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To Build a Fire, CH V

<<< Back to To Build a Fire, CH IV

 

As the voices got louder and the sounds of footsteps crunching through the snow got closer, Carson looked about nervously, wondering what was coming out of the woods. Ronon, still at battle ready, didn't move. 

They didn't have long to wait before three figures emerged from the trees, villagers by the looks of them, covered from head to toe in thick coats made from the skins of various animals. The men stopped in their tracks when spotting Carson and Ronon, and for a few seconds the two groups stared at each other. 

“Doctor, is that you?” One of them stepped forward, shielding his eyes against the sun. 

“It is indeed,” Carson replied, and beside him, he sensed that Ronon had relaxed a fraction. “We are very glad to see a few friendly faces.” 

The group turned out to be Dorgan, whose son was the proud new father, and a couple of other men that looked familiar from their earlier time in the village. 

“We were afraid something had happened to you and the others,” Dorgan said. “After your kindness to us, we wanted to make sure you had arrived home safely. We thought to make our way to the ancestral ring and dial Atlantis, but now I see our original thought may have been correct.” 

Ronon had holstered his gun and nodded a greeting at the new arrivals. “There was a storm, so we had to take shelter. We got separated from our team.” 

Dorgan looked puzzled. “Shelter? I know of no place nearby that might protect you.” 

“Ronon had quite a lot of experience as a lad with harsh winters.” Carson said. 

Ronon shrugged and added. “We used to build snow forts. It was a game.” 

Dorgan nodded his understanding. “Ah, a game that proved useful.” 

“Have you, by any chance, seen any sign of Colonel Sheppard and the others?” Carson asked. 

The men all shook their heads. “Unfortunately no,” Dorgan said, with a glance at the others. “These kinds of storms can come up suddenly and be quite fierce. Some of our people have been lost over the years in just such blizzards. And it is at times like these that the danger is greatest of attack from a creature that lives in these parts.” He hesitated, glancing at his friends who were both studying the surrounding area. 

Ronon held up the rolled-up skin he was carrying and asked, “You mean like this?” 

The villagers looked at him with open-mouthed expressions and took a step backwards. “You have slain a snowbeast?” Dorgan looked uncertain. 

“It attacked us. We killed it.” 

“And used its skin for a blanket,” Carson added, with a proud look at Ronon. 

The other men gaped silently for a moment. Dorgan swallowed and said, “I am glad it was able to help you survive the night, but we must not linger. Its mate could be waiting to avenge its untimely death.”

“Mate?” Carson also began looking around with concern, and Ronon once again drew his sword. 

“Come,” Dorgan said, “the ring is in an easterly direction. We will make our way there and maybe we will see some sign of your friends.”

 

--/--

 

Major Evan Lorne piloted the puddle jumper smoothly through the Stargate and leveled it off over the snow-covered planet. Calling for the Marine detail that had accompanied him to be on alert, he hovered the small craft and consulted the HUD. 

“Anything by radio?” the Major asked his co-pilot. 

“Nothing, Sir. Just static.” 

The immediate area was clear of alien life signs, but leaning to take a closer look, the Major saw two very familiar readings at not too great a distance. A quick visual scan confirmed his findings. 

“Heads up,” Lorne called out, “two of our people at three o'clock.” 

The sounds of weapons being checked was his response, as he banked the jumper and started his descent. 

“There.” Sergeant Ericson rose from his seat in the co-pilot's chair and pointed. 

“I see them. Hang on guys. We're going down.” 

As the jumper drew closer to the two figures, Lorne saw that McKay had stopped and raised both hands to the sky before jumping in place like he was attempting to grab them out of the air. 

Beside him, Teyla stood watching with a huge smile as they came closer and landed a short distance away. 

“Rescue at last!” Rodney seemed positively giddy with relief, and the Major was afraid, for a moment, as they got closer, that he might run up and hug the first well-armed Marine he saw. 

“Doctor McKay. Teyla.” Major Lorne greeted them. “We thought you might need an assist.” 

“We need more than an assist,” Rodney said. “We need water. And food. And heat. And food.” 

