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Ch014 - Story 14 - Breathe 
11/13/08 - 22:54
merlin - of the sky
Title: Breathe
Pairing: John/Rodney
Rating: PG
Spoilers: None past mid season 3.
Plot:The team return from a mission barely alive. But that's only the start of their problems.

Authors: jadesfire, busaikko, ca_pierson and oxoniensis.
Artists: unamaga, strivaria, ola_sw and gblvr.



Breathe


John coughed again as he slapped his hand onto the central button of the DHD. The air seemed to be clinging to the inside of his lungs, and his eyes were streaming so badly that it took him three attempts to send his IDC. Then he crouched and shook Rodney's shoulder.

"Come on." The words cost him the last of his breath, and it took a real effort not to just lie down next to Rodney and close his eyes. Above him, he heard Ronon's voice, croaky and hoarse as he called over the radio.

"We need a doctor."

Through his streaming eyes, John could see him staggering past, Teyla cradled in his arms, her head against his shoulder and her arm hanging limp and loose. John blinked hard, and the look Ronon shot him said it all. They had to get out of here, and it had to be now.

He shook Rodney again. "Rodney, you have to get up."

Under his hand, he felt a shudder as Rodney rode out another coughing fit, then movement as he made an attempt at sitting up. With what felt like his final breath, John pulled hard, dragging them both to their feet, leaning unsteadily against each other as they gasped and swayed.

Rodney's eyes were almost swollen shut, and he was wheezing as though his throat was closing as well. His head spinning, John managed to get them moving in the direction of the gate, turning his fall into staggering steps and pulling Rodney along with him. The relief as they toppled over the event horizon was incredible, bettered only by the clean fresh air of Atlantis. As soon as they were through, Rodney went down hard, John still clinging to him for dear life. The last of the air in his lungs left him with an oomph, and he tried not to panic when he didn't hear an answering moan from underneath him.

Someone disentangled him from Rodney, pressing a mask against his face and instructing him in a firm voice to take deep breaths. The oxygen tasted wonderful, but his second breath had him choking again, hacking badly enough that he had to push the mask away, turning away and trying not to retch. It was a battle he wasn't going to win, hands holding him steady as he spat something black and foul onto the gateroom floor. By the time the coughing eased, he was barely aware of his surroundings, and only put up the feeblest protest as they loaded him onto a stretcher.

"It's alright, John. Let them do their jobs." That was Elizabeth Weir, her voice steady and sure. "Your team's going to be fine."

He hadn't even realized that he'd been waiting to hear that, until the relief washed over him again, bringing blackness with it.


* * * * * * *


"It's been a week," Rodney snapped, drawing himself up and pinning John with a glare. Apparently, Rodney's impatient summons down to the jumper bay (Something you need to see, Colonel) had been a ruse to get John alone. So now John was trapped in the front of the jumper, the way out blocked by a sprawl made from delicate constructions of wire and crystal and a very irate McKay. John wished he had something to do besides stand there, trying not to look stupid. He tried to put his hands in his pockets and then remembered that he didn't have pockets in these pants. Yep. That looked pretty stupid. Rodney's eyes narrowed.

"I'm fine, you're fine, Teyla's fine, Ronon would kick your ass if you asked if he was fine. It wasn't fun, that little excursion into the valley of hell, asphyxiation is never fun, I could have told you that and saved us a trip, but -- " Rodney threw his hands up in exasperation. "We'll probably all develop the Pegasus version of black lung disease in twenty years, but until then you're supposed to, you know." He used his fingers to draw hyperactive little circles in the air. "You're like a Weeble, nothing keeps you down."

John knew that Rodney was, in his own way, feeding him lines, waiting for John to pick up the vibe of the conversation and spin it back, something deflective and sarcastic. He knew that Rodney needed that familiar give and take to know that everything really was fine, but John. . . was not fine and could not find in himself the impetus to step into the role that Rodney wanted him to play.

