Wayfarers

by

Stealth Dragon

Rating – T

Disclaimer – I do not own Stargate Atlantis. A bunch of other people do.

Synopsis – The nightmare is over. It's time to go home. A tale of the team's journey back to Atlantis. This starts out seeming like a dark fic but actually isn't, especially when compared to my story Two Way Street. Though there is dark content involved (mentions of torture, injuries) it's actually pretty light.

A/N: Important! This story is a WIP. That's right. Horror of horrors Stealth is writing a WIP! But that's not the half of it. I'm also writing it at my leisure, and making it up as I go. Whaaaaaat! You ask? The deal with this story is that it's one plot but will involve different adventures and/or encounters with each chapter, making each chapter its own story while sticking to the same plot. This means long chapters and no cliffhangers. It also means that postings will be sporadic, and the length of the story is unknown. It could end up going for quite a few chapters, or end up being only a few chapters depending on what I'm able to come up with. Posts may be weekly, but also may not appear for several weeks. I'm also open to any ideas or suggestions you may have for each adventure or what you would like to see happen. Some ideas I may work with, some ideas I may get other ideas from, and some ideas I may not use at all.

The reason I started this story was to have something to write and post out of boredom, and to satiate any sudden desires to use a particular idea (ex. Someone falling into a river and being swept away, or someone getting beat up) without resorting to thinking up whole new plots and writing separate one-shots. I don't intend for this story to be drawn out forever, but it may be a while before you see the end. It's also not a high priority story – hence the 'writing at my leisure part'. So updates will happen when they happen. But don't worry, like I said, there will be no major, nail-biting cliffhangers or any such as. Each chapter will have a resolution before going on to the next. You'll see what I mean as you read.

Rest assured, it will be completed eventually.

SGA

Teyla wrapped the plain brown shawl tighter around her shoulders when the wind tried to buffet it away. She wrinkled her nose and tried again the breathe through her mouth when the sick-sweet rot-scent slipped up her nostrils. It was strongest to be unavoidable whenever her foot snagged a limp arm from the newly dead or a stiff, pock-marked leg of the old dead. She picked her way through the carnal pit, nothing more than a dry river bed that would never see water again. Insects hummed in black clouds over the mountain of ragged, bloated bodies of white flesh sloughing off bone.

Teyla looked up when the old bearded man, Beornin, bent to lift a body that was nothing more than a rag doll, weighing so little not even the skinny man had to put forth much effort. He turned, and skittered down the pile of bodies, making his way toward Teyla.

"Is this your Sheppard?"

Teyla looked at the skeletal man in Beornin's arms. This man had hair the color of sand. Teyla shook her head. Beornin sighed dejectedly for her sake. "We will find him."

Beornin turned away to scale the muddy incline back to the top, where he would wrap the body in a blanket and place it with the other living. The masters of the Corakt mines didn't care for the living or the dead, for pulses and stilled hearts, for moving chests or what Dr. McKay referred to as rigormortis. When a body stopped moving, it was discarded. They did not waste effort in keeping it alive.

Teyla's bare foot kicked away a scrap of cloth revealing the genderless face of a child. She quickly looked away, her throat working to push back the bile.

Beornin had brought them to the carnal pits when they came asking about the tall, dark haired man who had been sent to the mines. Beornin had overheard the team discussing their failure at finding Sheppard, and suggested the pits. Beornin went to the pits often, seeking those not quite walking with death. He was used to the smell of the dead, and the dead themselves. He did not turn away as he searched, and neither did those that accompanied him: his wife, sons, daughters, and their sons and daughters. Beornin had survived the pits, and had vowed to help others do the same, because it could be done. He was a rarity on this world.

Teyla bent when she thought she saw a tuft of dark hair. She tugged on it, and the half-decayed skull of a woman pulled away before the skin the hair was attached to disintegrated and detached. Teyla dropped it snatching her hand back in disgust. The bile rose higher, burning her throat and the back of her tongue, but she had nothing left in her stomach to expel.

The last Teyla had seen of Sheppard, he'd been standing on the auction stage. The reverberating 'sold' had made Teyla flinch. She'd watched as he was carted away by his buyer, a man who thought John had a pretty face. A man who didn't give John anything to cover his half-naked body because, obviously, he liked looking at it. John had stood tall and defiant, but Teyla had seen him shivering. Her only consolation was that she had known it hadn't been out of fear.

According to Beornin, the only reason John would have ended up in the mines after being bought for pleasure purposes was because he had ended up being decidedly uncooperative. So much so the owner had no choice but to get rid of him. Hearing this had made Teyla smile, Ronon even more so.

Teyla moved away from the bodies for a clearer path, keeping the dead in her peripheral, turning only when her gaze caught dark hair.

Teyla had been uncooperative with the man who had bought her. But the man had been stubborn, and put her to work out in the fields in the hopes of wearing her down until docile. She wasn't the only one, the only 'interest,' and the women knew ways of keeping themselves 'undesirable'. Teyla had grown so accustomed to the smell of her own stench she hadn't even known it had existed until Rodney wrinkled his nose at her.

"Teyla!"

Teyla snapped her head up at Ronon's bellow. She held her shawl with one hand in order to hike up her frayed brown skirt with the other, and ran. She saw, ahead, Ronon lifting a pale body that appeared to have tumbled down the pile.

Tumbled or crawled.

She saw the hair before she saw the face, but wanted more than anything to see the face. Ronon closed the distance in heading toward her, carrying the limpid body with its loose, swinging limbs; with no effort, it seemed. Teyla skidded to a halt. She didn't look at the body's face, just Ronon's. His face was streaked with dirt, blood, and a scar running from his left eye to his jaw, thread thin to eventually fade.

"He's alive," Ronon said.

Teyla looked down at the face.

It was Sheppard's. The skin was pulled tight around the skull forming juts and angles, but it was him. He was all sharp, knobby bones and joints trying to tear through paper-thin flesh. He had on only ragged pants that barely fit, no shirt. Teyla placed her hand on the cool skin of his chest, against the delicate ribs vivid as the bars of a cage. She wasn't going to settle for a pulse. She wanted the heartbeat, and got the heartbeat struggling in its rhythm, timid but steady. She all but melted in relief, and swiped at her eyes that suddenly blurred.

Teyla looked up at Ronon. "We can go home, now."

Ronon nodded.

Teyla removed her shawl and placed it over John's body. She had a sudden loathing toward anyone other than his team seeing him like this. She knew John would not like it. Ronon turned and began scaling the incline, Teyla following. She curled her toes and fingers into the soft mud, holding out one hand to steady Ronon whenever he faltered. A terrible image of John shattering should he be dropped kept popping into Teyla's head.

On reaching the top, they headed to the cluster of wagons where McKay waited wrapped in the white and gold embroidered robes of a citadel cleric. He stood up from his seat in one of the wagon beds on Teyla's and Ronon's approach.

"You found him?" McKay called.

"We found him," Ronon said, accusatory. He was still angry that Rodney had refused to help. He would get over it, eventually. Teyla had not blamed Rodney from the start. It had been easy to assume that Rodney had gotten the better end of servitude. He was not starved, he was not filthy, and the fine robes told the rest.

They didn't tell the truth. Rodney did; in actions, never words. At this very moment he kept glancing around like a small, nervous animal caught out in the open. He was twitchy, and flinched if so much as a hand was raised. He was also thinner, paler, too cautious and a little too quite. All of it together said more than fine robes ever could. Rodney's time at the citadel had not been pleasant.

Rodney gaped when he saw Sheppard. "Oh no..." then he jolted and scurried to the wagon piled with blankets, pulling one from the top then laying it out on the ground for Ronon to set John down. Ronon passed Teyla back her shawl, then cocooned John in the old green blanket. He scooped John gently back into his arms like he would a child.

Beornin hobbled over to them, smiling sadly. "You have found him, then," he said. "He is most fortunate to have friends such as you."

"And we are fortunate to have met you," said Teyla. "How can we ever repay you?"

Beornin chuckled softly. "You can repay me by keeping your friend alive and taking him home. That is how you can repay me. And you can start by bringing him to my wife. She will look him over for you."

Beornin's wife, Genna, was outside their house wagon tending fires and stews with her daughters and granddaughters. When John was brought to her, she had Ronon lay him out on one of the pallets set up within the circle of house wagons. The old woman with the silver hair tied in a bun groaned when her knees creaked as she knelt beside John's too-still body. She pulled the two halves of the blanket apart, then instructed two of her daughters to go fetch various items.

Genna pressed her gnarled hand into John's chest over his heart. She peeled back his eye-lids, then pressed her ear to his chest listening to him breathe. She, next, carefully rolled him onto his side to expose his back cross-hatched in thin scar tissue and scabs.

