Long As I Remember the Rain's Been Coming DownAuthor: chaps1870Genre:
A just war is better than an unjust peace.Word Count:
R for languageWarnings:
John always kept an uneasy peace with his family by staying away.Notes:
Big thanks to sgcgategirl
for the fast beta despite my getting it to her at the last minute.
John sat in his brother's den, sipping bourbon and wondering, not for the first time, what the hell he was doing here. He'd mistakenly thought that his father's death would settle the age old fight. And yet, here he sat, arguing with Dave over why the military was still more important than the family business. His father and brother had never understood how important John's job was to him. There was only a modicum of peace between them and that was because John had stayed away. John figured that staying away was easier than waging a battle he couldn't win.
"So what the hell was so important that you had to leave the wake? Your father's wake," asked Dave, still fuming over John's abrupt departure to hunt a rogue Replicator.
"I told you, national security and it's classified. I can't tell you. You know that," John ground out, his own temper barely in check.
"It's always something. You did the same damn thing to Nancy." Dave shook his head and snorted, "I find it really hard to believe that you are the only person they can count on. It was your father's funeral, John. They could have found someone else." He took a sip, and slammed his drink down, liquor splashing onto the glass tabletop, marring its pristine surface. "You could have told them no, but it was the perfect excuse to leave."
"Fuck you, Dave. I don't have a choice. They tell me to jump, my job is to ask how high. I can't just tell them no because I'm busy. I'm a Lieutenant Colonel in case that escaped your notice. I don't have the luxury of saying no. The president asked me to do this."
Dave scoffed, "You want me to believe the President of the United States personally asked you to leave your father's funeral to go on a fool's errand."
John let out a heavy breath, ready to answer when the doorbell rang. Dave huffed off to answer it and John leaned back, sinking into the couch, boneless and tired.
He had just closed his eyes when he heard Ronon's unmistakable voice outside the room, "Where is he?"
Dave countered haughtily, "Do you always just burst into people's homes?"
John stood and hurried to the door, curious as to what would bring Ronon here. Last he seen of the Satedan, he was happily ensconced in a hotel with room service watching Ultimate Fighting. He opened the door to find Ronon searching room by room. He nodded his head in greeting at Ronon, "Hey, what's up?"
Ignoring Dave, Ronon stepped around him. "McKay's missing."
Ronon had his full attention at the mention of Rodney. "Missing? I thought he was helping the kids on...their project," John said, his heart suddenly pounding
"He got caught in a flood. We need to go." Ronon never said much, but John could hear the concern in his voice. He could sympathize.
Dave stared in disbelief then sneered, "So you're leaving again." There was no mistaking his anger.
Turning to face him, John tried to explain, "A member of my team is missing." He didn't add that Rodney was like family. He didn't think that would go over too well at the moment. He doubted Dave would understand anyway. "I have to do this. I'm sorry."
"You're always sorry, John," Dave sighed, the bitterness still there.
"I have to do this, Dave," John said, running through his mind how much time it would take to get back to Atlantis and if Rodney had that much time.
"It's always about your damn military. Dad died without you here because of your job. You left his funeral because of your job. What about family, John? When does that become more important than your job?"
"It just did." John stopped at the door and made a final bid for his brother's acceptance. "I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you more about what I do and why it's so important. Maybe someday you'll get it. I gotta go." John started towards Ronon and the big man led the way out.
"You go this time, don't bother coming back," Dave yelled after him as he gave John the ultimatum, one very similar to the one his father had given him so many years ago.
And just like the last time, John didn't hesitate. He knew his mind now just as he had then. His brother was all about the money and the power, something he'd proven all to well when he'd mentioned their father's will. He'd managed to keep peace with his father by staying away and he'd hoped maybe things would be better with Dave but once again the battle lines were drawn.
He turned on his heals and left without looking back. Unlike his father and brother, he'd discovered that power and money didn't watch your back, or sit at your bedside or keep you sane when everything went to shit.
He hated the rain. For two days it had rained almost non-stop and it was getting old really fast. Even the short trail from the tree-top village to the shield generator was a chore. The rain soaked through his coat and into his bones, leaving behind a wet chill that wouldn't go away. The heavy mud stuck to his boots making even the shortest journey exhausting. The annoying kids that had trailed after him the first day, asking unending questions, had even given up and retreated to their warm treehouses. Rodney's only relief was standing in the small cave that housed the shield generator. Shivering from the cold, at least he was out of the rain.
This wasn't the first time he'd been summoned to fix the generator but he wanted to make sure it was the last. The most daring, or in Rodney's estimation the most gullible, children had decided that touching the generator was somehow some coming of age ritual. Unfortunately, they could open it up, thereby defeating its purpose, but they couldn't put it back so it would work. Hence, Rodney's latest fix. From previous attempts, he knew that it took a complicated sequence of steps to initiate the ZPM so it was just a matter of reprogramming the generator to accept another set of instructions to take it offline. It would, theoretically, stop the 'I dare you' mentality of the native children and protect the ZPM from further tampering.
Keras and the other elders agreed with Rodney's solution and promised to punish those responsible for the latest shut down. Based on some of the nasty looks he was getting, Rodney was pretty sure they half blamed him because he'd been the one to show them where the generator was in the first place. Or it might have been his considerable lack of patience while it took them a full day to reach an agreement. It had taken all his patience plus some shouting, which sounded suspiciously like his father, to make it through that first day. Calling someone barely out of puberty an elder was ludicrous.
