vain_glorious: (Default)
[personal profile] vain_glorious
Title: Put The Pieces Back Together My Way 2/2 (Part 1)
Author: [personal profile] vain_glorious 
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Rating: PG-13, gen, AU from season 3ish
Summary: Sheppard tries to reunite his team and go home for real.
Word Count: 12,165 (total)
Author's note: The sequel to This to me is how to leave matters unresolved and its sequel I Can't Ask These Questions That Cannot Be Answered, an unintentional series that developed out of reader response to the first story. The series is now complete. Likely to make no sense without reading the first two. If you have enjoyed this, please drop me a comment.

A couple of people did contact Sheppard after Keller let it be known he was looking for the SGC’s missing prisoner. Unfortunately, none of them were Ronon and none of them knew where Ronon was. One phone call was from the National Intelligence Department, politely inviting him to meet with them at Cheyenne Mountain to discuss the ‘alien fugitive’. Sheppard thought he deserved a medal for his restraint and self-control and for not using the word ‘fuck’ when he informed the caller that going near it was a suicide mission and if they wanted to talk to him they’d have to do the driving.

He didn’t actually expect them to take him up on it. Then, he immediately regretted inviting the people who wanted to keep Teyla in a cage into her home. She took it in stride, of course. The morning of their scheduled visit, when he tried to give her his sidearm – just in case – she raised the corner of her shirt and revealed a zat gun tucked into the waistband of her skirt.

“Where’d you get that?” he asked.

“It was a souvenir from my time in the SGC,” she said, and smiled.

He told her she didn’t have to stick around for the interview, that she could find something to do outside of the house. She declined, though to be honest Sheppard wasn’t really asking on her behalf. It was vaguely concerning that one of the NID agents might say something about her or to her or look at her in an offensive way, and then Sheppard would accidentally shoot him in the head.

The NID agent that showed up fit the man in black profile to a T, tall but otherwise bureaucratically non-descript. He introduced himself as Malcolm Barrett, and then stepped aside to reveal a companion. Sheppard had considered switching to the walking cast provided by Keller, mostly because he thought the crutches made him look vulnerable. But the walking cast hurt like hell, so the crutches stayed. He was glad, at this moment, because when he shifted his weight forward and hung there his shock wasn’t noticeable. Standing behind Barrett on the door step was Sheppard’s former second in command, Major Evan Lorne.

Lorne wasn’t in uniform. He was wearing a dark suit like Barrett, but the moment he made eye contact with Sheppard his shoulders jerked like he wanted to stand at attention. He caught himself, though, and just kind of held himself a little straighter.

“Major Lorne,” Sheppard said, hearing how unfriendly his own voice sounded and not particularly caring.

“Lieutenant Colonel now,” Lorne said, “actually. Good to see you again, Colonel.”

“Come on in,” Sheppard said, deliberately not returning the sentiment. He crutched backwards, letting them enter and close the front door.

He joined Teyla on the sofa in the living room. It wasn’t a space that got much use, so they’d dragged the stools from the kitchen in there for extra seating. Sheppard propped his cast up on the coffee table and enjoyed watching Barrett and Lorne try and fail to settle themselves on the stools without looking awkward.

“Good to see you again, Teyla,” Lorne tried again.

Teyla dipped her head in his direction. “I am called Mrs. McKay, now,” she said, casually, looking at him from slitted eyes. Sheppard gave her an appreciative smile.

He expected maybe a little more verbal sparring, but Lorne just nodded and said, “I know.”

It was a little disappointing, because Sheppard had memorized the timeline of McKay and Teyla’s fictional relationship up to their fake marriage, and was fully prepared to lie about it as obnoxiously as possible for as long as necessary.

“We’re here to talk about Ronon Dex,” Barrett said.

Sheppard nodded. “You work for the NID now, Lorne?” He kept his tone mild.

“No,” Lorne said. “I’m the Stargate liason to the NID on this case.” He cleared his throat. “I’m familiar with subject and both agencies have a stake in it.”

“The subject being Ronon?”

“Yeah.” Lorne was beginning to look uncomfortable, which was nice because Sheppard had no intention of letting up.

“Has your familiarity aided the search?” Teyla chimed in, sweetly vicious.

“Not as yet,” Barrett answered for him. He looked vaguely bored by the pissing match. “Which is why we’re here. Colonel Sheppard, are you willing to assist our investigation?”

Sheppard shrugged. “I’ve been out of the loop. Why don’t you explain the situation to me and I’ll see how I feel?”

