"Acclimation (Eight Days)" by Bone
Title: Acclimation (Eight Days)
Author's E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's URL: http://www.mrks.org/~bone/
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Date: August 24, 2005
Archive: Ask first.
Pairing: Ronon Dex/John Sheppard
Notes: I'm not really sure who to blame for this, but it's probably the collective hive mind of my LJ FList, which went somewhere without me, and I wanted to catch up. Spoilers for all Dex eps through 2.05 "Condemned," and possible timeline fluctuation. Many thanks to crysothemis and destina for the beta and to sarren and kelliem for the meta.
By the end of the first day, Ronon has learned to stop ducking through doorways. The ceiling really can accommodate his height, but it still feels too close, too hard. It's like night all the time here, and despite the vast sea he knows is out there somewhere, he thinks he'd rather live in a cave than deal with all the blue-white lights and the incessant beeping of machines he can't name.
He's been assigned two guards. He could take them without breaking a sweat, but he lets it ride for now. He tries to think of Atlantis as just another new environment, something to adapt to. Being around so many people all the time makes him feel like his skin is stretched too tight. The smells overwhelm him sometimes; he can even smell himself.
His back aches where Beckett pulled the plug; it won't let him forget what he owes these people.
He goes places he shouldn't, makes the guards work for their money. He's so accustomed to living in the dark that he forgets to turn on lights. He's cold all the time, feels goosebumps on his skin that aren't the harbinger of menace he's used to; at least, he doesn't think so. He sits in the commissary with his back to the many eyes staring at him, fills his pockets with hunks of bread and fruit so delicate the skin breaks and stains his coat with blood-red juice. He urinates on a potted plant and makes some small dark woman in a labcoat cry.
He's forgotten how to live indoors.
On the second day, he watches a flickering black and white broadcast of what's left of home. Crumbling buildings, no signs of life. He wonders if it isn't the recording that turned everything gray; maybe the Wraith really did steal all the color along with everything else.
He retreats to his quarters, wedges himself under his cot until the shaking stops, waits for rage to build, wants the oblivion it brings.
It takes hours.
The guards must report a disturbance in his quarters because later that night, Sheppard appears, closes the door behind him.
Everything's metal, so nothing broke. No shattered glass, no sharp edges. Very unsatisfying, frankly. He sees the mess through Sheppard's eyes and almost feels ashamed. He's a guest, sort of, and he knows better.
Sheppard seems unfazed by him, the threat of him. He maintains a grace under pressure that Ronon respects. It's not something Ronon's seen much before—his superiors were much more likely to shoot first and never ask questions.
Sheppard takes it all in, takes him in, and Ronon tries to calm his breathing, crosses his arms over his thudding heart. He's sweating. It unnerves him a little when Sheppard mimics his pose, folding his arms across his chest, leaning back against a dented wall.
"What did the chair ever do to you?" Sheppard asks, lifting his chin to indicate a mangled pile on the floor.
Ronon takes a deep breath. "Better a chair than a human."
Sheppard shrugs one shoulder. "Can't argue with that."
Ronon waits for the reprimand, the order to clean up. Waits to be told what he can and can't do. He feels the wait as a bitter tang at the back of his throat.
Sheppard licks his lips, the first sign yet that maybe he's not as cool as he appears. Ronon takes a step closer. Waits.
"You know, we have psychologists here, trainedˇ"
"I don't need that," Ronon says. Takes another step.
"There's a woman named Kate Heightmeyer," Sheppard says, lifting himself off the wall, dropping his arms to his side.
"I don't need a woman," Ronon says, and now he's close enough to smell Sheppard, clean and surprisingly familiar.
He's so close Sheppard has to lift his head a little to look him in the eye. "She's great at helping people talk—"
"I don't need to talk." Ronon reaches out, leans one hand against the wall behind Sheppard's head. Waits.
Sheppard stares at him without blinking. He doesn't raise his hands, or his voice. He just stands there and lets Ronon smell him, lets him lean close enough that Sheppard's face blurs. Ronon's free hand finds Sheppard's hip. He molds his fingers around the heavy bone, the cradle fitting his hand like a gun.
Arousal surges into the space destruction left empty.
Sheppard sucks in a startled breath, blows a gust of warm air on Ronon's ear, and Ronon shivers. Heat builds between their bodies, underneath the imprint of his hand on Sheppard's hip. Sheppard tilts his head back, bumps it against the wall, and Ronon pulls back enough to see his face.
"Tell me to stop," Ronon says.
Sheppard clenches his jaw.
Ronon presses against him, rubs his groin against the back of his own hand. Sheppard shifts beneath him, lifts his hand and puts it on Ronon's side, under his vest, hot against his skin.
"Tell me to stop," Ronon says again. He ducks his head, takes a mouthful of skin on Sheppard's neck and sets his teeth in it.
Sheppard swallows hard. Ronon feels it against his mouth.
The hand on his side is strong. Sheppard's fingers flex against him—not pushing him away, not pulling him closer. Just there, steady on him.
Come on, come on. Stop me.
Ronon licks the pounding vein that runs down the side of Sheppard's neck, and Sheppard's hand finally clenches on him, digging in.
"Stop," Sheppard gasps.
Ronon releases his hold on Sheppard's neck and pushes his forehead into Sheppard's shoulder. He drags in two shuddering breaths, absorbs Sheppard's smell, then pushes back. He stumbles on the scrap heap behind him and drops heavily onto his cot.
He doesn't look up when Sheppard comes to stand in front of him.
"Things will look different tomorrow," Sheppard says. "Get some rest."
Sheppard obviously doesn't know Ronon hasn't slept since he got here.
When Sheppard approaches him in the commissary the next day and asks him what he thinks of Atlantis, Ronon wonders if it's a trick question. Wonders what Sheppard would do if he told him, "I liked the part where I chewed on your neck."
Nothing in Sheppard's voice or manner betrays the fact that twelve hours earlier, he'd stood against a wall and let Ronon lick him, rub up against him like an animal in heat.
This is a man who can keep his cool, keep the big picture in mind. It's a trick Ronon would like to learn; he wonders if Sheppard could teach him.
Ronon hasn't had much practice with talk, the nuances of social niceties, and he doesn't like feeling off balance. He considers reaching across the table and feeding Sheppard with his fingers, just to see if he can shake him up a little.
Then Sheppard pulls the big gun, the real reason he's sitting there making nice: Sheppard wants him.
Wants him on the team, could use a guy like him.
Ronon's never thought about staying anywhere. Never dared.
But he's probably as safe here as he would be anywhere.
And he likes how Sheppard talks to him.
The food's good, too.
It's something to think about.
The loud one, the scientist, starts complaining about the missing food on the fourth day. Across the mess hall, Ronon can hear him going on and on about it to Sheppard at a frequency he's learning to tune out. Sheppard's voice is lower and softer, but Ronon can hear it better. He sees Sheppard shrug.
"Leave him alone," Sheppard says. "He'll figure it out eventually."
The scientist goes on, something about rodents, and Sheppard laughs.
"Unless he brought them with him, I think we're fine," he says.
Now the scientist is questioning Sheppard calling off his dogs. It's not that the guards could have kept Ronon from doing anything he really wanted to, but still, it's good not to feel them behind him, loitering outside the latrine, leaning on the wall outside his quarters, just there all the time.
"We don't know what he's capable of," the guy says.
Sheppard snorts at him. "I've got a pretty good idea."
"We could run some tests," the other guy says, and Ronon's ready to leap across the room and strangle the words right out of his mouth when he hears Sheppard loud and clear: "Forget it, Rodney."
Rodney. That's his name.
"Teyla told me what happened to him. It's awful, barbaric," Rodney says. "I just think it would be wise to learn more about him before we give him that much freedom to move around. He's not exactly civilized."
"He's been living on his own for seven years, Rodney. Give him a day or two to adjust," Sheppard says.
On his way out of the mess hall, Sheppard drops a roll on Ronon's tray; doesn't say anything.
By the fifth day, Ronon's wondering if the whole thing isn't some Wraith-induced nightmare. He still can't sleep. He's pretty sure he dozed off to the drone of voices over breakfast once, but jerked back when his face hit the plate. His body feels heavy ˝ too much cooked food, not enough exercise. His internal danger signals continue to be triggered by everyday, ordinary things, to the point that he's become accustomed to the adrenaline spikes, rides them for the minor rush they are, each one a brief reprieve from thinking.
It's the deep of the night when he's again jolted from an exhausted doze. His body urges him to find the threat, eliminate it. He opens his door, staggers into the corridor and lifts his fists as a shape turns toward him from the wall outside his quarters.
"What?" Ronon asks, belligerent.
Sheppard cocks his head, looks him over. "I've got this watch. Go to sleep."
Ronon glares at him. Sheppard takes it without flinching.
"Okay," Ronon says.
He sleeps fourteen hours.
He feels like a new man on the sixth day. Sheppard takes him to the training area, watches him while he shows what he can do. This he knows, this he excels at. He knows weapons. He is one, and Sheppard, watching, always watching, seems to appreciate that.
Ronon's body exults in the activity, recalls perfectly. He revels in the thud his fists and feet make against relatively worthy opponents, in the panicked, fluttering pulse he can feel under his hands when each competitor meets its match.
He's showing off.
Nobody comes close to beating him. He could take on six and he'd still leave them groaning, clutching sore, bruised spots, limping.
He's never performed for anyone before. For once, he finds the sensation of being watched pleasurable. He likes being good at this, likes knowing Sheppard sees him for who he is.
Under Sheppard's intent regard, he feelsÍvaluable.
He learns on the seventh day that Teyla Emmagen is the person on Atlantis mostly likely to kick his ass.
He admires that in a woman.
He's supposed to spar with Sheppard, but ends up leaving the training room before he says something he'll regret. He never likes having a knife at his throat, but seeing it held in Sheppard's hand makes it worse.
Sheppard doesn't know yet that Ronon's all about control. He knows exactly how much pressure to exert, how much weight a bone can bear before breaking, how easily flesh yields to a blade. He didn't hurt Teyla; he didn't intend to.
It rankles that Sheppard doesn't know that.
He apologizes to Teyla, then goes to track down Sheppard, thinking it's ironic that he needed a woman to talk to after all.
Sheppard's outside some lab, finishing up something with Rodney and a woman so pale he thinks she must be dying. Ronon stands there until the others drift away, leaving him with Sheppard and a lot of people scurrying in the background, muttering incomprehensible things to each other.
"What's on your mind, Ronon?" Sheppard asks, jotting notes on a tablet he's carrying. He doesn't seem to be holding their earlier encounter against him.
"I apologized to Teyla," Ronon says.
Sheppard glances up at him. "I'm sure she appreciated that."
Ronon shifts his weight.
"Is the offer still open?" he asks.
Sheppard puts down his tablet, gives Ronon the full weight of his gaze. "Yeah."
"Okay, then," Ronon says.
Just like that, he's on the team.
The eighth day takes them to the prison island. By the time they get back, his leg throbs like an arrow went through it, and he's hungry (again). He finds Sheppard's eyes on him (again) as they make their way to the commissary.
"You want Beckett to check you out?" Sheppard asks.
"I'm fine," Ronon says.
"You're barely limping," Sheppard says. "Most men would've been down for the count. You don't feel pain like most people?"
Ronon slows down to let the others pull ahead. He turns to face Sheppard.
"I feel everything you do," he says quietly.
Sheppard slows with him, stops him with a hand on his arm.
"I know that," Sheppard says.
He stands close enough that Ronon can feel the warmth of his body, smell him, triggering a memory of the salt taste of him. Ronon acknowledges what's between them by leaning a little into Sheppard's hand.
"Pain won't kill me," Ronon says. "But stopping to ease it might."
Sheppard narrows his eyes.
"I do whatever's necessary to stay alive," Ronon says. "Even if it hurts."
It takes a minute for the light to reach Sheppard's eyes, but when it does, Ronon wants to look away.
"Do you think you can teach my men how to compartmentalize pain like that?" Sheppard asks, his hand moving to Ronon's back, pressing lightly against the cut that gave Ronon his life back.
Ronon holds Sheppard's gaze. "I can try."
Sheppard smiles at him approvingly. "Good." He turns away, starts walking again. "Let's eat."
Ronon follows him toward the mess hall, thinking about the many different kinds of pain, all the ways a man can hurt and be hurt.
He might have to compartmentalize Sheppard, too.