Author's Note: The "science" in this story will probably make no sense, but that's only because I'm making it all up.
Warning: This story is pre-slash between Rodney and John, and while it's really subtle, please don't read if it offends you.
"And what's that?"
McKay eyed Sheppard dubiously. He had been acting strangely since the moment he had joined him in the lab, looking a little pale and asking inane questions—the answers to which consisted of explanations he usually tried to avoid. He narrowed his eyes. "Are you sure you're alright?"
Sheppard gave a strange little smile that McKay supposed was meant to be reassuring, and dropped down on the bench. His eyes widened innocently as he said, "I'm fine. What is it?"
McKay gave the item in question a dismissive glance and returned his attention to his laptop. "I don't know. We haven't figured it out yet. Why don't you touch it and see if it explodes?" he asked wryly. "Put me out of my misery."
When Sheppard provided him with no cutting response, he glanced over at him in concern. "I'm bothering you," Sheppard said, succinctly, once their eyes had met.
McKay raised an eyebrow. "You have a keen grasp of the obvious, Major."
Sheppard gave that odd little smile again, and got to his feet. "Right," he said simply, and started towards the door.
Rodney's fingers paused over the keys. He should have been thankful—he should have been rejoicing, even, at the quiet his absence left, because he had a million vitally important things he needed to be doing at any given time. Only thing was John Sheppard didn't usually leave rooms quietly, and when he did, it usually meant something was terribly wrong. He rolled his eyes at the inconveniences of being a friend, and got to his feet.
"Major!" he called, and ahead of him, already halfway down the hall, John pulled to a reluctant stop and turned around. McKay bit his lip when he realized he'd gone a few shades down from pale now, and was hovering barely above ghostly. "Maybe we should go to the infirmary," he suggested quietly.
Sheppard shook his head, giving a small little laugh. "Go do your work, McKay."
Rodney grabbed his arm when John turned away, but John pulled quickly and violently away, stumbling so hard he had to reach out his other hand to balance himself against the wall. "What is wrong with you?" McKay hissed, realizing even as he was doing it, that he shouldn't be this angry. He had a knack for turning concern to anger, however, as it was easier to deal with it that way and it was a remarkably hard habit to break.
"Nothing," John hissed, but McKay could see his hair was getting damp from sweat, and he could barely talk through his sudden, labored breathing.
"We're going to see Beckett, now," McKay snapped firmly, reaching for him again.
Sheppard stumbled away from him, and McKay saw clearly the change—he stilled, suspended, and then started to fall. Rodney leapt forward, horrified, and wrapped his arms around the Major's waist just in time to help guide him towards the ground.
John's head fell back against his shoulder as they made it down, and McKay reached for his forehead, surprised to find he was burning up. "What did you do?" he asked quietly.
Sheppard gave a vague kind of laugh. "I don't know. I think I might be sick."
If McKay hadn't been so worried, he would have rolled his eyes. He tapped his comm. "Beckett, you need to get a medical team to my lab—now!"
It seemed like an hour of waiting before Beckett told him he was on his way—it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. John swayed against him and then went still. Rodney just closed his eyes and started counting back from two hundred. He was at fifty when they arrived and pulled him away.
McKay paced the length of the infirmary and back. Beckett watched his movements warily, as he carefully withdrew a blood sample from John's arm. "He's not going to wake up for a few hours yet, Rodney. There's no need for you to stand guard."
"What's wrong with him?" McKay snapped, his jaw tightly clenched. "He was fine, Carson—acting a little odd, okay, yeah, but he was fine. Then he just dropped."
Beckett sighed. "I can't tell you what I don't know."
"How reassuring," McKay snapped. "Are you or are you not the doctor around here?"
Beckett cast him a brief censuring glance. "I'll be able to tell you more once I run his blood work," he said, calmly, as he handed the blood sample off to a nurse. He watched Sheppard carefully. "We can only hope this is not some alien virus."
"Alien virus!" McKay yelled. "Aren't you supposed to…oh, I don't know, reassure people? And not go talking on about killer alien viruses?"
Beckett glanced up at him. "You need to calm down, Rodney."
"Calm down! Oh, sure, why didn't I think of that? Solves everything, doesn't it?" McKay started pacing again, avoiding Beckett's eyes, and more than that, avoiding the still form on the only occupied bed.
Beckett turned and walked towards his laptop, trying not to notice the way McKay followed his every step. "Maybe you can help," he said. "Do you know what the Major was doing that could have exposed him to something harmful?"
"Oh, yes. He tells me he's going to go explore all these lovely different contaminated rooms on Atlantis all the time, and I just happily allow him to wander off. What the hell do you think? Don't you think if he was doing something dangerous I might have, you know, said something?"
Beckett paused, his eyes widening as he looked up at McKay, clearly taken aback. "That's not exactly what I meant."
McKay winced and turned away, running a hand through his hair. "I know."
Weir broke the awkward stand-off when she strode briskly into the room, heading straight for Sheppard. "What's wrong with him?" she asked, and Beckett let out another sigh.
"I'm not sure yet," he said.
"Beckett needs more time," Rodney told her, with a grim plastic smile. "Of course, we're not sure he has it."
Weir gave Rodney a curious glance before looking back down at Sheppard. "Is this something contagious, Doctor?"
"He doesn't know that either," McKay answered promptly, before Carson had even opened his mouth. "He doesn't know anything, actually, but thanks for stopping by."
