Rating: PG13, K, 13
Category: Gen, episode tag
Summary: Ronon and McKay are sent to the mainland to recuperate. Tag to "Sateda".
A/N: Tag means spoilers. Many thanks to my meerschweinchen; Aniko, Dee, Yllek, Toni, etc. You knew I couldn't just leave it there ;)
is the brightest of signs
the shape of the boundary you leave behind
so sing all your questions to sleep
the answers are out there in the drowning deep
Vienna Tang "Harbor"
He woke slowly, feeling the pain first. Burning and itching between his shoulder blades, and in his thigh. The rest of his body ached; there was a dull throbbing in his forehead and face, and soreness almost everywhere else.
He was lying on his stomach, with his face turned to the side. His arms were curled up around his head, and for a single terrifying moment he thought he was back on the wraith ship. Then he felt the cool fabric of the pillow beneath his cheek and relaxed. Wraith ships did not have pillows.
Or sheets. He flexed his shoulders slightly and felt the same cloth pull tight across them. He was wearing those sheet-like pajamas they put on you in the infirmary when you were sick or hurt. Ronon was never sick, but occasionally he was hurt.
The movement had increased the burning in his back and he grunted softly. Was he back on Atlantis? No, the smells and sounds were wrong. He took a deep breath – the air tasted stale, artificial. He could hear and feel beneath him the steady throbbing hum of engines.
There was a closer sound – tapping. Rhythmic and lulling at first, it kept pausing just when he got used to it. Tap, tap, tap, and pause. Tap, tap, pause, and tap. A growl of annoyance started in his throat and he opened his eyes.
Between two thick brown lock of his own hair he saw the shiny silver back of an Atlantean computer, and above that the grinning face of Rodney McKay.
"Good morning, sunshine." McKay pulled the top of the computer down halfway. "How're you feeling?"
Ronon lifted his head, and winced as his shoulder blades drew together and sent a shooting pain down his back. He settled for resting his chin on his arm and eyeing McKay, realizing that the scientist was stretched out on top of the bed next to him, fully clothed down to his boots.
"Where are we?" Ronon asked, ignoring the other man's question.
"The Daedalus." McKay reached for a plate next to the computer and popped something into his mouth. "Heading back to Atlantis," he continued, talking around his full mouth. "We should be there," he glanced at his watch, "soon."
Ronon had no idea how far Sateda actually was from Atlantis, and no idea how long he'd been unconscious, and he didn't want to ask. The last thing he remembered was being in the jumper and hugging Doc Beckett. He must have been delirious from pain.
"Do you have to keep tapping?" he said.
"Tapping?" McKay frowned and glanced down at his computer. "Oh." He closed the cover. "Sorry. Here," he stretched his arm out to the table between them and picked up a cup, which he thrust at Ronon, straw dangling over its side. "Carson said to give you this."
Ronon put the straw in his mouth and took a sip of the water. It was cool and sweet, but the straw opened up one of the cuts on his lip and he got the metallic tang of blood as an aftertaste. He pushed the cup away. "Where's Doc?" he asked. "And why are you here?"
"Around," McKay said vaguely, waving his hand. "He kicked Sheppard and Teyla out because they were getting in the way, but as I'm technically a patient…" McKay's grin faded. "Do you need him? Should I call?" He reached up to his ear.
"No." Ronon dropped his head back down. His arm and his hair smelled like Sateda. The burnt out smoking Sateda that had haunted his nights for the past eight years. He moved his arm away and buried his face in the pillow.
A gentle hand was touching his shoulder, and he recognized Beckett's voice, the unique way he made the R sound in his name. "We're home, lad."
Home. He had been home, but he knew Beckett meant Atlantis.
"Can ye stand, or shall we just take the gurney to the infirmary?"
Ronon pushed his head up. "I can walk." He allowed Beckett to help him first to sit and then to stand, forcing himself not to wince. Sheppard and Teyla were waiting behind the doctor and they moved in immediately to either side of him, taking his arms.
"Hey, someone want to help me off this thing?" Rodney sounded annoyed somewhere behind him.
As Beckett rolled his eyes and went to help McKay, Ronon turned to face them. "Doc," he said quietly.
"Aye?" McKay's computer in one hand and the scientist's arm in the other, Beckett looked back at him.
"I don't want to go to the infirmary," Ronon said carefully.
"I just want to shower and sleep in my own bed. Please," he added for effect. He had no idea how to express how badly he needed to scrub the dust of Sateda off his skin, but something must have shown in his face, because Beckett sighed and nodded.
"Alright, but if there is any drainage from your stitches, you come to the infirmary immediately, understand? And I want to see you first thing in the morning."
"Okay." Ronon turned around again toward the door. He felt Teyla's hand tighten on his arm, and resisted the urge to shrug it off. The more cooperative he was, the sooner he would be alone.
He tried to ignore the two beside him, and McKay and Beckett bickering behind him as he limped down the ship's corridor, down the ramp into the docking bay, past an anxious looking Elizabeth Weir, and toward the nearest transport chamber.
A dark haired woman was waiting for them at the door to his quarters. As they drew close, Ronon recognized Anne Matthews, Beckett's head nurse. For a moment he thought she was going to say Beckett had changed his mind, but instead she held a handful of packages out to him.
"Doctor Beckett says to take two of these right away, and then two every six hours," she instructed, pressing a foil and plastic packet of large capsules into one of his hands.
"Take one of these if you can't sleep," she continued, pressing another packet, this one of small white tablets into his other hand.
She paused. "If we were to give you painkillers, would you take them?" she asked frankly.
"You should save them for McKay," he told her just as frankly.
Anne laughed. "Well just in case," she said, holding out a third pack of larger white pills to him. "And you're to come…"
"To the infirmary first thing in the morning," Ronon finished for her.
"Right." She smiled. "Feel better," she added softly, before disappearing down the hall.
Sheppard cleared his throat and handed Ronon the blaster he'd been carrying in his other hand. "This is the last time I'm carrying this for you," he said in mock warning.
Ronon nodded gravely and took his weapon. Teyla handed him a large bag. "Your clothes," she said softly.
Sheppard waved at the door controls and stepped back as the door swished open. Ronon limped inside and stopped at Teyla's voice.
"You will call us," she said, "if you need anything."
He nodded again, and let the door close. He realized he'd been holding his breath, and he let it out in a sharp exhalation. He dumped everything on the bed and headed straight for the washroom. No one was there to hear him so he let himself groan as he pulled off his clothes. He stepped into the shower and stood still, letting the hot water pummel his body. He grit his teeth as the water stung his wounds, but didn't move.
A year spent on Atlantis had made him soft. He'd grown unused to pain, and accustomed to hot running water and dry clothing. He turned the water hotter and stood there as the room filled with steam. He ground soap into his hair, and scrubbed every inch of his body. He still didn't feel clean, so he did it again and again until he stung all over.
Finally deciding he'd had enough, he shut the water off and stepped out into the dense fog of steam. Grabbing a towel, he dried his face, wrapped his hair, and then wiped off the mirror with the back of his hand.
He examined first his wounds – stitches down the left side of his back where Beckett had removed the wraith tracking device. Again. Stitches down the side of his right thigh where he'd been hit with shrapnel. The area around those stitches was puffy and hot to the touch. He ignored it and turned to look at the mirror straight on.
His skin was flushed from the hot water, and the scar in the center of his chest stood out – a slash of angry, puckered skin. The wraith had fed there – eight years ago – sucking at him for only seconds before releasing him to have seven years of his life sucked away from him as a runner.
And just when he'd begun to get comfortable, to allow himself some companionship, the same wraith had come and done it all over again. Now it was dead, killed by his new friends, and Ronon was finally free.
So why didn't he feel free?
He left the tiny washroom, tendrils of steam following in his wake. He found the loosest clothes he owned and pulled them on over his still damp skin. He dry swallowed two of the capsules Anne had given him, contemplated the sedatives, and swallowed one of them too. The pain killers he tossed on the floor with the bag of clothes. Head still wrapped in the towel, he lay face down on the bed alongside his blaster, and closed his eyes.
The window imploded with a flash of flame, sending burning glass and fire into the room. As the inferno engulfed Melena, her face transformed into waxy pale blue, white hair sprouting from her burning head. The Melena-Wraith looked straight at him, and in a deep, gravelly voice, said "You can't run for ever, Ronon."
The fire chased him down the long dark corridor. Flames licked at his legs, burning his flesh, and smoke filled his nostrils, suffocating him. He reached the end of the hall and flung himself at the window. Glass shattered at the impact of his body, shards sliced his back as he tumbled through.
