Codes: Ronon, John/Ronon
Summary: He can't see Sheppard in this house.
Author Notes: Thank you to tropes for the beta and amireal for the advice. For thisisbone and nymphaea1.
I feel like I am ready to go through some sort of phase.
Ronon finds the wide open spaces of Sheppard's family home strangely unsettling, the empty sky glaring down at him with every step. It's not just the exposure that has him searching the sky, the grounds, listening for the low whistle of Wraith ships, the footsteps of an invading force, or the first horrified screams of a Wraith attack; it's the silence.
There's little of nature in the formal gardens, brilliantly colored flowering plants and glossy green shrubs marching in a carefully orchestrated appearance of chaos, neat stone walkways that ape antiquity, low walls whose only function is decorative, animals kept for pleasure in carefully tended green fields that are as little like a wild glade as an eating knife is like a sword. Ronon's a child of urban streets, the skyscrapers of businesses and apartments wrapped around him, bright city lights and industry, the soothing hum of manufacturing and spaceports. He likes Earth's cities, different from home but so much the same, prowling paved streets and narrow alleys and bright, cheerful stores that represent what his galaxy could someday be.
It's closing on full night, and Ronon's body's more awake than it has any right to be; he's used to training, workouts with Teyla and the Marines, briefings and missions and long runs with Sheppard panting curses at his heels, black t-shirt soaked in sweat, messy and flushed and grinning when he collapses at the end and tells the ceiling of Atlantis how he's too old to compete with kids.
The man he sees now is as far away from that as Atlantis from this house, though, and that's what drives Ronon away from the small town that speaks Sheppard's name with something close to reverence, to the cities and familiar smells, riding buses and cabs and remembering home with an ache he can feel in his belly. He doesn't think it's Sateda, but he's not sure it's Atlantis he's missing, either.
He's too late for the stiff, formal dinner beneath Sheppard's brother's cool eye, watching Ronon and asking questions that skirt the edge of insult in a low, smooth voice that makes it impossible for Ronon to answer. Various visitors join them every night to speak of Sheppard's father and smile emptily while Sheppard vanishes into a stranger in stiff suits and too-straight spine. Ronon's avoided him for two nights running, coming back to his room long after Sheppard's gone to bed.
He's not fooling Sheppard, he knows, but he's curious how long it will take for Sheppard to call him on it. Turning back, he checks the pink-orange edges of sunset fading from the west and turns back toward the road. Running will only take the edge off the restless energy, but it's better than nothing.
Sheppard hadn't brought his workout gear, his uniforms, leaving them at the SGC for their return home. The clothes he wears here shape his body into someone unfamiliar, angles softened and sharp edges blunted, dimming him into the background noise of the active house. When Ronon asked, Sheppard had shrugged with an indifference that Ronon had realized he meant. "I'll be back soon enough," he had said, eyes never quite meeting Ronon's.
He's learned when the kitchen's most likely to be deserted and times his visits accordingly, searching the cabinets and refrigerator, eating as he flips through a magazine someone had left behind and looks at the glossy pictures of celebrities and places exotic to a people bound to a single planet. He can't imagine a people that can't travel worlds with a single step, even when he's standing among them.
Coming up the back stairs, Ronon passes a girl barely old enough to marry carrying towels; he smiles at her as he steps back, letting her pass him on her way down. She flushes, looking away as she vanishes down the dusky hall. There's just enough light to see, but he doesn't need it; he knows Sheppard's home in his bones, from hours of following Sheppard through large, cool rooms as Sheppard wordlessly traces the history of his childhood.
He's quiet coming to his room, slipping down the hall to the smoothly polished door and inside; pointless, as it turns out, because Sheppard's standing at one of the wide windows that overlook the garden, outlined in pale silver. Ronon stiffens, but Sheppard's head tilts before he can step back. "Good try," he says mildly, with the faintest edge of something that Ronon can't quite read. "You missed dinner."
The again is unspoken, but Ronon ignores it, closing the door behind him. "Lost track of time."
He can almost see Sheppard's raised brow; in Atlantis, he'd see Sheppard's mouth quirk at the obvious lie, the fight between commander and friend playing out across his face, hazel eyes filling with light before he'd grin back. Here, Ronon gets the back of his head and stiff, straight shoulders, crossed arms that create distance where distance has never been before.
