Word Count: 2600
Summary: This is a rather schmoopily self-indulgent tag forkodiak_bear's story Save Me. Read that one first -- it's very good!
Sand to the horizon, sand and more sand, an Afghanistan landscape. Except it was purple, which meant, probably not Afghanistan. John thought he ought to be concerned about the color, but instead he just felt pleasant and floaty.
"You're drugged," said the snake next to him. It was stretched out on the sand, obviously sunbathing, judging from the bikini and the bottle of coconut-scented suntan lotion beside it.
"Okay," John agreed cheerfully. "Pink is a good color on you."
For some reason, the snake didn't seem to appreciate the compliment very much. "Carson! He's hallucinating! Again!"
Time skipped, and he fell into ice water, a dark and endless sea with jagged fragments of icebergs drifting by him. A life preserver bobbed past, yellow and cartoony with TITANIC printed around its donut-shaped curve. John grabbed for it, losing his tenuous grip on the iceberg and dunking his head underwater. Choking, coughing, he curled his fingers around the life preserver's rubbery yellow skin and realized too late that it was a trap, because it reared up, hissing, jaws parted and filled with sharp fangs. John tried to fling it away and in the process went under, water flooding his mouth, scrabbling at icebergs and trying to get away as the snake's head dove towards him, quick like lightning, burrowing under the soft skin over his veins.
"Oh God, it's in me, help me --" He clawed at his arms, fighting against the pressure that forced them apart and thrust his hands down at his sides.
"It's all right. You're dreaming." He knew that low voice, knew it in his bones but couldn't put a name to it until he opened his eyes and saw Ronon's face above his own, Ronon's hands like iron over his wrists.
"Get in the boat," he gasped, because water, everywhere, and he was drowning (so cold, God, so cold), but Ronon didn't have to drown with him.
"There isn't a boat," Ronon said, which didn't make sense, because they had to have gotten out here somehow, didn't they? He tried to raise his head, but it seemed to be frozen down, and he wondered if the temperature was below freezing and, if so, why the ocean hadn't frozen yet.
"Did the jumper crash?" he asked, because it was the only thing that made sense, and wait a minute, the freezing point for seawater was lower than for regular water, right? Because of the salt? Rodney would know. "Did McKay make it out of the jumper?" Somehow that seemed important to know. He couldn't remember why.
"He's asleep," Ronon said, and something in John unfroze even though his teeth were chattering. Rodney had been in the jumper. Or out of the jumper. Wherever they were. Anyway, he'd been there and now he wasn't, and that made John cold in a way that had nothing to do with the seawater around him.
"When he wakes up, ask him what temperature the ocean freezes at," John said through his chattering teeth, and sank below the ocean's surface, down into the depths. He fell until he flew, because flying is nothing more than falling and missing the ground, at least according to Douglas Adams, who should know. After he got tired of that, he rode a cloud to the ground, and found Teyla there.
"Hi," he said. Or at least that was what he planned to say, but all that emerged was a croak; his throat was sore and dry, probably from the seawater, and where had that thought come from?
Teyla jumped and looked up from her book, which was -- hey! -- one of his books. A smile broke across her face. There were fine lines around her eyes; she looked weary and a little bit bruised in the soul, and he determined to find whoever had made her look like that and beat the crap out of them, as soon as he could move. "John," she said, the bruised look fading away as her face relaxed. "How are you feeling?"
"Thirsty," he rasped. Her cool hand slid under his neck, and she helped him drink from a small paper cup. He choked on the first swallow, and then sipped.
"Dr. Beckett said that you will probably be very weak at first, but should recover quickly once you are fully aware of your surroundings." Teyla's smile took on an impish quality. "You do not see anything sprouting from my head, I trust?"
"Should there be?" John countered, warily.
"You spoke at great length about Rodney's antlers."
"Rodney has antlers?" John said, startled, wondering what Ancient device he'd gotten into now and whether they could still go offworld until they figured out a way to remove them. "What kind?"
Teyla looked as if she honestly had no idea how to respond to this, although John didn't think it was really that difficult a question.
"The only antlers were in your head, Colonel," Carson said, appearing behind Teyla. "You've been in and out. Do you remember what happened?" As he spoke, he checked over John's monitors, entering data on a tablet.
