Ronon curbed his frustration as he stared out the front window of the Jumper. The pilot, Miller, was holding stationary about twenty feet above the large dome, while Major Carlisle, seated in the co-pilot seat, made final adjustments to the remote detonator in his hands. Behind him, Carson sighed quietly, his expression impatient.

"You are sure this will work?"

Ronon glanced for a moment at Teyla, nodding his silent agreement to her question, before he followed her gaze to Carlisle.

Carlisle sighed. "Blow a hole in the dome? Yes. Not bring the whole thing down on them? No."

"That's what the shield is for, isn't it?" Carson interjected.

"As long as it works." Weir's voice came over the radio, reminding all of them she was in on the conversation.

"McKay thinks it will," Ronon muttered quietly. He knew they were betting a lot on McKay's theory being right, but in the time he'd been with the team, Ronon had seen McKay be right more often than not. But, when he was wrong... he was really wrong... Ronon ground his teeth in frustration. Should've gone with them...

"Let's hope so." Carlisle activated the jumper's com system. "Colonel Sheppard, this is Carlisle."

"Go ahead, Major," Sheppard immediately responded.

"Charge is place, sir. I'm shooting for a four to five foot hole, but it'll probably collapse to be larger than that. With any luck, we won't lose the whole structure." Carlisle straightened in his seat. "We're as ready as we'll ever be."

"Understood. Activating shield now," Sheppard answered. "Stand by, Major."

"Standing by." Carlisle glanced at the pilot. "Miller, back us off a bit."

As the jumper eased back from the center of the dome, Ronon stared at the small charge of C-4 firmly attached to its apex. He glanced at Teyla, seeing the worry he felt mirrored in her face.

"I am sure this will work," she reassured him, but behind her smile, her expression betrayed her reservations.

"Yeah," Ronon nodded.

"Carlisle, this is Sheppard. Shield is up. We're a go."

"Copy that, sir." Carlisle took a deep breath. "Stand by... fire in the hole." Decisively, Carlisle flipped the safety and punched the trigger firmly.

A slight vibration shook the jumper as a puff of dust and debris plumed up before them. As the dust cleared, a small hole appeared in the dome.

"That did it," Carlisle smiled.

Ronon felt a smile pull at his mouth as well, but it was short lived as his eyes caught on a wide expanding crack. "Look!" he pointed.

"Damn it!" Carlisle smacked his headset. "Colonel, keep the shield up, there's a secondary collapse forming."

"Copy that. How bad?" Sheppard responded.

Ronon's gaze, along with everyone else's, fixed on the engineer.

Carlisle sighed, frustration clear on his face. "I don't know. It's..." His voice trailed off as a large chunk of the dome suddenly broke free. "There it goes!"

----------------------

John crouched close to Rodney and stared up at the small stream of daylight, slightly distorted by the shimmering shield around them. The daylight grew as a wide crack allowed more sunlight in.

"It worked," Rodney muttered.

"Not quite..." John's eyes followed the crack's progress. "Rodney? How's the shield?"

Rodney's movements were lethargic as he pushed a couple keys. "Fine... I think...," he mumbled.

John's gaze slowly shifted down to Rodney. "You think?" The words no sooner left his mouth when Carlisle's warning shout came over both their radios.

"There it goes!"

John's head shot up, his eyes widening at the massive piece of rubble falling straight towards them. Not sparing a moment to think, John just reacted. He threw himself over the top of Rodney as a crash deafened him.

-----------------------------

"Crap." Carson's whisper was the first noise to break the stifling silence that had fallen over the jumper.

Ronon grabbed his radio. "Sheppard, this is Ronon, do you copy?" He glanced around at the silence that greeted his hail.

"Miller, get us closer." Carlisle's voice was low and solemn as he slowly stood. His gaze narrowed as he tried to see through a cloud of dust and debris. He activated the jumper's com. "Colonel Sheppard, this is Carlisle, please respond."

When silence again was the only answer, Ronon had enough. He pushed away from the back of Carlisle's chair that he'd been leaning on. "Get me down there." Rushing past Teyla and Carson, he grabbed a harness and some rope and started gearing up.

"Wait," Weir cut in, the worry and fear in her voice evident, even over the radio. "Major, is the structure stable enough to send anyone in?"

Carlisle sighed. "I have no idea... and there's no way to know until we go down there."

"You can come along," Ronon ordered with more authority than he probably had a right to, "but I'm going one way or the other."

"As am I." Teyla stood and joined Ronon.

"I don't suppose saying no would do any good?" A note of dark humor colored Elizabeth's voice.

"Nope," Ronon responded curtly as he finished buckling a harness around himself.

"Didn't think so." Elizabeth's sigh was clearly audible. "Just... be careful. We don't need anyone else trapped."

"Copy that, ma'am." Carlisle joined Teyla and Ronon. He gave them both a half smile. "I'm going to need to see first hand what's going on down there."

