Title: When Universes Collide (Sheppard/Dex pre-slash)
Recipient's name: busaikko
The prompt or prompts used: (in no particular order) 1) canon AU (Daedalus Variations, Tao of Rodney, Vegas, Road Less Taken, etc.) 2) "speaking my language" 3) so... what exactly does a Specialist do? (bonus points if it's an unexpected specialization)
A/N: Sorry this is a bit late!!! I've had a devil of a time getting it to post properly. Hope you like it anyway, busaikko!!!
Ronon was the only one in the lab, and even if it felt like the walls were closing in, he wasn't alone. Over the radio, he could hear Sumner giving orders to his men, and Ford's and Lorne's teams were starting to spread out through the city, preparing for the very likely chance that this time, the shield would be breached. Zelenka and McKay were out on Pier 12, making yet another round of adjustments to the power relay that charged the F302's. Upstairs in the gate room, there were dozens of eyes watching nervously for the moment the Wraithlicators, already visible on the long-range sensors, breached transmission range. Fourteen levels down, Sheppard was climbing into the chair. The claustrophobia could wait.
He reset the sensors again, glaring at the readings. The hive ship was still just out of range, but it was close. As soon as - there it was - one fighter, swinging into range for no more than three seconds. Ronon blinked, but the system didn't, and his attention shot to the bottom of the screen.
The signal wasn't strong enough, yet, to get a lock, but it was enough to trigger the alarm, which bounced off the windowless walls of this dead-end lab, and drilled into his brain for lack of a better place to go.
It didn't actually feel like he was getting any air, in here, but his blaster was within arms reach, glowing on the stack of files next to his monitor. The transporter door was just five paces down the hallway outside; he could make any incursion site in the city in less than two minutes from here. . He had two means of escape if he needed them.
He wasn't trapped. He could damn well pay attention to the three darts skirting transmission range. He could be ready.
When he finally managed to snag a transmission, he immediately locked it down and began running it through the scrubbers. In another few minutes, he'd at least have a vague notion of what he'd be dealing with. As the file neared completion, he risked a glance back up at the ships' positions.
And that's when he saw it. A huge ship, sitting just within weapons range of the Wraithlicator hive.
It hadn't been there a minute ago- hadn't even existed in years- and over the radio, Weir, Chuck and McKay were already arguing about it.
Ronon left them to it, and went back to work.
Even before Michael's faction had aligned with the Replicators and started hybridizing, the Wraith/Replicator war had worn the universe down to nearly nothing. They'd even managed destroyed the Ancients in the crossfire, though the wars had focused each group's attention firmly enough on the other that the Ancients had survived much longer, and advanced much further, than they might have otherwise done. Regardless, all the ingenuity of the Ancients hadn't been enough to save them. Not that Ronon was currently in any position to cast aspersions.
The last hive update- six and a half weeks ago, the last time they'd attacked- had merely been an adjustment to their targeting systems. This time, though, Ronon couldn't even tell what kind of protocol he was looking at.
He already had filters up for any similarities to previous versions of code that the Queen AI might've used, but nothing significantly familiar was popping up. He ran the translation program, but already it was plainly obvious: it wasn't going to cut it.
"Ronon, what's the holdup?"
"Not looking at minor changes." He didn't bother to complain, not when Sumner was listening in, no doubt already on the lookout for a scapegoat for when this inevitably went sideways. He just printed up the first three scrubbed transmissions. "They've re-hybridized their keys at the very least. Gonna take some time."
Grabbing a pen, Ronon leaned back in his chair and began to read. The Ancient databases were powerful, yes, but the Ancients had been so far ahead of everyone else, in their day, that they hadn't actually needed to develop anything more advanced than elliptic curve cryptography.
They'd never undergone Code Specialist training. They'd never had the chance to combine their approaches with Earther SHA-7 standards. Most importantly, the databases didn't know how to think.
After a cursory scan, accounting for rotated characters, he only recognized about a fourth of the characters as being from Wraith or Replicator lexicons, which didn't bode well. Effectively, The Wrait'ors had managed to expand their lexicon by over seventy percent. Still. There was a logic to it somewhere. There always was.
