Rating: PG-15/R but no graphic sex or violence. Gen.
Summary: A series of medical issues threatens Sheppard's place on the team.
Word Count: ~28,000 in total
Author's note: Set over season 4, pretends Teyla's pregnancy and the Michael situation never happened, but not otherwise AU.
Warnings: Very long and ultimately wrong. That's all the warnings I'll give. If you make it all the way through, I'd love to know it.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
They didn’t get it out.
It was still inside of him.
Keller told him, immediately, the moment he woke up. The sentence penetrated the fog on anesthesia, as did the dull and distance ache of his midsection. Sheppard caught parts of the explanation – the words ‘compromised,’ ‘unstable,’ ‘failure,’ and ‘unlikely to survive’ in that order before he fell back into the fuzzy grayness.
Later, when he was fully awake and the incision that ran from his groin to the bottom of his ribcage was stinging angrily and loudly despite the pain meds, Keller explained again why they’d sliced him open and left it there.
She was trying very, very hard not to scare him. The effort was visible, if not successful. She was also having trouble putting it into words he could understand, maybe because of the first thing.
What she got across was still incredibly scary. The wispy pink tendrils on the scanner were thick, solid, and blood-infused purple in real life. And they were entwined with parts he’d like to keep. Parts he had to keep: liver, pancreas, kidneys, endocrinal and respiratory systems.
They’d excised a tiny segment and he’d hemorrhaged so badly they’d given him four transfusions.
“You scared us,” Keller said, with a tiny smile of relief.
“Sorry,” Sheppard muttered. He couldn’t summon any energy to play that game.
“McKay donated some blood for you,” Keller continued.
“Really?” He almost laughed, felt the burn in his abdomen at the slightest tense, and had to stifle the urge.
“He’s not a match,” said Keller. “But it made him feel useful and he was driving the staff insane, and they got to stab him. Everyone’s happy.”
Sheppard jerked one cheek up. But she was just distracting him from the real issue. With effort he raised one hand and fluttered it at his stomach. “What’s the story?” he asked, still too weak to speak very strongly.
Keller’s face went serious. “Attempting to remove it would have killed you, Colonel.”
“Can’t leave it,” he said, tiredly. There was a whole lot more to say than that. He was too overwhelmed to manage it. This was horrifying.
“No.” Keller found his arm and patted it. “We will get that thing out of you, John, I promise.
But she didn’t tell him any great plan, meaning there probably wasn’t one. Instead she wanted to talk about recovery from abdominal surgery. He’d heard this speech before, and it was a lot easier to take when the surgery had done something good, like remove a bullet or a spear or a diseased appendix. It was too much to listen to, with his stomach throbbing and his brain swimming with all the horrible implications she wasn’t talking about, so Sheppard just checked out.
They wouldn’t let him leave Isolation. All the typical post-op shit sucked even more, confined to that small room with the observation window peering down on him. There weren’t any complications – besides the fucking gigantic fucking alien fucking parasite making itself at home in Sheppard’s belly. He considered that a huge, yes, fucking complication.
The medical staff was keeping something from him. Sheppard figured that out almost immediately. At first he thought it was the effort to translate medical jargon into plain English without frightening him. They should just give that up. There wasn’t any way to talk about the thing inside of him without being upsetting. Sheppard was trying to react to everything calmly and rationally. He thought he had to right to flip the fuck out, even if it wasn’t very productive. Still, he tried to keep it to a minimum.
He didn’t think the secret was his slim chance of survival. That was kind of out in the open, as far as he was concerned. An alien organism had a death grip on his vital organs and he’d nearly bled to death when they’d nicked it. That made the end game scenario pretty obvious, he thought. But no one had tried to have that conversation with him yet. None of the nurses had asked if he wanted to update his posthumous instructions or anything. If he did, it would be to take the goddamn thing out of his remains and burn it. Biology could have a slide or two for samples, but the rest of it needed to be destroyed as violently as possible.
One thing Keller did want to talk about was that most of his recent health problems were explained.
“Your blood pressure’s elevated,” she said. “To support it.”
No one was really sure what to call it. Sheppard preferred a lengthy string of obscenity, but he generally went with ‘thing’. A lot of the staff stuck to ‘organism’, which didn’t really communicate the full picture. Keller liked to avoid naming it at all.
