Teyla munched down a small carrot, quietly watching the men seated before her continue their intense conversation.
The mess hall was rather devoid of personnel, or those in it were spread out pretty far and wide, no doubt the result of everybody feeling uncomfortable with their actions in the last 24 hours. Perhaps that was why she had chosen the table outside on the balcony’s twilight darkness. Ronon had joined her, then Carson, then McKay.
“He could be dead, Carson,” insisted McKay, and not for the first time that evening.
“I keep telling you, Rodney, the colonel’s just sleeping.” Beckett poked inattentively at his salad.
“He could be dead. I mean when you went to check on him, he didn’t even move!”
Teyla knew that wasn’t true. When she and Beckett had gone to check on Sheppard once all the injections were done, they’d found him asleep – in full gear – face down on his bed. While the colonel didn’t rouse to full consciousness when Beckett checked him over, he did mumble something about Lucius that could not be repeated in any company, polite or otherwise. A combination of the medication Beckett had given him, exhaustion and stress had just knocked him out. It took only a few minutes for them to get Sheppard out of his uniform and under the covers, not that the colonel would remember any of that.
“Rodney, you need to stop worrying,” added Teyla.
“He’ll be fine,” muttered Ronon.
“I mean when did you last check on him?” continued McKay.
“He’s asleep. He’s exhausted. He spent over a day trying to save the base from the mess I made,” sighed Beckett. A tomato squashed messily as he stabbed it with his fork.
“Carson, this was not your fault,” said Teyla.
“And how is it not?” Beckett asked, eyes darkening in anguish. “I brought Lucius back.”
“I thought we weren’t supposed to mention his name,” spoke up Rodney sullenly. “Elizabeth said—“
“There is no one to blame,” said Teyla, and not for the first time. They had all gone over this so many times since recovering. “None of us had ever heard a substance with such power over one’s reasoning before.”
They had discussed this at an impromptu staff meeting once they were all given the injection and their minds cleared. Damage control was the first and foremost in everybody’s mind – to make sure Atlantis was safe and no one remained under the drug’s influence.
But the damage had been done and could not so easily be retracted. Teyla and Elizabeth had found themselves out on one of the balconies, after the base had been secured. Neither had been proud of their behavior, of how they’d acquiesced to Lucius’ lecherous advances. She still had to repress a shudder at how she’d actually entertained the very thought of marrying that man. Elizabeth felt likewise, but worse, they’d been willing to compromise the safety of Atlantis, and even themselves, in their deluded pursuit of making Lucius happy.
Sheppard had been the only one who’d been able to save them, and they’d locked him up in the cell. And none of them had even had bothered to check on him to see if he was all right. Lucius had told them that Sheppard was fine, and they’d believed him.
“But it was you, Carson, who was able to fight the drug’s influence when the colonel took you off to the mainland,” reminded Teyla. Those precious several hours that Sheppard had held Carson captive had given the man time to ‘detox’ and regain his wits, then finish the cure for Lucius’ herbal drug. For some reason, Carson found it difficult to recognize that he’d played a crucial part in regaining Atlantis. Had they stayed further on Lucius’ homeworld on their initial visit, it could have been anyone of them who had first fallen victim to the man’s influence.
Rodney dug into his pasta salad, but even he appeared a little lackluster in what was one of his favorite pursuits. “Face it, we all screwed up monumentally. He doesn’t trust us at all.”
“I’m sure he does,” said Teyla.
“And that’s why you nearly tripped over a skateboard positioned oh-so-strategically in front of his door, and that’s why he went to sleep with a P-90 clipped to his vest,” added McKay.
“He was worn out,” continued Beckett.
Teyla was grateful that Beckett was focusing on that, and not his unwitting part in the whole fiasco.
“The only people he trusts are Lorne and his men, and that’s why Lorne stuck a guard outside Sheppard’s room.” McKay leaned back in his chair, crossing arms defiantly against his chest.
“No, Rodney, that was because you didn’t believe me when I said the colonel was all right and decided to check on him yourself,” Beckett reminded.
Ronon chuckled. “He called you a marmot and hit you with a pillow.”
