I don't own and I certainly am getting no money.

Spoilers: The Siege, 38 Minutes, The Eye, The Storm, possibly more.

Edited on 1-25-06 on the advice of my beta.

Beta: J.A.B.


Chapter 1:

With concentration, he pulled himself higher in the muck only to lose half of his gain when his left arm gave out. He grunted in frustration and tried to recover only to give up and just settle for not sinking even more.

The closest thing to his muck was a narrow strip of firmer ground with a multitude of spider-like roots sticking out of the soil. Most of the area has the roping roots above the ground. Some even hung over small pools of water.

They were also partially to blame for his current predicament.

Given the time to think about it, he would probably appreciate how close this resembled the red mangroves he saw when he visited Florida. How the roots intertwined like lovers in the moist ground. Right now, he's not noticing too much.

The old roots kept him from going down immediately into the sticky goo. Their rough, limb-shaped tubes made for good handholds in the darkening landscape.

Lt. Colonel John Sheppard knew he was in serious trouble. Bug sucking on his neck, Wraith Hive ships in orbit, Genii taking over Atlantis trouble. Except this was personal trouble, not something that was threatening the whole expedition.

"Damn it," he muttered as his body gave an involuntary shudder as it lost heat to the clammy mud.

Of course, he couldn't just be stuck in mud; he had to be stuck in cold muck. It was slowly stealing away all of his body heat.

His knees and hips were hurting from the cold and his feet had been numb for the last five minutes.

"Where the hell is everyone?" he hissed as he tried to stay still and pull himself up at the same time.

The rest of Sheppard's team was out there . . . somewhere. They'd scattered when the first Dart had strafed the town they were visiting on P2M-649.

This was a trade deal mission for Dr. Elizabeth Weir and a little subtle hinting for a longer alliance against their common enemies. They needed more friends out here in this place. Friends they could go to in an emergency, places they could send wounded if Atlantis was overrun by one of their many kick ass foes.

A few minutes ago, Sheppard had been sure that someone would come across him in the retreat to safer ground near the caves and give him a hand out of the viscous stuff.

Now, John was beginning to panic as his strength started to fail as his body temperature dropped steadily and his muscles began to feel like jelly.

The muck made a sucking sound and he felt a tightening around his hips. A pulling as his fluid heavy pants and web belt tried to slip off his hips and down his body into the depths.

Hell, his pants were probably slipping as well.

It would not be funny to be rescued from the muck and then having to end up standing around in his clinging boxers in front of his team.

Especially in front of Teyla.

John could see it all now.

Teyla would smile slightly and raise an eyebrow. That would mean she was having some mysterious woman thoughts and maybe a private joke over the situation.

Ronon would just grunt and go back to the business at hand. Maybe later, when they were back home, the ex-Runner would make a quiet and seemingly innocent comment in front of all of the Marines in the gym. The rest of John's day would be spent warding off smiling Marines as they tried to dig the details out of him. Completely without respect for his rank, of course.

Rodney would just smirk. The 'I have something on you sooo good that you'll have to help out in the lab whenever I ask' smirk. Hell, he may even have a camera to document the event and threaten to show them to Elizabeth.

Or post it on his main lab's bulletin board.

John shifted his hands on the hard roots and tried to keep in tight with the small strip of drier ground.

He wanted – no, he needed – to be found now.

John knew he was quickly leaving rational thought behind the longer he stayed in the muck.

The Colonel wanted Rodney McKay to walk out of the undergrowth and mangled roots right now. Rodney could be smiling at his victory overcoming his distaste of the musty smelling place or have a pout because of getting the grimy mud and stagnate debris on his uniform.

At this point, John didn't care.

Teyla was great and calming, Ronon was super and strong, but John didn't want them, he wanted his best friend.

It was that little part in him that wanted someone close to him to be nearby while he was fighting for his life. Almost like a child who wants his favorite teddy bear when he has to go to the doctor's office. Not quite, but almost.

Sheppard wouldn't even mind losing his cool or breaking down in front of Rodney this time. He knew Rodney sometimes panicked in situations like this – where there seemed that someone was going to die. In the past, John had tried to keep calm enough to keep Rodney calm. He didn't think he would be able to this time.

Rodney couldn't hold it against him if he was dying, could he?

John let his head drift down until his forehead was touching his outstretched arms and tried to get some rest as he was hanging on.


The strident call make Sheppard snap his head back up and blink.

Finally, a voice in the wilderness!

But, it wasn't Rodney's.

Teyla pushed her way through the undergrowth and roots to kneel on the small strip of dirt as close as she could to him in the roots. Well, the part of him that was above the sticky cold mud.

"You . . . okay?" he stuttered.

"I am fine. I did not encounter any of the Wraith as I left the town." She looked over her shoulder as a Dart screamed overhead. It was a chilling sound. "More Wraith have arrived through the stargate. It is beginning to look like a 'scorched earth culling.'"

'Scorched earth culling' was a term Major Lorne had come up with after reading the latest horrifying report of rabid cullings and after having seen one up close. This was the same Major Lorne who had started the usage of the term 'sucker' in the Marine population on Atlantis in reference to the Wraith. The guy was almost as bad as Ford in giving things and situations labels.

"The others?" he asked, as the slight cold tremor grew stronger. Damn, the stuff was cold.

"Ronon is helping with the defense of the emergency shelter in the caves." She hesitated before continuing. "Dr. McKay left us in an attempt to locate you with his LSD a short while ago."

A tingle momentarily cut John's cold. Rodney was looking for him in the middle of a culling. What more could you ask from a best friend?

Then the tingle was cut by a heavy dose of fear.

"Rodney's out here on his own?" He tried to twist around in a futile attempt to see Rodney over the knobby trees, brush and roots.

Visibility was almost zero from his level.

Teyla's angular face softened a bit. "He would not be stopped. Even Ronon stepped out of his way."

"Wow," Sheppard muttered absently. Rodney backed down Ronon? He should have been there to see that.

John shivered again as he felt the sucking pull that was trying to take him down into the darkness and the cold.

He wasn't happy about Rodney being in the middle of a major culling alone but he did want to see him. Soon.


She seemed to understand his urgency and nodded. "The radios are still working for the moment. I will try to contact him."

John felt relief. His radio was deep in the muck along with his 9 mil and his P-90.

Teyla spoke quietly into her radio a few steps away as he closed his eyes and tried to keep his grip. John slipped slightly and felt a pain in his left hand. He peeked out of one eye to see that scarlet blood marked the bark of the roots.

Damn it, now he was bleeding.


She came back and did that thing she did when she sat on her heels without using her hands for balance since her hands were full. Man, she must be strong to do that.


Teyla nodded, her P-90 across her knees and ready for action. "He is nearby and coming."

Good, 'cause he didn't want to die without his best friend. He had already done that one time, when the Wraith were near Atlantis and he had attempted to deliver a deathblow. With a 'so long' he had bounded away to meet his death.

If not gladly, then at least with purpose. He had to save Weir, Teyla, Ford, his Marines, and the civilians. He had to save the City of the Ancients for future study and future breakthroughs.

Had he really stopped to say goodbye to Rodney or looked the exhausted scientist in the face, he would never have gone.

What kind of friend does that?

Weir, he could deal with as she questioned him about his decision. They were leaders and they had responsibilities to protect. She understood. He would be a means to an end and, even if she would grieve for him, her expedition and her people would have a chance to survive.

Rodney, on the other hand, would have argued until he was blue in the face. He would have proposed ten strategies that may or may not have worked in time to save Atlantis. He would have argued John right out of a suicide run. From killing himself even if it was for a higher purpose.