He'd imagined -- everyone did, he figured, especially soldiers and residents of Pegasus -- what would happen if he snapped. He'd always figured he'd be violent, which scared him stone cold sane most of the time. But this was very restful. As he stood there, no doubt looking pretty stupid, staring at Rodney with his hands in non-existent pockets, it dawned on him that he'd migrated to a place in his head where he'd fallen but he couldn't get up. It was quiet, and calm, and so very comforting to not have to care anymore.

Rodney was saying his name, very loudly. John was tired of being a John. There was no inherent personality in the name John: you had to work at making it belong to you. It wasn't easy. Rodney, now, he had two personable names. Rodney Meredith. You could let yourself be defined by names like that, or be defined by defying the names.

John might have said some of that (all of that?) out loud. Rodney locked the jumper door and looked at John as if he expected him to -- scream, or cry, or break, or something.

He asked John to sit. John sat, sliding to the floor with his back to the back of the chair. He wanted to be able to watch Rodney as he worked. He liked watching Rodney's hands.

And damn it, he was having trouble caring enough to stop saying everything that came to mind.

"Well, Colonel," Rodney said, and dropped down heavily to sit right next to John. John could feel Rodney's warmth where his knee dug into John's leg. "Why don't you help me put the communications systems back together. Maybe you're just bored."

"Sure," John said. After a few minutes he got to be pretty good at putting all the Ancient pieces back in, when Rodney told him where they went. It was like a puzzle. He'd always been good at puzzles. He liked problems that were hard and that didn't involve anyone dying. He didn't like problems that were as simple as run for your life and which led to the people he cared most about choking to death when he was helpless to do anything. He'd watched Teyla die first, and then Rodney. Ronon had still been convulsing breathlessly when John had kicked the bucket himself. He hadn't liked that at all.

Everyone seemed to be pleased that they'd cheated death. John had trouble seeing it that way. The way he looked at it, death had won. On a nameless burning planet at the edge of the Pegasus Galaxy, John Sheppard had lost his team for no reason save basic stupidity.

Well, he planned on resting in peace now. Just as soon as he had all McKay's pieces sorted out.

When McKay took the reassembled comm blocks and slotted them away into their slide-out compartment, John looked around reflexively for something else to do. He didn't want to leave the jumper. It was safe and bright and kept the memories at bay. The air was canned, but good. Plus, Rodney was here. Rodney had his six. Or at least he thought Rodney did. John asked, and Rodney looked terribly offended.

"Of course I do," he said. "How can you ask me that?" John smiled and thought about falling asleep, curling right up where he was and letting Rodney watch over him. "Um. You can't do that," Rodney said, and John opened one eye. "I think you need to get to the infirmary," Rodney added, and John shook his head, because that was absolutely the last thing he wanted to do right now. "Either the ash we inhaled back on VolcanoWorld has some kind of previously-undiscovered mind-altering property, which probably it doesn't because as far as I know everyone but you is fine, or you're having some kind of mental breakdown, which I'm really not equipped to handle." He made a kind of teeter-totter with his hands. "Physics, psychology, not the same thing."

"I've fallen," John said, shutting his eye again and turning so his forehead was on the coolness of the floor, "and I can't get up."

"Please," Rodney said, but John just didn't get that. After a minute, he heard Rodney call someone over the radio. Shortly after, they came to get him. John fought as hard as he could. They had to tranquillise him, finally, before they could drag him out of the jumper. Rodney was wringing his hands and apologising.

"I trusted you," John said, fighting the darkness, but it swept over him like a wave.

* * * * * * *


Rodney hated the expression on John's face just before he had been tranquillised. Hated that he had been forced to call Carson, hated that he couldn't help John on his own. He watched with a sinking feeling as they took John away and patched up the medics that John had hurt while fighting them. Rodney had failed in the friendship department somewhat spectacularly.

