"It's a piano. Without black keys."
"It is not a piano. Okay, it looks like a piano, but it's not a piano."
"If it looks like a piano and it plays like a piano, even without black keys --"
Ronon was already tired of the discussion. "What's a piano?"
Sheppard and McKay stared at Ronon. McKay said, "It's a musical instrument. Little hammers strike wire strings." He looked back at the wooden boxy thing in front of them. More softly, he said, "I used to play one." He studied it, rocking back on his heels, and then dropped to his knees, leaning forward.
"Hey," Sheppard said, blocking his reach. "Not until we've examined it. Could be wired for explosives."
"Yes, yes, I saw The English Patient, too." He hunkered back. Ronon watched closely. "You're not a bomb disposal expert," he reminded Sheppard as he studied the piano.
"Shoot it," Ronon suggested.
McKay gave him a withering look. "What an innovative idea. Shoot the non-piano, see if it blows up. If it doesn't, it wasn't a bomb and, oh, we still can't see if it's a piano because it will be shot."
Ronon looked at him.
"Everybody back," Sheppard said. He hauled McKay to his feet and shooed the others back. They watched as he tossed a rock onto the piano.
"Well, that was anticlimactic," McKay said. Sheppard tossed another rock, larger and a bit harder. "And I'm going to conclude it's not wired for explosives."
"Go, go," Sheppard told him. "Blow yourself up. See if I care."
"Oh, you'd care all right. Next time you got in a bind, you'd care."
"Rodney," Teyla said.
He looked a bit guilty. "Um." He picked up a stick and poked at the piano. "Seriously, Sheppard. You think it's okay?"
"Yeah. Let me open it, though."
"No way. I can rig something that will open it -- let me think."
Ronon pushed past them and shoved at the thing. It made an odd jangling noise, metallic and harsh. "No bomb," he said.
"Jesus," McKay muttered. "Well, better you than me." He knelt again, next to Ronon's legs, and studied the piano. "Do you think someone in the Pegasus Galaxy actually invented a piano? Some kind of parallel evolution of musical instruments?"
"Well, the Getharans had that guitar thing," Sheppard pointed out, squatting on the other side of Ronon. He crossed his arms and watched them. "And there was that bassoon, remember?"
"Hideous noise," McKay said. They began to struggle with the top of the box, their faces turning red. "One, two, three," McKay said and they both rose, lifting what turned out to be a lid. Ronon leaned over to peek inside. Teyla came up beside him.
"Why is it full of wires?" she asked.
"Those are what the hammers hit. See, wow, this is amazing. Almost the same mechanism as in a piano from Earth. You press the keys here, and the corresponding hammer strikes there." A soft plunk sounded. "It's a goddamn piano."
"Why a piano?" Ronon asked. McKay and Sheppard turned to look up at him from the crater in which they'd found the piano.
"That's a good question," McKay said grudgingly. "Why is a piano on an alien planet in a bomb crater in a middle of a field?"
"Not a bomb crater," Sheppard said.
"Frankly, I don't give a damn what kind of crater it is," McKay said, standing up and shaking his legs. "Let's get the piano back to Atlantis."
"We're not," Sheppard said.
"Yes, we are. The cable that Moore and McNab are using on M8R-1229 --"
"And the magnetic grapple, yeah, that would work." They stared at each other, Ronon watching them nod at each other. "Okay," Sheppard finally said. "Let's check out this place, but I think it's pretty obvious whoever lived here is long gone. Get back to Atlantis and come back with the equipment. We'll fly the fucker through the gate, and you'll have your piano. Teyla?"
"I agree. The people who lived here are no more." She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
Ronon looked around him. This was a desolate place. Maybe the Wraith had culled, maybe the people had just moved, but whatever had happened, it had happened a long time ago. They weren't far from the stargate, in the middle of a field pockmarked by blasts of some kind. Ahead of them, he could see the remains of the village: a poor people, nothing like his home on Sateda and certainly no Ancient influence. Even if there were people nearby, they wouldn't offer anything of value, he was certain.
Still, Sheppard raised his hand and they moved out, Ronon trailing, watching closely. He liked that Sheppard trusted that he knew what he was doing and knew that he would safeguard the others. Especially McKay, who continued to chatter as he followed Sheppard.
When Ronon had first joined Sheppard's team, he couldn't understand why they let McKay off Atlantis. If he was as valuable as he said he was, he should be protected as any prized resource; if he wasn't, then he should shut up. Now Ronon knew that McKay was even more valuable than he boasted, but he also understood why they let him go. Sheppard had trained him well, as had Teyla, and now Ronon himself. McKay learned quickly. He saw and understood and imitated. Ronon liked that quality.
Teyla looked sadly around them as they approached the dilapidated village. The buildings were no more than huts, some only lean-tos crumbling into the earth. "Huh," McKay said, stopping abruptly. Sheppard took aim with his weapon and walked slowly forward, then shook his head. Teyla and Ronon followed, and Ronon saw the brown jagged ends of a broken tibia poking up from the soil. "I suppose if we dug we'd find lots more," McKay said.
"Let's not test that theory," Sheppard said, and Ronon agreed. It was never wise to disturb the unhappy dead.
"That piano," McKay murmured. "It makes even less sense. This is not a place I'd expect to find complex musical instruments."
"No," Sheppard agreed. "It's like it just fell out of the sky."
"From which galaxy? I wonder if the botanist can tell anything from the wood."
"Jesus, that gives me the creeps. A piano from the Milky Way? Here?"
"I believe we should continue investigating," Teyla suggested. Ronon admired her skill at drawing their attention back to the work at hand. He pushed past them, into the village itself, and then peered into one of the ruined buildings. The woodwork was poor; nothing like the piano they'd discovered. McKay was right. These people didn't make whatever that piano was.
Leaving the others behind, he strode through the village. The street could barely be named that; it was a narrow passageway that petered out into another meadow of gold grasses the led to the edge of a pine forest. He crossed to the trees and looked up one. He could climb it, see further, but he wasn't sure it was worth the effort.
"Nothing to trade, nothing to see, nothing but a piano," McKay grumbled. Ronon followed him back to the stargate. Not one of their more successful ventures. Whoever had lived here hadn't in a long time.
"Ronon? Ronon Dex? Whenever did you get so big? Oh, Ro-Neya," a woman cried. Ronon backed away, putting his hand on his weapon, but Sheppard touched his arm lightly and he knew that meant not here. The tiny woman continued to rush toward Ronon, pushing through the crowds in the market.
"Ama?" He knew it was his ama from so many years ago. He swung her into his arms and around as she kissed his cheeks.
"Put me down so I can look at you!" she demanded. He set her down carefully and they stared at each other. She looked so much older than he remembered; only her voice was familiar. Her hair was completely grey, and thin, but still worn in many tiny long braids. Her face was thin and her skin had a grayish cast to it that he knew came from malnutrition.
"Ama," he said softly, bending over to kiss her forehead. He closed his eyes and let her hug him; tears burned behind his lids and his throat was tight. When he'd last seen her, she hadn't been this short or frail, and when he'd been a little boy, she could chase him across the neighborhood square while he screamed with laughter.
Even with his eyes closed, he could feel his teammates' concern for him. When he trusted his voice, he kissed her forehead again and straightened. "This was my ama," he told Sheppard. "She cared for me when I was little."
"Three generations I cared for," she said proudly. "His beautiful mama, and her father, too. Oh, Ronon, I thought you were dead all these years!" She began to cry, and he held her tenderly, letting her weep into his shirt. "All dead," she said. "Everyone I ever loved is dead."
"No, Ama," he whispered. "I never died. And you're alive."
She sniffed, and pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve to wipe her face. "I am. The last one. And now you're here. Oh, darling boy."
"Where are you living, Ama?"
"There is a hostel here for the elderly. I do laundry and mending. It's a nice place," she added. "Much better than when I was on my own."
"Come with me," he said without thinking. "There is a better place. You will be safe there."
"Ah, Ronon," Sheppard said in his hesitant voice.
He gathered his ama to him. "She cannot hurt you," he said roughly.
"Let me go," she said, struggling. "I am happy here, Neya. I have lived here seven years, made friends, have a home. You do not need to rescue me."
"Ama, I --" He wasn't sure what to say. He did want to rescue her, the way he wanted to rescue everyone: his family, his friends, his city, his planet.
There was a long awkward silence, and then McKay said, "This is very interesting, but could we walk and talk? I'm supposed to be taking readings, yes? And then maybe we can sit down and eat, can we pay for a meal here somehow, trade something, what do they use for currency, oh, excuse me, sorry," he said, trying to get out of the way of two men carrying a stack of cages full of live poultry. "Uh, no chicken today for me."
His ama laughed. "He is like you," she said, smiling so hard her eyes nearly disappeared in a net of wrinkles. "Talk-talk-talk, that was my Ro-Neya. And smart!" She looked at Sheppard. "Who are you?"
