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Summary: "The Return" AU. When Ronon said he couldn't leave the galaxy until every last Wraith was dead, he never guessed it would happen so quickly. Finding himself at loose ends, he goes to Earth to join Sheppard in the war against the Ori.

Categories: Crossovers > General, Slash Pairings > Ronon Dex/Sheppard
Characters: Elizabeth Weir, Jack O'Neill, John Sheppard, Other, Richard Woolsey, Ronon Dex, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: AU - Alternate Universe, Friendship, Pre-slash, Team
Warnings: None
Chapters: 1 [Table of Contents]
Series: None

Word count: 6484; Completed: Yes
Updated: 18 Aug 2011; Published: 18 Aug 2011

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Story Notes:
Written for tli for satedan_grabass using two prompts: (1) Return AU where either John stayed in Pegasus or Ronon came to Earth; (2) team building.


In a sick, twisted way, killing Wraith had been easier when he was a Runner. In those days, it was never a question of if they would eventually catch up to him, but of when and where. Being a Runner had been about outwitting the Wraith and predicting their movements, about turning the hunters into the hunted, at least long enough for Ronon to trap and kill them before escaping back through the Ring.

Without a tracker embedded under his skin, Ronon has no way to draw the Wraith to him. Instead he falls back on the contacts Atlantis made in the two and a half years the Earthers were in this galaxy, back to Solan and a few other of the Satedan refugees who keep their ears open for rumours of Wraith activity. Teyla half-heartedly argues that they could attempt a joint reconnaissance mission with the Genii, nothing too risky--just to see whether they can even work together.

Ronon doesn't trust the Genii as far as McKay could throw them, but he's beginning to see Teyla's point about their military power. It's been impossible to verify more than half the rumours he's gathered without Atlantis' jumpers or the Daedalus, and while the Genii don't have spacecraft, they do have a comprehensive spy network with good intel.

But what he misses the most about Atlantis is their team. It's not the same with just Teyla and him, though that doesn't stop them from running a few low-risk missions by themselves, visiting culled planets in an attempt to track a Hive's jumps through hyperspace, hoping to predict which planet the Wraith will target next so that they can evacuate the people in time.

"Here, see?" says Teyla, pointing from the star charts spread out on her dining table to the graph on her laptop--the naquadah-powered laptop that McKay had accidentally left behind. "Ualle is the closest populated planet in the Hive's path."

"There's barely two dozen people on Ualle at any given time," he reminds her. Traditionally the Uallean never gather in full numbers except on feast days, for fear a culling might wipe them out altogether. "Gofra has nearly a thousand people in the village and a few hundred more in the outlying farms. They're a better target."

Teyla concedes this with a nod. "Yes, but I don't believe they're targeting planets simply to cull them. Remember four planets ago? Che'ha'ma? The chieftain and all her council were killed, but not fed upon. The Wraith destroyed their library, but only took a handful of people. It was a show of power, a reminder that the Wraith can tear down anything we build. They didn't do it for food."

"If that's true, it makes more sense for the Wraith to terrorize Gofra," Ronon argues. "They don't have a library, but they're building that railway system."

Frowning, Teyla sits and pulls out the small notebook she uses to jot down observations about the planets they've visited. Ronon smiles inwardly, amused that she's still writing mission reports even though Weir isn't around to read them, assuming Weir could read Athosian.

"All right, I see your point," she says after a few minutes. "But I do not know that it makes a difference." She shrugs tiredly, then adds, "It's harvest season on Gofra. We might be able to convince some to evacuate, but not all."

"Yeah, I know," says Ronon, nudging her knee with his under the table and offering a comforting smile when she looks up. "And we can still warn the Uaelle. They'll evacuate for sure."

But something strange happens on Gofra. Ronon is helping the Gofran leaders to send through the last of the village children when Teyla shouts a warning and points to the sky: three Wraith darts, coming in fast. They level out just above the treeline and split off, one circling behind the Ring, the other two in parallel lines along the east and west edges of the village. Three culling beams flash, depositing four Wraith drones each.

"You must keep the Ring active so that the Wraith are not able to dial in and trap us here!" Teyla tells Maakre, the village headwoman. "Ronon and I will try to hold the Wraith back."

