Dr. Jennifer Keller woke with her head spinning and a splintering ache running along her jaw.
She moaned and sat up on the bed with her hands pressed to her eyes and head bent, willing her stomach contents to stay lower than her mouth. Even the dull colours shining behind her eyelids looked too bright. On her worst mornings after her best nights in medical school she'd never had a hangover this bad.
And then the memory returned in a flash of insight that made her wince. It wasn't a hangover; she had fallen and banged her chin off the floor.
Her eyes flew open and then squeezed shut, and then flew open again as she clapped her hands over her mouth.
"Over there," Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard said, gesturing towards a stainless steel toilet sitting behind a low wall in a corner.
Jennifer nodded and hurtled herself at the toilet. She half-knelt/half-fell beside it and in the next instant was throwing up the entire meagre contents of her stomach. One hand braced her against the toilet's edge and the other was against her head in a vain attempt to hold back her hair.
It seemed to take forever and her whole body felt like it was shaking by the time she was only spitting up bile. With another groan she moved away from the toilet and sagged against the wall, hands splayed against her abdomen.
"Feel better?" John asked. He was smirking but there was compassion in his tone. It was obvious that he knew what post-concussion nausea was like.
"I'll live," she said, then shifted her back so that the bars behind her weren't digging so painfully into her shoulders. She turned her head to look at her surroundings and felt herself start as realization pushed itself through the pain and fog of her vomiting episode.
She was sitting on the hard cement floor of a room approximately 8 by 10 feet. It had two bare cots attached to the wall on each side and the toilet that glinted dimly in the dull florescent light of the bulbs in the extremely high ceiling. Bulbs that were covered with a tight wire mesh and hummed, like in the worst anatomy lab she'd ever attended. There were no walls, just thick metal bars, broken by the outline of a door with a long bar locked in place. There was a space under the door that was just large enough to slide items in.
Jennifer felt her jaw drop, which caused another jolt of pain and she winced. John was looking at her from where he was sitting on the floor, slumped with his back against the side of one of the cots.
"Yeah," he said, one half of his mouth flicking up into a smile. "We're in jail."
"I don't understand!" Jennifer said. She had pulled herself to her feet and was holding onto the bars, trying to peer down the darkened hallway to the gloom beyond. The prison cells on either side of them were all empty, as were the ones across the way. There was no sign of anyone else at all.
John shrugged; a small gesture that barely twitched up his shoulders.
"What's to understand?" he said. "We had something that the Ulagg wanted, so he tried to take it." He sighed. "So we're here."
"But he said there were sick people!" Jennifer protested. "Children!"
John smirked. "He lied."
Jennifer touched her jaw gingerly. It was the first time she'd been hit since the Bola Kai had taken her and Teyla captive over a year ago. It hurt and she still felt dizzy. John had told her that she'd been unconscious for a couple of hours at least, which explained her sore jaw and headache. She hoped she'd never get used to this feeling.
"I remember falling on the floor," Jennifer said, turning to look at John, "but I can't remember everything that happened."
"The Ulagg brought you and me into his palace." John said. "And then told me that we were going to give him either guns or medicines, it was my choice. But Atlantis wasn't getting us back without one or the other."
Jennifer licked her lips. "I remember that." She looked at John, noting the pallor of his skin under the flat bulb in the ceiling. "I opened a channel to the Gate team on my radio to let them know what was happening." Her eyes widened. "One of the guards pointed his gun at me!"
"Yup," John said.
Jennifer turned around to face John, feeling her heart speeding up in her chest. "He was going to shoot me for warning the Gate team!"
"Yup," John repeated. "It was looking pretty tense."
"But he didn't!" Jennifer cried as the rush of memory hit her. "He fired, but you pushed me out of the way. That's how I hit my jaw on the floor, but the bullet didn't hit me!"
John smiled. "Nope." He shifted against the bed and winced.
"It didn't hit me because it hit you!" Jennifer exclaimed. "Oh my God, John! You've been shot!"
"And here I thought I'd been hiding it so well," John muttered as Jennifer landed on her knees by his side. She searched him with her eyes, but the light was too low to see where his injury might be against the dark grey of his jacket. She shoved her hands under it, searching for the wound she knew had to be there.
"It's my arm!" John said just as her fingers hit something wet and sticky and John hissed in pain.
Jennifer frowned. "Found it," she said. "We have to take off your jacket."
"Well I hope that you've got a big pair of scissors hidden in your boot," John said, leaning his head back against the bed, "because they stripped me clean, and there's no way you're pulling that off my shoulders."
Jennifer bit her lip then shifted her weight to her heels, gripping the sleeve of his wounded arm in both her hands. "Don't hate me," she murmured, and tugged. Hard.
John let out a short cry.
"Sorry!" Jennifer blurted. "I'm so sorry! But I have to get this off!" The sleeve was off his shoulder and half-way down his arm, forcing his elbow to lift as she pulled.
The bullet had grazed his upper arm just under the cuff of his t-shirt: a huge, angry jagged tear, like someone had gouged out his flesh with a ragged fingernail.
"Stop," John wheezed. "Stop."
Jennifer let go of the jacket, still half-way off his arm.
John turned his head and looked at it. "Jesus," he breathed. "That looks worse than it feels."
"It's infected," Jennifer said, hearing the note of fear in her voice. "I don't know if it's from your jacket or the jail or what, but it's infected already. We need to get you back to Atlantis as soon as possible."
John looked at her, one dark eyebrow raised. He gestured vaguely at the locked door. "After you."
Jennifer swallowed. "Right," she said. "Locked in." She looked at his wound again. It was an inflamed mess of reddened skin, dried blood and yellow-green pus. Streaks of infection were running up and down John's arm, disappearing under the edge of his t-shirt and sliding down towards his elbow. She reached her hands out to touch it, to feel its heat and evaluate how tender it was, saw her bare hands, and stopped.
"I don't have any supplies," she said.
