AN: A request fic from my dear friend Merlin7. My thanks to my beta Gaffer. I hope you enjoy!
Yea, Though I Walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death…
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother." (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3).
There's a term for everything that had happened since we'd gated to Atlantis. It's not very nice, but since when has any guy in the military been accused of being teddy bear nice? An Officer and a Gentleman, what a joke; military men, the grunts and officers alike, were a coarse breed, made by the very work they did. And so the term, one I wouldn't openly spout in front of Elizabeth, but appropriate for the current situation, was coming to mind right now. SNAFU…situation normal, all fucked up.
Here we were, in water up to our knees, in a pit on some other god-forsaken world, in the beautiful Pegasus Galaxy. I'd made the mistake of trusting people, again. One I was growing increasingly tired of making. They'd said trade was good. They wanted our medicines, and our help against the Wraith. I'd argued their case to Weir, pleaded for the use of weapons so they could learn defense, and maybe build their own primitive kind.
And then, they'd knocked us out, stripped our gear, and left us in some dank, malignant cesspool to die. McKay had whined incessantly about disease, Beckett had remained tight-lipped, while Ford, Teyla and myself had been searching for a way out. There had to be an opening. It was filthy, disgusting work, and I was on the verge of dunking McKay if he didn't pitch in.
He kept carrying on about what was in the water. I didn't want to know what was in the water. There are some things in life that knowing is worse than not knowing, and I was pretty sure this was one of those things. "McKay, if you'd shut up, and help look, we might have a shot at showering…eventually."
Rodney eyed me with a baleful look. "I told you there was something shifty about these people…didn't I? They were too good to be true, but did you listen to me? No, of course not…nobody ever listens to me…until it's too late!"
We'd all heard his rants a hundred times before, if not more. And so it was that we all did that eye-rolling thing simultaneously, which only caused Rodney to glare harder at us, and cross his arms stubbornly. This was really starting to piss me off.
"McKay," I hissed. "If you don't stick those arms of yours into this muck, and start looking, you're going to have more to worry about than dying."
"What's worse than dying?"
I eyed him levelly. "I can think of a few," and I disturbed the water with measured intent.
His arms dropped, and his face registered slack disbelief. "You wouldn't…"
"Try me." I figured whatever was in it, if we managed to get out, Beckett could cure any disease that dunking McKay might cause. Maybe…
Rodney stuck his arms in, slowly, and with exaggerated reluctance, but he was finally helping. I went back to searching, and prayed that there wasn't anything dangerous because we were up to our elbows looking for some kind of lever, drain, anything.
"Fine, but if I die from exposure, it's on your head."
I sighed. "I think my head can handle it."
It fell quiet for a while; the only sound was the sloshing of the liquid as we searched. Beckett had joined in with a grimace, and we'd managed to almost cover the entire pit, which was roughly thirty square feet.
It was Beckett who found it. A small lever, in the far corner, or arch since the pit was round. He yanked it up, without thinking, and the floor dropped beneath us. I couldn't help the surprised shout as we found ourselves falling.
We hit hard, and I heard the sound of bodies impacting against ground, cushioned only by the water that went down with us. "What the…"
I was trying to process what'd happened, but it was dark, blacker than a clouded country night, and I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.
"I'm blind," panicked McKay. "Oh my god, I can't see!"
Oh, for pity's sake. "It's dark, McKay, nobody can see…"
I felt movement next to me. "Sorry 'bout that. Is anyone hurt?" Carson.
"Don't worry about it," I assured him. "I'd have done it. I'm fine. Ford, Teyla?"
"Here, Sir. We're okay…a little wet, but we'll dry." Ford spoke somewhere to my left. Damn, but this was dark.
I felt around, still sitting on my ass, and felt dirt…rough ground, maybe rock? "I think we're in an underground cave," I said.
"Maybe it's the drainage for their waste water?" wondered McKay. "If it is, there'll be an outlet somewhere."
I frowned, though nobody could see it. An outlet, perfect, but how the hell could we find it when no one could see where we were going? We'd be lucky if we didn't accidentally walk off a cliff, or fall down another, larger, and deeper hole. I ran a frustrated hand through my hair, pulling it back when I encountered stuff stuck in the strands. I groaned internally because this was so far up the gross meter that it was off the charts. I wasn't a vengeful man but I was tempted to send a note to the Wraith and tell them to make this place their first stop en route to wherever they would be going.
"Major?" queried Beckett. He was definitely closest to me.
I stared at the impenetrable nothingness in front of me. "I'm thinking…"
"Think faster," snapped McKay. "If this is a drain, they could release a lot more soon."
Son of a…"Could you give me a least a few minutes to think we're out of mortal danger?" I grouched. Stay and die, or move and maybe die…those were the choices that got the blood pumping. "Okay, this is what we'll do, work your way to Beckett. We'll go, but we'll do the buddy system, hands on each other, and don't let go!" I shuddered at the thought of any of us getting lost in this cave. Knowing a bit about geology, it was probably a network.
"Major, I am sorry, I did not expect the Nassyrians to be treacherous…" Teyla was full of remorse, I could hear it, and I felt bad for her. She'd tried to help, and through no fault of her own, we kept running into problem after problem.
I heard McKay snort. "They never had reason to. The Athosians and the Nassyrians are technologically at the same level."
"Knock it off, McKay," I warned. "Teyla, it isn't your fault." I tried to get to my feet, and that's when I realized something was wrong, because my right leg wasn't working. "That's weird…" I tried to figure out why it wouldn't move. It didn't hurt.
"What's wrong?" McKay breathed behind me, and if I'd been able to get up, I probably would've jumped higher than a frog on speed.
I tried to steady my breathing. This was turning into a mix of every nightmare I'd ever had as a kid. The darkness, and now the inability to move; add in someone sneaking up behind me…"I can't move my leg," I told him, frustrated. This was great, I thought irritably, all we needed now was the boogieman…or the Wraith…shit, don't go there.
I heard Beckett start walking towards me, and a mumbled curse when he hit something solid with his feet. "Bloody hell! That's a big rock," Carson yelped.
"Are you okay?" I asked. I was picturing big nasty cuts, and lots of blood.
"I'm fine," he answered crossly. "I stubbed my toe."
He stubbed his toe? "Watch those rocks, Doc…they're mean little…"
"I'm fine," he cut me off stiffly. I heard him rooting around, and a few moments later. "Where the devil are you, son?"
"Keep walking forward, Carson. He's right in front of me," instructed McKay, who was moving down, and I felt his hand touch my face.
"Geez, McKay…can't you wait till we're alone?" I joked.
I knew if I could've seen his face, it would've been red, and mad as a hornet's nest that I'd stepped on when I was twelve.
But he surprised me. "It's your magnetic personality," he dripped syrupy sweet. The hand moved over to my arm, and I felt it work its way down my side, onto the leg, and still it moved down, searching for anything to blame for my current condition.
"Did you hit your head?" I wondered aloud. "The McKay I know would've responded with some comment about the size of his IQ and probably something about immature Majors and how it's your responsibility to put up with us…"
McKay's hand hit something, and that something must've be the reason why that leg wasn't responding, because suddenly the pain that should've been there marched in with a parade and a big band, maybe some buglers, too.
"Figured it was time to try something new," Rodney replied, and I could tell what he felt was bad, because the bantering was gone, and his voice was distant. "Carson, get over here…now!"
I tried to sit up straighter. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," fired back McKay. "Just wondering why he's taking so long to go a few feet."
"You're a terrible liar," I said. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out my leg was messed up, and the radiating waves of pain weren't the only clue.
"I'm here," Carson announced, and I could tell he was feeling for McKay's body. Everyone knew when he accidentally poked Rodney in the eye.
"Oh god, now I'm really blind," he snapped. "Down, Carson…he's down!"
Ford and Teyla had been slowly, but steadily working their way towards our location. I heard McKay shuffle to the side, allowing Carson to feel me up this time. I should've seen it coming, but because of the spikes of hot fire Carson was causing with his clumsy exam, I was caught off guard when I heard the sound of bodies hitting bodies, and McKay started swearing again.
"It's a law of physics that two masses can't occupy the same space…" he railed, probably rubbing his nose, only to pause when he heard the snickers,"…focus on the problem. Less reveling in my misfortune, and more problem solving on the situation." McKay snapped. I could imagine him, holding a hand over his eye, and wincing with aggravation. "The Major isn't going anywhere, and we need to find the way out."
