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13 August 2008 @ 01:17 am
SGA Fic - Relapse  
Title: Relapse
Rating: PG for language and illness
Spoilers: The Seed
Characters: Sheppard, team
Summary: John falls gravely ill. Tag to the seed, mucho Shep-whump.Big hugs to wildcat88 for the beta.
Recepient: stargategroupie. prompt

Relapse


Sheppard should have seen this coming – removing his shirt to take a shower, feeling no uncomfortable pull where there should have been a pull, peeling the bandage from his stomach and seeing only smooth skin. Keller had said it would be a while before the wound cleared up and would most likely leave a scar. He should have seen this coming.

Yet neither was he surprised. Sheppard hurried back into his T-shirt and made a beeline for the infirmary. He wanted to say it was déjà vu, but he was lacking the calm of last time, the excuses for why and how this was happening. He already knew the hows and whys, and as composed as he managed to be on the outside, inside his chest constricted in hesitant fear. The second he was in the infirmary, he hopped up onto the scan bed, calling for the nearest physician and expecting to see Carson.

Who he got was Keller.

“You sure about this?” she asked.

John lifted his shirt, flashing healthy skin that looked as though it had never been impaled. “Hell. Yes.”

Keller fired up the scanner. “Maybe it's a side effect: a residual protein already breaking down-”

“Heard it all before, Doc.”

Keller bit her lip, having nothing to say to that.

Blood was drawn, and John was dismissed to go about his day as the data was analyzed. He chose to stick around instead, not looking over Keller's shoulder but close enough, asking for updates every three minutes as he paced a small circuit by the scanner. His heart felt fluttery in his chest, hopeful and terrified, trying to stick to the positive against images of withered and clawed hands around a fragile throat and Keller in a cocoon, images that clung to his brain like a brand. When Keller emerged from her domain, John's heart leaped in his chest.

Then sank at the apologetic look on her face.

“Need me to suit up and grab some eggs?” John joked weakly. It managed to coax an equally weak smile from Keller that faded just as fast.

“We need to talk, Colonel. All of us.”

----------------------------------

If there was a positive side to history repeating itself, it was preparedness. Keller called an impromptu conference in the infirmary, and by the time everyone who needed to be there arrived, John was in scrubs and set up in a private sector of the infirmary where he could be quarantined.

“Looks like the thing wasn't leaving without a fight,” Keller said. “It must have known it was dying and released some sort of spore through the vine that had impaled Colonel Sheppard as a last ditch effort. The virus is back in his system.”

“Which means what, exactly?” Rodney asked. Although according to his pale complexion, he already knew what the answer was going to be. But then he'd never been one for putting up with people beating around the bush unless he was the one doing the beating.
“It means what you think it means: another go with the cure.”

Looks of potent worry were exchanged, at each other then focused on Sheppard. John merely shrugged and said as airily as he could, “Hey, worked the first time. Second time should be a charm.”

“Third time’s the charm,” Rodney murmured. “Second time's usually the worst.”

“Let's hope there isn't a third time,” Ronon said.

“It's working slower than the last time,” Keller said, sounding positive. “Don't ask me why but it's an advantage. The side effects of the cure may not last as long this time around.”

Keller didn't shoo anyone off who didn't want to leave as she hooked John to the monitors. It was more déjà vu, even with the scrubs on. Worry made John's pulse increase, but, like last time, he was resigned. They had a cure, one that worked, so really he had little to worry about except brain damage and heart failure. Piece of friggin' cake. Wrists and ankles were strapped down, and the cure administered.

John didn't recall much of last time except swimming blind through a thick sea of garbled voices and fiery pain. He fell headfirst into that sea and swam, forever turning from the pain chasing him along the edge of awareness, dull for now but promising to be sharp when it arrived. Voices muttered as if talking through cotton; there was a shrill shriek, yelling...
Then John woke up to muscles aches, the distant pain nowhere to be found. Keller's pale, concerned face hovered over his.

“Colonel? John? How do you feel?”

John tried to lift his hand to rub his face and couldn't figure out why it wasn't happening. Restraints, right. It always took a moment for his brain to reboot after going under for whatever reason.

“Did... you zap me... this time?” he said.

Keller smiled with a sigh of relief. “Nope. Didn't even have to start CPR. I said this wouldn't last long. But we'll need to keep you around for a while. For observation, just in case it has other tricks up its sleeve. Sorry, Colonel. ”

John nodded, squirming deeper into the bed. He ached, felt groggy enough to sleep for days, and would let Keller keep him around for a month if it meant sleep and pain meds.

“That's cool, Doc.” He then drifted off after a pat on the shoulder and pointless instructions to rest.

--------------------------

“So when are you getting out of here?” Ronon asked.

John shrugged. “Don't know.”

“It's been three days. If there was something to find, she'd have found it by now.”

John could only shrug a second time. He was far from being a doctor, and genetics was biological rocket science. There was something troubling Keller, enough for her to keep John around though he felt great, and that was reason enough for John to listen to the doc and stick around. But, yes, three days felt like pushing it, and it was getting hard not to chomp at the bit.
Ronon leaned his hip against the bed, his broad arms folded across his chest. “So... do you think it would have been like last time?”

“You mean me ending up as a humanoid bug?” John said, giving him a cockeyed look. “I would think baby hive ship and Iratus separate species, big guy.”

“Yeah, but with the Wraith in common. Think you would have, I don't know, gone all indestructible like last time? Really strong?”
John grinned. “Let's find out.” He tossed back the covers and slid from the bed. The gist of Keller's worry, as John understood it, was that there was – to put it simply – still residue floating through John's blood. Dead pieces of virus or cells or something which was where it got too complicated and where John cut Keller short, asking what this was going to do to him. The running theory was nothing – his body would metabolize it and flush it right out.

