Disclaimer: I don't own SGA or the characters. If I did, the series wouldn't be ending.
A/N: Written for everybetty for the LJ Sheppard H/C Secret Santa fic exchange.
"Hey, Doc, have you seen Rodney?" John Sheppard poked his head into the tiny lab where Carson Beckett was studying his laptop screen intently. "He owes me a game of chess from last night when the generator was on the blink and his laptop battery was dead."
"Sorry, Colonel. I haven't seen him at all today. I think Ronon took him sledding." Beckett sounded distracted, not even looking up.
John raised an eyebrow, almost laughing at the image of the big Satedan going sledding, but then he frowned. "How come I wasn't invited? And where did they get a sled?"
"If only I had the time ta be as bored as you four, Colonel." Carson shook his head and finally glanced up from the screen. "Believe it or not, I've actually been workin' here most of the morning. The only reason I know where Ronon went is because Martallyn came in and asked me why he would want ta have a snowball fight while sledding." Beckett grinned, "I think Rodney might be in for a bit of trouble, and I imagine that's the reason Teyla chose ta stay behind."
"But they still didn't invite me!" John grumbled.
Carson rolled his eyes. "Why don't ya go find Teyla? Even though she didn't go with them, I'm sure she's feelin' the cabin fever just as much as you are."
John snorted. "Somehow I doubt it. She's been using the time to catch up on her meditation. As near as I can tell, she's already three years ahead of the game. I really hope we're not stuck here for too much longer." The colonel stepped closer to the desk and picked up the gadget nearest to the edge, turning it over in his hands. It looked a little like the life-signs detectors they used, but had several round dark lenses around its sides. He was about to ask Beckett what it did when he realized he wasn't holding it anymore. Sheppard looked up to find the doc placing the object carefully back on the desk and fixing him with an annoyed look.
"What?" John asked, shooting Carson the innocent grin he usually reserved for when he was plotting an early escape from the infirmary.
Beckett sighed, his annoyance fading as he smiled in spite of himself. "Look, we're all stuck here until tomorrow, and I'm not any happier about that than you are, but if any one of us got infected when that vial broke, it could easily spread ta the others. If we're still asymptomatic in another 12 hours, we'll head back ta Atlantis, ya can stop bein' bored, and I can conduct some real experiments with this data rather than siftin' through old research."
"Just promise me you'll hold your next meeting with these guys on Atlantis instead of here," John said pleadingly. It wasn't that he had anything against the trio of Chiermingan physicians that Carson had befriended on a mission several months ago. Martallyn, Eing, and Ra'shiggi were extremely intelligent and pleasant to be around, but their tiny research station on P5X-M37 was a little too…little. There were only sleeping quarters for 5, which hadn't been an issue yesterday when they'd only intended to stay for the afternoon while Beckett talked shop about the flu-like virus that had been plaguing the general population of Chierming. A couple of hours in, though, Ra'shiggi had accidentally dropped one of the vials containing a live strain of the virus, exposing all three doctors, Beckett, Rodney, and Teyla.
The three Chiermingans, and even Beckett, had been quick to assure them that the virus wasn't deadly, but it did carry the potential for an epidemic if brought to Atlantis since no one there had ever been exposed. Therefore, the professional consensus for length of quarantine had been set at 36 hours, which the Chiermingans were also observing. The strain of virus in the vial hadn't been prevalent on their world in more than a decade, and they didn't want to risk forming a mutated strain.
"Colonel?" Beckett's voice snapped him out of his reverie.
"Sorry, what were you saying?"
"Just agreeing with ya that this isn't the ideal location for eight people ta stay for days at a time."
"At least it's warmer than Antarctica and we can go outside for a while. If we couldn't, I think Rodney would've committed murder by now. You know—" John paused as the lights flickered. He opened his mouth to continue and the lights went out completely. "What the hell?" Blinking, his eyes soon adjusted to the darkness, and he looked at Carson who was illuminated an odd blue in the light from his laptop's screen.
"Is it the generators again?" Beckett asked.
Sheppard sighed. "I don't see what else it would be. Eing's probably already working on it. I'll go see if he needs a hand."
"Here, Colonel, ya might need this." Carson rummaged through a pile of papers on the desk and somehow produced a flashlight.
"Thanks, Doc. Hopefully we'll have the lights back on shortly." Sheppard switched on the flashlight and started down the narrow hallway outside the lab. The research station was laid out in an L shape, both ends consisting of labs, with living quarters along the sides and mess hall, storage areas, and main doors near the bend. He paused in passing Eing's quarters and knocked, on the off chance that the man hadn't noticed the power problem. There was no answer to his knock so John continued on, passing Ra'shiggi's quarters and one of the spare rooms that his team had slept in the night before. In a rare moment of claustrophobia, Sheppard hadn't joined them, opting instead for one of the chairs in the room that doubled as mess hall and common living area. As a result, he hadn't really slept. Maybe he'd ask Teyla if he could sleep on the floor of her room tonight. He really didn't want to put up with Rodney's snoring.
As Sheppard rounded the corner into the hall that would take him to the main entryway, and subsequently outside to the shed that housed the generators, a body suddenly plowed into him from the side. John hit the floor hard and the flashlight tumbled away, its beam casting light unhelpfully toward the far corner of the deserted kitchen. "Hey, what's—" a fist to his face cut off John's question and sent spots dancing before his eyes. He struggled to sit up and then drug himself to his feet, instinctively drawing his sidearm as he waited on the spots to clear.
Squinting into the shadows, Sheppard could just make out two dark forms several feet away. The shapes were conversing angrily, and he soon recognized the voices as those of Eing and Ra'shiggi. "Guys…what the hell's the big idea?" he asked warily, allowing the annoyance to show in his tone.
The shapes froze, then turned toward him. "We have decided to go home. We're not accomplishing anything by remaining here until next day's end," Ra'shiggi said.
"All three of you agreed that staying was the best course of action, to keep from making the situation worse on your world," Sheppard reminded.
"Martallyn agreed. We did not."
"Does she know what you're planning?"
"It does not matter. She cannot stop us, and neither will you or your team!" Eing spoke up, lunging toward John. In the dim lighting, the colonel barely noticed the small knife in Eing's outstretched hand. He dodged to the right just in time and brought his gun down across the back of Eing's head. The man fell to the floor in a heap, unconscious.
"No! What did you do?!" Ra'shiggi yelled, outraged, and flung himself at Sheppard. The Chiermingan was only half a head taller than John, but had at least forty pounds on him, so the colonel wasn't too surprised when he found himself pinned against the wall as Ra'shiggi struggled to pry his fingers away from the gun. When prying didn't work, he resorted to Eing's tactic—John could tell it hadn't been Ra'shiggi before, because this time the punch was so solid it made his ears ring—but the colonel managed to keep his death-grip on the gun, even as Ra'shiggi changed tactics once again and began slamming his wrist against the wall. Distracted by the pain, John was a half-second too long in understanding the reason that he was being shuffled sideways toward the intersection of the hallways.
Ra'shiggi grabbed his arm with both hands and slammed it into the wall again. John heard and felt the sickening crack and knew that it wasn't exactly a wall that his forearm had connected with, but rather the corner where two walls intersected, one of Ra'shiggi's hands applying force on either side of the apex. He was aware of the bang as his gun discharged, the clatter when it hit the floor, and footsteps receding into the distance before the inevitable pain exploded through his arm. John cried out, crumpling to the floor now that Ra'shiggi was no longer pinning him upright. A blast of cold air reached him moments later, and he vaguely heard the main doors whoosh shut. He tried to sit up, but the inches he moved his arm in the attempt reignited the agony and he whimpered.
Through watery eyes he could just make out the very wrong angle of his limb, but he wasn't quite hazy enough that he could ignore the distinct sound of footsteps coming his way. Sheppard began looking for his gun, even though reaching the weapon was bound to be difficult. Another moan escaped before he could stifle it, and he really hoped that whoever was coming was at least sane. He currently had his doubts about Ra'shiggi and Eing.
The footsteps were faster now and there were multiple sets. At least one person was coming down each corridor. John lay still, curled around his injured arm, trying to think rationally despite the relentless throbbing. Eing was still unconscious halfway across the room, and he was fairly sure Ra'shiggi had gone outside, which left only Martallyn, Carson, and Teyla as possible owners of the footsteps, any one of whom would have come running at the sound of the gunshot.
Another second passed and John heard Teyla's voice, then Martallyn's. He didn't really pay attention to what they were saying, only that they didn't sound crazed like Ra'shiggi had. Sheppard was going to call out to them and let them know that it was safe, but the pain was beginning to make him feel nauseous and he didn't think talking would help. Flashlight beams crisscrossed the room, and there were suddenly three anxious faces hovering over him.
"Colonel?" Beckett's voice sounded distant, and John felt fingers press against the side of his neck. The doctor's penlight flared in his vision before a hand clasped his shoulder more firmly. "Colonel Sheppard, are ya with us, son?" The doctor's worried voice was closer this time and startled John out of his daze.
"Here," Sheppard managed, blinking. He swiped his good hand across his eyes to rid the excess moisture still clouding them and swallowed hard, ordering his stomach to behave. "Ra'shiggi left. Eing wanted to. I kinda…got in their way," he reported between shallow breaths. "Anyone see my gun?"
"No, but we will find it later, John. Do not worry," Teyla reassured.
"I think Ra'shiggi took it. We have to go warn Ronon and Rodney." John tried to sit up, but Carson quickly put a stop to that with a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Be still, lad. Your arm's in bad shape."
"Ra'shiggi might be going after them," Sheppard continued to protest, but stayed down. He recalled what Eing had said about not letting anyone stop them, including the Atlantis team, and it was painfully obvious that Ra'shiggi felt the same.
"I will contact Rodney and Ronon," Teyla replied, patting his knee. "Do as Dr. Beckett says."
Sheppard gave a brief nod, knowing she was right, though he wasn't satisfied until she reported that McKay and Ronon were unharmed and would be keeping an eye out for Ra'shiggi. Martallyn had gone to check on Eing, but she soon returned, her face grim. "I think I might know what happened here. Eing is running a high fever, which is why he's still unconscious. If Ra'shiggi is sick too, it could explain their irrational behavior."
"It is the virus?" Teyla asked.
"That's what I'm expecting. I'll take some blood to be sure, but either way I'm going to move Eing to his room so we can keep your quarantine time to a minimum. How is John?" Martallyn asked, crouching beside Carson and looking Sheppard over with a practiced eye, frowning slightly in concern. He was extremely pale with the exception of the livid bruise forming across his cheekbone, and she could see that a thin sheen of sweat covered his forehead, even in the dim glow of their flashlight beams.
"Not so good," Carson answered. "His right radius and ulna are both fractured from the look of it, but that seems ta be the most serious of his injuries."
"He's right here," John pointed out, his frown of annoyance at being ignored scrunching into a grimace of pain when the muscles in his bad arm twitched involuntarily.
"I want ta get you ta the medlab as soon as possible, Colonel," Beckett continued, snorting at John's satisfied nod, "but we need ta stabilize the fracture first. Martallyn, would ya please get me something ta splint it with?"
The Chiermingan physician nodded and stood. "Morphine as well?"
"Aye, thank ya, lass."
"I'm not taking morphine. I need to be alert when we go after Ra'shiggi," John objected after she had gone.
"Colonel, I'm goin' ta have ta set your arm before ya do anything. It won't be a pleasant experience either way, but you'll be much more comfortable in the meantime if ya take the medication."
"Just do what you have to do. I'll deal." Sheppard's insistence was ruined when another stab of pain raced through his arm, and he moaned despite his best efforts not to.
Carson was saved from replying by Martallyn's return. She handed him the materials for the splint and began to prep the syringe of pain medication. He glanced down at John, who glared back pointedly. Sighing, Beckett caught Martallyn's eye and shook his head no. "It's against my better judgment, but let's hold off on the morphine for now. We'll see how he does."
Martallyn looked just as skeptical as Carson, but she pocketed the syringe and moved to help with the splint. Gentle as they were, Sheppard still tensed when they manipulated his arm to fasten the brace. His jaw was clenched and he was breathing hard by the time they had finished, but aside from a couple of quiet grunts he hadn't made a sound.
The walk down the hall to the research station's small medical facility passed in a pained, nauseated blur for John, with Carson and Teyla on either side, all but holding him upright. They led him to one of the two beds and Teyla was sent to get some ice and more flashlights while Carson went to work on the sleeve of his jacket with a pair of scissors. Said jacket and whatever control Sheppard had left over the nausea disappeared at about the same moment. Fortunately, Beckett was expecting as much and got a basin under his chin just in time. Dry heaves and pain left John trembling and dizzy and he barely heard Carson telling him to lie back, but his body went without protest where hands guided it. He felt the prick of a needle in his left arm and the agony radiating from his right eased soon after.
"Said I don' need…morphine," John mumbled, blinking drowsily up at Carson who was carefully situating his splinted arm on a pillow.
"Too late, son. It's going ta be a bit until we can get the swelling down enough ta set the bones and I'll not have ya lying here in pain until then."
John let out a long slow breath as the last of the throbbing faded away. "Thnkss…Doc…" he slurred, not quite able to remember what he'd been arguing with Beckett about. He was pretty sure the lack of pain meant that he'd won the argument though.
Beckett patted his shoulder. "Just rest now, Colonel. We'll have ya fixed up in no time."
It really did seem like 'no time' to John, and that was why he disliked being drugged. He lost time, and lost time meant lost control. He'd been grateful for the morphine, knew he needed it even, but it had forced him to relax more than he was comfortable with under the circumstances. By the time Teyla had returned with battery-powered lanterns and ice, he'd just grinned sleepily at her. He also had a disturbingly realistic memory of a conversation about his lost weapon degenerating into his asking her if a platoon of ninja bunnies could have stolen it.
After that, nothing was coherent. His right arm got so cold that it ached, but the thieving ninja bunnies showed up and closed ranks, guarding the rest of his body from the cold with their soft fur. (As it turned out, none of them had his gun.) The lights were suddenly back on, and his arm was allowed to thaw for a few minutes under a thrumming machine. During a brief moment of clarity John noticed Carson and Martallyn discussing X-rays nearby, then Carson had told him an extremely funny story about a set of sedated bones, but seemed decidedly unimpressed when he'd started laughing.
