After John heads off to find a car or talk someone into beaming him back to Virginia or whatever it is he plans to do, Bill Lee sticks his head back in the door. "If you're gating back to Atlantis, can you hang on while I get some supplies together? Even with the gate bridge, we always get lectures about power consumption every time we open the gate--"
"I should wait for Sheppard," Ronon says. John will probably be pissed off about Ronon not heading back like he told him to, but Ronon can live with that. It would be better if he could get someone to come up with an excuse for why he has to stick around, but he doesn't know anyone here well enough for that.
"Okay, sure," Lee says. "That'll give me plenty of time to check the supply requests, so that's great ... I mean, not great for Colonel Sheppard, obviously, but you know what I mean." He trails off in obvious embarrassment, but Ronon does know what he means. They can't stop working just because someone's grieving.
"Right," Ronon says, when it seems like some response is required.
"You want me to ask someone to get you set up in guest quarters?"
"That would be good," Ronon says. He hasn't really gotten straight who does what around the SGC, and if he bothers General Landry, he figures Landry will tell him to go back to Atlantis just to get him out of his hair.
He can find his way up to the mess hall, though, where apparently he's allowed to eat if he shows his Atlantis ID. It's late for lunch and early for dinner, so he has the place more or less to himself. The scrambled eggs and sausage taste exactly like the ones that come out of plastic containers in Atlantis. It's hard to believe he's on another planet.
He tries to ignore it when someone else comes in, in hopes of not having to make what John calls "small talk" (he assumed for a long time that was just a weirdly literal rendering by the gate's translation program, but, no, that's really what they call it.) He looks up in resignation when someone puts a tray down on his table.
"Oh, my," the woman says, looking him over appreciatively. "And whose little boy are you?"
She's dark-haired and whip-slender, and even in the nondescript uniform of the SGC, she moves like she's used to attracting attention and likes it. She reminds him a little of Ara, but Ara is only beautiful in his memory because she was his friend. She didn't have the kind of looks that made strangers turn their heads.
"Ronon Dex," he says.
Her lips curve into a smile that looks more genuinely delighted than teasing. "You're from Atlantis," she says. "You must tell me all about it, I was only there for about ten minutes, and Daniel wouldn't let me look at anything interesting because he always has the worst assumptions about my motives."
Ronon considers her. "Was he right?"
Her smile is infectious. "Only a little." She holds out her hand. "Vala Mal Doran."
Ronon shakes her hand, although he suspects it's a foreign ritual for both of them. He knows the name; she's on SG-1, which means "Daniel" is Daniel Jackson, one of the original members of SG-1 that John always talks about like they're heroes out of one of his comic books.
"It's a fortunate coincidence that you're here," Vala begins, and then looks curious, tilting her head to one side. "Why are you here?"
"Sheppard's father died," Ronon says.
Vala winces. "Not so fortunate, then," she says. "I'm sorry."
"I didn't know him," Ronon says. "Sheppard went back to Virginia to talk to his brother. I'm going to wait for him to get back."
"Well, then," Vala says. "I was just thinking that I didn't want to spend another evening watching television, and now I can show you around Colorado Springs. If you'll let me?"
He wouldn't mind getting out into the city. He's spent a handful of hours on Earth so far, and spent most of them chasing bad guys and attending a tense, awful funeral. He's not sure if she's coming on to him or not, though, and he's not sure he's really in the mood for that at the moment.
"Is this a date?"
Vala shrugs with elaborate nonchalance. "Do you want it to be a date?"
"I'm not sure I'm up for that tonight."
"Then, no, it's just the opportunity to get out of this rather oppressive military base and actually see some of what this planet has to offer."
"Okay," Ronon says.
"Wonderful," Vala says, smiling radiantly. "I'll just go borrow Daniel's car."
She returns without Jackson, but with Cameron Mitchell in tow, looking like he's resigned himself to something inevitable.
"If you don't want to come with us, you could just give me your keys," Vala says.
"No, I couldn't," Mitchell says mildly. "Hi, Dex."
"Call me Ronon," Ronon says.