"Thank you, Teyla," Maakre replies, gripping her hand tightly for a moment. "We will keep the Ring open for you as long as possible!"

Ronon and the headwoman's two sons, both strapping young men, find cover with line-of-sight of the four Wraith advancing up the rocky path towards the Ring. The Maakre brothers lob jars of oil at the Wraith, the fragile glass shattering upon impact at their feet; then, Ronon shoots a volley of blasts at the Wraith and at the spilled oil, until all four drones are nothing but burning, twitching bodies on the ground.

Overhead a dart screams, its beam snatching up an entire family: father, mother, and three small children. There's nothing Ronon can do about them now. From the east, he hears the staccato gunfire of Teyla's P90--a P90 that Sheppard must have overlooked when he cleaned out the Atlantis armoury.

"Ancestors preserve us," the older Maakre brother whispers to the younger, pointing to the horizon. There is a cloud of black specks, what must be a hundred Wraith darts.

Someone yells, "We must go, now!" It's Teyla, breaking cover to drag an old woman out of the path of a culling beam. Ronon's heart lurches in his chest: that beam came far too close. He aims at the dart and scores a hit, but it's not enough to destroy it; trailing smoke, the dart veers off towards the reinforcements filling the southern sky.

"Ido, Lalo, hurry!" calls Maakre from next to the active Ring. She has wedged a thick log in the wormhole, keeping it safely open as villagers abandon the dubious shelter of the town to race up the hill towards the Ring. Another dart skims low, dropping off another handful of Wraith drones right by the dialling device. Villagers scream and start turning back. Ronon takes out a drone with a shot to its lower torso and another shot to its head. But one hulking brute knocks Maakre off her feet and, in one vicious thrust, pierces her chest with the sharp end of its stun weapon.

"Mother, no!" her sons scream, running to her.

But before they can reach her, before Ronon can kill the Wraith that killed their mother, something strange happens. The Wraith drops its weapon and lurches as though struck by an invisible force. Then, it topples over in a heap. The same happens to the other Wraith drones nearby: they stagger around for a minute, then suddenly collapse in the dirt like marionettes with their strings cut.

In the sky, darts are spinning out of control, ramming into their neighbours. One after another, they explode in midair; fiery debris rains the fields just south of the village.

Gun set to kill, Ronon prods at a fallen Wraith with his foot, then kicks it hard in the ribs. It doesn't even twitch. He feels for a pulse and doesn't find one. Dead. All of them? He checks the other bodies, with the same results. How?

Teyla pushes her way through the crowds of villagers who are more intent on stealing this opportunity to escape than wondering what is happening to the Wraith. "Is it possible the Hive activated a self-destruct on the darts?" asks Teyla when she reaches his side.

"Why would it do that?" Every instinct Ronon has is clamouring that something has gone fundamentally wrong. It's to their benefit, so he doesn't really want to question it, but there's no reason for the Wraith to sabotage their own culling. "Maybe it was a rival Hive."

"Maybe," Teyla echoes.

"Mother? Mother?" The Maakre brothers are lifting their mother into a sitting position, the younger son propping her up while the older son holds a water skin for her to drink.

"Stop fussing, Ido, I'm fine," the woman says, waving her boys off and using the dialling device to help pull herself to her feet.

Ronon stares. She was dead. The Wraith had stabbed her right in the heart, he's sure of it. There's a hole in her blouse, bloody and ragged, but her light brown skin underneath is smooth and undamaged.

"Maakre, what is happening?" a frightened villager asks, his voice shaking, his arms wrapped tight around his wife and three small children. It's the family that was culled while Ronon watched, helpless. "I felt myself being taken up," the man is saying, "but now we are free and the Wraith are dead?"

"We can ask questions later," Maakre tells him. "Let's continue the evacuation, please. Keep moving, everyone!"

Teyla no longer senses any Wraith, anywhere. "The Hive might still be in orbit; we must work quickly before they send more darts." She and Ronon are searching the wreckage for an intact data recorder in the hope that they can hook it up to Teyla's laptop and figure out what happened to all the darts.

