Betas: Kelly – military beta supreme, Tammy – first and best cheerleader and Jill – editing goddess, you guys are my heroes!!
Spoilers: The Brotherhood
Author's notes: Any mistakes are all mine and are on purpose – so there! And I have it on good authority Captain Chicken is a REAL MRE flavor. Thanks to Queen Koschecka for letting me borrow Supergeek. MandyK – you asked for this – I hope you like it :D
Sheppard watched, amusement quirking one corner of his mouth as McKay wandered ahead gabbling about energy signatures. He briefly considered needling the Canadian, but McKay was so excited John doubted he'd hear. There would be plenty of time for that on the way home. He'd promised to let Rodney take the controls. He glanced over at Ford and indicated with one eyebrow for the young Lieutenant to accompany Rodney into the ruins. Ford didn't roll his eyes, but Sheppard knew he wasn't thrilled about babysitting McKay. The scientist usually had fairly good instincts for a civilian, but when he got excited about something, he could be standing on a squad of Genii hit men and he wouldn't notice the guns until they were in his face.
Teyla appeared at his side noiselessly, a woven bag full of odd blue ovoids about the size of Sheppard's fist. She looked delighted.
"These are naros. They are very good eating," she explained, holding one out to him.
"Okaayyyyy," he said inexplicably reluctant and gingerly took one. The surface was very smooth, almost like an egg. Smiling gently at his trepidation, Teyla took one and bit into it eagerly, the juice running down her chin. Laughing a little, she wiped the juice away with the back of one small, strong brown hand and gestured for Sheppard to try his.
Lifting it to his mouth, he nibbled at the skin and bit through into the fruit, the flavor of the fruit exploding onto his tongue, and not in a good way. Any thoughts of good manners were abandoned as the taste of forgotten gym socks, moldy pizza, and basically the smell of an old locker room caromed through his taste buds. Sheppard swore and spit the small piece of fruit out of his mouth, grabbing for his water bottle and rinsing his mouth repeatedly. Teyla was staring at him in dismay.
"You do not care for the flavor, Major?" she said, looking disappointed.
"Sorry Teyla, but that is foul!"
"Major!" It was McKay, striding up confidently, jacket off in the warm sun. He had that imperative tone to his voice that always set Sheppard's teeth on edge. He turned slowly to face McKay.
"I need to get up there," and he punched a finger at the ruins of a tower, its roof half fallen in leaving the room open to the air. Ford approached, looking harried.
"Why?" Sheppard asked easily. McKay's eyes rolled and he sighed heavily.
"I feel like playing Rapunzel," he snapped. "Why do you think? Because the energy signature is coming from there, obviously." Sheppard considered him a moment, one eyebrow raised. This must be good, he thought. The more excited Rodney got, the snarkier he became. This wasn't true "snark" by Rodney's standards, but he was looking smug as well and that usually meant something big. Before he could respond though, Rodney caught sight of the partly eaten fruit in Sheppard's hand.
"I'm out here sweating and searching for an energy source to get our asses home and you're snacking on fresh fruit!" he groused indignantly.
"I do not think..." Teyla began but Sheppard interrupted her.
"No, no, Teyla, there'll still be plenty to take back to Atlantis. Let McKay have one. Low blood sugar and all that."
Teyla looked uncertainly between the two men, Sheppard looking innocent, and McKay, hand outstretched, a satisfied smirk on his face, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet. Teyla shrugged and handed him one of the fruit.
"I'll take one too," said Ford, reaching into Teyla's basket.
"I'll share the rest of mine with you, Ford," Sheppard said hastily. Ford looked at him a little strangely and then fought to repress a grin at McKay's reaction to his first taste. The eyes that had been closed in blissful anticipation popped open and then squeezed shut again in involuntary disgust as he spit and spit again, even scrubbing at his tongue in a vain attempt to rid his mouth of the flavor as Sheppard watched, a slow wicked smile spreading across his face.
"Something wrong, McKay?" he drawled, as the scientist spluttered. Sheppard held the water bottle out by its strap and McKay grabbed it, shooting a murderous glare at him.
"Fine! Kill the geek, maybe you can even find some nice lemons for me!" he snapped when he was finally able to speak, the putrid taste of the fruit still contorting his face. He had taken rather a larger bite than Sheppard's judicious nibble. "Now if you have temporarily satisfied your desire for puerile humor, may I continue with my efforts to save Atlantis?"
"Oh, McKay," Sheppard said thoughtfully. "If I wanted to kill you it would be much more creatively than anaphylactic shock." McKay's eyes widened while he decided whether or not Sheppard was serious, his ego making short work of the deliberation. With a snort of disgust he turned away. Exchanging grins, Ford, Teyla and Sheppard followed.
Rodney led the way through scattered stone blocks, half-buried foundations and crumbling fallen walls. Pushing away long tangles of some overgrown vegetation, he shone the bright beam into the interior. Debris from the floors above had fallen through the stairwell and littered the floor. Light also traveled down, partially revealing the outlines of the room, dust motes dancing in the scattered rays of sun. Sheppard peered over Ford's shoulder, evaluating the battered remnants of the stairwell McKay was already heading for.
"Lieutenant, stay with the doctor. Teyla and I will keep watch and do some sweeps." Ever since the Genii had taken them by surprise that day, no one ever watched alone. Ford nodded and turned to follow McKay into the shadowy depths.
Teyla and Sheppard took up position outside the tower, scanning the forest edge for anything that might be a threat.
"Did your people ever visit this world, Teyla?"
"No, Major," she answered in her calm, level voice. "This is the first time I have seen this place. It is most pleasant here."
Looking around, Sheppard had to agree. It was warm but not uncomfortably so, unlike M85-393; the air was fragrant, and flowers bloomed from the vines twining around the ruins.