But, then, that was what Carson had said about the retrovirus.

However, since Sheppard had yet to find sticky strands of cocoon casing glazing his skin, he assumed it safe to say that the metabolizing thing was happening. Still, he was curious as to what other leftovers might be lingering. He lowered himself to his stomach, hands to his sides and bare toes pressed into the floor, and pushed up. One, ten, twenty then he was done, dropping in a panting, shaky sprawl.

“I can usually do more than that,” he gasped.

Ronon crouched in front of him wearing a slightly condescending smirk. “At least you're not turning into a bug.” He offered a hand up, and John took it, yanked to his feet like he weighed nothing. He hated how easily Ronon could handle him.

“I've been cooped up in this infirmary too long,” John said, shuffling back to his bed. “I'm not at one hundred percent. But as soon as I am, it's rematch time.”

Chuckling, Ronon gave him a hearty clap on the back that shoved the air from his lungs and nearly dented his spine. “You're on.”

“Just don't tell Keller about this,” John said, climbing back into bed. He had the blankets back over his legs when, speak of the devil, Keller entered. The physician was looking uncomfortably grim. John stiffened, his heart already prepared to take a nose dive.

“What?” he asked.

Keller tucked her bottom lip beneath her teeth in a way that sent John's heart right over the edge into his gut. He narrowed his eyes at her. “What?”

---------------------------------

“From the data Dr. Keller has sent,” said Beckett, who was little more than a floating head on a laptop screen, “either this virus is bloody smart or we're looking at one hell of a fluke. Don't ask me how – maybe the spores recognized the Iratus DNA still in John's system or the two were compatible or something.... There wasn't much Iratus left when the stem cell treatment took effect, but it looks like enough remained to give that bloody virus a leg up. It's spliced itself to the Iratus DNA – woke the bloody thing up as it were – and is using it to regenerate.”

People shifted, exchanged glances and all around balked uncomfortably. John didn't move at all, and not because infirmary beds didn't allow much room to squirm around in. It took a few swallows to loosen up his suddenly tight throat, and when he did move, it was to wipe away the sweat from his top lip.

“Bottom line, Doc,” he said, sounding steadier than he felt. He'd always been good at wearing control like a second skin. “What's this going to turn me into?”

Carson's sigh was amplified on screen. “I can't say, lad. Wraith ship plus Iratus DNA? We're talking about a whole new beast here -” he winced. “Metaphorically speaking, I mean. Sorry.”

John shrugged it off. “If it's any consolation, I don't have any vines sprouting from my gut. Or scales. And I actually feel tired.” Which, now that he thought about it, couldn't be a good thing. He'd been lying around for too long recuperating to feel tired.

“That's because I've started you on the viral inhibitor,” Keller said. She was standing next to the table where the laptop sat, exacerbating the surreal sci-fi feel of the situation. It didn't help that McKay had mumbled something about having seen this on an episode of one of the many Star Treks.

“It's slowing down the virus' regeneration and spread.”

“What about it being a possible contagion?” Woolsey asked. “Shouldn't we, I don't know, enact better quarantine protocols? In fact, shouldn't we be in haz-mat suits?”

“No,” both Keller and Carson said. It was Keller who answered. “By splicing with the Iratus DNA it's taken on some of Sheppard's DNA as well. The only way any one would be susceptible was if they were an exact copy of Sheppard.”

“However, in return,” said Carson,” it's altering most of Sheppard's DNA to conform with its own. If it wasn't for the cure and the inhibitor, Sheppard would be... something else by now.”

To which Rodney said, giving John a bewildered look, “What the hell is it with you and Iratus-related things?
John answered with a helpless shrug. Rodney shook his head regretfully.

“I will never complain about you and Ancient women again.”

“So what do we do about this?” Ronon asked, leaning against the door but tense with the need for action or the need to shoot something. He was always far more agitated when the answers had nothing to do with blowing anything up. John could sympathize.
“Attack while the bloody thing is weak,” said Carson.

Keller grimaced. “Which... means...”

John frowned, gripping the blankets until white-knuckled. “Another go with the cure.”

------------------------------

This time there was new pain, like an ever increasing pressure on his head and body, sharpening to a knife cutting every nerve. It rose until it crested, fell into blessed black nothing. John lingered in the nothing, creeping like a cockroach feeling out its surroundings. Slowly but surely, his awareness expanded...

He started choking. There was something down his throat shoving air into his lungs against his will. He gagged, gurgled, and his awareness exploded into rapid shrills and burning suffocation.

“Colonel Sheppard! Calm down, I need you to calm down. You're on a ventilator.”

Calm down? You try to calm down when you're choking! Why the hell did they tell you to calm down when your body disconnected from your brain because it thought it knew how to function better on its own.

“Colonel Sheppard, when I tell you to cough, cough hard... Cough!”

John did in a spasming contraction of his ribs and lungs against an onrush of air. He was certain his lungs were going to pop from all that pressure then something slid from his throat. He gagged, choked, and coughed that excess air. Cool plastic pressed against his face, and he breathed as deep as his lungs recalled how, and it still wasn't enough. He sucked in air like it was water and he was burning alive.

“That's it, John. Keep breathing.”

He did, eyes closed in euphoric calm. He opened them to Keller's professional demeanor hovering over him. When her gaze met his, she smiled weakly.

