Wee Hours

by Domenika Marzione

It's three in the morning when John gets woken up, an apologetic Bates on the radio saying that there's something wrong with the Athosians.

"They're all sick, sir," Bates says. "Medical's not set up for mass casualties."

It's three in the morning and John only got to sleep an hour or so ago, so his first instinct is to ask Bates what the hell he thinks John can do about this. But his second and every subsequent instinct is, thankfully, formed by the better part of two decades in the service. "I'll be down there in five," he says. "Make sure Teyla's there and get Doctor Weir."

Five minutes later and he's stopping in the doorway of the infirmary, taking in a sight no one really wants to see two weeks into an open-ended mission in the land of no resupply and no medevac: every bed in the infirmary, even the ones that had been folded up against the wall to save space, is occupied. By children.

The infirmary, not yet expanded into a suite because they haven't had time yet to knock down the relevant walls, is chaotic. There are doctors shouting to each other and to nurses, crying children, frantic and confused adults who don't understand what is wrong or what the doctors are doing to make it right, and the odd marine trying to direct traffic. It's not an out-of-control chaotic, there's a method to the madness that's apparent once John takes a moment to look and listen, but it's loud and a little angry-sounding all the same.

Elizabeth shows up a minute or two after John, the same wide-awake bleariness on her face that John knows is on his.

"I was beginning to hope that we'd escaped this particular nightmare scenario," she says as they take spots against the waiting-to-be-demolished wall; they've got a good view, to see and to be seen, but aren't in the way.

It had been McKay (of course) to bring up the possibility of accidental pandemics, but he'd been worried about the Athosians killing the Earth people with their wacky Pegasus germs. Beckett refusing to give McKay a face mask and gloves had been funny at the time, but it had also been tempered by the fact that Beckett hadn't been able to say that McKay's paranoia wasn't justified. Safir had deemed it extremely unlikely and more probable to happen the way it was unfolding now -- the Athosians being the ones to get sick -- but also hadn't been able to eliminate the possibility entire, just reduce it to a minor chance. While no one had exactly been relieved by that scenario, it had managed to end the conversation, which had been enough of a victory at the time.

John grimaces, since there's nothing really to say, and continues scanning the room for the people they need to talk to: Teyla and Beckett. Beckett can be heard, if not seen -- the white coats are all over the place -- and Teyla is a tiny dark head in a sea of taller ones. John finds her, head bowed as she leans in to talk to one of her people, and follows her with his eyes, waiting for the moment she'll turn around and see him. Crossing to her would be simply getting in the way and there's nothing he can do now except say he's sorry.

Ford shows up, embarrassed to have missed so much of the party, and John sends him off to the gate room to keep Bates company and handle anything else that comes up -- including the inevitable panic once the civilians get word of what's going on. It's as much about about not adding another body to the clutter in the room as the fact that Ford doesn't have any kind of experience or intuition to be useful here and now and, John suspects, he knows it. But they both know that the civilians will be fraught come (later) morning and throwing Ford to them as pacifier and convenient target is both a responsibility and a pitfall of being the junior officer. This placates Ford more effectively than anything John could say -- comfort in routine where there's very little routine.

Teyla turns up as Ford departs, wincing as a lull in the noise is punctuated by Safir yelling at one of the other doctors.

"It started this evening," she says. "It moved room to room, like a thief. Only the children have been affected."

The Athosians treat children like what they are -- Pegasus's greatest hope and most precious resource. John hasn't really seen much of the rest of the galaxy yet, at least the parts not controlled by the Wraith, but he expects that's true all over. A disease that takes only children is all the more terrifying above and beyond the usual fears of a parent for their child.

"Our medical staff is drawn from the brightest on our world," Elizabeth says. "They are experts in their fields."

Teyla gives her a smile, an acknowledgment of the words meant to reassure her. "I do not doubt that they are doing everything that they can."

John hasn't had any involved conversations about Athosian medicine with Teyla or any of the others, but he knows that it's not any more advanced than you'd expect from a village with flints and arrows and cured leather tents. (Their fancy lighters are not theirs; they cannot make more and they do not know how old their current supply is. Whether they are Ancient instead is still being determined by the engineers.) He's spent enough time in the infirmary so far that he's seen Teyla's confusion and wonderment at medical equipment even the most impoverished Earth society takes for granted. For all he knows, she may think the Earth doctors capable of curing anything -- she knows they brought him back to life -- and he hates the idea that they will eventually disappoint her. He really hopes that this isn't that time.