Ronon sat up on the floor of his quarters. The fall from bed had landed him on his bad leg, and the pain had woken him. Gasping for breath, he pulled the towel away from his face and pushed back his hair.
He was drenched with sweat, and his leg burned, the fire felt as real as in his dream. The room was dark and still. Too still. Dim lights from the city streamed in the window, making shadows on the wall. As he stared at it the wall seemed to move toward him, closing him in.
He pushed himself to his feet, grunting as his weight pressed on his right leg. Grabbing his blaster from the bed, he strapped it around his waist. As an afterthought he scooped up the packets Anne had given him, and shoved a few pills into his mouth.
He exited his room into the still corridor. He hadn't checked the time, but he knew it was late. Only the control room and the mess hall never slept on Atlantis. And some of the labs, but he wasn't going anywhere near those. He needed air.
Moments later he found himself on one of the inland piers on the north side of the city. In the distance the ocean waves rolled, moonlight reflection lifting and falling. A cool breeze blew in, tasting of salt. Right near him was a deep pool of captured seawater, still as a mirror.
Taking deep breaths of the cool air, he sank down beside the pool. The soft pants he worked out in were loose enough to roll, and he pulled them up almost to his right hip. Some of the stitches had burst, and a thick milky liquid was oozing out between them. All around there his skin was angrily red and swollen. He cupped his hands and brought up some water from the pool gasping audibly with relief as he poured it over the wound.
He stretched out on his side, keeping the now wet wound up to the air. He looked out at the sea and watched the waves rock in the moonlight. He felt like he was floating, the moon and the water spinning around him. As he tilted his head back to look up at the spires of the city, the metal seemed to shimmer. Before his eyes it crumbled into the dusty, ruined stone of Sateda.
He cried out in anguish and buried his face in his arms.
Rodney McKay hobbled through the silent corridor, the tray cradled carefully in his hands. Ronon had gone straight to his quarters, without first stopping at the mess hall. At this point it had been about two days since they had first gone to the wraith culled planet, and he doubted those people, or the wraith for that matter had provided food. When Ronon woke, he was going to be starving. So he, Rodney, had fixed him a tray. Let no one say he didn't care about the big guy.
Sheppard said Carson had sent Ronon a whole bunch of drugs, so he figured he'd be out cold. He'd just slip in, leave the tray, and go. Maybe leave a note so Ronon would know who had brought the food. Yeah, good point.
He mentally overrode the lock and eased the door open. Walking as softly as he could he moved to the desk and set the tray down. He squinted in the dim light, looking about for a piece of paper. Finding none, he shrugged. He could always tell Ronon later. As he turned to go, he saw a swath of moonlight stretching across Ronon's bed. The bed was rumpled, and empty.
What the…. Rodney switched on the lights and took a closer look. The sheets were crumpled in a ball, and on the floor were a wet towel and a bunch of foil packets. He picked up the nearest one. Flipping it over he saw it was an unopened pack of Vicodin. "He gave you the good stuff, Caveman," he muttered. "Why didn't you take any?"
The other two packets were one of Levaquin with two pills missing, and an empty one of Lorazepam. Uh oh. Somewhere on Atlantis was a drugged out, wandering Ronon. And it looked like it was up to Rodney to find him. With a sigh, he trudged back out the door.
He went straight to the control room, where the Canadian technician who was always making eyes at Teyla was on duty. Rodney gave his countryman the barest nod of acknowledgement and leaned over a console, resting his left knee on the chair.
It was almost too easy. The majority of the life signs were in personnel quarters, a few in the mess hall, and one or two fellow scientists burning the midnight oil. There was one solitary life sign way out on the north pier. "Gotcha," Rodney murmured triumphantly. Then, as he realized how far the area was from the nearest transport chamber, he gave another heavy sigh.
He found Ronon lying curled on his side, dangerously close to the edge of the pool. In the dim yellow light streaming in from the door behind them, Ronon's face was extremely pale. He was drenched with sweat, and shivering. When Rodney touched his shoulder, the other man opened his eyes and stared at him, mumbling something about fire.
Rodney's eyes strayed down to Ronon's bare leg and he swallowed hard. Tapping his ear piece, he said "Medical emergency on the north pier."
"So how is he?" Elizabeth Weir set a cup of tea on Doctor Beckett's desk and settled herself into the chair opposite, holding her own cup. She'd woken early to a message from Rodney detailing the night's adventures. Carson on the other hand looked like he hadn't slept.
The doctor sighed. "Aside from a raging case of cellulitis and a barbiturate overdose, which fortunately his body mass can handle, he'll be fine. Once he sleeps it off. I never should have let him go off on his own."
"It's not your fault, Carson," Elizabeth said automatically. That seemed to be her current refrain these days. "How long do you think before he can return to duty?"
"I've had to reopen the wound on his leg, and he's staying put until that heals and the antibiotics finish, like it or nae. After that…" Beckett shook his head.
"Well, if anyone else on this base had been through half of what Ronon has, I'd send them to Kate before clearing them for duty, but Ronon-"
"Will never talk to her," Elizabeth finished.
"Aye. He'll clam up tighter than a, well, a clam. Can't send him home to recover, he's got no home to go to." Beckett sighed again. "I honestly don't know how to help him."
"He's grown close to the members of his team," Elizabeth said, "You saw yourself how they were willing to fight for him. Maybe he'll talk to them."
"Rodney's decided he's his best friend all of a sudden, we should give him that assignment," Carson said, the hint of a twinkle forming in his tired eyes.
Elizabeth laughed. "You might be right, at that. I'll have a word with the team."
"Good," Carson said, "and while you're at it, see if ye can get them out of here for awhile, would ye? My nurses can't get anything done."
"And you need me to be the bad guy?" Elizabeth's lips quirked in a wry smile.
"What's a boss for?" Carson wheedled.
Elizabeth pushed herself out of the chair. "Okay, but you have to promise me you'll get some rest yourself," she admonished.
Not waiting for a promise that probably wouldn't come; she carried her tea through the infirmary to the separate observation room in the back where Carson had put Ronon. As she had suspected before the doctor had said anything, the whole team was there. She stood outside the window watching them as she sipped her drink.
Rodney had dragged in another gurney, placed it at a right angle to Ronon's bed, and was peeking over the top of his computer every few seconds, presumably to check that his teammate was still there.
John was leaning back in his chair, feet propped up on the end of the bed, shuffling a deck of cards back and forth between his hands. As Elizabeth watched, John casually flicked a card over his shoulder to land on Rodney's keyboard. Scowling, Rodney picked up the card and flung it back. One the other side of the bed, Teyla looked up with a frown from her book, and hissed something at the two men. She caught sight of Elizabeth standing in the window, and her eyes widened. She said something else and both men swiveled to look at her.
"Morning all," Elizabeth said softly, pushing open the door to the room.
"Morning," three sleepy voices whispered back. In the bed Ronon slept on, oblivious.
""You officially have," she glanced down at her watch, "thirty minutes to shower, get breakfast, and report to the conference room for debriefing."
As whispered protests began to form, she held up her hand. "I let things slide last night, but this morning there will be a proper post mission briefing. I assure you we have fine medical staff, and they have this situation entirely under control." She held the door wide, and gestured for them to precede her through it. "Please be sure you wash behind the ears."
John shot her a withering look as he walked out, followed by a more polite Teyla. Rodney continued his quiet typing. Elizabeth cleared her throat.
"What?" Rodney whispered, looking up. "I'm technically a patient."
"You participated in the mission, you get debriefed. Now please, Rodney."
"Fine." With exaggerated wincing, McKay slid off the gurney and limped heavily toward the door.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "You got out to the north pier just fine last night, Rodney, don't even try it." His shoulders stiffened, but his limp decreased.
She watched to make sure they all actually went, and before turning to go herself, she looked down at Ronon. Skirting McKay's gurney, she moved closer to the bedside. Ronon was positioned on his side, with pillows supporting his back. His stretched out arm held a slowly dripping IV.
Ferocious looking as he could be when awake, in sleep Ronon looked as young as he was. He was breathing shallowly through a slightly open mouth, and locks of his hair were lazily falling across the turned up side of his face.
Unable to stop herself, Elizabeth reached out and brushed one of the falling locks back, running it slowly through her fingers. Another and another, and then Ronon stirred slightly and turned his cheek against her hand. "…lena," he murmured, not opening his eyes.
