Summary: After the hardships of the Pegasus Galaxy, Ronon and John go in search of its wonders. But what are they really seeking?
For thesatedan_grabass John and Ronon Thingathon.
Notes: I wanted to thank em_kellesvig for her wonderful suggestions and beta! You rock!
There's enough food and beer to last them a few weeks inside the jumper, longer if Ronon decides to hunt during one of their stops, hand rubbing at the hilt of his knife in happy contemplation. Popping open a bottle of dark ale, Ronon sips the alcohol, enjoying the slight tingle down his throat, and wishing it burned more.
Swiveling in the chair to gaze out the window, he stares at blurring stars, remembering when he was a child, wanting to scoop them up in his hands and scatter them across in the sky again with a blow of his lips.
“ETA to PM2-765 is about six minutes,” Sheppard announces.
“You could say we're almost there,” Ronon says around another swallow, chasing the memory away.
“And you could stop drinking in front of me.”
Snagging another amber bottle from the cooler by his feet, Ronon holds it out. “Want one?”
Sheppard's face says yes, but he shakes his head. “Not when I'm flying, buddy.”
“You're just saying that so you can bitch about it later.” Draining the first beer, Ronon gives the cap a twist, flinging it into the back with a flick of his thumb, Sheppard's shoulders flinching at the clanking noise. Ronon really wished he'd just drink the damn alcohol. “You should learn to relax.”
“I know how to relax.”
Maybe if Sheppard repeats the words enough times, they'll be true.
“We're here,” Sheppard announces.
Staring out the view-screen at the swirling yellows, Ronon forgets all about his bottle, stuffing it in the crease of his seat. “Head for the equator.”
Swooping into the clouds, they hover thousands of kilometers above the surface of a planet filled with poison.
“Temperature’s one sixty. Atmosphere’s sixty percent carbon dioxide, thirty percent chlorine and ten percent methane,” Sheppard reads the preliminary readings with a skeptical look. “Sounds like a great vacation spot.”
Sheppard dives into a steep angle, mouth twitching when the drastic maneuver doesn't have the desired effect on Ronon, and they plunge deeper into thick mustards and puffs of soft swirling gold.
“Is there any particular place I should go or do you prefer cloud jumping?”
“Go toward the ocean,” Ronon tells him, searching through layers of haze.
“How is it that you know where to find this place if you've never been here?”
“Had a lot of time on my hands after we...you know. After we got back. ”
Gripping the yolk tighter, Sheppard does what he does best, which is ignore what's running through his head. “McKay help you use the Ancient database?”
“Yeah. He took my descriptions of the planets and matched them to their records.”
“You're telling me that our little galaxy-trotting adventure to see the lost sights of Pegasus is being flown on a wing and a prayer?” Waving a hand at the computer, Sheppard's voice goes from scratchy to high-pitched. “And all the navigational data programmed into the jumper is all based on guesswork?”
Slapping him on the shoulder, Ronon gives him a good shake to loosen him up. “Where's your sense of adventure?”
Incredulous, Sheppard snaps his jaw shut, no doubt plotting ways to get back at him and McKay. Ronon could mention escapes and missions planned on even less, but thinks it's more amusing to watch his friend have to take the same leap of faith.
Breaking through the clouds reveals a sea of glistening gold. Not all skies and water are the same color; it's ridiculous to think otherwise. But Atlantis's homes have been mostly swirling waves of blue.
Sheppard leans closer at the view-screen, the lines of his face smoothing and the edges of his mouth curving slightly. “Looks like honey.”
“Get closer,” Ronon says excitedly, hoping the tales he'd been told as child are true.
Lingering above the sheeny water, Sheppard coasts along a silver shoreline. “What are we searching...” His voice trails off into an amazed sound of awe. “Wow.”
Waves come to shore, yellow froth bubbling into a wavy spectrum of neon yellows, greens, and oranges. As the tide retreats, it leaves behind swatches of glistening beach.
