The Last SurvivorAuthor:
Status: WIP (2/3rds written)
Characters: McKay, Sheppard, later team and Beckett, told from an OC POV.
Summary: I had lived alone for as long as I remember.
AN: takes place after episode 3x03 and before 3x04; thanks to Linzi and sholio for their wonderful beta help, all remaining mistakes are mine. Written for the Sheppard H/C challenge, prompt – elemental.
The Last Survivor
The cold had returned.
A chill had taken hold of the air, and held now, even when the sun ruled the sky. In defiance of the cold, I wore my boots of tanned gnarl hide, even though I had draped my fur cloak around my shoulders before I had left my home. I knew the snow was threatening to come, and when it did, it would blanket the floor. Only my clothes made of fur would keep my body warm from the damaging bite.
"Time enough," I spoke to the sky.
Time enough for me to finish my walk, collect more laviola and gilly. Maybe the last I would gather in cycles to come.
A sharp cry of a fen startled me, made my feet slow. Birds would chatter and talk, but those were in the days of warmth, not of cold. It was a late fen, and surprised by something. My hand stole to the satchel I wore over one shoulder, seeking reassurance even though there was nothing there except the herbs I'd gathered already, and my flask of laviola water.
The night predators would sometimes leave their beds during the sun sky, driven by hunger, especially this close to the time of cold, when all beasts great and small were trying to store food for the long, dark cycles ahead.
I stood as still as a tree and waited. Then, my ears captured the struggles of some beast through the woods ahead. A soft, angry cry, full of pain and frustration. It did not sound of a night predator, and it did not sound like a gnarl, or a Fen, or any other of the myriad beasts I knew.
It sounded like me.
Or, like one of my kind.
Suddenly, my feet sprinted towards the sound, my pale hair flailing behind me as I left care behind.
My kind, could it be?
I ran by adder, birch and maple tree, hopped logs felled by age and storm, the soft hide of my boots crushing the dry, fragile leaves of many colors that had fallen from their home.
When I came out of a thickly wooded place, I found a small clearing, a gnarl's den by the beaten grass and weeds, but there was no gnarl. Instead, two bodies -- two males – lay on the ground.
To see others like me, to have the proof before me that I was not the last of my kind – I trembled, even as I stood frozen.
I had lived alone for as long as I remember.
My memories, they were like mist, and they often left the taste of fear in my mouth and pictures of white-haired monsters in my mind. I heard terrible screams in the night, and saw great fires, tasted smoke on my tongue. I had known something horrible had happened, but what it was, it hovered away from me. At night when I tried to sleep, and the dreams would come, I would think, maybe I didn't want to remember.
Now, I had these two before me, and I almost did not recognize my own kind, so long had it been. Two full-growns, wounded, like the forest animals I so often treated and nursed back to health. One had flat hair, the color of dark fallen leaves. He lay on his back, his hand still clutched in the shirt of the other. His clothes were torn in places, dirty and burnt. The other, with hair the color of the night sky, was on his side, as if he'd fallen. His clothes were similar to the flat-haired one, and just as tattered.
How had they come to be here?
The eyes of one opened, and they traveled up the length of my bare legs, past the browning vine around my waist that kept the loose cloth from bagging at my middle, up over the natural rise on my chest before coming to rest on my face. He had eyes the color of the sky. "Who—help…" then his eyes fluttered shut.
I had known the word once. It was far away, and rusty, but I knew I would help.
They needed to be brought back to my home and I did not think I was strong enough to carry them. It was not the first time I was presented with a weight too much for me, and like before, I fashioned a litter from sturdy birch branches. I used thick vines to hold it together, and pine boughs that would cushion their bodies against the jarring ride to my home. They were fortunate, as was I, because in another week the vines would wither and die, and I would not have been able to fashion the travois on which to drag them to safety.
As it was, I could only move one at a time, but both were wounded. The dark haired one breathed roughly and blood seeped sluggishly from more than one cut on his head and matted in his hair. The other bled from a wound in his leg, and burned with fever. Why was the dark haired one asleep? What had injured the sky eyes?
The sky was darkening, and I knew I must get them both to the warmth of my home. I bandaged the sky eyes quickly using strips torn from the hem of my clothing. I had more than one, and this was wearing thin. I would not suffer for its loss.
I was thankful that I often carried the flask of laviola water, made from a flower that only grew at the end of the warm cycles. It eased fever along with providing strength. The nutty flavor was one I had grown fond of, and I took it with me on my walks so that I could range farther. Now, I tipped the liquid against sky eyes' pale lips, relieved when he responded enough to drink.
I did not know what to do for the dark haired male, but his breathing worried me. The bleeding was slow enough that I knew he was not in danger of dying from loss of blood, but still I hesitated to leave him behind for fear that when I returned his breathing would have stopped. But the sky eyes needed a bed, and stitching, and I did not think it made sense to treat the unknown over the known.
The trip to my home was not an easy one. Not for me, and not for sky eyes. The forest floor was not smooth, especially with the leaves thick under my feet. I had to twist between fat tree trunks, a patchwork of bone-colored lichen growing up from their roots. Sometimes I went across as much as I went forward. He woke frequently, but only mumbled before falling back into the delirium he seemed lost in. I heard names and words that meant nothing to me. Ship, Sheppard, Wraith, storm – but he used one I did know. Help, repeatedly. I soothed him with meaningless whispers.
When I pulled the litter to my weathered wooden door, dragged it over the threshold, and into the large room that served as everything for me, I realized I would need to prepare another straw mattress. I did not have two beds, or even three, but the one I did have was a large pallet set low to the ground, near my hearth. I had moved it from the outer wall not more than a moon cycle ago to stay warm.
The world was a cold world, more than it was warm, and the time of the snows came frequently and lasted for many moon cycles. Sky eyes blinked towards the ceiling, then turned his head to watch as I pulled the blankets down and smoothed the clean sheet into place.
He was agitated. "Is he the dark haired one?" I asked softly. The bed was ready, and I moved towards sky eyes' legs, pulling them gently off the litter. He understood my intent, and weakly moved with me.
The groans were wrought from the pain in his leg and maybe his body in general. I could see the filmy promise of bruising underneath his skin in the shadowed fire light of the room.
"Oh, God, that hurts. Yes, yes – lots of dark hair, where…"
He rapidly scanned my home – the one room was circular, the ceiling no higher than the tallest of these males I had found. The fire burned in the center pit I had dug deep down. Most of the smoke was drawn upward and out through the topped slits I had provided in the roof, but what remained sometimes burned my eyes.
I was proud of what I had built and labored over, creating luxuries such as dishes to eat from. I had fashioned bowls from wood, made shelves from deadfall in the woods. My sheets, clothing, blankets, books -- I'd scavenged them from what I was sure had once been the village of my people, and now it had turned to dust in the emptiness.
I could have lived there, taken more, but the ghosts chased me away. I had taken only that which I could not make on my own, and never returned.
Agitation swirled over sky eyes. "I am going for him," I promised gently, "but first I must bind your leg." I gestured at the make-do strips of my tunic that were becoming saturated with his life's blood. "I have a poultice that will help."
When I turned from gathering the pottery jar from the shelf, his eyes had closed, and I knew he'd returned to his fitful rest. I grabbed the basket with bandages I made from river moss. It grew thick and plentiful, and strong enough to be woven into patches, or it could be pushed into a deep wound in freshly picked clumps. It would absorb sickness from a wound, draw it from the body. Combined with the poultice of gilly and jassim, I was confident the fever would soon be chased from sky eyes. Even now, the light touch against his cheek let me know his body was responding.
I worked quickly, thankful he was unaware. The sinew I harvested from animals that died in my care would hold sky eyes' wound together.
In the back of my mind, the image of the dark haired one burned restlessly. When I finished, it had only been moments, and I pulled the blanket to his chest, touched his brow lightly and whispered, "Do not leave. I will return with your friend."
The litter was light, and the return trip to the dark haired one was easy. A soft snow had begun, and I found him shivering in his bloodied clothing. His breathing was unchanged, and I was relieved he had not passed into the otherworld while I was away helping sky eyes. "You must be strong," I told him.
He startled me with a groan.
I waited, breathless, but he did not move, and the groan died away into the harsh breaths he pulled from the icy air. It was not good for him. With as much care as I could, I levered, tugged, and managed to get him settled on the litter. I fought against the urge to examine him for wounds because the cold was now descending in fat flakes.
I trudged the path in silence, only hearing the man's continued struggle for life behind me.
When I opened the door to my home, warm air rushed out, and I hurriedly pulled the litter in. Sky eyes was where I had left him. After I cared for the dark haired one, I would work on a new bed for myself, but the one I had was large enough for the two males to rest and recover on.
Moving the dark haired one was not any easier than sky eyes, and I found myself sweating easily under the simple brown tunic I wore. I shook off the fur cloak I had made from a mother gnarl that had died of old age. I had found her clinging to life by the water, and did what she let me do to ease her passing. Then I thanked her for her gift of food and fur.
Once I had him free of the litter, I dragged it outside and leaned it against the cliff wall, then returned to him.
"You are heavy," I scolded the dark haired one. His appearance was deceptive. I had thought he would be easier to move than sky eyes, but instead, he proved to be just as difficult, with his long legs and arms, and being deeply asleep.
Why was I helping these males?
What if they were dangerous? What if they were like the white haired monsters in my dreams?
For a moment, I rashly thought it did not matter. I had lived so long alone that it seemed maybe I would welcome the end. I was tired of talking to the animals just so I could hear something other than the birds and insects around me.
Besides, these two were nothing like the white haired monsters. Their hair was short, richly colored. Their skin, even in the pallor of injury, carried a color similar to mine. And they were in no condition to be a danger towards me.
The dark haired one needed much care. I had to undress him with a touch as soft as the one I used with newborn hatchlings. My fear that he had broken one of the thin bones that spanned his air cavity proved to be true. Had it punctured the cavity, or was the ragged breathing from the pain? Some damage to the air cavities resolved without treatment. I had cared for creatures injured in fights with others of their kind, and only when it became clear death was near would I try to help by opening up the animal. Sometimes, it was too late. Other times, I could relieve fluid or air around the cavity, and the breathing resumed with ease and my only worry was keeping away the blood sickness after I had stitched together the cut I had made.
But this one also had many cuts on his head and face. I used the remaining sinew and had to focus only on the ones I worried would not heal without the benefit of being stitched.
After I finished, I moved around to sky eyes. His fever was returning, and I dribbled more laviola between his lips. The bandage on his leg needed to be changed, so soon. Now that I had the dark haired one cared for, I focused on removing sky eyes' clothing and I worked between both men, washing them with warm water spiced with more gilly.
Throughout, both men remained deeply asleep. Sky eyes had settled better after I had tucked the dark haired one by his side. Were they litter mates?
If they lived, they could tell me much.
Satisfied that I had done what I could, I stretched my aching muscles and walked around to the other side of the central hearth. There I lifted the heavy iron kettle, another haunted remnant from the village of my people. I carried it to the door. I had meant to fill my water flasks after my walk, but finding the males had changed my plans and now I would make do with the fresh fallen snow.
