Characters: Sheppard and McKay (no big surprise)
Genre/spoilers: Gen. Season 2.
This is for the Sensory Loss challenge at sheppard_hc. It was supposed to be short, and was also not intended to be the wholesale whumpathon that it turned into ... but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
It's mostly done, but I'm still working on the last part and may need to revise the second when I get the ending done, so the rest should be up in a few days. I just wanted to start posting to make sure I get in before the challenge deadline! *grin*
As far as Sheppard was concerned, a man really couldn't complain about scientist babysitting duty, most of the time. Not that this stopped the Marines from complaining -- loudly -- but it was light, generally clean duty, and usually involved nothing more than, at worst, standing around looking intimidating or helping them move a few dusty artifacts from one place to another. A lot of the time, you just got to kick back in a sunny place and listen to them argue, which was monumentally entertaining.
And then you had days like today.
"It was a left."
"I think I would have remembered that, Colonel, and I'd like to remind you that I'm not the one who managed to get lost going in a straight line."
"You're never going to let me live that down, are you? And in this particular case, if you'd forgotten, you're the one who got the locals pissed off at us."
"It wasn't my fault," Rodney snapped automatically. This had been his defense for the last half hour, and Sheppard was getting tired of it ... much as Rome had gotten tired of Julius Caesar shortly before stabbing him forty or so times on the Senate floor.
"Wasn't your fault, huh?" He paused at a fork in the corridor, shone the flashlight of his P90 in both directions and then picked one at random before resuming. "Which one of us knew, but completely failed to mention, that we're trespassing in a sacred temple and that the penalty for said trespassing is death?"
"It's not my job to tippytoe around the local superstitions. That's why we have anthropologists."
"Those would be the same anthropologists, Rodney, who came back and made the recommendation that we avoid this world for the time being, until we're able to establish more solid diplomatic connections with the local people? The recommendation that you conveniently failed to mention in the briefing this morning?"
"I did mention it!" Rodney's voice went up several octaves of indignation, emerging as a girlish squeal. "Weren't you listening?"
They picked their way down a flight of stone steps with a drop-off into absolute blackness to their left. Absently Sheppard made a mental note that going down was probably bad, from the perspective of ever getting out of this dungeon. On the other hand, going back up to the surface wasn't that good, either, considering the circumstances. "Of course I remember. And if I remember correctly, what you said was something along the lines of 'a simple, friendly people with some primitive superstitions regarding the temple, bring lots of trade beads' or some such thing."
"It is not a temple, Colonel, it is an Ancient satellite control facility. I think," he added under his breath.
"It's a temple to them, Rodney."
"That's because they are ignorant, Colonel."
"Well, what about the 'friendly' part? They didn't look so friendly when they were trying to skewer us with poisoned arrows!"
"The anthropologists said they were perfectly friendly," Rodney retorted. His voice dropped to a low mutter as he added, "... as long as you stay away from their 'temple'. But --" at Sheppard's glower "-- I figured the anthropologists were exaggerating the danger out of some bleeding-heart desire to keep us from molesting the natives. I mean, these people have bows and arrows. We have guns. I thought they'd take one look at us and run. Heck, they might've even mistaken us for gods or something. I mean, it could have happened."
Sheppard opened his mouth, closed it, took a deep breath, counted to ten, and then began ticking off his rejoinders. "Okay, first of all, you're not an anthropologist, Rodney, and you know that second-guessing people's motives isn't your strong suit. They didn't run -- or rather, they did run ... towards us, with lots of screaming and shooting. Second, we may have guns, but we're not going to mow down fifty tribespeople in cold blood just to get to some glowey doodads." Noticing Rodney's face darken like a thundercloud at the last part, he kept talking quickly. "And last but not least, arrows aren't that harmless, and they definitely aren't when they're poisoned."
"I didn't know about the poison," Rodney mumbled. "I hope Ronon's okay."
"Yeah, that makes two of us." Ronon and Teyla had been last seen making a dash for the Stargate, Teyla half-carrying her semiconscious teammate. "He just got a nick. By now he's probably terrorizing Beckett's nurses like normal."
There was a brief, blessed silence before Rodney started talking again. "Do you think it's following us?"
"I wouldn't be surprised, Rodney; that's probably what it does." There was no need to ask what he meant by "it".
"It couldn't possibly get through the door, could it?"
"How am I supposed to know, Rodney? You're the technology expert!"
They'd reached the bottom of the stairs and were now following a musty corridor that might once have been a wide, appealing hallway. High archways opened off the main tunnel, gaping into blackness. As he swept the beam across the walls, Sheppard could see the dingy remains of old frescoes, so moldy and crumbling that the original designs could not be determined. It was damp down here; their boots splashed in puddles.
