Of Giant Toads and Octupi


Rodney stood up. Then he sat back down again. He looked at his watch.

Thirteen forty-seven.

No problem. No problem. He could do this. Sure, it was getting darker and the sounds coming from the direction of the trees were getting louder (were they getting louder?) and the rendez vous time had come and gone something like eight years ago, but he would be fine. There was no need to panic. He was sure that the others would be here to pick him up.

He stood again, rubbed his hands together to warm them. There was a breeze coming in from the direction of those hills behind which the sun was setting; the breeze was cold and damp and smelled bizarrely of dryer sheets.

Rodney shivered and thought about what possible combination of factors could lead to the production of that particular scent in nature, and about the fact that he was, in all likelihood, going to be stuck here on the Dryer Sheet Planet for the rest of his life, and about whether it was comforting to know that he would probably die smelling Downey fresh.

(Not so much, actually. Especially considering that the death thing would probably be happening sooner, rather than later, because of the society of giant, possibly sentient toads in the forest. Sure, so far they hadn't really shown an interest in the lone human who'd been abandoned on the outskirts of their weird little settlement, but they were certainly large enough that they could eat him whenever they chose to do so. Rodney pictured a long, sticky tongue wrapping around him, sucking him into one of those gaping, toothless mouths. Like a, like a fly or something. He wrapped his own arms around himself and shivered hard.)

"Doctor."

Low and quiet, right in his ear. Rodney whipped around, squinting into the purple dusk. The tall grass shifted in the dryer-sheet-scented breeze. From the direction of the forest, something hiccupped terribly.

"Doctor. Are you there?"

Oh, okay. Radio. Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, then tapped his headset. "Yes, hello. Obviously I'm here, having been abandoned by my supposed teammates." He turned his head, scanning the skies, watching for the jumper he knew must be coming. "Where's the Major? Is he actually afraid to talk to me himself? Where the hell have you guys been?"

"I don't know." Ronon sounded out of breath. He sounded like he was running right now, actually, which sure as hell didn't bode well for the whole jumper-to-the-rescue theory. "Could you shine your light up? I think I'm close to you but I can't see you through the grass."

Rodney felt his shoulders sag. "You aren't with the others?"

"We had to separate." Pant, pant, pant. "Doctor. Shine your light."

For god's sake. Rodney fumbled with the tools at his belt until he found the flashlight, flicked it on and aimed it upward, toward the purple clouds. It reflected there nicely, which was wonderful, because that way the giant toads would have no difficulty at all in finding him.

"Okay, I see you," Ronon said. There were a few moments of silence, then Rodney heard a rustling from the direction of the hills, and then the grasses were moving and oh thank god, there was Ronon's big head poking out of them.

Rodney shut the light off and stowed it away in his belt again. "Took you long enough," he said.

Ronon pushed his hands over his face, his chest still heaving with his uneven breath. "Sorry," he said. "I was on the other side of the hills, where the caves are. It was a long way to run."

Rodney shivered again, feeling the strange wind pluck at his hair. He was so tired. All he wanted to do was go home, take a shower and get into bed. "What happened?" he asked instead.

Ronon shrugged one of those boulder-like shoulders. "Jumper broke. Sheppard's fixing it, but we didn't want to leave you alone for too long." He grinned, his teeth glinting in the half-light. "Thought you might get cranky."

Rodney narrowed his eyes. "Oh, well. Your considerateness warms my heart." And it did, actually, but the prospect of being stranded on an alien dryer sheet planet for the rest of his substantially shortened life had frayed his nerves a little. He kicked at the dirt with the toe of his boot and shivered hard again. "So. How long are we gong to have to wait?"

"'Til morning," Ronon said, like it was no big deal.

Rodney stared at him. "What?"

Ronon didn't look up. He was rummaging in his pouches and pockets, pulling out a canteen, some emergency rations, one of those silvery survival blankets, still in its package. "'Til morning," he repeated patiently. "Sit down. I brought dinner."

Rodney took a breath and opened his mouth, and then a wave of utter exhaustion swept the words he was going to say away from him. "Fine. That's...fine." He sank back down in the trampled grass, propping his back against the big rock he'd been sitting on earlier. Ronon finished emptying his pockets and piled the results in Rodney's lap.

Rodney poked at the collection of rations. "Well. Dibs on the cheese flavoured one."

Ronon shrugged, lowered himself down beside Rodney. "Okay," he said. He slid one big arm around Rodney's shoulders, pulling Rodney in against his side.

Rodney sniffed and shifted around until he was comfortable. Ronon smelled like leather and sweat, but he was warm and solid, and he'd run several kilometres to keep Rodney company, and plus, he always let Rodney have the better flavour of emergency rations.

"You can have the cherry surprise, though," Rodney said generously, handing it to him.

Ronon smiled. "Thanks."

They unwrapped their rations and ate them in silence. When the food was gone, Rodney shook out the survival blanket and spread it over the two of them, then leaned back and settled his head on Ronon's chest. The sun sank the rest of the way below the hills. The strange wind stirred the silvery folds. The enormous hiccupy ribbiting in the forest was definitely much louder than it had been before darkness fell. Rodney sat up for a moment, squinting into the dark.

"Do you think we'd hear it if they decided to come after us?" he said.

Ronon's big hand closed around the back of Rodney's neck, tugging him down again. "They're not coming after us."

Rodney sniffed, but he stayed where Ronon put him. "What are you, some kind of, of...giant toad expert? You don't know that."

"Maybe I am a giant toad expert." Ronon's voice was rumbling right under Rodney's left ear. "Maybe was what I studied when I was at the Collegiate in Resk."

Rodney took a breath, paused. He lifted his head. "Was it?" he said.

Ronon snorted, pushing Rodney's head back down again. "No."

There was a silence. The grasses bent and straightened again. A cloud blew in, covering both of the moons.

"On, um, on M5R-398 there's a species of toad that's evolved the ability to fly. Bufo volans. Something to do with air pouches, hollow bones." Rodney shivered.

Ronon hauled him in closer, patting comfortingly at his hip. "I think you should stop talking now," he said.

"No, but think about it. What a giant version of that species might be like. Dominant locally, I'm sure--especially if they also evolved some measure of, ah...of sentience."

Ronon sighed. "Rodney," he said.

"Look, I'm just pointing out some of the less pleasant possibilities, here. I'm not making this stuff up. It could happen." He pushed in closer. Slid his cold fingers under the leather at Ronon's waist, where his skin was putting out a nice, steady heat.

Ronon sighed again, but he left Rodney's fingers where they were. "I'm keeping watch," he said. "It'll be fine. Go to sleep."

Rodney scowled into Ronon's vest, but he closed his mouth, and then his eyes. Ronon's chest rose and fell, rose and fell beneath his cheek. When he finally fell asleep, Rodney dreamed of being at sea.

(Where, of course, there was a whole stressful thing with octopi and pirates--but that's another story.)


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