A/N: Sixteen chapters total. Hopefully I'll be uploading one a day, as I edit them.
Standard disclaimer: I don't own any of this, blah blah blah ;)
Spoilers: Nothing much. Set some time in late Season 2.
Chapter One: Turning up the heat
"…And I still think that you're being an idiot, and I am right, as always," McKay was saying.
Sheppard rolled his eyes and tried to ignore the mindless jabbering that had been going on behind him for the last two hours. Yes, ok, so Rodney had warned them about the heat of day, and he had suggested they turn back in time to reach the gate before noon, when the heat would really start to hit. But it has also been his idea to come here in the first place, because of the energy readings, as Sheppard had tried to point out multiple times in the last few hours.
They had arrived on M6P-696 at dawn, trying for a balance of daylight and cool temperatures. McKay had said something about an energy spike near the gate when they first arrived, but it had faded, and his enthusiasm had then turned to another energy source several miles distant. Then, for the next several hours they had followed the energy reading as it seemed to move around in a disturbingly will-o-the-wisp-like fashion. McKay kept insisting they were close, and then losing the signal, only to have it reappear again farther off. At least they had been going in a straight line. But by noon, they had all agreed to turn back, even Rodney. Especially Rodney, as soon as he wasn't being distracted by the energy readings. He had immediately launched into a never-ending tirade about the heat, the bugs, and the possibility of acquiring tropical diseases.
But with all his constant litany of whining, Rodney did have a point. It was getting really hot out here. They had all stripped down to their t-shirts (or equivalent, in Teyla's case), even taking off their flak vests and carrying them. And for the last hour, as the temperatures and humidity soared, Rodney had been lagging farther and farther and whining louder and louder. At first Sheppard had found it mildly amusing, as he usually did, but even his nerves were wearing thin. He didn't even have anyone to share his annoyance with, as he had sent Teyla and Ronon a little ahead to scout for a better path back through the dense tropical forest.
As much as he tried to ignore it, he kept tuning back in to Rodney's constant stream of complaints.
"I really don't feel at all well," Rodney commented after taking a short pause from complaining. "I'm probably suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke or any number of other—"
Sheppard sighed and tuned him back out. It was definitely hot, but not THAT hot. It was probably in the high nineties (Fahrenheit), and the humidity was high enough to making breathing slightly difficult, but he didn't feel that overheated, and he doubted Rodney did, either. The man was just a hypochondriac. Sheppard ignored the tiny leadership voice that told him he should pay more attention to his teammates' health. This was Rodney, after all. If he were really sick, he would be a lot more vocal. Or refuse to walk anymore. Or something.
"Where are we?" Rodney asked suddenly.
Sheppard snorted. "In the middle of a tropical rainforest on a distant planet," he answered factually, wondering where Rodney was going with that line of thought.
"Oh. Why am I so hot?" Rodney asked, sounding plaintive and a little bit foggy.
"It's just a little heat, suck it up!" Sheppard snarled, sick of the complaints. "Just keep drinking water. You don't want to get dehydrated."
"Actually, I'm not even sweating anymore," Rodney commented softly, sounding slightly puzzled.
Sheppard's annoyance disappeared in a flash of gut-clenching fear. Oh no. He whirled around to face Rodney, who was several steps behind him, and saw his fear confirmed at the other man's dazed expression and red face. "Oh God, Rodney!"
"What? What? Oh…" Rodney looked at him for moment and then crumpled to the ground. Or he would have, if Sheppard hadn't caught him.
"Teyla! Ronon!" Sheppard shouted as he tried to strip Rodney as fast as he could. He cursed when he realized that they were to far away to hear him call.
"What…are you doing?" McKay mumbled, weakly trying to push Sheppard's hands away.
"Calm down, I'm trying to help," Sheppard snapped, anything but calm himself. He reached up and activated his radio. "Teyla, Ronon! Respond!" he snapped.
"What is wrong?" Teyla's voice returned immediately, sounding alarmed.
