Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23) wrote,
Eildon Rhymer
rhymer23

SGA fic: Survival of the Fittest - part 2 of 3

Note: Sorry for not updating yesterday, when I'd intended to. I had to work yesterday, and everything turned out far more busy and hectic than I'd expected, and I was too tired and irritated in the evening to face editing.

Part one is here


__

Sheppard must have collapsed. His head injury had caught up with him, and he had collapsed, fluid leaking from his ears and his brain pressing against his skull. The cliff had fallen. A sink-hole had opened up, and… No, this was the wrong sort of rock for sink-holes. Ferocious natives had found him, and had dragged him back home to be a sacrifice. An enormous bear had torn him to pieces, and if Rodney went into the woods, he would find just bits of him in a mass of needles and blood, and then the bear would leap out and try to eat him, too.

But he was moving forward, anyway, abandoning his piles of wood, heedless of how close he ran to the top of the crumbling cliff. He slipped, hand scraping against the ground, and scrambled up again. "Sheppard!" he called into his radio, beaded with blood. "Answer me! Sheppard!"

Just silence. He went the way Sheppard had gone, following faint footsteps in the frosted grass, then stopped at the first tree, hand resting on the bark. He heaved in a breath, and called Sheppard's name again, this time not bothering with the radio. Needles fell around him as something responded far up in the tree, but when he looked upwards, he saw only shivering branches and a pale sky.

He drew his pistol, holding it outwards with both hands. "Sheppard!" It was quieter this time. The shadows were thick and full of movement that turned to stillness when he snapped his head round to stare at them. "Sheppard!" The bear was probably watching him. The natives had their arrows aimed at his chest. Every step he took…

A twig snapped beneath his feet. He gasped; almost pulled the trigger. The next step was quieter, and the next, and the next. It grew darker, and the trees ahead were so dense that it looked like walking into a wall of night, but by the time he actually reached them, it seemed almost light.

"Sheppard?" Something responded, and he whirled round, gun quivering, but there was nothing there. Another step; another. He had no idea which way Sheppard had gone, and no idea… God! He turned around, and saw the light that showed where he had come from, but it was fading. Perhaps he could cut marks on tree bark to show which way he had come. Sheppard was dying, and he could walk around in circles, passing only yards from where Sheppard lay mute and powerless, and you could die after four days in the wilderness. People could die barely a mile from a town, if they couldn't find their way home.

"Sheppard." He pressed his lips together, swallowed, and shouted as loudly as he could. "Sheppard!" He felt every predator and bad thing in the world turn its head sharply towards him, suddenly aware of him. Clutching the gun, he shouted again. "Sheppard!"

"No need to shout." The voice was faint.

Rodney jerked his head round in tiny stages, searching the woods. "Where are…? Oh. The radio." He uncurled one hand from the gun, and switched his radio on. "Where are you?"

"Next to a tree."

"Oh, ha. Which tree? No, don't say it. Can you move towards my voice?"

There was a short pause. "Can't do that, Rodney."

"Oh. Oh crap." Rodney swallowed; scraped his hand through his hair. "Then can you shout? I'll move towards you."

His radio clicked. "Meredith!" he heard, from somewhere to his left.

"Very funny," he muttered. "I know what game you're playing: distract me with idiot jokes about my name so I forget that we're completely screwed and you're probably dying even as we speak. Well, I'll tell you something, colonel: it won't work. It won't work at all."

"Your sister's smarter than you."

He thought it was nearer, but it seemed fainter, the voice cracking a little at the end. He drew his lower lip in with his teeth, and carried on, altering his course slightly. "I won't dignify that with a response. See how I've grown? I don't respond to provocation any more. I --" He stopped. His fingers curled into the rough tree bark, and his foot slithered on the raised root. Then he was running, jamming his pistol at his holster; missing; trying again. "God, Sheppard, what have you done?"

