A/N - This was written for the Shep's Atlantis Ficathon.

Burning Man

The first indication that the mission was not going to end well was the squealing war cry that ripped through the room. John and the Chief Elder of the "People of the Mountain"—as they had so eloquently described themselves—had been deep in conversation, debating how much food Atlantis could reasonably provide in return for the metal ore that was either the greatest thing since sliced bread or worth at least looking into, depending on McKay's mood.

The screeching howl caused an instant reaction. John and his team jerked their heads around, searching for the source of the sound, while the People of the Mountain—who literally lived inside the mountains—panicked, jumping up from the table and scrambling to reach the exits. The conference room was the center cave in a series of interconnected passages and caves that made up the entire village and it was massive—half the size of a football field and three stories high. Caves and walkways lined the walls, allowing passersby to look in on the Chief's governing process.

The negotiations with John and his team had attracted a large crowd, and a bleacher structure had been brought in earlier that day, lining the walls to accommodate dozens of people in addition to the ones on the upper levels. All of the spectators were now screaming, the sound echoing throughout the room. Ronon had jumped up, scanning the crowds. The chief was screaming for his own security people, while Teyla and Rodney stared at the mass panic in surprise.

The first indication that the mission was not going to end well for John specifically, was the sharp, biting pinprick of pain in his neck. He slapped his hand up, standing as he did so and backing away from the table. His fingers fumbled as pain began to radiate from his neck.

He found a long, thin dart and yanked hard. The pain spiked and something warm and wet dripped down his neck. He stared at the black tip of the dart, the sound of screaming around him growing dimmer.

"Sheppard!" Ronon yelled, pointing up to the second floor walkway with his blaster.

John looked up, seeing only a mass of heads running in every direction. "What?"

"In the hooded shirt, third door from the left."

Ronon was moving forward, looking like he was going to shoot someone. John glanced around, seeing more of those thin darts lying on the floor and table just as another wave of them flew down on top of them. One whipped past John's head, and he looked up when sharp pains hit him in the chest and arm.

"Ronon, over there, in the dark cloak—another one. Colonel…"

John heard Teyla's voice distantly. He looked down at his chest and stared at the dart sticking through the fabric of his t-shirt. The one in his arm burned, and a bead of red welled up from where it was sticking out of his bicep.

"Sheppard, take cover!"

McKay's voice jerked John out of his fugue and he looked around. The room was almost empty. The remaining occupants cowered under the bleachers or near the table. John saw the chief kneeling on the ground next to one of his people, yanking a dart out of the man's leg.

"Sheppard!"

"Rrr…'nney?"

Was that his voice? He swallowed, attempting to clear his throat but failing miserably. His head felt like it was swelling up, and the lanterns hanging from the walls of the cavernous room were starting to zig-zag, like little streaks of lightning.

An arm grabbed him, shaking his shoulder and trying to pull him backward. "Sheppard, get down," it commanded.

Where was Rodney? He tried to turn around and look at the person shaking him, but his feet were too heavy.

"Rrr…rrrod-nn…"

"Right here, Sheppard. What's your—ah, crap."

Rodney was suddenly standing in front of him, yanking out the darts in his chest and arm. John blinked at him, trying to bring his face into focus, but it was getting harder and harder to keep his eyes open. Rodney's face twisted and warped, and John felt his legs folding underneath him.

"Easy, Sheppard. Hold on." Rodney moved around behind him, pulling again. This time he had two arms wrapped around John's chest. John looked up at the dim room inside the mountain, the screaming disappearing people, and the zig-zaggy lightning.

"Ronon, Teyla—help me!" Rodney screamed in his ear. John jerked, looking for his teammates and saw both of them backing up toward him, their weapons raised. Rodney was still dragging him somewhere. He stared at his boots and the line in the packed dirt floor his heels were making.

The room, with its balconies and passageways and bleachers and conference table, disappeared, replaced with rough stone. The ground tilted away from him, and it wasn't until he was staring up into the worried faces of his teammates that he realized Rodney had laid him on the ground.

