sparsenicjade
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AN: Written for hc_bingo card prompt "de-age (physical)". Uh, I went for the mental as a bonus, I guess. There ARE canonical issues with the SGA 'verse in this, but I ask people to remember that it is crackfic. Once again, huge thanks to egelantier for providing brainstorming help and a shoulder to lean on. Thanks to sailorstkwrning for the FANTASTIC beta. All remaining mistakes are mine.

Warning: Mentions of child abuse and neglect.

***



Ryan was pretty surprised when their management got the call from the SGC, because when he thought about The Young Vein’s general audience, Marines A Billion Miles From Home didn’t really figure into the picture. Tim from management came over to Murray’s place, where they were hanging out, trying to get some writing done. He said, “Here’s how it works. Since Atlantis involves a trip through the Stargate, the military wants any group signing on to stay over there a month. One to two concerts a week, scheduled around the city’s needs. While you’re there they put you up and feed you, and they pay pretty nicely on top of that. Then again, you’re there for a month.”

Ryan was in at “Stargate,” and, looking around the room, he suspected at least Andy was with him by the word “Atlantis.” Jon made fun of them for it, but ever since the Stargate program had gone public, they had both read every article released about the base at Colorado Springs and the Lost City. Ryan liked having money more than he liked not having money, but they could have paid him peanuts and he’d still have jumped at the chance.

Ryan had to bite his lip not to interrupt Tim and just say, “We’ll take it.”

It wasn’t his decision, not entirely, and Ryan wasn’t losing a second band to his own stupidity.

White was the first one to say anything when Tim was finished. “It’s not as if we haven’t spent months on the road.”

Jon asked, “Will we be able to contact our families while we’re there?”

Tim winced. “Evidently there’s weekly dial-ins for internet hookup, but phone calls are harder, as they involve the person being on the military network while the Stargate is open.”

Jon sighed. “Cass is going to kill me.”

Ryan patted Jon’s back. She totally was, but on the other hand, it wasn’t as though Cass hadn’t been planning most of the wedding herself in the four months since Jon had finally gotten it together and proposed.
After a moment, Murray asked, “Is this for real?”

Ryan thought that was a pretty reasonable question.

Tim pushed the contract pad across the table. “Pretty real, I’d say.”

“Ryan and Andy are shitting themselves, and I’m not that far off,” Murray said. “Why the hell are we even still discussing this?”

Jon tilted his head, and White said, “Point.”

Ryan said, “I have to go to the bathroom.” He locked himself in and danced the exact same way he had after losing his virginity. Then he combed his hair back and went out to sign all the releases.

*


They were traveling in a group with other performers from all over the world. U2 was the “headliner” for this particular set of performers, but there were a number of other smaller bands, some improv groups, and a few stand-up comedians. The Young Veins was the sixth group through the Stargate, so Ryan had plenty of time to watch others disappear into the blue liquid of the eye and consider what he was about to do.

Spencer had called him the day before he’d left for Colorado. Ryan figured Spencer had either actually been checking Twitter, or he’d caught the Rolling Stones article about it. They didn’t talk much anymore, mostly calling when something needed to be said. Anything else hurt too much.

Spencer’d said, “Do everything the way they tell you, Ry. And don’t wander off, okay? This isn’t -- You won’t necessarily just find your way back.”

Ryan had said, “Yes, mom,” but he appreciated that Spencer cared.

Spencer said, “Call when you get back, asshole,” and that had made Ryan feel even better.

*


Ryan had meant to follow Spencer’s instructions, he honestly had, but Spencer hadn’t known how fucking gorgeous Atlantis was, how responsive. The first night Ryan was there, he took off his shoes, and it was as if the floors molded themselves to his feet. He couldn’t stop walking at his door, it was impossible.

Atlantis’ corridors were just the right temperature in a way nothing on Earth ever was, and when he found a balcony, it was like standing in an ampitheatre, listening to…Ryan didn’t even know. Life? The world? Something ridiculous-sounding aloud, but true, nonetheless. The balcony rail fit perfectly under his palms, which was a good thing, since otherwise he was pretty certain he would have pitched over face-first when someone said, “Pretty sure you’re not supposed to be here.”

Ryan whipped around once he’d regained his balance, expecting to see a Marine, or at the very least, one of the higher-up bureaucrats. What he found instead was a guy at least twice his size with dreads down past his shoulderblades and a casual. His tone, though, had enough of an edge to warn Ryan. Ryan also noticed, that his lips were curved just slightly in what seemed to be amusement. He told himself, firmly, that now was not the time to be turned on by tall, dark, and likely to kick his ass over the railing.

Ryan made himself breathe. “Yeah, well. I’m pretty lost.” He was, too. He hadn’t a clue how to get back to his assigned quarters.

“Were you just waiting for someone to find you?”

“No, I—“ Ryan frowned, realizing that his next words didn’t make any sense. “I was going to let the city show me the way back.”

To his surprise, Mister Please Lick My Muscles didn’t check him for The Crazy. Instead he said, “Gene carrier,” sounding mildly surprised.

Ryan had no idea what that meant. He said, “I can get out of your way.”

“If you were in my way, I’d’ve moved you,” the guy said, still blocking the entire doorway.

Ryan considered that. “Uh. Okay. Hi, I’m Ryan.”

“Ronon Dex.”

“I’m kind of confused about whether you want me to go or stay.”

“Still thinking about it,” Ronon said, and came out on to the balcony with him.

Ryan nodded, looking back out at the sea. “Lemme know when you decide.”

Ronon huffed, possibly in amusement, but Ryan wasn’t certain. Ryan had a second of being annoyed—he’d come out here to be alone—but then he realized that Ronon was silent and still beside him and he, well, he actually kind of liked it.

After a while—an hour, maybe, Ryan couldn’t be sure—Ronon turned to leave. He said, “Have her guide you back here one day for sunrise.”

Ryan blinked. “Thanks for the tip.”

*


The next day, Ryan woke up at ass o'clock in the morning because his room was pinging at him. At first he couldn’t figure out what the hell was happening. Then his mind slid back into place and he thought, “Huh. Doorbell.”

He called, “Just a moment.”

He pulled on his nearest pair of pants and a shirt. If it was one of the guys, he was going to kill them. It was too damned early for these shenanigans.

It wasn’t one of the guys. It was a woman with brown hair of every shade and a smile that reminded Ryan a little too much of Spencer at his sunniest. She held out a hand. “Hi, good morning, I’m Dr. Keller. Did I wake you?”

“Um. I was getting up. Would you like to come in?”

“No, no. I was hoping you’d be willing to come down to the medical wing with me. Ronon said you might have the gene, and I was hoping to test before things get crazy today.”

Ryan blinked and admitted, “I’m not entirely sure what that means.”

“I’ll explain it to you on the way, and when we get there, if you want to say no, you’re free to go your own way.”

“Will you show me where the coffee is, if I do this?”

“And the muffins.”

“Lemme put my shoes on.”

*


Ryan agreed after coffee and a muffin. It was a simple blood test, took less than a minute all told and then he was on his way, thinking to the city that he would like to find the other guys. He’d figured out that if he kept a desire or a question floating at the front of his mind, She would answer it, although Ryan hadn’t quite figured out how, or even why. She guided him (Ryan honestly couldn’t think of a better way to describe it) towards Jon’s room, where Murray was also sprawled out. Then she let him in, just because he wanted it. That was a little weird, but he had their keys on earth, so it wasn’t as invasive as it might have felt otherwise. He napped while waiting for them to wake up, and later they met up with Andy and White in the mess, before going to the room they’d been told they could use for practice.

