Almost Home
by
Jennamajig


SUMMARY: Radiation has a few consequences. Tag for Intruder.

SEASON/SPOILERS: Season Two. Spoilers for Seige III and Intruder.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I whumped Carson a lot lately, so now I'm giving Shep a turn and this time it's canon-based. Writing episode tags is fun! :)

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Stargate: Atlantis or anything associated with it. I'm simply borrowing, but I promise to return all in one piece. Eventually.


"Symptoms of radiation sickness include nausea and vomiting, weakness, fatigue, dehydration, hair loss, ulcerations of the esophagus, stomach and/or intestines, and bleeding from the nose, mouth, gums, rectum."

John Sheppard just stared at Beckett as the doctor listed the symptoms and searched through boxes in the Daedalus' makeshift infirmary. Currently he sat on a gurney, surrounded by various boxes of medical paraphernalia on its way to Atlantis to restock a depleted infirmary. Next to him on the gurney, McKay sat and John turned briefly to look at him.

"Hair loss?" Sheppard repeated, running a hand self-consciously across the top of his head.

"Bleeding from the rectum?" Rodney repeated and Sheppard shot him another look. Of course McKay would concentrate on the most uncomfortable symptom.

"Aye," Beckett replied. "Plus fainting spells and bruising." He scratched his forehead. "I swear I saw that box a minute ago..."

"Bruising?" McKay repeated and starting turning his arms over, seeming to search for non-existent splotches of purple. Sheppard rolled his eyes.

"You're talking worst case scenario here, right doc? I mean, McKay and I are fine. In fact, I feel great. Hungry, but I think saving an entire shipload of people builds up an appetite. Right, Rodney?"

Rodney looked up from his arm. "Yeah, hungry." He stared back at Carson. "How long until we start showing symptoms?" He held out his arm. "Because this a bruise. A definite bruise."

It was Carson's turn to roll his eyes. The physician leaned over and looked. "That bruise is at least two days old, Rodney. And you'd need more than one symptom to manifest itself in order for me to say you have radiation sickness."

John smiled in satisfaction. "See? Nothing to worry about, then. I think I'm going to see what's for dinner." He got up to leave, but Carson grabbed his arm.

"Not so fast, Ma-Colonel. You're right, you are not showing any symptoms at the moment, but this is still quite the serious matter. Radiation sickness can often be delayed, depending on the length and proximity of exposure. I'm going to need to draw some blood."

John sighed. "Fine. Poke me. What's one more time mean in the long run, right?"

Carson gathered up the supplies he needed and plopped them down on the gurney between John and Rodney. "You're actually being cooperative, Colonel? Doesn't that mean you're also volunteering to go first?"

"Does it mean you'll let me leave?"

Carson held a needle up. "No."

"Then McKay can go first."

"Hey!"

"You're the one who two minutes ago thought your bruise meant you were about to die."

McKay crossed his arms. "Now that is a blatant exaggeration. I was merely concerned. We did almost fly into a star and all."

"Almost doesn't count," he replied.

"Tell that to my sperm count why don't you," Rodney shot back.

"Why? You planning on reproducing any time-ow! What the..." John stared down and realized Beckett had managed to stick him without him even noticing. Sneaky bastard.

Beckett withdrew the needle, placed a gauze patch over the puncture and held it a moment, before folding Sheppard's arm up. "Looks like I decided you were going first, after all. Hold that there. Rodney?"

Rodney sighed and let Beckett take his arm. John held his arm up, absently rubbing the outside of his forearm. "How long do we need to stay here?"

Beckett switched out a vial full of blood from Rodney's arm. Sheppard averted his gaze from it. "Long enough for me to run a CBC and make sure you aren't showing any symptoms."

That did not answer his question. "Time, Carson. How long we looking at?"

