It wasn't with McKay either, which was also surprising, given the number of people McKay pissed off. Ronon expected the "This is my husband, see how enormous and mean-looking he is?" game every other trip through the Ring, but it hadn't happened yet. Probably should have, more than once.
No, the first time, a mere six weeks after he joined the team, it was Sheppard.
"This is Specialist Dex, our Champion," Teyla introduced him to the generals of the Discatin, a people so proud of their fighting skills that they had been respected even on Sateda. "He has killed three Wraith in hand-to-hand combat. And this is Colonel Sheppard, our Chief Tactician," Sheppard waved cheerfully, "who has slain a Queen."
The group murmured among themselves, sounding impressed.
"And who are you?" one of them asked McKay, who naturally rolled his eyes.
"I'm the brains of this outfit–"
Teyla interrupted smoothly, "Dr. McKay is a builder of weapons. He constructed an explosive which destroyed an entire Hive Ship."
The Discatin leader looked excited. Too excited. Ronon's hands inched toward his blaster.
"We are most pleased to make your acquaintance! Defender Emmagan of the Athosians, you have honored us by bringing your new family here today. We would honor you in turn by permitting your Champion and your Tactician to battle our best warriors in the Arena."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Sheppard hissed. Teyla shot him a quelling look.
"A good thing," Ronon responded under his breath. "They don't kill people in the Arena except on the first day of a new year."
"Oh, good," McKay muttered faintly. "That's not today, is it?"
Teyla smiled back at the leader. "We are most pleased to accept the honor you bestow upon us."
"Anyone got a local calendar?" Sheppard whispered, but no one laughed.
Teyla had left them alone for a little while, refusing Ronon's silent offer to accompany her as a bodyguard. When she returned, her face was wreathed in relief.
"Good news?" Sheppard asked lazily, as if he hadn't stiffened when she opened the door.
"Good news," she agreed. "You will not be required to take the place of their current Champion and Chief Tactician–"
"Those last two women we beat?"
"Yes. Nor will you need to marry a local to assuage their honor."
McKay grinned. "No girl in this port, Sheppard!"
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "So what do we have to do? There's always a catch."
Teyla sighed. "I was not fully aware of the rules for Champions and Tacticians. Apparently, you are assumed to be partners. Full partners."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow.
"They wish you to renew your vows here and celebrate with them, since you were so recently... married."
The room fell silent for a moment, then Sheppard blew out a breath. "Is that all? Seriously, Teyla, you had me worried. I mean," he turned to Ronon, "unless that'd make you upset. I wouldn't want to, uh, upset you. The rest of us are kind of used to it by now."
Ronon shrugged, feeling the bare boards scratch against his arms. "Not upset."
"Good," said Sheppard, "That's, uh, good."
They had a shortened briefing because the other three had been to this world already. They all seemed subdued; McKay's mouth was a downward slash, and Teyla wore false cheer. Sheppard stood determined, hands on his hips.
Dr. Weir looked them over and sighed. "I can send Lorne's team again."
"No," Sheppard said firmly. "We'll do this. It's our deal, they'll want to see us again eventually."
"Are you sure? Dr. Zelenka said he quite enjoyed the last trip."
That made McKay choke and splutter, blinking up from whatever memory he'd lost himself in. "Radek said that? The sly dog."
Dr. Weir smiled. Ronon had to admit he was impressed with how she managed McKay and Sheppard, and even Teyla sometimes.
"Come," Teyla said quietly. "We'll be late for our meeting."
The Ring splashed open, and McKay's expression turned thoughtful just before the watery edge.
McKay held up his hands defensively. "Do none of you get what this is really about? They were nice to us the first time because they wanted to know what we knew. This place may seem like a nerd's paradise where brains are elevated over brawn, but those beefy boy toys and girls with guns? They're not there for decoration. 'Consort' doesn't mean 'convenient sex' here, Sheppard. It means 'bodyguard'."
"Which is why I'll be yours," Sheppard insisted. "Like we agreed."
"Nuh-uh, no way. You'll get yourself killed. I want someone who can fight off a dozen attackers on zero sleep and smell poison at ten paces. You're up, Conan."
"Ronon," Ronon corrected him for what must be the hundredth time.
McKay shrugged. "Earth joke. Someday you'll get it and probably string me up by my toes, but meanwhile I amuse myself as best I can."
Ronon raised one eyebrow. McKay rolled his eyes. "Yeah, so you're intimidating. I'm hoping that works in our favor. Anyway," he clapped his hands sharply, "time's wasting! Be on the lookout for kidnappings today and probably assassinations starting tomorrow. Druggings could happen at any point. Did we bring the testing kit?"
"Yeah, but Teyla said it might be an insult to use it." Sheppard looked worried.
"Only if someone realizes. We'll just pretend we like a lot of flavor in our food, or maybe we'll call it vitamin supplements. If Ronon's adding the drops, no one will say a word."
"Unless your food turns blue," Sheppard pointed out.
Ronon bared his teeth. "Then they'll be too worried about me to get offended."
"See why I picked him?"
McKay was stiff beside him, despite the fact that they'd shared a bed under much less comfortable conditions before. Ronon didn't think it was from the casual attempts on his life.
After nearly an hour of silence, McKay finally sighed. "Listen, it's not you, okay?"
Ronon stayed silent. He knew that.
"It's just that – last time it was Ford. We laughed about him always wanting to grow up to be a scientist's boy toy. It was the first time he joked with me. The first time I thought he was okay with me being on the team."
Ronon stayed silent, remembering the wild-eyed kid who'd fought him while McKay had dangled upside down, yelling helplessly.
"You don't know him. You never met him while he was... him. But I got kind of used to having him around, and he saved my life about half a dozen times while we were here. He was a good kid. Probably a good soldier, but you'd have to ask Sheppard about that."
Ronon stayed silent, thinking that Sheppard had strange standards for good soldiers. Ronon was still alive and had killed his commanding officer. By Satedan standards, he was a traitor and a failure. But Sheppard acted like he was a gift the Wraith had dumped in the Atlanteans' lap.
"Am I babbling? Feel free to tell me to shut up any time now," McKay muttered. "Hey, are you asleep?"
Ronon threw an arm across McKay and pulled him out of the way as someone dropped acid onto the pillow from above, cloth and feathers smoking bright yellow.
"No," he said quietly, and started shooting.
McKay slept deep and long, and Ronon held vigil beside him.
"Only your spouse may enter the labyrinth with you," the priestess intoned. She looked rather doubtfully at McKay, then more hopefully at Sheppard.
Teyla tapped Ronon's wrist in a common gesture between bondmates. It made Ronon shiver slightly.
"Come, husband," Teyla said calmly. "We must retrieve the artifact before dawn, if we wish to avoid the narthi. They have many teeth, or so I have been told."
Ronon followed her into the maze without a word.
Confusion flashed across Teyla's face. "Why should I not choose you?"
Ronon tried another combination, shifting the letters around. "There's been nothing to fight."
Teyla moved one of the levers back to the left and pressed her palm to the center of the door again. "You were not chosen for this team simply because you can fight, Ronon. There are many warriors among the peoples of Earth."
He didn't ask again, but he wasn't satisfied, and it was obvious she knew it.
Sighing, she lifted her palm and turned to face him. "Yes, your skills impressed John. However, he is a pilot and a tactician, not a pure warrior. Your skills also impressed me, but I am as much a negotiator as a fighter. All of us can fight, even Rodney. All of us can also do something else. You are a warrior, but you are also a survivor. Most importantly, you would not leave a teammate behind. No matter what your skills are, John would not have anyone on any team who did not have that quality. Even if they don't recognize it in themselves."
"McKay surprises me sometimes," Ronon admitted, and Teyla smiled.
"He surprises himself."
Ronon snorted. "Still doesn't explain why you chose me for this."
"Ah." She looked up as the light in the window-slits high in the walls brightened. A single beam shot through one narrow opening and struck the wall just where Ronon had been working. Stone began to rumble aside. "Because I believe this is a trap, and you are our expert in those."
Ronon grinned and drew his blaster.
Teyla put on a practiced smile. "I travel light."
"Of course." The Queen gestured to one of the scantily clad men hovering behind her. "Please escort Lady Teyla's men to the family table and make sure they are suitably entertained."
Ronon managed not to laugh at Sheppard's expression until they got home.
The Athosians had a special day, once a year, when they returned to their ancient home. There, in the shadow of the Ancestor's ruined city, surrounded by the blooming blue Cahti flowers, babies born during the year were given their names and bonds formed were formalized.
Ronon's jacket itched, the Earth-formal attire strangely restrictive at the neck and wrists. McKay looked just as uncomfortable, though Sheppard held himself firm.
Teyla, though, was nothing but grace. She wore deep red to officiate, but when it was their turn, Halling stepped forward and held up the cut branch, blossoms still dangling from the end.
"Do you, Ronon Dex..."
The Earth-words were strange, the Athosian ones stranger, but Ronon said I do and I am to everything asked of him, and finally they spoke the Satedan words he thought he would never hear for himself.
"Will you defend the hearth and home, will you speak in honesty not anger, will you love and raise each child as your own?"
"I will," Teyla whispered, and "I will," Sheppard said firmly, and "Yes, yes, obviously," McKay snapped, eyes suspiciously wet.
Ronon pulled them all close. "I will."