Summary: Ronon's not good at waiting, but he does have some other skills.
Thanks yous: to my betas Bone and Bluster, both of whom are worth their weight in ZPMs
Notes: Spoilers for 2x12 "Epiphany" — the first line is lifted straight from that episode. Also, not mine.
Don't go through, if that's what you're thinking.
Okay, what the hell kind of order was that? There wasn't anything else to do here. At least Teyla got to move, got to do something that might even turn out to be useful. Ronon was stuck here. Waiting.
Not historically one of his strengths.
Ronon pushed himself away from the wall and stood there, glaring at the portal. Sheppard was in there—had already been stuck in there for days, if McKay was right—and there was no way to get to him except . . .
Ronon tightened his grip on the butt of his gun. It would be easier if there was something to shoot. Something to fight. Something to hack to small, lifeless pieces.
Anything but this. But McKay had said . . .
Ronon could picture Sheppard on the other side, in the cave the camera had showed. Waiting. Eating the powerbars they'd sent, drinking their canteens of water. And then what? If a few seconds was enough to turn a flower to a withered husk, what would happen to a man in there, alone?
Ronon reached his hand out. He couldn't see the barrier, couldn't sense it. Except, wait, there. There was the slightest pressure against the pads of his fingers, and then a tingle that made the hair on his arm stand on end. Ronon yanked his hand back. Damn. It would be so easy.
It shouldn't have been Sheppard. It was stupid that it was Sheppard. But McKay had asked for volunteers and what kind of chain of command was that, that the scientist called the shots and the ranking military officer volunteered for hazard duty?
Ronon turned away from the portal and paced back to where the vines were hanging down over the path. He yanked down a fistful and kicked them off to the side.
Kell would never have done it. No, if it had been Kell, Ronon would've been the one through the portal, and no one would have bothered to come after him once they'd figured out it was a one-way trip.
Crazy, to find himself wishing that Sheppard could be more like Kell. Never thought he'd come to that. Because Sheppard was about as far as you could get from Kell, and still be in charge of a military operation.
Which, when you thought about it, was pretty much why Ronon had stuck around.
He hadn't even realized Sheppard was the leader. When he'd first come to Atlantis, he'd kept looking around, expecting to see Sheppard's commander. It wasn't until he'd met Weir and seen how she treated Sheppard—as an equal, not an underling—that he'd figured it.
It still didn't seem right. Nobody was afraid of Sheppard. He rarely ever even raised his voice. Not that Ronon had seen any sign of a discipline problem under his command. But still . . .
He should be the one on the other side of the portal. Not Sheppard. Him.
Ronon squinted up at the sun. He gauged it to be about fifteen minutes since McKay and Teyla had left. How many hours for Sheppard? While Ronon stood here and did nothing.
He couldn't do this. Couldn't stand here, helpless, while Sheppard died of thirst or hunger or maybe just boredom. It was only three paces back to the portal. Ronon stopped in front of it, staring into the emptiness. He had to do something, even if McKay had said . . .
Wait. McKay was a scientist. He wasn't military. And, okay, the chain of command was a little fuzzy on Atlantis, at least where Ronon was concerned, but no one had ever said he had to obey McKay.
And Sheppard hadn't ordered him to stay.
Ronon unsheathed his belt knife. It would be easy. He'd just step through the portal and end this waiting.
And that was when he heard Teyla coming through the undergrowth.
She was quick. Too quick. But, as it turned out, not quick enough, because when they put the new battery in the camera and stuck it through, Sheppard wasn't there.
After that, there was nothing to do but wait for McKay. Teyla shut the camera off to save the battery and they sat on opposite sides next to the portal. Ronon leaned forward and poked in the dirt with his boot knife.
"We shouldn't have let go of him," he said.
Teyla's calm expression didn't falter for a moment. "If we had gone through the portal, we would not have been here to help rescue him."
"We could have been in there, helping him."
"There would have been less food and water to go around. We would only have had to start foraging sooner."
"You think that's what he's doing?"
Teyla's smile was serene and entirely false. "I am certain of it."
Ronon scratched long furrows with his knife. "I hate waiting."
"It is not easy," Teyla said. "But I believe that Dr. McKay will discover a solution and we will see Colonel Sheppard soon."
"It better be soon," Ronon said. He didn't say the rest of it, didn't want it in the air between them, the part about what would happen to Sheppard if they took too long. He glanced up at her and saw that her mask had slipped and her brow was tight with worry. For some reason, that helped more than all of the false assurances. "You ever . . ." He made a less-than-subtle hand gesture. ". . . with Sheppard?"
