It had been easy to hate them in the beginning…

Tyre and the others… They had turned. They had betrayed Sateda. They had betrayed him.

So it had been easy to hate them…

In the beginning…

It was different now.

It's better if you just accept it…

After everything that he had said, after everything he had told Tyre, after all the hatred he had kept locked in his heart; after all of that, he had fallen prey himself. He had failed. He had been turned just as they had. He had been just as weak, he had also betrayed everything the people of Sateda had fought for… and he had betrayed the people he had come to think of as his family…

The thought sickened him. He felt dirty; tainted…

Jennifer had explained it had been brainwashing: the Wraith enzyme flooding his system coupled with pain and exhaustion… Everything she had said made perfect sense. His head acknowledged that it all made perfect sense… but it didn't stop the guilt…

Lying on his back in the medical section, eyes closed, Ronon swallowed down his emotion and tightened his grip on the sword lying on his chest. Tyre's sword…

Tyre, who'd delivered him into the hell of the Wraith… then made the ultimate sacrifice to save him from that same hell…

You are a traitor to the memory of our people… You are a not the man I risked my life for

No… He was a good friend…

Ronon gripped Tyre's sword more tightly, emotion sweeping over him, tightening in his chest. He fought to breathe, suddenly unable to get enough air in his lungs. Lurching up, he swung his legs off the bed, trying to stand: ending up in a heap on the floor.

~*~

"You need to talk about it…"

Ronon lifted his head, "Nothing to say…"

"Crap!" John shot back.

"I'll be fine!" Ronon told him.

"Sure you will, buddy," John countered. "That's why you look like crap and you're waking up every night in a cold sweat!"

Ronon shot him a withering look then growled in disgust, muttering, "Keller…"

The doctor had agreed that Ronon would probably be more comfortable in his quarters, so she had released him from the medical section. She was obviously still keeping a close eye on him, though.

"Where is it?" Ronon demanded, rising to his feet, fists clenched at his side.

"Where's what?"

"The camera!" the Satedan clarified, advancing on Sheppard. It was the only way Keller could know.

"Now you're being paranoid!" John countered. "There's no camera!"

Ronon loomed over him, the anger washing off of him in waves. John met his gaze, calmly, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. "And," he quipped softly, "even if Keller was spying on you… which she isn't… I wouldn't tell you because she scares me more than you do. She has needles!"

Through the haze of fatigue, Ronon finally realised that he had been played. The comment about the cold sweats had been a shot in the dark, but his reaction had just confirmed the truth of it. Anger: raw, overwhelming rage, surged through him and he roared in frustration, throwing a punch at John's head.

Sheppard saw the blow coming and ducked beneath it, rolling out of the chair, coming to his feet behind Ronon. The Satedan swung round, aiming another punch at John's head, following it with a blow towards the belly that would have slammed John into the wall if he hadn't sidestepped...

Ronon turned in the opposite direction, catching Sheppard with back-handed swipe that glanced off the side of his head, knocking his com-unit flying. John swung round, blocking the next few punches Ronon aimed at him, slipping beneath his guard and delivering a blow to the belly that sent the Satedan staggering backwards.

John backed up, ready to defend himself again, hoping he wouldn't have to… but Ronon roared in frustration, turning and coming at him again.

"Don't do this, buddy," John warned, but Ronon wasn't listening.

Still weak, reflexes slowed, Sheppard was more than a match for him, but John knew that if he didn't stop this quickly, one of them was going to get hurt…

Easily blocking the Satedan's blows, John dropped to the floor, rolling, coming up behind Ronon, delivering a punch to his kidneys.

Ronon staggered to his knees.

John backed up, watching him, pleading silently for the big Satedan to stay down.

This wasn't what John had planned. He'd just wanted to talk to Ronon, to try to coax his friend to open up about what had happened… because Keller's initial prognosis that Ronon would be back to his old self in no time had been wrong…

He'd withdrawn from the world, withdrawn from everyone: even Teyla… Finally, after a concern-filled conversation between himself and Keller, he had gone to Woolsey, getting the permission he needed to have Rodney over-ride the Satedan's locked door…

The Ronon John had found had shocked him. He was pale and drawn, dark circles sitting like bruises beneath his eyes; he'd lost weight; he stank; and up until the surge of fury that had sent him swinging for John, he had shuffled like an old man: a broken shell of the proud soldier…

"I don't want to do this, Ronon…" John warned. "Stay down…"

The rage: at Sheppard, at Tyre, at his own weakness, consumed him and Ronon had no intention of staying down. He struggled to his feet, turning. Wild-eyed, he charged at Sheppard... who sidestepped again, taking Ronon's feet from under him.

