Category: Drama, h/c (probably more the latter than the former)
Spoilers: tiny one for the Seige III
Archive: SGAHC; If you want it, go for it. Just please let me know
not betaed, was simply in the mood of typing for a couple hours and posting it, so sorry to the readers as well for any mistakes!
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me, everything to MGM, and they can keep them as long as they don't kill them!
Deus Ex Igne
They couldn't do much more than run. Run like hell; no, run FROM hell. He couldn't remember the last time he had to run so hard for so long and at the same time he couldn't even remember a time without running. His brain had shut down and only his subconscious kept him moving; kept the feet from making just the one more step that would hopefully lead them to safety.
The fingers of his left hand, wrapped around the upper arm of the man next to him, were cramping up with the tight grip he had forced them into, and his legs were about ready to give out, tired of the abuse of the continuous strain and the awkward movement caused by dragging the other person with him.
John knew the moment he'd let go of the arm, Rodney would fall and not get up again, no matter if that meant loosing his life, he just would no longer be able to.
So he kept going, trying to find the safest path through the inferno blazing all around them, through an all encompassing wall of flames, lighting up tree after tree, bush after bush. It felt like Zeus himself was raging through this world with his flaming trident.
And finally he could see the valley. Just a few hundred meters further and they would be out of the forest, away from the dead or paper-dry wood that almost exploded into flames, as soon as the fire came close enough.
He knew the little hill would only be covered with little vegetation, which could give him the time to get himself and Rodney down to the river. To see their escape so close gave John the little bit of extra strength, he didn't know he still possessed, and he accelerated his steps even more.
But Rodney either hadn't seen the approaching valley or he was beyond caring and could no longer compensate for the sudden jerk on his arm, so stumbled and went down. Feeling the physicist's step falter, the Colonel released the arm and instinctively turned around to catch him, but his own forward momentum caused him to loose his own footing and he crashed to the ground a couple of meters in front of Rodney.
He only allowed himself a fraction of a second to get his bearings and heavy breathing back under control; His averted attention, though, however short, was enough for him to miss seeing one of the smaller sized trees to his right, its trunk already turned into black charcoal in some places and glowing a dangerous pink and blue in others, surrender to the destruction of the fire and slowly toppling over.
John only realized something was wrong when he turned back to look at Rodney and saw the man's eyes widen in horror but unable to stop the tree from falling onto John. The trunk caught Sheppard square across the legs and lower hip and pinned the soldier to the ground, before he had a chance to move out of the way.
First he felt the crushing weight on his thighs, but the sensation was soon overwhelmed by an increasing heat until it felt like a block of ice was lying on his legs. But before his brain had time to process these things the weight was lifted and he instinctively rolled out from underneath the tree then looked back towards Rodney.
He saw his friend kneeling in front of the fallen tree, looking at the palms of his hands with an eerily bewildered expression on his face and breathing so fast he was almost hyperventilating. Feeling more then seeing yet another bush burst into flames just meters away from their position, John forced himself onto his feet, and, ignoring the shooting pain in his left thigh, grabbed the unresisting scientist by the back of his shirt and continued their dash towards the valley. Madly trying to avoid colliding with burning vegetation or tripping over roots they finally made it out of the forest.
As soon as they cleared the last trees, Rodney's strength gave out again, but John pushed him forward with one last hard shove that forced the other man's body over the edge, and, jumping down just behind Rodney, they both rolled all the way down to the river. Unable to stop their quick descend, both ended up tumbling into the slowly meandering water, Rodney's screams being the last thing John heard, before the sound was quite literally drowned out by the gurgling of liquid filling his ears.
The stream was only about 15 meters wide, but both men were exhausted and to John the other side felt like a million miles away. Struggling for rhythmic movements and even breaths he focused on the riverbank in front of him that he reached moments later, where he coughed up half the river's contents before he had a chance to look for his teammate.
John found Rodney in the water, only half way to his side. He seemed to have even more problems then John had had. Instead of swimming or at least paddling towards the Colonel's position it seemed like Rodney was simply trying to stay afloat, his hands stretched out in front of him in an awkward position as if trying not to get them wet but failing when he repeatedly went under the water surface.
Having more or less caught his breath, John immediately jumped back into the river and once he had found Rodney grabbed the panicking man by his arms.
"Rodney, stop struggling!" McKay didn't seem to hear him but continued to lash out wildly with his arms and legs. "Rodney, STOP!"
