The next time he woke, it was morning and he was feeling, if possible, even worse. Bruised and stiffened muscles screamed in protest as he sat up. His stomach seemed equally upset by the whole experience and his head pounded with every beat of his heart.
The air in the cave was chilly but not freezing and he could see a light dusting of snow had fallen on a rock just outside the entrance. The fire had died down to bare coals, though there was a stack of wood nearby. He had apparently been too tired to notice it earlier. Stacking a few more pieces of wood on the fire, he carefully waved the flattened cardboard box from the ace bandage until the bark caught. Pulling out another powerbar, he began to snap off small bite sized pieces; washing it down with a swallows from his canteen. It was making him nauseous but he knew he needed to eat. He pulled on his jacket, pleasantly warm from the fire's heat and contemplated whether he had enough strength to make it back to where the jumper had disappeared. It would be the most likely place a search party would look for him but he worried about his chances of finding it on his own considering how out of it he had been on their trek to the cave. He had just made the decision to go when his lovely savior reappeared in the entrance of the cave. "Edmé, I'm glad you're safe. Where were you last night?"
"Nearby, keeping watch," she replied enigmatically.
"Will you take me back to the river? It is probably where my friends will start searching for me."
"Not now. A storm approaches. Even if your friends are looking for you, they will have to take cover until it has run its course."
He was greatly disappointed by the news but tried not to let it show. After all, the weather wasn't her fault. "I'm lucky you're here then. I would have been caught out in it."
"Yes," she agreed, smiling.
He helped himself to more Tylenol, realizing that the best thing he could do at this point was to get as much rest as possible; and that wasn't going to happen with every muscle and joint shouting disapproval at its use. He arranged the pack and tried lying on his good side. It was then he noticed she still wasn't wearing anything on her feet.
"You're going to get frostbite," he warned, concerned.
She looked down, as if surprised to realize she wasn't wearing any shoes and shrugged. "I have not worn shoes in a very long time." She sat down beside him. "But you are kind to be concerned. Sleep, it will help the time pass faster," she said, touching his forehead.
When he woke, she was gone again and the wind was howling outside. Some snow had blown in the opening, but as the cave entrance seemed to be facing away from the onslaught, it had only dampened a few inches of floor; leaving him and his belongings safe and dry. Convincing himself that Edmé obviously knew the area well and was in no danger, he threw a couple more logs on the fire and went back to sleep.
"Carson? Carson can you hear me?"
It wasn't the words so much as the painful shaking that accompanied them that woke him. "Ease off," he snapped, gasping, his arm tightening around his chest to protect his sore ribs. Opening his eyes revealed a very concerned Rodney McKay kneeling by a long dead fire. "Cracked ribs," he said by way of explanation.
Rodney looked a little guilty. "Sorry." He helped the injured doctor sit up, wincing sympathetically when he saw the large bruise on Beckett's forehead.
Sheppard, standing a little behind McKay, tapped his earpiece. "We've got him." Carson couldn't hear the response but he was suddenly the recipient of a long, appraising gaze. "Looks like hell, but seems to be in one piece." More mumbling then, "No, we'd better come back for the jumper later. Yeah, I think that's going to be the best way to go. Okay, see you on top." He tapped the radio off. "Come on, Doc, let's get you out of here and back to Atlantis," he said, leaning down to offer him a hand. Between that and Rodney's help, they managed to get the weary Scot on his feet.
"There were a few moments of sheer panic until we realized you weren't still in the jumper," McKay said as they walked to the entrance of the cave. "Of course, the thought of you wandering around wasn't reassuring either, considering the enormous size of the carnivores we've seen in the area."
"Good thing you thought to leave us that sign or we'd've never found you all the way up here," added the major.
"You know, the honking big arrow in the snow pointing towards this cave?" said Sheppard, exchanging a concerned glance with Rodney at Beckett's obvious confusion. "Just how hard did you hit your head, Doc?"
Beckett's hand went unconsciously to his forehead as he stepped out of the cave entrance.
"Woah, Doc!" Sheppard exclaimed, grabbing the injured man's arm to keep him from walking off into thin air.
Looking down, Carson was startled to realize the cave he had slept in was on the edge of a steep cliff with only a small ledge at the entrance keeping him from a sheer 100 foot drop. He was suddenly overcome by vertigo. Sheppard pushed him back against the cliff face and kept him pinned there with his forearm until it passed.
