"It's dark in here," John Sheppard said as he tried to catch his breath.
"Thanks so much," Dr. Rodney McKay said, panting heavily, "for stating the obvious. And here's another," the physicist paused once again to try to catch his breath, "very helpful observation," more heavy breathing, "from Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard." Rodney paused longer this time, took several gulping breaths and then added snidely, "It's a cave."
"And that's a more eloquent observation, how?" Sheppard asked his fellow reluctant spelunker, clearly on edge and not happy with their current predicament.
An exaggerated sigh was the only response from the scientist. John fumbled in the dark and finally came up with his flashlight. He turned it on, flame pointed down. He brought it up and circled around the small cavern he and Rodney were holed up in.
"Dead end?" Rodney asked nervously as he tried to breath more normally. He was bent over with his hands on his knees. And he was finding good air elusive in the cold and the until-just-now-lit-by-the-colonel, near smothering darkness.
"Looks like," Sheppard replied as he walked closer to the small pond on the far side of the chamber. He felt the liquid from the steady waterfall filling the reservoir and pulled his hand back fast. "Shit, that's cold!"
"It's coming from those sn…snow-capped m…mountains we saw," McKay surmised. Sheppard frowned at Rodney as his own breathing normalized. The colonel didn't like it at all that Rodney's breathing was, well, bad, or that he was shivering so much. Though it was cool in their current hiding place, they had just worked up a significant sweat from their cross-valley sprint. At least he had.
"Hey, McKay, are you all right?" he asked as he pointed the flashlight back toward the scientist.
"Yes," Rodney replied, indignant. "Why d…do you ask?" he questioned, immediately worried as John stepped in front of him. Rodney was breathing far heavier than Sheppard was. He knew McKay wasn't much of a runner, but he was in significantly better shape than when he first joined the team. Something wasn't adding up.
"Why are you so cold and breathing so heavy?" Sheppard asked as he began to remove his backpack.
"M…maybe b…because it's f…freezing in here and we j…just ran for our l…lives f…for about three ki…ki…kilometers?" Rodney countered in agitation, his hands now resting on his hips as he stood up, ready to take offense at Sheppard's accusation. He knew he wasn't in the shape Sheppard would like, though at least if he got stuck somewhere without food he would be able to survive longer than John's skinny ass ever could, hypoglycemia notwithstanding.
"It's not that cold, McKay, it wasn't even close to three kilometers, and you've run farther and faster before and not been so winded. Did you get hit?"
Less than thirty minutes before, the Ostians had turned on Sheppard's team so fast that they almost didn't escape with their lives. Sheppard and McKay still didn't know, in fact, whether Teyla and Ronon really had. Neither team member had responded to Sheppard's hails, which had been unfortunately limited in his own effort to escape with McKay.
They had no clue as to what they had done to provoke the natives. McKay and Ronon Dex, who would normally have been the first and second members of his team to say or do something provocative, had been on their best behavior. Except, of course, for Rodney's asides about wasting time and having better things to do than join Ostia's late fall harvest. Sheppard had stood back quietly as Teyla spoke with the Ostian leader, Minerva. From what he could tell, things had been moving along swimmingly. Teyla and the woman were working well and putting together a draft trade agreement when another Ostian pulled Minerva aside. The village leader looked to each member of Sheppard's team and then yelled something none of them caught, but which clearly incited action on the part of her people.
Members of Minerva's guard encircled them quickly, though the Atlantis team had better and more powerful weapons. They had demonstrated that power earlier and the threat of their use helped them to stave off any imminent attack, though as Sheppard thought back on it now, the weapons might have been precisely what the Ostians were after.
Sheppard and his team had successfully reached the edge of the village when gunfire and arrows started flying. The team was forced to split up, with Teyla and Ronon headed straight for the gate. Intense gunfire forced Sheppard and McKay slightly east and up towards the foothills.
"Do I l…look like I've be…been hit?" Rodney replied with aggravation. Both hands were splayed to his sides now, where the beam of the flashlight caught Rodney's left hand, covered in blood.
"Oh, shit," Rodney said, his blue eyes wide with fear. "Wh…what's happening?" he asked as he started to drop, his knees buckling fast. Sheppard snatched the scientist's arm to prevent the painful crash to the ground.
"Take it easy, Rodney," Sheppard ordered as he eased him to the floor of the cave.
"I…I…uh…" his inhalations started to come in quick pants. "Um…uh-oh," McKay said as he realized what was going on. "Shock?" he asked John.
"Yeah. Don't worry. Lay down." Rodney followed each instruction obediently, scared but cognizant enough to understand the importance of working swiftly.
John eased Rodney out of his own pack and quickly placed it under the ailing man's legs.
"I'm gonna check you over first to see where you're bleeding, okay McKay?" Sheppard asked as he immediately started his examination. No answer from his friend as he worked on McKay's injury forced John to stop briefly and shine the light at Rodney's face.
"Rodney?" Sheppard queried, looking for some reaction under the insufficient light of the battery-powered torch.
"Yes, yes. Still here," Rodney offered. "Sorry."
"That's okay. Just stay with me." John continued his search for the source of the bleeding.
"How did I n…not know?" Rodney asked in wonderment.
"Adrenaline. Shock. Cold," John answered brusquely. It really was feeling cold in the cave.
"Ah!" Rodney jumped at Sheppard's touch. John pulled his hand away to see it mottled with McKay's blood.
"Found it," Rodney said through clenched teeth.
"Yeah. I don't want to hear any more from you about stating the obvious," Sheppard chastised teasingly.
"Good point," Rodney panted.
Sheppard aimed the light at Rodney's left side. He pulled away McKay's vest and unzipped his jacket. He took the scissors from the med kit and cut Rodney's shirt and t-shirt away to expose the injury. John shook his head at what he saw. He wiped away the still oozing blood near the front of Rodney's left hip and found clear evidence of an exit wound. It wasn't pretty; it was a bit scorched, and larger than John wished to see. But it was still good news: it meant that the bullet wasn't still inside doing more damage. He pushed Rodney over slightly onto his right side and wiped away more blood in order to get a better look at the entry wound.
What a mess, John thought. But he could handle this. He would get pressure bandages on, get a fire going, get McKay bundled up, and then head to the cave entrance to call Teyla and Ronon. They'd had plenty of time to get to the gate and dial it up, if they hadn't been caught. He would be calling to find a rescue party already on its way…or he would call to find no answer at all.
"How's it look?" Rodney asked, his breathing now slowed a bit, though the pain was now hitting the wounded man pretty hard.
"Well, looks like you got lucky," John stated lightly as he tried as calmly as possible to clean and dress the wounds. He hoped Rodney didn't notice the slight tremor in his hands.
"Really?" Rodney asked smartly. Same old McKay. "You…you need to consult your d…dictionary wh…when we get back, Sh…Sh…Sheppard." Rodney shivered violently, which was making cleaning the wound far more complicated. "It's so fucking c…cold," Rodney complained.
"Rodney, I need you to try to relax. Think about a warm beach. Or Toronto in the heart of the summer. Remember you told me how hot it can get in the Great North in the summertime?" John thought maybe a distraction would keep McKay from dwelling on the large amount of blood he now lay in. "Just give me a few minutes and I'll get you all warmed up," John said soothingly.
Rodney covered his face with his right hand while his left dug into the dirt as John worked on his wounds. Sheppard saw the hand scratching into the ground. Not relaxing, John thought. It was torture knowing that his actions were hurting his friend, but he knew he had an important next critical step in getting McKay warmed up. He needed to wrap this step up to get to that vital one.
John finished bandaging Rodney's injuries and then swiftly pulled both blankets out of their packs, wrapping McKay up tight. He looked around the dark space for anything to burn, but found nothing.
"Shit!" he exclaimed loudly.
"What?" Rodney asked, jumping slightly and removing the hand from his eyes. He grimaced as the movement brought a stab of pain to his side. Sheppard kneeled down next to the injured man, looking sympathetically at McKay's pain-filled face.
"Look, I'm going to have to head to the entrance. We need something for heat and I've got to try to contact Teyla and Ronon, see if the cavalry's on the way."
