Part II, Chapter 12
Rodney was correct: Ninety-nine percent of good fortune is pure coincidence. Whether shaped by the gods or the Ancestors or the Divine One, nothing matters save for its undeniable usefulness.
When the gate activates, none other than Carson Beckett is present to witness it.
A second later, what looks like the bottom of a moonbounce barrels through the wormhole, followed immediately by Ronon Dex, who lands like a rock on the gateroom floor. The moonbounce, true to its description, hits the staircase, changes direction, smacks into a wall, another wall and finally into the side of the stargate itself. Then, as if tired from playing, it falls to the floor in a broken heap.
For a moment, nobody moves, stunned by this incredible display. Then, as often happens, all hell breaks loose.
Ronon jerks awake to a cacophony of sound and movement. He sits up in too much of a hurry, spilling himself over onto the floor. Someone helps him back into bed. Moving to wipe a hand over his eyes, he clunks himself in the forehead with the stiff cast on his arm.
A nurse pushes him back. "One thing at a time," she mutters, then takes off. He looks about and notices bundles of blankets thrashing around on three other beds.
Beckett holds one of the blanket bundles still. "Forty milligrams diazepam for McKay," he says, and Ronon understands that this is just the beginning of their sorrow.
His eyes catch Beckett's and the doctor comes to Ronon's bedside.
"I used the counteragent for the needle you took in your hand."
Carson checks him quickly, clearly distracted by his other patients' anguished cries. "There's a small amount of tissue damage. You'll be uncoordinated for a while. Headache. Your arm will be in a cast for a couple of months. Really did a number on it."
"Blame the Master," Ronon says, looking over at the other beds.
"They're doing very poorly." The doctor answers Ronon's unasked question. "Teyla is especially ill."
"Go," Ronon tells him and Beckett leaves to tend to the others.
A technician brings in the Dream Machine. He attaches the headpiece to Teyla and presses some buttons on the laptop used for playback. Teyla stops moving so much, saving her energy to concentrate on the things being fed into her.
Sheppard howls in delirium and arches his back against the pain rumbling through him. McKay lies face in hands, rocking and sniffling behind his fingers. Most frightening of all is Teyla, still as stone, surrounded by nurses, doctors and technicians, her small chest heaving under white sheets.
Ronon must find his clothing. He wears hospital scrubs and his leathers are nowhere in sight. "Doc!" He knows that Beckett is terribly busy, but this is important. "Doctor Beckett!"
His voice, dampened by the mist and the poisoned needles, barely rises above a whisper. Med techs hold Sheppard down by his shoulders and legs. "Restraints," the doctor tells another tech standing by.
Ronon grabs onto tables and IV poles to keep from falling as he rises to begin his search. A large, red biohazard bag lies in a corner, neatly knotted at the top. Cursing his fumbling fingers, Ronon attempts to undo the knot, before giving up and tearing the bag open. There they are, all bunched up together. His clothing, McKay's, everyone's, smelling of stale sweat and the lingering aroma of the stinking yellow mist.
Removing his trousers form the bag, Ronon blunders towards Carson, who busies himself with Sheppard's needs.
"Doc," he says, reaching into the pocket.
"Ronon, back into bed with ye…"
"No! Look!" From the pocket he pulls messy goop, crushed fruits that tumbled along with him when he hit the gateroom floor. He brings up a handful of slime, brings it close enough so that the doctor can see what lies within. Pods. Hundreds of them.
For a moment, Carson looks disgusted. Then a light of recognition goes off before his face darkens, again.
"It's not a good idea…"
"You have to. Look at Teyla…Sheppard…Just one." And he picks out a pod and wipes it dry on his scrubs as Carson shakes his head disapprovingly.
With a feral cry, Teyla throws the headset onto the floor and attempts to yank out her IV. A tech reaches for her, but she bats his hands away. "Do not touch me! My skin is burning!"
Carson moves to see to her, but Ronon stops him. "You have to."
"The headset…" Carson begins. "It worked for you."
"I needed Happy first, remember that?"
"I'm providing the input saved when you were given pods during your withdrawal."
"And how do you know that, son?"
"Just know. It's gotta be her own stuff, her own…" and he doesn't have the medical words to tell him. It's technical or it's common sense. Either way, Ronon puts a hand to his forehead because that's the only way he knows to say it—to show Carson what he means.
With a resigned sigh, Carson takes the pod and goes to Teyla's side. She is smaller than Sheppard and McKay but received the same massive dose of Happy that they did while in the saturation tube on the Ruined Planet. No wonder that she is beside herself and sicker than the others.
