Teyla ran her hands through her hair as she stepped out of the shower. It had taken her the better part of an hour to wash the mud away, and she was thankful for the shampoo Elizabeth had given her. She still didn't quite feel clean, but it was probably as close as she was going to come, for the next few days at least.
A knock came at the door, and she wrapped a towel around herself before moving to answer it. John stood in the hallway, and his gaze travelled down for a moment before he stepped back, a smile playing across his lips.
"Um," he said, and she raised an eyebrow. "Elizabeth want to see us in her office."
She nodded, and adjusted the towel a little more tightly around her chest. "I will get dressed and meet you there," she said, and waited for him to drop his hands from the door before she closed it. Inside, she let out a breath, and began to dress.
"I don't see why you can't just send some other team," Rodney was saying as Teyla entered the room. Elizabeth nodded at her, and Rodney continued, apparently unaware of her presence. "It took me forever to wash all that mud off. I had gunk in places you don't want to hear about."
"No," Ronon said, arms folded across his chest. "We don't."
Rodney flashed him a dismissive look, and turned back to Elizabeth. "All I'm saying is, why does it have to be us? For that matter, why do we have to go back at all"
"Rodney," Elizabeth said, her voice thick with heavily-tried patience. "You said yourself that the planet showed evidence of life. If there are people living there, I'd like to know about it."
"If there are people living there, I doubt they've discovered fire, let alone have any ZPMs."
Elizabeth sat down behind her desk, a gesture Teyla recognised as meaning that she was finished negotiating. "ZPMs are not the only thing of value," she said.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "What are we going to do, trade for mud? There's nothing there."
"Your report indicated otherwise," Elizabeth told him. "John?"
John nodded. "We'll go back."
Rodney opened his mouth, no doubt to continue protesting, and Elizabeth held out a hand. "This time, perhaps you should steer clear of the swamp."
Rodney shook his head as they turned to leave. "The whole planet is nothing but swamp," he muttered, in a voice Teyla was certain Elizabeth was supposed to hear.
"We'll contact you in six hours," John said. "Hopefully we'll have found something by then."
Rodney may have been right, Teyla thought. If there was more to M29-X47 than wetlands, they had yet to discover it.
"What is this stuff, anyway?" Ronon asked as they waded across the swamp.
"It's mud," Rodney said, clearly exasperated. "Dirt, water. Mud. It's filthy, and it's disgusting, and" - he grimaced - "it's everywhere."
"It's moving," Ronon said, and Rodney sighed.
"Yes. I believe I covered that when I said that it was everywhere."
Ronon glanced at him, but didn't stop. "I mean it's moving on its own. Look."
He pointed, and Teyla looked down at the ground below them. In front of her, John slowed, and she nearly ran into him.
"Ronon's right," he said, and moved forward again. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
"You mean back to Atlantis?" Rodney asked hopefully.
"I mean out of the swamp," John corrected. "We still need to make our report."
"I can tell you right now what it's going to say," Rodney said. "Waded through mud. Found primitive people who worship mud. Spent fruitless hours trying to negotiate for mud weapons before nearly being killed. Returned empty-handed and covered in mud."
John ignored him. "Energy readings?"
Rodney sighed. "Low but constant. I told you, there's nothing here."
"You said there was," John said.
"I said there might be. Look, if there really is life on this planet - and I'm beginning to doubt it - there's nothing here they can offer us."
"So you were wrong."
"I was not wrong," Rodney protested. "I said the planet indicated signs of life. I never said that life was human, or civilised."
"Maybe it's the mud," Ronon offered, and Rodney smirked.
"Very funny. Look, can we just get out of here and find some dry land? If there is any on this God-forsaken planet."
Teyla scanned the area around them "Over there," she said, and moved past John to gesture over to their left. "I think the swamp ends there."
It took them longer than it should have to reach the other side; the mud slowed them down, making it difficult to move at all, at times. Eventually, they made it to what Teyla supposed could be called the shore, and she reached down to brush some of the mud off her pants as Rodney tapped at his equipment.
"I'm getting stronger energy readings coming from two directions," he said, and pointed. "There, and over there. A couple of kilometres in each direction."
John nodded. "All right. We have about four hours before we're supposed to check in. I say we split up."
"I agree," Teyla said, but Rodney shook his head.
"Great. And when one of us gets captured, and we don't have backup?"
John sighed, but ignored Rodney's protests. "Ronon, you go with Rodney. Teyla, you're with me. We'll meet back at the gate in four hours. Stay in contact, so if anyone gets captured" - he glanced at Rodney - "we'll know about it. If we're not back in time, they'll send another team through the gate."
Teyla nodded her agreement, and Rodney sighed. "Fine. It's not like anyone listens to me, anyway."
John smiled. "That's the spirit."
Rodney and Ronon left first, Ronon far enough ahead that Teyla guessed he could pretend not to hear Rodney if he so chose. When they were out of sight, John turned to her, and she smiled.
"Do you remember which way Rodney indicated we are to go?" she asked.
"It's this way." He paused. "Teyla?"
"Does this island seem smaller to you?"
She looked around. She had not been aware that they were on an island; around them, the mud shimmered against the solid ground.
"I had not noticed," she said, and he frowned.
"Okay," he said finally. "Well, let's see if we can find some sign of life on this rock."
The mud seemed to Teyla to slow them down even further as they walked; it clung to her legs, and she forced her feet to obey her, moving one in front of the other. Beside her, John appeared to struggle, too, and once or twice she reached out for him as they pulled themselves along.