“Increased blood flow,” Keller explained. “Blood vessels expand and rupture. Nosebleeds.”
“Oh,” Sheppard said. “I liked it better when it was Ronon’s fault.”
“I did notice the change in blood pressure,” Keller said. She sounded guilty. “But it wasn’t dangerous.”
Sheppard didn’t blame her. He hadn’t had a full body scan in nearly five months. It was the only procedure that would have caught this any earlier. That wasn’t Keller’s fault. Also, Sheppard remembered twice – at least twice – running out of the infirmary before submitting to that part of the exam. Off to report on the mission at hand, or just because being in the infirmary sucked. He’d never come back. So really, this was all on him.
If Sheppard didn’t have enough reasons to hate the thing living inside him, it’d also broken his dick. This was a little less straight forward. Keller said it was diverting blood flow – which made sense – and fucking with his hormone levels. The UTI and the persistent backache were probably also to blame on it. Sheppard felt even dumber. He should have come in with it. Hell, Ronon might not even have hit him there at all.
He finally got around to mentioning the fact that his taste buds have been fucked up for a while, too.
“I thought it was the stuff you gave me for the nosebleeds,” he said.
Keller shook her head. “No,” she said.
“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “Guess not.”
She didn’t scold him for not reporting that symptom. In fact, she hadn’t fussed at him at all, beyond enforcing all the protocols now in place to monitor him. Course, yelling at your dying patient for getting himself into this condition was probably discouraged.
Unsurprisingly, he’d gained weight. Eleven fucking pounds of evil alien parasite and its supporting structure.
“Thought I’d lost some,” he admitted. “From the flu.”
“Weight’s not something we pay much attention to,” Keller said, and she was probably trying to shoulder more blame. “You’re a healthy guy. We should have noted it.”
They didn’t let him look at his abdomen much. The incision was all bandaged up and the nurses were very swift when they came to clean it and change the gauze. It really didn’t look different, when he did see it. Maybe a little heavier, but nothing he wouldn’t have otherwise attributed to stealing a few too many pudding cups from Rodney.
It’s unnerving to be analyzing himself for signs of the parasite’s presence. The medical staff wasn’t asking him to, maybe aware that it’s already driving him insane. He’s not sure what good it did, but they collected his urine and stool daily, along with a test tube of blood per day.
It’s this kind of intense treatment that usually drove him up the wall, made him plot escape. Usually, though, it was over within a few days of post-op, when they’re assured his organs were all back doing what they’re supposed to do. Now, it was unending. He was still pretty sure there was something they weren’t telling him. He went back and forth on that, unsure if he was suspicious because there were reasonable grounds, or suspicious because he was angry that they couldn’t fix it. The pain didn’t help. His incision stung and Keller wouldn’t up his pain meds. The main thing was how much they were excluding him from the process. He hadn’t been shown what the thing inside of him looked like in any more detail than the body scan. No one talked to him about their plan to make it dead.
Carter dropped by to visit him. He’d seen her blonde head a couple of times in the observation window, when they forgot to opaque the glass. That was another annoying thing. He could see the staff having meetings about him, and they usually didn’t bother to pretend they weren’t all watching him.
“We’re going to get you out of this,” she reassured him. “Best minds in the galaxy at work here.”
She actually didn’t look particularly worried. He wondered if she was immune to fearing the words ‘parasite’ after dealing with the goa’uld threat for so long. Or if she had a respectable fear precisely for that reason, and this was her brave little toaster face.
And that’s really the last place his mind needed to go. He still saw guards outside the door. It was just protocol, but he figured they hadn’t completely ruled out the idea that the thing inside him was going to come alive, take control of his body, and go on an evil parasite rampage. Or maybe they had. Either way, they weren’t telling him. Everyone except the most jumpy scientists had stopped wearing surgical masks around him. At the very least, they didn’t think it was an airborne contagion.
About a week and a half into his stay in Isolation, Keller asked him if he felt up to visitors.
“Your team wants to see you,” she said.
“They know what happened?” he asked.
“The entire city has been told that you’ve been placed in Isolation due to exposure to an alien substance,” Keller said, carefully. “They know that you had surgery and are stable and quarantined for the time being.”
