A/N: This is a remix of leesaperrie's fic, Prison. No spoilers, but characters introduced in Reunion are mentioned.

The Whole of Life

Set a few weeks after Trinity.

"Waiting and hoping are the whole of life…."

Gian Carlo Menotti

Exceptional hearing was a prized Satedan trait and one that ran strong in Ronon's family. His father had been able to hear fish swimming beneath their sailboat; his mother had seemed able to hear his very thoughts. It had saved his own life more times than he could count in the past seven years, the Wraith not being big on stealth. Perhaps having hearing as sensitive as his was the reason that Rodney McKay's voice grated so badly. When McKay wasn't babbling incomprehensively about control crystals and power relays, he was bitching about the heat or cold or food, even the air. Everything offended McKay, and everything about the man offended Ronon. But he had agreed to serve on Sheppard's team which meant he had to tolerate McKay.

He hadn't realized the never-ending commentary had become almost soothing until it wasn't there. McKay trudged silently in front of him, eyes downcast and shoulders slumped. Walking beside Rodney, Teyla had attempted conversation, but he acted as if he didn't hear her. Maybe he didn't. Sheppard had taken point but kept shooting worried glances over his shoulder.

Ronon had guided McKay back on the path three times already. As he reached for the cuff of McKay's jacket for the fourth time, he heard the roar in the distance. Pulling his blaster, he turned in a slow circle as they continued down the hard-packed road that led from the city. The one-way shield ended just past the drab four-story office complex they were approaching, and the Ancestral Ring was a short distance beyond that – no more than a ten minute stroll.

"What is it?" Sheppard asked.

The air around him vibrated, and for a split second he was in the midst of Sateda's final battle. "Cannon fire."

"What?"

He whirled to face Sheppard. "We need to get out of here! They're atta-"

The doors of the office building flew open, and people flooded out, panicked shrieks filling the air. The mob swirled around them shouting about "Thaneks" and "shield failure." He saw Teyla go down as a wave of humanity washed over them, and, pushing and shoving to make his way to her, he yanked her over his left shoulder with a quick jerk of her arm.

"Ronon!" Sheppard yelled. "This way!"

Spiky black hair disappeared around a corner, and Ronon followed, lowering Teyla gently to the ground. Blood trickled from her nose and the corner of her mouth, and even unconscious she cried out when he pressed lightly on the right side of her abdomen.

"She's hurt pretty bad. We need to get her back."

Sheppard peeked around the corner. "Just a few stragglers left. We can make it…. Where's McKay?"

Ronon's head shot up. "He isn't here?"

"Dammit!" Sheppard cursed as he clicked his radio. "McKay! Where are you?"

The radio hissed and crackled but was otherwise silent.

"McKay!" Sheppard's face crinkled in agitation when no response came. Turning to Ronon, he said, "Get Teyla to the gate. When you get to Atlantis, tell Lorne I want three jumpers sent back immediately. I'm going after McKay. Tell-"

"…pard? Ro… …yla?"

Reaching for his earpiece, Sheppard's relieved gaze locked with Ronon's. "McKay?"

"Shep… separat… don't know… gate. Explosterfering… radio sig…."

"Hang tight, McKay. Teyla's hurt so Ronon's getting her to the gate and coming back with jumpers."

"… leav… me?"

"No, we aren't leaving you. Stay where you are. I'll find you."

"…will you… back?"

"I'm not…. McKay? McKay!" Sheppard pulled the radio from his ear and glared at it. "Shit!"

"Sheppard-" he began.

"Get Teyla home. I'll find Rodney."

Ronon stared at him for a long moment then glanced down at Teyla. Her face was gray, her breathing labored. "Be careful."

Sheppard flashed a smirk at him. "Always." A distant rumbling shook the ground, causing the buildings to sway and dust to rain down. "Now get going."

Kneeling to scoop Teyla in his arms, he looked up sharply when a crack reverberated through the deserted alleyway. John's body jerked, and his eyes went wide then rolled back in his head as he slumped bonelessly to the ground. An angry man stood across the street quickly reloading a single action rifle. Ronon pulled his blaster and fired without thinking. The man spun as the energy bolt impacted his chest, dead before he hit the ground.

