Ronon's spent a lot of time, over the years, in one military unit or another. He started out in the Youth Reserves, like everybody on Sateda, went on to the Regulars, and had made it into the Specials by the time Sateda was destroyed, usually attached to offplanet operations unless more firepower was needed back home. He's actually spent a lot of time around scientists, too, no matter what McKay might think, because Melena liked science and Ronon liked Melena and that's what you do when you like someone.
What he's trying to get across, here, is that he's been around this galaxy a time or two (even not counting the horrible seven years of Running in which he tried not to see any people at all ever), and he's had a decent opportunity to watch and figure out what kinds of people are out there. He's also had a lot of chances, between boring missions and late-night watches, to mentally compare the Atlantis expedition with the other cultures he's come across.
The conclusion he's come to is this: Earthers are genetically brain-damaged.
When he first met Sheppard's team he'd assumed Sheppard and McKay had been concussed in some fashion and was actually kind of impressed by how well they'd been able to manage, being injured and all. Now, though, he knows that McKay can't stay on topic to save his life and Sheppard really does think he's funny, and that all of the rest of their people can be located somewhere on the same spectrum of low-grade insanity.
On the one hand, it's impressive that they've managed as well as they have, as a culture, to not blow themselves up yet.
On the other hand, it can be severely annoying.
Take right now, for example: Ronon's sitting in one of the puddlejumper's bucket seats (yet another Earther term that makes absolutely no sense, by the way), right behind McKay, eating a siffarin fruit and watching Sheppard and McKay fight like children over, apparently, pictures of small fluffy animals with loudly misspelled captions attached. It's vastly more important than piloting the jumper, of course.
"I dunno," Lorne says from the back, not helping at all. "My mom used to send me those on the email. I liked the one with the walrus? You know, with the - "
"NOOOO THEY BE STEALIN' MY BUCKET!" Sheppard shouts, flailing like a demented person.
McKay starts screeching about how they're going to die if Sheppard doesn't pay attention, and flings himself at Shepherd in an apparent attempt to make it a whole lot harder for him to pilot. Ronon exchanges a long-suffering look with Teyla, and is totally unsurprised when the jumper spins wildly out of control and everything goes black.
Ronon is also totally unsurprised to wake up in the infirmary, although he will concede that the waking-up-and-not-being-dead part is nice.
It is a little startling, though, to find that he's now face-to-face with his very own miniature copy of himself. The tiny thing even has tiny dreadlocks.
Sitting up and looking around proves that he's not the only one to have been doubled and miniaturized without his permission. In between each infirmary bed containing one of his teammates is one containing a very small bump. The third bump on the left very clearly has Sheppard's stupid hair.
Standing in the middle of the infirmary is Beckett. His expression indicates that he is extremely aware of the kind of chaos his future holds once everyone wakes up.
"Doc." He uses the low, flat growl that usually gets the fastest reaction from Earthers. Sure enough, Beckett jumps and hurries over, stopping at the foot of the bed.
"Ronon, you're awake! How are you feeling?"
"Fine. We got copied."
"It would appear so."
"And then shrunk."
This kind of thing never happened in this galaxy before the Earthers came, of this Ronon is most sure.
"Huh," he says instead. Beckett appears to be waiting for him to say something else, but Ronon's just noticed McKay starting to twitch across the room. He settles back and waits for the show to start.
It's every bit as good as Ronon was hoping. McKay and Small McKay freak out and then start arguing with each other. Both Lornes faint and have to be brought around again by Beckett. Small Sheppard blatantly checks his bigger self out and likes what he sees, and then everyone starts arguing again. In the middle of it, Teyla comes to, and then everything has to be explained again, which is complicated by the fact that McKay can't seem to decide if his other self should be allowed to speak because he's technically also McKay, or if he should be drowned out and - hah! - belittled because that's what McKay does to anyone else who tries to talk while he's explaining something.
"I hardly think that the event horizon - "
" - no, not the horizon itself, the conductive pathways between the horizon and the gate - "
" - could have become separated when Sheppard smashed the jumper into it in what can only be described as epic fail - "
"Oh, I love that site," Beckett says. Ronon used to have hopes for Beckett, because he's a healer like Melena and he did a really good job of getting that Wraith tracker out of Ronon's back that one time, but experience has shown that Beckett has as much trouble prioritizing as the rest of them. Also, he panics randomly.
"Fix this. Now." Big Sheppard says. He probably means it to come off as commanding, but the way the whites of his eyes are showing makes Ronon skeptical.
