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Decay

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Art by the amazing Danceswithgary

“Lock it up and add it to the list. Let’s move the quarantine zone out to 20 meters from this location” Rodney sighed into the built-in mic of his suit. He dropped the contaminated med kit onto the top of the bar and, as the rest of the CDC team filed out, he reached in and tapped a quick code into the transponder built into the device tucked at the bottom of the bag.

“Doctor McKay, the police are here with the sheeting for the doors. We’ve secured all the samples, are you ready to leave?” His current favourite minion, Dr Kunasagi, said delicately as she came to stand at his elbow.

Rodney looked around the room and with one last tap to the device he let out a final deep breath, fogging up the faceplate of his suit for a second.

“Such a waste of resources, we should just start bringing the kit into the sites in a trash bag.” He abandoned the kit, knowing that the decontamination unit outside would just log the content and before burning it, the supposedly anti-everything coating was well documented at this point for failing to live up to its claims against this sickness.  Rodney grabbed the plastic strap of the casing on his laptop and pulled it from the barstool beside him as he strode from the room, his minion falling into step beside him as he went.

They stepped out into the midday light, the Las Vagas sunshine blinding even through the thick plastic tent that shielded the entranceway and housed the decontamination unit, that seemed to move deeper into the city every day. As they reached the first of three shower units they needed to pass through to exit the tent they were forced to step to one side and let the Police carry their heavy metal sheeting to the bar door.

“Doctor McKay.” Rodney started at the sound of his name and looked a little closer at the man inside the nearest suit.

“We need to stop meeting like this, Detective Sheppard.”   

“Yeah? Then find a cure.” Sheppard shot back.

“I’m trying… We’re really trying” Rodney sighed even as the officer walked away from him, he watched the man start giving orders and stepped backwards into the shower unit. Rodney reached up and tugged the zip down to meet the other zip, that his minion was pulling up. They stood next to each other watching the police work for a moment before she half whispered,

“It doesn’t matter how many times we do this, or all the things I have seen in the P… the past… it feels so wrong to just leave them there.”

Rodney reached down and squeezed her shoulder before nodding for the chemical shower to start as he replied,

“They’re dead, Miko, and until we have a cure it’s not worth the risk.” He opened his laptop to let the liquid sluice over all of the protective casing before passing it through a flap in the plastic to a waiting tech. The shower cut off and Rodney started stripping off the heavy suit, dumping the sections onto the floor before he unzipped the opaque plastic to the next set of showers. He pulled the zip mostly shut before tugging off his boxers and reaching back into the first section to throw them into the small waste basket built into the corner.

He scrubbed down with the harsh soap, weeks of near daily repetition the only thing that kept him from bitching about the dry, raw patches it was making on his skin and the freezing water that was about to follow it.

He stepped into the next section and quickly pumped the thick gel that deactivated the remaining chemicals from the last shower into his hand and spread it over his entire body before hitting the button for the last sluice of water.

When the water cut off Rodney quickly grabbed the towel hanging outside the exit door to the changing room and cleared the shower so the police could use it and so he could get out of the artificial cold into the heat that he would normally hate. He rubbed himself dry before tugging the kit bag with his name on it out of the stack by the door and dressed in his sweat stained shirt and a pair of suit pants with a splotch of toothpaste that had hit them as he spat out of his SUV door onto the roadside. He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and up over his closely shaved scalp as he stepped out into the light.

“Has someone got my data yet?” He snapped, holding out his hand expectantly for the memory device the technician should have prepped. When his fingers closed on empty air he took one deep breath, gritted his teeth and walked over to push the tech away from his laptop. “Why the hell am I the only one who can actually do any work around here? I pass you a laptop, you strip the data from it. If you can’t do that efficiently then you may need to get a less time dependent job. The Starbucks down the road is advertising.” He snarled as he dropped to his knees in front of the unit and waited for the data to finish transferring.  Someone’s shadow fell over him as he tugged the memory device from the computer and used the desk to heave himself to his feet, the world swirling a little as his blood pressure tanked before settling out. As the numbing dizziness faded he felt a hand wrap around his elbow,

“Doctor, maybe I should give you a ride back to the lab? I’m guessing you didn’t get much sleep.”

“How the hell did you get out here so quickly, Sheppard? And who has time to sleep! Half the city has been infected with something that causes you to die and then almost instantly decay.” McKay tugged backwards out of the officer’s grip on his shoulders even as he fished his keys out of his back pocket and offered them up. He glared at the back of Kunasagi’s head, almost unrecognisable with her long black hair gone until she turned to look up at him. Without needing any other hints she abandoned her conversation to head to the SUV as the rest of the CDC team settled into the routine of repositioning the no-go zone.

“I figured you might need me more than those boys needed my supervision for the 8th door we've sealed up today,”  Sheppard replied as they moved to join her. “You’re using the lab in the precinct, so it’s not like it’s going to take me out of my way if I give you a lift. Just trying to be friendly, doc.” Rodney rolled his eyes as he opened the passenger side door and climbed in.

When the doors had been slammed shut and the car had started moving Rodney dropped the act and reached out in an automatic, well worn habitual move to rest his hand on John’s thigh letting his eyes fall shut as he leant his head back onto the headrest.

“I am so sick and tired of this, John. There’s no solution, there’s no cure, it doesn’t matter what we do. We can’t fix this. I just want to go to bed for a month, on the city, in Pegasus.” He bit back the urge to add ‘With you’, choosing to clear his throat before adding  “Hell, I’d take the Wraith over this any day, at least we know how to get rid of them.” He smiled when the only response he got was a faint grunt and a brush of fingers over the top of his hand as John moved to change gears.

