A/N - Written for the Shep's Atlantis Ficathon.
Hanging By a Thread
Ronon found him in a cage hanging from a tree, asleep.
"Sheppard!" he hissed, wincing at how the sound carried through the still, humid night.
Sheppard did not move. Ronon could just make out his form—more of a shadow than anything else. The cage was tall enough for him to stand, but only about a foot wide. He had been locked into a standing position and left hanging. Ronon looked around, wary of guards, but little light pierced the inky blackness. He crept forward slowly anyway—seven years on the run had taught him to be cautious regardless of how safe a situation looked. He hadn't forgotten that lesson yet.
"Sheppard, wake up," Ronon whispered again, hoping Sheppard was just sleeping and not something much worse. He reached through the bars and poked his leg.
Their captors—a group who called themselves the Tekkae—had taken everything: weapons, radios, rations, water, shoes. Ronon grimaced at that last one. Shoes. His bare feet felt raw in the soil. He'd grown soft after so much time in Atlantis.
"Come on," he hissed, jabbing harder. He was rewarded by a soft groan and an incoherent mumble.
"G'way," Sheppard answered. His shadowy forms shifted slightly in the cage, causing it to creak and sway from the tree branch.
Ronon let go the breath he hadn't realized he was holding and shook the cage a little harder. Their captors had gotten all of their obvious weapons, and even most of the not-so-obvious-ones, but Ronon still had a few knives. He palmed one of them, intending to cut through the rope bindings keeping the cage closed but wanting Sheppard to wake up a little more.
"Sheppard, buddy, wake up. We don't have much time."
"Ronon?" The voice was still groggy, but it was coherent. That would have to do.
John had barely managed to lift his head up from the cross bar of the cage door when the door suddenly swung open. After a day and a half of being locked up in the jungle, his reflexes were shot to hell, and he pitched forward, landing face first on the rough ground. He'd been asleep—finally. His guard had stopped harassing him long enough for him to get some much needed rest, and then…then someone…then…
"Yeah," his friend answered, without a hint of remorse.
"Could have given me some warning or something." John pushed back onto his knees and rubbed at his eyes with the palms of his hands. He felt gross. Dirty, sweaty, thirsty, hungry, tired, and the insects—damn the insects! They were crawling and buzzing and burrowing into places he didn't even want to think about.
"Fine," John huffed. "Just tired. You?"
"Figures." He felt a hand on his arm, pulling him up, and he could just make out Ronon's dreadlocked hair. It wasn't until he took a step forward that he remembered his boots were gone. He grimaced as his big toe caught on a branch, biting his lip to keep from crying out.
They moved as quietly and quickly as they could, given their barefooted limitations. It might not have been so bad during the day, when John could have at least seen where he was stepping, but at night it was like every pointy rock, twig, and tree root was jumping at the chance to make their mark on the soles of his feet. Did Ronon have his shoes? He couldn't tell, but the man seemed to be moving in front of him with much less pain.
After a few minutes, they could make out the flickering lights of fire pits, and Ronon ducked down, signaling them to move off to the side into a shadowy patch of trees. John followed and they were soon looking down into the main encampment.
"They kept me over there," Ronon whispered, pointing to a small shed at the edge of the light. "Guards sleep there and there. Can't figure out where they're keeping our stuff, but I think they're wearing most of it."
"Yeah, I gathered that," John answered darkly, remembering the guard who'd spent most of the previous day poking him with a stick to keep him awake. The man had been wearing both his boots and his aviator glasses. "Any idea who they are or what they wanted?"
"Called themselves the Tekkae. They didn't say much else." John could just see firelight flickering in the man's eyes. "They say anything to you?"
"They said a lot to me, but they didn't seem to want anything other than to deprive me of sleep. At this point, I really don't care."
"We could try to find our radios, but…"
"Let's just put some distance between ourselves and this place. We can worry about the stargate and getting home later."
They crawled away from the camp until they were surrounded by darkness again. John hadn't seen any of the Tekkae since earlier that day, but the feeling that someone was watching nagged at him. Ronon picked a path carefully through the jungle, and John followed, but he couldn't help looking over his shoulder every few minutes. The encampment was large—surely they had guards spread out in the jungle around them.
