffering. Although working with Rodney everyday was fine training for dealing with homicidal rats. I only counted myself beyond fortunate he only had the one head. Two Rodney heads snapping and snarling, complaining and scolding, yelling and cursing…I gave an internal shudder and continued to work on the stubbornly closed door.
"I think Colonel could not take anymore." Maliciously inept piece of ten thousand year old…ah. There we go. With a gentle hum the door opened. "In fact, think one time may have made him cry." I looked over my shoulder at the six-gun physician who was watching my back. "Remember? When I shoot Sergeant Bates in buttock?" I sighed. "Small, paltry wound but so much yelling and cursing and pointing of fingers, all at me. Was very traumatizing. How is my fault he stand so close to target? Thirty meters obviously not safe distance." The storage room was immaculate except for the knee high water and I immediately scanned the shelves for something that looked like a biomedical miniature shield.
Which would be seventy-five percent of everything.
"So, he pass me. Rodney say it is to raise morale of cowardly instructors." I shrugged and added wistfully. "Did not enjoy so much at first, but by eighth attempt had made many soldier friends. And was good having time away from lab and megalomaniac Canadians. Please to touch."
"You…what?" Doctor Beckett looked at me mystified. "Touch what?"
I waved an arm at the shelves. "Everything. Quickly please. There are many and we need to return to Rodney, yes?"
"Aye," he said quietly, a grim turn to his mouth. "We do. He doesn't have much…." He let the words trail away, squared his shoulders and went to the shelves. It was the lights, I think, that woke the bats.
Carson had activated the fifth device as we tried to determine its function when the rustling overhead began. I would have said it was innocuous at first…like the crunch of fall leaves beneath your feet, but no sound in the Pegasus galaxy is innocuous. Not a single one. They all led to danger, destruction and death and other dire Ds. This time was, of course, no different.
They swooped out of the thick gloom the masked the ceiling…winged clots of darkness. The only thing visible was fangs and luminescent tentacles that dangled where feet should've hung. Unlike Rodney I did not scream like a little girl. I screamed like a full-grown woman and dived into the water. "Space rabies!" I sputtered, spitting out brackish water and pointing my gun upwards. The doctor had given me a replacement clip and I used it generously. I did not hit anything, but I made much noise and that counted for something. I absolutely refused to believe anything else.
A hand landed heavily on my arm. "Stop it, lad," came the order. "You're agitating the wee creatures."
"I? I agitate them? They agitate me!" I responded outraged. And, yes, they were small, the size of golf balls not counting the wings or squirmy trailing tendrils, but there were hundreds. More than enough to suck out my blood if they were so inclined.
"But they're not attacking. The light simply confused them." The hand patted my arm. "No more shooting and I imagine they'll settle down again."
Very well. It was a theory. Perhaps a valid one, and I did consider obeying for nearly a whole second, but that was when I saw something else.
Mama was not the size of a golf ball. Mama was the size of a Volkswagen and Mama was not confused. And Mama was not happy.
Fifteen minutes later Colonel Sheppard was staring at us through the shield. "Holy fuck," he breathed.
On the floor Rodney's pale face turned towards us, his eyes widening. "Is it St. Patrick's day already?"
"Funny. You are very funny man," I snarled as the green blood continued to drip from my every surface and pool on the floor beneath me. "If I not pitcher for Engineering softball team, we be dead now. Dead and sucked to dried potato chip husk by big mama. So to shut up, yes? Now. Thank you." Fruitlessly, I tried to wring the sticky emerald gore from my hair.
"You should've seen it, Colonel." Beside me Carson still was shaking. "It was the size of the old MG I had when I was eighteen. It could've swallowed us whole with nary a chew. It was horrible. If Radek hadn't had that grenade, we would've been high tea for that monster."
"Grenade?" Now Sheppard was as pale as Rodney. "You…Dr. Z…you had a…." He squatted on the other side of the shield and dropped his head in his hands. "God help us."
Affronted, I said stiffly, "Was only little grenade."
He raised his head and glared at me. "Who the hell gave you a grenade? Tell me so I can send his ass back on the Daedalus pronto."
I folded my arms and lifted my chin. "No one. They all laugh or pee pants in fear when I ask, so I make myself. If I can make nuclear bomb, what makes you think I cannot make tiny boom?" Sniffing disparagingly, I added, "Besides, you will not give me big gun and I must protect myself. Think I would be praised for forethought. Save myself, save doctor. Save day."
"Yes, so glad you saved yourself from the blood sucking car or whatever the fuck it was, but could we concentrate on me here? The dying man? How about that?" Rodney sniped from his position on the floor.
For once, Rodney had a valid point. Transparently pale and shaking hard, he made my stomach dip and fall. Ill, he looked so very ill. From my pocket I pulled out the mini-shield and handed it carefully to Carson. "The biolab is down hall. Let us go save own monster. Ego monster, also size of Volkswagen."
As we started to walk, the Colonel said quietly, "We're going to have a talk about the grenade later, Dr. Z."
"Talk now to Rodney," I said brightly. "He gave me C4. Traded for five chocolate chip powerbars."
Someone was not getting any for the foreseeable future. Mildly cheered, I hurried after Beckett. First the saving and then the celibacy. Perhaps now Rodney would keep his boxers out of the supply closet.
And he would be there to make that decision. Because he was not going to die. He was not.
I hadn't realized how spoiled I had become by the Ancient technology until it wasn't functioning properly. All those little gadgets and gizmos that I found to be as disconcerting as they were helpful had become such the norm that now that I was back to using the Earth-based equipment I had brought along in the Jumper, I felt as though I had taken a step back into the Dark Ages. The irony that the Ancient medical devices had been gathering dust for several thousand years before the Dark Ages even got underway once again left me with what could only be described as the willies.
Humans on Earth had barely developed the ability to fashion stone tools when the Ancients flew the coop and evidently a Jumper or two back to Earth. And what I had yet to be able to determine was why they had kept their technological advancements to themselves but obviously not their hands. Oh, sure, they had left a few toys lying about, an outpost buried below the ice of Antarctica, and stargates spread throughout the galaxy. But their medical advancements, they had hoarded away. It was clear that as a race in general, they firmly believed in noninterference with the humans they had seeded throughout the universe. Except of course when it came to spreading their own seed. How else could you explain the fact that I had ended up with this damnable ATA gene in the first place?
I could just picture it now, my own Ancient forefather sidling up to one of the local birds as she gathered berries in the woods… 'hello, love, how about you and me head back to my flat and you can watch me make the walls glow blue for a time?' And there she would have stood, my ancestral grandmother, dressed in animal skins, living in a cave, weaving furniture out of sticks and twigs, being offered illumination at the mere drop of a thought. I ask you, how was the wee lass supposed to resist the advances of a debonair bastard like that? And how were the poor blokes off trying to spear a wooly mammoth supposed to compete with a man that could sit in a bleeding chair and think a drone to blast one of the creatures into oblivion if he so chose? The very idea was criminal in all its diabolical and lascivious intent. And here I was, living proof that such atrocities had in fact taken place.
And there was nothing worse in my book than having the gene. It was dangerous, a ticking time bomb of the worst kind. I had nearly killed Colonel Sheppard and General O'Neill with an out of control drone as a result of the accursed thing, had been forced into learning to fly the hated Jumpers because of it, and it had caused no end of grief from one Dr. Rodney McKay first demanding that I use it on every little contrivance that he stumbled across then demanding that I splice it into his own genetic code so that he could do the same. And honestly, I didn't know if giving him the gene was better or worse, seeing as all the time I had previously spent making the devices function properly was now spent making Rodney's body function properly again after he had damaged it as a direct result of one of them. The present situation being a perfect example.
And yet… the world of scientific and medical research that it had opened up for me was breathtaking. With a sigh I rubbed eyes weary from looking down a common binocular microscope, one that would be the envy of most research facilities on Earth, and looked longingly at the holographic imager Radek was working on across the room. Without it, I would never have time to complete the vaccine for Rodney, and without my ATA gene I would never be able to operate it in the first place. Not for the first time I wondered how blasphemous it would be to thank the heavens for something I considered a genetic piece of shite.
With a small grunt, the scientist climbed out from beneath the consol and wiped dirty hands on green gooped pants. "We shall try it now, yes?"
I brightened at the implications of his question, all thought of randy ancestors shagging gullible cavegirls pushed aside for the time being. "So, you've fixed it then?"
"Fixed? Fixed is too finite of word to apply to such as this. Machine is like reticent woman, must be coaxed, persuaded into performing with gentle touch."
"Have you managed to coax it into working properly?"
"One way to find out for sure," he told me as his eyes went to the tube of blood I had taken from the Colonel.
I injected the sample into the device with a silent prayer. If this didn't work… well, best not to dwell on such negative outcomes I told myself. At my thoughts a three dimensional representation rotated into being before us, flickered precariously, then stabilized. Zelenka and I smiled at one another as the image held then frowned simultaneously when it suddenly blinked from existence.
With a mumbled Czech curse, the engineer kicked the machine and the image was back. He shrugged. "Okay, so is more like petulant child that must be forced into submission, but should work for now."
"As long as we can use it to isolate the proper genetic marker in Colonel Sheppard's blood, then I won't raise a fuss over semantics."
With a push of his glasses, he nodded in agreement, both of us very aware that if the device didn't operate properly the chances were slim that I could find a cure for our friend growing sicker by the minute.
"Very good, then," I sighed, "lets get to work, shall we?"
I concentrated on the image, letting my ATA gene control the outputs much like they did the displays on the damnable Jumper. At my thought, the map of John Sheppard's genome appeared along with a stream of Ancient text describing each marker. I mentally scrolled through it until I found the one I was looking for. "Ahhh, there you are, you cheeky little devil."
It was really quiet innocuous, little more than a shadow on the genetic strand, a latent alien presence that had been mutated by a Trojan horse stem cell treatment I had sent in to destroy it. Fortunately for Rodney, I hadn't destroyed it so much as stripped it bare and rendered it dormant. Yet, it had been enough to trigger the Colonel's body to produce the antibodies that had left him immune to the Wraith virus. And if I could isolate it and splice it into Rodney in much the same manner as I had the ATA gene itself, it would hopefully do the same for him.
I sent the command to the unit to begin the separation procedure and relaxed when the machine whirled to life and began processing the blood sample.
"Well, then, that's that. We'll let this medical and mechanical wonder do its job and then it will just be a matter of obtaining a sample of Rodney's blood to test it."
Then it was Radek's turn to sigh. "I will start work on portable shield."
"Coax it or force it?" I asked with a small smile.
"Perhaps I shall try Rodney's approach, bend it to my will with nothing more than convictions of my genius."
"Speaking of said genius, I should go and see to him while the sample is running."
"Colonel would call on radio if there was change," he reassured me and I knew he was right, but I wanted to see for myself.
"Aye, he would, but I need to see if the ice packs have had any effect in lowering his temperature." I knew that was wishful thinking on my part, on all our parts, but I would be pleased if the packs had managed to keep his body temperature from rising any higher.
With a solemn nod, he turned back to the small shield he was working on and I made my way down the hall and back to the replicator room. As soon as I walked through the door, Colonel Sheppard was on his feet from where he sat next to Rodney's shivering form and met me at the edge of the shield.
"Did you get it to work?" He asked anxiously in way of greeting, his voice lowered so as not to disturb the resting man behind him.
With a nod of my head I told him, "Radek was able to get the unit functioning and I was able to identify the proper component in your blood. It's working to isolate it now." I studied the man standing before me; his eyes squinted in pain against his own injury. "Are you all right, Colonel? Did the pain meds help the headache any?"
"I'm fine," he dismissed. "You have more important things to worry about than a bump and a cut on me."
I looked past him to where Rodney lay curled on his side. "How is he doing, then?"