He imagined the gossip mill had him turning into a bug again. No one would guess the so-called alien substance was making itself at home in his abdominal cavity.
“Rodney has been harassing my people,” Keller continued. She cleared her throat pointedly. “Trying to find out the details. One of my staff requisitioned a tranquilizer gun loaded with Ketamine to deal with him.”
Sheppard couldn’t stop the grin that produced. “If you could get that on tape,” he said. “It’d make being stuck in here a lot more bearable.”
Keller smiled, pleased her attempt at humor had worked.
“You want to see them?” she continued.
Sheppard nodded. “Could you maybe…” he paused and made a meaningless gesture with his left hand.
“I’ll tell them,” Keller said, understanding the half-assed jazz hands for what it was. “I will explain it as best I can.”
“Thanks.” He wondered if that made him kind of cowardly, but at the same time figured it was probably better for everyone if they heard a clinical explanation and not “Guys, there’s an alien motherfucker living in my ribcage, and I’m probably gonna die.” Well, he might still say that, mostly for Ronon’s ears. The man appreciated candor.
“Be realistic,” he told Keller as she went to leave. That made the doctor stop, almost stumble, on her way out. She nodded sincerely and left the room.
Sheppard hadn’t really anticipated how freaked his team was. The three of them came barreling after Keller. Ronon made no bones about getting around her so he could walk to the side of Sheppard’s bed, and Teyla fairly sprinted after him. Sheppard wasn’t sure, but it also kind of looked like Ronon had belted the guard at the door on his way in. That was probably undeserved. McKay was last, skittering in the doorway and not looking really happy that it shut behind him.
“Hey, guys,” Sheppard said. He was stretched out on the gurney, propped into a sitting position. It might have made him look more debilitated than he actually was, but it was comfy.
“Sheppard,” said Ronon, moving to his right.
“John,” said Teyla, taking his left side. She actually sounded deeply worried, and she was leaning over him.
“Major abdominal surgery,” Keller said, quietly from the doorway. “No hugs.”
Athosians didn’t do hugs, though, they did the head bump thing that Sheppard thought was really much cooler. And he didn’t think Teyla had pulled him into one of those in years, but she was doing it now, leaning carefully in and bringing her forehead against his. Teyla’s skin was warm and she smelled nice, but Sheppard didn’t get a chance to enjoy it for long because shortly she was withdrawing her hands from his shoulders and getting out of the way so that Ronon could move in and try to squish his head.
“Ah!” Sheppard squawked, because Ronon’s solid arms were folded around his neck and the big guy was squeezing. “Leggo!”
Keller made a noise that sounded more like amusement than disapproval. Ronon didn’t hold on for long, letting Sheppard shove his arms off.
“Nice to see you, too,” Sheppard grumbled, once he was free.
McKay hadn’t moved beyond the foot of Sheppard’s bed, where he was standing with his arms crossed.
“I’m not going to hug you,” he said.
Sheppard resettled himself on the gurney and shot Ronon an annoyed look, which naturally had no real effect.
“Good,” he said to McKay. “Thanks.”
“How are you feeling?” Teyla asked.
“Good,” Sheppard said. “I’m good.” He saw Keller discreetly step outside and shut the door. He abruptly changed his answer. “Full of rage and alien parasite, but otherwise, I’m good.”
Ronon was looking at him, but not at his face. Instead, he was intently studying Sheppard’s midsection, concealed as it was by the gurney sheet.
“You can’t see it,” he said, trying to sound relaxed but suspecting he wasn’t quite pulling it off. “You can’t tell. I couldn’t tell. I don’t feel it.”
“They can’t kill it?” Ronon asked, in a tone that made Sheppard almost defensively fold his arms over his abs. Like Ronon would like the opportunity to try.
“Not without killing me too, buddy,” he said. “They’re working on it.”
The faces of his friends were horribly grim. Ronon looked murderous. Teyla was visibly upset. Rodney was just standing at the end of the bed, frowning and worst of all staying uncharacteristically silent. Keller had probably threatened him to some degree, but still.
Sheppard put a hand up, rubbed the back of his neck. “Can we talk about something else, please?” No one said anything. “What’s new with you guys?” he continued, awkwardly. “What have I missed?”
