Pairing: Team Fic, but could be read as McShep as it is a prequel to Happily Cattily which is a sequel to Meaningful. Meaningful was written second, but you could read it first (as it is a prequel!)
Word count: 3425
Summary: The night it happens is cold and dark and terrifying. The wind is roaring and the four of them are running, yelling, and dragging each other through the undergrowth.
Warning: This isn't a cheerful fic (though it is a hopeful fic).
Author's notes: I would warn you if it was a death fic...
P3X-Let's not talk about that
The night it happens is cold and dark and terrifying. The wind is roaring and the four of them are running, yelling, and dragging each other through the undergrowth. Away, run away from the big angry natives and the very sharp swords. Rodney reminds himself that, every time he feels like stopping, every time he thinks his lungs might rip or tear or burst, because surely they haven’t got enough air in them, surely he’s going to collapse from a coronary any second.
Rodney McKay is prone to panicking. His naturally over-active brain, his tendency towards high blood pressure and his ability to react in a certain way to certain death, always seem to bring out the worst in him. Panicking was written into his character makeup the second he stepped into the Pegasus galaxy (not having had to face certain death all that often back on Earth). Still, he maintains the belief that he usually panics manfully.
Not this time though. Running away from scary people with big swords, in the dark, and in the rain, with no clear idea of which direction the Stargate is in (just that it’s near the coast), is always going to make Rodney panic like a great big panicky girl.
He is the first to slip, to slide really, his feet go out from under him as he pushes aside another wet, clinging tree branch, and he feels his stomach drop as he falls. He is looking back, stupidly, gasping for breath and trying to gauge how far away the natives are. Then, none of that matters, because the world is falling. He’s sliding, in a mass of mud and undergrowth because the whole goddamn forest is moving, heading towards the coast, and the cliffs, fast. He hears yelling, and Teyla scream, and knows the others are falling too. Surprisingly (perhaps) that worries him, and he reaches out, tries to grab hold of someone, and squawks in pain when his arm snaps against something hard. After that, it’s a matter of gritting his teeth, trying not to flail, and waiting for the inevitable.
It doesn’t come though. Rodney doesn’t keep going and fly off the top of the cliff, he doesn’t hit the hard ground in the darkness below. He hits a rock, a big rock, and stops dead, the force jarring every bone in his body and rattling his brain in his skull. There is darkness then.
When he comes to, it’s with blood in his eyes and fear in his mouth; he can hear Ronon shouting and Sheppard yelling. It’s still raining, and Rodney just stares upwards for a moment, at the trees, and the black, and the rain - big fat, wet drops.
Rodney doesn’t want to move, he doesn’t want to go further down the slope, he’s so afraid he’s shaking. But Ronon is yelling, screaming for someone to come and help him. So Rodney pries himself away from the rock, wincing and cursing with every ragged breath, and creeps (very carefully and on his hands and knees) towards the dark shape of Ronon at the cliff edge. He is utterly, genuinely terrified of slipping again, and he reaches for any purchase he can find with numb, trembling fingers.
Ronon sits bolt upright just as Rodney reaches him, just as a scream rents the night air, successfully cutting through the noise of the rain and the howling wind. Rodney stares at Ronon for a moment, and then follows his gaze down into darkness as the sheer edge of the cliff drops away. Ronon is opening and closing his fist, as if he’s lost something, as if he’s meant to be holding something, and Rodney realises it was Sheppard, is Sheppard, isn’t Sheppard anymore.
Really, there was no way Ronon could have kept hold of Sheppard, no way in hell. He’d reached out on his own downward slide, grabbed at a tree and dislocated his shoulder – there was no way he could have pulled Sheppard up and stopped himself from falling down at the same time. No way. That doesn’t stop Rodney from panicking as he stares down into the darkness, and then back at Ronon’s horrified face. Of course it doesn’t
Naturally, he expects Sheppard to be dead. They both do. Of course they do. Best Rodney can tell it’s got to be a fifty foot drop, minimum; because they can’t actually see the bottom, or the beach below. Rodney knows the sand is orange, and there are rocks with sparkly metal ore trapped inside. He doesn’t know if Sheppard hit them, or if his blood is now mingling with the shiny, sparkly metal; but he presumes so. He has to presume so, because no one could survive that fall, and Sheppard isn’t answering his radio.
The two of them, Ronon and Rodney, clamber half way back up the muddy slope with a great deal of effort and a lot of swearing. Ronon half-dragging Rodney all the way, good hand tucked in the back of his tac vest, near the collar. Rodney feels choked, and sore and afraid, but it stops him from curling in a ball and crying like he wants to.
They’re looking for Teyla. She’s got to be here somewhere; no way could she have fallen off the cliff too, no way.
They do find her, in the end. Her mud-covered, broken looking body is wrapped around a tree. She looks like a doll, and there’s blood at the corner of her mouth. Rodney doesn’t want to look at her.
Ronon leaves him there, to watch over Teyla (though Rodney isn’t convinced she’s even alive), whilst he heads back to the gate and goes for help. Rodney doesn’t actually think he’d be able to make it back, he feels sick and scared still. He can’t help but cast nervous looks toward the cliff edge, at the dark forest still above them; death on all sides.
Lorne comes for him. It seems like hours, though it’s probably not much more than one, before they arrive in the puddlejumper. They hover over the edge of the cliff, lights highlighting the destruction on the side of the hill, the trees uprooted and the undergrowth flattened, all under a layer of slick, orange, mud. And there, in the middle of it all is the pale figure of Rodney McKay, huddled next to a tree stump, and a lump that may well be Teyla Emmagen. Lorne doesn’t know what to think, seems Sheppard’s team’s luck finally ran out.
There isn’t a flat surface to touch the jumper down, and his marines have to do clever things with rope and climbing harnesses. They roll Teyla into a litter, winch her up, strap Rodney into a harness and do the same with him. Rodney’s grateful, for once, to let Carson fuss. Teyla will be all right, she’s got a bad head injury, some broken bones, maybe some internal bleeding, but ultimately she’ll be all right. Rodney’s had a nasty whack on the head, a badly broken arm, but most of it is shock. He can’t voice how he feels. He can’t tell Carson that Sheppard’s dead, that Sheppard went over the cliff. He’s shaking when the jumper lifts off, has to close his eyes when Carson wraps blankets around him and tells him it’ll be all right. He knows it won’t, because Sheppard’s dead, John’s dead. He’s bound to be, at the base of the cliff, alone, wet, twisted and broken.
Rodney doesn’t know about the second jumper, not now, though he will later, when they finally have a debriefing with three of the team members present. Right now, he’s lying in the infirmary, having pictures taken of his head, having nurses shine lights in his eyes. Then, horribly, there’s commotion, shouting, and a klaxon that makes Rodney want to claw off his own skin, if only he could move his hands. They’re bringing someone else into the infirmary, and Rodney tries to remember which teams are off world; who else has had an accident on this terrible night?
John isn’t really aware of much, until they try to move him. Until then, he mostly feels cold and fear and numb. When the lights come though, he hears shouts, and feet, and the sand around him shifts. He moans then, and hears more shouting, more lights shine on his face and he closes his eyes tight against it. There’s a marching band in his head and it’s getting louder. The hands that touch him are soft but send excruciating tendrils of pain through his body, all over. He can’t discern where it starts and stops because it is all-encompassing. He is aware of a voice talking to him, but it’s drowned out by his own quiet mumblings of agony when he feels hands pressing harder against him.
He fades; the cottony feel of morphine is clouding things, dampening the edge of the pain. He can feel his heart thumping loudly in his chest, hear his own laboured breathing. He isn’t aware of the men lifting him, being oh so careful because their CO survived a fifty foot drop onto loose rocks, and they aren’t going to kill him now, not before Beckett gets a look.
The world coalesces again, coming together with light and sound and movement, when they’re in the jumper. John takes a harsh breath, and suddenly everything’s clear. He can hear a heart rate monitor, and feel oxygen tickling his nose. His fingers are cold but his face is strangely hot and he gasps again, sucking air in like he’s drowning. There’s a face leaning over him, a marine he thinks, and the man looks a little stressed and a lot concerned. John knows the man’s speaking to him, but he can’t hear him suddenly, the monitor’s too loud, too fast; the beats of his heart are chasing one another, overlapping and merging together. He can feel the pressure on his chest, can feel how hard it is to breathe, and he wants to tell them it’s the morphine, that it’s exacerbating something, that he has fluid on his lungs and he just can’t breathe. There are spots dancing in his vision though, the world is going grey at the edges, and he can’t hold on any more, not long enough to tell them.
