Breakfast with the team was never planned, even on the days when they didn't have a mission. It just sort of happened. Nobody had to say "Hey, let's all show up at 7 a.m. tomorrow and get something to eat, eh?" It was just that Sheppard's PT with the Marines tended to end around 6:30, so by 7:00 he'd usually be seen picking up a bagel and coffee in the food line. By this point, Ronon had generally been up for a couple of hours and finished his morning run and workout, so he'd be starving and head down to pile up a tray. McKay had either been up all night, or else he'd just dragged himself out of bed, but either way he wrapped himself around a cup of coffee with a general glower for the rest of the room. Nobody really knew what Teyla did in the mornings, but she'd always show up about the same time as everybody else did, looking cheerful, with freshly showered squiggles of hair curling down her neck.
An hour or so later, McKay would have thawed out and he'd be talking a mile a minute about something no one else was interested in. Teyla was usually the first to excuse herself, yet she always drifted off leaving everyone else with the feeling that she really wanted to stay but just had to be somewhere. McKay would generally be the next to leave, with a startled glance at his watch and some rambling about experiments in progress, idiot underlings, and how the place would fall apart without him.
On this particular morning, however, McKay didn't go; he stayed, after Teyla was gone and after the morning breakfast rush began to break up, although not without an occasional, impatient glance at his watch. Eventually Sheppard excused himself, with a curious look at McKay; he had training exercises with the Marines. McKay got up as if to follow him, then paused, and waited until Sheppard was out of earshot. "Er, ah, hey, Ronon?"
The Satedan glanced up, curious, as his fingers tore the peel from a mainland fruit that the Earthlings called pink-apple. "Yeah?"
"Do you think that you, um ..." McKay fidgeted with his tray, looking anywhere but at Ronon's face. "I'd like to learn to fight," he blurted out. "Like you and Teyla and Sheppard do. You know, hand to hand. You want to teach me? I mean, if it's not too much trouble? Which it probably is." He started to turn away.
"Hey, wait. I didn't say no, McKay." Ronon frowned up at the scientist. "Are you telling me that nobody's taught you to defend yourself yet? I woulda thought Sheppard's more thorough than that."
"I can shoot a gun," McKay protested defensively.
"Not the same thing. Guns run out of ammo. Well ..." He grinned. "Yours do."
"Oh, ha. And when are you going to let me take a look at that cannon of yours, hmm?"
"When you promise not to take it apart." As McKay opened his mouth with a sincere, hopeful look on his face, Ronon added, "Also when the sun goes nova and the last Wraith drops dead in this galaxy."
"You're distracting me," McKay protested grumpily. "We were talking about you teaching me to ... you know."
"Yeah, and I was surprised that you didn't already know. Or ..." He frowned, thinking about what he'd seen of McKay's physical prowess in other areas. "Guess I should say, I would've expected someone to try, anyway."
McKay shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "Well, Sheppard's always nagging at me to learn. Which means I can't ask him; it would be like admitting defeat. And Teyla's, you know, Teyla. She'd kick my ass."
Ronon couldn't help the grin that slipped through. "You think I won't kick your ass, McKay?"
"No, no ... it's not that I doubt your ass-kicking skills, particularly when it's my ass that -- okay, that came out really wrong. Forget I said anything."
"McKay," Ronon said as Rodney started to turn away, and when the scientist paused, "Gym. Half an hour."
"What, now?" McKay's voice rose in a squeak.
"The sooner we start, the sooner I can kick your ass."
Ronon was a pretty easygoing guy. You couldn't survive seven years on the run without developing the ability to roll with pretty much anything that life threw at you. And even before the fall of Sateda, he'd been fairly easy to get along with; at least he thought so, and he'd never had much trouble making and keeping friends. The only thing that seriously pissed him off was Wraith. Well, that and double-crossers. And enemies of all kinds, enemy being defined as "people who endanger me or those under my protection". And people who cheated at games of skill. Also those who attacked women or children. And had he mentioned Wraith?
McKay, though ... McKay was none of those things, but McKay could still drive a khelevala priest to homicide. After being around him for just a couple of days, it was an absolute mystery to Ronon why no one had killed him long ago.
From a strictly utilitarian point of view, he could definitely see why they kept him around. McKay really was as smart as he claimed; this became evident to Ronon almost immediately. But why anyone had anything to do with him when they didn't absolutely have to ... that was the thing he couldn't figure out.
At least not immediately.
It took him a long time to realize that he would willingly walk through fire for McKay, the same as for the rest of a very small, select group on Atlantis. It wasn't something he could explain rationally, any more than he could articulate why he'd follow Sheppard to the ends of the galaxy, or throw himself between Teyla and ten thousand Wraith. All he knew was that if someone wanted to lay a finger on McKay, they were going to have to hack their way through Ronon's corpse in order to do it. And he knew, too, that it had nothing to do with McKay's brains or his usefulness to Atlantis.
None of this made McKay's daily self-defense lessons anything less than an exercise in pure frustration, though.
Ronon started with the amana, a simple Satedan style of defensive moves that Sheppard, watching him teach some of the biologists, had compared to an Earth discipline called tae kwon do. Whatever you called it, on Sateda it was considered easy enough for a child to learn.
McKay proved flexible enough to manage only one of the 212 postures of the amana -- the Stance of the Vertical Pole -- and in the process of trying to achieve the other ones, he strained a successive series of small muscles over the course of several days. He also kept insisting that he was going to throw his back out whenever Ronon tried to put him through any positions beyond the 6 basic ones: "I have a very sensitive spine. My uncle died of a herniated disc, you know. I know what you're going to say, 'that's impossible', and that's what the doctors said at the time, too ..."
So much for the amana. They tried hand weapons, some of which were utter failures -- McKay actually did put his back out attempting to swing Ronon's sword, which resulted not just in a temporary pause in the self-defense lessons, but in the entire team being grounded while the medical staff tried an experimental Ancient treatment on McKay's slipped disc.
Ronon fully expected that McKay wouldn't come back after that; and because McKay actually was a friend, albeit an annoying one, he was perfectly willing to give him an "out" and just conveniently forget. But McKay did come back, which raised Ronon's opinion of him considerably.
And he kept coming back, despite bruises, despite what had to be quite a bit of humiliation. They discovered that the one sort of weapon he seemed to be able to handle at all were the stick-type weapons. Anything involving finesse was totally beyond him, but if all he had to do was club an enemy with a stick, he could actually do that. Unfortunately his preferred fighting style was to close his eyes, scream and swing the stick wildly around him, but at least he had the potential of hitting something other than the side of his own head (several times), Sheppard's groin (once), and Teyla's chest (once ... which resulted in a swift disarming and the discontinuation of lessons for the day).
The other team members did not exactly show up to watch, especially after noticing the ever-present danger to bystanders, but they did have a tendency to suddenly remember pressing errands in the vicinity of the gym during times when they knew that Ronon and McKay's practice sessions would be going on. Ronon had to admit that it was sort of entertaining to watch. However, while he didn't really mind McKay's teammates dropping by, and doubted if McKay did either, he made sure to strongly "discourage" the Marines and scientists from trying the same thing.
There were more ways of looking out for somebody than just shooting at things that were trying to feed on them.
It was hard to tell how much effect the lessons were having. Ronon doubted if anyone else noticed the difference, but he could see it: a little more sureness in the way McKay carried himself, a little less extra weight around the man's middle. And he wouldn't admit to anyone (though he had to be honest with himself) that he was sort of enjoying it. He saw quite a bit of Teyla and Sheppard off-duty, but McKay ... not so much; the training sessions were perhaps the only time that he ever saw Rodney one-on-one. Not that he would ever have expected that he'd actually want that, but then, life has a way of surprising you.
Whether his efforts were actually preparing McKay to fend off an attacker, though, he couldn't say.
"Shut up and save your breath for running, McKay," Ronon growled through his teeth. "Besides, he can't hear you."
"I don't care if he can hear me --" Then McKay tripped over a root and nearly went sprawling. He stumbled and clutched at Teyla, who was currently depending on him for most of her vertical stability.
"Rodney --" she slurred, tightening her grip around his neck.
"I know, I know. Shut up and run."
McKay had custody of Teyla because there was no way in hell that he could carry Sheppard. Teyla, at least, was still capable of moving under her own power ... mostly. Ronon had his commanding officer slung over his shoulder like a sack of grain. He figured he could probably carry Teyla too, if he absolutely had to, but didn't really want to find out.
The jungles of PM3-4R7 had turned out to be devoid of human life; there was nothing but ruins, and a lot of big catlike indigenous creatures that appeared to be surprisingly tame. Teyla had speculated that they'd been bred as guard animals by whoever used to live here -- she had seen similar beasts on other worlds. Which had led Sheppard to see if he could make friends with one of them, because "These things are big enough to ride, Rodney, and can you imagine the look on Elizabeth's face if we come back through the gate riding lions?"
Which was how they'd discovered that the lion-like beasts were not nearly as tame as they looked. Also, what looked like a lion's mane to the Earthlings was actually a ring of porcupine-like quills that could be ejected several yards and were laced with some sort of poison. Teyla had taken a couple in the arm. As for Sheppard, the entire front of his body had been peppered with them.
