Part 3

Dr. Kurt Finkle had to be the biggest nerd on Atlantis. Sheppard watched the entomologist turn two shades of green in the jumper on the way to the planet, and then puke his guts the minute they landed. The good doctor then hiked for a quarter mile at most and not only sprained his left wrist after tripping over a tree root and catching himself with said wrist, but was going to have one heck of a shiner from taking a tree limb head on that Ronon had held back while he passed …only to turn around at the last moment and catch the full force to his face. If the guy had had glasses on it would have been ugly.

But just like McKay, the scientist had a redeeming side that made the colonel proud. Not only did he insist on going down in the hole to fetch some of the eight legged menaces, but he actually let one climb on his arm so that he could get a better look.

"What kind of fool does that?" Ronon grunted out of the side of his mouth, clearly not impressed.

"Same kind that would enter a camp full of cannibals if he thought they had a ZedPM in the big stew pot hanging over the central fire," Sheppard snarked back, bringing a smile to the rest of the team.

Totally absorbed in his find, the scientist was too excited to catch the exchange. "This resembles a brown recluse. But see here, the green stripe on its abdomen, that is a more indicative marking of a hobo," he said, poking it with his computer stylus. In turn, the spider reared, its front legs posed to strike.

"Do you think you should be doing that?" Lorne asked from the other side of the hole.

"Yeah, just put Charlotte there in the container with her buddies," Sheppard added as he hooked a line to the bucket Ronon was holding. "Let 'er rip." Ten seconds later they were dumping a load of the mud in another container. "Better get one more just to be sure."

And then they were done. The recon trip was fast and smooth and before they knew it, they were back on Atlantis…with Finkle again, set to worship some porcelain, but the jumper bay floor was more convenient.

"Major, you can give Dr. Finkle a hand getting all of this down to the labs. Ronon, Teyla and I are going to check on the docs."

"Will do, colonel." Picking up the two containers of mud, Lorne waited while the entomologist double checked the snaps on the container full of spiders. "Ready, doc?" Receiving a distracted nod, the officer grimaced and shuddered towards the others before exiting the bay.

oOo

The trio quietly entered the sterile infirmary, uncertain of what condition they'd find their CMO. The bed Rodney had been using earlier was neatly made and the missing scientist was located asleep, facing Carson on the bed next bed over. A damp rag clenched tightly in his outstretched hand, he appeared uncomfortable and restless.

Teyla gently tugged the rag free, dropping it in the basin of water on the bed table, before wringing it out and placing it over Carson's brow. The heat of fever flushed his face pink and he turned unconsciously towards the coolness of the compress.

"He became delirious after you left," Rodney whispered to their surprise. "Started calling for you, Sheppard; kept repeating that it was his fault and that he was sorry."

Teyla and Ronon both glanced to their leader as he stood there rubbing his face with both hands. Suddenly looking much older, he sighed heavily and stepped closer to Carson's side. "Hey, doc. Heard you were worried about me." He was startled to see the physician struggle to open his eyes. "Easy, easy, Carson. It's all right. I'm okay."

"My fault…" Carson gasped, his left hand clenching the fabric of the sheet beneath his fingers. The pace of the heart monitor picked up slightly.

Sheppard took the rag and wet it once more before putting it back. "No doc, none of this is your fault. Just one more adventure they forgot to mention in the Pegasus brochure before we came here."

Instead of calming, Carson's agitation grew. "My fault," he mumbled again as his breathing increased.

"Colonel Sheppard, please step away from him." Dr. Prater came around the opposite side of the bed and injected a vial into the IV port. "Dr. Beckett has been experiencing hallucinations for over an hour now and I am trying to keep him calm."

"Why?"

"Why?" she repeated, unsure of what he was asking.

"Why is he hallucinating?"

"It's not an uncommon side effect from a poisonous spider bite, and usually a course of antibiotics, analgesics, and keeping the bite site cold is the preferred treatment. But with this being an unknown toxin, our treatment options aren't garnering the same reaction that we'd hoped."

Feeling his team's eyes on him, he asked the question they all were thinking. "So what's next?"

Her arrogance from earlier was gone. "His fever needs reduced, the poison needs an antivenin, or we must at least find some way to draw the toxin out. Hopefully, the spiders you brought back with you might hold some answers."

"And mud," Dex added.

Prater glanced to Ronon and frowned. "Why did you bring mud?"

Sheppard came around the bed to stand near her. "When McKay was down in the hole, I noticed that the spiders didn't go near him, even when he climbed out. He was coated in the mud up to his armpits."

"And you think it might have some property that could counteract the venom?"

"On my planet, using mud was one of the many standard treatments for medicinal purposes," Teyla offered.

Prater looked thoughtfully at the group and then to her patient. Adjusting the ice packs around the swollen hand propped on a pillow, she chewed her upper lip before agreeing. "At this point we don't have a lot of options. You said they took it down to the labs to be tested?"

"I'll show you where," Rodney offered as he started to sit up, trying not to wince at the sudden pounding to the back of his head.

