There had been fire, and rain. The rain must have put out the fire, so the rain had come after. That, she thought, was how it had happened.
Or was it?
"I hurt my head," Teyla said aloud, because hearing the words spoken made them easier to remember. She had already forgotten once, and hadn't understood why she kept falling down, until she raised her hand to touch her scalp and brought it away with the fingers slick and dark in the rain. She remembered this, now, but not what had caused it.
"I hurt my head, and I need to get us out of the rain."
But they were out of the rain. Teyla reached up and touched dirt over her head, laced with the clinging roots of trees. Her fingers continued to walk down the wall beside her -- really more of a clay bank; she could feel it crumble -- to a dry floor littered with leaves and straw. It was a cave, too small to stand up in, but it kept the water off. She'd been half-carrying Rodney, and half-dragging him, and she had found a cave.
Teyla patted herself down. She was not carrying a pack or a P90, though she still had the small pistol and knife at her hip. Her clothes were soaked through. The water was warm and sticky on her neck -- not water, she reminded herself; blood. Yes, because she had hurt her head. She touched it again, feeling the warm blood matting her hair. She should do something about it. Maybe John or Ronon had grabbed the first-aid kit --
John, she thought. Ronon. Where are they? Her head snapped around and the wash of dizziness made her reel, falling against the side of the cave. It was too dark to really be sure, but she didn't think they were in the cave; it just wasn't big enough. Rodney was, though. His head was propped on her thigh. Yes, she thought, I carried him here. She could still feel the twinges in her back.
There was just enough light filtering into the cave that she could see Rodney's face as a pale blob against her leg. As she had explored herself moments earlier, now she reached out to walk her fingers gently down his nose to his cheek, where she touched something damp and hot and sticky. Even as her brain said blood, she jerked her hand away before she could really register why she'd done so with that kind of speed -- until her memories caught up, and she thought, Burns. Don't touch them. You'll make it worse. He had been crying with pain, saying, Don't touch it, don't, just leave it alone. So she had left it alone. And she remembered the desperation of wanting to touch him, to help, but not knowing what would make it worse, because the burns were everywhere, and he was in so much pain.
But she must have touched him, because she had carried him to the cave. So she curled her hand to cup the familiar curve of his jaw, brushing her fingertips across the wide expressive mouth. His skin was damp and cold. Heart clenching, she rested the back of her hand on his lips for a moment, feeling for soft puffs of breath. Then his lips moved, and he mumbled, "What're you doing?"
"I was seeing if you were alive," Teyla said. But she could not, for the moment, remember why.
"Of course I'm alive." He managed to sound disgruntled, even though the words were slurred and weak. "I don't think it's possible to be in this much pain and be dead."
"Are you in pain?" Now that she thought about it, her head hurt too -- no, it screamed; it was splitting open. Maybe that was why she couldn't think.
"What does it look like? Do you really think that I --" His voice rose and cracked, and then he was silent for a minute, and he said, very quietly, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean -- it's just that -- Are you okay?"
"I am fine," Teyla said. She could feel warm rain, no, blood running down the side of her face. She was really going to have to do something about that. Obviously she must have hurt her head, she thought; she needed to remember that. "We are in a cave."
"I can see that." His eyelashes flickered in the pale blur of his face as he blinked up at the ceiling. "Nice cave. Did you --" He broke off with a grunt of pain. "Did you get anything out of the jumper?"
She could feel his head and shoulders move against her leg, then freeze with a soft gasp. "Okay," Rodney muttered, "don't do that again."
"What did I do?" Teyla asked, afraid that she had hurt him.
"I was talking to me, not you." His voice was a little stronger and less slurred now. "There's a flashlight in the left middle pocket of my vest on the front. I tried to get it but I -- can't."
"Left middle," Teyla said quietly to herself, "left middle..." because saying things out loud seemed to help her remember them. When she tugged on Rodney's vest, he gasped, and she said, "I am sorry; I am so sorry." She was bent over him now, with their faces close together, so she kissed him gently on the tip of the nose. She had not meant to hurt him, now in the cave or out in the rain. Her fingers touched the cold solid bar of the flashlight, and slid across it -- That's right, she thought, because there is blood on my hand, from my head. I hit my head.
She straightened up, and carefully pointed the flashlight away from them as she flicked it on. The flood of cool white light chased away the shadows and revealed that the cave was even tinier than it had felt in the dark, really just an open space under the roots of a tree. Water dripped steadily across the opening at the front of the cave; it sparkled in the light. Their feet were out in the rain. Teyla shifted her grasp to drag them both farther in, but Rodney gasped sharply and said, "No, no, don't do that, don't."
"Sorry. I am sorry." She played the flashlight across his face, trying not to shine it in his eyes. The stark light blanched his skin to the color of ashes, and turned his eyes from blue to a pale, sightless gold. There were dark smudges and swathes on his cheek -- I think that is my blood, Teyla thought -- and mottled patches of shiny wet skin down the right side of his face. Burns.
Teyla turned the flashlight on the rest of him. His uniform, like hers, was soaking wet and plastered to his body. It was difficult to tell the difference between the sodden uniform, black in the flashlight's beam, and the patches where it had been charred. She could tell by the way he was holding his right arm, though -- out to the side, and bent at the elbow -- that it was bad.
"I should --" she began, and Rodney said harshly, "Do you have a first-aid kit?"
"No," she said.
"Bandages? Painkillers? Anything that's clean and not fucking wet?"
"Then don't touch anything, just don't -- don't touch it."
A drop of her blood rolled off her nose and hit him by the corner of his mouth. Rodney flinched, and then looked up at her, really looked, in the cast light. She saw his eyes widen, the pupils already shock-dilated. "You're bleeding!"
"I know," Teyla said. She drew back so that she was no longer dripping on him, and touched her forehead. It was very wet and hot. "I hit my head."
"And when were you going to say something? Were you just planning to -- to bleed to death on top of me?"
"I do not remember what I was planning," Teyla said. She was very tired.
"Well, let me see it." When she hesitated, he did too -- faltering, softening. "I'm sorry. I'm -- you know how I get, right? When I'm -- when -- anyway, I just want to, you know, make sure you don't fall over from blood loss or something. If you want me to, that is."
She leaned forward, holding her hair back with one hand, aiming the flashlight with the other. He reached up with his left hand -- his right stayed where it was, jutting stiffly out from his side, the fingers curled like claws -- and prodded gently at her forehead. To distract herself, and because worry sat in a hard lump at the bottom of her stomach, Teyla said, "John and Ronon -- did they make it out?"
"Out of what?" He sounded absent, pushing back her sodden hair.
"The jumper." He had mentioned a jumper, hadn't he? Perhaps she was remembering wrong. Or maybe he was as confused as she was.
"They weren't in the jumper. Teyla ..." His brow wrinkled and he frowned at her. "How much do you remember?"
"Nothing," she said.
His eyes went wide. "Nothing? At all? Do you remember me? I'm Rodney. I'm your b--"
Teyla hushed him by sliding the hand holding the flashlight to touch his lips. "I remember you, Rodney." I could never forget you. "I do not know what planet this is, however, or what happened to the jumper." She hoped it was only the jumper. Could something have happened to Atlantis? She searched backwards, remembering sitting in the cafeteria in a pool of sun, with John grinning at something Ronon had said. She was sitting with her hand under the table on Rodney's thigh. Rodney's hands had waved around, describing the shape of his thoughts in the air, and he was talking about -- was talking about -- something about a trading mission --
"Okay. Retrograde amnesia." Rodney's voice brought her back to the present, though she thought he was probably talking to himself. "That's ... not so bad. Really common with head injuries, I guess." He placed his hand on her jaw, tilting her head with the same detached air that he might study a piece of equipment -- but gently, so gently. The pad of his thumb rested against the corner of her mouth. "We're on M37-X93. Someone shot down the jumper with some kind of crude explosive device, like the one on Olesia .... oh, um, wow." He swallowed. "Okay, there's a piece of your -- uh -- a flap of your scalp, I guess, that's kind of ... torn loose. Don't you feel that?"
"It hurts," Teyla said simply. Pain pulsed through her head with each beat of her heart.
"Do you have anything to ... to wrap it with? I really don't think it should just be --" He swallowed again, convulsively, his throat working. "Hanging, like that."
"I can use a piece of my shirt." She let her hair fall back, and unbuttoned her tac vest. "Please do not be sick on my legs, Rodney. I have no other pants."
"I'm trying not to, but I'm not the one who's walking around with pieces of my head hanging off. Not that I have any objections to you without pants, of course."
There was normalcy in this -- the quick patter of his words -- even with his usual irritation laced with pain and blurred with shock. Teyla slid her knife out of its sheath and laid down the flashlight to cut strips off the lower edge of her blouse. "You were saying about the jumper," she prompted.
"Right. Shot down. While you were, uh -- dragging me ... you said it was probably some of those rebels, the ones they were all so worried about the last time we were on this godforsaken planet. Milk run, my ass." He frowned up at her. "You don't remember any of this?"
"No, Rodney." She laid out the wet strips of her blouse on her knee. They were not at all sanitary, but would hold her head together, at least. It felt as if it must be splitting in half, right down the middle, between her eyes. When she touched her forehead, she was vaguely surprised to find it still in one piece. She groped gently above her ear, gasped as she touched the folds of her own skin. No wonder Rodney had almost been ill.
"Do you --" Rodney said. "Can I --"
"I have it." She closed her eyes -- it was easier without the flashlight distracting her -- and lifted up the loose skin before pressing a wad of cloth to it, holding it in place. Tying the longer bandages around her head took some fumbling and false starts. "John and Ronon were not on the jumper when it crashed," she said as she worked, because she had to be sure of that.
"No ... no. They're warm and dry, back on Atlantis, just waiting to send a rescue mission when we miss our check-in, which isn't ... not for a while yet." His eyes flew open again. "Oh -- oh my god. What if what happens to us happens to them? We have to warn them. Maybe we could built a -- a signal fire. No, that'll never work. Maybe they'll see the smoke of the jumper... Sheppard's smart, he ought to be able to figure out that if we vanished, he needs to be cautious ..."
He fell silent, muttering as the fingers of his good hand tapped against her leg. Teyla could only focus on her task. Her head did not hurt any less when she was done.
Rodney was shivering now; Teyla could feel it against her leg. While they were moving, the activity had kept them warm, but now they were both injured and wet, and it was cold in the cave. And he was, she knew, hovering on the edge of shock if not completely there already. She did not want to think about his burns, did not want to think of the way he had been so cold and still and limp when she'd dragged him into the cave. It was unfair that she could remember that, when she could not remember the things that she needed to know to bring them both back to safety. She latched onto something Rodney'd said earlier. "We need a fire."
Rodney twirled his left hand, streaked dark with her blood. "Good luck with that, Danielle Boone. Everything here is as wet as we are." His teeth chattered when he spoke.
"There was a fire in the woods," Teyla said slowly. She could still smell the smoke, the charred clothing and flesh. The smell lingered around them. Some of it, she knew, they had brought with them into the cave.
