Author: jenn (seperis)
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Title: Traturian Thaw by sheafrotherdon
If he thinks about it, it's that she did it so openly.
Reaching across the table, her hand covers his on the brittle parchment. "You are not like the others."
She's pretty and she's smarter than most of her woefully undereducated people, and so what if he can't remember her name, she likes him. A trained astronomer, far advanced in her field given her people's development, and the Trautrians, for all their obsession with all things involving dirt and manure, were more modern in their culture and practices than most Pegasus civilizations. Through every trip, he's caught her watching him, blue eyes wide and serious, finger tapping against her lower lip, nail short and practical. They're a very practical people; Rodney's vaguely aware that the muscles in those arms are probably bigger than his from years of working the earth before she moved into scholarship. He's fairly sure she could drop kick him without too much effort. Teyla can do that, too.
Weirdly, he doesn't mind that much, not when she's looking at him with such concern.
"No," he says. Of course he's different; he's a scientist, and they're--not. Her fingers stroke up the back of his hand, and Rodney watches her eyes narrow thoughtfully.
"The old ways are kept here," she says, changing the subject suddenly. "When we are seven, we are set a test."
Rodney blinks. "Test." Academic potential maybe. Seven's a little old; before five is a better indicator of IQ--
"We are left in the wilderness to make our own way back home," she says seriously, and right, Rodney almost forgot, *Pegasus*. "It is a test of our strength and our ability to endure. Our world is not an easy one. Only the strong are allowed to flourish."
"Flourish. Right." Rodney glances down at the parchment, at the neat line of equations that are her work, and thinks of a blonde seven year old girl left to fend for herself. "Very Vulcan of you."
Her eyebrows draw together sharply. "Vulcan? Is that a world you have visited?"
"Not since Yates got my DVDs," Rodney answers, and he's got to do something about that. Her expression goes more blank, and Rodney sighs. At least Teyla *pretends* to understand. "Never mind. You were saying survival?"
She nods, hand tightening over his. "You must understand. It's the duty of everyone to assure only the strong move on. Weakness is not tolerated. Weakness leads to death for the village, for the *people*."
"Okay." She's still studying him. "Well. If it works for you--"
"Yes. It does." With that, she leans back, mouth curving slightly. "So you understand why we do this? It is our duty to our people--to all people. To strip away what is not fit, to remove their burdens so they may not be encumbered."
"Right." Rodney shifts uncomfortably. "Well. Good. I mean. That's good."
"I thought you would understand," she says, and her smile's so warm that Rodney feels himself smiling back, though he has no clue what the hell she's talking about. "I hope we will speak again in three days."
Standing up, she goes to the door, knocking twice. It opens, two depressingly overdeveloped farmers coming in, looking between him and the woman intently. "He has agreed."
"Agreed?" There are things he no longer does on missions. One of them is agree to anything except what kind of food they offer. The two men nod shortly, circling the table as she glows from the door, blue eyes smiling into his as hands close over his arms. "Wait, what's going on?"
"The testing," she says simply as they pull him to his feet, careful but relentless. Looking between them, he tries to pull away, but he might as well be pulling against oak trees. "Be strong, Dr. McKay."
"Testing?" he says, but they're pulling him inexorably to the door, and Rodney stares into the falling snow with a profound sense of doom. There's a cart and horse waiting, driven by another huge farmer, looking at them expectantly. "Oh, you are kidding me."
Siberia and Antarctica had been a good education in not dying by frostbite, in that way that Rodney never went outside and spent a lot of time visualizing sandy beaches in the Bahamas. Late at night, armed with vodka, five blankets, and a deep desire to die, Rodney would consider the window and hope to God that somewhere out there, Sam Carter was suddenly freezing her ass off and had no idea why.
But Sam comes with water now, not snow, and Rodney stares around the blank white field they left him in, white-capped forest to his left, hell on earth to his right. He had basic training in survival in frozen environments--but most of those had come with, say, what to *have* when you went outside.
Not what to do when they took everything not directly related to clothing and carted off so quickly that Rodney barely had time to draw the breath to yell.
Survival. Kahs-wan, if he wants to go to insane place where he starts talking to people who aren't there, which, let's face it, is his MO in times like this. Turning toward the forest, Rodney tries to remember their brief aerial survey of the planet, but at the time, he'd been engaged in a survey of some of the most amazing fruit he'd ever tasted, wrapped in a pastry so light he was licking the flakes off his fingers. Not so much listening to the Trautrians praise their fields and fields of grain.
The fields are north of the city, though. That's something. So is the forest. Good so far. Except now that he's thinking about it, he remembers hearing Teyla asking if they traversed the distance between the city and the fields daily with their carts, and she made it sound like more than a short hop over.
Rodney takes a breath, lungs already so cold he can barely feel the burn, hands tucked up beneath his arms. No supplies. No tent, no thermal blankets, no shelter in sight but trees, and a forest isn't any kind of shelter.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he hears the slow drone of the Air Force officer sent to instruct them, taking precious time from his experiments, rattling on about hypothermia and sub-zero temperatures, shelter and--
"Branches," John says suddenly. Rodney turns around, but he's still alone. Right. They've started the hallucination portion of the day. Just great.
"I like breasts," Rodney says clearly. "And blonde. Neither of which you have."
John smirks, rocking back on his heels like a kid. "Well. Let's just keep in mind Sam didn't do a lot of duty actually *out* in the freezing cold."
"Exactly," John says. "And survival training. I was shot down once."
Rodney blinks. "Okay, John never told me that."
"You probably read it in my personnel file," John says soothingly, coming up beside him. For a figment of Rodney's really strange imagination, he's fairly solid. Rodney can almost feel his warmth against his side. "Let's go about this. First thing, out of this wind. You can't afford to lose much more heat."
"Huh. I wish I'd thought of that." Rodney slow blinks his disgust. "Maybe I can build an imaginary house. We could sit and talk while *I go slowly insane*."
"Nah. Let's try branches first."
Sheppard's a lazy bastard. He slumps against trees and drapes himself over rocks while Rodney searches out broken branches, piling them between two large oaks and against some brush that's bucking the odds and trying to survive. Rodney sympathizes with it.
"Hey, keep moving," John says from his seat three feet away. At some point, he'd morphed into his leather uniform jacket and the black t-shirt shrank about two sizes. Rodney almost sighed when he saw it--his imagination does this shit--but on the other hand--well. John in a tight t-shirt. That's hot. "Two more should be enough."
Rodney stamps back out, staying in sight of his makeshift shelter, John's black shirt a beacon.
"Done," Rodney says, staring at the pile. Untucking his hands briefly, he breathes onto them, aware he's still shivering. Shivering is good. Shivering is very, very good.
"It is," John says comfortably. "Okay, now set-up. You've watched us do tents."
"I'm sorry, do we have a tent?" It's possible he could hallucinate one. Very possible. If he wants to die a little faster.
"Rodney," John says, with that affection that Rodney always imagines is in Sheppard's voice when they talk. Rodney shrinks the shirt another size, head tilting thoughtfully at the effect. He could actually imagine John naked, but just thinking about naked makes Rodney colder.
"Fine," Rodney sighs. "Though you know this is only putting off my imminent death.
"I doubt it. Get going."
Now, something Rodney hadn't known. Making a shelter is a lot harder than one might think from watching TV, and Rodney hadn't thought it was easy on TV either. Stacking the base, Rodney sits inside briefly to make sure there's enough room, then comes back out, staring at the snow for a second.
"That's what'll hold it together," John confirms. Rodney's hands feel frozen to the wrist, but this isn't a nuclear bomb. He can do this. "Start packing."
Rodney uses his boots to scrape up the snow around the bottom and pack it down, hands tucked under his arms, wiggling his fingers to keep the blood pumping. John watches him with a serious expression, like this is a science fair project under consideration for the blue ribbon, which on some level, Rodney thinks it is. Packing the base firmly, he picks up the next group of branches, setting them carefully before he kneels and pulls his hands out, shuddering at the first touch of snow.
"Good," John says, and suddenly, he's right beside him, hands covering his. They're warm. "Now, let's do this right."
It's tiny, and it's *snow*, but it also breaks the wind, and Rodney digs out a hole in the middle before climbing inside, packing as much snow around the doorway as he can. Somehow--Rodney has no idea how, and honestly, he just really can't bring himself to care--John's beside him, disturbingly solid and annoyingly cheerful.
"Sam took off her shirt," Rodney tells him irritably, tucking his knees into his chest, compressing heat around his vital organs, hands tucked between his thighs. It's not much, but it's something.
"Do you want me to?" John looks disturbingly interested, hands resting on his crossed legs. Then he smiles. "Huh."
Rodney frowns at him. Somehow, despite the dark, he can still see John's face. Right. *Hallucination*. And this time, he doesn't even have a head wound to explain it. "You're attractive. I'm human. Can we leave it at that?"
"Maybe," John says, in that voice Rodney's finally categorized as the one that means he will never, ever leave the subject alone, ever. "Tuck up more. Keep the heat centralized."
"Well, that's brilliant, Captain Obvious."
"Lieutenant *Colonel* Obvious," John replies with a grin. "You know, I didn't know about the attraction thing."
"And I didn't know that when a woman flirts with me, it always means she wants to kill me." It's depressingly true and makes him wonder about Katie. There's something about him and women. They take his ZPMs and then leave him to die. Or something like that.
"Nah. She liked you.
Rodney stares at him. "It says something that that's probably true." They have a date in three days, should he survive. Somehow, of all of this, that's the part that seems unbelievably surreal. Dumped in forest to die--this is *Pegasus*. It should have happened at least once already. Dumped in forest to die with the promise of a *date* after? Was that supposed to be *incentive*?
"Ronon likes you and he tries to kill you once a week."
"I've suspected this is his subtle way of killing me before," Rodney answers, leaning back into snow. He's so cold he barely feels it. His eyes feel heavy, body becoming cold lead. Hypothermia, he thinks. Sleeping would be an easy way.
"Hey, hey." Something hard snaps into his face. Rodney opens his eyes in surprise. "You'd make a crappy blue corpse."
"You suck at this," Rodney tells John. "I mean--seriously. Next you'll say--"
"Buck up, buddy. Help's coming." John looks so sure--and Rodney thinks of Teyla and Ronon's comfort with these people who randomly drag other people to freeze to death. They might not notice his absence.
And he thinks of John, remembering the green eyes in steady, low-grade hostile survey. He might notice. "I thought they were nice people," he says helplessly.
John's hand slides between his own, warm and solid, and Rodney clasps his fingers around it, pressing his thighs together over them. He can barely feel the pressure.
"I'll find you," John says softly, eyes holding his. "There's no way I won't."
Rodney stares back at him and believes every word.
He's slumping into the snow, and he can't feel a goddamn thing. He's stopped shivering.
It's not bad, honestly. Better than that fucking water.
Rodney slowly turns his head. John's somehow moved and Rodney's aware his head's pillowed on something that isn't snow. He has to admit, his hallucinations are really good. He can feel heat against his ear. Almost.
"That's--" Rodney hears his own voice, slurred and weak. Even his tongue feels heavy, like it's been soaked in lead. "Insulting."
John laughs softly, a hand stroking through his hair. "Gotta stay awake, buddy. You're doing fine."
Rodney doubts that. He lost track of time hours ago, along with his body heat and most of his mind. His hallucination is *stroking his hair*. "I was--going to--win a Nobel."
John snorts. "You're not even forty yet. I think you still have time."
Rodney closes his eyes, feeling himself begin to sink into something warm. This can't be good, but he's not sure he cares anymore.
Rodney twitches. Just a little.
God. "Stop. That."
"What, you don't know?"
Rodney opens his eyes, staring resentfully at John's thigh beneath his head. "You. Are such. An asshole."
Another slow stroke, so achingly gentle that Rodney's leaning into it. It's not a buddy kind of touch. It's the kind he's not even sure he ever allowed himself to think about, not every time John has ever touched him. Pats on the back, brushes against his shoulder, catalogued and remembered in the part of Rodney's brain that he's never admitted before existed. "Why isn't it Sam?" he asks, because it's a valid question.
"You tell me," John says quietly, amusement stripped from her voice.
Rodney rolls slowly, painfully to his back, then forces himself up. They--John will come. He knows that like he knows how to breathe. And Rodney's got to give him every second. He doesn't want to die.
But more than that, he doesn't want John to be the one to find his body. "You. Aren't. Helping."
His eyes fall closed all on their own, body slumping to that warm place that means no more cold and rest. God he wants to sleep. He's never wanted anything more.
"Rodney," John snaps. Rodney barely feels the slap. "Rodney. *Rodney*. Stay with me here."
"Trying," Rodney says, forcing his eyes open. Outside the shelter, the wind blows snow through darkness He can't feel his lips at all. "I'm going to die."
"No you're not. Zelenka would get your Nobel."
Rodney snorts. "Whatever."
"Atlantis would fall apart," John says. Rodney forces eyes open that he hadn't known were closed. The darkness shifts outside Rodney doesn't even try to focus. "The team would fall apart."
"Team--fine. Get someone else." Rodney tries to flex his fingers. He's not sure if it worked. He can't feel a goddamn thing.
"What about me?" John says, so softly that Rodney almost doesn't hear him. "Rodney?"
Rodney stuffs his hands beneath his arms.
"Answer him," John says. He sounds--different. Rodney turns his head, but there's no one beside him anymore. Just like a hallucination. "And I'll want an answer later."
Answer? Rodney opens his mouth, but the door of his shelter is suddenly occupied. Rodney stares into angry green eyes and feels his mouth go dry.
"Rodney?" John says, sounding breathless and terrified, warm hands reaching inside. Rodney can feel them against his cheeks like brands.
"Real?" he says.
"Jesus, yes." There's something in his voice that Rodney's never heard before. " Come on, I brought the 'jumper."
"Hard to--move." Solid arms drag him out, into the wind and cold, against a body heavy and warm against his. John, he thinks dumbly as John looks down at him, arms so tight that Rodney can almost feel them. Oh. That's why.
"I know. I got you."
Yeah. Rodney kind of thinks he does.
Rodney stares at the bandages on his hands resentfully, trying not to shiver in the cold lab. It's awkward to type with gauze on every finger, but a lot more awkward to type without fingers, so he confines himself to glaring.
Outside, it's raining.
Finishing the email to John regarding his new jumper schematics--so painfully insane that it actually cause Rodney physical pain to explain how many laws of physics John seems to think don't exist--Rodney gets up, pulling his coat tighter around him. No matter how high he turns the heat, he can't get rid of the cold, seeped into him like a lump of ice in his stomach, radiating chill like a refrigerator.
Turning around, Rodney shuts his laptop abruptly, going out of the silent lab, into equally silent halls. His feet carry him toward the wide balcony off the end of the hall, emerging in rain that should feel cold against his face.
*You tell me.*
It's not. Rodney tucks his hands beneath his arms and closes his eyes. He should be shivering now.
He may have one.
Going back, Rodney lets instinct pull him like it's been trying to since he arrived, down corridors in third shift silence, past Marines on patrol, and John's door opens almost before he's touched it, staring into John's wide, surprised green eyes, filled with *that*, filling a face that's never been readable before now.
Or maybe he just knows what he's looking at.
Rodney pushes inside, John a warm, solid presence in a brief brush of skin, and suddenly, he knows his answer.
He feels himself begin to shiver, shaking him to his bones, and starts to talk.