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Stargate Atlantis Gen Ficathon
Annual genfic festival
Friendship, Week 2: Syzygy (1/2) 
6th-Apr-2008 09:01 pm
Team-genficathon
Title: Syzygy
Author: naye
Prompt: Weather or elements
Rating: PG
Word Count: 15,000
Warnings/Spoilers: Set in early season three, after Misbegotten
Summary: Rodney, Ronon, and a day that begins with a land tsunami, and goes downhill from there.
Author's note: I'm incredibly grateful to xparrot for helping me smooth out the story's rough edges, and for handing me the tools to give my words a little extra shine. This story wouldn't have been the same without gnine's cheerleading and participation in long-distance emergency plot conferences. And it wouldn't have happened at all if it wasn't for sholio's organizing the ficathon, and encouraging me to join!



This wasn't fair, Rodney managed to think as he tumbled through the cold, salty water like a sock in a washing machine. Life-sucking aliens and evil hostage-taking, knife-wielding kidnappers he survived, only to have a land tsunami pounce him and drag him to a painful death? Land tsunami for god's sake, there shouldn't be land tsunamis -- but here it was, wonderful discovery, really interesting, except for how it was going to kill him any second now.

Add M4S-210 to the long, long lists of planets in the Pegasus galaxy that had it in for one Doctor Rodney McKay. It was a planet of towering black peaks under slate-colored skies.In the valley between the mountains, a wide, monochrome swath of rounded rocks and boulders stretched as far as the eye could see, except behind the gate, where the cliffs took a steep drop into a gray ocean. More importantly, it was a planet of randomly attacking land tsunamis.

It had come from across that wide plain of stones, though Rodney hadn't really noticed it when it was just a dark ribbon low on the horizon. Especially not since he had been squirming around under the DHD at the time, up to his elbows in its crystalline intestines. There was something different about its composition, a fascinating anomaly in the energy signals detected by the MALP, and confirmed when Rodney had opened it up to find several additions to the standard crystal banks. He'd had Sheppard and Teyla working on the gate itself, going over it with measuring equipment, recording the readings for the team of scientists who would be back here as soon as Rodney figured out what he was looking at, and which people he would need.

Ronon had been the furthest from the gate, checking out their surroundings. Supposedly watching their backs, though to be fair, there was very little even Ronon could do against a shallow, fast-moving sea. Plus, while Rodney was working very hard to not have his last thoughts be about what he did wrong and Ronon did right, Ronon had warned them. Sort of. Rodney had simply assumed that "Watch out, there's water coming." wasn't all that bad -- water trickling in from distant rains or something. Maybe going to get their feet wet, maybe even force them back to Atlantis for dry clothes.

It was only when it drew near with the speed of a charging rhino and the hiss and roar of angry snakes fighting equally pissed-off lions, rattling the heavy boulders like so many grains of sand, that the magnitude of the phenomenon became obvious.

At least he had managed to get Sheppard and Teyla back to safety. Here the tsunami itself had helped, literally sweeping the struggling colonel off his feet and into the gate to Atlantis that Rodney had managed to dial open, before he lost his own footing and tools and any sense of what was up and down. Teyla had seemed equally tempted to throw her grasp of basic physics to the wind and dive headlong into the billions of tons of water that were crushing down on Rodney, but Ronon had yelled something -- Rodney hadn't heard what, he'd been too busy doing his own screaming at the time -- and then she was gone, too. Back to Atlantis, Rodney really didn't want to consider any other possibilities.

Which left Ronon, last seen charging toward the gate; and himself, floating gracefully as a turnip in the sudden, raging sea. Boulders flashed by over his feet and under his head and his eyes were stinging and his nose was burning and he was gulping down more water than air.

Rodney had been dragged under again, his BDU and tac vest wet lead molded to his body, making him sink. Tugged against a rock, he kicked, since his feet happened to be underneath him at that moment. The kick sent him bobbing up like a less-than-buoyant cork, and that was when he knew he was really dead and this was not fair.

A surprise sea he might have survived, but the improvised waterfall off the cliffs half a klick from the gate meant certain, watery doom. And that was exactly where he was headed right now -- him and the rest of the water, gushing towards the tall drop into the roaring ocean, the permanent ocean, too far below.

The edge was there, right there, foaming and frothing. On Earth people paid to see pretty waterfalls from a safe distance, but this was not pretty, it was horrible and terrifying, and no amount of thrashing could convince the monstrous current not to toss him over the edge like a chewed up piece of gum through the window of a speeding car.

Rodney was going over, he was going to die, it was shockingly clear to him, and it was stupid and he was going to get smashed. A pointless, painful death -- and something did smash into him, along with all that water, something soggy and softer than a rock, though almost as solid, and it said "Got you". There were wet dreadlocks whipping about his head, and Rodney felt strong arms wrap tightly around him, another body pressed so close that he couldn't even open his mouth to speak Ronon's name -- it was all going too fast, falling together towards the roiling surface below with spray rushing up with a whistle of wind in his ears. They were crushed between the two roaring oceans, pulled under, and there were bubbles, white bubbles and red pain and a silent blue darkness that swallowed them whole.

* * * * *


Rodney woke with his head feeling as if his skull was being crushed between a rock and a hard place. Everything was extremely uncomfortable; he was shivering, and each shiver that racked his body sent a sharp spike of pain through his pounding head. The pain wormed its way through the rest of his body, gnawing dully at every nerve.