"I know," he said. "They took all your stuff too." He dropped his gaze. "I couldn't stop them."
Jennifer started, and looked down at her chest as she remembered wearing a jacket and realized that it was gone. Her stomach rolled at the idea of someone she didn't know pawing at her while she was unconscious. "It's okay," she said and forced herself to smile. She looked at John's wound again and the smile fell from her face. "I can't treat you. Maybe I could tear some bandages?" She fingered the edge of her t-shirt.
John shook his head. "No," he said flatly. "We don't have any other clothes and it could get really cold in here. Keep it."
She sighed, knowing he was right. She stood. The change in position ratcheted up the pain in her head and she winced, cupping the sore side of her jaw with both hands.
"Sorry about that," John said. "I guess I pushed you too hard."
Jennifer shook off his apology. "You saved my life."
"Yeah, well," he said, purposely glancing around the cell. "Glad I could help." His tone was coated in sarcasm.
"I'm sure help will come soon," Jennifer said, forcing as much confidence into her voice as she could.
"Yeah," John repeated as his eyes drifted shut. "I'm sure Major Lorne and the cavalry will be here any second." He shifted against the bed and winced.
Jennifer moved closer. If possible, the wound looked even angrier than before. And there was nothing she could do about it.
She fisted her hands and went to the door. "Guard?" she called, her voice echoing hollowly into the darkness. "Guard!"
A long while later, the guard still hadn't come.
Jennifer had tried calling normally, then louder, then she shook the bars and yelled at the top of her lungs, but still no one had appeared.
She stopped yelling when she started coughing from the strain. The silence after all her noise was oppressive.
"I don't understand," Jennifer said, looking over her shoulder at John. She still gripped the bars, feeling the fear trembling through her fingers. "Why aren't they listening?"
"They're making a point," John said without opening his eyes. "Letting us know exactly how unimportant we are. They'll probably wait until we're good and hungry and thirsty and then they'll come. Promising us the meal of a lifetime if we do what they want."
"Oh," Jennifer said, swallowing against the sudden dryness in her throat.
John opened his eyes. "It's gonna suck," he said with a gentle smile. "But we'll get through it." His smile broadened. "At least Rodney's not here to complain about not being fed. We'd never hear the end of it."
"Uh huh." Jennifer nodded, but she turned back to the darkened hallway so John wouldn't see the rush of moisture that sprang to her eyes. It was kind of John to try to buck her up. Teyla had done a similar thing when they'd chased and then captured by the Bola Kai, but it hadn't made her feel any braver then than it did now.
"I wish Rodney were here," Jennifer said. Rodney was so smart, she was sure he'd find a way out of this jail in no time.
"You would," John muttered.
Jennifer blinked, surprised by the harshness in John's tone. She turned to look at him where he was still sitting on the floor, and then gasped, her surprise forgotten.
John's face was flushed. It was cool in the cell. Cool enough to cause her to pull the sleeves of her long-sleeve t-shirt down to her wrists, but John was obviously hot. He was still wearing his jacket, half-on, half-off, while she was just in her blue t-shirt, but the jacket itself shouldn't have been enough to raise John's temperature that much.
She went back to his side and put her hands on his forehead then against the side of his face and down his neck.
"You have a fever," she said, sitting back on her haunches.
John shook his head. "No I don't." He paused. "But your hands felt nice."
"Because they're cool and you have a fever," Jennifer said, and obligingly put her hands back against his face. His skin was warm and too dry. Nothing that a few glasses of water and some Acetaminophen couldn't help, but she had neither. She bit her lip. "We really need to get you back to Atlantis."
"I'm fine," John said. "I'm just hot. And my arm hurts."
"Damn them!" Jennifer stood again and banged her hand on the side of one of the bars. "Guard!"
"Oh, hello," a snarky voice called as a portly man in a green uniform appeared out of the shadows at the end of the hall. "You've woken up. Pity. I had money in the betting pool that you'd both be dead."
John's lips curled into a sneer. "Sorry to disappoint."
The guard stepped into the light; close by the bars and too close to where Jennifer was standing. He looked at her with eyes that were a startlingly lovely amber colour and in complete contrast to the cruel twist of his lips. "Oh no," he said, his voice oily. "Actually, this one being alive isn't disappointing at all."
Jennifer took a step back. "Colonel Sheppard was shot," she said, proud of how strong her words sounded. "The wound's infected. He needs medical treatment immediately."
The guard tossed a disdainful look at John. "He seems fine."
"He's not," Jennifer said, just as John drawled, "I am."
"It sounds like he doesn't need anything," the guard said. He touched the back of her hand around the bar with the tip of one thick finger. "But you—"
Jennifer let go of the bar. "I need to speak to your medical doctor immediately."
The guard snorted a laugh. "You're in no position to make demands."
"And you're in no position to refuse!" Jennifer shouted as she gestured at John. "This man—"
"This man," the guard interrupted, "is a prisoner of the Ulagg. Charged with attempting his assassination. You're fortunate that he's alive at all."
John staggered to his feet. He swayed heavily and Jennifer moved to help him, but he grasped the edge of his cot and managed to pull himself upright. His cheeks were an unnatural red, and he was panting with effort. But his eyes were narrowed and all his focus was on the guard. John looked very, very angry.
The guard took a step back.
"Listen," John spat. "We all know that these charges are bullshit, and we also know that we're locked up in this stinking hell-hole instead of dead because we're more useful to the Ulagg that way. So you tell him to cut the crap and let us out of here or I promise you he will be very, very sorry."
The guard's expression changed to one of patently false horror. "Me? Approach the Ulagg? Oh no. I'm not nearly that important."
"Look you ugly piece of—"
"Okay, okay!" Jennifer said quickly, putting up her hand to stop John. The guard was odious, but it would probably do them no good at all if John insulted him. Right at that second he was the only link they had with anything beyond the darkness of the hallway. And even if he didn't want to admit it, John needed medicine badly.
