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Breaking Point

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John looked up several minutes later when he heard voices and footsteps above him. "We're down one more level," he called and saw someone glance over the railing at him.

The footsteps came closer, and John twisted around to watch the top of the steps. A few moments later, he saw Beckett along with Sergeant Thompson and Corporal Davis looking down at him. Beckett had a medical pack slung over one shoulder while the Marines carried a portable stretcher.

Beckett came down the stairs and knelt on Rodney's other side. He gave John a fleeting look then focused on the body in front of him.

"All right now, Rodney, let's see what you've gone and done to yourself," Beckett said softly as he ran his hands over Rodney's neck and back. Once done, he nodded to John, and they carefully rolled Rodney over so he was lying on his back.

"I see what you mean about his arm, Major," Beckett said as he carefully set the arm in a sling. "Looks like he's broken his wrist, and he's got a good-sized lump behind his ear."

He waved to the Marines waiting at the top of the stairs, and John stepped back as Thompson and Davis picked Rodney up and settled him on the stretcher. Once they had Rodney loaded, they headed for the nearest door. John and Beckett followed a few steps behind.

"I've already had this discussion with Teyla," Carson said peevishly, "and while I'm not at all pleased you decided to stage an escape from my infirmary, I'm glad you found them."

John glanced over at Beckett. "Teyla found Ford? How is he?"

Beckett sighed. "He should be fine. Teyla found him a little over an hour ago, and I've already started him on the antibiotics. The next few hours will tell if he's responding. Speaking of which," Carson added and tapped John on the arm, "you're due for your next dose as well."

"But I feel fine," John argued.

"That's not how this works, Major. You take the antibiotics even after you think you feel fine. We don't need some superbug invading the city that is resistant."

John saw the hard set of Carson's jaw and nodded.

They entered the infirmary a few minutes later. Beckett pointed to the curtained off area where John had been before. "Sharon will help you get settled while I go see about Rodney." Carson walked over to the other end of the infirmary, where another nurse set up the diagnostic hood over Rodney's still body.

John watched the hood light up and slowly move back and forth over the bed, then pushed the privacy curtain aside.

"Major," Teyla greeted with a tired smile. The head of her bed was raised, and Teyla sat with her knees drawn up to her chest, watching as John wandered over to the bed across from her.

Ford lay in the bed next to Teyla. An IV ran into his arm, and several monitors tracked his vitals. John wasn't sure if Ford was unconscious or asleep and frowned when he saw Ford was restrained.

John pushed aside the set of clean scrubs and sat on the edge of the bed. "How's he doing?" he asked and nodded at Ford.

Teyla glanced at the bed beside her. "Doctor Beckett believes we found him in time," she said. She turned her head, staring at the corner of the wall, and John wondered what else had happened while bringing Ford back to the infirmary.

"But?" he asked, dragging out the word.

Teyla sighed. "He had become violent," she replied. "He was firing his P-90 at both Sergeant Bates' team and me. Sergeant Bates was forced to stun him."

Sharon came through the curtain, gave John his dose of antibiotics and looked pointedly at the set of scrubs waiting on the bed.

John tried to look innocent, but Sharon wasn't buying his act. He nodded and waited while Sharon checked Ford's monitors and asked Teyla a few quiet questions. Once she left, John picked up the scrubs and went to change.

"How did Bates know where you were?" John asked once he came back into their corner and sat on his bed. "Did you tell him about the engine room?"

Teyla flinched, and John frowned. What the hell happened? he wondered.

Teyla looked over at Ford again, then down at her bare feet. "I did not tell Sergeant Bates anything," she said, and John heard the guilt in her voice. "One of his men was able to follow me. Lieutenant Ford heard them approach while I was trying to speak with him. He believed I had betrayed him and started firing his weapon at us."

John winced at the news Ford had fired live ammunition at Teyla and the security team.

Teyla must have heard him and wrapped her arms around her legs.

"Teyla, it wasn't your fault," John said.

Teyla glared at him, the guilt now replaced with frustration. "How can you say that?" She pushed her legs down and focused on the wall behind John's head. "If I had been more careful, Sergeant Bates and his men would not have been there, and Lieutenant Ford would not have been spooked by their presence."