It's cooler than Ronon had ever imagined. “Can you…?”
Sheppard doesn't say a word, skimming closer, hovering only meters above. “The water must be reacting to something in the sand,” he says, his shoulders losing some stiffness. “Reminds me a bit like antifreeze.”
The smear of color imprints every wave, chemical reactions creating swirling patterns of pink, indigo, and mint green. With the retreat of the tide and the slapping of a new one, those colors get washed away, replaced by teal and pearl.
“When I was a kid, I heard stories about this beach. Thought it was stupid. Who cares, you know?” Swallowing, he can't stop staring. “But after weeks of not being able to see anything...” Fingernails digging into the seat, Ronon admits, “I dreamed of here...had to see it with my own eyes.”
A shiver snakes down his spine, phantom chills ghosting through him, sending him back to the place they both left far behind.
“I thought about carnivals,” Sheppard breaks his silence if for a moment. “Maybe a rainbow or two.”
Ronon closes his eyes, sealing out the light, counts to ten and opens his lids, allowing the vibrant hues to fill his vision. Stretching his arm, he touches the view-screen, scraping his fingers across the barrier.
“Rainbows are cool,” Ronon agrees, memorizing the beach below for next time, because there'll always be another. “I know of a world filled with them.”
Ronon had set foot on hundreds of planets in search of shelter and food, trying to avoid the Wraith, but he'd never truly appreciated his surroundings. He needs to come out here; they both do. To take a chance, to truly explore and discover what else his galaxy holds besides strategic objectives. The list of planets to visit is long; they're trying to follow a flight path, but this deviation will be worth their time.
They land during a light drizzle on a hilltop overlooking a lazy meadow filled with rolling grass and eclipsed by gigantic arcs of light.
“McKay would have kittens to see four different rainbows in the same place. Did you know all the colors are refracted from different raindrops?”
“The red bends more than the blue.” At Sheppard's curious expression, Ronon smiles at his ability to keep surprising him. “I went to the university before joining the military. Dated this girl who studied the weather. Thought knowing about storms and stuff would be a good way to talk to her.”
With the sun behind them, they plunge through the rain, Ronon licking the sweet droplets from his mouth. They've been tracking rainbows across three klicks, knowing they'll never find the end or the beginning of one.
“Maybe we'll discover a pot of gold,” Sheppard huffs behind him.
“Can we kill the Leprechaun if we find one?” Ronon asks in glee.
“You need to stop watching all those really cheesy sci-fi movies.”
“Wouldn't mind shooting something.”
“Thought this vacation was all about chilling out?” Sheppard stands next to him, surveying the lush green grass. “Glad we don't have to cut any of that down.”
His dreads are slowly getting soaked, the warm spring rain trailing down his clothes. Ronon pulls his shirt over his head, his necklace of wraith teeth rattling together. Plopping down, he starts removing his boots.
“Whacha doin', buddy?”
Untying the laces, Ronon pulls his feet free from his socks, wiggling all five toes of his right foot, still not used to only having four on his left. Digging them into the dirt, he relishes the way the wet soil squishes between them.
“Does it hurt?” Sheppard asks, sitting next to him, making no motion to remove his own boots.
“Nope.” Ronon wiggles them again, rubbing his fingers over the knobby joints, the flesh no longer a dark, bruising purple. “Just lost the little one. Don't need it to walk or run.”
Tracing lines into the dirt, Sheppard scrapes his fingernails into the earth. “I thought my fingers were goners. Couldn't feel them those last few days.”
It'd been cold in the pit. Stripped of their boots, no blankets or extra clothing to provide warmth.
Ronon tilts his face, fat droplets pelting his cheeks, savoring the wet trails dripping off his chin. Breathing and tasting the rain.
“How about that beer now?”
