Author: Sparkle Itamashii

Title: Sheppard's Boots

Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis and its characters, settings, and plot are NOT MINE. Please do not take, publicly archive, or otherwise redistribute this piece of fiction without my permission.

Sheppard's Boots

A polite twitter of beeps alerted him to the fact that someone was at his door. Ronon ignored it in favor of keeping his arm slung over his eyes, too comfortable on his bed to bother with anyone else. Either it was someone who didn't know him very well and they would leave or it was someone who did and they would come in anyway.

The door hissed open and Ronon's senses focused on the heavy noise of someone shifting from foot to foot in his doorway. He didn't have to look to know it was Sheppard. Of all the people on the base, Sheppard was the only one who always clomped around the smooth-floored base in those noisy, all-terrain boots, regardless of whether he was on duty or off it. On several occasions Ronon had even caught him sleeping in them, which had made him wonder when Sheppard had last taken a vacation. But despite what Ronon may have thought of them on any other day, he was glad it was John's boots in his doorway just now. He wasn't certain he could stomach dealing with anyone else.

"Hey," Sheppard said quietly, heel thumping the floor quietly as he bounced, not yet entering. "You still alive?"

Ronon's stomach sank. "How do you want me to answer that?" His throat was so tight it ached; hell, his whole body ached. Teyla had left him in his room well over three hours ago, alone with his thoughts. He had been winding himself tighter and tighter with every minute, with every memory of his former team mates that knifed through him.

Was he alive? Questionably. Certainly a part of him had died.

"Well," Sheppard said, and Ronon knew the apologetic scrunch his face made without looking. "You know what I mean. Teyla said I should come check on you." A pause. "Should I come check on you?"

Ronon made a noncommittal grunt and finally uncovered his eyes, staring at the ceiling until his blurry vision cleared. The door hissed closed behind Sheppard; he had taken the movement as an invitation to enter, finally. Ronon's room was still a mess. He'd replaced his painting on the wall but that was about as far as he had made it after Teyla left. The boxes which had contained the belongings he left behind had been upturned but their contents had not been moved since. It wasn't so much that he didn't know where they went, or even that he had no will to put them there… but every time he laid eyes on them guilt twisted his gut and made him sick.

Somehow he didn't think Dr. Keller would have a cure for that particular ailment.

So instead he had lain down and covered his eyes and cleared his mind. At least, he had been trying to do so but every inane thought he dissolved was replaced by a memory that only seemed to cut deeper. Hemi's deep, jovial laugh. Rakai's blood on his hands. Marika's soft hands on his cheeks as she told him she was proud. Ara, cold on the ground, her life a crimson pool around her. Tyre, the word family falling from his lips to Ronon's heart.

Tyre, running from him, running to the Wraith, forsaking all that Ronon had sacrificed for him; for all of them.

Seven years of running, more of fighting for his life, searching for them… only to find that they had long since abandoned him. The weight of the feeling had torn his heart to pieces and left him tired and guilty. If only he had been there…

"It… it's good to have you back," Sheppard offered, leaning on the wall just inside the doorway. His bright blue eyes were shaded with concern as they traced over Ronon's tense form. "If you… ­are back, that is."

"I'm not leaving again," Ronon grumbled, sitting up to look at his commanding officer. "If that's what you're asking."

"You're damn right you're not," Sheppard said, eyes clearing as he unfolded his arms to point at Ronon. "You could have… we could…" he stopped, jaw clenching tightly against what he wanted to say.

"I know," Ronon responded quietly, dropping his gaze. And he did know. He could have been killed or worse; the Wraith had done terrible things to his team, his adopted family. To have one's life torn away and given back, repeatedly, dozens of times… He wondered how long he would have stood it before he asked for death. He wondered if Hemi and Marika had asked.

He wondered if they'd thought of him before they died; if they blamed him like he blamed himself.

"Ronon, I just…" he started. Those abominable boots clunked against the floor as he crossed the short distance between them. It felt damn good to hear them again.

"I shouldn't have left," Ronon interrupted, scooting until his back touched the wall. He slouched against it and watched John take a seat at the end of his bed, hands clasped. He didn't look at Ronon. "I know."

"Well that's just great," Sheppard said, in such a way that Ronon knew it wasn't very great at all. "But I need to know what happens next time."

"Next time?" His voice scratched in his throat.

"Yeah," Sheppard continued, as if he was making all the sense in the world. "You know." He waved a hand in a circular motion, never meeting Ronon's eyes. "The next time a Satedan you know appears and wants to whisk you away from me. Us. From us, from your team."

Ronon turned the thought over in his head, knowing the pause would make Sheppard nervous. Would he walk away again? No; there was no one left to walk away for. The only people who could have ever sparked the consideration were dead to him now. While he could not say that he did not care for them, he did not have a stronger bond to the couple hundred Satedans out there than he did with Sheppard's team. The remnants of his people had become a link to a past that only hurt to remember.

"There won't be a next time," he said simply at last, glancing up to see John staring at him intently.

"It wasn't your fault," John said quietly, catching and holding Ronon's gaze firmly. He seemed to know exactly what had been turning itself in circles in the Satedan's head. "Whatever happened."

Again Ronon's stomach turned. "If I had been there-"

"You'd have been in the same damn boat," John interjected sharply. "Whether they'd still have let you go as a Runner or killed you outright. Which-ever, you couldn't have saved them."

"I never had a chance to try," Ronon responded, temper flaring.

"And sulking now," John said evenly, still staring him in the eyes, fixing him with a look that said he damn well knew better. "Will that change it? Will that give you or them any better chance?"

"I'm not sulking," Ronon growled and John shifted ever so slightly at the end of the bed. Ronon would never hurt John and John knew it, but even that knowledge couldn't curb instinct.

John's heavy boots thudded on the floor as he tapped his feet in rhythm on the ground a couple of times before looking away from Ronon at last. For now he would let the subject drop. "You missed dinner," he offered, and Ronon accepted the escape.

"Did you miss me?" Ronon poked, stifling his smile as he watched Sheppard's form stiffen in indignation.

"You left me alone with Rodney," John lamented, eyes staring into the distance as though reliving the exaggerated horror. "And he was on about some new scanning system, the details of which-" here he turned to Ronon, as though it were somehow the Satedan's fault, "allowed him fifteen minutes of uninterruptible talk time."

Amusement flickered in Ronon's pale eyes; after all, he hadn't been the one forced to sit there without a plausible escape. "Now who's sulking?"

"Very funny," bit Sheppard sarcastically, though he was clearly amused. "Well," he said, clambering to his feet and patting his hands together once. "I've asked them to keep a plate warm for you, so when-ever you feel you'd like to grace the mess hall with your presence, it will be there waiting."

He turned to leave, but froze when Ronon spoke again. "Will you?"

"Will I what?" he asked, turning just enough to see Ronon from the corner of his eye.

"Be there waiting," Ronon rumbled simply, as if it should have been quite obvious.

John paused for a second, looking upward and making the sort of thoughtful face that said he wasn't really thinking about the question at all. "Yes," he said, taking one more glance back at Ronon with a devious smile. "But if you take too long, I'm going to eat your pudding. In fact," he said, brightening. "I might just anyway."

Ronon's scramble from the bed totaled what little order he'd brought to the room since his return but he didn't care. What mattered was that he would be there to fix it later, in the company of his friends and family; his true family now. He could not keep the happiness of that thought from becoming laughter as he sprinted with John, the familiar echo of Sheppard's heavy boots trailing down the hallways behind them.

It felt good to be home.

/End Sheppard's Boots/