They huddled closer to the fire as the last of the sunlight faded, feeling the encroachment of deepening shadows beneath the trees. A howl from some strange, unknown creature seemed to hang on the cool evening air, sending a shiver through Rodney. Beside him, John tensed for a moment before relaxing back against cold stone, relishing the heat of the fire in front of him and the warmth of Rodney seated by his side.
The fire crackled and popped loudly, sending a shower of sparks dancing into the air before fading. The sky darkened quickly once the sun set, and the stars came out, forming unrecognizable constellations above their heads on this alien world.
Another howl, closer this time, had Rodney pressing up against him. His eyes were a little wild and wide as he looked along the edge of the clearing where the shadowed branches of the trees, cast up in silhouette, seemed to take on the form of clawed fingers.
"I'm not saying this place gives me the creeps but..."
"But it gives you the creeps?" John finished, adding a small measure of mockery to his voice so Rodney would not pick up on his own ill ease.
The situation was not ideal but they had the Stargate at their backs for protection and the clearing was wide enough to see at least twenty feet in all directions. Of course having a working DHD would have made him feel a lot more secure. They had already missed their scheduled check-in so John figured they had another six hours at most before Woolsey ordered a dial-in from Atlantis. Likely, he had already ordered a team to stand ready.
As the night moved on a blood moon rose above the canopy of the trees, bathing the clearing in a soft red glow. John fed a few more small branches and twigs onto the fire, keeping it burning bright as the temperature dropped further. He was glad he had piled the gathered kindling within easy reach as Rodney was a heavy, restricting weight upon his legs, having dropped off to sleep and fallen sideways until his head was pillowed in John's lap.
John studied Rodney in the flickering glow from the fire. It wasn't the most flattering light, casting strange shadows across his face. However, the lines of exhaustion had eased away in sleep, reminding John of how hard Rodney had been pushing himself since their return to Pegasus.
"You better not be drooling on me, Rodney," he murmured, easing the restless movements evoked by his words with a gentle stroke across the lightly stubbled cheek.
He hadn't expected to ever have this closeness. He thought he had lost Rodney to Jennifer, only to learn that she had ended their relationship because of Rodney's stronger attachment to him. It had still taken a few months before they moved from friends to... something more, and John had no regrets for the change in their relationship. Rodney was everything he wanted, and everything he needed.
The snapping of twigs came from his left, interrupting his thoughts, and John had both hands gripping his P90 in automatic reflex. His movement awoke Rodney, who bolted upright, hands clasped around his own weapon. John thought he saw a large shadow drifting just beyond the light cast out by the fire, but more unnerving was the silence, as if every living creature was holding its breath. Nothing stirred. Several minutes stretched out before John began to relax.
"Probably harmless," John stated softly. "A rabbit."
Rodney looked at him, horrified. "Did you not see Night of the Lepus?" He whispered.
"That was just a movie, Rodney. Giant mutant killer rabbits don't really exist. " He sighed. "Look. We're already five hours overdue. Woolsey will have a team on stand-by and will be dialing in if he hasn't heard from us in..." He glanced at his wristwatch, "Less than an hour."
"That's if we haven't been eaten by then."
Beneath the mulish tone was a sharp edge of fear, and John quickly stemmed the rising tide of panic by drawing Rodney into a quick but gentle kiss.
"We're good, Rodney. Just the normal wildlife noises out there in the dark."
The sharp sound of a chevron encoding made them both jump, and John smiled wryly as the plume of the wormhole burst out before falling back to the ring. The light illuminated the entire clearing, driving back the shadows, and John shivered as he thought he saw something - large shiny eyes reflecting the light from the Stargate.
"Atlantis, this is Sheppard."
"Colonel! We were beginning to worry about you."
"Yeah. We had a few technical difficulties on this end. The DHD isn't operational... and Rodney can't fix it," he ignored Rodney's mild outrage, "So you'd best send a Jumper through."
"Will do, Colonel Sheppard."
The Jumper came through the Stargate a few minutes later, likely already prepped in case this was an emergency. The back lowered and having already put out the small fire, John and Rodney headed straight for it.
"Of course I couldn't fix it! I don't carry spares for every part that could go wrong," he whined.
John smiled because an irritated Rodney was not a frightened Rodney. He dropped into the pilot seat, casting a sideways grin at Lorne, who obviously knew him far too well, and slowly turned the Jumper to face the Stargate. Just as he accelerated forward, a large predatory shape, with a mouth full of sharp teeth, moved out of the shadows. John caught sight of it for a second before they were in the Gate Room, the Stargate closing down behind them automatically.
Behind him Rodney had his head down, moaning about Flyboys expecting miracles, but a quick glance towards the co-pilot seat caught Lorne's wide eyes; from his expression he had seen it too. Lorne opened his mouth to say something but John gave a sharp shake of his head, flicking his eyes over towards Rodney. Lorne nodded his understanding.
They all had enough nightmares already, and John intended to save Rodney from this one at the very least.