"Rodney, sit down, you're making me nervous," demanded Carson.
Lorne had already banished the scientist from the cockpit area, actually closing the bulkhead door between them in exasperation. The cargo bay was cramped with all sorts of equipment and Rodney's pacing meant he was stepping over Teyla and Carson's legs with each circuit he made of their tiny compartment.
"I pace when I'm anxious, okay?"
"Ronon and the colonel will be okay," said Teyla but her voice lacked its usual confident ring.
Carson continued to double-check his hastily packed medical supplies and let out an exasperated sound when Rodney stepped over him yet again. "Unless you want a sedative forcefully injected into your backside, you'll settle down," he threatened.
It took some searching for the scientist to find a clear place to sit. "Lorne must have been a boy scout as a child."
"He wanted to be well-prepared," volunteered Teyla. "He also picked men with ample climbing and rescue experience."
Lorne's voice came over the intercom, apparently he had been eavesdropping. "We'll have them back on Atlantis before you know it."
"Yes, because dark and rainy are such perfect rescue conditions," snapped Rodney.
Teyla bit her lip and remained silent. Carson knew it was a sure sign she was worried. He had begun to learn her more subtle expressions during their stick-fighting training sessions. Sheppard had insisted everyone on the base learn some form of self-defense that didn't require a blaster or a P-90. After seeing Ronon's sessions with the Marines, the doctor had decided maybe Teyla's calm, gentle spirit would be a better match for him. Unfortunately, she seemed to leave them at the door of the exercise room. He rubbed ruefully at bruised muscle in his back as he returned his attention to inventorying his medical supplies.
The bulkhead door slid open. "Come check this out," invited Lorne. The three crowded up front, elbowing Lorne's handpicked rescue team out of their way. The lights of the jumper shined dimly on the remains of a twisted mass of rusty metal.
"That's it!" exclaimed Rodney excitedly.
"Really?" remarked Lorne dryly but made no comment when the scientist pushed one of the Marines aside so he could reach the radio.
"Ronon? Sheppard? Can you hear me?"
There was a long moment of silence before the radio came to life with a static-ridden "…about time."
Lorne took over the radio controls. "We can't pinpoint your exact location, do you have a light?"
"Yeah, I think, hold on." A few seconds later, a dim glint could be seen below them.
"We got you." Looking at Rodney hopefully, Lorne said, "It sure would be easier if we could just repel down to them from here."
"Jumpers just aren't made for that sort of thing. If I had a week to disable all the safety protocols and retro fit the jumper with …"
"I get it." Lorne waved McKay's tirade to a halt and turned to his second in command. "We'll just have to do it the old fashioned way."
Landing at the southern end, Lorne's team debarked and started offloading equipment. The clouds were clearing and a full moon broke through shining brightly down on them. It seemed like a good omen.
"We should have a direct line of fire from here," he explained to the doctor. "If we can get a zip line over to them, you can send over some supplies."
The radio on Lorne's belt rumbled to life. "We're ready, sir."
"Heads up, Ronon, we're shooting a line over to you."
The major nodded permission and the Marine took careful aim with the bazooka-like object on his shoulder. There was a loud bang that made Carson and Rodney jump followed by the zing of the line whizzing its way across the open water.
When it came to a stop, Lorne clicked on the radio. "How's our aim?"
He nodded to his team who began tying a thicker cable to the one that had been shot across. When they were finished, he told Ronon, "Ready when you are."
The cable snaked its way slowly across the open air as Ronon reeled it in.
Lorne's men attached the cable to the pulley system they had rigged up and slowly began pulling out the slack.
"I'm ready when you are," announced Beckett, sliding on his backpack.
"Sorry, Doc, you're sitting this one out from the sidelines."
Carson drew himself up nose to nose with the major. His words were slow and measured. "Son, if those men are injured, I'll need to treat them."
Lorne's eyes reflected no intimidation and perhaps a glint of amusement at the doctor's attempt at bravado and the mistaken belief that he had a shot in hell of bullying his way past a major in the United States Air Force. "Sorry, Doc. Nobody is going over there. It's too risky."
Their eyes locked for a moment longer before the doctor slumped slightly in defeat. Lorne actually looked a little sorry for him.
