There was a bug going around Atlantis, and John Sheppard hated bugs. Granted, it wasn’t that kind of bug, but John figured it wasn’t out of his way to hate viruses as well as insects.
Half the city was down with it, and half the mainland, too—some kind of flu/mono hybrid—and Zelenka, Lorne, and McKay had taken the hardest hit. Teyla and Ronon seemed to have some sort of Pegasus immunity, and they were doing all they could to help Woolsey and Keller keep the city on its feet. Dr. Beckett was on the mainland, supervising medical efforts with the refugees there. John ferried Teyla back and forth, although she spent more time in the city, since her people seemed to have a similar resilience to the bug. The Athosians that did catch it were only sick for a few days.
John had called it a plague, on more than one occasion, until Dr. Keller rolled her eyes at him during the middle of a meeting and corrected him. The reconnaissance team that brought it to the city was already back on their feet—even though it had taken a month for the illness to fully run its course—and no one had died, so it wasn’t a plague.
Now John was calling it space mono. Let them try to stop him.
The worst of it seemed to be fever, fatigue and nausea—he’d already been forced to take up janitor duty in the Gateroom when Major Lorne turned a sickening shade of green and lost his Fruit Loops all over John’s boots. Beckett and Keller were giving everyone the same instructions: fluids, rest, and ibuprofen; Keller was trying to keep from overcrowding the infirmary by having everyone do this from the comfort of their living quarters.
What worried John the most was that Woolsey seemed to be coming down with it, too. This only meant one thing: John would soon be in charge, until either McKay or Woolsey was able to return to active duty.
John didn’t really care for the idea, but he would do what was needed for his city.
“Sheppard, you busy?” McKay’s voice echoed in John’s ear.
“Not so much,” John replied. “City’s pretty quiet, what with the space mono going around.”
“Ha ha, space mono, oh, my sides.” McKay’s voice dripped with sarcasm. Then he started into a coughing fit that made John pull his com-link from his ear until it subsided.
“You all right, McKay?”
“Peachy. Look, if it isn’t too much trouble—”
John already knew what he was about to ask, and he’d already turned around to head for the mess hall.
“Blue jell-o, 7-Up, and a new box of tissues from the supply closet?”
John heard a light sniffle on the other end. For a moment he wondered if McKay had started crying.
“I love you, John. You know that, right?”
John chuckled. “Yeah, buddy. Be right there.”
He jogged the rest of the way to the mess.
It was Dr. Keller who’d insisted on extra safety precautions in the mess, and John was glad of it. McKay had whole-heartedly supported the venture—he didn’t want to get sick, after all. Only one of the culinary staff came down with the bug, and he was summarily relieved from duty, even though his symptoms were tame in comparison to everyone else’s.
McKay got sick anyway, probably caught it from Zelenka, who worked two whole days with a scratchy throat before he was sent to the infirmary with a high fever. Before night fell, McKay was complaining of a scratchy throat and pointing fingers at Zelenka.
John couldn’t figure out how Lorne got it, unless he picked it up from Captain Reilly’s team when they first brought it in, before anyone even knew about it. Lorne had helped Dr. Sergei, their geologist, haul boxes of rocks through Atlantis to his labs, so it was highly probable that that was how he contracted it. Then he likely gave it to Zelenka, and then…
John knocked once on McKay’s door, and it immediately sighed open.
McKay was slouched on his side in bed, with what looked like every pillow in Atlantis bunched up under his head. He was practically sitting upright, although with the slouch he had going on, he was likely wishing he could lie down all the way. None of the drugs Beckett had given him were enough to clear his nasal passages. Every time he tried to draw in a sharp breath, John could hear the congestion blocking its path. As a result, he was forced to breathe through his mouth.
“Hey, Shep,” McKay mumbled against his arm.
“How ya doing?”
“I feel like shit,” McKay replied. “What do you think?”
“Brought you some tea,” John said. “Ronon said it’d be good.”
McKay sat up, his terrible posture more pronounced under his body’s fatigue. He waved his hand for the mug.
Sipping, he looked up at John through his eyelashes. “This stuff isn’t bad,” he said, his voice raspy from all the coughing.
“It smelled good, anyway.”
McKay waved the mug under his nose. “I can’t smell a damn thing.”
“Hmm. Not your fault,” he said, taking another sip. “How’s the city?”
“City’s fine. Don’t you worry about a thing.”
McKay nodded and handed John the mug.