"Uh, Colonel John Sheppard, ma'am, of the US Air Force. This is Teyla Emmagen, and this is Rodney McKay."
"Doctor Rodney McKay," he said. "If you get to use your title, then I should use mine."
"Excuse me, Doctor," Sheppard said very insincerely.
"Call me Ama," she said. "It has been many years since anyone called me by name; no one left alive has that right. But I was Ama to Ro-Neya, and I can be Ama to his friends."
"Thank you," Teyla said, and bowed slightly.
"Are you --"
Ronon closed his eyes. He'd known the minute Ama saw Teyla she would ask.
"No, Ama. You know that isn't my, my way."
"So no babies for me to love?"
He couldn't look at Sheppard or Teyla; they would know what she meant. "Let me walk you home," he finally said.
"I need to buy some things first. Let's go to the West Market; they have better produce."
"Hey!" the lettuce man shouted at her, but she waved him off and led them through the market.
"Now we will do our telling," she said firmly,
She looked so sad that Ronon wanted to run away. Instead, he followed her through the market, carrying the bags of vegetables and fruit for the dinner. She bought dessert from a bakery, and Ronon thought McKay was going to orgasm right there in the street market, staring at all the confections. "You're a healthy eater, too," Ama told Rodney, patting his stomach. He looked a bit offended, but then the baker offered him a twist of sugarcone and that sweetened his temper. Ronon kept small packets of cookies from Earth in his pockets just for that reason.
The last stop was at the butcher's, where Ama spent a long time. McKay looked sickly fascinated, but Sheppard just looked sick, so Teyla took him away, into the fresh air. McKay stared after them, his forehead crinkling in worry. "Ama, Sheppard is my Taskmaster," Ronon said softly into her ear. "And sort of McKay's, too." She nodded but continued haranguing the butcher for the freshest cut of bous.
"He is not my Taskmaster, as you so delightfully put it," McKay hissed at him, as if his ama couldn't hear.
"Is too," Ronon said, and then ignored McKay, taking the wrapped meat from Ama. They went out into the street, McKay grumbling behind him. Teyla and Sheppard were staring at a fountain in the center; an ornate dayo stood on its tail, water spouting from his open mouth.
"Are you all right?" McKay asked Sheppard, hovering near him.
He shrugged. Ronon watched them, twin moons revolving around Atlantis. His ama nudged him. "Can he eat the dinner I'm going to fix?"
"Uh, Sheppard. Ama asks us all to dinner. You up for that?"
Ama glared at him, but Sheppard looked seriously at her and Ronon. "It would be an honor," he finally said, straightening up.
The crowds thinned as Ama led them to the hostel. Ronon paid close attention to the neighborhood, but it looked all right, not too unsafe, at least during the day. The hostel was nice, too. "Only twelve of us live here," Ama told him as they wound through the downstairs: front room full of rocking chairs but nothing too soft, so the old can get themselves up, through a dining room and into a big kitchen. Another old lady was in there, older than his ama, drying a big dish.
"Company!" she cried out. Ama and Teyla smiled at her, and Sheppard took the big dish from her hands.
"Allow me," he said, and McKay snorted.
Ronon glanced at McKay from the corner of his eye; McKay was trying to hide a smile. He caught Ronon's eye and pursed his lips. "The colonel loves the ladies," he said quietly. Ronon didn't think that was actually true, but he didn't contradict McKay.
That night, dinner was shared with some of the other residents, interested in news from other worlds. Ama sat between Ronon and McKay; she looked so tiny compared to their health and well-being, Ronon thought, remembering how big she had seemed to him when he had been in her charge. "You enjoy your food," she said to McKay approvingly.
"Oh, yes, this is good, you're a good cook," he said, and swallowed. "The meat -- the bous -- it's very tender." He took another big bite.
"You remind me of Ronon," she said, smiling up at Ronon. He noticed that she'd eaten very little. "He could talk the hind leg off a davos."
"Ronon?" Sheppard asked, and even McKay paused.
"Ama," Ronon said, feeling uncomfortable.
"It's an old woman's prerogative," she said, flapping her hand at him. "My memories are all I have, and you were a wonderful child. The smartest child I ever cared for. In school, always first in his class. Sweet natured, but greedy." She smiled at him. "And so handsome."
"Greedy, yes," McKay said through another mouthful, "but first in his class? In what subjects?"
"Everything," Ama said, just as Ronon said, "Ama."
"No, let her talk," McKay said, leaning forward.
"He was a brilliant student. After his military training, he was going to teach."
Ronon felt all his teammates' surprise.
"What did you teach?" Teyla asked him.
Ama said, "History. His senior paper was published. I had a copy. Until . . ." Ronon hugged her, kissing the top of her head. She sighed, and gently pushed him away. "Until the Wraith came, and took everything from us."
"Teach," McKay said, putting down the bread in his hands. "You. A scholar."
"Hard to believe," Ronon said flatly. It was hard for him to believe. So many years had passed since he'd been that young scholar.
"You had mandatory military service?" Sheppard asked.
"Yeah. Everybody served two years. In the middle of college. Take two years off from your studies. But I never got to go back."
"I never thought I'd see you again," Ama said softly. "When everything happened, I knew you would fight. My brave boy," she whispered.
Ronon hung his head and took a deep breath. "I couldn't come back," he said after a while. Everyone at the table was watching him. "The Wraith -- they put a tracker in me. I had to Run."
"Ronon," Ama breathed.
"These people saved me." He gestured toward Sheppard. "This man. I owe him my allegiance and my life. His people are mine."
"Whither thou goest, I will go," McKay said, nodding. He returned to eating. "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God," he said.
"Don't talk with your mouth full, Rodney," Sheppard said, but mildly, and his eyes were on Ronon.
McKay shrugged and swallowed hugely. "Good you're with us," he told Ronon, and Teyla nodded.
McKay was blindfolded, gagged, bound, and kneeling, hands behind his back, his face puffy and red, when Ronon reached him. He held his weapon threateningly, walking with his right side to McKay, facing the crowd. They stared at him, but no one tried to stop him or even talk to him. Without taking his eyes off them, he knelt next to McKay and patted the side of his face until he reached the gag; he found the knot and loosened it. When the wet cloth fell away, McKay inhaled deeply, and spit. "Who's there?" he asked, his voice a dry croak.
"Me," Ronon said. He pulled off the blindfold.
"Shit," McKay said, blinking rapidly. "Can we go home now?"
"Yup." He put his hand under McKay's elbow and gently levered him up. He trembled in Ronon's grasp and coughed and spit again.
One man stepped forward, eyeing Ronon cautiously. "He cannot go. He has violated our holiest relic. This is anathema."
Ronon shrugged, and continued to tug at Rodney, drawing him away from the crowd. He stepped between Rodney and the man. The man stepped forward and Ronon swung his weapon toward him. "Don't," he said.
There was a long breathless pause. He could feel McKay quivering at his back, his breath sour, and he stank. He needed to get him through the stargate. Ronon took another step back, pushing at McKay. Each step back was one step away from the sullen crowd. Suddenly, the man rushed toward them; Ronon pivoted his weapon around and into the man's head and he fell, stunned, but the crowd reared back. Let them think the guy was dead. Ronon used the opportunity to continue moving away, trotting backwards. He grabbed McKay around the waist and held him upright.
"That guy pissed on me," McKay said, his voice shaking. "He pissed on me."
"You smell like it," Ronon said, but his heart surged in anger. "Stay here," he demanded.
"Stay here? Where are you going? Ronon!"
He sat McKay down in the field, the grass above his head when he was down. Handing him his water bottle, Ronon jogged back toward the crowd. They stumbled away from him, even as their leader stirred. Ronon stood above him, pulled out his dick, and pissed on his head. "Fuck you!" the guy yelled, rolling away.
"Never again," Ronon said, tucking himself away. He swung the barrel of his weapon toward the crowd. "Never fucking again," he said louder. He looked back at the guy on the ground, piss dripping from his chin. "I see you again, you're dead."
Jogging backwards, he found McKay trying to stand. "Come on," Ronon said, hoisting him to his feet. "Not far now."
"Where are Sheppard and Teyla?"
"Bit busy back at the temple. Can you walk?"
"Yeah. Kinda. Shit, I stink."
"Those assholes gonna follow us?" An explosion made them stop and stare. "Is that Sheppard?"
"Yup." They watched as the crowd, including the guy Ronon had pissed on, scrambled back toward the village. "Come on. That's our diversion." He got McKay turned back toward the stargate and moving again, though not very fast. He was still shaking. His skin was pale and papery; Ronon knew he had to be dehydrated, and scared, but he kept talking.