"Ach." Beckett's exclamation grabbed all their attentions. "I'm coming too. Rodney at least, maybe the Colonel too, need immediate medical attention." Carlisle helped him into a harness and looped a stout rope through one of his carabineers while Carson shrugged into his backpack.

"Miller, open the back hatch," Carlisle ordered as they each secured their ropes to the frame of the jumper.

"Crap," Carson whispered as the hatch slowly lowered and they all walked out on it. "I hate heights."

"You ever done anything like this before, Doc?" Carlisle asked.

"Never," Carson swallowed hard.

"Great," Carlisle muttered. "Maybe you should wait...?"

"No!" Carson interrupted. "They need my help." He closed his eyes for a moment, apparently steeling himself against his fears. He opened his eyes. "Now, you find a way to get me down there, and I'll find a way to do it."

Ronon smiled slightly as Carlisle slowly nodded.

"Okay, then," the major agreed, "One of us will have to lower you down. Now isn't the time to give you a crash course on rappelling." He winced. "Bad choice of words."

"Aye!" Carson shot Carlisle a cold look.

"I'm going," Ronon stepped towards the edge.

"Okay," Carlisle agreed. "Ronon, you and Teyla go. I'll lower Beckett down, then follow."

"Works for me." Ronon eased off the edge and started his descent, Teyla not far behind him.

"Piece of cake, Doc," Carlisle reassured. "All you have to do is relax and hold on."

"Easy for you to say," Carson muttered.

---------------------------------

A faint scrabbling noise was the first thing John heard. He slowly opened his eyes, relieved to see the golden hue of the shield, still protecting them. Good thing it held. John's gaze fixed on a chunk of rubble, roughly the size of a pickup, that lay close by. That wasn't there before…. He looked up at the hole in the dome, before looking back at the matching piece of rubble. He exhaled quietly. Had the shield not been there, both he and McKay would've been crushed.

The scrabbling noise again grabbed his attention, and he looked above him. A smile came to his face as he watched Ronon and Teyla slowly lower themselves through the hole in the dome.

"Excuse me."

John's attention was drawn downward towards the muffled voice that hailed him. "Rodney? You okay?"

Rodney's voice was weak, but still held a note of arrogance. "…Be better if you stopped playing heroics… and got off me." His words were slightly slurred.

John slowly pushed himself up, wincing as his ribs protested. Turning, he sat down facing Rodney, and rested his hands over his knees. He tapped his headset. "Ronon? Teyla? Do you copy?"

"Colonel!" Teyla's voice responded immediately. "Are you alright?"

John waved up at her as she and Ronon continued their descent. "Yeah, we're okay." He looked down at his friend and his smile faded. "Rodney could stand a little attention from Beckett though."

"Colonel," Carson's voice broke in. "Is Rodney conscious?"

"Stand by." John poked his friend. "Rodney?" He poked harder. "Rodney!"

"Wha...? 'M here..."

John pursed his lips. "He keeps fading in and out, Doc. Probably time for a house call."

"Aye, be right down," Carson answered.

"See that?" John again looked down at Rodney. "Cavalry's here."

"Yeah…."

John sighed. Rodney's lucidity was fading rapidly. Staving off the hypoglycemia had helped, but blood loss and injury were catching up with him. John nodded slightly at Ronon and Teyla as they stared through the shield at him, relief evident on both their faces. "Welcome to the party. Sorry about the mess. We're remodeling."

They both smiled at his quip.

John looked up past them, his gaze narrowing as he watched Carson slowly descend through the hole. "He looks a little… tense."

"Yeah," Ronon's gaze followed John's. "He does."

"He has never done anything like this before," Teyla added. "It is understandable that he would not be at ease."

John couldn't tear his gaze from Carson. "Hell of a time to learn," he muttered. A touch of admiration sparked within him. For all his compassion, and good nature, Carson was a tough cookie when he had to be.

John was relieved when, at last, Carson's feet touch the ground. He nudged Rodney and stared at his half closed eyes. "Rodney? Hey, buddy, time to lower that shield."

Rodney's eyelids fluttered. "Wha…?"

"Come on, McKay," John urged quietly, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. "Focus. You need to lower the shield."

Rodney inhaled deeply and then whimpered, presumably from his broken ribs, but when he opened his eyes, they were slightly clearer. "Right…." He sluggishly tapped a sequence of keys on his data pad and the shield disappeared abruptly.

John stayed by Rodney's side as Carson hurried over and knelt next to Rodney. He briefly looked at John. "You all right, Colonel?"

John's gaze never left Rodney's semi-conscious face. "Yeah, I'm okay. Rodney…."

"I'm on it." Carson cut John off as he dug around in his bag. Pulling out a stethoscope and BP cuff, he turned back towards his patient. "Rodney? Can ye hear me?"

