"Ow! Watch it! Did you learn your bedside manner out in the pastures too?"
Carson tsked lightly at his temperamental patient, but refused to rise to the bait. Instead, he tapped the syringe he was using softly, watching it fill with red.
"Developed a taste for blood in addition to mutton, I see," Rodney muttered testily.
Carson raised a brow, withdrawing the needle and applying a cotton swab a little firmer than necessary to the punctured area. Rodney did not try to contain his yowl; in fact, the physician wondered if he had added an extra decibel or two for dramatic effect.
"Don't be such a baby, Rodney." Carson shook his head as he withdrew a band-aid. “This is standard procedure.”
“If it’s so standard, why isn’t someone draining you of your life blood? You were off world too!”
“Geez, Rodney, being a little dramatic, aren’t you?” Sheppard asked from one bed over where a nurse was performing his physical. “Ouch! Doc, does she have to take so much?”
“Baby,” McKay mouthed at the soldier.
Sheppard replied to the oh-so-stinging remark by making a face at the scientist.
Carson shook his head at them, but decided to answer Sheppard’s question instead of chastising them. Most of the time it made his job easier if they distracted each other with their antics. “Well, Colonel, I want to make sure everything is back to normal after you being stuck in that time dilation field for so long.”
“Hey, the Ancients built it, they’ve got fail safes.”
“So soon he forgets that it was designed as a one way trip.” Rodney rolled his eyes, oblivious to the dark look that flitted across the Colonel’s face. Carson caught it however and applied the band-aid to McKay’s arm, perhaps a bit harder than necessary.
Rodney yelped and made another sheep joke, but Carson caught Sheppard cracking a smile. Good.
“As I was saying, Colonel, your body has been through a lot these—lately.” Carson had almost said “these past few hours”, but caught himself. He was still trying to adjust to the fact it had been six months in the time dilation field for Sheppard, not the few hours the rescue had taken. “I just want to be sure.”
Whether or not Sheppard had been ‘healed’ completely after each of his encounters with the beast didn’t matter, because he was still Carson’s patient. He wasn’t going to give the man a clear bill of health until he was absolutely sure that was really the case. Carson had also caught the brooding expression that crossed his friend’s face several times since his ‘rescue’ and was a trifle concerned about John’s mental state.
Rodney raised his eyebrows in an expression that reflected both incredulity and annoyance. “Oh, that’s real mature, Colonel.”
—well, more concerned than usual.
The doctor glanced over to see Sheppard quickly hiding his hands behind his back. He let out a dramatic sigh. “Am I going to have to separate you two?”
He heard both an affirmative and negative response to his question, and pinned Sheppard with a stare. “Now, Colonel, stop picking on Rodney. You know he can’t help but squeal like a wee bairn.”
“Sorry, Doc, I’ll stop.” Sheppard grinned and leaned back on his elbows, not looking the least bit repentant.
McKay’s brow twitched. “Carson, are you done poking holes in me?”
“Sorry, Rodney, just a few more tests. You would already be done by now, like Ronon, Teyla, and Elizabeth if I hadn’t had to come find you.”
“I had data—!”
“Yeah, c’mon, Rodney, that wasn’t very nice.”
“Colonel, need I remind you who controls when you get to leave?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m bored!” Sheppard whined.
“Maybe you could learn to converse with the other patients civilly, instead of harassing them.”
“Or he could just leer at the nurses,” Rodney snorted as Sheppard’s gaze wandered.
“Just looking,” John replied innocently.
Carson shook his head again. “Just try and not break anything while I’m gone, children.”
“You know, he was talking to you,” Carson heard Rodney say as he walked away towards the lab that was adjacent to the infirmary. The nurse tending to Sheppard handed over his sample and glanced back towards the infirmary, her eyes lingering on the pilot. Beckett tried to hide a smile but the nurse caught it and flushed.
“I think Colonel Sheppard might need an extra pillow,” she stammered and excused herself.
Carson chuckled quietly as he set the computer to analyze the two samples. He was lucky that most of his staff was immune to the charms of one John Sheppard, otherwise he had a feeling he would come in to find the pilot with all the blankets and pillows that could possibly fit onto one cot. That, and the Sheppard charm usually led to “jail breaks” as McKay referred to them.