Weir looked a little speechless at Rodney's ranting, and so Beckett stepped up beside her. "You'll have to forgive Rodney, Elizabeth, he's just worried."
"Worried?" Rodney sneered. "Major Sheppard owes me five thousand dollars, and I just don't want him dying before we make it back to Earth and he has to pay up."
"Five thousand dollars?" Weir asked, obviously confused.
"Is this really something you want to talk about now?" Rodney snapped coldly, and Weir glanced bemused over at Beckett.
"I should be heading back," she said, cautiously, obviously not wanting to stick around for the impending fireworks. "Contact me the moment you learn anything, Doctor."
"Will do," Beckett said.
Rodney watched her leave, before his eyes flickered nervously back to John.
"You should go too, Rodney," Beckett said, gently, placing a hand on Rodney's arm.
McKay shook him off irritably, and took a few steps off to the side. "I'm fine. Shouldn't you be doing something? Like maybe trying to find out what the hell's wrong with him?"
Beckett gave a brief sad smile and walked away.
McKay dropped down into the chair beside Sheppard's bed, and rested his elbows on the mattress—his head in his hands. "You'd better wake up," he whispered, but John didn't move.
The first thing he noticed when awareness returned was the paper pajamas. He groaned, not sure he wanted to know what had happened this time—and then wondered, not for the first time, just how the hell they ever managed to change his clothes while he was unconscious. It couldn't be easy, what with all the buttons on his BDUs, and these med scrubs ripped remarkably easily. He grinned a little as he decided he didn't want to know.
"What the hell are you smiling for?"
He cracked one of his eyes open at the outraged voice, to see McKay with crossed arms and a scowl glaring down at him. "Good morning to you, too, sunshine," he said, running a hand through his hair. "What time is it?"
"What time is it?" Rodney repeated it dangerously. "You want the time?"
Sheppard glanced over at him, a little worried by the tone. It didn't sound like a trick question, but he was thinking 'yes' might be the wrong way to go. "No…?" he said uncertainly, and McKay rolled his eyes.
"Let's review," McKay said tightly. "Last night, I was working in my lab. Where were you?"
"Is this another trick question?" John asked warily, closing his eyes again.
McKay shook him a little to get his eyes open again, and he saw Beckett running over. "You nearly died!" McKay snapped, and Beckett glared at him.
McKay didn't exactly get the reaction he was going for when Sheppard only yawned and said, "Did I?"
"You did not nearly die, Major," Beckett said calmly, glaring over at McKay. "You merely had some kind of reaction…to something."
"Instill him with a little more confidence, why don't you?" McKay snapped.
"I'm not the one telling him he almost died, now am I?" Beckett snapped back, and Sheppard put his hand to his forehead again.
"Can I go?" he asked.
Beckett and McKay both turned to glare at him. "No," they snapped, simultaneously.
"Look," John said, charmingly. "I remember now, alright? I wasn't feeling so hot so I went to bug Rodney, when I left I stepped on some kind of carousel in the middle of the hallway and everything started spinning. I collapsed, end of story—I feel fine now."
"If you had a large bleeding gash on you leg," McKay snapped, "you would keep walking and say you're fine."
Sheppard grinned. "Is that a compliment?"
"Are you actually asking me that?" McKay asked harshly.
"Enough," Beckett said, giving them both quelling glances. "As soon as I get your blood work we can decide how to proceed," he said, glancing down at Sheppard. "Until then, I want you to stay here, under my observation."
McKay gave a supportive little nod, and Sheppard watched him warily. "What's with him?" he asked Beckett, with a not-so-subtle nod in Rodney's direction.
McKay sputtered a little at the question, but Beckett only gave a small grin. "He's been here all night. Protecting his investment, he says."
Sheppard laughed, but it turned into a coughing fit that gave McKay and Beckett concerned frowns. "Well, I've told him before; I'm not really giving him that five thousand dollars."
"Oh yes you will," McKay snapped. "Or I'll make your life a living hell."
"Don't you do that already?" Sheppard asked, amused.
"No. Be afraid, Major," Rodney said, but his words held less bite for how exhausted he sounded. "This is without trying."
"It's really your own fault, Major," Beckett said, with a shake of his head. "You should really have known better than to play Trivial Pursuit with him, let alone for money."
"Yeah, well who the hell brought that as their personal item, anyway?" John groused. "They'd better hope for their sake I never get my hands on them."
"You're just a poor loser," McKay said, with a grin.
"I'll take you on any day, McKay," Sheppard told him.
"Not today, you won't," Beckett said firmly. "You need sleep, Major. If you don't do it on your own, I'll get you some help."
Sheppard let out a shaky breath and waved him away. "Yeah, yeah. Sleep. Got it."
Beckett nodded and headed back to his office, to check on the progress of the Major's blood results. McKay watched him go for a moment before dropping again into the chair beside John's bed.
John watched him skeptically. "What are you doing?" he asked.
McKay held up a small stack of paper. "I have some reports to go through. Thought I might as well do it here."
Sheppard grinned wryly as he closed his eyes. "Whatever. I think you just get off on watching me sleep."
"Oh, yes, Major. It's what I live for," Rodney intoned grandly, never looking up from the reports.
"At least you're admitting it," John said, amused, before his breathing evened out and he fell asleep.