"Oh," Rodney said, eyes wide. "Sure."
John hated to do it. He hated to leave. McKay wasn't in deep shock, but he was undoubtedly still in danger. But any rescue attempt would be for naught if Sheppard didn't get out there and give the rest of his team a sign of where they were located. This had to have been just one of dozens of similar caves in these expansive foothills. And he had no way of knowing whether the other half of his team was aware of which direction he and Rodney had ultimately been forced to.
"It's okay. I'll be fine," Rodney assured, trying hard to be brave and convince his friend that he would be okay alone and injured in the damp, dark cave. John leaned in closer to the physicist.
"Here," he said, placing Rodney's own 9mm in his hand. "Just in case."
Rodney kept wide eyes on his team leader. His pale features shown through even the dim light the flashlight afforded them.
"Go. Go," he repeated, pushing John's arm away. "The s…sooner you go the sooner you'll get back."
John patted Rodney's shoulder as he rose to leave. McKay reached for the colonel's forearm with a reddish-brown stained hand, grimacing at the sight of his own dried blood.
"Make sure you c…call out when you come back," Rodney instructed in grim warning.
"You bet," John answered as he took his P-90 and left.
Rodney closed his eyes and tried not to think about being in a dark, cold cave, all alone and hurt. He might have successfully convinced the colonel that he would be all right left alone, but he was having a helluva time convincing himself. He took several calming breaths and thought about being on a backbreaking hospital bed in Carson Beckett's infirmary.
The rat-a-tat sound of a P-90 woke Rodney McKay from a disturbingly heavy sleep. He felt sluggish and a little confused, but one thing he knew with certainty from the persistent gunfire was that Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard was in trouble.
Rodney moved the gun to his left hand and pushed himself into a sitting position with his right, leaning over and favoring the bandaged area on his left side. He closed his eyes tightly and breathed through the intense pain that moving caused. He turned over to his hands and knees, frustrated that no position yielded him enough leverage to rise from his current place in the dirt. He crawled over to the nearest wall, remembering to fetch the flashlight on the way; he would never have been able to lean down to get it once he was up on his feet.
If he ever made it that far. He felt tired and hot now from the exertion, but he had a job to do; a friend to help. After far too much pain and great effort, Rodney was on his feet and moved toward the entryway.
"Sheppard!" he called. No answer was not what he'd hoped for. "Sheppard, don't make me shoot you," he yelled. He shook his head, feeling giddy and stupid and wondering where the weird humor was coming from at a time like this.
A stab of pain from his side forced him up against the wall of the cave. He pushed on the injury to try to relieve some of the pain; his hand came away wet once again.
"Shit," he said tiredly to himself, cold sweat dripping down his forehead and stinging his eyes. "Sheppard!"
No response. Rodney leaned against the wall and tried to think. What should he do? What could he do? He could barely walk and he was leaking a remarkable amount of blood. He couldn't think. He dropped his head down to his chest.
"Rodney," a quiet voice called.
Rodney's head shot up at the call of his name. "Sheppard?" he asked in a hushed tone. Was that real? He wiped the sweat from his eyes and blinked to clear his vision. He was beginning to feel a little dizzy and his eyes were definitely not working right. He rubbed them violently and blinked some more. And he finally saw…something…a dark lump in faint silhouette just inside the mouth of the cave.
"No, no, no," Rodney cried as he ran to his friend. His injury felled him before he reached the colonel, forcing him hard to the ground. He cried again at the pain the hard contact caused, and crawled the last few feet to check on Sheppard.
"Sheppard," he said urgently, reaching the flashlight up towards John's face. His forehead was bloody, but otherwise he looked to be simply napping. Rodney touched his hand to Sheppard's neck, the relief almost overwhelming when he felt a clear and steady pulse. He tapped John's face.
"Sheppard, come on, wake up." Rodney dropped his head, gritting his teeth at the now pounding throb in his side. Every beat of his heart seemed to be pulsating through his left side. "Sheppard, goddamnit, wake up!" Gunfire from much closer this time startled McKay. "Shit!" he yelled in frustration.
