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To Build a Fire, CH II

<<< Back to To Build a Fire, Chapter I

The snowstorm had only intensified during the brief attack, and Teyla knew that the team was finding it even harder than before to keep within sight of each other. In her own case, she had lost sight of Ronon and Carson and was further hampered by the struggle to keep her weapon at the ready. The wind was whipping icy pellets against any exposed skin and causing the snow to swirl around them in all directions. She trudged along, head down, barely feeling Rodney's tight hold on her backpack and hoping they were going in a straight line. 

A sudden break in the wind gave her a brief glimpse of a large group of evergreen trees with limbs that swept the ground. Knowing that the area under the huge trees might provide a place to shelter, Teyla shouted into her radio in a futile attempt to be heard over the howling storm. Getting no reply, she could only assume the others could not hear over the raging of the wind or that the storm had made radio communication ineffective. 

“We must take shelter,” she yelled. “Those trees will be a safe place for now!” However, her words were only carried a short distance, and the wind began to howl fiercely once again. Teyla sighed in frustration and turned to tug at Rodney, who was now clinging to her arm. “Follow me,” she shouted into his ear and headed toward the trees, praying that the others would see them and follow. But when she straightened and squinted into the wind trying to spot her teammates and signal them, no one was in sight. 

Deciding that it was best to try to wait out the storm rather than getting lost in it, Teyla grabbed Rodney's hand and almost dragged him through the dense branches. They fell to their knees on a bed of nearly dry needles. The noise of the storm was muffled by the thick fir trees, and the relief at being out of the violently swirling snow was almost overwhelming. 

The trees under which they had taken shelter were so tall that the tops were nearly impossible to see even if it hadn't been snowing. Their trunks were of enormous size, and the branches ended about four feet off the ground, providing plenty of room for them to sit without getting caught in the foliage. Disturbing the low hanging branches had caused their fragrance to be released, adding a mixture of a sharp herbal scent and a piney odor to the cold air. Rodney readjusted his woolen scarf to uncover his mouth and sat for a moment breathing heavily. “Teyla, where is everybody?” he finally said, still sounding a bit winded. “We can't stay here. We have to find the others and get to the gate or we'll freeze to death!” 

“Rodney, calm yourself,” Teyla pulled some branches aside and tried to see through the blanket of white. “We seem to have become separated. It is impossible to find the path or even to know which way to go in such a storm.” 

“But, but we can't stay here. Nobody will find us until Spring when they discover our bleached bones...” 

Teyla sank to her knees beside him and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “We will not die, Rodney. I promise you. But we must make a fire to warm ourselves.” 

“A fire. How the hell can we build a fire in the snow? Are you crazy?” 

Teyla had already begun to scoop out an area that would serve as a fire pit, using her knife to mark a circle and scrape away the surface. “You must help me, Rodney. Hurry.” 

Still grumbling, Rodney lay his backpack aside and pulling out his own knife, bent to help. 

When an area was sufficiently cleared, Teyla searched for stones with which to line the shallow pit. After watching her for a moment, Rodney also began to brush aside fallen needles. They found a few small rocks that would suffice to circle the fire and keep it from spreading. Satisfied, Teyla began to pile a few of the driest needles and sticks into a pyramid. It took longer than it ordinarily would because she repeatedly had to rub the feelings back into her hands. Rodney had stopped mumbling and managed to find his lighter. 

“Too bad you don't have that magic firestarter thing of yours,” Rodney flicked the lighter repeatedly, without success. The wind reached even beneath the heavy fir branches, making it almost impossible to keep the small lighter lit. 

“Yes,” Teyla agreed, searching her pockets for her own lighter, “my Athosian firestarter would be most welcome, but unfortunately, Kanaan borrowed it as his own was not functioning.” 

“Yeah, well, remind me to have a word with him.” Rodney put the lighter back in his pocket and slid over to kneel by the fire pit, putting his body between the kindling and the wind. Managing to get her lighter to stay lit for a few seconds, Teyla quickly held the tiny flame to a few of the needles. They caught briefly, but the flames soon died and a thin column of smoke was all that remained of the fire. 

“We are so dead.” Rodney moaned. “Frozen and dead.” 

“Rodney, you must not think that way,” Teyla said, trying again to light the fire. “We will be fine once the fire is going.” 