"He was hit twice with those darts—in the chest and the arm," Rodney said. His mouth moved a second later, the voice oddly disconnected like a badly dubbed movie.

"Three times," Ronon said, but it had been Teyla's mouth that had moved in time with the sound and her finger reaching for the bloody spot on his neck.

"Www…'eirr…rrr," John slurred. He reached a hand out and felt Ronon grab it.

"Sheppard," one of them called out, or maybe all three. The voices faded and the lights flared. John blinked again, but halfway through decided it would be easier just to keep his eyes shut for awhile.


"This room will be safe. I will send a healer in with the antidote immediately."

"Thank you."

"Sheppard, wake up, buddy."

John was awake, but his eyes felt like they were glued down. He moaned, exhausted. Why were they waking him up now?

"Come on, Sheppard."

Ronon. He would recognize that voice anywhere. Ronon probably wanted to go running. He frowned, turning his head away from Ronon's voice. Not now, too tired.

"Why can't we just take him back to Atlantis?"

McKay. Did he want to go running too?

"I apologize on behalf of the Chief Elder. The ring has been surrounded by green men, and we cannot approach it without being attacked."

John didn't recognize that voice. He sucked in a deep breath and forced his eyelids to peel apart. Where was McKay? Memories floated back—the village that lived inside the mountain, the negotiations, little black darts sticking in his skin.

"Green men?" McKay squawked.

"Hey," Ronon whispered.

John felt a hand on his forehead, brushing back his hair at the same time as the unknown voice answered.

"Green men—it is the name used for the rebel group. They live on the surface of the planet, among the trees."

His voice had dropped, the tone sounding appalled. Like living on the surface of a planet was unthinkable or insane.

"Why did they attack us?" Teyla asked, from somewhere near John's head. Ah, that was her hand on his head. That made a lot more sense. Especially since he could see Ronon sitting on the edge of the bed he was lying on, twirling his gun in one hand and tapping the blade of a very long knife against his leg with the other.

"Ronon? Teyla?" John croaked out, glancing between her and Ronon.

"John?" Teyla suddenly leaned over him, concern etched across her face.

"What happened?"

"We were attacked," Ronon answered. "You were hit with three of these." He held up the thin darts.

"Doesn't look so bad," John said, but it couldn't be good. He'd passed out. He glanced around the small cave room. It looked like a bedroom, with the bed—and him on it—on one side, and a small table and two chairs on the other. Teyla was sitting behind him leaning on a small nightstand, his head in her lap. Ronon was sitting on the edge of the bed, and McKay was at the door, talking to one of the chief's advisors.

"The tips were poisoned," Teyla answered. She turned to the advisor. "You said you have an antidote?"

John glanced at the man near the door, who nodded his head. "Yes, I will go fetch the healer now."

"Yeah, you do that," McKay yelled after him as he ducked out of the room. Had there been a door to the room, the scientist would probably have slammed it, but since they were in a cave…

"How long was I out?"

"Few minutes," Ronon answered. "Not long."

"The Chief Elder?"

"He's okay. A few of his people were hit in the attack but they missed him. The rebels were pushed back to the outer passageways soon after."

John nodded. He brought a hand up to his face and pressed his fingers into his eyes. He felt like he'd tried to outrun Ronon and then wrestled a half dozen Wraith.

"How are you feeling, John?"

"Like crap," he muttered. His head hurt, his joints ached, and he had this sickly sweet taste in the back of his throat.

An old man bustled into the room a few minutes later, a young girl trailing him. "I am the healer. This is my apprentice," he announced. His eyes landed on John and he moved over to the bed, waving Ronon out of the way.

"I was told you were hit with three darts," he said. He tsked, examining the three tiny wounds where the darts had broken through his skin. He pressed his fingers into the muscles in John's neck, chest and arm, peeled back his eyelids, and pulled up his shirt to knead his stomach.

