He'd been following Ronon through the gate when he'd heard McKay shouting, and it had taken two seconds and thirty eight lightyears before John had registered the words. It would've been nice, though, because they'd been the last ones he'd understood.
"Sheppard, wait! Something's wrong with the gate!"
The fact that they rhyme doesn't make the sentiment any less true, but John really wishes he could get the rhythmic loop of it out of his head. It's been worming through his head like like a bad pop song for months, now.
John stepped through to find Ronon standing next to the MALP, surveying the prairie surrounding the gate, craning his neck to follow the southward progression of the stream. His hand was near his hip, but he hadn't drawn, because nothing was wrong, yet. John had yet to shout his name, and he hadn't turned around to see the gate crashing closed, the lack of Teyla and McKay, the look on John's face.
The gun had been in his hand and ready before John had gotten two sentences out, but that alone wasn't enough to make John nervous. The sudden, furious confusion on Ronon's face as John tried to explain, however, had him concerned.
And then Ronon spoke, and John didn't understand anything past his own name.
Ronon had never talked much, before this, and honestly, it's the only thing keeping John sane, because he can go two hours a day, sometimes, without remembering why neither of them have bothered filling the space.
Sometimes, though, John can't get it out of his head for an instant; he can't concentrate on anything else, and he'll babble. He'll talk about Teyla and what he thinks they're serving in the mess back home. He'll try and talk out the math, plotting trajectories and routes and distances between here and home.
It's only ever towards the end of these diatribes, when he's too tired to deny the inevitable and the act of speaking has calmed himself down enough, that he'll start shooting holes in all his own theories. He'll admit that he doesn't even know if they're on the right planet. Daedalus hadn't even made it back to Earth, when they'd left, and who knows what kind of turnaround they'd been looking at before the six week return trip?
He's careful to keep his tone light when he says these things, because tone, Ronon can still understand. Laying out all the ways in which they're screwed is redundant and pointless, but giving Ronon the impression that he's cracking up would be dangerous.
Through it all, Ronon humors him the semi-baffled way he's probably always done; he'll nod in what almost feels like the right places. Sometimes, it's almost like being back home.
They'd tried to fix the gate, ripping crystals out of the DHD and trying Atlantis, trying every planet John had been able to think of and a few he'd suspected Ronon of making up. It hadn't taken long to realize how far out of their depths they were, but there'd been a certain rhythm to it, like working on someone else's car. Nods, grunts and gestures had been enough to get by, but not enough, apparently to get them home. When Ronon had realized as much, he'd stormed off towards the woods with a frustrated growl.
John had broken their tacit agreement, and he'd shouted after him. "Where are you going?"
Ronon's words, when they'd reached him, had meant nothing.
It's strange, learning Ronon all over again, but not half as strange as trying to learn Satedan. Water is kib, which might mean river, too. Fire sounds like Luke. Food is soge, but something about John's pronunciation makes Ronon roll his eyes every time, and anyway, Ronon uses food himself, most of the time these days. It only really gets awkward when they're trying to identify the food. John's still not certain if mulay-chonyo is Satedan for "large short-legged rabbit thing that has too many goddamned bones," or if it's their actual proper name, but Ronon had repeated it slowly and carefully, and John had learned it anyway.
There are these huge squirrels, too; John can hear dozens of them chattering all damned night next to the small, chest-height cave that they've made their base camp. Ronon had started calling them McKay by the end of the first week, but it had taken another three or four nights for John to get the joke.
They don't taste too bad.
As long as he was already in motion, as long as he was doing something, Ronon never flinched. A sudden burst of birds from the underbrush when he was taking aim wouldn't phase him, neither would a strange sound too close by; he'd merely stand up, quietly, before slinking off to inspect. If the wraith ever came- they hadn't since they'd been here- he probably wouldn't flinch then, either.
One distracted and sideways glance across the fire at night, though, could startle him. John had been sharpening the K-Bar he'd won off another Dex, on another planet, in what felt like another life; the hides he'd scraped two days back had left it duller than John liked. Ronon had been splicing sinew, rolling it out into a thin cord, but at some point his movements had stopped. John had glanced up to find what had caught his attention, only to find intense eyes staring straight back at him, widening slightly when Ronon registered John's regard.
