Doctors Rodney McKay and Radek Zelenka walked with their lunch trays toward the laughter emanating from the far corner of the cafeteria. The place was packed, which was somewhat unusual for the relatively late time of day. Though they had work to discuss and would have preferred a quieter circumstance for that discussion, the only available table appeared to be next to the one currently occupied by three Air Force colonels and the SGC's top linguist.
The table where the raucous laughter was coming from.
"Colonel. Colonel. Colonel," Rodney started in greeting, followed by, "Dr. Jackson."
"Rodney, Dr. Zelenka, come and join us," Daniel Jackson suggested in an easy-going, almost overly-eager way. "Sheppard was giving us the blow-by-blow of some of your amazing escapades out here in the Pegasus Galaxy. We'd love to hear your side of some of the stories."
"Yes," McKay said out loud, though he thought something more like 'I'll bet'. Sheppard was pretty good at spinning a tale, somehow always managing to make Rodney out to be a bit of a fool. His little lemon joke the other day when he gave Colonel Mitchell the citrus fruit as a way of keeping the physicist under control was just another in what seemed a long line of slights that had been slung his way. It hurt more now. Before, when they were closer, when Rodney considered John Sheppard to be his best friend, and when Sheppard returned those feelings, the jabs seemed tempered by that friendship. Now, each one of those jabs and jokes cut deep. It seemed so long ago that they were like that; he thought he'd started to develop a thicker skin.
Evidently not. No, he didn't think he needed Sheppard and his new best pal Mitchell riding him some more, and certainly not in front of two people that he admired, Sam Carter and Daniel Jackson.
"Actually, Radek and I only have time for a quick working lunch. But thank you for the offer, Dr. Jackson," he added, regretting having to say it; it wasn't often that the brilliant Dr. Daniel Jackson would make it out to the Pegasus Galaxy.
"Aw, come on," Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell called to the two scientists. "It's not healthy to work that hard. Take a break."
There was simply no chance of that. McKay's initial encounter with Mitchell hadn't been a good one; nothing had happened since that preliminary introduction to make him change his original appraisal of the cocky Air Force officer. It was one thing to be cocky if you'd earned the right, which John Sheppard had done plenty, though he always managed to wear his cockiness in a far more engaging manner. Rodney didn't know Mitchell all that well, but he felt pretty confident that the man hadn't earned the right to act as he did, Samantha Carter's endorsement of him notwithstanding.
Radek had heard about the citrus incident and formed his own view of Mitchell. He stood by Rodney's side and said firmly, "No, we will sit over there. We have final strategy to put in place for the next phase of testing." He continued over to the other table, taking a seat with his back facing Mitchell one table over, as though he had decided that this would be his final encounter with the man who had replaced General Jack O'Neill on SG-1, replace being an overly kind assessment in Dr. Radek Zelenka's eyes.
John Sheppard raised his eyebrows at Zelenka's brush off of his military colleague, and then looked up to McKay in question.
"Well," Rodney started, decidedly uncomfortable with Sheppard's questioning eyes and just as equally not interested in answering them, "as Dr. Zelenka said, we do have work to do. Have a good day," he added and took the seat opposite Radek. He was now looking at Sheppard and Carter's backs, and could see Jackson and Mitchell's faces as John continued with whatever tale he had previously been telling.
"He is arrogant," Radek said as he took a bite from his salad. It was one thing for his friend and colleague from Canada to be arrogant, but apparently it didn't sit well for the Czech when it came in the 'Mitchell' package.
"Yes. It is a quality generally prized in Air Force officers," Rodney replied as he used his fork to shove the macaroni and cheese around on this plate.
"I do not know how you could work with him," Zelenka went on, stabbing forcefully at an escaping tomato.
"Well, thankfully that's over. Hopefully we won't see him again after this one mission," McKay countered, sounding far too reasonable for Radek's taste.
"Yes, they leave soon, is this correct? Though I will miss the lovely Colonel Carter."
"Soon," Rodney answered testily, not liking the wistful look in Zelenka's eyes. It was no matter that Mckay's brain knew that Sam Carter would never be his; his heart always managed to trump his great intellect on that topic.
They each took a bite from their lunches, Radek still seemingly mad at his salad, despite the fact that he'd just been aglow with thoughts of Sam Carter, and Rodney finally taking a first taste of the mac and cheese.
"How do you think we should modify the test protocol to adjust for the energy fluctuations?" Rodney asked.
"I do not think we need too much on the high end," Radek began. "We should...ack! What?" he asked, feeling his ear. He looked up first, and then back behind him where he saw Mitchell with half a lemon in his hand.
Zelenka turned quickly back to Atlantis' chief science officer and said, "Rodney." But he could already see that it was too late: McKay's left eye was squeezed shut, and he was trying to spit out the taste of lemon that had flown into his mouth.
Sheppard and Carter noticed Mitchell's stunned reaction immediately and quickly rose from their seats, heading to the table behind them and to McKay's side.
"Did you swallow any, Rodney?" Zelenka asked worriedly.
"Rodney?" Sheppard asked when Radek didn't receive a response. He kneeled next to the scientist. "You okay?"
"Probably not." Reflex kept McKay's left eye clamped shut while his right eye was wide open with fear, and not a little anger. He spit again and said, "I should probably head to the infirmary."
"McKay, do you have your epinephrine with you?" Samantha Carter asked calmly.
"No," Rodney said as he stood to leave. He added with agitation, "I haven't had a need to carry one with me while on Atlantis." He turned to Mitchell and said scathingly, "It's usually safe being home." He brushed past Mitchell with John, Radek and Carter following closely behind.
"What were you thinking?" an angry Daniel Jackson asked the man still holding the lemon.
Cameron Mitchell looked from Daniel's face, toward where McKay and company were leaving, and then down at his hand. He tossed the lemon on the table and said morosely, "Obviously I wasn't."
Rodney's gait was slowing precipitously. The two colonels and Radek caught up quickly, almost knocking into McKay when he suddenly stopped dead in the middle of the hallway. He turned right and saw Sam Carter smiling worriedly at him. That was nice, but not what he needed. He turned left and found what he was looking for.
"Call Carson?" he asked Sheppard pitifully and painfully as he now began to struggle to breathe.
"Rodney, sit," Radek instructed as he led McKay to the right side of the hall and helped his friend sit on the floor, gently pushing his back against the wall.
"Carson, we have an emergency. Rodney got squirted by a lemon," John said urgently. "He's not breathing too good."
"I'm on my way," Dr. Carson Beckett responded.
"Head toward the cafeteria. We're in the hallway heading your way," John directed.
"Coming. Rodney is still breathing, just with difficulty?" Carson asked. John could imagine him gathering what was needed before venturing out.
"Yes. The pen should be good for now," Sheppard said with worry in his voice as he kneeled in front of McKay. "Right?" he asked Rodney.
Rodney nodded his agreement. John patted his friend's knee; McKay had one knee bent up with his other leg stretched out as leaned against the wall, Radek sitting protectively next to him. John spoke into his comm., "Rodney says the pen is good."
McKay reached his hand out to get Sheppard's attention. He whispered, "Hurry."
John added quickly, "If you hurry."
"I'm coming," Beckett said, the breathless sound in his tone making it obvious that he was already on his way.
"He'll be here in a minute, McKay," John offered in comfort.
Rodney nodded faintly as he struggled for breath. This was infinitely scarier to witness than the hypoglycemia attacks, though John fully understood the seriousness of both conditions.
McKay's breathing was becoming harsher, harder for the scientist to get enough air. John knew that McKay's struggling was not helping; it was hard to stay calm when it felt like the next breath might be your last. The colonel needed to get Rodney to calm down. His teammate looked terrible, his face red from his efforts to breath, and his left eye now blinking and tearing constantly from the sharp sting of the citrus. McKay's other eye looked like it was ready to pop out of its socket.
"McKay. Hey," John said, shaking his hand on Rodney's knee to force his attention to John's face. He sat on the floor and said, "Rodney, I need you to slow it down some. You know how to do this, deep and slow, just a little. Can you try?"
Rodney nodded and followed Sheppard's example. John breathed in deeply and then out, in and out. Rodney mimicked, though not to John's exaggeratedly slow pace. He couldn't, but it was enough to keep McKay from the added complication of hyperventilating.
"Carson. Thank god," Radek said as they all heard before they saw Beckett running to their huddle in the hallway. Zelenka made room for him, and within seconds Carson had slammed an injection into Rodney's thigh.
"Is that good enough?" John asked, wondering if there wasn't a more direct method of getting the stimulant into McKay's system.
"It was faster than gathering the other paraphernalia," Carson said. "That was a good call, colonel." Beckett grabbed Rodney's wrist to check his pulse. "Better?" he asked as he finished the first check and moved on to gauge Rodney's blood pressure.
McKay nodded and shrugged at the same time, still breathing heavily. He began to lean quite heavily into Carson, making it much harder for the physician to perform the BP check.
"Colonel Sheppard, can you move over next to him and pull him over your way, please?" Beckett asked. John quickly did as he'd been instructed. McKay instantly felt like dead weight up against Sheppard's shoulder.
"Think he might need a gurney?" Mitchell asked.
Everyone in the immediate area scowled at him, except for McKay, who was concentrating on something else far more important. John answered, "This is a very serious medical condition, Mitchell. It's an ordeal, and it's exhausting." They all heard the wheels on the hard floor of Atlantis. "Carson made those arrangements already." He paused, but then added as an afterthought, "I'm sure those keen observational skills must be highly prized at the SGC." Sam and Daniel both looked pained at the harsh comment.
Rodney huffed a slight laugh at the less that subtle insult, which seemed to ease everyone's concerns just slightly, but that small bit of frivolity cost McKay as he choked on a breath and started coughing. His throat was nowhere near clear enough for that activity.
"Rodney, breathe. Come on lad, take it easy." Carson watched carefully as his friend seemed to be working hard to stifle the cough and managed finally to catch a decent breath. John had his arm around Rodney's shoulder, holding him steady, the concentration on controlling the cough more than McKay's body cared to handle.
Mitchell, Carter, Jackson and Zelenka all stayed back and watched as Beckett and Sheppard cared for the ailing McKay. Rodney's breathing had improved to the point where Carson was satisfied to begin getting the physicist up on the gurney. He, Sheppard, the nurse and the orderly who had brought the stretcher all helped to get McKay onto his wheels and headed to the infirmary.
As they walked in relative silence, Carson asked, "I do hope this didn't have anything to do with that lemon you gave to Colonel Mitchell the other day?" The warning tone told John that telling the truth was going to hurt, in one way or another.
"Actually, Carson," John began. "It sorta did. I'll tell you about it after you get Rodney settled."
"I think he only got two squirts," Radek explained helpfully. "One in the mouth and one in the eye."
"Eye?" Carson asked. He looked more carefully at Rodney, now noticing the redness and the seeming non-stop trickle of wetness down McKay's left cheek. "Sorry, Rodney. We'll get that washed out right away. It must sting like the dickens."
"Just like that," Rodney croaked acerbically.
"Don't talk," Carson and John admonished together. Everyone laughed just a little at that, everyone but McKay, whose face would never, ever be described as inscrutable. No, right now, everybody in the room knew how Rodney McKay felt about the laughter.
"McKay, I'd listen to them if I were you. They only have your best interests in mind," Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter said as she stepped up to the bed. "I'll see you later, before we head out," she added as she leaned in and kissed him on the 'right' cheek. Rodney started to talk but Carter placed her finger on his lips. "Come on, McKay. Let me enjoy the moment."
She stepped back and then headed out the door, a smirking Daniel Jackson and a definitely quieter than normal Cameron Mitchell followed.
"I'm not kiddin', Rodney. Until you can take in air at a more satisfactory rate," Beckett said as he nodded for the nurse to hook the nasal canula in place to help with that effort, "you will not speak. Is that understood?"
McKay's mouth opened.
"McKay!" Sheppard chastised. "Jesus. Just listen, would you?" John Sheppard was more than agitated.
"Colonel?" Carson asked. "I can take it from here." John stood his ground, staring at McKay as McKay stared right back. "John, he's going to be fine." Still the stand-off, or game of chicken, whatever these two men were playing at, continued. "Rodney needs to relax if he's going to be fine," Beckett said sternly to both of his friends.
Sheppard looked at McKay, who had his arms crossed over his chest, though only lightly because it looked like he was in a little bit of pain from his earlier efforts, and was propped up on the stretcher, still struggling a little to breathe even with the oxygen, and definitely not looking relaxed. So John decided that losing this head-to-head was the right thing to do. He cocked his head and grinned, but said, "We will talk later, McKay." Rodney eased into the pillow and closed his eyes, attempting a 'Fine', though nothing came out. Whether the silence was planned or not was hard to tell.
"Frustrating, your friend," Carson Beckett said as he walked John Sheppard to the door.
"He was your friend first," John bandied back in a practiced and unapologetic juvenile manner. "Take care of him."
It was hard to miss how Sheppard's demeanor switched so quickly, from mad to gentle to serious; it was like virtual whiplash. Carson was warmed by the concern and affection that Sheppard had for their shared friend, though he was certain that it wouldn't be too long before Rodney was the victim of another one of Sheppard's always entertaining recollections of one of their missions. He doubted that the colonel knew how it hurt Rodney when he told the stories that way. They would need to talk about that sometime.
"He will be fine, John," Beckett assured him. "We've been through this before and this was far from the worst allergic reaction that he has had." They were at the exit of the infirmary now, the nurses and other staff getting Rodney comfortable on one of the real beds.
"I hate to see him struggle like that," John said quietly. He was relieved to see McKay being cared for by 'his' nurse, Rodney's favorite by far. He seemed so much better than just minutes before. "It's...it always looks so bad. It looks like he's choking to death."
"Well," Carson started, knowing that what he was about to say was not going to make John feel any better, "to be frank, it feels to the patient just as bad as it looks to his friends. Which is why it surprised me when I heard about that lemon threat the other day."
"Come on, Carson. It was a joke."
"Is it funny now?" Beckett challenged.
"Of course it's not funny now," John replied, keeping his voice low so that Rodney wouldn't overhear. "I didn't expect...that to happen."
"Exactly what happened?"
"I was sitting with Carter, Daniel and Mitchell at lunch. We were talking about different alcoholic beverages and Sam mentioned a Lemon Drop. You run a piece of lemon on the inside of the glass, and then you dip the glass rim in sugar. And then you add chilled tequila and vodka to the glass." He had been talking with his hands, earnestly describing the drink when he finally looked at Beckett's face.
"Sorry. Anyway, Mitchell said that a lemon wedge with sugar poured over it and then eaten that way was just as good, in a non-alcoholic way. And before any of us knew it, voila, he had pulled the lemon out of his pocket, cut it in half with his Swiss Army knife and," John looked over to his resting friend, ending sadly, "that was that."
"Thoughtless bastard," Carson said angrily.
"He didn't mean for this to happen," John said, not really wanting to defend Mitchell but knowing that nothing that he'd done today had been done intentionally to harm Rodney.
"I suppose not. Maybe seeing Rodney's reaction he'll have a better understanding and respect the serious nature of Rodney's health issues." He looked at John meaningfully. "I trust this was a reminder to you as well?"
"It was." Sheppard looked at McKay one more time. He pointed his thumb back at Rodney's bed and started to ask a question. Carson cut him off.
"He'll be out for a while. If he's fallen asleep, I'll need to wake him to finish my examination, and then I'll be giving him a mild sedative so that he doesn't fight his exhaustion, because you know that he will."
John simply smiled in knowing agreement. He started to ask another question, but one more time, Beckett beat him to the punch.
"Rodney can come out and play in about two days, Johnny. Until then, in my infirmary, please play in limited amounts, and quietly?" Though the inflection sounded like a question, and the tone was light, it was crystal clear what Carson expected from him.
"Yes, sir," Sheppard said, saluting Atlantis' chief medical officer.
"Leave. Now," Carson ordered lightly.
John left. Dr. Carson Beckett shook his head. As though caring for these two men wasn't challenging enough when they were faced with imminent danger; now he had to worry about silliness like this while on Atlantis. It's not like this was the first time: the Ancient's human shield had all of the potential of turning out badly for Rodney, and there had been any number of other instances since then, especially when Sheppard and McKay were closer.
John's concern for his friend indicated to Carson that things were looking up in that arena. That would be a grand thing, if John and Rodney could get back that special closeness that they developed early on during their stay in the Pegasus Galaxy.
With all of this galaxy's unknowns, and even some of the 'knowns' working against them, what could Carson Beckett do to mitigate all of those threats? In reality there was nothing that he could do, certainly regarding the Wraith, the Genii and the inherent dangers of living in a galaxy where the unexpected was becoming the norm. What he could do was accept that Sheppard recognized the folly of the lemon incident and hope that he truly was scared enough not to try anything like that again.
The evidence of the improving relationship between the two, and his place as their friend gave him the right to hope.
Summary: Why did John give Mitchell that lemon? The unfortunate aftermath to a bad decision. Episode tag for The Pegasus Project.