“We are most grateful for your timely arrival,” Teyla said, “but we are concerned for the others. Have you seen nothing of our team?” 

The Marines had fanned out over the area, doing a quick sweep and checking for other life signs. They circled back to the Major's small group and hearing Teyla's question, the Sergeant shook his head. “Sorry ma'am, there's no sign of anyone else in the immediate area.” 

Teyla nodded to the man, and Rodney looked like he was about to argue, but Lorne drew his attention. 

“When did you get separated?” Lorne inquired. 

“Last night during the storm,” Rodney said, “more of a blizzard really. The snow was flying from all directions so that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Literally. We were all following each other, trying to get back to the gate, but somehow they were just gone. Teyla and I took shelter under some trees and tried to make a fire, but it kept going out. Then we...” 

“Okay,” Lorne stopped him, “we get the picture. Everybody in the jumper. Let's get you warmed up and we'll take a look around. We sent a MALP earlier and it looks like another storm is just hours away. We don't have a lot of time to waste.” 

Teyla and Rodney exchanged a look before handing their backpacks off to one of the men and allowing themselves to be led into the welcoming warmth of the puddle jumper. After consuming their share of hot coffee from a thermos the rescue team had brought along, Teyla and Rodney reassured the Major that they were beginning to feel more like themselves. 

After they both had unwound their scarves from around their necks and pulled off their gloves, Teyla said, “Rodney, you must flex your fingers. It will relieve some of the tingling sensation and allow the warmth to spread more rapidly through them.” She demonstrated by opening and closing her own fists and rubbing her arms briskly to restore some of the feeling. 

“Can't I flex and eat at the same time?” Rodney stuffed the last of a peanut butter PowerBar in his mouth and attempted to talk and chew simultaneously. “The others must have gotten lost in the storm and ended up back at the village. Or maybe they took shelter like we did. Ronon knows a lot about survival, I would imagine. And Sheppard's not exactly clueless in that area. That's got to be what happened, don't you think?” 

Lorne caught McKay's hopeful look as he wound down with a glance over at Teyla who was finishing the last of her coffee. 

Taking his seat in the pilot's chair, Major Lorne pulled up the HUD and once again began surveying the area. “I'm sure they're fine, Doc. We'll head back the way you came, and we'll likely run into them.” 

Seeming only partially mollified, Rodney settled himself into the co-pilot's chair and gave the display a quick perusal. “The village is back that way.” He pointed to the west on the screen. “And I'm thinking the trail wanders through this area. Wouldn't you agree, Teyla?” 

Teyla stood behind Lorne's chair and looked first at the graphic display and then out the front of the jumper. “That is correct. If we fly toward the west, we will see the village in no time.” 

“Very good,” Lorne said. “Here we go.” 

 

--/--

 

“Okay, Sue, here's the deal.” John rose from the furs and stood with his hands on his hips. “My friends are probably looking for me by now. Or I have to get out of here and rescue them. Either way, I have to leave. So, unless you plan to tie me up again...” 

“Hawnk?” 

It sounded like a question, but John was in no mood to try to figure out what his large new friend wanted. Looking around for a possible weapon, he devised a plan. One that would probably end badly for him, but a plan nonetheless.

Sue had positioned herself on the far side of the fire, which meant that John was closer to the door. The flames under the cooking pot were burning brightly, and the little bit of smoke produced was drifting toward the opening. Seizing a nearby pottery mug, John gave it a hard toss and watched it shatter against the far wall. 

Apparently shocked, Sue turned to investigate, giving John the opening he had hoped for. He grabbed a heavy piece of some sort of material from a table to protect his hands and took a firm hold on the side of the large cauldron. With all his strength, John tipped the pot, spilling its bubbling contents into the fire. The flames went out with a sizzle, and thick smoke began to fill the room. Not waiting around to witness the consequences of his actions, he flung back the door covering and dashed out into the snow. 

Running in snow is difficult in the best of circumstances and would be next to impossible in snow as deep as this, but John had two things going for him: desperation and adrenaline. It was more of a controlled fall really, but somehow, he managed to lurch down the small slope outside the cave and plunge into the woods beyond. Knowing that it would be impossible to conceal his footprints, John kept going, hoping to put as much distance as possible between him and his captor. 

