Title: No Bridge Too High (v2) adapted by Emergencyfan. Original story by NebbyJen.
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.
Category: Hurt/Comfort, friendship
Spoiler/Season: None/We're going back to pre-Keller time because I miss Carson!
A/N: Jen already had a hefty start on her story when I opened my big beta mouth and said "what if" one too many times. She sweetly suggested that I get off my lazy butt and write my own version then very kindly backed me into a corner by telling everyone there was a "wet" version of the story in the works ;-). So here it is, in four chapters. Ronon's not one of my favs so I can't honestly say it was a labor of love, but I gave it my best shot. I hope you'll find it entertaining. (You can find Jen's original version "No Bridge Too High" on this site as well.)
Stargate Atlantis and its characters belong to MGM. All mistakes belong to me. Thanks to Jen for the inspiration (aka "kick in the ass") and the beta!
No Bridge Too High (v2)
The ominous dull wet snap of the first board was a dead give away that the rusted hulk of bridge, with its thick wooden cross ties, was nearing the end of its useful life. When Sheppard and his team had originally crossed the bridge, the wooden planks, which resembled Earth railroad ties, had been bone dry. In the intervening hours, while they were off chasing yet another wild goose, the structure had been soaked by the steady drizzle. Thoroughly sodden, the narrow wooden track was now soft and slippery with mildew that had posed little threat when they had crossed the bridge only a few hours earlier.
Through the worst of the storm, the team had found shelter in a small cave thanks to Teyla's wilderness skills. With the worst of the lightening and thunder over, they had started their long journey back towards the gate. During the first soggy hour of their homeward return trek, Rodney complained loudly that their army-issued caps were poorly designed when it came to the dynamics of rainfall. He was just beginning to hit his perfect martyrdom stride when a brief and very pointed comment from Ronon had reduced the volume level of his complaints to mumbled threats of a lawsuit if he caught pneumonia and died. Sheppard gleefully pointed out that if Rodney were dead, he would be in no position to sue anyone. Whether the smile on the colonel's face came from Rodney's obvious annoyance at having this fault in logic pointed out to him, or merely the contemplation of the sweet silence that would result from the scientist's untimely death, was anyone's guess.
To add to the depressing atmosphere, the mission had been a bust. There had been nothing left of value at the ancient outpost and it had taken much longer than it normally should have to search it. A natural electrical field on the planet was severely limiting the range of their radios. Because they were on an unexplored planet with limited communication, Sheppard preferred that they all stay in visual contact, which had curbed their ability to split up and search the place more efficiently. Rodney, always easily distracted, found even the useless bits of trash the ancients left behind fascinating. It had been a constant battled to keep him on track as they explored what was left of the small settlement, which only slowed their progress further. The power that had attracted them to the outpost in the first place seemed to be coming from a device that remotely monitored gate activity. The small crystal that provided the power to the device died in Rodney's hands as he tried to free it; yet another used-up, worthless hunk of junk courtesy of the Ancients. It was almost laughably annoying--their own arrival had set off the only thing that had power at the outpost; that power was what had attracted them to the outpost in the first place; and their presence had used up the last of that power. Even McKay finally agreed the whole thing had been an incredible waste of time.
A brief discussion was held when they reached the gorge again and realized how much the rain had changed the condition of the bridge. What had first seemed to be a light and airy structure was now a heavily waterlogged sponge that creaked ominously in the slightest breeze. Teyla took point, followed by Rodney, then Sheppard and Ronon. The logical order was to proceed by weight, lightest in front, heaviest in back. Technically, that meant that Sheppard would have gone second. As leader of their group, he preferred to put the others' safety ahead of his own. Logic won out though and he compromised. Rodney would go second, but Ronon would go last, being the heaviest of the group and the most likely stress the water-burdened beams.
Once the Athosian had made it about a quarter of the way across the bridge, Sheppard had given Rodney a prod to get him going. By the time Teyla was in the middle, Rodney was well on his way. Sheppard, followed by Ronon, stepped out onto the slick wet beams, careful to keep themselves evenly spaced.
Their arrangement turned out to be a good call. Several beams had cracked under the strain of Ronon's passing. Though none had given way yet, Sheppard had doubts they would have been able to safely support Teyla's small frame once the runner had passed over them.
