i woke up before you in the total darkness

Author: Minervacat
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Pairing: Ronon Dex gen
Rating: R
Spoilers: Through 3x04, "Sateda".
Summary: the past is beautiful like the darkness between the fireflies

He dreams of 'gate addresses that dial to nowhere - wastelands of sand and scrub, nowhere to hide and a horizon that he never reaches, running. He wakes to the blue light of the city of the Ancients, the sound of water already so familiar that he hardly hears it. His ribs ache, and in the pale early morning hours, he misses the waking city noises of Sateda.

When he wakes from a dream where he is running, without cover or help or end, Ronon lies on his bed in quarters at Atlantis, listening for the rhythm of the ocean to replace the rhythm of his heaving breaths, and then he gets up and he runs.

He doesn't have the gene. When he runs alone, the walls in the city of the Ancestors don't light they way they do when he runs with Sheppard. It does not take much to remind him that Atlantis might be home, now, but it is not where he is from, not like the way he can feel Atlantis in every movement, every expression, that Sheppard makes.

Sometimes, Sheppard takes a 'jumper to the mainland and they run on the wide, flat stretch of sand that separates the Athosian settlement from the ocean. Even that close to the ocean, the air on Atlantis is different than it ever was on Sateda. The air on Sateda was wet, and in the warm months it clung to bodies like a second skin, made it hard to breath on the hottest, dampest days. In the colder months, it rained, steadily without violence, for days on end, and steam rose from the streets when he ran between the drops that fell.

On Atlantis, even in the brightest sun, Ronon strips his shirt off and runs bare-chested, and the heat beating down on his skin and the spray flung up by the ocean do not come close to the swelter that he remembers from his childhood.

The sand is fine and soft beneath his feet, kicking in behind them in wide arcs through the sunshine, nothing like the stripped-dry deserts that the Wraith had chased him through. Sheppard is sure-footed on sand, like the goats roamed the mountains on Helia, and on metal, stone or grass Ronon can out-run him twice over, but on the sand on the mainland Sheppard can almost beat him.

"Where'd you learn to run on sand like that?" he asks Sheppard, once.

Sheppard smiles and it doesn't make it all the way to his eyes. He looks a little like Kell in the last days of the siege, before everything went to pieces, before everything went to betrayal and fire. "Iraq," he says, and he leaves no room for anything else to be said.

So Ronon turns and runs back towards the 'jumper and the settlement, where Halling will give them mugs of something sweeter than water, and Sheppard will wrestle with Jinto and the rest of the boys, and he will almost look whole to anyone who wasn't watching for the pieces, like Ronon is.

He doesn't watch everyone on Atlantis. He looks at them, curious, but he only watches his team, the team Sheppard took a chance to put him on, and all three of them, they've all got cracks. Sheppard's aren't visible to anyone who's never been military, Ronon doesn't think, and Teyla's belong to Pegasus and that's all. McKay's are harder to find, because Ronon never knew anyone like McKay before he came through the 'gate to the city of the Ancestors, but Ronon isn't stupid and he can see them, once he knows where to look.

McKay eats like a man who'd been starving; takes a lot to fuel a brain that big, Sheppard says, and McKay rolls his eyes and says, yes, thanks so much for that. Ronon doesn't know if Sheppard was making a joke or not, so he doesn't laugh, and Sheppard looks at him weirdly for a minute, before shaking his head and trailing McKay into the kitchens.

McKay eats like someone's told him this is his very last meal, ever, which Ronon understands and doesn't think that McKay knows he understands - only McKay eats like that for every meal, and even Ronon isn't that hungry anymore, after a full moon cycle on Atlantis. McKay's so focused on his plate when they sit in the mess hall that he hardly sees anything else going on around him, except when he's arguing with the little scientist with the hair and the glasses.

Ronon doesn't like to eat with only McKay for company, because McKay won't let Ronon steal food off his plate. Sheppard doesn't notice, or he doesn't care, when Ronon steals food from him - Sheppard eats like a man who's never had to worry about where the next meal is coming from, which Ronon can't figure out because Sheppard's clearly not that guy. Ronon can read other soldiers well enough, and Sheppard's seen things that he won't talk about in places other than Atlantis, and Ronon knows that means eating meals that might very well be your last.

Sheppard doesn't watch his plate, and Ronon doesn't know if it's Sheppard's strange, casual manner of making him feel at home, or if it's just Sheppard really not caring, but he steals food off Sheppard's plate whenever Sheppard's back is turned, whenever he gets up for another cup of what McKay calls not-coffee. He couldn't explain to anyone why he eats from Sheppard's plate, or Teyla's, except that years ago, before, when Ronon was a soldier once upon a time - and it feels that long ago now, like a child's story - they all ate from each other's plates. What was Ronon's was Kell's, and it was all the other soldiers' in their battalion, too.

And theirs was Ronon's. He eats from Sheppard's plate because it reminds him of what it meant to be a soldier, before.

Sheppard's left a plate of not-bacon sitting alone in the mess, and Ronon is chewing on a strip while McKay watches him suspiciously from across the table. Ronon says, "I'm not going to take your food."

McKay startles and then glares at Ronon. "Don't they have utensils where you're from?"

Ronon grabs another piece of meat from Sheppard's plate and tilts his head toward the knife in McKay's hand. "What, like that?"

"Yes, like this," McKay snaps. "And like this fork, and like this spoon, and like all the things that civilized human beings use to consume their food, instead of their fingers."

"Not really," Ronon says. "We had," and stops, because he knows that the 'gate makes him able to understand the Lanteans' language, McKay explained it to him, but sometimes he still - he didn't really talk much to anyone for seven years, for fear the Wraith would come down on anyone who showed him kindness, and sometimes he can't find the words he wants to use, like part of what makes him himself got stripped away while he was running.

McKay is watching him still, over the rim of a mug and with something in his eyes that might be fear and might just be curiosity. Ronon tries again, says, "We had bread, flat, and you ate with that."

"Oh," McKay says. "Like Ethiopian, or Indian."

"Okay," Ronon says, not knowing what McKay means by either of those things.

"It means you're less of a caveman," McKay says, which is when Sheppard comes back and says, don't call Ronon a caveman, and McKay says, he's not a caveman, apparently, he's an Ethiopian, and Sheppard says, what are you talking about, McKay?

McKay says something about cultural cross-pollination, which Ronon doesn't understand and even the Marines can't explain to him later, but McKay stops pulling his plate closer to his chest when Ronon sits down, which is fair enough, Ronon thinks. A little trust is not a bad thing for McKay - for Ronon - to have.

Teyla is the person on Atlantis that Ronon understands best; he had never traveled through the 'gate to Athos before, but she is native like he is. Pegasus belongs to them, and the Lanteans, with even best intentions and good graces and friendship, are only visitors.

Teyla is also the person on Atlantis that Ronon understands the least. She keeps to her traditions, Athosian things that she has explained to him, trading stories just themselves, of what peaceful moments had been before. But she wears the Lanteans' gear when she steps through the 'gate, and Ronon can appreciate the heft of one of Sheppard's P-90s in his hands, but he prefers his own weapons.

Prefers his own leather, too; the few things he has left from Sateda are all that he has left, the only things he salvaged from a life that burned up like tinder.

When he asks her, Teyla says, "It is easier." She pauses, and she says, "And sometimes it is safer." She reaches out and rests her forehead against his. "Ronon," she says, "you are a good man."

Teyla leaves, and Ronon sits on his bed in the quarters that Sheppard assigned him, high up in one of the towers and windows everywhere. It's different from the bunkers on Sateda, though not so different from the house he shared with Melena. He knows that he is not the only one who has lost things, lost people - a soldier would be stupid not to see it written clear across Sheppard's face, and McKay's, and Teyla's - but there are days when Ronon wakes up and feels lost in this city of glass and water.

He knows every exit, every entrance, in the city. He could escape, if he needed to.

Where Sateda was heavy, iron and steel and stone, Atlantis is airy and light. Ronon believed, the first time he stepped through the 'gate with Sheppard and McKay and Teyla, that the city seemed so light it might almost float away if the Lanteans were not careful. So much of the city seems so transient to Ronon, down to the patches that they all wear on their jackets, symbols of their home worlds - countries, Teyla always tells him, they call them countries - reminding him at every turn that these people are not natives of the Pegasus Galaxy.

That if they ever chose to leave, they would not have to take him with them.

He runs in Atlantis, and on the beach by the Athosian settlement, and away from people shooting at them when Sheppard says retreat. He spent seven years running, and he thought, when they took the chip out, that all his running would almost be over.

He runs because there is always the chance that someday, in the future, he will have to run again. He trusts Sheppard and Teyla and McKay and Dr. Weir, but some days, he does not trust the shining city of the Ancestors to be anything more than a mirage.

He wakes up, from dreams of smoke and fear and death, and he climbs out of bed and runs along the empty corridors while the world turns pink and gold from sunrise on another day.

Ronon keeps running, because he keeps waking up, and every day is another day that he's still alive.


author's notes: title and summary from mason jennings, "darkness between the fireflies". beta by my otp. backstory courtesy of, actually, the sg:a writers. <3

feedback always welcome.

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