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A Friend In Need

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Ronon stiffened and coiled, stepping back against the cold stones behind him. He felt the humidity against his bare back, the wetness dripping down the rough edges of rock. He let darkness enveloped him and gripped the handle of the knife hard against his palm, the cool blade alongside his wrist. He lifted his arm, the soft scuff of footsteps getting closer.

He felt the adrenaline pulling up under his skin as he waited for the right moment to pounce at the target. Ronon breathed in deep, controlling the impulse. The guard passed by the adjacent corridor and Ronon decided to leave it at that since they would have more time to escape if no one noticed they were gone until it was too late.

He waited until the guard was out of earshot and continued down the hall, his bare feet on smooth stone. He hurried ahead in darkness, his eyes quickly adjusting to the occasional change in light that came from the narrow gaps at the top of the walls.

A turn right and two turns left led him to another hallway of cells. He peeked into each one of them. The small cubicles were mostly empty, with a few rare exceptions – generally lanky men curled up on top of a dirty rag, too weak to do anything else. He checked each one of those men, quickly passing by the wrong faces and features until he halted at the bars of one spiky dark-haired man.

"Sheppard," he whispered. "Hey, Sheppard!"

The form stirred and turned, glazed eyes blinking lazily until they set on Ronon. They narrowed and it took a few seconds for them to show recognition.

"Ronon?" came a weak reply.

"Yeah, buddy," he said as he twirled the blade in his hand and inserted it into the lock. "I'm getting us out of here."

When Ronon opened the cell, Sheppard's hand was resting against the wall, shaking as he tried to get up. Ronon went in to help and put his arm behind Sheppard's back and under his arm. He felt the weak tremors under Sheppard's skin as he hauled him up, carefully avoiding the cuts on his back. Sheppard winced and panted, biting his lip as he nodded at Ronon.

"Howddya… get here?"

"Stole a knife from a guard," Ronon said while they walked out of the cell. "He didn't even notice."

Sheppard smiled slightly. "You? Being subtle?" He coughed and doubled over as it started a fit.

Ronon kept Sheppard up and held his chest. When the coughing eased, he shifted Sheppard's weight and half dragged him down the corridor. Sheppard made a very feeble attempt to keep upright but his legs mostly dangled as they tried to find their way out.

After several minutes, they were finally able to find a rhythm where Ronon didn't push Sheppard too hard, which stopped him from tripping and falling every few steps. Sheppard was weak, and it was only a matter of time until the guards discovered them gone. With Sheppard in such bad shape, Ronon would have to make a choice he really didn't want to make.

Ronon pulled Sheppard up once again, the groan that came out a bit louder than Ronon had intended to extract. He adjusted his grip around Sheppard's back, avoiding most of the marks there, but rubbing against the angry cuts was unavoidable.

"Sorry, buddy," Ronon said softly.

Sheppard only nodded and exhaled loudly, his lips swollen from biting them so hard. He hissed when another step provoked more attrition on raw skin, but Ronon didn't slow down.

Ronon entered a small, darkened room and put Sheppard down, kneeling beside him. Sheppard had his eyes closed and was breathing hard. The faint illumination created shadows that accentuated Sheppard's thin body and the dark marks around his eyes.

Ronon watched Sheppard's chest move, fast and shallow, and noticed how his ribs were starting to show. There were dark marks all over his torso, from purple to yellow and some thin bloodied lines that started at the curve of his chest, some of them extending around his back and to the other side. Ronon knew what those marks were. He had also gotten them. Not as many as Sheppard, but enough to know how much they hurt.

They had been ambushed weeks ago. All of them had been injured, but none badly. They had been able to make it to the gate and Ronon had seen Sheppard fall down unconscious a fraction of a second before he jumped at the event horizon. The few seconds it took for the gate to dial again had been too much and all they were able to find was a trail that went into the ring. Ronon had gotten mad and smashed his fist against a tree.

After weeks of search, Ronon had decided there was only one way to find Sheppard. He allowed himself to be ambushed and captured as soon as they learned about the mercenaries list of targeted planets. The trap had worked and now he only had to get Sheppard out of here.

Sheppard opened his eyes slightly, his breath catching. "Can't… stop…" He rested his head against the wall.

Ronon nodded and turned around. He touched the stones on the floor, feeling their edges until he reached the frame of the metal grid. He lifted it carefully and dragged it aside, this time more silently then he had been when he had scouted for an escape route.

He turned back to Sheppard and leaned his head close.

"Think you can climb down?"

Sheppard breathed in a few times before nodding. "Do we… have a choice?"

"Not really."

He picked Sheppard up and maneuvered both of them down the pipe. It was large enough for both, but it took some doing to get them both in position. He put Sheppard along his back with his hands wrapped around his neck and started going down. Ronon kept a hold on Sheppard, carefully balancing them both as he climbed down each step of the ladder.

It took longer than Ronon had expected, but they finally reached the bottom. Sheppard was trembling slightly and slipped from his hold the second Ronon let go of him. He fell down on the floor, groaning and moaning, and curled around himself, his breathing loud and labored.

Ronon gave him a few moments, crouching next to him close enough to share some body heat. The underground pipe was cold and even damper than the prison had been and it wasn't doing Sheppard any good. He didn't let him lay around for too long and soon Ronon was back to half carrying Sheppard.

"Hey, buddy. Wanna tell me how you’re doing?"

Sheppard breathed in deep and coughed a few times before responding. "Chest… hurts. Tired."

"I know." Ronon puffed as he dragged Sheppard along. "But we can't stop."