God, John came because I asked him to, Rodney thought, desperately and wished Teyla had never brought up her concerns. Yes, John had been acting odd, but what had Rodney been supposed to do about it? He'd done what he had thought best and look where that had gotten them. Teyla would kill Rodney. Kill him with her pinkie finger and hide his body somewhere in the city. But whatever was going on with John wasn't anything Rodney felt equipped to deal with, and he doubted Teyla had forced him to do something if she hadn't felt the same way. Rodney tried to breathe deeply, to calm down, but his stomach was roiling with nerves and he had to sit down on the ramp of Jumper One. He buried his face in his hands, rubbing over his tired eyes.

He didn't want to lose John, not this way. John wasn't supposed to go out like this. They were supposed to die in a ball of fire, in a nuclear explosion, saving the city, not like this. Not giving up. No, no no no. It wasn't supposed to happen. John never gave up. Never gave in.

He just hoped it was a mind-altering substance. That was easily fixable. Well, more easily than a nervous breakdown, anyway. They'd take John away from Atlantis if he was broken, and no matter how intelligent and confident Rodney was, he really couldn't fix everything.

That's why he had picked engineering. Things were easy to fix, people just broke on Rodney now or then and that was it. He couldn't take them apart and then put them back together, good as new. Couldn't exchange a burnt out wire for a new one and make it all better that way. Rodney hated the soft sciences for a reason. They were inexact, based on assumptions and inadequate. They were twiddling around with systems they hardly understood and called it a science. If he left it to Kate Heightmeyer and Carson and their voodoo John might never get back on his feet. That thought got Rodney up rather quickly and he started moving towards the infirmary, a glare fixed on his face. Everybody who even made to approach him was studiously ignored. Unless the whole city was sinking beneath the ocean without their shields intact, Rodney really couldn't have cared less at that moment. He'd ridicule them for their idiocy some other time. When John was better, when he was laughing with the team again.

Uncharacteristically hesitant, Rodney was loath to actually enter the infirmary when he had finally reached it. What if he had made everything worse? What if John was going to be sent home because of Rodney? The tight ball of fear in his stomach grew larger as Rodney analysed the possible outcomes.

He didn't move until one of the new scientists Rodney couldn't remember the name of walked by. Something French. Ebly. Or something. Ably. What did it matter anyway? The French scientists stopped and started to talk at him, "Doctor McKay, could you-"

"No I can't. Why is it that you all need me to think for you? Can't you lot put one thought together without me holding your hand? Go away," he retorted angrily and entered the infirmary simply to escape. His eyes immediately went to the bed John occupied. He was still sleeping and Rodney wondered how long the sedative would keep him under. None of the staff was around as Rodney took a chair to John's bed and sat down with a heavy sigh. Someone should be there when he woke up. One of the team. Someone John trusted. Rodney looked around and took John's hand in his for a moment. It was Rodney's fault John was in the infirmary in the first place, the least he could do was keep watch for him.

"I trusted you."

Rodney winced as he remembered John's last words to him. They hurt more than he wanted to admit. He'd betrayed John, not on purpose, but that was how John saw it. Would see it. Oh God, John would never talk to him again. They'd never again watch a movie together or play chess and it was all Rodney's fault for being a social moron. He'd lost the only friend he ever had, the only friend he'd ever wanted. What was he going to do now? He'd had his second chance after Doranda and John wouldn't just forget this. He'd kick Rodney off his team, ignore him in the mess. It'd be hell on Earth once more and Rodney just couldn't deal with thinking about it, never mind live through it again. He'd have to transfer back to Earth, waiting with bated breath for the news that Atlantis had exploded because of his absence. He might as well just jump off one of the balconies and save himself the pain.

With a frown Rodney shook his head. He had no idea where that thought had come from. He wasn't normally that maudlin. Because, really, Rodney had done what everybody in their right mind should have done: Get help. If something was wrong inside of John's head Carson could fix it. Or Kate. One of the two or both of them. Hopefully.

"There you are, Rodney," Carson suddenly said from behind him. "He'll be asleep for another half hour or so, I hope he'll be calmer then. I'd rather he didn't break another nose."

Twisting in his chair, Rodney could see the lines of worry on Carson's face -- never a good sign. He turned back to watching John and sighed. "What's going on with him?"