"What's the water table here? We can't go any lower; we'll drown. Hey, you don't think these passageways flood, do you? At least if we drown, we won't have to worry about being torn apart by a --"
"Rodney, shut up." Sheppard had stopped walking and cocked his head to one side.
"What? Do you hear something?" Rodney flinched, looking around wildly. "Oh God, it's found us, hasn't it?"
"No, no. I felt something. A breeze, I think."
Rodney had drawn his handgun and was pointing it in random directions, looking wild. "Like the breeze you feel right before a sharp object slices off your head? That kind of breeze?"
"No, just a breeze, and put that thing away before you shoot me. It's not like that's going to help anyway. We already know bullets don't hurt it -- much."
"I notice you're still carrying your gun," Rodney grumbled, holstering the pistol.
"I'm carrying my gun because my gun is bigger than yours, and even if it's not lethal to your average killer robot, it's at least capable of knocking the thing down for a minute."
Rodney snorted as Sheppard began poking into side passageways, trying to find the source of that elusive breeze. "Kindly stop calling it that, Colonel."
"Rodney, it's a robot and it's trying to kill us; what would you call it?"
"An automated robotic defense system. Which you triggered."
"Only because I was trying to avoid the crazy people with spears, McKay!" Sheppard paused, licked his finger and held it up. "Aha. It's coming from this tunnel."
"The robot?" Rodney squeaked, leaping behind Sheppard.
"No, genius. The breeze."
"... I knew that."
Once they were in the new passageway, Rodney had to agree -- privately -- that Sheppard was right. He could feel a slight drift of air, and something else as well. "Colonel, stop for a minute."
Sheppard obeyed instantly, making no sound as Rodney laid his palm against the wall and concentrated.
"What are you doing, communing with it?" Sheppard asked, after a moment's inactivity clearly proved to be too much for him.
Rodney threw him a glare. "I'm listening, Sheppard. Something you'd be better at if you weren't talking all the time." If looks could kill, the look that Sheppard gave him at this remark would have flattened him, but he wasn't paying attention. "There's some kind of equipment running in here. It's not really something you can hear, more like something you can feel."
Sheppard tilted his head to the side, his annoyed look being replaced by a speculative one. "I think I see what you mean. Kind of a thrumming, right?"
Rodney nodded. "It reminds me of something, but I can't quite place it."
"Makes me think of the air conditioner in a big office building."
Fingersnap. "That's it! I knew there was something familiar about it. What do you want to bet that breeze you feel is the ventilation system for the facility?"
Sheppard looked down the corridor, where there was only darkness. "Think it's been running this whole time, or did we just activate it?"
"No way to know. So far, nothing in this whole place has responded to us, except for our lethal little android friend up top. It may have been running the whole time. Maybe that's why their energy source is so depleted."
They began walking again, very cautiously, with Rodney hanging behind Sheppard. "You know, there might be more surprises," the scientist muttered.
"I'm being careful. Y'know, Rodney, the killer robot probably has ears, or something roughly similar. The more you talk, the more likely it's going to be able to find us."
Rodney instantly clammed up. Sheppard, unseen, grinned into the dark.
The corridor ended in a tall set of double doors. Like the door panels in the Atlantis conference room, they appeared to rotate in their frames rather than swinging from a set of hinges, and were currently standing half-open. Cool air flowed from within. Sheppard could feel it ruffling his hair.
"Can you see what's in there?" Rodney whispered loudly from behind him.
Sheppard glanced over his shoulder at the self-described genius. Rodney's weapon was out, but at least he had the common sense to point it at the floor. He was shifting nervously from foot to foot.
"No, Rodney. It's dark." Ignoring the huff of exasperation from behind him, Sheppard played the light of his P90 through the doors. The light winked off various reflective surfaces within the room, but he couldn't tell what he was looking at; the space was too large for the light to do more than provide a pinpoint source of illumination.
"Well, guess there's only one way to find out what's in here." Sheppard took a couple of cautious steps forward, entering the doorway.
"You just don't possess the emotion that most people term fear, do you?" But Rodney's shuffling footsteps reluctantly followed him.
As soon as they were both inside the room, everything lit up. Sheppard squinted his eyes against the sudden glare, frantically blinking back tears of pain as his retinas went completely white for an instant. Slowly adjusting to the light, he scanned the room hastily for any threats, and, seeing nothing, flicked a look at Rodney. The scientist had thrown up his arm to block his eyes and was squinting around from under it.
"Could be a control room or something."
"Thank you for the expert opinion, Colonel. Why don't we let the real scientist look around a little before we jump to any conclusions, hm?"
He started to push past, but Sheppard blocked him with an arm. "Not until we check for more defense systems."