Despite their slow progress through the thick brush, they managed to make it pretty far before they heard distant shouts of alarm. Someone had finally gotten around to checking either Ronon or John's cage. Gunfire ripped through the quiet night, and John swore he could hear his own P90 in the midst of it. Speaking of which…
"Did they get your gun?"
"Tossed it to McKay, remember?"
John hissed as a small branch snapped back into his face, and he ripped it out of his way. "Oh, yeah. They got away right? Him and Teyla?"
"Yeah," Ronon answered—simply enough, but John heard the pause in his voice and a question about John's own health and why he didn't remember something that had happened barely two days earlier.
"I'm fine," John snapped. "Just tired. They didn't let me sleep the entire time."
"They feed you?"
"Yes, if you can call that stuff food. What about you?"
"Food, water, dark little room to sleep in all day."
Ronon grunted in response. The shouts from the camp were growing dimmer. Maybe they'd actually manage to outrun the Tekkae. Ronon shifted direction, and John heard another sound—the soft rustling of water. Pure, sweet water.
"Water," John said. Ronon didn't answer but he moved faster, and a second later they were both kneeling next to the stream.
"Wait," Ronon called out and John froze. He'd been about to plunge his face into the stream. Water. The Tekkae had given them water, but not enough. Not nearly enough.
"What if it's bad?"
John let his shoulders drop in defeat. They were in a jungle. A hot, humid, swampy jungle. At the risk of sounding like McKay, John conceded that the stream was probably teeming with bacteria. He leaned back on his heels, staring at the flashes of moonlight dancing off the moving stream. He was so thirsty. His feet ached in protest but he sighed and shook his head. "Right."
"There's a path across the stream, looks like it moves down the mountain a little."
Seemed like as good a plan as any. It was the middle of the night and they had no idea where they were, just that their captors were behind him. What else could they do but continue to move forward?
They crossed the small stream easily enough and the darkness swallowed them again as they pushed through the jungle. Jungles, mountains, hot humidity. The last thing John remembered before waking up here was walking through a desert, the early morning air cool against his skin. McKay had rambled something about it being winter, but deserts were usually cooler in the morning, before the sun had risen completely.
His memory jumped next to the image of sand swirling all around them and a deafening roar in his ears as the ground shook beneath his feet. He'd barely had time to drop to his knees when he saw a bolt of light strike Teyla out of the corner of his eye. She'd dropped without a sound at McKay's feet, and the scientist had grabbed her under her arms and dragged her behind a pile of boulders.
Ronon had shouted then, as more bolts of light flew overhead. He'd started to run, but a bluish bolt had glanced off his leg, and he'd dropped to the ground writhing in pain. The sand rose higher and higher around them, obscuring their attackers from view, and the rushing wind had blocked out all other sounds. McKay's mouth had been open in a scream as he fired his gun indiscriminately into the air, even though it was clear he had no more bullets. John had fired in the general direction of the blue laser bolts, Ronon had tossed McKay his gun, and then…then…
"Aaah!" John cried out as he caught his toe on another protruding branch. He pitched forward, his balance skewed, and hit the ground hard.
"I'm fine," John snapped, then took a deep breath. "My toe hurts."
Ronon didn't respond, but John felt a hand on his arm a few seconds later, pulling him back up to his feet. A distant shout reminded them that they weren't safe yet. It was still dark, but the shadows seemed a little more defined rather than the previous mass of blackness. John looked up and noted that the sky was growing brighter.
Dawn. They had an hour, maybe two of darkness left, and then it would be light enough for the Tekkae to see them. With a silent curse, he stumbled back onto the path, Ronon close behind him.
Ronon blinked at the sunlight that suddenly crested the distant hill and flared in his eyes. They'd been walking for hours, tripping, stumbling, cursing. The light would help them pick their way down the path a little more easily, but it would help whoever was after them just as much.
Sheppard tripped again in front of him, grabbing onto a tree for support, and Ronon winced in sympathy. Their feet, knees, and hands were raw from stumbling through the dark and picking themselves up off the ground. He paused a moment, giving Sheppard a chance to regroup, and then they were moving again.
The Tekkae were after them, but they were still some distance away. Ronon caught the occasional shout as they moved through the trees. They were still far enough away that he didn't have to worry about them sneaking up behind him, but they were catching up.
He shook his head in frustration, replaying for the millionth time his and Sheppard's capture. Teyla and McKay had burrowed themselves deeply enough in the rocks that he could hardly see them, and he felt confident that they'd gotten off the desert planet after everything had quieted down again. They hadn't been locked up in the Tekkae encampment, at any rate. He and Sheppard had not been so lucky. He had a brief memory, through the haze of pain burning through his leg, of seeing Sheppard struck in the chest with one of their laser blasts and crumbling to the ground, and then darkness had slammed over his own consciousness. He, too, had presumably been hit again with one of their weapons. The next thing he remembered was waking up in the small hot cage on a different planet.
They had no idea where the gate was. Atlantis had no idea where they were. They had no shoes, no food, no water. In all his years on the run, he'd at least had something. Something…he needed something. Atlantis would be looking for them. He hadn't had that as a runner. Atlantis and McKay would be looking, and that was definitely an edge. McKay would find them.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of black and white scuttle across the jungle floor. The markings of the creature registered a second later and he jerked forward just as Sheppard stepped down next to it, oblivious. The scaly skin glistened a moment as it curved its back and pounced, and Ronon caught sight of a row of small, sharp teeth before they buried themselves in Sheppard's leg.
Sheppard screamed, collapsing, and the jungle around them seemed to reverberate with his pain. He kicked his leg out, sending the creature flying into the underbrush. Ronon paused just long enough to assure himself that the thing wasn't coming back before leaping forward.
Sheppard's scream cut off abruptly but he continued to writhe, at once reaching for his leg and arching his back. His face was flushed red and sweat dripped in streams down his forehead, neck, and into his shirt. Ronon grabbed his leg and Sheppard jerked, rolling onto his side and into a ball.
"Sheppard, hold on, buddy," Ronon rambled, pulling the fabric back from the bite wound. Blood was oozing from a ragged gash in his calf.
He knew those creatures, with their scaly black skin and distinctive white markings. He'd run into them twice before while a runner, and although he had no idea what they were called, he knew what their bite did. Sheppard was still writhing, clawing at the ground. His jaw was clenched tight and he was banging his head into the dirt almost rhythmically.
They had nothing—no vests, no first aid kits, no water. He couldn't run to the gate for help. Couldn't call McKay or Teyla or Beckett on the radio. Sheppard was choking through ragged breaths and the pain-filled sobs that managed to break through his gritted teeth.
He had a knife. He pulled it out and wiped the blade on his pant leg before gripping Sheppard's leg again to hold it still. He needed to look at the wound. Those creatures tended to clamp their jaws on their victims before puncturing the flesh with their tongues and emptying their venom sacks. If Sheppard had kicked the creature off before that happened…
Blood was welling up, thick and red around the wound. Sheppard had kicked the creature off, all right, but only because the thing had taken a chunk of his leg with it. The wound was deep, and Ronon couldn't tell how much of the poison he'd received. He twisted the leg slightly, ignoring Sheppard's pained gasp. Along the edges of the wound, he could see a half dozen small teeth that had broken off still embedded in the flesh.
He set the leg down carefully, and moved up to get Sheppard's attention. The man was hardly moving now. He had wrapped his arms around his stomach and curled in on himself, moaning.
"Sheppard, buddy," Ronon said, shaking his shoulder. Sheppard's only response was to groan louder and squeeze his eyes closed.
The use of his first name had the desired effect. Sheppard looked up through half-lidded eyes, but even still, Ronon could see the agony that pulsed behind them.
"I've got to clean this out. It's going to hurt."
Sheppard nodded and sank back into his fugue. With the tip of his knife, Ronon flicked the small teeth out of the wound until he was sure there were none left. Sheppard groaned and gasped through the entire process but otherwise didn't move, and by the time Ronon was finished, he lay shivering in a ball.
Ronon ripped a strip off the bottom of his shirt and tied it around the still bleeding wound, then shook Sheppard's shoulder again. He wished he could let his friend lay there for awhile longer, but they were still in the middle of a jungle with people after them.
"I'm done, but we've got to keep moving."
Sheppard gave no response, and Ronon grabbed his shoulder, rolling him onto his back. "Sheppard, buddy. We've got to go. Can you walk?"
Sheppard jerked in his hands, rolled back onto his side, then his stomach, and then pressed himself up to his knees faster than Ronon could react. He watched him crawl forward two steps before he realized Sheppard wasn't getting up to walk. The sound of vomit hitting the ground had him lunging forward, and he just managed to catch his friend before his arms gave out and he dropped back to the ground.