"Maybe they're all dead up there," Ronon grunts, heaving open the canopy of a dart to find a dead Wraith inside. He feels around for the data recorder and yanks it free. "Got one." It looks undamaged.

Teyla inspects it, then puts it in her pack with the stun weapons they've collected from the fallen Wraith. "Let's go home," she says, smiling, a hand on his back.

It's been more than thirty-eight minutes since the last dial-out to the evacuation planet, but the Ring is active when they return from the fields: Maakre must have been able to establish another wormhole.

"Perhaps if the Wraith are dead here, it will be safe to return home soon," says Maakre as they step through to Gonell, sister planet to Gofra. "We may yet be able to finish the harvest. And we would welcome any help your people could give us, Teyla," she adds, offering her hands palm-up.

"I'm sure we will be able to work out an arrangement," Teyla replies, resting her hands on Maakra's palms. "Ronon and I must return home to examine what we've found, but I will send Kanaan to you to negotiate our terms."

They return to New Athos to find Kanaan waiting for them by the Ring; standing with him is a visitor in green BDUs and a tac vest, armed with a P90.

"General O'Neill," Teyla greets him, surprise in her voice. There's no way to hide the P90 that's cradled in her arms--the P90 Sheppard wasn't supposed to give her--so she doesn't bother to try. "It is good to see you."

"Good to see you, too," says O'Neill, with an awkward little wave. "I just wanted to drop by, check on how you folks were doing. I have some news. Good news. Kind of... weird news." His head wobbles from side to side. "Weird good news."

"I would be happy to hear your news," Teyla replies slowly, with a glance at Kanaan, who only shrugs. "Would you like to join us for tea in my tent? Ronon and I have our own news to share."

"Thanks for the invite, but I should get back before Helia decides to swat Woolsey like a pesky fly." O'Neill looks sideways at Kanaan. "If we could talk privately..."

"I'll see you back home," Kanaan tells Teyla and Ronon, not missing a beat. "General," he says politely to O'Neill, then turns up the path to the settlement.

"Nice guy," says O'Neill, rocking back on his heels. "Not very chatty, but nice. Still, I'd appreciate it if you don't tell him what I'm about to tell you. Not yet, at least." He stares at them, the humour fading from his eyes. "The Ancients have ascended."

Ronon shakes his head like a dog, not quite sure he heard what he heard. "They what?"

"What do you mean, 'ascended'?" Teyla asks, shocked, taking an unconscious step forward.

"Ascended as in--ascended. Gone glowy. Turned incorporeal." O'Neill rubs a hand over his forehead, suddenly looking tired. "Most of them have, anyway, except Helia and a few others. It started a month ago, after the Replicators attacked. They managed to upload the new directive and order the Replicators to return to their homeworld, but Helia and everyone else were really shaken up. I think they were just... unprepared to lose another person after everything that's happened."

Teyla braces a hand on the dialling device, as though she needs the support. "And so they have decided to ascend?" O'Neill leans his hip next to her.

"It wasn't just Octava--that's the pilot who was killed," he explains. "It was the shock of waking up from stasis to discover their entire civilisation is dead, that they're the last remnants. That the Wraith have completely subjugated this galaxy for ten thousand years. Hell, that the Ori are trying to conquer my galaxy. And doing a pretty good job of it, too."

"The Wraith," Ronon says suddenly, remembering. "Back on Gofra. They stopped dead in their tracks--literally, dead in their tracks. The darts released all the taken, then self-destructed. And a woman who'd been killed came back to life."

O'Neill raises his eyebrows at the news. "That sounds an awful lot like interference to me." He gazes off into the distance, murmuring, "I wonder what's going on up there."

"If the Ancestors have ascended, if they are interfering, then perhaps the prophecies were right," says Teyla, her voice hushed. "Perhaps this is the turning of the tide in the war against the Wraith."

+++

"I don't understand," says Elizabeth, her face pale under the florescent lights of the SGC briefing room. Sitting to her left, John can see the trembling in her hands as she folds them together in her lap. "Why would they want to shut down Atlantis?"

"Because they don't believe we've matured enough as a race to handle the knowledge contained in the city's databanks," Woolsey replies. "There were half-finished experiments in their labs that your team would have eventually tripped over, possibly to tragic consequences. Helia was quite concerned that you had already released a nanite virus--"

"That's crap," John cuts in, anger burning hot and fierce under his skin. "That is such fucking--"

"John!" Elizabeth gives him a warning look. "That's enough."

Landry glares from his seat at the head of the conference table. "You can't have your cake and eat it too, Colonel," he says, annoyed. "These Ancients have done what you've been trying to do since you got to Atlantis. The Wraith are gone and the ascended Ancients who intervened are likely suffering the consequences of their actions even as we speak. Teyla and her people, everyone in the Pegasus galaxy, can finally live without fear of being culled. What more could you possibly want?"

John clenches his teeth, knowing that if he tries to say anything it'll probably get him court-martialled.

"Teyla and Ronon say hi, by the way," O'Neill interjects after a few seconds. He's slouched in his conference chair, his dark eyes shrewd as they examine John. "They invited us to stay for their galaxy-wide 'good riddance' bash, but it looked like the party was going to go late and Woolsey and I had a curfew."

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth lets it out and says, quietly, "Of course we're happy for Teyla and Ronon and all our other friends. Their freedom is far more important than our access to advanced alien technology." She forces a smile that no one at the table buys for even a second. "In any case, the Ancients aren't trying to keep us from making our own scientific discoveries--they're only keeping us from exploiting theirs."

"That's about the sum of it," Woolsey says, regret evident in the tone of his voice, in the furrow of his brow. "I know it's not the outcome we had hoped for, Dr. Weir, but perhaps in the future..."

Elizabeth sighs. "In the future."

A week after the briefing with O'Neill and Woolsey, John is summoned to General Landry's office to discuss reassigning Wallace to SG-14. "Major Connor's been with Stargate Command since the beginning and takes an active interest in new recruits. He'll get Airman Wallace straightened out in no time." Landry aims a pointed glare at John's head as he slaps closed Wallace's personnel file.

Subtle as an anvil, Landry.

"Yes, sir," John replies, as blank and respectful as he knows how on the outside. On the inside, he's cringing. It's not that he cares what Landry thinks of him, save for the effect his superior's opinion has on his career. But Wallace had been John's responsibility. A disaster, yes, on crutches or off them, but John's disaster. His head hasn't been in the game since Atlantis, and though he's tried to shove it all down for the sake of going through the gate, there's no question that his team has borne the brunt of his crappy mood.

"I want a short list of names for your fourth by the end of tomorrow," Landry's telling him when the base's speakers interrupt, announcing, "Unscheduled off-world activation! General Landry to the control room."

John trails the general down to the control room, where Walter has Helia up on the monitors. "Helia, what can we do for you?" asks Landry, hands propped on his hips.

"I have a visitor who wishes to speak with you, General Landry." The Ancient moves aside to make room for Ronon in the view screen.

"Ronon!" John crowds forward into the camera's frame, intent on taking a good long look at his old teammate. God, it's good to see Ronon again, even on a TV--hell, if he didn't have an audience, he'd probably grab the monitor in both hands and give it a manly backslap. "Hey, buddy, looking good."

A faint smirk curling his lips, Ronon says, "Better than you, Sheppard. Those Ori soldiers giving you a hard time?"

"Not... exactly." John's team hasn't been anywhere near the Ori soldiers, or the Priors.

"This isn't Skype, fellas," Landry cuts in, impatient. "You wanted to talk to me, so talk."

Ronon clears his throat, glancing sideways at Helia, who gives him an encouraging nod. "Uh, yeah. General, request permission to come through to Earth." He pauses, then adds, "To stay."

It takes a few seconds before John can register Ronon's words, and by then Landry's already asking, "Are you requesting asylum? Because the SGC's not exactly a bed and breakfast, here."

"I'm not looking for a hand-out, General. I want to come work for you." Ronon seems to understand that Landry responds best to plain-spoken honesty. He looks right into the view screen and maintains a serious expression. "There's no Wraith left for me to fight. If Earth has an enemy that you need help defeating, I'm ready and willing."