Rodney began fanning his hands over the smoking needles, but still no flame appeared. “Says you. I still think we need to go back out there and look for the others. They can't have gotten far.” 

“No, it is too dangerous. They may have taken shelter as we have. Ronon knows how to survive in such weather. He will lead the others to safety, and then when the storm dies down, we can make our way to the gate. In the meantime, you must help me make a fire.” 

Teyla felt a momentary regret at her chastening tone, and when Rodney began once again to try to light his own lighter, she bent to help by rearranging the kindling, hoping to find some dryer pieces. 

Outside their shelter, the wind roared and whistled through the trees. Teyla looked warily at the opening between the branches before squaring her shoulders and setting to her task once more. Rearrange the sparse branches, light the lighter, hold it to the small pile and pray. Teyla struggled to get the fire going, only to watch the flame burn bravely for a few seconds before being blown out by the bit of wind that was able to worm its way into their shelter. 

“It's not working. I told you this was a bad idea.” Rodney sat back on his heels and peered at Teyla with round eyes. 

“No, it is too early to give up. There are many more things we can try. Come Rodney, let us see what we have in our packs that might help.” 

“Not nearly enough food. I can tell you that,” Rodney said, pulling his backpack toward him and unzipping a section. “Unless you have a blow torch I don't know about, I think we are royally screwed.” 

“Here! This might work as a windbreak.” She pulled out a plastic bag containing a thin mylar thermal blanket. Quickly, she tore the bag open and began to carefully unfold the silver blanket. 

“Ah, great idea,” Rodney said, “but be careful. Those things tear easily. We're going to need them to keep warm if we stay here much longer.” 

Teyla had opened the blanket to about half its size and held it up between the outside and the firepit, while Rodney tried once again to get his lighter going and start the fire. It took a few moments of maneuvering to find just the right spot to block most of the wind, but in a short while the fire was burning brightly. 

“Now, that's more like it.” Rodney knelt on the ground and held out his hands to the tiny flame. 

After refolding the blanket and stowing it back in her pack, Teyla joined Rodney and carefully poked a few more twigs into the fire, which had started to smoke quite a bit, making Rodney cough and wave his hands around. 

“The kindling is not as dry as I would wish,” Teyla said, waving the smoke away from her own eyes. 

“So, it's freeze to death or be smoked like a salmon,” Rodney said, just as a strong gust of wind blew between the branches and effectively blew out the flames. 

“So, freeze it is.” Rodney sat back on his heels and stared at the now dark firepit.

 

--/--

 

Ronon trudged forward, head lowered, barely aware of Carson's tight hold on the back of his long coat. The wind beat at his face and blew stinging pellets of ice into his eyes, causing him to pull his ungloved hands from his pockets and try in vain to clear his vision. 

Hoping he was still following the path, Ronon dug in his large feet and shuffled forward, making tunnels through the rapidly accumulating snow. The howl of the wind made it impossible to hear his teammates, if indeed they were trying to communicate with him. Occasionally, he turned to look behind him, each time seeing only Carson, who he knew was still clinging to his back in an attempt not to get separated from the group. 

“Hang on, Doc,” Ronon yelled, “the trail is this way.” 

Behind him, he could feel Carson taking a firmer grip on his coat and trying to keep his feet in the path Ronon was making. His backpack of medical supplies must be getting heavier and heavier, and the straps were surely digging into his shoulders even through his many layers of outer garments. 

In spite of his friend's struggle, Ronon knew they had to keep moving forward. Ronon glanced back in an attempt to see if his friends were still behind them but could spot no one nor hear any sign of them. Attempts to contact them over the com link were also futile. There was no recourse but to rely on his accumulated survival skills and hope that they all eventually ended up at the gate. 

Ronon was usually supremely confident in his own tracking ability, and seven years on the run from the Wraith had given him experience with all sorts of climates and all sorts of situations. This time, however, he began to have the seed of a tiny bit of doubt that he actually knew where they were heading. Knowing that Carson would panic if he showed any level of uncertainty, Ronon just kept putting one foot in front of the other, practically dragging the doctor along with him. 

It was impossible to get oriented as to direction or tell where the wind was coming from because it was swirling clouds of snow all around them. At times, it felt like they might be caught in a whirlwind that continually spun them in a circle. All the trees and bushes were heavily weighed down with snow and had all begun to look alike. It was hard to tell where the sky ended and the ground began and was rapidly beginning to get darker. Ronon knew that pretty soon they had to find shelter, or they might find themselves spending the night in the open. 

