Disclaimer: I don't own Stargate Atlantis, just borrowing the characters for awhile.

Spoilers: none

A/N: Don't know what it is with plants...they keep popping up in my stories!

Food Chain

by Daryl Ann

Unable to turn his head or utter a sound above a harsh wheeze, he realized that with each successive breath the pain increased as it became more and more difficult to draw air into his oxygen deprived lungs.

He could identify a burning, tingling, venomous stinging sensation in his lower left leg just above the boot. It felt as if the entire lower leg were vibrating in protest.

Unsure of what exactly had happened, he'd reacted to the initial flash of pain by lashing out. Maybe some sort of insect or small animal had been unfortunate enough to become entrapped underfoot. He'd had his share of minor run-ins with troublesome fauna during his years living mostly without formal shelter. He'd been scratched, bitten, stung, nipped, and even (only once) defecated upon. In a knee-jerk reaction he kicked at the unseen threat.

Nothing scurried from the undergrowth.

As he lifted his foot preparing to inspect the now throbbing 'bite', he watched in fascination as the plant life he had stepped on straightened and stiffened in response to the release of pressure from it's adjoining hidden root system.

The delicate looking golden flowering plant was equipped with some of the most vicious looking spines he'd ever seen on this world or any other. Tiny glistening droplets of whitish liquid appeared to be trembling at the tip of each one. He was certain that he'd come in contact with several of them, each inflicting its own agonizing form of revenge for being trodden upon so carelessly. Any hopes that his clothing might have protected him somewhat were dashed as he hastily lifted his pant leg to discover several bloody trails trickling aimlessly and disappearing into his boot.

And damn, it hurt.

It was only a matter of seconds before the seriousness of the situation began to set in. His muscles refused to cooperate as he attempted to alert the others to the danger which lurked nestled amongst the various and assorted greenery.

The rest of SGA1 had gone ahead. He was gladly covering the rear for his teammates, scanning for danger...

Danger, well he guessed he'd found some.

Laboring now for each and every breath, he hoped that he could hang on until one of them noticed his absence. He knew they would not find it unusual that it was quiet behind them. His stealth belied his size.

Idle banter was foolish and unnecessary. He liked to stay focused, on task. Talking incessantly, that was McKay's way. He supposed the scientist used excess conversation as a means of deflecting tension or insecurity. It was hard to take at times...the man had it down to an art form.

Ronon had probably not spoken as many words in his lifetime.

Wishing he could find his voice now, he concentrated on willing his lungs to pull just one more breath. Every muscle screamed in pain as the poison coursed through his system unchecked.

This couldn't be happening. He couldn't be dying. Not like this.

Enemies were to be battled fearlessly. Rarely did his opponents stand a chance in a fair fight. Physical strength and prowess was paramount not only for his own survival but for that of his team.

Helpless...death without honor, unexpected...unforeseen. Cheated.

The world around him began to gray.

How ironic, the last thing he would ever hear was Rodney McKay's ongoing one sided manic conversation muffled by the living wall of vegetation between them. The dread he felt increased as the voice faded with distance.

Through slitted swollen eyes, his remaining vision faintly distinguished one dainty yellow blossom which seemed to taunt the mighty Satedan warrior's moment of weakness and defeat.

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"You know, I'm really surprised there aren't more bugs here…There should be bugs. Not that I want bugs here. But, seriously…all these trees, and …oh and …WHAT is that smell? Teyla, slow down already. Can you get Sheppard's attention up there…and…. can't you smell that? That is so not good. I'm thinkin' dead thing, and phew! I'ts getting stronger which means we're heading straight for it…. Might I suggest an alternate route?... Sheppard, hey SHEPPARD!

Colonel John Sheppard turned with a slightly exasperated look in the physicist's direction.

"Suck it up Rodney. This happens to be the most direct route through this part of the forest. We're not gonna let a little stink cost us more time than we've got."

"Easy for you to say, I think it's going to make me sick"

"Your color is beginning to look ….unnatural," Teyla added.

"Yes, well, thanks for noticing. I was hungry before I smelled…that, whatever it is. I may never eat again."

"Somehow I doubt that," Sheppard smirked and exhaled impatiently. Just breathe through you mouth Rodney"

"Oh, like that'll help. The smell's bad enough. I can't imagine how tasting it is going to make it any better." Rodney barely finished speaking when the wafting breeze shifted slightly. Putrid noxious micro-particles assaulted the olfactory senses as Rodney tried in earnest to suppress the gag he knew was less than one breath of stench away.

Curious, Sheppard began inspecting the surrounding area for the source of the offending breezes.

"You can NOT be serious!" Rodney squeaked as Sheppard raised his hand to beckon them over to a flowered area beneath a large vine- entangled tree.

Teyla and Rodney cautiously approached the dark colored rotted lump of flesh that curiously attracted no insect life. Instead, the poor unfortunate creature which appeared to have been some sort of predatory animal not unlike a large version of a hyena with huge canines and ruffs of darkly mottled fur, was partially covered by several of the pretty little flowers they had seen along the trail.

"Wonder what happened to this guy?" Sheppard voiced his question as the others leaned away from the flowers' compost source with their hands over their mouths in attempt to minimize the nauseating effects.

