Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Rating: PG-13, gen
Summary: AU from Season 2.03 "Runner"; Ronon never joined Atlantis, but a few years later he has the chance to repay his debt to Sheppard. Which he does. Sort of.
Word Count: 20,753
Author's Note: Wiki page on title origin. Feedback very welcome, longest fic I've ever written. Posted in 4 parts due to length.
“The IOA feels he’s too much of a liability and an unknown,” the woman said. She was trying to whisper, but Ronon Dex could hear her words across the mess hall. Her voice didn’t sound particularly upset about the decision. She didn’t sound pleased, either, though, more like she had no stake in it. He didn’t know how she felt about him, didn’t know if it mattered.
“Liability to who?” Sheppard asked, and he did sound upset. Maybe more about being told what to do, though. Ronon didn’t quite understand the command structure here, but Sheppard evidently wasn’t at the top. The woman was apparently in charge, but she wasn’t in the military and there were people some place else who could tell her what to do. It was weird.
A group of people swept into the mess hall then, their voices washing over the room and drowning out the conversation. Ronon stopped listening, anyway. It didn’t matter. He focused on his food and ate faster.
Shortly, he heard footsteps and knew before he looked up that Sheppard was standing beside the table. The man’s face was resigned.
“Hey,” Sheppard said.
“Hey,” said Ronon, still eating. “I think I should go soon.”
Sheppard blinked for a second, then his head tilted slightly. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay.”
Ronon left the city of the Ancestors four days later. He never even learned its name. It would have been sooner, but the doctor that had removed the Wraith tracker from his back insisted he stay long enough that the medical staff was confident that the incision wasn’t infected. Ronon didn’t think that was the real reason. The wound was deep and tender and it still stung if he moved his arms too quickly, but it was already healing. There was no bite of an unclean cut.
He would have been suspicious, but he didn’t think they were lying to him so much as to the commander woman. They felt sorry for him, thought they were helping him by keeping him here. Ronon thought the city was strange. Too clean and too shiny, and he was leaving so it didn’t matter. He didn’t like being the object of pity and he didn’t like being followed around by guards all the time.
Ronon accepted the supplies and food they wanted to give him, though. He wasn’t stupid and their food was okay.
The people were okay, too, he guessed. It didn’t really matter. The woman in charge felt guilty and embarrassed about needing Ronon to leave, which was fine. She and most everyone who knew about the destruction of Sateda looked at him with sad, sympathetic smiles, which was less fine. Ronon didn’t need that and if he’d been staying any longer he’d have told them so. Sheppard didn’t show him those faces, seemed to understand it wasn’t something that needed talking about. Teyla tried to discuss it with him, but backed off immediately when she realized his disinterest. She offered condolences and let it be.
The loud non-military man who’d been on the planet with them gave Ronon a radio. It communicated somehow with the Ring of the Ancestors in the city, so he could use it to talk to them if he wanted.
“It won’t open the shield,” McKay said about fifteen times. “So don’t go through the ‘Gate or you’ll get squished like a bug. We’re not giving you the keys, just a doorbell.”
Ronon didn’t really understand, but he didn’t have any reason to talk to these people after he left. He didn’t think they’d be around long; the Wraith would learn they were using Ancestor technology and cull them.
“So long,” Sheppard said, standing with Ronon before the Ring. “Kick some Wraith ass. Give us a call if you need some help.”
Ronon wouldn’t need it. These people had already helped him too much. He had done nothing in return, hadn’t even captured the crazy man on the planet. He thought about warning them about the Wraith, about what they did to people who could really fight back. But they had seen Sateda, too.
Teyla said goodbye in the manner of her people, pressing her forehead to his. It was warm and felt good. Ronon was slow to pull away, unaccustomed to touching someone like this in so long. He looked at her and was glad he was going, because the Wraith would take her, too, but he wouldn’t know about it when they did.