"We're not sure, but it's most likely to be depression due to trauma-"

"No, no no no," Rodney interrupted whatever Carson was about to say. "He's been in near death situations once a month since we got here, but he's never been like that, Carson. Never. Angry, upset and annoyed, yes. But he's never just given up."

"Clinical depression can get pretty bad, Rodney."

Rodney jumped up and turned to Carson, "I tell you, there is something going on here. You'd better go for a full check-up. Do the bloodsucking thing you're so fond of. He told me he's fallen and can't get up. Does that sound normal to you? Whatever it is, it's not clinical depression. You just have to find out what's wrong with him, or he'll be sent..." Rodney had to stop and swallow the lump in his throat. "Carson, I don't want him to get sent back to Earth," he said when he could speak again. "At least check him out completely?" Rodney asked. "Please?" He knew he was begging now, but was desperate.

"Aye, lad," Carson answered and put a heavy hand on Rodney's shoulder. "We'll give him a complete check-up, but I doubt we'll find anything. The post-mission ones of you lot were clean."

The relief at Carson agreeing with him was ridiculous, but Rodney tried not to get his hopes up. They might not find anything and John still might end up in a mental institution back in Colorado. Rodney listened to Carson's steps fading as he gave him some privacy and got his voodoo tools. Shuddering at the thought of the bloodletting that was to come, he wished that Teyla and Ronon were there to support him. But they weren't and Rodney had to get through this on his own.

When a nurse came around, she glared at him. Rodney didn't remember her, but obviously she did remember him. He frowned at her, watching as she took four vials of John's blood. Way too much in Rodney's opinion, blood belonged in the body. Doctors. They had to be vampires, the lot of them.

Then they were left alone, Rodney sitting by John's bedside, wishing John would just wake up and be back to normal. But of course, things could never be that easy in Pegasus and Rodney was sure of that. If there was one constant in this galaxy it was that everything would go pear-shaped at one point or another. With their luck, the Wraith would find them and suck them all dry while John was lying in bed, knocked out with tranquillizers. Rodney shuddered and hugged himself at the thought.

"You were right, Rodney, there is an unknown substance in his blood, but we don't know exactly what's going on yet," Carson said, pulling Rodney out of his dark thoughts.

Ha, he'd known it. Depressed? Yeah, right. "So what are you going to do about it?" Rodney asked pointedly. Everything would be alright. Carson was a good voodoo practitioner, he'd figure out what was happening to John. And then they'd figure out how to fix him, and everything would be good.

"First, we'll need more blood," Carson answered, moving to the other side of the bed. He put down a few more vials on the bedside table and pushed the needle in a vein with ease. "Don't worry, we'll figure it out."

Hearing his thought echoed like that instantly made Rodney suspicious. Why would Carson need to try and reassure him like that? They had no clue what was going on! How could Carson be so sure about the outcome at this point? Why was he lying to Rodney this way? The vials were filling slowly as Rodney watched. "You have no idea what's happening to him," Rodney said, peeved, when John's eyes opened and he blinked owlishly a couple of times. For a moment none of them reacted then Rodney cleared his throat and hesitantly asked, "John?"

John didn't react to him at all; instead he stared down at the needle in his arm and started pulling away sluggishly with Carson grabbing hold of him quickly. "No, please, no," he begged, struggling to get as much distance as possible between him and Carson.

"It's alright, John, I just need a bit of blood to figure out what's wrong with you," Carson tried to sooth him, his voice gentle. "Just a bit more–" But John didn't seem to hear him, he moaned and his struggling became more and more agitated.

Horrified Rodney watched on as Carson called for some of his nurses and had John tied to the bed securely. His "for his own safety" sounded hollow in Rodney's ears, especially as John stopped moving, stopped making those awful pained noises, stopped everything as soon as Carson was away from him. He didn't even react to the IV needle being inserted by one of the nurses. It was downright creepy, him, lying so still, staring at the ceiling. And nothing Rodney said or did could get even the slightest reaction out of him.