"Unnnn…." Rodney groaned quietly.

John pursed his lips and looked up at Teyla and Ronon's concerned expressions. He glanced at Carson, who was busy taking Rodney's blood pressure. "Doc?"

"Shh," Carson admonished, and continued listening through his stethoscope. After a tense moment, he deflated the cuff and draped his stethoscope over his shoulders. "90/60. He needs an IV now to bring up his blood volume, and a transfusion when we get back to Atlantis." Carson turned to his pack again.

John smiled slightly as Ronon offered him a water canteen.

"Here."

John took a long pull from the canteen and looked up as Carlisle touched down and freed himself from his line. "Major," John nodded as Carlisle walked towards them. "Good work."

"Thank you, sir. Glad you had the shield though." Carlisle looked up at the underside of the Jumper hovering outside the dome. "Miller. Radio Dr. Weir and the ground teams. Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay are all right, but McKay is still trapped. Give her an update and let her know that we'll pass on more information once we have it." Carlisle looked around, his practiced eye evaluating the rubble. "Colonel, does it look like much shifted?"

John scanned the debris. "Not really." His eyes fell on the weight-bearing column that lay heavily across the beam trapping Rodney's legs. "Especially that." He pointed.

Carlisle's gaze followed John's gesture. He stared for a moment before nodding slowly. "That's a problem."

"How?" Ronon asked.

"We have to move the beam trapping Dr. McKay's legs to get him out," Carlisle explained, "but if we do that, it'll shift that load-bearing beam," he pointed, "and likely bring the whole dome down on us."

"What about the shield?" Teyla interjected. "Will it not protect Rodney from a collapse?"

Carlisle nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, it would." He knelt next to Rodney's legs and looked under the beam. "Colonel, Dr. McKay said it was just his feet trapped, right?"

John nodded. "Yeah. I was able to get my hand under there to cover his leg wound, so there's some room, just not much." A groan from Rodney interrupted the conversation. John glanced at the rapidly dripping IV before looking down. "McKay?"

"Here…." Rodney muttered.

John smiled slightly at Carson, who nodded absently.

"The IV will probably help him be a bit more lucid in a few minutes." Carson's voice was distracted as he felt the fingers of Rodney's broken arm. He nodded. "Warm. Good set. Nicely done, Colonel." He gently palpated Rodney's torso, eliciting a groan from his patient. "Definitely broken." Carson stood and looked at John. "I need to be where you are, Colonel, so I can have a look at his leg."

"Sure." John pushed himself up, but only got as far as kneeling before spikes of pain shot through him, and the ground seemed to tilt sideways. His stomach did a summersault and he froze, sucking a hissing breath through clenched teeth.

"Colonel?"

He felt Carson's firm hand on one arm, followed almost immediately by Ronon's strong grip on the other. He took a couple shallow breaths. "Ribs… head...," he managed. He felt the doctor's hand probe the gash on the back of his head.

"Aye. Ye cracked it good." Carson's voice was soothing. "Just take it easy and slow."

With both their help, John managed to stand and step back, before settling to the ground again. He looked up as Carson flashed him a small smile.

"Stay put, Colonel. I'm going to check Rodney's leg, then I want to give you a look see."

"'M okay, Doc…." John's voice trailed off at Carson's snort.

"I'll be the judge of that, lad." Carson stood and walked back to Rodney.

John took a quiet moment to collect himself, relieved that the ground seemed to be level again. He finally looked up at Teyla and Ronon and smiled slightly. "Good of you to join us."

"Had nothing better to do," Ronon teased, amusement crinkling his eyes slightly.

"Right," John chuckled and winced at its effect. He tightened his arm around his chest. "Enough of the jokes." He looked at Carlisle who was cautiously walking around the debris. "What are you thinking, Major?"

Carlisle stepped back around the rubble and walked towards the group. He knelt next to Rodney's legs and eyed the beam. "Pneumatic jack, sir. If only his feet are trapped, I doubt we'd have to move this beam much to get him out."

"Think we'll still need the shield, Major?" John asked.

"Definitely, sir," Carlisle nodded. "This place is a house of cards right now. Shift the standing column even just a little, and you're likely to bring the whole thing down." He stood. "We'll need to get everyone out of here, except one person to stay behind, under the shield, with McKay, to jack the beam up."

"That'd be me." John replied firmly.

"Ach, no." Carson stood up and walked over to him. "You're injured, Colonel. You should be the first person out of here."

John shook his head, smothering his pain with determination. Rodney was a member of his team. That brought in a whole set of rules that John never bent. Not only was he military commander and team leader, and therefore wasn't going to let any of them stay behind in his stead, but, damn it, Rodney was his friend. There was no way in hell he was leaving here without him. Slowly, he stood and glared coldly at Carson. "Not gonna happen, Doc. I won't have one of you doing something this dangerous while I beat a quick path to safety."

