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Myself in You (can't go back remix)

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One

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The thing about the Pegasus Galaxy that has always struck Slayer is the names.

The giant interstellar gateway in circular form is the Ring. The semi-immortal, man-eating monsters are Wraith. Guns that stun are stunners, dart-shaped ships that beam people up in cones of light, never to be seen again, are darts.

And people victimized by the Wraith, turned into playthings and made to run for their very existence are simply Runners.

On Earth, back in the Milky Way, there would have been some complicated, meaningful name for all of those things. Something metaphorical, something named after its inventor, its discoverer. Something that conveys the heaviness of all these words, all these horrors.

Not Pegasus.

She can’t quite decide whether it’s naiveté or wisdom, but in these parts, things are simply called by what they are.

Slayer is Slayer. She was something else, once, but she’s not anymore, now.

Now, she’s a Runner and has been for four years.

+

The world is populated, which is always a risk, but the few hundred people who live here are primitive, simple, and not worth the dart it would take to cull them. Because that’s the word for the loss, the terror, the grief and destruction. They don’t call it kidnapping, or murder. Just that, a culling.

If she makes sure to stay only for one night and no more than that, they’ll be fine.

Longer, and the Wraith might come just to spite her, just to make her feel guilty about all the lives lost, but a single night, a little trade, a warm meal and a bed, those she can afford.

One night, starting now. She shuts the Ring off behind her with a thought and a wave of her hand and starts into the direction of the settlement at a brisk jog.

The inn is the highest building they have, by virtue of having a second floor, and she beelines for it, finding the owner behind the bar. He haggles with her, but they both know the meat she’s offering is good, and not something he can easily access himself. This planet has something that looks a lot like housecats, but kills pretty much any and all small prey.

It’s not very tasty, either. The rabbit like creatures she brought from her last stop, though, are.

In the end, he waves over his daughter and sends her to get Slayer a room and a bath. She doesn’t even have to open her pack and offer any of the scavenged weapons in it.

Not Wraith, never Wraith, no-one will touch those, but there are other villains here, human ones, too, and she’s long since learned that the dead don’t miss their things much. At least, they don’t miss them nearly as much as she’s miss the hot baths and soft beds she trades for them, sometimes. Most often it’s food, medicine, primitive shelter. But. Not tonight.

Since she has no time to work for honest money, it’s either scavenge or steal, and she’d rather take from the dead than the living.

She follows the timid redhead to the back of the inn, a room with a window, two easy exits, and together, they start filling the wooden tub in the corner with tepid well water. They laugh and joke and it’s the closest thing to human contact she’s had… in a long time.

It’s almost full when the girl disappears into the kitchen and return with a single bucket of almost boiling water.

The result is lukewarm at best, but still looks like heaven after a month without so much as a river to scrub down in. (Her favorite planet, one with a dense forest, lovely streams and caves to hide in has been poisoned. She won’t be able to go back. Not in her lifetime.)

Slayer starts dropping clothes and weapons in a pile, sinks into the tub with a groan and a sigh. The girl lingers, quietly, staring, maybe, at the ugly knot of scar tissue between Slayer’s shoulder blades. Eventually, she pulls a sliver of soap out of an apron pocket.

“Don’t tell Father,” she murmurs. “You didn’t pay for it. But-“ she stop-starts, then thinks better than to ask. “D’you want me to clean your things for you? I reckon I can get that shirt neat by morning.”

“Would you?”

A nod.

“That’d be fantastic. Thank you.”

The girl nods again, grabs all the cloth out of the pile, leaving the leathers and weapons, and then escapes. If she knows what those scars mean, she doesn’t say so out loud.

Slayer sits in the bath until it turns a murky brown and ice-cold and pretends that after this, she’ll dress in dryer-warm clothes, snuggle up on the sofa with her sister and watch TV and eat pizza all night. She pretends she’ll call Faith, ask her how patrol with the minis was, make jokes about old age and sleep in a bed that smells only like her. She pretends that, when she steps out of this tub, she’ll have washed away ‘Slayer’ with all the grime, and be Buffy again.

Rinses her hair and wonders, quietly, if she even could. Some things, she thinks to herself, you can’t come back from.

She misses indoor plumbing the most.

+

Ronon clocks her as soon as she steps into the room.

Not because she’s beautiful, or because she stands out among the farmers and country folks, but because she moves like the women in his squad used to, armed and dangerous. Half the reason he loved Melena, he sometimes thinks, was that she didn’t remind him of the war. This woman, though, shouts battle readiness from the rooftops.

He makes three visible weapons on her body, bets that there’s at least as many again he can’t see. She scans the room for exits, dangers, vantage points, then plants herself at a far table, back to the wall.

Her eyes linger on his long enough to know she clocked him the same way he did her. Someone to watch in a fight.

He turns back to his ale, wondering if he has enough coin for another, keeping half a thought and an eye on her. She orders stew and water, gets served promptly, eats quickly and not entirely neatly.

Someone used to dining alone and in a hurry.

He turns away deliberately, makes himself track the pretty barmaid instead. Something innocent. Something untainted. This is his first night among people in months and he doesn’t want to spend it alone. When the redhead looks up at him, he smiles at her. She flinches. Can’t even really blame her for it.

He doesn’t want to spend it alone, but maybe he should. Kill and run, that’s all he is these days, and it shows even in his smiles, more sharp teeth than friendliness.

The warrior woman is halfway done when one of the drunk farmhands in the corner stands, meanders over to her, drops onto her bench, too close. He chuckles, murmurs something lewd into her ear. She grinds her teeth, shifts away.

Ronon feels a trickle of anticipation race up his spine.

The idiot follows. Touches her. Back first, then lower, touching where no man may, not without permission. The barmaid might tolerate it, too sweet to retaliate, or too weak, but this warrior woman won’t. Her teeth are every bit as sharp as his own.

For a moment, Ronon is sure she’ll gut the worm, but then she shoots to her feet, movements jerky with rage, grabs her things, and looks straight at him.

Marches over and sits down next to him, bringing her crackling anticipation with her.

Resumes eating.

“I’m not gonna play hero for you,” he informs her without looking up from his own bowl. Up close she smells like the wild flowers out by the ring. Clean. There’s a blade hidden in her long, honey braid. He resists the urge to find out the color of her eyes. Seducing her would be like sleeping with a knife and he’s done enough of that to know it’s a bad idea. Kill and run, nothing else. The barmaid would be sweet, a stolen hour after closing and it would cost him nothing. This woman, though, would be a war. She’d cost him.

He doesn’t do that. Get close to people who can touch him. Who can mean something.

Not anymore.

“Don’t need you to. Just need you to be big and impressive, so the asshole gets the hint and I don’t get kicked out for kicking his ass. I already paid for the night.”

She flashes him a grin that’s all teeth.

He grunts in response, but eventually raises his head enough to level a glower at the drunkard. He gets the hint.

Beside him, the woman snorts. “See. All good. Thanks, big guy.” Then, after a contemplative silence, she tells the inn keeper, “His next one’s on me.”

Against his will, he smiles. Half an hour later, over his third drink of the night, he grunts, “Ronon Dex.”

“Slayer,” she returns.

+

She doesn’t know what the weird, white alien dudes have done to her, at first. They cut into her, yeah, but she ripped loose before they could vivisect her, or whatever. Killed all of them and ran. Eventually, she manages to sneak onto one of their smaller ships, which gives her a killer headache, but works sort of like her wrist-computer, and get back to the surface that way.

She runs and hides among the villagers that took her in before, thinking she escaped. Thinking she’s safe. They eye her wearily, still distrustful of her, but she can fight and they need that. So they let her come with them to the caves, where they hide.

The monsters come back, though, this time on foot, feeding on anyone they can get their hands on. Some villagers try to fight them. They have weapons they traded for, but the Wraith (such a blunt name, almost as blunt as hers will be) heal even as they’re shot at, again, again.

They run again, they hide again and the monsters find them again.

She kills one, injures another, drags a family of seven to safety.

The monsters find them again.

It takes almost two weeks of hide and seek for the entire village population to be eradicated. Only then, only when it’s just her, anymore, do they stop long enough to tell her how they found them.

It was her, they say.

It’s always going to be her.

Then one of them throws one of her lost knives at her feet, and they clear a path to the Ring for her.

“Run!” they shout, in their strange, chittering language. “Run. Make it fun for us!”

+

She shouldn’t.

She really, really shouldn’t.

The people she sleeps with end up dead, have since long before Wraith even existed, since before this endless race for nowhere.

She shouldn’t.

But the last time someone touched her without the intent to hurt, the last time she had hands on her that were kind was the day she came here. It was Faith, clapping her on the shoulder, telling her to mind the kids while she went and killed some bacon.

They laughed at the mockery of normalcy and Buffy stayed on the sidelines, watching the minis do battle with Faith, interfering only to keep them safe.

The demons kept chanting even as they died and something opened beneath their feet and one of the girls (Violet? Viola? She can’t even remember the kid’s name.) didn’t see. So Buffy leapt and pushed and fell and that –

No-one’s touched her without pain in four years (longer), and Ronon Dex’s hands are calloused and big, rough and dirty, but they’re also warm and almost unbearably kind.

So she shouldn’t. But she wants to.

They spin into her room, she kicks the door closed and he wedges her up against it, their eyes meet and she can see her own hesitation looking back at her from his dark gaze.

“Bad idea,” she tells him, with a smile that stopped being reassuring years ago.

“Terrible idea,” he confirms. His expression is a mirror of hers in every way.

Neither of them lets go.

Instead she buries her hands in his dreads (maybe she should get some, easier upkeep than her own damn hair, but it’s still California blonde at the ends and she can’t) and he digs blunts fingers into her waist, her legs around his hips, his tongue in her mouth and it’s worth it, even if he might end up dead because of her, even if she never sees him again and the guilt eats her alive, it’s worth it.

The Wraith are always cold, like corpses.

He’s burning.

They kiss, they grope and eventually, she undulates against the door hard enough to send him backwards, shoves him onto the bed and lands on top of him, hands going to his belts, guns and knives. She places them on the small nightstand, he does the same with hers and then there’s only clothing left and that they send flying in all directions until they’re both naked, tan and wiry and his tattoos are gorgeous, he’s gorgeous and with his wild hair and dark eyes he doesn’t remind her of home or lost lovers, or anything at all.

Just a warm body and kind hands.

She goes for another kiss, fingers tracing his collarbones, up and back and –

freeze.

+

There is an old Satedan fairy tale (horror story) about how everyone has their mirror image in the world, their reflection come to life.

“Doppelgangers,” his father snorted, once, derisive of superstition and lore. They’d grown beyond that, beyond tall tales. An enlightened society, keeping the Wraith at bay with weapons and science instead of prayers.

But Ronon’s mother shook her head, pressed a hand to his chest and said, “No. They don’t have to look like you. It’s not that sort of mirror. Rather, it’s a mirror of the soul.”

And when you meet them, the story goes, one of you will devour the soul of the other because you are the same and your soul is the same, too.

Later, on other worlds, he hears another ending to the story. An ending where ‘mirrors’ are called ‘soulmates’ and they live happily ever after in a world free of horror.

For a while, with Melena, he believed in that version of the story.

Now, looking up into a face that is nothing like his, except for the perfect reflection of all his horrors and all his sins, he knows his mother’s version was the truth.

+

Her hands find the lump of scars on his back and she freezes. Didn’t even blink at all his other scars, didn’t hesitate, but this one makes her freeze because she knows -

She knows.

He tenses, thigh muscles already flexing, ready to throw her off, his gun is just beyond reach, half a second and he can have it aimed at her before she lands, can have her dead on the floor in three, be out the door in ten, off world in twenty minutes.

Some people turn Runners over, hoping it’ll curry them favor, fundamentally misunderstanding the way this game works. It’s no fun if they don’t fight back. More than once in the past few years, Ronon has decided to just stop, to just let them take him, and every time, they left him alone just long enough to heal, just long enough to rediscover some sort of reason, some sort of hate.

It’s no fun if they don’t run.

But even as he prepares to kill her, the expression on her face isn’t greed, or even fear, disgust. It’s surprise.

Then, after a long moment of stillness, she scoots backwards, off his lap. Finds her feet and brings her hands to her braid. Slowly. The dagger is still in there, but she doesn’t move toward it, just slings the braid over one shoulder and, in a show of trust, turns her back to him.

There, between her shoulder blades, the same place as his own, is a mound of scar tissue.

It’s the same.

It’s the exact same.

He sits up, hand raised to touch, hesitates. Unsure. “How long?”

She shoots him a look over one shoulder. Her eyes are green. “Does it matter?”

Does it? It’s felt like a thousand years of running since the very first day, to him, and something like numbers and dates can never really express what it means to live in stolen snatches between terror and death.

“No.”

She chuckles. “Four years.”

“Three,” he echoes and presses his palm to her back, where it covers the entirety of the scars there with ease, and more besides. She’s tiny. He wraps his free arm around her waist and hauls her back.

She lets him.

+

By the time dawn rises, neither of them has slept a wink, bodies sore and throats tired from too much talking.

It was a languid thing, at first, stories exchanged, easy jokes, laughter. Then, as the night wore on, Ring addresses and hiding places, techniques and tricks and growing urgency and now it’s time.

With two signals crossing, there’ll be Wraith here by noon.

It’s time.

But they still dress too slowly, put on their weapons with clumsy hands, stare at each other too long. People will literally die if they don’t move, but Slayer can’t. For once in her life, she just can’t.

She starts to say, “Come with me,” a dozen times and never dares, because she knows it’s stupid. She knows the Wraith wouldn’t allow it, would kill one of them on principle, because the game’s no fun if they don’t fight back, but it’s also no fun if they fight back too hard.

Those are the rules and to bend them means death. Run. Make it fun for us.

And surviving as long as possible, killing as many Wraith as possible, living five more minutes just to spite those fuckers, it’s all.

Nothing else matters.

Not even warm bodies and kind hands and someone who understands.

So she doesn’t ask and neither does he but by the time they’re both fully dressed and packed, he takes a deep breath and points at the scavenged computer strapped to her left forearm. She found it in a temple ruin and it sang to her.

“Cassian time?”

It’s the time most people who travel adhere to in this galaxy, a sort of standard day so they don’t have to constantly switch between local times. She doesn’t have a watch to compare it, but if she had to guess, she thinks one Cassian day is about thirty Earth hours long.

Thirty two Cassian hours make a day, six days a week, six weeks a month, thirteen months a year.

“Yeah?”

“Half a year?” he asks, pulling out his own handheld device, entering data into it.

