Therianthropy of the Soul
The first week he was defiant.
“They will come for me.”
He paced his cage. Restless. Predatory. Deadly.
The first one that came to give him food died with a knife in its throat before the others could pull him off the pale body, long white hair sprayed crimson, dark eyes grown dim.
“They will come for me.”
It was the only thing he would say.
After the killing, he was strapped down and searched. All his knives were taken and he was fed by food pushed through the bars.
“They will come for me.”
Brown eyes narrowed in contempt, bearded jaw clenched in anger, tanned shoulders squared in insolence.
But the Queen on the other side of the bars only smiled.
“They will have to find you first, Runner.”
The second week he was reticent.
He stopped talking all together.
Because he no longer had anything to say that they hadn’t proven wrong.
He stopped eating. He stopped pacing. He stopped waiting for his rescue.
They weren’t coming. They couldn’t find him. They couldn’t help him.
And he’d be damned if he let his captors see his desperation.
He sat in a corner, barely glancing across his knees when the food was deposited on the floor next to the pile of untouched bins that they never removed. He never left the shadows, never ventured near the door.
Not even when the Queen came again.
“I believe you need to stretch your legs, Runner. Fit him with a collar.”
* * * *
The third week he was feral.
He ran. Trees, streams, rocks. He moved amongst them as one of their own. He rooted himself in the earth, eddied and flowed across the landscape, hardened himself to the reality of his new life.
His old life returned. His old habits reestablished. His old instincts reborn.
Eat, sleep, kill. And run. Always he ran.
He ran from the hunters, he ran from the stunners they carried, he ran from the humiliation of being caught.
They never killed him. No matter how many of them he killed, he was allowed to live.
Forced to live.
Because that’s what the Queen wanted.
She wanted him to stretch his legs, so he did. Stretched them to the limit. Stretched himself the same way.
And he ran.
He ran away from memories, ran away from hopes, ran away from…
Then he found the gate.
And the Queen’s sentry probe found him.
“Ah, Runner, I see you have a new game.”
* * * *
The fourth week he was determined.
Twice he had found a gate. Twice he had dialed the Alpha Site. Twice his collar had sent a jolt through him that had dropped him to his knees, fighting to hold onto consciousness and failing, only to wake on a different world and have to start the search all over again.
They were playing with him, he knew. She was playing with him. Otherwise, why let him dial the gate? Why let the surface explode to life? Why let him take those first few steps toward freedom before activating the collar?
But it didn’t stop him.
Run, dial, fail. Run, dial, fail.
It was a demonstration. She was in control. And as the weeks passed, he realized he was losing any that he had. It became an imperative to find the gate no matter what the consequence, no matter what the end result.
Because it was always the same.
Run, dial, fail. Run, dial, fail.
The more it happened, the more he felt compelled to try again, even when he knew the inevitability of the outcome.
Run, dial, fail.
After a few weeks, he stopped hunting for food.
Run, dial, fail.
And food started appearing at the gate.
Run, dial, fail.
After a few weeks more, he stopped dialing.
Run, eat, wait. Run, eat, wait.
After a few weeks more, the Queen appeared in person.
“It is time to come home, Runner.”
* * * *
The third month he was wary.
He was given a room instead of cell. A soft bed instead of a hard floor. Hot meals instead of raw scraps of food. New black leather to replace the tattered browns that he wore. Warm water to bathe in and cool wine to drink.
He wasn’t allowed to leave. He wasn’t permitted to roam free. But why would he want to when he had everything he needed right here?
Creature comforts. But at what price?
The collar was removed, replaced with an amulet that fit snug around his throat. He wondered if it delivered as shock, as well. But it never did.
After a few days back on the Hive, the Queen started coming to his quarters. She would sit at the opposite end of his table. Talk little. Watch him eat.
When she did speak, he never responded. And she seemed fine with that. She was not making conversation even though she addressed him.
“You smell better, Runner. Your human stench is almost gone.”
“You are not eating much tonight, Runner. Perhaps you will enjoy the cuisine of the next world we cull more.”
“You seem more rested, Runner. You must be sleeping well.”
“You will join me in my chamber tomorrow, Runner.”
He looked up from his food then, ears perking at the prospect of leaving his room.
“You will be on your best behavior. Guests will be in attendance.”
The next day he was brought to sit beside her throne. A stool had been placed within arms reach and she gave him a doting smile when he sat. A long nail ran along the tattoo on his neck before tracing the area along his temple.