One of Teyla's eyebrows lifted. She understood him, all right. "That is a rather personal question."
"Yeah." Ronon dug up a stone, dug up another and balanced it on top of the first. "So have you?"
Both eyebrows were up, but this time she actually answered. "No. No, I have not. Have you?"
"Me?" He hadn't expected the question, wasn't ready for it at all. "Uh, no."
But Teyla didn't question that, didn't push him any further. She had an odd, distracted look on her face. "He did kiss me, one time."
The twinge in Ronon's chest was concern for Sheppard's well-being, nothing more. "Yeah?"
But Teyla shook her head. "He was not himself. He had been infected with the retrovirus."
"So it didn't happen again."
Her mouth was firm. "No. It did not. It will not." But then her eyes went soft and her lips curved up. "But he did ask me to call him John."
Ronon stared at his knife blade and the little pile of stones at his feet. Sheppard was just Sheppard to him. He didn't need to call him anything else. "You think he's doing it with somebody else?"
Teyla's voice sounded mildly reproving. "I do not know the details of his personal life."
"Right." Ronon pushed himself to his feet and kicked the pile of stones, scattering them toward the portal. "I'm going to look around. See if I can find anything useful."
"All right," Teyla said. "I think I will watch the full recording of the camera, to see if there is anything else to see."
"We saw it," Ronon said. "There was nothing there."
"Nevertheless," Teyla said. "I would like to be sure."
Ronon recognized Sheppard instantly, even from the ground, winded as he was from fighting that bizarre half-invisible creature. Sheppard was running flat out, in strange clothes and a full beard, and Ronon would have known him anywhere.
The joy of facing danger together was so intense, he barely noticed that they were as badly outmatched as usual.
And then, somehow, they weren't.
After the group debriefing, Weir wanted to talk to Sheppard alone. Ronon hung out near her office for awhile, but after four different people gave him curious looks, he gave up and went to the mess for something that should have been lunch, but was actually an early dinner. Sheppard didn't show, but then, there was no telling what time his body thought it was. After awhile, Weir came in with McKay, so Ronon took his tray back to the kitchen and headed for Sheppard's quarters.
Sheppard didn't answer the knock. Ronon waited a count of fifty and knocked again. If Sheppard wasn't at dinner, and wasn't in his quarters . . . .
The door finally slid open. Sheppard was bare to the waist, all narrow torso, dark chest hair, and white foam covering the lower half of his face. Oh, right. He'd said something about getting rid of the beard.
Ronon raised his eyes to meet Sheppard's, which looked tired and darker than usual. "Can I come in?"
Sheppard waved a hand vaguely at his face. "I'm kind of busy right now."
"I don't mind."
Sheppard made a face that was hard to read through all the foam, but he stepped out of the way so Ronon could enter. His quarters were scattered with brightly colored Earth items: a board with wheels, one without, a musical instrument that looked a little like a seekrah. The board with wheels he'd seen before; Sheppard had even let him try it out in the long corridors of the Northeast Pier. But the seekrah seemed out of place. Ronon couldn't picture Sheppard playing it.
"You want to borrow my skateboard?"
"Not right now."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow at that, like he hadn't expected Ronon to turn down the offer. "Don't tell me. You've been practicing on the sly while I was gone."
Ronon spread his hands apologetically. "It was only two hours for us."
"Right," Sheppard said. He turned away, shoulders slumping. "I should really get this stuff off my face before it dries."
"Good idea," Ronon said, and followed him into the bathroom. Sheppard's bathroom was just like his, with the square basin and the faucet that sent the water up before it went down. Sheppard dipped a small, rectangular-headed instrument into the running water and scraped it across his cheek. It missed more than it shaved. He did it again, and winced as it pulled at the hairs.
"You need a proper razor," Ronon observed.
Sheppard cocked an eyebrow at him in the mirror. "Hey, this is a Mach3 safety razor. Earth's finest."
"You need a straight razor," Ronon clarified. "That thing gets clogged with hair." He reached into his right cuff and extracted a folding knife, flipped it open, stropped it a few times on a piece of leather, and handed it to Sheppard. "Try this."
Sheppard turned the blade over in his hands, tested it with his thumb. "You shave with this?"
Ronon nodded. "It's sharp."
"Sharp enough to slice half my face off," Sheppard agreed, and handed it back to him. "Thanks, anyway. I think I'll use mine." And he went back to scraping ineffectively with his own blade.
Ronon folded his razor and crossed his arms over his chest. Sheppard hadn't told him to leave, so he didn't. But it was almost painful to watch, especially when Sheppard's Earth razor caught the edge of his chin and drew blood.
"You want me to try?" Ronon offered.
Sheppard met his eyes in the mirror. "You want to use that thing on me?"
"Less likely to hurt you than the one you're using."
"You think?" Sheppard eyed the folded razor warily. "Look, I'm not saying I don't trust you, but—"
"You're not?" Ronon asked. Because it sounded like that was what he was saying.
Sheppard raised his chin. "Of course not. Hell, I trust you with my back every time we go through the stargate. I trusted you to shoot me with that damn gun of yours. Twice. I'm just saying—"
"It gives a good shave," Ronon said. It had been hours since he'd used it, hours before the mission, two hours without Sheppard, and a few more hours spent getting home and debriefing. He tipped his head. "Feel for yourself."
It wasn't the kind of offer he expected Sheppard to take up. But a moment later, Sheppard's thumb was rubbing his jaw line, just past the edge of his beard. Ronon felt the blood in his neck pulsing against the heel of Sheppard's hand. "When did you shave?"
"This morning," Ronon said.
"Huh," Sheppard said, lowering his hand. Something changed in his face, something too complicated to name. "All right. Knock yourself out. It can't be any worse than this thing." And he pushed the Earth razor to the side in disgust.
"Okay," Ronon said, and stropped his razor again for good measure. He reached out and touched a hand to Sheppard's hair, tipping his head sideways, then brought the razor up to the proper angle. Sheppard was watching him, nostrils slightly flared. A single sweep of the blade bared skin from his sideburn to his jaw. A rinse of the blade, another stroke, and his cheek was clean.
Sheppard's eyes found Ronon's. "So is this why you stopped by? To help me shave?"
"No," Ronon said, and tipped Sheppard's head back further to work on his neck.
Sheppard's head moved easily, pliable in his hands. "You planning to tell me, or should I be playing Twenty Questions, here?"
Ronon frowned and concentrated on his blade. "Don't talk. I don't want to cut you."
"Right," Sheppard drawled, but he went silent, and when Ronon glanced at his eyes, they were closed. Ronon tipped his head the other way and shaved the opposite cheek with careful concentration. It was different, shaving someone else's face. He had to remind himself of the proper angle for the blade, and Sheppard's hair grew differently than his own did. But Sheppard's skin felt clean and smooth where he'd shaved, and they were standing so close now that Ronon could feel the heat radiating from his body.
Sheppard might have kissed Teyla, but he'd never let her do this.
Ronon didn't even realize he'd made a noise until Sheppard opened one eye. "What's so funny?"
Ronon shook his head. "Just thinking."
"As long as you're thinking about not cutting my face," Sheppard said, and closed his eyes again.
Yeah, well, that was what he should be thinking about, with Sheppard's skin against his blade. But he was used to having Sheppard's life in his hands, used to guarding Sheppard's back. Until today, when Sheppard had gone on ahead, and he hadn't been allowed to follow.
Ronon eased the razor over Sheppard's chin, tracing every plane and angle exactly. Sheppard was relaxed now, trusting him completely. "You shouldn't have been the one to go through," Ronon said.
Sheppard's eyebrows went up, and this time both eyes opened. "I thought you didn't want me to talk."
"Right," Ronon said. "Do this." And he demonstrated, sliding his tongue between his teeth and his upper lip so that the skin was stretched taut.
Sheppard did as he was told, and Ronon shaved his mustache, first on one side, then the other, as Sheppard moved his tongue before Ronon even had to ask, at exactly the right time. It was like that, sometimes, with Sheppard. He'd just never expected to find that kind of thing with a commanding officer.
But then, he'd never expected to be standing this close to his commanding officer, with one of them half-naked and the blood running hot in his veins.
A few more strokes caught the last of it, and the beard was gone, down the drain with the swirling water. Ronon handed Sheppard a towel.
"That's it?" Sheppard opened his eyes and turned to look at his reflection, dabbing at the bit of blood where he had cut himself. His other hand came up to feel his cheek. "Wow, that's not half bad. Feels like myself again."
"I could do another pass, against the grain," Ronon offered. "If you want a closer shave."
"No, this is great." Sheppard leaned over the basin, splashed water on his face, turned off the water, and dried on the towel. The lower half of his face was paler than his sun-browned cheeks and brow. "Thanks."
"Anytime," Ronon said. He made himself take a step backward and put his razor away.
"It's kind of nice to have my face back," Sheppard said. "You want to know what's funny? The whole reason I grew the damn beard was that the only kind of razor they had there was like that one."
Ronon lifted a shoulder. "Maybe you didn't have anyone you could trust to shave you."
Sheppard shrugged, elaborately casual. "Could be."
Ronon felt something go tight in his chest and then release. He shifted on his feet so that he just happened to block the bathroom door. "I wanted to go after you," he admitted. "Through the portal."
Sheppard turned back to him and lifted his clean-shaven chin. "Now that would have been downright stupid. Then there would have been two of us dying of old age in the space of a few months."
Ronon frowned. "You shouldn't have been alone."
Sheppard just looked at him and didn't say the obvious thing, that he hadn't been alone. That he'd found company there—good company, if McKay's reading of it was right. From the smell of him—sweat, grass, dirt, and a hint of something muskier—Ronon was pretty sure McKay was right.
"Yeah," Sheppard said, and looked away. "Thanks." And he made a move like he was going to slip by Ronon, out the bathroom door.
Ronon put a hand out and caught Sheppard by the bare shoulder. "It should have been me," he said. "You're supposed to be the leader. Send the grunts through first."
Sheppard's eyes went narrow and hot, his muscles tense under Ronon's palm. "Yeah, well, sorry, but I don't lead that way."
Hard to believe that he'd ever thought Sheppard a coward. And that Sateda had thought Kell a hero, right until the end. "I know," Ronon said. "But I don't see why—"
Sheppard's brow went dark and his lip curled. "Look, I don't know how they did things in your military, but no one on my team is expendable. And I don't ask my people to do anything I wouldn't do myself."
"I know," Ronon said again. "I got that." He couldn't say what he meant, couldn't make Sheppard understand. He knew what six months felt like. Six months was how long he'd been here in Atlantis. He shifted his hand on Sheppard's shoulder, ran his thumb across the hollow under Sheppard's collarbone, and felt Sheppard go unnaturally still.
"Next time," Ronon said, "I'm going with you."
Sheppard's eyes darkened. "Ronon, I can't pro—" And Ronon wasn't going to do it; didn't plan it, planned against it, and then his mouth was over Sheppard's and Sheppard wasn't talking any more.
Sheppard's lips were dry and chapped on the outside, but when Ronon tipped his head, Sheppard grunted and opened his mouth, and there was no roughness inside, none at all. For the space of seven heartbeats there was nothing but the taste of Sheppard's mouth, the scent of sweat and shaving soap, the slide of lips against lips and teeth, the brush of tongue. And then Sheppard's shoulder jerked against Ronon's hand, and Sheppard pulled his head back, eyes wide, breath ragged. "Ronon?" Sheppard's skin was flushed dark across the cheekbones.
Sheppard cocked his head. "What the hell was that?"
Ronon met his eyes evenly. "What do you think?"
Sheppard's shoulder twitched, and Ronon let his hand fall. "This how you used to do things in your military?" Sheppard asked, with a quirk of his eyebrow.
"Not exactly," Ronon said. Hell, if he'd ever kissed Kell, he would've been Wraith fodder in less than an hour. Of course, there was no way he would ever have kissed Kell. Even back in the day when he'd believed in the man.
But then, Kell had never made his blood pound and his balls ache.
Sheppard's chin lifted, and for a long moment he just looked at Ronon. "All right," he said finally. "Just don't make a habit of it."
Ronon took a steady breath. "Okay." It would have been easier to say if Sheppard had been farther away, and wearing a shirt. Or if Sheppard had pushed him away a little sooner. "You want me to go?"
"I think maybe you better."
Ronon didn't think that, didn't think it at all. But it was Sheppard's call. "Yeah, okay."
Sheppard looked at him again, and for a moment Ronon thought he was going to change his mind. But all he said was, "See you around."
It was only when the door had closed behind him that Ronon realized what Sheppard hadn't said. What Sheppard would probably never say, even if Ronon asked him. But he'd known Sheppard six months, which was long enough to judge a man's character. Long enough to be sure about some things, and about this he was dead certain.
Sheppard wasn't Kell. If Ronon had been the one to go through the portal, he knew what Sheppard would have done. Sheppard wouldn't have just stood around waiting for McKay to figure things out.
Ronon could see it in his mind's eye, could hear McKay bickering, telling Sheppard not to do anything stupid. And Sheppard would have smiled right back at McKay and said that maybe what they needed was added incentive to figure out the rescue thing.
And then Sheppard would have come after him.
Right through the portal.
The next time, Ronon decided, the conviction hot and certain in his gut, he wasn't going to listen to McKay or anyone else. Sheppard's back was his.
Whatever anybody, including Sheppard, had to say about it.