Summary: "Wraith-bringer!" 3rd in the Where the Ways Divide'verse
Rating: PG-15 for violence, language, minor character death. Gen, AU
Disclaimer: Not mine. Three lines of dialogue come directly from the show and are even less mine than usual.
Word Count: 7,490
Author's Note: Title from here. Feedback is delicious.
The Runner fits into the Satedan military well. Ronon wasn’t entirely sure he would. Not because the unit doesn’t accept him – they do – and not because he came from some strange military apparently full of skinny, scrawny men. He has given up on getting Sheppard to pack on any muscle, because the man will just run it off, anyway. Ronon doesn’t even doubt the man’s piloting skills, since he knows shit about that topic.
Mostly, Ronon didn’t entirely trust that Sheppard would obey him. He knew there wasn’t a real, concrete reason to think that. Even the first few days home from the hospital, when Sheppard had hated him and Melena and had acted more inclined to bite their fingers off than take a friendly hand, the Runner had never fought him. Never tried to escape the house, never been violent. Most of the time, he did what he was told, although the orders had usually been gentle statements about how everyone would be happier if Sheppard would take a bath or use utensils at dinner time. Also, Melena had kind of been in charge of that.
But Ronon had looked at his new Flight Officer John Sheppard and been seriously concerned that the man wouldn’t listen to him. Part of that, maybe, was based on the fact that Sheppard had been argumentative and hostile while so weak and thin that Ronon could count every one of his ribs. Just because Sheppard had never defied him or Melena then that didn’t mean he wouldn’t now, when he’s healthy and armed.
And something that would probably guarantee Sheppard stays in line – taking Melena into the field with the squad – wasn’t an option.
But for all of Ronon fears and doubts, it doesn’t happen. Sheppard obeys him. He even occasionally calls Ronon “Master Specialist,” his full title only Kell ever uses and only at formal occasions. Maybe Sheppard can tell he isn’t entirely trusted, maybe he’s showing Ronon how hard he’s trying. Other than a tendency to go after the Wraith with such a pathological ferocity that he has a little trouble following orders to do anything else, Sheppard does absolutely fine.
Ronon doesn’t know what Sheppard’s rank was in his own military, where it positioned him in terms of authority. He kind of suspects Sheppard had some authority, or that he didn’t and had a problem with authority.
Sheppard gets along well with the rest of the unit. He and Rakai have settled their differences, mostly because Rakai has tried and failed to kick Sheppard’s ass a number of times now. Ara likes him, might like him a little too much in a way that will eventually cause Rakai to try and kick his ass again. If nothing else, Ronon bets that will be fun to watch. Morika and Hemi are a little less eager to trust, but they don’t have a problem with Sheppard.
All in all, Sheppard fits in well as the new sixth man. Ronon knows the whole squad misses
He doesn’t know if they would have, though. Without the chaos
It’s not a particularly fair option, if Ronon had had a choice about it. He wants
Sheppard doesn’t show much emotion. He’s not shy about letting people know when stuff pisses him off, but that’s about it. Ronon doesn’t mind, figuring the guy’s been vulnerable enough here already. Sheppard doesn’t wake up screaming when they’re in the field. He still has nightmares; Ronon can see him twitching and jerking on his sleeping mat. And when they’re home, the screams come back. Neither he nor Melena go check on him, anymore. Sheppard just claims he doesn’t remember the dream or the screaming, and immediately closes his eyes. Ronon doesn’t know how he trained himself not to do it when they’re on missions. From a security standpoint, he appreciates it. From every other standpoint, it seems really mentally unhealthy.
Having a Flight Officer on his squad is unexpectedly convenient. They don’t have to wait for a ship to become available; they actually get one assigned exclusively to the squad. No more pissy pilots who don’t particularly want to listen to Ronon and are more concerned about something happening to their precious ship than accomplishing the mission objective. Well, Sheppard is kind of pissy when he’s flying. It must be a pilot thing.
Ronon generally likes to keep his feet on the ground, but he doesn’t mind not having to haul his ass across planets when they can fly there faster. He’s not the best judge, but he does think Sheppard’s a better pilot than the temp ones. The ship doesn’t rattle as much, the landings are softer, and he hasn’t pulled any totally unnecessary aerial stunts that make Ronon puke.
Safety reqs require Flight Officers to wear helmets. Odd, since there’s no such req on passengers. Sheppard snorts rudely when given his. It’s leather-covered metal with a chin strap and even Ronon knows all it will do in a crash is make Sheppard’s death less messy than his own.
“Can I put stuff on it?” Sheppard asks, turning the helmet over in his hands.
“Yeah,” Ronon says. A lot of pilots write shit and glue random pieces of crap all over theirs. Ronon would make fun of it, except he’s perfectly aware that he uses his hair in almost the same way. He doesn’t know what Sheppard will do to his.