His shout had the desired effect and Rodney stopped his panicked movements long enough for John to roll him onto his back and, with an arm draped underneath Rodney's shoulders, he finally managed to bring them both back to solid ground.
Once they had made it, Rodney immediately slumped down, his rapid breathing hitched and interlaced with violent coughing fits. John moved to sit next to him, one hand rubbing calming circles on Rodney's back.
"It's alright. We made it. Breathe nice and slow. Come on, ... in... and out... That's it, you're doing great."
He continued talking nonsense and encouraging murmurs until the scientist's coughing started to subside.
Rodney visibly calmed down after a couple of minutes, though his gaze never left the moss-covered pebbles piling up on the riverbank, but John was fairly sure he didn't really see them. In an attempt to break the stupor the physicist seemed to have fallen into, the Colonel moved his hand to give Rodney's shoulder a small shake and his right hand a gentle squeeze.
The immediate reaction took him totally by surprise when McKay's face suddenly turned white, which, combined with the lobster-red color caused by the immense heat and exertion, resulted in a very unhealthy looking orange tan. Sucking in a massive choked breath, Rodney started screaming and violently jerking away from John's touch, which almost resulted in another tumble into the river, all the while cradling both hands close to his chest but not touching anything.
"Oh, god, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. ...You okay? What's wrong?"
John, shocked by the unexpected outburst, had taken a couple of involuntary steps back, but slowly moved forward towards Rodney once more, who was shaking like a leaf, breathing fast and shallow again, eyes fixed on his hands, palms up, just like he had back in the forest.
The Colonel was now almost by his side again, and, arms outstretched, tried to read his friend's expression.
"Come on, Rodney, let me see."
"No! Don't touch them!" For the first time, the physicist was actually looking at John, while trying to move away further, a panicked and pleading look in his eyes.
"I won't, I promise. Just let me see, so I can help you."
John's voice betrayed nothing of his inner turmoil at seeing his friends in such a state. He kept his arms outstretched, though, and almost as in slow-motion, Rodney reached out and let Sheppard gently support his hands, palms up, with his own.
"Please, don't touch!" Rodney repeated with a small voice.
John biting his lip, to stop himself from groaning at the sight, once he had seen the injury, gave his friend an encouraging smile. "Don't worry, I won't. But I need you to calm down, okay! Take slow breaths. Everything is gonna be alright."
He hoped so, at least. Rodney's hands were one big mass of bloody, burned and blistered tissue, slowly oozing clear and pinkish fluid, where some of the blisters had ruptured. The smell, now that John was so close to the burned flesh was almost overwhelming and it took all his might not to recoil. He had to stay calm and composed for Rodney's sake.
"You picked up the log with your hands, didn't you?" At Rodney's shaky nod, he sighed, "Christ, why did you do that?"
"I had to..." a shallow breath "... had to do something!" And suddenly, as if he had just remembered the incident, "You? What about you? Are you hurt?"
Even though John could feel the burning pain on his thigh and was pretty sure, the tree had left quite a big red mark on his leg, he wasn't about to share that information with Rodney. His trousers had probably protected him from serious injury and in any case Rodney was far worse off.
He cursed the fact that they had both decided to wear short sleeved shirts that day, when the MALP readings confirmed a pleasant temperature of 27 degrees. Yeah, pleasant, until by some chance, or rather dumb luck that seemed to be following them around lately, all hell broke loose and the temperature rose above anything he would ever consider 'pleasant'. He didn't know what had caused the bushfire. Probably a natural occurrence, or maybe they themselves were somehow responsible, but Rodney and himself had been cut off from Teyla and Ronon in only a matter of minutes, when they were investigating some of Rodney's ever-present abnormal energy readings.
Note to self: next time Rodney finds some interesting 'energy readings', turn tail, kick him back through the gate and go find him a PlayStation to tamper with.
"I'm fine, don't worry. Listen, Rodney, I have to bandage your hands, alright? To keep dirt from getting in."
"Can't we... can't we just leave them like that and let Carson take a look at it?"
"It'll be a while until we're be back at the gate, and there's too much ash and dirt flying around that could get into the wounds. It'll feel much better, once it's properly bandaged."
Rodney swallowed heavily, but he finally answered with a small nod. They had had to leave their backpacks behind, when the fire had suddenly forced them into the unexpected departure, but John still had the contents of his vest and quickly produced a pair of sealed dressings.
