Hth (hth_the_first) wrote,

Atlantis fic: Conscience (Alpha Centauri 3)

by Hth
part 3 of Alpha Centauri
Sheppard/Ronon, NC-17
contains spoilers for "Instinct"

Alpha Centauri is a trinary star system composed of a primary pair of yellow dwarfs (Alpha Centauri A and B) gravitationally bound to an outlying red dwarf (Proxima Centauri). This story is the third in a series (following Contract and Contraband) that is a lot like that.

With this story in particular, I owe a debt of honor to marythefan, who heroically overcame her distaste for stories with no Rodney McKay in them in order to give me much-valued additional perspective on John, Ronon, and Citida. That said, she probably won't like this draft either *g*, but it certainly dives much deeper because of her input.

Conscience (Alpha Centauri 3)
by Hth

“What?” Sheppard said when Ronon peered around the corner of the alcove he’d taken as quarters in the cave system. Sheppard had already bedded down on the floor of what looked like the old man had used it as a winter storeroom, after giving the rest of the team the more lived-in, comfortable rooms, and he at least looked comfortable enough that he wasn’t making any move to get up. He also shifted his left arm slightly so that his body blocked Ronon’s view of it, so it must look pretty bad.

“We probably could have made it back to town before dark,” Ronon said.

Sheppard shrugged. “If you’re in such a hurry, we’ll head back in a couple of hours. Just let me catch a nap first, okay?”

“How’s your arm?”

“It’s fine,” he said tersely. “Listen, did you need something?”



Yes. Please.

It was hopeless and he knew it. Sheppard didn’t know, couldn’t possibly understand what Ronon needed. Some days it was a relief, the ability to have the privacy of his own thoughts. He had never had that under Kel; Kel had known him far too well, anticipated his every move, left Ronon nowhere to go except to play out his maneuvers. But some days – some nights, like tonight, he missed...being known.

Hopeless, but he had no other choice. He only knew how to be what he was.

He came up to the edge of Sheppard’s bedroll and knelt on the stone, crossing his arms over his chest to show that he was unarmed and placing himself at Sheppard’s mercy. “I disobeyed your order,” he said, and it was strange how he stumbled over the words. He’d done this a hundred times. He was trained to do this. It had just long ago now. He’d gotten used to being alone and answerable for his mistakes to no one but himself.

Sheppard’s eyebrows shot up, and he tried to push himself up on his elbow, only remembering his injured arm when it was too late. He collapsed down to the floor with a hiss of pain. “Fuck, Ronon,” he growled. “That’s what you’re keeping me up for? Get some sleep and forget about it.”

Hopeless. He’d known it, but it hurt anyway. He was alone, endlessly alone among people who would never know what he wanted, never be able to connect with him even if they tried. He should get up and go to his own rest. He should start teaching himself how to think like an Atlantean, how to be one of them now, even though that job was hopeless, as well. He was an alien now; that was what everyone around him saw, and no place that he might go would offer him anything else.

“I disobeyed your order,” he said again, wanting to be strong, but sounding soft and lost.

Sheppard huffed out an impatient breath. “Well, given that you saved my life doing it, I think I’m gonna let it slide.”

Ronon lifted his gaze from the stones underneath him to Sheppard’s face and almost smiled. “I wasn’t expecting a particularly severe punishment.”

“Okay, Jesus Christ. Will it make you go away and let me sleep? Fine, what do you want? Do I make you peel potatoes, put you in a dunce cap, give you a wedgie? Tell me what we do here and let’s get it done.”

Ronon took off one of his necklaces, the white piece of shell broken into a triangle, and held it out to Sheppard. Sheppard looked at it quizzically before taking it out of his hand. “These are honor tokens, that I wear,” Ronon explained. “I forfeit this one to you.”

“I can’t take your stuff, Ronon. You’ve had this – a long time.”

“You only keep it until I’ve performed an honorable deed to redeem myself. Then you return it, once I’ve paid that debt.”

Sheppard looked immediately relieved and held the necklace back out to Ronon. “Good, you saved my life, we’re even.”

“Do you not know the difference between ‘honorable’ and ‘effective,’ or do you just not care?” Once he’d said it, Ronon couldn’t believe that he had. He’d never snapped at a superior officer before, not once, and he’d certainly never accused one of dishonor. Sheppard was just so – hard to – so different from any officer Ronon had ever known.

