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The History of the World

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Ronon had always hung close to John, ever since his first days on Atlantis. And while John had wondered why, sometimes, well. There was no reason to complicate things. It was good, it was solid. Somewhere along the line, Ronon had turned into the person he could always count on.

It kind of blew his mind when he thought about the millions of light years between their hometowns, about that on paper, at least, Ronon was supposed to be an alien. As if he hadn't been right there, in the mess, on missions, drinking beer out on the pier with him for years.

At least until Atlantis crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

If possible, Ronon hung even closer than before, and it took John three weeks to figure out why. The few times Ronon had been to Earth, before, there had been wraith. Replicators. Kidnappings. And maybe that was it. Maybe to Ronon, Earth was just another offworld mission, like every other planet he'd been to in his entire life.

Only it was a mission that had been dragging on for weeks now, and nothing was happening. John got the reports every day, read between every line of the forwarded emails between Zelenka and McKay. Every day, when Ronon knocked on his hotel room door, edgy, homesick and bored, John had to tell him the same thing. That it would be a while. That nobody knew anything yet. That at this point, even speculating about getting back to Pegasus was a moot point.

---

"I'm useless here, Sheppard," Ronon complained, four beers into their second bar, two weeks into California. "There's nothing to do, here. No-one to fight. What do your people do with themselves?"

"Mostly? Go to work, come home, spend time with their families. Watch television." John bit down on an ice cube and raised his glass. "I don't know," he continued. "Drink. Pass out. Do it all over again."

Ronon didn't say anything in response, just stared into the pitcher on the table between them. John found himself wondering how Teyla and Torren were settling in with the Millers, if McKay'd made it up there in between his jaunts between the SGC and Area 51.

"Sometimes we take road trips," John found himself adding, mostly to fill the silence. It was hard defending a place that didn't feel at all like home.

He hadn't expected the idea to take hold.

---

They'd been on dozens of planets, they'd fought on wraith ships the size of Rhode Island, they'd lived in a floating city in the middle of an endless ocean.

And they'd been on Earth long enough, now, crammed in hotel rooms and offices so long that John was starting to wonder if he'd ever have that again, that sensation of looking out and realizing just how big the universe was. That no matter how badly they messed up, no matter who won, it would still be there.

Day after tomorrow, they were due at the SGC, back underground, working and planning and mostly just waiting. But right now, standing here at the edge of the Grand Canyon, insignificant points on the edge of an entire universe, all of that was just a vague notion.

John's shoulders were relaxing for the first time in days.

Maybe Ronon was getting it, too, maybe he'd finally gotten used to walking around without the weight of his blaster on his hip. Or maybe it was the fact that the family of six had finally gone back up the trail to the ridge, and it seemed like they were the last two people left on the planet, like there weren't a thousand different things waiting for them the moment they arrived at Cheyenne Mountain. Like it was theirs, and they hadn't even had to fight for it. It was so damned easy.

It was a shoulder bump as Ronon sidestepped a rock, then it was leaning in close next to the campfire down in the canyon, wanting to disturb their quiet walled planet as little as possible as John explained the differences between wolves and coyotes.

It was neither of them moving away when there wasn't anything that needed talking about, and it was kissing because there wasn't anything more that needed to be said.

---

They didn't unpack much, once they arrived at the SGC, even though neither of them had brought enough to fill a suitcase. Though most of the personnel had moved their belongings to the SGC, to houses and apartments and rented storage units by the base, John had left his room mostly intact, and sealed it behind him.

That Ronon had done the same was practically a foregone conclusion.

Life underground was claustrophobic. They didn't talk about it, but neither of them were planning on staying there long.

When the announcement came that Atlantis would be up and running again in six months, launching in seven, and that all the cajoling in the world wouldn't make that day come faster, John contemplated shooting a hole in the wall.

He never found out for sure, but based on what Bill Lee said, Ronon had actually tried.

It was Lorne who gave him the idea, scooping up his laptop before heading back to his own desk.

"Now watch," he said, "We finally get the city up and running and out there, and we wind up coming out of hyperspace in the middle of a firefight."

"Hm," John nodded to himself and gone back to his stack of reports. It was a valid point, one that John probably would've thought of himself, but now that it had been said, now that it was out there, he found that he was already homing in on a solution.

---

"Look," John said. "We're pouring a lot of money into this, and as it stands now, the odds are that we'd be flying blind at best."

Woolsey glanced up from his laptop, around at the faces gathered around the conference room table. "So what do you suggest?"

"Recon. We take the three-week flight, drop a small crew of us with a jumper at the first safe planet with a gate. From there, we re-establish contact with our allies, find out what's going on, follow any leads with the jumper, and establish channels to keep Atlantis apprised of the conditions on the ground."

Woolsey didn't look enthusiastic about the idea, but O'Neill was nodding vaguely, warming to the idea. "Besides. Teyla's worried about Torren growing up and not knowing his own family, Ronon's probably going to start laying siege to Colorado Springs any day now, and I'm getting to the point of letting him."

It had taken every favor he could pull in just to get this far, a thousand assurances- most of which felt suspiciously thin even to him- that he hadn't gone native, rogue, or insane. That there were valid reasons to allow him to set up a crew.

"Ronon and Teyla I can understand," Woolsey eventually said, once all but the last papers had been signed. "But you and McKay, we need you here."

"You need McKay and Zelenka." John leaned forward over the table. "I'm not just ditching my team in the middle of another galaxy. And unless anyone wants to train Ronon on how to set up and calibrate a relay system for subspace communications, I suggest you just let me handle it."

---

Ronon was waiting in the mess hall when John arrived. "What did they say?"

"The Phoenix is coming in today. Refueling, personnel changeover, diagnostics and minor upgrades, and we're gone. Six days."

Ronon grinned so widely underneath the fluorescent lights that John almost remembered what the sun had looked like.

---

When they were beamed aboard the Phoenix, there were four teams scattered throughout the ship, four jumpers in the 302 bay, four stops planned in Pegasus, and three weeks until they'd finally be home.

The night rotation up on the bridge occupied a fair amount of his time, but he honestly couldn't complain. Torren, it turned out, was not an enthusiastic flier, which meant Teyla was spending most of her time in their quarters in an attempt to save the nerves of everyone else on board. Ronon, for the most part, paced the corridors and made the crew nervous. Given the impatient glare he'd recently developed, it probably hadn't taken much effort.

It all came to a head halfway through the second week, when John returned to his quarters to find Ronon there, waiting for him, all pent-up energy and bored frustration.

They hadn't talked about this, there hadn't been the space, buried in a hole under Cheyenne Mountain, or cooped on board the ship, each of them assigned to their own quarters, since the flight was so empty, both of them knowing that the ship's life-signs detector was always on line.

"Anyone asks, we're playing cards, I know," Ronon said, stepping John back against the wall.

---

John had never been so relieved to dial a gate in his life. A flash and an instant later, they were on the ground, opening the door, and Torren's screams were finally beginning to fade, Teyla's face was finally starting to smile like she meant it again.

It wasn't hard to guess why. Already, out through the front, John could see Kanaan running up to meet them.

Ten minutes later, Teyla and Torren disappeared for the rest of the afternoon.

In the meantime, Halling began to bring them up to speed.

Things had gone quiet. The wraith, it seemed, were focusing their attention on searching out the city that had so suddenly vanished. They'd spread themselves out across the galaxy to cover more ground, but that meant fewer hive clusters.

It also meant they were coming across more planets, more often.

The first subspace check in showed that Lorne's team had heard the same.

Khoklov's team said that the Genii homeworld had been wiped out entirely.

They spent five days with the Athosians, getting used to the feeling of the ground beneath their feet, and their newly rediscovered ability to walk for more than ten feet without encountering a wall.

John wasn't surprised when Teyla requested to stay behind for a while. If he'd had a family like hers, he'd probably want to reconnect, too.

"I will join you soon," she promised, pressing her forehead into Ronon's first, then John's.

After that, there wasn't a whole lot to do on the ground, anyway, other than cross it and move on.

---

It was just the two of them, now. No real plans, no real destinations inside the quadrant of the galaxy they'd been assigned to cover. It was just the two of them, and though it felt right, being back here, traveling between worlds, talking to people, gathering intel, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't home.

And John wasn't going to ask, but maybe Ronon was thinking the same thing, about how homeless they'd become. Maybe that was why, fourteen worlds later, Ronon was suggesting going to Sateda.

"There's more to it than burned buildings and wreckage," Ronon shrugged, as John contemplated the possibility. "It's in this quadrant, and besides. You dragged me all over Colorado, Nevada and Arizona." The you owe me was implied, because Ronon would never imply anything about being homesick, about whatever was really going on in his head. And he'd never just ask for what he needed.