The Satedan caught hold of John's shirt, dragging him down as he crashed to the floor. John swore, trying to free himself, getting punched in the face for his troubles. He managed to roll away, but Ronon grabbed him, hauling him back.

John had had enough…

He kicked out, catching Ronon in the ribs, scrambling to his knees. Ronon roared, sitting up, only to land back on the floor as John caught him with an uppercut to the jaw. Jumping on him, straddling him, John smacked him again as tried to sit up.

"Stay down, damn it!"

He tried to catch a hold of Ronon's wrists, to pin them down, to hold the Satedan until he stopped struggling… but John's hands slipped on blood-slick skin…

Ronon roared, trying to throw him off. John hit him again… then winced as Ronon's head connected with the floor and he went still…

Rolling away, John got to his feet, backing up. Dazed, Ronon lay where he was on the floor, heaving air into his lungs. The anger had gone, fading as quickly as it had flared, leaving him exhausted and drained.

Ronon, John suddenly realised, was bleeding… It covered his hands and stained the sleeves of his shirt. Swearing, John headed for the bathroom, dragging the towels off the rail and going back to where Ronon still lay on the floor. He sank to his knees beside the Satedan, drawing up Ronon's sleeve… and froze as he saw the thin, ugly wounds carved into the skin across the top of Ronon's arm...

John swallowed. He had seen something like this before, once, back on Earth… It wasn't an attempt at suicide: it was an inner scream… Physical pain to counter emotional anguish… Ronon was losing himself, sinking beneath a weight of torment that John could only guess at.

Ronon had been betrayed by Tyre: not once, but twice, then sold into slavery. The man he had once called his friend had delivered him up to be tortured and brainwashed…

Physically, Ronon was barely recovering. Emotionally, John realised, he was unravelling…

Saying nothing, John gently wrapped one of the towels round Ronon's arm. The Satedan didn't try to stop him, but he looked away, closing his eyes, his jaw clenching.

Moving round, John lifted Ronon's other arm, folding the other towel around the welts that were almost, but not quite, concealed by the dark ink of the tattoo…

Unsure of what to do next, hesitant to do anything in case it made the situation worse, John sat back on his heels… He considered calling Keller… then decided against it, his inner voice warning him that letting anyone see Ronon like this would destroy him…

Yet… he couldn't just leave him...

Chewing on the inside of his lip, John moved sideways to sit on the floor. Then, softly, he tried, "The pain's not going to help, Ronon… Cutting yourself, it's a release… but it's not going to help…"

Ronon said nothing.

"No-one could have withstood it, Ronon," John pushed quietly. "Not for long… Not…"

He trailed off, realising it was going to take something more to reach the Satedan. He took a deep breath, starting again, "It's not the feeding… It's when they bring you back…"

Ronon's eyes opened.

John's gaze stayed on the floor. "You're helpless… You're too weak to move, to even breathe. The agony's gone… and you feel like you're floating, like your whole body would crumble to dust if you were touched… You know you're about to die... You're terrified and at peace at the same time…"

Memories rose up and John held onto them, using them. "Then, when that stuff, the enzyme, rushes back into you… your bones feel like they want to split apart. Your insides feel like they're exploding. Your heart's pounding in your ears. You can taste your blood in the back of your throat…"

He paused, taking another, deep breath before going on, "And then, after an eternity, the rush stops… and there's agony and exhilaration all wrapped together. And the pain… the pain is the best thing you've ever felt because it's telling you that you're still alive…"

He trailed off, saying nothing more. There was nothing more he could say. Ronon had suffered far worse than he had. Anything he had endured could only be a pale imitation of what Ronon had been subjected to.

Silence stretched.

"Sometimes," Ronon began, voice raw, barely above a whisper, "he'd drain me… take me just to the edge… leave me to die… wait until I couldn't take another breath… everything starting to go dark… Then he'd pull me back… just enough to let me die again…"

John looked at him, saying nothing for a long moment, knowing that with that first admission, Ronon was beginning the road towards healing. He was no psychiatrist, no counsellor, but he knew that much…

He lifted his gaze, looking at Ronon. "We'll get you through this, buddy," he offered. "We never leave a man behind, remember?"

The Satedan said nothing, closing his eyes against tears, swallowing the constriction in his throat.

John heard the catch in his breathing and told him, "I'm going to get Teyla. No-one else," he assured him. "Just Teyla. I'll get her to stop by the med section then we'll get you cleaned up, okay?"

Ronon nodded.

Relieved, John climbed to his feet, scanning the floor for his com unit. Finding it, he slipped it over his ear, going back to sit cross-legged beside Ronon, lending silent strength. "Sheppard to Teyla…"

Once they had cleaned him up, they'd try to get some food inside him and then persuade him to get some sleep. And then… then they'd take one day at a time…