“Welcome back, John,” she said. Her relieved but subdued tone made his gut clench and his hand fumble at the mask, attempting to remove it. Keller intercepted that hand, pressing it back onto the bed.

“You've been under for four days,” she said. Her smile looked like it was a strain on the muscles to hold. She finally let it fall. “The treatment... your body wasn't ready for it. We used a lesser dosage, but it still nearly killed you. We had to restart your heart twice...” And yet, for all her bluntness, there was something she wasn't telling him. He could see it in her eyes and the jumping muscles of her jaw, hear it like a confession between the hesitations.

John swallowed convulsively, shoving down the bile. He sucked in a shuddering breath. “Wha... what...” The words stuck in his dry throat so he forced his hand to slide up his body to his stomach, over the spot where a scar would have been before the virus had decided to play it smart.

Keller's lip tucked so tight between her teeth it was a wonder she didn't draw blood. John's stomach clenched tighter; he swallowed harder, trying not to puke.

No. Ah, damn it, no!

“I'm sorry, John,” Keller said. She placed her hand on his arm and squeezed. “The dosage wasn't strong enough, and any stronger would have killed you. But it's set the virus back, and along with the inhibitor, its progress has been slowed considerably. Carson and I are going to fix this, all right? Your body needs time to recover so that it can handle any treatment we give it. In that time we're going to be tweaking the cure, see if we can't counteract some of the effects, as well as work on a stem cell treatment for the virus to separate it from the Iratus DNA and, hopefully, leave it vulnerable. We're going to defeat this thing, John, I promise. It won't change you. There... there may be side effects, some alterations, but they won't be permanent, they won't be much, and they will be reversed. We will fix this.”

John looked up at the ceiling, focusing on his breathing. He nodded tightly. He didn't doubt her. Between her and Carson, they would find a way. It was old school crap wearing a new skin; that was all. Nothing new, just ever so slightly altered to make things more of a challenge because the Pegasus Galaxy didn't do anything in halves.

Keller patted his arm and gave him another strained smile. “Rest up, Colonel. We'll have you back to yourself in no time.”
John nodded again. He believed her. But if his gut twisted any tighter, he was going to mess up a perfectly good oxygen mask. He looked down at his hand – a hand that had once gripped a slender throat and knocked marines - some twice his size - out cold; his perfectly normal, albeit pale, hand that he focused on, finding solace in its normalcy.

------------------------------

“So.... is it like last time?”

John looked up from his bowl of soup at Rodney sitting by the bed with a loaded tray in his lap. He arched an eyebrow at the physicist.

Rodney shrugged sheepishly, dropping his eyes to his food, poking and stabbing chicken swimming in some kind of white sauce. “I just... I mean... if it's not like last time, that's a good thing, isn't it?”

“Depends on what it's doing to me,” John said. He went back to forming lazy whirlpools in the atomic green broth of his chicken noodle. “Right now, I feel tired.”

“Well, you did just get your ass handed to you by an anti-viral concoction. And I think I overheard Keller saying something about the inhibitor having side effects...”

“Headaches,” John said.

“Do you have one?”

John nodded.

“Oh. Maybe she should add lethargy to the list then.” Rodney sliced the chicken using the edge of his fork. He dragged it through the pond of gravy, loading the meat until it was more sauce than meat. When he finally stuffed it in his mouth, he talked around it. “So, need anything yet? Books, laptop, games? Tired or not I'd be crawling up the walls by n – um... restless, I'd be restless. Sleep's a good means of passing the time, but a mind needs stimulation. Gotta keep that Mensa IQ up.”

John arched his other eyebrow in surprise. “Why, Rodney, was that a compliment I just heard?”

Rodney pointed a dripping fork at him. “It was acknowledgment. You said you passed the test which means there's more in that head of yours than air, hot girls, and sports. And far be it from me to deny two galaxies of potential intelligence just because it's not up to my level. There are enough idiots in two galaxies as it is. I think I know the location of a few unsolved... well, partially unsolved if I can get to them in time... Sudoku books.”

Definitely a compliment, making it impossible for John to suppress a small smile. “Shucks, Rodney. You better be careful; people just might start thinking you care.”

“I do care,” Rodney said around another mouthful of chicken. “Did you not hear me? We have enough idiots as it is, and I have to put up with most of them. Like hell I'm putting up with one more. Is that all you're going to eat?”

John reversed the rotation of his spoon for a counterclockwise funnel. “It's all I can handle right now.” In fact, his stomach was feeling uncomfortably full, like when he drank too much water. He nudged the bowl away, inciting Rodney into leaning forward for a peek at it. The physicist frowned.

“That's all? Keller isn't going to like that.”

“Keller already doesn't like it,” John said, rubbing his stomach. Uncomfortably full was escalating to uncomfortably queasy. “I haven't had much of an appetite since I woke up from that... coma or whatever it was.” He swallowed hard then took a few sips of water, but that only made matters worse. He set the water down fast, causing most of it to slop, and grabbed the kidney dish set on the table next to his bed – just in case.

Just in case happening to be now. John leaned forward when acidic bile shot into his throat, then mouth, then into the dish on a heave that seemed to constrict his entire body. He barely heard Rodney's squeak of surprise but did hear the ear-piercing shriek of the chair scraping across the mental floor.

“Jeez, Sheppard! Warn a guy next time!”

John heaved up his dinner and the water and continued to heave even when there was nothing left. When it finally stopped, he slumped back, panting, shaking, and exhausted.

He barely noticed when the dish was taken from his hands. John rolled his pounding head toward Rodney who set the dish on the rolling tray, wearing a twisted and pained expression as if he were being forced to touch a jar of urine. Close enough, John wearily supposed.

“I... uh...” Rodney gulped, “I'm just going to get Keller.” He pressed the glass of water into John's hand so he could rinse and spit then hurried away at a fast walk, obviously trying not to run.

It took a moment for John to realize with a startled lift of his eyebrow – Rodney had just touched a dish full of vomit.

-------------------------

“It's just like with last time – we program the stem cells with genetic material from the virus as well as human RNA to keep the stem cells from affecting you. It should purge the virus of Iratus DNA, leaving it vulnerable to the cure,” Keller explained.
John listened, but he wasn't looking at her. He was looking at his arms, milk white and webbed in tiny blue-violet veins that he was pretty sure was more than what a normal human body was supposed to have. Unless he was really that pale. He was hoping more than he'd hoped for anything that he was just that pale.

He curled his fingers into his clammy palm. “Hope so, Doc. Rodney says this isn't a good color on me. And I'm hungry.” Which was just damn cruel. As much as he would love to shove steak and potatoes in his face, the moment whatever he swallowed first hit his stomach, it would come right back up. He hadn't been able to keep so much as broth down for the past three days it took to whip up the stem cells. It was taking an I.V to pump nutrients into him, and yet he had no trouble keeping water down.

Crap, he really was turning into a plant. This galaxy apparently had issues with his humanity.

Another involuntary shudder shook John's frame. “When do we start?”

“Well, you're stronger than you were even with the lack of food,” Keller said then grimaced. “So, today.”

John nodded, failing to suppress another shudder. “What can I expect? Will it be like last time?” Last time, it had hurt, with only a drug induced coma and later massive amounts of morphine that should have killed him, standing between him and absolute agony.

“Since it will be altering the virus instead of you, you shouldn't feel a thing. That doesn't mean it won't affect you completely. I can't tell you how, though,” she said, tone thick with apology. “Sorry.”

“That's okay,” John said, flexing his fingers. He was developing aches, mostly in his joints and most likely from being in bed for so long. Recalling his last stem cell treatment seemed to be increasing the discomfort with phantom pains.

Or he was just deluding himself for the sake of staying positive. He curled his fingers into a fist. “Let's get this over with.”

---------------------------------

Crap, it was like the flu multiplied by ten. No matter how many blankets were layered on, he couldn't get warm and he couldn't stop shaking. And his joints – there was broken glass in his joints, or shattered cartilage, grinding into his muscles every time he moved. This premature arthritis was everywhere, wherever the bones connected, from his small toe to in between each vertebra to each rib. If he breathed too deep, his breastbone felt like it was splitting in two. Even his brain felt like it was being impaled with the shards.

And there was no comfortable position for him to lie on, making him toss and turn and never getting the sleep that would take him away from all this. Morphine helped but only to an extent. It dulled the pain but never took it away. Neither did it last for long, as though the virus was pissed and making him suffer right along with it.

On the plus side, there was nothing in his stomach to puke up and still no vine sprouting from his gut.

Keller did what she could to lessen the misery, but in the end it was left up to Sheppard to weather it out.

Teyla was silently insistent that he not weather it alone, no matter how much he protested. Attached to him or not, he still didn't trust this damn virus. Neither did he trust himself not to say or do something he would regret. Morphine and pain had a funny way of making you think you were coherent when you were anything but, and he was sure it was the reason he had a different nurse stop by each time he needed his vitals checked. Teyla didn't seem to care.

His only consolation was that Teyla never had Torren with her when she came.

John arched and twisted, trying to get his back to pop. Despite evidence to the contrary, his mind was positive that if he could just get his back to pop, he would feel so much better. He grunted with the pain of the movement, grunting louder when he dropped limply back onto the bed. He'd kicked the blankets off, but the aches outweighed being cold so he didn't care.

Teyla pressed the pad of her thumb harder into the palm of his hand, kneading. Pain shot up John's wrist, and he snatched his hand away with a snarled, “I told you that's not helping!”

“I am sorry, John,” she said, a beacon of patience and calm. “If you would allow me to bring in the candles I told you of, the ones that would help with your headache...”

John curled up on his side, putting his back to her. Again, as pointless as it was, his mind continued to cling to false ideas for relieving his pain. “No candles.” He knew they would only make him queasy, and if not, their flames would hurt his eyes. It was why the lights were turned down to a twilight glow.

“John...”

“Teyla. You shouldn't be here.”

“There is no harm.”

Sweat dripped into John's eyes that he wiped with a shaking hand. “You don't know that.”

“I want to be here.”

John's lip curled over his teeth. “Yeah, well, maybe I don't want you here.” He would have to kick himself for that one, later, when he didn't feel like ripping his own brain out just to get the throbbing to stop. Crap, what he wouldn't give for a new, undamaged skeleton. He no longer remembered what it was like not to be in some level of pain.

A small, warm hand pressed against his upper back and rubbed up and down, digging the heel in that caught on the knobs of his spine. He was deteriorating that fast, the virus sucking him dry, taking him apart so it could put him back together as something else. Five days since Keller had started the stem cell treatment and she had no idea if it was working. The virus had healed itself sufficiently to move on to altering John while the inhibitor slowed its progress to a snail's pace. The only visible progress was bits and pieces of new DNA. If it advanced to tendrils coming out of him then they knew the treatment worked. If it didn't...

Either way, they wouldn't know for a while. Unless they stopped administering the inhibitor which Keller wasn't ready for. And though John secretly agreed with her, he was reaching that point where he didn't give a damn either way. He just wanted it to stop.