Weir leaned against the doorway, and Rodney was in the chair in front of Beckett's desk, his chin resting in his right hand. Beckett, for his part, looked at a loss. "His blood work was clean," he said.
Agitatedly, Rodney pushed to his feet. "You saw him, Carson; just try to tell me there was nothing wrong."
"I'm not saying there is nothing wrong," Beckett said, trying to calm him. "I'm saying his blood work came back clean."
"So it isn't a virus," Weir said, relieved. "We don't have to worry about an outbreak?"
Beckett shook his head. "When dealing with things of other worlds there are no certainties, Elizabeth, as you know, but his blood contains no conventional viruses—I cannot find anything amiss at all."
"Then what the hell's wrong with him?" McKay yelled, and Weir glanced at him, surprised by his vehemence.
Beckett, growing used to his outbursts, simply looked thoughtful. "It's possible he suffered from a panic attack," he said. "The principle symptoms are all there."
"A panic attack?" McKay repeated dubiously. "This man has faced down aliens with super powers without batting an eye and you think he had a panic attack in the middle of a hallway?"
"We all deal with things our own way, Rodney," Beckett said with a shrug. "Some react during the action, others long after."
"I don't buy it," Rodney snapped, and Elizabeth sighed.
"Just keep an eye on him," she said, glancing from Beckett to Rodney. "You're on stand down until further notice."
Rodney nodded distractedly as she left.
"You should get some sleep," Beckett suggested softly, but Rodney walked away without looking back. Beckett sighed and then got to his feet to follow him over to Sheppard's bed.
"What's the verdict?" John asked, looking a little smug, as though he already knew.
Beckett pursed his lips, before telling him reluctantly, "You're free to go for now, Major. But I—"
The Doctor trailed off as John grinned and threw the covers off, because he was already wearing blue BDU pants and a black t-shirt, with black boots firmly laced on both of his feet. "Good," Sheppard said.
"How did you…?" Beckett started.
"You changed while we were all in there?" McKay asked, disbelievingly. "Weir was a few feet away!"
"I doubt it's anything she hasn't seen before," John said wryly, giving him a quick wink. "Besides, none of you saw me. I'm stealthy."
"How did you know I was going to release you?" Beckett asked with a frown.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Because I'm fine, I feel fine, and I wasn't planning on staying here anyway."
"You are to come back here the moment you feel anything unusual, Major," Beckett said firmly, but John wasn't listening to him so he turned to McKay. "Watch him for me, would you, Rodney?"
McKay nodded and Sheppard groaned, because he could see in his eyes; McKay was taking that as a personal challenge.
"I don't need a babysitter," he snapped, as he carefully lowered himself from the bed.
"Good," McKay said, giving him a wide smile. "I have no intention of acting as one."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "Good." He was still watching McKay with suspicion as he started from the room, and he wasn't surprised when both McKay and Beckett's laughter followed him out the door.
"Can we go now?" John whined.
"You were more than happy to help me out yesterday," Rodney said primly, not even glancing in his direction.
"I was minutes from collapse," John snapped, "and obviously temporarily insane." He picked up some kind of round device and began tossing it from one hand to the other. Rodney reached out and grabbed it midair, before setting it safely out of reach.
McKay paused for a moment, and then turned to face him. "Why did you come down here last night, Major? You should have gone straight to Beckett if you were feeling ill."
John shrugged, swinging his legs idly from where he sat on the counter. "I didn't feel like going through a bunch of tests, and I knew if I came down here you would talk a lot."
McKay frowned. "You wanted me to talk a lot?" he asked skeptically.
Sheppard grinned. "It's kind of comforting," he said, but before McKay could swing it as a compliment, he added, "just a bunch of friendly white noise."
McKay pursed his lips and swung back around towards his laptop. John rolled his eyes. "This is stupid, I'm just going—" The moment John started for the door, McKay stepped in his way and pointed back towards the counter.
"Sit," he said.
John glared at him. "But I—"
"Sit, or I'm calling Beckett," Rodney said smugly, crossing his arms. "I'm supposed to be watching you."
Sheppard was obviously annoyed, but for once did as he was told. He jumped up to sit back on the counter and his eyes wandered towards the wall. "It's probably just stress," he said after a moment.
McKay stilled, but nodded reluctantly. "I'm sure, Major."
John yawned exaggeratedly. "I think I'm going to go lay down for awhile."
"Major," Rodney said warningly, and Sheppard held out his hands in supplication.
"Really," he said. "I'm just going to sleep, but you can come tuck me in if you like."
McKay's eyes narrowed but he shook his head. "Tuck yourself in, but don't think I'm not going to do bed checks."
Sheppard laughed, as he backed towards the door. "I really wouldn't put it past you."
John started towards his quarters and smiled when he saw Teyla heading towards him. She frowned and reached out to gently touch his wrist in greeting. "Are you well, Major?"
"Peachy," he said, giving her a dazzling grin.
She watched him thoughtfully. "I was told you were ill, but not why."
John shrugged. "No one knows, actually, what was wrong. I probably had the Atlantis version of the 24 hour flu. Nothing to worry about."
"Should you not be resting?" Teyla asked, sounding concerned despite his assurances.
"I was just on my way to rest, actually, but I'd much rather talk with you." He gave her another beatific smile, but Teyla knew when she was being used, and John was desperate for distraction.
She gave a sly grin and then slipped past him. "Go sleep, Major."