“Sounds good to me.” Sheppard pulls out two bottles from his rucksack, handing over one. Chugging half the bottle in a few swallows, he releases a long breath. “Wish we had something stronger.” When he catches Ronon's evil grin, Sheppard snorts. “Let me guess. You know of a place to find something?”
They've been traveling outside the normal perimeters of Atlantis for over a week. Going from space gate to space gate, flirting with danger with every exit from the wormhole. It takes two days to reach their next destination and they land on the outskirts of a quarry.
Fingers brushing over his gun, Sheppard curls them over the security of familiar metal, his body taut and coiled. “You sure no one's here?”
“Nothing human,” Ronon replies.
The whole landscape is red slate, red dust, red pieces of sharp rock where trees of stone have branches forming gigantic mushroom caps. Above it all, soars a violent sky of thick purple clouds, gigantic binary suns threatening the horizon like blobs of lava.
“This place seems kind of angry,” Sheppard remarks with a frown. Walking a few steps, he checks the sole of his boot, tests the ground by giving his heel a slight twist. “Will our footwear hold up on this?”
“I once cracked open a Wraith's skull over here somewhere, but yeah. We're good.” Ronon heads toward the largest group of trees. “Come on.”
Everything juts out the terrain at sharp edges, rocks crunching against rocks as they trek across. It's a tricky balance, keeping from falling when things shift and rumble under their feet. The air's dry, free of choking ash and grit. Ronon relishes how his lungs expand without coughing, his blood pumping wildly in his veins.
Glancing back, he sees if Sheppard's feeling the same sense of invigoration. “Let's move faster,” Ronon calls out, a war drum pounding inside his chest.
Sheppard doesn't speak; he grunts and pants, his t-shirt a blurb of black against red. He catches up to Ronon, sweat rolling down his cheeks, tufts of hair sticking out. If Ronon listens hard enough, he can hear his friend's heart beating.
How much had he longed for this? Dreamed of breaking through dirt and rock when all he'd felt was suffocation? To feel his tendons sting and stretch, skin burning with sweat. His legs ache, muscles trembling, a joyful pain fueling his desire to push harder. Run until it reaches a crescendo.
Growling, his boots pound the ground, ankles and knees starting to scream. The trees bait him, mock his failures, and he screams his defiance with one final burst of energy.
Reaching the plateau of trees, Ronon gasps for breath, leaning on a petrified trunk, dizzy with endorphins.
Sheppard stumbles over a minute later, face flushed almost as red as the world around him. He doesn't stop moving, pacing on legs that don't seem steady, hair drenched with sweat. Almost tripping, he grabs a branch for support, kicking an offending rock for being in his way.
Letting go of the branch to rest his hands on his knees, Sheppard bows his head to catch his breath. “That was... really stupid,” he pants, wiping at his face with his shirtsleeve and staggering to sit under the shade.
“Feel better?” Ronon asks.
“Maybe.” Still panting, Sheppard glances around. “These are more purple closer up.”
“They're Areli trees. Means warrior heart,” Ronon explains, finally dropping to the ground, gazing at the capped branches that seem to reach the sky.
“They're the size of a building,” Sheppard observes, scanning the dozens around them.
Ronon watches Sheppard try to calm his breathing, closing his eyes as fights for control. “The air's really clean out here.”
Chuckling, then coughing, Sheppard rests his chin on his folded arms, peering out. “It's very red.”
“Better than black,” Ronon breathes.
“I used to come out here with my taskmaster to cultivate my skills,” Ronon explains, his veins pulsating beneath his skin. “Legend says a great race of warriors used this place to train and learned to live off the lifeless land.” Sheppard listens intently, his eyes slowly recovering a fraction of their normal vibrancy. “One day, the warriors got into some kind of feud and they fought each other until no one was left. Their blood stained the ground forever.”
Pulling out his knife, Ronon studies the trunk, rubbing his fingers over the coarse base of the trunk. “All that blood seeped into the soil, giving life to where none used to exist and the Areli grew, reaching for the sky.” Tracing a single root twisting into the ground, he finds a flaky part and begins cutting. “Right before I earned the rank of Specialist, I was brought here to replenish my spirit.”
His knife hits home, forcing the point into the tender underbelly of the root where the layer is a softer, chalky substance. A thick red sap slowly seeps out of the hole. “Do you still have that cup I asked you to bring?”
“Yeah,” Sheppard answers, pulling off his rucksack and digging through to fish out the clay object. “Here.”
Taking the cup, Ronon captures the sap, allowing it to fill halfway. Scraping the ground with his blade, he gathers enough dust and rocks to fill up the hole and plug the flow.
“Sitting here, I think I was wrong,” Ronon says, handing over the cup.
Sheppard wraps both hands around it, his fingers trembling slightly from exertion and receding adrenaline. “How so?”
Taking in the landscape, seeing all that red become a soothing purple, Ronon licks his lips. “I think coming here is about release.”
Eyes drifting to his drink, Sheppard looks back up at Ronon; unsure at first, his gaze drifts toward the Areli Trees. His expression slowly grows in acceptance. Swirling the liquid, he holds the cup up in the air. “To letting go.” Taking a swallow, he sputters, his face screwing up. “Oh, God...that's...that's...”
“Got a kick?” Ronon laughs, taking the cup and quickly gulping down the thick syrup.
Wiping the ends of his mouth, Sheppard smacks his lips in disgust. “That was worse than Jager.”
Grinning ear to ear, Ronon hands it back over for Sheppard to finish. “Don't be a baby. You said you wanted something stronger.”
Grumbling, Sheppard finishes the last with a grimace and rests the back of his head on the tree, his body slowly going lax.
Beneath the ground, Ronon feels the pulse of the warriors before him and wonders if Sheppard can hear it, too.
“Let's stay a while,” Sheppard suggests, gazing up at the twisting canopy of purple.
“All right,” Ronon answers, his mind buzzing. “But then, I want to run.”
Eyes still on the sky, Sheppard speaks without the weight of guarding his words. “When the pit started filling with dirt and we were forced to squeeze inside that crevice, you told me about this crazy place where people tamed the wind. You sounded like you really wanted to go there.”
“The Wind of Fate,” Ronon replies, his blood tingling. “There's this planet where the oxygen's a;most too thin to breathe. I was only there a short while, met this guy. Some type of thrill seeker. He told me about a canyon where people harvest the wind. He said only the insane attempt it.”
“Only the insane, huh?”
Ronon knows that tone, can hear and feel renewed energy infused in every word. “Yeah,” he answers, knowing where they're going next.
Ronon's not sure how initial dampeners are supposed to work because questioning something that's always just there doesn't cross his mind. His breakfast from earlier threatens to decorate the dash and he's almost ripped away the armrests as the jumper lurches and bucks.
“Are we gonna crash?” he asks between breaths.
“Just hang on.”
There's nothing else to grab, his head bumping the ceiling in a violent jerk before almost being tossed out of his chair. Ronon nearly eats the co-pilot's controls, before the jumper suddenly levels off, the MRE in his belly swirling.
Sheppard turns toward him with a stupid grin on his face. “That was kind of fun.”
“You're an asshole,” Ronon tells him.
“Never heard that before,” Sheppard says, smirking. “Yeah, well, that was a nasty jet stream. According to the HUD, the place's filled with them. There's a low-level air current nearby -- bet it has something to do with the legend.” Scanning the planet, he points ahead. “That barkeep from our last stop said we're supposed to head for the crest of the tallest mountain on the planet. Saw some buildings on the east side.”
Reeling from being bounced around, it's the first time Ronon's noticed the looming mountain ahead with a valley filled with swaying trees. Their white ash branches bend with the wind like outstretched hands, vines snapping wildly in the intense wind.
