“Maybe the rats chewed through it,” McKay tried to rationalize, but John could tell he didn’t really believe it.
“Rodney…” Sheppard could only sigh at the attempt.
The thing was, John had been the one to suggest McKay shoot at the animals in the first place, so part of the blame did rest with him. Probably not the best idea he’d ever had considering Rodney’s sporadic proficiency with a gun. But, hey, hindsight was 20/20 after all.
“Okay, look, I’m sorry. All right?” Rodney snapped, sounding anything but apologetic.
In fact, he seemed downright pissed off Sheppard was making him feel guilty about the whole situation, which was the absolute last thing John wanted.
“But there were alien rats falling from on high and there’s no telling what horrific diseases they’re carrying that would make rabies look like a case of the sniffles.” When John directed the light toward McKay, his arms were waving enough to have him drifting back and forth, and the man was sufficiently agitated not to even notice.
“Rodney,” John cut in before McKay could go into total freak out mode and find a way to blame the entire thing on Sheppard, his "silver spoon upbringing" as he often called it when he was being pissy, and even back to John’s hominid-humping Ancient ancestors. If John doubted McKay was beating himself up but good, that sealed the deal.
“Not to mention the vermin living in their fur with this planet’s equivalent of the Bubonic Plague. Do you have any idea what sort of contagions a single flea or louse can spread with a--”
McKay continued to rant until John raised his voice and yelled, “McKay!” He even flashed the light directly into Rodney’s eyes for good measure.
“Your tether is going to break!” Rodney pointed out needlessly, as if that explained his diatribe into the potential infections of the Pegasus Galaxy. He waved off the beam in his face irritably.
John gritted his teeth and tried to remain as calm as possible seeing as he was well aware of his current predicament. “If you don’t shut the hell up, I’m going to shoot the rest of the tether away myself so I don’t have to listen to you bitch anymore.” He did, however, direct the light lower so he was no longer blinding the exasperated man.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Oh, very constructive, Colonel. Way to be a part of the solution.”
“Okay, you want a solution, here it is. You need to climb the cliff face and pull me up.”
“What?” McKay demanded in shock. “I can’t do that!”
“Fine. If you can’t pull me up, you can disconnect once you’re up top and a throw your tether back down to me.”
“I can’t climb up there,” Rodney clarified.
“I would do it myself if my arm wasn’t busted.”
“Of course you would, seeing as someone in the Sheppard line decided mating with geckos was as acceptable as screwing around with aliens.” Rodney was looking between Sheppard and the rock wall with wide-eyed terror.
John, however, disregarded the insult and kept his tone matter-of-fact as he told McKay simply, “Rodney, if you don’t do this, I’m going to fall.”
“I am painfully aware of how close to imminent death you are, Sheppard. Now, shut up so I can think of a way to save your ass that doesn’t involve me playing Spider-Man.”
John could practically see the gears turning as Rodney frantically tried to outsmart a failing safety sling. He could also see the growing dread as that genius brain was coming up empty on an alternate plan.
When his tether ripped a little more and he dropped a fraction of an inch farther, Sheppard’s voice held more than a little desperation. “McKay!”
“Okay, okay, I’m on it,” Rodney assured irritably. He swung back toward the wall, grabbed on, and grumbled loudly. “You’re going to have to shine the light so I can see where the hell I’m going.”
“I’ve got you covered.” John adjusted the beam and lit the area just below Rodney’s knee. “There. See that little pocket? That’s a good toehold.” When McKay had his foot in the small crevice, Sheppard moved the light and found a piece jutting out just above Rodney’s head. “And use that one for a handhold.”
Rodney didn’t look completely convinced, but he did as Sheppard directed, gripping the rock and grunting as he pulled himself up. Then almost immediately lost his hold and fell back with an angry, “Son of a bitch!”
John exhaled heavily and closed his eyes, his worst fears coming to fruition: McKay wouldn’t be able to complete the climb. “It’s okay, Rodney.”