All the cosmic forces gathered against him on this one. First, he'd had to forego accompanying Sheppard to Earth for his father's funeral. Then it had rained... no it poured for the entire two days he was on M7G-677, otherwise known as Kid Planet.
After fixing the generator so that the kids could no longer turn it off just by touching it, Rodney had argued they wait out the rain but Lorne and two of his newest soldiers—something about it being an easy training mission...hah—had overruled him.
Lorne had gone to move the jumper out of shield range just before Rodney had reactivated it, leaving Sanchez and Holden to accompany him back. Packing his datapad away, he nodded at the two soldiers, who stood guard at the entrance looking bored and resentful. God, he hated breaking in new soldiers. It took forever to get them used to the idea that they were there to protect his ass and this wasn't just an excuse to make their lives miserable. Usually it took several months and numerous crises to instill in their tiny minds that they should be grateful he was around to save their asses.
He hesitated at the entrance, ducking his head further into his jacket and pulling collar tighter around his neck. All it had done since they'd got here was rain. Disgusted, he took a deep breath and pushed between the two soldiers. "Let's go. It's not going to get any better."
By the time they reached the bridge, his boots weighed a ton each and he was seriously pissed off at the decision to go back to Atlantis. They could be at the village by now, warm and cozy by a fire, instead of drenched to the bone. The rain sluiced down his face, matting his hair and making it hard to see.
"There is no way that is safe," Rodney yelled over the sound of rushing water, his arms waving at the sight before him. The narrow stream they'd crossed two days earlier via a slat bridge was now a raging torrent of muddy water and debris. The bridge was nothing more than rope and wood, covered in moss and algae, blending into the landscape. It swayed in the wind above the turbulent waters below.
Corporal Holden was already on the bridge, gripping the rope handholds, screaming back. "Come on, McKay. Major Lorne is waiting on us. Either you cross this bridge or I'll drag your ass across."
Rodney shouted, his words spraying the rain back at the soldier, "The water is still rising. It's suicide. We wouldn't make it half way without getting ripped off that thing."
Holden glanced over Rodney's shoulder, nodded and Rodney was suddenly pushed from behind by Sanchez.
"Move out," growled Holden, turning to lead the way across the foot bridge.
Rodney stumbled forward, his hands reaching for the ropes in self defense. Sanchez crowded him from behind and he had no choice but to move forward, too terrified to even vent his anger. Even Sheppard wouldn't have been stupid enough to cross the bridge under these conditions. The wind was howling, the rain coming down in sheets and the damn river was rising, now only six feet below the bridge. He was tempted to call Lorne, but that would mean taking his hand off the rope to reach his radio and that so wasn't happening.
Sanchez was yelling at him to hurry. It was treacherous, wooden slats slippery and slimy from years of algal growth and the driving rain.
Putting a cautious foot forward, the creaking and slight give under his foot was the first indication that things were about to go to hell. Behind him, Sanchez yelled in alarm and pushed his way forward, leaving Rodney to trail behind. Rodney froze, afraid to move as the board under his foot bent with his weight.
A step in front of him, Sanchez screamed and dropped weightless as the board under him gave way. He managed to grab a good slat, precarious as it was and was crying for help. Rodney tried to back up, get off the board that was about to give way so that he could reach for Sanchez when suddenly the wood under his own feet splintered and he lost his balance. The wet, algae covered wood was too slick, making it impossible to keep his feet and as he fell, he tried to latch onto Sanchez and the ropes holding the bridge together. Neither gave him a very good grip but he'd managed to keep from falling into the river below. Sanchez was flailing in panic and Holden was screaming at Rodney to let him go.
The only thing that stopped his fall was the support rope that held the slats in place. It was a precarious hold at best, slippery and slimy with algae, and Rodney had reached out for Sanchez. His intention was to help him until the soldier could get a better hold on the bridge but the young corporal was terrified, pawing frantically at Rodney's fingers. "Let go. You'll take us both down."
Rodney tried to add leverage as Holden began pulling Sanchez to safety. Sanchez was still kicking and screaming, trying to rid himself of the scientist. Holden was panting, terror clear in his eyes as he strained to pull his buddy to safety.
Straining against the ropes, Rodney tried to keep his grip and use his free hand to hoist Sanchez closer to Holden, hoping it would facilitate his own rescue that much sooner. Holden was panicking, his grip on Sanchez compromised by the pouring rain and slippery algae.
He was screaming over the rain, "Let him go, McKay. I can't hold you both."
Digging in his heals for a better grip, Holden was frantically pulling at Sanchez's vest, trying to tug him up onto the bridge. When that didn't work he tried screaming at Rodney again, "Let go of him, you coward motherfucker!"
Muscles straining, Rodney yelled back, trying to push Sanchez from behind, "I'm trying to help, you moron."
The rain made it almost impossible to see more than a few feet in front of him so he never saw it coming. All he felt was the sharp pain in his arm, and only through a conscious effort did he keep his hold on Sanchez.
He looked up sharply at Holden, seeing him kick out again, making contact with his already bruised arm. Rodney screeched at him, "What the fuck are you doing?"
"Saving my buddy, you worthless fuck," Holden shouted, kicking at Rodney's arm again.
The pain lanced up his arm and Rodney could no longer hold on. He swung free, the change in momentum causing him to flail wildly for another handhold. His hold on the rope suddenly changed with the added weight and he felt himself slipping. Still swinging, he tried to reach out but each time he came close to grabbing either Sanchez or the bridge slat, Holden kicked at him, catching him in the hand or the face. Each blow made it harder and harder to keep his hold with his other hand.