"Or," John drawled, "Ford could have gone off anyway, and you would have had no one there to back you up."

He waited for her to look at him and continued, "I'm not thrilled Bates got the chance to shoot one of my people, but I'm glad he was there to stop Ford with a stunner instead of a bullet and that none of the rest of you were injured." John glanced over at Ford. "That, at least, explains why Beckett has him restrained."

"Yes," Teyla said, her voice tinged with guilt again.

"Teyla …"

"Yes, I know," she said and tried to smile. Teyla closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and asked, "How is Doctor McKay? Doctor Beckett stopped here long enough to tell me you had found him before he left to meet you."

John looked at the empty bed behind him and tried not to think about the frightened expression on Rodney's face right before he fell. "He fell down a set of metal steps trying to run away from me." He glanced at the closed curtain and wondered what was taking Carson so long, then over at Teyla. "He looked at me, and I could see just how afraid of me he was."

"Perhaps it was not you he saw," Teyla offered and leant forward in her bed.

John snorted. "There wasn't anyone else there."

"Doctor Beckett did say one of the symptoms of this illness was hallucinations," she told him. "It is possible he was not seeing you at all, Major, but someone or something else."

John shrugged, not willing to let himself off the hook that easily. "Yeah, maybe," he mumbled.

Teyla was asleep, and John was dozing when Beckett and a different nurse wheeled Rodney into their little corner an hour later. The cut on Rodney's face had been taped closed, and his right hand and forearm were encased in an electric blue cast.

John hoped Rodney was only asleep and watched as Carson and the nurse settled Rodney in the last bed. Beckett hung an IV bag and hooked Rodney up to a set of monitors, and John was relieved when the nurse left with the gurney and Rodney wasn't restrained.

Beckett leant forward and said something to Rodney that John didn't hear, then turned to leave.

"How is he," John asked in a low voice so as not to wake Teyla or Ford.

"He should be fine given enough time to rest," Beckett replied with a tired smile as he stopped at the end of John's bed. "I've started him on the antibiotics, so he should be back to his normal self in a few days."

John couldn't muster a witty response to that. Everything was still a little too raw for him. "And the rest," he asked. "Just how badly did I hurt him?"

"And I thought Teyla was the one feeling all of the guilt," Beckett said with a frown. "You didn't do anything to hurt him, Major. Rodney woke up for a moment while we were examining him. He kept mumbling about a Wraith attacking him. We had a devil of a time convincing him there were no Wraith attacking the city." Carson glanced over at Rodney. "I'm still not sure if he believed me."

"But he's going to be okay?" John pressed.

"Oh, aye, he broke his wrist and gave himself a bit of a concussion as well as a nasty bruise on his back. Too bad I don't have any more of Malie's salve. But he should heal just fine."

John blew out a breath, and Beckett smiled. "Get some sleep, Major. You're still recovering as well, you know."

John woke later that night to the sound of grunting and heavy breathing. He sat up, looked around, and found Ford was wide awake and pulling at the restraints around his wrists.

"Whoa, hey," John whispered. He got up and walked over to Ford's bed, hoping to calm him down before someone overheard him or he hurt himself. "Ford, you need to calm down," he said and tried to sound reassuring. "You're in the infirmary. Everything's going to be all right."

"Get away from me," Ford growled angrily and pulled at the restraints again. "Did you just come by to gloat? Rub it in that you're better than me?"

John was at a loss as to how to respond. This was a side of Ford he'd never seen before. The ordinarily happy-go-lucky young man he knew had been replaced with someone bitter, angry, and suspicious, and he had no idea why he was the target.

"You're all the same," Ford continued. "I may be young, but I'm not stupid. You think I'm just some dumb jarhead. Well, I'm not. You're not pinning this on me."

"What?" John asked, now completely confused. "Ford, I've never had any doubts about how good of an officer, how good of a person you are. Where is this coming from?"

Ford lunged at him, and John backed away from the bed when he realised he was just making Ford more agitated.

"Major?" Sharon said in a low voice. "It's not you, you know. It's the bacteria. You're just a convenient target."

John turned to the curtained-off entrance to their corner as Sharon walked in, a tray of syringes in her hands. He watched as she injected a dose of the antibiotics into Rodney's IV and then walked over to Ford.

"You leave me alone," Ford snared. "You can't give me anything I don't want, and I don't want your so-called cure. I know what … it … really is …" His voice faltered as Sharon capped a second syringe and set it back on the tray.

"Everything will look much better in the morning, Lieutenant," Sharon said in a calm voice. "I promise."

Ford continued to glare at her until the sedative took effect, and he slowly stopped fighting the restraints as he closed his eyes.

"I'm sorry about …" John waved at Ford with one hand once Ford was asleep.

"There's no need to apologise, Major," Sharon said as she gave Teyla her dose of antibiotics. "I've heard worse over the last few days."

John realised just how tired Teyla must be since she didn't so much as stir from the injection in her arm. Then his brain caught up with what Sharon had said. He ducked his head and rubbed at the faint bruising on his wrists from his own time tied down.

Sharon stopped next to his bed and gave John his shot.

"Yeah, well, I apologise for that, too," John said with a sincere smile.

"Major, you were very sick. I don't blame you for the things you said," Sharon reassured him.

"Thanks, but that still didn't mean it was easy to hear." John glanced over at the now sleeping Ford and wondered what the real reason was for his paranoia.

Sharon smiled down at him. "Then I thank you for the apology, Major." She stepped around his bed and walked back to the curtain. "Try to get some sleep."

It was only a couple of hours later when John woke to the sound of soft whimpering. He knew from past experience the sound heralded a nightmare. John slid out of bed and pulled a chair over to the side of Rodney's bed as the soft moans turned into words and Rodney's head started to twist on the pillow.

"Shep'rd hurt … gotta find them … It got Shep'rd …"

What the hell? John wondered even as he laid a hand on Rodney's arm and started to talk. "Hey, calm down," he said softly. "I'm right here, Rodney. Nothing got me. I'm fine. You're fine. The city is safe."

"Got 'im. Kil'd Shep'rd. Need t'fin it," Rodney continued to mutter and shake his head.

John took a better hold on Rodney's arm before he could hurt himself. He wasn't sure how much of the reactions were due to the bacteria versus the concussion.

"Rodney, I'm right here, buddy. Nothing got me. I'm fine."

Rodney stopped twisting in the bed and slowly opened his eyes. John could tell he wasn't really awake or really seeing him, but he spoke anyway. "See," he said and tried to smile. "I'm right here."

"Shep'rd?" Rodney slurred. "Thought you'wer dead."

As with Ford's delusion that he thought John considered him a bad officer, John had no idea why Rodney would have latched onto the idea of his demise but put that aside for the moment. "Nope, still here," he replied and patted the hand with the cast.

"Do'n hate me?"

"Next time, I'll just leave you to be Wraith food." John squeezed his eyes shut. He'd be paying for that comment for a long time.

"No, Rodney, I don't hate you," John said. "And I'm not mad at you." He squeezed the fingers poking out of the cast. "Go back to sleep, and we'll talk about it when you're more awake."

Rodney sighed and closed his eyes.

John leant back in the chair and held onto Rodney's fingers until he was sure McKay was asleep.

"I told you the bond was strong," Teyla said from behind him, and John turned his head enough to see her standing at the end of his bed.

"Yeah, you did," John replied. He slowly stood and made his way back to his bed. "I just hope it's still true when he's really awake and can fight back."

Teyla smiled and headed back to her own bed. "I do not believe you have anything to worry about, Major."

John watched as Teyla resettled in her bed and was soon asleep. He glanced over at Ford, then Rodney and saw they were resting as well. John sighed and, with a nod, slowly let himself drift to sleep.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

John stopped by the infirmary two days later to check on his remaining teammates. He and Teyla had been released the night before with orders to get some sleep, not push themselves, and a schedule for their remaining injections of antibiotics was set. Rodney and Ford still had at least another day to go before Beckett felt they were ready to resume light duties.

He entered the infirmary and headed for the far corner where two beds still sat end to end. The privacy curtains had been removed, and John saw Ford was awake, but Rodney was asleep. McKay had been sleeping a lot the last few days. Beckett didn't seem concerned, so John tried not to worry about it either.

