At first Rodney thought he was dreaming.
He was staring into eyes so white they glowed in the stormy gloom. A cold wind was washing over him, numbing in its intensity. Fear filtered through the emotions clogging his mind, it tumbled over regret and fell through a web of panic. Rodney felt his gut clench in terror.
"Rodney." The whisper quiet word stirred the great beast, it blinked its milky eyes at him slowly, as if pondering, deciding. Sheppard spoke his name again, but he barely heard.
He was frozen, rooted to the spot. And then the beast lunged, reaching out with blade-like claws that glinted a rusty red in the dim light.
Someone screamed. Perhaps it was him, perhaps it was Sheppard.
He was on the ground, those claws were pinning his legs, kept him from moving an inch. He felt like a bug, in the seconds he was given to ponder such things. He felt like a bug pinned to a board with a label beneath reading; 'Meredith Rodney McKay.'
Hands scrambled at his shoulders, at his neck and arms, even as the sound of P-90 fire threatened to deafen him. He strained to look up but found his body oddly heavy and unwilling to obey. He felt his mouth work as he tried to speak.
Another scream, followed closely by the sound of Ronon's blaster, split the air.
The beast jerked, his claws tore at Rodney's legs.
Darkness coiled seductively at the edges of his awareness, trying to lure him into the false safety of unconsciousness.
He was being dragged, dragged over the muddy landscape like a sack of potatoes. He could no longer see the sloping tilt of buildings or trees. Only the turbulent sky and the soft edges of clouds that glowed where they hid the moon. He blinked up at them in vague annoyance.
Pain frothed and foamed through his blood, ice cold and acidic all at once. But he could not move, it was like trying to push against some great, immovable weight. He was numb, but not, because he could feel precisely where the beast's claws were wrapped around, and buried in, his legs.
"Miosini." He muttered vaguely, the word bubbles at his lips and tasted like copper.
And for the first time he realized what was actually happening, the Miosini, the monster the Ashire children had warned him about, had attacked him. And he was being….dragged into the deserted, muddy landscape like a skewered rabbit. It was going to eat him. It was going to rip his limbs off one by one. It was going to pull his innards out like sausages and eat him from the inside out.
Pain lanced up his spine, littering small darts of agony in its wake. Rodney gasped. He felt the slick slide of mud against his back, catching on the gun at his hip.
But even the thought of using the gun could not rouse enough strength and, even with possibility of freeing himself from the Miosini, he could not move.
There was a rushing sound in his ears, like standing under a waterfall. Was he going to drown?
Something that sounded vaguely like wasps skimming through the cold air brought his attention back to his surroundings. Movement had stopped, the claws retracted so quickly from his legs and the pain was immediate and sharp but no sound emerged from his parted lips. The taste of copper rolled down the back of his throat.
More P-90 fire. He wanted to cover his ears, he wanted to see the source. It sounded distant, but with increasing clarity until he thought those wasps might be right above him, bearing down as the Miosini was. He could see its massive head, snarling and roaring and the sodden ground shook with the force of it. The hair, course and rough against his skin, reeked of old blood and wet dog. He tried not to breathe in the stench but it rolled over his face with each breath the beast let out.
The Miosini shuddered as each bullet hit it, and Rodney swore it took almost two dozen before the beast actually began to wail in pain and anger and its legs started to quiver. If Rodney had been able, he would have rolled out of the way, or at least tried to scramble back. As it was, he could only lie there, silent, and watched through heavy lidded eyes as the Miosini gave one, last shriek that pierced his mind like a needle, before it collapsed.
All the air whooshed from his lungs and he wheezed. Now he could only see the darkness that was the creatures matted fur.
Hands, voices, he listened to the slide and cursing of people running through the sludge-like mud and waited patiently for them to reach where he lay, pinned. A shifting of the weight on his chest sent spurs of pain racing around his body, but he was coherent enough to be relieved when the weight was gone and he could breathe. At least, he could breathe a little easier.
Mud clad pants and boots slid into his line of vision, knees jolting his shoulder and arm as whoever it was leaned in close, icy fingers digging into his face and neck. Sheppard's worried expression made him want to laugh, he looked so anxious, but there were large gobs of mud covering him from head to foot, and he looked ridiculous.
Rodney's mouth worked as he tried, and failed, to voice his thoughts. Sheppard didn't seem to notice.
"Crap, McKay! I'm sorry! I should have been- Teyla, can you hand me…thanks." Something starkly white in the darkness was waved in front of his face and then pressed against his stomach, a mere gasp left his lips, when all he wanted to do was scream as the pressure was applied. He hadn't noticed his stomach had been hit, only his legs.
Because boy, did they hurt.
I'm fine, he wanted to say, I'm just cold. But the words would not form and he was left to lie there in growing panic as his three teammates moved around him, pressing and wrapping bandages to his unmoving limbs. He would have been embarrassed, had he the capability to feel anything other than panic and growing horror.
"Okay, it's Okay, McKay. We got you. Can you hear me? Say something!" Sheppard was whispering, almost too quietly to hear, and his voice was hoarse and dry. It sounded as if he should have been shouting, yelling, trying to speak loud enough for the entire, muddy planet to hear. But all that came out was a whisper.
Rodney stared up at him, willing Sheppard to understand what he was thinking, what he was trying to get across. But in the darkness, he realized, no one could see clearly enough. The pain flared throughout his body and Rodney felt his lids flutter. The only movement he could manage. He should have been writhing in agony.
"McKay?" Sheppard leaned in close, pressing even more heavily against the wounds on his stomach. "Please say something. McKay. I'm…shit, I'm sorry, buddy. I should've shot the damn thing straight away. No! No, no, don't close your eyes! Come on, wake up…"
But Sheppard's face had already grown fuzzy, the darkness creeping up to pervade the corners of his consciousness. He didn't realize his eyes were fully closed until the darkness was all he could see. Sheppard's voice faded out, sounding so distant and garbled that he was relieved when it finally grew too faint to hear. Movement jostled his body, the pain wracked him inside and out. And he couldn't move and he couldn't see and he was beginning to wonder whether he would ever open his eyes again.
Sheppard could feel the mud clinging to his boots, trying to suck him under as he, along with Teyla and Ronon, raced after the massive creature dragging McKay across the plain. The other two members of his team had been alerted by the gunfire and had immediately left the safety of the hall to see what the problem was. The Ashire leader had not been happy about them leaving, but goddamit, they couldn't just let McKay get eaten by some monster.
Sheppard raised his P-90 and fired, but the hits did not seem to slow the creature down. It roared in anger and sped up its pace.
Sheppard swore violently.
"Ronon!" He yelled, legs aching as he fought the mud.
There were several blasts that cleared the darkness and struck the haunches of the creature. Sheppard heart a yelp as Teyla slid and fell in the mud, but neither he nor Ronon paused to help her, too intent on keeping their own footing and firing to stop.
He fired several more shots at the beast, as did Ronon, and it stopped running. It whipped around, turning those luminescent, milky white eyes on them and it shrieked. It shrieked and the ground beneath them seemed to shudder.
Sheppard paused, aimed his P-90 again, and fired a half dozen more shots before the creature actually fell.
"Crap." He muttered, because he hadn't realized that it would fall on Rodney. Rodney who was so still in the darkness, barely seen between the great creatures front legs. The creature feel, obscuring him completely, and Sheppard darted over, not even checking to see if the creature was dead or not.
He pushed with all his might until the thing moved, heaving it off and over his friend and teammate, all the while muttering beneath his breath that every was going to be okay and that Rodney was fine and they'd all wake up and this crap wouldn't have happened.
Sheppard stumbled back, then fell forward onto his knees beside Rodney, jostling his teammate as he leaned over him anxiously. He could barely see, but what he could catch a glimpse off in the dark was mud, mud and a pair of pale blue eyes peering at him.
His fingers patted gently at Rodney's face before probing his neck, searching for a steady pulse where he found an erratic, irregular one. He felt his face crease in worry before he could stop it. Teyla was kneeling on the other side of Rodney as Ronon pushed the creature further out of the way and checked to see if it was really dead. Teyla's hands were searching Rodney for injuries, and when she touched his stomach, her hand came away dark.
Sheppard found his voice, then.
"Crap, McKay! I'm sorry! I should have been- Teyla, can you hand me…thanks." She already had the bandages in hand and passed them over.
A gasp flew from Rodney's lips as he pressed the bandages down, the first sound their friend had made. Sheppard leaned over him, trying to get a clear view of his face. Rodney's eyes were wide, mouth trembling as little, harsh puffs of air hissed between his teeth.
Sheppard wanted him to say something. He wanted those quick words and snappish retorts and he wanted that pained and panicked look gone from Rodney's eyes.
"Okay, it's Okay, McKay. We got you. Can you hear me? Say something!" He wanted to shout, but his voice was hoarse and he had to lean in to make sure Rodney heard it.
He watched Rodney's eyes flutter.
"McKay?" Sheppard could feel himself panicking. Waist deep in mud and his hands already stained dark with his friends blood. He knew he should pull it together, be the strong leader he was supposed to be. But he couldn't. Rodney was his best friend.
Rodney eyes drifted closed a strangled little sigh left his battered and muddy lips.
"Please say something. McKay. I'm…shit, I'm sorry, buddy. I should've shot the damn thing straight away. No! No, no, don't close your eyes! Come on, wake up, Buddy!" But he clearly wasn't going to, and it struck Sheppard suddenly, that they weren't out of danger yet. There could have been more of those creatures around, waiting, ready to pounce. And they wouldn't be any good to McKay dead.
Sheppard looked up at Ronon and Teyla, and it was almost as if they had the same thought at once. They jumped into motion. Teyla, her hands working quickly, secured bandages around Rodney's legs and around his stomach. Sheppard allowed himself a brief moment of consternation that he hadn't even asked where else Rodney had been injured. But he was already spinning, scanning the darkness with the light on his P-90 as Ronon swooped in to scoop the unconscious member of their team up.
They moved as a unit. Teyla in the lead, because she was quick on her feet and could run ahead to alert the Ashire people if need be. Ronon in the middle, Rodney held carefully over his shoulder, looking for all the world like a muddied corpse awaiting burial. And Sheppard took up with rear, walked almost backwards as he continued his sweep across the plain. He could almost feel the creatures out there, watching, but hesitant to move with the scent of their own kinds blood on the stormy wind.
And it was only then that Sheppard realized how cold it was. With the layer of mud now smothering him, dampening his clothes, all body heat was leeched from his skin and bone and he was left trembling in the wake of the adrenaline rush. He wondered how Teyla, so much slimmer than he, could walk so easily and without hindrance before them all. And then, he reasoned, he probably wasn't in the right frame of mind to be thinking at all.
"Teyla!" He called, pitching his voice to carry over the wind, "Run up and warn the Ashire that we'll need assistance!"Teyla nodded, and was off in an instant.
The darkness felt thicker and bitter with only he and Ronon and the silent form that was Rodney to keep each other company. By unspoken agreement, both of them hurried their pace.
By the time they were at the meeting hall, Teyla held the door open, allowing the pink light to filter out and illuminate the stormy night. The Ashire leader peered anxiously over Teyla's shoulder, but he said nothing as they pushed into the hall, said nothing as he caught sight of the slumped form of McKay over Ronon's shoulder. It made Sheppard a little angry, that this man and his people had not warned them of the danger, but he forced himself to push it aside as he pulled the heavy door shut behind him.
It was deathly silent in the hall, all eyes were on them, staring in that knowing, weary sort of way.
Sheppard stepped closer to the Ashire leader, trying to lessen the harsh lines of his face into something neutral and smooth. He suspected he failed.
"You have healers? I need healers!" And the other man stared at him wordlessly, again, Sheppard had that bubble of rage in the pit of his stomach and in his veins. Pulsing and burning. He turned away quickly, trying to tune in on what was going around him instead of his internal chaos.
"Teyla?" She was standing over Ronon as the tall man gently laid McKay's limp form onto a thin blanket instead of the dirt. Sheppard went over to them. "I don't know if anyone is going to help us, we need to contact Atlantis and get them to send Beckett."
But even as he said it, Sheppard knew they couldn't. The threat of the creatures lurking out there was still very real. And it was impossible to say that they could even make it to the Stargate before they were attacked….or eaten.
"Colonel…" Teyla was giving him a reproachful look.
"Yeah," he said, breathing out heavily and running a hand through his hair before he remembered it was still damp with McKay's blood. "I know, I know, we'll have to wait 'till those things are gone before we do anything."
His teammates nodded, they understood his reasons, they were all worried.
"I shall go and request assistance." Sheppard heard Teyla mutter, but was barely aware of her departure, he knelt down beside his friend.
McKay was pale beneath the mud, body slack and eyes rolling feverishly beneath closed lids. Sweat oozed down his face, leaving lines of white in the brown, but his body shivered and shuddered and even his lips quivered. Sheppard laid a trembling hand on his friend's brow, and frowned at the heat emanating from his skin. He shot a quick look at Ronon, the expression on the taller mans face told him he wasn't imagining it, Ronon had noticed it too.
"The little ones said something about the beast having poisonous claws." The taller man said.
"What? Oh, didn't Rodney say something like that as well?" Sheppard muttered distractedly. Ronon shrugged, he hadn't been listening.
Rodney wondered, not for the first time, whether he was dreaming.
Everything was sky. Surrounded by clouds and the smell of rain. He sat on one of those clouds, it was strangely tangible, and swung his feet idly in the open air.
"You know, the repercussions would be of monumental proportion." He said conversationally, because there was a bear sitting next to him.
It was not a big bear, perhaps a little taller than he was, as it, too, dangled its hairy feet over the edge of the bear huffed in response to Rodney's earlier statement.
"Yes, I don't doubt it would be fun. I'm not doubting that one bit. All I am saying, is that the journey is only the means to the destination. And the destination ain't looking too great."
They both peered over the edge of the cloud at the ground so far below.
"No," Rodney mused again, "Not so great."
The bear nodded its large head, and they sat in companionable , it must have been a dream. Because Rodney could think of no earthly means of sitting on a cloud with a reasonable bear by his side. Perhaps he was dead. And this was heaven. But, alas, if this was heaven, where was Sam Carter? If this was heaven, then surely it would be Sam sitting by his side and not this looked up at the hairy , to be fair, he did not mind his companion. It smelled like honey.
Rodney missed honey. He missed a lot of things from earth. And it made his heart just a little heavier to think about it.
The bear swiped Rodney over the back of the head with a heavy paw.
"Hey! What was that for?" Rodney growled, rubbing his now aching head.
The bear fixed him with a pointed stare.
"I know, I know. It doesn't bode well to dwell on the things we can't change." Rodney grumbled.
The clouds had shifted around them on a puff of wind.
"I best you muss honey, though, too, ey?"The bear relented with a nod, and its shoulders slumped forward a little.
They were so high off the ground. "How did we get up here, anyway?" Rodney pondered aloud. He didn't care if it was a dream, he liked logic.
The bear huffed. "No, I supposed it doesn't matter."
And then he air was thin this high up. And his head was still aching, but then, so was his chest, and his stomach, and his legs.
He wondered why, so suddenly, he felt as though his blood was made of fire. It was trying to burn him from the inside out.
The bear reached out one hairy paw to pull Rodney closer. He fell again the bear's side with another little breathless gasp. His face sank into the bear's soft fur. The cloying smell of honey wafted around him.
But the bear was soft and warm and kept him upright when he began to list to one side and his eyes fluttered closed and he went limp.
The bear patted his arm reassuringly. And then even that faded out.
When Rodney opened his eyes next, it was not to the cloudy sky and the bear.
Although the scent of honey remained, but it mingled thickly with the smell of fire smoke and of a coppery sweetness that made him want to gag.
He was shivering, cold, but the arms wrapped around him were warm and solid.
Rodney blinked at length, the fine web of darkness ebbed until a beautiful face, creased with worry and anger, came into focus. Teyla's hair was unbound and she was covered in mud. Rodney hoped it wasn't something he had done that had her looking so angry.
Over her shoulder, a hulking shadow slowly morphed into Ronon. He was arguing, by the looks of it, his mouth was moving and his hands were clenched into fists by his realized that Teyla's mouth, too, was moving. And he tried to tune into the usually soft timbre of her voice dipping up and down.
"…I am not even sure what this medicine will do, John! How can I use it when I do not trust it? "So it was Sheppard holding him upright. Out of the corner if his eye, Rodney could see two very dirty arms with black wristbands caked in mud.
"Do what you can, Teyla."Sheppard's voice sounded so close by, and Rodney flinched.
The movement eliciting a pained groan from his bloodied lips. Blurred movement.
"Rodney? Christ, Rodney, you had me worried!" Sheppard growled and the sound rumbled through his chest and against Rodney's back.
"S'rry?" He slurred. He felt confused, unsure. He couldn't remember why he was there, lying between Sheppard's legs with Teyla dabbing something sticky against the pain in his chest and stomach.
All he remembered was the bear, and the clouds.
"S'cold." He mumbled, turning to press his face into Sheppard's shoulder. The movement pulled at his chest. The pain was immediate and sharp, like someone was running a white hot blade over and over his skin.
He shouted out, fingers clenching in the dirt beneath him and his legs drawing up in an effort to curl up into a ball. Teyla pushed his legs back down and held them fast.
"McKay! McKay-Rodney! Jesus, calm down!" Sheppard was shouting in his ear.
But to Rodney it sounded so far away, distant beneath the rush of blood in his hear and the pain screaming through could feel each breath dragging a pained sound out of him. Blood flowed and oozed and dripped. He was crying, sobbing through clenched teeth. He wished Sheppard would make it stop. He wanted it to stop.
He whispered, "Sheppard." But it was too quiet to hear.
Down and down he fell, Sheppard's arms a phantom pressure around his middle and chest, his warm breath lost in the rushing of the strangely warm air.
Something warm and sticky and hairy ruffled the side of Rodney's face, and he opened his eyes to stare up, blearily, at the bear.
He found the shaggy beast standing over him, the sticky substance on his dark nose was honey, the smell of it made Rodney's stomach bear huffed a little sound, and leaned back on his haunches.
"Yes, you're quiet right. There's no use starving." Rodney muttered as he dragged himself to his feet, painfully aware of those phantom arms still around him.
He looked up at the sky, the clouds stretched thin from the wind and the sun beating down bear ambled away from Rodney and up the gentle slope to where a tree stood. It was so green, everything. The grass. The trees. Even the air tasted too clean and too real.
"Is this real?" Rodney asked of the bear. He had not followed the bear up the hill, and stood on the grass at the bottom of the rise, feeling the cool blades between his toes.
The bear spared him a glance, and a little, gentle snort, before it turned away and peered up at the tree. Or, more accurately, the beehive hanging from a branch in the tree. Rodney watched the bear reach up and try and grab it, try to swipe it down with its immense paws, and even jump a little. But it just wasn't tall enough.
Rodney loped up the incline. He paused when he reached the top, gasping a little and holding a hand hard to his chest. Pain flittered through skin and muscle and bone, a quick tangle of sensations that made him feel sick. But the feeling passed and he hurried to the bears side.
"You'll never reach it like that, trust me." He bear gave a gravelly sigh and sat back, looking dejected.
"I told you that you'd miss it when it was gone." Rodney prodded, feeling a little sad himself.
He gazed up at the beehive in contemplation.
"Maybe if you shook the tree?" he said. But doubtfully.
The bear looked at Rodney.
"Yes, yes, I suppose you'd have already tried that. But what about-" But Rodney was cut off when he gasped suddenly, and clutched at his chest. It felt like someone was ramming a blade into his chest, between his ribs and straight into his heart. He cried out, legs buckling and something warm and fluid rippled down his fingers.
He could taste that coppery flavor at the back of his throat.
Rodney collapsed to the green grass, except that it wasn't so green anymore. Everything had faded, the colors were dulled and he could no longer fell the warmth of the sky.
But the scent of honey remained. It always remained.
Cloying and sickly in his mouth and nose and throat.
Rodney opened his mouth wide and bear, not unkind, settled its great bulk beside him and sheltered him from the suddenly bitter rain that fell from turbulent clouds.
The bear huddled over him as Rodney screamed.
Sheppard clutched Rodney to his chest as Teyla worked on their wounded teammate's leg. He didn't want to see the damage, but he couldn't keep himself from looking. Teyla had blood on her hands, and he wondered if she noticed. She was so focused, her hands steady and practiced as she applied another bandage coated in the strange honey-like substance that had been given to them.
And Rodney was shivering, his whole body twitching and jerking as if he were in the bitterest of snow storms, and yet his skin was hot to touch. Too warm, sweat mingled with the blood and mud.
Sheppard shifted a little, trying to keep the circulation in his arm and legs. Rodney stilled, and Sheppard bit his lip, hoping he hadn't pained his friend any further.
Rodney's head wobbled from side to side, before his cheek came to rest on Sheppard's shoulder. A little, moaned sigh left his friend, and then he seemed to lose consciousness once more.
"How's he doing?" Ronon asked, and Sheppard watched the taller man fiddle with his blaster. He knew it must have been killing Ronon to just stand there and watch, just as it was Sheppard, but they both knew there was really nothing they could do. Not yet, anyway.
Ronon was standing guard, although Sheppard didn't really thing the Ashire people were any threat. He suspected Ronon was keeping an eye on the fire, waiting for the pink to return to yellow.
To Sheppard it felt like days. Sitting propped against the chilling wall of the hall with the too hot form of Rodney in front. A part of him wondered whether Rodney was even going to survive. Another part told him to shut the fuck up.
"Sheppard!" A firm hand shook his shoulder, and Sheppard realized he must have dozed off a little. Feeling guilty, he glanced up at Ronon, but found himself oddly transfixed by the large fire burning in the center of the hall. Burning yellow…
Teyla was already moving. Flurried movements to grab their gear and the stretcher the Ashire people had somehow managed to pull from somewhere. Sheppard nodded to Ronon and, carefully as he could, stood with Rodney still clutched to his chest. Ronon grabbed Rodney's feet and they both moved to lower him onto the stretcher.
"I hope you're friend survives." The Ashire leading spoke, appearing suddenly beside them. "Grave wounds. But I also hope this won't affect our trading plan, we can be great friends, our worlds!"
But they were already pushing away, and the Ashire Leader's words were lost in the grunts and shuffles as they moved through the hallway and out into the windy, frosty air. It was not yet sunrise, and without that warmth they were left shivering in the bitter cold.
Still in the village, they slipped and slid across the mud. Sheppard gritted his teeth and kept moving. Ronon was setting a brutal pace, but for once Sheppard was grateful. He only wished they could move long it took them, Sheppard didn't know. He could feel his pants dampening from the mud, his toes gone numb long ago. But they did not stop.
Rodney felt like he was lying in a boat. With the waves lapping gently at the sides.
He was weightless. He was floating. He was…he was…Rodney was screaming as the pain encompassed him, fiery shots of agony racing through each of his limbs and burning through his veins. He tried to claw as his skin but icy hands held him down. He fought, but he was weak, and the hands were so strong.
And yet he still floated, drifted, along. But faster. Bumpier. He wondered whether he was going to fall and drown. The thought panicked him, and he felt his lips move to form gibbering words, incoherent babble.
A hand touched his face. Pressing down on his forehead. Rodney tried to still and keep the hand there, but he couldn't. His throat burned and he couldn't breathe. He wanted it to go away. He wanted to be calm and quiet and painless.
There was a sound, and it was so achingly familiar, yet he couldn't place it, and felt so horrible for not being able to. Voices, garbled. A hand on his face again. The smell of dirt and honey and blood.
Rodney turned his head to the side, and opened his eyes.
The bear stood and watched as Rodney's feet disappeared into the swirling blue water. And then it waved, its great hairy paw catching the wind.
Rodney let out a little sob.