The idea for this story came from a discussion on the GW whump thread. Finally got it written. For those of you who haven't read "Things that go Whump in the Night," Joanne and Hannah are characters who appeared in that story, and Joanne and Carson are still dating.
Thanks go, as ever, to my beta, Rink. I tinkered with the story after she'd finished with it, so if I missed anything, it's my fault.
Tooth and Claw
All in all it had been an easy day, John thought. He glanced up at the sun, directly overhead, and smiled. It wasn't even noon yet. Their negotiations to trade assistance in increasing crop production in exchange for access to a wildflower that was proving to be extremely effective in the battle against certain cancers back on Earth had gone smoothly and he expected to get back to Atlantis in plenty of time to not only get caught up on the paperwork sitting on his desk, but to also get in some putting time. He could already see himself on the East pier, golf club in hand, sending the small white ball spinning far out into the 'Lantean Sea. He smiled.
"What are you smiling about?" Rodney scowled, hefting the box of plant cuttings and seeds over his shoulder. The scientist tilted his neck to one side, as if trying to ease a cramp.
"Do you need me to carry that McKay?" Ronon grinned.
"No. I got it!" Rodney clutched the strap of the box protectively.
Teyla smiled, Ronon's grin got bigger and John laughed.
Rodney's face turned red, it was hard for John to tell if it was from exertion or embarrassment, but he suspected it was both.
"The botanists sure are excited about that plant you're carrying. Katie Brown probably can't wait to get her hands on it," John said casually, smirking as Rodney's face turned an even deeper shade of red.
"Katie's a very sweet girl," Teyla interceded. "I'm sure she'll be grateful you took such good care of the plant cuttings and seeds for her, Rodney."
"Can everyone just stop talking?" Rodney glared balefully at his teammates, scuffing a foot on the dirt road.
John grinned and glanced around him. Houses that looked like they were made of Lincoln Logs dotted the road that led from the center of town to the Stargate. It was a very pretty little village, reminding him of the Thomas Kincaid paintings his grandmother used to like so much. Passersby smiled at them, most carrying wares on their back they'd soon be selling at the town marketplace. The people of Sula had proven to be open and friendly, despite the constant threat of culling that hung over every town in the Pegasus galaxy.
An explosive bang to his left broke the quiet of the peaceful afternoon. The team scattered, diving to the ground, scanning the sky overhead for darts. But the sky was as clear and blue as before with the exception of a line of thick dark smoke climbing up from a two story house just off the road.
"Fire!" Ronon rumbled, lithely rolling back to his feet.
Cries of the danger began making their way back to the town center. John and Teyla both smoothly regained their footing, looking around them for any sort of water source. Flames could already been seen licking at the sides of the house, dangerously close to several tree branches arching over the roof. A fire like this could quickly grow to disastrous proportions, endangering the entire town.
Rodney scrambled to his feet, his eyes widening in horror when he saw a young girl press her face to an upstairs window. His hands tightened around the box straps over his shoulder. "There's a girl in there," he squeaked.
"I see her," John said, already in motion. He snagged the kerchief from his back pocket and wrapped it around his nose and mouth. He dashed for the front door, Ronon right on his heels.
"Be careful," Teyla called after them, turning her attention to assisting the villagers who were forming a human chain from the town well to the burning house. They'd begun passing several hoses down the line, pumping water from the well to douse the flames.
John choked. Thick black smoke billowed from the walls as the fire raced like a living thing up the logs towards the dry thatch roof. John squinted through the haze, looking for the staircase. The house had gone up as quickly as parched trees in a forest fire, but no matter the danger, John knew he and Ronon weren't leaving without that little girl.
A wracking cough to their right stopped both of them in their tracks. They could just make out the figure of a woman lurching towards them. Ronon caught her just before she fell.
"My daughter, Sera" she gasped. "She's upstairs. Please help." She pointed towards the staircase and then doubled over, her body wracked with coughs.
"We know. I'll get her." John jerked his head towards the door. "Ronon, get Mom outside."
"No," the woman protested feebly, "I won't leave my daughter."