"Wasn't me." Sheppard was lying half on his side; he looked uncomfortable, with roots at his hip. But of course he's uncomfortable. That would be the blood…Thick and almost black on his arm. Skin and flesh and oozing redness through the torn rents of his shirt. Blood on his pale face, thick and tangled in his hair.

Rodney crouched, fingers ghosting over Sheppard's body. "Then who?"

"Animal." Sheppard moistened his lips, smearing blood. "Dinner's Mommy. Guess she… didn't like --" He sucked in a breath; let it out with a moan. "-- us trying to eat… Junior."

"But you've got a gun!" Rodney saw how Sheppard was still clutching it, his knuckles white.

"She had… teeth. Teeth beat guns."

"Like paper beats scissors?" Rodney brought his hand to his face. God! Where to begin? He needed water, bandages, and he didn't have any, he didn't have anything at all.

Sheppard tried to raise himself up onto one elbow – "Don't!" Rodney cried, but still did not quite dare to touch – and looked at Rodney with unnerving dark-rimmed eyes. "Truth is, I… suffered a dizzy spell. Blacked out for a moment. I didn't…"

Rodney saw how the needles were scraped away, showing bare earth. He saw great smears of blood and the gouges made by struggling heels, and slashes made by blood-stained claws. That was twenty paces away. Sheppard, he thought, had managed to walk a dozen steps before falling, and after that he had crawled, dragging himself through the thick carpet of needless and leaves, before he had fallen here.

"Shouldn't have come." Sheppard grabbed Rodney's sleeve. "Wasn't… well enough. Sorry. My fault. Sorry."

Rodney dug his nails into his palms. "Don't say that." This wasn't Sheppard. Sheppard didn't apologise. Oh, he accepted responsibility – "it was my call, Rodney" – but he didn't beg. His eyes changed, and sometimes he was silent and grim for several days, but he never talked about it, not like this.

"Too quick to leave," Sheppard said. "Let myself get rattled because --"

"Don't!" Rodney burst out. "Don't," he said, more quietly, then tried for a laugh. "Gratifying as it is to hear you say you're wrong, this is the concussion talking, and the fact that most of the blood that's supposed to be inside you is currently seeping into the earth. And speaking of that, I need to examine your injuries."

Sheppard bit his lip. "I know."

"But I haven't got water, and there's no first aid kit. No disinfectant. You're going to die from infection."

"Good bedside manner you have there, Rodney." But at least Sheppard's voice was more… well, more like Sheppard. "Ronon'll be back in time for that not to be your problem. Sorry --" He blanched, pain from some tiny movement freezing his expression in place. "-- to prove you wrong," he said on the exhale.

"But I need bandages." Blood was snaking down to Sheppard's wrist.

"Tear up clothes." Sheppard's voice was growing fainter, and his eyes were sliding shut. "It'll stop the bleeding. Infection… We'll be home by then. Not your problem."

"You want me to --?" Rodney bit back the protest. He had a jacket, at least, and cold was going to be a serious problem for Sheppard soon. "I guess I could spare a strip from the bottom." But as he pulled the jacket off, trying not to exclaim at the biting cold against his forearms, he knew he would tear the whole thing up if he had to.

Sheppard slipped into unconsciousness before Rodney had finished binding the first one, perhaps from the head injury or perhaps from blood loss; Rodney did not know; did not even know which one was more serious. There was a deep gouge down the front of Sheppard's arm, from shoulder almost to elbow, but that at least was easy to bind tightly. "I've got to undo your shirt," Rodney told Sheppard. "Please don't wake up now." His blood-slicked fingers fumbled on the buttons, but of course there was a t-shirt underneath. "How can I…?" He suddenly flashed to a memory of Jeannie undressing a doll, manhandling it so its arms were twisted upwards and pressed to its face in a way that looked quite agonising. "Oh. Knife. Of course." He pulled it from Sheppard's belt, and biting his lip, began to slice downwards from the collar.

