Ronon woke to a sound that he thought was the herd of animals returning but, instead, ended up being McKay snoring. Seriously, how could he make a noise that loud, even turned with his back to the rest of the team, and sleep through it? Seeing as his other two teammates were between him and the offending sound, there wasn’t much he could do to stop it without waking them, and with the sky just starting to pink with the coming dawn he figured it would be best to let them sleep. All of them, including McKay. Especially McKay. McKay’s brain and his gun, it was an odd combination used in an even stranger than normal way. But if it was going to work, the scientist needed to be able to form coherent thoughts and from the nasal snort, it sounded as if he was making the most of his rest break.
Teyla shifted beside him, her head lolling to come to rest on his shoulder. He caught himself smiling at how… nice it felt to wake up to a little warmth beside him. He hadn’t had that since… the smile vanished with a sigh at the memory of Melena. He’d lost so much over the years, so many, and now that he had found Atlantis, found this team, he found himself feeling even more protective of them as a result. Even the one at the opposite end of their makeshift bed threatening to make his ears bleed with his snoring.
Protecting. He hadn’t done such a good job with Sheppard. His frown deepened as he saw how pale the man was. Sheppard was still sleeping with his good shoulder to the wall, leaning into McKay’s back. The snoring sure wasn’t bothering him and Ronon watched carefully for the rise and fall of his chest… just to be sure. It was there, a little more rapid than he would have liked to see, but not unexpected given his fever. When Sheppard woke he would clean the wound again and McKay would get to work and they would get out of the Jumper and he could run for the gate.
Run. That would be… incredible. To be able to stretch his legs, gather speed, breathe fresh, clean air, look around and see more than the same three metal walls, the same three people. To actually be able to feel the sunshine directly on his face and not just through the glass of the windshield. He was tempted to wake McKay once again, not because of the snoring but to get him working now, this instant, so he would be out of this cage that much sooner. Even running from the Wraith all those years, he hadn’t been confined like this. He tried to clear that thought from his mind. The more he thought about how he couldn’t get out, the more he wanted to, and that was about to drive him insane.
Feeling the growing urge to get up and move around, even within the limitations of the small craft, Ronon tried to concentrate on the meditation techniques Teyla had been helping him with. He turned his thoughts inward as she had taught him, trying to relax, and sure enough, within a few minutes, he was sound asleep again.
The next time he woke, the sun was full up and so were the other members of his team. “John?”
Teyla’s worried voice beside him had his eyes flying open to see Sheppard struggling to push himself up from the floor. “I can’t stand up,” he told her dazedly.
“Hold on, Colonel.” McKay threw the covers back with a broad yawn, stretching the kinks from his back, before helping Sheppard to his feet. The injured man blinked against the head rush, gripping McKay’s arm as he swayed precariously so that the scientist steadied him. “Whoa! Maybe standing isn’t such a good idea.”
Ronon moved instantly to Sheppard’s other side, just in case the dizziness was just the beginning. But after a few seconds he stood, if not straighter, at least a little more stable. “Bathroom,” he directed succinctly.
With an arm under his good elbow and Ronon flanking Sheppard’s opposite side, McKay started guiding him toward the small room. “Are you going to be okay… you know… in there?” The dread was obvious in the scientist’s voice as Ronon wedged the door open for Sheppard.
“I’ve already slept with you twice, Rodney. I draw the line at helping me take a piss.” The grin he gave was weak and pain-filled but just its presence seemed to take some of the tension from all three of his teammates at seeing Sheppard so frail.
“Slumber parties aside, Colonel, I have no desire to come pick you up off the floor… midstream,” McKay observed as Sheppard pushed away from him and used the small sink as a makeshift handrail to lean against.
“I’ll pee fast,” Sheppard promised, not even bothering to attempt to close the door. Which was fine by Ronon seeing as he really didn’t want to listen for the man to fall on his face from outside. Instead, he assumed a position leaning casually against the doorjamb with his back to Sheppard, in effect forming his own human door.
When Sheppard finished up, they got him situated back on the bench that had become his makeshift infirmary bed and ate some breakfast before it was time to check his shoulder once again. Ronon wordlessly tossed his coffee packet at McKay, which earned him a surprised blink and a taken aback, “Thanks.”
Honestly, he’d come to enjoy the Earth beverage but nowhere near the addictive level of McKay. “Just get us out of here and that’s all the thanks I need.”
“Speaking of which, I have two ideas for what I can do with the energy cell of Ronon’s gun.” Rodney set to mixing the drink with the water they had heated. “I could attach it to the com system and send out a distress call. Nothing fancy, probably little more than a repetitive ping. But I think I could sustain that for several days at least.”
“What if the rescue team has already been here and left?” Ronon asked.
