This was, as I said, just a short to get me writing so it's unbeta'd. If you see anything, go ahead and shout out to me and I'll edit out the mistake. Oh, and it's gen, no spoilers or warnings, just some whumping fun!
Rodney hated the desert. It wasn’t bad enough that it was arid, but deserts tended to also be hostile. As in, if the lack of water doesn’t kill you, one of the myriad of poisonous creatures would. It got ungodly hot by day and horribly cold by night. In short, there was nothing redeeming in a desert clime.
Area 52 was as close as he’d ever come to being stuck in a desert, and that was fine by him. That was, until MX7-223. He’d wanted to be sick. Or dead. But instead he was here. Walking in the godawful heat, sand in his boots, splitting his attention between the screen with the energy readings and the ground, because one thing Rodney had accepted was that life was far too similar here. If there were snakes and scorpions on Earth, there was bound to be a Pegasus equivalent.
“Water break,” Sheppard called.
Rodney pulled his eyes distrustfully from the ground. “Shouldn’t we ah, conserve our water?”
There was a deadwood log buried half-out of a hollowed area and Sheppard poked at it a few times with his boot before dropping on it. He was sweaty and flushed. “Rodney,” he squinted at McKay, “we’re only going to be here for a few hours. We’re just going to the building, ruins, or whatever it is you detected in orbit. A short, albeit very hot, walk, take a look around, and back to the Jumper. It’s not like we’re shipwrecked.” With that, Sheppard pulled his canteen free of his pack, unscrewed the lid, and tipped his head back, thirstily guzzling what had to be half the container. Water drizzled from the corners of his mouth and down his neck.
“Suit yourself, but when one of us is dying of thirst, we know who will laugh last.” Rodney figured desert equaled water conservation, end of story. You never knew, some giant sand lizard could swallow the Jumper and then where would they be?
“Yeah, well, would you really want to be the last to die out here?”
“Point,” he admitted. “Somewhat small, but a point. Maybe a half, actually.”
Rodney wasn’t really sure who won that round, so he turned away and surveyed the area looking for any mutant sand snakes, big enough to swallow a Jumper. The area wasn’t deep desert; scrub brush and brambles poked out from sandy dirt and hard-packed areas of clay. There were petrified sticks and small pebbles, and all the land went up and down around them, big rolling hills everywhere he looked. It was like someone had taken the edge of the world in their hands and began flipping it up and down, creating wave after wave of earth. They’d had to park the Jumper about 10 klicks from the energy source, just to find a flat enough area to land.
“All right, let’s go.” Rodney turned back and saw Sheppard shoving his canteen in his pack. “I figure another forty minutes or so?”
Rodney glanced at the screen. The readings were at least being consistent. “Yes, maybe fifty if I have to stop and shake the sand out of my boots again.” He’d already done it twice. Climbing hills seemed to have this annoying ability to let every bit of sand in this desert seep into his footwear. If he didn’t know better, he’d have thought little sand critters were spooning it in behind his back.
Sheppard pushed his sunglasses back on his nose and grimaced. “Let’s make it forty.”
Forty-five minutes later, Sheppard skeptically eyed the ramshackle building. “The only thing we’re gonna find in there is a bad case of tetanus.”
“Yes, well,” Rodney waved a weary hand at the crooked wooden door; it was hanging on one hinge, weathered to a sickly gray, with warped boards letting the interior darkness peek out at them, “that’s what’s giving off the energy signal.” Rodney forced a cheerful smile. “I just decipher, Colonel.”
Sheppard nudged the door experimentally with the tip of his P90; he reached and flipped the flashlight on. “Now I’m regretting giving Teyla and Ronon the day off.”
Rodney bit back the very childish I told you so. Then he peered harder into the dank interior. He could practically feel cobwebs and beady eyes on him already, and they hadn’t even gone in yet. “I’d like to remind you --”
“I know, Rodney.” Sheppard sighed, made that face he got when he was just about to do something very stupid, and pulled the door open enough for them to slip in. “Let’s just get this over with; stay behind me.”
It was like entering an old abandoned mine shaft. The floor titled downward at about a fifteen percent grade, and the inky blackness only seemed to grow more stifling as they descended. Sheppard’s flashlight created a small cone of exposed dirt in front of them. Rodney could feel the hairs on his back rising, just knowing there was nothing but smothering darkness all around them. He found himself following so closely on Sheppard’s heels that a couple of times he stumbled against the colonel. Sheppard would stop and glance back and Rodney would mumble an apology and point forward. “Closer, almost there,” and they’d start back walking.