Rodney took hold of Sheppard's arms and dragged him farther into the cave.
"I'm injured here, pal," Rodney started, dripping with typical McKay attitude. "It would help me a whole lot if you would kindly come to." The scientist dropped to his knees and then fell over on his good side. Rodney breathed through the pain, but also breathed in some dirt, which started him coughing. He held his side and moaned through each painful cough, knowing that every convulsion forced precious blood to ooze from the new and very inconveniently placed holes in his body.
Rodney looked at Sheppard, who was now positioned near McKay's feet. How had that happened? He must have writhed around on the ground more than he thought, and it was indeed disconcerting that he hadn't remembered doing that. Had he passed out? He was really in trouble. He needed help.
More gunfire drew his attention back to the cave's entrance. And everything still seemed so dark. His eyes weren't adjusting to the low light. What had happened to the damned flashlight?
"Sheppard," Rodney desperately called. He received no answer once again.
Rodney looked at Sheppard from his position on the cave floor. His friend was laying flat on his back, not moving. "Sorry, Colonel, but this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you."
McKay kicked Sheppard, hard, in the thigh. "Wake up, damn it!" Rodney yelled.
"Ugh, fuck." John Sheppard moved away from the direction of the kick. He grabbed his P-90 and aimed it straight at Dr. Rodney McKay.
"Whoa, Sheppard, Sheppard, it's me. It's McKay." John blinked, dizzy and confused. "Sheppard…John, come on," Rodney pleaded. "You'll be sorry if you shoot me." Sheppard rubbed his eyes with one hand, never releasing the grip on the trigger with the other.
"Rodney?" Sheppard asked.
"Oh, God," Rodney sighed in relief, dropping onto his back and knocking his head hard on the ground. "Oh, shit. Shit." He grabbed at his side and let out a long keening moan.
"Rodney," John called, finally coming to his senses. "Goddamnit, Rodney. What did you do?" Sheppard asked as he moved quickly to McKay's side. More gunfire drew John's attention away briefly.
"What the hell…" Rodney started, breathing heavily before continuing, "is going on out there?"
John's P-90 now provided the only direct light aside from the faint filtered sunshine from the cave's opening.
"Weir sent in the Marines," John said as he sat on his knees next to McKay. "Got a little skirmish goin', but they'll take care of them soon enough." John moved Rodney's hand and pulled the soaked through pressure bandage off. "What the hell were you thinking?" John asked as he removed his own vest and jacket, and then took off his shirt to press against Rodney's exit wound.
"Honestly?" Rodney asked. John looked down and nodded for his friend to continue. "I was thinking you were dead. Or dying. What the hell was I thinking?" he added with intense sarcasm.
"Well, I appreciate the concern, Rodney, but I just got grazed by one of those sharpshooters out there. You, on the other hand, are making a mess of this nice cave." John pressed down on the wound, hoping that the pressure on this side didn't cause other problems with the entry wound on the back side.
"My bad," Rodney huffed softly.
"Yeah," John replied. He knew that help was coming; he'd contacted Teyla and she had provided the information regarding the significant back up that Elizabeth Weir had sent in. John told her to send for Carson once all was clear. He hadn't heard any gunfire in a while. He hoped that was a good sign, because Rodney seemed to be losing more blood than was good for any body, let alone the body of someone that he had come to call his closest friend.
"You sure you're…ow," Rodney scowled up at the cause of this current round of pain.
"Sorry," John said, knowing that pressing as hard as he was had to be agony for McKay. Rodney had gotten better at hiding his pain. Or maybe he had just gotten better at accepting it. No matter which was true, Sheppard was sorry that the brilliant physicist had been forced to learn either lesson.
Rodney waved his hand. "It's okay," he said. The pain was not inconsequential, but the wave of the hand was Rodney's way of saying that John Sheppard causing it was. He closed his eyes and then looked up at Sheppard's head. "Are you okay? Your head's all…icky," he said quietly, not bothering to search his mind for the right word.
John smiled. "Icky? Is that the correct medical term?"
Rodney grinned slightly, despite his current situation. Sheppard could always do that – make him smile in the damnedest situation. "Le's che'k wi' Cars'n," Rodney slurred, his eyes blinking, lids heavy. He put his hand up to the cut at John's hairline.
"We'll do that. It's just a scratch, Rodney." John took McKay's hand and moved it to the ground. "Some of the good stuff from Carson and a good night's sleep…I'll be fine."
"Good." Rodney closed his eyes and kept them shut. He heard no more battle sounds, just Sheppard's occasional breathing over his own.
"Rodney," Sheppard said, tapping McKay's cheek lightly. "Don't fall asleep."
"'kay," the scientist replied quietly.
"And he didn't even give me the good stuff," Sheppard complained in his best put-upon manner.
Rodney laughed. "Carson can be a hard ass sometimes."
"I heard that, Rodney," Dr. Carson Beckett said as he approached the bed.
Rodney frowned. "I thought you just left," Rodney said, confusion evident on his expressive face.
"Yes," Carson said, looking over to Sheppard with a grin. "But that was about five hours ago." Carson stuck a thermometer in Rodney's ear.
"Five hours?" Rodney asked, incredulous.
"You've been kind of out of it, buddy," John Sheppard told his friend. He looked back up at Beckett when he said, "Carson gave you the good stuff."
Rodney laughed again at the complaint. "Yes, but I was shot," he added in his own defense.
"I was shot," John countered peevishly, looking at Carson rather than his still healing friend. Rodney looked from one man to the other and snorted with glee.
Carson Beckett rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Colonel?" He looked at Sheppard, not even trying to conceal his irritation.
"It's gotten old, huh?" John asked knowingly.
"It was old the last time you tried it in my infirmary," Carson insisted.
"Doesn't make it any less funny," Rodney chimed in, a huge grin on his face.
"See, I'm only doin' it for McKay's benefit." John winked at Rodney for the save.
"Rodney, you would find anything funny that the colonel said right now," Carson commented as he checked Rodney's pulse.
"The good stuff," John mouthed dramatically, smiling down at his healing friend.
Rodney burst out laughing, trying not to move. He held his side and squinted in pain when the jostling became too much. Carson shook his head and said, "Just a few more minutes, John. His temperature is down nicely, but he needs sleep."
"No, no, Carson," Rodney pleaded. "I'm bored."
"Rodney, you cannot possibly be bored if you're only staying awake for brief periods. Save your complainin' for later in the week," Beckett advised as he patted McKay's leg and left the room.
John sat in the chair next to Rodney's bed.
"So…" McKay started.
"Hm?" John questioned, knowing what was coming.
"Did you find out what happened? With Minerva and her killer village people?" Rodney asked through a yawn.
John smiled indulgently. This would be the fourth time that John had tried to give Rodney the same update. McKay had drifted in and out of consciousness for the first two days, the blood loss abetted by an infection and painkillers, the good stuff, kept him more out of it than in. And the times when he was lucid, like now, always seemed to be cut short by the man falling asleep peacefully. John loved to see it, though he did miss spending quality time with one Dr. Rodney McKay.
And it had only been two days. Who'd have thought that you could actually miss that after only two days?
"You sure you can stay up for this story?" John asked mischievously.
"I'm not at all tired," Rodney said, his eye lids unable to hide the real truth as they drooped lazily over his drug-glazed blue eyes.
"You're sure?" John asked, knowing that he needed to stall just moments for the man before him to start making his way toward la-la land.
"Mm-hm," Rodney said, his eyes closing. "Lay it on me," he said softly as the first sign of even breathing presented itself.
John watched Rodney fall into a deep sleep, a smile plastered to his own face that the colonel would bet he'd have a hard time trying to shake. The Pegasus Galaxy had turned out to be a dangerous place, with he and the person laying before him challenging each other for the title of the man who had faced death the most and was still around to tell about it. That thought brought a bit of a frown to his face, thereby quickly losing his own bet. But they'd won, once again. Together.
John Sheppard smiled once more as he looked at Rodney McKay. His friend was alive, healing, laughing, curious, insufferable, fighting every step of the way.
Yeah. That was the good stuff.