The day had started so normally. About thirty minutes after they had split up with Teyla and Ronon to investigate the area around the 'Gate of P9Y-422, Rodney and John had come across a series of ruins sitting in the shadow of a mountain, the pale rocks that it was comprised of shimmering dully in the sun. A series of cliffs and sharp drop-offs loomed overhead, the wind-smoothed surfaces occasionally punctuated by caves, the largest of which looked to be about five meters wide at the mouth.
The ruins themselves hadn't been all that interesting, at least to John, though Rodney seemed to be perfectly happy to investigate every inch of the grass- and moss-covered stones. After about twenty minutes, Teyla had radioed in to say that she and Ronon had made contact with the locals, who seemed to be of a peaceful society, and would it be alright if she tried to establish trade negotiations? John had given the okay, and Teyla had signed off with the promise that she would be checking in on the hour.
“Find anything interesting, McKay?” John asked after searching out the errant physicist and finding him examining an engraved metal panel that was set into one of the walls that wasn't as dilapidated as the rest. Rodney just made a vague noise of recognition at John's voice, but didn't turn his attention away from the screen of his scanner, which he passed over the panel before reaching out and ghosting his fingers over the etchings. A dull click from somewhere nearby made John freeze in place as he tried to figure out what had made it, his P-90 snapping up to the ready position almost instantly.
“Rodney, what was that?” John asked, slowly turning on the spot. Rodney looked up from his investigation of the panel, his gaze focusing on John.
“What was what, Sheppard?” he replied, quirking an eyebrow.
“I heard something.”
Rodney sighed, stepping away from the panel. “It was probably just a squirrel or- Get down, now!”
He pushed John to the ground just as several wooden arrows came shooting out of the walls at shoulder- and stomach-height. John crashed to the ground, Rodney collapsing on top of him. There was a dull clatter as the arrows fell to the floor, rolling away until they hit an uneven part of the floor or a wall. Once the world had stopped going crazy, John carefully pushed Rodney off of him and cautiously sat up, not sure if anything else was going to spring out at him. Nothing seemed to be attempting to cause his untimely demise, so John turned to check on Rodney.
The physicist was pushing himself off the ground, looking morosely at the arrows sticking out of his left shoulder and calf. “Oh, that's just fantastic,” Rodney muttered, gingerly poking at the arrow in his leg and then wincing. “The one on my leg doesn't look like it went too far in, but I can't see the one in my shoulder properly. Check it for me, would you?”
“You're taking this calmly, McKay,” John commented after leaning forwards and trying to see how deeply the arrow had gone in.
Rodney gave a short laugh. “I'm not calm, believe me. I'm pissed, but seeing as how I don't think these things were meant to kill- if they were, whoever had designed the traps would've probably made them shoot these out faster- I think I can wait until I'm safely back in Carson's clutches to prop-”
He fell silent, eyes sliding half-shut as he listed dangerously towards one side. John reached out to steady him, accidentally grabbing onto Rodney's wounded shoulder. The arrow slid out of the hole it had made in Rodney's TAC vest, rolling away once it had hit the ground.
“McKay. Rodney!” John snapped, switching the shoulder he was holding and shaking Rodney gently. “Hey, snap out of it!”
Rodney's head lolled forwards and then he suddenly shook it like a dog would, slowly raising it until his gaze met John's. “Hnn? What's up?” He frowned slowly, his eyes going to the arrow in his leg. “Hey, John, there's an arrow in m'leg,” Rodney said, his words slurring slightly.
“Yeah, I know. We should probably get it out. How're you feeling?” John asked as he dug around in one of the pockets of his TAC vest for a few pressure bandages and some disinfectant.
“A little on the sleepy side, but other than that, not too bad,” Rodney replied dazedly as John carefully examined the remaining arrow. “What about you?”