"Well, the normal-sized... yous... seem to be fine," Beckett says, demonstrating an unusual sense of the strategic. "I'd like to run a few further tests on your wee selves, but there's no reason the rest of you can't go about your business."
Sheppard and McKay bail so fast they almost leave vapor trails, and vanish down the corridor to the living quarters - unsurprising given how close they were coming to foreplay with that fight in the jumper before they broke the laws of physics (again). Lorne stands aimlessly in the corridor for a moment, looking after Sheppard and McKay, then takes himself off to the firing range. Teyla gives Ronon a slightly strained smile and asks him if he'd like to meditate with her. He turns her down, probably to her relief - his snoring seems to disturb her concentration - and he heads for their quarters instead. He figures Beckett has about three and a half minutes before he loses control of the situation in the infirmary, and Ronon aims to be back before the small version of his team has time to do something stupid like escape and, with their luck, spread some kind of childifying disease around the base.
It only takes him a minute to gather what he needs from Teyla's room and jam it in a carryall. He gets back to the infirmary not a moment too soon, if the sound of Beckett being drowned out by shrill protesting voices is any indication, and leans against the wall next to the infirmary door to wait.
Sure enough, the voices inside hit a new pitch, the infirmary door slides open, and Ronon swoops down and nets himself an armful of struggling miniature Sheppard-and-McKay for his troubles. The other three, a few paces behind, skid to a stop when they see Ronon's face and backpedal hastily. Ronon hides a smile; apparently his teammates have more self-preservation when they've been shrunk than they have when they're adult-sized.
"Back," Ronon says, pointing at the infirmary beds. Small Ronon, Teyla, and Lorne retreat. Ronon tosses Sheppard and McKay onto a spare bed and backs up so he can see all of them at once.
"So," he says. "Are you children or are you small adults? Because the way I see it now you're all about eight years old."
"What?" Sheppard bleats. Bingo. Just enough adult to be off-balance, just enough child to be really touchy about it.
"Would I have been able to explain what happened to us if I was a child?" McKay sputters. "I think not! I grant you that I was an exceptionally precocious child, but even I - "
And Ronon knows how to handle children. It's just like handling his team, most days, only less subtle.
"Eight-year-olds," Ronon continues, "Are selfish, impulsive, have short attention spans, and think they're a lot smarter than they actually are. Now I know those are things that Sheppard and McKay have trouble with on a normal day - "
"Hey!" McKay says, insulted.
" - but the rest of you know better," Ronon continues, ignoring McKay's interruption. "So - are you small adults who can sit through a medical exam, or are you children who need to be distracted - " he upends his bag on the foot of the closest bed " - with Athosian children's toys?"
There is a sullen, mutinous silence. No one goes for the toys.
"Yeah," Ronon says, drawing the word out as condescendingly as possible. "You want people to treat you like adults? Act like it."
Beckett is standing by the door with his mouth open. "Where on Earth did you learn how to do that?" he asks.
Ronon shrugs. Sateda was pretty family-oriented, before it was destroyed, and Ronon had been a favorite child-minder until he'd gone into the army and didn't have time for it any more. He's had several years in which to learn how to manage his unruly horde of younger siblings and cousins.
He glances surreptitiously at his teammates - they look rebellious but subdued, at least for the moment - and decides it's time to make an exit.
"Are you leaving?" Beckett asks, sounding a little panicked. Ronon keeps walking. He figures this will be a pretty good learning experience for Beckett, too.
"If they act up again, let me know," Ronon says loudly. The subversive whispering behind him stops abruptly.
Mission accomplished, Ronon heads out.
He does a quick sweep - Lorne is still in the firing range blowing the hell out of innocent targets, Teyla is meditating in the sparring room, and Sheppard and McKay are... keeping each other busy - and then heads for the control room. He'll bet anything that the gateroom techs have already hacked into the infirmary surveillance system, and now that he's sorted Beckett out he wants to watch and see what happens next. Judging by the way his small self had been stealing Beckett's scalpels right, left, and center, he guesses it'll be ten minutes after they're cleared by the medical exam before the mini-team stages another breakout.
Sure enough, there is a suspicious crowd around one of the monitors in the tower. All the gate techs are there, plus what looks like several of McKay's scientists and even one or two of Sheppard's soldiers. Ronon pads silently up behind them and waits for his moment.
"Definitely Major Lorne," Cadman says. "Who knew he was blond as a kid? It's super cute."