John let his eyes slide closed. The exam was ten times worse than any check Keller might have done—it felt more invasive in some ways, even though he wasn't poking him with needles or other instruments. He had only his hands. John shivered, wishing the old man would just hurry up and finish. He was breaking out into a sweat, unable to decipher if he was hot or cold.

Must be an effect of the poison. He shook harder, pulling his shirt down and wishing there was a blanket. Cold—he was definitely cold. The old man moved to the table, and he and his young apprentice began mixing a concoction together.

He felt a warm hand on his forehead, and he opened his eyes. Teyla smiled down at him.

"Cc-c'ldd-dd," John stuttered, badly enough that he wasn't sure anyone could have understood him. Teyla did, though, producing a blanket from somewhere and spreading it over John's trembling form.

"Rest, John. We will take care of you."

Exhaustion pulled at him. He didn't want to rest, not when they were under attack and cut off from the gate. He tried to roll onto his side, but Teyla held him still, much too easily.

"Sit him up. He'll need to drink all of this." The old man was back. John forced his eyes open and saw the healer approach, holding a steaming mug. "The antidote is effective, but not pleasant. It will push the poison out of his system, but it tends to amplify the effects of the poison in the process, and your friend received three doses."

"Maybe we should skip the antidote then," McKay said, and John nodded in agreement. He already felt like he was on the verge of the worse flu of his life. He really did not want that amplified, especially while they were stuck in a cave.

"The effects of the antidote are fierce, but they will pass and your friend will recover. Left untreated, three doses of poison could kill him."

"Oh, okay," McKay answered. "Give him the antidote then. What are you waiting for?"

John felt Teyla lifting him up. She braced him against herself, cupping a hand under his chin. The old man squatted down in front of him and held the mug to his lips. John sc scowled at the nasty smell but he opened his mouth automatically.

"Drink, friend," the old man urged, tilting the mug farther and forcing the liquid down John's throat. It tasted almost sweet initially, like watered down kool-aid, but then he could feel it burning a trail down the back of his throat. He squirmed, and Teyla gripped him harder, pinning him in place.

The healer pulled the mug away and John coughed. He could feel Teyla's hand on his forehead, trying to soothe him. The burning sensation in his throat spread to his stomach, then his chest, then his arms and legs and head. His eyes had slid closed at some point but he forced them open when it felt like the world had begun moving around him.

Teyla was leaning him back on the bed, but he wasn't tired any more. His heart was pounding in his chest, pumping the antidote through his body. He was still shaking, but not from cold. He felt like he'd drunk fifteen cups of coffee all at once.

"Wh-what hell was th't sst-stuff?" he asked. His heart was trying to claw its way out of his ribcage and he pressed a hand over his chest.

"The antidote will keep you awake for most of the night," the healer replied. "It will make you sick to your stomach at the very beginning and the very end, but the effects will be worse in the middle. It is vital you drink water throughout. I can stay here tonight if you'd like…"

He trailed off, but John was already shaking his head. The apprentice was staring at him like he'd just been flung off a burning train—half in horror, half in awe. If this was only the beginning and not even the worst of what was in store for him…No way in hell did he want an audience for that.

He looked around for one of his teammates and found Ronon. The Satedan was staring at him, looking concerned and pissed off at the same time. He met John's gaze and nodded.

"No, we can take care of him," he replied. The small apprentice jumped, tearing her gaze away from John.

"Very well," the old healer said. "I'll send a jug of fresh water for you. He will be awake but you will have to help him drink. If you need anything, send for me and I will come at once."


John closed his eyes, pushing the blanket off of him with shaking hands. He was hot—way too hot. He could feel sweat soaking into his clothes and his stomach was starting to flip and churn. His heart still felt like it was beating too fast, but he forced himself to take slow, deep breaths.

"How are you doing?" McKay asked. John opened his eyes to find the physicist perched on the edge of the bed. He knew he hadn't been asleep, but he'd managed to zone out for awhile and ignore the hot-cold-hot-cold cycle his body was dragging him through.