“I'm not the one with an arrow in his leg. Hold on. This'll probably hurt,” John told him, and then gently tugged on the arrow. It slid free without much of a struggle and John laid it to one side. He had his suspicions that the arrows had been tipped with something, and judging by Rodney's current state of lassitude, it'd probably be a good idea to take a sample, if there was anything left, back to Carson to analyze. After bandaging up Rodney's leg and shoulder, John guided him to his feet, making sure to support him as needed. He grabbed Rodney's TAC vest- which he had removed in order to bandage the astrophysicist's shoulder -and then escorted Rodney outside. An ominous rumbling that began as they stepped into the clearing outside of the ruins made John look upwards and swear.
“Damn it,” he growled, catching sight of the roiling black clouds sweeping rapidly across the plains towards them. “We've got to get moving, Rodney. There's a storm coming and- Hey, just where do you think you're going?”
Rodney had slipped out from John's grasp and was limping towards the cliff. “There's a cave up there,” he called back, weaving slightly as he walked. “We can take shelter and wait out the storm. We won't make it to the 'Gate in time.”
“Oh, God,” John muttered before keying his radio and then setting off after Rodney. “Teyla, Ronon, come in.”
“Yeah, Sheppard?” Ronon replied, the radio crackling softly with his voice.
“Two things. One, Rodney's been slightly injured by a trap that one of us set off in the ruins we were exploring, and he's a little out of it. I think the arrows were tipped with a mild tranquilizer or something. Two, there's a big storm coming, and I want you to get back to the 'Gate if you can and call home. Tell them we're going to be delayed. If you can't get back to the 'Gate before the storm hits, stay at the village. We'll ride out the storm here and meet you at the 'Gate once it's done,” John told him, keeping an eye on Rodney, who was examining the sheer cliff face and trying to see if there was a viable way to climb up. “Rodney and I are probably going to take shelter in a cave that's near the ruins. Sheppard out.”
He tapped his radio and then caught up to Rodney. “You do realize that that cave is too high to get to without climbing equipment or a Jumper, right?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“No no no, we just need…” Rodney trailed off, looking thoughtful, albeit in a dazed way. It kind of reminded John of one of his roommates in college who tended to write horrible poetry when drunk. The memories of Bryce's terrible soliloquies brought a brief smile to John's face before he snapped back to the present. Rodney had backed away from the cliff, his neck craning as he kept the cave in view.
“Rodney, what are you doing?” John asked as Rodney began muttering to himself, swaying gently from side to side as he stopped about thirty feet away from the cliff. John got a horrible feeling in his stomach just before the air blurred around Rodney, making it seem as though John was looking at him through an enormously large and thick pane of frosted glass. There was an unpleasant moment of morphic uncertainty that felt to John as if all the hairs on his arms and head were standing on end, and then, with an almost anticlimactic light breeze, Rodney had changed into his dragon form, the tattered wisps of bandaging gently floating down to the ground.
“Much better,” Rodney said, sounding somewhat more sure of himself than he had as a human. “Let's get up to that cave.”
“And how do you propose we do-” John began, but was cut off when Rodney scooped him up off the ground and then clutched him close to his chest, his wings throwing up a cloud of dust before lifting dragon and man off the ground and into the air. This wasn't exactly how John thought his first flight with Rodney would go; for one thing, he would've liked to have been able to actually see something other than the deep blue hide that he was currently pressed against. Since he was in such close proximity, John couldn't help but notice that there was a faintly spicy odor to the warm hide. It reminded him vaguely of sun-warmed cedar and oven-fresh cinnamon-apple pie, but before he could do much more than come up with that, Rodney touched down in the mouth of the cave and set him gently down on the ground.
“I'm going to go lay down,” Rodney told him after making a brief investigation of the cave. “It'll be warmer for both of us if I stay in dragon form, so…”He yawned, his mouth opening just wide enough for John to catch a glimpse of sharp white fangs. Rodney lay down at the back of the cave, laying down in a manner reminiscent of a sphinx, his wings draped loosely over his body. The wounds that he had sustained had transferred over to his dragon form, but they had nearly scabbed over, making John think that Rodney must heal faster in dragon form than human form. They had only been in the cave for about ten minutes before the rain came pouring down, and John moved closer to Rodney. It really was warmer near him, though Rodney tended to give off heat rather readily anyways. Not as much as Ronon, who at times seemed like a walking space heater, but still.