The acoustics in the room were enough to make Ryan believe in a higher power.

Andy said, “So, uh, we sound unusually awesome.”

They all nodded in agreement.

*


The next morning, Ryan shoved his feet in flip-flops and had the city guide him back to the balcony where Ronon had suggested viewing sunrise. When he arrived, it was still just barely dark. A large figure was already there, but Ryan recognized the dreads.

“I take it you come here a lot.”

Ronon didn’t so much as twitch. “I like to end my runs here.”

And yet you told me to come back. Ryan stepped up to the railing. Far, far in the distance, there was a ripple of light fighting its way over the water. He asked, “You run morning and night?”

“I run when I need to.”

Ryan didn’t run, not ever, but he knew that feeling. He had played guitar until his fingers bled in the privacy of his bedroom more than once. He didn’t know what made him, but he couldn’t help asking, “Did she tell you to come here? The first time?”

There was a moment of silence and then Ronon shook his head, once. “I don’t have the gene.”

“Oh. I thought—“ Ryan wasn’t actually sure what he had thought. Dr. Keller had explained how the gene connected a person with the city, that the SGC preferred to have gene holders in the city, even if it had to implant the gene.

“I’m not human. Not your kind, anyway.”

That took a moment to process. “And not a descendent of the Ancients?” Dr. Keller had gone through a brief overview of how one got the gene, as well.

Ronon’s lip curled in a way Ryan couldn’t read. “Descended from something ancient.”

Yeah, of course. Ryan shut up, then, and concentrated on the grapefruit goldilocks glow of the sky. When the sun actually broke free of the water, peeking just over the surface, Ryan said, “Holy shit.”

Ronon’s face relaxed into a smile. After a moment, Ryan said, “You told them. You had them test me. Why?”

Ronon looked over at him for a second, and then back at the rising sun. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

It wasn’t an answer, not really, but Ryan wasn’t feeling up to pushing, not when he was pretty sure it wouldn’t get him anywhere. He’d been invited back to this place, in this moment. It was enough.

*


Dr. Slinky showed up at Ryan’s door next, the day after their first concert. Ryan was awake—just barely—but not dressed. Dr. Slinky introduced himself in a thick Czech accent and Ryan was pretty sure his name was not actually Slinky, but that was the best approximation he’d managed. He said a lot of things, mentioned the word gene at least twice and then looked at Ryan expectantly.

After a second, Ryan said, “Um. I pretty much have a high school education.”

For a moment, Slinky looked unsure of what to do with that. Then he smiled, something in his eyes that Ryan suspected was mischief. “Rodney is going to love you. Come on, let’s go to the labs.”

“Why?” Ryan asked.

“To play with Ancient toys,” Slinky told him.

“Isn’t that, uh, kind of a bad idea?”

“Yes. Come along.”

Ryan frowned, but he also followed, since he wasn’t in the habit of avoiding bad ideas..

*


Rodney—Dr. McKay, as he had distractedly introduced himself—did not like Ryan, but Ryan sort of got the feeling he didn't like a lot of people, so it was only mildly insulting.

Dr. Slinky’s description of “playing” with the toys had been a little bit off, since mostly Ryan just got yelled at to touch this or that thing, or stop touching it. At one point, it took him a little longer to withdraw—the thing made his hands feel warm and relaxed—and Dr. McKay whined to Slinky about some dude named John being better for this.

Slinky said, with the air of someone who’d said the exact same thing many times before, “The Colonel has a city full of military to run, Rodney. He does not have time to be your slave.”

“Priorities,” Dr. McKay snapped, and then, turning on Ryan, “Well, what are you waiting for? Touch the blue one with the hexagonal shape. A hexagon is a—“

“I passed geometry,” Ryan said, because seriously, what the fuck? He crossed to where the object was, and gently caressed the surface for a moment, before molding his fingers around it. “In fact, I’m relatively sure I was seven when I learned—“

Ryan felt a spark shoot through his body and almost dropped the thing. He managed not to, but he did set it down. Evidently too late, as another spark came up through his fingertips and Ryan fought not to shriek with the pain of it. He did shriek at the third spark, and after that, well, he wasn’t entirely sure what happened after that.

*


Sheppard had mentioned to Ronon at breakfast that McKay and some of the scientists were going to test that guitarist kid with the gene in the lab that morning. That was pretty unusual, to involve non-scientist civilians, but then, it was pretty unusual to find one with a gene that strong.

Ronon had figured he would maybe check in—save Ryan, really—midway through the day, once he got through with the training sessions he had with the new Marines that morning, and the briefing for the upcoming mission. He was halfway through the sessions when he got a call from Sheppard.

Sheppard sounded like he was trying to tame one of those Godzilla creatures from the Earth movies. “Uh, you met this Ryan kid before, right?”

Ronon frowned. “Couple of times.”

“I think you should come down to the labs.”

In the background, McKay was yelling, but McKay yelled a lot. Sheppard only called when it was necessary. “On my way.”

It took him less than three minutes to make it to the labs, even though it was generally about a seven minute jog. When he got there, McKay was still yelling, Zelenka was trying to kill McKay with his eyes, Sheppard was holding something—that McKay was yelling at him to put down—and someone was hiding behind one of the consoles.

Ronon didn’t think, given Sheppard’s relaxed stance, that the person behind the console was a threat, but he pulled his gun all the same. At the sound of it, Sheppard turned and said, “I don’t think that’s going to help.”

Ronon shrugged and kept it out anyway. McKay finally went quiet, and was nervously watching the area where Ronon was heading. Ronon walked around the console, his gun trained, and found --

He turned around to McKay and said, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“Your grasp of English slang is coming along quite nicely, I’m not sure you realized—“

Ronon was not in the mood. “McKay!”

McKay flinched, and then got a stubborn expression on his face. “I didn’t do anything. He started talking and then he said something and then, well—“

“What did he say?” Ronon asked.

McKay and Zelenka looked at each other. McKay said, “We were paying attention to more important things.”

Ronon gave him a Look. Zelenka said, “We honestly don’t recall.”

Ronon glanced back down at the kid who was clearly Ryan, same big eyes, just in a smaller face. The kid was now hiding even further back, his fingers grasping the side of the console, knuckles white. Ronon swore inwardly and holstered his gun. He asked, as a last tactic, “Teyla still on the surface with Torren?”

Jon nodded, looking easily as miserable as Ronon felt. Ronon did his best to roll with things, dropping down to a crouch and saying, “It’s okay, Ryan.”

Ryan peered out from his hiding spot and frowned. His clothes were just big puddles of material being held up like a tent around his body. Ronon could see he was trembling. “How do you know my name?”

Ronon stood up. “He doesn’t remember anything?”

All three men looked at the ground. Clearly, nobody had tried talking to him. Ronon rolled his eyes and crouched back down. “What do you remember?”

Ryan’s frown got deeper. His eyes watered a little, but he closed them tight and then opened them again, dry. “This isn’t my home.”