"I'll do it," Ronon volunteered.

John spun towards him, his actions eliciting a grunt of pain he couldn't quite stifle. "No!" He glared at Ronon. "I'm doing this. That's the end of it."

"Colonel…," Carson started.

John turned back, this time moving more slowly. "Carson, save it." He stepped closer to the doctor and stared hard at him. "I'm not leaving here without McKay." He held Carson's gaze as the doctor reached up and tapped his radio call button.

"Dr. Zelenka, please put me through to Dr. Weir."

To Carson's credit, he stoically held his strong expression as John's eyes narrowed in anger. "This isn't going to change anything." John kept his voice low and cold. "I'm not leaving."

"This is Weir." Elizabeth's voice came over all their headsets. "What's going on?"

John continued to stare hard at Carson as the doctor explained the situation.

"John, I have to agree with Carson's assessment on this." Elizabeth's voice was carefully neutral.

A cynical smile touched John's mouth. "Well, glad you two are in agreement. It still doesn't change anything."

"John…." Elizabeth's voice was heavy with reasonableness, but he'd have nothing to do with it.

"No!" he interrupted forcefully. "Damn it, Elizabeth! You'll have to have Ronon hog-tie me and haul me out of here to get me to leave before McKay is safe!"

Even through the intense pounding in his head, he could hear Elizabeth's loud sigh.

"You're a real pain in the ass sometimes, John," she said quietly. Her voice was calm, slightly resigned, and had no trace of anger.

John blinked. Her statement was meant to diffuse his anger, he knew it… and it worked. A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. "Yep," he responded quietly.

"Permission granted, Colonel," Weir answered. "Weir out."

John looked at Carson, who shook his head in resignation.

"She's right ya know," Carson groused. He turned away and knelt next to Rodney's injured leg.

"Major?" John turned to Carlisle. "Get me a pneumatic jack, then you four get out of here."

Carlisle turned away and sent orders to Miller in the Jumper.

"John…?"

He turned, meeting Teyla's concerned look. "Teyla?"

She smiled slightly, and squeezed his forearm briefly. "Be careful."

A corner of his mouth turned up. "Piece of cake." He glanced at Carson as the doctor stood and walked over to the three of them.

"His leg is still bleeding," Carson's voice carried a worried note. "I've worked another bandage under the beam and over the wound. For now, the IV will keep him stable, but I need to get to his leg to stop the bleeding."

"All the more reason to do this sooner rather than later," John commented quietly. He nodded once at Carson. "Thanks Doc."

Carson signed loudly. "Aye." His gaze narrowed. "Now for you…." Carson produced a small syringe. "Since ye are being bullheaded and insisting on staying, against medical advice I might add, then I'm giving ye something for the pain. It won't do much, but I won't risk more until I know the extent of you head injury."

John stiffened and shook his head. "No way. No drugs. I need to be clear headed."

"Ach, Colonel!" Carson threw his hands up. "Work with me here! Ye have high pain tolerance but this is ridiculous. All this will do is take the edge off. Now, give me your arm."

John shook his head. "Not gonna happen. Just bind my ribs. I'll be fine."

"Oh, and that's your professional, educated opinion I gather?" Carson glowered.

John kept his expression resolute, fighting a small smile as Carson sighed loudly. "Doctor Weir's right. You really are a pain in the ass sometimes." Carson knelt, his hand disappearing inside his bag for a moment. "Worst damned patient I've ever had…," he muttered. When his hand emerged again, the syringe had been replaced by a roll of stout bandage material. "All right," he motioned. "Shirt off."

"Thanks, Doc," John smiled, his brow quirking as Carson grunted in response. His smile faded as he carefully shed his TAC vest and coat, before pulling the shirt over his head. He clenched his teeth as Carson tightly wound the bandage around his chest.

After several passes Carson secured the ends with tape and stood. "All right, that'll do."

John took a careful breath, nodding in approval. He looked up at Carson. "It's good." He quickly pulled his shirt, coat and TAC vest back on.

"Sure…." Rodney's weak voice captured their attentions. "Ignore… the injured man…."

"Rodney?" Carson turned, stepped over Rodney and knelt. He quickly grabbed his stethoscope and inflated the BP cuff.

John smiled and went to one knee next to Rodney, while Ronon and Teyla looked over his shoulder. "McKay. Welcome back to the land of the living."

"Funny…," Rodney replied. His eyes slowly shifted towards the column still trapping his legs. "Still here… I see. Can't you people do… anything without me?"

John arched an eyebrow. "We're lost without your heartwarming charm." He glanced at Carson as the doctor removed the BP cuff.

"110/70. Much better." Carson stood and backed away.

John watched Rodney's expression fall as he noticed Carson, Ronon and Teyla walk back towards the ropes dangling through the hole in the dome.

"Oh God," Rodney whispered. "You can't… get me out. You're leaving…." His eyes widened as phobic panic overwhelmed him.

Carson turned back. "Rodney…."

"McKay," John cut Carson off. He bent over, his face close to Rodney's. "I'm still here. I'm not leaving."

Rodney blinked hard before squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. "Right." He whispered. After a long moment he opened his eyes, his expression more normal. "You've been here… the whole time. Why am I not… comforted by that… sentiment?"

John smiled. "This time, I have a pneumatic jack."

"Huh?"

John turned and looked at the column. "I'm gonna jack this thing off your feet. All I need from you is the shield."

"Shield…?" Rodney muttered. "You're going to shift the weight-bearing column, aren't you?"

John looked back at him. "No other way." He spared a moment to look up at his team. "Get going, you guys." He smiled slightly and made eye contact with each of them. "We'll be fine."

"Good luck, Colonel," Carlisle said. His gaze traveled upwards. "We'll be right up there in the Jumper."

John nodded. "Thanks, Major." He watched as the four of them secured themselves to their ropes, before Carlisle sent the order to Miller to lift them out. John returned his attention to Rodney as the rest of his team ascended. "So, McKay. The shield."

"Shield…." Rodney stared at his data pad. "Right… If I can raise it…."

John's gaze narrowed at Rodney's apprehension. "What do you mean, if?"

An annoyed expression blanketed Rodney's pale face. "With this Daffy Duck… arrangement I can't… make any guarantees!"

John's brows arched. "Daffy Duck?"

"Its jury rigged… six ways… from Sunday," Rodney snapped. "I didn't expect… to have to raise it more… than once." He took a moment to pant lightly.

"When you get it up, will it hold?" John questioned cautiously. He was pretty sure he knew the answer, but had to ask anyway.

"I have no… idea. But, we knew that… from the beginning…." Rodney's expression turned reflective. He looked up at John in wonder. "You already… knew that, but… you stayed with… me."

John shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, well, someone had to."

Immediately, the impassive mask fell back over Rodney's face. "Right. Of course." He returned his attention to the data pad.

John stared at him for a moment, his thoughts turning to those times Rodney had saved all of them. Beyond that, Rodney had saved him too… more than once, something that, in spite of everything that had happened, John didn't forget easily. They were a team; they watched each other's back. While that was a given for a soldier, John had developed a tremendous amount of respect for Rodney, who, contrary to all outward shows of weakness, had adopted that philosophy as well. Under it all, Rodney had more bravery then even he realized. Not many people would face a Wraith with only one nine mill and two clips, in the name of helping a friend… to name just one occasion Rodney had gone into bat for him. John smiled. "McKay?"

Rodney looked up, his gaze narrowing at the softly amused expression on John's face. "What?"

John stared hard at him, as his mind raced, looking for the right words. In the end, he settled on just a few. "There was no way I was going to leave here without you."

Rodney blinked heavily and stared at him for a moment, before a genuine smile creased his mouth. He lifted his arm. "Whatever happens… thanks."

John grasped his hand in a strong, masculine grasp.His grip around Rodney's thumb tightened slightly. No words came to him, but somehow he knew they weren't needed, and that the handshake meant the same to Rodney. It was an unspoken bond between teammates… between friends. More, it was the last, solidifying act that buried the hatchet over the disagreement that had loomed between them since Arcturus. Once and for all, John knew he was past the distrust, and he saw the same thing in Rodney's eyes without either of them saying a word. Even if they didn't make it out of here, John knew things were right again between him and Rodney.

Rodney broke the grasp first. He looked down at the data pad. "Ready." He punched a button and gazed up as the soft, gold glow returned.

John slid the pneumatic jack as far under the rubble and as close to Rodney's legs as he could. "Here we go. Let me know when you can move your feet. I don't want to raise this any higher than we have to."

"Right."

The shake in Rodney's voice wasn't lost on John as he slowly began jacking up the column. Each depression of the handle brought ominous moans and creaks from the column and surrounding debris. Dust billowed as small bits of masonry bounced off the shield, but John continued, determined to free his friend. Another push on the handle and a loud crack echoed above them. He winced as he looked up warily, before glancing at Rodney. "Anything?"

Rodney's upper body tensed as he apparently tried to move his feet. "You're close."

"Right." John's voice cracked. He depressed the handle again, his head jerking up as a good-sized piece of rubble bounced off the shield.

"I think… that's it…," Rodney gasped. He grunted, his face contorting in obvious pain.

John's brow creased in concern. "Rodney? You okay?"

Rodney squeezed his eyes shut. "Cramps…," he managed through clenched teeth.

John nodded. Rodney's feet had been motionless and trapped for hours, so he imagined they'd hurt quite a bit. "Easy," he said reassuringly, "just breathe through it."