This was not good. He couldn't even hold on to the vague hope that the damned land tsunami had been nothing but a bad dream brought on by the disastrous combination of coffee and ruus wine, because dreams didn't hurt, and the Athosians knew about the importance of warm beds.

On the bright side, he didn't think he was dead, which was a point in this scenario's favor. A very, very small point. Rodney really didn't want to open his eyes, because he was pretty sure what he would see would make the point so minuscule as to need a microscope to count it. But what was he -- man or ostrich?

Mole, maybe. Rodney blinked. No, his eyes were open. It was just that dark, wherever he was. Could be night. Hadn't been night before, he didn't think, but he could always hope. Dark, and cold, and hard -- oh, god. He was in a dungeon. It even smelled like a dungeon -- damp, with lots of less pleasant undertones that made nausea spike in his gut. He moved to wrap his arms around his shaking body, and his hands brushed a wall about three inches from his nose. Hard stone. Hard, dank stone. Roughly hewn, and radiating a deep chill.

If he was a nose-length away from the stuff, he was probably lying down on it, too. No wonder his back hurt. With a groan, Rodney tried to shove upright. His muscles weren't really cooperating, stiff and sore and feeling for all the world like they'd been ripped out and replaced with old, worn-out elastic bands. There was a lot of trembling going on, he noticed with vague disapproval. And pain, too, unspecified pain all over.

Right then, his mind kicked into a slightly higher gear than what a lame donkey could manage, and he realized there were a lot of things he needed to think about. For one -- how had he gone from dying horribly from drowning and tumbling down a waterfall, to being in a dungeon? There was that, and then -- Rodney's muscles all locked in place. Not him -- them. The last thing he could remember was Ronon grabbing him, falling together, since Ronon had gone for a spectacular superhero dive, only to fail on the triumphant superhero flying away from danger. That part Ronon really needed to practice more. But -- Ronon had been there, right there, and now?

Another groan, and Rodney managed to force his body to sit upright. He squinted into the darkness. A vague, blue light spilled in from somewhere up on Rodney's left -- from behind bars, of course. A small window, high up and set with bars, because this was a dungeon. A cell in a dungeon in which he was locked up. Locked up, but still busy -- he had teammates to find (well, hopefully just the one) and injuries to catalog. He swallowed, hard. Panic could wait.

Wide open fields, he thought, forcing his mind to accept that this room was much bigger than a sinking jumper. What faint blue light came through the tiny was absorbed by the darkness before it reached the hard cell floor, so it was impossible to judge the cell's size. But it was definitely not that small. No. Not small at all. And hadn't he been busy?

"Ronon?" Ow. That was barely a croak. How could his throat feel so dry, after all that water? He cleared it, making a harsh sound, and tried again. "Ronon?" The lack of reply made a a bunch of things inside him tighten up, as if his existing internal organs had been shoved aside to make room for a whole new organ designed to move this icy, panicky feeling around his body more efficiently.

Rodney hesitated, gathered his courage. It would make no sense to have a big hole in the middle of a cell, right? There would be nothing waiting to send him down a chute to a secret oubliette. It would be perfectly safe to move. Moving would be better than this straining his ears listening for some kind of reply. If there had been one, he might have missed it, if Ronon was -- sleeping, or over in the next cell, or something.

It wasn't impossible, because there was background noise here -- halfway familiar, but all wrong. Water, maybe, and the hum of power or lots of voices talking, he couldn't be sure. There was the fast beating of his own heart -- too fast, that really couldn't be good -- and his own shivery breathing. Which -- echoed? Was he imagining things, or were those slow breaths coming from somewhere through the dark?

"Ronon?" Rodney winced as he shifted his weight onto his hands and knees. His pain was becoming more eloquent, and one of his knees was really getting into the whole thing, throbbing with gusto as he felt his way across the rough stone floor. "Ronon, I really, really hope that's you," he muttered. 'Things that live in dark holes in the Pegasus galaxy' was a list he'd really rather not consider right now.

No reply. It was aggravating. "Hey, Ronon! Ronon, you can wake up now." Rodney must have shuffled his way across a good two or three meters now -- the light overhead was at a different angle, which he would be able to estimate more accurately once his head stopped pounding so damn much.

His eyes were finally adjusting to the impressively dim light in here, because by now he could make out a solid black backdrop to the general darkness -- the wall on the other side of the cell. He anxiously scanned the bottom of it for a big lump of sleeping Satedan.

Rodney's eyes caught on another faint light. It was the regular, hairline outline a door, and below that -- blocking the bottom part of the rectangle, making it easier to make out -- was a shape that looked familiar even under these dismal lighting conditions.

Crawling wasn't fast, and Rodney somehow forgot how important breathing was. By the time he'd gotten to Ronon's side and felt a pulse under the tentative fingers he'd put on his teammate's neck, he was seeing brighter spots swimming around the darkness. His sigh of relief turned into a gulp, interrupted by his lungs' demand for air. "A pulse, you've got a pulse -- that's good, keep doing that."

Ronon's skin felt cold and clammy -- sort of like Rodney's own. Dungeons, he reminded himself. They'd do that. He frowned. There was something else he should probably be remembering, something he should be noticing, but the strong, steady beat under his fingers was oddly distracting. The breathing too -- he could hear it more clearly now, and it was definitely the sound of air going in and out of Ronon's lungs. "Good. Breathing. Breathing is good."