The woman in charge wished him luck, then gave him an awkward wave and looked as flustered as she usually did around him. Ronon ignored it and walked through the Ring without looking back. He had had them dial Sateda, again, because he had no where else to go.
Ronon walked into bright daylight, total silence, and air that smelled like death.
The next time Ronon saw any of those people was over two years later. He hadn’t forgotten them; it was impossible to forget to whom he owed every day of stillness. He’d learned more about them, heard stories from peoples who traded with the city. It was surprising – in a nice way – that they hadn’t yet been culled. Ronon still had the radio they’d given him; he’d never used it.
He saw them again on Aracha. It was a big city on a little planet and it sort of reminded him of Sateda. But these buildings were standing tall and intact, the people still living. He liked the buildings more. The Arachans were not Satedan, and he did not like them. They built beautiful rockets, though, tiny little ones that could hit a Wraith dart and detonate it faster than anything else. Ronon came to Aracha every few months to stock up. He dealt with the same salesman each time and was gone by the evening. It was strange and unsettling to be around people, still. He preferred the silence of Sateda, empty except for ghosts.
His routine changed the day he saw a large crowd gathered in the marketplace, near his arms dealer’s stall. Out of necessity more than interest, Ronon had to pick his way through the hot mass of people to reach the man’s office. He caught site of the attraction: a man in a black military uniform shackled in place on a raised platform. Ronon had vaguely been aware of slavery on this planet; the arms dealer used thin, unhappy looking men to carry the heavy artillery boxes to the Ring of the Ancestors. But he had never seen an auction and it made a bitter taste coat the back of his throat.
It took a few seconds, but Ronon recognized the uniform. It was the one worn by the military of the city of the Ancestors. He wondered how the man had been captured by the Aracha, who he didn’t know to be aggressive against anyone but the Wraith or even particularly interested in off-world events. Ronon cast an eye around, looking for the man’s teammates. The other slaves lined up on the rear of the platform were not in the same uniform.
He listened to the auctioneer speaking to the crowd. The man was being advertised as healthy and strong, and the minimum price was equivalent to about 10 cases of rockets. Ronon stuck his hand into his purse of Arachan currency; he had enough for 80 cases. If the man’s price went any higher than that, he wouldn’t be able to afford him.
Forty minutes later, Ronon owned a human being. It had taken his entire purse and a particularly threatening staring match with an annoyingly persistent Arachan man. The guy looked like an easy opponent though, and Ronon figured if he didn’t win, he could just kill the guy and steal the slave without much problem.
It didn’t come to that, though, since the guy gave up and started acting like he’d never made eye contact with Ronon. The auction runners took Ronon to an office inside the marketplace building. The slave was there, waiting. Up close, he looked to be in bad shape. His face was covered in dirt and dried blood, and he was swaying in place. In addition to the shackles, there was something metal clamped to the back of his neck. It was spiny and twisted, like a metallic insect attached to a vein.
Ronon turned over the asking price and signed the paperwork presented to him. The final step was creepy and if Ronon hadn’t seen the armed guards outside the doorway, he would have balked. The Arachans wanted to seal the deal with a blood oath, and a round little man showed up with a dagger to take it from him. He let them slice his forearm open and collect a cup full of it. The wound stung and the second the cup was full, Ronon shoved the man away so hard he nearly bounced off the far wall.
This pissed off the Arachans and someone called in the guards. It got a little loud and angry, but eventually one of the employees decided he didn’t want the building demolished over a business transaction that was already complete. Ronon was actually a little annoyed, because beating up slavers was appealing.
Instead, he got handed the chain-link leash to the bound man’s shackles and was firmly asked to leave.
“Unchain him,” Ronon said.
“He’s not trained yet,” warned the Arachan slaver.
“Take ‘em off,” Ronon said. “And the thing on his neck.”
“I cannot remove that,” the same guy said, and flinched when Ronon glared at him.
