Don't be deceived by the title. There isn't much tenderness for John in this fic when wounded, he arrives on the wrong door step, setting off a chain of events he could never have imagined. Bad luck follows our hero as he takes another journey through the library. (Maybe someone should buy him a Kindle?!) Shep whump and team angst in this second tale of the library series. You don't need to read In The Nick Of Time first, but it does explain how the library works.
Warnings: Violence. I do explore some mature themes, but nothing graphic.
And thanks to my wonderful beta and great pal Sterenyk Strey. You really are an inspiration, pet.
The Tender Trap
John's heart was racing, tears mixing with the rain running down his face as he staggered, stumbling, into the dense forest. Dad's words were ringing in his ears. Be a man, Johnny boy. Don't let them see you cry. Never let them know how much they've hurt you. His assailants were out of sight, and he didn't think they knew about their lucky shot, but weakened by pain and exhaustion John couldn't stop himself. He hurt so much yet his tears weren't just because of his agony. Teyla. If she died, he could never forgive himself.
Night had fallen, although the storm had made the sky dark hours ago. With only the flashes of lightning to guide his way John could barely see where he was going. It didn't matter. As long as he could keep moving, give his team a chance to get Teyla home – then he was good. They could come for him later. He just hoped that later wouldn't be too late.
The fire in his shoulder grew hotter with every faltering step. John didn't need to see the dressing to know it was soaked, but not with rain. The bullet had gone straight through and he was bleeding out, but there was no time to stop and change the dressing. No time to rest. He didn't know how long he'd been running. Didn't know if he'd managed to shake the Semalaens or not. All he did know was that he needed to find shelter, soon. If he didn't, he was going to die.
Shrouded by darkness and deafened by the howling wind thrashing the trees, it was impossible to know if they were still on his tail. He hoped not. Only a fool or someone running for their life would be dumb enough to stay out in this storm. Still, they sure were angry. The worst part, John didn't know why. Lorne had done the initial recon, and hadn't flagged any problems. Their village needed help to defend against the Wraith. In return they'd offered a steady supply of fresh meat from the cow-like creatures grazing in the fields. John had tried a sample. It tasted pretty good. Like a cross between beef and turkey. All they'd come for was to seal the deal. Not long after they'd gone through the library, all hell had broken loose. Then Teyla got shot…
A flash of lightning blinded him just as a large branch was ripped off by the wind. It slammed into his chest, pushing him to the ground. John lay moaning, struggling to catch his breath as specks of light danced in front of his eyes. He tried to focus, but could barely think past the pain that seemed to encompass every part of his body. His head was pounding. A sharp stinging pain tore through his ribs, but it was his shoulder that screamed most of all. The blow was just what he didn't need. He'd already been struggling to keep going, but now he didn't think he could move. Yet he must. To stay put wasn't an option. To lie there was to admit defeat, and he wasn't a quitter.
The rain still poured, not caring who or what lay below. The thunder roared, the noise getting even louder as the wind whipped up, sending torn leaves and branches high into the air. His right arm was all but useless. John grunted as he used his left to push himself onto his knees. The world swam lazily and he listed to the side, unable to break his descent as he collapsed to the ground. He closed his eyes and forced back the nausea before he dared look again. John took a slow, steadying breath. He still felt queasy but the dizziness had gone, at least for now. With trembling fingers he touched the back of his head. It came away covered in blood. A concussion was just what he didn't need. This day really sucked big time and then some.
John tucked his right hand into the waistband of his pants. It wasn't ideal, but it helped stabilise the wound. He still had feeling in his arm which was good, but reckoned from the raw, searing pain ripping through the muscles, his clavicle had been fractured by the bullet. That wasn't good news, neither was the fact his P90 had flown off when he'd taken fire. At the time he'd hardly been able to cope with the gut-wrenching pain before he'd lurched behind a clump of bushes. It was a miracle they'd hadn't found him right there and then. He'd held his breath and waited until they'd passed. He'd barely taken time to press a dressing against the wound let alone look for his weapon before he escaped.
The branch that had hit him lay nearby. It was long, and looked strong enough to offer some support. He pushed it over with his foot and used it to clamber to his feet. The pain in his skull spiked, and his head swam, but John only took enough time for it to settle before he limped away.
Buffeted by the storm and weakened by injury, his remaining strength was fading fast. His adrenaline had taken him this far, but every shambling step forward was an exercise in endurance. John forced his trembling legs to put one foot in front of the other, but they were rubber. There wasn't much left in the tank. He needed to lie down soon, or gravity would soon do it for him.
He thought of Teyla. When they'd opened fire she'd dropped like a stone. His heart had filled with dread at the sight of all the blood pouring from the angry gouge in her scalp. For a moment he'd thought she was dead. John had slammed down on his knees to check her over. The weak, thready pulse was proof of life, and all he'd needed to make his decision. Rodney wasn't strong enough to carry her, but he'd ordered him to lay down fire so that Ronon could take her home. From the anxious expressions on his friends' faces, John knew they hadn't been thrilled at the idea, and neither was he. When he'd taken fire not long after, he'd been even less keen. The diversionary tactic had turned into a battle of survival. But he'd make it. All he needed was to stay alive long enough for the storm to pass, then they'd come and get him…
He was drenched. The cold, soggy clothes sticking to his skin only added to his misery, as his hair, flattened by the persistent downpour, dripped water into his eyes obscuring the way ahead. Another flash illuminated the sky but there was something else too. John tried not to get his hopes up, but he was almost sure he saw another light not far ahead. It was indistinct and muted in comparison to the fireworks going on above him, but John ignored everything, and with renewed strength homed in on his route to salvation.
The forest gave way to a clearing, and lying amongst it squatted a single cottage. It was small, little more than a shed, but there were curtains in the windows, and the flickering light within hinted at someone being home. A moment's uncertainty made him stop just short of the door. He didn't know who stayed there. If it was one of the Semalaens they might just kill him on sight. Then again if he didn't get shelter soon, the outcome would be redundant.
John edged up to the window, cursing himself as he stumbled and fell against it. He drew back quickly, his heart hammering against his chest while his foggy brain tried to decide what to do. When no one appeared at the door, he dared to peek inside. He saw a woman tending the log fire. She was young, pretty and had long curly red hair that bobbed around her shoulders. There was something else too. She was heavily pregnant. John didn't want to scare her, but then he didn't want to die either. Self preservation kicked in, and after a moment's hesitation he knocked on the door.
His mouth suddenly went dry as he wondered what he would say. He didn't have much time to think about it when the sound of creaking wood signalled it was opening.
"Hi…can I come in? I need a little -"
The barrel of a rifle prodded him in the chest and he bit his lip to hold back a groan. The girl stared at him, her piercing blue eyes raking him up and down. "So I see. Tell me, mister. How about I kill you now? Put you out of your misery?"
Richard Woolsey barely recognised the still, silent woman lying on the bed. The Athosian was such an elegant woman. Teyla's movements were always fluid and full of grace.
Her warm smile was frozen into a thin line. The glow from her skin had paled, almost to the point of being translucent. The white dressing covering her wound dwarfed her delicate features, but given the amount of blood he'd seen when she'd first arrived, wasn't as large as he'd expected. He hoped that was a good sign.
"What's the hold up?" Rodney hovered about, glancing anxiously at his team mate over Ronon's shoulder. "How is she, Carson?"
The Scot paused from writing something in the chart, and looked up. "The lassie's taken a nasty blow to the head but there isn't a fracture, and I can't see any sign of bleeding, thank God." He muttered the last comment under his breath as he glanced down at his patient and smiled. "I'm glad I didn't have to cut that pretty head open, or take off any of that lovely hair to repair the damage."
"So…what's the story? Why hasn't she woken up then, Carson?" Rodney asked with fear in his eyes.
Richard saw something else too, despair. He knew why. They'd left Sheppard behind. When they'd run through the 'gate with Ronon carrying Teyla in his arms, the two men had wanted to return at once. He understood, and wanted to give the go ahead to mount a rescue, but he erred on the side of caution. As usual and much to his chagrin, the MALP revealed that the Semalaens welcoming party had left, but now the storm had turned into a gale. Despite Major Lorne's assertion that a jumper might be able to handle the weather, reluctantly he'd forbidden a rescue attempt until it had died down. It was the might that did it. Richard wasn't prepared to take a risk on anyone's lives. He didn't think Sheppard would want that either.
"Yeah, doc…what's the deal? Teyla's been out for hours." Ronon turned to Carson, nearly knocking Richard over in the process.
He frowned, and bit back a retort. The Satedan was worried about John, and angry at him for postponing the rescue. Richard understood, but Ronon failed to realize that he was just as worried.
Carson put the chart back at the end of the bed, pulled round the screens, and quietly motioned for them to go into his office. Inside he offered everyone a coffee before pouring out one for himself and sitting down. "Head trauma is a tricky business, Ronon. Given how things could have turned out, Teyla has been lucky. Nevertheless she still has a serious concussion, and right now all we can do is monitor the situation. Hopefully she'll show signs of waking up soon. In the meantime talk to her, hold her hand. Research shows gentle stimulation is often successful."
Ronon flushed, and looked awkward as he peered through the open doorway in the direction where Teyla was lying "I…I'm no good at that stuff. With Sheppard, I just sit there." His eyes flashed with rage. "That's where I should be - searching. He must be hurt, otherwise he'd be back by now."
It was the most he'd ever heard from the Satedan and sadly, Richard knew he was right. The worried glances that followed the uneasy silence confirmed everyone shared the same opinion.
"Ronon's right, something must have gone wrong." Rodney rubbed his hand over his hair, almost yanking it back. He turned on his heel, and started for the door. "I'm going to send the MALP out again…"
Richard called him back. "Dr McKay…the latest results came back less than fifteen minutes ago. I very much doubt there will have been much change since then."
Rodney's face flushed with anger. "Let me get this straight – you want me to stop trying? Sheppard is probably lying hurt in the Semalaens rat-infested jail, or worse…dead. I know you've not been in Pegasus long, Woolsey, but you can take it from me. The natives in most of these dead- beat planets don't follow any version of the Geneva Convention I know!"
Carson looked sympathetic as the two team members glared at him, but while Richard appreciated the sentiment, the doctor needn't have worried. During his years as a diplomat he'd been harangued by experts. The two upset team members didn't come close. He let the insulting use of his second name slide, but refused to back down.
When he spoke next it was in a slow but determined voice that didn't brook any argument. "I want Colonel Sheppard back just as much as you do, but not at the expense of others. I surmise that he sent you through the 'gate without him because Teyla was wounded, and to make sure you were safe. Think about it, gentlemen, Colonel Sheppard wouldn't want anyone…especially not his team to needlessly risk their lives in a rescue that was doomed to fail."
"He wouldn't want to be left behind either…" Ronon grunted.
"And he won't be." Richard rounded on him. He had to look up a long way to lock eyes with the large man, but didn't flinch under his stare. "Lorne is ready to leave as soon as the storm starts to recede. We will bring him back, Ronon. If I've learned one thing since coming here it's that we don't leave our own behind.…"
John could understand the hostile reception. A young, pregnant girl living alone was bound to be afraid of a male stranger coming to her door at night in the middle of a storm. Except it was hate in her eyes, not fear. And by the look of the way she was holding the gun, this kid knew how to defend herself.
He was hastily reconsidering his decision and starting to back out, when his legs collapsed underneath him. John pitched forward and yelped as his wounded shoulder hit the floor. For a long moment he could only lie there groaning, as the face in front of him wavered in and out.
"Damn you, stranger! You can stay the night, but that's it. Tomorrow I want you gone." The young woman glowered at him. She made no move to help, and kept the weapon trained on his head as she went back into the room.
John scrubbed a trembling hand over his face, and tried to gather his thoughts. Normally he had no problem talking to pretty girls, but his aching, fuzzy head had robbed him of his usual charm. "Thanks…I'll leave at first light." His was surprised his voice came out cracked. Then again he sounded just how he felt – weak.
The girl eased into a worn, padded chair by the fire and rested her free hand on her protruding belly. He wasn't a medic but by his reckoning she was due to give birth any day. John wondered where Mr Bad Attitude was. Or maybe the guy had run to the hills by now. He wouldn't have blamed him.
"If you're staying – get in. I didn't spend all day cutting logs for you to let the heat out."
His strength was fading fast, and John didn't even try to get to his feet. Gritting his teeth he rolled onto his good side, and using his left arm to take his weight started hauling his sorry ass towards the fireplace.
"Shut the door…"
A snarky comeback was on the tip of his tongue, but it didn't pay to piss off the lady with the gun - especially not in his situation. It didn't stop him rolling his eyes as he kicked the wooden door closed with his foot. The motion sent pain lancing up his body through his shoulder. His breath hitched, and he waited for the red mist to clear before he resumed his short, painful journey.
The warmth radiating from the fire felt good, but it wasn't enough to stop the shiver that wracked his body.
"Take your clothes off."
John narrowed his eyes at the woman staring at him. She wasn't fazed in the least, and her expression didn't change. There was no intent there, or even a spark of humor. He unexpectedly found himself missing Larrin. She was one tough woman, but a good kind of tough. He hadn't heard from her in quite a while. John hoped his favourite Traveller was okay, and that she thought of him sometimes.
"I can guess what you're thinking in that messy-looking head of yours, but you can relax. You're soaked through. I don't want you dying on me…that's all." She winced slightly as she squirmed in the chair. "I'm in no condition to dig a grave in my condition."
John wasn't comfortable stripping in front of a woman, at least one he didn't know. She was right though. He needed to get out of his wet clothes, and tend to his wound. Nevertheless it was disconcerting, so John decided to risk a few pleasantries.
"My name's John. Lt Colonel John Sheppard. I came here with my team, but the people we came to meet, the Semalaens, suddenly took a dislike to us…I don't suppose you know why?"
His hands were skaking, and he was fumbling, trying to take off his vest one handed. The girl sat back content to watch him struggle. Her pretty mouth twisted when it turned into a sneer. "Well…John, let's just say if I'd thought you were one of those scum you wouldn't be sitting here now."
His tac vest fell onto the wooden floor with a thud. It was a relief to get the weight off his shoulder, but now the raw ragged wound throbbed in earnest. The pressure of the vest had helped control the bleeding. With it gone, fresh blood started to flow. His breath hitched as he tried to ease off the soaked dressing. John gasped as it pulled where the blood had dried, and stuck to his skin. The room started to sway, so he did the only think he could to distract himself, talk.
"So, what's your name?"
When the silence started to become uncomfortable, for a moment he thought she wasn't going to answer the simple question.
"My name is Camista, I'm a sister of the Vergonan tribe."
While the girl was talking, John reached for his discarded vest, and pulled out a fresh dressing. It was useless, drenched by the rain. There was nothing else to hand, and as the hostess without the mostess wasn't offering any assistance, there was no option but to place the sodden bandage against the torn bloody flesh. His jaw clenched in pain and he gasped as a sharp, fiery pain ripped away the last of his strength.
"I'm sorry, Camista…but I think I...I..." he wheezed, "need to pass out now…"
I hoped you enjoyed the start, and please review. I'd love to know what you think of the story so far.