Mitchell nods. "Cam. Vala tells me that you're on your own here, and since she doesn't have a car ..." He holds up his car keys. "Where are we going?"
Vala chews her lip for a moment in thought. "Rum Bays?"
"Boring," Mitchell says. "And can we do food before alcohol?"
"We just ate," Vala says.
"I didn't," Mitchell says, steering her by the elbow toward the elevators up to the surface. "Let's get some food and consider whether cheap mixed drinks are really the best Earth has to offer."
Outside it at least looks more like an alien planet, with tree-lined mountains and winding roads paved black. He's seen plenty of cars in movies, but riding in them still feels like he's stepping into one. Mitchell keeps a firm grip on the keys when Vala tries to extract them from his hand, and she slides into the back seat with Ronon instead.
"I am not your chauffeur," Mitchell says.
"I'm just being hospitable," Vala says cheerfully, crossing her knees and stretching out in her seat.
Mitchell shakes his head. "Sorry to hear about Sheppard's dad. It's rough to be so far away when something happens."
Ronon nods. He wants to say that even if John had been closer, he probably wouldn't have tried to visit, and that maybe it's just as well that he didn't get a chance to and let the chance pass him by. He doesn't, because that's not his to talk about, but he finds himself wishing he could. That's strange for him. Maybe it's just that Vala does remind him of Ara, and her easy camaraderie with Mitchell reminds him of a time when having friends was simpler.
"Okay," Mitchell says, pulling into a parking lot where the sign says O'Malley's. "Currently we are the only members of SG-1 who aren't banned from this place. I'd like to keep it that way."
"Teal'c isn't banned either," Vala says. "And Sam isn't on SG-1 anymore, so it's really only Daniel who can't ever come back here."
"Why?" Ronon asks.
Mitchell and Vala trade little smiles, clearly both itching to tell the story.
"There was this little incident with some ..." Mitchell lowers his voice as they climb out of the car. "Some technological help we got from one of our allies that did indeed pump everybody up so that they were super-strong and super-fast, but also made them act like they were about ten years old. Jackson and Carter and O'Neill were supposed to be in quarantine, but for some reason they got the idea ..."
Vala shrugs. "Sam always says they just got hungry."
"Anyway, they decided it would be a good idea to break out of quarantine and go to O'Malley's for steaks. At which point Sam starts hustling pool, and Jackson picks a fight ... yes, ma'am, there'll be three of us," he says, as they reach the little desk at the front of the tavern. "Peacefully eating our dinner section, please," he adds under his breath as she turns away, and Vala swats him on the arm.
"Apparently they had a truly legendary bar fight," Vala says as they're shown to a table. "General Landry paid for the damages ..."
"No, that was back when General Hammond was in charge," Mitchell says. "He paid for the damages, but he wasn't real happy about it, and neither were the folks who run this place."
"So why are we here?"
Mitchell shrugs. "They're close, and they have good steaks. I don't know if you've got cash, but don't worry about it, it's on me."
Ronon's not sure whether he's supposed to protest or not. "I have some Earth ... some American money."
"Not this time," Mitchell says. "We'd never hear the last of it from Sam if we didn't take care of you while you're in town."
That's fair enough. He's one of Colonel Carter's men, and these are her friends. It's reasonable for them to feel responsible, even if it still feels strange to him. He was alone for so long, and then in Atlantis where everybody knows each other. But he remembers how the web of obligations works.
Most of the food is stuff that Ronon can recognize, although he has no idea how to judge prices. Mitchell orders onion rings to share and a steak. Vala orders salad and a chocolate martini, whatever that is. Ronon orders a steak, too.
"How would you like that done?" the waitress says.
"She means cooked all the way through, or still red in the middle," Mitchell says.
"Still red," Ronon says. They get steak every now and then in the mess hall, but it's usually cooked until it's dry and leathery or steamed until it's falling apart.
The food is pretty good when it arrives. "We have more impressive restaurants," Mitchell says. "It just always seems like too much trouble to go to them."
"I think that's a shame," Vala says, somewhat indistinctly around a mouthful of salad. "We ought to take more effort to introduce visitors to--"
Mitchell holds up a hand and makes a warning noise.
"To beautiful Colorado Springs," Vala says very carefully.
"Take it up with the tourism commission," Mitchell says.
"Are you sure we can't get some kind of expense account for that?"
"You want to tell Landry that you want the Air Force to pay for you to get taken out to dinner in nice restaurants and go see cultural stuff? Go right ahead."
"Not only me," Vala says.
"This is fine," Ronon says.
"Don't mind Vala," Mitchell says, and she elbows Mitchell in the arm.
It makes Ronon feel ... it takes him a moment to identify the feeling. Alone. For a long time, that was just background noise, so much a part of every day that he stopped listening to it. Right now he wishes Teyla were here, or even that Rodney was. He'd tease Rodney about whatever Rodney was eating, and Rodney would call him a caveman for preferring steak that hasn't been steamed into submission in a plastic tray, and that would be easier than eating dinner with strangers.
Mitchell smiles at him sympathetically. "The rest of your team is stuck back in ... that place that we aren't going to mention?"
"McKay had to work," Ronon says. "And Teyla ..." He's not sure what's going on with Teyla and John, but he's pretty sure that the bare facts of why she's not here aren't a secret. "I think Sheppard figured, with her pregnant, that if he took her to the funeral everybody would think they didn't just work together."
"Awkward," Vala says.
"It was still awkward," Ronon says. "I think his brother got the wrong impression about him bringing me."
"Was it the wrong impression?" Vala asks with interest.
"Yes," Ronon says, but apparently there's something off about his tone, because Mitchell says "I'll be right back" and folds his napkin, heading off in the direction of the restrooms.
Vala leans in conspiratorially. "He wants to give you the chance to tell me all about your passionate affair with Sheppard without him having to officially know about it."
"We're not having a ... does anybody really talk like that?"
Vala's mouth twitches in a smile. "Where's your sense of romance?"
"I don't sing under people's windows anymore."
"Did you ever?"
"I thought we were talking about Sheppard," Ronon says.
"So? Is this an unrequited thing, or are you two actually involved?"
"Sheppard's Air Force," Ronon says. "So he can't do that stuff."
"Is that what he says? Believe me, there are the official rules and then there's what people actually get up to, which ... I could tell you stories, but of course I won't, because I'm much more discreet than that, and some of the people involved carry very large weapons and have absolutely no sense of humor."
"I think he has a crush on Teyla anyway," Ronon says. There's something about Vala that makes it hard to stop talking, even when he knows he should. He suspects she takes full advantage about that.
"Have you tried the direct approach?" Vala says. "Show up in his quarters, take all your clothes off, and say 'how about it'?"
He considers her. "Does that work for you?" The way she looks, he figures it might.
"The trick is not getting thrown out before you take any clothes off," Vala says, frowning ruefully for a moment. "But you would probably be harder to remove."
"I'm back," Mitchell says, sliding into his chair. "I won't ask what I missed."
"Secrets that would scandalize the entire Stargate program and fill up your fascinating tabloid newspapers," Vala says. "But my lips are sealed." She picks up her purse and puts it firmly on the table in front of her. "Now for the fun part of the evening."
They end up in a bar playing the kind of crappy Earth music Sheppard likes, which is apparently called "country," although this is louder and faster than a lot of what Sheppard plays. Mitchell nurses one beer on the grounds that he has to drive them home, but he keeps ordering more beers for Ronon whenever his glass is empty. Vala seems to be ordering mixed drinks at random.
"This is strange," she says, offering him a sip from her glass. It tastes like nothing humans ought to drink. He makes a face, and Mitchell shrugs.
"I have no idea why people drink some of these things. Don't judge the whole place by a ... what is that?"
"Paralyzer," Vala says. "Tequila, vodka, Kahlua, cream, and Coke."
"Oh, my God," Mitchell says. "How can you drink that?"
"It's a cultural experience," Vala says firmly, although she sets the drink aside. She glances up at Ronon. "Dance with me."
Ronon lets her drag him onto the dance floor. He's not sure she knows what she's doing any more than he does, but it's kind of fun being out there on the floor. After a few minutes Mitchell pushes his way through the crowd toward them.
"This is painful for me to watch," he says. "Vala, you have got to let me teach you the two-step."
Vala turns willingly into Mitchell's arms, and he starts showing her a partner dance, pointing out what she ought to be doing with her feet. They're pretty together, moving like they're used to working together in the field. Vala catches on quickly, and Mitchell steps back.
"I think you're set," he says. "Show Ronon how it's done."
He looks a tiny bit wistful, though, like he's not entirely happy to let go of her, and Ronon figures he owes him that much of a favor.
"You two dance for a while," Ronon says. "I'm going to go get another drink."
He pushes his way back to the bar and orders another beer. He's not going to get really drunk unless he switches to something stronger, but he's starting to feel it. It's a while before Mitchell makes his way back to the bar and climbs onto the stool beside Ronon.
"Vala, what can you do," Mitchell says, shaking his head, but he's smiling.
Vala appears moments later. "You can't escape that easily," she says, and tugs Ronon to his feet.
"You don't want a drink?" Mitchell asks her, taking the beer that the barman hands him.
"Why, thank you," she says, and drinks thirstily from Mitchell's beer.
"Right," Mitchell says to her retreating back as they head out onto the dance floor.
After a while they start some kind of line dance, which Ronon actually finds easier once he picks up the pattern of the steps. It's a lot like things they had on Sateda, and also like training exercises. Vala is just as quick to learn, after a token protest that she isn't really any good at this kind of thing, and by the time she runs out of breath for dancing, Ronon's starting to wish he weren't wearing uncomfortable Earth shoes.
"All right," Vala says, when they return to the bar where Mitchell is now apparently camped out. "What next?"
Mitchell raises his eyebrows at her. "Is there a next? It's getting pretty late."
"Spoilsport," Vala says. She drains another weirdly-colored drink, tilting precariously off-balance on her bar stool.
"Besides, you're toasted," Mitchell says.
"Am not," Vala says. She brightens. "A bar fight would be interesting."
"Not that interesting," Mitchell says immediately.
"You're just a spoilsport because you're not drinking."
"We could get a cab," Vala says.
"What's a cab?" Ronon asks.
"They come and get you and drive you places."
"After you pay them," Mitchell adds.
"Or I could ask Daniel to come pick us up, since Teal'c is --" Mitchell makes what's becoming a familiar warning noise. "Out of town," Vala continues with dignity. "That's not suspicious, is it?"
"You're suspicious," Mitchell says. "You are a basically suspicious person."
"Live a little," Vala says.
After a moment Mitchell shrugs. "What the hell, right?" he says. "Two shots of Maker's Mark." He slides one over to Ronon when it arrives. "This is the good stuff."
It is good, strong rather than sweet. "Bottoms up," Mitchell says.
"Victory," Ronon says, and drains his glass.
A while after that, the evening starts to get a little confusing. Ronon dances with Vala for a while, and then Mitchell dances with Vala while Ronon watches, leaning against a wall out of the crush of the crowd, and then eventually Vala ends up straddling Ronon's lap at the bar, her legs wound around his hips, possibly more for balance than anything else.
"Can we have a bar fight now?" she asks plaintively.
"The trick is," Mitchell says, "you've got to start the fight while you're still sober enough to win."
He's clearly one of those guys who can talk very clearly even when he's drunk. Ronon's only seen Sheppard really drunk a couple of times, but he acts it when he is, stumbling over his words and getting this sort of lost look that always makes Ronon want to gather him up and put him to bed like a kid.
"We would have, if you hadn't stopped us," Vala says. She looks up at Ronon hopefully. "We could still win, couldn't we?"
The bar is full of a lot of people, but none of them are visibly armed. "Depends. Can we use weapons?" Ronon asks.
Vala looks discouraged. "They put you in jail for that, I think."
"They also put you in jail for beating the crap out of people without a good reason," Mitchell says.
"I could create a good reason," Vala says.
"Do you really want to get us banned from all the good places?"
"I know a better place," Vala says. "But I don't think we can go back to that ... place. And I may be banned from it."
"From the bar, or from a whole planet?" Mitchell asks, like he has to know.
"You said 'planet,'" Vala says smugly. She tips a little, and Ronon wraps his arms more securely around her waist to keep her upright.
"Nobody's listening," Mitchell says.
"Then can I--"
"No," Mitchell says. He shakes his head and starts laughing like the drinks are hitting him hard. He puts his head down on his hands, his shoulders still shaking. "Just generally no," he says indistinctly, waving a hand in Vala's direction without raising his head. "Because we always get in trouble."
"There's nothing wrong with trouble," Vala says, and leans down to kiss Ronon, her breasts pressing warm against his chest.
It's pretty nice, but she's really drunk, and Ronon is pretty sure so is Mitchell -- he's put away a lot of bourbon since he started drinking in earnest, and it's strong enough stuff that Ronon's not sober himself -- and the part of him that remembers evenings like this also remembers being the responsible one.
"How do you get one of those cabs?" he asks.
He steadies Mitchell by the shoulder as they're waiting for the cab, the cool evening air clearing his head a little. Vala is sitting on the curb in front of him, her elbows on her knees.
"Damn, I'm sorry," Mitchell says as Ronon keeps him from stumbling off the curb into traffic. "I should be on top of things."
"It's okay," Ronon says.
"I just feel like I'm letting down the team."
"This used to be what I did," Ronon says, surprising himself with the words. "Get my friends home when they were drunk. They're all dead now."
"I'm sorry," Vala says, leaning back against his legs and sounding like she really is.
"At least you've got people now," Mitchell says.
"Sheppard wasn't going to take anybody to the funeral," Ronon says. "Maybe I just made things harder by coming."
Vala turns his head against his knee. "I doubt it," she says. "It's no fun being alone." The words are light, but he thinks from her tone that it's something she knows very well.
They pile into the taxi with Vala in the middle, and she leans back against Ronon's chest and puts her feet in Mitchell's lap.
"Where to?" the driver says.
"My place," Mitchell says, and tells the driver the address. "You two can crash there too if you don't want to deal with getting back into the base while you're trashed."
"I am not trashed," Vala says, leaning her head back and looking up at Ronon. "You're tall."
"You don't mind?" Ronon asks over her head.
"There's just the couch, so you're going to have to take the floor."
"No problem," Ronon says.
"We can share," Vala says.
"I don't even want to know," Mitchell says. He closes his eyes, his hand still curled around one of Vala's ankles.
He's apparently fallen asleep by the time they turn off the main road onto side streets. Vala rests her head on Ronon's shoulder. "You're nice," she says. "Secretly nice." She fishes money out of her purse when the cab pulls to a stop, and has paid for the cab before Mitchell is awake enough to protest.
"I think the evening is over," Mitchell says when they're all out on the sidewalk, and Ronon follows them up the stairs to make sure neither of them falls down them. "There's the couch," Mitchell says, pointing it out. "Blankets and towels are in the closet. Meds for the hangovers I'm betting we'll all have are in the bathroom. I'm gonna go fall over now."
"Sleep tight," Vala says, leaning precariously to kiss Mitchell on the cheek as he passes and then slithering bonelessly down into the nearest chair. Ronon is tempted to just stretch out on the floor where he is, but instead he goes and finds enough blankets to make up a bed on the couch for Vala and one to curl up in himself.
"I really don't mind sharing," Vala says. "The couch folds out, look." She does something mysterious to the couch that makes it produce a rickety-looking bed, and then sits down on the corner of it, looking up at him with tired eyes. "I know that you would probably rather be spending the night with someone else, and believe me, I understand how you feel, but ..."
"Where are you from?" he asks after a moment.
"A little planet you won't have heard of," Vala says.
"Did something happen to it?"
"It's fine these days," Vala says. "I just probably shouldn't ever try to go back." She smiles bravely. "They know me too well."
It's not really the same, but they're both a long way from home.
"We can share," he says.
They sleep curled up with her head pillowed on his shoulder. He wakes up once, drink and Vala's warm weight making it hard to remember where he is, and then it all comes into focus. He's in a strange house on an alien planet.
He closes his eyes and wonders if John's thinking the same thing, and eventually he goes back to sleep.
In the morning, he wakes up before Vala, who doesn't move when he rolls her off him except to pull the covers over her head. There's the smell of coffee, and he follows it into the kitchen.
Mitchell is already dressed, hanging onto a mug of coffee while he sets out food for breakfast. He's moving a little stiffly, like he's feeling last night more than he should be. Old injury, Ronon suspects, but one he usually covers well.
"You want some coffee?" Mitchell says.
Mitchell starts cooking bacon while Ronon stirs sugar into his coffee. He's gotten too used to drinking coffee, he thinks. He's going to get addicted like Rodney and bitch and moan if he can't have it all the time.
"Vala's still asleep," Ronon says.
"I'm counting on the smell of food to wake her up."
"We didn't have sex," Ronon says.
Mitchell spreads his hands. "You don't have to tell me."
Ronon hunts for the words he wants. "I know it's not how your people do things, but on Sateda ... we didn't think it was a good thing to have sex with people you just met. If you're going out together, that's different, but just ... it means you don't think they're worth knowing."
"That's how I was brought up too, believe it or not," Mitchell said. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to go out a couple of times before you take your pants off."
Ronon's pretty sure that John would say there is something wrong with that, although as far as he can tell, John isn't either going out with anybody or having sex with anybody, so maybe he's not the person to talk. He's not sure he's ever going to figure John out.
"Who's taking their pants off?" Vala says, leaning against the doorframe of the kitchen looking determinedly cheerful but also like she's got a splitting headache.
"Good morning, Vala," Mitchell says.
"Was there some talk last night of pain-killers?"
"There's aspirin and Tylenol in the bathroom," Mitchell says. "Anything stronger is not for you."
"You're no fun," Vala says.
"That's my job," Mitchell says cheerfully. He puts eggs and bacon on a plate for Ronon while Vala goes off in search of drugs. "I wouldn't drag you out of bed yet, but we've got to go get my car before I go to work."
"I should get back to the base anyway," Ronon says. "Be around when Sheppard gets back."
"Think he'll be back so soon?"
"He and his brother don't talk much," Ronon says. "They're going to run out of things to say."
"I hear you," Mitchell said. "Vala! Hurry it up, unless you want to eat your breakfast in the car!" He starts eating his own breakfast with the speed of someone whose meals are frequently interrupted.
"No offense to your generous hospitality, but I would just as soon never eat breakfast again," Vala says, reappearing in the kitchen doorway.
"Shouldn't have had that Paralyzer," Mitchell says, taking a last bite of scrambled eggs. "Let me turn the coffee off, and we'll go."
They make it back to the base a couple of hours before John gets back, but most of the time is taken up by Bill Lee assembling an enormous stack of supplies for them to take home. Ronon isn't arguing, since everybody back home will be glad to see the stuff. Mitchell gives him a box of personal stuff to take to Carter, things her friends want to send her.
"I'm not even sure what's in here," he says. "Vala promised she wasn't putting in anything that was alive or would explode."
After they've got that squared away, Ronon hangs out in the mess hall until John shows up. He's wearing his uniform again, not the black civilian clothes that he looked so awkward in at the funeral. He comes over and sits down at Ronon's table.
"I said you could head home," he says after a moment.
Ronon shrugs. "I got lost."
John looks at him skeptically. "Lost?"
He keeps his expression deadpan. "It's a big place."
John smiles a little, looking down at the table. "You didn't have to hang around," he says.
"Yeah, I did," Ronon says.
"Thanks," John says after a moment. "Now come on, let's get out of here."
They pass Vala in the hall, and she waves at Ronon. "I had a lovely time!" she calls as they pass. "Even if there wasn't a bar fight."
John gives Ronon a sideways look like he's caught him at something. "That's why you stuck around?"
"Wouldn't you?" Ronon says.
"I might," John says. "You want to ..." He glances back in Vala's direction. "We could hang out for a while if you two were hitting it off." He looks tired, though, like he hasn't slept at all.
Ronon shakes his head. "We should get back. You should get some sleep before the Wraith attack or something."
"That might be good," John says, and Ronon heads down to the gateroom to take John home.