Silver Thread by NebbyJen
Summary: Carson becomes mysteriously ill and the team joins the search for a cure. (Completed)
Season/Spoilers: Season 3 (pre-Sunday) with slight mentions pertaining to 38 Minutes and GUP
Category: the team, Carson, h/c, angst, friendship
Author's Notes: This fic was won by Jess on the savecarsonbeckett campaign and she requested a whumper, so here it is. I'm a little rusty and still don't have the writing groove back, but this was kind of fun to put together. Thanks to Gaffer for the Beta.
Tidy was not one word that would currently describe Carson's usually pristine infirmary. The polished floor was littered with various signs of nature, along with four sets of military issue muddy bootprints. The examination beds were ruffled but thankfully all empty except for one remaining occupant. And it was this individual that sat smiling expectantly while twirling a dead leaf back and forth between his fingers, waiting for the word that he could go.
"You're all set, Colonel. Everything looks good; all tests have come back clean." Carson paused to give the filthy officer a wary glance and crinkled sniff. "Although, as for your own personal hygiene, I'll recommend to you what I said to the rest of your team. Perhaps a long shower before you head off to the mess hall is in order."
Doing his best to look wounded as he flicked a piece of mud off his vest, knowing that the physician's scowl grew deeper each time he'd done that so far, Sheppard shrugged. "What? Let's see you spend four days in the middle of nowhere, without water, and nothing but nature and leaves to keep you company, and still come out smelling like a rose."
"Aye, lad. If only I wasn't needed here, waiting to patch you up on every other one of your returns. Now," stepping back with a gesture to the doorway, the physician nodded, "off with you to the shower before my sense of smell is permanently damaged."
Not willing to let on how great that actually sounded, Sheppard merely raised a brow and smiled, slowly swinging his feet back and forth. "Doc, I'm hurt. Giving me the bum's rush so soon? I just got here." A few more stray leaves and a clump of dirt fell from his field jacket as he tossed it over his shoulder.
"Well, if you really feel the need to stay, perhaps Nurse Flockhart might be free to give you a spongebath."
"Flockhart?" The threat caused brought about a nervous cough and exaggerated shudder. Unless they were supermodels, six foot-two nurses were scary no matter where they might be from. "I thought you shipped him back on the Daedalus."
This time it was Carson's turn to smile. Hands settled in the deep pockets of his white lab coat, he shifted lazily to rest one hip against the opposite bed. "No, it appears Julius decided to stay." And then the physician added with his own raised brow and a slight shrug, "Seems he likes it here."
Quick as a wink, the bed was vacated and the discarded pack from the floor retrieved. "Carson, good seeing you. Must do this again sometime." Retreating with a mock salute while keeping his back to the door, the team leader mentally activated it to open behind him, and made his escape... but not before adding, "Don't call me, I'll call you."
His ward once more empty, Carson merely stood still a moment, mischief making his blue eyes twinkle before he chuckled. Kicking at the clump of dirt, and then eyeing the trail of debris left by the entire team, he tapped his ear piece, "Julius, lad, could you bring a broom to the examination room?"
The shower was heaven four days in the making. Hot streaming water pounded over tired muscles, leaving a circle of dark muddy water to collect at Sheppard's feet. When pieces of leaves threatened to clog the drain, the tired colonel pushed them aside with his big toe. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes while resting his head against the front. It hadn't been a hard mission, just a physically demanding one that had left all of them thankful to get back to Atlantis.
Denying the deep pull of sleep, it was the need for food, indicated by the gnawing pangs inside his stomach, which encouraged him to step out. Draped in a towel, he used a free end to rub the droplets from his hair before tossing it to the floor to land haphazardly over the top of the stench riddled uniform. A short time later, dressed in boxers and a black t-shirt, he impatiently pulled several drawers open in search of socks.
"Oh, come on. I know I had at least one more pair before leaving."
Giving his pack a shove out of the way with his barefoot, he ignored several items that brushed against his exposed ankle, for he'd triumphantly discovered the missing items on the bottom of his closet floor.
The mess scattered throughout his quarters would have to wait until later. Now clean, dressed, and starving for something other than tasteless food from a pouch, he went to join the rest of his team.
Rodney had pushed his empty tray away and slouched comfortably with half a cup of lukewarm coffee in hand, feet resting wearily crossed at the ankles on an empty chair. Across from him, a healthy portion of Teyla's fruit salad remained uneaten, for she'd run out of steam and stopped to prop her chin in her palm, her brown eyes closed as she yawned widely. And Ronon had two empty plates stacked on top of each other and was busy scraping the remains off a third by the time Sheppard dropped into an open seat with a few odds and ends placed on his tray.
Nobody spoke, each lost in his or her own thoughts until Ronon broke the stillness by clanking the now empty plate on top of the others. "You gonna eat that?" he asked, eyeing the uneaten apple in front of Sheppard.