"Lieutenant," Sheppard greeted in a low voice so as not to wake Rodney. "How are you feeling?"

Ford gave him a sheepish smile. "Better, sir."

"Good," John replied and looked around, trying to think of something else to say.

"Sir?" Ford said and twisted his hands in his lap. "I … umm … I wanted to say …"

"There's no need," John said, holding up one hand. "It wasn't really you saying those things."

Ford looked up at him. "Still, I just wanted you to know … I don't think that way about you, sir."

John leant against the wall next to Ford's bed and considered his team's various reactions to the bacteria. Teyla had felt guilt, probably a leftover from the whole mess with the necklace. Rodney's fears he was well acquainted with, so his reaction made sense as well. Ford, however …

"So who was it?" John asked and glanced down at Ford.

"Sir?"

"The CO, or drill sergeant, or whoever it was that made you think you were a worthless officer?"

Ford looked up at him, surprise evident on his face. "How did …"

"Not that hard to figure out," John replied with a wry smile. "So who was it?"

Ford looked down and fiddled with a loose string on the blanket. "Army captain," he finally said. "It was a joint mission in Iraq. He was the ranking officer and screwed up an op. Tried to blame my unit for the mistake, claiming since I was in command of the Marine unit and so young, it had to be my fault three guys died."

John frowned in sympathy. He'd dealt with a few of those types over the years as well. "What happened?"

Ford shrugged. "Nothing. There was the usual post-mission debrief and eval. It was determined there was no clear evidence one way or the other who was at fault, and it was just chalked up to fortunes of war. Never heard what happened to him after that. I finished my tour and was reassigned to the SGC."

"You know that won't happen here, don't you?" John asked. "You know I'd do whatever was necessary to back you up."

"Yes, sir. I know. Really." Ford smiled. "Like I said, I don't see you that way at all. I know you always have my back."

John shifted against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest as Ford spoke, uncomfortable with the overt show of loyalty. He grinned suddenly and changed the subject, "You had quite the setup of booby traps, I heard. I think there's still one Bates is afraid to touch. He wants to just block off the whole corridor and leave it."

Ford gave the now empty beds around them in the infirmary a guilty look, and John stopped smiling.

"I guess I can expect some pretty nasty payback for that," Ford said with a grimace. "Even as I was doing all of that, a part of me knew it was a bad idea, but I didn't seem to care. All that mattered was making sure …" He stopped, and John read the embarrassment in his eyes.

"Making sure you got me before I got you?" he finished with a sardonic smile.

Ford ducked his head. "Something like that, I guess."

John nodded and wandered over to Rodney's bed. Like Ford, all of the extra monitoring equipment had been removed as well as the IV. He rubbed Rodney's arm and squeezed his fingers just to let him know he wasn't alone. He felt a light pressure on his hand in return, but Rodney didn't wake up.

"I think we may need one of those team-building sessions of yours, sir," Ford said quietly. "We're all kinda screwed up at the moment."

John looked over at Ford and smiled. "See, right there. That's the sign of a good officer." He squeezed Rodney's fingers in farewell and walked between the two beds. "I'm on my way to talk to Elizabeth and Carson about an excursion to the mainland. We can check how the Athosians are doing and maybe do a little camping on the beach."

Ford grinned, the first genuine smile John had seen on his face in days. "We never did get those s'mores the last time."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Rodney wandered the city, unable to really settle or think. It was late, most everyone else was long asleep, but he couldn't get his mind to stop replaying what had happened over the past week. He'd spent three days under Beckett's watchful eye as the antibiotics did their job and another four in his quarters with shots every six hours. Now that he was back in his right mind, so to speak, all he felt was embarrassment as to how he'd acted.

"You're supposed to be the intelligent one in the group, the smartest man in two galaxies," he berated himself as he walked. "And you acted like a complete idiot thinking Wraith had invaded Atlantis." He shook his head.

He'd never be able to live that down with the scientists, never mind the Marines. How was anyone supposed to take anything he said seriously after he'd been found in the bowels of the city preparing for a nonexistent attack.

He had tried to rest like he promised Carson, but he quickly got bored in his quarters. With the cast on his hand, he couldn't putter with any of his projects very easily, not that he wanted to spend much time in the lab lately, anyway. He half-expected Elizabeth to show up and ask, ever so politely because she was still Elizabeth after all, for his resignation as head of the science teams.

He stopped in the hallway and stared out the window and the darkness. Today had been his first day back in his lab since the disastrous trip to Arcadia, and no one had bothered him with inane questions or worse smirks.

"Zelenka," Rodney muttered in stunned amazement. "He must have done or said something to the rest of the scientists." He found he was oddly grateful for the show of support and loyalty.

Rodney wandered into what had quickly been adopted as the expedition's rec room where, by mutual consent, everyone had offered up their smuggled books, DVDs, games, and any other scraps of items with some entertainment value for others to use. He checked the shelves looking for a book, movie, anything to take his mind off what had happened and came up empty. Rodney surveyed the rest of the room and did a double-take when he spotted the portable keyboard pushed against the far wall, half buried under some empty storage crates.

"How did someone get that here?" he wondered out loud as he crossed the room and ran his hand over the keys.

He'd always loved music. Taking lessons had been one of the few happy, if brief, memories of his childhood. Right up to the point when his teacher told him he had no feel for it and would never be a musician.

Rodney had been devastated, to say the least. His first teacher had been a kindly woman, told him he was a natural and encouraged him to try new pieces from classical to the pop music of the 1970s. Then she'd died suddenly, and his next teacher, a rail-thin man whom Rodney was sure had never smiled in his life, had told his parents after three lessons, it was a waste of his time to teach someone like Rodney. He was too stiff. He had no soul for music.

Even a normal twelve-year-old ego would have taken such a comment to heart. Rodney had taken it especially hard as the piano had been one of the few things that let him forget about his family, the bullies at school, and the teachers that saw him as a troublemaker for correcting them during class.

His parents hadn't even tried to change the teacher's mind. He was right, they'd decided. It was just one more thing proving their son was more trouble than he was worth, and there were no more lessons.

His only consolation was his parents had kept the piano. Not for him, of course, but because it looked good in the corner of the den, and maybe Jeannie would be a better reflection on the family by becoming a pianist.

Rodney played any time he was alone in the house. He didn't want his parents to find out, afraid of what they would do if they knew. Once he left for university, there had been a beat-up piano in one of the common rooms, and he'd spent many hours noodling around on it when he was sure he was alone. He'd even found one in a disused office in Russia and spent many cold nights playing that out-of-tune upright piano.

Rodney glanced around the deserted room and even checked the hallway before he hauled the keyboard out of the corner and carefully set it up. The stand was flimsy, and he braced it with a few books to make sure it wouldn't collapse. He dug around the pile of crates, found the cord, and quickly hooked it up to one of the jerry-rigged outlets he'd designed to work with Earth electronics. He pulled up one of the empty crates to use as a bench, sat down, and looked for the power switch.

The keyboard hummed as it powered on. Rodney looked for the volume control and turned it down almost as far as it would go. This was not something he needed to advertise to anyone still awake at this hour. At best, he'd be teased, and at worst, laughed at. As usual, it was just better for no one to know.

He sat with his back to the door and pressed a few of the keys just to hear what the board sounded like, then ran his hands through a few scales. He fumbled more than once, he hadn't practised in years, and the cast on his right hand wasn't helping, but his fingers soon remembered what they were supposed to do.

The scales turned into a tune, and he smiled as he recognised Bach's "Prelude in C Major", one of the first pieces he'd learnt, and as a result, also one of his favorites. He played through the short piece a few times, just letting his mind wander, and he finally felt himself start to relax. He stopped thinking about Wraith, weird alien bacteria, never mind how he had reacted to the nonexistent WRaith attack, and let his mind sink into the music.

"I didn't know you knew how to play," Sheppard said from just behind him.

Rodney jumped, the keyboard jangling painfully as he missed the last chord. He jerked his hands away from the keyboard even as he glared up at John.

Sheppard took another one of the empty crates and sat next to him. "What was that you were playing?"

Rodney heard the genuine interest in the question and relaxed. John hadn't laughed. "Bach," he replied and self-consciously moved his hands farther away from the keys.

"You don't have to stop," John said and started to stand. "I can leave if you want me to."

"No, no," Rodney said with the barest hesitation and motioned John back onto his crate. "It's okay, really."

John settled with his back against the wall and his feet out in front of him as Rodney went back to softly playing scales.

"So how come you never said anything about playing the piano?" John asked as Rodney's hands moved up and down the keyboard.

Rodney shrugged as he started on "Prelude" again. "It's just one of those things I don't bother to mention to people, I guess. When you're told at twelve you need to do the music world a favor and never touch an instrument again, you kind of get a little shy about saying anything."

John's expression fell, and it took Rodney a moment to realise he was angry on his behalf and not mad at him. "Your parents?" John asked, his voice flat.

Rodney shook his head. "Music teacher. Said I had no feel for music and should just give up." He looked over at John. "But I loved the music," he said with a shy smile. "Not just the mathematics of it, which was cool too, but the actual music itself."

"Sounds like you had a bad teacher to me," John said and nodded at the keyboard. "I liked it."

Rodney snorted. "You didn't even know what I was playing."

"Didn't matter. It sounded nice."

Rodney smiled and transitioned to another piece as John sat next to him and watched him play. He had to admit it looked like Sheppard was enjoying himself.

"Now that you and Ford are off the antibiotics," John said a few minutes later, "Elizabeth and Carson signed off on the field trip to the mainland."

"Because the last field trip we went on was so successful," Rodney retorted and glanced over at John. His fingers missed a chord, and he winced, stopped playing, and flexed his hands. Debussy had always tripped up his fingers.

Some things never changed, he thought with a smile.

He started playing again, and John sat up straight on his crate. "Hey, I know this one," he said, "it was at the end of that heist movie a few years ago."

Rodney stopped playing and stared at John. "Seriously? That was "Clair de Lune", and you think it's the theme song from a movie? I suppose you think Rhapsody in Blue was written as the theme song for an airline, too."

"Which one was that?"

Rodney played the opening few bars of the Gershwin piece.

"Nah, I remember that one from the Disney movie," John said, and Rodney gave him a startled look.

Sheppard likes Disney movies? Rodney thought and tried to hide a grin.

Sheppard must have seen it, however. "I went with someone who wanted to see it," he said with a glare. "That part was good, although I liked the bit with the flamingo and the yo-yos more."

Rodney growled under his breath, and John grinned in turn.

"Was there a reason you were prowling around the city in the middle of the night?" Rodney asked as he went back to "Prelude".

"Yeah, actually," John said, and Rodney noted the change in his tone. "I wanted to talk to you. Make sure you … we … were okay."

Rodney stopped playing and turned to face John, his expression wary.

"I didn't mean what I said back in the village," John said as he sat forward on the crate, his arms braced on his knees. "You know I would never leave you behind or make you face something like the Wraith alone if I could help it, right?" He looked up, and Rodney could see the guilt and the truth in Sheppard's eyes.

John was not his parents, Rodney reminded himself. They were brothers by choice; they had chosen to be family.

"Of course, I know that. Don't be an idiot," Rodney snapped, but there was no heat in the words. "You know I don't really remember much of what happened once we were back." He glanced over at John. "What I do remember was thinking, no knowing, a Wraith had somehow done something to you, and I needed to stop it."

"That's not --" John started to say.

"Don't tell me it's not my job," Rodney interrupted, his temper flaring. "I thought it had hurt you, not to mention Teyla and what it could do to the city." He toyed with a few keys on the keyboard as the anger dissipated. "I thought it had killed you, and I wasn't going to let it get away," he finished in a whisper.

Rodney's fingers nervously played up and down the keys for a moment until John placed his hand over the top of his and stopped him. "Thank you," John said and stood.

Rodney looked up at him, confused.

"For the concert," John finished with a cocky grin. However, Rodney thought he might have seen something else lurking behind the overt expression.

"Oh. You're, umm, welcome," he replied and hoped John saw the feeling returned.

He must have because Rodney felt John give his shoulders a quick squeeze as he walked back toward the door.

"Hey, you don't know the song from The Sting, do you?" John asked from the doorway.

Rodney shook his head and smiled even as he started to play. "It's called The Entertainer," he replied with a long-suffering sigh and let the sound of ragtime fill the quiet of the city.

FIN