Ronon remembered that feeling, but he’d been an adult, able to process change. Also, he could remember how he’d gotten to Atlantis. He sighed and stood up again. “Go find someone from his band.”

Sheppard said, “Yeah, I’ll uh. Okay.”

McKay and Zelenka just stood there. Finally, Zelenka said, “A coffee sounds good.”

“Coffee,” McKay agreed, and followed his colleague out the door.

Ronon sat all the way down and asked, “How old are you?”

Ryan took a long moment to consider before answering. “Seven and three quarters.”

Great. “You can come out, you know. I won’t hurt you.”

Ryan snorted at that, like he knew better, and something in Ronon’s gut tightened. That was learned behavior. Children trusted until they were taught not to. Better and better. Sheppard had better get back here in a hurry.

*


Sheppard came back with four mildly unkempt looking guys behind him. Ronon looked at them and asked, “Which one of you knows Ryan best?”

There was a silent conference between the four, and then, as one, three of the guys pushed one forward. Ronon just motioned for him to come closer. The guy did, and as soon as he had spotted Ryan said, “Oh fuck. Oh -- What the fuck did you do to him?”

“Stop yelling,” Ronon said. Ryan had ducked completely behind the console again. “He tells me he’s seven.”

“He seven?” the guy whispered. “How did that -- that is not normal.”

Ronon bit back a sigh. “Not where you come from. Did the two of you know each other as children?”

The guy rubbed his face with his hands. “Where the fuck is Spencer when you really need him? Oh, right, Earth.”

Ryan peered out. “You know Spencer?”

The guy got down with Ronon. “Hey, yeah, Ry. I know Spencer. My name’s Jon, we, uh—“

Jon looked at Ronon. Ronon shrugged. How the fuck should he know what they could tell Ryan? Jon said, “We know Spencer.”

“Where is he?” Ryan asked softly.

“He’s, uh. He couldn’t be here.”

Ryan straightened at that, and nodded, his face going blank. Then he asked, his tone guarded, “Where’s my dad?”

Jon swallowed. “Can you give us a second?”

Jon turned around. Ronon turned with him. Jon whispered, “Ryan’s dad died over eight years ago.”

Of course he had. “Where’s this Spencer guy?”

“Probably California, but, well, he and Ryan aren’t as close as they used to be. Also, wouldn’t it probably freak him the fuck out, seeing Spencer as an adult?”

Jon had a point. Ronon asked, “Have any better ideas?”

“He’s not going to stay like this, right? I mean, something turned him this way, it can turn him back, right?”

Ronon would turn them over to Zelenka for an explanation of why it was Not That Simple. “What do seven year olds do on earth?”

Jon frowned. “Uh, what did you do?”

Ronon tried not to think about that. He answered with a curt, “Games.”

“Games are good. Uh, Ryan sort of sucks at football, but he sometimes likes it, for whatever reason.”

“Sheppard likes football. We can keep him occupied.”

“Can we go back to the part where I asked about him staying like this?”

Ronon turned back to Ryan. “How does a game of football sound?”

Ryan looked suspicious. Ronon said, “You don’t really want to stay here, do you? The guy who yells is going to come back.”

That was enough to decide him. Ryan scrabbled out from behind the console and stood at what Ronon could only call attention. Ronon stood too, taking his hand. Ryan froze up for a second, but then he seemed to realize Ronon wasn’t hurting him. Ronon said, “C’mon, we’ll see if they’re making cookies in the mess today before we play.”

Jon said, “Okay, uh, we can talk about that issue later.”

“Find Zelenka,” Ronon told him. “He’ll know something.”

*


“For someone who’s the size of your pinky,” Sheppard said quietly, “the kid's not bad. His aim’s a mess, but at least it goes somewhere.”

Ronon made a non-committal noise. Ryan could send the ball a good distance, but he thought about what he was doing before he ever started, serious consideration every time. The one and only time Sheppard had yelled, “Yeah, c’mon,” Ryan had flinched so hard he’d nearly dropped the ball. Then he’d apologized—twice.

Ronon thought he might have to talk to this Spencer kid after all. He’d known kids like Ryan on Sateda, everyone had. It was a warrior culture, and some parents were known to take it too far.

But Ronon had been to Earth. What was more, he had McKay and Sheppard and Lorne and Keller to explain the cultural oddities to him. Earth was not a warrior culture, and children were not supposed to react to things like Ryan.

After a moment, Ronon asked, “Does it seem like he’s enjoying himself?”

“Honestly?” Sheppard made a face. “He reminds me of the kids who always got picked last for the team and tried their absolute hardest just to fit in, because they were supposed to.”

Ryan, down across the makeshift field, was starting to look nervous. Ronon knew it wasn’t his fault that the kid had ended up twenty or so years younger, but it was sort of hard to feel completely guilt-free. Especially when Ryan seemed to hesitantly trust Ronon simply for having shown up and gotten rid of the loud people in the lab.

Ronon asked, “What kind of music do earth kids listen to?”

“When I was a kid it depended on the kid. I don’t know, it’s kinda been a while, you know?”

“For him, too.”

Sheppard sighed. “Yeah. I’ll uh, I’ll see if his friends know, and if Rodney can round up the files. You okay here?”

“Pretty sure I can take him.”

Sheppard rolled his eyes and then waved to Ryan. “Hey bud, I got some stuff I gotta do. Nice playing with you.”

Ryan waved back shortly, watching him go. Ronon asked, “You still want to play?”

Ryan shifted on his feet and asked from the side of his mouth, “Do you?”

Ronon’s chest hurt the way it sometimes did when he thought about things that were no more or would never be. He asked, having a feeling he knew the answer, “How do you feel about exploring?”

For the first time since seven-year-old Ryan had appeared, the kid’s lips curved into a near approximation of a smile. Ronon said, “Yeah, me too. Let’s go.”

*


After about a couple of hours of traipsing around the areas of Atlantis that Ronon knew to be safe, with Ryan pressing his fingers to walls and whispering things to her, Ryan started to droop. He tried to act like he was fine, but sometimes his eyes would close as they were walking. Luckily, the city clearly liked Ryan, so he wasn’t running into things. After the third time, though, Ronon swung Ryan up into his arms and settled him on his hip..

Ryan froze completely. Then he said, “I’m sorry, I’m sor—I can walk by myself, promise, I was just—“

“You don’t weigh anything, kid.”

Ryan stiffened. “I don’t wanna be a bother.”

“Who told you you were?”

Ryan opened his mouth, then hesitated and said, “Nobody.”

Ronon said, “Well, nobody’s telling you that now, either.”

Ryan stayed slightly tensed against Ronon’s body until he evidently couldn’t. Then, a few minutes later, Ronon felt the release of muscles that signified sleep.

*


Ronon took Ryan back to the guest quarters so he could nap, and found Ryan’s four bandmates there. One of them said, “Oh, hey. We, uh. We figured we’d kid-proof the room. And maybe get his iPod hooked up to the system.”

Jon, who was sitting with the computer, said “The Colonel said something about getting Spencer online. I think he’s working on it.”

“What do you know about his childhood?” Ronon asked, laying Ryan down carefully on the bed, and removing his shoes slowly, so as not to wake him.

Ronon didn’t so much see as feel the look shared between the four of them. In the end, it was Jon who said, “That’s kind of his business.”