"Do you have any ideas as to how this started?" John asks. "Did they eat something, smell something? Touch something?"

That last one, especially after Jinto's adventures, has been on his mind. Everyone's mind, probably, considering the constant reminders to both Earth and Athos natives to not touch anything unless they know what it is and what it does.

"Doctor Safir has been asking many questions," Teyla replies with a frown. "The answers are sometimes hard to get."

"He's a specialist in the transmission of disease," Elizabeth explains. "He'll be able to tell us what the common thread is between everyone who has gotten sick."

"We hope," John adds. Elizabeth makes a face that's part acknowledgment and part reprimand.

"I have faith in Doctor Safir," Teyla says with a quick nod. "He has been nothing but kind to my people. Especially to the children."

John cocks an eyebrow and exchanges a glance with Elizabeth, who looks similarly dubious. "Are you sure we're talking about the same person? Tall guy, goatee, accent, radiates ill will?"

People seem to either deal with Safir or avoid him; there are people who are actual discipline and social problems and he's not one of them and that, ultimately, is John's barometer these days.

"Everyone from your world has an accent," Teyla says and John's not sure if she's mocking him or not. She turns back toward the room, scans it for Safir, and gestures. "There he is."

Safir's talking to a young girl -- maybe eight, but John's crappy with guessing ages -- while a nurse draws blood. The girl is flushed and sweaty and coughing -- respitory distress is the common symptom -- and when she's leaned forward so that Safir can put his stethoscope against her back, she sways. John can't hear anything being asked or answered, but Safir's gentleness is obvious as is the girl's relative lack of fear.

John looks down at Teyla, who is giving him one of those 'I told you so' looks he's gotten quite a few times over the last couple of weeks.

"Is there any chance we'll be able to convince the parents to wait somewhere else?" Elizabeth asks, frowning because she knows the answer but has to ask anyway. "Maybe ask that only one parent or guardian stay?"

John's not too sure how Athosian family units get counted. He knows Halling's a widower and Teyla's unmarried (or whatever the local equivalent is), but it's not really his bailiwick. Making sure the marines don't take up the offers made by several Athosian women to help boost the Pegasus population is, unfortunately, his bailiwick.

"I will try," Teyla promises.

She does and a few do leave, but the chaos is burning itself out anyway -- the patients are stabilized, no new cases are turning up, and the scope of the crisis seems to be known -- and it becomes less imperative.

John goes to check in with Bates and Ford in person, mostly to get away from the remaining din and partially to just move; it's getting near to dawn and he's feeling the weight of the last day (days, weeks) as much as the lack of sleep.

Ford and Bates are both happy to see him, for different reasons, and John can relax a little because what they need from him is familiar and less demanding than what is coming up down in Medical. They review the plans for the day -- city exploration, security sweeps, manual labor details -- and John tells them to let Elizabeth deal with both informing the expedition and handling the fallout. In theory, this should be nothing. In practice, they've had almost daily panics somewhere in the city with weird smells, the odd bit of smoke or dust, or other problems that should be obvious consequences of bringing online a city that's been hibernating for ten thousand years but are not obvious because everyone is so scared of other things. John's been either the cause or otherwise involved in most of these, so he tries to be understanding, but only to a point.

"Anyone starts being a problem, you remind them politely that this is affecting only Athosian children, so if they're neither one of those, then they're safe," he says. "If they don't like that, send them to Doctor Weir and she'll deal with them. Don't let anyone run off to Medical unless they're presenting actual symptoms."

"Doctor McKay's not gonna listen, sir," Bates points out.

"Tell 'em he'll have to see Safir," John replies, since Bates is right. "He's the one handling this."

Ford doesn't giggle, but he comes close. "That should do it."

Safir is nowhere to be found when John gets back down to the infirmary. Beckett, however, is talking to Elizabeth and Teyla. "Major," he greets John as he approaches the group. "I was just telling Doctor Weir and Teyla that our patients are responding well to treatment and we hope to know soon what the cause and nature of the outbreak is."

Beckett explains that they think it's some kind of allergy, possibly food-related. Safir is off doing his thing, most of which is comparing stories until the labwork is done.

There's nothing left to do but wait, in other words, and John is wondering how Elizabeth is going to politely engineer their escape from the vigil so they can get back to the billion and a half tasks that await them now that the rest of the city is waking up.

"You both must have many things to do," Teyla says. "Please do not feel obligated to wait here with me. I'm sure Doctor Beckett will call you on your radios the moment that there is word."

