Rodney McKay lay in his infirmary bed, blinking his eyes rapidly to try to clear his head. His brain was fuzzy and his eyes were not working properly. He felt chilled, even though the Ancient diagnostic device on the wall above his head said his temp was very high. It was vital that he stop panicking and pull himself together, figure out what to do.
Less than an hour ago he had realized the dangerous situation he, and all of Atlantis, was in.
He had awakened suddenly, snapping his eyes open to a face full of Doctor Carson Beckett with his clipboard, reaching a hand to pry open Rodney’s eyes, presumably to check his pupils.
Jerking his head back, Rodney croaked, “Hey! Wait! What?” through his dry-as-dirt throat.
“Easy, there,” Carson said. But his voice sounded funny. Kinda echo-y.
He must be tired, Rodney thought. “Did you stay up all night, looking after me? I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised. You should have, if you know what’s good for you. I’m the most utterly vital and irreplaceable person on this city. You can’t afford to lose me to some nefarious space bug; Atlantis would go down in flames inside of a day.”
“Nae, Rodney, it’s not a ‘space bug’, it’s plain old Earth influenza,” Carson said for the eleventy-millionth time. “You’re not the only one down with it.” His voice sounded normal this time.
Carson had been telling him over and over that it was flu, but Rodney knew better. He’d had flu before and this was something altogether else. He had always worked through it in the past, and had tried to do so this time as well. Right up until he’d collapsed unconscious on the floor of the lab and not been discovered until three hours later, when Simpson had arrived for the day shift. Turned out he had a temperature of 103.
Carson plucked his penlight out of his pocket and flashed it into Rodney’s eyes, saying, “Look at my forehead.”
Rodney tried not to blink until Carson was finished, but *just* as he started to blink, Carson’s eyes flashed brightly, for just a split second, and then Rodney’s blink cut them off. When he opened his eyes again an instant later, Carson’s eyes were normal, but Rodney’s heart was pounding, the diagnostic device beeping loudly and rapidly.
“Hey, now,” Carson soothed, “What’s going on then? Rodney, you’re sick, you need to try to calm down. What happened?”
“N-nothing!” Rodney stuttered. “Nothing at all! The-the penlight! It startled me a bit, that’s all!”
“Hmmm,” murmured Carson, “Well, just try to calm down, maybe get some more sleep, eh? It will do you good.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Rodney said, scrunching down in his bed a bit more, and pulling up his blanket. He wanted to curl up on his side and turn his face away, but he was terrified to turn his back on Carson. Carson the Goa’uld! He closed his eyes to slits and watched Carson casually walk away.
‘How did it happen?’ Rodney thought furiously, his fuzzy brain not working at its normal brilliant speed. ‘How did Carson become infested? What were Goa’uld doing in Pegasus?’ Rodney knew why they were in Atlantis, because if they had made it to the Pegasus galaxy, then of course they would try for Atlantis, that was inevitable. But no one here or back on Earth had heard anything about Goa’uld heading for Pegasus.
Atlantis gate teams checked often with the inhabitants of the planets they visited about whether they had encountered any aliens with Goa’uld characteristics, and were always told that no one had ever seen or heard of them.
Rodney pressed his head back into his thin infirmary pillow, silently thanking Teyla for all those boring, useless meditation sessions, because he was finding the practice very useful indeed right now. He breathed deeply, slowly, in and out. Quietly, so as not to attract attention, but determinedly so as to lower his heart rate and keep it low.
Blinking did not seem to clear his eyes at all, and he was extremely worried about permanent damage. He had no idea how hard he had hit his head when he fell. But his focus now was on how to save Atlantis from the Goa’uld. If only he wasn’t freezing. Stupid hospital gowns were worse than useless.
He couldn’t stay here. Couldn’t risk himself under the thumb of an infested Carson Beckett. Thinking as furiously as his woolly brain could manage, Rodney mapped out his escape. The infirmary was a mere twenty feet from a transporter, which would take him to right around the corner from his and John’s rooms. If only he could avoid being seen running through the hallways in an infirmary top with his ass hanging out.
He had no choice. Quietly he slipped off the bed. The damnable diagnostic device that had been horrifically declaring Rodney’s panic earlier to all and sundry, turned out to be a brilliant machine which knew the difference between a patient’s heart stopping and that patient leaving the bed. No alarm sounded, to Rodney’s huge relief.