"Coff-coffees…got n-nothingg on thisss…st-stufff," he answered, hearing his voice shake and jitter as badly as the rest of them.

"Screw the ore. We should negotiate a trade for that."

John smiled. He was exhausted but wired, feeling like he could scale the mountain they were in if only his legs weren't so rubbery. He took another deep breath and pressed his hand against his stomach.

McKay was looking at the door, and John realized Teyla and Ronon had disappeared.

"Wh-where are Rr-ronon and Teyla?" he asked.

"They're watching the hallway. The People of the Mountain have us hidden away in a side tunnel, and they say it's safe, but it is pretty chaotic out there. I guess the rebels have never infiltrated this far before and it's got them all a little freaked out."

"Pp-eople of the mount-ttain…" John repeated.

"I know! Seriously, how did they get a copy of Lord of the Rings? If there's some kind of wormhole bridge that goes straight to Tolkien, I want it."

"Alm'sst p-poetic."

"We need a name like. People of the Water. People of the Ocean. People of the Floating City."

John laughed, then groaned as a cramp ripped through his gut. He gasped, squeezing his eyes closed, and tried to curl up on his side. His knees hit McKay's side, and he rolled the other way.

"Sheppard? Ah, crap. What's wrong?"

McKay had him by the shoulders, forcing him onto his back. He was also about to shake him, which would not end well. John forced his eyes open again. "Ssss'rry…st-stomach," he ground out.

"Are you going to be sick?"

"Y-yea…no…" He groaned again. "Ok-kay. Maybe."

"Well, pick one!"

His stomach twisted again and nausea hit, fast and furious. He panted against it, willing himself not to throw up.

"McKay…Rr-Rodney…"

"Right here. Oh God, don't be sick. I can't handle sick. The whole throwing up thing…just thinking about it makes me want to throw up. Trust me—I'm like the epitome of sympathy gaggers when it comes to this kind of thing…"

John waved his arm at the babbling physicist, who was now standing up and backing away from the bed. John swallowed, knowing he was about to lose the battle with his stomach.

"Ss-sick," he whispered. He tried to roll, but his body had picked that moment to go limp and unresponsive. Beneath the pounding pseudo-caffeine high, the poison was sapping his energy. His eyes flew open as he started to gag then choke. He was flat on his back, barely able to even turn his head.

Hands suddenly dug under him, lifting him up. He felt his head loll forward as he gagged again.

"Hold on, Sheppard. Just…hold on. Everything's going to be fine. You're going to be okay," McKay said. He sounded almost calm and John relaxed in his grip.

"Teyla, Ronon—get the hell in here right now!"

John jerked at the sudden panicked scream. The motion was enough to set off his stomach, and it revolted, expelling everything he'd eaten all day. He cringed as the warm liquid splattered down the front of his shirt, soaking through to the skin.

"Oh, sick. This is so sick. I'm going to throw up," McKay muttered behind him. He was still holding John up, though. Teyla and Ronon both ran into the room, weapons raised. John sighed, feeling his cheeks burn. He tugged at his shirt, but his strength had deserted him.

Ronon scowled at McKay and dropped his arm, reholstering his blaster. John heard McKay sputter behind him, ready to respond, but Ronon waved him off.

"I'll take over, McKay."

He grabbed John by the shoulders and held him up. McKay moved fast, sliding out from behind him and moving away from the bed as fast as he could. His nose scrunched up in disgust but John saw the guilt flashing through his eyes.

"Ss'rry," he mumbled. He glanced at his teammates for a half second then turned away, unable to meet their gaze.

"Do not concern yourself with this, John. You will be better soon."

John nodded, looking up to see her and McKay step out of the room. He closed his eyes, wishing he would just pass out. The antidote was still thrumming through his veins. He could feel his hands trembling and his heart jumping in his chest. Of all the times to be wide awake…

"You still feel sick?" Ronon asked, sliding into McKay's position. He leaned John back against his chest.

"No, ff-feel…little bbbetter actu'lly."