Barrett wasn’t an idiot, but Sheppard had asked nicely so he launched into a monologue about the danger Ronon Dex posed to the national security of the United States and the possibility that as his one-time commanding officer, Sheppard knew how he thought and behaved and would be able to locate him. Perhaps he might even be able to use old loyalties to convince the fugitive to surrender peacefully.

Sheppard appreciated the deftness of the pitch, since at no point did Barrett say anything about how much fun he would have chasing and incarcerating an old friend who hadn’t actually done anything except refuse to be kept in a cage. The bit about surrendering was absurd, though, and it sounded kind of like a threat.

He didn’t actually pay that much attention after he got the gist. Instead, he watched Lorne.

Lorne was having trouble sitting still. He was alternately stiffly staring at Barrett and then slumping down and casting sidelong glances at Teyla and what little of the house he could see from his seat. The second Sheppard caught his wandering eye, Lorne’s gaze snapped back to Barrett and he sat up straight again.

“We could really use your help, sir,” Lorne capped Barrett’s speech, but it sounded more automatic than anything else.

Sheppard leaned back against the sofa. “You know,” he said. “I’d like to give you guys a hand but I’m not really in the greatest shape at the moment.” He waved a hand as the cast and then pointed at his abdomen. “Only reason I’m here."

Barrett looked like he waiting for more.

“I’m supposed to hang out here,” Sheppard continued. “Doctor’s orders. But I could take a look at what you’ve done so far. Maybe something will stand out.”

Sadly, Barrett really wasn’t a moron, and even if he was Sheppard knew Lorne wasn’t. He was pretty sure the only reason they’d come was because even if they didn’t think he’d readily agree to join the party, they knew he’d be a hell of a lot more pleasant about saying no than he imagined McKay had been. His half-hearted effort to get a look-see at whatever records the NID and IOA had on Ronon’s last known movements wasn’t particularly subtle and Barrett immediately shook his head.

The meeting was over then. Barrett made small talk, acting as if Sheppard’s health excuse was completely valid and the sole reason he’d said no. Lorne continued to look ill at ease. He asked if he could use their bathroom, which sounded to Sheppard like a request to go plant surveillance equipment in the house, but he said yes anyway. Teyla immediately rose to follow him, although presumably she let him use the john alone.

Barrett and Lorne left immediately after that. Sheppard didn’t even bother to get off the couch and it was Teyla who locked the door behind them.

“You know about Lorne?” he asked when she walked back to him. He was going to need a roster of who was playing on the other team now.

“I did not,” she said, looking at the vacated stools. 

“Rodney?”

“May have,” she admitted. “He does not always remember to share relevant details.”

Lorne joining the dark side seemed pretty damn relevant, but Sheppard let it go. Given the choice, he’d have put Teyla in charge of accounting for that kind of thing, while Rodney should be building an automated Find-a-Ronon device.

“Want to go see what he hid in the bathroom?” he asked.

~

The second phone call came while Sheppard was shaking out the shower curtain and Teyla was peering into the top of the toilet tank.

“Go for it,” Sheppard said to Teyla, because last time it’d been McKay and there’d been a five minute diatribe forbidding Sheppard from answering the phone for vague reasons he hadn’t entirely understood but seemed to be based on a belief that it was tapped and Sheppard might say something stupid and reveal everything. Also, it would end with McKay saying “Let me talk to my wife,” and even if Sheppard was actively participating in that ruse now, it still totally weirded him out.

Teyla vanished from the room, and Sheppard pushed the toilet seat lid down and sat on it. Not particularly hopeful, he lifted the bathmat off the floor and found himself looking down at a thin manilla envelope lying against the tiles.

Teyla returned, cordless phone in hand. “It is for you.” She looked down at the floor. “What is that?”

They traded. Sheppard took the phone and Teyla took the envelope.

“Hello?” Sheppard said, while Teyla sat down opposite him on the tub edge, opened the flap, and spilled the contents out into her lap. A stack of papers slid down, followed by something tiny and black that bounced off her knee and hit the floor with a metallic clink.

“Bug,” Sheppard said, immediately, and went to smash it with the end of a crutch.

Teyla picked it up off the floor, the casing coming apart in her hands. She held it in her palm, and Sheppard checked to make sure the circuitry was indeed crushed. “Well, that wasn’t very covert,” he said.

“Hello? Hello! Can you hear me?” Came a very putout sounding voice near Sheppard’s head, and he abruptly remembered he was supposed to be talking on the phone.