Maybe it has to do with him being a dragon, John thought as he settled in. I wonder if-
Rodney suddenly made a small mewling noise in the back of his throat that made John's attention focus rapidly on him. He was panting and his tail was thrashing; John was about to say something when Rodney's eyes snapped open, focusing glassily on the pilot.
“Don' feel good, Shepp'rd.” he slurred, his head lolling considerably. “Som'thin' on- onna those arrows...”
“What can I do, Rodney?” John asked, but before he could get an answer, Rodney had moaned and then shuddered several times before, from the looks of it, passing out. He went limp, his head just barely missing the stone floor as it flopped down onto his forelegs. John got up from his seat, gently repositioned Rodney's head so that it was in a more comfortable position, and then went to the mouth of the cave to try out his radio. He called for Ronon and Teyla several times, but all he got was static and slightly damp.
Now all he had to do was keep an eye on Rodney, hope like hell that whatever had been on the arrows would dissipate quickly, and that the rain would let up soon. That way he'd be able to get in touch with Teyla and Ronon and have them radio Atlantis for a Jumper and a medical team that included Carson. John was relatively sure that Carson would know what to do for Rodney; if not, then maybe he'd be able to get Rodney to at least change back to human form so that they could take him back to Atlantis and get him fixed up there.
The rain poured down in a curtain past the mouth of the cave, the occasional rogue drop splashing inwards. John watched the rain for a minute, and then turned away and headed deeper into the cave. Rodney was lying where John had left him, and John was pleased to note that he seemed to have stayed asleep, knowing that the physicist's body was doing all it could to fight off the drug. John sat down next to Rodney, leaning against the rough rock wall of the cave after pulling out an MRE from his pack.
“God, Rodney,” he said, shaking his head as he started the heating element for the MRE. “How the hell did we manage to end up here?”
Rodney didn't reply, but the faintest twitch of his tail may have been an indication that, somewhere deep down, he had heard John. The Colonel hoped like hell that he had; he wasn't going to be giving up on Rodney just yet. John set the MRE down on the ground next to him as it heated up, watching tendrils of pale red flame emerge from Rodney's slightly open mouth. In any other circumstance, John would've teased Rodney about his tendency to drool while sleeping, but the color of the flames had him oddly worried. Of course, he wasn't sure what temperature was normal for a dragon, but if he remembered his Chem lessons right, the red color of a flame meant that it was actually at the low end of the temperature scale.
Once his MRE was done heating up, John idly ate it, barely even registering the taste of the food. Out of habit more than anything else, he saved the granola bar and candy that came with the MRE, putting them in one of the pockets on his tac vest. It had become useful to have the sweet foodstuffs on hand more than once, including that time when Rodney had forgotten to eat breakfast before going on a mission and had nearly passed out from low blood sugar. From then on John had made sure to keep something sweet on him at all times, even if it was just a packet of hard candies. Listening to Rodney bitch about how he'd rather eat bugs than suck on a peppermint (and then seeing him eat the candy anyways) was a hell of a lot better than seeing him pale, shaky, and looking like he'd pass out at any moment. John, Teyla, and Ronon had agreed that none of them wanted to see that happen again, so they'd made it a habit to carry food with them, just in case.
Once he was done eating, John put the remains of his MRE back into the bag it had came in and then into his pack, not wanting any local animals able to scale a cliff or that flew to come searching for food. Although, with Rodney in dragon form, John wasn't sure any animal would be brave enough to come investigate, even if Rodney wasn't up to more than a low rumbling snore at the moment. John supposed he should be thankful that Rodney was only sleeping; it could've been worse, though with Rodney as unresponsive as he was, John wasn't too sure that was a good thing in and of itself. Shaking his head as if it would clear his mind of the slightly morbid thoughts he was having, John settled in for the night, hoping against hope that this would all be over soon.
The rain stopped sometime during the night, leaving the dusty plains shining and spotted with mud. John was made aware of this fact when he stepped outside to relieve himself, making use of a corner of the broad ledge that was a sort of continuation of the cave. It looked to be wide and long enough to accommodate a Jumper, and that made John optimistic about the chances of a rescue by air, since Rodney was still out of it, though he had briefly awoken twice during the night. John had dozed most of the night, making sure he didn't fall asleep too deeply by sitting in one of the coldest spots in the cave he could find that wasn't too far away from Rodney. Now that it was daylight, John keyed his radio, hoping that Ronon and Teyla would be awake to hear him calling.
“Ronon, Teyla, come in.”
It took a few seconds for the radio to crackle to life; John guessed that his teammates were probably busy with something at the moment, but that didn't matter to him as much as getting medical help for Rodney did.
“John, it is good to hear from you. How is Rodney?”Teyla asked, sounding relieved to hear his voice.
John glanced back at the bulky shape that was Rodney, and then sighed. “He's still sleeping, but I don't know how he's doing beyond that. He's gone big, blue, and scaly, and I sure as hell don't know what's normal for him when he's like that.” He ran a hand through his hair, staring off into the distance, and then suddenly realized something that had been nudging at him in the back of his mind for the past ten minutes. “Um, Teyla, when you guys get to the 'Gate, tell Carson that we're going to need a Jumper, as well as people who can… relate to Rodney's condition and not ask questions as to how we're fifty feet from the ground.”
There was a moment's pause, and then Teyla spoke cautiously. “You are in a cave that high? How did you- Ah. Rodney.”
“Yep,” John said, sitting down at the lip of the ledge and dangling his legs over the side. “He got us up here and then went to sleep. How're you and Ronon doing?”
“We're almost at the 'Gate, Sheppard,” Ronon joined in, and John could hear the slight whisper of the Satedan's clothes as he moved across the landscape. “Anything else you need us to ask the Doc to bring?”
“Well, if he's got anything that can help Rodney get back to human, that'd be awesome. I think he mentioned some sort of "special kit" he has for situations that deal with people like Rodney.”
“We are at the Gate, John. We will contact you when everything is arranged,” Teyla told him, and then signed off. John sighed and got back to his feet, dusting himself off before heading back into the cave. Rodney seemed to be still dozing, but when John approached him, he raised his head and looked at John, his eyes only half-open and cloudy with sleep.
“Sheppard,” Rodney said, blinking slowly as he woke up further. John noticed that Rodney had a secondary set of retractable eyelids like a lizard, and wondered what use they were for. Maybe they worked like swim or skydiving goggles, keeping his eyes moist while he flew or swam. He'd have to ask Rodney about them later, once the physicist was well again. It was just one of many things on John's 'List of Things to Ask Rodney about Being a Dragon', which he'd get around to actually writing down one of these days.
“Hey, buddy. How're you feeling?” John asked, sitting down next to Rodney.
“Like shit,” was Rodney's characteristically blunt answer, which made John smile briefly as he settled in. “What's going on?”
“Well, right now we're waiting for Teyla and Ronon to get back with Carson and a Jumper so we can go home,” John said, idly taking the granola bar he had saved out of its pocket and unwrapping it. He was about to bite into it when he saw Rodney watching him intently. “What?” he asked, brow furrowing before he realized that Rodney wasn't looking at him, but rather the food. “Oh! Um, I don't know if I have anything you can eat. What do you eat in dragon form, anyways?”
“Anything I want, usually. Except for citrus, of course,” Rodney responded promptly. He sized up the granola bar and then sighed. “I'd probably have to eat a whole case of those to get full. I'm going to see if I can catch anything in the forest.”
“Are you sure that's such a-” John began, but Rodney pushed himself to his feet before he could say much more than that. After taking a few wobbly steps, Rodney must've stepped wrong- John couldn't quite see, because he collapsed to the floor, a surprised grunt escaping him as his chest hit the hard stone.
“Crap,” Rodney muttered, trying and failing to get back to his feet. “I can't go more than two feet without falling on my ass. Fantastic.”