"They were idiots. Worshipping a goddamn artifact. I just wanted to see what it was -- not a ZPM, but some kind of sensor. I could look at it and tell where people were, and animals, but they never made the correlation. Just thought it was alive, some god speaking to them in an unknown language."
"Want me to go back and get it?"
"No. Nothing we don't have in Atlantis. Hey, there's the gate. When will Sheppard and Teyla be here?"
"Soon," Ronon said, and dialed Atlantis. "If they don't come through in an hour, I'll come back with Lorne's team."
"Yes, yes, good idea. I think," but he stumbled, and only Ronon held him upright. "I think I don't feel so good," he whispered.
"You don't smell so good, either," Ronon told him, but he held McKay tightly, lowering him slowly to the ground. When the event horizon had stabilized, he leaned forward and pushed McKay over his shoulder. "No," McKay protested, but Ronon ignored him and walked into the wormhole and back to Atlantis. "Goddamn it," McKay said when they stepped into the city. Weir was waiting for them, Lorne at her side; she called for Beckett the minute they appeared. He swung McKay off his shoulder, and Lorne helped hold him upright.
"It's wonderful to see you, Rodney," Weir said.
Rodney closed his eyes and murmured something, his head lolling onto Ronon's shoulder. Ronon tightened his hold on him, feeling something tender in his chest swell. "We're home," he whispered into McKay's ear.
McKay smiled, and patted Ronon's chest. "Good man," he mumbled. "Can you get me to a shower?"
"First to Dr. Beckett," Weir said. "Ronon?"
"I'll get him there." He pulled at McKay, holding him firmly. "Sheppard said one hour, go back," he told Lorne. "Get a team together." Lorne nodded and stayed with Weir.
"He fucking pissed on me," McKay said again. "Do you know how unsanitary that is? It burned, too. Asshole. Fucking asshole."
"I pissed on him," Ronon said.
"I hope it burns his eyes out. And thank you, by the way. For coming to get me, and especially for pissing on that asshole. I owe you one."
"You owe me a thousand."
"Ha ha. You've been hanging with Sheppard too long."
"Not as long as you."
"Yes, well, I'm immune to his charms."
Ronon smiled to himself, hanging on to McKay as he staggered toward the infirmary. "Not that immune."
"What's that mean? Are you casting aspersions? On whom, me or him?"
"Rodney!" Beckett called, hurrying to meet them. "Oh, lord, but you smell like a privy. Look at your poor head."
"Some asshole pissed on me, Carson."
"Well, that will help with the head wound, I'm sure."
"What? You're a maniac. Why is a geneticist our Chief Medical Officer? In what universe does this make sense? Pissing on a head wound. I swear to God, Carson, you need to go back to med school."
"Shut up, Rodney, and let me treat that wound. Here, Ronon, get him up on the table, yes, like that. Lie back, Rodney. There you go."
"Where's Sheppard? Where's Teyla?" McKay asked. Ronon put his hands on McKay's shoulders and held him still for a minute, trying to catch his eye. McKay huffed loudly, and relaxed. "All right," he finally said, and let Ronon shove him up so the doctor could examine him.
He sat slumped, leaning against Ronon, who pushed against him, taking McKay's weight. Beckett raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything more. Ronon heard a noise and twisted his head back; Sheppard and Teyla were there, Sheppard slouched against the door. He turned back to McKay, whose eyes were slitted open, the right side of his mouth quirked up, watching Ronon.
McKay came to see Ronon after he'd been released from the infirmary, staring at him across the mess hall before hurrying toward him. "Listen," he said, sitting so abruptly that his tray rattled as he plopped it on the table, "thanks. Really. I was kind of out of it back on Planet Hell-hole, but I do remember you got me away from those maniacs. They were going to kill me, you know." Ronon nodded. For once, McKay wasn't overstating things; they had been going to kill him. He took another bite of the fried potatoes dipped in ketchup and listened. "Sheppard and Teyla, I know they helped with their diversion, and besides, he's good at blowing things up, he really could have been a chemist, but you were the one who faced down that crowd of thugs, and you were the one who pissed on that asshole." McKay smiled grimly at Ronon. "Thank you."
Ronon said, "Good fries," and held one out toward McKay, who took it quickly, then started on his own meal.
When he'd slowed down a bit, he said, "On that other planet, PX-whatever, your ama told us that you studied history and were going to teach." He poked a last fry into the puddle of ketchup on his plate. "And music."
Ronon shrugged. "Long time ago. Not much need for history as a Runner. Or music."
"What instrument did you play?"
"Flajol." At McKay's blank look, he said, "Long narrow tube, a wind instrument."
"How'd you hold it?"
Ronon mimed playing a flajol, hands in front of him. He could almost feel the patterned wood beneath his fingers.
"A recorder," McKay told him. "Can you still play?"
He shrugged again and stood to bus his empty tray. "No reason to." He paused and looked back at McKay. "Come running with me tomorrow morning."
"Don't be absurd."
"I'll get you."
He walked away, smiling to himself at the sound of McKay's sputtering behind him.
Though McKay grumbled the entire time, panting like a foaling davos, he did run with Ronon most mornings. Ronon slowed his pace, keeping just one step ahead of McKay so he was always in his peripheral vision. Not unlike how he did when they were in the field together. McKay would run the distance between two pylons, at a decent pace, but no further and no faster. "Got. To. Rest," he'd gasp, resting his hands on his knees, sweat rolling down his face.
"Gettin' stronger," Ronon said.
"Yeah, and my knees are arthritic, my lungs are asthmatic, and my arches are falling."
Ronon lightly smacked McKay's shoulder before jogging away. "See you at lunch," he called back. He smiled as McKay's complaining faded.
"So, listen," McKay said one night when he surprised Ronon in his quarters. He stuck out his hand. "Here."
Ronon picked up the instrument from McKay's flattened hand. "A flajol. Sort of."
"It's a recorder, made of rosewood. From Earth. I asked that it be sent out, and the Daedalus got in last night. I would've brought it by sooner, but it's been busy."
McKay shrugged. "So. Can you play? I can show you --"
"I can play." Ronon stepped back so McKay could come in. He looked around Ronon's quarters; Ronon knew how bare they were. He'd gotten out of the habit of owning things. Except weapons: guns and knives were never superfluous. He ran his fingers over the glossy wood, around the finger holes, and looked into the mouthpiece. It was not too heavy; he found it nicely balanced. At last, he lightly blew into it; a sudden squawk surprised him and made McKay laugh. "What's it mean?" he asked McKay, holding the flajol to his chest. "When someone gives an instrument, what's it mean?"
"What? Nothing. I didn't -- you're not obligated -- it's just. Well. You know. That piano we found, and you said you played." He sighed. "Enjoy it. When you can play Row, Row, Row Your Boat, let me know." He turned to go.
"Wait, McKay. Thanks."
"Yeah. Yeah." He left, and Ronon sat on his bed, licking his lips. His ama had loved to hear him play, and Ronon had enjoyed playing for others. He'd played with his friends at dances and ceremonies, and at the second and seventh conjunction of the moons. The images of his friends and family dancing, the entire neighborhood on the broad bend of the river, the moons mirrored in the water, the air smelling of river and roasting bous and the sense-memory of the little spice cakes with double moons of frosting on them rolled over him, almost painful in its intensity. On such a night he would have been with the musicians, dressed in the lightweight robes of players, his a pale rose to signify his abilities. His parents would have danced to his music, and his sisters and brother, the girl next door with one brown eye and one green eye, and his university friend Bron.
He blew again into the flajol, carefully, and this time produced a low sweet tone. He tried the finger holes, listening carefully to the changes in pitch, timbre, and tone.
He lay flat on his bed, closed his eyes, and began to play.
Two nights later, he went hunting for McKay. Not in the labs, nor the mess hall, so Ronon wasn't sure where else to look. He wandered the empty corridors; it was late, though McKay was usually up late. He wondered if McKay was with Sheppard, or that little Zelenka. He wasn't sure what McKay did when he wasn't working.
He headed back to his own quarters, turning into another corridor, when behind him a door slid open and he heard McKay's voice. Softer than normal, though, soft enough that Ronon couldn't hear his words, only the tone. He poked his head back around the corner and saw McKay kissing Teyla. A brief, shy kiss, but a kiss. She smiled up at him, stroking his face. "Good night, Rodney," he saw her whisper. McKay smiled hugely at her, so happy that Ronon's heart twisted with envy and grief that no one was smiling at him. He pulled back, leaning against the wall, thinking about what that kiss meant, when McKay turned the corner and they both jumped.
"What the hell are you doing lurking about?" McKay demanded, clutching his chest. "You're trying to kill me, aren't you, just give me a heart attack." Ronon just looked at him. "What? What?"
"So. Teyla and you?"