“Sheppard,” he said, refocusing his attention. Teyla was crushing the remains of the bug between her fingernails.

“Yeah,” the voice said. “As I said nineteen times, this is General Jack O’Neill. I guess you were distracted by the…bug?”

“Cockroach,” Sheppard covered. He found himself sitting up straight, even though the general couldn’t see him, and hell, he was sitting on a toilet lid.

“Ah.” O’Neill sounded tolerantly confused.

“What can I do for you, sir?”

O’Neill cleared his throat. “I thought I should thank you for convincing Dr. McKay to rejoin the program.” He didn’t sound particularly grateful. “Gives HR more to do, you know. And personally I like getting the memos. It’s good reading.”

“Um,” Sheppard said. “You’re welcome.”

“Sooo,” O’Neill continued. “You’re back.”

“Yes, sir,” he said. Teyla was rifling through the envelope contents, eyes large. He poked her in the leg. She turned the paper in her hands around, showing him a full-size photo taken of the back of someone very large dragging someone smaller down an SGC hallway. 

“Had some Taliban trouble in Afghanistan,” he said, mindlessly. He didn’t recognize Ronon without hair. It didn’t even look like him. And apparently, Lorne hadn’t fully switched sides.

“Sons of bitches,” O’Neill said heartily.

“Yes, sir,” he said again, reaching his hand out to take the picture from Teyla.

“Injured?” O’Neill asked.

If Sheppard had been at all focused on the conversation, he might have realized how weird it was – weirder than General O’Neill usually was, and that was saying something.

“Minor,” he said. “Little banged up. Stateside for now.”

“Ah,” O’Neill said. “Yeah, I heard you were staying with Dr. McKay.”

“With his wife,” Sheppard said, trying to pay more attention. It felt like O’Neill was trying to steer the exchange somewhere. “McKay’s been at the SGC for a week or so.”

“The wife,” O’Neill said. His voice changed and he grunted. It was amusement, though, not anything more sinister. “She deaf?”

“No, sir, just very tolerant.”

“Mmm.” O’Neill grew more serious. Teyla leaned forward, abandoning the documents in her lap so she could try to listen to the conversation. “I wasn’t aware you were still on good terms with anyone.” He sounded almost suspicious.

Sheppard could have said something mean about McKay. Instead, he remembered O’Neill at his bedside in Bethesda, silently putting away the offer to send a message back to Atlantis. “We reconciled.”

“They pulled your head out of your ass?” O’Neill asked, sounding more normal.

“Maybe,” Sheppard said. He looked at Teyla and she smiled.

“Anyways,” O’Neill went on. “I thought I’d rescue you.”

“Sir?”

“No friend of mine has to be cooped up with Dr. McKay while they’re recuperating. Slows the healing process.”

And this was even weirder, since Sheppard had just told him McKay wasn’t home – something O’Neill had known from the beginning, since that’s why he claimed to be calling. And since when were they friends?

“Sir?” Sheppard said again, hoping his confusion rang through.

“I got a cabin,” O’Neill said, rushing on as if he didn’t want to be interrupted. “In Minnesota. Gonna retire there. But since I’m flying a desk for the moment, it’s empty. Peace and quiet, good fishing. Also, cable.” He coughed. “No one likes a third wheel, Sheppard. Leave the McKays alone. I think you’ll find everything you’ll need up there. Key’s under the mat.”

“Thank you, sir,” he began, but O’Neill continued before he could say anything else.

“You should go now, before you miss the Spring.” O’Neill rattled off an address, and Teyla ran off to find a pen. When she returned, Sheppard wrote it on the back of the photo of Ronon’s escape, something which struck him as possibly oddly appropriate.

“Got it?” O’Neill asked.


“I think so,” Sheppard said, slowly. “Thank you, sir.”

“Just get your ass up there,” O’Neill said, pleasantly. “Goodbye, Colonel.”

The phone went silent against Sheppard’s ear, and then the dial tone kicked in. Sheppard lowered the phone to his lap.

“Did you get all that?” he asked Teyla.

“Some of it,” she said, looking a little confused. “I do not think I understood it.”

“Yeah,” he said, looking down at the address. “Me either.”