"There is plentiful fruit as well," she continued, an almost impish smile playing around her lips.
Sheppard snorted. "Maybe we better worry then."
#Major.# It was Ford on the radio.
#Dr. McKay says the energy source is coming from the top of the tower.# Ford reported.
#And the problem is...?# responded Sheppard.
#The floor on the top level is unstable.# As Ford answered, Sheppard could hear McKay's witheringly sarcastic tone in the background, rather like a mosquito whining, Sheppard mused. There was a loud klunk, an outraged grunt from Ford and then the radio clicked off and on again before Sheppard could ask another question. McKay's voice came loud and obnoxious, blaring in his ear.
#Major, the floor is stable enough for one person to go up and investigate. Now unless Lieutenant Ford here has a degree in engineering, which would come as a life threatening shock to me, I'm pretty sure I have a better grasp on basic architectural mechanics!#
Sheppard sighed before thumbing the radio button. #McKay, give the Lieutenant's radio back to him, please.#
After a pause, Ford spoke again sounding highly affronted. #All I'm saying, Major, is that you can see daylight, a lot of it, but if the doctor thinks it's safe, he's welcome to try it.# His mouth twitching, Sheppard tried to ignore the unstated but obvious hope Ford had that McKay go ahead and try and break his stupid civilian skull. Raising a brow questioningly, he glanced at Teyla. She nodded acceptance.
#What about sending Teyla up? She's the lightest.# Sheppard could hear McKay's snort without the benefit of radio transmission. This time though he responded on his own radio.
#Believe me, I would like nothing better than for Teyla to risk her neck rather than me risk mine!# There was a rather lengthy pause while Sheppard imagined the look on Rodney's face as he reviewed his last statement. The major glanced at Teyla who just rolled her eyes. He held up fingers, one, two, and on three the radio came to life. #What I mean is, if someone else could do this, I'd let them. Unfortunately Teyla wouldn't know what she was looking at even if she found it. The scan shows the power source is in standby mode. I won't know it until I touch it; without the ATA gene, Teyla wouldn't have a chance.#
Sheppard paused just long enough to make Rodney antsy before responding.
#Go ahead, McKay, but try not to get hurt. I'm just getting you broken in and I'd hate to have to start all over with a new geek.#
#Oh please, I may hurt myself laughing# McKay retorted.
#Just make sure you've got your flak vest on; it'll be some protection if you do fall. Ford, make sure he has it on before you let him go up.#
#And to be safe should I put on some sunscreen?#
#I'll take care of it, Major.# Ford cut in sounding grimly pleased.
Sheppard smirked at the image of Ford shoehorning an unwilling McKay into the vest and then backed up for a better view, watching as Rodney's head slowly came into view. He was being careful, testing each step before he placed weight on it, the Ancient scanning device in one hand, the other tightly grasping the stones of the tower. Pulling out his field glasses, he focused in on Rodney. Sweat beaded the Canadian's face. Sheppard knew for all his bluster, McKay was trying in his own, oh-so-obnoxious way to actually protect the others in his team.
Slowly he worked his way across the floor, pausing several times to re-orient himself on the position of the power source. He had traveled almost the full width of the tower and was steps away from the parapet, strong stubby fingers working to move some debris, when Sheppard heard Teyla cry out in warning. He dropped the field glasses and grabbed his P90, swinging around to where she was looking. But she wasn't facing the forest edge as he'd expected; instead the wide, bright brown eyes were fixed on something in the air.
It was, quite impossibly, a helluva big pterodactyl, or this world's version of it anyway, with impressively clawed legs Sheppard was sure hadn't been on the earth version, and a nasty serrated beak. And, it was heading straight for the most intelligent meal it would ever have. Sheppard grabbed his radio and roared, #McKay, get the hell out of there!#
Early on Rodney might have snarked back, or even ignored him completely, but he'd learned fast when snark could get you more than dirty looks. Without bothering to respond, he began making his way back as swiftly as he could move over the shifting rubble. Not fast enough, though, Sheppard could tell, and he began running to the other side of the tower trying to get a clear shot. The oversized chicken hawk seemed to be moving unbelievably fast, much faster than Rodney.
Without bothering with the radio, Sheppard bellowed, "MOVE YOUR GEEKY ASS, MCKAY!" The Canadian's head came up at the undisguised fear in Sheppard's voice and he scuttled recklessly over the debris, his head bobbing as he slipped, recovered and scrambled on. When the giant carnivore sank its claws into him, he wasn't even close to the stairwell.
Despite the outraged howl of pain, or maybe because of it, Sheppard had some hope he wasn't too badly injured; thank God he'd insisted the scientist keep his flak vest on. At least he'd have that much protection.
Helplessly he watched, almost frozen, not seeing his geek moving at all, just hanging bonelessly as the predator flew off. Finally his muscles unlocked and he could move. Shouting into his radio for Ford to get back to the gate for help, John jerked his head to Teyla to join him. Seconds later, or was it years, they were making their way down a faint trail through the undergrowth. Teyla kept up with him effortlessly as he struggled to keep Rodney in sight.
"He is still alive, Major," she said easily as they pounded along. "I saw him trying to reach his knife." Her words loosened a band around his chest he hadn't even realized was there.
"At least the idiot had his vest on," he growled. They were not going to be able to keep up much longer; even if they could have kept pace with the giant raptor's wing strokes, there was a deep ravine rushing towards them. Listening to Teyla's easy breathing next to him, he amended that. Even if HE couldn't keep pace. His radio chittered and Ford's agitated voice broke through over the open channel.
