Pairing: John/Ronon with mentions of the team
Disclaimer: not mine alas.
Author's Notes: Minor character canon deaths touched on.
Summary: It began, John thinks, the way so many of these things have in his life, with a botched mission. The beer only made an appearance much, much later.
CALL ME OUT OF DUST
John's skin itches.
His uniform feels far too tight - material clinging to his arms, back and chest - suffocating him, the collar of his jacket chafing his skin. He can't wait to be rid of it.
It doesn't make it any easier knowing he's still riding the wave of adrenalin caused by Ancient weapons malfunctions, Rodney's particularly special brand of crazy and an escape which was far too close, even by John's standards of cutting it right down to the last second.
Rodney's words are echoing round his head, a continual loop on permanent replay. Even with McKay's arrogance and self-belief John's still a little surprised that Rodney could try and turn an apology for destroying three quarters of a god damned solar system into a joke.
I wanted to assure you that, uh, I intend not being right again - about everything, effective immediately.
They were fortunate Project Arcturus had blown for the first time thousands of years before they arrived causing desolation on Doranda and the rest of the solar system around it. He never thought he'd be grateful for a 10,000 year old space battle which resulted in complete devastation but Pegasus is teaching him to value any breaks it throws his way.
They're lucky that their body count for this disaster is only one, when it could have been so much worse. John swallows against a bitter surge of self-hatred because even losing one member of a small mission is one too many. Collins' loss will be devastating to his family and even though he is, was, science staff John still has to try and find the words to make Collins' death mean something to the people waiting for new back home.
He sheds his uniform the minute he's through door, changes into soft, old, worn bdu's and a black t-shirt and heads to the gym. He wants to punch something repeatedly, to feel flesh and bone give beneath his fists and it's better he take out his rage on something inanimate.
The gym doors hush closed behind him and he turns to find he's not the only one there.
Ronon, stripped down to soft cotton pants, with sweat gleaming across the expanse of his back and shoulders, is going through forms which look half-balletic and a whole hell of lot lethal. The six feet of glimmering steel sword he's holding in his hand - twirling, twisting and lunging with a powerful grace - does nothing to dispel the image of ferocious intent.
John nods briefly in greeting and before turning away to wrap his hands.
"Want me to....leave," Ronon asks slipping from a turn into a low lunge which would gut any opponent.
John watches one more set as Ronon executes a series of quick turns on the balls of his feet, ending with a leap which takes him high, throwing the sword up hilt first. He reverses his grip as he catches it bringing the blade downward in a sharp stabbing motion. He whistles softly in appreciation as Ronon pauses to catch his breath, and doesn't miss the fleeting grin in response.
Then he turns to the bag and after a short warm up proceeds to beat the crap out of it.
Uppercuts, crosses, jabs, he ducks and weaves until his knuckles, knees and hips are sore, focusing on connecting and following the blows through, getting rid of the rage that's been tying him in knots. The tension eventually begins to bleed out of his shoulders and back to be replaced by the dull ache of muscles well used.
It's only when his lungs are burning with a lack of oxygen and the sweat bleeding into his eyes causes his vision to blur forcing him to take a break, that he realises Ronon's been standing behind the bag watching him.
Ronon raises one eyebrow in careful enquiry and John, well John is still mostly learning how to speak Ronon.
Seven years as a runner seems to have leached away most of his desire to talk but a couple of months watching him carefully has, at least, given John some of the basics.
And that eyebrow raise right there? That's all challenge.
But Ronon's still finding his way around Atlantis, treading carefully to not offend either the civilian staff or marines and he rarely makes the first move. John finds himself smiling back, remembering his 2IC's praise.
"Lorne tells me you've been showing the marines some new moves for hand to hand?"
Ronon's grin is quicksilver bright and hidden as he ducks his head.
"I've got a few, yeah."
"Want to share so I don't get my ass handed to me the next time one of them wants to take it to the mats?"
Ronon turns away and grabs a couple of the wooden practice knives they use, tossing one over.
"Single knife style first?"
John nods and grins and drops into a crouch, arms wide, stance steady and beckons Ronon in.
Ten seconds later he's flat on his back and seeing stars with the blunt business end of the wooden knife pressed close under his jaw. His knife hand is useless, pinned to the mat by several hundred pounds of Ronon which shows no signs of giving any leeway.
Half an hour later John is wondering what the hell he's got himself into.
His back is sore from the number of times he's hit the mat; he's gasping for breath having been put in more chokeholds in 15 minutes than he has in the last year and his arms and legs are begging him to please take a break if only for a 30 second time out.
John sucks down one last deep breath and tries to remember every dirty gutter move he's ever learned. He feints left, aims a kick at Ronon's balls, ducks under an outstretched arm, throwing in a Krav Maga move he barely remembers which sends Ronon staggering back. A judo throw follows and John manages, by whatever god might be looking out for him, to take Ronon down for only the fifth time that night.
He straddles Ronon's chest, grinning in satisfaction at the whistle of breath when his elbow connects solidly with Ronon's solar plexus, then brings both wooden blades to rest with a solid crack against Ronon's collarbones. If they were real Ronon would be bleeding out, carotid artery severed cleanly.