Cold gusts blew wet flakes inside while I struggled to lift the kettle over the threshold. The air was still warm enough that the snow was sticky and moist, heavier. I knew it would soon become drier, the flakes smaller, and the wind would push it into tall drifts. There were snows that had buried my entire home. The thought pulled my gaze towards the shelves opposite the door, where my harvest had been stored over the cycles of warmth.
It had been enough for me. It would not be enough for three.
Worry about each day as its own. The males may not survive the night, or the next day, and even if they did, two males could help me find more food. Surely there would be a way to make it through the cycles of cold that stretched ahead.
I scooped enough snow to fill the kettle, then dragged it back, pulling it over the log that I used to keep out snow. I shut the door, and turned, hefting it up enough to not gouge the hard packed dirt floor. The room had grown more shadowed as the gray light released the sky to the dark gray of night. The snow clouds did not give off the same brightness as a full moon, nor even half the moon, but the fire was bright enough and I shivered inside my clothes, thankful for the warmth. The cold could not sneak in past the dried mud bricks I had formed so carefully.
I melted the snow over the fire, and scooped it into the flasks, then used the remaining water to mix with ground bear root, making a thick broth that would stick to the bones in cold weather like this. I tried to rouse the males to eat, even a little, but only sky eyes responded enough to take a few mouthfuls before he drifted away again. The dark haired one slept so deep I feared he would not find his way up.
I ate a small bowlful, then used the pebbles and sand to scour them clean. My straw brush swept out the last bits, and I put the bowls away for tomorrow. The brush needed fixing, so I took it and the birch basket of straw to sit by the fire. I listened to the wind howl above, and shivered again.
With nimble fingers, I pulled the root thread apart, and tossed the broken straw into the fire. I gathered fresh straw and bundled it together, wrapping the root around till the bundle was secure on the branch. Then, using my knee, I pushed it flat and began to sew halfway down with what was left of my root thread, in and out. This method kept the straw in the slightly flared position. I had found the shape to be the most helpful in cleaning away dust and dirt.
I had more birch bowls of root to split and roll into new thread, but that would be for tomorrow.
My body told me it was late. The effort in dragging the males to my home had made me even more tired than usual, and I remembered I still had a mattress to prepare. Taking one of the precious sheets from a shelf, I folded it in half and began stitching the edges together with real thread. I used it sparingly, and only with the cloth I had scavenged and could not replace. It was the only use for such a rare supply.
Once I had all but the width at the top sewn together, I grabbed handfuls of straw from the pile against the wall where the wood for my fires was also stacked. I kept a large supply for animals, kindling, repairing bricks. Every last cycle of warmth, I cut large bundles and replenished my pile.
Still, I did not pad the mattress as thickly as I had my other, because this was only the beginning of the cold. I had a separate storage building where more straw cured, along with more wood and food, but that straw would not be ready for another cycle.
I pushed it close to the fire, checking to make sure the hearth of river rock was producing enough heat for the night. Not all rock would do as the river rock did. When exposed to fire, it absorbed heat, then radiated it outward for hours, heating my home. I had discovered it by accident. Cycles ago I had been out late, and once the day sky has been replaced by the night sky, it was not safe to travel the woods. It was the time between warmth and cold, where the days were still comfortable, but the nights were not. I built a fire, and used river rock to keep the flame from leaving.
When I woke, I was still warm. The river rock radiated heat, though the fire had burned out during the night.
My thoughts returned to the present, and I hunched over the males one last time to see if they were well. Sky eyes needed a new bandage. The dark haired one felt warm, and he continued to be so deeply asleep that he did not respond, even when I rubbed a fist across his upper chest, far away from the broken bone, trying to get a reaction.
I went to my bed troubled.
Why should it matter to me if these two did not live? I had been alone for many cycles before – I could continue to do so. They would either live, or they would not.
Still, rest did not come to me.
I bolted from my pallet, the blanket I had wrapped around me falling to my feet. Quickly, I waited for my eyes to adjust to the muted green glow from the walls. Someone had shouted – one of the males, but which, and why? And what had he said?
When I could see enough, I crept to the pallet, and knelt. Sky eyes was stirring, soaked under the sheet. His fever had broken. Had it been him? Then, the dark haired one threw an arm to the side, almost hitting me and sky eyes. "Down!"
I was already, but I threw myself farther down, and stared at him, bewildered. "What is it?"
He mumbled and pulled his hand back, resting it carelessly against his belly. I frowned, and reached for his brow, feeling the heat before my skin touched against his. A fever had risen hard and fast in him, even while the fever had broken in the other.
Was it from one of the cuts on his head? It would be difficult to use the poultice and moss on so many places, and with his hair in the way.
I considered the male then turned to my shelf. I took one of the older sheets that I had not used because of its condition. The river moss bandages were getting low, but it would need to do. The pottery jar with the poultice mix was next, then I set to work rubbing the mix in his hair, over each cut I could reach. Then the moss, and finally, I wrapped it firmly in place, using the broad strips I had torn from the threadbare sheet. It was messy, but I did not know what else to do.
I dribbled laviola between his lips as I had done with sky eyes.
My legs ached from kneeling on the hard ground, and when I pushed away to stand, I realized two eyes of blue were watching me. "He is ill." I do not know what made me say the obvious, to this one who knew much, I could tell, but sky eyes was not drifting in fever, or fear. He was truly awake and aware, and suddenly I felt very awkward.
"No life signs on the planet, and yet, here you are."
I could not tell if he was pleased or angry.
He shifted. "What is this – straw? Poking every inch of me – but note, that is every thankful inch. Still," his lips drew tight, "Another space gate we can't harvest. At this rate, we'll finish the damn thing posthumously."