The upside, the farther in they went, the cooler it was.
“Have I mentioned how incredibly creepy I find this place?”
“Because really,” Rodney continued. “This is almost as creepy as being cocooned on that Hive ship.”
“You don’t think there’s any of those bugs in here?” Sheppard asked, his voice sounding a little strangled.
“Iratus bugs?” Rodney saw Sheppard’s shoulders stiffen. “No, no,” Rodney rushed to reassure the colonel. “I’m sure…no.” God, Rodney sure as hell hoped not. They did like dark, cool places. He fought to hide his reflexive shiver.
On that note, they started walking a little faster. Thick wooden beams ran along the ceiling, with cross supports lining the walls. The air was musty and smelled of old dirt. Mothballs. That’s what else he smelled. His Grandma had had tons of the things and Rodney had hated that smell with a passion growing up. Every time he smelled it since, it reminded him of death and pills and sickness.
“Rodney,” Sheppard hissed.
“Look,” Sheppard paused, reaching back to pull Rodney forward.
The shaft opened up into an oval chamber. The support beams ended, and from what Rodney could tell, the chamber was a natural cavern of some sort. Hanging from the ceiling and rising up from the ground, were thick, undulating stalagmites and stalactites. Water dripped from a pale, milky ceiling that towered a good ten meters above them. “Wow,” he breathed.
Sheppard made a face. “Is this the power source, ‘cause if you didn’t notice, we’re out of options.”
“Oh.” Rodney glanced at the screen. In disbelief, he looked up again. Then down at the screen. What? “Huh.”
“Rodney,” Sheppard drawled.
“Yes, yes, I know, it’s just --” that the readings weren’t making any sense. According to the machine, the power source was, in fact, right in front of them. But when he looked up, all he saw were natural rock formations in a cavern. But someone had built a shaft leading down here for a reason. “Maybe it’s a mineral deposit; it’s the only thing that makes sense.” He pointed the machine forward, pinpointing the protruding rock, twisting upward from the floor as a source. Or possible source…multiple sources?
Rodney stopped what he was doing. Sheppard had used that tone. The one that said we are so screwed. He glanced at the colonel only to see Sheppard staring transfixed at the stalagmite. “Start backing up. Now.”
Sheppard tightened his grip on his P90 and took a tentative step backward. Rodney narrowed his eyes, confused. He looked from Sheppard to the thick formation. It was slick, condensation glistening brightly in the flashlight’s glow. And it moved.
“Rodney, watch out!”
Before he could fully track the danger, before his mind had processed that those weren’t stalagmites, but some kind of snake-like creature, he was flailing back, shocked; the startled movement drew the full, angry attention of the underground dweller, and it wasn’t happy. A freakishly large fanged mouth, easily the size of Rodney’s hand, was suddenly coming towards him and then Rodney was flying backwards. He heard a pained shout. Was that him? Did he do that?
Dazed, Rodney tried to sit. His head was ringing from hitting the ground, hard. That’s when he saw Sheppard down. “Colonel?” Rodney was surprised by how shaky his voice sounded. Squeaky and high, and oh my god, was Sheppard bitten? Or was Rodney?
Then Sheppard was rolling, weaving, grabbing Rodney and growling, “Move it!”
With heart stopping horror, Rodney glanced over his shoulder into the chamber. The ceiling and floor had come alive. Sheppard was yanking Rodney hard, and he realized the eerie, transfixing scene was slowing him down, miring his steps. He forced himself to look ahead; don’t look back, Jesus, just don’t look back.
He wasn’t sure when Sheppard stopped pulling him along and Rodney began pulling Sheppard. They bumped into walls, and beams, and even fell to the dusty floor, stumbling back to their feet as quickly as their abused bodies let them. It had to have been just minutes before they broke through the door and into the bright, sweltering sunlight, but to Rodney, the flight away from those monsters had felt like hours. Interminable hours of darkness and death chasing their heels.
They gasped, panted and tumbled a good five meters away before falling to the sandy earth. For a while they laid, spread eagled, and heaving.
“Oh, god,” Rodney finally managed.
“Crap,” Sheppard swore. Then he rolled to his side and started retching.