Teyla's hand dug, pushed, and pulled at rigid muscles that turned to taffy under her ministrations. It felt... not good, definitely not great. It did feel slightly better than before in the general area of the massage. It was something John would take, a pin-prick respite but a respite none the less.

John shivered. “Sorry,” he said. He turned his head to look at Teyla, but the sharp pang of pain in his neck wouldn't let him. “This really isn't a good time to be around me.”

Teyla said nothing. She continued kneading.

“You don't deserve this crap,” John said.

“As you do not deserve the crap you are going through,” Teyla replied. “You saved Torren, Kanaan, and me while you were injured. The least I can do is put up with your mood swings so that you do not go through this alone.”

John managed a smile even if it did make his face hurt. “How is the little guy?” He winced and cringed when Teyla expanded her kneading to his ribs.

Teyla sighed. “Quite well, actually. He is... most energetic. And as Ronon once put it, has quite the set of lungs. Rodney believes that if this world is also home to telepathic whales and they attempt to come to Atlantis, Torren's cries will scare them off.”

John's laughter sounded more like a choking cough that cramped his chest. He dug his knuckles into his throbbing sternum.

“But when he is not fussing,” Teyla said, and John could hear the wistful smile in her voice, “he is the most easily fascinated child. He seems awed by everything. And when he smiles, it is as though the room is much brighter than before.”
“You don't mind being away from him?” John asked.

“I believe Kanaan prefers it. He claims I like to keep Torren to myself. I believe the term is… hogging him?”

John cough-laughed and regretted it, the ache in his chest radiating to his spine. He curled more tightly into himself with a moan and whimper. Teyla's hand stilled.

“John, am I hurting you?”

“No,” John coughed. “No, just... just don't make me laugh. Oh, crap...” The pain wouldn't abate which meant it was time for another dose of meds. He shivered so hard the bed rattled, the aches shifting into something serrated and sharp that made his eyes water. He squeezed them shut, pushing a tear from the lids to go rolling down his cheek.

He whispered without realizing, “It... hurts.”

“Shhh,” Teyla whispered, gripping his shoulder lightly with one hand as though holding him together, the other hand brushing back his hair. She began humming, something slow and airy, like a feather caught on a breeze and carried into open sky. John imagined he was that feather, floating away from the aches and pains and the thing trying to take away who he was.

---------------------------------

“I believe it's working, but the virus has progressed so far, and he's so weak.”

John forced his eyes open, ignoring the pain of it. He'd gotten used to the pain enough to ignore most of it. That was the whole point to having a high threshold: it didn't kill the pain, but you learned to shove aside what you could in order to keep functioning. In the immediate case, enable himself to open his eyes.

Keller's small, slender silhouette stood just within the door, Woolsey's taller shadow across from her.

“But a smaller dose shouldn't -”

“We don't know that, and I'd rather not risk it. Even if it doesn't kill him, in his state it could cause a whole host of other problems – organ failure, brain damage, paralysis...”

“And waiting any longer will turn him into something that's a risk to this entire city. And... what, exactly, is it we're waiting for?”

Keller dropped her head. “A better solution.”

“Which you may not find.”

“We still have time.”

“Not forever.”

“No, not forever. But still time enough to exhaust every resource.”

Woolsey shook his head. “And in that time, Sheppard grows weaker and the virus stronger.”

“I know,” said Keller. She rubbed her forehead. “I know.” She hurried from the room. Woolsey lingered, eyes to the floor, probably lost in thought. His head turned, and John didn't have to see it to know the IOA man was looking his way. Woolsey then followed after Keller.

----------------------------

If there was a bigger shout that change was taking place, it was the sudden appearance of claws, if they could be called that. They were like the retrovirus claws – long and chipped but clear, elastic, and threaded through with tiny veins. John had thought he just needed his nails clipped, but when a nurse tried, the nail bled, and John screamed in agony.

Whatever he was turning into, it wasn't a hive ship. So the stem cells hadn't worked, or the virus had screwed its DNA so sufficiently that if the stem cells had worked, no physical manifestation was going to prove it. It increased Keller's hesitation to use the cure. In fact, Sheppard had overheard her commenting to another nurse about her doubts that the cure would still work despite the changes made to it.

And the pain was lasting longer, the aches shorter, and morphine growing ever more useless. John couldn't recall the last time he slept, what it was like to be warm, and what life was like before this agony. He tossed, turned, whimpered, and no one could do a damn thing about it.

And he could feel it changing him, just like last time, with no natural codeine to make it a smooth transition. There were voices in his head; hunger in his gut made sharp by the distant scent of blood; a need for space and a need to run, hunt, spread, and grow and consume. All of it was little more than whispers, but it grew the more the virus altered. He was becoming that threat Woolsey had talked about, and no one was willing to do a damn thing about it even when he asked – begged. And he begged – begged and vomited bile and spit - when his sleep-deprived mind morphed images, turning a pale slender throat to brown surrounded by copper hair. The vines that choked Ronon were coming out of John. Rodney he fed on then impaled with a tentacle. And no one listened when he begged.

It was left up to him.

So he crawled over the rail and only by hanging onto it kept from doing a face plant on the floor. He tried to be slow, gentle, yet a shockwave of pain still rolled up his legs to his hips when he landed lightly. John collapsed, choking on an agonized cry. He curled into the tightest ball his frame would allow and pushed his toes into the floor, inching away from the bed as though it were the cause of his pain until his back hit the wall. He lay there, moaning, rocking, shedding tears, and screaming in his head for someone to just do freakin' something already! So what if it killed him, caused brain damage, what the friggin' hell ever? Let it happen. He was a risk to this city. They couldn't afford to hesitate in hopes of stumbling on a better solution. If it killed him then it killed him, and at least he would no longer be a danger.