“Perhaps we will mark you, Runner. Let the others know that you are mine.”
The delegation from the other Hive ship looked at him curiously when they arrived.
“You keep dangerous pets.”
He bristled at the implication, muscles tensing angrily, upper lip pulling back menacingly, until a cool hand landed on his wrist to calm him.
“You keep dangerous company with the rival faction. Who takes the greater risk?”
Now it was the turn of the delegate to raise his chin at the insult.
He felt his shoulders relax as the fingers stroked absently along his arm and his Queen demonstrated how she took no risk at all.
* * * *
The fourth month he was tame.
He sat by his Queen daily as she attended to her business. Returned to his quarters every night. Sometimes there were treats for him. Sometimes he was set to roam the woods when they arrived at a new world then retrieved to come home before they left.
He enjoyed those times. The warmth of the sun on his face. The sweet smell of grass and trees. The sounds of streams and small animals and wind in the branches.
If he was lucky there was rain. He would find a place to sit and lift his face to the sky and let the water flow over him and pretend he didn’t hear the screams from the village in the distance.
It was becoming easier to do each time.
When his Queen gave him a knife to wear, he took it and strapped it to his leg. And when she turned to him and nodded her head when the delegate who had called him a pet returned to her court, he flicked it with an accuracy that was second nature and struck him in the chest.
His Queen smiled at him before she stood and moved to look down on her fallen adversary. And he felt his own chest swell with pride at her approval.
“I was right. You did take the greater risk.”
When she finished addressing the dead body, she called over her shoulder.
He obediently fell into step at her heel, glaring at anyone who dared to challenge his right to be there.
In his room that night he had an extra serving of sweets.
It was a few weeks more before the humans were led to his Queen’s chamber. He felt his hackles rise at their appearance.
He knew them. Knew them well. And knew they were a threat to his Queen.
Their leader’s shoulders slumped slightly in relief at seeing him. The woman fought to contain her smile. The scientist did his best to maintain his composure even though his eyes darted to the many others around the room.
He snarled at them, paced behind the throne, and watched every move they made.
“You offer a trade I am told.”
“We have a weapon, a bioagent, that can be used against your rivals.”
His Queen looked up from her seat back at him, a pleased smile on her face at his protective stance.
“I have a weapon of my own against my rivals. Why should I need one of yours?”
“Let’s face it, he can take out a ton of Wraith, but an entire Hive’s worth is pushing it even for Ronon.”
His pacing stopped at the sound of the name. Their leader had no right to call him by that. He had no claim. That had been given up long ago.
His Queen, however, seemed intrigued by the news.
“An entire Hive ship?”
“Not only that, but you can feed on the results. McKay, here, can give you all the details.”
She glanced back at him, then back to the humans, considering.
“I would hear more of this weapon.”
She stood and he fell into his usual place. But she held up a halting hand.
“No, Runner, you stay here.”
She disappeared with the humans. His Queen never looked back, but the humans did. He felt a growl growing deep in his throat when they did.
He waited. He paced. He wondered what could take them so long.
Every sound of approaching feet had him standing in anticipation of her return.
Finally they did.
His Queen led the way followed by two guards and the humans. He stood straighter, waiting for her recognition. It never came.
The stunner blast had him folding to his knees before collapsing all the way.
“Why the hell did you do that?”
His Queen’s only response to the leader’s question was a warning.
“It would be prudent to restrain him. My Runner can be dangerous to those he perceives as a threat.”
And he fell into darkness wondering what he had done to disappoint her.
* * * *
The first week he was defiant.
When he woke on the human ship in their medical facility, he had their leader in a strangle hold before the other two could even react.
“Ronon, let him go.”
The woman’s request was met with him lifting the man from the ground. Hands clawed at his arms and feet kicked against his legs. He could not kill them all, and even if he could he could not pilot the warship back to the Hive. But he could take a hostage that might get him back to his Queen.
“Take me back. Take me back or I kill him.”
His throat was raw from disuse, and he realized he hadn’t spoken aloud in so long he couldn’t even remember how long it had been.
“Back? You can’t be serious. You want to go back after everything we went through to find you?”
The scientist’s disbelief only had him squeezing harder.
“Okay, okay! Just put Sheppard down and we’ll talk about it.”
He shook his head, felt the flailing in his arms weaken.
“Take me back to her.”
“She doesn’t want you. She traded you for the Wraith agent.”