"The Major is fine," I lied. I don't know why I did that. I wasn't fine, and everyone knew it. People who were fine usually didn't have a problem getting their leg to work.
"I'm afraid Rodney is right. Major Sheppard can't walk on this leg." Beckett leaned back, away from me. I couldn't see him, but it's amazing how much your ears pick up on when you lose your ability to see. "It's broken."
Broken? That explained the woozy feeling that was kicking in, and why I was shivering…or maybe that was from being cold and wet? I licked my lips; nobody could see the nervous gesture. This was bad…very, very bad. "Go without me," I ordered, coming to a decision.
I could sense McKay's outrage before he exploded. "No, we're not leaving you behind!"
I could almost feel Ford's stunned realization that he agreed with McKay. "I agree, Sir. We'll carry you out."
Damn it, you try and do the right thing as a leader, you try to look out for your people and teach them how to carry on without you, and then you find you've taught them to be too much like yourself. "Don't argue, you can't carry me out in these conditions. You'll be lucky if you make it out, even without me."
I think everyone was surprised at that, including myself. I hadn't meant to be blunt to the degree of admitting how hopeless I felt the situation was. "Look, just…go, okay." I didn't want to make this harder on anyone, more than it had to be. "Come back for me. I'm not going anywhere." Couldn't fight back the ironic laugh.
"No," McKay said abruptly. "Ford, you and Teyla head back, we'll wait…always stick to the right if you come upon a fork. I imagine this won't come out too far from the gate, right?"
Ford was nodding, I just knew it, he always nodded. He agreed with everybody. "Yeah, right."
"Major," Teyla whispered. "We'll be back," she promised.
I reached out for the hand I knew was there, and felt her soft skin against mine. "I know."
And then they were gone, feet slapping against the remnants of water that lay shallow on the rocky cavern floor. They hadn't even let us keep our boots. Again, I spitefully wondered if there was a Hive ship nearby.
Another painful shiver racked my body. The pitch black air was rife with threat, and I found myself relieved that Beckett and McKay hadn't listened to me. What was that saying; where there was life…there was hope. They weren't giving up, and I wasn't going to either. I just wished not giving up didn't hurt so much; stupid leg was burning me up with the pain.
Speaking of pain, Beckett was fumbling around with my leg, and if he kept it up much longer I wouldn't be feeling anything. "Christ, Doc, what are you doing?" I yelped.
"I'm binding your leg, unless you'd prefer to try and move with it as it is?" Carson asked sweetly.
I gave a shot at that Lamaze breathing I'd seen on TV. I felt a hand on my shoulder. "That's it, Major, breathe in…then out…"
I laughed at the painted picture in my mind. I was breathing like a pregnant woman in labor, McKay was rubbing my shoulders like a worried daddy, and Beckett was doing the requisite medical work down below. "Some day this is going to be really funny."
McKay stopped rubbing. "Some day? Come on, we've been the butt of every cosmic joke since we've arrived," exasperated, he started rubbing again, harder.
Carson tied off whatever he was using as a bandage, and sat heavily down beside us. "That should keep for a while." He was scraping a weary hand across his face. I know, because I felt the air blow lightly across my face from the disturbances his movement caused.
"The butterfly effect," bubbled out of my mouth. Why, I don't know…I guess wings on air, ripples and that whole cause and effect. This mission, our arrival…what would happen if one thing had changed? If I hadn't arrived? Would the Wraith have found our people on Athos…and caused the chain reaction of the Athosians coming to Atlantis? Jinto freeing the energy being…wow. That was a heady thought. My presence impacted more than I'd thought.
McKay dropped his hands, and sat down also. "Not real," he dismissed. "The entire premise is flawed."
I turned my head towards him, feeling stupid because what was the point, anyway, I couldn't see. "You're just mad because you didn't think of it yourself."
McKay reeked indignation. "It was before my time!"
"That didn't stop Jules Verne."
"What?" spluttered McKay. "That's fiction…Carson, did you give him something?"
"Wasn't me," Beckett replied. "Although, I agree with Sheppard."
"That's because you're still mad over the voodoo comment."
I wondered at that one. Voodoo? How did we get in these conversations anyway? I tried to stretch without actually stretching. "I'm being serious. What would've happened if I hadn't come along? Think about it." I could already name more than I felt comfortable with.