"We'll have a zip line ready in a minute. You'll be able to send over supplies and talk Ronon through whatever needs to be done," he offered.
"Ronon's not my first choice as a nurse."
"He's all you got, Doc" said Lorne, waving to one of his men to bring him a spare handset. The major radioed the stranded runner. "Ronon, the doc needs to talk to you, channel two."
Adjusting the borrowed radio to the proper frequency, he handed it over to the doctor and waved him back out of harm's way.
Carson reluctantly complied, finding a quiet spot nearby where he could talk uninterrupted. "Ronon, I understand from Teyla and Rodney that Colonel Sheppard may have been injured?
"Yeah. He's not doing so good at the moment."
"Can you give me a more specific assessment?" he asked, trying to keep the bite out of his voice.
"Sorry. He's got some broken ribs, maybe punctured a lung. It's hard for him to breath and he's coughing up blood."
"He's also got a leg wound but the bleeding's stopped."
"Right. Any head injuries?"
"Don't think so."
"He lose consciousness at any time?"
"In and out for the last hour or so but I think it's from the pain. He's hurting pretty bad and we ran out of Tylenol a long time ago."
"Is he talking? Lucid?
"He was a little while ago but it started to aggravate his cough so we stopped."
Lorne's thumbs up caught his attention. "Alright, I'm going to send some supplies over to you and then I'll talk you through what I want you to do with them."
Pausing to hand his backpack to Lorne to clip onto the zip line, he returned his attention to the radio. "Tell me about your injuries."
He rolled his eyes and looked to heavens for patience. "I asked whereyou were injured, son."
Patiently, Beckett let the long awkward silence stretch to the breaking point.
"Just a few bumps and bruises. I've been hurt lots worse stick-fighting with Teyla."
"Haven't we all," sighed Carson, absently rubbing the sore spot on his back.
"I've got the stuff. What do you want me to do?"
"You might want to put him completely out," suggested Lorne who had walked over again to confirm the arrival of the backpack. "It's going to be a rough ride for him no matter how we do it."
The doctor acknowledged the suggestion with a nod. "Ronon, I'd like you to get me some vitals and then we'll need to start an I.V."
Ronon hated needles. Oh, not in the way most people did. He wasn't afraid of their tiny mosquitoesque bites. They just reminded him too forcibly of what the Wraith had done to him and what dozens of subsequent bumbling doctors had done over the years trying to undo it. All unsuccessfully until Carson Beckett came along. Because of that, he held the Atlantis doctor in a little higher regard than most people, and tried to be patient with the nonstop list of questions and instructions he was being bombarded with.
"Got his ribs wrapped like you wanted them and the I.V. is in."
"And you injected all the medications we talked about directly into the I.V. port?"
"Yeah. They seem to have helped. He's breathing a lot easier and is more alert."
"Good lad. We're sending over a litter basket for him. I want you put him in and strap him down whether he wants to be or not. It's for his own protection and safety. Understand?"
The runner looked over and saw defiant hazel eyes staring back.
"Yes, I understand. Out."
"You're not trussing me up like some Thanksgiving turkey and sticking me in that thing," announced Sheppard as the mesh-encased metal stretcher arrived.
They tensed as the bridge gave a low vibrating groan, shuddered, then quieted. Both men relaxed again slightly.
Lorne's voice crackled over the radio. "You guys okay over there?"
"Fine for now."
"I respectfully suggest you get your butts in gear. That thing is looking less stable every minute."
"Copy." Ronon clipped the radio back onto his belt and reached down to slip his arms under Sheppard.
"What? What do you think you're doing?"
"Either you can get in there," said Ronon, pointing to the basket, "or I can put you in it. Doesn't much matter to me which you choose."
"Alright." When Ronon continued to move closer, he replied more vehemently, "ALRIGHT! You win. Give me a hand."
After tucking Sheppard securely into the basket and making sure the safety straps were snuggly fastened, he radioed Lorne that they were ready. The basket slowly began slide to towards the safety of the southern edge of the gorge just as another screech rent the air. Ronon had to grab for a beam as the bridge shook violently.