#Major, behind you!#
Sheppard wasn't sure what he was expecting after the pterodactyl, but he knew dinosaurs should have been on the short list. The ugly bastards were big, and dammit, fast too. The double-ridged heads and heavy jaws full of sharp teeth bobbed up and down, as powerful haunches propelled them closer and closer. Both he and Teyla sped up seeing the ravine was directly ahead of them, just meters away now.
A felled tree formed a rough bridge over and he gestured to Teyla to cross, while he wheeled around and squeezed off a burst of shots at the nearest gigantic dino bearing down on them. Two dropped to the ground dead, heavily clawed feet scrabbling at the earth reflexively. The others split off, but he knew they wouldn't stay gone for long. He turned and followed Teyla over the makeshift bridge. It swayed and dipped, but ultimately held. Once safely on the other side he thumbed his radio open.
#Ford, are you all right?#
#I'm fine, Major, though it seems you and Teyla were the special tonight.#
Sheppard was actually relieved to hear the jibe. Ford was a good soldier for being so young, and a sense of humor in the military usually didn't last.
#Thanks. Now get back to the gate and let them know what's happened.#
#Yes sir. Be safe.#
Sheppard gazed in the direction the pterodactyl thing had gone and sighed. It was just a speck now. Damn it!
"Major," Teyla interrupted his thoughts. "I believe we should move while the others are distracted. Besides, I think I saw the beast drop Dr. McKay. I can guide us there."
Sheppard turned to see the remaining dinosaurs tearing at the carcasses of the ones he'd killed. Teyla, too, watched with a revulsed fascination. Even as they watched though, one of the carnivores raised his head and fixed an eye on them, blood still dripping from its jaws. Sheppard considered destroying the tree-bridge, but they might need it to get back to the gate, plus it was likely with their luck there would be more of the dinosaurs on this side. He turned back to Teyla.
The Athosian indicated a direction roughly southwest of the ravine and Sheppard nodded for her to take point. They moved off through the forest at a rapid pace. From time to time, Teyla would halt, reorient herself and set off again. Once she reached over and wiped her fingers across a broad leaf and showed them to Sheppard. They were smeared with fresh blood.
They came upon him unexpectedly. The ground had been sloping up steadily for a half-mile or so and as they crested the hill, he was there, untidily sprawled, the broken boughs of a small tree testimony to his forceful arrival.
Sheppard and Teyla rushed to him and carefully turned him over. It was a shock to see the normally pugnacious face so still and white. Feeling gently through the short hair, Sheppard all too easily found the reason for his current silence and swore at the bloody bump on the back of Rodney's head, staring at the blood on his fingers now on his own fingers.
"Major, I believe this is more serious." Teyla gently pulled at the front of Rodney's flak vest, the Velcro giving way grudgingly, even with the blood saturating it. There were two separate puncture wounds where the raptor's claws had slipped through the flak vest. One in Rodney's shoulder was not so serious but still it would be badly bruised and painful. The other was something else entirely. Where the predator's talons had gripped him, his shoulder was..., not right. Not only was the wound deep, the shoulder itself was sitting oddly.
With a sinking feeling Sheppard realized it had been dislocated. This was so not good. They had none of their supplies; Sheppard could picture, without even closing his eyes, the location of each of their packs neatly piled outside the ruin. At least Teyla had had the presence of mind to grab a first aid kit before they began their cross-country jog. She was already applying a pressure bandage attempting to slow the bleeding. Rodney didn't regain consciousness but his moan made it clear how much pain he was in. Sheppard looked around fruitlessly for something else to use as a bandage but there was nothing.
Teyla glanced up, rising fluidly to her feet. Stepping over to a plant standing about waist high, huge tapered leaves falling away from a central stalk, she peered down inside of it. Her face lit up and she turned back to Sheppard.
"Major, could you spare the sleeves of your shirt?"
"Teyla, I'm flattered but now?" started John on pure reflex even as he reached for and tore off the short sleeves of his tee. Teyla made a frustrated sound.
"There is water collected here." Her words registered and he tossed the small pieces of black jersey to her as he continued putting pressure on Rodney's wound, trying to ignore the growing moisture under his fingertips.
Swiftly Teyla dipped the fabric into the hollow between the leaves and the stalk where rainwater had collected. Careful not to waste a drop, Teyla moved swiftly back to kneel at Rodney's side and dribbled a few drops of liquid into his mouth. She gently laved his face and neck clean of the dried blood streaking it. His eyelids flickered and finally managed to open. Focusing took a little longer but eventually his eyes locked onto Teyla's face.
"Dr. McKay, we are here with you and you will be fine."
His eyes blinked slowly. "M'jor."
"You're just never happy unless you're causing me trouble, are you, McKay."
"Purpose, ...of, m'life," came the slow answer and Sheppard grinned with relief but before he could verbally respond, Ford's voice was again coming over the radio.
#Major, we're cut off from the gate.#
Sheppard looked down at McKay, at the blood-soaked rag Teyla was trying to coax into behaving like a compression bandage. They didn't have time to screw around.
#Let me guess, Ford, there's a herd of Atlantasaurus Rex guarding the gate?#
#Close, Major. You remember that lagoon we all admired when we arrived? The one we talked about maybe taking a swim in? Well the mama crocodile that lives in it has made a nest for her eggs right next to the DHD. She seems pretty determined to keep us away, and Major, she's like 30 feet long!#
Lions and tigers and bears, my ass, thought Sheppard grimly. Dorothy didn't know how good she had it.
Sheppard's eyes refocused on Rodney's pale face. His short brown hair was now spiked into points, blood blown from his shoulder wound during his brief flight acting as a kind of hair gel.
#Swing back by the ruins, Ford, and raid the packs for any extra clips and get all the medical supplies. I've got a feeling we'll need them. Think you can follow our trail?#
#Yes, sir# came the instant response.