A beep from the computer indicated it had finished with the analysis. Carson started to tap in the command for it to cross-reference the blood sample, when a loud squawk cut through his thoughts.
“What do you think you’re doing? Get back to your own bed!” There was a muffled racket. “Car-son!”
Carson exhaled a quick breath, and pushed himself away from the machine. He poked his head out to spy Sheppard sitting on his own cot with his hands folded neatly in his lap, staring innocently at the ceiling. From his cot, Rodney was fuming. His pointed finger was shaking as he tried to summon words from beyond his irritation.
“What?” Carson asked tiredly.
“He’s looking at me!”
Carson just stared.
“But he—I know how it sounds, but I’m telling you he was looking and… never mind.”
With an aggrieved sigh, Carson shot both of them a look. “This is not behaving.”
“It’s him!” Rodney insisted.
“I’m going back to the other room now. Whatever you two knocked over, it better be cleaned up by the time I get back with your test results.”
With that, he withdrew back into an area of relative sanity. Without looking at the screen, he quickly finished executing the command for it to cross-reference the sample to the one in the system. As it continued processing, he busied himself with looking over the rest of the mission’s personnel. There was no real reason that the time dilation machine would have any ill effects but it never hurt to be overly cautious, especially when it came to Sheppard’s team. Thankfully everything had checked out so far.
Another soft beep signaled the end of the analysis. He turned back to the computer and scanned through the results, frowning at them. That was odd; Sheppard wasn’t supposed to be on antihistamines—
Carson nearly smacked himself in the forehead when he realized he had juggled McKay and Sheppard’s samples up when he had keyed in the results. Bloody distracting children, the lot of them. He rubbed a hand across his eyes as he retyped in the correct command for the correct person, and then let the machine do its work. A short time later, he had the proper results confirming that both samples were clean.
He just had to perform the physical part of the examination. Sheppard had taken a pretty good hit from “the beast” and Carson wanted to double check, just in case the colonel was pulling his usual stoic soldier act. The man could be bleeding from two different places, have a broken arm, and obviously seeing double yet Sheppard would claim to be fine in order to not spend any time in the infirmary. It was those times Carson was able to tell the man was lying; when the problem was not visible, the doctor needed every edge he could get to stop any foolishness from the chief military officer of Atlantis.
He grabbed the computer printouts as he made his way back to the infirmary, just in time to catch the tail end of his two patients’ conversation.
“I’ll have you know that my tongue is sharper than any sword!” McKay huffed from his perch on his cot.
“First you better stop waving it around like a feather duster.”
“Oh yeah, well you fight like a—”
Carson cleared his throat, and both Sheppard and McKay turned to look at him. In unison, they pointed at each other. “He started it!”
Carson massaged his forehead, feeling tension starting to creep in.
“Now look what you did,” Sheppard tossed to McKay, “you gave Beckett a headache.”
“Me? You were the one who started it by saying—”
“Enough!” Carson finally snapped, spearing both men with a menacing glare. “If you can’t speak to each other without arguing like a pair of bloody six-year-olds then don’t speak at all!”
“But I—” Rodney started, the protest ending in a yelp when Carson turned his irritated gaze on him. “Never mind!”
Sheppard wisely decided to stay quiet, sinking even lower into his suspiciously large mountain of pillows. Carson took in a deep breath before finally turning to Rodney, who was now fidgeting nervously on his cot.
“Rodney,” he stated the name calmly.
McKay looked up nervously. “Yes?”
“Your results came back clear. You may go.”
Rodney stared at him for a few seconds, then nodded quickly and beat a hasty retreat for the door. Right before he disappeared into the hallway however, he made a silent gesture of shearing scissors to Sheppard. Beckett frowned and Rodney, realizing that he had been caught, disappeared without another word. The physician turned to his remaining patient, who was staring at the ceiling in an attempt to look angelic.
“I know it’s been a much longer ‘day’ for you, Colonel, than it has for me.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” John remarked dryly, “seeing how mine lasted six months.”
“My concern exactly,” Beckett replied. “Your body has aged six months and from what I’ve gathered, been injured repeatedly. I want to make sure that everything has healed properly and that your last encounter with that ‘Beast’ didn’t leave any damage.”
“Poke and prod away,” Sheppard sighed.