"Please excuse my friend," Jennifer said, trying to look as innocent as possible and forcing herself to move a step closer. She would have gone for flirty but she knew she was terrible at it. "He's nearly out of his mind with fever. Would it be possible for you to bring a doctor to help him?"
The guard looked at her, his eyes lighting with undisguised interest. He stuck his finger through the bars again and stroked the back of her hand. "I might be willing to discuss it."
Jennifer moved her hand away and he scowled. "He could really use one," she said, hoping her tone was properly imploring and not betraying any of the disgust that she felt.
The guard was still scowling. "Doctors are expensive. You don't have anything that would be worth a doctor."
Trade! Jennifer felt her eyes widen. The Ulagg had tried to trade their lives for supplies. Maybe the whole country worked on this kind of barter system. "I have this," Jennifer said quickly, pulling the sleeve of her t-shirt off her wrist and exposing the watch strapped there.
It was a silver Fossil watch that her father had given to her when she graduated med school. It was beautiful and practical and easy to read at three AM after being awake for over 26 hours doing an internship in the Emerg. She felt a lump form in her throat as she slipped it off her wrist and purposely didn't turn it over to look at the 'Love Dad' inscribed on the back. "This is worth a visit from the doctor," Jennifer said, glad there was only a slight wobble in her voice.
The guard took it in his doughy hands and turned it over admiringly. "This metal looks to be high quality. Is it a timepiece?"
"Yes," Jennifer said quickly. "Do we have a deal?"
"No," the guard said, placing the watch into his breast pocket. "Timepieces are cheap here. This won't get you looked at by the doctor's shadow!" He laughed at his own joke.
"You can't just take it!" Jennifer cried, gripping the bars. She couldn't believe she'd given up her father's gift for nothing.
"I could," the guard said musingly, looking back down the hallway. He turned back to Jennifer, pure lust glimmering in his eyes. "Or maybe we could trade something else for you to get it back."
"No!" John shouted, startling her. She hadn't realized he'd crossed the room. He reached through the bars and narrowly missed grabbing the guard's throat. "Jennifer's not for sale!"
The guard snorted, eyeing John's wound which was still exposed by the jacket now hanging off one arm. "That looks painful." He smiled.
"Bandages!" Jennifer cried. "The watch for some bandages! And scissors! And water! Water to clean it with! I'll give you the watch for those!"
The guard turned his attention back to her. "Bandages? Scissors? Water?" He took the watch out of his pocket and looked at it with scorn. "You must think this is pure gold!"
"Please," Jennifer said, hating the way she was pleading. "It must be worth something."
"I'll bring you a blanket for it," the guard said. "And maybe some water if you smile nicely."
Jennifer dutifully beamed at him, feeling bile rise in her throat. "Two blankets. And some bandages."
The guard made a face, and left.
Jennifer's shoulders sagged. She felt utterly defeated.
"Sorry about your watch," John said. He staggered to the cot and lay down on the bare mattress, moaning in pain as his arm shifted with the movement.
"My dad gave it to me," Jennifer said quietly. She pulled the sleeves of her shirt up over her wrists.
"Oh," John said. "I thought Rodney gave it to you."
Jennifer shook her head. "Just my dad."
"Sorry." John repeated, then, "That guard's a fucking asshole."
Jennifer felt herself smile at John's vehemence. "Yep."
"I Feel like shit," John muttered. "Just gonna close my eyes." His lids slid shut. "When we get back, I'll make Rodney buy you a new watch."
"What?" Jennifer asked. But John was already asleep.
John was moaning in his sleep.
Jennifer huddled by the side of John's cot, arms wrapped around her legs against the chill of the night air. The light hadn't changed at all in the prison. It still burned dimly in its encased metal frame and the shadows stayed exactly the same down the long, empty hallway, but still it felt like night had fallen. At least the temperature had dropped significantly, enough so that Jennifer was missing her ugly grey-and-yellow jacket for the first time ever.
John was burning up with fever.
She had never felt so helpless in her life, watching him toss and turn in his restless sleep. The flush in his cheeks had deepened and his lips were unnaturally bright. He was breathing too fast, and when she touched his wrist his pulse leaped under her fingertips. She didn't have a thermometer, but she could tell his fever was dangerously high.
His wound was a gaping mass of putrid flesh that dripped pus like poison.
Jennifer fisted her hands until her nails bit her palms. There was nothing she could do.
"If only I could cool him down," she said out loud for what felt like the hundredth time. She had tried everything she could think of: stripping him down to his underwear; pressing her hands to the cold cement floor and then putting them on his body, but nothing had worked.
"Damn it!" She shouted. She hit her fists against her thighs.
In the corner, the toilet made a bubbling sound.
Jennifer's head shot up.
She scrambled to her feet, grabbing John's discarded t-shirt. She had completely forgotten about the toilet sitting by the wall of the cell. She hadn't had anything to drink for hours so she hadn't had to go near it more than once since vomiting earlier that day.
The toilet was surprisingly clean, and the water looked clear, but Jennifer flushed it anyway just to be on the safe side. Wincing, she dipped John's t-shirt into the icy water, grimacing as it soaked through the shirt and wet her fingers.
"Beggars can't be choosers," she muttered, and went back to John's side.
Carefully, she started wiping him down with the shirt, being very sure to keep the water away from his face and especially his open wound. She doubted it could make the infection worse at this point but there was no reason to tempt fate. She couldn't help but shudder as she ran the cloth under his armpits and down his side. Using undrinkable water for patient care went against everything she'd ever been taught in medical school, but it had to be better than nothing.
John whimpered and tried to move away from the cold cloth, but Jennifer shushed him and gently held him still. It was unnerving to see the Military Commander of Atlantis like this. John was normally so tall and strong and larger-than-life. Seeing him this helpless made Jennifer's throat hurt.
"It's okay, John," Jennifer crooned, putting her hand on John's forehead. The skin was still painfully hot beneath her palm and she swallowed against the bitter disappointment that was balling up at the back of her mouth. If the water didn't work, she didn't know what she'd do.