"Do you think there are people living here?" she asked a short while later.
He shrugged. "Energy readings could be anything. Animals. Plants, maybe. It shouldn't be much further."
Teyla nodded. As much as she enjoyed going off world, she was looking forward to being back in Atlantis and clean once more. There wasn't much to do as they walked, and she soon found her mind wandering.
She had been aware for some time that they were slowing down, but after a while she realised that she had stopped entirely.
"John?" she asked quietly. He had moved a little way to her left, and turned with a triumphant smile.
"We're here," he said, looking around at the solid ground that held him. "The readings should be coming from over there. I don't see -"
"John," she said again, a little louder. She tried to move her feet, and frowned. "I seem to be stuck."
He frowned. "You can't move?"
"Yes, that is what I meant by stuck."
He started forward, and jumped back suddenly. "Okay, this stuff is definitely moving," he said warily. "I swear there was more ground here a minute ago."
Teyla struggled to break free form where she stood. The mud, thicker than ever, pulled at her legs, creeping higher.
"Teyla." John moved forward, and she could read the concern on his face.
"I cannot move at all," she admitted. "I believe I may be sinking."
"Like quicksand?" John moved to the edge of the solid ground. "Just ... don't struggle, okay? I'll find something to reach you."
"Please hurry," she said, trying to keep her voice calm. The mud was above her knees now.
"Damn," he said, a few minutes later. "There's no rope, nothing - just stay there. I'm going to pull you out."
"John," she said, but he was already moving towards her. The mud was rising faster, closing around her thighs. John was wading through the swamp, and she wanted to tell him to stay back, but she recognised the expression on her face, and she could feel herself already beginning to panic.
"Teyla," he said, and she twisted to face him. "Take my hand."
Even as she leaned forward, she could feel the mud pulling her back, pulling her down. She clasped her fingers around John's, and felt the tension in her arm as he tugged her forward.
"John," she said again, but he shook his head.
"Come on," he said. "Push."
As the mud slid against her waist, Teyla pushed; with a sickening sound, she came free, colliding with John as they tumbled to the ground behind him. She looked down to see him smiling at her, and her legs brushed against his as she pulled herself up.
"You okay?" he asked as she helped him to his feet.
"I am fine," she said, and he nodded as he glanced around them. The mud was almost bubbling now, definitely moving of its own accord.
"Teyla?" he asked, and frowned. "I think this is the bit where we run."
She nodded, and started moving as he grabbed her arm. She spared a glance behind her as they ran, or as close as they could manage; the ground where they had stood only moments before was gone, already covered in mud, and she pushed forward.
Rodney and Ronon were already at the gate when they reached it, breathing hard. Lorne and his men were beside them, guns drawn.
"Where were -" Rodney began, but John shook his head.
"Dial the gate," he said, stumbling as they reached solid ground once more. "Let's get the hell off this planet."
"It was not a mud monster," Rodney said, and Elizabeth looked at them from a safe distance away. "As far as I can tell, it wasn't even sentient. Those energy readings could have been coming from anything."
"I know what I saw, McKay. That stuff was mad. It practically attacked Teyla."
"I am fine," she repeated. He glanced at her, and she offered a weak smile.
"That wasn't ordinary mud," he insisted.
"All right," Elizabeth interrupted. "I think we can all agree that the planet was uninhabitable. I'll have Zelenka make a note in the database."
Rodney shook his head. "I'll do it. Unless we all want to read about it in Czech."
Elizabeth nodded. "All right. But for now, I think we should get you all cleaned up. You can shower in the decontamination area. Whatever may be in the mud, I don't think we want it getting all over Atlantis."
"Mud monster," John muttered, low enough that Rodney didn't hear. Teyla glanced at him, and smiled.
"I think I'm clean," Rodney said as he turned off his shower. "Finally."
Teyla grimaced. She was still nowhere near clean. She ran her hands under her shirt as Rodney left; it was difficult to shower while fully dressed, and she thought her pants, at least, were probably a lost cause.
She heard the water shut off to her right, and turned to face John. "You sure you're okay?" he asked.
"Fine," she said. "Just ... muddy."
He nodded, and took a step towards her. He ran a hand down her arm, and she raised an eyebrow.
"You know," he said quietly, "this would be a lot easier without all these clothes on."
She blinked; she had not expected this. He leaned in closer. His hand brushed her waist, and she shivered.
"Do you want me to leave?" he asked. Teyla met his eyes. She could read desire in them, along with something else. Did he expect her to reject him?
She frowned. Would she?
"No," she said finally.
He smiled, and she felt his hands move across her skin as he grasped the edge of her shirt, pulling it up over her head. She reached up to do the same, tossing his wet shirt aside.
"I believe my pants are ruined," she said, and he nodded, his knuckles grazing her stomach as he unbuttoned them. She bent down to peel the wet material from her legs, stepping out of the pants to move closer to him. He reached up to cup her cheeks, leaning forward to kiss her; Teyla leaned into him, and broke away suddenly as she heard a noise behind them.
"Have you seen my - oh." Teyla recognised Rodney's voice, and glanced up at John as he looked over her shoulder. "Oh, sorry, I just - never mind. I'm leaving now."
She laughed quietly as she heard him back away, and reached up to lay a hand on John's chest.
"I believe this would be better suited to your quarters," she suggested. After a moment, he smiled.
"Yeah," he agreed. "I feel clean."