“My fears exactly.” McKay pointed his spoon at the Satedan in agreement. “Which is why I have another idea– I power the thrusters. It will no doubt burn out the power cell in a matter of seconds, but that may be enough to push the Jumper forward enough to clear the trees blocking the back hatch and let us out.”
“May be enough?” Teyla asked dubiously.
“I’m making some huge assumptions here about the power capabilities of the gun. Hopefully I’m on the conservative side, but with no way to measure it for sure…” Rodney shot a grumpy look in Sheppard’s direction, once again showing his ire at the rundown computer battery, “I could be completely wrong.”
“Can you power a drone?” John asked, ignoring the glare he had received. “We could blast the trees away.”
“And blast ourselves away in the process.” McKay shook his head at the idea. “As close as the detonation would have to be to take out the tree, I’m not sure the Jumper would fare much better than the forest.”
Sheppard slumped back down to his side, unable to remain sitting any longer. “So, what do you think? Take the safer long-term approach or the riskier-short term one?”
“Short term,” the other three responded in unison and Ronon wasn’t sure if they said it because of their concern that Sheppard wouldn’t last long enough for a distress call to attract someone or that they all wanted out of the Jumper as much as he did.
“Sounds like we have a plan,” Sheppard grunted as he settled down and threw his good arm over his eyes. “Wake me when we’re ready to do it.”
“Not yet, Sheppard,” Ronon reminded him. “We need to have a look at that shoulder first.”
“Damn. I’d hoped you’d forgotten.”
“Yeah, right.” Brown eyes rolled that he would do such a thing and he helped Sheppard sit back up as Teyla brought forward the first aid supplies.
McKay took on a slightly green complexion at the thought of having to go through yet another round of cleaning the infected wound. “So, I’m just going to go ahead and get started here. Okay?”
“Ronon and I have everything under control, Rodney,” Teyla assured him which McKay accepted with a relieved sigh.
The wound didn’t look any better than it had the night before, and to be honest, Ronon was having a lot of trouble convincing himself it didn’t look any worse as he cleaned it. They had to get out of here. Today. It would take him almost a full day to reach the gate given the terrain he was going to have to cross. That meant Sheppard and the others were going to have to spend another night in the Jumper until he could bring help. Another night of bitter cold, another day without medicine. Who knew how bad he would be in the morning?
“Holy shit,” Rodney breathed in wonder from the front of the Jumper. Ronon and Teyla looked up from where they were getting a semiconscious Sheppard settled again following the redressing of his wound. “There are people out there.”
“A search party from Atlantis?” Teyla asked hopefully as she moved forward.
“No,” Rodney corrected, “locals.”
Ronon looked out the front window to see three figures moving stealthily through the tall grass on the opposite edge of the clearing where the herd animals were grazing. “It’s a hunting party.”
His observation was confirmed when one fired an arrow that lodged into the flank of one of the animals. The animals, including the injured one, bolted and the hunters bounded after them.
“McKay,” Ronon warned, “shut up or they’ll hear us.” Evidently the winds from the storm a few nights prior had dropped enough limbs and leaves over the Jumper that it wasn’t blatantly obvious to the men whose attention was set on their prey.
“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? They could get us out.”
“Those guys had weapons,” Ronon pointed out. “The same kind that shot Sheppard. If they find us, then they’ll more than likely try to finish the job they started.”
The scientist was obviously torn between being willing to take a chance and keeping quiet. Finally, he decided that it would be best to stay concealed for as long as possible. “Then we should probably wait to make sure they don’t come back this way before we try to move the Jumper.”
“Once they track down that animal they shot they’ll probably be back, taking the meat to their camp.”
“So we wait until they return?” Teyla asked with a worried glance back at Sheppard.
Ronon didn’t like that option any more than his teammates did, but when you got right down to it, they didn’t have much choice. He had little doubt he would be able to fight his way out of anything he might come across, but seeing as he would be on his way to the gate, he had to think of the others. Sheppard wouldn’t be able to do much of anything, including walk, much less fight. McKay was lucky he didn’t shoot himself or one of the team every time he fired his gun. And Teyla, although more than competent, would have two teammates to protect on top of herself. “It won’t do us a lot of good to get out of the Jumper only to be killed by the villagers once we’re free.”
“Then I guess I’ll get to work with the connections so we’ll be ready to go once they're gone.” The scientist’s disappointment was obvious, but he wasn’t alone. In fact, the only one that didn’t seem frustrated was Sheppard and that was because the man was barely even conscious.
Teyla had taken a damp cloth and was using it to try to cool their team leader, whose fever had him shuddering under the blankets they had draped over him. It had been over an hour since the hunters had taken off after their quarry and Ronon was debating whether or not they had had time to return or had possibly taken a different route back to their village. Rodney had finished the connection but was continuing to tinker with the device as more of a way to keep himself occupied than anything else. But the wait was bearing down on all of them.