Though I knew his voice was weak, I was relieved that he was talking. It was a good sign for his recovery. But the words he used -- I tried to follow. Life signs, space gate…harvest? "You harvest gates?" What was a gate? Surely he did not mean the ones I used to keep my animals from leaving while they recovered. One did not harvest a gate – food was harvested. And space was empty but for the lights, did he mean to say that those lights meant others lived above and around me? That all this time I was surrounded by others like me, and these males? "Did you come from the lights in the night sky?"
Sky eyes stopped muttering…I had not realized he had continued while I struggled to understand. From the creasing of his forehead, I could tell he was in pain. He seemed to stare more at my home, the fire, the dark haired one and then his leg. "Yes, yes. We come from a place far, far away, a little light in your night sky." He was looking again at the dark haired one, the bandages and then back to his leg before returning his eyes to me. "It feels better – did you do that? Really, it feels a lot better. Carson would have kitties to see what you're using. "
Had I done something wrong? Maybe I should have left these males in the woods. I backed further away. "You were both injured, and you asked for help."
I would not have helped if he had not asked.
The false thought made me angry at myself. I would have helped them, whether sky eyes had asked or not. They were the first of my kind I had seen in so very, very long. I had often thought I was the only one left in all the day and night sky.
"Of course I asked for help! Something in this atmosphere made our…" he looked at me thoughtfully, "space ship…break…crap, I hate explaining technology to primitives. We crashed, fell very far from the sky, Sheppard tried to get a signal out but there were…" sky eyes drifted quiet, but then his eyes widened, and he tried to sit up, crying out, "Wraith! Oh, God, we've got to get out of here! We detected wraith life signs on the planet, their ship must have been affected like ours and --"
His eyes narrowed, the pain of his sudden movements tamping his outburst. "Ugly life sucking monsters, white hair to here," he raised a hand to his shoulder, "and very hard to kill." Something he said made him look around with renewed intensity. "Where's our stuff? No no no…we need guns! What'd you do with the things we had with us?"
I had stopped listening after he described these wraith. Could they be the same white haired monsters from my dreams? Had they come back after all these cycles? I shrunk within my tunic.
"Think, Rodney – Sheppard will know what to do. How is he? Is he okay?"
My eyes were scrunched shut. I heard terrible wailing in the smoke-filled night. The whine of bright light rained down on us from the darkened sky. White cones of light scooped people away in the blink of an eye. Screams, awful screams. Fear gripped me now as it had then.
Do not leave, Mawani. I am going to help your father. You must stay hidden!
Mawani. Was it my name? I had never remembered so much, and the vividness made me taste salt on my lips.
"What'd I say?" Sky eyes looked at me, confused. "Oh, God, he's going to die, isn't he?"
"I do not know," I answered truthfully. I tried to banish those memories away. If the white haired ones were back then maybe they had finally learned I had escaped and had returned to take me, as well. The terror was hard to control. My home that had felt so warm and safe, now felt confining and vulnerable.
I tried to focus on sky eyes. His eyes were growing pain-filled. "The dark haired one suffered many injuries to his head." I pointed at my head then my chest. "He has a broken bone across his air cavity and should not move."
"Our stuff, then? Where is it? Please tell me you didn't leave all of it?"
"I found only you." If there had been more with them, I would have brought it.
He was tiring and slumped back into the straw, making a face when he did so. "Fine. I should've known better anyway, this is me after all. If it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. Just – I need to talk to your leader." He looked expectantly at me.
"My…leader?" I had speech much the same as sky eyes, but even though I could bring to my mind the word, and speak it on my tongue, I did not always understand the meaning. What was a leader?
Sky eyes widened his eyes again, but this time I felt it was because this male was annoyed further with me. "Yes, the one that makes all the decisions for your primitive happy little band?"
I had been alone for many cycles and suddenly wished to be alone again. "I do not have a band, and I make decisions for myself." I glared at his pale face.
His eyes rolled and I thought at first he was having some kind of fit, but then he spoke again. "So you lead yourself, congratulations. Now, where's mommy and daddy, and anyone else older than you?"
Maybe these odd facial expressions and strange demands were from how ill he had been? Maybe sky eyes had become confused inside his mind? I had seen animals recover from injuries and never act normal again. Some would lack the sense to even eat and drink, they just drifted along, and if I had not cared for them, they would have starved or drowned by walking into water and not swimming to safety. Usually, those were the little animals. The fragile ones. "There are no others, sky eyes," I said kindly. If he was suffering from a damaged mind, I should not be harsh.
Tiredness washed over me. During our talk, I had relaxed to sit beside sky eyes. My knees and legs were folded under the hem of my tunic. The silence of early morning told me the storm had blown away. If these white haired monsters were out there, it would be hard, cold travel and I did not think they would find my home. I was clever. It was built among an outcropping of large clay cliffs, made with the same material.
I had learned from my animals that safety lay in blending with those things around you. The creatures that roamed the woods at night were large enough to kill me, but they never saw my home. I was always safe here.
I saw something pass over his eyes. "No others?" He twisted his head to look around again, then back to the dark haired one. His face looked worried. "You're all alone down here?"
"I have been alone for as long as I remember." I made myself stand, biting my lip against the ache in my legs. The dark haired one was growing restless again. I brought the flask with laviola to sky eyes. "Drink, just a little," I instructed gently.
He took the flask, wincing from the pain. I frowned, and pulled the sheet down, noticing the shivers. I should rebuild the fire.
"Hey! No, uh, what're you doing?"
I pushed against the darkening spot on his side. He yelped. "I do not think it is broken," I said, pulling the sheet back to his chest. Sky eyes was gripping the flask, sweat beading on his forehead. The damage was on the surface, in his skin and muscles, but it would hurt a lot. "Drink, it will keep the fever away. I will get you fresh gilly for the pain."
"Fever and pain, okay…no citrus, right? Because I'm deathly allergic."
"I have given you both medicines before," I said, unsure of his meaning.
