"It's here," he squeaked. "The monster."
"Then we'd better go faster."
Rodney took a step away from the wall, then another, sliding on the uneven ground. Terror hit him suddenly. He was lost! He reached out with both hands and found nothing. The walls had vanished. He was alone, exposed in the middle of the killing room, and all he could hear was the snuffling and grunting of the monster and the clattering of its claws. The echo took it, and there were ten of them, twenty of them, a whole world full of them, coming for his blood, and then…
"Come on." And then Sheppard's hand on his sleeve, tugging him sharply, urgently. The fallen sheep got up. The fence was high, but on the far side of it lay safety. He wondered what had happened to the nineteenth sheep, and why it had never appeared.
"It's uneven there," Sheppard said, then he gasped, sucking in a breath, letting it out audibly. "A slight dip. And then, in a moment… Wait… Yes. The door frame. This is as far as I got last time."
He had crossed the open room alone, not knowing what lay on the other side? Sheppard was different from him; Rodney felt it with an ache. But, then, Rodney was a genius, and Sheppard couldn't match him on brains, Mensa or no. Rodney was better at all the things that mattered.
Claws were approaching them. Rancid breathing made the darkness heave. "I hate to hurry you, Colonel, but run!"
They set off in a lurching stagger, not remotely approaching a run. Rodney's feet hurt so repulsively that he could hardly tell when they were on the ground and when they were not. Sheppard kept his hold on Rodney's sleeve, guiding him, dragging him. The monster was behind them; Rodney knew that. He could feel the breath on the back of his neck. He could feel the claws reaching out at him, and missing; reaching, and missing. Then he stumbled, and fell to one knee, and knew that he was dead. Leave me, he meant to say. Save yourself. It came out as, "Save me."
No teeth closed on his leg. Nothing spat reeking drool on his face. Sheppard was hauling him up by the back of his jacket. Rodney let out a breath, and didn't breathe in again. He kept his body entirely still. The worst sounds of pursuit ceased. Okay, he thought, hearing again his own panicked breathing, echoing in the passage like a creature close behind him. It's just me.
But then, between one breath and the next, he heard the unmistakeable sound of movement. They were still being followed. It was not as close as he had feared, but they were still being hunted.
"Come on," Sheppard hissed.
Rodney lumbered forward, dragged by Sheppard, relentless ahead of him. There was nothing around him that was not darkness or the sounds of fear and panic. He needed words. God help him, he needed words. When trapped in the dark, his mind conjured up someone else to talk to. He couldn't help it; that was the way he was. "How do you know where we're going?" he gasped out, through breaths.
Sheppard said nothing.
"You don't know," Rodney realised. "Oh no. We're dead. Never trust the military to find their way anywhere."
The wall fell away again. Sheppard dragged him past another doorway. He was quick, but not so quick that Rodney couldn't hear the snuffling there, as well. They were surrounded. There was a whole pack of them, and they were being herded to their doom.
Something squelched underfoot, solid and slippery. The last person they slaughtered. Rodney almost retched. His head was throbbing, his feet were screaming, but that was nothing against the terror of being eaten alive by a pack of giant monsters.
Then he lost Sheppard. One second there; the next second, gone. Sounds swelled all around him. He turned around, hands reaching, wall bumping into the back of his hand here, the side of his fist there. Something brushed his hair: dust; cobwebs… He still had the gun. Empty. It was useless and empty. Click, it went, when he pulled the trigger. Click. Click. Click.
Something touched his shoulder, and he cried out, but it said his name. Monsters didn’t know his name. "Why did you stop?" Sheppard's voice asked.
I lost you. "Why did I stop?" he croaked indignantly. "Why did you go on without me?"
"This is stupid!" He almost smashed his fist against the wall, but stopped just in time, remembering how valuable his hands were. "Just shoot it!"
"I've only got two rounds left."
He frowned. "That's enough."
"I've got to know where to aim."
He was cursed to spend his life surrounded by idiots. "Then light a fire. No, don't say it. They've taken our supplies. Then rub two sticks together, or something. Use a flint. Come on. They must teach you that sort of thing in the army."
"Air force," Sheppard corrected him. "It wasn't Caveman School. And that's why we carry supplies. So we don't have to."
"But you…" Sheppard tugged him, and he carried on, lurching on his painful, staggering way. "You…" Rodney almost fell, and that stole his words. The sound of pursuit was all around him now. For a moment, he had almost forgotten how to hear it. It was terrifying how something awful could become familiar, could fade into the background as if it wasn't there. He had almost forgotten the pain in his ankle. When death came, perhaps he would feel nothing at all.
