John had been off world, with approximately half of Atlantis’ military forces and one of their structural engineers, helping one of their newer trading partners rebuild several structures that had been lost in a fire, when the flu hit Atlantis.
At first it had presented like the ordinary stomach flu; upset stomach, chills, fever, muscle aches, headache. Carson had handed out Tylenol and Compazine as needed and sent them home to be sick in private.
It wasn’t until several days later – the day before John and his men had come home – that Carson had discovered one of the most bizarre mutations he’d ever seen in his life. He had three cases of the flu that were so severe he hadn’t let them leave the infirmary within the first day. Four days later, when John got back, there were thirteen cases that didn’t look good at all.
Carson had been able to send a nurse to inoculate the members of Sheppard’s work team, but they’d asked the Tellarians if the two men from the team with type O blood could stay until the crisis had passed. All thirteen cases in the infirmary were type O and Carson didn’t want to risk them if he could avoid it.
No one wanted to be the one to tell John that Rodney was one of the thirteen. That he’d been one of the three and quite possibly, given all his time off world, patient zero. And that for the past twelve hours, he’d spiked a fever of almost forty-one degrees.
Rodney McKay, one of the best human minds alive, was literally baking his brain in his skull.
Using the excuse of the nearly full main ward, Carson pulled John into his lab for his post-mission exam. John had stopped and stared at Rodney as they passed through the main ward and gone past the curtained off area nearest Carson’s office and lab, where Radek Zelenka was holding a vigil. Cooling blankets and cold compresses, I.V.s with anti-pyretics were barely holding his temperature to something lower than lethal.
Before actually starting John’s exam, Carson pulled a stool around to sit in front of him. “Rodney’s fever is finally stabilized. It isn’t coming down yet, but at least it isn’t going up anymore.”
“How bad is it?”
“He was at almost forty-one degrees a few hours ago. He’s gone up and down a few points since,” Carson said with more calm than he felt.
John did some quick math. “A hundred and five? A hundred and six? Rodney’s got a fever of a hundred and six?! Doesn’t that cause seizures and stuff?”
Carson took John’s hands in his, trying to calm him. “Seizures are much more likely to occur in children than adults.” There was something clearly being unsaid.
“Carson, please, don’t jerk me around. How bad is he?” John leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees, hanging his head. Rodney was a pain in the ass more often than not, but John had long ago admitted that he’d gotten kind of used to having him around.
Carson stroked the mass of unruly hair he was presented with, not at all surprised when John snuggled into it unconsciously. “He had a minor seizure about an hour before you got back. But it’s been the only one so far, and we’re hopeful it’ll be the only one.”
“Is he gonna make it?” John finally asked, needing a point-blank ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
“If he makes it through the night, he should be just fine. The body can’t maintain a fever that high for terribly long. It’ll either break or…” He didn’t need to finish that sentence.
John scrubbed his hands over his face. “I’m gonna go sit with him.”
“For just a short while,” Carson allowed. “Radek’s with him. I want to keep visitors to a minimum, but I know better than to think I’ll get him out with a crowbar.”
John nodded. If had been Carson in there a heard of Wraith wouldn’t keep him out.
Knowing what John was thinking, Carson added, “I have no room to even try. When that Iratus retro-virus was attacking you…”
John nodded and squeezed Carson’s hand before heading out to check on his teammate.
Rodney had been stripped to his boxers and wrapped in cooling blankets. Radek was sitting on the side of his bed wiping his face with a cool cloth. John was reasonably certain that that was actually having very little effect on Rodney’s actual body temperature, but Carson would have given it to Radek to try and help relieve some of his feelings of helplessness.
John pushed the curtain aside quietly.
Radek didn’t even turn around, his eyes shifting between the vitals monitor and Rodney’s face only. “I think it will be very long night.”
John moved to stand next to him, where he could see Rodney’s face. Rodney was both flushed and pale, an incredibly sickly combination. “For all his pissing and moaning about stuff, one thing Rodney McKay is not, is a quitter. He’ll keep fighting.” John knew it was a hollow promise, but he didn’t know what else Radek wanted to hear.
They fell silent after that, the mechanical beeps and whirs and hisses the only sounds in the room. Rodney was unconscious and unnaturally still.
After half an hour, John squeezed Radek’s arm. “Do you need anything?”
Radek shook his head. “Thank you, no. I am fine.”
John knew that for the lie it was, but didn’t comment as he slipped out.
Carson found John on a balcony over the east pier about six hours later. He made sure John heard him coming, but didn’t say anything as he stood behind the bench John was sitting on, his hands gently massaging John’s shoulders despite his own weariness.
“They finally run you out of your own infirmary?” John asked.
“More like I finally let them. Rodney’s fever broke about forty minutes ago. He’s still plenty sick, but he’s out of the woods for now.”
John sighed in relief, letting his eyes travel back out over the black ocean. “There,” he said, pointing out over the horizon.
“What?” Carson asked.
John pointed to a spot straight in front of him where just the slightest touches of pink and orange had started to color the sky. “Sunrise. He made it through the night.”