It was so frustrating. Rodney got up with a sigh. Maybe he was making it all worse by staying here? Maybe John would get back to normal if Rodney left him alone? He walked to the door, but when it opened in front of him, he couldn't step outside. Instead he paced back to John's bed, hovering at the foot end, unsure of what to do. "Please, John, say something," he begged. "Anything. Please." But John didn't react, just stared at the ceiling, blinking once. Twice. Three times, before Rodney's patience ran out. "Please don’t be angry with me, John! You have to know that I was trying to help you." No reaction. Rodney ran his hands over his face, fighting tears. It was all his fault. So intelligent and yet so stupid. Rodney should have been able to help. Should have been able to help John get up again from where he'd fallen, without involving anyone else. Should have done anything else but give him up to Carson and his vampires.

He paced back and forth between the door and the bed in indecision. If he left, John would be alone and unprotected from invading Wraith and bloodsucking nurses. If he didn't, John wouldn't speak. And Rodney couldn't decide, didn't know what would be better.

"Are you okay, Rodney?" Carson asked worriedly, standing in his way all of a sudden. Rodney identified his expression as one of worry, it was the way Carson looked like when he'd seen something he really didn't like. "You're not feeling off, are you?"

"No," Rodney answered, simply. He didn't feel like taking a dig at Carson. Or anyone for that matter, he just wanted to be left alone to mourn John. "I'm fine." He just wanted to crawl into bed with John, put his head down and never get up again. But he couldn't. He couldn't bring himself to walk that far. The floor looked pretty, especially from close up, Rodney realized, as he lay down on his side. It looked so very pretty and it was wonderful to just lie there. Carson said something Rodney really wasn't interested in, and when hands turned him on his back he tried to get them off him, tried to get them to leave him alone. When the darkness came, he welcomed it.

* * * * * * *


Opening his eyes wouldn't be a good idea. John was certain of that, though it seemed to be the only certainty in the foggy mess of his head. He opened them anyway. It was light, far too bright, and it hurt. He gritted his teeth and kept his eyes open.

There were voices nearby. Strange accents, not American, and maybe the voices were familiar, but he wasn't sure.

They weren't talking to him. Which was probably why he listened.

"Aye, Elizabeth, we've identified the compound in their blood. And I'm administering co-doxyaminetrexate intravenously – it should bind with the compound and help neutralize it. It'll take time, though, before it's all out of their system. I want to keep a close eye on them until we're sure they're out of the woods."

"Good work, Carson." There were footsteps, sharp and determined, walking away.

John thought they might be talking about him. Someone else too, must be, they were talking in the plural. So he was ill. He didn't care. He didn't want them to do anything. He wanted to slip back into sleep and not wake up. He just wanted to take things easy for once, and they weren't going to let him, they were going to bring him back and he couldn't let them do that.

He tried to lift an arm, but he was held down tight. Strapped down. He tried to scream, but even though he felt his mouth open, he didn't hear any sound.

Someone leaned over him, a familiar face, murmuring words but it all blurred into nothing.

* * * * * * *


"—reassuring in a way, that we're not the only ones making huge mistakes."

"You have a strange definition of reassuring."

* * * * * * *


"We were worried about you, John." A hand brushed his forehead. A soft touch, but it was too much, and he winced and shook his head. "I'm sorry," the woman said, and she sounded genuinely concerned, like it mattered to her that he was lying there, useless. "I'll come back later."

Her footsteps were different, quieter, lighter.

* * * * * * *


"Giant slugs?"

"No! Well, not exactly. But they weren't even remotely humanoid. Must have been well nigh impossible to tell they were sentient if they didn't have any sort of technology, and only communicated telepathically."

"So what you're saying, Doctor, is that if we'd gone to their home world, we'd probably have made the same mistake as the Ancients. Captured some and studied them."

"Aye, probably." A sigh.

* * * * * * *


Sometimes he just felt someone present. Whoever it was didn't talk, and John found that oddly soothing.

* * * * * * *


"Sheppard? Sheppard!"