Dense smoke poured out of the cave opening and was carried away by the breeze, rising into the sky above the trees and spreading over the landscape. Sue emerged, coughing and rubbing at her red eyes, temporarily blinded and definitely angry. 

“Hawnk!” Her shout reached John but didn't slow him down. He found that the ground in the woods was not as deeply snow-packed as the area out in the open, and moving forward was less of a problem. Tree branches grabbed at his shirt sleeves and prickly bushes caught at his pant legs, but he somehow managed to keep going, pausing only briefly when he heard something crashing through the vegetation behind him. It sounded big and was likely the creature, unless by some phenomenal twist of fate, there were still more of them living in this woods. 

“Would be just my luck,” John mumbled and picked up his speed. 

 

--/--

 

Carson, Ronon and the villagers had just reached the edge of the forest when Ronon paused suddenly and raised his hand for quiet. The others stopped in their tracks and turned in the direction Ronon was staring. “Smoke,” Ronon said and pointed above the trees. 

“Indeed it is,” Dorgan said, “maybe your friends have made camp. We should investigate.” 

“Or they are sending us a signal,” Carson said. 

The small party was just beginning to make their way into the forest when John came bursting out of the trees and landed in a heap at their feet. 

“Colonel Sheppard!” Dr. Beckett dropped his bag of medical supplies and ran to John's side. 

“Something must be chasing him,” Ronon said and drew his sword, which resulted in the villagers getting a firmer grip on their meager weapons and making a stand next to him. 

John managed to push himself up out of the snow and onto his knees where he sat panting and coughing while Carson patted him on the back. “Are you injured, Colonel?” John took the opportunity to catch his breath as the doctor began a visual scan for blood or some other obvious sign of injury. 

“There's a crusty area of dried blood on the back of your head and you seem well-decorated with contusions and abrasions, but otherwise I don't see anything serious.” 

With Carson's help, John regained his feet and began shaking off some of the powdery snow that was clinging to his shirt and pants. “But look at the state of you!” Carson continued. “How did you lose your outer garments and...” 

Before Carson could finish his thought, everyone's attention was diverted by the sound of thrashing and breaking branches coming from the woods. 

“Something's coming,” Ronon said and traded his sword for his powerful blaster, clicking it over to the deadliest setting. 

“Don't shoot her!” John gasped, and stumbled over to place himself in front of the others with his arms outstretched as if he was trying to hold them back. “Don't shoot her. She didn't hurt me.” 

Gaping, the others stood unmoving as something from their nightmares exited the woods at a run. It was female. That was obvious. But just what species of female was debatable. 

“Just stay back,” John warned, and they all waited to see what the creature would do next. 

At first, her momentum took her past the group. But seeming to realize what she had seen, she stopped in her tracks and turned back toward them. 

“Greenk?” She had eyes only for John, and he seemed to understand her. 

The others stared open-mouthed and wide-eyed as the creature stood waiting, her long arms, with their huge hands, hanging below her knees and the large pendulous breasts, sagging against her hairy belly. She tilted her head on one side and waited while John walked cautiously toward her. 

Indicating the group behind him, John said, “See, I told you my friends were looking for me. So if it's okay with you, Sue, we'll just go. Thanks for the grub and the warm place to sleep.” 

Carson raised a hand in hello when Sue's large black eyes turned his way, and Ronon bared his teeth in his version of a greeting. The villagers took a step backwards and drew closer together. 

Sue gave them all barely a glance before turning her attention back to John. She shifted her considerable weight slightly from foot to foot and stood holding one hand with the other. “Greenk.” Somehow the word came out in a forlorn tone. 

Holding Sue's eyes and speaking to the others in a soft voice, John explained, “Sue here, I'm guessing, is the mate of that thing we killed yesterday. She conked me on the head and tied me up in her cave for a while. Then, long story short, she untied me and I escaped. But she's not too happy about it.” 

“Sue?” Ronon lowered his weapon and grinned. 

“Shut up, Chewie. She didn't hurt me and we can't kill her, end of story.” 

