An eight-year-old Ronon shifted uncomfortably, waiting for his father, Specialist Noré Dex, to say goodbye to his mother. Ronon never understood why these goodbyes had always taken so long. They were never gone for more than a few days, and yet his parents had always treated it like years. Grown-up stuff, must be.
Despite the mushy goodbyes, Ronon always loved these trips he took with his father. As part of the plan to make friends among the galaxy, many Satedan soldiers were sent to various planets to meet the neighbors and attempt to establish good relations, and Ronon always got to go when his father was sent out. This time they were traveling to some planet called Athos. Ronon had never heard of it before; apparently the population of the village near the ring was very small, barely scraping one hundred.
Ronon heaved an over-exaggerated sigh. In a fit of impatience, he removed his toy gun and shot harmless, but irritating pellets at the door. His parents came out of the room, his father looking slightly annoyed at the antics of his offspring.
His mother crouched down in from of him. "Ronon, I want you to do what your father says and stay in the village. Athos has many forests and I don't want you getting lost."
"Okay" said Ronon absentmindedly as he wondered how he'd be maneuvering the trees when it got dark.
"You're going to do what he says?"
"And stay in the village at all times?"
Ronon rolled his eyes and nodded again, his fingers crossed behind his back.
"Good, now give me a kiss."
That got Ronon's attention, as he tried to push her away, complaining that big boys don't kiss their mothers. She managed to get him on the cheek, anyway.
His father laughed and led him out of the house, giving one last kiss to Fey as Ronon furiously rubbed his cheek where his mother had kissed him.
Fey hollered her love yous and goodbyes as Noré and Ronon walked to the Ring Building, not far from the house.
Teyla crouched near the entrance to the council tent. The Athosian council was having another meeting, and Teyla was anxious to know what this one was about. Usually the meetings were about such mundane things as trades and harvest planning, but there had been excited whispers amongst the village lately of off-world visitors, planning to come through the ring. Many of the children were excited, as nobody ever came to Athos, and any trading was done on other planets, where the children were not allowed to go.
Teyla took a step closer to the opening, the better to hear the meeting, and promptly stepped on a twig. The loud snap echoed off of the nearby trees. She froze as the councilors stopped speaking. She heard the stern voice of her father "Teyla Emmagan, if I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times, you-"
Teyla heard no more as she had sprinted off into the woods to escape her father's scorn.
Noré hadn't noticed that his son was no longer by his side since they arrived on Athos, as he had been immediately ushered into the Council tent where introductions were made with the leader, a man named Miklos Tri and his council advisor, Tagan Emmagan. If he had been paying attention, however, he would have noticed that the instant they had passed through the ring, Ronon had immediately made a beeline for the woods.
Ronon was lying on his belly, head and upper body raised slightly as he was perpendicular to a log. He had his toy gun out and was aiming it at his adversary and barking orders at his fellow soldiers, both of which were only seen by him. He then proceeded to jump from behind the log, somersault to a nearby tree, and shoot the life out of an enemy stump, sound effects included. Perhaps it was this strange behavior that caused Teyla Emmagan to throw a rock at him.
Ronon spun around in shock and aimed his gun at the girl with the rocks, who didn't seem the least bit fazed by having a pellet gun in her face. "What was that for?" he asked indignantly.
"It was unfair to the stump; he had no way to defend himself." Teyla explained plainly. "Who are you? Did you come through the ring!? I did not know a child was coming. Did any more come?" Teyla looked around him as if he was hiding his friends in his pocket.
He lowered and holstered his gun. "Yes, I came through the ring. I'm from Sateda, and it's just me and my father."
Teyla seemed disappointed that he didn't bring friends. "But what is your name?
"Specialist Ronon Dex of the Satedan military." He said, with the pride of a retired veteran.
Teyla scoffed at him, "You are not military; you are only a boy." She began to clamber around the logs and walk in a direction Ronon had yet to explore.
Ronon's shoulders slumped slightly. "Well, someday I'll be military, just like my dad." He began to follow her through the bramble. "Where are we going?"
"What do you mean 'we'? You started following me yourself, I never requested you to come with me."
Ronon seemed slightly taken aback by her brazenness and stopped. Teyla turned to look at him and rolled her eyes. "I am only joking. I will show you a better place where we can play. Come on." She continued on through the woods with Ronon following. She seemed to know exactly where she was going though, to Ronon, everything looked the same.
"Hey," Ronon spoke up from behind her, breathing heavy by now, "I told you who I am, but who are you?"
Teyla was breathing heavy as well, "Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Tagan. And if you are someday going to be a soldier, than I am going to one day lead these people."
"Why, does your dad lead these people now?"
"No, but he is instrumental in many decisions made." Teyla stopped and turned to face him, "I do not need to follow in my father's footsteps. I am my own person, you know."
Ronon smiled at her, "That's what my mom says when I misbehave."
Teyla smiled and continued on through the woods.
"What about you? What does your mom think about you being a leader?" Ronon attempted to climb over an oversized log.
Teyla sat to rest on a mossy rock. "I do not know my mother. She was culled before I can remember." Her voice sounded indifferent, but she hadn't looked at Ronon when she spoke.
He hopped down from on top of the log and took a seat diagonal to Teyla. "I'm sorry." His breathing was heavy and his face sympathetic. "I had a big brother once. He was culled when I was little." Ronon began digging for bugs in the dirt with a stick.
"Come on." Teyla got up, "We are almost there."
Ronon hurried after her. "Almost where?"
Teyla grinned like only a little girl could. "You will see."
15 minutes later, Teyla and Ronon emerged from the trees to find themselves on the edge of a steep, rocky hill overlooking a ruined city.
Ronon looked on in awe. "What happened to this place?"
Teyla sat cross-legged on the ground and pulled some red berries off of a nearby bush and offered them to Ronon. "There was a culling many, many generations ago, far greater than any culling that has been seen since." As Ronon sat and accepted the berries, Teyla began her story like an old woman would speak of Godly legends; "My people had made many technological advancements, which had alerted the wraith to their presence in the galaxy. It is believed that the Wraith were frightened that my people may learn of more efficient ways to protect themselves against them, and so they attacked the city with the intent to not only feed, but to destroy." Her gaze was distant and her hands were absentmindedly fiddling with a locket around her neck. "We were a great number then. Thousands, some say. After the culling, there were no more than 300, and even that number has diminished in the many cullings since then." Her voice faded dramatically.
Ronon licked the sticky berry juice from his fingers. "Was any of the technology spared?"
"Very little" she sighed, "but my people fear that rebuilding themselves will cause the wraith to wipe us all out. We are a simple people now, farmers and smiths, trying to stay as hidden as possible."
Ronon was silent. Teyla leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. "Some say, that the ghosts of those who died during that culling, wraith and human, sill haunt the city. Many are afraid to be this close to it. Some of the adults have even forbidden their children from coming here." She turned to Ronon, an unexpected wicked smile on her face and in her eyes, "Want to go play?"
He was shocked for a second; he'd thought she was the kind of girl to follow the rules, but then returned the smile, "Yah!"
Without another word she sprinted down the steep hill and into the city. She could hear Ronon behind her, laughing and panting at the same time. She skidded into the city and found some rubble to rest on. Ronon sat across from her.
"Let's… let's play safe." He huffed.
"What is… safe?" she asked, breathing heavy herself.
"It's a game," he laid down on his rubble "one person hides and the other person has to find them."
Understanding graced Teyla's face. "Oh! We play that, but it is called fisherman. Can I hide?"
Ronon smiled "Yeah, I love being seeker." He closed his eyes and began reciting Satedan military ranks, lowest to highest.
Teyla hurried off towards the heart of the city where it would be harder to find her. She worked her way around some larger rubble and onto a parallel street. She could no longer hear Ronon, which meant he was now looking for her; she wasn't far enough away yet to be out of earshot. She approached a large building, the door long gone. She was about to go in and hide, but stopped. Despite the warm, sticky summer on her skin, there was a horrible coldness. It emerged from an unnamed place inside of her and twisted her stomach as it grew up her throat, filling her mouth and nostrils. She gagged.
Ronon came up behind her, "Umm, Teyla, I don't think you fully understand the game. You're supposed to be-" Teyla doubled up, her arms wrapped around her torso. "Teyla! What's wrong?"
She blinked tears of shock from her eyes and looked up at him, "I can not breathe… It is the wraith…"
Ronon looked at her incredulously, "What do you mean?"
"The Wraith!" she wheezed and grabbed him, "We have to go back to the village!! We have to warn them!!"
Ronon still didn't seem to believe, or even understand her. She grew frustrated. "Please!!" Her tears were hysterical now, "Your father is in that village too!!"
Ronon looked like he half wanted to help her back to the village, and half call her mad, until he heard the darts in the distance.
"Come on!" He grabbed her upper arm and began to help her in the direction of the village.
"No! We have to go this way, it is shorter!" She gestured in a different direction, to a way that was all open field.
"Are you crazy?" he asked, "We'll be culled for sure, standing out in the open like idiots!"
"But my father!" She cried and tugged him in the direction of the field. "Please, Ronon!"
The darts were approaching fast. "Teyla, we need to hide."
She pointed in yet another direction. "There is a place to hide this way, just beyond the tree line."
He took her word for it this time, and helped her into the woods as fast as an eight-year-old dragging a seven-year-old could.
As soon as the made it into the cover of the trees, she pulled him into a well-concealed manmade cave that he hadn't even noticed. It was pitch black inside, but he could still hear her erratic breathing next to him and feel her quickened pulse run through her arm beneath his fingers.
He whispered to her, although realistically there was no point in whispering, "After we hear the darts leave, we'll go to the village, through the field."
Teyla wanted to argue that they needed to go to the village now, but she knew that her people were already more than likely hiding, and that it was more dangerous to go out now than stay in. She reluctantly agreed.
They heard a dart pass almost directly overhead. They breathed a sigh of relief as it flew past them, but then they heard the dart turn around.
"What is he doing?" Teyla asked earnestly, not expecting an answer.
She felt Ronon shake his head next to her. "I don't know." He began to move further back into the cave, bringing Teyla along, but stopped when a thought hit him. "Hey, you felt them coming, didn't you?"
She nodded, remembered he couldn't see her, and then told him that that was true.
"So I bet he feels you."
Teyla felt a horrible pang of guilt. "What do I do?" she whispered, as she unconsciously began to move away from Ronon, "No matter where I go he will find me!"
"We" Ronon corrected her. "No matter where We go, he will find Us."
She looked at him inquiringly.
"It's in the Satedan Soldiers' Code. 'Never abandon family, friend, or ally'" he recited, and Teyla once again saw the pride of a true soldier in him, not a young boy. He would be a great man one day, she wagered.
They crouched low in the corner of the cave as they heard the dart land nearby. Both tried to make themselves as small as possible, not that Teyla wasn't too small for her age already, but this was a bit harder for Ronon. He had always been one of the tallest boys in his class.
They heard the wraith, much closer now. His feet were shuffling the leaves just outside the cave, as if he knew the children were in there and wanted to scare them a bit more before indulging himself on their youthful life force. Teyla covered her ears to quiet something that only she could hear. Ronon was crouching so low and so far back, he thought that if it were possible he would have melted into the wall by now. They both held their breath as they heard the wraith approach the cave opening.
Specialist Noré Dex rarely went anywhere without a weapon, something Fey disliked. Noré was quite sure, however, that she wouldn't mind so much this time, as long as her family came back alive.
The Athosians had begun disappearing before the wraith darts could even be seen. However, the only thing he, and apparently Tagan Emmagan had been worried about, were their children. Two darts landed; they could not cull anyone if they could not see them. The wraith climbed out and began searching the tents, trees, and dark places for their prey.
Tagan Emmagan sprinted deep into the woods, frantically trying to find his daughter without calling out for her. Noré, from his position in a hollowed out stump some ways away, could see one of the wraith coming up on Tagan. He drew his weapon, a smaller version of the three-barreled gun he used in combat, and shot at the wraith. High up, all of the birds began twittering and flew off, the sound seemed impossibly deafening. The wraith looked at Noré, shocked, and screamed in frustration. Tagan turned to the wraith, preparing to defend himself, but before either of the humans had time to think, the wraith pounced on Tagan like some bizarre jaguar and began feeding on him. Noré was simultaneously shooting at the wraith and running towards him. He had hit him several times, and when Noré finally got to where Tagan lay, the wraith lie dying nearby, until Noré took care of him completely.
The soldier crouched near Tagan, now a withered old man who could barely breathe.
Noré was at a loss as of what to say. Tagan's dark skin was wrinkled beyond recognition and his eyes were clouded with sightless age. He settled on reaching an arm beneath Tagan's shoulders, "Let me get you to the cover of the stump. I'll go find the children."
Noré began to help him up, but he shook his head and grabbed on to Noré's arm, stopping him. "She… can not see me like this." It frightened Noré how old Tagan sounded, after hearing his strong voice in the council tent.
"I don't… I don't understand." Noré stammered, though he understood perfectly well what Tagan meant.
The Athosian took what seemed to be all the strength he possessed and grabbed Noré's head, bringing it close to his own, and whispered in his ear, his voice only as strong as his breath.
Noré closed his eyes in despair at Tagan's plea. He wanted to tell the man 'no', wanted to lie and say that he was out of bullets, but he could not do that to a man of such dignity, with such a fire in his eyes.
Noré stood and, after wiping the sweat from his brow and attempting to steady his shaking hand, he shot Tagan once in the head, fulfilling his last dying wish.
The wraith hovered in the cave opening for a few moments, sniffing the air. Ronon heard him chuckle and the sound made him want to vomit. Next to Ronon, Teyla was holding her head in pain, eyes clenched shut. His eyes having adjusted to what little light seeped in, Ronon could see the sheen of cold sweat on her. She was shaking.
Ronon shifted to the other side of Teyla and nudged her into the corner, the deepest point in the cave. She let out a small sob when the wraith began to make its way into the cavern, tauntingly slow.
As the pleased panting of the wraith grew closer, Ronon bit down hard on his bottom lip and grabbed a nearby stick that was nearly as long as Teyla was tall. He gripped the stick tight; more a security blanket than a weapon. He ignored his own shaking hands, and the blood now running down his chin as the wraith let out a full laugh.
Noré found himself staring at a grand city, magnificent even in its decrepit form. He would've liked to explore in any other circumstance, but right now he needed to find his son and Tagan's daughter.
He spotted a landed dart on the other side of the clearing, just beyond the trees and knew instantly that the children must be hiding here; there would be no other reason for the dart to land in this spot. He crouched low in his own cover of trees, looking around quickly, and perhaps a bit carelessly for any threat before sprinting across the field.
At first Noré didn't understand where the wraith could be, but he whipped around when he heard a cold, echoing laugh that knotted his stomach and made his neck- and arm-hairs stand up.
The instant Noré saw the wraith, he instinctually bent low behind the dart for protection, but the wraith didn't seem to notice him. Or he did and didn't find him any threat.
Noré watched as the wraith began to disappear into what looked like a gaping hole in the thick forest, but was actually a very well hidden cave. He didn't hesitate; he shot the wraith in the back until the gun was empty.
Teyla's eyes were open now, staring in horror at the wraith not eight feet from them, her small frame racked with terrified sobs. Ronon had tears streaming down his own face and he gripped the stick tighter and edged closer to Teyla.
The gunshots echoed off the cave walls. The sudden loudness caused both of the children to scream, then more echoes. Neither of them seemed able to stop until Noré had them both in his arms, soothingly stroking both of their backs as they sobbed into his shoulders.
The next thing Ronon could remember was watching Teyla as she howled through an impossible emptiness while a woman named Charin held her tight. Ronon noticed that her locket was gone. It must've been lost in the cave. His father, clutching his hand tightly while leading him to the ring, told him what the wraith had done. No more.
A few Satedan soldiers had been sent back to Athos to help them rebuild. Ronon was not allowed to go.
It was not until years later, as Noré lie on his deathbed, that he told Ronon how Tagan had really died. To this day, only Ronon knows the truth.
Ronon was lazing on the beach on the mainland as he watched Teyla playing in the water with some of the children. He knew Teyla didn't remember their first meeting, and he never bothered to remind her of it. The first time Ronon had visited the mainland, the woman Charin dragged him off into her tent and warned him that that had been the most painful time of Teyla's life. Some things are forgotten for a reason, she'd told him. She had never said he couldn't tell, only that he had better be there to help her through the memories if he did.
Ronon drew a circle in the sand as he watched Teyla calming down when the children had been called for chores.
"Teyla, come here." He patted the sand next to him.
She moseyed over to him and fell onto the sand, a bright smile lingering on her face from the exhausting play.
"What is it?" She asked as she drew a smile and a pair of eyes inside his circle.
"I wanna tell you something."
She raised her eyebrows at him, telling him to go on.
He took a deep breath. "When I was a kid…"