"Right," he sighed and continued on his way to his quarters. "'Cause I haven't done that enough lately."
He'd pretty much been kidding about the bed checks, but when he finished in the lab two hours later Sheppard wasn't answering his comm. He was probably sleeping, Rodney kept telling himself, but he was headed to his quarters anyway. It wouldn't hurt to check, and Beckett had charged him to look after him. The door was locked when he reached it, but when his knock went unanswered he overrode it easily enough.
Sheppard was sprawled and tangled in his blankets on his bed, and Rodney fought down a grin. The Major really did look cute asleep, and Rodney decided he would have to tell him that, if only to annoy him. Cute wasn't actually something to aspire to in the military. He was about to slip back out the doors when John's breathing hitched strangely.
Rodney frowned, worried he was having a nightmare, and stepped inside. The labored breathing continued, eerily reminiscent of the night before, and he walked quicker to his side. "Major?" he asked uncertainly, but instead of a response the labored breathing slowed and faded away.
Feeling strangely sick and disconnected, Rodney reached out a hand and placed his fingers against John's neck. When he felt no pulse beneath his fingertips he froze—caught in place like he was the one trapped in some nightmare, but it was only a couple seconds, ticking slowly by, and he was screaming into his com, calling for help. Beckett responded quicker this time than the last, and Rodney realized distantly, that he had never sounded so scared in his life.
CPR, he had to do CPR. "Major?" he snapped, his voice sounding harsh and terrified. He climbed up on the bed with frantic movements, counting back in his mind again, sets of three, and started doing compressions. He thought he saw John's eyes flutter but then there were hands on him, pulling him away.
"Out of the way, Rodney," Beckett was yelling, sliding between the bed and a stretcher.
Rodney slipped back against the wall, trying to do as he was asked. Everyone else slowed their motion, light trailing their moves, their voices becoming strangely muffled. It was like they were caught underwater, moving against imagined currents, or maybe they were fine and that was him. He heard Beckett yelling that they had a pulse, and then they were picking John up and setting him on the stretcher.
They fled the room, pure sound, leaving silence in their wake as Rodney slid down towards the floor. The only thing he could hear now was the ventilation system's gentle whir, and the pounding in his head. The thought that he had left John alone circled through the back of his mind.
"What the hell use are you?"
"Rodney," Elizabeth said gently, stepping between Beckett and Rodney. "You need to calm down."
Calm down, Rodney thought. Why was everyone always telling him that? Did they not realize there was a problem here? "Major Sheppard almost died, if you didn't notice, Elizabeth. I think that calls for a little panic!"
"I know, Rodney," she said. "And we're trying to find out why."
"Doing a bang up job, too," Rodney snapped. "What did you say it was this time, Carson? Oh, that's right. You don't have a clue."
Beckett sighed, his eyes straying to the chart just so he wouldn't have to watch his friend. "I don't know what to tell you. His blood came back clean again. Whatever is affecting the Major is doing so without leaving a trace."
Rodney shook his head irritably. "No. Nothing's untraceable. You're not looking hard enough. Do your voodoo, Carson, fix this."
"I can't fix it if I don't know what's wrong," Beckett snapped tiredly.
Rodney knew that. He did. He even understood that none of this was Beckett's fault. He was the one that was supposed to be keeping an eye on John, after all, but Sheppard had convinced him he was fine—that it was stress. His eyes strayed back towards his friend's still form. All of the tubes and beeping creating a strange kind of comfort, because at least that meant he was alive.
"It's like his body has just started randomly shutting down," Beckett said, with a shake of his head. "And as soon as he's here he starts improving, and whatever caused it is gone like it was never there at all."
Rodney irritably turned away from him, and then leaned against the wall at the back of the infirmary, away from everything. Neither Elizabeth nor Carson followed him, for which he was grateful. He needed space to think. None of this made any sense, he didn't believe for one second there was no reason behind it. Carson could believe it was just some bizarre supernatural incident if he wanted, but there was something terribly wrong. He could feel it.
He slammed his head back against the wall, frustrated beyond his limit, and winced when it contacted the air vent grate. He paused and listened, cold wrapping around him suddenly with realization. He spun around and watched the vent carefully, waiting, and it made no sound. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember ever hearing the ventilation systems on Atlantis.
Except one time—earlier that day, in John's quarters.
He pushed off the wall and started for the door, all but running, and he didn't stop when Elizabeth and Carson yelled after him. He couldn't afford to. He heard footsteps pounding after him anyway, and when he slid to a stop in front of John's quarters to open the door, Weir, out of breath, followed him inside. "What are you doing?" she asked between breaths.
"Ask me again in a minute," Rodney snapped, dropping to his knees in front of the air vent. He snapped it open, and tossed the grate aside. The noise he had heard earlier had stopped, but what he saw when he leaned down gave him the answers they had been searching for. "Something tells me that this isn't standard issue Ancient."
"What?" Weir asked, dropping down beside him and moving to look for herself.
A length of tubing had been pulled through the vent, a property of U.S. Air Force stamp on side. "Someone has been poisoning him," Rodney said angrily. "And we never even considered the possibility."
"Dr. Beckett detected no poisons…" Weir started, but Rodney cut her off.
"Carson didn't find anything at all, but we both know that something was there. Whatever they're using might not be from Earth, might not be traditionally recognizable," he explained impatiently.
"You're saying that someone, one of us, is trying to kill Major Sheppard?" Weir said disbelievingly.