“What?”

“Half a year,” he repeats, them holds up the screen for her to see, a Ring address on it. “On this world?”

Oh, she thinks, oh.

+

Ronon was right about her. She was a war. She cost him. She was a mirror. She was harder than the barmaid, sharper than Melena ever got. She was a bad idea.

But as he shoulders his pack and dials his next destination, he can’t regret her.

Kill and run. There’s no room for anything else. He told her that, sometimes around dawn, and she laughed and said, “Slayer means kill.”

He laughed, too, and then kissed her until they were both gasping for breath.

+

It’s childish and stupid, but the planet they meet on after the first six and a half months doesn’t have a name.

In her head, Slayer calls it Hope. Never out loud. She knows better.

+

Year One happens on a desert planet with an atmosphere that seems to somewhat block the tracking signals. They stay together for a month.

She teaches him to sword fight. He teaches her to build better traps.

+

Year One Point Five gets interrupted by a culling. She tells him her name – her real name – as they run for the Ring, laying cover fire in tandem. They split before he can make a joke about stupid, girly names.

+

He makes it the next time, instead.

+

They stop counting by years eventually, just number them. Five is the one where she digs an arrow out of his hip first thing.

+

Six is the one where they stick together for almost nine weeks and laugh while they fuck.

+

Seven is fifty minutes of clutching each other in the rain before they take off running in opposite directions.

+

Eight is the one where Buffy cries almost the entire time because there is a dead village only three worlds behind her and she knows, she knows the Wraith are to blame, not her, not ever her, but she can’t seem to stop sobbing.

+

Nine, four and a half years in, almost six years in Earth time, even if it doesn’t matter anymore, hasn’t for a long time. She still does the math in her head, occasionally, because it’s something to do when sleep won’t come, but it doesn’t matter, not really.

Four and a half years, a grand total of three months and seven days spent together, seventeen injuries, forty-two dead Wraith, and he doesn’t come.

“Well,” she tells the empty, damp air of the cave they agreed on six months ago, “Well.”

She means to say always knew it was gonna end this way, cavalierly, like she doesn’t care, but she can’t seem to get the words out.

+

+

Two

+

John hates the mud planet.

He’d like that noted.

“Seconded,” McKay snarls from under a generous layer of, well, mud.

Teyla, who, of course, is too graceful to slip and slide even in a torrential downpour, just smirks at them both, clean from the knee up, not a spot of mud on her face.

Ronon, who is somewhere between Rodney’s mud monster impression and Teyla’s impeccable self, looks at her like he considers giving her a very long, very dirty hug.

At the foot of the gate steps, Elizabeth doesn’t even bother trying to hide her laughter.

“Laugh it up,” McKay snaps. “If I die of any of the myriad bacteria and diseases undoubtedly making their way into my system right now, you’re all going to die from incompetence when this city sinks within a week without me to keep it going, who’s going to laugh then, huh?”

“Not you,” Teyla calmly concludes. “You shall be dead.”

Their resident genius splutters, stutters and then waves and angry finger in her face. “I’m taking a shower!” he screams and stomps off, leaving clumps of mud in his wake.

John feels vaguely sorry for whoever is on cleaning duty this week. But not sorry enough to strip in the gate room. He’s about to give Elizabeth a brief rundown of their mission before finding his own shower, when one of the geeks comes racing in, a tablet held precariously between thumb and forefinger like he’s afraid it’ll explode. Since it’s making all kinds of noises, that might not be too far from the truth.

He more or less chucks it at Ronon, who catches it single-handedly.

“It won’t stop beeping and we can’t crack the code to shut it up!”

Ronon takes a second to smirk at the little guy before turning his attention to the tablet and freezing. He has the alarm turned off within moments, but his gaze stays fixed on the screen. He mutters something under his breath, too low for John to make out, even as all color drains from his face.

“What did you forget, Ronon?” Teyla asks, apparently close enough to hear.

The former Runner’s gaze shoots toward Elizabeth. “I need to go back out,” he snaps, sharply.

“What?”

“I need to go,” he makes as if to head for the dialing station, but John cuts him off.

“Whoa, buddy. Details. What was that alarm, who’d you forget and where do you need to go?”

“I don’t have time for this, Sheppard!” the large man roars, trying to slip past him.

“Make time!” John commands. It’s sharp enough to make Ronon remember himself.

He visibly controls himself, then snarls, “A reminder to meet a friend. Another Runner. Time window is twelve hours. Alarm went off thirteen hours ago.”

John parses that, then thumbs on his comm to tell Rodney to double time it back. “And bring Beckett along. Ask him to bring his kit. You got ten.”

He turns to Elizabeth. “Permission to head out again?”

She’s nodding before he’s done talking.

They all remember Ronon, the way he was when he came to them, feral and hunted. If there’s another Runner out there, someone they can help, then they can’t not do it.

It’s not who they are.

+

Rodney bitches until Teyla gives him the rundown via comms, then quietly scrapes off the worst of the mud, changes and gets back into his gear. Teyla herself changes pants, John just reloads his weapons. Ronon stands, stiff as a board, until they dial. Then he herds them all through, Beckett first to make sure the doctor is where he can see him. Where he can grab him and drag him along, maybe. John hasn’t seen the big guy like this since he first came to Atlantis.

The second he sets foot on the new planet, he takes off at a loping run toward a sprawling forest to their left, leaving the rest to eat his dust or follow.

They follow.

+

When Ronon officially gets folded into John’s team, John spends a slow evening reading the file various people have compiled about him. DOB, parents names and status, allergies, medical history. It’s all there.

The personal history is mostly a graveyard of ‘deceased’ and ‘MIA’s, the medical part is a nightmare, but what sticks out, the one thing he can’t get past, is age.

Specialist Ronon Dex is twenty-six Cassian years old.

He became a Runner when he was nineteen. He mentioned his homeworld’s militaristic views, so it’s not unexpected that soldiers were recruited young, but – but.

John has seen soldiers in the field who were nineteen. Younger even, sometimes. He saw what war did to them. The nightmares, the paranoia, the screaming. Hell, he wasn’t much older the first time he flew a plane over a warzone and came back with a death toll to his name.

He stares at the dates on Ronon’s file and wonders if there is even a person left to salvage under seven years of being a plaything for the Wraith.

No. That’s not true. He knows there’s a person still there. He has interacted with the man enough to know there is. Ronon is still under that mess of issues and scars. He’s a person. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t want to stay, wouldn’t joke with Teyla and make fun of McKay’s more abrasive nature with a quirk of his lips. He wouldn’t clap John on the shoulder and wink.

But, John thinks, even if Ronon is still someone he wants on his team, someone he can see himself being friends with, he doubts their Ronon is the same as the one that was captured and implanted at the age of nineteen.

Some things you can’t come back from.

+

The cave is empty.

Twelve hours, Ronon said. Thirteen until he got the alert, fourteen and a half until they got there.

The cave is empty and John claps his friend on the shoulder the moment he catches up and sees that empty, angry look. “I’m sorry,” he says.

“No.”

The larger man wedges past him, back into the cave, flashlight in hand. Searching. Scouring.

John and Teyla exchange glances and fan out to scout the area, look for clues. Their science contingent just breathes hard.

Suddenly, Ronon comes shooting back out of the cave, bee-lining for the gate again. McKay curses, Beckett grabs his gear, and they follow.

+

Inside the cave, written in soot on a bare rock wall, there’s a single word:

four

+

Four. Year two.

The forest world, the trees, the traps, the endless ribbing about her name.

Stupid of her to leave that hint, to give him another twelve hours, to wait.

She shouldn’t. They agreed on that early on. Lost is lost. Keep moving. Kill a few Wraith in the other’s name and keep. Moving. Kill and run.

He’s stupidly grateful she’s not sticking to their deal.

+

John is the only one keeping pace with Ronon.

McKay and Beckett are both lagging behind and Teyla has taken up her usual position orbiting the rest of the team, loping between them effortlessly.

So, unless she’s checking in, John is the only one keeping pace with Ronon as they move back to the gate and then straight out again at a ground-eating pace that John knows the other man can maintain for hours.

He watches where he goes, keeps his P90 at the ready and tries to figure out what’s going on inside that dreadlocked head. Ronon is grinding his teeth hard, has gone back to his early-days, monosyllabic self and generally looks murderous to a degree only the Wraith have elicited from him so far.

Once, early on, the younger man told John he didn’t do guilt anymore. That the Wraith had killed countless innocents in their hunt for him, trying to cripple him emotionally, or to simply draw him out. He learned to feel hate for them, instead of guilt for the dead.

“They forced this on me. They get all the blame,” he said and John was sort of dumb struck with awe for this man, who ran from everyone’s worst nightmare for seven years without rest or aid or any sort of motivation except to not let the monsters win.

Looking at him now, John thinks maybe Ronon was wrong. Maybe he is still capable of guilt. Because that look on his face? Looks a damn lot like guilt. Looks like the sinking realization that you left someone behind and can’t bear it. John should know. That look is what ruined his career.

“We’ll find her, big guy,” he tries to soothe. He sucks at it, yeah, but he thinks he gets points for trying

“Three months,” Ronon growls. “Three months of soft beds and easy living and I just forgot, Sheppard.”

“You’re making up for it now. You’re getting her the help she needs.” He kind of wishes Teyla were here. Teyla does words a lot better than he does.

“Should have thought of that three months ago.”

“Better late than never.” And that’s not helpful at all, he’s aware, so he just ups his pace and watches his friend’s six. Let Ronon focus on making amends. John’ll get him there.

+

At the edge of what might graciously be called a canyon, but is really just a broader ravine, Ronon slows down enough for the doctors to catch up, huffing and puffing and, in Beckett’s case, cussing him out in a brogue so thick, no-one understands a word.

John makes a mental note to talk fitness standards with Elizabeth at their next staff meeting. If all their geeks are this bad, they’re sitting ducks. McKay, hands on his knees, actually recovers within a few moments, though, which makes John feel a spark of pride for his geek.

Turns out, though, Rodney was only catching his breath so he could ask, “What the hell got into you? By my count, we have ten more hours to find your friend, so there is absolutely no need to give me cardiac arrest ahead of time. My family has a history of it anyway, I’ll probably be dead by fifty, have some goddamn mercy!”

“Stop whining,” Ronon dismisses absently, scanning their surroundings with a particular frown on his face.

Teyla immediately falls into a defensive stance, John hefts his gun and when Beckett asks what’s going on, McKay shushes him, hand going to his own weapon.

Yep, definitely pride.

+

Ronon can’t tell where she is, but he knows she’s watching. There is something about her, the way she stalks prey, that actually reminds him of the Wraith. Feels a lot like them, when she’s got someone in her crosshairs.

Only she won’t suck the life out of him. Even if he deserves it. Talking to the Lanteans about removing her implant, too, should have been the first thing he did, after they helped him. Make a deal of some sort, offers his services in return.

Something.

Anything.

Instead he let himself get distracted by a little luxury and safety in numbers. By having a squad again, and friends.

Forgot about her.

No wonder she’s watching them instead of coming out. No wonder she doesn’t trust him anymore.

Still, he lifts his hands at his hips, palms out, showing he’s unarmed. Trusts in Teyla’s senses to pick up Wraith, if any are close, and simply calls, “They can remove it!”

She drops into their middle from above, one knife loosely aimed at McKay’s throat, much to the man’s consternation.

“Honey,” she drawls over the man’s fit, voice hard, “you’re supposed to call ahead if you’re bringing people over for dinner. Especially if you’re late.”

Especially if you’re going to make me think you’re dead.

Ronon flinches. “They can remove the tracker.”

It’s the best apology he has.

+

She thought he was dead and here he is, cleaner and better armed than she has ever seen, more meat on his bones and less tension in his shoulders, and he says –

Well, what he says pretty much amounts to a magic spell.

She knows better than to fall for it.

“For what price?”

Because there always is one. The last three people who offered to remove the tracker never did it out of kindness. Her services, her body, her weapons. There is always a price. She left two of them alive, but the one who wanted her body, who thought he could drug her and then simply – she killed him. There is always a price.

The boss type person, the one with the flyaway hair and the authority in his spine and the American flag on his shoulder (don’t hope, don’t hope, don’t hope) drawls, “Well, you see, where I’m from, we have this saying. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ If helping you out screws the Wraith over, we’re all for that. Payment rendered.”

He tags on a winsome smile and she almost rolls her eyes at his good old boy charm. Wonders if it actually works on people. If it worked on Ronon.

If he fell for – but she knows better. Ronon might be younger than her by almost a decade (god, she’s old), but he’s the farthest thing from naïve. If he believes this man, than he must be the real deal. Kill and run, that’s Ronon’s creed. But he stands easily among those people, wears their clothing, their weapons. Probably eats their food, too. That’s more than kill and run. That’s almost like he… stopped.

She takes in the rest of the group. More people in one place than she’s seen in months. A Canadian flag, a British one. The woman is a native, she can tell. Ronon looks like she killed his puppy in front of him.

She didn’t know he could look like that. Hasn’t ever seen him comfortable enough to show emotion like that. And he is comfortable. With these people. The native woman is at his back and he doesn’t even try to keep her within sight. He trusts her. Trusts all of them.

Question: does she trust him?

“Fantastic,” the guy she has her knife on mutters at some point. “And now that we’re all friends, can someone make her take away the knife?!”

“They could try,” she offers, and decides to do something she hasn’t in far, far too long.

Take a leap of faith.

She lowers her blade.

Answer: apparently, yes. She’s surprised, too. But then, she had enough hope, enough desire to live to try and get the tracker removed three times in the past eight year, each time under worse circumstances than this. Turning them down isn’t really an option.

Kill and run. Forward is the only way, because god knows, she can’t go back.

“Okay,” she drawls, tucking the knife away in its sheath, pretending she isn’t putting her life in their hands. “How?”

Before anyone can even begin to answer that, Canadian dude’s tablet and her own wrist strap go off in eerie sync, beeping and blinking and generally going postal on incoming Wraith.

Because of course.

“Well,” Flyaway Hair summarizes even as they all drop into defensive stances automatically, “Crap. Rodney, how long?”

While Canadian dude – Rodney – is still fiddling, she pulls the data straight from her own computer. This whole mental interface thing is so much easier than keyboards and screens. Willow would be jealous.

Willow wouldn’t recognize her old friend anymore.

“Two darts, fifteen minutes. The rock faces tend to screw their telemetry, which is why I come here. How fast can you work?”

The one she has pegged for their doctor blanches. “Lass, fifteen minutes? Putting you under takes almost that long. I’m prepared for field surgery, but not with the Wraith breathing down m’neck!”