What Sheppard does – and Ronon doesn’t even know how – is get two large Urachai goat horns and glue them one either side. It looks totally bizarre. On the back of the helmet, in the space between where the horns attach, Sheppard has drawn a symbol in Melena’s silver nail polish: a triangle with no bottom, and small circle above the peak.
“This okay?” Sheppard asks, presenting his helmet for inspection.
Ronon shrugs. “Yeah,” he says, trying not to laugh. Sheppard doesn’t seem like the type, but the horns might actually be important to him.
Rakai has no such sensitivity. “What the hell are those?” he asks.
“Viking horns,” Sheppard answers. “On my world, there were ancient warriors who wore hats like these into combat.” He pauses. “And a football team.”
“What’s a football team?” Hemi asks.
“It’s like usa-lee-ti without the bloodloss,” Sheppard says, easily. He settles his helmet on his head and strokes one of the horns. “How do I look?”
“Like a lunatic,” Morika tells him.
“Like a Viking Satedan,” Ronon offers, mostly because he thinks that’s what Sheppard wants to hear.
For some reason, Sheppard grunts in amusement. “Yeah, okay.” He thinks a moment and looks pointedly at Ronon. “I’m not putting anything in my hair, though.”
It turns out Ronon’s right about Sheppard.
The mission it happens on starts out alright. They’re selling some weapons to a village that the Wraith visited recently in exchange for medical supply ingredients. The planet is heavily forested and Sheppard has to maneuver free of the Ring and then up and above the tree branches. The ship shakes lightly and the trees scrape loudly against the sides of the vessel.
“Sorry,” Sheppard apologizes, when everyone winces at the noise. “Please return your seats and tray tables to the upright position.”
“What?” asks Ara, clutching her seat and staring out the window. For as much as she has a crush on Sheppard, she likes what he actually does for the team the least.
“Nothing,” Sheppard says. “Hold on.”
“Look at that,” Hemi remarks, after a few moments. He’s talking about the destruction on the ground strikingly visible from above.
“Ugh,” Morika says. “I know why we’re bringing weapons.”
“How long ago were the Wraith here?” asks Sheppard.
“Couple months, I think,” answers Ronon.
“It doesn’t look like a culling,” Hemi says. He’s right, and it also doesn’t look like total devastation. That’s odd, because the Wraith rarely visit a village and do something other than those two things.
No one says anything and the flight falls silent. Ronon wonders if Sheppard saw his world after it was destroyed.
“I’ll set her down over there,” Sheppard says, eventually, pointing at a clear patch between the forest and the village. “Okay?”
He does, the ship loud enough and landing close enough to announce their presence to the village. No one has come to meet them, maybe afraid to get that close to the ship and its thundering engines.
“Wraith were here, too,” Ara announces, looking at the burned patches of soil surrounding their landing spot.
Ronon agrees and they automatically drift into formation, weapons at the ready. Even though the Wraith are gone and unlikely to come back soon. It’s unsettling to walk though the damaged landscape as they get closer to the village. Sheppard landed as near to it as he could.
“This is creepy,” Rakai says, eyeing the blackened shrubbery.
“It’s giving me the willies,” Sheppard says, and Ronon has no idea what that means but it sounds like he’s agreeing.
Rakai, of course, never misses an opportunity to jump on Sheppard. “What?” he snaps. “I don’t have a willy.”
Sheppard snorts, then swallows a laugh. “If you say so,” he says, smirking.
“Have you been here before?” Morika asks Sheppard, curiously.
Sheppard shrugs. “No. I don’t know. Don’t think so.” He’s not looking at her and his face is shuttered, clearly uninterested in this topic.
“You must have been a lot of places,” Ara remarks.
Sheppard walks faster. “None I ever want to see again.”
By then, they’re at the village entrance and the people can see them approaching. Ronon can tell at a glance why they needed Satedan help. At best these people have spears and arrows to hunt, not fight the Wraith. The village is in shambles; half the structures burned down or completely flattened.
“Look friendly,” he tells his squad, for whatever good it will do. Sheppard, at least, takes off his ridiculous horned helmet and tucks it under his arm.
And that’s when everything goes to hell.
One of the villagers peering at the group does a visible double take. He drops his load of gathered debris to the ground with a clatter and scrambles backwards.
“Wraith-bringer,” he yells, sounding shocked. And then he screams it, even louder: “Wraith-bringer!”
Sheppard figures it out faster than everyone else. “We have to get the hell out of here,” he says, stopping in his tracks.
The villagers out in the open are fleeing into their huts, but the men are coming back out armed with crossbows.
“Is he talking about Sheppard?” asks Rakai, sneering at the crossbows.
Ronon hears the strings drawing back and the bows releasing, arrows whistling through the air in their direction. One flies straight at Rakai, striking his flank armor and deflecting into the dirt with a strange thwap.
“Ow,” Rakai says, more surprised than hurt. “Hey!” He racks his gun, looking at Ronon.