Ronon holds his hands up in surrender and John crawls away to set his back against the wall and try to bring his heart down to something resembling normal.
Ronon climbs to his feet, grabs a couple of bottles of water from the cooler and sits down next to John handing off one of the bottles.
"You need to show me that move."
There's appreciation in Ronon's eyes and John should've known the Krav Maga would come in useful.
"Okay, but not tonight," and he shoots Ronon a grin and toasts him with the bottle of water in his hand.
There's a few minutes of silenced punctuated only by the gradual slowing of their panted breaths.
"Sheppard? What happened today?"
With one simple question John feels all his hard won relaxation slip away.
"Why, what did you hear?"
Ronon drops his gaze to the floor.
"When we got back from Belkan, Weir was in her office and was yelling at McKay."
"It was a botched mission, is all."
John sighs and then catches Ronon's raised eyebrow inviting further comment but knowing Ronon won't push it if he cuts him off.
But this is what it comes down to.
Ronon is on his team and technically speaking under his command, but he's not within the military structure of Atlantis. John can't talk to Lorne about what happened, he won't talk to Weir or Caldwell - which limits his options to two. Teyla and Ronon and he has a good idea, after a year of working with her, what Teyla might say.
"Okay. Short version? Big dangerous weapon on Doranda took out a fleet of hive ships. We tested it and it overloaded and killed Dr Collins. Weir wanted to quit the tests. McKay believed the Ancients were wrong and his calculations were right and I let him and Caldwell persuade me."
Ronon listens twisting the water bottle in his hands.
"McKay warned me - told me the worst case scenario was we'd tear a hole in the fabric of the universe. He asked me to trust him and I did. The weapon went boom, Doranda and three quarters of the surrounding solar system went with it and we only got away because the Daedalus was in orbit to run interference."
Ronon's gaze is fixed on the water bottle and his fingers are picking at the label.
"The planet and solar system were dead?"
"They sure as hell were when we got though with them."
There's a soft huff of annoyance from Ronon.
"Yes. Doranda was desolate and we weren't getting any life signs in the rest of the system, but that's not the point."
"So are you mad at him for asking for your trust or for failing?"
"Both," John snipes rubbing his hand across his eyes and letting his head thunk back into the wall with a sigh. "Neither. He didn't listen to Zelenka."
"I don't understand the science."
Ronon stops playing with the bottle.
"Taskmaster's job. You listen to the advice and then you make the call....but it's tough when you get it wrong."
Put like that it's pretty clear who exactly John's pissed with and it's not just McKay. His laugh is bitter.
"Yeah it is. McKay even apologised."
"Did he mean it?" Ronon turns to look at him, lips twitching into a grin.
And John hears the rest of the words in his head, the ones Rodney said after the joke, while his hands twisted together and he looked absolutely gutted.
I would hate to think that recent events might have permanently dimmed your faith in my abilities, or your trust. At the very least, I hope I can earn that back.
"Yeah. I really think he did."
"So are you going to forgive him?"
Ronon's gaze holds his unblinkingly and John figures a number of things are dependent on his answer to that question.
"Yes I am. But I'm going to make him work for it because it might make him think twice next time." He pushes himself to his feet, and holds a hand out to help Ronon up. "Think it might take a bit longer to forgive myself though."
"It always does."
Ronon sounds older and more tired than John feels. He takes John's hand, allows himself to be pulled to his feet and then bumps his shoulder into John's as they leave the gym.
"Why did you invite me to stay, Sheppard?"
"Because you looked like you needed a place to be."
His team have managed to form a mini-phalanx around him - Elizabeth and Carson leading, John behind them, and Teyla, McKay and Ronon bringing up the rear - as if they're almost afraid he'll disappear if they take their eyes off him. It has him fighting back a grin and biting back the words to tell them the feeling is mutual. They're all sweaty and dusty, and he figures Ronon and Teyla are at least as bruised and sore as he is.
Limping down the ramp he's never been so glad to see the puddlejumper bay or the lights of Atlantis in his life. For a given value of "life" meaning in the last six months (his time) and "glad" meaning he's resisting the temptation to drop to his knees and kiss the floor. He's resisting only because Carson would probably section him and McKay would be bound to have some smart ass comment and it's not really the kind of behaviour that'll instill confidence in his role as military leader of Atlantis.
Once again Pegasus plus the Ancients have combined to buck the laws of physics, leading to the wildly theoretical becoming fact. Months of his life passing in what was only a few hours for his team and he wonders whether he'll ever get used to this shit. Right now he doubts it.
They'd left Cloister planet in the afternoon but the gentle hush of the room makes clear they've arrived back during Atlantis's night.
"Debrief tomorrow?" Elizabeth asks over the comforting sound of the ground crew checking out the returning puddlejumper.
"Yeah," he scratches at his beard, one hand tugging at the cotton and linen he's been wearing. "I could do with a good night's sleep and getting cleaned up."
"Oh eight hundred in the conference room then?"
Elizabeth nods to the team dismissing them in an easy glance. It's another sign all is right again in his world that all three of them wait and look for his nod before starting to disperse.
"A minute Lt. Col Sheppard."
Elizabeth's voice is soft, pitched only for his ears and he turns back to her waving the team away.
She reaches out, her hand closing over his arm, her fingers tightening over a bruise, thumb stroking the inside of his wrist. It's a fleeting touch and gone in a moment.
"It's good to have you back, John."
He ducks his head, looks away from her shrewd glance because he's never been good at this shit.
"Good to be back, Elizabeth."
He can't help trailing his fingers over the walls as he walks back to his quarters. Beneath the slick cool surface he'd like to think he can feel the soft thrum of the city, of his city. Of her.
The door to his quarters whispers closed behind him and he flattens his palms against the wall, tips forward until his forehead rests against the coolness there.
"Hey baby, I'm home."
He grins at himself, at the lecture he can imagine McKay giving him about the dangers of anthropomorphising a structure made of metal and resin and plastics and god knows what materials the Ancients used to build her and what it says about his sanity. But he sees the flicker of lights getting brighter from the corner of his eyes and it's a good enough sign that she knows he's back.
He strips dropping the clothes into the laundry and then stands under the shower until the water runs pale brown from the dust and every bruise and scratch and ache eases.
There's a small scar on his cheekbone where Hedda didn't quite finish the last healing, a bloom of bruises across his ribs and shoulders and another at the base of his spine. Raw looking grazes along his arms and left thigh sting like a bitch when the warm water and soap hit.
He washes his hair three times and then turns off the water and wraps a towel round his waist stepping from the shower to look at his reflection in the mirror.
The face he sees isn't anyone he recognises but each stroke of his razor strips away the beard and it's like shedding a skin. Slowly but surely he sees himself start to emerge.
Dressing in a pair of worn old sweats and a t-shirt which is more grey than black, he's still trying to wrap his head around the fact of months passing in the Cloister equating to mere hours outside it when his door chimes softly and then opens.
Ronon stands there trying to look as nonchalant as someone who tops out at 6ft can and he grins at John's clean shaven appearance.
"You look better." He lifts his arm to show the six pack of beer dangling from his grasp. "I brought beer."
John takes a few moments to process that. "You brought me beer?"
"McKay said I should."
John still has nothing. How much could have changed in 15 or so hours? "You brought me beer because McKay said you should?"
"Are you okay?" Ronon tilts his head and sends John what passes for a considering and concerned look. "Did you bang your head in the shower?"
"No!" John steps back with a shrug and waves Ronon inside. "You and your beer are welcome to come in."
John's quarters are fairly small compared to some. He's never felt the need for a great deal of space.
John sprawls on the narrow bed, settling the pillows behind him. Ronon sits on the floor, leaning back against the bed before pulling a can free and tossing it to John, cracking another open for himself.
"Cheers," John tilts his can towards Ronon and waits for something, anything, but Ronon seems happy to just drink.
"To what do I owe the pleasure? Did Teyla send you to check on me?"
Ronon shakes his head. "No, just thought you might want to talk."
John tries out his best what-the-hell-do-you-think face and is rewarded by a snort of laughter.
"Six months is a long time."
"Yeah, for me, but it was only what....15 hours or so for you guys? How much could've happened while I've been away?"
And there again is the one almighty mindfuck that his brain is still skittering around the edges of having any grasp on at all. Six months of his life gone.
"You did not just say that." John compresses his empty can and throws it at Ronon's head. "You've been spending too much time with McKay and Zelenka. Or is it Dr Chouwdhary the pretty little astrophysicist cause I've seen the way you look at her."
Ronon grins and shakes his head.
"What did you do for 6 months in a cloister?"
"You mean when I wasn't running miles to the cave and back to see whether you'd left a message or getting the crap beaten out of me by a beast conjured from their own fears?"
"Yeah. Your life was so hard on the inside, I bet." Ronon teases.
"Might be a shock but people striving for the higher path seem to spend an awful lot of time sitting still and meditating." John takes a long drink. "Meditating, contemplating, discussing. There's not a lot of action in a place like that."
"Huh. Teyla's tried to teach me Athosian meditation. Just puts me to sleep." Ronon turns to squint at John. "McKay said you have a thing for ascended women."
John sighs and scowls down the bed at Ronon. "Did he?"
"Said something about you being the James T Kirk of the Pegasus galaxy."
"Bet he thinks that makes him Mr Spock." John laughs and meets Ronon's puzzled gaze. "Next movie night I'll show you some Star Trek episodes. It'll give you context."
Ronon finishes his drink, crushes the can and reaches for another. He looks up and gives John one of the most thorough once over's he's ever received outside of a club. The look leaves him a little breathless and feeling a lot flushed and by the time he's got his response under control Ronon is blinking innocently at him.
"You knew we were coming back for you, right?"
"Never leave a man behind," John nods.
His fingers tighten convulsively on the can and for a moment it's not Atlantis's walls and lights and windows he sees but sand dunes and wrecked choppers. The bitter knowledge is they're very pretty words and everyone always means them but you can't always live up to them.