"Stop kicking me!" Rodney was screaming frantically at Holden the entire time. "You son of a bitch. You think you will get away with this. Sheppard will have your ass and if he doesn't Ronon will. You can't just let me die. Are you that fucking stupid to think they won't notice I'm missing?"
Holden finally pulled Sanchez to safety and the two of them lay panting while Rodney was slowly slipping to his death. He dared to look down at the water now lapping at his boots. Much higher and the raging waters would sweep him under no matter how good a hold he had. His only hope was the two soldiers, who at the moment didn't seem too concerned for his safety. Panic was sinking in and he was screaming, trying to reason with them.
"You can't do this. Please help me," Rodney cried out anxiously, his breathing labored. His arms were shaking with the effort to hold on.
Sanchez at least tried to sit up and reach out but Holden batted his hand away. "Are you crazy? We help him now and Sheppard will have us court-martialed."
Lifting up, Sanchez turned towards Rodney, intent on helping only to have Holden hold him back. The young soldier was clearly torn.
"I just saved your ass," Holden insisted, trying to sway young Sanchez.
Rodney could see doubt in the soldier's face and he pleaded desperately, "You can still help. Come on, please. I don't want to die. Please." The last was a more of a whimper. Rodney was terrified, his fingers numb from the rain as he tried to hold on, only to feel himself slipping closer to the water.
The current tugged at his feet and one of his boots was ripped away by the turbulent river. His heart was pounding and he tried to pull his feet up, away from the dangerous current but it futile. With the water rising, there was no where to go.
A death grip on the ropes, he wasn't too proud to beg, his voice wavering in fear, "Please. I'll do anything you want, just help me. Please. I don't want to die."
Sanchez yanked away from Holden and reached out for him. Rodney sighed his relief, "Oh, thank god."
Mustering his courage, Rodney let go his precarious hold and reached for Sanchez's outstretched hand. Sanchez grabbed his wrist and held it tightly, adjusting himself to hold the added weight when suddenly Rodney saw Holden move behind the young soldier, his hands pushing at the soldier's back. Rodney's eyes widened at the scene and he barely got out a warning, "Look out!"
Between one instant and the next, he was plunged into the icy waters, losing his hold on Sanchez as soon as they hit. The muddy waters precluded any chance of keeping track of the soldier and Rodney had his own problems. Clawing frantically for the surface he couldn't see, his lungs burned as he was tossed about in the fast flowing, muddy water. When he finally surfaced, he gasped and sucked in more water than air as the waves crashed over him.
Sanchez was nowhere to be seen but it was hard to see more than a few feet in the driving rain and he was more concerned with saving his own ass at the moment. The undertow pulled him under several times and swimming was pointless, the shore no closer after much effort. He concentrated on treading and keeping his head above water as it plowed into him, ripping away his remaining boot and then his pants. The cold, rain swollen river was making him numb as it carried him further and further downstream.
The river seemed to go on forever and he struggled against the current, trying now and then to swim towards the shore. In the few places that it leveled out he felt his feet touch bottom but the current was too strong and he failed to get his feet under him enough to gain any purchase. Again, he was swept under, at the mercy of the raging river.
Lorne piloted the jumper away from the village, well beyond the shield. He didn't want to hear McKay if he inadvertently parked inside the shield range. He'd never hear the end of his bitching.
The rain was coming down harder now and he winced. Holden and Sanchez were undoubtedly getting an earful from McKay. Even at a brisk walk, it would be another half hour before McKay and his men reached the jumper. With nothing better to do, he pulled an MRE from his pack and heated it up. He wasn't all that thrilled with macaroni and cheese but they'd missed out on dinner by leaving early. Evan wasn't about to spend another night in the trees. All the rain made everything damp and two days of mucking through the mud was enough. McKay may have been busy but he and his men had been bored to death. Holden and Sanchez were too young and inexperienced to dare say a word but Lorne could tell when it was time to call it a mission and go home, even when McKay balked at walking back in the rain.
Peering out the front window, Evan frowned. He hadn't expected the clouds to open up like they had, but it was too late now. Keying his radio, he called, "Holden, where are you?"
Static was his only answer and he tried again, "Sanchez." Still no answer. "McKay." It occurred to him later that if the shield was up, calling his men was pointless.
The sky lit up with a bright flash and Evan tensed, waiting for the crack of thunder. It was close enough to rock the jumper and he tossed the remains of his MRE away before heading to the rear hatch. He pushed some of the gear closer to the front and dared to open the hatch. It was pouring outside, the rain buffeted by the wind made it look all the more dangerous. He hoped the young soldiers were smart enough to hole up somewhere rather than risk hiking in it. Standing in the hatchway, out of the rain, he watched it come down and jumped nervously every time the thunder rumbled around him.
After several minutes, he absently reached for the hatch release when a flash of light caught movement at the forest edge. He reached for his gun, turning on the light and aiming it towards where he thought he'd seen something. Squinting, he hoped for another glimpse but was forced to wait for the next flash of lightening. It was several seconds before the bright flash lit up the night, bringing Holden into his line of sight.
He relaxed and waved him closer. "Holden, over here."
Holden ran towards his voice, taking several deep breaths once he was out of the driving rain.
Evan peered out into the darkness, looking for the rest of his team. He questioned his second, "Where the others? You leave them holed up somewhere?"
Holden shook his head, sending water everywhere. He bent over, gasping for air, "No, sir." He added breathlessly, "The bridge...got washed out. Sanchez...McKay...washed down...river."
