Carson's hands shook. He gripped the handle of his Wraith stunner tightly enough to make his knuckles white while his hands grew slick with perspiration. The jungle around him was hot and humid, and the bright sunlight that shone into his eyes made the temperature worse. As it was, it was only just barely tolerable, and if it wasn't for the makeshift head-dress he wore on his head, he'd have probably succumbed to heat stroke some time ago.
He no longer remembered how he had been convinced by his team to be the bait in their trap. It had seemed quite clear to him that, considering the skill level, fitness, and combat experience their opponents possessed, splitting up into groups was a foolish mistake. But he wasn't the one in charge. As ranking officer, it was Major Keenan's decision to make and his responsibility to obey, no matter how stupid the decision seemed. And now, here he was, wandering through the heather and swamp willows of this god-forsaken world, being eaten alive by gigantic alien mosquitoes and taking point for the two soldiers in his team while they stalked their target.
Including those among his medical team that had been chosen for this assignment, there were eighteen of them armed with stunners, more than should have been enough to find and capture four opponents, who weren't armed with anything but their bare hands. Fourteen Marines and four civilians armed with stunners should be enough to capture four unarmed people, but Major Keenan had foolishly ordered that they split up into groups of three after their four opponents had been spotted breaking up into two groups as well.
Momentarily panicked by a sudden movement in the thick vegetation to his right, Carson spun around, his breathing quickening as the barrel of his stunner wavered with the shaking of his hands. He crept forward slowly, scanning the green jungle around him as quickly as he could, but saw nothing except a small gap between two trees where he spied a freshly broken branch dripping thick, gooey sap. Someone had come through there in the last few minutes.
Taking a deep breath and steeling himself against his nervousness, Carson carefully stepped between the two trees into a small clearing. Just ahead of him was a beach with delicate waves lapping on a narrow shore, but no one was in sight. There were, however, footprints in the sand ahead of him leading down to the water. Their adversary had probably hoped to lose his team by hiding his footprints along the beach, but as Carson followed the footprints out to the water, he allowed himself a small smile. The water was receding, and the water had not had enough time to completely erase the imprints that led left along the beach, which meant their adversary could not have passed that way more than a minute or so ago.
Lt. Collins and Lt. Willis, his teammates and both marines of noted combat experience, came up from behind him to see the footprints for themselves. Without a word, they forged ahead, sure that their foe could not be very far ahead of them. But leaving Carson to cover their six was a mistake they would not soon forget. A dark, shrouded figure rose silently from the depths of the sand that had covered him at the edge of the line of trees, catching Carson off guard long enough to grab the stunner before he could fire. A rope was yanked in his peripheral vision, and as the trap was sprung, the two soldiers in Carson's team were hauled up into the air within a primitive, but effective, net that had been hidden in the sand beneath their feet.
Without his stunner, Carson knew he had no hope of defeating his opponent in hand-to-hand combat. That meant his only other recourse was to run like hell. If he could manage to get back to camp and meet up with the team guarding it, he could pick up another stunner and join another team. So Carson rushed the enemy, bowling him over with his full weight, and then attempted to extricate himself and make a run for it. But unluckily for him, a second adversary, the one who had obviously triggered the net, had picked up the stunner.
Carson didn't even feel his body hit the scorching hot sand.
But Wraith stunners, despite being of Wraith design, aren't very powerful. Carson had a relatively sturdy disposition, and had only been rendered unconscious for a matter of a few minutes, but it had been long enough for his foe to bind his wrists behind his back. Carson struggled to lift his eyelids, managing to succeed just in time to see Lt. Collins and Lt. Willis, who had also been stunned into unconscious, being tightly bound to a couple of trees where they would not be likely to be seen by other teams.
Rolling over quietly onto his stomach, Carson attempted to pull himself up to his feet, despite his bound hands and the sand now caked on his face. Blinking away the sand that was sticking precariously to his eye-lids and lashes, he staggered, managing to kick up enough sand in the process to be audible. The shorter of the two dark figures froze as he looked up.
"Sheppard!" one of his team's captors shouted. "Carson's getting away!"
"Damn it!" the figure shrouded in black grunted with a frustrated growl. Sweat was beginning to soak blotches into his clothing, and the dark hazel eyes behind the fabric covering his face narrowed angrily.
Carson shoved himself forward through the sand with all his strength, determined not to let himself be captured. His shoulders and lungs burned with the effort, but he ignored it. The shrouded figure was close on his heels, but Carson wasn't out of shape and managed to stay a few steps ahead... until he glanced behind just as he was about to make it back into the denser part of the forest. His foot caught on an exposed root, and without his hands to brace himself, Carson lost his footing and began to stumble.
He would have broken his nose on a boulder if the shrouded figure in pursuit had not reached out and caught him. Carson sighed, knowing he had been beaten... again.
The shrouded figure's companion muttered under his breath as he caught up with them, having finished the task of binding the two marines that had been in Carson's team. "He almost got away! Why the hell didn't you think to tie his feet?"
"Because," The shrouded figure holding Carson said simply.
But his companion was insistent. "Because why?"
He gritted his teeth with annoyance. "Because we have to capture the civilians, remember? I'm not carrying him back to our base camp through all this sand."
Carson then had a delightfully wicked idea. He was determined not to make this easy for them after embarrassing himself last time, so he allowed his legs to give out and sank down to his knees in the sand. When his foes attempted to pull him back up to his feet, he stubbornly refused with a smug smile. "Thanks for the idea, Rodney."
"Ow!" Rodney yelped as Sheppard's hand slapped the back of his head.
Taking a moment to think, John pondered what to do. "Alright, Rodney, take your net and go help Ronon and Teyla capture the three remaining teams. I'll take Carson back to base camp. And don't get caught!"
Watching Rodney shut his mouth, hand over one of the stunners, and then leave, Carson was more determined than ever to find a way to escape. It looked like two more teams had been done in already, and it stung his pride almost as badly as his capture did. He may not have the combat experience that John did, but he was sure as hell going to give him a hard time.
"C'mon, Carson," John pleaded wearily. "Be reasonable. I'll carry you if I have to, but I'd prefer to simply let you walk without that humiliation."
"It's not goin' ta work, Colonel," Carson insisted firmly with a frown. "I don't intend ta make it easy for ye ta carry me, either."
John knelt down in front of him, gazed down at him for a moment, and then gently began to brush the sand from Carson's face and eyes. Carson felt vulnerable and exposed in this position, but did not let it weaken his resolve.
"Alright," John said finally. "Have it your way."
Pulling Carson's resistant weight heavily onto his shoulders, he immediately lost his balance when his burden began to squirm. "Damn it, Carson! I don't want to hurt you!"
"Ye think just because I spend most o' my nights in yer bed that I'll just let ye win?" Carson grunted with discomfort as he fell backward against his strained and abused arms. "Think again!"
"Fine!" John pulled himself back up to his feet and, with a harrumph of exasperation, pulled a couple meters of homemade rope from his pocket, then secured it around Carson's ankles. With a satisfied grin, he began to yank on the rope, dragging the helpless physician along. Luckily for him, the sand was fairly fine and didn't have many rocks, so the continued abuse to his arms, which were now pinned beneath him as he was dragged, wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Every few hundred meters, John had to stop and catch his breath, and each time he swore to Carson that he would get a serious payback when the training exercise was finally over. But after about fifteen minutes, a high-pitched whistle from the depths of the forest momentarily distracted him from his task. It was one of Ronon's calls, a warning that one of the few remaining teams they were at odds to capture was getting too close to their base camp for comfort. That meant he had to find some place else to stash Carson until the team of trainees had either moved on or had been captured.
Looking around for cover, John found a small cave hidden in the recesses of an outcropping of rocks shrouded in shadow by the setting of the sun. He managed to drag Carson inside, and just in the nick of time, too. Just a few meters away, he could hear a team's boots crunching twigs and dry leaves underfoot, but they passed by without any sign that he and Carson had been seen.
They were just a few scant paces away from the base camp, which was just a couple of makeshift lean-tos in which they had stored some food, firewood, and a few yards of leftover rope. But it was a relatively defensible area, and if the team decided to hole up there and take their food and extra canteens, he'd be seriously annoyed.