“Sheppard!” Rodney felt sick. He had a stitch in his side and his head ached fiercely. But he knew the source of his queasiness. “It bit you,” he accused. “You stupid selfless ass!” He staggered to his knees and crawled to Sheppard’s side, trying to hold the colonel steady enough while his body shook and spasmed with the effort.
Finally, the gagging gave way to weak coughs, and Sheppard straightened, thrusting his head backwards and wiping his mouth with his filthy sleeve; his chest heaved as he took in deep breaths. “Better me than you,” he rasped, not looking at all sorry for his self-sacrificing behavior.
Rodney glared; he waited until Sheppard stopped swaying so much, then climbed to his feet and hauled Sheppard’s pack around, flipping it to the front to expose the zipper. The colonel had slipped it off before he had given in to being violently and explosively sick, and now Rodney began to paw through the contents. There was a snake bite kit in their med supplies. Carson had said there was a chance the antivenin might be completely useless, but the vacuum pump and band might mean the difference between life and death. “Lay down, and make yourself useful,” he tossed Sheppard the scissors, “cut away your --” Rodney realized he had no idea where Sheppard had been bitten. If it was an extremity, the odds were already a lot better in their favor. If the thing had gotten him in the torso, they were in trouble.
“Pants,” coughed Sheppard. He straightened his leg with a groan and started in on the material near his boot.
“Pants,” Rodney repeated, “that’s good.” He watched Sheppard for a moment, then shook off the strange lethargy that seemed to creep over him, and began digging out the band, pump, gauze, antivenin and disinfectant.
There was sand everywhere, but at least it’d absorbed most of Sheppard’s stomach contents. There was a rock next to the colonel and Rodney dropped by Sheppard’s knee and nudged his head at it. “Scoot back and rest against the rock.”
While Sheppard moved, Rodney assessed the colonel’s appearance. The healthy flush that’d been there earlier was gone, replaced by a sickly gray pallor. His mouth was drawn tight with pain, but his eyes gleamed feverishly out from his white face. Even his hair seemed to droop, but that could just be the layer of grit that seemed to be all over them now. Their clothes were heavily dusted and Rodney could feel at least a centimeter or more of sand in his boots.
After Sheppard got himself positioned as comfortably as he was going to get, Rodney knelt by his legs and tried to steel his nerves.
“If this is where you tell me this is going to hurt you more than me,” Sheppard gritted through clenched teeth, “I don’t want to hear it.”
The thing with snake bites is you’ve got to move fast, and Rodney was sure he wasn’t moving fast enough. His head pounded. “Shut up, Sheppard.” He took a deep breath, then pulled away the cut pants. The wound was ugly, weeping, and already far too red. Rodney swallowed back another wave of queasiness. “I’ve got to put the band on first.” He said it even as his hand found the thin rubber tubing and slid it underneath Sheppard’s calf. The bite was just below the knee and Rodney wondered if he should tie it below or above the joint. Below might be too close to the bite. Above then.
When he tied it, he heard the rush of air as Sheppard sucked in a pained breath. Rodney glanced up.
“Just…keep working.” Sheppard’s forehead was wrinkled and his eyes scrunched against the agony enveloping his leg.
“I’m sorry, I know this hurts --”
Sheppard’s hand reached out and grasped Rodney’s. His hazel eyes opened, glassy and growing foggy. “Please…”
“Okay, okay, but this is going to really hurt.” Rodney’s hands were beginning to shake. He fumbled with the vacuum pump; it was too small for the size of the bite. He’d have to do each puncture site individually. Oh, God.
Rodney wanted Ronon. And Teyla. And Carson, and where the fuck was the Jumper? Oh, that’s right, they’d parked it about an hour away, and how the hell was he going to carry Sheppard that far in the sand? His mind reeled, a steady run of thoughts and solutions, all the while he used the pump to pull out as much toxin as he could, putting it carefully in a specimen jar for Carson and tucking it into his pocket.
When he finished, he was drenched in sweat. His shirt felt as if he had just gone swimming, and his body felt completely wrung out. He dropped the pump and reached for the disinfectant. His focus had narrowed to just the small, hairy section of Sheppard’s shin and the two very large puncture wounds, spaced about five centimeters apart. Next, he wrapped the gauze around the entire area, carefully, and with as much precision as he used when repairing delicate Ancient technology.
