Spoilers: "The Hive"
Summary: Addictions, religious zealots, Dream Machines and Wraith! Ronon hasn't found a home in Atlantis, yet. And perhaps he never will. This Ronon-centric story, with a heavy McKay B-plot, takes place just after mid-Season 2 and includes lots of team goodness and whump to go around.
My deepest thanks to Aslowhite for her brilliant beta. I could not have completed this story without her talent, her insight into these wonderful characters and her perpetual encouragement.
A.N.: Please note that this story is completely written. I will attempt to post a new chapter every other day after my final edits are complete. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Thanks!
Part I: Dark Secrets
Ronon wants one. He wants one right now. Elizabeth talks, so he looks at her. McKay replies, so Ronon looks at him. But he's not really seeing them, or hearing them, either.
A few pods remain, hidden in his quarters. His mood elevates at the thought of walking in there, opening the shades to let the sunlight in, opening the windows as well, and grinding a pod between his teeth.
When the effects are peaking, Ronon forgets that he isn't living on land anymore.
When they're peaking is the only time that his memories are not tainted with despair.
The meeting ends. Ronon rises and tries to leave without too much rush, as if has no place in particular to go.
Sheppard's there, wanting to spar. "'Fraid I'll whip your ass this time?"
Sheppard's kidding, of course. Ronon has to remember that.
"You have no idea," he replies. "Not right now."
"How about a run?"
McKay's walking in front of them, poking at his datapad, taking his time. Ronon doesn't mean to but he can't help himself. He shoulders McKay aside with a terse apology and strides away from his teammates.
It's in his quarters, calling to him. Right turn, down the stairs, left turn. Thirty paces. He's in front of his door. The door opens. He's ten feet away, five feet. He's there, holding the small, black thing in his hand.
He places the pod in his mouth and bites down. Sweet bliss. Glorious satiety. His craving is so strong that he wants another before finishing the first. They are precious, though. Too precious to waste like that.
Lying on his bed, watching memories as they flood in around him, Ronon thinks that he is happy.
After a couple of hours, his delight fades. He can't focus, his limbs shake with chills and then fiery tingles. He doesn't take very much Happy, so he has yet to feel the brunt of heavy withdrawal and believes that he never will. Yet the compulsion hangs on him. Worst is the darkness, the mindlessness of being alive for one thing, which builds until he is nothing else but this want.
The last time he ran out, Ronon made deals with the gods, promised to forgo food and water and air and sleep if he could have just one, just one, just one.
They are hidden inside a cloth in a dusty corner under his bed. Only eight remain. Soon he will leave on another mission. Someone somewhere will surely have a few pods to barter. Ronon brings things to trade, tucks them here and there about himself. Last time, he traded a flashlight. This time he's procured a ballpoint pen, which someone may find useful. Worth at least fifteen pods, which will last a couple of weeks.
Although the botanical name for pods varies from planet to planet, they are known galaxy-wide as "Happy." Wild-grown pods produce a mild euphoria. However, the ones cultivated on the Ruined Planet, where the Vis live, are legendary for their strength.
In the beginning of his need, Ronon tested himself. Shots hit their intended targets. Hand-to-hand showed him consistently victorious. He was still better at defending himself than anyone else in the city.
But that was early on, before he lost himself.
"You still want it?"
"Why do you ask?" McKay's fingers pause above his laptop.
The scientist says, "Teyla took the enzyme, too."
"You took a whole lot."
"And it almost killed me."
"You still want it sometimes?" Ronon repeats.
McKay isn't looking at Ronon, but the Satedan is familiar enough with him to know his face is pinched with anxiety.
"Only under extreme circumstances," McKay answers quickly, then turns back to his work, subject closed.
So it's not just Ronon. This makes him feel a little better.
McKay removes a headset from its cradle. Ronon is vaguely aware that since locating it in the depths of Atlantis's vast laboratories, McKay's been working to decipher the strange hat's mysteries. Its dome-like shape indicates that it affects the brain somehow.
"What is that?" Ronon inquires, his voice causing McKay's hands to fumble.
"Shhhh! Anything could happen if I dropped this!"
Ronon doesn't believe that a little thing with wires all over it could be the least bit dangerous. It has no blinking lights, doesn't even hum.
After making a small adjustment to one of the electrodes, McKay lays down the headset and looks over at his laptop.
"The database is vague, but I think it's supposed to record dreams. See this?" He points to the screen, at lines and letters that mean nothing to the Satedan. "The user wears the headset while sleeping. Unlike an electroencephalogram, the device captures brain activity in a visual rather than numerical format, then stores it in a repository located near where the device was found. It's possible that, using an interface connector, I can download the dreams in digital format to any computer in Atlantis. Neat, huh?"
"Imagine kicking back and watching your dreams like you would a TV show."
"I don't watch TV."
Rodney looks up. "Well, you would if you were on Earth. Probably SportsNet with a beer in one hand and a bowl of chips in the other."
"Watching TV's a waste of time. So's watching dreams."
Ignoring the Runner's jab, he says. "Well, I'm sure you have much more important things to do, like hitting punching bags and gulping down protein shakes. So why don't you go and do that?"
Ronon wishes he felt like working out. If the pods aren't affecting him, and he doesn't think that they are, then he must be coming down with something. His fingers tingle at the thought of the pods, safe in their dark corner.
Ronon leaves the lab. His motivation to pummel sandbags has declined recently. The pods aren't to blame. They can't be.
McKay doesn't have to see her to know that Teyla Emmagen stands watching him just outside the entrance to his lab. She is just beginning to regain her strength. Each day, after visiting with Sheppard in the infirmary, she comes to the lab for a few minutes. Absorbed in his work, Rodney removes some snack wrappers and empty coffee cups from his workspace but doesn't look up as Teyla approaches.
She walks slowly, trying to minimize her limping waddle.
"Ronon said you had a new toy. This is you?" she asks.
On Rodney's laptop monitor, blurred images vaguely resembling people shift from side to side, as if captured on an out-of-focus hand-held movie camera.
"Actually, I think it's my father." He points to what might be a person's midsection. "He's wearing a sweater under his suit jacket. Very Dad-like."
The thing that might be a person disappears from the screen, replaced by a swatch of blue and yellow.
"That's Mom," Rodney explains.
Teyla's places a hand on the table to steady herself. Rodney, noticing, pulls over a stool.
"Your leg's giving out, again. Sit," he says.
Teyla says, "I am fine," but takes the stool that he offers.
"You shouldn't be up," he says, handing her a water bottle.
Teyla unscrews the top and drinks. "I grew bored lying about. How are you feeling?"
McKay absently touches his head.
"Perhaps I could help you with this…thing," she offers.
"You can't help much, unless you've developed a sudden interest in electrical engineering."
She drinks more water. "Then I will help by ensuring that you work when you are able and rest when you must."
Rodney says, "I'm not tired," even though he is.
He works for a while longer, idly talking to himself as much as to Teyla about the fuzzy pictures, until he notices her grasping the edge of his worktable to keep from falling over.
"I'll call Carson," he says, nervously reaching for his radio.
"Do not!" she says, raising a hand to stop him. "He is busy with other things. I will return to my room"
Rodney walks Teyla to her quarters, stopping when she does in the passageways to rest. The healing laceration to the side of his head is still red and sore, but the scar will show only a little past his hairline.
It seems very awkward and it seems just about right when Teyla gently turns his head to view the site of his injury. Her puzzled expression reveals that she is trying to recall what happened to them that day.
"What did you tell Dr. Weir?" she asks.
"Only what little I remember. Once Sheppard recovers, he might be able to fill in the gaps."
John Sheppard has only just opened his eyes and still can't utter a single recognizable word, although all of the vowels and a few consonants have come back.
Teyla rubs her forehead, betraying frustration as well as fatigue. Rodney would just as soon not reminisce until he's well enough to handle it.
"We almost died, Teyla. All of us. Ronon, too. Big guy might be scary, but I'm sure it wasn't his fault," Rodney says, rubbing his hands, betraying his uncertainty.
She appears to accept this for now. They are much too close to the events to have any real clarity about them. They have arrived at Teyla's quarters and, for all of her bravado, the woman ought not to be up doing anything right now.
"See ya," he says, as Teyla's door closes behind her.
Now that Teyla's out of his hair, McKay returns to his lab and closes the door. Perhaps later he'll stick a sign on it that says "Go away!"
Trying to recalibrate the interface module to sharpen the data transfer from the Dream Machine, as he calls it, is high-density work requiring absolute concentration.
Only Ronon made it back from their last mission unharmed. McKay's memories of what happened are as scattered as Teyla's. Sheppard can't speak, and Ronon won't. The swirling images captured so far by the Dream Machine fascinate him. Answers to Elizabeth's questions and their own about what happened that night could be just a good night's sleep away.
"Oh!" he cries, bolting upright in his bed. The headset falls askew over his eyes. Disoriented, Rodney whips it off and takes deep breaths to calm the heartbeats banging in his ears. Frightening though it may have been, this particular nightmare is now successfully captured on a playback disk.
With shaking hands, Rodney attaches the headset to the playback module, then connects the module to his laptop. He bathes and dresses as the transfer takes place.
A few minutes later, an on-screen pop-up window reads "Transfer Complete."
As he reaches to disconnect the headset from the playback module, Radek Zelenka buzzes in over his radio.
"Busy," McKay replies.
"We need to discuss several projects this morning, Rodney."
"Busy!" he repeats.
"When can we…"
"When I'm not busy." He removes his radio. Sitting on his bed, laptop on the mattress beside him, McKay holds his hands together tightly as if in prayer before releasing a single index finger to press the "Enter" button.
"Keep telling yourself 'It's only a dream'."
His dream remembers with pristine clarity Rodney's version of the events that shook them all to the core.
He straps on his wristwatch, looks at himself in the bathroom mirror, preparing to leave on a simple exploratory mission. Then he's in the gateroom and Teyla appears to his right. She pats Ronon's belly lightly and says, "You are getting fat!"
Ronon steps away from Teyla and looks down at himself.
Another voice sounds in the room. "Cleared to go."
He's in the wormhole, then enters a new and different world.
Rocks, trees, including some with little yellow fruits on them. The gate stands in a treed area, unusual but not terribly so. He wishes more gates had trees in front of them; the better to smash darts into.
Evidence of occupation: A shallow, open well that mirrors Rodney's face when he looks down into it. A line of smoke rising into the windless sky. Sheppard and Teyla creep catlike ahead of him. Ronon brings up the rear, but he is distant, not his usual blanketing presence.
As they round a hillside, Sheppard signals to halt. He and Teyla make themselves small close to the ground. McKay does the same. Scuttling a little closer, he sees Wraith. Humans and Wraith together, conversing, exchanging items…a sight as incongruous as those amusing paintings he's seen of dogs playing cards. Three humans and three Wraith, sitting beside a friendly campfire. This doesn't happen, and yet it has.
The playback has no audio, so Rodney's returning memories fill in the missing pieces.
The sound--a snap, like a ripe apple being pulled from the tree. The Wraith look up. The three humans with them follow their gaze. McKay feels naked, completely exposed. In a flash Teyla pulls at him, jerks him back the way they'd come. A stunner rips into a tree beside him, sending splinters into his head as he turns away. Teyla's tiny hand grips his wrist with exceptional strength.
Sheppard shouts, "Where the hell's Ronon!"
Blood runs down McKay's forehead, blinding him as it streams into his eyes. He pulls salty droplets of it into his mouth as he gasps for breath on the run.
Sheppard turns to shoot and takes a hit to the shoulder and another to the gut, not bursts from a stunner but projectiles. He twists from the impact, begins to fall as Ronon darts in from the woods and catches his comrade before he hits the ground.
But Ronon's slower than usual, and Teyla pulls McKay past him. He hears Ronon panting, breath whistling between his teeth as he hoists Sheppard onto his shoulders.
The dream sends Rodney back to the gateroom before this mission. Teyla pats Ronon's stomach. "You are getting fat!" She pats his stomach again. "…getting fat!"
The dream returns to its own present tense.
Teyla goes down as a heated length of metal slices through her calf, sending her sprawling with a cry of alarm and agony.
"Teyla, up!" Rodney pulls at her elbow with one hand, wipes blood out of his eyes with the other.
McKay wonders at the marvels of adrenalin for he runs and runs to the edge of his strength and then surges beyond that. He sees the gate through bleary eyes, longs for its welcoming glow. Ronon's firing his blaster, taking down one, two pursuing figures. Teyla's letting McKay drag her along, but she's gone quiet. McKay would be much less terrified if she were screaming her head off.
He dials. It's a complex journey home, first to one deserted world and then to another, then to Atlantis, still hidden in the galaxy.
They stumble through to PX7-something or other, stay long enough to dial another world and dial again for home. All the while, Ronon keeps Sheppard aloft on his broad shoulders.
"Where did you go?" Rodney demands, dialing one last time.
"I'm sorry," Ronon replies.
"Bad time to have to take a leak," he mutters.
"I got lost."
McKay jerks as the dream ends and his laptop screen goes blank. He feels almost retraumatized by watching that terrible night. He'd forgotten so much.
The horror that woke him that morning was not his recollection of Sheppard bleeding and going into respiratory failure from the toxic, needlelike ammunition fired into him. Nor was it Teyla's hitching breaths as the same poison raced through her system. What pulled McKay right out of his own nightmare was the Satedan's voice cracking as he offered his lame excuse:
"I got lost."
"I got lost."
"I got lost."