This fic was originally written in response to a challenge. The fic had to start with the word Stagnant, finish with the word Board involve an argument and water.
A big thank you to my amazingly wonderful betas Annie and Anne who are always willing to help me in my need to whump Rodney. All remaining mistakes are mine.
"Stagnant City?" Rodney offered, in the latest suggestion of the 'name the place' game.
"Oh, for goodness sake, you're worse at the naming thing than Ford." Sheppard paused, the loss of Ford still too fresh. "Actually it was you who came up with calling the Puddle Jumpers 'Gate Ships', wasn't it?"
"I don't recall," replied McKay, and then in an attempt to redirect the conversation, "well, just look at this place, stinking ruins is also an apt description."
Sheppard was silent and looked over the city. The place was in fact a stinking ruin. It may have been a prosperous place once, but now only rubble and bits of buildings were visible. It looked as though it had also been flooded in recent months as the shells of buildings now contained water that had gone stagnant over time.
"The Wraith?" Sheppard asked Teyla.
"It is most likely," was her response.
"Any energy readings, McKay?" Sheppard enquired.
"None," replied Rodney.
"Well, the mission's a bust. Looks like we're going to use the camping gear. Let's get away from the smell and set up for the night. We'll head to the gate in the morning," Sheppard instructed.
They had been unable to bring a Puddle Jumper though the Stargate on this planet, as there had been some impressively solid structures close to the gate that prevented a ship from using it. Teyla had heard that the society here was relatively advanced as Wraith darts couldn't come through the Stargate and cull the population. Apparently, the Wraith had finally decided to send a Hive ship, which would have been able to attack the planet from space.
It had taken several hours to follow the trail and trek out to the city; it was now mid-afternoon, they wouldn't make it back to the Stargate before nightfall. Luckily, they were prepared for that eventuality and had bought camping gear.
By the time they had the camp set up, the sky had darkened and it had started to rain. Sheppard and Rodney volunteered to fill the canteens with water from a river they had passed earlier. By the time they reached the river, the rain had become torrential and they found it much higher and running more swiftly than before.
Rodney bent down to fill his canteen. He felt this was a good time to have a heart to heart with Sheppard. "Look, Colonel, I know how you feel about Ford."
Sheppard paused as he filled up Teyla's and his own canteens. "Really? Don't forget the purification tablets."
"Who are you talking to? Would I forget purification tablets? Don't change the subject. Yes, I do know how you feel. He was under your command. You feel responsible. But what happened to him was out of your control."
"I know that, McKay." Sheppard's tone was hard and dangerous.
"Ford was a nice kid, a nice kid who could sever a man in half with a P90, but a nice kid nonetheless. But he's different now." Rodney had never been one to hold back when he wanted to say something, and he had a point he wanted to make.
"It's the enzyme." Sheppard countered. "If we could just get him back to Atlantis - "
Rodney stood up, tried to wipe the rain off his face then gave up. "We tried that if you remember. It didn't work. He preferred to beam aboard a Wraith Dart rather than come back with us."
"Next time we'll have better luck." Sheppard stood and started to walk back towards camp.
Rodney stood his ground. "Next time? Colonel, I got to spend some quality time with Lieutenant Ford and let me tell you he isn't going to come back with us. He is not the same guy. Well actually I think he is the same guy, just gone in a different direction."
"What you do mean?" Sheppard turned to face Rodney as the rain continued to fall, darkening their uniforms with big splotches.
"I don't know, you know Ford, he always had a weakness, a desire to be something he wasn't, a need to be better."
"Yeah, he wanted to be a damn fine soldier," said Sheppard, getting angry and raising his voice to be heard over the increasingly loud noise of the rain.
"Yes, he did, but you didn't, for instance, see him when Radek and I teased him about prime numbers - his reaction. He had this dark side."
"Dark side? Ford? Are you crazy?" Sheppard couldn't believe what he was hearing.
Rodney shook his head in frustration, water dripping off his face and hair. "On the planet for part of the time he acted like the old Ford, but then he switched it off and there was a darkness there that was intense, and I don't just mean the lack of judgment that was obviously the enzyme, it just wasn't the same man. It's like he's tasted power and he won't give that up. He always wanted to prove himself; now he thinks he can't fail and he isn't going to let anyone stop him. I don't think the old Ford is ever coming back."
"So we should just turn our backs on him?"
"No, but he isn't coming back to the team. We need to get someone else on the team. Someone who can watch our collective backs."
"You know I think Ford was right, McKay. You do only think of yourself. What did Ford ever do to you for you to feel like this about him?" Sheppard's gaze was hard and unyielding.
"Oh, I don't know, Colonel, how about me hanging upside down in a tree while he shot at me? If Conan hadn't come along, I'd be dead."
Rodney's sarcastic tone only succeeded in making Sheppard angrier.
"So that's what this is all about? Ford under the influence of an alien drug didn't play nice with Doctor McKay. I seem to remember you telling us that you shot him. Heck, I'd hang you upside down in a tree and shoot you too if you shot me first!"
"That's not fair, Colonel. Anyway, you shot him too!"
"Oh, I think it is fair. Remember, I make the decisions about this team. Me. We are not giving up on Ford until I say. And I don't say."
By now the rain had completely saturated the mens' clothes. Rodney wiped at his face again. "And meanwhile we are out here one short."
"Suck it up, McKay." Sheppard had heard enough. He turned away, walking back to the camp.
Rodney called out after him. "Oh, that's helpful. Suck it up! How about that for a rational argument. Suck it…" McKay squealed as the ground under him crumbled and he fell into the fast-flowing river.
"McKay!" yelled Sheppard. He ran to the edge of the bank, but Rodney had disappeared. Sheppard tried to spot him in the water, but the visibility was too bad in the rain. Sheppard tapped on his radio, yelling for Teyla.
"Colonel?" answered Teyla.
"Teyla, McKay fell into the river. We need to get to him!"
"I am on my way."
Sheppard started moving downstream trying to catch a glimpse of Rodney, calling for him. Soon, Teyla had joined him as they both frantically searched for their missing teammate. The rain was thick and heavy and the light was fading fast. Sheppard was moving along the bank, yelling for McKay when suddenly the bank started to collapse, the earth turning to mud. Teyla managed to grab Sheppard's jacket, and pulled him back onto firmer ground.
"This is not working, Colonel," she yelled against the noise of the downpour. "We can not find him in this, and it is too dangerous. Let us go back to the camp and wait for the rain to ease."
Sheppard shook his head in denial while looking into Teyla's face. The calmness and strength of her expression finally got through to Sheppard and he closed his eyes for a moment and then nodded.
They went back to the camp and waited for the worst of the storm to pass.
"Oh that's helpful. Suck it up! How about that for a rational argument. Suck it - "
Rodney gasped with shock as the ground he was on disappeared from under him and he was plunged into the cold water. Once he was aware of what was happening he tried to swim towards the outline of the shore that he could still make out in the fading light, but the current was too strong, making his efforts futile. He hit a rock that spun him round. Between that, the strength of the current and the heavy rainfall, he was soon disorientated. He was slammed into another rock, his shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. His need to get to the shore soon dissipated into the simple need to stay afloat and breathe. The rain was chopping up the surface. It was impossible to tell where the water ended and the air began. He continued to be carried along by the fast-moving river, trying to protect his body as much as he could as he crashed into the rocks along the way. Time lost all meaning as he was swept along by the river.
It was dark when Rodney was hit by something from behind. He realized it was a large tree branch and grasped it with both arms, clinging to this new life preserver just as he again collided with a rock, his head smacking the hard surface. He felt dizzy, adding to his disorientation, and his world narrowed to the simple act of holding on to the branch.
His survival instinct paid off when the branch got caught up in another grouping of rocks. Rodney managed to pull himself up onto the rocks and crawled across the rocks and branch and onto land. He crawled a few feet onshore, coughing and vomiting as his lungs and stomach tried to expel the water he had managed to inhale and swallow. He felt a moment of relief before his body gave out and he collapsed unconscious onto the ground.
The rain had eased into a steady drizzle and Sheppard was again trudging through the mud along the river's edge in the early morning light searching for Rodney. Teyla was on her way to the gate to alert Atlantis to their position and get a search party organized. Sheppard had packed items he thought he might need and continued the search for Rodney. He was three hours into the search when he heard from Teyla. She must have run.
"Colonel, I am at the Stargate now." Sheppard could hear that she was breathless. "I shall return as soon as I am able. Have you had any luck finding Doctor McKay?"
'Not yet, Teyla. Let me know when you arrive back," Sheppard responded.
"I will indeed. Good luck, Colonel."
The radio went silent and Sheppard tried to shake off the feeling that he was now the only human being alive on the planet.
Even though the rain had slowed, the river could still be called a rapid. Sheppard tried not to think of McKay being carried along at its mercy; there were way too many rocks in its path. Sheppard kept a brisk pace, walking along the bank praying that someone, somewhere, had been looking out for Rodney.
Another two hours passed and Sheppard was wondering where the S&R team were when he saw a glimpse of something up ahead on the other side of the river. It looked like a bundle of clothes. He broke into a run, pointing his binoculars at the object. It was Rodney. Sheppard couldn't tell if Rodney was still alive. He wasn't moving and was lying on his stomach in an awkward position.
Sheppard had no way to safely get across the river.
"McKay! Rodney!" He yelled. "McKay!"
There was no response. Sheppard was wondering why Teyla hadn't contacted him when his radio came alive.
"Yes, Teyla." He responded with some relief.
"Have you found Doctor McKay?"
"Yes, but he's on the other side of the river and there's no way of getting to him."
"Is he alright?" Carson's voice joined in on the conversation.
"I can't tell. He's not moving," responded Sheppard glad to hear the doctor's voice. "What the hell kept you so long?"
"We thought it would be a good idea to bring the puddle jumper," said Carson.
"How did you manage that?" asked Sheppard.
"C4," responded Teyla. "We sent in a team first to destroy the structures at the gate and followed in the puddle jumper when the way was clear. They served no purpose anymore as there is nothing left for them to protect."
"Good thinking," said Sheppard, impressed. "Where are you now?"
"We have reached the river by the campsite and are following the river downstream."
Sheppard looked up towards the way he had come. In a few moments he could see the puddle jumper and waved madly to get their attention. "I can see you."
"There you are, Colonel," Beckett replied, "Where is… Oh, I see."
The jumper landed on the bank on the far side of the river. The back hatch opened and Teyla, Beckett and a couple of Beckett's medical team ran out and towards Rodney.
Sheppard watched as they reached Rodney, kneeling down at his side.
"He's alive, Colonel," Carson said over the radio.
Sheppard let out the breath that he hadn't been aware of holding. He watched as Carson's men ran back to the jumper and brought out the gurney as Beckett tended to McKay.
"Who's flying the jumper?" Sheppard asked.
"I am, sir," replied Deacons, a new pilot with the Ancient gene who had arrived aboard the Daedalus.
"Can you spare the jumper to come pick me up?" asked Sheppard. "Save you a stop on the way back."
"Negative, Colonel," Carson interrupted, "Rodney looks okay to move. We are going to get him out of this rain."
Sheppard watched, feeling helpless as Carson, with the help of his team, loaded a limp Rodney onto the gurney and into the jumper.
The hatch door of the puddle jumper closed and Deacons maneuvered the craft over to pick up Sheppard.
"How is he?" asked Sheppard as he boarded the craft, trying to get a look at Rodney past Carson and his team. They were working fast and efficiently, cutting Rodney's sodden clothes off, wrapping him in emergency blankets and getting an IV started. Sheppard couldn't see any movement from Rodney or get a good look at Rodney's face, which was obscured by a neck brace and an oxygen mask.
"I'm just trying to stabilize him at the moment, Colonel. I'll know more when we get back to Atlantis." Carson spared Sheppard a glance, "He's alive, Colonel, that's good for now."
Once they had done all they could for Rodney while he was in transit, Carson's team sat back and Sheppard took the opportunity to kneel next to Rodney. He rested his hand on Rodney's, wincing at how cold it felt.
Rodney's eyes opened slowly.
"You're okay, McKay," Sheppard said, "we're taking you home."
There was no reply. Rodney's eyes were unfocused, his head moving slightly from side to side. His body was shaking with cold and exhaustion. Sheppard frowned as he took in the blue tinge round McKay's lips and fingertips as well as the blood on the side of his head.
"Hang in there, Rodney. We've got you now. We'll have you warm and dry in no time," Carson said in a calming voice.
A few minutes later Rodney lost his battle with consciousness and his eyes fluttered closed, although his body continued to shake.
Carson looked reassuringly at Sheppard and Teyla. "His body is beginning to warm up. The shaking is actually good."