Carson eyed him as he continued the exam, not liking the look in John Sheppard’s eye. That same dark look had appeared when Rodney had made his “one-way trip” comment. Finally, to break the silence and hopefully derail whatever thoughts were going through the soldier’s mind, he decided to strike up conversation again.
“You know if you grew that out," Carson indicated Sheppard's beard, "you could play Santa for the Athosian children at Christmas time."
"Wouldn't I have to dye it white for that?"
"With Rodney and his propensity for winding up in the infirmary, I'm sure both of us will gain a few white hairs before the year is up."
"Don't remind me," John shook his head. "I’m still ready to kill him over that whole enzyme business."
"Aye, that wasn't pleasant."
"Besides," Sheppard quickly turned the conversation back to its original track, "Ronon wants to do it."
"Now, why would he want to do that?"
"He may have lost a bet with Teyla. I may have also said something about ol' Saint Nick being a warrior of the highest caliber back on Earth."
"I really hope you never try to teach a course on Earth culture while we're out here."
Sheppard smiled, but it was forced. Without McKay there to distract him or a crisis to avert, the reality of what had happened was starting to set in. Carson himself had no idea what it would feel like to lose six months of your life in one day, or the feeling of abandonment he had mentioned. He did know that this was something that should not fester and should not be pondered over any length of time.
“Colonel, I know that the last thing you want to do right now is talk—”
“You’re right,” he cut the doctor off impatiently. “All I want right now is a shower, a shave, and my bed.”
“John,” Carson tried again, a little more firm, but not unkind, “you’ve been through an ordeal. One that none of us will be able to fully understand.”
“Let me finish, will you?” He gave his patient a cross look, and continued. “I know something is bothering you. Rather fierce if I may say so, because usually I can’t tell what you’re thinking.”
“I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment.”
“I don’t care how you take it. What I do care about is that dangerous look I’ve seen in your eye, something I certainly don’t want to have to mention to anyone else, if you understand what I’m saying.”
Sheppard exhaled slowly and looked at the ceiling. “What do you want, Carson?”
“I want you to talk to me, seriously, for a moment. Either as a doctor or a friend, whatever you need. What I don’t want is for you to walk out of this infirmary and brood alone in the dark.”
“I don’t brood.”
“Manly pout, then?”
John flexed his jaw, remaining silent for a short period.
When he finally spoke, it was soft and fairly guarded. “I started to wonder if ‘leave no man behind’ didn’t apply to me.”
Carson pursed his lips, wanting to say something, but couldn’t think of an appropriate response.
“I started to wonder, no, more than wonder… six months, and I got nothing but what they tossed at me those first few days, which was probably just seconds to them.”
With an angry shove, John was on his feet, pacing. “For six months, I had to live with Ancient hippies who were literally afraid of their own shadow. No one backed me up, not there, or here.”
Carson nodded. “And then we showed up.”
“Yes, and suddenly, it changes again, and more than that, my reality, all of that, was an afternoon for you.”
“Would it help you if we said it was a very tense afternoon?”
“Well, would it help you to know, that while not getting lost in an Ancient Time Vortex, I had a very rough period, where I lost my way for a while, a long while?”
John stopped pacing and looked at Carson, intrigued.
“It’s not a time of my life I like to remember or even think about. I do understand, though, that feeling of lost time.”
“What about the whole abandonment issue?”
“Aye, I was in a very dark place.”
They were both quiet for a moment before Sheppard spoke up, softly. “How did you keep from going back?”
“I distracted myself with a particularly engrossing book any time I started thinking about anything that would lead me back down that road.”
“Maybe you could finally finish up War and Peace and start on a new novel,” Carson suggested lightly.
“I’ve got a much better idea,” Sheppard said, the hint of mischievous glee entering his eye.
“Well, provided it keeps you with a clear head and out of my infirmary, I have no problem with it.”
“And about mentioning things to other people?”
“Things?” Carson echoed innocently.
A more relaxed, natural smirk settled on Sheppard’s features. “Thanks.”
Carson busied himself with looking at his charts. “With a little rest over the next few days, I don’t see any reason not to clear you for active duty – provided you actually do what I tell you and rest.”
“Do I look like Rodney?”
He had the grace to look offended.
“Now off with you! If my tests show anything I’ll hunt you down, otherwise just take it easy.”