McKay had grown quiet. I don't know if he was telling me no in his oh so subtle way, or actually thinking about my question. His answer soon cleared any confusion I had, and added some I hadn't gone far enough to remember.
"You wouldn't have activated Teyla's necklace, the Athosians wouldn't have come to Atlantis, which means we wouldn't have kept getting ambushed, which means we wouldn't have captured Steve, or helped Perna…" Rodney tapered off into painful silence.
I felt for him. We'd all been walking on eggshells around Carson when it came to Perna and her people. The Hoffans had wanted to be allies. I'd argued for them, hoped they held an answer…maybe, and then, again, the universe had slapped us down like an annoying mosquito. The Hoffans had gone against our recommendations. We'd betrayed our own beliefs and given up our prisoner for experimentation. We'd watched the beginning of the end. And Carson had lost a love before it'd even had a chance to do more than blush in a soft-morning glow.
"Yeah," I whispered. "That's a pretty damn big butterfly."
"The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything," Carson quoted softly.
I squinted in his direction. "Einstein?" I asked, surprised. Who would've thought Beckett was familiar with a famous physicist.
I heard Beckett chuckle. "I had to take the basic physics course, Major. My professor had a love for the guy, quoted him every chance he could."
Two could play that game. "Necessity is the argument of tyrants…"
"Einstein?" Beckett asked, not recognizing it.
I shook my head. "William Pitt."
I suppose McKay felt left out, because he chimed in. "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
Now that was Einstein again, a font of knowledge and smart-ass sayings. "There's a quote I can agree with, on every level."
"The Hoffans were stupid, Major. You can't blame yourself for their choices, or anyone else. Same with you, Carson," McKay lectured. "I've watched you mope for days now, get over it already. She knew what she was doing."
"You're all heart," I coughed in Rodney's direction. It was so damn cold in here. I wrapped my arms together trying to warm up.
I think we both felt Beckett bristle like a brindle bulldog facing down a horde of wolves. "Rodney, you need a heart replacement, because someone stole the one you had."
"My heart is just fine, thank you. It's reality, get used to it. God, you are both such bleeding hearts, to everyone who comes along. We're here because of both of you! You never want to believe bad of anybody, Major, and you, Carson…you just go along with anything anyone says."
I sat there stunned. What the hell was wrong with him? This was unusually cruel, even for him. "Shut up, McKay," I threatened. Or what…I suppose I could tackle him. Might give him something to think about it, but it'd hurt like the devil.
"No, I won't."
I heard Rodney stumble to his feet. "Look, I'm serious. You've got issues with getting dirty…get over it. I saw how upset you got when Steve died. He was a Wraith! He isn't some benign pet you brought home to mommy, Major. He would've killed any of us, if he'd had a chance. And Carson, Perna gave her life for her people, so that some of them may live, the fact that the Wraith will probably wipe them off the face of existence didn't matter. They couldn't see two steps ahead, and that isn't your fault."
I swore to myself. "You've made your point, now sit down." He was right, and that was what galled me the most. I'd sat there and cared what happened to Steve. I'd felt guilt. Guilt that I'd betrayed my moral base. I'd tried to feed the Wraith. I'd tried to do the honorable thing, but he couldn't eat anything except a human, and as guilty as I felt, there wasn't a way to get around that. I'd gone for the idea of experimentation because either way, Steve would either eat, and I'd get rid of that guilt chewing away at my gut every time I thought about the fact that a prisoner of mine was starving to death…or he'd not. I'd decided that it was worth a shot.
And then Steve had died. An effect of the serum that no one had predicted, and I couldn't help that pinch of betrayal. I'd told Steve we'd help him. I'd promised him food. I'd lied. And therein was the rub. Everyone considered it was a monster, and Elizabeth had argued against it. She was my conscience, my Jiminy Cricket. I'd persuaded her it was the right thing to do even when I wasn't so sure it was.
I'm pretty sure there was some messed up psychology in this. I captured a monster, trying to spare humans by doing so, and found myself looking at Steve and remembering all those ethical lessons in college. The Wraith were a race that could only continue by feeding on us. That was why we'd always fight, but we killed and grew herds of food for our own use, and what made our right to live more important than theirs?
Because we didn't want to die. That's why. That's why I kept Steve, even though I knew it'd eventually kill him. That's why I handed him over to the Hoffans, and that's why despite the regret I felt, I'd do it all over, in a heartbeat. Survival of the fittest.
I took a deep breath. I wanted to say something important. Something that'd tell Carson it was okay. McKay was right, I'd never admit it, his ego was already more than one man could carry, but this was something we needed to let go. After this mission, I'd even agree that I had to develop a less trusting outlook.
"I'm sorry," McKay said. He was still standing behind me.
"No, you're right," I'd said it. I'd pay for it later, but for now, he'd probably have enough intelligence to back off.
"As always," he replied smugly, shooting me down, again.
I closed my eyes, counted to ten, and opened them. Yeah, it was still dark, but I didn't think I was going to jump up and try to strangle McKay, so it was worth it.
"She was the first woman I've cared about." Carson swallowed loud enough that I heard it. "Since I lost Sarah."
Not finding those words of wisdom I settled for all that I could do. "Who was Sarah?"
"My first love," Carson said wistfully. "My only love. She died from lymphoma two months before our wedding. It's why I specialized in genetics, and immunology. I wanted to find a cure for cancer."
I could hear the emotion thick in his throat, and he was struggling to keep from letting it all out. "Instead I wind up in another galaxy, and helped create a drug that kills!" And now the tears and sobbing were flowing unchecked.
If I could've seen Rodney, I'm sure he was giving me that same deer in the headlights look that I was sporting. I'd never seen Carson lose it before. "When we get back, what say we find Doctor Zelenka and hit him up for some of that hooch he's squirreling away, and celebrate Perna, Sarah, Steve, Sumner…" I thought for a second, "am I forgetting anyone?"
McKay snapped his fingers. "What about that Athosian guy Teyla said was killed before we got there…and oh, the bug…Ford killed that tic-wraith, remember."
"True. We'll celebrate death because eventually, it's going to get us all."
Carson's sobbing morphed into gasped wheezes. "You two really are psychologically unstable."
I felt the edges of my mouth twitch at that one. "Look who's talking, I'm not the one bawling in a dark cave on some alien planet."
"I can't get drunk," Beckett argued.
I could sense weakness like a bully in a schoolyard. "Oh, no…of course not. We'll just…have a glass…or two."
Rodney must have gotten tired of standing, now that his job was done. Super McKay to the rescue again, and a fine job he'd done. The weight of a world…of a galaxy had been temporarily taken off my back.
"Do you see that?" Carson whispered excitedly.
I looked in his direction, but didn't see anything…but wait a minute…I could make out a weak glow, far off in the distance…"Do you think?" McKay started.
I sure hoped so, because if it wasn't our people, we were screwed. It would've been nice to tell McKay and Beckett to hide, but we still couldn't see a thing, and I was afraid to get us moving in the dark. Enough damage had been done, we didn't need anymore. And besides, where would we go?
I grinned wider than a boy looking at his first Playboy. "Ford!"
The lights picked up the pace, and soon we were surrounded by a team from Atlantis. Ford and Teyla looked happier to see us than we did to see them. Surprisingly, the time had passed faster than I'd thought it would.
"Are you alright?" Ford asked, taking in Carson's streaked face, my bound leg, and there must have been something in the air…some sense of what had gone on that he was picking up on.
"Yeah," I replied, smiling. "I'm good. You good, Doc? McKay?"
McKay stood up, offering a hand for me. He was smiling too, and so was Carson, we all smiled like drunk fools except we hadn't yet dipped into that Vodka. "Good here," answered McKay.
Beckett took my other side, and they helped me to the portable cot the rescuers had brought along. "Me too. Probably the best I've felt in a long time," he spoke with feeling.
Ford and Teyla exchanged glances, and I saw Ford shrug, as they started moving out. I was curious though, "How far to the gate?"
"Would you believe this lets out right behind the gate?" Ford explained. "It took a while for us to find the way in the dark, but coming back with flashlights was easy."
I shared a wry grin with McKay and Beckett. Came out right behind the gate. Of course it did. Sometimes, that butterfly effect worked both ways. This time, the winds of luck blew our way. It'd have to do for now. And for when it didn't, there were always friends to blow it back.