The Great Pegasus Train RobberyAuthor: sholioPrompt:
AU all the waySummary:
It's Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
, Atlantis style -- in which we discover that the Pegasus River Gang are about as effective at robbing trains as they are at saving galaxies.Notes:
Thanks to tipper_green
for the beta.
At first the dark rider seemed no more than another mirage, a heat shimmer rising from the desert under the inverted bowl of a cloudless white-hot sky. Slowly he resolved from the searing landscape: black hat, black horse, black leather duster flapping against the horse's glistening flanks.
From a distance, an observer -- of which there were several -- could watch his steadily growing shape flickering in and out of view as he rode up and down a series of arroyos, following the natural contours of the land. In all that great landscape, the only man-made object in sight was the rider's apparent goal: a set of train tracks, straight as a knife-slash from horizon to horizon. They gleamed beneath the brutal sun like twin stripes of fire, running straight and true until they vanished into the distant lavender shade of half-glimpsed mountains.
The rider reached the tracks and turned to follow them. On this flat and easy stretch of ground, where he no longer had to be careful, he kicked his horse from an easy canter to a ground-eating gallop. There was no need for pretense or hesitation -- only speed.
Under a sheltering overhang of stone, where the uneven landscape rose up in a cliff overlooking the railroad tracks, several men and one woman went from waiting tension, to eager readiness, watching him come. Only one of them showed no sign of nervousness at all -- Dex went on sharpening his knife, the wicked blade almost as long as his forearm. "Train's comin', I guess," he said.
Small and lithe and very obviously female even in the boys' clothes she wore, Teyla smacked him in the shoulder and trotted to the edge of the overhang. "He always must do the scouting himself," she said, frowning as the rider approached them.
Lorne gave a quick laugh. "Keeps him happy, doesn't it?"
The black-clad rider pulled up his blowing horse at the foot of the cliff, and tilted back his hat to reveal a boyish grin and sharp hazel-green eyes, glinting with a manic light. "What the hell are you people waiting for?" he shouted up at the rocks. "Up and at 'em! We got a train to rob!"
Dex snorted, jammed the razor-sharp knife back into his belt sheath, and swung his long legs down from the boulder where he'd propped them. "About time."
On the distant, shimmering horizon, where the blade-straight slash of the train tracks vanished into a dust-colored haze, a plume of black smoke rose against the pale sky.******
"... and furthermore, there is strong evidence among certain physicians at the Royal College of Surgeons that prolonged exposure to the sun's rays is implicated in certain classes of skin lesions. Do I look like I'm getting skin lesions? Hey, I'm talking to you!"
Ford grunted, pulled his hat further down over his eyes, and pretended to sleep, leaning his head against the window casing. This did nothing to deter his irritating seatmate.
"I once knew a man who died of a skin malaise. Started as a mole. Consumed his whole body, by the end. Well ... knew of
him, that is. Read about him. In any case, as many unpleasant ways as there are to die in this godforsaken wasteland, adding 'death by sun' seems like a risk that's not worth taking, don't you agree?"
Ford grunted again, from under his hat. The irritating passenger had boarded the train at the town of Mule Foot, early that morning, and hadn't shut up since. His name was McKay, he was some kind of doctor -- though Ford thought his patients must eventually get to the point where they'd be willing to kill themselves just to get away from him -- and he had an opinion on everything, whether or not anyone else in the train car wanted to hear it. Ford's last, regrettable attempt at conversation had been a pleasantry on the weather ... which had prompted the current diatribe.
"... concocted an elixir of my own design that blocks the sun's harmful rays from the skin. McKay's Sun Cream, I call it. What? You don't like the name? Hey, I have a sample in my luggage --"
Since genuine sleep didn't seem to be an option, Ford turned to the man in the seat behind him, hoping to derail McKay by striking up a conversation with someone else. The friendly words died in his throat when he saw Kolya staring out the window of the train with a stone-faced expression that hadn't changed in a thousand miles.
When Ford had boarded the train back East, with a safe full of Wells Fargo gold and payroll cash, Kolya had introduced himself as a Pinkerton detective, and Ford's protection on the trip out West. Since then, Ford had started to come to the conclusion that he was more worried about his "protection" than about anyone who might rob the train. The pock-faced man with the cold dead eyes had barely spoken two words to him -- Ford might have taken it personally, except that Kolya didn't talk to anyone else, either. The other passengers gave him a wide berth.
Ford sighed, tried to tune out McKay, and gazed out the window at the broken desert country, rolling past. Not much to see here.
He found himself sneaking sidelong glances at Kolya, as he had ever since they'd been on the train together. There was no doubt in his mind that Kolya was ex-military: the rod-straight bearing, the way he moved, the way he talked (when he talked) all added up to "ex-soldier". It made sense to him that the Pinkertons would hire former soldiers; what didn't make a whole lot of sense was that they'd put someone like Kolya on a train to nowhere.
Leaning his hand in his chin, with McKay droning on in the background, Ford let himself drift. Once upon a time, younger and a little more idealistic, he'd wanted to be a soldier himself, but the War Between the States was long past and all that was left was subduing the Indian nations. Ford thought his sympathies really ran more with the Indians, and he didn't have the stomach for that kind of thing even if the army would have him for a buffalo soldier. Wells Fargo, though, was more than willing -- it meant they could send him West without having to risk less, not to put too fine a point on it, expendable agents.
Ford didn't really mind. He'd gotten to see a lot of the country in the time he'd worked for them, and he had his eye out for a good patch of land where a man might settle down and do a little farming. His time with Wells Fargo, as he saw it, was a mutually beneficial but temporary arrangement.
He closed his eyes, starting to drift into a genuine sleep, and then jerked awake when the train shuddered and began to slow down.
Around him, the passengers murmured among themselves in shock. Ford leaned as far as he could, peering out the window -- he caught a glimpse of someone on horseback next to the engine, which had ground all the way to a stop.
"What's going on?" McKay demanded sharply. He turned to Ford -- as if Ford was an expert. "Why are we stopping in the middle of nowhere?"
"I don't know." Ford cast a sharp look at McKay's dapper town duds -- this was clearly not a man accustomed to spending time in the desert. Of course, the closest Ford had come so far to roughing it was having to sleep under a railroad bridge once or twice; hotels in small towns sometimes refused to let a room to a man of his complexion. He wasn't looking forward to getting to practice his next-to-nonexistent survival skills. Hopefully there was no problem with the engine; maybe it was just some prospector flagging down the train for a ride to the next town, or something.
