A/N: I started this fic a while ago, so it deviates from canon at the end of Season 2. Thank you to Alipeeps and Gigajules for their patience and help in beta-ing.
Not Alone - Chapter 1
God he was tired. He was also cold, wet, hungry, in shock, in considerable pain, and extremely angry. No, check that. Angry didn't even begin to cover how he felt. Enraged. Several hours ago, his anger had exploded and fuelled a fire inside him that had threatened to engulf him completely. Several hours ago, his mind had burned with the need to kill, maim, stab, shoot, hit or blow up anyone in his way. Now that anger had turned into an icy hatred that left him cold and frozen and deadly calm. But anger alone would not fuel his exhausted and battered body, and it was taking all of his resolve to keep moving forward.
Step, slide. Step, slide. Step, slide.
Brace himself on the gnarled branch he was using as a crutch and step forward; allow his left leg to take all of his weight. Slide the useless right leg behind him in the mud. He wondered whether he still had a kneecap under the muddy, sodden, blood-soaked mess that used to be a field bandage. It sure as hell felt like it had shattered when the damn bullet went through it. But hey, a bullet ripping through your body was no picnic at the best of times, so maybe he'd lucked out and wouldn't be lame for the rest of his life. Maybe not, he thought briefly on the way down, before the agony drove up his leg and into his stomach like a tidal wave, and white hot sparks danced through his vision.
Don't scream. Don't scream. Don't scream.
He let out what he hoped was a small, strangled sob and not a tormented wail of anguish. Fuck! Another strangulated grunt as he curled inward on himself and tried to force his mind away from the pain. He recalled his training. He tried to picture himself cool and calm inside the curl of a wave as its crest towered over him. He'd ride the wave and shoot his board out of that deep blue, into the endless azure of a Californian summer sky. He realised (again) that his training meant jack-shit as he ground his teeth, curled more tightly into a foetal position, and waited grimly for the pain to diminish enough that he could continue on before they caught him again. He slowly unclenched his rigid body as the pain began to recede slightly. Not enough, but if it was a choice between hurt and dead... well, if he couldn't walk, he'd crawl. He wasn't ready to die.
John lay on the bracken-choked ground a few moments longer, feeling the mud ooze beneath his wet clothes. He gathered what was left of his strength - something he was fast running out of; he'd have to find shelter if he wanted to survive until morning. Even then, it wasn't guaranteed. He rolled over onto his left side, trying to keep his wounded leg out of the mire, and reached out into the scrub until his hand found purchase on a slender fern trunk. He took a breath to brace himself, then hauled his body closer toward the plant. His ribs blazed in an appalling hymn of pain; the bastard had cracked them, at the very least, if not broken them outright. His leg joined in what could only be described as a hellish harmony to his ribs and he choked on bile. John remained motionless, panting heavily, then hauled again. This time he had manoeuvred close enough to the trunk of the fern to be able to use it for leverage, heaving himself up onto his good leg with a minimum of pain. He rested for another brief moment, but then forced his protesting body back into action. He had no idea if he was still being followed, and how close they were if he was. He lurched forward - step, slide, step, slide; trying to choose the path of least resistance whilst remaining in enough of the ground-covering bracken to make tracking him more difficult.
He trudged doggedly on, noticing with grim satisfaction as twilight deepened into an inky black night sky. Please God, no moon. If he couldn't see where he was going, those bastards might not be able to see where he had been, either. He suspected there was a flaw in that logic somewhere, but in any event, a concealing darkness beat moonlight hands down. For another twenty minutes or so he dragged himself forward, his leg becoming increasingly more leaden and his mind more numb. Then he went down a second time. This time instead of squelching into a ball of agony in the brackish slush of the forest floor, he felt nothing but surprise as he continued to fall. His surprise was short-lived, and the expected but delayed impact of body hitting ground occurred as he bounced down a rocky incline.
He probably would have screamed if he hadn't passed out first.
He stepped through the 'gate and looked around quickly, before stepping forward and keying his radio twice, the standard all clear. Ronon and Teyla stepped through with an almost uniform belupp sound, followed a moment later by the dulcet tones of McKay in full rant.
"…portant things to do with my time, my valuable time, than to traipse through mud and talk to primitive… primitives!"
McKay paused for a quick intake of breath, long enough to locate John and step up beside him. "I mean, what is there for me to do here? There's no ancient technology, more precisely there's no technology of any kind."
John was amazed at how McKay made that sound like a crime against humanity.
"Hence there is no reason for me to be stuck in this festering mud puddle until I say the wrong thing to one of these barbaric cavemen and get an arrow somewhere non-conducive to sprouting feathers!" Rodney looked triumphantly at John, looking for all the world like he had made an earth shatteringly irrefutable argument and they would now all kindly dial the gate and go home.
"So don't talk." Ronon said lackadaisically from behind them.
Teyla fought to restrain a smile and John hid his smirk by hurriedly putting on his aviator glasses.
Not that he needed sunglasses. The sky was grey and overcast, the afternoon sun barely warming the air, and Rodney's description of the place as a mud puddle wasn't too far off the mark. There were also small shrubs as well as mud. There were some forest-covered hills abutting the east of the village but 'gateside was dull. John hitched his P-90 tighter on his vest, and silently strolled down the gently sloping mud puddle towards the village, listening to Teyla attempt to justify their journey to Rodney as the three of them followed him.
"They may not be as technologically advanced as we are," she explained, increasing her volume slightly as Rodney 'humphed'. "But they are hunters, and I am sure you have noticed that fresh meat is in short supply at Atlantis. They may be willing to trade with us."
John grinned to himself. The Athosian woman had just landed a low blow on the ever-hungry scientist. One of his favourite mess-hall rants was the lack of fresh meat. They had some, but the Daedalus' small refrigerated storage was more often than not used to store medicines and other more essential items. The Athosians hunted some meat, but not nearly enough to feed the mainland settlement and Atlantis, and so far meat was one of the things they hadn't had much luck in securing in trade. Edible meat, John amended, blanching as he remembered the horrendous M24-935 debacle.
John enjoyed the rare moment of silence, as McKay floundered to find an argument to counter Teyla's. Trade actually looked promising. On their first trip to P32-117 the natives had been hesitant to approach them, but didn't seem to be cowed by the sudden arrival of strangers in their village either. A combination of patience and Teyla's diplomatic abilities resulted in the villagers welcoming them in and hosting them for a feast, and the very bare bones of a trade negotiation being etched with the village headman. Teyla had suggested the headman would feel most comfortable with their return, rather than one of the secondary teams, and John and Elizabeth both concurred. So, while John never fully relaxed off world, he wasn't anticipating any problems on their return to the village.
He lay in the darkness and slowly returned to consciousness. At first, he felt nothing but confusion. Where was he, and why the hell was he lying on the cold ground? John shifted his head slightly and spat out some dirt, and attempted to roll onto his back when he was abruptly and agonisingly reminded that he had cracked ribs and a gunshot wound to the knee. He unceremoniously face planted the dirt and was enveloped in waves of pain as he lapsed back into unconsciousness.
The second time he came to, he was more alert. He gently manoeuvred himself into a sitting position, leaning against the stone outcropping, and assessed his situation. His face throbbed, and he could only fully open one eye. He felt his right eye tenderly, not surprised to feel the heat radiating off what was undoubtedly a very impressive shiner. His leg was an uncompromising, unrelenting fiery agony, and one look at the blackened disgusting mass attached to it told him it'd be septic if he didn't do something about that field dressing a.s.a.p.
His muscles had stiffened protectively around his ribs, which hurt to high hell. A gentle probe reassured him that they were in fact cracked, not broken. He breathed a shallow sigh of relief. He'd been injured enough times to knowledgably assess the damage and to know that broken ribs meant shards that could cause serious internal injuries. Cracked ribs would hurt like a bastard but would be fine without treatment for the short term.
He did his best to ignore the pain emanating from his ribcage, and leaned over his knee. This was going to hurt like a bitch. He tentatively tugged at the field bandage. Jesus!MaryMotherofGod!Fuck! He barely leaned far enough sideways so as not to coat himself before his stomach contents left via his mouth at high velocity. He sat there shaking for several minutes, before leaning back against the stone and grasping at his side for his canteen. He took a mouthful of water and spat the vile taste out of his mouth, and then took a weary sip of the cool liquid. Okaay. Not one of his brighter ideas. He took another sip of water, and considered his knee. By the time he had replaced his canteen and eaten a few bites of oatmeal powerbar, he'd come to the conclusion that moving was going to be torture enough and the gore soaked dressing could damn well stay where it was.
He took another look at his surroundings. He was in a crevasse, with a rocky outcrop hanging overhead. How he'd managed to fall into the thin gap was beyond him, but the wider base acted nicely as a cave for him to pass the night in relative safety. He doubted anyone would have seen that crack in the darkness.
He looked up again, and noted that the slim sliver of sky he could see was tinted the murky ochre yellow of pre-dawn. So a full night had passed. With the exception of his leg, he felt somewhat better than the previous night, although the icy-cold core of anger had not dissipated. His head had cleared though, and he felt more composed, so the anger just lent a feral, dangerous air to his movements and a cold calculating edge to his thoughts, rather than being consuming as it had been the previous night. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and exhaled slowly.
He rifled through his tac vest and checked his equipment status. He had his Beretta 9mm and one spare clip, although he mourned the loss of his P-90. He had a half-depleted first aid field kit, three powerbars and a half-full canteen. He also had his Life Signs Detector, a small survival kit (2 razorblades, 4 Windproof/Waterproof NATO Lifeboat Matches and Striker Strip, 1 "Premium" BCB Wire Survival Saw , 1 Fishing Kit, 20 ft. Brass Snare Wire, 1 Fishing Knot Information sheet (what the hell?) 11 in. Teflon Tube, and 1 Brunton 15MM Button Compass (which was, as McKay pointed out in delight, utterly useless when not on earth)) and his aviator glasses. Oh, and a bum leg. Oh, well, couldn't have it all.
He heard movement outside the crevasse and froze, listening intently as the footsteps moved slowly off into the distance. He breathed a sigh of relief. So, they were still looking for him. A slow, dangerous, humourless smile snaked across his face. He was armed, and barring any more bad luck he had the means to survive for a day or two (in the back of his mind he heard a Rodneyesque 'humph' and moved with haste verging on panic to quash that thought). A day or two should be enough time to head back to the village, find the bastard, and kill him. Any longer than that, and he would probably be captured and dead himself. It was going to be him or Kolya.
He preferred Kolya.
Disclaimer: The copyright for Stargate Atlantis belongs to MGM studios and SciFi channel. It's their playground- I'm just playing in it.