"Gate's just ahead." Ronon paused to fire over his shoulder. A furious screech echoed behind them. Luckily, the beasts weren't' smart enough to figure out to try to circle around their prey, and they were keeping a safe distance after several of their number had been killed.
"Good for it," McKay gritted, as Teyla became a dead weight on his shoulder. He half-carried, half-dragged her the remaining distance to the DHD, then leaned her against Ronon and started dialing. The gate was so overgrown that the DHD was barely visible; he had to push branches out of the way in order to see what he was doing, muttering insults at Sheppard all the while. "Oh yes, because Elizabeth is going to be so impressed, Colonel ... how's he doing, anyway, Ronon?"
Ronon couldn't spare a hand to check for life signs, but he could feel the rise and fall of Sheppard's chest against him. "Breathing's shallow. What's taking so long?"
"What's taking so long, Alley Oop, is that I can't see anything through all this crap." McKay paused to scrape moss and vines off the DHD. "Aha! Believe me, no one wants to get off this hellhole of a planet more than -- oof!"
He cut off in a choked gasp as Ronon threw Teyla at him. One of the cats had just burst from the dense underbrush and sprang for them, and Ronon needed his arm free to fire his gun. Teyla's weight took McKay down, and the Runner fired over his head, sending the animal's huge body end-over-end with its brains blown away.
"Well, thanks a lot!" McKay yelled from the ground, where he was tangled up in Teyla's limbs.
"Keep dialing!" Ronon ordered, slipping without thinking back into military mode as he turned, Sheppard still over his shoulder, trying to watch all angles at once. With the trees crowding so close around the gate, it was impossible to see the beasts until they were upon them. Ronon couldn't believe how silently such huge creatures could move through the dense brush.
"What do you think I'm trying to do?"
Ronon didn't spare the time to answer. He caught a tawny flash among the trees and fired. A red flash among the trees let him know he'd hit something.
Behind him, the gate whooshed. Just as he started to turn that way, McKay yelled. Ronon spun around, keeping his footing only with difficulty as Sheppard's dead weight threw off his center of mass. One of the cats uncoiled from the brush with lazy-seeming speed, heading straight for McKay. At the same time, Ronon's peripheral vision let him know that two more were closing in from either side of him.
He shot the one attacking McKay and kept turning, kept shooting, even though he didn't think he could take out both of the others in time. He sensed, more than saw, McKay move. He shot the first of the two cats attacking him and carried through his spin just in time to see McKay wielding a moss-covered branch, about the thickness of his arm and twice as long.
The branch smacked the cat across the face hard enough to snap it like a dry straw. The beast was so close that Ronon could feel the heat of its breath. It paused, shaking its head, and Ronon shot it in the face.
"Good one, McKay," he said. He would have clapped him on the back, but he had his hands full at the moment, one with Sheppard and the other with the gun.
"Uh." McKay stared at the broken stump of the stick in his fist, then at the lion-thing's body.
"P90 probably would have worked better, though." Ronon nodded at the assault rifle dangling from McKay's vest clip.
"Oh. I sort of forgot about it." McKay dropped the remaining piece of the stick, then gasped in pain. "I think I broke my --"
"Move!" Ronon bellowed, as five or six more of the big cats broke from cover.
He propelled McKay towards the gate with a hard shove, then got hold of Teyla's collar and flung her into the event horizon.
All in all, it wasn't one of their more successful homecomings.
"And from the look of the X-rays, you've cracked three bones in it, so just hold still if you want to keep full use of it, would you?" The nurse's tone remained patient as she wrapped his hand, but there was a definite look of strain on her face.
McKay was perched on the edge of an infirmary bed. Sheppard, in the next bed over, groaned and put his arm across his face. "Shut up, Rodney. Some of us have the hangover from hell, here."
McKay snorted without sympathy. "Yeah, and you get to spend the night here, getting fussed over by nurses -- ow! -- while I've got to deal with the tender mercies of Ham-Fisted Helga here -- ow! I said be careful! -- and then I get to go figure out how to brush my teeth without being able to bend my fingers."
Teyla, in the bed on the far side of Sheppard's, opened her eyes and shot them both an annoyed glare. The poison didn't seem to be harmful in the long term, as far as the infirmary's xeno-toxicology specialists could tell, but it had left both of its victims sick and miserable. They'd been given painkillers and anti-emetics and had been told to sleep it off.
Except that it was difficult to sleep in a room with an uncomfortable and annoyed Rodney McKay.
"What, don't I get painkillers?" McKay demanded as the nurse critically inspected her handiwork and stepped back. He automatically tried to snap his fingers at her. "Ow!"
"Here." She dropped a bottle into his injured hand, looking unsympathetic when he winced. "And here's the instruction sheet, though I imagine all of you have enough experience with painkillers to have it memorized by now."
"Are you saying we're accident-prone? You do realize I got this injury heroically saving my teammates' lives, right? I didn't forget to mention it, did I?"
"Rodney," Sheppard groaned. "You did great, now go away."
Ronon reached out to settle one large hand on McKay's shoulder, steering him towards the door. "C'mon, McKay. Let the others sleep."
"Fine, fine, whatever."
Out in the hall, McKay drooped a little. Ronon took his hand away, suddenly self-conscious. They walked in silence for a while, until they reached the point where their paths diverged -- McKay to his quarters, Ronon to the gym.
McKay hesitated, and finally blurted out, "So, did I suck out there, or not? I mean, I guess I broke three bones --"
"Oh, whatever. Like there's a difference."
Ronon gave him a hard grin. "Believe me, McKay ... there's a difference."
"I guess if anyone would know, you would. Listen, I suppose I'm asking -- I mean, I didn't totally suck, did I?"
"No. You remembered what I taught you, improvised a weapon and used it in a crisis. 'Course, if you got a better weapon, it makes more sense to use that."
McKay winced. "Yes, I've got it, next time use the gun." He gave Ronon a feeble thumbs-up with his uninjured hand. "Check."
"So you gotta learn to think on your feet." Ronon shrugged as he turned away. He could probably fit in a workout before dinner. "You're getting there."
"Hey, Ronon? About -- you know -- about the lessons. Er ... you know what I'm asking you, right?"
Ronon paused and looked over his shoulder. He did, actually; he suspected that McKay had probably been wanted to gracefully extricate himself from this situation for some time. He was honestly surprised that McKay hadn't asked to get out of the lessons some time back. For his own part, Ronon hadn't really pushed the issue. He was surprised how much he enjoyed the whole thing, considering what a terrible student McKay was.
"I mean, I know I suck at all of this, compared to the rest of you guys." McKay fidgeted, twisting the end of the bandage on his hand. "And believe me, I'll totally understand if you don't want to teach me anymore. I mean, totally! No hard feelings!"
"McKay, we can stop the lessons."
"Really? You don't --" McKay's head snapped up, and Ronon couldn't miss the hurt that flickered through his all-too-expressive eyes before the mask of irritation slipped into place. "Well, of course. I thought probably. I mean, I know they're a waste of time for me; I'm sure they are for you too --"
And as he babbled, Ronon realized that he'd read the man all wrong. McKay hadn't been asking if they could stop the lessons. In his own awkward, roundabout way, he'd been trying to figure out if Ronon wanted to continue. Because McKay himself wanted to continue.
It was the first time Ronon had realized that the lessons weren't just a chore to McKay, an obligation he'd stumbled into and didn't know how to get out of. He might complain incessantly, but then he did that anyway. McKay was actually enjoying it.
"I'm not doing anything tomorrow morning," he said, cutting across the still-ongoing monologue.
McKay shut up.
"There's a few one-handed techniques I could show you. Need to learn to defend yourself if you lose the use of an arm." Ronon let his inner grin show on the outside for a minute. "Accident-prone as you people are, you could use the practice."
This got the expected flare of temper. "What do you mean, us? Like you're a paragon of invincibility!"
Ronon raised an eyebrow at him.
"Well, all right -- I guess you are -- but you know what I mean." Flustered, McKay stammered around for a minute before he looked up. "Tomorrow?"
"Morning. Six. See you there."
Ronon strolled off, listening to the indignant spluttering behind him. "Six? As in, six a.m.? Are you kidding? That's inhuman! Damn it, you overgrown ape, would it kill you to ask me what time would be convenient for me? Hey! Are you listening?"
As he turned the corner, Ronon let the grin break through to the surface, full strength. He never would have expected this when he met the annoying little man on that nameless planet a year and a half ago. But then, he'd rarely anticipated any of the twists and turns that his life had taken. And for everything the Wraith had taken from him, he thought that, little by little, something had been given back.
If he needed proof of that, he got it every time that he slipped his shirt off over his head and the fabric slid smoothly, rather than catching and pulling on the scar tissue that was no longer there.
Things changed. Things moved on. Old friends would be lost, but new friendship could be found in places never expected.
He'd spent seven years never thinking beyond the moment. Now, he found himself looking forward to the next morning. His fingers curled involuntarily as he practiced, in his head, the moves that he'd show McKay.
Life was good.