“Leave it to us to find power charged snakes,” he ranted. “There I was, just beginning to think I might have discovered an equivalent to Naquadah; I should have known! In this galaxy, everything, including power sources, are out to eat you.”
Sheppard’s head lolled limply on the rock, strands of his hair stuck wetly to his forehead. He blinked tiredly at Rodney but still managed to smile. “We can toss some C4 down the hole and have a Cajun cookout.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “Snakes that size would feed the entire city for a week.”
“Is this a pitiful attempt at gallows humor?”
“No, I think it’s more…more delirium,” Sheppard stuttered. Then chuckled again. “Oh, damn, that hurts.”
“Well, this is going to hurt a lot more.” Rodney stood, swallowing back another mouthful of bile as he did. Standing hurt. Damn it, his head beat like a thousand drummers were dancing in there. He rubbed at the back of his head, where the pain was the fiercest. When his fingers came back wet and bloody, he just deflated. It figured. It just totally figured. When Sheppard had shoved him away he’d hit his head hard enough to draw blood. Concussed.
How the hell was he supposed to drag Sheppard back to the Jumper when he wasn’t even sure he could stand on his own two legs?
“Rodney?” Sheppard watched him, uneasy. His body wasn’t limp anymore; it was tensed and ready, though his eyes were dilated and unfocused. “What’s wrong?”
He debated lying, a sudden surge of bravery taking away Rodney’s common sense. But then he looked over the rolling expanse of sand, waves of heat radiating upward, and he totally balked. “We’re gonna die. I’ve got a concussion and you’ve been poisoned and we are so dead.”
Sheppard, somehow doing that superhuman thing he did (like when he took on a Wraith by himself), pushed himself to his knees. He paled further, gagged, then latched two hands into Rodney’s belt and pulled himself up to his feet, leaning heavily on Rodney the entire time.
Rodney, for his part, had to still the panic at possibly being puked on, and then had to fight against the overwhelming desire to latch right back onto Sheppard and wish for the man to pull a miracle out of his –
“McKay, today would be nice,” he gritted.
“Right, right.” Rodney eyed the pack on the ground. Probably had a liter of sand in it. Sighing, he lifted it, trying not to unbalance Sheppard, and slung it over his free shoulder. He shared a final look at the colonel. A look that said ‘do you have a better idea; please, God, have a better idea’ but all he got in return was a short nod. Let’s do this. Fine. He’d just drag Sheppard’s skinny ass through a desert, concussed, but hey, at least he’d saved his water!
That’d be sarcasm. Heavy sarcasm.
And despite that heavy sarcasm, his feet moved. Sheppard’s feet moved. The colonel twitched with every step. Rodney could tell the bite was hurting like hell and he considered leaving Sheppard and running for the Jumper, but then he remembered there was no where to land the ship. Head injury, right. Check.
Rodney had Sheppard’s arm slung around his shoulder, and his own arm tucked around Sheppard’s torso, down by his waist, and Rodney realized as they stumbled across the sandy terrain, that Sheppard was beyond soaked. “You need to drink, Colonel,” Rodney panted. Damn, Sheppard was deceptively heavy when he was leaning on you.
“When we’re in the Jumper,” Sheppard rasped back.
Rodney muttered something about if they made it back to the ship. Then he tripped on a tumbleweed, and they wound up falling painfully to their knees. Sheppard swore and Rodney debated on just staying down. Sand had trickled in his collar and into his waistband. The sun beat mercilessly down on them and Rodney irrationally began to suspect the planet was trying to kill them.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed the same dead log Sheppard had sat on earlier. Oh, please God, don’t let some sand lizard have swallowed up the ship.
He rolled his head in the sand and stared at Sheppard. The colonel’s eyes were shut, his hands fisted by his side. “Sheppard? How are you feeling?” Rodney whispered it, because Sheppard was apparently trying to sleep.
Sheppard’s Adam’s apple moved slowly, carefully. “Like I’m dying,” he finally whispered hoarsely back. “Now shut up and let me die in peace.”
“You just might if I don’t haul you back to Atlantis.” Rodney felt kind of bad, saying the bald truth like that. It was a little depressing. “My head hurts,” he moaned.
“My leg hurts.”
That’s when Sheppard started shaking. And shaking. Oh, no, no no no, this was bad, convulsions! Rodney suddenly found energy to trip forward, to sling Sheppard over his shoulder, and forgetting the pack, he started running towards the Jumper.
Have you ever run in sand? It’s like running in water, only dirtier and sweatier. At some point, Sheppard stopped shaking, but Rodney didn’t get any reply when he shouted Sheppard’s name. When he spotted the Jumper, just where they left it, Rodney wanted to cry, his relief was so huge and overpowering and would the goddamn hatch just open already?
He was in, and Sheppard was down on the floor of the ship, and Rodney didn’t even take the time to do more than check that Sheppard was still breathing before he slipped into the pilot’s chair and started bringing the systems online and dialing the ‘gate. Well, he had to redial by the time he got into orbit because dialing down on the planet apparently did little good. Then he was hitting the comm. and shouting, “Medical emergency to the Jumper bay; Carson, Sheppard’s been bitten by a snake and he’s bad!” And he totally forgot to mention his concussion.
There are things you take for granted when not faced with mortal peril. The nice, heavenly feel of cool, clean sheets. Skin, free of the chafing presence of millions of grains of sand. A big hefty dose of painkillers for a massive headache. And the reassuring sound of your friend’s heart monitor as it beeps beeps beeps out the tune of “I’m still alive.”
Carson realized Rodney was awake, and straightened in the chair, stationed between Rodney and Sheppard’s beds. “How are you feeling, Rodney?”
Rodney stared at the ceiling and smacked his lips a few time, testing the air. “I feel…sort of floaty.”
“That’d be the medicine,” Carson said, smiling. “After what you’ve been through, I imagined you’d welcome the relief.”
Carson blew out a tired breath. “He’s bloody lucky, is what he is.”
Rodney rolled his head. “Aside from the obvious, Carson.”
“We loaded him with massive doses of every antivenin in stock, while treating the immediate problems of toxicity. That sample you managed to save helped us treat him. You were out for most of it, but it was a little hairy for a while. Still, he’s held his own and while he’s not exactly out of the woods yet, he’s at least standing on the edge of the forest.” Carson stood and stretched, pressing his hands against the small of his back, his white coat bunched against his waist while he worked kinks and painful stiffness out of his muscles. When he finished, he rubbed his eyes and scrubbed a hand through his hair.
“Get a room,” Rodney grumped.
Carson scowled. “We’ve just moved the colonel out of ICU so you could be near, Rodney; don’t make me regret my thoughtfulness.” He looked at his watch and yawned. “Now, I’m going to grab a bite to eat. It’s been a very long twelve hours. If you need anything, ring for a nurse.”
“What about me?”
“Tomorrow.” Carson pointed charmingly at Rodney’s IV. “You were severely dehydrated, concussed, and I doubt you could keep a bite down even if you wanted to.” He shook his head as he walked away. “Strangest thing, and there you had a full canteen in your pack still.”
Rodney’s stomach was feeling bitchy, so he settled for watching the fluid from the bag of saline drip into the tubing. Then he settled for watching Sheppard’s IV dripping. He had a smaller bag hung next to the larger, with a bright red label. An oxygen mask covered his mouth, but Rodney could see the discarded vent equipment to the side of Sheppard’s bed. So, he’d apparently been a lot worse off. Rodney felt oddly grateful for sleeping through that part.
He stared and shifted uncomfortably in bed. Sheppard looked kind of…vulnerable, over there, alone like he was. Rodney huffed and tried to go back to sleep. He hadn’t wanted to hike through a desert anyway. He’d saved Sheppard’s life; it was the least he could do after Sheppard saved his. Had the colonel even woken up yet? ‘Cause if he hadn’t, he might need someone there, you know, to reassure him that he wasn’t dead.
Rodney frowned at the ceiling. Twiddled his thumbs. Oh, the hell with it. He threw his blankets off and swung his legs over the edge of his bed. Whoa, head rush. And flip-flopping stomach. Still, he looked up and saw Sheppard’s eyes move slightly underneath closed eyelids.
He waited until it passed, then shuffled to the chair, scooting close enough to possibly hold Sheppard’s hand. Rodney’s IV tubing was long enough to reach, so he justified being out of bed by believing Carson had planned ahead for this all along. Rodney’s hands were restless in his lap. Then his fingers crab walked across the edge of Sheppard’s bed until he had Sheppard’s hand in his, and Rodney shook, just a little. “Please don’t do that again,” he whispered.