It had also been a toss up whether to walk along the edge of the bridge, which had the most underlying structural support, or walking more towards the middle of boards which gave some safety margin for the slick footing. Even Teyla's nimble steps gave way to occasional short skids as they made their way carefully along the structure so the group had taken what they hoped was the least of two evils and stayed as far away from the edges as possible. At least the rain had finally tapered off.
"Handrails would have been a good idea," griped Rodney as he slowly made his way from board to board, then froze as the beam beneath his left foot gave a dull wet snap. Both he and Teyla paused tensely, neither taking their next step. One mistake could lead to a long deadly drop into the gorge and its raging boulder-strewn river below. The steep shale walls and turbulent water would mean certain death for anyone unlucky enough to find themselves in the river's clutches; assuming, of course, they survived the fall in the first place.
Sheppard had raised his left hand at the foreboding snap, immediately stilling Ronon at his six. "Okay, everyone," he called out, "Nice and easy. McKay, even out your weight and stay put, Teyla take it slow."
It was a superfluous order. The scientist remained stock-still, barely breathing, his eyes riveted to each lithe footstep he was to follow. Once Teyla reached the other side, Sheppard saw McKay's shoulders sag, whether from relief at the Athosian's safe passage or fearful anticipation of his own was uncertain. "Okay, Rodney, you're up. Just take it slow and easy. One step at a time."
"You know, maybe we should …"
"Rodney," warned Sheppard.
"No, really. I have a bad feeling about this..."
"You're the one who convinced us to cross this thing in the first place."
"It's my fault there were energy readings on the other side?"
"There's no turning back now, so unless you want to spend the rest of your life on this bridge..."
Glancing towards Teyla, the scientist appeared to do some quick mental calculations factoring in the distance and the likely weight tolerance of the debilitated beams. Judging by the worried scowl on his face, the equation had a depressing result. "Seriously, I think…"
"Shut up. Stop stalling. And move, McKay!"
Shoulders sagging in defeat, the scientist took a tentative step. "Zelenka just had to bring donuts this morning."
Both annoyed and amused, a mental conflict that often resulted when dealing with Rodney McKay, Sheppard shot off a snappy reply. "Nobodymade you eat them."
Rodney didn't appear to have heard him and had stopped in his tracks again only few yards further on, one foot hovering uncertainly.
Turning slightly, the scientist yelled over his shoulder. "The next one looks rotten."
"They all look rotten," remarked Ronon impatiently, though not loud enough for Rodney to hear.
"Go over it to the next board instead," suggested Sheppard, shaking his head at having to give such basic instructions to a man with Rodney's self-touted genius-level I.Q. The beams were spaced about a foot apart so that meant that Rodney would have to jump a bit to reach the next one. Mentally, he took the leap with the scientist, exhaling only after the board held and Rodney managed to maintain his balance. "You're doing great. You're at the halfway point now." He received an acknowledging nod from the back of the scientist's head.
Rodney made it another few feet without incident before he, Sheppard, and Ronon all froze simultaneously following another muffled'thunk'. In the fraction of a second, the rotted wood split down the middle and begin to fall apart. Rodney scrambled to the next plank just before it, too, began to crack. His feet slipped and he was suddenly dangling in mid-air. Shouts urging him to 'hang on' echoed from both sides. Stretching over the damaged board, he managed to hook his fingers over the next beam. Kicking out wildly, he pulled himself up onto his stomach and crawled away from the hole left by his passing. Eyes squeezed tightly shut, he chanted "no more donuts, no more donuts" between heaving breaths.
Sheppard edged forward to close some of the gap between them, but not so close as to stress that already overburdened section of the bridge. "Rodney?" He would have liked to give the scientist a chance to catch his breath but it was obvious that they were already on borrowed time; besides, the longer they delayed the more time Rodney had to think about how much physical danger he was in and the last thing they needed to deal with now was Rodney freezing up. "Break time's over, you can rest on the other side."
A wavering reply finally broke the silence. "I'm going to kill Zelenka when we get back."
For the scientist, snark was always a positive sign that a kick in the ass would get him moving. Sheppard took another tentative step which was rewarded by an ominous creak as the mushy wood gave slightly and started to split at the ends, pulling away a tiny bit from the corroded bolts that held it in place. "Come on, I want to make it back before the Marines hit the chow line," he urged, watching the board carefully.
"Don't talk to me about food," insisted the scientist as he began to rise unsteadily to his feet.
The non sequitur caused Sheppard to exchange a quick grin with Ronon over his shoulder before replying. "You'll be whistling another tune as soon as we're on firm ground."
Ronon was carefully studying the bridge, slowly but deliberately picking out his next few likely steps. "How can you whistle and eat at the same time?"
"It's just an express…never mind." Sheppard grimaced as water pooled around his foot when the next board compressed slightly under his weight. Minutes later he gave a small wave of approval as Rodney made it to relatively firm ground, joining Teyla on the far end of the ravine to watch anxiously as their teammates followed. More creaking and another dull thud had him glancing back briefly to check the runner's progress.
"Still here," the deep voice assured him.
Now at the gaping hole left by Rodney's encounter, Sheppard could see the long drop. Thundering water sloshed furiously against the base of the stone abutment that supported the midpoint of their bridge. A lifetime of pounding had begun to eat away at the stone support. Decrepit arch beams and aged metal tie wires were deeply pock marked with rust from a century without maintenance. The beam that had fallen with Rodney's passing had disappeared completely in the boiling froth below.
Their friendly dry bridge, basking in the early morning sunshine, was long gone. This bitch had taken her place instead. Mentally Sheppard added yet another thing to watch out for when it came to Murphy's Law and how it applied to the Pegasus Galaxy. Glancing over his shoulder, he checked on his teammate's progress and found the big guy waiting impatiently.
"Well?" Ronon rumbled. "You posin' for animal crackers or what?"
Sheppard chuckled. "You've been spending too much time with the Marines. Do you even know what animal crackers are?"
Shrugging, Ronon replied, "I know I want to get off this damn bridge."
The smile died on Sheppard's lips as the sound of new cracking and snapping filled the air. The low haunting moan of iron under strain made every hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Several of the beams behind Ronon squeaked as they pulled loose from their bolts and disappeared.
Multiple cries of "Sheppard!" and "Ronon!" echoed across the gorge from their teammates.
Throwing caution to the wind, both men begin running for the safety of solid ground. Beams snapped from the weight of their passing and the structure continued to groan in pain. The gaps across the bridge span widened as more water-ladened beams broke free and further weakened the metal structure by bouncing off corroded iron crossbraces and snapping tie rods on their way to the hungry torrent of whitewater far below.
As the bridge shuddered and twisted, Sheppard jumped a missing tie and lost his footing, sliding dangerously close to the edge. He could hear Rodney and Teyla yelling his name in alarm. Windmilling his arms to successfully regain his balance, he froze. The structure seemed to do the same. After a long moment, he let out the breath he was holding and flashed a smile of triumph at Ronon. It disappeared as the section of bridge beneath his feet vanished. "Oh craaaaaaa…"
His brief freefall ended abruptly with the sudden jarring impact of steel meeting bone, crushing the breath from his chest. Blind instinct alone made him grab desperately at any support despite the dizzying pain.
There was a brief surge of head-clearing adrenaline just as the few remaining ties that connected to the arch beam screeched and began to give way under him. He grappled for another one only to have it disintegrate in his hands and found himself falling again. When his chest jarred against more aged iron, he mechanically caught it, hugging tight despite the agony that shot through his body.
The iron beams groaned with his sudden unexpected weight. Rivets snapped with the sound of gunshots as the bridge continued to collapse in upon itself taking Sheppard on a heart-stopping ride over open air and water. Ducking his head from the debris that continued to fall from above, he desperately tried to wrap his legs around the beam but wound up entangled in the strap of his P-90. Deadly missiles thumped heavily around him and he yelped as one grazed him on its way to a watery death. Vision graying, he knew he wouldn't be able to hold on to consciousness much longer.
The bridge gave one more violent shuddering screech as it settled tentatively into its new formation. Silence slowly blanketed the gorge as Sheppard slipped away into darkness.
to be continued...