* * * * * * *


The voices came and went, and sometimes he listened and sometimes he didn't. He began to make sense of who was talking though, remembered where he was. In Atlantis. Teyla and Elizabeth and Carson, Evan, nurses whose names he wasn't sure of, but he thought that was okay, that he never knew their names to start with. Ronon, the silent one. The insistent voice that kept calling his name, that was Rodney, in the bed next to his. John thought he might answer eventually. Just not yet, not until he was sure his voice would work without shaming him.

* * * * * * *


It took him too long to realize that he hadn't heard Rodney's voice for hours, a day, maybe more. He'd grown used to the irritation, accustomed to ignoring it, but the lack of it wasn't a relief.

He opened his eyes and turned his head. His body obeyed him, and he thought that was a good sign. The empty bed to his left, though, that couldn't be good.

He swallowed, throat dry. There was a glass of water on the cabinet beside him, but it took him a while to grasp that he could reach out for it, that he wasn't strapped down any longer.

His hand was shaky, and he spilled some of the water on the sheets, but he swallowed enough to make his throat feel like it might function again.

He couldn't see anyone around, so he called out. "McKay?" It sounded weak, and he wondered how long he'd been here, how long since he'd last spoken. He tried again. "McKay?" Stronger this time, much better. He heard sturdy footsteps heading his way. A nurse, looking harried.

"Where's McKay?" John asked, and the nurse turned, looking startled to hear him.

"McKay? Oh, he's gone," he said, barely pausing.

Sheppard didn't recognize the wheezing sound at first, not until Carson arrived and started hushing him like a child. "You've got to breathe more slowly, laddie," he said, but there were more important things than whether or not John was getting too much or too little oxygen to the brain.

"McKay?" he asked. "When?" he managed, before his voice cracked and no more words would come out.

"Rodney?" Carson queried. "You want to see him?"

John wasn't sure he did. He felt like he was still crawling up out of the pit, the light in sight but not at the top yet, and seeing Rodney pale and silent and dead would send him sliding right back down. But he owed him this much. And he needed to say goodbye. So he nodded his head.

"I'll get him to come on up as soon as he can," Carson said, and John spluttered.

"He isn't dead?" John sat up. The blood rushed from his head and he felt dizzy, but he had to look Carson in the eye, see if he was telling the truth.

"What gave you that idea?" Carson patted him reassuringly on the shoulder, gently pushing him back down. He was smiling at John, open and honest. John believed him.

"I asked. A nurse. He said Rodney was gone—" John trailed off. He'd jumped to ridiculous conclusions. Whatever was wrong with his mind was still affecting him.

"I released him last night," Carson said, reading over John's chart as he talked. "He wasn't as badly affected as you."

"Is anyone else sick?"

"No, just the two of you, and Rodney's fine now, and you're picking up well. And not to worry, we know the cause, so no one else is at risk."

John wanted to ask about it, but he felt a wave of exhaustion sweep over him. He closed his eyes a moment.

* * * * * * *


Rodney brought him pudding. "I know not everyone appreciates infirmary rations as much as I do," he said.

"I always assumed they just didn't want us getting too comfortable here, that's why the food's so bad," John said, taking the spoon Rodney handed him and digging in. Rodney sat down in the chair by the bed and opened up his laptop.

"Teyla came by earlier, but you were sleeping," Rodney said, typing something and scowling at the screen. "I'd have been by sooner but I had to fix all the mistakes those idiots who call themselves scientists made while I was in the infirmary. Four days, that's all, and they managed to sabotage an entire sub-routine of early warning protocols I'd had almost operational."

"Four days?"

"You were pretty out of it for a while."

John nodded. "So, bring me up to speed," he demanded. "I heard bits of conversations, something about giant slugs and the Ancients cocking up big time, but I'm not sure my brain's up to fitting that to whatever happened to us."

Rodney huffed. "They weren't giant slugs. Honestly, they probably looked nothing like slugs. Just because they secreted poisonous slime—"

"They secreted poisonous slime?" John screwed his face up in distaste. There was too much slime in the Pegasus Galaxy for his liking.

