Synopsis: Sometimes things go really wrong before they go right. Another simple mission turned complicated.
Rating: PG-13, mostly for language
A/N: Thanks to Ionah, Michele, and Annie for their beta work and to the others to read it just to make sure the story stayed true to the characters. Any errors you might find are all mine.
Art By Beth
Betaed By Annie, Michele, Ionah
I'm too young to die!
The panicked thought kept repeating over and over inside Rodney McKay's mind as he struggled to keep his head above the rushing waters. He was being swept along in the rapid river current faster than he could grab anything to hold onto.
Damn that flower for making me sneeze and damn that riverbank for collapsing under my feet!
Rodney's arms flailed helplessly, battling for some modicum of control in the white waters. He was having trouble breathing, but that seemed minor compared to the notion of drowning.
He thought he heard someone call his name, but it was distant and his ears were full of water anyway. Nonetheless, he craned his head around and caught a glimpse of Teyla running along the edge of the stream, trying to keep up with him. She shouted something to someone ahead of them and Rodney prayed it was Sheppard or Ronon preparing to pull his soggy ass out of the water from some upcoming vantage point.
At least, they damn well better be getting ready to save him. It wasn't his fault he had a wide variety of allergies to plants, trees, and a potpourri of other things – and it wasn't his fault that flower spewed pollen in his face and that his sneezing reaction caused him to stumble backward and into the water. It was their fault for making him come along to this godforsaken world that had no redeeming value whatsoever.
He'd tried to talk them into exploring M27-PX3 instead, but, no, they had to come here, because of an Ancient reference to an abundance of certain rare metals Atlantis was currently in need of. Well, damn the metals and damn the Ancients, too!
Rodney went to take a breath and inhaled water instead. Great, now he was choking and coughing, along with being swept to his doom. He could see Ronon and Sheppard on an outcropping extending over the river like a bridge that had stopped construction halfway through. Ronon had Sheppard by the ankles and Sheppard was dangling upside down over the water facing Rodney.
Oh, they are so not planning to pull me out of the water that way, are they? Crap! What if they miss me? It will take them a while to find another point to reach me and by then I'll have probably drowned already! Damn it!
Somehow, he heard Sheppard who was about ten meters in front of him call his name. At least Sheppard and Ronon were on the right side of the river to grab him, but Rodney was still out of position. Rodney tried to angle his way in the water to go closer to them without the risk of slamming into the nearby boulders sticking out of the water, because that would probably kill him, too, but there wasn't really time to do anything at all.
Sheppard waved his arms for Rodney to grab hold as he passed by.
Crap, they're serious. Oh yeah, I'm a dead man.
He would have given Ronon and Sheppard a stern lecture on the outrageously insane impracticality of their rescue attempt if he wasn't fighting so hard to stay above water. At least, it was early summertime and not the dead of winter or he'd be freezing, along with drowning. He could almost hear Sheppard telling him to be grateful for small favors.
Gratitude went out the window when Sheppard started yelling things at him – indiscernible words garbled by the rushing waters, but Rodney didn't need to hear the words. He knew what Sheppard wanted him to do; it was just a matter of making his body cooperate. He extended his arms at the last moment, and by some miracle, Sheppard was able to grab them.
The jarring stop was almost enough to pull Sheppard and Ronon down into the water with him. Sheppard grunted as he was jerked hard to his left side with Rodney's weight, but he was able to keep his hold on Rodney.
Oh thank God!
Rodney envisioned Ronon digging back on his heels up top, straining with everything he had and then some, but Rodney's relief quickly evaporated when he considered what was involved to getting Rodney from his dangling position to dry land and he started cursing again.
Fortunately, Sheppard had a pretty good hold on Rodney's forearms, near his elbows – or more specifically, he had a good hold on Rodney's jacket. Thank God, even though it was early summertime, it was chilly enough today for him to wear his jacket – wet, slippery skin could have complicated things immeasurably. Now, all Rodney could do was pray that the tac vest he was wearing would secure his jacket enough to prevent it from slipping off of him at some inopportune moment.
But he wasn't out of the water yet, he thought, ignoring the bad pun. Even if Sheppard did have an ironclad hold on him, Ronon would have to pull Sheppard and Rodney both up by himself. Conan was big and strong, but he was no freaking Hercules by any stretch of the imagination.
"Don't just hang there, Rodney! Grab hold of my upper arms and pull yourself up over me! Ronon can't hold the two of us forever, you know!" Sheppard shouted through gritted teeth.
Rodney stared up at him in confusion. What the hell is he talking about? Surely, he doesn't mean for me to climb all the way up to Ronon. Surely, no, not that. I'm not some human spider by any means.
