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By Annie

EMAIL: Annie

"You're going to make yourself sick if you keep stuffing your face like that," Sheppard said, looking across at Rodney as the scientist jammed another piece of alien fruit into his mouth.

"'m hungry," Rodney mumbled back. He swallowed and glared at Sheppard. "You're the one who didn't let me finish breakfast before dragging me here. I'm just grateful the natives of this planet are civilized enough to greet visitors with a home-cooked meal. Hypoglycemia isn't pretty, and if it was up to you, I'd be spiraling down into an attack right about now." He grinned up at the buxom woman standing at his side and forked a piece of meat from her serving tray onto his plate. "Thank you. My compliments to the chef."

She giggled and fluttered her eyelashes at him and Sheppard stomped down an unreasoning feeling of jealousy. He had no right to be jealous, after all. It wasn't like he and Rodney were attached or dating or anything. Truth be told, Rodney didn't even know Sheppard felt anything for him beyond the usual loyalty and friendship a team leader had for a member of his team. Still, the green-eyed monster made its presence known and he defused the situation with his usual method, teasing McKay. "Hey, you did check they don't use citrus in their cooking, didn't you?" he asked, a devilish smile lighting his eyes as Rodney dropped the meat he'd been about to bite into and looked over at him, his face aghast.

"What? No, of course not. I mean, this is an alien planet. They wouldn't have citrus trees, would they?" Rodney dropped his fork and began poking at the leftover bits of food on his plate with his fingers, picking morsels up and sniffing them suspiciously.

"The Colonel is teasing you, Rodney," Teyla said from her seat next to him. She shook her head smilingly at Sheppard. "I do not believe I have ever seen any fruit trees such as the ones you've described to me on this planet."

"You sure about that?" Ronon put in. He reached across and speared the meat Rodney had dropped, sniffing it appreciatively then popping it into his mouth and chewing in obvious pleasure. "We didn't have lemons on Sateda but I've eaten food cooked with them on Atlantis and this tastes kinda like that lemon chicken they serve in the mess on Fridays."

"Oh god, tell me you're joking," Rodney pleaded. He looked at Ronon, his eyes wide. "You *are* joking, aren't you?"

Teyla patted his arm and looked disapprovingly at Ronon and Sheppard. "They are both teasing you, Rodney. Pay them no mind."

Rodney stood up, pushing his plate into the middle of the wooden table. "I'm not hungry anymore, anyway," he said. "I'm going to go check out the museum they told us about. I want to see if there's any mention of ZPMs in their literature."

"Cool," Ronon grunted, with his mouth full, as he pulled Rodney's plate over to himself and began to eat the leftovers.

"Just don't touch anything you're not supposed to, McKay," Sheppard warned, going back to his own meal.

Rodney just gave him the famous, "well, d'oh," McKay look and headed off.

~oOo~

The interior of the library was cavernous, dark and more than a little dusty. Rodney sneezed and wiped at his eyes as he hauled a large book down from a shelf, several dust-bunnies floating down with it and covering his jacket with a fine white mist.

He took the tome to a table and flipped it open, scanning the pages quickly. He should have thought to bring one of the villagers with him, he realized, cursing his impatience. Of course, he couldn't read the words in the book. He slammed the book shut just as a picture of something familiar caught his eye and flipped the page back open, then jerked his hand back as something sharp nipped his forefinger. "Ouch, crap," he swore, peering at the injured digit in the poorly lit room. Not seeing anything except for a mild reddening of his flesh, he pulled his flashlight from his jacket and shone it around, looking for the vicious little miscreant. A small black ant-like creature scrabbled away from the beam and he gave serious thought to picking up the book and crushing the little bugger but changed his mind as his finger began to throb. "Shit, that stings," he muttered, sticking the painful finger in his mouth and sucking on it.

Deciding that the library was a far more dangerous place than he wanted to be on his own, he headed back outside, stopping to grab at the doorjamb as he felt his chest beginning to tighten. "Oh shit," he muttered, feeling the tingling of oxygen deprivation already beginning in his fingertips. "Not now."