For a little while, he just sat there next to Ronon, feeling Ronon's heartbeat and his own, listening to their breathing. Once he felt confident that they both had the hang of beating hearts and breathing lungs, he decided that waking up would be a good next step. And not just for Ronon -- for both of them. This headache was making him all fuzzy around the edges, like he was trying to see his own thoughts through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. But at least he was making an effort, sitting up and all. He told Ronon as much, and stressed how important it was to wake up, but it wasn't until he shook the sleeping man lightly by the shoulder that Ronon decided to pay attention.

Ronon woke up the same way Ronon did a lot of other things -- silently, and quite violently. There was no warning. One moment Ronon was doing his best impression of a sack of potatoes, the next his hands were around Rodney's neck.

"Stop it, let go, it's me," Rodney choked, batting at Ronon's obscenely muscular arms.

"McKay?" The grip around Rodney's throat eased a little.

"Yes! Let me go!"

The pressure disappeared. "Sorry."

Rodney coughed. He didn't think his windpipe had gotten completely crushed. "No, that's all right. Waking up in a dungeon makes me homicidal, too."

"Yeah."

Rodney felt more than saw Ronon slump back against the door. Squinting, he could just make out Ronon's head tilted a little forward, his arms at an awkward sort of angle over his chest. "Are you okay? Are you hurt? How did we get here?"

Ronon's head came up, his eyes glittering strangely in the dimness. "You don't remember?"

"Remember what?"

"They brought us here," Ronon said by way of non-explanation.

"Who? What?"

"McKay. You were there."

"I was?"

"Yeah."

Rodney's brain scrambled to catch up with this new information. "What? Wait. I was awake for this?"

Ronon paused. "Seemed like it."

"Oh. Okay." No, wait. That was not okay. "Oh, no. Oh, no, I've got amnesia. This is bad -- antegrade amnesia, could be a serious concussion -- look at my pupils!"

"McKay!" Ronon growled, and Rodney realized he'd been hearing his name for a little while now.

"Right. It's dark. Do you have any of your gear?" Rodney froze. Did he have any of his gear himself? He patted himself down, feeling torn, damp cloth and not much else. His vest was gone, the pockets of his BDU empty. Well. This certainly explained some of the chill he'd been feeling. God, he hated concussions, and now he was probably getting hypothermia, too.

"They took it. You really don't remember?" There was an edge to Ronon's voice.

"What, don't you ever get concussed?" Rodney snapped.

"No."

"Right." Of course, he would get swept off and captured together with the guy who probably rode down waterfalls for fun, and who had escaping from Wraith imprisonment down to a fine art. Though right now Rodney decided that Ronon's proficiency was useful enough that he could overlook the humiliation of his own track record of getting captured. After all, their recent Hiveship excursion would have been much less pleasant if it hadn't been for Ronon and his knives.

Another bit of Rodney's brain unscrambled itself with a brief burst of extra pain, as he realized that he was missing an important factor in the escape equation he'd started drawing up. Somewhere recently, there had been something -- he blinked. Ronon was silent now, but Ronon's silence could say a lot. Like when Rodney had asked him if he was hurt, and Ronon hadn't answered, and -- "Oh, god. You're hurt, aren't you?"

Rodney turned to Ronon, hands hovering uncertainly over the outline of a body he could barely see. He seemed to be in one piece, but it was so dark. "Are you bleeding -- I can make a tourniquet. Unless that will just make things worse -- don't tourniquets sometimes make things worse?"

"I'm not bleeding." Ronon's vague answer did nothing to calm Rodney down. Not bleeding was not the same as not having every bone in his body broken, and Rodney couldn't see enough to do anything.

"This sucks." Rodney settled down next to Ronon, his back to the door. It was just as cold as the walls had been. He shivered, and scooted a little closer to Ronon -- not close enough to jostle any broken bones, but then Ronon moved too, and their shoulders were touching. It was only marginally warmer than leaning against dank stone, but Rodney didn't protest when Ronon shifted up against him.

"So, what happened?" he asked, because if he had a damned gap in his memories, he needed all the facts he could get.

Ronon shared what he knew, which wasn't much. Apparently, after going over the edge of the waterfall, Ronon had managed to get them both back to the surface, and then he'd found a handy rock to hold on to until some guys showed up in a weird little boat. The way Ronon told the story, it sounded like no big deal, but Rodney had seen the sea. He had seen the waves, and he hadn't seen any rocks at all. Ronon conveniently glossed over how much time he'd spent on whatever desperate perch he had found. Ronon did stress the fact that Rodney had apparently been awake enough to insult him for not rescuing him to some warmer, drier place, but Rodney snorted and blamed it all on blunt force trauma.

Rodney quizzed him for more information (it was definitely quizzing, not 'pestering', no matter what Ronon said), and distantly noticed what was either the slowest light bulb or fastest sunrise he had ever seen spark through life outside the window.

Light streamed through the barred window, pink on black. It cleared a space for itself in the darkness, which muted into soft shadows in the corners. For the first time since waking up, Rodney could actually see, rather than feel his way around like a nearsighted bat. He grasped one of the many opportunities provided by returned vision to turn and give Ronon a once-over. His idle curiosity twisted into an ugly kind of shock.

"Oh, hell. Ronon, your hands, how -- what -- why didn't you say anything?" Ronon's hands looked as if he'd run them through a mixer, all scraped raw and swollen and, oh, that looked remarkably painful, and Rodney found himself going a little green. He swallowed, but couldn't stop staring.

Ronon stirred to life. "S'okay. Most of them are just dislocated," he said with a nod at his mangled fingers.

"Just?"

"I've had worse."

