Summary: Injured and on the run, Sheppard and McKay are trapped in a dark ruin with a putative monster. This, however, is soon the least of their problems.
Characters: Sheppard and McKay (friendship, and equal opportunity whump)
Genre: Three parts whump, three parts humour, two parts angst, one part action. No added pairings or preservatives – 100% gen.
Spoilers/setting: This is set a couple of months after the third season episode Phantoms and includes a brief reference to that episode.
It was far too dark. Impossibly dark. Impenetrably dark. Stygian…
"What sort of person says Stygian?" Rodney mumbled. "What does it mean, anyway?"
Sheppard didn't answer. Of course he didn't; he was gone. Rodney was all alone. He rubbed his eye with the back of the hand that held the gun. "A hallucination would be nice right now."
He lowered his hand. There was no hallucination. Water dripped from somewhere not too far away, like the clatter of feet, bristling with claws. The air he breathed was musty and damp. The floor was soft with dirt, prickly with grit and rubble. When he shifted, something crunched beneath him. He knew the sound. He had heard it in that stupid scary cartoon he had seen when he was ten. Jeannie had laughed at it, but he had been afraid to sleep for weeks. Oh yes, he knew the sound of bones crumbling to dust. That was how he'd be when they found him: just a skeleton, fading into dust.
If you came back now, Sheppard, that would be…
He cleared his throat. "Though why you had to go off by yourself, I do not know." He paused. Was the water falling faster? Was the sound doubled, as feet tried to hide themselves in the natural sounds of the ruins? "Okay, so it was my idea, but…"
Something fell onto the back of his hand. He squawked, his injured head jolting back against the wall behind him. He shook his hand frenziedly, desperate to get it off, and clawed at the air around him, terrified that his hand would impact with some thing.
Nothing. Nothing. "Probably a spider." His heart was beating audibly, and he imagined it double, triple, quadruple back on him in the darkness, like a pack of creatures, like the drums of the people who were hunting them. "Only a spider," he said. Only? Only?
He pressed his free hand to his chest, feeling the pounding there. "I'm probably going to die of a heart attack now, or some hideous Pegasus Galaxy spider poison. You don't always feel the bite. Sometimes the first you know about it is when you wake up dead. Again with the skeletal fate. Whatever way you look at it, I'm doomed."
The gun was warm and slippery in his other hand, clutched in aching fingers. "If you see anything, shoot," Sheppard had told him. "Though there's only three rounds left. Don't go getting trigger happy."
"Me? Trigger happy?" Rodney had echoed. "That's you, Colonel. Don't project your macho fantasies onto me. And how am I going to see anything, anyway? It's dark, in case you haven't noticed."
"Hear something, then," Sheppard had said, unconcerned. And then he had gone.
The water fell silent. Why was it silent? The air seemed to pulse with the sound of breathing: in, and out; in, and out.
"Besides," he said firmly, "I couldn't shoot the spider. It was on my hand. I need my hand for… for sciency stuff. Saving you all, and everything."
Sciency stuff? he heard Sheppard say. Rodney, I think that head injury is worse than we thought.
"You're telling me," Rodney murmured. He rubbed at his eyes again, the pistol grip solid behind his fingers. Still nothing. The darkness was absolute, like… like… No, he didn't do poetry. Leave the metaphors for other people, like… like… Ronan? He giggled.
Or was it a simile?
The darkness did not answer.
"Just typical," Rodney muttered, as his eyes drifted shut to thoughts of hallucinations and Samantha Carter.
The dripping started again. Wonder why it stopped, he thought. Maybe because the monster was drinking from it, hideous fanged jaws wide open, and dripping…
He raised the gun limply. "But I'm ready for you, monster." No, not "monster". He moistened his dry lips. Indigenous creature, that's what it was. Denizen of the ruins. So what if he had smelled the reek of its flesh-gorged mouth; felt the passage of its shaggy great body; heard the crunching of carcasses between its teeth. It could not be a monster. Monsters only existed in stories. Like vampire insects who suck the life out of you with their hand…
He swallowed. Apart from the water, all was silent. But maybe it was cunning like that, and was making its approach as silent as the… as something. The last time, it had been snarling and grunting. Only Rodney's lightning-fast reflexes had saved him.
You tripped on a stone, Rodney, while squeaking like a girl, Sheppard said. Busted your ankle, too.
There was no need to acknowledge imaginary comments from absent colonels. Only his lightning-fast reflexes had saved him, and here he was, the wounded hero holding the bridgehead. "I have a gun," he told the silence.
