McShep Match Team: Away
Prompt: Weakest link
Warnings: Scenes of violence (not graphic)
Notes: Thanks to ldyanne, tzzzz and quasar273 for the help with the first half, and of course to the wonderful oriolegirl who did last minute beta for the whole piece. Thank you all so much, without you all I'd never finished this in time! My participation for the McShep Match contest 08
All the Pharaoh's Men
"This is hell."
Rodney's skin looks red and puffy in the merciless sunlight, sweat running down his neck gluing his shirt to his skin, plastering his messy hair to his brow and burning in his irritated eyes. He hates the heat, hates the sun, and most of all, hates intolerant, stupid, barbarian backwater hellholes like this one with a passion usually reserved for the most demented members of the human race.
"Hell," he repeats.
Not that those who surround him would qualify very high on that particular scale anyway.
"I'm dead and gone to hell."
The bulky slave behind him, bound by his wrists like Rodney is, bumps into him, shoving him forward hard.
"Shut up and walk," he grunts hoarsely and Rodney's glad he's bound to the man before him or he would fall and land in the blistering hot sand face first.
Not a nice fate when he considers the pale bleached human bones they went past an hour or so ago. They lay there in the sun, old leathery skin still stretching over parts of the ribs and the bones of the lower arms still tied together, bound for eternity.
They would probably just cut him out of the line and leave him behind, him and whoever else might fall when he went down because of weakness and thirst. He closes his eyes and follows the pull of the line of men before him, dragging his feet through the sand while licking the salt off his lips in hopes of gathering any kind of moisture.
It's by no means fair, he thinks, not at all.
It's a waste of his genius to end in a hell like this, human work force for some crazy building project in the middle of nowhere. If he knows Pegasus people, it's probably for defence against the Wraith or something equally hopeless. Seriously, as if a wall of large stone would draw more than a weak chuckle from them when they came to cull everyone and bomb the whole bastard planet to hell.
The real hell, not the miserably hot copy they have going.
"Move," their guard growls above the whine of a hot breeze.
The wind is pressing more of the sand against Rodney's skin, caking to the sweat on his arms and getting caught in his eyelashes when he blinks the sweat away. He tries to look up and over the heads before him anyway, peering at the monument that rises before him in the blue merciless sky through narrowed eyes. It's mostly made of blinding white stone and looks a little like a misshapen Pyramid that is missing a large chunk on one side. He can't see what's going on at the top or how many people there are on the ramps that circle the monument, just the long lines of workers that are dragging smaller stones from a quarry further away and up the ramps.
"Move already you worthless creatures."
The guard's skin is dark and his face worn out and leathery from too many years in the bare sun.
He lets his whip crack above the heads of the first in line and chuckles as if he loves the job, yeah, he's as cliché as the rest of the whole event. Like one of those 50s movies in which the surreal looking pyramids were painted in the background with bad actors wearing short skirts and hilarious wigs.
Rodney frowns for a moment, wondering how the sun makes him remember that he watched that stuff back in his childhood and how his mother loved costume films. It's the heat, must be, he decides and shakes his head, figuring that he's one of the Pharaoh's slaves now.
Their point of destination, a batch of tents in the shadow of the monument, comes closer with every step and it doesn't look as if there's more water to go around than in the camp Rodney had spent the last night in, huddled down between 50 or 60 other men who were all sweating like mad although it was bitterly cold in the darkness.
There are men working in plaster pits and men who shape stones higher than themselves into form. Others are pulling these larger stones in teams up on the ramps to get into their predestined slot. They can do basic math, so they're not all that stupid, but with this people's tendency to pick strangers from planets all over the galaxy like they did Rodney, they probably just captured someone smarter than them and set them to work.
So many people and so much misery in their faces, he can't see himself surviving for very long amongst them, not the way he is.
"You get some water and then you'll be put to your work," the guard announces as they arrive, curling his whip around his fist as he walks past. "If you try to run, don't believe we'll stop you," he adds and the other guards, all clothed in black, chuckle in amusement.
Rodney looks out over the sand and fights against the sting in his eyes. It looks endless with the heat rippling the air like water in a pond. Even if he ran, where would he go?
The gate is almost two days of walking away. He has no way to tell Atlantis to lower the shield and anyway, without water to take with him, it would be impossible.
Dead man walking.
At least the others are safe, which is worth something he decides. It's worth everything.
They'll probably never find him again and he will end as a pile of bleaching bones in hell, but hey, Sheppard is okay. No suicidal stunt from him this time around and no worthless deaths this time around either.
Well, except for his perhaps.
But since his team – or Sheppard in this case – is safe the whole worthless part is… well, worthless to debate about?
Sometimes it's funny what stupid things people do for each other.
His brain is more than obviously already failing, his blood sugar dwelling on the border of shock and he really doesn't want to know what his chances for skin cancer have elevated to with the amount of exposure to the sun but he will deal, he will.
At least until he dies of either heat stroke, dehydration, his blood sugar or at the whim of one of the friendly guards.
What a cheery prognosis.
The guards undo the chains and ropes the men around Rodney are tied up with, let them go free and vaguely point towards a corner of the camp.
The sun is starting to set already, but nothing of the hellish heat will subside until the night has fully settled on them, he remembers that from the night before. The other guards in the background had let most of the workers move away from the building site already, so it can't be far out.
"These are the rules, and they are very easy…" The guard is more than amused as he points that out. "Water is only for those who work! Food is only for those who are strong enough to fight for it! If you can't work you get neither…"
Rodney ignores the rest of the speech. He has a pretty good idea already what it will mean for him as he drags himself towards one of the tents, tired and falling to the sandy ground in one corner to just curl up, collapse and wait for the night.
It's not that he's giving up on rescue or survival, it's just that he is a man of math and the realism that comes with numbers, and when he calculates the likelihood of Sheppard riding in within the next few hours like fucking Prince Charming, adds the fact that the last time he saw him John was out cold and bleeding from a gash in his head as an escaping native dragged him through the gate to Atlantis… well, it's just not very likely to happen.
But speaking of not very likely things…
Rodney playing heroic and pulling the attention to himself to help the others escape, yeah, not so very likely either. But he blames Sheppard and the cold surge of terror he caused with the head wound that bled all over Rodney's hands. He more or less traded himself in to give the others a chance to escape from the slave hunters as they attacked, fell back and made as much noise as possible while Sheppard went with the villagers, and after that, the slave traders gated off the planet with him before Sheppard had a chance to come back… or wake up for that matter. Seriously, head wounds bleed a lot, Rodney knows from experience, and Sheppard is prone to be pretty dizzy after such things, he can't expect the rescue to come fast.
And without Rodney to get the addresses out of the DHD it will certainly take even longer for rescue to come than it would otherwise.
The calm of the upcoming night gets rudely interrupted by another one of the guards, throwing something into the tent that lands in the middle of the men and leaves them in startled silence for a moment. It takes a few seconds until they register it is bread and then it's total chaos.
Everyone throws themselves onto the bread and it's more or less a fight that only the strongest can win, not Rodney, but that won't keep him from trying.
"Hey," he snaps, shoving at the other men with his elbows. "That's mine you ape, hey, I need it, okay, I've got low blood sugar."
They all grab at the pieces of bread like hungry hyenas until there's barely more than crumbs left in the sand. Rodney might have had a chance against the weaker ones; he's not that soft anymore with running for his life and all that, but with the dehydration and his low blood sugar the world spins too much around him to get more than a hand full of sand and crumbs.
And the staring looks of one or the other of the tent inhabitants.
One of them he knows by the name of Arol, chewing on his respectably sized chunk of dry bread while staring at Rodney with a smirk that makes the scientist's blood boil but run cold as well, just from the height difference alone. He remembers the bulky frame, had walked before him for the entire path from gate to building site. Now he's almost towering above him – even while still sitting -- and Rodney can't help shrinking back a little even though he knows that showing weakness might bring him more trouble in these surroundings than he already has. He's stubborn though -- he invented stubborn when it comes down to it -- and sets his jaw, staring back.
Sometimes that's all it needs, John told him once, and not everything John said is stupid - he has survived until now after all. And Rodney doesn't do idiots unless they are blond, willing and he's pretty drunk.
Another unlikely thing.
Arol narrows his eyes at him and Rodney tries his best not to falter as the other man's lips form into a grin and almost succeeds.
So it's sandy breadcrumbs for dinner and creepy staring inmates for the rest of the night.
It may prove to Sheppard that Rodney can be every bit the idiotic, self-sacrificing jerk in this relationship that John is, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a shitty situation and that he wishes – selfish as it is – to rather be the one riding to the rescue than being the one needing it.
And if that train of thoughts alone doesn't prove that his brain is fried beyond repair, man, then he doesn't know what would.
The next day is as hot as the previous ones were. They get some water before being pushed to the building site and Rodney more stumbles than actually walks, even with the water, or rather mud since it feels on the tongue almost like too liquid pudding.
Gross, he thinks, but as long as there's no lemon he swallows it down.
Something however is in it that gives him some of his strength back and calms his blood sugar enough to not make him fall into the pit with the plaster he is meant to stomp around in. It has a makeshift roof over the pit to keep it from drying out and over the day he becomes thankful for that much. Not for long since the smell is murderous and as he climbs in slipping into the soft warm mud to mid thigh, it feels like walking around in something he doesn't want to think about.
And before he can even start to question how to mix that stuff without having a river nearby for the water or why it smells like someone died in it (which is still a good possibility), one of the Guards just pees into the muddy residue not three feet away.
Rodney can't even form the words to describe how fucking much the place resembles hell (not just because he holds his mouth and nose closed), he hates it so much, so fucking much.