The slave lost consciousness when the shackles came off. Ronon wasn’t sure why; he didn’t seem aware of the proceedings and it was possible they’d drugged him some more as they released him. He ended up carrying the slave back through the Ring, a complete dead weight in his arms.
Ronon brought the guy home and cleaned him up, first. He’d had the suspicion and it was confirmed when he washed the blood and dirt off his face. His new slave was the very same man who he’d captured all those years ago. Ronon couldn’t remember the guy’s name, but it was conveniently printed on a metal tag around his neck.
Sheppard was in bad shape. He had a scalp injury, the source of the blood coating his face. Ronon cleaned and bandaged the cut. It didn’t look too serious. Most likely one of the Arachans had clubbed him with something. But Sheppard wasn’t waking up. There was also a small, uncleaned wound on his arm – ripe for infection. After washing and bandaging that one, too, Ronon tucked him into bed and went to find the radio he’d been given by the man’s people.
When he came back, Sheppard had managed to stagger out of bed, vomit on the ground, and sprawl himself on the floor in the doorway. He might have been pretending to be unconscious, but he wasn’t able to do much else.
Ronon leaned over him. “Hey,” he said.
Sheppard blinked up, his eyes glassy and unfocused.
“Remember me?” Ronon asked.
After a few seconds, Sheppard’s shoulder moved in an effort to shrug. “Lemme go,” he said, slurring badly. He sounded kind of hopeful.
Ronon waved the radio at him. “Calling your people.”
Sheppard tried to focus on the object. Then he squeezed his eyes shut like looking that hard had hurt. He didn’t say anything.
“Right,” Ronon said. He picked Sheppard up off the floor and propped him back into bed.
Calling the City of the Ancestors was easier than Ronon expected. He didn’t know how it worked, but the device connected through the Ring and soon he heard a tinny voice broadcasting out of the speaker.
“Identify yourself,” said a very wary sounding female voice.
“Ronon Dex,” he said. “I have one of your people.”
There was a short pause and when the woman spoke again she was confused and upset. “Excuse me?”
“I have one of your people,” Ronon said again. “Sheppard.”
There was a longer pause, now. He imagined there was some kind of frantic conversation going on at the other end.
“Okay,” she said. “What do want for him?”
“Want you to come and get him,” Ronon said. “He’s sick. Injured.”
“You want nothing in exchange?” The woman checked. Her voice was full of disbelief.
Ronon wouldn’t have minded a couple of those salty envelopes of food, but he wasn’t going to mention that.
“No,” he said. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Yes.”
Ronon went back to the house to get Sheppard. The man fought him every step of the way to the Ring, weakly and without any real strategy. Ronon folded his arms across the man’s torso and pinned his hands down, forcing him to march forward with his arms trapped against his chest. Sheppard was too messed up to figure out how to get free, but he did manage to bend down and get his teeth around Ronon’s wrist. Sheppard continued to bite him all the way to the Ring.
There was a military team already there. Four of them, and what looked like two medics with a gurney standing behind. Immediately, four guns were leveled at Ronon.
“Release him!” One of the soldiers yelled.
Ronon looked at them. He shrugged and began disentangling himself from Sheppard, who neither helped nor stopped biting him. The moment he was unsupported, Sheppard took two lurching steps forward and crashed to the dirt in front of the Ring.
“What’s on his neck?” asked one of the soldiers.
The two medics immediately went to Sheppard’s side, hands skimming over him as they talked to each other in urgent tones.
“What’d you do to him?” demanded the first soldier, who may have been in charge.
“Nothing.” Ronon was careful to make no sudden movements, while allowing his arm to drift towards his holster. “Found him like this.”
The two medics rolled Sheppard on to their gurney and strapped him down. The soldiers kept their weapons trained on Ronon, until the medics picked up the gurney and went through the Ring, and then the soldiers backed through as well. The horizon vanished, and Ronon was alone again.
The soldiers came back the very next day. Ronon didn’t go out to meet them. Instead he found a high tower from which to watch them as they searched for him. It was strange to see people moving in the Satedan streets, even just the four men. They didn’t know the city like he did, and kept wandering down dead end streets that were blocked by debris. He wondered what they thought of wreckage that was left of his home, decided it would probably make him angry.
He didn’t know why they were back. It occurred to him that maybe Sheppard had died and they blamed him. The man hadn’t seemed too badly off, but Ronon wasn’t a doctor.
Even if they didn’t know the city, the soldiers were increasingly moving towards Ronon’s position. It might have simply been logical – the standing structures were a nicer and safer place to hide than the craters in parts of the city. More likely they had a means of tracking him.
Ronon moved, then, finding his way through the ruins to the most damaged part of the city. The Wraith had obliterated the military installations. It was a mass of debris and Ronon could only travel as easily as he did because he knew it well. The soldiers would find it impossible and probably dangerous.
It didn’t take long. He heard the detonation of a scatter grenade, followed by silence. There were loose armaments everywhere, like unintentional landmines. Ronon used a pair of binoculars to watch the soldiers. Two of them were now supporting a third, while a fourth took point as they returned to the Ring.
The following day, another person came to Sateda. Ronon watched from his hiding place, back in the tallest remaining tower. At that distance he could see only the uniform of the city of the Ancestors. The soldier didn’t go looking for him, though. The figure stayed near the Ring, eventually taking a seat at its base.
Ronon tried to wait the soldier out. But hours passed and the figure did not move from a sitting position, staying utterly still. And finally, he was curious, so Ronon left the tower and walked to the Ring. He didn’t bother to be covert; he hadn’t seen anyone else come through it and one person wasn’t any kind of trap.
When he got close enough, Ronon recognized the person waiting by the Ring. She was the woman he’d encountered when he met Sheppard the first time. He didn’t let the hesitation show in his step, since she was now watching his approach. It would have been better if he could remember her name, but he only had her pretty red hair and strong face stuck in his memory.
“Hey,” he said, walking up towards the circle.
The woman stayed seated until he stopped a few steps from her “Hello,” she said, and began to rise. Her movements were graceful and controlled as she drew herself to her feet. She wasn’t armed, or if she was the weapons were concealed. Despite this, he recognized the readiness of her posture. She wasn’t afraid of him but she was primed to fight. “I am Teyla Emmagan,” the woman said.
“I know,” he said, even though he hadn’t. “Did Sheppard die?”
“No,” she said, and tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. She dropped her hands to her waist and intertwined her fingers. “But he is very ill.”
“I didn’t hurt him,” Ronon said, holding himself at his full height. It sounded like an accusation.
“I did not think you did,” Teyla said. It was kind of strange, since she had no basis for that judgment. At their only previous meeting, he had taken her and Sheppard hostage. “Our doctors would like to speak to you about what happened to him.” She looked back at the Ring.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Would you accompany me?”
Ronon looked at her hair glinting copper in the sun. “Okay,” he said.
The city of the Ancestors was much like Ronon remembered. Enormous and artificial, and filled with human lives that didn’t leave any kind of mark within it. He still found it strange and unsettling, too crowded and yet too empty.
The city reacted to him in much the same way, too. Four guards were immediately assigned to follow him everywhere, and the citizens peered at him in confusion and fear. Ronon was much cleaner than last time, though, stronger and better fed. He thought he looked better now, but he guessed they couldn’t tell.
The leadership had changed. It was a new woman, a blonde with a long braid who didn’t startle as easily as the previous one. She thanked him for coming back with Teyla, but she also sent the guards with him to the infirmary.
“What happened to the other one?” he asked Teyla, as they took a transport to another part of the city.
She understood his question, but didn’t answer immediately. Her mouth went into a small, grim line. “We lost her,” she said. “She is dead.”