Right now, John wasn't seeing a higher purpose in being killed by cold mud. He wasn't ready to die on some small world that he had just found out about yesterday in the middle of a Wraith culling.

Where the hell was Rodney and his ten scenarios that may or may not work now?

There was a sudden crashing as leaves and branches shoved aside with force. A round and flushed face came into view.

"Colonel!" Rodney's voice was discordant and irritated.

"Missed you too, Rodney," murmured John as his hands slipped again and the hungry mud pulled him in just a little bit deeper.

McKay looked stunned at the sight as if Teyla's report over the radio had somehow been a joke.

"The Colonel is getting weaker. He is lower in the mud now than when I first found him," said Teyla in a quiet voice.

It was a wake-up call and a call to action meant for McKay. He was always good at solving problems, but neither John nor Teyla knew if sucking mud was something he could solve.

There was a pop-hiss of their radios and Sheppard was irritated that he couldn't hear the message.

"The Wraith are massing in the town. Many have been taken and still they search for more." Her usually calm voice now carried an edge of disgust mixed with bitterness.

Sheppard understood. Her people and the people of the Pegasus Galaxy had long lived in fear of the Wraith. They had a head start in the 'hate the Wraith' department, but those in Atlantis were quickly catching up.

John's strength was going and he leaned back in to rest his head on his right arm. He still couldn't rest like this, but his muscles were starting to go from jelly to hurt and cramped. He let his eyes slide shut for a moment.

"Colonel?" Rodney sounded almost fearful.

"I'm okay, just . . . just tired."

He felt a tugging and opened his eyes to see Rodney trying to use John's vest to pry him from the muck with just muscle strength.

"You know, I've . . . I've heard that the force needed to pull a stuck foot out of quicksand is the same as you would need to . . . lift a car," stuttered John from a combination of the cold and the pain of the pulling on his cramped body.

"Shut up, I'm thinking. And this is not quicksand," replied Rodney as he let go with a huff of breath and tried to study the problem more closely.

John retightened his grip on the roots and tried to keep calm.

Teyla was tilting her head as if listening to something in the distance. "The Wraith are coming," she snarled. She wanted to be back in the battle but she also wanted to be close to her friend in his time of need.

"Go," said John. "Help Ronon . . . at the caves." Hell, he would be at the caves himself if he hadn't fallen in this damn mud trap.


"Rodney, she can't help me right now. Ronon and the others need her more." He didn't say that Ronon could also use McKay's help. John was just that selfish right now to want a witness if he lost his battle and slipped away.

He tried not to think of Rodney's reaction if that happened or of the scientist being left alone in this out of the way little place after watching someone he knew sucked under to die.

With a sigh, McKay looked at Teyla. "When they're gone . . . bring the Puddle Jumper. Maybe if we had enough power or something." He was grasping at straws. "And call Beckett."

Teyla nodded again and looked at Sheppard. "Colonel." It had many layers of meaning when she said it like that. She hoped for him, she wanted him to hang on until help could come, she was glad to have known him.

Sheppard didn't get the chance to respond as she swept away into the darkness to help the townspeople and Ronon survive the culling.

Rodney was quiet for a while as they listened to the Darts and the gunfire in the distance. And the screaming—

"You need more support," muttered McKay as he dragged over some of what looked like a cross between blue vines and hanging moss that swung from the imitation mangroves.

John didn't reply, he just watched with heavy lidded eyes.

In a few moves, Rodney tied the vines to John's vest and then tied the other ends to the closest sturdy looking roots he could find.

Almost instantly, John could feel the vest digging into his shoulders and stomach as the vines tried to take some of his weight.

"Feel better?" asked Rodney from the solid strip of ground. His expression was hopeful and slightly distracted. Most likely thinking up new plans.

"Sure," lied John. It wasn't good to distract the genius at work.

The radio pop-hissed again and McKay stiffened.

Damn, John hated being out of the loop like this. "What?"

"They're . . . the Wraith are searching the swamps for survivors."