The cloth had grown tepid from John's heat and she sighed as she went back to the toilet. The water was still and cold and surprisingly inviting considering its receptacle and she licked her lips, which were already dry and cracking from lack of moisture.
"No way!" Jennifer turned away from the toilet. It would take at least four days before she died from dehydration. She didn't need to drink within the first twenty-four hours of her capture.
Sighing, she dipped the shirt into the water again, accidentally submerging her hands in the process. The water was frigid and she shivered, looking longingly over at where she'd dropped John's jacket.
"I could just borrow it," Jennifer mused aloud. After all, John was clearly hot enough, and she was freezing.
She blinked as a thought struck her, then she cursed herself for a fool for not thinking of it sooner.
Within seconds she'd dropped the sodden t-shirt and pulled off her boots, socks, pants and shirt. Shivering in the cool air she grabbed her and the rest of John's discarded clothes and climbed onto the bunk with John, grimacing as it groaned beneath her added weight. As carefully as she could, she lay half-on, half-beside him, arranging the clothing over both of them to cover as much of their bodies as possible.
"Sorry to get so personal," she murmured, "but I'm hoping this will help cool you down."
When Jennifer had just graduated medical school, she had begun her practise at a busy emergency department in Madison, Wisconsin. There, she'd met a young nurse originally from the Caribbean, who had laughingly told her about being sick as a child and having her mother strip them both naked and cover them both in heavy blankets until she got so hot that the fever would break and she'd recover. The nurse had sworn that--while she'd never do it with her own children--this home remedy worked every time.
Jennifer had forgotten that long-ago conversation until that very moment, when John, hot and feverish lying on the cot had reminded her of it. She just hoped that their few items of clothing would work as well as layers of blankets to break his fever.
And that she wouldn't die of embarrassment when John woke up.
It was like trying to sleep beside a bonfire.
Jennifer shifted again, gingerly sliding her body over John's as she tried to get comfortable. Her attempt at traditional medicine seemed to have only succeeded in heating up the front half of her body while leaving her shoulders and butt literally out in the cold. She had tried to cover them both as best she could with so few layers of clothing. John was mostly covered, but she wasn't, and wherever the night air touched her skin was now uncomfortably cool.
Her front, however, was slick with sweat from where her skin was touching his.
It was probably the least romantic night in a man's bed she could ever remember.
"Ugh!" she exclaimed, wiping sweat off her forehead and down one cheek. As gross as it was, the sweat was unfortunately all hers. John's fever still hadn't broken, and his skin felt like it was hotter and drier than before. His wound was completely covered in dark green pus, and it had started to smell.
Jennifer's butt was freezing, and she was stiff from lying half-on John and half out in the cold. Her nose was being tortured by an unpleasant combination of John's body odour, his suppurating wound and her own deodorant failure.
She thought about getting up and putting back on her clothes. John was too hot to really need them, and they were barely covering his torso anyway, but it would mean she'd have to move off the bed and the only way to do that was to practically climb over him, which seemed like way too much effort.
So instead she rolled over, carefully moving herself so that her butt was pressed up against the side of his hip and her feet were next to his calves. It left her front cold, but at least her butt was finally getting warm and the blocks of ice that used to be her toes might actually start to thaw.
Plus it moved her face a bit further away from the rank air around their combined bodies. In comparison, it was almost pleasant.
Sighing deeply, she closed her eyes and tried to settle into sleep.
"Rodn'y," John muttered, and let his hand fall heavily onto her ass.
Jennifer yelped and had flown out of the cot and was hurriedly trying to pull on her pants and shirt at the same time in the next instant.
She poked her head out of the top hole of her t-shirt just in time to see John staring bleary-eyed at her.
"Jennifer?" he said. He tried to sit up then groaned when the movement pulled on his arm. "What are you doing?" He rubbed one hand across his chest and paused, his gaze sharp and suspicious even while bright with illness. "Why don't I have a shirt on?"
"I was trying to get your fever to break!" Jennifer said too loudly. "I learned it at UW Hospital!" Well, that wasn't a complete lie. The nurse who told her had been working there.
"And that meant you had to take off all my clothes?" John asked. His mouth tightened. "Does Rodney know you do shit like this?"
"What?" Jennifer felt a stab of pain in her jaw as her mouth fell open. "Ow!"
This time, John managed to hike himself up onto the elbow of his good arm. "Is this some kind of stress response? You're captured so you get naked with the first available man?" His lips thinned further.
"What?" Jennifer said again, her mind whirring at John's words. "What--No! No! This isn't some sort of 'stress response!'" she said, adding air quotes with her voice as her hands were still clutched around her socks. "I was trying to use my body heat to heat you up so your fever would break!"
"Really," John's voice was layered with sarcasm.
"Really," Jennifer replied in the same tone. Angrily, she pulled on her socks and nearly tripped over one of John's boots that she had left on the floor.
"So, let me get this straight," John's expression was entirely sceptical. "You just happen to be trapped in a tiny cell with me, and I happen to have a fever, and the only way you can think of helping is by crawling naked into bed with me?" He rolled his eyes. "Why do I never see this coming?"
"Because there's nothing to see!" Jennifer snapped. "You may find this hard to believe, Colonel but even though every other woman in the Galaxy may want you? I don't. I was trying to help!"
She turned her back on him and pulled on her other sock. At least this surge of anger was making her warmer than she'd felt in several hours.
Not that she knew how many hours, because that fucking guard had taken her watch and hadn't come back.
"He never even brought the blankets!" she muttered.
"What?" John said.
"I said," Jennifer said as she whirled on John, "that that weasel of a guard never even brought any blankets back, okay? I lost my watch for nothing."
John sagged back down. "I told you I'd tell Rodney to get you a new one."
Jennifer glared at him in frustration. "What is it with you and Rodney?"
John looked at her, and for a second, she thought she saw a flash of panic in his eyes. "There's nothing with me and Rodney!" he said too quickly. "Why'd you say that?"