Someone’s shouting again, he can hear them now, because the heart rate monitor isn’t making noise – someone’s turned it off, the alarm was annoying. He doesn’t like the dark fading his vision, and he closes his eyes (it’s less claustrophobic like that). He’s welcoming darkness as they approach the Stargate; it’s easy, more comfortable, and a great deal less painful.
Rodney cries himself to sleep that night. Despite what some people (Kavanagh) think, Rodney isn’t prone to crying, but he’s on heavy meds, and he’s still in agony. He has to wait for the required surgery to his arm. Dr Ramathan is their only orthopaedic surgeon, and he’s still busy with Sheppard. Sheppard, who has survived a fifty foot fall, barely, and nearly died in the jumper from a collapsed lung.
Rodney wakes in the night, not from nightmares, or from pain, but from the muffled footsteps of exhausted doctors criss-crossing the room to and from Sheppard’s bed and the office, keeping Carson informed. Rodney watches them, for a time, head lolling on the pillow as he tries to ignore the throbbing from every wrenched muscle and patch of grazed flesh. He knows he’s lucky, he knows that. Teyla still hasn’t woken. Ronon is going to need physiotherapy. Sheppard is… Rodney closes his eyes at that. He doesn’t want to think about Sheppard now, yet.
The problem is: Rodney was convinced Sheppard was dead. They didn’t look for him, because they didn’t see any way he could have survived.
Now, Rodney feels guilty, awful; because Sheppard has suffered exposure and hypothermia as well as breaking nearly every bone in his body.
Rodney closes his eyes again, and waits for morning, because maybe things won’t be so awful then.
They really are though; Rodney opens his eyes to a thumping headache and a sharp throbbing pain running up and down his arm. He turns his head and frowns as he takes in the bandages and the extra IV that wasn’t there last night. There’s a bag of blood on the stand too that makes him feel a little sick to look at. He feels groggy, and not altogether with it and puts two and two together to come up with ‘surgery’.
A nurse comes to check on him, and explains that he had a fever in the night, that they realised the break to his arm was becoming infected, and that Dr Ramathan took him straight into theatre. That explains why Rodney doesn’t remember, he’s notorious for memory loss when he’s sick (a shame, because he tends to have startling academic revelations when he’s delirious). The IV contains antibiotics, and the blood is the second bag he’s received (A negative) after an apparently difficult surgery; which explains why he’s feeling so weak and sick.
The nurse pats him on the shoulder when he asks about Sheppard, and explains that Carson wants to come and tell him himself. Rodney blinks a little at that, because it can’t be good, not good at all.
John is dreaming. He doesn’t know he’s dreaming, he thinks he’s awake and the Wraith are attacking (it might be better to call it a nightmare). He’s dreaming about the storm that struck Atlantis, back in their first year, but to him it’s happening now. He’s soaked to the bone from the torrential rain, shivering and numb, skin chafing and sore from his wet clothes. He’s dreaming that their Genii attackers are allied with the Wraith, that however many men and beasts he kills with iris and guns and his own bloody hands, they still keep coming. His body is feverish, his core temperature climbing too high now after the cold that kept him alive before. You aren’t dead until you’re warm and dead. The cold slowed his body down, kept his blood pressure low, and stopped him bleeding out, protected his head and his heart. But John doesn’t know any of that - he’s dreaming. He’s watched the Wraith feed on Elizabeth, feed on Rodney, and he’s helpless, held down by Kolya and his Genii men. He can’t move his legs. He can’t move his arms. Pressure on his chest is making it hard to breath, and John can’t do anything at all.
Rodney is numb. He can’t quite believe his ears when Carson explains slowly to him that it’s a miracle Sheppard is even alive, but that swelling on his brain has him drifting in and out of consciousness. For a moment, he thinks everything’s going to be okay, that Sheppard’s head will get better, he’ll wake up and everything will be all right. Then Carson explains about the unstable fracture - to Sheppard’s neck. His neck is broken; Rodney thinks he’s going to be sick then, and it takes a while to calm himself down (even with Carson’s reassuring hand rubbing circles on his back).
When he’s lying back, with something added to his drip and a cottony feel in his mouth, Carson goes on to explain that Dr Ramathan doesn’t feel comfortable performing the surgery Sheppard needs. He adds that they need to let Sheppard stabilise, because any unnecessary movement now increases the risk of his spinal cord being further damaged. Rodney closes his eyes and takes deep breaths; even with the sedative in his drip he can feel the panic rising.
Carson tells him the rest with his big warm hand resting on Rodney’s shoulder – they’re going to wait for Sheppard to stabilise, let the swelling go down, hope the tissue damage will heal a little, and then send him home to the SGC for surgery. For the moment he’s on a respirator, and has a halo to stabilise his spine. He’s as comfortable as possible, and Rodney is grateful for small mercies.
Elizabeth contacts Earth the next day. With Zelenka’s help she sends a compressed data burst, with a message and Sheppard’s medical notes included. Zelenka comes to tell Rodney that the SGC have approved the request to send Colonel Sheppard home, and they will do so as soon as the man is stable. Rodney nods, and spares a glance at the curtained bed in the corner where he knows they have Sheppard hidden – Carson won’t let anyone see him.
Carson has forgotten that Rodney and Zelenka are two of the sneakiest people in two galaxies.
It isn’t easy. The frame on Rodney’s arm is cumbersome, as is the IV stand, and he still feels weak and sick. Radek walks behind him, helping him stay upright and protecting Rodney’s modesty at the same time (Rodney has never liked hospital gowns).
Sheppard, when they reach him, is pale and sickly looking, face mottled with bruises and cuts. He’s flat on the bed, and the halo is a gruesome structure – his hair has been shaved to allow for the bolts to be screwed into his skull – but Rodney knows it could well be saving his friend’s life. He sinks gratefully into the chair at Sheppard’s bedside and doesn’t notice Zelenka creep away once he’s settled – he’s too busy looking at John. The respirator is making that busy whooshing noise that is somehow familiar and alien both at the same time, and the heart rate monitor is beeping steadily. Rodney is relieved. Somehow it’s much better than he feared, even though the reality itself is mind numbingly awful. It could have been so very much worse.
He falls asleep in the chair, one hand clutching Sheppard’s loosely, and wakes much later to his own wet, gasping breath. He sits and shakes for a minute or two, and then raises his head and looks around. He’s already forgotten the nightmare, but the residual fear is still there and he can’t help wincing when he hears a crash from the other side of the infirmary.
It’s Carson, come to see where his least favourite patient has got to.
He isn’t angry with Rodney (he’s gentle and kind) and that is honestly freakier than shouting would be. He helps Rodney up, and walks him back to his bed, all the while talking softly about how he needs his rest and shouldn’t be out of bed yet. Rodney is left shaky and shivering as Carson pulls blankets up over his chest; but he sleeps and has no more nightmares.
John wakes properly when the sedation wears off – they’d taken him off the respirator. He knows he’s being pumped full of painkillers, the fuzziness, and cottony taste in his mouth, is testament. But he can still feel the throb of broken bones, the sting of plastic tubing and wires attached to his body, and he cannot stop the tears that squeeze out of his eyes. It’s bad, this time. He knows it’s bad.
Carson comes to him, soon after. He looks exhausted, dishevelled and concerned. John tries to smile to reassure him, but finds that he can’t really move his face the way he wants to. When Carson steps away (to look at monitors), John tries to turn his head to follow him. The panic, when he finds that he can’t, is genuine. The moan of fear and surprise is unavoidable. Carson pats him on the shoulder, talks him through his injuries, and the fear takes route as a deep throbbing ache in his stomach. They’re going to send him back to Earth for surgery, to recover, to spend the rest of his days in abject misery.
This is it, he thinks, The End (with big, capital letters). Not of his life, thanks to the marines, Carson and Doctor Ramathan, but certainly of his career, definately of Atlantis. He lies there, during the night, not able to lift his broken arms to wipe the tears away, grateful that Carson didn’t stay to watch him fall apart.
There is something to cling to still, with every plan John ever had as shattered as the bones in his body, there is still something to cling to. He might walk again. Might. However much pain medication they’re giving him, it isn’t enough – every bone in his body is throbbing with a deep-seated ache. He doesn’t say anything.
He’s glad he’s in pain, it means: hope.