“Those are really tall.”
“According to my readings, some of them are five or six hundred feet. Twice as tall as any Redwood. Gravity's eighty percent less than on Earth, might explain why they grow so much.” Hugging the jumper close to the mountain face, they barely clip the flapping, leafy vines as they descend toward a clearing at the top. “At least, we don't have to climb it.”
Landing, Sheppard finishes his checklist, shuts the jumper down, and grabs their gear. “Here,” he says, handing Ronon one of the small oxygen masks. “Should be ten hours on a low flow.”
Accepting the black O2 tank, Ronon slips it onto his back, clipping the straps around his waist and shoulders. “Are you sure about this?” he asks. “We don't even know what we're walking into.”
Adjusting his straps, Sheppard looks him directly in the eye. “Why not?”
Breathing through the apparatus tastes like rubber. If it'd been one of those full facemasks, he might have ripped it off. Ronon adjusts the small piece covering his mouth and nose; being able to move it keeps the anxiety at bay.
Sheppard fidgets with his, the plastic layer fogging with condensation, but the more they walk, the easier his breathing becomes. “The building should be about five hundred meters up this slope.” With a glance behind him, he gives a coy smile. “Race you.”
Ronon lets Sheppard take off first and hurries after him, barely pumping his legs and covering the ground without effort. It's likes he's jumping across, each step propelling him forward. It feels amazing. Sheppard stays in front of him, taking advantage of his lower weight, streaking out ahead.
But Ronon decides to kick it into higher gear, gusts of wind guiding him forward, his feet lifting off the ground for five and six seconds at a time. He laughs inside the mask, whoops and crows. Taking giant leaps, he runs further up the path, nearly colliding with Sheppard.
Clinging onto Sheppard's shoulders, Ronon keeps them both from hitting the ground. Panting, he engulfs his friend with both arms, lifting him off the ground before he could protest. “This is awesome!”
He might have squeezed a little too tightly judging by Sheppard's oufff and Ronon puts him down.
Coughing and rubbing his chest, Sheppard laughs. “Come on, let's find this legendary wind.”
Ronon doesn't need to be told twice and darts toward the building waiting around the corner.
There are other people milling around inside, all waiting around a table, everyone checking out each other in curiosity. It's easy to spot the natives wandering about with their golden dark skin and slender arms and legs, their height towering above everyone else.
“These guys make Yao Ming look short,” Sheppard whispers. “Must be the effect of the gravity.”
They look like skin and bones, not enough muscle, but then again, who needs it when everything weighs less?
“I think the head honcho is coming out,” Sheppard says from his spot in the corner.
Of course, Sheppard's scouting out the place, locating entry and exit points, hanging back to observe. Ronon's plotted out the exact same routes, watching the crowd gather around the table.
A lanky man much taller than Ronon with dark hair down to his waist enters, pulling out sheets of paper from his thin brown tunic. “I am Barthos. All non-citizens of our world will form a line to the right. You must sign all legal forms stating you understand that if you should die while riding the Wind of Fate, the government of Alma is not at fault.”
When it's their turn to fill out the form, Sheppard squints at the writing he can't read. “Can I inspect what we're using to fly?”
Barthos holds out his long slim hand. “Sure. After you pay the fee.”
Entering a long tunnel, Ronon stops at the edge, challenging the impending blackness. Basking in the last vestige of daylight, he holds his head high, feet moving as the rest of him fights the urge to break away.
Sheppard stands there, mask fogging again, curling and uncurling fingers that haven't regained all their color. Ronon gives him a little elbow forward and they conquer the darkness together as they have before, emerging on the other side of a sheer cliff.
“Nice,” Ronon says, enjoying the view before turning, eyes going wide at the sight of their glider.
It has two harnesses suspended from the airframe with two small triangular wings of framed yellow fabric with flaps across them. Ronon stands there watching Sheppard go all around the giant thing, testing the frame, the joints, inspecting for holes in the fabric.
