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beth writing 30 days without

FIC: Ursa Minor (1/1)

Title: Ursa Minor
Author: maddie_amber
Genre: Angst
Prompt Animals
Word Count: 6500
Rating: PG
Warnings: None
Summary: While investigating an odd energy signature, McKay and Sheppard are trapped by a violent storm and a rampaging beast. Pretty generic description. There be angst here and some H with a little C.
Notes: Just like to thank my beta Bruni (not on live journal) for all her insightful comments. Her crit really improved the quality of the tale. Any typos or other errors are all mine because I can’t resist fiddling with a story even after it gets the okay from my beta.

Ursa Minor

Darkness hovered at the edges of the fading light from his flashlight. The rapid drop in air temperature was undeniable and the lowering air pressure was a tangible sensation in his ears as the weather system enveloped them. If he couldn’t start a fire they would both succumb to hypothermia, even inside the relative protection of the cave.

Rodney McKay worked quickly scraping away the detritus on the cave floor until he had a circular fire pit cleaned down to bare earth. Methodically he laid the materials in the proper order. Tinder first, then kindling, then heavier branches as he had read in some obscure survival guide he barely remembered looking at. He was no boy scout, and rubbing two sticks together was not his idea of starting a fire. But maybe he wouldn’t have to.

Cautiously he felt through the pockets of the remnants of Sheppard’s TAC vest. He tried not to look at the rents in the tough material. The claws had torn more than fabric. Unconscious, Sheppard’s face was ghoulishly pale in the wan light from the flashlight. McKay would have to deal with the injuries, but he needed to start a fire first, he told himself.

“You call yourself a genius, you should be able to start a fire boy scout or not,” he muttered.

“Inside pocket on the left.”

McKay started at the sound of the soft voice. “Sheppard!”

“Matches. Inside pocket left.” Sheppard’s voice was tight with pain as a shiver ran through his body. “Easier to start a fire with matches.”

“Thank god, I thought you would never wake up.”

McKay quickly located the matches in a small waterproof container ignoring the fact that the container was now wet with blood. He almost giggled as he wondered if it was also blood proof. He wiped the box on his pant leg then bent over the small pile of wood and tinder. His own hands began to quiver as the adrenalin that had driven him drained away and the cold gripped him.

“What hit me?” Sheppard asked.

* * *

Like so many other worlds they had investigated the planet was heavily forested, abundant with animal life as well as plant. They had spent most of the day chasing an elusive energy signature McKay had been determined to locate. Teyla and Ronon had ventured in one direction with Zelenka, while Sheppard and McKay had followed Rodney’s readings. Which, Sheppard thought, was pretty much the same as following Rodney’s nose in a bake shop, and much less productive. Sheppard had had enough. The weather had begun to deteriorate over the last hour, with gusting winds and a distinct drop in temperature. He did not need a meteorologist, or for that matter McKay’s instruments, to tell him something violent was imminent.

“McKay” Sheppard bellowed.

“Behind you,” McKay’s exasperated response was barely audible.

“Have you found anything?”

“No.” McKay continued to fine tune his hand held sensor. He had raised his voice to be heard over the increasingly steady wind. “I mean the usual collection of innocuous life forms, but whatever is causing the massive amount of energy the Daedalus detected, is acting like a jamming field and doesn’t seem to have a single specific source. It could be artificially generated, but it probably more to do with the planet’s inherent energy fields.”

“Which might be a really good way to hide from the Wraith,” Sheppard speculated. He eyed the northern sky with increasing unease. With each passing moment the distant bank of clouds grew more malevolent. Dark, brooding thunderheads piled skyward, as jagged lightening flickered a phantom dance within their depths. He could almost smell the ozone in the air as a prickling sensation danced across his skin. It felt like a warning. “Any chance that incoming weather could be part of the interference problem?”

“Very probably. But the atmospheric instability could also be a result of whatever causes the static. Of course the same interference could be playing havoc with the readings I’m getting, and they could all be completely false.”

