"Dead or Alive"

by Grey Lupous

Part Five
 

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"I'm hungry," McKay groused on the ground, still trussed up like a Thanksgiving Day turkey.

Vargas barely spared a glance as he began to round up all of their supplies.

"Thirsty, too. Do you expect to deliver me dehydrated and starved to death? That's got to knock down the price on the bounty a lot."

Vargas muttered something to himself in his own language.

"Not to mention that, when my blood sugar level drops, I get cranky, and if you think I'm bad now, just give me half an hour."

Vargas rolled his eyes to the sky, and Rodney was pretty sure he was counting to ten, or some half-Frescan, half-Genii equivalent. Finally he pushed himself to a standing position and slung his supplies over his shoulder before unceremoniously yanking McKay to his feet.

"Let us feed you then, shall we?" Vargas said, somewhere between his manically cheerful demeanor and the natural state of agitation McKay was able to reduce any normal human being to.

"Lead the way. This is your jungle, um, sort of," McKay muttered to himself, glancing around at the trees, hoping, wishing to see some sign that he wasn't alone out here. All he saw was green, green, and more green. Just plants, trees, and jungle as far as the eye could see.

Vargas tugged and pushed McKay along like a prized bull going to market, further into the forest. McKay briefly wondered if Sheppard was going to be able to keep up with them, or if he'd get lost within the first ten yards.

The branches above McKay swayed slightly and the leaves rustled. His heart leapt, this was it; this was his big rescue. He braced himself for whatever crazy plan Sheppard was planning, prepared to do whatever he could to help.

Hope turned to horror as Vargas whipped up McKay's P-90 and let loose a spray of gunfire into the leaves. McKay heard an inhuman scream of pain and several thumps as something heavy fell from the branches, finally landing on the ground in a heap. Despite the sick feeling in his stomach, Rodney forced himself to look, knowing that he'd see his friend lying broken and bleeding on the jungle floor, all to save him.

Instead he found himself staring at the limp body of something that resembled a strange mix of a howler monkey and a leopard. Furry mane surrounded the feline face, full of sharp deadly looking teeth, on the body of a bulky spotted primate.

"What the hell?" he breathed.

"I call them howlers. They're nasty little buggers, always have a craving for fresh meat. Eat their prey alive," Vargas smiled in a friendly way as he poked the dead body with his boot. "Drove most everyone off this planet. Seems no one wanted to be eaten by both the Wraith and these guys."

McKay forced himself to swallow and nodded. "I can see that."

And without another word Vargas shoved McKay forward, and their journey continued deeper into the jungle. They finally stopped when they reached a small creek, where Vargas finally let McKay have a drink. He dumped all of the supplies on the ground before making a small perimeter.

Finally satisfied, he turned to his prisoner. "Looks like Sheppard finally got smart and went home."

McKay flexed his jaw, before looking back the way they came. He knew Sheppard was out there somewhere, he just didn't know where. If it made Vargas a little sloppier and a little overconfident to think that though, who was McKay to argue?

"Don't look so upset, Mersir. It's the way these things work. No one sticks their neck out for anyone past a certain point. It's just stupid."

"Seems to be the way things work here in Pegasus," McKay agreed partially, thinking of the Manarians and the Genii, always wanting something in return for offering a hand. He was beginning to think the Athosians and their kindness were the exception rather than the norm.

Vargas pulled a line from his pack and looped it through the cuffs on McKay's hands, before securing it around one of the many trees. "I suppose I do have to feed you, but it's so hard to hunt when you're stumbling over every root and scaring off all the game."

The bounty hunter patronizingly patted McKay on the head, who had the sudden urge to bite the hand that was about to feed him. "Just stay there. You may want to be still—the howlers especially like prey that thrashes around."

And then he slipped off into the jungle, silent as the shadows. McKay heaved a sigh and jiggled the cuffs behind his back. They were locked pretty securely, and, after a tug, he confirmed that the line was secure too.

"This has just stopped being funny," McKay said to himself, since no one else was around and the silence was creeping him out more than normal jungle noises would.

"Now don't say that," a familiar voice spoke from behind. "I happen to find it very amusing, Genii bounties and their jolly hitmen aside."

"Took you long enough," McKay sniped at Sheppard and struggled to stand up. "You mind getting these off before Happy comes back?"

"I guess not. If he didn't gag you, it's just not worth keeping," Sheppard emerged from behind the trees and knelt next to McKay as he studied the bindings.

"Funny. Now untie me!"

Sheppard grinned and drew his knife, not noticing McKay flinch at the sound of it being drawn. He quickly made work of the line securing Rodney to the tree and hauled the scientist to his feet. The cuffs were another story.

"We'll have to try and pick those later. Right now, I'd like to get out of here before he gets back."

"Do you see me arguing?" McKay glanced around nervously, as if expecting Vargas to jump out of the bushes with a loud, "Boo!"

"Relax," Sheppard shoved the life signs detector under McKay's nose where he could clearly see a little white dot moving away from the two dots clustered together. "See? Now c'mon, let's get put some distance between us and him, just in case."

McKay nodded, following Sheppard as he made his way through the foliage, stumbling over a few of the roots Vargas mentioned, only to have Sheppard catch and right him. After the fifth time the major had had enough.

"Those things are coming off, even if I have to fashion a blowtorch. We're getting nowhere at this pace," he glanced at the life signs detector, and seemed satisfied at Vargas's position.

"Is it my fault I never took 'Sneaking Through the Jungle 101'?" McKay grumbled and watched as Sheppard began opening various pockets on his vest. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for something to pick the lock with."

"You're kidding me, right? They're Genii handcuffs. For all you know, they've got some fingerprint imprinting lock. Although that's giving them entirely too much credit. The state of their nuclear program alone—"

"There we go!" Sheppard pulled out a small shiny object from one of the pockets and held it up like an Olympic medal.

"That looks like—" McKay squinted at the object, "you've got be kidding me! You can't pick the lock with a paperclip!"

Sheppard had the grace to look offended. "Hey, I don't mock your last minute out-of-left-field ideas to save us."

"Yes, you do!"

"Okay, maybe a little, but, still, it'll work. Besides, it's the only use I've found for these things," he unraveled the paper clip

"You've picked handcuff locks with a paperclip before?" McKay asked dubiously.

"I've picked one or two locks with a paperclip," he felt more than saw Sheppard shrug behind him.

"What? The lock to your parents' bedroom door?" That question was met with silence. "Major?"

"Oops."

"No, don't 'oops' me! What did you do?"

"The paperclip broke," he admitted sheepishly.

"Oh, for crying out—" McKay spun around to face his so-called rescuer, "you have to be the worst knight in shining armor in the history of rescues!"

"You're not exactly a beautiful princess yourself, McKay," Sheppard shot back. "Now just stand still, I might be able to finish the job."

"With what? A toothpick?"

"Shut up and be still."

McKay grunted but did as he was told.

"Now if I'm right—"

"Oh yes, always a comforting way to start a sentence."

"—I should be able to take this and…" he trailed off and McKay heard a soft click and felt the pressure around his wrists release as the cuffs fell to the ground.

He pulled his wrists in front of him and rubbed the aggravated flesh. "I can't believe that just worked."

"Have I ever let you down before?" Sheppard grinned to himself and pocketed what remained of the paperclip and picked up the set of cuffs on the ground, presumably to keep from leaving a trail.

McKay bit his lip at that comment, honestly not being able to think of any instance, but his pride wouldn't let him admit it aloud. Sheppard rescued him from the uncomfortable moment as he checked the life signs detector again.

"Looks like Vargas caught dinner. I think we should get moving before he realizes I've stolen his date." Sheppard ignored the dirty look McKay shot him. "C'mon, it's this way."

McKay grudgingly followed after Sheppard, but wouldn't let the comment slide just like that. "So how do you know we're headed the right way, Prince Charming?"

"I don't," Sheppard shrugged.

"You don't?" McKay asked incredulously. "Then what's the point of running if we're just getting more lost?"

"Would you rather re-join your tour guide? It seemed like you two were having fun."

"I hate you."

"Aw, now you're just playing hard to get," Sheppard picked up his pace, leaving McKay jogging to keep up.

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