---

John didn't know what to expect when they stepped through the gate, but honestly, he'd been more concerned about what to expect from Ronon. All the same, he was surprised when they stepped out into warm sunlight.

In front of them were ruins that even John found familiar, now, but somewhere nearby birds were singing. He hadn't been expecting that. Next to him, Ronon had gone still, staring at the city, clearly steeling himself for the encounter.

John had done the same, once, standing on his brother's doorstep.

He waited for Ronon to move, first.

---

Ronon was quiet as they entered the city, one hand on his blaster in case the life signs detector was wrong.

Though maybe, if John had been Ronon, he'd be preparing himself, too. John had never lived here, and even though they'd been fighting off wraith the one time he'd visited, at least there'd been movement stronger than the wind.

His attention was split between the debris-scattered streets and Ronon. It was hard to tell if he had a destination anywhere in mind. Harder still to decide if he should ask.

But then Ronon stopped in front of a large building.

"What's this, a theater?"

Ronon shook his head, then shrugged. "Kind of." Ronon led him up the steps, stepping carefully around the ones that were missing. Going through the door, they found themselves in a dark room, but there was bright light coming through the crater on the far side of the room, letting in just enough light to see by. As far as theaters went, it was small, and the benches were high and narrow, probably horribly uncomfortable.

"What's up?" Ronon asked, nodding his head forward, towards the hole in the wall. "Spent enough time in here waiting in line. Come on."

A few more paces, and John could see why. When Ronon stepped aside, John could see the entire arena. It was at least three times the size of any stadium he'd ever seen, and they were standing at the very top of it. Glancing back over his shoulder, he hadn't even realized that when they'd been standing on the street, they'd been less than a hundred feet away from a crater this huge.

"Just needs one of those big screens," he said, ignoring the gaping wrecked remnants on the south end of the field, still a little stunned at the sheer size of it. "So everyone can see what's going on down there."

Ronon squinted around, then shrugged, pointing up over the field. "They used to show the action up there."

"I don't see anything."

"It was this machine they had. Holograms. When I was at the academy, we'd come down here for mock battle staging, because the taskmasters could move around above it all, watch for flanking techniques, see everything all at once."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Ronon raised his eyebrows and shook his head, clearly remembering something unpleasant. "Worse, though, every year, we had rank tests. They were open to the public, so that our families would know that we weren't just sitting around with our thumbs up our asses."

"Or like a talent show," John couldn't stop himself from saying.

"What?"

"Never mind. So I'm guessing it wasn't fun?"

Ronon smirked, pacing back and forth a bit, apparently getting his bearings. A minute later, he must have found them, because he began stepping down the stairs, heading towards the field.

"What're we doing, here?"

"Just wanted to see something," Ronon said, stopping suddenly, then heading across, walking along the stands. When John caught up, Ronon was staring at one of the seats.

Something had been scrawled into it, but John couldn't read Satedan. "What's that?"

"Dakker, once he got out, used to come here with my dad when we did our demonstrations." John froze. Ronon didn't talk about his brother much, and the times that he had, well. Ronon's family hadn't ever come up on Ronon's good days. "He'd been top of his squadron from day one, always used to go on, afterwards, about whatever I'd done wrong. The last time I tested, we were drinking back at the house. I'd come inside and my mother was laughing, pretending to be angry about some destruction of civic property, and my brother was trying to justify it, saying that it was just as well that the words had found a home somewhere, since I was obviously not listening."

"What do they say?"

"Pay attention, idiot."

"That's, ah…"

"I'd gotten knocked out six minutes in, got flanked by the opposing team right away, then taken out from the side. Never made it past Specialist. Got kicked out halfway through my second year."

"Seriously?" That didn't make sense. He'd heard about some of the fights, and he'd known that Ronon was leading forces of his own.

"But you-"

"I started paying attention when the wraith showed up. Sateda… once our forces started getting slashed, they started giving us washouts guns. By the time the wraith caught me, they owed me nine promotions, but there hadn't been any time to mess with tattoos."

"And here I was, thinking you were all badass from day one," John laughed, and Ronon pretended to be offended.

"Nah. Dakker was right, my head wasn't in it." Ronon nodded back towards the steps, and they began the climb.

"So what were you into?" John asked, once they were heading back through the ticketing area.

