Author: jenn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Spoilers: none specific
Codes: McKay, Sheppard/McKay
Rating: not yet rated
Summary: Waking up is when it starts.
Rodney wakes up to a slow, burning itch, like ants crawling across his skin.
Licking dry lips, he tries to call for Carson, but his tongue feels coated and thick, moving sluggishly when he tries to speak. A terrible lethargy infuses every breath, like a weight on his chest pushing out all the air, and for some reason, it reminds him of early childhood and the colds he got too often, trapping him in bed with books he could barely make himself read. Every shift on the bed makes a crackling sound, something prickling into his back. Moving one hand, Rodney's surprised to feel something circling his wrists, restricting freedom of movement.
"Wha--" A rush of adrenaline kicks too hard, making him dizzy, even as he starts to struggle. Forcing gummy, sandy eyes open, Rodney's aware of a blurry brown ceiling high above--definitely not the infirmary--and the suffocating heat of blankets, sweat prickling up, itching racketing up a notch. "What--"
"I am sorry," an unfamiliar voice murmurs. "I fell asleep." Amazingly cool hands touch his forehead. "You must lay still, Mr. McKay. You have been very ill."
Ill? Rodney tries to think, but his head feels stuffed and heavy, like his body, and his thoughts keep drifting in and out, but the need to *scratch* overwhelms everything, grounds him in his body. Pulling at the restraints, Rodney tries to focus. "Untie. Me."
"You are free of the fever." The cool hand presses on his forehead firmly. "Please lie still. I will untie you if you can promise you will not move."
Even the feeble fight against the restraints is enough to leave him exhausted against the mattress. "Where--?"
"You are with the Elian," the voice says soothingly, and he feels the blankets being pulled away. The air is uncomfortably chilly, like he's not used to feeling it, and Rodney can't help wincing at the rough scrape of material as it pools over his feet. It's like his skin is coming alive inch by painful, burning inch, his body crawling awake and aware everywhere. "You must promise not to scratch. I will apply more ointment, but you will make things worse if you try to tend to yourself. Do you understand?"
Not scratch? Rodney's fingers twitch as they come free; it's an effort to hold still, skin burning and sharp, more real than even the room. "Mr. McKay, I am calling another healer to assist. You must lie still. Please, please lie still." A hand presses gently into the center of his chest. "You and your friend were very, very ill."
Friend? Rodney's mind flickers through everything he can remember--not much, a blur that refuses to resolve into anything like a coherent series of events. But on the other hand--alien planet. It's not hard to do the math. "Sheppard?"
"Yes, your Sheppard," she says encouragingly. "He is healing as well." Rodney can hear footsteps approach, a second, larger pair of hands than the first, and the restraints on his other hand are freed. "We are applying the ointment now. It will ease the itching, I promise you." It belatedly occurs to him that he's naked when hands warm hands press down on his skin, and the terrible, twitching itch begins to ease, the pain lowering into something almost bearable. The air is filled with something that smells like Elizabeth's herbal tea. Every muscle eases beneath the careful, impersonal touch, massaging the tightness away, warming chilled skin. He can almost think.
He can almost not care that he's naked and has no idea where he is.
"Where--" He tries again, swallowing hard. His voice doesn't sound anything like his own, scratch and thick, like his tongue can't quite form words correctly anymore.
"I will get you something to drink." A hand inserts itself between his head and the pillow, tilting him up. At the same time, the hands on his body drop lower, and instinct is instinct, there are some places that, outside of certain very pleasurable occupations, that he really doesn't want to be touched. His feet refuse to respond, legs refusing to close. "Please, Mr. McKay. You must let us help you. It must be spread everywhere to aid in the healing. Do not fight us."
It's not like he *can*. Even that tiny burst of panicked energy fades, too fast to clutch, and suddenly he's tired, in a way he's never been tired before. Opening his eyes again, he can just make out the vague shape of a woman's face, blur of dark eyes and a smudged pink mouth, then a straw is pressed against his lips. "Drink, Mr. McKay."