That was the last thing John could remember as he blinked open heavy eyelids. To him, it felt like only a few minutes had passed, but it had obviously been longer. He was still in his bed in the medlab, right arm propped up on a pillow, but the splint had been replaced by a cast. He could feel the tug of an IV in his other arm, and a blanket had been tucked around him at some point. Sounds slowly filtered their way to his senses and John realized he wasn't alone. Carson was seated at a small table near the wall, laptop and microscope in front of him. "Hey," Sheppard rasped, trying to clear his throat. That was the other thing he disliked about being drugged, the inevitable cotton-mouth.
"Colonel," Carson greeted. He looked up from the microscope with a smile and came over to stand beside the bed, uncapping a bottle of water and handing it to John. "How are ya feeling, lad?"
Sheppard took a few sips of the water before answering, "Still kinda loopy, actually." He eyed the bags of clear liquid hanging above him suspiciously, then turned the wary look on Carson. "Did you give me too much morphine?"
Beckett chuckled. "No, though I did need ta sedate ya for a bit. Both bones were clean breaks, no fragmentation, but the angle they were at made for a complicated reduction. I wasn't about ta put ya through that awake, morphine or no."
Glancing at his watch, Carson shrugged. "You've been asleep for about three hours now, which was expected. How's the pain?"
John returned the shrug. "It's fine."
Carson shot him a skeptical look. "How about when ya move your fingers?"
"Aches a little, but not bad," John revised after a moment, flexing his hand as much as the cast would allow.
"Good. Ya still have a decent amount of pain meds in your system, though, and I expect you'll need another round later on."
Sheppard gave him a doubtful look, but didn't bother arguing. "Are Rodney and Ronon back yet?"
"No, not yet."
John didn't miss the brief look of anxiety that crossed Beckett's face. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"
Carson eyed his patient carefully, deciding how much to reveal, but figured there was really no point in hiding anything. "Not that we know of, but Teyla lost radio contact so she went ta take a quick look outside ta see if she could find them."
"When was that?"
"45 minutes ago."
Sheppard frowned. "You should've woken me up." He sat up slowly, fighting the lingering lightheadedness from the medication.
"Teyla tried, Colonel. Ya barely even twitched." Carson reached out to steady John, who still looked exhausted. "I don't suppose I could convince ya ta stay here and rest for another couple of hours? I know ya didn't get much sleep last night."
"Not until I find out the status of my team, Doc. Where's my radio?"
Beckett sighed in resignation and handed over the requested device, which John fumbled with for a moment before getting it hooked around his ear. "Teyla, this is Sheppard, please respond. Teyla, do you read?" He paused for a few seconds, then repeated the message, but wasn't surprised when he didn't get an answer. "Dammit." John started shoving aside the blanket and hissed when he jerked his arm in the process.
"Take it slow, Colonel. That's going ta be hurting ya for awhile," Beckett admonished as he went about removing the IV from Sheppard's other arm.
As soon as it was out, John was on his feet. He wavered for a moment as a head rush assailed him, but shrugged off Carson's hand and headed for the door. He soon noticed that Beckett was following him. "Did I forget something?"
"No, but as I expect you're headed outdoors, I thought ya might need a hand getting your coat on."
John glanced down at the bulky cast covering his arm and found he was subconsciously holding it against his chest. A dull throbbing resulted just from the impact of his boots hitting the floor, increasing to a sharper ache if he tried moving the limb at all, and he had to admit that Beckett was probably right. They reached the center of the research station, and John went over to the row of lockers where he'd stashed his gear on arriving. He dug through his pack for his spare uniform jacket, only to realize it was going to be a tight fit over the cast. Behind him, Beckett cleared his throat, and John turned to see Carson holding out his old jacket, right sleeve slit halfway to the elbow. John grinned sheepishly and with Beckett's help shrugged into it, followed by his looser-fitting coat and vest.
Turning back to the locker, he caught a glimpse of his face in the small mirror attached to the door and winced. His cheekbone and eye were black and blue where Ra'shiggi and/or Eing had hit him, though it didn't look or feel as bad as it should have, leading him to believe that Carson had iced more than just his arm while he was asleep. What really surprised him, though, was that his P-90 was still inside the locker. He'd figured that Ra'shiggi would have taken it to more thoroughly ensure escape. Checking the weapon, John clipped it to his vest, made sure he had his knife and life signs detector, stuffed a couple of power bars in his coat pocket in case his stomach decided it wanted food later, and shut the locker door, leaning against it for a moment before he realized that Carson was frowning at him.
John frowned back. "What?"
"I'm just not sure I should be lettin' ya go off on your own right now. You're still awfully pale."
"Well, I'd invite you along, Doc, but I need someone here to keep an eye on things and let me know if Teyla or the others come back."
"And if Ra'shiggi comes back instead?"
"Let me know that too." John paused as something occurred to him. "Hang on, I'll be right back." Disappearing around the corner and into the room the others had stayed in the night before, Sheppard returned with Rodney's sidearm, which he handed to Beckett. "Just in case. I'll see you soon." With that, the colonel pulled up the hood of his jacket and exited into the night.
P5X-M37 seemed like an odd planet to Sheppard. It was generally cold, not achieving much above 45 degrees in the summer, but the network of canals snaking their way inland from the ocean kept the temperatures fairly level all year, right around the freezing mark in the dead of winter. It snowed often, Martallyn had informed them, but the weather patterns isolated most of the precipitation to the higher elevations just to the north of the research station. Down here there was only an abundance of frost and a perpetual dampness that reminded John of a summer he'd once spent in Seattle.
It was currently late autumn on the planet, which made for a chilly night. Sheppard figured the temperature was somewhere in the mid-thirties, but the humid breeze was almost balmy, and he could detect just a hint of brine as he made his way across the sandy soil that lay between the station and the tree line. A brief trip around the perimeter of the building had revealed nothing suspicious, and only Martallyn, Eing, and Carson's life signs were present, so he was now off to conduct a more thorough search, starting with the last known location of Ronon and Rodney.
The salty scent grew more prevalent as he ventured into the thin forest, and so did the shadows, but it was strangely peaceful walking in the hazy moonlight with frost-flocked branches swaying and creaking quietly overhead while his boots made silent depressions in the soft soil. Out there somewhere, though, beyond the tranquility of his present surroundings were Ronon, Teyla, and Rodney, possibly in danger, and that danger was named Ra'shiggi. Granted, he had no proof that the Chiermingan would go after his team—logically, it would be in his best interest not to—but John couldn't afford to assume that the man was no longer a threat, or that he was thinking logically. If Ra'shiggi was delirious with fever like Eing had been then he'd probably only gotten worse by now.
John had only been walking for about ten minutes when the already-thin forest thinned further, and he found himself at the edge of what looked like a pond. There was even a dock complete with a small flat-bottom motorboat tied at one side. From what Eing had said yesterday when the talk of sledding first arose, the easiest way to access the higher elevations was by water. That really hadn't made much sense to John at the time, since in his experience currents generally flowed down from higher elevations, not vice versa, but it would explain the need for a motorized watercraft. Shrugging, he stepped out onto the dock and carefully climbed into the boat.
Luckily, the motor was built for left-handed control, and was very similar in operation to the outboard that had been on his friend Andy's old fishing boat back in high school. It started without much hesitation, unlike Andy's, and after taking a final look at the life signs detector—since he couldn't hold it and drive the boat at the same time—John was skimming across the glassy surface of the pond.