“You’re reminding me kind of freakishly of my dad right now,” Sheppard said, in that cool, amused voice that he seemed to use when his eyes were angry. The shadows were too heavy in here to see his eyes well, but Ronon could guess. “Fine, you know what? Fine. This is mine, and I’ll keep it, and I’ll just have to try really, really hard to recognize your big, giant honor when it bites me in the ass, because frankly, you know, I lean in the direction of wanting all my people alive and in their right minds by any means necessary, but what the fuck do I know? Hell, nobody ever thought I’d make it past Captain anyway. I always had a problem with that honor thing, that I’m-a-huge-motherfucking-hero-so-I-have-to-whip-my-dick-out-at-every-opportunity-and-show-you-how-big-it-is thing. I’m slow like that.”

“You’re angry.”

“You’re a pain in the ass.”

Ronon took a deep breath, curling and uncurling his fingers and trying to recall the kind of discipline he’d once had, that had kept him standing motionless in the high summer heat for hours while his taskmaster yelled out strings of code and attack formations and latitudes and longitudes that he would need to remember for days. He’d been good at drill sequences like that. He’d had endless patience, endless trust in the rules of the game.

That was before the Wraith. That was when he was another man.

Slowly, Ronon took all his necklaces in one hand and lifted them off. “Take them all,” he said.

“No. What are you doing? No, go away.”

“Take them.”

“No! Why?”

“I – can’t tell you. I promised I wouldn’t tell you. But I can’t wear them now. I’ll earn them back from you.” Sheppard opened his mouth to argue again, and Ronon cut him off with, “Sheppard. I know these are not your ways, but this is a simple request. You’ve called me your friend in the past.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly the point. This isn’t what friends do, Ronon. They don’t – keep score against each other, they don’t give out demerits, they don’t – judge each other like this.”

“You are in command.”

“Not like that! We’re a team, okay? You and I, we’re part of a team. I can’t take these from you; I don’t have the right.”

If Sheppard didn’t have the right, nobody did. So...maybe nobody did.

Nobody could help him now.

Ronon knew the best thing would be to get up and go with what was left of his dignity – Atlantean dignity, the kind that made every man his own master and obsessed itself with the illusion of invulnerability, not Citidan dignity, which was a matter of finding your place and fitting into it, strong when you were called upon to be a leader, humble when you were called upon to serve.

Citidan dignity brought him here to his knees to atone for his wrongdoing and demonstrate that he knew his place as a soldier under Sheppard’s command. Atlantean dignity, he knew, required him to walk away from this and never speak of it again, to pretend that his wrongdoing had never been wrong and his grief was not– That none of his griefs were real.

Citidan dignity meant nothing here and now. Citida meant nothing here. His whole life was a dead world unable to find its rest, any substance it once had washed out in blood and gunfire.

Courage meant the same thing on every world. Ronon gathered all of his and pressed his hands flat to his thighs, holding his arms rigid to keep them from shaking. “If you were to do this for me,” he said, choosing his words as carefully as he could, “there is nothing I would not do for you in return.”

He had made an offer like that only once before, to a man who had not deserved such honor as Ronon gave him. Ronon tried to force his fears into a different shape, to forge confidence from them. He was an older man now, wiser in every way; he had learned a lot about how to judge a man’s worth, and he did not think he was wrong about John Sheppard’s.

A stark silence followed, until Sheppard released his breath. “You are,” he said, his voice shaking slightly, “the most fucked-up person I’ve ever met. Go to hell, I can’t do this today.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked. It was a true question; Sheppard was off-balance somehow, and Ronon thought he had been even before Ronon had come into the room.

“My fucking arm hurts! Also, I got a nice old man and a teenage girl killed today, and hey, damn, Dr. Beckett’s magic genocide drug doesn’t work after all.”

Got her killed? Nearly gotten killed by her was closer to the truth. “The Wraith aren’t.... It’s not genocide.”

“Sure it is. Hey, it’s not a complaint, I’m just putting it out there. Sooner or later, we are going to find a way to wipe these fucking things off the face of the universe, and I won’t give a damn. Because they’re not people, right? Because nobody will miss them. Makes sense to me, but you know, I’ve got no honor to speak of. Maybe if I did....”

