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Ronon wasn't exactly looking for Sheppard.

Only, it'd been thirty hours since they'd returned from the last mission, and he hadn't seen him once. Atlantis seemed a large place, but such a small area was in regular use that he ran into the same people over and over during the course of a day, and he tended to meet Sheppard even more frequently than most. But he hadn't seen him since Sheppard had told him to get checked out at the infirmary, and -- well, it was weird.

So, he wasn't looking for Sheppard, exactly. But his feet had taken him from the infirmary to the Gateroom to the cafeteria, then on to the gym to Sheppard's 'driving range' balcony to the science labs. And there Sheppard was, leaning over McKay's shoulder looking at a computer, while Zelenka typed and muttered nearby. Something eased inside Ronon to see him, even though Sheppard looked a bit rough around the edges. His lean was part slump, and there was a droop to his eyes that said he'd not slept well. Sheppard had flicked a glance at the door as it slid open, and when he saw it was Ronon, he straightened, tension snapping his shoulders straight like a superior officer had walked into the room.

His eyes went to Ronon's arm. "You good?"

Ronon held up his hand, displaying the bandage. "Yeah. Said it wasn't serious."

Sheppard nodded, eyes drifting to the side. "Good. That's... good. Look, I gotta--" he finished the sentence with a vague gesture and fled, skirting past him and into the hall.

Ronon frowned after him. "What's his problem?"

McKay snorted. "Don't ask, don't--"

Zelenka bounced a wad of paper off his head.

"What?" he squawked indignantly, before turning slightly abashed. " Oh. Oh. Come on, it's not like he even know what that--"

"He is not incurious, Rodney."

"-- means, and even if he did--"

"'He' is standing right here," Ronon interjected mildly.

"--obviously, I was joking."

"Ah, good, joking. So when he asks someone to explain your little joke, that won't start any rumors."

McKay winced. "Okay, okay." He dragged Ronon further into the room, glancing at the door. Ronon raised his eyebrows and let himself be dragged. McKay tended to be less physical and more reserved with him, not manhandling him the way he did the others. "Zelenka's right, that was a stupid joke to make."

"Of course I'm right."

McKay flapped a hand at him without looking. "Anyway, I was making fun of an American military policy, not Sheppard. I'm sure it doesn't apply to him, and I wasn't suggesting it did. Alright?"

Since he wasn't sure what the two thought McKay was suggesting, he wasn't sure whether he ought to agree that it was 'all right.' McKay did take the occasional jab at American this or American that, but it tended to be when Sheppard was present to bicker with him. And Ronon had never seen Zelenka object. Or even appear to notice.

So he waited. McKay tended to fill silences.

Sure enough, McKay began talking, with several glances at the door and at a somewhat lower than his usual volume -- though as he warmed to his topic, he picked up both speed and volume. Behind him Zelenka rolled his eyes and left off his work long enough lock the door. Ronon listened, nodding or frowning whenever it seemed necessary to keep the flow of words going. The trick to McKay's explanations, he'd found, was to just keep listening, even after McKay lost him in a flood of seemingly unconnected tangents or off-hand references to events or people a galaxy away. If he let McKay continue long enough, he usually circled back to the central concepts.

This time proved no different. Amidst the wash of digressions and context-free referents, Ronon fished out McKay's key points. The phrase he had said -- nearly said -- carried a very specific meaning beyond the component words and referred to an Earth military taboo against the discussion of certain relationships, though not against the relationships themselves. His particular use of the phrase had implied that Sheppard's 'problem' was an attraction to Ronon (and McKay had wriggled around this point like it might bite him), which, as they were both men, would fall into the prohibited category. And Sheppard risked discharge from the military should he violate the prohibition.

Ronon wondered, not for the first time, what it must be like living on Earth -- a world so peaceful that its armies could afford to dismiss soldiers for anything less than the inability to fight. Then he wondered if McKay had made that particular joke over any other, because there might not be some truth to it.

If there was, Sheppard was being spectacularly stupid. Ronon was good at not talking about things. Unless there were a prohibition against those in the military even discussing the taboo? That might explain why he was only hearing about it now, from a non-military source.

He nodded vague agreement to McKay's insistence that he not repeat anything he'd just said, ever, and let himself out of the lab. He needed to think.

He went for a run. Motion helped clear his head and quieted the small distracting voice which warned that he'd stood in one place too long, even now that he was rid of the tracking device. A few months of relative safety couldn't undo a caution learned and reinforced over years. He had, however, relaxed his guard enough to have a favorite route -- unthinkable even a month ago. The area had been secured and declared structurally sound, but not cleared. There were mysteries here, but no people to unlock them, as the science teams had prioritized salvage from damaged areas first. His feet thudded through empty halls and towards an arching bridge, as he thought about John Sheppard.

Sheppard was the reason he was in Atlantis at all, having made the decision to bring him here. Teyla called Atlantis their best hope against the Wraith; Sheppard had invited him to stay and join their fight. But Ronon could kill wraith anywhere. He didn't have to live in a city made of painful reminders of Sateda. He reached one of the deceptively delicate-looking bridges, which offered a good view of the central hub, if one looked back. He didn't turn.

The new Lanteans had only seen Sateda destroyed and in ruins. They couldn't see the reflection of Sateda's towers in Atlantis's spires, Sateda's advances in Atlantis's lost sciences. Even the concentration of people, confident in the combined might of their technology and their military to protect them, reminded him of home.

Some days it hurt to be here, somewhere so like Sateda and yet so strange. The similarities cut.

Sheppard was the reason he was in Atlantis still. He made this city bearable with his strange attempts to make Ronon welcome. He wasn't like any of Ronon's commanders on Sateda, even though Ronon had pushed him to be at first, wanting something to be the same and simple. But Sheppard had pushed right back. He could issue orders, but he chose not to command when he could cajole. He expected respect in military matters, but he didn't require the strict observance of rank -- particularly not when it came to his team, whom he tended to treat as equals. Which possibly explained why he'd been so quick to offer Ronon a place -- like Teyla, he fell outside the regular chain of command. And Ronon had soon given up. Sheppard wasn't like anyone from his past; he was just Sheppard.

'Just' Sheppard. He huffed a laugh.

He'd noticed Sheppard's physical appeal immediately without paying it any particular attention. He'd gotten out of the habit of thinking about people in terms other than as a threat, liability, or rare asset, and appearance didn't help much in that assessment. But he was attractive, and in more than his long lines and perpetually mussed hair. His easy acceptance, even easier smiles, teasing voice and odd, incomprehensible jokes, even his self-professed laziness, which overlaid a sound tactical mind and surprising strength of will -- Ronon found it all appealing.

Up a level now, past empty quarters more spartan than the ones now occupied by the Lanteans, all the personal effects either packed away or destroyed by time, just bare walls and plain furnishings. Even his room had more to it, though not much: extra Lantean gear mostly. He was still adjusting to the idea of sleeping in the same place two nights running. In a real bed. The idea of sharing that bed with someone was terrifying. Amazing. Both. And the thought of sharing it with Sheppard in particular was... compelling.

This attraction, assuming of course that McKay was right in seeing it, would be welcome. More than welcome. But Ronon hadn't seen any signs of Sheppard's interest. Then again, he wasn't sure what the signs were among the Lanteans. And maybe he was out of practice in looking for them.

That was it then: he was interested in pursuing something with Sheppard. Now he just had to find him again. He hadn't quite hit the midway point of his circuit, but he felt a sudden impatience to get back. He turned back along the path he'd run. The city rose before him, gleaming like a blade.

****

The third time he checked the gym, increasingly frustrated by Sheppard's continued absence, he found Teyla sitting cross-legged on the mats. "Ronon," she greeted even before she opened her eyes to look up at him.

"Teyla." Her shoulders and arms carried a fine sheen of sweat; still, he asked, "Are you finishing up, or...?"