“Yes, and shave. Now go, before I change my mind.”
John chose that moment to make a quick exit and Carson returned to his office. He dropped the printouts on his desk in an exhausted fashion. At least he would have a few days to recuperate from a Team Sheppard post-mission exam.
* * * * *
Several days had passed since they had rescued Sheppard from the time dilation field, and Atlantis’s chief military officer began to return to normal. In order to brighten his mood, he turned to his favorite extracurricular activity: trying to make McKay turn ten shades of red. Unfortunately, the colonel’s hobby was rather distracting, especially when Carson was trying to get a little extra work done. All of Carson’s carefully kept filing system seemed to explode when John Sheppard came to his infirmary for anything other than a routine post-mission exam. Evidenced in particular by the file full of unsorted papers that he had brought with him to breakfast so he could restore some semblance of order to his desk.
He leafed through another page, scanning a line about a possible salve that could be made from a plant from planet PX7—
“Hey, that’s not fair! If I can’t bring my notes to breakfast, why can he?” Rodney whined.
Carson dutifully ignored him, eyes scanning the rest of the page.
“That’s because he has the courtesy to keep them in a tiny little folder, instead of strewing them all over the table.”
Beckett turned the rest of the conversation out, focusing on Dr. Parrish’s report on the possible benefits of the plant. He looked up to ask Teyla if she or the Athosians had run into this particular species, only to notice that both she and Ronon were no longer at the table. They must have already left to prepare for the mission that day. He quickly returned his attention back to the sheet of paper, determined not to be distracted by the loud monologue droning on across the table. He jotted a quick note down on the page to ask her about it later before turning to the next one.
It appeared to be a printout from a few days ago. Usually he kept these with his patients’ records, so it was more than a little out of place.
“Hey Carson, did you hear me?”
Rodney’s annoyed tone pulled Carson away from his reading material. He gazed at the scientist in a bored manner, sounding anything but contrite. “I’m sorry, Rodney, what did you say?”
“Colonel Sheppard,” Rodney indicated the man to his side, who merely glanced up from munching on an apple at the mention of his name, “and I were hoping you would settle an argument for us.”
“You were?” Carson looked to Sheppard for confirmation.
The colonel shrugged and took a noisy bite. McKay fixed the soldier with a sour look. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to chew with your mouth closed? Honestly.”
“Sorry,” Sheppard responded with a mouth full of apple. He bit off a large chunk and leaned into McKay’s ears as he smacked it around. “Better?”
“Someone should put you in a zoo!” Rodney shoved him away roughly, looking back at Carson. “Well?”
“'Well' what?” The Scot asked.
“Weren’t you listening?” Rodney asked disbelieving.
“Not really, I was thinking—”
“Great! Just great,” Rodney muttered shaking his head. “A matter of urgent importance and your head is off in the clouds, probably composing odes to your long lost sheep—”
“Why don’t you just tell me again?” Carson said, with far more patience than he thought he possessed at the moment.
“If you can’t bother to listen the first time around, I’m not going to repeat it,” Rodney crossed his arms petulantly. “No one ever listens to me.”
Sheppard poked Rodney with his apple-juice soaked hand. “You could just admit I’m right and we can end this.”
McKay eyed the hand with distaste, searching his jacket for stains. “You have got to be the most disgusting person in this entire city. I just washed this!”
Sheppard grinned as he looked over at Carson. “Penny for your thoughts, Doc.”
“My thoughts cost a bit more than that,” he shot back. “I don’t get paid enough.”
“If anyone here needs a raise, it’s me,” Rodney snorted as he scarfed down a piece of bacon. “I mean sure, free room and board, and a research budget that’s basically unlimited. No worries about having the funding yanked in the middle of a project—but still, with what I have to put up with?”
Sheppard exchanged an amused glance with Carson as Rodney launched into a long diatribe about the various problems with the science personnel.
“But seriously, you think I wouldn’t have to put up with perpetual whining what with Kavanagh transferring back to the SGC, but no—” Rodney continued to ramble, and Carson could feel his eyes glazing over. In an attempt to put off a rant-induced coma, Carson turned his attention back to the page he’d left off on, scanning the top of it for the patient’s name, only to discover it belonged to the loudmouth sitting across from him. He scanned the page further, trying to figure out why one of Rodney’s test results would have been lying on his desk, rather than with the rest of his labs.