“I’m going back to sleep,” he mumbled. “If I can.”
“You do that,” John said, leaving the tray on his desk. “Holler if you need anything.”
“He’s fine,” John said. “I just checked on him. He was sound asleep, and he looked a hell of a lot more peaceful than he did this morning.”
When Ronon checked on Zelenka that morning, he’d thrown a shoe in Ronon’s direction.
“Good,” McKay said, scrunching back into his sideways ball. “That’s good.”
Once McKay was slumped down, eyes closed, breathing through his mouth again, John waited for a moment, watching him. He reached out a hand and rested the back of it against McKay’s forehead. He was still warm, and a little sweaty, but his fever seemed to have broken.
“Sleep tight, buddy,” John said, and he headed out into the corridor.
Before knocking on Lorne’s door, John took a deep breath. He couldn’t quantify it, but when he realized the space mono hit Lorne, John felt like the ground was pulled out from under him.
John flirted with McKay all the damn time—and McKay flirted back—but their friendship was solid. McKay was team, and John knew they would always have each other’s backs.
With Lorne, it was different. They were both military; John was Lorne’s superior officer. There was too much that could be compromised if they were involved with each other. With Lorne, it wasn’t flirting.
With Lorne, it was a glance after one of their teams got back safely when they’d been out of radio contact for days. With Lorne, it was a brief check-in to confirm who was doing the paperwork when one of the Marines accidentally activated a personal transportation device that meant they had to blow up one of the city’s walls to get him out. It was the smile on Lorne’s face when John talked about how Madison attached herself to John’s side when Jeannie was taken. It was their mutual surreptitious gaze at the mistletoe Dr. Parrish had insisted on hanging in the mess hall.
John had briefly considered it then, considered “catching” Lorne under that mistletoe. He’d caught the flicker of a headshake from Lorne, and John nodded, just barely, getting it even though he didn’t want to get it. The only thing he wanted to get was Evan Lorne’s hands all over his body.
John brought his hand to the control panel and waved his hand over it. If Lorne wanted visitors, the door would be unlocked.
The familiar swoosh of air, cool and biting, rushed over him as the door slid open, revealing a naked Lorne lying face down on his bed in what looked to be a very haphazard position: he looked like he’d fallen out of the sky.
There was a soft mumble against the pillow under Lorne’s head and he opened one eye.
“I’d say ‘at ease’, but it looks like you’ve beaten me to the punch.”
Lorne managed to smile.
John stepped inside and commanded the door closed, if only to give Lorne privacy from wandering eyes in the corridor. As if anyone was roaming the city anyway. It was late, and half her citizens were sleeping off the bug.
“I just came to check up on you,” John said.
“’S nice,” Lorne mumbled. “’Scuse my ass.”
“Not a problem,” John said, taking a good look while he was at it. For which he mentally kicked himself. He wandered over to the bed, folding his arms over his chest. “It’s freezing in here.”
“Yeah,” Lorne replied. “Fucking hot.”
“'Freezing' and 'fucking hot' are not the same thing.”
“I’m hot,” Lorne said. “And don’t even think about starting one of your gene wars in my quarters.”
John grinned. They’d played a little tug-of-war with the thermostat a few days ago, throwing the temperature in the conference room up and down until McKay glared at both of them and threatened them with cold showers for a month.
“No gene wars, I swear,” John said. “Just thought I’d stop by and see if you needed anything. Tea, soup… pair of shorts?”
Lorne made a sound that resembled laughter. “All hot things. Cold would be better.”
John sat down on the side of the bed only to have Lorne open both eyes to stare at him, one eyebrow raised. In reply, John placed his hand on Lorne’s forehead.
“Jesus, Lorne, you weren’t kidding. You’re like a space heater in here. You want me to call Keller?”
“Already know what she’d say: fluids, rest, call if I get delirious. ‘Cept, if I got delirious, would I remember to do that?”
“Then it’s good I stopped by,” John said, reaching his hand up towards his ear.
Lorne frowned. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just need to cool off.”
John’s brow creased as he stared Lorne down. “All right. I’ll give you two hours. If you haven’t cooled off by then, it’s Keller for you. I don’t care how embarrassed you get by women staring at your junk.”
Lorne smirked. “Funny.”
John stood and walked to the bathroom, pulling out a clean cloth and soaking it with cold water. He brought it with him and sat on the bed again, placing the cloth on the back of Lorne’s neck.