Blinking nonstop, Rodney remembered how he'd always failed the stupid rope climbing exercises in school. Why the hell couldn't he at least possess some semblance of physical prowess?
"McKay, move your ass before I drop both of you!" Ronon shouted.
Why are they so mad at me? I didn't ask to fall into a rushing river for Pete's sake!
Closing his eyes for a moment, Rodney took a breath, then he looked up. Squinting through the water still dripping down his face, he saw that the way Sheppard had grabbed his forearms did give him some space for his hands to grab Sheppard's upper arms.
Squirming in the open air, Rodney latched onto Sheppard's arms with all the strength he had. Sheppard grinned and said, "That's it."
When Rodney put more of his weight on Sheppard's left arm, Sheppard groaned and bit his lip. His face was flushed deep red from hanging upside down and the strain of holding onto Rodney, but he just pushed through it like he always did and said, "Okay, hold on. Gonna move my hold from your arms to your chest."
The thought of not having Sheppard holding onto him as a safety line made Rodney's heart begin to hammer faster, if that was possible. His breathing caught and he thought he felt his throat close a little tighter, making breathing even harder, and then the wheezing started. There was no mistake – he was having more than a sneezing attack from that damn flower.
Sheppard noticed it because he looked at Rodney with alarm. "Oh crap, no allergic reactions until you're rescued. That's an order."
Then John took a deep breath and said, "Just hold on, Rodney. We'll get you back to Atlantis ASAP."
Rodney nodded. The whole process of Sheppard shifting his hold from Rodney's forearms to his chest lasted only a second, but it seemed like an eternity. In actuality, he didn't even have time to tell Sheppard to hurry before Sheppard took a firm hold of Rodney's chest.
Slowly, Sheppard began to pull Rodney's body higher until their faces were mere inches away from each other. With the increased nearness to Sheppard, Rodney could see the strain Sheppard was under, but Sheppard seemed to ignore it as he quickly said, "Reach up with one hand and grab hold of my tac vest."
Rodney sputtered, "But – but that vest will just slip off of you, taking me along with it!"
Sheppard shook his head. "Don't worry, Rodney! I've got a good hold on you! Just do it!"
Rodney reluctantly let go of one of Sheppard's arms and felt very vulnerable as he gathered his strength and swung his arm upward. Grabbing a fistful of vest, Rodney looked back at Sheppard. "Now, what?"
"Go for my belt with your other hand."
"Are you totally whacked?" Rodney exclaimed. "I – I can't reach that from here!"
Sheppard's tone was very measured as he said, "Don't worry, I'll be helping to lift you up when you make the move."
Rodney swallowed hard. His throat felt like it was closing up and he could feel the unmistakable sense of hives developing on his face and neck. His eyes were so irritated, he could barely see. He had no time to fool around.
At least the adrenaline still pumping through Rodney's system gave him more strength than he ever thought possible. Taking another shallow breath, he let go of Sheppard's other arm and started to reach for Sheppard's belt when the tac vest slid forward, dropping Rodney down a precious few inches. Sheppard quickly responded by tightening his hold on Rodney.
"Oh, God," Rodney gasped, his legs dangling in the air. "I'm going to die."
"Not on my watch. Now, keep moving!" Sheppard barked at him as if he were a drill sergeant.
Rodney's eyes bulged at the mere thought of what Sheppard wanted him to do. Rodney was not some Marine grunt for Sheppard to order around. And he was having a serious allergic reaction at the same time. Damn, he was so dead.
"Do it, Rodney!" Sheppard said through gritted teeth. "I've got you!"
Blinking rapidly, Rodney tried to ignore the slow downward movement of Sheppard's tac vest. He swung out with his other hand and his fingers brushed across Sheppard's belt, then he desperately clenched the leather just as Ronon's grip slid a little.
Looking up, Rodney saw Ronon's contorted expression. "Don't you dare drop us, Ronon!"
Then Teyla came into view as she knelt down flat on the outcropping and reached down with one arm. "Hurry, Rodney!"
"Oh, sure, no problem," Rodney muttered as he squeezed his eyes shut and tightened his hold on Sheppard's tac vest and belt. "You know me, I'm always ready to face certain death."
She didn't miss a beat, she just said, "Rodney, grab John's belt with both hands."
"I never thought my life would depend upon the strength of John Sheppard's belt!"
Sheppard grunted. "Just climb, McKay, we don't have all fucking day!"
