Title: Falling

Author: Lorr

Genre/Rating: General

Characters: Sheppard, Weir, Beckett, McKay, Teyla, Ronon

Disclaimer: The characters and universe belong to others. I do enjoy playing here.

Spoilers: Some reference to Common Ground, but nothing major.

Background: This takes place in Season 3 after Common Ground. Lots of whump for Sheppard. Your thoughts are appreciated. Be honest, but also be gentle, please! I hope you enjoy it.

It wasn't exactly an ambush. Afterward, they concluded that the incident was a case of wrong place, wrong time. That didn't help a whole hell of a lot.

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Sheppard's team, along with two teams of Marines, was looking for survivors of a Wraith attack on P4R-769. A fourth team was stationed near the Gate while they searched for the reported handful of survivors. They had been here before and the locals were friendly. Atlantis heard about the attack through contacts on another planet.

"Colonel?" Sgt. Davies jogged toward Sheppard, Teyla and McKay.

"Sergeant?" Sheppard raised an eyebrow behind his sunglasses. The day was warm and brilliantly sunny, an ironic twist to the somber mission.

"We can see some movement on the other side of the river, Sir. Could be the survivors." Davies jerked his thumb over his shoulder. A screen of trees and brush blocked their line of sight. As they began to walk in the direction the young man had come from, he added. "There's a bit of a cliff, Sir. We'll have to either find a way down or bring a Jumper if we want to catch up with them."

"How much of a cliff?" McKay asked with a grimace. He absentmindedly checked the life signs detector in his hand, tucked it into his vest and pulled out a tube of sun block. He applied a liberal amount to his face and neck.

"Oh, a hundred feet or so, Dr. McKay. It's almost vertical to the river."

Sheppard saw McKay's grimace. "Don't worry, Rodney. We'll just get Jefferson to dial Atlantis and ask for a Jumper."

The trees and scrub brush thinned and disappeared as they neared the cliff, leaving a clear area about sixty feet wide. Ronon was standing at the edge of the cliff, looking through binoculars. He silently handed them to Sheppard and pointed. The Colonel took off his sunglasses, hooked them on the zipper of his tac vest then watched the distant figures for a minute.

"We going after them?" Ronon stared down at the drop to the river below. It was wide and the water flowed swiftly. He saw trees and brush of all sizes rush by. "It doesn't look like there's any easy way down. Wouldn't be able to cross it, anyway. Too much debris."

"Yeah." Sheppard handed the binoculars to Teyla and leaned thoughtfully over the edge, looking left and right. He toggled the switch on his radio. "Jefferson, this is Sheppard."

Teyla scanned the area below them then lowered the glasses. Her distress was evident. "Is that all that is left?"

"Jefferson, this is Sheppard, please respond." Sheppard tried again when there was no response. "The hills are probably blocking the signal."

"We're close to the range limit of these things." McKay stayed several steps back from the edge, nervously looking from it to the area where they had been watching. The fleeing group was barely discernable to the unaided eye. He pointed away from the cliff. "Uh, can we go now?"

Sheppard put his sunglasses on again and nodded. "What's the matter, Rodney? Afraid of heights?"

McKay glared at him as they began to walk away. He put his binoculars away and reached for his canteen. "No. I'm hot and tired and hungry. And, I'm getting sunburned. I have very delicate skin, you know."

They froze momentarily when they heard the sound of a Wraith stunner then P-90 fire a split second later. All but McKay took off.

Sheppard tapped his transceiver as they ran. "Bailey, report."

"Wraith, Sir." The controlled voice responded. "At least half a dozen."

McKay fumbled the life signs detector out of his vest as he began to follow. "Oh, God. They're…"

A stunner blast hit McKay squarely in the chest. He reeled back a step or two and went down. Teyla turned and ran back as several Wraith warriors emerged from the trees. She raised her P-90 and fired.

"Rodney!" Her shout made the others turn.