"Touch it and die."
"You could try, old man."
The comment garnered the desired effect as Sheppard looked up to meet the runner's smirk. "Old man? I could take you…" his words abruptly cut off by Rodney's sudden choking on a swig of coffee. "What's your problem?"
"Nothing." The scientist stood, albeit a bit unsteadily. Using his foot to shove the chair noisily back to the table, he glared at the rest of the team through half-lidded eyes, rolled his shoulders, and then growled, "I'm going to bed." Whatever else he muttered after that was lost in the deep inhale of a lung filled yawn that lasted until he left the room.
Teyla was next. Rising to her feet with a quiet sigh and a shrug, she waved slightly to the two remaining members before following after Rodney. Practically colliding face first with Carson on her way out, she somehow managed to weave gracefully around him at the last second and disappeared out into the hallway.
The dark haired physician glanced to the others at the close call then continued on to the large urn filled with coffee. There was one chocolate covered donut left on the nearby tray and he claimed it before carrying his steaming mug of coffee back to the table. Taking up Teyla's vacated seat, he eyed both men who were watching him. "What are you two still doing here?" he asked in between sips.
Sheppard reached for his apple, only to come up empty. "Just got here myself," he grumbled in disgust as the large man beside him took a bite out of the missing piece of fruit. "What did I tell you?"
Ronon took another bite, the apple now half gone. He chewed twice then swallowed before answering, "Touch it and die."
Pulling the few items remaining on his tray closer to himself, Sheppard lifted the top off his sandwich, stared at the slice of cold unidentifiable lunchmeat and wilted lettuce before dropping it back on his plate. "Yeah, that means hands off," he huffed in disgust. Gesturing to the pile of dirty dishes before the runner, he then pointed to the chow line, "They run out of food? Why don't you go chew on a fork?"
"Apple tastes better." With a smirk, Ronon did pick up the fork to pry a seed free that was stuck between his teeth.
Carson tried conceal a chuckle with the back of his hand but knew he'd failed when a pair of dark green eyes glared at him from across the table. "Now Colonel, perhaps this will help." He held out the donut and was startled when both men made a grab for it, though Sheppard was the winner.
"Can't believe McKay missed this," Sheppard mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.
"I think this last trip wore him out. He only insulted me a handful of times during his post mission exam." Propping his feet on an empty chair, Carson rested one hand on the table wrapped around his mug and draped the other across his abdomen. "If you didn't find anybody while you were gone, what took you so bloody long to get back?"
The donut gone, and now tipped back with his fingers locked behind his neck, Sheppard glanced to the remaining teammate beside him. "Kinda got lost," he finally answered with a yawn.
Dex snorted. "Not my fault."
"Hey, it was all those trees, and rocks, and weeds. It all looked alike down there."
Carson shifted forward, both elbows on the table as he turned his mug back and forth between his palms. "Which leaves me with the question I've wanted to ask since you came back: If you were in a forest, how did you get so filthy?"
"Earlier in the day McKay had picked up some odd energy readings outside of the camp and next thing you know heads off to who knows where without telling anyone. By the time Teyla noticed him missing, it was going to get dark soon and we had to go find him and drag him back. Only problem was he'd fallen in a hole."
Seeing the look on the physician's face, Sheppard held up his hand to stop any comments. "He was fine, Doc. Never stopped bitching and moaning the entire time it took us to get him out. Once back at camp, we checked him over head to toe and turns out he didn't even chip a fingernail."
Mentally making a note to see the scientist again before turning in, Carson shook his head, "This still doesn't explain the mud. You said you didn't find any water."
"As near as Rodney could figure, after his little trip underground, that it was all subsurface. He was chest deep in some pretty wet mud before we pulled him free."
"Yet another reason I prefer to stay here while the lot of you goes traipsing off world. I can't imagine his claustrophobia helped him while being stuck."
"Actually, the sun was shining and it came down through the trees no problem. We could see him fine when we looked down in the hole. It wasn't that bad."
The picture that was slowly forming in Carson's mind of the situation began to raise more questions. "Just how far down was Rodney?"
Sheppard shrugged and looked to Ronon. "What would you say? Fifteen? Twenty feet?"
Ronon nodded. "You used about twenty feet of rope going down."
"Why did you have to go down and get him? Why didn't he just climb out when you sent the rope down?"
"Doc, you know what Rodney's like when he's unhappy. I went down, hooked him up, and then waited while Ronon and Teyla pulled free. Gave me a chance to find where he'd dropped his LSD."
Carson heard enough. Pushing his chair back, he made to leave but paused a moment. "There was nothing down there, right? No snakes, critters, bugs? Nothing to cause any trouble?"