"Humans kill each other all the time," Rodney said, not understanding her surprise. "Only in a perfect universe do only aliens try to kill us."
Weir shook her head. "I'll contact Sergeant Bates, we'll have to start—"
"Are you nuts?" McKay snapped. "Bates is at the top of my list of likely suspects. He's next in command, and he disagrees with Sheppard on a daily basis. He has plenty reason to want him dead."
Weir glared at him. "Bates is the head of security he wouldn't—"
"With all due respect, Elizabeth, you don't know what he would or wouldn't do." Rodney sighed and looked up at her. "Give me twenty four hours and Zelenka. We'll find out who's responsible." She looked as though she was about to protest, so he continued. "If whoever is doing this finds out we're suspicious, we may never find them."
"Twenty-four hours, Rodney," she said after a moment. "And then I'm starting a full scale investigation."
McKay nodded distractedly and waved her off. He tapped his comm. "Radek, drop what you're doing and meet me in Sheppard's quarters."
"Rodney, I'm very bus—"
"Is that dropping what you're doing?" McKay snapped, and heard Zelenka sigh.
"On my way…"
"Good. Run, would you?" Rodney said, and then shut off his comm. When Radek rushed in a moment later, he didn't waste time with pleasantries. He was glad to see Radek had brought along some toys without having to be asked, and pulled the laptop from his hands.
"What's going on?" he asked. "Why are we in the Major's quarters?"
"Someone's trying to kill him," Rodney snapped. "We've got a day to find out who it is. Any more questions, because I'm kind of in a hurry?"
Radek seemed taken aback, but he shook his head faintly.
"Good. Check out grate over there. It's extremely low-tech. Tubing in an air vent. They get no points for imagination—I'd almost say it would have to be Bates simply based on that." He pulled the laptop open, and brought up the schematics they had collected on Atlantis.
"You suspect Sergeant Bates?" Radek asked in surprise.
Rodney paused in his work just long enough to glare at him. "I suspect everyone—would you keep up?" He turned back to the laptop, and as he started typing added, "And don't think you're off the hook, either. I'm watching you."
Zelenka's eyes widened, but he was mostly sure Rodney wasn't serious, so he forestalled asking more questions and went to examine the air vent. Rodney brought up the map to this section of Atlantis, and followed John's air vent along its path—it connected to a number of other air vents throughout the level, but the closest was on the adjacent hall. He jumped to his feet. "Follow me."
Radek followed him without a word, though he looked mildly put out, and Rodney led the way to the hall. He looked both ways for anyone suspicious lingering around, and dropped beside the air vent when he knew they were alone. "Jackpot," he whispered, when he moved the grate. A small grey box, looking mildly like a miniature air conditioner, was placed inside—a black tube attached to its side.
"Let's get this to the lab," he said, and behind him, Radek nodded. "First, though," he said thoughtfully, "I need you to bring me something…"
Rodney was setting up his laptop in the lab when he heard Radek call his name. Zelenka came rushing over. "It's Arieny. That's what is being used to poison the Major."
McKay stopped and looked over at him in a huff. "What is Arieny and how the hell do you know?"
Radek's eyes were alight as he lifted a half full bottle of clear liquid, clearly labeled 'Arieny.'
"He left it labeled?" Rodney snapped incredulously. "You've got to be kidding me. What, is this amateur hour?"
"Not such an amateur," Zelenka said. "The device created to disperse it is simplistic, certainly, but ingenious all the same…"
"So we've got a MacGyver on our hands," Rodney said disgustedly. "Good to know."
Zelenka just nodded, despite having little idea what he was talking about, and continued. "Had you not found this, it has the makings of a perfect murder."
"Nothing's perfect," Rodney said irritably. "And we've got it now, haven't we?"
Zelenka ignored him. "It's a chemical the ancients use in construction of their stasis pods. I recall reading about it when I was doing my research on them—it suspends all functions—"
"Essentially shutting the body down," Rodney said in realization.
Radek gave an eager nod. "Yes, but without all elements that would be entered into the stasis pod, including temperature to keep him alive…"
Rodney's jaw clenched. "He'd be dead and we would never have known why."
Zelenka nodded, more subdued now. "If you had arrived a few moments later—"
"I know what would have happened a few minutes later," Rodney snapped, then collected himself. "I want you to look back into the Ancient's research about Arieny. See if it has side affects, or if they wrote anything about its use as a poison."
Radek nodded and Rodney turned back to the computer screen. He tapped his comm. "Elizabeth. I want you to start an investigation."
"Rodney? It hasn't even been an hour…"
"I changed my mind," he said, annoyed. "Just don't release details. Don't mention knowledge of what we found in the air vent, just your suspicions."
There was a pause. "I'll contact Sergeant Bates right away."
"Thank you," he said, all false sweetness. Then he started tapping his fingers along the counter. "Radek, did you turn on the sensors?"
Radek looked up at him from where he leaned over a console. "You want to turn on all the sensors?"
"We're not living on the Enterprise," he snapped. "Of course I don't want to turn them all on, Atlantis's sensors use too much energy—just the hallway outside of the Major's quarters. If we get our guy we can follow him from there."
Zelenka looked thoughtful. "You really believe he will return there?"
"He left the chemical labeled, and knew it would be traced back to Major Sheppard's death if he succeeded—he wasn't intending for it to ever be found. So he was obviously planning to get rid of it." He sighed. "I'll turn on the sensors. You keep researching."
The soldier walked downed the hall, striving for casual. Not easy, considering. His mission had been simple and he had failed not once but twice, and now there was an investigation being set to find him. He had two choices, cover it up and wait for it to blow over, or to hell with his cover and just go kill the Major outright. It was too risky, though. He was the only one in this god-forsaken place with any sense at all—Atlantis needed him.
He checked down the hall in both directions and then knelt down, carefully pulling the grating loose. He froze at what it revealed, and decided that Plan B it was. In the air vent, eye level with him, was a digital camera and a note on a white post-it—'Say Cheese' written cheerfully in black pen in Rodney McKay's hurried hand. He pulled out his weapon and ran.
"Got him," Rodney snapped, and Radek ran up beside him. Rodney snapped his fingers. "Lieutenant…Lieutenant…" When the name didn't immediately come to mind he turned to glare at Radek. "What the hell is his name?"
"Lieutenant Foster," Radek said, looking surprised. "He works with Bates in security."
"Right," Rodney snapped. "Whatever." He tapped his comm. "It's Lieutenant Foster," he said.
"Good job, Rodney," Elizabeth said instantly, trusting him enough to not waste time with the how. "Do you know his location?"
Rodney glanced towards the sensors he had set up. He could see the small glowing dot moving quickly down the hall and turning. He frowned. "He was at Major Sheppard's quarters. I think he's headed towards the infirmary."
He heard Elizabeth shouting distantly, but he didn't pay much attention as he started running himself. "Rodney!" Zelenka called after him. He didn't look back.
He had never been known for his skill at running, but being a member of John Sheppard's team had done wonders for his stamina, and he was a lot closer to the infirmary than the Major's quarters were. He saw the Lieutenant just about to enter the doors when he turned the corner, and lunged at him without pausing—without even thinking actually and certainly without dwelling on the fact that he had a gun.
"You stupid bastard!" Foster hissed, before throwing him off him with more ease than Rodney would ever admit to later, and sending him sliding through the doors into the infirmary.
He heard Carson yell surprised at his rather unorthodox entrance, and Foster struggled to his feet, wiping away a trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. "You're more trouble than you're worth, you know that?" he snapped. "You can all die together."
Foster backed out the doors, and after they slid shut, they heard gunfire. "He's shot out the controls!" Rodney snapped. He jumped to his feet and tried to get the doors open, but they wouldn't budge. "Damn it…" he spun around for a second, trying to think of a way out. That was when he heard it, a slight hissing sound, coming from the ventilation system. "Oh no," he whispered.
Carson glared at him. "Rodney, what is going on here?"
"Yeah, what's going on?" Sheppard was trying to sit up in the hospital bed, looking bleary eyed and only half alive, but determined as hell. "Something I should know?"
Rodney glanced at him for a moment, pushing the relief that he was awake quickly aside because i>that /i> was idiotic. They were all about to die anyway, and Sheppard would be better off asleep. "He must have had it set up as a back up plan," he snapped. "Why didn't I think of that? He knew the Major was here…"
"Rodney," Carson interrupted. "What are you going on about? What was wrong with Lieutenant Foster?"
"Wrong with him?" Rodney snapped. "He's a killer! He's trying to kill us!" Then his eyes lit up. "Oxygen!" he yelled. Carson and Sheppard both predictably watched him as though he were mad.
He ran over to Sheppard's bed, and grabbed the oxygen mask from beside it. "Is this hooked up?" he asked Beckett, who nodded bemusedly.
"Yes, but he doesn't need to use it anymore."
Rodney ignored him. He strapped the mask back on a protesting Sheppard. "Hey, what the hell is your problem! He said I don't need it…what is with you?"
"I'm trying to save your life, if you would cooperate!" Rodney yelled. "Breathe, slowly. Don't take this off."
Carson was beside him now. "Rodney…"
"The ventilation system. Do you hear it?" he snapped impatiently. "We're being poisoned."
Sheppard's eyes widened. "What the hell?" He started to take off the mask again but Rodney held it in place.
"Keep it on," he snapped. "You've already been exposed to extremely high doses twice, you can't afford to be exposed again. Carson, if you have more oxygen around here, I'd suggest hooking yourself up."
"What about you?" Carson protested.
"Someone has to get us out of here," he said, with a long-suffering tone. "As usual, looks like it's gotta be me." He tapped his comm. "Zelenka. Carson, Sheppard and I have been locked in the infirmary. We're being poisoned. I don't know if I can get the door open in time, so I need you to find the source in the ventilation system and shut it down."
There was a pause again, as Radek wrapped his mind around everything, but it only lasted a few seconds. "As fast as I can," he said.
"Oxygen, Carson," Rodney snapped when he realized the Doctor had not moved.
"I can help," Carson said instantly.
"If you want to help, go get Major Sheppard to put his mask on," Rodney said, as he headed towards a console.
Beckett turned around to see John stumbling from the bed. "What are you doing?" he asked horrified, before running back over.
"I'll blow the goddamned door open," he snapped, dizzily leaning against the bed. "You got any C4, Doc?"
"No!" Beckett said, trying to get the oxygen mask back on him. "Bed, now."