Rodney pulled in one stuttering breath, and then another. "Right."

John's brows arched and his eyes rolled upwards as another piece of rubble bounced off the shield, fueling his sense of urgency. "Anything broken down there?"

"Don't… think so…," Rodney gasped.

"Okay." Careful not to bump the jack, John stood, stepped over Rodney and lay down next to his legs. He grabbed Rodney's left pant leg, careful to avoid the bleeding wound. "Rodney, you're going to have to help me, okay? Bend your leg. I know it's gonna hurt like hell, but we don't have a lot of choices here. You're going to have to pivot to your left too, so we can get your legs free. I'll do my best to help you, okay?"

"'K…."

John pulled on Rodney's pant leg, tuning out his friend's gasps of pain as Rodney bent his knee and shifted himself around. As soon as Rodney's left leg was clear, he grabbed Rodney's right pant leg. "Almost there," he encouraged as he pulled again. He smiled as the right leg emerged from under the rubble. "That's it, you're free." He looked up as Rodney's entire body went limp. "McKay?" His eyes widened at Rodney's closed ones, and he pushed himself up on his hands and knees, only to pause as a wave of nausea swept through him.

Damn…. He squeezed his eyes shut, and forced his rebellious stomach under control. Good thing I gave that cookie to Rodney…. The thought of his friend forced him to move.

He crawled up to Rodney's head. "Rodney?" His fingers probed Rodney's neck and he sighed in relief as a slow but steady pulse beat back against his fingers. Putting his hand on Rodney's abdomen, he nodded as the doctor's shallow breaths expanded against his touch. He tapped his radio. "Carlisle, this is Sheppard. McKay's free."

"Copy that, Colonel. Stand by. We're on our way down," Carlisle answered.

"How's Rodney?" Carson's voice followed on the heels of the major's.

John couldn't quite keep all the concern from his voice. "Unconscious, but I think he's stable for now."

"How's the structure, Colonel?" Carlisle asked.

John looked up, noting small puffs of dust as pieces of the ceiling and rubble shifted minutely. He chewed his lower lip while he looked around, fighting the nervousness that twisted his gut. "Not good." He sighed. "Major, I don't want anyone coming down here."

"Colonel, ye need help to get Rodney out. He's unconscious and you're injured. I don't care how bound your ribs are, or how high your pain tolerance is, you can't lift an unconscious man." Carson insisted.

John clenched his teeth, stifling a retort. Deep down, he knew Carson was right, even if he didn't want to admit it. Rodney wasn't a small man, and as unconscious, dead weight there was no way John would be able to lift him into a position where he could secure both of them and have the jumper lift them out. His mind raced, looking for an alternative.

"I'll come down," Ronon suddenly responded.

"No!" John immediately answered, "And that's an order."

"John…," Teyla started.

"Major?" he interrupted, an idea coming to him, "with the Jumper's standard inventory there's climbing gear. There should be something similar to a Bosun's Chair with that. Send it down, along with a regular harness for me."

"Bosun's chair?" Ronon's voice was slightly confused.

"Yeah," John answered. "It's a canvas harness, sort of like a chair. I can slide it under Rodney, secure it, and then the Jumper can lift him into a sitting position. Then I can secure him to my harness and I'll steady him as the Jumper lifts both of us out."

"In other words, the Jumper does all the lifting for you?" Carson surmised.

"Exactly." John picked up the data pad from where it sat next to Rodney. He experimentally tapped a few keys. "How did he…?" His voice trailed off as he hit on the right combination. Abruptly, the glow of the shield over them disappeared. "Okay, the shield is down. Send me the gear and make sure the ropes can support both of us at once. I'll need to steady McKay as you pull us up."

An ominous creak grabbed John's attention and his eyes settled on the high end of the weight-bearing beam. He felt a spike of adrenaline as the unstable structure fueled urgency within him. "Double time it, Major. I don't think this place is going to be standing for much longer." He looked up at the underside of the Jumper. "And that equipment better come down without any of you tagging along for the ride."

"You ordered us to stay here," Ronon replied, his tone slightly frustrated.

John allowed a small, cynical smile. "It bore repeating." He watched as the gear slowly made its way down to him. After a minute he stepped back, letting it fall to the ground in front of him.

The Bosun's Chair was tied closed, presumably holding the rest of the climbing gear. John loosened a couple knots and pulled it so he could fish out the two coils of stout rope and additional harness hidden inside. He then untied the chair from the jumper's line and let it fall to the ground. He quickly stepped into his own harness and secured it, before grabbing the Bosun's Chair again. "Stand by. As soon as I get McKay in the chair, I'll need you to lift him a couple feet off the ground."

"Copy that, sir," Miller answered. "I have you both on the HUD."

"Colonel," Carson interjected. "You'd best shut off Rodney's IV until this is over. The last thing we need is a complication in the line from all this jostling."