“As long as that tracker is in, they’ll keep coming! So do it without anesthetics! I can take the pain!”

“’S not about pain. It’s about me working along your spinal cord. A single flinch from a hit nerve and you’re paralyzed!”

As someone who walked away from having a building dropped on her a decade ago and has only gotten faster at healing since: not very likely. As someone expecting to be kicking Wraith butt in under fifteen minutes: still dangerous.

“There’s no choice! Give me a local, knock me out, do something!”

“I believe,” the only other woman interrupts, “That we should all calm down. Is there a place where we could hide from the Wraith for a little while?”

“Not. Enough. Time!” Slayer considers for a moment, considers and reaches only one possible conclusion, sends Ronon a sharp glare and raises one of her guns to point at Rodney. “Knock me out, do it, run. Only option. Now!”

+

She dreams of Faith, the first time she kills a human.

She’s hurt and he’s a hunter come through the Ring for the traps she noticed nearby. He tracks her sloppy footprints, finds her hidey hole and there’s greed gleaming in his eyes as he takes her in, torso bare except for the ragged bandages, a small fortune in weaponry scattered around her, just out of reach.

He pretends to want to help her for a few minutes and then his hands are on her and they don’t leave until she drives a knife between his ribs.

She gathers her things, runs. Almost passes out half a dozen times before she reaches another bolt hole.

And then she dreams of Faith, who is wearing leather and smoking up a storm in her old basement in a house that doesn’t exist anymore, in a town that fell into hell, in a world she’ll never see again.

“Man,” Faith tells her, smirking, banging her heels against the crate she’s perched on. “And here you thought you’d get away clean. No innocent blood on your hands, huh?”

She pats the crate by her hip and there is a groaning, gurgling noise from inside it. Buffy feels sick.

“He wasn’t innocent,” she defends without meaning to, her words part of the dream, outside her control.

Her sister slayer laughs. “Do you think innocence is a sliding scale? Like, can one person be more innocent than another? Or is it an absolute thing? Like, for example, is the bitch that lies, kills, steals and brings death to every world she travels to more or less innocent than the rapist trying to do her?”

Her dream self has no answer.

+

Rodney is going to go ballistic if anyone else aims another weapon at him today, John decides, even as he automatically re-aims at Ronon’s friend.

It’s an empty threat. She’s literally trying to force them to knock her out. After that, they could do anything with her. Non-compliance would be stupid, because they can just disarm her after she’s down.

No, this isn’t an actual threat. It’s a sign of how far this woman is willing to go to get rid of the Wraith on her back. Literally. Jesus. Like she isn’t already taking a large enough leap of faith here. They’re complete strangers. At least, with Ronon, they had a little time to sniff each other out, get each other’s measure. But with her, they only have minutes.

She’s taking a hell of a lot on faith here.

It’s why John decides to forgive Ronon when the man raises his own gun and aims it squarely at his head. “What she said,” he echoes.

“If you shoot me, I’m going to shoot you back,” John threatens, out of reflex, mostly. Then he nods at Carson, who sighs, grumbles, and reaches for his equipment, even as Rodney pauses in his rant long enough to demand, “And just how are we going to ‘knock out’ Miss Rambo here, because I don’t see-“

The rest of his question is lost under Ronon twirling his gun and pistol whipping his friend in the head with it. He reholsters with his right even as he catches her on the descent with his left, slowly lowering her to the ground, removing her own weapon from her grasp.

Then he straightens her out, yanks her tank top down, out of the way, and flips her braid to one side with the familiarity of old lovers and maybe someone should have asked a few questions about this woman, because she’s really not what anyone expected.

For one, she doesn’t look like someone who can survive running from the Wraith for long. For another, her and Ronon are definitely banging. Or were. Used to? Still are?

Nevermind.

“McKay, try to track those darts, Teyla, perimeter, Ronon, you,” he waves a hand at where the man is kneeling by his friend’s side, obviously intending to stay, “as you were. Carson, quick and dirty, please, we have ten minutes until we’re all dead.”

+

Ronon has never seen his own lump of scarring beyond a vague mess in half-blind mirrors. Once the tracker was out, he stopped caring about it, beyond turning down the doctor when he offered to reduce the scarring, to make it look… neater.

Ronon earned those scars. He bled and ran and killed for them and he’s not going to hide them, or try to make them look like anything less than they are: a brutal testament to what he’s survived.

So he knows they’re there, he knows they’re ugly and that he’s proud of them, and he doesn’t much care beyond that.

Buffy’s scars, on the other hand, he knows by heart.

As he kneels by her head, keeping her from breathing dirt, watching Beckett work, his gaze keeps tracking back to her skin, even though he should be watching for Wraith, instead.

It’s a pale lump on her otherwise tanned back, raised and twisted in itself where more than one knife made a futile attempt to dig out the tracker. Dr. Beckett has already made a neat incision right down the center of it, right along her spine and is now cursing the copious amount of blood obscuring his sight.

Ronon twists one of his sleeves over his hand and wipes away the worst of it, faster than fumbling out some gauze to clean it would have been. It gets him a rant about hygiene and infection rates, which he ignores in favor of pointing out, “We don’t have time.”

It’s why no-one is mentioning involuntary muscle spasms and autonomous nerve reactions, either.

An angry grunt and then gloved fingers are prodding at the wound, finding entrance, slipping inside. The man thinks he’s working against the Wraith, unaware that he’s also working against his patient’s healing factor. Pressing into her neck to find her pulse, Ronon can tell that she won’t be under for more than a handful of minutes now.

Beckett shuffles, squints, feels blindly, and finally gives a little cry of triumph, bringing his scalpel back into play with a precision and speed none of the hacks and quacks both Buffy and Ronon tried have ever had, and suddenly, there is a shiny, deadly little object in his hands.

Ronon grabs it from him and breaks it in two with his bare hands, flinging the parts in opposite directions for good measure. Gone. Done with. It seems too easy, now, after all the pain that little machine has caused. All the death.

“Done?” Sheppard asks, without turning his gaze from the horizon. “Ronon, can you carry her? We gotta jet.”

With an all-purpose grunt, Ronon tugs her limp body up into his lap, turning her around, ignoring the blood sluicing over his pants and hands. They’ll wash and she’ll heal. Ignoring the doctor’s renewed bitching, too.

Instead, he slaps her lightly on the face.

“Wakey wakey,” he cajoles and is gratified when, after a few moments, she gasps, bolts upright and then promptly elbows him in the gut.

After that she sways a little, blinks and demands, “Is it out?”

“Yes.”

He can’t see her face properly, and even if he could, he doubts he could begin to analyze the emotions flickering across it. Relief, disbelief, hope, joy, fear, resignation, anger.

He probably looked the same, but there’s no time.
He slings and arm around her waist long enough to haul her in, press a kiss to her temple, just one, and murmur, “It’s gone. I broke it. It’s out.”

He wishes, suddenly, he had kept the pieces long enough to show her. But she trusts his word, relaxes. He doesn’t deserve it.

“It’s out,” she echoes, still dazed, and then she visibly rearranges her entire world and rolls to her feet, grabbing her discarded weapon as she goes. Kill and run. She doesn’t know how to stop any more than he did.

Beckett is only just getting up himself, eyes wide.

“How did you?” he asks, pointing between the two former Runners. Without waiting for an answer, he grabs a bandage from his kit, along with some gauze, and rounds Buffy to get at her back.

She’s fiddling with her computer, lets him look while she’s busy. He wipes away the blood and grime, bandage ready to be slapped on, and then suddenly hisses, stumbling back.

“What in the bloody hell?!”

The wound is already closing. Ronon has seen it before, has watched a lacerated leg heal in front of his eyes, but there’s no time for this, now.

No time, no time, no time. He didn’t come for her only for them all to die now.

He grabs the bandage, covers the cut as best he can, tugs her torn top back into place.

“Not now, doctor!” He grabs the man’s bag, snaps the clasps shut and more or less throws it at him just as the whine of the incoming darts becomes audible.

Buffy curses, grabs the two closest people – Sheppard and Beckett - and hauls them sideways under an overhang of rock. The others follow, crowding together.

“We need to get away from the tracker’s last transmission site!” McKay announces, cowering behind Sheppard, staring fixedly at his device.

“We need to get to the Ring!” Buffy counters, eyes darting this way and that, looking for cover.

“We can’t dial out while they’re dialing in,” Teyla comments, calmly. As if they don’t know that.

But Buffy shakes her head. “I can interrupt their portal. But first we need to get there.”

While Rodney is loudly complaining that that’s impossible, the darts finally come into sight, shooting across the sky and, from the sounds, quickly turning for another flyby. Clearly, they know where the tracker last sent its signal.

“There.” Teyla points toward another overhang a few seconds’ run away. Beyond that is only the tall, scraggly grass they came through until the Ring, at least three miles out.

From the ground, the grass provides excellent cover, but from above, it’s only going to slow them down and do nothing to hide them. Ronon exchanges a glance with Buffy.

“We need to get them down.”

Darts, in comparison to their pilots, are relatively easy to destroy.

Buffy follows his thoughts effortlessly, nudges Sheppard and tells him. “Run for the Ring. We’ll catch up.”

“Now wait a sec-“

Sheppard doesn’t get to finish because Buffy has become Slayer, a weapon in each hand, launching herself into the open to draw the darts’ attention. She opens fire immediately.

Ronon gives his leader an apologetic shrug and follows her. It’s the least he owes her.

+

Somehow, John isn’t surprised at all that Ronon’s friend (What the hell is her name anyway?) isn’t any better at making plans than the man himself.

But he trusts Ronon, at least, to know what he’s doing, so he uses the distraction he’s been offered and shoves Carson forward. “You heard the lady. Gate. Now!”

Teyla doesn’t need orders, simply grabs Rodney and hauls both doctors forward, leaving John to see if he can help the other two while he follows.

Ronon and his lady friend are both zig-zagging between rock walls, firing upwards tirelessly. One of the darts is already trailing smoke, the other risks a low pass in hopes of hitting them but gets a blast in the wing for its efforts. John adds his own bullets to the mix, aiming for the engine. If they’re lucky, the dart will blow up and solve one of their problems.

After a few seconds, it trundles and disappears to one side, sadly unexploded, leaving only the other one.

Teyla and the gents reach their last cover, reorient themselves and disappear into the grass. John marks where they head in and turns to help with the second dart.

He has to throw himself out of the way of a strafing run, gets showered in rock shards and immediately pulled back up by the shoulder by – “What the hell is your name, anyway?”

She sends him a grin, still firing with one hand while she actually takes the time to dust him off with her other. “Call me Slayer,” she calls and lands another hit on the dart.

It goes screaming off into the field, and boom.

“Hell, yeah!” Ronon crows and then all three of them are heading toward the field themselves, John leading them to where the others entered. No need to leave too many tracks.

They run.

+

+

Three

+

Elizabeth clatters into the gateroom the second Sheppard’s ID comes through, unable to wait on the balcony and do nothing. Especially not after he tells them, “And we’re hot, so get ready to close it down!”

“Copy that,” Chuck returns and then Teyla comes flying through the gate, weapon in one hand, Beckett’s arm in the other. They both land hard and keep rolling until they’re out of the way, allowing McKay and Sheppard through, both on their feet, albeit stumbling.

Ronon is last, along with a short, blonde stranger, both of them firing back through the gate as Sheppard hollers for Chuck to shut it down, down, down!

The tech obeys and Ronon and his friend abruptly sit down right where they are, breathing hard.

“I hate Wraith,” the woman announces, reaches toward a sluggishly bleeding gash on her arm with a hiss.

“Bad idea to outrun them,” Ronon agrees.

“Worse idea to leave them in the air,” she counters.

“We made it,” Sheppard consoles them both, still breathing hard, and promptly sits on the topmost step, trying to catch his breath.

“Cardio sucks,” McKay throws in his two cents and then they all just breathe for a moment. Elizabeth trusts that whatever happened to them is contained. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be moaning.

She’s about to open her mouth and welcome them back for the second time today (makes a mental note for them to get at least two days off after this), when one of the technicians makes a little “Uh-oh,” sound.

A second later, a low rumble sweeps through the city, following by all kinds of screens, lights and displays suddenly blinking to life.

“What the-?” McKay grunts, before rolling to his feet and stumbling his way over to the nearest workstation, elbowing one of his minions out of the way to get a good look despite the fact that he is literally dripping sweat and red enough to give Elizabeth a craving for tomatoes. He frowns.

“All kinds of systems are coming online.” He hits a few buttons. “It’s almost like when we first got here. The city is waking up dormant systems all over, which shouldn’t be possible. We’ve manually disabled most of those, they’re only drains on the energy. What is – is that the east tower? I thought that was dead?”

“It was,” Zelenka confirms, staring at his own screen. “What is going on?”

“She’s just saying hello,” an unfamiliar voice interrupts the growing panic.

All heads swivel toward the newcomer. Ronon’s friend. The other Runner.

“What?”

“The city is just saying hello.” She frowns. “Can’t you hear her?”

John hunches a little into himself, eyes closed. After a moment, he hums. “She’s right. The city is… happy?” he sounds like he doesn’t believe he’s saying this. “What’s going on?”

There is a beat of silence, before Elizabeth’s CSO points an accusing finger at the newcomer. “That’s impossible! No-one native to this galaxy has the ATA gene expression. No-one!”

“Gene expression?” she echoes, obviously confused.

“The gene that allows you to use Ancient tech!”

“Ancient?”

“The Ancestor’s tools,” Teyla helpfully translates. She hitches an elbow toward the device strapped to the other woman’s forearm. “Like this, I believe?”

That earns her a long, slow blink and then a look of realization. “Is that why I can use the stuff everyone else says is broken? Why it sings to me, like, in my head?”

“That’s what I just said!” McKay howls and Elizabeth smothers a laugh because that man will never change.

What is new is that the small woman sitting on the floor fires back, “It is not!” followed by, “And the city… is the same? That’s why I can hear her? Why she’s happy? Can’t you?”

“Some of us can,” Elizabeth pipes up, finally. “But not all to the degree you apparently can.”

From the way the lights are still going around them, Elizabeth guesses the woman’s gene is even more active than John’s. Still, “Could you tell the city to dial it down, please? We don’t have energy to waste.”

Both John and the woman close their eyes at the same time and within moments, the city quiets. When they open their eyes again, there is something serene in their expressions that Elizabeth very much envies.

“Welcome. I’m Dr. Elizabeth Weir, leader of this expedition. Welcome to Atlantis.”

The other woman fluidly gets to her feet and nods a greeting. “Slayer. Hi!”

Elizabeth stop-stutters something before, “Slayer?”

It’s not her proudest moment. But since McKay complains, “That’s not a name!” at the same time, she figures she can be forgiven.

The woman smiles a bit sadly and with too many teeth. “It’s what I am,” she counters, unperturbed. Beside her, Ronon tries to hide a smirk and fails.

Noticing him, remembering where this newcomer came from in the first place, Elizabeth finally rallies. “Eh… Slayer, I don’t know if you have a home to return to, or family, but if you don’t, we here in Atlantis would like to make extend to you the same offer we made Ronon when we met him: stay and help us fight the Wraith.”

Technically, an offer of amnesty like this should be agreed on by both leaders of the expedition, but Elizabeth knows John well enough by now to know he’s with her on this. Besides, it’s not like Rodney is going to let the woman leave after seeing what her mere presence does to the city. They’ll have to be careful he doesn’t try to make her his personal lab slave.

Ronon jumped at the offer to stay, once he knew, saw, what is left of his homeworld. From what he told them, the Wraith only ever make people from such destroyed worlds into Runners. People with nowhere to return to. It’s probably a safe bet to assume Slayer has nothing left to go home to.

Still, the woman looks around her doubtfully.

After a few moments of awkward silence, Ronon helpfully elbows her.

She jerks around, glowers at him and then shrugs, hands going first to her weapons and then, when everyone tenses, around her waist, to hug her middle, a sheepish expression on her face.

“There’s… a lot of people here,” she starts. “I’m… not really sure this is a good idea?”

“You get used to it,” Ronon cajoles.

She rolls her eyes at him. “Maybe. Maybe not. But I…,” she hesitates, searching for words. Elizabeth and John’s team wait, patient. The rest of the gate room pretends to be busy. “Slayer. That’s a title. It’s who I am, I… I haven’t been around people in a long time and I’m afraid I might hurt someone. I’m kinda hermit-crabby these days? And you folks look awfully breakable.”

John sniffs, offended, but Elizabeth can see how the civilians scattered across the room might not look like much after years of doing battle against Wraith. But the woman’s worries only convince Elizabeth that having her stay actually is a good idea. For all that her name is utterly brutal, this woman obviously cares about a bunch of complete strangers enough to be wary of hurting them.

“It’s a big city,” she argues, “and we’re not actually that big an expedition. If you need space, you can have it. Don’t you miss company? It must have been lonely, running all these years.”

“Well,” Slayer grins, “it got better eventually.”

Ronon, bless him, actually blushes. Elizabeth wasn’t aware he could.

“Stay. I need to run about fifty different experiments on you,” Rodney throws in his two cents.

“At least get a check-up. Proper medical aid. Even if you heal fast, it cannae hurt,” Carson adds.

“I would greatly enjoy a spar with you,” Teyla offers.

John just nods at her.

In the face of such an onslaught, Slayer caves. “I can… try for a few days?” she offers.

“Trial basis it is,” Elizabeth agrees with a nod.

She thinks she’ll like their new ally.

+

Hours later, after being looked over by the doctor with the Scottish accent, taking a long, long shower (Indoor plumbing!) and stealing one of Ronon’s shirts to sink into a heavenly soft, warm bed, Buffy closes her eyes and inhales.

Clean air. No smell of dirt of sweat or blood or nature. Just the salt from the ocean. The city hums beneath her, broadcasting safe, safe, safe so hard it almost feels like actual words.

The tracker is gone.

The tracker is gone and these people… these people are from Earth.

Buffy exhales.

Inhales again.

Soft, bare footsteps on colorful throw rugs, leather smell and the little thrill down her spine that says predator approaching.

She opens her eyes to meet Ronon’s gaze head-on as he drops down next to her. “Thank you.”

“What for?” he asks, wiggling out of his pants.

“Coming for me.”

He drops his pants by the bed and then focuses intently on the laces of his shirt. “Should have come sooner.”

“How?” she demands, turning her gaze to the ceiling. “You didn’t know where I was. Not until today. And today you came.”

He makes a non-committal grunt, but he also stops fumbling and strips the rest of the way before slipping under the covers with her, one arm going under his pillow where he’s got a knife, the other around her waist.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

She hums, closes her eyes again, ignores everything else, and tries to sleep.

+

+

Four

+

Life, as it is on Atlantis, goes on.

John watches Slayer carefully because it’s his job, because security is what he’s there for, and because he’s seen the way Ronon looks at her and he wants his friend to have this.

So he watches.

Which is probably why he’s the only one to see this coming.

It starts off easy enough.

Two days after Slayer joins the expedition on a trial basis, she and Ronon come slipping out of his room and Rodney is there to grab her by the arm and haul her on a tour through the labs, flinging all kinds of doo-dads at her in the hopes that her gene will tell them more than John’s, or anyone else’s could.

By the time she escapes the mad scientist Batcave for lunch, Carson is already priming his needles, because he wants samples to see what makes her gene different. What makes it so she even has a gene, considering no-one else in Pegasus does.

She clams up when he asks her where she’s from but follows him willingly enough. John follows them in turn and eventually extracts her when it becomes clear Beckett’s in geneticist heaven and doesn’t need input anymore.

He takes her on a tour of the outer limits of the city and if he shows her a few of his favorite avoid-light-switch-duty places in the process, well. She won’t tell.

After dinner Ronon co-opts her again and the next morning, the marines invite her to work out with them, which resolves into a sort of mild hazing and a lot of rambunctious idiocy once they realize the new girl is as sturdy as Teyla and hits like Ronon.

After that, Elizabeth corners her with reams of paperwork and questions over questions.

Slayer disappears before lunch and John doesn’t need to ask the city to know she’s hiding in the half-flooded lab off the living quarters. It has a view of the ocean, only one entrance and has been evacuated ages ago, meaning it’s basically a huge, empty space.

The trend continues for the next week, Rodney and Carson getting in their demands, everyone chatting her up during meal times and in the hallways, the marines getting progressively more touchy-feely.

It’s probably at least in part Ronon’s fault, because once the big guy decided to pitch his tent with theirs, he just sort of slotted in. He’s been a soldier all of his adult life (possibly longer) and for a man who should be riddled with PTSD, he’s really far too easy going.

The Atlantis crew are basing their treatment of his girlfriend on their treatment of him and that’s a fatal flaw because Ronon hasn’t much of a personal space bubble even when he’s angry, getting handsy with people all the time in a way that took John a good while to get used to. Also, Ronon is Ronon and John guesses there’s a reason his friend introduces herself with a synonym for ‘killer’.

So yeah, he sees it coming.

The problem is, no-one else does.

+

Day twelve of Slayer in Atlantis starts like the previous eleven, with the exception of one of the marines challenging her to a ‘real’ spar after breakfast.

John isn’t there, or he’d stop the boys, knowing full well that ‘real spar’ is probably code for some sort of bizarrely insane marine hazing ritual and that Slayer is not going to react well. She already took their low-key hassling with ill grace, hidden behind badly faked smiles.

Besides, she carries too many blades on her even during downtime to react well to surprises sprung by men twice her size and three times her weight.

John doesn’t find out until one of the civilians calls him up on comms, telling him in a tightly controlled panic, “You should come to the gym, Colonel. Now, please.”

He lunges for the nearest transporter, Ronon on his heels. They make it to the gym in time to see Slayer taking on three marines with a bo staff. One of them is also armed with a staff, one with bantos rods, one is going bare-handed. All three of them are barely holding up against her and around them, the betting is reaching new heights, even for Atlantis. The crowd is loud, stacked three deep and impenetrable, probably not helping Slayer feel less threatened.

John clocks the three soldiers, gratified to realize none of them are members of the original expedition. These are his men, too, but not nearly in the same way the original members are. His men know better than to corner an armed and dangerous Pegasus native, because in this galaxy, everyone’s a survivor, and everyone’s a bit unhinged.

Before he can interfere, though, another marine – Hernandez - separates from the crowd, rods in hand. He goes for Slayer’s legs, swiping low and mean, and she parries him, leaps over his second try and John thinks she’d be okay, if Haynes didn’t crowd her from behind, press a flat palm against her shoulder blades and push.

John registers Ronon’s flinch the same instant he sees the shutters go down on Slayer’s face.

She turns her stumble into controlled movement, pressing her hands against the floor to kick out against Haynes behind her, then comes back up and slams the butt of her staff into his sternum, sending him to the floor. She punches Hernandez, kicks him in the knee and hits both his weapons out of his hands, while, simultaneously, breaking Malcolm’s nose with her staff

“Stand down! Everybody out!” John roars over the din, but neither Johnson nor Cruz, the two men left on their feet, are green. They’ve seen combat. Their fighting instincts override a direct order when there is an armed and dangerous opponent coming at them. Johnson hits out with his staff, and gets battered with an answering volley of blows that leaves him floundering, giving ground, walking backwards into the crowd, which parts before him.

Cruz, at least, reacts to John’s order enough to take a glancing blow, go down and roll out of the way. He stays down and John has to fight his first instinct, which is to wade in and stop the rampaging woman in their midst, but he knows he doesn’t stand a chance against her (five of his best fighters and she’s wiping the floor with them) and if he moves toward her now, she’ll see it as aggression.

He slaps a preemptive hand on Ronon’s chest, stopping the other Runner, too.

Johnson goes down, Malcolm, disoriented, hurt but back on his feet, tries for a last-ditch sneak attack and gets a kick in the chest and probably broken ribs for his efforts. Cruz clamps an arm around his neck and holds him down.

All of it takes less than twenty seconds and then Slayer is left standing in a circle of downed men, panting, eyes still glassy, weapon clutched tight.

“Everybody out!” John roars, and this time, he is obeyed. He calls for the medical wing, tells the first medic to answer, “We need medical down at the gym. Multiple teams. Approach carefully.”

Then he thumbs his comm off and focuses his attention on Slayer. Ronon finally sidesteps him and mutters something too low for John to hear. It seems to rouse his girlfriend, though, because she abruptly drops her staff and straightens, something like horror in her expression.

But only for a second.

Then it’s replaced by anger.

“I told you,” she hisses, suddenly focused on John. “I told you to keep away! I didn’t wanna-“ she hisses in wordless anger and John has to fight to keep from making placating noises. Her hands are trembling, now.

He just nods. “We saw.”

Haynes touched the tracker scar. And even if he doesn’t know about the trackers (highly unlikely, since the two Runners are big news in the city), he should know better than to startle an armed PTSD victim.

“You had a flashback.”

She growls. “I’m not-“ What follows of a slew of curses so creative, the gate’s translation matrix drops out for a moment. With a roar, the slight woman kicks out against a nearby stand of weights, sending them to the floor with a deafening clamor. Haynes gets one on his foot and howls.

It startles her enough to make her look around, really look at the damage she caused. With another frustrated noise, she shoves past Ronon and the incoming medical teams, and disappears into the depths of the city.

When Ronon makes to follow her, John stops him. “Let her cool down,” he tells the younger man, tracking her progress via Atlantis. She’s headed for a broken down area.

A place where she can’t hurt anyone.

They let her go.

+

The first time Ronon has a nightmare in her presence, she makes the half-asleep mistake of trying to shake him awake.

He comes up swinging a knife and she almost breaks his arm on reflex as she blocks.

After that, they both learn to scoot out of arm’s reach before waking the other and neither of them keeps their ranged weapons at hand when they sleep next to each other.

There are other things they learn. He never sticks around while she washes and she never comes up at his left side, because a bomb blast partially took his hearing on that side.

He doesn’t ask why she sometimes claws at the air above her in her sleep, she doesn’t ask about the names he shouts.

Cullings, Wraith and the names of the innocents dead in their wake are a no-go.

They don’t touch each other’s weapons.

It’s an endless litany of things not to do, things they can’t bear, things that rip open old wounds. She never notices how many of them there are while they’re running. It’s only on Atlantis, holding still, that she notices.

They’re the sum of all their damages.

She was an idiot to think it’d work. She’s gone too far to come back to who she was.

+

Ronon finds her hours later. After scouring half the city for her, he practically stumbles over her when he finally gives up searching and returns to their room, only to stare, blankly, at the mirage of Buffy, sitting on the bed, next to her waiting pack, eyes closed, back tight.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

She flicks her left hand at him, then at the device on her right arm. “Looking at Ring addresses.”

He asked once, how the little computer worked, and was told only that it’s, “Like having the screen inside my head. Wanna try?”

He didn’t see anything, of course, but it wasn’t until he came here that he realized why. He doesn’t have the ATA gene. Buffy does.

“You’re leaving?”

That gets her to open her eyes, if only to shoot him an incredulous look. “I think I just proved that being here is a bad idea for me. And it’s not like they’re going to want me around anymore, now. I told you, I don’t fit.”

She sounds sorry.

“Sheppard spent an hour in the medical wing,” he tells her, dragging a chair over from the table by the window and sprawling in it, opposite her, close enough for their feet to touch. She pulls in her legs.

Just as she starts nodding, he adds, “So he could yell at all of his soldiers as soon as they woke up.”

She frowns. “No-one blames you.” Well. Dr. Weir is worried about how dangerous she is, but even she hasn’t stooped to what Sheppard called ‘victim blaming’. “You warned everyone. What they did was their mistake, not yours.”

“Yeah. This time. And the next time it happens?”

He snorts. “I think everyone got the message this time. No startling you.” Before she can fall into more self-flagellation, he adds, “Dr. Weir does want you to talk to Dr. Heightmeyer. She’s a mind doctor.”

“Cause I’m nuts,” she confirms.

He rolls his eyes. “Cause you have battle brain.” He shrugs. “So do I.” So does Sheppard, in his own way, more aware of his own personal space than anyone else Ronon knows. So did half his squad, back on Sateda and most of the soldiers who have been here a while.

“Battle brain?”

He taps his temple. “You got war stuck in your head.”

“War stuck,” she mouths the words to herself, then abruptly drops her gaze from his face to her hands, resting, palm-up on her thighs. “I’m a weapon,” she tells him, abruptly. “I tried to fight it, back home, but it was a losing battle, even then. I wanted to be a girl so much, but, you know. War in my head. War outside my head. And then the Wraith got me and now -.” Shaking her head, she folds her arms, hiding her hands from her own sight by tucking them under her arms.

Ronon thinks of his own years on the run, of the hiding, the killing, the stealing, the fear and hatred. But through all that, he still had Specialist Ronon Dex. He had the address that would get him home, even if home was ruins. He had familiar worlds, languages, customs. Sometimes even familiar faces.

He doesn’t know where Buffy is from (even though he has a few guesses), but he knows she didn’t have any of that. “You lost Buffy,” he summarizes for her.

A grin pulls at her lips. “You never even met her. Not the real Buffy. Not who I used to be.”

There’s grief in her words and he thinks he would have liked that girl, the one she misses so much. But, “I like who you are just fine.”

A snort. “Oh, come on. We barely know each other, really. The only reason we stuck together was because of the damn trackers.”

It’s as hurtful as it’s true, in its way. Without those things in their backs, they would have never met. Ronon would be with Melena, if it weren’t for the Wraith, and Buffy would still be Buffy.

“I wanted to fuck you before I knew about the tracker, though,” he argues, because it’s true. He didn’t let her sit next to him, didn’t let her drag him back to her room, for any other reason than that he wanted to. He liked what he saw.

She was a war, yes, but she was one he actually chose and it was worth it. She was. Is. He’s not good at this.

“Oh, fantastic. A one night stand is a much better basis for a relationship that a four-year-long life or death situation.” Her voice is dry as bone.

“Exactly.”

Against her will, she laughs and Ronon laughs with her, before suddenly leaning forward in his seat and snagging first her forearm, then her hand. “Stay. Give yourself a chance. It was rough for me too, at first, but these people are good. They care.” He allows his teeth to show. “And they kill Wraith.”

He might not know Buffy, the girl, not really, might have only ever met a pale imitation of her, but he does know Slayer, the woman he wanted to fuck because he knew she was a war. And even if it was only circumstances that threw them together, he likes her. Her humor, her way of handling knives, the way she laughs and bites at his neck tattoo.

And he knows her well enough to know that killing Wraith is a selling argument for her. That’s okay. It is for him, too.

She grins right back at him, more snarl than laugh, and her shoulders relax into something more familiar than the wary tightness from before.

She’ll stay.

She’ll give him and Atlantis a chance. More than that, she’ll give herself a chance. It’s good enough.

+

+

Five

+

“So, what? I’m… newer than you guys?” Buffy asks, sitting on a bed in the medical wing, legs swinging as she watches the good doctor fiddle with his laptop. It’s displaying all kinds of arcane crap she doesn’t understand. If McKay were here, he’d call it witchcraft.

Buffy likes McKay, despite his touchy-feely-ness. He’s such a cynic that she looks like Mary Sunshine next to him.

“Nae,” the Beckett denies, shaking his head. “I said your gene looks as if it weren’t as far removed from true Ancient as any other I’ve seen, but unless you’re several thousand years old and not telling us, you’re just from a different branch of the tree.”

He smiles at her. She pretends his accent doesn’t make her sick with everything she’s lost. He doesn’t even sound British, Scottish to the bone as he is, but it’s enough. It’s enough.

She’s been on Atlantis a month, has had a few very uncomfortable and very helpful conversations with Kate Heightmeyer, stomped a few more marines into the ground (because John says they need the training and Kate says she needs the outlet) and it’s left her… awake.

Aware of her own emotions in a way she hasn’t been in what feels like forever. She didn’t know she still had the capacity to miss something. Someone.

She thinks she’d miss these people, if she had to leave now.

(Which is weird, terrifying and awful in turns.)

“Until you, Colonel Sheppard’s gene was the most active we’d ever found, but yours is even better. Which begs the question of where you’re from, exactly?”

Because Pegasus natives don’t have the gene. She’s been told. She reacts the same to the question this time as she has the last hundred times. With mulish silence and a diversion. “So that’s why I can hear her sing and John can only hear her sometimes and the rest you can’t at all?”

“Aye.”

She grins. She thinks it has less teeth in it than it used to. “You’re missing out.”

He gives up fiddling with his laptop and puts it down on a stainless steel tray nearby with a sigh. “Look, Slayer,” – she holds back a flinch and thinks how, maybe, she should give them a name. Her name. Any name. Anne, even. – “I know you don’t want to talk about it. But I’ve seen your bloodwork and I know you’ve been vaccinated as a child. I know Rodney has caught you reading English. I know you know what a dog is, even though there are none in this galaxy. If you want to – “

“Aaaaaaand I need to go and do that thing I forgot to do with the person that said the thing that didn’t – yeah. Later, Carson!”

She jumps off the bed, throws him a wave and a wink and hightails it out of there like she’s still sixteen and Giles just tried to talk safe sex to her.

And just like Giles, the good doctor lets her go with nary a complaint. He just sighs. Doesn’t have glasses to polish, though, and that’s the only thing that lets her walk out instead of sprinting flat-out.

She walks. John pulled her marine guards after it became clear that they were useless, because a) she can beat them up at any point and b) she really doesn’t have any nefarious intentions.

All she wants is to be left alone and lick her wounds, pretty much. And kill some Wraith ass, because when there is nothing left in the universe for Buffy, there is always killing to be done for Slayer.

It’s okay.

She’s known, for years, that this time there was no coming back from what she became. After Angel, her friends pulled her back, after Glory, Dawn made her want to live again. So many other big and small catastrophes and there was always someone there to show her the way home again, even if home didn’t quite fit anymore.

This time, there was no-one. Somewhere in vampire Heaven, Spike is laughing his ass off at her because he was right. A slayer alone is nothing but a walking death wish.

Slayer means kill. Slayer means alone.

On Atlantis, she’s still Slayer, but for the moment, she doesn’t have to be alone. She walks and lets the city bleed into her thoughts, that great, alien intelligence.

Rodney asked her what it feels like, once, and the best she could come up with was a big whale, the slow pressure, the water displacement as it passes you. Only, you know, inside your head.

It’s not words, because Atlantis is a city, not a person, but it’s… like smelling color, or something. There’s the just enough overlap for her to grasp concepts, sometimes, and emotions. Not nearly enough for effective communication.

No, for that, Atlantis tends to just shove lines of code into her head, much like the computer she found years ago. A screen in her head, displaying necessary information. Only she never learned how to read Ancestor, or computer code.

She’s starting to grasp bits and pieces of it, though.

Like the vague sense of urgency combined with the code she’s currently seeing, overlaid by the view of the pier in front of her, that means communication. She flicks on the earpiece everyone is issued in the city. It’s too big for people to just walk around without a way to reach them. She opens the channel of Team Sheppard.

“Guys? The city says you’re looking for me?”

“Slayer?” That’s John. “Yes, actually. Could you come to the conference room, please? We have a job to do and you might be able to help, if you want to.”

“Does it involve leaving this city and actually doing something?” she demands.

“Yes.”

“Count me in,” she announces and flips the earpiece back off, giving the ocean one last mournful look. She only just got here. It’s nice and quiet and nosy doctors asking questions she’s not ready to answer can’t find her here because the sensors in the area are pretty much dead. ‘Lantis said so.

Still, the promise of action is enough to lure her back to civilization. Maybe she’ss even get to kill something. That would be nice.

+

Sometimes, sitting in the common areas of Atlantis, Slayer remembers the minis. The Babylonian mess of languages and customs and ideas that caused culture clash after culture clash in the last days of Sunnydale and later, when Council meant School and Slayer means One Of Many.

The Rings do something to people’s heads, here, implant knowledge, because although mouths move wrong, the words that reach your ears are always the ones you know.

With that hurdle out of the way, customs can be learned, easy.

Christmas. The first Christmas after Sunnydale. Willow Jewish, Kennedy an atheist, the rest of the Scoobies Consumer Americans. Mei, who was Chinese and only knew Christmas from movies, Leyla and Aida, both Muslim. Tamara, Nadia, Russian Orthodox.

The German girl who insisted Christmas was on the 24th, the Americans countering the 25th, Willow looking for a place to place her Menorah, a dozen different customs and a dozen more curious bystanders and Buffy felt frazzled and small and outside of it all.

In the ‘Lantis cafeteria, she watches men in familiar uniforms eat purple alien fruit and speak in languages she has never spoken, even though she understands every word of it.

In her head, the city prods at her memory cortex.

She wonders how they celebrate Christmas here, if they do at all. She wonders if the disjoint she feels is ever going to end.

(She surprises herself by realizing she wants it to.)

+

“You want to what?” Ronon bellows and Buffy is only about half a second behind him, because, seriously?!

“Capture a Wraith,” Dr. Weir explains, calmly, lips pursed. “Dr. Beckett is confident that his retrovirus is ready for testing on… live specimens.”

“You’re going to try and turn a Wraith human,” Buffy summarizes. “Here, on Atlantis.”

“Yes.”

“They’re Wraith,” Ronon argues, clenching at the arms of his chair. “You kill them, you don’t experiment on them!”

“What he said,” Buffy agrees.

“I think you misunderstand,” Dr. Weir continues like they didn’t blow up at her. “We’re not here to discuss this. It’s already been decided. We’re here to make a plan on how to capture a Wraith.”

While Ronon silently fumes, Buffy looks at the good doctor. “That’s eugenics,” she says, never mind that she probably shouldn’t know that word, because it’s an Earth word. “You sure you wanna go down that road?”

“Aye,” Carson agrees. “If I can cure the Wraith…”

“There is no curing them! They’re not sick!”

Buffy puts a hand on Ronon’s arm because she gets it, she does. God, she gets it. But yelling isn’t going to work.

“Isn’t that how the Wraith were created in the first place?”

“That’s a suspicion we have, not a proven fact,” Rodney counters. “And how do you know that?”

She points a finger at the ceiling. “I’ve been reading through the city’s archives. Interesting stuff.” Especially when one is trying to figure out where the hell one is and if there’s a way home.

(She knows there isn’t. Knows she can’t go back. But she has to try.)

“It would be a kind of symmetry, though, wouldn’t it?” Carson asks before she can go on. “Healing them the same way they were cursed.”

That sweet, naïve, goddamn optimist.

Ronon exhales heavily at the last word and Buffy squeezes his arm tighter because she knows, better than he does, that it doesn’t matter where monsters came from, whether they were something else once. Once they’ve become what they are, well. Even monsters can’t go home again.

“It’s a nice thought,” she agrees. “But the world doesn’t really work like that, doc.”

There is a beat of silence, before Dr. Weir takes back control. “Be that as it may, we have decided. If we can end this conflict without bloodshed and risk to ourselves, that is what we’re going. We welcome your help, but if you can’t give it, you’re free to go.”

Buffy knows she could argue until her throat is sore. About the dangers of trying to brainwash a space vamp. About bringing the enemy into their base, about going down slippery slopes and coming out places they don’t want to go. But the older woman has steel in her spine and her expression is set. Team Sheppard, besides a fuming Ronon, aren’t happy, but they are committed.

This is happening, with or without them. So she drops her grip on Ronon and speaks for them both, “We’re in. Someone is going to need to kill it when everything goes wrong.”

Weir looks like she’d like to argue that point, but in the end she knows how to pick her battles and really, she’s never going to win against years and years of ingrained hatred and fear.

She nods. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

+

+

Six

+

They end up retrieving the broken remains of Buffy’s tracker from the planet they first met on. Rodney wants to see if he can fix it and use it to lure them a Wraith.

Buffy isn’t really down for that, but no-one asks her. And since she was unconscious when Ronon flung the tracker away, she won’t be any help looking for the pieces. Instead she gets to accompany everyone’s favorite cynic mad scientist in looking for the downed darts.

“What do you want with them, anyway?” she asks, using a random stick to poke through the high grass. It’s been only a month, but she can’t make out any scorch marks anymore. This stuff grows fast and they’re basically moving blind, so it’ll probably take a while. Hence the idle chit-chat.

Rodney grunts, not looking up from his tablet. “Doc?”

“Mhm? Oh, right. What could I possibly want with enemy technology?”

She rolls her eyes at him because she appreciates sarcasm, but as a default setting, it gets a little tiring. She wonders how John puts up with the man almost non-stop. And whether or not they are aware that their entire team, including her, knows about their being a… them. Because she doesn’t have the impression that they know that everyone else knows and just pretends not to.

It’s complicated and she follows in his tracks for a few long minutes, thinking.

Paradoxically, her silence seems to catch his attention more than her talking did. He looks up, squints at her, frowns at her stick critically, and then actually explains. “Analyzing Wraith tech is something we’ve been trying to do since day one. Maybe we’ll find something that helps us. The problem is that usually, what the goons bring us is charred and wrecked beyond recognition.”

Buffy bites her lip and doesn’t point out that the destruction is necessary because Wraith generally don’t just lie down and die when you want them to. Seriously. She’s seen more than one of them walk away from an exploded dart with nary a scratch on it. Him. Them.

She likes to think of them as ‘it’, because personhood would only interfere with her hate-on for them.

Then his words register and she stops swinging the stick. “Uhm, I might have a few things stashed away?”

A sharp look. “Define ‘a few things’.”

She hums, cocks her head. “Weapons? Computers? A dart?”

There are five seconds of absolute silence. Then McKay grabs her by the arm and starts hauling her back to the Ring, paging the rest of the team as he goes, “Sheppard!” he yells, “Sheppard, get your ass to the gate now, Slayer has a Wraith tech cache, we’re going there. Sheppard! Now!”

His fingers are sort of digging into her arm and he’s being an asshole and touching her again, but he’s also excited like a little kid, so she decides not to break every bone in his hand.

It’s not even a hard decision to make.

Huh.

+

“Tell me!” The scientist whines an hour later, trekking through an empty forest after her.

Slayer, who’s obviously starting to enjoy this, just shakes her head again. John doesn’t try to hide his smirk.

Ever since the blonde woman revealed that she has some Wraith tech squirreled away somewhere, Rodney’s been near apoplectic with impatience. Teyla finds the whole thing as amusing as John does, he can tell. Ronon on the other hand, is frowning.

Then, about twenty minutes into their stroll, he interrupts McKay to ask, “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

She blinks owlishly at him, then shrugs. “Everyone and their grandma is terrified of anything belonging to the Wraith. After I saw you destroy all the stuff you could get your hands on, I thought you wouldn’t want to see.”

“Why did you keep those things?” Teyla asks, closing the gap between them to walk next to the other woman. She’s been careful of Slayer, more so than she was of Ronon in the early days and John is glad they’re slowly getting to know each other because, frankly, he wants Slayer on his team.

Not immediately, not even soon, but once she’s ready. And maybe gives them something other than ‘Slayer’ to call her by, because the title’s ridiculous. She’s a better fighter than even Ronon and with their team being the one that, statistically, pretty much always gets up shit creek, he wants her. Needs her.

Will get her.

Sometimes, being boss is awesome.

Slayer shrugs. “At first, I thought I might be able to use it for… something and trade with the rest. Then I realized no-one is willing to touch Wraith stuff,” (which is weird, because everyone in Pegasus knows that), “but I still wasn’t willing to leave it with the bodies. Everything I took from them, they couldn’t use to hunt me anymore, right?”

Her voice is bleak, quiet, but unlike a few weeks ago, she pulls it around with a little grin and adds, “Besides, everyone needs a hobby, right?”

Teyla quirks her lips, then nods. “Indeed, they do.”

Rodney ruins the moment with a plaintive, “Are we there, yet?!”

John is about to remind his friend, yet again, that he’s not actually five years old, when Slayer shrugs, pointing at a pile of rocks nearby, “Yes, actually. Help me move the rocks, will you?”

Dropping most of her kit, keeping only her blaster and a few knives she always wears, she grabs the topmost rock from the weirdly-shaped pile and heaves it to the side. And another and another.

Ronon shrugs and starts helping, shortly followed by Teyla and John. He moves three rocks from the same place and then stops, recognizing what they are unearthing. “Is that a dart?”

Slayer hums, then nods. “Yeah. It’s how I escaped the hive after the put the tracker in me.”

Rodney makes a choked noise. “You flew a Wraith dart?”

She shrugs. “It works a little like the Ancestor’s tech? Gave me a hell of a migraine, though.”

He makes the noise again. “You flew,” he makes a few sweeping gestures. “Hold on! Does that mean it’s actually intact!?”

She smirks at him. “Inside voice, McKay. Inside voice. And no. I was afraid they could track it and I suck at tech, so I just pulled out what looked like the power source and hoped for the best.” Another shrug. “It worked, apparently, but, like I said. I’m not good at tech. The guts of this thing are a mess.”

That said, she shifts a few more rocks to uncover the cockpit, presses a mechanical release somewhere and pops it open. The inside is crammed full with all kinds of stolen things. Bladed weapons, stunners, computers, various gadgets John can’t hope to identify.

Rodney practically faints at the sight of so many new toys and John sighs, grabbing his things and gearing up again. “I’m heading to the gate and asking ‘Lantis to send us a Jumper. We’ll need it.”

Rodney waves absently at him, Teyla grabs her own things to come with and Slayer and Ronon settle in to guard their blissed-out genius, automatically splitting duties and strengths between the team. Already.

He absolutely wants her.

+

It’s actually kind of funny, the way the entire expedition’s science division is crammed into the gateroom when they come back, all of them looking way too eager.

“It’s geek Christmas,” John mutters next to Buffy and she’s glad, because that means she doesn’t have to say it.

Instead she just smirks because she’s awesome and even if all this crap didn’t get her home like she hoped, years ago, it’s at least useful now.

Then Rodney is there, suddenly, throwing his arms around her in a hug and this time she is absolutely going to break his hand. Slowly.

“Ah-ah,” John chides at the same time as Ronon grabs McKay and bodily removes him from Buffy’s personal space.

“Bad McKay,” he scolds. “Bad!”

The man has the grace to blush and offer a flustered, “Yes, yes, sorry. Traumatized former rat in a Wraith maze. I forgot.” He waves a hand and goddamn it, Buffy thought Cordelia lacked tact. “Whatever. Come along, I need you to explain to me exactly how you can operate Wraith tech. Better yet, demonstration!”

He makes a grab her by the arm again and she evades him. Teyla just smacks him upside the head. He pouts, adds a grudging, “Please?”

“We would be honored,” the cute little Japanese chick adds, with a half bow. Miko? Buffy thinks her name is Miko.

“Ano. Please. He will be unbearable otherwise,” the Czech dude tags on.

They give her puppy dog eyes. All three of them. Reflexively, Buffy sinks her nails into the closest two people she can reach, which just so happen to be John and Ronon and hisses, “Keep me from killing them.”

And, surprisingly, it’s a joke. It’s a joke and they can tell, because Ronon snorts and John chuckles and Teyla looks amused and they all troop to the labs with her, anyway, where John and Buffy get hounded by the geeks to touch this and turn on that, try harder, damn it.

The lucky two without the gene sit back and watch, occasionally reeling an over-excited brainiac back in.

Three hours later, Buffy is sitting in the guts of the dart, three different computers attached to her, Ronon has been made to hold a bundle of wires at a very specific angle, John is trying to fend of Radek, who is hounding him with a Frankenstein combination of Ancestor and Wraith tablet and Teyla is calmly sitting on an empty lab table, sipping tea.

Buffy takes it all in, feels for the sliver of anxiety down her spine at all the noise and the people and the things happening behind her, out of her sight, and it’s there, the fear, the need to lash out, but it’s smothered under other things.

Amusement, exasperation, the gentle, giddy feeling of making new friends. Of having fun. She meets Ronon’s annoyed gaze with her own and he smiles, just a twist of the corner of his mouth and she exhales.

“Buffy,” she says, abruptly, into the mess of noise and movement.

“What?” Rodney asks, on his knees in front of her, fiddling with a connection.

“My name,” she clarifies, aware that she has the attention of most everyone in the direct vicinity. It doesn’t matter. “is Buffy.”

+

She does ask about Christmas, eventually. John snorts, laughs, carefully doesn’t pat her on the shoulder, and then informs her that she’ll have to experience the madness for herself. “Culture shock squared! You’ll love it.”

+

+

Seven

+

“Is this the point where I get to say ‘I told you so’?” Buffy asks idly from where she’s slumped next to Ronon, both of them staring at the tablet displaying the approaching hive ships.

Dr. Weir sends her a scorching look, but doesn’t say anything because they did say so. Buffy smiles brilliantly at her. Ronon bites back a laugh because ever since she decided to make her place here, on Atlantis, to let these people in, she’s been… Sheppard calls it ‘a little shit’, whatever that is.

When she heard, Buffy just laughed. Then she went and sought him out for the specific purpose of kicking him in the shin.

Ronon likes her like this, though. Freer. Easier than he has ever known her and he is pleased, both that he had some small part in getting her here, and that he gets to see it. That she hasn’t cast him aside as a reminder of darker days but is instead building her new life alongside his.

“What do we do?” Sheppard asks, now, before the women can get into another fight over the Michael debacle. Buffy, like Ronon, is outside the command structure in many ways and she’s been abusing that ruthlessly to make her criticism heard. Ronon cheered her on.

The expedition members are brilliant, sure, but when it comes to the Wraith, they should damn well listen to the people who have dealt with them for generations and not think they know better just because they have some shiny tech. Didn’t save Sateda. Won’t save them.

Ronon flings the tablet onto the table top and grunts. “What can we do?”

The answer to which is: not much. The Daedalus is out of reach for another few weeks, they have no drones, no weapons and not enough power to keep up the shield for any length of time. Michael knows where they are, how many they are, how they work and how they think. They taught him, after all.

“We could try Genii? Maybe get some bombs?” Zelenka suggests, frowning at his own device, frantically calculating odds and times.

He doesn’t sound serious even before McKay snorts and declares, “And get in another spot of torture? I don’t think so!”

“Can we build a bomb of some sort ourselves?”

“And then do what with it?” McKay snaps. “Lob it at them? I hear Stackhouse has a fantastic throwing arm. Maybe he can do it!”

“Maybe with a Jumper-“

Almost everyone in the room shouts a resounding, “NO!” at that. Ronon, who heard the story of Sheppard’s heroics last year, tends to agree.

“Besides,” Weir tags on, “They’ll hardly fall for the same trick twice. And we don’t have bombs anyway.”

“So we got nothing,” Ronon summarizes.

Buffy rubs her eyes, as exhausted as the rest of them. They’ve been talking in circles for hours. “We could throw water at them and hope they melt?”

Ronon doesn’t get it, but there is a long pause in the room before McKay throws up his hands and demands, “Okay, seriously, how long are we going to keep pretending you’re not from Earth? Because I seriously doubt there’s a Wizard of Oz in Pegasus and we’re not actually as stupid as you seem to think we are.”

Before Buffy can open her mouth, John shrugs. “You have been sort of rubbing our faces in it.”

Ronon feels his stomach turn to lead. Earth? She’s from Earth? Does that mean –

“An Earth,” she corrects, voice gone flat, emphasis on the first word. “Not your Earth.”

“What?”

“An Earth,” she repeats, deadpan, pretending to misunderstand the question. “Not this one.”

She shrugs and just like that, the subject is closed, because she stands, gives them a wave and lets herself out of the conference room. They all stare after her.

Ronon, torn between relief (she said not hers, not this, she isn’t going home, their world is not her world) and guilt (thank god, she can’t go home), stares after her, silently.

+

He dreams of Buffy sometimes. He’s a red-blooded male, as John has informed him, and she’s his partner, inside the bedroom and out. It’s normal.

He dreams of Melena, too, but those dreams are different. Hazy with time and memory, for one, softer, for another. He dreams of watching her cook and heal, dreams of her in the late summer sun, burnished gold. He dreams of holding her hand and of watching her die, even though he didn’t see it. Just the hospital and then the rubble of it.

Only once does he dream of them both at the same time.

Buffy has her favorite knife in hand and is chopping vegetables next to where Melena is stirring a pot. It smells like his father’s special soup, the kind no-one else ever managed to copy.

Then, suddenly, Buffy’s face turns pale and her hair white and with a sneer, she turns to Melena and stabs her in the heart. She falls forward, gasping, bleeding, and lands, impossibly, in the soup pot, disappearing from sight completely.

Ronon watches from his seat at the table, dream-frozen, shock-distant.

Buffy turns to him, hair gold and skin tan and he’s not sure she ever looked any different than this. “She was peace,” she tells him, wisely, going back to chopping root vegetables. “I’m war. You know it had to end this way.”

“You killed her,” he says, too quietly.

“You chose me,” she answers. “You still choose me. I’m your mirror, Ronon Dex.”

He’s supposed to eat her soul, isn’t he? And yet Melena’s the one in the pot.

When he wakes, gasping, Buffy is wrapped around her own knees at the foot of their bed, waiting out his nightmares. One of her hands wraps around his ankle as soon as she realizes he’s awake. Anchoring him.

Her hair is golden, her skin is tan. There is a knife under the pillow, but it’s not her favorite.

“Are you alright?” she asks.

“I thought that you were a war, when we met,” he tells her, sleep-stupid and nightmare-addled. It’s easier to say than ‘I dreamed you murdered my first love’, too, so there is that. “Still do.”

She flinches minutely. “Sorry. I’m a little rough around the edges, these days, I guess.”

He hikes his leg up, drags her hand along, grabs it and pulls. “Don’t. My choice.”

The only war he ever got to choose.

His dream echoes weirdly. He thinks of Melena disappearing into the soup pot and Buffy’s hand on his ankle. He thinks that it’s too late (early) for anything to make any kind of sense.

So he wraps himself around her tightly, pins her arms to her side, and lays awake until he’s absolutely sure she’s asleep. Then he follows. Melena died long ago. Buffy’s still here.

And here she’ll stay.

+

Buffy hides with the botanists.

It’s cowardly, but after her confession, she’d rather not be around the others and really, with the news that Michael wants to negotiate, of all things, they have enough to do without tiptoeing around her after that particular freak-out.

She helps water alien plants, gets to eat alien oranges fresh from the tree and generally pretends they aren’t about to be blown to kingdom come. Just for a little while.

Just until it doesn’t hurt quite so much anymore, having spoken the truth out loud. Having acknowledged that there is no way back. She can’t go home, not ever, because home is gone.

Just until Amy, one of the nice plant people, comes up to her with one hand to her earpiece and says, “Sorry, Colonel Sheppard wants you. He says you’ve been hiding long enough.”

“Tell Colonel Sheppard that he’s a bad man for using your adorable face to call me to heel and also that I won’t share my spoils with him,” she declares and then pockets a few of the oranges anyway and makes her way to the nearest transporter.

The conference room is already filled with the usual command crew, plus anyone else who has anything to say. She rolls an orange each toward Ronon and his team, then drops down next to him and asks, “So, what do they want?”

No-one asked her to come to the first contact meeting. Less bloodshed that way.

“The retrovirus,” Carson sums up. “They claim it allows them to feed on other Wraith.”

“Civil war,” she chirps. “Yay.”

“The Wraith have ever been at war with each other. Hunting grounds are scarce and after millennia of cullings, many are barren,” Teyla offers. “They have been starving.”

“So we’re solving galaxy hunger. Cute.” She turns to look at their intrepid leaders. “You know they’re going to screw us over, right?”

There is a long pause, with a lot of angry muttering and guilty shuffling. “There is a chance-“

“No,” she and Ronon snap at the same time. He pauses, she goes on. “There isn’t. They think of humans as food. You don’t sit at a table and make deals with cows back home, do you? No. To them, we’re not equals, we’re not worthy of being traded with, we are not helpful, or allies, or anything but cows that occasionally shoot back. We’re food and they’re Wraith.”

Elizabeth stares at her for a long moment and they’re been at each other’s throats for weeks over this, but Buffy hopes, she really does, that this time she got through. The older woman has been here for over a year, yes, but Buffy has been fighting this fight for a decade has been a victim of the Wraith for more than ten Earth years.

She knows.

Finally, Elizabeth turns her gaze toward Ronon and the rest of the team Buffy has started to think of as hers. Not the Scoobies, 2.0, but still…. Hers.

Look at her, growing roots. Feeling things.

Ronon nods, as does Teyla after a moment’s hesitation. Rodney and John stare back at her, impassively. They’ve made their opinion known, too, and it’s not like Buffy thinks Elizabeth is a bad leader. Okay, so she doesn’t think a diplomat is the best choice to lead the expedition against the Wraith because the other woman’s instinct will always be to talk and you can’t talk with the Wraith. Can’t reason with them.

On top of that, she’s never met a fully powered Wraith in person before today. Never felt the primal, heart-stopping terror of seeing one of them come for you, unimpressed by bullets, knives, blades, anything. There’s something about the Wraith that slithers straight into your lizard brain and makes you afraid and Elizabeth has never felt that.

Finally, she gives a nod. “So we assume they are going to break their words. Until then, I think we should play along. Play along and prepare as best we can. Agreed?”

There’s assent all around. Until Rodney, the party-popper has to ask, “About that. Are we still at the ‘throw something at them really hard’ stage? Because if so, let me demonstrate once again, why I’m a genius and you all owe your lives to me.” He tags on a smarmy grin because when winsome personalities were handed out, Dr. Rodney McKay was off scrounging for coffee and didn’t get more than scraps.

Buffy rolls her eyes.

“Let’s hear it,” Elizabeth enthuses and it’s admirable, how she actually manages to put some pep into her words, despite the creek they’re up.

“Okay. Alright. We haven’t had much time to play with the Wraith tech, but we have managed to strip most of the devices down to their base coding and we found something very interesting.” He pauses.

Eventually, John gives in and asks, “Which is?”

McKay beams. Yeah, those two are so not subtle.

“There are bits of Ancient code at the heart of every piece of Wraith tech we stripped. It makes sense, if you think about it. Wraith language is based off the Ancient, and we know they were most likely created by the Ancients, as well. They probably took their tech, too. It’s not a lot, mind you, they had ten thousand years to advance away from the tech we know, which is why Atlantis has nothing at all in common with their organic hives,” he pauses again, this time for a long shudder, “but the core is the same.”

“How’s that help us?” Ronon drawls, arms crossed over his chest. He wants to just shoot shit. Buffy can tell. She feels the same.

“If you would let me finish! I helps because it gives us a target for a virus.”

“Independence Day? Really?”

If looks could kill, John would be dead and buried.

“Bite your tongue, Colonel. This is not shoddy nineties science-fiction! Wraith tech is in no way compatible with our tech. Have you seen their consoles? They use claws and some weird mix of telepathy and manual input and the language is a mess because it’s partially empathetic and that’s good for us, because nothing they attempt could touch our systems. Probably. At least, our purely Earth systems. Which isn’t saying much, seeing as how about ninety percent of our tech is Ancient infected by now, or runs entirely on Ancient base codes, but. But! Ancient base codes in the Wraith programming. It’s something our systems can latch on to. I can write a virus that will, hopefully, wreak enough havoc on the hive ship to take it out for good, or at least until we have better defenses!”

“So,” John summarizes, “Independence Day.”

Radek snorts. Buffy is battling flashbacks to apocalypse season snark fests in the Magic Box. Laugh in the face of danger and then kick its ass.

Rodney points. “I hate you!”

John smiles beatifically.

“How do you intend to deliver the virus to their systems?” Lorne asks, from his seat next to Teyla. She adds, “You said yourself that our computers cannot interact with theirs.”

Buffy has a stray thought about how, now that Michael is with the Wraith, all of that useful Earth knowledge in his head, the Wraith have probably found a way to interact with their systems just fine, Ancient tech or not. She doesn’t say it out loud. If she’s thinking it, so are the smart people in the room and apparently, it’s not worth mentioning.

“Well, no. But Buffy can.”

She gives him a wide-eyed look, then computes what he just said. “So when you say your genius is going to save us all, you actually mean me?”

“I just need you to deliver the virus I am going to write into the hive’s systems! That’s hardly rocket science!”

Before he can go off on his usual tangent about rocket science actually being easy, Radek decides to chime in, “We should also consider that the hives might not have Ancient coding. It’s a possibility.”

“A negligible one,” Rodney argues. “The Wraith have been unopposed in this galaxy for ten-thousand years. If the shoddy, mass produced darts and computers Buffy stole are still based on Ancient code, then so are the much older, more resilient hives!”

Ronon pointedly clears his throat.

“The shoddy, mass produced darts and computers that are actually very helpful and that Buffy kindly provided us with,” the doctor corrects.

Buffy bites back a snort.

“That still leaves us with a delivery problem,” Peter Grodin points out.

“We could just send the virus as spam mail and hope someone opens it,” John pipes in helpfully.

Rodney sniffs. “Well, since I will be doing all of the heavy lifting in the, oh, twelve hours we have left until the Wraith expect an answer, someone else can figure that out.”

Ronon pointedly clears his throat. Again. This time, McKay just glowers right back and announces, “I’ll be in my lab. Radek! Bring coffee!”

And off he flounces.

+

In absence of any asses to kick, Buffy falls back into an old default: movement. After a decade spent on the run, staying still only adds to her nerves, so she moves.

Or rather, she realizes after her fifteenth turn around the gate room and the adjacent corridors, the science labs and the jumper bay, she patrols. It’s been so long since she had anything to circle, anything to protect, that she almost forgot the motions of it, but apparently her body still remembers, because here she is, walking a perimeter around the most important places and people.

She did it with her house, the last days of Sunnydale, did it with the Magic Box, with the school. Circle it and kill anything that tries to get at the people working to solve the problem. She failed only once, and it cost Kendra her life.

Funny, how all these memories keep popping up, lately, after so many years of staying dark and quiet.

With a frustrated grunt, she finishes her tour of Rodney’s lab, almost scares Miko out of her socks by walking too quietly, and returns to the main control room, where Elizabeth suddenly appears, right in her path.

“Yes?” she asks, tense at having to stop. To still.

“Chuck has broken three coffee mugs in the last few hours,” Elizabeth tells her, apropos of… nothing?

“Sorry,” the tech pipes up from behind her and Buffy frowns. “Okay?”

“You’re making people nervous.”

“I’m-“ Well. Damn. Okay. Maybe she can see how… she is sort of wearing all of her weapons and spoiling for a fight and Ronon keeps telling her to be kind to the geeks because Sheppard gets cranky when they give them a nervous breakdown.

Before she can try to explain that she can’t not do anything and this is the only thing she can do, or worse, Elizabeth can suggest something like sleep, Ronon manifests at her elbow, grabbing her arm.

“Come on,” he grunts and then just pulls her into the nearest transporter and then straight to the training room she hasn’t set foot in since she almost killed five men inside it.

She balks at the door and he tightens his grip and flings her forward, aiming a kick at her back to speed her along.

She ducks, rolls and comes up with a knife in each hand, teeth bared, nerves singing, muscles tensing because finally, finally, a fight.

He rushes her and she dances out of the way, bringing her knife to bear, only for him to block it with his own. They dance around each other for a moment, smiles all teeth and then he goes low, fast enough that she has no choice to do anything but flip over him and hope he can’t compensate. She lands behind him and whirls on the spot, getting in a kick to his kidneys, sending him flying forward. He rolls with it, and they’re back to circling.

Not even breathing hard, he asks, “Is that all you got?”

She snaps her teeth at him, a move too feral to belong to Buffy.

Slayer rushes him and after that, it’s a whirlwind.

Kick, punch, slash, stab, parry, duck, twist, flip, turn, lunge, blades dancing and blood singing, muscles burning and lungs heaving, pulse racing and at some point, they start losing knives, kicked away or lost to a stinging hand.

After that it’s just fists and then it’s her with her back against the wall, her legs around him and his hands at her throat turn softer at the same time his lips find her jawline and then it’s another kind of whirlwind, another storm, another kind of fight and Buffy adores him, she does.

If anyone passes by the open door, they wisely keep their mouth shut.

+

“Hey,” she drawls after a few minutes of silence, both of them catching their breath, sprawled on the training mats, still partially dressed and absolutely wrecked. When Ronon only grunts in acknowledgement, she smacks him on the chest with an open palm.

“What.”

“Remember when I said we didn’t really know each other?”

He hums an affirmative, because it’s hard to forget the day she accidentally sent five men to medical in a fugue state of rage and then tried to run.

“I changed my mind.”

At that, he raises his head enough to look down at where she has her chin digging into his sternum, watching him. He cocks an eyebrow. “Because of one good fuck?”

“Because I didn’t think you really knew me, but I was wrong. Maybe you don’t know my favorite color, or how I take my coffee, or any of that crap that normal people know, but you know the important stuff.” The moment she finishes talking, she ducks her head away. He marvels at how someone like her, as strong as her, can be so shy and vulnerable at times. Marvels at the fact that she lets him see.

He hooks his arm around her waist, squeezes, and doesn’t tell her that she likes her coffee with three sugar and no milk and that her favorite color is green.

“You saying goodbye?” he asks, instead.

“Nah,” she tells her own hand, playing with one of his necklaces. “I’m telling you, after we’re done killing us a hive full of Wraith, if you still want me, for some inane reason, I’m in. You and me, relationship, the whole nine yards.” She taps his pecs idly. “I’ll wrestle down my abandonment issues and everything.”

He snorts at that, because really? What does she think they’ve been doing these past few months?

Women. Always complicating things.

“Good,” he grunts, and then he rolls them over and hauls her in for round two, because all this talking is annoying and they still have hours to kill before McKay finishes his virus.

+

+

Eight

+

An inspection.

That’s what they come up with. They demand to inspect the hive to ensure there is no human cargo for the duration of their ceasefire, because blah, blah, blah.

John lets Elizabeth do the talking, smiles blandly in the background and occasionally nudges either Buffy or Ronon with an elbow when their expressions get too homicidal. A few times there, they get so intense he’s actually worried they’ll scare the Wraith off and he’s absolutely sure both of them are dreaming up increasingly violent deaths for the Queen, Michael and their two guards across the room.

Finally Elizabeth firmly but politely tells them it’s inspection or bust and Michael pretends to be a nice guy and agrees and the queen just flashes her teeth a lot and hisses.

They troop toward the small transport ship that got the space vampire contingent into the city in the first place. Ronon and Buffy are tense like live wires, Teyla is pale despite the painkillers Carson gave her to help manage her Wraith-induced headache, but her jaw is set and her shoulders are straight.

Rodney has slipped into default defensive mode and is babbling increasingly offensively at anyone within earshot.

John smiles glibly at Michael every time their gazes meet and hopes the hybrid can sense how badly John wants to put about two pounds worth of lead into him and then sink him into the sea for the whales to nibble on. After he lets the homicidal duo have at him for a while.

Something of his daydreams must show in his eyes, because Michael’s answering glower darkens and there’s a whole bunch of teeth on display. Which was scary at some point, about two years ago, but really, the great white does it better.

Once they’re inside the small ship and have lifted off the pier, Michael extends one of his hands toward John and demands, “Your weapons, please, Colonel.”

He makes a mockery of the address and John is almost glad, because it means that while the guy might know Atlantis, he doesn’t know her people. John has never given a damn about his rank and title and anyone from Atlantis, any real member of his expedition knows that. Michael has some important bits, yeah, but those aren’t necessarily the ones that matter.

After all, he’s massively underestimating them right now. John hopes it’ll be his downfall.

So he hands over his P90, his handgun and the two obvious knives on his person (belt and boot) without protest, nodding for his team to follow. Teyla passes over the same amount of weaponry he did, careful not to touch the drone accepting her things. Rodney only has one gun and knife, which is still one-hundred percent more weaponry than he used to routinely carry.

Then it’s Ronon’s and Buffy’s turn. Between them, they pass over two blasters each, three projectile weapons, seven knives, two garrotes, two razor blades, five throwing needles, a short sword and an axe.

“Where in god’s name did you keep that?” Rodney blurts as Buffy passes the axe over.

She gives him a wide, fake grin. “A good Slayer never reveals her secrets, doc.”

The show has two effects. One, the Wraith are all watching them a bit closer now and two, they’ve apparently decided anyone who’s given up an entire armory worth of weapons can’t be hiding any more.

Their mistake. My John’s counts, he and Teyla have four knives between them, Rodney has his tablet and his brain and Buffy and Ronon, well. Neither of them even touched their hair, for one. Buffy’s bra and the hidden pockets along the back of Ronon’s coat are also likely hiding places.

Yeah, they’re good.

“Happy?” he asks Michael, back to his bland smiles.

“Terribly,” the hybrid answers and two of his drone buddies box the weapons and stow them safely away just as the transporter starts landing. John regrets that those weapons are probably a lost cause, now, but carrying less than that would have been suspicious. They all made sure not to bring their favorites that that’ll have to do.

The ship finally comes to a complete halt and the rear ramp starts lowering. Michael leads the way as Rodney pulls up a random scanning program on his tablet and starts up his smokescreen of babble and indignation, Teyla at his shoulder, a silent bodyguard.

John makes a point to drop to the back of the group, drawing their guards’ attention to him.

It leaves Ronon at the center with Buffy, well-protected and, hopefully, overlooked.

“Showtime,” he mutters to himself.

And hopes like hell that this will work.

+

Buffy is going to have the mother of all migraines after this, she can tell. Also, bruised shins. Organically grown ships are surprisingly hard to navigate even when half your attention isn’t being taken up by mentally trying to jam your way into an alien ship computer.

Her personal computer is hidden under her jacket sleeve, hooked up to Rodney’s tablet (which contains the virus) and the hive’s mainframe. Tenuously.

Because the geeks are right, their stuff isn’t really compatible with Wraith tech. Except Buffy’s computer is Ancestor tech and she’s mentally worked Wraith devices for years. Badly, sure, but it works.

So she bulls through the familiar feeling of almost-nausea and the prickliness under her skin and the stabbing in her temples and hauls her computer along for the ride as she goes looking for the base code of the ship.

It’s intuitive, the same way Ancestor devices are. She doesn’t have to think specific commands, or speak in a command language, the way Willow once tried to teach her in highschool. HTMwhat?

All she has to do is want things. She thinks of how she wants to see the ship’s navigation system and there it is. She can’t read the code, or the controls, can barely make sense of the maps, doesn’t really understand squat, but she knows that that’s what she’s seeing, because that’s what she got when she thought it.

There are firewalls, of course, but they’re not like with normal computers. She doesn’t need a password, she just needs to be Wraith, and she is, in a way. Or rather, Wraith enough to pass. She doesn’t have the bug features, but she does have enough of the other half that makes up the bad guys to fool the system. The Wraith never installed anti-Ancestor codes the same way the Ancestors installed anti-Wraith codes. God knows why. Arrogance, certain victory, or lazy programmers.

It’s enough to get her in.

Of course, then there’s the semi normal firewalls, too, the ones meant to keep saboteurs out of important systems.

But, but, but. Mental interfaces have one distinct weakness: they can be tricked. A normal computer is going to just wait for the right command and it’ll wait for a thousand years if it has to. No command, no access. Somehow, someway, you need to find that command, or an override, which is just another sort of command.

But this one is almost something like sentient, almost something like clever and she tells it all about how she doesn’t want to touch, to change. She just wants to see. Show her the base code. Just show her. No confidential data, no important systems.

Just the base code. Just a peek.

The thing about semi-sentient systems? They start to grow people flaws. They can be conned. Lied to.

If Carson can fire a drone with a stray thought, no training and no access (Rodney loves telling that story), she can find a few lines of alien code in this bitch of a ship while convincing it she’s only checking out the scenery. Such pretty code you have, grandma.

All the while keeping her face blank and relying on Ronon’s presence at her side to orient herself by and his arm on her elbow to pull her back on course when her physical body strays a bit too far from him and bangs into one of the weird, veiny-rooty-growy things that make up the floor, walls and ceiling. (Hence, the bruised shins.)

On impulse, she sends a quick message to her computer, hears Rodney’s tablet ping a moment later.

You owe me all the painkillers, doc.

He huffs, asks a particularly outrageous question about Wraith biology and uses the resulting rant from Michael to type back, shut up and work.

Asshole.

+

Elizabeth is a patient woman. As a diplomat, she has to be. Politics wrought with words move slowly, ponderously.

Argument, counter argument, consideration. They take time.

That said, no two hours of her life have ever felt as long as the two she has spent sitting across Michael’s hive queen in the conference room, distracting her, waiting. A leader for a leader, an exchange of hostages, that was the deal they struck to get their people onto the hive.

Because, as John pointed out calmly, they need to have an obvious strategy to hide their actual. If everything goes well, they won’t need to be exchanged back. They’ll make their own way and let Lorne know that it’s safe to dispose of the queen.

But, but, but. Until then, Elizabeth is here to talk of a future alliance that will never happen, to pretend that there is a future where they aren’t about to commit genocide. It leaves a sour taste in her mouth and bile in her stomach, but these creatures are the enemy.

This time, Elizabeth Weir is not a diplomat. This time, she’s a warrior. And so she waits. And hates every second of it.

+

Radek stares at the data package sent from the hive. It’s a gift, supposedly. They were right, insofar as suspecting that Michel found a way to incorporate human systems into Wraith systems far enough to make them compatible.

Which is… well. It’s not actually a problem, because they already run mostly on Ancient tech, so they threat of the Wraith hacking them hasn’t grown any bigger. Bit it proves to all and sundry just how badly they screwed up with Michael. How much they gambled and lost.

He considers that, considers what is happening in orbit, far above their heads. Considers Miko’s face, reflected in the computer screen from where she’s staring over his shoulder at the storage device in his hand.

“I think,” she says, slowly, thoughtfully, “Maybe we wait.”

“For what?” he asks.

“For after the Wraith are… gone. We can isolate a system, take more time to scan the data.” She shrugs. “Build better programs.”

“Avoid trap?” he summarizes.

She nods. “Avoid trap.”

A few days more or less to get at this data won’t matter. They’ll either be safe and have the time in a few hours, or be dead and not care.

Either way, “We wait,” he decides and puts down the drive.

Besides, if Rodney is the one to plug it in, he can’t blame Radek if it blows up in their faces.

+

“What is wrong with her?” someone asks and it sounds a bit like the voice is coming from far off.

“Your kind make her sick,” Ronon snaps over Buffy’s head and she almost snorts except that migraine thing wasn’t actually a joke and her brain is going to bleed out of her ears soonish if she can’t either drop out of the hive’s system of find what she needs.

It hurts.

“Like I,” she hears Teyla answer, more calmly, “she can feel the presence of the Wraith. It sickens us both.”

“Are you so desperate, that you send sickly females to us?” someone – Michael, that dick is Michael – sneers. It’s kind of funny how the matriarchal Wraith with the queen is a misogynist. What the hell did Carson teach that guy?

“Or maybe,” she counters, focusing an angry glare at him, through semi-transparent lines of code that run over everything, “I’m just bored out of my skull with your stalling. We don’t care about your labs, your sleeping quarters or your damned rec rooms. Show us the cargo hold. Now.”

Her smile, it’s mostly made of teeth. So is Michael’s.

John hooks a thumb at her. “What she said.”

Then, when Michael turns away, he shoots her a questioning look. She shakes her head minutely and goes back under, lines and lines of Wraith code running through her head.

+

“How much longer?” is pretty much the next thing she registers. It’s Ronon, low in her ear, worried.

“I don’t- wait.”

There is something. Something small. It’s not exactly buried, but it’s… below. Behind. Dimmer, more transparent. She’s seen it before, a time or two, just a flicker, a bug in the system but now –

“How far is it back to the ‘bay?”

The drone behind them makes an unhappy hissing sound at their whispers. She ignores it. Ronon catches her drift, steps away from her to lean toward John, asks, “Are we finished, yet?”

He sounds impatient, pissed-off, and very ready to kill everyone.

John shoots him a brief frown, then looks at Buffy. Then he steps up to where Rodney is arguing with Michael (God knows what they’re on now, the last time she paid attention, the good doctor was accusing Michael of hiding humans in the air vents.).

“I think,” the Colonel drawls, casually, “That we’ve seen just about every nook and cranny of this thing. They’re no humans here.”

“But-“

“Dr. McKay. Let’s go,” Teyla adds in her own two cents.

Yes, Buffy thinks, clawing her way through telepathic cyberspace toward the shadow of Ancestor’s code behind the Wraith one. Now that she’s noticed it, she can’t imagine how she ever missed it.

It’s softer than anything around it. More rounded, glowing less poisonously. Quieter. Kinder. And that’s stupid, because it’s computer code, not a person, but Buffy still hears the endless song of Atlantis, deep, deep below her feet, and maybe –

But this ship is not sentient. Organic, yes, but it’s a far cry from Atlantis’ systems. Aware, maybe. No more. And the soft little bits of code are leftovers, overwhelmed by everything else.

McKay huffs and puffs and then gives in while Buffy finally latches on to the code she needs and starts uploading the virus. It takes her a moment, but once she imagines the virus growing like a vine on the Ancestor code, the system seems to get the idea and because she already slipped past the firewalls, there’s nothing to stop her. No admin password for these suckers.

She gives it a beat until she’s sure it’s taking, tries very hard not to think about how none of this makes any sort of logical sense, and then sends a quick message to McKay’s tablet.

GTFO, it reads and of course, of course, screw Murphy, Michael leans over in time so see it flash across the screen and even if no-one taught him Earth slang like that, random coded messages are bound to send up all kinds of flags.

Mikey snarls a single word in Wraith and Buffy has time to think, whoops, regrets her migraine and then ducks under a blast from the drone behind her.

Belatedly, Ronon answers, “Seven decks and half the ship,” whips out a knife and slams it home in the trigger happy drone’s neck.

“Well,” she decides, drawing one of her own knives and saving John from having his face ripped off long enough for Teyla to cover his ass, “Shit.”

Then, raising her voice, she adds, “I hope someone remembers the way out!”

McKay slams his tablet into the side of Michael’s face, howls in outrage at being made to break his tech and then announces, “Of course I do! Keep hitting things and try to keep up!”

And then he ducks between Teyla and John and they both lunge to save him from getting sliced and diced and then follow after him.

“Follow the scientist,” Buffy snorts, quietly, ignores Ronon’s side-eye and breaks a neck casually as she passes the drone by.

Behind her eyelids, the virus twists, winds and grows. Time to get the hell out of here!

+

They run. Garrote wire, knife, knife, knife, fist, foot, knife, they run and they kill and how big is this goddamn ship and Buffy considers, absent-mindedly, half her focus on fighting, almost half her remaining focus on the virus and only a small sliver on existential angst, if she dies today.

Again.

If she dies here, today, in a galaxy far from her own, in a universe that didn’t birth her, doesn’t contain her friends, her calling, her old haunts, or a single familiar thing.

You can never go back.

If she dies today… well, she decides, surprising herself, at least it’ll be worth a damn. It wouldn’t have been, a few months ago, a few years ago. Then, she would have only been fodder for the Wraith, only a trophy, forgotten before her body rotted away, no more meaningful than the cow you slap on your burger.

Atlantis… isn’t her home (not yet), but it is a home, and that means something.

So dying would be sort of okay.

Doesn’t mean she wants to. So she slides under a drone’s staff weapon, slices its belly open, comes up on her knees in time to sucker punch another off of Rodney, flings him into Teyla, who catches him, shoves him behind her and kills the first Wraith to come after him with a grin on her face.

Badass chicks with superpowers. Seriously.

Then Ronon is there, passing her a concussed drone and actually blowing her a kiss over its shoulder, because he’s the kind of weirdo who thinks that letting her kill something counts as a gift, or a gesture, or something. Whatever.

“Can you two flirt later?” John snaps, kicking free of a tangle and smacking one in the head with… yep, that’s a piece of furniture, where did he find furniture in here?

They take off running again. In her head, the virus looks like a bloodstain spreading through water, like ink on wet paper, spreading, spreading, inexorably covering its surroundings.

Buffy can’t really help herself, she laughs.

+

They run, they fight, they almost die, Rodney keeps smashing shit with his tech, Teyla rolls her eyes a lot, the rest of them snark and at one point, something in Buffy’s head snaps with the same wet, hard sound ligaments make when they tear.

Suddenly, the low vibration that encompasses any moving spaceship stops and instead, the walls start shuddering.

Behind her eyelids, white lights dance and something warm hits her upper lip and, “Are you alright?”

“Peachy,” she retorts with a bloody grin, grabs Rodney by the arm and hauls him toward the hangar, double time. “Shit’s starting to blow up, though.”

In her head. But also outside of it. They run some more.

+

Their salvation is only a few hundred yards of space hangar away when Michael abruptly pops up in their path, temple bloody, expression kind of pissy, gun in hand, and as he aims at John Buffy starts giggling because she just realized something.

In this world, other people get to have nemeses. In this world, Buffy isn’t the hero. She’s the plucky sidekick who gets to watch the hero beat down the bad guy.

Which is why John sighs, grunts something to Rodney and then tackle dives forward to beat the living shit out of his hybrid nemesis and Buffy gets to just stand there and be dizzy and hold onto Teyla a little because half her mind is still inside the mainframe of the ship.

You know, the one that’s blowing up.

“We need to go, go, go,” she says, or maybe screeches. It’s hard to tell over the sounds of encroaching explosions.

Teyla shoots her a look and then starts hauling her past the fight. Ronon decides to screw comic book protocol and dives into the fight, tag-teaming with John and Rodney considers briefly and then skitters after the women, because they’re less crazy. Or something. Maybe.

Everything is fuzzy.

“Can anyone else hear the codes breaking down?” Buffy asks idly as Teyla deposits her in the pilot’s station and demands, “Buffy! How do we start this ship?”

“You focus,” Buffy explains and Teyla is suddenly at her back, pressing her into the consoles.

“Then focus! None of us can fly this ship!”

“Do I have to?” Buffy is whining, she knows she is, but it’s so hard to focus and it feels like that one time a Übervamp tried to squash her skull with its bare hands, only worse, because she could kick its ass and it let go of her, but this is inside her head and this might be what an aneurism feels like. “Crap.”

“Yes. Yes, you do. If you don’t, we will die. John and Ronon will die.”

Well, that’s not cool. She’s a war, a bloody battlefield, but Ronon still chose her. Still wants her. And they only just decided to give things a go. Also, don’t mess with Buffy’s men, goddamn it.

She leans forward. She digs her fingers into the claw grooves made for Wraith hands. She thinks really hard.

The ship lurches. Rodney curses. Weapons, weapons, weapons, where –

“Screw nemesis-having-ness things,” she announces, and fires the transport ship’s weapon system directly at where Michael is just recovering from getting Dex-kicked in the throat.

“Mhm, Wraith schmear.”

Rodney gags and then shouts, “The ramp, damn it, lower the ramp.”

Buffy does. There’s more snapping sounds, only this time they’re outside her head. Shit’s blowing up. Whoops.

Her vision goes pink. She passes out just as John elbows her aside and says, “I hope this works.”

+

It didn’t, she’s told, later, by an irate Scotsman berating her. Apparently, she really did give herself an aneurism. A little one.

Like the one that killed her mother.

Crap.

Teyla saved them in the end, not John. She someone managed to fly the ship after Buffy passed out and John utterly failed at Wraith tech. No-one is quite sure why yet.

Buffy doesn’t really care.

John is hospitalized next to her with busted ribs and a stab wound. Ronon is slouched in a plastic chair on her other side, holding her hand, fast asleep.

It doesn’t make her uncomfortable to have him there. Even waking up, his hand caused nothing but a wave of fondness.

The hive is gone. Michael is dust and atoms. His queen is, too. Atlantis is safe. Everyone Buffy cares about in this universe is alright.

The thought makes her smile. Which hurts. Actually, everything hurts.

“That’s what you get for giving yourself a bloody aneurism, woman!”

+

Before they left on their ‘inspection’ Elizabeth quietly pulled Buffy aside.

“Is there anyone… I know you said it’s not your Earth, but if there’s anyone you want us to reach, anyone you want us to research….” She let the offer hang there, almost like a treat. Come back alive and I will give you this.

Buffy shrugged. “Buffy Anne Summers,” she told the older woman, because she’s not ready to ask about anyone other than that.

She wonders if this world has vampires. If Willow and Xander died by Jesse’s hand, if Dawn exists, if Anya’s curse has changed the world. She wonders if Angel met the sun, if Spike revived Drusilla completely.

She wonders if any of them even exist, if they were ever born. If their lives are worse than the ones in her home world, or better.

No. Better to stick with Buffy Anne Summers.

Afterwards, while she’s still on bedrest, Elizabeth finds her, tablet in hand. She passes is over wordlessly and ghosts back into the gate room where there is always work to be done.

Buffy Anne Summers is twenty-six, because Slayer apparently didn’t just jump between worlds, but also back in time. She lives in LA, has a sealed record for shoplifting at age seventeen. She partied through most of her early twenties, is now working hard on a degree in psychology. She has boyfriends, one girlfriend. None of the names are familiar in any way. She still goes ice skating on weekends and works part time in her mother’s art gallery.

She’s a complete stranger. Even her picture looks different.

Buffy deletes the file Stargate command kindly sent, from both the tablet, and Atlantis’ mainframe. Even if it does give her a new headache. Ronon makes a half-awake questioning noise as she hisses in pain.

She’s known for a very long time that she couldn’t go back. No going home. Not anymore.

But maybe, she thinks, maybe, that’s okay. Maybe this place, right here, with these people, is a pretty good alternative.

Not home, not yet, but… she’s not Buffy anymore. Not the way she was. But there’s another Buffy out there, untouched by the supernatural, and she’s a Buffy, too. Maybe here and now, Buffy can become someone new. Another Buffy.

One who’s a war and a mirror and a Runner and a fight and an Atlantean and a slayer and herself.

She always admired Pegasus’ ability to boil names down to their essential meanings. Stunner stuns, dart darts, slayer slays.

And Buffy… buffies.

God, her head hurts.

“Just go to sleep,” Ronon growls, one eye cracked open. He pokes her in the thigh.

“You go to sleep,” she snaps back.

“Both of you shut up,” John complains from his own bed.

Ronon flips him off.

+

John was right. She does enjoy Pegasus Christmas.

+

+

+