Ronon lifted him until they were both kneeling on the ground. Sheppard leaned back, his entire weight sagging into Ronon's arms. No way was he walking. He twisted around, lifting Sheppard's arm until he had it across his shoulders, and then he heaved both of them up to their feet. Sheppard's chin dug into Ronon's chest, but he managed to keep his good leg under him. Without another word, the two of them staggered forward down the path.
John was only dimly aware of the jungle around him. The bugs had ceased to exist, the dark or light inconsequential, even the sharp stones and branches catching his feet barely made a dent in his world. The pain in his leg consumed him, eating up every last ounce of his energy and attention. Even the Iratus bug had nothing on whatever had gotten a hold of him this time.
He was aware of Ronon only because of the other man's tight grip on his wrist and the way his head kept bouncing against the Satedan's chest. He made a few feeble attempts to lift his head, but it required too much energy. All he could manage was to keep his one good leg from buckling under him, and that was growing increasingly more difficult. He could feel sweat drifting down his face, and deep down he knew it had nothing to do with the heat of the jungle.
A sharp cramp gripped his stomach and he gasped at the new pain. It faded quickly though, and Ronon kept moving, kept forcing them down the path. Where were they going anyway? John was pretty sure they had no idea where the gate was. He opened his eyes briefly to look around, saw nothing but trees and broad, bright leaves, then let his eyelids slam shut again. Keeping them open was too hard.
And he thought he'd been tired before.
The terrain changed, and their sloping path evened out. John could feel Ronon's ragged breaths against the side of his face, but the man didn't stop. He had to be tired. They'd been going for hours. Had to be hours. Felt like days. His leg buckled under him on the next step, and Ronon yanked him back up, hardly breaking stride.
Why were they moving? They needed to stop. He needed to stop. Just for a rest—a five-minute break. He was about to say as much, when another cramp tore through his gut, more painful than the last.
"Ronon," he croaked out in warning, pushing himself away from the man just as the nausea hit. His legs buckled again and he started to gag, distantly aware of Ronon lowering him to the ground and holding him steady.
The cramp ebbed away, and with it the need to puke, and he made a feeble attempt to push himself back. He dragged the back of his hand across his lips, grimacing at the sour taste in his mouth. He'd do just about anything for some water right now.
"What's wrong with me?" he whispered. Ronon was manhandling him away from the vomit and setting him up against a nearby tree. John would have protested had any of his muscles responded to his mental commands. Instead, he flopped bonelessly in exhaustion.
"The creature that bit you was poisonous. Is your leg numb at all?"
"No, hurts like hell." He glanced down at the bloody bandage around his calf then looked away.
"Good? How is that good?" John had intended to sound sarcastic, but there was a note of begging in his voice that he couldn't hide.
"Means you only got a little bit of the poison in you before you kicked that thing off."
John nodded, closing his eyes. His head was pounding. He licked dry lips and grimaced at another spasming cramp, this one in his back. Ronon was moving around nearby, but John had no energy to find out what the man was doing.
"Here," Ronon said a few minutes later, jarring John out of his doze.
He opened his eyes to see him holding a handful of pale green plants toward him.
Ronon ripped the leaves off the stalks, then snapped one stalk in half. A bead of liquid bubbled out of the end.
"Water. Don't worry, I've seen these plants before. As a runner."
John held the end of the stalk to his mouth and sucked the small amount of moisture. It tasted like dirt and leaves, but it was better than the sour taste coating his mouth. As soon as he pulled it away, Ronon handed him another one, and by the time he'd gone through a dozen stalks, he was feeling a little better.
"Did you get some?" John croaked, opening his eyes to see Ronon sucking on the end of a plant. The former runner grinned, patting him on his good leg, and John let himself sink back against the tree. He really needed to sleep, just for a few minutes.
Too soon, Ronon was pulling him back to his feet and dragging him through the jungle again. They were moving fast—faster than they had been before. John could almost feel the tension thrumming through Ronon's body.
"Wha…?" he slurred, but Ronon immediately shushed him.
John felt his heart pump faster. Danger—they were in danger. The Tekkae were pursuing them. He'd almost forgotten about that. He forced his good leg to straighten under him, but in the next step, the foot of his injured leg caught on a branch and jerked it behind him. Pain, raw and eager, burst from his calf and he had just enough time to choke back the scream threatening to push past his lips before consciousness spiraled away from him.
The Tekkae had caught up to them somehow. Ronon cursed himself for not noticing sooner and for letting them get so close. He dragged Sheppard to his feet, almost dropping the man when his legs immediately folded under him. He hefted him with a grunt, readjusting his grip, and they were soon moving through the jungle again.
He could feel the heat emanating from Sheppard's body and knew he'd gotten enough of the venom that it could still kill him. Sheppard's head lolled against his chest. The man was conscious but just barely.
"Ssshhh," Ronon answered. His eyes snapped to the side at a rustling sound off to his left. The ground beneath their feet was getting softer, and Ronon squinted into the jungle in front of him. The trees were changing. They were sitting up higher on the ground so that most of the roots were exposed.
He stepped carefully around the tree in front of him, and felt Sheppard's body jerk in his arms. The man whimpered through gritted teeth and Ronon glanced down at him in time to see his eyes roll into the back of his head. He sagged to the ground, a deadweight in Ronon's arms.
"Sheppard!" Ronon hissed. He tugged on him, but he was caught on something. A second later he spotted Sheppard's foot hooked under an exposed tree root, and he lost more precious seconds untangling him then throwing him over his shoulders in a fireman's carry. A twig snapped behind him, and he could just make out the soft swish of cloth rubbing together from somewhere to his right.
They were surrounded. The Tekkae clearly knew where they were although Ronon had yet to see any of them. With a grunt, he plowed forward through the bushes and over the tree roots, ignoring the sharp stabs of pain in the soles of his feet. He didn't care where he stepped now, as long as he kept going.
The ground grew soft and wet. Ronon pushed through one last large bush then stopped in surprise. The jungle had given way to a swamp, and his feet were sinking into mud. The trees stood a few feet above the water, giving the illusion that they were dancing across the surface on the tips of their roots.
The water itself looked green and stale, and it swirled in around his ankles. A brown moss was growing along the edges of the swamp, thick and foamy. Ronon glanced at the wound in John's leg and grimaced. The water had to be full of bacteria, and John's injury was sure to grow infected if he got it wet—if it wasn't already.
He paused a moment longer before a shout behind him and an eruption of brush breaking under pounding feet spurred him forward. They had no choice. They had to go through the water. With any luck, the Tekkae wouldn't follow them—at least not immediately.
The water was warm, almost hot, and his feet sank farther into the mud. He saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head in time to see a long water snake slither away along the surface and disappear into the trees. When he was waist deep, he dropped Sheppard into the water. He wrapped his arm under both of his friend's and braced his head against his chest. Sheppard did not stir at all and Ronon wasn't sure if he should be grateful or worried about that.
He'd swum a good thirty feet before he spotted the Tekkae in the trees along the bank of the swamp. They shouted and waved their guns, and a half dozen laser bolts and bullets peppered the water nearby, but none came close. Ronon swam steadily, putting as much distance between them and him as he could. For the moment, the Tekkae showed no signs of following.
The trees thinned out the farther he went, and Ronon looked up into gray, cloudy skies. Minutes passed. He hadn't noticed much sound in the jungle when they'd been running, but now that he was away from it, there was a distinct lack of sound. An eerie stillness settled over him, and he shivered.
"Whaa?" John jerked in his arms, choking and splashing in the water.
"Don't move, Sheppard. I've got you."
"Where?" he mumbled.
"Swamp or lake or something."
Sheppard didn't respond but Ronon could see him looking around. He adjusted his grip around Sheppard's chest and saw the man flail a little at the movement.
Sheppard was weak, and growing more so. Ronon could hear it in his voice. They swam in silence a little longer before the trees started to appear again. Ronon had been swimming backward, facing the Tekkae, but he glanced over his shoulder and saw they were reaching land. He pushed himself to go faster, ignoring the exhaustion in his own legs.
When he was waist deep, he picked Sheppard up and carried him the rest of the way in. Sheppard said nothing, but Ronon could see he was still conscious. The ground rose quickly from the shoreline, and the former runner quickly spotted a small outcropping of rocks that created a natural defensive area.
Sheppard moaned as he set him down on the ground. Despite the heat, he was shivering violently, and Ronon looked around for something to start a fire with. There were some branches, but nothing dry that he could use to start a spark. Five minutes later, he had scoured the entire area only to realize they were on a small island in the middle of the swampy lake. A very small island.