Racing to Sheppard's side, Ronon grabbed his tac vest and rolled him, grimacing at the blood soaking into the light brown dirt. A check beneath the vest showed an entrance wound at his right shoulder blade but no exit wound.

He clicked his radio. "McKay! Can you hear me?"

Nothing but static. How had this gone so wrong? His Satedan team flashed in his mind – Tyre's laugh, Ara's flashing eyes, Rakai's goofy grin, Morika and Hemi's gentle teasing.

"McKay!"

He'd spent so much time alone he'd almost forgotten how it felt to be a part of a team. Teyla and Sheppard were warriors, worthy of his respect, and he had to grudgingly admit that McKay was as smart as he constantly claimed to be, had an unbridled ability to fix anything and a courageous streak that popped up on occasion.

"McKay! If you can hear me, Sheppard's been shot. I'm taking him and Teyla home. I'll come back for you."

Hoping he wasn't causing more damage, Ronon carefully eased Teyla over his left shoulder again then gripped the back of Sheppard's vest and dragged him to the Ring, leaning him against the dialing pedestal and pressing the glyphs for Atlantis. When the gate whooshed to life, he input his IDC and activated his radio.

"This is Ronon. Sheppard and Teyla are hurt. Let me through and get the doc."

"Thi… tis…. arely hear…. Say… again."

"I've got wounded. Lower the shield!"

"Plea… peat. Where… nel Shep…?"

"LET ME IN!" he roared.

Then he heard the whistling.

Grabbing Sheppard's vest, he ran as fast as he could, apologizing mentally to Teyla for the rough carry. "Hope they heard me," he muttered as he dove through the shimmering blue.

Ronon skidded to a stop, releasing Sheppard and looking to the control room. "Close the shield."

He could see the hesitancy in Chuck's face, the concern in Weir's. She gave a quick nod, and the covering coalesced over the gate seconds before a thud sounded.

"What was that?" she asked as she reached the bottom of the stairs. "And where's Rodney?"

He laid Teyla on the gurney the med team had ready. Stepping back, he watched the doctors and nurses swarm around his team minus one. "That was cannon fire, and McKay's still on the planet. I need to go back."

Weir blinked at him. "Cannon fire? What happened?"

"It's a long story. I need to go get McKay."

Her head tilted as she stared at him, and he stared back. Finally she turned to Chuck. "Dial it up."

"Yes, ma'am."

She faced Ronon again. "I'm assuming cannon fire means a battle. How do you know you'll be able to get through the fighting and find McKay?"

"Because I have to," he replied simply, his eyes following the gurneys fleeing the room at top speed.

"I can't get a lock," Chuck called. "Whatever struck the shield here must have damaged the other gate."

"Try again," Weir ordered.

"I've tried three times, ma'am. I can't establish a connection."

"Dial the SGC. Request the Daedalus be diverted back here immediately."

Ronon swallowed thickly at the thought of McKay trapped on that planet. "You have to get me back there."

"There's nothing I can do for the moment," she responded. "I think now might be a good time for that explanation. Walk with me."

He followed her through the corridor that led to the infirmary. "How long will it take for that ship to get here?"

Weir sighed, rubbing small circles in her forehead. "At least three weeks. They should have reached Earth yesterday."

"That's too long. McKay can't survive until then. They blame him for the war."

"What? How is that possible?"

"The Kelthans drugged McKay and had him show them how to build a bomb of nack- narc-"

"Naquadah?"

"Yeah, that. The Thaneks live outside the shield and are a little pissed that they are the Wraith's main food source. The Kelthans, who live inside the shield, got tired of the Thaneks constantly trying to destroy it so instead of being happy with the generator McKay was teaching them to build, they got him to design a bomb in his sleep. The Kelthans used it on the Thaneks who found a way to finally defeat the shield. The attack came as we were leaving. McKay got separated from us in the crowd. If the Thaneks find him…."

She shook her head as she stared at her shoes. "Oh, Rodney. How do you get yourself in these situations?"

"It wasn't McKay's fault. He didn't know he was doing it."

"I know. Only Rodney could start a war in his sleep."

The doors to the infirmary swished open as they approached, and they found an out-of-the-way corner to observe the chaos. Beckett shouted orders as he worked on Sheppard, and nurses hurried to obey, bringing bandages, blood, fluids, and other medical supplies that Ronon couldn't identify. Another doctor, a woman with short blond hair, was frowning at the scanner display as it passed over Teyla. Nurses and techs scurried to do her bidding as well.

