Three times Ronon went on missions with Lorne's team and they all came home in one piece. For the most part.

by Domenika Marzione


The marines come through the Ring at the ready and, in the corner of his mind that remembers he was once an infantry officer, Ronon approves. They know the planet can't be too bad -- he and McKay are standing there unharmed -- but they are rifles-up and prepared nonetheless.

He doesn't know the name of their commander, a good-sized man a few years younger than himself; the name is written on his breast as is their custom, but Ronon can't read the language, at least not yet. Sheppard has encouraged him to learn, but he's avoided anything close to formal study so far. He's not ready to accept the memories it would bring to the fore.

"Which one are you?" McKay asks, snapping his fingers at the commander, who is issuing orders to his men.

All of the walking and the day's failures -- to find the energy source, to find Sheppard and Teyla -- have made McKay's mood worse than usual. He's scared, for himself and their missing teammates and he's angry to cover his fear. It hasn't been that long since whatever McKay did on Doranda and he obviously doesn't want to let Sheppard down again. Ronon understands, but that understanding does not translate into patience; he'd have stunned McKay just for the quiet if he didn't think that that would get him thrown out of Atlantis.

"Lieutenant Gillick, sir," the commander answers patiently. "Which way are we headed?"

McKay answers on instinct, pointing in the direction they'll have to go, but then puts his arm down. "Aren't we supposed to wait for Major Lorne's team?"

"I'll stay here," Ronon volunteers quickly. "I know the way."


"With all due respect to Mister Dex, sir," Gillick says wryly, "I'm pretty sure my platoon of marines can guarantee your safety. We should get started on our search as quickly as possible."

Gillick gestures grandly for McKay to lead the way. After a look back at Ronon, he does, but he moves at a deliberately slow pace so that he is surrounded by the taller, better-armed men.

"Holler if you need us," one of the marines tells Ronon. He's older than the others and wears a different symbol; he's probably the platoon sergeant. The marines are organized in a similar fashion as the Satedan army, albeit with different ranks and a greater distinction between officers and not. Sheppard often seems to shrink that gap, but never to the point where it cannot be seen and the marines respect that.

Major Lorne and his team appears a short time later; they were on another planet and it is only at McKay's insistence that they are here -- he didn't believe a search for someone of Sheppard's rank should be carried out by someone of Gillick's rank. Ronon thinks it's nonsense, but didn't say anything since neither McKay nor Weir would understand the illogic.

"Hello, Ronon," Lorne sighs, sounding very much like he appreciates the ridiculousness of the situation. "Where'd he get off to this time?"

Ronon leads them toward the site without another word. Lorne asks a few questions on the way -- how far away was he, does he know if McKay saw life signs on his PDA, what did the place look like, how long before they realized Sheppard and Teyla were missing -- and Ronon answers as best he can.

It's been a few months, but he's still not used to all of the talking he has to do now that he lives among other people again and even this necessary speech taxes him. He doesn't think that he's been in this position -- the only one able to provide information -- since his rescue. Either way, Lorne seems unbothered by his half-sentences and sparse descriptions and his team is content to carry the conversation by themselves.

The conversation is insults slung back and forth, mostly between the marines but occasionally involving Safir or Lorne. The team is still settling into its roles on this team, much the same way Ronon is still adjusting to his place on Sheppard's. The makeup is different, though, with everyone but Safir being military; there is a default rank structure here that isn't in place on Sheppard's team. Sheppard doesn't seem to care that McKay -- and Teyla and Ronon-- don't automatically do what he wants, except when he does. Sheppard doesn't issue orders unless he has to; Lorne has no choice and he seems to accept that more than desire it.

Finding Sheppard and Teyla turns out to be secondary to where they are found; nobody seems to think that this is at all odd. Ronon wants to stay with Teyla and investigate the complex, but Sheppard won't let him for the same reason he hadn't let Ronon wander around earlier. Ronon wants to tell him that he doesn't need to be babied, that he is not afraid of a Wraith torture chamber, but suspects he'd be lying. He wants to go down there and destroy things, face his fears by causing vast amounts of damage, but that won't help anyone. Maybe not even him.