"I could, yes," Sheppard said, some moments later. "We don't… have time… to make… a camp fire."
Sheppard was breathless, too. A creeping feeling stole through Rodney's chest, quite distinct from the terror. "I was thinking something along the line of torches. Flaming brands. 'Back, foul beast!' That sort of thing."
"And give away our position?" Sheppard rasped. "And destroy our night vision? I told you before."
"Night vision? I can't see a thing." Rodney held his hand up in front of his face, and thought perhaps he saw the faintest glimmer of movement, but nothing more. "The monster will be able to see in the dark."
The monster came ever closer, the echoing sounds of its pursuit sounding in the passageways like a pack of zombies. "Here," Sheppard hissed, tugging Rodney into a side room, a place where the wall suddenly wasn't there any more. Rodney fell, and Sheppard was with him, and they were falling together, but even as they were falling, Sheppard shoved him to one side, and there was the sound of a gun firing, inches from his ear, tearing the world apart. The world sheeted white, but it was too quick, too fierce, for him to see anything. Blinking, gasping, he rolled on the ground, barely feeling the stones that drove into his back. "Did you get it? Did you get it?"
"I don't think so." Sheppard's voice was a tiny, broken thread of a thing.
"Oh." Rodney clambered to his knees. His vision was seared with the after-image of the shot, but before that, there had been something, hadn't there? "I saw my hand," he breathed, realising. "Very faintly, but more than I could before."
"That's good." It was little more than whisper. Rodney could hear no sound of Sheppard moving at all, just the words whispering past barely-moving lips.
Rodney found his arm. "That means we're almost out."
He heard Sheppard swallow. "Rodney. I didn't tell you the entire truth."
He didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to hear it. Words would make it go away. "You were hurt all along, before I even… Before I… It was an arrow when we were being chased. The monster attacked you when you went off by yourself." His hands were shaking. He had no idea where the empty gun had gone. "It wasn't me. Tell me it wasn't me."
Sheppard said nothing. Rodney's hand had found his wrist, wet and sticky with something that could only be blood. A pulse was beating, but only faintly.
"Oh God, I've killed you," Rodney moaned.
"Not yet." There was the wisp of a smile in the faint voice. "But I don't… think… I can go on. If you're right…"
"Of course I'm right," Rodney retorted. Some habits could not be broken. If some things went, then you had nothing left at all.
"… then the way out isn't far. Take the gun. You can…"
"No." Rodney stood up. His ankle barely hurt at all now; he was so far past feeling it. In that moment, all he felt was resolve. Nothing else mattered at all. Nothing else existed. "We get out together, or not at all."
"Don't try to argue with me, Colonel. And don't even think of commanding me. I don't respond well to authority. Now, are you going to stand up with my help, or do I have to carry you?"
"No, I can’t, no," Rodney admitted. "Drag you, then."
He closed his hands round Sheppard's wrists, but he didn't dare make the first heave. How did he…? What if he…? And the monster was still near; he could hear it.
He moistened his lips. "Sheppard?"
"No," Sheppard said wearily. "I can get up by myself." He flicked his arm, batting Rodney away, and there was still strength in it. "Can't… let it be known… I was dragged out… by a scientist."
But Rodney heard the sounds he made as he stood, and he knew he would never forget them.
They started to walk. Rodney hovered near Sheppard, unsure whether to step in and help him. Sheppard was armed, after all, and there were some things that you just did not do, at least when you were in the military. And here Rodney was, almost well. Yes, he had a head injury and cuts on his feet and an injured ankle, but Sheppard had two of those, as well, and the ankle was only twisted, not broken, and it was only pain, and nothing like as important as…
He bit his lip, then contented himself with a question. "Are you…?"
But he did not know what the question had been, and he did not know what the answer had meant, and all he could do was walk along beside Sheppard, useless. He could see the man now – a faint shape, walking hunched over, listing to the side. "Wait! Wait!" he cried. "I can see you! It really is getting lighter."
"And here comes our friend," Sheppard said, his voice without expression.
"No. Oh no." To be killed when so close! He could hear the noise now; how had he managed to tune it out? Turning, wildly, desperately, he couldn't see its lumbering form, but he could hear its grunting, hear the clattering of its great claws. "We have to run now, Colonel, please."