"Doctor," he manages, and even that tiny effort seems to take everything out of him, and then oh God, cool liquid, water, the best thing he's ever tasted in his life. Eagerly, he keeps drinking, clutching the straw between his teeth when she starts to withdraw.
"Not so much Mr.--Doctor McKay? You have little in your stomach." Her hands press against his mouth, and the straw is removed. Gently, she lowers his head back to the bed, and Rodney becomes aware again of the hands again, now blamelessly rubbing into his ankles.
Licking his lips, Rodney tries again. "Where am I?"
"Among the Elians," the woman says softly, and with a final rub of his foot, the other hands withdraw, blankets pulled back over him, thick with warmth. They're irritating against his damp skin, but he can't summon anything close to enough energy to respond. "You came to our village and told us your friend was very sick. You were ill as well." Soothingly, her hand strokes over his face, thick with the herbal smell. Careful fingers trail over his cheekbones, down his nose, and Rodney tries not to lean into every sweeping touch, but he can't help it. "We brought you both here."
Rodney nods, wincing at the scrape of cloth against the burning skin at the back of his neck. Instantly, she's smoothing the cream there, too, up into his hairline, then back down. "He's--?" They said Sheppard was okay. So.
"His fever broke last night," she says, with a final rub across the hollow of his throat. "He will be well." The surety in her voice convinces him.
"Can I see--"
"He rests," she says firmly, and strangely, it's almost like he can hear Carson for a second in her voice.
"Our--we need to report." Elizabeth. Atlantis. Can't talk about Atlantis. "My people--"
"We could not trace your people," she says softly, and Rodney cracks his eyes open again. Everything's clearer--a pale oval face, widely spaced green eyes, skin mottled with old scars that remind him of the chicken pox he'd had as a child. She smiles suddenly. "You can see me?"
Rodney licks his lips again, eyes heavy. The wave of sleepiness is almost overwhelming "Of course I can." Blinking brings everything more into focus. Wood walls and a window showing a late afternoon day. "I need to tell Elizabeth--I need to contact my people. And who are you?"
Her smile fades at the edges. "Healer Althea." Her hands closes on his wrist, thumb pressed to the pulse point. "You are not yet strong enough to talk. We will--"
God, does he know it. Her words fade out in grey and blank white; it's an effort to hold onto consciousness. "I have to find the gate. I need to report."
"You can, when you are stronger. Rest." Her other hand touches his forehead, closing his eyes against his own will. "Please rest."
"But--" He can't fight her and his body, though. Before he can form another thought, he drifts into warm grey, and then nothing.
The second time he wakes, he's alone.
The restraints are gone, a plus. The burning itch is faded to something like a sunburn, light and irritating as hell, but he can deal. Moving warily, Rodney tests arms and legs, and he *hurts*, Christ he hurts, muscles stiff and weak and liquid, but moving is *possible*. Rodney rolls slowly onto his side, gasping a little at the effort involved. Everything's still blurry and uncertain, but he can make out the shape of sparse furniture.
God, what *happened*?
Moving by inches, Rodney forces his feet to swing to the floor, wincing at the jarring ache that spreads to his knees, making him bite his lip, tasting blood sharp in his mouth. Did he bite that hard? Spitting, Rodney slowly forces himself upright, regretting it immediately.
"Oh God," he says, then winces, looking around the room. No one. A simple bare room, definitely not Atlantis. A window, dark wood walls, a stand with a basin and a pitcher--no sink?--a chair, a bed. Very little.
Not much to go on. The quality of the light outside suggests it's morning. Bracing both hands on the bed, Rodney grits his teeth and stands up.
"Mr. McKay!" The sound of feet behind him, and hands grab for him as he crumples. "You are not strong enough! Why did you not call me?"