"I was going to write plays. Even started one, but…thankfully, they were burned when the wraith came."

Ronon was still grinning, but he was trying a bit too hard, and John wasn't about to laugh about Ronon's world burning to the ground. "Too bad," he said instead.

They were walking again before Ronon spoke. "What about you? You always want to be a pilot?"

"Ever since I found out my father was afraid to fly."

---

The buildings were changing, the streets becoming narrower, and it was setting John on edge.

They'd just turned onto a residential street, and Ronon obviously knew where he was going.

John did, too.

---

It was the last house on the block, surrounded by a low stone fence that was mostly still standing.

Ronon hadn't lied about the fire. The southeast corner was missing, the walls collapsing around it. Inside, there were shapes that didn't make sense, and John had the impression that he was seeing through spaces where walls should have been.

"I'd moved out, was living with Melena," Ronon said. "The entire block was razed to the ground about a week before she…" John didn't press, but Ronon didn't step away when John moved into his space, bumping him with his shoulder.

"You want to go in?"

"No," Ronon said, but he was stepping over the fence, and walking along the edge of the yard.

It wasn't until Ronon stopped by the rocks in the northeast corner of the yard that John recognized them as anything more than rocks. There were four of them, evenly spaced, of uniform size. Each had a round hole in the top, a few inches in diameter.

John assumed they were gravestones, and given the look on Ronon's face, he wasn't far off.

"It's gone," Ronon muttered. "Finally."

"What?"

Ronon didn't answer for a minute, then he turned to look over his shoulder. "When someone dies, you wrap them in their bedding, and build a platform out of stiff reeds from the riverside. Those down there," he pointed, "are the base, so it doesn't sink into the ground. Once the body is taken to be interred, the platform is left to fall apart and blow away, disintegrate, whatever. There wasn't anyone left to bury, last time I came here, but I built one anyway."

There was more to it than that, John was sure, but Ronon had fallen silent.

John gave it a few minutes before he glanced over, and realized that Ronon was looking out past the house across the street. He wasn't smiling, but he didn't look as miserable as John had been dreading.

"You ready to go?" Ronon asked, and he was grinning for real now. "One last stop."

---

John hadn't expected that they'd be heading back towards the jumper, but he sat down and brought the systems up on line as Ronon strapped in next to him.

"Head back over the arena, then keep going," Ronon said. "It's going to be a while."

"Where are we going?"

"You'll see. Head west."

It was the first time John had flown over the city while having the leisure to actually look at it, to notice how far it sprawled. If it weren't for Ronon's relaxed posture on the chair next to him, he would've asked how many people had lived there. He'd asked once before, anyway.

He remembered being surprised by the large number, whatever it had been, that Ronon had given him. He'd been blown away at the idea of that many people dying over such a short time. And he'd been relieved when it had become clear that Ronon hadn't wanted to talk about it, because John hadn't even known how to.

It was only idle curiosity, though, and it was fading as he realized that Ronon was sitting up in his seat, leaning to look out over the terrain below them. They'd reached the edge of the city a few minutes ago, and below them was a patchwork of fields, delineated by long, straight roads that got lost in the huge expanse of forest ahead. Beyond that, mountains were beginning to appear, still blue in the distance.

"I heard about this place in school," Ronon said. "Think we're over the Cersail River now…"

Sitting back in his chair, he glanced at John, still looking lost in thought. "Yeah, that mountain range is the edge of the continent," he added, giving John some idea at least, what to expect next.

"We're hitting the beach?"

"Not exactly. I, ah. Don't know, really. Never been out this far."

"Really?"

"No. Just never got around to it, and there's not much there, anyhow. Used to be a city there, Cersail, like the river, but it fell centuries ago."

"Is that where we're going?"

"No, just start going north when you see the ocean."

John swung the jumper down once they cleared the snowcaps. If he was wanting to get a better look at whatever it was they were heading for, it was a safe bet that Ronon did, too.

There were cliffs, up ahead, the land mass breaking apart, carved by a fast river, and Ronon pointed. "Follow that for a while. Land wherever.

John stayed above the canyon for a few more minutes, and was surprised how long it took to reach the ground one he began their descent. He'd gotten distracted, maybe, or distance had skewed his perception. But the canyon?

The Grand Canyon had nothing on this.

"Want me to take us in?"

"Yeah," Ronon said, sounding hopeful, as if he'd been thinking about asking. "Yeah, let's do it."

---

"This is actually what I wanted to show you," Ronon said, once they'd stepped out of the jumper, halfway down the canyon. The river was wild, down below, louder than the wind that cut howling around the corners.

"Holy hell," John muttered, still trying to take it all in. He had to crane his neck to even see the top of the canyon across the river, and that was several miles away. Layers of rock glowed, gleamed where the sun hit, and below, along the river's edge a thousand shades of green warred for attention.

"Always wondered if the wraith had ever come here," Ronon explained, walking to the edge of the embankment they'd landed on, and sitting down, his legs over the edge. He looked awfully young, right then, John noticed, but it wasn't that. It was the awed grin taking over his face, the amazement.

"My Grandmother used to tell me stories when I was a kid, about how the wraith hives melted the glaciers at the pole, created the oceans that made the continents to cut the people off from one another, stuff like that. Learned better, when I was older, but…" He trailed off as John warily sat down next to him, if a few inches back from the ledge. "Just look at this place."

And suddenly, John got it.

The wraith could come and burn an entire civilization to the ground. It didn't matter how many wraith ships blasted this place from orbit, they'd never destroy it. It was too big for them. Too fucking beautiful.

"Reminds me of Arizona. That park," John started, no longer certain the Grand Canyon deserved its name.

"Yeah. Liked that place. That's what made me think of this."

"Well I'm glad you did," John said, tearing his eyes away from the scene just to look at Ronon, because yeah, the scenery was amazing, but watching Ronon look at it? That was stunning. "We could spend the night here," he offered. They'd have to go check out the next planet on the list tomorrow, but that was a thousand years away.

Ronon nodded, finally looking at him again, his eyes still crinkled in a smile as he reached up to cup John's jaw. There was a scattering of gravel as he moved, skittering down the edge, lost in the rush of the water below.

"Just, let's move this back from the ledge, okay?"

They both slid back, until they were lying on the ground, clear of the edge, Ronon rolling on his until his chest was pressed along the side of John's body, John already dragging him closer.

"Thanks for bringing me." John muttered. Thanks for showing me this. For showing me you.

Ronon laughed as he shifted, raising his head. "Thanks for letting me." His mouth was warm, slow against John's own, open already, loose and pliant. Grounded, for now, but hopeful.

The gravel that still stuck to John's hands, he brushed off on Ronon's hip, grabbing hold and pulling him closer. The dirt ground faintly against the back of John's arms as they moved. Ronon's thigh falling loosely on the other side of his own, still relaxed, not yet tensing, the kiss was everything right now.

They had time; they had thousands of years and millions of miles. John's bending knees- and the friction of Ronon's reply- were the only hints of urgency worth knowing.

That Ronon could grind down so perfectly while stretching up, back, as he pulled his shirt up over perfect skin that glowed like the canyon rocks, was enough to distract John through his own, uncoordinated effort.

Soon enough there was nothing but skin and heat and sky above, Ronon below, gravel in his hair and his eyes shuddering shut as John slid against him, dragging slow and sure.

"Again," Ronon growled into John's mouth, one hand bracing John's chest, wide, steady as John obliged. Grit dug into John's knees through the clothes they'd laid out, nearly enough to take the edge off, but barely distracting from the hardness pressed between them.

watching John watch, breath heaving, not yet a moan.

Not yet, until John's fingers slid between them, slicking down over Ronon, then himself as well, tight, tighter when he fell against Ronon, rhythm breaking for an instant but regained easily enough, squeezing and stroking and he was closing in on it, but he needed to wait needed Ronon to set him off, to hear him over the water, crashing against him.

He could feel his own air being breathed back into him, the sweat at the crease of Ronon's thigh slick against his hip, his hand thrusting down around them both, suddenly joined by Ronon's fingers wrapped around his own, squeezing, more pressure, friction, burn.

Ronon's mouth was gasping, John's frozen, his teeth at Ronon's jaw tongue just tasting the skin, the roughness of his beard, the pulse below boiling over until John felt the tensing, and finally heard it, the catch and gasp and moan.

It was a small sound, already gone by the time John could sense anything again, long before being drowned out by the wind and the water, a small, inconsequential thing. But the canyon had outlasted millions of inconsequential things and was still standing, still perfect. Only John had heard it. Only John had needed to.

When Ronon laughed, though, catching his breath as John settled against him again, the sound of it echoed off the rocks.