Characters: John, Rodney
Warnings: mild language
Dislaimer: I don't own SGA
Summary: Rodney is going to wrong Sheppard's neck, but first he has to save him. Written for the 2010 Genficathon over on LJ. Beta'd by the wonderful Wildcat88.
Rodney was going to kill Sheppard. When he finally found him, alive, hopefully unharmed, he was going to wring Sheppard's long neck until the colonel was blue in the face. But not before he provoked Ronon into stunning every last one of the stupid, peaceful villagers. Though, really, it wasn't like Ronon needed any cajoling, just someone to distract Teyla long enough to get a few shots off.
Though, also really, Rodney had had the distinct impression that Teyla would be just as likely to cajole Ronon if she thought no one was looking. That, of course, was saying something, because when Teyla got pissed at the locals then you knew things were bad. The only difference with her kind of mad was the thin leash of reason trying to keep it in check. She was pissed, trying not to show it and failing, because even Rodney knew she was pissed and he was usually the last to know.
Rodney would have to make sure to wring Sheppard's neck someplace private.
Except that, damn it, it wasn't Sheppard's fault. Well, no, it was – Sheppard was military, for crying out loud. He took down a bunch of Genii more than once, so one would think him quite capable of keeping himself from getting caught by a bunch of backwoods, renegade farmers.
"Otherwise this mission would be boring and we just can't have that, now can we, Sheppard?" Rodney sneered, slapping aside ferns growing out of tree trunks five times as wide as Rodney. "Noooo. You have to go and make things friggin' interesting!"
Which still didn't make it Sheppard's fault. It wasn't his fault that several of the locals still had trust issues; wasn't his fault that the locals had developed some kind of truth serum that only worked on the population of this planet; wasn't his fault that the serum had side effects that only manifested on people not from this planet. That village elder guy... what was his name? Dred? Drej? D-something had been adamant to the point of tears that they had stopped using the serum many months ago, had even burned the recipe (it had been a recent discovery, it seemed, but apparently without the local equivalent of FDA testing. They gave the serum up when killed the last guy they'd used it on). But all it took was an idiot with a really good memory and a lot of paranoia to keep the serum alive. It also didn't help that at one point the planet had been a refuge for Wraith worshipers.
Rodney stumbled over a root mostly buried beneath a carpet of moss so thick that his feet sank into it ankle high. He ripped at curtains of hanging... something... that reminded him of his hirsute aunt's lace doilies, the ones that had gone all brown with age and too much use. He stumbled a second time over mushrooms as big as his hand and as hard as a rock, forcing him to reach out and grab a slime-coated tree trunk to steady himself. He curled his lip at the snot green crap slicking his hands, then wiped it off onto his pants.
Wring Sheppard's neck until was another inch longer, fault or no.
The idiot renegade farmers had thought the Atlantis team Wraith worshipers in disguise, sent to coax the village elders and villagers into a false sense of security. With that asinine assumption planted firmly in their stupid little heads, the renegade farmers did a little coaxing of their own, leading any team member willing to listen away to check out their nifty water wheel down by the river. Really, it could have been any one of the team – Ronon, Teyla, Rodney – but Teyla had been doing her negotiating thing, Ronon his glowering thing, and Rodney hadn't given a damn about waterwheels. That had left Sheppard.
And Rodney was pretty sure Sheppard had only gone so the pesky farmers would leave the rest of his team alone; he hadn't expressed any more interest in the water wheel than Rodney had felt. But Sheppard went, and it wasn't until the evening meal when Sheppard and the farmers had promised to return that anyone knew that anything was wrong.
They didn't know anything was really wrong until one of the farmers came stumbling out of the woods, begging for an apology, babbling about truth serums and unusual behavior and the Lantean leader having vanished. He punctuated his apology by leading the rest of the team and the village elders to where Sheppard was being held. Past tense. Sheppard, of course, who was an obstacle magnet even on a good day, was long gone.
"Sheppard!" Rodney called. "Sheppard, stop screwing around and get your skinny ass back here!" Which would have packed more of a punch if Rodney's voice hadn't cracked at the end. He'd been at this for - he checked his watch - almost an hour and he was starting to get nervous. No, not nervous - he was already nervous. Creeping toward the edge of panic. The idiot, renegade farmers with the good memory had promised, under Ronon's death glare, that they hadn't overdosed Sheppard and that the only reason the last guy had died was due to an overdose.