He was soon forced to slow as the banks began to narrow, the trees closing in on either side. Visibility was also impaired by the layer of fog that had settled on top of the water. The passage twisted and turned, winding its way through the silent forest. John eventually switched on the light attached to his P-90 and directed it into the darkness ahead, holding it with his knees as he steered. The closeness of the trees and the ever-thickening fog had conspired to conceal the moonlight, making the wintry air rushing past seem even colder. Sheppard could hardly see the bank from ten feet out, and then the waterway would curve, putting the opposite bank directly in his path. All the swerving was making his good arm tired, and the not-quite-smooth ride had re-awakened the throbbing in his other, but John continued on, keeping close watch on his surroundings, or so he thought.
The first bullet was so close that Sheppard felt the heat of it as it rushed past his temple. He ducked instinctively, and tried to ascertain where the shot had come from, but the fog and the forest distorted the sound, so he couldn't be sure of the direction. Killing the motor and his light, he crouched lower in the boat and listened, scanning his surroundings as best he could. He was about to restart the motor, knowing he'd be safer as a moving target, when the second bullet came from the sky, almost vertical in its trajectory, but not quite. Even with the new directional clue, John didn't see the third threat coming. Already crouching, he was knocked flat against the bottom of the boat by the 200-pound Chiermingan that had fallen from the sky—or more accurately jumped from a tree—and landed on top of him.
John knew it was Ra'shiggi without looking and for the second time that day the man had him pinned. His back had slammed painfully into the wooden ribs of the hull, knocking the air from his lungs, and the oversized hood of his coat was obscuring his vision. Amazingly, he'd only bumped his bad arm slightly on the way down, not that that hadn't carried its own share of pain, but John was more worried about the fact that the weight was suddenly gone from his chest and he was being dragged upright. Upright shifted straight to airborne, and John instinctively grabbed onto the only thing he could, which happened to be Ra'shiggi's collar. The fingers of his right hand were weak and stiff, though, and the fabric slipped easily through them.
Sheppard was in the water before he had a chance to catch his breath, and the air was once again driven from his lungs in a rush. Icy liquid seeped quickly through and under his coat, and he thrashed blindly, oblivious to all else as his body struggled to cope with the sudden, extreme temperature drop. His left hand came into contact with the side of the boat, but he couldn't seem to grasp it. It was as though hundreds of tiny knives were stabbing him, each new patch of skin that was exposed causing another shallow pant that did nothing to supply him with oxygen. Then something hit him hard in the head and his vision grayed. Dazed, Sheppard momentarily stopped thrashing. When he heard the distant buzz of the motor starting, John lunged toward the sound but encountered only air and water. By the time his vision cleared, the boat was gone and he was trembling so badly he thought his teeth were going to break apart as they knocked together.
Slowly, he discovered that he wasn't sinking and felt a small sense of relief that the water wasn't deep, but as he got his feet beneath him, the relief vanished. He was submerged to his shoulders, and the fog was an opaque wall around him. He didn't know which way the shore was, but John knew he needed to get out of the water and he needed to do it now. His hands were already numb, and he estimated that it had only been five minutes since he'd been thrown from the boat. Swimming would cause him to lose heat quicker, but there really wasn't a choice in the matter.
Sheppard looked toward the sky, needing a clue for which way to go, but he didn't see much. What the fog didn't obscure his questionable vision did. He was still reeling from the blow to the head and even his surroundings seemed to be shaking with bone-racking chills. That being as it was, John focused simply on looking up. As he stared, three strips of fog became visible, one just slightly paler than the two bordering it: the open sky, with the forest on either side, his mind supplied. He started swimming toward the darkened edge, toward the trees, but it wasn't a pleasant process. His muscles were cold, so cold they began to ache. The aches grew rapidly in intensity, fast matching the sharp agony in his broken arm as he took two strokes, five, eight. He stopped kicking for a brief moment, trying to ease a cramp in his calf, but was suddenly swept sideways by the current.
The canal had seemed too narrow and calm to have channels, but then again he hadn't really been looking. John gritted his teeth against the pain and started kicking again, trying to overcome the abrupt current, the water temperature, and his own failing strength. He probably hadn't made a straight-line distance of fifteen feet, but the shore couldn't be far. Then again, narrow waterways got a lot wider when you were swimming through them without the benefit of a nice dry boat.
It was hard to gauge what progress—if any—he was making, since the water was carrying him several feet sideways for each essentially ineffectual stroke, but John did his best to keep going, using only his good arm and kicking harder in between to correct his course, even checking once to make sure he was still correctly oriented with the foggy strip of sky. He didn't think to worry when the severe muscle pain began to subside. He pushed harder, and thought he felt resistance at his feet where there had been only water before, but he couldn't tell. His lower legs were numb. So was everything else. The current wasn't dragging him as fast now, and seemed to be tugging or shoving him instead, as if leading him. Something that felt large and solid rammed into him with a force that should have hurt, but John didn't bother trying to see what it was through vision that was grayer than the fog. The current ripped at him again and Sheppard tried for one more stroke, his arm heavy and limp and numb. He was tired, so very tired. His arm slapped the top of the water with barely enough force to break the surface tension. His leg encountered that odd resistance again, so he pushed against it, and felt like he was falling sideways. The last thing he was aware of was icy, salty water gurgling over his head.
"Ow! What part of 'stop doing that' don't you understand?" McKay griped at Ronon.
"If I stop we won't get there."
"Then slow down. My ankle can't take much more of your speed-boating skills."
"I'll slow down if you'll shut up."
"If you slow down I won't have to shut up!"
"Fine, if you're not going to shut up, I'm not going to slow down." Ronon grinned in amusement when McKay turned around to glare at him, but inched the speed down a notch when the scientist looked away.
"I probably have frostbite over a quarter of my body by now," McKay lamented to Teyla as he rubbed at his twisted ankle with fingers that no longer had much feeling in them.
"That is doubtful, Rodney. You have been wearing your coat and gloves the entire time, have you not?"
"And you were only buried in the snow for half an hour before I found you, and another fifteen before Ronon and I got you out?"
"Give or take, and not exactly buried, more like stuck, but—"
"The temperature is above freezing…"
"And snow has an insulating effect when not in direct contact with the skin, so the conditions aren't optimal for frostb—" Rodney paused mid-sentence and turned his glare on Teyla, who was raising an eyebrow at him. "I was just pointing out that it's really cold!"
"We could get back a lot faster, but you've made me slow down three times now because the ride was too rough," Ronon pointed out.
"I'm sore! You didn't have half a mountain fall on you, and how about checking out the geology next time before you drag one of us up an avalanche-prone, radio-shielded death-trap?"
Ronon shrugged. "Looked like fun at the time."
Rodney snorted, and opened his mouth to reply when an extra dot appeared on the screen of his life signs detector. "Uh oh."
"What is it?" Teyla asked.
"A life sign, about 200 meters ahead on our right. What if it's Ra'shiggi?" Rodney asked, eyes growing wide. Teyla had explained the situation at the research station in detail earlier, and the entire time Rodney had been stuck in the snow, he'd been worried about the delirious Chiermingan getting to him before Ronon.
"The life sign could be Colonel Sheppard," Teyla suggested. "I'm sure he was worried when I did not return."
"You'd better hope it's not Sheppard," McKay countered, meeting his teammates questioning looks with an alarmed one of his own. "The dot is flickering. Either it's a malfunction, or whoever that is doesn't have an incredibly long life span ahead of them."