“He wasn’t really awake,” countered Rodney weakly.
“Exactly!” Beckett dropped his fork. “Otherwise he would have thrown you out of the room, instead of Ronon dragging you out by your ear.”
Teyla sighed. Ronon had told her about Rodney’s little break-in, but also that he noticed Sheppard reaching under his pillow for a weapon he didn’t have, which is why in his groggy state he assaulted the scientist with a pillow, and not a stun pistol or worse.
The argument continued, with Rodney still worrying about Sheppard’s well being, having turned the cold that had beset Sheppard for the past several days, into a raging case of pneumonic plague.
Teyla wondered if the mess hall staff had any more red Jell-O. While Rodney was partial to the blue Jell-O, which she found totally unpalatable, she’d developed a slight fondness for the strawberry version. She didn’t care for the cherry version, and was waiting to hear about the strawberry-banana version that Elizabeth had said might come in with the next order of supplies on the Daedalus. She turned in her seat, looking into the mess hall but instead, spied someone staring back suspiciously at her.
He’d slept away an entire day. Really, well, almost. He thought maybe he’d conked out for a few hours and it was dinnertime, and wow, those antihistamines had sure worked fast, but on the way down to the mess hall, he’d bumped into Lorne. The major told him that everything was under control, filled him in on some details, and added that McKay wouldn’t be bothering him. He’d stared at the younger man in confusion, until Lorne said something about McKay waking him up and Sheppard beating up the scientist with a pillow and the subsequent guard being placed outside the door.
“Fine, yeah, he can be a pest,” Sheppard agreed with a fake smile, then he turned and went on his way, wondering why he couldn’t remember attacking McKay with a pillow. Damn, what did the man do? Sneak into his room while he was asleep? And what on earth for?
Fortunately the mess hall ran 24/7 due to the various shifts, but he didn’t feel like a full dinner, so he grabbed the Athosian version of an apple - it was a lot squatter and sweeter than an average Earth apple - along with a chicken (or whatever) salad sandwich, coleslaw and a soda. He stared at the letters embossed in the can’s aluminum top. What the heck did they do with deposit cans in the Pegasus Galaxy?
Beckett’s voice echoed lightly across the mess hall and Sheppard turned, narrowing his eyes as he studied the physician and his team seated at one of the tables outside on the balcony. A second later, Teyla then turned and studied him.
He made his way over to the table, calmly surveying the other personnel he passed. They looked normal. Lorne said they were all normal. None of the female personnel had their tops unbuttoned or unzipped too much. He arched an eyebrow, wondering if Elizabeth might remember just how she tried to use sex appeal to lure in Lucius.
He dropped his tray in the empty spot next to McKay, which made the scientist, who was arguing about the sleeping habits of some animal or something weird, nearly jump out of his seat.
“I knew they gave you that doctor title for a reason,” said Sheppard dryly. He popped the top on the soda can. He lifted his gaze, then scrutinized his teammates carefully. “You guys okay?”
There were affirmative nods all around. Beckett actually looked cheerier than the last time Sheppard recalled seeing him. He was still nursing a bit of guilt about bringing Lucius back.
“And you?” McKay was studying him too closely.
“I’m fine,” he replied. “Headache’s gone. Sinuses feel a lot better.”
“Those were strong antihistamines I gave you.” Beckett was looking at him, and Sheppard could detect that the physician analyzing him like a bacteria specimen under a microscope.
“Yeah, really did the trick.”
“Good thing you didn’t take those while flying a jumper.” Rodney smirked. “Would have flown right into a tree or something.”
“I’ll leave that to you, Rodney,” grinned Sheppard. “I’m surprised you didn’t crash the jumper trying to land it on Atlantis.”
”After Ronon shot me.”
“You remember that?” Rodney looked uncomfortable.
“Well, I’m getting used to it,” admitted Sheppard honestly. He cocked his head, nodding toward the scientist’s almost picked through food tray. “What, no blue Jell-O? Surely Carter didn’t eat all when SG-1 visited.”
“Of course not,” replied McKay testily.