The injuries were worse on Sheppard's torso, and Rodney almost gagged at the sight of the one at the juncture of his neck and his shoulder. "Oh God. I think it took an actual lump out of you." He didn't want to touch that, but of course he had to, fingers protected only by a layer of fabric. He didn't like to think of fibres caught in the wound – of his own necessary attempts to help actually making things worse. Fibres in injuries… Carson had told him about that.

There were claw marks across Sheppard's chest, too, or perhaps teeth – why did it seem so much worse to think that they were teeth; that something was actually trying to rip you to pieces and eat you, not just claw you a bit? The only way Rodney could cover those was to bunch up handfuls of fabric – God! What about the bacteria on my hand? – and hold it in place with thin ropes of cotton wrapped all the way round Sheppard's body. He had to lift Sheppard right up for that, and he needed four hands, two to tie the knots, one to hold him up, one to stop his head lolling forward like that, as if he was dead. He thought of Jeannie's dolls again. By the time he had finished, he wasn't cold, not at all, and his jacket was just arms held on by a collar.

Sheppard had not stirred throughout. Rodney looked upwards, his hand massaging aches that were suddenly showing themselves. There was noticeably less light filtering through the trees now. "Waking up would be… well, really good." He checked the bandages, and found that blood had seeped through them, though they were not yet sodden. "That's a good thing, right?"

Nothing, of course. Sheppard was… "Oh! The creature might come back!" He pulled his gun out and readied it, but there was no movement beyond the trees. "Which won't last," he said. "They're drawn by blood. It'll come back, and there's just me, and…" He snapped his fingers in sudden realisation. Ronon! He hadn't even thought… He fumbled for his radio, changing the channel. "Ronon. Come in, Ronon."

"McKay."

"Thank God." Rodney sagged. Until he did it, he had not realised quite how taut he really was. "Sheppard's been mauled. He's unconscious. I can't wake him."

"How bad?" He could tell from Ronon's breathing that he was running throughout.

"Bad. Or… No. I don't know. It might be the head injury. Bad enough, though. I'm keeping the bleeding under control, I think, but he's… He won't wake. Why won't he wake?"

"Keep trying. Keep him as warm as you can."

It felt like a glimmer of light suddenly extinguished. "You're not coming back?"

"All the more reason to get help fast."

Rodney heard Ronon gasp, and wondered suddenly if he had caught him mid-fight, or if he, too, was having his life ripped out of him by a monster but was too stoical and infuriating to say anything. But, "You aren't coming back?" was all he said.

He had never been alone with someone in such need of medical attention before. Even with Gall, it had just been a waiting game, really. Ronon knew what to do. Just a savage with a big gun… A savage who knew how to find his way back to the Gate when Rodney had no idea. A savage who knew how to keep a friend alive. A savage who…

"Cold," he heard Sheppard mumble.

Rodney's head snapped up. Yes, yes, it was cold. Now that the sweat from his exertion was drying, he realised it was quite horribly cold, and with his jacket ripped to threads. And Sheppard was… "Oh, God! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" He'd cut Sheppard's t-shirt down the middle. Should have taken the extra time to pull it off him, leaving it intact. Should have…

"Fire." Not babbling at all. Sheppard's eyes seemed lucid enough. "Have to make a fire, Rodney."

"I don't know how to," he said. "Unlike you, I wasn't a boy scout. I could have been, of course, but I was too busy doing important things with my time. I could make a nuclear bomb while they were still learning how to tie knots and how to rub two sticks together to make a spark."

"Nuclear bomb's no use here. Need wood," Sheppard said. He raised his hand a few inches, then let it fall again. His skin, Rodney saw, was prickling with gooseflesh, and there were fine tremors at his throat. "Dead wood from trees is best. Shoelace --"

"What? Oh no! You're delirious."

"Shoelace," Sheppard repeated. "Some dry leaves or moss. Something to catch the ember."

Rodney did not move. "I need to check… check the bandages, and… You passed out, Sheppard. How are you…?"

"Not likely to last long without a source of warmth." There was no delirium in Sheppard's eyes at all. "I'm cold. It's going to get worse. Ronon." The quality of his voice changed slightly. "Something like that, yeah. More scars… Be careful, buddy. An hour won't make a difference."

"What are you talking…? Oh. Ronon. You're talking to Ronon." He waited until Sheppard was looking at him again. "Ronon would know how to start a fire." Rodney had not meant to say it out loud, but since when did he know how to keep quiet? "He should have stayed here. You're wishing he had."

"With you out there, running forty miles in the dark?" Sheppard shifted, and even that tiny movement clearly hurt him horribly. Listen. I can't --"

"Should I be testing your reactions? Concussion --"

"Fire." It sounded both weary and insistent, and so Rodney had to rush around following the terse instructions of a badly injured man – and sometimes there were whole minutes of silence, and sometimes the words were unintelligible, caught up in pain. He collected wood. He made a bow, wrapping it round a tall thin stick. He twisted it round and round, round and round, until his arms ached and his shoulders ached and his hands felt raw, until he was saying with every twist, "It's never going to work. It's never going to work. It's never going to work."

When the ember came, he gasped aloud, then clapped his hand to his mouth, terrified that he'd blown it out. When the flame caught in the nest of leaves, his smile felt like a cracking open of joy. A spark! A single, joyous, glorious flame! He'd made nuclear bombs, he'd saved whole worlds, he'd found strange new power sources, but in that moment nothing seemed quite so miraculous as creating fire.

"Huh. I guess this is how cavemen felt." He turned to Sheppard, feeling the joy still open on his face; feeling it fade as he saw just how pale and awful Sheppard looked.

"Put more wood on," Sheppard said. He was really shivering now, almost quaking with it. "Careful. Don't stifle it."

Rodney worked, but it was almost dark by the time he was able to feel real warmth from the fire. He warmed his hands against it, exclaiming when a spark shot out and almost struck him. When he turned round, Sheppard was much closer, flopping onto his back, seemingly spent from even so short a crawl.

The warmth was wonderful. The trouble with fire, though, was that it only made the evening seem far darker. It dazzled your eyes, so all you could see was the after-image of flames, and anything could be creeping up on you, and you wouldn't know. It also stirred memories of tasting marshmallows, of eating charred steaks and blackened sausages, of bickering with Jeannie as their parents ignored them.

"Did you kill Junior?" he asked.

Sheppard was slow to answer. The fire turned his face into an unnatural thing of flame and shadow, as if his eyes were spilling pain and darkness over his face. He was shaking less, though. "Junior." The small furrow between his eyes was a great line of darkness. "Oh. No. Missed. Mom stopped me."

"It's just that…" Rodney wrapped his arms around his body. A powerbar had fallen out of his pocket when he had been tearing up his jacket, but he tried not to look at it. "Hypoglycaemia, you know?"

"Really?"

Rodney swallowed; he could almost feel the willpower behind Sheppard's continued talking. "No," he admitted. "Not that the idiot doctors will admit to, anyway, but we all know how wrong they can be. But when I'm hungry, I get cold and dizzy and my stomach feels --"

"Eat it, Rodney." Sheppard bit his lip, obviously fighting pain, but when he spoke again, his voice was almost light. "I'll only throw it up again."

Rodney ate the powerbar, but it tasted like ashes, too dry without water. Water! This time he bit his lip, and said nothing. How long before Ronon came back? He almost asked, but then Sheppard gave a small sigh, almost a whimper, and his eyes slid shut. Rodney touched his throat – "Sorry, sorry," he said, as he brushed against the injury there – and found his pulse, weak and fast. Sheppard did not stir.

"Ronon?" He tried the radio again. There was no response. "Ronon?"

Out of range, he told himself. Out of range. Shielded by some indigenous rock. Concentrating on stalking some animal. Not dead. Definitely not dead. Not lying shattered at the bottom of a cliff or torn to pieces by a lion. Not swept away by water or snatched up by the Wraith. Not gone. Not dying. Not dead.