One section of the readout grabbed his attention, and Carson had to scan it again to make sure he hadn’t been reading it wrong. Frown deepening, he carefully pored over the rest of the document. It was dated a few days ago—when he had accidentally mixed up Rodney and Sheppard’s samples in the machine. He glanced up, seeing that Rodney was currently detailing the failings of his newest lab assistant. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, hoping that perhaps he still just had a little sleep in his eyes.
But the line of text stating a “25% match” was still there, mocking him.
“Hey!” Rodney’s indignant cry made him snap back to attention.
However, the scientist wasn’t looking at him. McKay was trying to incinerate Sheppard with an evil stare as the pilot proudly munched on a piece of bacon.
The military commander finished the piece with a resounding smack, hand immediately reaching for another piece. Rodney growled and grabbed the other end of the bacon strip, starting an impromptu round of tug-of-war. Carson watched the poor slaughtered pig as it was fought over by the two men.
“Bloody children,” Carson muttered at their antics. “You do realize people are staring?”
“It’s my breakfast! If he wants bacon he should go wait in line like everyone else!”
“But it’s all the way over there!” Sheppard whined, giving the piece a good tug. “Besides, I’m saving you from the calories.”
Finally, the bacon could take no more and broke in half. Its silent screams of pain echoed throughout the mess, or perhaps just in Carson’s mind. Rodney stared sadly as John plopped his half in his mouth before quickly eating his in case the colonel got any more ideas.
“You two are worse than a pair of four-year-olds,” Carson shook his head. He turned his attention to his coffee mug and tried not to give much thought to what had to be some anomalous error spat out by a computer.
“Just jealous,” Rodney muttered around a mouthful of bacon.
John, despite having the same, if possibly worse, table manners winced dramatically. “And you call me uncouth.”
“You both need to go back to finishing school,” Carson said dryly. “Rodney, if you don’t stop showing me your breakfast, I’m going to have to prescribe a special diet.”
Rodney swallowed the abused breakfast meat. “You’re not the boss of me!”
“Mature, Rodney, very mature.” Sheppard shook his head lightly, as if his had been the epitome of adult behavior during breakfast. “As fun as this has been, we have to cut this short. We’ve got a previous engagement with a wormhole to attend to.”
“I’m not going anywhere without a proper breakfast,” McKay harrumphed as he shoved the last piece of bacon in his mouth.
Rolling his eyes, John grabbed the scientist by the collar of his jacket and heaved him up. “Let’s go, Oinkus. We’re going to be late.”
“Watch the name calling!” Rodney jerked away from the hold, straightening his jacket. “Why do you have to be so pushy?”
Carson couldn’t help but watch as they left, bickering like two long-lost siblings. Any traces of amusement melted away, as his eyes drifted down to the folder, the mystery inside calling to him. Obviously he wasn’t going to get any work done until he proved to himself that he was imagining what he thought he had just seen.
* * * * *
By the time Sheppard’s team had returned that afternoon, Carson had wasted a full day on his mystery. He’d started by comparing the most recent samples on hand, and slowly progressed backwards in time. Every single test came up with the same baffling “25% match”.
The arrival of the team in the infirmary for their post-mission exam was heralded by an indignant cry.
“That’s not fair!”
“Come on, McKay, haven’t you ever heard of finders keepers?”
“But I found it!”
“Only because you tripped.”
“Tripped? You pushed me!”
“Meaning it was my action that led to the finding, so therefore, it’s mine.”
Carson tucked the folder under his arm as he watched the team approach. Ronon looked like he was ready to knock his teammates’ heads together while Teyla made a point of staring ahead blankly as if she couldn’t hear what was going on.
She tried feigning deafness.
“Yeah, Teyla can solve this!”
The Athosian woman looked at Carson pleadingly, and Beckett felt himself forced to intervene. “Now, now, what are you going on about?”
“The Colonel stole—”
“You see I found—”
Carson motioned for Teyla to take the exam room at the far end of the infirmary, and she quickly made her exit before being drawn into what appeared to be a very pointless argument.
Damsel in distress saved, he cut them off. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”
“Colonel, you take that room,” Carson none too gently shoved the commander in the direction he had indicated, “and Rodney, you’re over there!”
“This isn’t over!” Rodney called out as he disappeared behind one of the curtains.
Rodney’s only answer was a triumphant “Ha!” echoing from Sheppard’s exam room.
“Thank you,” Ronon muttered.
“No thanks necessary," Carson led Ronon to the first exam room. "It was my pleasure."
"They're worse than usual this week," Ronon muttered as he sat down on the cot. The Satedan held out his arm as Carson put a blood pressure cuff around it.
"Aye," Carson agreed quietly, letting his gaze wander to where their curtained off areas would be. His brooding was interrupted by a loud squawk.
"Carson told you to stay on your side!"
The Scot hung his head as a loud crash sounded from the other end of the infirmary. He took in several deep breaths, trying to compose himself.
"Damn it, McKay! That's not fair!"
As he lifted his head, he could see Ronon watching him with barely veiled amusement.
"Oh, what do you find so funny?"
"They're your problem now."
"You're not done yet," he pointed to the bed as the Satedan began to rise. "I'll send a nurse in to finish up. Meanwhile, I have to--"
"--give it back! It's mine!"
"--save my infirmary," Carson finished.
Beckett quickly retreated as a hearty chuckle escaped from Ronon. He entered the exam room Rodney had been exiled to, finding the scientist trapped in a headlock by Atlantis’s military commander. Both stilled suddenly upon his entrance like deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. Sheppard let go of Rodney and the scientist smoothed his hair as he squared his shoulders back looking put out.
Carson pointed a finger at both of them and opened his mouth to say something. McKay and Sheppard looked at each other, and seemed to come to some sort of silent agreement. Rodney shrank onto his cot without a word, while the colonel quietly slinked out of the room.
He turned to see Sheppard dutifully take his place in his own exam room.
“What—?” Carson turned back to Rodney, who stared up at him innocently.
“What?” Rodney echoed, his tone as innocent as sin.
“One more time!” Carson sputtered, pointing an accusing finger in Rodney’s direction.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the scientist insisted.
Carson left the exam room with an aggravated sigh, and poked his head into the John’s area. Sheppard was lounging on his cot, and somehow had already managed to acquire two extra pillows.
“What’s up, Doc?” He greeted casually.
“Other than overused Bugs Bunny catch phrases?” Carson returned, voice laced with an edge of menace.
“Aw, c’mon. Where’s your sense of humor?”
“It’s gone, along with the EKG machine you felt compelled to destroy.”
John sunk into his pillows further. “Don’t worry. McKay will fix it.”
“Hey!” The protest came distantly from the other section of the infirmary.
“After all, it sacrificed itself breaking his fall.”
“Colonel,” Beckett started warningly.
“Yes?” Sheppard mirrored Rodney’s innocent look from earlier.
The twin expression stopped Carson cold. He tried to get out a proper reprimand, but the pilot just raised his eyebrows further. The mystery he’d been trying to puzzle out all morning came rushing back. Carson tried to force out some sort of righteous frazzled doctor anger, but the most he could sputter out was a flustered “Behave yourself!” before he quickly retreated from the room.
Curious, Sheppard poked his head outside of his curtained off area. He could see Rodney watching the retreating Scot with confusion as well.
“That was strange.”
“Tell me about it,” Rodney shot back. “You’re still standing.”
“Not for long,” Sheppard muttered as he caught sight of two nurses, both who were immune to his charms, coming their way.
“Not the harpies!” The scientist cried softly.
“Uh oh, I think they heard you,” Sheppard volleyed back. “You better run.”
“Me? You were the one who scared Carson away, making him send in reinforcements!”
“He never would have come over if you hadn’t made so much noise!”
The nurses cleared their throats, staring at their patients with thinly-veiled annoyance.
“Nice knowing you, McKay,” John muttered as he was ushered into his exam room.
“Save me!” The scientist squeaked as he disappeared behind his own set of curtains.
* * * * *
“Do I look paler? I must look paler. That nurse took more blood than usual,” Rodney complained as he rubbed his arm where the blood had been drawn for their post-mission exam. “Do you think she’s just abusing her station? Maybe we should draft a letter.”
“I think the ‘Hello Kitty’ band-aid she stuck you with is revenge enough,” Sheppard replied as they emerged from their respective exam rooms. “It looks like Ronon and Teyla already cleared out.”
“That’s because they didn’t have the nurses who graduated from the Medical School of Sadism!”
Said nurse cast a dark look in Rodney’s direction. Sheppard lightly smacked the scientist on the back of his head. “Manners, Rodney.” He lowered his voice to a mutter. “They can still hear you.”
Rodney paled some at that and quickened their retreat from Beckett’s domain. Sheppard paused at the exit, looking across to the CMO’s office. The Scot looked deep in thought, staring blankly at a computer screen.
Rodney’s annoyed call brought him back to the present. “Right, debriefing.”
“That we would have plenty of time to get to had we not been detained by unnecessary extra medical tests. Wait a second—extra tests—”
“We’re late. You can have a hypochondriac fit later,” Sheppard propelled the scientist forward by force. Rodney was probably exaggerating again, and if he wasn’t, well, Carson would never withhold anything that pertained to his patients’ health. There was nothing to worry about as far as John was concerned.
* * * * *
A knock on the ‘door’ leading out of his office pulled his attention from the computer screen. He looked up to see Nurse Henry hesitating in the archway.
“We’re all done here for the day, Doctor.”
Carson blinked, briefly returning his attention back to the screen to check on the time. He was surprised to see that the afternoon had already passed and it was well into the evening.
“Oh, look at the time,” he remarked softly.
She smiled at her boss. “You’ve been staring at that computer for hours. May I ask what’s got you so fascinated?”
Carson’s fingers danced across the ALT and TAB keys casually, bringing up another program on the desktop. He gave her the smile that would usually melt his mother’s resolve. “Just a pet project of mine.”
“Oh,” she gave the screen a quick glance, but only saw a half-written word document. “Well I hope it works out.”
He hesitated for a moment, before answering. “Yes. Me too.”
Sensing that perhaps her boss didn’t want to talk at the moment, she decided to extract herself from the awkward conversation. “I put the extra samples where you requested.”
“Thank you, dear.”
Nurse Henry started to withdraw, before tossing Carson a cautious look. “Don’t work yourself too hard.”
He gave her another one of his smiles, partly to reassure her, and also grateful for the concern. “I’m just wrapping up for the night. No need to worry.”
She didn’t seem convinced, but left him to his ‘pet project’. When he was alone again, he switched back to the latest analysis he had been staring at. He was starting to think that the number twenty-five was mocking him. No matter how many samples he compared or how many diagnostics he ran on the system, the percentage never changed.
He scrubbed a hand across his face as the numbers blurred together.
That could only mean one thing. It wasn’t a mistake on his or the equipment’s part. He had been really hoping for one of those options, because the alternative was more than a little unsettling. He was going to have to dig deeper to figure out what the number really meant, which is where things started to get tricky.
* * * * *
“Wrong, wrong, and wrong again!”
“Rodney—” Radek Zelenka started, but was cut off before he could even start.
“Now I know that you seem to think you’re an expert on this subject—”
“Think? I know much more than you for certain!”
“Ha!” Rodney spun around, walking backwards so he could gloat directly to the other scientist’s face. “Then why is it that your last batch yielded a five percent weaker potency?”
“Because someone led Colonel Sheppard right to our backup site. You know the man can’t keep from touching things.”
“Not my fault, for the last time.”
Several people were forced to dodge around McKay since he was paying absolutely no mind to his surroundings. One of the Marines muttered something unsavory as his precarious load of cleaning supplies was nearly toppled. The man was in a particularly unforgiving mood, perhaps because of his latrine duties.
“Yeah, well same to you!” He volleyed to the Marine, turning his attention back to Radek, still completely oblivious to oncoming traffic. “Where were we?”
“You were trying to tell me I make substandard vodka.”
“Well you did last time.”
“I did not—oh, Rodney, you should probably be watching where you’re going.”
“Why? I can walk and mock at the same tiii—”
He collided with the bulk of another individual, going down in a tangle of limbs. A flurry of curses and flying papers accompanied their fall.
Radek grimaced and rubbed a hand across his forehead. “Hloupý blbec...”
Rodney struggled on top of his human-landing pad like an upturned tortoise trying to right itself. “Why don’t watch where you’re going—oh, Carson.”
The Scot rubbed his cheek that had just been jabbed by McKay’s elbow. “Hi.”