Sheppard yelled at Davies as he started running back to McKay's position. "Go help Bailey."

The sergeant and his three men carried on as Sheppard and Ronon ran back. Two more Wraith appeared on Teyla's flank.

"Teyla!" Ronon shouted as he began to fire at them. She glanced over her shoulder, but continued to fire at the Wraith moving from the other side of the clearing.

One of the Wraith broke away from the others and approached the unconscious McKay. The Wraith stood over the unconscious form then began to stoop down. Sheppard turned to fire and got two rounds off before his weapon jammed. He glanced over his shoulder to see one of the Wraith taking aim at him. He ducked and began to run toward McKay, brushing past Teyla as he picked up speed. He hit the Wraith with a jarring thud.

Realizing that they were less than six feet from the cliff, Sheppard tried to just knock the Wraith over the edge while he scrambled to stay on. He swore when he felt the Wraith grab his arm, taking him over as well.

Ronon glanced around just in time to see the pair disappear. "No!"

Moments later, two of the Marines in Davies unit broke through the trees and began to fire at the remaining Wraith.

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Sheppard thought it was odd that he could still hear the stunners and P-90s firing as he and the Wraith plummeted downward. The river itself was strangely quiet. He twisted to keep the Wraith between him and the trees they would likely hit as they entered the water. He would have to push off of him at exactly the right moment to have any chance.

It sort of worked.

----------

The reinforcements helped Ronon and Teyla finish off the Wraith in seconds. She ran over to the edge and looked down. The distant gunfire stopped soon afterward.

"Lt. Bailey?" She tapped her radio and spoke as Ronon walked up and stood next to her.

The young Marine responded. "We're okay."

"Where's Col. Sheppard?" One of the Marines looked around in confusion.

"He fell." She leaned out as far as possible. She was trying to keep the fear out of her voice. "I believe his weapon jammed. He was trying to save Dr. McKay."

Suddenly, she turned and walked to the fallen astrophysicist as one of the Marines knelt next to him. "He's okay, Ma'am. It'll be a while before he'll be up and about, though."

Ronon paced up and down the edge of the cliff, trying to find a sign of his friend. Only when Bailey, Davies and the remaining Marines ran through the trees did he turn around. Two Marines supported a third between them. The man was limping badly.

"I can't see him." He said to anyone listening.

Teyla looked at him then the Marines. "Ronon and I will begin the search for Col. Sheppard. Take Dr. McKay and Wilson. Get within range of Lt. Jefferson as quickly as possible and ask him to request a Jumper."

"Two." Ronon threw over his shoulder.

Davies looked around in confusion. "Where is Col. Sheppard?"

"He went over the cliff with a Wraith that was after McKay." Ronon growled as he picked up the abandoned P-90. He tried working the action, but nothing happened. "This thing jammed."

Davies picked up the lifesigns detector from near McKay's hand and activated it. He watched it for a moment then looked up and at everyone around him, as if counting them. "I don't see any sign of Col. Sheppard, but it looks like there are no more Wraith in the immediate vicinity, either."

"I want to know why this jammed." Bailey took the P-90 from Ronon and tested it as well. It was definitely jammed. He looked at Teyla then Ronon. "You shouldn't go alone."

"We will be fine. Dr. McKay may be incapacitated for some time and you have an injured man. Go back to the Gate and let Dr. Weir know what has happened." She was anxious to get away.

"Yes, Ma'am." Bailey knew there was no use in trying to stop them. "We'll be back as soon as we can. Be careful."

"Thank you. Take care." She and Ronon turned and walked away. They quickly disappeared into the trees.

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The water was colder than he expected. It alone would have taken his breath away. So would the impact. The stuff is surprisingly hard when hit from a great height at the wrong angle. He knew he could survive it if he was able to avoid contact with a large tangle of debris that was floating beneath them. The only thing that saved him was the fact that what he struck was well submerged.

He'd had just enough time to roll to the side as they neared the water. The Wraith hit a tree trunk with a loud thud. After that, the log rolled and he disappeared from sight and, for the moment, conscious thought.

Sheppard struggled to keep his head above the swift flowing water as he tried to catch his breath. He clawed himself halfway out of the water and clung on to the constantly shifting debris, legs still submerged. He vaguely thought about his questionable luck in landing so close to the shifting mass.

He didn't know how long it was before his breathing came close to being normal. It took a little longer to realize that it wasn't normal. The adrenalin rush from the fight and falling was wearing off and pain was beginning to register, slowly at first then growing with each breath. Damn, didn't miss hitting something, after all.

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"There has to be a way down. They crossed the river somewhere." Ronon nodded across at the area where the survivors they observed disappeared. He pointed in the direction the river was flowing. They could see it curving away. "Maybe there."

He and Teyla moved at a steady pace. The slope was gradual but not even, so they had to pick their way carefully, making the descent painfully slow. They kept as close to the river as possible, pausing frequently to search for the Colonel. Each time, they saw trees and scrub flow past.

"The river must be in flood upstream." Teyla's distress was obvious. "There is so much debris and it is moving too swiftly."

Ronon scowled at water. "We'll find him."

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Every breath was its own little lesson in pain. There was no way to relieve or prevent it. He had to breathe. While he held on to a sizable tree branch, Sheppard carefully felt around the tac vest lacings on the left side with trembling fingers. It was something rough, broken, and there was more than a little blood. He could feel the warmth of it in the coldness of the water. Broken ribs?

Realizing that his life raft was moving quickly and he'd lost track of the Wraith, Sheppard pulled himself up as much as he could and looked around. The Wraith was no where to be seen. Maybe, just maybe, he was dead. The sound when they hit was loud enough to mean serious, if not fatal, damage.

The cliff he'd fallen over receded and disappeared as the river began a large, sweeping turn. He knew that he would have to get to the riverbank as soon as possible otherwise even Ronon wouldn't be able to find him. He looked downstream. The side he'd fallen from was still too steep to attempt it. The other, far, side was more promising. In the distance, he could see a forest at water level. Maybe. Now, if he could only get across more than forty yards of swirling, flotsam strewn river.

He looked back up the river to see what was coming. More heaps of floating trees and brush followed his unstable raft, but there were sizable gaps between them. Lifting himself up again to see ahead was difficult, and Sheppard knew it would get even harder fast. He had to get to the bank now. He lowered himself down into the water again and began to work his way around the trailing end of the debris pile.

Moving was not easy. The cold water had already chilled him to the bone and he could barely feel his legs. Sheppard saw the current was pushing his raft a little to the far side of the river. It wouldn't be enough, though. There was still twenty yards of fast flowing water between him and dry land.

Something under the surface caught the jumble he clutched. Sheppard was forcibly slammed against broken branches, causing him to grunt in pain. He closed his eyes and fought the need to cry out. He still didn't know the fate of the Wraith. After several seconds, he began to move again. His window of opportunity was brief and he had to take it. He was already a couple of miles from the cliff.

Sheppard took a couple of breaths as deeply as he could then swam away from the raft at an angle toward the beach. He hoped it would take only a minimal effort, allowing the current to carry him forward and to the beach as the river made its turn. The injury to his side and cold made all movement arduous and sluggish.

He was grateful when the river bed rose to meet him under the water. Sheppard stumbled out of the water and collapsed to his hands and knees on a driftwood littered shore. He remained there for a minute or two, shivering in the warm sunshine. The world was spinning around him and he wanted only to lie down. Instead, he carefully stood up and staggered to the trees.

When he was more or less confident of having enough cover to be hidden from searching eyes while still be able to see the riverbank, Sheppard leaned against a broad tree and slowly sank to his knees. It was then he saw the gash. High up on the outside of his left thigh a five-inch long wound was bleeding freely. It was deep. He vaguely wondered when it happened.