John blinked, thinking back. Out of the confused mishmash of nonsensical imagery in his recent recollections, a few things stood out. "I got bit by a snake. On the, um ..." His hand waved around, trailing IV wires, and then dropped to rest on top of his leg. He could feel the thickness of bandages through the sheets. "On the leg. And that's really all ..." He frowned. "Wait. Was Rodney hurt?"
"Concussion." Carson detached the bag of IV fluids and hung up another in its place. "He's resting in his quarters now. He's the reason you're here, you know ... not that I'd let him go and get a swelled head about it."
"He is?" John tried to remember what had happened. Pain, lots and lots of pain. Thirst. Sand. He vaguely remembered being sick and dizzy and disoriented, the sand dunes swelling and shrinking in his hazy vision in time with the too-rapid beat of his heart. "He got me back to the jumper?" he hazarded a guess.
"He carried you, and then flew the jumper back -- passed out almost as soon as he was through the gate. Head trauma and dehydration." Carson snorted, but his smile was soft. "Silly bugger didn't bother stopping to take a drink along the way. Of course, if he had, you might not be here -- it was a close thing."
John couldn't help a short laugh, remembering his argument with Rodney over water conservation. "Let me guess: He had a full canteen in his pack."
"You might want to talk to him about desert survival and the importance of staying hydrated. But he had the presence of mind to save a specimen of the snake venom, which was what we used to prepare the antivenin that saved your life." Carson patted him on the arm. "All in all, you owe him, Colonel, and I imagine he'll collect on it. I wouldn't want to be you in the next few days."
He walked off, and John called after him with as much force as he could muster (not very much): "Hey! I saved his sorry ass too, you know!"
Carson didn't respond. "I did, you know," John appealed to Teyla, realizing as he did so that he was probably still looped out on at least a low level of mind-altering drugs. This was confirmed when she patted his hand with an indulgent smile.
"I trust that you did, John."
"That's how I got bit in the first place. I'm not dumb enough to go around sticking my body parts in dark places, unlike some scientists around here."
"We know." Her fingers, cool and strong, curled around his. "Why don't you sleep?"
"The way I see it," John told her as he faded into darkness, although he wasn't entirely sure if the words were spoken aloud or only in his head, "the way I see it, Rodney owes me."
A clatter woke him from blessedly dream-free sleep. Blinking, he opened his eyes on a darkened infirmary, the lights lowered for the Atlantean night. Beside his bed a shadowed figure was hopping on one foot and cursing under its breath while trying to straighten his IV pole.
"McKay?" John mumbled. "Th'hell are you doing?"
Rodney jumped and staggered into the IV pole again, catching it just in time to stop it from falling over. "I just, um, came to get migraine medicine from Carson's nurses." He held up a hand, lifting two fingers to reveal a bubble pack. "I'll just be going," he added, gesturing at the door, and started to beat a hasty retreat.
"Hey, hang on." Fully awake now, and feeling more clear-headed as the fog of sleep dissipated, John pushed himself a little more upright in the bed. "Give me a hand?"
"Doing what? Oh God, no ..." Rodney groaned as John sat up and then slumped against him, waiting out a head rush. "Just use the bedpan like a good patient, won't you? There's a nurse around here somewhere..."
"I hate the bedpan, and they've been pouring IV fluids through me." John swung his legs over the side of the bed, using Rodney for support, and hesitantly tested his weight on his leg. It held. He left the bed behind and entrusted himself fully to the tender mercies of gravity and Rodney.
"Did Carson say you could be out of bed?" Rodney demanded as they made slow, limping progress across the infirmary, wheeling the IV stand along. "He didn't, did he? If I get blamed for this, so help me ..."
Gravity seemed to be winning; John found that he was leaning more and more weight on Rodney, depending heavily on the unexpectedly strong arm curled around his back and chest. Despite his complaining, Rodney's grip didn't waver until he leaned John up against the wall inside the bathroom.
"I am not helping you with this, by the way. This is above and beyond the call of friendship."
"No, no ..." John waved his free hand, gripping with the other at the metal support bar over the toilet. "Out."
Rodney didn't need to be told twice; he vanished instantly, closing the door behind him. Being Rodney, though, he didn't shut up. "If you fall in, I'm calling a nurse. I'll be listening for any unexpected thuds or, you know, untoward splashing sounds."
"That's disgusting." Finishing up his business, John washed his hands. He kept getting trailing sparks at the edge of his vision, but the longer he was on his feet, the better he felt. It was good to get out of bed, if only for a little while.