Something called far away in the woods. Rodney snatched up his gun, levelled it, but saw nothing. Only a bird, he told himself. An owl.

He touched Sheppard's throat again. You were supposed to wake people every few hours when they had a head injury, weren't you? Something to do with checking their responsiveness. Because if they weren't responsive, then you could… He laughed; it was either that or cry. Because then you could take them to the hospital and call in the doctors and let them do their medical voodoo. Then you could hand over to someone else.

He tried Ronon again. Nothing.

Then Sheppard started shaking. "We don't talk about this ever," Rodney said, as he lay down beside Sheppard and wrapped one arm around him, careful to avoid the worst of the injuries. Sheppard felt warm, and there were memories in this, too – long ago memories that were almost forgotten, and which could not be pinned down. Then all memories flew away in the horrible knowledge that every tiny movement could cause Sheppard pain, or even make his injuries worse.

He lay stiffly, then – cold, miserable and tenacious – and did not dare to move. He never expected to sleep, but after a while his thoughts grew strange, and then he was dreaming, caught between ice and fire.

******

He woke with a start, torn from dreams of fire and feedings and grasping hands and Sheppard falling away from him over the cliff. He pushed himself to his knees, wishing for a nice period of happy drowsiness when he didn't know where he was, didn't know how much depended on him, didn't know how screwed they really were. Sheppard was still asleep – unconscious, really – and the fire was burning low. When he moved just two paces away from it, reaching for more wood, it was like stepping into another world – one of icy cold, where unknown things paced in the total darkness.

"I don't know what to do." He dragged a branch to the fire and heaved it on; a flame, temporarily stifled by the new wood, took another route around it, nearly scorching his hand. "It's not fair. I have my place. Give me a computer and a… a… piece of technology to understand and to fix. Give me… anything, really, because we're not talking your common type of intelligence here. Indispensable, to be honest. But not this. I'm not being given a chance to use my skills. I'm… I'm a professor being employed to flip burgers."

He sagged down next to Sheppard. "If flipping burgers was something that could make the difference between life and death," he said quietly. "I don't know how to flip burgers. I don't know what to do."

Sheppard's pulse was visible, fluttering at his throat. The growing flames showed the blood that had seeped through the bandages, and when Rodney dared to touch him with fluttering hand, he was sure that he was hotter than he should be, but perhaps that was just from proximity to the flames.

He tried Ronon again. There was no answer. A twig snapped not far away, but there was nothing visible beyond the flames, nothing at all.

"I'm suppose to wake you every few hours," he told Sheppard, "so I can --" Have someone to talk to. "—check… stuff." He shook his gently, then more firmly, and snapped his fingers in front of Sheppard's face. When Sheppard's eyes drifted open, Rodney found himself frozen there, fingers half way through a snap. He withdrew his hand. "Huh. It worked." He pressed dry lips together. "How are you feeling?"

"Like crap," Sheppard murmured, and Rodney remembered how annoying he had once found it when certain stoical warrior types had waved away all concerns with a 'I'm good.' He shouldn't have complained then. It was better that way, far better.

"Oh." He ran his tongue over his lips, desperate for the sweet comfort of a computer, of databases, of answers. "What can I do?"

"Water." Sheppard's lips were cracked, and he'd lost a lot of blood. Did that count as dehydration? Rodney couldn't remember. He'd gone on courses on field medicine, and he'd sat through a session on survival techniques before he'd been allowed to set foot through a Stargate. He couldn't remember a word of it. Part of his brain had been gibbering in terror at the thought that he would ever be in that situation at all, and the other half had known that there would be nice, stupid, muscled grunts to do that stuff while he got on with the really important things. Life on Sheppard's team had changed that, of course, but there were three of them who knew how to survive, and only one of him who could do what he had to do. They didn't feel the need to learn advanced astrophysics, and he didn't need to learn how to harvest drinking water from tree sap or make a beaker out of a bear's clavicle, or whatever people like that did.

Maybe he said some of that out loud. What he definitely said was, "It's the middle of the night! I'll get lost. I'll get eaten. I don't want to leave you." And come back, triumphantly holding water, only to find that you've died while I was away.

Sheppard said nothing. Ronon had said he'd be back by dawn. Ronon… Rodney bit his lip. "I'll look for water as soon as it's light."

Sheppard's eyes glittered. You were supposed to flash a little light into them and see how the pupils reacted, weren't you? He was probably supposed to be changing the bandages, but he had nothing to replace them with. He thought of bacteria racing gleefully through Sheppard's blood – Oh, and what about his own? He was covered with Sheppard's blood, and his own hands had been torn up – well, damaged slightly – from the wood. What if he had alien rabies --?

"I wish Teyla was here," he found himself saying.

"I don't." That, at least, was lucid.

"You don't?"

"Baby. Not good. Risk."

"Oh." In Rodney's mind, Teyla was slim and strong and very definitely not pregnant. "I meant proper Teyla. She'd know what to do. She'd use her native warrior princess skills and we'd be in a nice shelter right now, eating roast bear."

"She's still proper Teyla. She'll be back on the team."

Sheppard always said that, stubbornly hiding from reality, but it wouldn't be the same. Nothing was going to be the same. Carson, Elizabeth, and now Teyla…

"She's not dead, Rodney."

And Jeannie, who got herself pregnant and gave up everything that had ever mattered to her before. People changed, and they moved away from what was important. This last year or two, with his team… Well, you didn't say stuff out loud, did you, because then certain people would get cocky, but it felt good to lounge around a table in the mess hall or hang out playing games or watching movies. It made you feel as if you belonged, as if you were part of something special. But all that was changing. No, all that had changed.

There'd been that thing with the princess, just the two of them, Rodney and Sheppard. Sheppard's father had died, and Ronon had been the only one to go back with him. Rodney had almost died underground, trapped with Sam and Keller. Sheppard had locked himself away on the puddlejumper, leaving Rodney with the geeks. It was months since the whole team had been on a mission together, and Rodney hadn't realised how much he valued the team until it was gone.

"It'll be like it used to be, Rodney." Sheppard's hand was pressed against the ground, fingers curling in with pain.

Stupid. Self-deluding. Only idiots were optimistic. Burying his head in the sand and refusing to see how messed up everything was. It was easy for Sheppard to say. He was the lynchpin – and Rodney had always thought that it was him. No, he had always known that he was the most important person – the one who saved all their asses on a regular basis – but Sheppard was the one who kept them together. Though Rodney would never say so out loud, he worked well with Sheppard as a pair, but Sheppard had his little buddy thing going with Ronon, too, and was close to Teyla, too. It didn't matter so much when there were four of you, but when there were only three…

God! Was he jealous? And how pathetic, how childish, how stupid was he, because it seemed that he was. Jealous of Ronon for working so well with Sheppard. Jealous that Sheppard had a brother, and hadn't told anyone; jealous that he had an ex-wife, and had only told Ronon. Jealous even of this Kanaan for being someone Teyla cared about more than she cared for her team.

"Doesn't work like that," Sheppard said, and Rodney wondered if all his emotions had been bare on his face, but he also heard the echo of his own voice, and knew that he had said at least some of it out loud.

"Then how does it work?" Rodney asked miserably. "I'm not used to…" Having friends. He waved his hand. "This," he contended himself with saying.

Sheppard had no answers for him.

"If there'd been all four of us on that jumper," Rodney said, "then none of this would have happened. Teyla would have --"

"If… four…" Sheppard's voice was strained. "Might have… fallen over. Extra weight, even more than… your second… dessert."

"But we're a team," Rodney protested. "Four. That's why you military people do it in the first place, right? The best number. No-one left alone; always someone watching your back. Four people with different skills --"

"Can get lazy." Sheppard's eyes were glazing over, but his hand was still curling into the ground, as if clinging to life with his fingertips. "Always rely…" He coughed weakly. "This time you get to be the hero."