"The jumper, we -- there was a fire when we crashed." Rodney's throat convulsed again; he screwed his eyes shut, as if to block the memories that were lost to her. "You dragged me out. Don't you remember?"
"No," she said.
"I think it set fire to the forest, or at least part of it, but luckily things are soaking wet, so --" He opened his eyes when she eased his head off her leg, down onto the cold floor. "Uh, what are you doing?"
"I am going to bring back some fire for you." She started to stand, and whacked her head on the low ceiling of the cave, going down in a heap and a wave of blinding pain.
"Teyla! Teyla?" Rodney's groping hand made its way up her leg, found her hand, and squeezed it. "Don't go anywhere," he said.
She sat up, very slowly. For the moment, her head seemed content to stay in one piece. "I must make a fire," she said, and then closed her fingers in the dry leaves on the cave floor, dampened by their wet clothing. "Oh. Perhaps this will work."
Rodney was uncharacteristically, and worryingly, quiet while she gathered leaves and sticks, moving slowly and carefully. The survival gear that they all carried in their vests included matches; things were coming back to her now in a slow trickle. And her hands knew how to make a fire, even if her head was too muddled to think it through. Her hands made a careful pile of the driest leaves and bits of grass, and her hands struck a match, and her mouth blew very gently as the flame crept and grew, while her brain watched with interest.
"I am going to bring back more wood, Rodney. Please stay here." The words were for her own benefit as much as his; they kept her focused, kept her moving.
She saw him stir, rousing out of a half-conscious stupor. "Right, like I'm going anywhere." There was a long pause, then he said, "Uh, are you good to go out there like you are? You're moving kind of funny, and you lost your memory. That can't be good."
"I did not lose all my memory." She offered him a smile that was meant to be coy, but, she thought, it probably did not have the desired effect with her face covered with blood. "I remember that thing you can do with your tongue very well indeed."
"Which thing?" Rodney sounded startled. "Oh, wait. Are you trying to flirt? Wow, I think you're even worse at it than I am. Also, do you think this is really the time for --"
She silenced him with a quick kiss, even though leaning over to do so turned out to be very bad for her equilibrium. His lips were soft and tasted a little coppery. "Please tend the fire. I will be back swiftly."
"I don't know how --" he began to protest.
"Feed it small bits of leaves and straw if it begins to die." She loved Rodney, but there were times, particularly when she was injured and frightened, that she had difficulty mustering the patience to deal with him. "I will be back as soon as I can."
It was pouring rain outside, a cold deluge that stripped away the small amount of heat she'd managed to retain. At least it washed the blood from her face and woke her up a little. Her head still ached miserably, but she was starting to feel a little more coherent. She did not seem to have lost any more memories since she'd dragged Rodney into the cave -- at least, she did not think so -- and no longer had to stop to remind herself what she was doing from one moment to the next.
The cave was in the side of a hill that sloped down a steep ravine. It was too dark to see all the way to the bottom, but she could hear the sound of a rushing creek. Water, Teyla thought. Rodney will need water; he will be losing fluids from his burns. She went the other way, though, up the ravine to get a feeling for the lay of the land.
At the top of the ravine, she looked around, through the night and the rain. The land sloped down in one direction, up in the other, and scraggly conifers blocked her view both ways. She didn't remember the area at all, though her fragmentary recollections indicated to her that she'd been stumbling through the woods with little idea of where she was going, knowing only that she had to get them out of the rain. She wasn't sure where the crashed jumper was. Perhaps that was for the best, if Rodney was right and rebels had shot them down. Their subcutaneous transmitters would alert rescuers to their position, but she couldn't see anywhere nearby that a rescue jumper might land. It was hard to tell, though, in the murk.
The conifers, at least, provided an ample supply of dry wood; their dense upper branches shed the rain, leaving dry clusters of twigs on the easily accessible lower branches. These she gathered, and carried down to the cave.
The first time she came in, she found Rodney sprawled on the floor. His limp left hand stretched to the fire, as if he'd tried to drag himself in that direction and collapsed. Teyla froze, dropping her armload of twigs in horror, and Rodney reacted too, reaching for his gun and then falling back with a gasp when he recognized her. "God, don't scare me like that," he muttered.
"I could ask the same of you." She bent stiffly to gather the scattered firewood. After building up the fire and helping Rodney settle in a more comfortable position, she braced herself and went back out into the downpour.
After a few trips, she had a decent-sized pile of firewood, and the fire was snapping merrily, filling the tiny cave with its warm, flickering glow. The rain, Teyla thought, was a boon to them now -- the heavy weather forced the smoke down, and the rain would wash the air clean. Someone would have to get close to the cave to smell the smoke, and they'd have to be down in the ravine to see the light of their fire. And maybe not even then, she thought; the mouth of the cave was pretty well screened by the undergrowth. She must have literally fallen into it.
Rodney was half-curled on his good side as close to the fire as he could get without burning himself further. He moaned a little when she gently unbuckled the pockets of his vest, taking inventory of their assets. Between the two of them, she came up with three Powerbars; two epi-pens; various packets containing Tylenol, Dramamine, allergy medication, and water-purification tablets; two sealed packets with tightly folded, silver foil blanket inside; a notepad and pen; three extra ammo clips; a utility knife with a small, useless blade but many extra little tools; a ball of string; three pieces of cough medicine in the form of hard candy; and a good-luck charm that Marta's little sisters had made for her from sticks and yarn. She also had her survival knife, gun, and the canteen on her belt, and Rodney had his pistol. She had her radio; Rodney's had been damaged in the fire and probably would not work, though Teyla set it aside just in case.