They ran, stumbling, half crawling. The light grew stronger – never bright, but enough to see shapes, enough not to get lost. Rodney focused on the shape of Sheppard's gun. One shot. Would it be enough? And then stairs, stairs beneath them, and they were almost falling, and Rodney grabbed Sheppard's arm and hauled, hauled him up the stairs, even as Sheppard gasped and made a broken, grating sound of pain.
"It's following!" Rodney gasped, and then they were out, breaking into the daylight, except that it was not daylight at all, but twilight, halfway heading into night. "Shoot it! Shoot it!"
They managed three steps across the slippery grass, half-managed a fourth, and then they fell. "It's coming!" Rodney screamed. There were claws scraping on the stairs, a great body heaving itself up. "Shoot it when it comes out!"
Sheppard rolled onto his back, brought the pistol up in both hands. Rodney saw his finger tighten on the trigger. Then he froze. "Rodney?"
He did not want to look. He could not bring himself to look. But there was command in Sheppard's eyes, and so he turned, his head moving so slowly that he was aware of every inch.
Neither of them said anything. Rodney swallowed.
A very long time passed.
"We never tell anybody about this," Sheppard said, at last, his voice firmer than it had been for ages.
"A badger." Rodney's arms were limp at his side. "Well, it sounded like a monster in the dark. And all those echoes…" He swallowed. "You thought it was a monster, too." It was glaring at him maliciously, but made no attempt to come closer. "An alien badger," he added. "Could be fiercer than ones at home."
Sheppard was silent, still.
Rodney turned back, even more painfully than before. The monster was not the only thing he could not bear the thought of seeing. The light had almost gone from the sky, but there was enough. No, not enough. Too much. Too much. "Sheppard?" he whispered. "Are you…?" But of course he was not okay. People weren't normally okay if half the blood that was supposed to be in their body was instead soaked into their clothes from ribs to knee. Even his arm was drenched, from being pressed against the wound in a vain attempt to staunch the bleeding. He had knotted his jacket around his body, but that was nothing. That did nothing. "I've killed you."
And then there were feet, but he didn't look up, would never turn round again. So they had come to capture him again. Better the flames than this.
"They are here," Teyla said.
He looked up dazedly, blinking into the twilight. Teyla. Ronon. Assorted Marines. Carson. Oh, thank God. Carson.
Ronon dropped to one knee, then was up again, moving like coiled death. "Who did this?"
Carson pushed Rodney gently to one side. "Let me look at him, lad. You don't look too hot yourself."
"Who did it?" Ronon hissed.
Rodney swallowed. "A… a monster. An animal. Huge. It was huge. Nasty, big, pointy teeth."
Carson had eased Sheppard's shirt up and was deftly unknotting the useless makeshift bandage. "This wasn't done by an animal."
"A… a native," Rodney stammered. "One of those ones that Teyla said were friendly, so it's her fault, really. He had a bow and arrow. A gun, I mean. A gun. He took my gun." Ronon's eyes narrowed. Rodney could see them in the twilight – little gleaming lines of liquid death. "He was bigger than Ronon, but he's dead now. I killed him."
"McKay," Ronon growled. Rodney cowered a little. How many people had heard a tone like that just before they died?
"I…" He swallowed. "Okay, I…"
"'s alright, Ronon," Sheppard murmured, his eyes fluttering open. "He's telling the truth. Was a fierce warrior… Brave. The best."
Rodney let out a breath. "And there was a monster, too."
"I'm sure there was, son," Carson said distractedly. "Now, let's get the two of you home." He called over Rodney's head. "Get the jumper, then. These men can't wait all night."
They were out. They were safe. The cavalry had come – Carson on his horse. Rodney settled down in the grass, lay back against a convenient grassy mound. Probably an ants' nest, thought a distant part of his mind. The badger eyed him balefully from the entrance, but at least the sheep had gone. He was grateful for that. And Carson was here, and – oh joy! Teyla was giving him a power bar, and Ronon was standing over them protectively, all bristling muscles and knives.
"It wasn't my fault," he told the power bar, as he devoured it. Mmm. Blueberry. "It really wasn't my fault."
The jumper landed, all smooth seats and dryness and warmth and bandages. Someone helped him on board, and he sat down in the back, next to Sheppard, while Carson clucked over the state of their feet.
The sheep wanted to go home. Guided by their sheepdog, they set off two by two towards a place of shining silver and safety. The field of ZPMs waved a fond goodbye. Some things, he thought, were even more important than alien power sources of incredible potency, each one enough to save Atlantis and end all their problems. "Go, sheep, go," he muttered sleepily.
"Teyla," he heard Carson say. Carson was on his pony - a good-natured but handsome chestnut. Teyla's horse was grey. Ronon rode a terrifying stallion. Or a dragon. Yes, it certainly had dragon qualities to it. It was the fire from the nostrils that gave him the clue. And the wings.
Teyla sat down beside him. Her hand closed around his, and that bothered him. He tried to pull it away. "You'll get blood…"
Blood. Blood. Blood on his hands. The after-taste of the power bar was like death in his mouth. The sky turned red. The ZPMs were blazing. The sheep trotted after the sheepdog, faster and faster and faster. They were fleeing in terror from a monster… No, they were the monster. Woolly masks fell off to show the bloody fangs beneath. The sheepdog was down beneath them, and they ripped at its flesh, feasted on ragged chunks of flesh.
"I… I…" He turned to Teyla, seeing her clearly. "You don't know what I did."
Her hand refused to leave him. "We know, Rodney," she said gently. "We are not fools."
"Then how can you…?" He saw Sheppard lying pale and empty; saw Carson's grim face as he worked on him. He saw the blood thick on his hands, smeared on the seat, trampled on the flood. They were safe, and they were in the light, and there was no hiding now. I did that, he thought. Not his fault, not their fault, not anyone's fault, just mine. There wasn't even a monster, just me.
"Rodney," Teyla was saying, still holding his murderous hand. "The Colonel is not one to blame someone for an innocent mistake. If he does not blame you, how can we?"
He swallowed. Blood sheeted his thoughts, but through it all there were memories, too. Sheppard helping him up. Sheppard goading him when he needed to be goaded. Sheppard sensing his silent battles, and being there with the right word. Sheppard willing to stay inside alone, so Rodney had a chance of getting out alive.
Something shifted inside him, easing the pain just a little. It was not gone, though. It would not be gone until Sheppard was on his feet again. "He will be all right?" he asked Teyla. He could not bear to see the grim truth on Carson's face. No, no, he couldn't hide, not any more. He turned towards Carson. "He'll be all right?"
Carson did not look up from his work. "I think so."
Which was doctor-speak for, 'Yes, but if a giant meteorite lands on his head and kills him after all, don't sue me.' The something in his chest shifted a little more.
And then Sheppard was stirring, eyes fluttering open, lips moving, mumbling words Rodney couldn't catch. "What was that?" Rodney asked. "What did he say?"
"He said, 'Quit being stupid, Rodney,'" Carson said. "'We're good'."
Oh. Oh. Rodney leant his head back against the bulkhead. The something shifted even more, almost went away completely. The sheep were placid, too, their demonic other nature entirely gone. They were munching contentedly on freshly sprouting power bars, as the sheepdog settled down for a peaceful rest.
"Home," he told them. "We're going home."
And Teyla was holding his hand, and even Ronon wasn't glowering at him too badly, and Carson heaved a sigh, as if of relief, and Sheppard was going to be okay. He was going to be okay.
He sought the sheep, but they were gone completely. All he had was reality, and these people who had become his second family, and… Oh, was that another power bar sticking out of Teyla's pocket? She saw him looking, and gave it to him.
Yes, he thought, as he ripped it open. We're good.
(I tend to do long and rambling author's notes, I'm afraid.)
Thanks to all who have read and reviewed. It's been incredibly encouraging to me on this, my first venture into this fandom.
I found this immensely fun to write. I've spent the last year very slowly working on an epic in another fandom, fighting numerous distractions, and often finding it not very much fun at all. It was great to start a story that just wrote itself - that kept me awake at night with whole pages of dialogue unfolding in my head.
Actually, my first SGA idea was for a long and complex AU. However, I spoke sternly to myself and told myself that it wasn't a good idea to write such a story as my very first story in this fandom. I'm sure I was right. I still intend to write the long AU one day, but I hope to write some more shorter pieces first.
I first stumbled on SGA in mid-May, when I come across a random first season repeat on British TV. The Defiant One, it was. I wanted to launch into fanfic reading immediately, but was scared of spoilers, so (mostly) stayed away while I worked my way through all three seasons. Even when I'd caught up, I managed to (mostly) avoid fanfic for a while, since I wanted to develop my own take on the characters through writing them, without getting influenced by others. Now I've posted my first fic, all restrictions are off. *prepares to plunge into a delightful sea of glorious fanfic.*
Thanks for reading!
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