Trying to maintain his calm, Lorne muttered under his breath, "Fuck, fuck, fuck." He paced for a few seconds before slapping his hand over the door release, bringing the hatch up. Storming forward, he sat down and fired up the jumper, taking off as Holden took his seat. He glanced over at the exhausted soldier. "You okay?"
Holden nodded. He looked like a drowned rat, water dripping off the seat. "Yes, sir. I managed to be on this side when it went. I searched the immediate area but thought it best to get back here for help."
"You did the right thing," countered Evan, reassuring his man. Gesturing to the back, he told Holden, "Go get dried off." He hoped it was the right thing because if not, Sheppard was going to kill him for losing his scientist. And Sanchez. Sheppard hating losing people.
Getting the jumper in the air, Lorne had to do a sharp turn towards the gate when he suddenly remembered the shield was up and the jumper would drop like a rock if he entered the shield's air space. As he neared the gate, he landed the jumper and dialed Atlantis. He'd thought about returning but he didn't want to risk being stuck in a debriefing while people were missing. At least on the planet he could do something.
"I'm staying here to look for Sanchez and McKay. I want you to go back, tell them what happened. Oh, and have them sent Zelenka, we're going to need him to get that shield down."
Holden was out of his seat and moving before the hatch was even down. "Yes, sir."
The young soldier looked nervous and scared and Lorne quickly reassured him. "It'll be fine, Holden. We'll get them back."
"It's bad, sir. The river...I ain't never seen nothin' like that before."
He wasn't sure how long he'd been here, at least a day, but it was hard to keep track of time as he faded in and out of consciousness. He thought maybe the pain was backing off but it was more likely he was just getting used to it.
If he moved at all it was enough to make him scream, his throat raw from his earlier struggles to free himself. His whole left side was pinned between at least two trees. He couldn't be sure since he couldn't turn enough to see above or behind himself. His right leg was definitely broken and after the first couple of attempts to move it, he decided it wasn't worth the pain to try and free it from the uncomfortable angle it rested in. At least if he didn't move it kept the pain to a dull throb rather than the screaming agony.
Breathing was agonizing, but with all the pain he couldn't be sure if it was because his ribs were actually broken or the trees holding him were preventing him from taking deep breaths. He vaguely remembered the snap of a few ribs when he'd slammed into the trees only to go ass over end deeper into the log jam. After that, he was too busy throwing up half the river to think about his ribs.
He'd lost consciousness at some point, waking up to find himself sprawled over one tree, pinned by another. Panic had set in and he screamed himself hoarse. He lost consciousness the second time when the whole jam shifted. He was pretty sure that was when his leg was broken but time went in and out for a long time after that. The only good thing was the incoming water had dwindled and it was no longer running over his back or spraying his face.
They should have found him by now. Then he remembered his own team was in absentia. Ronon and Sheppard were on Earth and Teyla was very pregnant, in no condition to traipse around the planet in search of him. He started to sigh but the effort left him gasping for air through the onslaught of pain. His free hand clawed at the bark under his hand as he tried to calm his breathing, convincing himself he was getting enough air even though it felt otherwise.
A day of pain and cold and wetness had worn him out. Depression and self pity were creeping in and he just lay there, not moving, wincing with every breath as he stared out between the branches of his prison, thinking maybe, just maybe he might not make it out of this one.
One hand on her protruding belly, Teyla anxiously paced Colonel Carter's office. She didn't know the new commander all that well but was hoping to appeal to her sense of team loyalty. Teyla may not be able to join her teammates on any real missions but surely she could be on the planet as they searched for Rodney. If nothing else, she could speak with Keras about helping them in their search.
Teyla spoke as soon as Colonel Carter entered, not bothering with the niceties. "I would like to join those going to the planet."
Carter's eyes dropped to her bulging stomach. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I do not see how a trip in the jumper will harm either myself or my child. I have done it many times in the past," Teyla insisted, keeping her voice calm.
"It's going to be stressful down there and the mud will make it treacherous. I don't think it's the ideal place for a pregnant woman."
"I do not plan to search myself, but I would like to be there. Rodney is my teammate."
"I don't know, Teyla. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you," Carter replied, her concern evident.
The door to the office slid open and John rushed forward, Ronon right at his heels. They both spotted Teyla at the same time and brightened. John greeted her with the traditional Athosian greeting, there eyes meeting. She read his concern and nodded her own. Ronon stepped behind her, brushing her back and letting her lean into his strength. John addressed Colonel Carter. "I'm taking my team and a jumper. Is the shield down yet?"
Carter shook her head, "No, Radek is having some trouble with it. Apparently, McKay reset the parameters for releasing the ZPM so the native children couldn't inadvertently turn off. Since McKay didn't return with the information, we have no way of knowing what he did. Given enough time, Radek thinks he can get it turned off."
John growled, "We don't have time. That's Rodney and one of my men out there."
"I know that, John. We'll simply have to search the old fashioned way for now. As long as the shield is up, Rodney's transmitter is useless." Carter looked at Teyla. "Perhaps you can speak to..."
Teyla provided the name, "Keras."
Carter nodded. "You can speak to Keras. See if he and his people can provide more manpower for the search. The rain has leveled off some and the river appears to be going down slowly."
John was practically vibrating with anger, his fists clenched tightly. "How did this happen? I thought Lorne went with them."
Colonel Carter sighed, "He did. Corporal's Sanchez and Holden were in charge of getting McKay back to the jumper. As they crossed the river, the bridge broke. Sanchez and McKay were swept downriver."
