John was not the sort of guy who noticed things about people. Well, okay, he noticed people sneaking up on him with weapons, but friends and lovers? People who wanted to enter that category? It took him a long time to notice things.
So, it was four or five months after they brought Atlantis back from the Milky Way before he realized that he saw Ronon pop two white pills every morning. It wasn't that Ronon was sneaky about it or anything. (Actually, if Ronon had been sneaky, John might have noticed faster.) It was just John being unobservant.
And even after John noticed, he dithered about whether or not to say anything. John was a big believer in letting people keep their own secrets, but he was responsible for Ronon in the field, and what if the pills were something that meant Ronon would need special first aid if he were injured? Also, frankly, one of the benefits of having a…thing with a person twenty years younger than you was that your…person was going to be hale and hearty while you were falling apart, or stuck planning your funeral if you didn't get to live long enough to be decrepit. And John totally wasn't going to…get a new place to live if it turned out that Ronon was going to die before him, but he was going to have to make a plan for his future besides, "Ronon will use his superawesome man strength to push my wheelchair when I'm old."
His first attempt to talk was not very successful. (Part of the problem was how swift he was not, when he woke up safe, next to a person who was…safe.) He turned over when he heard Ronon get up, and watched as Ronon popped two pills, dry. I wanted to ask about that, he thought. "Hey."
Ronon turned to look at him, a slow smile spreading on his face. "Hey." He leaned over and kissed John on the top of his head, where morning breath wasn't a factor. "Want to run before breakfast?"
"No, " said John, and did the slow smile that Ronon liked. A lot.
Ronon's smile widened. "Want to shower before breakfast?" He tugged on John's hand.
So, it wasn't like the first effort was wasted or anything, he just didn't get much in the way of new information.
The second time, John followed up, "Hey, " right away with, "whatcha doin'?"
"Running, " said Ronon. Like I do every morning was only implied.
"No, " said John. He pulled himself up into a sitting position. "You, " he waved meaninglessly, "with the pills."
"I swallowed them." That's what you do with pills was communicated with a dubious lift of eyebrow.
(Sometimes, when John was feeling most ineffectual, he tried to rank his teammates by just how stupid they thought he was.)
"Why are you taking pills? You got something?"
Ronon shrugged. "A minor chemical addiction−, " John felt his eyes go very, very wide, "−like everyone else in this city. They're caffeine pills." Ronon rolled his eyes, and kissed John on the head. He asked, "Breakfast?" and waited for John's nod before heading out the door.
Which probably would have been the end of it, except for the peculiar blend of obliviousness and consideration which John showered on…a person around him a lot.
See, now that he knew Ronon liked caffeine, he started bringing Ronon coffee at breakfast. But one day, in another fit of thoughtfulness, he grabbed Ronon's breakfast junk to take back to the tray return, and noticed that the coffee was untouched.
"You didn't drink your coffee?" he asked, as he got back to the table.
Ronon frowned sleepily, musingly. "I never drink coffee."
"So, what have you been doing with all of the coffee I bring you?"
"Drop it off with McKay before work."
John didn't know what he thought about that−didn't know what the reasonable reaction to that was−so he just sighed and looked at the door.
"Hey, " said Ronon, and he reached up and gave John a tap on the elbow. "I like you doing stuff for me. I just—coffee's…." He grimaced, clearly miming disgusting and bitter.
"So, what, you like cola?" asked John. His incredulousness lay in the fact that soda was damn close to impossible to get on Atlantis (it was too nutritionally poor for food services to import, and too bulky for anyone to waste their personal shipping allowance on.)
"I like gralnick, but the Athosians don't trade for it." Ronon shrugged. "It's fine, Sheppard."
"Hmm, " said John. He crossed his arms over his chest, but he also let his hip rub up against Ronon's shoulder.
John and Ronon stumbled along in, uh, affectionate proximity for several months before the next logical question got asked. They were at a market on PX7-263, trying to find a dependable supplier of something, anything edible, that contained zinc, which no Pegasus animals and relatively few Pegasus plants had in good supply.
It was a large market, with traders from multiple planets represented, and the whole setup divided into districts by product type. They had started at the border between the weapons district and the foods district. They were now at the other edge of the foods district, almost into the entertainment district, and it was so noisy−music and people and some sort of clacker a lot of kids had−John couldn't hear himself think, couldn't speak to his team without shouting.
It didn't help that they were in a line, the three of them strung out before him: Teyla, Ronon, Rodney. There were so many people around, it was difficult to keep Teyla in view. She was short, and people kept pressing in between her and John. He was mostly trusting that Ronon would stay on her heels.
Ronon veered right, away from the food. John coldn't see why, but he almost turned to follow before he registered that Teyla was still going straight towards a giant booth filled with all manner of herbs and spices.
"Hey!" shouted John. Teyla and Rodney turned to look at him, and Ronon kept going, so he gave the nod to follow Ronon.
The meandering path they took confused John; he didn't see anyone they might be following or a merchant they could be heading towards. Ronon stopped, and cocked his head to the side three times before John realized he must be listening to something. John was impressed that Ronon could make anything out in this crowd. The entertainment district was big. All of the open air acts were musicians of one loud stripe or another, and the acts in tents had barkers bawling for the attention of passersby.
They finally stopped at a stage where about ten guys on drums were making an enormous amount of noise. Ronon pushed his way up to the front of the stage, but John stopped at the edge of the crowd. He could see Ronon clearly, since he towered over everyone.
John couldn't follow the music at all. Teyla and Rodney came up next to him. Teyla was nodding her head along. Rodney had his hands out, fingers twitching along with the drums. "I think that's 3/10 time, " he said.
John shrugged. Waltz time was a little too complicated for him, sometimes. "Teyla, is this Satedan music?" He would guess not. The drummers all had a similar look, with darker skin and hair than Ronon, and they looked skinny, despite their massive arms.
She shrugged. "The Deegli's homeworld was culled many generations ago. They make small settlements on many worlds, but they do not assimilate. Individual Deegli families move frequently between settlements. There were probably Deegli on Sateda."
The drums' rollslowed into a soft murmur, then faded away. One of the men stood up from his drum and said, "We'll be back in about twenty minutes. Thanks for listening."
The crowd started to drift away, and John moved forward to join Ronon. "What's up?" The body language was…interesting when he walked up. Ronon was open and unguarded, but the guy he was talking to looked like he was trapped.
"I had Deegli cousins, " said Ronon. "Hoping they made it off Sateda before the culling."
"Yeah?" John didn't like the way the drummer kept snapping his fingers and looking past their shoulders. It made John wonder what he had to be twitchy about. "This guy heard of them?"
The drummer frowned. "You don't know their matra line, so it's hard to say." He waved his hand back and forth. "Dirt's just a place to make your bed. As I said, you can't find a Deeg by saying what planet he's from." He smiled suddenly, at something behind them. "Look, I can pass the word around. Give me a ring address after the show."
A woman's voice drifted up behind them. "Stars shine clear, Papa?"
John looked back to see a short, fat woman with a stringed instrument strapped to her belly making her way cautiously around Ronon. She carried two tall waxed paper cups with her, and handed one to the drummer. Her newly free hand went straight into a skirt pocket. John tried to see, but the shape her hand made in the cloth didn't reveal thim whether she was clutching at a knife or something more like a gun.
"Bright and steady, " said the drummer. He took a sip of his beverage and John saw his shoulders loosen up. His grip on his drumsticks relaxed, too. "This man, " he pointed his chin toward Ronon, "claims he's a cousin, but he can't say to whose line."
"Hey, " Ronon broke in. "Is that gralnick?"
The drummer and the woman exchanged glances that John couldn't read. "Yes, " said the woman.
John's jaw dropped as Ronon…swayed toward the two Deegli. "Are they selling at this market? I haven't seen it."
The woman cocked her head to one side and shook it, as if she didn't understand him. "There are at least five Deegli food stalls here, and they all sell gralnick."
Rodney and Teyla walked up beside them. "What're we doing?" asked Rodney. "If we're done looking for zinc, I have real work to do at home."
John rolled his eyes. "We're going to care about someone else's issues for five whole minutes, Rodney, okay? Ronon's trying to find his cousins, and he's trying to get some tea…beverage…thing. Gralnick."
Teyla sniffed and pulled back a little, without saying anything.
For no reason that John could puzzle out, the Deegli woman and man both pulled back in reaction to her. "She with you?" said the woman, lips pursed tight. "No one offers gralnick to an Athosian."
Teyla said, repressively, "It is highly addictive and does not feed you. Beer builds you up, but gralnick wears you down." And then she actually stuck her nose in the air.
"Um, " said John. "Good to know." He could practically see a diplomatic incident unrolling right before his eyes, so he hustled Teyla and Rodney out of the entertainment district right away. He and Teyla finished shopping for zinc sources alone, while he told Rodney to head for the gate, and trusted Ronon to buy some gralnick and catch up.
The Athosians had a sufficiently strong cultural taboo agains gralnick that Keller figued better safe than sorry. Medical forbade everyone in the expedition from drinking any, except Ronon. (John, who got to taste the gralnick secondhand, assured everyone that they weren't missing much. Gralnick was sweet, chalky, and tasted of licorice and tomatoes.)
Ronon claimed to have drunk gralnick daily for five years as an adult, and that most adult Satedans drank gralnick daily, with no noticeable side effects. Atlantis medical didn't observe any remarkable side effects for Ronon for about two weeks. But then, the reported energy gain and observed twitchiness combined in a bad way, and Ronon broke his leg in a complicated fall down a set of stairs when a door opened unexpectedly two levels below where he was standing.
Keller confiscated Ronon's gralnick stash. Chemistry, biochemistry, and medical all pushed their analysis of gralnick forward in time. "The active ingredient in gralnick is a fantastic amount of caffeine — about 200 milligrams per ounce for a beverage Ronon indicates is usually drunk eight ounces at a time, " said Keller at the department meeting where she unveiled her findings.
Rodney made a small whimpering noise, and his fingers actually spasmed on his keyboard.
"There's also trace amounts of THC, but not enough for recreational use in the normal preparation."
Someone sighed, probably louder than they intended. John made a conscious effort not to figure out who it was.
"And, finally, and most importantly, one eight ounce cup contains the required dietary amounts of zinc in a very nutritionally available form. Gralnick will solve our zinc problem, if we can get enough of it."
John smiled to himself, because he was really tired of asking about fucking zinc.
"Hey, " he said, when he got back to their−his−their quarters that night.
"Hey, " said Ronon. He didn't look up from the laptop he had propped up on the cast. He wasn't typing on it, so John didn't worry about interrupting him.
"Keller's cleared the gralnick, " he said. "Brought you a glass." He brought over a mug and put it on the table at Ronon's side.
"It's perfectly safe, right?" Ronon grabbed the glass without looking, slurped down half of it. "Well, except the withdrawal is a kick in the head, but that's to be expected."
John snorted and nodded simultaneously. "It's more than safe. It's necessary; you found us our zinc source, buddy."
Ronon hit something on the keyboard decisively and finally looked up. "Yeah?"
"Yes." John grinned. "So, we're going to have to establish regular trade with the Deegli. You want to take point on that? See if maybe we can't find…."
"Yeah, " said Ronon, "that'd be great." And, okay, maybe there's a lot that John Sheppard doesn't pay attention to, but there was no way in the world he could miss Ronon's giant smile.