His movement, when he'd looked away, had been surprisingly sharp, but he'd glanced back a second later, another unreadable expression on his face. John had tried grinning at him in confusion, expecting Ronon to shake his head or smirk, telling him it was nothing.
Ronon had only looked away again, down at the cordage in his lap, which had seemed at that moment less a project and more a distraction, though he'd again begun twisting the fibers together in earnest.
Asking what was wrong a few minutes later had felt like a mistake, even as John had spoken, though not because Ronon hadn't learned the phrase. A frown in response would've been enough, an irritated eye-roll would've been nice, but Ronon's refusal to even look up and the stiff set of his shoulders as he hunched over his work had been troubling.
So he'd tried it in Satedan, and thought he'd caught Ronon glancing up at him out of the corner of his eye, but he hadn't been sure in the flickering firelight.
And either way, it hadn't been an answer.
When Teyla eventually asks- because in his head, it's a conversation that could still take place- John thinks he'll tell her that was the night it all started.
It had been looming for days, but finally, the small tin pot from John's pack had cracked along the seam, and the water leaking down over the rock they'd been using as a stove had started hissing to steam before even reaching the fire.
John had overreacted, he'd even recognized as much, telling himself that sure, they'd lost the means to boil water, but at least the fire hadn't gone out. He'd kicked over the pile of kindling and shouted loud and long enough that the McKays in the woods had actually gone silent. When he'd looked up, though, Ronon had disappeared.
He'd caught sight of him, briefly, on the other side of the river, and lost him in the trees a moment later.
When Ronon had eventually returned an hour and a half later, he'd done so with a pocket full of stones and an armload of gourds. Two hours after that, he'd fashioned a knife and two dubious-looking arrowheads out of the metal scraps from the pot, and had the hollowed out gourds placed carefully around the edges of the fire pit. John had still been trying to cook the gourd guts themselves the way Ronon had indicated he should, smearing them over the stovetop, staining it a deep orange.
All at once, the seeds had started crackling and jumping, though they'd refused to turn into popcorn. The sound, though, or maybe John's reaction to it, had gotten the first smirk out of Ronon he'd seen in days.
The first smile, though, that hadn't come for another day, when Ronon had deemed the gourds sufficiently dried out, apparently, to fill with water down in the river His rock collection had been at the base of the fire since he'd first emptied his pockets, and he'd been fishing them out with heavy sticks, dropping them into the largest the gourds until the steam had begun to rise. A few more stones, and the water had begun to bubble and boil.
John had been too busy letting go of another twenty-four hours of panic to realize that he'd been staring, not until he heard it.
Ronon had started laughing, and he was speaking, too, gibberish, but he'd gestured down at the gourd and back up at John. There'd been a joke in there somewhere, John had gotten it even if he hadn't really heard it.
Kictouttaboyscouts isn't actually supposed to be a single word, but Ronon's learned it that way, and he applies it accurately enough.
And if John klutzes it up a little more than he needs to for entertainment's sake, well, it's not like they don't need the laughs, though slipping on the riverbank and splashing into the water might've been a bit overboard. So to speak.
Ronon's not laughing this time, at the unspoken pun, or at John; he's got his hands on John's arm, the back of his head, checking for injuries that aren't there. It's John's lungs that suck right now, and his throat that's sore from the coughing, and it's not the first time modesty's flown out the window here, but it's flying in closer proximity as they stumble into the cave.
John's clothes are off and Ronon's hands keep finding his back, his shoulders, and even when they're not there, they're near, because Ronon's less than two feet away from his wet coughs, stripping out of his coat and forcing John into it, glaring at him when he doesn't move fast enough.
Ronon's glares keep up all night. So do Ronon's hands, checking, always checking, and under better circumstances, they might not be so damned annoying, but all John wants to do right now is curl up in his embarrassment and Ronon's coat and pass the hell out.
It hadn't taken long for John to become accustomed to the weights and absences of Ronon's gaze. During the day, and from a safe distance, Ronon would watch him like a hawk, the same way he watched the sky and the gate and the wind in the trees. He wouldn't stop until nightfall, and when he did, he'd do so completely, barely acknowledging John's presence until he had no other choice.
John hadn't lost the habit of talking, yet, but he'd been boring himself, gotten tired of being a one-man show. It had all come to a head on their second night of their second week, when John had suddenly become sick of it all; sick of the view, and the questions running circles in his head, sick of the way his own damned words had started to lose their meaning in the face of all that silence. Sick of being the only one making the effort, sick of being ignored.