Ronon and Rodney just wanted to scowl and pout, respectively, so it was a good thing that Teyla was there. She took a deep breath, forced a smile on to her face, and tried to change the subject.
Unfortunately, what Teyla had been up to during Sheppard’s time in Isolation was pretty damn boring. Hanging out with her people, particularly an especially boring Athosian dude named Kanaan and planting flowers or something. It wasn’t much to make a new conversation.
Teyla seemed to know that. She frowned. “We were very worried about you,” she said, apologetically. Then, she looked sharply at Ronon.
Compelling Ronon to speak with a mere glance was a new and impressive skill.
“I broke a guy’s cheek,” Ronon said, more a declaration than an answer.
“Yeah?” Sheppard asked. Ronon ducked his chin down in affirmation. “Bad guy or one of ours?”
Ronon didn’t answer.
“Lieutenant Rudler,” Teyla supplied, her tone implying that Rudler had deserved it for some reason.
“Oh,” Sheppard said. Ronon probably shouldn’t confess to deliberately injuring anyone with unknown numbers of medical staff standing behind the opaqued window of the observation room. “Good to know you miss me.”
Ronon had been having a more interesting time than Teyla. Or Sheppard for that matter. In between breaking the faces of various Atlantis members that offended him, he’d gone on a hostage negotiation mission with Lorne’s team. That sounded like a horrible idea to Sheppard, but they’d brought back their two kidnapped botanists alive without killing any natives. Scaring the natives, oh yeah.
Rodney wasn’t participating in the conversation. Sheppard shot him a couple of looks, got ridiculous faces made at him in return.
“So, Rodney,” Sheppard said, turning everyone’s attention to him. “You fix that thing you broke last week?”
“What thing?” Rodney asked in return, as if he genuinely didn’t remember.
“I don’t know.” Sheppard waved a hand in the air. “It was important. It involved life support.”
“Oh,” Rodney said. “That.” He dropped his chin. “No. Zelenka’s on it.”
Sheppard blinked at him. Rodney’s chin came back up. “I’ve been busy.”
Busy harassing Keller’s staff, but Sheppard didn’t say that.
“Life support’s important,” was all he said.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he said. “Other things on my mind.”
“Five minutes,” Keller’s voice came over the Isolation intercom. Sheppard wasn’t aware there was a time limit. He’s amused by the simultaneous expressions of annoyance and refusal that crossed both Teyla and Ronon’s faces. He found he wasn’t too upset; he didn’t like holding court like this. It was tiring, and he also really didn’t want to talk about the subject they all clearly had on their minds.
“You heard the lady,” Sheppard said, not bothering to conceal that he’s okay with it.
“We may visit you now?” Teyla asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m bored out of my mind.”
She said goodbye to him in a less formal way, just patting him on the shoulder and promising to return soon. Ronon didn’t try to crush his head again, but he did kind of look like he wanted to.
“I can’t spar with you, buddy,” Sheppard said. He tried to playfully poke Ronon in the stomach with his pointer finger. The effort actually hurt because Ronon’s stupid abs were solid as concrete. “Ow!” He jerked his hand back. “Just bring checkers or something.”
He expected Ronon to make a face. Board games weren’t his thing. But Ronon just nodded.
“Yeah, okay,” he said, and followed Teyla out of the room. Sheppard sighed. He would really prefer to be treated like everything was normal, and that included Ronon acting like all things from Earth were inherently stupid.
“Hey, Rodney,” Sheppard said, since McKay was angling for the door. “Wait a sec.”
Rodney turned around, still in the doorway. “What?”
Sheppard motioned him over. “Come here.”
Letting the door shut, Rodney took about three steps closer. “What is it?”
It was really interesting – and also annoying – the times when Rodney’s paranoia chose to come out. Sheppard resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Closer,” he said. He patted the side of the bed near his pillow.
Finally, Rodney walked ‘til he was right beside Sheppard’s bedside. “What?” he asked again.
Moving fast, Sheppard reached up and grabbed McKay by the shoulders, interlocking his arms behind the man’s back and pulling him down close to Sheppard’s face. From the observation room it should look like a really manly hug.
Except that Rodney squealed, tried to jerk free, and managed to ram an elbow into Sheppard’s incision. Agony sliced through his midsection. Sheppard tasted bile in the back of his throat, in too much pain to scream or too puke. He must have let go of Rodney, because when he could focus on anything besides the burning, the man was against the far wall again.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Sheppard yelled.
“You tried to hug me!” Rodney yelled right back.
Sheppard just stared at him. “Major abdominal surgery,” he decided on. “Ow!”
“That thing!” Rodney said, still yelling. “It’s in your brain now, isn’t it?”
Sheppard dropped back against the gurney. “Forget it. Would you go get Teyla?”
“Teyla?” Rodney didn’t move towards the door. “Why?”
“Because she won’t punch me in the freshly healing surgical incision,” Sheppard snapped. “And she’ll listen.”
“Listen?” said Rodney, for once using his big brain instead of his big mouth.
“Yes,” Sheppard said. “Listen.”
Slowly, Rodney walked back to the gurney. Just as hesitantly, he leaned over Sheppard’s torso, arms out awkwardly.
Sheppard did the same thing as before, maybe this time making sure to pin Rodney’s arms to his sides with his elbows, and his hands ending up tightly around the man’s ears. Because goddamn that had hurt.
“Listen,” Sheppard whispered. “I think the medical staff is hiding something from me. They aren’t telling the whole story. I need you to –”
“I can’t a word you’re saying,” Rodney interrupted, voice hushed and yet screechy. “Your hands are over my ears.”
The only reason Sheppard moved fast was because this was quickly becoming the longest, most suspicious hug in history. He put his hands on the side of Rodney’s face, instead. “Medical staff acting weird,” he summarized, quietly. “I want you to hack into their database and find out what they’re not telling me.”
“Hack?” Rodney said, way too loudly.
Sheppard let go of him, gave him a hard shove away for good measure.
“Yeah, McKay,” he said. “They hacked me open. Okay?”
Rodney got it, even if he wanted to ask a billion questions. “Okay,” he said, slowly.
Keller appeared in the doorway. “You should let him rest,” she said to Rodney. To Sheppard: “You doing okay?”
Sheppard ripped down the sheet. “You can check my incision, if you want.”
“Eww,” said Rodney, and made for the door. Sheppard couldn’t see his face, hoped he was thinking about how to break into Sheppard’s medical record file.
“I do want to,” Keller said, far too cheerfully. She was snapping on gloves and coming closer. “Read my mind.”
After that, his team visited a whole lot. Rarely all together, which was okay since as a group they tended to focus on why Sheppard was in Isolation, whereas one on one he could usually persuade each of them to go along with a less horrific distraction.
Teyla played board games with Sheppard. Checkers, mostly, although various crew members had also dropped off Life, Shoots and Ladders, and Sorry. Teyla was equal parts interested in and baffled by the children’s games. It was kind of fun to play them with her, once, mostly to watch her reactions. One time through was pretty much enough, though, and then they stuck to Checkers. They tried Scrabble, a couple of times. It wasn’t really fair, though, since Teyla basically had to stick to variations of words ending in ‘at’ and ‘et,’ and Sheppard cheating was only going to mess with her poor grasp on literacy. Also, Rodney tattled on him by telling her “kruvy’ wasn’t a word, and after that she started bringing a dictionary with her. Other than that embarrassing little incident, her visits were mild and fairly relaxing. She mostly didn’t try to talk about how sick Sheppard was, probably taking her cue from him. But he could always read the concern and stress on her face, mostly right before she departed each visit. So, that sucked.
He didn’t even try to subject Ronon to board games. Even though watching the man get annoyed was, on occasion, pretty damn amusing. Instead, Keller let them move a DVD player and a laptop into the room. Someone, fortunately, was screening their selections. Nothing in the science-fiction genre, sure as hell nothing from the Alien series, and nothing that had someone dying as a major plot point. Sheppard wasn’t sure who was doing the censoring. He didn’t think Rodney had enough pop culture knowledge to do it that thoroughly, although to a certain extent you could guess by the DVD cover. They ended up watching a lot of comedies. Sheppard was pretty sure he was warping Ronon’s view of Earth culture, but hey. It worked as a distraction for both of them. Ronon’s silent presence was actually more reassuring – more easily comfortable and stabilizing – than any conversation would be.
