One thing I've been doing over the vacation is finishing up some fics from my languishing WIP folder. So you can expect a few stories to be posted over the next few days, as I polish them up. Starting with this one ...
Title: Life Extraordinary
Word Count: 2500 wds
Timeline: Mid-fifth season, after "Lost Tribe"; basically a "Defiant One" tag, though
Summary: A team moment of downtime on a rare peaceful mission leads to stories of missions past.
When they stepped through the gate, Rodney said immediately, "Looks like Mars."
John had to agree. The place was red and gray, a moonscape of rocks and low cliffs. The Stargate stood in the shadow of a rock spire, sculpted by the wind into a tormented shape right out of a Tim Burton film. John's boots sank into loose, shifting sand.
Teyla stopped to tug a scarf out of a pocket of her tac vest and wound it around her head, wrapping a fold loosely around her chin to be tugged up over her mouth if necessary. When her teammates looked at her, she smiled smugly. "What? Did you not think to bring such a thing?"
Ronon, in his heavy leather coat, scowled at her.
John sighed and slipped on his sunglasses. "Come on, kids. Let's roll. Got a direction on that energy reading, Rodney?"
"North," Rodney said, squinting at his scanner. "Well, more like north-northwest. Uh, thataway." He pointed.
They were here to check out a minor energy signature that had been picked up on MALP reconnaissance. The planet wasn't inhabited to the best of Teyla's knowledge, and nothing had turned up so far in the database. The energy signal could be any number of things, the vast majority of them completely unhelpful -- a natural radiation source, the remnants of the power core of a long-ago crashed ship, and so forth. But in the wake of their discovery of what various people around the city were already calling the "evil Asgard", Woolsey wanted anything anomalous to be checked out.
The rough country, full of narrow canyons, would have been torturous flying in a jumper, so someone needed to take a short hike. It was the sort of mission that John occasionally assigned to his own team just because it looked bad if they always got the assignments with sexy aliens and shiny Ancient facilities. Besides, sometimes it was nice to spend an afternoon without anyone shooting at them.
At least, he hoped that the day wouldn't end with anyone shooting at them.
John tuned in and out of the conversation, which began with Rodney's litany of the blisters he expected to get from the hike ("Also, I think I have sand in my ass, which shouldn't be possible." "No one wants to hear about your ass, McKay.") and turned to an uncharacteristically long and rambling tale from Teyla about Torren's newfound ability to crawl.
John strolled along with the P90 slung loosely across his chest, and, as well as watching the scenery around him, also watched his team. Rodney was engrossed in his scanner and Teyla, apparently, completely caught up in her story, but Ronon kept his eyes moving across the cliffs around them. Every once in a while his security sweep met John's and the two of them looked at each other across their teammates' heads, a small smile tugging at the corner of Ronon's mouth.
John was hot and thirsty and sweaty and already starting to experience the discomfort of sand in strange places (even if he wasn't going to admit it to Rodney) but he realized that he was also pretty damn happy.
"Oh, what's this?" Rodney said suddenly, interrupting Teyla's story. John tensed, but Rodney didn't sound frightened or upset, just intrigued.
A minute later, something gnat-sized zipped past John's ear. So far, there had been no sign of anything living on this planet other than a few stands of scrubby brush. John raised a hand to swat at the insect, and found himself staring at a little glowing bug that had zipped over to swirl about Teyla's head.
A couple more appeared out of nowhere to begin circling Rodney, who was actually grinning. He looked over at John and his grin widened. "Hey, Sheppard, it's our little friends from the Wraith planet!"
"I see that." John brushed at his ear; he had several of them buzzing him now.
"You have seen these things before?" Teyla inquired, tilting her head to see them better.
"Yeah; you were there, weren't you?" Rodney said, and then answered his own question. "I guess you weren't, not for very long. They were on the planet where we -- where Abrams and Gall -- the planet with the super-Wraith, back in our old solar system." His smile had faltered, but it flickered back when a few of the bugs circled him. "Hey there, little guys."
John couldn't resist a brief twist of the knife. "I thought you were afraid of them, Rodney."
"Oh, please," Rodney scoffed. "I have so many more things to be afraid of now that bee stings are pretty much the least of my worries. Although ..." His eyes widened a bit and he glanced at the others. "You guys have epi-pens, right?"
"Yep," Ronon said.
"Yes," Teyla added.
"Two of them," John put in.
"Oh. Good. I mean, what are the odds of me being allergic to glowing space bees, anyway?" But Rodney did jerk his head out of the way when one zipped past his ear.
"Hey, check this out. Let's see if these guys like the same food as the ones back on the other planet." John fished a powerbar out of his tac vest and tore it open, breaking off a piece.
"What are you do--" Rodney stopped when John held up the piece of food. Several of the bugs swirled closer, circling curiously until a couple of them dipped down to sample the offering. John tossed it off to the left; the entire swarm zipped after it.
"How the hell did you know they'd do that? Wait!" Rodney snapped his fingers and pointed at John. "That's how you attracted them to the Wraith, isn't it?"
"Way to stay on the ball, McKay," John drawled, amused.
Rodney blushed and drew himself up stiffly. "It's been four years! Or is it five? And I don't think we ever specifically talked about it. Hey, how did you figure out they'd do that in the first place, anyway?"
"I had time for some experiments while I was trying to get around the super-Wraith." It was a bit startling to realize that he'd never discussed it with Rodney. These days, the first words out of his mouth would probably have been "Hey Rodney! Check out this cool thing I got the glowy bugs to do!" But he hadn't known Rodney very well back then.
Teyla had taken out a powerbar of her own, and was standing statue-still, holding a piece in her palm. Several of the glowing bees hovered above it, swirling around each other in a slow, eerie dance. Her face, lit by the little glowing creatures, was enchanted.
"Break time," John announced. "Unless you're worried about getting stung, Rodney."
"That's great; mock the potentially dying man."
"It was a serious question."
"Oh." Rodney looked at him for a moment, then at Teyla with her palm full of light, and said, "I'm good."
They found places to sit on boulders in the shade, and broke out the canteens. The bugs, John noticed, were brighter when they weren't in direct sunlight. After several more pieces of powerbar had been tossed beyond the boulders, more of the bugs began to collect around them; there were probably several dozen of them now. Ronon and John began an impromptu competition, tossing small bits of food in various patterns to see if they could get the bugs to do tricks. John had just gotten one of them to follow the crumbs through a double loop-de-loop when Rodney said suddenly, "Oh hey, that's interesting!"
"What is it?" Teyla asked, looking up. She now had an array of crumbs spread out in her palm; light glittered along her fingers.
"It's the bugs." Rodney held up his scanner and swung it around. His mouth quirked. "Yeah, definitely the bugs." At the others' blank looks, he rolled his eyes. "That power reading? You know, the reason why we're here? I think it's these little guys."
"They're radioactive?" John said, frowning at the light limning Teyla's palm.
"Not to an extent that could possibly cause any harm unless you, I don't know, wallowed in a bathtub full of them for a year," Rodney said dismissively. "But, yeah, I think that's what we've been picking up. This planet must be infested with them."
"Well, hell." John lay back on the boulder. It was warm under his shoulders. "No ZPMs."
"Or crashed spaceships," Teyla said.
"That's probably a good thing." Rodney sounded a bit pensive, and John wondered if he was remembering how Gall and Abrams had died.
"So where'd you run into these things before?" Ronon asked, idly flipping the last bit of his powerbar towards the swarm.
"It was back in Atlantis's old solar system. One of the planets there." John propped himself up on his elbows. "We went out there to explore a defensive satellite; it was destroyed before you came to live on Atlantis..."
He went on, with interjections from Rodney and an occasional correction from Teyla, telling the story of the super-Wraith, of Abrams and Gall's deaths, of the Wraith meeting its demise at the business end of a drone.
John had turned in a mission report on the super-Wraith planet, and supposed that Rodney'd had to do likewise regarding the deaths of Abrams and Gall, but he hadn't realized before that the three of them had never compared notes about that long, stressful day. There were several "aha!" noises from Rodney, and nods from Teyla, as bits of John's adventures came to light. John realized himself, as Rodney told them of Gall's suicide in slow, halting sentences without meeting their eyes, that he'd never known for sure what had happened back in the Wraith ship, and kind of wished he didn't know now.
After they wound down their story, Ronon was silent for a minute before saying, "I can't believe any of you survived your first year in this galaxy."
"Hey!" Rodney barked, but there was little venom in it.
Ronon just grinned. "Anybody over the age of six knows you don't just go walking up to a Wraith ship like that."
"And how many times have you gone walking up to Wraith ships?" John felt compelled to point out.
Ronon raised an eyebrow and stretched lazily. "Yeah, but I knew it was a stupid thing to do."
The glowy bugs were starting to drift away, either their hunger or their curiosity satisfied. Teyla might have pouted a bit when her hand was empty; John politely pretended not to notice as he slid off his boulder, stood up and dusted himself off.
"Ready to head back to the gate, guys?"
"Well, this has been a completely wasted afternoon," Rodney grumbled.
"Yeah, but look on the bright side," John said. "We've only been on this planet for a couple of hours, and we're scheduled to take the whole day for this mission. And you all know what that means." He looked around at them hopefully.
"Oh God," Rodney said. "Some kind of stultifying team-building exercise, no doubt."
"How about golf?" John tried to look pathetic and hopeful, though he knew that it wasn't very convincing when he was dressed in black and armed to the teeth.
Ronon groaned and Rodney said "No way in hell" at the same time. Teyla cleared her throat politely.
"Perhaps," she said, "I could bring Torren and we could meet on the south pier to sunbathe and swim?"
"I'm bringing my laptop," Rodney said promptly. "Some of us have work to do."
"Some of us can swim," John said. "Rodney can be the lifeguard, as usual."
Ronon chuckled. "Dunno what we'd do if we actually needed to be rescued." His laugh was something John hadn't heard in a while; he'd almost stopped laughing or even smiling after Tyre's death, but then, very slowly, his quick and wicked sense of humor had begun coming out a little more, day by day.
"I can swim," Rodney said loftily. "And I'll have you know that I participated in rescue training at summer camp."
"By 'participated'," John said, "you mean that you were the rescue victim, weren't you?"
"Did you volunteer, or did someone push you in?"
"Yes, you're very amusing, Sheppard," Rodney snapped, whipping out his scanner and appearing to become engrossed in it. "Someone hit him for me."
"You were pushed, weren't you?" John needled.
"Ronon, hit him!"
Ronon reached over with a long arm and obligingly smacked John lightly on the back of the head.
He was their leader; you'd think they'd show him some respect. Of course, if they ever did, he'd start having to look around for pods. And if they did what they were told every time, anyway, they wouldn't be the team he loved.
Teyla patted Rodney on the arm. "Do not worry, Rodney. We will not push you."
"Speak for yourself," Ronon said.
"I can swim," Rodney said shortly. "I just choose not to."
Ronon nudged Teyla. "Okay, I think we gotta test this."
"Sheppard! They're conspiring to drown me!"
"Sounds to me like you dug your own hole, Rodney." John took their six, letting Rodney steam off ahead in an annoyed huff, while Teyla and Ronon strung out between them. He was pretty sure that the walk back to the gate would settle Rodney down; if not, John could mollify him with a contraband Snickers bar later. Rodney was a total sucker for that sort of thing -- not the chocolate, though John had once thought that's what did it, but rather, the little gesture of appreciation and concern.
It startled him to think that he knew Rodney that well -- hell, that he knew anyone that well. He could ease Rodney out of a bad mood, could recognize whether Teyla's raised eyebrow meant genuine irritation or tolerant amusement, could tell the difference between Ronon's comfortable silences and his rocky, angry silences. The idea that they probably knew him that well, too, was equally disconcerting.
Even more startling, though, was the realization that it'd been four years since Gall and Abrams lost their lives in that crashed alien spaceship -- four years since Rodney had saved his life by emptying two clips of ammo into an unstoppable Wraith. Lots of water under the bridge since then, John thought, looking up ahead to where Teyla had fallen in step with Rodney, who, apparently over his irritation, was showing her something on the scanner.
Four years since the super-Wraith planet -- four and a half years, then, since his decision to come to the Pegasus Galaxy had hung on the flip of a coin. And the people around him, with him, were the living evidence of the rightness of his decision, the best decision he almost didn't make.
"So do you plan to get home sometime today, Sheppard?" Rodney called over his shoulder, and okay, maybe he was still a little ticked off.
"Just enjoying the peace and quiet," John said, meaning the exact opposite, and hurried to catch up with his team.
(Note: Title from Carbon Leaf's "Life Less Ordinary".)