"Damn." He turned and sat with his back against the tree. "This is just great."

Sheppard reached for his knife, but was not surprised to find it gone. He tore the trouser leg open then found a small sachet of synthetic coagulant in a vest pocket. He poured the powder into the gash with a trembling hand, wincing when most of it dropped uselessly onto the exposed leg and ground. He pulled a pressure bandage from the vest. The water resistant wrapper had not been able to keep it totally dry but he was soaking wet anyway. He tied it around the wound as tightly as his cold fingers would allow.

A sudden wave of dizziness made him stop. Sheppard fought to stay conscious.

He forced himself to unzip the vest, slide it off and pull the t-shirt up enough to look at his side. The wound was too far around to see. Still cold fingers shakily felt the area. What the hell? It did not feel like the ribs were broken, but there was something there. There wasn't enough of it exposed for him to grip and pull it out. He would have to bear the pain and damage it was causing with each breath and movement.

Taking the second, and last, bandage from his vest, Sheppard suppressed a groan and carefully tied the long ends of the bandage around himself and pulled the t-shirt back down. He leaned back against the tree. Dizziness and nausea threatened to overwhelm him.

When the world stopped acting like a ship on a rough sea, Sheppard reached up to activate his ear transceiver. Not there. He pressed the PTT button on the radio. It was silent, so he pulled it from its pocket. He toggled the on/off switch several times. Dead. Perfect.

----------

Ronon stood on the edge of the cliff. They were still too far above the river and there was no direct way down. He scanned the banks with Teyla's binoculars then handed them back to her.

"There's no place for Sheppard to get out of the river here." Ronon strained to see the land further down river. "Maybe around the bend."

Teyla glanced up at him. Her voice was strained. She set her radio to vox. "John, this is Teyla. Please respond."

They waited several seconds, straining to hear a response. She tried again. "John, this is Teyla. If you can hear me, just click twice."

A slight static hiss was the only noise they heard. She nodded and they moved off again.

----------

Sheppard stared at his leg. The warm day was drying the river water out of his clothes, but fresh blood still seeped from under the bandage. The dark stain was spreading, but there were no more bandages. He unclipped one of the leg straps on his holster and tugged it free.

After taking a couple of preparatory breaths, Sheppard clinched his teeth as he lifted the wounded leg enough to slide the strap beneath it. He lowered it again, carefully snapped the buckle closed and pulled the strap as tight as he dare. The extra pressure closed the edges of the gash together, but the effort caused a wave of sharp pain to replace the dull burning ache that had settled in.

He didn't want to think about what was happening in his side with each breath. The splinter, rib, or whatever it was, felt like a barge pole. Every movement pulled the muscles and skin around the wound, shifting the object inside him. The thought of a swizzle stick crossed his mind and he had to bite back a humorless chuckle.

He slowly looked around, trying to move only his head. The trees that hid him from view also blocked some of Sheppard's field of vision. Except for the quietly flowing water and the jumble of debris floating on it, he could see nothing moving. Where was the Wraith? After watching a large tree trunk successfully navigate the bend in the river, he leaned his head against his own tree and closed his eyes.

Ronon would find him. Or they'd go back and get a Jumper. Sheppard hoped there were no more Wraith lurking about. He knew he didn't have the strength to fight a two year old.

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The Marines were halfway back to the Gate when McKay came around enough to object to the way he was being carried. They had taken well over an hour to travel the three miles from the cliff. The terrain was not easy and the need to support one man and carry another slowed them considerably. The able-bodied took turns at carrying and taking point or the six position.

"Wha' happened?" McKay slurred as soon as he could talk. When Bailey filled him in, McKay was horrified. "Have to go back!"

Bailey shook his head. "No, Sir. Teyla and Ronon are searching for the Colonel now. We have to get back and get a couple of Jumpers. It'll be much faster. And, if he's injured, we'll be able to get him home faster."