Sheppard’s Marines must have had a conference on what they would have wanted if they were confined to Isolation, because they had Keller deliver a large black box to him. She claimed she didn’t know what it was, and when Sheppard peered inside he found an astonishingly large collection of porn. Useless to him for a few terrible reasons, so he gave it to Ronon. He appreciated the thought, though, asked Keller to pass on his gratitude. Pink-faced, she agreed.
Rodney, of course, refused to be either distracted or reassuring about anything. He brought a chess board, mainly as a prop so Keller wouldn’t accuse him of agitating Sheppard and kick him out. He wanted to talk about it, about the thing living in Sheppard’s gut. As much fun as that wasn’t, Rodney was the only one acting like it was a problem that should have a solution.
“So, they figure out where you picked up the sidecar passenger yet?” Rodney asked.
That was a new way of referring to it. Sheppard wasn’t sure he liked it. “No,” he said.
“Because we should make really, really sure that we never go back there ever, ever again,” Rodney continued.
“I agree,” Sheppard said. He moved a pawn, distractedly.
Rodney looked grossed out. “Can’t they just review your body scans? See when it wasn’t there? Ergo, the next mission is where you got it.”
Sheppard waited for Rodney to remember the board and make his own move. “I missed a couple of those,” he said, softly.
For a second, Rodney didn’t understand, or he wasn’t listening as he moved a pawn of his own. “What?” he asked, a second later.
Sheppard didn’t repeat himself, instead just moving another pawn. He did it without looking at the board all that much, meaning he’d probably just enabled Rodney to kick his ass.
“What?” Rodney said, again and louder.
Sheppard glanced up. “Body scans,” he said. “I missed some.”
Keller had not yelled. She hadn’t even scolded. Probably had decided it wasn’t worth it. Rodney, evidently, didn’t agree.
“Why?” asked Rodney. He wasn’t screaming yet, but had reached the volume where that was next.
Sheppard waved a hand in the air, over the chess pieces. “Various reasons. And you don’t –”
But Rodney was off and away, starting with the fact that Sheppard had disregarded a security protocol that he himself had helped to write – which was true – and going from there.
“Rodney, I know-” Sheppard tried to interrupt.
“Any idea how stupid -” Rodney yelled, worked up and losing track of what exactly he wanted to say. “I get a body scan every single time we come in, and I hate the infirmary!”
“Yeah, me too,” Sheppard mumbled. “And you’re a hypochondriac.” He put one hand up to the side of his face and waited for Rodney to run out of words.
“I don’t have a parasite living inside me!” Rodney retorted.
The volume brought two orderlies, but not Dr. Keller, so that meant Rodney didn’t really have to stop.
“Everything okay?” asked one orderly. The other was fingering his headset and whispering, probably calling Keller.
“Everything’s fine,” Sheppard said.
“He’s a moron,” Rodney said, but substantially quieter than everything else.
The orderlies looked at each other, clearly unsure if they should leave the patient to get browbeaten some more.
“He’s done,” Sheppard promised them. “You’re done, right?”
“No,” said Rodney. “Not by a long –” Sheppard glared and Rodney stubbornly crossed his arms. “Fine. I will be done for now.”
Sheppard nodded and waved the orderlies away. “We’re good.”
Rodney had gone silent, but it was the bad kind of silent, the judgmentally glaring kind of silent.
“Let’s just play,” Sheppard said, sighing. “Unless you want to try using sound waves to disintegrate this thing.” He patted his belly.
He got more silence.
“I’ll let you win,” Sheppard tried.
That worked. “You don’t let me win.”
“Uh-huh.” Sheppard gestured at the board, “Go.”
They played in silence for a few minutes, until Rodney smirked and put Sheppard’s queen in Check.
“Nice,” Sheppard said, and scowled. He made a totally useless move, then he changed the subject. “So, that thing I asked you to look into?”
“I’m working on it,” Rodney said, crisply and without elaboration. He reached out and flicked Sheppard’s queen down.
Sheppard watched the piece fall and loll in place on the board.
“Is it hard?” he asked. In as much as he wasn’t entirely sure there’d be anything to tell, he did think it’d be easy to get at.
“It’s not easy,” Rodney said. He looked annoyed that Sheppard was questioning his skill. “It’s private. There are security measures.”
Sheppard looked pointedly up at the observation window. “Yeah?” he asked.
“I don’t want to get caught –” Rodney started to say, then he followed Sheppard’s gaze and finally made the connection. “- in the particle accelerator beam.”
“That’d be bad,” Sheppard agreed.
“Not really,” Rodney said. “I’d blame you.”
“Do me a favor,” Sheppard said. “Keep trying.”
Rodney paused. “You’re really serious about this. You really think…” he trailed off.
“Yeah.” Sheppard pointedly rested his arm on his abdomen. “I do.”
“I’ll let you know,” Rodney said. He looked like he wanted to say more, but Keller arrived shortly and kicked him out.
There were a few constant reminders of the beast living inside Sheppard. He was gaining weight, now, consistently. Along with it came a persistent, unnatural hunger. It reminded Sheppard of his teenage appetite, really, the kind of eating habits that he’d had to abandon in his early thirties because he no longer had the metabolism to support it. Except now, it was just another sinister and frightening thing, made even worse by the fact that it was manifested by something that Sheppard couldn’t ignore. He did try, since it probably wasn’t the height of mental health to be getting irritated with his own body for communicating its hunger. But then he was just crankier and really incredibly snappish at every orderly that had to interact with him, so he finally ‘fessed up to Keller.
He didn’t quite anticipate her reaction when he told her that the standard three meals a day weren’t cutting it, and if she could give him a salt shaker to suckle on that would make him really happy.
First, of course, she marked down those symptoms on the ever-growing list. Then, she looked at him and said: “Well, we can’t starve it out. And I’d like to keep you as comfortable as possible.”
“I’m real comfortable,” Sheppard said. Keller ignored him, as she usually did. He knew he wasn’t helping, he just couldn’t stop.
“Well,” Keller said, “the good news is that you haven’t lost weight. It’s not consuming energy your body needs to function. I’d like to keep it that way. We’ll see about setting you up a snackbar.”
“Shouldn’t it be?” Sheppard asked, pretending he didn’t think it was cool he was going to get a snackbar. “It’s a parasite? Shouldn’t it be taking every calorie I eat? Or something?”
Keller shrugged. “Not necessarily. Its own survival is dependent on yours, at the moment.”
“At the moment?”
This time, Keller’s shrug was a lot less happy. “Some parasites require multiple hosts to complete their lifecycle. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. It’s developing without making you seriously ill or threatening your life.”
“Developing into what?” Sheppard asked. He resisted the urge to poke himself in the stomach. He never felt it, and it made him feel dumb.
Keller shrugged again, and shook her head. It wasn’t very reassuring. Sheppard asked to see it on a bodyscan. As usual, Keller showed him the very first image – the one that looked like a big pink indistinct blob. It didn’t look any different. He knew there were more detailed pictures. Seven people shoved a scanner against his belly every single day. They’d filmed the exploratory surgery. She just didn’t want him to see what it was.
He didn’t think accusing her of that would make her show it to him. Instead, he pretended like it wasn’t totally obvious that she was thwarting his requests.
“The plan’s to make it dead, right?”
Keller nodded, but it was slow and hesitant. “Without endangering you.”
Except that they hadn’t come up with any brilliant way of doing that. They couldn’t cut it out surgically without the likelihood that Sheppard would bleed out during it, and even if they risked that Keller had painted a hideous picture of the incredible amount of brain damage Sheppard would end up with, in the improbable event that he even survived the procedure. Bottom line, it seemed that anything medical that would harm the organism would ultimately be more harmful if not fatal to Sheppard. That’s what Keller kept saying, anyway. It wasn’t that Sheppard didn’t believe her, mostly, it was just that he also wanted to know why she wouldn’t show him what exactly the hell was living inside of him. Maybe it looked just as unkillable as she was saying.
