SEASON: Probably Season 3 -first half
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Team - McKay, Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla
DISCLAIMERS: The characters, Atlantis, etc, all belong to Sony, MGM, Gecko, Showtime, the Sci-Fi Channel.
SUMMARY: It's a horrible jungle planet and H/C is in store for poor Rodney
SPOILERS: None that I can think of
NOTE: In response to the SGAH/C Challenge #2:"Worse than Dagoba" - Team - Planet characteristics: Swamp, tall trees with tangled roots obstructing paths, poor visibility and difficult movement. Hostile environment with leeches, insects, crocodiles, snakes and lizards. Okay, I didn't really use the critters or anything, but I have the swampy jungle place
NOTE: The limit was 4000 words, so this story is exactly 4000 words. It means that there isn't much of a resolution. Sorry about that.

In the Jungle
By NotTasha

The jungle was so rich, it seemed to grow before their eyes. A fog hung, reducing the visibility further. All around them, insects and creatures crept. A centipede, as long as a man's arm, skittered over a branch, while above it, a lizard flicked its raspberry-colored tongue.

Everything was alive with sound – whirring, humming, screeching, cooing, calling. Far off, a feline growled, asserting its claim on the territory. A bird called. Another creature chattered. Something croaked.

The jungle was swampy; it was deep; it went on forever, and the cacophony nearly drowned out noise of the four that forced their way through the greenery.

Ronon led, slashing his sword through hindering vines. Teyla followed, pressing back the battered branches as her eyes stayed on the canopies.

McKay came next, his head down, eyes on the path blazed by the others. Sheppard took up the rear, watching their six, his gaze taking in the depth of the jungle.

Around them, the trees seemed to sigh and vibrate with life as vines dipped down at them.

It was hot and humid – horrible -- and they had miles yet to go.

The trip had been a disaster. Landing a jumper was impossible, so they walked. The jungle was denser than promised, the weather – worse, the distance much further, and the reward so much less than described.

It had taken them hours to reach their goal -- hacking their way through the undergrowth – stumbling, waddling, struggling – forever watching the darkness – putting up with the stifling humidity and McKay's complaints.

And then, the Ancient Outpost proved abandoned and stripped of all technology. Rodney almost cried at the sight. Something messed up their radios and frustrated McKay when he couldn't find what caused the interference.

Nightfall was four hours away. They left, figuring that the return on their blazed path would be much quicker. That would've been true if they'd been able to find that passage.

McKay blamed Sheppard because the colonel had been in the lead when things went south, but it was difficult to find anything in that mass of green. The trail they'd previously carved seemed to disappear into the depths of the jungle as vines relaxed and bent branches returned, obscuring everything.

They found a new route, moving with difficulty, aware of the dangers as all around them. Colorful and unpleasant things scuttled in the shadows, keeping them alert. Their intel had warned of a feline predator – and cautioned against diseases that had ran rampant in an earlier civilization.

McKay murmured about malaria and dengue fever. He fluttered his hands, complaining about tsetse flies. But friends of the Athosians told them that as long as they didn't eat anything on the planet, they should be fine.

"Right," McKay had muttered, trusting no one.

It would take another three hours to reach the Gate, and no one was happy. They were wet from sweat and the rain that dripped lethargically through the undergrowth. They were hot, frustrated and tired.

And the jungle seemed to go on forever.

At least McKay's complaints had reduced to mumblings as he struggled through the forged path. That was one small consolation.

But, finally, after a long silence, the scientist spoke, whining a distressed, "So, how much longer is this going to take? Are we at least at the halfway point?"

Teyla, her eyes still on the branches above them, turned to speak to him, and her feet went out from under her.

It happened so quickly. She frantically reached for a branch, trying to steady herself. Rodney lunged, grasping her outstretched arm, but his forward motion was all it took lose their footing completely. They slipped and disappeared.

They shouted, their voices diminishing as they crashed downward, unseen.

Swiftly, Ronon shoved back the wall of green, revealing a drop-off that'd been hidden inches from their path. The slope was bare mud, the surface sloughed off, leaving only a few insubstantial trees.

Gone… they were gone.

Without a word, Dex followed. He grasped a branch, and swung himself downward onto the muddy hillside.

"Rodney!" Sheppard shouted. "Teyla!" and he was right behind the Satedan, slipping, trying to keep his footing as he descended the steep incline, following the muddy slide that was edged in thick greenery.