“Well, you probably still have some of that stuff in your bloodstream,” John pointed out. “You know, whatever the hell was on those arrows.”
“Mm,” Rodney mumbled, rearranging himself so that he was more comfortable and not half-laying on his left wing. “Guess I'll have to wait for Carson and his voodoo, then.”
“Yeah, you will,” John said, and then got to his feet. “I'm going to check if Teyla and Ronon are back yet. I'll be back in a sec.”
With that, John left Rodney muttering grumpily to himself and went back to the ledge outside of the cave, where, before he could hit the button for his radio, Teyla's voice suddenly emanated from the speaker.
“John, are you still there?”
John smiled slightly and then keyed his radio. “Yes, Teyla, I'm still here. Not much of anywhere I could go, given the circumstances, but thanks for asking. Is Carson with you?”
“Aye, I am. How're you doing, Colonel?” Carson replied, his familiar brogue washing away some of the stress John had been feeling ever since Rodney had been injured.
“I'm fine, and Rodney's awake, finally. He's grumpy as hell, hungry, and still a little out of it, but other than that, he seems to be fine. Although, he's more than a little wobbly on his legs,” John told him. “Where're you at?”
“We just came through the 'Gate, sir.” This was a Marine's voice; Corporal Eric Coulton's, if John's memory served him right. “If you'd give us an approximate location, we should be able to get to you relatively soon.”
“We're about three klicks east of the 'Gate. When you see the cliffs, you'll know you've made it. I'm standing on a ledge outside one of them. It should be large enough and stable enough to hold the Jumper. Who else is with you, Corporal, besides Beckett, Teyla, and Ronon?”
“It's just me, sir,” the Corporal said. “I was the only one not off-world who can understand first-hand what's going on with Doctor McKay.”
“So you're a-”
“Guardian? Yes, sir. Not the same Clan as Doctor McKay, but still. Ah. We've got you on the Life Signs Detector, sir. You might want to move back into the cave. I don't want to have to explain to Doctor Weir why I squished my CO when I parallel-parked the Jumper. ”
John grinned and then moved back into the cave, pausing at the entrance to tell Coulton that he was clear before checking up on Rodney. McKay had managed to make his way over to a small pool of water and was noisily drinking from it, his tongue lapping at the cool liquid like a cat's. Rodney looked up when John cleared his throat, water dribbling from his jaws as he lifted his head.
“What?” Rodney snapped, the slender tip of his tail twitching idly as he spoke.
“Calm down, McKay. I just wanted to tell you that Carson and the others are almost here. They've got a Jumper, so you might want to try to change back to human,” John said, raising an eyebrow at Rodney's tone.
“Don't you think I've already tried?” Rodney grumbled, his wings rustling irritably. “I can't. Or at least, not at the moment. It's probably because of that stuff that was on those arrows. And I'm still hungry, though there's probably not much you can do about that at the moment.”
Before John could answer, there was a commotion at the entrance of the cave. The rescue team had arrived; Teyla, Ronon, Carson, and Coulton all came trooping in, with the Marine helping Carson carry some extra medical kits. Carson bustled over to Rodney, sighing softly when he saw that his friend was awake and cognizant.
“The Colonel tells me you've been wounded, Rodney,” he said, setting down his medical kit. “What were you doing this time?”
Rodney snorted indignantly. “What makes you think it was my fault?” he asked, and then saw Carson's mildly exasperated look. It was the one that said It probably was your fault. Either that or Colonel Sheppard's, but since you're the one injured, I'm going with you.
“All we were doing was exploring some ruins. They're at the base of these cliffs; I'm sure you saw them when you flew in. Anyways, there weren't any obvious traps or anything. Not much of anything interesting, actually,” Rodney continued on as Carson prepared to take a blood sample from a vein in Rodney's left foreleg. “The only thing there was was a metal panel. It had some engravings and- Hey, be careful, you vampire!”
Carson sighed. “You know I'm not a vampire, Rodney. Anyways, this is necessary. I need to take blood to test later. I want to know what the hell you were dosed with. Now, let's look at those wounds, shall we?”