"What's goin' on out there?" Carson whispered curiously.
John placed his hand firmly over Carson's mouth and shushed him, then ripped a strip of fabric from his shroud to use as a gag. "Sorry, Carson, but I can't let you call for help."
"Ye'd better not be plannin' ta just leave me h—"
Ignoring the grunt of protest from Carson, John tied the gag and got up to leave. The sun was setting in his eyes, and John didn't see Carson lash out with his feet to kick his shin. But another apology later, he was gone.
Carson must've laid there for nearly an hour before John finally came back, and by that time he was furious. Sweat beaded on his forehead from the pain that had been building in his shoulders, and Carson was literally shaking with the strain.
Upon seeing Carson in this state, John's forehead formed a worried crease. He delicately pulled Carson up into a sitting position against the cave wall, and then decided to remove the gag. "Sorry about that... I didn't mean to leave you for so long. We're going to have to sleep here tonight. Two of your teams hijacked our camp, so I'm afraid we're not having any dinner, either."
Carson's face twisted into a frown and then a grimace, but he said nothing.
John sat down and studied his face for a long moment. Finally deciding he was obligated to say something that would make his lover feel better, he cleared his throat. "Anyway, sorry about having to capture you... It is my job here, after all."
Carson sighed, face impassively blank. "You're not sorry. An' don't pretend it's true when it's not. I'm an abysmal failure at this, an' there's no point rubbin' it in."
"Okay..." John admitted, and was at a loss for words. "Well, I guess I just meant... I didn't mean to make you mad at me."
"I'm not mad at ye."
John nodded slowly. "Really."
"Alright, so maybe I am a wee bit angry, but not at you." Carson shook his head. "I just hate feelin' like I've let anyone down. Suppose this'd been real an' not just a training exercise. What would'a happened? I'd be dead, an' so would my team. And do ye know why I hate goin' off-world so much? Because I know I could be responsible for gettin' myself killed, or worse, gettin' someone else killed."
John put a hand on his knee. "Carson, everyone who's ever been part of an off-world team knows that feeling, and doing our jobs means taking that risk every time we walk through the Stargate. But nobody expects you to be able to fight and win like a soldier. You know we don't expect nearly as much from you and the scientists as we do from the marines in training with you. And it's not your fault that Major Keenan wouldn't listen to you. You can trust me on this; his career will suffer for it."
Carson blinked in confusion. "You know about that...?"
"Of course," John assured him with a wry smile. "You know how experienced we are in the field. You were absolutely right to oppose splitting up into such small groups. It's foolish for inexperienced field personnel not to stick together and pool resources. Besides, nothing like a little covert surveillance to scope out a situation before it arises."
"You mean ye cheated!" Carson cried with indignation. "No wonder ye took out that many teams so quickly! All four of ye've had the upper hand the whole time!"
"That's not the point," John said resignedly, rolling his eyes. "The point is in taking advantage of your opponents' weaknesses, and to take away the opportunities for advantage from your opponents. None of you are completely inexperienced, and there are eighteen of you against four of us. If we are given opportunities like this to spy, and worse still, if the trainees keep making the same mistakes over and over again, it shows weakness and a general lack of competence in leadership ability, team building efforts, or training methods. That's the idea behind having exercises like this, you know."
"It's still cheating!"
He flinched. "It is not cheating."
Carson's eyes widened. "It is so!"
"It is not!"
"It is too!"
Without so much as a warning, John signed, lunged forward, grabbed Carson's tac vest with one hand, and planted his lips on Carson's. The kiss wasn't forceful, but passionate and dry. If he'd been able, Carson would've pulled him closer, but would never have admitted it.
He blinked with some amount of shock as John withdrew slowly. "That's hardly bloody fair. I still can't move at all 'cause you've not untied me!"
"The exercise isn't over yet," John said rather matter-of-factly, then turned away to gather some firewood at the cave's entrance while there was still a bit of light left in the sky. "I told you, two teams holed up in our camp, and we've decided to let them sweat it out overnight. Ronon has plans to put Rodney's nets to good use in the morning."
Carson said nothing, but began to realize that he could ensure that the Colonel's confidence could be his undoing. While they had been kissing, he'd felt a rock with a sharp edge near his wrist, and had picked it up. He didn't think he could cut himself free right then and there without John noticing, and trying to escape while John was awake was foolish at best.
John was kind to his prisoner, at least, and laid down a towel from his pack onto the cave floor for Carson to rest on. With the small fire set ablaze toward the back of the cave where no one outside should see its light, he settled down next to Carson between him and the cave's entrance.
But Carson was hardy, and was quite accustomed to working all-nighters in the infirmary when he was desperately needed. Feigning rest came quite naturally to him, despite John's adept training and powers of observation. And about half an hour after John had stopped moving, Carson feigned restlessness and turned onto his left side, his back facing the fire, where John would not be able to see or feel him working at cutting himself free of his bonds.
It was hours later, and Carson's fingers begun to cramp up had some time ago, that he finally managed to free his wrists. But there was one advantage that John had not considered; Carson was the only person on Atlantis who knew how not to wake the man while he slept. Countless times, he'd been required to leave for an early shift in the infirmary, and of course, John never knew how he did it. He had thought his military training had made him sleep too lightly not to be roused, but Carson was the only person he knew who was gentle enough to treat him like he'd always wanted to be treated.
On the outside, John's face was too often cold and stony, expertly belying his true feelings. But Carson knew his secrets. And it wasn't just the secrets of his body, but those of his mind that he had somehow gleaned as well. So if there was one person in the universe that knew John well enough to sneak past him while he slept, it was Carson. And so he did.
But Carson was no fool. He'd made sure to figure which direction the footfalls he and John had heard were moving, and made sure to run that way. He thrashed through the forest oblivious to the noise, and it wasn't long before he found himself face-to-face with a Wraith stunner being held by the one chosen to stand watch that in the camp night. But once the flashlight was shone in his face to identify him, it was promptly lowered.
"Doctor Beckett!" The guard stammered momentarily with shock. "We thought your team had been captured by the enemy."
"We were," he answered quickly, then moved to wake everyone in the camp, "but I managed tae escape. Where's Major Keenan?"
The guard shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, his team was captured yesterday evening. We were going to hold position here until we had a chance to discuss what to do next."
"Never mind then. I managed ta overhear a wee bit of their plans. I have a plan o' my own that just might work, and I need everyone awake ta hear it right this instant. I'm damn tired o' losing every time we go up against Colonel Sheppard's team!"
It was about 5:30am when John woke to find he was alone in the cave. He ran outside to have a look around, but saw no sign of Carson in the grey morning light of dawn that was spread about him in the forest. Pulling the dark shroud of cloth about him, he immediately left to find Ronon, Teyla, and Rodney. It was light enough that he shouldn't have too much trouble finding them.
When he arrived at Teyla and Ronon's camp, Rodney was still snoring peacefully. Both Teyla and Ronon had risen and prepared themselves to start early, though, and without a word, they stood, ready to plan their final attack on the two remaining teams. Using a foot to nudge Rodney awake, John figured that they were fairly well-prepared for the onslaught as he quietly told them of Carson's disappearance and discussed the probable benefit of spying on the camp first.
He and Rodney were the obvious choices for the task of spying. They made it to the camp in good time, and were somewhat surprised to see that everyone was still asleep. He had figured Carson to be intelligent enough to find the camp even in the dark, but the good doctor was nowhere to be found. It didn't matter, though. It gave them plenty of time to double check on the nets that Rodney had carefully hidden in the sand the evening before, then hide and wait for the teams to pass over them.
But just before he and Rodney were about to leave, they spied the senior-most officer among the bunch quietly discussing their plan for the day with the night watchman. How foolish of them! They were about to give away everything to the enemy without even the crackling of the fire to cover their voices in the dead silence of the forest around them. John silently shook his head and listened intently.
"Was everyone packed up and ready to leave before going to sleep? I'd like to make sure we'll get both teams out searching as quickly as possible once it's full light."
The night watchman nodded curtly. "Yes sir. We're ready whenever you are."
"Good," the ranking officer affirmed. "I want you to take your team north, and I'll take mine east. Keep in radio contact on channel 7. If we're lucky, we may manage to box one of them in along the cliffs."
Watching the guard nod in agreement, John was immediately sure that it was going to be far too easy to ambush and capture the two remaining teams. He and Rodney moved stealthily out to the nets. The teams would be walking right into their trap soon enough.
It hadn't taken long to inform Teyla and Ronon of the plan, and they had jubilantly volunteered to watch his and Rodney's back from the other side of the paths through the forest while they each sprang a net under the teams of hapless trainees. Whoever happened not to get caught up in the trap would be easily enough dispatched without the support of their teammates that had been trapped in the net.
Waiting patiently in their carefully considered positions, they watched each of the two teams trod along the sandy paths just as they'd been expecting. However, when the moment came to pull the ropes that would spring the nets, nothing happened... except that both teams immediately turned around and surrounded the spaces hidden in the leaves where Rodney and John had been waiting to ambush them.
Two shots from a Wraith stunner echoed through the stillness of the forest, and the unconscious form of Ronon fell limply to the ground as he was about to leap from a tree, soon followed by Teyla. They were surrounded, and John's jaw hung agape. What the hell had just happened? How did they know exactly where they'd been hiding? It was almost as if they'd been set up!
"What the hell...?" Rodney said with some surprise, but it was too late. The stunners were fired and they were sent spiraling into unconsciousness before he could say another word.
"I believe this means we win, Colonel," the ranking officer he'd seen speaking to the night watchman said softly, working desperately to cover up his self-satisfaction.
John woke to find he was gagged with his arms bound behind along with his three teammates. Looking around groggily, he saw Rodney and Teyla next to him looking embarrassed, and saw Ronon shooting dangerous glares at the trainees that walked past
"He only told me everything I needed ta know," Carson said smugly to Major Keenan, tossing his stunner back to another marine who had been assigned to collect them for storage. "Oh, I suppose it wasn't entirely obvious what they had planned, o' course, but since he made it obvious that they had set out the nets for us again, I had everyone come out ta search for 'em in the night. An' since I figured they'd spy on us again, we cut the ropes leadin' ta the net an' provided 'em with some misinformation."
They must have been carried back to the Stargate. It was no wonder Ronon was so angry; the first thing the trainees must have done was to carry them back to the Stargate to claim their victory. John looked around abashedly at the angry looks from his teammates and watched Rodney roll his eyes at him. They weren't going to be very happy with him for a while.
As the wormhole opened and Major Keenan reported the exercise's end to Dr. Weir, the marines who'd been captured went home first, and then the captured team was led through the Stargate in defeat with John leading up the rear. It was the first time they'd lost the exercise, so the defeat stung his pride immensely. But the eighteen trainees that were being tested savored every moment of the humiliation while they could; while Teyla was not such a sore loser, Ronon and the colonel would likely mop the floor with them in the gym the very next day. Upon arriving in the embarkation area of the control room, the losing team's bonds were cut and their gags were removed.
Carson wasn't quite through with them yet, though. "I expect everyone with cuts or bruises tae report ta the infirmary immediately for a quick check-up. As soon as it's done, then ye may all hit the showers an' catch up on yer sleep."
There were a number of groans, but no one dared to utter a complaint. They all knew that there were some things that you just didn't argue with the CMO about.
On his way to the infirmary, Carson managed to catch up Colonel Sheppard at the transporter. "I hope yer not too angry with me about what happened back there."
The colonel's face remained blank and did not meet his eyes. "Why would I be angry?"
"Well," Carson began hesitantly, "because I used the things ye told me an' certain things I know about you against ye, in order ta escape and win."
John turned to face him and offered a small, placating smile along with a pat on the shoulder. "Carson, you did everything I told you I was expecting from you and more. Hell, I'm proud of you for doing so great, and for taking my advice to heart."
Carson smiled with relief, the act showing off his dimples. "So you're not angry with me then?"
At this, John averted his eyes and grinned broadly. "Of course I am. And I'm going to make you pay for it tonight, just as I promised."
Carson's eyes widened and he cleared his throat nervously. Why should his face be turning a bright shade of red like this? Promises like that one aren't meant to be taken seriously... Or are they?
Summary: Carson is out on a hunt, but the hunter soon becomes the hunted.