Sheppard's head rested against his shoulder. "How long… to the gate?"

"About an hour or so. Think you can make it?"

Ronon shook Sheppard's arm when he didn't respond. "Sheppard?"

"Huh?" His head lifted from Ronon's shoulder for a brief moment before it returned.

"I asked if you can make it to the gate," Ronon said as he shifted his arm across Sheppard's back.

Sheppard let out a broken moan and turned his head to Ronon's chest, breathing hard. "G-got… to."

"Yeah. We're gonna get to the forest soon then we can rest for a while, okay?"

Sheppard nodded. "'Kay."

***+++***+++***+++***

Ronon let Sheppard sleep for a few minutes. He knew there was something wrong with him besides the obvious signs of abuse. Sheppard was tired, yes, but the coughing and shaking were getting worse and his breathing was more like an unhealthy rattle. Ronon touched Sheppard's forehead, not surprised to find it warm.

Ronon carefully rested Sheppard's head on the trunk and got up, ignoring the way the branches carved into the sole of his barefeet. He watched the forest, hearing the soft sounds caused by the faint breeze. The loud chirping of birds and the orange light penetrating the tree tops indicated that nightfall was approaching. It would be easier for them to keep ahead of any pursuers if they had the cover of night. He also knew that the guards' shift was about to change, which meant their escape would be discovered soon.

He turned and tried to stir Sheppard to wakefulness, without success.

Ronon hauled him up and leaned him against the tree, swinging Sheppard's arm around his neck to carry him across his shoulders. He shifted, adjusting Sheppard's weight, and made his way through the forest.

***+++***+++***+++***

Finding the gate hadn't been difficult, and neither had been ambushing the search party. The pair of men had fallen quickly and Ronon had soon been able to go back to ferrying Sheppard over his shoulders. After that, Ronon had stayed away from the main road, where most of the teams seemed to be concentrating the hunt, and had followed its general direction towards the valley to where it headed.

He crouched low in the underbrush, laying Sheppard down. Sheppard stayed sitting against a tree, eyes closed, but stirring. Ronon took a hand to his face, feeling it clammy and warm. Glassy eyes opened and blinked slowly.

"Rn'n?"

Ronon took a finger up his lips. "Shhh." He jerked his head towards the bushes that framed the clearing where the gate was located and lifted four fingers.

Sheppard nodded and shifted against the trunk, his lips forming a thin line and eyebrows furrowed. He panted and leaned his head back for a few moments, closing his eyes. Ronon touched his shoulder to get Sheppard to open his eyes and gave him the weapon he had been able to steal from one of the guards searching the forest. It was small and weird looking, made out of wood and shooting small arrows that would only kill in a very lucky shot, but it was better than nothing. Sheppard gripped the handle with sweaty hands, his knuckles turning white with the effort of keeping a steady hold. Sheppard's face changed at that, still pale, but alert and determined. He nodded and made an attempt to get up, to which Ronon helped.

They positioned themselves behind two larger trees at the edge of the clearing, Sheppard leaning heavily on his trunk, forehead wrinkled in concentration. Ronon nodded at Sheppard and bolted to action, running and tackling the closest target to the ground and slicing his throat at the same time. By the time Ronon got up, Sheppard was shooting his weapon and the three other guards were running towards them.

Ronon evaded a coming blow and grabbed the attacker's neck, twisting him around and throwing him down, Ronon's knee smashing the man's chest with the impact. Ronon jumped back from the knife lunging at him and grabbed the arm, twisting the wrist until the blade dropped. He turned around and grabbed the guard from behind, squeezing his neck until he dropped on the floor. He looked up, searching for the remaining guard, only to find him dead on the ground with an arrow poking out of his forehead.

Ronon looked back at Sheppard and found him hugging a tree, his arm falling limply beside him and the weapon dropping. He hurried to grab him before Sheppard finished falling.

"Thanks, buddy," Sheppard managed to croak before his eyelids drooped and his whole weight crashed into Ronon's arms.

***+++***+++***+++***

Ronon brought his chair back near Sheppard's bed, the loud scraping not disturbing the sleeping form. The nurse gave him a disapproving look and Ronon stared back unapologetically. She shook her head and walked away, a small smile twitching her lips before she finished turning.

He put up his feet on the bed next to Sheppard's feet and put his gun in his lap, removing the energy cell to check it. He cleaned it with his shirt then placed it on the side table. He checked the grip on his handle and started rewrapping the wraith hair tighter to get a better hold. He was almost done when a faint brush of blankets snapped his head up.

He immediately rose, seeing moving eyes behind closed eyelids. Ronon smiled just as two tiny slits opened blinking a few times until they finally saw Ronon.

"Hey," Ronon said.

"Hey," Sheppard responded, his voice rough from sleep.

Ronon grabbed a couple of ice chips, grinning when Sheppard's eyes closed to enjoy them.

He tapped Sheppard's shoulder. "You gave the doctors some work, you know."

Sheppard slowly opened his eyes, confusion showing in them. "What happened?" he asked as he checked the nasal cannula on his face.

"Had some lung infection. Dunno for sure. You stopped breathing once, about a day ago."

Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "How long…"

"A couple days." Ronon grinned and tapped Sheppard's shoulder again. "Just rest easy." He sat down. "The doc said you're staying here a few weeks."

Sheppard groaned in complaint and Ronon could see he was trying to keep his eyes open, but finally gave up and let them drift close again. His breathing evened out just a few seconds afterwards and Ronon went back to finishing cleaning his gun.