As Carson examined Rodney's already-fading wounds, John spoke up. “Well, if you're not a vampire, Carson, then what are you? Rodney said you were 'a friend of the family', but never explained what he meant.”
Carson paused in his examination, hands stilling on Rodney's shoulder. “I'm a healer, John,” he said after a moment's pause. “That's all.”
Rodney snorted. “Please. He's duine sìth. Well, partly, anyways,” he announced, making Carson smack him gently on the shoulder. Rodney winced and then shrugged. “What? It's true, you know. Besides, it's a good thing.”
“What are you talking about, McKay?” Ronon asked, looking confused. “What's a dun-?”
“Duine sìth.” Carson corrected, shaking his head as he stripped off the latex gloves he was wearing. “It means 'The People of Peace' in Scottish Gaelic. You'd probably know them as the Sidhe or the Fae, Colonel.”
John blinked, confused. “What, you mean like fairies or goblins?” he asked, startled.
“No, sir. Those are just tales made up by humans to explain away the odd circumstances that occur in everyday life. The duine sìth are sort of companions to the Guardians,” Coulton said, drawing everyone's attention. “It's sort of like pilot fish and sharks, except for the fact that we have a much more beneficial relationship with the Healers than the fish do with the sharks.” He grinned brightly, white teeth flashing against dusky skin. “We don't eat them if we're hungry, for starters.”
“Yes, and since I'm only half sìth on my mum's side, I don't get to live as long. I'm still a damn good Healer, though. My mum's family has been allied with Rodney's Clan for quite a while,” Carson said as he rummaged around in his kit for something. He pulled out a heavy-looking jar made of thick cut crystal; its top was covered by the sort of locking lid John had seen his grandmother use when she made fruit preserves. After unsnapping the lock, Carson applied a thick green goop that smelled pungently of mint onto Rodney's skin where he'd been wounded. Rodney sniffed at it inquisitively and then sneezed sharply. With a surprised snort, Rodney suddenly shifted back to human, Carson and Teyla catching him before he fell on his ass.
“Well, that's one way to do it,” Rodney said as he managed to find his balance. “What did you put in that stuff?”
Said salve had disappeared during Rodney's transformation, leaving only a faintly lingering aroma of crushed mint leaves. John noticed that Rodney looked much better than he had when first wounded; there was a good amount of color in his face, though it was still flushed slightly with fever. To his surprise, John noticed that Rodney's clothes had somehow repaired themselves since the time Rodney had last been human. He figured it was just another part of Rodney being a dragon, but still, he had to admit that was cool.
“Don't worry, Rodney,” Carson said, shaking his head fondly as he put away the now-closed jar. “It was just some aloe, rosemary, and mint. That's all. Nothing weird or esoteric about it.”
“Yes, Rodney, I'm sure.” Carson rolled his eyes and then straightened up from his crouch. “Let's get you back to Atlantis. You look like you could use some rest.”
“Ah! No, you're going to the infirmary, and if I have to tie you down to get some proper rest, I will. No arguing, Rodney,” Carson said firmly, and John saw the look of grudging defeat in Rodney's eyes.
“Fine. But don't blame me if one of the labs blows up because I'm not there,” Rodney sniffed, and then headed out towards the Jumper, Carson and Ronon in tow. John helped Teyla and Coulton with the extraneous kits, Teyla smiling slightly as Rodney's voice drifted back to them.
“Carson, I'm hungry.”
“Oh? Well, you're a big lad; you can get a power bar from the box just as well as I can.”
“It seems that Rodney is well on the way to recovery,” Teyla commented as they neared the Jumper.
“Yeah. When he starts complaining, you know everything's gonna be okay,” John replied, making Teyla laugh. They stepped out into the sunlight, a light breeze bringing the scent of wet dirt and refreshed plants. John breathed in deeply before setting his burden down in the Jumper and heading up to the pilot's seat, glad that for now, all was well in the world and nothing was going wrong.
It was all he could ask for.