He was tempted to snap the neck between his arms in his outrage. How dare that stupid man suggest his Queen didn’t want him?
“TAKE ME BACK NOW!”
The field that enveloped him and his captive was fired by one of the military men on the ship. It seared through his nerve endings and he tumbled into unconsciousness before he even hit the floor.
When he woke he was in another cell. This one with a shielding glowing blue and an electrical zap when he touched it.
He paced from end to end. Rolled his neck at the confinement. Smiled when he saw the purple bruise on their leader’s throat.
“She will come for me.”
The man sat in the chair just within the circle of light that illuminated the cell.
“Not if I have anything to say about it.”
* * * *
The second week he was in Hell.
His body ached. Muscles locked. Teeth chattered. The pain had him curling on his side and wondering why they had wanted him back so badly just to torture him to death.
Her voice was everywhere. She called him home. She spoke to him in the darkness that seemed to suffocate him when he closed his eyes. She beckoned to him from the glare of the light that burned through him when he opened them again. She drowned out the voices that called to him from the other side of the bars.
Eventually it started to fade. Days had passed, although he had no idea how many. And then she was silent, the emptiness worse than her call.
But he could hear the doctor now… Beckett? That name seemed right.
“I think the worst of it is over. The withdrawal seems to be in the final stages.”
He sounded exhausted. Almost as exhausted as the leader… Sheppard.
“Was it the enzyme? Like what Ford was using?”
“Similar but slightly different. The one Ford used triggered the aggression centers of the brain. This one seemed to go after a person’s loyalty. It must be what controls the Hive mentality in the Wraith. What elicits the collective consciousness they seem to share.”
“He ingested it?”
“Aye, more likely than not they put it in his food, just like when Ford drugged your team before.”
Drugged. They thought he’d been drugged. Fools. It didn’t take drugs for him to know who looked out for his welfare, who cared for him, who deserved his devotion.
He pulled his knees to his chest and wished he could go home.
* * * *
The third week he was reticent.
He lay on the cot and stared at the ceiling. Ignored the others that sat outside and watched him. Ignored them even though they spoke to him. He had heard the woman doctor with long, blond hair say that was the thing to do. Talk to him. Remind him of who he was. It would be easier now that the drugs had worn off.
He knew who he was. He didn’t need them to jabber on and on and on.
When he stopped eating, Teyla chastised him.
“Ronon, you must eat. You must regain your strength.”
McKay took a different approach.
“Are you not going to eat that? Mind if I do, then? Thanks.”
Sheppard simply squatted and looked into his cell.
“I know you’re in there somewhere, big guy. It’s time you came out of hiding.”
He ignored their pleas even though he heard them. He heard everything they said. And, eventually, as much as he wanted to ignore it, he couldn’t.
At one point, Teyla caught him staring when she was humming to herself as she mended her shirt. Her smile had his eyes darting elsewhere and skin flushing in embarrassment at his carelessness.
He actually snorted aloud when McKay was complaining about how one of the gate technicians had managed to lock himself in a transporter for three hours that morning.
“Oh, you think it’s funny that I had to shut down all gate operations for almost an hour until we could drag his replacement out of bed?”
“Yeah, I do.”
The scientist couldn’t seem to keep the smirk from his own face.
“Actually it was kind of humorous. Radek told him he was going be permanently demolecularized if he touched anything. When we finally got the door open he was standing on one leg in the exact center of the transporter to minimize his contact with any surfaces.”
And when Sheppard eventually showed up dressed in sweats and turned off the force field around the cell before opening the door, he frowned in confusion.
“Come on. You look like you could stand to stretch your legs.”
* * * *
The fourth week he tasted freedom.
He ran. Through the city, along the piers, up the spires, over the catwalks. He felt the sun, heard the waves, watched the sea birds as they dipped and soared. Felt familiar tiles under his feet, the brush of shoulders as he wove among the expedition members, heard snippets of conversations about work, about play, about life. And Sheppard ran with him.
He sparred with Teyla in the gym, felt her sticks at his throat before he flipped her to her back. Saw her eyes glimmer in amusement and darken in challenge. Helped her stand only to end up on the mats as she had been a moment before. Felt his lips curl in pleasure to match her own. Took her hand to stand and fight some more.
He helped McKay relocate two of the naquedah generators. Carried them as he trailed behind the flock of scientists as they made their way through the depths of Atlantis. Watched McKay slap away the hands of a technician fumbling with the connectors. Covered the grin on his face and listened to the scientist as he finally berated them into finding some other project that needed their incompetence more. Rolled his eyes as he gave McKay tools when the man demanded them with snaps of his fingers.
The first night he was allowed to stay in his quarters again, he spent an hour studying everything he had left behind. Trinkets, mementos, things he had never allowed himself when he had been on the run from the Wraith all those years, living like an animal in a cave. It was funny how the Wraith always did that to him, turned him into an animal… wild or domesticated it didn’t really matter.
They took his identity. Took his soul. Took his humanity.
He looked toward the door.
I am Ronon Dex.
He found himself sitting on the bed, staring at the door.
I am Ronon Dex of Sateda.
I am Ronon Dex of Atlantis.
Waiting for her, he realized.
He ignored the buzz at his door. She wouldn’t ask permission, she would just enter. But she wasn’t coming. He knew that, just as he knew that the person outside his door was one of three.
Finally the door opened on its own and Sheppard stuck his head in.
“Hey, we’re going to grab some dinner. You want to come?”
He sat without responding.
“Ronon? Something wrong?”
Sheppard’s voice was wary, worried and he was hesitant to step into the room.
“She’s not coming for me.”
He spoke the words simply. A statement of fact. Because that’s what it was. Fact.
“I sure the hell hope not.”
But, then, they hadn’t come for him either. Not for a long, long time.
“How did you find me?”
“It wasn’t easy. That’s for sure. But after the gate activated multiple times on the Alpha Site and no one came through, we became a little suspicious. McKay started looking for the tracking signal again like how we found you on Sateda. Problem was, all the constant signals were dead ends. Eventually he noticed a pattern…a short burst of the signal that coincided with the gate opening on the Alpha Site.”
The collar. It must have been the collar activating when he dialed the gate.
“We narrowed down the location that way, but then the signals stopped all together. It at least pointed us to a handful of Hive ships in the vicinity of the last burst that we could track on the long-range sensors. Once we had that, we started following them and picked up a few… informants during some cullings. Eventually we found one that knew you were on their ship and Teyla made mental contact offering the trade.”
Sheppard leaned casually in the doorframe. As if he had just told him how he had spent his morning, not how his team had spent months searching for him and risked their lives to get him back.
All that for him and he had betrayed their trust by becoming little more than a spoiled pet for a Wraith Queen.
“I tried to kill you.”
Sheppard shrugged. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“I would have killed you.”
“Just like I would have killed you if I’d been a better shot back on the planet with the Wraith mind manipulation device. They drugged you, they manipulated you, they held you captive. It wasn’t your fault.”
“But they were Wraith…”
Sheppard held up a hand and shook his head.
“Look, enough of this guilt bullshit. Just say ‘thanks for the rescue’ so we can grab some chow.”
He couldn’t stop the amused quirk of his lips.
She wasn’t coming back. And for the first time that thought loosened the knot in his stomach instead of tightened it.
“Thanks for the rescue.”
“You’re welcome. Now, let’s go before McKay eats all the crispy edges of the tuna casserole.”
* * * *
The fifth week he was back on the team.
He stepped through the stargate one step behind McKay and just in front of Teyla.
Rain poured down by the bucketful, soaking the team almost as soon as they moved from the embarkation platform to the muddy path leading to the village in the distance.
McKay pulled the hood of his rain gear over his head, wincing at the deluge.
“Great. Evidently the light showers the MALP detected picked up a little strength.”
“Well, look on the bright side, Rodney. If we finish up before nightfall we’ll get out of here before the snow starts.”
“Don’t even kid about that, Sheppard. The first goddamn flake I see I’m turning around and heading home.”
Teyla grinned at her two teammates before turning her attention to the third.
“Ronon? Is everything okay?”
He waited a few seconds more before responding. He savored the sound of rain falling, the only yelling he had to ignore was that of McKay complaining about the weather. He felt the water running freely across his upturned face.
Free, just like him.
“Yeah, everything’s good.”
Her hand rested on his arm and squeezed. Warm, caring, welcoming, human.
Human, just like him.
It was a good feeling, the best feeling, the kind that cut through the chill of a late autumn rainstorm and sent a warmth through him he could feel in his bones. The kind of feeling that pushed aside primal instinct and animalistic fear in favor of loyalty and friendship and dedication.
No drugs required.
He smiled back at her, shaking his head to send water flying with Teyla protesting the action, before trotting to catch up with the rest of his team.
Well, maybe there was a little animal in him regardless of the Wraith.