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Thirty-six hours.

That's how long Atlantis was without its military commander this time. Thirty-six hours from Sheppard's laid-back 'Don't wait up' to Ronon carrying him across the gateroom floor trailed by blood and vomit.

"Carson! Get down here."

It's been longer before now; long enough more than once for the Daedalus to break new speed records in Caldwell's eagerness to step into the breach, long enough on rare occasions for Elizabeth to wonder if this time, Sheppard wasn't going to make it back.

Somehow, he always does.

"Told you not to wait up," John croaks, before they whisk him away.

*

 

The scene at the Infirmary is all too familiar.

Rodney, concern hidden behind his irritation and bluster. Teyla, grave and still, waiting to ask the right questions whenever Carson spares them a minute.

Ronon… Ronon is grim. Silent.

"Any news?"

It's Teyla she looks at, but Rodney answers. "Not yet."

"Do you know what happened?"

Rodney's mouth twists, Teyla looks away; their discomfort is palpable.

"Ronon?"

"Yes."

Elizabeth waits, but his face is impassive, bland. Soldiers.

"Are you going to tell me?" A smile, which he doesn't return. Instead he slowly folds his arms, a shield of muscle.

"Probably not."

*

 

"What, no chocolates?" John's voice is strained raw, his face pale and drawn. "Call yourselves visitors."

Teyla smiles, Elizabeth apologises for the oversight, and Rodney looks from her to Ronon, to Carson. His face says it even though his mouth is tightly shut: What did they do to him?

Ronon just pushes him flat with a surprisingly gentle gesture. "Don't talk."

"Aye, take it easy, Colonel," Carson says as he leaves. "And that's an order."

John nods, but his eyes are on Ronon, not Carson, and Ronon's hand remains on his chest for just a little too long.

Elizabeth wonders.

*

 

Nobody knows what happened, yet everybody knows something happened.

"I'm going back there," Ronon tells her when Sheppard is up, if not quite about. "Got a few volunteers."

Half of Atlantis, more like.

"Are these people really that much of a threat?" she asks, though she already knows the answer.

Ronon doesn't blink.

"What you want me to say?"

Good question. She sighs.

"I want you to tell me... that they really are that much of a threat," she says finally.

"Okay."

Elizabeth nods, though she isn't sure what she's giving her blessing to.

In the circumstances, that's probably for the best.