"Why the hell did they even cross if it was that dangerous? They would have had to drag McKay across if it was that bad," John said, his knuckles white as he squeezed his fist tighter.
Teyla wished to comfort him, but he would never allow it here, in front of his commanding officer. She understood and would wait until they were alone to offer what comfort she could. He had done no less when he'd entered the office. His presence was reassuring. She knew she would not be left behind.
"I don't know. He returned to the planet to help with the search. I'll get his full report when he returns," Carter said, moving towards the door. "Take a jumper. Let me know if you need anything once you reach the planet."
John nodded and started to leave, only to turn back. "Is Keller going with us?"
Carter shook her head. "No, I'd planned to send her when you find them. We don't know how long this will take." She hesitated, then added solemnly, "John, they've already been searching for a day and haven't found anything. You might prepare yourself for..."
"No," John growled fiercely. "We don't know that."
Teyla reached forward, resting her hand on his forearm. "Rodney knows we will come for him."
John nodded stiffly and left the office. Ronon and Teyla followed without a word. She was glad they were back. All they needed now was Rodney to make them complete. She refused to think about what would happen if they didn't find him alive.
The day dawned bright and warm and Rodney shivered despite it. He'd spent the long night unable to sleep, in too much pain to rest comfortably. Even the cold, wet night wasn't enough to numb the pain. Buried under a ton of timber didn't let in much sun but maybe the day would warm enough to take away the bone chilling cold. At least he was shivering, which was only slightly better than not shivering.
He wondered if Sanchez had made it. Hoped he'd made it to shore for a rescue because Rodney sure as hell wasn't going for help this time. It would be more reassuring if he'd been with his own team. They at least wouldn't stop until they found him. With Sheppard and Ronon on Earth and Teyla restricted by her pregnancy, he didn't hold much hope for a timely rescue, if at all.
Unless Radek could get the shield down and Rodney doubted it—he'd made it foolproof, then his transmitter was useless and what were the chances they'd search the log jam he was in. Hell, how did one even search a log jam? All their devices were useless. Their radios were useless. Not that it mattered. Rodney's radio had been one of the first casualties.
He wished more than anything to be warmer. A small sliver of sunlight touched his hand and he watched, fascinated by the tiny bit of warmth. As the sun moved higher, other rays of sun and warmth touched him, a small piece on his right thigh, another against his lower back, still another danced across his cheek, each one teasing him with its warmth.
There was no way to tell how much time passed but as the sun stretched higher, the pieces of warmth moved across him. Some shifted to warm the twisted branches that entombed him while others took their place to warm his skin.
The trees were damp with moisture as the sun's rays seared it away, raising the humidity in his private tomb, the air becoming thick and oppressive. He thought about complaining but even that was better than the cold. Although, he was losing precious water he could ill afford to lose to sweating.
He was so thirsty, his throat parched. Swallowing past the dryness hurt. It was all just out of his reach. The water level was much lower and he'd apparently been stuck in the upper reaches of the log jam. He could still hear the water below his position and he tried not to think about what his fate would be if the logs suddenly untangled themselves and he was washed downstream.
A day and night of immobility made him stiff but even stretching to work out the kinks was agonizing. The simplest movement left him panting and sweaty. It dripped in his eyes, making them sting. It took his mind off the other pain for only the briefest moments. His leg was less of a screaming pain now, more of a dull roar and his back throbbed, right on the verge of spasming but not quite dropping over that edge. His headache was a constant reminder of a head wound he couldn't remember getting.
Exhausted by his efforts, he did his best to relax and let himself slip into the comforting darkness.
John stepped out of the jumper and was immediately met by Major Lorne. One look at his second and John could see the man's guilt. He kept his anger in check, waiting for an update. "What have we got, Major?"
Not waiting, John strode towards the river, Ronon on his heals. Lorne hurried to catch up as he answered, "Dr. Zelenka still hasn't been able to drop the shield." Lorne paused. "We found Corporal Sanchez."
John knew from Lorne's tone of voice that they hadn't found him alive. "Dead?"
"Yes, sir," Lorne answered.
"How far downriver?"
"About 2 klicks, sir. I have my men searching the area on both sides of the river. It's gone down quite a bit since the rain stopped."
"What about the villagers? Can they help us?"
"They volunteered as soon as they heard that Dr. McKay was missing."
John nodded then stopped and stared at Lorne, doing his best to keep his expression neutral. "About that."
Lorne's shoulders slumped and he almost flinched. "I went after the jumper, sir. It was raining but I didn't expect the river to come up that fast. It wasn't bad when I crossed it."
"So you left two wet behind the ear soldiers to look after McKay." John would have sympathized with the two men if the circumstances had been better. As it was, he knew Lorne wasn't really to blame. Lorne was the best choice to fly the jumper to safety, but Rodney was missing and John was feeling slightly irrational at the moment.
Lorne winced, "Yes, sir."
"Get a hold of Radek, find out if he needs anything. We need that shield down. Teyla should be headed to the village to see if they can supply us some runners so we can keep in contact." It was hard to run a rescue effort with no radios. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing.
Nodding, Lorne headed off, probably grateful to be off the hook. Glancing at his watch, John sped up, needing to get to the river to see for himself. He knew the longer it took to find Rodney the worse his chances were of being found alive. It had already been more than 36 hours since McKay had gone missing.
It was only minutes before he skidded to a stop at the edge of a deep ravine. Not only had the water gouged it deeper, it was now almost twice as wide as John remembered. A glance in Ronon's direction confirmed it and they both stared at the river below as it raced by. Lorne had said it had gone down and from their vantage point it was easy to see that it had been much higher. The banks were torn away, leaving trees half rooted and leaning precariously. John stared in horror at the raw destruction the raging river had caused.
