EXPLORERS

John Sheppard didn't dream.

It wasn't something he had ever brought up, but he just… didn't dream. They didn't come to him. The affair with the alien doppleganger had been the first time in his life something had happened to him in his sleep and that had been a large part of what had freaked him out so much: completely apart from the fact that he had had an alien in his head, he just didn't know what a dream was.

He didn't need dreams at the moment. His life was a nightmare.

With a distinct lack of ideas on where to look, Woolsey had started sending his team on ordinary missions. He hadn't been so tactless as to suggest that they think about choosing someone to replace Ronon, but it couldn't be far away. There was no trace of the big man, and it had been too long for him to keep his hopes up.

And it was all his own stupid fault.

If he had been faster…smarter…better. The shrinks had told him not to blame himself, but John Sheppard was a realist: it was nobody's fault but his own.

The world they were on was a small trading one. Nobody really lived here, but people came from far and wide to display their goods, and get the best price for them. This was not really a mission, per se; Teyla had come to secure a supply of seeds for the biology department. Apparently their tolerance for saline in the ground was so high, they could be watered directly from the ocean if need be. Woolsey had expressed great interest in the plants.

Rodney hadn't bothered to come, but Sheppard was… actually kind of enjoying himself. The agriculture section of the market was tame compared to the rest of it, but even here, there were flowers as large as plates, and vines that swayed in the gentlest breeze, giving the impression that they were alive. He was considering a bunch of rose-like blossoms in shades of blue and purple, debating whether to present them to Amelia as a gift to cheer her up, when Teyla tapped him on the shoulder.

"it is done, John."

"You got them?"

"Yes. Only a small supply, but apparently they are quite prolific in the right soil." She showed him the small bag.

"That'll make Woolsey happy." John decided against the dusk-coloured roses, and stepped away from the stall quite quickly. In doing so, he bumped straight into a man who had just purchased a tiny bouquet from the stall. The pretty flowers fell to the ground. John swooped down and scooped them up before it could be stepped on.

"Sorry," he told the man.

"It's fine," the man – more a young boy, really – said breathlessly. "Thank you."

John, about to hand the bouquet over, froze. The boy was wearing a familiar gun on his hip.

One moment, the boy was looking puzzled, trying to work out why this stranger wasn't returning his flowers. The next, he looked terrified; the stranger had pinned him to the table with a gun at his throat.

"That gun," Sheppard said, his voice frightening in its intensity. "Where did you get it?"

"What?" the boy yelped.

"Where did you get that gun?" He had no reason to believe it was Ronon's; the boy could just be a Traveller youth. But deep down in his heart, he knew that it was his missing friend's weapon.

"There's a stall, two aisles down," the boy babbled. "They're selling machines, this was there, I bargained most of my money for it!"

Sheppard hauled the boy to his feet by his collar and began dragging him through the market. "Show us."

The boy led them to the stall and pointed at it with trembling fingers. "Th-there. The one with the red cloth."

"This wasn't theirs to sell," Teyla told him gently, removing the gun from his belt. "I am sorry."

"You can have the flowers, though," Sheppard grunted, realising they were still clutched in his fist.

The boy accepted them, but didn't move. "You are free to go," Teyla hinted.

The boy shook his head. "Your friend crushed my flowers. I need my money back to buy some new ones for…" he blushed. "Someone."

"Young love," Sheppard said dryly. "Isn't it beautiful. Excuse me –" This to the man behind the weapon's counter. "Where did you get this gun?"

"If you don't want to buy something, move along," the stall keeper snarled. He was a large man, the same height as Sheppard, but twice his weight, and his mean expression indicated that he was used to having his way.

Sheppard looked at Teyla, shook his head, then drove his fist into the merchant's nose. As the brute fell back, he vaulted the counter and crouched next to the man. Teyla quickly took up a position covering John's back.

"So," he said conversationally. "Where did you get this gun? Before you answer, I feel it's only fair I let you know, I'm not a happy guy at the moment. Usually I am. And I want to be a happy guy. So, I figure, I'll do whatever I can to become happy again as soon as possible. You want to help me be happy again? All I want is the address of the planet where you got this gun, and the name of the guy that gave it to you."

"It's… it's called Kardan," the man said, thoroughly spooked by the manic gleam in Sheppard's eye. "The guy who sold it to me was called Rimo. He's a… well, he's a trader."

"He is a slave trader?" Teyla asked, to clarify.

"Well… yes."

"Good." John patted the guy's cheek. "See how easy that was?"

"You're going away?" the man asked hopefully.

"Yep."

As they sauntered away from the stall, John muttered to Teyla, "Bets on how long it takes him to work out I picked his pocket?"

There was an enraged bellow behind him. John caught sight of the boy whose flowers he had ruined, winked, and tossed him the wallet. The boy grinned and tapped his chest in return.

"We have somewhere to look, Teyla," he said with a huge grin. "This is good."