Coming up behind Sheppard, he looks out into the darkened garden, the fields beyond, and then at the tense line of Sheppard's spine. "You were watching?"
"Dave's cook's a little experimental," Sheppard answers diffidently. "I wasn't hungry." Ronon remembers Sheppard absently eating a plate of tiny live squid at a celebration of spring in a tiny fishing village on a planet Ronon would love to forget. McKay had muttered about parasites and bacteria after they returned to their tent, pouring water and some kind of purgative down Sheppard's throat while he curled up in Teyla's lap and offered team leadership to the first person willing to let him die.
Ronon catches a faint flicker of lashes, a building tension that he thinks Sheppard's been ignoring too long. Stepping up behind him, Ronon cups his shoulders gently, wondering if it's the unfamiliar softness of the material that makes Sheppard feel so fragile. Sheppard stiffens, all bone and thin muscle, though both of them know if Ronon wanted to keep him, it wouldn't even be a fight. He wants to stroke but keeps still, letting Sheppard take the offer or move away.
Ronon thinks he's going to move away up until he doesn't; it's always a surprise when John softens like warming wax, leaning back just enough for them to touch, and Ronon doesn't even realize he's been holding his breath until he lets it go, relief so palpable he can almost taste it. Shifting closer, he takes John's weight against his shoulder, closing his eyes at the brush of silky hair against his chin, listening to John's slow breathing until he can match it.
"Where were you?" John asks in an echo of his low drawl. Ronon shrugs carefully, knowing John won't push if he doesn't want to talk, but he'll *look** and that'll be bad enough.
"Running. Thinking." Dave speaks to John like he's a child, with the memory of old disapproval filling his voice, his eyes when they flicker to Ronon. John answers questions about his work with studied indifference, as if he's nothing but a man who flies helicopters and not leader of a war that's spanned ten thousand years and the populations of a galaxy. "It's nice around here. Quiet."
John snorts, but Ronon can feel the tension seeping away with every breath, and Ronon smiles into his hair as he wraps an arm around John's waist. The clothes aren't so foreign anymore, not when he can feel John warm and familiar beneath them. John turns his head enough for Ronon to see tight lips and the dark-ringed eyes he's carried for all the days they've been here.
Ronon remembers when his family buried his father and the long days after when even grief had to give way to duty, visitors murmuring meaningless platitudes they were forced to hear; standing dry-eyed as their priest spoke of the Ancestors and the courage of those left behind. He remembers clinging to his mother's hand, his sister's skirt, sharing in their strength while he offered up his own. John's been alone too long; he doesn't know how to ask for what he needs.
"You need to sleep," Ronon murmurs in his ear, almost smiling at the ironic look he receives in return. "Get some rest."
John shrugs, pulling away so lightly that Ronon's left with an armful of air before he realizes John hasn't moved any farther than a nearby chair. The coat's crumpled on the floor like a discarded skin while he tugs the pale shirt free of his pants with the sharp, jerky movements that speak of sleepless nights and longer days.
Biting his lip against a smile, Ronon pushes John into the chair and kneels on the flat, cool rug, stripping shoes and socks from narrow feet. When he looks up, John's slumping in the chair with a half-buttoned shirt and someone familiar staring out from behind his eyes.
He gets hard so quickly that his vision is dancing sparks and spots of dark, John's foot still resting on one hand. When he opens his eyes again, John's slumped further, two more buttons have been loosened and long thighs are splayed in casual invitation.
Sliding a hand up John's calf, he watches John's mouth open, lips soft and slick from a sweep of pink tongue, hazel eyes half-lidded and asking, asking, asking, and Ronon thinks its going to kill him to give his answer. "Sleep."
John stares back, heel lifting, pressing into Ronon's thigh, and Ancients, so close to his cock he can feel the warmth of John's skin through his pants. His hand tightens on John's knee, fighting the urge to give John whatever the hell he wants.
The heel pushes into the big muscle briefly, then John stands up, giving Ronon a narrow look before passing him, shedding shirt and pants behind him as he crawls into entirely the wrong bed in the wrong room. Willing his cock into complacence, Ronon stands up, watching John rearrange the pillows and burrow beneath thick blankets, only a tuft of dark hair visible against the pillowcase.
Then, "Jesus, Ronon, *bed**."
Not quite an order, but close enough. Ronon checks the lock, shutting the moonlight behind the curtains. When he crawls into bed, John shifts closer, warm against Ronon's side, and something tight inside him starts to ease at the casual arm slung across his waist, John's head pressed against his arm before he goes boneless with sleep.
Ronon thinks he won't sleep at all, not with the smell of John against him, on him, close after days of space that felt like miles, but the next thing he knows, morning's peering through a crack in the curtains and John's sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, sunglasses like armor and keys in his hand. Sitting up, Ronon blinks away drowsiness and John's mouth curves in a slow smile.
"Come on," he says. "I'll teach you how to drive."
John likes cars with smooth lines, purring low and soft when he runs his hands over their wheel, sliding deliberately down the gear shift as he murmurs instructions in a husky drawl that drags across Ronon's skin like a wet tongue. They're nothing like the land vehicles Ronon learned to drive before his fourteenth birthday, and John's nothing like his instructor. Jeans and boots replaced the lean pants, leather coat and white shirt leaving a distracting V of lean chest and dark hair, leaning back to stare up at the sky every time they stall.
He's never smiling when Ronon looks at him, but he can feel it like the warmth of the sun.
The last stall, John looks at him over the rim of his sunglasses, head tilting before he looks out over the straight road that disappears into soft hills coated in uniform green. Ronon unbuckles his seatbelt before John's even opened his mouth. "Hell yes."
John taught him to enjoy flying, but Ronon's best on solid earth, ground beneath his feet, tuned to the world around him; when he was young, he raced his friends in the countryside, brief hours stolen from training and class, exercise and sleep, furtive nights they came home exhausted and drunk from the freedom. John slides into the driver's seat, and Ronon can see him slot into place, hands closing over the steering wheel with easy command before he reaches for the gear shift and says, "Buckle up."
There's no way to measure speed in space without instruments; even jumpers strip away the immediacy, but this Ronon can feel in every muscle as the car lurches forward, smoothing beneath John's touch like a jumper in flight, "First gear," Sheppard murmurs, laughter bubbling beneath, switching in a single smooth stroke, "Second,". Ronon feels the crawl of power through every nerve, friction from tires against paving, the rush of air tugging his hair, and then John says, "Now, let me show you what she can do."
The world blurs in greens and browns that run together like fingerpaints, houses passing in faint blobs of dull color, trees vanishing as they pass, but mostly, Ronon watches John, mouth parted in a slowly widening smile, uncoiling tension into air that rushes by them, stealing their breath and stinging Ronon's eyes to tears. He can't imagine closing them; he doesn't want to miss a minute.
They drive through McDonalds for a late lunch; John fills the car with bags of hamburgers and fries, explaining ketchup is the greatest invention of mankind while Ronon tells him he's full of shit. Secretly, however, he gathers the tiny packets to take back to Atlantis; they always run out well before the Daedalus comes back and Teyla's not getting any less dangerous no matter how large she grows.
John talks, which he hadn't expected, as they slow to a crawl on the narrow streets; Ronon's aware of the people who watch them from the corners of their eyes. Some he recognizes from the funeral, looking at him with curiosity and the glee of old women with news, some with undisguised dislike, some with nothing but thoughtful silence. John drives like he's unaware of a single look, and Ronon remembers John standing in assemblies and presentations and town counciles, before the eyes of tribes of ten to ten thousand with the same unselfconscious calm.
"Where we going?" Ronon asks as they stop at a light, trying to work out the logic--red for stop, green for go, yellow-- "For go *faster**" John had said. Ronon files that away to ask McKay and be sure; he doesn't trust the way John smiles. John turns his head lazily, but the glasses hide his eyes, and Ronon can tell by the tight jaw that it's time to go back.
They have one more day here before the gate opens to send them home, but it seems too far away, stretching hours of John smaller and darker beneath his brother's eye, in his brother's house. There's nothing of John there, even when John's inside it.
"He wants me to stay a few more weeks," John says, ignoring Ronon's question because it doesn't need an answer. "Get more details settled." The light turns green abruptly, and John curses, shifting them into gear and lurching into the intersection. When they're passing the town limits and turn toward the house, John glances at him so briefly John probably thinks he didn't notice.
Ronon leans back in his seat. "It's not too bad out here," he lies, because it is. As a child, he remembers songs about open air and the country and hadn't believed them then; now, surrounded in it, it's proven the filthy lie he always suspected it was. "You need to work out," he says, ignoring the flash of John's frown. "Getting soft."
John shrugs. "Couldn't beat you when I was at my prime," he answers, that faint edge creeping into his voice that's not anger or bitterness. Ronon pretends he didn't hear it, but something tenses in him as the house comes into view. Behind it, the sky's darkening in swirls of grey and black, bright flashes twisting between; storm tonight.
Like it was waiting for them to notice, a chill breeze sweeps through the car; Ronon sees John shiver as he turns into the driveway. In the warm dark of the garage, he parks the car, engine going out like a light turning off, and Ronon thinks something in John goes out too. He doesn't move anywhere but behind his eyes, and Ronon wonders if John has decided that he would send Ronon home alone.
Dave doesn't like him, that much he knew the first time he met him, with stiff nods and short handshakes, like they're unwelcome traders on an isolated world.
"How long have you worked together?" Dave asks from the other side of the room. He doesn't have John's casual ease with his body and Ronon can't trace John anywhere in this man. He wants too, though; this is John's past, and John's seen everything of him, best and worst and all in-between.
"Three years." Saying it surprises him; has it been so long? Ronon remembers his first days in Atlantis in single scenes of suspicious Marines and frightened civilians, faceless and forgettable, blurred with exhaustion and bone-deep hunger and leftover fear. He doesn't remember when he slept or if he did and how he did it; mostly, he remembers John and thinking no one, no one could be stupid enough to trust a stranger in this galaxy.
He's been wrong before and will be wrong again, but never again about John.
Ronon leans back, trying to pretend the stiff, narrow couch isn't as fragile as it feels; pretends, too, that tomorrow they'll be back in Atlantis, that John's casual comment doesn't equal more long weeks here, because John may think Ronon's going back alone, but he also thinks he's invulnerable to bullets.
"Usually." Ronon takes in the soft hands, the barely lined face of a man who lives life in softer ways, wondering if Pegasus will ever gain this kind of peace, if he'll see children grow up that never touch a gun or use a knife. "He's a good commander."
Dave's mouth twists briefly before he smiles with polite acceptance. "I'm not surprised."
And not believing, either. Ronon taps uncomfortably on the arm of the sofa; it's full night and this time on Atlantis was training with Teyla or late dinners with the team. Movie nights when McKay had been lab-bound for too many days, tempted by popcorn and new movies from Earth. Running with John when the three moons were full and high overhead and the world was gilded in silver.
Ronon hates small talk, conversation to fill up time and air that has no purpose, but he doesn't think Dave's is anything but deliberate. What he's looking for Ronon's not sure, but he's curious where it will go. He knows the boundaries dictated by secrecy, the SGC, by prudence, but he's less certain of those created by John.
"I suppose he keeps busy," Dave answers dismissively. Ronon thinks of their last week with an inner smile; three missions, one kidnapping, one riot over the last of the powdered milk. Two lab fires, only one by McKay, three new rooms cleared for common use and one new lab for the scientists, and ten Marine drills for what to do when your commander is possessed or turned evil. Three infirmary visits because Sheppard discovered an Ancient rock-climbing wall and the Marines grim belief that there's nothing the Air Force can do that the Marines can't do better.
"We didn't want—we didn't think he wouldn't come back."
It's so sudden that Ronon's surprised, though he's been waiting for it since Dave sat down. Dave's staring at the wall behind Ronon's back, and all this careful, pointless conversation suddenly has a purpose; guilt has many guises, but you can always see it when it's there.
"They argued, like they always did. Dad threw him out." Dave's mouth tightens; guilt, anger, grief, Ronon can't be sure. "That--that never stopped him before. He always came back. Always. Then he didn't."
Another mission, another continent, another galaxy: war changes you, Ronon knows. The person who went to his first battle isn't the same one that walked away from it, not least because he walked away alone. Ronon wonders what John felt, what this place was like, when John returned to it after becoming a soldier: wonders what he saw and felt when life continued as it had before, even if he was nothing like he was.
He thinks of John in too-neat suits, ties, dressed like something he hasn't been in half a lifetime.
"Is it--" Dave stops, then shakes his head. "I never thought about it. What he was doing. He talked about flying and where he'd gone and it was all--just John, who'd walk off a cliff if Dad said to stay on safe ground. We didn't--I didn't think he meant it."
Standing up, Dave moves restlessly toward the window, darkened to near black from the storm hovering overhead. Ronon can hear thunder in the distance, shivering sound that he can almost feel.
"I thought--" Dave lets out a breath, looking down. "I thought he brought you to shock us. Remind us he didn't care what anyone thought. That's not true though, is it? It never occurred to him there was anything to care about."
Ronon thinks of John coming to his room, going to John's, the basic precautions they took on a base that didn't care at all. John's careful, because that's how he was taught, but habit's different from intent. John leaves his shirt on Ronon's floor, a toothbrush in his bathroom, sleeps with his radio on Ronon's bedside table.
"You're going back tomorrow," Dave says. Ronon nods, seeing Dave's shoulders almost slump. "It's not just flying a helicopter, is it?"
The rules are deceptively simple, so black and white they're almost impossible to follow. He can say whatever he likes, talk about flights between icy bases when they both know it's a lie.
"No," Ronon says finally. "It's not."
Dave takes a breath, staring outside. "And he can't--there's no one else who can do it? What he's doing?"
The SGC might say so, even if he's their first call, their only call, even when they hold his command over him like a sword; they know what Ronon knows, Atlantis knows, what he must have, must have known the day he met him, or he never would have stayed.
"There's no one else."
Dave nods jerkily, back bowing under the weight of knowledge he must have spent years refusing to believe. Ronon thinks of his mother the day he left for training, how she smiled at him and wished him well, kissed his cheek and let him go; she'd stood like this when she thought he'd left, hunched against the certainty that the life she freed she'd also lost.
Ronon wonders if Dave can do that, can smile when he lets John go.
"If he--I don't know if he--he ever--" Dave stops short when his voice breaks, head coming up sharply. "You'll tell us if he--doesn't come back."
When Ronon joined Atlantis, he'd been given paperwork to sign, a thousand forms that Sheppard patiently explained: medical power of attorney (*If you're injured, if you can't speak for yourself; or when you're turned into a bug. It happens.**), power of attorney (*if you're comatose and you need someone to care for your possessions, your life; or when you're turned into a bug and someone tries to take your DVDs. That happens a lot.**), will and testament (*I recognize a will when I see it, Sheppard.**), and the list of who to contact if you don't come back.
Ronon has three on his, friends that lived through the culling of Sateda that Sheppard promised to see to himself; Sheppard, he knows, has none.
"Yeah," he says, surprised by the rough sound of his own voice. He knows Pegasus; knows Atlantis and their team; but mostly, he knows John. John won't be the one who will give those last goodbyes. "We will."
Dave's head lowers briefly. "Thank you."
"Did I miss something?" John says from the doorway, looking startlingly disheveled, dirty streaking his cheek and both bared forearms and his boots are caked with mud, tracing his steps as far as Ronon can see down the all. Ronon watches Dave slide back inside himself and finally sees John in the quick smile, the easy change from tension to careless ease, what makes them complicated and what makes them family.
"Riding?" Dave raises an eyebrow at John's wary nod. "Did he throw you?"
John blinks, glancing between them. "Not this time." He glances down, looking surprised at the mud on his boots. "I need to change."
"Come on," Dave says with a smile, reaching for John's arm. Ronon hides his grin at John's startled look as Dave pulls him from the room. "At least get the mud off your boots so they'll have time to dry before you leave."
There's more conversation, but Ronon doesn't listen. He guesses that dinner will be late tonight.
"God, it's hot." John pushes open the windows, leaning out to stare accusingly at the sky. "Either rain or clear up. Jesus Christ."
Ronon tries to look like the heat doesn't bother him, but he's too used to Atlantis, with sophisticated environmental controls and wide windows that let in every breeze. Sitting back on the floor, he studies John in his half-buttoned shirt and jeans, feet pale and bare on the patterned rug.
