Author's Notes: thank you to my wonderful beta!
Summary: "Well, that's just great," Rodney says to none of them in particular, to all of them, because what, does he look like someone who should be in charge of caring for anything other than a small, personal nuclear weapon or a ZPM? But he checks his pulse and it's strong and steady; his forehead is cool; his sinuses seem clear - somehow he's not sick, and everyone else is, and shit, that means he's probably in charge.
It all starts out innocently enough - and isn't that the story of Rodney's life? - Teyla sniffling discreetly at dinner, Ronon coughing into the crook of his arm, John sneezing once, explosively, and blinking afterwards before mumbling, "Whoa. Cool," and downing more beer. The Bakaoo don't seem to notice anything's amiss - but then Rodney doesn't really piece everything together until they're back in their lodge and Teyla says, "I do not feel well," as she perches on her bed. Rodney freezes - oh god, they're more than overdue for a case of Space Plague, and it'd be just his luck to be felled by some Pox right as he's about to prove Einstein was desperately limited in intellect and imagination - but then John sighs deeply and sits like he's been stunned. "Me either," he offers, and flops back against the covers, feet on the floor, arms outstretched. Ronon eyes everyone suspiciously, sniffs, sneezes, and makes that Satedan hand gesture that means oh fuck it all to hell. "Ugh," he manages, and lies down on one of the other beds, leaving Rodney as the only one standing, his team collapsed about him in pitiful repose.
"Well, that's just great," Rodney says to none of them in particular, to all of them, because what, does he look like someone who should be in charge of caring for anything other than a small, personal nuclear weapon or a ZPM? But he checks his pulse and it's strong and steady; his forehead is cool; his sinuses seem clear - somehow he's not sick, and everyone else is, and shit, that means he's probably in charge. "All right!" he says, nodding and waving a hand in a manner he thinks could be taken as appropriately authoritative. "Back to the 'gate with us, c'mon, chop chop."
"Not happening," John mumbles.
"Feel like shit," Ronon agrees.
Teyla sneezes four times in quick succession, moans, "Mother of all that is pustular," and sneezes again.
Rodney likes to think he's good in a crisis - and while three sniffling team members might be at the lower end of the critical bell curve, it qualifies, dammit - but this is not something that can be solved with an algorithm. He shifts from foot to foot, trying to think of inventive and speedy ways to fix this infectious nightmare, but his radio won't work until the overnight atmospheric disturbances are through, and the woods between the village and the gate are filled with - well, he's not sure with what, exactly, but something gurgled at him from a tree that afternoon, and he's not going to see what it does under cover of darkness. "Stuck," he mutters, unzipping his jacket. "Okay, okay, I can handle this, I can - I am Rodney McKay, you hear that? Fuck you, bacteria, fuck you, colds."
Speaking to the snot as if it's sentient helps somehow, and he's not quite sure how he knows what to do (he suspects, rather darkly, that Jeannie's to blame), but soon everyone's settled, boots taken off, ass-knives stowed beneath mattresses, sticks on the floor within handy reach. He covers his team members with the soft, plentiful blankets they've been left with, even rips his own spare t-shirt into squares so that people can sneeze into something other than their hands. He alerts his closest neighbors in yurt-dom to his germy predicament and thanks them profusely when they bring him water and leaves and a kettle to make tea. It takes a while to program his laptop to translate (and approximate) the ingredients needed for someone (not him) to make chicken soup, but a neighbor wanders off with his instructions and he can only hope that Bakaoo birds are as bland and nutritious as poultry should properly be. He keeps the lodge stove stoked and fed with wood; doles out Tylenol from his personal stash; makes sure everyone drinks water if they wake for even a few, bleary minutes; babbles incoherently at Teyla about hypotenuse triangles and the irritating qualities of the rhombus until she sleeps; tucks John's loose blankets tightly around him; even helps Ronon to the outhouse, although he draws the line at going inside.
It goes on all night - as Rodney supposes, when you look at it logically, it's bound to do, three people sick and only one healthy - and he's mostly busy enough, fluttering between the foot of each bed, to distract himself from the terrible hypothesis that he's probably dying of something too gross for words. Little else can explain the charade of immunity his body is offering - the in-out action of his utterly clear lungs and the headache-free functioning of his very important head - save a disease so awful it has cannibalized the weaker Bakaoo cold for parts and is now using each piece to breed a gangrenous leprosy that will eat him from the inside out.
(Thankfully he checks his watch at this point and realizes it's 3am, which grad school taught him is the reason-free hour where nothing good comes of being awake, so he notes his symptoms (no fever, no chills, no pains) in case anyone needs them for autopsy filing and goes back to feeding the stove with wood.)
By daybreak everyone but Rodney is sleeping soundly - albeit with varying decibel-levels of snuffles and snores. There are slow-burning herb bundles by everyone's bed, a local plant offered by a neighbor that smells sharp and minty and pleasantly clean, and Rodney's coaxed everyone but John to eat soup and drink tea and not throw up inside the cabin and maybe, just maybe, Rodney will soon sleep himself. He's tired - exhausted - and his uniform is itching right beneath his armpits, and he's no idea who has his laptop, or why his brain hates him enough to compose a whole song about the wonders of vitamin C. He lies back on his untouched bed, stares at the ceiling, listens to the shift of bodies and the rasp of sheets, feels his eyes grow heavy when no one moans or coughs.
Then - "Rodney?"
It's John, and Rodney sits up, blinking rapidly, his brain a mud-pie of drowsiness and fear. "What you - I can . . . what now?"
John sniffs and clears his throat, tugs his blankets even higher beneath his chin. "Thanks, buddy," he mumbles, and passes out immediately, and Rodney would like to think the military commander of Atlantis didn't just fart, but he absolutely did, because that's what Sheppard does, tell you you're important and punctuate the sentiment with the faint odor of digested Bakaoo birds.
"Oh," Rodney says, and feels his face warming, because he really is quite fond of these people, even if they are full of vomit and snot. "Oh, well. Of course," he says very softly, and though no one's listening, he feels he should add a little more, says, "You're welcome," and means it, realizes he's trusted, and maybe even loved.