Carson pulled the needle from Rodney's arm. "A couple of hours at least." He placed another piece of gauze over Rodney's puncture. "The ship is back on track and the virus has been cleared from the system. Colonel Caldwell and Dr. Weir have things under control so there's nothing else to do, really, but sit tight anyway."

"I need to run a diagnostic," Rodney insisted.

"Someone else can do that I think, Rodney. If they haven't already."

"I'm hungry," John said. Then he realized that, for a second, he sounded like McKay. Wonderful.

"I'll get someone to send something up here," Carson said. "But we're still two days from Atlantis. If you start showing signs of radiation sickness, it will be much easier if we catch it early and start supportive care right away."

What exactly did he mean by 'supportive?' "Supportive care? If we do get sick, there's no cure for this thing?"

Beckett shook his head. "Nothing to reverse it, no. Best way to treat it is to treat the symptoms and hope for no complications."

"Complications?" McKay squeaked and Sheppard resisted the urge to rest his forehead in his hands.

"Bone marrow depression, bacterial infection, gastrointestinal disorders. But that's only if you fall ill. Either way, I wouldn't worry too much. Your exposure doesn't appear to be life-threatening."

"How do you know that?" McKay demanded.

Beckett picked up the equipment he'd laid up and put it back into a box, along with the blood samples. "Because you'd already be dead."

"Oh." Rodney sagged. "That's a good thing, then."

"Very good," Beckett agreed. "I'm going to run some blood tests. There's another gurney set up." He nodded his head towards it where it lay a few feet away. "I'm sure you could use the rest."

Rest, ha. Since they arrived in Atlantis, sleep had become overrated. And returning to Earth to sleep on an Earth mattress didn't fix that problem. Sheppard watched Rodney head towards the other bed, mumbling.

His stomach grumbled.

First, food.

--

An hour later, John was bored. In fact he was so bored that he resorted to laying flat on his back on the gurney, his legs bent, tossing the cup from his dinner in the air in order to see how close he could get to the ceiling. He was proud of the fact of all the times he'd thrown it up, it had yet to hit him in the head once.

Rodney was still in his corner, scribbling on a pad Beckett had given him, communicating with someone over his head set. Probably that Asguard on board. Alien or not, that little gray thing gave him the creeps. And it wore not one stitch of clothing and that was just weird.

Beckett didn't say a word about the blood tests, but John figured no news was going news and threw his cup up into the air again. His promotion earned him the right to keep his military commander title, yet a mere civilian with an M.D. after his name could ground him with a single word. Beckett had authority over everyone when it came to medical matters. He could ground Elizabeth if he deemed it necessary. And while Sheppard valued Carson's opinion - he didn't trust any other doctor on Atlantis, frankly - the Scot could be a tad overprotective when it came down to it.

Though he supposed it was better than losing his hair.

If he was honest with himself, the boredom didn't really bother him. It was only a couple of hours after all. But doing nothing let his mind wander and no matter what, his thoughts always returned to the same place.

The same person.

Ford was out there. Not dead; not by a long shot if the determination in his face as he piloted that jumper was any indication. He couldn't face Ford's grandparents and was secretly glad he didn't. Ford's cousin was right, what he could tell them offered them nothing but endless worry. The military hadn't condemned Ford. Yet, anyway. Perhaps he had. Ford's cousin's words stung. Trust was a powerful word and he took it pretty seriously. But missing in action was just as horrid a phrase, and it carried intense reactions. There was no closure. No way for his family to move on.

No way for him to move on. Every time he stepped through that gate, he'd be keeping one eye out for the kid. He'd hope Beckett would figure out a sure fire way to help him and then he'd try his best to get Ford to trust in him again and convince him to come home.

Home to Atlantis.

Home was a funny word. He hadn't put that tag on a place in a long time and the last location he figured would earn it would be a flying city in another solar system. Perhaps, that's why Ford's situation hurt so hard. Atlantis was his home.

His team was his family.