"Sleeping, finally." He ran a frustrated hand through frazzled hair, turning his eyes and attention back to the man in question. "How he's managing it with his teeth chattering the way they are is beyond me." His expression tightened. "Although even when he is awake, he's not always really awake, you know?"
"It's the fever," I offered in way of explanation, keeping it to myself that that could only mean that the ice packs were no longer as effective as they had been. No, he didn't need to understand the entire physiological effects of elevated temperature on the human body, but there was something he did need to understand. I took a deep breath before telling him, "Colonel, this treatment I've devised, it may not..."
"It will work," he told me firmly.
"The ATA gene therapy only worked in forty percent of those that received it. I don't even know what the odds of this particular…"
"It will work."
Before I could try to reason with him further, Rodney called out weakly from his spot on the floor. "John?"
"Here," he answered as he moved quickly back and knelt beside his friend. "I'm right here, Rodney."
No, I thought, as I watched him place a hand on Rodney's arm and the other on his head, not just a friend, at least not in Colonel Sheppard's eyes.
"I'm cold," Rodney told him as a violent shiver passed through his body.
"I know." He brushed his hand across light brown hair, then as if realizing what he had done removed it quickly and used it to brace himself on the floor. "Sorry, but the ice packs have to stay in place. Okay? They're keeping your fever down. Besides, with that hardy Canadian blood, I thought you were pretty much immune to anything above Absolute Zero."
"Cold," Rodney whimpered and Sheppard looked around a little frantically. With a quick glance over his shoulder at me, his body slumped.
"Here, let's try this." With extreme care he lifted Rodney's head from where it was pillowed on the gray and black military jacket and rested it in his lap. He then draped the coat over Rodney as he leaned back heavily against the wall. "Better?"
He was answered by another body quaking shudder that passed through McKay's body. With a sigh he ran his hand briskly along Rodney's arm.
"Colonel…" I started, then more quietly, "John…does Rodney know…" I really wasn't sure how to ask the question, so I just asked it the best way that I could. "Does Rodney know how you feel about him? How you really feel?"
I saw the trapped animal look in his eyes, the denial forming on his lips, then with a curve of his mouth it changed to resignation and what I took to be relief. He mumbled something that sounded like, "God, I hope so." Then at my questioning look, he exhaled and told me simply, "Yeah, he knows."
"And does he… reciprocate those feelings?"
He let out a sad little snort as he traced fingertips across Rodney's forehead brushing away a few strands of hair before running the back of long fingers along his temple. I never would have imagined that those same fingers I had witnessed pull the trigger on a P90 so ruthlessly could caress a trail along Rodney's sleeping face so tenderly. "If what he did to me in our bed last night is any indication, then I'd have to say yes he does."
With a dyspeptic expression I informed him, "A simple yes would have sufficed."
But then again, maybe it wouldn't have. He had said 'our bed'. And although I had no idea in which room that bed was located, it was obvious from that simple turn of the phrase that neither man even considered sleeping anyplace else. And from the way that Rodney turned his face into John's touch with a contented sigh, even the simple yes wasn't really necessary to answer my question.
With a quirk of lips Sheppard apologized, "Sorry, Doc." Then he regarded the man in his lap. He cupped the back of Rodney's neck, running a lingering thumb along his jaw, without taking his eyes from him. "I've never felt…" he started to tell me then stopped for a long moment, whether to compose his thoughts or himself, I couldn't say. "I can't lose him," he finally stated matter-of-factly. "Do you understand now why you have to make this vaccine work?"
"Aye, lad, I do."
I had watched someone for which I felt something more than friendship succumb to a disease. And unlike the Wraith engineered atrocity I was working to destroy now, it had been one I had engineered myself. Losing Perna had been horrendously hard, and I had never even had her in my bed much less a bed to call our own. I couldn't even begin to imagine how devastated John would be if he lost Rodney the same way. And I suddenly knew I was wrong about Sheppard being immune to the virus because it was killing him almost as surely as it was killing Rodney without attacking his body at all.
"Your secret is safe with me for as long as you want me to keep it, Colonel." I hesitated before finally offering, "And feel free to do what you need to do to comfort him. I think you both could use it right about now."
He gave me that same grin, writ with humor and sadness, relief and regret, and even a wee bit of mischief. "Sure you're ready to live up to that offer?"
"Not in the least," I assured him with a grimace. "But I survived an attack by a pack of two headed rats and being doused by exploding bat innards, so I'm made of stouter stuff than you might imagine. And so is Rodney, as I'm sure you are more than aware. Neither one of us is going to give up without one rip roaring fight."
"That's what I'm counting on," he told me as he shifted against the wall.
The small movement had Rodney turning his head into Sheppard's abdomen and raising a hand to cling weakly to the black shirt. "Time to go, already?" he murmured.
"Not yet, Supergeek," the Colonel reassured him with a slow rub of his back. "Sun-up's a long ways off. Go back to sleep."
There was a lot to be said about the confidentiality between a patient and his physician. It was a solemn vow that I took very seriously. I knew many things about many people on Atlantis, not all of them very flattering, some of them down right disturbing, and on more than one occasion I had recommended a visit with Kate Heightmeyer as a result. But none of them anyone's business except the person that owned them. And now I knew one more, about two men I considered friends as much as patients. And as… unsettling as it was to discover it, it was also becoming quite heartbreaking to realize I was going to have to keep it. How long were they planning on sneaking about? How long could they continue dreading the rising of the sun before someone else found out? No, I had promised to keep their secret, and I would, but I couldn't help but wonder why I needed to.
"Colonel, your President Hayes changed the laws disallowing this sort of relationship several years ago, didn't he? I don't mean to pry, but why are you two hiding?"
He sighed. "Because Rodney is worried about what it could do to my career. Because he's afraid that I could end up shipped back to Earth if someone were to decide that even though it's legal, it's not what they want in the ranking military officer on Atlantis. Because he's a stubborn son of a bitch that can't be reasoned with."
I chuckled. "Aye, he is that indeed. Still, Rodney McKay putting thought of someone else before his own self. Who would have known such a thing was possible?"