"Because, you mention him all the time!" Jennifer said, throwing up her arms. "You talk about him non-stop, and you even called his name in your sleep!"
"I did?" John said, and yes, that was definitely panic shining along with fever in his gaze. "When did I do that?"
Jennifer put her hands on her hips. "When you grabbed my ass."
John swallowed hard. "I did?" he said again.
And sudden realization hit Jennifer like a ton of bricks. "Ohmygod!" she breathed. "You have a crush on my ex-boyfriend!"
"That's crazy!" John said hotly as he sat up on the cot. The jacket-and-pant combo that Jennifer had placed there slid down his chest to land in a heap on his lap. "Whoa," he muttered, and to Jennifer's horror, his head started falling backwards as his eyes rolled up.
"Don't get up so quickly!" Jennifer cried, catching him around the shoulders. The inside of her arm pressed up against his skin just underneath his wound and he screamed.
"Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" Jennifer repeated as she helped John lay back down on the cot. His face was twisted in pain and he was sweating. She pretended not to notice the tears slipping from underneath his scrunched up eyelids.
"Jesus," he said raggedly. "That hurts like a bitch."
"It's the infection," Jennifer said. The tissue's horribly inflamed and the bacteria is chewing your flesh to bits."
"Fantastic," John said. He rubbed at the sweat at his temples with his good hand.
"John!" Jennifer said excitedly, "you're sweating!"
"I'm hot," John said with a frown. "What did you expect?"
"It means your fever's broken!" Jennifer knew she was beaming like an idiot but couldn't help it. She was just so damn relieved that John wasn't burning up with fever anymore.
"Oh," John said. "Well, good?"
"Well, good for now, at least." Jennifer replied as she put her hands on his face. "You're still too hot, and since the infection is as bad as ever it's probably just temporary before your fever starts up again, but so far so good, eh?"
John huffed out a laugh. "You sound like Rodney when you say 'eh' like that."
Jennifer felt her eyes grow wide. "You did it again!"
"What?" John said, "I did what?"
"Rodney!" Jennifer cried. "You mentioned Rodney again! You are so crushing on my ex!"
"I'm not!" John insisted. "He comes up in conversation a lot. He is the chief science officer."
Jennifer crossed her arms. "We weren't talking about science."
"Well, you brought him up," John said. He went to cross his arms as well but stopped when moving his right one clearly caused him too much pain.
"I didn't," Jennifer said. "You did. Like every other time we've talked about him."
"But he's your boyfriend!" John said.
"No he's not!" Jennifer said loudly. "Rodney and I broke up, John! That's why I keep calling him 'my ex'!"
John's expression made it clear it was the first time he'd actually heard her. "You broke up?"
"Yes!" Jennifer said, throwing up her hands. "Right back after I operated on his head. He, uh--" she dropped her gaze, suddenly ashamed of what she was about to say.
"What happened?" John's voice was surprisingly gentle.
"I don't know why he didn't tell you this," Jennifer said, "but he broke up with me because--well because I kind of liked him better with the parasite in his brain."
"Oh," John said.
"Yeah," Jennifer said. "It bugged him a lot that I hadn't noticed that anything was wrong with him because I just liked how nice he was being. It made him think that I didn't really like him the way he was before." She could feel her cheeks heating with the memory. "I did! It's just...I thought that everything I had said about him being nice to people had finally sunk in."
"You didn't know that he was sick?" John asked.
Jennifer shook her head, feeling the same guilt well up as it had every other time she'd thought about it. "No. Not until it was nearly too late."
"Oh," John said again. He gave a half-shrug with his good arm. "I kinda thought it was obvious that something was wrong."
Jennifer smirked sadly. "Well, I guess it's because you like him just the way he is."
John smiled. "Yeah, I guess I do."
Jennifer looked at him, still smiling, and he met her gaze and his smile fell. He licked his lips.
"So, uh..." he started.
Jennifer sighed. "No, Colonel, I won't tell anybody that you've got the hots for Rodney. Your deep dark secret is safe with me." She waved her hand to indicate the prison around them. "What happens in the cell stays in the cell." She shrugged. "Or something like that."
John smiled again. "Thanks." He paused. "Um. Sorry about you and, uh..."
"It's okay," Jennifer said quickly. "It's fine. Honestly." She really didn't want to talk about her breaking up with Rodney; she'd rather talk about Rodney and John. "So, '' she said. ''You gonna tell..."
John shook his head. "Not a topic of conversation."
"All right!" Jennifer said briskly. "New topic time."
Silence descended heavily between them.
John picked up his pants and started to laboriously put them back on.
Jennifer moved to help, but he shook her off, so she stood by the cot, feeling useless and awkward.
"Um, thanks," John said after he'd pulled on his second sock, which was quite a feat since he'd had to do it nearly one-handed.
"Thanks?" Jennifer turned to look at him.
John was studiously avoiding her gaze. He was sitting on the cot, wounded arm held uncomfortably at his side, still naked from the waste up. "For, uh," he made a vague gesture towards his chest. "The fever thing."
"Oh," Jennifer said, feeling another blush start to creep up her cheeks, the embarrassment she was concerned about earlier now hitting her full-force. "You're welcome. I'm just glad it worked. So far," she amended quickly. She was under no illusion that his temperature would stay in the safe zone. She just hoped they'd be back in Atlantis by the time it spiked a second time.
The same deep silence descended again.
John hissed as he shifted his arm with his good hand.
Jennifer cleared her throat. "Do you think Atlantis has decided to come and get us yet? Because I'd really like to go home."
"Oh my beauty, you're not leaving," the guard said, stepping out of the shadows. "The Ulagg is assembling his High Tribunal. You are both to be sentenced to death."
"What?" Both Jennifer and John said at once.
"Oh yes," the guard said with an oily smirk. "It is a crime of the worst sort to impose violence on his exaltedness. Almost worse than treason."
"He attacked us!" John shouted as he went to pull himself to his feet. But the effort was clearly too much and he sagged back down, his face a grimace of pain.
"Oh dear," the guard said, clucking in patently false sympathy as he regarded John's pus-filled wound. "That's got to hurt. Too bad it hasn't been seen by a doctor."
"You need to bring the doctor here immediately!" Jennifer demanded, reaching through the bars to try to grab the guard by his uniform. He took a step back and easily evaded her.
"And you need to find something more precious than this timepiece," the guard said, once again pulling the watch out of his breast pocket. "It's not even worth a blanket."
"We made a deal!" Jennifer said, stretching her arm through the bars to try to take it from him.
He grabbed her wrist, holding her fast when she would have pulled back.
"I don't think you quite understand the position you're in," the guard said, voice low and filled with menace. He forced her elbow to bend until her forearm was clutched tightly to his chest in a parody of a lover's touch. Jennifer tried to wrench her arm free but he tightened his grip, twisting her wrist until she whimpered. "You don't get to deal with me. I deal with you. Any way I see fit."
Slowly, he brought her hand up to his mouth and licked her finger.
Jennifer shuddered in revulsion. The guard laughed.
"When your friend is closer to death you will beg for the favours my touch will grant you," the guard said.
"If you touch her, you'll beg for me to kill you," John snarled.
The guard laughed again "I don't think so." He pulled on Jennifer's arm, causing her to stumble, and he bit the inside of her wrist hard enough to make her cry out. "I think you'll die in the knowledge I will have her either way." Abruptly, he let go of her and she back-peddled well out of his reach, scraping her wrist along the cloth of pants to get the feel of his mouth off her skin.
"Oh don't glower at me so, Lover," he said to her with a playful pout. "I've brought you breakfast." He lifted a tray off a cart he had brought with him and slid it through the opening under the cell door.
John looked like he was going to kick the tray over. "We don't need your fucking--!".
"No, no!" Jennifer said quickly, putting up her hand to stop him. "The food is fine." She choked on the words. "Thank you."
"How lovely to have the honour of serving a lady such as yourself," the guard said with a sarcastic bow. "I look forward to spending more time with you after you have eaten." He turned to go, pushing the cart ahead of him, but stopped. "Oh, do let me know if there's anything else you require!" He left, his harsh laughter echoing down the hallway.
"Mother fucking sonofabitch!" John yelled. "It's going to be my pleasure to blow his fucking head off!"
"Wait, John," Jennifer was inspecting the tray that the guard had slid under the door. It was an unappetizing combination of thick greyish oatmeal, bread, and two cups of warm water. "Don't be so hasty," she said, feeling a smile begin to pull up the corners of her mouth. "I think he might've just saved your life."
"This is disgusting." John's face was such a mask of horror that Jennifer had to laugh.
"I know," Jennifer said as she gently started applying the paste to John's wound, "but hopefully it will help."
"Fuck!" John shouted as Jennifer smeared it over his injury. She could see the muscles in his upper arm tense as he fought his reaction to pull away from the pain. Sweat beaded his temples. "Jesus fucking Christ!" His face had gone extremely pale.
"Don't faint on me," Jennifer said as she spread more of the paste, tucking it into every ridge and crevasse that had been torn out of his flesh by the path of the bullet. Blood, pus and the watery sludge of the mixture dripped down his arm and pooled into his elbow. She swallowed hard against the sight of it, feeling her stomach roll unpleasantly.
"Don't worry," John ground out between clenched teeth. "I'm staying here."
"Good," Jennifer said, flicking her gaze at him again. "Because I'm almost done, and I'd hate for you to fall over and have the paste come out and ruin all my hard work."
"Ha," he muttered. A muscle bunched in his jaw.
"There!" she said triumphantly. She took the strip she had managed to tear off the bottom of her t-shirt and bound up John's wound, keeping the sodden mixture in place as best she could. She tied it off and sat back on her haunches. "All done. I'd give you a lollipop for being so brave, but..."
"S'alright," John said, lying down on the cot and covering his eyes with his uninjured arm. "I'd probably just puke it up anyway right now."
"Sorry," Jennifer said, biting her lip. She lifted the cup that she'd left untouched. "You should have some water though. It'll help."
John shook his head. "I'll puke."
"Okay," Jennifer sighed. "It can wait a bit--but not too long. You haven't had anything to drink since yesterday, and I know you're dehydrated. I don't want it to get any worse."
"Yes, Ma'am," John said, but she could hear the smile in his voice. He paused. "I can't believe you put fungus in my arm."
The bread the guard had pushed through on the tray had been covered with a fuzzy light-green mould. It was most likely meant to be unappetizing and demoralizing at the same time, another example of the guard's cruel sense of humour as he reminded them how dependant and helpless they truly were. But it was the most welcome thing that Jennifer had seen since arriving in that hell-hole the day before.
Because, even though she was on another planet in another galaxy millions of light-years from home, she would bet her life that the mould on that bread was penicillin. In fact she had bet John's life on it, by mashing it up into a sludgy mess and slapping it onto his infected arm.
The best case scenario was that she was right, and the presence of the powerful antibiotic would destroy the bacteria that were trying to destroy John, giving his beleaguered immune system a chance to fight back and significantly improving his odds of getting back to Atlantis alive.
The worst case scenario was that it would turn out to be toxic, and she'd just poisoned him. Or that it would be a harmless mould to him--and his bacteria. His fever would spike again and he'd go septic when the infection took over his bloodstream and he'd die.
The Hippocratic oath she'd sworn when she'd graduated medical school had made her promise to not give any patient medicine that she knew to be harmful, and her throat tightened at the thought that maybe she had done just that.
But then again, wasn't doing nothing equally as bad?
"Jennifer." She looked up, startled from where she'd been gazing into the unused cup of water lost in thought.
John was looking at her. His green eyes were still glassy and red-rimmed from fever and illness, but piercing just the same. "You did the right thing," he said. "Thanks."
She smiled, knowing it was shaky at best. "I hope you'll still feel that way if it doesn't work."
"It'll work," John said with a surety that Jennifer didn't feel. "And once I'm better, I'm going to kill that bastard."
"And get us home to Atlantis," Jennifer added with a smile.
"Absolutely" John smiled back. He squeezed his eyes tightly closed.
"And ask Rodney out, "Jennifer added quickly. Anything to take John's mind off his pain.
His eyes flew open. "Huh?"
"If we make it through this," Jennifer said, moving the tray out of the way and changing her seat so she was right on the floor, "I think you should ask Rodney out."
"Are you crazy?" John's tone was adamant. "I can't do that!"
"Why not?" Jennifer asked. "What's the worst that could happen?"
"Everyone could find out, and I'll get kicked out of the Air Force!" John said.
Jennifer was shaking her head before he'd even finished. "Won't happen," she said. "It's an international mission with at least four countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Five if you count the U.K. and their Civil Unions. There are three same-sex couples that I can think of alone. And all of them involve people in the military."
"Really?" John raised his head to look at her. "Who?"
Jennifer shook her head with a smile. "Oh no, Colonel. Doctor-patient privilege. You'll have to find out some other way."
"Huh," John said. He lay back down, clearly thinking about what she'd told him.
"So?" Jennifer asked when his silence had gone on too long. "What else is stopping you?"
John half-shrugged. "Rodney."
"Rodney?" Jennifer asked. "What do you mean?"
"What if--" John winced. "You know."
Jennifer frowned. "No, I don't know. What do you mean?"
John let out a gusty sigh. "Just that --" He sighed again. "You know how he is!"
Difficult, Jennifer's brain supplied. Cranky. Hard to read. "Oh," she said with sudden and total comprehension. "What if he doesn't feel about you the way you feel about him?"
John made a noncommittal movement with his head.
"Trust me, John," Jennifer said. "You should ask him."
John looked at her again.
"Trust me," she repeated. "I dated the guy for seven months."
John's eyes narrowed. "And?"
Jennifer sighed. "Remember when I told you why we broke up?"
"Yeah." John nodded. "It was because you liked him better when he was dying from a brain parasite."
"Yes," Jennifer agreed, feeling the same guilt that she felt every time she thought about it. "But that was only part of it. The other part was, well, when he was dying--" she stopped. It was amazing how hard this was to say out loud, even after all this time. It still hurt like the day it had happened. She took a breath. "When he was dying," she continued, "it was you he asked for. All the time. Not his sister, not his cat, not me. You."
John blinked. "Seriously?"
Jennifer looked at him. "Like a heart attack."
"Wow," John said.
"Yeah," Jennifer replied. "And yeah, it did kind of hurt. In case you're wondering."
"Thanks, "John said quietly."Thanks for letting me know."
"Ball's in your court, Colonel," Jennifer said, rising to her feet and stretching. The floor was damn cold. "But I think you should."
"Okay," John said. "I'll think about it." His words were slurring and his eyes were drifting shut. "Tired," he murmured.
Jennifer crossed over to his side and put her hand on his forehead. His skin was dry and hot to touch, meaning that his fever was rising again. She swallowed and moved back. "How are you feeling?"
"Bad," he murmured. "Arm hurts. Need t'sleep." He shifted on the cot and his face contorted with the pain. "Fuck," he whispered.
''You'll feel better soon,'' Jennifer said with more confidence than she felt. She watched as the muscles in his face relaxed and his breathing evened out, his pain lessening as he slept.
Quietly, she moved beside him again and felt the skin on the side of his neck and winced. He was burning up. The fever was back and stronger and fiercer than before.
Carefully she crawled into the cot beside him, pulling his jacket over his bare chest. Sleeping with him once had seemed to help, and she could only hope that it would do so again. She had nothing else to offer him but her body heat, and her prayers.
"Please don't die," she whispered. "Please."
She was awakened by the horrendous sensation of being dragged over John's body by her hair.
Jennifer starting yelling and fighting even before she was fully awake. Her feet hit the cold stone and she tried to gain purchase, stumbling over John's boots.
The guard had one of her wrists held tightly in his grip, her other arm pinned against his bulbous frame. His hand still tangled tightly in her hair, pulling her head sideways from her shoulders until she thought her neck might snap.
"Now, now, Lover," he crooned, rubbing himself against her. "Don't make me hurt you more than I want to."
From the corner of her eye she could see John still lying on the cot, his wounded arm hanging over the edge. The jacket she had used to cover him the night before had been dislodged by her being pulled over him, and his naked chest looked pale and cold in the shallow light of the cell. His face was turned towards the bars and his eyes were closed. He was very, very still. She couldn't tell if he was still breathing.
"No!" Jennifer screamed. She kicked and twisted, pushing against the guard with her legs, but he was larger and stronger. It was like struggling against a mountain.
He flung her down onto the empty cot and immediately straddled her, the cot's metal frame groaning under his bulk. She tried to shove him off but he just laughed and folded his thick hands around the collar of her t-shirt, ripping it right down the middle.
"No!" Jennifer screamed again and thrashed harder.
He backhanded her across her face, sending a shattering pain through her jaw. The world greyed around the edges and she fell back.
"Your friend is dead. There is no one to hear you scream, my darling," the guard said as his fingers roughly groped at the buttons on her trousers. "I don't need you to cooperate, but it might be easier on you if you do."
Jennifer swatted feebly at him. Her head was spinning from the blow but the tears that were leaking from her eyelids had nothing to do with the renewed pain in her jaw.
Your friend is dead. John was dead. After everything she'd tried, she hadn't been able to save him. She'd failed. Failed him, failed Rodney, and failed all of Atlantis. The realization sapped all the fight out of her and she let her arms fall heavily onto the cot.
"Much better, Sweetling," the guard said. He shifted upwards to gain more access to her body and cupped her hips, ready to pull her trousers down.
There was a sudden, thick sound like a baseball bat hitting a side of beef, and then the guard's weight was off her.