Genna clucked her tongue. "The masters of the mines are vicious brutes." Her daughters, along with several granddaughters, returned carrying buckets of steaming water, cloths, and trays covered in bowls of herbal water.

"Teyla, my dear," Genna said. "Would you help? It would be better if someone your friend knew cleaned him. He may wake up, and it would frighten him otherwise. You two boys, you go warm yourselves by the fires and help yourselves to some stew."

Neither man left. Teyla moved forward and knelt beside Genna.

Genna gave her a wistful smile. "To be that young again." She handed Teyla a cloth. Teyla dipped it into a bucket, and with Genna began wiping away layers of filth to separate dirt from bruising.

Much bruising. Too much. It constricted Teyla's heart when what she took to be dirt would not wipe away. When they finished, Genna passed her hands over the protruding bones looking for breaks. Two breaks in the ribs, two broken fingers, and a swollen ankle that had been severely twisted. Genna took the bowls of herbal water and dabbed the mixture onto the lacerations on John's back. After that, she took strips of cloth, instructing Teyla to hold John up as she wrapped the cloths around John's chest. She continued to have Teyla hold John when one of her daughters brought a steaming mug. Genna placed the mug to John's cracked lips and tilted while rubbing John's throat with her other hand.

"Helps him to swallow," Genna explained. "This bit of broth will aid him in making him strong, enough to bring him back from the precipice of eternal sleep. It has helped all those who were left to the pits."

Teyla looked around at the other pallets already occupied. Genna's daughters and granddaughters were doing to the other half-living as Genna was doing to John. Most of the half-living were adults, one was a teenage girl, another a small boy. The boy awoke abruptly to begin wailing. The woman tending him gathered him into her arms, rocking him, comforting him.

These were good people, and simply being in their presence gave Teyla a sense of hope she thought she'd forgotten how to feel.

"You can lay him back down," Genna said. Teyla returned her attention back to John. She set him down gently, and Genna pulled the halves of the blankets back over John's chest. She looked over at Teyla, and her smile made Teyla's heart swell in another surge of hope.

"I can tell he is a strong one," Genna said. "And if cared for, he will live. When you feel ready to begin your journey home, I will give you a flask of meeta broth. It is for your friend only. It is all he is to have to eat until it is all gone. After that, soups and stews only, or bread soaked in water. Your friend may be strong in his heart but his body is very weak, and starting him on richer foods too soon will make him worse. It may be some time before he is able to move on his own. And he must be kept warm. He will be very susceptible to the cold. Alhough it may not seem like it in this mild weather, winter will soon be upon us, and it sometimes comes without warning."

Teyla nodded. "I understand."

Genna took her hand and patted it in a motherly way. "I already know your friend is in good hands." She shifted her maternal gaze to John, and placed her wrinkled hand on the top of his head. "He needs only rest, and assurances that he is safe." She smoothed his hair back before looking at Teyla again. "Now go, eat. And think not of the carnal pits. They are only a memory now, and let them remain as that. Think only of the ones we saved, not of the ones we couldn't."

Genna then bowed her head, and Teyla touched her smooth forehead to the wrinkled one. Beornin's family came from this world, but did not stay on it, and knew the customs of many cultures. When they pulled away, Teyla rose first to help Genna who grunted and creaked. Genna patted Teyla's arm in thanks before shuffling off to help another. Teyla lingered, staring down at John, absorbing his face, his presence. She crouched back down, brushing his hair back as Genna had, absorbing his feel. She didn't want to leave him, even if it was to move a few feet away to one of the fires. But she had to because she was cold, hungry, and John wouldn't like it if he knew.

She turned to Ronon and Rodney standing a few feet away, waiting. Teyla joined them and they headed to the nearest fire, sitting down on one of the blankets set out.

"Well?" Rodney asked, holding shaking hands out to the flames.

"Genna has done all she can. The rest is up to us. She says he will live."

Rodney nodded – no condescending litany of insults toward 'back-water' healers, no rapid questions born of anxiety. Rodney had been very accepting of the ways of this world since Ronon had ghosted him out of the citadel. "Live, good. That's all that matters." He was nervous, and anxious, even with the relief of hearing that John would live.

They were brought bowls and spoons to help themselves to the stew bubbling in the black pot on the fire. The stew was warm, thick, full of vegetables and meat. They were given water in tins cups and a slice of bread. Rodney ate fast, half the time burning his mouth. It was as though if he didn't eat quickly enough, the food would vanish, and Teyla wondered if that had, at one time for Rodney, been the case. Ronon took large bites, wholly focused on his food. Teyla had found him first in one of the cells of the fighting arena. He had been easy to free. The guard had been drunk, and Teyla had been... suggestive. When the guard was busy pulling down his pants, Teyla had knocked him out with the hilt of a sword. Rodney had not been so easy. Teyla had disguised herself as a household maid to locate him, and Ronon had slipped into the citadel like a thief to steal McKay away. After that, they had escaped the city through the underground sewers.

Rodney had managed to learn about the man who had taken John. They'd gone to the man's house only to learn that the "tall, thin, dark haired one" had been sold to the mines. That eventually brought them to Beornin.

He'd asked if they'd take their friend's body even if it was dead, since so few do. They would have, Teyla had no doubts. They would have brought him back as a corpse, and the relief that he wasn't was nauseating. He would not be brought back a corpse, not if they could help it, and they would.

When they finished their meals, buckets of warm water were brought to them to allow them to wash. An area had been set up just within the woods along the road where bathing could be done in private: cloths hung from lines to form the walls of cubicles. The three of them lugged their individual buckets to these little rooms. One of Genna's daughters brought Teyla an old brown brush skirt and faded, white shirt. Beornin's family always kept extra clothes handy for those they found. They also made their living sewing clothes.

Teyla removed the filthy clothes she'd worn out in the fields, then began scrubbing herself down with the cloth that stained fast from her arm alone. She heard a sharp intake of breath from the other side of the blanket, then a yelp of pain. Teyla moved just enough for a peek through the space between the two adjacent blankets. She saw Rodney, his back, pale and criss-crossed with scabbed lashes and mottled with bruising. He flinched and cringed whenever the cloth caught on a scab.

Teyla stepped away, feeling her face flush in heated anger, but not at Rodney. Never at Rodney.

She hated this world.

Teyla washed swiftly, then dressed swiftly, and found a modicum of comfort in having a clean body and dressed in clean clothes. She left the bathing area with her bucket and cloth to return them, and go sit with John.

---------------------------------

They decided to depart the next morning, get in as early a start as possible before the cold came. Beornin and Genna provided them with satchels of food and skins of water. Helping others had become so much their way of life that they always prepared for it; trading hand-made clothes for extra food and used clothes to give to those they healed back to health. They gave Teyla and Rodney shoes, and a shirt and better trousers for John (even though they were still too big for him). Ronon still had his own clothes, his leather coat, even his gun that he'd stolen back during the escape from the fighting arena.

Teyla hugged both Beornin and Genna. She still marveled at the fortune of running into such good people, and it twisted her up inside that she could not pay them back properly. She vowed that when she returned home, she would have her people spread word of Beornin and Genna, so that others on other worlds should go out of their way to trade with them and help them. It was all Teyla had to offer. She did not tell Beornin and Genna of this since they would only insist that she do no such thing, and that keeping John alive would be payment enough.

They finally parted taking the road away from the carnal pits and further away from the capital city of Arthnast, which did not feel far enough away in Teyla's opinion. The weather was mild, but over cast, and the air moist and smelling of water, moss, and wood. Ronon carried John wrapped in a blanket with little effort. Teyla stood on his right, and Rodney his left. All three carried a satchel and water skin each, Teyla the skin containing the broth for John as well. She wore Ronon's holster with his weapon around her waist since Ronon's hands were literally full.

"Genna said that once we reach the mountains, there will be caves to take shelter in along the path," Teyla said. "But they will have to be looked for."

She expected Rodney to complain, wanted him to complain, and was sorely disappointed. She wished she could take back all the times she'd longed for Rodney to keep his mouth in check. Silence did not suit him, and she missed his sound.

When night came, they made camp off the side of the road in a clearing deep within the woods. Teyla sat against a tree holding John upright, while Ronon gathered wood that Rodney lit using a rock and a knife one of Beornin's sons had given him for protection. Rodney muttered curses concerning the knife and rock having mother's that were the female version of the earth creatures called dogs. Soon, a spark finally caught on the small pile of wood shavings. Rodney barked out a triumphant 'finally!' and blew on the smoldering shavings until they caught and the fire spread to the wood.

Ronon crouched beside Teyla to take John so she could feed him his cup of broth. Ronon held him upright, and Teyla tipped the cup to the unresponsive lips with one hand, while massaging John's throat with the other as Genna had taught her. She did this until she felt the muscles of John's neck cord and his throat convulse as he swallowed on his own. When the throat stopped moving, Teyla resumed massaging it until the entire cup was taken. She then positioned John more comfortably against Ronon's shoulder allowing the Satedan to free up his hand to have his own meal of bread, cheese and water.

"How long until we reach the 'gate?" Rodney asked around a mouthful of cheese.

"Genna said a week on foot, should the snow not come early."

Rodney snorted spraying cheese and bread crumbs. "If this weather gets any warmer the trees are going to start blooming."

"Genna said not to be fooled by this weather," Teyla countered. "The warmth comes before the cold, she said. It tends to throw many off. Both the cold and snow occur without warning." She looked over at John wrapped in the green blanket. She was worried. For all of them, yes, but when the cold came and they did not find shelter during the night, John would be the first to succumb.

Rodney made no biting retort. He fell into a brooding silence, although Teyla had the feeling that he wanted to say something. She suspected the lashes on his back the product of training him to keep his tongue still. John had always said, time and again, that Rodney's mouth kept getting him into trouble. Her heart broke for Rodney, yet a small part of her twinged with the satisfaction of knowing that Rodney had probably insulted his captors many times before finally submitting to the punishments. Rodney was a stubborn man. His captors had not broken him completely, or he would have not made his biting comment concerning the weather.

The night was cool, not cold, but Teyla was not going to take any chances. She had them sleep packed side by side: Ronon, John, herself, and Rodney. She was against John's back, with one had resting on his ribs she could feel even through the blanket, rising and falling, the only motion he had to make. The rhythm comforted her until it lulled her to sleep.

Morning came gray, dry, and bitingly cold. Teyla woke up stiff and shivering. She turned her head back to see Rodney stirring up the fire and Ronon tossing on more wood. When the fire flared back to life, Ronon came over and gathered John up to lean the thinner body against his more solid frame as he sat against a tree. Teyla pushed herself upright, rolling her shoulders to loosen frozen muscles. She moved slow as she poured broth into the tin cup, setting it close to the fire to warm. Rodney handed her some bread, cheese and water. She ate slow to buy time for the broth. When finished, she felt the cup that was warm in her hands, then shifted with it over to John, tipping it toward his lips while rubbing his throat. She stopped when his throat moved on its own and did not need to be coaxed.

Teyla smiled. "I believe he is regaining some strength," she said. She brushed back John's hair that was almost flat from dirt and oils, trying to get it to stick back up.

The fire that they'd just renewed Rodney kicked and stomped out before they started off again. They kept close to each other as they walked, pressing arm to arm, hunched against the cold. The cold sharpened as the day progressed, adding drizzle that spat like ice-crystals into Teyla's face. She glanced over at Sheppard often, so saw the gradual increase of his shivering. By the firmness of the path, the more widely spaced trees, and sharp rocks protruding from the dirt like bones, they were within one of the narrow mountain valleys, which meant caves.

"We should find shelter," Teyla announced. "While it is still daylight."

Ronon grunted in agreement and handed John off to Rodney. Rodney had a terrified expression on his face as he gathered John into his arms. He was all ready to protest, opening his mouth, only to snap it shut. Instead, he gave Teyla a helpless look. Teyla responded with a smile.

"You are doing fine, Rodney. You are not hurting John."

There was more to it than that. Rodney was thoroughly disturbed, which was expected. John's tall frame was not supposed to be so easy to carry.

Ronon returned just as the sky crept toward an early twilight. "Found a place."

"Bear free, right?" Rodney asked, passing John back to Ronon.

Ronon furrowed his brow. "Bear?"

"Animal. Any signs of animals that might normally be hanging out at this cave you found. Droppings, bones..."

"Neither," Ronon said as he began leading the way. It wasn't far, just to a cliff-wall hidden behind a large copse of trees. The cave entrance was a split in the rock that Ronon had to duck and angle to get into, making sure the insubstantial burden in his arms did not get bumped or scraped. There was a flickering, amber light at the other end that opened up into a good sized cave that, though not impressive in height, was wide enough for them to move about. A fire had already been started. Ronon set John down next to it using one of the packs as a pillow. He rolled John toward the fire and opened the blanket at the pilot's chest for the fire to heat. He then began to rub John's chest in gentle circles to increase warmth. John's shivering quickly subsided.

