Title: The Second Great Tree of Atlantis

Author: chokolaj

Summary: Sometimes it is better NOT to explore the new planet in the quest for a tree. Shep whump with a little team whump on the side.

Word Count: 3721

A/N: Happy holidays to all! Written for the Secret Santa '07 challenge: prompt at the end, following in tradition. Why it is such a struggle for me to write in this fandom I do not know. This is not betaed so any errors are mine.

--

The first tree had regrettably been singed.

It was not an electrical fire, nor was it a strike of lightning.

No, how the Great Tree of Atlantis became singed was due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding a rather poor choice of location. Or more aptly put, a rather poorly timed Stargate activation.

The celebration of a conglomerate of holidays within the city of Atlantis was complicated to say the least. There were numerous religious and nonreligious - Milky Way and Pegasus - holidays to represent. Which resulted in a ridiculous clash of colors, lights, traditions and greetings.

To each his own, they would mutter as they passed each other in the halls, for every person had a different customary greeting. Some greetings were perceived as they were, and yet others…not so much: a bruised eye here and a twisted ankle there.

Yet the inhabitants of Atlantis were brimming with cheer. It had been one month to the day without a major crisis…with not even a peep from the Wraith! It seemed fortune was finally on their side.

But of course, this wouldn't be a tale, if there weren't a little bit of misfortune.

And so, here is the tale of the Second Great Tree of Atlantis.

--

Deep blues, luxurious greens, and the richest reds shimmered across the purest blanket of white. Not even the Aurora Borealis, through the clear still waters of a pristine lake resting beneath the gaping night sky, could compare.

The alpine forest on the planet of which Atlantis now called home was quite the discovery. The very needles of these squat little trees emitted light in a dazzling display. Remarkably, these short, squat little mounds of the darkest green, provided a perfect refuge for those who did not want to be found. The shifting colors and the haze they meandered upon wavered like the thickest veil upon the wind. Razor-sharp claw-like needles rested upon branches as if it were merely a porcupine resting upon its perch.

Screams shattered the serenity. Snarling and screeches jarred the calm. Then gunfire entered the cacophony for a rhapsody of chaos.

Bright flashes of unnatural light pulsated in an uneven tempo to the natural rhythm of the night.

A fine mist rose from the thick coating of snow upon the ground. There was a damp chill in the air.

An uneven pattern of red blots dabbed a stumbling path of disrupted snow.

Oxygen at this altitude was thin. Pure. Dizzyingly satisfying once one caught one's breath.

White fingers curled into needles, with trails of red oozing down a bruising palette of torn flesh. Gasping for every breath as if it were his last, John Sheppard gripped onto the nearest stable support he could find out of desperation: the tree. His balance was off…probably due to the gaping wound above his left eye. Sheppard wasn't concerned with that, though. What concerned him most was how much time he had to gather his senses before they caught up with him.

Ronon's blaster echoed from too far in the distance. Somewhere in the opposite direction came answering the rat-tat-tat of a P90. His team was separated. They needed him.

His wavering gaze shifted to the ruffled snow blanketing his tingling feet. Red. Or rather a pinkish red, as the blood sank into the depths of white. He was losing time.

He had to get to the Jumper. It was all he could focus on now. That, and of course, not get caught by the creatures from which he now fled.

A howl shredded his thoughts, pushing his body onward from the tree and through the marshmallow crème green gumdrop world.

White intermixed red. He pounded through in a stumbling haze. White specks of fluff danced and twirled in arches with every agonizing step. Not even a hair on his head was free of pain and it was all he could do to push through, to survive for the sake of his team.

Brief memory of his 9mil sinking into snow too far out of reach and his P90 diminishing in similar fashion made him groan. His knife was currently embedded in whatever was pounding through the trees not too far behind him. A large burly dog-like creature with fangs more menacing than a Saber-tooth tiger was the closest thing he could compare it with. The creature boasted a huge bulky upper body and a stunted lower portion that ended in a tail that marveled that of a cheetah.

Branches snapped in the distance in a different direction from whence he came. It seemed he had more than one predator now. The scent of fresh blood in the air was irresistible, after all.

He dared not pause in his faltering stride. He pushed onward, head bowed against needled branches that raked past his body, adding more scratches and tears to an already battered body.

Puffs of cold air willowed from his mouth. He ran with speed driven by adrenaline. It was all he had left.

The trees suddenly grew sparse. The great black sky opened like the jaws of Death himself. Sheppard skidded to a halt.

Before him rested a large flat surface: a lake. He scampered to its edge. A thick blanket of white, level for as far as the eye could see greeted him.

The Jumper, he remembered, was parked in a clearing on the other edge of this very lake. His team hadn't found it first and that fact alone chilled him to the bone.