"I dunno," says one of the techs. "If we're talking hair I think Major Sheppard has the advantage. He looks like one of those little troll dolls."
"No, no," Zelenka says. "Is Ronon. Tiny dreadlocks - very cute. Although lisp on Rodney is most amusing."
"I think Teyla's the cutest," Ronon says. They jump and scatter in a gratifying way, giving him a clear view of the monitor screen. It looks like the kids have been cleared and moved from the infirmary to one of the guest quarters. Ronon smiles to himself - small Ronon and small Teyla look pretty restless. "Do you have surveillance in the ventilation system?"
Zelenka edges cautiously back towards the monitor. "Why?"
"Me and Teyla are about to break out."
There is a murmur of interest from the scattered crowd, and suddenly everyone is gathered around the monitor again. They all watch silently as small Teyla pushes McKay out of the way and small Ronon kicks out the ventilation grate and heads off. It's only a moment before all the children realise the opportunity this affords and follow as well.
"Did you know they were going to do that?" Cadman asks.
"Yup," Ronon says. His team doesn't take well to being imprisoned, whether they're miniaturized or not.
"You did not stop it, as in infirmary?" Zelenka asks, sounding surprised.
Ronon shrugs. "That was a med exam, it made good sense to keep 'em in there. This is just funny."
They both look alarmed, although Ronon can't tell if it's because he's showing his sense of humour or because of the cavalier way he's treating his tiny teammates' safety. He's not worried - it's not like the kids are going to get into any more trouble as children than they're always getting into as adults. Probably less, in fact.
"Hey, little Ronon disappeared!" says one of the techs.
"That's because he's completely badass," one of the scientists says admiringly, and then looks embarrassed.
Cadman and Zelenka give him pointed looks. Ronon rolls his eyes. "Fine," he mutters. His small self just took the left-hand fork of the ventilation system and came out by the armory instead of going towards the transporters like the others, but whatever. "I'll go find him."
"Oooooh," one of the techs says as Ronon leaves. "Major Lorne totally just macked on Doctor McKay!"
Ronon rolls his eyes again and keeps going. He can guess what Sheppard had to say about that, child-size or not.
Ronon pauses for a moment a little down the hall from the other kids, just to make sure they're all right. They seem to be fine - McKay and Lorne are playing with the transporter doors and Sheppard and Teyla are talking. Rather than scatter them by making his presence known, he steps quietly backwards and then detours towards the armory.
He's about halfway down the hall when he realises he's being stalked. He carries on normally, then ducks into a side passage and doubles back into the corridor. There is a slight scuffing noise and then silence as small Ronon slips into the shadows and goes still, holding his breath.
Ronon creeps on, looking away from small Ronon's concealing shadow, and then lunges at the last moment. Small Ronon ducks and rolls between his leg and the wall and sprints for the next corridor over.
Ronon grins. This is Catch, a game all Satedan children know how to play; if Ronon's understood the explanation given to him by Elizabeth it is not dissimilar to an Earther game called Hide and Seek, only with a suitably educational degree of violence added in. He turns and runs silently after small Ronon.
They play for another ten minutes or so, trying to find the best hiding places and sneakiest shortcuts. Ronon nearly grabs small Ronon as he goes up the stairs and again when he ducks back into the ventilation system, and nearly gets caught himself as he drops down from the balcony to the floor below. It's fun to lose himself for a few minutes in the childhood game that so few play correctly any more, especially when he's trying to outmanouver someone who is, for all strategic purposes, himself. It forces him - both of them - to think outside their usual patterns, which is refreshing.
Finally, Ronon calls the all-halt and steps out of his doorway. Small Ronon wriggles out from beneath some packing crates, and they sit together at the bottom of a nearby flight of stairs.
"You look like Shimin," Ronon tells his small adversary. Shimin was one of their cousins. While most of Ronon's family tended to be large and sturdy, Shimin was small and fragile... deceptively so, as it turned out, because he was also incredibly fast and could beat all of them when it came to marksmanship and sleight-of-hand fighting.
Small Ronon sticks his tongue out. "You look like Uncle Anwerry."
Ronon grimaces. It's not a favorable comparison.
"I should probably start practicing Shimin's style, actually, if I'm going to be tiny like this," small Ronon says contemplatively. Ronon starts to agree, and then something makes him take a closer look.
"Are you getting smaller?" he asks.
Small Ronon hunches one shoulder. "Sheppard thinks so," he says. "Of course - "
" - Sheppard doesn't think," Ronon says along with him, smiling. "All the same, we'd probably best go round up the others."