So he'd done something he hadn't managed the night before. He'd stopped talking, too.
And maybe Ronon had just been waiting for him to shut the hell up, though, because when John had glanced up from the fire, squinting because his vision had been fucked from staring into the flames for so long, he'd found Ronon watching him, fists clenched. Ronon had been frozen, right then, like his brain hadn't yet supplied the necessary signal to let him look away, and John, hell, maybe he'd just been tired and miserable enough to stop protecting him from the lack of distance.
'I'm here,' he'd stared back at him deliberately, because silence, apparently, was the one thing Ronon would respond to. 'Ignore me all you want, it won't change anything.'
Ronon's hands hadn't moved, but eventually, he'd looked back at the fire, closing his eyes against the glare, and nodded like he'd finally heard him.
Ronon still doesn't look at him much when they're sitting by the fire, though the fact that they've had to move their fire closer to the wall to shield it from the wind that's cutting a little more sharply these days might have something to do with it. They sit side by side, now, leaning against the wall, and John thinks his eyes have finally adjusted to the night, or maybe they've just been here long enough that his brain is able to supply the images of what he thinks he should be seeing. The treeline, the river, the gate.
None of it's moved since they've gotten here, so sometimes, he lets himself stop watching. Ronon still doesn't- probably never will- but John can let him keep watch on his own from time to time. He'll close his eyes, concentrate on his left side, where the air's a bit warmer, trapped in between Ronon's arm and his own.
It's gotten more noticeable, lately. The air's warmer, the space between them smaller.
John's sleep, when he'd occasionally manage to find it after hours of trying, tended to be deep and dreamless. He'd lie awake for hours, going over the depressingly short and increasingly ridiculous list of plans that had no real hope of getting them off of this rock, or he'd stare, unseeing, at the cave ceiling. He'd listen, jealously, to the sound of Ronon's breath as he'd slept.
It had been no secret that Ronon, with his seven years' worth experience crashing in unknown territory, had no problem dropping off at night, or that he would wake at the slightest sound. Until they'd landed here, though, he hadn't really expected that the noise inside Ronon's own head was sometimes enough to startle him awake.
The first time it had happened, in the middle of a rainstorm four nights in, John hadn't realized it until Ronon was scrambling, gun drawn, across the cave floor to press his back against the wall, his breathing heavy enough outweigh John's constant need to conserve the flashlight's batteries.
The beam of light had first found bare rock, and as he'd swung the light towards Ronon, the light had been knocked from his hand. Thankfully, it hadn't broken- it was in the corner, shining on nothing but brown rock and dust, but the message had gotten through. Staring at the floor had been the only thing he could think of to allow Ronon some privacy, but it also gave John's eyes some time to adjust. When a few minutes had passed, and Ronon's breathing had evened out, he'd risked another glance. Irritation and annoyance- as if it were John's fault- had been so deeply carved on Ronon's face that the embarrassed unease had nearly gone unnoticed. If it hadn't been for the torrential downpour or the chill in the air, he probably would've stalked out.
It had taken a while- primarily because he'd shown no interest in meeting John's eye- to get him to even lie down again, with inexact gestures and nods, or Ronon's name uttered quietly. When Ronon did eventually crawl back across the floor, he'd first reached over to shut off the flashlight, and in the instant that the cave went dark again, John had been suddenly certain that Ronon had been studying him.
He hadn't been surprised when Ronon's arm- cold to the touch, even through his shirt- bumped his own as they re-arranged the coats and emergency blankets they used as bedding. Between the confined space and the darkness, crashes like that were inevitable. Not so inevitable was John's hand reaching out to find Ronon's back, or Ronon rolling closer, or that John would lie awake the rest of the night, prodding at the coiled expectation that had settled in his chest.
It works a little differently when the nightmares are John's. For some reason, it's the only time Ronon really speaks. He'll ramble, fill the space in
his own language, until there's nothing else left to focus on. Sometimes, though, he'll catch Teyla's name, or McKay's, or he'll feel Ronon laughing at one of his own jokes, and the need for sleep is a distant memory, because he's still trying to learn, still wants to know what's so funny.
He'll try and string the words he does know into some sort of sense- Zelenka and wuakit and malfa tan ummit, and just when he thinks he's got it figured out, he'll realize that he's dreaming.
And now that it's allowed- it's probably best that their agreement's unspoken, or it might never have been made, otherwise- they're a little less cautious with their distance. Movement against skin works just as well as words do, in the dark. Maybe better, knowing them.
They'd had to start going farther afield for kindling, and both of them had been keeping an eye out for new caves when they were out hunting, so on the seventy fourth day, when Ronon had tugged at his arm and pointed, he'd understood immediately. Not too far from the river, high ground, good view of the gate. Upon closer inspection, it had proved to be a little larger than where they'd been staying.
It was when they'd started contemplating the opening- they'd need to work up some sort of covering against the wind- that John had realized they'd actually been holding a conversation. It had been slow going and uneven, but there'd been more words than gestures, he'd been sure of it.
Of course, he hadn't been able to explain why he'd gone quiet like he'd done, not without reverting back to hand signals and pointing. He'd tapped his fingers against his thumb, pointed to Ronon's mouth, then his own, and he'd repeated the word "talking" like an idiot because he hadn't been able to remember, right then, whether the elephant in the room they'd been living with for months was something they'd ever tried addressing, before.
Ronon had scowled at first, concentrating until it sorted itself out in his head.
"Bevalay," he'd nodded, meaning something between 'yeah, I hear you' and 'weird,' but then he'd looked down at John's still-pointing finger, and smirked, deliberately misunderstanding the gesture.
He'd stepped into John's space, smirking, and kissed him.
Easy as that.
It's just three wraiths, and they're dealt with easily enough- the last one goes down still looking for the source of the shots that had taken out the first two- but they're enough to destroy the relative peace John hadn't even realized he'd found.
Because they'd come through the gate.
Because the gate worked.
And John hadn't even tried it in a month.
As they approach, Ronon's taking point more deliberately than he usually does when they're hunting, but they're both twitchy, anyway.
When John dials the gate, though, nothing happens. He's inches away from sobbing all afternoon, because he hadn't been ready for that much hope. How he's supposed to deal with its loss is beyond him. The best he can come up with is to be ready when the gate opens again. When Ronon eventually snarls and shoves a bowl into his hands, it's two hours later the sun's gone down, and John's just drained.
Ronon's glaring furiously at the gate as they eat, his every movement economical; John had thought otherwise, but he hasn't seen that much anger in him since the first day they'd met. He'd seen it too. The gate does work; even if their DHD is busted, dialing in is possible.
It just hasn't happened, other than the wraith, and that's what stings. Because Atlantis could've- should've- at least sent a transmission through, by now, explaining that they can't send a rescue out only to have them stranded. Or telling them to hold tight, that they're going to have to wait for the Daedalus.
And here's the thing. John trusts them all- Weir, Telya, McKay, even Lorne and Caldwell to do everything they can. They would've gotten through if they could.
Which means they can't.
And John has no idea why.
That second night, Ronon had carved out the gate symbols for Atlantis in the dirt, and John had scribbled it out. He'd shaken his head, crouched down, and drawn the worst approximation of the Daedalus the universe has ever seen. He'd then pointed at his watch and rolled his eyes, but Ronon had gotten it. They were going to have to wait for rescue, and it was going to be a while.
Ronon's shrug had rolled off his shoulders easily; he hadn't been concerned, not yet.
The wraith had been burned hours ago, downwind, and it's too dark to see if the fire's still smoldering. By now, their bodies might've broken down to nothing more than dust. He and Ronon are the only people here.
There's no talking about it, really, because even though they've gotten better at it, some things are still easier in the abstract. Besides, even if Ronon could understand it was never supposed to be just us for this long, John doesn't think those are the exact words he'd use. The one word he does manage, swiveling his head towards a scowling profile, is Ronon's name.
Ronon looks back at him quickly. Intense, like he's the only other person in the world.
"John," he says slowly, as if he means to continue, but doesn't know where to start. Hands work better than words for this much loneliness, anyway.
John leans sideways against him, Ronon leans back. It's reply enough. Eventually it becomes a conversation. If it's a debate, Ronon's ceding first, or maybe just leading him on a tangent. He's shifting toward John and away all at once, letting him follow him down until John's leaning over him and there's nowhere else for Ronon to look.