Glancing back, hearing nothing but heavy pants growing louder with each beat of his heart, Sheppard seized his opportunity.

One foot sank into the thinner layer of snow, settling on ice. He slipped, only for a moment. Then he took another step. And another. Arms spread evenly to each side, he carefully picked his way onward, mindful of the unforgiving ice below, and the deadly threat chasing from behind.

He dared a glance back. A streak of black ripped through a small gap in the trees. It was close. Too close. His heart pummeled his rib cage as he quickened his pace.

And suddenly, fury broke through the shimmering quiet of the trees. Blood stained teeth surrounded a howl that erupted into the night.

Sheppard stared deep into the beady black eyes of the beast that was surely Death's most treasured pet. Merely the length of a Jumper stood between him and the snarling beast. It sat on its haunches at the edge of the lake, watching. It's heavy breaths filled the air as long strands of saliva stretched from its jaws.

It was waiting for him.

Sheppard stole another step, not mindful of the pressure he placed upon the fragile ice.

CRACK!

Both beast and man stared down upon the ice.

And with the whisper of rushing air, the ice broke and Sheppard plummeted.

--

Black mingled with dark blue.

Pain forgotten, his nerves screaming for warmth, he struggled against the chilling waters, clawing toward the dark blue.

--

Unimaginably frigid air rushed into his lungs as he broke the hardening surface.

Eyes wide, his gaze settled upon round emerald eyes, blood stained teeth, and a mouth wider than Jack Skellington.

Frigid water clawed back at him, submerging him once again in darkness.

His numbing mind was unsure which was the lesser evil.

--

The world was shifting underneath him. A sharp pain dug into the top of his right shoulder but his muscles had atrophied. He could not move and he barely had the breath back in his waterlogged lungs to care.

Hot breath flittered his eyelashes. A warm wetness slid across his upper cheek, over his nose, and pooled into his right ear. His eyelids fluttered but they wouldn't budge past a slit. And with a sudden chilling clarity, he realized that something was pulling him ashore.

"Shit!" Or rather a similar sound came gurgling from deep within his throat.

--

Faint little billows of white spread like a mushroom cloud above him. A thin wisp of shimmering light, magenta shifting to green, flowed like the current of a river through the dark canvas of stars beyond.

Puffs of cold air willowed from his mouth. Huh. That explained the mushroom cloud.

The lights. The trees. Oh…shit. His team.

His brain snapped back to the here and now with sudden painful clarity.

His entire body was shivering beyond his control. A paw would land occasionally upon his shoulder in playful gesture. Sometimes it would nudge, other times it would pull. A thousand tiny knives twisted and turned upon every inch of his skin. The varying pressure of the paw was only an added discomfort.

He could hear the creature's soft paws sweep through the snow like an angel's wings. It was toying with him…its food.

He sure as hell hoped his team wasn't suffering a similar fate.

--

The world was shifting again. Lights shimmered. Stars twinkled.

Something was pulling him again.

The creature?

He felt no pain, so he couldn't be sure.

And then a face appeared above his. Ronon.

What the hell?

Bruised, with a small dried cut just above his eye, but mercifully alive, the Runner stood tall above him. His mouth moved, but Sheppard heard only a murmur of sound.

His body shuddered violently but only for a moment. Faint tingling raced back and forth, up and down, and all around, through every muscle. He should be cold, but he was not. Only a comfortable soft haze enveloped him, with the knowledge that at least one of his teammates was okay.

A pulse of light just outside of his peripheral vision tore his attention from the frown forming upon Ronon's face.

Razor-edged green needles stretched toward him, merely a hand's width from his face. Pulses of blue, green, and then red shimmered from the base of the needles, to the tips, sparking near the end. The display mesmerized him.

He felt his body settle into a stupor. And he allowed his eyes to close of their own accord. He felt not a care in the world yet a nagging sensation tugged deep in the darkest trenches of his hazy mind.

Where were Rodney and Teyla?

However, there was little he could do about anything at all.

--

Streams of red stained the bulging muscles of Ronon's arms; some of the red was scattered across his torso and upper legs. His blaster was gripped tight in one hand with a rope wrapped securely around his other.

He huffed, wincing upon each tug. The weight of his body pressed down upon the snow, causing him to sink with each step deep into the carved drifts of white bordering the silent lake. It was not unlike trying to run waist-deep through water. With each step he met resistance. How could such light, fluffy sparkles of ice become so unforgiving?

Pain lanced through his chest. Racing through the needled trees, hoping to find both his team and the Jumper, Ronon and stumbled upon a rather disturbing sight.

He had indeed found one of his teammates.

