As If From Nothing by Daryl Ann

Chapter 6: Holding On For Life

"Concussion...internal bleeding...multiple puncture wounds and lacerations..."

The words of Atlantis's new CMO echoed in his mind.

"As well as the risk of pneumonia due to aspiration of unknown substances. Samples are being analyzed in the lab"

Swallowing harshly to fight back his rising nausea, Rodney turned his head away from the physician. She was Dr. Beckett's replacement...replacement...as if he could ever accept that she belonged in this infirmary...Carson's infirmary. She was probably adequate, he might even go so far as competent. Katie deserved the best treatment possible, and he knew Carson wouldn't have allowed anyone on his staff who hadn't met his own professional expectations.

Dr. Keller must be okay, she had to be. Katie's life depended on it.

His clothes reeked of what the doctor clinically referred to as the 'unknown substance'. Soon the good Doctor's minions would insist he leave the infirmary if only for a shower and a change of clothes. He understood the concept and necessity of maintaining a sanitary environment for the ill and injured, yet he was unable to force himself to abandon her,not even for a few minutes.

A few minutes could be a lifetime.

He needed to keep a tenacious hold on the invisible tether ...to will Katie back over the jagged edge she dangled so precariously over.

The dead fish smell of the 'bug snot', as Sheppard so aptly coined it, was joined by that of bacteria-laden mud,sweat, and tacky blood. Rodney had been pacing the infirmary since arriving from the nightmarish planet refusing to sit in one of the chairs provided until he received word on Katie's conditon. She had been transfused immediately and whisked off to the O.R. without delay.

So far there had been no news.

The time-enhanced odor of decay coupled with the gravity of the situation overloaded his senses. The battle with nausea lost, he ran for the exit before subjecting others to the latest addition to the smellfest that he realized needed to be dealt with. The subsequent shower and fresh clothing would be appreciated by all.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

He returned to the infirmary at a near run. Still damp from his shower, clean shirt clinging uncomfortably, beads of water dripping from his hair at the back of his neck, Rodney nearly collided with John Sheppard and a tray of coffee intended for Rodney and the rest of the team who had gathered to offer support.

"Whoa!, easy McKay!"

"S-sorry. I guess...I wasn't.."

"S'okay...no harm, no foul. Brought some coffee. Thought you could use a cup."

Rodney resumed pacing the floor of the infirmary as if he had never left.

"I can't even think about it right now. I swear I can still smell that awful mud and bug slime..and...well, mixed with deoderant soap and coffee...I don't think I could..."

His voice cracked slightly and the pacing slowed somewhat.

Ronon approached and stood slightly behind and to Rodney's side. Together, he and Sheppard guided the distraught scientist to a chair between them.

"Sit here, McKay."

He was barely seated when he popped back up as if bitten by something unseen. "I can't just sit here! What could be taking so long?"

"McKay, stop."

Ronon's second directive had no effect on the agitated scientist. The perpetual motion, with renewed vigor, both flagged and fueled as his anxiety level continued to increase with each lap.

Teyla, who had remained silent, stood and met Rodney on a return loop of the small space, interrupting his route long enough for him to look at her blankly as if for the first time realizing her presence in the infirmary.

As their eyes met, she gently but firmly reached out and stilled his trembling hands. Confusion registered on his face. A ghostly pallor indicated that he more than likely had been too many hours without something to eat. Additionaly, the physical and mental exertion of the recent events were taking their toll.

"Teyla"

He no more than whispered her name as he exhaled and looked at her with a pain filled expression, tired blue eyes blinking back tears. He shifted, uncomfortable in the inertia of standing still, Teyla's hands still holding firm.

"I don't know what I'll do if...

"Shhh, It will be alright. She is strong."

"It's just not fair, she works so hard to do good things for people...for people she doesn't even know. She doesn't deserve this...I don't.. deserve... her."

The last hushed syllable saw the last of his reserves as a single tear slipped past his defenses.

Teyla could feel the fine tremors coursing through his body as he turned his face away from Sheppard and Ronon. He closed his eyes and sighed heavily as he attempted to regain control over his emotions.

Her embrace at that moment was unexpected, yet not unwelcome. As she pulled him closer, he responded to the warm gesture almost instinctively by lowering his head to her shoulder and hesitantly wrapping his arms around her. His struggle to return to pacing was surrendered, if only temporarily, in acceptance of Teyla's unspoken offer to share the weight of the stress he carried. She patted his shoulder almost maternally as he clung to her as if to a lifeline.

