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Rodney says, "Go screw up the work of somebody less important than me," but Rodney is always saying things like that, so John continues to fiddle around with instruments he knows better than to touch.

"Colonel," Rodney says.

"Maybe I could help," John says, pleased with himself for thinking up this tactic.

Rodney looks at him blankly. "With what, exactly?"

"You tell me what you're doing, and I'll tell you what I can help with." This sounds completely logical to John.

"How about I skip trying to explain things to you that are far beyond your comprehensive abilities and you go deal with your boyfriend?" Rodney lowers his voice at this last. Rodney is many things, but he's not John's betrayer.

"I'm pretty sure he wants to see me even less than you do at the moment." John mutters this, but he keeps his eyes on Rodney. He's not a coward.

"Dumb and exponentially dumber," Rodney says.

John would defend Ronon's intelligence, but Rodney's bark is just that. There's no follow-up bite. Rodney hauled himself onto a jumper while injured to go retrieve Ronon. "We manage to lace our boots in the morning."

"To my ongoing surprise."

"I really could help. I helped Miko with that thing with the puddlejumpers last week."

"Of course you did, there were flying machines involved. Get out of my lab."

"Rodney-"

"Go."

A whole city, and they both know John's only got one place to go. He says, "I hate you."

Rodney says, "Take a number."

*


Teyla comes by Ronon's room and asks, "Have you eaten?" and doesn't say, "You need to," when Ronon shakes his head without looking at her. She's a good friend like that. She's a good friend.

Of course, she's John's friend too, which means that when he shows up at the door, looking nervous under a thin veneer of affable blankness, she nods at him, and slips past him, out into the corridor where she cannot protect Ronon. Not that Ronon needs protection--with the exception, possibly, of intervening miracle puddlejumper blasts.

The door wooshes shut with its impossibly clean sound--everything in Atlantis is like that, controlled, muted, practically unnoticeable. John says, "Hey."

Ronon does not respond. There are things he could say, probably should say. Things like, "I'm not sorry about the knife and the trade, I'm not," even though he could see the terror in John's eyes that he would have to watch. Even though he would have followed through on the threat.

Things like, "I'm sorry I held a gun on you." Because then it had been Ronon's terror, the sheer animal panic of John touching him, bringing him out of his nightmare-fueled adrenaline-heavy state. The fear of remembering good things and not knowing how to contextualize them any longer.

"Hey," he says.

"I was glad," John says, and he sounds fierce and angry, and Ronon has no idea what he's talking about.

"I was glad when I came back and they were all dead. I was glad to be right. I would have preferred to kill them all myself. I wanted- I wanted to pump the Wraith king full of the virus and then tell him what we had done and wait for him to slowly change back, keep him until he starved to death."

Ronon shakes his head slightly. "They had the right. The villagers." Not the Wraith. The Wraith. . .well, Ronon sort of wishes he had let John interfere, given that visual.

John moves behind him then, and Ronon--who can hear dust fall at times--does not hear him, startles at the feel of hands digging into his dreads until they are so buried they nearly pull. The pain is bearable, nothing, anchoring. He should have remembered that John knows about balance, about making even the kindest things sharp enough to feel real.

John says, "Hey," and it cuts itself into two syllables, the first unconnected from the second.

Ronon says, "I wouldn't have killed you."

John says, "The thing with the knife. That would have killed me. You would have."

Ronon says, "I meant-"

"I know. But you and the others, you're all I have." John's fingers tighten and it's almost too much. Ronon leans into the grip.

"Yes," Ronon says, and he means, "that's why I did it," he means, "I know," he means a lot of things, but mostly he just means, "That's good. Hearing that."

*


John dreams of short, sharply pointed knives slipping underneath skin. He dreams of blood and wakes with the smell of a dead world in his nostrils. Ronon is still asleep, his fingers clenched as tightly--more tightly--in John's shirt as they were when they fell into an exhausted rest, the both of them sitting on Ronon's bed. John shouldn't still be here. He can't bring himself to care. Ronon is one of his team. He mentally dares anyone to say anything.

