Prompt: Endings and Beginnings
Word Count: 4600
Warnings/Spoilers: Set before and during season 2’s “Runner”
Notes: huge thanks to ileliberte for the beta
Summary: Sometimes Ronon had more to worry about than just the Wraith.
Ronon was good at hunting and scavenging for food, good at finding drinkable water and shelter, and healthy enough to weather any illnesses that tried to slow him down. Most of the time, all he had to worry about was surviving the Wraith who hunted him.
Most of the time; not always.
When the scout ship broke through the clouds, he headed for the Ring. The Wraith did that sometimes – came on a large ship so that they could hunt him in groups of soldiers and their male leaders, instead of just one or two or three males hunting him at a time. Sometimes he would be cut off from the Ring and he’d have no choice but to make a stand and fight them all. He was fine with that. He was a weapon, a tool for slaughtering Wraith, and he relished every kill. Still, those were the fights he almost always came close to losing. The point was to kill as many Wraith as he could; it made no sense to kill twenty but die in the doing of it, when he could kill only a few at one time but live to kill a hundred more later.
This time he was near enough to the Ring, so as soon as he heard the ship he ran for it. A dart put one group of hunting Wraith down nearly on top of him. They would be close enough to follow him through, but he knew they wouldn’t alert the others. Taking him was a competition. He had seen the soldiers serving one male stun another male to give their master a better chance of victory; and one time he had awakened from being stunned to find two males from rival hives fighting to the death over him. He’d killed them both and escaped.
He was confident that none of the other groups would make it to the Ring in time, and with the advantage of knowing where he was going and what the landscape would hold, the odds would be on his side.
Only, it didn’t quite work out that way.
He always had a plan in case something like this happened – a specific planet in mind to run to, one of several dozen where he was sure no one lived and where he had never seen a Wraith hive. He would choose one at random, and if he had to use it, he would not return for at least two hundred days.
The symbol string for a planet was in his mind this time, too, but as he hit the symbols he was under fire and was glancing over his shoulder firing back, and…
He must have hit a symbol wrong.
The chances of doing that and still connecting to a planet weren't good. He didn’t make a mistake very often, but when he did the symbols always just flashed out, and he’d have to enter the string again. This time the Ring came alive and he ran through, and the next thing he knew he was falling.
He saw the ground rushing up at him and tried to tuck into a roll. He hit the steep slope shoulder first, tumbling out of control for several moments until he could dig in with his free hand and heels. The gravelly earth was unexpectedly soft, and his hand sank so deeply in that he jerked to a stop, nearly yanking his arm out of his socket.
He gasped for breath, gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulder and the burn of scrapes and bruises everywhere else. The bottom of the pit was maybe twice his own height in distance below; it was lumpy, made of coils and twists of glistening stone, and he was glad he had avoided crash-landing on it.
Unfortunately, the pit was deep and narrow, and he had fallen pretty far. His fall had carved out a gouge in the wall that sloped almost gently, but other than that one spot the sides of the circular pit were so steep as to be nearly vertical. He could see the Ring of the Ancestors at the top, as well as the pedestal where it seemed to balance precariously as the mouth of the pit curved sharply around to it, but he had no idea how he was going to manage to climb back up alone. Between the sharp angle of the walls and the softness of the earth, he just hoped there was some kind of solid bedrock beneath the gravel. There had to be, because how else did the pit hold its shape?
He’d have to worry about getting out later, though, after he killed the Wraith. He rolled onto his stomach, dragging himself sideways. The Wraith would come through the Ring at any moment, and he didn’t want to be lying directly in their path when they did. He went carefully, trying not to lose any elevation. He’d rather be up on the wall picking the Wraith off in the bottom of the pit with his gun than down there fighting hand to hand in tight quarters.
He hadn’t got nearly as far to the side as he’d have liked before he heard the thud of bodies hitting the slope, hisses of shock and pain, and the rattle of dislodged stones. A couple of gray shapes hurtled past him, landing in a heap at the bottom of the pit. He picked off the one soldier that managed to struggle to a stop on the slope near him, knocking it into the pit as well. He shifted onto his back, lining the group of them up in his sights and waited for them to untangle themselves so that he could get clear shots.
One, two, three – all soldiers. He knew there had been a male leader with them, chasing him to the gate, and he was pretty sure he hadn’t killed it. Maybe it had recognized the symbol string, and had known not to go through –
The grind of shifting stone and earth above him made him look up in time to see the male Wraith shove itself down the slope and lunge at him. He didn’t have time to bring his gun up before it was on top of him. It knocked the gun from his hand, twisting as it landed and trying to swing its body around to pin him with its full weight. He used its own momentum to surge up and flip it over, flinging it off of him. It landed a couple of arms’ lengths away on its hands and knees. They both floundered; the short struggle had sent them sliding, and neither wanted to give up the advantage of height.
He steadied first, and risked a look around for his gun. It was right where he was afraid it would be, on the floor of the pit. Luckily none of the soldiers appeared to have noticed it; they were thrashing around, apparently still trying to gain their footing on the uneven ground.
The male Wraith snarled at him as it caught its balance, drawing into a careful crouch, hands flexing as it prepared to leap. He bared his teeth in reply, egging it on with his defiance as he slipped a hand surreptitiously to his boot. He didn’t want to throw another weapon away, but when the Wraith pounced he could make sure it landed on one of his longest, sharpest knives.
A harsh cry froze them suddenly before either of them could make a move. The strange, wordless keening sent a chill through Ronon, and his first thought was that the soldiers, that had no mouths and that he’d never heard make a noise, were trying to speak and warn their leader of Ronon’s plan, and he thought he’d have to attack first after all. The male Wraith did glance down, but its expression – confusion, then disgust, and then fear – made Ronon hesitate.
He followed its gaze, and understood its reaction. The soldiers weren’t trying to speak, they were trying to scream. The floor of the pit had come alive, heaving and chaotic. What he’d seen as looping veins of stone were living creatures, long and worm-like, most of them almost as thick around as his leg. They writhed and lashed around the struggling Wraith, twining around them and fighting each other for them.
Ronon couldn’t tell where any one of them ended and another began; he couldn’t even tell what was head or tail unless a pointed end split to show a mouth full of curved teeth. But on those that had wrapped up the soldiers he could see bubbles bursting along their sides, setting free little clawed hands on spindly arms. The claws ripped into the soldiers’ flesh, tearing pieces off and passing them from hand to hand along to the mouths. It was a horrifically quick process; in moments both the worms and the helplessly thrashing Wraith were spattered with black blood.
Ronon hardly had time to comprehend what that meant for his own chances of survival before he realized that things were about to get much, much worse. A buzz had started in the earth he clung to; it evolved quickly to a tremble that threatened to shake him loose from the side of the pit and into the carnage below.
And now getting out of the pit became a much higher priority than killing Wraith. He flopped onto his stomach and tried to climb. He couldn’t get any purchase on the wall of the pit, though – it was like vertical quicksand, slipping beneath his feet and sucking his arms in nearly to the elbows. The only progress he made was to dig himself closer and closer to the bottom of the pit.
On top of that the, the earth tremors were getting stronger and the soft walls were shaking apart. Sharp bits of gravel and lighter sandy soil rained down on him. It occurred to him that it might not even matter if he fell; the worms probably wouldn’t be able to get him before they were all buried alive.
He felt the slap against his back and claws digging in through the fabric of his shirt and thought the worms were about to prove him wrong and make one last meal of him before they all suffocated beneath tons of earth – and then another clawed hand caught him around the throat and he heard the familiar hissing in his ear and smelled the familiar sour, rotten breath.
He grabbed the hand at his throat, yanking desperately at it. He couldn’t breathe, and the weight of the Wraith clinging to his back was too much; his tenuous hold on the wall disintegrated and he felt them fall backwards.
He didn’t know if the Wraith thought it could kill him and make it out alive, or just wanted to make sure that it didn’t go down alone, but there was no way, even if no one would ever know, that he would let himself die at the hands of a Wraith. He kicked back and around and hooked the Wraith behind the knees with his foot, twisting in its grip and pulling it against him with his leg. They landed hard on the squirming mass of worms, him on top, and he used the weight of his body to drive his belt knife through the Wraith’s chest. It swung at him with its feeding hand, but he caught the wrist and held it away long enough to twist the knife and rip it sideways between the ribs. The Wraith arched, blood gushing from the wound; then it fell back and was still.
Almost still – the ground was still moving beneath them, shaking and undulating. Ronon rolled off of the Wraith, not sure what he would feel first, earth swallowing him up or worms swarming over him.
The fact that he felt neither didn’t sink in right away. Not until his back met the gritty, solid ground and he looked around and realized that the worms were swarming away from him. The ravaged bodies of the Wraith soldiers lay forgotten on the ground as the worms curled around the base of the pit. They were untangling themselves, the chaos of their feeding frenzy transforming into an orderly migration…up.
They were climbing the walls. No, not climbing. Each worm was taking the tail of another in its mouth, and as the chain of joined bodies got longer and longer it unwound, curling its way around and up the walls. There were so many of them that each coil lay nearly on top of the one below, and there were still enough left that –
They would cover the walls of the pit from bottom to top, Ronon realized. Even as he watched, the shower of falling earth lessened. It didn’t make sense, but the thick bodies pressing themselves into the walls were keeping them from collapsing; he could see it happening with his own eyes.
And as he watched, he saw something else: a way out.
He dashed for the wall, scooping up his gun as he went, and leaped. The worms’ bodies were slick and he nearly lost his grip; for a heartbeat after he dug in with his fingertips he thought they are not going to like this, and expected any number of toothy jaws to lash out and tear him apart. But they didn’t. The earth was shaking hard now, and the walls of the pit were covered with worms; the worms themselves were covered with hundreds and hundreds of the little clawed hands flailing at themselves and at each other. At first Ronon thought it was some kind of orgy of cannibalism, but he looked more closely at the worms he clung to and was stunned momentarily motionless for the third time in as many minutes.
The reason the worm bodies were so slick was because they were oozing some kind of sticky goo, and the little hands weren’t shredding flesh, they were furiously scooping off the ooze and smearing it on the pit walls. The reason the walls weren’t coming down was maybe partly because of the strength of the joined worms, but also partly because of the goo holding the earth in place.
He started to climb, using the overlapping bodies as a ladder. The ooze that clung to his hands and his clothes hardened quickly; he had to flex his hands after every other step and shake off the splintered crust, and the front of his shirt and pants got increasingly heavier with it. Worse, the closer he got to the top, the harder it was to use the worms to climb, because the goo filled the spaces between them, turning the worms themselves into a hard, sturdy, smooth wall. At first he could punch in handholds, but they would be filled up again by the time he needed them for his feet; and then the goo got harder and harder to fracture, until all he accomplished by pounding it with his fist was bloody knuckles.
He looked up and nearly cried with relief. The symbol pedestal was only a couple feet above him, the round stone it stood on jutting over the edge of the pit a little ways. He stretched, catching at it with his fingertips. It was hard to get a steady grip as the world lurched and shook, but finally he got enough of a hold to let loose of the worm wall and fling his other hand up.
He pulled himself up with trembling arms, not stopping until he was wrapped around the base of the pedestal. Then he just lay there, hanging on and tried not to think of what would happen if the pedestal shook loose and tumbled them both into the pit.
Then everything stopped.
Ronon waited, unmoving. A few aftershocks ran through the land, but each was weaker than the last. He decided quickly; he didn’t know if it was finally over, but either way this was probably his chance to get the hell off of this planet.
He uncurled himself from around the pedestal and pushed to his feet. Even then he stuck close and hung onto the pedestal, though, because once he was up and looking around, it was clear that the pedestal and the Ring of the Ancestors were still standing only from some kind of freakish luck. That, and a planet full of worms.
The landscape was full of pits as far as he could see. Narrow strips of surface land curved and branched like a web all around. On the other side of the pedestal from the pit he’d just climbed out of was another pit, lined with more worms; the same was true of the other side of the Ring. If not for the worms both pedestal and Ring would surely have fallen long ago.
Some of the pits he could see were huge, and in the near distance he could see the wreckage of a city, toppled towers and broken buildings jutting up out of pits or buried by the standing earth between. The worms and ruins weren’t all this planet had to offer, though. Plants grew everywhere. Some were small and scraggly, others tall and spindly. Some threw roots across the mouths of the pits; some slithered over the land between; and others towered up from the pits themselves.
Flying animals were settling out of the air into the plants as the earth tremors died away, while the ones without wings clung to the strips of surface land. He could see a lot of creatures that had fallen in; they scrabbled helplessly at the pit walls, falling inexorably away as the worms snapped out of their temporary shells and slithered down in a shower of newly shattered gravel to devour their prey.
For half a moment, Ronon was awestruck. He had never seen anything like this place before. It was dangerous and frightening, but also amazing. Breathtaking This was exactly the sort of thing they’d had in mind, him and Tyre, all those years ago, when they had talked about what they would do after the war with the Wraith was over.
“There’s so much out there, so many worlds more incredible than we can even imagine, and we can be the first to lay eyes on them since the Ancestors went away.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, shook the thoughts out of his mind. He didn’t know if Tyre was alive, if any of his friends had survived. Melena and so many others hadn’t.
And it did no good to think of them, or to think of any of the plans he had ever made for a life free of the Wraith. They had all been so stupid, so desperately arrogant and stupid, and it did no good to think of them.
He forced it all down inside of him, both the memories and the awe, and punched in the symbol string for the planet he’d meant to go to in the first place. Carefully navigating the thread of land to the Ring, not giving the planet a second look, he stepped through.
Cool morning air washed over him on the other side, sweetened by the lush forest all around him. He scanned the area, tucking away his gun when he was sure he was alone. He stepped off the Ring platform and headed left through the trees, toward a river he knew was close by. He had crusty goo to wash off him, a meal to catch, and traps to set before the Wraith found him again.
A few hundred days or so after he escaped from that strange place, it was a planet he went to on purpose that nearly got him killed.
The planet was one that had been recorded in his peoples’ registry as a dangerous place to go. The radiation from the sun messed with a person’s head and body, made some people sick, and some crazy; those who stayed too long died of painful diseases. He had stayed away from it all these years out of habit, and because he didn’t want to go there and maybe weaken himself and be unable to fight the Wraith who came for him.
But he only knew so many symbol strings. He had been to the safe planets he knew more than once by now, more than a dozen times in most cases, and it was beginning to feel like wherever he went the Wraith were finding him faster. Like they had finally worked out a pattern in his strategy, no matter how hard he tried to keep his choice of destinations random.
And he was tired. His body was tired, and he was going through one of those times when his mind felt tired, too. Trying to mentally pick through the list of possible next stops, trying to filter out the inhabited ones and the ones he’d been to recently, just wasn’t working. The more he thought about it, the less he could keep track of his thoughts.
So he picked this place. This place that his people had listed as one of the worst of the last resorts in case of evacuation, this place that could make him sick or mad or even kill him, was the only place he felt he could go and maybe have a day’s peace. So he went.
He got the day of peace, but he paid for it in exhaustion and carelessness. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was just the fact that once his body had a chance to get a little real rest it wanted more. Either way, he had a hard time dragging himself out of sleep, and the day was waning by the time he staggered into the forest to scout and lay traps.
It took too much of his concentration to focus on building the snare, and it was only the fact that he fumbled the knife as he put it away and had to bend down to pick it up that saved him.
The stun blast crackled over his head. He didn’t waste time looking for the source; he just scrambled to his feet and dove off the path and into the underbrush. He crashed through a tangle of brambles, hoping the foliage would diffuse the blasts and slow down the Wraith as he got his gun loose and his head together enough to survive one more hunt.
It was almost not enough. He had let weariness dull his senses, let too much rest slow his blood, whereas the Wraith was sharp and full of energy. It stayed hard on his trail and a lucky shot wrenched the feeling from his leg. It took everything he had to stay on his feet, but he was afraid. For the first time in so long fear overwhelmed the hate and the drive to kill, and he snarled at himself for being such an idiot to come here.
And then the stranger with the mismatched eyes stepped out from the trees in front of him, armed with a weapon Ronon had never seen before, and the Wraith made a mistake, too. In its determination to capture him it didn’t notice the stranger, or maybe didn’t think he was a threat.
The next thing Ronon knew he was on the ground and the Wraith was dead. The stranger stepped over him; he had a knife out as he knelt by the Wraith, but Ronon didn’t wait to see what he planned to do with it, he just got to his feet and ran.
Later, he wasn’t sure exactly what had made him run. The stranger’s expression had been full of a sick madness, and of a hunger when he looked at the Wraith that had nothing to do with the simple satisfaction of slaughtering an enemy; it had sent a shiver of uneasiness through Ronon. But he didn’t think that was what made him run.
There was something else he had seen in the stranger: it had been in the straightness of his body, the directness of his eyes, and the steady grip on his weapons. Lack of fear, maybe…
The stranger was fighting a one man war against the Wraith, and was convinced he was going to win.
Even at their strongest, his people had never had that kind of innate confidence in themselves. The best they’d had was a desperate faith in their cause, and that had been enough. But what Ronon saw in that stranger was stronger, maybe even better in a way – and it sucked the fire out of him. One man was nothing against the Wraith, no matter how crazy confident he was, and no matter how hard he fought to stay alive through days and months and years of being hunted. One man could no more make a difference than one of those worms could hold up the walls of a pit back on that eerie, amazing planet.
Maybe that was why, after spending so long avoiding people, so long knowing that all he could ever be any more was a curse to both Wraith and humans alike, he couldn’t help but listen when John Sheppard and Teyla Emmagan said they could help him. He knew he shouldn’t, knew he should get up and fight his way through the Ring and leave them behind, for their own sakes.
But they sat in the cave, bound and helpless, watching him warily but somehow certain of their survival, and talking about the Wraith like they weren’t the unstoppable scourge Ronon had known all his life. They had all of the confidence the stranger had minus the crazy, and with every tired cell in his body Ronon wanted to believe them when they said they could help.
Any doubt he still had even after the tracking device was gone (gone, really and truly gone) vanished when it turned out that it didn’t matter that Ronon hadn’t gotten their friend for them. Sheppard took all of the blame on himself, and they all – Sheppard, Teyla, the doctor and the other people with them – showed nothing but respect and gratitude for the fact that he had kept his part of the bargain and tried.
Confidence in their fight against the Wraith; advanced weapons; a ship and a whole city of the Ancestors; and on top of all of that, honor.
They stuck him in a little room in their city with guards at the doors, and he didn’t care. All he could think was that it was actually time to go home. Go back to his people, help pick up the pieces of whatever was left, and tell them that the fight wasn’t over. These new people may not ally with them, but just the fact that they were out there holding one stronghold in the chaos gave Ronon the kind of hope he couldn’t remember ever having before.
He sat in the little room in the Ancestors’ magnificent city and waited for Sheppard, and felt alive again.
use a place to stay.”
“I’m not sure I’d fit in here.”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
– John & Ronon; “Duet”