"What do you have against--contractions?" he says, and this is how you know you are truly so very fucked. Even his *complaints* lack heat. "Let me up. I have to--I need to report in. Elizabeth will be--" Wait. Hold on. "How long have I been ill?"
Hands push him firmly onto he bed. Rodney sets his entire concentration and refuses to pull his legs back up, despite her best efforts. "Answer me!"
"You have been ill for thirty days, Mr--Doctor McKay?" Her voice rises on an uncertain note. "Dr. McKay. You were ill with the summer fever. Now will you lie down?" It's got to be some kind of doctor thing, the way her voice sharpens, and Rodney's reminded of Carson all over again. "You must not exert yourself. You are getting *better*."
Rodney frowns. "A month? How can I--our people--"
"You came through the Helio, Dr. McKay." Her hands hook under his knees, and for a humiliating moment, his legs are airborne, before he's forcefully pushed back onto the mattress. "You will do all your healing damage if you continue exerting yourself like this."
Helio? Gate? Rodney swallows hard. "I need to see Sheppard."
The pause is just barely enough to register. "He--sleeps." The wide brown eyes stare into his in medical frustration. It's a familiar look from the doctors that Rodney deals with. "You are not yet strong enough to-"
Oh no. "I need to see him."
Smoothing the blankets back over him, she snorts softly. "He sleeps. And you cannot--"
"Okay, putting it a different way. You can help me see him or you can get the *hell* out of my way." He sounds sure and forceful and everything he's learned about being a strong leader, but he hopes to God she can't see how his hands are shaking, clenched in the sheets. "Now."
This close, he can see the scars are old, grey brown smudges between smooth pale skin. The hand that pushes back dark hair are the same, and a horrible thought intrudes, egged by the continued low-grade itch. Faint memories of childhood. Itching. "What--" Raising his hands, he touches his face, jerking away with a wince at the feel of flakey crust, scabs, spongy flesh damp between. "Oh my God."
Oh God. He explores, fingers wincing at every touch, barely able to stand the feeling of it. No skin is unscathed--the curve of his throat, the line of his jaw, down to his shoulder. Jerking down the blanket, Rodney looks once and then away. No. No. No.
"It will heal," she says softly, and Rodney looks up, trying not breathe through the shock. "You are only just recovering. The ointment we use has made them pliable and the skin will heal."
Staring at her, Rodney swallows. "I--want to see."
Licking her lips, her eyes flicker down. It's a kind of answer in itself. "No, you do not."
It's stupid, he knows it, he's a *scientist* and he's never been vain, never one of those guys who obsessed over matching socks and perfect bodies, never--but.
But he'd never been this, either, and he studies the image in the polished metal that Althea brought to him, distorted by imperfect polishing, but his face all on its own is distorted enough. Even given the swelling going down, the redness fading, the healing of crusted, bleeding, pus-thick scabs--that won't change the scars.
Shuddering, he forces himself to look, burn the nausea away, trapping his mind in the discipline of a lifetime in hard science, two years on a team, everything he's ever learned and refused to use, tamp down his rage and humiliation and sick disgust. He knows about control, rarely though he's ever chosen to exercise it.
"Fatality is forty percent," she tells him. Her hand hovers over his shoulder, but she doesn't touch. She reads body cues pretty well, he thinks blankly, still watching his own mockery of a face.
"Many go insane with the pain," she tells him.
He still has his mind, the most important thing, the only thing that matters. That hasn't changed.
"Some go blind."
He can *see*. Shuddering, this time from the very thought, he pushes away the mirror, then reconsiders and sets it on the side of the bed. If he's going to deal, he'll need to look. Look every day, until he can stand it, until it's normal.
"You and your friend Sheppard were very lucky," she tells him solemnly, eyes bright. Her scars are smooth, darkened skin, nothing more. His might do that. Assuming Carson can't find a way to fix this, and right, he *will*, or Rodney will get a medical degree himself..