“Oh,” Ronon said. He paused for a long time, then knew what to say. “I’m sorry.”
Teyla nodded, but her mouth stayed pursed.
The infirmary was the same and different, too. Ronon tried to disguise the way his body reacted to the place. The medicinal scent of the rooms triggered memories of the doctors probing the incision in his back, made him tense up and hunch his shoulders. The staff still skittered away from him, but they also paid him much less attention. Instead, they focused on their most important patient.
Sheppard was ensconced in a private room in the rear of the infirmary. Ronon wasn’t told where the man was, just escorted to a room closer to the entrance. He watched the stream of staff and figured it out, somewhat surprised to find himself relieved by proof that Sheppard had, for the moment, survived.
The doctor that came to interrogate Ronon was someone he hadn’t met before. It was a woman, young and moonfaced. She was afraid of him, too, which was getting kind of old. Ronon focused on being very still, trying to show that there was no reason for her to be so twitchy.
It didn’t seem to help. Her questions were also pretty dumb. He told her how he’d found Sheppard, that the man had been totally out of it, and that was all Ronon knew. She mostly wanted to know about the Arachan device implanted in Sheppard’s neck, which Ronon knew nothing about. He told the same story about seven times, since he didn’t have anything else to say. Eventually the doctor rolled her eyes, thanked him distractedly for the help, and walked off.
His guards quickly entered the room, but they didn’t try to take him anywhere. A few minutes later, Teyla followed. She looked sad and serious, disappointed that Ronon had not been able to help.
“He gonna die?” Ronon asked.
Teyla’s eyes widened slightly, her jaw tucking under for a second. It was, Ronon supposed, one of those questions that had some kind of etiquette. He blinked at her, ignoring the flush of embarrassment that flamed in his chest
“No,” she said, after a moment. “But he is unwell.” She tapped the side of her temple with three fingers. “He is not fully with us.”
Ronon nodded. He remembered the man’s disorientation on Sateda. It must have been more than the head injury.
“You can’t fix him?” He asked, casting an eye around the room. It’d been stripped of any Ancestor technology before his arrival, but she understood what he meant.
Again, he’d probably said something rude. She was polite enough to ignore it.
“Thank you for returning with me,” was all she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “Is the doctor who –” he reached back towards his neck – “here?”
The sad, tight look returned to Teyla’s face and he knew before she spoke that the man was dead, too.
“I should probably go,” Ronon said, and Teyla nodded.
The second time Ronon left the city of the Ancestors, he brought nothing with him. The people paid little attention to him, utterly distracted by Sheppard’s condition. Teyla walked with him back to the Ring, but did not bid him farewell as she had before. Her thoughts were elsewhere, too, and Ronon began to put the place and its people out of his mind before he even stepped through the horizon.
The following week, Ronon had a few trips scheduled across four planets. He didn’t have as many weapons as he’d planned, having spent most of his budget for that month buying Sheppard. He knew he wasn’t owed, but he regretted having to divide the supplies he delivered into even smaller portions. All the same, he showed the defense forces how to use what he had. Most of the arsenal was for targeting Wraith scout ships. Powerful enough to be effective, but small enough not to attract too much attention from the hives.
The defense forces on the various planets each paid through different means. The Sechas fed him well and gave him enough crops to last the next winter. The Lohars exchanged the rockets for smaller ammunitions and one really nice knife. The Rethos paid in money, something which made them happy but never converted well off world. The Orthee tried to give him a woman, having nothing else they could spare. Ronon gave her right back and left without receiving payment.
He returned to Sateda and unloaded the supplies he’d gotten in exchange. It might have been possible to bring the scorched fields back to life, but not with one man. He occasionally saw wildlife in the ruins, but didn’t try to hunt them. It was nice to know that some living creatures other than Ronon still walked here.