He didn’t like being kept in the dark – the paranoia and suspicion that was causing was making him feel even crazier than constant awareness that there was something living inside of him. He was also pretty sure he should be offended that Keller thought he could be distracted with food. She had the cafeteria move a tiny refrigerator into the isolation room, and keep him supplied with milk, juice, cereal, raw fruit, and vegetables. This made him really popular with visitors, especially Ronon and Rodney, who each helped themselves and were possibly enjoying the snackbar more than visiting their critically ill CO. Sheppard supposed that while he was technically more comfortable, he was still pissed off about everything, including the fact that Keller hadn’t fulfilled the craving he had for salt. And sugar, too, actually. He really wanted salty and sugary things. It was like being ten. If he lived though this, and survived the organism growing to maturity and busting through his chest wall or however it intended to get out of his body, Sheppard was going to be a flabby marshmallow.
McKay still hadn’t succeeded at Sheppard’s request. He claimed he was working on it. Sheppard didn’t think for a second that the Atlantis infirmary had better virtual security than Wraith hive ships or any number of ridiculously complicated alien technology McKay had overridden in mere minutes in the past. Sheppard should have asked Teyla or Ronon, he decided. Sure, they couldn’t read English very well, but neither did they get flustered and distracted when Keller flipped her hair and smiled. Okay, Ronon kind of did, but Sheppard allowed him that.
The other thought Sheppard was entertaining made him a lot less happy. And that was that McKay was now in on the conspiracy. He didn’t think Keller would have to try real hard, either. His suspicions only increased when Rodney brought Sheppard a plate of his sister’s cookies. Rodney guarded those with a zeal reserved only for ZPMs and homemade baked goods. He’d designed some kind airtight temperature-controlled cookie jar that made the contents stay fresh for a ridiculously long time and probably had some equally high tech burglar alarm. He either thought Sheppard’s death was imminent – which was unfortunately a definite possibility – or he was feeling guilty.
“Jeannie’s cookies?” Sheppard asked, when he peeled back the napkin covering the plate. Rodney had hustled it in looking so furtive, Sheppard had half expected it to be data stolen from the medical database.
“Yeah,” Rodney said. He looked around the room, avoiding eye contact. “Keller said your alien parasite was craving sweet things.”
“I am,” Sheppard said, and shoved a cookie in his mouth out of the possibility that when he proceeded to piss Rodney off, the man would take them away. Also, Jeannie’s chocolate chip cookies were really good.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Demanded Rodney, confirming that he wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart, since Sheppard wasn’t doing anything except chewing.
“Like what?” Sheppard asked, mouth full. “Thanks, Rodney.” He swiped a few more cookies off the plate.
“I don’t like them all that much,” Rodney said, defensively. “They’re vegan, did you know that? Probably have soy chips or something.”
“They’re good,” Sheppard said. “I said thank you.”
“Don’t tell Ronon I have any,” Rodney said. He was relaxing a little in his seat, but he still had the jittery posture. He was a terrible, guilty liar. “He said he’d hold me upside by the ankles and shake them out of me."
“Yeah?” Sheppard asked. “Sounds useful.”
Sheppard looked at him pointedly.
“Hey!” Rodney scooted his chair back. “I am still working on…that.”
“Right,” Sheppard said. “And in the meantime you bring me cookies. You’re really subtle, Rodney.”
“Cookies, huh?” Somehow Keller had strolled silently in the room. She was looking reproachfully at Rodney. For a multitude of reasons, Sheppard guessed.
“Want some?” Sheppard asked, innocently. He held out the plate.
“You said he wanted sweets,” Rodney said, already defending himself.
“I do,” Sheppard confirmed.
“I didn’t say he could have any,” Keller said.
“Why not?” Sheppard asked, scooping a handful under his sheet before she noticed. It was really the only act of resistance he could come up with.
“Because you’re incredible sedentary, undergoing unknown physiological changes, and probably going to be surgical soon,” Keller said, sounding far too reasonable. “The last thing you need is an unhealthy diet.”
“They’re vegan,” said Sheppard.
“Next time,” Keller said to Rodney. “Ask me?”
“Fine,” Rodney said, but he was already standing up, clearly being chased away. He reached for the plate, but Sheppard grabbed it and held on. “Give me that.”
The recent ab surgery meant Sheppard couldn’t actually play tug-o-war, but he could send Rodney flailing across the room when he finally let go. That was almost satisfying. He watched the eye contact between Keller and McKay as the other man exited, sure they were communicating something.
“You’d deny a dying man cookies?” he asked Keller.
“You aren’t dying,” she said, but didn’t manage to look particularly convinced.
~please feed the author~