The dark haired one muttered, his restless motions suddenly rising to the panicked shout, "Going down!" His hand flung out again, almost knocking the flask from sky eyes' hand.
Sky eyes caught the dark haired one's hand, and held on. "Sheppard – it's okay. You got us down safe." The forehead smoothed and the dark haired one quieted. Sky eyes exhaled and pulled his hand back. He looked worried but then he uncorked the flask, and tipped it to his lips. After he drank a little, he handed it back to me. "Pain medicine now would be good." His eyes focused on the door. "Are we safe here? Because I'd really hate to survive the crash only to get sucked dry from a wraith."
"If we are not safe here, there is no better place."
It was not the answer sky eyes wished for, but it was all I could offer.
"Oh, that's reassuring," he said in a way that made me certain it was not.
I padded softly to the shelf where the distilled gilly was, pulling the jar down, and taking the small bamboo reed that was next to it. I returned just as softly to sky eyes. My home was large, the natural curves of the wall had been difficult to sculpt, and though it was not high, it was wide, leaving much room for all the things I needed near during the long cycles of cold. He had watched me as I retrieved the supplies. His eyes slipped to the reed. "What's that for? You don't, I mean, you aren't going to put that in my arm or anything, are you? Because I might complain about an IV needle, but this is ridiculous."
In his arm? I laughed, I could not help myself. How silly was sky eyes.
"What," he demanded. "Didn't anyone tell you it's not nice to laugh at guests?"
"No, sky eyes, no one told me." I still smiled. "It is to go in your mouth." I pantomimed drawing a few drops from the jar, then letting them drop into my mouth. "Two drops takes the pain of a gnarl away. Four drops and a gnarl will never wake again." It was the gift I could give to the ones injured beyond my ability to heal. The ones that were suffering great pain.
"Uh…how big is this…gnarl?"
"A little larger than you." I pulled free the honeycomb stopper. The honey served to sweeten the bitterness. I had used the gilly myself before, when I had been bitten badly by a desperate gnarl, injured and crazed. Pulling enough for two drops, I pushed my thumb at the end of the reed, and told sky eyes, "Open."
He pushed his hands against the straw mattress, running his palms worriedly against the sheet. "Actually, I think I'm good. It doesn't hurt --"
I thrust the reed over his mouth and released the drops so quickly he almost choked, but it went down. I cared for enough reluctant animals that this male was not difficult to manage. "Now, you will rest, and I will help the dark haired one before I will get some rest myself. "
The draught of gilly whisked sky eyes into sleep, whether he wished it or not. Free from the tiring talk – trying to keep up with the strange conversation with sky eyes was hard – I focused anew on the dark haired one. Sky eyes had managed to ease his male companion, but I worried about the ragged breathing and the warm skin.
I dosed him with a little more laviola, listened to his chest. If the air cavity had been breached by the broken bone, it was not worsening. I would need to keep him as still as possible, though. I decided to ease his restlessness with some gilly as well, but only one drop. Two might suppress his already shallow breathing too much.
I stood, still tired. My mattress was inviting. First, I rekindled the fire, not high, but enough to begin reheating the river rocks. Then I stretched out under my blanket, and stared at the dimming glow from the wall. The clay absorbed the light from the day sky, and lit the night with green. It was not bright; soft and muted, and if I woke at night, it sometimes would take moments for my eyes to adjust to the scant light in order to see.
Where I had built my home, the area, it was called the Jade Cliffs. With my house nestled against the natural rise of the cliff walls, the wraith would not be able to find it.
I clenched my fingers in a fist, felt my nails bite into the skin on my palm. My eyes did not want to shut, but I forced them. The smell of smoke assailed me. The screams. My eyes opened.
Sleep was elusive, and I rose from my bed along with the sun rising in the sky. Or, at least, the light from the day sky. It filtered through the slits in the roof, casting the room in a pale representation of the warm images caused by the earlier firelight. I glanced at the males; both still slept. I walked softly to their side, the dirt floor chilly beneath my bare feet, and knelt to check the dark haired one first, relieved to feel the dampness of his fever having left in the early morning hours. When I ran my knuckles on the bone below his throat, he responded by moving his hand weakly towards the irritation. Good.
Sky eyes was breathing better, the gilly draught still easing his pain even hours later. I needed to retrieve more river moss, water, and I wanted to look for this wraith – to see if they were the white haired monsters in my dreams.
I gathered my fur cloak from the knotty log hook near the door, and slipped it over my shoulders, along with my gathering pouch and a birch bowl for the moss. When I pulled the door open, the ivy vines squeaked. Water had gathered on the outside where wind-blown snow had collected and the heat from inside caused it to melt. I looked over my shoulder, worried the noise had woken either male, but both continued to sleep, unaware.
I stepped out into air so cold it drove the breath from my lungs. The clouds still hung fat and gray overhead, promising more layers to come, but the new snow would be drier, dustier, because the air was colder. My cloak would keep me warm while I trekked through the woods to the river, but I turned back inside and searched for the boots I had made from the same fur. The simple coverings I had sewn from gnarl hide, would not be warm enough today. Finding the fur boots behind scraps of hide, I slipped them on, and crept out again, and this time the vines did not squeak as loudly.
My breath puffed in front of me, and I was thankful for the white of my cloak, and boots. If the monsters were here, I would blend in with the horizon almost as well as the gnarls did in the cold cycles, when their fur turned as white as the snow.
I listened and looked as I walked. The woods were silent.
If the white-haired monsters were back, I did not see any sign of them.