"Teyla! Rodney!" Sheppard cursed, terrified when neither answered. Ahead of him, Ronon seemed to surf down the slope, using the slickness to his advantage. When Sheppard attempted the same, his feet slipped and he landed hard on one hip and slid several feet. This wasn't skateboarding.

Frustrated, he shouted again, "Teyla! Rodney! Answer me! Where are you!?"

"I'm okay," he heard Teyla's response from somewhere lower on the hill.

Ronon picked up speed and Sheppard did his best to follow.

The Satedan come to a halt near the bottom of the slope and bent over, helping a muddy form to sit up. Sheppard slid beside them.

Brown eyes looked up at him from a dirtied face. Teyla looked startled and frazzled, but unhurt. She struggled, using Ronon for support.

Seeing that Ronon had Teyla, Sheppard descended the last feet to the bottom of the hill. He twisted about, looking and finding nothing. "Rodney!" he shouted, cupping his hands to his mouth.

The hill had given way to a verdant valley and the last of the mud had slid into the undergrowth, hiding whatever it carried. Damn, if Rodney was in there somewhere…

Sheppard moved quickly, pressing through the thick leaves, searching. "McKay!"

He heard Ronon move beside him, supporting Teyla. She shook off Ronon's help and called out for Rodney.

They moved quickly, searching through the muddied plants, lifting the thick leaves, hunching to see what was hidden.

Sheppard had turned to the slope, wondering if Rodney had managed to hang onto something during his tumble. "Rodney," he said quietly. "You up there? Come on, buddy, where are you?"

Then he heard a distressed coughing. He turned sharply, trying to decipher where it had come from.

Dex moved quickly, instinctively, toward a tree. He fell to his hands and knees, and crawled into the mess beneath the branches. How did he know?

The painful-sounding, unsuccessful coughing continued.

Moving quickly, Sheppard ducked under the spreading branches, finding an undistinguishable lump huddled in wet dirt. The little hill of mud coughed and wheezed, choking.

Ronon reached Rodney in a moment. Immediately, he grasped hold of the man, supporting him. Rodney arched his back, struggling to draw in a breath in the mud that half-buried him.

Ronon slammed a hand across Rodney's back. Rodney gagged and Ronon hit him again. Explosively, Rodney coughed, splattering mud, but with a frenetic inhale, he seemed finally able to get a deep breath. Ronon clouted him again, and Rodney coughed more goo.

Ronon continued to hold onto Rodney, supporting him, as Rodney coughed and then vomited the brownish stuff.

Ronon glanced to Sheppard, his face full of worry. Rodney, utterly covered in dirt, breathed in pathetic painful gasps.

Sheppard slid down to his knees, mud oozing deeply around him. "You okay, Rodney?"

McKay didn't seem to hear him. He trembled as he coughed and hiccupped.

"Rodney?" Sheppard called again, finding it almost impossible to move in the thick stuff. "Rodney, let's get you out of there." Teyla sunk down beside him, ready to help.

From beneath the layers of mud, tired blue eyes looked at him – the only color visible -- and Rodney managed a small nod.

Ronon helped as Rodney crawled to Sheppard and Teyla. He shook and seemed hardly able to support himself. He let them pull him out from under the branches of the tree and through the mud that threatened to pull him under. It slurped beneath him.

Ronon followed, carefully keeping a hand on him.

They moved, getting Rodney out of the mud, away from the slope, and onto the green carpet of the jungle. He coughed still, painfully, and threw up more of the brackish glop.

McKay moved like a rag doll as they directed him. "Let's get you set up over here, okay?" Sheppard stated. "Gee, you sure know how to make a mess, don't you?"

Rodney said nothing, which was worrying enough.

He was settled at the base of a tree and Teyla grabbed a handful of leaves to clean his face. Rodney hardly responded to her and huddled against the tree as he continued to cough.

Sheppard hunched in front of him, calling his name quietly, but Rodney just looked past him with a haunted expression. John frowned, not liking this at all. Damn. Was Rodney completely under that wave of mud? Goddamn, how long was he encased in the stuff?

Teyla managed to get some of the mud from Rodney's face and hair, so that he looked a little more human, and then she began freeing him from his pack and vest. "Can you help me, Rodney?" she asked softly. "Will you sit forward so that I can remove your equipment?"

Rodney just blinked slowly.

"Hey, Rodney, help the lady," Sheppard tried to cajole, but before he could get McKay to respond, Ronon shouldered his way in. He helped Teyla maneuver Rodney, to get him out of his mud-coated gear. Once freed of that, Ronon wrapped his own long jacket over Rodney's quaking shoulders.