Shaking his head, Rodney swung upward with his other hand, but his hand slipped and for a moment, he was dangling from only one hand – well, dangling might not have been an apt description – Sheppard's grip kept him from dropping back into the water, but Rodney's wheezing was worsening with every breath, and it wasn't a casual kind of wheeze, but the kind that usually made medical people start to rush around him.
"I can't – I can't do this!" he proclaimed loudly to no one in particular.
Teyla reached her hand down until her fingers brushed against his. "Just a little more, Rodney, and you'll be safe."
Encouraged by what he saw, he moved again as John lifted him upward from below. This time, he was close enough for Teyla to grab hold of his arm with both hands. Rodney was able to move his other hand from Sheppard's belt to one of Sheppard's boots, just as his own boot kicked Sheppard in the head.
"OW!" Sheppard said, "Watch your damn feet!"
"You try doing this before yelling at me," Rodney said, then he wheezed loud enough for Teyla to hear him.
Her eyebrows went up as she stared at him and said, "Rodney, you are breaking out in hives."
"Tell me something I don't already know," he said as he gasped for air.
Teyla pulled harder on his arm, drawing herself up to her knees after Rodney's position was strengthened by a good grip on Sheppard's boot and he was starting to push up on his own. She pulled back on his arm until she nearly fell over, but by then Rodney had his other hand firmly on the rock formation.
Grunting hard, he pulled himself the rest of the way up with Teyla's assistance and he collapsed on the ground beside her. He went to inhale and nothing moved much. His chest felt tight – very tight – scary tight.
"Rodney," Teyla said a moment later, except her position had changed. She was now leaning over him as he gasped for air. "Where is your epipen?"
"My – my what?" he said, trying to stay calm, but it was getting harder and harder to breathe and to concentrate. Then he realized what she was looking for and reached for the right inner pocket, but his hand just flopped over the area, instead of opening it to retrieve the pen.
Through his dwindling awareness, he heard Sheppard call from behind them. "How's he doing?"
Teyla's voice was even as she said, "He is having an allergic reaction."
She tugged on the velcro fastening over his pocket and pulled out Rodney's epipen, deftly opening it and positioning it over Rodney's thigh. She activated the pen's release and Rodney gasped at the pain, though it was nothing compared to not breathing.
By the time Rodney glanced in Sheppard's direction, Ronon was helping Sheppard stand. Sheppard seemed shaky, as if his muscles were quivering with fatigue and his now upright position – after all, hanging upside down all that time couldn't have been fun. Sheppard grimaced and held his left arm tight against his body. He was bleeding from a scrape at his left eyebrow, but his whole attention was on Rodney.
He knelt close and put a hand on Rodney's thigh. "Hang in there, buddy."
Rodney heard the deep rales in his chest and got even more scared. The epinephrine wasn't kicking in. He was getting worse instead of better. He blinked madly, trying to clear his vision as his eyelids continued to swell.
He heard Ronon say, "I can carry him back to the jumper – " then it sounded as if he was moving closer in preparation to pick him up.
Rodney caught sight of Sheppard shaking his head as he said, "No, we need to stabilize him or he won't last long enough to make it there."
Teyla glanced at Sheppard. "A second injection? Is that wise?"
Sheppard nodded grimly as he rifled through the pockets of his own tac vest for the backup epipen he always carried for Rodney. "I don't think we have a choice."
Teyla patted Rodney on the shoulder. "Rodney, you need to stay as calm as you can," she said softly.
Yeah, right, with a shitload of adrenaline pumping through my system? Calm is not in my vocabulary right now.
Sheppard's voice was low as he said, "Okay, Rodney, I've got your backup epipen. Brace yourself, this isn't going to be fun."
John Sheppard always did have a gift for understatement, Rodney thought as he nearly came up off the ground when the second dose kicked in. His whole body became one massive tremor.
"Easy," Sheppard said as he placed a hand on Rodney's chest and paused for a moment, then he said, "Okay, he isn't wheezing quite so heavily now. I think this is our window of opportunity. Ronon, you carry him. I'll run ahead to the jumper to power up systems and to alert Atlantis we'll be coming in with a medical emergency."
Sheppard was already up and away when Ronon picked Rodney up and tossed him over his shoulder in a classic fireman's carry with one smooth movement. Ronon began running and said, "Sorry, McKay, but I can move faster this way."
Damn, Ronon wasn't exactly what would be called skinny, but he had one hell of a bony shoulder and it was cutting into Rodney's stomach like a dull saw. Shifting didn't help at all. Teyla ran alongside them as she held his hand tightly in hers. "Rodney, hold on. We are almost to the jumper."
Rodney prayed that he could hang on long enough to make it to Atlantis and the infirmary, but he was never very good at prayers.
To Chapter Two