For being pinned down against the ground, Ronon gives surprisingly easily. He kisses without finesse; there's no flirting, with him, there never is. Just open mouths and hands in John's hair and the slow relaxation of muscles as they settle into each other. They're quiet, but it's not peaceful; it doesn't take long before the need shifts into something more immediate. Hands clutch more tightly, hips moving more deliberately.
John's awfully close to the edge, pulling back is as much about staving it off as it is about moving this inside. Ronon's not letting him go, though, he's got his wrists clenched in his hands, frozen.
And maybe words would've been useful after all, because he hasn't even started sorting out the frustration from guilt from disappointment from want, and the fact that Ronon's not even looking at him might just kill him first.
Only Ronon's reaching for his gun, and he's sitting up, eyes on the gate, and it's coming to life.
And McKay is stepping through.
Someday, he might someday tell Teyla how this thing with him and Ronon got started.
McKay, as far as John's concerned, can damn well figure it out for himself.
Atlantis is noisy and loud and John's never been this unprepared for it, and he nearly loses Ronon in the crowd as the noise follows them all the way from the gate room to the infirmary.
There'd been a glitch in the gate's translation protocol, which, he's told, had spread from gate to gate like a virus every time it engaged. McKay claims that Zelenka had been responsible for spreading it to nine more planets before realizing what was going on. Zelenka retorts by saying that at least he hadn't spread it to fourteen, as some people had. Weir interrupts before the inevitable argument can break out, and apologizes again for suspending all gate activity for so long.
John gets it, even if Ronon doesn't look impressed. She hadn't wanted to risk it until McKay and Zelenka had found a solution. They hadn't actually ever found one, it turns out, but the wraith had. The math involved in detecting wraith's gate use via their movements using the long range sensors is something that McKay's going to have to wait to explain, though, because the crowd surrounding Ronon scatters like birds. Apparently, he's just done.
John tries to catch his eye, but then Carson's slight is blinding him again, and by the time the spots in his vision clear, the medics and techs are in an uproar, but Ronon's long gone. For the first time in months, there's no telling what he's thinking.
It's another hour, filled with tests, questions, and more talking that he'd thought he'd appreciate more, before John's released. Even after he finally makes his escape, he has to remind himself that people here expect a response when they say hello, and the route to Ronon's quarters seems much longer than it should be. He's exiting the transporter- on their blessedly empty floor- when he spots Ronon stalking from the other direction.
Ronon looks like he's about to explode, but he stops in front of his door and waits for John to meet him.
"Teyla," Ronon explains irritably, gesturing over his shoulder, before John gets the chance to ask him what's wrong; no further explanation is needed. He wouldn't have found her in her quarters, which Ronon would've known had he given Weir the chance to explain before storming out of the infirmary.
"Apparently, she got tired of the linguists having a field day on her behalf," John answers, though the act of talking is wearing him out. "She's been out with the Athosians for two months. They're sending word to her now."
The news only does half of what it's supposed to; Ronon eases a bit, though he still looks annoyed. The silence between them stretches on, though John can hear voices and noise and signs of life everywhere. It's impossible to tell what he's supposed to be paying attention to, and whether it's the two feet of distance that hadn't been there forty lightyears ago, or just Cadman's laughter cutting off as she steps into the transporter down the hall, that's distracting.
They need to get out of here. Get some space to breathe, just for a moment.
"You wanna go somewhere?" John isn't thinking of anywhere specific; the first place that comes to mind is his quarters, but saying that out loud is an invitation he doesn't know how to verbalize. He doesn't want to talk about it. Maybe he should try, though, because Ronon's attention hasn't shifted, and his expression hasn't changed. "We could jet out to the pier, get away from all the noise."
The suggestion sounds ridiculous to his own ears. He's not surprised when Ronon answers him with silent, unwavering regard, until it lasts a moment too long.
John's suddenly certain that the translation protocol fix had been a fluke, because this had been easy three hours ago, and now the two of them are standing here like strangers. Taking a breath and a step closer to Ronon, he manages to keep his voice down. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Almost never." Ronon turns towards his door- it's opening already- but John is frozen to the spot, too busy processing the words to register the smirk. Ronon's inside before he realizes he's not being followed, and he rolls his head back to look at him. "I still get you, though. You coming or not?"