"Can we go fast now?" Ronon asked, even as he gunned the motor.
Rodney grunted, almost falling off his seat when the boat lurched forward, but focused on studying the life signs detector in order to distract from his throbbing ankle, which was jarred repeatedly as they bounced across the water. When they were almost upon the dot, McKay held up a hand and Ronon slowed the boat. "Well that's helpful," the physicist muttered as he squinted into the darkness. It was still perhaps two hours until dawn, and the stars that had been out earlier were now entirely obscured by clouds, and everything else by fog.
Teyla switched on her flashlight and turned it in the direction that Rodney had indicated, Ronon following her aim with his own weapon. McKay absently patted his pockets before realizing he'd left his sidearm at the research station. Sighing, he alternated squinting along with the other two and glancing at the life signs detector. After a few moments he gestured at the fog. "Whoever it is should be right here. Not that we could see them."
Ronon slowed the boat even further, almost to an idle, and turned them toward the bank. Sliding to the side of the boat, Teyla shone her light down at water that was as dark as everything else. Rodney heard a soft squelching as the boat made contact with the sandy shore, then yelped in surprise when something knocked against his side of the boat. Fumbling with the zipper of his coat pocket, he pulled out his own light and switched it on in the direction of the noise. "Oh, crap!" McKay was clambering toward the front of the boat, twisted ankle forgotten, before the others could ask what was wrong, and was kneeling next to the prone and soggy form of Colonel Sheppard by the time their lights landed on the booted foot bumping against the hull.
"Is he alive?" Ronon demanded as he jumped from the boat and shoved aside a large log that had been nearly on top of Sheppard, then crouched in its place.
Rodney didn't answer, his fingers pressed into the side of John's neck. He was certain that enough sensation remained in his hands to enable him to feel a pulse. The trouble was that he wasn't feeling one.
"McKay!" Ronon growled.
"Just…give me a minute. He's really cold!" Rodney snapped back.
"Either he has a pulse or he doesn't."
"Yes, but extremely cold can equal extremely slow heartbeat." He shifted position slightly, and thought he felt a faint flutter under his fingertips. It was nearly five seconds before he felt it again, but after another four or five he was sure. "He's alive," McKay reported, only slightly relieved by the too-slow and too-weak pulse.
"Is he breathing?" was Ronon's next question.
Rodney almost snapped 'How should I know?' but leaned back down. John was almost face-down in the sand. It appeared that he'd washed up on the bank before the tide had receded, but pondering why this canal had a tide was for another time. Rodney carefully nudged John's shoulder, rolling him very slowly and very slightly onto his side. It took a moment, but the tiniest puff of vapor issued from the colonel's lips, quickly dissipating to join the fog. After several long moments, there was another puff. "Breathing, yes, if you can call it that, but he's not shivering which is bad."
"We must get him back to the research station."
McKay looked at Teyla and shook his head. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea."
"If he's too cold, moving him could stop his heart."
"How cold is too cold?" Ronon pressed.
"I don't know…I'm not that far in the book yet!"
Ronon frowned in confusion. "What book?"
"The book on cold-weather survival and hypothermia that my English major brother-in-law sent me. As if I wouldn't already know this stuff being from Canada and a scientist and all."
"I thought you just said you didn't know."
"Perhaps this discussion could wait until after we help John?" Teyla interrupted before Rodney could form a comeback. She frowned at her teammates pointedly.
"So our choices are to move him and risk stopping his heart or to not move him and let the cold do it for us?" Ronon asked.
"We're moving him then," Ronon said, reaching for Sheppard.
"Hold it, Conan, you can't just throw him over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes!" Rodney said, grabbing the Satedan's arm.
"Wasn't gonna." Ronon looked down at his arm, where McKay's hand gripped his coat sleeve, then back up at the scientist.
"Oh. Sorry." McKay snatched his hand away.
Ronon crouched behind Sheppard and slowly but smoothly transferred him from the ground into his arms. "Teyla, get his legs," he rumbled. When she was in position, they slowly stood, keeping John as horizontal as possible. Getting him to and then into the boat was an insane choreography of shifting grips, twisting bodies, and stretches that would make a contortionist wince, but between the three of them and some wet feet, they managed to lay Sheppard flat in between the seats.
"Great, more opportunity for frostbite," Rodney muttered as he sat down, futilely trying to wring the moisture out of pant legs that were saturated to the knees. "How is that water even liquid right now?"
Ronon just grunted in response, taking off his long coat and laying it over the colonel before he started up the motor and steered them back onto the water. The Satedan inched the speed upward, leaving it just slow enough not to jostle Sheppard. He had to force himself not to turn the lever any higher. To get his mind off of their snail's pace, he tried to figure out how they were going to manage to get Sheppard the rest of the way to the station after they reached the dock. Even if he and Teyla could walk smoothly through the forest, the path was too narrow for them to maneuver the colonel without moving him a lot more than was safe in his current condition. McKay's bad ankle and general lack of grace didn't make him an ideal candidate to assist them either.
Sighing to himself, Ronon zigged and zagged through the turns of the canal, showing no sign of anxiety with the exception of a clenched jaw every few minutes when McKay would bend over Sheppard to check that he was still breathing. Not quite half an hour had passed when the banks began to widen onto the pond that signaled their destination. The fog parted a little as they neared the dock, and Ronon tensed at seeing the two hooded figures waiting there. Ahead of him in the boat, he saw Teyla do the same.
In a single motion, Ronon had killed the motor and drawn his blaster, momentum bringing them just alongside the dock. One of the figures jumped back slightly and yelped at the appearance of the weapon, while the other raised both hands, the left pushing back his hood and the right holding up a lantern that illuminated his face. "What took ya so long?"
"Beckett?" Ronon lowered his weapon, looking at Carson with surprise. Martallyn stood beside him, her face partially obscured by the hood of the heavy parka she wore. A stretcher, along with a large medical pack, occupied the space next to them on the dock.
"Aye, ya can put the gun away. We need ta go find the colonel." Carson paused for a moment and frowned at the Satedan, noticing the man was wearing a sleeveless shirt. "Where's your coat, lad? It's bloody freezin' out here!"
"Yeah, I sorta noticed." Before Beckett could get worked up by his response, Ronon added, "We have Sheppard." With that, the Satedan stepped easily up onto the dock, trading places with Beckett, who climbed into the boat without further comment and stooped down next to the colonel to assess his condition. Beckett managed to get a small moan out of John, a response to pain stimuli, but the colonel was still far from conscious and remained eerily still, which was worrisome considering the bump on his head, but could have been entirely a result of the hypothermia too. They'd just have to wait and see. Cursing under his breath, Carson declared, "There's nothin' I can do for him out here. We need ta get him out of the cold, right now."
Thus the crazy dance began again, this time with Beckett and Martallyn calling the shots. John was lifted carefully from the boat to the stretcher, where Beckett took just enough time to replace Ronon's coat with a pile of blankets and return the coat to its shivering owner. Then he and Teyla took the front of the stretcher, Ronon took the back, and they were on the move. Martallyn followed with Rodney, who was limping but silent, a testament to his worry for John.
Upon arriving back at the research station's medlab, Sheppard was transferred a final time to a bed, at which point Carson shooed everyone out but Martallyn, with a promise that he'd update them on the colonel's condition as soon as he knew something and orders to rest and warm up in the meantime. When the room was cleared, he turned the thermostat up as high as it would go and moved over to the bed where Martallyn had already begun cutting through the layers of John's wet clothing. Beckett picked up an extra set of scissors to help, sighing when he reached the colonel's injured arm. Water and plaster weren't a good mixture, as evidenced by the cast that wasn't exactly solid anymore.