John slips a hand down to Ronon's thigh, gently feeling out the bandage beneath the loose pants. John wonders, for a second, where the pants came from. They're not Ronon's, but there's really not anyone on Atlantis large enough for him to borrow pants from. More likely than not, Teyla scrounged them up from somewhere. Teyla was a miracle at finding items that the proto-Lanteans found themselves in need of.

Ronon startles at the touch. John says, "Sorry, didn't mean-"

Ronon asks, "Time?"

John brings his wrist up. "Late enough that Elizabeth probably knows where we both are." Which means that she's content to leave them, since she hasn't contacted him.

Ronon's hands remain where they are.

"Relax. If you'd had to stay in the infirmary all night--which any normal person would have--I would have sat there and nobody would have thought anything of it."

"But I didn't."

"I'm saying we can get away with this. This once."

Ronon draws in breath slowly through his nose. "Dreams," he says.

"Yeah."

And then Ronon's moving, scrabbling to heft John's shirt up, to roll him over so as to check something--all John can feel is the long, rough strokes of Ronon's calloused fingers over his spine. "Ronon?"

"Just dreams," Ronon says, but he sounds more sure this time. John thinks of the spot where Ronon's skin has scarred over time and again, inches away from his spine and thinks, oh.

He says, "We're safe."

Ronon says, "I thought-"

John says, "I won't let them have you. No matter how hard, no matter what they try."

"And I won't let them have you."

It's a declaration of intent, of love, a peace offering and a warning all in one. John nods. "Just, next time, maybe you could try that without-"

Ronon cuts him off, kissing him roughly, as if worried that anything lighter won't convey what he needs to get across. John isn't entirely sure what that is, but he knows it's big, important, and that he should at least try to pay attention. Ronon says, "I'll do my best."

*


Looking at John without a hint of irony, Elizabeth says, "Colonel, you and Ronon rendezvous with Atlantis-6 on the beta site."

Ronon, who has gotten fairly used to the odd system of what can and cannot be spoken of on Atlantis is somewhat certain that Atlantis-6 doesn't really need anyone to rendezvous with them. Or, if they do, certainly not someone of John's rank.

The beta site has a lot of convenient spots where people are unlikely to find him and John. Elizabeth's been there; she knows the terrain. Ronon could kiss her. Or, at the very least, tell her where Rodney's been foraging all those Werthers things she likes so much. The ones Caldwell keeps purposely bringing back from earth.

The beta site--like the now destroyed alpha site--is green and underdeveloped and like too many of the planets that Ronon has traversed in his time. It smells of the gun oil that John uses to keep his P-90 in prime condition and the canvas that Ronon had never seen up until he met the Lanteans. The Wraith have never come there, Ronon knows. There was nothing for them to come for.

There is everything to come for now, and still they have not. That, in Ronon's opinion, makes it as good a place as any--maybe better--for anchoring his boots in the damp mud of the planet, pressing John to a tree and saying, "Now."

It's been too long.

Ronon doesn't regret doing nothing more than sleeping with John that first night of his return, it was nice and real and a few other things he could handle having more of between the two of them. But John hasn't touched him--not with the intention of finishing what he started--since Sateda, and Ronon is so blind with need it's hard to watch out for onlookers.

John says, "Yes," and brings Ronon's hands up above his head. Ronon grabs a branch within reach and doesn't notice the rough bark under his palms, not with John peeling back Ronon's vest, throwing his own t-shirt aside, pressing as much of their skin together is as practical (possible) in this setting.

John takes him that way, Ronon clinging for dear life, their chests touching, only the barest hint of preparation. Only enough for Ronon to lean in to the touch, to throw his head back, to say, "Quicker," and mean, "Please."

Ronon doesn't know, can't tell for sure that he hasn't lost this, lost everything, lost his new beginning until John is hanging from him, panting, still inside him. Until John says, "I'm sending Elizabeth flowers," in that tone that trembles the way John's voice never does--not when he's sad or afraid--never, except when Ronon has accidentally found his center.

"Put my name on the card."

"That might be a bit suspicious."

"I could send her my own flowers."

"This is how rumors get started."

"Better than the truth."

John slips from him, pulls back, but he says, "I like the truth."

Ronon stays where he is. He does too.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile