October 2, 2005

Disclaimer: by request only. Do not archive this story without permission.

Oddly soothing

They slowed down, stopped running, stopped moving altogether, and Rodney steadied himself against the nearest tree and drew in air so hard it hurt his lungs. Reddish, flaky bark crackled under his palm, and he got resin on his fingers; when he tried to rub it off, his fingertips stuck together.

"Anything?" he asked as quietly as he could over the pounding of his heart, and Sheppard shook his head, leaning back and propping his shoulders against the same tree trunk, with a gentler grip on his weapon than before. "Good."

Sheppard turned his head and looked Rodney up and down. "You weren't hit, were you? You stumbled back there."

"Root," Rodney said, and decided he had enough air now to try for more than one word at a time. "What about you?"

"You'd think people as trigger-happy as that would have better aim." Dappled leaf-shadows moved over Sheppard's face as a gust of wind shook the tree. "Not that I'm complaining."

Rodney shifted his weight, then staggered against the tree as his feet slipped in the loose, sandy soil and dry leaves and not-fir needles. He was about to say something about his bruises and what was very likely a pulled muscle in his calf when he heard a distant sound and froze. Sheppard looked at him, bright and sharp and questioning, Rodney nodded, and they moved, as quietly as possible, deeper into the woods.

Just when Rodney thought they'd lost their pursuers, Sheppard gripped his wrist, hard, and tugged him behind a clump of scraggly-looking bushes and into the deep hollow of an uprooted tree. They crouched down, pressed together shoulder and hip and leg, and waited in silence, and the bushes stopped shaking with their passage and shook with the wind instead. Rodney tried not to hold his breath. He could hear the wind in the treetops, a distant shouted command, then nothing. And nothing, and more nothing. When a bird started to sing in langourous trills, Sheppard relaxed fractionally, his elbow no longer digging into Rodney's arm.

"I suppose you want me to run now," Rodney said, his voice coming out a bit more tired than petulant. The hollow where they hid was cool, and the smell of dirt and roots was oddly soothing.

Sheppard looked at him, close and thoughtful. "Not quite yet," he said, and his hand was warm and strong on the side of Rodney's neck.

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