The tapping of their feet echoed in the large space, sounding much too loud. The room was huge, at least three stories high and continuing for the length of a couple of football fields. Catwalks and girders crisscrossed the upper levels, while the walls on the ground floor were lined with scattered consoles and grapples probably designed to hold heavy equipment in place. It made Sheppard think of an aircraft hangar, and apparently he wasn't alone, because Rodney said suddenly, "Hey, I think I know what this place was for. It's like the underground bay were we found the ... Orion." He couldn't resist a slight wince at the name of the ship.
Sheppard looked around, nodding. "I see what you mean. And look." He pointed up, to a long seam in the ceiling. "It retracts, I bet. This place is probably for storing or repairing ships."
"Guess that's why it's so well guarded." Rodney snorted. "Except it hasn't been used in ten thousand years, and someone forgot to tell Rover."
"Speaking of whom ..." Sheppard looked over his shoulder at the open doors.
"Yes, with the lights signaling our presence to all and sundry, it might be a good idea to shut the doors, hm?" Rodney looked around and headed for a random console. "Did you see any sign of a mechanism when we were over there? Something like a hand plate or some other piece of gene-activated technology?"
"No, but I wasn't looking." Sheppard headed for the doors, impressed all over again by their size, although the rest of the room dwarfed them. Definitely not something you wanted gaping at your back, when robots armed with build-in pointy objects were roaming somewhere outside. "No sign of anything."
"Must be operated from the consoles, then." Rodney passed his palm across the nearest, bringing it on-line.
Sheppard turned his head away from this procedure, tilting it as he listened. Standing in the doorway, he thought he could hear something -- a clashing metallic sound, very faint, coming from somewhere far down the corridor.
"Uh, Rodney, you might want to hurry it up over there."
Rodney looked around, his eyes wide with panic. "Oh, please don't tell me --"
"I think Rover's catching up." Sheppard reached out to push on one of the doors, but he might as well have been pushing on the wall of a barn for all the good that did.
They hadn't gotten a good look at the thing earlier, but Sheppard really didn't want to see it any closer. It reminded Sheppard vaguely of a black metal scorpion covered with knives. Despite Rodney's insistence that it was part of the facility's defensive mechanism, Sheppard thought it just as likely that it wasn't supposed to be there -- an escaped specimen, like the energy creature on Atlantis; an experimental piece of technology; something that wandered into the facility in the intervening millennia and couldn't find its way out again. Whatever it was, it moved like lightning and seemed to shrug off their bullets. They'd only escaped it the first time by slamming a heavy door in its (to use the term loosely) face. Unfortunately that had cut them off from the exit, but considering the circumstances, they'd decided to see if they could find a way around. Apparently there was a way around, because the robot seemed to have found it. Either that or it had gone right through the door, which was not a comforting thought.
The clashing down the hall was getting louder, starting to resolve into a distinctive metallic skittering sound. "So, Rodney, anytime would be good, here."
"What do you think I'm doing, Colonel, taking a lunch break? Dammit!" There was a clattering sound and a hiss of frustration or pain from Rodney. Looking around, Sheppard saw that the console was partially dismantled, with crystals lying on top of it.
"Rodney, now is not a good time to rebuild the thing; just shut the damn door!"
"What's it look like I'm doing? Nothing works! After sitting in this damn climate for ten thousand years, it's a wonder it'll even power on!" He yanked on another crystal and managed to crack it loose. "I'm trying to hotwire it. I could really use a hand."
Sheppard backed away from the door, keeping his P90 trained on it. He could now hear the skittering even when he wasn't standing in the doorway, and from the increased tempo of his movements, so could Rodney. "You know, McKay, in about thirty seconds a really pissed-off killer robot is going to come through that doorway --"
"So let's have the doorway shut by then, shall we?" Rodney swung himself under the console. "Okay, what I need you to do is watch the readouts and tell me when you see those three blue lines -- there, on the left -- go all the way across."
Sheppard leaned over the console and hunted through the incomprehensible readouts for the one Rodney was talking about, trying to also keep an eye on the doorway.
"How's that?" came the muffled voice from under the console.
"Nothing changed." That he could see, anyway. "You know, I'm really not trying to rush you, but --"
"Yes, Colonel, I'm well aware of death speeding towards us on little black bug feet, thank you." There were some rattling sounds and suddenly the text displays on the console, which Sheppard assumed were numbers, began to change rapidly, and the various status bars that he could see started crawling forward.
"Hey, something's happening."
"I'm aware of that too, Colonel; do you think I'm having a picnic under here? I'm bringing up power to the doors now."
The numbers had began to change so rapidly that they were a blur, and all the blue lines were turning red. "Hey, Rodney, whatever you just did, I think it caused some kind of --"
He didn't have time to finish; the console blew up in his face. The world went white and Sheppard was knocked off his feet and slammed into the floor. Dimly he heard Rodney give a terrible scream, but his white world was already turning black.
Rodney was up to his elbows in the guts of the console. Everything was a mess -- he'd never even realized crystals could mold. Of course, by Earth standards, the whole place was stunningly well-preserved; anywhere but the Pegasus Galaxy, you'd never expect to find an office building that had been sitting in a jungle for 10,000 years and still be able to get the computers to work. He was getting spoiled by Ancient technology that had been perfectly climate-controlled since the beginning of the Holocene. This place had probably once possessed such a system -- and the rumbling ventilators were no doubt the last vestige of it -- but it hadn't been able to withstand the rigors of the jungle.
The whole system still worked far, far better than it had any right to -- just the fact that it worked at all was some kind of miracle. But with the mold causing everything to ground out on everything else, they'd be insanely lucky not to just electrocute themselves. He'd tried to pull as many nonessential crystals as possible before he started crossing wires, hoping to prevent the risk of lethal groundings, but --
He heard Sheppard exclaim something in an alarmed-sounding voice and then the world erupted in smoke and fire. He screamed, more from shock than pain -- there wasn't much pain at all, and somehow he felt as if there should be, as electrical sparks showered down onto his face and hair. He was distantly aware of a deep, grinding crash, and the small part of his brain that managed to stay rational in this sort of situation informed him that it was probably the door closing. They'd managed to accomplish that much, at least. Not that it helped them if they killed themselves in the process.
For a moment he lay still, gasping, and then choking -- the too-small and now pitch-black space under the console was filling up with stifling smoke. He smelled singed electrical components and, horribly, burnt flesh: his burnt flesh. As shock began to fade, the pain was starting, and oh God, it hurt. It felt as if he'd thrust his hands into a bonfire. In the darkness, he could see tiny residual flames flickering across some of the crystals.
My hands. Not my hands, please not my hands. Between the smoke and the dark, he couldn't even tell if he still had hands. He tried to move his fingers, and stopped immediately because it felt as if he'd just raked them over sandpaper. There was fiery pain and tingling numbness, and his hands were still wedged up inside the console and God, what if they were burning to ashes right now? He tried to pull them back, and froze up with a small whimper as pain blazed down his arms. And he was still choking; he couldn't breathe. He was going to suffocate here under the console, and his fingers were probably quivering ashy stumps, and he was crippled and he was going to die ...
Sheppard. His eyes snapped open as he remembered his teammate. The blackness was absolute now, except for an occasional blue spark playing across the damaged crystals as failing capacitors discharged themselves. He couldn't even feel the thrum of the ventilation equipment. Their little exploding-console stunt seemed to have killed the power completely. And where was Sheppard? He'd been standing right at the console ...
"Sheppard?" His voice sounded small and lost even to his own ears, and was broken in the middle by a hacking cough.
No answer. Rodney took a few shaky breaths. The smoke was clearing, so he wouldn't suffocate, at least. And Sheppard must be hurt -- not dead, please not dead -- so rescue wouldn't be forthcoming anytime soon. He was on his own here ... possibly on his own with a lethal metal centipede about to cut his legs off. And trapped in a small, dark, smoky space.
"Bad thought," he muttered to himself. "Not helping, McKay, not helping. First things first. Get your hands unstuck. Yeah, that's a good place to start."
The sound of his own voice helped ground him and keep the panic at bay. He tried wiggling his right hand gently. The surge of pain nearly made him sick; the worst part was the terrible fear of what additional damage he must be doing to his hands by moving them. Unable to see what he was doing, his brain conjured nightmarish images of his fingers cooked like chicken wings, the skin peeling and the flesh sloughing off ... "Quit it, Rodney. Get loose first. Panic later."
With a gasp of relief, he felt his hands come free and settle onto his chest. He curled them against him with a tiny whimper. He didn't dare move them, just held them curled up into loose balls, the fingers not quite touching each other. Pain and fear brought tears to his eyes, but as he calmed down a little, he realized that it actually wasn't all that bad. As long as he didn't move his hands too much, the pain subsided to something bearable, with a tingling numb feeling around the edges.
Squirming his body, he wriggled out of the enclosed space. A wave of relief washed through him as he sat up in the dark room, feeling the sense of echoing vastness around him rather than tiny, Rodney-suffocating smallness. Then he remembered that there also might be Rodney-decapitating robotness around here somewhere, and froze.
"Sheppard?" His whisper sounded terribly loud in the stillness. There was no answer. Probing outward with his feet, he felt one boot contact something heavy and gently yielding.
"Sheppard!" Still holding his hands against his chest, he used his legs to scoot forward and nudged at the still body with his knee. "Sheppard? If you're dead, I'm totally screwed, so you'd better not be dead. Sheppard? This is the point where you say something, in case you missed your cue."
There was no answer. Desperately missing his hands, and trying very hard not to think about the all-too-real possibility of permanent nerve damage, Rodney used his knee to nudge his way along Sheppard's body until he found his head. Checking for a pulse was obviously out, and it took him a moment to think of an alternative that didn't involve hands. Cautiously, and half-hoping that Sheppard didn't pick this exact moment to wake up, Rodney leaned forward and tilted his head to the side, bending over until his cheek lightly brushed against Sheppard's nose and lips. I hope you realize I'm going to have nightmares about this for WEEKS, Colonel. He closed his eyes in relief as steady breaths stirred the fine hairs on his cheek. But he could also feel something wet against his face. Tilting his head a little more, so that the side of his face brushed Sheppard's, he felt warm, sticky dampness smear a trail along his cheek -- blood.
Sheppard flinched at the light touch. Rodney also flinched, violently, rearing backward and almost falling against the console. "Ow!" they both said. Then Sheppard's voice, sounding disturbingly thick and muffled, said, "Rodney?"
"Present." Rodney sat for a moment, listening to small rustling sounds in the darkness as Sheppard presumably shifted position and checked himself over. Then he asked, "Are you all right?"
"I'll live." This wasn't at all comforting considering the man's kamikaze tendencies, and became even less comforting when Sheppard added in a tentative, almost frightened voice, "Rodney ... it's dark in here, right?"
"Thank God," Sheppard mumbled. There was more fumbling, then a sharp snap! as he flicked on the light on his P90. Rodney winced and his eyes flew shut; he squinted after a moment to see Sheppard sitting up, looking like absolute hell, his face a mask of blood and his hair sticking up every which way.
Then Sheppard flicked off the P90, plunging them into darkness again. Before Rodney could even get out a protesting "Hey!" he'd turned it back on, tilting it up towards the ceiling.
"Sheppard, what are you doing?"
"Tryin' to get the damn thing to work." He shook it; the light danced crazily across the ceiling. "Light bulb must've broken when I fell."
The back of Rodney's neck prickled nervously. "Colonel, it's working fine."
"Oh." The word came out very small. Sheppard raised his hand to his face, touched the blood there. Rodney watched helplessly as the nimble fingers worked their way across the mess, touched the area around his eyes, drew back quickly. His blood-matted eyelashes fluttered; Rodney caught the brief reflection of Sheppard's eyes in the P90's glare before he closed them again, and sat back with both hands resting on the floor to support him.
Rodney didn't want to push, didn't want to say anything in fact, but he had to know for a number of reasons -- not the least being the impact on his immediate survival. "You can't see, can you?"
Sheppard drew a shaky breath and let it out. "No, Rodney, I can't."
"Is it temporary? Maybe it's flash blindness -- there were lots of sparks and stuff underneath the console; I thought I'd gone blind for a minute when the lights went out. Bright light can make you blind for a few minutes, it happened to me just now when you turned on the flashlight but it goes away and it'll probably go away for you, just don't rub your eyes, that's the worst thing you can possibly do --" Rodney knew he was babbling and couldn't help it, because the bleak and terrified look on Sheppard's face freaked him out even worse than his own pain. He couldn't deal with this too, not on top of losing his hands.
"Rodney. Calm down." And there was the Sheppard he wanted to see, the calm Sheppard who knew how to behave in a crisis, not the frightened and lost-looking Sheppard of a moment ago. Rodney could actually see the man pull himself together, his blood-covered face setting into more determined lines. "There's a first-aid kit in a pocket of my vest. Give me a hand with it."
"I'd love to but --" And, to his own shame, Rodney found himself giving in to a small, hysterical burst of laughter. "I can't."
Sheppard's head came up sharply. "What do you mean, you can't?"
"I burned my hands." He struggled to keep his voice from cracking. Just mentioning his injury made the pain come back tenfold.
Sheppard made a small hissing sound. "How bad?"
"Bad. It's bad." He didn't dare look down, didn't want to see how bad, though he knew he would have to eventually. "I can't use them."
"You can't use either hand?"
Anger flared, helping to wash away some of the pain. "Isn't that what I just said, Colonel? Are you deaf now, too?"
Sheppard took a deep breath and seemed to be thinking. After a moment he said, "How are you aside from that?"
"Aside from that?" Rodney's voice rose to a shriek on the last word. "Aside from not being able to use my hands and being in excruciating pain because burns are one of the worst forms of pain the human body can experience? Oh, I'm peachy fine, Colonel."
"Good," Sheppard said. "We're still alive, so the doors must be closed. Are they?"
Rodney managed to stop hyperventilating at the complete, total lack of sympathy he was getting from the bastard sitting next to him, and looked over his shoulder. In the reflected light of the P90, he could just make out the doors' heavy shape. "Yes," he snapped. "Which means we're locked in now, too."
"At the moment, I can deal with that. We're in here, but it's out there, and in a minute we'll see about finding a way out -- as soon as we get ourselves patched up a bit." Sheppard ran one of his hands over the front of his vest, dipping into pockets until he found the right one. "Rodney, come over here."
Rodney scooted himself closer, a bit reluctantly. He felt lightheaded, dizzy. Shock? "Sheppard, no offense here, but the idea of the blind man playing doctor isn't exactly inducing confidence in me."
Sheppard flinched visibly at the words "blind man". He laid the first-aid kit down on his knee and flicked it open. "I have a general idea what's in here, but you're going to have to help me." He touched the contents and picked up a role of something white. "Gauze?"
"I guess it must be, unless you keep toilet paper in there."
Sheppard snorted a small laugh. "Hold out your hands."
Rodney drew his arms even tighter against his body and tried to quell the shaking in his voice. "Oh hell no. I'm in enough pain without letting your ham-hands anywhere near my burns."
"They'll hurt less when they're covered," Sheppard said, which was probably a blatant lie. "Hold out your right hand; we'll start with that one."
Rodney bit his lower lip, and did as he was told. Very reluctantly, he dragged his eyes down to inspect the damage. It didn't look quite as bad as it felt, but it certainly looked bad enough. The skin was reddened, pock-marked here and there with a patchwork of oozing blisters, with a couple of highly worrying white patches on the side of the hand that he could see.
"How far up your arm does it go?" Sheppard asked, shifting the P90 so that he had both hands free and untucking the end of the gauze.
Rodney used his teeth to pull up his sleeve. "Just to the wrist. The jacket must've protected everything else." And how he wished he'd been wearing gloves.
"Rodney, I'm going to start wrapping from the wrist; I need you to lay your wrist against the end so I know where to begin." He held up the end of the gauze; Rodney dutifully placed his arm on it. Sheppard began to wrap it, very gently. He was actually surprisingly good at this. Occasionally Rodney had to correct him ("Left, and up a little") but the anticipated mangling of his burned flesh did not materialize.
He did jump and flinch backwards when a few spots of bright red appeared on the white gauze, banging his hand into Sheppard's and cursing loudly at the bright flash of pain. Sheppard, startled, dropped the gauze. "What?"
"You're bleeding on my bandage." He'd thought, at first panicked glance, that his own skin was splitting open and bleeding, but the blood had actually dripped from Sheppard's forehead. By the dim light of the indirect illumination from the P90's beam, he could see that Sheppard's hair was matted with blood and more of it was trickling down his neck into his collar. "You know, I don't want to alarm you, Colonel, but you're bleeding a lot."
"I know," Sheppard said, in the same calm tone he'd been using earlier. He tapped the floor lightly with his fingers until he got hold of the gauze, picked it up and resumed wrapping.
"Far be it from me to protest, but I'd rather not have you pass out in the middle of this operation, and Colonel, you really are bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig."
"Head wounds bleed, Rodney," Sheppard retorted. He tore off the gauze and tucked in the end. "Other hand."
With both hands bandaged, it certainly didn't hurt less -- all a lie, as suspected -- but at least he didn't have to worry about banging his injured fingers into anything. Cleaning up Sheppard's head wound was a whole lot trickier. Rodney had the Colonel tilt the P90 upward so that the light was better, and then attempted to direct Sheppard in the process of cleaning his own face. Rodney had to keep swallowing; there was a hell of a lot of blood. He didn't do blood.
It appeared that flying glass from the exploding console had left a lot of lacerations along Sheppard's face, forehead and hairline. The only really worrying injury -- aside, obviously, from the blindness, and Sheppard refused to let Rodney look at his eyes -- was a very deep gash just under the edge of his hair. Rodney thought he saw a flash of bone; was that even possible? Maybe it was just blood, glistening in the uncertain light. It better be. Cleaning up the wounds with nothing but some wipes from the first aid kit turned out to be a lost cause, so Sheppard ended up just mopping the worst of it and then wrapping the remaining gauze around his head and over his eyes.
Rodney couldn't help laughing at the end result. "You look like the invisible man, Sheppard." It would have been funnier if the bandages hadn't been steadily soaking through, forming ever-widening red patches. With the blood all over his hair, face and collar, he looked as if someone had dumped a gallon of dark red paint over his head.
Sheppard didn't even grin at the jibe, and Rodney didn't like that. Instead, he reached into the first-aid kit again and took out several small packets, which he held up. "Okay, Rodney, one of these has got to be Tylenol; tell me which one."
"Two of them, second and third from left. Uh, my left."
Sheppard dropped the rest back into the kit and tore open the packets. He offered Rodney a palmful of pills; after contemplating this for a minute, Rodney leaned over and nipped up two of them with his teeth. There was another little comedy of errors as Sheppard tried to offer him a drink of water from his canteen -- "Left! Up! No, down! Tilt it -- not that much -- damn it, Colonel, now my shoulder's wet!" At the end of it all, Rodney's neck was damp and Sheppard was actually grinning as he swallowed his own painkillers and took a swig from the canteen.
For Sheppard, there were advantages to having Rodney McKay around that went above and beyond the man's skill with machines, or even the fact that he genuinely enjoyed Rodney's company and liked being around him. At times like this, when he had his fingernails dug into the ragged edge of panic, the need to keep Rodney calm gave him something to focus on, something to drag him away from the abyss.
His head felt like somebody'd driven a railroad spike through it, and from the ground-glass feeling that came whenever he breathed, he was pretty sure he'd cracked some ribs when he was thrown to the ground. One of his knees also felt unpleasantly off -- the leg had twisted under him when he fell, and he had no idea how bad it would be until he stood on it.
All that paled in comparison to losing the use of his eyes, though.
Temporary. It was temporary. He held onto that, because to do otherwise would be to fall down and never get up again. There were a lot of things that could cause temporary blindness. He'd had one buddy who'd burst some blood vessels in his eyes, pulling G's in an F14, and while it'd taken weeks for his sight to come back, it had come back. Another time, a friend of his had -- but this wasn't helping, and he dragged himself back to the here and now, where the Tylenol was slowly kicking in and taking the raw edge off the pain in his head.
Beside him, Rodney was muttering steadily, "We are screwed. Screwed, screwed, screwed. Screwed worse than a busload of Catholic schoolgirls at a co-ed sleepover. More thoroughly screwed than a sheep at a Highland dance festival. Screwed worse than a --"
The monologue broke off. "Yes?"
"Shut up, I'm trying to think."
The rejoinder was immediate. "Oh, is that what you're calling it? I thought you'd fallen asleep, and frankly, I really don't appreciate it, considering that you're leaving me alone in the dark with a scorpion creature and --"
"Don't talk to me about being in the dark, Rodney."
The words were soft, and he hadn't known he'd say them until he heard them come out of his mouth, but Rodney shut up as if he'd been slapped. After a moment, more subdued, Sheppard heard him say: "Well, I hope you have a plan, Colonel, because I sure as hell don't."
Yes, he had a plan. His plan was to get out of here without dying. But somehow he didn't think that was what Rodney had in mind. He forced himself to focus past the fear and pain, to do what he did best: assess the situation and get them out alive.
"If we can get the power back on, do you think you could find a map of this place, Rodney?"
Rodney's voice oozed scorn, although Sheppard could still hear the incipient panic quivering under the surface. "If I had hands, quite possibly."
"Leaving that aside for the moment," Sheppard said impatiently.
"Oh yes, let's ignore reality, excellent idea. Well, then, leaving aside the fact that it isn't physically possible for me to manipulate objects, and assuming I can decipher what is no doubt an entirely different variant of Ancient computer system than I've ever seen before, and giving the benefit of the doubt that we won't be diced into a thousand tiny pieces by an angry robot while we're doing this ... oh, sure. Piece of cake."
Sheppard suppressed his urge to strangle Rodney. "Is it worth trying?" he said between his teeth. "I mean, if you can get the computer online, do you think you have a reasonable chance of finding us a way out of here?"
"How can I answer a question when I have nothing to go on, Colonel? I don't know what's in their computer or if I'll even be able to read it! Not to mention the utter impossibility of actually getting it running when I can't touch it--"
"God, Rodney!" The exclamation burst out of him; it must have carried at least some of his frustration and anger, because Rodney shut up. Reaching out, Sheppard groped until he got hold of Rodney's jacket sleeve. He squeezed, hard, feeling the flesh of Rodney's shoulder underneath, eliciting a pained squeal.
"Ow! I'm injured! And now I'm bruised!" Rodney tried to twist his shoulder away, but Sheppard held on.
"Rodney. We are, as you've pointed out, thoroughly screwed. The longer you sit here arguing with me, the more screwed we are. We couldn't find our way out of here when we were both perfectly healthy; our chances of being able to do it now, injured, in the dark, with what may be our only route blocked by a homicidal robot, are --"
"I don't know if I've mentioned this lately, Colonel, but you absolutely suck at pep talks."
"--slim," Sheppard continued doggedly. "So get that computer working, Rodney, because I don't think we can get out of here by stumbling down random passageways in the dark."
He still had Rodney's shoulder in a deathgrip, and he felt it become rigid under his fingers. "Colonel, you seem to be missing the point. I have no hands."
"I'll be your hands. Tell me what to do."
There was a long silence before Rodney said, finally, "That's idiotic. For one thing, you can't see, or had you forgotten?"
"Trust me, I hadn't forgotten. And as soon as you think of another idea, tell me what it is. In the meantime, let's get the power up again."
After another silence, Rodney twisted away from his hand. "Fine."
Clothing rustled as he stood, and Sheppard heard footsteps moving away from him. Gritting his teeth, he braced himself and got to his feet. He was prepared for the resulting wave of vertigo; what he wasn't expecting was the difficulty of orienting himself while completely blind, with up and down, right and left seesawing randomly as the world spun around him. He knew he was tilting, he just didn't know which direction or how to correct for it, and found himself on his butt on the floor.
"Colonel!" Rodney's frightened voice gave him something to latch onto, as the nauseating spinning sensation began to recede. He anchored himself further by leaning against some sort of solid object, which was probably the console that had maimed them. He'd just been lucky not to have come down on the edge of it and broken something.
"Sheppard? Are you all right?" Rodney seemed to be hovering just out of touch range. It was unexpectedly disturbing to know he was there but not know his exact location, pose or expression.
"Stood up too fast."
"Right." He could hear the skepticism in the tone. From the way Rodney had reacted to him earlier, he must have looked like hell -- head injuries always bleed a lot, and there was no telling how much damage had been done to his face. It would be easier to convince Rodney that he wasn't badly hurt if he was more sure of it himself.
"Well, I can't offer you a hand, Colonel -- you currently have our full complement of those -- but I can give you an elbow up." Something hard and pointed bumped lightly against his shoulder. Sheppard grinned a little as he hooked a hand through the crook of Rodney's arm and allowed himself to be assisted to his feet. He ended up gripping hold with his other hand as well, when the floor attempted to slide sideways out from under his feet.
"You're white as a sheet," Rodney said. "You're hurt worse than you're letting on, as usual, aren't you?"
"I have a head injury, Rodney. I'm dizzy. Big surprise. Point me in the right direction."
He tried not to limp too badly as Rodney led him across the floor -- although he suspected that he hadn't been successful enough; he could feel the waves of disapproval radiating from his companion -- and tried, also, not to resent being led around like a blind man with a seeing-eye dog. The vision of Rodney with a leash and collar helped dispel some of his gloom.
"You're grinning like a lunatic. This had better not be some new symptom of your condition." Rodney tilted him against something cool and hard, and then shrugged away and left him standing there. Running his hands lightly over the smooth surface, he decided he was standing against another console -- definitely a different one, because they had been right next to the other one and they had gone a lot farther than that.
"I thought you were going to have me fix the terminal ... console ... thingie you broke."
Rodney snorted. "With what, duct tape and a bobby pin? I'm not MacGyver, Sheppard. It's completely hosed -- kaput, dead, an ex-terminal. If we're lucky, the system detected the power surge and shut down the other equipment to prevent damage."
"Why is that lucky?"
Rodney assumed his I'm speaking to an idiot tone. "Because that way, everything else is intact and all we have to do is bring the power back up. Tilt the gun down so that I can see what I'm -- I mean, what you're doing. Okay, now, there's a lever right next to your left hand. Flip it."
As his fingers found it and threw it, he heard Rodney yell: "Not that one!"
"It was next to my left hand!"
"It was on the far side of your left hand! Obviously I meant the one closest to me. Listen to me, will you?"
"I'm not a goddamn mind reader, Rodney!"
"I don't expect you to be! All I want you to do is follow simple instructions. A monkey could do this, Colonel. Now throw the right lever. -- No! Not that one! What do you think you're doing?"
"It's the one by my right hand," Sheppard said between his teeth. "I thought that's what you just told me to do."
"No, I just told you to throw the correct lever, the left-hand one, the one I told you about in the first place. Aren't you paying any attention at all?"
"If this is what working for you is like, Rodney, it's a miracle your staff hasn't killed you by now."
There was an annoyed huff. "It's not my fault you can't take directions. Now listen this time."
His headache was back with a vengeance, and so was the vertigo. He'd almost welcome a visit from the killer robot at this point -- at least it would shut Rodney up.
Continue to Part 2
Credit where credit is due: The basic idea for this story (the challenge part, that is) is lifted from an episode of "MacGyver". I didn't use any other plot elements ... just kinda took the idea and spun it off into its own thing. But just so you know.