"I need to see Sheppard," he says, and pushes himself out of the bed. His body hates him for that, but--Sheppard.
"He sleeps," she says slowly, but this time, Rodney ignores her. He needs to see, now, when he's still in shock from his own face, lighten the blow. Christ. This doesn't *happen*. Things like this don't happen in modern countries. You have to go to the fucking *Pegasus galaxy* to pick up something like this.
"Now." Swinging his legs painfully over the bed, Rodney glances away from the pox-covered skin, looking for clothes. "Get me pants if you're just going to stand there."
She frowns, then hesitates. "You--should be prepared--"
"I'm prepared." While John is asleep, when he can't see Rodney's reaction, when Rodney wont' have to deal with himself and Sheppard, too. Grabbing onto a post, Rodney levers himself up, eyes straight ahead. "Pants." He snaps his fingers and almost snickers at the way she jumps, frown deepening. "Pants now, conversation later."
She does it, though, bringing some loose cotton thing that isn’t anything like his uniform pants, but he'll take what he can get. Pushing her away, he sits on the bed, carefully pulling them on, then the loose shirt she offers after. Coming up beside him, she leans over. "Brace yourself on my shoulder."
He stares at her thin, fragile body. "You're kidding."
"I am a Healer," she says patiently, voice sharpening. They must teach all doctors that tone of voice, Rodney thinks. "You wish to see your Sheppard, you will take my assistance."
Tentatively, Rodney hooks an arm over her shoulder, and with easy strength, she hauls him to his feet, catching his surprised stumble. Every muscle burns suddenly, and Rodney gasps at the feeling. "Better. He is in the next room." An arm circling his waist, one hand circling his wrist, she slowly leads them to the door. "You should prepare yourself--"
"I'm as prepared as it gets," he says between clenched teeth. Everything hurts, the itching making his skin quiver. "Just--just let me see him." Sheppard's *alive*, and more than anything else, Rodney has to see that, even scarred, even asleep. Alive, he reminds himself. Carson will fix them. Or Rodney will get a medical degree. One of the two.
"His fever was deeper than yours," she says, slowly maneuvering them down the short hallway. "For many days, we did not think he would survive."
Rodney keeps his eyes on the floor, away from the oozing ruin of his feet. "He's surprisingly difficult to kill."
Letting go of his wrist, she reaches for a long handle that reminds him of the French doors in his childhood home, pushing it carefully open to a darkened room. . Rodney can make out a still figure on a bed in the bare room, a woman sitting beside the bed, dressed in the same plain clothes he and Althea are wearing. These people, Rodney thinks vaguely, are not bastions of fashion or color. She rises, and even in the dim light, her eyes widen. "Althea. Are you--"
"He wishes to see his friend," Althea says firmly, helping him inside. The other woman moves from the chair, and Althea carefully sets him into it when his legs refuse to bend. "You must understand, Dr. McKay--"
But Rodney's ignoring them. All he can see of John is a shock of dark hair, flat and dull. "I need light." Even to himself, his voice sounds rough.
"As you wish." The room is bathed in illumination, and Rodney blinks away the glare, bracing himself, then looks down, carefully pulling on Sheppard's shoulder to bring his face into view.
No scars. Perfect skin, high cheekbones, soft mouth, flushed with sleep. He looks--just like always. Almost disbelieving, Rodney pulls back the blanket, revealing the long, lean, too-thin lines of his chest, the unflawed shoulders, pale and fever-thin, but perfect. Whole. Rodney touches one smooth cheek. Too warm and thin, but whole.
Shaking, Rodney leans an elbow into the bed before he can fall over. "He's--he's okay." Relief is strongest, but resentment chases right after. Of course Sheppard wouldn't be disfigured by some noxious disease. Of *course* not. The universe didn’t work that way. Not for Sheppard.
"…but some recover."
Rodney blinks, coming back to the room. "Recover? How long?"
