Disclaimer: I don't own them, not making any money off them, etc.

Author's Note: This is complete in and of itself. Yes, I have a sequel planned. It will be a companion story, not a "chapter" following this one.

Provocation

By

Rhien Elleth

His reasons for staying are his own, and he doesn't share them.

Not with Sheppard, who has his own motives for wanting Ronon there. Like many leaders, the Colonel believes most in what is good for his team; so long as Ronon's wishes parallel his, John is satisfied.

Not with Weir, who doesn't bother asking. Sheppard has already given her a reason, usurping whatever Ronon's might have been. It's better that way. She trusts Sheppard as she does not – and likely never will – a stranger with a troubled and violent past.

And not with Teyla, who knows at least half his reasons without having to ask, or be told. They are too much alike, a fact that is both comforting and troubling. Comforting, because she understands him without having to ask foolish questions. Troubling, because she understands him too well without having to ask anything at all.

It is something he hasn't experienced in at least seven years. And that alone almost prevents him from staying. But as much as he doesn't quite trust the companionship of others, it is also what he craves. Once found again, he finds he can't willingly abandon it. He wants to sneer and call it weakness, but deep down, he knows it is not. There is strength inherent in being part of a group that one simply does not have alone.

It is a humbling realization, and one he will never confess to.

Atlantis, some weeks later

Teyla knew it was only a matter of time. Word traveled in Atlantis, among teams and support crew, and eventually to the ears of those in command. Dr. Weir and Colonel Sheppard had been occupied with other, more immediate matters upon her return from Belka with Ronon. (She still couldn't fathom how even Rodney's monumental arrogance had wiped out half a solar system.) But that was merely a temporary reprieve. Teyla knew it, rehearsed her answer so she would be prepared, and waited.

Sheppard brought it up one morning during their usual sparring session. She hadn't expected the question then, when she was occupied with anticipating his next move. He was circling her, fighting sticks held in a classic defensive stance, when he spoke.

"So, how do you think he's fitting in with the team?"

It broke their unspoken rule against bringing outside matters into the fighting circle, and startled her into dropping her guard. Sheppard saw, and took advantage of her momentary lapse, coming at her with a lightening succession of attacks that she barely managed to evade and parry. It also forced her to choke back the automatic response that had risen to her lips.

She never saw the leg sweep until she hit the mat, the impact knocking the air from her lungs. Sheppard stood over her, one stick at her throat, the other guarding against any last ditch attacks she might make with her own. Damn. This would mark one of the only occasions the Colonel had ever beaten her.

He smiled, clearly pleased with himself, then raised an eyebrow. "Well?"

Later, it would occur to her that he'd carefully strategized this conversation. She would never be quite sure whether he'd used his words to win their physical match, or the match to gain an advantage in their verbal discussion. She could only assume the former. If the latter were true, then it followed that the Colonel had a reason to feel he needed an advantage…like suspecting she was keeping something about Ronon Dex from him.

"I…" She sucked air into her lungs, tried to get her breath back, and organize her now scattered thoughts. "You are…asking me…about Ronon Dex."

John stepped back, lowering both sticks and tossing them aside as he reached a hand down to help her stand. "No, I'm asking about the other extremely volatile and unpredictable individual to recently join our team. Of course I'm asking about Ronon Dex." He pulled her up, frowning, and Teyla slipped her hand free of his as soon as she reasonably could.

"He seems to be fitting in as well as we could expect, Colonel," she hedged, reaching for a towel. She used it to wipe the sweat from her brow, and more importantly, to avoid meeting John's gaze. "Some rudimentary social graces are a bit lacking, but those appear to be coming back to him more easily as he interacts with the team."

She tossed the towel aside, feeling a bit more sure footed as her prepared answer flowed from her lips. But John, as she should have guessed, wasn't satisfied.

"'Social graces'?" He smiled, shook his head. "Teyla, I could see that much for myself. I'm not worried about his manners."

She raised an eyebrow, her heartbeat accelerating just slightly, "Then what are you worried about, Colonel?" Ancestors, she hated lying, even by omission. As a leader, she knew it was sometimes necessary, and this wasn't the first time she'd been forced, for the good of many, to do so. She still hated the necessity.

Sheppard cocked his head, "Are you being obtuse on purpose? You did take him with you to Belka. He was under your command for the length of your visit. Your report on the negotiations seemed a little sparse to me. I'm asking you, one commander to another, how was his performance?"

