Ronon turned Tyre's sword over in his hands. Sheppard must have cleaned the blade, because the intricate metalwork had a beautiful soft gleam in the dim light of the isolation ward.
Back on Sateda, Kell would have kept it instead, as an example to the rest of the regiment. The sword of a man who'd lost his honor was not given to comrades, or kin. And Ronon would have believed that, then. Now he was pretty sure Kell would have kept it because it was a good sword.
The nurse came in. He looked at the sword for a long moment before busying himself filling out Ronon's chart. Ronon smiled. He could do that now. In front of nurses, Keller, Woolsey—the complete civilians—he could get by. He could say and do the expected things, and they'd take notes and tell him how happy they were to see him back and feeling better. Dealing with McKay was dicier: he'd fucked up plenty himself, and had spent a lot of time in the field by now. But Ronon couldn't pretend at all with Teyla, or Sheppard. They understood too much.
Well, all of it was gone now, anyway. Everything he'd lived for, the values and beliefs that had sustained him through seven long years on the run. Gone.
He was beginning to wonder how much of it had ever really existed at all.
Ronon kept to his quarters after Keller released him—hiding out like one of the yurk rodents that had lived under his grandfather's house. When the door chime sounded, he sighed, leaning against the jamb. He hated himself a little more every time he sent Sheppard away, but he wasn't ready. Not yet. He opened his mouth to say, again, “I’m tired.”
It was Teyla’s voice this time. “Ronon, please let me in.”
He hesitated, but there was something in her tone he couldn't help responding to. He had never come out and admitted that she reminded him of his mother, because she would probably hit him. Hard.
"There you are," Teyla said when he opened the door. She smiled, but there was tightness in it. "You look much improved."
"Yeah." He shrugged, hoping to cut off some of what he expected her to say. "Keller says all the Wraith enzyme is out of my system."
"I'm glad to hear it," she said. Then she waited. And waited.
Ronon growled under his breath, he could never get anything past her. She looked at him sharply.
"We have been worried. Especially John, you know how he is."
"I haven't meant to..." Ronon trailed off. He knew it how stupid it sounded and she would have none of it, anyway. Yes, he did mean to, or he wouldn't be doing it.
"You are not the type to hide," Teyla said.
"I'll talk to him," Ronon promised.
Her smile gentled and she clasped his hand. "Good."
He looked around his room after she left. This had been a good home. It hardly seemed possible that only a year ago he'd been ready to give it up to stay with Tyre, Ara, and Rakai.
They'd teased him for turning soft here.
"You are a better fighter than the man who leads you," Tyre had laughed, drunkenly poking his finger at Ronon's chest. "That is not very Satedan."
Ronon squeezed his eyes shut against the memory. There was an itchy energy skittering under his skin, a restlessness that made him feel like he was about to explode. He had to go find Sheppard, and not just because he'd promised Teyla. But first, he needed to bleed off some of this feeling.
The practice room was almost always empty at this time of the night. Ronon spun his staff and reset his stance, ready to run through the sequence again. There had always been something about the dedicated repetition of forms, the focus of breath, that Ronon found quieting. He concentrated on minute movements of his fingers, variations in style and pattern, letting it distract him.
He'd lost track of how long he had been there when the door whooshed open, and Sheppard stood in the doorway. He paused, like he was waiting for Ronon to invite him in.
"Hey," he said, finally. "Thought I might find you here." He glanced at the practice staff in Ronon's hands, then over at the equipment wall where the other staffs were leaning, but made no move in that direction. He looked back at Ronon.
It'd been days since they'd seen one another, and Ronon didn't know what to say. He tightened his grip on the staff.
"I... can go," Sheppard said, jerking his thumb back over his shoulder toward the corridor. "If you'd rather be..."
He looked, as the Earthers said, like shit. Like he hadn't slept, or shaved. His hands hovered at waist-level, as though he was resisting the urge to shove them into his pockets. And suddenly Ronon had a mental image of him sitting alone in the armory, straddling the bench with the handle of Tyre's sword resting on his thigh as he ran a soft cloth over the blade.
You know how he is.
Ronon did know. He swallowed thickly and managed to say, "It's okay."
Sheppard came into the room, the door sliding shut behind him. Silence with Sheppard had never been uncomfortable; it was one of the things Ronon liked best about being his friend. He didn't press, or pry. But now the stillness felt different, hanging in the air, a barrier between them.
Finally, Ronon couldn't stand it anymore. Couldn't deal with Sheppard's patience. He threw the practice staff into the corner where it bounced off the wall and landed on the floor with an echoing clatter. Sheppard watched, but said nothing.
"I don't know what to do now," Ronon said.
"You don't have to do anything, except rest and heal."
Ronon felt his pulse pounding in his head. The enzyme was all out of his system now, and there was no need for them to humor him anymore.
"Things are never going to be the same," Ronon gritted out, "I can't be on your team. You can't trust me."
"What?" Sheppard drew up out of his slouch. "Wait a minute, slow down." He narrowed his eyes. "Who said anything about not trusting you?"
