A/N: I know it took a while for me to post, and on top of that, this is a very short chapter. It's just that I'm juggling several stories at once in several fandoms and I have to go where my muse takes me. Keep in mind though that I always finish a story once I've started posting it. Also, I can't leave John and Rodney stranded in the middle of a story now can I? Thank you all for staying with me on this story. And thanks as always Strut for the betawork. Without her, my writing would come to a screeching hold.
John slipped, his boots loosening gravel and stone debris. He bit his lip and continued making his way up into the mountains. In his dream, he, McKay, however, had stood on a ledge not much wider than this path, unable even to take a deep breath before the plunge. He looked over his shoulder. "You all right?"
"What?" McKay breezed, clearly offended. "Why shouldn't I be?" He took the few steps to John. "Oh wait, maybe it's because there's a gorge the depth of an ocean on my right hand, a wall of mountain on my other, and I'm on what Savannah calls the easy road through hell. For your information, humans don't have hollowed hoofs to cling to stone." He motioned at Bona standing on a rocky outcropping ahead of them. The goat negotiated the traitorous slope with so much ease, it made them look clumsy and stupid.
John grimaced, figuring Rodney held up remarkably well considering the circumstances. He, on the other hand, felt like crap, as if he'd gone three rounds with Ronon, gone for a run afterwards and then had let Teyla beat his ass twice in training. And he was cold, shivering, all the more reason to continue walking. "You want to go back?"
McKay's eyes shot daggers. "We already had this conversation, Sheppard."
Nervousness raked Rodney's features, echoing with the anxiety that John couldn't rid himself of. Having hiked for most of the afternoon, they were pretty high up. Making sure McKay followed him, John continued walking. When they reached Savannah, Rodney redirected his irate behaviour toward her, the air clouding around his feet.
"So, what's next? More canyons? Snow? Water? Forests of the dead?"
Savannah frowned, disapproval clear in her features. She addressed Sheppard. "Caves, actually."
"Caves," John nodded. "Okay, shouldn't be too hard. You got your flashlight, McKay."
Accompanying Mosja, Teyla came walking up from behind them. "How long before we reach them?"
Ravaan brought up the rear. "Before nightfall," he said, scouting the terrain ahead. "Once inside we can eat and rest up a bit. The path through the mountain isn't dangerous, as long as we stick to it."
Sheppard didn't like the implication. "And if we don't?"
"Much of the cave system is unexplored. I would hate to see you get lost." Savannah eyed McKay.
Rodney harrumphed and crossed his arms. "We have radios you know."
The goat, still standing on the outcropping, eyed them with its horizontally slit eye as if telling them to hurry up. Dots of white clouds started to clog its footing.
Ravaan looked up. "Light is fading, we should move." He took the lead and headed out.
Mist drifted in from the valleys, sticking to the grey stone slopes with fierce tenacity. John motioned the others. "Go ahead, I'll cover your six." He needed the time alone, guarding their backs gave him something to focus on, so he watched their small group go, one by one disappearing into thickening strands of air before continuing on himself. He felt strange, a sense of vertigo creeping up on him the higher up their path became.
He whirled around, pointing his P90 at the sound of scattering stones. The mist was so thick now, he could hardly see three feet in front of him. A shape landed next to him. At the sight of Bona, John jerked his weapon out of harms way. "Jeez. A word of warning would have been nice." Lowering the P-90, John continued walking.
The beast released a breath. Reaching waist high, it kept its pace next to him, its curved horns a weapon that could have knocked him off the path with no effort whatsoever had the goat miscalculated his jump. John doubted the surefooted beast ever missed its aim, though. Bona snorted, as if saying, 'that's right'.
They climbed on steadily in silence, until John felt himself relax. The dreams had just been that… illusions in the night, right? Invigorated he kept going, refusing to believe the company of the goat had anything to do with the dissipating tiredness in his body.
Huge shadows rose before him. Sucking what was left of daylight into the gaping hole looming over him. Rodney shivered. The caves' entrance bore a remarkable resemblance to the open mouth of a whale. A second before it swallowed him. Sharp rock surrounded the black tunnel, and in the beam of his flashlight, dead looking bushes appeared in between the hazy fog.
Over the years he'd learned to handle his recurring dream of being eaten by a marine mammal. The nightmare he'd had back in the tower wasn't so easily swayed though. The cold of the water, the row boat coming down hard on his friend- He hesitated following Ravaan and Teyla inside.
"Stay close now, Doctor McKay," Savannah sounded eerily close in the moist atmosphere. He turned to find her standing next to him. "The cave system is vast, I would not count on your friends to rescue you, should you get lost."
That's not going to work, sister. "Hello." He tapped his ear piece. "We have radi-o-s." Which reminded him of his scanner. Ignoring her glare, he took out the device and surveyed the rock. Just your ordinary stone, no alien materials, nothing hampering transmission. He looked up. They should work fine. "Yep, I'm good to go."
Savannah smiled. "A search can be hampered in more ways than failing technology alone, Doctor." She glanced at John coming up the slope towards them.
What? What the hell's that suppose to mean? He followed her gaze, a sick feeling of foreboding churning his stomach. She was up to something, maybe ditch him halfway through, make him lose his way, cause him to take a wrong tunnel where God knew what lay hidden. Maybe even the assassin.
He swallowed, when Bona came pounding up beside him. He thought the goat eyed her with as much suspicion as he did when Savannah disappeared into the cave.
"Come on, McKay, quit dawdling," John ordered, passing him by.
Rodney huffed, feeling more than a little vulnerable going in. "This is ridiculous. We should have had the trees cut down back at the gate to allow a jumper through in order to hop over these mountains in two seconds flat."
John turned. "If Savannah says we need to go through the caves to get the scepter, we go into the caves, McKay."
"She's planning something," he hissed, stepping up to his friend. "I don't trust her!" Bona's loud bleat made him jump out of his skin. He shot the goat an irate look, but it had already gone off after Savannah. Glaring after the beast, Rodney's attention came to rest on the gaping entrance. "It's the perfect place to get rid of me."
John, who had also been staring at the goat, suddenly paid attention. "Get rid of you?"
"Yes, you know, like in Lord of the Rings? Where Gollum ditched Frodo into the claws of that giant spider what's-her-name?"
John looked at him, then lifted a finger, making his point. "Frodo was alone."
"Well, yes," Rodney stammered, not having thought of that. "I suppose so."
"And if we're making comparisons, it was Frodo who ditched his friend first, before Gollum betrayed him, Rodney." He grimaced. "You're not planning on ditching me, are you?"
"What are you kidding me?" Thoughts raced through his head. Even now vivid images of Sheppard turning on him in that arena, in the dark, John's ruthless expression when the cold blade pierced Rodney's skin, his soul, and his trust, resurfaced with concerning clarity. In all honesty, he couldn't say that he didn't walk on egg shells at times. Savannah was a healer, which meant she could reach inside you, your body, maybe even your mind. Who knew what she could make Sheppard do?
John studied him when he didn't elaborate, an unspoken unease hanging thick between them. "You want to stand here all day?"
Rodney shook his head, lifted his chin, and went inside.