Rodney's lips moved as if he meant to say something, but he coughed instead – it was a nasty, phlegmy sound, and Sheppard was certain it meant McKay would spend time in the infirmary upon their return.

Ronon held out a canteen, and Teyla found a remarkably clean cloth.

McKay stared at the items a moment as if he wasn't sure what to do with them, then took them carefully. He sipped from the canteen, made a face and spat it out, and then used the cloth to wipe his mouth and then blow his nose – noisily. He drew the handkerchief away, grimacing as he balled it up, and then wiped at his nose with it.

Teyla kept talking to Rodney who looked listlessly out into the jungle. Ronon folded his arms over his chest. Sheppard watched, not knowing what to do.

They were all muddy and miserable, and Rodney looked like hell.

"Rodney," Sheppard spoke firmly. "You need to answer me. Are you okay?"

McKay just hunched his shoulders.

"Rodney!" Sheppard put a snap in his voice. "Either you answer me, or I'll dump everything in your pack into that mud pile."

For that he got a baleful look.

With a softened tone, Sheppard asked again, "Are you okay?"

"What do you think?" Rodney grumbled hoarsely.

"Not so good?"

"I almost drowned in it…" McKay said hollowly.

"You didn't though."

"I feel like crap."

"Well you look like it," Sheppard responded with a slight smile, glad that Rodney was responding. "Are you injured anywhere?"

Rodney furrowed his brow and sighed, then paused as he tried to take stock. "Scraped. I don't think anything's broken," he said after a moment, and then he closed his eyes and coughed again.

Rodney was muddy and shaky, cut and bruised. Teyla, sitting beside him, looked, at least, a little better.

Sheppard met her gaze and asked, "Teyla, how 'bout you?"

"I am not badly injured," she responded. "I can continue our journey."

Rodney's head sunk into his shoulders at her words. Quietly, he said, "I think I'm going to be sick again."

Ronon moved in automatically, placing a curved bit of bark in front of Rodney, which served as a basin as he vomited up more of the vile-looking mud. Pausing, Rodney asked in a strained voice, "Can we just stay for a couple minutes? I don't think I could… I don't…" He threw up again, and then said softly, "Oh God, I wish I was home."

Ronon took the makeshift basin away and handed McKay the canteen again. Rodney leaned heavily against Teyla, looking weak and miserable. She waited for him to take a sip from the canteen, and then maneuvered him gently, until he was lying with his head in her lap.

Ronon moved a few steps away, dumping the basin, but leaving it nearby. "He's really sick," Dex stated simply, watching as Teyla tried to get more mud out of Rodney's ears and hair.

"Yeah," Sheppard said with a sigh. "Tell me something I don't know."

"He will get worse," Ronon continued. "There are many diseases on this planet. One must be careful." He watched Rodney carefully. "The mud is…"

"I know…" Sheppard growled. "God, it can't be good." He reached for his pack. "We're going to have to run to the Gate. Teyla can look after him."

Ronon pressed a hand on Sheppard's arm and nodded toward the others. Even though Teyla had proclaimed that she was well, it was obvious that she hadn't come through the disaster unscathed. She leaned tiredly against the tree as she took care of their teammate. Her face was pinched, and her hair was matted, pasted in place by the goop. Red scrapes shown through the brown.

"There are predators here," Ronon reminded.

Sheppard nodded. He didn't like sending anyone alone – they should stay in pairs – but they couldn't leave Rodney and Teyla without help. "I'll go," John declared.

Ronon shook his head. "I'm faster. You'll get lost."

For that, Sheppard gave him an unpleasant look. "Fine, you go."

Ronon nodded and grabbed his pack. He then crouched beside Teyla and met her gaze. The two said nothing. She gave him a confident smile, and he returned it tightly.

After a moment, he laid a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "McKay," he called, "I'm going."

"'K." Matted eyelashes fluttered a moment. "G'luck."

"Going home for help."

"Oh…" He blinked, looking confused, then seemed to become more aware. "Maybe you could… get them to… have a hot bath ready?"

"Yeah," Ronon responded. He picked as his filthy shirt. "Could use it."

"I mean, one tub for each of us… because, you know…."

Ronon grinned slightly at Rodney's clarification, but frowned when McKay coughed again, thickly.

Teyla held the scientist as he curled against the ground. Ronon gave Rodney a thump, then stood.