"That healer guy left a bunch of blankets and a fresh shirt."

Ronon pulled John's t-shirt up as he spoke, lifting it up and over his head before John could protest. John's arms flopped lifelessly despite his best attempts at trying to help. He blew out his breath in frustration.

"Relax, Sheppard."

"Thisss…sssuckss," he slurred. He'd stopped shivering, the flush in his face traveling the length of his body. Within seconds, he was covered in sweat. He heard water being poured into a cup and he rolled his head to the side.

Ronon was pouring water into the bowl and cup on the nightstand with one hand, using the other to hold John up. When Ronon brought the cup over, John licked his lips in anticipation. His mouth felt bone dry. He lifted a hand to take the cup but it shook so badly he dropped it immediately, hoping Ronon hadn't noticed.

Ronon didn't say anything—just held the cup long enough for John to drink it down. He reached for the bowl next and pulled out a rag. The water was cold, and John shivered in relief. Ronon wiped down his chest and face, then began manhandling him again, pulling a loose white shirt over his head. Sweat was beading on John's forehead again and he panted against the heat.

"How're you doing, Sheppard?"

"Hot," he breathed out.

Ronon laid John back down on the bed and poured another cup of water. He lifted John's head and tilted the cup, letting a trickle of water flow. John swallowed as fast as he could, acutely aware of his arms lying limp at his side and his head sagging heavily into Ronon's hand.

He was exhausted and wired, weak but jumpy. His body trembled with sudden chills, and the stifling heat from a minute before left him immediately. Ronon stood, returning with one of the blankets the healer had stacked on the far table and spread it over him.

"I know you can't sleep, buddy, but try to rest. Save your strength."

John nodded and forced his eyes to close. Ronon was with him, and Teyla and McKay were watching the door. His team had his back. He took a deep breath and tried to relax for a few minutes—or at least ignore the shuddering chills wracking his body.


The shaking continued long after the chills stopped. John had no idea what time it was or how long it had been since he'd been hit with the darts. He'd been hot for awhile, pushing the blankets off of him as far as he could. Now he was neither hot nor cold, but the shakes lingered.

Teyla was sitting with him, brushing his hair back from his head and humming softly to herself. John could feel the muscles in his arms twitching and spasming, but the harder he tried to lay still, the more they trembled.

"Are you cold?"

John shook his head, no. He just wanted to go to sleep, to be blissfully ignorant of whatever other betrayals his body had in store for him. Damn those poison darts. And the antidote. Damn them all.

"Here," Teyla said, holding a cup out. "The healer said you should try to drink as much water as you can."

Heendlessly thirsty. He raised his hand up a few inches off the bed, then scowled when it curled into his body. The shaking was growing into an all-out palsy in both arms. No matter how loudly his mind screamed at them to stop moving and hold the cup, they jerked and shuddered uncontrollably.

Teyla slid an arm behind his back and lifted him up, ignoring the way his body convulsed with larger and larger movements. John's head slid toward her, resting in the crook of her arm. Even it was twitching, barely staying still long enough for Teyla to press the cup to his mouth and allow him to drink.

He managed to drink most of the water, but some of it dribbled down the sides of his mouth. Teyla held onto him as she reached for a dry cloth and wiped his face off. The only parts of his body he had any control over were his eyelids, and he closed them as she cleaned him off.

"G-get Ronon-n," he whispered. "T-tell him to…to st-stun me."

"We cannot do that, John. We do not know what effect that will have. The night is half over—you will get through this soon."

Get through it was one thing. Get through it with his dignity intact? That was a whole different ballgame—one he was losing badly. At least he was sweating so much that it pretty much eliminated any need to go to the bathroom.

"Do you feel sick at all?"

"No."

"Any pain?"

"Just k-kind of achy," he said.

Teyla laid him back on the bed and grabbed his shaking hands. She held them in a strong grip, forcing them to be still.

"Anything hap-happening out th-there?"

"It has been quiet since you were brought to this room," she answered. "We are told the green men still hold the stargate however, attacking anyone who dares approach it."