“Are you sure we are going the right way?” Carson shouted in Ronon's ear. 

“Just keep moving!” Ronon shouted back. Ronon knew his words would do nothing to alleviate Carson's fears, and the fact that a nearby collection of large boulders, parts of which stuck up out of the snow, looked awfully familiar would just make him more doubtful. 

Carson pounded on Ronon's back and pointed at the familiar rocks. Ronon stopped for a moment, and Carson pulled on his sleeve and shouted at him about all the stories he had read of people freezing to death in a snowstorm while just feet away from safety. Ronon caught enough of it to understand Carson's fears, but at the moment, his mindless determination overcame the doctor's argument. 

Silently, Ronon kept going, but the numbing cold and the snow blowing into his partially exposed face and stinging his eyes made it difficult for him to see. Turning back was not an option, so Ronon formed a plan to go forward until they couldn't go any more or until they found the Stargate. He knew that pretty soon the path should begin to go uphill, and when they got to the summit of the slope they had come down to reach the village, they would be more than halfway back. But after long moments of putting one foot in front of the other, head bent against the wind, he began to doubt that his plan would work. 

Ronon had walked for long days on many worlds during his time as a runner, but he had found very few that had such arctic weather. For the most part, the Pegasus Galaxy was temperate in climate, and lush jungles were more common than either deserts or snow-covered landscapes. He could only recall one time when he stepped through the Stargate onto a planet that was in the throes of a winter blizzard. Without hesitating, he had turned right around and gated to another address. Several times he had visited worlds that had moderate snowfalls, and, for the most part, had enjoyed the change in weather and the fluffy white stuff. But on those planets, he had been able to take shelter and find warm places to sleep and abundant food to eat. This was a totally new situation, and his memories of playing in the snow as a young boy did nothing to help the current situation. 

“Keep going, Doc,” he yelled over his shoulder, “we should be there soon.” 

Carson grunted and the slap on Ronon's back let him know he had heard. 

 

--/--

 

Following along behind his teammates, John walked with his head down against the wind, which felt like sandpaper on any exposed skin, careful to walk in the footsteps of those in front of him. At first, it was fairly simple. The others were staying reasonably close together and following Ronon's lead. John even managed to smile at the way Carson was clinging for dear life to the back of Ronon's coat, and Rodney occasionally reached out to hold onto a strap of Teyla's backpack. 

Knowing that speed was essential, John called out an occasional word of encouragement that, more often than not, was blown back in his face by the swirling wind. Once Rodney even paused for a few seconds and looked back in his direction. A wave of John's hand sent him on his way again. After a while, it was no longer possible for John to distinguish his teammates one from the other because of the whiteout conditions, so he relied on watching his feet and following the trail that they were leaving. 

Most of John's time in Afghanistan had been spent in the desert areas, but on several occasions he had been sent into the mountains to rescue stranded soldiers. Before these missions, he had been briefed on survival techniques in winter conditions. Knowing what could happen when someone was caught unprepared in such a situation was not helping John remain calm at the present time. He knew that Teyla and Ronon probably understood the gravity of the situation, but he wasn't so sure about the two doctors and if they would be able to do what was necessary to survive if they got stranded. And even if they didn't, with the present wind chill, the possibility of frostbite was increasing by the hour. John's mouth turned up in wry amusement when he remembered his earlier impatience with Carson and Rodney and their extreme preparations for spending time in, what he had been led to believe, would be only moderately cold conditions. 

The infamous Hindu Kush, the mountain range that curves through Afghanistan, is not someplace you want to crash a chopper, and thankfully, John had not been required to use his survival training. Even his time at McMurdo in Antarctica had not provided a chance for him to venture far from his assigned post. But at the moment, wandering in what he was hoping was the direction of the Stargate on a planet in another galaxy, he was thankful for those required sessions of intense preparation. 

Running over the lectures he had attended in his mind, John realized that the suddenness of the storm had led to their making several mistakes. He cursed himself for not having everybody use the ropes they always carried in their packs to lash themselves together. And he cursed himself even more, mentally, for setting out in the face of the coming storm and not heeding the warning of the inhabitants of the planet. But it was too late to turn back now, and beating himself up for being stupid was not helpful, so John moved on to making a mental list of what to do next. 

