Written for: sga_santa
Pairing: Not really. Pre-slash, perhaps.
Summary: Radio host Doctor Rodney McKay gets forced to fill in for the morning show, where he runs into John Sheppard, likewise filling in for the station traffic reporter. Somehow Rodney ends up doing a ride out with John and his crew on Air Rescue S-G-A, at which point things get much, much worse.
"And this is Doctor Rodney McKay, wishing you all a good... and orifice-probing alien free... evening."
"And, we are clear." Zelenka said in his ear as the little red 'On Air' light flicked out. "That was a ... uh." Even he couldn't force himself to choke out the word 'good' regarding the current state of their show. "Excellent effort on your part," he finally settled on encouragingly.
Rodney crossed his arms on the desk and buried his head in them miserably. "We're doomed," he moaned, muffled. "Remember when we were respected journalists, Zelenka?"
Zelenka left his producer's booth and joined Rodney at the DJ desk, patting his shoulder comfortingly. "Eventually they will allow us good topics again," he said. "Like Herschel! Maybe we will discuss its findings." He paused. "Soon."
Rodney tightened his arms. The noise that emerged was grouchy and translated roughly as 'Bah!'.
"Ah, excellent," Elizabeth said from the doorway to the main booth. "I was hoping you'd still be here." Rodney tilted his head just enough to reveal one eye glaring at her balefully. She smiled her serene diplomat smile in return.
"Hello, Elizabeth," Zelenka offered in the vaguely awkward way he always had with the station manager.
"Radek," she nodded. "I have a new assignment for both of you!"
Rodney saw straight through her false enthusiasm. "What? Like this one isn't bad enough?"
"Rodney," she said chidingly. "We've all been affected by the station buyout. The decision to move the station to a rock and talk format was a sound business one."
"It's stupid," Rodney straightened abruptly, stabbing a finger at her. "You have two people with multiple PhDs working a late night talk show about 'paranormal phenomena'! How is that a good use of resources?"
"It isn't," Elizabeth agreed willingly, "but perhaps you could suggest an alternative position for someone whose degrees are in astrophysics and mechanical engineering, but whose experience is in radio news at a rock music and talk show radio station? Especially since you alienated the news director so very thoroughly that you're lucky to not be exiled to Siberia?"
Zelenka busied himself shuffling papers. Rodney turned bright red but remained stubbornly silent.
"That," Elizabeth said delicately, "is what I thought." Her face softened at the abject misery on Rodney's. "This isn't my dream spot either," she told him sympathetically. "It's a temporary thing, just until we get the other station set up. Then you can go back to your hard-nosed journalism, and Radek can get back to his hour on breaking science news. You can leave all this behind you."
"What is the favour, Elizabeth?" Zelenka asked when Rodney still refused to speak.
"We had an unexpected illness. I need someone to do the morning show."
"What?" Rodney sounded like he was choking on the words. "You can't be serious."
"Oh, I am." The steel she generally preferred not to use underlay her words. "This is not optional, Rodney. You need to be back here at 4:45 am, and you are taking the morning show. Further, you will be pleasant, and you will play the playlist."
Rodney opened his mouth to protest.
"Or," she forestalled him with an upraised hand, "you will look for another place to work, starting tomorrow."
Rodney snapped his mouth shut. Zelenka patted him on the shoulder again.
Elizabeth eased back out of the room. "Thank you, Rodney," she said firmly. "I appreciate your help, and I know that you and Radek won't let me down."
Rodney sat down then leaned forward. His head hit the top of the desk with a thud.
"I guess," said Radek, "we are sleeping here tonight."
* * *
"So, like, you have two PhDs, right?"
Rodney wished fervently that he could actually do the whole show while slamming his head repeatedly on the table.
Sadly, they'd found that Zelenka just couldn't edit that sound out.
"Yes, that's right. Why do you ask?" He worked hard on keeping his voice level and cheerful. Elizabeth had already come in once to remind him that he was doing the morning show, not a roast. He glared his ire at Zelenka instead, who was sitting with one hand over his eyes, pretending not to see the virtual daggers Rodney was shooting him.
"Well, because I was wondering. After the first PhD, you're a Doctor, right?"
Rodney rubbed his forehead, wishing that he could do anything... anything at all... to make this torture end. "That's right, Tiffany."
Zelenka winced and held up a card with a name written on it in big black letters.
"Brittney!" Rodney corrected rapidly. "I'm sorry, Brittney, I just think you're such a jewel I got your name wrong." A giggle came from the speaker. Zelenka rolled his eyes and mimed gagging himself. Rodney sighed and tried to remember once again how the hell he'd ever ended up on radio. "So, yes, that's right."
"Ok, so... since you have two, does that mean you should really be called Doctor Doctor McKay?"
Rodney stared blankly at the microphone in front of him, speechless. "What?" he managed to choke out.
"It just seems like if you get two degrees you should get the title twice too! Just think, if you went back to school, you could be, like, Doctor Doctor Doctor Doc..."
Zelenka cut her off before the swelling pain behind Rodney's eye could actually explode into words. He flapped his hand urgently at Rodney, who was still silently sitting with his mouth agape. He held up another card. Traffic, it read. Rodney shut his mouth with a snap.
"Sorry, Barbie, we only get the title once. And now, it's time for our first traffic check of the day. But first, a word from our sponsors." He clicked off his mike with a furious punch of his finger. "Oh. My. GOD," he groaned. "David Suzuki never had to deal with this crap."
"David Suzuki is respected world-wide," a laconic voice drawled in his ear. "Maybe that's where you're going wrong."
"What? What?" Rodney sat up straight, tapping his earphone wildly. "Who the hell are you? And I'll have you know I am respected worldwide!"
"All right then," the voice said with a fake agreement that made it all the more condescending.
"Look you... you... pipsqueak. I demand to know who you are and why you're talking to me."
Zelenka tapped the window to the booth, frantically waving his slip of paper while pointing up urgently. "Yes, yes, WHAT?" Rodney shouted. Zelenka winced. Rodney followed the finger up to the brightly lit 'On Air' and cursed. Under his breath this time.
"And, we're back," he said through gritted teeth, squinting at the paper Zelenka was still waving. Obligingly, he stopped waving and slapped it against the glass. "Traffic! Of course. You're the traffic person," he said into the mike, condescension dripping from his voice as he completely discarded all pretence at good cheer. "Do, please, tell us the state of the roadways on this Thursday at ... " he glanced at the clock. "The ungodly hour of five forty eight am. I'm sure it'll be fascinating. Dazzling, even. Go ahead. Dazzle."
"Well, Rodney," the voice said, even slower than before. "It's pretty busy out there."
"Busy." Rodney found himself nodding, a maniacal half-grin on his face. "Busy, huh? Like, oh, the start of rush hour perhaps? Where did you get your qualifications for this job? A cracker-jack box?"
"US Air Force, actually," the voice said. "I flew out of Kandahar for a while before I came here."
Rodney was torn between his respect for the military and his pounding headache. The headache won. "Well, that would explain your scintillating traffic report so far."
Elizabeth burst into the producer's booth and stared at him grimly through the window. Zelenka talked at her rapidly, pointing at the call board, which was flashing wildly as all the lines into the station became jammed with callers.
"It is somewhat busier than the desert," the voice acceded graciously. "Now, compared to Los Angeles, not so much."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Obvious," Rodney said sarcastically.
"That's Major Obvious," the voice retorted. "Retired."
"A major something, anyway," Rodney shot back. "How does one retire from being obvious?"
"By getting shot down and almost killed is the usual way," said the voice, all humour gone.
Rodney fought back the guilty churn of acid in his stomach. "Sorry," he said automatically. "Look - how about you just give the traffic report, for real this time, and we can play some..." he glanced at his playlist and winced, "... Guns 'N Roses, and we can both get back to our jobs."
"This isn't my job," the voice sounded surprised. "I'm filling in. Last minute."
Rodney smiled grimly. "Me too. Though I doubt it will happen again." He risked a glance at Elizabeth, who was looking distinctly unimpressed. "At this rate, I may not be back after the next commercial break."
The laughter that came over the air was loud and braying.
"... and now I know for sure you've never spent time in radio," Rodney muttered. "That laugh would have had to go." Elizabeth had Radek backed against the door and was actually shaking a finger under his nose as he held up his hands helplessly. "So you aren't usually a traffic reporter. What do you do?"
"I fly rescue out of Asperit," the voice said. "I figure my job there is pretty secure."
Elizabeth was writing furiously on a piece of paper, which she slammed against the window with enough force that the thud made Rodney jump. Apologize, it said, with four exclamation marks.
"... good people there," the voice was continuing. "It's real life, every day. Full of life altering moments, and not just for the patients." the voice paused before continuing with a bite. "I doubt you'd like it."
Rodney frowned. "Hey," he said, miffed. "Are you saying I couldn't handle 'real life'?"
The silence was eloquent.
"I'll have you know," he started, working up a new head of steam. "That I..." Elizabeth slammed her note against the window again, cutting him off. She added another. Or you're fired, it said. Rodney sighed. "That I'm sorry if I offended you earlier," he finished through gritted teeth.
"Apology accepted," came over the air after a long second. "If you volunteer with the team for one week."
"What? That's... that's extortion! I'll bet there are police listening right now! You're extorting me!"
"I'm pretty sure they'll be on my side, Rodney," the voice said smoothly.
Rodney took a deep breath. "Fine," he said. "But there better be coffee. Lots and lots of coffee."
"Be at Asperit municipal airport tomorrow at two pm. Pack for having your life changed."
"So, a jumbo bottle of aspirin and a similar size of whiskey, then. I can probably manage that." Rodney bit out. A thought struck him. "What's your name?"
"Ask for John Sheppard," the voice said. "Now, down on my right I see a bad snarl of traffic on Miaka. Looks like a tractor trailer lost its load, but Trono is a good alternate..."
Rodney stabbed his mike button with his finger and flicked the toggle to the producer's booth with his thumb. "Can I go home now?" he asked plaintively.
Elizabeth sat down in Zelenka's chair and crossed her arms.
"So... No, then."
Rodney stomped through the doors of the small municipal airport onto the tarmac. A blue six-seater helicopter stood about twenty metres from the building, gleaming in the crisp cold sunshine. Rodney could see his breath puff in the air as he steamed over to the chopper. He could see a pair of black-clad legs on the far side, and headed for them.
"Ok," he started growling three meters away. "I'm here, as promised, so let’s get this show on the road." He rounded the nose of the helicopter. "Come on, come on, tick tick..." He paused to catch his breath.
A dark, tousle-haired man stood looking at him, one eyebrow raised in casual amusement. "You must be Rodney," he said with a studied slowness that was so annoying it had to be deliberate.
"Doctor Rodney McKay," Rodney nodded briskly, shoving out his hand. Of course his mysterious pilot would be good looking. It was probably a checkbox on the entrance exam. The other man looked him a moment before taking his hand and shaking it. "You're Sheppard?" He really didn't need the verification. No one else could have that voice. The insolence was unmistakeable, though the resonance worked a lot better in person than the higher-pitched nasal tone that microphones inevitably imparted.
"John Sheppard," the man agreed. He released Rodney's hand and fell back a step, so he could prop his shoulder against the pilot's door. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
"Oh, please." Rodney rolled his eyes. "It's a helicopter, not a vortex of death. I have flown before."
John nodded. He waved a hand at something behind Rodney, who turned to see two more people striding towards them. "My crew," he said. "Teyla and Ronon." The two - a gorgeous woman with strong features, latte skin and an aura of serenity that Rodney would never in a million years be able to achieve, and a very tall young man with short cropped hair and the body of an athlete - shook his hand as well.
"We're just on standby today," John told him in a lazy voice. "Unless something major comes up, it should be pretty dull."
"Ha!" Rodney said. "I thought I wasn't going to be able to take dealing with the real world? Life Altering Experiences. If the real world is sitting in a warm airport lounge playing video games, I think I can handle it."
John shrugged. "Actually, I just invited you cause you really sounded like you needed a break. Your callers always like that?"
Rodney nodded sadly. "Yeah, pretty much." He stiffened suddenly. "So, all that indignation was fake? Do you have any idea how much trouble I got into? My boss made me come, to teach me a lesson!"
Ronon clapped him on the shoulder. "Relax, McKay," he said. "You never know. Maybe we'll get a big, juicy MCI."
Rodney hated being the only person who didn't understand the lingo. Usually he was the *only* person who understood. "MCI?"
"Multi-casualty incident," Teyla told him. She frowned at Ronon. "They are usually unpleasant." Her mouth quirked up into a crooked smile. "But exciting." Ronon and John grinned too.
A weird multi-tone bell started ringing inside the chopper. Teyla's smile fled, and even John's face slipped into seriousness. John grabbed the mike clipped to his shoulder and spoke rapidly into it. He cupped his other hand over his ear to muffle external sounds, to better hear through his earpiece. Rodney turned to Teyla.
She forestalled his question with an upraised hand. "It is never a good idea to mock the downtime," she said with a sigh. Ronon looked sheepish. John double-clicked the mike to sign off and opened the pilot's door, swinging inside gracefully.
"MCI," he confirmed grimly. "For which I blame you, Ronon. You're on newbie duty. Teyla?"
"Yes, John." Teyla unclipped the heavy lines holding the helicopter down in case of the strong winds that could spring up unexpectedly. Ronon grabbed Rodney by the back of his parka and pushed him firmly to the rear doors. Rodney was bundled inside and strapped into place before he really even knew what was happening, and Ronon joined Teyla in securing the lines before takeoff.
"What's the situation?" Rodney shouted over the sound of the helicopter's engine warming up. John ignored him. Rodney patted his shoulder to get his attention, and John spared him a glance before gesturing at his headphones. Right! Rodney grabbed the pair hooked conveniently just above his head and slipped them on. "What's the situation?" he repeated.
"Avalanche," John replied curtly. "Twenty-eight missing. We're to go airlift out any survivors they find." Teyla opened the co-pilot door and climbed inside, immediately strapping herself in. Ronon piled in through the rear door, slamming it closed and tapping John on the back of the head as he settled into his seat. Immediately John hit the button to start the rotors.
"That is terrible news." Teyla said softly over the radio as Ronon unclipped his headset. "Have they found any survivors as yet?"
"Not yet," John replied, taking them up. "We're twenty-five minutes out from the nearest pickup point, but I'm going to try to shave that as much as I can. Hold on."
"Hey, wait," Rodney said. "Couldn't the sound of the helicopter set off another avalanche?"
"That's why we're not going to the site," John said. He sounded irritated. "We're going to be landing far enough away that we won't be risking anyone's safety."
"Right, right. Of course." Rodney leaned back and tried to relax. John was a good flier, he noted absently, watching the ground below them switch from rolling deep hills into the craggier rocks marking the skirts of the mountain.
Teyla turned and looked at him over her shoulder. "They have found four people," she told him with a smile. "They are bruised but fine. We will not be required for them."
Rodney forced a smile back and nodded. He appreciated her keeping him informed, he really did, but the pitch of the rotors had changed while she was talking, and it was making his bones vibrate in sympathy. "Hey, Sheppard," he called. "Is that normal?"
John's shoulders were tight. The pitch changed again, deeper this time, and Rodney could feel the chopper straining around him. "Strap in if you ain't," John said calmly. "We're going in."
Ronon went for his straps, clicking them into place with unhurried competence. Rodney could see Teyla's lips moving as she presumably called in the mayday. He risked a glance out the window to find evergreen treetops swaying with an alarming erraticness a long distance below.
Ronon leaned past him enough to reach out one long arm and prod John in the shoulder. When John turned, Ronon pointed down and to their left. John looked, nodded, and the helicopter canted over on its side as they changed direction.
Rodney grabbed his seat with both hands and closed his eyes tightly, trying not to puke as the helicopter progressed from vibrations to flat-out shudders. When John's emotionless voice came over the radio, it made him jump.
"Brace," John said. "Five. Four. Three. Two. One."
They hit with a loud bang and the screech of protesting metal. Rodney was thrown forward against his restraints, then sideways towards the centre of the chopper as the rotors continued to spin, shoving them in a broad circle. Ronon grunted as one of the medical bags came loose and landed with a heavy thunk on his shoulder. For a minute all Rodney could process was noise and fear.
Stillness descended suddenly, broken only by Ronon's muttered growl beside him and Teyla's much higher-pitched moan of pain. Hesitantly, Rodney opened his eyes, one at a time.
The window revealed a slowly dissipating cloud of powerdery white snow. Ronon unclipped from his belt, his arm hanging awkwardly, and then he threw himself violently at the side of the helicopter, hitting it with a roar of pain. Rodney blinked, astonished.
"I'm sorry, but did you just... You did, didn't you? You just decided to put back a dislocated shoulder by flinging yourself wildly at the nearest mostly immovable object, right?" He exploded. "Who does that? Aren't you supposed to be a medical professional of some sort? Is that actually a part of your training to work up here?"
Ronon simply gave him a blank, vaguely annoyed look and pushed himself to a crouch, heading for the side door. A groan from the pilot's chair interrupted Rodney's continuing rant.
"Rodney, shut up." John groaned again, lifting his hand weakly to his head. "Really. Please."
"John." Teyla undid her straps with fingers clumsy with haste. "John?"
"Yeah. I'm here." John rolled his head a little. "Bit banged up though."
Teyla dropped to her knees and stretched over the instrument panel to pat him down, checking for damage. "Where does it hurt?" she demanded.
"Leg," John gasped. "Side." He gave a strangled cough. "Shit. Broken ribs."
Teyla's hands were sliding down John's leg. He jumped. "It is not a full break," she told him. "Perhaps a fracture, perhaps a sprain." He nodded. What Rodney could see of his face was pale. "I will get you some painkillers. Ronon?"
"Here." Ronon passed up the medical bag that had fallen on him then reached for the mike on his jacket. "Break, break. This is Air Rescue Sierra Golf Alpha to any listener. Any listener. Over." He waited. Teyla paused opening the bag, and John tilted his head. Rodney found himself holding his breath.
Ronon shook his head.
"Keep trying," John gritted out. "Rodney - can you open the door and take a look around? See if you can figure out where we are."
"Right." Rodney went to open the door, and found himself still strapped in his seat. Flushing, he quickly undid the buckles and fumbled with the door until he could get it open. The first sliver of outside came with a breath-stealing icy draft. Rodney coughed and decided to leave the door mostly closed rather than lose what heat they did have. "We're in a clearing," he called over his shoulder. "Maybe a field, or maybe a lake. I see..." He squinted. "I see Mount Crowier, to our left." He ducked back in, closing the door again and thinking furiously. "Based on the angle and elevation, I put us..." he grabbed the aerial map tacked above John's head. "Here." He stabbed his finger at the map.
John let out a long, shuddering breath, catching Rodney's attention. Teyla lifted the syringe from where she had injected his thigh, placing it in the sharps container. "Is that better?" she asked.
"Much." John licked his lips. Rodney was impressed by how fast the colour returned to his face as the pain receded.
"Still nothing," Ronon said.
"Ok. Ok." John closed his eyes. "We need to.... we..." His voice trailed off and he slumped in his seat.
Teyla gestured at Ronon, who nodded and slipped forward. They carefully extracted John from the pilot seat and gingerly slid him into the back of the helicopter, placing him on one of the flip down stretchers. He groaned a couple of times, but didn't stir. Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney all huddled together near the front.
"He will be ok," Teyla told them immediately. "He is in no immediate danger, but it would be good to get him to other assistance quickly."
"The radio's not working," Ronon said. "We took a shortcut. They're going to be looking along the wrong route."
Teyla nodded slowly. "We will need to expect to stay here at least tonight," she said softly. "We have a small battery-operated heater that we can use if it gets too cold, but we should also collect firewood for a signal fire."
Ronon nodded. "On it," he said.
"I wish we knew what the problem was with the helicopter," Teyla said quietly.
"I might be able to help with that," Rodney said. He pulled his bag over to him and withdrew his laptop. "I should be able to use this to get a diagnostic from the onboard computer."
Both Ronon and Teyla stared at him blankly.
"Ok, it's not like I carry the specs with me," Rodney admitted, "but I have communications packages for my car, for the space probes out there, and for the various orbital telescopes that are up there. I'm sure one of those can be worked with."
Teyla blinked at him. "Very well," she said slowly. "I will monitor John and gather the materials we will need to spend the night as comfortably as possible."
Ronon grabbed a pair of snowshoes mounted near the exit door. "Be back soon," he said gruffly. "Keep the door closed." He slid the door open just enough for him to sit and put the snowshoes on. "Find the flare gun," he added, then hopped down and closed the door firmly.
Teyla smiled slightly. "Good advice," she said.
Two hours later, Rodney had gotten an interface into the helicopter onboard computer, Teyla had created an impressive pile of blankets, food, and had ventured outside long enough to collect some snow to melt for water. She checked through the pile one more time, nodding to herself as she ticked each item off of some internal list.
"How may I assist you, Doctor McKay?" She asked him with a smile, apparently done.
"I am not a computer genius," she said, correctly reading his silence. "But I am a licensed heli pilot, and I am completely familiar with all of its parts and systems."
"All right," Rodney shrugged. "We still have power to most of the systems, but I'm currently checking through the fuel regulation."
"Because of the vibration," Teyla nodded thoughtfully. "I will engage each component as you perform your check."
"Less chatter, more working," Rodney returned his focus to his laptop even before she finished talking. "Time is passing. Tick, tick!"
Teyla bit back her grin and manoeuvred herself into the pilot's seat.
Nightfall brought a halt to their efforts. They'd managed to exclude many of the obvious possible issues, and had moved on to the ones more difficult to check. Rodney shut the lid of his laptop reluctantly. As much as he wanted its cheerful glow, he couldn't waste the power. Winter in the mountains brought dark incredibly early.
"Shouldn't Ronon be back by now?" Rodney asked, suddenly realising how late it was.
"Do not worry," Teyla reassured him from her perch by John's head. They'd bundled him warmly, and he had fallen into a normal, if exhausted, sleep. "Ronon received his medical training in the armed forces. He was required to survive in much worse conditions than these."
As if purposely timed, there was a heavy knock on the door, and Teyla scrambled to open it. Ronon clambered in, shivering but otherwise ok. "Got everything for the signal fire if we need it," he said. "Took a little walk, see if I could find any sign of locals. No joy."
"Why don't you get some sleep, Doctor McKay," Teyla said gently. "John will need to be watched through the night, and we must take turns. I will go first."
Ronon took the implied order to heart, stripping out of his parka and bundling himself inside one of the thermal blankets before curling up on the floor and pulling his coat back over him. Moments later, deep even breathing indicated that he'd fallen asleep.
"How?" Rodney shook his head and pulled down the second patient bench to lay down on. "Probably that military thing. All I can say is, I envy the ability to fall asleep like that." He stretched out and pulled a thermal blanket over his legs. "I probably won't sleep at all."
Moments later, he was asleep.
Whispering woke him an indeterminate time later. He blinked rapidly, trying to see something in the inky darkness, but after more than a minute he was still only able to make out indistinct shapes. The mutters were too soft to be able to make out words, but he was able to identify John's tenor and Ronon's deeper tones. He sighed and sat up slowly, feeling every one of his forty-plus years in the creaking of his joints.
"Teyla's asleep," Ronon said softly, just loud enough to be heard. Rodney grunted his understanding and stood, banging his head on the ceiling of the cabin. He managed to bite back his curse. Something smacked against the back of his hand and he jumped.
"Piss bottle," Ronon said against his ear, pushing him away enough to take his place on the fold down cot.
"Charming," Rodney felt around a little until he found the jump seat near John's head. Nevertheless, and blushing furiously, he made use of the bottle before he sat down. "Where..."
"There's a small cargo net under the jump seat," John told him. His words were mildly slurred.
"He's had another shot," Ronon said before thumping noises indicated that he'd turned over. "Call me if he stops breathing."
Rodney sat up straight in alarm. "Is that..." he started before twin shushes interrupted him. "... really a possibility?" he finished in a panicked whisper.
Ronon rumbled something in reply.
Rodney decided to play it safe and fumbled for John's hand. He held it tightly when he found it, wrapping his fingers around John's wrist so he could feel the reassuring thump of his pulse.
"Wha.." John tried to pull away.
Rodney held on tighter. "No way," he hissed. "Stay still so I can tell you're still alive."
John stilled under his hand, then gave a weak laugh. "Contradictory statements like that are why your radio audience gives you such a hard time," he said quietly.
"My radio audience at the moment is almost exclusively made up of nutjobs and whackjobs," Rodney replied wearily.
John huffed his agreement. "What's the difference between nutjobs and whackjobs, again?"
"Nutjobs are crazy. Whackjobs are crazy and potentially murderous," Rodney told him. A soft snicker answered him, broken off almost immediately by a low moan. "Don't laugh! What are you, insane? You have broken ribs, you ninny!"
"Ninny?" John's voice sounded strangled. "How am I supposed to not laugh when you say things like that?"
Rodney sat in silence for a few minutes, letting the darkness and the heavy beat of John's pulse against his fingertips soothe him. "Did you really invite me along because you felt sorry for me?" He asked suddenly. John's pulse leaped briefly.
"No... I didn't feel sorry for you." Came the slow reply. "But I did think it was a damned shame, what happened. You got a raw deal."
Rodney frowned in the darkness. The station change was a pain in the ass, but it was hardly the stuff of pity. Unless John knew about...
"Oh," he said.
"Yeah." John shifted a little and groaned as his ribs protested. "Made a lot of newspapers, back when. I recognized your name when you moved into radio. And being up here, it really has a way of giving you some perspective. I thought maybe you could use some." He paused. "This wasn't really what I had in mind though. I was thinking more beauty of the wilderness, not Survivor: Mount Crowier."
Rodney felt somewhat like he'd been kicked in the stomach. "Wow," he choked out. "I really have no idea what to say."
"I feel that way a lot," John told him earnestly. The sleep was creeping into his voice, slowing it down even more. "Knew, though, I could talk to you." He faded out on the last couple of words.
"How'd you know you could talk to me?"
A snore was his only answer.
Rodney took a deep breath and tried to ignore all the memories now clamouring for his attention. Instead he shoved them back into the tiny compartment in his mind where they usually lived, and focused instead on the faithful pounding of John's pulse.
It was going to be a cold night.
* * *
Teyla relieved him somewhere around four am, and he gratefully crawled into the warm nest of blanket and coats that she left for him. He slept immediately and heavily, waking to the smell of coffee. Groggily he fought free of his coat, which during the night had somehow migrated to cover his head like some puffy tentacle monster.
"Doctor McKay!" Teyla sounded delighted to see him awake.
"Coffee?" He croaked.
"Made it outside on the fire," Ronon told him. "Caught a couple of fish, too, if you want to eat."
"Really?" Rodney's fingers were tingling with the desire to grab the cup out of Teyla's hands.
"Yeah. It's a lake," Ronon supplied him a cup of his own, and he could have kissed every finger on the hand that turned it over to him. "Not a field."
"Right." Rodney took a deep drink. His tongue protested a little, but the hot coffee was just what he needed.
Teyla curled her legs until she was sitting cross-legged. She looked comfortable in the position in a way Rodney knew he could never be. "I was thinking about the radio," she said. "I would like to change out the fuses today. Perhaps the landing knocked one or more loose. That would explain why we have power but no radio."
Rodney gaped at her. "Of course!" he said. "That's exactly what the problem with the radio probably is." She smiled at him serenely, and he rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I'm still not entirely sure why we went down to start with though."
"Pitch freeze," John said from his 'bunk'. "Check the rotors. I think we either iced up or lost some weights."
Teyla nodded thoughtfully and uncurled to head outside. Ronon went with her.
"Iced up?" Rodney took another drink of his coffee. "
"We flew through some pretty dense clouds," John said. "There was sleet and rain. It's a possibility."
Teyla stuck her head in the door. A wave of bitterly cold air came with her, making John and Rodney both shrink away. "We have lost a cap and we are heavily iced on two rotors," she said with a smile. "An easy fix. We should be able to get back out of here today, assuming Doctor McKay can help us rebalance the rotors once we have the ice off."
"We'll need to check all of the hydraulics again too," Rodney said. "And check for structural damage from our unexpected landing." He bared his teeth at John. "Though a lovely one, of course."
"It was pretty fun," John retorted with a grin. "I'd say we walked away I guess we haven't yet. Still, good times."
"You're insane," Rodney said. "I'm going to help Teyla check for damage."
"Radio first," John said.
"Right." Rodney went forward, to the plastic cover for the fuse panel, and pulled it off. Teyla ducked back outside, presumably to begin dealing with the ice. "Do you have extra caps? Do you know what weight was set on them?"
"Rodney," said John.
Rodney kept working, pulling fuses free and checking them over carefully for signs of being blown before pushing each back into place as snugly as he could. He found one blown and sat up to look around for the case of replacements.
"It's under the co-pilot seat," John said helpfully.
"Thanks." Rodney got it out, found the right replacement, and pushed it into the socket before moving on to the next one.
"Rodney," John said again, more insistently.
"Look," Rodney replied without turning away from what he was doing. "All that crap was a long time ago. Yeah, it sucked. No one wants to be the kid who comes home and finds a triple murder-suicide, ok? And, yeah, the rest of it sucked too. I would have preferred to stay in school and win a Nobel, instead of dropping out to take care of my sister, who went and turned her back on the education I would have given anything to get. But radio's been good to me, and I wouldn't change a thing. I don't need any life changing experiences, much as I appreciate you giving me this one. I just want to forget about it and not think about what could have been. Ok? Can we do that?"
"Rodney," John said urgently. "I need to pee."
"Oh." His hands froze. "Uh. Ok. One sec." He went and got the bottle. Either Teyla or Ronon must have emptied it that morning. He handed it over to John without looking at him. John hissed in relief as he used it, and grabbed Rodney's wrist when he would have just taken the bottle back and turned away.
"Those moments come whether you want them to or not," John said. "It's just a matter of seeing them in front of you."
"Yeah. They usually look remarkably like a train coming faster than I can get out of the way."
John's eyes widened and he grabbed the mike on his shoulder. "Roger!" he shouted, then grabbed his midsection in pain. "Roger, this is Air Rescue Sierra Golf Alpha. We are in need of assistance, and are located at..." He waved frantically at Rodney to get him the map, "... sector 22, Long's Lake. Do you copy? Over." He beamed at Rodney. "You? Are a genius!"
Rodney looked at him like he was nuts. "Yes," he said.
"Roger that." John double clicked the mike off and squeezed Rodney's wrist in jubilation. "They're twenty minutes out," he said with a grin.
* * *
The other helicopter arrived in fifteen.
It only took a few minutes to grab what they needed out of the chopper. Rodney got their word that mechanics would be headed up to retrieve it the next day, with proper caps and rotary test devices. He patted her door on the way out and said a mental 'thank you'.
John's stretcher was unclipped, unloaded, and set down on the loosely packed snow. The work to pull him out of Sierra Golf Alpha had been excruciating, and Teyla had decided that another hit of morphine was necessary. Rodney was standing just outside the door when a distant crackling noise, barely heard above the sound of the still spinning rotors, caught his attention. He looked up, aware of Ronon doing the same beside him.
The whole side of Mount Crowier was... moving.
"Oh, shit," he said and threw himself at one end of John's stretcher. Ronon was right beside him, shouting at them.
"Avalanche!" He bellowed. "Get in, get up! Get up!"
They left the stretcher. Ronon picked John up and tossed him into the cabin, ignoring the howl of pain as broken ribs were jostled. Rodney was counting down in his head as they all raced for the helicopter. Crowier was a big mountain. It would take a little time for the snow to reach them. He couldn't stop his brain from doing the calculations even as they all scrambled to get aboard. The pilot was hauling back on the stick even before the last of his crew were all the way in; Rodney and Ronon had to grab the last crew member before he pitched back out the door.
Five feet off the ground. The helicopter gave a metallic complaint at all their combined weight.
Ten feet up.
Twenty feet up. Rodney's mind ticked over the typical height of an avalanche, factored in how far down the run out zone they were, added in the debris cloud... Jesus. He could hear the thing coming, even over the engine.
"Brace!" The pilot shouted. Rodney curled his body over John's head and tried not to look at how they were only about thirty feet up...
The engines screamed as the pilot fought for all the space he could get. The avalanche roared past under them, engulfing them in a billowing grey cloud of snow. The engines coughed as the snow clogged the air intakes, and Rodney curled tighter around John's head, stomach churning at the idea that they'd be making another precipitous landing. John's hand grabbed his wrist and held on bruisingly tight.
They burst into clear air.
The cabin broke out into cheering. Rodney sat up and took a deep breath, trying for control. "Jesus," he shouted down at John. "That was really, really close." He saw how awkwardly John was positioned and was glad they'd gotten the morphine in him before the excitement.
The colour started to come back into John's face. "Very close," he agreed. "Life altering, one might say."
"We are all victims, Anselmo," Rodney replied. John looked at him askance. "Our destinies are decided by cosmic rolls of the dice," he explained.
"Huh," John frowned at him. "What'd you roll?"
Rodney just grinned at him. "It'll be good to get back to civilization," he said instead.
"What do you mean?" John shouted into his ear.
"I mean, after this, the late night radio show looks good! At least there the crazies are separated from me by a phone line, and it even comes with a heater!" Rodney rubbed his hands together to warm them.
"Forget that," John said, staring up at Rodney from glazed eyes. "You aren't getting away that easily. Doesn't matter what you rolled this time, last time you came up snake eyes." He grinned, a bright, vaguely evil smile. "And you still owe me six days."