“They are a plague. Don’t your doctors eradicate diseases when they can? Is that genocide, too?”

“Yeah, well, smallpox doesn’t hide behind its dad because it’s fucking afraid of you. That’s the thing. I’ve never had to deal with one that seemed...scared of me before. It doesn’t exactly make you feel like the good guy.”

“They do not care if you are afraid of them!” He didn’t mean to yell, but his voice wasn’t entirely under his own control, and too loud or too soft were his only choices. He kept his head down, his face hidden behind his braids, but he could hear the rustling sounds of Sheppard’s bedroll as he sat up.

Lightly, almost imperceptibly, Sheppard touched his hair, flicked some of it back over his shoulder so that he could look at Ronon. Ronon lifted his eyes, and for one fleeting moment the memory of the last minutes of the battle, when he knew that he and the others standing were only waiting their turn to be harvested – of the agonizing shock of their hands on him – of the operating table, being bound face-down and not knowing why or what the stabbing pain in his back meant – of hearing the whine of the darts over his head again, again, again– For only a moment, all of that ebbed away. Sheppard’s eyes in the partial light of his utility lamp were bright with intelligence, soft with concern, full of understanding, beautiful.

Any taskmaster who looked at one of his men that way.... And yet, as Sheppard himself would be quick to remind Ronon, he was no taskmaster.

Ronon lifted his own hand to Sheppard’s hair, short and warm and silky against his skin, and for once Sheppard did the reasonable thing and leaned in to kiss him.

It wasn’t enough, not nearly. It was faint, tantalizing, a restless brush back and forth of amazingly soft lips against his, a passing suggestion of the tip of a tongue. Ronon found himself leaning closer and closer, gripping Sheppard’s hair, wanting the kind of kiss that would take everything else away, but Sheppard continued to lean back without giving it to him.

Ronon broke away and pressed the necklaces in his other hand against Sheppard’s chest without words. Sheppard hesitated, and Ronon said, “Please. I shot a man in cold blood, under a flag of peace. He thought he was there to do business with Teyla. I gave him no time to draw his weapon. It was not battle, it was murder.”

After a shocked silence, Sheppard said, “Okay, the fascinating part to me is that neither of you saw fit to tell me about this.”

“She– “ Ronon stopped himself in time; there was certainly no honor in blaming his own decision on someone else, no matter whose idea it had been; he might not have been happy, hiding this from his commander, but he’d had the choice not to and he didn’t take it. That made it his deed, not hers. “It was done.”

“What did he do? Because, I’m sorry, you get kind of feisty when the guns start coming out, but I have a hard time believing you’d kill somebody just out of the clear blue sky. You must have had...some kind of reason.”

“I had every reason. He was the man who betrayed six thousand Citidan soldiers to their deaths. He ordered us to fall back from the evacuation and give battle against the Wraith. He knew we would fail, and the evacuation would fail.” Sheppard put a comforting hand against his arm, and Ronon looked up again into those beautiful eyes, closer now than before. Sheppard was no enlightened Master; he could be caustic, and he could most certainly be ruthless when pressed, but he had a way of listening when Ronon spoke that seemed to involve his whole body, fully dedicating himself to taking in what Ronon had decided he needed to hear. It made Ronon believe he was someone to confide in, as a child would go to his village Master with his childish cares. “Do your people believe in revenants? In the unquiet dead?”

“I guess some of us do.”

“Mine do. When a Citidan dies fittingly, his soul returns home to Citida-of-the-Sun, the land too bright and wonderful for the living to look on. The Wraith-killed lose part of their souls, and they are not strong enough to make the journey. They remain stranded on Citida-of-the-Land, invisible to their loved ones, revenants with no home anywhere. When I saw those pictures – the pictures you gave me – I thought of all those revenants, walking the streets I used to know, how alone they would be forever, and I swore to myself that I would give them their revenge. I thought I meant...genocide. But when I heard that Kel was alive, within my reach, I knew how I would complete my oath.”

“Well, then...that’s what you did. You killed him for honor, right?” Sheppard clearly still couldn’t make any sense out of that, but he was frowning in concentration, doing his best to make the concept fit in his head.

