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26 February 2010 @ 01:07 pm
fic: the woods are deadly, dark and deep  

Title:  The Woods are Deadly, Dark and Deep
Rating:  PG-13, Gen
Characters:  Teyla Emmagan, Rodney McKay
Word count:  7000
Notes:  This was written as a response to a gorgeous piece of art by astridv  which is here - go and look at it and drop her a comment!
Beta'd by michelel72 - thank you very much!

Summary:  The village was burned down before they got there, and now the night's closing in.  Here, there's a very good reason to fear the dark.
 

 

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The Woods are Deadly, Dark and Deep


Tears crept their way down Teyla’s face, and Rodney stared at her in horror.  If he had ever needed a sign to tell him when things were fucked up as much as they could possibly be, Teyla crying might just be it.

The air was thick with stinging particles of wood-smoke.   It would have been thicker, a few hours ago.  The remains of the houses were only smouldering now, no flames, just the occasional red glow lurking in shadows.  Thank god these people knew about fire breaks, Rodney found himself thinking, dreamily.  The whole forest might have gone up.  Resinous trees.  Pine.  They’d burn for hours…

But it wasn’t just woodsmoke that he could smell, wasn’t just woodsmoke wisping up through the pale sky of early evening.  Clearly at least some of Pegasus’s residents had discovered similar chemicals for paint and garments and possessions as were used on Earth, because some of those sharp fumes were eerily familiar.

And overpowering the other smells was the rich odour of roasting meat.

“We have to split up and search for survivors,” Teyla said, the first words since they had crested a ridge and seen the pall of grey smoke drifting up above the canopy.  Rodney looked at her.  She hadn’t wiped the tears from her face, but they were the only expression of her emotions.  The rest of her features were drawn tight; a mask.  He felt that he should say something, but he had no idea what words to use as morsels of empty comfort.  Sheppard might have known what to do, but he didn’t.

 “You take those houses,” she said, pointing.  And then she began running towards the others, as if every moment would make a difference, although she had to know that it probably wouldn’t.

Rodney moved more slowly.  If there were people still alive then he wanted to find them, of course he did, but… he took a deep breath, covered his nose and mouth with his sleeve, and forced his way into the nearest timber skeleton that had once been a house.  The bones and ribs were of some dense wood that was still merely smouldering, still standing upright as the boards of the walls and the inside furnishings had flamed and crumbled and burned.

But not thoroughly enough.

Teyla paused her own search to jog over to him and rub his shoulders comfortingly as he was violently sick, leaning on a tree for support.  “They were attacked,” he choked out.

“I know.”

“I thought – I thought it was just a fire…”

“Doubtless the fire was set to conceal what happened here.”

Rodney looked at the remains of the structures.  “I’m not going in any more of them.”

Teyla removed her hands from his shoulders, and helped him upright.  “You must.”

“But they’re all… cut up…”

“Yes, I have seen.”

“So – ”

“So there may be survivors.  Would you like to think, Dr McKay, that you had refused to search, and possibly condemned a friend of mine, just because you did not want to see death?”

This wasn’t the Teyla he usually saw, the friend and teammate who would by turns tease and support the others.  This was Teyla Emmagan of Athos, who had steered her people thorough the rock-filled torrent that was life in the Pegasus galaxy – fast, dangerous and merciless, where death could lurk in every shadow.

And this Teyla would not let him fall back onto the comfortable support of his weaknesses.  “I’ll keep looking,” he said, wiping his mouth.

“Thank you, Rodney,” Teyla said, gently.  She paused.  “We will search together.”

It was slightly easier with Teyla beside him.  He didn’t have to look too closely at the bodies, didn’t have to think too much about who they might have been.  At least, he kept reminding himself, this wasn’t a proper village.  Just a small settlement near the Loishans’ holy places.  The main body of adults, and all of the children, lived on another world.  On Atlantis, away from the reality, the horror, he would have called the Loishans lucky.

He became aware that Teyla wasn’t moving away from the woman she had checked last.  They were in the last house now – he suspected that Teyla had deliberately left this one before.  Maybe she had wanted to hold onto hope for as long as possible.  “Teyla?” he asked.

Teyla stayed kneeling.  “This is Ness,” she said quietly.

“Who – Oh.  Oh god.  We talked to her on the radio.”

She nodded, and swallowed hard. 

“Everything was fine.  It was just their shield generator.  They were – that was this morning.”  An easy piece of maintenance for one of their allies.  Not really something requiring the Chief of Science, but they were old friends of Teyla, and she had persuaded him to be the one to accompany her.  To meet them.  He looked at Ness, and then quickly looked away again.  If they had been here a few hours earlier…

Teyla was already moving, searching.  “Here,” she said.  Rodney stepped cautiously after her, and watched her crouch down beside another woman.  During the search he had automatically been counting the bodies.  This was number twenty-seven , and the last.  Ness had told him the current population number as part of the data he had gathered from her earlier, between routine questions about their rudimentary shield.

“We should go back to Atlantis,” he said.  “Tomorrow we can bring a couple of Jumpers, do a site survey, and, um, collect the bodies.”