~ 

The contents of the envelope were mostly more pictures, captures from various security cameras Ronon passed by on his way out of the mountain. There’s also a security report, brief and bureaucratically neutral, detailing the massive protocol failures that resulted in Ronon’s escape. On the surface, they’re not that suspicious. The SF’s monitoring the cameras were elsewhere, dealing with an unspecified incident that somehow required all of them to be present for nearly the entire length of Ronon’s escape. The archaeologist was a civilian, untrained and unarmed, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with his access card. He was the smaller individual in most of the photographs; Ronon had him by the neck. There were a few parts that didn’t make sense. The author of the report didn’t know how Ronon got out of the holding cell, or how he’d literally vanished from the security footage shortly after taking out the SFs at the mountain’s exit. Blood hounds hadn’t found his scent past the parking lot, which made no sense since Ronon didn’t know how to drive and probably wouldn’t have tried to figure it out.

There was a post-it note among the papers, unsigned, but Sheppard still remembered Lorne’s neat, even handwriting. “Best I can do,” it said, and “sorry.”

Teyla smiled in relief when they found the note. “I had not seen him,” she said. “I did not want to believe that he would betray us like that.”

The whole package is one giant reassurance. Ronon had actually escaped – Sheppard had briefly entertained the grim thought that his break out had actually been an involuntary transfer to another, more clandestine prison, and that was why he hadn’t contacted anyone. He hadn’t shared this theory with either Teyla or McKay because it was horrible. Ronon also wasn’t hurt. The report said a tiny amount of blood splatter had been found in one of the corridors, along with the crushed remains of the transmitter implanted in Ronon’s body. On the video captures, he was upright and moving; in one of the images the hostage was biting him on the arm, but that was the more damage than the SFs had even managed to inflict.  

The unknowns were also comforting. Keller had said he’d had help. Sheppard hadn’t particularly believed her at the time, thinking that the only ones left alive willing to try had been Teyla and McKay. He also had faith that Ronon probably could have gotten through every single security procedure in place at the mountain all by himself, but he didn’t think Ronon would have done it quietly or, as was the case, invisibly. Capping it all was O’Neill’s bizarre call. He couldn’t fathom why or how the general would have become involved. Teyla said she had heard his name, but never seen him at the SGC.  She did, however, know the archaeologist Ronon had taken hostage. He’d visited her many times and been very sympathetic. That was interesting, although the pictures didn’t look like he was cooperating at all, and Ronon eventually left him in a red-faced heap on the ground.

It didn’t make a lot of sense.

Sheppard did like the thought that maybe Ronon hadn’t been alone on earth for three months, though. It wasn’t easy to imagine him hanging out with General O’Neill, in as much as he could imagine anyone hanging out with General O’Neill. Or just anyone hanging out with Ronon. Nor did Ronon staying in some isolated cabin seem very in character.

Teyla wasn’t bothered by these questions. She tried to call McKay and tell him she and Sheppard were leaving in the morning to follow the lead, but couldn’t reach him. The SGC said he was out of contact, which probably meant he was somewhere in orbit tempting the crew of one of the Daedalus-class ships to knock him out an airlock.

That was actually somewhat convenient. For Sheppard, anyway, since having McKay involved would have made the plan forming in his head a little harder. Well, not so much harder as ‘obvious’ and ‘loudly announced’.  Teyla packed a small bag and vanished upstairs to meditate or something. Evidently, she didn’t want to talk about all the ways this could in fact be something terrible, like a trap. McKay wouldn’t have been as quiet. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly subtle effort to lure them there, but too much had happened for Sheppard to take anything at face value. He wanted to trust General O’Neill, but it had occurred to him that a really easy way to trick the one alien that had escaped through a technicality back into custody was to bait her with the alien that had escaped legitimately. Having the guy who had staples in his gut and one bum leg come along too wouldn’t really be all that challenging to a team of SFs.

That was how Sheppard came to his decision. That and remembering O’Neill’s casual remarks that he should come alone. First, he called the mountain. They transferred him a couple of times, until finally he ended up with Lorne’s home number. It seemed like every time he opened his mouth now, Sheppard was lying to someone.

“Sir?” Lorne said, after Sheppard identified himself. He already sounded confused, and maybe a little bit fearful that Sheppard was going to do something phenomenally stupid like thank him for smuggling out that classified file.

“I wanted to apologize,” he said, “for how I acted today. There was no reason for me to give you such a tough time.”

“Um, sir?” Lorne said again.

“I know Ronon needs to be brought in for his own safety,” Sheppard lied. It sounded resigned to his own ears, maybe somebody would believe it. “I’m glad there’s someone on the team who probably doesn’t want to kill him.” And that part, sadly, was actually kind of true.

“Yes, sir,” Lorne said, apparently sticking to one word answers.

