Word Count: ~10,500
Genre: Gen – Action Adventure
Characters: John Sheppard and Team
Warnings: Some minor profanity, whump and H/C.
Summary: When a routine mission goes wrong, John and his team find out that sometimes in the wilds of the Pegasus galaxy, you’re not always on the top of the food chain.
And the awesome trillingstar made art for Grit too! And it totally fits :D
Below cut for art and story. Enjoy!
Grit – A personality trait. To have spirit, guts, courage and or tenacity.
Commonly associated with perseverance, hardiness and resilience.
Season 3 between The Return II and Sunday
Hell was where John lived.
Pure, agonizing, and unrelenting hell.
“We must keep moving!”
Teyla’s shouted voice was quiet… muted behind the roaring in his ears, but he felt the compulsion in each word. He could feel his strength waning, seeping from his body with every drop of blood he shed. The sounds of their attackers tickled his hearing, persistent and never lost even when everything else was muffled or forgotten. It drove him, powering one leg to stagger ahead and the other to stumble with it. Blackness tinged the edge of his vision but he pushed it back, fighting through the fire of pain with nothing but the blunt refusal to give up.
If the devil himself had stood before him, John would’ve given him the double bird.
“Watch out!” Ronon’s shout pierced the haze in John’s head, the shots from his gun deafening.
Two hours earlier –
“This better be good, McKay.” John couldn’t help but grouse just a little bit and took no pains to hide the tone of warning in his voice. Boredom had a way of shortening his temper… that and the oppressing, humid heat that had greeted them the second they’d exited the gate what seemed like forever ago. He swatted a bug in irritation.
“Oh, trust me,” Rodney’s exasperated voice was equally annoyed, “no one wants to get off this godforsaken planet more than I do. But the Ancients noted this address in the database and our research classifies it as TRA. We have to check it out.”
“TRA?” Ronon ambled along behind Rodney, sounding completely unbothered by the heat.
“Technology, Research, Ally,” Rodney answered immediately. “As opposed to IPIP: Indigenous, Pre-Industrial, Protected. And then there’s WU: Wild, Uninhabited. And WUAP: Wild Uninhabited, Alpha site Possible.”
John sighed and looked over his shoulder in time to see Rodney turn and face Ronon. He stopped, catching Ronon’s annoyed ‘can I kill him now?’ glare and shook his head.
“See,” Rodney waved his hands, apparently oblivious of the unspoken exchange between John and Ronon, “there are so many planets in the database that we have to prioritize them. We based our system on what we believe is how the Ancients classified them, or close anyway.” He shrugged, “well, except the Alpha site candidacy. That’s our own. Anyway, the Ancients indicated technology and research for this planet, so TRA.” He smiled. “Of course, that’s just the planets with gates on them. There’s a whole classification for planets with orbital gates as well. Atmospheric conditions notwithstanding, it’s really similar to….”
“Sorry I asked,” Ronon interrupted.
Rodney’s shoulders sagged and his smile disappeared. “See if I explain anything to you again,” he muttered.
“Promise?” Ronon replied.
John slapped another insect on his neck. “Can we just get this over with please?” He turned and continued down what he assumed was a game trail. It’d been the only path – though he used that term loosely – they’d found leading into the woods, from the marginally sized grassland clearing where the gate stood. By his best guess, and Rodney’s hand held detector, they were at least headed in the right, general direction.
His gaze drifted upwards. The trees around them reminded him of Sequoias - massive trunks and staggering heights. The branches themselves were impressive as well, twisted, thick and seemingly unstoppable. They wound with each other, sometimes making it hard to tell what branches went with what trees and blocked enough sunlight that even now, in the region’s mid-day hours, the path was deeply shaded. Spears of light hit the ground in staggered intervals, and enough ambient daylight prevented the need for flashlights, but John couldn’t remember ever seeing a forest canopy as dense as this one. Unfortunately, it also meant that any breeze that might be blowing had little chance of getting to them. The foliage around him was eerily quiet, not even a rustling leaf. When they’d left the beating sun for the shade of the woods at the beginning of this trek, he had hoped the shade would give them some relief, but they’d traded the sun for still, oppressive air. He wasn’t sure which was worse: a hot breeze and relentless sunlight, or this.
His gaze fell back to ground level. The roots of the trees seemed as hardy as the branches. In some places, they stuck out from the ground waist high, while others were barely visible. He fleetingly wondered if even C4 could punch through a stump of one of these monsters. He dismissed the random thought. “Any change in the energy readings, Rodney?”