"Teyla, lass, I've got…" and he holds up the pod, barely able to look at her.
With lightning speed, Teyla snatches the pod from him and places it in her mouth, chewing exaggeratedly to get all of the potion out of it. The infirmary stills; nurses and techs and even the patients seem to be holding their breaths, waiting for Teyla to be at peace.
"Another," she says, petulant and demanding.
No one moves.
"Another!" She shouts this time, clenching her fists like a child denied a second cookie. "I know that you have many, Ronon. You want to keep them for yourself!"
Ronon takes another pod from the pulp, but Beckett stops him. "It's not working for her."
"Then give her another."
"Ronon!" Teyla practically screams at him. "Give me one now!"
"What about them?" Carson says, looking at Sheppard's secured limbs straining against their bindings, at McKay, who has curled into a tight ball and presses his face into his pillow as if to bury himself.
"Teyla's the worst. She goes first."
For a moment, the doctor fiddles uncertainly with his stethoscope, unaware that Ronon intends to take down anyone who tries to stop him.
It doesn't come to that.
"Put her out. One milligram Versed," he tells the tech standing by Teyla's bed. Then he takes the pod from Ronon's hand, walks over and gives it to her himself.
Teyla hears Rodney's hiccupping sobs and Carson's futile attempts to calm him. Even with her eyes closed, she sees McKay struggling nearby and adds this to her dreams as Happy and Versed work through her.
"Do not cry," she says, placing her hand over his heart.
His eyes focus on her, pleading.
"S-stay," he says, stumbling on this single word.
"I will help you. Trust me." And even though she is dreaming, Teyla closes her eyes and presses her hand harder, not like a Wraith taking, but pushing her will into him, making a warm spot grow within.
The scientist, this friend who knows her well, now, falls into a gentle sleep as his heartbeats slow under her hand.
Next to Rodney, John whips to and fro, cursing at people coming to check him. His eyes shift as Teyla approaches, narrowing into that deep, calculating glare reserved for Kolya and Wraith and other heinous threats. John doesn't want to be coddled, wouldn't tolerate her trying. He resists everything Teyla brings to him, so she feeds him what he feeds her—surety, faith.
"All will be well," she tells him. "You are strong enough."
When all of the things curing her are removed—the Happy and the Versed and the headset, Teyla slides into wakefulness and looks around.
Rodney is wearing the headset, now. His body is tensed. On occasion, his fingers jerk or he speaks to the people he's dreaming about. Teyla watches him for a long time, until nurses make her get up and walk around, put food and water and tea in front of her. They hold out little cups with pills in them, which she swallows without question.
McKay's not hungry in the least, so he resists when determined hands attempt to open his mouth. He imagines Wraith forcing bits of people on him and the idea makes him gag.
"Hold him…" Carson says, and Rodney can't believe that his friend would let Wraith feed him people.
Ronon says, "He's strong when he wants to be."
"Always has been," Carson replies, with a hint of mirth.
Four pods are shoved into Rodney's mouth and, even though his eyes are closed, he senses people relaxing around him.
Dreams come almost immediately, with rich-hued colors swirling gaily in his mind. The headset is strapped onto him and Rodney feels the pull of upload upload upload, taking ideas and beauteous images and all the rest. He searches for something known, a place where he was happy, an event that brought him joy, but he can't find it.
Teyla places her hand on his chest. "I will help you," she says. "Trust me…"
He remembers the tube and, after that, how he and Teyla and Sheppard and Ronon left the Ruined Planet, the hovercraft careening around the gateroom. He feels Carson and other people pull him from the wrecked vehicle. He was so close to unconsciousness, no one would notice the scrape on the back of his hand, where a needle got him.
"I'm dead," he thinks. "The needle…"
"All will be well." Teyla's still there, running down into him from the headset, pouring herself into his bloodstream. She pushes her hand harder against him, and, even though it's only a dream, Rodney feels her fingers on his skin as if they were really there.
Sheppard groans nearby, the sound reaching Rodney through veils of pleasure and joy and terror. The dream Teyla looks over at the Colonel. Gifts, colorful wrapped packages pile up around her, bearing golden tags with "Love," and "Strength" and "Courage" written on them.
"One from me," McKay says, pushing his gift into the upload. The package has no tag on it, just his name scrawled with a green Sharpie on the wrapping paper.
"What?" Carson asks him. "He's saying something."
"Dunno," Ronon says.
Teyla holds Rodney's gift under one arm and a gift of her own under the other. She walks to Sheppard's bedside, coming close even though he's agitated almost to the point of madness. The dream Sheppard struggles like a captured beast as Teyla approaches. Rodney tries to leave his bed, to stand beside Teyla so she won't be alon.