Catch up to the others. Get shelter. Get warm and dry. Find a way to send a signal... John's mental list trailed off as he realized that none of those would be possible if, in fact, he was as lost as he was beginning to suspect he was. Even the deep footprints and disturbed areas in the snow were no longer visible, making him suspect that at some point he had diverged from the trail being left by his teammates. Turning in a circle, John was trying to get some sort of feel for what to do next, when suddenly a loud bang echoed inside his skull and everything went black.

 

--/--

 

Teyla did not waste any time feeling discouraged when the fire went out yet again, but quickly stirred the warm kindling and reached for the lighter that Rodney was holding out to her. A momentary lull in the wind provided enough time for her to get the flame going and hold it out to the small pile of sticks and leaves. Rodney leaned forward like he was trying to will the flame to grow until, with a sigh of satisfaction, Teyla watched the first flickers of red appear among the pile. 

“I think it is going to catch,” she whispered, holding her breath. 

“From your lips to God's ears.” Rodney was whispering too, as if a loud noise would scare the fire away. 

“Soon we will be able to warm ourselves,” Teyla assured him, when the tiny flame started to crackle and spread. 

“Should we put some more sticks on there and try to make it bigger?” 

“No, no, not just yet. Let it catch some of these smaller pieces first, and then we will attempt to add to it.” Teyla smiled slightly at Rodney's anxious look. “Patience, Rodney. Fire building cannot be rushed.” 

“Well, tell that to my frozen toes.” 

Teyla continued to periodically add slightly larger pieces to the now brightly burning fire, and Rodney stared intently at the small flame as if he could will it to keep going. Reassured for the moment, Teyla looked around the general area and took a silent inventory of the available firewood. Most of the ground underneath the large tree was covered in fallen needles, with quite a few more branches ranging from the size of her little finger to a few with a circumference of an inch or two. Knowing that the fire would rapidly consume such small pieces once it had started burning in earnest, she realized that they would have to locate more firewood. And soon. But first she needed to get a more complete idea of their available resources. 

“Rodney,” Teyla said, “we must check our packs for food and water so that we will be able to determine how long we can survive here.” 

Rodney looked startled. “You think we might be here that long? I mean, I'm already hungry. I don't know how long I can go without nourishment. I have a tendency to experience low blood sugar, you know...and...” 

A gentle hand on his arm stilled his tongue. “It will be all right, Rodney. We have our store of food bars and mostly full canteens of water. Surely we can survive the night.” 

Looking only a bit sheepish, Rodney patted the pockets of his vest. “I ate one of my PowerBars earlier, but we can share. And I think there's a couple of Snickers left from the ones I stuck in my pocket earlier.” 

“Thank you, Rodney,” Teyla said, smiling. “I am sure we have at least enough to get through the night.” 

As if he suddenly remembered something, Rodney sank back on his heels and cleared his throat. “Uh, ah...Teyla? Jennifer told me about the time the two of you were stranded together on New Athos. I'm not going to have to eat a ground squid, am I?” 

Pausing from pulling her food supply from her pockets and lining the bars up on a bed of needles, Teyla leaned toward Rodney and said, “Would you not eat anything that would help you live, Rodney?” 

McKay swallowed. “So you think they have those on this planet? Because I would so help you catch one, if it, you know, comes to that.” Rodney's attempt at bravery made Teyla smile and pat his arm once again before returning to her task. 

The team had learned long ago that it was best to be prepared for rapidly changing situations, so they had begun taking along MRE's on every mission no matter how short. Teyla and Rodney went through their backpacks and added these to their collection of supplies. They had full canteens of water plus dry socks, fire making materials, a sewing kit, a Swiss Army knife and various other supplies. There was also a small medical kit in each backpack, along with fishing gear, snare wire and other necessary equipment for catching and cooking food. To Rodney, the most welcome object appeared to be the pack of chemical handwarmers, because, before Teyla could stop him, he had opened the packet and proceeded to shove one in each glove. 

“Rodney,” she chastised, “we should reserve those for an emergency.” 

“An emergency? What do you think this is, summer camp?” A deep sigh, as the warmth spread through his stiff fingers, followed this declaration. “Besides,” he said, “we have to be concerned about frost bite. Have you ever seen what happens to fingers that get frostbitten?” 

“No, I am afraid I have not.” 

“Well, it's not a pretty sight. They turn black and fall off, and then where does that leave you? Fingerless. How are you supposed to start a fire then?” 

Teyla rolled her eyes and began putting the supplies back into her backpack. A quick glance at Rodney told her that he must have felt a bit guilty because he quickly began to refill his own backpack. In moments, the area was neat and the packs were set to one side. 

“So, how long before you think they'll send a rescue team?” Rodney said. 

“I do not know. If this storm continues into the night, they may have to wait until morning.” 

Rodney swallowed loudly. “Morning? Just in time to claim our cold dead bodies. That is if they can even find us.” 

“Rodney, we must remain positive.” Teyla sighed with exasperation. 

“It's just that Jennifer will worry. I've never..uh...had anybody to worry about me before.” 

Teyla's face softened as she thought about Kanaan and her son. Torren was too young to understand and was used to his mother being away overnight, but Kanaan knew the dangers and would be most distressed when the team missed their scheduled return time. The team had rushed to leave as soon as the word came that the Tuskians had an emergency, and there had not been time for a proper goodbye. Kanaan and Torren had been quietly building a tower with some colorful blocks that Jennifer had bought on Earth when Teyla dashed into their quarters in a hurry to join her teammates. Hastily, she had kissed them both and hurried off again. Kanaan had urged her to go, that they would be fine for a few hours alone, and without hesitating, she had done so. Now, she was beginning to wonder if it had been the best decision. 

“I guess Kanaan will be worried about you too,” Rodney said and Teyla nodded. “Plus Sheppard's new Genii girlfriend might give him a thought or two.” 

Teyla smiled at Rodney's awkwardness. “Commander Serrana will be most concerned I am sure, as will everyone for all of us.” 

Rodney scooted forward, managing to get a bit closer to the small fire. “So do you think that what's her name and Sheppard are gonna be, you know, dating now?” 

“Mayel, is her name.” Teyla poked another small branch into the fire. “And I do not know, but they seem to be quite friendly. John seemed so lonely when we were on Earth, and it has not completely passed now that we are back home. I am glad he has a friend who seems to make his spirits lighter.” 

“Odd, that he'd get so friendly with a Genii though. You'd think he would have learned something from the past.” 

“I think John and all of us have moved past our former distrust of the Genii, Rodney. After all, Ladon Radim has proven to be a friend of Atlantis on a number of occasions.” 

“At least so far.” Rodney shrugged and rubbed his hands together near the flames. “But, I will say one thing for him, he's better than their former leaders.” 

Teyla nodded in agreement, remembering the day of the violent storm that had shaken the city and almost killed all of them. 

“When it comes to the Genii,” Rodney continued, “there's an old Earth saying that fits. 'Trust, but verify.'” 

“Very wise. I believe I remember Elizabeth once saying that very thing.” 

“Sounds like her.” Rodney and Teyla were silent for a moment. “I guess Sheppard knows what he's doing. Though, I will say, his track record with alien women isn't so good so far.” 

“Rodney, we do not know that John and Commander Serrana are anything but friends.” 

“The kind of friends that make googly eyes at each other and get all awkward and tongue-tied in each other's presence.” 

Teyla laughed and stirred the fire. “I am sure I do not know what you are talking about.” 

“Maybe I should hang out with him more, so I can find out what's going on,” Rodney agreed. “I've been spending so much time with Jennifer I haven't had time to play games or watch movies or do any of the guy stuff, but Ronon still spends a lot of time with him, right?” 

“Things have been a bit hectic since we got back, but I believe they do still, as you say, play games, yes. But perhaps if you wish more information on the subject, you should ask John.” 

Rodney shook his head dislodging his knitted cap. “Do you think I'm nuts?” He pulled the cap back down over his ears. “Sheppard would hurt me. I'll just ask Ronon. He probably knows.” 

“Yes, indeed,” Teyla said, hiding a smile. “That would be a wise option.”

 

--/--

 

John regained consciousness slowly, lingering in the twilight fog just before he became fully aware of his surroundings. As his muddled brain hurried to catch up with the rest of his senses, he blinked rapidly trying to bring his companion into focus. For a moment he imagined himself back in Atlantis, safe, warm and secure in the knowledge that everything was as it should be. Familiar green eyes peered at him with a look of concern that reminded John of all the times he had come back to himself to find he was hooked up to various machines in the infirmary, and she was waiting patiently for him to wake up and explain what had gone sideways this time. He licked his dry lips and swallowed in an attempt to put a name with the face, but his plan was thwarted when his companion grunted and turned away. 

Puzzled, John shook his head to clear his thoughts and stared more intently at the person who was so familiar yet strange at the same time. The dark curls that he thought he had glimpsed had lightened and lengthened, and now he saw that he must have been mistaken. Whoever his visitor was, it couldn't be the one he had imagined when his eyes had first opened. John squinted and tried to move his limbs to get a better view, but something was preventing him from changing positions. He could move neither his arms nor his legs, and instead of reclining on a bed in the Atlantis infirmary as he suspected, he realized he was tied hand and foot. The rough surface of the wall to which he was secured began to make itself known, and by a bit of manipulation, he came to be aware that he was not just tied up, but hanging on the wall from what felt like metal rings. 

Barely able to touch the floor with his toes, John quickly learned that pulling against his restraints did nothing but tighten the knots that held him and threaten to dislocate his shoulders. His vest and weapons were missing, as were his outer garments and shirt. Clad in only his pants, from which the belt had been removed, and barefoot, he hung like some sort of life-size model for a crucifix. 

His captor turned back toward him once again and leaned closer. Formerly green eyes had morphed into luminous brown ones and pale skin into a dusky tan. Reassured for a split second that his teammate had found him and would pull out a wicked looking knife to sever his bonds, John was finally able to find his voice, raspy though it was. “Teyla, thank God,” he said, “cut me down and let's get the hell out of here.” 

“Hunnh.” The sudden huff of foul breath in his face dispelled the idea that he had been accurate in his identification of his companion. 

“What the...?” John shook his head hoping to clear his vision, but the results only made him buck against his restraints in an attempt to free himself. 

Standing before him was a creature that he may have dreamed about once after suffering one of his several concussions. A towering figure, covered all in matted and filthy white fur, reached out a long arm toward him. A thick finger with a jagged black nail pointed at his face. John swung his head from side to side, which only caused his captor to lean closer and give him another puff of rancid air. The last thing John saw before passing out was an impressive set of large yellow teeth displayed in either a grimace or an attempt at a smile. 

 

--/--

 

Carson was not surprised that it took walking head first into a rather large tree trunk to get Ronon to stop and take stock of their location. The abrupt halt caused Carson to crash once again into Ronon's back and bounce off him like a ping pong ball, which sent him sprawling into a deep snowbank. 

“What the hell?” Ronon shouted and stood looking down at his snow-covered friend. 

“Little warning next time, please.” Carson struggled to his feet and tried in vain to rid himself of the clinging snow, which was down his neck and in his boots and somehow had managed to work its way inside his ears. 

“I didn't do it on purpose,” Ronon insisted. 

“Nevertheless, here we are, covered with snow and freezing our bums off,” Carson said. 

Ronon shook himself like a large dog, throwing snow and bits of ice in all directions, which only served to aggravate Carson more. After taking a few moments to stand in one spot and scan the surrounding area through the veil of snow, Ronon squared his shoulders decisively and pointed forward. “This way.” 

Carson shouldered his backpack and hurried to catch up, nearly dragging the bag of medical equipment behind him. Relieved when, finally, Ronon stopped and waited, Carson hurried as best he could. When he caught up, he was breathing heavily and struggling with every step, which must have convinced the bigger man that he needed to relieve him of some of his burden. Silently, Ronon picked up the medical bag and turned to continue their trek forward. 

“Many thanks,” Carson said. Vastly relieved, he bent into the wind and began once more to follow Ronon's trail. 

However, Carson was beginning to doubt that they would ever see Atlantis again. His mind began to wander and bring into focus the snowy days of winter in his homeland of Scotland. Carson didn't remember Scotland ever having anything quite like this Pegasus storm, but he was able to recall a few times as a boy when he and his siblings had snowball fights and worked to clear a path so his parents could get their car out . He smiled in memory of the hot chocolate his mother had ready when he and his brothers returned to the house with red faces and runny noses. Chastised for tracking wet snow into the house and reminded to hang up their damp coats and leave their boots by the door, the boys laughed and engaged in their usual horseplay as they gathered around the large kitchen table and inhaled the aroma of their mum's homemade soup. Pleasant memories, for a brief time, managed to make Carson forget that his life was in danger and that he was depending entirely on the large man to whom he was clinging like an extra appendage. 