#Be careful, Ford. At this rate you might run into a psycho Barney out there.#
Sighing, Sheppard stood up and stretched, then began evaluating what they had. McKay watched through half-closed eyes, though John figured he was tracking the motion more than actually paying attention. A dislocated shoulder hurt like a son of bitch, and those puncture wounds probably didn't feel too great either. Add in the concussion, and Supergeek was out of action until they could get him back to Carson and Atlantis. Even then, he wouldn't be in for a very fun time.
While they were strapping McKay's arm to hold it in place until Carson could put it back, the blue eyes had faded with the effort of not crying out from the excruciating pain. This, Sheppard told him silently, definitely qualifies as passing out. Sheppard and Teyla both knew it was necessary until they could get him back to Atlantis, but the strain of inflicting misery on their teammate had shown in the tight muscles around Teyla's eyes and mouth. John himself had been grateful when Rodney had gone limp, his hands shaking as they finished.
Now John surveyed the meager results from their vests. Ten MRE's, seven alone from Rodney, four canteens, two magazines for his P-90 plus the half-clip he still had, five magazines for the 9mm's Teyla and Rodney carried, two grenades, several stubby pencils and notepads (Rodney's), antihistamine capsules (Rodney's), three PowerBars (s'mores no less and John decided he was going to have to carry out a lightning raid on Rodney's quarters to find his stash), his long hunting knife, two small kits of tools, one archaeological, one electrical John guessed, and sundry odds and ends. He glanced over at Rodney's still form.
"How is he?"
Their eyes locked over Rodney's battered form. They had left him in the bloodied flak vest before strapping his arm, and he lay with his eyes closed.
"As well as he can be. When he rouses his discomfort will be great," she said, looking distressed.
"Hopefully Ford can get here quickly with the morphine."
"I do not believe it would be wise to use the morphine," said Teyla regretfully. John's attention focused sharply on her but she went on. "Dr. Beckett says it is something that should only be used with a head injury when the patient can be very closely monitored." Sheppard sighed.
"I've got a feeling that extra-strength Tylenol just isn't gonna cut it, though." Teyla nodded agreement but there was really nothing else to say. This was going to get a lot worse before they got back.
They had been scheduled for an overnight with a check-in at 0800, but Weir wouldn't start to worry for at least a few hours after that. Rodney couldn't wait that long. He glanced up at a sound, hoping that mentioning Ford's name would somehow magically cause him to appear. The sun was going down and it was starting to get dark on this world. He felt the hair on his neck prickle. Unless Ford was playing a practical joke that involved sneaking through the undergrowth and making his eyes glow, there was something else after them. The fun just never stopped here, he thought wryly.
He glanced over at Teyla to see her eyes wide and alert, following the sound in the trees around them. He raised an eyebrow and tilted his head toward the one he was sure of. She pointed one finger the direction he'd indicated, and then pointed once more behind them. Slowly, warily, Sheppard got to his feet, P-90 at the ready, and stood close to Rodney and Teyla, so close he was almost straddling Rodney's prone form; Teyla pulled the 9mm from the holster on her leg and moved one of the magazines closer to her.
The animals attacked all at once. Immediately John and Teyla reacted, each expertly destroying one of the waist-high dinosaurs. The problem John discovered, was with the third one, and the problem was it wanted to eat him. It was like a piranha with legs, ramming into him from the right side, knocking him away from McKay. Landing heavily on his chest, the razor tip claws needled through the heavy weave of his flak vest and as brutally jagged teeth sank into the forearm he held up protectively. Warm, fetid breath washed over Sheppard's face and he groped frantically for his knife in its heavy nylon sheath.
Over the years Sheppard had gotten fond of his arm and he wasn't ready to give it up just yet. As he slammed the long blade into the guts of the dog-sized dinosaur, it abruptly let go, jaws snapping open and shut over and over again in its death throes and spilling its entrails and previous meal all over him in a wet, slimy mess.
It was Ford live and in person. `Good,' thought Sheppard absently, `he'll have some morphine for Rodney. Oh wait, Rodney can't have any.' And then as the first ripples of pain washed up from his arm, he thought, `maybe I'll have some though.'
When the suffocating weight was shoved off his chest, he gratefully took a deep breath gratefully, opening his eyes; Lieutenant Ford's worried face loomed over him.
"'Preciate that, Lieutenant. The smell alone could kill me." The lieutenant's face showed confusion, and then relief as he realized Sheppard was joking and not raving. Then he saw the mess made of the major's forearm and carefully pulled his C.O. onto his feet. Sheppard wove a little, but then straightened as his vision cleared. Mostly cleared, he amended to himself. "Well that was fun."
Holding his mangled arm awkwardly away from the rough nylon covering of his flak vest, John felt an agonizing throb pulsing in time to his accelerated heartbeat. Taking his C.O.'s good arm, Ford helped him sit beside where Rodney's prone body. The scientist hadn't regained consciousness during the attack, but now his eyelids began to flicker as he struggled to wake. Teyla had already begun pulling items from the pack Ford had laid beside her. Ford approached with one of the canteens and a length of clean bandage.
"Let's start getting that cleaned up, Major." Sheppard nodded, his head buzzing with pain and worry as he stripped off the gut-coated flak vest. With just Rodney's injuries getting back to the gate would be difficult; would it even be possible not that he, too, was wounded? A few long bamboo-like poles rested at the edge of the small clearing, John noticed, trying desperately to find something else to think about besides Ford and his use of scrubbie pads to clean out the dinosaur bite. Ford followed the major's gaze, and grinned with satisfaction.
"Saw those and figured we could use them as a stretcher for the doc," he said, forehead wrinkling as he realized Sheppard would definitely not be able to carry one end. Finally finishing, to John's immense relief, he added, "That should hold you until Dr. Beckett can see to it."