“You should watch where you’re going.”
“I was, I was just looking down to read—” Carson’s eyes widened and he ungraciously shoved Rodney off of him and started gathering the papers that were now lining the floor.
“Nice to see you too,” Rodney muttered as he picked himself off the floor. “Speaking of, where have you been the past few days?”
“Busy.” He hurriedly stuffed the papers back into the folder, doing his best to avoid the other man’s gaze. Lying was never one his strong points, so he’d been dodging the subjects of his scrutiny to the best of his ability.
Rodney glanced at the folder the physician was doing a spectacularly abysmal job of trying to hide. “Are you avoiding me?”
“Now why would I avoid you?” Carson made a point of looking himself over for any injuries obtained by the fall. “That’s just silly.”
Rodney’s eyes strayed to the folder that was now tucked under Beckett’s arm. “Carson—”
“Oh, look at the time. Late for that meeting with Dr. Biro!” Carson awkwardly patted Rodney on the arm before taking off down the hall as fast as he could without it being considered a run.
“I said I’d fix the EKG machine!” Rodney called after the retreating form, but the Scot didn’t slow his pace any. Rodney let out a sigh before he turned back to Radek, who shook his head in an exaggerated motion of pity. Rodney bristled. “What are you looking at?”
* * * * *
“Hey, Doc,” John greeted as he dropped into a seat opposite Beckett.
Carson looked up, almost startled by the pilot’s presence. “Oh, Colonel. Hello.”
“Hope you don’t mind me joining you.” John began to organize his tray and settle into a long, well-deserved lunch break. As he unwrapped the silverware he looked up to see that Carson had started to gather together the papers he had laid out in front of him. “What’s that?”
“This? Oh, nothing. My desk’s just out of order,” Carson answered, a little too quickly.
“Here, let me help.” John began to reach for a piece of paper, but it was quickly snatched away.
“No, no, that’s all right. I’ve got it all now.”
“O-kay.” That was more than a little weird. “You feeling all right?”
“Hrm? Oh, yes, just busy. Have the annual checkups for the Athosians coming up. Need to get everything in order.”
The Scot grabbed the rest of the papers, quickly stuffing them into the folder which was over an inch thick. Carson gave a quick farewell before grabbing his tray and folder, leaving John alone at the table.
He stared after the retreating form in confusion. “Is it my breath?”
“Yes,” Rodney answered absently, like he had only caught John’s last question. The scientist set his tray on the table with one hand, balancing a bottle of water and several pudding packs with the other.
“Thanks,” Sheppard answered sourly, but pulled his tray back so Rodney had more room to spread out his junk. “Leave any pudding for the rest of us?”
“There’s plenty of that foul pistachio flavor left, if that’s what you’re asking.”
John wrinkled his nose in disgust. “No thanks.”
When Rodney picked up his now-fully balanced tray a moment later, John frowned. “You’re not eating here?”
Rodney spared him a glance. “Seriously, Colonel, what would a breath mint hurt?”
McKay gave him a half-assed jaunty wave from his grip on the tray, already on his way out. John surreptitiously blew a breath into a cupped hand and sniffed. When nothing particularly foul assaulted his nostrils, he shrugged and resumed eating.
* * * * *
With a sigh, Carson settled back into his office. It was getting harder to come up with excuses to find a way to escape the subjects of his investigation. He wanted to just come clean and tell them of his suspicions but that wouldn’t be very fair. Neither was dodging them, granted, but it was the lesser of two evils at this point. Nothing in the medical records could explain the match he kept getting, nor could what little he had been able to glean from their personnel files.
He rubbed his temples in earnest as the printouts splayed across his desk mocked him.
He could try and see if he could get access to records of a more personal nature, but that seemed to cross a line between relatively harmless investigation and invasion of privacy.
He could stop right now, and do his best to bury his suspicions of what the analysis meant. He wasn’t sure if that was particularly fair to either Rodney or John, but sharing inconclusive evidence could be much more harmful.
With a growl, he grabbed the two latest samples and decided to run one more test. The definition of insanity was trying the same thing over and over expecting different results – but if he could get one different result, then he could dismiss the matter entirely.
Besides, Sheppard’s team wasn’t due back from their mission for several hours, and by then Carson could have figured it out.
Continued in (Part Two