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Stargate Atlantis: Ordo ad Fratres Faciendum by Friendshipper (1/2)
Winter Sunlight
sholio wrote in family_haven
Title: Ordo ad Fratres Faciendum
Author: sholio
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
For: water_soter
Prompt: A mission gone wrong. Protective Ronon, h/c, Rodney helping, major points for pathos and injuries to both.
Main Character(s): all four team members, with a slight emphasis on Ronon and Rodney
Genre: friendship, action/adventure
Word Count: 20,800
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: one torture scene
Summary: A jumper crash separates the team on a wilderness planet, and they aren't alone. Late season five, somewhere before "Brainstorm"; mostly gen with background references to past Ronon/Keller, pre-Rodney/Keller, implied Teyla/Kanaan.
Author's Notes: "Ordo ad Fratres Faciendum" translates (roughtly) to "order of brother making"; it was a sort of blood brotherhood rite in the pre-modern Catholic Church.





"Well, guys," John said, spreading his arms with a flourish, "welcome to Operation Find That Energy Signature."

As introduced by his Vanna White impression, the scenery was gorgeous -- a long glacial lake, with snow-capped mountains reflected in its still waters. Pine trees, or the Pegasus equivalent, marched to its shores, and there were wildflowers everywhere: yellow and orange and a striking shade of purple, dotting the ground under the trees and growing waist-high along the lakeshore.

His team remained unimpressed.

"Don't you mean Operation: Bugs, Mud and Sleeping on the Ground?" This from Rodney, of course.

"In which piece of our luggage did you pack the towels?" Teyla asked. Torren had recently begun demonstrating an unfortunate tendency to get jumper-sick. He had demonstrated it repeatedly, in fact, on the flight down from the spacegate.

"I'm hungry," Ronon said.

"How can you possibly be hungry after the Exorcist re-enactment," Rodney protested, pointing to Teyla, who had placed a fussy Torren on a patch of grass while she tried to clean up the baby and herself with a handful of Kleenex. Her patience wearing thin, Teyla frowned up at him.

"If you are not going to be otherwise helpful, Rodney, bring me a towel."

"Guys," John said. "Look around you. Fresh mountain air, lake full of fish -- perfectly edible, according to the biologists, as long as we avoid the red ones -- and an entire, virtually unexplored planet with odd energy signatures. What could be better?"

Rodney snorted from somewhere in the jumper's cargo hold. "The energy signatures are according to Xing's survey, and he's an idiot. I also hear there are dinosaurs, which, okay, cool, but not up close."

"Small dinosaurs," John said, holding a hand about two feet off the ground. "Nothing on the entire planet bigger than a dog."

"According to the biologists." Rodney stuck his head and upper body out the back of the jumper, so that he could gesture to punctuate his words. "Why, pray tell, are we doing this? You do know we have more than one team on Atlantis, right?"

"Because I'm your team leader and I said so."

"Rodney," Teyla said, efficiently stripping Torren while he squirmed, "if you do not bring me a towel soon, I will need two towels."

"Towel. Right." He disappeared back into the jumper.

"You said there are fish?" Ronon asked.

"Sure, knock yourself out." John raised his voice. "Rodney, while you're in there, break out the fishing poles."

"Don't need a pole." Ronon stripped off his shirt as he strolled towards the water's edge.

"Some of those fish have teeth!" John called after him.

"So do I," Ronon called back.

"Remember not to eat the red ones!"


******



One of the perks of command was, every so often, picking out a cherry assignment. John didn't abuse it, but he made sure that all the other teams got a mix of pleasant assignments along with the weird, uncertain or dangerous ones, and it was only fair that his team get the same opportunities for downtime on relatively safe and relaxing worlds -- vacations, Pegasus style.

And this was almost, but not entirely, a vacation. Sure, there was a little work to be done, but John planned to do plenty of relaxing in the next two days, in between checking out the energy signature (and also checking in with Atlantis every twelve hours, because, hey, unexplored spacegate planet with weird energy readings; he wasn't stupid).

And also, he wanted to observe his team while they were relatively relaxed. Especially Rodney and Ronon.

For his first couple of years on Atlantis, John had never paid much attention to how his team related to each other off-duty. Or, for that matter, cared. His responsibility was making sure they worked together well in the field; if they liked each other or hated each other, it wasn't any of his business as long as they got the job done.

He wasn't sure when he'd started paying attention to it. Partly, it was just that the more experience he had as a manager and full-time commanding officer, the more he'd noticed that off-duty behavior tended to affect the way people behaved in the field. And more than that, when it came to his own team, it, well ... mattered.

And Ronon and Rodney weren't getting along. Worse than usual. John figured that if even he was able to pick up on it, then things must be pretty bad. They'd never been the best of friends, but John was pretty sure that there was genuine affection underlying the sniping and glowering and general friendly(ish) antagonism. Or there used to be. Now he wasn't sure anymore -- he couldn't decide if the sharper edge that he'd noticed lately was an actual change, or if it was just that he was becoming attuned enough to pick up on more nuance.

A lot of things had changed in the last couple of years, between all the deaths and that thing with Teyla's people and that other thing with Teyla's baby and just all the ... stuff. There had been some fights. Some rifts. But in most cases, they'd struggled through all the messes and come out with a deeper understanding and trust in each other.

Not in this case, though. The frustrating thing was that he hadn't noticed anything going specifically wrong -- not like him and Teyla and the pregnancy thing, or him and Rodney and the Doranda thing. It made him question his confidence in his own insight, which was shaky enough to begin with. But it was his team, damn it. He owed it to them to try to figure out what, if anything, was wrong, and fix it if he could.

After one particularly contentious mission he had cornered Ronon in the locker room. "Look," John said. "You know I hate talking about this, uh, stuff as much as you do."

Ronon raised an eyebrow. "What kind of stuff? You mean sex?"

John was pretty sure Ronon did this sort of thing on purpose just to mess with him. He could feel his ears turning red. "Can we stick to the point?"

"Be easier if you'd tell me what the point was."

John took a deep breath and started over. "I wanted to talk about you and Rodney."

"I'm not having sex with Rodney. And the way your military works, I'm pretty sure I couldn't tell you if I was. Are we done?"

Aargh. "Look, I can see there's some kind of, uh, thing," John said, and raised a hand quickly to forestall any more "helpful" comments. "Whoa, whoa, not that kind of a thing. I'm doing this badly. Give me a minute."

Ronon crossed his arms and waited.

Eventually John got his thoughts together. "Listen, seriously, I can see there's some kind of problem with you and Rodney. I don't really care what it is, but I need you to work it out on your own time, not team time. I can arrange meetings with Heighm -- with Krantz if you want." Damn it, even after a year and a half, he still kept doing that. It didn't help that the base went through counselors so fast that he'd heard rumors around the SGC that the position was cursed.