Ronon's hand closing around his ankle in a warm grasp jerks John away from memories and back to the present.
"A Satedan never leaves anyone behind. At least not alive."
There's a hard finality to Ronon's words that's somehow very reassuring.
"Give me a pillow?"
John throws one to him and shuffles lower down the bed. He's warm from the shower, buzzed from the beer and sleepier than he thought he be even with the way Pegasus screws with his body clock Gating from world to world.
Ronon stretches out on the floor and tucks the pillow under his head.
John peers over the edge of the bed at him. "What're you doing?"
"Going to sleep."
"You don't have to stay."
"I know." Ronon cracks a huge yawn and tucks an arm under the pillow.
"You can't sleep on the floor," John tries again.
"Seven years as a runner Sheppard, I can sleep anywhere."
Ronon's eyes drift closed and he gives every impression of falling asleep.
John lies back because if there's anything he's learning about Ronon it's that when his mind is made up it's pointless to argue. Somehow, without him even noticing, this seems to have become their thing. A post mission, informal talk without actually talking much about anything thing. John's not really sure what that means except that it means something.
"Sheppard?" Ronon's voice is soft with sleep.
"Why did you invite me to stay?"
"Because you know your way around."
It's a dumb answer but right now it's all John has got.
It'd taken John a lot of fast talking and promises - about keeping a close eye on him and regular monitoring of temperature and heart rate - to get Carson to release Ronon from the infirmary.
But Ronon's plaintive "Get me out of here now, Sheppard," muttered through swollen lips and a mosaic of bruises had been enough to galvanise John into action.
Even with those promises Carson is still giving him the Scottish version of the hairy eyeball. There's a lot of not so sotto voce muttering following them about idiotic marines and soldiers, and their genetically inherent deathwish, and Carson not risking hive ship and shooting a Wraith to see Ronon fall flat on his face the minute he's back in Atlantis.
John's more than a little conscious he's bearing at least half of Ronon's weight. He's got an arm slung around Ronon's waist and Ronon's arm is over his shoulder and they're navigating the corridor in what can best be described as a fast forward stumble.
Ronon smells of antiseptic and he's still wearing Atlantis's hospital whites. Tthe blood stained and sweat encrusted clothes he'd been wearing when they brought him in consigned to either bin or laundry. John hadn't thought bring a change of clothes when he visited. Then again he'd not thought he'd be busting Ronon out from under Carson's care quite so soon either.
They stagger through the door of Ronon's quarters, John's shoulder bumping hard into the doorway in an attempt to steer Ronon through and keep them both upright.
And the scene playing out in full glorious technicolor inside John's head - complete with stomach-rolling nausea as the aftermath of living on adrenalin and caffeine catches up with him - is everything that's happened in the last few days.
The sick hopelessness in Ronon's eyes when he finally recognised the village they'd stumbled into. Ronon turning a knife to his own throat in the cage, bartering his life for John and Teyla's ignoring John's strangled "Don't" and Teyla's pleas. Ronon battered and bruised in the ruins of Sateda pulling a gun on John and refusing to leave until he'd killed all the Wraith. Watching as Ronon was beaten half to death by the Wraith from the hive ship, John's finger edging closer to the trigger wanting to see a body exploding from the force of the bullets he could pump into it with one easy shot.
Hardly surprising in the end it was Carson, who took one look at what was going on, said screw the Hippocratic oath, and pulled the trigger on the puddlejumper's weapons. The result was one hell of a satisfying explosion and totally disintegrated Wraith - John's only regret is it was too fast. He would've like to deal some pain back for Ronon's sake.
If John's a little jealous that it was Carson who took the son of a bitch out, well he's adept at not looking too closely at any feelings he might have. Teyla called him on that on board the ship.
So it might be that John topples Ronon onto the bed with a little more force and a lot less bedside manner than Carson would exhibit.
Ronon's pained huff and wince makes John duck his head and mumble "Sorry" as he shoves a pillow behind Ronon's shoulders and bends to lift his legs onto the bed.
"Sheppard, stop it."
John stops and watches Ronon carefully settle himself, wincing into what, presumably if not a comfortable position, is at least a less painful one.
John digs in his pocket for the two small bottles of pills Carson gave him and shakes a couple from each into his palm before offering them to Ronon with a glass of water.
Ronon starts to curl his lip and John moves a step closer to the bed and tries to loom with intent.
"Take them or you go back to the infirmary even if I have to call Lorne and a squad of marines to get you there." Ronon scowls up at him and John grins fierce and bright. "You know he'll do it and he'd probably enjoy it."
Ronon growls but he throws the pills into his mouth takes the water and drinks. It's only with a supreme effort that John manages not to ask him to open his mouth to check he's swallowed them but he can only push things so far.
John sits down on the bed, his knees finally giving out, the backlash hitting him with the force of a tsunami. He rakes a hand through his hair, then across his eyes and looks up at Ronon.
"What the hell were you thinking?"
"What was I thinking when?"
"Oh I don't know...in the village when you put a knife to your throat?"
Ronon blinks at him and rolls his shoulders in a half shrug. "I was thinking it was the only way to get you and Teyla out of there in one piece."
