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Summary: *Mild SLASH* Tag to Common Ground. Minor Sheppard character study with Ronon/Lorne.

It wasn't that either of them were in love with Sheppard. Evan was fairly sure he wasn't and was almost as sure that Ronon wasn't. It was... something else, something deeper that made them want to protect Sheppard. A profound sense of duty, perhaps.

Updated: 11 Jan 2010; Published: 11 Jan 2010

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Author's Chapter Notes:

- Disclaimer : I don't own Stargate Atlantis or any of its character or plots. I mean no infringement, this is for personal benefit only.


- Tag for Common Ground S3E7.

- I'm sure this has been done a hundred ways from here to the moon and back, but I wanted to write another one-shot, and this is what came out. It's a mix between a Sheppard character study and a Ronon/Lorne fic.

- I know that Ronon and Lorne came after the start of season 2 but I'm going to stretch out the timeline a bit and say that a little over two years passed between then and now.


- The incident that brought Ronon/Lorne together is not canon.

- This is very mild SLASH, that means guy/guy love. (Ronon/Lorne)


*****

"You're as healthy as you were before you left, Colonel," Dr. Carson Beckett said, removing the stethoscope from his ears and replacing it around his neck. "Healthier, in fact."

"So I'm free to go?" John asked, anxious for a shower, some food and some sleep. Maybe not in that order.

"Aye," Beckett sighed. "If I thought I could keep you here overnight, I would..."

John jumped down from the examination bed. "Thanks, Doc." He offered Carson a light pat on the back that the other man accepted. A moment later John felt himself pulled into a swift hug.

"It's good to have you back, laddie," Carson said.

"It's good to be back." John pulled away and Carson let him go.

Carson handed John his jacket, "I took the liberty of sending the crowd outside away. I told them to leave you be for the night. You looked like you could use the rest. If you want I can call them back...?"

John shook his head, "No, this is good. Thanks. I think I just... I just need a bit of food, a shower and a little time to unwind."

"I had a nurse bring you some food," Carson said. He reached up and pulled the curtain around them aside. There was a tray with plenty of food and water waiting there for John. "Eat as much as you can, okay?"

"Sure thing, Doc." John hooked his jacket over his arm and picked up the tray. "Thanks."

"Not a problem." Carson gave him a sad smile. "If you experience any pain,, lightheadedness... anything at all, you let me know, okay, son?"

John offered the doctor a weak smile in reply, "You'll be the first person I call."

"I better be." Carson gave him one last look over before offering John another smile, this one more real--full of gratefulness and relief. "Off with you now!" He said with a wave of his hand.

John gave him a nod and took his leave. Truth was, his chest did ache a little, but if he'd told Carson that the Scottish doctor would have been poking and prodding him all night. As it was, John had to go back for daily check-ups for the next ten day; something he wasn't exactly looking forward to.

It seemed everyone he passed on the way back to his quarters wanted to stop and say hi. Word of the last twenty-four hours had spread quickly around Atlantis and it seemed the city's occupants wanted reassurance that he was still alive and well. Tomorrow John would eat his meals in the mess hall and spar with some of his Marines, but tonight... tonight he needed a chance to breathe.

John sighed as he reached his quarters, the doors opening automatically for him. He set his tray down on a his desk and tossed his jacket towards the nearest chair. John sank down heavily onto his bed. He looked around his room. There had been a moment, on that planet, where he had been sure he'd never see Atlantis again. Never see his team, his friends, his family again.

He bent down and untied his boots, kicking them off towards the wall. John took a moment to let his head fall into his hands. Today had been close. Maybe not the closest he'd ever been to death, but it had certainly felt like it. His hands had been old, his body had been old, his life slowly sucked out of him.

John sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He had been through worse. He could deal with this too. John stood up and crossed his room and sat down at his desk. He tucked into the meal that Carson's staff had provided--a bowl of soup, two sandwiches and some apple slices.