The scene has quieted down enough that John and Elizabeth can take a quick tour of the room before heading off.

"Dare we hope that this is as bad as it gets?" Elizabeth asks as they head toward the stairs.

"Wait until the hypochondriacs present symptoms" John says, since he doesn't want to comment on all of the ways the last few weeks have been a whole lot worse than an infirmary of sick kids.

"That's factored in," she says, accepting his gesture to proceed him into the stairwell.

The day goes pretty much as every other day has gone in the city -- a few lulls between a steady stream of emergencies both actual and not. The marines have taken to keeping a tally of evacuations, priority summonses, explosions, and false alarms by department. Except for Engineering, which gets tallied by individual since they each do more damage than other units combined. The marines bet on candidates like Atlantis was a racetrack, Bates as bookie, and harass each other depending on their records. John has told Ford to tell Bates to make sure that the wagering isn't actually for money.

In addition to keeping the marines from venting their annoyance on the largely unsuspecting civilians, the constant alerts and the resulting tensions and frustrations have done more to secure John's command than anything else he's done or said since returning without Sumner. It allows the marines to resent someone else while also giving John the opportunity to make problems go away. He causes a few moments of excitement, too -- damn city is so eager for someone with the gene that he can't lean against a wall without setting something off -- but that's of a different species. The effects of his absurd affinity for Ancient technology are not like the clueless and sometimes feckless curiosity of the civilians and the marines, most of whom still obey him out of duty and not respect, accept that in a way they wouldn't have back on Earth and John recognizes that for the sign of progress that it is.

Word of the Athosian illness is all over the expedition by lunch and, as everyone expected, McKay is leading the charge of psychosomatic fellow sufferers. Elizabeth apparently told Bates to send McKay directly to her, so thankfully John hasn't been called in to reinforce any orders. He doesn't regret his choice to add McKay to his recon team, but McKay in the city (where he thinks he's a god) is different than McKay outside of the city (where he's terrified) and, given the choice, he'll take the latter until the former chills out. Or at least until the city stops being so determined to talk to him above all others and McKay stops treating him like some oracle of Atlantis because of that.

There's an update in the evening, but John doesn't go down to the infirmary to hear it because he's busy with Doctor Williams' latest attempt to secure the lead in the marines' tally of disasters. He finds out later from Elizabeth that it is an allergy, but not to any food. The leading candidate is a candle, Earth-supplied and not one of the Athosian ones, but Elizabeth admits to not understanding the science well enough to explain why only children were affected and only some of the children. "I went into political science because I barely passed biology," she says.

John visits the corridor where they're housing the Athosians to find Teyla and is very uncomfortable at walking in on what appears to be a group prayer session. The Athosians aren't religious fanatics, but they are believers and the Ancients -- the Ancestors -- are their gods. Sort of, at least; it may be closer to the spirits of the American Indians, but John's really not inclined to ask Teyla about it. However they figure their deities, the Athosians look at him differently than the other Earth natives -- he saved Teyla and Halling from the Wraith, plus the fact that he has a peculiar relationship with Atlantis, which is if not holy ground, then at least pretty special -- and he curses the timing that has him showing up at the exact moment they're asking the Ancestors for help with their kids.

All he wants to do was make sure Teyla knows what was going on and understands it well enough to explain to her people; he ends up staying to listen to questions and comments that range from medical (which he cannot answer) to security (which he really can't change). So much for being a godhead.

He means to go down to the infirmary and check for himself, but gets distracted by a summons from Bates: there is a rogue posse of engineers who snuck back into their labs after the strictly enforced end of the workday. Business hours are very long precisely because there aren't enough marines to provide simultaneous security for roving civilians as well as the living quarters. They've talked about decreasing their patrol presence in the living areas, but they haven't made any changes yet because the civilians still get nervous if they don't see a marine in the hallway when they go down the hall for a middle-of-the-night piss.

"I'm glad you feel comfortable enough in the city to not need escorts," John tells them. "But until the decision is made to change security measures, I'd prefer that you didn't wander around after hours. The next time you feel like taking a midnight stroll, remember that Sergeant Bates here has full authority to deal with you as he sees fit. Which includes locking you in for the night, so either follow the rules or start looking for something to use as a chamber pot."

Bates smiles beatifically at the pissed-off engineers. John goes to bed.

