Carson groaned softly as he slowly shifted his weight onto his stomach and buried his face in the soft depths of his pillow, but the light from the windows still managed to somehow leak through under his eyelids somehow. He silently cursed John Sheppard for placing the head of his bed directly underneath the window, then lifted his head and promptly pulled the pillow over top of it. His ears were muffled by the pillow just enough not to hear the soft footsteps padding over from the bathroom, and he had almost managed to drift off when a cold hand touched his ankle protruding from the edge of the sheets. He jerked with a start, pulling the pillow tighter around his head.
"C'mon, Carson," John said with an unusually cheery voice. "It's time to get up. Don't you have a shift this morning?"
He didn't move, remaining absolutely still in the hopes John would simply ignore him further and get on with his morning shift already, but there was no such luck this day. John deftly yanked the sheet off of him in one swift movement.
Curling up into a fetal position, Carson shivered, pulled the pillow even tighter around his face, and did not move to get up with his muffled and barely audible reply. "I was up nearly all night because o' yer 'payback', love. O' course, this bein' the only day this week I'm not scheduled for a mornin' shift, ye just cannae let me sleep in, can ye?"
He could sense John rolling his eyes without even having to look, but was surprised when he felt those cool hands reaching across his back and warm lips kissing his exposed neck and shoulders. "Sorry about that," was John's soft response as he knelt down, which sounded genuine enough to risk pulling back the edge of the pillow enough to turn his head toward his lover, who proffered an overly cheerful grin in return. "But don't forget that you're scheduled to go with us to P9G-781 later today."
Carson groaned and buried his face once more, this time balling his hands into fists and pounded them lightly into the sides of his pillow in frustration. "Don't remind me."
"Hey, you have no reason worry, Carson," John assured him firmly, smiling as he outstretched a hand to rub Carson's back fondly. "You did really well during yesterday's training exercise, so this should be no problem for an old pro like you."
"Aye, ye made me pay dearly for it, too," Carson replied warily, wincing as he rolled onto his back and stretched stiffly.
John tried to suppress a snicker of amusement as he got to his feet and bent down for a kiss, managing to move the pillow covering Carson's face just enough to accomplish the task. "Well, that's what happens when you force me to drag your butt across sand dunes all day. I'll see you in the gate room at fifteen-hundred hours." Despite his reluctance, Carson relished the feel of his lover's lips on his, sighing softly as the sound of the door opening and closing momentarily filled the silence of the room.
It was going to be a very long day. He would've told John that he had a bad feeling about their final training scenario coming up that day, but he knew that he'd have been reassured that he was acting irrationally and trying to make up excuses not to participate, which would have been at least partly true. But Carson simply couldn't shake the feeling that at the end of this day he would regret having stepped through the Stargate, despite whatever assurances his lover might offer him.
Carson shivered. The air was cool and thick with moisture, and although it did remind him a bit of Scotland, the temperature was a little too cool for his liking. The huge trees that sparsely populated the grungy forest dripped incessantly, and he groaned inwardly at the realization that it would be near impossible to keep dry. He had thought ahead well enough to bring a pair of boots with him, and a good thing, too.
Deciding to change into his boots sooner rather than later, he stooped down and sat on a rock to perform the task while Colonel Sheppard began his introductory speech. It seemed to Carson that John savored the fear he saw in the eyes of the trainees, and once more, all twenty-two of them would be in competition against his elite team of just four members. Carson was not at all reassured in this kind of environment, and despite having won the exercise from the day before, he was quietly dreading today's outing. The bad feeling he'd had earlier had not left him. In fact, it might even have gotten worse.
"Here's the deal, boys and girls," John began, the faintest hint of a smug smile gracing his mask of military training. "This is the last formal off-world testing scenario of this training phase, and you should all be proud to have made it this far. I'm confident that today's activities shouldn't be too strenuous and demanding for you."
Carson sighed. That wasn't something he'd been looking forward to hearing. It virtually guarantee that 'strenuous' and 'demanding' would probably be two words he will come to forever associate with this day's memories for the rest of his life.
John stiffly paced the length of the ramshackle camp as he spoke. "My team has been assigned as your enemy, so I must insist that all teams should use stunners and non-lethal weapons only. Your goals are simple: First, I've set up four sites somewhere in this forest with a marker flag. You must capture all four flags and return them to your camp within 24 hours. Twenty-four hours after that, your goal will then be to find our camp, obtain the DHD control crystal from us using whatever method you deem justified, dial the Stargate, and leave this planet alive with as few 'casualties' as possible. Are there any questions?"
He can't possibly be serious! Carson thought to himself.
"Sir," a young captain asked nervously. "This forest is huge. I don't see how we could possibly find all four flags in just one day."
"Don't worry, Captain," John replied with a mischievous grin, one he made no attempt to hide. "I placed all the markers myself this morning, and although we can try to stop you, we aren't allowed to move or hide them. It shouldn't be impossible to find them all, though it may require some of you to go without sleep for a while."
The Marine immediately shut his mouth and affixed his eyes onto his sidearm, lest he be tempted to make any complaints that might get him into trouble. Carson sighed once more, giving John a hard glare that was professionally ignored, and willed himself to relax. Major Keenan's last training session had ended with the young man stuck in the infirmary for a week, so at least the man's obvious lack of leadership abilities was one less thing he had to worry about. John seemed to think if they were smart and used their heads that they would do fine, so it was enough for him.
Colonel Sheppard ran a hand through his hair, dislodging a fine sheen of moisture that had settled on his head in the short amount of time they had been standing there, and looked down at his watch. "If there are no more questions, we will all have thirty minutes to prepare and then the exercise will commence. It's about fifteen-thirty now, so you have until sixteen-hundred hours tomorrow to claim all four of the flags."
And with that said, John, Teyla, Rodney, and Ronon set off into the forest to set up their own camp, and Lieutenant Willard called everyone together for discussion. It was a general consensus that they would never be able to cover enough ground in 24 hours unless they split up, but knowing what happened in previous encounters, Willard was thankfully wary of groups being too small. It was decided that they would break up into five groups, and three would be out searching the forest for markers at all times. They would search in four-hour overlapping shifts; that way, while three groups were out searching, the other two would have a chance to rest for four hours least twice.
For the first time since coming to this planet, Carson was starting to feel a little more confidence. He'd been placed with Lt. Collins and Lt. Willis like last time, possibly only for the fact that he'd been grouped with them before, but this time Lt. Kagan would be joining them as well. He'd suffered a bad wound on one of his first trips through the Stargate, and Carson was glad to see the young man, though visibly nervous, hadn't let the experience stop him from continuing his service on Atlantis.
And as they were told they would be the last team to rest in the rotation, Carson immediately regretted not having gone back to sleep for a couple more hours earlier that morning. A plan of attack was decided that actually made sense, too. Willard had assigned the teams in positions radiating out from the camp to search the forest with their camp at its center, radiating outward in a circular search pattern. Thirty minutes had passed in what seemed like no time at all, and everyone was put right to work. Carson and his team had been placed at the outermost ring of the search pattern, and they were walking quickly to keep up with the others.
It had only been a couple of hours into their search when one of the other teams claimed the first flag, and amazingly enough, they met with no resistance whatsoever on the part of Colonel Sheppard's team. But as hour number four fast approached and the violet darkness of dusk started to creep over the canopy of trees in the distance, the reason for this quickly became apparently. All teams had set out immediately into the forest, which had left their camp mostly unguarded... and their entire store of food was discovered to be missing by the first group that had returned to rest. Colonel Sheppard and his team had stolen all of it.
Summary: John and Carson are pitted against each other in an off-world training exercise once more, but when one goes missing, the other must rescue his lover from darkness.