Teyla poured broth into the cup and set it by the fire to warm. A thin sliver of cold air snaked its way through the cave entrance to brush the back of Teyla's neck. She shivered, tugging the collar of her coat up around her neck. Fire light sparkled off sand-grain sized crystals embedded into the cave wall striated in brown, black, cream, and red. The colors gave the cave warmth though the stone was cool to the touch. Outside the wind howled, and there was a pattering sound like heavy drops of rain slapping leaves. Except there were no leaves.

"Rain must have frozen," Rodney idly commented, answering out loud what they were all probably wondering. "It'll probably turn to snow later."

Teyle picked up the warmed cup and scooted around the fire to John. Ronon also moved to lift John without being asked. Teyla brought the cup to the Colonel's mouth and tilted. No massaging this time, John took the broth, even lifting one hand feebly to either take the cup or tilt it further, but accomplishing neither. His arm didn't even reach past his chest when it dropped lifelessly back to the floor. When the cup was empty, Teyla used the cuff of her sleeve to wipe John's mouth.

"The broth is working, giving him strength," she said. Ronon set John back on the floor to free up his own hands to eat. They were silent as they had their dinner. Teyla didn't like it, but felt uncomfortable breaking it. It was a tense silence, fragile as a glass bottle, full of things that needed to be said or wanted to be said. Things Teyla did not want to hear though she would have said them herself. The weather was deteriorating, and the gate was still a long ways off. They only had so much food, and though Sheppard was getting stronger, he wasn't strong enough to withstand the cold. And they were all tired.

Teyla's hope withered a little. When they all finished eating, they moved Sheppard so they could surround him as they slept, forming a nest of human bodies and warmth. Teyla reached out placing her hand on his flank to feel the rise and fall that helped her sleep.

It was a deep sleep, one without dreams, or dreams that would not be remembered except in snatches like leaves fluttering away in the wind.

"Uh, guys? We have a problem."

Teyla awoke to a smoke-scented cave cast in the silver light of another gray morning. She heard a low, almost mournful wail that was familiar and unsettling, making her shiver. She rolled onto her back enough to turn her head and see Rodney, keeping his coat and robe wrapped tight around him, standing at the cave entrance. Through the narrow opening, Teyla saw only a solid wall of white. A blast of frigid wind sent fat, white flakes swirling toward them.

Rodney looked back at Teyla. Even in the poor light, she saw the wide whites of his eyes, and the pallor of his face.

"This is bad."

"Good thing I prepared," said Ronon. Teyla pushed herself up to turn enough and see Ronon stirring the fire with a fresh log, then tossing it on. He pointed to a small pile of limbs, sticks, and strips of bark against the wall across from the entrance.

"Ronon," Teyla said in awe. "When did you do this?"

"Little before dawn, when it was light enough to see. Snow wasn't coming in bad yet, so I grabbed what I could. Most of it's wet, but not bad, and I found some dry pieces to keep the fire going."

"You could have gotten lost," Rodney admonished, using irritation to cover his ever-so-obvious fear.

"I didn't go far," Ronon calmly countered.

"Rodney," Teyla said. "What Ronon did needed to be done, and he knows how to survive in the wild. Come, sit by the fire. We will wait the storm out, and use the time to rest."

They breakfasted on smaller portions of bread, this time with no cheese. Teyla gave John his broth that he took the moment it entered his mouth. They then curled back up on the floor, surrounding John who was huddled looking small beneath the blanket.

This time Teyla did dream.

She was running through the fields, because he was chasing her, the man who called himself her master. He wanted her, and didn't care if she fought back. He would just kill her if she did. That's what all the other women had told her. The master kills when he grows weary of the females who fight back. So she ran without seeing where she was going. Her foot met open air, and she was falling and falling, down into a ravine of white, bloated bodies of ragged skin and fleshless skulls.

"No!"

Teyla snapped awake. That hadn't been her cry. Something solid smacked into her calf shooting a dull throb up her leg. All sleep fled from her and she could see in the weak firelight the mound that was John writhing and struggling.

"No," came the muffled moan, then louder. "No!" John suddenly emerged from beneath the blanket, crawling on his stomach, struggling to get over Ronon who was blocking his way.

"John!" Teyla yelped, and lurched forward to grab his arm. John screamed and fought with the terror of a wounded and cornered animal. It was a terror that gave him strength to pull his arm back and claw his way over Ronon's body. Ronon woke and made a grab for John. John screamed again, struggling, writhing, jerking, bucking, trying to break free.