"The poles are a good idea, Ford," he said and then grinned himself with effort. "We've run a little of the lab potato off of McKay so Teyla might be able to manage the other end." Sheppard wasn't actually worried about that at all. The Athosian woman was as strong as most of the men in Atlantis, though she didn't look it. He had the bruises from their workouts to prove it. "Think our first priority is going to be getting a fire built." Ford nodded quickly, and pulling out his Beretta and a flashlight, headed out to look for firewood.
"N'stresher," came a croak from Rodney. Eyebrows raised, Sheppard eased himself over closer and met the determined eyes of the self-proclaimed biggest brain in Atlantis.
"I'm sure Teyla doesn't mind hauling your sorry ass around, McKay," he said comfortably. Bleary blue eyes glared at him.
"Tree," he insisted obliquely. Sheppard glanced around, mystified. A shadow of a huff emerged from Rodney and his eyes rolled in annoyance. Teyla spoke up.
"I believe the Doctor is concerned about getting the stretcher over the tree bridge," she interposed smoothly.
"Duh," was Rodney's concise agreement, though how he managed to infuse so much scorn into a single syllable was impressive to Sheppard.
"Don't worry about it, McKay. We'll figure it out when we get there." When there was no response he looked to Teyla in alarm; she was smiling.
"I believe he is just asleep, Major." Teyla carefully checked the cut on Rodney's head, a slight look of relief crossing her face. Sheppard popped some Tylenol into his mouth, when they heard the sharp report of a 9mm. He was instantly on his feet and reaching for his radio, when Ford came back, one arm loaded with small branches, and the other with the 9mm out and cocked.
"Not a fun place you picked for a campout, sir. Something almost dropped on me, I don't know what, didn't stick around to watch," he grunted as he dropped the small collection of wood and began working on getting a fire started. "We're gonna need more wood than this," he announced to Sheppard, "but I can't gather wood and keep a lookout at the same time." Teyla finished re-bandaging Rodney's head and laid him gently back down on the make shift pillow.
"Teyla, you and Ford go out and get as more wood; you have five minutes. One of you keep watch. I'll stay here with McKay." Nodding, she rose to her feet dusting off her BDU's, and quietly followed Ford back into the woods. They returned minutes later, each, a gun in one hand, and carrying a largish log between them with the other. Ford looked pleased with himself.
"This should keep the fire going all night once we get it burning."
It would and Sheppard assumed it did. He wasn't really sure. Whatever that dinosaur had lurking in its guts was septic. An infection had set in almost immediately; what with nasty dino innards spilling all over him, and then into his laceration. John's temperature soared until he couldn't tell if all this was real, or he was on a ride at Universal Studios. There were strange images and blurry outlines in front of a fire: memories, or fevered dreams, of a great flying pterodactyl, of a smirking pugnacious face both annoying and important. Through it all the ever tightening vise on his forearm, pulsing with pain that began to flash red through his vision until it all went black.
Teyla's expression, as she watched the two men on either side of the fire, mirrored how Ford felt. The night had been endless. They had fought off two more attacks, the last time standing back to back over the two injured men, spraying bullets in a wide circle. Toward the end he'd chucked the two grenades at them, and that seemed to be more effective than anything. Maybe it was something about the noise. He wasn't sure how many of the damn things they'd killed, but the books he'd read as a kid were right about one thing, dinosaurs were stupid.
It was both good and bad; good because they were easy to kill that way, but bad because they were starting to run low on rounds. Especially since Dr. McKay seemed to have decided to use his pockets for foodstuffs instead of the required number of magazines. Ford noticed with a scowl he'd brought enough MRE's to supply half of Atlantis.
Gazing at the MRE's, an idea niggled at the back of his mind and for the first time all night, he found himself grinning. If he could rig it right, those MRE's just might save their asses. When the sun finally came up, it took a little while for him to get everything arranged. He had to be able to get his hands free, temporarily, while still carrying one end of the stretcher they built for Dr. McKay. Finally he ended up tying loops of cord to his vest for the stretcher poles and hanging the canteens on hooks off his belt. The MRE heating elements he'd stowed in his vest pockets. This way he could even use the P-90 as long for as their rounds held.
He glanced over to where Teyla was attaching a tether to Sheppard; the major was dazed, his arm an angry red and swollen, his eyes glittery and unfocused. Ford knew the Major needed a stretcher almost as badly as McKay, but that wasn't an option. Rodney on the stretcher reminded him of that damn ravine. He still hadn't figured how he they were going to get across with the doctor flat on his back. He sighed. Talk about crossing bridges before you come to them. Just getting them all there in one piece was going to be almost as big an accomplishment.
Standing in front of the major, he could feel the heat radiating from the fevered body. The cloudy hazel eyes stared back at him, unseeing, and Ford felt all the weight of this man's life, of all of their lives, come down on him. Up until now there hadn't been time to think about it, but now... Ford took a deep breath. The Major's gaze suddenly sharpened on Ford's face with laser intensity, causing the desperate Lieutenant to think that perhaps some of his anxiety was seeping into the air between them.
"Ford." The major's voice sounded gravelly. John's eyes swung away from the lieutenant's face and took in the preparations he'd made for the trek back. Under that close scrutiny Ford felt himself flush. It all looked ridiculous, the water bottles and pouches dangling from his waist like some giant's cheap charm bracelet. But the major was nodding in approval; he seemed to have grasped what Ford had in mind. "You'll get us back, Lieutenant."
Just as suddenly as he'd become aware, the eyes unfocussed, his good hand plucking aimlessly at the fabric of the rough sling. His lips tightening, Ford rubbed at his forehead and re-settled his cap more firmly.
"Let us get them home," said Teyla, softly from beside him. He cleared his throat and nodded, moving to stand at the front of the stretcher where the weight would be greatest.
"Ok then, let's move out," Ford said with sudden resolve. Lifting McKay together, Sheppard moving unsteadily behind on his tether, they began heading back down the trail, back to the ravine.
Things went fairly well, at first. The doctor had not roused at all this morning but Teyla said his breathing and heart rate were steady. Ford had to hope it was good enough, or that she was right. The major was keeping up fairly well walking along behind Teyla, only occasionally stumbling or lurching into her in his haze. It didn't take long though for the smell of the injured men's blood to start to draw bigger predators than the insects already buzzing around them. Teyla, not surprisingly, had spotted them first.
"Lieutenant Ford," came her urgent low-voiced whisper. He glanced back at her over his shoulder, sweaty hands slipping on the ends of the stretcher.
"Where?" he demanded tersely, and looking the direction she indicated, saw them. It was the same damn rabid little blood-suckers that had attacked them during the night. Ford had named them Dobersaurs. He knew what Major Sheppard had said (about his naming things, specifically, not to). But, since he was now in charge, he could call them whatever he damn well felt like, especially since they were never coming back here again if he had his way. Besides, he liked the name Dobersaurs. They were dinosaurs about the size and temperament of rabid Doberman Pinschers. It seemed perfect to him. And they were getting bolder; Ford decided it was time for his secret plan.
"I think it's time to make a little noise," he said, and as he spoke, he let the loops of cording he'd laced to his vest take the weight of the stretcher, the vest dragging heavily off his shoulders. In one smooth motion he grabbed a canteen partly filled with water, dropped the MRE heating element into it and tightly screwing the lid on, threw it as hard as he could in the direction of the Dobersaurs. Seconds after it left his hand a huge BOOM shook the air. There was a moment of stunned silence and then Ford whooped as the Dobersaurs fled.
"I had no idea our food rations exploded," came Teyla's calm but perturbed voice in the stillness,.
Ford hastily explained. "It's not the food, it's the heating element. There's a chemical reaction with the water in the canteen."
"Ah." Teyla sounded less than thrilled with his explanation and he hurried on.
"I figure this will let us save our ammo for as long as possible. The Dobersaurs don't seem to like the loud noise."
"It is a clever ploy," said Teyla still a little coolly. "However I wish you had told me of your plan."
"Secret agent man, secret agent man," sang Sheppard in a pleasant if slightly reedy tenor. Both Teyla and Ford froze, then slowly turned to stare at the major. "They've given you a number, and taken away your name," he continued, then grinned broadly at them. "I always did like that song." Teyla and Ford exchanged amused but concerned glances.
"Uh, me too, Major," Ford said torn, between worry and laughter. "But we'd better be quiet so the dinosaurs don't come back." The major made a gun with his hand and shot at Ford with it.
"G'd th'nkng, L'tenent..."
"We'd best move on," Teyla said, "before he begins again." Grinning, Ford agreed.
He'd thrown two more of the MRE bombs before they'd arrived at the ravine, but they'd finally made it. Sighing with relief, Ford set the stretcher down and rubbed his tired shoulders. Sheppard was right; they had run a lot of the pudge off McKay. But even Dr. Weir would be heavy after you lugged her over a trail on a stretcher for three hours, and McKay was no Dr. Weir.
Ford glanced at his C.O., who had dropped to the ground as soon as they stopped, closing his eyes. Sheppard was running completely on automatic at this point. Unfortunately, Ford didn't know how much longer he would be able to keep the major on his feet. He'd be grateful to have Sheppard serenade them now. Teyla carefully checked McKay,her face clouded with worry. She had good reason to be concerned, though; the scientist hadn't opened his eyes, or moved since they this morning.
"How's he holding up, Teyla?"
She frowned up at Ford, eyes dark with distress. "His wound is infected and he is growing feverish. I am very alarmed about his arm." Deftly she removed some of the strapping that held the dislocated shoulder in place. Ford saw with growing unease that the doctor's fingers were white. "I do not believe the blood is circulating properly due to the injury."
"But he'll be all right once we get him back to Dr. Beckett, right?" asked Ford, a bad feeling growing in his stomach. Teyla compressed her full lips and looked down at McKay's arm.
"I think we need to hurry," she replied, not directly answering his question.
Pulling off his hat, Ford swiped at his forehead and glanced across the ravine. The carcasses of the chomposaurs' Sheppard had killed last time were still there, though most of the flesh had been stripped away. There didn't appear to be any new predators in the area, and that was the best they could hope for.
"I'm gonna have to carry the doctor over, and then I'll come back for the Major. You and I will have to put him between us to get across." Teyla considered his words and nodded. There were no alternatives. Neither liked leaving Dr. McKay unprotected, but they had little choice, they had to cross the ravine. Ford tiredly sat beside the major and let him know the plan. He knew the man probably couldn't understand a word he said, but it seemed the right thing to do.
"Major?" Sheppard's face was flushed, the normally spiky black hair slick with sweat and plastered to his temples. "Major?" Ford touched him on the shoulder trying to gain his attention. The eyes blinked and rolled before finally managing to fix on Ford's face. Ford started to offer him a canteen of water, and then just held it up to his C.O.'s mouth. Sheppard drank slowly, his training holding even now.
"I'm going to carry Dr. McKay over the ravine, Major. I need for you to stay here with Teyla. Then we'll all go over together, ok sir?"
"Doin' good, F'rd," rasped out the major. "Tryin' for my job, huh." Ford's eyes widened at Major Sheppard's words and then he grinned hugely.
"Glad you're still with us, Major. You're the only one who'll ever be able to handle McKay."