Ronon knew something was different the moment he stepped inside the house. Nothing was out of place, but his hackles rose and he drew his gun. He’d taken over a mansion in the Eastern section of the city. The shield had held the longest there, probably because Kel had ordered energy drawn from other parts. Many of the homes here were barely damaged, and the electrical lines and plumbing were still intact. Ronon had tried to live elsewhere, because thinking about why the richest section of the city still stood made him furious. But eventually he gave in and moved there, hooking up a generator and making himself a base camp.
He found the intruder sitting in a child-like sprawl in the doorway of the room Ronon had made his bedroom. It was Sheppard, and the man didn’t even flinch when Ronon’s gun swung to bear on him.
“Hey,” Sheppard said, and gave a huge grin. “I was beginning to think you weren’t here.” He raised one loose, languid arm and made a vague gesture. “Didn’t know where else to find you.”
Ronon holstered his gun. “What are you doing here?”
Sheppard didn’t make any effort to get up, even as Ronon walked up and loomed over him.
There was another meaningless handwave. “I left Atlantis,” Sheppard said. His eyes were large and shiny. “I thought I could hang out here.”
Ronon looked over his shoulder, half expecting to see a really angry retrieval team sneaking up on him in the hallway.
“Not directly,” Sheppard added. “They won’t be able to follow.”
Despite his limp posture and glazed eyes, Sheppard sounded okay. He wasn’t slurring and was making, well, a little bit of sense. Not a lot, but some.
“How long have you been here?” Ronon asked, crouching down as it became clear the man wasn’t going to stand up. He noticed the spindly metal was still attached to Sheppard’s neck, peeking out of the blue patient scrubs he was wearing. Sheppard must have left directly from the infirmary.
“I dunno.” Sheppard shrugged his shoulders. “Couple of days.”
Ronon wasn’t sure, but he thought Sheppard might have been literally lying on the floor waiting for him to come home for that long. Up close, Sheppard was obviously ill. His lips were dry and peeling, his face was flushed.
“What are you doing here?” asked Ronon.
Sheppard was staring at him intently, almost not even blinking. He didn’t break eye contact at all even as he spoke and said, “I’m not really sure.”
Ronon stared back at him, finally rocking back on his heels and standing again. “Get up,” he said, because he didn’t have anything else to say.
Immediately, Sheppard tried to obey. He got his feet under him and put a palm down on the floor to push off of. But his effort to stand was clumsy, and he wobbled before he was halfway up.
“Whoa,” Sheppard said, tilting sideways. He would have crashed back down but Ronon grabbed him by the arm and pulled him upright.
Sheppard had similar trouble walking, as if he was distracted and unable to control his legs. Ronon kept hold of his bicep and had to hook his other arm around the man’s waist, guiding him in a straight path. He couldn’t think of anything else to do so he took Sheppard to the kitchen and put him in a chair.
“Sorry,” Sheppard apologized when Ronon let him go. He put both hands up to his temples. “I got, like, a head rush.”
“You should drink something,” Ronon said.
“Okay,” Sheppard said, eyes still locked on him. It was a strange gaze, unnaturally intense and unmoving from Ronon’s face. Sheppard didn’t speak or look away while Ronon moved around the kitchen and mixed him a combination of juice, water, and salt. It wouldn’t fix everything, but it would help the obvious dehydration.
“Drink this,” Ronon said, setting the large glass on the table in front of Sheppard.
“Okay.” Sheppard lifted it and began to swallow. He didn’t comment on the taste, which Ronon knew to be salty and kind of gross. In fact, Sheppard drank it continuously, gulping the fluid down without pause. He was going to make himself sicker, so Ronon put a hand out and halted the tilting glass.
“Slowly,” he said, unhooking Sheppard’s fingers and setting it back on the table.
Sheppard continued to stare at him. “Okay,” he said. “Sorry.”
He reached for the glass and took a small sip, then looked at Ronon for approval.
“Okay?” he asked.
~Please feed the author ~Part 2