Rewetting the rag, Teyla sat back on her heels with a sigh. She looked around at the Jumper, as if trying to find something to busy herself with, settling on gathering the waste from their morning meal and stashing it in one of the bins in the back. Pausing in her task when she found a piece of the paper, Ronon assumed it was one of the many that Sheppard and McKay had been using the previous day for the calculations. But the melancholy smile on her face had him asking curiously, “What is it?”
“It is evidently John’s team building project.”
Rodney perked up at the news and stood to look around Ronon’s shoulder when Teyla handed over the piece of paper for him to see.
After studying the page for a moment, McKay cleared this throat awkwardly. “I’m not that much of a slob,” he justified, his voice a little thicker with emotion than he meant, because he turned quickly and resumed fiddling in the panel.
Teyla did her best to hide her smile at the physicist’s response, turning her attention to Ronon, who felt a surge of embarrassment at his own sentiment at seeing the note. He pushed the paper back at Teyla, with a mumbled, “That’s nice to know.”
Whatever comments the Athosian was going to make regarding the project was cut off when the man who had made it whimpered where he lay on the back bench. Teyla returned to his side and dabbed lightly along Sheppard’s brow, the action causing him to flinch and mumble in his sleep. She made a soothing shushing sound, like a mother would for a child waking in the night, but Sheppard only furrowed his brow and let out a ragged, “Don’t!”
“John,” she tried again, moving the cloth to rest on his neck, “all is well.”
But his hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, fever-bright eyes opening to see, not his Athosian teammate but whatever dream vision he was experiencing. “Stop!”
“John, it is me, Teyla.”
Sheppard’s coarse panting continued, but his grip eased as the woman finally came into focus. “Teyla?” The realization of who was sitting next to him was spoken in utter relief.
“Yes,” she assured, “you were simply dreaming.”
“McKay? Ronon?” He swallowed down his worry, but his eyes pleaded desperately.
“They are here. Safe.” Teyla looked to where Rodney was working in the access panel and Ronon stood watch for the hunters and tilted her head meaningfully to beckon them over to reassure John they were unharmed.
“Sheppard,” Ronon greeted. “How’re you feeling?”
McKay shoved his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels casually, but unable to keep the concerned frown from his face. “Colonel.”
Sheppard’s eyes darted from the face of one team member to another before finally closing again with an exhalation of, “Christ.” His good hand scrubbed across the dark stubble that was thickening along his jaw and he slumped back down on the bench. “Kolya… I thought he’d…” He simply swallowed again and shook his head against the false memory.
“It was simply a bad dream,” Teyla promised, using the cloth to brush back sweat damp hair.
“Kolya’s not hurting anybody anymore.”
Rodney agreed with Ronon’s definitive statement by crossing his arms, in effect covering the scars there. “Yes, you more than made sure of that, Sheppard.”
When his only response was to close his eyes and suck in a harsh breath, Teyla did her best to change the subject and hopefully redirect Sheppard’s thoughts. “Rodney has finished the installation and we will soon be ready to attempt moving the Jumper.”
Raising his head in a failed attempt to sit up, John asked, “Are you ready for me to fire her up?”
When Teyla explained the hunters and the reason for the delay, Sheppard eyed Ronon. “Do you think you’ll run into other hunting parties on the way back to the gate?”
The Satedan shrugged. “If I do, I’ll take care of it.”
“You won’t have your gun,” Sheppard reminded him.
“I have my sword.”
McKay rolled his eyes at Ronon’s confidence. “Yes, nothing like bringing a knife to a shootout.”
“You want to test me, McKay?”
Rodney backed up a step at the threat. “Not really.”
“McKay’s right,” Sheppard challenged. “You run into enough of them, you won’t be able to hold them off in hand to hand. Take my P90.”
If it came down to a standoff with the local inhabitants, Ronon knew they’d need all the firepower they could muster in the Jumper. “I don’t want the extra weight. I need to travel fast and light.”
“Fine. Then take the nine-mil, some extra clips, and my vest.” When Ronon started to argue, Sheppard cut him off. “That’s an order.”
Ronon really hated it when Sheppard pulled the order crap. On the one hand, he’d learned early on that not all orders given by the man had to be followed, or even should be followed. On the other, his military training was hard to overcome, and an order was an order. Finally, he nodded his acquiescence.
“I better go keep a lookout for the hunters.” And get out of sight before Sheppard tried to put some other restrictions on him leaving.
Behind him, he heard Teyla coax Sheppard to drink some more water before she joined him at the window. “You do not need to worry. We are more than capable of caring for ourselves while you are gone.”
Ronon glanced back to where McKay had sat on the floor next to Sheppard’s makeshift bunk. “You’ll have your hands full, that’s for sure.”
“As will you if you encounter any more local tribesmen. If we remain hidden we shall have no problems. In fact, being able to leave the confines of the Jumper will be very nice.”
“With the back open it’ll be even colder in here tonight,” Ronon pointed out.
“We will manage. We will at least have one another to keep warm.”
And Ronon finally realized that Teyla was more worried about him than he was about her and the others. Every time that happened, he found himself once again amazed that there was actually someone here that did care enough to worry. More than one someones.
“I’ll be back by dawn,” he assured.
“I shall hold you to that promise.” Teyla looked back to the two men behind them. “And bring Carson.”
“That’s the plan.”
Sheppard was laying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, even though he was talking to McKay. “You really think this gun thing will work?”
“Yes. Of course. You saw the calculations, it’ll work. Should work.” Rodney shook his head to clear away his doubts. “Will work. Right?”
“Sure. It’ll work.”
At John’s less than stellar endorsement, McKay leaned back against the bench, his arms draped tiredly across his propped knees. “You know, it’s times like this I really wish I still had those superpowers. I mean, aside from the whole ascend-or-die, terror-inducing part of it, they really came in handy.”
“I don’t know,” Sheppard considered. “It’s hard enough trying to have any privacy as it is. It’d be worse if you could read our minds, too.”
“Yes, but I could have probably figured out how to fix the Jumper using the components of a standard MRE.”
“I think it’s pretty impressive that you came up with something using Ronon’s gun.”
Ignoring the acknowledgement of his skills, Rodney continued. “At the very least, I could have levitated the Jumper away from the trees.”
Sheppard’s lips curled at the thought. “How very Yoda of you, Rodney.”
He shrugged. “Well, given that I already levitated Carson, I know I could handle the mass.”
“Hey, be nice to Carson. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him and his painkillers again.”
“Just one more reason I wish I still had my powers.” Rodney turned his attention back to his knees. “I could have healed you.”
Ronon forced himself not to reach up a hand and feel the smooth skin on his back yet again. McKay could drive the Satedan to the brink of a murderous rage, no doubt about it. But then, out of the blue, he’d do something like removing the reminder of the worst period of his life and he’d wonder why McKay had made him so angry in the first place.
Of course, it didn’t take long for McKay to open his mouth again and have Ronon thinking, oh, right, that’s why.
“Eh, I’ll take your average, run of the mill, MENSA genius to dead uber genius any day.”
Rodney grinned happily at Sheppard’s words. “Really?”
“Sure. Dead geniuses tend to stink up the place after a while. Although, after four days without a shower, it’s kind of hard to tell the difference.”
Ronon cut off any comeback McKay might have had when he spotted the hunting party moving through the clearing. “They’re back.”
Sheppard placed a hand on Rodney’s shoulder before he could stand, indicating that he wanted help up so he could see for himself. The two men moved to join their teammates as they watched the tribesmen trudge across the field, each pulling a litter behind them that was loaded down with meat. The four of them watched as the hunters moved through the tall grass and out of sight.
“So, can we do this now?’ McKay asked hopefully.
“How much noise will it make when you move the Jumper?”
At Ronon’s question, the scientist told him, “Well, the Jumper itself is pretty quiet, but clearing it through the trees around us could be kind of noisy.”
As if reading his mind, Teyla suggested, “Then we should wait a while longer. Allow the villagers to move further away so they will not return to investigate if they hear us.”
Ronon nodded his agreement. “Another hour should be good.”
He then turned to Sheppard in time to hear him slur, “Standing… bad… idea.”
McKay let out a curse as Sheppard’s eyes rolled back in his head and his knees buckled. Between the three of them, they were able to keep him from dropping completely to the floor and maneuver him back toward his bed where they deposited him.
“Sheppard?” McKay’s call of his name was answered by an incoherent mumble.
Teyla took up her damp cloth once again and laid it across his forehead. “He is weak from the fever.” When he blinked up at her dazedly, she tried where Rodney had failed. “John?”
“Hey.” Sheppard tried for a smile but it came out as more confusion that reassurance. “What happened?” His eyes traveled drunkenly from one teammate to the other, before closing them, then forcing them open once again.
“Just rest now,” Teyla coaxed. “You have overexerted yourself.”
He evidently thought that was a good idea because he instantly gave up on trying to keep his eyes open and let them drift shut. Teyla rested her hand on his chest in a check of his breathing then stood with a frown after pulling his blankets up over his shoulders. The three exchanged worried expressions before Rodney finally spoke.
“I think half an hour should be more than enough time.”
“Sounds good to me,” Ronon agreed, gathering his gear in preparation of his departure.