“I almost miss trying to figure out how the Ancients messed up this time.” Miko said from the back before letting out a yawn, “I miss fixing machines instead of failing to fix people.” She added quietly.

“I wish Carson was here.” Rodney’s almost whispered admission hung in the air between the three of them until John wrapped his hand around Rodney’s and moved it off his thigh. Rodney clenched his hand into a fist, fingernails scraping over the cheap fabric of his pants as he reminded himself that he had forfeited the right to expect John to comfort him, at least until he figured out how to apologise. 

The SUV slowed and Rodney felt the sunlight get blocked from falling on his face as they descended into the parking lot under the precinct.  When the SUV jolted to a halt and they reversed into a parking space John finally replied with a murmur of,

“Don’t we all.”

- - -

Rodney slammed himself into his desk chair roughly, forcing it to roll sideways so he could access the computer at the desk next to his. He tapped his fingers against the desktop impatiently as he waited for the computer to respond when he plugged the memory device in. Just as he was losing patience with it, the programme flashed on the screen to let him know it had detected new data and was running.

He tilted his head slightly when an error popped up and swore quietly at the programme as he tapped the run button again. He watched as it repeated the test and pinged the same result back to him, he quickly added a string of code to the parameters and kicked back from the desk to shout at Kunasugi. As he span around he heard a faint squeak and a clatter of heeled shoes as whoever was too close to him hopped away. He raised his eyebrows at Kunasagi as she offered him a take-out cup of coffee.

“I was coming to tell you that the biological samples showed a slower decay rate than the last set of samples we took, but it looks like your programme predicted that.” She said, motioning towards the latest response, he took the cup from her and as he span back to his computer she leant forwards, reaching up automatically to brush her hair back over her shoulder to keep it from getting in the way of the screen. When she touched thin air instead of hair she dropped her hand sharply to the desk with a mutter of, “I’m not going to get used to that.”

“It’ll grow back.” Rodney replied “apparently we should find survivors at the next infection site.  I’m predicting a decay rate slow enough after the 8th round of spread that we should be able to attempt a treatment.”

“When has this done anything predictable so far and I hadn’t cut my hair in 10 years. It will not just ‘grow back’” Miko replied a little sharply, her exhaustion burning off her usual veneer of politeness.

“The decay rate is dropping each time and this time they were still… pretty normal looking when the first team got there. Next time it should be too low to kill. Right? Your tests showed that human tissue didn’t decay as rapidly once the samples were diluted below the level we just found.” Rodney glanced up at Miko, only to find her staring back at him a little blankly. “Right, that wasn’t you.” He rolled back and yelled, “TISSUE WOMAN!”

“Doctor McKay?” Came the hesitant response from behind a bank of computers.

“What was the lowest viable dilution you managed?”

“8 parts to 10,000. The man we suspect was patient zero had a near instant decay rate on death, the woman found with him had a slightly slower decay rate. I predicted…”

“A spread of 8 rounds. I already knew that. Anything new to tell me or have you just been sat over there doing nothing since you discovered that two days ago.” Rodney asked distractedly as he turned back to his computer.

“The… The Decay, for the want of a better name or description, doesn't reproduce and doesn’t appear to die after the host spreads it to a surface? My report is in your email. It also doesn’t appear to be mutating, we’re getting exactly the same symptoms just slower, but I’m waiting on a second load of results before I confirm that”

“Right, keep me updated on that,” Rodney muttered with a frown, he took a sip of his coffee before rolling back and grabbing Miko to pull himself to standing. “Wait, did you say it’s not self-replicating and it’s not mutating, as in it’s the same thing just spread thinner and thinner?”

“Well, I’m waiting for results and I’d like to check with the most recent samples but…”

“Yes or no.” Rodney snapped, cutting across the other man’s words sharply.

“Yes… Doctor McKay?”  Rodney's name followed him out of the room and he pushed through the double doors and started running.

- - -

John looked up when the door to the bullpen slammed open and Rodney stormed in, waving for John to follow him as he went. John stood up, collecting the file he had been reading, and headed to the backroom that Rodney had made for. The door swung shut behind him and as soon as it clicked shut Rodney pulled the blinds and started talking,

“I need to access the bodies.”

“It’s too dangerous, you said that yourself. You told me that we couldn’t risk losing another person to something that could be avoided.” John dropped into a chair and swung so he could look at Rodney.

“John, it’s a nano virus. I need to be able to…”

“Last week you said it was a bacteria that got brought back from Pegasus. The week before that Carter was saying it was some phase shifting bug. And three weeks ago Carson was saying it was a Wraith who had evolved out of needing to use the feeding hand. Carson’s theory nearly got him killed!” John ended up shouting, half-risen to his feet before he caught himself and dropped back down.

“Carson was wrong!” Rodney kicked a chair, “Carson always saw what he wanted to and took risks he didn’t need to. I know I’m right. I just need to take some samples from the older bodies.”

“Carson was sure he was right. Carson felt the risk was worth it. Carson infected most Area 51 because he wanted to take a short cut and jump to doing something risky instead of waiting for some actual research to come through.”  John looked up at Rodney quietly until the man dropped into the chair he had kicked.

He waited as Rodney rested a hand over his eyes and took a deep breath. “We’ve eliminated all the other possibilities, I just need to do some tests…”

“Carson started out testing for a nano virus, that’s why he didn’t restrict movement after his initial treatment. Rodney, we’ve been round this before.” John murmured, well aware that raised voices would travel out of the room.

“So an EMP didn’t work, maybe it needed to last longer or be stronger… Maybe the nanobots will disintegrate over time or become easier to find as the bodies keep decaying. Regardless I need to look at the older bodies.”

“Maybe we just need to wait this out, containment is working and your report said that this thing has a set lifecycle… Rodney, we can’t risk losing you too.”

“By the time we wait it out the entire population of Nevada could be dead, you’re right, there don’t appear to be any new infections but the original one is still spreading.” John rolled his chair back as Rodney leant forwards and rested his elbows on his knees, “I’m not compromising on this one John, I need to see the bodies. Get hold of whichever ship is in orbit and get me to the City.” John bit his tongue as Rodney rose to his feet and slammed out of the room with almost as much anger as he had stormed in.

“That’s the problem, Rodney,  you never compromise.” John breathed before counting to ten and pulling his phone out. “Lorne, five minutes.”

- - -

John pushed through the crowded streets, even a deadly virus and a giant quarantine zone not enough to keep the casinos from pulling in the trapped tourists and locals alike. He looped through side streets and back on his own path until he ended up outside a hole-in-the-wall cafe on the same block as the precinct. He ducked in and nodded to the owner before joining Major Lorne at the table he had claimed in the corner.

“I got your coffee with extra coffee,  a turkey club and the biggest slice of pecan pie they had.” Lorne grinned at him as he pushed one of the cups of coffee towards him. John grabbed it and drank half the cup in one smooth move.

“You’re going to take McKay to the City and give him full access to the bodies. You make him wear every piece of protective gear we have.” John grabbed the wrapped sandwich and tugged the paper off so he could take a giant bite.

“I’m assuming that I shouldn’t tell him that we managed to figure out how to activate the quarantine procedures manually?” Lorne said quietly, leaning back against the wall behind him with a grin.

“Are they actually working fully or just the basic lock-in protocols we’ve managed to get working before.” John managed around his mouthful of sandwich, when Lorne nodded he added, “Full procedures? Scans on entry and exit and full cleansing protocol? Impressive, Rodney thought the mechanisms were beyond repair after that explosion.”

“Zelenka and Biro assure me that they managed to fix it and check it’s working. But… well, I haven’t exactly wanted to test it. I’ve been having enough trouble over the way we’ve been quarantining the bodies in the city, half the scientists are complaining about the fact that ‘decaying bodies create enough pathogens when they aren’t massively infectious before they die.’ And the other half can’t decide if they want to dissect or scan first.” Lorne sighed, John bit back a grimace of worry as he watched Lorne slump slightly onto the table, the exhaustion of the past months finally showing.

“I have discovered that it wasn’t being where we were that made them crazy, not quite evil, scientists. It’s why they were sent to us.” John muttered with a fond grin, he paused for a moment and rocked his chair back onto two legs before almost nonchalantly asking, “This made you change your mind on being recommended as my replacement?”

John let his chair tilt a little too far back so he would have an excuse to not be looking at Lorne when he answered, but the time he spent righting the chair and giving the cafe owner an apologetic look was filled with silence. When he eventually gave in waiting and looked over at Lorne he found the man watching him with a frown. 

“I need another coffee.” John said quickly as he pushed to his feet and escaped to the counter, fiddling with the milk jug and sugar for as long as he could before slinking back to the table.

“You’re really leaving, sir?” Lorne asked when John finally dropped back into his seat.

“I can’t leave Teyla and Ronon to fight the Wraith alone, it’s my fault they woke up and Michael… I’m the only person left to take responsibility. It’s not like there’s anything keeping me here.”

“ The IOA made a decision then?”

“The City is too much of a deterrent to send back to Pegasus and apparently they felt I wasn’t the right choice for a posting on Earth. They offered me a ship.” John laughed sadly, finally glancing up to meet Lorne’s eyes for a second, “They let me know this morning, the official announcement will be made on Monday and my resignation will become official when this mission is over. Anything else to report from the City?” John asked sharply, hoping to move the conversation on.

    “We only managed to get the quarantine protocols working properly yesterday, Biro’s setting up some tests to make sure they actually work for this and if they do… She’s going to…. Do something with it?” Lorne frowned and shrugged “The scans we’ve done haven’t matched up to anything from the database and we still can’t find any reference to the material the lab was working on.”

The conversation lapsed into silence as John finished his sandwich and Evan let his head rest on the wall behind him, eyes shut for long enough that when John started to speak again he twitched awake.

“You need to keep the IOA from putting their final actions into place if we don’t get this under control, there are no riots yet and the quarantine is holding but as soon as the situation starts heading south they aren’t going to wait to see if it continues to spread. They aren’t going to care how many times the CDC or our guys say that it’s going to burn out, we’ve been wrong too many times and they can’t risk it becoming an epidemic.”

---

Rodney lifted his hand to try and massage his nagging headache away, flinching back over dramatically as his glove struck plastic an inch from his face.

“Fuck.” He muttered,

“Rodney? Are you okay?” Rodney let his eyes shut and carefully rolled his head from side to side to try and release the tension in his neck before lifting his hand to wave in the general direction of the camera, high up the wall behind him.

“I’m fine, Radek… Actually, could you pull up the contagion identification matrix and change the filter to include unidentified causes of death for anyone rather than groups. The numbers aren’t working out, if this isn’t a nano virus then there shouldn’t be any limitations to how many people it spreads too in one round of infection. And why did this guy not die until Monday, when he went back to Area 51 if he was supposedly infected by materials delivered from Atlantis on the Friday? Two days after Dr Coleson died after transporting the materials to Area 51. They should have been exposed within hours of each other, had very similar symptoms and this ‘virus’ seems to have a very short incubation period. The people who were infected by Dr Coleson all died in the bar they met him in, within a matter of hours. Then the infection in the casio, we don’t know who caused it but we have to assume it was the bartender, so why did they not die until they arrived at the casino at least 16 hours after they were in the bar? And why did so many people die at the casino in decreasing waves, like each person could only infect so many other people? Biological infections don’t work like that! Which is what led Carson to assuming that it was a nano virus…” Rodney broke off as frustration got the better of him.

“And yet, we have tried an EMP, which has always worked in the past with the Ancient nano viruses we have run into, with no success.” Radek replied over the intercom, but even as he argued Rodney could hear the other man typing in the adjustments.

“Just tell me when you get some results.” He sighed, turning back to the corpse in front of him quickly reactivating the stasis chamber before kicking the rolling counter with his laptop on it over to the next chamber over.

“If we get any results,”  Radek said after a while, almost like an acknowledgement of the fact he had finished adjusting the perimeters of the matrix.

 - - -

Rodney worked in silence checking the details of when each body was found and slowly creating a new timeline for the various groups of infections and trying to create estimates for how many people each carrier infected before dying. More than an hour later He reached the last body in the room and as he gathered up his laptop to move to the next one the intercom reactivated.

“That identified a fair few smaller groups, I’ve sent the information over to the CDC team.” Rodney tapped the control crystal next to the door and stepped through as it hissed open.

“Try applying the same parameters to a nationwide search, it’ll take a while to run but it someone travelled out of the city…” Rodney trailed off. “But we would have noticed it a plane landed with half a dozen dead bodies on it.”

“Likely, but if they infected a cab driver or someone who caught a different flight then they could have been halfway to the other side of the country before they died. Assuming your theory that they only infect a certain number of people is correct.” Radek replied,

“It makes sense, each of the largest groups had someone from Area 51 in it. And most of the next largest groups had contact with them, the bus driver and the casino bartender who moonlighted at the bar downtown.” Rodney shrugged, putting his laptop down to open the stasis chamber, quickly making notes in his file as he waited to the chamber to fully switch off.

“Let us hope that they didn’t meet anyone about to get on an international flight.” They chatted for a few minutes until a soft ping ran over the intercom, “one moment.” Radek muttered, as someone demanded to know what the ping meant. “Rodney, you were right. But we have a bigger problem.” an argument near Radek suddenly got loud enough to be heard over the intercom. Just as Rodney started to ask what was happening a city-wide alarm sounded and the intercom clicked off. He twisted to frown at the camera before leaning down to take a blood sample from the body in front of him.

“Don’t worry, I don’t need to know what’s going on…” he sighed.

 

Just as he finished the intercom clicked back on and the alarm switched to silent mode, 

“Doctor McKay, the IOA have instructed us to lock down the city and that means we need to seal the area you are in.” 

Rodney glanced up at the sound of Lorne’s voice,  “I need a minute to finish up putting this one back and then I’ll get back to the quarantine filters.”

“I’m sorry, Doc, …” Rodney frowned as hushed voices began to argue in the room the comm was being broadcast from before Lorne eventually added, “You’re going to have to stay where you are for now.”

“The filters are working, Biro was certain they were working and I’m wearing a suit, I can go through a full scrub down.” Rodney shouted as he rushed through the string of connected rooms back towards the main corridor. As he reached the main door for the section, it slid shut. The operation crystals already glowing a faint red to let him know they had been deactivated. “Major? Major, we have options… I can’t do my work from in here, there's no network.”

“I know. Rodney, we’re negotiating operations on the city. I’ll get back to you.” As Lorne’s voice was cut off, the argument in the background growing louder, Rodney looked up at the camera in the corner above the door and attempted to pry the cover off the operation crystals.

“You can’t leave me in here. Fuck it.” Rodney cursed as he fumbled, the thick gloves of the suit keeping him from prying the cover off.  He cursed the decision to put the bodies in one of the outer areas of the city as the communication system stayed silent and Rodney twisted to lean against the wall before slowly sliding to the floor, feet tucked under him as he looked at the bodies in stasis around him. One for each new infection they had found.

He sighed and thumped his head back against the door, “we’re wasting time.” He rested his head back on the door for a few minutes, letting the silence of the makeshift morgue seep into his body until he felt his seemingly permanent exhaustion start to lull him to sleep.

He forced himself to take a deep breath and rolled to his knees before slowly getting to his feet, he trapped back through the stasis rooms to grab his laptop off the rolling tool stand he had been using. He walked back to the main corridor and dropped back down to sit back against the door before accessing the research he had downloaded from the city's server. He read back through their research slowly, frowning at it until he realised what was missing. He quickly clicked over to his personal logs and scrolled back to the explosion a team from Area 51 had caused. He read through the names quickly and threw himself to his feet in a scramble of clumsy limbs and began to bang on the door shouting,

“I know what we missed! Come on, you have to let me out”

- - -

The doors to the bullpen swung open almost silently and only the familiar thud of military boots had John looking up and half moving to his feet by the time the soldier had reached his side.

“Sir, IOA  is recalling all of you to the city. There’s a new infection.”

“Where?” John snapped, twisting to shout over his shoulder as he waited for a response. “Teldy, grab the others. We need to go to...” he looked at the soldier expectantly,

“San Fransisco, sir.”

“Go help Dr Kunasagi pack her equipment and get the CID team moving to the new infection site. Where’s the transport?” John asked.

“You’ll be collected from the beta meeting location. Excuse me, sir.” the Marine said as Major Teldy stood to leave,

“Dismissed.” John returned the marine’s salute, ignoring the confused looks from the detectives around him as he collected the few possessions he had brought to his desk before running from the building.

He wound through the streets, carefully ensuring that he had lost the detectives that had followed him out of the precinct. He slowed to a walk as he reached the entrance to Palms, he quickly made his way across the nearly deserted main floor, the quarantine barrier pressed against the rear wall of the building enough to have most people leave for the more central casinos. He slid between the banks of slot machines to reach a service entrance. He raced up the back stairs to the 5th floor, he banged on the door to room 27 and when it started to open he slipped inside and nodded to the serviceman who was already hailing the ship in orbit.

John blinked as he arrived in his office on the city, only to find himself in the middle of a loud, multilingual argument. Across the room from him, Lorne raised a single eyebrow and shrugged without shifting from his seat on John’s desk.

John stepped around the arguing scientists and IOA staff so he could lean next to Lorne, he looked over the grey cast to the man’s skin before muttering,

“Have you slept since we last spoke? You know, when you’re in command you have to take the time to keep yourself on top form.” The dull snort of amusement was all the answer he really needed,

“You know, sir, I don’t believe you are qualified to lecture me about that.” Lorne whispered in an amused tone, John heard him sigh deeply before adding, “From what I can gather, Biro and Zalenka think that there is no point in quarantining the city and the IOA think that we should quarantine and ‘eradicate’ the infection sites. They’ve been arguing for a while…”

“Because he will not listen to sense!” One of the scientists yelled, turning from the argument to direct his words at John, “No one from the city has been infected. We are not the cause of this, it was their uninformed and poorly monitored experiments!” John held up a hand to slow the stream of angry Czech that followed.

“Doc, settle down. Where’s Rodney and what do you mean experiments I thought they were just meant to be analysing the samples?”

“And they were, despite Doctor Zelenka's wild conspiracy theories, our scientists did not do anything wrong…”

“Their own files clearly show they were manipulating the samples they took despite the fact that we expressly…”

“Doc, where…” John started, only to be cut off by the IOA official.

“It doesn’t matter what they were doing, they spent a week on this city before they returned to Area 51. The infection in San Fransisco was caused by the major deciding to let some marines take a trip to a local bar…”

“The men have a right to shore leave and the doctors cleared them as not being infection risks.” Lorne snapped finally shifting off the desk to stand,

“And yet now there is an infection, caused by your men visiting. Clearly, it’s to do with the city, not the sanctioned, controlled, research the scientists were doing..”

“You are wrong and if you would listen you would understand why!” John shot his hand out to restrain Zelenka as the scientist stepped towards the IOA official angrily, “Our men have been on and off the city since we arrive with no infections being caused, the infections only started after your researchers decided to ignore the warnings we gave them about playing with Ancient technology without thoroughly looking into what it does.” John let his hand drop as the pressure dropped and Zelenka stepped away from the argument.

John turned to Lorne and finally asked,

“Where is Rodney?”

“Locked in the research lab we have the stasis pods in, Mr Coolidge felt it was best to call for a full quarantine around the bodies, sir.”

“ I thought you had managed to fix the quarantine protocols?” John half snapped, half asked.

“They hadn’t fully tested the system before Doctor McKay insisted on starting his research. I will not allow the city to be put at further risk. “ The IOA official folded his arms and set John with a firm look. John turned to look at Radek, who ducked his head a little.

“On that he is right, Rodney rushed in without giving us enough time to finish our tests. Biro and I think that they are working as they were intended to, we’ve been able to bypass a number of systems and steal components from systems we aren’t currently using. However, he is wearing a suit, we can go through a full decontamination procedure.”

John took a deep breath, crossing his arms as he leant back against the desk, cocking one hip so he could perch on the edge. He looked at the IOA official for a few seconds before huffing his breath out through his nose and looking over at Radek.

“Get him out of there, we need him in the city organising the CID response team.” As the official began to talk, John just continued over the top of him. “They know him and if nothing else a familiar face will keep them calm…” John paused, frowning at himself before shaking his head, “whatever… Let me know when he’s out. I need to talk to him before he goes to meet his team.” He turned his back on the rest of the room so he was face to face with Lorne, “I need to talk to the men who took shore leave.”

“Yes, sir.” John let his eyes shut and kept them shut until he felt the lurch in his gut from jerking back awake, he squeezed his eyes tight and when he opened them he grabbed the cold cup of coffee on the desk. He took a large gulp with a desperate hope that it hadn’t been sat there since he had left. As the taste of stale coffee coated his tongue John finally turned back to the official.

“ I have had nearly a decade of dealing with the shit this city throws at us and cleaning up the Ancient’s messes. You might not want me involved with your goings on but right now, and until you let Woolsey back or put someone else in charge, I’m the senior member of staff on the city.”

“Not for long, colonel, and I'm sure that timeline could be moved up.” The official replied snidely.

“Last time you ignored me your people caused an explosion that took out an impressive amount of our habitat systems. If anything on this city was the root of this Decay then the only reason it got off the city was because you took out our quarantine systems!” John finally snapped, his voice rising to a shout as frustration and exhaustion won out. The silence that followed his shout settled between them until his earpiece activated. At the sound of Lorne’s voice, John broke eye contact and headed for the door to interview his men.

“ You know, Sheppard, you shouldn't fight this so hard, our plans for the city aren't so different to yours.” The official spoke quietly and as John carried on a walking away he considered what the hell that could possibly mean.