Martallyn glanced over. "Does John often find such trouble as this?"
"A bit too often, I'm afraid," Carson replied wryly, setting to work on the last of the colonel's clothing. He was sure to get an earful from Sheppard later on about the ruined uniform, but his only priority right now was to ensure that the colonel made it to later. Covering him temporarily with a light sheet, Carson went about assessing vitals and checking for other injuries as Martallyn hooked up a cardiac monitor. There was some bruising along the colonel's left side and hip, but he couldn't feel any definite breaks in John's ribs and his lungs were amazingly clear for having been in the water, so Carson decided that X-rays could wait. "Epitympanic core temperature is 83.5," Beckett reported to Martallyn. "Let's start him on a bolus of 250 cc's warm saline and we'll take it from there."
Martallyn nodded in agreement, attending to the IV while Beckett located the oxygen mask they'd prepared earlier and placed it over John's mouth and nose. Adjusting the temperature and humidity on the oxygen just a little, he was silently thankful that the Chiermingans were so well-prepared for this sort of situation. He supposed it made sense what with the cold climate, their people's uncommonly high level of technology, and a few donations the three physicians had received from Atlantis, but for a small facility devoted mainly to research it was still a bit remarkable what they had on hand.
As for he and Martallyn being ready-and-waiting when Sheppard's team had returned, that was luck, pure and simple. Ra'shiggi had stumbled back to the station, still feverish and a little beat up after apparently crashing a boat—Sheppard's boat—into a tree. Being outside had cooled him down enough so he could think straight, and he'd been beside himself with worry over what he'd done to Sheppard. Under different circumstances, Carson might have been a little suspicious of Ra'shiggi's story, friend or no, but the man was undeniably ill, and had practically begged Martallyn to restrain him in case he became delirious again.
Thankfully that hadn't been necessary as yet, and Sheppard had been located and returned. Of that, Carson was especially grateful. The colonel's condition was touchy as it was, and he didn't want to think how bad off John could have been if they'd had to spend even a few extra minutes looking for him. Now came the hard part, though, the waiting. Carson kept careful watch over his patient as the next two hours ticked by. Martallyn checked in periodically, but had her hands full taking care of Eing and Ra'shiggi, who were both down for the count, leaving Beckett on his own for the most part.
Slowly, Sheppard's core temperature began to make the turnaround, supported by warmed blankets, fluids, and oxygen, but his vitals were sluggish to follow. Once, his heartbeat had grown so erratic and faint that Carson had been ready with the defibrillator, but John seemed to take the warning at the sound of the paddles charging, and the monitor settled back into a steadier rhythm. The trouble didn't end there though. Beckett had had just enough time to relax from the false alarm when Sheppard abruptly stopped breathing. A minute or so of manual ventilation had seen him through it, but Beckett abandoned his microscope and laptop, pulled up a chair beside the colonel's bed, and settled in for the long haul.
Forty more minutes passed—blessedly free of any more close calls—before John's body had warmed sufficiently for the shivering to begin, and another ten until the trembling was disruptive enough to draw the man up from the depths of unconsciousness. At first it was just eyelids opened a slit in response to encroaching discomfort, but soon enough confused hazel eyes were searching, then scrunching in pain. Sheppard shifted sluggishly and moaned through chattering teeth. "C-c-c-c-cold…h-h-hurts," he rasped, his voice barely a whisper beneath the oxygen mask.
Carson stood and carefully tucked John's blankets in a little closer. "I'm afraid you're goin' ta be feelin' cold for awhile yet, son. Your temp was nearly 15 degrees below normal when we found ya…" Beckett paused mid-sentence, seeing that Sheppard's eyes had already slid closed again. "Good lad, don't let me keep ya awake." Carson gave his shivering patient an approving pat on the shoulder before returning to his chair.
Despite his exhaustion, the chills didn't allow Sheppard to stay asleep for long. He'd drift off for five minutes or so and then wake again. Though John wasn't entirely lucid, Carson had been able to gather that he had a headache and that all the shivering was making his arm hurt. Unfortunately, there wasn't much he could do about either problem at this point. Giving Sheppard pain meds would be useless and likely dangerous with his body still as cold as it was. Any drugs would metabolize too slowly to be effective, and could prove toxic later on if they absorbed too quickly once he was warm. Of course, explaining all this to the injured and hypothermic colonel was pointless at best, so Carson just tried to distract John during his brief periods of semi-consciousness. With any luck, the worst of the chills would pass before he was truly awake.
Lost in thought, Beckett was startled when a large shadow fell across him. Looking up, he found that the shadow belonged to Ronon. "I thought I told ya ta get warmed up and get some sleep," Carson chided gently, more out of habit than anything.
"I'm not cold, and McKay snores, so I'm not sleepy either," Ronon replied with a shrug, watching Sheppard's pale, trembling form for several seconds before he turned his eyes to Beckett in silent inquiry.
"The colonel's doing as well as can be expected. He's not quite out of the woods, so ta speak, but his temp's on the rebound now and the shivering will help with that."
"Is it okay if I stay for awhile?"
"Aye, I should probably go take a quick look at Rodney's ankle anyway."
The Satedan snorted, "Good luck with that."
Carson sighed inwardly at Ronon's possible meaning—he never knew what to expect when it came to Rodney—and gathered an Ace bandage along with a few other supplies. "I'll only be a few minutes, but if John wakes up just try ta keep him calm until he goes back ta sleep. The chills are causin' him some pain in his arm," Beckett explained. "Also, let me know immediately if there's any change in his heartbeat or breathing."
"Sure thing, Doc." Ronon lowered himself into the chair Beckett had just vacated. He understood why Sheppard's arm was sore, but he couldn't see how the colonel was managing to sleep considering how bad he was shaking. John's teeth were clicking together faster than the keys on McKay's laptop, and the bed frame beneath him even rattled a little from time to time.
"Ro-n-n-n-on-n?" The Satedan looked up at hearing his name. Maybe sleeping wasn't so easy for the colonel after all.
"Sheppard." Ronon slid the chair closer, noticing that John was craning his neck in order to see. Tired eyes blinked up at him, and the colonel's body suddenly tensed in response to a particularly harsh shiver. John groaned and made a weak attempt to shove his blankets away, reaching for his right arm. Ronon intercepted his hand, stilling the motion. "Hey, hey, take it easy, buddy. You'll knock something loose."
"Yeah, Doc said it might," Ronon replied, pulling the blankets back up.
"T-t-too m-much sh-sh-sh-shaking."
Eyeing the odd-shaped lump under the blanket that was Sheppard's splinted arm, Ronon moved the blanket aside again, uncovering the colonel's limb to his elbow.
"W-w-what're y-you d-d-doing?"
"Arm wrestling. It'll take your mind off the pain," Ronon said.
"W-what? N-n-no…m-m-make the p-pain w-w-worse."
The vaguely-alarmed look on John's face might have been amusing under other circumstances, but Ronon ignored it and carefully took hold of his friend's exposed arm, placing one hand just below John's elbow and the other over his wrist. Applying cautious but firm pressure, he was able to keep the colonel's injured limb relatively still as the chills continued to assault his body. In the end, Ronon knew his efforts were lost on Sheppard—the man was understandably preoccupied—but he was satisfied that he'd accomplished his goal when John drifted off again without further discomfort.