He didn’t get a reply.  Teyla was still crouched beside the woman, her eyes closed.  “Teyla?”

Her eyes flew open.  “She is alive!”

“Really?”  Rodney joined her, his breath catching in anticipation.

“Yes, just – she is badly hurt.  Several stab wounds, see.”

“Do you know her?”

“Her name is Iren.  She and Ness are –  were married.”

Iren reminded Rodney horribly of Jeannie.  Her hair was the same colour, and composed of the same wildly corkscrewing curls.  Blood from the wounds to her torso and abdomen stained the light brown of her tunic and slacks.  “What should we do?” he asked.

Teyla pursed her mouth.  “We cannot stay here.  She urgently needs medicine, or she will die.  We will have to carry her to the Gate.”

Rodney thought about the route they had travelled along.  There was a deep, fast-flowing river not far from the settlement, spanned by two ropes – one to walk on and one at shoulder height to hold onto.  “What about the bridge?  We can’t carry her across that.”

“There is a ford upstream.  It’s how they get their supplies across.”

“We shouldn’t move her, though, should we?”  That was one of the clearest first aid principles he remembered.

Teyla seemed to know what he was thinking.  “It’s nearly dark.  Splitting up would be too dangerous.”

“Why?  What is it?”

She hesitated.  “It is always dangerous to travel alone at night.”

“You aren’t telling me something.”

Teyla ignored him.  “I will find a way to carry her.  You find some blankets.”

She walked off before he could stop her, and he set about finding a blanket, thankful that Ness and Iren’s house was set apart from the others, and so hadn’t been caught by the main blaze.  Most of the destruction had been caused by whoever had sacked the settlement.  Rodney covered Iren with one blanket, folded another beneath her head, and field-dressed  with gauze pads what seemed like him to be the worst of her wounds, wrapping her abdomen tightly.  It was inexpert, and he had kept his face screwed up at having to touch her blood, but it slowed the bleeding. By the time that Teyla returned, carrying with her a rough litter that she had found, two wooden poles with a rope lattice strung between them, he had finished.

The path to the ford was clearly much less well-travelled than the one to the rope bridge.  Rodney’s feet stumbled over stones and tree roots, his view of the ground blocked by Iren’s blanket-covered body on the litter.  “If they use this path for carrying supplies, why don’t they look after it better?” he asked.

“Because for the past year, the transport of supplies has been with the assistance of Atlantis’s Puddlejumpers,” Teyla’s voice, drifting back, informed him.

“Why wasn’t I notified of this?”

“You were.”

“I’m sure I wasn’t.”

“I informed you myself.  I believe your response was, ‘Whatever, leave me alone’.”  Rodney could only see the back of her head, but he could practically hear her lips quirk as she spoke.  For a second he wondered how she could move so quickly from the blank horror she had displayed at the settlement, and then felt ashamed as he recognised the thought.  He wondered how often she had stepped through the Gate to visit friends, only to find destruction instead.  He wasn’t sure that he wanted to know.

Instead, he tried to look around.  The spiked canopy of the conifer forest was punctured by patches of lighter sky, but shadows were packed tight around the trunks and the needle-strewn floor.  Here and there, patches of slowly melting snow ghosted in the gloom.

It was getting colder, too.  He wished that he was wearing gloves – not just to warm his fingers, but to stop the rubbing of the wooden poles on his palms.  He was going to get blisters, and wouldn’t be able to type properly for days.  His arms ached, too, and the way his P90 bounced from its strap with every step to smack against the front of his vest was becoming increasingly aggravating.

“How far is it to the ford?” he asked.

“I do not remember precisely.  It is a much longer route than the shorter one we took earlier.”

“Funnily enough, I’d already guessed that.”

She didn’t answer.

Every quarter of an hour or so they stopped to rest, and lowered the litter down gently to the ground, so that Teyla could dribble some water from her canteen between her friend’s lips.  On the third occasion Iren opened her eyes briefly, but made no other signs of awareness.  “She’s running out of time,” Teyla whispered, stroking her hair gently.

“How much time do we have?” Rodney whispered back.  Not that it was likely that Iren could hear them.

Teyla shook her head, her expression grim.  “Maybe not enough.”

When they started walking again Rodney kept looking down at Iren, trying to reassure himself that she was indeed still breathing, but the jolting movement of the litter made that impossible.  They were now noticeably travelling uphill.

There was no warning.  One instant Teyla was ahead of him, on a rare piece of level ground, and the next instant she wasn’t, and the poles he was still grasping tightly were pulling him forward and then down into a hidden gully, sliding and rolling down a steep scree slope of earth and stones, tumbling over and over and over, the poles wrenched from his hands, the breath torn from his lungs.

And then he came to a stop and lay still with his mouth full of dirt and a searing, buzzing pain in his leg, and Iren’s face was next to his and her eyes were wide open and she didn’t blink.

- * -

Teyla struggled to sit upright as soon as her body came to a stop, fighting against dizziness and pain in her chest.  “Rodney!” she called, pulling herself to her knees.

The reassuring weight of her P90 was gone, the strap torn out from the seam.

“Teyla?” Rodney’s voice was nearby.  She clambered to her feet and stumbled determinedly towards him.  He didn’t look up at her approach.

She didn’t need to be told.  People looked different once the life had left them.  “Are you hurt?” she asked him, kneeling on the cold earth, and not taking her eyes from Iren’s already-cooling body.  She stroked the smooth skin of her cheek, gently closing her eyes.

“Yes,” Rodney said.

Her hand glided over the sun-shaped pendant Iren wore around her neck.  She had spoken to Ness that morning.  They should be spending the night in the house with her and Iren.  And now they were both dead.  But they should have been able to get Iren home, should have been able to save her…

“Teyla!” Rodney snapped, and she finally looked up at him.  This time she noticed his wide eyes, and the way his face was drawn in.

“Are you hurt?”

“Are you okay?” Rodney asked.  “Because I’ve just said your name several times, and also you’ve already asked me that.”

She took a breath, and this time her brain properly registered the pain of bruised, possibly cracked ribs.  “I am fine.”

“You might want to put more effort into that next time.”  He scrunched his face.  “And I don’t want to inconvenience you or anything, but I’m pretty sure my leg’s broken.”  His voice was slightly distant.  She would have expected him to be panicky, but he wasn’t.  Shock was enforcing in him an unaccustomed calm.

This is not the time for mourning.  Teyla shook her head fiercely.

“It is!  Don’t shake your head!”

“That is not – ”  She cut herself off.  That argument would be futile.  Instead she reached towards the leg of Rodney’s BDUs, and then stopped.  From the angle of it, it was obvious that he was right.  “Do you have any other injuries?”

“Isn’t having a broken leg bad enough?”

“Rodney…”  There were many wind-torn branches lying among the leaf litter.  The planet was prone to storms, and she sent up a quick thanks to the Ancestors that tonight was calm.  Teyla tested several straight sticks before finding one that was firm, without a treacherous rot-brittled core.

“What are you going to do?” Rodney asked, and the note of fear in his voice told her that he already knew the answer.

“I have to set and splint your leg.”

“You sure you have to?”

“Otherwise we will not make it to the Gate.”

Rodney moaned quietly.  “We aren’t even at the ford yet.  If you actually think I can walk to the Gate, you’re deluding yourself.”

Teyla looked up to the deepening indigo of the sky, the feathery disk of the moon thickening into existence against it.  “We have to get back to Atlantis,” she said.

“Can’t we just wait here?”

She felt her chest tighten painfully.  “No.”

His eyes widened suddenly.  “Are you – do you think whoever attacked the people will come for us?”

“No, I do not,” Teyla said, and was grateful that he had asked such a specific question, one to which she did not have to lie.  She looked up again at the darkening skies, and a knot of fear tightened in her stomach.  They should be in the village.  They should be surrounded by bright lights and strong walls.

“Who were they?” Rodney asked, quickly, and Teyla recognised the question for what it was – a delaying tactic.

She knelt by his feet and passed him a stick that she had rejected.  “Put this in your mouth, and bite down.”

“Why does it matter whether I scream or not?  I’m entitled to it, aren’t I?”

“Put it in your mouth.”

He complied.  Teyla snapped her chosen stick in half over her knee, pretending for Rodney’s sake that she didn’t notice him gasp and wince at the noise.  “The men who attacked the settlement will not return,” she said steadily, pulling her belt from its loops.  “They have what they want.”

He took the stick out of his mouth.  “What did they want?”  At a pointed look from her he replaced it between his teeth.

“Violence.  Money.  Food.  Death.”  She guided Rodney’s hand to the trunk of a nearby sapling.  “Hold on to this.”

“Mmm.”

“There are a few such raiding groups.  They prey on worlds populated only by small groups of people – easy targets.”  Teyla grasped his ankle and pulled, gritting her teeth.  She had set bones before.  It didn’t get any less unpleasant.

Rodney whimpered harshly through his tightly-clenched jaw as she splinted his leg, strapping the belt around the two sticks placed on either side of the break and buckling it tightly.  She steeled her features, acting as if she couldn’t hear him.  Sympathy, empathy, wouldn’t help.  What would help was to be swift and efficient, and unthinking.

“I hate you,” Rodney managed, as she pressed a couple of painkillers into his mouth and offered her canteen.

“I am truly sorry for having to cause you pain, Rodney.”

“Yes, well.”

Teyla smiled slightly.  It amused her how easily Rodney could be wrong-footed, just by refusing to answer back.  “But I am sure that you will still be brave enough to make it back to the Gate.”

“Don’t try that guilt-tripping crap.  I’m impervious to it.”

Teyla realised that Rodney had not alluded to Iren since the accident.  But he kept on glancing towards her, and then away again.  She reached out a hand and stroked her hair.  Rodney’s eyes reluctantly followed the motion and came to rest on Iren’s face.

“I don’t – ” Rodney began, but Teyla cut him off with a shake of her head.

“We will have to leave her here.”

“She’s your friend.  Don’t you…mind?”

“We can send a Jumper to retrieve her, along with the others.”  She didn’t add that, by morning, there would be nothing to retrieve.  Or that that was the reason for her insistence on moving on.

“Okay.”  Rodney took a deep breath.  “You’d better help me.”

“Of course.”  She pushed a makeshift staff into his hand.  “You can lean on this, and on me.  Give me your weapon, too.”

“What?  Oh, yours is gone.”

“I lost it in the fall.”

He passed it over, and she grasped it tightly, not able to clip it to her vest with the loop broken.  Then she carefully removed Iren’s jewellery, stowing the pieces safely in a pocket.  Rodney watched, but didn’t comment.

She stood up, biting her lip to suppress any noises being dragged from her by the pain in her ribs, and then reached down for him.  “Let’s go.”

- * -

The quietness of the evening kept Teyla on edge.  Without a reassuring background rustle and clatter of twigs and leaves jumping in a wind, every sound seemed amplified, crystallised, and she kept jerking her head around, staring into the shadows.  She hoped Rodney didn’t notice, or at least that he assumed it was caused by his own lumbering motion as he tried to avoid his injured leg touching the ground.

Neither of them spoke.  In Teyla’s case this was because she was listening on tenterhooks to the sounds of the forest; in Rodney’s case she thought he was probably trying to save his breath.

He also didn’t ask her why she hadn’t switched her flashlight on in the deepening gloam.  And that probably was something he would have noticed, injury or not.  Perhaps she wasn’t giving him enough credit, and he did know that something was wrong, but didn’t want to hear it.

She wished for a moment that she, too, didn’t know the reason for the strong wooden walls around the settlement, and for everyone, even inside them, to lock the doors of their houses at night.

A bird shrieked, high and shrill, and she jerked halfway around before controlling herself, her heart hammering, ears straining to catch the sound of stealthy movements.  Patches of snow reflected the silver moon, even more unearthly now.

She stopped.

“What?” Rodney hissed.

She kept her voice low.  “I am not sure.  Probably nothing.”

“Oh god.  I just want to get home.  This trip is a joke.”

Despite herself, Teyla stiffened.  She knew that Rodney didn’t mean any harm, but even so…

Beside her, Rodney’s brain caught up with his mouth.  “No, Teyla, wait.  I didn’t mean it like that – ”

“It is fine.”

“But – ”

“She held up a hand.  “Be quiet a moment.”

“Can you hear something?” Rodney whispered.

“Be quiet!”

There must have been something in her voice, because Rodney silenced instantly.  She listened, feeling the P90 slip slightly in her palm.  She tightened her grip and tried to see once again into the shadows.

What’s out there?” Rodney hissed.

“Nothing that we want to meet.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that!”  Rodney’s voice began to rise.

“Be quiet!”

There was silence all around them; a vitrified pool of it.  A silence that wasn’t just an absence of sound, but a conscious repression of it.

The pressure of Rodney’s hand on her shoulder was steadily increasing.  “Teyla,” he whispered, his mouth close to her ear.  “Please just tell me.”

Teyla hesitated, and then wondered why she was doing that.  What was she afraid of – that he would panic?  In serious situations, she should trust him more than that.

“We’re being hunted,” she whispered.

She felt Rodney tense still further, felt him shake with it and the pain.  “By what?”

“They are – ”

They attacked.

They attacked in a roaring, snarling wave of sinuous muscles and grey fur and sharp teeth and claws which glinted beneath the moonlight; a blur of motion and intention and anger and finely-whetted hunger.

And Teyla fired, swinging the P90 around, pulling Rodney with her through a spin, cutting his scream from her mind as the flare from the weapon blazed a wound into the night.

She felt Rodney’s hand lose its grip; felt his weight leave her support.  “Teyla!” she heard him shriek, and she twisted and fired and twisted and fired and then there was silence.

She didn’t turn on the flashlight.  She could see Rodney by moonlight without it, a huddled shape on the ground, and terror clenched her tightly for a second, until he moaned.

“Rodney!”  She dropped to her knees, and pushed him so that he rolled over, and he stared at her, his face terrified.

“They were going to eat me!  You never told me this was the planet of the wargs!”

“You have these creatures on Earth?”  His arm was bleeding, the sleeve and skin beneath shredded by razor-sharp teeth.  But it looked as if the aim had been to drag him away, rather than to tear the flesh. 

He’d been lucky.

“Yes.  Well, no.  Sort of.”

“Rodney, we need to move.  They will return, likely in greater numbers.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not really up for much running right now!”

“Then you will die right here – is that what you want?”

“No.”

“Then we need to move.  Now.  I believe we are almost at the ford.”

Teyla bit down on another groan of pain as she helped Rodney to an unsteady footing.  “It will be a short while before the…wargs…get the courage to return,” she said.  “We should attempt to reach the other side of the ford by then.”

“What, can’t they cross running water?”  Rodney’s breathing was already beginning to rasp again.

“They may try to ambush us while we are in the river.”

“That – doesn’t sound good.”

“No, it would not be.”

Rodney began to whisper beneath his breath as the path inched away beneath their feet.  Teyla tried to make out what he was saying, and then realised that he was simply counting – treating every tree they passed as a minor milestone.  She couldn’t tell, in the gloom, whether his arm was still bleeding, and prayed that she wasn’t making a mistake by not stopping to examine and bandage it.  After all, they wouldn’t gain much ground by the lack of delay, but there was always the chance that what they were gaining could be just enough.

And she didn’t quite know why she was continually refusing to admit her own injuries.  She didn’t want to worry Rodney any more than he already was.  But more than that – it felt almost disloyal to consider herself as suffering, when her friends –

“I can hear the river,” she said.

Rodney’s head lifted, but he walked in silence for a few paces before answering.  “Oh.  Yes.”

Very soon they could see it, too, as the trees suddenly gave way.  Fast-flowing water streamed among the rocks, the surface shining silver, and the depths beneath ink-black.

“You said it was a ford,” Rodney muttered.

“It is a ford.”

“Fords are shallow.”

This is shallow.  If it were daylight, you would see that for yourself.”

“Teyla…”

“Rodney, we need to cross.  And we need to do it now.”  She wished to herself, only occasionally, that Rodney was a soldier like the rest of them.  Or that the Atlanteans didn’t draw such a distinction between soldiers and civilians, which simply perpetuated the differences in attitudes between them.  “I wish we had a choice, but we do not, so there is no point in debate.”

“Oh god, I’m going to die.”

Teyla simply started walking forward, confident that Rodney, relying on her support, would have no choice but to move also.

The water was freezing, and high enough to immediately slop over and into her boots.  It would be good for Rodney’s leg, though, bringing the swelling down, and she told herself that as she heard him hiss sharply at the shock of it.  The current tugged at her legs.  She knew that the flat stones beneath them had cross-patterns scored into them for grip, but they were still slimy under her soles.  She stepped forward and the numbing water foamed around her knees.

A significant part of Rodney’s weight was on the arm around her shoulders.  It joined with the current to threaten her balance, and she hoped that she was strong enough to support them both.  It was something she didn’t often have to doubt.

She took a step, and felt Rodney shaking as he copied her, translated through his bones and into hers.

Another step.  The unseen paving of the ford remained level, as she had remembered.  She moved slowly and deliberately, recalling the sensation at the top of the steep bank when the ground had suddenly crumbled away beneath her feet.  She had had no chance to stop them from falling, she told herself, but she wasn’t going to let it happen again.

The opposite bank was drawing steadily closer.  She took another step, paused while Rodney took his, and then moved forwards again.  The back of her neck prickled constantly with the fear of being watched, but even if they were, there was nothing she could do until they reached dry land.

The thoughts passed through her head slowly.  Most of her concentration was on maintaining her balance on the treacherous footing.

Three steps left.  Two steps left.

Rodney suddenly let go of her shoulder and grabbed for an outreaching tree limb instead.  His fingers closed around it, and then it bent, flexing downwards with almost no resistance.  Teyla heard a warning shout leave her mouth while she was already jumping forward, grabbing for him as he fell.  Icy water flowed over her, freezing the breath in her lungs, but there was thick material clutched in her hand, and she didn’t let it go.

- * -

“What were you doing?” Teyla demanded in a fierce undertone to Rodney, as he slumped against the base of a tree.

He remembered the moment of blind panic when the only thing in his head had been the urge to get out of the water now.  The tree, attached as it was to the bank, had represented that.  “I thought it would help.  I’m sorry, ok?”

“Come on.”  She was angry, and shivering.  He instinctively flinched as she reached towards him, but her touch as she slipped her arm beneath his shoulders was as gentle as it had been before.  He could feel goosebumps puckering his skin, but the pain was reduced.  The coldness of the river had numbed his leg, and for that he was grateful.

“Are you ok?” he asked.  “Other than being, you know, really cold.”  He thought that he had heard her make a noise of pain.

“Fine.”  Her face was grim, and she held her P90 so that she could fire it at a moment’s notice while she scanned the surroundings.  He tried to look as well, but he could only see the shadows, accumulating beneath branches and between the tree trunks that were stark like teeth in the dark maw of the forest.

Ready to bite down on them both.

He also remembered that the gun had been submerged.  Would it still fire?  But he’d witnessed them work in pouring rain, and surely Teyla would say something if she thought it was damaged.

“How long do you think until they come back?” he asked.

“I have no idea.”

“How far’s the Gate?”

“Closer than the village is.”

“Yes, but how close?”

“We should be silent.”

Silent.  He could do that.  In the silence their movements sounded very loud, particularly his own lurching motion.  Push off from one leg, and try to touch the ground with the other as little as possible.  Step, ow, step, ow.

It was cold, and he was in pain, and he was tired.

The full moon glared down at him.  He wondered if that was why the creatures were out hunting.

“They are not werewolves,” Teyla said.

“Did you just read my mind?” Rodney asked.

“You had an expression that told me you were half-way to believing something you know to be foolish.”

“Foolish?  Do you want to compare IQs?”

“Do you want to lead us back to the Gate?”

He decided that being silent again would probably be a good idea, not wanting to bring down more of Teyla’s irritation on his head.  He was pretty sure that the adrenaline he’d been running on was beginning to wear off, as was the briefly numbing effect of the river, while the bone-aching coldness remained, leaching continuously from his damp clothes.  If John had been there then by now he would have been insisting that he couldn’t go any further, but… Teyla didn’t invite that so much.

So he was surprised but grateful when she abruptly halted, and he could lean most of his weight on her, with his broken leg off the ground, and take some deep breaths.

“Let me help you sit down,” she said.

He frowned.  “I thought you said we had to keep moving?”

“We should stop here for a while.”

Her change of mind puzzled him briefly, but then she was lowering him hastily down next to a broad-trunked tree, and the relief that flooded through his body as he leaned heavily against it drove the barely-formed question out of his thoughts.

“Take this,” she ordered, and thrust the P90 at him.

“Why – what are you going to do?”

“Collect firewood.”

“Won’t that attract the wolf-monsters?”

“We are both soaked through and need to dry out.”

Once again, she had succeeded in sealing off the conversation.  Rodney stared after her as she gathered fallen branches, seeming to find dry ones by some unerring talent.  He twisted his mangled arm towards him, trying to see how bad it was.  Surely if it was too bad, Teyla would have dressed it for him?  Was that swelling he could faintly see in the moonlight, hinting of infection?  The wound was still slowly seeping blood and plasma.  Gingerly he poked at the torn flesh with his other set of fingers, and jerked them away rapidly when he discovered that doing that really hurt.

“You should be keeping watch,” Teyla said, as she began shaping her collection of sticks into a pyramid.  There was no accusation in her voice.  She winced as she twisted to reach into the pocket in which she kept matches in a waterproof container.

“Are you hurt?” Rodney asked.  He wondered if it was something he should be worried about.

“No.”

“Really?”

She ignored him, striking a bud of flame onto the head of the match and holding it to the tinder, where it seeded and blossomed.

“Teyla, I’m sorry about the river.”

She again didn’t answer immediately, and remained crouching alertly by the fire until apparently satisfied that it would keep burning.  The she settled herself beside him, silently reaching over and pulling the P90 from his fingers.  “Please forget about it for now.  When we arrive back at Atlantis you can apologise properly.”

“Now that’s an appealing prospect.”

She smiled slightly.  “Which part?”

Now it was his turn not to answer.  He leaned against the warmth of Teyla’s side and shoulder, and felt the greater warmth of the fire on his face as his clothes begin to gently steam.  The flames danced and fluttered and stretched upwards, and seemed somehow to have the shape of the spires of Atlantis within them, reassuring and lulling him.  Teyla’s arm was wrapped comfortably around him.  He almost felt that he could sleep.

And then he looked up, and saw, in the deep blackness where the shadows clustered out of reach of the fire, points of light glowing with the reflections of the flames.

“Teyla,” he whispered, very, very quietly.

“Yes, I know.”

Of course she did.  “What do we do?”

“Nothing.”

“What?”

“What do you suggest we do?  Neither of us can go any further.  At least we have the fire.”

Rodney nearly missed the telling choice of words, but they sparked something as they drifted through his head.  “What do you mean, neither of us?  I thought you’re okay!”

She squeezed his shoulder gently.  “We must hold them off until morning.  Do you have any more ammunition?”

A search of his pockets revealed three clips.  Teyla put another branch on the fire.  The eyes beneath the trees were unmoving.  Watching.  Waiting.  He couldn’t look away.

“Why aren’t they attacking?” he hissed.

“They are working out whether it is they or us who will win.”

That was hardly more reassuring, and Rodney wanted to say that.  But he held his tongue.  Instead, he took refuge in facts.  This planet had shorter nights than Earth – only a few hours, even in the current winter.  Maybe Teyla could hold off the wargs.  Maybe they weren’t certain to die.  The probability of being torn apart and devoured could be as low as… 95 percent.  Give or take.

A low growl sounded, and shook through the night.  Teyla’s body tensed.  Rodney screwed his eyes shut.  He wasn’t some stoic hero who could stare without flinching as his death lunged at him, all wild eyes and claws and glistening teeth.

Teyla’s hand rested on his for a second and then it was gone.  And gunfire ripped through the brooding quiet, as Rodney pressed his back up against the rough bark of the tree and wished to vanish inside it.  There were yelps and snarls and he expected at any moment to feel hot, rancid breath against the exposed flesh of his neck, and he pressed his chin into the top of his vest in a futile attempt to protect his jugular.

Silence.  He looked.  Teyla was moving the P90 through a slow arc, her jaw clenched with fierce concentration.  There was blood on the dry leaves at the edge of the circle of firelight.  The eyes were, for the moment, not visible.

“I hit three,” she replied to his unasked question.  “They crawled away.  Apparently they are slow to die.”

He didn’t understand how she could be so calm.  “So you scared them off?  Won’t they come back?”

“Probably.  I will collect more firewood before they do.”

She walked into the gloom as if there were no monsters out there, but taking the P90 with her.  Rodney felt a twinge of selfish fear at being left unarmed, even with the protection of the flickering flames.  But she returned with armfuls of fuel, which she piled next to him.  “You are in charge of the fire,” she said.

“I’m not really very good at this survival stuff.”

“I will be defending us.  If they bring a sustained attack I cannot divide my attention between that and the fire.”

“Okay, so I’ll do my best.”  He threw a stick towards it to emphasise his point.  It bounced off one of the half-burned branches and dropped uselessly to the soil  Teyla picked it up and poked it into the flames, and this time there was no mistaking the involuntary groan of pain that escaped her as she straightened up.  But he didn’t say anything, since she clearly didn’t want him to, and he didn’t see what it could possibly achieve in that case.

His silence was rewarded by a slight smile.  “I am sure you will manage the fire wonderfully,” she said.

The wargs didn’t come back as Rodney slowly fed stick after stick to the flames.  His leg throbbed, and he began to doubt that being devoured could possibly add to the pain he was in.  Adrenaline and shock were well on their way to having completely worn off.  He even managed to slip into a doze, with Teyla’s hand on his shoulder to shake him awake at a moment’s notice.

In fact, it was her hand slipping away from contact with him that caused him to wake.  He opened his eyes to find that she had slumped across the ground away from him.  Asleep, or – He hoped that she was merely asleep.  He glanced at the fire while deciding what to do, and his gaze slid across the low red glow and pale ghosts of flames until it was locked onto the pair of eyes watching him from the other side of it.

The glow played across the thick silver fur of the creature and shone from its golden, unblinking eyes.  The muzzle was lowered in his direction, and, although it was nearly closed, the points of sharp yellow-white teeth were visible in the thing’s bear-trap mouth.  It was the size of a lion, and Rodney was certain that it could eat him as an early breakfast and still have plenty of room for seconds.

He didn’t dare move.  Out of the corner of his eye he could see the P90, clutched tight in one of Teyla’s hands on the other side of her body.  Way out of reach.  And if he woke her up, that could be the cue that this mutant-space-wolf-warg was waiting for. 

Go away! he screamed inside his head.  Don’t eat me!  I taste terrible!

It continued to fix him with its terrible stare, and Rodney tried to hold his breath and hoped that it wasn’t attracted to the blood matted in his sleeve.

And then it turned, and swiftly loped into the trees, where the shadows engulfed it.

Rodney drew a very very long, shuddering breath, but still didn’t move in case it was watching from a distance, ready to change its mind.  He could feel the flood of adrenaline draining from him.

And then, ridiculously, he fell asleep again.

- * -

Her radio buzzed, close to her ear, and she put a hand out to her nightstand, fumbling for it, but her fingers couldn’t find among the damp dead leaves.

She opened her eyes and remembered that she wasn’t on Atlantis after all.

And then she sat bolt upright, not even registering the pain that flared in her chest at the sudden movement, twisting until she could see Rodney with his head tipped back against the tree trunk, his face alarmingly pale but his ribcage rising and falling with a reassuring regularity.  He was even snoring slightly.

The fire had burned down to embers, but the grey light of morning had dispelled the need for it.

Her radio buzzed again, and she answered it reflexively.  “This is Teyla.”

“Teyla, I know it’s early, but Zelenka’s ranting because Rodney changed some important password somewhere, and I can’t take it anymore.  Kick him awake and ask him what it is.”

Teyla couldn’t help it – she started to laugh, still holding open the channel. 

“What’s so funny?” John asked.

Beside her, Rodney groaned and cracked his eyelids apart.  “Get a Jumper crew ready for a rescue mission,” she said quickly into the radio.  “Bring Keller.”  Then she cut off John’s demands to know what had happened, and turned to Rodney instead.  “How do you feel?”

“Terrible,” he groused.  Then he opened his eyes properly.  “Oh my god, we’re still alive.”  He sounded sincerely shocked at that fact.

“We are.  And Atlantis is sending a Jumper to pick us up.”

“Finally, something good happens.  Keller had better not hold back on the painkillers.”

“I am sure she will not,” Teyla said, with a smile which quickly fell from her face.  “Rodney, I am ashamed to have fallen asleep when on watch.  If the creatures had come back…”

Rodney frowned, opened his mouth as if to say something, and then paused, clearly reconsidering.  “Well, they didn’t.  Huh.  I wonder why not?”

And she had also already considered the answer to his question, and it was not a pleasant one.  “I think they abandoned us in favour of a less troublesome source of food.”

It took Rodney a few seconds to understand, and then he looked horrified.  “God, Teyla, I’m so sorry.”

So was she.  And later she would allow herself to grieve for what had become of her friends.  Later.  “You did well last night,” she said instead.

“Yes, I’m sure Sheppard will be so very impressed.  Oh, wait.”

Teyla didn’t tell him that it was having to take care of him that had allowed her to focus on the task before them, probably saving them both.  Rodney would be sure to react with either supreme irritation or supreme smugness, and neither of those moods were particularly appealing prospects.

She slid Iren’s jewellery out of her pocket, and slipped the necklace over her head.  The sun-shaped pendant glinted against the dark cloth.

“I wish we could have saved them,” Rodney said, quietly.

“We will remember them, and save others.  And each other, in the meantime.”

“Very philosophical.  I think you did most of the saving, anyway.”

“You can repay me by babysitting Torren sometime.”  She laughed at his quick look of horror.

Above them, a Jumper soared into view.  Rodney pointed needlessly up at it.  “They’re here.”

Teyla slipped her arm around his shoulder and squeezed it gently.  “I told you we would make it home.”

“Oh, I always knew we would.”

“Are you quite sure about that?”

The Jumper landed with its hatch already lowering, their friends spilling out.  Any reply Rodney made was lost in the noise.  It was probably better that way.


Tags: ,
 
 
 
perspi on February 26th, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
*claps happily*

This is FANTASTIC--scary and tense and wonderful interaction between Teyla and Rodney--they both felt very right. I loved it!
Frith: Rodney - happyfrith_in_thorns on February 26th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! And I'm so glad that Rodney and Teyla felt right - I really enjoyed writing them together like this!
leesa_perrie: Teylaleesa_perrie on February 26th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
Wonderful! Fits the artwork perfectly - and I really love your Teyla and Rodney POVs!

The probability of being torn apart and devoured could be as low as... 95 percent. Give or take.

Ah, there it is, Rodney's well known optimism!!! LOL! I like how Teyla calls him on his assertion that he knew they'd make it home at the end there - she knows him too well!!
Frith: Teyla - redfrith_in_thorns on February 26th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Yep, Rodney's incredibly optomistic... for certain values of optomism :P

I'm really glad that you liked the Teyla and Rodney POVs too :)
leesa_perrie: Oh Crap Rodneyleesa_perrie on February 26th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
When I think of Rodney and his, erm, optismism I often think of this quote:

I guess I just prefer to see the dark side of things. The glass is always half empty. And cracked. And I just cut my lip on it. And chipped a tooth. - Janeane Garofalo

I really have no idea why, though!!! *vbg*
Astridastridv on February 26th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
:D
This seriously made my day. It was perfect, the way you wrote Rodney and Teyla together. Their interaction throughout the whole ordeal is so totally in character! I love how she keeps him going... and he keeps her going but he doesn't know that.

Teyla didn’t tell him that it was having to take care of him that had allowed her to focus on the task before them, probably saving them both. Rodney would be sure to react with either supreme irritation or supreme smugness, and neither of those moods were particularly appealing prospects.



The destruction of the village and Teyla's reaction feel very real. There's so much detail to round off this story... the smell of burning chemicals, the forest, the crossing of the ford, the creatures.

The scene where she sets his leg works really well! And the one that I illustrated fits right in here. :) Normally when I illustrate I get a script and make the artwork. It is lovely to have a story written for something I drew.

Great fic, will rec!
(btw, of course you can add a copy of my illustration to the story if you like. )
Frith: Computer lovefrith_in_thorns on February 28th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
Re: :D
Thank you very much! I'm just sorry that it took me such a long time to write this! I've also discovered how much I like writing Teyla. She just seems to fit so well with Rodney.

It was really fun writing for a picture - it's not something I've done before, but definitely something I'd try again. It was interesting having to work backwards, as it were, and figure out the things leading up to that point (and how Rodney sustained those injuries, and treatment of same!).]

Your comment and recs also made my day, btw - I'm so happy that you liked this! :D
Varda ☆: Rodney and Teylax_varda_x on February 26th, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
Loved it! Go Rodney and Teyla! They make a lovely couple :D
Frith: Teyla - redfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
Heh, I don't ship them, but I do like their friendship :) Glad you enjoyed this!
aelfgyfu_mead: Teylaaelfgyfu_mead on February 27th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
Wow: excellent characterization, appropriately tense, and yet with some hope and even humor. I really felt for Teyla, losing her friends.
Frith: Teyla - redfrith_in_thorns on February 28th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I recently realised how much I enjoy writing for Teyla :)
ed263ed263 on February 27th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
Wonderful story!! Well done! You captured Teyla and Rodney's personalities perfectly! ♥


Frith: Team - teamworkfrith_in_thorns on February 28th, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)
Thank you! Really glad that you enjoyed reading this, and telling me my characterisations were, well, in character is the nicest thing you could say, since it's that that worries me the most with my writing :D
Sholio: Shrine-Rodney Teyla on gatesholio on February 28th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
Oh, this was absolutely lovely! I really enjoy them together, and this was just the right blend of action, h/c and friendshippiness. :)
Frith: Teyla - redfrith_in_thorns on March 1st, 2010 10:50 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm really glad you liked it! :)
siriaeve on March 1st, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, I enjoyed this a lot! They work so well together :)
Frith: Atlantis - moonfrith_in_thorns on March 1st, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I really enjoyed writing the two of them here :)
trishkafibbletrishkafibble on March 15th, 2010 06:21 am (UTC)
Wonderful!! Perfect characterization, and a gripping story. I'm especially impressed with your sense of proportion. The h/c elements aren't the least bit overdone, and the tension and drama are well balanced by realism (and a deft touch of humor!). A truly engaging, satisfying story. Thanks so much for sharing!
korilian: Teyla/Rodneykorilian on March 15th, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
Very cool!
Frith: Teyla - forestfrith_in_thorns on March 16th, 2010 12:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :)
Frith: Rodney - brown smileyfrith_in_thorns on March 24th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! And it's especially nice of you to comment on the balance - I'm always worried about a story slipping to become just gratuitious angst or h/c or anything.
Really glad you enjoyed the plot, too - this one was a really fun one to write :)