Sheppard tested the radios again. "Still crap," he muttered, not liking this at all.

"I'll be fine," Ronon assured. "I'll bring help as soon as I can."

"Sooner the better," Sheppard responded.

Ronon nodded, waited for the colonel to incline his head, and then, hefting his sword, took off toward the Gate.

Dex hacked through the vegetation, moving quicker alone than they had as a group. Sheppard listened until the sound was eaten up in the thousand other noises of the jungle. And after checking their surroundings, Sheppard returned his attention to the other two.

Rodney continued to cough occasionally, sounding wretched. Teyla was obviously beat.

Great, yeah, this was great.

Sheppard paced, keeping a lookout for anything that dared come near them, watching for Ronon to return with the others -- even though it was too soon to hope. He kept watch as Teyla watched over Rodney.

McKay continued to cough that pitiful, jarring cough. He looked sicker than a dog. Teyla would give him water and he'd try to sleep again. Sheppard watched them, wondering if Teyla was getting tired of acting as a pillow. She had to be pretty bruised up.

When Sheppard asked her if she wanted a break, she considered it for a moment, before she nodded. Rodney awoke as they lifted him upright so that she could move from beneath him, and he was leaned against a pile of packs and jackets once she was free. Throughout the process, he carried a disconnected expression, blinking slowly, and then closing his eyes once they were done.

"Just hang in there," Sheppard had said quietly, not getting a response.

Teyla didn't hide the groan the escaped her as she stood fully. When Sheppard gave her the eye, she admitted softly, "I am bruised and sore. I will enjoy that hot bath upon our return."

She took the P90, and started her perusal of the area, while Sheppard sat down beside the scientist.

"Hey," he said softly.

Rodney blinked. "What?"

"How're you feeling?"

Rodney frowned. "Crummy," he grumbled. "I'm all… fuzzy and… not good. My chest hurts." He raised his hand a little.

"Probably from all that coughing."

Rodney blinked and looked bewildered. "Oh… yeah…" He frowned. "I feel really… tired."

"You were bashed around pretty good," Sheppard tried to explain. "Plus Ronon knocked the snot out of you… literally."

"It's hard to breathe…"

"You sucked in a lot of mud and crap," Sheppard told him.

Rodney nodded, but his expression was blank. His breathed shallowly. "I feel… so strange. I'm cold."

Sweat rolled down John's face in the sticky heat as he glanced to Teyla. She shared a look with him before she went back to her watch.

He returned his gaze to McKay. "You're just worn out," he tried, adjusting Ronon's coat around Rodney's shoulders. He let his hand glance off Rodney's cheek, and thought he felt warm.

"Yeah," Rodney responded. "I'm really tired." It was hard to tell under the remaining veneer of filth, but his complexion was damn pale.

"Ronon will be back in a few minutes," Sheppard told him.

"Yeah," Rodney replied, squeezing his eyes shut as if his head pained him.

They waited. Sheppard changed places with Teyla since the Athosian seemed to tire easily. She sat next to Rodney, speaking quietly to him. McKay responded occasionally. Sheppard kept watch.

A long green snake writhed along a branch, disappearing upward. Birds twittered around them. Some had beautiful little voices, another squawked crassly. Another bird made a sound like a car alarm going off.

They'd heard a low growl emanating from the jungle's dimness. Sheppard lifted his weapon. When he spotted a flash of golden eyes, he fired. The jungle erupted in a rush as birds took wing and critters scurried. A snarling shape tore into the distance.

A series of monkeylike things scuttled above them to get a better look, but they disappeared in a ruckus when Sheppard raised the P90 at them.

Time passed and Sheppard switched places with Teyla again.

"He has a fever," she said softly, knowing that there was little they could do about it.

Sheppard exhaled and sat down beside his friend. Touching a hand against his forehead, Sheppard could feel the heat rising. When McKay opened his eyes, they were glassy.

"Hey," Sheppard said softly. "How's it going?"

"Ronon?" McKay asked quietly. "Did he make it home?"

Help was still hours away. "They'll be here any moment," Sheppard told him.

"Think he's okay?" Rodney asked. "Could be hurt. Might've fallen, like me, or something. Those panther things… out there. Doesn't have anyone to watch out … for him."

Sheppard held the canteen so that Rodney could have another drink. "He'll be fine," Sheppard confirmed as he supported Rodney's head. "Nothing is going to slow him down. You can count on that."