Rodney's jaw worked for a couple of seconds, unable to form actual words. Because he knew it had to be true. The way Ronon was just sitting there, not complaining at all when his fingers, his hands -- it wasn't all warrior training or stoicism, it was just the way things were for Ronon, and he'd learned to deal. What it must take for a man to get to that point -- Rodney ruthlessly shoved those thoughts aside, together with the leap of logic that answered the how part. Hanging onto a rock and an unconscious scientist while hungry waves washed over you -- okay, that was enough guilt for now. "Having had worse doesn't mean you shouldn't say something! Why didn't you -- wait. Are you having worse right now? You are, aren't you, that's why you're haven't been beating down the door trying to escape!"

Ronon grimaced. "Right leg. Clean break. It'll heal fine."

"If they come and fix you, yes! Where are they, why haven't Sheppard and Teyla come back for us yet? I sent them back, I know I did -- our rescue is getting to be way overdue, here!" Rodney could hear his own voice climbing ridiculously high, which explained why Ronon was not-so-subtly leaning away from him. It didn't stop him from cursing the slowest rescuers in the history in rescues, as well as captors who'd just throw injured people in dungeons and not come to check up on them.

When he finally paused, he was feeling much warmer. Ronon was looking at him with a mixture of annoyance and amusement. Rodney glared at him, and then his eyes skidded to Ronon's other shoulder. It wasn't the one he had been leaning against, thank goodness, because it looked like a textbook case of 'hurts like hell' -- one giant, swollen bruise. Rodney sucked in a breath.

"Okay, this is ridiculous. You've done something to your shoulder, too, haven't you?"

Ronon shrugged -- a one-shouldered shrug, Rodney noticed. "It's not like you can fix it," he said calmly.

"You don't know that!" Rodney snapped back. "I have my CPR cert, and I've read a lot of medical literature, I'll have you know!"

Ronon gave him a doubtful look. "What? Carson does it all the time, and I'm a genius!" And with that, he sat up straight, facing Ronon. His hands hovered somewhere between the two of them, uncertain.

"I'm just going to -- um." Rodney made a vague gesture, pointing back and forth between Ronon and himself. He quickly maneuvered himself so that he was on Ronon's other side, managing to avoid Ronon's eyes all the while. Then he placed one hand on Ronon's shoulder, trying for a confident manner. He was still cold enough that his fingers trembled slightly, pale against the vivid bruising. Since he could keep his hands steady though fixing nuclear weapons on no sleep at all, it had to be the cold doing this to him.

Rodney leaned over to examine the part of Ronon's shoulder he could see, pushing Ronon's short sleeve aside. Ronon winced, and Rodney snatched his hand away as if he'd been burned.

"Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to -- it's just that it's really hard to see, with your shirt. Maybe you could..." He made a complicated, gesture to indicate that he wasn't really asking his teammate to strip, but that the shirt was hindering his efficiency in delivering medical assistance.

Ronon gave him a long look.

"Or I could take a look at your leg," Rodney suggested, already prepared to back down when Ronon pulled his shirt up with his good arm.

It was already torn up, so together they worked it off without too much effort, and Rodney set the damp cloth aside.

"Okay -- any other injuries I should know about?" Rodney looked over Ronon critically. And froze, because right there, below Ronon's fang necklace, was an ugly, puckered mark he knew only too well. He'd seen it up close on Gaul, on Abrams, on others they'd been too slow to save. He stared -- he'd known Ronon's history, of course, but only as abstract facts, a few lines in a report back to Earth a year ago. Knowing was different from seeing it like this, written on Ronon's skin.

This time it was Ronon who looked away. His expression was unreadable, but the way he turned to offer Rodney his injured shoulder was clear. This was no time to linger over old scars. And Rodney was going to let it go, really, he was -- but then he caught sight of the deep furrows carved into Ronon's back, and his fingers stilled on Ronon's shoulder.

"What?" Ronon asked, shifting warily.

"Um," Rodney stuttered. "Nothing, really, except --" Except that at some point, the Wraith had aborted their feeding on Ronon only to cut him open. Had inserted a piece of their vile technology deep into his living tissue, and the thought made Rodney's flesh crawl and his teeth stand on end. He tried not to imagine how many minutes he would have lasted after that, in Ronon's situation.

"Except, this shoulder -- I think it's been dislocated." Focusing on the odd, hard angle the shoulder was sticking out on, the way it felt too soft beneath the bruises -- it still made Rodney feel a little sick, but at least it was something they could both deal with, right now.

Ronon settled a little under Rodney's hands. "Feels that way," he admitted.

Trying to think more like Ronon, and less like himself, Rodney steeled himself. "Yes, so. Do you want to try and pop it back in?"

"Yeah."

Rodney screwed his eyes shut. God. This was disgusting, he wasn't sure he could do it, at least not without throwing up. "Okay. Um. I think, if you --"

"Here." Ronon's wounded hand nudged his own, moving it so he had a steady grip. "Just do what I tell you."

Rodney nodded, teeth clenched too hard for speech. He listened to Ronon's brief instructions over the sound of his own violently beating heart, thinking about how he really couldn't pass out now, because Ronon was counting on him. He could do it.

And he did. The wet noise of the shoulder joint sucking back into place was every bit as disturbing as he'd imagined it would be, and after it was done they were both pale and breathing hard. But he was still conscious, and so was Ronon, and Ronon's shoulder did look -- well, it still looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. But at least now it had been tended to, even if it was just in a basic first aid kind of way, and that made Rodney feel better.

Rodney was just putting the last touches on the sling he had improvised from Ronon's discarded shirt, when a noise rose above the background murmur. Muted through the thick door, it was still recognizable as footsteps, and they were coming closer.

They both tensed, and looked up. Ronon started moving, as if he wanted to stand up. Rodney stopped him -- hello, broken leg! -- and instead helped him move over to lean against the wall opposite the door.

Rodney turned around. He felt oddly vulnerable without the familiar weight of his vest, and with his hands empty of any weapons or equipment. He'd never before realized how much he liked his P90. And he missed the presence of his more martially inclined teammates between himself and the door even more than he missed his weapon. But he squared his shoulders. He was the only one fit enough to do any standing right now, so he stood. Arms crossed, chin up. Still a little unsteady on his legs, but he was confident that his attitude more than made up for any physical weakness.

The heavy door swung inward, slowly and noiselessly. The shadows on the cell floor shifted with the influx of new, white light on the dark stones. Rodney registered two important things about the shape standing in the doorway -- one, it was uniformed; and two, it was carrying some kind of gun. He'd already had the time to groan before he realized it wasn't a Genii uniform, and the gun wasn't one he'd been threatened with before.

Rodney looked up from the gun to the man holding it. He had blond hair pulled back in a tight queue, and cold blue eyes. His uniform was a gray and black, with some kind of round, purple insignia over his heart. He was flanked by two henchmen -- well, one henchman and one henchwoman, both sporting the same queue, neither with any circles on their monochrome uniforms.

The man made a gesture with the barrel of his gun that Rodney, through two years' experience with various armed captors of knew meant 'move over or I'll shoot you'. Rodney was sure it was supposed to be very intimidating, but right now his headache made it hard to care. He might have rolled his eyes as he took a step back, coming to stand right in front of Ronon's outstretched legs.

"So, these are the demons of the Three Dark Moons," the man said thoughtfully.

"Excuse me?" Rodney said.

The man looked at him as if surprised that Rodney spoke. "You came during the night of the Three Dark Moons -- an unlucky time, when evil walks the world."

"We weren't walking, we were floating," Rodney said, because how did you argue with that kind of utter lack of logic? "Besides, it was day when we got here." That point won, he moved to his brilliant conclusion. "So we're not demons. Now, can we get someone in here to fix his leg?"

The man's lips quirked in a humorless smile, showing a predatory glint of teeth. "I fear you misunderstand me -- I'm afraid I don't know your name?"

Rodney drew himself up a little straighter. "Doctor Rodney McKay."

"I am Til Va Corrin," the man nodded pleasantly. "And I never said that I thought you were demons, Doctor Rodney McKay."

"That's very enlightened of you," Rodney offered. "Does that mean you'll let us go?"

Til -- the Til? -- shook his head. "I am not beholden to the old ways. Others here are. I have been tasked with their protection. From all dangers, including demons."

"But you just said--"

"That I don't think you are anything but mortal men, yes." His eyes narrowed, and his gun raised a fraction higher. "I think that you are Wraith-worshiping spies."

Ronon reacted before Til had spit out the last word. He growled, actually growled, low in his throat, and Rodney took an automatic step closer to him, getting firmly between his teammate and the very stupid man in the doorway.

"We're not Wraith worshipers," Ronon snarled from behind Rodney.

Til, far from being intimidated, seemed coldly amused. He walked closer, his gun trailed on Rodney, while he cocked his head to look at Ronon. His henchpeople followed, making the small cell feel very crowded. "Well, Ronon -- that was your name, yes? Ronon Dex. If you were Wraith worshipers, that's exactly the sort of thing you would say."

"What? That's insane! Does that mean that if we say that we are Wraith worshipers, we aren't?" Rodney's head was really hurting too much for him to argue with imaginary logic.

"No. You know exactly how to say what we want to hear -- pretending to be just like us, before selling us out the Wraith." Til's voice was rising, and there was a strange, feverish light in his eyes that frightened Rodney much more than the gun had. This wasn't just a job for the guy -- this was a mission, a sacred conviction. This wasn't about protecting anyone -- this was a Pegasus galaxy witch hunt. "You think you're so much better than us, think that the Wraith will protect you -- well, you are sorely mistaken if you think your lying ways will work in my Haven."

Rodney's gut clenched tight with fear. God help them, they were dealing with a fanatic.

"You're wrong," Ronon's voice was low, and tight with anger. Til roughly shoved Rodney aside, and by some unseen signal the guards knew to step in and grab him by the arms before he could recover his balance.

"We'd never work with th--" Ronon was still talking when Til walked up to him and kicked him in the stomach.

The blood drained from Rodney's face, and he sucked in a breath as Ronon doubled over, gasping. "Stop it!"

The next few seconds were a blur to Rodney -- his own voice shouting, rough hands on his bruised arms, Ronon adding his own curses to Rodney's. And through it all he could hear Til's henchwoman's low giggle, a sound as out of place as a rose in a Wraith hive.

Til turned his face to Rodney, his calm expression not quite composed enough to smooth out all the edges of his raging insanity. His lackey had fallen silent. "Maybe if you tell me the truth, I won't execute you right now," Til said, emphasizing the last two words by pointing his gun right between Ronon's eyes.

They might have disarmed Ronon, but the look he was giving Til through his damp dreadlocks held more daggers than he'd ever carried on his person. From the tension in his shoulders, Rodney suspected he was about three seconds away from trying to grab the gun from Til.

"Don't," he said, desperately, trying to lock eyes with Ronon.

"Don't what?" Til said, because of course everything was about him.