“So you’re telling me that there’s nothing here, or else there is something and it’s screwing with your instruments convincing them there is nothing here.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying,” McKay answered sharply, and then visibly shuddered. “My skin is crawling.”

Sheppard did not want to admit that he felt exactly the same way. He also did not want to admit that the approaching storm ‘felt’ evil and the feeling left him irritable and tense.

“Then let’s write this one off as a bust and get back to Atlantis. If Doctor Weir wants us to re-evaluate the situation we can do it after this storm passes.”

Sheppard tapped his earpiece. “Ronon, Teyla, I want all personnel back to the gate.” Sheppard raised his voice to be heard over the gusting wind. “I don’t like the look of the weather coming from the northeast. Get Zelenka safely back to Atlantis. McKay and I will follow in five.”

The response was a garbled crackling, but he was able to understand a single affirmative from Teyla.

“Come on McKay, let’s get moving.”

He got no argument from McKay, who seemed more than usually eager to escape this place. Picking up the pace, Sheppard began to jog back toward the Stargate, an overwhelming sense of urgency driving him. He glanced over his shoulder to check on McKay who was doggedly following, and for once not complaining about the pace, which was good because Sheppard became more irritable with each step. There was something about that storm, something that tweaked his baser instincts.

He had just broken into a clearing when all hell erupted.

* * *

McKay still wasn’t sure of the sequence of events that followed. Everything had happened with frightening speed.

He had been a few paces behind Sheppard, as they approached a natural break in the trees that opened into a broad glade. To their left ran a cliff pockmarked with small depressions and caves, on the right, dense forest. The two natural formations had played havoc with his original sensor readings, forcing them farther from the Stargate than they had intended exploring. The roiling wind-driven clouds had overtaken them, obscuring the sun and turning the dense forest into shadowy twilight.

As he ran he thought he heard other things crashing through the underbrush, but he couldn’t be sure. Not over the wail of the wind and the sound of his own labored breathing. You would think, he told himself, that after all the times he’d made this sprint to the gate with death, or worse, nipping at his heels that he would be in a little better condition. A sharp crack followed by an almost instantaneous deep rumble told him the unrelenting storm was closing in on them.

Sheppard was into the clearing seconds later, P90 up as he visually scanned the open area. He shouted something McKay did not hear for the howling of the wind. But he knew exactly what was said without hearing the words. Sheppard was urging him forward, covering for him, as always. Chest heaving as he gasped out of breath, McKay tried to call on one last burst of speed.

He could have been faster. He should have been. Then maybe they would have gotten through the gate together, unharmed. He hadn’t pushed himself as hard as he could. There was always an excuse. He was light headed because he hadn’t eaten, or short of breath because something had triggered an allergic reaction, or…or…there really was no excuse. He could have kept up.

If he had, he might have been quick enough to push Sheppard out of the way. He might have been the one to land in a heap like a stringless marionette unconscious and bleeding.

McKay had sensed the danger before he heard or saw the source. Whether a fragment of sound caught on the wind, or a latent scent, he would never know. A hulking shape, almost invisible in the descending gloom, burst from the line of trees, blindsiding Sheppard with one swipe of its paw. Tossing him aside to land in a limp heap. Striking with blinding speed for something so large, McKay barely saw the shadowy dark form in the storm’s gloom. The scene played out like an old time movie in silent flickering scenes half lit by flashes of lightning. He saw teeth wickedly white and claws that slashed, lifting Sheppard from where he’d fallen, raking across his body. McKay froze, unable to respond as the animal pounced on Sheppard before rising onto its hind paws. It thrashed its head from side to side, pawing at its head as if in pain. .

“No…no…no…” McKay yelled, as he struggled to draw his handgun. The sound of his voice was swept away by the wind. The hulking form hovered over Sheppard’s motionless body, swaying. McKay held his fire. His arms shook as he tried to steady his weapon. Sheppard was too close. The thing, which resembled a bear more than anything McKay could recognize, pawed at its own head, rubbing as though trying to rid itself of an annoyance, then turned and staggered a short distance and hunker down its back to the raging wind.

McKay was frozen where he stood, his firearm still held up and at ready, his arms quivering with the effort to aim the damn thing. Sheppard was between him and the bear thing, a still formless lump in the descending gloom. McKay fought the panic that surged upward. Think, think, think he told himself.

He had to get to Sheppard, had to get him to safety. Assuming, and McKay balked at the idea, assuming he was still alive. Slowly he edged forward, never taking his eye from the animal that rocked back and forth as if soothing itself. There was no way he was going to be able to sneak past the creature. Not if he was dragging Sheppard along behind him. If he shot and missed, or worse, wounded the animal, they could be far more screwed than they already were. Maybe it would leave on its own.

The first icy drops of rain began to fall, splattering hard against his shoulders and unprotected head, frigid against his overheated skin. No, he groaned to himself. The drop in temperature since the storm overtook them had been precipitous. Times and temperatures, and survival rates for exposure and hypothermia rattled through his mind, even as he began to creep slowly to where Sheppard lay. As he did McKay saw him shift slightly. Stay still, stay still, stay still, and stay quiet, McKay chanted silently, the words a litany of pleading. If you move now it might see you. He continued to advance until he stood over Sheppard. The beast was less than ten meters away. He had seen how quickly it could pounce. If it decided to charge, he would be next to feel its claws. Fumbling with his holster, he slid his sidearm back into place on his leg. Hoping the bear thing did not turn and see him, or scent him, he reached down and grabbed Sheppard’s tac vest at the shoulders.

Inch by inch McKay began to drag Sheppard away from the clearing. He tried to ignore the wetness he felt saturating Sheppard’s clothes, telling himself it was just rainwater, not blood, but in the increasingly frequent flashes of lightening he could see the rents in the colonel’s clothing. The claws had penetrated more than fabric.

It took an agonizingly long time to drag Sheppard out of the clearing and into the brush at the edge of the woods. He never took his eyes off the beast, but it seemed to have no interest in reclaiming its prey. Instead it huddled, pawing continuously where ears should be and shaking violently as if trying to rid itself of an irritant.

McKay wondered if its skin was crawling like his was. There was something about this storm. The charged air left his skin twitching

The rain came down in soaking torrents. The path to the Stargate was blocked by the creature, and even if it weren’t, McKay doubted he could carry Sheppard that far. His clothes were saturated, the downpour had changed to the sharp bite of sleet and a chill ran through him. Sheppard stirred again and McKay knew he had to find shelter. Wounded, unconscious, Sheppard would be more susceptible to the cold than he and McKay was already feeling the storm’s icy grip.

* * * *

Dank walls oozed moisture and the air had chilled as the storm outside howled with increasing intensity. The closeness of the cavern walls and the steadily shrinking light brought him to the edge of panic, but he held his own fear at bay. He had to.

He should be the injured one, McKay thought as he fumbled with the matches. Not that he fancied bodily harm, but because Sheppard, or Ronon or Teyla were all better at survival that he was. He couldn’t even start a lousy fire. Not even with a match.

“It needs air,” Sheppard said. The words were barely a whisper, tight with controlled pain. “Blow. Don’t blow it out.”

McKay knew that. He just wasn’t thinking. Shivering he bent over to breathe life into his fledgling fire.

McKay could hear Sheppard’s teeth chattering and did not like the sound of his voice. He was talking just to talk, to stay awake, and alert. Talking was McKay’s job. “Come on. Come on.” He coaxed the tiny flame with twigs and bits of dry grass he’d found on the cave floor.

When he dared look away from the fire, he risked a glance at Sheppard. Sheppard’s eyes were closed but his face was not relaxed and his body continued to tremble. McKay wracked his brain for all he knew about hypothermia. But was it hypothermia, or shock, or a concussion or had that thing been carrying some type of poison in its fangs or claws?

“The gate?” Sheppard’s question was forced through clenched teeth.

“We were too far way when you were attacked,” McKay could feel his own teeth begin to chatter. “I was lucky to haul you as far as this cave.”

Sheppard’s hand went to his chest, where his P90 should have been. “My gun?”

McKay shrugged feeling more irritable than he had a right to. “I don’t know. I assume it got torn off. It was dark and I was too busy dragging you to look for it.”

“Your sidearm?”

“Yes,” McKay shot back. The word was sharper than he intended. He didn’t want to have to defend his own response to danger, which was pure, unadulterated self-preservation. “I waved it in the air. It wasn’t impressed.” If I had tried to shoot it, I probably would have taken you out along with it, he added silently to himself. “Then the storm hit.”

“Calm down, Rodney.” Sheppard’s voice was a sharp hiss. “I need to know what went down. What we’re up against. Assess the situation.” His sentences were clipped, each word bitten off as he ground his teeth against the pain.

“Okay.” McKay took a deep breath. “You must have hit your head the first time it tossed you. I was able to drag you away from Winnie the Pooh’s evil twin. Once I got you back to the wood line, you started to stir. Do you remember?”

Sheppard shook his head. “Vaguely. No, not really.”

“Well, you were able to help some and we backtracked to this cave, which is really little more than a dimple in the rock face. It had already begun to rain. We were soaked. It’s cold and we needed shelter. That…that…THING…didn’t follow us. I don’t think it followed us. I scavenged some wood that I’m now trying to burn. You were unconscious.” There was an edge of defiance in McKay’s voice. He was going his best to save them both and had no clue if he was doing anything right.

Sheppard raised a hand to stem McKay’s tirade. ”We need to know where it is.” Sheppard’s voice was calmer. He tried to push himself up on one elbow, but slumped back down with a barely stifled grunt of pain.

McKay put a hand firmly on John’s shoulder. “Neither of us is going anywhere in this storm. My life signs detector is not working. There’s too much interference from the weather. We’d be blind and I personally do not want to risk another close encounter with Godzilla the bear. Besides we’d both likely die of hypothermia. We’ll be lucky if that doesn’t happen anyway. This should blow over in an hour or two. By then Atlantis will come looking for us.” McKay was babbling and he knew it. He was trying to convince himself even if he couldn’t convince Sheppard.

McKay could tell by the look in Sheppard’s eyes that he did not relish being looked for if he could walk out of this situation on his own.

The fire had finally begun to dance, and the light and feeble warmth were welcome. Even if it did reveal how miserably small there shelter was. It was easier to envision a larger space when everything was pitch black. McKay bit back the claustrophobic fear that nudged at him and cautiously fed additional sticks into the blaze until he began to build a small bed of coals. Then he methodically added larger wood. The simple activity kept him from thinking of how screwed they could be.

“Keep it small,” Sheppard cautioned. “This place could turn into an oven.”

“We need heat to dry out.” McKay looked at Sheppard and his stomach knotted and churned. He swallowed down the nausea. “And I need to dress those wounds. Beckett will kill me if I don’t do at least a field dressing”

Sheppard gave him a strained smirk. “Rodney Nightengale…”

McKay could tell that the prospect of dealing with his wounds didn’t sit well with Sheppard. He didn’t like the idea himself. Beckett had insisted they all learn basic first aid. As with everything, McKay had absorbed the information with ease. But memorizing the techniques and actually putting them to good use was another story.

“We should wait until you’re dry. And warm,” he stammered, stalling the inevitable.

“The blood will dry. Have you peeled off a bandage that had stuck to a wound with dried blood?” Sheppard did not need to explain further. This time Rodney reached out to help as Sheppard struggled to a sitting position. The effort resulted in another spasm of trembling. Sheppard pulled whatever first aid supplies he had from his shredded pockets, unzipped what was left of his vest, and began to unbutton the shirt beneath it. But his hands shook so violently he couldn’t unfasten the buttons.

Rodney wasn’t feeling much warmer himself, but he had stopped shivering. Gingerly he eased the vest over Sheppard’s shoulders, and then reached for the shirt buttons. Sheppard’s look made him pause. Then McKay quickly finished the buttons. He probably would have been farther ahead just cutting the shirt off. There wasn’t that much of it left, but even in tatters it would offer some protection from the cold, and Sheppard was going to need the warmth. .

As he eased the shirt off and laid it on the ground with the vest, McKay tried not to let his face show how tightly his gut knotted. The dark fabric had camouflaged the blood that had soaked Sheppard’s shirt, covered his torso and pooled around the waistband of his fatigues. The animal’s claws had raked Sheppard’s back, abdomen and arms tearing through fabric, skin and muscle. The gouge marks were filled with dirt and bits of fabric. The edges of the wounds were already beginning to look puffy and inflamed. McKay was not equipped to handle this. He didn’t have enough bandages to even begin to cover all of the wounds, much less enough of anything to cleanse them.

“That bad?” Sheppard asked.

So much for a poker face, McKay thought. “I … I don’t have enough…of anything,” McKay stammered before his voice shuddered to a stop.

“Dress the worst,” Sheppard directed. He clenched his jaw. It was a futile attempt to keep his teeth from chattering violently. “Make sure the bleeding has stopped. Beckett will have to handle the rest.”

* * * *

When Rodney finally finished he wasn’t sure he had actually done Sheppard any good. In the end he was able to apply pressure bandages to the deepest wounds. Fortunately no major blood vessels seemed to have been damaged. And it didn’t look as if the animal had used its teeth, so there were no deep puncture wounds. He had helped John put his shirt and vest back on. They were stiff with dried blood, but at least they weren’t stuck to his wounds. Sheppard hadn’t made a sound through the entire procedure, despite McKay’s clumsy ministrations, but his face was even whiter than it had been before. John needed to get back to Atlantis to a clean facility and someone with the knowledge to properly treat his injuries.

Rodney fed a few more small pieces of wood into the fire, carefully rationing the supply he had managed to gather. As he did he talked, aimlessly, trying to find courage in the sound of his own voice. It didn’t matter if Sheppard responded or even listened. It only mattered that he talked.

Sheppard was again lying on his side, curled slightly and facing the fire. McKay had made him drink water, down some Tylenol and, just because he knew Beckett would ask, he had checked Sheppard’s pulse. It was faster than McKay would have thought normal, but he really had no clue what normal felt like in someone else. Sheppard had finally succumbed to a fitful sleep, his body occasionally twitching as if fending off some dream enemy. Rodney jumped each time Sheppard flinched. In his mind’s eye he could still see the beast that had attacked Sheppard. It was outside, somewhere.

McKay sat huddled in his own misery, knowing that they needed to get back to Atlantis but unable to act on that knowledge. Drawing his knees up to his chest to conserve his own body heat, he listened to the splatter of sleet and freezing rain on the rocks outside. While he had been occupied dressing Sheppard’s wounds the wind had continued to howl.

He watched as time ticked past, first one hour then two. He had to admit he wondered why no one from Atlantis had attempted a rescue yet. The weather was the logical reason. As infallible as Ancient technology seemed, gates occasionally failed to initialize, and the powerful forces at work on this planet might be enough to cause a gate malfunction. He also knew with certainty that every hour spent here increased the probability of infection and made healing Sheppard’s wounds more difficult. And still the wind wailed.

As McKay’s mind ran in an endless spiral of helpless and frustrating conjecture their supply of wood, minimal to start with, was slowly depleted. McKay shuddered at the thought of venturing out to find more but knew he dare not let the fire go out. Sparing a glance at Sheppard, McKay pulled the collar of his jacket up around his ears and zipped the front as far as he could. He slid his pistol securely into the holster strapped to his thigh then palmed the life signs detector. He doubted it would be of any help, but he had no intention of venturing far from the cave without it.

Before becoming sleet, the pelting rain had transformed into freezing rain that had dressed the vegetation near the cave entrance with a heavy coat of ice, bending the branches downward to cover the cave mouth forming a natural barrier. It had helped retain the heat from their feeble fire and shelter them from the wind. McKay was reluctant to break down the shield and moved cautiously through the branches into the open.

The wind caught him like a blow to the chest, sucking the air from his lungs. The driven sleet felt like needles puncturing the exposed skin of his face. His first instinct was to immediately retreat back into the cave, but the memory of Sheppard’s injuries was fresh in his mind. Forcing back his own instinct for self preservation, he plunged into the darkness. He needed to allow time for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, but he dared not delay too long. At least, he consoled himself the sleet wouldn’t immediately soak through his clothing like the rain had.

Walking with exaggerated care on the icy gravel near the cave mouth, he slowly worked his way towards the tree line, catching himself more than once as his feet slipped out from underneath him. One step at a time, he kept telling himself. He did not have to venture far before he found what he was after. As he had hoped, the wind had worked to his advantage, bringing down deadwood from the trees near the cave wall. With icy fingers he grabbed at the first piece of wood he found only to knock himself backward as the piece slipped from his fingers. It was not only covered with ice, but frozen to the ground. Sitting, he braced his feet against the wood and kicked, knocking it loose and sending it skittering several feet away. Repeating every curse he had heard from every marine since they had arrived in the Pegasus galaxy and wishing he could add a few in fluent Czech, he proceeded to kick loose one piece of fallen branch after another until he had an armful of wood. Wishing he had thought to fashion a sling to drag the firewood, he struggled back toward the cave with his burden. He made two trips, until he thought he had enough to keep them warm for another hour or two.

By the time he had pulled himself and his precious firewood back into the cave he was exhausted. He quickly checked Sheppard and was relieved to find him still sleeping. He knew time was a critical factor in the treatment Sheppard’s injuries, but there was no way he was going to get Sheppard out of here and to the gate until the storm subsided. He had barely been able to move fifteen yards away from their shelter. He fed more wood to the fire, stoking it to a bright flame, before he sat and leaned against the wall. The fire was a small but steady blaze and there were enough coals to hold the heat. Even though he was once again wet, he wasn’t soaked to the skin, and the wetness rose from his clothing as steam in the close warmth of the cave.

McKay felt his eyelids begin to droop. He jerked his head upright. He didn’t need to do the bob and weave now. He needed to stay awake to keep the fire burning. But the warmth of the fire and the steady howl of the wind had a lulling effect. He realized he was exhausted and hungry. He fed another piece of wood to the fire, leaned his head back against the wall and tried to tune out the banshee wail of the wind.

* * * *

McKay came awake with a start. A cold chill crept up his spine and it was not because his fire had been reduced to a pile of glowing embers while he slept. There was something outside the cave. He heard snuffling snorting sounds distinctly different from the wind he’d gone to sleep listening to. There was the crackling tinkle of breaking ice. Something was outside.

In a panic, McKay fumbled for his handgun. He needed to wake Sheppard. Needed his skill with a weapon. Needed his ability to kill. Reaching across the bed of coals he nudged his companion. No response. He nudged again and Sheppard exhaled in a sharp rush. His eyes opened and McKay saw the pain ghost across his face as each movement stretched the battered flesh of his back and stomach, pulling taut raw wounds open. But Sheppard caught McKay’s eye and made no sound. McKay pointed to the cave entrance and Sheppard understood the need for silence. Slowly he reached down and slid his own handgun from the holster strapped to his thigh.

McKay was frozen more from fear than from the need to remain motionless. After what seemed an eternity, he heard the crunching footsteps retreating away from the cave. When the sound had disappeared he finally remembered to breathe and lowered his weapon. Only then did he glance back to Sheppard. The man looked like hell. Rodney would practically feel the waves of fever radiating from his body.

“We need to get you back to Atlantis,” McKay blurted.

Sheppard just nodded weakly. He passed a trembling hand over his eyes.

“The storm is over.” McKay moved to the edge of the cave. With exaggerated caution he held the life signs detector as far outside as physically possible without actually leaving the cave. “Crap,” he muttered. There was still no sign that the LSD was working. Whatever else the storm had accomplished, it had not cleared the interference that was boggling his equipment. In fact it seemed to be worse.

He turned back to see Sheppard sitting up.

“Help me up, Rodney. I’m not sitting here waiting for rescue.”

* * * *

The slight slope of the ground in front of their shelter proved to be extremely hazardous. Though the wind speed had diminished, it still gusted strongly enough to forcefully push them once they were away from wall of rock. The ground was covered with ice, turning the graveled approach to the caves into an ice skating rink. Twice they almost lost their footing entirely. Sheppard’s movements were stiff and awkward, not his usual casual grace. He leaned heavily on McKay who was more than happy to be a crutch as long as Sheppard could handle the shooting. Their progress was agonizingly slow. At this rate it would take an hour or more to reach the gate.

They had barely reached the wood line when they heard a snuffling noise behind them. Rodney looked over his shoulder and his blood went far colder than it had literally been the night before. Behind them was a hulking bearlike brute. It looked even larger in the cold light of day as it rose on its hind legs, towering over them. Its head moved back and forth sniffing the air.

“Oh, crap, oh, crap, oh, crap,” Rodney stammered, as he fumbled for his sidearm. “What do they say to do when you encounter a bear,” Rodney whispered, his voice rising in panic. “Do you stare them down or play dead. I’m all for playing dead.”

“This is no bear, Rodney,” Sheppard said. Even injured, Sheppard had outdrawn him and now held his weapon on the animal

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, you need a bigger gun. You can’t kill that with a handgun.”

“Well, I wish I hadn’t lost the P90,” Sheppard shot back, “but enough shots from this will kill a Wraith, I’m assuming it will do the same to our furry friend.”

The seconds drew into minutes as neither man nor beast moved.

“What’s it doing?” Rodney finally asked.

“I don’t know.” Sheppard responded. “I’m not a big game expert.”

Rodney could hear the strain in Sheppard’s voice and knew the man must be running on sheer will power.

Slowly, the animal dropped to all fours. It continued to look at them, head swaying from side to side as though trying to focus its tiny eyes. Its nose twitched occasionally, sampling the air, and Rodney was certain, their scent. It made a soft hooting, huffing noise, a small sound for an animal that large. Its sides quivered sending ripples through its glossy black coat. Rodney stiffened.

“It could be calling others.”

“Quiet, Rodney,” Sheppard hushed him. “It’s not being aggressive.”

“Oh, yeah, it just about ripped you to shreds last night, I call that…”


The animal hooted once more, bobbing its head up and down. Then it shook itself from nose to rump like an over grown Newfoundland. It pawed once at the air as if inviting them to play, then it turned and lumbered into the woods.

Sheppard slowly lowered his weapon. His hand shook as he returned it to his holster and blew out the breath he’d apparently been holding. “Let’s go Rodney, while it says we can.”

“What just happened?” Rodney turned with a confused look on his face. “That was what? Sheppard that…that thing or one of its kind tried to kill you last....”

“Tried, but didn’t.” Sheppard interrupted McKay’s tirade. “Rodney, how did you feel right before that storm hit?”

Rodney shrugged. “I don’t know. Annoyed because we couldn’t finish what we came here to do.”

“Annoyed because we couldn’t finish, or because you just felt annoyed? Did you feel like you had something crawling all over your skin?”

“Well, maybe. What are you getting at?”

Rodney took his place at Sheppard’s side, steadying the other man as they started to walk again, but he kept glancing nervously over his shoulder every other step.

“Well, I felt more than annoyed,” Sheppard said. I felt irritable, tense, like my skin was crawling and I was pretty pissed off because you were being so damned slow.”

Rodney started to huff an indignant protest, but Sheppard raised a hand cutting him off. “How did that animal react? You saw it. I didn’t. How did it behave after it attacked me?”

Rodney thought about Sheppard’s question as they continued to move as quickly as they could. “Almost, like it was trying to rid itself of an irritant. It kept batting at it head, where its ears should be.” Rodney caught himself again as he almost slipped and fell. For a few minutes they continued to walk in silence, concentrating on placing each step securely. McKay felt the overwhelming urge to go faster, but tempered his uneasiness and let Sheppard set the pace. They fell into an awkward but steady gate, made more awkward by McKay’s constant need to visually scan their surroundings for any sign of animal life. The gate was still 45 minutes or more away.

“I felt that way too,” Sheppard said, breathing hard with the exertion of walking on the icy ground. “Like something had gotten under my skin and was eating its way out. I was pissed, and there was no reason to be. What if that thing felt the same way, and what if it had something to do with that storm? It could easily have killed me, but it didn’t. It could have attacked us just now, but it didn’t.”

McKay was no biologist nor did he profess to know much about animal behavior, but he did know the physics and there had definitely been some wild energy readings associated with the storm as it approached. It had left a prickling crawling sensation all over his body that was both physical and subliminal. That could have been the source of the irritant the animal was trying to rid itself of.

“So you think it just attacked you because it felt annoyed?” Doubt was evident in the tone of McKay’s voice.

“Maybe. Maybe I startled it. Maybe it was protecting itself or something else.”

“Maybe you and it were both nuts.”

“The point is McKay, it didn’t kill me.”

“Not yet. The other point is if we don’t get you back to Atlantis infection from those wounds might still kill you.”

He could tell Sheppard was tiring. The man leaned more heavily on him as they progressed, but John said nothing. McKay checked Sheppard as frequently as he checked for wildlife, and did not like the pinched tightness of his companion’s face. McKay knew Sheppard was in pain, and that every movement was difficult.

The air was cooler in the deeply wooded areas, but there was less ice on the ground and they were able to move a little more quickly which suited McKay. If bears lived in these woods, he had no desire to be in them.

At last they broke into the final broad field that held the DHD and Stargate, they both came to an immediate halt. At the side of the clearing, less than 15 feet from the DHD stood another bearlike brute. If McKay had thought the last one they encountered couldn’t be more imposing, he was wrong. This specimen was at least twice as large. When they broke into the open it rose to its full height, standing on its rear legs, cautiously testing the air as its head moved back and forth.

McKay felt Sheppard’s hand move to the weapon at his side, his entire body tensing to spring into action if needed. McKay doubted a handgun would stop this one if it decided to attack. It was a standoff, neither side moving. Then the animal woofed, in much the same fashion as its smaller counterpart had, except the sound was deeper and more mature. It bobbed its head, then dropped to all fours and ambled into the heavier vegetation. From a small copse of trees to its left, a smaller black furred beast fell into step behind it.


“I know, I know.” McKay was already heading for the DHD. “Dial Atlantis.”

As they rounded the DHD they again came to a sudden stop and stood staring. Rodney would have been less surprised had they found the DHD gutted and useless. Lying on the DHD looking as though it had been chewed on and dragged through the mud was Sheppard’s P90. In unison they looked to where the animals had disappeared into the undergrowth.

Sheppard reached out and reverently picked up the weapon. His thumb ran over the deep gouge on the stock. McKay knew Sheppard had a few that matched.

“You’ll have to ask the biologists to explain this one,” McKay said as he quickly tapped the symbols on the dialing device.

“Oh,” Sheppard said softly, “I think I know. That little one wasn’t being aggressive or protecting anything. It was lost in the dark and in a storm, separated from its mother, scared and probably felt like crap. I startled it and it lashed out.” The Stargate whooshed to life behind them. Sheppard laid a hand on Rodney’s shoulder. “I think mama bear just made him apologize for not playing nice with his toys. “

Rodney gave Sheppard his best dubious look.

Despite the exhaustion evident in every line of his body, Sheppard’s grinned. “Let’s go home, Rodney.”




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Excellent & thoughtful post.