"Didn't Carson tell you? That's what got into our system from VolcanoWorld."

"It wasn't the ash in the air? Surely that's what was choking us."

"There was that too – much more of that and we'd have all been asphyxiated. But that wasn't the real problem."

"It was enough to make Teyla collapse and injure her arm, and I don't know if you remember, but you weren't even breathing by the time we got back to Atlantis," John pointed out.

Rodney hand-waved all that as though it were nothing. Considering the number of times he'd gone to the infirmary for nothing worse than a scratch, he was remarkably offhand about it. "A volcano had recently erupted, and the wind suddenly shifted and sent all the hot ash our way. Just bad timing, really. A few hours earlier we'd have been fine, or a day later it wouldn't have been half as bad."

"So why us? Why not Ronon and Teyla?"

"It only affects people with the ATA gene. Clever, really," Rodney said admiringly. "That's why you were affected first, then me."

John's head ached, and he wasn't sure he'd got much more than half the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. He was certainly not seeing the whole picture. "Okay, McKay, I need you to start from the beginning."

Rodney humphed, but closed his laptop and nodded. "The planet we visited is on the Ancient database. Deep down in the database, not in an area we'd had any reason to explore. Elizabeth's been busy translating logs and notes, many of them on private sections of the database, not public areas. Anyway, it seems the Ancients visited that planet years ago, looking for a new source of naquadah, and found creatures there."

"The giant slugs."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, the giant slugs, if you insist on calling them that, though we don't actually know what they looked like. There weren't any illustrations in the database, and the description is hazy. Anyway, the Ancients brought several back to Atlantis to study."

"They had a zoo?"

"More of a lab. With lab rats in cages. Trouble was, these particular lab rats were a whole lot smarter than rats, and pretty soon the lab staff were all dead." Rodney paused for effect.

"They killed themselves," John surmised, and smiled when he saw the petulant look Rodney always got when he wasn't the only one with the answer.

"Yes. How did you guess?"

"Because I felt like killing myself," Sheppard said, then wished he hadn't. They were men. They really didn't need things like that out in the open.

Rodney looked embarrassed, but plowed on with his explanation regardless. "Ahem, yes, well, it turns out the creatures were just trying to protect themselves as best they could – they'd developed the ability to produce any chemical internally, a completely different evolutionary path from humans. Anyway, the Ancients eventually realized they were sentient – not just sentient, but highly intelligent creatures - and took them back to their home planet. They tried to communicate with them, even constructed a device to communicate telepathically, but it all went wrong and they ended up killing an entire species. Fried their brains with the wrong frequency. And the planet ended up saturated with a chemical that turns anyone with the ATA gene into a suicidal wreck."

"Wow." John wasn't sure what else to say in response to that, but at least managed to bite back a tasteless joke about destroying solar systems.

* * * * * * *


Elizabeth dropped by later. "I hear Rodney's told you what happened."

John nodded. "The bare bones, anyway. I guess he's not back to his normal speed-talking self yet."

"Sounds like you actually miss that," Elizabeth said, and John thought she was probably subtly implying something about him and Rodney.

He shrugged. "Yeah, kinda. You know, in the way you miss an itch when it's gone."

Elizabeth smiled at him indulgently, and now he was sure Carson must have told her about his freak out earlier.

She didn't press the issue though. "I've emailed you a copy of my report to the SGC, with attached copies of Doctor Beckett's report and Major Lorne's. You can read it when you're up and about again."

"Major Lorne's report?"

"I sent him back to the planet." John must have looked horrified because she reassured him immediately. "Don't worry, his team was suited up, and by then we'd worked out that only those with the ATA gene were affected. He confirmed that there were traces of a very old civilization there, and brought back soil samples, which were drenched in the chemical that affected you. Probably a last ditch attempt by the creatures to protect themselves from what they perceived as a deadly threat."

"I guess it's understandable that the Ancients kept the records of what happened hidden. Not exactly their proudest moment."

Elizabeth sighed. "They destroyed a race older than themselves, an entire civilization, by sheer accident. Quite a lesson there for us."

* * * * * * *


"How are you feeling?" Ronon asked. He looked uncomfortable in the infirmary, too healthy, wary every time a nurse walked by. It was amusing.

"Hungry," John answered. It was the stock answer he'd pulled out so far that day for Teyla, Elizabeth, Radek and now Ronon. 'Clawing my way out of the depths of despair' would be closer to the truth, but it would probably extend his stay in the infirmary.

"Want me to bring you something from the canteen?" Ronon offered. "It was meatloaf for lunch," he qualified.

"Nah, I'm good."

* * * * * * *


Rodney stopped by again later. "I brought you chocolate," he said nonchalantly.

"Are you wooing me, McKay?" Sheppard asked, and watched for the flush that bloomed over Rodney's face.

"I just—Endorphins, chocolate triggers the release of endorphins. It's good for the mood," Rodney insisted, but he was looking down, and he was shuffling his feet, and even the least observant person in the world could tell it wasn't the whole truth. Which Sheppard was surprisingly okay with.

"Just so long as you know I don't put out for just one bar of chocolate," he said, and Rodney dropped the chocolate bar on the floor, his face a bizarre mixture of shock and what looked very much like hope.

"I—um," Rodney stuttered.

Sheppard laughed, and for the first time since they got back from VolcanoWorld, he felt like he could remember how to be happy.

"But if you pick up the bar, I might share it with you," he said, and Rodney smiled back at him, a huge lop-sided grin.

For a moment, John forgot how to breathe.




Click on thumb







Authors:
  • Round 1 - jadesfire : "John coughed again [...] bringing blackness with it."
  • Round 2 - busaikko : "'It's been a week,' Rodney snapped [...] it swept over him like a wave."
  • Round 3 - ca_pierson : "The expression on John's face [...] When the darkness came, he welcomed it."
  • Round 4 - oxoniensis : "Opening his eyes wouldn't be [...] John forgot how to breathe."

Beta: Thank you to darkmoore!

Artists:


R1: unamaga

R2: strivaria

R3: ola_sw

R4: gblvr
Comments 
11/13/08 - 22:27 (UTC)
I loved how all the pieces fit together and the artwork was breathtaking. (sorry, couldn't resist) The best part was Rodney knowing there was something more wrong with John and how John trusted him to take his six.
11/13/08 - 22:32 (UTC)
Eieie! You *guys* -- this one was a lot of fun to work on, and I LOVED the story!
11/14/08 - 00:38 (UTC)
OHMYGOD that's incredible art, I can't believe you guys! It's PERFECT! And the story, it all flows together so well, angst and humour (slugs!) and the writing is pretty damn seamless. YAY!
11/14/08 - 14:00 (UTC)
I love what you did with it! I love what everyone did with it! The whole thing does feel like it was written by a Hive Mind :)

And the art is just stunning - I keep clicking and staring and clicking again.

Woot!

11/14/08 - 18:49 (UTC)
Wow, that's a really nice whump story! I love how all the pieces worked from everyone - and double WOW on the art! It's extremely cool, and I love seeing how it's all added together. Extremely imaginative and works so well with the story!!! Great job everyone!
11/14/08 - 22:16 (UTC)
Wonderful.
11/15/08 - 06:14 (UTC)
Everyone did a great job here-- I completely forgot I was reading a round robin, everything flowed so well. The art suits the story just right, too.
11/15/08 - 13:40 (UTC)
I really enjoyed this, I love how it's never clear until the very end what's actually wrong, because every time it seems like one thing, it turns out to be something else. Also, the art work is gorgeous.
11/17/08 - 00:15 (UTC)
Wow, this was great. Very creepy - the idea of John (and Rodney, but especially John) just laying down and giving up - because it is so out of character. And I loved the backstory of the planet & the creatures & another Ancients' screwup. :) And the story is really seamless from author to author.

Loved the art as well, all the little details are great and I loved the puzzle pieces overlaying everything.
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