"RODNEY! Teyla cried suddenly. She grabbed him harshly by the arm and pulled him backwards with such force that he nearly lost his footing.

"What the hell, Teyla!" he snapped as he shrugged her off regaining his balance.

"Colonel!... Dr. McKay!" Teyla's clear voice commanded their attention. "Do not move!"

"What? What do you mean don't move?" Rodney was already beginning to walk toward the Athosian, rapid firing questions as he moved toward her.

Teyla shot out both hands and gripped him firmly by the shoulders. The bewildered look on Rodney's face was replaced with one of fear as he registered Teyla's wide terrified eyes. She had yet to release him from her surprisingly powerful grip.

Do. Not. Move.

Sheppard stood frozen in place nearest to the beast's flowered resting place. He knew well to trust Teyla's instincts. If she said don't move, well, he wasn't going to chance it.

"What's going on Teyla?" John nearly whispered from where he stood, halfway expecting an unseen enemy or Wraith to be lurking in the brush. He fingered the trigger of his P-90 nervously as his eyes darted over the immediate area.

"I believe I know what killed this animal," Tela responded.

"Was it Wraith?" John was considering their options as he waited for her to reply.

"No. There are no Wraith in the area. I believe that the flowered plants which have grown on the animal's body and which are plentiful in this area are poisonous."

"Poisonous!, What?, How can you…."

Rodney's frantic queries were interrupted by Teyla as she picked up a forked stick from the forest floor. Carefully avoiding any flowering plants, she gingerly advanced toward the flower nearest her.

All eyes were upon her as she gently depressed the mossy soil as close to the deadly threat as she dared. As the pressure was registered by the plant, it seemed to react by quickly arching toward the stimulus. Evil looking spines now evident and fully poised, dripped a milky white substance in anticipation of contact with what it had evolved to use as a nutrient source.

"OK, that's it, we're outta here! Teyla, you take point. Rodney, stay close to Teyla, and follow in her footsteps. I don't think I need to tell you to keep your eyes on the ground." Sheppard barked orders as he side-stepped several of the 'man-eating' plants.

"Oh my god, we need to warn Ronon!" Rodney blurted. He was trying frantically to keep up with Teyla's exact steps as she wove her way through the organic mine field.

"Already on it McKay! Just keep moving!"

Sheppard tapped his earpiece and shouted a desperately urgent plea for Ronon to respond.

"He's not answering!"

"Keep trying, we must warn him of the danger."

"Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god….you don't think? I mean, Ronon, he's a big guy and all….you don't think one of those poison plant things could've? That hyena dog thing was pretty big…..and……."

"Rodney! The faster we get there, the better! Just get going, and be careful! I'll keep trying the radio, and I'll get Beckett on standby. I don't like this at all." We need to focus on getting the hell outta here….we can't risk getting near these things."

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It had taken every ounce of concentration to retrace their steps and back track in the direction of the gate. They picked their way through the forest anxiously, on high alert. Tension knotted their muscles and furrowed their brows in concentration.

Rodney twitched at every sound, flinched at every movement of leaf or vine. The few minutes thus far of extreme heightened awareness had begun to exhaust him beyond belief.

He thought of Ronon and how difficult it must have been for him to live every day for seven years not knowing what lay behind each and every rock or tree. What must it have been like ….to expect the worst, hardly daring to hope for the best. Yes, Ronon was strong, and not just He-Man or Conan strong.

Maybe Ronon would agree to share his secret of staying in calm control while facing life threatening danger.

Huh, the world according to Ronon, man of few words. Could be interesting….and brief. No need to take notes.

He stopped short as Teyla suddenly halted, her body stiffening.

"John! It is Ronon! She called back to Colonel Sheppard who was following closely behind Dr. McKay.

In a frustrated moment of indecision, Teyla looked first to the right, then to the left, and then right again scanning the all too plentiful lethal flora. There was no clear path to Ronon's side. How had they ever traversed it the first time? They had carelessly tromped unknowingly past each one, by chance giving wide enough berths to pass unscathed. It was nothing short of miraculous considering the steps necessary to return to this spot.

Sheppard moved past Rodney, to get a look at where Ronon lay just beyond their reach. He and Teyla calculated in seconds the risk of approaching from various directions.

With precision and agility resembling some sort of macabre hopscotch tournament, John and Teyla arrived at Ronon's side.

Breathless and trembling almost imperceptibly, Teyla reached for Ronon's neck. She gently depressed her slender fingers at his carotid hoping nervously for another miracle.

"I cannot feel a pulse!" Teyla's voice cracked slightly as she repositioned her fingers to try once more.

Sheppard had knelt near Ronon's legs noticing the raised pant leg and dried blood.

"I've got puncture marks over here," he announced as he grimaced slightly and lowered his head. "Got yourself into a real mess here big guy. Dammit, Ronon! C'mon….don't do this!"

Rodney had followed in Sheppard's footsteps exactly and arrived at Ronon's side moments later.

"Careful Rodney, there's one of those damn plants right near his head." Sheppard cautioned.

McKay's rage and frustration bubbled to the surface as he hefted a nearby rock, and not so much threw it, as 'placed it with force' on top of the offensive foliage.

"Take that, you bastard!" he growled.

Teyla nodded in appreciation. She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly as she stilled her hands and wavering nerves as she felt again for Ronon's pulse.

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