"No, no, no, no, no!" Over and over. Rodney lunged forward wrapping his arm around John's thin waist and hauling him back. John thrust himself forward trying to escape, wide-eyed, mouth gaping, and breaths ripping to and from him in ragged, unsteady gulps.

"Ah, crap, he's hyperventilating!" Rodney yelled.

Teyla clamored getting tangled in the blanket and dropping to kneel in front of John. She grabbed his face, holding it in place for them to lock gazes. The terror she saw in him shocked her dumb. It was pure, raw, and senseless. Something inhuman, something that did not even encompass survival, just total irrationality. It was a terror she had never seen in John, or any human for that matter – except for one, a man in a cocoon on a hive ship, begging for his life.

Teyla dug her fingers into John's cheekbones and her thumbs into his jaw. She was purposely causing him pain, knowing pain would be the only sensation to reach and ground him.

"John, look at me, listen to me. You are all right, you are safe now..."

"Dead," he rasped, wild-eyes vacant. "Dead, dead, dead, you're dead, you're dead, you're all dead, dead, dead, dead..."

Teyla's eyes pricked with tears. She pressed harder, dug deeper, feeling only bone as though there was no skin. "John," she gritted on a half-sob. "We are not dead. We are alive. You are alive. And you are safe now. Please, John."

Strength drained out of him, enough for her to let up on her hold and begin stroking his face. "Do you feel that?" she asked. "You know I am real. And if I am real then you know I am telling you the truth when I say you are safe now. Please John, please listen to me."

John blinked. The terror faded from him, replaced by confusion, fear; but all human, and all John.

"Teyla," he gasped between heaving breaths. His skin was cool and light, and he was shivering uncontrollably.

"His heart's really pounding, people. Isn't that a bad thing in his condition?"

John perked. "Rodney?"

Rodney pried one hand from around John to pat his shoulder. "The one and only. Done panicking yet so I can let you go? Your spine's kind of poking me in the chest here."

John melted, slumping in Rodney's arms.

"I'll take that as a yes," Rodney said, and transferred John over to Ronon who pulled the skinny man's back up against his chest. Teyla scooted back for Ronon to scoot around and have his own back to the cave entrance, with John facing the fire that Rodney stirred up. Teyla rubbed John's chest then his arms to get the chill out of his skin. John's head lolled against Ronon's shoulder drunkenly, rolling from side to side until finally dropping, his chin resting against his bony chest. Teyla's automatic assumption was that he'd fallen asleep. She adjusted the blanket tighter around him.

"Where're we?" John's voice was a barely discernible croak. "Wha... Hap'nd?"

Teyla placed both hands on either side of his head, lifting his face to reestablish eye contact. "I managed to escape and find the others. You were the last to be found. We were traveling to the Stargate and took shelter in a cave, but a snow storm has struck and we are forced to remain here." She wasn't sure if he was listening. His eyes had become distant, glassy, the heavy lids fighting a loosing battle to stay open.

A pale had slid out from between the blanket, rising unsteady toward Teyla's face. The tips of John's thin fingers brushed feather light and quaking against her jaw.

"You found me." A string of saliva cast gold in the fire light fluttered and stretched from his lips. His words were a statement of disbelief, of hope, of doubt, of fear, of relief. Tears coated his eyes like iridescent glass to trickle fast down his sunken cheeks. Teyla reached up and took his hand in hers, clasping without squeezing and damaging the fragile bones.

"We did not stop looking," she promised.

John sucked in a shuddering breath that made his chest stutter. The emotional onslaught became too much for him, and his eyelids dropped, along with his head, and his body sagged bonelessly.

"Is he all right?" Rodney squeaked with a concern he did not try to hide. Teyla felt John's pulse on the neck with one hand, and wiped away lingering tears with the other. His pulse was strong, steady.

"He is merely exhausted," Teyla said. "We should let him rest."

They moved, shifted, shuffling, scooting, until they were on the other side of the fire, laying down in a protective circle around John. Teyla took John's hand in hers to provide contact should he awake again. She squeezed carefully.

John squeezed back.

-----------------------------

TBC...

A/N: This is just the beginning. The next chapter is mostly written and I'll post when it's ready. The rest, of course, is still pending. Feel free to drop suggestions on what you think could, or would like to see, happen. Just remember that I don't write ships or slash.