Althea's voice is solemn. "Years, if ever. He has not yet regained enough coherency to explain--"
"Wait. Wait." Rubbing his forehead, Rodney sits up, leaning heavily into the back of his chair. "Recover what? He looks--" Fine. Absolutely fucking *perfect*.
"His fever was deeper than yours," Althea says slowly, and Rodney suddenly remembers what she had told him. Fatality, forty percent. Insanity--
"He's not coherent?" Rodney stares down at the peaceful face. "He's--"
"He answered questions when asked," she says, coming up beside him to smooth back the blankets he disarranged. "His mind is sound. We performed many tests."
Rodney's stomach drops. "He's blind, isn't he?" Glancing at Althea, he reads the answer in the pity filling the brown eyes. Looking back down, reaches out, touching one perfect cheek. His eyes move behind the lids, REM sleep, a soft smile curving up one corner of his mouth.
"His--I do not know the word, optical nerve? Was damaged." Her voice is painfully gentle. "He has not yet been awake long enough to explain. We had hoped--that when he was, you would be ready--" To help break the news. Her eyes say it all.
Rodney clenches his hand as it begins to shake. "But people recover."
Her voice is careful. "After many years, some have--regained some amount of sight."
Many years, fuck that. Sheppard's a *pilot*. Carson will fix this, or else. Rodney could do medical school in *six months*. If Carson could do it, Rodney can, and better. "I need to--look, are we contagious still? We need to contact our people. They'll be worried." And they've been here a month? What the hell is going on with Atlantis? "Hasn't anyone tried to contact us through the gate--?"
Althea's hand closes on his shoulder. "You speak of the Helio?" She sighs softly. "The Helio has not worked in--many years. We thought that perhaps--as no one came to us asking for you--but--"
"What do you mean it doesn't work?" He tries to get to his feet, but the effort of just standing unassisted leaves him sweating. "No. No, I don't believe--I need to see it." No contact with Atlantis. God, how the hell had they *gotten* here? "We were on a *mission*." A vague haze of--something? Too much heat and cool grass and trying to find water. Impressions more than memories.
"I do not know," Althea says gravely, and an arm slides under his. "Let me take you back--"
"No." Rodney drops into the chair, taking a mean satisfaction in the way Althea huffs. "No. Tell me--" What? "Just go away. Both of you." On the bed, Sheppard stirs, mouth parting for a breathtaking second, like he just might wake up. And Rodney's here, staring at him and will have to explain--. His throat closes suddenly, chest tight, and it's just like waking up all over again, not enough air to breathe. "He's waking up."
Instantly, the other woman is beside him, kneeling to circle her hand around Sheppard's wrist, thumb pressed to the pulse point. "Not yet." The hand withdraws, pulling up the blankets that Rodney so carelessly disarranged to tuck under Sheppard's chin as he drifts off again. Rodney hates himself for the relief. "Soon." Sheppard's head turns on the pillow, then he sighs, slipping back under effortlessly, an almost-smile curving the pale lips.
Rodney envies him. Taking a slow breath, he looks up. "I--when will he wake up?"
"A few hours," the other Healer says. Eyes adjusted to the low light, Rodney can see her scars, too--darker and heavier than Althea's, but still nothing like his. Her eyes are kind on his face, and he wonders how she can look at him. She's a healer, doctor, whatever the fuck. She must see this kind of thing often.
That doesn’t make it any better, though, and only his pride keeps his gaze locked to hers, almost daring her to look.
Rodney touches his own cheek, jerking back at the spongy feel of his own skin. "I want to see the Starg--Helio." Both women look at him with identical startled expressions. "Now."
They find his vest and his uniform, and Rodney doesn't even pretend that it's not comforting, something familiar and certain and *Atlantis*, while surrounded by pastoral views and neat wooden houses like something out of movie on medieval England. It smells of herbs and something similar to lye, completely unlike Atlantis. The scanner's still functional after a quick check, and Rodney flips it off to conserve power. Guns are fine, and so are the reloads. He gets Sheppard's things, too, storing it in his own room, and that's for comfort, and he'll admit that, too.