And it was looking familiar.
"This is Sheppard." Ronon had been only dimly aware of the chatter on the line as he'd worked, he snapped to attention now. "Chair failed initiation tests. Awaiting orders, or, you know, McKay and some duct tape."
"Negative," Sumner barked. "Suit up and report to the flight deck. We keep them busy enough up there, we might save the drones for another day. And I want to know what the hell the Daedalus is doing up there besides drawing fire."
"McKay," Weir said, "Go down and see what you can do. Beckett, stand by for chair duty."
Ronon blinked and looked again at his pad, realizing that he'd started scrawling a familiar pattern the margins: The Wrait'ors had not only adopted characters that looked like High Talsa, they'd set up a basic character rotation based on third primes, skipping every seventh.
Ronon checked his math, and checked it again.
It wasn't exact, and he wasn't certain what the Talsan modifications meant for the Wrait'or script, but he entered his results into the database. There wasn't a filter for High Talsa, being as how the writing had only been developed a few hundred years ago and probably died out soon after the Talsa-Satedan Conflicts; he set the translation program to filter along their parameters. And then he held his breath.
He stared at the screen, hoping he was wrong, but the Daedalus that shouldn't have been there wasn't there any more, which meant that even though they'd been afforded some time, the Wrait'ors would be resuming their attack on the city at any moment.
He uploaded his results to upstairs screens and got on the radio, balling his fists so he wouldn't reach for his blaster. There'd be time for that in a minute; right now he had to relay the bad news.
"This is Ronon. Looks like they've found another way around our shield."
Weir's tone was one of cautious disbelief. "Ronon, repeat that?"
"Once they breach atmo, the fighters automatically start sending out a signal. Gotta check with McKay to be sure, but it looks like they-"
"They've disabled our shield?"
"No," McKay cut in; of course he'd already been working on it. "They've shielded their own energy capabilities. If I'm reading this right, they've figured out that birds can get through, so they're making themselves scan like them."
Which meant that Ronon's suspicions had been right. If the Wrait'ors decided to go for kamikaze dives, they'd meet no resistance at all. There was no point in hiding the frustrated groan; the whole city could hear, but he just didn't care right now. "This was a whole lot easier before the wraith drones had their survival instincts programmed out of them."
"Let's just hope they're not looking to lose those resources today," Weir said. "McKay, what d'you need?"
"I'm heading down to reset the shield sensors now. Zelenka, meet me there. Ronon. Send everything you've got to my tablet."
"Data, results, or the math?"
"All of it," McKay grumbled back. "Cause if you're wrong, I want to know as soon as possible so I can lord it over you for the remainder of what would surely be our seriously foreshortened lives."
The Wrait'ors weren't the type to adjust their code on the fly, and the translations were out of his hands, but Ronon's work wasn't done. He was merely changing gears, sliding his blaster into his holster and heading out the door. A sliver of the usual unease shifted; even though the corridor was only half the width of the lab, it was far longer, and there were multiple exits. It wasn't the dead end that the lab was. From here, he was only two doors away from being out in the open air.
He nearly jumped when his radio chirped twice, indicating that he was being hailed on a private channel.
He wasn't surprised to hear Sheppard's voice, he was suddenly anxious. It was no secret that Sheppard was literally one mistake away from being dishonorably discharged and sent back to Earth, and breaking communications protocols when Wraith were so close by would be the nail in the coffin, as far as Sumner was concerned. The excuse he'd been waiting for.
"Hey." He was careful to reply easily, wondering if this was a last-transmission scenario. That Sheppard was risking it because the chances of him surviving long enough to face Sumner's wrath were damningly nonexistent. "Sorry, venting atmosphere up here," Ronon imagined. "Been nice knowing you."
What Sheppard actually said wasn't much better. "Just thought I'd let you know... I think I'm gonna be late for dinner."