~oOo~

Sheppard glanced up from his conversation with one of the village elders, his heart unaccountably beginning to pound in his chest.

"Rodney?" he said worriedly, rising from his seat and doubling around the table as he saw Rodney's shambling gait towards them. He reached him in seconds, grasping his arms to pull him to a halt, noticed the bluish tinge around his mouth and the staccato rise and fall of his chest. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"Got bitten by something," Rodney panted, sinking to his knees and taking John with him. He slumped forward, head bent over John's lap, his breath catching in his throat. "God," he murmured. "Need-"

John reached into Rodney's front vest pocket and pulled out the epipen kept there. He held it in front of Rodney's wide, panic-stricken eyes. "This?" he asked.

Rodney's head nodded violently and John unsheathed the needle, then winced as he plunged it into Rodney's bicep. He ran a comforting hand up and down Rodney's heaving back, willing the medicine to do its work. "It's okay, it's okay," he found himself murmuring inanely, though he wasn't sure it was okay, not until Rodney suddenly rolled off his lap and onto his back on the ground at John's side, his mouth open as he sucked in large gulps of air.

"Easy, take it slow," John said, squeezing Rodney's arm in a sympathetic grip.

"Oh God," Rodney said, his own hand coming up to grip John's other hand tightly.

"McKay, you all right?" Ronon asked from behind John's shoulder, his voice laden with concern.

"He appears to have had an allergic reaction to something," Teyla said. "We should not have teased him. The food-"

Rodney shook his head back and forth, his fingers relaxing now and releasing John's. "Got bitten by a bug," he managed to get out. He closed his eyes and John couldn't resist the impulse to run a gentle hand across his sweaty forehead.

"You're gonna be fine, Rodney," John said. "Teyla, make our apologies to the elders. We're taking Rodney back to Atlantis."

"No!" Rodney jerked upright. "Not yet. There was something in the book. About what might have been a ZPM secreted somewhere here." He shucked off John's restraining hand and bent forward for a moment, inhaling deeply, then straightened up. "I'm fine," he said, his voice still shaky.

"You don't sound fine," Ronon observed.

"It's just the effect of the epinephrine," Rodney replied snippily. He closed his eyes again momentarily. "All right. I'm not exactly fine. I feel like crap actually but I need to speak to the elders, find out if what I saw about a ZPM was true or just village legend."

"All right," John agreed, "but the minute you get what you need you're gating back to Atlantis to get checked out. We can follow up on any information you get."

"But-"

John raised a warning finger. "That's an order, McKay."

"Whatever," Rodney muttered, turning and heading back into the town square. He stopped after a few paces and looked back at his team. "Well, let's go. Get the lead out or whatever it is you macho military types say."

John shook his head and grinned at Ronon. "His master's voice," he quipped.

Ronon shrugged and took off after Rodney, leaving Sheppard and Teyla to follow.

"Are you sure he's okay?" Teyla asked, concern lacing her voice. "I thought he'd stopped breathing for a moment there."

"He's fine," John said as surely as his own doubt would allow. "You know Rodney. Everything's just… *more* with him, you know."

"You're saying he was exaggerating his symptoms?" Teyla asked skeptically.

"Well, no, not really. Look, Rodney can be a bit over-protective of his health, that's all. I'm not saying he's a hypochondriac," John hastened to explain, "it's just that he probably got a bit over-anxious when he realized he'd been bitten by an alien bug and maybe he hyperventilated."

"Oh," Teyla replied, sounding relieved, "then he probably wasn't having an allergic reaction at all." She paused, pulling John to a halt at her side. "Was it wise then to give him the medication for his allergies?" she asked worriedly.

"It worked, didn't it?" John pointed to Rodney who was now entering the square ahead of them at a trot. "He looks fine to me."

"Yes." Teyla nodded. "You care very much for him, don't you?" she asked as they resumed walking.

John shot her a quick sideways glance. "I told you once, remember? I'd do anything for any one of you," he said softly.

"You did," she agreed, "but I get the feeling that it goes deeper with Rodney. I believe that you would do anything in your power to save any of us…" She gave John a sideways look from under her long eyelashes and smiled gently at him, "… but I believe that were you to lose any of us, it would be Rodney's loss that would cause you the most pain."

John grabbed her hand and pulled her to a stop again. "You're too perceptive for my own comfort, Teyla," he said. "Look, maybe you're right but you can't say something like that to anyone else, okay?"

"Because you are both men?" Teyla asked, arching an expressive eyebrow. She nodded and patted his arm. "Same sex relationships are not widely accepted among my people either, John. You have no need to worry about my silence. Does Rodney know?"

John shrugged and began walking. "Nah, he wouldn't be interested in me. Rodney loves the ladies."

"You might be surprised, John. I have seen him watching you with great respect and honor in his eyes."

"That's not love though."

"No," Teyla agreed, "but my father used to say it was a perfect starting point for it."

John reached out and took her hand, squeezing it quickly. "Thanks. We'll see. Maybe one day. Now," he looked around as they entered the square and saw Ronon standing outside one of the houses that stood around it, "let's go find McKay before he gets himself in more trouble."

"What's going on?" John asked as they reached Ronon, hearing Rodney's raised voice coming from inside the house.

The Satedan shrugged. "Not sure. He said something about getting one of the villagers to go back to the library with him." He stopped and listened for a moment. "Doesn't sound like they're too impressed with the idea-"

John heard a click from his left and recognized the sound instantly. "Crap," he muttered. He turned to see a pistol aimed at his head. He reached for his sidearm.

"Stop!" the armed man said harshly. "I will shoot you if you move."

"Teyla? Any idea what's going on? I thought you said these people were peaceful."

"They always have been. May I suggest we do as this man has asked until we find out more?" Teyla suggested in a reasonable tone.

"Look, I don't know what the problem is-" John began.

"This man has looked upon our sacred writings," a voice from behind him said, and John looked round in time to see Rodney being bundled through the door of the house, his arms raised shakily above his head.

"Dammit, McKay, what have you done now?" John asked testily.

"Me?" Rodney sounded as indignant as he did nervous. "I simply asked if there was someone who could come back to the library with me and translate the text I found about the ZPM, that's all-"

"The references to the Vitala are forbidden to all but the high priests," the man behind Rodney said. "The punishment for such a crime is imprisonment."

"Hey, look, he didn't mean any harm," John said appeasingly.

"And if it's forbidden, what the hell is it doing just lying around in the library unguarded?" Rodney said heatedly. "I mean, anyone can just walk in there and read it. You don't even keep the door locked."

"We have no reason to," the man replied. "Our people know they are forbidden to read the books."

"Well, I'm not one of *your* people," Rodney said sarcastically, stepping forward so he was in the man's space. "You could put a sign up-"

"Hey!" John yelled as the man butted Rodney in the belly with the barrel of his gun, causing McKay to slump to his knees. "Take it easy. He didn't mean any harm."

Teyla dropped to the ground next to Rodney, her arm holding him up as he bent double, groaning. She looked up at the man who'd attacked him. "Please, we meant no harm. We came here simply to trade. We will leave your world and return to our home-"

"Phenon!" the man holding the gun on Sheppard said warningly. "They must be punished. It is our law. If one of us had done this, we would be thrown in prison. We must make an example of them."

"Quiet, Talos. I am the elder of the village. I will decide." Phenon sighed heavily. "Talos is right. We cannot allow our people to see that you are above the law. I am sentencing you to thirty days confinement in our prison. At the end of that time, you will be free to go. Remove your weapons and your communication devices."

"We can take them," Ronon muttered in an aside to Sheppard.

John fingered his sidearm then dropped his hand as more guns were turned upon them. Turning in a slow circle, he saw at least fifteen men surrounding them, each one armed. He shook his head. "Forget it, Ronon. I don't want to get into a firefight with these people. Let's just do what they say and then try to sort it out once they've calmed down." He looked down at Rodney who looked a little green around the gills. "You okay, Rodney?"

Rodney cut a look up at him that clearly said, 'What do you think?' but he simply nodded and let Teyla help him stand.