"He is suffering from hypothermia, which we are treating. He has a concussion, a couple of cracked ribs, hairline fractures of his left arm and left leg, and massive bruising all over his body. He is very lucky to be alive," concluded Beckett. "But," he cautioned, "he is not quite out of the woods. It will take a while to get him heated up and we will have to watch him closely over the next twenty four hours for any other problems, including possible pneumonia, and keep an eye on his heart due to cardiovascular instability."
"He'll be okay?" said Sheppard, needing the confirmation.
"Rodney's managed to do a real number on himself, Colonel, but yes, I think he'll be fine. We just need to be patient."
Sheppard wasn't very good at being patient. He made himself go through the obligatory shower and meal that had been forced upon him by Carson, although he skimped on the 'rest' part. In no time at all he found himself looking down at his friend and team member lying on the infirmary bed. Sheppard was struggling to retain his positive outlook. Rodney's arm and leg were in a cast. There was still a mask on his face delivering warmed oxygen. The side of his face was bandaged but redness and bruising could be seen around the edges. Remembering what Carson had said about bruising, Sheppard was sure that Rodney's whole body would be a kaleidoscope of colors over the next week or so. The tubes and wires supporting and monitoring Rodney could be seen coming out from under the warming blankets. To Sheppard's eye, Rodney looked broken.
Rodney's eyes opened slowly under Sheppard's scrutiny. Sheppard moved closer to the bed, eager to talk, but Rodney's eyes drifted closed again almost immediately. Sheppard sighed and placed his hand on Rodney's forearm.
"Get better, McKay." Sheppard said in a low voice.
It was twenty four hours before there were obvious signs of recovery. The oxygen and warming blankets were gone. In fact Rodney seemed to feel hot, dislodging his sheets and blankets and exposing his bruised and battered skin. He was semi-conscious and restless, mainly due to the difficult task of delivering enough medication to manage pain but not enough to make it difficult to monitor the concussion. He still hadn't managed to be completely lucid although he had been in and out of consciousness during the preceding twelve hours. It was difficult to watch his discomfort and it was particularly hard on Sheppard and Teyla who had taken it upon themselves to rotate watch over their injured teammate.
Carson couldn't help but think that Rodney would be surprised at the number of people who had inquired after his health. Obviously Elizabeth had wanted to be kept apprised of the CSO's health, but also a number of others, both scientists and military, had been keeping Carson's staff busy asking about Rodney's recovery.
As Carson approached Rodney's bed, he noted that it was Sheppard's 'watch'.
"Hello, Colonel," he greeted Sheppard.
"Hey, Doc. How's he doing?" Sheppard responded, coming directly to the point.
Carson noted the readings on the surrounding monitors. "So far so good. There have been no signs of pneumonia or infection, which was a concern especially since god only knows what was in that water. The concussion needs further examination; he hasn't been lucid enough for us to do a proper evaluation, and his responses are still a wee bit sluggish. The MRI scan was satisfactory but the confusion he has shown in his more aware moments gives me some concern. It could just be the result of the trauma his body has suffered, time will tell. I expect him to wake up soon, and then hopefully we can get some answers. One thing is for sure, he is going to be one sore and miserable man."
"Ouch," Sheppard said.
"Aye, and undoubtedly we will all suffer."
Sheppard allowed himself a smile. "Ouch."
Teyla had just arrived to relieve Sheppard when Rodney finally woke up. Rodney's eyes opened and he moaned as he obviously aware of his sore body.
"Hey, McKay," Sheppard greeted Rodney, before turning to Teyla. "Get Carson."
Teyla nodded and left.
"You with us this time, buddy?" Sheppard moved closer to Rodney.
Rodney nodded, then winced as his body objected to the movement. He moaned again, closing his eyes.
Sheppard placed his hand on Rodney's forearm, shaking it, "No, you don't, McKay. Carson wants to speak to you. Wake up."
Rodney moaned again. "Can't a man die in peace?"
"Nope, not today,." Sheppard responded, shaking Rodney's arm again. "Stay with us here."
Rodney's eyes opened again as he attempted to glare at the Colonel.
Carson interrupted the exchange, as he entered the curtained off area with Teyla behind him.
"Hello, Rodney. Good to have you with us again," he said.
This time Rodney made a better attempt at a cutting glare. "I'm afraid I can't share that sentiment."
Carson's concerned expression transformed into a smile. "I knew you were in there somewhere, Rodney."
"Really? Well…" Rodney frowned. "How long have I been here?"
"What do you last remember, Rodney?" Carson asked. He took out a penlight and checked Rodney's pupil responses as the other man paused to think.
"Ahh-" Rodney paused continuing to frown. Then his eyes widened and he started to sit up. He only managed to raise himself a few inches off the pillow before both Carson's hands and his own pain stopped him, and he fell back onto the bed, panting.
"It's okay, take slow breaths," Carson instructed, trying to calm his patient.
Rodney nodded, adding a wince to the shuddering breaths he was trying to control.
"Take it easy, Rodney. There's no rush. Take your time," Carson told him.
"Hurts, Carson," Rodney forced the words out between breaths.
"I know it does, Rodney. Just calm yourself. I need to ask you some questions then I'll give you some more of the good stuff and you can have a good sleep."
Rodney looked at Carson warily. "What?" he asked.
"What's the last thing you remember?" Carson asked again.
"Umm- it's a bit hazy but I remember water, lots of it. I was drowning! There were rocks, I couldn't breathe. There was water everywhere!" Rodney's voice grew hoarse as he started panicking again.
"Okay, Rodney," Carson said calmly. "You're safe now. We found you. What do you remember before that?"
Rodney frowned in concentration. "We were on P something or other. Stagnant City!" he said triumphantly.
Carson looked at Sheppard in confusion.
Sheppard grinned. "That's right, Rodney. But I thought we'd decided to hold off on the naming thing."
"It was a fitting name. But how did I fall into the water?" Rodney paused then he looked a bit embarrassed. "Oh yeah. I remember now."
Carson caught the look between the two other men and decided not to pursue the matter. "And you know where you are now?"
Rodney gave Carson an unreadable look. "Err, yes."
"So do I get the good drugs now?"
Another twenty four hours and Rodney had assumed his position of most difficult patient. The moaning had given way to whining. And the initial sympathy of the medical staff had given way to exasperated sighs. Rodney was well on his way to recovery but ironically was putting the medical staff under more pressure now than when he was in critical condition.
Colonel Sheppard had dropped by to visit Rodney, and much to Carson's relief, Rodney was now completely absorbed in a game of Monopoly. From what he could make out, Sheppard was winning.
"The Ford we know is still somewhere in there you know," Sheppard said quietly between moves.
McKay looked up, startled for a moment, before he replied. "Yes, I think he is too."
"So why did you say those things? About the 'dark side' and all?" This was the first time either of them had referred to the argument they had had before Rodney's fall into the river.
Rodney started to shrug, then winced, the bruises still causing him pain. "The old Ford may be in there, but I think he's changed too. Do you honestly think he will ever be the same as he was?"
"No, not quite the same," Sheppard admitted holding the dice in his hand.
"I know it's hard, but we do need to move on. We can keep a lookout for Ford, but this is a serious war we're in. We can't afford to slide. We need to keep focused. We need to beat the Wraith. We need a strong team. Now." Rodney looked at Sheppard willing him to understand.
"Yeah. Actually I've been thinking about that," Sheppard responded.
"Really?" Rodney looked hopeful.
"Yep. I think I know who I want on the team."
"Really? So, you going to share?" Rodney asked eagerly.
"Ronon. He's strong. He can handle himself. If he was on our side, I don't see how we could lose-"
"Colonel," Rodney interrupted.
Sheppard was on a roll. "He's military, not ours obviously, but he is military, he knows how to take orders, the chain of command –
"Don't dismiss my idea. Ronon – "
"Yeah, what?" Sheppard asked, sounding annoyed.
"What?" Sheppard wasn't sure he had heard right.
"I like Ronon."
"Yeah," Rodney confirmed.
"So, have you asked him yet?' asked Rodney.
"Ah, no. I thought I'd run it past you and Teyla."
"What does Teyla say?"
"I haven't asked her yet."
"Oh," said Rodney suddenly looking pleased.
"Ford never had a dark side you know," Sheppard said.
"Well, Colonel, we can't agree about everything. You have your opinion, I have mine," said Rodney.
"So, it's your move, I believe," said Rodney looking down onto the Monopoly board.