Ronon finally nudged him away from the edge and the worst of his thoughts. "He's too stubborn to die."
John nodded, but the hollowness in his chest didn't ease.
Rodney was startled awake and tried to scream at the sharp pain the movement had caused. It wasn't even a real scream, more of a half strangled whisper. His throat was dry and his tongue too big for his mouth. Even his eyes felt scratchy when he dared to blink. Panting to catch his breath, he didn't hear them at first, but his mind slowly processed through the pain and he froze, trying to calm his breathing so he could make out the slightest sound.
There. Way in the distance he could make out the muted shouts. He let out the breath he was holding and slumped against the tree holding him in place. If he'd had any moisture left in his body he might have cried in relief.
Someone was looking for him, calling out to him to answer. Sucking in as much air as his damaged chest would allow, he answered, "Here." It came out a barely audible croak.
The voices drifted in and out, at times seeming closer and then further out until he could no longer hear anything but his own ragged breathing. He dropped his head and tried not to cry in despair.
The sun was casting long shadows through the dense undergrowth and John didn't want to think about the coming evening. The day had been warm and pleasant if not a little humid from the rain. While the night would be cooler it wasn't the temperatures that pushed him. The coming darkness meant they wouldn't be searching much after nightfall.
Scanning the bank below, and ahead of him, John's eyes darted back and forth, trying to catch of glimpse of anything that might give them a clue. He couldn't imagine anyone surviving in the river for any length of time after surveying the damage. Rodney's best hope would have been to make it out of the river but even Ronon had not picked up a trace of the scientist. There were no footprints, no broken branches, nothing to indicate McKay had made it to safety.
John flinched when his earpiece suddenly squawked in his ear. "Colonel. I have disabled the shield," Zelenka said excitedly.
Without even pausing, knowing Ronon was on his heels, they both hightailed it back to the jumper. He activated his radio as he ran. "Teyla, we'll pick you up and work our way down river. Lorne, take another jumper and start at the far end, work back towards the bridge."
"On our way, sir," Lorne answered.
"I will be waiting for you in the clearing, John," Teyla said, breathlessly. He hoped she wasn't running. The last thing they needed was for something to happen to her and the baby.
John opened the jumper hatch just as they arrived at the edge of the field, not even breaking stride as he slide into the pilot's seat. Ronon closed the hatch and was sitting beside him as John powered the jumper and they took off. John skimmed the trees and dropped quickly into the open area where Teyla was waiting with Keras and some of the younger children. They looked so solemn, like someone had run over their puppy. Rodney was their favorite, despite how he treated them. They were always tagging along beside him no matter how much he threatened them. Their little faces couldn't hide their worry and concern for the irascible scientist.
Ronon was up and had the hatch lowering before they even touched down, reaching out to give Teyla a hand. John only barely managed to remain on the ground long enough for Teyla to find a seat. She insisted impatiently, "Go, go. I am fine."
Thank god for inertial dampeners as he took off at top speed, the jumper instinctively reading his thoughts. They needed to find Rodney and they needed to find him now. They had run out of time and patience. The HUD came online before he even cleared the trees.
"There." Ronon pointed at the blinking dot on the display then leaned forward to get a better view of the ground.
Teyla sighed behind him. "He is alive."
John's heart was pounding, either from elation of finding Rodney alive or the building anxiety over how they would find him. The transmitter only showed a life sign but gave no specifics.
Keeping an eye on the HUD and the landscape below, he followed the signal, his hopes rising the closer they got. Almost on top of the signal, they rounded the river bend and silence descended within the jumper. No one said a word as they stared at the sight in front of them. The river was blocked below them, masses of trees and twisted limbs stopped its flow to a mere trickle on the other side. The thirty foot gorge was jammed from top to bottom and according to the HUD, Rodney's signal was coming from within.
Teyla was the first to speak, "How could he still be alive?"
Ronon shrugged, getting up, ready to rescue Rodney. "He is. That's all the matters. We gotta get him out of there."
John snagged Ronon's sleeve, stopping him and getting a growl in return. "Whoa there, chewy. You can't just go down there and start tearing your way through. One wrong move and that whole thing will collapse."
Ronon jerked free of John's hold. "We can't just leave him there."
Easing the jumper to solid ground, John continued to reason with his teammate. "Look, we know where he is now. We know he's alive. We'll get him out."
"John is right, Ronon. If we rush into this we could make things much worse for him." She reached forward, placing a hand on John's shoulder to get his attention. "Perhaps one of us could reach him while others figure out how to get him out."
He landed the jumper, and they all walked the short distance to the log jam. It looked even worse close up, like a twisted puzzle that might never be solved. John scrubbed his hand through his hair and keyed his radio. "Lorne, we found him. I need you to dial the gate and contact Colonel Carter. Rodney is trapped in what looks like a log jam. We're going to need some engineers and the med team."
"Yes, sir," Lorne said.
John added as an afterthought, "And find out how far out the Daedalus is."
"I'm on it, Colonel."
Ronon shouted from the other side of the log jam. "Over here. You should see this."
John hurried over, a quick glance over his shoulder confirming that Teyla wasn't trying to rush as well, and he joined Ronon. He frowned at what was holding the jam firmly in place. Down in the ravine were several vertical wooden pylons. Pushed against them were the twisted and broken trees that had floated downriver creating the log jam Rodney was trapped in. Each pylon was massive, several feet in diameter and probably buried several feet in the river bottom if they could withstand the force of the flooded river. He couldn't understand why someone would do such a thing.