They shed their weapons and radios and were patted down. Ronon caught John glancing at his hair and nodded imperceptibly. 'Good,' John thought as he watched the man searching Ronon pronounce the Satedan clean, 'at least we've got one ace up our sleeve, or at least one knife in Ronon's hair.' Can we at least keep our first aid kit?" John asked. "McKay got bitten by one of your bugs just before. He had an allergic reaction to it. He's still not well. You don't want him to die, do you?"

"Where is it?" Phenon asked.

"In my pack," Teyla replied quickly.

Talos pulled out the small satchel and opened it, holding up the last epipen. "What's this?" he asked.

"It's my medicine," Rodney said testily. He grabbed the pen from Talos' hand and pulled off the cap. It injects a measured dose of epinephrine that-"

"Any knives or weapons?" Phenon cut in.

Talos shook his head.

"Fine. They can take it." Phenon nodded at John, who took the satchel from Talos and the epipen from Rodney, tucking the latter into the side pocket of the first aid kit. "Thank you," he said.

"Pity Elizabeth's not here," John murmured as they were ushered off toward a gray edifice on the outskirts of the village. "She's the diplomat. She'd have us out of here in no time." He shook his head at Rodney who was stumbling along beside him, his arms still wrapped around his belly, and patted the scientist on the back. "Mind you, she wouldn't have got us in this mess in the first place. Sheesh, Rodney, you could have asked for a library card first."

"Funny, Sheppard, very funny," Rodney muttered sourly as they were herded inside the building and into a large cell.

They stood in the middle and watched as the door clanged shut loudly behind them.

"Someone will bring you food and water in a few hours," Talos said.

"No citrus," Rodney called as the men left the building and they were left alone.

~oOo~

"How much longer till they bring the food?" Rodney griped, rubbing at his injured finger.

"It's only been an hour, Rodney. They said a few hours," Sheppard replied. He looked Rodney over appraisingly. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Hungry," Rodney replied shortly.

"I meant the insect bite and stuff. Looks like it's still itchy."

Rodney gave up scratching his finger and rubbed his neck instead. "Okay, I guess. I'm itchy all over actually."

Ronon smirked. "Got lice, McKay?" he asked.

"Haha," Rodney grouched back, his hand detouring to scratch vigorously at his arm. "It's probably a generalized effect of the insect bite."

"Let me see," Teyla said, crouching next to him.

Rodney held out his hand and Teyla peered at it. "It looks a little red still but not too bad."

"Easy for you to say," Rodney replied grumpily. "Sorry. I'm sorry, Teyla," he added quickly. "Must be the effect of the epinephrine still. I feel jumpy and… dammit!" He scratched wildly at his face.

"Rodney, hold still." Teyla took his face between her hands and turned it into the light. "Colonel, what are these marks?"

Sheppard sighed but got to his feet and knelt next to Rodney, placing a finger on one of the red welts that now marked his face, neck and arms. "Hives," he said. "I used to get them when I was a kid from sitting on wet grass."

"Oh, that's just great," Rodney said. he rubbed at his face again till Sheppard grabbed his hands and held them tightly within his own.

"My mom always said you shouldn't scratch them," Sheppard said. "It makes them itch worse or something."

"Give me the other epipen," Rodney said, his eyes beginning to look worried.

"Are you supposed to use one this soon?" Sheppard asked.

"Just do it," Rodney said, his voice suddenly sounding breathless. "I'm finding it hard to breathe again."

Ronon was crouched on Rodney's other side now. "Shouldn't the first one have stopped the reaction from the bug bite?" he asked. "I've been reading up just in case," he said with a shrug. "Pays to know any weaknesses your teammates have."

"Well, jeez, thanks for the vote of confidence," Rodney said, sounding wheezy. "This must be a biphasic reaction. Comes on a couple of hours after using the pen. Second one should fix it."

Sheppard unsheathed the pen and administered it then sat back on his heels and waited for it to take effect.

Rodney started shaking his head, his eyes wide with panic. "It's not working," he stammered. "It… it… should be-"

"Take it easy, McKay," Ronon said, easing Rodney back against the wall. "Now what?" he asked Sheppard.