Sheppard closed his eyes to recall. "Not that I saw. Mainly some roots hanging down, a few rocks, and lots of mud. Oh, maybe..." he blinked and looked up, "there were a couple of little spiders, but I didn't tell Rodney. Didn't need to have him freak out."
"Aye, that wouldn't have gone well. Were there any on him, or you for that matter?"
"Nope. I don't think they liked the mud."
This time Carson did make it to his feet. Giving them both a wry grin, he shook his head and chuckled. "Lads, amazing as it may be, it sounds as though you've actually stayed out of trouble this time; I'll need to make a note of that in my log to prove to you in the future that it is possible to come back in one piece. Although next time, try to avoid the mud puddles. You left a terrible mess in my infirmary." Tucking his chair in under the table, he picked up his mug. "I might as well check in on Rodney before turning in myself. I suggest you both get some rest before I see you about tomorrow."
"'Night, Carson," Sheppard called out to the physician as he walked away, who in turn waved his mug in the air in acknowledgement.
Rodney had collapsed across his bed landing flat on his back with his left arm draped over his eyes. Too tired to even worry about turning on the lights, his muscles still twitching from the unappreciated four day wilderness hike, he allowed himself two seconds to relish the mattress beneath him before his soft snores filled the silence of his room. So why was it, after what felt like mere minutes of sleep, that someone had the audacity to page his quarters?
"Go away," he mumbled as his hand flopped to the nightstand, scrabbling for his earpiece. Eyes still closed, he successfully located the apparatus and tucked it in place. "Unless Atlantis is sinking, leave me alone," he grunted.
"Rodney, unlock your door." There was no mistaking the rich accent of the physician.
The scientist popped one eye open to stare at the ceiling. "Am I dying?"
After a slight pause on the other side there was a chuckle. "No."
That's all Rodney needed to hear. "Fine then. Take your sheep peddling somewhere else, I'm trying to sleep," he mumbled before dropping the earpiece to the floor.
A moment later the door to his quarters slid smoothly open allowing Carson entrance. "Thank you, Radek," the physician acknowledged quietly over his own earpiece as he walked noiselessly across the room. Mentally switching the lights on to 'dim', he stepped over the pile of discarded grimy clothing and mud caked boots, then pushed the abandoned pack aside before resting his hip on the side of Rodney's bed. The snoring man before him was lost in the sleep of the dead and Carson figured it would take more than a slight exam to wake him.
A quick check of the scientist's hands, face, and neck revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Skin tone, temperature, and respiration all appeared normal. How Rodney had dodged the bullet and walked away free of any injury or complication was a miracle that Carson was willing to accept. "You might try making a habit of this," he muttered under his breath.
The only reply he received was a mumbled grunt from the scientist as he rolled over, his loose hand smacking the physician's side in an attempt at locating a cover, and ending up tugging the fabric of the lab coat closer instead. "Sorry, lad, but you're not my type," Carson quipped. Reaching over the edge of the bed, he located a discarded blanket and shook it loose out over Rodney. It was the sound of something small hitting the floor that made him look down and spy the forgotten earpiece.
"Can't leave that lying around," he said to himself and reached to grab it. For only a hint of a second he thought he felt something brush across the back of his right hand and jerked to look down. In the sparse lighting the only thing he saw visible was the earpiece. Picking it up, he made sure to deposit it on the nightstand before he left.
The mess hall was unusually loud the next morning as Atlantis didn't have any teams off world and the latest batch of mail from the Daedalus was being passed out amongst the crew. Boisterous rousing between a dozen or so Marines involved a newly acquired football being launched across the room, narrowly missing the senior staff gathered at the furthest corner.
"Colonel," Rodney complained when a chair jammed into the back of his, causing hot coffee to slosh across the table, "can't you tell your children to play outside?"
"They're just letting off a little steam, McKay. Cut 'em some slack."
A second jarring from a young corporal to the back of Rodney's seat had the colonel earning a heated gaze from the scientist before he abruptly stood up, his now empty mug in hand. "I have work to do," McKay snapped. Cutting angrily across the surrounding mayhem for a refill to be enjoyed back in relative calm of his lab, he practically ran into Carson in the doorway. "You don't want to go in there," he warned.
Too tired to play games, and having woken up with a headache, the physician sighed heavily. "Why's that?"
Before Rodney could answer, another perfect spiral threaded through the air in their direction, only to be intercepted by two burly sergeants that could give Dex a run for his money when it came to size. Unable to stop in time due to momentum, they plowed into the two doctors, taking both to the floor in a tangled pile of arms and legs that slid across the exterior hallway, coming to an undignified stop against the far wall.
The noise level instantly increased a notch with the spreading news surging like wildfire throughout the mess hall. Many scrambled to their feet to either assist or view what happened, blocking the senior staff in their seats.
"Everyone, sit down and shut up!" Sheppard bellowed from his new position standing atop of the table he'd previously been at eating breakfast. Leaping down, he charged across the room with Teyla and Ronon right behind. By the time they'd made it to the hallway, the two military men were on their feet, several others leaning away from the pair, leaving McKay and Beckett motionless on the floor.
Sheppard's hand activated his comm. as he dropped to his knees, "Medical emergency times two outside of the mess hall!" Not waiting for a response he pressed his fingers to McKay's neck, and then reached for Beckett. Both men were breathing and it was Rodney who stirred first.
"Ugh," he groaned, his hand going to his head before his eyes popped open. "What the… Carson!"
"Take it easy, Rodney. He's right here beside you," Sheppard cautioned with a hand on the scientist's chest to keep him from getting up. But his attempt to stop movement was futile, his hand shoved irritably away.
"What the hell did you two idiots do?" Rodney demanded, glaring at the men uncomfortably standing off to the side as he pushed himself up. He didn't wait for an answer, instead turning to the silent physician beside him. "Carson? Hey," he said, tapping Beckett's pale face.
"Stop." Carson's weak plea, followed by him curling into a tight ball, his right arm protectively clutched to his chest, caused the others to lean forward in concern. "Oh, I think I'm gonna be sick," he moaned
"No you're not, Doc. Just take it easy and breathe through it. The guys must have knocked the wind out of you pretty good. Hate to admit it, but it happened to me from time to time after the first few sparring lessons with Teyla."
Sheppard's attempt at humor fell flat when the physician suddenly gasped and shuddered before his stomach forced what little it contained out in an abrupt heave. Immediately, Sheppard caught Carson by the shoulders, offering support as the physician continued to gag and then collapse weakly back against the officer. Not quite sure what was going on, he glanced to Rodney for some sort of explanation as to what might be wrong with their CMO and noticed for the first time the large wet stain across the scientist's chest. Frowning, he carefully rolled Carson to find the same stain across the front of his white labcoat. "Coffee?"
Rodney's gaze followed Sheppard's, a look of horror washing over his face in realization. "I was taking it back to my lab." Shifting to sit with help from Teyla, he tried to get a better look at Carson's tucked arm without touching it. "Did you get burned? Is that what's wrong with your hand?"
"Bloody hurts," came the raw reply pressed out between clenched teeth. His face pale and sweating, his body shaking with fine tremors, Carson was visibly in excruciating pain.
"Med team should be here any second. Won't be long now," Sheppard encouraged, his hold still keeping the physician from lying on the floor. Looking to Dex, he nodded down the hallway. "See if you can get them to pick up the pace."
Ready to do anything to help, the runner hesitated a moment, his focus on the physician. "I could take him."
"I don't think so. The hit he took was pretty hard and we don't know what's wrong."
No more needed to be said before Ronon cleared a path through the crowd and disappeared.
There was a steady murmur surrounding the team members that remained on the floor. Between the continued low moan emanating from Carson to the look of tight-lipped tension radiating from the scientist's face, Sheppard's concern grew. "How are you doing? Hurt anywhere?" he asked Rodney.
"No." McKay absently plucked at his wet shirt but only scowled. "Worry about Carson." The press of the onlookers getting too close, his temper flared at the expense of his barely tolerable headache, "Don't you people have jobs to be at?"
Teyla rose smoothly to her feet while keeping one hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Dr. McKay is correct; you must leave so that there is room for the medical assistance." She might not be of the Earth military, but all understood her place on Sheppard's team and quietly dispersed.
"Oh sure, now they leave. Probably all know you could kick their..."
"Rodney," Sheppard interjected, putting a stop to the rant before it started. Feeling Carson shift slightly, he looked down to see slivers of blue looking towards the scientist. "Hey doc, how ya' doing?"
The blue disappeared behind closed lids. "Bloody awful," he replied no louder than a whisper.
"Were you sick before you got to the Mess?"
Carson nodded slightly, his eyes tight with pain. "Headache. Sore."
Sheppard frowned. "You looked fine when you left to check on McKay last night."
Rodney glanced between the pair confused. "When were you in my room? What were you doing there?"
"He was worried about you, Rodney. I kind of let it slip about you falling in the mud and he wanted to make sure you were all right." Seeing McKay's irritation ebb, he focused back on Carson. "Did you wake up sick?"
Another slight nod.
Before he could ask any more questions, they spotted Ronon coming down the corridor followed by multiple personnel carrying various equipment and others pushing a pair of gurneys. One of the newest physicians to Atlantis dropped to her knees beside Carson and instantly was all business, listening attentively as Sheppard relayed what little he knew as to what might be part of the problem. Amidst protests from Rodney that he could walk and didn't need to be pushed back like an invalid, the doctors were promptly loaded and rushed to the infirmary, leaving Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon once more designated to the position of waiting for answers.