It was not much. But they shouldn't need much -- Rodney had said that Atlantis would come looking for them when they missed their check-in, and surely it could not be very long. Not knowing -- not being able to remember -- made her feel strange, rootless, adrift. She wished Rodney were awake, for right now he was her only connection to the missing hours of her life, and not being able to sift through those missing hours for information made her very nervous. She was not used to being unable to trust herself.
Moving carefully so as not to jar her aching head, Teyla unfolded one of the blankets and laid it out on the floor of the cave. The silver material did not look very warm, but all it had to do was reflect back the fire's heat. Rodney whimpered a little when she dragged him onto it. Teyla unlaced his boots; the right boot was charred quite badly, the other a little, but both seemed to have protected his feet. There was some luck, at least.
"Rodney, can you hear me?"
He did not answer, or move from where she'd laid him. Teyla's fingers were numb, and while the activity outside had kept her from slipping into hypothermia, she was still very uncomfortable and the trembling was making it difficult to manage tasks. She built up the fire a little more, closing her eyes as the welcome heat baked onto her face, and quickly shucked off her clothing -- sodden through, it would do more harm than good. She did not hesitate before removing her underwear as well; it was not as if Rodney had never seen her without it. In the light of the fire, she saw bruises on her arms and torso that she did not remember receiving. They'd been knocked about quite a bit in the crash, it seemed.
Hurrying as she began to shiver, she spread the clothing to dry and then wrapped the second foil blanket around the two of them to form a backdrop, with the front side open towards the heat of the fire. She left both guns in easy reach.
"Rodney?" she said, gently lifting his head onto her bare thigh. He should not be wearing his wet clothing, but she was afraid of doing more damage if she tried to take it off. He was very pale, his lashes a dark sweep against his cheek. When she began to carefully try to pull back his collar, to get a better look, he stirred.
"Don't ..." he murmured.
"I need to see how bad it is, Rodney."
His eyelashes fluttered, and he looked up at her. "And that'll help, how? Just leave it alone."
Angry and frustrated, she did as he had asked. "You should drink water. And I have some painkillers, although I do not know if they will help much."
She tilted him up, trying not to hurt him, and gave him two Tylenol. When he pushed the canteen away, she took two of the pills herself, along with a few sips of the plastic-flavored water.
"Is it just me," Rodney murmured as she got his head settled once again on her thigh, resting against her bare stomach, "or are you naked?"
Despite the desperation of the situation, Teyla found herself grinning. "You are correct. I am in fact naked."
"Well, that's just depressing," Rodney mumbled. "I'm lying in my hot, naked girlfriend's lap, and I'm in no position to take advantage of it."
A small shiver went through her -- this was a rather new thing to her still, and she had rarely heard him refer to her that way. "I am sure you will take a great deal of advantage later on." She carded her fingers gently through his short, fine hair. "Rodney, when were we supposed to check in with Atlantis?"
She had to ask twice before he stirred enough to answer in a low, stumbling voice. "Eight hours after we went through the gate -- enough time to meet the locals, drop off our shipment of computer equipment, and for me --" He sighed "-- to help them get the rudiments of their network set up."
"What did you say the designation of this world is?" She would not normally have had to ask twice, but she was not sure she trusted her own memory yet.
Teyla mused over this. Her own people called that world Raiaya, and, prior to the coming of the Lanteans, had long believed it depopulated by cullings. In fact, the Raiayan people had moved far from the Ring to avoid the Wraith, and now lived in many small towns scattered across a mountainous continent. She and her team had been here a couple of times, establishing a trade relationship with the Raiayan government. Computers, she thought -- yes, the Raiayans had been most interested in Lantean technology for keeping in touch across their widely scattered nation, and happy to trade local crops and fresh meat.
"And when did we go through the gate?" she asked, but Rodney was asleep or unconscious. She stroked his hair -- it was drying in the heat of the fire, turning soft and fluffy.
A few hours was not an unreasonable time. They could hold on for that long. She tried to think of a way to warn John when he came through the gate, but the radio was really all they had. "John," she said quietly, keying her own, knowing no one would answer but trying anyway. "John? Anyone?" There was no reply but the soft hiss of static in her ear.
Despite her best intentions, she slept a little, her head resting against the gritty wall of the cave. Cold and discomfort roused her frequently, and it was during one of those times that she became aware of the sound of voices somewhere nearby.
Teyla froze in the act of poking at the fire with a stick. She held her breath. Yes, that was a human voice, not terribly close, but somewhere in the ravine.
"Rodney," she whispered, jostling him as gently as possible. He did not wake. Teyla slid out from under him, easing his head down onto the warm patch of blanket where she had been sitting. Her head spun; the Tylenol was wearing off, and her entire body had stiffened into a mass of aches.
The faint light of a wan gray dawn filtered through the dripping trees outside the cave. The rain had slackened to a mere drizzle. Over the light pattering of the rain, and the crackling of their fire, Teyla could plainly hear the sharp snaps and cracks of something large moving through the forest.
It might be our people. But she didn't think it had been long enough yet. She slipped out a hand to pick up the handset part of her radio; tucked into her vest, it had probably survived the rain in better shape than her earpiece, and would have better range. "John?" she said softly, depressing the button. Nothing but static answered.
Carefully, quietly, she extricated herself from the blankets. Gooseflesh prickled her arms, and her nipples were sharply erect in the cold. Gripping one of the guns, she crabwalked around the fire, and poked at her ragged blouse. It was damp and cold, stained with her blood -- not exactly an inviting prospect.
A stick cracked sharply outside the cave. Teyla raised her head and met the stare of a stranger: male, about her age, muddy and wet, carrying one of the crude, single-shot Raiayan-style guns in his hands. They both raised their weapons to point at each other in unison.
Teyla really did wish she'd had a chance to put on her pants.
"Are they in there?" another voice demanded, out of sight.
"Yeah," the man in the doorway said, not taking his eyes off Teyla.
"Two," he said. "I think one's dead."
"Well, shoot them already," the other voice said, and that was Teyla's cue: she saw the man's eyes go wide, because he knew what was going through her head, and she saw his finger tighten on the trigger, even as did her own.
The gunshots were deafening in the small space. Teyla threw herself flat as she fired, and dirt showered onto her. If these guns were like the others she'd seen on their trips to Raiaya, he'd have to reload, so she rolled to her knees and fired twice rapidly. He staggered back and was gone from view. Someone outside the cave was yelling.
Teyla didn't wait -- she sprang after the falling body, snapping off a single shot. Another of the great blasts of the Raiayan guns took a chunk out of the cave wall -- they were very destructive weapons, but quite limited, she mused as she peeked out of the cave. There was only one other man in sight, frantically reloading. Teyla sighted down her weapon and shot him, pushing down her emotions and leaving only a grim calm. Not for nothing had she spent all those hours on Atlantis's range. He collapsed with a bullet hole in his forehead.
The other man was not dead yet; he thrashed in the brush, making choked sounds. Still naked, shivering as the water-laden foliage brushed her body, Teyla trotted quickly to him and put him out of his pain. His wounds were severe enough, she could see at a glance, that there was little chance he would have survived.
Then she doubled over and retched. There was nothing in her empty stomach to bring up, but her head split open with pain, and dark spots danced in her vision. She supported herself on a tree until her heaving stomach calmed, then closed the eyes of the dead men, whispered a quick prayer for their souls to the Ancestors, and went back into the cave.
Rodney had dragged himself up to a sitting position, and was now propped against the wall. He held their other gun in one trembling hand, resting on his knee. "You're okay," he breathed, and then, more frantically, "You are okay, right? And did you know you don't have any clothes on?"
Despite the desperation of their situation, a smile curved her lips. "Yes, I am fine, and I am about to correct the latter situation." She started to kick dirt over the fire, and stopped, because it didn't really matter and wasn't worth wasting time on. Instead, she retrieved her clammy underwear with a little shudder. "It appears that the political situation has deteriorated considerably since we were last here."
"Yeah." Rodney let the gun slip out of his fingers onto the blanket. "I guess they've got guerrillas and such ... I wasn't paying much attention at the briefing, though you'd think someone would have mentioned that we were flying into a war zone."
Yet again, Teyla cursed her injury and the memory loss it had apparently caused. She vaguely remembered the briefing, and at least now could slot it into the uncertain chronology of the past couple of days, but she remembered little of what had been said. Raiaya was a planet of many small factions, but there had not been open hostilities the previous times they had visited the world. "Is there a war?"
"I don't know. Like I said, I was more focused on figuring out the routing of their new computer network than listening to various people nattering about politics. Um." He cleared his throat, seeming to realize what he was implying. "Except for you, of course. I could listen to you natter all day. Really."
Teyla stamped into her boots. They squished unpleasantly, but she still could not help smiling. "I also enjoy your nattering, Rodney." As he frowned, trying to figure out if he'd been complimented or insulted, she asked, "I do not suppose you remember what I was nattering about, specifically?"
"Uh, not really. Some of the outlying towns are trying to secede, I guess. And like I said -- guerrillas, in the mountains."
"Where we are currently. When will John and the others be here?"
Rodney shifted his head to read his watch, which had survived intact on his left wrist. "It's about half an hour 'til we miss our check-in. Of course, that doesn't mean they'll send someone immediately. What are you doing, anyway?"
Teyla was buckling her vest. "I had to kill two men outside -- I do not know if they were guerrillas or not, but they are not trying to take us alive. I expect others will have heard our gunshots and will be coming now. We must leave."
"Wait. What? No." His eyes had gone wide. "I can't. Teyla, really, I can't."
"You must. There is no other way." She hastily stuffed their meager scattering of possessions into her pockets, adding Rodney's gun to her own.
"I can't. You had to drag me here, remember? Okay, maybe you don't remember, but I do, at least the parts that I was awake for, and -- Teyla, no, really." He tried to shrink back as she pulled the upper blanket off his body.
"Rodney, I am sorry; I know it will hurt you --" and I would rather break my own arms than hurt you "-- but we will go as slowly as we dare, and we must leave this cave. We cannot stay here."
"Maybe I could stay here, and you could come back with help?" He looked up at her, pleading with his eyes. She shook her head, forcing down her emotions.
"These people are not playing with us, Rodney, and they do not seem to be inclined to take prisoners." She did not have time to fold up the blanket, so she wadded it into the smallest ball that she could make, and stuffed it into another of the tac vest's many pockets. Some of it overflowed, but it didn't really matter. And then she knelt by Rodney. "Here, put your arm around my neck; I will help you."
It was not pleasant for either of them, but she got him on his feet, wobbling and clinging to her as they both bent double under the cave's low ceiling. She could see that he did not have much strength, and her heart sank. Fighting their way through the underbrush was not going to be easy, and they would leave an obvious trail. For a moment, she considered giving in to Rodney's pleas and staying in the cave.
But no, her instincts were sound, she knew. More of the soldiers or rebels, whatever they were, would come to find out what had happened to their comrades. The cave was a death trap now. And John would come for them; they only had to evade their pursuers long enough to miss their check-in with Atlantis and give his people time to send help.
Burdened with Rodney, she could not bend down to retrieve the other blanket, so she had to leave it. Hopefully they would not need it.
Outside the cave, the dawn had brightened marginally, giving way to gray, sullen daylight. The rain had stopped, although water still dripped from the trees and low-lying strands of mist shrouded the far side of the ravine.
It was a little easier for Rodney to move when they could both straighten up outside the cave, although he paused at the sight of the bodies. "I had no choice," Teyla said, a bit sharply. She did not like leaving them lying sprawled in undignified positions in the ravine, both for the sake of their families and because it left an obvious trail. But there was no time to do anything about it.
"I know," he murmured into her neck. "Just ... remind me not to get on your bad side."
Teyla huffed a little laugh, and began the laborious process of helping him out of the ravine. She disliked leaving its protection, but they could move much faster in the more open woodland. Also, the higher she could climb, the more easily a rescue jumper would be able to find them.
She stopped herself from checking her watch. It did not matter. The jumper would come when it came, and in the meantime, all they could do was evade pursuit and trust in John to evade attack. At least her head was clearer, though it still ached viciously; the Tylenol had worn off, and there was not time to stop and get more.
By the time they reached the top of the ravine, Rodney was sagging on her shoulder and no longer responding to her low entreaties. The wan daylight gave her a better view of his injuries than she really wanted. The exposed skin of his right hand was swollen, red and oozing, and she could see charred places and dark, damp patches on his clothing.
Don't think about it. The first aid training she'd received in Atlantis had taught her that no good could come of attempting to do more with severe burns than lightly covering them and getting the person to the infirmary as quickly as possible. In her home village, she would know how to make salves that would soothe pain and promote healing, but she had none of those materials here. All she could do was fall back on her Lantean training and hope they were right. At least his clothing, damaged though it was, would provide some protection from the clawing branches of the trees.
But he was, for now, still capable of walking, so they walked higher. Although the rain had stopped, water continued to drip from the trees with a pattering of small plips and rustles, making it difficult for her to distinguish sounds of pursuit. At least their own noises would be similarly concealed. Several times, she thought she heard voices, but when she stopped and strained her ears, she could hear nothing that was recognizable as human speech.
Perhaps she'd erred in leaving the cave. But, no; they would have needed to get to an open space in the forest in order for the jumper to land anyway. "John," she said quietly, trying her radio. "Mayday, mayday." There was no answer.
The day continued to lighten. Some of it was a lessening of the cloud cover, but the forest also continued to thin around them as they ascended, letting more light in. They passed a few small clearings, which Teyla mentally marked as possible jumper landing sites. But she wanted to keep them moving as long as possible, putting as much distance as they could between themselves and their pursuers.
Rodney's knees buckled without warning, and he went down, taking her with him. She had a sudden jarring flash of this same thing happening before, in the rain, although she was not sure if she was remembering a specific instance or something that had happened many times. And then she'd had to drag him, and had hurt him even more, and he'd cried out ... "Rodney," she called softly, patting the undamaged side of his face.
He was hot to the touch, and unresponsive. To her own dismay, tears threatened; she had wanted to get as far as possible while he still had the strength, but now she feared that she'd pushed too hard. Maybe they should have stopped for a rest. Well, it was decided for her, anyway. He could not go farther, and she was not prepared to force the issue. She tried the canteen at his lips. He would not drink, so she wrapped him in the one remaining blanket, and drew his head and shoulders into her lap as gently as she could.
She still had both guns, and she made sure both of them were loaded and ready at hand. She'd used up most of one clip, which left her with the ability to reload each gun once. And then, they would have only her knife. Shifting her hips, she got her back against one of the larger trees.
This was not the place she would have picked for a last stand, but it was not unpleasant. On a drier day, in a less desperate situation, it would have been quite nice. The conifers soared above her to a rustling canopy of needles, shedding fat drops on her head. There was little undergrowth here, just a carpet of dead needles with clusters of pale fungi and clumps of low-growing flowers that she did not know. Up the slope above her, she could see that the trees continued to thin out. Perhaps there was space to land the jumper there.
"Mayday," she said quietly into her radio. "Mayday, mayday. John, it is Teyla; if you can hear me, please respond."
There was nothing on the radio but gentle static, nothing in the woods but the sound of falling water, rustling leaves, and somewhere the cries of a bird unfamiliar to her. Her half-dried clothes were soaked again, and, sitting on the cold ground, she began to shiver.
"Perhaps you were right; we should have stayed in the cave," she said softly to Rodney through chattering teeth, and cupped his pale cheek in her hand, letting her fingers slip gently through his hair. But then a twig snapped off in the woods, and she tensed, trying to still her involuntary shaking. Yes, now she was sure she'd heard a human voice, terse and hushed.
"John?" she whispered into the radio. There was no reply. But now she was aware of stealthy movement among the trees.
In the gray light, as long as she did not move, she would be nearly invisible. Teyla wished, now that it was too late, that she'd thought to gather some branches to conceal her outline.
She checked the pistols again, moving very slowly to avoid giving away her position, and made sure the clips were laid out where she could easily grab them to reload. The multiple-shot weapons gave her a tremendous advantage over the Raiayans with their slow, hard-to-load muskets. But she was only one woman, and there was only so fast that she could shoot.
She glanced down at Rodney. He was still and quiet, breathing shallowly through slightly parted lips; she could see the rise and fall of his chest. Water beaded his skin. The burns on the side of his face glistened in the pallid midmorning light.
Rodney always seemed different when he was asleep: softer, younger. She'd seen him sleeping only rarely -- on missions, and more recently, on the rare nights that she slept over at his quarters, or he in hers. They'd never talked about moving in together. There were a lot of things they'd never talked about.
Teyla bent and kissed him lightly on the slack lips, then raised the first pistol, and waited.
She didn't have long to wait. Dark shapes moved among the trees -- armed men in brown tunics, like the ones she'd shot in the ravine. She saw their heads rotate, scanning the trees. One of them looked towards her, and she braced herself, only to watch as his eyes swept past her. In the dim, mist-shrouded woods, covered with mud and soaked with rain, she and Rodney must look like part of the scenery, as she'd hoped.
Maybe they'd go by ...
But she saw the moment that he realized his mistake, when he froze and swiveled his head back, raising the rifle.
I should fire now. But she stayed her finger on the trigger. Killing Wraith was familiar; she felt no guilt. Killing other human beings, even those who were trying to kill her, was something she could not grow to like.
"Who are you?" he shouted at her. "Are you from Kasha province?"
Kasha, Teyla remembered from their previous visits, was the valley where the Raiayan capital was. Or at least, the city whose inhabitants had assured her team that they were the capital of the loose confederation of independent Raiayan cities... Sometimes, apparently, it did not pay to believe what you were told.
I should shoot him. But she already knew the moment had passed; she would not fire unless he shot first. "We are travelers," she called back. "We are lost and injured."
More of the men emerged from the woods, closing around them. There were no women among them, Teyla noticed; she remembered that the Raiayans were one of the worlds who did not give their men and women similar duties and responsibilities. This might work to her favor or against it, she thought.
"Drop your weapons," one of the other men demanded.
"Look at the gun," the first one said. "She's definitely one of the damned Kashites or their alien allies. These might be the ones who killed Jaden and Cal."
Now the questions came fast and thick.
"You're from the Kashites' fallen skyboat, aren't you?"
"How many of you are there?"
"What other weapons do you have?"
There were too many of them. She might be able to shoot two or three, but she could not take them all by herself, even with their single-shot guns.
One of them stepped forward and roughly jammed the muzzle of his gun into Rodney's temple. Teyla sucked in a breath, raised her pistol to point at his face.
"Drop it," he said. "Or I kill him."
I should have fired when I had the chance, before they saw me. But it had been the right decision, she could not help thinking, as she was hauled roughly to her feet. Because that is not who I am -- who we are. We are not Wraith, to kill without cause or warning.
"I think this one's dead anyway," one of the men said, shoving a boot into Rodney's side. Furious, Teyla wrenched at the hands holding her, and one of her captors rammed the stock of a rifle into her stomach. She crumpled to the wet ground.
"Shoot them both, or question them?" she heard one of them say, distantly, as she gasped against the ache in her gut and the shooting pain in her head.
And that was the moment when her radio crackled, and John's welcome, wonderful voice said, through heavy static, "McKay? Teyla? You guys read me?"
Relief hit her like a sledgehammer blow, followed by a terror just as deep -- she must warn him of the danger he was in. "John," she gasped into her radio. "Cloak the jumper, cloak it now."
"What'd she say?" one of her captors asked, but she was listening to John's voice on the radio, deceptively slow with a dangerous edge underneath: "Cloak's on. It's good to hear your voice. What happened down there?"
Sharp kicks forced her to turn over, face up to the sky; she tried to protect herself with her arms. "Subcutaneous transmitters," she whispered wildly into the radio; she and Rodney might have minutes to live, or mere seconds. "There will be life signs all around us, and tall trees. We are captured, injured. They have guns. Hurry!"
"Who's she talking to?" She was hauled to her feet, no more gently than before. The Raiayans did not have radio communications, she remembered. Someone cuffed her in the side of the head, and the radio was knocked to the ground -- she heard John's voice, small and tinny, and then it was gone. One of the men bent and picked it up, turned it over. She could hear John saying her name, and willed him to shut up, be quiet -- she did not want to give their captors more information by crying out to him.
"How many of you are there?" A fist cuffed her across the face, snapping her head to the side and stabbing icepicks through her skull.
"More than you can fight," she spat back at him. She could feel a hot trickle of blood spilling down her chin from a split lip.
The treetops overhead exploded in a cloud of smoke and fire. Needles and branches rained down -- not on top of them, Teyla realized dazedly even as her captors yelled and threw themselves down, but a few yards downwind. It had been a very precise hit, probably with a drone, she thought in a calm corner of her brain, diving for the second pistol that still lay by Rodney's leg.
She came up shooting, firing at the nearest men. She did not worry about wasting ammo, nor did she concern herself with precise targeting; the important thing was to remove as many enemies as possible, as quickly as possible. Two of them fell -- three -- and the fourth went down in a very familiar burst of red light. Teyla looked up and saw Ronon about twenty feet above her, hanging out of what appeared to be thin air as he calmly targeted the rest of the fleeing guerrillas one by one. The treetops, she saw, had been sheared off by the drone as if a giant scythe had swept across them.
"You okay?" Ronon bellowed down.
"No!" she shouted, and knelt by Rodney, ran a hand across his lips to feel his breath. Tilting her head up again, she saw that John was carefully maneuvering the jumper down between the trees -- she could tell only by the rippling foliage and the block of light in which Ronon crouched. He did not lower it all the way, because there was nowhere to set down; instead he hovered, the jumper canting at an angle -- she could tell by the angle of the ramp.
"You gonna be able to climb up?" Ronon called down to her.
"Rodney cannot," she shouted back. From the feel of her own ribs and head, she was not sure if she could, either.
There was some kind of hasty conference inside the jumper, then Ronon leaped down with a hefty bundle of ropes and strapping. Other people -- Sergeant Mehra, she saw, and Jennifer -- leaned out of the jumper, clinging to the cargo netting, and handed down a stretcher to Ronon.
"You look like hell," Ronon said, giving her a quick half-hug around the shoulders. "Go on up. We got him."
"I will help," she said, and assisted him at strapping Rodney onto the stretcher, trying to balance gentleness with the necessity for speed. Only when Rodney was safely aboard did she allow Ronon to hand her up into Dusty's waiting hands. Disorientation struck her as her body reoriented itself to the local gravity of the jumper; she stumbled, and other hands caught her, lowered her onto a bench, wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. At her feet, Jennifer and Ronon were unstrapping Rodney from the stretcher.
The jumper jerked and shuddered as John maneuvered carefully skyward. "Leave you two alone for one minute, and all hell breaks loose," he said over his shoulder. Teyla could hear the deep worry underlying his flippant tone.
"What happened down there?" Ronon asked her, looking up as he supported Rodney's shoulders so that Jennifer could peel back his uniform jacket. "Who were those guys?"
Teyla did not realize how hard she was shivering until she tried to speak; then she had to struggle to get the words out. "They are enemies of the Kasha people. I believe they know we've been coming here and trading technology to the people in the Kasha valley. They shot down our jumper." She caught a glimpse of Rodney's torso as Jennifer cut away his shirt -- the mottled, raw flesh; the oozing blisters -- and bent forward, breathing hard and fisting her hands in the muddy fabric of her pants. "He was burned --" she said, and could force no more words from her tightening throat.
"I've got him; you help her," Jennifer told Ronon hastily, and he leaped up to catch her before she fell. Teyla allowed herself to be laid on the bench, the blanket tucked more tightly about her.
"We'll be in Atlantis soon," Ronon told her. His face wavered above her, brow creased with worry.
"I know," she whispered, and closed her eyes.
She was warm, she was clean, she was dry; she hadn't even been conscious of hunger until a nurse brought her a tray of food. She would have been able to relax in a state of drowsy contentment if there had been any news of Rodney yet. Instead, she tried to uncurl her balled-up hands and pay attention to Ronon trying to explain to her the rules of breakball, a popular Satedan sport.
"So which end of the ballfield has the mud pit, again?"
"North," Ronon said, "except during the winter solstice, when they put the tiger cage there. Tigers for luck, see."
"And are the tigers ... released, from the cage?"
"'Course," Ronon said, with a look that clearly asked, What else would you do with tigers?
From her other side, John raised his head from his handheld video game to say, "I'm pretty sure all Satedan 'sports' are really just an excuse to beat up foreigners."
"Or feed them to tigers," Teyla remarked, and then Jennifer emerged from the curtains at the back of the infirmary and Teyla turned, her stomach clenching into a knot.
But Jennifer was smiling as she stripped off a pair of gloves. "We've finished cleaning and dressing his burns, and he's resting comfortably while we pump him full of fluids and antibiotics." The smile slipped away. "He hasn't had a pleasant few hours, and he's picked up an infection that we'll be wanting to keep an eye on. But he's waking up from sedation now, and as soon as he's out of recovery, you can see him."
Teyla felt Ronon's big hand curl around her own. She smiled up at him.
Rather than wheel them in to see Rodney, Jennifer and a nurse brought Rodney out to them, parking his bed next to Teyla's. He was blinking sleepily, and squinted at them with a vacant expression.
"He's gonna be pretty loopy for a couple of days," Jennifer explained. "Right now he's probably high as a kite. Which means that, once you've had a chance to see for yourselves that he's fine, I'd like non-patients to leave and let my patients sleep."
Teyla frowned, unsure if she currently constituted a patient or a non-patient. Jennifer patted her leg. "You can spend the night; I'd like to keep an eye on your concussion anyway," she said, and went to lower the lights.
After John and Ronon had had a chance to poke at Rodney a bit, they drifted discreetly out of the infirmary. Teyla rolled carefully onto her side, favoring her ribs where the guerrillas had kicked her, and stretched a hand across the space between the beds to curl her fingers around Rodney's. He gave her hand a little squeeze, and threw a bleary smile in her direction. "Have I told you lately that you're really pretty?" he mumbled.
"And you are, as your people say, doped to the gills," Teyla returned, but she was smiling.
"I'm completely, entirely and perfectly normal...ated," Rodney informed her.
"Yes, I can see that."
He squinted at her with an unfocused look of worry. "You -- you broke your head."
Teyla touched the bandage. "Yes, but I am fine now." Well, she'd have headaches for a while; she could feel one attempting to gnaw through the painkillers Jennifer had given her. But a few minor aches, and even the nagging frustration of the day-long gap in her memory, did little to dull her sense of warm contentment.
Rodney moved his bandaged right hand clumsily over to her pillow, and batted at her face. Teyla captured his fingers gently and kissed the tip of each one. "What are you doing?" she asked him when she had finished.
"You're broken," he mumbled, trying to focus on her. "I fix things."
"Things such as my head?" she said, both touched and amused. "You cannot. You are a scientist; you fix computer things. Jennifer is a doctor, and she has fixed my head." She sat up far enough to return his hand to his chest.
"You're not badly broken?" he asked anxiously, still trying to focus on her face despite the fact that sleep was obviously tugging him under.
The warm feeling grew and spread, wings of happiness unfurling under her breastbone. "No, Rodney, I am not badly broken, and neither are you. And we should both sleep now, for we have had a hard day."
"Hard day. Yeah. Okay," he mumbled, docile as a child, and closed his eyes. Teyla allowed herself to sink back into her pillows, but she stroked the palm of his hand with her thumb until she, too, fell asleep.