John opened his eyes and pressed a hand against his stomach where the belt he'd miraculously buckled, before they started to roll, had cut into him.
Breathing hurt, his head hurt….everything just plain hurt and there were disjointed voices all around him.
He was upside down. The blood was rushing to his head and stars danced in his vision. He didn't release his belt. He simply dangled there; too battered and bruised to even contemplate moving. Setting that device off in a moving vehicle had to go down as one of the most stupid things he'd ever done. Maybe his brother had a point. He was reckless.
Something wet slid down his cheek and dripped off his chin. Blood. Was that a new injury or the old one? He couldn't tell.
The car was creaking. John could hear glass plinking to the ground and the groan of the suspension as somebody moved. There was something else too. The smell of gasoline was overwhelming.
"Just leave him….let's get out of here."
John blinked dizzily and focused on the front seat. The driver was trapped under the steering wheel, unmoving, probably dead.
One of the burly men was lying in the foot well next to him, contorted in a horrible angle. Mike and the other guard were trying to free themselves from the wreck.
"Sheppard!" He heard somebody shout his name, but when he turned his head, all he could see was an expanse of flattened grass and a trail of car parts.
"I'm okay……" he told the voice he half recognised, but couldn't place. "I'm here….."
John blinked and watched the upside down image of Mike, cutting his seatbelt with one of the guard's knives. He coldly met John's eyes.
"What about him?"
Their voices sounded so far away. John struggled to stay awake.
"But the Colonel-"
"The Colonel can stay and burn…..."
John was beginning to feel light-headed as he dangled. Where he'd been holding onto the seatbelt in a bid to stop it cutting into him, John finally allowed his arms to fall to the floor. He managed to scrape his hands on the glass but he barely felt it.
He was drifting in and out of consciousness, listening to the drip, drip as something hit the floor, when Mike appeared beside him.
"Where's the device Colonel?" he asked, throwing a quick look out of the window. There was a cut running down the side of his face and his teeth were coated with blood. "Colonel?"
Mike gripped John by the shoulder and squeezed tightly, cutting his words off.
"Where is it?"
John started to mentally check out again and watched as Mike scrabbled around the crushed compartment to find the device.
"Sir, we need to get out of here." The burly guard told Mike.
"I need to find it."
"They're coming, sir. We have to go."
"He destroyed everything else…..this is the last piece!"
"Damn…." Mike muttered before climbing back into the front.
They were leaving. John allowed himself to drift away.
"We need to run!"
There were the voices again, indistinct and all muddling together.
"You got a match!"
John couldn't tell if he'd heard right. He tried to get his brain to co-operate.
John realised what they were intending to do and forced clarity into his addled mind. He tried to unclasp his belt. His fingers felt fat and uncoordinated but after a few attempts he felt the strap give and he landed head first. His back crashed onto the floor and he groaned.
John reached blindly towards the other dead guard's holster and found a weapon snugly inside.
With his eyes closed against nausea, John didn't have to look at the gun to know how to unlatch the safety. It was borne instinct by now. He lifted his head and aimed through the gap in the seats at Mike and his friend.
"I told you…..my friends…would find me." His gun hand was shaking and he was having a hard time staying alert.
"You're barely conscious Colonel," Mike told him. "And you're not looking too well."
John risked a look down and could see his shirt was streaked with blood. His aim lowered.
"I feel fine."
The weapon clattered ineffectually to the floor and he followed. He just couldn't seem to find the energy to move.
He was fading into unconsciousness when movement snapped him back into reality.
The guard was trying to escape through the passenger window and getting hauled out by Ronon. He could hear the sounds of a scuffle and then the guard was making a horrible keening noise.
And Mike. John watched him stagger away from the car.
A minute later and he was falling to the ground. He was pretty sure he saw his brother punch him square in the face as he tried to slither away.
He turned slowly and aimed the gun through the window.
John let the pistol fall and dropped his head back. "Sorry."
"You nearly shot me!"
"Had….better days McKay," John managed to grit out.
Ronon was on his knees and peering through a gap in the twisted metal. "Give me your hand. We need to move you."
"Wasn't planning on moving anytime soon." John breathed in and felt a distant pain in his side. "I'm pretty much done with the whole moving…upright….thing."
The car made more ominous creaking sounds. The engine made a horrible ticking noise.
"John!" Dave was there too, massaging his fist. "Are you insane?"
He heard Rodney making a snorting noise and then say, "I'm pretty sure he is insane. Being related, you might want to get that checked out."
"Had no other choice."
"John, you had lots of choices that didn't involve……" Dave cut himself off. "I'm just glad you're okay."
"Sheppard, buddy. Hand."
"Ronon, I'm-" John couldn't miss the unmistakeable look that Rodney and Ronon shared and he sighed, "What is it?"
He was lying in glass. It was piercing the skin in his arm and digging into his back. He was utterly uncomfortable and his head hurt like a bitch, but he didn't want to move.
But then that smell.
"Come on Sheppard!" Cameron Mitchell was appearing now. "Help us out will you. Can't quite reach through this gap."
"I thought I was in Virginia?"
"You are. Come on."
And the heat.
John allowed his eyes to drift closed for a second.
"John, get your scrawny ass out of that car now!"
Somebody grabbed him under the armpits and started dragging him out of the upturned car and onto the grass. He'd expected to look up and find Ronon there, but instead it was Dave. He gripped him by the arm, pulled him up and dragged him like deadweight.
John couldn't hold back the groan of pain as they moved.
"Come on John. Hurry."
John tried to keep his head up but he just couldn't seem to do it. "I'm going as fast as I can."
John glanced over his shoulder to see Rodney and Ronon following. Mitchell was aiming his gun at Mike and ordering him away from the car.
John staggered and when he fell, he didn't get up again.
"John…move!" Dave told him.
"Tired…." John argued, head fuzzy.
"I thought John Sheppard didn't get tired? You're supposed to be the stubborn one."
"Sheppard!" That was Rodney and he sounded miles away. "Get up!"
"Shit!" he heard Dave say. "Have you seen this?"
John didn't know what he was referring to. He couldn't summon the energy to ask. His body felt like it was made of lead. He just wanted to sleep now his team was with him. They could get him through the gate and…..no…..not the gate. He was home. Earth. He was on earth and-
"Sheppard!" Ronon hauled him up and unceremoniously placed him over his shoulder. It was a position he'd been in before and it was never a good sign. He was being jostled around and every step forced Ronon's shoulder into his stomach and reignited the pain.
It made him more aware and he managed to raise his head.
John looked back at the car, the tangled wreckage, upside down and………….
"The car's on fire!" John told them.
"We know!" All three of them chorused back.
Cameron Mitchell was screaming for everyone to fall back and a quick glimpse showed Mike on his hands and knees, crawling back into the wreck for an ancient device that had never been his in the first place.
"Get him away from that car!" Someone shouted.
The flames were beginning to skirt around the base of the car, igniting the dried grass. Suddenly, the air was filled with a solitary scream as the car became aglow in an orange blaze.
John allowed his eyes to close.
"Not dead……" John told the voice. "Still here."
When he opened them again he was lying in the grass, looking at the jet black sky and smelling fire and gas in the air.
He could hear sirens approaching and he couldn't help but feel a sense of déjà vu.
His brother was sitting beside him, a steadying hand on his shoulder. "You doing okay?"
"I can smell burning….." John reached up to feel his head. It was pounding. A burnt smell. Wasn't that a sign of a stroke?
"Mike," Dave explained. "He was in the car when it went up."
John went to push himself up onto his elbows and a hand prevented him from moving. He doubted he'd be able to get that far anyway.
"Probably deserved it," he slurred out.
"No-one deserves that," Dave admonished and John felt guilty because his brother looked traumatised. He kept forgetting that his brother wasn't used to this. He wasn't part of his world. A world where death and explosions and being shot at were completely normal, if not expected.
Rodney appeared above him. "Would you not worry about us for once?"
"I don't think he can help it," Dave said.
Ronon was obviously admiring the charred remains of the car because he said, "You missed the best part."
John nodded, feeling detached and weird. "What took you guys so long?"
Rodney appeared again. "Oh we didn't bother looking. There was an episode of the A-Team on that looked-" he sighed. "We looked everywhere you idiot! If you hadn't given yourself up in the first place then maybe-"
"What?" Dave looked between the two of them.
"You didn't tell him?" Rodney looked disgusted. "He gave himself up! Voluntarily got captured."
Dave looked dumbfounded. He sat back and stared out towards the wreck. "I can't believe you did that."
John couldn't answer. He was too distracted now by the pain that was making itself known throughout his body. His side hurt too much and when he went to investigate the area, his brother tugged his hand away.
"Am I bleeding?"
"I can't believe you……" Dave rubbed his face. "Insane. Seriously insane."
"But he's our kind of insane," Ronon noted, clapping Dave on the shoulder as he walked passed. "Ambulance is here."
The EMT's arrived and the look in their eyes told him that he wasn't looking too healthy. They bustled around him, attaching leads and injecting him with various clear liquids. His shirt was cut open. His pant leg was ripped. There was too much happening for him to take it in.
"You'll be okay," Dave told him, clasping his hand. "I'll look after you."
John nodded with the last reserves of strength that he had.
John walked through the field, leaning down every now and then to pick up a handful of grass. Each time, he sucked in a deep breath at the niggling ache in his side.
"You okay, John?"
John turned to look over his shoulder and smiled tightly. Who knew his brother would be such a mother hen?
He continued to walk. He never thought he'd be back at his dad's ranch quite so soon.
Dave fell into step behind him and sighed heavily.
"It's not my fault."
"John, if that horse has escaped….I swear to god-"
John shot his brother an aggrieved look, the one he usually reserved for Rodney and shoved him in the shoulder playfully. "How was I to know that it was a thoroughbred? You asked me to get involved so I got involved-"
Dave reached up to rub at his arm. It had been a week and half since their….adventure…..but it was still a reminder of how much he'd nearly lost.