Ford glanced behind him to see if this had managed to break through Kolya's icy facade, and then glanced back again, more sharply, when he realized the other man had vanished from his seat.
He didn't have a chance to look for him. The door to the next train car burst open and three men swarmed in, black cloths drawn over their mouths, two of them brandishing six-shooters.
Ford just stared. It was such a cliché thing to happen, a story straight out of the newspapers. I'm in the middle of a train robbery.
"Everybody stand up now, and nothing funny," drawled the man in the lead. Ford couldn't see much of him, except his eyes and a sliver of skin around them. The eyes were light-colored, green or hazel -- the guy was white, but that was about all Ford would be able to attest to in court.
The other two robbers were both short -- one dark-skinned with a sure hand on his weapon, the other twitchy and nervous-looking and not armed at all.
"I said stand up. No talking."
The lazy drawl was sharper now, and Ford moved with the others, rising to his feet with his hands in the air. A quick, furtive look around the train car assured him that Kolya was nowhere in sight. He wondered where Kolya had gone, and when -- not that it seemed to be doing him much good. Protection, my ass.
"What's the meaning of this?" McKay demanded. "Who are you people?"
"What part of 'shut up' don't you understand?" the lead bandit wanted to know. He swaggered down the aisle between the seats, where hastily abandoned card games lay scattered. His dusty black coat swung around his legs; he cut a dashing figure, and looked as if he knew it.
McKay swallowed, and fell silent.
"Which one of you has the combination to the Wells Fargo safe?" the bandit inquired, spinning his gun lazily in one gloved hand.
Ford wasn't sure if speaking up would be a good idea, but he didn't have a chance to decide, since several of the passengers promptly pointed at him. Traitors,
McKay, looking as if he'd rather be a million miles away, quailed back into his seat as the bandit's attention settled on Ford.
"Well, now," the bandit said cheerfully. "Where's the safe?"
Ford kept his lips clamped firmly shut.
"It's probably -- probably in the baggage car, Boss," the unarmed bandit stammered, speaking for the first time. "Can we blow it up? I got dynamite --"
"Shut up, Eldon," the man in black muttered out of the corner of his mouth, and stomped on Eldon's foot. While the shorter bandit hopped around in pain, the black-clad man reached Ford and McKay's seats. He leaned over the fear-frozen McKay to tap the muzzle of his gun lightly against Ford's chest. "What do you say, Mr. Wells Fargo? You want to give us the combination, or do I let Eldon here loose with his dynamite?"
Ford didn't speak.
"D-dynamite, then?" Eldon asked eagerly.
The man in black idly tapped at Ford's chest with the gun; Ford swallowed through a dry, tight throat. "See, there's one little problem with dynamite," the bandit said at last. "It destroys things. And while I grant you, that's somewhat the point
of it, I don't want to be chasing flaming money around the county. I'd really prefer the combination to the safe."
Ford still didn't speak. His heart was pounding so hard that they could probably hear it back East.
The bandit lifted a shoulder in a small shrug. "Guess what we need's a hostage, then." He looked down at McKay, and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You'll do."
"Hey, hey, hey!" McKay yelped as he was hauled to his feet. "Hey, I bruise easily!"
"Do you have a gun? Oh, look, no gun. Guess I'm calling the shots, then."
"So to speak," McKay muttered as he was steered down the aisle between the seats. "Nice pun, Jesse James. Does someone write them for you? Ow!"
"Bring him." The man in black nodded to Ford. Eldon scuttled out of the way and the third bandit moved in, steering Ford out of his seat in much the same way as his leader had done with McKay. Now is a really good time for my PROTECTION to show up,
Ford thought grimly as the bandits forced him and a loudly protesting McKay into the next train car. There was no sign of Kolya, but the cargo door to the baggage car had been hauled open, and another bandit loomed in the shafts of sunlight streaming into its dark interior. This man was huge -- Ford shrank back from him.
"Found it," the giant said unceremoniously, pointing at the safe nestled between trunks, crates, bales of flour sacks and bolts of cloth.
"I can see that," the lead bandit drawled. Ford found himself forced to his knees in front of the safe by his short captor, whose gun pressed into the small of his back. "Okay, you open that safe, or I'll put a hole in our noisy friend here."
"You're bluffing," McKay said, sweating. "He's bluffing, right? Unhand me! Ow! For God's sake, do what he says."
"I can't," Ford protested, barely able to breathe, desperately scrambling for some kind of excuse. "I -- they didn't give me the whole combination, I need to get --"
"Enough." The man in black gave McKay a hard shove. McKay staggered forward a few steps, and stood gasping and rubbing his side. "I don't like it when people don't answer my questions," the bandit added, and fired.
The report of his gun was deafening in the enclosed train car. McKay flinched, with a choked yell, and then pitched forward slowly, toppling out the open cargo door. He landed facedown in the sand by the railroad tracks, twitched a little, and then lay still.
All Ford could do was stare. He'd never seen a man shot before. In cold blood! Suddenly, his whole "buy a piece of land and settle down in the West" plan didn't look nearly as appealing as hightailing it back to Philadelphia and forgetting he'd ever heard of Wells Fargo.
The lethal gun, with a fine wisp of smoke curling from it, turned to bear on Ford's forehead. "Well?" the bandit said, in a mild, conversational tone. "One last chance. I better remind you, too, that we don't really need you. If you won't open the safe, we'll just have Eldon blow it instead."
Ford swallowed harshly. He couldn't get the image of McKay out of his mind -- he hadn't liked the guy, but the way he'd just folded up, like a rag doll .... Ford hoped the Pinkertons caught these scoundrels and hanged them all.
"Last chance," the bandit said quietly.
Ford knew he should stand his ground, say "No" and take the bullet, but -- for what? Wells Fargo didn't give a damn about him. He'd lose his job, but there were other jobs. "All right," he whispered, and began turning the dial of the combination lock with hard, angry twists.
The train car gave a sudden jerk. Ford started to fall forward and slapped out a hand, catching himself on the floor. The gun ground painfully into his spine as his captor staggered, too. Ford looked up to see that the scenery had started to move. He had a moment to wonder what part of their plan this new development could be, before seeing that the outlaws looked just as startled as he was.
"Sheppard --" the giant began, and Ford felt a cold clutch of fear at his heart. Sheppard. He'd seen that name before, in the newspapers -- the leader of the infamous Pegasus River gang. He'd heard that not one of Sheppard's men had ever been caught.
"I know, I know!" the man in black snapped. "Teyla, Eldon, get that safe open! Ronon, get up to the engine, find out what happened to Lorne!"
"What about y--" the big man, Ronon, began to say, but the man in black answered that by jumping out the open door of the train car as it picked up speed. Crazy,
Ford thought. They're all crazy. They're going to kill us.
He turned back to the safe's combination lock, hands trembling, trying to shake the lingering mental image of McKay's final seconds.******
McKay lay facedown in the sand by the tracks as the train began to pull away. He didn't move -- until a boot shoved into his ribs, hard.
"Gah!" He spit out a mouthful of sand and raised his head. "Hello, dead, remember?"
"Hello, train getting away," retorted the black-clad bandit standing over him, pointing after it for emphasis as the final car passed them, gathering speed. "You're lucky I didn't just leave you lying here for the buzzards." He extended a hand, and whistled sharply as he did so.
"Funny, Sheppard." McKay accepted the hand up, wincing and staggering as he regained his feet.
"Nice belly flop, by the way," Sheppard added as his black horse trotted up in response to the whistle. "I think you need to spend more time with Teyla, learning how to fall."
"You mean 'getting the crap beaten out of me with sticks'," McKay sulked, dusting himself off. "Ow! Bruises! Next time, you
can be the inside guy. But, ha, I was right, wasn't I?"
Sheppard vaulted into the horse's saddle, and looked down. "Right about what?"
"A gunshot looks perfectly convincing if you use a paper wad instead of a bullet," McKay said smugly.
"Okay, yes, fine, you were right, now get up here, because our meal ticket is vanishing while you stand around yakking."
McKay grumbled and thrashed around, trying to get up onto the back of the horse without benefit of stirrups. "Couldn't you find a mounting block? Or make this thing kneel or something?"
"Or ... leave you here for the buzzards." Sheppard finally managed to haul him up. McKay flung both arms around his waist. "Hey, I need to breathe, you know."
"Have I mentioned how much I hate horses?" McKay demanded as Sheppard urged Puddlejumper to a trot. "Ow! I just found a new bruise!"
"Only about twice an hour." Sheppard kicked the horse's glossy flanks, and 'Jumper stretched out into a gallop.
"I cannot believe that you intend to run down a train
"Don't have to run far," Sheppard said over his shoulder. "Remember, when Bates and Radek see the train coming, they'll blow the Pegasus River bridge. It'll stop."
"Are you sure it'll stop?"
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'm sure. What kind of idiot engineer would see a big smoking hole in the tracks and not
"The kind who takes off while men are holding guns on him?" Bouncing along behind the saddle, McKay hung on grimly and tried not to bite his tongue off when his teeth kept snapping together. "Sheppard, we've got problems on this one. There's a Pinkerton on the train, and he's gunning for you, specifically. I saw him waving around your wanted poster to some of the passengers. Guy named Kolya."
Sheppard's stomach muscles went stiff under McKay's hands. "Acastus Kolya?"
"Yeah. Not a common name. It's the same guy, isn't it? The one you served under in the army?" Clinging to Sheppard's coat, McKay groaned. "It'll be an easy job, you said. Nobody gets hurt, just flag down the train, take the money and run. So far, this is going about as well as your plans ever go."
"Nothing wrong with my plans," Sheppard said. He sounded tense and thoughtful. The collar of his leather coat kept snapping back and hitting McKay in the teeth.
"And there's another thing! What kind of idiot rides around in the desert dressed in black? One of these days you're going to pass out from heat and fall right off this horse, Sheppard."
"I like black," Sheppard said in a peevish tone. "It's cool."
"I'm getting heatstroke just looking at you."
"Then stop looking at me and concentrate on not falling off the damn horse, McKay."******
It had been a simple plan. Like all of Sheppard and McKay's plans, everything looked good to Lorne on paper; it wasn't until they put it into practice that things started going wrong.
Lorne and Sheppard had flagged down the engine -- with the bridge ahead, Sheppard had guessed that the engineer would assume they were warning them about the status of the bridge, and that turned out to be the case. Then the guns came out, and the engineer and fireman were hustled off the train and tied up in a patch of shade. Lorne stuck around to keep an eye on them, and the boiler, while Sheppard took the rest of the gang down the train to find McKay and the safe.
Lorne climbed up into the engine car to look at the gauges -- not that he could figure out what they meant, but he figured he could at least tell if something was heading for overload. It was stifling in here. He wiped a hand across his forehead, and pulled down his robbers' bandana to take a swig of water.
He didn't see or hear a damned thing out of the ordinary until stars exploded in his vision and he pitched forward onto the floor. He didn't pass out, exactly, but his body wouldn't work right; he was vaguely aware of his limbs being manipulated and the sharp, painful tugs as someone tied him up, making no effort to be gentle. A hand sank into his hair and yanked his head back, and he squinted blearily up at an utterly unfamiliar, pock-marked face.
"Evan Lorne," the stranger said, his lip curling. "There's a bounty on your head, boy, but a bigger one if you're brought in alive. Fine with me. It's your boss I want, anyway."
Lorne wet his lips. "You'll never get him," he managed to croak out.
"We'll just see about that." The stranger ripped off Lorne's bandana and forced it between his lips, tying it tightly before letting his head drop painfully back to the floor of the engine car.
From this awkward position, he watched the stranger moving around, doing things Lorne couldn't understand -- he was a farmer's kid, didn't have the slightest idea how a steam engine operated, but he did understand when the train gave a jerk and began to move.
As the train accelerated, the stranger came back and squatted down next to Lorne. He hooked a finger in the gag and pulled it down; Lorne coughed and spat out bits of lint and dirt.
"How many of you are there?"
"Go to hell," Lorne snarled.
The stranger backhanded him across the face. "Wrong answer. How many?"
Lorne licked blood from his lip and said nothing. He'd had much worse than that falling off a horse. In the stranger's cold eyes, though, he saw that more was coming -- much more. As he sucked in a breath in preparation, his eye was caught by a fluttering movement outside the window of the locomotive's semi-open cab: a long coat, fluttering in the wind of their motion.
Sheppard? No. Dex. The big man swung through the window -- he seemed to float silently; the roar of the locomotive drowned out any sound he might have made.
Maybe the stranger followed Lorne's eyes, or maybe he caught a motion out of the corner of his eye, because he swung around just as Ronon brought his giant revolver to bear. Both of them fired, both in motion, and both shots went wide, scattering sparks as they rebounded from solid iron.
"You must be Ronon Dex," the stranger said above the noise of the locomotive.
Dex just grinned, showing teeth. Even for someone of his skill, it was difficult to aim in the close quarters of the swaying cab; his next shot caromed off the steam engine, so he swung a punch instead. His opponent danced sideways, shockingly fast, and Lorne rolled out of the way of their feet. Swinging his own bound ankles, he managed to tangle up the stranger's legs and a heavy weight landed on his chest, knocking the wind out of him. There was another gunshot, and a flinch and a grunt from the man on top of him; one of Dex's shots had scored.
The next thing he knew, a powerful arm had hauled him up and the stranger literally threw him at Dex. With his hands and feet tied, he couldn't catch himself or control his fall. Dex reached out a hand to steady him, lost balance himself, and they both tumbled out of the locomotive cab.
"Son of a bi--" Lorne managed and then the world hit him. Hard. He was vaguely aware of train cars thundering by, inches from his head, and then someone slapped him in the face, lightly enough that it didn't hurt ... much.
"You okay?" Dex's deep voice said.
"Oh, sure." He spat out some blood and sat up as Dex untied him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the train vanishing around a curve.
"Well, shit," he said, flexing his hands and getting the feeling back into them. He had some bruises that he was definitely going to be feeling tomorrow, but he didn't think anything was broken.
"Yeah," Dex said.
"Who the hell is that guy?"
"You shot him, right?"
"Winged him," Dex said, "but not bad."
They both stared in the direction the train had gone.
"Think Radek and Bates are gonna blow the bridge?" Lorne said after a moment.
"Think he'll stop the train when they do?"
Dex didn't answer.
"Hey!" Sheppard clattered up to them on 'Jumper's back, McKay clinging on behind him. "You two okay?"
Dex waved him off. "Fine."
"There's some crazy son-of-a-bitch running the train," Lorne added. He saw Sheppard blanch and then kick 'Jumper's side, urging the horse after the train.******
Sheppard veered away from the railroad tracks as they started to curve, winding through the rougher country around the river canyon. The smoke of the train was just visible over the hills. McKay gave a little whimper as 'Jumper's fast legs carried them across the broken landscape, leaping over ravines and clattering through dry streambeds without breaking stride.
"Sorry," Sheppard said without looking back. "Gotta cut him off -- last chance before the river."
"I say we collect the gang, cut our losses and run," McKay snapped, pressing his cheek against Sheppard's leather coat as he tried not to fall off. "This Kolya guy -- he's bad news, isn't he? I know you hate talking about this stuff, and I'm not crazy about it either, but I need to know -- what happened?" His voice rose to a squeak on the last words, as 'Jumper lived up to his name with a truly amazing leap across a sinkhole. God, his tailbone would never be the same again.
He thought Sheppard wasn't going to answer him, but after a brief pause, the wind tearing past his face brought the low voice back to him. "I tried to have him court-martialed, but all he got was a dishonorable discharge. Got thrown out myself, but I figured that was going to happen anyway. It was worth it. I didn't enlist to kill women and children."
He broke off again. McKay didn't ask any more questions -- didn't want to know, really, even though he was the one who'd brought up the topic. They all had things in their pasts they didn't talk about. There was a reason most of them were out here. Feeling Sheppard's rigid tension, he deliberately changed the subject. And people said he had no empathy -- ha! "Are we almost there? I think I left my spine somewhere back in that patch of cactus we just rode through. Er, over."
"As a matter of fact ..." Sheppard began, and then they came up over a rise and there were the train tracks, gleaming below them. 'Jumper galloped down the hill, throwing up a shower of gravel in front of his flying hooves. McKay started to ask if they'd made it ahead of the train, but then he looked up and there it was, huge and black, bearing down on them as 'Jumper leaped over the tracks.
McKay caught a glimpse of someone leaning out of the engine car, and then Sheppard yelled something and yanked on 'Jumper's reins, veering away from the tracks. It took McKay a moment to realize that the puffs of dust going up around them were bullets, not just rocks flung up by the horse's hooves. Then the locomotive was past them in a rush of noise and heat and smoke. Sheppard pulled around 'Jumper's head and began to gallop, flat out, next to the train.
"Think you can jump onto the train?" he shouted over his shoulder.
"Are you crazy?" McKay retorted. It was all he could do not to fall off.
jumping, so you have to either let go of me or jump on, Rodney!"
McKay's response was to tighten his arms around Sheppard's waist. The result seemed approximately the same in either case: violent death.
The locomotive was slowly pulling away from them -- they were racing alongside the tender now, with its load of coal and water. "Jump or let go -- those are the options!" Sheppard bellowed as the water car began to pull away, as well.
McKay sucked in a deep breath; he couldn't believe he was even considering
this. Reluctantly he pried one arm loose from Sheppard and leaned out, away from the galloping horse. They were so close to the train that its rhythmic wobbling brought it almost close enough to touch --
His fingertips brushed a metal ladder at the very back of the tender as it passed him. They'd practiced maneuvers like this between running horses -- he was pretty sure he still
had some of those bruises -- but never on twenty tons of racing iron. On his second try, he got his fingers hooked around it, and, with what he was pretty sure was a superhuman level of bravery, let go of Sheppard.
The violent wrench felt like it pulled his arm out of the socket. For a moment he swung in midair -- then he slammed into the side of the train, knocking all the air out of his lungs. Gasping, he caught hold with both hands and then found purchase for his feet. All he could do for a minute or two was cling to the ladder, pressing his face against it and breathing as if he, not the horse, had been the one running.
When he could finally raise his head, it was to see a riderless 'Jumper falling away from the tracks, dropping back to a canter and blowing hard. "Nice job, Rodney!" Sheppard's voice yelled at him, and McKay looked up to see that an overly cheerful Sheppard had already made it to the top of the tender, the bastard. Then a billow of smoke from the engine sent him to his knees, coughing. Served him right.
McKay wormed his way up the ladder, managing to keep about 90% of his body in contact with it at all times, and finally popped his head up into his own little eddy of black, choking coal smoke. Gasping, he scrambled up over the edge, and flattened himself on top of the water tank. "I am never doing that again!" he yelled up at Sheppard, who was, improbably, standing up,
balancing against the sway of the train.