Before I saw the river, I heard the tinkling of water tumbling over rock and newly formed ice. I knelt on the sharp edges of the fragile frozen water, and broke the clear crystals away until I could turn the rock underneath. Already the moss was shrinking. I scraped off the length of the underside, and then resettled the rock back where it had been. "Grow more, father rock," I whispered solemnly. Then, I moved to the next and repeated the same process. In the height of the warm cycles, I could gather enough in ten rocks. This morning, I scoured twice that number, and still worried it would not be enough for the two males.
My hands had reddened in the cold water, and squatting over the icy rock, I breathed hot air against my skin to warm them. I did have gloves made from the same fur, but I could not do the work wearing them. A gust of wind blew cold air under my clothes, and I longed for the warmth of my hearth.
I filled the water flasks, four of them, and twisted the brittle cork into place when I was finished.
A sound broke the stillness and I stood so quickly I almost spilled the birch basket of moss. It came from far away – echoing. A scream. Opposite from my home, so it was not the two males, unless they had woken and left. What was it? The wraith sky eyes had mentioned?
I stayed watchful as I picked my way downstream, to the cove where the river current washed into a deep pool. Worry drove my fingers to quickly untie the vine from the tree, and pull the trap free of the water. Three fish flopped helplessly in the square trap, their tails batting against the white speckled branches no thicker than my wrists, but unable to free themselves and return to their watery home. "I am sorry," I told the fish. I pulled them firmly free, one at a time, and knocked their heads with a river rock, ending their struggle. They were each about the size of two hands, and the food their deaths provided, welcome. I had more mouths to feed now than my own.
The scream stayed with me as I used the sharp edge of a rock to remove their rainbow scales, and slit their bellies, cleaning out the organs. I threw them into the pool to feed the other fish, murmuring more prayers of thanks, and then rinsed the fish clean before adding them to the pouch I had slung over my shoulder. I reset the trap, and lowered it in the pool, tying it securely to the tree. But this time, I used rock, deadfall and snow to hide the vine as well as I could.
The ice had only crept a few inches out from the water's edge, but I knew the next time I returned, I would have to break through the ice to get to my trap.
I slid quietly back into the woods, knowing I could not hide my footsteps unless I took the time to scatter the snow with branches. It would add time to my walk, but I did it anyway. I had not seen the wraith, and I had no way of knowing what had screamed, but it was not from any animal I knew, and if the two males were still in my home, than something else was out there and had made the noise.
The tracks left by the branches seemed something a careless animal would have done and I was happy enough with my work. I stopped erasing my steps as I approached the cliffs. I chose to walk the rest of the way using the round boulders scattered on the edges of the woods as stepping stones, all the way to my home. It was open to the sky, unblocked by woods, but the color was that of the cliffs, and the door was behind, with no windows. Windows would have let out precious warmth. It would be hard for any creature to find if they did not know it was here.
I hopped from the boulder down to the ground, and pulled the door open, noticing the litter remained propped against the cliff wall where I had left it yesterday. It was covered in heavy snow.
"Where have you been?" demanded sky eyes when I walked in. He was sitting next to the dark haired one, the sheet wrapped around his torso, and his face flushed.
"I needed to gather food, water and more moss," I explained, pushing the door closed behind me. I set the latch. "You look as angry as a red faced fen guarding its nest." It was the truth, though maybe it was not polite to say so, judging from the dirty look he gave me. Ignoring it, I shook off my cloak and hung it to dry. I slipped my boots off and draped them on a river rock before I moved to the shelf near the straw. I slid the pouch from my shoulder, and pulled the basket with moss free, then the water flasks, and last the fish.
"Sheppard's been mumbling incoherently. He's hot, and I'm worried. I don't know what any of this stuff is," he waved irritated hands towards my shelves of pottery jars, "and I couldn't help him. I dislike being helpless."
"You used Sheppard before. Is that his name?" I went to the dark haired one and felt his forehead. He was hot again.
"No, I just made it up."
I gave sky eyes a disbelieving look while I pulled the bandages away from the dark haired one's head.
"Of course it's his name. Colonel Sheppard, actually, and I'm Doctor McKay, together we're saving the galaxy one wraith infested planet at a time." His mouth twisted. "Well, except the ones I blew up. And the one he blew up. In fairness, he told me to, and technically, we didn't blow up the entire planet, just part of it --"
The bandage slipped in my surprised fingers. "You blew up a planet?" When the word was on my tongue, I had visions of the world for as far as I could see when I stood on the tallest cliff, on the clearest day. My brow knitted. "What is a planet?"
His hand had been rubbing anxiously up and down the dark haired one's arm. With my question, it paused, and he gave me a surprised expression. "You don't even know what a planet is?" His eyes rolled to the shelves along the wall, my door and then the hearth made of black stones. Only the black river rock had the ability to absorb and give off heat. The gray, white and green would just sit there, cool to the touch except where flame would heat it only for so long as rock and flame touched. I had the feeling he had measured my life in that look. "Of course you don't, what was I thinking." His sharp eyes fixed on mine. "It doesn't matter anyway. I blew up part of a solar system, much more than one planet, and it's surprisingly pleasant meeting someone with no ability to understand just what that entails."
Sky eyes was making me feel uncomfortable, so I returned my attention to the soiled bandages. I studied the stains, and found the cut that I believed to be the source of the dark haired one's fever. There I added extra poultice, moss, and re-bandaged his head. His skin was flushed and damp, his breathing still heavy, ragged, and labored. When I finished, I held his hand flat between two of mine, so that my fingertips compressed his hand, wrist and forearm. There I felt the beat of his life against my palm. Despite how poor he looked, the pulse was regular and strong.
I moved to the other end, and pulled up the sheet from sky eyes' legs. He squawked in protest. "I must check your wound," I scolded. His muscles remained tense, but he pulled his hand away, letting me move the sheet the rest of the way. The bandage was soiled and stuck when I tried to pull it off. "Do not move." I quickly put the kettle on and heated a small amount of water till it boiled, then poured it into one of the larger bowls. When I was back, he stared at the steam rising from the wooden container.