Beckett actually looked like he was enjoying this change of topic. “No, he gave it all to—”
Rodney raised his finger immediately, almost threateningly, like a nuclear missile about to be launched and reign down destruction.. “We’re not mentioning his name, remember? Elizabeth’s orders.”
Damn, she really had to remember all of what happened if she was that pissed off, thought Sheppard.
“That man was a bottomless pit,” complained Rodney loudly. “He wasn’t even here a day and he wiped out the blue Jell-O. Hated the yellow Jell-O and hello, it’s lemon? Can I eat that? No!”
“Hates lemon Jell-O?” This was too good not to pass up. Sheppard tapped on his earpiece and got Lorne shortly. “Major, has our prisoner had dinner yet? No, well, yes, you can ignore my ‘starve him till he’s a 90 pound weakling’ suggestion. Give him dinner. All the lemon Jell-O he can eat. Yes, you heard me correctly. Out.”
Sheppard just let a very satisfied smile grace his face until he saw everybody staring oddly at him, which sent a tendril of worry coursing through him. “What?”
“I liked the starvation idea better,” grumbled Ronon. “And I happen to like the lemon Jell-O.”
“It’s not nutritionally sound,” argued Beckett, who then shrugged. “But one day won’t hurt the bugger.”
Sheppard cast his glance at Teyla, who had remained oddly silent. Her lips quirked in a slight smile. “I prefer the strawberry Jell-O.”
That made him feel a bit better. Not long ago, the lot of them were ready to practically shoot him on the spot for attempting to grab a plastic bag full of weeds, but now, they were singing a completely different tune.
“Everybody’s had the shot?” Sheppard directed at Beckett.
“Except for yourself.” Beckett seemed to mentally run down some list. “I’d prefer that you finish off your antihistamines before we give you the shot, to avoid any reactions.”
Rodney’s fork clattered to his tray. “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute You didn’t even bother to ask me that, Carson,” he snarked. “In fact, I distinctly remember you luring me down to the infirmary with promises of chocolate chip cookies.”
“Aye, that was very effective.”
“So he gets preferential treatment?” Rodney jabbed a finger in Sheppard’s direction, which promptly got swatted with a fork. “Ouch.”
“You had an adverse reaction, Rodney,” said Teyla.
“What? I was clear-headed!” shot back McKay. “I got caught up on a lot of work.”
“No, you were hyper-alert and running around like a damned chipmunk on crack annoying everyone,” said Beckett sharply. “That’s why there was a guard on—” The physician suddenly coughed, then found the food on his plate abruptly fascinating. “And anyway, the colonel needed his rest and since he wasn’t exposed to the pheromones due to his cold…”
Oookay, so that was the real reason for the guard outside his room but he was not ready to try to clarify the pillow assault. In fact, he really didn’t want to envision himself half-asleep beating off an intruder with a damned pillow. Talk about embarrassing.
“So, you’re okay?”
Sheppard nearly rolled his eyes at McKay’s query. “I sorta recall telling you that already. Headache’s gone, sinuses are basically better.” Yeah, he could actually smell the food he was eating.
“Headache?” repeated Rodney.
“From listening to all of you worship at the altar of Lucius.” Sheppard regretted the remark as soon as the words left his lips. Uncomfortable expressions and averted glances swept over everyone’s faces.
“I told you not to leave me alone with the nuts,” Rodney said quietly. “It wasn’t my fault. It was his.” A finger pointed dangerously at Ronon, who glared at the scientist.
“I said I was sorry.”
“We’re all sorry,” Teyla spoke, her voice firm and deep with conviction.
“It was an insidious affect,” said Beckett morosely. “Much more than just making us susceptible to suggestion, but altering our personalities to…” He bowed his head slightly. “We did things that we would never have done otherwise.”
Beckett grimaced for a moment, and all Sheppard could really think of was being back in the jumper, watching the man cry inconsolably like a kid who’d just lost his favorite pet.
“Well, look, it’s all over with now, right?” Sheppard said lightly.
“So why do you have the stunner pistol?” asked Ronon.
“What?” Rodney’s head swiveled around to stare accusingly at the colonel.
Sheppard frowned, shifting uncomfortably as he put his sandwich down on the plate. It was then he noticed that Teyla caught a glimpse of the weapon underneath his jacket.
“Well, excuse me if I’m a little paranoid,” replied Sheppard, realizing he’d been caught. “But not long ago I was stunned, tied up, locked in a cell and threatened with being assimilated into the Lucius fan club, and, well… I was taking it back to the armory.”
“Which is in the other direction from your room,” pointed out Ronon.
“I was hungry first,” stated Sheppard truthfully.
“We’re no longer pod people, Colonel.”
Teyla stared curiously at Rodney; obviously he hadn’t introduced her to the joys of the people taken over by giant alien snow pea pods.
“I know that,” replied Sheppard.
“Soooo?” Rodney nearly poked him in the side, but pulled his finger back instead, as if touching the jacket might scald him. It was apparent that he couldn’t see the weapon from his angle but Ronon had easily detected it, and since Teyla was nearly across from him, just shifting for a second had exposed a glimpse of it.
Everybody was looking at him. Not staring, but just beneath the confused looks lay curiosity, even the glimmer of trepidation that in Sheppard’s eyes, they were still the enemy. Were they?
“So I just wanted to… feel things out, okay?” admitted Sheppard, wondering why he was feeling guilty about it when all he’d done was try to protect Atlantis. “You guys went to a Wraith-occupied world and came back acting like you’d… like you’d just come off a ride at Space Mountain!”
“Did you have to remind us?” moaned Beckett. “I’m truly trying to forget that trip!”
“We are alive and well, which is what counts,” soothed Teyla.
Sheppard wondered just what the hell happened on that planet. His people running around furtively through woods and grass – dodging maybe three hive ships worth of Wraith – to gather weeds? He had no doubt that Ronon and Teyla were responsible for getting Beckett back in one piece and the same age, but they’d been basically stoned when they got back.
But that was just avoiding the issue. Did he trust them? It wasn’t like they were filled with homicidal intent, but the stupidity that had overtaken them could have easily had the same results if taken to the extreme.
“See, he still thinks we’re nuts.”
“I’m sorry, Rodney,” drawled Sheppard. “But I’m still seeing you practically worshipping at… ‘his’ feet, going on about cute little marmots.”
McKay’s face drew up into a mask of disgust. “They’re rodents. They carry disease. Why would I think they’re cute? Are you insane? I was insane, but it was temporary and not my fault.”
”Well, why the hell didn’t you just lock yourself in your lab?” Sheppard prodded
“I was going to do just that,” shot back McKay, “But I was busy trying to save our miserable little hides and then you left through the gate which seemed to be a big red glaring alert screaming ‘McKay’s alone. Go get him!’ and he was down there within minutes and the next thing I knew, I was assimilated by the Borg!”
Sheppard waved his hand at Ronon’s confused expression. “Never mind.”
Rodney went back to hacking up his meal on the plate, but more of it went into his mouth than before, and he actually risked both life and limb by smacking Ronon’s fingers when the man reached for the butter roll sitting tantalizing off to the side.
Things actually did seem back normal. McKay was being an ass, Ronon was tormenting the man while Teyla sat by patiently and Beckett just hoped no blood was shed.
“Well, it could have been worse,” Sheppard pondered aloud
”I don’t see how,” remarked McKay caustically, “unless he decided to take over the Daedalus.”
“Heck, it could have been you using that stuff,” Sheppard said with a smirk.
“Oh, as if I’d turn into a megalomaniac bent on world domination,” huffed McKay.
“Yeah, true,” agreed Sheppard, trying not to laugh, especially after the way McKay had openly gawked at the beautiful women in Lucius’ village. “No, you’d just have Zelenka or someone cleaning up that pigsty you call a room.”
”Excuse me?” Bits of salad spat out on the table as Rodney did his level best to look mortally offended. “Do you really think I’d waste my vast influence on something that petty? And my room’s not a pigsty. I just don’t always have time to clean.”
Sheppard thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. “Hey, if it squeals like a pig....”
Rodney just gave him a curious look, but he was always doing that, those cryptic weird I’m-the-scientist-you’re-the-slave-labor type glances. Yeah, he could return the stunner to the armory. Things were back to normal.