He managed to polish off the soup, one sandwich and half of the apples before his stomach began to protest. John downed a bottle of water and sat there for a second. His mind felt foggy, hazy, like he was in a dream or halfway between awake and asleep. John shook his head and stood back up. He needed a shower.

After stripping and dropping his dirty clothes into his hamper, John made for his bathroom. He stopped to look at his face in the mirror, reassuring him that all had been restored. He leaned heavily on the sink as he stared at himself. His eyes mapped his skin, which just hours ago had been so incredibly different that John hadn't even recognized the parts of his body he could see. He shook his head to try and clear some of the fogginess away. He reached for his toothbrush and squirted some toothpaste on it. He counted out three minutes in his head as he brushed. John spit the paste out and rinsed, not bothering to dry his face off.

The shower turned on and John abandoned his toothbrush to its holder and headed for his shower. He stepped under the hot spray, letting it wash away the day's dust and grime. He closed his eyes and leaned back until his body hit the shower wall. He let his head fall backwards and just allowed the water to flow over him.

When he opened his eyes, John took a step back in shock. Ronon was standing across from him, leaning against the opposite shower wall, as naked as John was, just watching him.

"Ronon!" John reached a hand down instinctively to cover himself. It was futile of course, Ronon had already seen him naked, just then in the shower and previously in the field. There were very few secrets within his team. "What are you doing in here?"

"You need someone to keep watch," The Satedan said simply. Everything was simple with Ronon. As if everyday he just got into the shower with John.

"Not in the shower! And not in my room!" John protested. "You're naked in my bathroom!"

Ronon shrugged and crossed his arms across his chest, making no move to cover himself in any way. "So?"

"So?! You're naked in my shower, with me in it!"

Ronon watched him, his expression serious, not a hint of the humor that John knew lurked in the younger man. "Water ruins the leather."

John took a deep steadying breath. "What are you doing in here, Ronon?"

"I told you, I'm keeping watch."

"Watch from what?"

"From whatever you need me for."

"I need you to be wearing clothes!" John answered. "How did you even get in here?"

Ronon shrugged again, "Door opened for me."

"Of course it did," John muttered. "Damn city." His eyes met Ronon's and the other man smirked. "What?" John demanded.

"You haven't asked me to leave."

"Of course I--" John cut himself off. He hadn't asked Ronon to leave. In fact, if John were honest with himself, he didn't want Ronon to leave. He wanted Ronon's quiet company. Ronon wouldn't ask questions and he would let John talk if he needed to or sit in silence if he need to. But he would be there. With John.

Ronon reached a hand out and pulled John forward. John looked at his teammate wearily. It was one thing to sorta be okay with the other man naked in the shower while John was naked in the shower, it was another thing to have him touch John while they were both naked in the shower. "Let me do this for you, Sheppard."

It was on the tip of John's tongue to ask Ronon what John was supposed to let him do when the younger man pulled John closer. John closed his mouth and a second later one of Ronon's hands fell into John's hair, and then the other.

"Close your eyes," Ronon said.

John obeyed without question and barely missed a drizzle of shampoo running down his forehead and into his face. Ronon's hands massaged the shampoo into John's hair. The Satedan's hands were gentle and John was starting to get over the awkwardness of the whole situation. Sort of.

Ronon tilted John's head back into the water and used his hands to make sure the shampoo rinsed out. John kept his eyes closed, allowing the water to run down from his head over his eyes. Ronon's hands disappeared and John didn't have time to wonder where they had gone because a moment later a washcloth was being run over his chest. Ronon paused briefly over the spot the Wraith had fed on, the spot where nothing remained, but he quickly moved on.

He avoided any sensitive areas, for which John was grateful. He really didn't understand why he was still letting Ronon do this. Yes, they were teammates, and yes, John would give his life for the other man's but somehow this seemed so incredibly intimate that John had to wonder if it was weird that he would die for someone before trusting them with his body. But he did trust Ronon, trusted him enough that John kept his eyes closed while Ronon ran a washcloth over his skin, one hand on John's shoulder.