McKay lifted his chin. "None of your business, and she'll kick you into next week if you tell anyone." Ronon leaned down until he was only inches away from McKay's face, who stared belligerently back. Sighing dramatically, he said, "Sometimes, when it gets, ah, too much. Too much," he repeated more softly. "We're just friends."
Ronon straightened up. He didn't believe him; McKay wasn't the kind of guy to do casual. But he didn't want to press any further because Teyla really would kick his ass into next week. "Good night, McKay," he finally said, and clapped McKay's shoulder before heading back to his quarters. He'd lost the impulse, and wanted to think about McKay with Teyla.
He saw McKay in the mess hall when he went down for breakfast. "You didn't show up for your run this morning."
"Well, uh." McKay took another bite of his breakfast. "Um."
"That piano thing you brought back. You got it working yet?"
"Ah, no, not really." McKay ate faster, obviously happy to change the subject. "After you eat, let me show you. It's interesting, and even Radek's involved. A lot of physicists are also musicians; at McMurdo, we had a band. Kind of. Well, we made a lot of noise and people danced to it, but then, everybody was drunk most of the time at McMurdo so they'd dance to any damn thing."
Ronon didn't have a clue what McKay was talking about, but he sounded happy. They ate rapidly, not talking anymore. Then McKay led Ronon into a transporter, up two levels, and then several rooms down the corridor. The piano had been placed almost in the middle of the room, and a box of tools sat next to it, small strange tools glinting in the light that brightened when they walked in. McKay leaned over it, and Ronon looked into a nest of wires. "Tuning it has been a challenge," McKay said, but he looked smug.
"But not yet working."
"Well. It's alien." He shrugged. "Or badly tuned." There was an upturned box placed in front of the instrument; McKay scooted it closer, sat down, and rested his hands on what he called the keys. Ronon watched McKay, who took a deep breath, spread his fingers, and looked up at him. "Remember. Badly tuned, or something." Ronon nodded, McKay said, "Badly" again, and pressed some of the keys.
The piano thing vibrated beneath Ronon's arms; he jerked back in surprise, looking at Rodney, but his eyes were closed. The sound was soft, and eerie, as if coming from a long way off, and wavery, as if filtered through water. He returned to the piano, leaning gingerly against it, closing his own eyes to let the sound and vibration carry through him. McKay played hesitantly, staring off in a way Ronon found familiar from his instructors from so long ago.
McKay slowed, and looked at Ronon. "Chopin, not that that means anything to you. His nocturne number one in F minor. Badly played on an ill-tuned alien machine."
"Not badly played," Ronon said firmly, and was pleased to see McKay smile.
"Well. Not that you could judge."
He put his hand over McKay's, pressing the keys into a discordant cry. "I can judge," he said. McKay swallowed, staring at him, his mouth opening. "Show me," Ronon interrupted before he could speak. "Show me."
"Uh." Ronon sat next to McKay. "Um, put your hands here. Like this. Your thumb is on middle C. Do you know our alphabet? Does the gate translate that for you? So it's C, C sharp, D, D sharp, E, F, G -- do you see?"
Ronon nodded. "Scales, yeah. They're named after our moons."
"How many moons do you have?"
"Seven. Like the gate symbols." He put his thumb over McKay's on middle C. "This is mene," he said, pressing gently.
"What's that mean?"
"Hmm. They're all from an old dialect, not words we use now, so . . ." He shrugged. "Moon, I think. This," he pressed McKay's forefinger onto the next key, "is tende, and I know that means thin, like a sliver of a moon. Wait. This sound," and he pressed McKay's middle finger, "is wrong. Too much, too big. But the next would be isu."
"Say them all," McKay said, studying their entwined hands. "Teach me their names."
"Mene, tende, isu, lanne, kinn, augere, wita." He pressed the keys. "This isn't right; it's close, but not there."
"Our intervals are different. What you played is roughly the C diatonic scale. You know, I have to admit, Ronon, I never in a million years would have guessed you were a musician."
"Not anymore. Not since, since everything happened." He took his hand away from McKay's. "Play the Chopin again." He listened closely. It was only a few minutes long, but he found it achingly beautiful, a sound of longing tinged with something wrong.
When McKay finished this time, he said, "Help me with this. I'm trying to tune it to the pianos I grew up with, but it should be to the intervals you use. Though you still have seven notes, and a repeat at the octave, right? So this would also be mene?"
Ronon nodded, pleased at the idea of helping McKay with the piano thing.
"Okay, I've gotta get to the labs before somebody blows something up, and I'm sure you have important running and lurking to do. Let's get together after dinner." McKay stood and hovered for a moment, "Listen, Ronon. About last night. Teyla and I -- she's a good friend, and sometimes we talk, you know? Don't get the wrong idea."
"Talk, fuck, it's all good, McKay," Ronon said, but he smiled at the keyboard beneath his hands. McKay sputtered. "Thought you had work?"
"Yes, yes, goodbye."
He heard McKay leave, and then put his hands back on the keyboard, just touching the keys, listening to the noises they made, working his way through McKay's tuning, hearing in his head the missing sounds. He remembered again the camaraderie of playing with others, laughing till he ached, hoping the boy from university would be there to see him, knowing he looked good in his players robes. One night Bron had been there watching him and, during a break, came to take the saulé Ronon wore pinned to his collar.
He shook his head, smiling to himself. He hadn't thought of that night in years. He'd been so young before the Wraith came, before everything they'd done to him. McKay had given those memories back to him without even knowing, which was the way McKay worked, barging in, making changes without understanding the consequences. He was supposed to be a genius, or at least, that's what he told Ronon. Maybe he was, Ronon thought, rising; he really did have work in Atlantis.
The bells around Ronon's ankle jingled with each step. Ahead of him, Sheppard jingled, too, and behind him, McKay, though the voices of his bells were blended with his grumbling. Teyla stood upon a stage of sorts, watching them calmly as they wound through the mud of the street fair. Around them danced other men, in blue trousers and nothing else. The mud squelched unpleasantly under his feet, reminding him of his earliest days Running from the Wraith, when he possessed nothing at all.
Ronon found it eerie and uncomfortable: the men dancing silently around them, the only sounds the bells around their ankles and wrists and the slap of their bare feet in the mud. They were red-faced and panting, but what music they danced to existed only in their heads. The streets were lined with women silently watching, arms crossed, faces sullen. He didn't like this at all, and from the set of Sheppard's shoulders, he didn't either.
When they reached the stage, Sheppard stopped. Ronon stood to his left, and McKay on his right, all looking up at Teyla. She, too, had her arms crossed, as did the older woman next to her.
Teyla pointed at McKay and said coldly, "Staba, that is my husband."
Staba jerked her head, and two women dropped into the mud, seized McKay, and pulled him to the steps on the side. When they reached Teyla, they pushed him into her arms. "You are well, husband?"
McKay huffed, wiping his feet on the wooden floorboards. "I am well now, wife."
Staba said, "I claim those two."
"Oh, no you don't," McKay said, and Teyla gently shook him.
Looking over McKay's shoulder, Teyla said, "Staba, these are my husband's husbands. They are already claimed. Or if a man cannot lay claim on your world, then I claim them in my husband's name." She looked back at McKay. "Husband, I claim your men."
Ronon's mouth twitched as he watched McKay struggle before saying, "Thank you, wife."
Teyla and Staba stared at each other for nearly a minute, a long time for Ronon to stand in cold wet mud while madmen danced around him. The jingling was giving him a headache, and his back ached where he'd been kicked as he fought against putting on the blue trousers. Right in the kidney, he thought. The women here were strong and mean.
"One," Staba said. "I will take one of them. You may have the other."
"No," Teyla said calmly but very firmly. "They have been with me for some time. My household is set, and I will return home with the property with which I arrived." She paused dramatically and then said, "Or are you a thief, Staba? Will you steal from my household?"
Staba's face turned red in anger; she shouted, "You will not insult me in my domain! You will not! Get out. Take your men, such as they are, disobedient and perverted. Who ever heard of a husband's husbands?" Ronon could see spittle flying, and three women rushed to wrap their arms around her, stroking her shoulders, kissing her cheeks.
Teyla bowed her head. "Of course, Staba. We shall leave immediately. Husband." She strode down the steps, not looking back to see if McKay was following, although of course he was. Ronon hurried after him, hearing Sheppard's bells behind him. The madmen whirled around them, silent and awful, their eyes rolling, sweat pouring off them even in the cold.
"Our clothes," McKay stage-whispered, but Teyla wouldn't let them stop until they reached the DHD sitting at the end of the street.
"Dial, husband," she said.
"Yes, wife," McKay said, and for the first time that day he smiled. Ronon glanced over his shoulder; no one had followed them except a few dancers.
"Should we take them with us?" he asked Sheppard, who shook his head.
"We can come back in a jumper. See if there's anything else. The database didn't mention these people."