She studied him a moment, then rose gracefully to her feet. "I am not expected elsewhere, if you are in need of a partner."

And that was the question, wasn't it? But he nodded his thanks and tossed her a set of sticks from the nearby rack. She settled them into her grip between one heartbeat and the next, and he lunged.

Athosian stick fighting was stylistically different enough from the Satedan forms he'd once studied that the first several engagements required his full, concentrated attention -- more than if he'd truly intended to hurt her. But then he was there, the place where thought and action were the same. They came together and parted. The room echoed with the clatter of sticks, the thump of their feet, hands, knees hitting the floor, and the periodic grunt of a direct hit being scored.

He mistook a direct attack for a feint and went down, rolling back up into a crouch before Teyla could bring the second stick down.

"Something is troubling you," she noted.

"Yeah," he admitted, swinging his stick around in a wide, showy circle. Teyla's gaze didn't even flicker. She closed again, leading with a quick series of strikes to draw his attention up as she tried to hook his leg with her own. He blocked it, when he should simply have dodged it. He was distracted. She spun away, parrying his attack almost as an afterthought. There was a hint of a frown in her pulled down brows, though she did not -- would not -- pry.

"Colonel Sheppard."

Her eyes flashed wide, and he moved in. She stepped into the attack to block and then counter. He half-hoped she'd forget he'd said anything.

But as they broke apart, she asked, "What about John?"

He shrugged uneasily, as he circled her. Teyla's insight would be welcome, but he couldn't come out and ask without breaking McKay's confidences -- at the very least. He settled on, "He confuses me."

She did not respond immediately, merely let the words sit between them as they continued to spar. Eventually, she called, "Enough."

As she put her practice weapons back on their rack, she spoke. "I, too, find him... difficult to understand at times. I usually find it best to ask him directly what he means." She glanced back over her shoulder at him.

Ronon nodded. It seemed good advice generally; unfortunately, it was not advice he could take without violating the odd Earth taboo.

She nodded at him in parting and left him the room. He swung his arms, loosening the knots, and began a series of stretches. He was no closer to finding Sheppard, though he was feeling easier. Perhaps he needed a new strategy.

*******

Ronon let himself into Sheppard's rooms. It was simpler than he'd expected, which he noted as a security issue he should raise with Sheppard. Later. Though maybe Sheppard's assertion that sometimes the city seemed sentient...

Maybe. It was still a problem, since the city couldn't know his intentions.

He leaned against the wall, made himself comfortable, and waited.

It was late when the door slid open. Ronon had slipped into a near drowse; Sheppard looked exhausted.

"Hey," Ronon said softly. Sheppard startled so strongly that his feet left the floor. Ronon's mouth twitched into a brief smile, but he decided not to make any comment.

He looked at Sheppard for a long moment, considering. Last chance to back out. Ronon uncrossed his arms, straightened away from the wall, and stepped close to Sheppard. Sheppard's gaze dropped briefly to the bandage on his arm, and that could be confirmation or simple concern for a teammate.

Still, he thought it meant more. He moved slowly, as though Sheppard were a forest creature to be startled into flight by sudden motion. He lifted his hands to Sheppard's face, the day's stubble a faint roughness against his fingers and palms. Sheppard's eyes were wide and dark, as Ronon slowly, slowly dipped his head to press their lips together.

Sheppard froze, and Ronon had already given him all the time in the world to read his intent and deflect him, but those seconds of stillness stretched out like hours. Then Sheppard's eyes closed, and his lips parted beneath Ronon's. He held Sheppard's face steady between his hands, kissing his mouth, a slow and somewhat cautious exploration simply because this was Sheppard. Just because it seemed a risk worth taking, didn't make it anything less of a risk.

But so far, so good, as Sheppard moved toward him and not away. He drew Sheppard's lower lip into his mouth, sucking against it and then soothing with his tongue. Sheppard's hands landed on his hips, two fingers tucking into the edge of his pants and drawing him closer.

Need long ignored -- too dangerous, too insignificant to indulge -- surged up. Seven years since he had touched anyone like this, and longer still since it'd been any but Melina-- he shied away from the memory. Sheppard. Sheppard's mouth against his, Sheppard's hands at his waist, Sheppard's skin under his hands. The noise he made as he pushed Sheppard back against the wall was half-growl. Sheppard let him, arched into him, and thrust his tongue into Ronon's mouth, ceding and seizing control simultaneously.

Ronon's leg pressed between Sheppard's, and he felt the hard line of Sheppard's erection as his hips rocked forward, echoing the insistent rhythm of his tongue. He slid his hands down. One hand settled at the curve of Sheppard's neck tipping his head back, holding him close. The other dipped further, mapping the muscles of Sheppard's back, pulling him up tighter to him.

He released Sheppard's lips, bending to lick the line of his neck. Sheppard groaned and tipped his head back, then abruptly pushed him away to arms' length.

"You don't have to do this." His eyes were serious and steady.

Ronon wanted to argue it seemed very necessary that they 'do this' without delay. But Sheppard had to be treading the edge of the taboo to say even that much, so it had to be important to him. "Okay," he replied. There was a flash of disappointment in Sheppard's expression, and his arms relaxed. Ronon crushed him back to the wall.

"Oof," he half-complained, but his eyes belied it.

"If I want to, that's okay?" Ronon felt pretty confident of the answer, but it couldn't hurt to clarify.

Except it could, because there was that flicker again, a tightening around his eyes. "It's a bad idea."

Ronon pressed his forehead to the cool wall above Sheppard's shoulder and suppressed an impatient sigh. "Because of the taboo? McKay already explained it." He straightened to catch and hold Sheppard's gaze, as he shrugged his opinion. "I can abide by it."

Sheppard's eyebrows drew in, and his mouth opened as if to argue. Ronon leaned forward and briefly recaptured Sheppard's kiss-swollen lower lip, biting this time. Sheppard's eyes went dark and unfocused again.

"If you want to stop, then say so," he murmured a hairsbreadth from Sheppard's mouth. "But I don't."

This time it was Sheppard who closed the distance and Sheppard's hand in his hair tugging him down to meet his lips. The slight space between them vanished, as Sheppard licked his way into his mouth, then trailed open kisses to his ear.

"Yeah, just -- there's a bed right over there."

Ronon glanced over. "Too far," he pronounced, even as he shoved off the wall to tug Sheppard back towards the bed step by step. Not that he seemed all that reluctant to go, but he kept slowing to kiss and stopping to work his hands under Ronon's shirt or pants. And it was good, so good, and it'd been too long -- before Atlantis, it'd been so long since anyone had touched him without violence for any reason at all -- but Ronon really, really needed to-- he needed--

The back of his legs hit the bed, and he swayed slightly before Sheppard shoved him backwards to sprawl across the bed. He straddled him, smiling a bit smugly, and Ronon hauled him down by his shirt.

Lying down, kissing wasn't giving him a crick in the neck, a small annoyance only noticed in its absence, but Sheppard was moving against him in small, impatient shifts, and Ronon found himself increasingly frustrated by the layers between them.

"Hang on," he muttered the next time Sheppard gave him room to breathe, then reached between them to take off his gun. The far bedside table was a bit of a stretch, particularly with Sheppard's weight pinning him, but he managed, then repeated the procedure for his knives. Settling back to the mattress, he caught a strange expression on Sheppard's face. "What?"

Sheppard just shook his head, then reached over Ronon on hands and knees to place his own weapon there as well. Ronon waited until he'd set the sidearm down to lean up and mouth the exposed skin between shirt and belt.

Sheppard twitched and cursed, half-falling back onto his lap. "Tickles," he muttered in response to Ronon's poorly concealed amusement. Then he pulled off his shirt, and amusement was wiped away with want. His hands slid across smooth, warm skin and softly delineated muscles, through sparse, coarse hair and over small hard nipples, and he was lost in the luxury of touch and the sight-sound of Sheppard's uneven breaths.

Then Sheppard's weight pressed him into the bed, Sheppard's tongue pressed into his mouth, deep, demanding kisses, and Ronon groaned. His hips rocked up to thrust against Sheppard, who ground down against him.

Sheppard pushed his shoulders to the bed, hard, and moved away, sitting up to tear at Ronon's pants. When he tried to sit up, to reach for him, Sheppard's hands flew back to his shoulders, pressing him back down with a sharp look. Ronon closed his eyes and concentrated on his own breathing.

The pressure on his cock eased as the fastenings came undone and his pants were pushed down to mid-thigh. He felt the tilt of the mattress as Sheppard shifted his weight to climb back up -- only he didn't, he'd moved further down, and that was his tongue -- ancestors, his tongue -- tracing a wet path from base to tip.

Sheppard's tongue circled the head, once, twice, and Ronon was panting raggedly when the light touch was replaced with constriction and wet heat. There was no way to control the buck that resulted, but Sheppard absorbed it and slid his lips down further. One of his hands came to rest on Ronon's hip, but there was no weight or force behind it, and it did nothing to control the next thrust nor the next.

Ronon released the deathgrip he had on the sheets and scrabbled for something of Sheppard. His left hand found the soft skin of Sheppard's shoulder; the right insinuated itself into Sheppard's short, thick hair. Sheppard made a rumbly approving sound at that, and the vibrations shook straight through to his spine. He thrust up, up into Sheppard's mouth, into heat, into wet, into--

"John," he choked, warning or appreciative curse or both, as the insides of his eyelids flashed over as golden as shields taking a hit.

When he opened them again, Sheppard was lying alongside him, watching him and looking more than slightly smug. Ronon rolled him under, kissed his salty-bitter mouth, and worked open his pants. He wrapped his hand around Sheppard's cock, and Sheppard's body bent like a bow, eyes shut and mouth open. Ronon licked the corner of his mouth, tightened his grip and stroked him, steady and sure. Sweat beaded at his temple, and Ronon licked that, too, before moving his mouth to Sheppard's ear.

"Now," he murmured. "Now, Sheppard, I want to see you, come on, now." And with a gasp, he came.

***

"McKay is right." The words spilled out before he'd decided to say them, as he lay thinking about the conversation that had brought him here and whether Zelenka had started it on purpose.

Sheppard grunted semi-inquisitively. He'd shucked the rest of his clothes, finally, and lay prone on the bed. Ronon had toed off his boots and lay beside him, tracing aimless patterns on his back.

He probably shouldn't say anything more. But. "It's a stupid rule."

Sheppard grumbled something into the pillow. A moment later, though, he pushed himself up on an elbow. "Pretty much, which is why Rodney is wrong in thinking I'd have let that stop me."

Ronon frowned slightly, and Sheppard sighed. "You're on my team, Ronon. I don't want to be the kind of commanding officer that plays fucking favorites."

Ronon could appreciate the venom in his tone -- Sheppard, it seemed, had something of a Kell in his history, too. But the idea that he saw himself in that light would be laughable if he weren't so obviously serious.

"I'm not in your military." Sheppard pulled a 'yeah, and?' face at him, and Ronon rolled his eyes. "You can't affect my promotion. So, which are you afraid of -- that I'll start following orders more? Or less?"

That earned him a tiny flicker of a smile, quickly brought under control.

"Or maybe you're worried you'll put my welfare above -- whose, exactly? Atlantis? Teyla? McKay?"

"Maybe McKay."

"Liar." He curled his arm around Sheppard's shoulders, pulled him back down. Ronon wasn't as naive as he'd once been. If Sheppard were capable of that kind of self-interest and cowardice, this time he'd have seen it, and he wouldn't have stayed in Atlantis. He was nearly asleep when he added, "You even think about coddling me or whatever, I'll kick your ass."

John's brief breath of laughter was warm against his neck. "Copy that."