On PX-3456 Ronon gave Sheppard a clump of dirt.
Sheppard said, "Er."
Rodney said, "What the hell is that?"
Teyla widened her eyes, but didn't say anything otherwise.
Ronon watched carefully as John put the dirt clod into a plastic sample bag and shoved it awkwardly into his ALICE pack, saying, "Thanks. I think."
"It's clay," Ronon said, and John raised his eyebrows. "Mix it with water. Shape it with your hands."
And when Sheppard grinned, Ronon knew he'd done good. "Haven't played with clay since I was a kid," John said.
"You mean you're not anymore?" Rodney asked, feigning astonishment.
Then Teyla knelt down to study the deposit of good, white clay and mentioned something about it being valuable for trading, so they all got distracted doing that, but Ronon kept thinking about John's hands slick on the clay, shaping out an answer for Ronon.
Back on Atlantis, after Rodney and John got dragged off by Elizabeth for a debriefing and a dressing down--"I knew she was going to find out about that thing in the place," John had sulked--Teyla asked Ronon gently what the meaning of a gift of clay was.
That's the thing about Atlantis that amazes Ronon the most--that none of them share any frames of reference. That they all look at things with different histories and understandings--different constellations, but what's most remarkable of all is the insatiable desire to learn about it, to take it in.
"It's a question," Ronon says in a rolling growl, and Teyla watches his face for so long Ronon feels a flush coming over him.
The first time he ever asked anybody a question he was six circles, about to go to the military academy. She had left a small bird on Ronon's windowsill three days later: I'm sorry. Go wherever you desire. Have freedom.
And then there were Wraith, falling upon Sateda like tornadoes, eating up the earth, eating up Ronon's people, and it seemed very silly to ask anybody anything when there weren't any answers to be had.
"Will Colonel Sheppard know how to answer it?" Teyla asks gently.
Ronon feels very still. "He'll figure it out."
Or, he thinks, I'll keep asking.
Ronon's mother had asked Ronon's father, and he had made her a house, with three small, ugly windows and a lopsided door, because as skilled as Ronon's father was with crops, he was abysmal with his hands.
Ronon's mother kept the house in a beautiful glass case near the sunroom, and as children he and his two brothers had never been allowed to touch it.
After the first months of war, he'd come back to his town only to find ruins, and he searched through the broken beams and steel and glass of his home until he found the smashed pieces of his mother and father's house and slipped them into his pocket. He lost most of the pieces on board the Wraith ship--but he still has the doorway, imprinted perfectly with the whorls of his father's thumb, and he has set it on his night table in the room the Atlanteans have given him.
Atlantis sends a crew to the planet again, and they cleave from the ground great chunks of the white clay, which Teyla then takes and trades with the beer-swilling, statue-loving people of another planet--Ronon likes them very much--for beer to swill and wheat and fruit, and a very pretty statue of something that looks like a hewl'a. The Atlanteans call them mermaids--that's only because they don't know how hewl'as bite.
Teyla gives it to Weir, who smiles and places it on her desk. It makes Teyla beam, and Ronon is seized with such a sudden jealousy he has to look away.
Ronon's mother had taught him selflessness, but that was different than avoiding selfishness, Ronon has found.
Ronon can be selfless, and do things for the good of the many over the lives of the few. Teyla has lived selflessly since childhood. McKay, mostly when he isn't paying attention, can be selfless, too, though he would argue it so fervently it's not worth talking to him about it at all.
Ronon wants to teach Sheppard to be selfish, to want things, to want him.
So he asked a question.
And now Ronon will wait and see how Sheppard answers.
On the third day, Sheppard slips into the seat opposite Ronon in the mess--as usual--and leans his cheek on one palm, narrow-eyed and thoughtful.
"I've been thinking about the clay you gave me," John says.
Ronon swallows his mashed roots hard. He's never encountered potatoes before, but he likes them.
"Yeah," John says easily, smiling. "I was kind of terrible at art, though. Got a C for effort."
"What's a C?" Ronon asks. He hope's it's not a bird.
"It's a really fitting academic metaphor for the colonel's whole life," Rodney interrupting and sitting down next to John, peering into Sheppard's tray and whining, "Hey, they gave you more potatoes than me!"
Sheppard rolls his eyes, but lets McKay jab at his plate, transferring mashed roots to his own tray, saying, "Probably because they know you just steal it from me everyday, Rodney."
Sometimes, Ronon wonders who Rodney thinks he's fooling.
But the thing is, Rodney won't ask, doesn't want to take this chance.
Ronon's learned that silence is a terrible thing to live, and he ran for a very long time. He would like it very much if John gave him a house, with terribly made windows and a whorl of his fingertips on the doorway, so Ronon will always know which house is home.
"What are you thinking of making?" Ronon asks suddenly, which is probably against the rules, but his mother isn't here to frown at him, anyway.
Sheppard opens his mouth with a look on his face like he's about to make a joke, but sees Ronon for a moment and seems to reconsider.
"I'll have to think about it," Sheppard says finally. "It's not every day you get nice clay."
Ronon looks down at his food. "No," he agrees.
Two days after that, Sheppard's concussed offworld when a crumbling ruin crumbles on top of him. McKay buzzes around the infirmary making everybody hate him and Ronon keeps a quiet and careful watch next to Sheppard's bed, because the concussion's not that bad, but he doesn't want Sheppard to wake up alone and disoriented, listening to McKay's shrieking.
He falls asleep there, and when he wakes up, eyes opening slowly, body utterly still, Sheppard is teaching Teyla a game with shiny pieces of paper, whispering things like, "royal flush" and "that's just beginner's luck," and "okay, maybe not." McKay is asleep on another hospital bed behind them, drooling all over a pillow.
Ronon watches John smile at Teyla, and how they talk to each other in low voices.