Somehow, no one in the infirmary was looking in his direction when Rodney made for the door, and he managed to make it to their apartment undetected. Knowing it was the first place Carson would look for him, he dressed himself quickly in the first clothing that came to hand. He grabbed his second work computer, the one that had most everything he knew about Atlantis on it, and headed back out, having decided to head for an unused section of the city, to a place they would not think to look for him, a secluded lab where he could work on getting the Goa’uld snake out of Carson.
Rodney stopped and leaned against a wall for a moment, trying to clear the cotton out of his head. He needed time to think. What if Carson wasn’t the only one? Who could he trust? He wanted to call John, but he didn’t have his com unit, it had been taken out when he had been discovered unconscious. It looked like he would have to fix this on his own. He ran a trembling hand through his sweaty hair, took a deep breath and continued on shaky legs to his destination.
Rodney found the lab he wanted. The back room was used to store odds and ends of Ancient gadgets that they could find no use for, or were thought to be broken parts. He intended to build a makeshift life signs detector that would allow him to spot the Goa’uld in their midst.
Wobbling on his feet, he upended a box of bits onto a lab bench and practically fell into a chair to start furiously sorting.
Time passed in a blur. Rodney assembled crystals and wire and assorted pieces with no actual names with frantic hands as fast as he could make them move. His right sleeve became soaked from wiping the neverending sweat off his forehead so as not to drip into the device he was building. The back of his shirt and his underarms all the way down his sides were thoroughly sweat-soaked as well. It felt sticky and gross, but he ignored it and persevered.
“Damn it, damn it, damn it!” Rodney yelled, throwing yet another useless part across the room. No matter how desperately he pored through boxes of bits and pieces, he didn’t have the correct parts. He knew how to build a lifesigns detector, but how to build one that would detect Goa’uld without any Goa’uld tech was turning into more of a challenge than he had expected.
Finally, he twisted the last two wires into the crystal socket, inserted the crystal he had waiting, and the device lit up.
A shadow unfolded itself from the dim doorway and said softly, “Hey, buddy, what’s going on?”
“Aaah!” Rodney startled and fumbled the device. His panic spiked as he watched it fall through his shaking hands. Suddenly John was there, plucking it out of the air and handing it back to him. Rodney stared at John with wide eyes. ‘How had he gotten from the door to Rodney so fast? Oh no, John wasn’t infested, too? Oh, please no!’
Furtively he turned the device and pointed it at Sheppard. It showed his lifesign, but no indication of Goa’uld infestation. Rodney’s stomach clenched into a solid knot. Did that mean John was still John? Or did it mean the device was not functioning correctly? There was no way to tell and he felt as lost and trapped as he had in the infirmary.
“Rodney? What are you doing way down here? You’re supposed to be in the infirmary, buddy. You’re very sick. Carson is losing his mind,” John said in the kind of soothing tone one would use to gentle a skittish animal. Rodney became even more alarmed, because John just didn’t do pacifying like that. Normally, John was all sarcasm and bad puns. But then, Goa’uld weren’t known for their palliative natures either.
Rodney’s head was spinning. He turned and lurched for his chair, barely making it before he collapsed. ‘Oh God,’ he thought, dropping his face into his palms, ‘what am I going to do?’
John took a step and went to one knee. “Hey, come on now, what’s happening? You look really sick and completely freaked out. I think I should radio Carson and have him send a gurney to get you back to his care.”
“No!” shouted Rodney. “I don’t want to go back to the infirmary! I have too much to do, I can’t lose any more time.” Hawkins help him, was John in league with Carson? “How did you find me, anyway?”
“There was only one life sign way out here in the boonies; I thought it must be you.” John pulled Rodney’s hands away from his face. “Wow, Rodney, you are really hot to the touch! You need to be in sickbay.”
“I can’t! I can’t go back there! And I can’t tell you why, you’ll just have to take me at my word. It’s not safe!” Rodney was certain he was babbling, but he couldn’t stop himself. “I can’t even tell if I’m safe with you! Or anyone!” He shook the device at John. “This damned thing may or may not even work after all the time I spent on it. And yes, I’m sick, but this is Atlantis at stake and I have to save everyone yet again, sick or not!”
“Whoa, whoa, buddy,” John said softly. “What do you mean not safe with me? You’re always safe with me, Rodney, you know that. We’ve been together for two years now. You know you can trust me. What’s going on? Why is Atlantis at stake? Why is the infirmary not safe?”
