No Bridge Too High
by NebbyJen (with great help from Emergencyfan.)
Written for Alipeeps on the LJ Sheppard H/C secret santa list.
The request: 'A story involving Sheppard and Ronon. Sheppard has an injury that leaves him suffering a great deal of pain, that the two men are somehow isolated/trapped, and their limited pain meds don't last long. Sheppard only has Ronon to help him through the pain. Cue mail bonding!'
Summary: Trapped off world on a collapsed bridge, Ronon must care for Sheppard until help can arrive.
Rating: Teen for slight swearing, but nothing bad.
Characters: Sheppard and Ronon with a dash of Teyla and Rodney
Category: Hurt/Comfort, friendship
Spoiler/Season: None and after 3
A/N: Thanks to Emergencyfan for the beta and making the fic twice as hard because after I sent her the dry version, she said, "What if it was raining?" And to make her point, added a few great ideas. (Needless to say there is an alternate version of this story in the works, but not by me.) All mistakes are mine but not intentional. I made sure to put the characters back where I found them when I was done, as they don't belong to me.
No Bridge Too High
Sheppard and his team walked in a companionable silence along the worn dirt road. Kicking an occasional stone, the dark haired leader enjoyed the rare relaxed atmosphere of not being chased back to the gate or worrying over some health crisis. Sure, the one-day trip had been a bust. What had looked like a promising planet from the MALP review, turned out to be more or less the remnants of a long abandoned ghost planet. And the energy spikes that brought them there in the first place were nothing more than the reflected energy signals of the MALP, enhanced by the high amount of natural elements in the ground. It would be a logistical nightmare if someone wanted to do a survey of any sort, but Sheppard was certain they'd found a new emergency beta site.
The only snafu his team had run into since arrival was having to cross an impressive gorge. Steep shale cliffs, carved out over the centuries by a thundering white water river might have made an adrenalin junky excited, but it did little to inspire a certain scientist. Sheppard had to give Rodney credit where it was due though, because although the man did fuss non-stop, he'd followed Ronon's lead that morning and made it safely across.
On the way back however was another story. Upon discovery of the lingering path they currently walked that resembled the wagon train trails across the American Midwest, there was no turning back. McKay was certain that if there was a road alongside the gorge, at some point there had to be a bridge across. And unfortunately, he was right.
The first ominous snap should have been a dead give away that the rusted hulk of metal wasn't just archaic, but that the wooden slats covering the thousand-foot span were as dry as tinder in the middle of the desert during a six year draught.
Teyla on point, followed closely by Rodney, froze at the sound. "Colonel Sheppard?" she called out. A single mistaken step could lead to a deadly one hundred foot drop.
Twenty feet behind the pair, Sheppard also heard the noise and raised his left hand, immediately stilling Ronon at his six. He didn't see anything wrong, but had felt several of the boards he'd crossed groan beneath his own weight. If she was concerned, he knew they needed to be even more careful if that was possible. "McKay stay put. Teyla, on point and go slow. Signal if you think you're in trouble."
She gave a curt nod at his order. The grey weather beaten boards continued to protest at every step and three pairs of eyes never left her back. When a particularly dry plank began to splinter underfoot, she reached in her pocket, searching for something to place as a marker to warn the others. By the time she'd reached solid ground, behind her lay a trail of sunblock balm, hairclips, several small stones she'd collected that morning, and a half full bottle of water.
"It is passable," she said calmly over her radio, giving the three waiting men a wave.
Sheppard saw McKay's shoulders sag at her comment; whether from relief at the safe passage or fearful anticipation of his own was uncertain. "Okay, Rodney, you're up. Just remember to take it slow and keep your weight even. Teyla did the hard part."
"You know, maybe we should …"
"Rodney." Sheppard's tone warned against any stalling. "You're the one who convinced us to cross this thing."
"Don't try to blame this on me. It's not my fault the energy readings looked to be on the other side." Glancing towards Teyla, he appeared to do a quick mental calculation, most likely factoring in the distance and weight tolerance of the dry-rotted boards. Judging by the downfallen expression, the equation had resulted in a depressing result. "Seriously, I think…"
"Shut up. And move!"