He doesn't realize he's been staring at John's ass until John turns abruptly, hazel eyes narrowed. "Dinner was interesting."
Ronon shrugs; it was. Like some kind of dam had cracked, spilling out history in streams of memory; Dave had told stories, of John's childhood and adolescence, and Ronon can see the skinny, dark haired boy in this house now, sprained wrists and broken legs from riding, skinned knees from skateboards and skates, restless and eager and precociously bright. John had sat through it all, shock too slow to fade before Dave left for the evening, which Ronon thinks might be some kind of permission for what Dave hadn't asked him and what Ronon couldn't tell.
"I didn't have nightmares after reading War of the Worlds," John says, pacing two steps closer before coming to a stop.
"I did after the movie," Ronon squints up at John; he looks tired, but not like he did before. "Freaky."
"The aliens or Tom Cruise?" Dropping on the floor, knees bent, John stares discontently out the window. "I should check the air conditioner."
Ronon rolls onto his side. "You know how to fix it?"
"Maybe." John frowns. "I can fix a jumper and a chair ten thousand years beyond our technology. I don't think an air conditioner is beyond me."
"Yeah, but it won't talk to you either."
John slumps a little. "True." His head turns toward the window as a chilly breezes sweeps through, eyes closing as he tilts his head back to catch it; from here, Ronon can see his body stretching, muscles releasing tension like an uncoiling spring. He's beautiful. "I didn't know him. I never did."
Ronon watches John's head turn toward the open window, curtains lifting upward as the breeze strengthens. Lightning cuts across the sky in a startling sweep of color, lighting the room up like day. For a second, he thinks he sees John's eyes, wide and dark, tears clinging to his lashes like raindrops before he rolls away.
Grief takes a thousand guises, but this one, at least, he knows. Crawling the space between them, Ronon fits himself to John's body, breathing in the artificial scent of his cologne and sweat beneath, the familiar scent of the man he'd follow across the universe. Wrapping an arm around his chest, Ronon closes his eyes, feeling John shudder, tensing before he melts back against Ronon.
"I wish I had."
Ronon nods as John's fingers lace through his, letting John take whatever he needs.
The next flash of light he sees in blood red with a chill sprinkle of rain that startles him. John fights his hold, and for a second, Ronon doesn’t want to let him go. But John's shifting, rolling onto his back, looking up at Ronon with a question that he can't make himself refuse.
They kiss slow and easy, tongues sliding with lazy ease, though John's hard against his thigh. Long fingers trace his hairline, down his cheek, using his hands like he uses his eyes. Ronon could carve his body from memory, running his hands beneath John's shirt, this body he's touched a thousand times and still can't quite get enough. He doesn't think he ever will.
Water sprinkles his back in spots of cold, clings to John's hair and his face; when Ronon licks his jaw, he can taste fresh water and the lingering remains of salt. John arches fluidly, head tilted back, and Ronon takes the invitation, breathing along his collar, tonguing the pulse point to feel the fast rhythm of his heart.
After a while, Ronon pushes himself up, staring down at John, flushed, lips swollen and wet, hazel eyes swallowed up in black and edged in grief. Ronon tells him he knows with a kiss; it won't ever be easy, but it will get easier. "You look like shit," Ronon whispers against his ear. He's never seen anyone look so good.
John's eyes narrow, but not in disappointment. "You won't put out?"
Ronon smirks, twitching as he drops on the floor, the reverberation climbing up his spine. The rugs don't do shit to soften the floors. "Do you want to?"
He doesn't; even now, John moves like he's encased in honey, everything slow and too deliberate, like he has to think every time he moves. Frowning, John pushes himself up on his elbows, then sighs. "We go home tomorrow."
Ronon doesn't let John see his relief. "There's morning," Ronon offers, standing up. Reaching down, he grabs John's hand. "Before breakfast. At the hotel before we check out. When we get back--"
John rolls his eyes and lets Ronon pull him up, coming up against Ronon's body for a single, burning second. Ronon shivers involuntarily before John pulls away with a tilt of his head and a brief smile. "Right." Turning, he unbuttons the shirt, letting it fall behind him, half-turning to strip off his jeans. "Your loss."
Ronon smiles as he watches John collapse into bed. He's asleep before the Ronon's closed the window.
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