Word Count: 1600
Warning (spoilery; highlight to read): Character death
Summary: The planet looked just like British Columbia, as they often do. Team story, gen, John POV. For cliche_bingo square Ghosts & Hauntings.
In a turn of events that no longer surprised John, the planet looked exactly like British Columbia: big trees soaring to a high forest canopy, rolling ground carpeted with dead leaves and fragrant needles. Birds chattered to each other in the morning sun, high overhead.
It was a good enough place; he didn't guess it mattered all that much. In one direction, the ground sloped up, away from the Stargate; the other way, it dropped off into a valley. John knew that he'd be more likely to find water in the downhill direction, but he'd always preferred going up, so he settled his pack more securely on his shoulders and climbed instead.
After about half an hour of hiking, he broke out of the trees onto a glorious overlook, with the valley laid out at his feet. Somewhere off to his left, a soft dripping sound led him to a tiny spring, bubbling up in a cradle of moss. It was a gorgeous spot, and he spent the afternoon clearing a space to pitch his tent and carrying stones for a fire ring. The only problem was that he couldn't see the Stargate from here, and he wanted to be able to watch it. But he was pretty sure he'd be able to hear it activate if anyone came through, and that was probably good enough.
Over the next couple of days, he used a couple of his limited supply of bullets to shoot two of the big squirrel-like creatures that infested the trees. He hadn't bothered bringing any food with him except for a handful of powerbars -- he'd wanted to travel light, and figured that he could forage along the way. Since he had plenty of free time once the camp was set up, he started setting snares along the well-worn little squirrel paths around the spring. A bow might be a nice idea, to supplement his meager supply of bullets, but he'd need to take down a bigger creature for leather or sinew to make a bowstring, and so far, he hadn't seen anything bigger than the squirrels and the foxlike predators that preyed on them. Nevertheless, he began collecting long straight branches and scraping them smooth for arrow shafts.
When it eventually happened, he didn't hear the Stargate; he had his head buried in the little dell where the spring was, enlarging the place where the water trickled up to make a pool. Something alerted him, though, maybe a hush in the birdsong -- he'd become very attuned to them -- and he raised his head just as Teyla walked into the clearing, kitted out for traveling in her long Athosian coat, with a pack resting high on her shoulders.
She stopped, and they both were still for a long moment, looking at each other. Then she said, "Oh, John," and came to him, put her hands on his shoulders, drew him down for a hug. This time, he was a little better at figuring out where to put his hands. She pulled back and laid her hand on his cheek, brushing something away. That was the first he realized that he was crying.
"Is this where you are ... waiting?" she asked, and he showed her the camp -- the nice flat place he'd found for the tent, the sections of logs he'd rolled over by the fire to serve as chairs. There were four of them; Teyla didn't comment on this.
Over the fire, he'd spitted a squirrel, and Teyla squinted at it critically and prodded the charred flesh gently with a finger. "Mirik," she said, identifying it. "They are decent to eat, but surely that is not all you've been eating?"
So they foraged -- Teyla pointing out which fruiting plants were safe to eat, or showing him where to dig edible tubers along the banks of the spring. The meals that they prepared wouldn't have been up to Julia Child standards, but after several days of nothing but burned-on-the-outside, raw-on-the-inside squirrel meat, anything would have tasted good. In the evenings, Teyla played a many-reeded set of Athosian panpipes that she'd brought with her, and sang. John wished he'd thought to bring his guitar.
The Stargate lit up at night, some days later. Neither John nor Teyla were sleeping; the fire had burned down to coals, and the two of them were sitting on the edge of the clearing, making up names for the unfamiliar constellations. The wash of blue light across the trees below them drew their attention. John put a hand on the butt of his gun, but Teyla laid her fingers across his. "I do not think that the Wraith have this gate address," she said.
And a Wraith would probably have been a lot quieter. Crashing, thrashing, and occasional muffled swearing heralded Rodney's entrance into the clearing. "Nice," he snapped, pulling twigs out of his hair. "You couldn't have picked a beach resort planet? Maybe something technological for a change?"
There was a sarcastic retort on the tip of John's tongue, but his throat closed up; he couldn't say it. Teyla took charge of Rodney, showing him where to put his pack and giving him a brief tour of the campsite and the spring.
"Well," Rodney said, a bit mollified as he sniffed at the stew bubbling over the fire, "if a four-star hotel was too much to ask for, at least you made dinner. I'm starving."
Into John and Teyla's comfortable silences, Rodney brought sound and light and quick-moving energy. He had his laptop, of course, with an odd little umbrella-like antenna that he set up at the edge of the clearing, with wires winding across to the computer. "Solar recharger," he explained, "since some of us are apparently allergic to planets with wall sockets."
"You don't really need that, do you?" John asked before he could stop himself.
Rodney snorted. "There's very implausible, Sheppard, and then there's completely impossible, and a Dell running at high processor speeds for more than three hours on a single battery charge definitely falls into the realm of the impossible. This galaxy has given me a much higher tolerance for implausibility than I ever dreamed, but I draw the line at infinitely powered laptops."
It was difficult to argue with Rodney's particular brand of illogical logic. "I'm just surprised you haven't retrofitted it to run on zero point energy by now," John said.
Rodney opened his mouth to reply, then closed it and looked thoughtful. "You know, that is ... a very interesting idea," he said briskly, and flipped open the laptop; in a few minutes, the keys were clattering away at some significant fraction of McKay thoughtspeed. John went down to the spring, which also doubled as their refrigerator, to fish out the jar of berries that Teyla had picked earlier for dessert.
Three of the logs around the fire were occupied now; the fourth remained empty for much longer than John was comfortable with, or had expected, before Ronon finally strolled out of the woods, bringing nothing with him but his gun. Somehow that wasn't a surprise. The much bigger surprise was his short, curly hair. John didn't really want to mention it, but Rodney spoke up, of course. "What's the deal? Got tired of carrying around ten pounds of hair?"
"Satedan mourning ritual," Ronon said simply, and ran a hand through his dark curls. There was a short silence before he added, "So, you guys coming, or what?"
"What, now?" Rodney squeaked. "Don't you want to sit down for a while first?"
"I'm ready," Teyla said, tucking her panpipes back into her pack.
John looked up from the fire; he just looked at her for a moment. "I thought maybe you'd want to, you know. Wait for Torren."
"Torren will not be along for a while yet," Teyla said gently. "A long while, Ancestors willing. When the time comes, he will find us, I'm sure. Besides, he will have his own road to travel, his own journey to make."
"Great," Rodney sighed, "more traveling," but he was smiling, just a bit, as he folded up the solar recharger and coiled the wires.
John thought about bringing the tent, but it was heavy and they hadn't been using it at all, preferring to sleep under the stars, even Rodney. Besides, collapsing it and packing it away would take time, and he'd been waiting too long already. He was restless, ready to move, eager to see what was on the other side of the Stargate this time.
While John poured water over the fire, Teyla helped Rodney cinch up his pack straps. "You know, I kinda thought this was -- you know, the end of the road," he said, looking over his shoulder as she resettled the load to be carried more comfortably. "Not what I was expecting, really, but scenic, at least."
"I do not think so." Teyla stepped back and inspected her handiwork, then nodded and picked up her own pack. "I think this is more of a ..." She hesitated.
"A waiting place," John said, because he'd had plenty of time to think about it while he was waiting for the others -- waiting to see if they'd show up at all, or if this was it, if it would just be him, alone in a conifer forest for all eternity. "A place between here and there."
"So," Ronon said, twirling his gun. "Let's go find out what 'there' is."
A few minutes later, the Stargate activated for the last time, its blue glow washing over the trees and then winking out, leaving this planet to the sun and wind and the echoes of birdsong.