"That right there? That's not thinking. The point of a plan is that you let your friends know what you're going to do before you put it into play."
But the killer is, in hindsight, John knows Ronon was right. They could've tried to talk their way out but they didn't know they only had half an hour to get clear. Chances are if Ronon hadn't acted the way he did they'd be dead.
"Don't do it again." John's aware he's not sounding particularly commanding.
Ronon's lips are twitching up and before he can stop himself John reaches out presses his fingers to Ronon's bruised mouth and split lip. "At least promise me next time you won't do anything stupid until you've talked me through whatever plan you've got in mind."
Ronon nods and his hand closes around John's wrist pulling it away.
"Get me out of this thing," Ronon plucks at the white shirt his nose wrinkling in disgust. "It smells of hospital."
John finds the hem and Ronon's breath is a warm heat against his neck and cheek as John peels the shirt up carefully.
There's a square pad taped between Ronon's shoulders, more scars to mark his skin where Carson has fished the newest tracking device out from his spine. He pulls the shirt up and over Ronon's head eyes taking in the red-purple scatter of bruises across his back, ribs, chest and arms. Carson had shoved Ronon under the scanner the minute they'd pulled him out of the jumper so there's no chance of missed broken bones. But there's a hairline fracture of a number of ribs that will only heal with time, a couple of stitches above his eyebrow and John knows there's a line of neat stitches on his thigh hidden beneath the white trousers. There's more marked skin than unmarked and the Ancients could only accelerate healing so far. There are some things the body just has to heal at its own speed.
"Jesus Christ I am never listening to you again when you tell me not to kill someone," John snarls.
Ronon laughs, settling back with a soft sigh, sliding his legs under the covers.
"Someone who isn't an ally, anyway," John amends.
Then Ronon's fingers are curling round John's neck in a gentle but insistent pressure, pulling him down.
Ronon's mouth is soft and John's tongue flicks out, past the split in his lip to slide into warm heat, tasting blood and antiseptic. As first kisses go it's a bit messy, the angle's not great and it's hardly earth shattering but there's a promise in the press of lips and softly exhaled breath. John wonders how long they've been working up this in all those evenings where they don't really talk.
Ronon grunts softly when he releases John and licks his lips as if chasing the last taste of John's mouth.
His gaze tracks from John's eyes slowly down his body and John feels the flush of embarrassed heat stain his cheeks finding he's half hard under the frank assessment. The only excuse John can make for himself is that it's been a long time.
"Tomorrow will be better."
"You are insane. Tomorrow you're staying in bed."
Ronon shoots John a glance, lifts an eyebrow and there's far too much amusement dancing in his eyes.
"In bed, to rest and recover. Alone." John's aiming for stern and falling short by a mile so he breaks out the big guns. "Carson will haul you back to the infirmary faster than you can blink if you don't at least try to follow his instructions."
Fingers fist in the front of John's t-shirt tugging him down towards the bed. He kicks out of his shoes, shrugs off his jacket and lets Ronon move him around until somehow they fit. For all it's the first time they've actually shared a bed it feels so very familiar.
"You need sleep," Ronon mutters, "and I need to tell you something. Can't do this with secrets."
It's the first time John realises their thing might be a this and this might not be casual. He hums softly in agreement before he can follow that thought any further and freak out.
"Teyla said I shouldn't tell you. She thinks your people wouldn't understand. But....after today, I think you might."
"Teyla's been getting you to keep secrets?" John's thankful for training which means he doesn't tense up but he does suck in a shallow breath of surprise. "Go on."
"Remember when you were on Doranda, Teyla and I went on the trading mission to Belkan? We found some Satedan's had made it off planet?"
John nods remembering the report and the name of Solan Sencha mentioned as a contact.
"We found out my taskmaster Kell had survived."
"Taskmaster?" John queries not wanting to interrupt but needing information to understand.
"The closest relationships a Satedan has are to taskmaster and to squad. Kell was the head of my division. When the Wraith hiveships came he sacrificed thousands of soldiers so he and his staff could get away. My squad, the rest of the squads in 1st Division...more too. I'd traded in every favor I had to get Melena onto Kell's staff and get her out...but she wouldn't leave the hospital. She died in front of me."
Ronon draws a ragged breath and John finds he's holding his own, more of Ronon's history laid out in the last few minutes than in the months previously.
Questions about Melena and who she was to Ronon can wait until later because as her name falls from Ronon's tongue there's a rawness in his voice which shows too many painful memories have been raked over today. John has a feeling this story about Kell comes out all in one piece or not at all.
"I used Teyla's connections to get a meeting with Kell. Then I killed him."
John's not quite sure where he thought this was going but he's hardly surprised. "And you walked away?"
"The men with him knew what he'd done. They didn't think he was worthy of avenging. He won't be mourned except by his family."
"I didn't mean from them," John says. "I meant I'm surprised Teyla let you walk away."
"After she held a knife to my throat she made it clear that..." Ronon pauses and continues in a cadence that is pure Teyla, "if I ever used her friendship in such a way again she would not be so...understanding."
John's smiling hearing her voice clearly in Ronon's words.
"In your place I'd probably have done the same thing. I don't think we need to bother Elizabeth with this. That's it? No more secrets?"
"Like this? No."
"Okay...then go to sleep."
"Why did you invite me to stay?"
"Because you hate the Wraith more than we do."
Ronon's soft huff of laughter is the last thing John hears before sleep claims him.
John spends three hours in Col. Carter's office when they return from the rescue mission.
For two hours McKay, Teyla and Ronon are present and they go over everything from Teyla and Ronon's the first meeting in the village with Ara, Rakai and Tyre right up to the final moments in the research facility.
Every discussion, word and nuance are picked apart. Ronon sits unmoving through it all, answering every question they put to him, his voice devoid of emotion. Teyla offers observations where she can about the first meeting and even McKay is uncharacteristically subdued.
Carter is quiet, determined and concise, asking what she needs and moving on as swiftly as possible.
Then she dismisses the team and she and John go back over everything they have.
In the end Carter rubs a hand across her eyes and squints down at the pile of papers.
"Okay, we've got enough here. You should get some rest, go be with your team."
John pushes back from the desk, rolls his shoulders to ease the tension which has settled at the base of his neck and stretches.
"Well you've had a hall of a first week. I'm sorry about that."
She looks up from the document she's been skimming through and sends him a grin. It makes her look way less scary Colonel and a lot more like the woman he remembers from the photographs of SG1 tacked up on notice boards around Cheyenne Mountain, Antarctica and Atlantis.
"Want to know a secret?"
He tilts his head and looks at her, considering for a moment whether he wants to know anyone else's secrets.
"There's one thing I learned from 10 years at the SGC. No matter how good your planning is, no matter how prepared you are shit still happens. You deal with the fallout, put it behind you and do better next time."
"That's your pep talk?" He puts his hands on the desk and pushes himself up. "Really - that's what you're going with? Shit happens, man up and deal?"
"You got a better one stashed away somewhere Col Sheppard? Let's hear it?"
His muscles are aching from sitting for so long and from being stunned twice in one day with a Wraith weapon.
"Nope I got nothing better than that." He twists and something midway down his back cracks and Sam winces in sympathy. "I do have one question for you. What about Ronon?"
She rests her chin her hands, closes her eyes for a moment and then looks up at him.
"Ten years with SG1, John. I know what it means to choose your friends. He's going to be harder on himself than you or I could ever be. Atlantis is his home, just make sure he knows that."
"He let Tyre go."
She shuffles the papers on her desk into a tidy stack. "I know. What would you have done?"
"I don't know." He glances past her, through the windows and out over the ocean. "I hope to god I never have to find out."
It takes him another hour, checking their quarters, the gym, the mess, Teyla's quarters, Mckay's lab, Carson and Zelenka's offices and the usual haunts down by the south pier before he finally runs Ronon to ground in a sheltered alcove down by the furthest point on the pier.
"Hey," John slides out of the wind, but doesn't sit, not sure whether his presence is welcomed or not.
Ronon doesn't lift his gaze from the ocean.
"I was leaving."
John shifts tucking more of his body into the alcove and shoves his hands in his pockets. "I know."
"I told you in the middle of the village square that I was leaving."
"Ronon, I was there. I get it. They were your people, your friends. I understand."
"They were my squad and my family."
It's there in the words they're not saying, the yawning chasm between what it means to be military from Earth and on Atlantis and what it meant to be military on Sateda. Knowledge doesn't equal experience and there are some things words can't ever convey.
"Are you coming back inside?"
"Later I just need to...." Ronon shrugs and glances down.
There's a leather cord wrapped around his fingers, knotted into it are carved pieces of bone and stamped brass. John's seen it before but has no idea what it means - totems or military insignia - he's always assumed Ronon will tell him when he's ready and now is not the time to ask.
John shoves his hands deeper into his pockets and hunches his shoulders against the wind. He can smell the rain on the air and he understands mourning the loss of your friends demands more than the sterile atmosphere of the city can offer.
He slides a hand from his pocket to curl over Ronon's shoulder and sucks in a shaky breath when Ronon leans into the touch.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
It's trite and simplistic but anything he says right now is going to sound that way and it's easier to fall back on the time honoured forms.
Ronon nods. "Go in, I won't be long."
Sometimes grief is too personal to be shared, it's something to be borne alone and John understands that too.
John blinks awake hours later to the sound of his doors hushing open. There are only four people on Atlantis his doors will open automatically to: Ronon, Teyla, McKay and Lorne. Only one of them is likely to be sliding into his room at this hour.
The lights start to increase, less inky blackness more shades of grey, and there's the sound of wet clothing hitting the floor.
"No, turn the lights off."
The whispered words are raw and John's fingers find the panel even as he's willing the room back into darkness.
John's quarters are functional, he's never got around to changing things and his bed is small. He rolls to his side, holding up the covers for Ronon to slide in.
He's freezing skin and wet hair and John can feel him shaking, tremors that a body pushed past self regulation can't hope to control. But his kisses are urgent and his hands greedy. They've been doing this for over a year now and it's not the first time in his life John's used sex, or been used for sex, to mask grief. Not the first time and not likely to be the last considering where they are and how they live their lives.
John rolls with it.
He slides his fingers into the mass of wet heavy hair, wraps himself around Ronon, and tries with hands and body and mouth to breathe urgency and life into a body, heart and soul that've been broken and burned. Because sometimes that's all you can do.
Much later, when Ronon's stopped shaking and when his skin is warm again the words are rasped out into John's ear, pulling him back from the long stuttering fall into sleep.
"Why did you invite me to stay, Sheppard?"
He turns in the circle of Ronon's arms, fingers tracing the knife gash above his brow, passing gently over the discoloured skin below his eye well on the way to blackening impressively. His hand moves lower, tracing over the swollen curve of jaw, down his neck to where the tattoo is inked into skin and Ronon shivers.
"Because you can take care of yourself in a fight."
It's not what he means to say and he hopes Ronon knows it.
John hates funerals he always has.
It says something about his life that he's become used to burying men his age or younger but he never expected to bury his father.
By the time he finally gets back to Atlantis it's late and, after checking in with Carter, he heads straight for Ronon's quarters.
Ronon's stripping and cleaning his gun, and there's a scatter of other weapons lying across the table: sword, knives, dagger and cleaning clothes and sharpening stones.
John can still feel the heavy grip of the replicator around his throat and knows he'll be carrying the marks from it for a while.
"Nothing like a near death experience to make you want to check your weapons, right?"
Ronon shoots him a grin, puts down the gun wipes his hands. He's still wearing the jeans, long sleeved black top and boots he wore on Earth and John's mind takes a detour because it's a hell of a good look on Ronon.
"How'd it go?"
"Paperwork and more paperwork, you know how it goes. The IOA is happy, loose ends all tied up and everyone can pretend nothing ever happened."
"Pretend nothing ever happened?" Ronon shakes his head, stands and crosses to John, resting a hand on his shoulder. "I didn't mean how did things go with the IOA."
John stumbles to a halt not sure where to start, suddenly too consciously aware that he knows way more about Ronon than Ronon had ever known about him. Right up until they stepped through the Gate to go to his father's funeral.
He'd never mentioned the house or the money or the brother who disapproved. The only bits of his past he's ever talked about are veiled references to missions and flight school, and Nancy, the ex-wife, who was possibly the best and worst thing that'd ever happened to him depending on who you asked.
Ronon leans in and kisses him and it's soft and gentle and warm. He draws John towards him, hands sliding beneath the jacket and John is pulled into the heat and solidity of Ronon's body. Earth may have family but Atlantis is home and after the whirlwind of the last few days it's a feeling worth holding on to.
Ronon's hands ease John out of the jacket, dropping it over a chair the steer him towards the bed pushing him down.
"You went to see your brother?" Ronon asks, dropping to his knees to pull off John's shoes.
John's body seems to have given up, content to remain as still as a puppet and let Ronon undress him like he's a child or an invalid. His brain doesn't seem to be coping much better either latching on to nothing more than the words Ronon says like a drowning man would cling to a life raft.
"Yeah, I did."
John's remembering David shaking Ronon's hand and sending John a look of disbelief when he introduced Ronon as a civilian contractor. David the older brother he'd never been able to slide anything past, David who could see through all John's carefully constructed masks and reticence in one easy glance.
"Yeah?" John blinks up to catch Ronon peeling out of the black top.
"Come to bed?"
They strip in silence and if John shivers as the lights dim when he's slipping into Ronon's bed it's only because the cotton is cool to the overheated flush of his skin.
John's so tired he wants to sleep for a week but he doesn't think he'll be able to close his eyes any time soon. The conversation with David had been awkward. He's missed so much of David's life, he has nieces and nephews he barely knows and there's a bitter regret that he'll never be able to make things right with his father.
He stares up at the ceiling through the shadows and wills himself to stay still. Ronon turns onto his side, slides closer into John and there's the warm pressure of Ronon's hand splaying out over his heart.
"My mother was a teacher," the words are practically whispered into his ear.
"My mother was a teacher, my father was in the army. I had two older brothers and one younger sister."
John finds he's breathing softly, hanging on to every word, his heart beating frantically into Ronon's palm. A whole history he's never asked about is laid open to him word by word, until he can clearly see the people Ronon's describing and feel like he knows them just a little bit, by the stories Ronon tells and the pictures he's painting with his words. With the soft rumble of Ronon's voice in his ear it's not so difficult to believe him the poet and storyteller Teyla had said Ara claimed him to be.
Eventually Ronon's voice whispers to a halt and he moves closer, his arm curling around John's waist his leg sliding between John's and the weight of his body is grounding. Then there's a slightly annoyed huff of breath against his cheek.
"So David knows?"
Ronon's grip tightens and John knows he's been played.
A year ago it would have been easy to shrug off Ronon's grasp and walk out of the room.
In the silence with the lights of Atlantis painting flickering shadows on the wall he forces his jaw to unlock, and tries to find the words to tell this story at least once. When he falters and stumbles Ronon waits patiently for him to find his place and continue.
Long after they've finished speaking, after words have finally ceased and the sound of the ocean far below is a dull sussuration lulling them both towards sleep John finds he's waiting for the inevitable.
"Aren't you going to ask?"
He can feel Ronon's lips curving into a smile against his cheek.
"Why did you invite me to stay Sheppard?"
"Because I can use a guy like you around here."
When John finds Ronon the sun is just slipping below the horizon staining sky blood red and burnt orange. Ronon is sitting cross legged at the edge of the pier, with Tyre's sword balanced across his knees.
John has a six pack of beer dangling from his fingers and a half bottle of extremely good single malt tucked into his shirt pocket.
"I brought beer."
Ronon tips his head back to look up at John and there's the slightest tilt of his lips upwards.
"Did McKay tell you to?" Ronon asks.
"No," John's fingers tap his shirt pocket, "but he did give me his good whiskey."
John drops down to settle by Ronon, legs dangling over the edge of the pier, the fall to the ocean hundreds of feet below.
He unscrews the bottle, takes a careful sip and lets the warmth of the liquid slide down his throat and uncurl in his belly before handing it over to Ronon.
John watches as Ronon takes a drink, admiring the long line of his throat, unable to ignore pallor of his skin and the dark circles remaining under his eyes when he turned to hand back the bottle.
"I hated Tyre, Rakai and Ara for breaking." Ronon's voice is steady but his hands curve tightly around the scabbard of the sheathed blade until his knuckles show white through skin. "I told them they should have died rather than given in."
"How can I hate them when it took less than a week to break me?"
John knows what it feels like to have your life sucked from your body. He recalls only too well the pressure of a Wraith hand on his chest, the flutter of the gash opening and the agonising pain as processes are accelerated on a cellular level, cells withering and dying, body aging helplessly under that touch. He knows the euphoric high of having life pushed back into you too. It was bad enough to experience that once - to have it happen over and over and over again is more than anyone should be asked to endure.
"You can't. You can't hate them, or yourself, for being strong enough to survive."
John cracks one of the cans open, takes the bottle back from Ronon, has another drink and chases it with sip of beer.
"Everybody breaks with the right leverage, Ronon. It's not a question of if, just how long."
"You sound like you believe that. What about dying with honor?"
The beer is bitter after the whiskey but it soothes John's throat.
"It's a nice sentiment but I don't think everyone gets to be that lucky."
They watch the sun slide below the horizon as Atlantis's lights flicker to life behind them bathing the city in a soft yellow glow.
The bottle of whisky is empty and the beer almost gone when John looks at the sword and gently nudges Ronon.
"Please tell me you're not going to throw that over the side?"
"You think I should keep it?"
John remembers Tyre in the hive ship, the certainty in his glance as he sent the team away remaining behind with the Wraith.
"I think the man who owned it wanted you to have it. I think he was your friend and I don't think you should ever forget that."
"He was more than a friend."
John has a better understanding now of the tangled relationships of Ronon's past.
It's been nearly two years since they first ran into Tyre, Ara and Rakai and though Ronon has given him some information John's asked around and knows enough to fill in the missing pieces. Satedan squads were not so different to Stargate teams, but they were bound closer by more than friendship and loyalty.
"I know...and he died with honor making sure we all got out of the ship."
"If it wasn't for him none of us would have been there." Ronon doesn't sound angry, just sad.
"It doesn't matter. He was a good man and when it counted he did the right thing. Remember that about him and let the rest go."
Ronon shifts his hands relaxing on the scabbard and John's mouth goes dry. He leans over, fingers clenching around Ronon's wrist.
"When I said let the rest go I didn't mean the sword. You really should keep that."
Ronon pushes himself to his feet, sword held loosely in one hand and reaches down to offer John a hand. His fingers curl around John's arm and John rises but Ronon doesn't let go, just pulls him in closer still.
"Why did you invite me to stay Sheppard?"
"You know the answer to that as well as I do. Are you ever going to stop asking the question?"
Ronon's smile is slow and easy and it's all the answer John needs.
~ ENDS ~
Dear bluflamingo you gave me a wealth of information to work from but I was particularly captivated by the idea of Ronon protecting John emotionally. I wanted it to be subtle, gentle and take place slowly over an extended period of time and be executed with such finesse that John isn't really aware of what's happening until it's too late and then have it be reciprocal. That's the story I wanted to tell. I wrote then tore it apart and rewrote it. I hope this at least paddles in the shallow waters of delivering that aim!
In my head this takes place over about four to five years tying into the following key episodes: 2x6 Trinity, 2x12 Epiphany, 3x04 Sateda, 4x03 Reunion, 4x15 Outcast and 5x03 Broken Ties.
Nitpicky note on show's consistency!
I checked the calculations for the time dilation field for the Cloister planet (in Epiphany, episode 2x12). If six months have passed for John, and we know that the time dilation is 1:250 (as mentioned by Teyla) this means that John has to have been away from Atlantis for at least 15-20 hours - rather than the couple or few they repeatedly say in the show.