torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
November 2, 2007

Disclaimer: by request only. Written for nestra. Do not archive without permission.

Sunset

"We're going to die," Rodney said.

Below them, the valley was already in shadow, a deep gleaming blue; the sun hovered just above the mountaintop on the other side, and the snow all around them shone a blinding white, but not for much longer.

"We're not going to die," John said. He looked around. The ledge they stood on wasn't particularly narrow, but it sloped a little, and the snow made for unstable footing. To the right, the ledge grew narrow and trailed off into nothing, and to the left, it just ended, sharp and clean, in a sheer drop of at least a thousand feet. He could feel the sun bite into his face, and he knew that as soon as it disappeared behind the mountains, the temperature would go down fast.

"Do you know how long it takes for a human being to freeze to death?" Rodney had his hands tucked in his armpits, and he looked at the valley and the sunset and the beautiful view as though they were his personal enemies, which John supposed that they were, in a way.

"Depends on how cold it is," John said. That was elementary physics, after all. "And Ronon and Teyla are bringing help. And a jumper."

"They'll find us frozen into icicles," Rodney predicted, with a sort of enthusiastic gloominess. "Or they won't find us at all because we'll be covered in snow, and thousands of years from now someone will stumble on us and we'll be this planet's Ötzi."

"Who?"

"I'm never going anywhere without gloves again." The sun glowed like a radioactive orange, sinking lower and lower. John had the light in his eyes, but he could see Rodney make an emphatic gesture and then tuck his hands back in his armpits again. "I suppose we could share body heat and stave off our inevitable demise for another hour or so. And a hat!"

John blinked. "Stave off our inevitable hat?" He tried to calculate in his head how long it would take Teyla and Ronon to get to the gate and contact Atlantis. The sun was down to half an orange.

"Of course, if we freeze together in an embarrassing position, it's going to be... Is that a cave?"

John turned around on his heel, sending up a small spray of snow. It wasn't a cave so much as a crack in the rock-wall, almost invisible except from a certain angle, which Rodney had, fortunately, happened to stand in. John crouched down and built a snow arrow pointing at the crack before the sun vanished into a coral haze. He didn't know if the snow arrow would show up in the dark, but it was better than nothing. Squeezing through the crack was a bit of a challenge, but worth both the scraped elbow and Rodney stepping on his foot, trying to hustle him along.

"It's warmer in here." And it didn't smell like an animal den, either. John felt a couple of muscles in his back untense.

"Definitely warmer," Rodney agreed, turning on his flashlight and playing it over the rock walls. The crack continued deeper into the mountain, a high, narrow tunnel. "I think we added at least two hours to our countdown to turning into icicles." His cheeks were bright pink. "This way."

It seemed to John that they added another hour to their countdown every ten feet as they stumbled deeper along the uneven rock floor. The passage was narrow in places, but never as narrow as the entrance had been, and the temperature kept rising around them. From biting cold they went towards a steamy warmth. They walked around a final sharp turn in the passage and found themselves in a slightly larger cave with a natural pool of hot water in the middle, just about the size of a hot tub. In here, the air was so hot that John unzipped his jacket.

"Should've brought beer," John said. This seemed to be the end of the line; he couldn't make out that the passage continued on the other side of the pool of water, and in any case, he wasn't sure that he wanted to go deeper into the mountain. They'd be fine here.

"Well." Rodney relaxed, and at the same time his mouth crimped up. "I suppose we don't need to share body heat after all."

"Yeah, don't faint with relief or anything," John said, still looking around the cave, and then his brain caught up with his ears and he looked sideways at Rodney. "Wait. Wait a minute."

Rodney looked exasperated and a little guilty. "We're going to be waiting for considerably more than a minute. Or did you think I was going to go back outside?"

"That's not what I meant," John said, but he couldn't quite make himself meet Rodney's eyes. "I just thought. You know, never mind." He sat down on an outcropping that wasn't too uneven and held his hands out towards the hot water, feeling the steam wrap around his fingers; it was almost like warming his hands at a fire.

Rodney, unexpectedly, sat down next to John. There wasn't a lot of room on this particular outcropping, and they were pretty close together. John looked sideways at Rodney again, cautiously.

"But we could," Rodney said, in a rush. "If you're still feeling cold. Or something." His cheeks were still pink, and his eyes were wide. "Or you could pretend I didn't just say that. Doesn't hypothermia cause hallucinations or something like that?"

"No," John said and leaned into Rodney just a little. They were bound to get rescued. Sooner or later.

* * *

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