She hesitated, knew Sheppard saw it, and sighed. "Belka was not an average mission for Ronon," she said finally. The best lies were based in truth, after all. "Finding out that he is not the only survivor from his homeworld was an overwhelming and highly emotional experience for him."

"So how'd he handle it?"

Teyla shrugged, walking over to put her sparring sticks away. "Just as you might expect, sir."

When she didn't continue immediately, Sheppard stirred impatiently. "Meaning?" he prompted her. She turned back toward him.

"Meaning, he consumed a great deal more alcohol than was wise, given our purpose there."

"He got drunk?"

"Yes. As I imagine any one of us might, in his position. I did not feel it necessary to include it in my report. Perhaps you disagree?"

Sheppard was silent for a moment, and Teyla could see him thinking. Colonel Caldwell, already critical of so much in Atlantis – or at least, how Weir and Sheppard were handling Atlantis – was reading every mission report. They all knew it. Finally, he nodded.

"No, you're right. There was no reason to include that in your report…unless it affected negotiations?"

She shook her head. "No, sir. Ronon's indulgence had no bearing on negotiations."

"And you think he's assimilating with the rest of the team, taking orders and the like, just fine?"

She shrugged. "Some room for improvement, perhaps, but that is to be expected."

"Yes, I have to agree." John sounded a bit more distant, more contemplative, and Teyla let out a silent breath of relief. The conversation she'd been dreading for days was finally past.

"If that is all, Colonel, I believe I am in need of a shower…" She turned to leave.

"Teyla." She hesitated at the gym door, one hand on the opening. "Part of my concern stems from you."

"Me, sir?" she looked over her shoulder, honestly surprised.

"Yes, you. Ronon's control isn't exactly perfect, as I think he illustrated the last time you sparred with him. I wasn't sure he'd follow your command willingly. I was…worried, when I heard you took him with you to Belka."

She smiled, and because of the genuine concern she saw in Sheppard's eyes, kept her response gentler than she otherwise might have. "I am fine, sir – and I am not intimidated by Ronon Dex."

She turned away, moving through the doorway, but not before she heard one last comment Sheppard muttered under his breath.

"Maybe you should be."

---------------------------------------------------

It was, of all people, Dr. Beckett who first brought it up. One of the many tests set Ronon by Colonel Sheppard before officially allowing him to join his team had been a routine physical.

Given their first meeting, neither Ronon nor Beckett were exactly thrilled at the prospect, but Sheppard and Weir had both insisted.

"You've been traveling on every backwater world the Gates can get to for seven years," Weir had said, her expression immutable, "God only knows what you might have picked up."

Sheppard had been more jocular about it, but no less insistent. "Think of it as a 'welcome back' to civilization," the Colonel told him, accompanying his words with a hard clap on the shoulder, "just one of those little necessary evils we all have to endure. Like the occasional visit to the base psychologist."

Something in Sheppard's expression had told him that that unpleasant prospect was next on the list, and Ronon had decided it might be best to pick his battles. So he'd gone to see Dr. Carson Beckett early one morning shortly after his arrival in Atlantis. To no surprise of his, he'd passed with flying colors.

"You're in surprisingly good shape for what you've endured," the good doctor said, making a notation in what Ronon could only assume was now his file. "There are, however, a few small things you might consider amending."

"Like what?" Not that he really wanted to know, but Ronon suspected showing some interest might encourage Beckett to give Sheppard a better report.

Carson looked up at his patient. "Like eating a few more fruits and vegetables. From these blood samples we took, it looks like you've been surviving on mostly protein for a good long while."

Seven years, thought Ronon automatically, and quickly suppressed the thought. Seven years now behind him, and best left there. "Right," he said out loud. After a moment of enduring Beckett's questioning stare, he sighed, and added, "Hunting was always less risky than eating any kind of plant life I wasn't familiar with."

"Of course, of course." Beckett made another notation in his file. Ronon started to step down from the examination table, but Beckett's voice stopped him. "There is one other concern I have."

Ronon suppressed another sigh, and waited. Beckett looked up at him again. "I assume you're not a monk, or otherwise under some vow of chastity?"

"What?" He couldn't quite credit his hearing. The doctor folded his hands over Ronan's file, and smiled.

"Oh, I'm quite serious. You see, I've heard some concerning reports about you since you've joined us, regarding a tendency for overly-aggressive behavior."

Sheppard, thought Ronon, remembering the Colonel's response to his sparring match with Teyla. For a second, anger reared its head, and he found himself tempted to reach out and rip that file right out of Beckett's hands. Until he realized that doing so would only confirm any concerns they had.

"Fuck."

He didn't realize he'd spoken aloud until Beckett replied.

"Precisely. Teyla tells me you avoided populated areas during your time as a Runner. I can only assume it's been at least…seven years since you've experienced intercourse with a partner."

"Eight," Ronon said reluctantly. Very reluctantly. He avoided Beckett's gaze. "I was a little busy fighting Wraith for six months before my capture. Not a lot of available women around, or time."

Seeming to sense Ronon's discomfort with the topic, the doctor got straight to the point. "You're going to be in the field with members of both sexes. Not only could your situation create tension between you and other members of the team, but the aggression it's causing could place you and them in a great deal of danger. I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I suggest you find yourself a willing partner…soon."

He scribbled something on a slip of paper. "This is the name and address of a…well, a place of ill repute. In case you decide you need it." He handed the paper to Ronon, who was starting to feel the entire conversation was just a little on the surreal side.

"This has to be the strangest prescription I've ever been written."

"Yes, well…" Beckett turned away, suddenly very eager to get on with other business. Ronon smiled.

"Thanks, Doc."

Beckett looked up with a slightly pained expression. "Don't mention it. Really."

And so it was the doctor who'd given him the address, who'd urged him to visit it. It wasn't exactly his first choice. He'd never visited such an establishment before; Ronon didn't particularly like the idea of paying for sex. But he'd looked around at his other options and quickly realized that this once, it might be the better choice.

It had been eight years; he was afraid he'd hurt a less experienced woman. Whatever faults he might have, mistreating women wasn't one of them.

The whore he chose was pretty, in a striking sort of way. Not delicate, but long limbed with an angular chin, high cheek bones and almond shaped eyes. She looked like she kept herself in shape, the muscles of her legs flexing in a pleasing way as she walked ahead of him up the stairs, leading him to her room. She wore diaphanous silks, a sharp contrast to the firm body that flashed tantalizingly beneath their multicolored, gossamer layers when she moved.

Truth be told, he could care less what she wore, or even how she looked. He was already painfully hard at the mere thought of sex, no matter who it might be with. He'd told her the bare bones of his situation, so she wouldn't be shocked by anything he might do. His control was definitely not what it used to be.

He didn't touch her immediately after she closed the door behind them. He stood in the center of the room, carefully not looking at her, or the room's only furnishing, a wide bed. His hands clenched and unclenched, and he swallowed painfully. He closed his eyes, breathing heavily, fighting for control so he wouldn't shove her up against the door, and shove himself inside her just as unceremoniously.

When her fingers brushed his arm, he jerked, and when they undid his belt, fluttering against him, he thought he might come from that light contact alone. It was her scent, more than anything else. Unlike some of the other whores below, she wore no heavy perfume, but smelled clean and faintly musky, like woman.

"You don't need to be careful," she whispered in his ear, her voice breathy against his skin. "That's why you bought me, after all."

And she knelt, sliding him into her mouth. His breath caught, for just a second leaving him speechless. Then he was thrusting into her mouth, his hands holding her head in place. It was warm, and wet, and oh, God…it didn't take long, that first time. And she didn't complain, even though it couldn't have been comfortable for her. She was experienced enough, at least, not to choke on what he gave her.

Afterwards, she led him to the bed, and rode him until he cried out, his body bowed beneath her.

It was a memorable night; the most memorable for Ronon in seven years. And Beckett was right. He was much more relaxed when he returned to Atlantis and joined Sheppard's team.

He even smiled, and joked from time to time, mostly at McKay's expense. The first time he laughed, he saw Teyla look at him askance, out of the corner of her eye. He just looked at her and smiled wider, and after a moment she relaxed, and smiled back. It was easy, as it would not have been yesterday, or the day before.

It was still difficult, where Wraith were concerned, to control his temper. And the whore had only been an immediate fix. It was as if, now that his body had been reintroduced to the concept, it craved sex whenever a passable looking woman walked within ten feet of him.

Of course, he didn't remember it being much different eight years ago, before he'd ever been a Runner. He supposed he was as close as he was going to get to being "normal" again.