He makes it down to Medical before PT the following morning. He still feels like crap -- a little sleep always feels like worse than none when a lot is needed -- but he's functional and that'll have to do. It's not like he's going to beat the marines at any physical contest anyway.

Nurse Ballantine greets him with a quiet nod; the start of the military day is still well before the start of anyone else's and the infirmary, like the rest of the city, is still apart from silently moving orderlies and nurses. John scans the room for a doctor and finds Yee seated at a desk, scribbling notes with a stack of folders in front of her. Medical hasn't had time to go paperless, either. Yee looks up at the motion and gestures across the room before John can reach her; he looks over and sees Safir sitting in one of the reclining chairs next to a pile of his own folders. It's not until John is a few feet away that he can see that Safir is apparently dozing with one of the folders spread across his chest, like he fell asleep reading. And there's a sleeping toddler under the folder.

He stops and is about to turn around -- Safir's charming enough when he's not being woken up and John's really got nothing that important to ask -- but Safir's eyes open and he gives John a questioning look.

"Just making my rounds," John explains in a whisper. "You guys need anything?"

The marines have ended up in charge of supplies and while he's sure the sergeants playing storekeepers will have given Medical whatever they've asked for out of storage, there have been difficulties when one unit wants something that another is already using.

"Nothing anyone can get us," Safir says, closing the folder serving as a blanket and putting it next to the stack on the attached table. He picks up the next, all the while seeming oblivious to the little boy on his chest. "With any luck, we'll be discharging the first ones tonight."

There's nothing else John needs to know right now, so he nods and makes his way back toward the door. He sees Teyla asleep on one of the other recliners -- she'd been hidden from view earlier by a makeshift curtain wall -- and wonders when she got here or when she decided to come as she'd said nothing to him the previous evening.

He gets through PT, a shower, and breakfast before his radio beeps with what will be the first of many demands upon his time and person for the day. He handles it without having to abandon his reconstituted-from-powder eggs -- the Athosians are working hard to hook them up with local food sources, but it's still mostly the survival rations they brought from Earth -- and is still drinking his Taster's Choice when Teyla appears. She sees him without his needing to wave and joins him.

"The children are doing well," she says as she sits down. She's carrying a large mug of Athosian morning tea -- the Athosians brought back bushels of the stuff when they went back to Athos to salvage the ruined village -- and french toast fingers. "They may perhaps be released from the doctors' care tomorrow."

John doesn't mention the slight discrepancy with what Safir told him; it's probably just a case of not wanting to get the Athosians' hopes up. "I heard," he says instead. "I stopped by earlier. Saw you."

Teyla blushes a little, like it's a weakness that he caught her sleeping.

"Also saw Doctor Safir," he goes on. "His blanket was cuter than yours."

A warm smile from Teyla. "Afir has been very fussy," she explains. "He would not sleep unless he was held."

John knows better than to try to explain just how incongruous it is that Safir should be the designated source of comfort, so he takes another bite of egg instead. They're edible with enough hot sauce, but he's looking forward to the real thing. Until they acquire the real thing, however, he's thankful that Sumner had assured that gallons of hot sauce were on the manifest. (It could have been anyone, John supposes, but it had to have been someone military -- the power of hot sauce is a secret learned early in a career in the armed forces and rarely appreciated by civilians until the situation demands it.)

"Are we still up for later?" John asks after swallowing. They had a mission scheduled, another prospective trading partner, and he was hoping to not have to delay it. He would, of course, if Teyla was uncomfortable leaving her people, but he hoped that they wouldn't.

"Yes," Teyla said, hurriedly swallowing her mouthful of tea. "You will like the Ipetians, I believe. They are fair traders and generous hosts."

"Cool."

The Ipetians are indeed generous hosts. They're also a bit more into the religious thing than the Athosians, but John has sat through worse and McKay is kept distracted by the traditional Ipetian pastries and they get through that part without issue because Teyla is very obviously a cherished friend of the leader, Yuenthea, and Ford has seemingly found a friend in Valarn, the head of the Ipetian militia. They return to Atlantis well fed and bearing gifts, the promise of friendship, and a tentative trade agreement. Elizabeth, who is clearly expecting either a medical emergency or a return under fire -- John would like to argue that bit of profiling, but he really can't -- is arguably as relieved as she is pleased.

Beckett discharges two girls after dinner and, coupled with a record low in the daily catastrophe department -- the marines are torn between a decreased workload and completely screwing the spread -- John is ready to consider it a good day.

feed me on LJ?


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16 June, 2008