And he was so tired of hurting. He just wanted to stop hurting.

“Sheppard?”

John cracked an eye open, forcing his neck to bend so he could look toward his feet. It hurt, a lot, and he whimpered and shook.
Ronon was crouched at his feet. There was light enough for John to see his face – the worry, the sorrow, and the thin glaze of fear.

“Ro-Ronon,” John coughed in a spray of saliva. “Ron'n. S-stun me... please.”

“I don't know what that'll do to you.”

“Please. It... hurts...”

Ronon rose, towering over John. He scooped John up with the same effort he'd use to lift a small stack of papers and set him carefully back on the bed. John still cried out, curling back up and shaking to rattle the rails. Ronon covered him to his neck then placed his hand lightly on his shoulder.

“I'm a… risk to this city,” John said.

“No,” Ronon rumbled, “you're not.”

John swallowed. “Yes... I am. Like last time. P-promise me something.”

“What?”

“Promise me... promise you'll ki -” He squeezed his eyes shut. Promise you'll kill me. Promise you'll end my life. The words stuck like tar, clogging and choking him. For all his desire that everyone listen to reason, he couldn't ask for it. Not from Ronon, who would say no, forcing John to make it an order. And Ronon would still say no, over and over, and John would beg and take advantage of Ronon's loyalty.

I saved your life more than once. You owe me.

He couldn't do that to Ronon. He wouldn't. No friggin' way.

Not out loud.

“What?” Ronon asked.

John shook his head and winced. “Nothing.” He sighed, sounding just as shaky as he felt. “What if... they can't cure this?”
“They will.”

“Just asking. What if.”

“What-ifs are pointless.”

“Still.” John swallowed. He thought of scales, a clawed hand around a throat that had once been pale and now was brown, Ronon choking, and Rodney shriveled to dust, and Keller in a cocoon. He thought of anger, hunger, and fading away like a shadow in the dawn, leaving only instinct and death.

John closed his eyes. “I'm scared.”

“What can I do?” Ronon asked.

“I don't know.”

There was silence and only the warmth and weight of Ronon's hand to let John know he was still there. Then, suddenly, the bed dipped behind him. Strong arms gathered him to a broad chest and held him as he shook. It didn't take the pain away or stop the cold, and it made him feel like little more than paper-light skin and brittle bones, liable to crumble to dust - but John didn't feel so afraid.

------------------------------

“I may... have a way.”

Keller was hesitant again. Even with the pain clouding most of John's mind, he remembered that when she was hesitant, it meant what should have been good news was anything but.

“Whatever it is has to be better than what he's going through now.” That was Rodney.

“I want to inject him with Iratus DNA.”

“Or not,” said Rodney.

“And what, exactly, do you hope to accomplish by that?” Woolsey. “Besides creating a bigger risk by increasing the rate of this virus' progress. I read the report. The inhibitor did nothing to slow his change; it only kept him aware.”

“I know. It also healed him. We inject him with a large dose of the cure. When the virus is wiped from his system, we inject him with the Iratus DNA long enough to heal any damage - because there will be damage. Then, we start him on the stem cell therapy.”
“Will the cure not kill him?” Teyla.

“Or, worse, the virus retains the Iratus portion of its DNA and heals itself,” said Woosley.

“Which is why we give him a large dose of the cure first. Yes, there's a good chance it might kill him. But, at this point...”
She wouldn't say what they were all thinking, what John hoped they didn't protest against.

The morphine no longer worked. No more dull aches, dull throbs, dull anything. It was all pain, now, making John stay curled as he rocked and rocked, a sliver of threshold left that allowed for sand grains of awareness.

“We don't have a choice,” Ronon said instead. “Just... no restraints, Doc. Not this time.”

There was no answer. Footsteps clicked away, leaving silence.

“He could die, he could...” Rodney said, startling John after he'd thought everyone had left.

McKay sighed. “Sorry, I'm sorry. I'm not ... I'm just... speaking out loud... Sorry...” he trailed off, sounding lost and alone, like when Carson had died.

“He's been through this before, beat this before,” said Ronon.

“Yeah, but... this is different.” Rodney.

“No.” Ronon. “Just harder.”

“Yeah, so hard that saving him includes three choices we have no control over – death, irreparable damage, or crossing our fingers and hoping Lady Luck hasn't thrown in the towel. And please don't feed me those lines about Sheppard being strong and being able to beat this and having beat death plenty of times. I know that and... I believe it, I do. It's kind of hard not to with everything we've been through. But we all know there'll come a time, we just don't say it out loud -”

“Rodney.” Teyla, and steady as she tried to sound, there was a pleading note underneath.

More silence, then Rodney, his voice quiet and hoarse, “I don't... I – I don't want him to...” For a moment, John thought someone had touched his hand, but it was too brief and muted by pain for him to be sure.

Rodney muttered, even more quiet,“Wish the stupid morphine worked.”

Silence, but no tapping footfalls fading away.

----------------------------

Ronon held John upright against his chest in a loose embrace that kept the pressure off his ribs. It made it easier to breathe but transferred the pressure to his spine which felt ready to shatter. Each inhale shuddered, and each exhale carried a pained whimper. Even the dim light stabbed into John's eyes straight to his brain. He didn't care. He kept them open, rolling them from Rodney to Teyla to Ronon sitting behind but angled just right to be in his peripheral.

This could be the last time he ever saw them.