"Sheppard, buddy," Ronon called out.
Sheppard looked at him, his eyes barely open. His pallor had grown worse, and dark smudges circled his eyes.
"How are you feeling?"
Ronon nodded. Sheppard may feel cold, but his skin was hot and feverish. There wasn't much he could do about that. He tugged at his friend's pant leg to check the wound and grimaced at the sight. Sheppard's leg had grown puffy around the soggy bandage, red and warm to the touch. Infected.
He carefully pulled the bandage off, wary of it bleeding again, then ripped another strip off the bottom of his shirt. Sheppard made no sound as he wound it around his calf, but he lay on the ground rigid, his eyes squeezed tight against the pain. It was another few minutes after Ronon was done before Sheppard began to show signs that the pain was lessening.
They waited. The sky grew dark above them and hot rain peppered their bodies and the ground around them. The steady drone of raindrops hitting the surrounding swamp washed out all other sounds. Ronon fished around for something he could use as a weapon, and ended up with a dozen straight sticks.
The downpour didn't last long. At some point, Sheppard dozed off, and Ronon sat near his head carving the ends of his sticks into sharp points. It wouldn't hold the Tekkae off for long, especially if they came in force, but Ronon was not going down without a fight. He flicked one last peel of wood off the current stick and tested the tip with his finger, nodding in satisfaction. It would at least cause a little bit of damage.
Sheppard stirred next to him, groaning as he rolled to the side. Ronon set his stick down and crawled over to his friend, resting a hand on his shoulder. He could feel the tremors coursing through his body.
"Hey, buddy," he whispered.
Sheppard groaned louder and curled around his stomach. A second later, he was gagging and coughing, but there was nothing left in his stomach to throw up. Ronon rubbed his back, feeling useless, until the dry heaves stopped, then helped Sheppard roll again onto his back. He pressed his hand against his forehead and grimaced at the heat rolling off his skin in waves.
"Just hold on. McKay will find us," he said. And he believed it. McKay would find them; he just hoped it was in time.
Sheppard nodded, either confident in Ronon's assessment or too tired and sick to care. Ronon picked up another stick and began carving the end, watching as Sheppard drifted off. Even in sleep, the man looked exhausted, and his body continued to shake and spasm against the poison running through his blood.
The clouds were gathering again, preparing to unleash another torrent of rain when Ronon jerked awake. He'd dozed off, apparently, with all twelve spears held tightly in both fists. He looked up at the darkening sky wondering what had awoken him so abruptly when he heard a small splash.
His body went rigid. The splash was close. A second later, he heard another one, even softer than the first. He glanced down at Sheppard and saw the man was either deeply asleep or unconscious, the slight rise and fall of his chest the only movement in his otherwise deathly still body. Ronon crept forward, careful to stay behind the rocks, and peered around the edge toward the swampy lake.
He counted eight boats, each holding two to three Tekkae, moving silently toward his little island. He set the spears against the rock for easy access and grabbed the first one. Twelve spears, twenty-one Tekkae. Every shot would have to be a good one, and even then…
A gust of wind ripped through the trees and Ronon hunkered down. When he looked up again, the first of the boats was landing, and three Tekkae jumped out to storm up the bank. He cocked the spear in his hand, took a quick breath, and aimed for the man in the middle wearing Sheppard's aviator sunglasses.
The spear sailed straight and true against the wind, heading directly for the Tekkae's chest. The man in the sunglasses looked up in surprise—
And then the spear hit an invisible wall and dropped harmlessly to the ground. Ronon stared dumbfounded for a second, and the Tekkae took advantage of the moment. He charged up the hill with a scream—
And then he too hit an invisible wall. Ronon watched as his face smashed against something and he was flung backward, rolling down the hill and into the swampy water.
There was a hiss of air—an all-too-familiar hydraulic hiss of air—and then the pounding boots of Marines charged out the back of the cloaked jumper. They wasted no time in fanning out around the island and opening fire on the boats still approaching. Through the chaos of gunfire, Ronon heard a familiar shout and he grinned.
"Ronon, Sheppard!" McKay's head appeared, floating disembodied in the air. A second later, Teyla appeared, stepping down the ramp and running toward them.
"Ronon, are you alright?"
"Sheppard's hurt. He needs help," Ronon answered instead. He crawled back to his friend and gathered him up in his arms just as Teyla reached them. McKay joined them a second later, and together they sprinted toward the back of the jumper.
"Knew you'd find us, McKay," Ronon said, setting Sheppard on the ground and into a field medic's hands, and clapping the scientist on the shoulder. He collapsed on the bench, the events of the last three days catching up to him all at once, and sighed in relief as the Marines piled back in and the jumper zoomed up and over the jungle toward the stargate.
John was awake, but he refused to open his eyes. He could hear people moving around the infirmary, the distant murmur of voices and clatter of equipment as they went about their daily business. The bed was soft beneath him, the covers light but cozy on top of him, and his legs propped up on pillows and blessedly pain-free. What more could a man want?
"Sheppard!" a voice hissed.
John floated along in gentle drowsiness. He was not opening his eyes. Someone opened a window on the far side of the open infirmary bay, and a cool breeze brushed against his face. Heaven.
"Sheppard, wake up!" the voice whispered. Ronon.
John sighed and rolled his head on the pillow, finally opening his eyes with resignation. Ronon stood at the end of the bed, a grin on his face. John's open eyes seemed to be the invitation he was waiting for, and he hobbled over to the chair by the head of the bed. The man was still in scrubs and still not moving at full speed.
"Hey," John croaked, pointing at Ronon's arm. "No IV."
"Just got rid of it. Beckett says I can leave in a few hours."
"He said you could leave tomorrow, didn't he?"
"That's in a few hours. It's almost dinner time already."
John shook his head, wondering who would win that argument. It was a toss-up between Ronon and Beckett. Ronon could manhandle his way out of the infirmary, but Beckett could be fierce when he wanted to be.
"How are your feet?" John asked.
He saw Ronon shrug. They were still hurting, he'd seen that in the Satedan's face every time he'd taken a step. Both their feet had been cut up, enough so to require stitches, but while John was also stuck in bed with a venomous lizard bite and subsequent illness from the poison, as well as a raging infection in both the bite and the cuts on his feet, Ronon had gotten off almost scot-free. He'd only needed stitches on one cut in one foot, and the slight infection in that cut had cleared up within the first day.
Beckett had managed to keep the larger man in the infirmary by hooking him up to an IV, and John knew he wasn't supposed to be walking around yet. By the smug grin on Ronon's face, he knew it too.
"Wanna break out of here?" Ronon asked.
John laughed at that, but shook his head. His fever lingered, sapping him of all energy, and he was not looking forward to reawaking the pain in his bite wound. He was also still connected to way too many tubes and wires to deal with any escape attempts. "Gonna take a nap first. Don't wait for me, though."
Ronon leaned back in the chair, propping his bandaged feet up on the edge of John's mattress. John let his eyes slip shut. No matter how much he slept, he was still tired, and after their traipse through the hot jungle in bare feet, the bed was just so comfortable. His thoughts drifted to the jungle, to vague memories of swimming across a swamp, of the Tekkae guard stomping around wearing his boots and aviator glasses.
"We ever figure out what the Tekkae wanted?" he asked.
Ronon shifted in his seat, his face darkening at the memory of their captors. "Teyla knows of them, by reputation only. Apparently they scavenge and steal from whoever they come across. They keep some of the people they catch to work as their slaves, others they let go, others they kill."
"Good thing we got out of there," John mumbled. "Thanks, buddy."
Ronon shrugged again, his eyes lighting up again. Had it only been a year since Ronon had come to live with them on Atlantis? The difference between that man—tense and suspicious, ready to run every second of every day—was a sharp contrast to the man sitting next to him now with his feet propped up on his bed.
"Need anything?" Ronon asked.
"Nah, I'm alright."
Ronon nodded. They heard an exclamation of surprise from across the infirmary and then the distinct lilt of one Scottish doctor. Ronon cringed and pulled himself slowly to his feet.
"See you later," he said, ducking his head like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
John laughed again and settled back against the pillow. One of the nurses would be by soon with a tray full of food, and he'd been serious about that nap.
"Listen to the doctor," he called out, and closed his eyes before Ronon could make any obscene hand gestures in his direction. A second later, he heard Beckett growling and Ronon muttering, and he smiled as the sounds followed him into sleep.