Ronon woke slowly the morning after the surreal fight under the school, sticky with dried sweat and satisfaction. He hadn't slept with anyone since Melena; hadn't dared to, not when any night spent sharing a mattress might draw the Wraith down on an unsuspecting village, or foul his new situation after he'd been freed from Running. He'd only been with Sheppard's people a little more than a year, and they had far too many rules about this kind of thing, especially the ones who caught his interest. He still didn't really get Earther dating practices.
He'd probably broken several of those rules sleeping with a woman he'd barely met, but he already knew he wasn't going to regret it. Faith had wanted it as much as he did; she'd made her interest clear and accepted his in return, and she'd stood at his back and let him stand at hers. That was more than enough for any warrior's courtship, whether it lasted for only one night or not.
The creak of the door caught his attention, and he looked up to see the blushing face of the girl, Dawn, as she hastily closed it again. Probably wanted something in the room; he was pretty sure, from the glancing introductions the night before, that she and her sister were the ones the house belonged to.
"Shit," Faith murmured against his chest at the sound of the latch clicking shut. "What time is it?"
He stroked a hand over her naked back, and felt other parts of himself awaken as she stretched toned limbs against him. "Morning," he said, glancing up toward the window to check the light levels. "Still early."
"Buffy's probably back by now. G, too," Faith sighed. Then she opened her eyes and tilted her chin up, taking him in with dark, appreciative eyes. "We should probably get up before they wake your friend."
He snorted at that thought. McKay, he might have needed to rescue from a house full of teenagers – or vice versa. Sheppard, though? "He can take care of himself."
"Still." She yawned a little and stretched again, sitting up. "They'll have questions, and besides, I'm hungry."
He stopped her before she got more than a few inches away from him, palming her firm backside and rolling over, grinning down at her. "I'm hungry, too. There a shower in this house?"
That was one of the things he'd really enjoyed about Atlantis: rediscovering hot running water, courtesy of the city's desalination plants and endlessly running generators. He could count the times he'd been thoroughly clean during his Running years on both hands. And showering with someone else; that was a luxury he hadn't had in even longer.
"Thinking about conserving some water together?" Faith smiled as she squirmed under him. "Sounds like a plan to me. We should probably hurry, though, before the rest of B's crowd gets the same idea."
The knowledge that she could have thrown him off if she really wanted to was just added fuel for the morning lust tingling through him. It felt good to be the stronger one, sometimes... but sometimes it felt good to submit to someone else's strength, too. Ronon leaned in for a long kiss, stroking a hand up her inner thigh in counter-argument.
"...or, we could wait a few minutes to catch our breaths," she panted, laughing. "Good thing for you Slayers have so much stamina. Damn
. Just how much you got left in the tank, Conan?"
The only possible answer to that
was, of course, a thorough hands-on demonstration... followed by a laughing trip up the hall and a reenactment under a cascade of warm water. They didn't see anyone else until they emerged again, fully clothed, to the scents of hot tea and sweet pastries drifting up the stairs.
Most of the younger girls were still below, though a couple were scattered in chairs around the kitchen and the adjacent room, bleary-eyed with sleep and wearing whatever they'd worn to bed. Ronon caught more than one dirty glance from kids he figured must have wanted an early shower, too; but theirs weren't the eyes he was watching for. Sheppard was up, leaning against a wall exchanging glares with an older guy wearing glasses: the patriarch of the group, finally back from whatever he'd been doing the night before. A blond man was sprawled where Sheppard had been on the couch, with Buffy clucking over him; probably the guy she'd wanted to rescue so badly. All of them turned their attention to Faith and Ronon the minute they came into view, eyeing them with varying degrees of suspicion.
"Morning," Ronon said gruffly, nodding to Sheppard first, then the patriarch, whose name or designation as far as Ronon knew was just Giles. He was dressed kind of soft, but there was no mistaking the dangerous spark in his eyes; fitting, considering the young warriors who looked to him.
"Ah, yes; hello," Giles said, narrowing his eyes first at Ronon and then at Faith, walking at his side. "Mr. Dex? I understand you and Faith were with Colonel Sheppard, here, when he... had a strange experience with the Hellmouth last night."
"When he shut it down, you mean? Yeah," Ronon shrugged, then walked right on past the guy, heading for the box of pastries. They had the dark-frosted kind with the sweet filling that Atlantis only had when the mess got fresh supplies in on the Daedalus; he snagged a couple, then a napkin for courtesy's sake, and strode back to lean against a patch of wall next to Sheppard.
"Shut it down? Then you concur with his – his story about the apparent technological basis of the Seal?"
"More than just a story, G," Faith agreed, dropping into a chair halfway between Ronon and the table where the older group of kids were congregated with another pastry in hand. "The First showed up while we were there, tried to get us to stop him. After the light went out, though – no more ghost. I think he got it."
"But – but – this is the First Evil," the man said, pulling his glasses off and polishing them absently with a handkerchief. "The source of all lesser evils that have plagued us since the beginning. It can't be simply – simply shut off
, as though it were a spigot. For heaven's sake, it just blew up the Council; its agents are spread worldwide! I don't pretend to know what actually happened last night, but...."
"Then how about you let the people who were actually there tell the story," Sheppard said, in that flat tone that usually meant a firefight was imminent.
Buffy looked at him sharply, as though she wanted to dress him down for that, but her words were for her mentor: "Giles, I know it doesn't make any sense, but his friend was
the one who killed the VampZilla, and they did help Faith. I'm sure something
happened, and if no one's seen the First since...."
Giles opened his mouth again, and Ronon chose that moment to stick his foot in. He could guess the man was upset that this huge thing had been dealt with while he was off doing something else, and that he didn't trust what he hadn't seen any more than Sheppard would. Still, that was no excuse for his attitude.
"So I get that you don't like Faith much. And you don't know us. But that doesn't make us liars. So maybe it doesn't make sense... and maybe it pisses you off a little that we could do what you didn't. But you don't have the bloodline Sheppard does, either. He could hear the thing, and he could turn it off, so he did." He shrugged.
Giles looked even more stung at that. "You do realize that the very fact that he could
hear and interact with a device that previously disgorged a nearly indestructible vampire – a Seal that at least one man's life was sacrificed to open – does not make me particularly inclined to trust you."
"Geez, they can't win with you, can they?" Faith said, licking the last of her pastry off her fingertips. "But then, I never could, either. Guess they're in good company, then."
"Faith..." the boy, Xander said, looking uncomfortable at the table.
Faith flapped a hand in his direction. "Yeah, I get it. Trust has to be earned. Doesn't mean it doesn't still burn. So let's just start this whole conversation over. You pretend you believe us until you can go and check it out yourselves. And in the meantime, you fill us in on what you
found out. I kind of have a stake in that, after the whole meet-and-stab with Caleb."
Buffy stood, glancing over at another blonde-haired woman Ronon didn't recognize. "That's fair. Anya was just telling us about that before you came down. This whole thing... the First working its way free? It's because there's more than one Slayer. Because I came back. And for the record, I kind of hope your friend is right. If this thing has been slowly opening since the Master drowned me and Xander brought me back... well, let's just say I'm a lot more okay with this whole thing being a side effect of that
death." She waved a hand through the air in lieu of finishing the thought.
Several of the others in the room exchanged disturbed glances at that; grimaces of worry with a side note of guilt. Ronon had seen that before, not just the night before but in Pegasus, and it always made him want to check for knives at his back. Though it wasn't directed at him, here. These people had serious problems.
Then again, it sounded like they suffered the same kind of pressures a lot of Pegasus villagers did. Small wonder the same kinds of destructive survival habits cropped up under the thumb of these vampires and other predatory beings as he'd seen in people under the heel of the Wraith. He moved a little closer to Faith at that thought under the guise of snagging a couple more pastries, leaning a hip against her chair as she took another chocolate-frosted one from his fingers. He preferred straightforward fighters any day to double-talking and denial, no matter what kind of people they were.
Buffy shook herself in the sudden, fraught silence. "Anyway. If you're right," she nodded to Sheppard, "then – that's fixed, for now. It can't reach out any more. No more Bringers. No more Chaka Khans."
Sheppard gave her a grudging nod, unbending a little. "That doesn't mean the minions still out there aren't still dangerous, though. We won't be leaving until that Caleb guy we met is under wraps – a team of Marines will be here in a couple of hours to track him down. My boss ran a search on violence at religious institutions cross-referenced with his vehicle and description, and we think we know where he might have headed. If you know where there might be any more of these Bringers, I can have them search there, too."
He held up a finger as she started to object. "Remember, bullets do
work on them. We have... alternate means that will probably work on Caleb, too, if he's still as tough without an energy being backing him up."
"I still don't like that part of it," Buffy said, crossing her arms nervously in front of her. "You realize this is my turf? And the last time the military got mixy around here, they lost like sixty percent of their people and nearly killed a bunch of my friends."
"The last time the military got 'mixy' around here," Sheppard echoed her, crooking his fingers in the air between them, "they didn't have any idea what they were getting into. You know I saw that thing last night. And I've seen worse, too. I know you have no reason to trust that, but believe me, we know what we're doing. And we're not looking to set up shop here: just clean out the bad guys and get back to our lives. This is a weekend job for the Marines. And hell, Ronon and I are technically still on vacation." He shrugged, expansively.
Ronon snorted at that: if McKay had been there, he would have accused Sheppard of 'Kirking'. Buffy had visibly softened in the face of his mundane indignation, though he didn't really think she wanted in his pants; she kept glancing over her shoulder at the pale figure on the couch every few minutes. But something in Sheppard's attitude or body language was definitely lowering her hackles. Sometimes Sheppard's brand of diplomacy got them in trouble – but sometimes, it worked out better than any official negotiation could have.
"You realize McKay is never going to let you hear the end of this," he said, contributing his own moment of flippancy to the conversation. "He
offered to let me go to Canada with him instead."
"Aw, c'mon. Like you would have enjoyed Canada
," Sheppard rolled his eyes at him.
"One word: hockey," Ronon replied, grinning.
"Aw, yeah. I bet you'd be murder on the ice," Faith said, nudging him with an elbow.
"Pardon me!" Giles broke in over the conversation, slipping his glasses back on with an indignant expression. "I do believe we were discussing what Anya and I discovered about the First Evil. And I am not simply being paranoid when I say I do not believe you, Colonel; we have clear information that the First is as old as the universe
. It could not have been created by these beings you call Ancients."
"I never said they created
it," Sheppard sighed, "I said they trapped it there. Whatever it started out as, after all this time it's basically just a hungry void of energy with a mind. And what I did barely crammed it back into its box. There's just not that much power left in the containment system. You're still going to have to deal with it again. Maybe not this year; maybe not this decade, but soon. And – I hate to tell you this, but I got the impression it'll be even sooner if you keep two guardians on top of it long-term. Something about the interaction of the energy you generate resonates with the Seal and drains it faster."
Faith stilled next to Ronon as Sheppard turned his attention to her. "Damn," she muttered. "I mean, I knew it wasn't going to last. But you've gotta make a destiny thing out of it? I guess it's back to Stockton for me, then. Or, hell. Di said there was another Hellmouth up near the Lakes. That right, G?"
Sheppard winced. "The further, the better. There was a reason there's only ever supposed to be one of you at a time."
"Then why did it return Buffy's power to her in the first place?" Giles objected.
"I'd guess because the other one actually was
too far away to protect it when that happened," he shrugged. "I can't tell you much more; except that there were failsafes planted somewhere in this town. I don't think old Numero Uno was lying when it said I could have brought the whole town down accidentally. But there's something else here that could have been used to cork the thing if it had
"And you're really not going to leave anyone here to, I don't know, find out what the thing is and see if it has military applications?" Xander asked, skeptically.
"I think the general is hoping your friends in the Initiative might be willing to communicate with you on that topic," Sheppard shrugged. "But us? Not so much. No offense, but we've got bigger fish to fry."
"Well... I guess that's good to know, then," Buffy frowned. "Way with the vague, but good to know." She threw Giles a look. "I guess we have a research project for after. But, Faith...." She turned large, limpid green eyes on her sister Slayer, and swallowed visibly. "I mean, I know I wasn't too happy to see you, but...."
Faith shrugged, folding her arms around herself. "It's cool, B. I'll think of something."
Ronon raised an eyebrow at Sheppard; Sheppard shook his head a little, but he already had that calculating look going on in his eyes.
That conversation was going to have to wait for later, though; partly because the kids at the table had started talking loudly amongst themselves, partly because it would probably be rude to discuss it with Sheppard before he mentioned it to Faith herself, and partly because the Marines chose that moment to arrive. A firm knock at the front door announced Colonel Reynolds' arrival.
"You know you're welcome to come with us," Ronon said, leaning over to murmur in Faith's ear while everyone else was distracted greeting their visitors.
She gave him a startled look, as though she'd temporarily forgotten he was there, and then a longer one, more thoughtful and a little skeptical. "I think you might even mean that," she said, shaking her head. "But look, just because we got bouncy...."
"Got nothing to do with that," he said, shrugging casually. Though of course it did; he wouldn't mind continuing as they'd begun. But he knew better than to try to corner a skittish felis
. "Wouldn't mind having you at my back in a fight."
"And your colonel? I got a record, yo. The military is not
going to just sweep that under the rug."
He bared his teeth at her in a wide grin. "I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not exactly a regular citizen of your country, either. If they want you, Sheppard's people have ways of dealing with that kind of thing. And I think, from what we've seen, you're the kind of person they'll want. Just think about it."
"Yeah?" She frowned, though she still seemed at least a little open to the idea. "And what makes you the kind of person they want? Or maybe I should ask, what makes them the kind of people you want to work with? Those Wraith you told me about, that killed your people, have something to do with it?"
"Something," Ronon agreed. "It's a long story. But part of it is – I can't go home, either. And even when I had a chance for a new home, a few weeks ago, when Sheppard told me his people were moving on...." He glanced away, toward the light streaming in through the kitchen windows. He'd known this woman barely more than twenty-four hours; but then, he'd known Sheppard less than that when the man had first asked him to stay on Atlantis. He figured this was the kind of thing Elizabeth had been talking about, that time she'd tried to explain the concept of 'paying it forward.'
He sighed, and tried to explain. "I could have settled down. Reclaimed some part of my people, or my culture; or built a new one, with people who'd at least known Sateda when it was a living world. I left that behind. I left the goal I've been pursuing for the last eight years behind – for the freedom to keep fighting, with people who have my back. I figure we'll go back, sooner or later. But either way... with them, I'm free to be who I am, too. I'm not the guy I was before I started Running, but I don't have to be the guy I was while I was Running, either."
Faith swallowed, and he could see that he'd gotten to her. "Yeah?" she said, kind of wistfully, staring through him into the middle distance. Then she shook her head. "Well, we'll see, I suppose. Ought to at least check out Cleveland first. Shep said you were on vacation; where from?"
"Place called Colorado Springs?" he shrugged. "That far from Cleveland?"
"Colorado to Ohio? You really aren't from around here, are you?" She laughed. "About as far as it is from Colorado Springs to here, I think. Maybe a little farther."
"Maybe we can meet in the middle, then?" he suggested.
"Huh. Maybe," she said, eyeing him up and down again.
Buffy chose that moment to interrupt, sticking her head back into the kitchen. "Faith, you coming? Sheppard's guys tracked Caleb to a mission in Gilroy, and the priest guys who live there have him cornered in a storeroom."
"Awesome." Faith stood, pushing her chair over toward the table. "After we bag him, it's a Bringer hunt, right? Man, if you've been having the same dreams I have about them hunting those girls...."
Buffy nodded. "I'm bringing a bunch of knives; give them a taste of their own medicine. You want anything out of the weapons chest?" She frowned at Ronon. "I know you have stakes, but...."
He reached up and pulled a knife out of a hidden sheath. "I've got enough."
Faith whistled lowly. "Damn, I have got
to take you patrolling for real. If you use those like you use your other
"Back for less than a day and already
there's a world of TMI," Buffy shuddered, and pulled back out of the room. "We're leaving in five!"
"Well, then. You up for bagging a preacher?" Faith smirked.
"Among other things," Ronon replied, amused.
"Then let's rock and roll." She took a step closer, leaning up; he threaded a hand in her hair and lingered for a moment, leaving the imprint of his teeth in her lower lip.
"Thought rock and roll was music," he murmured as he pulled back.
Faith rolled her eyes and headed for the door, all lean lines and lithe muscle. "Something you can dance to, either way, right?"
He followed her with a grin. Now that
was a definition of 'rock and roll' he could get behind.