"Sorry," the Scot apologized shakily.
"How the hell did you get all the way up here anyway?" McKay asked.
"What's an edmé?"
"She's not a what, she's a she." By the look Sheppard and McKay exchanged, they definitely thought he was a few bricks short of a load. "You know, one of the natives? Dressed like a Medieval princess? She must live somewhere nearby."
"The Tarns are post-industrial," said McKay.
"Not a medieval dress in the bunch, Doc," Sheppard assured him.
"Maybe it was your guardian angel," joked McKay. "Next, you'll be telling us she flew you up here."
He ignored the scientist's sarcasm and put aside his own questions for the moment. "I'm more worried about how we're going to get down from here." He knew he was in no condition for such a climb.
"Not down, Doc, up." Sheppard pointed to the top of the cliff above them. It was only ten feet or so higher than their current position. "Markham and Ford are going to park the jumper topside and lower a rope." As if on cue, the jumper flew over their heads and landed.
It took Ford and Markham less time to pull them up than it did to rig a harness for Beckett that wouldn't put any pressure on his ribs.
"What's wrong, Carson?" asked McKay as they walked the short distance to the parked jumper. "You look pensive. Waiting for the other shoe to drop?"
"I wrecked the jumper," he said, not willing to endure Rodney's scoffing about a 'guardian angel' again.
"You know the old saying, Doc, 'any landing you can walk away from'," quipped Sheppard; then he grinned and amended, "or swim away from."
McKay waved it off as well. "It's fixable."
Sheppard ducked his head to enter the ship. "We're just glad you're alright."
"Three days of frantic searching softened them up a bit," confided Ford quietly, making sure Beckett was settled comfortably in his seat.
"Three days? Has it been that long?" He asked, surprised. Closing his eyes tiredly, he leaned his head back against the chair enjoying the luxury of a padded headrest.
"Four, actually," said McKay. "It was a whole day before the Tarns got around to calling us."
"We wasted several days searching in the wrong place. You were way off course, Doc," said Ford, settling in the seat beside his. "In fact we'd still be searching if that woman hadn't seen the jumper flying west of where we were looking."
"What woman?" Carson asked sharply, instantly alert and pinning Ford with an intense stare.
"Um…" Ford hesitated, surprised by the doctor's sudden change. "Just some woman..."
"Describe her," he insisted.
Ford shot McKay a 'what do I do?' look.
Rodney shrugged. "Go ahead."
"Um…let's see, she was about five foot five, a hundred and ten pounds - give or take…"
"Long red hair and intense green eyes?" asked Beckett.
"Yeah," said Ford, surprised.
"How about a medieval dress?" Sheppard jokingly added.
"No," Ford confirmed, shaking his head. "In fact," he continued, frowning, "she was wearing a green mini-dress, looked a little like one my high school girlfriend use to wear. That's really strange, isn't it? That's nothing like the people on this planet usually wear."
"Ghostly apparition," said Rodney mysteriously, waving his fingers at Sheppard.
"Actually, Doc," said Ford turning to McKay, "she was looking for you."
"What?" McKay squeaked, dropping his hands nervously.
"Yeah, now that I think about it, she did ask for you specifically…and by your first name, too. When I told her you'd gone to the chancellor's office for maps, she said she could give me the message and told me where she had seen the jumper."
McKay managed to look both uncomfortable and skeptical at the direction the conversation was taking. "You're just now mentioning this?"
"Well, at the time, the only thing that seemed important was that someone had seen the jumper," said Ford, a little defensively.
"Angel, ghost, fairy godmother - who cares so long as you're not a McBeckett Deluxe," said Sheppard, preparing to lift off.
"Or a Carsonsicle," agreed Ford, smiling at his own cleverness. "What?" he asked as Sheppard shot him an annoyed glance. "You know, 'cause it was so cold and all."
As the jumper ascended off the plateau, Beckett thought he saw a figure in green at the edge of the forest waving. "Major," he started.
"What?" asked Sheppard, shooting him an inquiring glance over his shoulder.
Carson looked back down but all he saw were green trees waving in the breeze. "Nevermind."
AN: Was that a cliché ending or what? ;-)
Edmé is a name of Scottish origin meaning "protector". I thought it was an appropriate choice for this story.