- - -

“Doctor Mckay, I need to speak to you before you join your team.” Rodney froze halfway through scrubbing his legs with soap to look at the man who had walked into the shower room. He raised his eyebrows before finishing washing his legs.

“And it couldn’t have waited five minutes for me to start getting dressed?” Rodney muttered, knocking the water off and grabbing the towel. “Did you know what they were doing? Because I can’t imagine this is actually what you had planned. I always figured the Trust wanted to destroy the city because they couldn’t control her, killing most of the world doesn’t really fit your modus operandi. Were we the only ones who were meant to be infected? What take out the gene carriers and make the city unusable?” Rodney paused in drying himself to glare at the IOA official for a few seconds. He looked away when the official smiled at him,

“A strong accusation, doctor. However you may be partially correct, their experiment had unexpected results, unfortunately, someone else will need to correct their mistakes. They aren’t exactly in a position to fix this themselves.”

“I’m not helping you, I’m trying to save lives.” Rodney snapped, dropping the towel to start getting dressed. When he was mostly dressed the official began to speak again,

“Those two things are not exactly independent of each other. Besides, Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard agrees with us that the city is just far too dangerous on Earth, in fact, he has chosen to leave the planet in protest. I should think that your… help in resolving our little problem would help persuade him to stay. Either this ends with no city to send and so nothing to protest, or it ends with the ‘virus’ having no cure and the risk of leaving too high.”” Rodney froze tee shirt half pulled down his chest at the man’s words. He slowly turned to look at the official,

“John wouldn’t leave the city and you can’t manipulate me into helping you with lies, I’ve never played at politics and my relationships have never had a bearing on the choices I make. Now get out of my way, Radek tells me that there’s a new infection for me to investigate.” Rodney brushed past the man but as he reached the door he turned back, “You know, if you are a wise man you’ll get off the City before I get around to telling O’Neill I found another rat chewing through the wires, just waiting to be electrocuted. You do not come onto my City and try to destroy her!” Rodney managed to keep from shouting but by the time he turned to leave the room his hands were shaking with anger and he was breathing sharply.

He stormed down the corridor, swinging into his lab sharply his glare enough to have Radek stepping out of his way with a mutter of,

“I will phone Miko, it is not that important to know now.”

“Good plan.” Rodney tugged a drawer open in his desk and pulled a PowerBar out before opening his spare laptop and starting to download the data he had been working with. He settled into watch it as he ate his makeshift meal and rattled off a sharp email, content to leave O’Neill and Homeworld security to deal with the rogue official as long as the man was off the City.

As Rodeny finished the PowerBar and sent his email he felt someone come to stand next to him, he glanced sideways as John said,

“Rodney, a word?” Rodney wordlessly slid to his feet when John motioned for him to come with him into the supply closet. “So the…”

“Were you even planning on mentioning that you were going to leave the planet? Or were you going to leave without saying a word, just slope off one day like you did with your wife, because historically that seems to be how you deal with leaving people who might just care that you are going away.” Rodney had intended to shout but ended up just sounding resigned and hurt. John looked away, fixing his eyes at a point just over Rodney's shoulder before shrugging.

“You made it clear that you would rather I didn’t involve you in my decisions, that you would ‘rather not know about the minutia of military manoeuvrings’, that we ‘aren’t tied down to each other like that’.” Rodney felt his mouth fall open a little, “I wasn’t the one who… You know what, I don’t feel like rehashing arguments that I had with my ex-wife with you. You cut me out and the rest of my… team are  in Pegasus, there aren’t exactly a whole lot of reasons to stay on Earth anymore.” Rodney looked at John for a moment, the other man’s constrained anger seeming almost like it could burst out of John to rip Rodney to pieces.

“I didn’t... I’m not good with… You weren’t meant to...” Rodney stuttered into the air between them before finally dropping his head and saying, “So, what did you want to tell me?” He watched as John’s shoulders relaxed and even as Rodney wondered how a stupid argument about shift schedules had managed to get twisted into enough of a reason to throw away everything John had.

“The men who went into San Fran all came out in the first or second wave, they have the gene or had the therapy even if it didn’t take whereas the men who we rotated out to Area 51 were all newer and didn’t have the therapy.”  John said, leaning back against one of the shelves.

“So? Carson has the gene and he still got… Clone, that could make a difference, we have no idea how he’s going to react to anything. It’s not exactly something we can test though, we’ve had no luck with infecting blood samples, we’ve had to work with dilution and hoping that it plays out the same way as a new infection.  It could make a difference but that would imply that this infection can detect the gene.”

“And we already know it isn’t nano virus, so that doesn’t make sense.” John shrugged, “there was nothing else that I could find that would explain why they were only carrying the virus and I don’t know how they could have got infected. They haven’t been to area 51 or near the bodies, in fact, they haven’t even had contact with the people handling the bodies. They never even met the scientists who were on the city and they didn’t even go near the area of town the Decay has shown up in.”

“Okay, maybe the markers for the gene give resistance and… the therapy makes some changes even if it doesn’t fully work. I mean we can test for who was given the therapy so it does make genetic changes in everyone, regardless of if they don’t gain the gene.” Rodney said hesitantly before huffing, “I hate biology. All guess work and… I’ll get Biro to look into it, she’s not exactly a medical researcher but at least she has a background in medicine.”

“We should go,” John said without moving to leave.

“Yeah,” Rodney agreed before looking John over. “Don’t do anything stupid, no hero runs with a nuclear warhead to save the day. You know,  I didn't intend for this to happen because of what I said...” Rodney cut himself off again by quickly leaving the room. Cursing himself as a coward as he grabbed his laptop and waved Radek away when the man made to follow him.

Rodney wound his way through the city slowly, occasionally tapping on his ear piece and passing along instructions for the research team on the City. When he reached the temporary dock they had set up on the east pier Rodney nodded to the marine manning the boat and settled himself onto the furthest seat he could find from her. As the boat pulled away from the dock Rodney huffed and tugged his phone from his pocket.

“I keep doing this like eventually I'll have the right words when I'm stood with you... I wasn’t trying to drive you away, I just didn’t want to have to admit that I forgot that you would want to know I was giving a talk on the other side of the country. So I started an argument instead…” Rodney looked out at the open ocean, the City’s cloak hiding it from view as they neared the port. “Sometimes I forget that you genuinely care about what I’m doing and it’s easier to argue that to admit that I messed up. We agreed that we could be bad at this together, but I guess I win the 'who sucks most at relationships' award.” Rodney dropped his phone as the boat bumped against the dock roughly and by time he had fumbled it out from under the bench the screen had gone dark and he whispered a final admission at it before dropping it into his pocket and scrambling onto the dock. He looked over at the wall of vans blocking his view of the bayside park and started to untuck his shirt as he made for the changing tent.

- - -

Rodney slumped onto the park bench that had ended up in the middle of the quarantine zone and looked at the rip in the thick fabric of his suit numbly. He slowly reached up, ignoring the sudden flurry of noise coming over his comm unit, and tugged his helmet off tipping his head back to take a series of long slow breaths, giving up the pretence that he was worried about getting infected. He shut his eyes and tried to tune out the noise of the CDC team fussing around him as he waited for his brain to focus in on the bird song, or barking of abandoned dogs calling for a master who would never return. All he heard from above the noise of his team was silence. Like nature was mourning or expectantly waiting with bated breath for the coming destruction of humanity.

“Rodney? Why are you smiling?” Miko’s soft voice cut into the silence and Rodney carefully flexed his jaw to knock the smile off his lips before almost whispering,

“I had always hoped to hear bird song again before I died, it’s not the same sound when you go to other… other places. It’s an odd thing to miss when you’ve spent your whole life in a lab but there you go.”

“You’re not dying today, this isn’t what’s going to kill you. No one with the Gene has died” She replied quietly, sliding onto the bench next to him. “I could do with some nature sounds” she muttered, Rodney opened his eyes and twisted to look at her just in time to watch her drop her helmet down onto the ground at her feet.

“I wasn’t planning on dying today, I was just contemplating what it would be like if this was it, but that’s the thing. There isn’t any bird song and I would die unfulfilled.” He said sadly as Miko smiled at him, they looked at each other for a moment realisation dawning on both of them until they lurched off the bench as one. “There’s no wildlife. We are so stupid, it’s not the Decay that kills them.”

“I’ll check the bushes for birds.” Miko said,

“Dogs would be easier, there must be a whole damn dog park full of them over there.”  Rodney started running towards the mobile scrub down centre, waving for one of the CDC minions to join him. “The dogs in the park, are they dead? Is there any obvious reason for them being dead?” the yes and no he got as a reply had him running a little faster.

He banged on the glass between the quarantined and clean sides as he shouted for someone to bring his phone, the tech on the other side flinched back so hard he nearly fell from his chair before scrambling to his feet and racing off. Rodney paced impatiently as he waited for the tech to finish collecting his phone and push it into the airlock between the two sides. As soon as the lock disengaged Rodney pulled the phone to him, scrolling down to the number he needed as soon as his fingers touched it.

“Radek, the explosion. Was it in one of the areas the Replicators repaired?”

“Err… Yes, why?” Radek replied quickly,

“Because they used a self-healing metal…”

“That pulls the materials it needs from whatever is around it.” Radek finished “But if it was that then we would all be dead a dozen times over.”

“Except we left the panels in place because we tested it and it didn’t pull material from living organic material, but what if when it’s ingested it is poisonous?” Rodney said, almost breathless as the implications hit him, “The panels underwater are constantly degrading and being repaired, that’s why this park was affected. While it’s in the water it’s diluted but it would build up on land, the Gene must give us a resistance to the poison and everyone coming onto the city got the gene therapy as part of the standard Pegasus immunisation, and the Pegasus natives all have markers for the gene.”

“Until we came to Earth it wasn't a problem.” Radek added, “we sent the bodies from the explosion back to the morgue in Area 51 and they were coated in metal fragments, it poisons the person and then starts to break them down…” Radek was cut off as Rodney started talking over the top of him

“But we don’t have enough raw material in us to make a panel so it replicates enough to infect some more people and slowly it runs out of steam, the number of particles dropping with each transmission. We collected the bodies up before they could break down fully and create a panel.” Rodney sighed, “We need to get the City and the contaminated materials off Earth, but the best we can do for the people is to quarantine the area and hope we collect it all, then wait for the people infected to…” they both fell into an uncomfortable silence at the thought of the waves of death that had happened in Las Vegas being repeated in San Fransisco.

“I will get people working on confirming it and let the Colonel know,” Radek said, the words almost a question,

“Good, I’ll contact the Mountain and O’Neill. Let's hope this infection didn't spread further than the park.” Rodney replied as he hung up and started the process of scrubbing down.