When Ronon seemed to finish, John was redirected under the spray, having stepped forward a bit. The water ran down his body, rinsing the soap off. John wondered if this was some sort of Satedan ritual. Ronon didn't seem to have many of them, but the ones he did have, he clung to religiously. John wasn't ever going to try and avoid the Satedan birthday wrestle ever again.

The water cut off and John finally opened his eyes. He stood there, dripping wet, in front of his teammate. John wondered if he looked as pathetic as he felt. Ronon reached out of the shower and grabbed two huge towels. He handed one to John and kept the other for himself.

John dried himself off slowly. His movements felt sluggish and he had dropped the towel once already--Ronon had deftly caught it before it could hit the wet shower floor. The Satedan had finished drying off a few minutes ago. He appeared to be waiting for John. Too bad John couldn't seem to figure out how to get his arms to move any quicker. Ronon didn't seem concerned and he didn't seem too interested in hurrying John along. Which was good, since John didn't think he could go any faster anyways.

When John was finally ready, Ronon took his towel and tossed it somewhere. The taller man stepped out of the shower first before reaching a hand back in for John. John felt like a child when he grasped Ronon's hand, using it to steady himself as he stepped out also.

Ronon pushed a pair of boxers into John's hands and John fumbled with them. He bent down, lifting a foot to push through the first hole. John felt himself waver and was pretty sure he was about to topple over when two warm arms wrapped themselves tightly around his torso from behind. "I got you, Sheppard."

John didn't say anything, he just finished stepping into the under pants and pulled them up to rest low on his hips. Behind him Ronon moved a little and when John turned around he saw the Satedan similarly dressed. John frowned.

"You can't go walking back through Atlantis like that." John's brain was so foggy that the only reason he could think of was that the women would pass out. He knew there must have been some other reason though.

"I'm not going to," Ronon answered. He directed John out of the bathroom and towards his bed. His new bed. Elizabeth had come to borrow something one night and found John sleeping in his tiny bed, his feet hanging over the end, and the next day John came home to a much larger bed in his quarters. Usually John liked it, liked having the space to stretch out. Now it looked huge and empty.

John frowned and wished his brain were working better. "You can't run through Atlantis like that either." If Ronon wasn't going to walk he was going to have to run...

Ronon chuckled briefly, "I'm not planning on it, Sheppard." They stopped at the bed and Ronon pulled the blankets down. "Get in."

John got in.

And then Ronon got in.

"What are you doing?"

"'m not gonna sleep on the ground," Ronon replied easily.

"Don't you have your own quarters?"

"Can't watch you from there."

"Are you cheating on Lorne?" John asked. And suddenly things that hadn't made sense before were making sense now. He wasn't sure why he thought Ronon could be cheating on Lorne, or why he even thought that the two men were together, but right now, John was sure that they were.

Ronon chuckled again and John felt the bed shake. "No. He'll be here later."

"Here?"

"Stuck off-world," Ronon explained shortly. "But he'll be here when he gets back."

"Here?" John repeated.

"Yeah."

"Like on Atlantis?"

Ronon let off another laugh and John wished he knew what was so funny because he wanted to laugh too. "Here, with us."

"With us," John stated although it was really more of a question.

"Yeah."

John sighed and rolled onto his side, facing away from Ronon. A second later a warm body was pressed up behind his and an arm was slung around your waist. "And he's okay with..." John paused. He wasn't exactly sure what it was they were doing.

"Yeah. We've talked about it."

John frowned, "About what to do if your boss is fed on by a Wraith?"

The arm around his waist tightened and John could have swore that Ronon growled a little behind him. "Close enough."

Now John was really curious as to what they had talked about concerning him. "How long have you two been..."

"Sharing a pillow?"

"Yeah."

"Couple years now."

John blinked. "What, really?"

"Yes."

"Who else knows?"

