Originally Posted: Sep. 21st, 2006
Length/Rating: 1,100 words, PG, Gen
Summary: A mission goes badly wrong and the team struggles to reunite. (This fanfic is a collection of 11 drabbles strung together. It includes the previously posted drabble “Songs of Home” and a split version of the follow-up “Family.”) (AU: The Short End of Forever)
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There are no routine missions, not for Sheppard’s team, so when they are ambushed in the long-abandoned corridors of an ancient city they respond on reflex; Teyla and Rodney falling back while John and Ronon create suppressing fire that buys them time to run. Then it’s full speed ahead through unexplored ruins because if they can’t go back, they have to go forward. A dash of words in some forgotten language leads them to a room that might have been a hangar. And it was, of sorts, the unfamiliar silhouettes of alien ships lined in ragged rows like pottery soldiers.
Rodney and Teyla are already climbing inside, scrambling for the seats, as John’s hand touches the door and floods the craft with life. There’s room for five, more than enough even with Rodney’s ancient doodads, scavenged from the ruins.
And he turns, reaching for his gun, their pursuers flooding the room through demolished doors. A tide that breaks in the face of Ronon’s unexpected firepower, scattering behind the tumbled wreckage. For a moment, in the adrenaline rush of finding cover and returning fire, they don’t notice that the ship has vanished; snapped away as soon as John let go.
It’s a failsafe, John learns later, for escape pods built by a civilization at war. There are a thousand possible destinations, and no way to track which one it chose at random. A thousand gateless planets scattered across a galaxy they don’t have the equipment to explore.
They spend the first few weeks in frantic computation, winnowing the field as best they can, reluctant to discard any possibility unless they’re sure. So they prioritize, the closest planets first then out in widening rings. The Daedalus will help, but she’s one ship and there are other tasks that need her more.
“Well this is just–”
What it was, Rodney never settled on. It changed from day to day, depending on weather and mood. Teyla, more optimistic, dragged him out of his depressions. Had they not survived that harrowing drop from a shifted orbit, perfect a thousand years ago? And if they were greeted less than enthusiastically by ragged descendants of similar ships, it was a minor setback only. She’d talked them down soon enough, even through the pain of a shattered leg and the rantings of a more severely injured Rodney.
They’d survived, and where there was life, hope thrived.
Ronon and John are soldiers. They understand the realities of war, sacrifices of necessity that keep them all alive. When the search is cut back to unmanned probes and word of mouth they don’t complain. They’ve still got a war to fight, even without Rodney and his prickly brilliance, Teyla and her knack for nurturing their diplomatic bonds. And if Atlantis stumbles at their loss, they recover quickly, with new drive to end the war and return to more important things.
No one objects when Ronon leaves, returning like a cat, to rest, restock, and compare notes before vanishing again.
There’s a deep green pool in the heart of the valley where the survivors live. Every morning as the pale sunlight picks shadows from darkness, Teyla limps to the edge and sings the planet awake. Rodney calls it foolish superstition, but it’s how the Athosians have always lived, and it’s how she lives now. Here.
Every morning, when her song is done, Rodney wanders sleepily out of the cave and reminds her that John is coming any day now. And he sits by the radio, cobbled together from the wreckage of alien ships, singing his own song to the stars.
“Why do you want to know?” Asked in a hundred languages over the years, some in suspicion, some in sympathetic worry.
And that’s enough. The word is layered with all the meaning they need, friend and foe alike gave way before it. Ronon learns, slowly, which worlds on the battered list are already explored. Which ones trade with those few races still clinging to intrasystem ships. Which worlds are close enough to targets that he can launch the probes, saving years of dangerous travel from Atlantis outwards.
The list grows shorter as time rolls on, but never short enough.
They’ve developed a sort of symbiosis, melding strengths and weaknesses into an unfamiliar whole. The others have learned to lean on them, pulling from that combined reserve of strength. Letting them slowly shape the colony into a thriving society built on Teyla’s hopes and Rodney’s dreams.
They’ve modified the caves, as Rodney coaxes life from parts of long-dead ships and scavenged tech from the city that banished them. With new eyes and hope they watch the skies for any sign of life, praying into the starlit void.
But some days Rodney must remind them, curtly, that John always comes.
Ronon barrels through the gate, grabbing John and pausing only when he’s found Elizabeth. He grabs her too, ignoring raised eyebrows and John’s sarcastic banter. Dropping them in front of Zelenka, he hands over papers stained with oil, grease, and something a shade too dark for blood.
By the way Zelenka’s eyes go wide and bright, they don’t have to ask what he’s found. Two trips ago he caught the scent of a way to skip from point to point, a mimicry of ships lying in rows a world away.
And once again, the scientists start building hope.
Lost years collapsing to a single heartbeat; for a moment they were themselves again. Rodney complaining of the wait, deconstructing the not-jumper they’d arrived in. Teyla greeting Elizabeth, sister-queens who put aside their royalty to wash away lost time in joyous tears. Ronon quieter, darker than he’d ever been, just watching; until Rodney looked up from where he knelt with John, saw something that Rodney-past would’ve overlooked.
“It wasn’t your fault you idiot.”
Six words eclipsing three years of the same thing said by everyone he couldn’t believe. Ronon smiles, faintly, as carried grief is finally set aside.
And now their world is whole again. It’s a different sort of unity, battered and worn by the loss of years, but even with the changes they’re still family underneath.
Atlantis, shimmering, greets them from her perch among the waves. The deep waters now a final resting place for Wraith and Humans both, lost in that last bloody stand. From the ship Rodney and Teyla can see her scars, but they don’t ask; there’ll be time enough to find out who won’t be there to meet them. Floating in memoriam to everything they’ve missed, the city welcomes them home again.