Rodney fell in next to John. “Still faint, just like the MALP registered.” He sighed. “This would be easier with a jumper.”
John swatted yet another bug. At least the breeze had kept the damned insects at bay. His dark mood deepened. “You saw the sensor readings.” He stepped over a half-buried tree root. “There’s no place to land near the energy source. We would’ve had to leave the jumper in the gate clearing.”
“That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been better,” Rodney muttered.
John rolled his eyes. “Right. That extra three hundred yards we could’ve flown from the gate to the tree line, would’ve helped so much.”
“Fine,” Rodney snapped, “I get the point.”
John waved at a little swarm of gnats in front of his face. “This better be worth it.”
“There does seem to be a considerable amount of insects on this planet,” Teyla quietly observed as she walked just behind Rodney.
“Gotta be water close by,” John answered. “Just our luck.”
“Bugs… water…” Rodney muttered. “You know, we weren’t vaccinated for things like malaria before coming here. You don’t think….”
“No, Rodney,” John cut him off. “You’re not going to get malaria.”
“Because it fits the environment,” Rodney went on, his paranoia undeterred. “I mean it would probably be some weird Pegasus version, but…”
“If you start frothing at the mouth, I’ll shoot you and put you out of your misery.” John cut him off again.
“That’s rabies, not malaria!” Rodney snapped.
“Was there any indication of what the Ancients were studying here?” Teyla smoothly interjected, distracting Rodney with another line of conversation.
“None,” Rodney answered. “Hardly surprising. The Ancients were nothing if not ambiguous in their own database entries. Seriously? What’s the point of keeping a database if you don’t detail your entries?”
John ducked under a small branch from a neighboring bush. By his reckoning, they’d hiked about two miles since this little trek had started and should be getting close to the energy source. Five more minutes passed and John was about to question Rodney’s accuracy in predicting the distance they’d have to hike, when something in the formation of the trees caught his attention. His gaze narrowed as the trees thinned just slightly, twisted branches and roots bending around what was left of a tall, angular structure. Gaping holes punctured the roof and the metallic silver walls were coated with a fine, green moss giving them a tarnished and weathered look. A large entrance dominated the section of the building right in front of them and what was once a sturdy door was crumpled to one side, leaving the building wide open to the elements, animals and anything else around. John nodded to himself. The architecture vaguely reminded him of the spires of Atlantis, so he had no doubt it was Ancient in origin.
“Yeah,” Rodney stopped next to him. “Unfortunately, that’s got to be it.” He sighed. “Great. That really doesn’t look promising.”
“Bad shape,” Ronon commented from just behind John.
“Did I not just say that?” Rodney snapped back. “Of course if we would’ve brought a nice, climate-controlled jumper, we could’ve flown over and seen this in the first place.”
John gritted his teeth, refusing to comment.
“We will need to be cautious,” Teyla cast a slightly worried expression in John’s direction.
John nodded. “Yeah, just what I was thinking.” He started forward. “Watch yourselves.” He wove through branches and trees making his way to the entrance. At the base of the walls, large cracks snaked their way upwards, the foundation slowly giving in to massive tree roots that wormed their way under the building and up through the ground. Looking up, his gaze followed the lines of the building to where they disappeared into masses of tangle branches where the woods crept in. From below and above, nature and the formidable trees that inhabited this planet were slowly, but surely, reclaiming the space. As uneducated a guess as it was, John silently bet that within fifty years, there wouldn’t be a single wall standing.
He stepped over some rubble, leading his team into the ruins. Sunlight filtered by the trees still made its way through the gaping holes in the roof, creating patches of light in the darkness and illuminating the massive branches that intruded through the holes. He flipped on his gun light and panned it around what was once a large room. “Not good,” he commented as his light passed over several control panels, crushed by debris.
“For once, I agree with you. But something’s emitting energy readings,” Rodney answered.
John turned and looked at him in time to see him point to the other side of the room.
“There.” Rodney picked his way through the rubble to a lone control panel, miraculously unscathed. He touched a couple keys and sighed. “I’m going to need someone to hold some light here, while I try to get power back.”
John nodded. “Teyla, give him a hand. Ronon and I will scout the room and see if there’s anything else worth investigating.”
Teyla nodded once and made her way over to Rodney.