"G-green men," John said, his head jerking against the pillow. "S-sounds like…bunch of cr-crazed en…en-envir'ment'lists."

"That is exactly what Rodney said," Teyla said, her expression serious. John studied her face, wondering if she was pulling his leg and decided she wasn't.

"Th-that can't be g-good," he said, matching her expression. "Now I'm ch-channeling Rodney M'kay."

"It is a good thing you took the antidote then. I do not believe Ronon and I could carry enough powerbars for the two of you."

John smiled, loving his team more than anything in the world at that exact moment. Teyla let go of one of his hands, setting it on the bed as she reached for something on the nearby table. His hand jumped and jerked, and his knuckles banged into her knee.

"S-sorry," he whispered.

"You have nothing to apologize for, John," Teyla answered. She held a damp rag to his forehead and wiped away the fresh sheen of sweat.

John closed his eyes again, counting down every passing second.


The trembling that had started in his hands traveled down each leg and up into his head, making John feel a bit like a piece of bacon thrown on the frying pan. McKay had come in next, cautious at first until he seemed sure John wasn't going to throw up. John had given up trying to talk at all, his voice stuttering too much to be understood.

"How is your leader?" a low voice rumbled into the room. The Chief Elder. John opened his eyes and looked toward the door. McKay was sitting on the chair next to the bed and Teyla and Ronon stood in front of the doorway, barring the entrance.

"We are told his symptoms are normal and that they will soon pass," Teyla responded. John could just see the top of the Chief Elder's head as the man tried to peer around Teyla and into the room.

"I would like to talk to him myself, if it is alright with you, to convey my condolences that this has happened while he was a guest of my people." He phrased the words as if he were making a request, but his tone suggested otherwise. In the brief negotiations John had had with the man, he'd realized that this guy was used to getting his way.

John rolled his head on the pillow, cursing the way he was jerking and twitching. Someone—McKay, perhaps—had spread a blanket over him, covering most of his body, but it was still clear he was shaking uncontrollably. McKay glanced over at him and John shook his head, begging his teammate to not let anyone in the room.

"Colonel Sheppard really needs his rest right now, and he'd prefer some privacy," McKay said, standing up and walking toward the door.

"I have seen many suffer the effects of this poison and its antidote. It is nothing I have not witnessed before."

"All the same," Teyla broke in. "Perhaps it would be better if you returned in the morning.

John heard the Chief Elder let out a huffed breath. If he'd been capable of it, he would have smiled at the way all three of his teammates straightened. McKay crossed his arms while Teyla fingered her P90. The chief tried to peer over their shoulders toward the bed, and Ronon leaned forward, dropping a hand to hover over his gun.

"I will let you all rest," the chief said, subdued. He backed up into the hallway, disappearing from John's sight. "If you are in need of anything, please let me know."

Ronon and McKay stood shoulder to shoulder in the entrance and John could almost see the glares they shot at the chief. Teyla walked over to John, grabbing his shaking hand, and smiled.

"…th-th'nnn…"

"You are welcome. How are you, John?"

"…k-kk-kay…"

"Let me get you some water."

It took five minutes for John to drink a cup of water, and most of it dribbled down the sides of his mouth and onto his neck. Ronon and McKay had grabbed the two chairs and plopped down near the door, ready to stand up if anyone tried to come in again.

John's arm jerked beneath the blanket, sending a shooting pain through the muscle. He gasped, in surprise more than anything else. The pain faded, but there was a new tension in the muscles—a tightness that wasn't easing up. Teyla narrowed her eyes, studying his face.

"John, was is it?" she asked.

"…ss-sspp'sss…"

She frowned as she tried to decipher what he was saying. She pulled the blanket down to his waist and grabbed both hands. Before she could say anything, another spasm ripped through his opposite arm more intense than the first, and he groaned.

"John?"

"S-ss'rry," he ground out.

"Are you in pain?"