"Stay still." Ronon's voice relaxes him, as if someone has tucked a warm blanket around his shoulders.
"She needs me with her," Rodney says.
In the dream, Ronon lets him rise. McKay stands next to Teyla. He pulls in Ronon from outside his vision, until the large Runner is with them.
The headset is lifted away. McKay comes up out of Happy and the tranquilizers until he recognizes where he is. John trembles and sweats, even though he's wearing the headset and the pulp of four Happy pods lies on a tray near his bed. Carson's holding a stethoscope to the Colonel's chest, his brow creased with worry
"It's not working?" Rodney asks.
"Only just started," Carson replies, whipping his 'scope around his neck, quickly surveying the readouts on devices nearby.
"How long ago?"
"Your turn, Colonel," says Carson.
Versed has John under its spell, but he's been traveling nevertheless. He's gone to blackened, pathetic worlds from which he can't escape. McKay and Teyla and Ronon perish one by one, blinking out a moment away from rescue, leaving Sheppard to live on as a failed commander.
The pamphlet given to him by the shrieking musician blows by, its colorful pictures alive, moving, speaking the prayers written on its pages of the Master, the Divine One, and their blessings.
A hand on his shoulder brings reality back. Carson's got pods; the headset lies nearby.
"Don't…" John begins, as another spasm lances his gut. "I'm…better."
"No you're not, Colonel."
Sheppard closes his eyes to the doctor's worried expression. "Am."
"Your vital signs are abysmal. I'm sorry you have to go last, but Teyla and Rodney were sicker…" He readies the Dream Machine and the Happy, wipes the last fibrous strings off the pods' surfaces.
"No! I said don't!" The Master, the Divine One, the pamphlet with prayers in it, the woman singing in her wavering falsetto, all of these things wrap around him, protect him from the unknown future arcing away into the horizon. Were his hands not restrained, he would rip apart the Dream Machine headset.
"Stop it, Sheppard." Ronon pins John's shoulders to the bed with his hands and a potent stare. "Stay strong. Divine One doesn't exist."
Carson reapproaches now that John can't move much at all. "Aye, if anyone would know about that, it would be Ronon." He nods to an aide, who injects something into John's IV line that sedates him again.
John says, "It would be," as sleep descends. He feels the pods being placed in his mouth, feels Ronon's callused fingertips in his chin, helping him grind the Happy out of each rough capsule.
In the dream, John still walks the horrible, charred worlds that smell of burnt flesh. Glass vials break at his feet. The mist rises, enveloping him, cutting off his air supply.
"It's not real," Ronon says, as Sheppard takes heaving breaths, and stumbles around blindly, suffocating. "Put it on him now!"
"Ronon, he's going into respiratory arrest. I can't…"
"Doc…" Ronon growls.
John's scalp prickles at the headset is set in place. It catches in his unruly hair, pulling out strands on the top and sides of his head.
John is curled in the dust of the deserted farmyard, hands up to protect his face. He hears footsteps on the gravelly surface.
"Look up," says Teyla.
Sheppard shakes his head.
"The pods aren't working this time. He's not responding."
"They'll work, Doc."
Teyla says, "John, look at me!" her voice ten times larger than she is.
When the Colonel drops his hands and opens his eyes, the mist has cleared. Teyla smiles down at him and beyond her is blue, blue sky. McKay comes to stand beside her and when they touch him he feels them through the headset, pouring themselves into him like pure water.
"Come back," Ronon says in his ear.
All of them—his team—bring him their gifts. The pamphlet lands in his lap, filled with pictures of Atlantis. Instead of the spiked sun, a real sun arcs across the sky, bringing dawn and noon and, finally, a glorious sunset cast in magenta and purple.
The four of them stand on the west pier watching the colors fade into night.
"We're not gonna die?" Sheppard asks. "Or want it forever?"
"No. You'll get through it," Ronon replies.
Outside his dream, John hears Carson muttering, "He's talking in his sleep. Just like the others."
The Dream Machine feeds John their gifts, their faith in him. It's safe, comforting, and more real by far than the Master and the Divine One and the pictures on the flimsy pamphlet.
"They're green. See?" Carson Beckett holds a pod in his palm. Now that the slimy pulp has been removed and the seed dried out, it does, in fact, look green.
"Thought they were black." Ronon gets a twinge in his gut, but it feels more like sadness than need.
"The ripe ones are. You got these from a greenhouse, you say?" Ronon nods. "Well, that's why I had to use four times as many for the same effect as the ripe ones you're more familiar with."
"But they worked?"
"Bit by bit, yes." Beckett drops the pod into his pocket and, to his surprise, Ronon doesn't care about not having it.
The past few days have been appropriately grey, with rain pelting the city and a chilly wind blowing seabirds past the expansive windows. The Dream Machine has been handed--without info dumps or other delays--to Teyla and then to McKay and Sheppard, who were sent to their quarters to rest and pull themselves together. At first, Kate Heightmeyer had accompanied them, offering generous helpings of advice.
"Breathe through the cravings," she'd said. "Drink plenty of water and exercise when you can."
Teyla thanked her, McKay ignored her and Sheppard looked at her as if she'd lost her mind.
When the medical doctor and the shrink departed, Ronon always stayed behind for a minute to give his friends solid proof that it can be done.
"She means well," he told McKay one time.
The scientist poked at his datapad irritably. "She hasn't a clue what this is like."
"I do." When McKay looked up at him, Ronon said, "Maybe you should get out."
McKay's face reddened. "I'll go out when I'm ready."
"Got nothing to be ashamed of, McKay. Not even with the enzyme." Ronon said. "None of you's got anything to hide."
So when Ronon found Rodney in his lab the next day, he felt a small swell of satisfaction.
With some campaigning on Ronon's part, Teyla comes out of her room. She roams the hallways with the Satedan, going to Sheppard's quarters, to bring him back out into the world. Eventually the Colonel cheers up. He exercises to the point of exhaustion but Ronon knows that's not a bad thing at this point.
Finally, the Dream Machine is locked up for good and all of the disks put away with the hope that they will not be needed again.
Today the team has settled in the mess hall, still humbled by their experiences but gaining momentum in their flight from dependency. People stop by offering encouragement and anecdotes about their own private battles. The magazine articles Ronon read so long ago weren't kidding: Earth is a basket full of cravings.
When Elizabeth radios Ronon requesting he come to her office, he's not surprised at all. Before leaving the mess, he takes a final look at his friends.
Elizabeth's desk separates them, which Ronon prefers. Spread out before them are some of the immature pods, the green ones, that Ronon pocketed on Vis. He looks at the pods, painfully aware of Elizabeth watching him very carefully.
"Do you still want them?" She has always been direct, honest. Someone who deserves honesty in return.
"Can I trust you to leave them alone as long as you are with us?"
"You want me to stay?"
"Your team does. I do."
Ronon can't imagine a lifetime without Happy. But he can imagine today and tomorrow and the day after that. A good enough start.
"You can trust me," he replies.
"Otherwise…" She doesn't finish, which shows more respect for his intelligence than he thought she had.
"I got your back," he says, using the most perfect Earth phrase he's ever heard. And he means it, every word, and not just for today or the day after, either. Ronon walks to the door, but catches himself. "I'm sorry for the trouble I caused," he says. Then, because that's simply not enough, he adds, "Thank you."
He was sure she was going to give him the boot, doesn't know how these people from Earth survived their own evolution, with their second chances and third chances, sympathy and empathy and compassion and everything else.
So much time as passed since Ronon last wanted Happy, he forgets it meant so much to him. This is the closest he's ever come to absolute freedom. It would have never felt as light had he not known captivity for so long. Perhaps in this one small way, the Master was correct.
The things shown to him through the Dream Machine do not dissipate when his need for pods does. The sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings linger. Running through all of it is the surety of Sheppard's and Teyla's and McKay's faith in him, as if it were Happy, something to feed off when he needs it.
Rodney catches up with his teammates in the mess one day. He is encumbered by an equipment case and has a datapad strapped to his back.
"Coffee. Sugar." He races to the breakfast line and comes away with a packaged meal that smells of cinnamon and a large to-go cup. "Gotta run," he says, squeezing between Ronon and Sheppard. "We're setting up a remote sensing operation on the Mainland and I want to be home for dinner."
Sheppard says something to Rodney's retreating back, but Ronon's not listening. Teyla replies, but he doesn't hear that either. He's thinking about Rodney's words, "Home for dinner," and about the long journeys behind him and why he chose to survive them.
For this, decides. A place to rest and be at peace. He has finally reached it.
He is home. And he is happy.
A.N.--Many thanks to my awesome beta, Aslowhite. This story was heavily edited after her read and, thus, all mistakes are mine. I am grateful to those who followed Ronon's journey to its conclusion and hope it was satisfying in a non-addictive sort of way. And, finally, to my long-suffering family who put up with my ignoring them and their myriad needs week after week while writing this, I promise to get to that laundry just as soon as I feel like it.