He then proceeded to carefully wrap both hands loosely into the bandages, his movements quickening when he realized that they would have to get going again pretty soon.
Rodney had seen the worried look on John's face and turned his head back to the forest, where they had just escaped from. His strangled gasp drew the Colonel's attention back to the man in front of him. John was sure it was less a response to the pain his ministrations caused and more due to seeing the wall of smoke that was rapidly approaching their position.
Securing the last bit of the dressing with tape, John unfastened his water bottle from his belt.
"I want you to drink as much as you can, but then we have to get moving. Think you can do that?"
"Sure, no problem." Rodney's voice didn't sound quite convinced, but they didn't have much choice in the matter. Rodney instinctively tried to take the bottle with his hands, but Sheppard intercepted.
"Let me do that."
The scientist was quite obviously not very happy with needing help in such a simple matter like drinking, but accepted John's help.
"Ready to go?" John took a small sip himself, screwed the bottle back up and refastened it. Not waiting for an answer, he helped Rodney to his feet and gave him a few moments until Rodney seemed steady on his feet again.
"I'm good, let's go."
By the time they left the riverbank, the smoke, driven by an increasing wind, had almost reached them and John forced Rodney into a slow run. He was fairly certain the wind wasn't strong enough yet to drive the fire across the river to their side, but the smoke would be just as lethal should they get caught in it.
He was immensely proud of Rodney, when his friend swallowed what must have been screams of pain and kept up with him, determination written all over his face.
They continued their run for another 20 arduous minutes. John tried to lead them back towards the gate and at the same time away from the smoke, but the latter proved to be futile and the air was already heavy with ash, dust and smoke.
Sheppard knew Rodney couldn't go on like that much longer, he was already slowing down considerably and no amount of pushing on John's side was helping any more. Even worse, continuous inhalation of the fumes was already irritating their lungs so badly that both had begun coughing; Rodney worse than him, since he was breathing heavier and more erratic than John, who was in a generally better shape used to running greater distances.
Bringing them to a halt, the Colonel opened one of his vest-pockets and took out a handkerchief and one of the remaining bandages. Quickly soaking both cloths with water, he put one over Rodney's face, who was bent over with one arm wrapped around his midsection and coughing violently. John motioned him to hold it in place with his wrist, and then put the other one over his own nose and mouth, grabbed Rodney around the waist and pressed them back into a run.
The smoke kept getting thicker and thicker and John was grateful this part of the forest wasn't as densely vegetated as before, since his field of vision had decreased to only about 2 meters. His leg had started aching more fiercely then ever, and every step sent shooting pain down to his toes and up to his hip, he couldn't even imagine what Rodney went through.
Suddenly the floor dropped from underneath their feet and both men took the second tumble down a hill within less than an hour. The slope was neither very steep nor incredibly deep, but even their slowing run with no prior attempt to brake had given them both enough velocity to roll downhill with quite some speed. John had to release his hold on Rodney and only through sheer luck was able to stop his descend by grabbing a passing tree.
Rodney was less lucky and continued rolling all the way down and didn't come to a halt until the slope was replaced by flat terrain again and even then he kept going for a couple more meters.
John felt physically sick when he witnessed Rodney trying to brake his fall with his arms and hands and prayed to all listening deities that his friend hadn't been injured more severely than he already was.
Pressing the almost dry dressing back over his mouth, he stumbled down the rest of the way and fell to his knees next to the unmoving physicist, coughing hard.
Some deity was obviously listening, since the smoke hadn't quite reached this far down yet, and Rodney slowly opened watery, pain filled eyes, when John laid a hand on his back.
"Rodney, you alright?"
"No... help me!... turn...!"
That was when the Colonel realized Rodney had come to a halt lying on his arms.
"Jeez, Rodney. If you do something, you do it right!"
His attempt on humor fell short, when he saw the tightly clenched eyes with tears streaming down on both sides, leaving sticky trails down the dirt covered face, when he picked the other man up and propped him up against his own body.
By now the smoke was almost reaching their heads already and no matter what, he had to get Rodney out of this mess now. The handkerchief hadn't survived the tumble down the hill; John could see it a couple of meters behind him.
Not bothering to get it, he poured the rest of the water over his own cloth and pressed it over Rodney's face. He let the bottle fall to the ground then pulled Rodney to his feet.
His leg was hurting so badly now, he knew it wouldn't be able to bear his own and Rodney's combined weight, so both had to make it on their own two feet. But the scientist's feet had other ideas and immediately folded under him again and almost dragged both back to the ground.
"Damn it, Rodney. Open your eyes. Now's not the time for a nap, we have to get out of here!"
Even with the cloth and part of the Colonel's hand muffling his voice, John easily picked up the apologetic, broken tone.
"Yes, you can and you will. My leg's hurt, so I can't carry you, and if you don't move, we'll both suffocate on this poor excuse of a planet!" John put all the anger and helplessness about the situation into his voice and hoped Rodney would respond the way he wanted him to.
And he did.
"You're hurt? Where?"
"A tree fell on me, remember? And it hurts like a son of a bitch, so get going already so we can both go and harass Beckett for a while.
By some miracle John's plan worked. More focused on getting his friend to medical attention than on his own injuries, Rodney locked his knees and with the Colonel's arm once again around his waist, they were on their way again.
And just before both men were ready to give up for good, after another 15 minutes of stumbling through the forest and more relentless coughing, they finally reached the clearing where the Stargate was situated.
John helped Rodney sit down next to the DHD, dialed then entered their code once the wormhole had burst into life.
"Come on. Let's go home."
The only answer was an appreciative sigh, when he hoisted Rodney up for hopefully the last time on a totally messed up day and they stepped through the gate.
They were met by a whole bunch of people, who came running down the stairs, Elizabeth being the first to arrive.
"Where've you been? We've been trying to contact you for hours!" Elizabeth's face reflected almost as much relief about seeing the two of them, as when he had come back from his little field trip with a bomb.
His answer however was cut short, when Rodney decided there was no better time like the present to finally give in to blessed darkness. Toppling over to the left side, John had to shift his weight over onto his hurt leg, in order to keep the physicist from crashing to the floor. Catching his friend in time, John knew he would no longer be able to keep them both upright, but managed to reverse their positions. That way, he fell to the floor first and Rodney landed right on top of him. But neither man was aware of that any more, since Rodney had already given in to unconsciousness and John joined him on his way down.
"There ya are, lad. So nice of you to finally join us. How are ya?"
Taking a couple of seconds to orientate himself he answered "Been better, I guess." Was that really his voice croaking in response to Carson's question?
The doctor was obviously agreeing that it wasn't a pleasant sound and helped him to some water.
"Thanks. Feels like heaven", he sighed, then his eyes popped open again. "Rodney?"
"'s sleeping right next to you. You both had quite a run in with smoke poisoning. You can thank your lucky stars you made it back when you did. Neither one of ya would have made it much longer."
"Gee, Carson, that's one way to cheer up patients", he grimaced and fixed his gaze on the sleeping man.
Carson seemed to read the anxious expression in his face. "His hands will be fine. He has pretty severe first and second degree burns on both of them and a broken wrist. The next couple of weeks won't be pleasant for him, but he'll recover just fine.
And apart from that, you're both suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, Rodney a lot more severe than you. And since you're not asking I'll just continue talking. You have some second degree burns on your left thigh as well, and a slightly bruised hip. I have you both on antibiotics to fight of the infection. Again, I'm more worried about Rodney there, since burns on the hands are more prone to complications. But you did an excellent job with the bandaging. Couldn't have been pleasant for either one of you, I imagine. So all in all, you got off lucky once more, lad."
"Both fine and worried about you two. They had to stop searching when the smoke became too dense."
"You're going to be my guests? I'd say I can kick you out tomorrow after dinner. Rodney will be here for the next week, I guess. With his hands he'll need help with everything anyway, so this time he probably won't be able to sneak out prematurely. It'll take time. And recuperation from burns is unfortunately a rather long and painful task. One you'll have to go through yourself, if I might add."
"Thanks, AGAIN, for the pep talk, Carson."
Carson smiled at him and got up from his half leaning half sitting position on John's bed.
"Try to get some more sleep, Colonel. And leave the oxygen alone!" He added, slapping at a fumbling hand, when John tried to find a less irritating position for the small plastic tube under his nose.
Before he left to return to his office, Beckett checked Rodney's chart and nodded in approval, which actually made John happier than just his words that the other man would really be fine. Carson then returned to John's bed and adjusted the flow of one of the fluid-filled bags dangling above his head and left with a "Good night, Colonel". Almost immediately his leg stopped throbbing again and with a warm, fuzzy feeling flowing through his veins, he drifted back to sleep.