His arm was literally pulsating pain through his entire right side and he knew Rodney’s head probably felt just as bad, but the cold hard truth of the matter was John was going to fall to his death if McKay couldn’t do this. As much as Sheppard didn’t want to die, and he really didn’t want to, he sure as hell didn’t want Rodney feeling responsible for not being able to stop it from happening. John had lived with that sort of guilt for years, and it never faded, not completely. McKay lived with enough guilt of his own, from Peter Grodin’s death to the genocide brought about by the Asurians after he had reactivated their kill switch to go after the Wraith. The last thing Rodney needed was John’s death hanging over his head, too.
McKay’s annoyed voice cut through Sheppard’s thoughts. “Where was that foothold again?”
When John reopened his eyes, he saw Rodney was back against the wall ready to try once more. He squelched his first reaction to thank his teammate for not giving up and quickly located the niche again. “There. And this time, use your legs, not your arms. It’ll conserve energy and keep you from tiring out your arms too fast. Just plant your foot and…stand up. ”
McKay’s entire body was shaking with the strain of his ascent. The look he shot Sheppard said he could take his oversimplified suggestion to "just stand up" and shove it. But Rodney did manage to gain a foot or so with that first step up and maintain his hold.
“Good,” Sheppard encouraged, earning another glare from Rodney that silently conveyed this was all John’s fault he had to do this. Ignoring it, John pointed out another foothold and handhold.
McKay once again did as he was instructed; only this time he had no place for his right foot to rest. The panic was instantaneous and his boot skidded across the rock wall desperate for purchase. “Shit! What do I do? What do I do?”
“Rodney, calm down. You have three points of connection with the climbing face; you’re fine.”
“Easy for you to say!” His foot continued to flounder across the limestone.
“Yeah, easy,” John drawled under his breath when he felt his tether give a little more and his own heart rate spiked to no doubt match McKay’s. Still, if he became flustered, Rodney would lose it all together. “Just hold on and I’ll find you a new foothold.”
Scanning the rock face quickly, John located a suitable nook. “There, about knee high. See it? It’s going to be a stretch but you can do it.”
“Oh, hell,” McKay groaned. “My legs haven’t been limber enough to do that since… ever!”
“You can do it,” Sheppard repeated confidently, although internally he was praying adrenaline could do some miraculous things for Rodney’s dexterity.
John could hear McKay’s knee pop as he bent it to reach the sought after safety, but he managed it, stepping up as John had taught him with a stuttered grunt. Sheppard quickly located a new handhold to stabilize McKay.
“Doing good,” Sheppard encouraged truthfully. “You’ll be up top in no time.”
Rodney seemed not to hear him as he blurted, “Rats! I hear rats up here!” Thankfully, McKay didn’t let go and drop back down.
John swung the light away from McKay, straining to see any hint of fur or whiskers. “Yell, make some noise. Maybe it will make them scurry off like the scientists do when you yell at them.”
“Apparently, these little bastards have more backbone than my staff!” Rodney’s voice went up an octave. “I’m yelling and they’re still here!”
Sheppard couldn’t hear them over Rodney’s frightened babbling, so he had no clue where to aim the flashlight. “Which way are they coming from?”
John was prepared for another high-pitched squeal from McKay when the light actually did land on the animals, but Rodney’s voice went stony instead.
“Shine the light over to the right so I can see your tether.”
John swung the light over.
He was rewarded with McKay exclaiming, “Crap!” and starting back down. “John, grab the wall with your good arm. Now!”
“What the hell are you doing?” Sheppard asked in confusion, tracking Rodney’s descent with the flashlight. “You’re almost there. You can’t let the rats stop you.”
“It’s not the rats; it’s your line. It’s not going to last long enough for me to reach the top.”
But the only way McKay could help him was to make it to the top and haul John up.
“You’re going the wrong way,” John complained but swung toward the wall.
“Just do it!” Rodney insisted, practically sliding down the cliff face to be stopped abruptly by his tether.