The muscles in his stomach knotted up, feeling like they were twisting around themselves. Pain radiated up into his chest, his entire body jerking in response, and he grit his teeth to stifle a scream.

"Ronon, Rodney!" Teyla called out, but the pain faded almost at once and John gasped in relief.

"What's going on?" McKay stood at the end of the bed, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

"M-mmuss…mmuscle sp-sp'ss…"

"Muscle spasms?"

John nodded. McKay had that look in his eyes—the I'm about to totally freak out look.

"Is that normal?" he asked, looking over at Ronon and Teyla as if they should know.

"I'll get the healer just in case," Ronon said. He strode out of the room, disappearing into the hallway before John registered what he'd said.

Another ripple of pain coursed through his body, centering in his back and wrapping itself around his ribcage. He threw his head back as his lungs constricted and it was a long few seconds before the muscles relaxed and he pulled in much-needed oxygen. His face burned with heat and a fresh sheen of sweat broke out across his forehead. He could feel tears leaking out of the corners of his closed eyes and another spasm lanced through his arm.

Teyla grabbed the arm, forcing it to uncurl away from his body, and began massaging. The muscles felt rigid, like a steel cord through the entire limb, but gradually the tension oozed out. Teyla continued to knead, moving down the arm and pressing her fingers in the muscles in his hand.

The relief was almost overwhelming and John bit back a moan. More spasms shot through his chest and back, then his legs and feet. His breath stuttered at the more intense waves, and Teyla began massaging the other arm.

John opened his eyes when his leg jerked, arching his back at the worst Charlie horse he ever remembered having. He kicked his leg, trying to flex his foot but the knotted muscle burrowed deeper. He was vaguely aware of the sound of a chair scraping across the floor, and then hands pulled away the blanket.

"Where, um…where does it hurt?" McKay asked.

John raised his head enough to look at the physicist's pale, anxious face, then dropped back onto the pillow. "C-calf," he forced out.

McKay lifted his leg, working his thumbs into the muscle. The pain ratcheted up a notch and John bit his lip at the moaning whimper threatening to slip out. He'd suffered worse pain, by far. This was nothing—he could hold it together for this. McKay continued to dig into the hard muscle until the tightness finally eased up.

Ronon returned with the healer, and he focused just long enough to hear that the muscle spasms were a normal part of the process. The healer left a short time later, and Ronon stepped in to help. When he flipped John on his stomach and began massaging the rigid muscles around his shoulder blades, John did cry, but he buried his head in the pillow until the tears stopped.

Exhaustion pounded at him, sapping what little energy he had left. His team floated around the room, talking to each other or to him—he had no idea. He couldn't focus on anything. Hands continued to knead muscles that were gradually growing still, interrupted when someone lifted his head and dribbled water into his mouth.

By the time the nausea hit again, the tremors had almost stopped. John lay on the bed, completely washed out. He'd had his eyes closed for awhile but had yet to even doze off. Minutes felt like days, slipping past with agonizing slowness. He groaned when his stomach began to churn, the nausea clawing its way up his chest and into the back of his throat with alarming speed.

"The green men have pulled back from the gate," someone announced. McKay, maybe.

"We need to contact Atlantis," Teyla answered.

John vaguely heard Ronon respond that he would go, but he had no strength or energy to move. He had just managed to drag open his eyes when his stomach flipped and twisted, and he moaned, banging his fist weakly against the bed.

"John?"

Teyla was there. He looked up at her but her face blurred in and out of focus. God, he was so tired. Why couldn't he just pass out? He panted against the nausea but it was only a matter of seconds before he lost that fight. He coughed, then choked, and hands pulled him upright by the armpits. Seconds later he started to gag, holding on just long enough to see a bowl being thrust under his chin.

There was nothing in his stomach beside water, but his chest and gut clenched painfully as it expelled the little bit of liquid. He could still feel hands holding him up and voices whispering words of encouragement, but he blocked it out, his attention narrowing on the bowl in front of him and the queasiness settling into his gut.