Rodney just blinked, shivering in spite of the muggy heat. "Think he's okay?" he asked again, still breathing in that insubstantial way, looking horribly sick.

"Ronon is fine," Sheppard promised. God help them all if he wasn't.

"Oh, okay," was McKay's quiet response, and his eyes fluttered closed again.

Sheppard pressed his hand to the side of McKay's face. Too damn hot. Who knows what sort of crap was in that mud. "Just hang in there, Rodney," Sheppard said.

Rodney didn't awaken. He breathed fitfully and was too damn hot.

Dammit to hell. This illness was progressing far too fast, and they were stuck in some horrible Tarzan movie.

"We'll get you home," Sheppard promised. When he looked to Teyla, he saw her quiet resolve. There was no doubting that agreement. They'd manage it, come hell or high-water.

Rain pattered around them, dripping like sweat from the trees. Teyla moved slowly, stiffly, and Sheppard got to his feet when he heard something in the distance.

The cat. Was it back? It was too soon for the others. Ronon might have reached the Gate –but then a team had to return.

Sheppard moved beside Teyla and they formed a little wall between the sound and their teammate. John stiffened, holding his weapon ready.

"Sheppard!" a voice cried in the distance. John let out a sigh, glancing to his sleeping friend.

Thank God!

Rodney's face was flushed with fever, and his breathing sounded odd, but help was at hand.

"Ronon!" Sheppard called in return, sending birds flying. Ronon came tromping through the foliage toward them -- alone. With sad apprehension, Sheppard's hopes sank. Did Ronon have to double back? Did he even make it to the Gate?

The sight of Beckett running right behind the Satedan was the answer Sheppard was looking for.

"How?" Sheppard asked as the pair reached them. "How'd you get here so quickly?"

Ronon explained, "Jumper."

"But there's no place to land?" Sheppard responded.

"Didn't," Ronon told him. "Ropes."

A glance to Beckett told the colonel what he needed to know. The doctor was pale and it looked as if a few years had been scared right out of him. They must have descended on rigging from a hovering jumper.

"Carson," Sheppard greeted.

The doctor gave him a strange little smile in return. "It was quite the experience. If I ever…" At the sight of Rodney, Beckett's conversation stopped. He moved – quickly.

"How long has he been like this?" Carson asked as he kneeled down beside his patient.

"Been getting worse all along," Sheppard explained.

Beckett tore through his bag and the others stood back, watching as Beckett went through his assessment of their friend. Rodney was quiet throughout the procedure, oblivious.

Making soft dissatisfied noises, Beckett listened to Rodney's chest with a stethoscope. "Blast it," he growled as he pulled out the oxygen tank, scattering his tools in his haste.

"We need to get him home," he declared as he settled the mask over Rodney's still face. "Now."

Ronon didn't need to be told twice. He stooped, and lifted Rodney, tugging their muddied friend close to his chest along with the oxygen tank. Once he had his balance, he started down the path he'd carved earlier. Teyla followed.

Beckett, not used to Ronon's great strength and conviction, stared for a moment before he snapped out of it and returned to his kit, rapidly repacking it. Sheppard waited, and then they followed the others to the tiny clearing that had been used as a drop zone.

A basket was already waiting when they reached the jumper, and Ronon was settling Rodney into it as Teyla fixed the straps.

Rodney came around, bleary eyed and startled at finding himself in the rickety looking basket. He tried to move his hand to touch the mask, but he had no strength and was thwarted by the straps.

"Stop that," Sheppard told him firmly, and then in a gentler voice, "You'll be fine." Yes, he promised himself, Rodney would be fine.

"We'll get you to the infirmary and figure out what's wrong with you," Beckett assured. "It'll take no time at all."

Rodney's eyes still searched, startled.

"We're going home," Ronon assured, leaning over him. "Got it?"

With that pronouncement, Rodney seemed to relax a little, and Sheppard signaled to the crew in the jumper. They stepped back as the basket started to lift. Rodney remained still in the basket, watching them while he was able. The basket went up and then disappeared as it was pulled within the jumper.

"He'll be okay?" Sheppard asked Beckett, and the doctor found him fixed with three intense stares.

Beckett looked as if he might say one thing, but stopped. "We'll get him home," he told them. "And he'll be in the best of hands."

It wasn't a promise, but it was the best they'd get at the moment. And Beckett was the best doctor in the galaxy. It was all they had.

The basket came back for Teyla – and in a moment, they'd all be home again.

yeah, not much of an ending, but I was out of words. Sorry!