The silence seemed supremely uninterested.
"A gun," he murmured.
He felt it settle in his lap, felt the sweet comfort of the stone wall behind his head. His eyes closed. The dripping of the water reminded him suddenly of sheep. One by one, they had jumped over the fence: one, two, three; drip, drip, jump. "But why am I counting them?" he had asked his mother. "To help you sleep," she had told him, but it had not been enough. "But why? I don't care how many sheep there are."
They were white and woolly; succulent and tasty. Prime, he thought, as an elderly sheep jumped over the fence. Not prime. Not prime. Not prime. Prime. Then the eighteenth one caught its ankle on the fence and fell bleating to the ground. Its legs twitched desperately. A shadow passed over the meadow, blotting out the sun, and a grotesque face bent over the doomed animal, white mattered hair brushing its fleece. Teeth were bared in a smile, and a hand came out, and… and…
He jolted awake with a start. Not real. Not real. The gun was up, he realised, ready to blast the Wraith into pieces, or at least to irritate it mildly and cause it to go on a spree of homicidal vengeance. He lowered it again, blinking. It seemed utterly wrong that he could fall asleep while petrified. You were supposed to be relaxed to fall asleep, weren't you? "Oh," he said aloud. "Oh no. The head injury. That's it; I'm doomed. I'll die in my sleep, and… and now we're back with the skeleton mouldering into dust. Oh, this is not good."
His moved his legs, trying to inspire his brain to stay awake. Pain shot up from his ankle, and he decided that perhaps there were worse things than dying in your sleep, alone in the dark. Sheep fluttered on the fringes of his consciousness, bleating hopefully. "And you can go away," he told them. They refused. They were surprisingly stubborn for animals famed for their stupidity. Oh, and now they had a sheepdog with them, and he really didn't do dogs. He was a cat person through and though. It looked cross. "Nice doggy," he said. "I'm sorry I was rude to your sheep." He swallowed. "Not that you're a very good sheepdog. You let the eighteenth sheep get eaten by…"
He blinked. Why was he hallucinating sheep, anyway?
The sheepdog just looked at him with familiar eyes.
"No. Oh no." Rodney flapped the gun at them. It was so absolutely not true that the sheepdog was… No, his subconscious wouldn't do that to him. Rodney McKay, PhD, bona fide genius, could cope completely well on his own when trapped wounded in a dark ruin with a hungry monster stalking him and an angry mob of natives outside and mutant spiders sneaking onto his extremities and no shoes and no food and only three rounds in the gun he wasn't very good at firing, and it was absolutely not true that he was wishing with all his heart that Sheppard was here. It was so absolutely light years beyond true.
It is, you know, the dog barked, in a voice that was at once entirely canine, yet entirely Sheppard.
"Dying in my sleep is preferable," he muttered, in a voice that was supposed to be firm, but fell by the wayside somewhere along the way.
He closed his eyes, or maybe he didn't; it was too tiring to work out the truth in the dark. The sheep circled him loosely, then tighter, then tighter. They didn't seem happy. Perhaps they were offended because he'd told them to go away. "It's nothing personal", he murmured, and then he was on his feet, vitality and strength surging through his veins. His legs could go anywhere, run anywhere, without pain or exhaustion. His hands could fire a gun, and his eyes could aim. Girls flocked around him. He had an Ancient girlfriend who told him everything he had ever wanted to know, and he was dancing, skipping through a field of ZPMs, red as poppies, yellow as buttercups, orange as chrysanthemums, beautiful as the sunset. Music sounded… Music…
His head snapped up. Not music. Shuffling.
He fired. Once, twice, three times, then click, click, click on the empty. But before the clicks came other sounds. A bullet hitting flesh. That came with the one. A gasp of pain with the two. A cry, two syllables, strangely human... That came with the three, drowned by it. "Get away from me, monster! Go away!" His eyes hurt from the sheeting light of the gunshots. He was blind, more blind than he had been in the dark.
And then, slowly, an after-image formed on his retinas. A shape. A figure. An outline against the light, imprinted on his eyes now and forever. Not a monster shape at all, but…
"Sheppard?" His voice cracked. "Oh God… Sheppard!"
End of part 1
On to part 2
Well, this must be the shortest story part I've ever posted. I normally do 10 page chapters, ending with an element of closure. However, I thought I'd turn over a new leaf in a new fandom, and experiment with evil cliffhangers.
Comment replies will probably come from ladyofastolat, since that's my default login.