The next time they came to a stop, Carson was positive they had traveled this way before, because just in front of him was a pile of snow shaped suspiciously like the creature that had attacked them earlier. His suspicions became fact when Ronon stalked over to it and gave it a vicious kick, dislodging enough snow for a positive identification. It was the giant white beast that they had killed and left by the side of the trail, lying just as they had left it but now nearly snow-covered and completely stiff. 

“We've been traveling backwards, don't you know?” Carson said, ignoring Ronon's string of impressive curse words that he must have learned from the Marines. 

The storm continued to pelt them with blowing snow that swirled all around them and seemed to be coming from several directions at once. Carson had given up on trying to deal with his runny nose and had resorted to blotting it as best he could with the woolen scarf he had wound tightly around his neck. 

Ronon swiped his hand across his own face, bent his head next to Carson's ear and shouted,“We can't keep going.” 

“You think I don't know that? We can die out here. What do you have in mind?” 

Ronon paused for a moment, and Carson waited while he took stock of their surroundings. Miles from the gate. Unable to see how to follow the trail. Temperatures dropping. 

“We need to build a snow cave,” Ronon said. His voice was calm and matter of fact. 

“A snow cave? You mean like an igloo?” Carson wasn't sure he had heard properly. 

“I mean a snow cave. Some place we can crawl into out of the storm.” Ronon dropped the bag he was carrying and turned in a circle. 

“How do you suppose we are going to go about cutting blocks of snow to build such a structure? I'm thinking that sword of yours is not going to be quite up to the job.” Carson stood with his hands on his hips, watching Ronon stalk about poking at mounds of snow with his sword. The blowing snow had died down a bit, but the next gust would probably be along shortly, so Carson knew they didn't have long to stand around discussing the situation. 

Ronon shook his head, dislodging the snow that had collected in his hair, and pointed to a large drift of snow that had mounded itself against the side of a hill. “We can dig in here and pile some more snow on top.” 

He demonstrated by grabbing huge chunks of the heavy snow, which formed itself easily into dense balls. Pretty soon both men were hard at work piling up snow and smoothing out the top of their mound. They worked quickly as, all around them, the storm swirled and grew only to die down again momentarily. 

“Now what?” Carson asked, when Ronon stopped and they both stood observing their handiwork. 

“We let it settle,” he answered and turned his attention to the slain beast. 

“What in God's name are you about now?” Carson watched in horror as Ronon dragged the creature a few feet away and began hacking at its fur with the point of his sword. 

“Skinning it,” Ronon replied and continued about his gory business. 

“That's what I was afraid you were up to.” Carson's horror grew as Ronon continued to expertly remove the outer layer from the dead animal. Soon the snow was no longer pristine white but tainted with blood and gore in a wide area. 

“Don't just stand there. Come and help me,” Ronon said, indicating that Carson should grab a section of the hide and pull it loose from the creature. 

Disgusted, Carson did as he was told until the skinned carcass lay glistening in a snowbank, and Ronon held up as much of the large fur-covered skin as he could manage, a huge grin on his face. 

“Oh, don't tell me you think I am going to wear that thing like a blanket,” Carson shouted in horror. “Do you know how unsanitary that is?” 

“If you want to survive, you will,” Ronon said. He rolled the skin up in a loose bundle and set it aside. “Besides, you'll probably freeze to death long before you die from infection.” 

Even his many experiences in the operating room and the times he had treated war wounds and compound fractures hadn't properly prepared Carson for this moment. His stomach turned over threateningly, and he swallowed a few times before the sick feeling went away. Having to completely ignore all his training in sanitation and spread of infection went against the grain with Carson, but desperate times usually called for desperate measures and survival came first. 

“Besides, Doc,” Ronon said with a twinkle in his eye, “you're lucky I didn't gut the thing and have us crawl inside it like in that movie Sheppard and McKay are always watching.” 

“Bloody hell,” Carson replied, “I'm glad you didn't think of that earlier.” 

Ronon turned toward the immense pile of snow and began hollowing out a deep depression into the mound. Carson studied what he was doing for a moment and then joined in. 

 

>>> On to To Build a Fire, CH III

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