Nonetheless, he is almost relieved when he hears the distant whine of Wraith darts. Almost.

Ronon has seen the marines train -- at the rifle ranges, in the gyms, on the various exercises throughout the city -- but he has not seen them in combat before this. The marines have tried to explain the differences between a volunteer and a conscripted force, how one is better and more efficient. But here, their actions speak for them loudly and eloquently. The marines look professional in a way the Satedan army never did. They are both more obedient and more independent, functioning as a complete and competent unit even though their only officer is a lowly one younger than they are. Once they arrive, neither Lorne nor Sheppard do much to direct Gillick, who has the situation well in hand by the time they return to the site.

Ronon has never really been given a reason to second-guess his choice to stay in Atlantis, but here, as the marines clear the sky and earth of Wraith, he is reminded of why he chose to in the first place.

Later on, after they return to Atlantis, Gillick will shrug and tell Ronon that their military has always been organized to give small unit commanders authority to make decisions as need be and still be part of a whole. Creative discipline, he calls it, and tells Ronon that each of his marines led units of half a dozen or more back on Earth. "They need me to stay out of the way more than anything," he says with a grin. "All I really do is point them in the right direction."

Ronon thinks about this the next time Sheppard takes his team through the Ring.

(The Pegasus Galaxy Presents: George Romero's Alice in Wonderland)


It's been two weeks since they cured Sheppard, who is now mostly not-blue and yet still not allowed out of the infirmary. Which in turn means that Ronon hasn't been anywhere but the mainland in that time and he's going mad with the inactivity. Sheppard suggested he ask Captain Polito for a mission he could tag along on, but it was Teyla who suggested he talk to Lorne.

"Your mission tomorrow. Can I come?"

Sitting at his desk, surrounded by paper, Lorne cocks an eyebrow. "I suppose, if you want. It's not going to be very interesting."

At this point, Ronon doesn't really care and says as much.

"All right, then," Lorne laughs. "Be at the gate and ready at 1100."

He is, although Lorne's team is not. They appear a few minutes later, Ortilla pulling something on a cart and everyone griping at Suarez for taking too long. Nobody is surprised to see him. The marines seem pleased; Safir looks annoyed at the world in general and everyone leaves him be. Including Ronon, who after five months has a decent understanding of why Sheppard really told him that Safir was the doctor who he didn't want to anger.

The planet they're visiting, Makolan, is a strange place with the Ring on one of several islands separated by deep water; the marines debate how deep it is and whether anyone can swim in it or if there are predators. Makolan is not any place he heard of when he was Running and certainly not before that. Sateda did not need to trade for fish. Atlantis doesn't need to trade for fish, either, but it does. ("The fish isn't really the point," Sheppard had explained when Ronon had asked why. "It's another planet we know and who knows us and maybe down the line there'll be something more important than fish we can get from them.")

The island with the Ring is barely large enough for all of them to fit without spreading out, especially since Ronon and Ortilla are carrying the inflatable boat the marines call a Zodiac. The Makolans seem to get around in small boats with paddles as there are a few moored off of the tiny dock on the other side of the island, but it would take at least two for the six of them to make the trip and the Zodiac comes with a motor.

Ortilla, Ronon, Safir and Reletti organize themselves to balance their weights while Lorne sits in the rear next to Suarez, who is the only one with any extensive experience in steering the boat. They start off toward the more distant, populated islands. The boat is fast and the prickle of damp sea air feels good against Ronon's face. He listens as the marines discuss similarities between this place and Earth before digressing into a discussion of fish. Reletti likes it raw, which is how it's occasionally served in Atlantis. Safir, who has been drawn into the conversation carefully, says that he likes kippers, which are apparently not a kind of fish but a method of preparing them, and pickled herring. Suarez doesn't like fish at all, insisting that he's not supposed to because of where he comes from.