"Would you both shut up?" Rodney snapped. "Genius at work, here." McKay turned his attention back to the computer screen, trying to ignore the way the words were bleeding together now. He was feeling sick, and it was made worse by the fact he knew exactly what was happening to him. The Arieny was suspending his respiratory system—he wasn't getting enough air.
He'd always thought asphyxiation would be a horrible way to die. Of course, that was before he'd met the Wraith, so he supposed he should be grateful for small favors.
"Stop thinking about dying and concentrate," a rough voice snapped, and he turned to see Sheppard leaning on the counter beside him. Carson was pulling the oxygen over and forcing the mask back on him.
He didn't waste time wondering how John had known exactly what he was thinking—he'd always believed the Major was smarter than he looked. "Right," he said. "The door will have to be opened from the outside," he said. "I'm sure Zelenka has someone on it, but we'll be dead by the time it's open."
"Do something else then," Sheppard snapped through the oxygen mask. "You said it's coming through the ventilation system? Shut it down."
Beside him, Carson let out an odd laugh and slid to the floor.
"Damn it, I told you to get oxygen," Rodney said irritated. He started to turn to find some for him but John grabbed his arm.
"I got it, you just work on saving our asses. As usual, alright?" Sheppard lowered himself down and pulled off his mask to hold it up for Carson.
"Share it," Rodney said sternly, afraid John would forget to use it himself too, and then turned back to the console. It was getting harder to see and the room was starting to spin, but he managed to tap into Atlantis's systems. He had just found a trigger to close the grate—heard it turning solid behind him, before slipping to floor beside John and Carson.
"It's in the air vent!" Rodney McKay shot up into a sitting position, blinking blearily as reality reasserted its hold and his own surprised proclamation slipped into the realm of the vaguely unmemorable.
John raised an eyebrow, his fingers tapping along the edge of the bed. "Welcome back," he said.
Rodney looked him over, relieved to see he appeared fine as the events of earlier started a terrifying replay in his mind. "Carson?" he asked.
"Sleeping it off in his quarters," John said quietly. "He's fine. You got hit the hardest."
"You?" Rodney asked. There was a slight pounding in the back of his head, but it was piercing, and if this was what Sheppard had felt earlier Rodney had no idea how he had convinced himself it was only stress.
"Fine. The oxygen probably saved my life. Thanks for that, by the way," he said wryly, a small smile pulling up on his lips.
Rodney nodded, for once not feeling like gloating over it. He could always hold it over him later. "What happened? Did you catch Lieutenant Foster?"
"He's currently staying at Steve's old place," Sheppard said, the grin flickering up a bit. "Bates is talking with him. I offered to have a go at it, but Weir said it was probably not a good idea. She thinks I still need to take it easy."
"That's because Weir is practical," Rodney snapped. "And he tried to kill you, I hardly think—"
"Because he tried to kill me, I'm going to be a sore spot with him," John said easily. "Proof of failure, and all that. I could get a rise out of him easier than Bates. He'd be more likely to slip up."
"His only option is to talk," Rodney said, disgusted. "He has to know his life is over. He tried to kill you, and we can't send him back to Earth for trial, so that means a nice cell for the rest of our stay."
"Yeah, well, we don't know his reasons," John said. "They might not be something he feels like sharing without a fight."
Rodney nodded distractedly. "When I get out of here, I'll talk to Elizabeth, try and convince her to let us talk with Lieutenant Foster."
Sheppard grinned. "Great. What's wrong with now?"
"I'm going back to sleep," he said, giving Sheppard a shove away from the bed. "Go away, now. I'll get you later, when I stop feeling like my head is going to explode."
Sheppard gave a grieved sigh and got to his feet. "Okay," he said. "Since you saved the day, I guess I can cut you some slack."
"Thank you ever so much," Rodney snapped, snarky up until the moment he fell asleep.
"He's still not talking," Bates said with a frown. "Sir, are you sure it's a good idea for you to see him?"
Sheppard gave a dazzling grin. "Oh, I'll be fine, Sergeant. McKay will be with me, in case anything goes wrong."
Bates turned to glance at McKay with something less than then stellar confidence, but Rodney just gave a haughty grin, and Bates reluctantly nodded. "Yes, sir," he said.
John tapped the door open and glanced at McKay. "So, how did you talk Weir into letting us do this? She seems to think I still need recovery time."
"I just turned on the charm," McKay said, giving him a bright grin, and leading the way into the cell. Lieutenant Foster glared at him from the cell, but unlike the Wraith that had stayed there before him, behind bars Foster retained none of his menace. He looked kind of like a sullen little kid standing there with his arms crossed, but Rodney felt no sympathy. He didn't even like kids. "Can I be the bad cop?" he asked Sheppard in a whisper.
John frowned at him. "I was kind of hoping you wouldn't say anything at all," he said wryly, and then moved past him to look at Foster.
Foster glared over Sheppard's left shoulder but wouldn't meet his eyes. "I see you're still alive," he said stiffly.
Sheppard gave a wide grin and tilted his head slightly back. "Yep. Kind of sucks for you, doesn't it?"
Foster gave an un-amused snort. "It's exactly this kind of behavior that makes you so dangerous. I owed it to Atlantis to try and save us all from you."
"A noble cause," Sheppard deadpanned, giving a little nod. Foster blinked a bit, and John took that as a good sign. "So, you just nuts or did you get orders from someone else?"
Foster rolled his eyes. "I don't have to talk with you."