The drooped shoulders raised in determination and the scientist took a tentative step. Sheppard was the only person close enough to catch the muttered, "Zelenka just had to bring donuts this morning."
"Nobody made you eat them."
"I'm not listening to you. A bay full of functioning Jumpers and who decided it was a nice day for a walk?" The next dusty board under foot groaned loudly in protest.
Sheppard knew he had to keep Rodney moving. "What can I say? Ronon needs the exercise." He didn't miss the disgusted grunt of, "Not the only one" from behind and signaled the larger man to be quiet.
It didn't matter as Rodney didn't look as if he'd heard them anyways, he was too busy standing still, staring at the decking beneath his feet.
"What now?" Sheppard griped.
"The next one, it looks rotten."
"They all look rotten." That earned an irritated scowl. "Okay, Rodney, you know you can do this. Just keep your footing and go around it."
Mentally taking the next step with the scientist, Sheppard blew out a breath after the board held. "You're doing great and over half way there," he encouraged. The back of the head in front of him gave the slightest acknowledging nod.
Rodney made it another hundred feet without incident before he, as well as Sheppard and Ronon, froze following a loud 'crack snap'. In the fraction of a second, the dry wood beneath McKay split in two. The next moment was like something from a movie; the pieces fell, clattered noisily against support beams, before sailing silently through the air to land in the churning water below and disappear.
Shouts urging Rodney to move echoed from both sides of the bridge.
It was an obvious struggle for the scientist to keep his balance. Overburdened with a full pack of gear, he toppled clumsily forward to land on all fours, his right foot jutting precariously over thin air. "No more donuts, no more donuts," he chanted between heaving breaths.
Sheppard edged forward to close the gap between them. "Rodney?" A weak wave behind the hunched figure stilled the colonel. He would have liked to give his friend a chance to catch his breath but it was obvious that they were already on borrowed time. "Break time's over, you can rest on the other side."
A semi-hysterical snort broke the silence. "I thought I might just stay here another minute. You know, contemplate my existence while the last thirty-seven years finishes flashing before my eyes."
Snark was always a positive sign so Sheppard took another tentative step; rewarded by an ominous creak. "Come on, buddy, time to get moving. Ronon's hungry and wants to get back to Atlantis before the Marines hit the chow line."
"He's worried about food? I'm staring down the Grand Canyon here." Gnawing a hole through his lower lip with mind numbing fear, Rodney regained his footing but refused to look back. "Fine. Even with one foot literally hanging over the grave I'm being rushed because Conan has the metabolism of a Clydesdale on steroids."
From further back on the bridge, Ronon watched every move made by the scientist. "I can still hear you."
"Really? What a surprise," Rodney grumbled as he continued towards Teyla.
Minutes later Sheppard nodded in approval and gave a wave forward after McKay made it safely to solid ground. "Ronon, you're next."
He'd expected the refusal. "That wasn't a request."
Ronon's dry expression failed to change and by the looks of it, not much was going to move him. "No."
The Runner took a step forward, the plank beneath his feet splintering in protest. "I'm heavier than you. Greater chance for more breaks, less chance for you to cross."
"How many times have I told you to stop taking physics lessons from McKay?"
"They help me fall sleep."
"Hey, I heard that," echoed from across the ravine.
The two men on the bridge smirked. "Good point. Okay then, stay close and be ready to make a run for it if necessary."
Sheppard was first to the gaping hole. The view it gave was one of a long drop down that ended in thundering water sloshing furiously against the base of two stone abutments. Decrepit arch beams and support ties spread out like crippled fingers heavily pock marked by rust and years without maintenance. It was nothing more than an engineering miracle the bridge was still standing.
He shot a glance over his shoulder to check on Ronon's progress and found the big guy waiting twenty feet back. "McKay's got to have more lives than a litter of cats because he's had to have used up at least a couple of dozen on Atlantis alone." Ronon's chuckle, mixed with his own, stopped abruptly at the new sound that joined the cracking and snapping; a low haunting moan of iron reluctantly giving way. Every hair on the back of Sheppard's neck stood on end.
Urgent calls of "Sheppard hurry!" echoed across the gorge.
Planks began to fall like dominoes, the gaps across the bridge span widening in a reluctant race, with the whitewater torrent below angrily devouring every loser.