When Sheppard felt his sling give some more, he dropped the flashlight to hang from its clip on his vest as he pumped his legs a little harder. The force caused the line to snap just as he reached the rock. His precarious hold tightened as his left hand was suddenly supporting his entire weight. The limestone bit into fingertips that were already aching from the exertion and his shoulder felt like it might rip out of its socket, but he didn’t dare let go. Instinctively, he tried to reach his right hand up for a better hold and white hot agony blistered every synapse in his arm.
“John! Hold on!”
Good fucking idea, Rodney, John thought, although the only sound he was able to make was a combination growl and groan deep in his throat.
With his eyes clenched tight against the pain, Sheppard couldn’t see what the hell Rodney was doing, but McKay’s voice was much closer than it had been. Then he felt hands on his harness, yanking so hard Rodney nearly pulled John away from the wall.
Rodney was mumbling under his breath, “Come on, come on, open you useless piece of shit, open!”
John’s arm was trembling with the effort of holding on, his legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds each as they hung leaden below him, putting even more strain on the quivering muscles in his arm and shoulder. He flexed his fingers tighter, but it didn’t do any good and he felt his hold slipping.
This was it.
“Rodney…” he grunted out, as if that could cover everything he wanted to say. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t try to figure out what you could have done differently. Thanks for being a total pain in the ass and making Atlantis even more amazing than it already was. Thanks for being there to save the galaxy and the city and don’t ever stop. Thanks for playing video games and racing cars and trading comic books and knowing exactly the wrong thing to say at exactly the right time and somehow making it work. Thanks for… shit…everything.
"Got it!” McKay proclaimed triumphantly.
John didn’t have time to ask exactly what Rodney had gotten, because his fingers finally gave out and John lost his hold…and did nothing more than swing gently in the air.
“Oh, thank God it held,” Rodney exhaled in utter relief.
Sheppard opened his eyes and from the glow of the flashlight between them, saw he was practically nose to nose with McKay.
“What…” he croaked out in a rush of emotions too tangled to discern from one another, but confusion was definitely in there, as was shock, and relief that he wasn’t currently plummeting to his death.
“I hooked the carabineers from your harness into my tether,” Rodney explained a little breathlessly but he was grinning at his ingenuity.
“You what?” Of all the idiotic, harebrained things McKay could have done, this took the cake.
“Well, I figured the safety limits on these things were well within our combined weights.”
“How do you know that?” John snapped.
Rodney shrugged and admitted. “I don’t, exactly. I mean I never actually read the weight certifications or anything, but apparently I was right.”
“Have you lost your damned mind?” Now, instead of just Sheppard dying, there was a very good chance they both would. What the hell would that accomplish?
“If by losing my mind you mean saving your life in a brilliant, not to mention very heroic, manner, then yes, I have.” The smug grin was back and even wider. “Not that being a heroic genius isn’t part of my normal repertoire, but this one was impressive even for me, especially considering I had to apply my quick thinking to something as mundane as a harness system I’ve only worn a handful of times. I mean, it’s to be expected I can save the day with say, an Ancient transport device or shield system--”
Sheppard stopped the shower of self-love spewing out of Rodney with a growled, “What if it didn’t hold? What if it doesn’t hold?”
McKay skimmed over the question and bristled at the accusation. “You know, instead of yelling at me, maybe you should show a little gratitude.”
John’s scowl just deepened. “When we get out of this… no, if we get out of this without both of us falling like stones to the bottom of this hole, I am going to kick your ass for doing something so goddamn stupid.”
Rodney raised his chin and managed to cross his arms between their two chests, effectively blocking the light between them. John didn’t need any illumination to picture the sardonic expression that had to be on Rodney’s face as McKay offered a dry, “You’re welcome.”
It seemed McKay wasn’t the only one capable of saying the absolutely wrong thing at the right time.
* * * *
Normally, this would be the time Sheppard stormed off absolutely livid at McKay, and Rodney would yell a few choice insults at John's back as he went. McKay might even earn a few snide comments in return, or at the very least be flipped off over John’s retreating shoulder. Then, when dinner time rolled around, all would have been forgiven… or forgotten …or disregarded in favor of some other calamity threatening to kill them all.
This situation, however, was anything but normal, and given that they were literally joined at the…er…hip region, storming off was impossible. Although the yelling could continue unhindered by their current physical configuration.
“I’m sorry, but what part of kicking your ass do you take as a thank you?”
“The part where you’re alive to do it.” Rodney’s glower morphed into a gloating smirk, although it was doubtful John could even see it with his crossed arms still blocking the light.
“McKay, I swear to God−“
Rodney raised his voice to talk over Sheppard. “Is the berating going to take much longer?”
“With you? Yeah, it probably will.”
“That was actually a rhetorical question,” Rodney told him with a shake of his head as he moved his arms to tap at his temple and let the light illuminate the space between them again. “Because your yelling is just making my headache a thousand times worse, so I’m going to have to ask you to be quiet now. Feel free to, oh, I don’t know, take the approach of never speaking to me again. Maybe smolder silently in seething fury that I saved your ungrateful life. If you could see fit to do one of those, my concussion would really appreciate it.”
John glowered but fell silent, and it actually did relieve the spikes of pain beating in Rodney’s skull. Rodney closed his eyes as he rubbed absently at his forehead and took the time to think about what he really had done. Sheppard was right; McKay had no clue how long the single safety line would support both of them. He only knew if he hadn’t clipped John’s harness to his tether, Sheppard would be dead right now. And that would have been… unacceptable.
This was the typical Sheppard and McKay modus operandi: I’ll save your life, then next time, you’ll save mine. Sometimes the trade-off happened so fast, it was a mutual thing. Over the years, Rodney had lost count of whose turn it was. Evidently, today it was his− his turn, his responsibility to keep Sheppard alive at all costs.
Rodney just hoped like hell the line held until help came and it wouldn’t come to that, especially when the nylon of the tether creaked as it stretched from their combined weight.
“How’re you feeling?”
John’s voice was muted and Rodney wasn’t sure if it was out of respect for his wishes of silence or embarrassment over how he had reacted, but he was grateful just the same. When Rodney opened his eyes, he saw Sheppard studying him closely, probably checking his pupils or some such attempt at medical surveillance.
McKay snorted at the question and spread his arms. “Like a couple of dangling participles.”
Sheppard’s look of concern turned to puzzlement. “I’ve never really been clear on what exactly is a dangling participle.”
Opening his mouth, then closing it, Rodney admitted. “I’m kind of fuzzy on the precise meaning myself. But, evidently, they’re bad, a real pain in the ass, and you don’t want any part of them in your sentence.”
John cradled his broken arm and looked longingly into the gloom above them. “Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty good description of us right now.”
Rodney’s eyes followed Sheppard’s gaze when the line groaned as it stretched a little more. He intentionally did not shine the light, still on John’s vest, up for a better look at the sling. Ignorance is bliss, after all. Definitely an overstatement, but for now, ignorance was the key to not panicking. “Personally, I’d rather be a verb like ‘rescued,’ as in ‘Our team finally showed up, and we were rescued.’”
Sheppard crinkled his brow in thought. “I don’t think ‘rescued’ is a verb in that sentence.”
“Sure it is,” McKay argued. “I can even conjugate it. I rescued you, they will rescue us−”
John shook his head. “No, see, when ‘rescue’ follows a ‘be’ verb like will or were, I’m pretty sure it’s a complement.”
“Trust me, when they haul us out of here, I will consider that an enormous compliment.” Rodney kept looking up, hoping against hope Radek had got his ass in gear and off of Atlantis, and the complimentary rescue was moments away.
“Not that kind of complement,” Sheppard clarified. “A grammatical complement.” When Rodney just stared at him blankly, John continued. “You know, to the subject of the sentence.”
“I don’t care,” Rodney told him honestly.
“Hey, you were the one who brought up parts of speech in the first place.”
“And now I wish I hadn’t.” It took a second, but what Sheppard had said finally sunk in. “And how do you know anything about that grammar stuff anyway?”
John shrugged. “I dated a third-grade teacher for a while.”
“Please don’t tell me you were in third grade at the time.”