"But look where I got us."

"Not your fault."

Rodney opened his mouth to reply, but something moved beyond the trees. He grabbed the gun and fired twice, three times, stopping himself with a cry from firing more, remembering how limited ammunition was. He had been shooting blind, anyway. The movement came again, a twig snapping a little further away. He heard his heartbeat and rasping breathing, and ever so slowly lowered the gun. "I think I scared it off."

"We'd be better out of the trees," Sheppard said. "More visibility. Less cover."

"I thought cover was good."

"Not like this."

Rodney realised suddenly what Sheppard was trying to do. Was the man an idiot? "Don't!"

Sheppard was sitting now. As Rodney watched, protesting, he pushed himself up onto his knees, swaying visibly. "Not far," he said. "I can…"

"What you can do is kill yourself." Sheppard ignored him. "Oh no. Oh no, oh no. Save me from stubborn colonels. There's a time for superhuman endurance and this --"

"Crap." Sheppard lunged out with his hand, perhaps even grasping for Rodney, begging for help. Rodney saw his knees buckle; saw the blood draining from his face. He did what he did, tried to catch him, but have you ever tried lowering a full-grown man, suddenly boneless? Sheppard fell too heavily, and by the time Rodney was able to extricate himself, there was fresh wetness on his hands.

"I told you," Rodney said. "I told you so."

Sheppard said nothing for a very long time. He was conscious, though, or perhaps only slightly so, his face set, and clearly fighting pain. "Yeah," he said at last, and the stupid stubborn idiot was even smiling. "Rodney McKay, right again."

"Why do you keep on doing it?" Rodney burst out, staring at the fresh blood on his hands. "You said it wasn't my fault. Damn right: it's yours. If you hadn't decided to play the mighty hunter and go off into the woods when you could hardly walk, then we'd be… Okay, so we wouldn't be safe and warm, but we'd be better off than we are here, because at least you wouldn't be half eaten."

Sheppard shifted. "I know."

Rodney spread his hands. "So why did you do it?"

He had not really expected an answer. For at least a minute, Sheppard did not give him one. Rodney had just decided that he was unconscious again, and was about to panic about that, when Sheppard said, in a voice quite low and level, "Do you know how many men died on Midway?"

Rodney frowned. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"I do," Sheppard said, in that same voice.

"Again, what's that got to do --?" Rodney snapped his mouth shut. Of course it was relevant. Four years ago, he wouldn't have had a clue, but he was beginning to understand how that twisted mystery that was John Sheppard's brain worked. "You… you can't bring them back by throwing yourself into the jaws of an enraged lion."

"And Ronon…" Sheppard's hand was back in its position on the ground. "Didn't want to… Couldn't…"

Better not to have asked, Rodney thought. "You can't always be the one to save people," he said. Oh, but he was so not good at this – saying comforting things, and stuff. Perhaps that was why he got on with Sheppard, because Sheppard never needed or wanted such things. "I mean, Sheppard – climbing that tower. What was wrong with sitting and quietly waiting for someone else to --?"

"Like you would have done?"

Rodney let out a breath, caught. He wondered how he would feel if he was forced to lie still and do nothing while Zelenka worked on something highly dangerous that could save everyone's lives. No, he knew how he would feel. He would ignore the warning signs from his body, push himself from his sickbed, and do something even more important, just to show that he could. Huh, he thought. Look at me. Insight!

"Yes," he said. "Fair point. Well… In future… Just please try to refrain from these foolish but heroic brushes with death. I can't --"

"You've lost contact with Ronon, haven't you?"

Rodney froze; looked at his hands. "Yes," he admitted, "but there are many reasons… Interference. Out of range – I've always said we need better radios, but SGC went for the budget option – or… or something. I'm sure everything will be fine."

"You need to work on… your… optimism," Sheppard murmured, and then his eyes slid shut, and Rodney could not rouse him for a very long time.

******

end of part two

On to final part
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