John meandered through the debris until he found the wall. Following it, he started around what seemed like an octagonal shaped room. He squinted as he made his way towards Ronon who was approaching from the other direction, the flicker of his flashlight revealing his position. “No doors.” John observed.
“None here either.” Ronon answered as he crossed into John’s light.
“Why would the Ancients make a one room building like this?” John wondered aloud. “No crew quarters? Mess hall? No other rooms?” John panned his light up, following the wall and stopping about twenty five feet above them. Jutting out from the wall at roughly a ninety degree angle was what looked like the remains of a floor and suddenly it made sense. “There were levels above us,” he observed. “They built up, not out. The stairs or transporter must’ve been part of what’s been destroyed.” He lowered his light, nodding at the ruins scattered around branches and roots in a particular area on one wall. “Definitely.” He shone it across the room at Rodney. “Any luck, McKay?” He picked his way over to Rodney’s location.
“Not yet,” Rodney answered from under the panel. “Teyla, I need the light closer.”
“Of course.” From where she squatted by Rodney’s legs, Teyla lowered onto her knees and ducked under the panel.
“Okay,” Rodney’s voice was muffled, “back just a little bit.”
Teyla’s move backwards was halted by her gasp and quiet cry of pain. Her whole body tensed as she sat down hard her gun dropping as she grasped her left arm, her breath hissing through her teeth.
“What…” Rodney’s voice trailed off.
John quickly dropped to one knee next to her. “You okay?” His gaze fixed on her left upper arm and a dark wet stain that was spreading through the torn, black material. “Damn it.”
Teyla held tightly to her arm, just below the elbow. “I caught it on something sharp.”
“Where?” From behind her Rodney scrambled sideways and away from her position.
Teyla shook her head. “It is not close to you, Rodney.”
“Oh.” Rodney’s scrambling ceased and he carefully edged out from under the panel.
Teyla looked at John, her expression a cross between pain and frustration. “I did not see it or realize….” She shook her head as her voice trailed off.
John let his P-90 dangle from his vest and gently reached out, one hand cradling her arm while with the other he carefully peeled back a tattered edge of her coat sleeve. “It’s okay,” he reassured.
“Could’ve happened to any of us,” Ronon answered from his position by the door.
John glanced back at Ronon, smiling slightly. He appreciated the fact that he never had to ask Ronon to keep a weather eye out. For the Satedan, it was instinctive. John returned his attention to Teyla.
“You okay?” Rodney sat up, looking over her shoulder. “Oh,” he blanched a bit at the blood. “That looks bad.”
John glanced up at Rodney. “McKay. Not helping.”
Rodney sighed. “Right. Shutting up.” He grabbed his light and shone it over the underside of the panel, busying himself with repairs. “I think I can do this and hold the light at the same time….” He muttered.
John squinted at Teyla’s arm. “I need some light here.”
Teyla nodded and zeroed her flashlight on her wounded arm.
John’s gaze narrowed at the ragged gash. Blood flowed freely but not fast, leading him to believe that, while deep, it wasn’t too serious. “You’ll probably need stitches.” John looked up smiling slightly, “but I think you’ll live.”
Pain still creased her features, but Teyla returned his small smile.
John slowly let go. “Hold your arm out.” With both hands freed, he grabbed onto each side of the torn fabric and pulled hard, ripping the material away from the gash. He grabbed a bandage from his TAC vest pocket and carefully bound the wound, wincing just a little as Teyla’s breath hissed in pain when he tightened it. “Sorry.”
“It is all right,” she answered.
“We should get you back to Atlantis,” John sat back on his heel and rested his arm on his bent knee. “Get Carson to take a look at that.”
Concern must’ve shown in John’s face because Teyla’s expression abruptly turned reassuring. “I will be fine. The bandage will stop the bleeding. It would be a shame to have hiked this far and not allow Rodney the opportunity to determine if there is something here we can use.”
John arched a brow. “Against our many and nefarious enemies?”
Her smile was genuine at that. “Yes.”
John sighed. Teyla had a point and the wound didn’t seem too serious. Still, he didn’t like being a couple miles from the gate with a member of his team injured. He looked down at the bandage, reassured that no blood was showing through… yet.
“John,” Teyla said quietly and waited for him to look back up at her face. “I will be fine,” she repeated.
He nodded once. “Okay.” He stood and held out his hand. “Come on. We’ll sit you down out of the way. Ronon and I can take care of things. You just take it easy and drink some water.”
Teyla took his hand and slowly stood. “I am fine,” she repeated.
John’s grip on her arm lingered as she straightened and fully stood. “Humor me. It’s a long, hot hike back to the gate.” His brows crept upward just a little.
Teyla sighed. “Very well.”
John let go of her hand and watched as she walked over to a large chunk of rubble and grabbed her canteen from its holster behind her back, before slowly sitting. He returned his attention to Rodney who had crawled back under the panel. “McKay?”
“No power yet.” Rodney’s reply was distracted.
“Yet?” John answered. “Not yet?”
“No!” Rodney’s voice turned exasperated. “Not yet. Trust me, Colonel, you’ll be the first to know when….” His voice trailed off as the panel abruptly started humming, the transparent crystals on its surface backlit by an orange glow.
“You’re right,” John answered as he walked closer to the panel. “I’m the first to know.” He looked down at the keys.
“Don’t touch anything,” Rodney ordered as he squirmed out from under the panel and stood.
“Do I look like I’m touching anything?” John retorted, throwing an irritated look at Rodney, who returned it along with an extra note of annoyance of his own.
“Not yet, but you can never resist, Colonel ‘My Gene Needs a Leash’. Need I remind you of all the harrowing, life and death situations we’ve ended up in because you and that overzealous gene of yours couldn’t resist activating something?”
“Only if you want me to point out all the times you’ve nearly killed all of us diving into unknown technology,” John retorted, “which, I might add, outnumber my… mishaps.”
“Whatever,” Rodney snapped as he elbowed in next to John. “A little room please?”
John stepped back, all the while glaring at the side of Rodney’s head. “Anything useful?”
Rodney’s shoulders sagged and he looked up at the ceiling. “Seriously? I’ve had what… ten seconds to look at this technology and you expect an answer to that?”
“Yes.” John’s voice went up half an octave. “You’re the one who boasts the ability to save the galaxy in five point two seconds.” He paused and lowered his voice. “I want to get Teyla back to Atlantis sooner rather than later.”
Rodney’s annoyed look faded slightly. “She’s not hurt bad, is she?”
John shrugged. “I prefer to err on the side of caution.” His expression serious, he held Rodney’s gaze for another long moment.
Rodney looked away, refocusing his attention on the control panel. “Right. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
John stepped back. “Let me know when you have something.” He wove through debris and walked over to Teyla. “How you feeling?”
She smiled reassuringly. “Better.”
He cocked his head and looked at her arm, his gaze narrowing at the signs of blood just starting to show through the bandage.
Her gaze followed his before she looked up again, catching his attention. “I believe the bleeding has slowed, John. It hurts but as I said, I feel fine.”
John’s lips tightened slightly in worry, but he nodded once. “Okay.” He sat down next to her and scratched the back of his head before resting his arms on his knees.
“Do you think Rodney will find anything useful?” Teyla asked.
John shrugged. “Hard to tell. The damage to the building isn’t a good sign, but you never know.” He took a sip of his own water.
“Something to battle the Wraith or the Replicators would be very helpful.” Teyla’s gaze was solemn.
John nodded slightly. “Yeah.” While they had to worry about the Menarians, Wraith-worshipping humans and especially the Genii, none of that kept him awake as many nights as worrying about the Wraith and, more recently, the Replicators. They’d had a little break – very little – when the Wraith ended up embroiled in their own civil war, but Pegasus, it seemed, wasn’t through tossing curve balls in his direction, Replicators being the latest. He turned his thoughts away from the memory of Atlantis being destroyed around him, the feeling of some… thing’s hand in his head, and just how close they’d come to losing Elizabeth. He had to, or he’d spend his life jumping at his own shadow.
He never thought he’d worry about any enemy as much or more than the Wraith, but then the Replicators came along, and they gave the Wraith a run for their money in his mind. What better threat to worry about than the very thing created to destroy the other biggest threat in the galaxy?
“We will find a way to defeat them, John,” Teyla spoke quietly, her unwavering intuition no doubt driving her words.
John couldn’t share in her confidence, but he looked over at her anyway. “Maybe, but at what cost?”
Teyla broke eye contact and she looked away, saying nothing.
“Oh, this is not good.”
Rodney’s voice grabbed John’s attention, jarring him out of the silent brooding that had fallen over him in the wake of his conversation with Teyla. He stood, bringing his light up to focus on Rodney. “What?” Leaving Teyla, he walked back over to the console. Rodney’s gaze was fixed on his tablet computer, his brows knitted in frustration. “What?” John repeated.
“Massive damage,” Rodney shook his head, his gaze never leaving his data pad. “And when I say massive, I mean… well… massive.”
“The database?” John had a sinking feeling he was right.
Rodney looked up at him and nodded. “Yes. Even with the Ancients borderline overkill in database redundancy, there’s just too much damage.” He dropped the tablet on the console and shook his head. “It’s pretty much gone.” He shrugged. “I can fit the scattered pieces I can salvage onto this tablet and we can take it with us, but I highly doubt we’ll get anything useful from it.”
John sighed trying to quell his frustration. It was always a letdown when leads like this turned into dead ends. Unfortunately, it was something they were all too familiar with. With ten thousand years of nature, the Wraith, Replicators and anything else the galaxy could come up with, more had been destroyed than preserved. “Take what you can get,” he answered.
Rodney nodded. “Give me twenty minutes.”
John looked past him and did a slight double take as his gaze passed over Ronon. The big man was silent and intently looking outside into the forest. Even from across the room, John could sense his tension. He glanced at Teyla who apparently noticed his gaze and started to rise from her seat. He waved her back down. Crossing the room, John slowly walked up next to Ronon. “Something wrong?” he asked quietly.
Ronon didn’t move and didn’t even acknowledge him for a long moment, before he turned his head and fixed John with a stoic look. “Not sure.” He looked back out into the apparently quiet woods.
John’s hand slowly drifted to his P-90 hanging from his vest as his gaze scanned over the thick vegetation but nothing alerted him. “You’re awfully tense for ‘not sure.’”
“I don’t see anything,” Ronon admitted, “but,” he shrugged, “I don’t like it.”
John’s grip tightened slightly on his gun. “Don’t like what?”
John resisted the urge to roll his eyes but did let out a quiet sigh. “You’re not making this very easy, Big Guy.”
John held onto his gun but didn’t raise it. “Keep a sharp eye out. McKay’s almost done and then we’re out of here.”
Ronon nodded once, his eyes still scanning the forest.
John walked back into the building and paced, resisting the urge to either look at his watch or hound Rodney, neither of which would make the time go any faster. So, he was mildly surprised when Rodney abruptly spoke up, breaking the silence.
John looked at Rodney as he unplugged his tablet from the console and reached over his shoulders, smacking it firmly to the back of his TAC vest, letting the Velcro stick and secure it.
John walked to Teyla and held out his hand. “Ready?”
She smiled and took it. “Yes. It will be good to get back to Atlantis.”
John nodded in agreement. “A cold shower sounds really good right now.” He slowly pulled her to her feet, watching closely for any sign that she was anything but steady. The initial blood stain on her bandage hadn’t seemed to grow any and he took a small amount of reassurance at that.
Teyla let go of his arm and sighed deeply before nodding at him. She lifted her gun and started towards the door, only a few paces behind Rodney.
John followed. “Hold on. Ronon? Anything?”
Ronon slowly turned away from the entrance and shook his head, the wave of his dreadlocks silhouetted against the outside light. “Nope. But I still don’t like it.”
“I’d give a Buffalo nickel to know what ‘it’ is,” John sighed.
“Me too. Whatever a Buffalo nickel is,” Ronon answered.
John stepped around Teyla and Rodney and stopped next to Ronon at the threshold of the building. His lips twitched as he considered the situation for a moment. He wasn’t in the habit of jumping at his own shadow, but had learned a long time ago that Ronon’s ‘spidey sense’ was something to never take lightly.
“Are we going to stand here all day wondering if a mysterious ‘it’ is going to attack us?” Rodney’s voice was its usual annoying tone.
“If you’re so sure nothing’s there, you go first,” John answered dryly.
“I’ll pass, thanks,” Rodney muttered.
John scanned the twisted trees one more time before nodding to himself. “Okay. I’m on point, Ronon take the six. Teyla, McKay, fall in the middle. Let’s move.” Taking a deep breath, he stepped out into the jungle and started back down the overgrown trail.
The time they’d spent in the ruins had definitely made a difference in the level of light on the forest trail as they’d moved from the midday high sun to the afternoon. They could still see without flashlights, but the ambient light had dimmed considerably. John couldn’t quite dismiss the pinch of nerves in his gut. “McKay, watch for life signs.”
“Seriously?” Rodney snapped back. “It’s a forest. There’re life signs everywhere. What, exactly am I looking for?”
“How about any of them moving our direction?” John answered, his edgy tone tinged with annoyance.
“Right,” Rodney sighed. “Moving our direction. That’s so…. Wait a minute.”
John froze in his tracks then spun around, his gaze zeroing on Rodney. “What?”
Rodney’s eyes were fixed on his detector. “Not sure,” he shook his head. “I mean, there’s a group of life signs that seem to be moving parallel to us… wait,” he looked up, his eyes widening as they fixed on John. “They’re moving closer.”
John looked down at Rodney’s detector, his eyes drawn to a group of dots fanning out as they moved steadily towards his team.
“We’re being hunted,” Ronon stepped up next to Teyla and drew his gun.
“I believe Ronon is right, Colonel,” Teyla raised her own gun. “The forest is silent. No birds, insects, other animals…” She shook her head. “Only predators on the hunt have such an effect on the animals around them.”
John took a deep breath and listened over the thudding of his adrenaline-pumped heart and realized what Teyla and Ronon had instinctively noticed. The birds were gone and the woods were quiet… or as the old saying went, too quiet. “Crap,” he whispered and lifted his gun, his gaze piercing as he tried to see through the thick foliage, searching for any sign of danger. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“How about making a run for the ruins?” Rodney suggested. “We haven’t come that far.”
John shook his head. “I think any plan that involves running is probably a bad idea.”
Abruptly, a loud, short series of yelps broke the silence and were promptly answered by another set and another. The cries sounded like a loud whooping and were eerily familiar. John was suddenly reminded of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom he’d watched as a kid. “That sounds kind of like…”
“Hyenas,” Rodney finished. “What the hell are they doing here? And in the woods?”
“Hyenas?” Teyla questioned.
“African pack hunters back on Earth.” John answered shortly. “Sort of like dogs.” He reached one hand down, just above his knee. “About yea tall at the shoulder.” He quickly settled both hands back on his P-90, knowing Teyla wouldn’t press for more. Not now.
Another whooping call echoed behind them.
“Definitely a pack,” Ronon answered, turning his back on the team to watch the six.
John nodded in agreement at Ronon’s tactic. “Back-to-back. We need to stay together and not get separated.” He turned around, facing forward down the trail and opposite of Ronon. Teyla stood to his right and Rodney to his left. “Maybe we can scare them off.”
“We will likely have to kill a few to do so,” Teyla answered.
Another whoop sounded, echoed by two more and much closer.
“I’m good with that,” Ronon added.
“Why the hell didn’t we run into these guys on the way in?” Rodney whispered emphatically.
John shrugged, not keen on distracting conversations at the moment. “I don’t know. Maybe they hunt late in the day and night and weren’t out and about when we came through?”
“But…” Rodney started.
“It doesn’t matter right now,” John interrupted.
“Still think the jumper was a bad idea?” Rodney’s voice was short and strained with fear.
“McKay, not now!” John hissed through clenched teeth. “Where are they?”
“Closing,” Rodney whispered, “from all direct…. Whoa!”
John twisted, opening fire as a brownish gray mass of hair, teeth and snarls exploded from the foliage just to his left. His P-90 shots joined Rodney’s nine-mil ones. Blasts immediately erupted from Ronon’s gun as well as staccato shots from Teyla’s P-90 as the pack attacked them, the whooping and yelps short and threatening.
John spun back to the right, fixing his sights on another snarling beast charging right at him. The vocalizations they made weren’t the only resemblance they had to hyenas, his mind registered briefly, though they seemed to be leaner and slighter of body than their Earth cousins and thick claws graced their front paws. John squeezed the trigger and the beast crumpled right in front of him, only to be replaced by another. Even over the gunfire, he could hear snarls, whooping and something resembling giggles sounding all around him as the animals kept charging and he kept shooting.
“Reloading!” Rodney shouted and John instinctively inched closer to him, covering both of them, as Rodney reached for another clip.
John targeted another animal and fired but from the corner of his eye he saw Rodney slam the clip home and tense, his eyes widening at something over John’s shoulder.
John’s reaction to Rodney’s shout was reflexive and he turned towards another attacker, but he was a half breath too late. Pain seared through his body as the animal leapt and latched onto his right forearm, pulling him off balance. The P-90 flew from his grasp as he stumbled forward, trying to stay on his feet.
“John!” Rodney’s voice broke in panic.
John shouted in pain and slammed his fist into the animal’s snout, but it held fast, its bite pit bull like in its tenacity. His left hand fumbled awkwardly for his right side holstered .45, but it was all he could do to stay on his feet.
John felt like everything was moving in slow motion as true to their pack instincts, more animals converged on him, his team forgotten. They’d singled out their prey and were moving in for the kill. Another cry was torn from John’s throat as a second beast latched onto his lower, right leg. He struggled, fighting and kicking, a stream of obscenities flying from his mouth as his hand finally latched onto his sidearm. Pulling it, he shouted in rage and pain and squeezed the trigger at the nearest animal. Disconnected, he could hear the sound of his teams’ guns as they fired as best they could without hitting him.
Another one harried his other leg, and suddenly a blaze of pain scorched through his left thigh as yet another animal sunk its teeth into his flesh. In a tangle of snarls, cusses, gunshots and scrambles, he was pulled to the ground. Primal instincts for survival shut down all thought in John and he fought savagely, tuning out the pain as something bit into his side. He kept firing at anything he could hit, until his gun clicked in resignation. He shouted in defiance at the snarling mouth that came right at his face.
Abruptly, another primal cry, this one human, echoed just over him, large hands fixing on the jaws descending on his neck. Over the roaring in his ears John heard a sickening crunch as the hands savagely pulled the jaws apart and twisted, killing the animal. More gunfire echoed and suddenly the beasts scattered leaving in their wake a deadly, eerie silence. John’s eyes fixed on the hands, watching as they tossed aside the animal with ease. His gaze left the hands, tracked up the arms and came to rest on Ronon’s concerned face.
In that moment, the adrenaline and instinct-driven fight within John dissolved and pain flooded in. His head fell hard to the ground and his eyes squeezed shut as a hoarse cry escaped him. His body was on fire and the sensory overload pushed him towards unconsciousness.
Teyla’s voice acted like a tether and he latched onto it, fighting to stay conscious. In the back of his mind, he knew he needed to stay awake, get on his feet and get moving. The pack had tasted blood and they’d be back.
Teyla’s voice was quieter now and closer, her warm breath brushing across his cheek. Suddenly, coldness gripped him and shivers coursed through his body.
“Open your eyes,” Teyla’s tone was gentle but insistent. “You must stay awake.”
His breathing ragged, John fought, pushing back against the blackness, snippets of conversation still registering with him.
A searing firestorm of pain lanced up from his side, jarring him back to full consciousness with a strangled cry. He felt a strong grip on his shoulder, holding him still. John’s eyes snapped open and he lifted his head, fixing his gaze on Teyla, who was probing a wound on his left flank.
She looked up, her concerned gaze meeting his pained one. “I am sorry.”
John panted hard, twice. “S’ok,” he gasped, his head falling back to the ground. “Got… to.” He tried to organize his scattered thoughts. “How… bad?” He lifted his head again and looked at her in time to see Teyla bite her lower lip in hesitation. He hardened his gaze as much as he could muster. “Tell… me.”
She looked at him, her uncertain expression clearing and she nodded once. “The wound is deep,” she said quietly. “Had it not been for your vest, the animal would’ve gutted you.” She swallowed hard before continuing. “You also have deep wounds on your thigh, calf and arm.”
John’s head fell back, but he was surprised when it landed on a soft lap, instead of the hard ground. He looked up, meeting gazes with a very pale McKay. He’d never noticed Rodney kneel behind him.
“I don’t… I mean….” Rodney stammered before exhaling hard. “Just… hang in there, okay?”
John nodded. His thoughts were fuzzy and consciousness was proving hard to hang onto. “Still… alive,” he finally answered, wincing as Teyla bound the wound on his thigh. “Ronon?”
“Keeping watch,” Rodney answered.
“Smart,” John swallowed hard, quelling his nausea. “They’ll be… back.”
Teyla pulled another bandage out, this time from John’s TAC vest. “John, Rodney is going to lift you, so I can bind the wound on your side. It will probably hurt.”
John nodded and squeezed his eyes shut. “Do it. We have… to get moving.” He dug his hands into the soft dirt, his fingers curling tensely as he tried to suppress grunts of pain while Rodney slowly shifted him up into a sitting position.
Teyla pressed the bandage against his side and reached around him, wrapping the long straps around his torso, before tightening them.