“Ronon,” Sheppard says. “We have to go.”
“No,” Ronon tells Rakai, who wants to start killing people. “Retreat,” he orders, before one of those arrows actually finds its mark. “Run. Warning fire only.”
Run they do, arrows hitting the dirt behind their feet until they reach the cover of the forest. Ara and Hemi going backwards with cover fire that’s aimed towards the sky. Ronon finally stops behind a cluster of thick trunks. He can hear their pursuers’ footsteps, definitely between them and the ship.
“You have been here before,” Morika tells Sheppard as they hunker down, keeping her voice casual.
Ronon almost tells Morika to shut the hell up. Sheppard looks as tense as he’s ever seen him.
“Made friends?” Rakai asks, sarcastically. “You could have mentioned it.”
“Shut up,” Ronon says, “He didn’t know.”
“They’re between us and the ship,” Hemi reports, which Ronon already knows. “We have to run for the Ring.”
That’s an even farther distance and if the villagers have rounded on them already, not going to be any easier than getting back to the ship. And Ronon doesn’t have time to think of an alternative or even say anything, because he hears more whistling projectiles. It’s smaller and faster than an arrow, and then something sharp stabs Ronon in the neck. He bats it down reflexively, ends up holding a tiny dart in his fingers. His neck is tingling and the next thing he knows, Ronon is face down in the dirt about to pass out. He hears the thumps of his squad hitting the ground around him, and that’s all.
Ronon wakes up in a cage. He looks frantically for his squad and only finds Ara and Hemi, pressed up against the bars next to him. They both look pale and drugged, eyelids blinking like they just woke up, too. The next things Ronon looks for are his guns: those are gone. But he can feel the weight of most of his concealed blades, and more importantly his tiny disc-shaped radio on the inside of his coat.
“What happened?” he asks Ara and Hemi.
“Sleep darts,” Ara says.
“Cheaters,” Hemi concurs, and even though Ronon agrees that it’s an utterly cowardly way of fighting, that’s not really the point right now.
“Where’s everyone else?”
“Got away,” Hemi says. “I’m going to stop making fun of that full-body armor they all wear.”
“Sheppard?” Ronon checks. Sheppard doesn’t wear full-body armor and he’s much less good at following retreat orders.
“Rakai had him,” Ara tells him, which makes sense. “By the neck.” That makes more sense. “I saw them as-” she waves a flat palm in front of her eyes miming unconsciousness.”
“Been radio silence for a while,” Hemi says, flashing the disc-shaped radio transceiver he has concealed in his palm.
“Yelling,” Ara says, making a face. “It sounded like Sheppard didn’t want to obey Rakai’s orders.”
“Go to the ‘Ring,” she says, and it’s Ronon’s turn to make a face.
That’s when the village leader shows up. He’s an older white-haired man, and it looks like he barely survived the recent Wraith attack. Some younger men bring him on a litter and Ronon can tell at a glance that one of his legs is mangled. The litter-bearers gently place it on the ground before the cage and the old man struggles into a sitting position.
“Betrayers,” he says, glaring darkly at his prisoners. “We ask for aid and you come here with the Wraith-bringer?”
Ronon rises to his feet, jerking his chin at Ara for her to join him. She’s a good negotiator at trade missions and might be able to talk their way out of this.
“Keturah,” Ara begins, but he interrupts her.
“That man killed my only daughter! He is responsible for the deaths of over half this village.” Keturah is very, very angry. Ronon no longer thinks Ara will get them out of the cage with only words.
“The Wraith killed your daughter,” Ronon corrects him. “Killed your people.”
“Because the Wraith-bringer brought them here!” the leader yells.
“His name is John Sheppard,” Ara says, drawing her shoulders back. “And he was just as much a victim as you were. The Wraith can't track him anymore!”
“He still lives,” Keturah snarls. “And my daughter does not.”
Ronon feels this line of arguing isn’t going to get them anywhere.
“Where are the rest of my men?” he asks.
“They fled,” the leader says, sneering. “Like cowards, with the Wraith-bringer.”
“To your flying machine,” Keturah says. “It is only a matter of time before my warriors find it and break down its doors.”
“They made it back to the ship?” Hemi says from his sitting position, more to Ronon than Keturah.
Keturah ignores him. “I have told them I will spare your lives, if they return the Wraith-bringer to me. I will release you all, I only want him.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Ronon says.
Keturah’s face gets even darker and angrier. “Then you will all be given to the Wraith?”
“What?” asks Ara, sharply. “What do you mean by that?”
Ronon’s eyes follow the man’s old, wrinkled hands into his cloak pocket, where he sees a small, ominously blinking electronic device.
“They promised that if he ever came back and we captured him, we would be forever free from culling in the future,” Keturah says. “They gave me the means to contact them if the man who they followed here returned. They promised to spare us forever.”