"I didn't realize there was a fishing industry in Arizona," Lorne says. Everyone laughs except for Ronon, who doesn't understand, and Suarez, who looks annoyed.

Reletti comes from a desert area, Ortilla explains to Ronon. Safir does, too, but it's near the sea. Ortilla comes from a city that's a group of islands linked together by bridges, he says, but it's more like Atlantis than this place.

"Reletti went native in Japan," Suarez says. "I never saw an ocean until boot."

"Which is exactly the kind of logic that has you driving the boat," Safir says sourly.

"I've had practice," Suarez insists.

"So you keep telling us," Ortilla retorts. "Don't steer us into anything bigger than a tuna."

"Again," Reletti adds.

"Fuck you both," Suarez shoots back, taking an especially wide turn around one of the tiny, undeveloped islands. "That was months ago."

"Have you driven since then?" Ortilla asks pointedly.

"We haven't been in the fucking boats since then!"

"My point exactly," Ortilla responds.

Ronon isn't sure what Ortilla's point is, except maybe just to rile Suarez. Ortilla grins at him.

They land without incident at the shore of an island with large green and blue pennants hanging from a pole. The Makolans have been watching from each island they passed -- the motor is quiet, but the speed is probably well beyond what any of them have ever seen and, Ronon suspects, they don't get many visitors.

They are greeted cautiously but with great interest by three men in loose-fitting clothes.

Lorne told Suarez before they reached land to temporarily disable the engine so that nobody sliced a hand or a foot trying to play around with it. There are children milling about and even if Lorne is worried about having to make a fast escape, it is probably a wise idea.

They are brought to a large structure -- a cross between a hut and a proper building -- and introduced to an older woman who is the leader of the Makolans, Shivat. Lorne greets her and explains their purpose for visiting; he's more formal than Sheppard, who usually makes no effort to hide the fact that he picked the planet nearly at random and isn't quite sure what they want from their hosts. Shivat responds to Lorne's approach, smiling and inviting them to a meal at the point where Teyla is usually stepping in to translate Sheppard's vague goals into something more diplomatically useful while Sheppard makes sure McKay doesn't say something that'll get them thrown off the planet.

They are led to a long, low table. Makolan doesn't have much in the way of resources, so what they do with what they have is all the more impressive. The room looks comfortable and official and well-appointed despite the fact that it's only sun-bleached wood and homespun fabric. If the Makolans trade for metals, it doesn't get wasted on decorating.

The food and wine is brought out and Ronon usually doesn't have any trouble with this part -- going to other worlds and getting fed every time is pretty much never going to get tiresome. Unsurprisingly, most of the food is fish, raw and cooked. It is artfully presented, the way it rarely is in Atlantis, and Reletti earns favorable comments with his unfeigned pleasure at some of the more ornate pieces. There is a tray of pale-fleshed meat, obviously the treasure of the meal on a world with little room for livestock, and Ronon doesn't miss Ortilla warning Safir that it's pork. Suarez and Safir manage to end up with the other man's portion of pork and fish, all without raising their hosts' attention.

Lorne's team is more subtle than Ronon's own -- McKay is not ever subtle at table -- or maybe it's just that nobody is paying them much attention. With Ronon's team, Sheppard appears more spokesman than leader, so the others are required to participate -- not that either Teyla or McKay have any reluctance to talk. But, here, Lorne is so obviously in charge of the group that the others can fade into the background more, interacting with their hosts in a less formal fashion while Lorne and Shivat talk business at the other end. Which is how Reletti ends up talking animatedly about the presentation styles of raw fish with one of the women while the other marines look on in embarrassed bemusement.

After the meal, Shivat offers a tour of the islands. It's probably an excuse to ride on their Zodiac boat, but Lorne is unfazed and readily agrees. Suarez will drive and Reletti goes along because the marines want someone else with Lorne and his size is less intimidating than either Ronon's or Ortilla's. Lorne seems vaguely irritated that the marines are treating the Makolans like a security threat, but he doesn't argue and the Makolans don't seem to notice. Lorne may be the one in charge, but he chooses his battles as Sheppard does.

Ronon stays on the capital island with Ortilla and Safir, who is talking about medicine with two of the Makolan councilmen. Ronon figures Safir would be annoyed at the questions, especially since he doesn't seem to like it much when the Lanteans seek him out. But here his interest is unfeigned and he asks questions in return; he is far more animated here than Ronon remembers seeing him in Atlantis.

"Doc studies the transmission of disease," Ortilla explains as they watch and wait. "He's always asking about who gets what and when and how and shit like that. We were on some planet and one of the big shots pulls up his shirt and starts showing him these lesions, right in the middle of lunch. Pretty fucking gross."

The men want to take Safir to their hospital and he agrees. Ortilla declines an offer of a tour of the island, saying he should stick with Safir. The women look hopefully at Ronon, but he apologizes.

"I think they wanted to show us something other than the island," Ortilla says as they start walking in the direction Safir has gone.

Ronon raises his eyebrows and looks back at one of them, a pretty woman with long hair and wide hips. It wouldn't be the first time Ronon had gotten an offer while on one of this diplomatic visits, but the ones he's gotten so far have been more overt. He looks back at Ortilla, who shrugs.

"Maybe they're hoping we'd give them big children," he says. "That's gotta count for something in a place where everyone's the Major's size."

The marines in Atlantis talk endlessly and constantly about women and sex, describing acts both actual and fantasized, what their girlfriends (and sometimes wives) are good at, what they think the women in Atlantis might be willing to do and are rumored to have done. But asking Ortilla if he'd have taken the women up on their offer if he could have seems crude, so Ronon doesn't.

The hospital is on the other side of the island, so they get a look around anyway. Ortilla smiles and greets the curious onlookers, waving at the children and gifting the ones brave enough to approach with candy from his vest pockets. Ronon can't do the same, can't smile harmlessly or make himself look small and unthreatening, so he just nods at people who make eye contact with him. He gets along well with the children on the mainland, but they have come to know him and he them. Here, he is just a sullen giant.

They find a bench and wait outside the small hospital, which is really just a large hut. Sometimes they can hear Safir speaking inside, sometimes laughter, and sometimes the cries of people in pain. Lantean medicine -- which is apparently both far advanced and much more primitive than Earth medicine -- is much richer than what anyone could expect on Sateda. Milena would have been awed by even the infirmary. Ronon wonders what Lantean medicine looks like to societies like this one, lit only by the sun, moon, and oil lamps.

A few of the kids have been following them and gather in a group across the narrow sandy road from the hospital. They whisper loudly to each other and giggle, wondering what sort of place they come from that produces such giants. Maybe Ortilla was right about the breeding thing.

Suddenly their radios chirp to life, Lorne reporting that Shivat and the other Makolans say that a storm is on the horizon, that they're already on their way back and will return in fifteen minutes. Ortilla is already on his feet and Ronon stands as well, but they don't have to search inside for Safir, who comes outside with the councilmen, who in turn call to the children to raise the alarm. The alarm is a loud clatter of bell-like noises and a thick plume of bright red smoke from the highest point of the island. The relative peace is shattered by an orderly chaos as people run around to tasks they have obviously already been assigned.

Sateda was prone to the occasional storm, but nothing too extreme and even if it were, it wasn't built of flimsy materials the way the Makolan villages are, with homes on stilts over the water's edge. There is real risk of damage here.

"What can we do to help, sir?" Ortilla asks one of the councilmen and Ronon waits for the answers. They are sent to the beach, past the area protected by a low wall of packed mud and sand and wood, and given shovels and empty sacks of rough cloth to fill with sand. Their sight lines are not obstructed here and, in the distance, Ronon can see the bright blue sky rapidly being covered over by black and purple clouds.

They are both working, filling bags as fast as the children can bring them, when they hear Reletti and Suarez. The other two, carrying shovels, join them.

"Where's the Major?" Ortilla asks.

"Talking strategy with Shivat," Suarez replies. He and Reletti, like Ortilla, have stripped down to their brown undershirts. "Doc's back at the hospital?"

Safir went to help move the patients to higher ground and prepare for new injuries.

The storm hits before they are ready, although Ronon is not sure if there would ever have been such a point. The island is as battened-down as could be managed, but as the first winds shriek through the streets and drive so much sand into his face that Ronon has to close his eyes and mouth and hope he doesn't run into anything or anyone, he knows that it won't be enough.

Ronon and the marines are in the school, which is where they were laying down additional fortifications when it became too dangerous to work. The children are terrified, rightfully so, and Ronon finds himself surrounded and half-buried by kids who want to be near him for his solidity and calm. Ortilla, similarly covered, is crooning quietly to a fretting little girl and Reletti and Suarez are on the other side of the large room with the teachers, having drawn the older children who don't want to appear afraid but clearly are. The teachers flit back and forth between the two groups, checking and rechecking that everything that could be done has been done.

The rain floods the village, even though men deepened the irrigation ditches that criss-cross the sandy ground, and the teachers and Suarez scurry around with towels and blankets to stop the water pouring in through the gap between the bottom of the wall and the floor. Reletti organizes the older boys to move the heavy boxes along the wall that's starting to shudder and tremble. Ronon wants to get up and help, but he knows it's more important for the kids to keep busy. When the winds die down enough, they can hear buildings collapse and get blown away.

The storm blows through as quickly as it came, although it feels like an eternity with the wind-driven rain and sand battering the school in near-darkness.

The damage isn't as bad as Ronon had imagined it would be. There are several buildings destroyed in whole or in part, but most of the damage is easily repairable -- the Makolans are already unfurling new bolts of cloth to serve as covering from the sun until new roofs can be made. Ronon helps Ortilla and Reletti with the salvage as Suarez is sent to track down Lorne and Safir. He returns with Lorne and reports that Safir is working.

"We're not overdue for another two hours," Lorne says, looking at his watch, "And so we'll get a radio check in five. We'll stay and help until then, see how bad the damage is and if we want to bring in some more help and supplies."

"We can call it now, sir," Suarez suggests. "Make the work faster?"

Lorne shakes his head. "It's a long trip back to the gate and the seas are still going to be very rough. We also have to figure out what sort of help they want. I don't want them to feel like they're under assault, no matter how noble our intentions."

Suarez ends up taking the Zodiac out anyway as he and Reletti and some of the Makolan men travel between the islands to survey the damage and rescue anyone swept into the ocean. The other islands have buildings atop stilts and some have been brought down by the waves.

Ronon and Ortilla are holding up opposite ends of a foundational wall when their radios chirp. Lorne answers the query from Lieutenant Maguire. Sheppard is obviously standing nearby; he immediately starts asking questions about supplies and whether there's space for a jumper to land.

Atlantis ends up sending bottled water, food, blankets, and fuel for fires. The jumpers go to each island, bringing supplies and marines to help rebuild what was lost. Ronon sees how the Makolans react -- with awe and gratitude that too often winds up in tears -- and how the marines accept it gracefully. If they feel pity for what the Makolans lost or how little, relatively, they had at the start, it doesn't show. There's some sort of agreement worked out besides this aid, something for fish and permission for the scientists to visit and play around in their ocean, but Ronon only hears bits and pieces of it.

"You were in the military on your world, right?" Suarez asks as they're riding back to Atlantis -- this time, in the back of a jumper. There are marines still working on the islands, but Sheppard radioed from Atlantis and told Lorne to take his team home on the next jumper since they'd been here since the start.

Ronon nods. "Specialist," he says. He knows it's the name of a rank in one of Earth's militaries, that it's not equivalent to what he was.

"Was that enlisted or an officer?"

"Officer," Ronon answers, not sure of the purpose of the question. They've been mostly silent for the ride, too tired to carry on a conversation. "Low rank. Like your lieutenants."

He hadn't had a fraction of the responsibility of the lieutenants in Atlantis, not until after the Wraith had wiped out most of the General Staff and everything had crumbled.

Suarez sags against the wall. "I knew it," he sighs, looking meaningfully at Ortilla and Reletti. "We're gonna have to start checking this shit out before we go."


"Ronon. Ronon."

He wakes up suddenly, confused and disoriented. He remembers getting shot with a stun weapon and being dragged away and his stomach clenches at the thought that he might have been retaken by the Wraith. But then he remembered being woken by Reletti that morning and how they'd been hunted and chased and he opens his eyes because this reality isn't any better than his nightmares.

He sees Teyla next to him, concern on her face even as she is carefully keeping her distance in case he woke up thrashing. He's done that before. She sits back on her haunches and he thinks it's to let him sit up, but it's not. It's to let Safir by to look at him.

The last thing he remembers is fighting next to Lorne, Reletti above them. He remembers being grabbed, pain, and then nothing.

"Stop squirming," Safir orders him irritably, expertly batting away Ronon's attempts to move away. Safir's exam is brief and he stands up and steps back, letting Ronon get up on his own.

He stretches carefully, although his balance isn't off. "Where is everyone else?"

Besides Teyla and Safir, there is only Ortilla and Suarez.

"It's been just us since we got here," Ortilla says. "No Colonel, no Doctor McKay."

Ronon frowns. He looks down to see that he's wearing the same loose-fitting, pocketless clothes the rest are in. He wonders who stripped him and whether they did anything else besides change his clothes, reaching behind to feel if there are any new wounds even though Safir would have spotted something if there had been. He feels for the knives in his hair and they're gone.

"You were taken with Reletti and Lorne?" Safir prompts.

"We got overrun."

Safir nods and turns back to where he was sitting, on the wall facing Teyla, perpendicular to the two marines.

"How long has it been since we were taken?" Teyla asks.

Ronon touches his face and feels stubble. It's a crude method of telling time, but it worked for years traveling planet to planet and time system to time system. "Less than two days," he says. "We were attacked the night after you were taken."

Teyla nods. She doesn't seem rattled, but he's never seen her look rattled yet. He can see the tension, though, little things that he knows are signs that she's nervous and scared and determined not to show it. For all of her ease within Atlantis or visiting other words, Teyla is still very much the person whose life was based around the fields and forests of Athos. She is still learning the sorts of mischief that a society can get up to once they stop having to worry about the bare necessities.

"They turn the lights off every once in a while," Ortilla says. "Knock us out somehow, maybe like they did in the forest. We wake up and there's food." He gestures toward the center of the room.

"Or you," Suarez adds. "We don't know how they get in or out -- we've tried blocking the door from the inside."

Ronon walks over to the door, which is perfectly flush with the soft walls. He's sure the others have looked it over thoroughly, but he wants to see it for himself. He can't hear a breeze or smell anything that could indicate that there's even the smallest space between wall and door. He paces the walls, listening and feeling and hoping that there's something someone has missed.

There is an alcove with a sink and toilet and towels and soap, which speaks to their captors' interest in keeping them in reasonable condition, along with the food. Maybe for ransom, maybe to experiment, maybe to trade. He's heard stories of planets that sell humans to each other, planets that leave sacrifices to the Wraith. If Ronon had to guess, he's chose the former -- the Wraith don't care about cleanliness.

The lights go out at some point later. When they come on again, there is a large tray with food and the means to serve and eat it.

The time passes too slowly. Ronon can feel himself going mad -- trapped in the city after one of Sheppard's injuries is nothing compared to being trapped in a single room. They all exercise constantly, each person leading the count in a language the others don't know. Ronon and the marines do their own routines, competitions that go to exhaustion while Teyla tries to teach Safir how to meditate. They all fight each other for the hell of it, taking advantage of the soft give of the walls and floor to take out their frustrations with their captivity, to stave off boredom, to ostensibly teach each other new moves but really just keep themselves sane. They sleep constantly, whenever the mood strikes them. They go long stretches when nobody says a word. There is still too much time to fill.

After five meals in the room, they wake to find McKay, curled in on himself like a wounded animal.

McKay isn't wounded, although he's got a bruise on his arm, but he's clearly in pain. "I've got a headache the size of Pegasus," he moans as Teyla and Ronon get him situated against the wall. Safir is following behind. "I don't even know how my head hasn't exploded yet from the pressure."

"Believe me," Safir says, crouching down to look at McKay's eyes, "Medical has been wondering about that for years. Your ego should have had you spontaneously combusting by 1994."

McKay looks annoyed, but lets Safir continue his exam. "Did Sheppard get away? Did he get home?"

"Colonel Sheppard disappeared with you," Teyla tells him, bringing over a wet cloth from the sink. McKay rubs his face vigorously, as if he could clean the pain from him like dirt. "We have all been taken, it seems, but we don't know by whom or why or where Colonel Sheppard, Major Lorne, or Sergeant Reletti are being held."

Nobody has said aloud that the ones who have the Ancient gene are the ones missing. It was obvious and just as obviously not good.

"They're like the Genii, except they've got better technology than we have," McKay says. "And they really, really don't like visitors."

McKay has seen their captors, been questioned by them, but he didn't learn anything useful. He says he didn't give them anything important, but Ronon's seen McKay under that kind of pressure and knows that he'd rather talk than either die or let his colleagues die.

Their routine of eating, sleeping, exercising, and fighting continues. McKay doesn't want to move, but eventually he is forced to by Safir and Teyla, who alternately bully and cajole him into exercising.

Reletti is returned next, disproving McKay's theory about the order being tied to importance and how Sheppard would be the next to join them. Reletti is in bad shape, dazed and only partially responsive and even McKay snaps out of his self-pity to help Safir after Ronon and Ortilla move Reletti to a corner. Reletti can't sit up by himself, tilting sharply when he tries and throwing up when he succeeds, and it takes two meals before he can keep more than mouthfuls of water down.

"If it's tied to the gene," McKay says quietly, "then what's Sheppard going to be like?"

They find out two days later: initially worse, but he improves faster than Reletti, who is now alert and able to eat and drink small amounts on his own.

"I've got experience with the wacky balance thing," Sheppard says after the first time he's able to keep food down. He's not nearly as well as he's pretending he is, but Safir seems willing to pretend along with him in a way he isn't with Reletti. It's more important for everyone's morale if Sheppard is seen to be better, Ronon supposes. "Pilot thing. Lorne'll be the same way."

They are assuming Lorne will be returned to them, but as the meals come and go and he isn't, the worry returns that maybe he won't. Neither Ronon nor Reletti remember much about the end of their battle against their unknown enemy, but while neither of them can recall any indication that Lorne was killed in the fight, the fact that he hasn't been brought back to them could be all of the proof they get.

Both Reletti and Sheppard sleep more than not and getting either of them to drink enough water and eat enough food takes everyone's attention. Which is not a bad thing, since time moves no faster with more people in the room.

When Lorne does return to them, he's the least impacted -- either Sheppard was right or Lorne simply hides his discomfort better than McKay.

With Lorne's arrival, the mood of the room improves. They don't know their intended fate, but the fact that they are all together has a far greater impact than the uncertainty. Now that they are together, they can begin to plot their escape in earnest.


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25 August, 2007