She sat up, gasping in shock.
"Don't you fucking touch her! John bellowed. He was holding his boot in both hands and swinging it onto the guard's face, steel-toe down, like a hammer.
The guard's nose flattened into a pulpy mass of blood and bone. He moaned and his eyes rolled back.
John hit him again and had swung his arms up for a third blow when Jennifer caught his wrists.
"No John! Don't! I'm okay."
He turned and looked at her. His green eyes were wide and wild and full of rage.
"I'm okay John, I'm fine. I swear," Jennifer said, moving her hands from his wrists to his shoulders. "Let's get out of here."
John took a ragged breath. "You're okay?"
"Yes," Jennifer nodded, "I--I thought you were dead!" Her voice broke.
John grimaced. "Sorry. I saw him coming for you, so I went for the element of surprise." He rolled the shoulder of his injured arm. "I don't know what you put on it last night, but it feels ten times better. A hundred."
"Thank God," Jennifer said, feeling faint with relief. She took a fortifying breath and re-buttoned her pants, trying to ignore the fact that her t-shirt was torn in half, exposing her bra and torso.
"Let's go." She looked down at the guard, who was moaning and feebly trying to stop the gushing of blood from his nose. "I don't want to stay here a second longer than I have to."
"Oh yeah!" John agreed vehemently. He bent over and grabbed his jacket off the floor and handed to her, and she was grateful that he didn't look as she put it on and zipped it all the way up to her neck. He slipped on his boots, not bothering to tie them, and Jennifer pretended not to notice the way the toe of his right one gleamed wet and dark red in the low light. He turned towards the door, then stopped and bent over the guard.
"Here," he said, handing her the watch he had scooped out of the guard's breast pocket.
Jennifer swallowed. "Thanks," she whispered.
"Thank me later," John said. "We need to leave, now."
They ran out the door the guard had left open and took off down the hallway.
"What will we do when we get to the stairs?" Jennifer panted as they ran.
"Improvise!" John said, looking back over his shoulder, which was exactly when he slammed into Ronon Dex, who was leading the charge towards them, Teyla and Rodney steps behind.
Jennifer stood in the doorway of the infirmary on Atlantis, watching John and Rodney laughing.
John was lying in one of the beds, an I.V. of antibiotics strapped to his arm and the rest of him clothed in the usual white scrubs that everyone wore post-injury. Except for the thick white bandage around the top of his right arm and the tubing, there was nothing to indicate that his life had nearly ended just a short time ago.
They had only been held captive by the Ulagg for about two days, but to Jennifer it had felt much longer. She still felt the overwhelming relief from when she realized that John's team had found them, and how the trip back to the Gate had seemed to take a lifetime.
Between falling into an old Genii military bunker and being captured first by the Bola Kai and then the Ulagg, Jennifer knew she would be very happy to never step foot through the Gate again.
She sighed and fingered the watch her father had given her, now safety strapped back on her wrist.
It seemed every time she went through the Gate something bad happened. Teyla was nearly killed by the Bola Kai, and then Colonel Carter badly broke her leg in the bunker. And this time... She shuddered as she remembered the way John looked when she saw him on the cot that last morning. Pale and so still she thought he was dead.
And except for a lucky break with some mouldy bread, he could easily have been.
She sighed again and turned the watch on her wrist, remembering that terrible feeling of helplessness when she saw the guard take it and knew she wasn't going to get anything in return. John had shouted at the guard that she wasn't for sale, but she knew better. If it had come down to her virtue or his life, there would have been no contest.
Something heavy bumped into her shoulder.
"Hey Ronon," she said without looking up.
"Hey," he said back. He gestured at the Colonel with his chin. "You here to talk to Sheppard?"
Jennifer shook her head. "I was," she said, "but he's with Rodney."
"Yeah," Ronon agreed. "About time."
Jennifer looked up at him, and he shrugged. "Rodney was never right for you."
Jennifer gave a small laugh. "Glad I was the last to know."
Ronon was still looking at John and Rodney, and she followed his gaze. The two men were now chatting quietly, Rodney gripping tightly to John's hand. Jennifer felt herself smile.
"Heard it got rough."
Jennifer knew Ronon was talking about the planet, and not her past relationship. "You could say that."
"You saved Sheppard's life."
Jennifer shook her head again, feeling the remembrance of her helplessness tighten like a knot in her stomach. "No. I just got lucky."
Ronon shot her a glance. "I think you got 'luck' and 'skill' confused," he said. "One doesn't have anything to do with the other. Mouldy bread--yeah, that's luck. Knowing to put it on someone's wound? That's skill."
Jennifer looked down at where she was twisting the watch around her wrist. "I was terrified I was wrong and he was going to die."
Ronon bumped her shoulder again. "You did it anyway," he said. "That's courage."
Jennifer's looked up at him. She searched his face, but he held her gaze, calm and even. "I didn't feel brave," she said.
He shrugged. "People who never get scared are stupid."
"Oh," she said. She'd never thought about it that way.
Like she'd never thought about Ronon in that way, because she'd been too focused on Rodney.
Rodney; who'd never been right for her, because he was right for the Colonel instead. And now they were together, because the Colonel had found the courage to do something about it.
Ronon's dark eyes held hers, strong and sure. He reached out his hand and took hers, his thumb stroking down the back, sending small shocks racing up her arm, pleasant and exciting. So different from the guard's loathsome touch. "You're not stupid, Jennifer." He looked at her, waiting.
Jennifer felt her heart speed up, a thrilling sense of expectation, like sitting at the top of a roller-coaster waiting for the drop. She couldn't look away.
Oh yes, she was frightened. But Ronon had said that was all right.
"Would--would you like to have lunch with me?" Jennifer found herself saying. The words were too quick and too breathy, but she got them out.
"Yeah," Ronon said, his beautiful mouth curling up into a smile. She folded her hand around his, and let him lead her away from the infirmary towards the cafeteria.
And Jennifer couldn't stop smiling.