Keller approached the I.V. with syringe in hand. She looked at each person in the room, settling on John when she came to him.
“This... in case this...” she stammered. She took a deep, steady breath and continued. “Does anyone have anything they, you know, want to... say?” She flinched as though the words had a bad taste.

“This'll work,” said Ronon with a conviction that sounded more like a demand.

Rodney, unnaturally silent, moved in close enough to rest his hand on John's other shoulder. Teyla took John's hand in her own. Her face was a blur, but John still caught faint light flashing off threads of moisture on her face.
“John -” she said. Her voice caught.

“I'm injecting,” Keller said. She uncapped the syringe.

Teyla's head suddenly shot forward, pressing to John's forehead, so close he could see the fresh tears fall and feel her breath warm on his face. Ronon's hold tightened, like a man with no intention of ever letting go. Rodney's other hand clasped John's arm, chin trembling and throat convulsing in swallow after swallow.

John pried his hands away from himself, reaching out for Teyla who took one into her own hand; to Rodney, gripping his jacket; and leaned into Ronon. Moisture slid down his face, but he wasn't scared, not with his team all around him, like the walls of a fortress
.
Teyla cupped his cheek in a trembling hand. “We love you, John.”

Then there was darkness.

Then there was pain.

Then there was nothing.

--------------------------------

Pain, nothing; sometimes dreams that may have been real, or things real splicing themselves to dreams. John was a hive ship bending to the will of the Wraith, watching as they killed his team one at a time. He was an insect, hunting friends he called family, excited by their terror when he caught them, by the light fading from their eyes when he killed them. His body shook with the ecstasy of it while deep within the dark cage of his own mind, he wept. Sometimes he was human, with tubes down his throat and needles in his hand.

People spoke to him, always the same voice from different faces. A wraith spoke like Keller, Ford like Ronon, Weir like Teyla, Sumner like Rodney. They begged him to wake up and assured him that everything would be all right.

It was impossible to know what to believe until John woke up. So he fought through the muck and mire of his own brain, sloughing like a man through quicksand or lost at the bottom of the ocean and struggling to the surface. The voices were his lifeline so he clung to them and climbed.

John thought he heard cooing. He opened his eyes to soft blue-gray, like early morning light pouring through the windows. The cooing and gurgling was coming from some place to his right. He rolled his head toward the sound only to be blocked by a small hill of pillows surrounding his bed. He lifted his hand that was like lifting a boulder, just enough to slide it over the pillow and weigh it down enough to see what was on the other side. He smiled languidly.

Torren's wide brown eyes stared back, and he smiled around his tiny fists.

“Colonel Sheppard.”

John shifted his gaze to the foot of the bed and furrowed his brow. Keller stood there - more like floated, actually, to tower over him. It then hit him, on looking past her, that his bed, or at least the mattress, was currently on the floor. His “What the hell?” came out as more of an inaudible, messy croak.

Keller moved around his mattress and the mattress next to it currently occupied by a sleeping Teyla and squirming Torren, to crouch at the head. There was a pitcher with cups waiting there. After pouring the water, she lifted his head up with one hand enough to take a few sips.

“Your team's idea,” she whispered, setting the cup aside when she deemed him done. “They didn't want you in restraints. But you were having nightmares that kept you restless and moving, and I was worried you'd move yourself right out of bed onto the floor so they suggested we just go ahead and move you there. I was a little iffy at first. But the floor's pretty clean, and you really didn't move all that much. As long as one of your team was right next to you, you did okay. Didn't even loosen any leads or lose your I.V.”

That explained all the tugging: his chest, his hand... unmentionable places he'd rather not think about. The one on his face he couldn't place. He dragged his hand from the mattress to his body then up his body to the plastic tube below his nose and the second tube taped to his face and snaking up his nose.

He knew that tube. A feeding tube. He looked up hopefully at Keller, who smiled without a hint of strain.

“It worked,” she said. “The cure worked. It almost killed you, but the Iratus DNA cleaned that up, and the stem cell treatment cleaned up the Iratus DNA. Took only three weeks this time, but you're officially one hundred percent John Sheppard again.” She fitted her stethoscope into her ears, listened to John's heart and lungs, took his temperature, then finally blood pressure.
“I need to take you in to be scanned later,” she said. “For now, keep resting. You may be human again, but you still have a lot of recovering to do.” She patted his arm. After giving Torren's arm a little wiggle by his pudgy wrist, she left.

John returned his attention to the infant, still staring wide-eyed and mystified. John slid his hand all the way over the pillow to touch that soft cheek. A tiny hand wrapped around his finger, his thumb caressing soft, chubby knuckles. He looked past Torren to Teyla surrounding her child with her body, one arm pillowing her head. John turned enough to see Rodney sprawled out on a third mattress, snoring gently. Ronon was behind John, leaning against the wall with knees drawn up and head resting on them, an open laptop at his feet and DVD cases scattered around him. The floor was littered with cups, wrappers, and a few baby toys.
A lump knotted in John's throat. He wanted to reach out and touch each of them – quick contact on the arm or face – but reaching for Torren had worn him out.

It was enough just to see them, and when he closed his eyes, feel the space they occupied around him. Torren's grip tightened on John's finger, and the boy cooed. John smiled and sighed.

“I love you guys, too.”

The end


A/N: I'm no scientist, so I apologize if the science involved didn't ring to you as plausible. It was tough stuff to deal with, let me tell you.
 
 
Current Mood: tiredtired
 
 
 
ninja007ninja007 on August 13th, 2008 07:29 am (UTC)
Damn! Great fic, Dragon!