Lifting his head suddenly, he took one quick step away from Teyla, straightening as he glanced nervously around the room.

"S-s-sorry. I, uh, ..."

"An appology is unnecessary, you have done nothing wrong."

"She's right, Rodney. That's what friends are for. You're a genious, not a superhuman computer... it's normal for...you know,...stuff to get to you...to us...to all of us. We've been up against some FUBAR stuff since we 'moved in'." The military CO shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

"Although...I think i'll leave the hugging to Teyla...or possibly Ronon."

"Hey!" Both Ronon and Rodney responded in unison. Sheppard had lightened the atmosphere slightly and provided a momentary distraction from the ever present tension in the room.

"Now, how about that coffee and maybe a sandwich? I know you could use it McKay. You look like shit you know."

"Yes well, thank you so much, but I still don't think I could eat anything. I'll try the coffee though."

"Sure thing, as long as you take it with a couple of sugars in it."

Rodney grimaced at the thought of ruining a perfectly good cup of coffee with sugar, but agreed to the compromise. He realized he was feeling somewhat light headed and accepted the steaming cup of liquid energy.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Ronon had fallen asleep in the too small infirmary chair shortly after downing a large cup of coffee and a cinnamon donut. John Sheppard pondered in amazement at the sleep-aide effect they seemed to have on the Satedan.

Glancing to his left at the chair which was supposed to be occupied by Rodney McKay, he kicked himself mentally for not having brought juice or milk, or even decaffeinated coffee. The physicist was back to his pacing route. The only difference was that he was now talking a mile a minute. He seemed to be distracting himself from the situation with equations, to-do lists, duty rosters for his science staff, and the off side topic or 'fascinating' scientific trivia for John and Teyla's enlightenment.

John looked over at Teyla with a pained 'please can you make him stop' expression, just as the recovery area doors swung open and Dr. Keller strode through. Rodney stopped mid-pace and mid sentence as the surgeon approached with her scrub cap in her hand and wearing an exhausted yet neutral expression.

Sheppard stepped forward, while Rodney stood frozen as if glued to the spot.

John took the upbeat approach. "How'd it go, Doc.?"

As if gauging the results from the physician's expression, Rodney interrupted just as Dr. Keller appeared to have decided on her choice of words.

"It's bad, isn't it? You wouldn't have hesitated if it was good news."

Dr. Keller spoke with controlled clarity as she pressed her palm over her right eye and temple in attempt to push back a blossoming headache.

"I won't sugar coat it...she's a very sick woman right now. We've got the internal bleedng stopped, blood volume is returning to normal. She'll be extubated when the meds wear off a bit. Her ribs and shoulders took a beating. Although no bones were broken, she's severely bruised, and she's concussed. She'll be in a lot of pain from all of that. Additionally we stitched dozens of punctures and gashes. We've already begun antibiotics to try and head off the pneumonia which is inevitable given the aspiration of the substance. The lab has reported it was teaming with bacteria."

The doctor paused to look around the room before continuing. Ronon was awake now and glaring at her as if she were the enemy. Teyla and John hung onto every word as they positioned themselves on either side of Rodney in support of their friend and teammate.

Rodney felt as if there were very little oxygen in the room. Fighting to breathe normally, he gulped in a lungful of seemingly stagnant air and steeled himself for what Dr. Keller might have left to say.

"...alien bacteria...fever...infection...the next couple days..."

He sank heavily into the nearest chair, elbows on his knees and head propped in his hands as the doctor's parting words taunted his senses...

"We're doing everything we can, it's up to Katie now to pull through."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rodney had barely left he infirmary in two days. John, Teyla, and Ronon had filtered in and out as their other duties and obligations allowed. At least one of them touched base with the weary scientist every few hours.

Katie's condition had changed for the worse barely twenty four hours after returning to Atlantis severely battered and bleeding. A fever raged unchecked as the medical personnel assaulted the foreign bacteria with everything available to them in their arsenal of antibiotics, thus far with no effect.

Sleep, for Rodney, was intermittent at best. Barely ten or fifteen minutes, here and there, was interrupted by cramping muscles and invaded by vividly horrific dreams. He'd yet to call them nightmares. As far as he knew, he hadn't screamed out in his sleep or taken a swing at anyone. It wasn't that the material was lacking... Each time he awakened from one of his dreams he felt more shaken and disturbed than the time before.

