The iris glittered like a million stars had been pushed together. Everyone else thought it looked like water but not Ronon. He had never been one to dream while looking out over the expanse of water that had surrounded the city. When he dreamed, he looked up into the night sky. It made everything appear small - his fears as well as his aspirations. He could defeat small things, he reasoned. Stars were better than water if one was depending on a miracle to come along.
But no miracle was filtering through those tiny stars. He couldn't defeat the ring of the Ancestors. Major Lorne and his team were on the other side, scavenging everything of use from Atlantis and then, when they were done, it would be shut down forever. They were giving up hope that Atlantis would be able to be repaired, bringing everything they could carry back with them to MR7-3A6 or, as Rodney had taken to calling it, Galapagos. He didn't care what anyone called it. Ronon only wanted John to come back through the iris, the tiny stars streaming around him like a cloak of welcoming.
He should have gone with him. Since when had he ever listened to John when he told him to stay put? Why was he starting now? It had been simple enough. John wanted to go get something to remember his time on Atlantis. But it was more than just a memento. There had been a look in John's eyes that Ronon hadn't liked. He had looked manic, obsessed with the thought of one last chance to maybe fix things. No matter that the city had literally been falling around them in the last few weeks, the Ancestor construction finally giving in to the serious flaws that Rodney had found only a few months ago on a routine check of the life support systems. Nothing was forever, even something built by the damn Ancestors. And no matter how hard they had tried, there was nothing they could do to fix the city so that it was livable. All they'd been able to do was delay the inevitable.
Even falling apart, the city still pulled at John. He'd been against this idea of running away, as he termed it. Usually it was John talking Ronon out of something stupid but, this time, Ronon had discovered the roles had reversed. Now he understood why John got that crease between his brows when Ronon refused to listen to reason. It was like trying to talk a tree into chopping itself down... or a city from falling apart.
"Major Lorne radioed that they've got the last load and are coming through." Amelia said it loud enough that he could hear from his position over to the side of the vast room even though she was really only speaking to Mr. Woolsey over her left shoulder. While Ronon should have been grateful that he'd been acknowledged, all he could do was stare at the gate, willing John to walk through with Lorne as if he'd been part of the team all along. The idea was that Amelia would keep the gate open for a twenty count with the hopes that Woolsey would be distracted (for the second time today) with all the minutia that went into welcoming the returning team.
There were so many things that could go wrong. Ronon had stopped counting when his list suddenly had more items than he had fingers. Anything more than that and the list became something too cumbersome to contemplate so that, in the end, fear crept in and took control. If he was going to get John free of the hold that Atlantis had over him, he had to have a clear head.
The first member of the team cleared the gate. Ronon tried not to growl when he saw how slowly they were filtering through. At this rate, the team would be through with only a few moments to spare. If John didn't get through... but he wasn't going to think about it.
Catching Amelia's eye, he nodded his chin toward where the group was gathering only a few feet from the last place he wanted Woolsey to be concentrating his attention. Quick as ever, she pushed away from her bank of computer monitors and, after a whispered word to Chuck, she began ushering the group toward the other side of the room.
"We wouldn't want to clutter the one real exit we have," she reminded them when they began protesting. "There's still no real assurance that there aren't predators outside those walls. We may need to get away fast."
The thought of an unknown threat was enough to get them all moving so that by the time the last person was through, Lorne himself, everyone was grouped around the boxes of odds and ends that the team had brought through. His estimation had been right, though. There were only minutes left on the countdown clock they'd all learned early on to tabulate internally when working with the stargate.
He began moving, cutting Lorne off before he could join the rest of his team. "Did you do a body heat scan of the building before you left?" he asked, leaning down close so that there was no way anyone could hear his low voice.
"Of course. There's no one there, Ronon. We did our job." The curt tone didn't phase Ronon. He'd just questioned the man's integrity as well as his ability to do his job. If Lorne had started swinging, Ronon wouldn't have taken it personally.
For anyone else, he would have walked away. But this was John. He'd lost his best friend when Teyla decided to stay with the Athosians and Kan'aan and they'd all lost the one place they considered home. Losing John at this point wasn't an option. Just the thought made his chest hurt as if his heart knew that it might stop beating at any moment.