Ronon hooked the leg of the chair with his foot and pulled it over, keeping his grip steady as he sat down. He was still sitting there when Carson returned some time later, looking a little flustered. "McKay let you fix his ankle?" the Satedan rumbled.
"Oh, aye, after I managed ta wake him up and threatened him with a lobotomy if he didn't hold still." Beckett rolled his eyes.
Ronon let out a short chuckle in response, glancing down when Sheppard stirred at the sound, but didn't wake. Carson followed his gaze before checking John's monitors. "How long has he been asleep?"
"'Bout 20 minutes."
Beckett looked a little surprised, but then he noticed Ronon's tactic. "Not a bad idea, son."
Ronon shrugged, and kept on doing what he was doing. Beckett made another quick check of John's temperature and, pleased with the results, re-took his seat in front of his laptop. To his surprise, it wasn't the colonel that distracted him from his data a short time later, but a deep snore that most definitely did not belong to Sheppard. A glance confirmed that Ronon's head was pillowed on his arms, and even in his sleep he kept John's arm pinned firmly in place. Carson shook his head at the sight. "And ya say Rodney snores too loud," he muttered.
It was early morning, just after sunrise, and Beckett was starting to feel the long night himself, but he would wait to see how the colonel fared for a while longer before allowing himself the luxury of a nap. He did let Ronon sleep for awhile though, not wanting to risk waking John since the chainsaw roaring away at his side didn't seem to be bothering him in the slightest.
Teyla had checked in once, and Martallyn several times before Carson decided he would be doing Ronon's back a disservice if he didn't wake the man soon. Stretching to loosen a few knots in his own shoulders, Beckett carefully nudged Ronon. It didn't usually take much to wake the Satedan, and this was no exception. With a snort, he sat up straight, blinking. "Wha—"
"It's just me, lad. Why don't ya go back ta your room and get some real sleep. That can't be comfortable." He indicated Ronon's hunched posture with a nod.
Ronon grunted noncommittally and studied Sheppard for a moment. John was still shivering, but more intermittently now. It was normal shivering, not a constant, uncontrollable, bone-rattling spasm like before. He looked back at Carson, his eyes questioning.
Beckett nodded once. "He's through the worst of it. Go on, you'll be awake long before John is."
After another moment's hesitation, Ronon carefully released his hold on Sheppard's arm and stood, cracking his back before heading to the door. "Night, Doc."
Following Ronon's departure, Beckett found himself without much to do. Any interest he'd had in reviewing his old data was nonexistent now, and watching Colonel Sheppard sleep wasn't doing anything for his own waning energy. He eyed the other bed. Maybe a short nap was in order. John's vitals had been fairly stable since he'd regained consciousness, and Carson was a light sleeper when the situation warranted it.
Not that any of that mattered. There was no ignoring the voice that loudly whispered his name seemingly seconds after he closed his eyes, nor the finger that was poking him in the shoulder. "Carson, are you awake?" the not-quite-whisper asked again.
Sighing deeply, Beckett turned toward the voice and cracked open one eye. "Well I am now, Rodney."
"Good, 'cause we have a problem."
"The colonel?" Carson asked with worry, immediately wide awake.
"No, he's fine. Well, not fine, obviously, but not my current definition of problem either," Rodney said.
Beckett got up and went to check John's monitors anyway. That's when it dawned on him what the problem was. All of the monitor screens were dark, and the only illumination in the medlab was from the hazy sunlight coming through the windows. "The power's out again."
"Bingo, and unfortunately your voodoo priestess colleague is not going to be able to jury-rig a quick fix this time. One of the generators is fried, and the other is out of fuel, so as much as I hate to admit it, neither am I."
"Well I hope ya didn't come in here thinkin' I'd be able ta do any better, then."
"No, of course not." McKay rolled his eyes.
"Why thank ya, Rodney, you're too kind," Beckett returned the sarcasm.
"I just came to see how much longer it's going to be until we can head back to Atlantis. Though it's only marginally more boring to sit around this place in the dark than it is when the lights are on, it's going to get pretty cold in here in a couple of hours and I really don't care to have another close call with frostbite."
Beckett sighed. "Rodney, for the last time, ya don't have frostbite and you're not goin' ta get frostbite. Ta answer your question though, the original quarantine period is over, but the colonel came into close contact with Ra'shiggi shortly after he developed symptoms, so ta be completely safe, we shouldn't return ta Atlantis until tomorrow morning…"
"Tomorrow! Are you serious?!"
"Settle down," Beckett admonished, gesturing pointedly to the sleeping colonel. "I didn't say we were going ta wait that long. I'd rather not move the colonel in his present condition regardless of the quarantine, but we may not have a choice. Re-exposing him ta the cold after all that he's been through would be risky. You're sure there's no way ta fix the generators?" While Beckett talked, he turned off the flow on the colonel's IV, as it was no longer providing heat, and layered two more blankets over the ones already present in an attempt to keep John as warm as possible.
"Of course I'm sure."
"We'll give it another hour then, and if he's still not showing any symptoms, we'll get ready ta go."
As if on cue, Sheppard began coughing weakly. Rodney edged toward the door, his eyes widening. "And assuming he does show symptoms?!"
Carson glanced up, but apparently it had been a rhetorical question because McKay was already gone. Shaking his head, Beckett put on his stethoscope and slipped it beneath the blankets to listen to John's chest. There was some minor congestion that he hadn't heard before, but that wasn't proof-positive of anything. Sheppard coughed again, harder and longer this time. His eyes were open and watering and he was struggling to sit up by the time the spell eased.
"Ya all right there, John?" Beckett asked, raising the bed slightly.
Sheppard just nodded, still catching his breath. When his respiration had returned to normal, Beckett removed the oxygen mask and helped him take a few sips of water. "What h-happened?" the colonel asked hoarsely.
It was the first truly coherent sentence Beckett had heard from him yet, and while that was encouraging, he wanted to hear the colonel's version of events. "What do ya remember?"
Sheppard thought for a moment. "A boat…Ra'shiggi th-threw me into the w-water?" he asked uncertainly.
"Aye, your team found ya unconscious on the bank of the canal and brought ya back."
John nodded again, then winced as the movement caused his head to start throbbing. "He h-hit me with s-s-something too."
"Ya do have quite the bump up there, but I think ya avoided a concussion this time around."
"Doesn't f-feel like it."
"How are ya faring otherwise?"
"Not so good," John admitted, his eyes drooping closed. "Tired."
"Is your arm still hurtin' ya?"
"No…well, not as bad. I j-just feel kinda off. Achy, congested, s-still cold." He paused for a moment and swallowed before adding, "a little nauseous."
Carson frowned as the symptoms were listed off. He didn't want to lend credence to Rodney's anxiety since Sheppard had plenty reason to be sore and congested—and definitely cold—but he wasn't one to take chances either. He was beginning to share the colonel's opinion that something was off, though John didn't need to know that. He patted his patient on the shoulder. "Rest for a few minutes, lad. I need ta go check in with the others, but then I want ta draw some blood, just ta be on the safe side, all right?"
Beckett's 'check-in with the others' actually involved him sending Ronon back to the 'gate to tell Atlantis to prepare for a possible quarantine situation. An hour or so later, he was glad that he had. The temperature inside the research station had started to drop, but Colonel Sheppard's had continued to rise, rapidly. He'd gone from mild hypothermia to a low-grade fever in almost a matter of minutes, and his cough had worsened. All in all, it was the same progression of symptoms as Ra'shiggi and Eing, minus the delirium…so far. The fever was still climbing though, leaving John extremely weak, and Carson wanted to get him back to Atlantis as soon as possible.
"Carson? I've taken a look at John's blood sample and compared it to Eing's and Ra'shiggi's. It's…not what I'd expected." Martallyn reported from the doorway, looking troubled.
"How so?" Beckett asked, making sure the colonel was still asleep before following her toward a lab with better illumination. Since they were without power, microscopes were among the few tools they could use for blood analysis, but they still needed adequate lighting.
"John is infected with a virus that's very similar to the one affecting my people, but they're not quite the same. I would say that John has a mutated strain, except I don't see how that's possible given the short period of time. Also, his immune system is fighting it better than he should be able to for a first exposure case, especially considering his present condition."
While Martallyn was talking, Beckett stepped up to the microscope she'd indicated and carefully studied Sheppard's blood sample, then Eing's, and finally Ra'shiggi's. Surprised at what he saw, he checked John's sample again, just to be sure, but then looked at Martallyn and grinned.
The Chiermingan frowned in confusion, "I did not think you would be pleased that the colonel is infected."
"I'm not," Carson agreed, his expression sobering. "John certainly didn't need ta get sick on top of everything else, but he doesn't have the Chiermingan virus. It's just the flu."
"The flu? Is that the virus we studied months ago because of its similar symptoms?"
"I don't understand...the two viruses look almost exactly the same."
"That's because the sample in the vial that exposed Ra'shiggi and Eing was an old strain. The virus on your world has changed enough in the past several years that the more recent samples we've been studying don't look at all like Earth's flu virus, but the old strain does. I've seen similar genetic progressions in other diseases I've studied. It's really not all that unusual."
"Could we manufacture a vaccine, then? Like the one your people have for flu?
"It may be possible," Carson agreed. "We'll need ta do further work ta see just how similar the two are, but it's a step in the right direction."
"In that case, we shall contact you when Ra'shiggi and Eing have recovered sufficiently to work…that is, if you still wish to help us after the way Ra'shiggi behaved."
"The colonel's not the type ta hold a grudge, lass, and neither am I. What Ra'shiggi did wasn't intentional, and I'm sure John would agree with me on that."
"Very well," Martallyn said, though she didn't look entirely convinced. "Do you require assistance to transport Colonel Sheppard to the stargate?"
"Between the four of us I think we'll manage, but thank ya, love." Martallyn nodded and turned to go, but Carson called her back. "What are the three of ya plannin' ta do? Ya surely can't stay here without power."
"We will return to Chierming within a few hours. Ra'shiggi and Eing have improved enough that I think they'll be able to make the journey to the gate, and Ra'shiggi's father lives far enough from the city that there is not much risk of spreading the virus further. We will stay there until they are well. You should get ready for your own journey before it becomes any colder. John should not get chilled again."
"Aye, I suppose you're right. Take care, love."
"You too, Carson. I'll be in touch."
John couldn't comprehend what he was feeling, and his recent hazy memories provided him no reliable frame of reference. He recalled painful cold that drained his strength faster than any ten Wraith could have. He'd endured merciless shivering for what might've been days on end. Then, the fire had attacked. It had burned him continuously from the inside out as it battled with the shivering for control of his body. When the fire failed to gain ground quickly enough, it had even involved the Wraith and iratus bugs to siphon his energy away through his nightmares.
It was gone now though. The fire, the trembling, the cold, all of it. He felt almost normal in his skin, and the feeling was so foreign he didn't know what to make of it. John opened his eyes slowly and there weren't any Wraith, no bugs either, just the familiar ceiling of the infirmary above him. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a big shape that had to be Ronon, there was rapid clicking to his right that would be McKay with his laptop, and a silence that may or may not have indicated Teyla's presence. He tried to lift his head to look for her, but it seemed that the fire really had made off with his strength—or added approximately a ton to the weight of his head—because he only managed a millimeter's separation from the pillow for a fraction of a second. Suddenly, though, three faces were looking down at him, and one of them was Teyla. Question answered. "Hey…guys."
Startled, John's eyes flicked to Rodney, who continued, "Carson kept saying you were going to wake up, but he usually doesn't lie to us for this long. It's been almost a week!"
"It has been two days, Rodney," Teyla said in a weary tone. "But we have been anxious for you to wake, John. How are you feeling?"
John swallowed, wincing at the scratchiness of his throat. When he spoke, his voice remained gravelly, "Better I think…what happened?"
"Dr. Lenox had the flu before we left for P5X-M37, and Carson thinks that's how you were exposed. Your little swim temporarily killed your immune system, and here we are. That'll teach you to associate with the biochemists."
"Didn't associate…she dropped a stack of papers. I stopped to help her pick them up," John said with as much defensiveness as he could manage, which also drove the tickle in his throat past the point of no return. Ronon carefully hauled him upright and held him that way as he coughed. From the ache it caused in his ribs and chest, John guessed he'd been doing a lot of that lately.
"Rodney, what did I tell ya about gettin' him worked up?" Beckett asked, not looking pleased as he stepped around the curtain.
"What did I do?! I can't help it that talking about Dr. Lenox gets him all choked up."
Beckett rolled his eyes at the bad pun, taking the opportunity to listen to John's lungs while he was upright. His airways sounded reasonably clear, and upon taking the rest of his vitals, Carson found those to be fairly normal as well. "You're looking better today, Colonel. How do ya feel?"
"I'm good…not cold anymore. Or hot." John offered Beckett a tired smile. "Wouldn't mind getting rid of some of the extras though," he said hopefully. When Ronon had sat him up, he'd become aware of the many wires and tubes that were attached to him, one in particular, but Carson was already shaking his head.
"Maybe tomorrow. You're doing better, but your fever only broke four hours ago. With all you've been through in the last few days, illness notwithstanding, I need ta keep watch on things for a bit longer."
John nodded in response, not really expecting to get his way. There was a weariness in his bones that he couldn't even begin to deny, and he yawned in spite of himself.
Carson patted his shoulder. "Don't tire yourself out, son. I'm glad ta see ya awake and coherent, but ya still have a lot of recovering ta do. These three have already been warned what will happen if they don't let ya rest when ya need to."
"Is there a particular reason you look at me when you say that?" Rodney asked with a glare.
Wisely not answering, Beckett turned to go. "I'll check in on ya later, Colonel." To the others he cautioned, "Don't keep him awake for too much longer."
"Seriously, why does he always assume I'm the problem?" Rodney asked again when Beckett had gone.
"You really want me to answer that?" Ronon spoke up for the first time since John had woken.
"So…I hear you guys went sledding and didn't invite me," Sheppard said, blatantly trying to change the subject.
"Yeah, but it wasn't fun anyway. Conan was trying to kill me, and he almost succeeded," McKay griped.
On second thought, maybe he'd just opened an even bigger can of worms. Luckily, John was tired, and he drifted off to the sounds of his team arguing about avalanches, frostbite, and whether or not Ronon had been an abominable snowman in a past life.