Not far…

Just a few more steps… one foot in front of the other. Only a few more steps…

The distance stretched before him. Pushing himself away from the crates, he blinked back the darkness that flickered at the edge of his consciousness, growling softly in frustration. Willing his feet to move, he concentrated on travelling the short distance to the next column of neatly stacked boxes.

He almost made it.

One foot didn't quite move far enough. Ronon overbalanced, reaching out toward the boxes, trying to steady himself as the world tilted… but the stack was further away than he thought. With nothing to support him, he crashed to the floor.

Pain exploded, expanding outward from the bullet lying deep in his belly. Darkness washed across his consciousness and he grunted softly, clenching his teeth, embracing the agony, instinct screaming that it was the only thing that would keep him lucid…

It had been a long time since he had bourn pain such as this…

No… he remembered. Not so long

He had endured pain akin to this the day he had first met those who had come from Atlantis, when the Doctor had removed the Wraith tracking device from his spine and freed him from a life of Running…

I'm going to be cutting very close to your spinal column here. If you were to flinch…

I won't flinch

He had been true to his word. He hadn't moved… not until the device had been secured. Then, to his dismay, he had passed out, his body failing him… As it was failing him now…

The floor was cold, sapping heat from his body.

Medical team to the south fork cargo hold! You have a man down…

Thalen, the consciousness that was currently residing in John Sheppard's body, had called for help… The words echoed in Ronon's memory but conditioning, born of seven years evading the Wraith, left him unable to simply lie and wait to be rescued: pushing him to move.

He had already been fooled by Thalen. The soldier had tricked him into believing he was Sheppard… Ronon had no assurance that Thalen's call for help hadn't also been a trick and that Thalen had simply left him to die…

Not Sheppard, no. But I tell you what: he's screaming in my head right now like you wouldn't believe.

Perhaps Sheppard had forced Thalen to make the call… but he couldn't take that chance.

Baring his teeth, Ronon took a deep breath. Growling against the pain he heaved himself up onto his knees, fighting for purchase on the floor that was wet with his own blood. The movement left him dizzy. He blinked, trying to clear his vision, abandoning the attempt to get to his feet, moving slowly forward on his hands and knees.

ooOOoo

Pain dragged him up from unconsciousness, flaring each time he breathed. He lay for a time, floating in semi-awareness, trying to remember where he was, trying to remember what had happened.

He was cold, shivering…

Someone was moaning… Was it him?

He fought down frustration, forcing himself to stay calm, trying to form rational, coherent thought…

The floor beneath him was smooth and cool… A ship? It wasn't a Wraith ship… It didn't smell like a Wraith ship… He would never forget that stench…

"…you can take care of yourself in a fight; you hate the Wraith as much as we do… Okay, maybe more than we do…"

Sheppard… A man called Sheppard had said those words…

John Sheppard

Eyes fluttering open, Ronon tried to focus in the semi-darkness… Atlantis… He was in the city of Atlantis…

He had been shot… in the gut… How long ago? His shivering body told him that it had been too long. He was going into shock. If he didn't start moving he was going to die where he was lying.

Sheer stubborn determination was the only thing that got him to his feet. Moaning against the pain that ripped through him, he stood, swaying, bent half over, clutching at his belly. For a long moment he concentrated simply on trying to breathe then, lifting his head, he fixed his gaze on the exit, now only a few feet away, and shuffled forward a step… then another…

This was not how he had envisioned dying… Not this close to help… Not this close to… friends...

In the few months since Dr Beckett had pulled the tracking device from his back, he had lived more than he had done since the Wraith had devastated his planet.

He had been hunted for seven years, surviving on his wits, making mistakes that had killed others but left him existing in a nightmare of a half life… Seven years of evasion and pain and hatred and vengeance…

Ronon, you need to trust us.

It hadn't been as hard as he had thought… John Sheppard's easy authority had impressed the Specialist in him… Ronon Dex was, first and foremost, a soldier who was at home following orders. Seven years of evading the Wraith had tempered that with strong-minded independence, but Sheppard was a man from whom Ronon could take orders… most of the time.

And Teyla… Strong, compassionate and as skilled as any he had seen in hand to hand combat. The older sister he had never had: who had taken care of him when he had drunk too much ale that night on Ballkan when he had discovered that so many of his people had survived; who had stood at his back, ready to fight with him on the following day, even though he had betrayed her friendship and used her to kill Kell…

And McKay… Brilliant, infuriating, courageous, gutless Rodney… who amused him as much as he irritated him…

There were others here who had touched his life too, bringing laughter and delight and respect and annoyance and all the things that he had forgotten in the preceding seven year, because it had never been safe for him to stay in one place this long before…

He still woke in a cold sweat some nights, dreams twisted by images of things he had witnessed. Sometimes he even woke screaming… but those nights were becoming fewer, so much so that he had actually enjoyed six hours solid sleep for the first time since Sateda had been ravaged…

He could have found happiness here, or some semblance of it…

Ronon took a final step, reaching out to steady himself against the doorway. His strength deserted him and he sank to his knees, sliding down the wall, toppling sideways onto the floor, too weak to even clench his jaw against the agony that flared through him.

Whimpering, he tried to fight the darkness that pressed in; knowing that the relief and the comfort that it promised was falsehood… A prelude to death…

From far away he heard a noise further down the corridor. Someone called, "There!"

Another voice announced, "Sir? We've found the man down. It's Dex. He's been shot."

He was aware of people around him. Cool, gentle hands touched his face, "Ronon! Ronon, can you hear me?"

He tried to open his eyes to look at those who had come for him. He tried to respond, but he was too tired… The darkness was too strong and he no longer had the strength to fight it. Pain flared as they eased him away from the wall and he let go, dropping down into painless oblivion.

ooOOoo

Someone was talking, the voices so low and hushed that he found himself wondering who was dying. Panic stabbed through him as he realised it might be him. Defiant, he forced his eyes open, blinking in the light.

"Ronon…?"

Vision swimming, he finally focussed on the broadly smiling face of Teyla Emmagan. "It is good to see you, again," she told him.

He opened his mouth to try to respond but his throat and mouth were too dry. He swallowed.

"You had us worried there for a while," another voice informed him.

He turned his head, looking at Rodney McKay.

That Teyla had been concerned for his wellbeing didn't surprise him. They had an understanding between each other – as any older sister does for a younger brother.

Rodney, however, was a different story. The brilliant but infuriating Doctor was the last person Ronon had expected to see, yet here he was…

You had us worried

Emotion swamped Ronon. He swallowed down the painful lump in his throat.

"However, Doctor Beckett is most pleased with your progress," Teyla was continuing. "You are healing well."

Ronon swallowed again, croaking weakly, "Sheppard?"

"Colonel Sheppard is also recovering," Teyla assured him. "As is Elizabeth Weir…"

"Although, it got pretty interesting at the end," Rodney put in. "Teyla might have had to blow Sheppard away if it hadn't been for my timely intervention in breaking and over-riding Phebus' code…"

Ronon saw the flat look that Teyla shot Rodney. He started to chuckle, then groaned softly at the wave of pain that swept through him.

Teyla's hand tightened protectively on his arm, "We should go… You should rest…"

"No…" The word was said more quickly than he would have liked, but the thought of being left alone in this world of machines and tubes and medical equipment set him on edge.

"I…" he went on. "I'd… like to hear… what… happened…"

Rodney wasn't good with people. He was awkward and inhibited and more at home with computers and electronics than people… But he had seen the flash of terror in Ronon's eyes when Teyla had suggested that they leave. Common sense had told him that he had misinterpreted it, that Ronon couldn't possibly be afraid, that Ronon was afraid of nothing…

Except that he had then heard the slight edge of panic in Ronon's voice.

Instinct over-rode common sense. "Well… technically I'm off duty…"

The statement was out of Rodney's mouth almost before he'd realised it. He floundered for a brief moment as both Teyla and Ronon looked at him.

"I… could… fill you in…" he finished.

Teyla quirked an eyebrow, surprised by Rodney's offer… and yet, somehow, not surprised at all.