- - -

When Dr Zalenka rushed back to the lab, after letting them know the current theory, John nodded to Lorne and slipped away to grab a shower, shave and sandwich while there was nothing to do but wait for confirmation and permission to move. As he walked to his quarters he tapped his ear piece and connected to the Daedalus channel,

“Sheppard to Caldwell, the virus appears to be caused by some kind of contaminant leaching of the City. If Dr Zalenka sends you an analysis of the material could you beam it off the planet?”

“We’ve done it with Naquada deposits so it should be possible.We will have a limit on how much we can take on board though” Came the careful response.

“We’ll want you to beam it directly to the City.” John said before signing off and switching back to the command channel as he stepped into the transporter.

When he reached his room, the air stale from weeks of standing empty, he sank down to sit on the edge of his bed before giving in and dropping back to lie down and watch the last washes of cloud from the sunset drift over the ceiling, as he watched he crossed the sandwich off his list of things he could do. The room faded to dark and the mobile on his bedside table flashed with a missed call alert until he finally forced himself to reach out and grab it. He thumbed through to the answerphone and tapped the button to play the message.

He smiled despite himself as Rodney rambled his way through yet another terrible attempt at apologising, he rolled to sitting as the message was interrupted by a loud clatter and cursing. John pulled the phone from his ear to find the button to delete the message, expecting it to cut off after the phone was dropped but after a few seconds of silence he heard Rodney start to speak again and quickly jammed the phone against his ear as the other man confessed,

“I’d give it all up to come with you if you asked, but I guess it’s too late to offer. You don’t even listen to phone messages and I have no idea how many times I’ve done this since we… God, I’m pathetic.” John lifted the phone from his ear, slid his thumb over to the next number over and saved the message. He rubbed a hand over his face, the feel of scruff on his cheeks forcing him to find his feet and shave even if the time he had given himself for a shower was long gone.

As he wiped the last remnants of shaving foam from his face, his earpiece beeped and he tapped it with a muffled,

“Go for Sheppard.”

“John, I need you in the Chair.”

“Rodney?”

“I’ll meet you there,” Rodney said, John thought wistfully about the sandwich he wasn’t going to get as he pulled on a fresh T-shirt and slipped out of his room.

The halls were empty, most of the military confined to the tower they had assigned as barracks and all the scientists working on the virus in various labs. John made his way through the city with ease and as he sat down in the Chair a flash of light let him know that someone had beamed in, without turning to check who it was John sighed and said the first thing that came into his mind,

“I listen to all my messages.” The silence that met his words almost had him twisting to check who had beamed in but instead he shut his eyes and asked the city to give him a readiness report. As the chair dropped back John heard Rodney walk around the edge of the room.

“We need to get into orbit, can we do that?” Rodney asked coming to stand close enough to the chair that John’s boots were pressing against Rodney’s knees.  “You listened to them? But you never…”

John cut him off as he said, “The ZPM we have in the system is almost fully charged, we’re good to go.” He frowned as he overrode the warning about only having one ZPM and set the orbital launchers to start cycling. “You know it doesn’t actually count as an apology if you spend the whole time telling me that you weren’t wrong, even if you keep telling me that you miss me.” John felt his lips quirk up into a half smile before he could stop them.

“We aren’t waiting for permission, lift off when you are ready I already cleared it with the Mountain.” Rodney’s words were followed by an alert sounding through the city as John gently urged her out of the water and into the sky. As the automatic launch systems kicked in John opened his eyes and looked at Rodney,

“I was posturing, I figured that they would look at how many time saving the City came down to my gene or your brains and they would let me stay. Even once the order came down and they accepted by resignation, I figured I would get maybe as far as the gate.” He said simply, letting his hands curl into the gel pads on the arm of the chair a little as Rodney frowned at him.

“You should have told me, I could have helped.”

John felt his jaw clench at Rodney’s soft statement and he took a deep breath before faux-calmly saying, “I tried to, you told me that you weren’t interested knowing what meetings I had been called to or where I was going and then you left. When exactly was I meant to tell you, should I have followed you down the corridor and shouted it at you in front of everyone or was I meant to tell you between stepping over dead bodies and trying to keep a lid on the fact people were dying of an alien virus?” he shut his eyes and frowned as though the city needed him to make an adjustment to avoid looking at the man in front of him.

He kept his eyes shut as the City rose through the troposphere and entered the stratosphere, eventually Rodney walked away from him and when John let his eyes open a fraction he saw Rodney leaning against the wall, he shut his eyes again as Rodney lifted a hand to his earpiece, his words echoing oddly through John’s ear piece.

“Mckay to the Daedalus,  Zelenka should have sent you a mineral sample we need you to beam up. Wait until we are in orbit and then beam it directly into the storage room on the 3rd pier, you don’t want it on your ship but we should be able to use it.”

“Acknowledged, command has asked if you can park behind the moon” Came the swift response, John just tilted his hand enough to give Rodney a thumbs up as he relayed the instructions to the City.

“Apparently we can” Rodney replied, the click of the comm system disconnecting echoing the sound of Rodney’s ear piece dropping to the floor, John opened his eye worriedly at the sound. Rodney just smiled at him and as John was about to speak Rodney held a hand up,

“So, if we work together I figure we can use this to convince the IOA that Atlantis is too risky to leave in the Milky Way and blowing her up would just spread metal everywhere.” John raised an eyebrow when Rodney stopped talking but kept his hand out, he watched as Rodney looked at the floor and took a deep breath. “ And, I’m sorry. We both made mistakes but… But I started this one so I am sorry and I would miss you."

John closed his eyes for a second to check the autopilot was functioning before sliding out of the Chair to stand in front of Rodney,

“Hey Rodney, wanna run away with me to Pegasus? If we play it right we might even be able to take our home with us.”