He thought of his homeworld, of all the many thousands dead, of the people he knew killed by the Wraith, of the personal hell he'd survived in spite of the fucking monsters.

No, he knew with utter certainty, he would never be normal again.

----------------------------------------------------

Teyla should have known he'd find out. She was just coming back from a particularly difficult and fruitless negotiation, when Ronon seemingly materialized beside her.

"Sheppard spoke to you about Belka," he said, his usual intense stare focused on her. She jerked to a stop, startled, her hand at her throat.

"How does someone so large move so quietly?" she snapped, her tone more irritated than she intended.

"Practice." He didn't smile. "Sheppard?" he prompted, "Belka?"

She started walking again, her pace quick and angry. It annoyed her that he barely had to lengthen his stride to keep up.

"We agreed never to speak of that here," she said, low and heated.

"We didn't. Apparently, you and Sheppard did."

She stopped again, faced him. "Do you honestly think that I --"

With an effort, she choked off her own words. The headache she'd been suffering for the last six hours or so intensified. She closed her eyes, counted slowly to ten. When she opened them again, she was calmer, if only slightly.

"Not here," she said tersely, and without waiting to see if he'd follow, started down the corridor again.

This was just what she needed. As if her trip to Theatalan hadn't been stressful enough. It didn't matter what she'd offered them, how she'd cajoled or promised, or even begged. They'd been cowed by the Wraith for too long. As a society they were submissive, broken, and wouldn't even hear of trading with someone who could, just possibly, focus Wraith attention upon them again. The irony, of course, being that without the aid of Atlantis, the Wraith would come again, eventually. And the people of Theatalan would die. Needlessly.

She wasn't aware she'd sighed until Ronan touched her arm. She looked up.

"Problem?"

His green eyes were still uncomfortably direct, but less intense than before. He'd obviously picked up on her mood, and was expressing concern. That was something fairly new for Ronon, reaching out to his teammates. She didn't want to be the one to slap his hand away. She hesitated, then shook her head.

"Nothing you can help with, though I thank you for your concern."

She turned the corner and stopped in front of her quarters, keying the Atlantis door lock to open. She entered, gesturing wordlessly for him to follow, and keyed the door closed as soon as he did.

"Now," she said, briskly removing her coat and hanging it up. "Do you honestly think I would tell Colonel Sheppard what happened on Belka, when it was I who swore you to secrecy?"

Ronon forbore to sit in one of her chairs, choosing instead to lean against the wall. She supposed he was used to his size and presence intimidating people. Consciously or unconsciously, he would use such a pose for just that purpose. Not that it would work against her. Folding her arms over her chest, she turned and stared coolly at him, intending to say nothing else until he responded to her question.

"Why do you do that?" he asked, instead.

She frowned. What was he referring to? Hanging up her coat? "Do what?"

He gestured to her stance. "That. Repress everything you feel all the time."

Taken aback, it took her a moment to respond. "I do not repress what I feel."

She turned away, surreptitiously putting a hand to her throbbing temple as she opened her nightstand drawer, hoping to find an errant packet of pain pills. Normally, she abhorred taking medication for something so trivial. But today she felt she needed the relief it would grant her, to put her back on even footing with Ronon, if nothing else.

"You do," he insisted. "Out there in the corridor, you were ready to rip my head off for bringing up Belka. I watched you rein in your anger and push it aside. Then we get here, where you could scream at me without fear of anyone else hearing, and you act cool as can be."

Defeated in her search, she turned back around, raising a superior eyebrow. "Screaming accomplishes very little, Ronon. You could do with learning how to better 'rein in' your temper, from time to time. As for Belka --" Ah! Her field kit would have pain meds, why hadn't she thought of that before? "—do not bring it up again. I told Colonel Sheppard nothing of Kell, or his fate." There they were, several packets of standard issue pain meds neatly stacked in her field kit. She palmed one, straightening. "Just as we agreed."

"Then why did Sheppard pay me a visit to ask a bunch of follow-up questions?"

She stiffened, headache and meds forgotten for the moment. "He what?" Didn't John trust her, after everything? He'd seemed satisfied with her answers the other day in the gym, but if that were true, why would he…

"He asked me how the negotiations went, if you and I 'got along ok', if there were any problems I'd like to report…"

John didn't trust her? Impossible. Of everyone here who had ever doubted her, of everyone who had ever accused her of either knowingly, or unknowingly allying herself with the Wraith, John Sheppard had been her staunchest ally and defender. When the truth behind her gift had come to light, he had been among the first to assure her of his loyalty.

That left but one possibility. John was not mistrustful of her, but was perhaps testing the honesty of Ronon Dex. Relaxing again, she crossed the room and poured herself a glass of water.

"And what did you tell him?" she asked casually.

She heard him stir, moving away from the wall to pace around the room. Ronon, like she herself, was not always good at sitting still.

"I told him the negotiations went fine. That you and I got along well." He picked up one of her candles, turned it over in his hands, and put it back again. "And the only possible problem I could think of, was the night you helped put me to bed."

She started, sloshing water over the side of her glass. "You told him what?" she asked, aghast.

Ronon smiled. "The night I got drunk, celebrating the survival of 300 of my people. Remember?"

Of course she did. But Ronon made it sound… "You could have chosen to tell him in a different way."

"See? There you go, repressing again. You're mad at me for what I told Sheppard, but you're acting like it's no big deal."

She sipped her water, swallowing the pain pills before turning to face him. "How do you know I am angry?"

He moved toward her, took the glass from her fingers and raised it to his own lips. "Your voice may be cool, but you are a warrior, Teyla. You react physically to your emotions, and your body betrays what you feel."

Her eyes narrowed, watching him drink from her glass. "Why are you provoking me, Ronon?"

He smiled, slow and genuine, and set the glass aside. "I'm not," he said. He lifted a hand and brushed his fingers over her temple, down her cheek. It was a point of pride that she didn't pull away. "Believe me, Teyla, if I were provoking you, you'd know it."

She didn't like the easy way he touched her, or the heat she felt blossom along her skin in the wake of his fingers. His hand fell away, and she waited one deliberate moment before stepping back. When she spoke, her voice was even and measured. "You should leave, now."

He smiled and moved forward instead, boxing her in. Suddenly her heart was beating erratically in her chest, her hands clenching at her sides. She wished irrationally for her fighting sticks. It wasn't that she felt threatened by Ronon…well, maybe it was.

"Your voice tells me one thing," he said, "and your body another."

"That is enough, Ronon." Her words were no longer cool and steady. "You will leave, now."

For a long moment he regarded her intently, his green eyes never blinking, his body looming so close it was an effort not to touch him. And just like that, he stopped, easing back. Cool air filled her lungs, and only then did she realize she'd been holding her breath.

"There, you see?" He smiled. "That was me provoking you."

Without thinking, she struck him. Or tried to. He caught her hand before it impacted his face. Maybe her body really did betray her intentions.

"And that was you, not repressing."

She opened her mouth to tell him exactly what she thought of that, and never got the chance to speak. He kissed her, his lips sealing hers before she'd finished taking a breath. Perhaps she should have seen it coming, but she didn't. It shocked her, in more ways than one.

From Ronon, she would have expected something rough, perhaps even painful. But he was gentle, instead. His tongue flicked over her lips, first, as if testing her mood. When she didn't pull away – how could she, backed against her nightstand, her hand still gripped hard in his – he deepened the kiss, entangling her tongue with his, moving his lips so they grazed over hers in a light and almost hypnotic motion. His other hand threaded through her hair, his fingers massaging the back of her head.

She was pressed against the length of him, his body a solid and heated presence against her skin, and if she'd had a moment to prepare for the assault, to stiffen up before he'd touched her, she could have withstood it. Instead, it was like sensory overload. His heat, his taste, his scent…she returned the embrace without thought, let out a sigh that trembled her lips against his mouth. Her free hand reached up to grasp his shoulder, and abruptly there was nothing there.

She almost stumbled, the air in the room a cool shock on her heated face. She blinked, stared at Ronon standing halfway across the room. He wasn't looking at her.

"You're right," he said into the suddenly charged silence. "I should leave now."

"Ronon --" But he was gone, only the swirl of his coat visible as the door slid shut behind him. Dazed, shocked, frustrated, Teyla stood in the center of her room and tried to make sense of what had just happened.

Her headache, she noted, had vanished. And her skin still tingled where he'd touched her. She took a deep breath, and let it out again.

"And just what," she asked the room at large, "am I supposed to do with that?" She sat on the edge of her bed, her head in her hands.

Honestly, she had no idea.

:La Fine: