Rating – T for Teen
Team fic, emphasis on the boys.
I became a man the day I began running.
Now, that sounds way too deep and philosophical. The bare, bizarre fact, is that according to my estimate, the day I was released by the Wraith with a tracker in my back happened, of all days, to be my birthday. Satedan society dictated that the newly-aged man do something of note on that date.
Satedan society was pretty much gone at that point, but I guess the most noteworthy thing I did was not get killed.
I managed to keep not getting killed for the next seven years. In that time I saw more things I wish I hadn't, and did more things I didn't want to, than I thought was possible. And then the Earthers showed up.
Life got better after that. But still, things happened with and around us. And, unfortunately, to us.
Our jumper pulled in low over the trees. The second one bore to the right and headed for the regular landing area nearer the Athosian village.
I was in the back, on a bench seat. That was ok, lots of leg room. I watched Sheppard, seated behind the co-pilot position; he was moving his bandaged hands slightly, sort of mimicking what Lorne was doing. I bet he didn't even realize it. He was the best pilot on Atlantis, and he wasn't used to being in the back seat, but Carson had forbidden him to fly. In fact, the doctor had taken the co-pilot's seat himself, 'so the Colonel could avoid temptation' he'd said.
Sheppard had restrained himself from commenting a couple of times during the flight, but as we approached the clearing, I saw him shift forward like he was going to say something. McKay leaned over, tapping Sheppard's shoulder with his own white-wrapped hands.
"Let the man drive," the physicist said. "Or do you want to be known as a back seat flyer?"
"I want to fly, period," Sheppard grumbled, settling back.
"You can't, 'til you lose the bandages," McKay reminded. "That's what this little holiday is for." He sat back, too. "No laptop," he mourned. "No gadgets. Nothing to keep the mind engaged."
"No missions," Sheppard chimed in. "No drills. No weapons training."
"We will find something for you to do," Teyla said patiently. It was a variation on a discussion we'd had several times before. "It will be a good break, with good company."
Did they ever do anything but grouse? There were all kinds of reasons to take some time off; they knew that more than anyone. There was a really big one as far as I was concerned, and I figured I'd better remind them.
"And of course, you're not dead," I have a low voice. It tends to attract attention, so I've learned to use it to my advantage. I looked across at Teyla, grinning a bit. "That's always better than the alternative."
I saw McKay's face; the man leaned around the wall so he could peer at me. "The Wookie makes an excellent point," he grinned.
I finally got the reference. Doctor Weir had decided the Chewie jokes needed explaining, and we had a movie night. Star Wars. Dumb name. Fun movie. And there was a new kind of snack, so it all worked out fine. My own opinion is that Chewbacca was the smartest of the lot. So, it didn't offend me. I'd had worse nicknames. I heard Beckett snickering as we began to land.
The trees slid up in front of the screen. We landed with a slight jar, and Lorne shut the systems down. A couple of moments later, I got a nod and lowered the door. Halling and Jinto, and another lad about Jinto's age waited outside for us.
"Welcome." Halling could almost look me in the eye, but he wasn't built like me - he was almost gaunt. He had haunted eyes.
That, I could understand.
Lorne went first, and Beckett followed him out, pausing at the back door to keep an eye on his two patients. McKay stood, crooked an arm to Sheppard in a matter of fact manner. And Sheppard used the extra leverage with equal matter of factness, sliding his forearm through McKay's elbow, before bracing his other wrist on the chair's arm so he could use his legs and shoulders to stand, minimizing the tension on his healing incisions with no pressure on his or McKay's mending hands.
Once he was up, McKay dropped his arm and glanced over at me, passing on the charge. I nodded, watching as McKay made his way out, Sheppard following gamely. I brought up the rear.
"Leave your bags," Halling directed. "Jinto and Andran will bring them."
"Thanks, guys." Sheppard grinned.
Our accommodation was in a glade, near a river. Outside, a fire pit stood ready, a healthy pile of wood stacked under a tarp, and a rough-sawn lumber table with log stools was nearby. A small tent hid the necessary other facilities.
But the glade was pretty much taken up by a large structure that would be our home for, Beckett estimated, up to three weeks.
I went into the main part of the tent, following Sheppard, ducking under the colourful over-hanging drapery that was obviously designed to serve as a door at night, but was pulled aside to let the warm afternoon breeze in. It wasn't just one tent, but four; a very large one set up with a table and chairs, overstuffed hassocks, a small wood burning stove that looked like we could cook on it if we wanted, couches around the outside and several piles of comfortable cushions on the thick woven rug that served as a floor. And there were three smaller ones attached that were obviously designed for one person to sleep in, opening into the main tent, each with their own heavy drape providing privacy for whoever was inside. McKay wandered around, checking the three rooms, and I made certain Sheppard was seated comfortably before making my own reconnaissance.
I scouted them all thoroughly, inside and out. The edges were held down by pegs inside and by rocks outside. The beds were placed towards the outer edges, so I took the time to move them more towards the center of each, out of easy reach should someone slash the fabric to attack the person inside. The whole set up made my skin crawl, but I forced down that initial reaction, realizing 'Fine, we'll sleep in the jumper, it's defensible,' would likely be misinterpreted by our hosts.
And after all, it was a holiday; a recovery period, and - though I wouldn't admit it if asked - I knew I needed it almost as much as the others.
That had been hard to accept. In a way, I still wanted to get out there, check out other planets, go, go and keep going… And though I realized intellectually I didn't have to, there was part of me that kept one ear open, all the time, for the step of a Wraith who tracked me. That was half of why I knew this time off would benefit us all. The other half…well…
I'd made a hasty departure from the infirmary, shortly after Sheppard and McKay had recovered enough to wake; it had been unexpected by them and pretty much instinct on my part. I'd simply…left. Between one word and the next, I'd felt my chest tighten, my breath soured in my throat, and I'd turned and gone. I knew now that it was partly a physical reaction; I hadn't been taking the best care of myself in the time we'd been searching for the two, but still something had me running. I wasn't escaping the Wraith this time, but something more insidious.
I'd run, keeping to the less-used hallways, hardly making a sound; run like the Wraith were after me still. Finally, though, I'd gained a measure of control, ducking behind a pillar and stopping, leaning my forehead against the cool surface. I'd closed my eyes, rubbing them, but the images wouldn't fade, the fear increased with darkness and I couldn't think of how I'd face the night. I couldn't forget. All the other things I'd seen, other atrocities, other horrors, this was the image I knew would haunt me.
Light footsteps had approached. Stopped.
"Ronon?" It had been Teyla, and something had eased inside. Someone had come after me. I hadn't even realized, 'til that very moment, that I'd been afraid that no one would. I'd drawn a deep breath. I'd faced down Wraith, seen things that would unman a lesser person. I could handle this, surely. I'd stepped out from my hiding place.
Her face had cleared when she saw me. "You are ill?" she'd asked, though, and the concern was evident.
"Better," I'd replied. It wasn't really a lie. Much.
She'd raised an earbud. "I borrowed it from Doctor Beckett," she'd said, clipping it around her ear and tapping it.
"Doctor Beckett? I have found Ronon. Please assure Doctor McKay and Colonel Sheppard he is well. We will return shortly."
She'd turned it off, and tucked it in a vest pocket. Raising her eyebrows, she'd inclined her head back toward the city. I'd nodded, and we had started back.
We'd been walking in silence for a few minutes.
"It is all right," she replied.
I'd stopped. "No, it isn't."
She'd stopped, too, and looked up at me.
I'd gazed down at her. They've endured so much, I wanted to say, and I was standing there and I suddenly saw them as we'd found them. I'd thought they were dead, and I remember how much it hurt, that thought. I wanted to say it, but I knew I wouldn't.
I took refuge in a simple statement of fact. "I couldn't breathe."
"What made you so afraid?" Her voice was even, understanding, and it struck me that she'd seen right to the core of it. Fear. It had been fear, but it was a different quality of fear than I'd felt running from the Wraith.
I'd realized we - I - had something to really fear again.
"Us. Our team," I'd said finally.
"And losing it. Almost losing them."
Her words had been so simple, so honest, and I'd opened my mouth to say something, closed it again, unable to find the words I needed. I'd stared helplessly at her, realizing that - for the first time in seven years - I actually did not know my own mind.
Running had taken all my energy, effort, and intellect. Running had taken everything I had. Now I had a chance to live, again, to enjoy the pleasure of a team, friendship. I had even begun to relearn that ages old dance between men and women - though that was going to take some more work.
It had been such a simple thing that Beckett had done, and it had such a profound effect on my life.
So why did I suddenly wish I was still running?
Again, unbidden, I'd seen the images in my mind, of my teammates - my friends - in the cell. I'd felt the tightness in my chest again, and the edges of the fear…Teyla had taken my arm.
"Come with me," she'd said. "Doctor Beckett wishes to examine you."
"I don't need it." I'd resisted.
"It will help ease our minds," she'd said quietly, and I'd looked at her, wondering at the fact she knew me well enough to know that was the one thing that would make me comply.
And here we were now, on the mainland, among friends.
I dodged Jinto as the boy trotted in with a bag.
"Where is the Colonel sleeping?" he asked, grinning up at me, unafraid - or maybe unimpressed.
Sitting on my 'In the jumper' response again, I gestured. "Here. I moved the bed. The - air circulation will be better."
Jinto shrugged, set the bag at the foot of the bed. "These baskets are for clean clothing, these are for soiled. Wash day is every fourth day, that's two days from now. Just put the baskets of soiled clothing out near the fire pit at night; they'll be collected and returned the next afternoon. I told Doctor McKay this already, but I'm never certain if he's listening."
He seemed to be waiting for something.
"His mind's always busy," I replied. Manners I thought long dead prodded me. "It's - generous of your people to do this."
"We owe them. I owe them. My dad was taken in a culling, see, and the Colonel - he was a Major then - he went and got him back." He looked up again and I met his eyes, and suddenly Jinto seemed older than his years, gazing at me earnestly. "And Doctor McKay saved us all from the shadow monster, and we have this great place to stay; the land is good and we've got protection and access to the 'gate…"
Jinto nodded back, and turned to head out. "Um. Ronon." He stopped and looked back. "How come you're staying? On the team, and all, I mean."
I considered a hundred different responses in the matter of a moment, but it had been a simple question, after all. A simple answer would serve, and it was the barest truth.
"I like them."
The boy grinned. "Even Doctor McKay?"
I nodded once, and Jinto laughed. "Me too. Though sometimes he's like a grumpy old ursus."
"Wouldn't mention that to him."
"Naah." He snickered again, and left.