The military mind at its best. He tossed the cup up again and caught it easily in his hands. Going back to Earth hadn't done anything but shown him he belonged here. He'd done something deemed unprofessional enough by the U.S. Airforce to earn him a black mark in his record and a stint flying helicopters in Antarctica all to sit on fancy alien chair and find a city that welcomed him.

The cup came crashing down in his face.

He needed to stop thinking. His head hurt. He sighed and flexed his legs out straight and started to push himself up on his elbow.

That's when the room started spinning.

--

The IV drip in the back of his hand dripped one drop at a time into his veins. He watched it, eyes bleary, and willed it to help him.

John felt like crap. It all started hitting him at once.

Fatigue.

Weakness.

Loss of appetite.

Nausea and vomiting.

The latter had been especially fun and Beckett had managed to procure a basin from among his materials just in time. He'd thankfully been on his way to talk to Sheppard when John realized sitting up was not such a good idea.

Next to him, Beckett adjusted the drip. "How's the nausea?" he asked.

John swallowed. "Um, not so great," he admitted.

Beckett frowned, and John figured he'd done something wrong by being so honest. But he didn't exactly want to throw up again. Beckett stepped aside and returned with a syringe.

"Compazine," he told Sheppard as he swabbed the IV port and injected the drug. "It'll make you a wee bit sleepy, but it should help settle your stomach."

John nodded. "What about..." He trailed off. What was coming out the other end was something he didn't really want to admit or discuss.

Carson gave him a sympathetic smile. "It should help a little, but I can't promise anything, I'm afraid."

Wonderful. He closed his eyes. "How's McKay?"

"He has some mild symptoms, but they seem to be abating with the help of medication. He was having an argument with that Asguard, Hermiod, via the com link last time I checked on him."

"Sounds like he got off easy." John turned his head into the pillow as his stomach started cramping again. "This sucks," he groaned when the worst had passed. "How much longer?"

"There's no real way to tell, but most of your symptoms should abate in twenty-four to forty-eight hours, I believe."

"Just in time to get to Atlantis, then, huh?" He looked up at the ceiling.

"Aye, although you will most likely feel fatigued for a few weeks. Your red blood cell count is down."

He wondered if he should be worried about that fact. All the complication Beckett mentioned earlier flooded his brain. "What does that mean?"

"That you're sick," Beckett told him. "It should improve as your symptoms do. You'll need fairly regular blood tests for the next few weeks to check on its progress."

"Weeks? That's a lot of needle sticks, doc." He picked at the tape holding his IV needle in place. Beckett always wanted to stick him with sharp pointy objects, it seemed.

"I know. But it's necessary. If it makes you feel any better, Rodney will be going through the same thing." Beckett gently pulled Sheppard's hands before his could do any damage.

"It does, a little. Why isn't he as sick?"

"Everyone's body handles radiation differently. It's why some cancer patients get violently ill from treatment while others simply get tired. It's a bit of a medical mystery. You're rather lucky you're not dead, all things considered."

"I guess so." He sure didn't feel lucky. He wondered if he'd find clumps on his hair on the pillow next. He self-consciously tugged at a strand hanging into his forehead.

Carson grinned. "It's all there, Colonel. I wouldn't worry. Hair loss only happens in extreme cases and your blood work indicates yours isn't such a case. In forty-eight hours, you'll feel a lot better."

"I sure as hell hope so because I plan on being able to walk back into Atlantis, not fall on my face in the gateroom."

Beckett laughed. "Well, we'll see about that one."

Oh, he was definitely walking. He yawned. Beckett adjusted the blanket. "That's probably the Compazine. You should get rest."

He blinked back sleepy eyes. "How far are we from home?"

"Still at least thirty-six to forty hours, I'm told."

"Good," he mumbled as his eyes started to close. "There's no place like home."

"Aye," Carson agreed.

Sheppard closed his eyes and thought about Atlantis, Ford, and the comforts of home.

Trust or not, he wasn't giving up.