When the bridge began to lurch slowly to the left, a less than graceful jump landed the dark haired colonel on a rickety plank that promptly disintegrated under his weight. His arms windmilled forward in an awkward attempt to keep his balance, but pockets laden with gear and prior damage from McKay's fall tipped the scales, pulling him back through the widening gap in an undignified tumble.
His cap and sunglasses flew off and the appropriate words "Oh shit" never made it past his lips. The brief fall ended abruptly with a jarring impact of steel against bone, crushing the breath from his chest. Instincts alone forced his arms out when all he wanted was to circle injured ribs and try to breathe against dizzying pain. Few ties remained connected to the arch beam and he grappled for the next only to have it disintegrate into shards of rust, slicing deeply into bare skin and tendons.
Unable to maintain a solid grip, Sheppard continued to tumble head over heels like one of the broken boards. He was rapidly running out of bridge and knew if that if he hit the water, he'd most likely never be found. In a last ditch effort, he thrust his hands out for the next tie down and mechanically caught it under his left arm. The sudden force from the impact jarred his left shoulder and he felt it pop.
The tie groaned under the new weight, dilapidated bolts snapped apart like pop can tabs, causing the top of the support to unhinge while the bottom swung wildly sideways taking Sheppard on a heart stopping ride over open air and water. Unable to maintain a true grip, blood oozing from the deep punctures, he tried to swing his legs around the piece but wound up entangled between the strap of his P-90, the holster tie on his thigh, and an adjoining beam.
Shadows betrayed the edge of Sheppard's vision and the roar in his ears drowned out the sound of the thundering water below. His left hand numb, his right wrapped in a death grip around the weapon strap, he ground his teeth together, forcing himself to breathe through the pain in his chest. McKay's minute of watching his life flash before his eyes had nothing on his own current predicament.
Ronon. He must really be out of it to forget the big guy hadn't been that far back when he fell. Chancing a glance overhead, debris peppering his face, Sheppard discovered the Satedean scaling down the crumbling structure like Spiderman.
"Go back," he grunted, but his warning came too late. The bridge, weakened from the loss of countless support ties and trusses, toppled in slow motion like an ancient house of cards. With barely enough time to tuck his chin to his chest before a massive groan and tearing ripped through the air, he held tight against chunks of iron and splintered boards that rained down from both sides of the gorge sending a suffocating cloud of thick debris over everything to shroud the damage. Once it cleared, only the two abutments remained standing with sheered off arch beams and a few ties jutting out like mangled branches on a dead tree, the rest disappeared in the swift current.
Physically exhausted in less than five minutes, practically a new record, he forced himself to breathe through every red-hot spike of pain flushing its way through his battered body. "What…what took you…?"
Finding a stable piece of arch truss, Ronon hunkered against the stone and steel base. From what he could see, Sheppard was hung up and he'd have to go out an cut him down. "Damn bridge fell apart."
"You… you need McKay…to tell you that…too?"
The breathless comeback forced Ronon to risk the climb out on the already damaged tie. It held beneath his weight. "Looks like I should've told you."
"Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, come in." Teyla's worried voice crackled over their radios
Irritation flashed briefly across Ronon's face. His free hand gripped the knife needed to cut Sheppard free while he maintained a precarious hold to stop his own fall. Letting go to answer the radio wasted time neither of them had to spare. "Teyla."
"Ronon? Rodney and I cannot see your position. Are you and Colonel Sheppard all right?"
"Sheppard's in trouble," he replied as he surveyed the twisted straps holding the man in question in place. "Hung up on some metal."
"There's some still attached?" Rodney asked in disbelief. "From this side of the bridge there's nothing left but a pile of rubble."
Teyla returned before Ronon could answer. "Are you or the colonel injured?"
"Sheppard doesn't look too good and he's breathing funny."
"Oh god, he's dying."
"Rodney, you do not know that." The pair seemed to have forgotten that their radios were still active.
From where he was stuck, Sheppard half listened to the conversation. He could hear Ronon clearly, but he had a hard time wrapping his thoughts around why the others sounded funny. "Rodney? Teyla?"
"Ronon, we can climb down…"
"No." The shale sides of the gorge had taken a beating from the falling bridge. Anyone trying to scale the damage could easily end up buried under a slide from the loosened rock or one of the massive trees on the edge could topple. "No, it's too dangerous. Get to the gate and notify Atlantis. Have them send help."
"I can stay, just in case you might need something," Rodney offered.
It was easy for Ronon to picture the scientist pacing the edge of the gorge while Teyla remained calm. The last thing he needed to worry about was rescuing someone else. "McKay, stay with Teyla and watch her back."
"Come Rodney, we must hurry if we are to make it back before nightfall. Ronon, John, we'll return with help as quickly as possible. Teyla out."
Ronon clicked off his radio before McKay decided to say something else. Using the small leather handled knife he'd kept tucked in his boot, he made quick work slicing through the tangled straps.
Sheppard remained silent through the procedure until a tight pressure released from around his leg. Unexpectedly free, his heart thundered at the sense of falling. Just as quickly, Ronon's strong grip caught him under the torso. "Thought I… was gonna fall," he panted painfully.
A second pressure disappeared, one from around his chest making it a little easier to breathe. Cautiously inhaling a slightly deeper breath, he nodded. "Thanks."
"Almost done," Ronon grunted as he shifted backwards, pulling Sheppard towards him off the broken tie onto his perch from earlier that was strong enough to support their combined weight. Loose pieces of jagged metal and wood tumbled free at the movement.
Up close, the officer looked like hell and Ronon used the small knife again to cut off the utility vest before stashing the gear in a nearby crook. His own back against the stone abutment, he eased Sheppard to lean back against his chest. Clenched teeth couldn't stop Sheppard's audible groan. "Where're you hurt?"
"The list… would be shorter… if I started with… what didn't."
Ronon had enough experience with injures, and judging by the way Sheppard tried to hold his left arm snug with his mangled right hand, the slumped shoulder was a dead give away to it being dislocated. Without warning, he gripped Sheppard's shoulder and elbow and with a quick snap set the bone back in the socket.
"Argh!" The surprised pain-filled cry echoed down the gorge. "You really…gotta warn…when you… gonna do that," Sheppard panted, trying to restart his heart and breathe at the same time.
"Needed to be done in case we have to move. Now," holding out his palm, he gave Sheppard a nudge, "give me your hand."
Sheppard grew suspicious. It was still a good ways to the bottom and even then, there was the small matter of a raging river. "Why?"
"You said to warn you." Reaching around, Ronon lifted the right one before the colonel had a chance to move.
The palms and fingers looked like hamburger and watching Ronon pull out large pieces of debris was making Sheppard nauseous. "You know…shouldn't pull…those out…right?"
"It's gonna be awhile before anyone gets here and your hands need wrapped."
That made sense. "Just re…member…warned you…when…Keller starts…ta yell."
The little lady doctor didn't scare Ronon. The ire of the still painfully missed Scotsman, on the other hand, was another story. "I'll try not to forget."
Bottled water rinsed each hand before a liberal application of antibiotic ointment. Their first aid packs contained packages of gauze and bandage rolls and Ronon made short work wrapping each palm. When finished, he studied the battered face in front of him. A jagged cut ran deep across the brow into the colonel's hairline, smeared grime mixed with blood dribbled from the left side of his temple, and a dark welt had formed across his right cheek. By the way Sheppard held his breath whenever his chest got bumped, at least one rib, if not more, must be broken. But the most disturbing thing, the one that if something were wrong and there was little Ronon could do about until help arrived, was that he had yet to see the familiar dark gaze. "Your eyes. Can you see?"
"Wha'…you mean?" His thoughts fuzzy, Sheppard hadn't realized how tightly clenched he held them. Not sure why, he painfully cracked each lid to discover very blurry brown orbs close to his own. "Whoa," he gasped, and would have shifted away if it weren't for the tight grip around his chest. Every blink painfully ground more grit and he had to squint for a better look at Ronon.
Ronon carefully lifted back a lid for a closer look. Red and irritated, the hazel eyes were speckled with dirt and flecks of debris. They needed flushed before any more damage might happen. Taking one of their two remaining bottles of water, he carefully secured Sheppard's head back against his shoulder and started to pour.
The sudden surprise at being wet produced a startled yelp. "Hey,…what happ'ned…to the warning?" Sheppard used the back of his bandaged right hand to wipe away any flecks, leaving the clean bandages filthy with grime and blood, but he could see better. "Thanks."
"Not done yet." One handed, Ronon fumbled through the first aid kit, this time in search of the blister packs. Using his thumb to pop pills free, he started with two but decided on four. Knowing Sheppard, the pain was worse than he'd admit to and when they were accepted without resistance, his concern grew. He'd wait a few minutes for the pain relief to kick in before tackling any more injuries.
Sheppard in turn slumped against Ronon's chest, his head tipping to rest against the larger man's shoulder. His eyes closed again, his breathing settled into a light hitched pattern that never eased fully to allow a deep breath. "It's kind of a miracle…you know," he panted quietly.
Ronon scowled. 'Miracle' was not a word his people used and early on Teyla had to explain its meaning to him after one of McKay's self-touted 'miracles'. "What?"
At a loss, Ronon glanced down at his charge to see if the head injury was worse than he'd originally thought. Sheppard never noticed. "It collapsed."
The dirty head nodded just slightly. "We're still breathin'."
Sheppard chuckled at the tone, but discovered that to be a painful mistake when it dissolved into a fit of coughing. "Huh," he gasped, doubling over, attempting to catch his breath. The world grayed and only Ronon's grip stopped him from tumbling from their perch. "Think I broke…a rib," he wheezed once he slowed his breathing. "Hurts like…a mother."
Thick hands ghosted across his chest and back before reaching beneath the fabric of his shirt and settling over the upper left ribcage. A smart remark died instantly when the slight pressure pushed against broken bone and another firestorm of pain erupted. The hands on his chest continued to move but he'd lost all cognizant ability to comprehend their actions. By the time he'd regained the means to breathe, let alone speak, his ribs had been taped and his left arm secured snuggly against his chest. He could do little but grind his teeth and breathe through the pain.
Ronon's deep sigh followed by stoic silence was the only sign of awareness of the discomfort he'd caused.
"You…had to…do it…big guy." Not getting a response, Sheppard tipped his head back in exhaustion to find the bearded face behind him. "Thanks."
"Like you said, only doing what had to be done."
Over the next few minutes, other than the thunder of the water below them, everything remained quiet. Sheppard's eyes slid closed and Ronon studied their surroundings. When the injured colonel eventually succumbed to a restless sleep, Ronon retrieved his radio.
"McKay, Teyla, come in." No response. He didn't expect one. His best estimate, barring any further complications, would take the pair at least three hours to get to the gate, half an hour to load a jumper, and another half hour after that for any sort of rescue operation. It would be nightfall by the time they returned, and until then, it was his duty to keep Sheppard safe.
The raspy voice caught him off guard. "Thought you were sleeping."
"Can't get… comfortable." Shifting slowly Sheppard drew his knees up. "How long?"
He nodded towards the horizon. "Pretty sure…broke my watch…in the fall."
Ronon squinted at the late afternoon sun, its warmth spread over both of them while sending the abutment's long shadows back across the gorge. "Hour and a half, maybe two, before dusk."
The thought of five more minutes, let alone a couple of hours sounded worse than sitting through one of Rodney's monthly debriefs on Ancient technology. Straightening his left leg, then pulling it back, Sheppard tried to stretch out a few sore muscles. "Don't know about you…but I'm …starting to cramp up."
Ronon reached for the water bottle he'd stashed next to Sheppard's vest. "How's the pain?" he asked once Sheppard nodded that he was finished.
"Scale of 1 to 10… probably a 9." He rolled his head to the side to catch the hard stare boring into the back of his head. "Easier to breathe…sitting. Thanks." His wrapped right hand flopped uselessly against his thigh. "My shoulder and hands are thumping pretty good…not to mention the matching headache."
"Now who sounds like McKay?" Ronon deadpanned.
"Touché. But for the record…you asked."
"Didn't expect you to answer."
Sheppard's hint of a grin got lost behind the grimace of a yawn. "You expected me to lie?" he grumbled good naturedly, shifting slightly to ease some of the pressure off his right hip.
Ronon didn't answer. Intent on opening a powerbar, he scowled when Sheppard refused half. "You need to eat."
"Not hungry. Although," he carefully shifted again, the pressure on his back and chest growing, "I wouldn't turn down… a couple more Tylenol."
The food almost to his mouth, Ronon grunted and stuffed the bar in Sheppard's shirt pocket for safekeeping. "This reminds me of a time when I was on the run. I blew a dam but it backfired." He paused to help Sheppard with the meds and water.
"Ended up sitting in a tree for two days waiting for the water to go down." Sheppard shifted against him for a third time. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just…a cramp." A large hand came around his front to rest briefly on his forehead, then pressed against the side of his neck. "Told you…it's just a cramp."
Ronon stayed silent but his hand shifted to hover over each injured hand. "You're sweating, there's heat in your hands, and your pulse is fast. Where's the cramp?"
The no nonsense tone demanded the truth. "Lower back to right hip."
"Did you hurt it when you fell?"
"Don't remember." And he didn't.
With two hours left until a possible rescue, Ronon knew the cramps could cause the muscles to seize up before help would arrive. "Trust me?"
"Through Hell…or high water."
Ronon wrapped his arms around Sheppard's chest before dropping his own legs to grip the arch beam beneath them, and in one fluid movement, rolled the colonel to lay on his right side. He then propped his left foot over Sheppard's hip to hold the injured man in place so his hands were free to empty the utility vest. Turning it inside out, he tucked it beneath the matted dark hair. The sound of harsh breathing from in front of him slowly evened out. "Better?"
"Yeah," a tired whisper replied.
"Morphine got busted up in the fall but there's still a few Tylenol left."
"Figured …as much."
The sun sinking low on the horizon caused the temperature to drop and the shadows inside the gorge finally reached their position. Ronon shook out an emergency blanket and draped it over Sheppard. The colonel had been quiet for almost an hour and the Runner wasn't sure if he was asleep until a quiet voice broke the silence.
"Sheppard," the larger man instantly replied. "How's the pain?"
Lying on his side helped with the cramps and breathing somewhat but Sheppard knew he was getting worse; however, the big guy didn't need to know that. "The same. Is it me…or does the river sound like it's… flowing faster?"
A light clicked on and shone across the water, reaching the sheer walls, before shifting to the illuminate the base of the abutment below them. Little remained of the massive pile of debris and the water level had risen at least a foot. "Must be a storm somewhere."
The final remnants of daylight disappeared to leave them in total darkness. "Just keeps…getting better…and better."
At the soft-spoken comment, Ronon shifted the light to check on Sheppard and discovered the colonel had his eyes closed and the blanket wrapped over the top of his head. "They're on their way," he said quietly. "Should be here soon."
Tired and miserable, Sheppard didn't answer. How long his right arm had been numb he couldn't remember, but at least it stopped the pounding in his hand. Unfortunately, his entire left side made up for it. And as much as the thought of moving really didn't sound all that appealing, he needed to change positions. "Chewie…I need…sit up."
"Meds are almost gone. Might be better if you stay where you are." The thought of causing his friend any more pain made Ronon angry.
"Ronon," Sheppard's bandaged right hand flopped free from under the blanket, "please."
How could he refuse? "This is a bad idea." Slipping his large hands underneath the trembling shoulders, he gave a verbal three count before tugging Sheppard up so that once again they were propped back to chest. The shaking man stuttered "Thanks…" in his arms before losing consciousness.
"Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, this is Major Lorne on board Jumper One. We've cleared the gate and should be at your location in 10 minutes."
"Hear that?" Ronon rumbled quietly in the dark. "You made it. We're going home.
Within minutes a litter and two Marines descended from ropes out of the back of the Jumper. Taking in the devastation of the bridge collapse and the precarious position of the missing team members, the first Marine gave out a low whistle.
"Sir," he said, addressing Ronon, "you are one lucky SOB."
Moments later, after the litter had been raised and Sheppard safely tucked aboard, Ronon turned to face the Marine waiting with him. "Luck had nothing to do with it," he said with rare warmth. "It was a miracle."
A/N: In under the deadline! A late Merry Christmas to all of you. NJ