The scream of overstressed metal went straight through to the nerves. Carson, along with everyone else who had free hands, rushed to the edge of the chasm. Their eyes were riveted to the precious silver basket glinting gently in the moonlight as it slowly made its way along the cable.
"Faster," encouraged Lorne, and the two men pulling on the rope attached to the litter picked up the pace. As soon as the basket was over solid ground, they all but ripped it free from the cable. There was a second scream from the bridge and the cable squealed in protest as it was stretched to the breaking point.
"Ronon!" Sheppard began to struggle against the safety straps, coughing violently from the exertion. Teyla knelt down beside the injured man. Drawing her knife, she sliced through the restraints in one smooth movement. After a moment's shock, Carson quickly realized that Teyla was right, Sheppard's thrashing resistance would only make his injuries worse. They both reached out to help the struggling colonel to his feet and supported him to the edge of the gorge.
Ronon hadn't waited for an invitation. He was already making his way along the cable hand over hand, not soon enough though. The bridge gave a final death keen and the northern halves began slowly sliding over each other into the river with the high-pitched shriek of metal against metal. The cable howled in protest, then snapped. Somehow Ronon managed to hang on as the deadly pendulum swung towards the sheer southern cliff face. There was nothing the rest of them could do but watch the scene unfold as he sailed through the air.
There was a group groan as the runner impacted the side of the canyon. How he had managed to maintain his grip was anyone's guess.
"Pull him up!" Sheppard demanded breathlessly but Lorne and his men were already doing so.
After several long, tense minutes, a bedraggled set of dreadlocks crested the edge of the gorge, followed immediately by a very exhausted looking Ronon.
Sheppard started to reach out to give him a hand but Beckett's death grip stopped him and he had to allow Lorne the honors instead.
"Glad you could make it," said Lorne, clasping forearms with Ronon and straining a bit as he pulled him up and over the edge to solid ground.
"Thanks," said the runner, still breathing hard. His glance encompassed the whole group letting them know the sentiment was directed towards all of them.
"Let's go." Beckett gave an encouraging tug on Sheppard's arm. "I'll examine you in the jumper," he added to Ronon.
"In a minute," said Sheppard. He shook off the doctor's hand but swayed dangerously. Ronon immediately reached out and grabbed hold of his arm to steady him then exchanged a quick glance with the doctor.
Beckett hesitated a moment but acquiesced when he seemed to sense the two men needed a moment of peace alone to absorb and process everything that had happened. "One minute. Don't make me come looking for you," he warned before turning to usher the rest of the group towards the jumper.
Both men slowly turned and looked out over the gorge. There was nothing left but a solitary beam sticking out ninety degrees from northern edge. Everything else had vanished into the mist below. A bird cried out, disturbing the silence, as it slipped in and out of the fog following the line of the gorge.
"Well," Sheppard sighed.
"Yeah," replied the runner.
Their eyes met and both men suggested simultaneously, "Let's go home."
They could hear Rodney exclaiming excitedly as they slowly reentered the jumper, Sheppard leaning heavily on Ronon for support, and took a seat in the back. "Did you see that? It was like something right out of Indiana Jones!"
"Yes, we were all there Rodney." Beckett began fussing over Sheppard immediately, brooking no resistance as he swiftly reestablished an I.V., added some additional painkillers, and examined the bandaged ribs. "Dunno how you came out of it unscathed," he added after giving the runner a quick one-over.
"By the way, you have to tell Weir we blew up some of her precious ancient ruins to get the jumper through to rescue you," Rodney told Sheppard.
Teyla frowned at the scientist's lack of empathy. Pointedly eyeing Rodney, she told the two men, "We are glad to have you back. How are you feeling?"
Sheppard met Ronon's eyes and smiled. "Not dead."
Ronon grinned back. "Me either."
"You'll be off active duty for several weeks at least with those injuries," warned Beckett, still fussing over the colonel.
Sheppard sighed, then perked up a little. "Can I visit Earth?"
"I don't see why you can't spend some of your recovery time there once you're released from the infirmary, provided you behave and follow my instructions to the letter." The statement was accompanied by a wagging finger and a stern frown.
"Wanna come with?" Sheppard asked Ronon. "Show you the sights."
Cracking his knuckles in a mildly threatening manner, the runner asked, "Think we can find that Murphy guy?"