I loved this. It completely satiated my desire for John whump...
kriadydragon: Shep iconkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)
Thanks. I aim to satisfy Shep-whump cravings :D
syble4: oh crapsyble4 on August 13th, 2008 08:08 am (UTC)
You are the queen of the Shep whump. It's a good thing we love our Shep or he'd really be in for it. ;) Great episode tag. I did wonder about that previously altered DNA of Johns.
kriadydragon: Shep 2kriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:32 am (UTC)
Heh-heh, thanks! That boy is just to whumpable, and I find his hodge-podge of DNA forever fascinating. It's why most of my episode tags revolve around Conversion ;)
indusnmindusnm on August 13th, 2008 11:10 am (UTC)
Gorgeous- I wanted some John whump, and this was a very satisfying read!

Thanks for posting!
kriadydragon: Dolphinkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:33 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading :D
flingslass: Beanie bearflingslass on August 13th, 2008 11:52 am (UTC)
Geez, you like to belt Sheppard around! I don't care about the science, John's team didn't leave him. Yours is the only Shep Whump I read :)
kriadydragon: Shep icon 3kriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
Thanks :D I do adore putting poor shep through the wringer ;)
leesa_perrie: John - Visions in Blueleesa_perrie on August 13th, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC)
Excellently done!! I'm not always into Shep-whump fics, but this one is great and has lots of teaminess to keep everyone happy! I especially love the bits with Rodney (but then I'm biased towards a certain physicist!), and the end bit with Torren and the team around John is lovely.
kriadydragon: Beastkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:38 am (UTC)
Thanks! And thank Wildcat for suggesting that I needed a little more ;) I'd wanted another part with Rodney, but couldn't figure out where to put it until she made her suggestion.
stargategroupiestargategroupie on August 13th, 2008 01:39 pm (UTC)
*squeal* I totally loved this! It’s just what I wanted, lots of Shep whump, & team comfort moments. I got all teary eyed when Sheppard was going to ask Ronon to kill him but then realized he couldn’t do that to Ronon. I loved the flashbacks to “Conversion” and all of the emotional trauma for poor Sheppard. Once again he is changing into something that he can’t control or stop and his number one fear is hurting the people around him….*sniff* Thank you so much for the whumpy, wonderful tale you are an amazing writer!
kriadydragon: Dolphinkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:41 am (UTC)
Yay! You liked it! :D And I'm so glad you came up with such a plot. I've been wanting to do a sick-Shep story forever, and I love writing fic that deals with the repurcussions of Conversion. So, long story short, I really enjoyed writing this :D

And the part with Ronon, I almost did have Sheppard asking him out loud, but knew Sheppard would never be able to do that to him ;)
vecturist: forestvecturist on August 13th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
Oh excellent Shep whump - love the team luv. Poor John, initially knowing something is up (and nice way to work in Carson). (And don't worry too much about the science - you did a good job, although if you ever have any questions, email me - my background is in cell biology and genetics).

Edited at 2008-08-13 01:46 pm (UTC)
kriadydragon: Shep iconkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:44 am (UTC)
Thanks! And I may take you up on your offer to ask questions ;) My next big fic, I put Sheppard's DNA through the wringer ten-times what I did here, and I may need to ensure what I have happen sounds plausible.
.padawan_aneiki on August 13th, 2008 01:48 pm (UTC)
Whoa. Just...whoa! I loved the ending too. ;) *claps* Nicely done all the way around.
kriadydragon: Shep icon 3kriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
Thank you :D
Lady Moon-Loona-cy: randomjennytork on August 13th, 2008 01:50 pm (UTC)
I'm crying for the tenth time in two days -- from something good this time. These are tears of joy.

This was purely beautiful. Thank you for this.
kriadydragon: Shep 2kriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
*Hands you a stissue* So glad you liked it :)
wildcat88: Teamwildcat88 on August 13th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Beautifully done, as always. Loved his inability to ask Ronon to kill him, his team never leaving his side, Keller not giving up on saving him. And the ending scene with Torren being the only one he could talk to was perfect.
kriadydragon: Shep iconkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:50 am (UTC)
Thanks... again :D
karri_kln1671karri_kln1671 on August 13th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Beautiful, intense, angsty whump and awesome team love -- Fantastic!
kriadydragon: Dolphinkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)
Thank you:)
2bluaeryn: Team Shep2bluaeryn on August 13th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
I love this the team moments, esp. the end. As I've said before, you do whump like no one else.

Great fic!
kriadydragon: Shep icon 3kriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)
Thanks!
mteemtee on August 13th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
Fabulous story. I'm glad you brought in the baby. John's a sucker for the little guy.

Very intense and draining. Thank you so much.
kriadydragon: Dolphinkriadydragon on August 16th, 2008 02:55 am (UTC)
I love babies, so I just had to include him ;) Thanks for reading.
coolbreeze1coolbreeze1 on August 13th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
I love this! I was so in the mood for a sick John and this was perfect. I love how you brought in all these different elements from different episodes, and the team surrounding him was just awesome. Thanks for writing!
kriadydragon: Shep 2kriadydragon on August 19th, 2008 04:14 am (UTC)
I've been in a major Sick John myself, but couldn't come up with anything until the prompt. and I do so love messing with that boy's DNA :D. I hope they do another episode where I can take it even farther ;)
jasper3 on August 13th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
Loved the whump, especially the Iratus-related whump! very touching finish too!

Larissa.
kriadydragon: Shep iconkriadydragon on August 19th, 2008 04:17 am (UTC)
Thank you. I love incorporating Iratus-related stuff into a fic, especially where Shep's DNA is involved. It's the bane of his existance in my stories :D