"She's bleeding internally. Get her prepped for the OR now," the doctor ordered.

A curtain snapped closed, and the sliver of space between the bottom of the off-white fabric and the cold floor showed pieces of Teyla's attire falling in haphazard piles. After a minute, the curtain whipped back, and the medical team raced from the triage area with the gurney bearing his teammate draped in blue cloths.

"Bloody hell!" Beckett swore as blood squirted like a geyser. "Must have hit an artery. Is the other theatre ready?"

A chorus of "Yes, doctor" filled the air.

"Let's go then, people. He's bleeding out."

Sheppard's gurney was pushed from the room faster than Teyla's had been, strips of bloodied black t-shirt and BDUs lining the path to the operating room. Silence descended like an anvil, broken only by the sound of ragged breathing which Ronon discovered was his own. Weir stood braced in the corner, lips pressed in a thin white line and arms wrapped around her body.

Techs quietly cleaned the vacated area, tossing blood-soaked gauze, destroyed clothing, and ripped gloves into the appropriate containers. An orderly came behind them, his mop and bleach changing the floor from crimson to its original mossy greens and browns.

Ronon waded through the mess and found the halves of Sheppard's tac vest, glaring at the tech who tried to take it until the woman backed off. He dug through the pockets until he found the aviator shades, startling when Weir waved a clean cloth in front of him.

"Thanks." He rinsed the glasses at a nearby sink and dried them with the cloth. "Sheppard will want these back," he explained as he tucked them in his pocket.

"How are you?"

"I'm OK," Ronon answered honestly.

He had learned early on as a runner not to form attachments, and old habits died hard. He liked these people, was honor bound to protect them, but they weren't Satedan, weren't family. He had given up on ever having that again. The decision to stay on Atlantis instead of searching for the three hundred survivors Solen had mentioned had been a hard one, but annihilating the Wraith took precedent. Reuniting with his people would be his reward.

Weir turned to go then stopped. "You did good," she said, "getting them home."

"Not good enough. They're hurt, and McKay's missing."

"That's no more your fault than Rodney's. You got two badly injured teammates to safety. Carson is the best. If anyone can pull them through, he can. Don't give up hope." With a tight smile that didn't reach her eyes, she left.

Hope. He thought hope had died with Melena, that all he had left was hate. Then he met a man in a cave who offered freedom from Wraith tracking devices, a new home, a team, a purpose. He discovered he wasn't alone. The image they had shown him of Sateda in ruins was permanently etched in his mind and haunted his dreams, but lately other images had begun to appear – flying over a city that floated on water, good food to eat and a bed to sleep on, acquaintances who could become friends.

Ronon hovered in the doorway, uncertainty tearing at him. He hadn't allowed himself to feel in a long time. Teyla and Sheppard were as safe now as he could make them; to stay, to wait would be to open himself to them, to risk the crushing blow of loss again. It was the one thing that scared him.

Swiping at the door controls, he walked stiffly from the room – one, two, three strides – then paused, leaning against the wall and smacking the back of his head hard on it. He glanced to the infirmary then to the transporter. Resolutely retracing his steps, he found an empty chair and settled. To wait.

oOo

"Ronon? Lad?"

The soft, accented voice finally broke the nightmare's grip, and he leapt to his feet, blaster in hand before he realized what he was doing. Beckett stood a bit more than arm's length away, his eyes fixed on the muzzle.

"Don't suppose I could convince you to put that away, now could I?"

"Sorry, Doc," he apologized as he holstered the weapon. "Habit."

"I understand. Not to worry."

Ronon rubbed a hand down his face, trying to scrub away the dream. "How are they?"

"Teyla will be sore for quite a while, but the broken ribs will heal, and Dr. Cole has patched up the internal damage. She won't be kicking your rear in the gym for a couple of months, but she'll be fine."

"And Sheppard?"

"We've removed the bullet which actually caused minimal damage. However, it shattered his scapula… ah, shoulder blade, and a few bone shards pierced an artery which we've repaired. Right now, we are monitoring him for hemorrhage and infection."

"So he'll be fine?"

"Probably," Becket hedged. "Colonel Sheppard is as tough as they come, as tough as you if you don't mind me saying. His body has been through a trauma and is fighting to heal. The next two days are crucial. After that, we'll immobilize his shoulder for a couple of weeks then move on to physio. It will take some time, but he should regain full use of it."

"If he makes it through the next two days."

Beckett smiled kindly and squeezed his arm. "They are in recovery right now and will be there for at least an hour. Why don't you get something to eat?"

Ronon wandered down to the mess hall at the doctor's urging, eating a meal then filling a tray with enough food for three days. He could hear Sheppard's laugh, see Teyla's eye-roll at the gargantuan amount of food he had, but he knew they didn't really understand. How could they? Maybe after a few years his body would remember what it felt like to be full, to not have to worry where the next meal was coming from. Until then, he hoarded. Besides, he didn't intend on leaving the infirmary again for a while. He was committed now.

When he returned the infirmary, Teyla was tucked in a quiet corner, still unconscious but breathing easier. Setting his tray on the rolling table by her bed, he dragged his chair next to her, stretching his legs and folding his arms across his chest.

He must have dozed because he awoke to soft voices and the rustle of sheets.

A nurse smiled gently at him as she passed. "They are bringing Col. Sheppard in."

Minutes later, Sheppard was settled, a pale blotch swathed in white with tentacles that attached to poles dripping red and clear liquids. Machines whirred and beeped around him, and for the first time since they met, Sheppard looked fragile.

Ronon stared at him then leaned down, careful to not touch anything, and whispered, "Hang in there, Sheppard."

Adjusting his chair to center it between their beds, he resumed his vigil. The next couple of hours crept by. He thought about finding a laptop but didn't really know what he'd do with it. The only two people he'd spent any kind of time with were unconscious. He tried remembering the address of every world he'd visited, envisioned the faces of his family on his betrothal day, recalled as many Wraith kills as he could – anything to stave off the memories of Melena dying.

The Lanteans had been amused and a bit irritated at his avoidance of the infirmary. Some said he thought he was too tough; others said he was too primitive. In reality, it was the smell, that sterile odor that made his eyes sting. All medical facilities carried that scent, the one guaranteed to trigger flashbacks to that day of explosions, fire, death and capture. Sometimes he heard her scream as she burned.

A subtle shift in Teyla's breathing caught his attention. Standing, he clasped her hand lightly. "Hey."

Blinking groggily, she frowned at him. "What happened?"

"You got trampled."

Her frown deepened. "Col. Sheppard? Dr. McKay?"

"Sheppard's in the next bed. McKay's still on the planet."

"What?" she slurred. "I do not understand."

Ronon brushed the hair from her forehead. "Go to sleep. I'll tell you when you wake up."

"No, I…." She struggled but lost. Eyes drifting shut, she was asleep in seconds.

Nurses and doctors ventured in and out of the area, checking vitals and displays. Sheppard eventually opened his eyes at Beckett's prodding but immediately fell asleep again. When Teyla finally woke long enough to listen and comprehend, Ronon related the events from Kelther.

Alarm spread across her features. "Three weeks?"

"I know. What else can we do?"

"Nothing," she sighed. "Without the Ring there is no way to reach him." She kneaded the blanket with her fingers. "Do you think he will survive?"

"No. Even if he's alive and they don't execute him, he won't last long in prison."

"Dr. McKay is stronger than even he realizes. Do not discount him."

"He never stops talking, can't hunt or track or fight, can barely shoot. He's arrogant and condescending to everybody. Why is he even on the team?"

"Because Col. Sheppard asked him to be. Do not forget that he saved our lives not long ago on that prison island. You must look at more than just the surface, Ronon. He can be quite… abrasive, but he has a good heart, and I have no doubt he would sacrifice his life to save any one of us. He hides his concern; he seems to fear letting others close to him. Like many here," she added pointedly.

"He's a coward most of the time."

"He is a scientist not a soldier. Do not expect him to act like one. It is our duty to protect him."

"We aren't there to protect him right now, and the Thaneks didn't strike me as a forgiving type of people. McKay was probably dead before we got to the Ring."

"We must not lose hope."

He grunted in reply as Cole interrupted to check Teyla's stitches. Retreating to give them some privacy, he was surprised to find Sheppard staring at him. "Hey."

"What did you say about McKay?"

"Didn't know you could hear that."

"Answer me. Where is he?"

Ronon blew out a breath. "Still on Kelther."

"What?" Anger and fear flickered across Sheppard's face only to be replaced with pain as he struggled to sit up.

Gripping Sheppard's shoulders gently, Ronon held him down. "Stop. You'll rip the stitches. It took Beckett hours to put them in there."

Sheppard quit twisting and glared at him. "Why haven't you gone to get McKay?"

"Gate's busted. Weir sent for the Daedalus."

"That will take weeks!"

"Yeah, that's what she said."

Grimacing again, Sheppard stared at the ceiling, breathing slowly through his mouth. "We left him behind."

"Not on purpose. I was going back for him."

"We shouldn't have left without him."

"Didn't have much of a choice."

"We don't leave our people behind!"

"And we focus on the ones we can save!" Ronon shouted. "You and Teyla were hurt, maybe dying. Even if I'd known the gate would get damaged, I would've still done the same thing. If I'd have gone back for McKay, you'd be dead right now. Same with Teyla."

"I know," Sheppard whispered through gritted teeth. "But of all… of us, why… McKay?"

"You OK?"

Sweat beaded on Sheppard's forehead, and the muscles in his neck corded. "Hurts."

Red began to seep through the bandage and drip to the floor. Ronon dashed around the corner, yelling for Beckett. Nurses raced past him, alarms beginning to beep wildly.

"What's wrong?" Beckett questioned as he flew from his office.

"Sheppard's bleeding bad."

Beckett sprinted forward, shouting orders as he rolled Sheppard on his side and exposed the wound. Blood flowed freely through split stitches. "He's torn something inside. We need to get him back in the operating theatre."

Sheppard looked like a corpse: drained of color – an almost waxy complexion – and totally limp. The med team raced away, still working furiously.

"Ronon?" Teyla called softly.

Turning slowly, he made his way to her side, not watching the techs clean Sheppard's blood from the floor again. He pulled his chair to the unaffected side of Teyla's bed and took a seat.

"This is not your fault. Col. Sheppard does not blame you."

"He will if McKay dies."

"He takes his responsibility for the safety of everyone here very seriously. He will blame himself."

"Do you think I should have gone after McKay?"

"No, and neither will Col. Sheppard once he has time to think through it. He ordered the dart carrying Dr. McKay and Lt. Cadman shot down not long ago because to allow the dart to escape would have endangered other lives. He will come to the same conclusion here. He simply needs time."

"They really don't leave people behind?"

She smiled as she reached for his hand and squeezed his fingers. "They do not."

He held her hand until she fell asleep again. A few hours later, Sheppard was wheeled back in, fresh bandages covering his neck, upper chest and right shoulder. Standing, Ronon moved to the foot of Sheppard's bed, trying to figure out the man before him. So different from Kell, his Satedan taskmaster.

Kell had been a traitor and a coward, interested in saving only himself and willing to sacrifice thousands to do so. He had been brutal, self-centered, and unconcerned about anyone or anything that didn't profit him.

Sheppard…. An enigma in some ways, a kindred spirit in others. Ronon knew deep inside that Sheppard would fight to his last breath to protect them, that he'd never sell them out. He had searched unflaggingly for Ford, still asked every people they encountered for information on the missing lieutenant. He was genuinely fearful for McKay, a man who had broken his trust, something Kell would have punished severely.

When he'd first arrived, Ronon had considered the Lanteans soft, dependent on superior technology to protect themselves. Perhaps what he had seen as softness was instead a different way to relate. Knowing someone had your back and would always come for you gave a sense of security, a strength of will not easily defeated. Maybe McKay had a better chance of surviving than he'd originally thought.

oOo

The next three weeks passed in slow motion. Teyla was released to her quarters after a couple of days. Sheppard steadily improved once Beckett sewed his shoulder up a second time, and Ronon split his days helping Teyla get around and fetching things for Sheppard. He'd never seen people work so hard to get well; most soldiers he'd dealt with milked injuries for all they were worth. Once he was released, Sheppard lifted weights with his good arm and walked for hours. After the shoulder sling was removed, the three of them spent long hours in the gym practicing range of motion and stretching exercises.

One evening, Teyla headed to the mainland to celebrate the end of planting with her people, leaving him and Sheppard alone in the gym. They ran through their usual stretches and began on forms, some Satedan and some Athosian. Sheppard was sweat-soaked, grimacing in pain by the time they finished the fourth one.

"Let's take a break," Ronon suggested, mindful of Beckett's request to not let Sheppard push too hard.

"Can't," Sheppard panted. "Got three more to go." He set his feet in stance and hissed as he pulled his right hand to his ear to start the fifth form.

Shrugging, Ronon grabbed a water bottle and took a seat on the bench. "Suit yourself."

"Giving up?" Circle with the left hand, bend knees and step right over left.

"Nope, just watching you do it wrong."

"Then why don't you show me?" Spin, kick with left foot, punch with right arm. Sheppard gasped when his right arm extended fully, breaking form.

"That's why. Your body isn't ready yet. Stop pushing it."

Sagging slightly, Sheppard snatched a bottle and parked himself on the bench too. "I have to. The Daedalus is due in a couple of days. I have to be ready."

Ronon watched him out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps it was the pain or the fatigue, but whatever the reason, Sheppard's face was completely transparent. So determined. And afraid.

"I don't get it."

"What?"

"The two of you have barely spoken the past few weeks yet you're killing yourself trying to get back in shape to go get him. You've got a lot of soldiers here who can do it."

Sheppard leaned back and closed his eyes. "McKay is my responsibility."

"He betrayed your trust."

One eye opened. "And you think that's unforgivable?"

"You don't?"

"He made an error in judgment, let his ego get ahead of his commonsense. While I may still have reservations about trusting him in a similar situation, that's no reason to give up on him or toss him off the team. He's human; he made a mistake."

"He destroyed a solar system."

"And I woke up the Wraith." Sheppard sat upright with a sigh. "I didn't do it on purpose, and while I still wouldn't leave our people in enemy hands, I would make a few better choices if I'd known then what I know now. McKay had a hard lesson to learn, but he'll bounce back." Swallowing the rest of the water, Sheppard pushed to his feet. "Now, why don't you show me number five?"

Ronon joined him, correcting his stance and shoulder position, and together they moved silently through five, six and seven. He wondered if he would ever understand Sheppard and his unwavering loyalty, a loyalty Ronon hoped extended to him as well. For the first time in a long time, the tightness in his chest eased. Joining Sheppard's team had been a good decision.

oOo

On the day the Daedalus arrived, they were gearing up in the ready room when Beckett walked in.

"And what do you two think you're doing?"

Sheppard never paused. "We're going, Doc."

"You are in no condition-"

"I'm not leaving the ship." Sheppard checked the ammo in his Glock and tucked an extra clip in his vest. "They'll recognize us. Lorne's beaming down to the planet to get McKay."

"Then why all the gear and weapons?"

"Because I'm not taking any chances." Sheppard grabbed a radio then faced Beckett. "Rodney's been down there, alone, for three weeks. I have to go."

"As do I," Teyla murmured. "Please do not try to stop us."

Beckett reached for a vest and gun. "Let's go then."

oOo

The longest part of the mission was waiting for Lorne's signal. By the time they got McKay off the sickbay floor and into a bed, the Daedalus had reached Atlantis. Beaming directly to the infirmary, Beckett rushed McKay to a secluded spot while Sheppard paced and Teyla withdrew into herself.

A few minutes later Weir and Zelenka joined them. Teyla scooted over to allow Weir to sit next to her on the bed, and Zelenka, laptop in hand, pulled a chair up. Ronon slouched against a wall to observe. The level of concern they had for McKay still surprised him. The women whispered quietly, but their eyes never left the curtained area where Beckett had hidden McKay. Zelenka worked steadily but glanced in the same direction on a regular basis. Sheppard stood by himself, arms crossed and shoulders taut with tension, completely devoid of his usual casualness.

When the curtain rustled and Beckett emerged, Sheppard shot forward. "How is he, Doc?"

"Overall, in better shape than I thought we'd find him in. He's a little malnourished, and fluid has built up in his lungs which is causing a fever and that hacking cough you hear. I've started him on antibiotics and oxygen." Beckett scrubbed a hand over his face. "It will take some time, but he should recover fully."

"May we see him, Doctor?" Teyla asked.

"For a minute. He's in and out of consciousness; I doubt he'll remember anything you say." Beckett speared Teyla and Sheppard with a look. "Then I want the two of you to rest. Your bodies are still recovering, and I don't want to take any chances."

The mutinous expression on Sheppard's face spurred Ronon forward. "Don't worry, Doc. I'll make sure they get some rest."

As the group gathered around McKay's bed, Sheppard whispered, "What are you planning to do? Stun me?"

"Don't tempt me." He arched a brow. "Beckett didn't say where you had to rest, did he?"

Sheppard's smile almost reached his eyes. "As a matter of fact, he didn't."

"Lots of beds in this place."

Ronon grinned at Sheppard's chuckle as Weir squeezed McKay's arm and murmured a welcome home. Zelenka updated him at breakneck speed on ongoing projects. Teyla gathered his hand in hers and simply held it. Sheppard gripped his shoulder tightly, reminding him he was home. Ronon stood out of their way and tried to not be jealous.

When Sheppard began to waver on his feet, Ronon guided him to the nearest bed. "Don't worry. I'll watch over McKay."

Sheppard nodded wearily and sank into the pillow. "Thanks, Big Guy. I know you will."

Ronon waited until Sheppard's breathing evened out into sleep before turning back to McKay. The flush of fever was the only color he had, and a sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead even in the dim night cycle lighting. Teyla stroked the back of his hand as he twitched and muttered incoherently.

"You OK?" Ronon asked.

"I am fine. I see Col. Sheppard's trust in you has not diminished."

"Can't do a lot of damage here."

She smiled. "If the colonel did not trust you, it would not matter where you were."

McKay jerked, his breath catching. "Sorry. So sorry. Please don't leave me. Please." The words dissolved into a strangling cough.

"Thought you said they don't leave their people behind."

"They do not," Teyla answered. "It is the fever talking."

"I've heard fever talk many times. It's usually when men are the most honest. Does he know that rule?"

"Of course. Col. Sheppard has said it many times."

"Guess he doesn't know it applies to him too."

Frowning, she pulled her hand from McKay's and reached for a damp cloth. When she broke contact, Rodney reached out blindly.

"I deserve it. Guilty. Don't tell Jeannie what I did."

"Shhhhhh," Teyla soothed as she wiped his face with the cloth. "You are safe." She glanced at Ronon. "Do you think he really believes we left him on purpose?"

"Maybe. Who's Jeannie?"

"Perhaps his sister? He mentioned he had one."

"Sorry, Sheppard," McKay mumbled. "Know you hate me. Screwed up again. Can't do anything right anymore."

"God, McKay."

Ronon caught Sheppard's eyes glittering in the light. "He's delirious."

"I noticed. Rodney would never consciously say that out loud."

Teyla dipped the cloth in the cool water again and placed it on McKay's forehead. Holding his hand again, she quietly sang in the Ancestral tongue. McKay squirmed for a minute then settled with a sigh.

"What do you want to do?"

Sheppard ran his fingers through his hair as he failed to stifle a yawn. "Don't let him know we heard. Reassure him he's safe and that we'd never abandon him. Find a way to fight the insecurity without feeding the ego." Eyes drifting closed, he jerked back to wakefulness then surrendered to sleep.

Ronon tugged the sheet over Sheppard, patting his shoulder gently. "You're safe, too."

Sheppard shifted with a grunt and slipped further into sleep.

When Ronon turned, he found Teyla slumped over McKay's bed, his hand still in hers. Disentangling them, he carried her to the next bed and tucked her in.

"Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Didn't mean to. Don't be mad."

Moving to McKay's side, he gripped the man's forearm tightly. "You're safe, Rodney. You're home."

"Ron'n? Came for me?"

"Yep. We don't leave our people behind, remember?"

"Oh." McKay curled toward the touch and grew still.

Without withdrawing his hand, Ronon drew the chair closer and sprawled in it. To watch over his team. And to wait.

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

Joseph Campbell


Leesa's fic can be found at leesaperrie./AtlantisStoryPages/AtlPrison1.html. Written for the sheppardhc remix challenge. Thanks to kristen999 for the wonderful beta. She made everything better. All faults are mine.