"You okay in there?" Rodney demanded at the brief silence.
"Yes, mother." John leaned on the sink and looked at himself in the mirror: skin so pale it was almost translucent, eyes shadowed with blue crescents. Even his hair was flat, plastered to his head with the dried sweat of fever. He sighed and swiped a hand through his hair, perking it up a little.
"Hello in there?"
"God, Rodney, give a man a little privacy, huh?" John splashed water on his face, wondering if trying to take a shower was worth it. He felt sticky and nasty, but he wasn't sure if he could stand up for that long, and come to think of it, probably couldn't get his dressing wet either.
"You haven't fallen down, have you?"
"Rodney, if you don't shut up, I'm going to beat you to death with my IV pole."
"Fine, fine, shutting up." After the brief moment that it took Rodney's natural Rodneyness to overcome his ability to stay quiet, he said, "Maybe you'll remember this the next time you think about throwing slow-moving scientists out of the way of deadly poisonous snakes."
Aha. Suddenly the hovering made a lot more sense. John's head was starting to swim; he sat down on the toilet, because some conversations were much easier with a door in the way. "Yeah, I'd think about it ... after I threw the scientist aside, of course."
On the other side of the door, Rodney heaved a sigh. "You're an idiot." There was a thunk, which John's brain translated into a mental image of the scientist leaning into the door, letting his body relax against it. Rodney had been injured too, John recalled.
"How're you doing, anyway?" he asked.
"Me?" There was a short laugh. "Besides the migraines and the nausea, just great. You?"
"Okay," John said. His leg was starting to throb a bit, and the swimmy motion of the bathroom around him was getting worse. He needed to get back in bed, and he knew it. But once the door opened, any chance at having this conversation would be shot. "Carson said you carried me to the jumper. Um ... thanks."
Rodney snorted. "Yeah, 'cause I was just going to leave your extraordinarily heavy body out in the desert for the vultures to eat."
"I don't think there were any vultures in that desert, Rodney."
"That's stupid, all deserts have vultures, didn't you ever watch cartoons when you were a kid?"
John laughed, and the world started sliding sideways. He made a grab for the metal support bar over the toilet, missed it completely, and the next thing he knew he was looking at the ceiling of the bathroom and trying to figure out what he was doing out of bed.
"I told you that you were going to fall down, but did you listen?" came Rodney's voice, somewhere out of his field of vision, sounding half annoyed and half freaked out.
"I'm fine," John slurred, wishing the ceiling would stop moving.
"No you're not. I'm calling a nurse."
"I'm fine. Really." John reached out, groping and finally getting hold of Rodney's pants leg. "Help me up. I can walk."
"I hope you know I really, really hate you," Rodney grumbled, but he got an arm around John's body and, between the two of them, managed to get him vertical and begin their slow progress back to the infirmary bed. "If you've damaged something, you have only yourself to blame."
"You already owe me dessert until 2010 for dragging you to the jumper, at great personal risk I might add, and now you owe me yet again."
"Oh, I'll probably save your ass soon enough, and then it'll be your turn to owe me." John was really getting close to the end of his strength; his head had slipped down to rest on Rodney's shoulder, warm and solid under his cheek.
He was expecting a snarky comeback, but instead Rodney just said, "Yeah," and after a moment, "It doesn't make sense keeping score, does it?"
There was always something vaguely creepy about a quiet and reasonable Rodney McKay. "Not really," John mumbled, "but that won't stop you, will it?"
Rodney's laugh was sharp and startled, but with a note of warmth underneath. "Not really." He tipped John back onto the bed. With a sigh of relief, John let his morphine-numb body sink into the stiff infirmary sheets.
"Next time you're getting a nurse to do that," Rodney said, fussing with the bedcovers and pushing the IV pole back into its previous position. "I am not your personal infirmary slave."
"Trust you better than a nurse, though, "John mumbled into his pillow. Damn drugs.
Rodney's hand stilled for just a moment; then he said, in a too-quick voice, "Well, obviously," and gave John an awkward pat on the arm. "So, uh ... see you tomorrow?" Without waiting for a reply, he fled.
John smiled against his pillow, and no longer tried to stop himself from falling into sleep. As he faded under, the odd thought occurred to him that he didn't have to try to miss the ground this time -- his team would be there to catch him.