"Just you."

"Teyla?"

"Nope," Ronon answered.

"Rodney?"

The Satedan snorted, "Yeah, right."

"Elizabeth?"

Ronon was silent for a second. "Might suspect," he finally answered. "But hasn't said anything."

"Beckett?"

"Same."

"Oh." John was really trying to wrap his head around Ronon and his second in command. Even if everything wasn't all fuzzy, John wasn't sure he could do it. "That's nice."

"Yeah."

"You must really like him."

"Yeah."

John blinked. "I feel sleepy."

"Then sleep."

"And my head is kind of fuzzy."

"Does Beckett know?"

"No," John answered with a yawn. "He would've kept me over night."

"Yeah."

"You say 'yeah' a lot."

Pause. "Yeah."

John yawned again. "If I fall asleep... what will happen when I wake up?"

"I'll still be here."

"...promise?" John asked, eyelids falling heavily. He was losing his fight to stay awake.

"Yeah, Sheppard. I promise."

"...'k."

With that John let the darkness take him.

*****

Major Evan Lorne couldn't believe he'd been stuck off-world when his commanding officer had needed him most. His team had been on a planet where the radio signal would go in and out, something about the rocks having too much metal, according to Parrish. Whatever it was, it had prevented Evan from hearing any of Atlantis' calls.

Now he was back in the city and rushing through his post-mission check-up. After receiving the green light from one of the nurses he hurried back to his quarters to shower and change. Ronon often greeted him when Evan returned from a mission. He knew that tonight, though, Ronon wouldn't be there. Ronon would be with Sheppard.

Evan still remembered the look on Dr. Weir's face as she briefed him on all that he had missed. It had been haunted and changed. She had the mission report and accompanying videos sent to his laptop. Evan would look at them before heading out.

He stripped quickly and took a Navy shower--fast, efficient and over in three minutes. Well, a Navy shower minus the turning off of the water in between. Atlantis didn't seem to have any problem converting salt water into fresh water.

Evan stepped out and quickly dried off. He ran a brush through his hair and loaded up his toothbrush before sticking it in his mouth. As he brushed his teeth he pulled on some boxers and some sweatpants. He groped around for a sweatshirt and came back with a navy blue USAF one that had seen better days. Evan made his way back to the shower, spitting and rinsing before replacing the toothbrush. He wiped his face on his towel and then slid his sweatshirt on.

His laptop booted up slowly. Evan wondered if one of the science guys could get it to go faster.

The next fifteen minutes of his life were spent in horror as he watched his CO go from young and healthy to an old man, right in front of his eyes. Evan scanned the report and shook his head lightly. Sheppard could make friends with anybody. Even a Wraith.

He powered down his laptop and shut the lid. Evan took a deep, centering breath before leaving his quarters. It was the middle of the night and people were scarce. There were probably more people awake then he would find on Earth at a similar time, as many of the scientists had a tendency to work through the night and Sheppard always had Marines patrolling.

But that night, Evan didn't run into anybody between his and Sheppard's quarters.

The door opened as he approached it and Evan stepped in quickly, lest the light wake his CO. When the door shut, he was plunged into darkness. He had barely made out Ronon's figure wrapped around Sheppard's before the light had disappeared.

"How is he?" Evan asked quietly. He walked over to the empty side of the bed. Ronon was on the right, Sheppard was in the middle and Evan would be on the left.

"Confused," came his immediate answer. Evan knew Ronon was awake. He doubted the other man would get any sleep that night. Evan knew that he wouldn't. "He was out of it earlier."

"How out of it?" Evan asked, pushing his sweatpants down. He stepped out of them and gently perched on the edge of the bed. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in Sheppard's room, if ever.

"Thought I would walk back to my room in boxers."

"Ah," Evan said quietly. He couldn't help it as he reached a hand out and gently ran it through Sheppard's hair. It was damp. "How are you?" He asked next. Because Evan had no doubt that Ronon was hurting just as much as Sheppard. He knew that Ronon felt as though it was his job to protect the other man.