“Well, what do you propose we do with the lass?” Carson lifted a hand to cover his near grin, but John's glare was designed to warn him that he knew when he was being laughed at. 

Dorgan finally found his voice and said, “Colonel, these beasts have been known to live in this area for many years, but they don't prey on the village. In fact, we put out grain and other food for them. We leave them in peace, and they only attack occasionally when they feel threatened.” 

“Well, her husband attacked us, and we were forced to kill him.” 

Ronon moved back a ways, and shifted the rolled up skin tied to his back so that the creature could not see it. 

Having spotted Ronon's new acquisition and willing to wait for an explanation, John nodded his thanks, knowing that if Sue made the connection, all cards would be off the table. 

“Most unfortunate. What do you suggest we do?” Dorgan said, glancing first at Ronon and then Sue. 

“Maybe she wants you to take her husband's place?” Seeing that Carson had lost his struggle with maintaining a straight face, John made a profane gesture in his direction, which only seemed to make his stifled merriment harder to contain. 

“Hey, wait.” Ronan looked puzzled, and the others turned to look at him. Sue continued to stare at John. “Why did she want you if she didn't know her mate was dead?” 

John made a face. “How should I know? Maybe she was saving me for his supper? Maybe they are polygamists. Maybe...” 

“What a disgusting thought,” Carson interrupted. 

“Which one?” Ronon was back to making fun. “Maybe she wanted you for a pet.” 

“I'm warning you for the last time.” John gave Ronon one of his serious glares, but only got a grin in return. 

They all stood looking at Sue, while she looked despondently back at them, exhibiting no signs of her previous aggression. John glanced around at the others and took a step closer to the creature. 

“We talked about my friends coming to find me,” John said. “They won't hurt you, but you need to go on home now.” He turned and pointed back towards where a thin trail of smoke could still be seen above the trees. 

Sue followed his pointing finger and then turned her large head back toward John. “Wrenk,” she said and lifted one of her long arms to point at John. 

“No, no wrenk,” he replied, hoping he was getting through to her. “I can't go with you. You go on back home now. Maybe, I'll...uh...see you around sometimes.” John took a step back to put some further distance between them. 

The look on the creature's face was unmistakably sad, but she let her shoulders droop in defeat and giving John one final glance, turned and lumbered into the forest.

 

--/--

 

“A bunch of life signs at...eleven o'clock.” McKay adjusted the settings to zoom in on the area, and Major Lorne turned the puddle jumper in the indicated direction. 

“Got 'em,” the Major said. “Looks like several of our folks and some natives.” 

“And something big moving into the woods.” Rodney looked from the HUD to the scene outside and back again. “And now gone, thank God.” 

Teyla left her seat and came to stand between the two seats in the front of the jumper. “A large creature? That could be...” 

“Yes, I was thinking the same thing,” Rodney said. They exchanged a glance. 

“Care to fill me in?” Lorne wasn't too busy piloting the craft that he had missed the exchange. 

“We encountered a large animal before we were all separated in the storm,” Teyla said. 

“Some big hairy Bigfoot sort of thing that attacked us,” Rodney added. 

“We succeeded in slaying it but were wondering if it might have not been alone.” 

“Well,” Lorne said, “it looks like you may have your answer. Everybody pay attention. We'll just set down in this field and see what we've got.”

 

--/--

 

On the ground, Ronon was the first to react to the approach of the craft. “We've got company.” 

Spotting the descending ship, Carson breathed a sigh of relief. “Praise be. Just in the nick of time.” 

“I'm guessing that would be Lorne and a team of Marines,” John said. He looked around with a grin at the others, who were gathering their packs in preparation for the rescue. The villagers were used to the coming and going of the 'Lanteans and greeted the new arrivals with waves and smiles. 

Several Marines exited first with weapons drawn, which were quickly lowered when they recognized their commander and the others. They were followed closely by Rodney and Teyla, who, upon seeing that John had somehow lost his coat, turned back to grab a spare parka. 

Ignoring Rodney's excited babbling, John closed the distance to the jumper, meeting both Teyla and Lorne halfway. He pulled the warm coat on and zipped it up with a grateful nod to Teyla. “Hey, you guys okay?” 