“I can’t tell you! I wish I could because I could use your gift for strategy right now, but I can’t.” Rodney glared at the device in his hand, and looked up at John with a stricken expression. “I want to trust you, John, but I simply can’t. I can’t prove to myself that you are really you. This device may not even be working, for all I know!”
“What is the device for, Rodney? How can I help you? I want to help, but I don’t know how to prove it.” John sounded frustrated, but not angry.
Lord knows Rodney was frustrated. Not to mention terrified. He couldn’t think of a way to prove or disprove whether John was infested or not. And until then, how could he trust his partner? He didn’t dare tell John his fears, because then, the potential Goa’uld in John would know exactly how to manipulate him.
“Rodney, what do you mean by me not being me? How can I not be me? Buddy, Atlantis is fine. If anything were wrong, I would be the first to know. I’m the military commander of the city.” John ran his hand through his hair and blew out a heavy sigh. “I’m me, Rodney. What is it that you’re afraid of? Tell me so I can figure out how to help you trust me again.”
Rodney stood up and pointed a shaky finger at John. “Yes, that! That is exactly what I am afraid of! I know I’m sick, my brain is all cotton-wool and I swear I have permanent eye damage, but I haven’t gone stupid, I still know how easy it would be for you to manipulate me in my state. I’m trying to keep on track and save Atlantis from the G-” He slapped a hand over his mouth. “See? I almost said it! And I can’t afford the risk. You need to go now. If you are really you and you still care about me at all, you’ll leave and let me get on with the saving.”
“What? No! Rodney, you know I can’t leave you down here, sick and scared and all alone. Of course I care about you! You’re my… other half, I could never leave you behind in a situation like this. I’m begging you.” John actually dropped to his knees and clasped his hands. He gazed into Rodney’s eyes and pleaded, “Please, Rodney, tell me what is happening so I can help you.”
Rodney stared wide-eyed at John on his knees. No Goa’uld would EVER beg a human for anything, under any circumstances. Maybe John really was John and not a Goa’uld. Maybe he could risk it. He wanted to tell John so badly, he knew he was looking for any reason to believe it would be safe. But he also knew he wasn’t functioning at one hundred percent, so he couldn’t even trust himself. He was so tired.
Rodney swiped his soggy sleeve across his sweaty forehead and sighed. “Okay. Okay. I truly do not believe a Goa’uld would get on their knees for a human for any reason, so I am going to risk it.”
“Goa’uld? Rodney what are you talking about? Please tell me.” John rose from his knees and reached out to gently take Rodney’s hand. “What about the Goa’uld?”
“Carson,” Rodney said firmly. “Carson is infested.”
“What? How can that be? There are no Goa’uld in Pegasus. They don’t have intergalactic capabilities,” John insisted.
“I saw it, John! I saw it with my own eyes. Carson’s voice was echoing just like a Goa’uld, and his eyes flashed! I tell you I saw it!” Rodney was getting wound up again and his panic started to return. “I’ve seen Goa’uld-infested people before at the SGC and it was just the same!”
John raised his hands placatingly. “Okay, calm down, I believe you. Let’s put our heads together and come up with a way to deal with this.”
“I’ve been working on this Goa’uld lifesigns detector.” Rodney held up the device. “But I have no way of testing it, so I can’t tell if it’s working as intended. It didn’t show anything when I tried it on you.”
“Well, that would be because I am not a Goa’uld, Rodney,” John said.
“Well, that still remains to be proven. Right now I am just desperate enough to take the risk. So, do you have any ideas yet?” Rodney asked.
“ Hey! Sam can tell if she is in the presence of a Goa’uld! We can talk to her and take her to the infirmary to check Carson.”
“How can we? If I were a Goa’uld and trying to take over Atlantis the first person I would see to it was infested would be the leader. And the military commander.” He scowled at John suspiciously.
“But why Carson?” asked John. “Why go for a doctor?”
“Because he would have access to all personnel. If Carson should call someone to the infirmary, they would go. He could be infestation central and who would know?” Rodney’s voice rose with fear.
“Okay. We need Ronon and Teyla. And Ronon’s gun. Let me call them to come down here and go from there,” John suggested.
“How can we believe they aren’t compromised?” Rodney chewed on a cuticle.
“Well, I figure if the Goa’uld are trying to take over Atlantis, they wouldn’t be too bothered about a couple of alien residents who aren’t part of the chain of command.”
John sounded reasonable, but that didn’t really make Rodney feel any better.
“Okay, let’s get the team together and work this out,” John said, raising his hand to his com unit. He gave his and Rodney’s location to his teammates. “No, don't tell anyone where you are going. It’s vital that we keep this quiet. Sheppard out.”