Sheppard pulled his eyes away from Rodney's pale, sweaty face, from the sight of the blue tinge that was beginning to form around his mouth. "Christ, get someone in here. Tell them we need a doctor!"

Ronon was up and banging on the door with both fists a moment later, yelling for help at the top of his lungs.

Teyla patted Rodney's arm. "It will be okay, Rodney. You'll be fine. Right, Colonel?"

Sheppard nodded jerkily even as his mind tried to work out what to do. Rodney was visibly gasping for air now, his mouth open, shoulders moving up and down in frantic attempts to expand his chest. Suddenly, Rodney’s eyes rolled up in his head and he went limp, his head falling to one side.

"He is not breathing!" Teyla said, panicked.

"Let’s get him down on the ground," Sheppard ordered.

Ronon raced back to them and helped lay Rodney flat.

Sheppard bent forward, tilting Rodney's chin back, extending his jaw, pinching his nostrils closed and then, his heart hammering frantically, puffed air into Rodney's open mouth. He turned his head, watching for the expected rise and fall of his chest but there was no movement. "Damn it!" he muttered, trying again. Still nothing. "The air's not getting into his lungs. His throat must be closed up by the swelling." He sat back on his heels then went into instinctive action, a long-buried memory resurfacing. "We need something to place under his neck," he said, pulling off his own t-shirt and wadding it up to use as a bolster so Rodney's neck was extended. "Give me that knife you've got hidden," he instructed Ronon. "I need a pen or something with a hollow tube."

"There's this," Ronon said, holding up a syringe and pulling the barrel free.

"Cut the end off it so it's a cylinder with a hole big enough to breathe through," John said quickly.

"John!" Teyla's hand reached out and grasped his own shaking one. "What are you going to do?"

"A tracheotomy," John answered shortly, pulling his hand free.

"What does that mean?" Teyla asked.

"He's going to cut a hole in McKay's throat so he can breathe," Ronon replied, holding the knife he'd pulled from his hair out to Sheppard. "I told you. I've done some reading," he said in answer to Sheppard's raised eyebrow.

"Are you sure that's the right thing to do?" Teyla asked worriedly. "Do you know how to do that safely?"

"It's the only thing we can do right now," John said, pulling on a pair of the latex gloves from the kit. He looked into Rodney's pale, blue-tinged face, panic twisting his gut. "I've seen it done in the field before." He looked up into Teyla's worried eyes. "I'm not losing him," he said forcefully.

"What do you need us to do?" Teyla asked after a moment.

"Pour some of that disinfectant over his throat and over the knife," John replied, taking a deep breath as he watched her comply. Then he felt with his fingers, finding the sternal notch and counting up the narrow rings of the trachea till he found the place he wanted. "Here goes," he said softly. "Ronon, hang onto his legs just in case."

Heart in his mouth, John made the cut, feeling his face blanch as blood gushed from the wound. He told Teyla to mop it up with one of the sterile swabs and then once she had, he looked at the hole he'd made. "I need something to hold the edges of the wound open so I can get the tube in," he said tensely.

Ronon reached over, one arm still resting firmly across Rodney's legs, a pair of tweezers in his hand. "These do?"

"Yeah." John placed the tips of the tweezers into the wound and pulled the edges of the cut apart then slipped the syringe inside.

Sitting back on his heels, he reached across Teyla and grabbed a roll of adhesive tape, using it to hold the makeshift tube in place. Then, he watched, his heart pounding till he saw Rodney's chest rising and falling. "He's breathing," he said triumphantly as the blue began to fade a little from around Rodney's mouth. "Hold him still in case he comes to," he warned Ronon. "I don't want him knocking that tube out."

Ronon just nodded and firmed his grip on Rodney's legs as Teyla took one of Rodney's hands in hers and Sheppard gripped the other.

Rodney groaned and moved his head from side to side and John leaned forward, speaking to him in a firm but gentle voice. "You're okay, Rodney. Try not to move, all right.. Just stay still. We're going to get you home." He swallowed hard as Rodney's eyes opened a fraction and he thought he saw a minuscule nod of understanding. "Attaboy," he whispered, allowing one hand to feather gently across Rodney's forehead, "just rest, buddy."

Standing, he left Rodney in Ronon and Teyla's care and strode over to the door, hammering on it frantically. "We need some freakin' help in here," he yelled.

He heard footsteps running toward the building and stepped back as the door was unlocked and pushed open, giving serious thought to attacking whoever had opened it. A quick glance at the weapon that was immediately aimed in his direction changed his mind though, and he simply raised his hands above his head. "My friend almost died in here," he said coldly. "Is this punishment of yours meant to be a death sentence?"

"Of course not!" Phenon pushed past the man with the gun and stopped in front of Sheppard. "I said your sentence was to be confined for a set length of time-"

Sheppard grabbed Phenon's arm, uncaring of the bristling of the guard, and turned him to where Rodney lay, his throat and chest bloodstained, the makeshift tube protruding from his throat, his face still pale, his eyes closed in what looked like utter exhaustion. "You almost gave this man a death sentence," he snarled.

"Oh, my stars, what happened to him?" Phenon gasped, shock in his voice.

Suddenly, before Sheppard could react, Ronon was there, an unlikely peacemaker, grasping John's arm and holding it back from thumping their captor in the face. "We told you he was already ill," Ronon said. "He got worse," he added succinctly. "The Colonel had to cut a hole in his throat to help him breathe. We need to get him home. If you let us go now, we will never return, I promise you."

Phenon covered his face with his hands for a long moment then lowered them and looked at Sheppard. "We do not believe in capital punishment," he said, "no matter the crime. I will get my men to bring a stretcher so you can take your companion home. I'm sorry," he added, "we are a simple people with strict traditions. Please believe me when I say we did not wish for this to happen."

John shrugged. "Just help us get him out of here," he muttered, "before he gets any worse, because I tell you now if he *does* die, we will be back, only it won't be to trade or make alliances."

Twenty minutes later, John watched the Stargate light up and let out a sigh of relief. He looked down at Rodney, still barely conscious, securely wrapped in blankets on the stretcher. "Let's get the hell out of here," he said, picking up the front of the stretcher as Ronon took the other end, and with Teyla at their backs, they stepped through the event horizon.

~oOo~

"You're looking better," John said, as Rodney looked up from the tablet computer he was working on.

"He's going to be fine," Carson said from the other side of the bed. "His throat will be a wee bit sore for a few more days but, I have to tell you, Colonel, you did a bang-up job."

Rodney turned the computer around so John could see the screen. 'Thank you' he'd typed 'but did you have to use a hacksaw to do the job?'

"Och, there's no pleasing some people," Carson said, grinning, "Just pay him no mind. He's just annoyed because he can't talk for a while."

"Really?" John asked. "No talking? Is that even possible? A quiet McKay? We may have to document this. You could send it off to one of the tabloids, Doc."

'Haha. Very funny.' Rodney wrote.

"Well, I've got some genuinely sick patients to look after so I'll leave you two to catch up. Don't forget, Rodney, not a word," Carson warned as he left them alone.

John perched on the side of the bed. "I really am glad you're okay, Rodney," he said, serious now.

'Teyla told me you were really worried' Rodney typed. He looked up at John hesitantly, nervously fingering the bandage that covered his tracheotomy wound.

"We all were," John assured him. A sudden, disquieting thought occurred to him. "Did Teyla say anything else?"

Rodney shrugged, his face flushing.

"Crap! Look, Rodney, she shouldn't have said anything. I would never mentioned it to you." John looked around then lowered his voice to just above a whisper, leaning closer to Rodney to be sure he was heard. "I know you like women, Rodney. I know you're not interested in me. I'll get over it, I'm sure, especially once you go back to being your usual, talkative, know-it-all self-"

A quick kiss to his mouth stopped his frantic words and he brushed his fingers over his lips then looked at Rodney in astonishment.

Rodney bent his head and typed quickly then turned the screen toward John. 'What if I don't want you to get over it?'

"Oh." John looked around again and made sure they were alone then he leaned forward and kissed Rodney again, slowly this time. He pulled away and placed his lips against Rodney's ear. "I love you, Rodney," he whispered.

'Ditto' Rodney wrote.

The End