The way John Sheppard protected everyone else.

"Angry."

"That he let the Wraith go?"

"Angry that Kolya got away. Again."

Evan laid down to face Sheppard, head falling lightly onto a separate pillow. He reached an arm out over Sheppard's waist and Ronon's hand met his. "Do you want to talk about it?" Ronon was actually quite loquacious, albeit mostly after sex, but still, he said a lot more than most people thought he did.

"Later."

"Okay," Evan accepted simply. The warm body in front of him shifted a little before a head pushed itself into Evan's chest, burrowing into his sweatshirt. "Is he gonna be okay with this?"

"Yeah. He knew you were coming," Ronon answered. A thumb traced the back of Evan's hand. "How was your mission?"

"David found something that he's convinced will cure cancer." Ronon snorted and Evan silently shared his sentiments. He loved his team, but Dr. David Parrish often found something that he thought would cure cancer. "I guess we'll see."

Despite how... easily... it had happened. It was still weird for Evan to be in a bed with his CO and his lover. But then, Evan supposed, his CO was the reason he and Ronon had come together in the first place.

"ARGH!" Ronon pounded his fist against the wall.

"Hey," Evan said softly, reaching out. "He's gonna be okay." He didn't know the Satedan all that well, both of them had only been on Atlantis for a couple of months and their interaction had been limited. Yet, Evan felt compelled to try and help his CO's teammate. "He's fine."

"He should never have gotten hurt," Ronon growled, still facing the wall.

Evan laughed lightly, "Have you read his mission reports? Colonel Sheppard is a magnet for danger."

"... what's a magnet?" Ronon asked, turning around to face him.

"It means he attracts danger. A magnet is a piece of metal that attracts other metal," Evan explained.

"I was there," Ronon said harshly. "I could have stopped it."

"He ordered you to stand down. Are you gonna go against his orders?"

"Someone needs to."

Evan secretly agreed with the bigger man, but what he said was, "I doubt he would appreciate it if you did."

Ronon snorted, "Who cares?"

"You should," Evan said softly. "You need to respect him enough to let him make his own mistakes."

Ronon looked away, "Sheppard cares too little about himself."

"That's probably true," Evan responded. It was a startling tendency he had noticed in his CO. John Sheppard was very self-sacrificing for the benefit of others. "So it's our job to make sure he comes home at the end of the day."

The Satedan looked back at him then, his eyes meeting Evan's and something passed through them. An acknowledgement of sorts that the other man would always do his best to bring Sheppard home at the end of the day.

Ronon stuck his arm out and Evan took it in a warrior's grip, his hand wrapping around Ronon's arm by the Satedan's elbow. A pact formed, a promise made. They would protect Sheppard.

Then Ronon's gaze changed from contemplation to something more... sultry.

That night, Ronon had followed him home and Evan had let him.

Even though it had started out of a common goal, Evan know that what he and Ronon had now was different from what it had been. It was gentler... more caring. Neither man had ever said the word love, and Evan doubted they ever would. They were both warriors, as Ronon put it, and they didn't need the utterance of words to reassure them.

Instead, Evan had the hand in his that was softly tracing patterns on his skin. Instead, he had a warm body at night to wrap himself around. Instead, he had a lover in his bed, telling stories with his fingertips. Instead, he had a warrior, intent on bringing his CO home.

For the first time in his life, Evan had someone he could depend on.

"Evan."

Evan broke out of his musings. "Yeah?"

"Sheppard doesn't blame you for not being here."

"I blame me."

"Don't," Ronon said quietly. "Nobody else does."

Evan turned the hand in his over and laced their fingers together, "Nobody blames you either, Ronon."

"I was right next to him when he was captured."

"There was nothing you could have done."

"I shouldn't have gone through the gate before him."

"Next time you won't," Evan said simply.

"Yeah."

Then there was silence. All Evan could hear was his CO's even breaths and Ronon's much softer, quieter ones. When it was just the two of them, Ronon would allow himself to slip back into his regular patterns. He was silent in everything he did, a true soldier. It had taken some getting used to, at first, but now Evan took comfort in the silence, knowing that even if he couldn't hear the Satedan, Ronon was still there.

The body in front of his moved a little and a low moan escaped Sheppard's lips. Evan knew how to deal with nightmares. Ronon had more than his share of them. So he gently pulled Sheppard closer to him and let his hand fall from Ronon's to land on Sheppard's back. Evan rubbed soft, gentle circles on the other man's bare skin and sure enough, Sheppard calmed down, falling back into a peaceful sleep.

A hand landed on his shoulder and Evan wished he had taken the time to strip out of his sweatshirt. Ronon, though, didn't seem to mind as he moved his hand up to Evan's neck to find some skin. He rested his hand there, moving fingers back and forth over the back of Evan's neck.

Had this been any other time and place, Evan was sure that the touch would have gone farther, that in a few minutes he and Ronon would have been on their way to some comfort sex. But they couldn't tonight, not that he thought either man really wanted to. As it was, Evan wasn't sure he could get it up at all any time soon, pictures of Sheppard being fed on by a Wraith kept passing through his mind.

He wondered if he would be as strong as his CO had been; ordering Atlantis to not give into the Genii demands. Sheppard had seemed otherwise calm at his fate. It was then that Evan knew this had not been the first time Sheppard had been tortured at enemy hands. He shivered.

"What's wrong?" Ronon asked.

"He's been tortured before," Evan stated softly.

"Yeah."

"Held prisoner."

"Yeah."

Evan liked that Ronon would answer with a 'yeah'. In the beginning, when they first started sleeping together, Evan would say something and Ronon would just lay there, not offering anything in reply. It had taken Evan months to get up the courage to ask Ronon if he could say something, do something, anything to let Evan know that Ronon had heard him. Ronon had answered 'yeah'. And now, if Evan said something, something Ronon didn't have anything to add to, the Satedan would simply say 'yeah'. It was comforting and reassuring and the effort made Evan feel... special.

"Ronon?"

"Yeah?"

"If this..." Evan paused, unsure of how to word it. He didn't want to sound as insecure as he felt. "... whatever this is... happens, will you..." He sighed. "I know he always comes first."

The hand on his neck tightened, but not painfully so. "I share my bed with you, Evan."

"But what if the Colonel wants..." Evan drifted off. It was something they had discussed before. Sheppard's needs came first. Always.

"He won't," Ronon answered firmly. "Sheppard doesn't go that way."

"But if he does...?"

"You will be here," The Satedan stated plainly. "You can say 'no'."

Evan inhaled, "Do you really think I would?"

There was a long stretch of silence before Ronon answered, "No."

"I wouldn't want you to," Evan whispered.

"Same," Ronon answered.

Evan blinked. It hadn't occurred to him that Sheppard might want to be with him and not Ronon. "You think...?"

Ronon made a sound of hesitation before answering, "Not sure." The hand on his neck loosened. "Doesn't matter, Sheppard won't want that."

It wasn't that either of them were in love with Sheppard. Evan was fairly sure he wasn't and was almost as sure that Ronon wasn't. It was... something else, something deeper that made them want to protect Sheppard. A profound sense of duty, perhaps.

The body in front of his shifted again. The head against his chest pulled back, pressing into Ronon. When Evan found Sheppard's face, he found two eyes open and staring back at him.

"Ronon said this wasn't cheating," Sheppard said in a voice still husky from sleep.

"It's not," Evan assured him.

"Good. Wouldn't want to make you two fight."

"You won't, sir."

"John."

"Hmm?"

Sheppard met his eyes, "It's John."

"Of course, sir," Evan said quietly.

"Call me John."

"... I couldn't, sir."

Sheppard let out a tiny laugh, "You're laying in bed with me and I'm barely dressed, your boyfriend is almost naked too and has mistaken me for some kind of teddy bear." Ronon growled and Sheppard laughed again. "You can call me John. If only when you're in my bed."

Evan blinked at the word boyfriend. It definitely was not what he would have labeled Ronon as, but supposed it was still pretty accurate. "Yes, sir."

"You're an obstinate son-of-a-bitch, Lorne," Sheppard said without heat. "Has anyone ever told you that?"

"Yes, sir," Evan answered cheekily.

The lights had slowly come up since Sheppard had awoken. His CO's quarters were bathed in a dim light that hardly provided enough illumination for anything useful. Yet Evan could now make out his two bed partners.

Sheppard was tugging himself out of Ronon's grip and turned to lay flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Ronon stayed on his side facing Sheppard, and Evan matched his position on the other side.

"Why are you here?" Sheppard asked.

"Keep watch," Ronon stated. Evan had the feeling that his lover had already explained that to Sheppard. His sentences got shorter if he had to repeat them.

"Why are both of you here?"

"Package deal, sir."

"Oh." Sheppard paused. "I'm not... I mean, I don't have a problem with it, it's just that I'm not..."

"Gay," Evan finished. "We know, sir."

"You need this, John," Ronon said quietly.

For a moment Evan was startled at the title. Ronon had always called him Sheppard when talking to Evan, but Evan supposed that things happened on their team that he wasn't aware of. Sheppard didn't seem put off by the name, or if he was nothing gave him away.

"And you won't...?"

"You're virtue is safe with us, sir."

"Oh."

"Just for tonight, sir," Evan added softly.

"Oh. Okay." Sheppard sounded a little sad and Ronon's eyes met Evan's over his CO's body.

"If you want, sir, you can always come to us if you don't want to be alone for the night."

It was lonely at the top, Evan knew. Sheppard had only his team to lean on. The scientists on Atlantis weren't really very social and Sheppard wasn't about to engage in any kind of relationship with the men under his command. He was alone.

"No sex," Ronon put in.

"No strings," Evan added.

"I can't just..."

"Yes, you can, sir."

"We don't mind, Sheppard."

"We'd prefer it, sir."

Sheppard turned his head to look at Evan and then to look at Ronon. "I don't want to intrude--"

"You wouldn't be," Ronon said, cutting the other man off. "You come first, Sheppard."

"You always have, sir."

"Oh."

"We're not trying to seduce you, Colonel," Evan said gently. "Just if one night, you find yourself needing a hug or wanting to wake up next to someone... we're offering our bed."

"No strings attached," Sheppard repeated.

"No strings attached," Evan confirmed. "We're not expecting anything in return--we don't need anything in return."

"Oh," Sheppard said softly. "No one has ever... People have wanted my body."

Ronon growled and Evan felt something in his chest tighten. "We don't want that, sir. We just want to be there for you."

"I don't--" Sheppard took a deep breath. "I'm not the kind of person who can ask for things."

"Then we'll keep offering, sir."

"You just have to say 'yes', Sheppard."

No one said anything for a while and Evan thought maybe Sheppard was falling back asleep. He reached a hand out and tentatively settled it on Sheppard's chest. The other man jumped a little but didn't push Evan's hand off. A second later, Ronon's larger hand settled on top of Evan's.

"I remember in eleventh grade... learning this word..." Sheppard said softly.

"Which word, sir?" Evan asked, after Sheppard didn't offer any more.

"Petrichor," Sheppard answered. "It's that really nice smell that comes after a rain; a rain after a dry spell." Sheppard's chest moved up and down as he breathed, Evan's hand moved with it and Ronon's hand with his. "That's what this feels like."


"A nice smell?" Ronon asked.

"Yeah. It's like I've been in this dry spell, stuck alone, and you two were the rain. And now, just laying here, knowing that this might not be the last time... I can smell that smell. The one that promises more rain."

*****