Teyla brushed against him and asked, "Will this not prevent it from pushing downstream?"
He nodded. "Yeah, but we still have to worry about the whole thing shifting and hurting him worse than he already is."
"McKay," Ronon shouted, making John jump "McKay, can you hear me?"
There was no answer. Both John and Teyla added their own voices to no avail. Frustrated, John stomped to the jumper and began sorting through the compartments, filling his backpack with medical supplies, water, food and a couple of blankets. While Ronon helped, Teyla tried to be the voice of reason.
"Perhaps we should wait until help arrives. We do not know how safe it is or if we will make it worse for Rodney."
John kept stuffing his backpack. "I can't stand here and do nothing. I'm going in there. You..." He glared at Ronon, "both wait here for the rescue teams." He grabbed the LSD and mentally nudged it on. "I'll see if I can locate him in there."
He didn't wait for an argument and glanced up at the darkening sky as he exited the jumper. Soon it was be too dark to see and this was going to be hard enough without the added problem of darkness. He stopped and stared back at his teammates. They were both anxious to help but he couldn't risk all of them going in. It was his job and he really needed to see Rodney, make sure he was still breathing. See him with his own eyes. If he could find him, then Rodney, at least, wouldn't be alone.
Noting their concern, he sighed, "Teyla, see if you can contact the village and let them know what's happening. Maybe they can help us. They obviously built this thing. Ronon, see about setting up a base camp. It looks like we are going to be here a while." Maybe keeping them busy would help.
They both nodded reluctantly. He snugged the backpack tighter and lifted his head. "I'll find him."
He patted Ronon but Teyla grabbed his shoulders before he could make his escape, pulling him close. Touching foreheads, she spoke softly, "Good luck, John. Tell Rodney we are waiting for his return."
They silently followed him to the edge of the river where the first logs pushed against the steep bank. Very carefully he stepped out with one foot, gingerly adjusting his weight to test the stability of the structure. When it held without shifting, he cautiously added more of his weight until he was standing on the first log. He did the same with his next step, looking forward for his next foot hold. It was slow going and even in the cooler night air, he was sweating.
He didn't dare move too fast as he worked slowly down and inward, crouching and squeezing between the interlocking trees. He eventually had to take off the backpack and push it forward as he moved along, slowing his progress even more. With each step forward, he checked the LSD, making sure Rodney was still a vivid dot on the screen and that he was headed in the right direction.
His heart thudded loudly the closer he got and he had to remind himself to breathe. He tried calling out several times but got nothing in return. There was an eerie silence around him, only the sound of water below him and the occasional voice drifting down from above. The sun was setting, casting long beams of fading light into the wooden labyrinth. Tiny motes of dust and dirt flittered in the light but as the light faded, John had to concentrate more on where he was going, careful not jar any of the branches that blocked his way closer to Rodney.
It seemed like hours had passed by the time he finally found him, almost stepping on him in the darkness. Even then he had to force himself not to rush to his friend's side, offer what help he could. Replacing the LSD in his vest pocket, he grabbed the small flashlight he'd been holding in his mouth and scanned the area around Rodney.
John's stomach clenched and his heart thrummed at the sight before him. Rodney was pale, and if not for the LSD, John might have feared the worst. With a shaky hand, he reached forward and checked his pulse, finding it slow but steady. He called out softly, "Rodney. Hey, buddy, you with me?"
No answer. Taking a deep breath, he keyed his radio. "I found him. He's alive." John flashed his light around the small space. "He's wedged in here pretty good. Looks like he's trapped between two trees."
Keller's voice came on immediately. "Can you determine his injuries, Colonel?"
Glad to hear the medical team had arrived, John fumbled with the flashlight and moved closer, shining the light in and around the busted tree limbs to get a better view. He ran his hands carefully up and down Rodney's body, wincing at the damage. "His left leg is definitely broken, maybe his wrist and some ribs. He's has a lot of cuts and bruises and a gash on his forehead that's stopped bleeding. I tried waking him but he wouldn't answer me."
"Can you take some vitals for me, Colonel?"
"Yeah, hold on," John listened to Keller's instructions and relayed the information back. He grabbed the blankets and tried to cover the more exposed areas, the trees making it difficult to do a decent job.
It must have helped some because Rodney's shivering eventually stopped and he began to stir. John inched his way closer to Rodney's head. "Hey, wake up."
Rodney opened his mouth and tried to mumble but no sound came out. John reached for his water but stopped and called Keller, "Can I give him some water?" Rodney's lips were chapped, and his skin looked dry and tight even in the dark.
"If he can drink it, then yes. Slow at first so he doesn't get sick."
John fumbled for his canteen, his eyes never leaving Rodney's when he realized that the angle Rodney was in was going to make it difficult to give him water. He cursed then snapped his finger when inspiration struck. Searching through his pack was difficult in the tiny space but he found the med kit by feel. Pulling it out, he opened it, hoping for any kind of tubing he could use as a straw.
Finding it, he cut a small length and very carefully returned the kit to his backpack. He didn't dare set anything down and risk losing it. His hands shaking, he opened his canteen and inserted the makeshift straw. Rodney was still watching him, his eyes fever or pain glazed. He opened his mouth and made a futile attempt to lean towards the canteen John was holding.
"Sorry." John moved it closer, holding the straw to Rodney's lips so he could drink.
Rodney took several long, slow slips before John pulled it away. Rodney tried to follow it, still thirsty. "Sorry. Doc says just a little at a time."
With a sad nod, Rodney closed his eyes and dropped his head the short distance to the tree. John barely heard his next words. "Hurts."
"I know," John said. Wedged in like he was, it had to hurt like hell. He keyed his radio again, "Can I give him some morphine? He's in a lot of pain."
Keller answered, "Only a half a dose, Colonel, for now. You'll need to monitor him closely."
"Got it." He rummaged through his backpack and found the morphine. He carefully measured half a dose and gave Rodney the shot. The effect was almost immediate, easing the pain lines on Rodney's body. John thought maybe he'd gone to sleep until he spoke.
"Thought..." Rodney croaked. He swallowed, trying to clear his throat. "Thought you were on Earth." John eased the straw back to his mouth to let him drink again.
"Yeah, I was. Heard you'd gotten lost so I came to bail you out of trouble."
"Sorry," Rodney whispered, his eyes drifting shut.
John didn't know what to say so he shrugged. "It was my turn." He wasn't sure if Rodney even heard him, the drugs taking hold of him.
"How are..." Rodney coughed. He sounded miserable and John could see him clenching his fist at the pain. John reached out and rubbed his shoulder, giving him something to ground himself through the pain. Rodney wheezed, "Sorry you had to come back."
"It wasn't going all that great anyway." John shrugged, remembering Dave's reaction. Grabbing the first aid kit, he worked on cleaning Rodney's head wound. It would probably need stitches.
Rodney lay with his eyes closed but he must have been listening. "You'll see him again."
John didn't think so. "No, I burned that bridge." He almost added, just like all the others.
Rodney, being Rodney, asked without malice, his voice a mere whisper, "Did you do something stupid?"
"I thought it might be more important to save your ass than talk about family finances," said John, a little miffed. He really didn't want to talk about it but it was keeping Rodney occupied, while he doctored the more obvious cuts and got him to drink more. And it kept him from thinking about the seriousness of the situation.
Rodney seemed genuinely surprised. "Really?"
"Don't let it go to your head, McKay," John teased. The quiet descended on them and John just started telling Rodney about the trip and the Replicators and his brother.
When he related the last bit, Rodney could no longer keep quiet, and he said matter-of-factly, "Your brother is an asshole. Ow."
Smoothing the bandage into place on Rodney's head, John grinned and snorted, "Yeah, he is. My dad..." John's smile faltered thinking about his dad.
Rodney seemed to sense his hesitation and said between breaths, "Your dad is gone... and now it's just you and your brother... and it sucks... because he doesn't know... what you do... or how important it is."
Rodney wasn't the most articulate when it came to people or relationships but that pretty much summed it up. But then, all Rodney had was his sister so he probably understood it better than most. Rodney was the lucky one, being several light years from Earth cut you a lot of slack when confronted with family commitments.
"You wanted them to know...so they didn't think you're were a total...screw up," Rodney wheezed and damn if he wasn't right.
"When did you get so enlightened?" John asked, cleaning up the mess he'd made and stuffing it in the bottom of his pack. Somehow it was easier to talk in the dark.
Rodney tried to shrug but it obviously hurt to do so and he whispered, "Last words and all that."
"We'll get you out," John insisted firmly and squeezed Rodney's shoulder. "We're working on it."
Rodney seemed to drift but then his eyes shot open, panicky. "Sanchez?"
John shook his head, sadly. "He didn't make it."
"Holden..." Rodney started but John cut him off.
"He's fine. He made it back to the jumper."
Rodney reached out blindly trying to grab at him. John leaned in only to have Rodney snag his vest, yanking him closer. His hand was shaking badly and his voice was weak as he tried to speak, "No, he..." Rodney coughed again, a deep rattling cough that made John wince.
When the coughing continued, John tried to soothe his friend. "Calm down. Try to breath slower." The effort seemed to take of all Rodney's energy and he went limp. The only sign he was still alive was the small rise and fall in his shoulders.
John wanted to wake him, shake him back into consciousness but it wouldn't do either of them any good and Rodney could probably use the rest. Keying his radio, he called his second, "Lorne, what's the word on the Daedalus?"
"It's still a day or two out, Colonel."
John cursed under his breath, "Damn it." Rodney may not have a day. "Look, I'm gonna need some more medical supplies."
Dr. Keller answered, "I can bring them, Colonel."
"No," John said, sharper than he intended. "It's too risky and I can't have you getting trapped in here or worse..." He couldn't say dead, he didn't even want to think about it.
"But you'll need someone that can administer medical assistance. I'm the best person..."
John cut her off. "You can tell me what to do over the radio."
"I think this goes beyond basic first aid, Colonel."
Ronon's voice came over the radio, "I'll do it."
"No, you're too big. You'd never make it down here. It was near impossible for me. Lorne, who's the smallest man we have up there?"
"That would be Holden, sir." There was a long pause before Lorne spoke again, "Doctor Keller is packing everything you might need. I'll send Holden as soon as we get everything together."
"Thanks," John said, shifting in the small space to find a more comfortable position to wait in.
Teyla broke the silence. "How is he doing, John?"
Looking over at his friend, John grimaced at the myriad of cuts and bruises covering Rodney. That, in addition to the logs pinning him in place, did not bode well. He couldn't lie for shit to Teyla but the radio made it less noticeable. "He was talking to me for a bit and he seems to be holding his own."
"John..." Teyla said warily, knowing he was hiding more than he was saying. She always did.
He cut her off, insisting firmly, "He'll make it. He has to."
(Continue to Part Two