"Copy that, Doc." John reached up and quickly pinched off the line, before laying the IV bag on Rodney's stomach. He looped the extra coils of the IV line under the splint, and carefully laid Rodney's broken arm across his chest. Straightening, he pressed a palm to his forehead as pain lanced through his head once more. He paused, taking a couple breaths as he found his balance again. The ribs, the whack on his head, all of it was catching up with him and the timing couldn't be worse. Damn it, not now….

He crawled to Rodney's feet and spread the Bosun's chair out flat before he carefully lifted first one of Rodney's legs and then the other, allowing him to slide the chair under Rodney body. He paused at a slight groan from Rodney. "McKay?" He waited a moment for a reply, but when none came, he he quickly set to work again, driven by a sense of urgency, only to be momentarily crippled by pain as he twisted wrong. He clenched his teeth and drew in a loud, hissing breath. "We're a hell of a pair," he muttered, knowing Rodney couldn't hear him. "Slow down, Sheppard. You're no good to anyone unconscious, and Beckett'll have your ass in a sling if you pass out now…." Slowly, he worked the chair under Rodney's hips, pausing each time a quiet groan came from the lightly unconscious man, until the chair was in place under him. He slowly stood and walked over to the dangling rope from the Jumper and grabbed it. "Give me some slack." He waited a moment until more rope followed his command, before he walked back to Rodney, laying the rope behind him as he went.

He put one foot on each side of Rodney's hips and knelt. He lifted the two ends of the chair up, brought the D rings together and quickly tied the Jumper's line through them. As he stood, the ground seemed to tilt, and it took everything he had to stay upright. He staggered, his hand latching onto a piece of rubble to steady himself. After a minute, his equilibrium returned and he slowly crouched next to Rodney. Acting almost like a sling, the Bosun's Chair would hold Rodney's weight, but since he was unconscious, it would be up to John to support his head and upper body so that Rodney wouldn't fall backwards out of it. He swallowed against nausea. Keep it together, Sheppard….

He slid his right arm under Rodney's head while he rested his left hand on Rodney's waist. He forced a steady note to his voice. "Okay, we're ready. Nice and easy now, Miller. I only need him a few feet off the ground." Slowly, Rodney rose from the ground and John followed. He moved from kneeling to crouching and finally standing, all the while gritting his teeth against the pain from his ribs and head. Vaguely, through the pain, he spared a moment to be thankful he didn't have to lift Rodney's full weight.

When Rodney was about waist high to him, he called the jumper. "Okay, good, stop." He stood still for a moment to regain his balance. When the throbbing in his head lessened, he continued his task.

Still holding Rodney, he carefully stepped sideways, gently lifting Rodney's upper body towards the vertical and allowing him to pivot over the chair until he was nearly in a sitting position. Facing him, John gently continued pulling Rodney's weight towards him, until Rodney's head settled on his shoulder. He stood rock still and slowly let go, allowing his shoulder and the Bosun's Chair to fully support Rodney. He looked up at the Jumper. "Toss me another line."

John stepped between Rodney's legs and as close to him as he could. He carefully secured Rodney's chair to his harness, before he secured himself to the second line from the Jumper. Holding tightly to the rope with one hand, and pulling Rodney firmly against his chest and steadying him with the other, John took a long, strengthening breath. "Okay, take us up."

John settled back into his harness and held onto to Rodney as he felt his feet leave the ground. He looked down as Rodney groaned. "McKay?" Rodney's head slowly lifted from his shoulder.

"Wha…?"

John pursed his lips at Rodney's groggy and slurred reply. If he puts two and two together….

"Oh god…."

John's grip tightened as he felt Rodney tense. "Whoa, easy, Rodney. You're okay. Miller's getting us out of here. Just relax." He stared intently in to Rodney's eyes as he sat back slightly.

Rodney's eyes cleared a little and he nodded. "Right. Of… course…." He grabbed tightly to the side of John's harness with his good hand. He turned his head and looked down for a second before squeezing his eyes shut. "I hate… heights," he managed.

"Then stop looking down," John retorted. His gaze narrowed as Rodney's eyelids drooped. "McKay? This would be easier if you stayed awake." He shook Rodney slightly as his head nodded forward. "Come on, buddy. Stay with me, okay?"

"Uh…huh…," Rodney slurred.

John felt his muscles start shaking, their endurance undermined by fatigue and injury. He stared at his hand, his eyes drifting to the multi-colors that wove through the rope, just now becoming visible as they ascended towards daylight. Who thinks of these colors? He blinked hard, focusing on the rope and using that focal point to hang onto consciousness. The physical stresses of the day's events were finally taking their toll on him and catching up to him at the worst time.

The bright sunlight forced his eyes shut and he lost his focal point, but somewhere inside, John was relieved just to be feeling the warmth of the sun again. "We're out," he said softly.