It's *normal*, this is a mission like any other, and he accepts the wagon they offer only because his legs get out before they even emerge outside.
There's a hideous second of self-consciousness, turning his head down and away, wishing suddenly he'd waited for nightfall--but fuck that, too, it *doesn't matter*, and he looks directly at everyone who looks their way.
"They are used to it," Althea murmurs as she helps him up, then climbs up beside him, reaching for the reins. It's a little surreal--carrying a P-90 and an Ancient energy scanner while riding in a *wagon* behind a kind-of horse. "It is not far, Dr. McKay."
He nods shortly, leaning back into the hard wooden seat, closing his eyes against the sun's glare. After the careful indoor darkness, this brightness is overwhelming.
"Your head?" she says softly with a brush of long fingers against his temple, and Rodney jerks his gaze to her.
"Yeah. How'd you--"
"I'm a Healer, fully trained in my craft." Her mouth curves up in a half-smile that reveals a dimple in one cheek. "You are only newly risen from your bed. Perhaps--"
"No." He needs to know *now* what he has to deal with. Broken, maybe, or functional but they don't know how to use it. Those are the best case scenarios. They came through it--and there's a memory he wishes he had, because there's nothing after landing on the planet with Teyla and Ronon, and for the life of him, he can't even remember the name. "I don't remember getting here."
"The fever causes a certain amount of retrograde amnesia," she says, chucking softly to the horses in a way that reminds him of his grandfather disturbing ways. "We are uncertain of the cause, but some have reported up to a month of lost time.
Christ. That narrows it down not at all. "How much farther?"
"An akol or two, no more." He's guessing that's more than, say, a minute. "Lay your head back, Dr. McKay, and close your eyes. You are still sensitive from the fever."
It's a good idea, a great one, but Sheppard's not here to be paranoid, so Rodney's got to suck it up and pretend he knows something about reconnaissance and security. "I'm fine," he says, but really, if she was leading him to his messy death? He'd barely have the energy to *crawl* away.
"Doctor," she says, rolling the word in her mouth with a slur on the vowels that make him think of Sheppard at his most drawling. "Does that denote--medical?"
He can't help it; he snorts. Her eyebrows arch curiously as she makes soft sounds in the direction of the animals. "I'm not a medical doctor. It's a title accorded to total mastery of a chosen field." Is he giving too much information? He was never cut out for subterfuge. "I'm a theoretical--though not so theoretical anymore, now that I think about it--physicist."
Her face tells him she has no idea what that means. Fair enough. These are people who live without running water and use latrines--a humiliating experience that Rodney's in no hurry to repeat. Though apparently, he'll have to. Several times a day. "I see," she says slowly. "The Helio--you know of it? How it works?"
Rodney nods slowly. "I'm probably the foremost expert on the Stargate--your Helio, rather." No probably about it. He's not counting Ascended Ancients. Or Samantha Carter. "You’ve never used it?"
Her head shakes slowly. "In my lifetime, it has never--I have never seen it do anything. We learned the stories as part of our education, of course--"
Shaking the reins again--the animals are moving at a pretty decent pace, though nothing like a puddlejumper--she frowns. "You are truly from the Helio, aren't you?"
"The Helio is a gate, and I'm from a world that's interconnected to it. Like a--a crossroads," he thinks, inspired by the appearance of one. "We must have come through it." Though granted, for all he knows, they were dropped off by aliens or something. The headache is getting worse, settling behind his eyes like a caffeine hangover but about ten times worse. Christ.
"Rest," she says, reaching out with one hand, gently covering his eyes. All on their own, the drop closed, too heavy to lift. "I will awaken you when we arrive."
That's convenient, Rodney thinks, but exhaustion engulfs him, and he's asleep before he can finish the thought.