Ronon's face went blank -- well, blanker than usual. "There isn't any problem," he said. "And I don't need an appointment. Are we done?"

"Uh. I guess so."

As Ronon walked away, John wondered if that had been too easy. He tried feeling Rodney out on the subject later. "So. You and Ronon."

Rodney looked up from the video game console. "Wow, subtle."

"Are you guys, uh ..." John gestured with the game controller. He wasn't sure whether to finish with okay or fighting or capable of working together or what, so he just let it trail off into silence, though when Rodney's eyes went wide John realized that he might ought to have been a little more specific.

"We're not sleeping together, Sheppard."

"I didn't think you were!" Although it would, come to think of it, explain a few things.

"Not now and not ever," Rodney added, squinting at him. "Why? Are you wondering if he's avail--" Then his attention jerked back to the screen. "Hey! Not fair!"

John had shot his character while he was distracted. This seemed to effectively head off any further conversational awkwardness.

He wasn't sure if things actually got better, but both of them seemed to make more of an effort after that, mostly by not talking to each other. This did not strike John as a great improvement for purposes of team cohesion, but it wasn't like he could prove that there was something wrong. He tried asking Teyla about it, one late night in the mess hall when she was up with Torren and he had some paperwork to finish. She was a lot better at these things than he was, after all.

"Do you notice anything, uh, weird about Ronon and Rodney lately?"

Teyla gave him one of those looks that was similar to Nancy's You're being an idiot, John look, although much more affectionate. "Do you mean other than the situation with Dr. Keller?" she asked after a moment.

"What situation with Dr. Keller?"

"John," Teyla said after another pause, "if you have an issue with Ronon and Rodney, you should probably ask them, not me."

So much for Teyla being any help.

And so he put in a request for the M83-F98 survey. At the very least, it'd be a couple of days away from Atlantis. Whatever the heck might be going on with his team, a couple of days to kick back and relate to each other under relaxed circumstances couldn't hurt.

... or so he hoped, anyway. It'd be just like the Wraith or whatever Replicators were still running around out there to show up and throw a monkey wrench in the works, but the planet was an uninhabited spacegate world in an extremely backwater part of the galaxy; there was no reason for anyone to come looking for trouble. Not that this had stopped anyone in the past, but he was pretty sure that he'd planned for all eventualities. They'd check in with Atlantis at regular intervals, and they had survival gear for two weeks in the jumper. He kinda wished he'd been able to talk Teyla into leaving Torren with Kanaan, but Teyla pointed out that she couldn't leave Torren overnight, since he was still nursing. "Although," she mused, "perhaps I could bring the breast pump that Dr. Keller gave me --"

"Torren it is, then," John said hastily.

And so, here they were, all five of them.


******



Rodney brought Teyla her towel and the duffle with Torren's clothes in it, then headed back into the jumper to get his equipment together, before she could suggest that he help with cleanup. Ronon appeared a moment later, grabbed one of the bags full of pointy things that he'd insisted on bringing, then vanished again without saying anything or looking in Rodney's direction.

Rodney stared after him for a moment. Something felt tight around his chest region. Mostly irritation, he decided. Maybe a little bit of hunger too. He munched on a granola bar while he hooked up his laptop to the Ancient data relay and ran the scanners through a quick calibration.

John appeared a moment later, reached for the bag with the tent, and blinked at him.

"What are you doing?"

"Working, hello?"

"Rodney, vacation, hello?"

"Energy readings!" Rodney said, waving his arm at the mountains outside the jumper's windshield.

"At least stick around for lunch. Ronon's catching us a fish."

The uncomfortable feeling in Rodney's chest squeezed a little tighter. It did that around Ronon a lot lately. Maybe, if he probed deeper, there was a bit of guilt in it, and more than a little anger. "I'm eating right now," he said, and stuffed the rest of the granola bar into his mouth.

John hooked a hand in Rodney's vest and propelled him towards the jumper's hatch. Rodney reached to unhook his laptop but was dragged away from it.

"Rodney, those energy readings have been there for thousands of years; they're not going anywhere. Go chill with Teyla and at least pretend to relax. That's an order."

"Yes, sir, General Patton, sir," Rodney muttered, and sulked down the jumper's ramp.

However, Torren was clean and somewhat distracting, what with the squealing and wiggling and all. By the time that John and Ronon came back with a couple of long spiny fish -- more like eels, really -- Rodney and Teyla had a fire going, and Torren was babbling cheerfully in Teyla's lap.

"Now what, O Scout Leader?" Rodney demanded. Ronon glanced up from gutting the fish. It wasn't an especially friendly look.

"Now," John said, "we chill. Where's the cooler? There's beer in there. And Coke from the last Daedalus run."

"I'll get it," Ronon said, and jumped to his feet before Rodney could volunteer and, incidentally, grab his laptop.

Rodney eyed the fish nervously as John picked up the gutted carcasses. "Are you sure those aren't going to poison us?"

"Biologists said everything here is totally compatible with Earth life." John slung a grill on the fire and began to arrange the fish on it. "They even took some samples of the water from another of these lakes and cleared it for human consumption. Better than Evian. Hand me the lemon pepper and the tasit."

"That's not saying much," Rodney said, passing over the bottle of Earth spice and the little cloth packet of spices from P34. "These are going to take forever to cook. How about I just take a quick jaunt over to the mountains and back. It won't take five minutes."

John rolled his eyes, but the corners of his lips quirked up. "What say, half an hour? Can you be back by then? And most importantly, will that shut you up?"

Rodney brightened. "Really? Sure, fine, whatever." He scrambled to his feet, brushing dirt and twigs off his pants.

"Hold on there; I need a couple favors if you're going up."

"Figures," Rodney said, tapping his foot. "Let me guess: check in with Atlantis?"

"Exactly." They needed altitude to dial the spacegate; the range on the jumper's DHD was not sufficient to do it from the planet. "Let them know we've set up camp, no problems, and we'll check in again tomorrow morning. If they don't hear from us --"

"Scramble a rescue, roger that, Captain Cautious. Anything else?"

"Before you check in, run a quick recon over the area. Scan for large life forms and do a visual surface check as well. Then call Atlantis."

"Would you like a quart of milk while I'm out?" Rodney asked in a tone heavy with sarcasm. "How about a fully charged ZPM?" He turned towards the jumper and almost bumped into Ronon, coming back with the cooler. Probably getting in the way on purpose, but whatever; he could be the bigger man in this situation. "Out of the way, speed bump; I'm in a hurry." Well, maybe not.

"Whoa, wait, did I say you could leave yet?" John said. "This is an alien planet; no one goes anywhere alone. Ronon, go with Rodney, make sure he's back in thirty."

Ronon almost dropped the cooler, then set it down. "In the jumper?"

"Unless you'd rather walk."

Ronon shot him an annoyed look. For once, Rodney thought, the two of them were in agreement. "Wait, what? I don't need a babysitter!"

"Alien planet, Rodney. Don't make me quote procedure at you."

Rodney glared at him, but subsided, because he was right, damn it. "Just don't eat all the fish while we're gone."

At John's insistence, they went ahead and unloaded the rest of the gear first -- "This way Teyla and I can get the campsite set up," John remarked. At the moment he was holding a box full of DVDs. Rodney managed to suppress a snide comment about roughing it, because he was pretty sure he'd seen the new season of Doctor Who in there, and if John had managed to wrestle it away from the scientists, he wasn't going to complain.

"Can we go?" Ronon said.

John looked past Rodney at Ronon, like he wanted to say something, then said, "Remember, half an hour," and left.

Ronon had already settled into the shotgun seat. Rodney ran over a quick flight check and lifted off -- getting pretty good at it too, if he did say so himself, but Ronon said nothing, just gazed out at the distant mountains dropping away beneath them.

So that's how it was going to be, then.


******



The jumper's blocky shape circled the campsite. Teyla waved and held up Torren's pudgy arm to wave, too. "Puddlejumper," she said hopefully, but Torren just squealed and waved his arms and legs around, accidentally kicking her in the stomach.

"His first word's not going to be puddlejumper," John said, returning to the campsite and setting down the load of bundles in his arms. "That's quite a mouthful for a little guy like that."

"Mine was tuttleroot," Teyla said. "Or so Charin claimed."

The jumper executed another wide sweep around the campsite, like the world's least aerodynamic bird. Then the radio base receiver crackled. "The biggest wildlife headed your way is a flock of pigeon-like things," Rodney's voice said. "Also, Atlantis says hi. Does my half-hour start now, or did I just lose three and a half minutes doing your job?"

Teyla smiled at John; he winked at her. "Not only that, but you lose five minutes for complaining," John said into the receiver.

Even small and tinny through the microphone, Rodney's annoyance was very loudly audible. "Sheppard!"

"Joking. Yeah, your half-hour starts now. We'll have the fish on the table when you get back."

The jumper flew over the campsite, waggled its drive pods like a pilot dipping his wings -- "Show-off," John muttered -- and then dwindled towards the mountains.

John poked the fire with a stick and checked the fish. "You said you saw some edible plants around? A salad would go real nice with these bad boys."

Teyla pulled out her baby sling from Torren's bag, a long swatch of decoratively woven red and gold fabric, and slung him at her hip. "Yes, there are marsh root and pogos-hair at the edge of the water, and I saw some four-finger on my way back to the campsite."

John cracked open a beer and picked up a small plastic bucket. "Let's assume I understood anything you just said, and go get ourselves some salad."

John had, Teyla thought, chosen a pretty spot for their campout. The mountains came right down to the edge of the lake, several miles distant. The day was so clear and still that the reflection barely shimmered; it was like a second mountain range extended downward into the sky beneath their feet. The jumper, a tiny speck, flickered in and out of her view, circling like a distant bird of prey above the lower ridges of the nearest mountain.


******



The view from the jumper was pretty nice, Ronon had to admit. They were flying at about 2000 stad according to the Ancestor numbers on the readout, which he translated in his head into Satedan and then Earth measurements -- about 1200 feet according to the measurements that John's people used. The mountains soared above and below them, filling the view screen. The height readout began to tick upward -- 3000 stad, 4000, 5000 -- as Rodney took them up over the mountains' flanks.

Ronon found himself wishing, not for the first time, that he wasn't denied access to the jumpers by an accident of genetics. He didn't want it enough to let Atlantis's scientists mess around with his DNA, but it would be a neat thing to be able to touch the controls and have it respond to him. He'd ridden firecats once at a family friend's ranch, long ago, and he imagined it would be like that. He could still remember the way the sensitive animal had responded to his lightest touch, turning like an extension of himself.

Even without being able to feel it, though, he could tell the difference in the way Rodney flew. Under John's hands, the jumper was a delicate living instrument. Rodney flew it more like a machine: competent, but not graceful.

"You're staring at me," Rodney said, giving him a nervous look.

Actually, he'd been watching Rodney's hands on the dashboard. There wasn't really anything to say, so Ronon didn't answer, just returned his gaze to the view out the screen. Rodney had brought them around in a big circle. The lake where they'd camped was visible below them. At least, he thought it was the same lake; there were a number of long narrow lakes in the area, all running in the same direction. Glacial striations, Ronon thought. He'd studied geology at the academy, thought for a while he might go into that field, but then the war broke out.

"I got it for a minute, but lost it again. Xing thought it might have been the jumper's own instruments being mirrored by some kind of magnetic ore deposit." Rodney seemed to be talking to himself. As he talked, he brought the jumper down in a slow arc, the altitude numbers ticking downwards again. Descending with the mountains on three sides and the valley stretching below made Ronon even more acutely aware of the mountains' size.

"-- listening to me?" Rodney was looking at him again.

As if it made any difference. "Didn't realize you were talking to me."

"Do you see anyone else in here?"

Ronon made a conscious effort to push his irritation away. It was never far from the surface when he was around Rodney -- the man just had a way about him that would try the patients of a priest -- but lately he'd had to struggle hard to keep it under control. It was just more comfortable not to be near Rodney at all, if he could help it.

"I'm listening," he said.

"No you're not."

Ronon stared at him in open disbelief. "What do you want from me, McKay?"

"What are you going on about?" Rodney said, looking completely baffled. Then his gaze was drawn back to to the dashboard. "Aha!" he said. "That was a power spike, and I don't think it's just mirroring, no matter what Xing says. Clearly the man doesn't know what he's talking about; he only has one PhD, after all, and I happen to know he did most of his grad work at --"

"Do you ever get tired of putting people down?" Ronon asked. It was an honest question, and one that had been simmering underneath the surface for a long time, but Rodney just gaped at him, his thought-car completely thrown off its tracks.

"What?"

Rodney was still staring at him when, a second later, the jumper lost power totally, and plummeted from the sky.


******



John and Teyla were both looking in its general direction when the jumper fell out of the sky like a rock.

Teyla's heart seemed to jump and lodge somewhere between her chest and her mouth. The jumper vanished behind the nearest ridge, its momentum carrying it forward at a steep angle. She strained her ears for a sound of impact and thought she caught something, like a door being kicked at a great distance, but she wasn't sure.

She turned to look at John. His face was chalk-white.

"Radio," John muttered, and tore back towards the campsite. It took Teyla a moment to get Torren situated in his sling. By the time she arrived on John's heels, he was speaking urgently into the base radio. "McKay, Ronon, come in. Come in, damn it." His voice cracked.

Torren, picking up on Teyla's mood, began to fuss. She soothed him automatically with one hand, petting his little body and tucking a finger into his mouth, while scrabbling with her other hand among their supplies for the backpack-style baby carrier that Jeannie had shipped to her from Earth.

John cursed softly under his breath as he shrugged into his tac vest. "The first aid kit, Teyla, where is it?"

"It was in the jumper, I believe." She lifted Torren out of the sling and put him in the backpack. John noticed what she was doing for the first time, breaking out of his shock-induced fugue.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"With you." She pulled the straps of the baby carrier over her arms and picked up Torren's quilted baby-bag. It would be difficult carrying it through the brush. She began to eliminate unnecessary items: the bottle (breast-feeding would be adequate), two-thirds of the spare diapers --

"No."

"Do not argue with me, John. I know you can move faster than I can with Torren on my back, so you go ahead; I will follow."

John let out his breath in a frustrated hiss. He hooked a canteen over his belt, swept his gaze around the campsite again, then picked up his P90. "The fire --"

"I will take care of it. Go!"

He nodded, and for an instant his eyes were soft, pleading. Then he took off running.

Teyla yanked the grill off the fire and then upended the cooler over it, inundating the coals with ice and bottles of imported Earth beer and other drinks. This was an emergency; no time to fetch water from the lake. She wrapped up the fish in a napkin and stuffed a handful of Earth energy bars into the baby bag beside it. It was only a few miles to the end of the lake, but there was no telling when they would get back to the campsite. She could fill her canteen in the lake.

Her eyes were drawn to the ridge where the jumper had gone down. Atlantis would not send help until morning. And they could not contact them sooner if the jumper was not working.

One thing at a time, Charin would say.

Teyla gave the campsite a last cursory look, as John had done, and then followed his trail, running lightly through the long weeds at the lake's edge.


******



The jumper hit water. From this height it was like smacking concrete. The impact cracked the ten-thousand-year-old shell of the vessel like an egg, tearing it nearly in half. They flipped, rolled and went under.

Rodney never quite lost consciousness, but his face slammed into the console and the world exploded in a shower of stars. Cold water slapped his face and body, shocking him out of a drifting haze. Water was flooding in through the jumper's shredded body, and he pushed instinctively away from the steering console, struggling free and striking towards the beckoning gap and the light streaming through it. He had a vague memory of hearing somewhere that foundering ships created suction around them -- Didn't Mythbusters try that once? said the part of his brain that never shut up -- and he kicked away from it. His body wasn't responding properly, but with adrenaline still racing through him, along with a startling sense of elation that he'd survived the crash, he felt no pain and had no idea where, if anywhere, he'd been injured.

It wasn't until he was clear of the jumper, seconds later, that he remembered he hadn't been alone. He turned around in the water, holding his breath. The jumper was rolling slowly away from him, shedding a trail of debris as it sank -- pieces of the hull, aluminum cases holding tools and other gear. It took him a moment to spot Ronon, because Ronon was still in the jumper. The passenger side appeared to have buckled on impact, trapping him. Rodney couldn't tell in the dim light if Ronon was conscious or not. He glimpsed movement, but couldn't tell if Ronon was trying to free himself or if it was nothing but his limbs drifting limply, floating like seaweed as the jumper rotated with ponderous grace, dragging itself down.

Oh God.

He needed to breathe. He kicked for the surface, aware once again that some part of his body -- my arm, my shoulder, something like that -- wasn't quite working right. His head broke out of the water and he gasped, once, twice, three times. He wasn't a terribly strong swimmer, but he was competent at it. In fact, he'd won a medal once, in Mrs. Bradshaw's Grade 3 swimming class. It was made out of paper. Jeannie had eaten it a few months later...

Concentrate.

Ronon could probably free himself. If Rodney went down there, he'd do nothing but get in the way and risk being trapped and drowned. But even as he thought it, he gulped air and kicked down. Just like in the swimming pool. Although it was cold, oh God, it was cold.

He caught the edge of the rift in the jumper's side, pulling himself into the dead hulk. Ronon's eyes were open, staring through the water at him .... through him. For an instant Rodney almost lost his lungful of air as the sheer horror of it paralyzed his lungs. Then he hauled himself forward, hand-over-hand, and wrapped his arms around Ronon. There was brief resistance and then they were both free. Ronon's long hair drifted around them in a sinuous cloud. For a terrible instant Rodney couldn't tell which way was up, and then he realized that all he had to do was let his body's natural buoyancy take over. He could never get to the bottom of the pool. Fat kids float, Mrs. Bradshaw used to say. Come to think of it, he'd never liked Mrs. Bradshaw, swimming medal or not.

An eight-year-old's long-buried anger and resentment gave him the extra strength to kick hard, fighting the water's pull even as the ache in his lungs grew into a desperate need. His face broke the surface and he gasped, then caught a mouthful of water when he stopped kicking -- with his arms full of Ronon, he couldn't stay afloat, and the water closed over his face. Ohgodohgodohgod. An atavistic fear of drowning seized him, and he almost let go of Ronon, but instead he lashed out violently with both legs. His head and shoulders broke the surface just before giving in to the temptation to suck in a lungful of water. He gasped wildly, even as he felt himself going under again.

Think, stupid. He'd learned basic lifesaving too, along with a class of other Canadian schoolchildren, a lifetime ago on another world. Rodney freed an arm from Ronon's deadweight -- trying not to think about just how dead that deadweight felt; Ronon wasn't moving at all -- and let himself drift until he got a feel for treading water without going under. His right shoulder still felt like it was messed up somehow, but he could hold Ronon against his chest with that arm, as long as he didn't think about the mechanics of it too much.

I gotta get him to shore. Fast. I can't do this for long.

Luckily he was close. In fact, a little bit of a change in their trajectory and the jumper would've slammed into a granite ridge; there wouldn't have been anything left of him to ship back to Jeannie. Rodney kicked backwards and almost immediately felt something brush his foot. He kicked at it, got his feet tangled in water weeds -- for a minute he thought something had grabbed his ankle, but then his feet sank ankle-deep into mud, and he dragged Ronon out onto the weed-choked verge of the lake, under the shadow of the ridge that had nearly killed them.

With Ronon's feet still trailing into the water, Rodney rolled him onto his back and tilted his head back. His eyes were still open, staring at nothing. Rodney jammed his fingers under Ronon's jaw, groped for a pulse, then laid his hand flat on Ronon's chest. He thought he felt a flutter, but maybe it was his own shivering.

He tried a couple of rescue breaths anyway, trying to pretend it was the rescue dummy back on Atlantis. Then Ronon bucked and choked and Rodney rolled him over onto his side -- thankGodthankGod -- as he vomited up half the lake and then curled onto himself, shivering.

Rodney sprawled on his back in the mud, one hand on Ronon's shoulder, and stared up at the blue sky. He couldn't stay that way for long, though, because he was shaking with cold and also, quite a few parts of him were starting to hurt, including his shoulder and his face.

Okay, think, genius. John and Teyla were not too far away, if the jumper had gone down where he thought it had. They weren't on the same lake, but the lake where they'd camped was only one or two ridges over. Maybe fifteen kilometers, tops. Probably less. Rodney reached for his radio, but his arm just flopped like a dead fish -- ow. He tried it with the other arm, and found, unsurprisingly, that he didn't have a radio. It'd been knocked from his head when his face hit the console.

Rodney reached over and touched the side of Ronon's head. Ronon slapped weakly at his hand. "Stop it," Rodney said. "Radio." But he could already tell that it wasn't there; both their radios were at the bottom of the lake along with the jumper and all their survival gear.

For now at least, they were on their own.

Once his head stopped spinning, Rodney sat up. The lake where they'd fallen was in another of those narrow, steep-sided glacial valleys. This one made the one where they'd camped look gentle and wide by comparison. He couldn't imagine they had any chance of climbing the granite ridge towering above them, not in their present condition, which basically left picking a direction and walking. Serried ranks of pine trees clustered at the water's edge in both directions, making it hard to tell if the going got rougher.

On their side of the valley, they were in shadow, and it was cold down here by the water. Rodney's teeth were chattering and he couldn't stop shivering, but more worrisome was the fact that Ronon didn't seem to be shivering, and he'd been submerged even more thoroughly.

And it'll be colder come nightfall. Why did I let Sheppard talk me into this again? But he knew it wasn't the Colonel's fault. The familiar cadence of complaint helped distract him a bit, though, as he patted himself down, trying to tell the difference between general pain and actual injury. Everything hurt, but his fingers came away wet with blood when he touched his face, and his nose was a raw, throbbing wellspring of pain. I hope I'm not too hideous. It's hard enough to get the minions to mind me as it is. Does Atlantis have any plastic surgeons?

He knew he'd moved his right arm quite a bit when he was in the water, between the adrenaline and the sheer desperation, but it had stiffened up into a plank of wood. He couldn't do more than let it dangle at his side and try not to bump it. His shoulder felt hot and puffy, stretching the material of his uniform jacket tight. One of his knees was also swollen, but when he tried it, he could put weight on it.

"Ronon," he said, bending over with a wince -- it felt like he'd wrenched his back too -- and gripping Ronon's shoulder with his good hand.

He had to shake hard to get Ronon to respond. At first the only reaction he got was a couple of wet, awful-sounding coughs. Finally Ronon mumbled with groggy irritation, "What?"

"Oh, thank God. I don't want to be stuck out here all alone. Get up."

"What ..." Ronon rolled over onto his back and blinked up at the sky. Rodney had a quick, awful flash of the way he'd looked underwater, his eyes open, dead. "The jumper fell," Ronon said.

"Thank you for that cogent recap of recent events. Now, I'd rather not die of hypothermia, so can we at least get somewhere warm?"

"What happened?"

The temptation to say The jumper fell was almost overwhelming, but Rodney managed to squash it -- And they say I have no filter between brain and mouth; ha. "We lost power, including propulsion. I have no idea why. Everything was working fine, and then suddenly it wasn't."

He was braced to defend his handling of the situation -- there really hadn't been anything he could have done, after all. Even John probably couldn't have guided it down without disaster; the jumper without propulsion was as aerodynamic as a brick. But Ronon just shook his head and said thickly, "Help me up."

"You don't look like you should be getting up."

Ronon just scowled at him, started to lever himself up off the ground, and fell back with a gasp.

"See? See? You're probably horribly broken or something -- you were stuck in the jumper and not breathing, Ronon."

He hadn't realized it had freaked him out as badly as it had, but he couldn't stop seeing it, every time he blinked -- Ronon's eyes, open and staring. Ronon wasn't trying to get up again, which seemed like a bad sign. Rodney started to kneel, then his bad knee reminded him with a stab of pain why that wasn't a good idea, so he sat instead, thrusting the leg out awkwardly. He was sitting in the mud -- cold mud, too -- but it wasn't really possible to get any wetter.

He started patting over Ronon's torso, not really sure what he was looking for --anything obviously wrong, he guessed. Ronon swatted halfheartedly at him once and then let him do it. Pretty much he just felt like ... Ronon, but when Rodney prodded at his side, Ronon sucked in his breath and then swung a fist. His aim was off -- also a bad sign -- and Rodney hastily ducked as the fist swung through the air where his head had been a second before.

"Nice," Rodney said. "Hit the person who's trying to help you."

"Reflex," Ronon muttered through clenched teeth, his voice strained.

Rodney moved to poke again, to try to determine what was wrong, but Ronon made another fist, so he hastily desisted. It had felt -- mushy, yielding. "I think you have some broken ribs," he said.

"Knew that already." Ronon coughed, a wet hacking sound.

"And you couldn't have said? Do you know you're really bad at communicating?" Then Rodney noticed for the first time that it wasn't just water turning Ronon's pants leg so dark. "Oh my God, you're bleeding."

"I know," Ronon said tightly. "Think my ankle's broken too."

Rodney reached for Ronon's boot.

"Touch it," Ronon said, "and die."

Rodney snatched his hands back. "I'm trying to help. But, fine, you can bleed to death if you really want to."

"Right now I'm pretty sure the boot's all that's holding my foot in place. Possibly all that's holding it on."

Rodney could actually feel the blood drain out of his face. "Okay, that's my horrible mental image for the day."

"Be glad it's not your foot."

"This conversation is officially over," Rodney said, and then Ronon clutched his arm and yanked him down into the mud and weeds. "Hey!" he started, but Ronon clamped a wet, muddy hand over his mouth.

"Shhh!" Ronon hissed, and let him go.

Rodney stayed there, sitting in the mud, mostly because he was afraid of what would happen if he tried to move. "What?" he whispered back. "Predator? Hallucination? What?"

Ronon jerked his chin towards the sky. Rodney looked up, and went stiff in alarm.


******



John ran for nearly a mile, flat-out, charging through brush that ripped at his face and uniform, before sanity caught up with him and he slowed to a more cautious trot. After another mile or so, he stopped to take a compass reading and a fresh bearing on the ridge that had swallowed the jumper. He also tried the radio again. "Ronon. Rodney. Come in. Damn it, guys, if you can hear me, give me a sign. Something."

He waited. Even a break in the static would have been welcome. But there was nothing.

They're dead, John. You know it.

He drew deep, gulping breaths, like he'd run a marathon rather than just a couple of miles that were well within his tolerance. The mountain air had seemed so fresh before, but now it shredded his throat as if each breath was full of knives.

His mission was the same, though, whether they were dead or not. Find the crash site, recover what could be recovered, and wait for Atlantis. We don't leave people behind. No matter what.

Teyla caught up to him, jogging slowly with a wide-eyed Torren looking around from the backpack-style carrier. Go back, John wanted to tell her. All the crash sites he'd ever seen blurred together in his head into a haze of twisted metal and smoke and reeking jet fuel. He didn't want them to pass under that round-eyed baby stare.

But Torren was too young to remember, and John knew that Teyla had as much right to be there as he did.

She wordlessly handed him her canteen, fresh and dripping with cold lake water. He drank, letting it bite at his throat. When he started to hand it back to her, Teyla frowned and looked past him.

"What?" John said, and turned, looking over his shoulder.

A dark speck was moving in the sky above the mountains. For one heartbreaking instant he thought it was the jumper, that it had all been a mistake. John fumbled in his tac vest for his little binoculars and put them to his eyes. The moving speck jumped into relief, and he cursed under his breath. He'd seen ships like that before -- this one was much smaller, but the design was unmistakable.

"What is it?" Teyla asked tensely.

"It's our old friends the Asgard, Pegasus edition."

The ship was moving in an obvious search grid. For one crazy instant John thought about asking for help. Technology like the Asgard's might be the only way to find the jumper in time and save anyone who might have survived the crash. Then he thought of the explosive device in the suit left behind on Atlantis, and the things Rodney and Jackson had said about their captivity. No, these guys weren't going to help out of the goodness of their little shriveled hearts.

John lowered the binoculars and looked around for a hiding place. The pine-covered hill behind him rose into a sharp ridge, offering a difficult retreat but a reasonable amount of cover.

"The trees should conceal us from the air," Teyla said, obviously having the same thought. She gripped his wrist and started to drag him back into the denser forest, but John resisted.

"It won't help if they're scanning for life signs. Nothing on this world bigger than a dog, remember? They see something our size, they'll know immediately that we don't belong here."

"Do you know a way to fool their scanners?" Teyla asked. Her legs were slightly bent, knees flexed, poised to run -- as if it would help with a spaceship, but John felt the same.

"No --" he began, and then his eyes dropped to the lake water. The very cold lake water ... "Wait. If their scanners work like ours, then they're mostly scanning for heat."

Teyla followed his gaze. "I cannot take Torren into the water, John. I will return to the campsite --"

"No!" Now it was his turn to seize her wrist. There was so little time. "I have an idea."

He told her, and her eyes went wide.

"John. No. I cannot."

"No choice." He flicked a glance up at the ship. Its grid was bringing it closer; it might already have spotted them. "It's our best way to avoid detection. Our only way."

Teyla swallowed, then removed the baby pack and began sliding out of her clothes.


******



Ronon thought he recognized the design of the ship, but Rodney confirmed it a moment later anyway. "Asgard," he whispered, his lips near Ronon's ear. "Like the ones that took me." And Dr. Jackson, Ronon thought, but didn't say it. "What are they doing here?" Rodney added in an even more penetrating whisper, and Ronon wished he'd shut up.

The ship was briefly visible, then turned and vanished from their field of view. "Maybe it didn't see us," Rodney said, but then it reappeared, much lower, coming up their valley from the downslope end. "Crap, crap! We gotta hide!"

He started scrabbling backwards, deeper into the weeds and brush. Ronon grabbed his wrist, arresting his backward progress, and otherwise didn't move. They were plainly visible and had almost certainly been seen already; thrashing around wasn't going to do anything but draw attention to them.

"Got weapons?" Ronon whispered out of the corner of his mouth.

"Right, because I had time to stop and grab a full arsenal from the sinking jumper."

The ship did a single pass over them at about the height of the ridgetop, then made a tight circle and came back to hover in the middle of the lake, directly across from them. Ronon eased his blaster out of its waterlogged holster. Twin doors swung open in the belly of the ship, and a blue beam played back and forth across the water.

"Would now be a good time to run?" Rodney whispered.

"No."

Grapples shot from the hold of the ship, struck the water with little puffs of spray, and vanished beneath the surface. A moment later, the water roiled and churned, and the dripping hulk of the jumper broke the surface.

"Now?" Rodney whispered.

Ronon felt a muscle twitch in his jaw. "You think you can outrun a spaceship?"

"Well, no, but --"

"McKay, running isn't gonna help. Trust me. Best thing we can do is stay still, be quiet and get ready to fight."

Rodney shifted in the mud. "I'm, uh, not good at that. Any of it, really."

"Yeah, I've noticed."

Seeing the ruined mess of the jumper made him even more surprised that they'd survived. Trailing water and dripping weeds, it rose smoothly into the ship's hold. The doors stayed open, however, as the ship rotated slowly in place and glided towards them.

"Okay, I really think running would be good now," Rodney whispered.

Something darted from the ship's belly, a bright object so fast-moving that the eye could not track it. Ronon started to spin that direction, but the tug across his smashed ribs made his vision swirl red and then he was looking down his blaster at one of the big Asgard battle suits that John had talked about, standing not ten paces away from them. It was holding a sleek little gun, pointed at the two humans.

"You're coming with us," the Asgard said.

"Yeah, no," Ronon said, and fired. He hadn't gotten a chance to try his blaster on those suits yet.

A glimmering blue shield sprang up instantly. His shot splashed across it with no more effect than a water balloon. Right, John had mentioned those too.

The Asgard did not speak again; it just fired its little weapon, strobing quickly from Rodney to Ronon. The beams were bright yellow-green. Seeing Rodney's muscles seize up before he pitched over, Ronon had just enough time to think, This is gonna hurt.

He was right.


******



Shivering and gasping, John and Teyla pulled themselves out of the water. They'd been shallowly submerged at the weed-clogged edge, breathing through hollow reeds Teyla had found for them. Teyla's teeth were chattering so hard that she could barely say, "We could not have stayed under much longer."

They padded swiftly, barefoot, to the trees where they'd stashed their clothes -- and Torren, dangling from a tree at head-height in the backpack held up by Teyla's belt. The baby was awake, but not alarmed; he squealed happily when he saw Teyla, and she kissed his round baby cheek, not wanting to touch him yet with her cold hands.

They had nothing to dry themselves with except for handfuls of leaves. As they dressed, they stamped in circles, trying to restore some warmth to their chilled bodies.

In their brief, furtive moments of surfacing, they'd watched the Asgard ship raise the dripping, shattered wreckage of the jumper -- Teyla did not want to speak of it to John, but she was not sure anyone could have survived that -- and then vanish briefly below the ridgeline before doing another pass over the area. The ship had hovered for a moment over their campsite, then left. Probably they thought the intruders had all been in the jumper.

"If there were any survivors, they'll be wherever that ship went," John said, chafing his arms with his blue-tinged hands.

Teyla did not mention how slim the chance of survivors was. He already knew.

"You should go back to the campsite and wait for Atlantis --"

"And do what?" Teyla demanded, shrugging into the baby carrier. "Hide in the water again, if they send out more scout ships? If I go with you, then I may be able to help you, and we can both protect Torren." She gripped his arm. "I do not want to split up, John."

He took a breath, didn't look at her, but nodded.

They set out again at a smooth, distance-eating trot. The exercise brought the feeling back to her numb limbs, and slowly the shivering stopped. Still, it was midafternoon now, the sun sinking steadily towards the edge of the ridge behind them. Teyla had found the day pleasantly warm, but now all she could think about was how cold the night was going to be. Hunger gnawed at her belly. She dug out some of the cooked fish, and they shared the meal as they alternated between walking and jogging. As hungry as she was, the food tasted like ashes; all she could think of was how they'd intended to share it between the four of them, back at the campsite.

Eventually they reached the end of the lake -- or, rather, the point where it did a dogleg bend and then continued towards the highlands. Teyla had seen from the jumper that the lake terminated as the ground rose into the mountains, but it would take them precious hours to circle around and get into the next valley from the upper end. The lake was not terribly wide, but Teyla remembered all too well how cold the water was. In warm water, it would be a comfortable swim, but in the icy mountain water, they'd be risking hypothermia or worse.

"Ideas?" John said, staring across the lake at the opposite side of the valley. "There was an emergency raft in the jumper, but that's not much help ..."

At least the problem gave her something to focus on, something immediate, not the worry and stress of the past hour. "We need to find something that floats."

There were a number of drowned, dead evergreens along the lake's margin. Some had fallen and already become waterlogged; others leaned precariously, bare branches jutting out like fingerbones. John and Teyla pushed at the dry trunks until they managed to topple one into the water. It floated reasonably well, though it was not large enough to support their full weight without going under. So they stripped again -- Teyla sighed at the loss of hard-won body heat -- and piled their gear with Torren, still in his carrier, between two branches on the spiny trunk.

They paddled over, torsos pulled partway out onto the log to try to conserve as much heat as possible. Still, they were both shaking and blue by the time they reached the opposite side.

"T-Torren is hungry," Teyla said, crooning to the fussing baby as she settled him in his carrier again.

John shook his head, trying to still his chattering teeth. "We need to move first. G-get warm. Rest on the other side of the ridge."

The climb warmed them and, at least for awhile, entertained Torren, but by the time they broke out onto the open, windswept ridgetop, she'd already had to head off one round of wailing and Torren was threatening to burst into another. They stopped to rest at the edge of the trees, and Teyla tucked Torren into her jacket, settling him on her aching breast, while John dug granola bars out of the baby bag.

"Do we have a plan?" Teyla asked between bites. Torren had settled into limp somnolence against the bare skin of her chest.

"Find where the ship went, and get there." John pointed up the mountainside with half his granola bar, the way the ship had gone.

Teyla looked up at the mountainside: huge boulders and scree slopes interspersed with bands of evergreens. It was going to be a demanding hike. Again, the voice of caution and reason urged her to speak: most likely the Asgard ship had gone too far for them to follow, and they would be exposed as they moved across the mountainside.

But the alternative was to go back to the campsite and simply wait.

"Should we examine the crash site first?" she asked.

John opened his mouth, then frowned and took the life signs detector out of his jacket. "I wonder what the range on this thing is. McKay can widen it out to almost a mile; it's not good for much fine resolution at that distance, but on this world, we ought to be able to find anything our size ..."

He fiddled with it for a while, obviously emulating what he'd seen Rodney do. His face was set, expressionless. Teyla could see the scale change, but the only large life-sign readings were theirs.

"They could be in the water," she offered. "As with us."

John shook his head and tucked the LSD back into his jacket, face still carefully without expression. "It's been almost two hours since the crash. If they're in the water, they're dead."

They gathered up their trash, had a drink from the canteens, and moved on.


******



Rodney woke with a groan. He was lying sprawled on a cold stone surface, and, if possible, everything hurt even more than it had before. He felt like all his wrenched muscles had been wrenched in new, even worse directions.

He raised his head. The whole room was made of stone, about fifteen meters across, with no visible features aside from a door set into the wall, slightly taller than human-size -- Rodney assumed it had been built to accommodate the Asgard battle suits, which wasn't a terribly comforting thought. A pair of glowing strips in the ceiling provided harsh blue-white light.

Ronon lay in a heap beside him. Rodney checked to make sure that he was breathing -- he was -- before limping around the room. Nothing -- no windows, no electrical outlets, not even a toilet, which he imagined was going to become a problem eventually.

He patted himself down. They'd left him everything in his vest pockets, not that there was much that was useful in a situation like this: sodden Kleenex, equally sodden field notebook, Tylenol -- he took a couple of those, and saved out another packet for Ronon.

Ronon's blaster wasn't in his holster. Rodney wondered if they'd checked him for knives. He was poking through Ronon's hair when Ronon woke up and almost punched him again.

"Hey!" Rodney said.

"What are you doing?" Ronon demanded, scowling at him. His voice was rough and weak.

"Looking for knives."

Ronon slumped back down on the floor. "Don't."

Rodney sighed and circumnavigated the room again. He didn't even have a life signs detector. Presumably the Asgard had the one from the jumper now, damn their grabby little gray fingers, and the only other one they'd brought to this world was with John.

John and Teyla had better be coming for them. And they'd better be all right.


******



Ronon felt like warmed-over dunka shit. He'd been hurt worse than this before, but rib and chest injuries were among the worst kind to have -- they really interfered with motion. And he didn't like the squishy feeling in his boot. His whole foot and ankle were a great throbbing ball of pain. He'd been kinda exaggerating to Rodney about his foot being severed, but he couldn't feel his toes, and he hoped there wasn't nerve damage.

"I wonder what they want with us," Rodney said, pacing along the wall again and trailing his fingers over its surface.

Ronon wondered that, too, but he didn't like any of the answers that he came up with.

Rodney eventually got tired of staring at featureless walls, and came back to sit down beside Ronon. Rodney looked awful, although Ronon was pretty sure the damage was only superficial -- the right side of his face was one giant bruise, and his nose was starting to swell. The submersion had washed off most of what otherwise, Ronon suspected, would have been a lot of blood. He wasn't entirely sure if Rodney had noticed what had happened to his face, and hadn't pointed it out because he didn't want to provoke a flood of complaints.

"Tylenol," Rodney said, dangling a red and white packet in front of Ronon's nose.

He dry-swallowed them, murmured "Thanks" after a moment. He doubted if they'd take the edge off what he was feeling, but maybe it would help a little.

"Can you sit up?" Rodney asked after a moment.

"Why?"

Rodney slipped back into his usual abrasive shell. "Oh, I don't know -- because maybe that's a good thing to know about a person when you're stuck in a prison cell with them? And maybe you'll lose less heat to the floor if your whole body isn't in contact with it? I don't want to explain to Sheppard that I let you freeze to death."

"No."

Rodney blinked. "No?"

"No, I don't want to sit up."

"I didn't ask if you wanted to --"

"If I have to," Ronon said, "I can," and he shut his eyes.

"You could have said," Rodney groused after a pause.

After a little while, Ronon heard him get up and start moving around again. He tried to tune Rodney out, but there was nothing else to concentrate on except how miserable he was. On top of all his other woes, his chest felt wet and heavy, and a tickle was building in the back of his throat; he tried to resist it, because he had a feeling that coughing was really going to hurt. Pneumonia? Great. Just what I need.

He tried to make himself believe that he'd be back on Atlantis soon, recuperating in a nice warm sterile room, but it was hard to convince himself, not when the instincts of seven years on the run said otherwise. They needed an escape plan, but it was hard to come up with one when he didn't know what the Asgard were capable of. They weren't human, weren't Wraith -- he wasn't sure how to fight them.

And Rodney's pacing was driving him crazy.

Rodney's footsteps approached him on one circuit. Ronon didn't open his eyes, until something damp and heavy and kind of warm settled on top of him. This jarred his ribs and provoked the coughing fit that he'd been trying to restrain. It hurt about as much as he'd been afraid it would.

The heavy thing turned out to be Rodney's uniform jacket, leaving Rodney in his tac vest and short sleeves. It was still warm from Rodney's body heat.

"Uh," Ronon said, and stalled out.

Rodney looked embarrassed. "You need it more than me. All you've got is that shirt, and it's all torn up. Why didn't you wear your coat?"

"Didn't need it." But, he thought, Rodney had a point, even if he might not know it. Living with these people had made him soft; he'd gone out in the wilderness without even putting on his coat, leaving most of his survival gear behind.

Stupid mistake. Hope you survive it.

And making it worse, he wasn't just responsible for himself anymore. He opened his eyes and discovered Rodney sitting next to him again. With the jacket off, the swelling and bruising on his right shoulder were more evident, purple streaks and blotches extending almost all the way to his elbow.

"Can you move that arm?" Ronon asked.

"Oh, now you talk to me." But it was more reflexive than genuine irritation. Rodney started to lift his arm and then let it fall back down, biting his lip. "If I have to, I guess. I don't think it's dislocated or anything. I can move the fingers if I have to type." He wiggled them to demonstrate, though from the look on his face, it still hurt. "Not that I have anything to type on."

"Aren't we a great pair," Ronon said.

Rodney's mouth quirked.

Ronon thought there was probably more that should be said. "Thanks for the jacket," he added after a moment.

Rodney shrugged with his good shoulder, and the corner of his mouth twitched. "Didn't need it."

And that wasn't quite all that needed to be said. Ronon mused on how exactly to ask what he wanted to ask. He wasn't exactly angry anymore, not really, but ... "Rodney --" he began, and then the door opened and two of the guys in mech-suits came in.

Rodney scrambled stiffly to his feet, and Ronon pushed himself up with the arm on his good side.

"We need to ask you some questions," the suit on the left said, its voice buzzing with the suit's mechanical distortion. "I suggest you answer honestly and immediately."

The suit on the right said, "Are you human?"

"What?" Rodney said. "What kind of a question is that? I mean, yes."

The two suits looked at each other, and the one on the left said sharply, "If you won't let me do this, would you at least try not to ask stupid questions?" Then, turning back to the humans, it asked, "What planet are you from?"

Rodney tried to fold his arms, forgetting about the injured one; he ended up awkwardly folding his good arm over his chest. "Sorry. We can't tell you."

Left Suit drew a little weapon and fired in one smooth motion. This was different from the stunners they'd used earlier, which had been basically gun-shaped -- it was a curved thing that arced back over his hand. Ronon saw nothing visible but Rodney gave a yell, jerked and went down hard on his ass on the floor. He didn't really look hurt, more like startled and pissed.

"You okay?" Ronon said.

"No!" Rodney snapped. "Did you Asgard jerks just shock me? Because I've had electric shocks before and that felt exactly like the time I didn't pay attention when I was plugging in a CRT and let my finger slip down onto the --"

Left Suit shot him again. Rodney jerked in a quick spasm from head to foot. "Stop it!" he said, but now he looked a little scared as well as pissed.

Ronon reached automatically for his blaster, closed his hand on empty air.

"Okay, let's try this again," Right Suit said. "What's your planet of origin and what are you doing here?"

Rodney took a deep breath and said, "Go to hell."

This time it went on longer, and he seized, losing control and falling onto his back.

"Stop it!" Ronon snarled.

Rodney relaxed, shivering, his eyes wide.

"Will you answer the question?" Left Suit asked.

Ronon figured getting their attention onto him wasn't a bad thing; he could take a lot more physical punishment than Rodney could, and eventually John was bound to show up and break them out. "Like he said, go to hell."

But it was Rodney they shot again. His back arched off the floor; his body went rigid. It looked like he'd stopped breathing.

"Stop it!" Ronon bellowed at them, and managed to lurch to his uninjured foot, the other leg trailing. He didn't have a gun, but he did still have knives, and he let the one under his right bracer slide into his hand, then threw it with a flick of his wrist. The sharp twist in his ribs took his breath away, but his aim was true. It made no difference, though; the knife clattered uselessly off Left Suit's hand.

So Ronon did the only other thing he could: hopped forward a step, interposing himself between Rodney's seizing body and the weapon. He felt a sharp icy rush of pins and needles, and then blinding pain as his muscles seized. He was barely aware of the shock as he hit the floor.

Rodney had collapsed into a limp heap next to him, deathly still for a moment; then his chest hitched and he began gasping. Ronon twisted his head to the side and saw that Rodney bitten his lip; a fine trickle of blood ran down his chin.

"Let's start again," Right Suit said, and this time its attention was fixed on Ronon.


******


Continue to Part 2

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