"I would," he informed me although his attention seemed to be intent on threading his fingers through Rodney's hair, pausing with narrowed lips as he reached a patch of his own dried blood that had been left behind by Rodney's own fingers a few hours previously.
And now that I stopped to think about it, when it came to John Sheppard, Rodney always had put him first. Whether choosing him to be the first to share the joy of receiving his ATA gene or being the first to volunteer to go off world and track down an Iratus bug to save his life, Rodney had always put Colonel Sheppard first. And it was obvious given his current predicament that John's wellbeing had once again been his first thought when the Ancient device had exploded. I just prayed that my treatment would work and it wouldn't also be his last.
"Doctor Beckett," Radek called from behind me. At his voice, Colonel Sheppard pulled his hands quickly from Rodney's hair, looking awkwardly for somewhere to place them. The Czech simply rolled his eyes. "Please, no need to stop with tender loving care on my account. Maybe it will help to improve attitude of monster ego that ate Atlantis."
"You knew?" I asked in surprise.
"Knew? Of course I knew. I am scientist observant of world around me, not oblivious idiot who does not notice batting eyelashes in lab or wadded boxer shorts in storeroom. Hula girls, Colonel? Tsk. Would expect more from man with reputation such as yours."
Both Colonel Sheppard and I winced, me at the fact that evidently I was an oblivious idiot and Sheppard at the underwear comment.
Radek continued on as if he didn't notice the response. "But is neither here nor there. What is here is small shield device. Will use it to save Rodney's life so that he can continue to sneak about and practice forbidden love. Only please to not make so much noise in back of lab, Colonel. Work must continue even through lust-filled breaks under guise of mission planning."
John snorted and grinned. "No promises, Dr. Z. Like you said, I have a reputation to maintain."
With a smile I took the small crystalline orb from Zelenka. "Be that as it may, Colonel, right now you have something much more important to maintain and that would be Rodney's life. You'll need to fetch a syringe from my kit so that you can collect a blood sample for me."
Less than five minutes later, Sheppard was handing a green glowing parcel through the shield, and I was on my way to the lab to finish up my vaccine.
Waiting, it is something no one enjoys.
Whether one is waiting in the cafeteria line for winged alien badger stew or to see if a hastily cobbled device will hold off the Wraith. Yes, waiting is completely lacking in the enjoyment factor and this time was no different.
"It's going to work."
Colonel Sheppard's voice was gravelled and low, his mouth bracketed by lines of pain. He looked as if he had a massive headache, which considering the angry red wound at his hairline would be quite understandable.
"Yes," I said instantly. "It will work and soon Rodney will be up screeching worse and creating more havoc than any giant mama bat. Is too bad I did not think to bring extra grenade. We are doomed."
A small smile curved his lips. "That's not such a bad thing to be." Once again he was leaning against the wall with Rodney's head in his lap. One hand was resting on the side of Rodney's neck. It was dual purpose, I thought. To reassure a sleeping Rodney and to reassure himself with a beating pulse against his palm.
"No," I admitted. "It is not." I gazed fondly at the slack, flushed face. Head of Science? Head of sleep drool perhaps. I brightened, "I would share a memory with you of first time I met Rodney."
The Colonel looked up at me with interest. "Yeah?"
"I would," I repeated, "but I cannot. Can only recall red haze of rage. Oh, there is vague flash of McKay mouth flapping, flapping like wretched, evil bird. Then my hands around his throat. Other than that…." I shrugged. "Dr. Heightmeyer say when sanity at stake some things best repressed."
Teeth flashed in a faint grin. "The story of my life." His hand moved to Rodney's forehead and rested there. "I wouldn't have it any other way," he murmured.
"You are…what is phrase?" I searched my mind and seized on the words with a beam of success. "Ah, yes. Whipped. You are geek-whipped."
Sheppard snorted. "Hey, Dr. Z, come on…."
He didn't have time to further deny the blatant truth. We both heard the sound of approaching feet. I lunged to mine and bolted to the door. Passing out into the corridor, I closed it behind me in the nick of time. Blocking it protectively with folded arms, I glared at the figure in the lead. "Ah, finally you return. Too late of course. It is the way of all goons…especially large, hairy ones."
Teyla stepped up beside the scowling Ronon. The man always scowled. I did not take it personally. Much as I did not take his lack of hygiene personally. If he wished to make his head a hosting city for tiny insects, it was not my business. If he used comb issued to him to pick his teeth, I simply shook my head and went on. It only mean there was more toothpaste for the rest of us.
"Dr. McKay, Colonel Sheppard," she said with worry. "They are not…."
"No, no," I responded hurriedly. "Colonel immune and Rodney has received vaccine. We manage without isolation equipment." I glanced at Ronon and sniffed, "Assuming one would fit Yeti-man."
"Yeah?" Eyes glared at me through swinging dreadlocks. "If they're okay, then what are you hiding?"
I frowned, immediately on the defensive. "'Yeah.' 'Okay.' What type of alien says these things? You are like crazy American surfer dude. Hang Ten. Cowabunga. See me in my leather pants. Is very off-putting. Is very…not alien." I peered at him suspiciously. "Are you sure alien is who you are? Do you have alien driver's license as proof? I am not at all believing…."
With a growl he pushed past me. Teyla steadied me as I teetered. "He is very ill-tempered surfer alien," I muttered.
"Well," she temporized. "Perhaps…at times." We hurried after him. "You are sure that the Colonel and Dr. McKay…."
"We're fine, Teyla." The Colonel said as we entered the room. "At least we're getting there. We're getting there."
I had bought him enough time and now he sat on the floor beside Rodney. They were safe, their secret was safe, but more than that, Rodney…he was awake. His eyes were circled with the darkest of smudges and he was cradling his head with exquisite care, but he was awake. Alive. And disgruntled as a hemorrhoidal bear. And if Colonel Sheppard's hand rested on his back, it was obviously only to keep him upright, as a friend or colleague would do. At least it would appear that way to mostly blind eyes. And there were many of those…especially those covered by ratty hair.