Someone asked him if he was done and he must have made some kind of reply because he felt himself being lowered back down to the bed a few seconds later. A cool cloth pressed against his suddenly hot skin, and he turned into it with a sigh. People poured into the room, and he opened his eyes just long enough to see Teyla and McKay sitting on the edge of the bed in front of him like a protective wall. He heard Ronon, then Keller and Lorne, and was vaguely aware of being lifted onto a stretcher.

"We'll carry it," McKay snapped and John almost smiled. He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. Had the antidote finally run its course? He felt ready to sleep for a week straight. The stretcher was lifted up, and someone grabbed his hand, weaving their fingers around his. He blinked open his eyes to find Teyla standing by his side. Ronon loomed above him, holding the end of the stretcher near his head, and McKay grunted as he tightened his grip at the other end.

A blanket was spread over him and tucked in, and then Teyla leaned in. "Rest, John. We will get you home."


John slept. He didn't know for how, but when he woke up, he still felt washed out and exhausted. His entire body ached and he squirmed on the bed, trying to find a more comfortable position.

"Sheppard?"

He opened his eyes to find McKay perched on a chair, his laptop sitting precariously on his knees as he leaned toward the bed.

"Hey," John rasped out. He swallowed to work some moisture into his throat.

"Here." McKay held out a cup, and John was happy to see the palsied convulsions in his hands were gone. He took the glass then scowled when his arm trembled in exhaustion.

"I can…um…"

"No," John interrupted. "I can do it myself." He managed two sips before he had to set it down, but McKay was ready, grabbing it and setting it on the table behind him before John dumped it all over his lap.

"So, how are you feeling?"

"Tired. When did we get back?"

"It's been about fifteen hours now. It's almost time for dinner—Atlantis time zone, anyway."

"Hmm…" John leaned back, closing his eyes. He was ready to sleep again. How long had he been awake? Seconds?

"I'll just, um, be here—if you need anything or…"

McKay was hovering. John opened his eyes again and looked around the infirmary. "Everyone okay?"

"What? Yeah, we're fine. Ronon will be by after dinner, probably Teyla as well. Lorne took over negotiations with the Chief Elder and so far, there haven't been any more attacks."

John nodded. "The antidote worked then?"

He caught McKay grimacing and flashed to the night before of the scientist holding him up as he puked all over himself.

"Worked? I guess that's a relative term. You're going to be fine—Keller said you'll be back on your feet in a couple of days. The side effects of that antidote, however, were more than a little unpleasant—"

"Don't remind me," John muttered.

"—but not unpleasant enough for Keller and her team to not be all excited about it. She actually had the nerve to tell Lorne it might be more important than the ore we were originally negotiating for.

"She didn't."

"She did. She…oh, shut up."

John smiled, burrowing deeper into the bed. McKay was trying to look irritated but was not quite pulling it off. A nurse walked past and he scooted forward in the chair. The move was almost reflexive, and John imagined for just a second that McKay would have jumped up if the nurse had come near him. The impression was so fleeting that he almost dismissed it completely, but the image of his team standing between him and the Chief Elder rose up in his mind.

"Look, you're really tired. I should go, let you get some rest."

There was an achiness in his joints and muscles that was starting to wake up. Sleep sounded like the perfect remedy. And yet…

"Wait, Rodney," he blurted out before he realized what he was saying. "Don't…I mean…you don't have to but… uh…" He shook his head, forcing the sudden sense of unease to the back of his mind. "Nevermind."

Rodney paused before comprehension bloomed on his face. "Actually, if you don't mind me staying, I'm onto something here, and if I go back to my lab, I'll just get pestered by Zelenka or asked to take care of a problem that anyone with a mail-order PhD can handle. Just because I'm me—the resident genius—they want me to do everything. Hello? Do I not already have dozens of vitally important projects all going simultaneously?"

John's eyes drifted closed as McKay spoke, but he waved his hand in acknowledgment.

He heard the scientist settle back in his chair, and the tapping of the keyboard followed him into sleep a few moments later.

END