She jerked her hand back and spun around, face flaming, to see if anyone had seen. Carson was nowhere to be seen, just a solitary nurse counting supplies on the other side of the infirmary. "Shh," she whispered, turning back to Ronon and tucked the sheet more snugly around him. He didn't stir again.
Elizabeth firmly pushed her actions in the infirmary to the back of her mind as she headed to her office. After her admonishing to the team, it wouldn't do to be late herself. She gathered her tablet and papers, and with a spare couple fingers grabbed the message the gate tech waved at her as she passed by the control room. Reading it quickly, she couldn't help but chuckle out loud, prompting a puzzled glance from the Canadian.
"Perfect," she said to herself. "Just perfect." She tapped her headset. "Carson, Elizabeth. I think we've found a solution to our problem…"
She breezed into the conference room to see the others already there. John and Teyla were sitting stiffly in their usual seats, Rodney stood behind them, leaning against the wall.
"I assume you don't mind if I stand," he said, his tone petulant.
Elizabeth sank into her chair, and sighed. "Don't get me wrong," she told the three of them. "I'm very glad to see how well you all have bonded as a team. And I'm sure that Ronon appreciates your being there as well. But Carson says he needs to rest, and," she paused, "he also had a few concerns I didn't want to discuss with you at Ronon's bedside."
That got their attention. John sat up straighter, and Rodney pushed away from the wall and moved closer to the table.
"Carson said that Ronon was going to be fine," Teyla said with a frown.
"Yes, he is. Carson is concerned about the psychological effect this will have on Ronon."
"Oh." McKay moved back to the wall, while Sheppard squirmed in his seat uncomfortably.
Teyla looked thoughtful. "In similar situations, do you not send people to talk to Doctor Heightmeyer?"
"Yes, but," Elizabeth raised a gentle eyebrow in the other woman's direction. "Do you think Ronon will talk to her?"
"No," chorused the men.
Teyla shook her head reluctantly. "Ronon does not talk much."
"No," Weir agreed. "He doesn't. But of the talking he does do, I'd venture a guess the majority is to the three of you."
"I'm not sure I like where this is going," John muttered.
"Me neither," McKay muttered back to him.
Teyla silenced them both with a glare. She turned to Elizabeth. "What would you like us to do?" she asked.
"Just keep an eye on him," Elizabeth replied. "See if you can get him to talk at all about what happened on Sateda."
Teyla nodded. "Of course."
"Now, Rodney," Elizabeth spread the message the tech had given her on the table and smiled. "We've got another assignment for you."
McKay darted a nervous glance at Sheppard, who shrugged.
"Halling called us earlier today. He and some of the men in the Athosian village," she nodded at Teyla, "are attempting to clear more farmland. They want our help to divert a stream. As soon as Ronon is cleared by Carson, I'm sending the two of you."
"What?" McKay sputtered. "I'm an astrophysicist, not an engineer! Send Zelenka."
"Zelenka is on assignment with Major Lorne's team," Elizabeth said. "And as you pointed out before, you're technically a patient. You're grounded from further gate travel until your injury is fully healed, so you might as well make yourself useful." She smiled sweetly at the scowling scientist.
"Come on, McKay," Sheppard chimed in, clearly relieved to be getting off so lightly. "How hard can it be? Build a dam; try not to fall in the lake. You'll be back before you know it."
Ronon was not fooled. Try as they might to tell him how his help was needed on the mainland while he recovered, he knew why he was being sent away. His years on the run had honed his skills of observation, and he noticed everything that happened on Atlantis. Noticed and learned.
He had seen seriously injured marines sent back to earth to recover. He never saw them again. Likewise he saw scientists, overwhelmed by the danger, 'freak out' as McKay put it, and be sent back to earth. He never saw them again either. Losing the scientists never bothered Ronon, but he found himself sometimes missing the marines.
That pony tailed scientist had been the worst of them, and Ronon had not been at all sorry to see him go. He knew Weir had been upset by his offers to 'question' the man, and for that Ronon was sorry, but in his opinion the sniveler had no business being alive, much less on Atlantis.
On Sateda, even the most respected scientists had been expected to be able to defend themselves and their world if necessary. He'd personally ensured that Melena could fight with a knife and a gun, much good that had done her…
Ronon abruptly slammed the door on those thoughts, pushing them to the part of his brain where he'd successfully kept them for eight years. Until four days ago. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face.
The bottom line was that he was not from Earth, so they couldn't send him back there. To them the mainland was merely the next best thing. It could be worse. At least on the mainland he could breathe. He liked Teyla's people, and Halling was a man who knew how to keep his mouth shut. After two days in the infirmary, with at least one member of his team there every second watching him like a becsi hawk, some peace and quiet would be good.
He eyed the black canvas bag Sheppard had given him to pack his things in. The mainland was fairly safe; he shouldn't need more than four or five knives. He secreted them in their usual places and put an extra one in the bottom of the bag. His blaster followed, and as an afterthought he threw in a shirt.
"Ronon, are you ready yet?" McKay's voice sounded in his ear.
Ronon zipped the bag and slung it over his shoulder. "Yeah," he answered.
"Good, I could use your help with some stuff."
"Okay." Ronon look a final look around his sparse quarters, and headed out the door toward McKay's lab.
He found the scientist surrounded by large black duffel bags, crates, computers and books.
"Good, good," McKay waved at him without looking up from the computer he was feverishly tapping at. "You can get started on those." He snapped his fingers and pointed toward the duffel bags.
Ronon shrugged and walked over to the bags. He started to lift one slowly, carefully keeping his back straight as his stitches pulled.
"Hey, where's your stuff?" McKay looked up finally. "You put it in the jumper already?"
"No." Having secured one bag, Ronon reached for a second.
"Geez McKay, you sure you didn't forget anything?" Colonel Sheppard was at the doorway, leaning against the frame. He gave Ronon a sympathetic grin.
"There is no internet on the mainland, okay?" McKay said defensively. "And no power either. I need many, many batteries, and I have to take along all the research I can find."
"And PowerBars," Ronon observed, peeking into the not quite zipped bag he was about to lift.
"Well who knows that they're going to be feeding us," McKay said. "You'll be thanking me later, my friend, when you're starving in the middle of the night. I even packed plenty of the peanut butter and chocolate ones you like."
"Thanks," Ronon grunted, lifting the bag. His stitches pulled and he rolled his shoulders reflexively.
Sheppard's sharp eyes caught the movement and he frowned. "That's enough for you," he said to Ronon. "I'll send some guys to bring the rest."
The colonel crossed the room to a crate of books. He picked the top one off the pile and burst out laughing. Over his shoulder Ronon squinted at the words, 'The Construction of the Hoover Dam'.
"McKay, you're going to the mainland, not Vegas, you know that, right?"
McKay slammed down the top of his laptop and glowered at Sheppard. "Look, you're sending me to do a job that by rights shouldn't even be mine, and I'm just trying to do it right. And be careful with those books, they're Radek's."
"And Radek doesn't mind your absconding with half of his library, I assume." Sheppard got only a glare in response as he hefted the crate. "Hey," he paused at the door. "If you're gonna re-create Lake Meade, should I bring my surf board when I come to visit?"
"You said some day you'd teach me to surf," Ronon reminded him.
"And I will," Sheppard promised. "Just as soon as Rodney makes us a nice beach."
"Would you two please just go, carry," McKay was back to fussing over the computers, waving them away with one hand.
"Sure thing," Sheppard said cheerfully. "By the way, Doc wants to see both of you for wound checks before you leave."
"He just changed the bandages this morning," Ronon protested.
Sheppard shrugged. "I'm just the messenger."
Ronon sighed. He carried McKay's bags to the waiting jumper, and tossed his own under the front seat. He turned to find Sheppard behind him, setting pushing the crate against the side of the rear bulkhead. The colonel straightened and grinned widely. "Got something for you," he said.
Ronon raised his eyebrows.
Sheppard held out a small black shiny object, and a pair of headphones. "For when you need to drown out McKay," he said proudly.
Ronon recognized the tiny music player. Several of the marines had them, and sometimes let him listen. He wasn't quite sure what to make of Earth music, however. He took the player gingerly between his fingers.
"You strike me as the metal type," Sheppard continued. "With maybe a little country/western thrown in."
Having no idea how to respond to that, Ronon just nodded.
"Anyway, put a little of everything on there, so you should find something you like."
"Thank you," Ronon said solemnly.