John inhaled sharply and grunted against the pain. He breathed as deeply as he could as Rodney slowly lowered him back onto his lap.
“Rodney, I need another bandage.”
John blinked hard, his vision fuzzy as he focused on Teyla’s outstretched arm, and the bandage Rodney smacked into her palm. He grunted slightly as she jostled his arm and bandaged it tightly. “We… match… sorta.” He tried to smile just a little around his raspy voice and looked up at her. Though blurry, he could still make out her small, returning smile.
“Yes,” Teyla answered quietly.
“You just never can let anyone outdo you, can you Sheppard?” Rodney added, his voice an odd cross between annoyed and concerned, with a dash of panic to boot.
John held his smile. “Nope… but should’ve let Teyla win… this one.” His eyes moved past Teyla as Ronon appeared right behind her.
“Gotta move now. They’re coming back.” He immediately turned and raised his gun. As if on cue, the whooping calls returned.
“That’s just… terrifying,” Rodney’s voice was barely above a whisper.
John’s hand fumbled at his .45, lying in the dirt next to him. “Teyla, reload it. Rodney, take my… P-90.”
Rodney reached for the P-90 as Teyla grabbed the .45 and swiftly reloaded it, before sliding it back into John’s holster.
John pulled in a deep breath, forcefully tuning out the spikes of pain from his side and planted his left hand in the dirt. He lifted his head out of Rodney’s lap and pushed himself up just a little. “Come on,” he gasped. “Move.”
“Where?” Rodney braced his hands on John’s shoulder blades, just in time to keep John from unceremoniously falling backwards.
“Perhaps back to the ruins,” Teyla grabbed the forearm of John’s good arm, a grip he immediately returned. “They are closer.”
“And do what?” Rodney paused, still holding John in a sitting position. “We’re not overdue for at least four hours. Sheppard won’t….” his voice trailed off.
John closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Rodney had left his thought unfinished, but John was pretty sure he knew where the conversation had been headed. He pushed that thought aside. “Ruins are defensible.” He took a deep breath and paused for a moment, beating back the urge to just pass out. When he finally opened his eyes, he was met with Teyla’s determined gaze.
“No,” she said quietly, her voice resolute. “Rodney is right. Atlantis will not suspect anything is wrong for several hours. You are bleeding badly, John. We must get you back as soon as possible.”
John shook his head. “Can’t defend… yourselves, running and dragging… my ass….”
Suddenly, Ronon’s head appeared over Teyla’s shoulder. He glared at John, his gaze fierce.
“Not arguing this,” Ronon growled. “We go back to the gate.” He leaned in closer, his face scant inches from John’s. “You and I both know what will happen if we go back to the ruins and wait.” His gaze narrowed. “I won’t sit your deathwatch, Sheppard, not today. And I’ll never sit it just to save my own life.”
John pulled as much conviction into his glare as he could but had a feeling he came up short. Ronon was right, damn him. John could feel the strength seeping from his body and knew he was in serious trouble. He let out a loud breath and closed his eyes again before nodding once. “Damn it,” he whispered. His head jerked up and his eyes flew open as the yelps resumed, each answering call closer than the last. John tightened his grip on Teyla’s arm as Ronon turned away, scanning his gun in a half circle around them. John forced his bad leg to comply and struggled to his feet as Teyla pulled and Rodney lifted him upright.
Rodney stepped up next to John and he immediately leaned hard on the scientist. “You’ll have to… help me. Ronon… Teyla… they need their hands free… to shoot.”
“Right.” Rodney immediately ducked under John’s arm and took it across his shoulder. He reached behind John and grabbed onto his TAC vest. “Just you know… put one foot in front of the other.” He took a step.
John mirrored his step and winced, forcing his wounded leg to follow. “Not the… Winter Warlock here….”
“Oh God,” Rodney’s irritation momentarily buried the concern in his voice. “Don’t get me started on Rankin-Bass….” His voice trailed off as more whooping calls were echoed with snarls. “Oh shit….” Rodney breathed. He tightened his grip on John and lunged forward.
Teeth gritted around strangled grunts, John met Rodney stride for stride as they followed Ronon down the path. Sweat poured off his brow and he had to loosen the death grip of his clenched jaw to suck in loud gasps of air. The ambient light around them continued to dim, as afternoon gave way to evening and it only fueled John’s resolve. If they were in trouble now, they’d be screwed in the dark. They had to get to the gate before then.
On to Part 2!