Normally, Ronon would agree with that sentiment. And while this might have been “normal” under Atlantis standards, Ryan hadn’t signed up to be zapped by Ancient technology. “I don’t want him spending his time scared until McKay can figure this out.”

There was more nonverbal communication that Ronon pretended to ignore while he tucked Ryan under the covers. Finally, one of the ones who was not Jon said, “Don’t drink.”

Another one said, “And try to have reasonably reliable reactions to events.”

A third one said, “We could take care of him, you know. He is our friend.”

Not unreasonable, but something about the idea made Ronon’s stomach turn. “I think, after today, me disappearing might seem unreliable to him.”

Jon said, “Fine. But if you do scare him, even just a little, we will find a way to kill all nine feet of you.”

Ronon nodded, and pulled up a chair next to Ryan’s bed. “All right.”

*


The five of them took Ryan to dinner. Ryan stayed close to Ronon but sometimes, when Jon or one of the Nicks or Andy would bring up a song he had heard, Ryan might try to say something. At the very least, he listened with interest.

About a third of the way through the meal, Sheppard came and pulled Ronon aside. “We’re getting someone to set this Spencer kid up with the necessary networking to talk to us at the next dial out.”

Ronon glanced over to see Ryan watching him, clearly trying not to get caught. Ronon nodded. “Good. McKay making any progress?”

“Well, a few of the biologists are really psyched about all the new baby mice.”

Ronon gave him an unimpressed look. Sheppard sighed. “Yeah, I’ll tell you when I’ve actually got some news.”

“You do that.”

*


Ryan woke in the middle of the night to darkness and nothing familiar. Not even Babar the Teddy was there. His throat was dry and he couldn’t remember what had woken him, but it had left his heart pounding. He closed his eyes and reopened them, sure that if he did, everything would change, and he would be back in his room, with his dad at work. That was when he was safest.

Instead, someone said, “Ryan?”

Ryan bit his lip and did not cry. He was a big boy. Big boys faced their fears. “I’m sorry. I’ll go back to sleep.”

He wished it were a little lighter, so he could at least know who was talking to him. Just as he thought it, there was a clicking noise and something near his head bathed the room in light blue. A huge man was sitting next to his bed. There were other people on his floor, but they seemed to be asleep. The whole day came streaming back to Ryan. “Oh.”

The man, Ronon, asked, “You need something?”

Ryan shouldn’t ask. His dad said he was too old for baby toys, but --“Do you know where Babar is?”

“I think Babar’s probably at your home, but if you tell me who or what a Babar is, we can probably find something that will work for right now.”

Ryan shook his head. He wasn’t going to explain his need for a stuffed animal. Only weak little kids needed things like that. “No, it’s okay. Thanks.”

“Ryan,” Ronon said softly, even more softly than their whispers. “When I was a little boy, I had a blanket my mother had stitched for me. Sateda was very cold in the winters, but I could never sleep without it, not even in the summers. I kept it with me even when I went to train as a soldier. It was a present from my mother, nobody expected that I should leave it behind.”

“My mom didn’t like me, she left when I was really little.” Ryan said, matter-of-factly. He had practiced so that he could. “I think Babar came from my grandma, but she died a long time ago.”

“And Babar was?”

“A teddy bear.”

Ronon said, “I think I have an idea. Will you wait here?”

Ryan nodded. He was still a little frightened, but it felt like his bed was trying to cuddle him, and there was an oddly soothing hum in the air. Ronon went out the door and was gone for long enough that Ryan was falling back asleep when he returned with something that looked a bit like a long bit of braided rope.

Ronon sat down and asked, “Can I have your hand?”

Ryan considered for a second. Ronon’s hands were a lot bigger than Ryan’s. But Ronon had asked, when he could have just taken. Ryan gave him the hand, and Ronon carefully wove the rope in between Ryan’s fingers and over his palm. He explained, “My friend Teyla has a son. Her people, they give these to their children so that they can catch their dreams in their hands and have rope to tie them to themselves. Teyla’s son was given several, but she kept the extras. She wanted you to have this one.”

Ryan squeezed the rope experimentally. It was soft and smooth. It wasn’t the same as Babar, really, but it did somehow make him feel quieter inside, like Babar always did. He yawned. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Sleep, okay? I’ll be right here.”

“Why?” Ryan asked.

“If you need anything.”

“Oh,” Ryan said, a little confused, because he could mostly get himself anything he needed, like water or food, or whatever, but it was nice that someone wanted to do that for him. “Okay.”

*


Ryan woke up and found Ronon watching something on a computer screen with Jon, the guy who knew Spencer, and another guy. Ryan was pretty sure his name was Murray. Ronon looked up and said, “Hey.”

Ryan scrambled off the bed. The rope was still wrapped around his hand. He was a little embarrassed to be caught with it. He didn’t like people seeing him with Babar. But nobody said anything. Instead, Jon asked, “Want some breakfast, bud?”

Ryan was pretty hungry, so he nodded. Ronon said, “Teyla found you some clothes that’ll actually fit. C’mon.”

Ronon gave him a pile of clothing. Ryan went to the bathroom to chance. The room helped him with everything he needed, like turning on the water when he was ready to rinse his teeth. Ryan didn’t know where he was, exactly, but he really liked it. It was a bit like living in one of the science fiction novels he liked to take out from the library. And it seemed to like him back—it was always adjusting the lights to just the right level, and helping him reach things and just generally being nice to him in a way that his house never was.

He changed out of his pajamas and brushed his teeth and his hair and then came out to where the others were waiting for him. Murray smiled. “Dude. You look awesome.”

Ryan looked down at his weird brown and green outfit and scowled at Murray. He didn’t like being made fun of. Jon snorted. “He means it, Ry, that’s just his face.”

“Shut it, Walker.”

Ronon looked at Ryan and rolled his eyes. Ryan wasn’t sure what he was rolling his eyes at, but it was kind of funny. He sneaked a smile, not wanting to upset the other two guys. Ronon was bigger than them (by three), but Ryan wasn’t.

Jon said, “C’mon. Let’s find out if someone in this joint understands how to make pancakes.”

*


Ryan was sitting between White and Murray watching Ronon fight with a Marine who was not nearly as big, but clearly knew how to use his size. The Marine had introduced himself as Evan when he’d shown up, and smiled at Ryan. Ryan had admitted, “My dad was a Marine.”

“Yeah?” Evan asked. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to do the Marines proud.”

He was holding his own but Ronon just… Ryan had never seen anyone fight like him before, not even in the movies. Just as Ronon managed to get Evan to stay down, Sheppard sauntered in. He looked down at Evan and said, “We’ll beat him yet, Major.”

“If you say so, sir.”

Sheppard looked at Ronon. “Someone on the phone for you.”

Ronon straightened. “Where’s Jon?”

“Already headed to communications.”

Ronon came over to Ryan and got on a level with him. “Willing to take a ride?”

“What kind?”

“On my shoulders.”

It was awfully high up. If Ronon let him fall -- Ryan took a breath. “Okay.”

Ronon swung him up and then kept a tight grip on his ankles. They moved quickly, wherever they were going, and it was a little like flying. Ryan smiled. He was high up, where nobody could see. Soon they came to a big, somewhat circular room. There was a huge circle of blue rippling light that Ryan couldn’t look away from. It was beautiful. Ronon, though, just took them into an office with a computer.

The guy on the screen was yelling at Jon. “—kidding me? Jon, you know better than to just let him be taken by scientists and I don’t even, what the hell—“

Jon looked pretty pissed. Ryan knew all about pissed expressions. But he also looked something else, guilty, maybe, like after the time Ryan’s dad accidentally pushed him down the stairs. He’d been really nice for months afterward. Ryan almost wished he’d do it again, sometimes.

“It’s not as if you’re here, Spence, or as if you have been—“

“Spencer?” Ryan asked, not even meaning to, but the guy on the computer didn’t look at all like his Spencer. The guy on the screen was old.

Ryan tugged one at Ronon’s hair, just lightly, and Ronon put him down. Ryan looked carefully at the screen. He could kind of see it. It was like Spencer had a way older brother. He chewed his lip. “Spence?”

Spencer put a hand to the screen. “Hey, Ry.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m. Uh, I’m far away.”

As far as Ryan knew, that never happened, except when Spencer’s family went on their summer vacation. And this Spencer was big and, “I don’t understand.”

Spencer looked like he was going to cry. Spencer cried easier than Ryan, but his parents never seemed to mind. He said, “I know, Ry. Sometimes I don’t get it either. Let me talk to the people taking care of you, okay?”

“Are you going to come here?” Ryan asked.

Spencer hesitated, then said, “If I need to, I’ll be there, Ry, promise.”

Ryan looked around carefully, and then whispered, “The secret promise?”

Somberly, Spencer said, “Two index fingers and all.”

Ryan nodded then. Spencer never broke the secret promise. He asked Ronon, “Can I go look at the big standing pool? I’ll stay at the top of the stairs.”

Ronon said, “Take Jon with you, just in case.”

Ryan turned away and made a face, but he did as told.

*


Ronon said, “Jon says you can tell us the stuff we should know about Ryan as a kid.”

Spencer said, “No offense, but who the fuck are you?”

Ronon didn’t exactly blame the guy, even if he wasn’t here, which evidently Jon, at the very least, felt he should be. “Ronon Dex. I kinda got Ryan into this mess, indirectly. Just trying to help him get through it.”

Spencer blinked. “And he’s letting you?”

Ronon shrugged. “He doesn’t know the others any better.”

Spencer ran a hand over his face. “He’s what, seven?”

Ronon nodded. “And three quarters.”

Spencer broke a smile, just a little. “He always wanted to be older than he was.”

“For good reason?”

Spencer sighed and Ronon could see him giving in. “His mom left when he was three. His dad was -- I mean, he had good periods. And he loved Ryan, I honestly believe that. Ryan, when he’s himself, knows that. But in between the good periods, there were a lot of not so good ones. George, his dad, he was an alcoholic, a pretty volatile one. Ryan just never knew what to expect, y’know?”

Yeah, Ronon had some idea. He just hadn’t been a child when he’d learned how to cope with it. “What kind of things would help him feel, ah, more at ease?”

Spencer makes a face. “Seven, huh? Um, well, Ryan had this huge collection of pogs, and I don’t know if I’d gotten my Gameboy yet, but it was somewhere around that time. Oh, and we liked to watch Power Rangers after school. Ryan’s favorite food was mac & cheese, and he really loved orange soda. He wasn’t super into music yet, then, mostly his dad played a lot of country, so I’d avoid that genre.” Spencer looked down for a moment and then back up. “That’s the best I’ve got. I was six.”

Ronon was willing to take it. “We’ll call you with an update. Hopefully he’ll call you.”

“Could you try and make sure he doesn’t, like, disappear this time?”

Ronon cut the connection. He asked Sheppard, “What the fuck is a pog?”

“Do I look like I was playing with toys in the early ‘90’s?”

“According to McKay, you still are.”

“I know what a Gameboy is.”

“Good enough.”

*


White came through on the pogs, creating a set out of old boxes that one of the scientists had on hand from a recent earth shipment. He took his time with it, and then sat down to color them with Ryan. Ryan was so, so careful about putting on each color, looking to White or Ronon for approval with every choice.

Ryan asked if Ronon wanted to play. When Ronon said he didn’t know how, Ryan said, “It’s easy. It’s, I mean, it’s a kid’s game,” he said with the easy dismissal of someone who’d been dismissed a lot in his lifetime.

Ronon said, “Teach me anyway.”

He then spent the next hour purposely losing.

*


The mess does its best to make a reasonable imitation of mac & cheese, and even mixes orange juice with some 7Up for a close approximation of orange soda. Ryan’s eyes get very round and brighter than they have been since he showed up behind a console. Ronon could honestly kiss the kitchen staff.

With the help of McKay, Jon found the file for ET, and sat in Ryan’s bed with him, watching it on a computer. Ronon pulled a chair up and watched as well, understanding easily how Ryan could enjoy the story of a lonely boy who finds a friend.

Ryan clung to Jon through the last twenty minutes of the film, his fingernails making tiny indentations in Jon’s skin. When he noticed them his eyes flashed with worry, and he opened his mouth to apologize, but Jon just yawned really loudly and said, “I think it’s bedtime, kiddo, huh?”

Ryan went to the bathroom and emerged with a scrubbed face and brushed hair, in the pajamas Teyla had found for him. The rope was dangling from his fingers. Without having to be asked, Ronon took it, and wrapped it around Ryan’s hand, the way he had the night before. Then he settled Ryan in bed, and laid down on the floor next to it.

Ryan peered over the edge of the bed. “You’re sleeping on the floor?”

“Yes,” Ronon said.

“But—“

“I’ve slept on rocks before. While hurt.”

Ryan’s eyes went wide. “Are you a soldier?”

“I was.” Ronon closed his eyes for a moment and took a breath. When he opened them, Ryan was still looking at him.

“Were you a hero?”

Ronon laughed, because it was easier than breaking apart. “No, kid. Just someone trying to stay alive.”

After a long moment, Ryan told him, “I don’t believe you,” and then settled down, closed his eyes, and seemed to go to asleep.

Ronon blinked and ignored the feeling of warmth right under his breastbone.

*


After a few days, Ryan would let Ronon put him on his shoulders for the whole of his run. It was a strain for Ronon, but he kind of liked that. Atlantis was making him soft.

Meanwhile, Andy had started organizing pog tournaments of military versus scientists, with entertainers being equally distributed among the teams. Ryan had chosen to stick with Ronon, who was paired with the military.

Jon was teaching Ryan to play the guitar, Murray was mining the city’s archives for good movies and music for Ryan, and White had teamed up with the kitchen staff to help with food that non-Athosian kids would eat.

All four of them took turns talking with McKay when he needed to know something about Ryan, although that fell to Jon a lot, simply because he knew the most.

Sheppard worked with Ryan on throwing a football where he wanted it to go, and while Ryan was wary and stiff at the first lessons, he soon started to unwind under Sheppard’s patient tutelage and consistent positive reinforcement. Teyla and Lorne worked with Ryan on basic self-defense methods when he showed an interest. But no matter what, when he was done with something, Ryan would come and find Ronon and sit quietly, watching him.

When Ronon was finished with what he was doing, the two would go “exploring,” Ryan opening up Atlantis at his touch, and Ronon would ask what he had been up to, listen to Ryan’s take on his colleagues. Ryan saw people’s motivations different than most Earth-based humans, or at least, the adults from Earth.

And at night, unfailingly, Ronon would wind the Athosian rope around Ryan’s hand, lie on his back on the floor, and go to sleep to the sound of Ryan’s even breathing.

*


Atlantis’ hurricane season hit right after they’d shipped off the entire entertainment division that The Young Veins had come with. They planned for the entertainers to be there when the weather wasn’t life-threatening.

Ronon was on a run when the first hurricane barreled in. It had been working itself up for a few days, but it came with a suddenness that was rare and the entire city shook with the first hit. Ronon stumbled slightly but caught himself before Ryan fell from his shoulders.

He set Ryan on his feet and said, “C’mon, we need to get to the city center.”

He could tell Ryan was going as quickly as he could, but even that wasn’t fast enough. Ronon scooped him up and started running, but before he could get to the provided Safe Areas, the city jolted sideways for a moment, long enough to throw him into one of the walls. Ryan made a small sound, more a gasp of shock than anything. Ronon gritted his teeth and kept going.

He had almost made it there when the city pitched forward, sending him face first down a corridor, Ryan underneath him.

*


Ronon woke up a few minutes later, his head feeling overcrowded and fuzzy. It took him a second to remember where he was. When he remembered, he rolled over as quickly as he could. Ryan was still unconscious, but he was clearly breathing.

Ronon closed his eyes for a second, trying to get his thoughts back in order. The medical staff would be at city center, he just had to keep going. He picked Ryan up carefully, not sure if anything was broken. Nothing looked broken, but Ronon wasn’t a medic.

He took it slower this time, trying to just move with the worst of the shifts. He wasn’t sure how long it took him to get to the meeting spot, but when he got there, Ryan was still breathing. That was what mattered.

Several of the doctors rushed to him, but he couldn’t seem to get his arms to let go of Ryan. Then Keller was there, saying, “Hey Ronon, it’s okay, we’re just gonna patch him up.”

He let go, but he followed, glaring at the doctors who wanted to check him. Keller sat him in a chair next to the pallet she’d put Ryan on and said, “Stand down, Ronon.”

He did, unless they got in the way of him watching Keller check Ryan out. Then he moved them. It wasn’t like with the team—the team was made of adults. Ryan was not an adult, and he was far away from home, and Ronon was staying with him until he was certified okay by Keller.

He felt justified when Ryan woke up while being prodded and started to struggle. Keller said, “Hey, sweetie, hey there, it’s okay.”

Ryan was having none of it, but went completely still when a male nurse started heading toward him. Ronon growled at the guy. Ryan looked over and, seeing Ronon, calmed down a little. Ronon offered the best smile he had. “Hey. You’re safe. Just let the doctor help, okay? She’s good at what she does.”

After that, so long as Ronon stayed within eyesight of Ryan, things went better. Eventually, Keller gave him a shot and Ryan’s eyes fluttered closed.

Keller said, “Well, he’s not gonna enjoy waking up very much. A cracked rib, sprained wrist and more bruises than your average professional wrestler, but he’ll live.” She ran a hand softly through Ryan's hair. “I gave him some stuff for the pain and to help him rest.”

Ronon nodded and then sat by the bed, waiting for Ryan to wake up. When Ryan finally did, the storm was still raging on outside, and the mess workers were handing out emergency rations. Ryan blinked several times and then turned on his side, stopping when he hit the rib. He went white and rolled back onto his back, but didn’t make a sound.

Ronon said, “Hey. Doctor Keller says you’re gonna be kinda sore for a little while.”

Ryan nodded. “Did you fall? Are you okay?”

Ronon pointed to the butterfly bandage on his cheek. “Fine.”

Ryan tried to sit up. It was a slow process, and his breathing got heavy. He winced when he tried to put pressure on the wrapped wrist, but again, was silent. Ronon said, “Want me to go get you some food?”

Ryan chewed his lip for a moment and then said, “I can get my own. I’m okay.”

Ronon didn’t comment on the fact that “okay” for Ryan was three shades whiter than normal, in an unfamiliar bed, in a room full of strangers. If he opened his mouth he was going to scream, and then kill a few people gratuitously, out of the desire to kill the right person. Ronon took several breaths and stood. Finally he said, “Sure, but I’m up. You just stay here.”

Ryan’s eyes followed him all the way to where the meals were being handed out, and didn’t come off him until he was back at Ryan’s side. Ronon just opened the MRE and handed it to Ryan. Ryan said, “Thank you,” all proper, and Ronon carefully, oh so carefully, put a hand to Ryan’s back, and Ryan leaned into it ever so slightly.

*


Two nights later, when Ronon was helping Ryan into bed, making sure he took the pain meds and got settled in, Ryan said, “Why, um -- I mean. “ He shook his head. “Nevermind.”

“Why what?” Ronon asked.

Ryan’s eyes went a little dark and guarded and for a second Ronon was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be convinced to continue. Ronon smiled to show him it was okay, just a small smile, and dimmed the lights. Ryan laid down carefully on the side that wasn’t hurt.

When Ronon had laid down himself, Ryan whispered, “Why are you helping me so much?”

Ronon kept his frown to himself. “Because you’re hurt.”

“So?” Ryan asked, sounding half-suspicious, half-confused.

Ronon swallowed. “You’re a good kid, Ryan. Someone should take care of you when you’re hurt, is all.”

Ronon could see Ryan open his mouth, but whatever he was going to say, he must have decided against it, because he closed his mouth and his eyes and pretended to go to sleep. Ronon reached up and smoothed the hair from Ryan’s face. He said softly again, “Good kid.”

He pretended not to see the minute smile that crept over Ryan’s face.

*


McKay told Ronon, “I need to work with the kid.”

Ronon looked at McKay, who at least had the grace to appear to realize what he was asking. Nonetheless, Ronon said, “He’s not one of your mice, McKay.”

McKay gave him a cutting look, but curbed whatever he was going to say. “Just bring him to the lab.”

“I’m staying with him,” Ronon said.

McKay rolled his eyes. “Well, that’ll be great for progress.”

*


McKay was always jittery around kids, like he couldn’t trust them, which was weird, because in Ronon’s experience, kids were a hell of a lot more straightforward than adults. Ryan was solemn and quiet and clearly terrified of McKay, but that seemed to work well, since it meant that McKay could tell him what to do and he would do it.

After a while McKay calmed down and started making jokes. They didn’t make Ryan laugh, but did at least leech some of the fear from his eyes. The whole thing took a couple of hours, and McKay was clearly somewhat disheartened by a lack of progress, but he didn’t take it out on anybody in front of Ryan.

Instead he said, “Uh, look. I want -- I just, I’m really sorry that all this is happening.”

Ryan frowned. “Was it your fault?”

“Yes,” McKay said. “I should have—“

“No,” Ronon told him, coming to stand by Ryan. “Sometimes stuff like this happens on Atlantis. And McKay’s going to fix it, it’s just taking him some time.”

“But,” McKay started.

Ronon said, “McKay. I was the one who told Keller he had the gene. She told you. You wanna blame me and her, too?”

McKay narrowed his eyes, but invoking Dr. Keller was usually the best way to get him to see reason. Finally he said, “Why are you still here? Go somewhere else and stop wasting my time.”

Ronon smiled and took Ryan off to where they could watch the sea creatures swimming under Atlantis.

*


About two weeks after Ryan’s transformation, Sheppard’s team was called up for a mission. Ronon got the feeling Sheppard had actually been putting it off, if nothing else because McKay was point for figuring out The Ryan Problem, but they needed to go reaffirm an alliance that they had originally negotiated with people who were a little jumpy about dealing with outsiders.

The mission went perfectly, but it took three days to go through all the codicils to their trade partners satisfaction. For most of it Ronon was sitting around being useless, because they weren’t being attacked. Teyla was the one who dealt with negotiations, so in this instance, Ronon truly was just the muscle.

They parked the puddlejumper in the bay, and the minute Ronon exited, he had his arms full of Ryan, who was hugging him with every ounce of strength in his maybe-fifty pound body. Ryan stepped back and started to say, “Sorry,” so Ronon scooped him up in his arms and started walking toward his quarters.

Jon, who had been standing with Ryan, was walking alongside Ronon. “He kinda missed you. Also, uh, we weren’t entirely sure where you were. I’m not sure he thought you were coming back.”

Ryan stayed quiet, but the way he was clinging to Ronon's vest, Ronon thought Jon probably had a point. Ronon told Ryan, “Missed you too, big guy.”

The thing was, he really had.

*


Their second mission out was a few days later, and Ronon explained to Ryan, “My job is to help make sure people in the city have food and clothes and other things. Sometimes we have to meet with new people to make this happen, okay?”

Ryan nodded and said, “I’ll practice the kicks you taught me while you’re gone.”

Ronon ruffled his hair and said, “Be back in a couple of days.”

Of course, that was the time the team landed in the middle of a serious civil uprising. By the time they were able to limp back to Atlantis nearly a week later, Sheppard had a broken wrist and had taken an arrow to the thigh, Teyla was nursing some serious gashes on her right arm, McKay had a sprained ankle, and Ronon had arrows embedded in one shoulder, a hip, and a forearm, the last of which was pretty seriously inflamed. They were all dehydrated and undernourished, and McKay’s hypoglycemia was having a field day with him.

Ronon made the medical staff see to the others first—they could be as intimidating as they wanted, but he was still bigger--but then gave in when Keller said, “Ronon, I promise, we’ve got the others under control.”

McKay, who’s ankle she was bandaging, said, “Ow! Seriously, Conan, I need your arms to shoot things while I do the important job.”

Ronon gave in then, and sank onto a bed, never entirely able to relax into treatment. With Beckett it had been a little easier, as the man had taken Ronon’s tracker out, and saved him more than once. Soon enough, though, Keller was there, using local anesthetic to get the arrows out and clean up the worst of the damage. She hooked him into a few IVs and said, “Just give me 24 hours before you go running off, okay? That infection was in there pretty deep.”

Ronon glared, but he knew he would, because worrying Keller wasn’t something he was terribly fond of doing. Also, she was usually right when she said something needed to be done. He laid back and the next thing he knew he was waking up in a quiet, dark infirmary, a small hand lying over his. He looked at the side of the bed and saw that Ryan was sitting right next to him, his arms draped protectively over the side of Ronon closest to him, his head resting on them, asleep.

White and Jon were playing a game of cards across the room. Ronon said, “You didn’t take him to bed?”

“He won't go," White told him, laying a card down. "Wakes up every time we try.”

As if to prove White’s words, Ryan’s head came up, his eyes blinking open. “Ronon?”

“Hey, Ry.”

“You got hurt.”

“Not too bad. You should be in bed.”

Ryan yawned. “S’okay. I sleep in hospitals all the time. The nurses here are way nicer than usual. They said I could have an empty bed if I wanted it.”

Ronon took a moment to consider all of that. All he asked, though, was, “Why didn’t you?”

Ryan looked confused. “I was making sure you were all right.”

Ronon couldn’t help smiling. He said, “Takes more than some pissed off natives and a few arrows. C’mere.”

Ryan hesitated a second, but then scrambled onto the bed at Ronon’s direction. He laid himself carefully next to Ronon, so carefully Ronon barely felt it. He drew Ryan closer with his good arm. He said, “Go to sleep.”

Ronon looked at Jon and White and said, “I’ve got this.”

Jon yawned. “Thanks, man.”

When they were gone, Ronon tucked himself just a bit around Ryan, and fell back to sleep.

*


A few days later, confined to his labs mostly by a relative lack of mobility, McKay commed Ronon and said, “Okay. Every test I’ve tried says this is going to work. And I’ve tried hundreds. Even Zelenka has agreed that I am not being rash. We’ve got the solution.”

“Be there in a bit.” Ronon was surprised to feel something sink in his stomach. It didn’t matter, though. He turned to Ryan, who was eating lunch next to him, and said, “Hey. We have to go visit McKay in the labs, okay?”

Ryan put his knife and fork down. “Okay.”

“You should finish eating.”

Ryan looked at his plate and sighed, just a little. He started to pick up the utensils again, and Ronon said, “Only if you’re hungry.”

Ryan said, “I’d like to just go now, please.”

Across the table, Ryan’s bandmates were looking at Ronon with wide, questioning eyes. He nodded at them. “See you in a bit.”

*


McKay explained what he was going to do in what Ronon had no doubt were simple terms to him, especially as he had that slow, condescending tone he got when explaining something to someone else in “layman’s” terms, but Ronon hadn’t a clue was he was saying. What he understood was that Ryan had to slot certain pieces of Ancient tech together correctly in order for this to work.

Ronon dropped to his knees so that he was almost eye to eye with Ryan. He put his hands over Ryan’s arms, and asked, “You get what you need to do, right?”

Ryan nodded. “I’m good at puzzles.”

“Okay. Well.” Ronon pushed some of the hair off Ryan’s forehead and said, “You’re good at a lot of stuff.”

Ryan smiled, his real, full smile, and Ronon said, “Go. Do what McKay said.”

*


Ryan was nauseated, moreso than he could remember being since that first year of touring, when he’d caught some kind of mutant stomach flu.

“Are you all right?” Dr. Slinky – Dr.Zelenka - asked, and pretty much everything came rushing back.

Ryan looked up, but Ronon wasn’t there. Of course not, he was probably off celebrating being off a babysitting duty. Fuck. He took a deep breath and was about to say he was fine when he puked all over the floor.

“Oh, great,” McKay said.

*


The guys met Ryan in the hospital ward, where Dr. Keller gave him some anti-nausea drugs, and ran a few tests, and said, “Stay here for just a bit, okay? Until I can be sure that’s the worst of it.”

Jon said, “Hey, man,” and sat on the bed with him, their sides aligned.

Ryan said, “So. Awkward.”

Jon put an arm over Ryan’s shoulder and squeezed. “Nah, you were an awesome kid. You had mad pog skills.”

Ryan would have thought the strength of Jon’s touch would make him crack, the way he was feeling. Instead it settled something inside him and he rested his head against Jon’s shoulder. After a while, Jon said, “You should probably call Spencer, though. At last check in, he was trying to get himself a pass into the city.”

That made Ryan feel just a little bit better as well. “Has he let up on you at all?”

“We -- We’ve talked a little.”

“That’s good.”

Jon squeezed again, tighter this time.

*


Spencer said, “Oh Jesus Fu--,” then, “Don’t you ever do this shit again, you hear me? You can just say, wow, Spencer, you’ve been an asshole for a few years, and I have too, let's talk about shit. You can not lose twenty years of your life. That isn’t fighting fair, George Ryan Ross, not even for you.”

Ryan let him get the worst of it out and then said, “Good to see you, too, Spence.”

Spencer glared. “Don’t even.”

Ryan didn’t call him on the fact that his eyes were unnaturally bright. “We’re coming back when the next entertainment group goes, a few weeks from now. Where d’you think you’re gonna be?”

“Colorado Springs, where the hell do you think?”

Ryan allowed himself smile. “It’ll be good to see you.”

Spencer dropped the bitchface for long enough to say, “Yeah. Yeah, it’ll be good.”

*


Ryan thought he would like having his room to himself that night, but when he stepped out of the shower and pulled his own pajamas on, he was a little disturbed by the quiet coming from outside the bathroom door.

He came out and sat on his bed, feeling too big for everything. He was about to make himself turn off the light when he noticed the rope still sitting on his nightstand. He hesitated for a second and then said, “Fuck it,” and took it, winding it around his fingers and palm just the way Ronon had each night.

When he turned the lights off, he tried not to listen to the absence of someone else’s breath, measured and confident and reassuring. It took him a long time to sleep.

*


Ryan threw himself into practicing with the guys, since now that everyone knew he was back to himself, they were all clamoring for a show. It was a little weird, but Ryan kind of liked that everyone seemed to wish him so well. He wasn’t really sure what it had been about kid-him, but people on Atlantis liked that kid way more than anyone had when Ryan had actually been a child.

The one person he didn’t see much of was Ronon, but Ryan repeatedly told himself that the other man was catching up on all the work he’d had to miss while he was taking care of an unexpected seven year-old burden, and didn’t let it get to him—well, not much.

They played almost a week after Ryan’s return-to-self, and he could have sworn the whole city showed up. It was probably the best show they’d ever had. Not musically, since Ryan was definitely still a little out of practice, and Andy got distracted by Marine antics at one point, and Jon literally forgot an entire stanza of lyrics, but people started singing along with songs they didn’t even know, and requested covers that all of them sort of shrugged and tried, and all in all, all three damn hours of it were the most kinetic Ryan had ever played.

The best part, though, was that somewhere in the first thirty minutes, Ryan looked out and noticed what he was pretty sure were dreads. He kept his eye on them for the whole of the show. As he was heading over to say something, Lorne and a gaggle of his Marine buddies said, “Hey, meet us in the mess, drinks are on us.”

“The drinks in the mess are free,” Ryan pointed out, but he was grinning anyway.

“Paid for by our sweat, you mean,” Sheppard said, strolling up.

Ryan said, “I’ll be there in a second,” and turned back toward his target, but Ronon was already gone.

*


In the morning (well, early afternoon, but Marines knew how to have a good time, okay?) Ryan whispered to Atlantis, “Mind showing me where Ronon is?”

Evidently she didn’t, because Ryan felt the tug at his center, a little ticklish and all-too-familiar even in his short time here. He followed it, fingers grazing against the wall as if to pet her. After nearly twenty minutes of walking he came to a pier he’d never been to, one he probably wasn’t supposed to be on.

Ronon had his back to him, staring out into the ocean. Next to him was his discarded shirt, shoes and a canteen of water. Ryan took a deep breath and sauntered up, knowing Ronon would hear him before he got there. “Must feel light, running without an extra fifty or so pounds atop your head.”

Ronon did not look over at him. Instead he said, “You played well last night.”

Ryan swallowed. “Ronon, I just-- I wanted to say thanks, you know, for—“

Ronon did look at him, then. “Thanks?”

Ryan frowned a little. “Yeah, for staying with me and, like, not letting me be afraid. I was way more afraid the first time I was seven.” He smiled at the sound of the sentence, but it was an uncertain smile in the face of Ronon’s expressionless face.

Finally Ronon said, “I told them about your gene, Ryan.”

“Yeah, they said people with the gene help.”

“I told them knowing something like that could happen, or something worse.”

Ryan took a second. “I don’t -- What are you trying to tell me?”

“I liked the way you treated Atlantis.”

Ryan waited, but when Ronon stayed silent, he made the universal sign for go on.

Ronon looked unsure. “Most of the people who come here, they treat it like—“ He shook his head. “McKay says like a trip to Disneyworld. I’ve seen pictures, and I think the reference is right, even if I don’t get it.”

Ryan nodded. Ronon said, “But you… You touched her and looked at her and,” Ronon stopped, looking at the water. “It’s rare that outsiders make sense here, but you did.”

“Okay,” Ryan said softly.

“And it can be nice, having outsiders here.”

“Being one yourself,” Ryan chanced.

Ronon shrugged slightly, more a shifting of his whole body than his shoulders. “And then, when you changed, it was easy, being outsiders together, lost from—“

“Yeah,” Ryan said, once it was clear Ronon wasn’t going to finish his sentence.

Ronon looked at Ryan again. Ryan said, “But see, the thing I’m kind of stuck on, is the part where you sort of liked me enough to want me around. Even before I was shorter and evidently slightly more personable.”

Ronon smirked at that. Ryan said, “I kinda thought I just annoyed you, really.”

Ronon rolled his eyes and picked up his stuff, walking off. “See you at sunset.”

“Where?”

“If you can’t figure it out, you don’t get to be there.”

*


Ryan found his way back to the balcony he’d stumbled onto that first night, and was less surprised than he thought he would be to find Ronon waiting. He said, “You’re early.”

Ronon said, “So are you.”

“Point.” Ryan pulled up to a space along the railing. “Is it as good as sunrise?”

“There’s more blue.”

“Your favorite color,” Ryan said, with an inward smile. He remembered that conversation. Ryan had had to debate the merits of green and silver for nearly thirty minutes before settling on green, but just barely.

“Earth people are strange,” Ronon said, not the first—or even the twelfth—time he had felt the need to mention that to Ryan.

“Yeah, well. It’s part of our charm.”

Ronon laughed quietly at that. As the sun hit the water, he ran his fingers up the ridge of Ryan’s spine, sending a shiver through Ryan. Ryan looked over at him. Ronon didn’t look, just said, “It’s been-- my wife died when my planet was exterminated.”

“I looked Sateda up,” Ryan admitted. “The day after I-- when I knew how to look and concentrate.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I have a tendency to fuck things up. Cheat on people, say the wrong thing, just be a douche in general.”

“Keller says I have something called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Sheppard says I’m overprotective, and McKay’s pretty sure I have the intelligence of a molding rock.”

“I left my best friend of sixteen years because I wanted more attention.”

Ronon looked away from the spectacle in front of them, to Ryan. “I live in another galaxy.”

Ryan smiled. “Having relationship issues is good for my albums.”

Ronon looked back just as the best of the blue was billowing out of the sky. “Well then. I guess we’re perfect for each other.”

*


The first picture to show up on Jon’s Twitter—Ryan had set Ronon up with an account for the weekly dial-outs—was of Ryan tuning his guitar for their first concert back on Earth, his right hand wrapped up in the Athosian Dream Rope.

Ronon saved it to his hard drive.

*


The first time the Daedalus came back after The Young Veins had gone back to Earth, Ronon got a package addressed to him. Inside, was a set of pogs, in blues of every shade. Ryan had written: Five months: REMATCH!!


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile