All right, new rule for missions, John thought. From now on, they didn't open negotiations when Ronon was the only one who spoke the language.
The sun was hazy-hot on John's bare head. He twisted his wrists, the braided grass ropes bruising the backs of his hands. Insects thrummed and whined. Sometimes he spotted their fatly-gold bodies clinging to the side of a stalk, a single crossways blade of grass while the wind tipped the rest of the prairie in the opposite direction.
The entire planet wasn't grassland. Just the twenty thousand or so kilometers around Weti proper. The other hemisphere might be permafrost or rain forest or desert. Maybe John would take a low orbit around the planet on their way out. Just to see.
Or now that he thought about it, maybe not. McKay needed medical attention. Ronon as well, even though he would roll his eyes until John made it an order.
It bothered John that he could have forgotten.
He raised his head. The wind had shifted, touching the left side of his face now instead of the right. His nose itched.
The wind painted great swathes across the golden brown grasslands. Far overhead, birds with tremendous wingspans soared lazily on the updraft. John wondered if they were just waiting for his corpse. Then he chided himself for being morbid.
So. In the future, it'd probably be a good idea not to count on Ronon so much for the diplomatic side of a mission. Even if the Weti were his own people. More or less. Rejecting their home world's militarism, the sect had emigrated from Sateda a hundred and twenty years ago.
"Pacifists," Ronon sneered. "They thought taking arms against the Wraith would only make the cullings more severe."
Well, frankly, the ferocity of Satedan resistance may well have been why the planet had been razed to the bedrock, although John shot a pointed glance at McKay to make damned sure he didn't voice what the rest of them were probably thinking. McKay was predictably outraged. "What? Why are you looking at me like that? What did I do?"
The Weti had even abandoned the Satedan tongue, reviving in its stead the language of a spiritual text from half a dozen cullings ago. Ronon knew it well enough to conduct a halting conversation. Like prep school kids still learned Latin, John supposed.
When Elizabeth heard of the Weti, she asked Ronon if he would be willing to travel to their planet to inform them of the fate of their home world. Ronon shrugged.
"They have a right to know," Weir pressed. "Their homeland. Their world."
"Hasn't been theirs since they turned their backs on it," Ronon said. Not argumentatively, just stating a fact. He didn't object to the mission, though. Not nearly as much as McKay, who complained loudly and repeatedly that it was idiotic for him to put his important work on hold to visit a bunch of pacifist Luddites.
As it turned out, of course, "pacifist" was apparently overstating their position. They had risen up as one, men, women and children, overwhelming John's team and bearing them to the floor of the meeting room by the sheer force of their numbers. John couldn't bring himself to strike the pre-adolescent girl who clasped her skinny arms around his neck, blocking his view of the struggle around him, but in the end it didn't much matter. The four of them against the hundred or so Weti in the room with them, several thousand more in the town outside? John didn't have enough rounds for his P-90, even if he could have brought himself to mow down civilians like -- well, like mown grass.
Ronon had been the one who kept fighting. No surprise there. Babies, grandmothers, it didn't matter, he elbowed, kicked and heaved them all away. John, McKay and Teyla had been trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys and Ronon still hadn't let anyone come close enough to get a rope around him.
Then two of the Weti hauled McKay to his feet, and one put a splinter-bright blade to his throat.
McKay squeaked and held himself very, very still. The woman with the knife spoke. Ronon stopped fighting.
"She says she never hurt a man before," Ronon translated, snarling. "But she claims to be an efficient butcher of livestock."
McKay moaned and squeezed his eyes shut.
"You know what?" John answered. He had been thrown to the floor on his side, arms tied behind his back, legs bound at the knee and ankle. He could hear himself panting a little. "Let's just take her at her word. I don't think we need a demonstration."
Ronon looked at John with a faintly betrayed expression, but he lowered his arms to his sides and didn't resist as his hands were secured. The Weti pushed him to his knees, and Ronon looked straight ahead, a muscle jumping in his jaw. "It's all right," John insisted, although, OK, yes, nothing was all right. "Ronon, tell them there's obviously been a misunderstanding, but we'll be glad to work with them to straighten it out."
"Don't think I remember the conditional of that verb," he informed John flatly.
McKay's eyes flew open. "You think you can manage, 'don't kill us'?" he demanded in a high, panicked voice. "Simple vocative! How hard can it be?"
John didn't know what Ronon had actually said to the Weti then, but at least they didn't slaughter McKay on the spot. Still, John decided he wasn't any more impressed by their alleged pacifism than he was by their equally alleged modesty.
They had been stopped by a delegation of Weti before they reached the city proper and advised that their shirtsleeves and trousers were too shocking for public appearance. Or something like that, according to Ronon's ungraceful translation.
The Weti themselves were covered in-full length cloaks, hoods pulled down so their faces remained in deep shadow. The occasional gray eye glinted in a stray shaft of sunshine.
"Fine. We'll put on their housecoats," John decided, though he wasn't happy about it. The voluminous robes limited their access to their weapons, even after laboriously refastening their vests over the cloaks.
And after all that elaborate insistence on hiding limbs, here John was strung up naked as a jaybird in the afternoon sun.
Ronon explained they had come with news of Sateda, and they were led to a stone building in the center of town. Teyla remembered the rock quarry they had flown over in the puddlejumper, a day's distance by foot. "What a patient, implacable people," she mused from the depths of her borrowed cloak. "To carry stones so far."
"Grim architecture," John agreed. The walls were tall and undecorated, with slits for windows well above eye level. As the meeting hall filled with people, the atmosphere became close and thick. The crowd was relatively quiet, murmuring private conversations Ronon didn't bother to translate. When no more people could squeeze themselves into the building, Ronon stood up and delivered his speech in clipped, guttural phrases. Even without knowing the language, it was pretty obvious Ronon wasn't sugarcoating anything.
The Weti themselves, impassive up to this point, seemed to draw back a little from Ronon's blunt news of Sateda's fate. Then they began to talk, softly at first, then with increasing volume, to each other and then to the Atlantis team. Their voices got louder.
"Ronon--" Teyla said cautiously, and oh yeah, John was right there with her on this.
"What are they talking about? Looks to me like they're not taking the news so well."
Ronon snorted. "Stupid fucks," he muttered.
"Right, no doubt there," McKay interrupted, eying the crowd nervously. "What say you don't translate that particular observation?"
Well, who knew? McKay actually did have a rudimentary sense of diplomacy.
"They think it was a judgment of the Ancestors," Ronon said, scowling.
"A judgment?" Teyla said. "I do not understand."
"The Wraith," Ronon explained, translating as though he begrudged every word. "The Wraith are the judgment of the Ancestors upon the unworthy."
"Oh, very charming," McKay sneered. "I know I'd find the Ancestors venerable if I thought they were going to sic the Wraith on anyone who wasn't sufficiently devout."
And abruptly Ronon was pulling his borrowed robe over his head, cursing and grumbling as he unfastened his vest and struggled with yards of material. "Ronon?" John said with some concern, edging closer. The Weti were scowling, shouting questions or maybe just making observations. Pretty damned pointed ones, though. "What are you doing?"
"They think the Wraith are here," Ronon said, sweeping his dreads back from his brow as he struggled free of the robe at last. "Out there. In the grass."
"What?" McKay demanded in horror. "Wraith are here? No, no. That's not possible." He backed up, eyes darting up towards the narrow windows as though he expected to see Wraith-blue arms reaching through at any minute. "We would have picked them up flying in. Teyla, wouldn't you have noticed something?"
"I have had no sense of the Wraith since we came to this planet," Teyla said quickly. "I do not believe it is possible they are so close."
"Not like that," Ronon said. "It's why they wear these stupid coats." He kicked at the cloak he had just finished pulling over his head. "I thought I just wasn't understanding them right."
"Ronon," John interrupted. "Understanding what?"
"Why they wear these things," Ronon growled. "They cover up to remind themselves they can't hide their hearts from the Ancestors, but it's also to hide their bodies from the Wraith. They think the Wraith are watching them from the prairie."
"Wait, wait, wait a minute." McKay was agitatedly pulling his vest off his shoulders, dropping it to the floor so that he could yank his own Weti robe over his head. "I've heard some stupid things in my life, but this takes the cake. Ronon, would you please tell these cretins that there are no Wraith lurking in the grass waiting for a flash of ankle? For chrissakes, when the Wraith arrive you know it because they come screaming out of the sky and believe me, they won't give a flying fuck about the pure of heart. Jesus, Sheppard, why the hell are we wasting our time here?"
All right, scratch any thought that McKay was learning a sense of diplomacy. "Listen," John said quickly, "I don't think McKay is wrong, but my idea here is that you do not say that to the Weti."
Teyla added, "Perhaps it would be prudent to tell the Weti we share their respect for the Ancestors, but --"
"Speak for yourself, " McKay grumbled. "I'm pretty sure I lost my respect some time back.''
Whatever Ronon chose to say, it was short and evidently bad tempered. The Weti surged forward like the tide.
The buzzards swooped lower, the arc of their wingspan sketching shadowy parabolas on the inside of John's eyelids. He shook his head against a wave of dizziness and opened his eyes. The wind had shifted in the distance, ruffling the golden brown seed heads like a field of ripe wheat -- well, if wheat grew two meters tall. The sky was a sharp, unforgiving blue, and the horizon so hard-edged it hurt John's eyes to look at it. He let his eyes drift shut.
Then he snapped his head up again. There had been something moving against the sweep of the grass. Just for a second, just before he closed his eyes. His neck hurt when he turned his head to see, and there was something booming at the back of his skull, an aching pressure more essential than pain. A tempest in a skullcap, he thought with a private snigger.
And in the grass? There was nothing but the occasional golden katydid. Certainly none of the invisible Wraith over which McKay had been so incensed.
The anthropologists were going to love this one. The development of human societies who weren't at the top of the food chain was the number one topic of cultural anthropology in the Pegasus Galaxy. As far as John could tell, everything from hair styles to marriage traditions could be traced to the grim reality of cullings, but he thought imaginary Wraith were a new one.
And then, as if the mission hadn't been going badly enough, mobbed by half the town and tied hand and foot, the Weti then proceeded to gag Ronon with a fat wad of cloth.
"Oh, hey, no no no," John protested desperately. "It's really going to cut down on our ability to negotiate if you silence the only person who can actually talk to you."
"Oh, god," McKay moaned. "We are so dead."
The Weti gagged McKay as well, but not John and Teyla, even though John was yelling by this point and Teyla was talking non-stop as though sounding reasonable could substitute for actual communication. McKay stared at John over the gag, his eyes wide with terror.
"It's all right," John lied to him. "We're going to get this figured out." McKay rolled his eyes, looking for a moment more annoyed by John than he was frightened of the Weti.
Then they were picked up and carried outside like rolls of carpet. "Look," John tried again. "You don't want us here, we'll be glad to go. Really. No hard feelings."
"I am concerned that they have forcibly silenced Ronon and Dr. McKay," Teyla said, her voice as level as she could manage in their undignified positions. They were lugged down one of the broad streets, collecting a crowd along the way. People watched from the doorways of squat, single-story buildings. The houses had no windows.
Because you wouldn't want those Peeping Tom Wraith peeking in your bedroom, John thought, feeling a little hysterical. He called to Teyla, "Can you say anything to them?"
"I am sorry. The Ring of Perfect Solitude is known to Athosians only in translation. I cannot communicate with these people."
John already knew that. And if McKay could talk to him right now, he'd be giving John hell for trying to formulate a rescue plan that required disregarding known facts. In sheer frustration, John tried to kick, but all he managed was a clumsy fishtail. The Weti carrying him didn't even seem to notice.
They were carried at last into a kind of low-grade amphitheater. A plain dirt floor was recessed two meters below the surface of the street, and surrounded by simple bales of straw that apparently served as seating. Passing feet kicked up dust clouds as John and the rest were lugged down to the stage, such as it was, and unceremoniously dropped. The amphitheater quickly filled with people, more gathering at street level and looking down at them.
Teyla's cloak had fallen back when her captors dropped her, and she looked terribly vulnerable with her head naked in the center of this welter of people. Suddenly, it almost made sense to John, covering yourself if you thought the Wraith were watching all the time. It didn't stop him from growling an impotent threat when one of their captors bent down low over Teyla, closing the robe under her throat and pulling the hood down over her brow. Then he wondered if he should be more concerned over the fact that the Weti were making no attempt to cover McKay and Ronon.
"Teyla, do you have any idea what's about to happen here?"
"Perhaps a formal rebuke? To ensure the Ancestors do not extract revenge for the transgressions of strangers. If Ronon correctly understood their theology, at any rate." She shook her head, face hidden in folds of cloth. "It seems a very dark and strange worship."
"What kind of rebuke?" John demanded sharply. "Like a good dressing down or something more along the lines of blood sacrifice?"
"I know no more than you, John."
Well, of course she didn't. John beat his head on the packed earth floor in frustration. Teyla had managed to get her bound feet beneath her and was kneeling up, warily watching the ring of Weti who had carried them from the meeting hall. Ronon was tugged upright as well, and when he tried to wrench himself free of the grasping hands, McKay was pulled up and a blade laid sideways under his ear.
"Ronon," John ordered softly. "Don't."
Ronon stilled. He would have stopped fighting anyway, John was pretty certain, but the order made it easier for him. As if there was anything easy about this whole appalling mess.
From somewhere in the crowd a man made his way down to the stage carrying long, thin canes like bamboo. From somewhere else two children approached, each toting a caged gray bird the size of a goose. Constrained by their narrow cages, both birds were squawking furiously and ruffling their feathers. The children staggered a bit under their angry, awkward loads, but the cages were deposited with care a few feet before McKay and Ronon. One of the adults laid a gentle hand upon each child's head. Dismissed, they ran back into the crowd. The geese screamed. John felt like screaming himself.
"For the love of -- Teyla, please tell me you have some idea what they're doing."
She shook her head without speaking, her lips drawn into a thin, tight line. One of the Weti holding McKay knotted his fingers in the short hair at the top of his scalp and pulled his head back, baring his throat more tellingly for the knife. Ronon's eyes were on McKay now and they didn't waver, even as Ronon's own arms were cut free. For an absurd moment John allowed himself to hope that this was about to end right now with no more unpleasantness.
Instead, the Weti proceeded to lay one of the long canes across Ronon's shoulders and bind his wrists to the opposite ends. Ronon growled through his gag, but he allowed them to finish, even though he was shaking with fury. When he was helpless, his arms spread wide at shoulder height, two of the men grabbed the opposite ends of the cane and held Ronon there on his knees.
The livestock butcher finally released McKay, but only so she could come bend over Ronon instead. Her blade was bright in the sunshine, and the geese were still screaming. John screamed too. "You don't have to do this. God damn you, please!" Teyla was pleading at his side, somehow managing not to yell though she sounded just as desperate as John.
The butcher stood with her back to John, her elbow working forward and back. It wasn't until she pulled Ronon's leather shirt free that John could see she had been cutting his clothes, not his flesh. Over the gag, Ronon's eyes were incandescent with rage. His trousers were pushed down over his hips, and his leather necklace was cut off, as well as most of the beads in his dreads, leaving him naked to mid-thigh in the hazy midmorning sun.
One of the geese was pulled from its cage. Handled gently, the bird stopped squawking and flapping after a moment, and when it was calm, the butcher broke its neck so quickly John didn't realize what had happened until she dropped the bird on a low table and it simply lay there, a sad muddle of open wings and spilled feathers. Then the butcher used her blade to crack open its chest and cut out the bright red pebble of the goose's heart.
John heard McKay moaning through his gag and glanced over. He was still on his knees, his face white with horror, tear tracks on his cheeks. When the butcher raised the palm of her bloodied hand, McKay's eyelids fluttered, and he slumped to the ground.
Ronon gave a choked snarl and tried to stand, but the men grasping either side of the pole over his shoulders kept him down. Teyla was calling McKay's name, but John turned his eyes away and thought bleakly she should leave him alone. There was no reason McKay needed to be conscious for this.
When he looked up again, one of the men had taken the goose heart and was doing something complicated with lengths of dried grass and some kind of twining, weedy vine. The vine must have had thorns because he wore leather gloves, working the heart into the center of a knot of vines and straw. He kept braiding, then, producing a sort of flexible club nearly three feet long. The red knob on the end dripped blood from the enwoven heart.
The audience was only paying scant attention by now, lazy conversations going on around them in the sun. John looked back to McKay. He hadn't moved, but the one eye John could see was open now, pale blue and dazed above the thick gag.
John's head turned to the side, abruptly back in the present, splayed like a skinny-assed, sunburnt scarecrow in the midst of the endless grassland. It wasn't his imagination. There was something moving out there. One of the circling buzzards, maybe. It must have landed to get a closer look at dinner, lumbering through the grass, as oafishly clumsy on the ground as it was graceful in the sky. John watched the grasses sway to one side, then the other. "I'm not dead yet!" he croaked in an execrable British accent. McKay would have given him hell. But he would have laughed, too, John was pretty certain, even while he rolled his eyes.
The men holding Ronon suddenly twisted the cane across his shoulders and in the space of a breath, slammed him flat on his back in the dirt. His feet kicked ineffectually, hobbled by his trousers still at his knees. The man who had woven the red-knobbed club came to stand over him. Like the rest, his expression was hidden in the folds of his cloak.
The desultory conversations going on all around them stuttered to a halt as the two men holding Ronon's wrists to the ground released him and backed away. Ronon straightened his legs and drew them up again.
Then the man still standing over Ronon brought his club down, smacking Ronon's face with a flat, ugly slap. Goose blood spattered the dusty earth. Ronon shuddered, a strangled grunt escaping him as the club fell again, crossing his chest this time. The next blow fell on his stomach, and the next was aimed at his groin--Jesus, the sadistic bastards. John was dimly aware of himself screaming at the Weti, curses, threats, desperate, hopeless attempts to bargain.
Ronon twisted in the dust, pulling his knees up to protect his vulnerable midsection. His body was speckled with goose blood. The man with the club stood over him patiently, and the moment Ronon was still again, he slashed the club across Ronon's thighs.
After that the blows came down without hesitation or order. Welts rose, pale against Ronon's honey-dark skin, crossing the flesh of his upper arms, belly and thighs. Ronon finally convulsed in a long wave, his torso rising, thighs coming up until he levered his body upright in an ferocious explosion of raw strength. He landed flat-footed, knees bent deeply while he fought for balance.
The Weti moved in at once, a couple of the biggest men grabbing the ends of the cane over Ronon's shoulders and wrestling him down to his knees. They didn't force him the rest of the way down, though, and the man who had beaten Ronon lifted his bloody, splintered club in both hands before laying it carefully on top of the coals glowing in a small brazier. The straw burst into flame immediately, and a wave of sound moved through the crowd. They were chanting, almost singing, and some of the younger children were clapping their hands in an ecstasy of excitement.
What the hell?" John moaned to Teyla. "No, seriously, what the hell are they doing?"
"Ronon's ability to get up seems to be the reason they stopped." Her voice cracked and John realized she had been screaming and pleading too. "I do not know why. Perhaps--" She shook her head in the depths of her cloak. "Perhaps, given these people's desire to cover their bodies before the Wraith and the Ancestors, being able to stand naked and beaten is a sign of absolution. But honestly, John, I do not know."
And then John saw them pulling McKay up to his knees, while the butcher freed the second goose from its cage.
The wind blew harder, moving the grass like a vast hand pressing the stalks to the ground. The drying seed heads rattled, and looking out across the prairie, John saw distant waves undulating like the ocean. There was no sign of the vulture he thought had been there earlier. There was nothing in the grass, just the windswept plain itself. No sign of the phantom Wraith who so terrified the Weti.
Just that flash in the corner of his eye.
Just like the Wraith.
And all at once John was fighting as hard as he could, twisting his hands against the grass ropes, struggling to wrench his pinioned ankles free because the Wraith were here goddammit, goddammit all to hell. He could see their shadows in the grass and he was helpless, the rest of his team in no better shape. Teyla and Ronon were bound hand and foot and dear god, after what those sons of bitches had done to McKay, none of them were in any state to run or fight.
McKay's eyes had been as round as saucers above the thick gag. He turned his face away when the second goose was slaughtered, but he watched, blinking repeatedly, as its heart was woven into the straw club. Teyla gave him quiet instructions and encouragement the whole time, but John honestly didn't know if McKay was calm enough to understand her.
"I believe they will stop the beating as soon as you stand up," Her voice was so calm she might have been giving instructions for meditation. "Do not think about the pain. His weapon is made of straw and nettles, and it will cause no lasting harm. Concentrate on the strength of your own body, and you will rise as if you are awakening in your own bed."
That finally got a reaction. McKay's eyes rolled towards Teyla and his eyebrows went up.
John smothered a snort of laughter that had to be nine-tenths hysteria. "Think of your blue skies, McKay," he put in, "And we'll all be home for dinner."
This time there was no mistaking the eye roll. McKay's broad white hands, tied at opposite ends of the pole across his shoulders, clenched into fists and then opened wide again, as though he were about to start pounding away on a keyboard. John had a moment to think they were really going to get out of this in one piece, then the Weti slammed McKay down onto his back. Although he had been expecting it, for long seconds John felt like he couldn't breathe, as hot horror prickled up the back of his scalp.
McKay lay almost completely still, although John could see him trembling. His belly and thighs above his shoved-down trousers were milk white, his dick as pink as his flushed face. He looked as exposed as a turtle on its back. John moved closer, inching along on his side.
"Rodney," he managed in a calm voice. "Just like Teyla told you. Sit up and then roll onto your knees. Piece of cake." Dust had settled like swaths of dirty red paint on McKay's sweat-streaked flanks and chest. He was breathing hard through his nose, and his eyes were wet. John hated the Weti so much at that moment he thought he could have taken his P-90 and mown them down like wheat without a second thought.
The Wraith in the grass were all around John now, close enough for him to smell the stink of them. Like sweet straw in the summer sun, and that was -- that was so wrong that John opened his eyes and stopped struggling. No one was there. Just the endless fields.
John hung in his bonds, panting. He'd done something to his left wrist flailing around like that, and he could feel coppery warm liquid running underneath the ropes around his right ankle and dripping from his heel. His skull was pounding red, black, red, and apparently he was losing his mind out here.
He hoped the Weti were finished with their Ancients-sanctioned torture by now. McKay would need antihistamines when they got back to the jumper. That club had raised ugly weals, almost as red as the spatters of goose blood. McKay's head snapped away at the first blow, his cheek already beginning to swell. With the next blow it was agonizingly clear he wasn't going to be just sitting up to end this. The goose blood traced a long streak across his torso, but the welts that followed spread in puckered lines all the way down his chest and stomach.
John didn't turn away from the next two blows, although watching McKay receive them hurt worse than being struck himself. All that escaped McKay's gag was a sort of desperate, muffled whine. Tangled in his BDUs, McKay's feet drummed clumsily against the dirt, his head turning from side to side in panic. "Rodney, you've got to listen to me," John insisted. The slower, ritualized blows were over now and the man over McKay was just wailing away on him now. "Dammit, calm down and stop fighting." But it was useless. McKay was too panicky and hurting to hear John.
John rocked himself up onto his knees and, with a clumsy lurch, simply fell on top of McKay.
Unable to use his hands to control his fall, he hit with a thud. He probably knocked the breath out of McKay, but hell, at least it got his attention. He raised his head as best he could, looking into McKay's huge blue eyes from a distance of about two inches. McKay was wheezing noisily through flared nostrils above his bitten gag, and John's lying on top of him couldn't be making it any easier to breathe. John was unrepentant.
"I know it's fucking scary, Rodney, and I know it fucking hurts and worst of all these people are fucking industrial strength morons, but none of us are going home until you suck in your gut and manage exactly one goddammed sit up."
If possible, McKay's eyes got even bigger. The gag in his mouth distorted his expression, so John couldn't tell for sure if McKay was enraged or just thought John was off his rocker. Either way, John thought it was relief at the cessation of the beating that made McKay's eyes suddenly mist anew.
Expecting the Weti to haul him off at any moment, he let his head drop until his forehead rested on the dirt, his cheek against McKay's ear. Every extra moment he could shield McKay was another moment McKay could use to collect himself. McKay's chest rose and fell under his own, but otherwise he lay still. He reeked of sweat and fear, and over the thunder of his heart, John could almost hear Rodney calling him an idiot.
John didn't know what had happened next. "I opened my eyes and found myself here," he told the prairie. "From the way my head feels, I'm guessing someone clobbered me from behind."
The grasses swayed closer. No vultures, no Wraith, just the shadows of his people, his team. Ronon parted the browning stalks as he strode through. Teyla was the wind that couldn't pass unmarked and McKay chattered in the rattle of dried seed heads. John could almost see them. No, he could see them in the golden brown brushstrokes of the wind in the grass. He even felt a crazy stab of sympathy for the Weti, wondering how long they had seen the Wraith in the same sweep of wind and wild grain.
Then he felt the shudder of a jumper's engine, and he watched as the grasses were depressed in a rectangle directly in front of him. The right angles gave him vertigo after hours of looking at nothing but the living parabolas of the grass. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, the sharp window of a cloaked jumper's lowered rear hatch had opened right before him. He couldn't handle the bewildering visual input, so he simply shut his eyes again.
"My people are in trouble," he said to whomever had come to rescue him. "Back in the village."
"We got 'em, sir." Lorne's voice.
"We are well, John," Teyla said on his other side, her voice broken and hoarse but oh, thank god she was here.
"McKay? Ronon?" The bindings on his wrists and ankles were being shifted, cut, and he didn't want to think about how much it was going to hurt when blood started flowing to his toes and fingers again.
"They will be fine," Teyla said. "The Weti didn't hurt us after they took you away."
"Hang on, sir." Cadman was here, too. "I'm afraid you're going to feel this."
"'m fine," John mumbled as the ropes around his wrists gave way and he folded forward like a straw man. Then he passed out, awakening a minute or two later as Ronon helped Cadman settle him on the floor in the back of the jumper. "Looks like those hurt," John said weakly, pointing to the welts on Ronon's chest. The marks had turned pink and were beginning to bruise.
"Not really," Ronon said, shaking a survival blanket out over him
Then John felt the change in pressure as the hatch closed, and though the grasslands didn't frighten him any longer, he felt easier with the sight of them shut away. It occurred to him that he ought to let the rest know. "There's something out there," he explained.
"What's he nattering about?" McKay snapped.
"Colonel Sheppard's a little shocky," Cadman said briskly. "Just rest, sir. We're taking you home."
"The grass," John tried again, speaking very slowly and clearly, which took strength he didn't really have. "Makes you see things. Makes you think --"
"I can see why that would unnerve you," McKay announced gruffly. He arranged himself on the floor next to John, huffing and grumbling the whole way down. John slitted his eyes open again to see him. McKay was still shirtless, though he had one of the silver survival blankets draped over his shoulders. Half his face was puffy and red, and one eye was nearly swollen shut. Aw, damn. "Rodney --" he croaked.
McKay grabbed his hand and squeezed tightly. "You're concussed, and you probably have heatstroke as well. Idiot," he said so fondly that John swallowed hard as the jumper rose above Weti proper and finally turned for home.
The grass so little has to do, --
A sphere of simple green,
With only butterflies to brood,
And bees to entertain,
And stir all day to pretty tunes
The breezes fetch along,
And hold the sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything.