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The first e-mail Dave Sheppard gets is numbered 6 in the subject line. He assumes his secretary redirected the first five, or deleted them as spam; number six only gets through because Lisa's out for the week with swine flu.

Dave opens the mail because the account name (Ronon.Dex@) is faintly familiar. The message is two short sentences: We got Teyla back! Surgery went OK. Dave deletes it, and then undeletes it for no reason save a superstitious feeling that this is important. It's probably spam, or a mistake, but he makes a Dex, R folder and drops the message in.

The next e-mail arrives two weeks later and is even shorter. Kicked Sheppard's ass @ Mariokart!

Dave feels like the recipient of some kid's English homework assignments. He's figured out who Ronon is, the young guy John brought to the wake. He types out a sharp reply, stating clearly that he doesn't appreciate or want these updates, but saves it to draft and with one thing and another forgets to send it.

He's glad for that oversight when the next e-mail comes from John's quote-unquote civilian contractor. Sheppard in surgery again. Keller says she didn't mean to stab him! Okay. The final 'okay' reads like exasperation, and Dave knows every detail of Sheppard Utilities' management for the last quarter and every projection for the next ten years (with or without the controversial fourth windfarm) but he has no idea how close John came to dying. To dying again.

It takes him nearly two hours to write a reply. Thank you for letting me know about my brother. I never hear from John. Sometimes I wish we were closer. I hope he has recovered and is back on his feet. Dave rereads those inadequate words and then, because he has his strong suspicions, adds, I'm glad John has you taking care of him.

This is how Dave finds himself penpals with John's intimidating boyfriend. Dave doesn't feel like he's betraying John; he never tells Ronon anything especially private. Mostly he writes about himself and what he does, and Ronon writes cryptic notes about how John's doing. Dave finds talking to John exhausting, like trying to drive through an unknown city at night, with no map. Any simple comment can be a wrong turn, and make John freeze up and withdraw. They have too much history, and too much of it is painful.

It's refreshing to know that John sucks at Nintendo, and hates some kind of vegetable (the green leaf thing, Ronon writes), and doesn't run as fast as Ronon but is better than most of the Marines. John's embarrassed by his grey hair, Dave learns, and played Santa to a bunch of refugee kids, giving them hard candy and bean seeds. Ronon doesn't really want anything from Dave. The e-mails really are a homework project in Ronon's ESL writing class, and over the months his punctuation improves, although he still uses it like a blunt weapon.

Sometimes the e-mails are obviously censored, like the one that reads Teyla took us to and we saw! cooked a. Barbeque is awesome! Sometimes Ronon skips a week or two, and Dave sits at his father's desk in his tailored suits and worries.

He keeps copies of all Ronon's letters on his home computer. One night he comes home from a banquet at the Berkeley warmed through with wine, and switches to whisky as he turns on the computer and rereads everything. He sends off an e-mail in the darkest part of the night, tired and drunk and alone. He writes about how much he misses John, and how he's sorry for various things that he thinks John carries grudges about, and how he doesn't care that John's gay because Ronon's a decent person and a good friend. Dave tells Ronon he should visit, and bring John.

Dave feels like an idiot in the morning, but the message is already gone, so he just drinks down Advil for his headache and tries not to worry.

Several days later Dave gets an e-mail in large-size boldface font. It looks angry, and it reads angry.

Are you TRYING to get your brother fired? Rodney McKay writes. Dave knows the name from Ronon; it's usually attached to something funny the man did or said. Apparently, Rodney has a temper as well. I guess John got all the brains in the family. Thank GOD I'm paranoid and put in a subroutine that encrypts any mail from you to where we are. You DUMBASS. Not only did you out John and would have got him FIRED if I wasn't so smart and actually LIKE having him around, he and Ronon have been behind locked doors for five hours now and thinking about what they're up to makes me want to SPORK MY EYES OUT.

No one Dave associates with regularly would dare to call him a dumbass; it makes him grin for some reason.

Dave sends Rodney a very nice apology on an e-card with flowers and ribbons. He hears from Ronon that McKay turned red like one of those ketchup fruits! It was awesome.

Dave doesn't hear from John, and he knows that if neither of them bend this will be yet another unspoken festering silence. So he swallows down all his resentment that John can't just connect like a normal person, and adds a note to John at the end of his reply to Ronon. I wish things were okay between us, he writes. It's obvious that your friends love you very much, and, You should know you can come home any time you like, John. I want you to. I miss you.

Then he hits send and leans back in his chair grinning like a kid, and hoping.