“I wanted to let you know that I’m taking off,” Sheppard said. “Things change. I don’t belong around here anymore”

Lorne didn’t say anything.

“Whatever the SGC ends up doing,” Sheppard continued, choosing his words carefully. “I know that I can count on you to do right by Teyla.”

There was a pause, as if Lorne was having trouble finding the hidden message.

“Within reason,” Lorne said, finally. He didn’t sound particularly happy, but he’d also just covered his ass if anyone was listening to the conversation.

“Absolutely,” Sheppard agreed. “Thanks, Lorne.” Then, he hung up.

He wasn’t thrilled, either, but at least he had a promise of sorts.

A few hours later, when the house was silent except for the cries of Bitey the cat wanting to be let into Teyla’s closed bedroom, Sheppard put his plan in motion. He rolled off the futon and hoisted his duffle on to his back. Unfortunately, he didn’t think the thumping sounds of his crutches as he climbed the stairs and made for the door were particularly stealthy. But once outside, Teyla’s window stayed dark, even when he got into the car and turned the engine on.

~

Sheppard was almost through Iowa when he got the call. A call on a cell phone he hadn’t even known he had, but the ringtone – The Imperial March from Star Wars, definitely McKay’s doing – was coming from the inside of his jacket tossed in the passenger seat. Keeping one hand on the wheel, he knocked half a dozen empty paper coffee cups to the floor as he tried to fish it out. It took him long enough that he though it might have gone to voicemail, but the line was open when he unfolded it and held it to his ear.

“Hello?” he said.

Someone huffed on the other end, too quiet and restrained to be McKay.

“Rodney tells me I can call the police and report my car stolen,” Teyla said, and her voice was as icy as he’d ever heard it, “and they will bring you back.”

The guilt was immediate. He’d felt it before he’d even left the house, but put it aside in favor of concentrating on things like driving safely for eight hours straight on thirty minutes of sleep, on not spilling scalding coffee in his lap, and on staying fast enough to make decent time without getting pulled over and explaining to the nice officer why he had out-of-state plates, a different out-of-state and also expired license (not many cars in either Pegasus or Afghanistan, okay?), while in a vehicle that was, as Teyla pointed out, not his.

“Thought he was out of contact,” Sheppard said, because ‘sorry’ wasn’t going to cut it.

“No longer,” Teyla said, and she sounded spitting mad.

Sheppard didn’t say anything, since apologizing was something you did when you were genuinely sorry, and also not actively going to continue doing the thing anyway.

“Rodney also wanted to know if you ‘felt good about abandoning me to face the evil’ –” she was quoting McKay now, and sounding still angrier, so Sheppard interrupted.

“I think you can protect yourself,” he said, even if that wasn’t wholly true. He wondered if McKay had spilled what Keller had mentioned.

“I can,” Teyla answered, and he was correct that she was also mad that McKay’s reaction had apparently mostly involved worrying about her. “This was not wise, John.”

“Maybe not,” he said.

It was too late, now. She couldn’t catch up unless she actually tried to have him arrested. Or, McKay hijacked one the ships and scooped them both up, which come to think of it was actually possible. He’d left his subdermal transmitter at McKay’s house, though, pinned to the cat’s collar. McKay could probably track the cell phone, and for a moment he was kind of annoyed that they’d apparently thought he might run off long before he’d even had reason to.

“Rodney also said you are ruining his plan.” Teyla sounded calmer, if still bitter.

“He has a plan?”

“He assured me it is brilliant.” Which meant McKay hadn’t actually told her it, and he had an image of Teyla knocking their heads together the next time they were together.

“Watch yourself, okay?” he said.

“You will contact me,” she retorted, “when you arrive.” It wasn’t a request.

“You’ll be the first to know,” he promised. “If there’s something to tell.”

“I hope that there is,” Teyla said. “Or you will feel very foolish.”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said.

~

It was early evening by the time Sheppard rolled up to O’Neill’s cabin. He’d pulled over in a McDonald’s parking lot and slept for half an hour, but otherwise switched from coffee to espresso to red bull. As a result, he felt jittery and unfocused, and he knew it was a terrible condition to be in for whatever came next. He put on the walking cast, even though his leg was actually even sorer from sitting for twelve hours on top of the exhaustion. He kept one crutch, leaving one hand free for his gun.

The cabin was dark and silent. It looked empty. The place was pretty isolated, too. If Sheppard had been followed, it hadn’t been by conventional means. He hadn’t seen a single car in the past hour.

Gun drawn, Sheppard went up to the front door. The walking cast foot slapped loudly against the pavement, announcing his arrival to anyone inside. He tried to put his weight down more lightly, but the plastic sound continued with every step.

 As O’Neill had promised, the key was right under the doormat. Sheppard gave up trying to be quiet, since he could do nothing about the ker-chunk of the deadbolt or the squeal of the hinges as the door swung open. He brought the gun up and found himself facing nothing but darkness.

Sheppard’s heart was pounding in his ears as he tried to find a light switch. He knocked into something tall and metallic with his crutch and had to release his grip on his gun to steady it, feeling upwards until his fingers found a beaded cord. Tugging produced a click, then warm yellow light filled the room from a bulb at the top of lamp Sheppard was tilting forward. He let go, immediately, re-raising his gun.

There was nothing. No one. Just a typical living room, a cozy-looking arm chair among vaguely rustic décor. Sheppard let out a breath, surprised to find himself so disappointed. The place looked empty and untouched. The lamp rocked fully back into place, and the room was completely still.

Sheppard almost put his gun away. He took a half step towards the darkened door way leading to the rest of the cabin, more out of impulse than anything else. There was no one here. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye, heard the front door click shut. Sheppard tried to turn back around, but the cast and crutch didn’t move fast enough. He got the gun up, though, could have squeezed off the trigger.

But he couldn’t shoot Ronon.

It had to be Ronon. Someone his size with the same furious grace slammed into Sheppard from behind, sending him sprawling forward and smashing into a glass and metal coffee table that neither broke nor bent until his attacker landed on top of it all. Then there was glass everywhere, shards that glittered in the lamp light such that Sheppard almost didn’t see the gleaming metal blade slicing towards his throat.

Sheppard caught the knife with the palm of his hand, instant pain burning all the way to his wrist. The gun was long gone, pressing into his leg from somewhere on the floor. His hand felt like it was smoldering. Sheppard grabbed the only thing he could reach – his crutch. He shoved it upwards almost blindly, catching his attacker in the throat or gut, judging by the grunt and huffing breath that followed. In that second, Sheppard scrambled backwards, only stopping when he ran into the arm chair base and it stopped his momentum.

The lamp had been knocked to the floor, as well; its shade knocked akimbo such that the bulb cast its light solely on Sheppard. He was illuminated, bleeding against O’Neill’s living room furniture. He could only see the outline of his attacker, crouched close enough to be on him again before he could blink.

Sheppard threw both hands up, even as the wound on his palm stung furiously.

“Ronon!” he said. “It’s me, Sheppard. It’s me. Don’t!”

And then he had to put his arms down and press hard against his palm with his other hand, because his vision was graying at the edges and he thought he was going to pass out. Then he remembered to hold it above his heart, and his arms went back up. He rested his hands against his shoulder, still firmly held together. He could feel the spiral of unconsciousness looming, and he tried desperately to keep his eyes open.

For a second Ronon didn’t move. Sheppard couldn’t see his face, but he seemed to just be watching.

“Okay,” Sheppard said, his voice sounding raspy and weak to his own ears. “Gonna pass out now.”

The Ronon-shape peered at him and then turned gray, and that was the last thing Sheppard saw as he slumped to the carpet.

~

Sheppard woke up to many kinds of pain. The old familiar ache of the gunshot, about a thousand times angrier for having recently been tackled. His leg had a similar opinion about getting slammed through a glass table. The strange, buzzing headache of dehydration and probably low blood sugar ticked behind his eyes. At the end of his arm, his hand was throbbing dully but persistently.

He opened his eyes, finding himself no longer on the floor but stretched out in the recliner, which was bent as far back as it would go. Sheppard brought his injured hand in, automatically. He blinked at it in confusion: a gauze bandage was tightly cinched around his palm. Immediately, he lifted his neck up and tore his gaze away, scanning the room. He didn’t have to look far. More lights were on: the righted standing lamp as well as the overhead fixture. It was dark outside now, but the room was brightly lit. Ronon was sitting on the floor against the front door. For the first time, Sheppard saw him clearly.

Ronon had a few inches of soft, curly hair. He looked smaller without his dreads. Smaller and younger, but also darker and harder. Or maybe it was just the expression on his face, something tight and closed off. He was in a plain white t-shirt, covered in red-brown splotches from someone’s blood. He was also wearing jeans, dark blue denim that wasn’t quite long enough and ended right at his ankles. It was utterly normal and yet simultaneously the most alien Sheppard had ever seen him look.

Sheppard tried to sit up, shifting his weight forward. The recliner mechanism gave, creaking as it reset itself to an upright position.

“Hey,” Sheppard said. It came out thick and muffled. He cleared his throat. “Hey.”

Ronon blinked at him, gaze assessing and suspicious. He didn’t have any visible weapons, not even a knife. “Told me you were dead.”

“What?” That was out of nowhere. Sheppard stared at him. “Who told you that?”

“McKay.”

“Oh.” Sheppard forced a grunted, ridiculous laugh out; it hurt his ribs. “Well, I guess I owe him a stabbing.” He looked at the bandage on his hand.

“Replicators don’t bleed for that long,” Ronon said flatly, and there was a story in his eyes that Sheppard didn’t get, a reference he must have missed out on. Then he remembered, Elizabeth.

“Okay,” he said. “I’d have stabbed me, too.” He spread his hands. “I’m not a Replicator.”

Ronon continued to stare at him, making no move to get off the floor. “Yeah,” he said.

The talking part was hard. “Also not dead,” Sheppard said. “I, um, went to fight a war here on earth. That’s where I’ve been. I didn’t hear about anything until a few weeks ago when Rodney found me. Then I came back to look for you.”

Iraq?” Ronon asked, and when Sheppard boggled at him his eyes slid across the room to the television set against the wall.

“Oh,” he said. “No, Afghanistan. But they’re close.”

Ronon didn’t say anything.

“That’s not an excuse,” Sheppard said, finally. “I went dark. I was really pissed off about leaving Atlantis so I decided to pretend like it never existed. I’m an asshole.”

Ronon gave a tiny nod, barely a dip of his chin. He moved his legs, folding his feet beneath his body as if preparing to stand. “How’d you find me?” he asked.

“General Jack O’Neill,” Sheppard said. “He owns this place.” It was his turn to ask questions. “You know him?”

“Yeah, he came by once.” Ronon paused for a second, looking around the battered room. “He might be pissed about this.”

“He got you out, then?”

“Sort of. He had a big plan that I didn’t know about. I went ahead of his schedule.” Ronon looked kind of pleased with himself. “He had his friends take me here.”

“Yeah?”

Ronon frowned. “I didn’t really want to come.” He made a shooting gesture with one hand, and Sheppard guessed he’d been zatted and taken here. “Asked me to stay here until my team figured out a way home.”

Sheppard wondered when O’Neill had said that, and what exactly he’d meant.

“You’ve been here the whole time?” he asked. That seemed impossibly simple. But who would search a US Air Force General’s summer cabin for a fugitive alien he’d barely even known.

“More or less. Been around.” Ronon shrugged. “Nowhere else to go.” He shrugged again. “Don’t know why he did it.”

“He recruited me,” Sheppard said. The answer formed suddenly in his head. “He sent me to Pegasus. He was stepping up. Stepping in.”

Ronon shrugged like he didn’t care. He stood up, rising easily off the ground. He walked closer to Sheppard. “We’re going home?” he asked, and for some reason that made Sheppard’s throat tighten up and his eyes flush. He reached out and grabbed at Ronon’s elbow with the hand that hadn’t recently been sliced open.

“Yeah,” he said, even though he had no idea.

Ronon grinned down at him, and in the next second he reached down, looped his arms behind Sheppard’s back, and scooped him in for a rib-crushing hug before dropping him heavily back into the chair.

“Ow,” Sheppard said, gasping. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” Ronon said.

~ 

As promised, Sheppard made his first call to Teyla.

“I kind of tricked her,” he said to Ronon, the phone ringing in his ear. “She wanted to come.”

“Should have brought her,” Ronon said, standing next to the recliner. “I probably wouldn’t have stabbed her.”

Teyla took a very long time answering the phone, which was kind of worrying. She was probably asleep, he rationalized, but it didn’t really do anything to reassure him. Then, Teyla did actually answer the phone, sounding out of breath and alarmed, and suddenly Sheppard wasn’t reassured at all.

“Teyla?” Then he heard something that sounded like the rack of a handgun. “What’s going on?”

“I received a very strange call from an old friend,” Teyla said, her voice smoother than it should have been. She didn’t say the name but Sheppard immediately thought Lorne. “I believe the house is about to raided.” She fumbled the phone and Sheppard heard what had to be a louder, heavier magazine chambering.

“You have to get out of there,” he said, and Ronon jerked in place, leaning closer.

“You took the car,” Teyla reminded him. “I am arming myself. Rodney is coming.”

“Rodney is six hours away!” Sheppard said.

“And you are farther,” Teyla said. “Rodney said you must stay where you are.”

“Shit! Teyla –”

“Did you find what you were looking for?” She interrupted.

“Yeah.” He almost stuttered. “Yeah, I did.”

“Is he well?” Sweetness filled her voice, even as the phone line suddenly filled with static. Sheppard heard something thud on her end, followed by a loud crack. The line went dead, the call dropped.

Sheppard dropped the cell phone into his lap, body filled with useless, desperate adrenaline.

“What’s happening?” Ronon demanded.

“They’re coming for her,” Sheppard said, his hands rising to his face. He shouldn’t have left her. There wasn’t any reason she shouldn’t have come. He didn’t know why O’Neill had put that out there.

“Let’s go!” said Ronon, rocking back on his heels.

“She’s in Texas,” Sheppard said, and Ronon just blinked at him. “Eleven hours away,” he said. “We’d never make it.”

He dropped his hands from his face, unsure what to say. But then the chair bottom was vanishing from beneath him, his weight strangely suspended in mid-air as the walls of General O’Neill’s cabin around them melted away. Gravity returned, just as quickly as it had vanished. The chair was gone and Sheppard would have hit the floor except that Ronon grabbed him by the forearm and pulled him up, spinning at the same time so that his body was in front of Sheppard’s, a long knife drawn with the hand not holding Sheppard.

They were on the bridge of a Daedalus-class ship. An empty bridge – the only two people on it were McKay and Teyla, standing together near the helm.

Sheppard blinked. “What?” he managed.

Ronon looked around, his knife hand slowly falling to his side.

“Ronon,” Teyla said. She looked fine, untouched, not a hair out of place. She crossed the distance between them and then nearly disappeared inside Ronon’s enormous arms as he stooped to bring his forehead to hers

His heart rate finally slowing, Sheppard limped over to McKay. Unlike Teyla, McKay didn’t look fine. His face managed to be flushed red and kind of pale at the same time. He was covered in a sheen of sweat and he looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

“What?” Sheppard asked again

“I stole it,” McKay said. He stuck his chin out. “Next time you decide to run off, could you check first to make sure you aren’t totally and completely ruining my life? You have no idea how fast I had to work.” He heaved a deep breath that sounded like relief and exhaustion.

Sheppard looked out the window at stars rushing by. “We gonna have company?”

“No,” McKay sounded smug. “I, um, sabotaged the rest of the fleet.” Sheppard stared at him. “Temporarily,” he added. “By the time they’re ready to go, we’ll already be in Pegasus.”

“Oh,” Sheppard said, shocked and impressed and too overwhelmed to express either. “Four people can manage this thing?” he asked.

McKay made a face. “Well, three people and me.” Sheppard let his body drop into the nearest chair. “This ship is supplied to keep eighty people alive for a year,” McKay said, cheerfully. “Once we figure out how close we can get to space gates without sending you haywire, we’ll be fine.”

Sheppard gave him a grin. “Good job, Rodney.”

“How’d you find him?” McKay asked, looking across the bridge at where Teyla was still buried in Ronon’s chest.

“General O’Neill,” Sheppard said, feeling gratitude he was probably never going to be able to express to the right person. “I think he sent me alone because they’d have followed Teyla.” He looked up, saw her finally withdrawing from Ronon’s embrace. “Why’d you tell Ronon I was dead, huh?”

“What? I didn’t.”

“Yeah, you did.” Ronon was moving closer, Teyla sticking close to his side.

“No,” McKay denied. “I may have said ‘as good as dead’ or ‘dead to us’ or something along those lines, since as you remember you were being a moron at the time, Sheppard.”

“He thought I was a Replicator,” Sheppard said, waving his bandaged hand around.

“Oh.” McKay wasn’t sympathetic at all. “Well, Ronon, maybe if you’d bothered to try to talk to us for those three months I could have clarified that issue for you.”

Ronon shrugged. “Didn’t want you to get locked up for me.”

McKay blinked at him, opened his mouth to say something that turned into a muffled yelp when Ronon stepped forward and squished him in a bear hug.

Something brushed against Sheppard’s cast and when he looked down, the calico cat was winding affectionately around his leg.

“You brought the cat?” he asked Teyla, who had moved to stand beside him.

“He is Rodney’s pet,” she said. “I thought it should come home with us.”


The End

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