“Rodney and I survived very nicely, but it looks like you may have run into a bit of trouble.” 

John shrugged and turned to Lorne. “Good timing, Major,” John said. “We weren't looking forward to that long walk to the gate.”

“Glad to find you all in one piece, Sir,” Lorne replied. “Though you seem to be a bit underdressed for the weather.”

“Long story, best left for the debriefing. Suffice it to say, except for being a bit chilly and a tad beat up, we're all okay.” 

“Rodney and I were afraid we had lost all of you,” Teyla said. “We are most grateful to find you all survived the storm so well.” 

“Yeah, we're glad you guys did too. Though spending the night stranded with McKay couldn't have been a picnic.”

Teyla laughed and glanced over at Rodney who was in the process of telling Ronon and Carson about how they spent the night under a tree and almost starved. 

“But then, Teyla and I huddled together for warmth and somehow survived the night without resorting to cannibalism.” Rodney was just winding down when John, Teyla and Lorne walked up. Getting his first good look at John, Rodney stopped his narrative and said, “What happened to you? You look like you've been rode hard and put away wet.” 

John carefully touched the sizable knot on the back of his head and winced. “Turns out our big hairy friend had a mate.” 

“Oh...oh, I think we saw her running away. Well, ambling away. She didn't seem to be in much of a hurry.”

“She was sad to be leaving the Colonel.” Carson didn't even seem to be trying to hide his grin, and, behind him, Ronon chuckled. Even the onlooking villagers were hiding smiles behind their hands. 

Rodney stood with his mouth open, hands on hips. “Oh, not again. I thought we were past all that. What is it with you and the alien women, and I use the term loosely in this case?” 

“I'm warning you.” John glared at first Carson, then Ronon and finally Rodney before turning to the Major. “Let's load up, boys and girls. We can exchange war stories later.” 

“Yes, Sir.” Lorne gestured to the Marines, who hurried to take Carson's bags and make their way to the jumper. “The scans tell us another storm is coming, so it's lucky we're getting out while we can.” 

Walking behind Ronon, Rodney stopped in his tracks. “What's that smell? Oh my God, it's awful. Did you roll in something?” 

Ronon turned around and growled at him before continuing on his way. 

Carson, who was walking beside Rodney, pointed to the large skin that Ronon was still carrying rolled up on his back. “It's that, the hide of that beast we killed. Ronon and I skinned it and used it to keep us warm.” 

“Are you serious? No wonder the female bashed Sheppard on the head. Did she know you were wearing her husband's skin like a coat?” 

“Thankfully, no,” Carson said, before picking up his pace in a hurry to get inside the warm puddle jumper. 

John smiled to himself, grateful that the team was back together and willing to bet that his story was the best. Pulling his borrowed coat closer and ignoring the pain in his shoulders and knees, he headed toward the open hatch of the Puddle Jumper. 

 

--/--

 

The scene in the Atlantis infirmary seemed chaotic as the missing team arrived en masse. Dr. Jennifer Keller was only able to give Rodney McKay a quick glance of reassurance that she was grateful to see him back, seemingly without injury, before she turned her attention to Colonel Sheppard. 

“Really, Doc, I'm fine. It's just a scratch,” John said with a pleading look, but Jennifer ignored him and gestured for the nurse to get him onto a gurney. It was frustrating enough that her stubborn patient had refused aid until everyone had made their way from the jumper bay down to the infirmary, a slow process since the hovering friends and family members kept demanding to know what had happened. Finally, Mr. Woolsey had ordered everyone to wait outside the infirmary until the team had been properly looked after. Even now, she could see Kanaan's face almost pressed up against the glass in the infirmary doors. 

“No arguments, Colonel. You have an obvious head injury, which, if I'm not mistaken, is not your first. It needs evaluation. Now, do I need to call some big strapping Marines to help you disrobe?” 

John winced and looked at the nurse, who was giving him her patented stern face. It was a familiar scenario, so John sat on the indicated gurney and began removing his boots. Nurse Marie exchanged a wry grin with her boss and pulled the privacy curtain closed. 

 

--/--

 

“No, seriously.” Rodney's voice echoed from across the room. “I think it's frost bite. Look right here.” He had removed his outer garments and pulled back his shirt collar to show the nurse an area on his neck. 

“That looks like dirt, Dr. McKay,” the nurse said, “but let's get you onto an exam table and take a look.”

 

--/--

 

Teyla had disappeared behind a privacy curtain of her own and could be heard answering her nurse's probing questions in a calm, well-modulated voice. Jennifer knew that Teyla realized that the sooner she submitted to the exam, the quicker she could leave, and she wouldn't waste any time by not cooperating. As a result, she was the first to be allowed to join her family. Torren's sweet kisses on her face and Kanaan's warm embrace would likely be all the healing she would need.

 

--/--

 

Ronon, on the other hand, could be seen batting away the hands of the muscular male nurse that had been assigned to him. 

“I told you, I'm fine.” 

“You don't smell fine. You may have encountered some kind of bacteria. I need to take a culture.” 

“The only thing I encountered was a big monster. His skin kept me and Doc Beckett warm.”

“His skin?” The nurse blanched. 

“Cut it off him and wore it like a coat. Which is what I might do to you, if you don't let me out of here.”

 

--/--

 

It was obvious that being a patient in the Atlantis infirmary was rare for Carson Beckett, but he submitted to an exam and took a quick few minutes to shower and change into fresh scrubs before pitching in to help. Carson's quiet demeanor and gentle touch seemed to soothe even Ronon, and in no time, everyone was sorted out and calm had been restored.

 

--/--

 

Jennifer had spent most of her time treating John's head wound and had determined that he was not suffering from a concussion, but had just experienced a few contusions and quite a few bruises that time and a bit of antiseptic ointment would take care of. However, to be safe, she demanded that he stay in the infirmary overnight for observation, a not totally unfamiliar occurrence. John argued a bit but was somewhat appeased when he was allowed to shower before his wounds were treated and was now resting comfortably, with an IV attached that would take care of a slight case of dehydration.

 

--/--

 

Mayel Serrana had stayed back on the edge of the group that had been waiting to reunite with the rescued team. Mr. Woolsey had settled for waiting until everyone was rested for a detailed report and had wandered away, leaving Mayel alone in the corridor. Seeing her hesitation, Dr. Keller gestured for the other woman to enter. 

“It's okay, I'm sure Colonel Sheppard would be glad to know you are concerned about him.” 

“Oh, I wasn't...I didn't...” Mayel said when Jennifer walked over and stood smiling at her. 

“He's just fine, but we want to keep him long enough to be sure that hard head of his doesn't have any more cracks in it.” Jennifer put a hand gently on Mayel's arm and gave her a tiny push in the direction of John's bed. “Why don't you go spend a few minutes with him? I'm sure he'd be glad to see a friendly face.” 

Without further argument, Mayel slowly approached John's gurney. 

 

--/--

 

He had been relaxing with his eyes closed for a moment, savoring the feeling of being clean and safe and knowing that his team was also securely taken care of. At Mayel's approach, he opened his eyes and smiled in surprise. “Hey, I didn't see you there.” 

“I was waiting with the others to make sure that, you know, everyone was all right.” 

John's smile got just a fraction bigger. “Everyone is fine. It would take more than a little blizzard and a couple of giant hairy monsters to get the better of us.” 

Mayel giggled. It was the first time John had heard her make such a girlish sound, and it made him want to hear it again. 

“Hey, if you're around tomorrow, I'll tell you all about how Bigfoot's wife kidnapped me and dragged me off to her lair.” 

John was rewarded with another giggle for his effort even though he knew Mayel hadn't understood much of what he was talking about. “I would like that very much,” she said. “Then Dr. McKay can tell me his version of what happened.” 

Laughing out loud at her understanding of the eccentric scientist after knowing him for such a short time, John reached out and took Mayel's hand. Indicating, the stool next to his bed, John said, “Why don't you stay awhile and tell me about how much you worried about everyone while we were gone.” 

 

*** END OF TO BUILD A FIRE ***

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