Ronon has a little trouble following all of that, mostly because it’s almost too stupid to believe.
“If you call them back,” he says, “they’ll just kill everyone who survived last time.”
Keturah isn’t listening.
“Because I am merciful,” he says, “if your men turn the Wraith-bringer over to me, I will release you before the Wraith arrive.”
He refuses to listen to anything else, even Ara who somehow is managing to come up with something besides how this crazy old man has sentenced Ronon’s team as well as his own people to death. The younger men carry Keturah away, back towards the village huts.
“What was that thing?” Ronon asks Ara. “In his pocket?”
“It looked like a transmitter,” Hemi answers, apparently able to see from the floor. “And it looked activated.”
Ara’s face is hard and serious. “We don’t have much time.” She glances at the guards who stand at a distance from their cage. “We need to leave, immediately.”
“If Rakai, Morika, and Sheppard made it back to the ship,” Hemi begins.
“They’d have gone back to Sateda,” Ara interrupts. “Keturah made it sound like it’s just…sitting out there?” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”
It makes sense to Ronon, in that he’s pretty sure the reason their ship is just ‘sitting out there’ is because Sheppard’s the only one that can fly it.
“He’s not going to leave us behind,” Ronon says.
Ara looks confused. “Rakai would follow your orders,” she says.
Ronon nods. “Sheppard won’t follow his.”
Her eyes go wide with understanding. “Oh.”
“Keep watch,” Ronon orders, backing up from the bars and joining Hemi on the floor. The guards missed the radio the first time, so he can’t let them see him using it. He brings his sleeve up to his face, like he’s resting his chin in his hands.
“Rakai,” he says softly into the transceiver, “The village leader called the Wraith. You need to get back to Sateda now.”
For a second, there’s only silence. Then there’s static and fumbling noises followed by Rakai’s voice. “Called the Wraith? What? How?”
“There’s no time,” Ronon answers. There really isn’t. With how active the Wraith have become recently, a hive ship will be on them before nightfall. “Put Sheppard on.”
There’s no guarantee that Sheppard will listen to Ronon, but it’s the only thing he can try.
Rakai doesn’t reply and Sheppard doesn’t come on the line. Instead, there’s a few seconds of strange silence.
“Sheppard’s not here,” Rakai says, finally.
“I dragged him back to the ship,” Rakai says, defensively. “And he flew it halfway back towards the Ring, just to get away from the soldiers chasing us. But then he landed. Said he wouldn’t leave you guys behind.”
“Too bad,” Ronon snaps.
“We fought,” Rakai continues, and now he sounds embarrassed. “He stabbed Morika with one of those damn needle things and she’s still asleep.” Ronon waits. “And he tied me to the passenger seat. He went to turn himself in. Left about twenty minutes ago.”
“Oh,” says Ara, sighing. She’s eavesdropping on Ronon’s radio, periodically looking back at the guards.
“You free yet?” Ronon asks Rakai.
“Almost,” Rakai grunts immediately. “He can’t tie good knots but he tied a million shitty ones.”
A plan forms in Ronon’s head. There’s no way off this planet before the Wraith arrive, not if their only pilot has undertaken a suicide mission. The Wraith will kill every single person they can find when they come, which he’d have thought Sheppard would know.
“Rakai,” he orders. “Start unloading the weapons and ammunition we brought to trade. Bring as much of it as you can as close as you can to the village without engaging the people.”
“Yes, sir,” Rakai says automatically, even though he has no idea why.
“See if there’s something in the medkit to wake Morika,” Ronon adds.
“What’s the plan?” Rakai asks, but Ronon can see the same question on Ara and Hemi’s faces.
“The Wraith are coming,” Ronon tells them all, “and we’re going to kill ‘em.”
It takes another ten minutes after Ronon speaks to Rakai for Sheppard to reach the village. In that time, Ronon has Ara and Hemi covertly slice through the wooden bars of their cage while he readies himself for the next step. He can see their weapons, piled off to the side by the guards. And those will be a start, but he needs some of the higher caliber stuff they brought to trade.
Sheppard surrenders to Keturah before Ronon even realizes he’s arrived. He’s alerted to the man’s presence by the village leader’s voice. Keturah is carried on the litter again, set down a little distance from the cage. Behind him, two guards have hold of Sheppard by the arms.
“The Wraith-bringer has more honor than I expected,” Keturah says, sneering. “But as I promised I will release you.”
Ara rockets to her feet. “No!” she cries.
Ronon stays on the ground, keeping his reaction off his face. He looks at Sheppard between the bars, trying to catch his gaze. Sheppard won’t meet his eyes, focusing somewhere past the cage.
Hemi and Ronon stand and Keturah suddenly looks hesitant, like he just realized just how large and angry the people in his cage are at him.
“You will abide by his sacrifice,” Keturah tells them. “Or I will let the Wraith have you as well!”
That gets a reaction out of Sheppard, who tenses in the guard’s arm.
“We had a deal,” Ronon hears him snarl at Keturah. “These are good people. They had nothing to do with what happened here.”
“I do not trust them,” Keturah retorts, so he hasn’t gone totally crazy. “Convince them to leave without incident and I will let them go.”
The guards haul Sheppard before the cage while Keturah stays at a safe distance. Ronon crosses his arms and waits for Sheppard to explain himself.
“Hey,” Sheppard says, slowly, eyes finally meeting Ronon’s. His body is stiff and it looks like the guards’ grip is hard and painful. “I’m sorry,” he says, deeply. “It looked different. It was dark when I was here before.” He pauses, gives a choked, terrible laugh. “And there was a big, thriving village. I didn’t recognize it.”
“We know,” says Ara, softly. Ronon stays silent.
“I shouldn’t have stayed,” Sheppard continues. His gaze is distant again, as if horrible scenes from his memory are playing out behind his eyes. “I was in really bad shape. And I didn’t know yet…” he tries to bring one hand to touch the surgical scars that start at the back of his neck, but the guard holding his left side jerks his arm back down. “I wasn’t sure they could track me. I only stayed one night.” He shakes his head and blinks hard. “I am so sorry. What happened here was my fault. You have to let me take responsibility for it.”
Ronon waits a second. Then, he nods. “Okay.”
Ara goes stiff with outrage but one look at Ronon’s severe face shuts her up. Hemi doesn’t look any happier but he knows better than to challenge Ronon in a situation like this.
Keturah is appeased.
“Release them,” he orders. One guard lets go of Sheppard and walks towards the cage door, so Ronon pretends like the bars are still intact. The door gets unlocked and swings noisily open. The path out passes Sheppard and Ronon eyes it carefully.
“You will switch places,” Keturah says. “And then you and your men will leave.”
Ronon tilts his head, indicating Ara and Hemi should walk before him. He glances at the guard by the door and then at the one holding Sheppard. Ara and Hemi should be able to read his orders without him having to say a word. They all walk slowly away from their cage, following a line that will bring them past Sheppard, who’s looking at the ground. It’s better that way, because if he were paying attention he might figure out what Ronon’s going to do and try to stop him.
Ronon waits until he is parallel with Sheppard.
“Now,” he says, so softly that Keturah won’t hear it. The guards will, but it doesn’t matter.
Ara all but flies backwards to the guard by the cage and kicks him in the chest before he even realizes she’s there. Hemi has Sheppard’s guard by the arms in the next second, promptly drops him to the ground and pins him there. He puts one foot so it hovers over the man’s neck.
For his part, Ronon grabs Sheppard hard. The guy wasn’t looking and even if he was expecting a rescue attempt, it wasn’t this.
“No,” Sheppard gets out, and then Ronon has his arms pinned and a sharp, curved blade pressed right against his throat. “Uh?” Sheppard grunts, and does a stupid little dance move with his feet, trying to sweep Ronon down.
In response, Ronon forces Sheppard down on his knees where he can’t kick anymore. He keeps the man’s arms held and the blade steady against his neck, his own body draped over Sheppard’s back.
“No!” Keturah yells. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to kill him,” Ronon says, angling the knife so it looks ever nastier. “What do you think the Wraith will do when they show up and he’s already dead?”
The closest ones are out of commission, but Keturah’s command sends men at a distant scurrying nearer.
“Shoot me with one of those darts and I promise he'll be dead before I go down,” Ronon warns.
“Ronon,” Sheppard gasps. The knife is so close to his skin that the movement of his throat almost makes him bleed. “What are you doing? Stop it.”
“Shut up,” Ronon orders. He increases his grip and Sheppard jerks in pain. “I thought you wanted to die.”
Sheppard doesn’t say anything and his body goes slack in Ronon’s grip. He’s pretty sure it’s just a trick, so Ronon doesn’t let up.
“You have three choices,” Ronon tells Keturah. “I slit his throat. And the Wraith come and kill everyone here. I don’t kill him. And the Wraith come and they still kill everyone here. Or we can stop fighting each other and use the weapons my squad brought to kill the Wraith together.”
“That’s your plan?” Sheppard mutters in disbelief. Ronon is sorely tempted to thump him in the head but he doesn’t have a free hand.
“Fighting the Wraith is impossible,” Keturah says, instantly. He pulls the transmitter out of his coat. “I promised them.”
“The Wraith do not keep promises,” Ara says. “They only kill. If you don’t stop this madness, you’re going to kill your entire people.”
Hemi jumps in on that note. “You’re the Wraith-bringer,” he accuses. “Not him.”
That strikes Keturah like a physical blow and Ronon can actually see him waver on the litter. Even better, an outraged murmur comes from the gathered crowd of villagers watching the scene.
“We came here to give you weapons,” Ronon says, “so you could fight them next time. Nothing’s changed since this morning except that you know when the Wraith are coming. Let’s kill them together.”
“What was the name of your daughter?” Ara asks.
“Linor,” the old man whispers. “Her name was Linor.”
“What would Linor want you to do?” ask Hemi.
“Not this,” Ronon answers.
Keturah is raising his pale, wrinkled hands to his face. He suddenly looks horrified, like his daughter’s name has changed his madness from rage to grief.
“What have I done?” he says, slowly, the transmitter dropping from his fingers on to the ground. “I cannot protect my people.”
“We can,” Ronon tells him. “Let us.”
“Will you?” ask Keturah. “After what I have done?”
“Yeah,” Ronon promises. “We’ll kill the Wraith or die trying.”
Keturah stares at him for a second. Then, he raises a palm towards the worried crowd of villagers gathered around him. His head dipped, Keturah waves their bows and blowguns down. “They are not our enemies.”
Immediately, Ara and Hemi release the guards they’ve downed. Ronon is slower to free Sheppard, but not because he fears Keturah. Keeping hold of Sheppard, Ronon stands and pulls the man upright as he does. Sheppard tenses up, unsure what he’s doing. Ronon grips the knife tightly and then jerks it away, dropping it back into the sheath inside his coat sleeve. He finally lets go of Sheppard and gives him a hard shove away. The Runner staggers and nearly falls, but finds his footing. Sheppard straightens up, pulling his rumpled clothes back in order and acting like the entire village isn’t staring at him.
“I told you,” he says to Keturah, lowly. “I told you these were good people.”
Unfortunately, that was the easy part. Keturah’s people understand the situation immediately: the Wraith are coming and they need to fight. But bravery only goes so far. There’s no time to teach them battle tactics, no time to train them how to use the weapons.
Ronon has Keturah evacuate the village of everyone who can’t or shouldn’t fight. The very old and the very young, the frail and the sick, and pregnant or nursing mothers. Morika – awake now but very woozy and furious at Sheppard – escorts the trail of refugees to the ‘Ring. They may not make it out in time, but the forest is still safer. And Keturah, both old and injured, should go with them. But he refuses, ruefully fingering the still blinking Wraith-transmitter that started this mess.
“It will be suspicious,” he says. “I must remain.”
Ronon doesn’t argue with him.
Ara and Hemi get weapons distributed to everyone. They don’t have exactly enough. Arrows and the sleep needles won’t work on Darts, but Ronon thinks they’ll at least irritate the drones. Might even take them out.
Rakai delivers a very quick weapons orientation. Find the Wraith, point your gun, open fire. They can’t get more complicated than that.
“There’ll be a hive ship,” Sheppard says softly, while Rakai is demonstrating how to reload. It’s the first thing he’s said to Ronon since he took the knife down from Sheppard’s throat.
Sheppard looks worried, eyes on the bows and arrows some of the villagers are still holding.
“Isotopic pulse canon missile,” Ara says, overhearing. She steeples her fingers and then spreads them wide. “Boom.”
“We have one?” Ronon asks, surprised.
“Yeah. Just one, though.” She grimaces. “I won’t miss.”
Sheppard nods once, but doesn’t look all that relieved.
“Just one hive,” Ronon checks.
“I think that’s the rules,” Sheppard says.
Sheppard makes an ugly face. “It’s a game. A game to him.”
Now really isn’t the time for Sheppard to spill his guts, but it’s coming out anyway.
“I call him Paul. He has –” Sheppard strokes his face – “stuff. Like a Walrus. So, I went with Beatles.”
Ronon doesn’t follow any of that and doesn’t try to.
“He was trying to feed on me, decided it was more fun to watch me Run,” Sheppard finishes.
“We’ll kill him,” Ara says, comfortingly.
“I’ll kill him,” Sheppard says. “Leave him to me.”
Ara and Hemi nod, but Ronon doesn’t. Sheppard actually grabs his shoulder. “He’s mine.”
Ronon doesn’t think he can possibly understand what it means to Sheppard to kill that thing, so he dips his head. “He’s yours.” He tips his chin at the rifle sitting at Sheppard’s feet. “Load your weapon.”
Sheppard holds his gaze for a second, then drops to his knees to open the barrel.
“Think we got a chance?” Hemi whispers, when Rakai finishes the instructions and joins them in the impromptu officer’s circle at the front of the gathered, armed civilians.
“Hell yeah,” says Rakai. “We got five Satedans and whatever the hell Sheppard is.”
“Earthling,” Sheppard says, from the floor where he’s racking his gun. “
They put Sheppard back in the cage, his rifle concealed under a blanket. Ronon hides in the nearby underbrush and the rest of the squad disperses with civilians into the forest. Old, injured Keturah sits on his litter next to Sheppard’s cage. They don’t know when the hive ship will get here, but Sheppard guarantees it will be soon. It looks, hopefully, like the sacrifice this Wraith named Paul should be expecting. Up until the part where Sheppard blows his head off.
It happens before nightfall.
Ronon can hear Ara on his radio, announcing her tracking equipment has a massive vessel in orbit. Morika reports the Ring is on and engaged to prevent anyone escaping. In the next second, there’s seven ugly drones standing all around Sheppard’s cage.
“Hey, buddies,” Sheppard says, lowly. His hands are under the blanket. “Long time, no see.”
Sheppard didn’t say anything about wanting to kill these guys by himself, so Ronon stands up in the bushes and helps.
There’s odd, awful silence for a few seconds between when Ronon and Sheppard stop firing and the last drone’s body hits the earth.
Then, somewhere up in the sky, Paul figures out what’s happened.
Sheppard’s out of his cage and walking, gun up, towards Ronon and the forest when the next dozen Wraith boots hit the ground behind him. He flicks his eyes at Ronon.
“This is the Running part,” he says.
They both take off, alternating turns of putting as much distance between them and the Wraith and running backwards while shooting. Keturah can’t run, but Ronon hears the handgun they gave him firing until he’s out of sight. He doesn’t think about it, after that.
Ronon gets a glimpse of what seven months of Sheppard’s life was like. It’s different, though. He isn’t alone. The Wraith chasing after him encounter Ara, Hemi, Rakai, and Ronon, or any one of the civilians holding Satedan weapons. And Keturah’s people aren’t doing too badly with their own weapons. It takes about six arrows to bring down a drone, and it looks like those sleep darts work on Wraith, too.
He’s waiting for the Wraith darts to appear in the sky, but it doesn’t happen. Sheppard catches him watching the clouds and shakes his head. “I think that’s cheating,” he says, then turns around and blasts the three Wraith coming up the path. Ronon can only hope the hive’s weapons are also ‘cheating.’
It’s still a battle. Ronon is bleeding and he sees people going down and not getting back up. His team keeps checking in, thankfully, still alive in their positions across the forest. Ronon follows Sheppard. He doesn’t care that the man survived like this by himself. Sheppard doesn’t have to do that today.
Paul can’t track Sheppard this time, either. Instead, he sends creepy-looking orbs that float in the air, racing quickly through the tree branches and swerving around tree trunks. They’re hard to shoot, but Hemi quickly discovers grenades work on them just fine.
But Sheppard grabs one out of the air, holds it up to his face like a radio transceiver.
“Come and get me,” he snarls. “Village square. Come and get me!” Then, he smashes the orb to the forest floor.
Sheppard’s face is streaked with blood and it looks like one of the drones managed to do some damage to the left side of his torso. He glances at Ronon before he takes off, back in the direction of the village. Sheppard doesn’t say anything, but his eyes are screaming that this is the part he has to do himself. Ronon considers this, briefly, then follows him. He calls Rakai and Hemi to follow, too, and tells Ara to get the isotopic pulse canon missile ready to go.
Paul the Wraith is waiting for Sheppard in the village square.
Sheppard – the lunatic – drops his gun. He charges the Wraith and drives him to the ground.
After that, it’s a fight.
Ronon has never seen a Wraith and a human brawl like this. It’s not like normal, not about feeding. He doesn’t consider Wraith men – they’re monsters – but Sheppard fights this one like that’s all he is. An ugly, evil man.
Sheppard is getting his ass kicked.
The Wraith is not a man. It’s a monster, and it’s stronger than Sheppard. The fourth or fifth time Sheppard is thrown violently to the ground, he can’t get up. Paul the Wraith is smirking, striding triumphantly towards Sheppard’s crumpled body. He has his feeding hand out, poised to strike Sheppard’s heaving chest.
Ronon intervenes. He glances at his battered and bruised squad and they read his mind, every gun leveled squarely at the Wraith advancing on Sheppard.
“Take out the hive,” he orders Ara in a whisper.
Almost instantly, the loud, high whine of the isotopic pulse canon launching sequence fills the air. It’s a deafening weapon even though Ara and the equipment are far, far away. Paul halts in his approach to Sheppard, chin rising sharply. He doesn’t recognize the sound. No Wraith has ever lived to tell another about it.
Ronon can’t hear anything over the pitch, but he can see that Paul is alarmed, asking Sheppard what’s happening.
In response, Sheppard props himself up on skinned elbows and spits out a mouthful of blood. Ronon reads his lips:
“Your turn to run,” Sheppard says, the corners of his mouth tugging up.
Ronon takes that as permission and opens fire. Rakai and Hemi follow suit. Their bullets riddle the Wraith’s body, sending it flying backwards until it lies limp and soaked in blood on the ground. Ronon doesn’t stop firing until his weapon is empty and neither does anyone else.
The deafening whine of the canon suddenly stops and for a moment there’s no noise. And then the isotopic pulse canon missile detonates the hive, somewhere above the clouds. It’s more vibration than sound, the ground and the trees shaking like crazy as red and purple explosions bloom in the sky.