He certainly had no desire to relive any fragment of the past few days if even for a few minutes, yet his beleaguered subconscious was exerting its independence over rational thought.

Unable to keep his head off his folded arms near Katie's unresponsive form for even one more second, the exhaustion won out again and he slipped into an uneasy unconscious state.

Transported instantly into a dimly lit and empty corridor, he found himself without an exit. He advanced cautiously toward two translucent doors which appeared at opposite sides of the shadowy hallway.

Morbid curiosity winning out over fear and hesitaton, he turned toward the doorway on the left and forced himself to look inside. The room was surreally lit, the entry transparent enough to see beyond the barrier and into the glowing room beyond. A giant slug occupied nearly the entire space, its slimey exterior glistening as its colors seemed to pulsate and intensify with each beat of the increasingly terrified scientist's pounding heart.

In one corner lay Katie, stunned and bleeding. He remained frozen to the spot as the creature moved to block visual access to the room with its immensely grotesque body.

A sudden piercing shriek which originated from the room accross the hall spun him around to face the mysterious interior. There inside the tiny clinically stark white area lay Madison, her tiny features as pale as the moonlight.

Jeannie, who had been holding her only child tightly to her chest as she lay dwarfed by medical paraphernalia and the overwhelming whiteness of the confining area. She straightened stiffly and looked directly into her brother's questioning eyes. At that moment her lost and pleading expression transformed into one of pure anguish. An accusational glare of pure hatred found its mark. Shocked, Rodney stood transfixed and unable to process the events presented in either warped tableau.

He cast his eyes downward avoiding direct eye contact with his sister as Madison's bed darkened and became a coffin.

Horrified screams from accross the hallway caused him to startle. All that remained visible in the other doorway was a sickening, swirling, bloody mass pressed tightly against the transparent barrier. It pushed and moved rhymically as it attempted to force itself into the corridor.

The sheer terror of profound helplessness was all that remained as reflexes took command of his senses.

"NO!"

Rodney's head had slipped from the arm he pillowed it on, and he startled awake just as the nightmare hallway was filling with blood and screams. He overcompensated his effort to maintain the tennuous perch on the uncomfortable plasic chair he'd fallen asleep in only minutes before.

"She's good, McKay." A rumbling familiar voice caught his attention as the nightmare's fog lifted and Rodney forced himself to regroup mentally. Ronon moved quickly to support the scientist and prevent him from falling gracelessly to one side.

Trembling noticeably, Rodney raised his eyes thankfully to the Satedan as he shook his head as if to clear the residual confusion.

"Wha...what's...?" McKay's voice nearly cracked, his throat still tight from the lingering panic. He panted through parched lips as his bleary eyes darted to the occupant of the infirmary bed. Katie lay still, her breathing slow and regular.

"Didn't think I should let you fall on the floor. Looked like you needed some back-up."

"Um, yeah. Thanks,... really. I...Wait,...She's good? What do you mean by good?"

"Keller just checked on her, said she's doing better. Fever's gone down some. So...good."

Rodney's usual annoyance with Ronon's simplistic approach to almost any situation evaporated with the realization that Katie might actually be okay. At least now that the fever was on its way down there'd be a fighting chance for recovery. He was almost afraid to be too optimistic, but Ronon's no-frills "she's good" was worth more to him right now than any medical jargon-filled narrative delivered in guardedly doubtful tones.

"Ronon, thanks...for...for everything. You don't have to stay. Tell everyone I appreciate that you've all been there for Katie and me. It's...you know...I... what I mean to say is"...and as he searched for the perfect words to use to describe what the support of his team had meant to him the past few days, he looked up at the former runner. A heartfelt smile graced his features when he paraphrased sincerely... "It's good."

Dipping his head with a characteristic half smile, then nodding in understanding, Ronon turned to quietly leave the infirmary. He had gotten as far as the door when he hesitated lifting his hand to his temple. Tipping his head to one side as if in thought, he turned back to address McKay.

"Oh, yeah. I almost forgot...Weir said there's an important message for you. Something from your sister."

And at that, the smile Rodney had allowed himself for the first time in days tightened into a thin line as his mind raced with sudden apprehension.

TBC...

88888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888

A/N: Sorry for such a long dry spell... I have a lot of the next chapter written... it WILL be finished! Thanks for hanging in there. :o) DA