"But…" McKay tried in vain to look around. He was still incapable of much movement because the affects of the stun. After a moment, he screwed his eyes closed and nodded. "Hurry."

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Teyla and Ronon froze when their radios clicked. She pressed PTT. "John?"

"Teyla, this is Bailey." His voice was barely audible.

The disappointment was clear on their faces as she responded. "Go ahead."

"We've been able to contact Lt. Jefferson. They're cut off from the Gate by the Wraith."

"How many?" She asked, anxiety growing inside her.

"They're not sure. He thinks fifteen to twenty." The young lieutenant sounded breathless. "It's gonna take us another thirty minutes or so to reach them."

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Sheppard woke up gasping for breath. Something was wrong. No, something else was wrong. There was a different feeling in the left side of his chest. He needed to cough but fought to suppress it. One escaped. It wasn't much of a cough, but it was enough. The next second the unmistakable taste of blood was in his mouth.

He spat the blood onto the ground. Oh, this just gets better and better.

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"…signal…breaking up, Rodney. We know…trouble…the Wraith. Do not…unnecessary risks." Teyla's transmission was barely understandable.

"Be careful." McKay said miserably. He nodded at Davies, who turned the radio off.

They all sat or stood quietly until a young Marine emerged from the trees in front of them. He immediately approached Bailey and spoke softly. The Lieutenant listened then motioned for the young man and another Marine to take point again. Two Marines scooped the astrophysicist up and they began walking again. Bailey walked beside one of the men carrying McKay. He kept his voice low.

"It looks like Jefferson was right, Sir. The Wraith are getting ready to leave. They're hauling boxes of something out of here."

"Boxes of what?" McKay was impatient.

Bailey shook his head. "Don't know, Sir. But Jefferson says they're heavy."

McKay didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "How long before we can dial out?"

"Not sure, Dr. McKay. But, if we're lucky, they'll be gone by the time we reach Jefferson's position." Bailey looked around. "We're only a mile out, Sir. We'll have to be very careful and very quiet."

McKay began to say something, but thought better of it. He just nodded.

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"There's a way to get down here." Teyla looked over the edge.

They were only thirty feet or so above the river now. The cliff was now dropping off quickly. Soon, their side would be the same level as the water. They had gone around a wide, sweeping bend without seeing any signs of Sheppard or the Wraith.

When they reached a place where they could climb down, Ronon searched both sides. He shook his head and looked back up stream. "We need to check out the other side. If Sheppard's alive, that would have been the easiest place to get out of the water. That's where he is."

Teyla looked up and down both banks then at the sky. It was late afternoon. They needed to find him soon. "I agree. Now we only need to find a way to cross."

They quickly worked their way down the steep bank and trotted along the rocky ground. As they skirted a large pile of boulders, they saw stopped dead. The river sprawled in front of them. It was now well over eighty yards across and debris was piled up across much of its width. They ran towards it, desperately searching for Sheppard.

As they approached it, Ronon plunged into the water.

"Ronon!" Teyla stopped at the river's edge. He didn't seem to hear her. The water swirled around him, but he withstood its current without too much effort.

"It's not deep." He called and turned back. "Come on!"

The chill water took her breath away when she waded in. Ronon grabbed her vest and started across. They were buffeted by the flow, but made steady progress. They carefully checked the debris as they went, occasionally stopping to move pieces of driftwood aside. Suddenly, Ronon stopped, staring at a jumble of logs and brush. Teyla followed his gaze.

"What is it?' She said breathlessly. Fear gripped her heart.

The expression on his face was dark as he indicted for her to hold onto a large tree. He shifted some of the brush aside. A few seconds later, he moved a small tree trunk to reveal the body of a Wraith. Ronon stumbled back and hung his head for a long moment. His voice was unsteady.

"It's the Wraith from the cliff."

"Are you certain?" Teyla looked from Ronon to the Wraith and back.

"Yeah. Let's go." He gripped her vest again and continued across the river.

----------

The Colonel opened his eyes. Was something other than the river moving nearby? He vaguely hoped he would be able to lift the pistol that lay on the ground under his right hand. Sheppard turned his head, trying to find the source of the noise. The water was almost silent. Except for the occasional shift in the rafts of debris, only a quiet swish marked its passing.

Nothing living seemed to be moving, unless one could call the shadows cast by the afternoon sun a living thing. He saw the shadows mark the passing time just as a sundial would. It wouldn't be long before nightfall. His eyes closed again.

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"It's Lt. Jefferson's IDC." Chuck turned to Elizabeth.

"Lower the shield." She frowned as she walked to the railing. "They're not due back for a couple of hours."

Several figures emerged from the event horizon. One was being carried and another supported as they came through. She saw it was McKay cradled between two burly Marines.

"Medical team to the Gate Room!" Elizabeth shouted at the technician as she ran down the stairs. She looked around the faces as they appeared. "What happened? Where is Col. Sheppard? And Teyla and Ronon?"

Bailey responded. "Teyla and…"

McKay interrupted. He spoke rapidly, not even trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice. "Sheppard fell off a cliff! I was stunned by a Wraith and Sheppard couldn't fire. He tried to push the Wraith off the cliff, but he fell, too! Teyla and Ronon are looking for him. It's been almost four hours. We have to go back with a Jumper."

He stopped only to catch his breath, but at that moment a team from the infirmary ran up pushing a gurney. The Marines carrying McKay lifted him onto the gurney. He was still talking as they whisked him away.

Elizabeth looked at Bailey. He nodded. "It's true, Ma'am. Ronon saw them go over a hundred foot cliff into the river. We need to get back with a Jumper to search."

They started to climb the stairs up to Gate Ops. "What took you so long to get back here?"

"Wraith, Dr. Weir. There were a couple of dozen of them, too many for us to deal with considering that we had two injured men. And, since it seemed like the Wraith were headed out, we didn't want a protracted battle on our hands." Bailey was anxious. "We don't know if the Colonel is injured, or if they found him yet. We lost radio contact about an hour ago."

"Yes, of course." She nodded and turned to Chuck. "We need two Jumpers. Get Maj. Lorne, Lt. Simmons and their teams to the Jumper Bay. We also need a medical team."

"I'd like to go back, Ma'am. I can show them where Col. Sheppard fell."

----------

It felt different and the same. Sheppard's mind was drifting. It was becoming more and more difficult to concentrate. It was harder to breath, too. The clotting agent was able to slow the bleeding in his leg, but he couldn't get it in the wound in his side, where the hours of slow loss were taking their toll.

He heard something moving across the gravel and opened his eyes, half expecting to be in that forest again. He'd accepted after the third feeding that he would soon die, he didn't make a sound as the Wraith fed the last time. He just wanted it to be over. There was no energy, no life left in him that day. It was all used up just getting out of the prison.

There was nothing left today.

He heard the sound again and turned his head a little to locate the cause. Something was moving. Someone. The soft crunching came closer. He closed his eyes.

"They are coming." Someone whispered in his head. Sheppard didn't have the strength to raise his hands or his voice.

His mind wandered again. There wasn't much left to take. At least this time it would be fast.

----------

Beckett almost ran to the Jumper bay, one of his staff hurrying alongside him, listening intently to his orders. They carried two large bags full of medical equipment. The Doctor tapped his transceiver. "Is the stretcher and other gear in the Jumper?"

The answer satisfied him. He glanced at the young man keeping pace with him. "I want the OR fully prepped for emergency surgery. I also want six units of blood typed and cross matched for Col. Sheppard ready when we get back."

"Yes, Sir. Anything else?"

"Pray we don't need them." Beckett ran into the Jumper and the hatch began to close.