Tucked deep within the mothering embrace of a bulky creature with mangy dark auburn fur was Sheppard. Fangs as long as his blaster's muzzle blared white, stained with red. A loud hiss came deep from its throat. A paw resting upon the colonel's shoulder flexed, revealing long, curled claws tinged in red.

Never quite as easy as he hoped when it came to rescue.

Ronon observed Sheppard for a moment, contemplating his next course of action. He was mindful of the glaring black eyes of the creature, studying him in the very same fashion. Sheppard's lips were tinged blue, his body shivered uncontrollably, and his eyes were open. Wide and glassy, but open: he was aware, to some degree. Ronon could work with that.

With a sudden shift in weight, Ronon easily withdrew a hidden knife and slashed downward, leaping upon the creature. The creature, in that same instant, lashed toward him, shoving the colonel further from Ronon with its back claws.

Growls and hisses erupted into the air. Metal sang as it clanged against claws of equal strength. Predator versus predator: the fight was a draw. Each circled the other. Hunched low, eyes locked, spilled blood staining the white snow.

The shivering form of prey lay between them with eyes slowly and unsteadily tracking both creature and Runner. Words failed to form upon quivering lips. Frost was beginning to paint a trace of white upon his hairline due to what little perspiration the shivering was inducing.

Ronon could not be sure if the pilot's next action was borne of instinct or stupidity.

A hand shot forward and an elbow shifted. Sheppard pushed his shaking body upward, distracting the creature.

Both predators pounced.

Three bodies collapsed in a swirl of white and red.

--

The stuttering of a P90 interrupted Ronon's mantra of lifting one foot out of packed snow, then forcing the other back into it.

Eyes darting upward, Ronon saw a welcome sight. Among the shimmering haze hanging lazily in the air glistened the cool metal exterior of the Jumper. And just beyond it, the quick flashes of fire emitted from the Earth-made weapon. Heart already pounding, Ronon allowed a quick smile before he bowed his head, and shifted his gaze behind him.

Nestled within the rather uncomfortable bed of needles was his commanding officer: bloodied and bruised, unconscious and pale, but still very much alive. Ronon had no choice but to drag Sheppard upon a tree for his shoulder had been severely clawed up by the creature. His other arm was just as damaged, but he could still hold his blaster and fire. And he had proved as much when he had killed the creature that had kept Sheppard for its own.

As Ronon neared, huffing and stomping in knee-deep snow, hauling a tree with a pilot nestled within, the P90 fire ceased.

A blood-streaked face emerged from the back edge of the Jumper. Teyla. Smiling, she shifted her gaze for a moment back in the opposite direction. A screech echoed not too far off in the distance, followed by another nearly as close. More of the creatures like the one that attacked Sheppard.

"Where's McKay?" He exhaled, nearing enough to see light spilling from within the Jumper onto the snow beyond. Sparkles of light danced across its surface, reminding the Satedan of the dark sky hovering above.

"Inside. His leg was mauled by one of those creatures." Teyla met him halfway, her arm outreached to assist if necessary. She kept the P90 at the ready in her other hand, eyes always shifting back, always on guard.

She did not notice the bundle Ronon had hauled to safety. Yet before she even had a chance to ask, the bundle moaned, a soft and pitiful sound. Her eyebrows rose in surprise, her weapon lowering an inch, she peered over Ronon's shoulder. The surprise in her face doubled and she rushed behind him, just as he dropped the rope, and nearly himself in the process.

--

The scent of pine, with the hint of rosemary entered his nose. Rodney's eyes opened wide and he watched with brow furrowed, mouth hung open. Ronon and Teyla entered the back of the Jumper and struggled past where he sat upon the bench. They were hauling a shimmering green bundle of razor-sharp needles in the shape of a tree. The tree. He smiled, if only for a moment.

And then he nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of a moan coming from said tree.

His hands tightened around his swollen right kneecap as he leaned forward and peered into the bundle. A hand. A leg. Then a pale white face with frosted strands of black. Sheppard.

A howl erupted closer than ever before from the thick forest beyond. The three remaining teammates exchanged glances. Teyla slammed her hand on the mechanism to close the back hatch while Rodney shuffled his way to the cockpit. Ronon fell none too gently to his knees and worked on detangling their CO from his perch within the tree.

Out of foolishness and necessity, Rodney brought up the life signs display on the HUD. Life signs. Closing in fast. Teyla began to shout, Ronon raised his blaster.

The hatch stuttered and groaned. Five long claws screeched across metal, a large meaty paw gripped onto the edge and pulled downward. Teyla stepped back and fired her P90, but it was a hit from Ronon's blaster that took down the beast. The hatch closed with a welcoming hiss and before they could catch their breath, the Jumper was well above the shimmering mystique and well on its way back to the glittering city of Atlantis.

--

Thousands of tiny pins irritated his skin.

He felt as if he were under the ocean. His body was moving, but he couldn't seem to open his eyes to confirm it. Voices surrounded him, but they were muffled and faint.

Overall he was cold, numb. He couldn't feel the pain he knew he should be experiencing. His mind was slow, still reeling from his dip in the icy lake.

A series of memories passed through his mind.

He was struggling underwater, staring up at the magenta and blue shimmering in the water above, slowly crystallizing into a sheet of ice. Then a scraggly auburn mass of fur surrounding a set of jaws breaking through the surface above only to grasp onto his shoulder in a deathly grip. And, in the briefest of moments between gathering fresh air and gasping against pain, Ronon's face peering down at him.

Nausea suddenly threatened to unhinge him. His mouth watered and he moaned with regret. Throwing up was simply not an option.

There was a pressure on his cheek but he couldn't seem to respond to it.

The world shifted and turned. He briefly recalled his time in flight training. He took pride in the fact that he had never succumbed to nausea then. No way in hell was he going to allow it to happen now.

He drew in a deep breath and was met with a sharp twinge that traveled from his back spreading across to the right side of his chest. It did not relent, but instead began to pound in earnest with the beat of his heart. Which in turn, awakened the rest of the injuries he had endured. The thousand tiny pins poking at his skin, he finally realized, were indeed a multitude of pricks and scratches from the needles of the trees.

He groaned in earnest and mumbled a curse word or two.

Reminiscent of his struggle under water, Sheppard clawed his way towards consciousness.

He saw the ceiling of the Jumper above him, interrupted by the concerned faces of Dr. Keller and her medical team. They must have just arrived back at Atlantis.

"Just relax, colonel." Dr, Keller had her hand on his shoulder.

A nurse adjusted an oxygen mask on his face while another held an IV bag above him.

"My team?" He managed to whisper. Dr. Keller had to bend lower to hear him but she nodded after a moment with a smile. She gestured to someone beyond his field of vision and a moment later, four familiar faces filled with relief were staring down at him.

Smiling with the knowledge that their disastrous adventure to the mainland was over, Sheppard allowed himself to drift back sleep.

--

The tree was rather unkempt, a few broken branches, some stained in dark dried blood, and others simply snapped off at their base and hanging by but a thread.

A passing scientist had muttered something about a person named Charlie Brown but Teyla knew of no such person on base.

She stood back admiring what was left of the tree, propped up with wires from the ceiling. It rested near the gate, safely out of reach from the destructive radius of an incoming wormhole. It still shimmered, though faintly and not nearly as impressive as it once had. There were no decorations upon this tree and there was really no need for them.

Rodney's voice drifted from behind. She turned to see Rodney struggling with crutches and Ronon rubbing his shoulder, which she knew was heavily bandaged under his clothing. The two were returning from the mess hall and both being fans of good food, came bearing brownies.

Ronon handed Teyla a small plate with a single brownie upon it and she thanked him with a smile.

"How's Sheppard?" Rodney asked through a mouthful of brownie.

"He's fine; thanks for asking." Sheppard's strained voice carried into the gateroom.

His three teammates turned in surprise to watch the pilot struggle with one step at a time, wincing upon each move before finally making it to level ground. Straightening his form as best he could, he gingerly headed over and stopped before the tree, scowling at it. He crossed his arms, grunting in the process.

"Should you not be in the infirmary?" Teyla questioned.

"Wounds were superficial." Sheppard avoided eye contact.

"You were an icicle. How could you possibly be thawed out by now?" Rodney sputtered, flecks of brownie flying from his mouth.

"I had to see if this tree was really worth all the trouble." Sheppard grumbled, eyeing the tree up and down with disdain.

"I hardly think so." Rodney responded, rubbing his braced knee. Ronon simply grunted in agreement.

"The tree is not important." Teyla reminded them, turning to face the three standing beside her. "We share a bond that is impenetrable. I, for one, wish to celebrate this bond we share. Each one of us would die for the other if it meant saving the other's life. That is worth all the trouble."

And with that, the team left the gateroom in pursuit of a more leisurely activity. They'd go through a hive ship infested with both the Wraith and the Replicators before going back to that forest again. After all, with all the technology at their fingertips, they were bound to find a better tree next time, even if they had to simulate one.

Just as they rounded the corner to enter into the main corridor, Dr. Keller's voice called after them.

"Colonel Sheppard!" Her tone was unforgiving, to say the least, and Sheppard cringed.

"Ah hell..."

--the end—

This fic was written for gaunicorn. Prompt: Whumpage in the name of finding the perfect tree to put up in the gate room; a good excuse to do a little exploring on the new planet. Happy New Year!