Ronon scowled as he tried to remember. They often ate together, but not always, and as far as he knew, they hadn't made specific plans, so it was likely that Sheppard was speaking in some sort of code. He knew the standard orders for the squadron- draw the enemy away from the city- but he couldn't tell, from down here, if Sheppard was checking in, or checking out. And if this was supposed to be some sort of code, Ronon didn't have the key.
He knew that the gates were capable of translating between thousands of different languages, and he'd been around Earthers long enough that he probably could've understood them without that assistance, by now. And anyway, it wasn't the words that gave him trouble. It was the silences in between, and what they might've meant. Even the smartest of the Ancients hadn't been able to account for that.
He coughed, hoping for clarification, not even sure that he was asking the right question. "How late?"
"Dunno. But I'm heading out of direct range in a minute, here."
"Okay." Ronon had already changed course for the gate room, because he needed to know, but he kept his tone light, casual. "Come find me when you land." There'd been a time, four years ago, now, when he would've hated himself for not saying more, or even hinting that he wanted to, but the feeling had been too new, too much to even contemplate back then. He hadn't known, when he'd first arrived, if it was real, or if he'd merely been overreacting to basic human kindness. So he'd said nothing, and Sheppard had come back.
And then Sheppard had come back again, and again, and Ronon wasn't one for superstition, but this, he held back like a shield.
"Will do. Sheppard out." He didn't sound afraid, but then, John Sheppard never sounded afraid.
But he had risked a hell of a lot, just to tell him nothing at all.
Ronon had, three years ago, been the one to make the recommendation that there all fighter communications be relayed back to Atlantis through only one F302 channel during fights, in order to narrow the chances that one of their transmissions got caught by enemies in the area. It had been the first time- and still, one of the very, very few- that Sumner had reacted to any of his ideas with anything other than outright disdain.
Right now, though, Ronon was cursing himself for it. It was hard to tell who'd been hit when the shouting came over through the radio, but he'd gotten better at it since the first time he'd heard it. And then, suddenly, it was easy to tell who'd been hit, because suddenly, the transmission died completely and none of the other fighters were picking up the relay. They might not have noticed it was down, yet.
At best, Sumner was dead in the water.
Ronon quashed the traitorous feeling of relief that followed the realization. Sumner's job was to protect the city, not to trust the offworlders who lived in it. And even if it had been five years since Ronon had come on board, he'd spent six years as a Runner, first. He hadn't been all that quick to trust, either.
Nobody said anything for a long moment, then Weir coughed, quietly. "Teyla, is everyone ready?"
"We are," came the reply, and on Weir's go-ahead, Teyla appeared from downstairs, carrying Torren. Behind her came Kanan and two dozen assorted Athosians, who always looked a little dazed whenever they were allowed into the main parts of the city. They were quickly joined by the rest of the non-emergency personnel.
Ronon went down to help with the staging, but nobody said anything as they listened for word- for anything- from above, and it only took a few minutes to prepare. They'd done this twice in the past three months alone.
It didn't stop Teyla from grabbing his arm and standing on her toes. "I wish you well, Ronon Dex."
"You too," he said. He'd trained himself not to look too hard at the frustration in her face. She'd never resented him, not that he could tell- she knew as well as he did that he was only allowed to stay on during emergencies was because of his technical training- but the Athosians' repeated requests to stay and assist in the fights had been struck down every single time. "Bring everyone back safe."
Never mind the fact that the Earthers' numbers were dwindling. Never mind the fact that the Athosians, like most people, had been fighting the wraith and the replicators for centuries. They weren't Earthers, and they, like Ronon, were just visitors, here.
He could barely hear her sigh as the gate crashed open behind her. "We shall return, as we always do." There was a chance, some time, that they'd think better of it. And if it weren't for Weir, and the friends they'd managed to make here, they probably would have, by now.
"You'd better," Ronon nodded. It wasn't the first time he'd contemplated following them through the gate the moment Sumner returned, but she and Kanan were already moving up the ramp. As they stepped through, the uneasiness returned in full force. He was the only non-Lantean in the city, now, and though he tried, he had none of Teyla's diplomatic tact. Though Pegasus natives weren't allowed on Earther expedition teams, his Code Specialist rank had made him useful- even welcome- to some. But right now, his two strongest allies were elsewhere, leaving him here, alone. Trapped.
They moved quickly, and within four minutes, all the civilians were cleared. He pretended he couldn't feel the walls closing in as he watched the last of them walk through the gate. The reservation levels would be empty, now, and but for him, would remain so until they returned. He wouldn't even have the muted noises of life on the other side of his room's walls to keep him distracted, tonight.
On the other hand, for the first time in weeks, he wouldn't have to dodge witnesses as he slipped outside to sleep on the pier, either.
Ronon tapped his radio twice, breaking communications protocols and taking a chance on an open channel.
"Lorne, it's Ronon. Got anywhere you need me to be?" Outside, preferably, he very nearly added. It was always easier to ask when Sumner wasn't on the line; Lorne, Sheppard, and Ford, at least, didn't have the same reservations about him, or the Athosians, as Sumner did. Had. For the moment, at least, no repercussions would come from his inserting himself where he didn't belong, or from their letting him.
"Depends," Lorne replied. "How's McKay coming on the shields?"
"Already uploaded the adjustments. Minor power fluctuation, nothing serious. Could've been done twenty minutes ago if our Specialist hadn't decided that running linear cryptanalysis on parchment was the way to go-"
"McKay," Lorne warned "I know you're actually from Earth, you mind speaking the language?"
"He says it's working," Ronon cut in.
"See, how hard was that, McKay? At least someone here speaks my language."
Whatever response McKay made was lost in a crash of noise. Someone had taken up Sumner's relay.
"Uh, yeah," Sheppard's words were faint, slightly scrambled in the static, and what followed made little sense. "Daedalus ... uh, this is Daedalus, come in."
More clearly, Sheppard's voice seemed to answer himself. "Who? Who is this?"
"It's a long story."
Ronon frowned. The fainter reply meant it was being relayed through the F302, but that wasn't the problem. The fact that both parties sounded exactly like Sheppard, though? He didn't know what to do with it.
"Well, whoever you are, you saved our asses when you took out their main weapons. We figured the least we could do is return the favor."
"Much appreciated!" There came a slight pause, followed by a startled, "Oh, crap."
Ronon could hear the shots being fired, and eventually, he could hear Sheppard's voice again. "Sorry about that. One of 'em got through. Nice shooting, though."
"Oh, thanks!" The sarcasm was dead on, even through the static. There were definitely two Sheppards up there. Ronon looked up at Charlie, who shrugged, eyes wide. McKay was staring at his tablet, furious. It was impossible to tell if he was even paying attention.
The fighting continued long enough that Ronon wasn't entirely sure which Sheppard was speaking when one of them said, "all right, looks like that's the last of 'em. So, uh, so what happens now?
"Well, we go our own ways." The response was faint. The other Sheppard, then.
It wasn't that Ronon had any sort of claim staked, but it was his Sheppard who replied, "just like that?"
"Well, the thing is, we do have a few questions," Sheppard said. "See, the Daedalus we know was destroyed two years ago in a battle with Replicators."
"Sorry to hear that, but this isn't exactly our Daedalus. We're just ... borrowing it for a while."
"...OK, I have no idea what that means."
"Like I said, it's a long story."
There was another pause, and Ronon didn't know if he was the only one waiting to hear what orders were given, or if he was the only one surprised that instead, Sheppard relented. "All right, Daedalus, good luck."
"Thank you, Colonel. And one last thing: it's been a pleasure... You're obviously a man of great integrity here, and a dedicated commander, and a very skilled pilot."
"Well, that's funny. I was gonna say the same to you."
Up in the gate room, just as the radio silence was growing awkward, Charlie coughed. "The Daedalus has disappeared again."
"No kidding," Sheppard replied, sounding dazed. "You guys get all that?"
"In a moment," Weir answered, scowling. "More importantly, what of the Wrait'ors?"
"Oh. Yeah. Got a few that look like they're just dead in the water, we're gonna go take care of 'em. Back soon. Bad news, though, as I'm guessing you've already figured..."
"Sumner got hit."
"Yeah, so. Everyone?" It sounded like he was about to say something momentous; he was merely giving orders to the other pilots. "ATA carriers and I are going to head down and grab the jumpers. To those remaining, I want you on lookout, but survey what you can for triage as you do so. Ellison, take over the relay."
Ellison's voice came on the line, strong and clear. "Copy that."
"We'll leave a light on for you," Weir said. "Be careful"
"Always am," Sheppard replied, then snorted. "Least. As far as I know."
Ronon waited out on the catwalk above the brightly lit flight deck as the shield came down. One by one, the 302s began swooping in to land, one after the other.
He'd taken out his earpiece, but it was easy enough to read the activity from up here. The ATA carriers were clambering out of the 302s and heading towards the transporters. In a matter of moments, they'd be boarding the jumpers, running their flight tests, and heading back up to work on the recovery. The pilots weren't going to have much time between flights, which was why Ronon was surprised to hear the door swooshing open and footsteps on the catwalk behind him.
"How'd it go down here?"
"Fine." He straightened, turning around to look at Sheppard. "What's up?"
"Weir wants me down in the conference room, so Carson's taking the lead up there. Told her I'd be there in five."
Ronon nodded, again leaning over the railing. "Today. All that... it was weird."
"Not half as weird as things are gonna get," Sheppard mirrored his position next to him. "But yeah. Did you hear- did that sound like-"
"Which is weird, right?" Sheppard shook his head, then glanced up. "Wonder who was up there with him."
Ronon didn't say that he'd been wondering the same thing. "Could've been a lot of people. Big ship."
"Yeah." Sheppard squinted up at him. "Teyla?"
Ronon wasn't sure why he was so disappointed that Sheppard singled her out. It was a valid assumption. The two of them were close friends, always had been. It wasn't surprising that he'd assumed she'd be there.
But he didn't know why Sheppard was looking impatient with him now, until- oh. Sheppard hadn't been answering him, he'd been asking a question.
"She's offworld with the others. How long you think it's gonna take to get them back this time?"
Sheppard shrugged. "We'll send a transmission, after, see what she thinks."
Weir's first order of business, after making the announcements, had been to call everyone back to Atlantis and pull Teyla into her office. It was no secret what they'd been talking about- Weir had been pushing for the integration of non-Earthers into the fabric of Atlantis for ages, and for the time being, at least, there was no-one to override the decision to open up the borders of the reservation. She'd even radioed Ronon to arrange a meeting about his living arrangements.
"It's well past time we got you a room with a view," was all that she'd said. "Come see me in my office tomorrow morning."
Teyla had filled in the rest, after. "She believes it best to act quickly, before the IOA arrives to make their recommendations next week. She believes that while they would most likely prefer to stay the course that Sumner has plotted, they are too spineless to challenge her authority too brazenly."
He'd wait and see. Weir had always tried to do right by everyone. And maybe, with Sumner gone, they'd let her.
It was late enough that Sheppard was probably risking another demerit by even being out here past curfew. Or he would've been, if it weren't for the fact that Sumner was no longer around to write it up.
And truth be told, it was a little telling that the entire city- Athosians, military, and civilians alike- was still gathered down in the cafeteria, eating, drinking, laughing. Ronon had stopped in for a few minutes himself before making himself scarce, wary of the sheer force of their relief. It had been palpable, and though everyone had been perfectly willing to admit the extent of it, nobody had gone so far as to explain the exact reasons for it. They'd lived through battles before, ones worse than this, and the celebrations had never been so intense.
He'd found himself, halfway through his third glass of Ruus wine, to flat-out asking Zelenka if they'd been celebrating because they'd survived the day, or because they'd survived Sumner.
Ronon had never been one for "what-if." Had he been otherwise, he wouldn't have applied for the Code Specialist track back in training. Even then, as far as he'd been concerned, open-ended questions were best left unanswered, and guessing at what could've been would just drive a person mad.
The years in between then and now hadn't changed his mind in the slightest, and so it followed that he wasn't a fan of discussing things like alternate dimensions. The conversation came up often enough- not surprising, given the number of physicists staying in Atlantis. Often, though, the scientific discussion would ease into something else- what they wanted for themselves and couldn't have, or what they were afraid of.
All Ronon ever pictured, whenever the question was put to him, were the thousands of ways they'd probably already died. Kirsan fever. The fall of Sateda. Every close call and near miss that could've gone the slightest bit differently.
When McKay was drunk enough to admit ever contemplating something so trivial, he'd talk about Sam Carter or Nobel prizes. Teyla would talk of a life free of the wraith, or one more rife with them. Sheppard's response, when asked what life he'd most likely have, would change according to his mood. He'd be flying choppers in Antarctica, or a detective somewhere warm, or working at an amusement park. Once, when he'd probably still had Sumner's shouts ringing in his ears, he'd sneered, rolled his eye, and said "dishonorably discharged and happy as hell."
It really wasn't so bad, sitting out on the pier and realizing that the Sheppard sitting next to him wasn't the only one in existence.
"You think there's another Sumner out there, sitting on the Daedalus and yelling at the other you right now?"
"No." Sheppard tipped back his beer. "If there's any justice in the universe- multiverse, whatever- then the other Sumner is a traffic cop in Los Angeles, and therefore unable to say shit about anything. Other Me is probably hanging out with Other You right now, drinking beer on the Daedalus's observation deck." It was a nice thought, if an odd one; Ronon had no idea why he'd be on board a ship in the first place. "And before you say it, yes. You'd be allowed on board."
Ronon rolled his eyes, remembering the one trip he'd taken on the Daedalus- their Daedalus- before it had been destroyed. Earth and back again, for his first IOA assessment. He'd been under orders to sleep in his windowless bunk at night, same as here, but the room had been small, the metal walls had creaked whenever the sublight engines were running, and there'd been no escaping it. No catwalks or hidden balconies, no sky or open air. It had been horrible.
"Allowed?" Ronon glanced dubiously at Sheppard. "You mean drafted, right?"
"Other Me is probably the charismatic leader type. He'd have talked you into it, no problem."
Ronon raised his eyebrows, pondering it. "Charismatic leader type?"
"Least I hope so. Sure as hell ain't my skill set in this reality." Sheppard admitted, and Ronon could've predicted the shrug that followed. "Though I guess I'm gonna have to learn now, aren't I?"
One of these days, he was going to grab Sheppard by the shoulders and just shake him until years of Sumner's bullshit fell right off of him.
The impetus was there- to speak, to say more, but Ronon held his tongue, turning instead towards the water. Maybe Other Ronon would manage to try, here, now, or maybe some superstitions were universal. But for all he knew, this was the universe where it needed to be said.
He shifted his weight, nudging his arm against Sheppard's.
"You'll do fine."
Regardless of all of his cryptography and lexicon training, there almost definitely wasn't a universe where he'd ever been good enough with actual words. And there probably wasn't a universe where he was actually fond of enclosed spaces, but if one existed where he was an outright coward, he didn't want it to be this one.
"Look," he tried again. "You got my ass out of that wraith pod-"
"That was five years ago, Ronon- you don't owe me-"
"I know. And besides, if I had, killing that wraith queen before she killed Sumner would've made us even." Privately, Ronon held the suspicion that letting Sumner die might've been better repayment, but he wasn't about to say so. "But you guys got me out of there, put a gun in my hand before you even knew me, and let me fight my way out along with the rest of you."
"That could just be Stockholm Syndrome."
Ronon almost let the comment pass. He found himself unable to look Sheppard in the eye. "I'm not gonna lie and say that everything's been perfect, but you were the first person I'd trusted in six years. That's why I came with you. I stayed because I've never not trusted you, and I don't see how that's gonna change."
Sheppard's answering grin was tight and awkward, and it felt like a warning. If Ronon pushed it any more, he'd say too much, and the deal that he'd made with himself would be broken. As long as he remained quiet- as long as there were still things he needed to say- Sheppard would come back to hear them.
And besides. It beat feeling like he'd just told Sheppard something that he hadn't wanted to hear.
Things moved quickly over the next few weeks. Weir overhauled the policies guiding the housing and working arrangements of non-Earthers on Atlantis. Sheppard spent days in meetings with Lorne and Ford, changing military protocols which, he joked, would probably have him court-martialed if they ever got back to Earth.
If Sheppard ever thought about what Ronon had said back out on the pier, he never let on, and honestly, Ronon was relieved, not that he had much time to dwell on it. Weir had signed off on three dozen pages of backlogged technology upgrades that Sumner hadn't seen fit to allow. The residential quarters were being rearranged to allow for the integration of the Athosians; moving everyone into their new rooms was taking days.
Now that it no longer had to be kept under wraps, the hand-to-hand and bantos training sessions he and Teyla led had tripled in size, and Lorne was likewise running assessments for the dozen new prospective offworld team members. They were surprisingly intense.
Which was why Ronon was exhausted enough that he'd been in danger of falling asleep during dinner, and why he'd retired to his room before the sun had even gone down. It had been eight days since he'd snuck out to sleep on the pier. The ability to actually to actually see the sun, through the windows and door in his new quarters, was still enough of a novelty that he didn't even mind staying indoors, even if it meant that he spent too many hours just staring out at the water.
Nevertheless, he was dozing when the door chimed.
Sheppard was standing on the other side, and Ronon only now realized that he hadn't seen him in three days.
"Just wanted to see how you're liking your new digs," he said, once he'd stepped inside. He was checking the corners, but it only would've been notable were he not doing so.
"They're fine. Good."
"Good." Sheppard winced. "I'm glad."
"Did you want something?" It came out too harsh, but the words weren't untangling themselves. "I mean. Not that it's not good to see you." It earned him a half-grin, at least.
It seemed to take Sheppard a long time to answer, which was telling enough.
"Just. Been wondering. Lots of things changing around here, you know?"
"And I just now realized something." Sheppard always grinned stiffly whenever he was lying; it was likely that he'd been actually putting this off for days. "We never actually asked for your input about any of it."
It suddenly felt very likely that Weir had given him the order to ask.
"About the changes?"
"They're good." If it wasn't, he would've left by now. The realization that he now had the ability to move that freely was still sinking in.
Sheppard rolled his eyes, and the fake smile dropped from his face. "I figured you might say that. But seriously. We went through, set all this stuff up, and didn't even ask you and Teyla whether you still even wanted to stay on."
"Why wouldn't we? We weren't actually prisoners, you know." Only that wasn't exactly true, and Sheppard knew it as well as he did.
"You sure about that? I mean. Officially, yeah, but... I don't know about you, but if I'd been grounded for years on end, I might be looking to take a sabbatical."
"Leave of absence," Sheppard clarified, staring resolutely past Ronon's shoulder. Trying too hard to convince him that he didn't care, didn't have an opinion.
"Not really sure where I'd go," he began, then hurried to move past it before Sheppard could get that look on his face. Sateda was gone- ten years now, and all the sympathy in the world wasn't going to bring it back. "Don't really have any reason to want to, anymore, anyway."
"Yeah?" Sheppard grin crept back, looking real this time. Pleased, almost embarrassed; his hands were jammed in his pockets. "Because if you're really not interested in joining my off-world team, I could always ask Halling-"
"I'm in," Ronon took half a step towards him, and didn't speak until Sheppard's eyes met his, not giving him the chance to evade. Not giving either of them the chance. He spoke simply, plainly as he could manage. "If you're giving me the choice, I wanna go where you go."
"Yeah?" It was hard to be certain, but it seemed that Sheppard was leaning in towards him, and he didn't move away when Ronon took another step closer.
"Yeah," he said, and Sheppard's hand was on his arm, just barely touching him, and it was making him stupid and brave, and he leaned down. "Pretty much."
"Good." Sheppard spoke quietly, the words not having far to go, and Ronon could feel them move against his own lips.
There might've been a universe where he'd said no. It just wasn't going to be this one.