"The database is ten thousand years old," McKay said, and then the stargate opened. "Thank God we can get out of here. Although I really don't want to leave my pack behind. I've got my laptop in there."
"We'll get it, Rodney," Sheppard said. "The minute we shower."
"I want my clothes," Ronon added. He didn't have a lot and he'd made those leathers himself. He didn't want one of these dancing idiots wearing them.
"Shit, I hate to walk through the gate dressed like this," McKay said, looking down at himself. "Zelenka's gonna have a field day. And please don't tell anyone that Ronon and Sheppard are my husbands, okay? I don't mind being your husband, Teyla, but I really draw the line at polygamy."
"Rodney, my heart is broken," Sheppard said, and they walked through the gate.
Someone whistled when they arrived in Atlantis, but looks from McKay and Sheppard stopped it. Weir raised her eyebrows but listened silently through Teyla's and Sheppard's explanation. "I have to get that laptop," McKay added.
"Go, go," Weir said. "Maybe the people we read about in the database moved away from the stargate."
"Or were assimilated by the Staba's people," McKay muttered, hurrying away to the showers.
That afternoon they were back on the planet, but Sheppard brought the jumper and cloaked. The men were still dancing, though some had fallen into the mud. Ronon could see the women peering at the stargate, waiting for something, but the jumper remained invisible and silent. "First, we look around a bit. Then we'll grab our stuff. Doesn't look like much has happened."
"My laptop," McKay said. "I think that's a bit more important than looking around."
"Rodney, I'm not disputing the importance of your laptop, but we need to reconnoiter, make sure it's safe. We might need to bring in Lorne's team," Sheppard explained.
McKay sighed. "Okay. What kind of ceremony is this, anyway?" Ronon loomed over him and he glanced up. "Have you heard of this before?"
Ronon shook his head. "Only a story my ama told me once. About a place where men were owned by the women. She said if I wasn't good she'd send me there."
"Oh my god, that's child abuse," McKay said, so Ronon lightly smacked his shoulder.
"That's my ama," he pointed out. "She wasn't abusive."
"Okay, look," Sheppard interrupted them. "Over there. Readings?"
"Uh, yes, living creatures, no trace of any energy, though. Just as primitive as the Staba's village."
Sheppard took the jumper down, skimming the rooftops. "Looks a bit more prosperous," he said.
"More than one street, and they're paved," Ronon pointed out. As always, he was impressed with Sheppard's control of the puddlejumpers. Satedan's military had some advanced equipment, but nothing like Ancient technology, and certainly nothing like the jumper. He understood that Sheppard wasn't an Ancient, but seeing him like this, he had trouble believing it.
"Teyla? See anything worth stopping for?"
"I believe we should make contact with these people." Ronon looked at her curiously. "Staba was -- unpleasant. Perhaps she has been unpleasant to these people, and they would wish to ally with someone off-world."
Made sense to Ronon. Sheppard set the jumper down not far from the town, but out of sight. This place, unlike Staba's village, was more like the villages they found on other worlds, although nothing like the city in which Ronon had been raised. Children playing in a park watched them, laughing and pointing. Adolescent males studied them; Ronon remembered that look from when he was their age and trying to impress his friends -- and himself. A woman hurried out of one house, wiping her hands on her apron. "Welcome!" she called. "Welcome to Erda! It has been long since we have had visitors." They reached her, and Teyla bowed her head. "I am Tonno, and the maire of Erda for these two cycles."
"I am Teyla, and these are my companions, Rodney, John, and Ronon." They bowed, Ronon remembering how a woman in the last village had kicked him for not bowing fast enough. "We thank you for your welcome. We are traders, looking for tools and weapons. Perhaps we have something worth trading for."
"Such as?" Tonno asked, putting her hands on her hips.
"What do you need?" Sheppard asked.
"Your companion is bold. That is rare to see." Tonno stared at Sheppard, and Ronon braced, but she only said, "We are no longer able to trade for earthenware or porcelain, as the Staba has blocked egress to the stargate."
"We have a way around her," Teyla said, "and we do not wish to trade with her people. We have both earthenware and porcelain. Dishes, pots, decorative items."
Tonno said, "We have gardening and farming utensils, and hand tools for woodwork. We also pride ourselves on our metalwork."
Teyla looked at Sheppard, who nodded. "Yes," she said, smiling. "I hope we can come to an agreement."
"Come," Tonno said. "We will meet in the town council chambers, so those who wish to participate can."
"John, you will come with me. Rodney and Ronon --"
"Yes, yes, we'll bugger off."
"We'll look around," Ronon said, nudging McKay with his elbow. He bowed to Tonno, and saw McKay do the same, and then watched them walk into a low building with many narrow windows. Several people followed her, men and women and even a few of the adolescents. Two children dashed up to Ronon. "Wow," a little boy said. "You're tall."
McKay started to laugh. "Your ama told me you got your growth late," he said. "And that you talked as much as I do."
Ronon growled at him, and McKay laughed harder, making the children laugh, the little girl clapping her hands, so Ronon growled again, louder, and feinted grabbing McKay, who jumped away. "Oh no, oh no," he said, still laughing. "Our wife said to look around, not to goof around."
"Then let's look," Ronon said.
They walked through the streets, surrounded by kids. "Why does this always happen to me?" McKay moaned when one little girl wrapped herself around his leg. He hobbled along, making the others laugh. "Look, you're getting something sticky on my trousers, oh, yuck."
"It'll wash out," Ronon told him. They found a forge, where men and women were hard at work, the fires making him sweat. Elaborate wrought iron was being made here, and Ronon was impressed. Tonna had been right about their metalwork. "What could you do with this?"
"This? Nothing; it's decorative. But maybe we can send them specs to make tools for the labs and repairing Atlantis. Be cheaper than having it brought by the Daedalus, plus it's good to have a backup in case something happens." McKay looked unusually serious.
"What do you mean, something happens?"
McKay shrugged, looking away from Ronon. "The Milky Way has its own problems. You know that; you've heard us talk. Hell, you've seen a Goa'uld, and you know about the Orii. Anything could happen."
Ronon nodded. McKay was right, as he too often was; they shouldn't rely on the Daedalus. He'd heard from McKay about their first year and how difficult things were, how he and Sheppard had had to search for food as well as allies against the Wraith.
They watched the forge for a while longer, visiting with some of the workers, and then wandered on. The kids got bored with them and ran off, leaving them alone until they met up with an old man, leaning against a fence around a straggly garden, smoking something.
"Strangers. Don't often see any these days," he greeted them.
"I can understand why," McKay said. "That bi- that Staba blocks the gate pretty effectively."
The old man spit. "I remember when she was a girl. Manipulative as hell. She had every man dancing on her, and most of the women, too. Grew up just the same, only worse. Now her followers literally dance." He spit again.
"She's from here?" Ronon asked.
"Everybody's from here now. The Wraith saw to that generations ago. We moved here, under these trees, went low-tech. I was young then, and angry; I wanted to fight back." He shrugged. "No way to fight back. I know that now. But she didn't care about any of that."
"What about now? What's she doing at the gate?" McKay asked him.
He shrugged, and sucked deeply at the cigarro. "Used to be just to get attention. Now? I dunno. Maybe the same. Maybe it's a kind of power. All I know is we lose young people to her, and sometimes an old fart looking for his youth."
"She wanted us," McKay said bitterly. "Wanted to claim us."
"Heh. Well, I hear she's good in bed, but that she likes to hurt people, too. Best you stay away."
"Yes, we figured that out," McKay said.
The old man held out his cigarro. McKay shook his head, but Ronon took it, inhaling deeply. "Dammit, Ronon, doesn't this galaxy ever just say no?"
"Good," he said. He handed the cigarro back to the old man, who waved it away.
"Keep it, keep it. This fellow could sure use it."
"Great, just like the enzyme; this place is trying to turn me into a drug addict."
Ronon put the cigarro to McKay's lips. He pulled back but when the old man cackled and Ronon grinned encouragingly, he inhaled, sucking the smoke deep into his lungs. "You know what to do if I go into anaphylactic shock?" he asked through his held breath.
"I remember, McKay," Ronon said.
"Oh, man. I feel that already."
"Yeah." Ronon tamped out the cigarro. "Thanks."
"Pleasure to see a new face. Come back. We grow that here. Used to be we'd sell it, but that bitch has us blockaded."
"I'll see if we can't help," McKay said. "Ronon --"
"I got you." He took hold of McKay's upper arm. "You're not really that streamed, are you?"
"Streamed? Is that what you call it? I'm a little streamed, yeah. We'd say loaded. Or baked. Or stoned. Fried. Tweaked. Blitzed. Bombed. Fucked up."
"You're fucked up all right." Ronon started to laugh. "I might be a little fucked up myself."
"Just a tad." They laughed harder, staggering down the street. "Teyla's gonna kick our asses."
"Wife's prerogative," Ronon said, smiling to himself. He slung his arm around McKay's shoulders, almost hugging him. "Hey, you're my husband." To his surprise, McKay fit his arm around Ronon's waist.
"And you're mine. We're co-husbands. Or something. Spouses. Boyfriends."
"I had a boyfriend, before. Bron."
McKay slowed to a stop, turning in Ronon's arm to look up at him. "You never told me that. You don't talk much about it. Before."
"Yeah. Seeing ama -- I couldn't believe she's still alive. So few of us are."
"Tell me. Tell me everything."
Ronon laughed softly. McKay never shut up long enough to tell him much, let alone everything. That would take the rest of their lives. "There was a time I lived in a big city. Maybe not as big as Atlantis, but bigger than anyplace you've seen out there. Big with towers, and two universities."
"You were a student."
"Yeah. I wanted to teach history and music."
"Wow." They walked quietly; even though the high had quickly worn off, Ronon kept his arm around McKay. He just fit, and he felt good, and Ronon liked McKay. He liked his intensity and his sense of humor and his voice and the way his eyes lit up and how easy he was to tease. Impulsively, he pulled McKay to him and kissed the top of his head. "Hey, hey," McKay said.
"Sorry. Guess I'm still streamed."
"Yeah, well." McKay stopped again and put his hands on Ronon's shoulders. "I'm still streamed, too, okay?" He pulled himself up and kissed Ronon's mouth, a dry, quick, chaste kiss, but affectionate. "Maybe I'm really, really streamed, but I'm glad you came to us," he said, and walked away briskly. Ronon smiled, rubbing his mouth.
When they found their way back to the main street, Teyla and Sheppard were waiting for them, looking very pleased. "We will be back in two days," Teyla was saying to Tonno. "It has been a pleasure."
As they headed back to the jumper, Sheppard said, "Now we get our stuff, and if this trading works out, figure out what to do about that Staba."
Ronon had more opportunity to admire Sheppard's ability in the jumper. He brought it low over the Staba's village, circling only a man's height above the thatched roof of the hut where their possessions had been. The dancing madmen had disappeared from the streets; unlike Tonno's village, no children played, no household gardens could be seen, no women stood gossiping in the streets. He pursed his mouth at the ugliness and grime.
Sheppard set the jumper down, still cloaked, with the hut between them and the village. "Stay here," Ronon told him. "Teyla and I will get it."
"I'll go; I need my laptop," McKay said, but Ronon took his arm, not ungently.
"You stay here. I'll get it." He stared into McKay's pale eyes until McKay nodded. Sheppard opened the hatch so he and Teyla could jog out. If anyone saw them, it would look as though they were appearing from thin air. Ronon liked that idea. Maybe they'd think they were ghosts come to haunt them.
No one screamed or attacked them; nothing happened at all. They grabbed their possessions, wadding up the clothes, and Ronon made certain McKay's laptop was still velcroed to his backpack before they trotted back into the jumper. The hatch hadn't even closed before Sheppard was lifting them up and returning to the stargate. "Dial us home, Rodney," he said. McKay took his pack from Ronon, his mouth working, but he said nothing except, "Like I want to say here a minute longer than we have to."
Back in Atlantis, they met with Weir and Lorne. "Excellent news," Weir said after they'd described their meeting with Tonno in Erda.
"Yeah, but Staba," Sheppard pointed out. . "If we're going to trade regularly, we'll need to deal with her."
Ronon watched McKay check his laptop while the others talked; he seemed so focused on the little screen but then he caught Ronon's eye. Ronon raised an eyebrow inquisitively and McKay grinned at him. The laptop must be okay.
"Any suggestions?" Weir asked, drawing his attention back to the problem.
"I believe we should wait," Teyla said. "First, to ascertain the success of the trading with Tonno. By doing so, we will build trust between our people. She may be willing to share her knowledge of Staba's weaknesses that we can then exploit."
"I agree," Weir said, and Lorne nodded. "Good work, everyone. We'll meet again after the first trading has been concluded to determine our next steps. Thank you."
"Still got your bells?" Ronon asked McKay, who jumped. They were in what Ronon thought of as the piano room. To his surprise, McKay stuck out a leg and shook it; little bells jangled. He shook his own leg adding to the jingling.
"I'm not sure why I kept them," McKay said, frowning.
"Because they sound good. Sweet."
McKay nodded, and, with his usual abrubtness said, "Play the piano a bit, would you? Tell me what you hear."
They'd been working on tuning the piano thing for some time. The note McKay called A and Ronon called augere was tuned to four hundred and forty hertz, McKay had explained, waving a tuning fork dangerously near to Ronon's eye, the piano's wires vibrating four hundred and forty times per second. Once he'd tuned that note, he relied on Ronon's hearing to tune the others, calibrating the intervals. "They're different from what I'm used to," he said. "Mathematically, yours make more sense."
Ronon wasn't sure about mathematically, but as the piano was tuned, he could hear more clearly the music of his childhood and adolescence, before the Wraith came.
Today, though, McKay suddenly asked, "Why were you in the military? I mean, you were a musician and a student."
"Everyone serves two years on Sateda," Ronon reminded. "Boys and girls." He rested his hands on the keys the way McKay had taught him, his right thumb on mene, the moon. He saw the sounds as the moons over Sateda, the sharps their reflections in the river that curved around the city, their flats in the clouds obscuring them. "Mene, tende, isu, lanne, kinn, augere, wita, mene," he hummed as he pressed the keys. "Sounds good, McKay."
"Yes, yes, I have excellent pitch, not perfect, I admit, but close, and it makes sense, as I said." He hummed the notes; he had a nice tenor. Softer than Ronon expected, and sweeter than his speaking voice. "My sister had perfect pitch," he added a bit sadly.
"Didn't know you had a sister."
"Yeah, Jeannie. She's younger than I am." He pursed his lips. "I never thought I'd miss her, but I do. Do you -- did you have any sisters?"
"Yeah. Two older. And a baby brother, really a baby. Years younger than I am. Ama used to call him Surprise."
They grinned at each other. McKay said, "I'm sorry, Ronon. That, you know, that you lost so much. What you went through -- I can't imagine it. You're so brave."
Ronon ducked his head; he wasn't used to compliments, and he didn't think anyone was used to compliments from McKay. "Thanks," he mumbled.
"Bring your recorder?"
Ronon held it up. He knew what McKay wanted, and wet his lips to play the first notes of McKay's nocturne. It wasn't meant to be played on a flajol, but there was a melody line he could follow, and did. McKay smiled to himself, almost hiding his head inside the piano as he tried to hide his pleasure. Ronon knew he liked both the music and that Ronon was trying to learn it.
"Try the piano again," McKay said. "I think I've got two octaves now, down to mene below middle mene."
"Not middle mene," Ronon explained, "full mene. And the lower one is waxing mene."
"Full moon," McKay murmured. He cocked his head, listening hard. "Wait, go back."
Ronon tapped waxing kinn, while McKay did something in the guts of the piano. "That's it," Ronon said. He played the scale again. "Two octaves, yeah."
"I can't believe you," McKay said suddenly, leaning on his folded arms, staring at Ronon. "You're a musician, Ronon. An historian. A teacher. What happened?"
Ronon looked down at his hands. Clean now, after a few years in Atlantis, but for seven long years they'd been battered and torn, filthy from the life he'd been forced to live. "You know what happened. I was in the military. It was the end of my second year, so I was looking forward to going back to school." He picked out a tune on the piano his ama used to sing to him when he was little. Without looking up at McKay, he said, "You're a warrior now, too. What happened to you?"
McKay snorted, but didn't deny it. "I should be doing pure research, not traipsing around getting beaten up by hirsute women who dress me up like a Ken doll." Ronon shook his leg again, so the bells rang. "Yes, I know. That part was cool. Think Sheppard still wears his?" They laughed together at the image of Sheppard in his uniform jingling as he met with his men.
"Tell me more," McKay said again.
Ronon put the flajol to his lips and played an old song that he'd been practicing, a folk song from long ago, when his people remembered the Ancestors and the night sky had been full of different stars, before the great city he'd been raised in had been built:
Evening rolls like the river
into night and
tumbles into day.
Behind me, you.
Before me, sky.
Between us, river and love.
He set the flajol across his lap. "There was a boy," he finally said. "When I was at university. He was my age exactly. He'd been born on the sea, far from where I lived; his father built dories and his mother was an astronomer. She knew my mother a bit and asked her to have me look in on him."
He looked up at McKay's face, still for once. "His name was Bron. He studied maths; you would have liked him. He wasn't musical, but he came to all my concerts. We were called up at the same time and served in the same unit." Ronon rubbed the tattoo on his neck.
"You loved him," McKay said.