"Rodney!" I said with delight. "You are awake. You are alive."
"Always with the unbelievably obvious conclusions." Bloodshot blue eyes slid in my direction. "Was your graduate thesis on 'why the sky is blue', Radek? Or maybe 'fire burns: the restaurant hot plate theory.'"
"Rodney. You are awake. You are alive," I repeated glumly. "Oh joy."
"Aye, it's a bloody medical miracle," Carson snorted as he stood next to the shield to peer at our beloved scientific leader. "I'm surprised we even needed a vaccine, that any Ancient virus wouldn't be instantly disintegrated by the bile that doubles as your blood."
"I am so feeling the love right now," Rodney groaned, leaning back against Sheppard's hand…maybe to, as he said, feel the love.
"Bitch, bitch. Cannot believe we fought rats and bats for you," I sniffed. "Two headed rats. Giant hormonal mama bat. Neither bitch as much as you."
His eyes focusing on mine, they first narrowed then widened. "Oh. Oh, I remember…something. Krysa. Rats. You were screaming…."
"Shouting," I corrected with a hmph.
"Screaming about rats," he immediately countered, but there was concern banked in the depths of tired eyes. "You're all right, aren't you?"
It was phrased in such a way that if I were not all right, it would most likely be reflected on my yearly evaluation. It was Rodney's way; it didn't make the concern any less. "I am fine. Dr. Beckett was madman with gun. The evil rats were slain. All was well."
"Until the giant bat and the supposedly tiny grenade." The Colonel frowned at me. "And don't think there won't be discussion of that later. You too, McKay. What are you doing? Hoarding C4 like some sort of squirrel with a hard-on for WMD?"
Rodney's face contorted and considering what I, in my infinite wisdom, knew now I could see him choking on the entendre. Not a double entendre…the Colonel seemed too tired for that…but the single one appeared to do the task anyway. I could see the caustic and quite filthy reply hovering on Rodney's lips before he swallowed it. "I take the Fifth," he said defensively.
"You're Canadian," Sheppard pointed out. "I don't think you can take the Fifth. Take the hockey stick, the maple leaf, the Great White North maybe, but not the Fifth."
"Oh, be quiet, would you? My head hurts and you're not helping things any." And with that patented McKay reaction, he leaned harder--past the Colonel's hand and onto his chest giving the lie to every word he'd just said. Carson and I exchanged glances and Carson made an abrupt and brisk announcement.
"I think we need a wee bit of space in here. I want to examine our patient now that I have the equipment." He whisked an isolation suit out of Teyla's arms and began to pull it on. "Dr. Zelenka, I'll require your help with the shield if you please."
"Yes, yes. Of course." With that I shooed Teyla, Ronon and the marines out of the room. Pulling a candy bar…fresh off the Daedalus…out of my pocket, I dangled it carrot-fashion in front of the surfer-alien and clucked my tongue. "Here, piggy piggy. Trot along after me, yes? Food, good food and requiring not of the fork."
It took Teyla and five marines to pry the beefy hand off my shirt, but by then we were outside in the hall. With mission accomplished, and quite neatly as is my talent, I closed the door behind me and straightened my shirt. "Man is brute," I sniffed. "Strength of mighty ape, brain of cockroach. Why no Tarzan movie about that?"
Paying no attention to my wise words, the Colonel had immediately wrapped arms around Rodney the very second the door had snicked shut. Rodney instantly protested. "What in the non-intelligent design world are you doing, Colonel?" He pushed at the arms around him with desperate strength.
"It's okay, Rodney," Sheppard murmured. "They know."
"They know?" he repeated blankly.
"Yeah," the Colonel said with a cocky curve to his lips. "You yelling out 'give it to me, you hot airforce stud' in the middle of your delirium sort of gave it away."
"I did not," he refuted horrified. "I so did not. You son of a bitch, you're lying. You are lying like the proverbial flea ridden dog; I know you are. I couldn't…."
"Rodney." Lips grazed the still flushed jaw. "You're missing the point."
"I'm…oh." Rodney glanced at us uncertainly, his chin as pugnaciously protruding as it could possibly manage. Carson shifted his feet, grumbled something under his breath and continued to work on putting on the isolation suit.
I simply tilted my head to one side, folded my arms, and said smugly, "It is how you say? Boom chiki boom."
Rodney bared his teeth at me in a half-hearted snarl that only revealed his knowledge that his cranky, ego-maniacal ass now belonged to his better. Then he turned his attention to what he obviously considered far more important. Leaning his head against Sheppard's chest, he looked up at him and frowned, "How's your head? Any double-vision? Nausea? I know you wouldn't tell Carson, you stubborn bastard, but you damn well better tell me."
Sheppard ignored the questions, ignored the squawk when he squeezed harder, and bowed his head to rest his forehead on Rodney's shoulder. "Rodney, just…shut up, okay? Just…." But it was the Colonel himself who went silent. Quiet and hidden, he shook. It was the smallest amount, so minute as to be barely visible to our eyes. But it was more than visible, more than felt by Rodney, I could see. I then turned to hastily help the doctor with his suit, but it was too late. I saw Rodney's hand cup a stubbled cheek, the whispered concern…I saw the effects of a relationship in a galaxy of life-and-death situations. It was warm and terrifying all in one. Perhaps it was better to simply have a harem of willing partners…the emotional risk was much less. And the rewards not to be sneezed at.
Twenty-five minutes later Rodney passed through the shield. He was a bit wobbly, his sweat dried hair challenging the Colonel's for Chia supremacy, and he was supported by his make-shift nurse…but he walked through. Cured. Free of infection. And after that we passed through the gate. All of us.
It was worth the bats and rats. It was even worth one tiny harmless grenade.
Ah, Atlantis. Not exactly the green and heathered hills of home, but home in its own right. And with my extended family around me safe and sound, it felt even more like home every day. And thank the Saints, they were all here, all safe, and all sound… some sounding more than others.
"Carson, why the hell can't I have my laptop?"
I used my stylus to make a note to Rodney's file even as I let out a sigh at his grumpy request. "Because, Rodney, less than twenty-four hours ago you were banging at Death's door. Fortunately for him, the Grim Reaper was evidently out on other business at the time and couldn't let you in." I spared a glance up to see blue eyes narrow and a jutting jaw jut just a wee bit more… and I would take narrow and jutting over glazed and slack any day. "Either that or he was hiding in the back room with the lights lowered hoping you would go away."
"Well, that could be the only explanation, Carson. I mean, it couldn't be the treatment you came up with, now could it?" His eyes dropped to his lap then rose to meet mine with a sincerity and gratitude that the Magnificent McKay rarely let show.
"No," I agreed with a small knowing smile, "not a chance."
"Not that I can fault you, because I know you tried. Did your best I'm sure. But seeing as I was born bipedal, unlike most of your past patients, I can see where you may have run into some problems. Not like you could give me the typical anti-baaaaotics you give your four legged clientele or anything."
I turned my attention back to my pad but continued to smile. "No, the medical licensing boards tend to frown on administering medications to humans with a drench gun, although that really only applies on Earth."
"I'll hold him down, Doc, if you give him the dose."
We both turned our attention to the tall form of Colonel Sheppard leaning casually in the doorframe. Freshly showered and changed into a new set of black clothing and white bandaging, although by the shadow on his jaw that had bypassed five o'clock the day before, it was obvious he had skipped the shave and after a quick check of my watch, he had just as obviously skipped the stop off at the cafeteria that I had ordered on top of the attention to his personal hygiene.
"I'll take you up on the offer, Colonel, just as soon as I find someone to hold you down and force some food into you. I've seen more flesh on the housedress my Mum uses to scare the birds from her garden patch."
He shrugged and moved to the bed beside Rodney. "I ran into Dr. Z on the way back and he's going to bring something by in a few minutes for both of us." He sat and took Rodney's hand in his own. The physicist tensed then relaxed as he remembered he was in safe territory.
Rodney was no longer contagious; the Ancient quarantine system had confirmed that for us when it allowed Rodney to leave the replicator area. But it was standard protocol to put anyone who had been exposed to an alien contagion in isolation. And if it also happened to give the two men a little privacy during Rodney's recovery then so be it. Radek and I had taken our jobs of protecting their secret very seriously. And although I was beginning to believe that the engineer was doing it as much out of affection as the potential for blackmail material against the lead science advisor, he did it with a near viciousness that rivaled a mother dog.
"Very well, Colonel," I acquiesced, "but if he doesn't show himself within the next fifteen minutes, I'll be forced to take matters into my own needle-laden hands."
Rodney's eyes widened in mock fear. "Ooooo, Carson, I'm terrified. Another needle poke. Christ, I've had so many I'm a human screen door. Don't sit too close, John, you might catch a chill from the draft passing through me."
Sheppard squeezed the hand in his. "I'll call him on the radio if he isn't here in ten," he promised solemnly.
"I'll be back to check to make sure he does, then." I headed out the door, intent on reaching my office and downloading the files from my data pad before I saw to a few other guests here in the infirmary then returned to check on Sheppard and McKay as promised.
Behind me I heard Rodney tell the Colonel, "Well at least you smell better. I was starting to think you were trying to challenge Ronon for the title of most odiferous, although it looks like you missed a spot shaving… like, say, your whole face."
I was only half listening, my mind already thinking to my next patient I would be seeing. Out of habit I reached up for my stethoscope only find it wasn't about my neck. I realized I had left it behind in Rodney's room. I started back in but stopped when the Colonel leaned in and kissed him. "Thought you found a little scruff sexy, McKay."
I stepped back out of the doorway and ducked along the wall, intending to start speaking before reentering the room to give them fair warning I was there. But Rodney's words stopped me, or more precisely, the softening of his voice. "Scraping across my shoulder in the morning, it sexy. This, however, is beyond morning stubble; this is two days growth of beard. And the really pathetic thing is that I had to be deathly ill to have an excuse to spend that much time alone with you. Kind of cuts in on the enjoyment factor."
"Yeah, not exactly what I have in mind when I talk about quality time with you either." Then the Colonel's tone brightened as if an idea just hit him. "Hey, let's get married."
My stylus clattered to the floor as I lost my grip in my shock at Sheppard's request. But I needn't have worried that either man heard it over Rodney's equally shocked outburst.
"What? Have you lost your mind? Do I need to get Carson in here and send you back through the MRI to see if your brain really did seep out of that gash in your head?"
"I'm serious, Rodney. Let's get married."
I bent and retrieved the stylus and really I should have gone about my business and come back to get the stethoscope later… let them have this conversation in private. That is what I really should have done.
Of course, I didn't.
Instead, I peeked around the frame of the door and watched.
"John, we… I don't… we can't."
"You don't want to marry me?"
"I don't want you to give up your career, Atlantis, everything because you want to marry me."
"What's the point of them changing the law if I can't take advantage of it? Rodney, they can't give me a dishonorable discharge for legally marrying the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, not anymore."
"They can stall your career…"
Sheppard gave a little shrug. "Never thought I'd make it as far as I have."
"They could find a reason, any reason, to reassign you back to Earth."
"They could do that now. What would you do then?"
Rodney blinked and sat straighter in surprise. "Wh..what?"
"If Caldwell finally got his way and found an excuse to ship me back to Earth, what would you do?"
"Jesus, John, don't even joke…" Rodney started to pull his hand free from the Colonel's, trying to put an end to the conversation completely. But Sheppard wasn't having any of it. He tightened his hold and leaned in closer.
"I'm serious, Rodney. It could happen any day. I could slip up royally, not like I haven't before, and I could be packing my bags and heading through the gate before you could say 'chevron eight encoded'. If that happened, what would you do?"
"Pack my bags and walk through beside you." The answer was immediate, without hesitation, and without the least bit of regret.
"Then what's the difference? I just want us to be together. I don't care where, I don't care how, and I don't want to care who knows about it or not." Rodney sighed and Sheppard continued. "I'm tired of having to check the life signs detector for someone in the hall every morning before I leave your room."
"I'm tired of watching you leave," Rodney responded in a murmur.
"And for what? What could happen if we told people? We stay here doing exactly what we're doing, which is great. Or at worst we go back to Earth together, which would be fine. I don't know about you, but making ourselves miserable for great or fine seems kind of stupid."
"Well, when you put it that way…"
"Do you love me, McKay?"
"Of course I do, but…"
"Then let's get married."
"John, we've only been doing…" Rodney waved an all encompassing hand. "this for a few months now."
Sheppard shook his head with a smile. "We've only been having sex for a few months. We've been doing this for a hell of a lot long."
"Yeah, we have," Rodney admitted with a small smile of his own. "But marriage…"
"I want you off the market, officially. I don't want another botanist coming along thinking she has a chance with you. And I've seen the way Miko looks at you across the lab. This isn't a fling for me, Rodney, and I want everyone to know it. It's you or nobody. I'm in this for the long haul."
"Me, too," Rodney admitted. "And it would have been nice to have a legitimate reason to elbow that space bimbo out of the way last week when she kept grabbing your ass in 'welcome'. Although the illegitimate reason seemed to work just fine."
"Then marry me, Rodney."
"John…" The tone was exasperated and torn and the Colonel pressed his advantage.
There was a pause then as the scientist studied the hand in his, and for a moment I thought that maybe he had forgotten the request all together. That he had become so intently interested in those linked fingers, like an experiment in his lab, that the world around him simply faded away and the only thing that mattered to him were those hands.
But then he raised his eyes to Sheppard's and said simply, "Okay."
"Yeah." I thought John's face might burst from the smile that was quickly forming, but Rodney's raised hand stopped it. "However, I have a few stipulations."
"Stipulations? What, you want me to sign a prenup or something?"
Rodney rolled his eyes, "John, my money is so well protected legally that I'm going to have to hire a team of lawyers just to allow you access when we do get married. Hell, I can barely get at it myself. No, what I'm talking about is a little closer to home… here on Atlantis. You have to promise me that you will never use your position as Ranking Military Officer to punish any of the other Goons that say or do something spiteful as a result of our relationship." The Colonel opened his mouth to argue but the hand went up again. "This is a deal breaker, John. I don't want anyone to have any claims of favoritism or retaliation as a result of something you did to protect us." Then a wicked grin broke across his face. "You leave that to me."
Sheppard smirked. "You are an evil, evil, man, McKay. I like that. Only the reverse goes for you, too. You can't go after the Geeks for the same reason. Do we have a deal?" He offered his hand as if he were a salesman closing a contract.
Rodney took the hand in a firm grip and shook once. "Deal."
"All right, then." John beamed. "We're getting married." He used the still gripped hands to pull Rodney in for a kiss as firm as the handshake. "Goddamn, we're getting married!"
I couldn't help the smile that came to my own face. I mean, lets face fact, Rodney had made some very valid points, and things definitely were not going to be easy for the two of them. And it was not exactly a traditional marriage as I had come to see them, not by any means. But anything that obviously made two dear friends that happy had my utter and complete support.
Rodney kissed him back enthusiastically but when he pulled away he had a frown on his face. "Although, aren't there supposed to be rings involved in this sort of thing? I mean cows and free milk and all that."
"You want a ring, Rodney, then by God, you'll get a ring." Sheppard assured him as he climbed further into the bed and on top of his betrothed.
Rodney wrapped his arms around the man settling onto his chest and flashed a mischievous grin. "I'm much more interested in the whole milking process and how it fits into the picture."
The Colonel's smile mirrored Rodney's as he worked his hand between their bodies. "Oh, I'll get to that as well."
And that's when I decided I had heard and definitely seen enough. I'm a romantic at heart, I'll admit it. And I'm not so naive as not to know what often follows such romantic encounters. However, the stuttered moan that left Rodney when the Colonel's hand reached its intended destination crossed the line from romantic and was on the border of pornographic. With a highly disturbed thought, I closed and locked the door to the isolation room.
It was leaning back against the wall, willing that damnable sound from my mind, that Radek found me as he carried a tray from the cafeteria. "Is problem?" He asked in worry as he saw the look on my face. "Rodney has had relapse?"
"No, no, nothing like that," I reassured him. "Although in some ways, it may be even worse."
With a confused expression he peered into the small observation window in the door to the room. His head slowly tilted to the right. "Hmmm. Who would have imagined Colonel was so limber?"
"Oh, bloody hell! As if the sound wasn't enough. I truly am scarred for life."
The engineer turned to me anxiously. "Doctor, please, you have camera I might borrow, yes?"
"No!" It was bad enough I had seen as much as I had, the last thing I needed was photographic proof that it had taken place.
"But already Rodney orders me new laptop to maintain silence. With photos I get karaoke machine from Earth as well."
"Sorry, lad, but your blackmail material just ran out." I slapped a hand on his shoulder and led him down the hall. "Ends up we're going to have a wedding here on Atlantis."
"No! Rodney and Colonel? Married?" He sighed. "There goes new office with balcony."
"Ah well, it will all be for the best in the end," I consoled.
He nodded then brightened. "On good side, will finally have a reason to wear tuxedo I bring to Atlantis."
And in the end, Radek got to wear his tuxedo, the expedition had its first marriage and Radek even got his karaoke machine- John and Rodney ordered it for their reception. But the best part was that Colonel Sheppard didn't get sent back to Earth and it wasn't necessary for Rodney to follow him. They stayed right here were they belonged, and although I would deny it should either of them ask, the expedition was better off as result. Even if my life became a little more… complicated, shall we say? But I couldn't complain. After all, Radek and I were the first to know about Rodney and Colonel Sheppard's impending nuptials…both officially and unofficially… and surely it was an honor and a privilege that we were so chosen.
I glanced back toward the two men covered in purple spots sitting on the same bed and rolled my eyes with an exasperated sigh. It was the same thing every time they were my guests here in the infirmary, as if they were somehow magnetized and couldn't possibly stay more than a few inches apart if they were in the same room.