For honor – his honor, his people’s. And it was well done, quick and clean in spite of his rage, a careful and disciplined maneuver that, ironically, Kel would once have been proud of. Kel had been selfish, Kel had been a profiteer and an opportunist, Kel had claimed to love him and then abandoned him to a nearly inevitable death of body and soul – but he had always appreciated the beauty of a surgical strike. However many sins Kel had committed, however insufficient as a man he had been, he had loved the art of warfare and passed that on to his favorite. In his way, Kel must have found it difficult to walk away from the greatest battle in history. How many faithful lovers he had abandoned in the end, and Kel an officer of the Great Infantry, a man who had sworn to live and die for his people.

“I don’t want to feel this way anymore!” The words were hard-torn from his throat and seemed to take all his strength. Sheppard wrapped his arms tight around Ronon as he slumped forward against his commander’s body. He ran one hand up and down Ronon’s back, the motion quick and strong like rubbing feeling back into frost-numbed limbs. “I did the only thing I could do, but I loved him once. And I hate him even though he’s dead. And I might love him even though I hate him, and it’s all -- too much. I have to be rid of it. Somebody has to take this away from me, and I don’t know who, if you won’t.”

Sheppard made little shushing sounds in his ear like a woman, like a mother. It was strange, but soothing. “God, I wish it were that easy,” he said. “I wish I had some great superpower that meant none of us had to live with the things we’ve done, but I don’t have it, I can’t do it. You had to shoot that man, I had to shoot that girl; it’s not the fun part of war, but then you go to bed and you get up and you get back in the game. You live with your past because there’s no way to get rid of it. There’s not. I wish there was.”

“I could... Back home, I would have been able to atone. You – someone like you – would have overseen it, you would have told me when it was enough.”

“Ronon. I’m not going to do that. I’ll be your friend, I’ll be your commander, but I won’t live your life for you.”

“I know.” He had known. That didn’t mean he didn’t have to try. Ronon lifted his head and kissed him again, pressing him harder now than before, and Sheppard dropped back to one elbow, tilting his head back so that his head rested cradled in Ronon’s palms. He protected Sheppard’s skull that way as he bore him down to the bedroll and the hard stone underneath.

“This is one ugly shirt,” Sheppard noted as his one good hand and both of Ronon’s worked in coordination to get it off.

“That’s what Teyla said, too. I got it from one of the Athosians, and she says the reason he didn’t want it anymore was that I guess it’s out of fashion now or something.”

“Great, you’re wearing an Athosian leisure suit. Can we burn it?”

“I might want to wear it home,” he said, but right at the moment what he wanted to do was throw it across the room, which he did. “Anyway, it’s comfortable,” Ronon added, sliding his hand up Sheppard’s neck and under his jaw to tilt his head back again and lick his throat.

When Sheppard had managed to recover his bearings from that a bit, he picked up the necklaces he’d laid aside and began to slip them back over Ronon’s head. Ronon flinched away, and he said, “You’ve earned these. Anyone else who’d been through what you’ve been through over the years, they wouldn’t give a shit about honor anymore. You do. That’s how I know you still have it.”

Ronon smiled down at him. “You don’t understand honor,” he said, but what he wanted to say was, Tell me what you see in me, tell me how it could possibly be enough. The code Ronon had been raised under was uncompromising; it demanded honor, loyalty, integrity, diligence, demanded that he be respectful as a son, generous as a friend, obedient as a soldier, courageous as a leader, that he act with correct form and with gentleness and sincerity in his heart rather than rage or selfish pride. He had never fully lived that code; he didn’t know anyone who had. Discipline and commitment, the Masters had taught him from the great texts of the sages – through discipline and commitment, one approaches ever closer to perfection, always spurred forward by the knowledge that you could do more, struggle harder against weakness and corruption, always kept in motion by the knowledge that filling your destiny meant being more than you already were.

The one thing Ronon had never been was good enough. It was a life’s work, the Masters assured him, an old man’s achievement, to be able to live in perfect harmony. An impatient boy like Ronon could only be counseled to strive hard – discipline, commitment – and follow the laws and the texts and the guidance of his superiors, and someday, someday it would be enough. Not yet. Never yet. But he was still a boy, taking his first steps on a long road. He wasn’t expected to be good enough, only to fill his appointed place, to keep the code in his heart, and to allow himself to be led by those wiser than himself when he found himself going wide of the mark.

“You don’t understand honor,” he said again, quietly. To believe in honorable enough? What meaning could a thing like that even have, and why did his heart pound so eagerly to think that whatever it was, Sheppard could find it somewhere inside of him?

“No, but I’m totally turned on by it, so wear them for me, okay?” Ronon wasn’t sure he believed that, but he allowed Sheppard to lower them again over his head. Sheppard fussed with his hair briefly, pulling his braids loose from the cords, and Ronon smiled again. Colonel Sheppard could be very particular about hair sometimes.

Ronon leaned over him, nuzzling his face gently. “I want to tend you,” he murmured. “Will you let me?”

“Yeah, I don’t really know what that means?” Sheppard said, his voice rising oddly high as Ronon’s fingers brushed his sides where the hem of his shirt had ridden up to bare a strip of pale skin. “But I’m pretty sure you have my permission.”

“I know you already have a favorite. And McKay is my friend, too. I wouldn’t try to replace him even if I could. Also, I don’t think I could.”

“He’s fairly one-of-a-kind.”

“You’re so pretty,” Ronon whispered against his eyelids. “I would have wanted this from you even if you weren’t an officer.”

“You know, I’m really glad I was operating under that assumption anyway, or I would have to be extremely skeeved by all this.” Ronon didn’t know what skeeved meant, but if there was one thing he knew about Sheppard, it was that this mattered to him; Sheppard needed to be respected and followed because he was John Sheppard, not because of his uniform or his rank or his decorations. Well enough, Ronon could give that to him. He respected Sheppard’s position, but the way that Sheppard stirred his senses and his emotions had nothing to do with such formalities.

He is not Kel, Ronon thought, dazzled by the easy truth of it. With Kel, there had been no separation at all between the taskmaster and the man; service to one, Ronon had felt, was necessarily service to both. Here nothing was the same. He would have been honored to serve Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, but for tonight, bar the door and leave him alone with soft lips, soft hair, soft brown eyes alive with humor and spirit and compassion -- with John.

“You’re very sensitive about your rank,” he teased gently.

“You’re very fetishy about it.”

Ronon shrugged. “It’s just how I was raised. May I call you John? Or is that an honor you reserve for– “

“It’s an honor I feel pretty comfortable extending to anyone who sucks my dick. As I’m kind of really hoping you will.”

“We don’t do that on my planet. It is considered unclean.” He couldn’t hold the pretense for more than a moment, not against that look on John’s face. “I’m joking. We do that.”

“You are so peeling potatoes for that one when we get home.” Ronon was still fighting back laughter as he knelt up to strip John, but the sight of him lying naked and nearly luminous, like a strip of new white moon, against the dark blue of his bedroll made the laughter dry up, along with every other noise his throat might have been able to make. Tentatively, Ronon reached out and drew his hand down the center of John’s body, from breastbone to groin, alongside the place where his cock rested against his belly. “Fuck,” John said breathlessly. “Oh, fuck, this is gonna be good.”

Somewhere in the shadows of his mind, Ronon could feel the boy lurking, the young recruit he’d been when he first learned to do this – nearly sixteen, terrified and aroused in equal measure, and each sensation nudging the other to greater heights – desperate to perfect himself through this, through every task he was given. Abruptly, Ronon leaned forward and cupped John’s chin hard in his hand and kissed him with all his strength. He could feel John’s cock shiver between their bodies. “Try not to talk a lot,” he said dryly when he pulled away again. “You don’t want to break my concentration.” John shook his head firmly, then put his good arm up with his hand behind his head, smiling with one eyebrow raised as if to say ready when you are.

Ronon crawled backwards far enough to put his hands on John’s knees, pulling them up and apart. He slid his hands down the inside of John’s thighs, getting the measure of John’s cock with his eyes – slim and graceful-looking, like Sheppard himself, rosy red and leaning rather jauntily off to the left; trust Sheppard to be off-center in every possible way. As his hands came up far enough for his thumbs to brush intimately near John’s anus, he lifted his hips into the touch, making Ronon smile. Were all Atlantean men so deliciously quick to go to their backs with their legs apart? Maybe someday he’d get to visit their homeworld....

He couldn’t resist touching for just a moment, the smooth, firm skin along his ass, the delicate skin and thick hair protecting his testicles, the heat at the base of his dick. He didn’t notice himself chewing on his lower lip until John said, “Okay, that would be the ‘hungry look’ I’ve heard rumors about. It is hot.”

“Rumors?” When he understood, he was slightly scandalized, but mostly...intrigued. “The two of you have...spoken of me?”

John laughed low in his throat, a sound barely distinguishable from growling. “Now that is another story for another day. God, Ronon, please do not make me order you to suck it; neither of us would be able to live with ourselves in the morning.”

“I think I would.”

Ronon stretched forward above him and John’s legs snapped closed, pressing hard on either side of Ronon’s hips as he kissed the hollow of John’s throat. He let John wrap his legs around him and pull in with them, trying to guide the hard cock inside Ronon’s leather pants to rub against his own erection, while Ronon let his hands sweep slowly up John’s sides, his ribs, the narrow barrel of his chest, and finally across his nipples. He found them so hard they were almost sharp, and still tightening under Ronon’s thumbs. John squirmed shudderingly beneath him and said, “You may want to be warned, I’ve been known to come just from having my nipples sucked.”

“That’s an admirable skill,” Ronon said, quite sincerely.

“Yeah, not all my partners are too pleased by it.”

“It’s all right,” Ronon murmured, leaning close by his ear. “If you come, we’ll just start over again. I won’t mind.”

He tried closing his mouth around one of John’s nipples and sucking steadily on it, then he moved to the other and tried running the flat of his tongue over and around it. John’s preference between the two was not entirely clear to him, and he didn’t seem in any state to answer questions about it. Reluctantly, he chose not to test that claim about John’s nipples, choosing instead to kiss his way down John’s flat belly to the place where smooth skin gave way to a clear line of cloud-fine dark hair that widened and thickened as it led down to his cock. John’s hands coiled deliberately into his braids as Ronon used his tongue to circle the base of it. “Suck it,” he growled.

“Is that an order?” Ronon said innocently in the pause between tonguing the base of his cock and dropping down lower to nibble just barely on his balls.

“That’s out-and-out begging.”

“It’s really not. You’ll know begging when you get there.”

He moved his mouth back to the sweat-slick and trembling top of John’s inner thigh and worked slowly down it, his fingers dancing on the rougher, hairier skin on the top of his thigh and over his knee and down his shin. He sat back on his heels when he’d reached John’s ankle and pulled his leg up to slide his toes into Ronon’s mouth while his fingers massaged deeply into the bottom of John’s foot. He didn’t know anyone in a combat zone whose feet didn’t hurt most of the time. He couldn’t resist running his cheek along the bottom of John’s foot, feeling the shiver go up John’s whole body at the rough scrape of his beard against callused skin.

Before he got to the business of sucking John’s cock, Ronon slipped off one of his necklaces, made of simple strips of braided leather, and pulled back his hair before knotting the cord around it, as best he could with faintly trembling hands. He only managed the feat at all by closing his eyes against the sight of John Sheppard, flung out wantonly on the floor beneath him, sweat dripping down his temples and beading up in the valleys of his collarbone, cock hard and lips parted. He leaned down to kiss John quickly – smooth lips, such a warm, eager mouth, and he devoutly hoped there would be a time later on when that mouth.... But, as they said in the service, the mission is everything. He kept eye contact with John for as long as he could while he crawled backwards.

“Yes yes yesyesyesyes,” John gasped when Ronon took him into his mouth. He couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer, not with the taste and the heat of a hard cock pressing down his tongue, nudging the roof of his mouth, dripping thick, pungent drops of come down the back of his throat. He slid his mouth back up and then down again, and when John draped his calves over Ronon’s shoulders and crossed his ankles behind his neck, the feeling of being weighted down and held was so intense that Ronon shuddered and moaned from deep in his chest, his fingers clutching desperately and finding no purchase on the soft skin of John’s belly. John hissed and thrust up hard, rasping out, “Take it, take it, God, you were fucking made for this, weren’t you?”

Not made for it, Ronon thought wryly, but trained well. He let soft silence fall across his rational mind, his muscles relaxing, his throat expanding, and this, this is what he’d wanted, all he’d come here needing: a way out. Some clear objective that he could complete without mixed feelings or second thoughts or doubts or regrets, something righteous, like everything used to be and not enough was anymore.

When he pulled away, John roared out something that Ronon didn’t think even began as an actual word. “Na, na, my friend,” Ronon said, and his voice slid unexpectedly back to the lilting inflections of his home province, the poor farmer’s accent he’d been so ashamed of when he’d first enlisted that he’d learned to speak in single syllables and half sentences until he mastered the low, short tones of military speech. “Easy, go easy,” he said, sliding his hands under John’s ass and pushing him over onto his stomach as gently as he could.

It seemed difficult for John to find a supported position that didn’t put too much pressure on his gouged, slightly swollen left arm. He finally laid it out away from his body and curled the other arm underneath him to rest his head on. Ronon cast a critical eye over the smooth expanse of his back, the way his posture, like everyone’s, varied taut, rigid places and restive ones, and he chose to begin at the small of John’s back.

He had barely sunk the heels of his hand all the way down into the muscle there before John was groaning in utter, grateful abandon. How long had it been since anyone in Atlantis had tended their Colonel? He was knotted up from neck to tailbone and the sounds he made as Ronon’s hands worked deeper and deeper began to sound less like groans and more like sobbing relief.

This part could be done quickly, a ritual obligation, but it became almost immediately obvious that to rush through it would be a sort of betrayal, so Ronon let himself concentrate completely, finding each band of muscle in its proper order and using the kind of touch on it that was demanded before going on to the next. It would have been easier with the correct sequence of oils on hand, or any oil at all, but at the same time there was something unbearably intimate about the dry feel of John’s skin under his hands, utter nakedness. Ronon was so aware of it that he almost felt John would leave prints with his body on the pads of Ronon’s fingers rather than simply the reverse. His cock stirred with new degrees of heat and impatience inside his pants, but Ronon exerted control. There would be time for that, yes, but now the moment belonged to John.

“God,” John choked. “God, God. I’ve never had a backrub that I would seriously consider choosing over the oral sex before.”

“Who’s asking you to choose?” Ronon said, and John moaned.

He stopped breathing altogether when Ronon’s hands came to rest on his buttocks, and when Ronon parted them carefully and dipped his tongue between he was rather afraid that the sharp cracking sound he heard was John’s forehead dropping against the floor. “Ow,” John said faintly. Probably that was what it had been. “Fuck you, don’t stop.”

He didn’t stop – only paused for a moment to say, “The point of this is not to injure yourself worse than before.”

“Ronon, if I spontaneously catch on fire, you can send for help. Otherwise, assume I’m healthy enough that the rimjob is still my number-one priority, okay?” Ronon nodded and pressed his tongue deeper, flat against the hot, sharp-tasting breach of his body. John shuddered convulsively and spread his legs obligingly wide, getting his knees underneath him so that he could press up against Ronon’s tongue. Ronon couldn’t resist stroking down John’s flank and his trembling thigh.

Everything in John seemed to tighten again – but a much better sort of tightening than the tension Ronon had worked so hard to purge from his body. Reluctantly, Ronon left off with his tongue inside John’s body and slithered lower between John’s open legs, rolling onto his back as gracefully as he could without too much interruption in sucking John’s balls into his mouth. He spread one hand wide against the small of John’s back to pull him down and slid one finger of his other hand inside John as his mouth closed around John’s cock, less to suck on it than to make a comfortable sheath for it while John’s trembling turned into fierce contractions of muscle and then into the fever of orgasm.

John seemed weightless when Ronon flipped him as carefully as possible onto his back, lathing everything between John’s legs clean with his tongue before kneeling up between his legs and inspecting his work. He smirked slightly; with his dilated pupils and his lax limbs and the sweat shining all over his body, John looked as if he’d been smoking hanavan leaves for two days straight, or else as if he’d been the guest of honor at a pirate’s orgy.

“How’s your arm?” Ronon asked.

“Who fucking cares?”

That sounded all right, although Ronon still intended to drop a word in Dr. Beckett’s ear in the morning, just in case John’s foolish sense of Atlantean honor was going to make him insist on ignoring his injury. Ronon was perfectly willing, for his own part, to have unanesthetized surgery if it should be necessary, but he didn’t understand the kind of man who would claim that it didn’t hurt.

Many things hurt, and were still necessary. Treat them if you can, put them behind you if there was no cure – a fusion of Citidan pragmatism and Atlantean bravery that Ronon thought would make a most suitable text.

“C’mere,” John said, a soft, seductive rumble of breath, and the last of Ronon’s hair slipped loose from his makeshift tie when he leaned over, veiling both of them while they kissed. John slipped his hands – pilots always had such dextrous hands, such control – between their bodies and began to make short work of the difficult knots on Ronon’s pants.

Ronon heaved himself away, landing heavily on his back beside John. John propped himself up on his good elbow and said, “Problem?”

The throb of his neglected cock would more or less fit that description. Ronon clenched the leg of his pants in his hand, pulling the crotch tighter and providing some slight relief. “We’re done here,” he said gruffly. “Take your nap, and I’ll go carry on the watch with Teyla.” Just as soon as he could make himself move.

“Hey, wow, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m pretty sure we’re not done.”

Ronon closed his eyes and tried counting backwards from one thousand; he was developing an appreciation for the repetitive, mind-numbing dullness of numbers. “I asked to tend you, and that’s what I wanted. It is a gesture of – of respect – the willingness to put yourself aside completely and commit yourself to someone else’s desires.”

“Okay, don’t be weird. I thought we were past the weird stage?”

“It is not weird. It’s sacred and beautiful and I wanted to do it, so I did it. If I let you balance the scales, then it isn’t tending anymore.”

“What is it?”

He turned his head toward John, sure that his face looked as baffled as he felt. What sort of a question was that? “Sex.”

“Oh. Yeah, that makes sense. Well, see, I don’t think I had full disclosure before we started. I pretty much thought we were having sex. You can’t just spring some crazy alien orgasm-ritual on a person without explaining the terms first.”

More explaining himself. Ronon sighed.

“And anyway,” John continued blithely as he straddled Ronon’s thighs, returning to work on the laces, “I hate to bring out the big guns, but I did let you fuck my boyfriend, so you kind of owe me one.”

Ronon raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I remember either of us asking your permission for that.”

“Good point, but I didn’t kick your ass for it afterwards, and that has to count for something.”

Ronon’s other eyebrow joined the first, and he said in a lazy murmur, “I guess if that’s what you want, it’s not too late for you to give it a try.”

“Yeah, well. No. That’s okay.” He grinned wickedly, and Ronon realized too late that he’d been distracted, and that now John had his pants open and was sliding his hand inside and pulling Ronon’s cock free with a strong, sure grip. “Let’s just call it even.”

“Sex is nice, too,” Ronon managed to say as John’s hand worked in strangely arousing pulses around his cock, his thumb sliding over the head of it and spreading moisture downward to ease his firm strokes.

“See, I agree with you about that. We’re having a really nice multicultural bonding moment here.”

Bonding was nice. Ronon liked bonding. He slid his hand over John’s arm, aware of the bone and the shifting muscles, aware of the weight of John’s body resting on his legs, and he felt with somebody, not just near them but with them. He opened his mouth to say something encouragingly sexy, but somehow what came out was, “Stay with me, with me, don’t leave me, John.”

John leaned over him, kissing his temple and petting his beard without breaking the driving rhythm of his strokes. “I never, ever leave one of my men,” he said, and his voice was quiet but thrumming with gravity and meaning. Ronon believed him completely.

He didn’t last much longer than that, and he kept his eyes closed while John licked his chest clean and retied his pants for him, embarrassed with himself. It was not his place to ask for such a thing as that – not from an officer, not from a man he’d not even known one full season, not from anyone whose heart belonged elsewhere.

“Hey,” John said gently, leaning down with his chest against Ronon’s, one hand stroking Ronon’s hair. “Hey, open your eyes and look at me.” Ronon obeyed. John’s eyes were serious, battle-serious, though not battle-cold, and Ronon fought a shiver. John brushed a kiss over his lips and said, “You are not one of the ghosts. You’re not dead, and you’re not alone.”

“I feel alive right now,” Ronon admitted.

“Yeah, and you’re going to stay that way, or you’ll answer to me.” Ronon smiled and reached out to cup his hand against John’s cheek. “I can make it an order if you want.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“Good. Now we’re making progress.”

Ronon rubbed his thumb over John’s mouth and then flicked it playfully against the tip of his nose. “Anything you say, Colonel.”
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