Small Ronon groans. "They are so much worse when they're children," he says in a put-upon voice.
They meet up with Teyla in the hallway, her counterpart balanced comfortably on one hip, and continue on to where Ronon last saw the other children. Lorne and McKay are asleep, leaning against each other by the wall next to the transporter, but fortunately they've gotten small enough that Ronon can pick them both up without too much difficulty. They barely even stir as he gathers them up, worn out by the escape and by running up and down the corridors.
"Where do you suppose John is?" Teyla asks in a whisper, and then answers her own question. "Gone to argue with Elizabeth and himself, I would imagine."
"Hm," Ronon agrees, amused. "Guess your younger self likes to meditate, huh?"
"No," Teyla says, very gravely. "She came to me for solace after Major Sheppard made fun of her because her breasts were shrinking."
Ronon tries to think of an answer to this that won't become painful in some fashion.
"Oh," he says finally. Teyla looks horribly amused.
Beckett gathers them outside the infirmary. "They're definitely getting smaller," he says, without preamble.
"What?" McKay says.
"Is there nothing you can do to stop it?" Teyla demands.
"I really don't know," Beckett says, sighing heavily. "I suppose it's possible we could use the Gate somehow. If we sent them back through maybe it would just - "
"Are you high?" McKay demands. "Have you been huffing solvents? Because I don't know what else would make you think the Gate is some kind of magic Ancient wishing well. Now, maybe..."
Ronon tunes the discussion out. On the one hand, if the children shrink into nothingness it will solve a lot of problems - and from the guilt all over his face, Sheppard is probably thinking the same thing. Having the Atlantis Expedition's Most Wanted reduced to such a tiny size makes them very vulnerable - the Genii, the Wraith, and any number of their other enemies would be all too happy to get their hands on such helpless keepers of Atlantis' secrets. Protecting the children from outsiders and, more significantly, keeping them out of trouble, will tie up people and resources that the expedition just can't spare.
On the other hand...
McKay is always complaining that he can only be in one place at a time. Teyla is constantly torn between her obligations to the expedition and to her people. Ronon and Teyla were both raised in communities that teetered on the brink of extinction, and in which children were joyfully welcomed and carefully protected for the additional measure of security they represented. Risk of vulnerability aside, he's finding that the idea of losing one more of his people - even if it is technically himself - is more upsetting than he was prepared for.
McKay and Beckett are hunched over a computer screen. Sheppard is fidgeting by the door. Teyla is looking in on the children, her face worried, and Lorne and Elizabeth have vanished.
He winds up in the sparring room, beating the crap out of one of the heavy sacks that Sheppard's soldiers like to use. He's always done his best thinking while he's active; it's why he's a good tactician and not always a great everyday thinker. He just can't concentrate when he's still.
There's a whisper of sound behind him and a faint scent of incense - Teyla. He turns as she tosses him a set of sparring sticks.
"Rodney and Doctor Beckett think they can stop the children from de-aging," Teyla says, and skips back a step as Ronon sweeps low.
Ronon grunts and blocks a downstrike. "How small will they be by then, though?"
Teyla forces him back a step with a quick flurry of right-left-right. "That is of course the question," she says drily. "Rodney seems confident that they will not have regressed unduly."
"Of course he is," Ronon mutters, going in over Teyla's guard and nearly landing a hit on her collarbone. They fight for a few moments in silence, and then Ronon drops his sticks and steps back. Teyla pulls her next strike immediately and retreats a few feet as well.
"Do you want the kids to stay?" he asks.
Teyla sighs and sits. "They will cause many problems," she admits as Ronon joins her on the floor. "But I cannot wish that they did not exist. At first I found them very unsettling, but now... It is comforting, I suppose, to know that there is someone who so closely shares my innermost thoughts."
Ronon nods. Teyla has always been good at putting things into words. "I never think until it's too late," he says slowly. "I thought it was funny. Now I'm worrying about them like they're family."
Teyla pats him comfortingly on the shoulder. "They are family, Ronon. They are us. And they could ask for no better protector than you." She shifts her grip and uses his shoulder as leverage to stand up. "Now - I think I shall contact my people and see about arranging caretakers for them. Whatever age they finally settle on, the city itself is too dangerous for children. And you, my friend..." she smiles down at him. "I think you should go make sure they are properly cared for."
When Ronon gets back to the infirmary, most of the drama is over. McKay and Beckett have done their thing and the children's de-aging has been halted - they're infants now, which is a shock, but at least they're still alive. When Ronon walks in McKay and Beckett are just leaving, looking tired but satisfied.
Lorne is in the far corner with the babies. He's wild-eyed, covered in spit-up, and holding a wailing baby at arm's length.
"What the hell happened to you?" Ronon asks, taken aback.
"I said I'd done some babysitting! I've never taken care of actual babies!" Lorne hisses.
Ronon tries to hide a smile. Someday Lorne's thing for McKay is really going to get him into trouble. "Go clean up. I'll take the kid."
"What?" Lorne bleats. Ronon takes the baby - Sheppard, judging by the ears - and holds him properly against his shoulder, one hand under the baby's bottom and the other comfortably across his back. Sheppard hiccups, grabs one of Ronon's dreads, and settles down.
Lorne's staring at Ronon like he thinks Ronon's going to eat the baby next. "You smell like puke," Ronon reminds him.
Lorne backs up a step, torn between responsibility and the possibility of being as far away from the infirmary as Atlantis' size will allow, and then says "I'll be back in just a minute," and bails.
Ronon walks up and down with Sheppard for another minute, visiting the other babies and giving Sheppard time to cool down. He tickles Teyla's stomach, making her giggle (she's in pale pink while the rest are in pale blue - what is it with Earthers and color-coding?), and rubs baby Ronon's back for a moment when it looks like he's going to wake up and fuss (he has tiny soft dreads, which even Ronon has to admit is pretty adorable). The baby at the end has been babbling nonstop the entire time so Ronon figures it's a safe bet he's McKay, and settles Sheppard down beside him.
A nurse comes in and starts checking on the infants.
"That one needs to be changed," Ronon says, pointing to the one who by process of elimination is Lorne. He's squirming and by his scrunched-up face is working up to some pretty impressive howling. "And maybe that one, too," he adds, pointing at baby Sheppard.
"Uh... thank you."
Ronon retreats to the doorway and leans comfortably. He's feeling kind of regretful, now, that he didn't come back before the kids had regressed so far. He can't really imagine what it must have felt like to get younger and younger and know that every passing minute brought you closer to being so vulnerable and useless, and he doesn't really want to. He's pretty sure, though, that it could only have helped to have someone around you knew was capable and inclined to protect you, no matter what.
His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Sheppard and McKay.
"What happened to Lorne?" McKay demands.
"Got thrown up on."
Sheppard snickers, and then goes quiet as he realises he's watching a baby version of himself get his diaper changed. "This is officially the weirdest thing ever," he says in a slightly strangled voice.
"Jesus, tell me about it," McKay says. "I think I just peed in the air. Although it could have been baby Lorne."
Actually, it was baby Ronon, but big Ronon doesn't feel like pointing that out. Lorne comes back, still smelling like baby vomit, and Ronon tunes them out. He wonders - were the children clear on what was happening, the entire time they shrank? He'd noticed some regression in the way they acted but in general they'd been pretty aware. Did this mean they'd remember what had happened to them as they grew up again? He ponders this. It would be pretty frustrating to be two years old and know how to pilot a jumper or rewire an atomic bomb or take on three armed opponents without undue danger, but not actually be able to do it. Plus, all of them have seen and done terrible things in their lives. He doesn't like the idea of kids having to deal with that and try to grow up well at the same time.
No - even if it means losing another Satedan or another Athosian, it will be better if the children do not remember.
For a moment, Ronon allows himself to imagine: he could teach Teyla how to hunt, McKay how to fight, Sheppard how to play. He could find Lorne an Athosian kid who needs to be protected and he could find scholars for McKay to learn from. He could show small Ronon how to take care of his team and he could take Sheppard up for his first jumper flight. He could bring them up to take care of each other and protect each other, and then none of them would ever be without family...
He sighs. Teyla's right - it's too dangerous to have children in Atlantis. The Athosians are good people - they turned out Teyla, after all - and they'll do a good job with the babies, whether they grow up knowing who they are or not.
"Shame we can't keep 'em," he says out loud. "I'd have made an awesome dad."
They stare at him.
"What?" Ronon says. He totally would - he wouldn't even make Sheppard cut his stupid hair or McKay learn something boring like agriculture or Teyla learn to cook, unless she felt like it.
"Sure, Ronon," McKay says, with a bright, false smile.
"Yeah," Sheppard says.
"Absolutely," says Lorne. "Sooo... how about those Yankees?"
Ronon rolls his eyes. Earthers can be really oblivious sometimes.