"That's boiling! You're going to burn me, how is that making it better?"
Was sky eyes always this difficult, or was his wound making him unusually grumpy? "The water has already cooled from the air," I explained as I would to one of my distrustful patients. The creatures I treated could not understand what I did, but I explained it often anyway. I liked to hear speech, so that I never forgot how.
He began to scoot away. "Nowhere near enough," he protested desperately. "Trust me, I know the equation for changing states from a solid to a gas."
"It will be fine."
"No, really, five minutes, okay, just…five minutes. Hey, look, you've never told me your name – how'd you come to be here all by yourself? Did you see any Wraith when you were out? Oh, God, where the hell is Carson when you need him…"
I frowned. The water must be hot to help purify the wound. Still – the dark haired one needed fresh laviola. I left the bowl near sky eyes' leg and pulled the dried flowers from the shelf, moving to the kettle and dropping them into the pot. I poured only two mouthfuls of water in with the petals. Laviola was better when brewed strong. Two parts flower, two parts water. I added more wood to the fire.
When I finished, I returned to sky eyes. "Now?"
He nodded wordlessly, but stared at the bandage with worry. "This is going to hurt, isn't it?"
"Not so much as having to remove your leg if the sickness grows great in the edges of the wound, and turns green." I had seen it happen before, in animals I had not found until it was too late. Once the green began, and the stink, the limb was not salvageable.
Sky eyes himself turned green.
I barely had time to get the empty bowl under his mouth, and support his upper body. He brought up the small food he had eaten for me last night. The sickness left him shivery and weak. "I am sorry. I should not have said that." Animals did not understand. I could tell them death was near, and they would stare at me, some trusting, some not. But the statement of fact did not elicit fear. Males of my kind were not so sturdy, I supposed.
I was able to clean the wound in silence. The water had cooled too much for my comfort, but there were no signs of lingering sickness in the wound, and I packed it with fresh moss and wrapped it well.
The laviola was ready, and I scooped out the fresh into empty flasks. Sky eyes was still subdued from the earlier effort and watched as I approached the dark haired one. I poured a small amount into a small bowl, blew it to a safe touch, then dribbled it between his dry lips. Water and food now.
I prepared more ground bear root, then gave sky eyes his bowl with a spoon I had fashioned from wood in the same manner I had whittled the bowls. It was time to rouse the dark haired one, this Sheppard. He had been fitful in between lapsing into sleep. I waited for sky eyes to finish then gestured at the dark haired one. "Get behind him, and carefully gather him against your chest so that he is sitting up. We must wake him, and get him to eat and drink."
Suddenly, wind screamed through the slits above. The door rattled in its frame. The light coming in darkened, and the green glow from the walls surged. Without explaining to sky eyes, I stood, and walked quickly to the door, opening it enough to peer out. The next storm had arrived with the ferocity of the night predators. I latched the door, and gathered my fur cloak to push against the threshold at the bottom. Before I returned to sky eyes, I added more wood, glancing up at the darkened slits. When the cold cycles arrived, storms could last many turns of the night and the day.
Still, the screeching was muffled by the sturdy walls, and the fire chased away the shadows to the edges of the walls.
"If the monsters are out in this, they will not survive," I assured sky eyes. I settled in front of the dark haired one, pleased sky eyes had gathered him carefully against his chest as I had told him to do. The air was warm enough that the sheet he had was wrapped around his waist, his wounded leg stretched out to one side, with his other open so that the dark haired one could rest naturally against his back, between sky eyes' legs. Their skin against skin would only help the dark haired one. Healing creatures needed touch.
"Excuse me if I don't believe you." The words were rough, but then sky eyes turned gentle, and nudged the dark haired one. "Wake up, Sheppard. You need to eat." Sky eyes must have sensed my eyes upon him, because he looked up and made another face. "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. He needs me, but breathe a word of this to anyone when my people come for us --"
"Your words mean nothing," I said, assuring him that I would be telling no tales beyond these walls.
A man with skin of burnished sunlight dipped over me, captured my mouth with his. "Mawani," he whispered.
"Leom…we should not --"
Rich laughter filled the air, and he grabbed me in a firm hug, rolling us both over straw that made my bare skin itch. "Your words mean nothing. They will not find us, and tomorrow we will be wed. If a babe quickens, no one will know it was planted a day early..."
My mouth was dry. Sky eyes was watching me still, confused, worried. "It means," I explained raggedly, "that I will not speak of it."
Before I had found sky eyes and the dark haired one in the woods, my memories had remained hidden. Now, they came unbidden, unwelcome. I did not want them. They had been lost with my people. Some things should remain lost. "He is Sheppard?" I said it again, though I knew it to be true, but I was struggling to regain a sense of where I was now.
"Yes, Jesus, Sheppard, just…"
I was surprised to see sky eyes' mouth tremble.
He lifted a hand off of the dark haired one's shoulder, and fisted it against his eye. "We are so screwed," he mumbled around his wrist. "Just go scout PX9-MM4, Rodney -- Ronon and Teyla are on a trade expedition and we don't have anything better to do. It'll be fine. It'll be quick, come on…damn if I ever listen to you again!"
Sheppard's head was slumped, his chin touching his chest. It probably eased his breathing, or so it seemed to me. "Wake, Sheppard, you must eat," I said forcefully, letting sky eyes have time to gather himself.
He did not want to rejoin us. He had not fully woken yet, but I was persistent. Slowly, his eyes fluttered, then opened. He stared at me, confused. "You must eat," I said, holding the wooden bowl in front of him. "Just swallow, I thinned it so it will go down easily." I spooned some towards his mouth, and pushed the spoon in between his unresisting lips. He swallowed, and seemed to look around as much as possible without moving his head fully.
"Where?" he rasped.
"Pocahontas rescued us," sky eyes explained. "You've been out of it since…"
Pocahontas? I did not remember that name. "I am not Pocahontas," I corrected sky eyes.
The dark haired Sheppard tried to straighten and gasped from the pain.
"Do not move." I touched his wounded bone. "You are broken here and should stay as still as you can for at least half a moon cycle."
His eyes met mine and he nodded. I watched as he took a breath, testing how deep he could go, then he seemed to realize that he was being held by his litter mate. "Rodney, this is --"
"I know, I know," replied sky eyes. "But trust me, go with the flow on this one, which is really perverse coming from me, but she's been treating us and whatever it is, it works, and I don't have to tell you how bad it would suck to get worse in this kind of a place."
Sheppard was tiring. "Eat," I reminded him. "Sky eyes is right. I found you both in the woods, injured. He says you crashed in a ship, but I found only you. For now, you must focus on recovering."
"I don't remember," he said, swallowing another spoonful. "I think I hit my head." He lifted his opposite hand from his broken bone, and felt around, his fingers passing carefully over the bandages. He pulled his hand away and smiled crookedly. "That would be a yes, then."
While I finished feeding him, sky eyes explained that he only remembered their ship – a Jumper? had crashed, and the next thing he knew was waking up in my home. I assured them both that I did not find them anywhere near something such as a ship that flew in the sky, not that I would know one if I did, but I would know something was there beyond their bodies, the woods and the rocks.
Sheppard asked if I had found anything near them, like metal rods he called guns, or sacks with things inside. I told him the same thing I told sky eyes. There was nothing there.
Dark haired Sheppard grunted, after swallowing some water. "We need to go back where she found us, trace our tracks to the crash."
I took the flask from his trembling grip. The bowl was empty, and I got to my feet and gestured at the pallet. "I will put clean sheets down, so do not lie back yet." I put the bowls down by the brush and scouring sand, then retrieved a clean sheet, taking away the dirty one and putting the fresh on the straw mattress. Once it was finished, I helped sky eyes ease Sheppard down, careful of his broken side. Then sky eyes settled next to Sheppard, his shaking arms betraying how much the effort had cost him as well.
"We can't go yet," sky eyes said, not happy with the fact. "I can hardly sit, and I know you're down for the count, whether you want to admit it or not."
"I'm not denying anything, McKay," Sheppard said wearily.
"The storms are fighting now." I took a large hollowed length of log to the door, and pulled it open. The winds rushed in, proving my words to be true. I quickly dipped and scooped snow, then rushed to the kettle, dumping it in. I did this four times before latching the door again. "Sometimes it lasts for five or six turns of night and day." The fire began to melt the snow in the kettle. The ground bear root that was left at the bottom would help clean and purify the sheets and bandages. Once it was melted, I stirred till it boiled, then added the soiled cloth, using a log to push it down until all was soaked with the liquid. I hefted the kettle to rest on a near river rock. It must simmer until morning.
The two males were watching my every movement. Sheppard's eyes were lidded and heavy. Sky eyes…McKay, he was more awake, and more curious. "What is your name? I asked earlier, but --"
I smiled. "It is not Pocahontas."
McKay blushed and I was sure it was not the return of his fever. "Yes, well, in a way, it's a compliment."
"Let her talk, M'Kay," slurred Sheppard.
It was not time for the night sky to come, but I knew the day was waning. I would like to have Sheppard and McKay eat once more before day was done. I checked both males again to be sure they were doing well after the effort of eating. They were clean, bandaged and no fevers except a mild heat remaining in Sheppard.
While I began to prepare the fish, deboning and rubbing spices of hemma and tourn into the pale flesh, I began to tell my story.
"Many cycles ago, my dreams showed me an attack by the white haired monsters." I did not want to tell them my mind could not remember it without the aid of my dreams. "Many of them came from the night sky, burning my people, and my village." If I closed my eyes, I could always taste the smoke and feel the fear. "Then I was alone, standing in the ruins, and afraid of the ghosts. I took what I must, and left. I walked for many turns of the day and night, and found the Jade Cliffs.
I remember my father telling me of the magical green cliffs that glowed in the night. I was still worried the white haired monsters would return for me, once they realized they had left someone alive. Being before the magic of the cliffs, I felt protected and safe. Here I made my home in the warmth of the summer cycles." I remembered the long days forming bricks and leaving them to bake. As I spoke, my fingers finished with the fish, and I wrapped each one in the fat leaves of the adder tree that I had picked and preserved. I placed each bundle on a rock to bake. Now was as good of a time as any to work on the root thread, and I gathered the birch basket, and moved to my own straw mattress near theirs. They were watching me, and I sensed emotion in them. Sky eyes looked upset, while the dark haired Sheppard, his face made me think of an animal surprised by me in the woods. I did not need their worry or surprise. "I have lived alone since then, using techniques taught to me when I was a child. Some I have discovered on my own." I held a root aloft. "If you are careful, this can be split, and rolled into thread. It holds tight, but it took me many turns of day and night to learn how."
There were many things I could do, many things I had learned to survive, but there were things I could not do. I could not share my life with another of my kind, and I could not remember what it had been like to share a meal, to touch another like me. I feared I had forgotten much more than I had learned.
I had forgotten what others were like. I had forgotten what having someone to talk to felt like. I had forgotten my own name. Mawani.
"My name is Mawani."
AN: I think there's going to be three parts, maybe only two if I can get it wrapped up. It's about 2/3rds done unless the plot bunnies demand more than I'm seeing right now. I've got the final parts sketched out, just need to write them!