The two men were opposite ends of the same spectrum. Rodney was a technical genius but violence terrified him; Ronon was a skilled and accomplished fighter but had little need of non-combatant technology. Both of them, however, had courage, both were infuriatingly obstinate, both were experts in their fields…

And both of them were alone…

Teyla had had a choice and had chosen to remain on Atlantis…

John, Aiden, Rodney and she had been a team. More than that, they had become like family to her. Losing Aiden to a Wraith Dart, the not knowing if he was alive or dead, had affected her deeply…

When they had encountered Ronon, she had immediately seen the strength he possessed, but she had also seen the vulnerability and the loneliness that sometimes made him appear abrupt and cold. His decision to stay on Atlantis had lightened her heart a little. More than that, he too had become family to her - the little brother she had never had…

Was it possible that Rodney also saw Ronon as family? Did he also see Ronon as a younger brother?

Quashing a small smile, Teyla turned back to Ronon, telling him, "I, however, have duties to which I must attend…"

Smiling, squeezing the big soldier's arm again, she went on, "It is good to see you awake…"

Ronon nodded, his throat too hoarse to allow anything more. Teyla turned, nodding to Rodney before heading out of the door.

"So?" Rodney began, rubbing his hands together before dragging a chair over towards Ronon's bed. "Where do you want me to start? From where you and Teyla went after Sheppard and Weir, or from where I managed to get the power back and stop Phebus?"

"After…" Ronon rasped, "I was… shot…"

Rodney settled himself in the chair before beginning, "Right! Well… I was working on trying to restore power back to the city when the call came in, you know, about the man down… Which was you, of course… Although, I didn't actually hear the call itself, obviously. I was in the Power Room. Colonel Caldwell got the call in the Control Room…"

Ronon closed his eyes, listening to the rapid, accurate-if-long-winded techno-babble-lilt of Rodney's voice as he described everything that had happened since Caldwell's men had gone looking for a missing soldier. Rodney's presence was reassuring, his voice a distraction from the sounds of the medical equipment surrounding them.

Floating in almost pain-free warmth, Ronon at first fought the darkness that pressed gently in on him. This time, however, the promise of comfort and healing was not false or insincere. It beckoned to him and, safe in the knowledge that he was no longer alone, that for the first time in seven years he could allow himself to be looked after without fear of repercussion, Ronon slowly gave himself up to the luxury of its release.

Rodney continued his explanation of the events leading up to the apprehension of Elizabeth Weir and John Sheppard until he was sure that the big Satedan had fallen asleep. Only then did he stop, stifling a yawn and rubbing a hand across his face.

"Could have sworn Caldwell ordered you to get some sleep," a voice commented from the door.

Rodney turned, looking at the figure of John Sheppard standing in the doorway. "Technically," Rodney pointed out, "I'm a civilian and Caldwell has no jurisdiction over me… How's Elizabeth?" he went on.

"Awake and feeling more than a little sheepish, a bit like me…" John told him, walking towards him. "And concerned about Ronon."

"Excuse me, but this is a medical facility, not a recreation room!" Carson Beckett announced from the door. "Out!" he went on, turning and indicating the door. "Both of you!"

John opened his mouth to protest, but Carson interrupted, "Colonel Sheppard, I haven't yet given you clearance to get out of bed. And as for you, Rodney, you look fit to drop. Sleep! Now! Before I sign you unfit for duty and confine you to quarters!"

John looked at Rodney, rolling his eyes before meekly trotting out of the room and back to his bed in the medical bay. Rodney followed him, opening his mouth to make a comment to Carson, who simply quirked and eyebrow, daring him to speak.

Rodney shut his mouth, walking past him, saying nothing.

Grinning at the retreating backs of the two men, Carson crossed his arms. It wasn't often that he got the last word with argumentative, genius friend. Added to that, Ronon was healing well and both Elizabeth and Colonel Sheppard were recovering from their ordeal with no apparent after-effects.

Still grinning, Carson wandered back to finish his cooling cup of coffee. This, he decided, was going to be a good day.