Ronon can't help but worry he is being too selfish himself, wanting more than Sheppard already gives.
But Teyla touches John's brow, where a dark bruise is mapping its way across Sheppard's skin, and Sheppard's eyes crinkle in a reassuring smile--and Ronon wants to slap her hand away, to palm Sheppard's hurts and smooth them away, to press his mouth to Sheppard's temples, to touch his strange hair and clutch at his beating heart.
"Hey," he says, and Teyla looks up, removing her hand with a secretive smile.
"Sleeping beauty awakes," Sheppard says wryly, and gathers up the shiny paper he and Teyla have been playing with, shuffling them straight in his hands, and flips them one over another after separating them into two stacks with his long, narrow fingers. "Deal you in?"
"Don't know how to play," Ronon says, and uncurls his body, leans inward.
"It's real easy," Sheppard says, grinning. "And if you're anything like Teyla, you'll be kicking my ass in no time. Though--" Sheppard looks sideways at her "--she's kind of got a knack for that."
"Sleeping beauty?" Ronon asks, once Sheppard has handed him a stack of the white--cards, Sheppard tells him. Covered in plastic, the same material that makes so many Earth and Latean things. Like the erto on Sateda, if Sateda still was.
"Colonel Sheppard tells me it's a fairy tale," Teyla explains graciously. "About a princess put under an enchantress's spell after she pricks her finger. Only to be woken by her true love's kiss."
"Not just true love, a prince," Sheppard says, and scowls at his cards.
"Not gonna find one round here," Ronon says, low and shy.
Teyla smiles at him like a big sister, and Sheppard laughs, says, "Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised."
Ronon looks at his cards--all red hearts and black flowers.
"Hope so," he says.
The day after, Atlantis is on stand down, and Sheppard sits down opposite Ronon in the mess hall. He says, "I asked Teyla if she knew what the clay was about yesterday, before you woke up." He says, "I'm not sure what the question you're asking is." He says, "I'm seriously terrible at art." He says, "Why do you always look like you're about to run?"
Ronon says, "Got used to running. Effort counts."
Sheppard looks at him for a long time. "As long as this doesn't turn into Ghost."
Ronon stares at him.
"Nevermind," Sheppard says, and grins, lopsided and strange, and he searches Ronon's face for something that Ronon has tried to say for a long time now--since he woke up in Atlantis and thought 'what today' instead of 'where.'
"Are you happy here?" Sheppard asks, totally serious.
Ronon looks at Sheppard, wonders what it would have been like, if Sateda still lived, if instead of half-wild in the forests, Sheppard had seen Ronon in the glass and metal offices of Sateda's capital, if he could have taken Sheppard through Sateda's forests and down to the ocean, which Sheppard seems to love--to have shown him the curling waves.
Ronon wonders if it would be the same at all, if they did not share this sense of loss together.
"Not picky," Ronon finally says. "It's got everything I need."
"What about all the things you want?" Sheppard asks. "You don't have to stay."
Ronon wants Sheppard to make this place home, to reshape their crushed and broken histories, to make Ronon a house or a door, something to walk to at the end of the day. Ronon wants Sheppard to make him something heavy like an anchor. Ronon wants stillness, wants the water to stop rolling around the city. Ronon wants whatever he can have here, but most selfishly of all, he wants something that all of Atlantis wants.
"I've got my reasons," Ronon says.
John raises his eyebrows. "Aren't many fairytale princes around here."
"Already got saved," Ronon admits, voice rough with shyness, and leaves Sheppard sitting there, a thoughtful look on his pale, smooth face.
Sheppard spends a long time looking, Ronon realizes, not to decide if Ronon's good enough or how he should make this answer as elegantly sad as the bird Ronon threw down a ravine angrily, but just watching.
Sheppard watches Ronon train, watches Ronon eat, and watches Ronon wander through Atlantis' hallways.
"You decided what to do with that clay yet?" Ronon asks, impatiently joking a week later.
But Sheppard has always been a surprise, so he says, "Yeah, I think so," and he smiles at Ronon so sweetly Ronon has to look away--go punch some marines.
The next morning, Ronon finds a very small, very ugly thing that might be Atlantis sitting in front of the doors to his quarters.
It's flat and uneven and pretty pathetic. It doesn't sit and keeps tipping over on Ronon's shelf, lands on its left side on top of the door to Ronon's parents' house, covering up the whorl of his father's thumbprint. Ronon leaves it there because it's perfect.
That night--after the temporary blackout in the afternoon that's caused when Sheppard and McKay do something stupid in the bowels of the city that plays out over the comm system complete with whining and recrimination and Sheppard making excuses left and right while Elizabeth says things like, "You two are grounded!"--Sheppard wanders into Ronon's room, which is spare and military-clean and now populated by two small, clay objects.
"Glad you like it," Sheppard says, smiling.
"It's really, really ugly," Ronon says, mostly because it's true.
"You said effort counted," John answers primly, and his eyes go cloudy. "You always looked like you were ready to run. Any minute. I just thought."
Ronon smiles, and this time he can't stop smiling, walks over to Sheppard and presses him in against a door, feels all the angles and planes of Sheppard's body, warm beneath his soft shirt and pants and smoothes his rough palms down Sheppard's arms, touches his hands. Ronon can't stop smiling, and when he looks up, Sheppard is smiling at him.
"You should stay," Sheppard says, and his eyes are very green. "You'll like it here."
"My father made my mother a house," Ronon admits, and looks down, at where Sheppard's feet and his are very close together. This is the closest he's been to another human being in a long time.
And he feels Sheppard's hand on the side of his face and hears Sheppard's voice.
He says, "This is home now, too, Ronon."
And Ronon thinks, finally, finally, finally, and says, "Yes."