“Oh, that’s… actually nice,” Lorne mumbled.
“Good, that’s what I was going for.”
“It’s good. Um, great,” Lorne sniffed. “Sir.”
When he drifted to sleep, John took a seat on the couch. Lorne’s breathing was louder than McKay’s, so at least John could easily monitor him. It was a good thing he could monitor with his ears—if he didn’t close his eyes, he was in danger of staring at the Major’s ass all night long.
Then a few minutes later, Lorne sputtered awake in a fit of hacking coughs, and John was by his side to help him sit up. John wondered how Lorne had the presence of mind to snag his sheet over his lap as he pushed himself up, his face turning all shades of pink and red as he coughed.
“Keller?” John asked when the coughing had subsided.
Lorne just shook his head, cradling his forehead against his hands.
Then he slumped over, laying across John’s lap.
“I feel like I’m dying,” he groaned.
“You’re not dying,” John said softly, quelling the quiver in his voice only barely. “I wouldn’t let you.”
John’s hand hovered over Lorne’s head as he wondering if he should push back the sweaty strands of hair threatening to invade Lorne’s eyes the next time he opened them. Concern for his friend won out over his prudish modesty, and John stroked back the hair, then kept making the motion, contented by Lorne’s sigh of pleasure.
“Think I cracked a rib,” Lorne mumbled.
John frowned as he continued the steady stroke over Lorne’s temple.
“Still hot, too,” Lorne said.
“If you let me up, I can get you something,” John offered, desperate to do anything he could to lease Lorne’s suffering.
Lorne sniffed, then pushed himself up.
“You gonna survive a few minutes alone?” John asked.
Lorne nodded before splaying out in his former position.
On his way to the mess again, John stopped in at Woolsey’s office to check on him, too, and found him passed out asleep on his couch. John entered briefly and draped a blanket over the sleeping leader of the Expedition, then ran the back of his hand across his forehead. Satisfied that he was sleeping off exhaustion and not the flu, John tiptoed quietly out.
John realized that Woolsey would need him to run things for a while anyway; with half the staff out of commission, there was just too much to do for one man to handle. Besides, no one knew the city like John did, and no one knew her people as well, either.
“John?” a familiar voice said.
“I, uh, hate to keep asking…”
“Chicken noodle soup, extra saltines, and another 7-Up?”
“Be right there.”
Back in McKay’s quarters again, John set down the tray and unloaded the soup and crackers onto the desk, handing McKay the soda.
“You’re a genius for thinking of fizzy beverages,” McKay said, drinking half of it down. “My throat feels so much better.”
“Just think how good the soup’ll do you,” John said.
He took the tray, loaded with the things he was taking to Lorne’s room, and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to Lorne’s,” John said, hoping he wouldn’t sound too desperate to get there.
“Oh,” McKay said. “You wouldn’t wanna stick around for a game of Chess, then?”
“You’re feeling that much better already?”
“Ha, I could play with half a brain,” McKay said, then winced. “Ok, not as witty as my usual offerings,” he yawned. “I’ll go back to sleep.”
“Good idea,” John said, and as McKay drifted off again, John headed back to Lorne’s room.
“…took you so long?” Lorne mumbled. He was curled up on his side, sheet draped over his lower half, his pillow over his head.
“Seriously?” John said, snaking the pillow from between his head and arm. “Are you trying to suffocate yourself?”
“I’m exhausted but I’m bored,” Lorne said. “I want to sleep but I’m tired of lying around. And I’m burning up.”
“I’m sure Keller could hook you up with a sedative,” John said. “Something mild.”
Lorne shook his head. “Gotta tough it out.”
John snorted. “I brought you something to eat.”
“I wasn’t sure what you could stomach, so I went with soup, ice cream, and pretzels.”
Lorne grinned. “Soup’s too hot, ice cream’s no good with a scratchy throat. Pretzels… too dry.”
“Damn,” John said. “Can you think of anything you could eat? There’s some kind of pie in the mess...”
“Not hungry,” Lorne said. “Not that I don’t love that you’re playing mother hen.”
John sat on the bed, a bowl in his hand.
“Seriously, sir, no to the soup.”
“This isn’t the soup,” John said. “And stop calling me ‘sir’. As far as I’m concerned, you’re off-duty.”
“That’s because I am off-duty.”
“Just… no ranks tonight,” John said. “Just us.”
Lorne’s returning smile was gentle. “Wish it were that easy all the time.”
“Maybe not,” John said with a sad quirk of his upper lip. “I’ll take what I can get.”
Lorne placed a hand on John’s knee. “So what’s in the bowl?”
John replied by plucking an ice cube from the bowl and running it down the back of Lorne’s arm. He could feel the heat rising off of Lorne’s body as the cube melted against his skin. Lorne shut his eyes and let out a soft moan.
“That’s… kind of amazing,” Lorne said.
When the next cube of ice started behind his ear, Lorne drew in a sharp breath, and John dragged it down his throat and along the length of his spine. Despite the heat he still emanated, he began to tremble under John’s touch.
John trailed a hand along Lorne’s leg, dragging the sheet up from his ankle to his hip.
“John…” he whispered, another piece of ice grazing along the back of his calf.
“Do you want me to stop?” John asked, equally afraid of either response. He was clearly stepping into some off-limits territory, boundaries he’d set for himself more than a decade ago when he was the second-in-command.
“God, no,” Lorne said, unfolding onto his back, arms spread out in a further attempt to cool off.
John paused anyway. This made Lorne open his eyes and look directly at him. John set the bowl aside and pulled off his boots. Then he grabbed the bowl and set it on the bed beside Lorne and climbed in next to him on the other side. He picked up the next ice cube and this time Lorne held his gaze as he dragged it from shoulder to shoulder across his clavicle, down his torso, dipping into his navel. He stopped short at the edge of the sheet and pulled the ice cube back up, circling one of Lorne’s nipples until it hardened, and Lorne’s eyes fluttered shut.
Then he dropped the ice back into the bowl, sat up, and turned away from Evan, his head in his hands. He wondered at how easily his brain made the switch from thinking of him as Lorne to calling him Evan.
“We’re entering dangerous territory here,” John said.
“The entire city’s sleeping,” Evan said behind him.
“Tonight,” John replied. “If I start something with you now, I won’t want to stop.” John scrubbed a hand down his face. “Not to mention the space mono—you’re not exactly at your sexiest right now.”
“I should take offense at that,” Evan said.
John turned and rolled back to his side, locking eyes with Evan. “You know what I meant.”
“Maybe not sexy, but I’m still pretty hot.”
John rolled his eyes, but laughed with Evan all the same.
Evan’s laughter devolved into another coughing fit, and he turned away from John to keep from coughing in his face. When he straightened up, he paused, staring at his hand.
John’s hand flew to his ear faster than he could think about it. “I need a medical team to Major Lorne’s quarters,” he said, his eyes focused on the blood on Evan’s hand.
Evan’s eyes were filled with panic. John sat up and grabbed his boots, pulling them on without tying the laces. He went to Evan’s dresser and grabbed a pair of boxers, track pants and a t-shirt.
“Come on,” John said, helping him sit up. He helped him into the boxers but when he offered the shirt, Evan shook his head. John could now see the sheen of sweat glistening all over Evan’s body.
Dr. Keller arrived, and John helped Evan onto the gurney.
“Are you having any chest pain?” Keller asked.
“Sore… from the coughing,” Lorne replied.
“He’s had a fever all night and he coughed up blood just a minute ago,” John said, fairly certain he couldn’t hide the worry in his voice.
Keller placed an oxygen mask over Evan’s face. As the medical team wheeled him out of his room, Evan shut his eyes and reached out for John’s hand. John took it without hesitation.
Keller gave John a very brief look, followed quickly by a smile, and from there her attention was fixed on Evan.
The wait outside the infirmary seemed unending. Dr. Keller made John sit outside while she performed Evan’s exam, and when she finally motioned for him to come back inside, relief washed over him when he saw the look on her face.
John had extensive practice in learning to read her expressions. Downcast eyes were a bad sign; small smiles even worse. Here, she just looked tired. She wasn’t schooling her expression because there was nothing to school. Evan would be fine.
“What’s the word?” John asked, going for nonchalant and failing when his voice shook a little.
“Acute bronchitis,” Keller replied, rubbing her hands along the back of her shoulders. She twisted her neck around a bit, stretching it. “Not uncommon with the flu or a severe cold. I’m keeping him for observation for a day or two, make sure it doesn’t become pneumonia, but I don’t foresee any problems.”
John let out a sigh of relief, letting his eyes fall shut. He looked up when he felt Dr. Keller’s hand on his arm.
“He’s still awake. You can sit with him, if you like.”
John nodded. “You should think about taking a break, catch a few winks,” he said. “You look exhausted.”
“I am exhausted,” Keller said with a smile. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have interrupted paperwork to return to. And possibly a nap.”
Dr. Keller gave John another fleeting smile before heading to her office. John headed behind the curtain to find Evan looking tired but more restful.
“So that was fun,” Evan said.
“I’m sure. How you feel?” John folded his arms over his chest, biting down on his lower lip.
“You know, I’m pretty sure a rectal exam isn’t part of the procedure for a patient with bronchitis.”
John felt his heart jump in his chest. “She didn’t—”
“No, she didn’t,” Evan confirmed, laughing. The laugh turned into another coughing fit.
“Jesus, Lorne. Cut that out, all right?”
“The look on your face was priceless,” he said.
“Yeah, well, keep it up and I’ll be in here with you after I have a heart attack.”
Evan smirked. “Grab a chair, will ya? You’re making me antsy just standing there all worried.”
John shook his head as he pulled a chair up to the bed. “She must have given you the good drugs.”
“Ya think?” Evan said. “My voice is still shot to shit from all the coughing, but I’m not in so much pain.”
“You should’ve let me call Keller sooner.”
“Maybe,” Evan agreed. “I’m here now.”
“I’m pretty sure she knows,” John said quietly.
“Oh, so there’s an ‘us’ now?”
“I don’t know,” John said with an exasperated shrug. “Is there? I mean—do you want there to be?”
“Yes, I want there to be,” Evan said, eyeing around the infirmary to make sure they were alone. “I think we both already knew that.”
“Question is, do we want to take that risk? I can tell you, my self-control’s pretty much shot by this point.”
Evan raised an eyebrow. “I noticed.”
“My point is, I’m not gonna pressure you. If you want, I’ll drop it,” John said, standing. “We’ll go back to military leader and his second-in-command. Chalk this up to the fever.”
Evan shook his head. “It wasn’t the fever, John.”
John nodded. He knew it wasn’t the fever; he also knew that he didn’t want to jeopardize Evan’s career. “We’d have to be careful, but even then we’ll probably slip up around someone.”
“None of my team would care.”
“Nor mine,” John agreed. “But we’re in each other’s orbit. The closer we stand, the greater the pull.”
Evan grinned. “I think someone’s been spending a lot of time with Dr. McKay,” he said.
John rolled his eyes. “I just mean, we can’t avoid each other.”
“And it’s obvious this isn’t going away,” Evan added.
John slid his hands into his pockets, waiting for a cue.
Evan held his hand out, and John took it, allowing himself to be pulled down until his forehead met Evan’s. He leaned in to kiss him, but Evan pressed a finger to his lips.
“Our first kiss is not going to be in the infirmary,” he whispered.
John smiled. “Does that mean you want me to spring you?”
Evan smirked. “Not yet,” he said. “You don’t want me back in here with pneumonia, do you?”
“It figures I fall for a guy who makes me follow the rules.”
Evan grinned. “All but one.”
John pressed his lips to Evan’s forehead, wrapping a hand around the back of his neck.
“Why don’t you get some sleep?” John suggested.
“Been trying to for a while, but someone kept interrupting me,” Evan replied with a lazy smile.
John sat in the chair by Evan’s bed and watched him for a moment as he slept.
“John?” McKay’s voice came through to John’s ear. He sounded better, more alert, but still congested.
John sighed. “Yeah, McKay?”
“What, you don’t already know what I want this time?”
“Warm blanket and a foot rub?”
“Since when do you offer foot rubs?”
“Rodney, go back to sleep.”
He heard McKay sniff sharply, a useless attempt to clear his breathing. “When was the last time you slept?”
“That’s usually my line,” John said with a chuckle.
“I’m serious. I was just thinking… you’ve been running around Atlantis all damn day. You should take a break. I’m sure the city will still be floating when you wake up.”
John watched Evan sleeping another moment, then threw a glance to the empty infirmary bed beside him.
“Point taken,” John said. “Now go back to sleep. I’m switching to the emergency channel, if, you know, the city does start sinking.”
“Sleep tight, Colonel,” McKay replied.
John stood and climbed onto the other bed, curled up, and gave Evan a brief glance before closing his eyes. The people of Atlantis continued to sleep soundly around him, and as he dozed off, a smile crept onto his face as he remembered that Christmas and mistletoe were just around the corner.