"Rodney's suffering from heatstroke," he told her tersely. "Ronon, get back to the gate and get Carson and a medical team. But for God's sake, don't let yourself get overheated. Teyla, I need you to come back here and help me with Rodney."
"I'm on it," Ronon said.
"As am I," Teyla said.
Sheppard had Rodney stripped now, and began pouring water out of his canteen over the stricken man's neck and chest, trying not to notice how hot and dry he felt. God, how could he have been so stupid? "Teyla, see if you can find water," he said.
"Yes, Colonel," came her calm voice. Leave it to Teyla to be a rock in any situation.
And leave it to Sheppard to ignore a dying man's pleas for help…he broke off that thought. He couldn't lose it now, not when Rodney needed him the most. Not…not when he still had to get his team off the planet, alive and whole. "Hang on, buddy," he murmured, rubbing the tepid water over Rodney's face. "Hang on."
A sudden rustling in the foliage resolved into Teyla. Sheppard sighed in relief and relaxed the grip on his P-90. She was slightly out-of-breath, and flushed. But she was sweating, which Sheppard took to be a good sign. "Colonel!" she called, pointing behind her. "There is a stream this way!"
Sheppard hoisted Rodney over his shoulder, trying not to think about how utterly limp he was. He hoped it was just unconsciousness, but he didn't have time to check at the moment. The man felt like a furnace. He followed Teyla, cursing as the vines tried to wrap themselves around Rodney and himself, slowing their progress.
Teyla led him to the stream, which was little more than a muddy seep about three feet wide and two feet deep. It was water, though, and would have to do. He laid Rodney into it, head facing upstream, climbing in himself in order to support Rodney's head and shoulders so that only his face was out of the water. It was a little too deep to lay him down fully without drowning him.
Teyla hovered nervously. "What can I do?"
"My vest. Get my vest. Med supplies." Sheppard told her distractedly, finally having a chance to take vitals. "And water purification tabs. Fill all the canteens you can, purify the water, and put salt in one."
He didn't notice if Teyla said anything further. He had finally found Rodney's pulse, weak and rapid. His breathing was also coming in quick gasps. At least the cool water had revived him some, and his eyes were partly open. "Rodney! Talk to me!" he said, trying to sound commanding.
Rodney's eyes tracked slightly in his direction, but they weren't focused at all. "Water," he said weakly.
Sheppard didn't know if he was just noting his situation or asking for the stuff, but he didn't much care. "Teyla!" he bellowed. "Where's that water?"
Teyla came back into his line of vision, more flushed than before. "I am working on it as fast as I can," she said, sounding somewhat reproachful. He watched her dip the canteens upstream of Rodney. "Are you certain the water purification…pills will work on this stuff?" she asked dubiously.
"I don't care," Sheppard snapped. "He needs lots of water, and fast." He grabbed the canteen as soon as she had dropped the water purification tab and the salt in it. He gave it a few vigorous shakes and put it to Rodney's lips. "Drink," he ordered.
Rodney took a mechanical swallow as the water hit his lips, and immediately began to choke. Sheppard turned him slightly to the side and held him there as he began to vomit. Luckily there was enough current to take it away from them. He tried giving him water again, and managed to get a few sips into him before the glazed blue eyes closed again. Even Sheppard knew better than to give an unconscious man water to drink. He gritted his teeth in frustration.
"Colonel?" Teyla asked hesitantly. He looked up at her fear-filled face. "What is wrong with Rodney?"
"I said, heatstroke." A sudden thought occurred to him. "Didn't you have that in Athos?"
Teyla shook her head. "We do not have that word. It is from someone getting too hot, correct?"
"Yes, yes it is," Sheppard told her, digging around in his vest one-handed until he found the forehead thermometer he always carried with him. "Here, hold this to his forehead, will you?"
Teyla complied. "Athos was not nearly this hot, nor humid. I do not believe I have seen this illness before."
Sheppard didn't respond, too busy watching Rodney's temperature rise. The thermometer read 105, and that was his outside temperature, and after he had been in the water for several minutes. He swore softly, angry at himself for not taking the temperature right away. Angry at himself for…for a lot of things. He gave Rodney's head a shake. "Rodney! Wake up!"
He gritted his teeth at the lack of response. If he couldn't get him to drink more, he could die. And if he died…Sheppard cut off that thought, too. Now was not the time.
The water currents changed abruptly, and he looked up from Rodney's face to see that Teyla had slipped into the water just upstream of them. She put her hands under Rodney's head, holding it out of the water. Sheppard nodded his thanks. With both hands now free, he went for the canteen again. You shouldn't give an unconscious man water, but sometimes you had no choice. Like when they were stubbornly refusing to become conscious.
"Lift his head," he told Teyla. She complied, and he tried to get Rodney to drink again. Unconscious or not, he did accept some of the salt water. Sheppard tried not to think about all the mud that was also in the water. Hopefully the military was right about those purification tablets.
The next several minutes were a constant pattern of getting Rodney to sip water and keep it down. He only choked and vomited once more, then seemed to have actually revived enough to drink without trying to breathe it. Between sips, Teyla lowered his head again into the water. Sheppard checked his pulse again (still rapid and weak) and took his temperature (down to 104).
Rodney's eyelids fluttered. "Where are we?" he managed, voice barely audible.
Despite the heat, Sheppard shuddered. He realized now why Rodney had asked that before; he had been confused. Confusion. Another symptom of heatstroke. Dammit, McKay had been right about what he had! And Sheppard hadn't listened. He had, in fact, told him to suck it up, just before he passed out. Hell. Damn it all to hell! Sheppard took a few deep breaths, realizing that he had to keep calm for Rodney's sake. He could chew himself out later.
He heard Teyla talking softly to Rodney, and realized that he had ignored the question. "We are safe," she was saying gently. "But you must drink more water. Do you think you can drink more water?"
"Water," Rodney agreed.
"Colonel?" Teyla said, and Sheppard realized he still hadn't responded. Falling down on the job. This just got better and better.
He started guiltily and put the canteen to Rodney's lips. Rodney took a sip and his eyes widened. "Salty," he said, turning his face away, nearly dunking it in the process.
Sheppard switched canteens to one that contained just water (and mud, and water purification tablet, and God knew what else). "Here, this is just water," he said.
Rodney glowered at him distrustfully, but took a few test sips anyway. He still looked glazed, but seemed a bit more lucid.
"Teyla, how close are we to the Stargate from here?" Sheppard asked as he once again took Rodney's temperature.
"I believe we are about two miles away," she replied, watching the thermometer. "What is it now?" she asked.
"It's one oh three," Sheppard told her, relieved. It was going down, and that was a good thing.
"What is normal?" she asked.
Oh. Of course she wouldn't know. He resolved to train his people on basic medical procedures as soon as they got back to Atlantis. "Ninety-eight or ninety-nine is normal," he said. "But this isn't terribly high," Now, he mentally added. It had been pretty bad before. Hopefully it hadn't been high for too long. Not long enough to cause brain damage. God, anything but that!
"Told you…" Rodney mumbled, apparently paying at least some attention. Sheppard looked down to see blue eyes watching him. "…I was sick." The eyes closed.
Sheppard was too guilt-struck by those simple words to move or respond, leaving it to Teyla to try to wake Rodney back up. "Rodney," she said, shaking him gently by the shoulders she was still supporting, "you must remain awake."
"Tired," Rodney mumbled, but his eyes moved under the lids.
"I am sorry, but you cannot sleep yet. You must drink more water."
"Sick." He had an argument for everything, it seemed.
"I know you are unwell, Rodney," Teyla told him gently. "But you must remain awake, and keep drinking water."
"Water is nasty," McKay rejoined, opening his eyes a fraction. Sheppard looked away to avoid what he knew would be an accusing glare.
There was splashing as Teyla readjusted herself. "But still, you must drink. Colonel?"
Sheppard took his cue and offered the water to Rodney once more. He grimaced, but he drank it. "How're you feeling?" Sheppard forced himself to ask, more wanting to gauge the man's mental clarity than actually get a list of symptoms. McKay definitely seemed to be more responsive.
"How do you think?" McKay almost snapped. It was a weak snap, but a definite snap, and it made Sheppard feel somewhat better. "Dizzy. Sick." He closed his eyes again.
"Oh no, stay with me!" Sheppard said, shaking his shoulder and giving him more of the muddy water.
Rodney grimaced, choking again, but his eyes opened again fractionally. "Sometimes I really…hate you," he murmured as soon as the canteen was lowered.
Sheppard flinched as if slapped, and backed off a foot, nearly catapulting himself out of the stream. His sudden movement caused a wave that splashed over Rodney's face, eliciting a yelp of annoyance. Rodney blinked, staring at him. "Hey," he said.
Sheppard knew, on some level, that Rodney probably didn't really mean it the way he was taking it. But at the moment he hated himself pretty thoroughly, and the comment had really hit home. He swallowed a few times, trying to force his emotions back down, aware that two sets of eyes were now on him. Teyla opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again.
Thankfully, that that moment Sheppard's radio came to life. "Colonel Sheppard, come in," came Ronon's gruff voice.
Sheppard tapped the radio, looking at the trees, the ground…anywhere but Rodney. "Sheppard here."
"We have…a problem. You should see this."
"I'm kinda busy at the moment. What kind of problem?" Sheppard asked, risking a glance at McKay, who was still looking at him.
"It's the Stargate," Ronon said, less than helpful.
"What about it? Have you made contact with Atlantis or not?" Sheppard snapped, more harshly than he had intended. Luckily, if there were ever a man who wouldn't take offense over tone of voice, it was Ronon.
"I can't. Gate's gone."
Sheppard was silent for a moment, unable to process this latest bit of information. Finally he just repeated what Ronon had said, hoping that the meaning would become clear. "The gate is gone."
"Yep. Stones are here. Gravel's here. Gate's gone."
"Ronon, I swear to God, if this is some kind of joke…"
"Joke?" Ronon said, sounding offended. "No joke. Gate's gone."
"Are you sure you're at the right place?" Sheppard asked. Although how many circular clearings WERE there in the middle of a rainforest?
"I'm sure," Ronon said, sounding more insulted.
"Ok, stand by a second," Sheppard said. He needed to process this. Rodney needed help. The Stargate was the only way to get help. But Ronon said there wasn't a Stargate, which was patently impossible. Sometimes being the leader sucked. Badly. It meant people relied on him to make decisions. To keep them safe. His eyes wandered back to Rodney, who had closed his eyes again, still too out of it to be interested in the proceedings.
Teyla, however, was staring at him. "The Stargate is gone?" she asked, looking as if she hoped that any minute Sheppard would crack a grin and admit the joke.
He wished he could. He really did. He took Rodney's temperature again. 102. His face was still flushed, and he still had a fever, but his pulse had slowed and his breathing had steadied. They had managed to get some water down him, and he seemed to be slowly regaining his senses. It looked like he wasn't going to die suddenly. At least, Sheppard hoped so.
He sat for a moment, weighing his options. He really didn't want to leave Rodney, for fear that something would happen while he was gone. Like, for example, that he would die. But he needed medical attention, and without a functional Stargate, that wasn't going to happen. So, in order to help Rodney, he was going to have to trust Teyla to look after their stricken teammate, and go see what Ronon was talking about. And get Beckett here. As fast as he could.
"Teyla," he said, "I'm going to go check this out. Will you be ok here with him?" They had seen no signs of large animals on this planet, and she had her P-90 if anything did come along.
Teyla tried a smile that didn't reach the worry in her eyes. "I will be fine. Please let us know if you find anything."
Sheppard stood up. "And you let me know if…anything happens," he said, looking at Rodney. "And if he wakes up, do NOT let him out of the water until his temperature drops to normal and he starts making sense. Well, as much sense as he normally makes," he added before he could stop himself.
With a single glance at Rodney, Sheppard jogged for the gate, informing Ronon of his plan on the way.