"Don't forget your wound check," Sheppard punched Ronon lightly on the arm. "Or Doc'll have me for lunch."
As the colonel was leaving the bay, Teyla entered. It was almost as if they were taking shifts guarding him. "Ronon," she greeted him with a smile. Two marines trailed behind her, each with their arms full of McKay's bags.
"I have something for you," Teyla announced. Ronon smiled tentatively back.
"Where should we put these?" One of the marines asked.
"Anywhere," Ronon waved vaguely around the back cargo area of the jumper, and looked to see what Teyla was holding out to him. It was a book.
'The Fellowship of the Ring,' he read, aware that his lips moved slightly as his eyes processed the Earth words.
"Good movie," said the marine, looking over his shoulder as he left, probably to get more of McKay's things.
Ronon watched the marines go, and looked questioningly at Teyla.
"During my first year here, I asked Elizabeth for some Earth books to practice my reading," she explained. "This is the first one she gave me. I think you will like it." She lowered her voice as another set of marines entered the bay. "One of the characters reminds me of you."
"Thank you," Ronon said, looking apprehensively at the strange people drawn on the cover.
Teyla put her hands on his shoulders and he bowed his head to touch hers. "I will see you soon," she told him.
Both of the marines sighed in envy as they watched her walk from the bay.
On his way to the infirmary, Ronon wondered if Doctor Beckett was going to give him a present too. Instead, the doctor gave him a bag of antibiotic pills and another bag filled with gauze and tape for his leg.
"Be sure you take the medicine properly this time," Beckett admonished. "And change the dressing twice a day. I'll be checking on you in a couple of days."
Back in the jumper, Ronon climbed over the bags and crates to reach the front seat beside McKay. He stowed his meds, the music player, and the book in his bag under the seat while McKay fiddled impatiently with controls. At last they heard the voice of the Canadian technician. "Jumper one, this is control. You are clear for launch."
The roof of the jumper bay opened above them, and Weir's voice came over the comm. "Good luck, you two."
Ronon felt a lump rise in his throat as the jumper cleared the spires of Atlantis and sped out over the open ocean. He didn't realize how tightly he was holding onto his seat, until McKay asked if he was alright.
"Just watch where you're flying us," he told the scientist gruffly. He forced himself to release his grip on the seat, leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Jinto was excited. He was always excited when the Lanteans visited, even if it wasn't Colonel Sheppard. For one the thing, the jumpers were, as Sheppard put it, cool. Whoever came brought other interesting things which were also cool. Doctor Beckett brought needles, which were not cool, but Jinto liked him anyway, especially the funny way he talked.
Today the jumper was bringing Doctor McKay and Ronon. They were going to build a dam, which would require the work of all the villagers, and so for the next few days that meant no lessons, a fact Jinto found very cool.
He liked Doctor McKay, even though the scientist always pretended not to like any of the children. Sometimes he'd even throw a tantrum when they touched his computers and other things. Jinto and Wex found this great fun.
Ronon fascinated the boys. He was big and strong like Jinto's father, but instead of Halling's underlying calm, Ronon had a dark angry streak. He was frightening and exciting at the same time. Jinto looked forward to seeing him again.
Having been running around in the grass in front of the village for hours, throwing the football that Colonel Sheppard had given them, Jinto and Wex were the first to spot the jumper as a silver sliver in the blue sky.
"They're here!" Jinto shrieked, running as fast as he could toward the house he shared with his father. Wex chased down the ball and hurried to follow his friend.
Halling came to the doorway of the house much too slowly for Jinto's taste, and he grabbed his father's hand, tugging him toward the clearing. Halling squinted up at the sky and nodded as the sliver grew and began to take on the squashed square shape of a jumper. He gripped Jinto's shoulder firmly, preventing him from moving and motioned to Wex to join them.
"Colonel Sheppard advised us to stay well back until the jumper lands," he said. "We will wait here."
As they watched, the ship came into full view. It glided low over the village, wobbled, grazed the top of a tree, and then finally set down in the clearing. The villagers cautiously approached the landed ship as the back ramp swung open and down.
Jinto heard Ronon's voice as the ramp touched the ground. "Smooth, McKay." There was more than a trace of amusement in the large warrior's voice.
"Shut up," was the eloquent reply following him as Ronon limped down the ramp.
Halling stepped forward and bowed his head low in greeting. Ronon copied the bow and then nodded at the villagers assembled behind their leader, including Jinto.
"You are most welcome to our village," Halling began formally. He was interrupted almost immediately by Doctor McKay's arrival on the ramp next to Ronon.
"All right people, we've got lots of stuff to unload, so, uh, let's get to it, shall we?" McKay rubbed his hands together, and then winced as Ronon elbowed him none too gently in the ribs. "Ow!" McKay scowled, blinked, and then seemed to really see the villagers for the first time.
"Halling was just telling us we are welcome," Ronon told him.
"Right," McKay said. "Thank you, Halling. We're absolutely thrilled to be here, and all the rest of it. So, how about if we unload?" The scientist flashed his most ingratiating smile. Ronon arched an eyebrow in Halling's direction, his lips twitching as if he were trying not to laugh.
"Of course." Halling gestured to the others and they came forward to take the bags and boxes that Ronon handed them.
Jinto and Wex approached with the others, hands out for loads to carry. Seeing them, McKay wagged a finger at Ronon. "No kids carrying computer equipment."
Ronon nodded gravely, and as soon as McKay's back was turned, placed a computer in each of the boys' hands, with a conspiratorial wink. Giggling softly, the boys carefully carried the shiny silver computers to the three room tent the village had prepared for their visitors. They placed them on the low table that the women had covered with candles. Jinto ran a finger reverently over the black Lantean emblem on the cover.
"Do you think he will show us how to use them?" Wex whispered, as others milled about them, piling the tent with boxes and bags.
"Doctor McKay?" Jinto said. "Are you kidding? Besides, it's probably boring stuff, like lessons."
"Yeah," Wex nodded but gave the computers a second wistful look.
They slipped back to the corner of the tent as Halling entered with McKay and Ronon. He gestured around the common room and then showed the men the two sleeping areas that were separated by colorful hangings. Ronon listened impassively while McKay poked at the wooden supporting beams of the tent and frowned.
"We will leave you now to get settled," Halling said, casting a stern look in the direction of the boys. "When you are ready, we have prepared a meal for you in the village center." At the mention of food, McKay perked up and Ronon grinned.
"You didn't make anything with citrus, did you?" McKay asked.
"We have paid strict attention to your dietary requirements, Doctor McKay," Halling assured him dryly.
"Excellent," McKay said, as Ronon rolled his eyes.
Halling gestured to the boys and they followed him out of the tent.
"Do you want to play 'hide and seek' tonight?" Wex whispered to Jinto, as the walked back through the village.
"Sure," Jinto whispered back. "And you can be Colonel Sheppard," he added magnanimously.
"Cool!" Wex beamed.
Jinto grinned widely. "I'm going to be Ronon."
"Hey," Wex protested, "Who's going to be the wraith?"
"There aren't any wraith on Atlantis, silly." Laughing, Jinto ran ahead of his friend the rest of the way.
Ronon rolled over on his sleeping pallet and stared up at the tent ceiling. The mainland was too quiet. He was used to city noises now, the hum of machinery, and the distant rushing of ocean. The sounds he was hearing how only came when his team was camped off world – breezes rustling through leaves, insects singing. If he were camped with the team now, he would be on watch, patrolling the campsite, always on the lookout for danger.
There was no danger here. Atlantis' long range sensors warned them of anything approaching the planet, and there was no one else besides the Athosians on the mainland. Fish had been discovered in the sea, and some birds and small animals on the land, but no real predators. At least not of the type that preyed on humans.
There was no need for him to be on watch. Resolutely he closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.
The crackling of a snapped twig just outside the tent brought him out of his almost sleep. He rolled soundlessly to his feet with his blaster in his hand before he realized what he was doing. A giggly child's voice outside was followed by the stern hiss of a parent.
Sheepishly, Ronon knelt down and tucked the gun back under his pallet. Kids, sneaking out to play. He remembered playing the same games as a child on Sateda, with cousins and friends who would grow up to be his blood brothers. They would climb out the windows after dark and chase each other down the streets, staging mock fights with sticks as swords. They'd been young, invincible, and the wraith could never touch them…
Ronon sighed and gave up on sleep. He took Sheppard's and Teyla's presents out of his bag, and pushed aside the hanging that separated his sleeping area from the common room of the tent. He used the fire starter to light the candles the Athosians had left for them, filling the tent with a warm glow.
He put the headphones in his ears and spun the little wheel on the music player to pick a song at random. When he pressed the play button, and loud mismatched jangle assaulted his ears. Something about a thong and a booty. He hit the wheel again. The next song, which seemed to be about beer and horses, was more promising. He moved closer to the candles, sitting cross-legged beside the low table, and opened the book. Whispering the words softly to himself, he began the painstaking process of reading English.
He'd made his way through a page and a half, and about three more songs detailing the glories of alcohol, when the flap of the other sleeping area lifted. A tee-shirt and boxer clad McKay stumbled out, yawing. "Couldn't sleep either?" he said to Ronon. "Where'd you stash the PowerBars?"
Ronon motioned to the bag in the corner next to the batteries and McKay rooted through it. He grabbed a bar, ripped the foil with his teeth, and took a large bite. Grabbing up a computer, he came over to join Ronon at the table.
"Whatcha got there?" he asked around a mouthful of candy, as he knelt carefully down on the floor. Ronon showed him the music player and the book. "Whoa, a nano! Where did you get that?"
"Sheppard gave it to me," Ronon told him. "And Teyla gave me the book."
"They didn't give me anything," McKay grumbled. "I got shot in the ass; you'd think that would deserve at least a get well card." He frowned, noticing Ronon's troubled look. "What's the matter, don't like the music? You can change it, you know."
"I've noticed," Ronon said carefully, "that your people give gifts to others that are leaving."
"Yeah, going away presents," McKay shrugged. "Why?"
Ronon looked silently at the music player.
"Wait a minute," McKay was staring at him. "Did you think you were supposed to be leaving for good? After all the trouble we went through to find you and bring you back? We give presents for lots of reasons," he continued, "birthdays, Christmas, weddings, too many times really," he waved vaguely.
"Okay," Ronon said.
"This is just a vacation," McKay told him. "You know, vay-cay-shun. R&R, downtime, shore leave. Not exactly Risa, but I suppose this is the best we could do under the circumstances." He grinned.
Ronon grinned back, even though he'd only understood about half of what McKay had said. He'd grasped enough to know that he was, after all, meant to return to Atlantis.
"Besides," McKay said, "if nothing else, your fighting skills slightly over-qualify you for a life of carrying rocks, don't you think?"
Ronon nodded in agreement, and stood to leave. Suddenly he was feeling tired after all. "Goodnight McKay," he said softly.
"Hey," McKay called after him, opening the laptop. "If you're going to sleep, can I borrow the nano?"
"Sure." Ronon tossed the music player to McKay, who caught it with one hand and grinned.
"And what do you know; I think we just actually had a conversation. Carson will be proud."
Uncertain why the doctor would be proud of them talking, Ronon just smiled and pulled open the tent flap. As he lay down on his pallet he could hear McKay muttering to himself.
"What crap did he put on here? Damn flyboy has no taste in music…."
Jinto rustled the outer flap of the tent, calling a respectful hello before entering. He held the flap open with one hand while carefully balancing the basket-woven tray in the other. On the tray was a basket of bread, a bowl of fruit, and a pitcher of something steaming that was very heavy and sliding sideways.
Ronon was sitting on the floor near the table, and seeing Jinto he pushed himself to his feet, wincing slightly as his weight shifted to his right leg. The tall man reached Jinto, and grabbed the tray from his hands just as the pitcher in the center had slid almost to the edge. With a grunt, he set it on the table.
"Thank you," Jinto said, relieved to have accomplished his mission without incident. He followed Ronon over to the table and watched him sniff at the contents of the pitcher.
"Coffee?" Ronon looked up with eyebrows quirked in surprise.
Jinto nodded. "Doctor McKay gave Hanja very specific instructions on how to prepare it. I hope she did it right." He looked doubtfully toward the sleeping area that was still curtained off.
Ronon shrugged. "Smells right." He took one of the rolls of bread and bit off about half of it. "This is good," he said with his mouth full.
"I like those too," Jinto smiled shyly and glanced again toward the curtained sleeping area.
The curtain billowed out, shook and then finally rose as McKay struggled out. Jinto stared wide-eyed at the scientist's messy hair, and then at the strange pictures of fruit on his shorts.
"I smell coffee," McKay mumbled, and then he saw Jinto and scowled. "What are you staring at?"
Jinto backed up toward Ronon, who clapped a hand down on the boy's shoulder.
"He brought us breakfast, McKay," Ronon said. "Say thank you."
"What, are you Teyla now?" McKay yawned widely and staggered over to the table. He picked up the pitcher and took a swig directly from the side. "A little weak," he murmured. Ronon punched him lightly in the arm. "Ow." He glared at the other man, and then looked down at Jinto. "Thanks," he mumbled.
"Come on, Jinto," Ronon said. "Show me the stream where we're building this damn."
"You saw it yesterday," Jinto frowned.
"It'll look different in the morning light. And McKay needs time to make himself human," Ronon glanced at the scientist again, an amused smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. McKay was still drinking from the pitcher. Ronon picked up a few pieces of fruit and more rolls, and gestured for Jinto to lead the way.
Outside, Ronon blinked in the bright morning light, and offered Jinto one of the rolls. He limped slightly as he followed the boy, favoring his right leg. Jinto watched as he ate his roll and then started to peel a piece of fruit with a knife that seemed to appear out of thin air.
As they crossed the field toward the stream, Jinto worked up his courage. "What happened to your leg?" he asked finally.
Ronon arched an eyebrow at him in surprise. "What?"
"You're limping." Jinto pointed to Ronon's right leg.
"Oh." Ronon frowned at his leg, and shifted his weight to the left. He wiped juice off his beard with the back of his hand and swallowed. "Got shot," he said shortly.
"Wow." Jinto's eyes widened. "Did it hurt?"
Jinto opened his mouth to ask if it had been the wraith that had shot him, took a look at Ronon's face and changed his mind. Ronon was staring intently at the remaining piece of fruit, and squeezing it hard enough to make the juice ooze out of the rind and down his fingers.
Gulping, Jinto scampered a few feet ahead. "There's the stream," he called, pointing through the last few stalks of grain at the edge of the field.
The stream was actually more like a river, just deep and wide enough so as to not be easily crossed. Jinto and Wex and been warned many times by their fathers not to go into the water if there was no adult with them. They snuck down at night sometimes and tried to catch fish with the sticks that Colonel Sheppard had given them. The string from the sticks went in the water, but they didn't, so they weren't really disobeying.
There was an adult with him now, so Jinto crouched by the edge and put his hand in the rushing cool water. "What will happen to the fish after they make the dam?" he asked.
Ronon crouched beside him, grunted, and put his hand in the water too to rinse off the juice. "There are fish in here?" he said, squinting at the rocky bottom.
"There, where it's deeper," Jinto pointed upstream. "I've never caught any though," he said wistfully. "Not even with Colonel Sheppard's sticks."
Ronon snorted. "Those sticks are useless. Sheppard thinks fishing is a game. It's not." He scooted forward and splashed his legs into the water, shoes, trousers and all. Standing up, the water came up almost to his knees. He waded carefully upstream toward the calmer pool, staring down into the water. Suddenly there was a big splash and Ronon went down.
"Ronon!" Jinto squeaked, splashing into the water after him. A sheet of water smacked him in the face, drenching him. He wiped the drops of stinging water out of his eyes, coughing and looked up to see Ronon standing in front of him, grinning widely. His hair was dripping, and in his hands he held a squirming fish.
"Cool!" Jinto waded closer upstream, admiring the silver scales and gaping jaw on the large fish. "Will you teach me to do that?"
"Ronon, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
The two looked up to see McKay standing on the bank of the stream. Behind him was Halling, mouth open in shock, and behind him, the rest of the villagers.
"Fishing," said Ronon.
"Lovely. Want to get out of the pool and come work now?" McKay crossed his arms, and stepped back as the two splashed their way to the edge and up the bank. "And put that thing away."
Rodney McKay adjusted his hardhat and consulted the tablet held in the crook of his arm. He ignored the sullenly dripping Satedan next to him. Just what was Ronon's problem anyway? Well, aside from the whole wraith capturing him and putting a tracking device in him thing.
McKay had risen at the crack of dawn, with barely a decent sized cup of weak coffee and was out here ready to work, with bells on. Okay maybe not with bells, but he was doing his best to be civil at this ungodly hour. He'd even brought an extra hardhat for his teammate. Not that Ronon was wearing it. Come to think of it between the hair and the thickness of his skull he'd be fine.
He'd trekked all the way down here through the fields to find Ronon and Jinto splashing around in the stream like they were at summer camp. And with a live fish flapping around in their hands. McKay shuddered. He was as big a fan of fresh sushi as anyone, but not still swimming and staring at him.
He'd asked Ronon politely to get out of the water so they could start working, and the big guy had not said a word to him since. Well he had more important things to do than deal with sulky cavemen. He had a dam to build out of rocks and sticks, to make a lake and water some plants. A PhD in astrophysics and a Nobel Prize just waiting to be won, and this was the task they sent him to do. Sometimes he thought Elizabeth Weir just liked to mess with his head.
Shielding the face of the tablet from the sun as best he could, he squinted at the list he'd made before leaving Atlantis. He twisted and turned, but no matter what he did he couldn't see a damned thing. Finally he held the tablet facedown over his head and looked up. There. He stared at it for a moment, and lowered the computer to face the Athosians waiting respectfully for his instructions, and Ronon, who was slouching with his arms crossed over his chest.
Rodney noted with approval that although some Athosians were following Ronon's lead, quite a few had put on the hard hats that had been distributed before they'd left the village. Safety first, even if there was no OSHA in the Pegasus Galaxy.
"You can put those down now," he said belatedly to the men carrying the bags of cement and the buckets to mix it in. "Okay," he stepped back as the heavy sacks hit the ground. "I need a few of you to mix this – water and powder in the buckets." There was probably a more technical term for the unmixed cement, but the Athosians wouldn't know it anyway.
"The rest of you can get started gathering rocks. Halling, you said there was a quarry near here?"
"Through the forest," Halling gestured to the tree line at the end of the field. "There is a path. Jinto will show you." He gave his son a stern look.
"Yes, father," Jinto said meekly. Ringing water out of his tunic, he hurried toward the trees.
"As big rocks as you can carry!" McKay called after the villagers following Jinto. He reached out and placed a restraining hand on Ronon's forearm as the Satedan moved to follow. "You're not supposed to be lifting and carrying," McKay reminded him.
Ronon bristled, and Rodney dropped his arm quickly, stepping back and fighting the urge to duck. "You, er, really should wear a hat too," he said. "This is dangerous work."
"If I'm not carrying rocks," Ronon growled, "then how the frak is one going to fall on my head?"
McKay blinked. "How the what?"
"Frak. It's an Earth swear word. Lorne says it. It means…"
"I know what it means," McKay waved his hands. "And it's actually from a television – never mind, just go and supervise and please don't pick up any big frakkin rocks, okay?"
"Okay." Ronon gave him a final glare and stalked off toward the woods.
McKay sighed and shook his head. Of all the stubborn frakkin… Great. Now he was going to be saying frak all day. Where was Lorne getting 'Battlestar Galactica' from anyway? Probably Zelenka, he mused. He was always downloading shows from those eastern European sites that had unlimited bandwidth.
Well, Ronon was twice as big as he was, and would do what he wanted, McKay couldn't stop him. Carson would have to duke it out with him later. That thought put an image of Ronon and Carson sparring into his head, which made him smile, until he saw what the Athosians he'd assigned to mix the cement were doing.
"No, no, no, too much water. It's gonna be dribbling all over the place. Add more powder." He fanned himself in the sun, looking about for a shady place where he could actually see the screen of his tablet, and wondered how long until lunch.
Ronon hefted the boulder onto the wet cement spread across the rock beneath it. He pushed the new rock into its place with a bit more force than necessary, and grimaced in satisfaction as the stitches in his back twinged sharply in protest. He knew if Doc Beckett were to see him right now he'd be swearing up a storm, bloody this and bloody that, but he didn't care.
He was angry at himself for his reaction to Jinto's innocent question, for his childish overcompensation afterwards, and angry at McKay for being McKay.
He knew he wasn't supposed to be lifting rocks, he knew McKay knew it, he didn't need to be reminded, he didn't need a babysitter, and he certainly didn't need one of those ridiculous hats that would make him look like one of Sheppard's football players.
More and more Ronon was becoming convinced that the people from earth were a bunch of pampered, spoiled children. Ancestors help him though, he really liked these children.
He sighed and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. One of his locks had escaped from the knot he'd tied with them, and he shoved it back in. His hair was still damp, and his clothes, though the river water had dried, were now sticky with sweat. He tugged his shirt away from his back and shook it out in the breeze.
An Athosian carrying a rock came up next to him and Ronon moved aside to let him unload his burden. The man pushed the rock in place and stepped back next to Ronon. He pulled off his hard hat and shook out sweat dampened hair. Frowning at the hat, he held it out toward Ronon.
"What exactly is the purpose of these?" he asked politely.
Ronon shrugged. "You'd have to ask McKay.
The man replaced his hat and headed back toward the woods. Ronon grunted and rolled his shoulders. The stitches in his back were still burning, but he pushed that to the back of his mind, and looked out instead on the progress that had been made in little more than half a day.
The rock wall, though barely higher than Ronon's knee, was already spanning the entire width of the stream. A lake had formed, and the stream had slowed to a bare trickle at the edges, and boggy mud on the other side of the dam. The mud oozed around Ronon's boots, sucking at his toes as he crossed it. Pipes were being put in place under McKay's direction, to aim the runoff water toward the fields.
Ronon walked in the other direction, down stream, away from the fields and the rocks and McKay. It was a clear day with bright blue sky, a few puffy clouds floating along. The now boggy stream bed led off into a long stretch of marsh grasses and wild flowers, ending in another set of woods. He followed it, splashing muddy water up his legs, moving as fast as the swampy ground would let him, away from all traces of civilization.
By the time he reached the far set of trees sharp pains were shooting up and down his leg, and he was regretting going so far from the cool water that would have brought relief. Hs back wasn't feeling much better. Frustrated, he kicked out at the nearest tree with his good leg, resulting in a stinging ache in that foot.
He wanted to run. Fast and far and away from everything and everyone. But there was nowhere to go on this world, except back to Atlantis. He sat down heavily on a fallen tree trunk and pulled his hair out of its knot. The tree closest to him was old and craggy; the bark looked almost like a face, the cords wraith hair. He scowled at it. Above him a breeze rustled through the leaves. You can't run forever, Ronon they whispered.
"Shut up," he told them. He stretched out his leg and massaged the tender areas near the wound, and pointedly ignored the wraith-tree and the whispering leaves, deciding he was most likely losing his mind.
It was growing dark when McKay's voice sounded in his ear. "Ronon, where are you?"
He didn't answer.
"Ronon? Hanja made us dinner, and it's good. Nice and meaty like you like it," McKay's voice had taken on a wheedling tone.
Ronon reached up and switched off the radio in his ear. He sighed. Switching off the radio would only stall McKay for awhile. He was likely to send Halling or some of the other Athosians to look for them. Or worse, call Atlantis, which would send Beckett and Sheppard there in a panic. Groaning, he pushed himself to his feet to start the long walk back to the village.
He stayed with the stream bed on the way back, retracing his steps. The cool evening air had hardened some of the mud, showing his steps literally in the form of full boot prints. "Some tracker you'd need to be to find me," he muttered.
The sky grew increasingly darker as he walked, and as he neared the dam the only light was starlight, reflecting in the glassy water. In the distance he could also see the warm glow of the candlelit Athosian tents. He gazed at the tents, not wanting to join the others just yet, and moved closer to the dam instead.
"Doctor McKay says no one will find him if he doesn't want to be found." The loudly whispered voice sent Ronon crouching down behind the rocks.
"We'll find him." This whisper was more confident, and he recognized the voice as Jinto's. The other must be his friend Wex.
Squinting up, he could make out the two shapes on the top of the dam walking across the rocks.
"Then why are we here?" Wex sounded nervous. "Your father told us to stay away from the water. And Ronon's not here."
"He might be," Jinto said. "Fishing maybe. He showed me how. Wanna see?"
"No! We should go back."
"Don't be silly." There was a splashing sound and then. "Almost had one. I felt it!"
"Really?" More splashing, and then a larger splash, followed by a scream.
"Wex?" Jinto's voice rose in panic.
Ronon sprang out of his crouch, wincing at the strain on his leg as he limped toward the boys' voices. "Jinto?"
"Ronon!" Jinto waved his arms, a black silhouette against the night sky. "You're here! Wex fell in, I can't see him."
Ronon scrambled up onto the rocks, which had grown a few feet taller since he'd left work that afternoon. He stared at the ripples of water, trying to locate Wex.
There. A frothy splash several feet away. "Go back to the village," he ordered Jinto. "Get help."
Without waiting to see if he was obeyed, Ronon took a deep breath and dove toward the froth.
The water was cold. Colder than he would have thought, after a day in the sun. As cold as he imagined the water around Atlantis would be. And how had it got so deep? He struggled toward the surface, his lungs on fire as he finally broke into the air. Gasping, he shook water out of his eyes. "Wex?" he croaked.
Flailing arms grasped handfuls of his hair and dragged him under again. His right leg cramped up, refusing to move. He kicked as hard as he could with his left and broke the surface again. Continuing to kick so he could keep his head up, he grabbed Wex's arms, and twisted the boy around in the water until he was face up.
His wet boots and clothes were weighing him down, and he wasn't sure how much longer he could keep the both of them afloat. In the darkness it was impossible to tell which was the nearest shore. Tucking Wex's chest under one arm, he struck out with one arm and one leg toward the rocks.
Jinto's cries for help roused McKay from a brief post-dinner nap. Oh come on, there was absolutely nothing here that could be called intellectually stimulating, and spending the whole day piling rocks in the sun seriously dampened one's enthusiasm for the wraith hive ship schematics he'd brought along for light reading.
He jumped to his feet, grabbed his jacket, and was out of the tent before he realized what he was hearing. A young shape came hurtling toward him, and he reached out defensively, catching Jinto just as the boy's father arrived behind him.
"Whoa, show down," he ordered. "Who fell where?"
"Jinto, what has happened?" Halling asked anxiously.
"Yeah, I believe I just asked that," McKay muttered in annoyance.
Jinto shook himself free of the scientist's hands and turned to his father. "Lake," he gasped. "Wex fell in, Ronon jumped in after him."
"Ronon was at the lake with you?" McKay's annoyance was quickly becoming anger. "I've been calling him all night."
"What were you doing at the lake?" Halling was angry now too. "I've told you never to…"
"Father please," Jinto grabbed his hands and tugged. "You can punish me later, now please hurry."
"Yes, of course," Halling broke into a run, following Jinto back toward the dam, several other Athosian men behind him.
McKay squinted up at the stars. "You aren't going to be able to see anything," he called after them. They ignored him. "Cavemen rescuing cavemen," he grumbled, breaking into a run himself as he turned in the direction of the parked jumper.
Two United States Military issue flashlights in hand, and a rope coiled around his neck, he hurried to the dam. "I've got to exercise more," he gasped, as a stitch in his side made him double over just as the others came into sight. "Wait, what am I saying?" An ache in his backside reminded him he wasn't supposed to be exerting at all. "Ow!"
"McKay!" Halling called. "Over here!"
Straightening, he shined one of the flashlights in the direction of Halling's voice. The tall Athosian was stretched out on his stomach on the rocks, reaching down over the edge. In the water, McKay could barely see a very bedraggled Ronon clinging to a rock with one hand. In between the two was Wex, Ronon pushing and Halling pulling the boy up and out of the lake.
Once Wex was out of the water, the others came forward and took him from Halling, who turned back to Ronon. The Satedan reached up for a higher rock, and pulled himself up about a foot when he slipped and splashed back down under the water. Halling leaned further over, stretching a hand anxiously toward him as he broke the surface gasping.
"Forget it," Ronon grunted, spitting out water. "I'm too heavy for you." He started to sink again.
McKay staggered up to the rocks and the Athosians parted to let him through. "Here," he thrust the rope at Halling. Halling blinked.
"Take it; throw it to him," McKay said, "Lasso him, for Pete's sake!" Ronon's head slipped beneath the water again.
"Hey!" McKay leaned dangerously over the edge. "You get your ass back up, you overgrown Rastafarian!" He threw the rope into the water, the end of it striking Ronon's face as he broke the surface yet again.
With a splash and a grunt, Ronon grasped the rope and looped it under his arms. McKay started to pull his end, and then turned. "A little help, here?"
Halling and two other men came forward and took the rope from McKay. Hand over hand they pulled, hauling Ronon up and out of the water, and only knocking him against the rocks a few times. As his head cleared the top of the rocks, McKay moved forward and grasped two handfuls of wet shirt, pulling until Ronon was lying on the rock next to him.
Ronon lifted his head, groaned, and vomited water all over McKay's and Halling's feet.
"Nice," McKay stepped back, wrinkling his nose at his teammate. "That's gratitude for you."
Ignoring McKay, Ronon struggled to sit, and Halling moved to help him. With his dreads weighed down with water, he looked like a drowned sheepdog. "Are the boys okay?"
"They are fine." Halling paused. "Why were they out here with you?"
"They weren't with me. I think they were looking for me." Ronon pushed wet hair away from his face, and stared up at the other man, shivering. "I'm sorry."
"It is not your fault," Halling moved aside as an Athosian woman knelt next to Ronon and draped a blanket across his shoulders. "You saved Wex's life."
Which wouldn't have been in danger in the first place if Ronon hadn't run off, McKay almost said, but looking at his teammate sitting in a shivering, pitiful huddle, he swallowed those words, and instead said gruffly, "Let's get you back to the tent."
He helped Ronon to his feet and steadied him with a hand on his waist, holding a flashlight in the other. Ronon leaned against his shoulder and they started the slow, silent walk back to the village.
Once inside the tent, Ronon shrugged off the blanket and limped toward his sleeping area. McKay frowned. A dark stain was spreading across the back of Ronon's wet shirt.
"Hey, wait." McKay shined the flashlight at Ronon for a closer look. His teammate turned around and winced at the bright light in his eyes. "Nonono, turn back around," McKay waved his hands, and with a sigh Ronon turned back.
"You're bleeding! Take off your shirt." McKay ordered.
Ronon's shoulder's stiffened. "I'm fine," he said.
"You are not fine, you stubborn…. Just take off the shirt. Please."
With another loud sigh to let McKay know that he was only doing this to humor him, Ronon bent at the waist and pulled the soaked tunic over his head. A trickle of watery blood ran down the scarred skin on his back. McKay moved closer with the flashlight and saw that several of the stitches in his upper back had broken.
"Move your hair," he said, and Ronon complied by flipping it over his face.
"What are you doing, McKay?" he asked around a mouthful of hair.
"Your stitches are busted," Rodney told him. "Fortunately there's just blood, no puss. But I need to put a bandage on it."
"Fine." Ronon growled. "Just hurry up."
"It would help if you sat down," Rodney pointed out. Ronon sank silently to his knees.
"Right." McKay rooted around in his bags for the first aid kit Carson had given him. Steri-strips, gauze pads, tape, he stuffed in one hand, grabbing a bottle of antiseptic in the other. Ronon peered suspiciously at the spray bottle from beneath wet dreads, but said nothing.
He also did not give Rodney the satisfaction of wincing when the antiseptic was sprayed on. McKay let it bubble a bit before wiping it off gently with a gauze pad. Again Ronon did not react.
"Must be nice to never feel any pain," McKay said conversationally, as he pressed steri-strips over the wound edges to close them.
"Are you finished, McKay?" Ronon's teeth were gritted.
"Almost, almost." He covered the strips with gauze, taped it down, and stepped back to admire his work. "I should have been a doctor," he murmured, and waited for a comment. None was forthcoming. He sighed. Sheppard would have had some snappy comeback about a nurse. "Okay, finished."
Ronon stood, tossed his hair back from his face, and pulled back the curtain to his alcove. McKay couldn't stand it any longer. "Wait," he called.
"What now, McKay?" Ronon kept his hand on the curtain.
"Well, don't you want to talk about, I don't know, anything? You've been off moping in the woods all day, something is obviously wrong. Very obviously," he amended, "considering you've still got open wounds from your latest encounter with the wraith. After all that happened on Sateda, and that planet with the arrows," he winced. "You've got to want to vent. I would."
"Oh come on," McKay ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "How many openings for a snarky comeback do I need to give you? Would you just say something?"
Ronon's fist tightened on the cloth curtain, but he did not turn around. "What would you like me to say?"
"Fine." Ronon finally let go of the curtain and turned around to face him. His face was pale and tight. "The wraith turned my world to dust. They killed my family, my friends, and my wife. Then they hunted me, toyed with me like a cat does a mouse for seven years. Followed me and killed anyone I met. After seven years I'm finally free, the same wraith that started it all takes me back to where it all started and dumps me in the middle of the graveyard. Now that bastard wraith is dead. Is there anything else you would like to know?"