“No, of course not,” John scoffed. “I was a fifth grader.”
Sheppard managed a smirk that momentarily softened the creases of pain still sharply lining his face.
Rodney rolled his eyes at the obvious lie. “Oh, well, in that case, give me the details.”
“Sorry, I don’t conjugate and tell.” John’s grin quickly vanished when he screwed his face and hissed, holding his arm a little closer.
“I didn’t touch you,” McKay insisted, holding his arms up and away. “Did I?” Hell, as close as they were, Rodney very easily could have bashed into him and never realized it.
“No, I fucked up and moved it.” The creak from the stretching tether had Sheppard’s gaze moving upward once more.
Rodney didn’t seem to be the only one hoping the team from Atlantis would arrive early. “Do you want that morphine now?” Rodney waved his arm to encompass their situation, causing them to sway gently. “Not like we’re going anywhere anytime soon.”
“No, not until we’re out of this mess.”
John was still looking up, and Rodney realized it was as much to avoid McKay’s eyes as it was to contemplate the give of the safety line.
“It’ll hold,” Rodney assured more confidently than he felt.
“Probably,” John agreed.
If that was his attempt at false assurance, he must believe they were totally screwed. Correction. He must believe he was totally screwed. Rodney knew Sheppard would cut his own harness before he let both of them fall.
“So,” Rodney said cheerfully, even though he felt as far from cheerful as he could get, “how about a game of I Spy to pass the time until they get here?” Anything to keep from thinking about how Sheppard was thinking it was his turn to save McKay.
“Rodney, we’re straining this sling to the max. If it starts to go….” John didn’t have to say what he expected to happen.
Christ, it was like that damn nuclear bomb suicide run all over again. Only this time, Rodney had no intention of letting John say, "So long."
“I spy with my little eye, something…” Something what? They were dangling in a fucking cavern in the dark, for Pete’s sake. “…black.”
Sheppard was well aware of Rodney’s avoidance tactics. “This is hardly the time to play games, McKay.”
“Not like there’s much else we can do until the others show up,” Rodney reasoned.
“And that could be a while, a long while. A lot could happen during that time, like the line snapping, and if that happens then both of us−”
Rodney raised his hand to stop John from saying anymore. “Look, remember what I said about dangling participles? How they’re a pain in the ass and you don’t want anything to do with them? Well, a lot of people over the years have thought…I…shared the same traits as that particular syntax error.”
John seemed to think he knew where Rodney’s thought process was taking him and sighed. “Rodney, if something happens, it won’t be your fault. You’re not a bad person.”
“I know,” Rodney agreed readily. “But you’re one of the few people who have come to accept my… dangling participleness.”
John shrugged off the discomfiture of the admittedly unusual compliment. “I’m not sure ‘accept’ is the right word. ‘Come to terms with it,’ maybe, or ‘grown to not mind it so much.’”
“Whatever,” Rodney dismissed. “The point is, if you weren’t here to not not mind it, I…might…miss it.” He dropped his eyes and mumbled, “I might miss you.”
Sheppard remained silent long enough that Rodney finally risked a glance up and saw the thoughtful downturn of John's mouth. Rodney wasn’t sure how John would react to the confession. Not that they each didn’t know what they meant to each other, it just wasn’t something they openly acknowledged, at least not out loud. So, it was really no surprise Sheppard ignored the confession.
“You realize you used a double negative in that sentence.”
McKay was more than happy to follow his lead.
“Since when did you become a grammar Nazi?”
Rodney planted his hands on his hips and they swayed gently, but it was enough to have the tether creak more. They both looked up, and Rodney braced himself for another martyr speech from Sheppard. John seemed on the verge of delivering it, but then their eyes met and he remained silent for a few seconds.
“Since you decided to play I Spy in a dark cavern and chose something that was black. I mean, come on, every damn thing around us is black.”
Rodney defended his game choice with a raised chin. “Then you should have more than enough possible answers to choose from.”
When McKay simply stared at him patiently, Sheppard sighed. “This is ridiculous.”
“Would you rather play Charades?”
John frowned harder at Rodney’s offer.
“Or maybe Simon Says?” Rodney suggested when John started to grumble under his breath.
Above them, the line stretched a little more and creaked once again. John looked up, doubt written all over his face. Rodney knew because he kept his eyes steady, intentionally not glancing up to wonder how much longer the tether would hold. In the end, it really didn’t matter, because, in the end, Rodney knew there was no way in hell he could possible cut Sheppard’s harness just to save himself. He couldn’t even think about doing it without the nausea returning and it had nothing to do with his injury or motion sickness.
“I spy with my little eye,” Rodney repeated deliberately, “something black.”
John finally pulled his eyes away from the safety line to meet Rodney’s gaze.
Rodney could tell Sheppard hated the idea he might be responsible for Rodney falling to his death; it was obvious to anyone looking at him. The thing was, he didn’t care. Dr. Rodney McKay was known far and wide as being a self-centered son of a bitch; if the end came, he might as well live up to that reputation. After all, sometimes the best a man could hope for out of life was that he was true to himself. The truth was, he wanted to live, but he wanted Sheppard to live just as much.
John sighed again before guessing, “Is it me?”
“Nope.” McKay grinned in relief that Sheppard wasn’t fighting him on this anymore. “That was way too obvious. Try again.”
“Is it you?” John asked, his tone similar to the one Rodney had used when forced by his parents to entertain Jeannie when they were kids.
“Yep,” Rodney confirmed, refusing to let John’s moodiness get to him. “Now it’s your turn.”
It was obvious Sheppard had hoped the game would end with his correct answer, but to John’s credit, he continued to play. “I spy with my little eye, something black.”
“Oh, come on, you have to at least try,” McKay complained.
John glowered and repeated, “I spy with my little eye, something black.”
“Fine,” Rodney grumped. “Is it you?”
“Yes. It’s your turn again.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. Maybe cutting the harness wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
* * * *
“Is it me?” John asked for what had to be the one hundredth time since they started playing this stupid game.
“Yes.” McKay was finally starting to sound as irritated by the supposed diversion as John.
To be fair, they had run through every piece of equipment and clothing they were both wearing, not to mention the void space surrounding them. Sheppard had quickly come to the conclusion they really did wear an awful lot of black. They had even covered the few shades of other colors they had on their person, all except for the yellow safety line that was still somehow supporting them. That had been determined by silent majority vote to be off-limits for discussion of any type. And by majority, John meant McKay. The man’s ego was an entity unto itself, so Sheppard supposed it made sense Rodney had two votes to his one. At least they hadn’t had to spy brown rodent fur. Fortunately, between the shooting and Rodney climbing the cliff, they had evidently managed to scare off the rats.
John was about to recite the dreaded I Spy mantra yet again when he heard static in his ear. Rodney obviously heard it, too, given the way his eyes widened in surprise.
“Ronon?” Sheppard called loudly into his own radio. “Teyla? Do you guys copy?”
There was another crackle of static underwritten by what sounded like Ronon’s voice.
John exhaled in relief. “Ronon, if you can hear me, you need to hurry. And bring some rope.”
“I told you it would hold.” Rodney laughed a little frantically, as if he couldn’t believe he’d actually been right.
“…’ohn?” Teyla’s voice sounded a little stronger in his ear. “Wha… …ppened?”
“The walkway collapsed,” John told her.
Not to be outdone, Rodney cut in. “And then we were attacked by carnivorous cave rats and Sheppard’s safety line snapped, so we’re both on my line.”
“It’s supporting you both?” Ronon asked in surprise, his voice coming through clearly as they moved deeper into the cave.
“For now,” John stressed.
“Hence the ‘you need to hurry’ request,” McKay added.
“We’ll be there in a few minutes,” Ronon promised.
True to his word, Ronon arrived within minutes of his last radio transmission. He then had to wait a few additional minutes before more people showed up to help him haul the two men back to the safety of the walkway. The trip up had John bumping his broken arm several times, which in turn had McKay yelling up to their saviors.
“Hey, take it easy! We’re injured!”