"And let it escape!"
"It just wanted to have a run around."
They stopped in the middle of the field and both put their hands on their hips.
"If we don't find it before this evening…."
"We'll find it."
John asked, "Who?"
"The horse is called Mark."
"Mark the horse? They named a horse -" and then to Dave's look, John amended. "Fine we'll find Mark." John pointed across the field to where a chestnut coloured horse was eating some grass oblivious to the fact that they had been searching for him for one and a half hours. "See, there he is. No harm. No foul."
"Great….help me get him back will you."
"Injured man, remember?" John trudged after his brother. He wasn't fully recovered and he was supposed to be in bed resting but this was the best he'd felt in weeks.
Dave had been speaking and he'd hardly noticed. "What?"
"I said are you sticking around?"
"Nah, gotta head back."
Dave took the horse by the reigns and tugged it away from its food and they started heading back towards the farm.
"That's a shame. Could've used some help around here."
"I'd just get in the way. Plus, bad things generally happen when I'm around."
"Yeah, that's true." Dave gestured to his arm. "You're going to visit soon though right?"
John didn't like to lie but he did anyway. "Sure."
When they arrived back at the stables the sun was beginning to dip and John had a gate to catch.
"So what time do you have to leave?" Dave asked, patting the horse's strong neck.
"Soon." John leaned against the stable and sighed weairly, "About that. I guess I should-"
"You know…..we got a new horse in yesterday." Dave hooked his finger over to a white horse chewing enthusiastically on hay. "Strong colt, good breed…..stubborn. "
"I'm trying to tell you something here."
"Called it John."
"You're kidding me?"
"You have a lot in common." Mark the horse, brayed loudly and kicked out his heels and it took both men to control him.
"I'm nothing like a horse Dave. Not unless the comparison you were drawing was that I'm a stud."
Dave raised his eyebrows at that remark and just waved John's comment away." Did you know-"
"You're starting to sound like dad."
"Dad was wise….anyway…did you knowwhen horses lie down to sleep, others in the herd remain standing in order to keep watch because its instincts are to keep a constant eye out for danger."
"What are you saying?"
"I may not be doing a good job of saying it." Dave tugged the horse's reigns and started again. "I'm saying I get it. I get what you do and why you do it."
"Because I'm a horse."
"Well that wasn't the main……." Dave sighed and scrubbed at his face. "You don't have to explain what it is that you do. I know it's important. I know it's dangerous and……lets just leave at that okay?"
John reached up and massaged the back of his neck. "For the record. I was going to tell you."
"I know. But even knowing half the truth nearly got me killed."
There was a moment where John thought his brother might hug him. Instead, he gave John's shoulder a squeeze and left his hand there for a second or two.
Realising they were having a moment, both men cleared their throats noisily and then John barged Dave out of the way and said, "You're taking too long."
Dave crossed his arms. "He's skittish and he hates going in his box. Good luck."
John extended the reigns and stood behind the horse and to the left a little. He gave a slight pull on the left rein, then said "Step" and tapped him on his rear end.
The horse walked forward, into the stable and John hooked the latch.
Dave was standing there with his mouth wide open.
"I did pick up a few pointers from dad," John explained. "You said you had something to show me inside?"
John walked back to the house slowly, taking his time to re-acquaint and say goodbye at the same time. When he entered the house Dave was sitting in the kitchen with a heavy wooden box in front of him.
"I found this when I was clearing out the attic."
John stared at the box for a minute, vaguely recognising it.
"Go on, open it."
John stood over the box and ran his fingers along the sides before flipping the lid open. "You're giving me this?"
"Well, I figured you always loved it, so why not."
John pulled the gun out of the box and held it out in front of him. It felt much lighter than when he was a child. It was elegant and it fit his hand perfectly.
"I don't know what to say," John told his brother.
"Say, I forgive you."
"For this," Dave passed him a plastic disc of red and blue.
John replaced the gun carefully and studied the plastic 'thing'. "What the hell is this?"
"Don't you mean what did it used to be?"
"I give up."
"Remember your Spiderman figure?"
"What?" John's interest was renewed. "I thought I lost it!"
"He kind of had an accident."
"I was angry with you after that whole Bobby Aldridge thing and I sort of burned him….." Dave shook his head. "Well technically, Superman melted him with his laser vision but……anyway….I hid it from you because I felt so guilty afterwards."
John could just make out Spiderman's insignia and squashed face. He couldn't help it. He laughed.
"You're not mad?"
After John had reclaimed control of his breathing and stopped the hysterical laugh that threatened to bubble out again, he shook his head. "I'm more offended you called me a horse."
"I didn't call you a horse."
John hiked a finger over his shoulder. "Pretty sure there's a horse called John out there."
"Oh shut up Mop Top!"
"Go to hell, Flopsy!"
A/N. Phew. Finished. I really enjoyed writing this story and I hope you've all enjoyed reading it. Thank you to those who have taken the time to leave a review. I love hearing what you think.