But the fact remained that Sheppard had been drugged, was running around doped out of his mind, and they had no idea how his body was reacting to it.
"Sheppard!" Rodney barked, which ended on squeak.
Sheppard could be dying, alone, lost...
Sheppard could be dead.
"Sheppard, damn it, answer me!"
Rodney staggered in alarm, tangling in his own feet and landing flat on his back. Habit would've had him groaning, "ow," but the moss could make for one hell of a mattress, it was so soft. Rodney recovered quick enough to catch movement within the branches overhead. He found himself staring up at Sheppard who was staring down at him.
Sheppard smiled. Rodney wanted to wring two inches onto Sheppard's neck, then noticed that Sheppard was dressed in only his pants – no shirt, no shoes, no socks; if he were at a restaurant he'd be kicked out by now. He was painted in patches of mud and snot-green slime, with leaves poking out of his hair, and seemed incredibly happy about it. He was also leaning precariously over the precipice of the branch; the only thing holding him up was his grip on the brittle twig poking out of the branch above.
"Hey, McKay," Sheppard said. "Why are you lying down?"
With a snarl and several curses, Rodney scrambled to his feet. Make that three inches he was going to wring into Sheppard's neck. "Taking a nap," he snapped. "What the hell do you think! You scared the hell out of me! Now get the hell down before you break your damn neck."
"Hell no," Sheppard said, his grin growing, if possible, even more idiotic. "Dad." And with that, Sheppard sauntered off along the slime-covered branch – more like swayed along, keeping his hand on the branch above for a balance that wasn't really there. The trees of this world weren't just massive in girth but massive in their long-limbed branches. Those branches stretched almost straight and true, tangling into the branches of the neighboring tree, creating an unobstructed path for Sheppard to traverse like some drunk high-wire performer who had made the "drunk" aspect part of his act, because Sheppard really should have dropped by now... not that Rodney wanted him to. He was simply thinking logically. Plus you couldn't wring a broken neck.
"Sheppard," Rodney snarled, keeping pace on the ground, and how the hell had Sheppard even managed to climb those stupid, slimy trees in the first place?
"Rodney," Sheppard said.
"Sheppard, listen to me, you really need to get down from there. Now."
Sheppard hopped from his current branch to the branch of the next tree over. "Naw. Kind of like it up here."
"No, listen, Sheppard. You really, really need to come down. You've been drugged-"
"Yes. Now, shut up-"
"Something very, very dangerous so you need to-"
"Doesn't feel dangerous." Sheppard stretched, arching his back and caging out his ribs as though this were all nothing more than a leisurely stroll along the beach.
"Well, it is," Rodney forced through teeth trying to grind each other into dust. "So you need to come down so we can take you back to Atlantis where Keller can- Sheppard?"
Sheppard had vanished behind a screen of broad-leaved trees, but hadn't come out. Whimpering, Rodney broke into a run, heart hammering at the prospect of finding Sheppard a broken heap on the other side of the tree.
"Hey Rodney, check me out!"
Rodney skidded to a stop on the slick moss, looked up and almost dropped dead from a heart attack.
Sheppard hung upside down swinging back and forth on a vine. He craned his neck to look at Rodney and grinned. "I'm Spider Man."
"You're certifiable!" Rodney shrieked. "Get the hell down before you fall!"
"Not gonna happen," Sheppard said, and swung his legs down and his body around until he was right side up. "You should try this; it totally rocks!" He then leaped from one vine to the next, and Rodney was sure his heart had stopped for real this time.
"Sheppard, you son of a bitch, stop doing that!"
"Lighten up, McKay. I used to do this all the time as a kid." Sheppard leaped to the next vine, provoking it to swing.
"Not while you were drugged!" Rodney squeaked, following but making sure to give Sheppard and his erratic swinging a wide berth.
"Drugged, shrugged, I feel grea- crap!"
Rodney's heart really did stop until he heard splashing from the other side of the next tree and a blind of thick shrubs that had to be twice as tall as Ronon. He pushed through the shrubs to the other side, slipping on the viscous, muddy beach of a pond that Sheppard was currently swimming in. It was walled in by a rocky escarpment keeping the water-level constant with a waterfall slowed from having to pick its way through boulders, clefts and shelves.
Sheppard looked over at Rodney and smiled. "Hey, McKay."
Wring Sheppard's scrawny neck and kick his scrawny ass. Rodney clenched both his fists and his jaw.
"Sheppard," he pushed through his ever growing rage that felt liable to choke him. "Get. Out. Of. There. Now. You have no idea what kind of bacteria could be in that thing, or parasites. The kind of parasites that will crawl up the wrong entrance into your body should you happen to feel the need to pee."
"Too much information McKay. Lucky for me, I already went."
Rodney groaned, slapping his forehead. "Just... get out!"
Sheppard paused in the middle of the pond, the water coming shoulder high, and tilted his head as though considering Rodney's demand.
"Um, no." Then he went under. When he popped back up it was next to the escarpment, which he then proceeded to climb.
"Damn you, Sheppard!" Rodney shrieked and ran after him. Tree climbing may not have been even close to a forte, but life in Pegasus had graced Rodney with enough knowledge on rock climbing to get by. It also helped that the escarpment was more like a hill, only more jagged and slippery. He scaled after Sheppard who already had a head start, and who also seemed to have gotten it into his head that this was a race.
"Haul ass, McKay. I'm gonna win." Sheppard sing-songed.
It took everything Rodney had and then some to not respond and save his breath for climbing. Kick Sheppard's ass first, then wring his neck, then wring the neck of the idiots who'd drugged him – in that order.
Sheppard made it to the top, where he grabbed a vine and swung onto a branch. Rodney had no choice but to follow, and was surprised by how easy the vines were to grip, the thick stems of the leaves providing a sturdy rung to stand on. That would explain how Sheppard had reached the branches in the first place.
Rodney landed unsteadily on one of those branches, also surprisingly steady, the slime mostly tempered by moss drier than its cousin on the ground.
And standing in the crook where the branch joined the tree, leaning against the trunk with his hands in his pockets and most of the mud washed away, was Sheppard – smiling that lopsided, knowing smile of his.
"About time you got up here," he said.
But Sheppard wasn't sobered. Rodney was close enough to see the blown pupils with not even a sliver of hazel, the pale skin, and the minor tremors running down Sheppard's arms. He was also close enough to see that some of what he'd thought to be mud wasn't mud.
They were bruises. Ringing the bare ankles and wrists, angry red abrasions. Standing out against the colorless skin, cuts.
"Wanna see something cool?" Sheppard said. He used a vine to swing to the adjacent branch.
Heaving a heavy, put-upon sigh, Rodney followed with less ease. He needed Sheppard's help holding himself upright in order to let go of the vine.
"Fine," Rodney said, straightening his tac vest. "Show me something cool, but only if you promise to come with me afterwards."
Sheppard flapped a palsied hand at him as he started to walk away. "Sure, fine, whatever." He led McKay from one branch to the next, from one tree to the next, shoving aside curtains of moss and swinging on the occasional vine.
Rodney knew when they reached their destination because Sheppard was right, it was cool. They stepped onto a branch stretching over where the land dropped in a steep incline. As long as Rodney didn't look down, then it wasn't so bad, and it was easy not to look down. The incline opened the forest up for a panoramic view of a massive valley of giant trees bright green in the sunlight, winds making the leaves ripple like waves. Flocks of chromatic birds wheeled in a cloud of blinding color over the canopy before diving down into it. The air was warm, but the breezes cool, and there was a sweet smell like fresh fruit that was not too cloying but not so faint to make Rodney wonder if he was imagining it.
"Oh, wow," Rodney breathed. "This is... wow. Really, wow."
Rodney turned to Sheppard, who was now leaning with his shoulder against the trunk, and it was at that moment Rodney realized that Sheppard wasn't feeling relaxed and content. His hands may have been back in his pockets, but his body seemed to be fighting the need to curl into itself. They'd also traveled long enough that Sheppard's upper body should have been dry by now, but if anything he looked twice as soaked.
"Sheppard?" Rodney said.
Sheppard coughed and replied," Yeah?"
"You don't look so hot."
"Funny. Don't feel so hot." Sheppard slid down the trunk, huddling against it with his hand pressed to his chest and his respirations stepping up from heavy to panting. "Chest feels kind of weird."
Rodney rushed over to him, dropping in a crouch and pressing his fingers to Sheppard's neck, then his hand to his chest over his heart. Sheppard tried to pull away but barely achieved an inch of personal space.
"Get over it. I had to put up with your crap; you can put up with mine."
Sheppard's pulse had been thready and fast and Rodney could feel Sheppard's heart trying to pound out of his chest, missing the occasional beat.
"Oh, crap," Rodney whimpered. "Ooohhhh, crap. Please be in range, please please..." He tapped his comm. "Ronon, Teyla, you copy? Please, please copy."
"Rodney, I am here." It was Teyla.
Rodney's exhale left him feeling shaky and deflated. "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you... I found Sheppard but he's not doing so good. I think his body finally realized it wasn't supposed to like the drug. His pulse is fast and his heart... his heart... I think it's arrhythmic or whatever but it's definitely doing what it isn't supposed to and-"
"Rodney, calm down. Where are you?"
"I..." Rodney looked up, and felt himself finally tip over the precipice right into panic. "I have no idea! I was heading north and then kind of detoured... west or westish, I think... but we passed some pond with a waterfall and we're at a cliff or something overlooking a valley and... Oh, crap, we're lost; we are so lost and Sheppard's dying-"
"Rodney, it's okay. Ronon called in for backup. Major Lorne has brought a jumper and marines to aid in the search, and the villagers know the terrain well. We will find you."
"We're in a tree," Rodney added weakly.
"As your people say, we will cross that bridge when we come to . Stay where you are and we will find you."
"Uh, yeah, yes. We will. Stay, that is. It's not like Sheppard can go anywhere. Over and out and, yeah, hurry!"
Rodney quickly stripped out of his vest to get to his jacket which he placed around Sheppard's quaking shoulders. Sheppard was even more hunched, as though the more he collapsed in on himself the easier the discomfort was to tolerate. His arms were wrapped around his chest, his legs drawn up and his forehead resting on his knees. Sweat dripped from his hair, his face, pooling in his collarbones, and his ragged breathing was loud even closed up as he was.
"Wow... this... sucks..." Sheppard moaned.
Rodney gave Sheppard's back an awkward pat. "Yes, well... foreign, non-FDA approved narcotics will do that to you." He swallowed. "How did you even get away? From the people who drugged you, I mean."
"You fell asleep?"
"They fell asleep," Sheppard growled. "Guess they thought... too far gone or... something."
"Oh," Rodney said. "Did they, um... you know... do more than, than drug you?"
"Mm-hmmm. Don' know why. Nev'r works. Damn!" Sheppard's entire body clenched, his arms tightening around his chest, his breathing now so erratic it seemed a wonder he was getting any oxygen at all, and all Rodney could do was grip him by the shoulders and keep him from falling off the tree.
They'd lived in the galaxy for around five years now. Survived crap they really shouldn't have survived, witnessed atrocities that should have sent them packing to the nearest nut house, talked each other through moments of pain and confusion. Sometimes even held each other (and swore never to speak of it again). Mostly, though, they stood by helplessly, watching, waiting. And it never got easier.
If anything, Rodney could have sworn it got worse. But, then, if it got easier then you knew it was time to pack yourself off to the nearest nut house. It wasn't supposed to get easier.
But neither did it get any less doable, because as much as it sucked to hear the ragged breathing interrupted by moans and whimpers of pain, Rodney was glad he was here, watching, waiting, able to witness it. Because he knew, they all knew, how much it sucked having to go through the bad crap all alone.
"Help is coming, Sheppard," Rodney said. "Just hang on a little longer. Help is coming."
Help came. Rodney heard the hum of the jumper before he saw it veer around a mountainside then skim low over the valley. Rodney almost choked on his bellow of joy. He tapped his comm hard enough to leave a bruise on his ear and directed the jumper straight ahead, waving with one arm while keeping Sheppard in the tree with the other.
His joy was cut short when Sheppard collapsed boneless against him. Now, Rodney knew he was panicking.
The man who'd died from the drug had been shorter than Sheppard, the locals had kept insisting. Because Sheppard was taller, because the blood had an extra foot of body to pump through, the drug would take longer to affect him and, therefore, kill him – if it did kill him, the locals had also kept insisting.
But it did kill Sheppard for a grand total of fifteen seconds before a hit with the defibrillator brought him back to life. Rodney knew; he had to sit there and watch it happen, and it was the iratus fiasco all over again minus the bug and thirty-eight minutes to live.
No bug and all the time in the world hadn't made it any easier.
"Come on, McKay, be a pal."
"I'll request a year's supply of that really expensive coffee you like."
"No, no, and for the last time, no. I will not get the engineers to build a damn jungle gym with rope swingss."
"You suck, McKay."
"Cry me a river and jump in it."
Sheppard pouted, or tried to. Mostly he just glared at Rodney, unable to flop his shaking limbs into the correct configuration of arms crossed over the chest. Rodney watched the attempt out of the corner of his eye but otherwise ignored Sheppard in favor of his laptop.
"Would if I had a rope swing," Sheppard said with a crooked smile.
Rodney paused in his typing. "Yes, because swinging from branch to branch over empty air was such a blast."
"Okay, let me reword that – swinging from branch to branch while chasing your drugged ass was such a blast."
"Come on, McKay, admit it. You liked it. Bet it made you recall happy childhood days... or something."
Rodney glanced at Sheppard, at the eyelids fighting to stay open, the pale skin, the extra-dopey smile, and snorted. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response."
"But you just did."
Sheppard sighed but otherwise did as told. Soon the only sounds were the heart monitor steady as a heart was supposed to be without the skips that made Sheppard grimace in pain. Rodney took that as a major improvement; the last two days had been nothing but beep, beep, beep followed by beepbeepbeep out of the blue.
"Swinging through trees is fun," Sheppard suddenly said.
"It would be to you," Rodney curtly replied.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're so high that falling out of bed would be fun."
A limp hand flailed out, smacking Rodney in the shoulder. Despite the noodle-like quality of the blow, Sheppard had managed to give it enough force to make it sting.
"Stop being such a girl," Sheppard slurred, flopping his hand back onto the bed.
"I'll tell Teyla you said that."
"You do that, 'cause she's a woman, not a girl."
Rodney rolled his eyes. He had no idea why he was putting up with this crap, why he didn't wait until the drug was out of Sheppard's system to talk to him.
Okay, so that wasn't true. Rodney knew why. It's what any of them usually did when someone almost died, and each time around Rodney could have sworn they all stayed a little longer, put up with a little more.
"Hey, McKay?" Sheppard said, his voice heavy with the increasing need to sleep.
"Yeah?" McKay said, trying hard to pour all his focus back onto his laptop.
"Just wanted to say... you know... thanks. For looking for me, finding me, making sure I didn't fall and break my neck."
Rodney stopped typing. He glanced at Sheppard, then back at the screen. "You remember?"
"Kind of. Like it's a dream but, yeah, I remember some stuff. I remember you being there. Thanks for that."
"No problem," Rodney said distractedly. They both fell silent, and another quick look showed Rodney that Sheppard was fast asleep.
Keller dropped by soon after, checking machines and smiling. "Well, I'm glad to see he's asleep but I wish he could have waited for the good news."
"Good news?" Rodney said, never breaking his fingers' stride over the keys.
"Yup. The colonel's blood is free and clear..."
Rodney stopped typing.
"Just got the latest results. Not a drop of that drug left. I wouldn't be surprised if he'd been drug free the entire day."
"Oh," Rodney said. His fingers stayed hovering in mid-type.
Keller wrote something on Sheppard's chart then left. As soon as she was gone, Rodney gave Sheppard a sharp, glowering look, only to immediately relax.
"Thanks for not dying," he said. Because knowing Sheppard, the other reason he was still alive had nothing to do with him being tall. Sheppard was stubborn like that. He knew how to be stubborn like that.
And that, Rodney thought, was why it was never less doable, all the watching, waiting and infirmary vigils. They knew each other well enough to know that the outcome always leaned toward the better ending.
So, no, it would never get easier. It would always be doable.
But if Sheppard woke up asking for a jungle gym and rope swings, Rodney was definitely going to wring his neck.
A/N: I'm not one to beg for feedback because feedback is a choice, and I know that some people are uncomfortable with it. But remember: feedback is love. It's a fanfic author's payment. It's motivation to write future stories. It can also act as a guide for other readers uncertain if this is a story they want to read. So if you like a story, drop a line, because even a "I liked this" can go a long way.