They were close enough to the top John could hear Teyla instructing someone, “Go to the entrance and radio the men stationed at the gate that we need medical assistance from Atlantis.”
A few seconds later, Ronon’s large arm was reaching down to grip Rodney’s to haul him the rest of the way up. One of the engineers was steadying John as they eased them over the railing while Teyla chastised him to be careful of John’s arm. Then they were standing on solid ground, once more surrounded by half a dozen scientists and marines lighting the area with their flashlights.
McKay unhooked his harness, staggered back a few steps before he sat abruptly and buried his face in his hands. “Holy shit, I can’t believe that tether actually held.”
“What?” John demanded, stopping in his tracks from where Teyla was leading him toward a wall to rest against. “You swore to me it would hold.”
“I know.” Rodney snorted in amazement. “I can’t believe you actually bought it.”
“You son of a bitch!” If his right arm hadn’t been broken, Sheppard would have punched Rodney right then and there. “I never would have−“
“Will you please shut up?” McKay lay back in the middle of the walkway and draped his arm across his eyes. “I have a concussion. I need medical attention. Where the hell’s a doctor?”
When Ronon raised a questioning eyebrow at John to check the validity of Rodney’s claims, Sheppard nodded. “He did hit his head pretty good.” He lifted his hands to show the rusty stains still there. “Bled all over the damn place.”
John couldn’t control the shudder at the memory. They’d been lucky. Hard to believe considering their current condition, but just thinking about how much worse it could have been had Sheppard’s knees wobbling. When Teyla steadied him and eased him to the ground, he hoped he could pass it off as numb legs from being in the harness for so long.
Teyla, as usual, saw right through it. “The medical team will arrive shortly to care for you both, but Rodney seems to be very much himself.”
“It was dark down there.” John spoke quietly, not really wanting to show how worried he had been. “I couldn’t really see....” He shook his head, feeling the adrenaline drain away, leaving him more exhausted than he should have been for doing nothing more physically exerting than swinging in the breeze.
With a squeeze to his good arm, Teyla promised, “I will check on Rodney myself.”
“Thanks,” John told her as he leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.
Around him, he could hear the bustle as even more of the newly arrived science staff set up portable lighting and other equipment and discussed their options for accessing the control panel now that the catwalks were gone. He heard Teyla asking Rodney questions and him answering them in between snapping at Zelenka and the others, pointing out what they were doing wrong. It was a soothing buzz, familiar, and it wrapped around him comfortably, even though his arm still hurt like a son of a bitch.
Ronon’s voice next to him had John opening his eyes in surprise to hear him so close.
“How’re you doing?” the big guy asked in his low grumble of concern.
“Better now that we’re not just hanging around.” John shifted to straighten, grimaced at the pain it caused, and just decided to slump there a little longer.
“So what happened?”
“Hell if I know,” Sheppard confessed. “The walkway collapsed, we fell, hit the wall, were attacked by rats, my tether broke, and McKay clipped my harness to his before I fell. Then we just waited for you guys to show up.”
“Your tether just broke on its own?” Ronon raised his eyebrows, as if to give John a chance to change his story, before holding up the end of the safety line that had still been attached to the railing.
“Like I said, we were attacked by rats,” John defended.
“Carnivorous rats?” Ronon studied the frayed end of the tether and sniffed it. “With guns?”
Sheppard winced. “That part is open for debate.” When Ronon glanced over at McKay, John lowered his voice to a mumble. “But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t.”
It was pretty obvious who had been shooting at the questionably carnivorous rats.
Ronon’s eyes went from John to the damaged safety line and back to Sheppard. “I think it would be a good idea to inspect all the safety equipment when we get back. I’d hate for something like this to happen again.”
“I think you’re right,” John agreed with a grateful smile.
Their attention was pulled to where Rodney was attempting to stand and Teyla was trying to stop him.
“Rodney, I believe it would be best if you stayed still until the medical team arrives.”
McKay ignored Teyla’s protests, swaying into her as he finally found his feet. “Do you see what they’re doing? There’s no way that configuration will work, not to mention they’ll kill the battery power in a few−“
“McKay!” John yelled. “Let them work; you’re officially on the disabled list.”
“Oh, and I’m just supposed to sit here, twiddle my thumbs, and watch them screw everything up?” Rodney demanded.
“No, I have something to keep you occupied.”
McKay frowned in what appeared to be either disbelief or confusion. “And what, exactly, would that be?”
“I spy with my little eye−”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I don’t think so, Sheppard.” He returned to yelling at the scientists.
John decided to employ some of McKay’s own tactics and spoke louder. “I spy with my little eye, a dangling participle.”
Rodney went silent, turned, and narrowed his eyes to look closely at Sheppard. “Okay, you’ve made your point.”
“What point is that?” John asked in exaggerated innocence.
“It’s me, isn’t it?” Rodney grumbled.
John shrugged his good shoulder. “I guess that depends on what you do next.” He eyed the space on his left before looking back at McKay.
Rodney didn’t look pleased, but he did move to sit where Sheppard had indicated and leaned back against the wall. “I take back my previous answer. It’s you.”
“Maybe you’re right,” John conceded, closing his eyes again in a futile attempt to block out the pain in his arm.
“Although, neither of us is dangling now,” Rodney pointed out, before smugly adding, “thanks to me.”
Sheppard sighed. “You know, that really was a stupid thing you did, McKay.”
Rodney’s outrage was immediate. “You certainly have a double standard when it comes to risking your life versus people risking their lives to save−”
Sheppard tried not to wince at the reaction. “Okay, okay, you’re right. We dangling participles need to stick together.”
“What’s with this ‘we’ crap, kemosabe? I saved your life.”
“You did,” John admitted quietly and took a deep breath. “Thanks.”
He hadn’t said it very loud, so he wasn’t sure Rodney had heard it, but the way Rodney didn’t say anything made Sheppard think McKay had heard very clearly. In fact, Rodney was apparently struck dumb in shock because he remained quiet for so long John cracked one eye open so he could see McKay’s expression. He was hoping like hell it wasn’t going to be something too poignant or sentimental or uncomfortably emotional.
John should have known better than to be worried about something like that with McKay.
“Well, it’s about damn time,” Rodney huffed in exasperation.
“So I guess you were right,” Sheppard sighed and closed his eyes again, not sure if he was relieved or irritated by Rodney’s reaction. “I am the dangling participle. It’s your turn to spy something.”
Now it was Rodney who shrugged against John’s shoulder. “Eh, I’m willing to compromise and just say it’s both of us.”
“Really?” John had more distrust than pleasure in his tone.
“Of course, really,” Rodney snorted. “I mean, after all, it's just one more example of what a giving guy I am.”
“Right. Sorry I overlooked something so obvious.”
“Happens to the best of us,” McKay dismissed. “Some more often than others. And that’s not to say you aren’t just as giving on occasion. The occasion just didn’t happen to be today.”
John raised his eyebrows with his eyes still closed. “You’re a master at compliments, McKay.”
“Do you mean a flattering compliment or a grammatical complement?” Rodney asked.
Sheppard thought for a second, finally opened his eyes and conceded, “Could be a little of both.”
“As in, ‘I am your hero’?" Rodney was grinning smugly. "‘I am your savior’?”
John rolled his eyes. “Fine, that has the grammar covered, but how is that considered complimentary to me?”
“Because I wouldn’t have done it for just anyone.”
Whether or not the words were entirely accurate, the sentiment behind them was. Sheppard knew there were only a handful of people Rodney truly considered friends. He also knew he was probably at the top of that list− in the top three at the very least. Just as he knew where Rodney ranked in his life, and that it would be a little less…complete without McKay hanging out in it. Hanging out like one of those damn dangling participles and not minding that Sheppard was one, too.
Sheppard curled his lips into a small grin. “I spy with my little eye, a damn fine compliment.”
“Is it me?” Rodney asked with a pleased smirk of his own.
If Rodney McKay wasn’t the definition of complementary and complimentary, John didn’t know what was.