"I'm saying it. I've proven myself—"
"Yeah, you have," Sheppard cut him off and stepped closer. "Over and over. Come on, buddy, we're just glad you're back."
Sheppard spoke gently, as though Ronon were fragile. Like he was still lying strapped to the infirmary bed, shaking, and bruised. Helpless. Well, he wasn't, not anymore.
"I betrayed you!" Ronon shouted, closing the distance between them and leaning in. Maybe that would be enough to get Sheppard to drop the act. "You, Teyla, and everyone in this city. I put you all at risk; my weakness could have killed you, what if..."
"You didn't betray us," Sheppard shot back, not giving any ground. "You were set up! For god's sake, Ronon, it wasn't your fault."
Ronon stared at him, casting around for something to say, but he couldn't find any words. They were crowding into each other's space—Sheppard's stance was guarded, his eyes wary and hot. Ronon sucked in a ragged breath laced with the scent of the mats and wood, fighting, and Sheppard. Ronon had come here, to the place where they practiced doing battle, and Sheppard had known how to find him.
"I know we're no substitute for what you've lost," Sheppard said after a moment. "But there's always a place for you here, for as long as you want to stay."
Ronon nodded, accepting. He closed his eyes, and felt the tension begin to drain from his body. When he opened them again, he found that he wanted to keep talking.
"Tyre—" he started, then stopped, unsure what to ask. What he wanted to know.
"He did what he could at the end, to try to make it right," Sheppard said, and Ronon felt another knot inside his chest come undone.
"He didn't understand you at all."
Sheppard huffed a laugh. "I know."
"Our commander, Kell, was a famous champion. It was a mark of honor to be in his regiment." Ronon paused. It was still hard to think about this, let alone say it. "When the Wraith attacked Sateda, Kell saved himself and sent hundreds—people I'd trained with, men I knew—to die."
"I'm sorry," Sheppard said.
Ronon nodded. He needed to finish. "I wasn't here when the Wraith laid siege to Atlantis, but I know what you did."
"Ronon," Sheppard said, looking away. "That's not..."
"I know what kind of man you are. That matters to me."
"All right," Sheppard allowed finally, meeting Ronon's eyes. He reached out a hand to squeeze Ronon's shoulder. "Then let it matter I never doubted we'd get you back."
Ronon nodded dumbly. They were really okay. He could stay. He was home.
Ronon looked at Sheppard, taking in his tired smile, and felt a rush of emotion, urgent and strange. He'd intended to just slap Sheppard's back, maybe tug him into one of those awkward one-armed hugs that seemed to be the furthest extent of Sheppard's comfort with affection. But he needed more than that now. Sheppard's body stiffened when Ronon wrapped him in an embrace, but after a moment he relaxed and Ronon drew him closer. It felt incredible, like some final, invisible wall had been breached, and Ronon didn't want to pull back. He wanted more. He gave in to an impulse to rub his face in the soft spikes of Sheppard's hair, and then, more recklessly, pressed a kiss to the strands of gray at Sheppard's temple.
"Ronon?" Sheppard asked, and Ronon could tell he was trying to work out whether the kiss had been serious.
"Yeah," Ronon sighed, lost in nuzzling his way down Sheppard's face, from soft skin into the rasp of stubble, blindly seeking... finding, yes. Sheppard hesitated, but then pressed back. His mouth opened under Ronon's, and they were kissing for real, deep and hot, tongues brushing. Ronon clutched at Sheppard's arms and pulled him even closer, wanting him with a consuming ferocity—his mouth, his body, his cock, his heat. All of him.
"You don't want this," Ronon said, not caring that he sounded so stupidly, desperately sad, even as his body strained to reach out for Sheppard, trying to close the empty gap between them.
"No, I do," Sheppard said quickly, looking up, and relief washed through Ronon, seeing the truth of that in his eyes, his swollen, kiss-bitten lips. He shook his head again. "But not right now, not like this." He gripped Ronon's forearms for a moment, then dropped his hands to his sides. "You're grieving."
Ronon opened his mouth to argue, and then closed it again. He knew Sheppard was probably right, but why did he always have to be so damned responsible? When all Ronon wanted to do was push back into Sheppard's space and just... stay there. Ronon blew out a harsh breath, trying to cool off, and willing his raging erection to subside to a slightly less insistent throb.
"All right," he said finally.
"Good." Sheppard looked relieved. Then he smiled a funny little half-smile and tugged at his rumpled clothes, no doubt dealing with the same problem Ronon was having. Ronon didn't mean to stare, but Sheppard glanced back up at him uncertainly. "We're okay?"
"Yeah." Ronon nodded, then hesitated. "What do we do, until..." Until I'm better. Until I'm strong again. Until we can be together?
Sheppard looked around the practice room for a moment, gaze resting briefly on the mats on the floor, the punching dummy in the corner, and the fighting staffs propped against the wall. When his eyes met Ronon's again, they held a promise that seemed to settle something deep in Ronon's chest. He breathed for what felt like the first time since his capture.
"Let's go have a drink, and remember some old friends," Sheppard said, already turning toward the door.
Ronon nodded and followed him out. Lift a glass for the fallen. Tyre would have approved.