Author: Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23)
Summary: While visiting a place from Ronon's past, Sheppard and Ronon are attacked by snipers, but there's something there that's more dangerous and deadly than any human enemy.
The story starts here
John was flying above the clouds, surrounded by blue skies and endless spaces. No, he was lying on a beach, listening to waves crash rhythmically onto the shore. He was safe in bed with his mother taking care of him. He didn't have to worry about anything at all. He didn't have to think about anything at all. Nothing would ever go wrong again.
He knew who he was. He was Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, military commander of Atlantis. But it wasn't restful being military commander of Atlantis. That life was about making difficult choices. It was about lying awake at night and wondering if you'd done the right thing the day before, and wondering if you'd do the right thing tomorrow and all the tomorrows that came after it. It was about pain and responsibility. It was about losing people. It was about losing…
No, no, don't remember their names, the wordless voices told him. It doesn't matter. That pain has gone.
It was peaceful here. Nothing hurt, and he could barely feel his body at all, except in the languid way of someone who was drifting asleep in the sun. He didn't have to make decisions. He didn't have to worry about all those thousand little things that plagued daily life. His mind was free, free to think about the important things…
Yes, yes, the wordless voices whispered, but John wasn't sure yet what those important things were. It was nice just to be here, relaxing above the clouds. There was nothing to worry about.
Something seemed to be flowing out of his body. Perhaps he would follow it, he thought, and just let himself drift away, just drift.
"Sheppard!" Ronon squeezed Sheppard's uninjured shoulder, then pressed his hand against Sheppard's cheek, almost hard enough to be called a slap. "Listen to me, Sheppard. Look at me."
He got no response, just a quiet murmur. Sheppard was smiling, lying as cold as ice in a pool of blood.
"Damn it, Sheppard!" He let the fury have free rein at last. "You are not giving up, you hear me. You're not giving up." His voice echoed in the small chamber. Blood pounded in his head.
Ronon stood up, pressed both hand against the wall, and rested his forehead against the cold surface. Then he removed his hand a few inches, curled it into a fist, and struck the wall, hard enough to hurt.
He could fight Wraith. He could fight human enemies. He could fight to defend his home and his people. He could hunt his prey through the wilderness. But this… this… This was Sheppard, and Ronon didn't know what to do. It was Sheppard, but it wasn't Sheppard. Was somebody doing this to him? "Is anyone here?" Ronon bellowed. "Let him go! Let him go!" His command echoed in the empty passageways. He'd explored every inch of them, and there was nobody there.
Sheppard was still, his chest hardly moving at all. "You can't take him," Ronon shouted, and he lifted Sheppard up, wrapping his arms around him, holding him tight.
Sheppard moaned slightly, perhaps shrinking away from the loudness of Ronon's voice.
"You can't," Ronon said more quietly, no longer knowing if he was talking to some invisible enemy or to Sheppard himself.
"Hurts," Sheppard whispered. His hand reached out blindly, as if searching for something, then found the front of Ronon's shirt, closing on it with a surprisingly tight grip.
Ronon still had no idea what was causing Sheppard to act like this, but he knew that he had to stop it. "You have to listen to me, Sheppard," he said, holding Sheppard tight. He remembered his efforts to reach Sheppard when he had lost his memory - how he had refused to believe that there wasn't a part of Sheppard that still remembered what they'd been through together. "You have to stay here. You have to stay with me. You have to fight."
Sheppard's hand clutched tighter at Ronon's shirt. "Why?" His voice was cracked, breathing into Ronon's shoulder. "It didn't hurt until you…"
"But it should hurt," Ronon told him harshly. "You've been shot, Sheppard. It's meant to hurt. Hurting means you're still alive. Hurting means you've got a chance."
Sheppard stirred minutely. "Doesn't sound nice."
"Nice?" Ronon said, but he had no idea how to answer. He didn't know what he was dealing with here; didn't really know what he was trying to drag Sheppard back from. Could he really tell Sheppard that life was meant to hurt? Is that what he believed?
"There's nothing to worry about," Sheppard whispered. "It wants me to…" His voice trailed away. His heartbeat fluttered, barely there at all.
"Sheppard!" Ronon shouted. "I don't know what's happening to you, but this isn't you. The Sheppard I know wouldn't say this. He's strong."
Sheppard stirred faintly. "Hurts being strong," he whispered. "Too many things inside."
"But I need you," Ronon said. It was true, of course - no need to rationalise it by telling himself that he was only saying what Sheppard was most likely to respond to. "I need you to get us out of here. The doors don't open to me."
Sheppard was very still, barely breathing. "I don't…" he whispered, and then nothing.
Ronon had never been one to talk much; he and Sheppard were alike in that. Sheppard said plenty of words, but struggled over saying the things that really mattered to him. Ronon had never felt any shame about saying what he felt, just saw no need to do so in any more words than was necessary.
"You know why I asked you to come here with me?" Ronon said, knowing that he needed more words than he would normally use, if he was to have any chance at reaching Sheppard. "It's a special place to me. I came here with my family and with my first platoon. It's special. It's Satedan history built in stone. I didn't think I'd ever… taint it by coming here with anyone who wasn't part of that."
Sheppard was still breathing; Ronon could tell only that.
"But you forgave me after the thing with the enzyme," Ronon said. "You let me back. You understood. They wouldn't have, on Sateda."
Sheppard said nothing, but his fist gripped Ronon's shirt as if it was the only thing keeping him alive.
"So I wanted to come here with my new team," Ronon said. "My new family. Because I can. Because life goes on. Because this is my life now."
There was still no response from Sheppard, just a hitch in his breathing.
"So don't you dare go and die." Ronon gripped Sheppard tightly, knowing that it hurt, and knowing, too, that it was essential that it hurt. It was selfish to wish that his new team would never fall apart now that he'd found them, but it was impossible not to. Just a year ago, he'd been preparing to leave them. Now he wanted this life to go on forever.
"It's not dying." Sheppard's voice wavered. "It's… it's nothing to worry about."
"Like hell it is," Ronon shouted. "Listen, Sheppard, you're hurt. It's bad. If you give in to this, to whatever this is, you'll die. People depend on you. You're strong. You need to keep on fighting."
"But what if I…?" Sheppard sucked in a rasping breath. His body was still as cold as ice in Ronon's arms. "What if I don't want to fight any more?"
"You do," Ronon said, his voice hoarse. "I know you do."
Sheppard's fist tightened, twisting Ronon's shirt. "It's stopping me. You have to help me, Ronon."
"It?" Ronon asked, but Sheppard went limp, and Ronon had to lay him down. Sheppard was still breathing, but only just.
"How?" Ronon asked, his voice quiet, and then he stood up and smashed his fist into the wall. "How?" he shouted.
There was no answer.
John tried to spread his wings and fly into the blue. You know you want to, whispered the wordless voices.
But he had never… been good… at doing… what he was… told. He had to fight for every word of the thought. He opened his eyes, expecting to see blue sky, but he saw only a stone slab stained with blood.
It doesn't hurt, the wordless voices told him, but he set his jaw and he rolled over, forcing it to hurt. A knife twisted briefly in his shoulder, then faded away. This… isn't… right, he thought, still struggling to articulate thought. Pain was the body's warning that something was wrong. If you ignored it…
You have to ignore it.
No! he thought fiercely. If he ignored it, then he might…
You'll die. That was Ronon. John rolled over - and it was hard, so hard to persuade his body to move - and Ronon was still there, sitting on the floor beside the raised stone slab, his face only a little higher than John's.
John remembered Ronon holding onto him. He remembered Ronon shouting at him.
Nothing to worry about, the wordless voices said.
Of course there is, John thought. Ronon had blood in his hair, and looked exhausted. John remembered what he'd said, too - that he would die unless John found them a way out of here. It was restful in the blue, but he'd never been one to rest when other people needed him. He tried to sit, but his body was drifting away from him again, and he couldn't locate it enough to move it. "Help me," he managed to mouth, just moving his lips without making a sound.
"How?" Ronon's voice was flat and hoarse, as if he had screamed the question too many times before without getting an answer.
John couldn't put it in words, but he had the image of a ship drifting away on the tide, but pulled back by an anchor. He thought of a kite tethered in a storm. Images were easier to produce than words, it seemed, though the blue sky was seeping even into that.
"Talk," he managed to say, as he thought Anchor.
A look flickered across Ronon's face - the inevitable panic of someone cornered and told to talk. His gun was in his lap, held in both hands. "What's causing this?" he asked. "How do I stop it?"
John had to concentrate on getting Ronon to safety; that was a thing that meant something. He located the muscles that controlled his body, and sat up. The pain helped, too, and then Ronon was beside him, supporting him with an arm around his body. Normally John might have shaken off the touch, insisting on walking by himself, but he knew that he needed it. Ronon, he thought, focusing on the nearness of the man. He needs me to help him get out. It was the other way round, too, of course, but that thought was already hazy, disappearing into the blue.
"There's no way out down there," Ronon said, and John frowned, realising that he'd managed to walk half a dozen steps without noticing it. He'd focused too much on Ronon's grip, and the rest of his body had melted away. "We've got to climb the stairs again. If you open the door, I'll see if I can dig us out through the rubble."
That sparked memory, faint and serene. John bit his lip. It shouldn't be a peaceful memory, should it? "Didn't work in Michael's compound." He forced the words out. "Try this way. Maybe you missed something." Ronon still hesitated. "It's getting worse," John managed to say, "the lower we go. There's something…" His words ran out on images of creatures in dark pits, and horrors caged in basements. Drums in the deep, he thought, as the wordless voices tried to soothe him and say that it was nothing like that. Ronon was trapped here, though, his presence close and unmistakeable, so John was able to tell the voices that they were wrong.
Memories helped, though. Normally he liked the push memories aside, to tell himself that they couldn't ever break him. Life carried on. His brain had compartments, and the locks were good, if not unbreakable.
"I remember," he said, "when I was turning into a bug, and I couldn't control the urges. I couldn't control… the beast."
"It wasn't you," Ronon said. It was the same half-lie that John had used on Ronon after the enzyme incident. It wasn't him, but it was, both at the same time. You had to believe that it wasn't you, or you couldn't allow yourself to carry on doing the same job afterwards, but you had to be aware…
The thought faded into blue. Ronon's grip tightened on him, and pain jabbed fierce in his shoulder.
"I remember…" he said. They were half way down the passageway now, followed by rippling light. "When my father died. I thought I wanted to go by myself, because I… always do, you know? But McKay came by, and then you…" His knees almost gave way. Ronon held him up. "I wouldn't have asked you to come with me. I couldn't have asked you to. If you'd asked, I'd have said no."
"I know," Ronon said, after a pause. "That's why I didn't give you a choice."
"Yeah." John almost smiled, but the wordless voices liked him to smile. He frowned instead, gripping hold of Ronon's shirt. "I'm glad you came." He'd never said it before, not in words. "Thanks, buddy."
Something was humming below his feet, and it wanted him. "It's down there," he whispered, and he might have disappeared entirely into the blue, if it wasn't for the fact that Ronon was still there, just as he had been at his father's funeral.
"I heard what you said back there," John managed to say. There was a door at the end of the passage, its texture the same as the wall on either side, and the cracks so thin that you wouldn't be able to feel them. It slid open silently as John neared it. "It was… hard… hard to concentrate, but I heard. About why you wanted us to come here. I'm… glad. You're one of us, buddy."
There were stairs on the other side of the door, twisting downwards in a loose spiral. "Didn't see the door in the dark," Ronon said, sounding angry.
John gave a faint smile. "You weren't meant to." He forced the smile away. "More stairs, huh? But I guess we are inside a cliff."
"Shall we go down?" Ronon asked. "Can you…?"
John just stood there, not sure what to do. He clung to the memories he had recovered, and to Ronon's proximity, "but I don't think I can make decisions," he said, then grasped at the certainty that Ronon was going to die unless John could get him out. "We go down."
It's hard to walk two abreast on a spiral staircase. Ronon closed Sheppard's left hand around the railing, and said, "Can you walk?" He went ahead, two steps ahead of Sheppard, ready to catch him if he fell. He was grateful for the railing himself. His head was throbbing worse than ever.
After three steps down, he turned. Sheppard was still standing there, clinging to the railing, a blank look on his face. Ronon returned to him and touched his hand. Touch seemed to reach him, he thought, and sure enough, Sheppard's eyes cleared a little.
"I wanted you to go," Sheppard said. "When we were in Michael's compound, I was… afraid. I didn't want you to die because of me."
"When I asked you, you said that you'd leave me." Ronon moved down one step. Sheppard followed him. "You were lying."
Sheppard said nothing. They managed another step. "But I'm glad you stayed," Sheppard said quietly, "and I hate the fact that you stayed, both at the same time."
Another step. "When the Wraith took me back to Sateda," Ronon said, "I said I'd kill you if you killed their leader, and I meant it. Then the doc killed it, and I was glad."
Sheppard gave a faint laugh. "Emotions make no sense. That's why…"
He didn't finish. They moved down three more steps. Ronon knew that many people on Atlantis thought he was emotionless, capable of feeling only anger and bloodlust. They thought that he was blind to other people's feelings, just because he didn't make a song and dance about them. But it was clear to him that Sheppard was somehow anchoring himself by talking about things that he wouldn't normally talk about. Ronon himself had started it, using words to drag Sheppard back to an awareness of what was worth fighting for.
"I didn't really want to leave," Ronon said, when they were half way down. "I chose to go with Tyre and the others because it… it was more obligation than anything else. I was trying to recover something that was already lost."
Sheppard walked two more steps before replying. "I know." When Ronon turned, he saw that Sheppard's legs were sagging, as if his hand on the railing was the only thing keeping him up. "If Mitch and Dex and… and Holland… If they came back from the dead and asked me to go with them behind enemy lines…" Another step. He looked at Ronon as if Ronon, too, was like the railing: the only thing keeping him alive. "It's a chance to set things right. It's a chance to bring back the past, before things went wrong."
"But you can't recover the past." Ronon thought of the fortress above them. Each generation had built on the ruins of the old, and the oldest places were down here, completely buried.
"No," Sheppard said, "but sometimes, even though you don't expect it to happen, what you get afterwards is even better than…" He broke off. "God, Ronon, I can't tell you that it's even better. You lost everything."
"Not better," Ronon said, because so many people had died, and he couldn't ever stop wishing that it hadn't happened. "But good." He took another step. "Better than going round with a rag-tag band of survivors just because they're Satedan. Better than pretending." Another step. "It's good. That's why I asked you to come here. To show myself…"
He trailed away. "I know," Sheppard said. "That's why I… I should have gone back home years ago. I should have taken you and McKay and Teyla - showed you the old places. Removed… removed their sting, you know?"
"And seen your father before he died," Ronon risked saying.
"Yeah." Sheppard sighed. "You know, he… disapproved of the choices I made. I think that part of me has always believed he was right. So I stayed away. Thought he wanted me to. Thought I didn't…"
"He was wrong," Ronon said firmly.
"But if I'd gone back…" Sheppard's breathing hitched as he pulled himself down another step. "Too late now, of course."
"Of course it isn't." Ronon could see the bottom now, only half a dozen steps away. "There's your brother. And even visiting empty places can make a difference."
"Like here," Sheppard said, after a pause. "But you're right about Dave. We were once close, you know? He sided with Dad, of course, but maybe… maybe he had to give up his dreams, because I refused to."
Ronon reached the bottom, and turned to watch Sheppard descend those last few steps. Ronon hadn't seen much of Sheppard's brother, but… No, this was the time for saying things aloud, not for thinking them. "That life would have killed you," he said. "You're made for greater things."
Sheppard smiled, the smile quickly dying. "I… denied them, you know – Dad and Dave. Before the Wraith siege, when we were sending messages back… I said I had no family. This… You guys… This is the family that matters."
"Not the only one that matters," Ronon said, because healing wasn't just about accepting Atlantis as his home, but was about coming back here, to Sateda, and integrating that in his new life. Both places made him who he was.
"Yeah," Sheppard said, but he shook his head ruefully, perhaps unconsciously contradicting his words. "I need to see Dave."
And then they were down, and something was humming just ahead of them, glowing with bright blue light, and Sheppard's knees gave way and he sagged towards it, his eyes sliding shut.
Ronon wasted no time. They'd encountered a variety of the Ancestors' devices during his time on Atlantis. One of them had almost killed McKay, and Ronon had no intention of standing by and letting another one kill Sheppard. If there was any chance at all that this was what was causing Sheppard's problems…
He drew his gun and strode forward. The light was issuing from a large egg-shaped object on a pedestal in the middle of the room, surrounded by stone slabs. As soon as he was through the door, Ronon fired at it.
Behind him, Sheppard started to scream.
On to chapter four