The words were no sooner out of the woman's mouth when she nearly collapsed from another coughing fit.
"Be careful Sheppard," Ronon warned, gripping the woman's arms tightly in his hands. Resolutely he marched her towards the front door, though the desperate mother was so overcome by the smoke she was able to offer up little in the way of resistance.
The smoke was thickening, the roar of the fire beginning to drown out all other sounds. John found the staircase and began carefully making his way up.
"Sera!" He yelled. "Where are you sweetie?"
John reached the top of the staircase. A long hallway stretched in both directions. "Sera!" He called again.
"Help, please!" A small voice sounded faintly from behind a door just to the left.
"Where is she?" Ronon's voice rumbled from just behind him.
John pointed up ahead. "Did you get the mother out?"
"She's with Teyla." Ronon confirmed.
John crept forward, flinching as he heard the sounds of creaking wood. He didn't know how much time they had before the entire house crumbled to the ground, but he figured it wasn't much. He placed the palm of his hand on what he assumed was a bedroom door. It was cool. With one well placed kick, he forced the door open. And there she was, crouching in the corner, her eyes wide with terror.
"Got her" John yelled, instantly regretting it as he swallowed a lungful of acrid smoke. Gasping, he ran to the girl's side. But when he picked her up, she began struggling, kicking and scratching at John's arms and legs.
"We have to get out of here!" John struggled to hold the child in his arms. "Your Mom's already outside."
"Belza!" The girl screamed. "You have to get Belza!"
"Is that your sister, honey? Where is she?" John looked around the bedroom, but didn't see anyone else.
The fire crackled and popped, flames licking up the sides of the walls.
"We have to move, now!" Ronon bellowed.
"Belza!" The girl wailed, pointing towards the corner of the bedroom.
And then John saw it. Not the girl's sister. Her cat! Or at least, what looked like a cat.
"Take her," John thrust the screeching child into Ronon's arms.
"What are you doing?" Ronon yelled, backing out of the bedroom. He held the girl tightly and she finally stopped struggling, collapsing against his chest and burying her face in his shoulder.
"Getting Belza," John shrugged. "Here kitty kitty," he crooned, coughing. The creature hissed at him, its back arched, its fur up. He lunged for it. Grabbing its midsection, he lifted it up. Immediately it curled around his wrists and arms, claws sinking savagely into his skin.
"Ow! Crap!" John cursed, tempted to fling the creature back into the corner. But he didn't think he could face that little girl if he let her beloved pet burn to death. So he gripped the cat tighter and ran for the door. He felt jaws clamp around the palm of his hand, teeth piercing his skin. Eyes hardening with determination, John gripped the thing harder, pounding down the steps of the staircase and racing for the door. The fire was an orange glow and the house let out a terrible keening sound as the roof and walls began to give way. The cat howled and spat. It let go of John's hand and promptly sank its teeth into his forearm.
John burst out the front door, simultaneously sucking in lungfuls of air and attempting to shake the cat loose from his arms. His body shook with wracking coughs and he dropped to his knees. Finally, the cat sprang free, landing squarely on all four feet. It arched its back, cast a baleful look at John and hissed.
"You're welcome." John rasped, glaring at the cat.
"Belza!" Sera screeched with joy, flinging herself from her mother's arms.
The cat turned its back on John, seeking shelter with its owner, who took the creature in her arms and hugged it fiercely. The cat purred, rubbing its face against the girl's cheek.
"I hate cats," John muttered. Sinking to his haunches, John coughed again.
"Are you all right, Colonel Sheppard?" Teyla knelt beside him. Gently she took hold of his arms, inspecting the myriad scratches and bite marks. Blood oozed from several of the ragged wounds. "We must get you back to Atlantis."
"I'm all right," John waved her off, fighting back another cough.
He pointedly ignored the arched eyebrow she returned at his proclamation.
"We have to get that fire under control before it takes out the whole town," John tried to pull himself to his feet. He wavered as a headache pounded against his temples, causing the world to spin dizzyingly around him.
Firmly Teyla took hold of his shoulder, pushing back against him. "The villagers have that under control. Rodney has gone to the gate to get help. Remain still until Dr. Beckett gets here."
Stubbornly, John smothered a cough and lurched to his feet. "I'm fine," he muttered.
Holding back another cough and ignoring the headache pounding behind his eyes, John cradled his injured hands to his chest and watched the villagers shift their battle from the now smoldering house to the trees surrounding it. Several had caught fire making them look like giant torches. John steadfastly ignored the concerned looks Ronon and Teyla were aiming his way. The Satedan seemed no worse for wear despite his foray into the burning house, a fact which both pleased and irritated John.
By the time the jumper arrived, Sera (still holding tightly to her cat) and her mother had been bundled off to what John assumed was the village's version of a hospital and the flames had finally been brought under control, leaving behind a dark charred husk of the home that used to be.
John lay back against the gurney, propped up by several pillows. Just after arriving at the infirmary he'd been stripped of his dirty uniform and given a pair of scrubs. Then Carson had launched into the painful process of cleaning his wounds, deciding during the process that several of the gashes were deep enough to warrant stitching. Before John could even register what was happening, Carson had whipped out a needle, inserting it into the edges of the wound to inject the numbing anesthetic. It had hurt like a son of a bitch, and now every scratch and bite on his hands and forearms felt like they were on fire. He glowered at his doctor around the edges of an oxygen mask. Several times John had attempted to knock the mask from his face only to be roundly reprimanded by the peeved Scotsman who finally threatened to put the agitated colonel in restraints if he tried it again.
"Nurse Abrams, I need a CBC and blood chemistries on the Colonel. Start a saline drip with a bolus of Augmentin and Zithromax. Let's get a scan of his lungs and a pulse oxymetry," Carson ordered the nurse as he made several notations in John's chart. "And let's also get cultures of these bite marks and scratches."
"Yes Doctor," the nurse replied, moving towards a supply cabinet.
"It's just a couple of scratches," John protested, cringing as Hammer Hands Hannah moved to the side of his bed with the blood draw and I.V. kits. "I don't need any I.V.'s. I'm fine. Really. All I need is a good night's sleep in my own quarters."
"Animal bites are nothing to play around with," Carson replied sternly, poking a gloved finger at John's palm to test the progress of the anesthetic. John flinched, instinctively trying to pull his hand away from Carson. "Cat bites are particularly problematic. I'm using the antibiotics we'd normally use for Earth cats bites. Hopefully they'll work with the Pegasus cat variety as well."
"Hannah." A pretty red haired nurse crossed the infirmary floor. "Why don't you let me take over? Colonel Sheppard is on my service tonight anyway and I know some of the girls are waiting on you to start that new Nicholas Sparks movie."
"Are you sure?" Hannah asked. "I'd be happy to get Colonel Sheppard all set for you before I go."
"I'm sure," Joanne smiled. "Go on. Before the popcorn gets cold."
"Thank you so much. You are such a doll," Hannah said gratefully. She glanced up at Dr. Beckett. "With your permission, Sir?"
Carson glanced up and nodded.
"You are a goddess," John said hoarsely to Joanne as Hannah left the ward. "Dump him and marry me."
Joanne blushed to her roots as Carson mildly scowled at his patient. Clearing her throat, the nurse pulled on a pair of gloves.
"Do you have a preference of where you'd like the I.V.?" she asked, cracking open the kit.
Resignedly John offered the nurse his arm, turning it over and exposing the crook of his elbow. He closed his eyes. The alcohol pad was cool against his skin. He barely flinched at the muted pinch as she slid the needle in. A few seconds later she soothingly patted his shoulder.
"One down, Colonel. Just the blood draws now, okay?" Joanne said softly.
He nodded. Again she swabbed his arm and again there was a quick pinch. He opened his eyes and watched her draw several vials of blood. Carefully she labeled each one, placing them in a tray. She moved away from his gurney, returning with a piece of equipment in tow. Taking the colonel's hand, she clipped the bulky device to his index finger. A number popped up on the pulse oxymeter. She glanced up at Carson. "Looks like the colonel's SAT's are holding at ninety-five. Would you like me to replace the mask with a cannula?"
Carson nodded and John gratefully let Joanne slip the mask from around his head. Within moments she'd smoothly slipped the thin tubing of the cannula under his nose, securing it over and behind his ears and under his chin.
"I'll drop the bloods in the lab and get the scanner prepped." Joanne said.
"Thank you, luv." Carson smiled fondly at the nurse.
John shifted on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. He noticed his back was beginning to ache slightly at the same time he realized he was cold. He shivered.
"Are you feeling feverish?" Carson narrowed his eyes at his patient.
John had barely nodded when Carson shoved the thermometer in his ear. "Carson," he grunted in annoyance. "Give a guy some warning."
Carson ignored him. The thermometer finally beeped and Carson pulled it out of John's ear. He sighed. "Well, you've started running a slight fever. Hopefully the antibiotics will kick in and we'll catch this thing before it gets started."
Carson took John's hands and again poked inquisitively at the deep scratches he'd numbed. Nodding in satisfaction when John didn't feel a thing, Carson hooked a foot around the tray with the suture kit and pulled it closer. He sat down on a stool next to John's gurney. "Okay, let's get these gashes stitched, get you under the scanner and then we can let you rest for a bit while we wait for your test results."
"Sounds good," John said wearily, resting his head against the pillows as Carson got to work.
Burning Black Hawk helicopters littered the desert floor belching oily black smoke. His feet pounded on the dirt. His arms pumped at his side. Teyla and Ronon sprinted after him.
"Go go go!" He yelled at Rodney, who'd taken a precious moment to glance behind him at their pursuers. Rodney's terror filled eyes told him what he already knew. There were too many of them. They weren't going to make it.
Desperately John swiveled his torso, and still running, fired his P-90 at the men chasing them.
"Run! Don't…stop." John's head tossed restlessly on the pillow. His eyes fluttered and his hands clutched convulsively at the blankets.
"It is all right, John," Teyla soothed, gently pressing a cool cloth to John's forehead. His dark hair was damp and spiky, and his face glistened with sweat. Several hours ago Carson had added a second I.V. and hooked John up to a heart monitor. Now he and another doctor were talking about switching John to a broader spectrum antibiotic.
Teyla shrieked. John watched in horror as the ground gave way beneath her feet. She seemed to hover for an instant. Her eyes caught John's. And then she was gone. Her scream ended in a wet gurgle and then…nothing. It was a trap he'd seen before. Dig a hole, fill it with spikes, and then cover it and wait for your prey to step on it.
"Teyla!" John screamed.
"Teyla!" John gasped, his eyes flying open.
"I am here, John." Teyla soothed. She dipped the cloth in the tub of cool water, wrung it out and reapplied it to John's forehead. His eyes were open, but he didn't see. He glanced desperately around the room.
"Teyla. No," he moaned. He tossed his head from side to side. His breathing came in quick pants. His eyes slid closed.
John faltered. He had to go back. He had to go back for her.
"There's no time," Ronon said harshly. He grabbed John's tak vest and yanked him forward. "Run! Keep running."
The Stargate loomed ahead, its bright metal glinting like a mirage in the desert landscape.
"Dial the gate, Rodney!" Ronon yelled.
Rodney pounded his fingers into the symbols of the DHD. John and Ronon turned, strafing the desert behind them with cover fire. Halfway through entering Atlantis' address, the DHD sputtered and died.
"Something's wrong!" Rodney turned around. And then his entire body stiffened. Blood trickled from a hole in his forehead. He toppled to the ground.
"Rodney!" John howled.
"Rodney," John whimpered. "No. No no no no."
"Shhh…it's okay, John," Teyla gently placed her hand on John's chest. "You're dreaming. It's okay."
Ronon and John faced their pursuers, their weapons held resolutely in their hands. The men chasing them had stopped running. They walked slowly towards the two remaining 'Lantians. And then a man stepped forward that John recognized. Would never forget.
"I've been waiting a long time for this," Kolya said, his voice almost gentle.
John pumped the trigger on the weapon. It didn't respond. He looked at Ronon. Ronon held up his gun, aimed it at Kolya's head, and fired. The gun remained silent. Ronon stared at the gun, and then tossed it on the ground. He stared defiantly at the Genii warrior.
Kolya laughed. "I win." He raised his weapon and fired. Ronon went down without a sound. "And now it's just you and me, Colonel." Kolya smiled.
"No!" John shouted, sitting up in bed.
"John!" Teyla gripped both his shoulders. She stared firmly into his dazed hazel eyes. "Wake up. You're dreaming. Wake up!"
"Teyla?" John fell limply back against the pillows. He stared hopefully at Teyla. "I was dreaming?"
"You're suffering from fever," Teyla assured him. "You were having a nightmare."
"A nightmare. I was having a nightmare," John assured himself, his body finally beginning to relax. "Everyone's okay?"
"Everyone's okay," Teyla squeezed John's shoulder. "You need to rest, Colonel."
"I don't want to go back to sleep," John whispered, his stomach catching at the memory of seeing Teyla, Rodney and Ronon die.
Teyla nodded her understanding. She began to hum, an Athosian lullaby her mother sang to her when she was a child.
John fought to remain awake, but eventually his eyes drifted closed. Teyla settled herself more comfortably in her chair and continued to hum. John's lips moved wordlessly, his hands loosely gripped the blankets. He sighed, and then his hands relaxed on the bed.
"How's he doing lass?" Carson asked quietly, settling his hand on Teyla's shoulder.
"He had a nightmare, but he appears to be resting more comfortably now," Teyla observed, her worried eyes finding Carson's.
"We think we've found an antibiotic that might work on this particular bacteria," Carson scrubbed at his face. "We're about to administer it."
Just then, Joanne approached the bed, a small I.V. bag in her hand. Efficiently, she ran the antibiotic into one of John's lines.
"How quickly will it work?" Teyla asked.
"Hopefully very soon," Carson said tiredly.
"You should get some rest," Teyla said.
"So should you, lass," Carson smiled.
"I will," Teyla said quietly. "When John's doing a little better."
"Same here," Carson glanced at his patient's monitors, and satisfied John was doing as well as could be expected at the moment, returned to his office to examine John's latest test results.
John murmured again in his sleep. Teyla leaned forward, slipping her hand around her friend's and once again began to hum until the lines of tension on John's face evened out and he fell into a peaceful sleep.
He awoke to whispers. He vaguely remembered being moved to the scanner bed, but he was pretty sure he'd fallen asleep in the middle of the scan because he didn't remember being returned to his bed. Blearily he opened his eyes. He had to admit, he didn't feel so well. His joints hurt. His hands really hurt. His head ached. And he felt hot and sweaty.
"How are you doing, Colonel Sheppard?" Joanne asked, peering down at him with green eyes full of concern.
"Why'd you turn up the heat?" John complained, attempting to shove his blankets off.
"We didn't, Colonel," Joanne captured his hands, gently disentangling them from the covers. "Those cat bites got a wee bit infected and you've been fighting a fever since yesterday."
"Yesterday?" John asked in confusion.
"You've been a little out of it," Joanne smiled reassuringly down at her patient. "It's good to see you awake again.'
He cocked his head at his nurse and weakly teased, "Did you just say wee bit? I think someone's been hanging around Carson too much."
Joanne blushed prettily, and then slipped back into nurse mode. "I'm going to take your temperature, okay? It might feel a little cold," she said as she placed the tip of the thermometer into his ear.
He located the source of the whispers as he patiently waited for Joanne to remove the thermometer. Carson and Elizabeth stood at the far end of his bed. They both smiled at him, but Elizabeth hung back as Carson moved towards him.
"How are you feeling, lad?" Carson asked.
"Like crap," John replied honestly. "All this because of a few cat bites?"
"101," Joanne interjected, smiling brightly. "That's better, Colonel. You'd shot up to 104 six hours ago."
"Between the infection and the smoke inhalation, it did a number on your system, I'm afraid." Carson pulled his stethoscope from his jacket pocket. He fitted the device into his ears and slipped the bell of the instrument under John's scrub top. John breathed in and out upon command as Carson moved the instrument around John's chest. Joanne helped him to sit up so Carson could move the stethoscope to his back.
"Not bad," Carson smiled. "Your lungs are clearing from the smoke inhalation. Now we just have to get your fever to break and finish off this infection. You feel up to some company?"
"Sure," John said as Joanne helped him settle against the pile of pillows.
Carson waved over Elizabeth before moving aside to update John's chart.
"John," Elizabeth smiled as she approached the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"I'll be all right," John smiled wanly. "How are Sera and her mother?"
"They're both doing well. Carson sent a med team back to Sula to check on them. They wanted to give you their thanks, and Sera sends a special thank-you, from Belza," Elizabeth grinned.
"Stupid cat," John rolled his eyes.
"You sure fought hard enough to save it," Elizabeth observed quietly. "Other people wouldn't have bothered."
"No one deserves to die like that, not even a glorified rodent," John said softly. He cleared his throat. "Do we know how the fire started in the first place?"
"Apparently, they haven't quite worked out the bugs in using natural gas to power their cooking fires," Elizabeth explained. "We've added helping them make their stoves safer as a part of our trade agreement."
John nodded, his eyes suddenly feeling heavy.
"Rest John," Elizabeth said quietly. She stood next to his bed until she was sure he'd fallen asleep and then went in search of Carson to find out the results of John's latest tests.
John flexed his hands. It had been two weeks since he'd rescued Belza from the flames and he still bore the scars on his palms and forearms. He knew eventually they would fade, but like most scars, you could always see them if you knew where to look.
"So why exactly did you volunteer us for this mission?" John mock glared at Rodney. "I was hoping to never see this place again."
"Katie needs some more of the plant cuttings," Rodney faltered, his face turning red.
"Rodney and Katie sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G," John teased.
Ronon smirked while Teyla asked in bewilderment, "Why would you kiss Katie in a tree, Rodney?"
"I wouldn't…I didn't…" Rodney sputtered, his face turning an even deeper shade of red. "I hate you all," he scowled, attempting to walk faster to get ahead of his teammates, but the box banged against his hip and he couldn't maintain enough speed to keep ahead of his tormentors.
John laughed. "I'm just kidding, Rodney. Katie's cute. Good for you."
"I hear she likes you," Ronon added with a grin. "A lot."
Rodney paled, his throat working convulsively. He was spared from further verbal sparring when a small dark haired girl shot up the road towards them.
"John!" The child called. "Ronon!"
"Hi Sera!" John waved.
"They're rebuilding our house. See?" Sera pointed to where the a half a dozen men were banging hammers. Soon you wouldn't even know by looking that a terrible fire had raged through, bringing the previous house to its knees.
"Belza doesn't like the noise," Sera whispered. "She spends all her time hiding in the bushes. Would you like to pet her? I can get her for you."
"No!" John's shout stopped the girl in her tracks. "I wouldn't want to bother her," he hastily explained. "She's been through a lot."
Suddenly, though, a streak of dark fur shot out of the underbrush by the side of the road. Before John knew it, the cat was threading itself between his legs, nearly causing him to lose his balance.
"Crap," he yelped, struggling to stay on his feet without crushing the cat under his boots.
"Look, she likes you!" Sera crowed.
"She really really likes you," Ronon chuckled.
"You know, I'm sure we could talk Elizabeth into letting you have a pet. Maybe Belza has a sister," Rodney smirked.
"I hate cats," John moaned.
Belza plopped onto her back, rolling over to reveal her belly. Her dark eyes looked at John beguilingly.
Giving in, John dropped to his knees and ran his fingers through her soft fur.
"I think you have a new friend," Teyla smiled.
"I hate you," he told the cat sternly.
The cat just closed her eyes and purred.