"What?" Lorne narrowed his eyes, shifting his weight so that he could see all of Ronon's face. "He's where?"
"Atlantis. You have the gene. Could you feel the pull?"
Ronon had never seen anyone grow so pale so quickly before. He reached out to catch Lorne on the off-chance he decided to faint. "I thought-"
"Sort of like a combination between heartburn and the feeling that you forgot to turn the stove off? That's how Sheppard described it. He said... he said she was trying to pull him back and that he was just going to go get a piece of her to bring back so that she would know he wouldn't forget him."
Just as he was finishing speaking, the iris shut down. The sound of the draining energy made Ronon start to panic as he realized that everything was lost. John was on the other side of an address that wouldn't be connected to ever again. He turned his head to make eye contact with a stricken Amelia. She'd done all she could. Anything else would be treason. He left his shoulders slump forward and his head drop as he tried to remember how to breath.
A hand clamped down on his shoulder. "There's still time to make this work."
It took exactly twenty minutes and sixteen seconds for Lorne to convince Woolsey that opening up a connection to Atlantis was a good thing to do. Somehow, and Ronon wasn't exactly sure how, he snagged Rodney and convinced the scientist to tell Woolsey that the team hadn't gotten all the equipment he'd been expecting. Ten minutes of that time frame was taken up with one of Rodney's rants about the incompetence of the military and how he should have been allowed to go but he recanted all of that when he began the part of the tirade about how he was the only one who could make anything work in this God-forsaken-wreck-of-an-excuse-for-shelter. Fearing for his life and sanity, Woolsey agreed to give Lorne exactly ten minutes to find the piece of equipment Rodney needed.
"I'll need Ronon," Lorne added as he moved to leave the room. Woolsey nodded, waving him out as he tried to calm down an agitated Rodney. Within minutes, Chuck was punching in the familiar coordinates.
The lack of darkness was like a sucker-punch to Ronon's senses. He'd assumed that turning off the lights would leave the place in a complete black-out situation but there was still sunlight streaming through the windows. It was so still he could hear Lorne's breathing. This was what Sateda had been like when he'd gone back. That wasn't a comforting thought.
"Any idea where Sheppard would have headed? I'm going to assume that trying the life-signs detector again won't help. Not if Atlantis is hiding him from us."
"You think it's got him trapped?"
Lorne nodded, looking around uneasily. "I'd stake my next paycheck on it."
"His room. We should try his room."
As they started travelling through the city, Ronon realized that the quiet was almost as nerve-wracking as if there had been a troupe of jugglers running after them, begging for attention. It was hard to concentrate without the hum of energy running through the place. "What a waste," he growled in response to his own thoughts.
Lorne's must have been along the same line because he nodded. "Wish we could have found a way to save her."
There was the clanging of metal against stone as a nearby wall gave way. The sound was distressing enough without leaving the two men wondering if they'd be able to get back to their exit when they were ready to leave. Ronon faltered as something that sounded like a scream filtered in on the sound. "It's just the way the metal sounds sometimes. I'd say you get used to it but I never think you do."
Ronon narrowed his eyes at the comfort, trying to assess the whys as he always did with these people from Earth. Even after all this time with them, he didn't trust them not to do something underhanded while acting innocent and friendly. John continually called him on it, reminding him they weren't like all the people he'd grown up with, but Ronon still had to fight the urge to start off the conversation with his fists so that the groundwork was laid.
When he saw Lorne rub at his chest once again, his desperation snapped everything back into place. All his senses went back into alert-mode with only one command to follow: Find John Sheppard.
Light of life, breath of breath, bone of bone.
Dawn of morning. Dark of night. Light of home.
As he had for the past four hours, Ronon muttered the first half of the Satedan commitment pledge to himself as a mantra. They would find John. They had to.
The door to John's room was blocked by twisted metal and crushed stone. From what he could tell of the damage, it would take days of constant working to get the opening free of impediment. Even with some of the heavy machinery that would have been at their disposal if Atlantis was still fully operational, it would take hours. Hours they did not have.
In frustration, Ronon grabbed up a length of metal and began using it to savagely beat at the offending deconstruction. "Give him back," he shouted, his muscles protesting as his blows met the unmoveable objects. "You can't have him. He's mine."
The sane part of his brain, if there really was one, was waiting to be pulled back from the rubble. To be told to shape up and then given some order to follow that would seem worthless because it wasn't getting John out of harm's way. Instead, he was left alone in his grief. At first he thought that Lorne was watching him but then he realized he was alone. For what seemed like hours, he fought to find any weakness that he could exploit. Dust rained down on him with every clang of the metal rod. When he'd hear a creaking or groaning, he moved to a different spot and hammered away.
And then Lorne was beside him again, his face flushed from the exertion of running through most of the city. "If he's anywhere else, I can't find him. I'm going back for help." He expected to be told to stop, to find another way but the other man just lay a hand on Ronon's arm. "We'll get him out."
Hope drove him forward, giving his muscles the stamina to push through the exhaustion. He was coughing almost constantly from the dust in the air. At one point, something had fallen on him and sliced through the skin of his arm but the blood wasn't impeding his progress so he kept pushing forward, trying to outsmart the city with his physicality because he knew he was no match for it mentally. John had always raved about how intelligent the city was. Now, Ronon had to agree.
There were voices coming toward him but he didn't stop working. Lorne could have the men fall into place around him because he wasn't stopping.
For a moment, the word sounded like it always did coming from John. The slight lilt that he always attributed to his upbringing that sent chills down Ronon's spine. Now it stopped him dead in his tracks. Had he been safe all this time? He turned, a smile starting to tug at his mouth in a embarrassed welcome. But it wasn't John. It was just Lorne, back with reinforcements. He was pointing down at the bottom of the pile, the men behind him all riveted at the same spot.
A hand. A familiar black wristband.
Ronon fell to his knees and began to dig with renewed vigor.
Galapagos proved to be a decent enough city after Rodney got everything working. It took some time for the people to see the beauty in the dank tropical forests that hemmed them in on all but one side. The water here wasn't as crystal clear as it had been on the last planet but it was just as useful for washing and drinking. There were several food sources that would keep them going until the Daedalus was able to pinpoint their location. It was weeks further along in the journey but, for the moment, it was safe and easily defendable. The Wraith had no idea of their location.
Everyone fell back into the same routine they'd had on Atlantis. Even Ronon. Or, it had been said, especially Ronon. He did whatever he was told until he was told to stop. He ate whatever food was put in front of him. No one paid him much attention. It had been painful to lose John but the controversy surrounding his death made everyone loathe to bring it up in conversation. There had been no reason for him to be back on Atlantis but the inquest hadn't turned up any real answers so that the whole thing was dropped for the good of the community.
The day after the Daedalus came into orbit, they had John's memorial service. The whole affair was especially hard for Ronon. He wasn't military, so he couldn't participate in that aspect of the ceremony. Neither was he consider family. For all intents and purposes, he was nothing but a spectator. It wasn't until that moment that he truly realized just what John had meant when he'd said their relationship would have to be just between the two of them. This public spectacle was a chance for everyone else to grieve in public so they could go about their lives once again, laying this whole ordeal to rest along with the beloved military leader of the expedition.
Standing in the back of the room, Ronon didn't look anywhere but at the flag-covered coffin. Grief had made ribbons of his heart and lungs but he still stood straight and tall, his arms loose at his side. It wasn't until everyone had filtered out of the room that he became aware that Lorne was standing beside him. With the barest nod, he acknowledged the man's presence before going back to his non-stop internal struggle with the memories that wouldn't leave him be.
"Colonel Caldwell wants to know if you want to escort the body back to Earth."
John. His name is John. He's not a body. "Why would I want to do that?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Ronon could see Lorne shrug as if the question and the answer meant very little to him. "We thought you might want-"
"This isn't about me," Ronon interrupted. "This was never about me."
"It was partly about you. All relationships have two sides."
Ronon skewered him with a glare before turning away for the first time since entering the room. "It was made completely clear to me at the beginning that there was no relationship. Your military saw to that."
"Not my military." Lorne jumped in front of Ronon as he was leaving the room, walking backwards until he could get Ronon to stop. "John had his own demons he had to deal with about who he spent time with. Not everyone feels the same as he did about how the military controls our personal time."
Lorne clamped his lips together, a sign that he was irritated. It was an expression that he and John shared, sending Ronon's heart thumping painfully in his chest once again. He thought about pushing past the man but all he could do was stare at the lines that had formed on his forehead, not sure if he wanted to reach out and stroke his finger down them as he'd done with John on so many occasions or if he wanted to push him out of the way.
They stood in the hall, neither of them moving or talking for several minutes before Lorne made the first move. "I hear you're not sparring with the Marine these days. And Teyla's not around. Who're you working out with?" Ronon shrugged. "That's part of your problem. Come on."
In no time at all, they were in one of the rooms that had been set aside for exercise. It wasn't at all what they'd left behind, just a dank square of dirt brown stone lit by a few lanterns, but the appearance didn't matter to Ronon. As he stood in the middle of the room, he was somewhere else. This moment wasn't all about John, though. Not like the thousand of others since he'd uncovered the bruised and battered body of his lover. He was remembering everyone he had lost, letting the pain rip through his body until he was nothing but a mass of pulp. There were so many that had been in his life at one time and were now just a memory he carried in his heart.
When Lorne landed the first punch, he looked up in surprise, seeing the man for the first time. The pain of the hit lanced through him, giving his muscle and bone definition so that when he finally remembered what it was that he was supposed to be doing, his own punch carried some power with it. The jolt of skin against skin wakened something in him that had been dormant. Anger, thick and vicious, lanced through him. The next punch fell heavier and the next even more so. Lorne was standing in just the right spot to bear the brunt of each thrust, not giving Ronon a chance to go easy on him.
Around and around they went. Lorne had long stopped trying any offensive gestures of his own, only ever throwing a punch when it appeared that Ronon was starting to rethink this exercise. He stopped allowing himself to be baited when Lorne went down for the third time, the punishing blow sending him to his knees. "Keep going," he gasped as he struggled to his feet.
"No. You've had enough."
"I can keep going." Lorne swatted at him but the momentum sent him reeling into Ronon's side, his warm blood seeping through the white shirt Ronon had worn to fit in with the other Earth outfits and in deference to John's heritage.
The sight of the red blotch broke something inside of him, something he hadn't realized was being held together with remnants of hope that somehow, beyond all reason, John would come back to him. But he wasn't. Even if he did, by some miracle, come back, it would be by magic or manipulation and it wouldn't be the same. He wouldn't be the same John that Ronon had let go through the ring of the Ancestors.
Ronon fell to his knees, wrapping his arms around the wavering Lorne. Tears that had been threatening to fall for days finally broke free. Each sob ripped out of him, taking with it some of his agony and leaving a wound, still raw but finally cleaned enough that it could begin to heal. When there was nothing left inside him, he tried to break away but Lorne wouldn't let him go.
"You should probably see the doc about that lip," Ronon finally murmured, his cheek pillowed on Lorne's chest. He could hear the strong beat of his heart and feel each breath of air enter and exit from his lungs. With each one, he felt the faint stirring of a new hope. For the first time that he could remember, he was able to finish the commitment pledge through to completion. Death was not the end. He'd never been able to mourn Malena and never had any other lovers that had touched him as strongly as John. He'd always been sure that such a strong love that would make him want to enter into a commitment would meant that the end of their life would be the end of his.
Light of life, breath of breath, bone of bone.
Dawn of morning. Dark of night. Light of home.
Where you are, there I am.
While you walk this earth, I will walk with you.
When you escape the bonds of life, I will place your memory in my heart.
Light of life, breath of breath, bone of bone.
For as long as you are mine, I will hold you close.
Dawn of morning. Dark of night. Light of home.
My love, forever.
My life, forever.
They struggled to their feet, each helping and hindering the other in turn. Ronon tugged at the other man, much the same as he'd been propelled forward earlier. "Come on. You're starting to drip."
"You've still got that mean right hook," Lorne muttered through lips that weren't working properly.
"I'll teach you the secret." Ronon grinned, his own lips cracking under the strain of the curving up into an expression they hadn't held for what felt like a lifetime. "Some other time. Today, you need stitches."
"Great." But Lorne smiled back at him as best as he could.
And in that moment, it was great. It was only the first step toward healing but Ronon figured he had plenty of time. Forever, in fact. John's memory wasn't going anywhere and it didn't look like Lorne was either.