"No, Dr. McKay, you will not. Colonel, it is up to you and your team to keep him where he is. Nurse Flockhart is in the dispensary but will be back shortly if you need anything. Have Julius page me immediately if there is any change."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, hard earned respect slowly shown to her position. As she walked away, he nodded to McKay, "Just where did you think you were going?"

Rodney accepted Teyla's help with his pillows before leaning back. "Who knows what those idiots down there are up to? They could use my help."

"I believe Dr. Finkle is more than competent examining the spiders," she said softly with a smile.

Stepping to the far side of Rodney's bed, Sheppard leaned back and crossed his arms. "Yeah, McKay, you should have seen the guy. He was good. I think we need to put him on a team."

Confusion clouded the scientist's face as he attempted to place the name, and then disbelief. "Finkle? Little nerdy guy that could probably get his butt kicked by Zelenka? On a team? You're kidding me, right?"

"I kinda liked him," Ronon rumbled.

"More than me?"

The big guy shrugged.

Rodney's jaw dropped as he gestured between himself and Beckett. "Carson and I are out of the game one day and look what happens?"

"Well, you know, McKay, it's always good to have back-ups just in case."

Sinking down beneath his blanket, Rodney stared at the ceiling, ignoring the others. "Back-ups," he murmured. It wasn't long before he was snoring softly.

Teyla rinsed the rag again then gently wiped Carson's sweaty face. Draping it over his brow, she then took up the chair Rodney had abandoned earlier to sit at his side.

Ronon sat on the empty bed on the far side of Carson and Sheppard began to pace. Passing the office door one too many times, Julius appeared with another chair, placed it next to Teyla, and sternly pointed.

"Sorry," the colonel whispered and the nurse's glare eased. Now all they could do was wait.

oOo

The next few hours passed slowly. Rodney eventually awoke after an hour, complaining that he was hungry, and Teyla volunteered to gather something for all of them. Ronon needed to stretch his legs so he went with her.

His feet now propped on Teyla's chair, his elbow resting on Carson's bed against the physician's calf, Sheppard checked his watch. "Wonder what's taking so long. How hard can it be to analyze a spider and some mud?"

A snort of disgust came from the other occupied bed. "That's the problem with you military types. You think finding answers is like some lame tv show and the answers are spit out of a trusty computer within a few minutes. Science, my dear colonel, is more than just pushing a button."

"Oh, come on, Rodney, I've watched you work. A few taps here, another button or two there, and wa-la…Answer City."

"You're a moron."

"Boys, can't you be left alone for even a few minutes before you start the name calling?" Both heads snapped around to see Elizabeth standing inside the doorway carrying a tray with several mugs of coffee and some sandwiches. "I ran in to Teyla and Ronon in the mess and offered to bring these to you while they finished their dinner. Don't expect me to do it again."

Sheppard's feet dropped off the extra chair and Rodney struggled to sit up straight without losing his pillows.

"How's Carson," she asked once she passed around the tray and sat in the empty seat beside her second in command.

"Same. Whatever Prater gave him earlier is letting him at least get some rest."

She nodded. "That's good. I spoke with her earlier and she thinks she might have found something in that mud you brought back. All tests did prove that the spiders had an adverse reaction to it."

"I think we already told her that." Legs swung over the side of his bed, Rodney dropped his sandwich on the bed table before shifting to stand.

Blocking the scientist's path with his own legs, the colonel scowled. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I've been laying down most of the day and really need to pee. Are you going to let me pass or do I need to get a note from our supervisor?"

A quick glance to Weir and she nodded. "A note will be good," Sheppard said.

"Get out of my way you gun-toting cretin."

Once Rodney was out of sight, Elizabeth turned around. "How's he holding up?"

"He's fine. Worried of course, but has been pretty quiet about it."

She nodded. "I think we all are. This is one more of those learning lessons that I think we could all do without."

Carson moaned beside them and they both jumped to their feet. "Shh, Carson," Weir crooned, pressing the cool cloth against his cheeks and brow.

"Hot," he mumbled. His left hand shaking as he tried to push the sheet back, the physician suddenly opened his eyes. "They're coming," he whispered frantically, his eyes roaming the room in search of only what he could see.

Glancing up, she met Sheppard's worried gaze. "John, go get the nurse," she ordered before turning back to the sick man. "Shhh, it's okay. You'll feel better soon."

A second later Julius appeared with the colonel in tow. A quick exam and he pulled a syringe from his labcoat pocket, injecting the contents into the IV. "Dr. Prater is on her way now. She wants to try something."

No sooner had the words been said that she came bursting through the doors with Dr. Biro behind her. Both were carrying tubs of the mud and took up either side of Carson's bed. Plunging their hands in the dark mess they both took handfuls and carefully began spreading it over Carson's wounded hand and up his arm. When the doctor tried to pull away, Julius stepped in and held him still.

"Dr. Weir, could you please untie the top of his gown?" Prater asked before she began to apply mud to his chest.

"What the hell's going on?" Rodney hissed at Sheppard's side, having walked in and finding his friend surrounded in activity.

"No clue."

They both stood silently, watching the women's application of mud to Carson's torso and arms before Prater asked Weir to drape the gown shut over the mess. Julius next carefully draped a sheet over Carson's exposed arms.

"How long until you know anything?" Elizabeth asked once they were finished.

Rubbing the back of her wrist across her brow to push her bangs out of the way, Dr. Prater left a smudge across her forehead. "Honestly, this is going to be wait and see. All the tests we tried in the lab had mixed results. The spider venom reacted strangely with the mud, breaking down under the scope, but we couldn't find a way of breaking down the mud itself. When a trace amount was applied directly on one of the spiders… it died."

Rodney didn't like the sound of that. "Well, what about Carson?"

Prater turned to face him, her expression tired. "You were in the mud for over an hour without having any type of reaction. Plus, some of the abnormalities that showed in Dr. Beckett's tests also appeared in yours. I believe you were also bitten at one point but the toxin was neutralized in your system."

Good thing the colonel was behind the scientist because Rodney went pale and needed to be guided to a chair. "I was bitten? When? Where?"

"Easy, Rodney. She said it was neutralized."

"Actually, Colonel, I think most of it was neutralized. The rest is working its way out of his body naturally. When I realized earlier that the bump to his head wasn't as severe as the discomfort he displayed, I began to wonder."

"That's why you've kept me here all day?"

She nodded while wiping excess mud off her hands onto a towel. "Your latest scans have been clear of the abnormality."

"Oh, thank god." Suddenly feeling light-headed, he stood and made it back to his bed with Sheppard's help.

The remaining members in the room drifted about; some to get cleaned up, others once again seated about the bed. All still waiting.

oOo

Carson lay still, a strange feeling covering the upper portion of his chest and arms. His left hand throbbed painfully, but not nearly as bad as he'd remembered from earlier. The headache lodged behind his temple, now mere tremors instead of the agonizing cymbals. And the steady beep of the monitor off to his side was comforting, but the dryness inside his nose and throat induced a tickle to the back of his throat. The slight cough he produced had and instant reaction around him.

"Carson?" The amount of worry in the voice was seldom heard and would be denied vehemently if brought up in conversation.

"R'ney," he whispered back, the air passing his lips dry. Someone must have known because a sliver of ice was slipped to his tongue. He savored the wetness, wanting another when it was gone. "Wha' happened?"

"You got bit by a spider in my room the other night. Should teach you a lesson about sneaking about in the middle of the night," the scientist lightly teased back.

When Carson felt himself start to drift again, a light tap to the shoulder caused him to open his eyes and look up. He was silently pleased to see McKay staring back at him.

"You going to stay awake while I go get the others?" he whispered.

"Why are you whispering?"

"It's the middle of the night. Most people sleep in the middle of the night unless they are doctors."

"Or scientists." That earned him a slight smile.

"I'll be back. If you fall asleep again, I'll tell Radek where you hide your Scotch."

Moments later Rodney returned with Dr. Biro, his eyes bright like a child showing his favorite toy. "See, told you he was awake."

"Dr. Beckett," she said, her own smile stretching the tired lines around her eyes. "You've given us quite a run for the money with this little stunt of yours."

"Not my…fault," he whispered, slowly running out of steam and having a hard time keeping his eyes open. There was one thing he wanted to know before he gave in to the pull. Forcing one more look up he met her questioning gaze. "I feel…funny. Stiff."

"I bet you do, and when you wake up in the morning, I'll tell you why. Now, close your eyes and go to sleep like the doctor ordered."

Epilogue

"So, no spidey senses, either of you? No 'tingling, hair up on the back of your neck, troubles coming' thing going on?" Sheppard prodded as they stood out on the pier, watching the sunset.

Carson frowned and Rodney's bottom jaw shifted to the side as both men considered the question.

"I need…" the scientist started.

"…a drink" the physician completed.

"Scotch," they said simultaneously to the colonel's surprise.

"You two are messing with me, aren't you?"

Rodney ignored him, instead walking back beside Beckett. "No more headaches?"

"Nay, lad."

"Off your meds?"

"Aye."

"I've been saving a new bottle for just the right occasion."

"Have ya' now?"

The two men disappeared inside Atlantis, leaving Sheppard standing alone outside the doorway during the final moments of the sunset. Turing back for one last look, a single filament of thread floated lazily through the air, shimmering silver in the fading light.

His mouth dropped open as he watched it float away. They must have missed one.

It was the uncontrolled laughter coming from behind him that forced him to spin around and find the culprits standing together, each holding a piece of fine fishing line high in the air, waving softly in the night breeze.

"Did you see something, Colonel?" Beckett chortled.

"The two of you are going to give me a coronary some day; you do know that, don't you?"

They grinned, separating to make room for Sheppard to join them. "You guys have Scotch?" he asked as they went back in.

The door closed softly behind them, the sun's last rays spreading orange light over the horizon, and one last silver thread drifted out to sea.

The End.

A/N: Well?