The major, exhausted, slumped to the ground, holding his injured arm carefully. Ford levered himself up and walked to where McKay lay unmoving.
"Cover us as we go over, okay?"
Teyla nodded assent and pulled her 9mm from the holster. They were limited on clips and Ford had used up all the makings for the MRE bombs. The image of the DHD in the crocodile's nest into his head; he pushed it back. One thing at a time, Aiden, he told himself. As gently as he could, he pulled McKay up into a sitting position, and then over his shoulder into a fireman's carry. Through it all the scientist made no sound. That was probably what was the most unnerving of all that had happened. McKay's silence.
Setting his foot to the end of the fallen tree, Ford started making his precarious way across. He felt the tree shudder under their combined weight but just kept his eyes fixed on the far end. Just like walking down the street, he told himself, you're just walking down the street..., and then smiled as he imagined hearing Rodney McKay, `Yeah, just walking down a street that's only six inches wide, is supplied with plenty of branches to trip you and rocks waiting fifty feet ready to rip you to shreds if you slip!'
`It's all good, Dr. McKay,' he responded mentally. His imagination supplied the huff he knew he would have heard if Dr. McKay had really been talking and he smiled again to himself.
At one point he'd caught his boot tip on the stump of a branch and nearly overbalanced. He heard Teyla's stifled cry and concentrated on centering the weight he held over his shoulders. Sweating and shaking with nerves and fatigue, he continued on. Minutes later, with a sigh of relief, Ford stepped off the end of the tree, laying McKay down in a small depression.
"See, Doc, I got you here safe and sound," Ford whispered as he settled the man as comfortably as he could. "I'll be right back."
Without McKay's added weight to balance, Ford almost ran back across the tree. Teyla had the stretcher broken down and ready. Their plan was simple: Teyla in front holding onto the ends of the poles from the stretcher, next Sheppard, and finally Ford bringing up the rear, holding the other ends of the poles to form a cage supporting the major. They all wore cord fashioned into climbing harnesses linked together with lengths of the cord. Sheppard was just aware enough of his surroundings to get disoriented while being carried, and possibly start struggling. The harnes as their only option.
Teyla led off and the major followed, lurching behind her, swaying into the poles. Ford could hear the harsh sound of Sheppard's breathing, uneven and raspy. It was warm anyway, but the sweat was running off his pale face, creating dark rings on his black tee. Swearing under his breath, Ford closed up the gap. If he could keep close enough behind Sheppard maybe it would help keep the major on his feet. For all her strength, Teyla was quite a bit smaller than Sheppard and if he knocked into her, they would both go down.
As if thinking made it so, almost halfway across, Sheppard collapsed, slipping between the bars of the small cage and dragging Teyla backwards. Ford saw it coming and braced himself, jamming his feet against the branches and leaning back against the punishing wrench as first Sheppard and then Teyla dangled from the thin cord.
"Teyla!" yelled Ford, his voice constricting with the Herculean effort. "You ok?"
She answered after a moment, sounding breathless. "I, I will be fine, Aiden. Major Sheppard is unconscious however. I am going to attempt to climb up the rope and then help you draw him up."
"Get it done," he ground out, the thin cording biting into his hands and waist. He felt like he was about to be sliced in half. The increased motion of the line just added to the tension, and he noticed a spot where the cording was rubbing on the rough bark of the tree. He prayed to God that it didn't fray and break.
The line vibrated wildly under his hands and Teyla's head emerged, then her shoulders, and then she was dragging herself back up onto the trunk. He almost gasped with the relief of having the weight eased as she took hold of the rope and began pulling with him to carefully pull the unconscious man up. Teyla looped the cord around a branch to lock it while Ford hooked his leg around a branch then reached over to grab Sheppard and drag him up onto the trunk. They all sat there gasping for a moment, Sheppard loosely cradled against Ford, head lolling.
"Thank you, Aiden. You saved our lives," Teyla said after a moment. Aiden moved his head far enough to look over the edge to far below where the stretcher poles had splintered and broken on the rocks at the bottom of the ravine. Still shaking at how nearly he'd almost lost them both, he didn't, or couldn't really respond. Before he was ready, he forced himself to get up, and balancing carefully, hefted the major up and over his shoulders. Good thing the major's so skinny, Ford thought to himself and slowly followed Teyla the rest of the way across.
No sooner had he settled the major beside McKay than his radio crackled.
#Major Sheppard, report.# It was Sgt. Bates and Ford did not think his own grandmother's voice could sound sweeter.
#Sgt. Bates, this is Lieutenant Ford. The major and Dr. McKay are both a little under the weather. We could use some medical assistance ASAP.#
#Lieutenant Ford, this is Dr. Beckett. Wha' is the situation?#
Ford nodded for Teyla to take over the explanations. She was the one designated as the team medic and had trained with Beckett.
#This is Teyla. Major Sheppard has been bitten on the right forearm. The wound is infected and he is running a high fever. Dr. McKay has puncture wounds on his shoulders, front and back, one deep, that also appear to be infected and his right shoulder is dislocated. I am concerned that there has been insufficient blood flow to his arm. He also has a concussion and both men are unconscious.# There was a moment of silence after Teyla's litany of their woes.
#We'll be there in fifteen minutes, Lieutenant,# came Sgt. Bates neutral response, though Ford could hear the normally low-key Beckett bellowing orders at his staff in the background.
Ford took a deep breath and let it out, closing his eyes. It was almost over. The Puddlejumper would come, Beckett would be here, everything was going to be all right.
"Hey Teyla," Ford started, "...are any of those s'mores PowerBars..."
Before he could finish asking though, he grabbed for the P-90 miraculously still strapped to his chest and fired over Teyla's head. "Shit!" The dinos that had chased the major and Teyla were still hungry and had come back for seconds.
`Sorry but we are not on the menu!' he thought and fired off a few rounds, severing the head of one unlucky bastard.
Teyla was firing as well, her 9mm barking, and he tried frantically to remember how many rounds were left in this magazine. There was at least one more magazine but that was it. Teyla ran out of rounds and slamming another clip into the gun, continued to fire. Then the chomposaurs were gone. At least for a moment. He and Teyla stood there, arms locked in firing position and guns ready. It was still.
"Damn!" he swore, lowering his gun. "If we get outta this place I am never coming back, not even if McKay finds a machine that MAKES ZPM's!" He glanced down at the two men almost involuntarily. Teyla's empty clip lay on McKay's leg. "How many magazines have you got left, anyway?" He already knew the answer, and so did she, but Teyla went through the motions of checking through her vest and BDU pants pockets just in case.
"I have no other magazines and approximately 8 rounds left in the clip in my gun," she said somberly.
"And it looks like I've got four in this clip and one magazine left."
"I counted at least seven of the predators," she said.
"We just have to hang on until Bates gets here," he said, trying to sound confident. "We're both good shots; we'll just have to make every shot count." Teyla nodded and didn't speak. Part of him appreciated that, knowing she didn't believe it any more than he did.
They stood back to back beside their teammates and waited. They didn't have to wait long. The chomposaurs knew an easy meal when they saw it and the death of one beast just meant more for the rest. They came from several sides at once, and Ford was shocked all over again at just how friggin' huge these things were. They easily towered over him easily by several feet, but they were so stupid it was like target practice in some ways, except it seemed to take a lot more shots than usual.
Thick-skulled, he thought to himself as he fired the last round he had and heard the click of an empty magazine fall from the P-90. Teyla too stood empty-handed but for her knife. There were still two monsters left, and the two of them armed with nothing more than hunting knives.
#Atlantis, if you can hear us, we need you now!# Ford shouted into his radio as the chomposaurs started towards them.
Ford changed his mind about Bates; the sweetest sound in the universe was the sound of a Puddlejumper blowing up giant man-eating dinosaurs. Teyla and he watched in bone-melting relief as one of Atlantis' finest trained weapons on their tormenters and blew them to kingdom come. Ford found he did not even mind getting pelted with chunks of raw dinosaur.
"You wasted MRE's to make bombs? MY MRE's?" Dr. Rodney McKay's voice almost squeaked with incredulity and outrage as he glared at Ford from the infirmary bed where he lay recuperating.
Ford beamed back at him. "It's not like they were the good ones, Doc. I mean, come on, Captain Chicken? That is just nasty."
McKay huffed. "That's not the point. I need those in case of a hypoglycemic incident," he griped.
"I'll replace them, I promise," he soothed.
Since the two had awoken, with all fingers and toes, and McKay with his big brain firmly in place, Ford found he hadn't been able to stop grinning.
It had been pretty close. Too damn close for comfort as far as Lieutenant Aiden Ford was concerned. Dr. Carson Beckett had come on the Puddlejumper himself and had a couple of other doctors with him. It was a good thing too.
Whatever the Dobersaur had eaten just prior to its attempt on Major Sheppard had apparently been toxic, and bits and pieces had been ground fairly well into the major's arm, plus whatever had been in its gut when Sheppard had disemboweled it. It had made for quite a toxic cocktail. He'd been on the verge of blood poisoning by the time they'd gotten back to Atlantis, the dark red streaks starting up his arm like the rays of sun a child would draw.
As for McKay, well they got his shoulder back in, and thank God there'd been no permanent damage. He and Sheppard were both still on heavy-duty IV antibiotics for the nasty infections. Even Teyla hadn't escaped completely unscathed; the fall from the bridge had left her with some pretty colorful bruises in uncomfortable places from the harness. But they were all back. All safe.
And the power signature McKay had been so desperately in pursuit of? A beacon. They'd brought it back, or at least someone had, Ford didn't know who and it was sitting down in McKay's lab while Dr. Z tinkered with it. He'd told Aiden it was basically the Ancient's version of a nightlight; something to guide jumpers or whatever in safely. Aiden had made a deliberate choice to forget about it.
All in all it had been a long four days waiting in the infirmary, parked wherever he was out of Beckett's line of sight; though he was pretty sure the doctor had always known he was there. Finding himself covered in blankets had been his first clue. He'd been too scared to leave though, if he was honest. Both the major and Dr. McKay had been bad off, and Dr. Beckett hadn't known if McKay would regain complete use of his hand until this morning. The major, too, was still a little pale and looked tired. But they would be just fine now, Beckett had assured him.
"We had to save our ammo for the chomposaurs and Dobersaurs," he continued. "Turned out even then we didn't have enough..." He paused as Major Sheppard held up a hand.
"I'm sorry. I'm sure I didn't hear that correctly."
"Yes," added McKay, his tone razor-edged, "for what exactly were you saving the ammunition for?" Ford's smile lit up his whole face.
"For the dilophosaurus and the coelurus," Ford answered easily as he stood to leave, the proper names tripping smoothly off his tongue. The two men stared at him, mouths slightly agape. Ford snickered internally. Everybody had a little bit of geek hidden inside, and his favorite thing as a kid had been dinosaurs; the names had just stayed with him. So now that he was sure the doc and major were ok, it was time for paybacks. "If you two don't mind, I'm going to go get something to eat but I'll be back later." And Ford walked out, hands in pockets, whistling contentedly.
McKay winced, a muscle by his eye beginning to twitch.
"Was that...?" he began dismally.
Sheppard sighed miserably. "Yep, the theme music from the Barney show."
Summary: Ford shows off his MacGyver streak, Sheppard sings, and McKay shuts up..., well, eventually