"Thank… god," Rodney muttered.

John was inclined to agree, but didn't have the strength to voice it. Warm darkness, fueled by the comforting rays of sunshine on his face, pushed at the edges of his consciousness. His head fell forward until his forehead was resting against the taut rope in front of him. He struggled to stay awake, his steadying hold on Rodney and the rope securing them the only thing holding him in the conscious world. Below, the ground and the group of people waiting grew closer.

As his feet slowly touched the ground, John felt strong hands grab his arms. Someone gently, but insistently peeled his hand away from Rodney, and he felt someone else untying the ropes binding them together. Somehow, the people around knew his legs wouldn't support him, because as soon as he was free, several sets of hands slowly lowered him to the ground. He could faintly hear the jumper landing behind him as he looked up, his eyes focusing on one face staring intently back at him. "Radek?" he managed. He caught a glimpse of Radek's smile and instant before his eyes fell shut.

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The first thing he was aware of was the quiet but steady beeping coming from near his head. He stirred slightly. He peeled his eyes open, instantly regretting it as bright light assaulted him. He squeezed them shut and groaned softly.

"Ah! Finally decided to grace us with your presence?"

John swallowed against a dry throat. He didn't need to open his eyes to recognize Rodney's voice, but he asked anyway. "McKay?"

"Who else would it be?" Rodney answered cynically.

John's head cleared some. "I was hoping it was a bad dream and I'd just wake up."

"Very funny," Rodney snapped.

Deciding to get past the unpleasant, John resigned himself to the bright infirmary lights and opened his eyes. He squinted as two more people walked up next to his bed. He glanced at Carson, who was staring at the beeping monitor, before fixing his gaze on Elizabeth.

She smiled. "John, how are you feeling?"

"Like I've been run over by a Mack truck." John shifted slightly and groaned.

"I'd imagine so," Carson stepped back before looking down at him. "You cracked that hard head of yours pretty good, Colonel and ye have three broken ribs plus numerous other minor injuries. As it is, you're going to be sore for quite a while yet, and in that bed for at least three more days."

John sighed and grunted as his ribs protested. "Crap."

"What do you expect, insisting on staying behind and being noble, when you were in no condition to be doing anything?" Rodney fixed him with an acerbic stare.

John cocked a brow. "I hauled your butt to safety good enough. Besides, I didn't hear you coming up with any brilliant ideas."

"I was half unconscious!" Rodney protested.

"Okay, all right, that's enough," Carson interjected. "You both need your rest so I'm ordering both of you to sleep!"

The protest on John's lips died as he felt a warm hand on his wrist. He looked down at Elizabeth's slender fingers wrapped around his. His gaze found hers.

She smiled warmly. "Get some rest, John. It's good to have you back."

He tightened his grip on hers briefly. "Good to be back." He let go as she stood and walked away.

Settling his head deeper into the pillow John closed his eyes.

"Colonel?"

He opened one eye, cocked his brow and turned his head slightly in Rodney's direction. "What?" John opened his other eye and wrinkled his brow at the uncomfortable look on Rodney's face. "McKay?"

"Look uh…" Rodney looked around for a minute as if he was assuring himself they were alone.

John chuckled quietly. After everything they'd been through, it was somehow comforting to know that Rodney was still Rodney, and still had a reputation to keep up, in spite of his close friends really knowing better. His smile faded.

Rodney's gaze fell to where his good hand was absently picking at his blanket. "I just wanted to say… that is… well, thanks… again."

John's mouth turned up in a half smile. "You're welcome… again." He sighed quietly and carefully. "And thanks."

Rodney looked over at him. "For what? You got to be the hero."

John held his smile. "Without the shield we'd both be dead."

Rodney returned his attention to the blanket, but he nodded slightly. "True."

"So," John sank deeper into his bed. "Let's just call it a team effort." He glanced sideways, watching as a genuine smile slowly spread across Rodney's face.

"Okay." Rodney answered quietly. "But that still…"

"Rodney," John interrupted as he closed his eyes. "Go to sleep."

"Right."

John willed the tension from his body as he listened to Rodney settle into his bed. A light feeling of contentment touched him. He'd never wish that experience on anyone, but now that it was over, he was grateful for it. Okay, he was grateful for parts of it, if only because they finally made him and Rodney clear the air between them. John sighed. Somehow, he knew none of them were done with making mistakes, but as sleep started to take hold of him, he vowed that, next time, it wouldn't take a cave in for him to forgive.

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Author's notes:

Ever since I saw Trinity, I've been wanting to write this story (or something to tie up that rather major dangling plot line) I'm pleased to have finally de-fanged that plot bunny:D

Big thanks to TanaquiSGA for her patient beta'ing and tolerance for my little mistakes and for lending her engineering knowledge to my little… uhh… predicament. G Big hugs TS:D