Ronon nodded, and practiced fingering the flajol. "You?"
McKay sighed heavily. "Oh, hell, Ronon. I'm ten years older than you. I've had affairs, and there's always Colonel Carter back on Earth." Ronon eyed him. "Okay, so not in that way. Yet."
He sat next to Ronon and began to play. The wavery sound of the piano rose around them. "More Chopin?" Ronon asked.
McKay shook his head. "No, no. This is for Radek. It's by a Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana, a bit of his piano trio in G minor. Zelenka's birthday's coming up; I thought he might like it."
"You said he's a musician, too."
"Yeah." McKay played a bit more, then sighed and let his hands fall. "Or maybe he won't like it. No way to play the violin parts, you see."
"He'll like it," Ronon said. He stared at McKay's face. He looked tired, his blue eyes rimmed with red, his expressive mouth turned down. "You should go see Teyla."
McKay smiled sadly. "What an extraordinary person she is. It might be a good night." He rubbed his hair and scratched his ear. "Why don't you come with me? We can shake our bells at her."
Ronon tucked the flajol into a pocket and hauled McKay to his feet. "Let's go."
Teyla welcomed them with her usual imperturbable grace. "I will make tea," she said as they entered. "Be seated."
To Ronon's surprise, McKay sat on the floor, wedging a pillow beneath him. "Oh, fuck, Teyla, my knees."
She smiled and said, "Have you been doing the stretching I showed you, Rodney?"
"Yes. Well, sometimes. When I have time. Which, as you know, is rarely ever. So basically, no."
"Then we will stretch while the tea is brewing. Ronon, will you join us?"
He sat next to McKay. They both closed their eyes and began to breathe more slowly. Ronon matched their breaths, relaxing his shoulders. Occasionally, Teyla would quietly correct McKay's posture, until several minutes passed in silence. Then she stretched her legs in front of her, still sitting very straight. McKay followed, struggling a bit. They put the soles of their feet together and Teyla leaned forward to take McKay's hands. "Breathe, Rodney," she whispered.
He took a deep breath and let her pull him forward. "Ow, ow," he muttered.
"Shh. Ronon, you stretch, too."
They worked in silence again, except for occasional exhalations from McKay. Ronon watched them. McKay's exhaustion was more apparent, but he also looked more at peace, almost sleepy. At last, Teyla said, "Hold that pose until the tea is poured." To Ronon's surprise, McKay didn't whine until she released them.
"Oh my God, Teyla, you are brutal. Just beat me with your sticks next time."
"If you would stretch each morning and each night, Rodney, you would feel better, your back would hurt less, and you would sleep better."
Ronon sipped at the tea, something pale green and sweet smelling. "So you're not lovers," he said.
Teyla raised an eyebrow and McKay sputtered. "Ronon, you can't -- not in front of Teyla -- did I say something that gave you this idea? Teyla, I've never said anything."
"I saw him coming out of your quarters one night." Ronon shrugged and took another sip of tea.
"Rodney is a wonderful man with a sweeter disposition than he would like us to believe. More sensitive, too, which is why he protects himself."
"Hey! I'm right here you know."
"I know." She sat serenely, confident; no wonder all the men and half the women in Atlantis were a bit in love with her. Ronon certainly was.
"Okay, time for bed," McKay said, draining his cup. "Thank you, Teyla, Ronon."
When they reached the door, McKay and Teyla rested their foreheads together for a long minute, breathing together. Then they kissed, making Ronon look at his boots to hide his smile. When McKay stepped past him into the corridor, Teyla took Ronon's shoulders and he bowed his head obediently. "Thank you for bringing Rodney tonight, Ronon."
He nodded, and they left, McKay still uncharacteristically silent. Ronon walked him to the door to his quarters, then took McKay by the shoulders as Teyla had. They also rested their foreheads together. When Ronon looked into McKay's eyes, he remembered the kiss they'd shared when they'd been streamed in Erda. He hesitated, and then kissed McKay again. His lips were dry against Ronon's, but he opened his mouth and kissed Ronon back, one hand on Ronon's chest and one sliding up to the back of his neck, holding Ronon's head tenderly in place.
He was sorry when McKay pulled back, but his fingers remained on Ronon's shirt, fingering the laces across his chest. "Not sure what to say," McKay said. "Mark your calendar."
"Good night, McKay," Ronon said, and left, smiling to himself.
"Ancestors! May the Ancestors take your soul!" Staba spit at them, McKay slamming into Ronon to avoid the mess. Staba kicked and screamed in Lorne's arms; he looked horrified, gripping her tightly around the waist, trying to avoid her flailing arms and kicking legs. Tonno from Erda had hold of Staba's right hand and was being pummeled by her left; Weir grabbed it and pulled, making Staba scream even louder. Around them, the madmen silently danced and the women wailed, painfully loud ululations ringing through the shantytown.
"Stop! Stop!" Weir shouted. Sheppard and Ronon were holding some of the women back, but most just stood and shrieked, their mouths wide open enough to reveal their trilling tongues. Ronon thought they looked as insane as the men and wondered what the hell Staba had done to bring them to this state.
Tonno slapped Staba across the face; she gasped but fell silent long enough for Lorne to wrap a hand across her mouth. Tonno shook Staba, and Ronon saw that Tonno was crying. "Stop, just stop," she cried. Weir helped Lorne hold Staba, who'd stopped kicking. She stared sullenly into Tonno's face. "Why, heart of mine? Why?"
Lorne hesitated, and then slid his hand from Staba's mouth; Ronon saw him wipe it on his hip. "The Wraith take everything," Staba said, her voice hoarse from screeching. "Everything. We have nothing here but mud and our bodies. I'm bored and angry and I've thought about this for years. For years, Mother, what I would say to you, and I say: kill me. Kill me! Don't condemn to your life!" She began to scream again, but hung limply in Lorne's arms.
Mother. Ronon looked at Sheppard, but he was watching Teyla and Weir. Teyla stood immediately behind Weir, hands on her weapon.
"This is my fault," Tonno said to Weir. "Mine. She was so beautiful. The Wraith did come, and she survived, but you see she has been made mad. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do." She began to cry harder.
Weir took Tonno into her arms, letting her weep. Ronon turned away to watch the crowd. The men were slowing, some had stopped, and all were watching. Maybe the Wraith had driven them all mad. He'd seen it happen on other worlds, when too many had been taken. He'd nearly been driven mad in his isolation and fear. It could happen.
Tonno wiped her face and turned back to Staba. "Daughter, my daughter. I have only one answer for you." She struck Staba in the breast and blood gushed out, staining both women's clothes. With each heartbeat, a fountain of blood shot out, catching Weir across her chest. The sleeves of Lorne's uniform were instantly soaked. Ronon saw she had used a serrated knife, the kind he'd use to cut his way through thick grasses. Staba collapsed, slipping to the ground as slickly as her blood. "Let her die!" Tonno cried, falling on top of her daughter. Weir clutched at her, and Lorne at Weir, and Teyla at both of them while Sheppard and Ronon held back the wailing women.
The men, Ronon saw, ran away, toward Erda.
"Jesus," McKay said when Ronon told him that night in the music room. "She killed her daughter? Christ, what an evil place this is." He sighed.
Ronon put his arm around McKay, leaning against him. He was showered now; even though no blood had splashed on his body, he felt stained by what he'd seen.
"Are you okay?" McKay asked him. "Is Sheppard? What about Elizabeth?"
"They're well, McKay. Just -- unnerved."
"Unnerved. That would be the word. Shit, I'm glad you're all right." He hugged Ronon, who rested his cheek against the top of McKay's head. "I'm, I'm glad."
"Huh," Ronon said. They stood together for a long time, and then Ronon settled them on the upturned box in front of the piano.
"You're sure everybody's okay? How traumatized is Elizabeth?"
Ronon shook his head. "She's tough. Shocked, but recovered right away. Lorne and Teyla were right there for her, and all of Sheppard's men. That's why she recovered so quickly."
"Loss of face," McKay said. Ronon wasn't sure what face meant in that context. "What's going to happen now?"
"Staba's body was burned right away. Most of her people went back to Erda. Some old woman named Mway is the maire now."
"Mway? Her name is Mway?" They both laughed. "Jesus, and I used to think that Rodney was an unfortunate name."
"Rodney's a great name," Ronon said, frowning. "I like it. What's it mean?"
"Oh, usually something about an island. Island in a clearing is my favorite."
"Island. Like Atlantis."
"You never call me Rodney."
"Rodney." Ronon smiled at him, rubbing his back. He felt a powerful need to comfort McKay -- to comfort Rodney. "Ronon and Rodney."
"What's Ronon mean? No, what's Ro-Neya mean?"
"My baby name."
Rodney leaned into Ronon's touch. They sat in silence, the piano at their back, the flajol that Rodney had given him lying on top of the piano. After a while, Rodney asked, "What would a lover call you?"
Ronon felt his smile grow, and he pulled Rodney closer to him. Rodney's arms wrapped around Ronon's chest. "Lover. Huh. Bron called me wita, the name of our seventh moon. That was my favorite festival. Back when there were festivals on Sateda."
"Wita," Rodney murmured. "That means the known moon, right? I wrote it all down when you told me. Waxing and waning, full and new. I can't imagine a sky full of seven moons."
"All seven were never there at once. Bron's mother explained it to me, but it was a long time ago. Maybe we'll go to Sateda and you can see them. But the second and the seventh did meet, three times a year except every twelfth year when they met a fourth time. That was a special celebration." He hesitated, and then said, "That's when the Wraith came. We were all out, everyone in the city. Children and their parents, kids and their friends."
"You've seen the Wraith," Ronon whispered into Rodney's ear. "You know. We did what we could. But we were outnumbered, people were stolen away even as we fired on the darts, and then we had to decide: shoot them down, even though our friends and families were in them, held in stasis?"
"What did you do?"
"Shot them. I shot them and shot them. I killed as many darts as I could, even though it meant I was killing my people. They fell into the city, into the river, crashed into buildings, even into the university. But no matter how many I shot down, there were more and more and more."
"Shh," Rodney whispered back, kissing Ronon's neck, his cheek, his mouth, and then they really kissed. Not the chaste kisses they'd shared before, but a lover's kiss. Bron, Ronon thought, remembering seeing him vanish in the actinic light of the Wraith beam. Bron was as dead as if he'd never existed, and Rodney was here, in Ronon's arms, alive and panting, bumping awkwardly into Ronon as they wiggled around on the uncomfortable piano bench they'd made.
Kissing Rodney didn't mean a quiet Rodney, which comforted Ronon; he didn't think he'd know what to do with a quiet Rodney. He moaned and gasped, jumped, laughed; he was just as agitated kissing as he was lecturing and scolding. They bumped into the piano, and Rodney's elbow smacked into the keys making them jangle, and they both jerked in surprised laughter. "Come on," Ronon said, and hauled Rodney to his feet. "If we're gonna do this . . ."
"Yes, yes, let's do it right, I'm a big believer in that, and my room or yours? Never mind; let's use mine, yours is just too bare."
"I like bare," Ronon leered at him, and they both laughed, Rodney smacking Ronon's arm.
"Yeah, I'm pretty fond of bare myself at times." He eyed Ronon's ass. "Specially on you."
"You suppose to see Teyla tonight?"
"No, it's nothing regular. When she insists, or when I feel like it. Why? Do you want to?"
"Not tonight, but sometime." He started to say more but McKay said, "Oh, don't even; I already know you're going to make bad puns about stretching regularly."
In the transporter, Ronon pushed Rodney against the wall, but he pushed back until Ronon's back was against the wall and Rodney was pressed flush against him, his cock hard against Ronon's thigh. He moved his leg and Rodney groaned, his face red with exertion. "Get down here," Rodney ordered, and pulled Ronon down to kiss more. The doors slid open but Ronon didn't care. He could do Rodney right there. He slid a hand into Rodney's trousers, the back of his fingers brushing against his cock. "Room, room," Rodney chanted. "Come on, Conan."
"Sheppard says not to call me that."
"He's right; I'm sorry. Just, you know, hurry." They hurried, almost running. "Glad I started running with you in the mornings," Rodney gasped, and then the doors to his quarters slid open and they fell onto his bed, Ronon spreading his legs so Rodney fit between them, and then pushing, sliding up and back down, both of them groaning. "Shit, get off, get your clothes off, let's get off."
"You look at me in the shower," Ronon said as they undressed.
Rodney lifted his chin. "Yes, well, I've caught you looking. It's natural."
He goosed Rodney, making him hop as he drew off his trousers. They arranged themselves on the bed again, smiling into each other's faces. Rodney patted Ronon's dreads. "These are too cool," he murmured before kissing Ronon. His cock was hard and red; Ronon thought it looked beautiful. He hadn't sucked cock in literally years, and then he had to close his eyes when Rodney seized his cock and pulled. "Oh, fuck, you really are beautiful," Rodney murmured between kisses.
Ronon pulled Rodney on top of him, so his knees were on either side of Ronon's hips, and Ronon's cock pressed against Rodney's. Rodney closed his eyes tightly; he looked almost in pain, though Ronon knew otherwise. He wanted to make him feel good, so good, but Rodney was making him feel pretty good, with his hand on Ronon's hip, his weight warm and sweaty against Ronon's skin. He got lost in the sensations. So long, he thought; it's been so long. Sex could be a weapon, it could be a threat, it could be a bad thing or a good, and this was very good with Rodney, who cared about Ronon, he knew, despite his mouthiness and flip comments, despite his teasing, or maybe because of it all.
He looked up at Rodney's face as he moved above him, sliding in the sweat their heat had generated, and then Rodney opened his amazing pale eyes. They stared at each other, Rodney's face getting redder, until he said, "I know. I know." He bent down and kissed Ronon, sliding off to one side.
Ronon wanted to do everything he hadn't done in the last seven years: suck and fuck and be fucked, but they ended up just squirming together, kissing, stroking, until Ronon came, trying to catch his breath, sweat rolling into his eyes. Rodney kissed him harder, his fingers tight on Ronon's arms, and with a final push, he also came with a loud groan. "Oh, shit," he said, wiping his face on Ronon's sheets. "Let's do that again."
repeat at the octave: mene
"Happy birthday, Radek," Weir said, and raised her glass. Along with everyone else, Ronon repeated, "Happy birthday!" and then drank. It was called champagne, a pale gold fizzy drink that tickled Ronon's nose. He liked it very much.
There was a big cake and many presents, because Radek was well liked in Atlantis. He was kinder than McKay but nearly as intelligent; he didn't seem to feel the need to remind everyone of his brilliance every few hours. He amused Ronon by speaking his birth tongue, the only word of which Ronon knew was ne, ne which meant no, no, something he heard a lot when Radek was around Rodney.
Who was, Ronon saw, chafing with all the attention focused on Radek rather than him. He put his hand on Rodney's neck and gently pressed; Rodney looked up at him, a silent understanding passing between them. Ronon liked that very much. He wanted to kiss Rodney, but understood that he was still shy about that in front of the others, especially the military. It made no sense at all to Ronon, but he tried to respect Rodney's feelings. And Sheppard's, who sometimes stared at them like a puzzle he couldn't work out. Ronon liked that, too, that what he had with Rodney was just between them.
When the gifts were open and Radek was wiping his eyes, lipstick on his face from being kissed by so many of the women, Rodney said, "Ah. Well, Ronon and I went in together on a gift. So, if this is a good time . . ."
"Yes, Rodney, of course, very good. Trip back to Earth, maybe?"
"For you or for us?"
"Me!" Radek said indignantly. "It's my birthday."
"Well, sorry, no. Not for any of us just yet. Um."
"Come on, McKay," Ronon said and walked to the piano. He stood next to it until Rodney sat down at their improvised piano bench, still an upturned box, and looked at him. "I found this," Ronon said proudly. "Rodney showed me how to search your internet."
"He really did. I wasn't familiar with Bohuslav Martin; do you know his work?"
Radek looked startled. "Yes. My grandfather knew him. He lived not far from us; I used to pass his house on the way to school."
Rodney continued, "Then you know he was a composer, and he wrote some pieces for piano and clarinet. We don't have a clarinet, but we have a flajol." Ronon held it up. "So. Um. Yeah. This is for you, Radek. From, ah, from Ronon and me. From us." He looked at Ronon who smiled encouragingly and nodded. "It's the andante from Martinu's sonatine for clarinet and piano. Or in this case, flajol and piano."
Rodney began to play the piano, very softly at first, and then Ronon began, their notes twining around each other slowly and stately. It was not a piece Ronon would have chosen except for Radek; he preferred what Rodney called popular and folk music. But this was a gift, and it had been many years since Ronon had given a gift of his music.
As he played, he remembered the last concert, at the conjunction of the second and the seventh moon. In the early evening, the moons washing the city with their pale light, everything changed, charmed into a day-bright night. Everyone had been out, dancing and laughing, drinking and singing, the entire city, it had seemed to Ronon, and best of all, on that beautiful night, he had been in love, and his lover had been watching from the audience.
He glanced at Rodney, playing so carefully for his friend. After this, they would play Satedan songs they'd been practicing, loud ones that required Rodney to bang happily at the piano, and then some Earth songs. They hoped people would dance, but Ronon didn't much care. He felt whole again. His ama was alive. He was giving a gift of his music. He was surrounded by friends, by people who were becoming his family.
He was in love.
Andante from Sonatine for Clarinet and Piano
John the Revelator