"Oh, admit it, Rodney, you're enjoying this." It was impossible to see Sheppard's mouth under the bandana, but McKay could hear the grin in his voice.
"If the Rodney-mocking moment is over, may I remind you there's a crazy person driving us towards our doom!" McKay yelled at the grinning idiot.
"Engine car ahoy, then," Sheppard returned, with far too much pep for the situation, and turned to make his way towards the front of the train. Walking, albeit awkwardly.
"I hate you," Rodney said under his breath, squirming after him.******
From his lookout post atop a small rise beside the tracks, Bates waved down at the small figure of their second, and slightly less insane, demolitions expert. He was pretty sure that Eldon had been way
too close to a few too many explosions. Zelenka was fairly odd in his own way, but at least he could hold a coherent conversation.
"Train?" Zelenka called back.
"I can see the smoke." Bates jogged down the hill until he got close enough that he could talk without shouting to Zelenka on the near end of the bridge. "Guess something went wrong with plan A. Time for plan B. You done?"
"Done and ready." Zelenka glanced down at the railroad ties under his feet -- and then down to the seething gray water of the Pegasus River at the bottom of the canyon, seventy feet or more below. Looking back at Bates, there was a furrow between his brows. "They'll stop, right? I don't want to kill anyone."
Sheppard had a way of collecting strays. Bates had no idea where he'd dug up Zelenka; all he knew was that the little foreign guy was soft in some ways and tough as nails in others. "There's five miles of straight track between here and the hills. No way they'll see all the smoke without stopping."
"I only hope you're right." Zelenka looked out at the bridge again. "Help me light some fuses?"******
Kolya had to admit, if only to himself, that as master plans go, starting up the train without making sure that his target was actually on the train hadn't been his most shining moment. Who would've guessed the bastard would jump off?******
But luckily, Sheppard had fixed his mistake for him. He'd seen Sheppard jump onto the tender car. Looking up ahead, he saw that they'd navigated the last curve before the river. The tracks stretched straight ahead of the train -- it should be safe to leave the engine for a few minutes. He set the throttle, favoring the arm that Sheppard's accomplice had creased with his ill-timed shot, and leaned out the open window. Through the cloud of black smoke overhead, Kolya caught glimpses of a determined-looking Sheppard, in that ridiculous black outlaw's getup, slowly navigating towards the front of the train.
For years, he'd been tracking the man. He'd accepted the job offer from the Pinkertons just to give him a chance to bring Sheppard to justice. As if it wasn't bad enough that Sheppard had lied at his hearing -- he'd just been doing his job, for God's sake; he'd had orders to wipe out those villages -- then the traitor had turned his back on law and order entirely, having a joke at the expense of the country he'd once served.
At some point, Kolya knew, he'd probably crossed the line into obsession. But it was a healthy obsession, he rationalized -- one way or another, before the sun set on this day, he was going to make sure there was one less outlaw in the world.
Leaning as far out of the train car as possible, he took careful aim.
Ford had tried to stall, taking as long as possible with the safe combination, but they were bound to notice the ever-increasing pauses between twists of the combination dial. They'd killed that McKay guy without a hesitation -- he had no doubt that he'd be next if they thought he was trying to cheat them. Goodbye, job,
he thought, as the door gave a soft little click and sprang open, revealing stacks of gold and sacks that bulged with cash.
But when Ford looked up at his captor, he saw that the short man was staring towards the front of the train, with a furrow between his brows as he frowned. "Something's wrong," the bandit said to the other. "Ronon should have been back by now, or they should have stopped the train."
Ford felt a quick little shock at the bandit's light, soft voice. That wasn't a man's voice. There are women in his gang?
The other one, Eldon, looked nervously from the speed-blurred desert scenery outside the open cargo door, to the woman with the gun. "Jump? Get out?"
The woman shook her head. "No. Not without our --" She paused, her head snapping up. Ford had heard it, too: a distant explosion.
"B-bridge," Eldon stammered, wringing his hands. "They blew the bridge."
The bridge? Ford tried to conjure a mental map in his head. They'd crossed over innumerable small ravines on little bridges, but that explosion had been huge. The next big river he remembered from the map was the Pegasus River. They couldn't possibly mean THAT bridge?
"We -- we should be stopping," Eldon said, looking out the door at the speeding desert.
"I know. We are not even slowing." She followed Eldon's gaze. "At this speed, we cannot have more than a few minutes before we reach the river."
Swallowing, Ford made himself speak. "If your accomplices killed the engineer, this train might not have anyone running it. And if that's the case and you blew up the bridge, we're all going over."
"We -- we didn't kill anybody," Eldon said quickly, rubbing his hands over each other and shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot.
The lie infuriated Ford. "Right, you didn't kill anybody, not even McKay, right in front of me!"
"We didn't kill him! He, he faked it. We didn't kill him, right?" Eldon asked, looking beseechingly at the woman. "We wouldn't kill Rodney. He's our friend. Right?"
Her steady gaze went from Ford, to Eldon, back to Ford again. "No," she said quietly. "We didn't kill anyone, Eldon."
A slightly crazy half-laugh erupted from Ford's throat. He wasn't quite sure whether or not to believe her, but he'd heard of such things -- train and bank robberies that took advantage of planted accomplices among the onlookers. But ... "This train's still not stopping, you know!"
"I know," she said, and looked towards the front of the train again, looking uncertain. Her gun was now pointing at the floor.
Ford took a deep breath and took a chance. After all, if he died right now from a bullet, or in a few minutes from falling into a river, he'd be equally dead either way. And if they went into the river, all the passengers would be dead, too. "We could uncouple the cars. I've spent a lot of time on trains. I can show you how."
Looking down at him, her eyes crinkled in a smile that was hidden behind the bandana over her mouth.
"Yes," she said. "That is an excellent idea."******
With the black smoke billowing around his head, Sheppard caught only a brief glimpse of Kolya leaning out the window of the engine car before McKay yelled "Sheppard!" and something yanked on his whipping coattails and then he was going down hard on his ass, while pain blossomed hot and fierce across his upper arm.
"Jesus," was all he could say. Reaching up to touch his sleeve, his hand came away wet.
"I see your survival skills are excellent as always," McKay said in a slightly choked voice, holding onto Sheppard's leather coat with a two-fisted grip -- which was probably good, since it was all that was keeping him from falling off the train.
Sheppard curled a hand around his biceps to stop the bleeding -- it didn't seem to be more than a scratch, but it hurt like hell -- and risked a glance over the side of the tender, to see Kolya climbing out the window of the locomotive. Okay, that wasn't good.
"Sheppard," McKay said, in his We're all going to die
tone, and pointed straight ahead. Through the rippling coal smoke, Sheppard could see the tracks lying straight and empty ahead of them, pointing like an arrow towards the tiny, distant struts of the bridge -- and the smoke curling up from it.
"He's not planning on stopping the train," Sheppard said in disbelief. He's too focused on me; he probably hasn't even noticed the bridge is out.
"You know, I hate to say this," McKay said, looking over the side of the tender at sagebrush and rocks whipping by, "but I think our chances are a whole lot better if we jump right here than if we go off the bridge."
"We have to get up to the locomotive. If we jump, everyone on this train dies." Sheppard looked back at the row of train cars behind them. "Teyla
"Oh, fine, if you put it that way --"
"Get down!" Sheppard threw an arm over McKay and flattened them both to the top of the tender as Kolya popped up over the side and fired at them. He thought he could hear the bullet whine past his ear. Sheppard returned fire and Kolya ducked back down.
"Rodney," he said into McKay's ear -- they were both flat on top of the water tank, side by side. "I'll keep Kolya busy. You have to get into that locomotive. Stop the train. And I think you have about a minute or two left to do it."
McKay twisted his head to look at him, wide-eyed and disbelieving. "But -- I -- what?"
"Go!" Sheppard hissed, and rolled over to fire off the last two bullets at the top of Kolya's hat. He began reloading as fast as possible. Behind him he could hear Rodney cursing and scrabbling across the top of the tender, climbing over the coal piled in front of the water tank.******
Ford led the way back into the passenger cars, grabbing at seat backs to keep himself from falling as the aisle swayed underfoot. The passengers stared at him and the two bandits behind him, not saying a word. They probably thought he was crazy -- hell, he
thought he was crazy, too.
At the foremost passenger car, he stepped out onto the gangway between cars, and knelt down. The tracks whipped by, much too close for comfort. Staring down at the coupling, he realized that all the times he'd seen railroad workers unfastening cars had been on stationary, unmoving trains.
"What is wrong?" the woman asked from behind him.
"I don't think I can do this while the train is moving, at least not without losing fingers -- not in the time we've got." He looked up at her and Eldon. "You guys have dynamite, right?"******
"Crazy," McKay muttered under his breath, "crazy, crazy, crazy ..." The coal pile slipped and slid under his feet; it was like climbing a mountain of small shifting rocks. A moving mountain -- a moving, shaking mountain that kept trying to asphyxiate him with coal smoke -- okay, it was a terrible metaphor, but he couldn't concentrate well enough to think of a better one.
As he reached a hand down to steady himself, one of the pieces right under his fingers disintegrated into coal dust, showering him with bits of black gravel. He stared at it for an instant before realizing that someone had shot it.
"Oh, way to provide a distraction!" he yelled over his shoulder as he started to slither down the opposite side of the coal pile, heading for the cab of the locomotive. A quick glance behind him delivered the unfortunate news that Kolya, clinging to the side of the train car, had a gun pointed straight at his head. McKay squeaked and ducked; Kolya's gun barked, but missed him -- at least, so he guessed, judging from the lack of pain and death -- and then Sheppard tried to kick it out of Kolya's hand, and then McKay had to look where he was going
before he tumbled off the coal pile into new and untold realms of pain and death.
He skidded to a halt on the very edge -- feet dangling over DEATH, heart pounding, both hands sunk wrist-deep into bruising masses of coal. More gunshots sounded behind him. Gathering himself slowly, against his will, knowing there was no time and doing it anyway, he peeked back over the top of the heap of coal.
Sheppard was down on his back on top of the moving train car. His gun lay a few feet from his hand; his arm was curled around his side, soaked with red to match the red stain across his shoulder. As McKay stared in openmouthed horror, Kolya clambered onto the train car, gun trained unerringly on Sheppard's chest.
McKay looked over his shoulder at the locomotive, and beyond it -- oh God -- the dark slash of the canyon across the landscape, growing larger at a terrifying speed.
If he didn't climb over to the locomotive (somehow ... he was trying really hard not to think about that part) and stop the damn thing, everyone on the train would die. But, if he turned his back, Sheppard would be a dead man in the next few seconds.
Sending a silent apology to Teyla and the other occupants of the train, he closed his fingers around a piece of coal, picked it up and threw it as hard as he could at Kolya's head.******
Ford entered the passenger car at the closest thing to a dead run that he could manage on the swaying floor. The female bandit and Eldon were close on his heels. "Get down!" he yelled at the confused and frozen passengers. "Grab hold of something!"
They'd set a short fuse, and the explosion came almost immediately. The passenger car shuddered violently but continued to thunder forward.
"We are not stopping," the female bandit gasped, clinging to the back of one of the seats.
Of course, they wouldn't be -- even without the locomotive pulling them, the momentum of the train could still carry them off the edge.
"Emergency brake," Ford yelled, and threw himself at the handle, pushing past a startled and frozen female passenger to reach it. He gave it a hard yank.
With a shriek of tortured metal, the passenger car slewed and began to slow. It shuddered again, violently, and the female bandit murmured "Oh my" just as Ford looked out the window -- still clinging to the emergency brake handle to keep from being thrown to the floor -- and saw the line of cars behind them buckle and then derail.
Caught up short by the tumbled line of cars, they came to a sudden sharp stop; this time he did go flying into the seat in front of him, as the impact rattled everyone in the train car like dice in a cup. Picking himself up, Ford looked out the window with horrified fascination to see the train cars still sliding, piling up on each other. The baggage car was over on its side, but seemed to be mostly intact. He winced at the sight of small, distinctly greenish scraps scattered in a swathe back from its open door -- he hadn't even thought to close the safe before taking off to uncouple the cars. Well, at least all he had to do was pick it up and put it back in --
The car behind the baggage car exploded in a fireball and a loud WHOOMPH.
Ford staggered back, throwing an arm up over his face.
One of the cars on the train had been carrying kerosene.
The baggage car was burning brightly now. Flaming bits of money drifted down over the rest of the train, carried on a brisk breeze. Around him, Ford was dimly aware of the passengers conducting an undignified evacuation, but he didn't move until a small hand closed on his arm and gave him a gentle tug. He looked down numbly at the female bandit.
"I think I'm probably going to get fired for this," he managed to say.
Her bandana had slipped down during the crash, revealing a smile of unexpected beauty and warmth. "But you saved everyone on the train."
"Yes, but ..." He gestured at his livelihood going up in flames.
"There are more important things in life than money," the female bandit said, leading him out of the train car as the flames crept towards it.
"That's a really odd thing, coming from you," Ford said, but he allowed himself to be led away.******
The chunk of coal left McKay's fingers and, of course, went astray, soaring over Kolya's shoulder. But it got his attention, at least; he swung around, as well as he could atop the swaying train.
"Oh hell," McKay muttered, and ducked hastily as Kolya blew the top few pieces of coal off the pile. Against his better judgment, he peeked over the top again, in time to see Sheppard hook a foot under Kolya's ankle, trying to knock him off his feet.
Kolya spun around, thumbing back the hammer of the revolver. McKay reached wildly for another piece of coal, but he was too slow, too far away ... all he could do was watch as --
-- as the tender jolted violently, a cloud of smoke going up from somewhere behind it, and suddenly McKay found himself sliding in an avalanche of coal. Cursing, yelling, he scrabbled with bruised and bleeding fingers. His feet caught on the edge of the coal bin, stopping him from going over as a hard rain of coal cascaded to the tracks below, pinging off the railroad ties and the coupling between the tender and the locomotive.
Someone (Eldon?) had blown the cars free of the locomotive. He wouldn't have thought it was possible, but he could actually feel
the difference in the rhythmic shuddering of the train underneath him -- free of the weight that it had been pulling, it was practically bounding over the tracks, heading blithely towards its doom.
And, like the locomotive, McKay felt suddenly free himself, a weight lifting off his shoulders. The passengers on the train weren't going to die. Teyla and Eldon weren't going to die. No one was in danger now but himself and Sheppard, and at this point, they probably wouldn't be able to stop the locomotive in time even if he could somehow get to the controls.
He should be terrified, but instead, all he felt was a sort of relief. He'd been swimming in a sea of variables, but now all the variables were fixed and constant. He couldn't change them. The train would fall, or not; he'd die on it, or not. The only variable remaining was Kolya.
McKay turned and scrabbled back up to the top of the coal pile.******
Even in the heavy black coat and the backwash of heat from the locomotive, Sheppard was cold -- a bitter, bone-deep cold, seeping into him as hot blood seeped out, searing his frozen fingers. I think I really screwed up this time,
he thought, and God, I hope McKay can stop this damn train by himself.
He just hoped McKay had the sense to actually go do
that, rather than coming back -- the man picked the damnedest times to lose his usual sense for self-preservation.
Kolya's arm pressed down on Sheppard's throat like a bar of iron. His voice was a low rumble against Sheppard's chest, heavy with hatred. "You could have saved yourself the trouble, Major Sheppard. All you had to do was follow your orders like a good soldier."
Sheppard felt his own lips draw back from his teeth in a grin that was more of a grimace. "No," he whispered. "No, I couldn't. Hate to break it to you, but I don't regret a thing."
Then Kolya's eyes went wide as something -- someone -- plowed into him from behind and they went rolling and thrashing across the top of the train car. Someone's gun went off -- once, twice -- and seriously, he was going to kill
McKay, if Kolya didn't do it first. Managing to find the strength somehow, he got to his knees, feeling for his gun and finally closing his fingers over the familiar weight of the grip.
Kolya had wrestled McKay to the very edge of the train -- both of them seemed to have lost their guns in the scuffle, and neither seemed to be bleeding. Slowly, bit by bit, Kolya forced McKay over the edge. Sheppard brought his own gun around to bear on the back of Kolya's head.
The hammer fell on an empty chamber.
"Son of a bitch
," he snarled, lurching to his feet and half-falling in Kolya's general direction. Reversing the gun, he scored a hard strike across the back of Kolya's head, and then, as the other man reeled back, hit him again in the face.
Kolya slumped down and didn't move. Sheppard slumped down, too, in a crumpled heap, the heat of his exertion bleeding out of him. He reached out a blood-streaked hand and helped McKay thrash and flop his way back onto the top of the train car, white-faced and wild-eyed.
The next thing he knew, McKay had a double handful of his coat and was saying his name, over and over. Sheppard's lips wouldn't work right, but he managed to say, "The train, Rodney -- Teyla, the passengers --"
"It's okay," McKay said, though the crazy look in his eyes was anything but okay. "They uncoupled the cars. It's just us and --"
He didn't get a chance to finish; Sheppard felt their sudden loss of speed and the lurch in the pit of his stomach as the world dropped out from under them. ******
It was a longer walk to the edge of the canyon than it looked.
Leaving the flaming wreckage of the train behind, with the passengers clustered around it in small terrified knots, Ford and the female bandit (whose name turned out to be Teyla) walked down the railroad tracks to the edge of the bridge, where two more outlaws, both of them very nervous-looking, were peering over the side of the canyon wall. They both reached for their guns at the sight of Ford; Teyla shook her head and said, "He is a friend," and then joined them, looking down at the churning water far below.
One of the outlaws kept wringing his hands, anxiously staring down into the canyon. "I am so sorry -- I thought the train would stop, I never expected --"
Teyla put her hand on his shoulder. "It is not your fault, Radek. You were only doing as John instructed."
"Hey," Ford said, pointing downstream. "What's that?"******
The familiar, almost comforting cadence of McKay's ranting dragged Sheppard out of cold, wet darkness.
"... and seriously, did you fill your pockets with rocks? Because just between you and me, honestly, you weigh a ton
, and it's a good thing for you that I've always been a strong swimmer --"
Sheppard coughed up a mouthful of muddy water, and said, "Train?"
"Yes, genius, we were on the train, but we fell, and now I need my breath to tow your heavy ass, so can we save the explanations until we're on shore?"
"Passengers," Sheppard managed, trying to assist as best he could, but he only managed to flail a little bit. "Everyone okay?"
"How should I know? All that fell was the locomotive and us. Well, and Kolya."
"Is he ...?" Sheppard began, and then trailed off, because he wasn't sure if he wanted an honest answer.
"He fell off a cliff," McKay panted between strokes. "He's got to be dead."
This rallied him a bit. "Rodney ... we
fell off a cliff, too."
"Yes, but -- oh, all right, point taken. I don't see him, anyway." After another round of paddling, he asked breathlessly, "How are you doing?"
"Cold. Bleeding. We there yet?"
"We'd get there faster if some people would help
"How about ... if some people ... stop talking?"
Water turned to sand underfoot, and after a lot of floundering that sent fiery trails of pain blazing up his side, Sheppard found himself sprawled on his back with rocks pressing into his spine and his fingers dug deep into warm sand. He squinted up at a cliff towering above him into the pale blue sky, and McKay's solid shape blocking the sun. Hands peeled off his coat and fussed with the sodden shirt clinging to his side.
"Am I gonna live?"
"You just survived a truly impossible fall," McKay snapped. "If you have the sheer audacity to die now, I fully intend to come find you and drag you back so that I can kick your ass." After a moment, he said, "The bleeding's mostly stopped. I guess cold water is good for that. I think the bullet went clean through."
"Small favors," Sheppard said between his teeth. "What are you doing down there, scouring it with handfuls of sand?"
"Stop complaining, you know I'm not any good at this." Despite his claims, McKay quickly and efficiently bandaged the wound with torn strips of their shirts. "That ought to hold you 'till we can get you to the Doc. I'm sure Beckett will be thrilled to patch you up again, seeing how you just healed from the last idiotic excursion."
"Yeah," Sheppard said as McKay slung an arm over his shoulders and got them both upright, "strange how the life of an outlaw tends to lead to that sort of thing. Ow, be careful with that arm. It got shot too, you know." Staring up at the cliff, he added, "How are we going to get up there?"
It turned out that there were a number of game trails winding up and down the cliff, and it wasn't hard to find one that was gentle enough to navigate. Halfway up, they were met by Teyla and Bates coming down, along with another guy that Sheppard thought he really ought to recognize, but couldn't quite put a name to. However, neither Teyla nor Bates seemed alarmed, and he was pretty sure his gun was at the bottom of the river right now, so he decided not to worry about it.
McKay handed him off to Teyla, and stopped to dump water and sand out of his shoes. "Oh god, they're ruined. Do you people have any idea how hard it was to find a cobbler in the thriving metropolis of Mule Foot who was able to make shoes to my perfectly reasonable specifications?"
"Don't worry, McKay," Sheppard said wearily, leaning on Teyla. Her hair smelled oddly scorched. "We've got enough cash right now to buy you a whole boxcar full of shoes. Uh ... we did get the safe, right?"
There was a brief, loaded silence. "Fill you in later, sir," Bates said finally.
"It's a long story," the stranger added, and finally his identity clicked with Sheppard.
"Hey, you're the Wells Fargo guy."
"Well, I was
," the stranger said, glumly. "I'm Aiden Ford, by the way."
"What do you mean, you were?" Sheppard began, but just then they crested the top of the cliff, and he got a good look at the wrecked, smoldering train.
"Uh, yeah," Bates said. "The gold's probably just fine, but it's under several tons of metal, and we really don't have any way to get it out, at least not before someone sends out a posse after us."
"Why do our heists always go like this?" McKay asked rhetorically. .
"I consider it a success if we're all alive," Sheppard retorted. "Which we are."
"Except that everyone is likely to die of exposure while waiting for the next train to come along," Ford said.
Sheppard shook his head, and pointed up the railroad tracks, back the way they'd come. Ronon had just come into view, far down the tracks, riding 'Jumper and leading the string of horses they'd stashed in a cave near the tracks for their getaway.
"Yeah," Ford said, "but that doesn't help us
"The town of Broken Elbow is just a few miles down the river. There's food and water on the train -- most of 'em can wait here while they send a few able-bodied men for help. They'll be fine." After a moment, he added, "We'll leave you guys a horse."
McKay stared at him. "What ... we're giving them horses
now? You missed the class in outlaw school where they talked about making a profit
, didn't you?"
"C'mon, Rodney, it's one horse; most of 'em are stolen anyway. We'll just steal a few more."
McKay groaned and sat down on a boulder. "That's it, I've had it with all of you people. I'm sitting here until someone brings me a horse, some food and dry clothes."
"I think he's got the right idea." Sheppard gave Teyla a tired grin; she rolled her eyes fondly, and eased him down with his back against the boulder.
"You know," Teyla said quietly, looking at Ford, who was staring morosely at the smoking baggage car. "He acted quickly to save the train and everyone on it." She raised an eyebrow at Sheppard. "He also appears to have quite an interest in, and aptitude for, explosives."
"Oh really? We could use another one of those." Sheppard cleared his throat. "Hey ... Ford? You figure you don't have a job with Wells Fargo anymore, right?"
Ford looked over his shoulder at him. "Not once they found out about this, I don't think."
Sheppard's grin spread to both sides of his mouth. "Ever have a desire for the footloose outlaw's life?"
Ford looked at the burning train, then at the smoking wreckage of the bridge, then, somewhat pointedly, at the two soaked outlaws.
"Don't look at me
," McKay snapped, wringing out his trouser leg.
"This," Sheppard said stiffly, "is an aberration. It doesn't usually go this way."
McKay snorted. "Yeah? What about the stagecoach robbery last March over by Armadillo Falls?"
"Hey! How was I supposed to know the cattle were going to stampede like that?"
"And then there was the bank robbery in Texas," Teyla said grimly. "I still have not removed the smell of pig feces from my boots."
"What about the telegraph office holdup in Arizona?" Bates said.
They all shuddered.
Sheppard started to shrug, thought better of it. "Okay, fine, so we've had a string of less-than-successful robberies lately. Which is precisely why we could use someone smart and motivated in the gang. A self-starter. Like you, Ford."
Ford thought about it for all of five seconds. "Hang on, I need to get my bag." He turned toward the smoking metal husk of the baggage car, and cleared his throat. "Okay, check that: no luggage. I'm good to go."
"You won't regret it," Sheppard said, leaning back against the boulder and trying not to jostle his side too much.
McKay snorted loudly. "I beg to differ. You will regret it frequently, often, and in many different ways. Yet for some reason we stick around." His leg shifted a little, so that, maybe by accident, it rested against Sheppard's shoulder.
Sheppard grinned, and despite the throbbing in his side, a feeling of contentment swelled in him. He tilted his head back to the sun, closed his eyes, and waited for Ronon to bring the horses.