A/N: My apologies for the ridiculously long wait- don’t worry, though, this fic isn’t abandoned. I am, however, putting it on hiatus for the time being. Real life’s been hectic lately and I haven’t had time to write much. (Rest assured, though, I will start writing on this again as soon as possible.)
By the end of the week they were pretty much out of food, and as far as they could tell still no closer to actually finding the Gate. Things weren’t looking so good on the supplies front, either –they were down to the last of the water purification tablets, and the river water wasn’t exactly clean. Both of them had been in much worse situations before, though, so they didn’t worry about it too much.
It definitely helped that the natives had apparently given up on hunting them down and stabbing and/or shooting them repeatedly with sharp, most-likely-lethal objects; maybe they’d assumed that the Lanteans would’ve been eaten by the wildlife or something by now, or were under the impression that neither of the men could ‘hack it’. Either way, they were thankful for at least that small mercy.
Not having hunting parties of pissed off natives chasing them through the forest didn’t change the fact that they weren’t exactly equipped for an extended stay, though. Which was why the two of them were down at the river, trying unsuccessfully to catch themselves some not-quite-fish, using their knives lashed to the ends of broken-off tree limbs to spear the sleek, silvery pseudo-fish.
It was a pretty pathetic attempt, truth be told, owing to the fact that neither of them were particularly good at it, and the not-fish were a lot faster than them.
After several failed attempts to spear a fish, they tried using their hands, which was an even more spectacular failure despite their quick reflexes. Eventually, John flopped down on the riverbank, sighing, "I give up. There’s no way we’re gonna catch one of those damn fish."
Nodding morosely in agreement, Evan slumped down next to him and rubbed at the back of his neck, which was undoubtedly sunburned from being out in the open for so long. "You think there’s crayfish down in there?" he asked after a long moment of silence, glancing down towards the water and the multitude of half-submerged rocks in it.
"Didn’t see any," John drawled, cracking an eye open and turning his head slightly to get a better look at the Major. "Why don’t you stick a toe down in between those rocks and check?" he asked sarcastically.
"Sure, why not?" Evan snorted, making no move to get up and jam his feet into crevasses in search of mini-lobsters with pinchers more than capable of drawing blood. Doing stupid, potentially dangerous things out of sheer boredom was more the Marines’ area of expertise. Well, and John’s, when he was feeling particularly reckless.
After a moment of silence, Lorne commented idly, "When I was a kid, my mom used to take me and my sister down to the lake by our house. There were these huge crayfish in there, I mean seriously huge. Like, almost as long as my hand."
"Yeah?" John prompted, pushing himself up on his elbows to look over at Evan, sun-induced drowsiness apparently forgotten.
"Yeah. We’d go down in the rocks, right along the shore, and poke at them with sticks until they moved. One time one of them grabbed the end of my stick, and I tried to pull it off… my mom thought I was being attacked, I screamed so loud when it clamped onto my thumb. Those pinchers hurt like hell," Lorne finished wryly, rubbing at a small, barely noticeable scar on his left thumb.
John grinned at the image his mind conjured up, of a young Evan flailing around, ankle-deep in the water, with a giant crayfish clinging to his thumb for dear life. It was the sort of thing you’d take a picture of, so you could bring it out later as blackmail material when the little kid who’d screamed like a banshee at a tiny cut had grown up into a hard-ass soldier that vehemently denied any accusations of ever having a less-than-stellar tolerance for pain.
"That reminds me of the time I tripped over my skateboard," John said, wrinkling his nose. "Broke my wrist and gave myself a concussion, and I wasn’t even riding it at the time."
Evan couldn’t help it- he burst out laughing. It sounded like exactly the sort of injury John would manage to inflict on himself. Less than two months before, he’d somehow sprained his ankle in his sleep. In his sleep. He hadn’t even known that was possible.
Then again, John had quite the track record when it came to doing the impossible.
That night they decided to set up camp on the edge of the river, making a crude lean-to out of tree limbs and brush gathered from the forest. They lined it with leaves in an attempt to insulate it a little more—the nights were getting colder and colder every day—not that it would do them much good in the long run.
When darkness fell, they made a small fire, not enough to be noticeable, but hopefully enough to keep them from getting too cold. Then they huddled inside their lean-to, wrapped in their jackets, with Sheppard plastered to Lorne’s back, arms wrapped around him.
It wasn’t warm, exactly, but it wasn’t so cold that it was unbearable, either.
For the millionth time in the last week, John found himself thinking longingly of the sleeping bags they usually had on missions. Thick and well insulated, surprisingly warm for something so light, and he was cold enough at the moment that he would probably give his left nut for one, should it come down to that.
He contented himself with snuggling closer to Lorne, burying his face in the shorter man’s neck and breathing in the Major’s scent. It was intoxicating, a combination of sweat, the forest, and something else that he couldn’t quite place, something distinctly Evan.
Sighing, he pressed his lips to the other man’s neck. "You know, except for the being stranded in the wilderness with barely enough to keep us alive part, this isn’t all that bad."
"Yeah?" Evan murmured, smiling slightly, his voice heavy with sleep.
"Yeah. I mean, we’re nice and comfy here," he murmured back, wriggling his hips suggestively to demonstrate just how ‘comfy’ he was, "and I can touch you whenever I want. What’s not to like about that?"
There was no reply; Evan had already fallen asleep. With a sappy smile—which he would never ever in a million years admit to—he tightened his hold on the other man and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to drag him down into the abyss.
The next morning John awoke to the sound of footsteps. He could still feel Evan pressed up against him, his breathing deep and slow—clearly still asleep and not walking around—and he froze, hoping that whoever it was hadn’t noticed his movements.
"I know you’re awake," an unfamiliar—and definitely male—voice said from off to the left somewhere, sounding amused.
Apparently that was too much to hope for. Maybe the Universe really was out to get him. Or else he’d managed to piss off someone important in a previous life or something, which, knowing him, was pretty likely considering the number of important people he’d already managed to get on the bad side of in just this lifetime.
Cracking an eye open—slowly—he looked around in search of the body attached to the voice. Scanning the area directly in front of him, he tilted his head to look off to the side. He stopped abruptly when he saw a pair of booted feet several feet away, between their shelter and the forest.
"Hi there," he drawled, trying to sound as friendly and unthreatening as possible. "You’re not gonna shoot me or something if I move, are you? ‘Cuz this isn’t really the most comfortable position in the world." His arm had gone numb sometime during the night, and there was a rock digging into his hip.
There was no reply except for an amused snort, which he took for acquiescence. "Major," he murmured to Evan as he tugged his arm out from under the other man’s warm bulk, "time to return to the land of the living."
After a long moment, Evan inched a single bleary eye open and grunted something that sounded vaguely like, "Five more minutes." Resisting the urge to sigh dramatically despite the circumstances, Sheppard sat up slowly, grasping the other man’s shoulder and shaking a little more roughly than was strictly necessary had it been anyone else. In the last couple of weeks, he’d learned that the Major was a pretty heavy sleeper- it took quite a bit to wake him up, especially when he was warm and comfortable and not in the mood to get up.
"Evan, get your ass in gear," he said. "We have a visitor."
Apparently those had been the magic words, because Lorne was awake, pushing himself up onto his elbows awkwardly, in no time flat. His back was bent at an angle that, five minutes ago, John would have said was physically impossible, and undoubtedly more than a little uncomfortable, too.
"Who?" Evan asked warily, looking around carefully in search of the threat.
"Umm…" Sheppard began, then addressed the stranger, "What’s your name?"
"Eilen," the man replied, raising his eyebrows. "And shouldn’t I be asking you that question?"
"I’m Colonel Sheppard, and this," he gestured towards Evan, "is Major Lorne." He cocked an eyebrow, purposely leaned back on his elbows in a gesture of nonchalance, and drawled, "So, what brings you to our neck of the woods, Eilen?"
The man raised an eyebrow, but replied, "You’re kind of monopolizing my stream."
"Oh. Sorry ‘bout that. We’ll move."
"Alright," Eilen nodded, apparently satisfied with Sheppard’s quick acquiescence. "What exactly are you doing here?" he asked, curious.
"Umm…" Lorne began awkwardly, "We kinda got lost. You wouldn’t happen to know the way to the Stargate, would you?"
"Yeah, big round thing made of metal, lights up?"
"You mean the Great Ring? It’s not that far, a couple days walk to the east if you can take the most direct route. If I were you, though," he said, eyeing their ragged appearances, "I’d take the roundabout way instead. You’d never make it through the Pits on foot."
"Right. Roundabout way it is then. About how long would it take us, do you think?" John asked. "I mean, you’ve got a nice place here and all, but we’d kinda like to get home."
"Around five days, if you’re willing to push yourselves. It’s in the middle of a big clearing, pretty hard to miss," Eilen said with a smirk. Obviously he thought they’d gotten lost straight away and then wandered around in search of the Gate, going in the wrong direction the entire time. Which was partly true, but still. He didn’t have to look so amused by their situation.
"Thanks," John said. "We’ll be on our way then. Sorry about taking over your riverbank here."
"Don’t worry about it," Eilen replied with a smile. "I probably would’ve done the same thing if I were in your situation." He left it unsaid that he thought he would’ve had an easier time of it, though- clearly he thought they were a couple of soft city boys, completely incapable of surviving in the wilderness for any length of time. He had no way of knowing that the majority of their injuries were caused by his fellow natives.
"Yeah," John replied noncommittally. Evan just nodded politely and twisted around to grab his boots, which were sitting off to the side where he’d left them the night before, out of the way if he’d decided to roll over in his sleep.
After getting dressed and gathering together their meager stash of supplies, they dismantled their cobbled-together lean-to and went on their way, walking in the direction that Eilen had pointed out for them. John took point, partially because he wanted to be first in line if they ran into any trouble, and partially because he had longer legs and would therefore have an easier time navigating the thick underbrush.
Thankfully it looked to be a somewhat overcast day, and the sun wasn’t beating down on them, otherwise both of them—Lorne in particular—would’ve been sunburned in no time. They trudged through the forest, trampling down the underbrush as they went because there was no clear trail to follow, other than the game trails scattered around among the trees. Once they startled a pair of what looked to be deer—that is, they looked like deer until they got closer and they saw the tiger stripes and wing-like appendages the creatures were sporting—that spooked and took off as soon as they caught sight of them.
The morning dragged on, the two of them—neither of which had anything even remotely resembling a long attention span—quickly growing bored with the silence and the less-than-awe-inspiring scenery.
"So…" John began, wracking his brain for something halfway interesting that they hadn’t already talked to death. "You like football?"
"Yep. I used to play when I was in high school."
"Yeah," Evan replied, ducking underneath a low-hanging branch. "I was the quarterback, believe it or not."
John grinned. "Cool."
"What about you?"
"Wide receiver," he said. "I ran track, too," he added, before Lorne could open his mouth and say something about John’s ‘glory hounding’.
"Lemme guess," Evan drawled, smirking. "Hurdles? Or long jump?"
"Both," John admitted with a quick grin, turning slightly so that Lorne could see his face when he spoke. "I kinda sucked at the hurdles, though. I walked around with bruises on my legs pretty much all season. The couch thought it was funny."
Secretly, Evan kind of agreed with John’s old track coach, but he decided to be nice and not voice that particular thought out loud.