John's initial elation at the thought of having Ronon with him on Earth is quickly followed by a creeping sense of unease. The feeling takes him by surprise--there's no reason for it, is there? He wants to see Ronon again. He's missed him, a lot more than he'd thought he would.

"You understand that you wouldn't be allowed out of the mountain," Landry informs the Satedan. "Not without supervision, and not often even then."

Ronon gives the slightest shrug. "I'll get my fresh air off-world. Just let me help."

Holding himself very still, John waits as Landry considers Ronon's offer, too afraid to even breath loudly in case he drew attention to himself and derailed whatever good will Ronon has engendered with his blunt manner. But the general remembers him and looks over anyway, calculating blue eyes under beetled eyebrows. "Hell, he might do you some good." Slapping Walter on the shoulder, he orders, "Open the iris! Ronon, you have permission to step through."

Heart in his throat, John walks, not runs, down the flight of stairs at a deliberate pace and swipes himself into the embarkation room just as Ronon emerges at the top of the ramp, the cold blue light of the wormhole limning his bare arms and throwing his face into grey shadow. The stargate shuts down a few seconds later, and then there's only Ronon, tall and strong and loping down to meet John with an easy grin.

"Sheppard," he rumbles, deep in his chest, grabbing John up in a brief hug. He then slaps John on the back, hard, and adds, "I asked Teyla to come with me, but she said no."

"No surprise there," says John, laughing. It's the first time he's laughed in months, and while Teyla's absence from his life is a huge, gaping hole where his heart and lungs used to be, having Ronon right here in front of him eases the pain enough that he believes that maybe he can do this. Maybe he can move on, after all.

+++

Lance Corporal Grainger, a Marine, never says a word against Ronon joining SG-23, but it's clear the moment they start debriefing for their first mission together that it's not going to work out. John has always relied on Ronon to ride herd on McKay, always trusted Teyla with the team if he was incapacitated. Teyla's not here but Ronon is, and Grainger can sense that his position as John's 2IC has been usurped, even if on paper Ronon will never be anything more than a civilian consultant.

In the end it's Airman Babbis, feeling caught in the middle of a cold war, who breaks first and requests reassignment. Landry picks up the phone and yells at John to get down to his office. "There are positions open on SG-19 for Grainger and Babbis. But you--" Landry jabs a finger in John's face. "You have pushed past the limits of my forbearance, Sheppard." He slaps down a thick pile of file folders. "Former Atlantis personnel only. Pick some names and form a team. Get it done, Colonel, or get out."

John's no fool: he takes the windfall and chooses Laura Cadman, now a newly minted captain, and Dr. Kusanagi. Pulling up his big boy shorts, he works on building a team. He spars with Miko, trying to assess her physical capabilities, and takes her to the firing range. He talks to her and learns that she requested a gate team assignment because she had a friend who died during the Ori plague last year; she wants to make a tangible contribution to the war against the Ori.

Cadman's no Grainger: she doesn't keep her feelings quiet about her role as John's 2IC. She and Ronon get drunk in Teal'c's quarters, the only place in the SGC other than Landry's bottom desk drawer where there's alcohol, which John finds curious considering Teal'c himself doesn't drink. He only hears an abridged secondhand account from a pale and puking Ronon of what they talked about that lost weekend: long rambling stories about their days in training; broken and halting confessions of fateful decisions that got people hurt or killed; gossip about what former Atlantis people are up to now.

"So you and Cadman are good?" John asked, poking through the Chinese take-out in search of the fried noodles and beef. They're in Mitchell's apartment, relaxing on his couch with a college basketball game, waiting for Mitchell and Teal'c to get back from a beer run. It seems Landry was only willing to let Ronon off the base if both he and John had adult supervision.

Shrugging, Ronon plucks a jiggling piece of abalone from its container with his chopsticks, wielding them like a pro. "We understand each other, sure." He pops the abalone in his mouth, chews thoughtfully, and swallows. "She's your second. I can take her orders, s'long as she never tells me to leave you behind." He gives John a hard, meaningful stare.

"Oh," says John, faintly. His nerveless fingers lose their grip on his chopsticks and he drops greasy noodles on Mitchell's rug. "Dammit."

Leaning over John's lap, Ronon uses the blunt end of his chopsticks to pick up the noodles with delicate grace, then dampens a paper napkin in his tea and scrubs gently at the carpet fibres until the grease is gone. "Can't even tell," he says, sitting back.

"Thanks." John clears his throat. "Ronon--"

Teal'c and Mitchell bang into the apartment, bickering loudly about the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, and Ronon goes over to help them unpack the beer.

John sits and breathes, grateful for the reprieve.

+++

Ronon is assigned a room on base that Cadman declares a prison cell, but which reminds him more of the barracks at the training camp north of the Satedan capitol; the only difference is this time he gets the room all to himself rather than have to share with five other soldiers. Yes, the concrete walls are bare and oppressive and he misses the ocean view, but everything is clean and well-lit and well-ventilated. There's a tiny connecting bathroom with plenty of hot water.

Miko puts several books of Japanese poetry that include English translations on his empty book shelf. "I will teach you to read them in the original language if you would like," she tells him, and Ronon returns her shy smile and agrees. Japanese is similar to Satedan--a logographic writing system, Weir had said when he'd first shown her--which might be easier for him to learn than the muddled mess that is English.

Lorne gives him a blue-and-black ink sketch of Atlantis. "I kept meaning to do a real painting, but I never found the time. Guess now I never will."

"You still could," says Ronon. "Teyla told me that they took lots of photos and video in the first year, when they started exploring the city. You could use those."

"It wouldn't be the same," Lorne sighs, regretful. "Working from a still isn't like being there yourself, seeing it with your own eyes." He hangs the sketch on the wall above the small desk.

Carson brings him a colourful knitted blanket that Ronon drapes over the foot of his bed; he also hands over a large bottle of vitamin D supplements. "If you're to be trapped in this concrete monstrosity, you'll need it. Doctor's orders."

Sheppard and Cadman show up at his door, staggering under the weight of several large boxes of electronic equipment. "Television, DVD player, speakers, Xbox," Sheppard pants, "and a Wii. Don't ask."

"Wii is awesome." Cadman dumps her load on Ronon's bed and collapses next to it with a groan. "Trust me, big guy, you'll love it."

"I like the shooting games," Ronon offers, and Sheppard smirks, saying, "Told ya." She makes a face at him.

McKay gets him a Netflix account, and promises to take him to a hockey game the next time he's in town. You'll like it, Rodney's email says. There's lots of fighting.

Teal'c and Vala knock on his door in the middle of the night, and since Ronon's been staring at the blank ceiling for hours, unable to sleep, he goes with them on a tour of the base. They teach him how to break into the base kitchen and fix a midnight snack without the anyone being the wiser; they bring him to the gym and point out the best equipment; they show him the memorial wall with ten years' worth of names and pictures of fallen SGC soldiers and civilians.

The reformed SG-23 picks up a mission to visit the marketplace on PX7-214 while posing as grain farmers looking to buy new seed. According to SG-15's report, a Prior of the Ori is due to visit PX7-214 and perform miracles for the masses.

"Do not blow your cover," Sheppard warns them during the mission prep. "Do not engage the Prior or any Ori soldiers we might encounter or Landry will have my head on a pike, I swear to God."

"Do not let the Prior touch you," Miko adds, her face pale but her gaze steady.

PX7-214 is hot, dusty, and crowded with people--Jaffa and humans and a few aliens with leathery brown-green faces. "Serrakin," Cadman mutters under her breath, drawing Ronon away before the Serrakin notice his staring. "Advanced species, space-capable. They co-exist with humans on their homeworld, Hebridan. We lost contact with them a couple of months ago after Dakara fell."

"They're working for the Ori now?"

"If they are, I doubt it is by choice," says Miko, quietly, so quietly that Ronon has to strain to hear the bitterness in her voice.

In the narrow eastern corner of the plaza, the stargate activates and from its puddle of light a pale man in white robes appears. The staff he carries appears to be carved wood--though Ronon has been assured it is not--and capped by a glowing blue crystal. The crowd stills at the sight of the Prior, silence rippling outwards until the whole marketplace is his captive audience.

Ronon and his team stand and listen to the Prior's message, painfully aware of the recording devices under their clothes and Miko's scanner tucked deep in her satchel. Angling for a clear reading, she inches forward when the Prior lays his hands on a sickly Jaffa boy curled in his mother's lap.

"No longer will your children be slaves of the Goa'uld larva," the Prior proclaims. "No longer will you be dependent on chemicals for health and long life. The Ori bring freedom to those who believe!" The child's mother gasps, overcome, when her son scrambles to his feet and throws his shoulders back, looking as though he's never had a sick day in his life.

"Ancestors preserve us," Ronon whispers, his stomach roiling with sudden fear. He swallows against the bile and tucks his hands under his armpits to hide their shaking.

Edging closer, Sheppard touches Ronon's hip. "What's wrong?"

He doesn't answer, worried that he might actually vomit if he tries to speak. He tears his gaze away from the Prior and studies the people instead, planting his feet solidly when there's a push forward as some in the crowd reach out to the Prior, wanting healing, wanting assurance of benevolent gods. Many others stand at the edges and watch with hard, angry eyes and clenched jaws: they aren't won over by the spectacle.

"Nobody's trying to shut him up," murmurs Sheppard.

Ronon works up enough spit to wet his lips. "Wouldn't do any good and they know it." He ignores Sheppard's concerned frown and snags the back of Miko's shirt before she can worm further away.

"Hallowed are the Ori!" the Prior calls out to the people, and a handful of those closest to him echo, "Hallowed are the Ori!"

The lacklustre response angers the Prior and he begins to move among the people, peering intently into their eyes as though reading their souls--or minds. "Glorious are the Ori, who lead us to salvation!" he cries with fierce conviction. "Believe in the truth of all things and you too may find the path to enlightenment. But whosoever denies the Ori, denies his own life." Using the shifting crowd for cover, Ronon pulls Miko and Sheppard behind a wine seller's booth, but Cadman is caught in the press of bodies and gets shoved to the front, directly in the Prior's path.

Sheppard reaches into his shirt for the zat'nik'tel strapped to his chest. "Shit."

"Wait," Ronon says, though his own hand drops to the butt of his gun.

"Make yourself one with the path," declares the Prior, those pale unnatural eyes fixed on Cadman. She gazes up at him, open and eager, her lips parted in expectation. "Those who reject the path to enlightenment must be destroyed. Hallowed are the Ori!"

"Hallowed are the Ori!" she cries, cheeks flushed with religious fervour, the very picture of pious devotion. The Prior sweeps past her, continuing to preach to the masses from the Book of Origin.

"I played Mary Magdalene in my church's Easter play, six years running," Cadman says when she finally shows up in their hiding spot. Ronon shakes his head, impressed.

"Jesus wept," Sheppard mutters, despairing, and Miko chokes on a laugh.

+++

After their debrief with Landry, Miko retreats to the labs to go over her data with Colonel Carter in the hope that they can augment the capabilities of the anti-Prior device. Cadman, more shaken up by her near miss than she'd like to admit, goads Ronon into practicing his ground fighting with her: Ronon's longer reach and upper-body strength might give him an advantage in other forms of unarmed combat, but Cadman is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She invites John as well, but he declines, citing paperwork.

In his office, John writes up his report and doesn't skimp on the details, even Cadman's little performance. They were damned lucky today, luckier than the gullible fools on PX7-214 who'd toddled back to their own worlds to spread Origin to the unbelieving. He'd gotten close enough to the DHD to note the gate addresses of those who had converted and those planets are now flagged as high-risk in the SGC database.

"It's me," he says, when Elizabeth answers her cell phone. She's a lot better these days, working hard and feeling like she's making a difference. To no one's surprise, the president offered her a place with Homeworld Security. To everyone's surprise, she'd taken a position at the State Department instead. When John had asked, she'd smiled and said, "Because it's where I can do the most good."

"John, how are you?" she says, and John feels the tension drop from his body simply hearing the smile in her voice. They chat for a while as he signs off on some paperwork, just two friends touching base. She reminds him that she'll be out of the country next week, and he promises to email instead.

An airman knocks on his open door a few minutes after he hangs up the phone. "Sir, the Daedalus has beamed down Specialist Dex's belongings. They're in storage bay 4 on Level 17."

John frowns at her. "And you're telling me because...?"

The airman turns bright red, and stammers, "I thought-- I didn't mean--"

"Never mind," says John, and takes the key she's holding out to him. The storage bay is full of cargo from the Daedalus's hold, mostly equipment originally intended for Midway Station. Near the door are two crates labelled RONON DEX, which is weird because John's pretty sure Ronon doesn't own enough stuff to fill two crates--or at least he didn't before John's little Best Buy shopping spree.

Inside he finds books, some old and leather-bound and clearly valuable, wrapped in Athosian wall hangings to protect them, and some newer and cheaply bound. He flips one open, then laughs: it's a recipe book. The script is Satedan, but the illustrations are unmistakable. He pulls out more items: a few small paintings, a beautiful statuette, an officer's sword, some jewellery and coins, some finely woven clothes. Sateda's treasures, rescued from the rubble.

There's also a packet of letters from Teyla, handwritten on parchment and sealed with wax in the Athosian style, and a narrow black box with a note taped to its lid:

The information crystals within are a gift from the Lanteans. They wished to provide Earth with knowledge of the ascension process in the hope that it may aid your fight against the Ori. They have also included the oldest writings of their people, which are histories of their people's escape from the Ori and their long journey to your galaxy. Perhaps there is insight to be found in these records. Teyla.

John corrals two passing Marines and orders them to bring Ronon's crates to his quarters while he takes the information crystals to Landry. The general stares at them for a minute, then says, "Hell, maybe we should have sent her to negotiate with Helia, if this is the kind of result she usually gets."

"She wasn't really ours to send," John points out, though he appreciates the compliment for Teyla's sake.

He heads up to Level 25 and finds Ronon's door wide open, though whether that's because the Marines had security open it up for them or because Ronon didn't bother closing the door in the first place, John doesn't know. The crates have been placed against the wall, out of the way.

"Do you require any assistance, Colonel Sheppard?"

John looks up from shelving books and finds Teal'c standing in the open doorway, Mitchell at his shoulder. "I'm good, thanks."

Teal'c nods and Mitchell flashes a grin before the two of them vanish around the corner.

He's trying to decide whether the statuette is safe on the bedside table or whether it should go on the top book shelf when Ronon comes back from the gym, freshly showered.

"What are you..." Ronon's voice trails off when his eyes land on an oil painting of two old women mending armour in a smithy. "That's an original Kanahele. It used to hang in the Gallery of the Chieftains."

John scratches his chin. "Belongs to you now, I guess," he says, finally.

"It belongs in a museum." Ronon closes the door and leans against it, looking dazed and a little appalled. It's a good look on him--he's usually the one yanking someone else's chain.

Sitting down on the bed, John sorts through Teyla's letters until he finds Ronon's. It's the only one written in the Pegasus trade language, a derivative of Ancient. "It was Teyla's idea of a care package."

Throwing his towel over the back of a chair, and possibly throwing in the metaphorical towel as well, Ronon sinks cross-legged on the bed next to John and opens the letter. John was planning to save his for later, in case he got emotional or something, but now it feels foolish to hide anything from Ronon. Together they read Teyla's letters, quiet except for the sounds of their breathing and the rustle of parchment.

After a while, Ronon puts the letter aside and bows his head. "I really miss her." He sounds tired and strangely uncertain.

"Me too," John sighs, and when Ronon leans in and rests his forehead on John's shoulder, he curves his body to accept his weight. "I miss Atlantis."

Ronon murmurs an agreement, then whispers, "The Ori scare the shit out of me."

Pressing his face in Ronon's dreads, heedless of any hidden knives, John digs deep for the strength to be unselfish. "This doesn't have to be your fight, you know. If you wanted to go back..."

But rough hands reach up to grip his t-shirt. "Can't do that. I promised never to leave you behind."

It's a promise John made a long time ago, and makes again right now. "Same," he says, and together they sit and breathe in the musty smell of parchment and old books and the dust of a dead world.