"That's right, you don't," Sheppard said. "You might want, too, though, because Weir wants to exile you." Foster's eyes widened, and Rodney's did too, though the latter caught his composure quick enough. "A planet frequented often by the Wraith, I believe she said. See, she thinks of us as a kind of colony, and those of us that aren't team-players don't get to stay."
"You can't do that--" Foster snapped.
"Of course I can't," John said. "The military has rules, procedures for these things. The thing is, Weir isn't military. I've got to pick my battles with her, you know. I'm not sure you're worth it."
Foster's eyes darkened. "I get it, you want me to give you something and you'll go to bat for me, is that it?"
"Something like that," John said dryly. "Don't expect better accommodations than what you've got. This is as good as it's getting, but if you give me something it might not get worse."
Foster's arms remained crossed, but his eyes lowered slightly towards the ground. "I don't know what you expect," he hissed. "If you're waiting for me to reveal some huge plot against you, you're out of luck. This was my call."
"What I want to know," John snapped. "Is why."
Foster seemed to think about it, then finally looked up to hold John's gaze. "I'm a member of the Trust. It's my duty."
One of John's eyebrows went up in a kind of 'so what' manner. "Is that supposed to mean something to me? The Trust?"
"You're with the Trust?" Rodney snapped, pushing in front of John. "How the hell did you get yourself on this mission?"
"We're everywhere," Foster said. "We won't be stopped."
"Rodney," John said sweetly. "Want to tell me what this 'Trust' is?"
"An off-shoot of the NID," Rodney said, distracted.
"NID?" Sheppard repeated dubiously. "What the hell does that stand for?"
Rodney stopped to glare at him. "Nobody knows, because no one else i>cares /i>."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Okay, well, what is it?"
Rodney winced. "A civilian run program, they oversee things at the SGC, but, shock shock, were found to be corrupt. Most of the corrupt members were flushed out but some escaped and banded together to create--"
"Let me guess, the Trust?" Sheppard interrupted tiredly and Rodney nodded.
"We are not corrupt," Foster hissed. "We are trying to ensure the safety of Earth. You're all more concerned with your own pitiful existence."
"Strange," Rodney said. "You sound like a Goa'uld. But of course that's ridiculous, as you're so obviously right whilst all the rest of us have been going about things so wrong. Hey, maybe we should just give you Atlantis. How would that work for you?"
Foster glared at him. "You're all so irreverent, so sure of yourselves. You won't be, when they come because of your incompetence."
"Maybe not," John said, giving a shrug. "But hey, I think if I were you I'd be more worried about myself. If the Wraith do come, you'll be packaged and waiting right here in a cage."
Foster's stance didn't alter, but he looked away.
"He works for the NID?" Weir said, looking stunned. "We did thorough background checks…"
"He works for the Trust," Rodney interrupted. "The NID, supposedly, is on the path to redemption, or something. In any case, I think we know they have a habit of getting a hand in everywhere. We shouldn't be surprised."
Weir leaned back in her chair, glancing from Rodney to Sheppard and back. "No, we shouldn't be. We'll have to be more careful."
"We should try and keep this low-profile, though," John said slowly. "Foster told us he's the only one here but this could still cause a panic, and the last thing we need is our version of the Salem witch-trials."
Weir nodded. "Good idea. Any ideas with what we should do with Foster?"
"Sheppard said you were thinking of exile," Rodney said, looking pleased with the idea.
"I was bluffing," John told him wryly, and Elizabeth's mouth quirked upwards a bit.
"Still, I think the idea has merit," Rodney said smartly.
"I suppose we'll have to simply leave him in the cell for now, although." Elizabeth shook her head sadly for a moment, before pulling herself to her feet. "Rodney, I haven't told you yet, but you did an outstanding job with this. You saved Major Sheppard's life twice, and then Dr. Beckett's when you closed the grate in the infirmary."
Rodney gave a smug grin. "Yes, well, I'm sure you've come to expect it from me," he said.
Weir just gave a lop-sided smile and slipped from the conference room.
Rodney was about to tell John again, how he had saved his life, just in case he had missed Weir pointing it out, but when he glanced at him he noticed John looked distracted and quiet. He frowned. "Hey, you alright?"
John nodded. "Yeah. Guess it just kind of hit, you know. Someone tried to kill me." John gave a small laugh. "I mean, I thought I was doing a pretty bad job running the place, but I didn't expect someone to try and kill me for it."
"Hey," Rodney snapped. "You're doing an excellent job. God, I know I shouldn't say this, but as horrible as what happened to Sumner was, I'd be worried if he was still in charge. He didn't give a damn about anything but protocols, John, and you actually care."
"You sure that's a strength?" John asked quietly.
Rodney was silent for a minute, because he'd told himself it was weakness often enough. "It is in you," he said, and John offered him a tired grin.
"Thanks," he said. Then he glanced up, still looking a bit pale. He pushed himself to his feet and held out a hand to help Rodney up. "Hey, can I buy you a drink?" he asked, giving a faint smile.
Rodney knew what he was doing, and all of the doubts he was burying wouldn't just go away, but he was tired so he smiled back. "It's the least you can do," he said with a nod, playing along like everything was fine. "After all," he said, smug, "I did save your life."
John rolled his eyes, pulling his hand back before Rodney could grab it and turned on his heels.
"Twice!" Rodney called after him. John stuck a finger up at him as he turned the corner, but Rodney knew he was smiling.