"Now, now, we'll have none of that!" I called out as Sheppard began scratching Rodney's back and the scientist arched into the touch like a cat. "I am not about to stand by and watch the two of you scratch open those welts."
The Colonel dropped his hand like a child caught with a biscuit before tea time. Rodney moaned in frustration and shot an icy blue glare in my direction. I simply smiled serenely.
"Colonel Sheppard, I've assigned you a lovely bed all your own. Perhaps you wouldn't mind staying in it for a few moments so that I might at least pretend that I have some control in my own medical facility."
Rodney reached out and gripped the Colonel's wrist as he started to stand and move to the other bed. He fixed me with a frown. "Well, gee, Carson, you already pretend to have a medical degree, isn't that enough use of your imagination for one day?"
"Isn't fighting off a Wraith enough excitement for one day for you, Rodney? No need to produce a blue movie in the middle of the infirmary as well."
"Not everything is about sex, Carson. I know in your sheep herding youth, that might not have been the case, but John and I are capable of sitting next to each other without resorting to copping a feel."
Zelenka sputtered beside me. "Cannot even pass salt in cafeteria without copping feel."
"That is absolutely not the case! I mean, I have on occasion, accidentally mind you, knocked the shaker into John's lap…"
"Eight times in two weeks," Radek informed him with crossed arms. And if someone were to just walk in on the conversation, they would have thought the two scientists were arguing over a problem in the lab and not how many times Rodney had gotten his jollies from reaching into the Colonel's lap to retrieve a dropped salt dispenser.
"Eight times? There is no way in hell that that happened eight…"
Sheppard seemed to finish up a mental calculation then patted Rodney's leg to silence him. "Yep, he's right, McKay. Eight times."
Now it was the Colonel's turn to be on the receiving end of the glacial glower. "You are not helping here," he gritted out. "Besides, if you didn't like it, all you had to do was hand it back yourself."
Amused hazel eyes locked onto frosty blue ones. "If I didn't like it, do you think I would have clamped down on it with my thighs?"
The anger melted away from Rodney's face to be replaced with humor and affection. And no one had ever been able to do that to Rodney, no one except John. I swear the man's blood pressure dropped ten points the day they started sleeping together. It's ironic, now that I look back on it, I'd had empirical proof in his charts all along and it took him nearly losing his life for me to discover the truth.
And from a purely medical standpoint, their relationship was the best thing that had happened to either of them. They played mother hen to one another better than I ever could. So it was for a purely professional reason that I did what I did next.
I furrowed my brow and crossed my arms. "All right, that will be quiet enough of that. I have yet to have my supper and I don't need the two of you ruining any chance I have at an appetite. And it's obvious I won't be able to stop you from scratching those sores so I have no alternative than to lock you up in the isolation room, as I don't dare release you out into the general populace until they are healed."
The whining, as I had expected, was immediate and incessant. Promises that they would not touch the welts, even as they scratched them. Promises that they would not leave their room, although Rodney couldn't stay away from the lab on his own for more than a six hour stretch unless he was comatose or on a mission. Promises that I could make a house call, and this time they really would open the door.
I ignored them, instead turning my attention to the Czech standing beside me. "Thought you said isolation would not be necessary? Would only promote visions to sear corneas from eyeballs?"
"Aye," I agreed sourly, "but really, would you not prefer to have them locked behind four hard walls instead of out here with only a measly curtain to separate them from the rest of the room."
"You make good point, Doctor." Radek's wince changed to inquiry as he changed the subject even as the ranting continued behind us. "So, you are coming to Karaoke night tonight? I just receive new tapes from Earth. Rod Stewart, just for you."
"How can I not, then?" I patted his shoulder with a grin and started to follow him out the door.
"Carson, I will not stand for this! You cannot just lock us away on a whim. You're a doctor, not a jailer. Although I'm still not convinced that diploma of yours is legitimate. Give me five minutes, some parchment, an embossing kit and a Kinkos and I could produce one just like it. I'm calling Elizabeth. She'll stop you from…"
Rodney's shrieking finally demanded by attention when he threatened to call in a higher authority. Not that I was concerned, mind you, but evidently they were too daft to realize that I had just dropped a present in their laps. I raised a silencing hand, as if that would do any good. In most cases a tranquilizer dart wouldn't do any good when the physicist was on a verbal rampage. "Tut, tut, tut, Rodney. Hear me out first before you go and try to have my medical license revoked. I'm taking the two of you off active duty for at least the next thirty-six hours, during which time you will not be allowed to interact with any other expedition members, except for the medical staff that will only come in at regularly scheduled intervals. Otherwise you will only have each other to find ways to amuse yourselves."
Rodney opened his mouth but the backhand he received in the chest from Sheppard made him close it abruptly. "Not a word, McKay. Do you hear me? Not a goddamn word."
With monumental effort, Rodney clenched his mouth shut, folded his hands in his lap and sat silently beside the Colonel.
I gave them a benevolent smile. "I thought you lads might see it my way. Oh, and I'll be expecting the last of your chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from your trip to Hawaii as a form of thanks."
"What?" Rodney demanded. "That's highway robbery. You aren't allowed to exact payment…"
Colonel Sheppard elbowed him hard in the side. "I said to shut the hell up, Rodney." Convinced that he had succeeded in silencing his fuming less-than-better half, he turned a smile to me. "I'll drop them off myself in, say… thirty-seven hours. If that's okay with you, Doc?"
"That would be just fine, Colonel. Now then, let's get you boys settled so that I can get some nourishment to sustain me through the next day and a half of holy terrors I have no doubt I will suffer as a result of my generosity."
I grimaced but deep down I knew it was worth it. The bickering, the bitching, the whining, even the illicit activities that I knew would take place in my isolation room that very night. Because in the end, John and Rodney were worth it… their relationship, their marriage, our friendship…but especially the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts they were giving me as compensation.
Radek may have cornered the market on blackmail, but I found a little subtle persuasion to be much more lucrative in the end.