One of the natives going toward the other side stops to observe him. “You seem like you know what you're doing.”
“Maybe,” Sheppard's answers scratching his head. “There's a low-level jet stream across this canyon, but it's not made up of rising air.”
“Maybe you should stay on the ground,” the guy warns.
“I can fly anything,” Sheppard smiles. “But this is a Frankenstein glider. The ones I've used took advantage of thermals to gain lift. And they had a long wing to equalize yaw and pitch. The point's about maintaining balance. Using gentle air.”
Sighing, the guy points at a dozen large piles of fabric lying on the ground. “These catch the wind.”
Sheppard stares at the bundles of silk fabric, unspools them to reveal a set of parachutes. “I'll be damned. This isn't about gliding at all. More like kite boarding,” he chuckles at the guy, who shrugs and goes on his way.
Ronon knows enough about flying things to realize this is probably real crazy. Not that he has too much of a problem with that.
“We're about five hundred feet above the jet stream, but this is a baby one compared to the one we flew into,” Sheppard explains, eying the edge. “We'll run out over this cliff, do a free-fall, and get pulled in. The low gravity will keep us in the air and the constant air stream will carry us across the valley.”
“That simple?” Ronon snorts.
“Yeah,” Sheppard answers with a shit-eating grin. “Weren't you the one asking me about my sense of adventure?”
While waiting around, Ronon overheard that fatalities for running the Wind of Fate is not uncommon. It's test for some, a release for others. Watching a woman help a man without legs into the glider beside theirs, Ronon knows it can mean more than anything to some people.
Doing one last inspection, Sheppard watches the others prepare to take off, casting themselves into the hands of the wind. At first, Ronon had thought Sheppard was doing this for him, because of the enthusiasm Ronon had used talking about The Wind of Fate in The Pit.
But perhaps there's more.
Maybe they both need to prove something, maybe to experience the same thrill.
Or it's something else entirely. Something beyond words. Beyond the stars in the night sky or children’s stories told in the dark. Trying to survive being buried alive.
“Ready?” Sheppard asks, the wind whipping his hair.
“Let's do it,” Ronon says.
Strapped into his harness, Ronon feels like a bird, and for a moment, he understands Sheppard that much more. Holding onto the wooden beam between the wings, they take a running start, the ground below disappearing beneath their feet, until they plummet with a whoosh.
It's a free fall for five, six, seven seconds before they're yanked up hard, the wind catching the parachutes.
“Shit,” Sheppard curses, shifting the levers by his hands, correcting the flaps of the wings and tail. “Reel in those chutes in a little!” he yells.
The wind feels like it's dragging Ronon's face off, but he pulls in the chutes' spinning metal reels, tightening the length of the lines. With all the wing flaps up, it keeps the glider barely steady against the rocketing force.
“Think maybe we should have taken a training course?” Sheppard yells.
“Don't think there is one.”
“Right, because that'd be practical.”
Ronon's pretty sure Sheppard's kidding, and behind that mask, he's grinning like an idiot.
They soar, the gilder bouncing along the jet stream free of engines or metal walls. It's just the air and sky and ground thousands of feet below.
Ronon controls the speed and Sheppard keeps them from being pulled apart.
“Want to go faster?” Ronon dares, barely keeping them steady.
Arms shaking, hands a solid grip over the levers, Sheppard screams, “Hell, yeah!”
Letting go of the reel, Ronon allows the kites to rip free, catching the current. It's contained chaos, the glider sailing faster, the joints racketing with the strain.
Closing his eyes, tears ripped out the corners by the wind, Ronon relishes every moment. Carefully extracting a hand from the beam, fighting incredible force, he takes Sheppard's shoulder and grabs onto it.
Because in this moment, they are truly free.
The prompt or prompts used: Gen-John's taken Ronon around Earth. Ronon takes John around Pegasus.