"Are we there yet?"
The whined question had Ronon huffing out a laugh as he glanced into the jeep's rear view mirror and met John's eyes. "Not yet, Sheppard. Soon." He shot Teyla a warm look filled with Yes, he's an idiot, but he's our idiot.
Teyla didn't smile back at him. She glanced at both men and then she turned her attention to the jungle road that Ronon was navigating the jeep along.
Ronon hadn't known John Sheppard any other way than he was now.
But Teyla knew.
Teyla knew the charming pilot with the cocky smile and the happy-go-lucky drawl that had crash-landed his experimental plane near her tribe. She knew the ex-soldier with the deadly accuracy with any weapon and the love of flying that John had once been.
John had had a love of adventure and a respect for indigenous people that had rivaled Teyla's own. It had been her joy as well as her duty to go with him back to his world and learn of the ways of the pale ones that had invaded her homeland. With their friend Aiden Ford, they had had numerous adventures.
But then, they had gone after an artifact rumoured to be from space. They had been joined by a nervous scientist named McKay, and things had gone wrong from the start.
Along the way, they had discovered that Aiden was a traitor, working for Wraith International, who were rumoured to be fascist backed and were known to suck the life out of any culture they came across.
And when they found the artifact -- a glowing amber crystalline cylinder of a rock -- John and McKay had touched it together by accident. There had been a terrible flash of light and a horrible pair of screams. When the light show had died down, John and McKay both lay unconscious. Teyla had killed Aiden with her bare hands -- snapped his neck when he'd threatened to turn them both over to Wraith International for money.
Teyla had gotten John out of there by herself, leaving the artifact and McKay behind. She regretted that every day, but she could only have gotten one man out and she had chosen her friend over this stranger.
But when the help she'd sent had arrived a mere handful of hours later, there had been no trace of McKay. She often wondered what had become of him – she could no longer remember even what he looked like.
But John had woken up a completely different person. He was nervous and worried. Overly cautious and impatient. His deadly accuracy was gone, though the love of flying remained. The love of adventure and the deep respect for others that had attracted Teyla to his side were blunted like a dull knife, but still present.
Duty bound her to his side now. And several months after John's strange transformation, they had encountered Ronon -- a soldier who had been tricked into working for Wraith International but had seen them for what they were when their agents had murdered his wife Melena.
They had both been delightfully surprised -- John more than Teyla -- to find that Ronon was also a skilled linguist who could also seemingly operate any part of any mechanical moving thing.
Teyla shook her head, drawing her thoughts back to the present. "We are nearly there, John," she soothed, and received a shy, nearly little-boy smile for her reply. "The map says the temple complex isn't far from here."
"Correction," Ronon said as he turned the jeep nearly in a circle before stopping. "We're here."
John got out of the jeep and looked at the complex. "And you think it's in there."
"The legends state that an artifact of great power resides in this temple," Teyla said.
"Powerful enough to defeat Wraith International?" John asked her, an eyebrow cocking.
Ronon smirked. "Once we get past its guardian."
John's head jerked to him. "Guardian? What guardian? You didn't say anything earlier about a guardian!"
"Calm yourself, John," Teyla soothed as she got out of the vehicle. "I am certain Ronon is exaggerating things."
"Probably," Ronon smiled as he stood up. "It's said to be a massive serpent that protects the artifact. That's all I know."
John shuddered. "Oh, lovely. All this heat and humidity and snakes too." His voice took on a sarcastic tinge. "Fun times all around."
Ronon was openly laughing as they walked into the temple. Teyla was not, concern for John welling up once more.
The temple was a maze. John navigated it like he was born to it, his mathematical mind seemingly transforming the maze into three dimensions in his head. "We're close," he breathed. "I can feel it."
Ronon and Teyla also could feel it, and the trio's excitement grew.
Soon, they entered a large chamber with massive pillars. "I think we're here," John grinned, stepping forward. "If I'm right – and I usually am – the artifact should be just on the other side of this--" He walked forward while he talked, and froze as his foot sent a tile sliding downward into the floor. "Uh-oh."
Instantly, Teyla and Ronon had their guns in their hands. "Come away, John," Teyla coaxed, and John stepped backward, his eyes going wide.
"Tey," he breathed. "I think I've tripped--"
A roar caught their attention and Ronon brought up his weapon. "Yeah, Sheppard, I think you did."
It surged up from the moat surrounding the altar. It was serpentine in form, but it roared like the beast from that "King Kong" movie John had insisted Teyla watch with him.
It was also at least fifteen feet long.
John cried out as the massive beast lurched toward them. Teyla and Ronon got between him and the monster, their only thought protect, must protect John, he's the only one who can get us out of this.
The beast inhaled their scents and reared up, roaring as it did so. It was clearly preparing to dive down for the killing blow.
The killing blow never came. Instead, there was the sound of machine gunfire. The beast jerked as bullets tore through its eyes and unprotected underbelly. It swayed as the rapid-fire bullets stopped.
Then there were two staccato shots from a pistol. The beast toppled, its dying roar a wet gurgle in its throat as it stilled.
The trio looked up at the figure silhouetted in the doorway. "Everybody all right?" a voice that had John's eyes widening asked.
"We are now," Teyla breathed as the man walked forward, revealing himself to be a broad-shouldered man in his late thirties with piercing blue eyes, a crooked mouth and blond curls spilling onto his neck from the base of his battered hat.
"Yeah," Ronon smiled at him. "Thanks."
"Oh, don't thank me yet." The man's right hand rose and the pistol pointed between them, directly at John.
Instantly, Ronon and Teyla's guns were pointed at the stranger. "Who are you?" Ronon asked.
"Name's Rodney McKay," the stranger drawled in a soft way that sent chills down Teyla's spine. His narrowed blue eyes never left John's huge hazel ones. "This son-of-a-bitch stole my life. I've tracked you for months -- and I intend to get it back."
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