It ends quietly.
Ronon hauls Sheppard up off the ground. Rakai immediately puts a pressure bandage around his chest and Ronon can see the enormous amount of blood soaking the ground where Sheppard had been lying.
Keturah is dead, but so are the Wraith and the hive that killed so many of his people. What had remained of the village after the first time is gone, completely destroyed in this second battle. But there are survivors to rebuild and these people got their own vengeance today.
Morika reports that the Ring is disengaged, and that they can use it again. There’s no time for celebrations. Ronon can tell Sheppard needs to get to a hospital immediately, and that’s probably true of Rakai and Hemi, too.
“Think you can stay conscious long enough to fly us home?” Rakai asks Sheppard, supporting him as they trudge back to the ship. Morika and Ara are waiting for them there.
Sheppard nods, but his skin has gone pale and clammy. Rakai and Ronon are propelling him forward.
“Good,” Rakai says. “Because I owe you a beating for earlier.”
“Me, too,” chimes in Morika, but she looks more worried than angry.
They practically pour Sheppard into the pilot’s seat and Ronon thinks that after surviving this day, they’ll die in a plane crash on the way home.
Miraculously, Sheppard can still fly while half-dead. He maneuvers the vessel carefully up and over the trees, back to the Ring.
The inside of the ship is quiet except for everyone’s labored breathing. Ronon realizes how much his own body hurts, pats himself down and discovers his clothes are unsettlingly wet with warm blood.
“What do we say?” Hemi asks. “At the debriefing?”
“Spontaneous Wraith encounter,” Ronon says. Kell doesn’t need to know about any of this. “Successful with the help of our allies.”
“Cool,” says Rakai, as they enter the rippling horizon.
There is no immediate debriefing. Sheppard passes out the moment the ship hits the launch pad, actually sends it skittering forward uncontrollably until the auto-landing system catches it and locks it in place.
They all go directly to the hospital. Ronon doesn’t think he really needs to, probably just a visit to the base clinic would do it. Melena can stitch him up when he get home. But nobody else agrees with him and the entire squad gets tied to gurneys and airlifted to the trauma hospital.
And of course, Melena is the doctor that unloads Ronon’s aeroambulance. Her eyes go enormous when she realizes it’s her husband on the gurney.
“I’m okay,” he says, because they shoved an IV in his arm on the way over that made him feel more tired and less hurt.
“You said it was a trade mission,” she accuses, holding a diagnostic scanner by his head.
“It was,” he retorts, mildly. “We traded.” Then, Melena catches sight of Sheppard in the gurney behind him. And the guy does look worse, practically green and with a breathing stabilizer coming out of his mouth like a fountain. She leans down and kisses Ronon on his torn lips, then races over to Sheppard. Ronon can tell he isn’t awake, but Melena pets the side of his face, anyway, and tries to find a spot on his cheek that isn’t bruised. Ronon can’t hear what she asks the doctor examining Sheppard, but her reaction is a relieved sigh. She’s coming back towards Ronon, but he can’t stay awake for her to get here. He just smiles at her, and goes into the swirling nothingness.
Ronon wakes up in the same hospital room as Sheppard, not surprisingly. He’s a little concerned with how much he hurts, and totally baffled by the number of bandages he finds on his body under the blanket. Somehow, he didn’t notice those wounds in the heat of battle.
Sheppard’s still green, but he looks a lot better. He’s awake before Ronon, and trying to twist free of the various apparatus hooked into him. Despite the time he spent in the hospital when he arrived on Sateda, Sheppard still doesn’t understand any of the medical equipment and always wants it off. And Melena knows that, and it looks like she actually locked the tubing down so Sheppard can’t get it out.
“Hey,” says Ronon, after silently watching Sheppard struggle for a while.
Sheppard turns his head towards Ronon’s gurney. “Hey,” he says, sounding hoarse.
Ronon cranks his bed into a sitting position, discovers the muscles in his abs are really, really pissed off at him. Sheppard watches him, unable to do the same because Melena disabled the mechanism.
“Good fight,” Ronon remarks. Sheppard looks like hell. There is no way he’s getting out of that bed for a long time.
Sheppard gives up on yanking the IV straps and examines his bandaged hands. “Yeah,” he says, looking at Ronon over his gauze covered fingers. “It was.”
“But it doesn’t happen again,” Ronon says, totally sincerely. He means all of it. The Wraith that destroyed Sheppard’s world and made him a Runner is gone. But the suicidal Runner has to be gone, too.
There’s a beat while Sheppard blinks, his pale eyelids staying shut a little too long. “Yeah,” he says, finally. “I know.”
“Okay.” Ronon moves on quickly. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Sheppard gives a frustrated kick under the blanket, where his legs must be trapped, too. Ronon can tell the movement hurts, but Sheppard does it again, anyway. “I just wanna go home.”
~Please Feed The Author~