If I Die
Chapter One - The Middle
"Move it!" Sheppard screamed, over the pounding of blood in his ears. He cast quick looks either side of him: Lieutenant Ford, running to his right, youthful legs crossing ground without effort; Teyla to his left, graceful, both hunter and tough prey, avoiding her captors. At the back, McKay keeping up, the oldest of the three, but not so slow as his lifestyle – and eating habits – might have suggested.
Adrenaline had a lot to answer for.
The huge, stone archway lay ahead of them, its mouth offering a glimpse of the woods beyond. A place to lose themselves in, to weave back to the Stargate and then home, to Atlantis.
Away from this nuthouse, Sheppard thought. The sound of thunderous boots a way off, and alarmed shouts, drove extra speed to his legs.
And a shot rang through the courtyard.
He was still looking forward, still driven towards the doorway. Saw McKay stop, stagger, from the corner of his eye. Sheppard turned in time to see him rock backwards, eyes wide, rabbit in headlights look. Ford was closer and twisted back first, grabbing McKay and pulling him forward. Sheppard glanced upward in the direction of the shot, saw a dark figure duck back from the wall.
"Major," Ford called out, struggling to hold McKay's weight as the scientist's legs folded.
Doubling back, Sheppard reached them in time to stop McKay from hitting the dirt, slipping his arm under the man's shoulders and hauling him upright. Together he and Ford half-carried, half-dragged the scientist across the remaining space of the courtyard. Ahead of them Teyla had already passed under the arch, and was now beckoning them to follow.
A dark outcrop of the forest fingered its way close to the eastern wall of the city, and leaving the road behind, Teyla led the three men across a patch of overgrown arable land and into the trees. The quiet zip of firearms continued, but there were no more sharp shots from the dark, no figures in the bushes. As they plunged further into the undergrowth the sounds faded, and were soon distant, drowned out by the quick breaths from his teammates, the gasps from McKay, the thundering of Sheppard's own heart in his ears.
We need to stop. Assess the situation. Take a breather.
He heard Rodney moan beside him, a repeated mantra.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god..."
"Shush," he ordered, harsher than he intended. "You'll have the whole town down on us."
"Sir?" Ford shot him a questioning look.
They had ascended a small hill, now stood above a well in the earth, the ground relatively barren, overhung by widespread branches and shadows. "We'll stop here," Sheppard decided, starting the short descent.
The combined weight of the three men dragged them down quickly, thorny shrubs snagging Sheppard's trousers, hidden roots tripping his feet. They stumbled into the bottom of the well, Teyla putting out one hand to stop them from falling.
With a quick nod, Sheppard directed Ford to take point on the top of the rise they had just descended. Then he carefully deposited McKay on the ground, Teyla kneeling beside Sheppard as he took his first good look at the scientist. Pale face, body quivering gently, hands pressed to his abdomen.
"Crap," Sheppard breathed, pulling back McKay's shirt to reveal bright red blood oozing from a small bullet wound above his left hip. His hand crept around Rodney's side, across warm skin, then pulled back. "No exit wound."
Two wide, terrified eyes caught his own. "That's bad. That's bad, right?"
"Depends." Sheppard probed the wound carefully.
A hiss of pain. "Shi-"
"Sorry." He paused. Beside him, Teyla had her backpack on the ground and was rifling through it, finally pulling out the medical kit. A tight grip on his wrist drew his gaze back to those terrified eyes.
"I'm going to die."
Firmly: "No, you're not."
"Major, I've been shot."
"Yeah." He grimaced. "I know. But I've seen worse, Rodney." Which was true, he had. Soldiers shot down with only seconds to live, or less. Brain on the sidewalk and limbs blown to hell. He wiped some of the blood from McKay's skin only for more to pool in its place.
It'd take longer. But without a doctor, with Atlantis and its infirmary an eternity away...
"They shot me," McKay repeated, a note of high hysteria creeping into his voice.
"They were shooting at everybody, Doc," Aiden broke in, from his position atop the small hillock. His eyes scanned the darkness for movement.
Caught in the crossfire. In the confusion, Sheppard could almost allow himself to believe that, but the shot was too clean, too precise, and from the dark look on Teyla's face, she knew it too.
If we'd stood still, if Rodney hadn't been a moving target, then those genius brains of his would probably be cooling in the dust right now.
"Oh god." Rodney was squirming under Sheppard's touch. "I'm gonna die."
"Will you stop saying that!" Sheppard snapped. He paused, taking a moment to calm himself. "Look, no one is going to die."
"You say that," the scientist shot back, "but you're not the one with your guts open."
"McKay!" He dropped his voice, laid a hand on the side of the scientist's face. "Look at me."
With nowhere to go, the scientist turned his head. Two brightly dilated eyes returned Sheppard's gaze, a panicked expression.
"I am going to get you out of here," Sheppard said forcefully, feeling clammy skin under his fingers. "I am going to get us all out of here. Is that understood?"
"Well, I think one of us should be realistic – "
"Is that," he repeated, slowly and deliberately, "understood?"
McKay stopped talking, his breath slowing from hysterical gasps. He looked at Sheppard, gave a very small nod. "Alright. I get it."
"Good." Sheppard glanced at Teyla. "Because I'm making it Teyla's official job to slap you next time you decide to get hysterical on us."
She nodded solemnly. "Understood, Major."
"Huh." McKay managed a look of mock offence. "Nice bedside manner."
"I do my best," Sheppard took wad of bandages into his hands, looked back into McKay's eyes. "We have to stop the bleeding."
"Yeah." McKay shuddered, staring at his wound in morbid fascination. "That would seem like a good idea, right?"
Beside him, Teyla snapped open a fresh hypodermic, then tugged at the physician's sleeve, pulling the fabric up to reveal raised veins and white flesh. With morbid fascination Rodney watched her plunge the needle into his skin.
"What was that?"
"Huh." The scientist nodded vaguely, his eyelids drooping. "Sounds like a good idea."
Sheppard finished binding McKay's wound, the best job he could, though the material pressed against the man's side quickly stained red. Ford had torn his eyes from their surroundings to glance at his commander.
"Should we move, sir?"
"No," Sheppard muttered bitterly, tugging McKay's shirt over the bandages.
"We have no choice," Teyla pointed out. "With forces from both the Silani government and the rebels hunting us, we must keep moving."
He sighed. "I know." Stopped, wiping his hands on his trousers, leaving a smear of crimson and the slight smell of copper. "Look, I'm guessing we're about two hours off sunrise. We use the darkness as cover and try to climb as much of this mountain as we can. We'll try and find some shelter before daybreak, then check out the land. Hopefully the Silani are too busy fighting each other to worry about us just yet."
"I believe it was one of the rebels who shot Doctor McKay," Teyla pointed out.
"Yeah." Sheppard clenched his jaw. "But they only fired once. I'm hoping they think that was enough." He tapped McKay's cheek sharply, prompted a jerk of his head and a widening of his eyes. "No falling asleep on the job, Rodney."
"Whuh?" The scientist shook his head slowly, blinked at Sheppard. "What's happening?"
"We're on the move. Think you can get up?"
A grimace. "No." But McKay started to shift, pressing his hands against the ground to lever himself up. Sheppard slipped an arm beneath his friend's shoulders, taking his weight and lifting him to his unsteady feet. The scientist clung to him, the weight almost taking Sheppard down to his knees before he could gain his balance.
Ford took McKay's other side before both men could topple, abandoning his sentry duty to Teyla. She sprang to the top of the hillock, surveyed the landscape as they manhandled McKay.
"This way," she said decisively, lingering long enough for them to ascend the hill after her.