Teyla and Ronon arrived within twenty minutes wearing quizzical expressions and armed to the teeth with bantos rods and swords and, of course, Ronon had his gun.
John felt a wave of pride wash over him. He knew he could always count on his team.
“What’s happening, Sheppard?” Ronon rumbled, eyeing Rodney. “Isn't McKay supposed to be in the infirmary?”
“Yes, Rodney,” Teyla said gently. “You do not look well. Should you not be under Doctor Beckett’s care?”
“No!,” Rodney waved his hands frantically. “See, that's the problem. Carson is a Goa’uld! And we have no way of knowing who else may be infested. I built this life signs detector to ferret them out, but I can't tell if it works and I just haven't encountered any Goa’uld with it yet, or if it doesn't work at all. That's only assuming that none of you are infested.”
Ronon’s left brow climbed his forehead. “We’re not.”
“So you say,” grumbled Rodney. He pointed his life sign detector at his teammates, heaved a frustrated sigh and collapsed into his chair, rubbing a shaky hand over his face. “Still nothing.”
“I have an idea,” said John suddenly, startling Rodney into jerking up straight in his seat, nearly losing his balance. Ronon reached out and steadied him by the arm and Rodney had to force himself not to flinch away. He still couldn’t be certain that his teammates were not Goa’uld.
“I say we just all go straight to the infirmary and demand that Carson get in the big medical scanner. If he refuses, we can always have Ronon stun him with his gun and we can put him in it. Also, we can all go through it so Rodney feels safe with us.” John looked completely sincere.
“Oh, see now,” complained Rodney. “That’s just the sort of thing that makes me feel very unsafe. How do I know you aren’t working with Carson just to get me back into the infirmary?”
“McKay. We don’t have any snake things in us. I’m telling you.” Ronon put his hand on his gun, almost caressing it. ‘Probably in anticipation of stunning Carson,’ Rodney thought. “If we did, I would just stun you and take you back to the infirmary.”
Rodney blinked. He hadn’t thought of that. It would have been much easier for them than trying to talk him into it. ‘Well, damn,’ he thought, ‘can’t stay here forever.’ He felt wasted, fuzzy-headed with no actual brain function. He wondered if his sickness was driving him to a very bad decision.
“Okay, let’s go with John’s plan.” Rodney swayed dangerously as he stood, and John grabbed his shoulders to brace him. “Here, buddy, why don’t you just take my arm for balance.”
Teyla on point, Rodney and John in the middle and Ronon on their six, they made their way back to the inhabited part of the city, taking as many transporters as they could, for Rodney's sake. No one really looked twice except for a couple of newish marines on patrol, who recognized the team’s combat formation and started to offer aid. John told them to stand down and stay on patrol, telling them to keep ‘extra frosty.’
Carson was wide-eyed as the team entered the infirmary. “Aye, then, you found him, Colonel! I was about to send marines out searching. Rodney, what were ye thinking, lad? Let’s get you-”
“Carson, I’m afraid that will have to wait. As military commander of Atlantis, I am hereby ordering you to get into the big scanner so we can take a look at anything that might be going on with you.”
"What?” Carson squawked. “I’ll do no such thing. And I’m not military, ye can’t order me about like one of your soldiers!”
Rodney pointed his makeshift Goa’uld detector at Carson, and frowned deeply when it showed no results. He slapped the side of it a couple of times and tried again. Nothing.
Ronon took out his gun and held it, casually pointing in Beckett’s direction. “Gonna have to insist, doc.”
Carson paled. “What’s going on, Colonel? I can help if you tell me what is happening.”
“We’ll explain after you have been scanned, Carson. Now be a good doc and get up in the machine,” John said in a low, calmly threatening voice. Ronon’s gun was suddenly pointing a lot less casually.
The doctor threw up his hands. “All right, all right! Don’t shoot!”
The group walked to the back of the main infirmary room where the big scanner was, and the team watched while Carson climbed up and lay down. “It’s all automatic, no one needs to do any poking about or changing settings,” he warned.
The machine started with a low buzzing, electronic sort of noise and began at Carson’s head, moving down slowly.
The team, especially Rodney, watched the screen with intensity. When the image began to show Carson’s lower skull and neck, Rodney reached out and slammed a button and the machine stopped.
“Well, then Rodney, what do you see?” asked Carson, at the same time as Ronon asked, “Is that where the snake-thing would be if he had one?”
“WHAT?” shrieked Carson. “Snake? You mean Goa’uld? You thought I had a Goa’uld in me? Why on earth would ye think a thing like that?”
Rodney examined the image for several long moments, sweat pouring down his forehead and into his eyes, hand gripping John’s arm so tightly it cramped.
All at once, Rodney slumped and wobbled and let out the breath he had been holding.
John maneuvered him into a nearby chair and said, “Well, Rodney, what do you think?”
“He’s clean. He’s clean. Oh, thank god, he’s not infested!” Rodney’s stress and adrenalin suddenly caught up with him, his fever and headache coming to the fore once again as he sat panting and shivering.
Carson climbed out of the scanner and flew to Rodney’s side. “Oh, dear. Let’s get you to a bed, lad. You’re very ill, you need to be resting. If only you had told me your fear, I would nae have resisted getting into the scanner.”
“But I couldn’t, Carson, don’t you understand? If you were a Goa’uld, I couldn’t risk it,” Rodney said, while he climbed into bed.
“Aye, you’re right, of course. Well now, you just rest, I’ll be back in a minute with some medicine for your fever.” Carson patted him on the shoulder and turned down the lights and walked over to the rest of the team, motioning for them to come with him while he procured Rodney’s medication.
“Well,” he said, holding a small bottle upside down and sliding the needle of a syringe into it. “That was quite an adventure, eh?”
John nodded. “He was completely convinced. We had the devil’s own time trying to get him to take the risk that Ronon and Teyla and I might not be Goa’uld.”
“Oh, I’ll just bet,” said Carson. “He’s too smart for his own good sometimes.” He put the bottle away and walked back to Rodney’s bed, the team following like little ducklings.
“Heh, yeah, that’s our Rodney to a ‘T’.” John grinned fondly.
“What?” grouched Rodney. “Talking about me again behind my back? Maybe I was too quick to write off Goa’uld infestation after all.”
“Now, Rodney,” Carson chuckled as he cleaned Rodney’s arm and inserted the needle. “Don’t go getting yourself all riled up again. You really do need rest, and I know you don’t want me to sedate you.”
“No need, Carson. I’m exhausted.” Rodney sighed, scrunching the edge of the blanket in his balled-up fists.
“Aye then, I’ll be checking on you later. Come along, folks,” Carson said as he pulled the curtain around the bed and walked away.
Ronon reached out and brushed his knuckles across Rodney’s shin and said, “You did good, McKay.”
Teyla promised to come visit in the morning and eat breakfast with him, and, smiling, walked past the curtain, grabbing Ronon along the way. “We will wait for you outside, John.”
John waved them away and turned back to Rodney, who lay, still sweaty and shivering, curled up on his side.
“I can come by tomorrow, bring some games, if you feel up to it,” he said, ruffling the hair on the back of his head.
“Yeah, okay,” Rodney said. He stared at the bedrail intently. “Look, I’m sorry I thought you were a Goa’uld. And Carson, I’m sorry I thought he was a Goa’uld first.”
“Well, I was pretty impressed, you know? You were down there, ready to take on who knows how many Goa’uld, all by yourself. But you know what?”
“The bravest part was trusting me, even though you thought I might be a Goa’uld.” John reached out and took Rodney’s hand and squeezed it tight.
“It wasn’t brave, it was stupid. I’m just lucky it was all in my addled brain.” Rodney squeezed back. “I’m just stupid in love with you. Putty in your hands, you know?”
“Yeah buddy, same here.” John leaned down and kissed Rodney’s sweaty forehead. “Get well soon, okay? Bed’s cold without you in it.”
By the time he stood back up, Rodney’s eyes had fluttered shut. John released his hand and silently walked out to the waiting room to catch up with Teyla and Ronon.
“John,” Teyla said. “It is dinner time. I would like for us to go relax with a nice meal after a rough day.”
“Good plan, Teyla.” John said, and they all headed for the mess, casting tender glances back toward Rodney’s passed out form.
“That was a lot of trust he showed us back there,” John murmured.
“McKay’s got more guts than people think,” Ronon agreed.
“He was convinced that he had to save the city from a Goa’uld invasion all by himself, sick as a dog.” John shook his head.
“He is a brave man,” Teyla added. “Come, I heard there would be brownies tonight.”
With one last affectionate look at Rodney, the rest of the -thankfully not Goa’uld- team hurried off to grab brownies before they were gone.
And a handful for their heroic teammate.