"No," Rodney said meekly.
"Can I go to bed now?"
Without another word Ronon disappeared behind the curtain.
McKay realized he was holding his breath. He let it out slowly, and massaged his now throbbing temples. "Good going Rodney," he muttered to himself. "Make the Hulk angry, why don't you?"
There was a rustling at the front flap of the tent. "Now what?" McKay strode forward and yanked up the flap, to reveal Jinto, holding a clay pitcher similar to the one that had held the coffee that morning. There was steam rising from it, but the smell was wrong.
"That's not coffee." He folded his arms.
Jinto blinked. "No. It's tea," he held up the pitcher for closer inspection and McKay wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Hanja says it's good for chill. I brought it for Ronon." Jinto looked nervously at the closed flap over the sleeping alcove. "May I speak to him? I want to apologize."
"Now might not be the," McKay glanced at the back of the tent," best time. How about you come back in the morning?" He put on his best 'make nice with the kiddies' smile.
Jinto shook his head. "It has to be tonight," he said earnestly. "Before I can sleep. Besides the tea won't do much good by morning."
McKay shrugged. "Fine. It's your funeral." He walked over to the table, starting to sit, grimaced and knelt instead. As he opened his laptop, he heard Jinto cross the tent and call Ronon's name tentatively.
Ronon sat huddled on his pallet, arms wrapped around his knees. He was still shivering and he knew he should put on a shirt, take off the rest of his wet clothes, but he couldn't summon the energy.
He heard voices in the outer tent and tuned them out, lowering his forehead to his arms. His wet hair fell over his ears, which helped, until his tent flap rustled.
"Ronon?" Jinto's voice was subdued. "I brought you tea."
Ronon could smell the tea as tendrils of steam crept past his curtain of hair, but he didn't move.
"I'm sorry," Jinto continued, "we shouldn't have been near the lake after dark. Wex didn't want to go, I made him. It's my fault you got hurt again."
"It wasn't your fault," Ronon said gruffly. "I didn't get hurt. Go back to your friend." The last came out a bit more sharply then he had intended, and he gave himself a mental shake. This was a child, not McKay. Though at times it was hard to tell the difference.
He felt the pallet sink as Jinto climbed on beside him. Fingers poked lightly at the bandage McKay had put on his back, and touched his hair.
"You're still wet," Jinto said. "Are you sure you don't want some tea?"
Ronon closed his eyes tightly, and then opened them again. Taking a deep breath, he lifted his head and faced Jinto. "No," he said carefully. "I just want to be alone. Please go." He turned back to stare studiously at the wall of the tent.
Jinto didn't move. "When my mother died," he said very softly. "My father used to cry at night. He didn't think I heard him, but I did."
Ronon frowned. Jinto thought he was crying? He touched his face. It was wet, but only from his hair. "I'm not…"
"It's okay." Jinto's small arms wrapped around his shoulders.
Shocked, Ronon remained still. The child's touch made something break inside of him. Despite his protestations, he felt hot tears welling up inside his eyelids. He shut them, but the tears leaked out anyway, mingling with the cold lake water on his cheeks. Giving up, he let the tears flow soundlessly, as Jinto gently patted his back.
In all his years running, He'd not allowed himself to think, to remember, afraid that if he did he wouldn't be able to stop, and then the wraith would catch him. So he'd pushed it down deep, Sateda, Melena, his squad, all of it, not allowing himself to even picture a face or a building.
He wasn't running anymore, but by the time the Lanteans had found him the habit was too strong, the locks in his mind too firmly in place. Even seeing the images of Sateda on his first day in the city of the ancestors had not been enough. But being back there, in the midst of the destructions, confronted with the burned bones of his people, he'd had no choice but to remember.
Sateda was gone. With her stargate destroyed, and her pitifully few survivors scattered, the world was well and truly dead. But her people deserved to be remembered and honored. He was no good at ceremonies, or speeches, not like Doctor Weir, but he would find some way to honor them. A start would be to not alienate the people who had taken him in, and risked their lives to get him back.
He straightened, scrubbed his face with the back of his hand, and turned to Jinto. "I believe I am ready for some tea," he said.
McKay rolled over as sunlight crept through the seams of the tent and touched his face. He groaned, stretched, and pushed himself to a sitting position, careful not to let weight fall on his left cheek.
"'Nother day, 'nother dollar," he mumbled, "Get coffee, finish dam." He ran his fingers through his hair and yawned.
Rising to his feet, he pushed aside the tent flap and saw that once again Ronon was already up. His teammate was sitting cross-legged at the table with his back to McKay, sipping from a cup. The pitcher that Jinto had brought the night before was in the center of the table. Ronon was dressed in one of the loose Athosian tunics, though on him it wasn't very loose, as Halling was the only Athosian who came close to Ronon in size. His hair looked damp still, and was tied tightly back with what looked like twine.
McKay hesitated, part of him wanting to go back to bed before Ronon saw him and stay there until the other man left. Another part of him, which strangely enough had Sheppard's voice, told him he was being a 'wuss.' His decision was made for him when Ronon turned around, and pulled the earbuds out of his ears.
"Jinto's coming soon with your coffee and some rolls," Ronon said. "But there's still a little tea."
That was pretty long sentence coming from Ronon, and McKay took the peace offering for what it was. He knelt at the other side of the table, poured some tea into a spare cup, and took a sip. He grimaced as the cold bitter liquid slide down his throat. Really, he could not understand how Teyla could drink this dishwater every day and yet not like coffee.
Ronon was watching him with the faintest look of amusement. His book was open on his lap, and it was obvious he'd progressed quite a way from the day before. McKay wondered if Ronon had even slept, thought the caveman was looking more human than he had in days, so he didn't ask. Instead he pointed at the book.
"How's the story going?" he asked, forcing down another gulp of tea.
"It's okay," Ronon said. He thumbed back through some of the pages he'd read.
"There are lots of battles," McKay said, trying to keep the conversation going. "Should be just your thing."
"The battles are nice," Ronon agreed. He looked doubtfully back down at the page he had open. "Teyla told me one of the characters reminds her of me, but I'm not sure which one."
McKay rolled his eyes. "Probably Aragorn. All the women love Aragorn."
Ronon frowned. "Aragorn? Not Gimli?"
McKay choked on his tea, and collapsed over the table in a fit of coughing. Ronon leaned over and anxiously pounded his back.
"Gimli?" McKay gasped. "Yeah, that could be it. I think you have less hair though." He waved Ronon's hand away, and coughed one more time.
"How did you find me?" Ronon asked abruptly.
McKay blinked. "What?"
"On Sateda. How did you find me?"
"Oh. It was rather brilliant actually," McKay smiled. "I took the first tracking device that Carson removed from you, activated it at a low frequency, and modified our long range sensors to find others like it. I recognized the planet designation of Sateda, so knew that one was you."
Ronon nodded thoughtfully. He closed his book and leaned forward with his elbows on the table. His gaze was intense. "How many others?"
McKay shrugged. "Six or seven, I think."
"Can you find them again? The other runners?"
"Sure. We've got two trackers to play with now." McKay paused. "Wait a minute. You're not suggesting we go rescue the other runners?"
"You rescued me," Ronon pointed out.
"Yes, but," McKay bit his lip, deciding not to tell Ronon about the argument between Sheppard and Caldwell. "You're one of us," he said instead. "I mean, we don't know who these others are."
"Victims of the wraith. Like me."
"Okay, look, we'll bring it up to Elizabeth at the next briefing and see what she says."
"She'll say yes," Ronon said confidently, leaning back. "We can find more allies this way. She'll like that. And we can kill more wraith."
"Well, that's always a plus." McKay tried to keep the sarcasm in his voice to a minimum, not wanting to dampen the big guy's enthusiasm, especially after yesterday. He sighed. He felt for the runners, he really did, it was just that he wanted to be out finding and learning Ancient technology, not traipsing about the galaxy playing search and rescue to a bunch of wraith refugees. Ronon quirked a questioning eyebrow at him and he felt a stab of guilt.
"Look, Ronon," he said softly. "I'm sorry. About your family, your wife."
"Thank you," Ronon said gravely.
McKay cleared his throat, looking away. "So, what say we go finish that dam so we can go home?"
"Coffee first?" Ronon suggested.
McKay looked back and him and saw Ronon was almost smiling. "Coffee first," he agreed. "Of course. Where is that kid, anyway?"
This time Ronon really did smile.