"Don't -- you can't do this, we're not Wraith worshipers or spies or whatever paranoid delusion you're suffering! We're explorers, we came through the gate when it was still light, we were just--"

"You were just what?" Til asked, his voice low and deadly. Ronon hadn't moved. Rodney's hands clenched, and he tried ineffectively to wriggle free of the grunts' grasp.

"Looking around," Rodney said. "Before the giant wave snatched us up--"

"The tide of the Three Moons, yes," Til said, and gestured impatiently with the gun, even though he was the one who had interrupted Rodney. "What were you doing?"

"Exploring! It's what we do, we're explorers, I told you -- we didn't know there was anyone here."

"Where do you come from?"

"From, um -- Oz?" Crap. Rodney winced, silently cursing Sheppard for the 'improvements' the colonel had suggested to their official cover story. This was not the right time to blank out on anything but stupid jokes that made Elizabeth roll her eyes. "Yes, the Land of Oz, where we --"

Til didn't give him any time to elaborate. He just closed the distance between them, and swung the gun around to clip Rodney across the face with the butt of the gun and his fist.

Rodney's head snapped to the side, deafening pain thundering through him, stirring up stars and leaving him with the choking taste of blood. The only thing keeping him upright was the pitiless grip of the uniforms on either side of him. He groaned, which made him cough, and it was horribly miserable and painful, and wasn't improved by Til standing impassively right in front of him. Waiting to beat up the injured man some more, no doubt. It was like a cat with a mouse, if a cat would ever sink so low as to have two of its buddies hold the mouse down.

Pain was ringing in his ears and shooting down from his head, waking the nausea coiled in his stomach. Rodney was so distracted by trying to keep from throwing up violently on the dangerous man with the gun, that he missed when Ronon first started getting up. He caught on pretty quickly once Til turned to stare, though.

Ronon had hoisted himself upright using the wall -- all of his weight on his right leg, the arm not in a sling pressed back against the rock to steady himself, and he still managed to look magnificently threatening. He was naturally gifted that way. "Leave him alone," Ronon warned.

It was deeply satisfying to see Til flinch back, ever so slightly, before he raised a cool eyebrow at Ronon. No doubt he'd mentally run through his list of assets, and come out several henchpeople, guns, and working arms and legs ahead of Ronon.

"We're not spies. This was an accident," Ronon continued.

"I've already told you--" Til snarled, but Ronon cut him off.

"We would've drowned if your men hadn't found us. Seems like a stupid way to start a mission, if it was one," Ronon said, with the kind of impeccable logic that came from not being concussed. Or being used to thinking through concussions -- this was Ronon, after all.

"Listen to him!" Rodney panted, the most he could contribute to the current goings-on.

For a moment, it seemed as if Til were thinking it over. At least he wasn't hitting anyone, which was the most rational he'd been for the too-long time Rodney had known him. Then he snapped once more. "No! No, I won't be fooled by your kind again--!"

Again? Crap, crap, crap. Rodney wished his hands were free, so that he could bury his face in them. Nothing like having failed utterly once to send you right over the edge of dedication and into madness. Especially when there were Wraith involved.

Til advanced on Ronon, his gun out. "I could execute you right here. It would be better than what you deserve."

Rodney's teeth ground around a curse. "Listen, we can explain," he said, desperately, because he could, if Til would just listen to him. As he'd recently reminded Ronon, he was a genius.

"No!"

And then Rodney was staring down the muzzle of a gun weilded by a graduate from Kolya's hostage-threatening madman school. The world grew very small. Very small, very muzzle-shaped. Rodney was still breathing -- still talking, actually -- but unless Sheppard and Teyla showed up right away he wasn't sure how long he'd keep doing either.

"No?" A new voice spoke the word in a very pointed question. Rodney's mouth closed. "But I have always found explanations from living men so much more informative than the blood of dead ones."

It was a woman, somewhere behind Rodney, and for a wild, elated moment he thought rescue had arrived. Then he realized that Teyla would probably have caused more of a fuss. His celebration stillborn, Rodney looked over at Ronon, trying to judge how apprehensive he should be of this new development.

Ronon's entire body still looked like he was planning on taking Til on and winning, but there was the hint of something calmer in his eyes when they fixed on whoever was standing behind the henchguys.

"Come on, move aside." There was a bit of shuffling around, each guard trying to tug Rodney in a different direction.

"I take it the prisoners have been disarmed, Til?" The answer was affirmative, of course, and the woman's voice was dry when she continued. "Then your people may step outside. I'm sure we will be perfectly safe together."

Rodney stumbled as the hands gripping him vanished. A strong hand under his elbow was the first he saw of the woman who had come to his rescue. "Yes, quite safe, I daresay," she said with a cool glance at Til.

She reminded Rodney of Teyla -- she could have been Teyla's aunt, maybe, dressed in Sunday fineries, if the Athosians had Sundays. Her face wrinkled, her long silver hair in a braid, she had that calm strength that Rodney had come to associate with Athosian women. She wasn't Sheppard, or Teyla, but he had never been happier to see a complete stranger in his life.

"Please, Lina. Stand back, we don't know --"

"I know these men are in no shape to pose a threat to me," she interrupted Til. Lina was obviously not familiar with Ronon, who was always in shape to pose a threat, but Rodney wasn't going to tell her that. Rodney himself did his best to look utterly harmless, which wasn't very difficult at all.

"I have brought my aides. Let them administer to these people's injuries, and then have them sent to the reception chamber." Her lips tightened. "Without any bloodshed, please."

"As you will," Til said, curtly.

Lina let go of Rodney's arm, and nodded at him and Ronon. "I will see you soon."

She left in a swirl of her long, aqua coat. Three people bustled into the cell after her exit -- none of them wearing anything like a uniform, Rodney noted with considerable relief. He took the opportunity to duck past Til and go stand by Ronon's side. The aides clustered around them, and Rodney took charge of the situation, ordering them about with the comfortable familiarity of long habit. They seemed more confused than resentful at his manner. As long as Til didn't get too close, Ronon stayed calm, pragmatically allowing the two men and young woman to tend to him.

The aides had brought decent first-aid supplies -- clean bandages, splints, and some kind of ointment which they rubbed all over Ronon's shoulder and fingers, and Rodney's knee. They offered no clean clothes, but they had brought enough dry cloth that Rodney could rub himself down. They worked efficiently and quietly, not talking more than absolutely necessary. Of course, being interrupted by things like the setting of broken bones did distract a little from polite conversation.

During that particular process, Rodney babbled inane assurances that Ronon was doing fine, that it was looking great, and Ronon glared at him even as he broke into a sweat and turned a sickly shade of pale beneath his tan. At which point Rodney should probably have stopped talking, but the words were the only thing that distracted him from giving in to the urge to do a little manly passing out.

With that ordeal behind them, they were both a little drier and less dirty and more bandaged than they had been. The younger of the men invited them to follow him to Lina.

Rodney suspected that Ronon's tolerance of the strangers wouldn't stretch to relying on them for support. As they stood, Rodney insinuated himself under Ronon's good arm. Ronon looked quizzically at him.

"What? You can't walk with only one leg, and you're not going to hop to our appointment, are you?"

Ronon answered with a flash of his teeth. "I could."

"Yes, and that would definitely give the impression of being rational, non-demonic people," Rodney shot back at him, without much heat.

Ronon gave him another assessing glance, then some of his considerable weight settled more solidly onto Rodney's shoulders. Right then Rodney was intensely grateful to Lina for her aides' ointment -- now that was some good voodoo. His knee hardly hurt at all. If they could just arrange for him to soak in a tub of the stuff, he would be be fine, battered body and slowly breaking back and all.

Their guide led them out of the cell, where Til and the guards closed in behind them. The corridor outside was warmer and less dank, and the dark stone here was cut as smooth as velvet.

Their footsteps, slow and halting as they were, echoed loudly as they passed another few doors, and then headed down a curving hallway that sloped gently downwards. It was like being inside of a giant black seashell, with this constant, indistinct mumble like the sea all around them.

Their slow procession drew curious stares and warding signs from the people they passed. The locals here seemed to be an odd mix, as varied as in the interplanetary marketplaces Teyla had brought them to. Ronon noticed it, too. "So it is a Haven," he said in a low voice.

"A what?"

"A Haven. I'd heard rumors. Didn't know they were real."

"But this is one, so they are," Rodney hurried Ronon through his explanation. "What are they?"

"A place to hide. People come from all over. Get away from the Wraith."

"No talking," Til warned them.

"But you've never been to one?" Rodney's curiosity was stronger than Til's low menace -- after all, that Lina woman had said 'no bloodshed'.

Ronon shook his head. "They wouldn't have welcomed someone like me," he said, and then he winced and they both stumbled as Til gave him a hard shove.

"Shut up!"

It was just a lucky coincidence that Til's orders matched Rodney's natural inclination to think, and not talk, at the moment.

Because, of course. People might have shunned him, but Ronon had been as much a victim of the Wraith as anyone else -- more, even. He'd been taken, implanted with that horrible device. He hadn't returned home -- hadn't wanted to bring the Wraith there. But he had nowhere else to turn, even with the Wraith quite literally at his heels. Even if he'd known about a place such as this Haven, he would never have risked drawing the Wraith's attention to it, even if they had been willing to offer him refuge.

Rodney had thought he'd known exile when he'd been sent off to Siberia. Siberia was cold and distant, but they'd had all the latest scientific journals and their own beds and regular meals. Rodney had still been on the planet he'd called home for his entire life, and most importantly of all -- nobody had been hunting him for sport, trying to eat him on a regular basis.

This close, he could hear Ronon's labored, measured breathing. Keeping pace with Rodney, his face set in grim determination. Ronon walked the way he had run from the Wraith, the way he lived -- always going forward, always ready to go on. It was an insane tenacity, but it had kept him and Rodney both alive in situations where Rodney himself had given up all hope. Rodney straightened up a little, taking more of Ronon's weight without complaint. In response, Ronon breathed a little easier.

To dispel his heavy thoughts, Rodney spoke. "You know, I've figured out what happened."

"Happened where?"

"By the gate, with the flood -- or the tide, rather. That's what it was."

Ronon frowned. "Like in a sea?"

"You two, be quiet," Til snarled at them.

Rodney's head whipped around, pinning the conversation fascist with a glare. "Oh, please! We're not exactly sharing state secrets here, and if you punch me when I talk, I'll bite my tongue and it will bleed! Remember the rule? No bloodshed?"

Til's jaw clenched hard enough that Rodney could hear his teeth grinding together. That had to be hell on his dental plan.

"Good!" Rodney turned back to Ronon, squaring his shoulders in case Til risked another blow. "So, as I was saying -- a tide. That's what this Three Moon stuff is all about. This planet must have three lunar bodies, if not more. You know how one moon affects the sea, right?"

Ronon nodded, his brow furrowed. "Yeah. Pulls it around."

Rodney nodded. "Well, crudely put, yes. And when the sun and moon line up on either side of a planet, that's when you get really big tides. Spring tide, we call it."

"So that's what happened? But with a bunch of moons."

"Exactly!" Rodney used his free hand to illustrate his next point. "See, if you've got three celestial bodies aligned, that's a syzygy -- this just happened to be a really big one, with at least two extra moons involved. Two extra moons, and a lot of ocean... "

"The moons made a big wave. I get it," Ronon grunted.

"Big wave? Big tide! Large enough to cross a continent! If we could get get accurate data about this system, and then collect readings from one of those tides --"

Rodney's scientific enthusiasm was cut short when the aide stopped, and said softly. "We have arrived."

The hallway came to an end, its wide, onyx walls slit with doors that spun open like those in the conference room back on Atlantis. The architecture here was still vaguely mindful of marine life, but it was also very clearly Ancient -- Atlantis's midnight cousin.

When they stepped inside, tall windows set in bare walls revealed that they were under water. Rodney craned his neck, and saw a glimmer of light breaking through the surface far above them. The room itself was sparsely furnished, and everything was bathed in the aqua glow from the windows.

Lina waited at the head of a table in the center of the room. It was a massive, oval piece, inlaid with fanciful designs in what looked like mother-of-pearl. There were only two other chairs by it, at the opposite end of the table. At Lina's gesture, Ronon sprawled into one of them, his leg stretched awkwardly in front of him, while Rodney gingerly installed himself in the other.

"So, you are the demons," Lina said, her face unreadable.

"Actually, as we were trying to explain," Rodney shot a dark look at Til, who was hovering within convenient beating-distance of them, "we're explorers."

"Yes. Of course. I am Lina Mael, Speaker for the Conclave of the Haven. And the report states that you are -- Doctor Rodney McKay?"

"That's me."

"And Ronon Dex."

Ronon hesitated, then shrugged. "Yeah. Told your guys so when they fished us out of the damned ocean."

Lina looked at them both for a long moment, her hands folded over each other. "Well, gentlemen. You present me with quite the problem."

"How so?" Rodney asked.

"Your most unfortunate arrival during our night of the Three Dark Moons. The fact that some of our people think that you are demons." She held up a hand to still Rodney's protests. "The fact that others yet think you Wraith worshipers."

"We're not," Ronon said, in a tone that indicated very clearly that he was tired of repeating himself.

Lina leaned slightly forward. "No. You, boy -- are you one of the Travelers?"

Rodney and Ronon exchanged a confused glance. "No," Ronon said.

"Who?" Rodney asked.

Lina's wrinkles creased as she narrowed her eyes. "Satedan, then?"

Ronon's head came up. "Right," he said, with a hint of approval.

"Ah, yes. And considering Sateda..." She made a delicate gesture with one hand. "Perhaps even a Runner?"

Ronon nodded. "Used to be."

It was difficult to impress Rodney without the use of shiny Ancient technology or new kinds of math, but he had to admit that this old lady was pretty good.

"See, Til. A Runner. Not a Wraith worshiper -- Sateda never had that form of foul treachery -- and I would trust a former Runner over my own kin."

"What about the other one?" Til asked, cold blue eyes glaring at Rodney.

"I'm from Canada," Rodney explained quickly. "You probably haven't heard of it."

"A Canadan and a Satedan?" Til was full with skepticism, even if he had no clue what he was talking about.

"Canadian, actually. And, yes -- why not?"

"Doctor Rodney is right. We here in Haven know how adversity can bring the most different of people together. After all, the Conclave accepted your people's service as keepers of the peace, did we not?"

Til nodded stiffly. Whatever Lina was talking about, it was not one of his happy buttons. Of course, from what Rodney had seen of him, the guy's happy buttons numbered two, and were labeled 'pain' and 'death'.

"Yes," Lina said, and raised her folded hands to rest her chin on them, elbows on the table. "Which leaves me with the problem of you two."

"But we're not spies, or demons, or anything. We'd just like to -- get home? Through the gate?" Rodney didn't like the way she'd called them a problem.

"Nobody not of the Haven can leave."

"Well, lovely as this stay has been," Rodney said with heavy sarcasm, "we really have other places we need to be."

"That, I am afraid, is impossible. I'm sure you can understand why. If word of our sanctuary got back -- no."

Ronon crossed his arms over his bandaged chest. "We need to get home," he said.

"Yes -- they'll be looking for us!" They should already be looking -- the real question was why Sheppard and Teyla hadn't managed to find them yet.

"That is not your concern," Lina said sternly.

"I'm sorry, but from where we're sitting, I really think it is!"

Til took a step towards him, and Rodney flinched, instinctively. He hadn't seen Lina give any sign, but Til froze as suddenly as he had moved. Now he was close enough that another punch would really hurt, Rodney thought, and his split lip and bruised cheek throbbed a little harder.

Lina didn't pay Til any heed -- but she didn't call him off, either.

"Okay, then. What do people do to stay?" Ronon asked.

Rodney turned to him, incredulous. "Stay? We can't stay, we've got Atl--. Um. Home. Remember home? Where they need me? A lot, for everything." He said the last with a pointed look at Lina. He was an important person -- killing him would be a terrible waste of his genius.

Ronon shook his head, obviously picking up on something Rodney was missing. He addressed Lina again. "Like I said. What does it take, to join your Haven?" There was a glint of challenge in his eyes.


Continue to Part Two.
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