Title: Compulsion
Word Count; 3100
Rating: K / Gen
Characters: Ronon Plus The Team
Spoilers: Season 5 "Broken Ties"
Summary: Com-pul-sion:An irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act. Ronon after the end of "Broken Ties".

Notes: This is a subtle interpretation of the challenge.

Thanks to Frisco for another fast beta and wonderful help!!

It's over; he's cured. Time to move on.

Ronon sips at the cup, the bitter taste bubbling on his tongue. He squints into the dark liquid, finding it awful, and gulps the rest down.

His feet won't stay still as he paces back and forth, drink still in hand. The surrounding walls close in, but the gym is busy, and he won't go there while it's crowded. Running is out of the question since he gets breathless like one of his civilian students after a few minutes.

Annoyed, frustrated, sick of crawling out of his skin, Ronon palms the sensor and goes… where?

Mess hall. He needs something to quench the dried husk of his throat. The lining of his mouth burns, but he doesn't grab a water, his fingers hovering over the coffee pot. He feels the eyes of the room on his back, and he snatches an Earth soda instead.

His body is weak; shuffling down the hall takes time, the plastic container a heavy burden in his hand. Sweat trickles down his forehead, his dreads swinging like dead weights. It's hard to catch his breath by the time he reaches his quarters.

The soda is halfway gone by the time he collapses on his bed, his heart thumping against his chest and trying to hack a hole through the breastbone.

It pounds and pounds and pounds. The blood in his ears won't stop roaring.

He swallows the rest of his drink, crushing the plastic with his fingers.

It's over; he's cured. Time to move on.

The sunlight no longer streams through the curtains; time's kept him company while he sprawled on his bed. Ronon twists the Wraith teeth attached to his necklace, wanting to crush them into powder. His chest burns. He remembers fingers slamming into his body, over and over again, imprinting his flesh forever.

The door chimes more than once. It's nighttime, and Ronon groans when he gets up, muscles aching with the movement, legs wanting to fold in on themselves.

Rodney McKay stands awkwardly in the entranceway, bouncing with energy that Ronon craves.

"Didn't see you at dinner... and... well," McKay babbles with a paper bag in one hand and a cup in the other.

Ronon snatches the white Styrofoam. "Thanks."

His friend gapes, appalled, then waits. Any other day, week, month, year... Ronon wouldn't think twice about grudgingly inviting the man inside. Right now it's the last thing he wants to do. Guilt swirls around his head, heightened by flashes of McKay yammering at his bedside while he had screamed, ranted, and raged.

Ronon wages a mental tug of war; the seconds tick by, causing his teammate to flounder halfway in and halfway out of reach. He burns with shame, doesn't want it to claim the last sliver of himself not marred by his earlier actions. He steps aside, allowing the man to enter.

McKay grabs a pastry from the bag, handing the rest of the rumpled thing to him. "Grabbed two." He grins excitedly, overcompensating for nerves.

The coffee is a gush of warmth in Ronon's belly, and he swallows it in three gulps. He unwraps the turkey sandwich, chewing to keep from having to say anything. It only takes four bites to finish eating, and now the two of them share the same silence.

"So..." McKay claps his hands together then drops them by his side, eyes darting inside his room. "How are you feel... I mean," his fingers dance in the air, "how are you?"

"Fine." It's what they all want to hear. What they expect from him.

The scientist is struck mute by the lack of conversation.

Ronon balls up the white foam in his hand. "Thanks for dinner," he says, ushering his teammate back out.

McKay grabs the door before it slides closed. "Look. We've been down this road before. All of us... well, not exactly the freeway, but the offramp so to speak."

Ronon doesn't want to hear things that are supposed to make him feel better. He wants to be like he was before and knows that's impossible. What he desires – no, what he needs is to become numb - numb and unfeeling instead of baking alive.

His brain is begging, pleading for something he can't have, and Ronon hates it. Where's his strength? His will?

McKay's still talking, not realizing he's being ignored. "I still want it. Not every day, not like I did the weeks following Ford's happy camp all-stars. But that's not the point. I felt good, like freaking fantastic. I could do anything, to anyone." There's this wanting desire in his friend's expression, all fond and content. McKay suddenly snaps out of it. "I've never felt so happy in my life, and it was just an illusion. Doesn't change the fact that once I got a taste I've wanted to be that person I never can be again."

"It's not the same," Ronon grunts.

"Of course not. I got the tricycle version of fun. You got the roaring Harley Davidson model."

Ronon grabs McKay's shoulder and bodily pushes him out of his quarters, growling, "I don't want to talk about it."

The door closes this time, and Ronon rests his forehead against the cold metal, wishing the hardness of the surface would bleed into him. He hates himself, despises the longing, the way his mouth salivates over thoughts of death and the return of life.

Most of all, he can't stand what he's become, hiding out in his quarters, frail and unworthy.
The paintings adorning his room mock him, spit obscenities for the betrayal towards his people. Sateda is a chunk of ash, scattered by the winds after being raped and destroyed by the Wraith.

And he'd been willing to set it on fire all over again to appease those who laid it to waste.

He slides down to the floor, back to the door, back to those who only want to help. Ronon's used to picking up the pieces and moving on, but he doesn't know where to start or how to begin.

He knows there are people out there who have stood by time and time again and guided him out of hell. Ronon doesn't think they realize a part of him is still on fire, screaming to have the flames doused away, and is too afraid that his friends will be burned.

It's against doctor's orders, but Ronon finds himself out on one of the piers after walking a long distance. Only a few days have passed, and his body refuses to obey his commands. His brain remembers how billions of nerves had pulsed with energy, the veins and arteries pumped with power-enriched blood. Even breathing had been a rush, the air itself feeling supercharged with something extra.

And he wants to feel that again. He curls his fingers into fists, knowing how much force a single punch could have contained. He thinks about bowing before a Wraith, smiling and sharing an oath of loyalty while on his knees.

Ronon searches the ocean, knowing the only commitment the people of Atlantis had ever asked for was friendship. Stepping out of the gate every day was the only testimony ever required. And he did so willingly because he wanted to protect the others, his friends.

The waves gently wash along the city below, and he wonders if falling asleep outside will vanquish the nightmares.

His thoughts are interrupted by the sounds of footsteps; a Marine walks out of the shadows. "Sorry, sir. Was kind of exploring and thought this would be a good spot for a quick smoke."

Sergeant Gallows pulls out a cigarette, lights it, and puffs on it quietly. Ronon can taste the tobacco, can feel the smoke enter his lungs and stoke the embers of adrenaline. He finds himself stepping closer, mesmerized by the scent.

"You want one?" The Marine asks, offering him a piece of salvation.

"No," Ronon answers, moving away as fast as his legs will carry him.

He walks, shuffles, sways dizzyingly all the way back to a familiar hall. His heart is trying to tear a hole through his chest again, and he feels so lost in a place that's felt like home for many years.

Teyla answers the door, eyes wide, but takes his hand and leads him inside.

"I'm sorry," Ronon says, thinking this is stupid.

"Torren is sleeping," she assures him. "Kanaan is back on the mainland for a few days to help out with the rehabilitation of some of our people."

"I threw McKay out of my quarters the other day. I should go and apologize," he says, already turning around.

He's failed these people once, and he's doing it again.

"Ronon, sit down." Teyla orders with her eyes but offers in a soft voice.

"I don't know what to do. I can't sleep, and I can't stay in my quarters. All I want is to punch something or kill a bunch of Wraith." He mumbles more to her than he has in the last four days. He stares at his shaking hands in humiliation, thinking he couldn't hunt down a large moving Bathe.

"Deep breaths, just deep breaths," her voice soothes.

The enzyme is gone; there's nothing left. He's supposed to be cured, damn it! Ronon can't sit still, jumping up. "I shouldn't have come."

"Would you like to rest here?" Teyla moves over to offer her bed. "Perhaps knowing you are not alone will ease your nightmares?"

"Last night, I killed Tyre with my bare hands, laughing as his blood poured out of him," Ronon confesses. "This morning, I was a Wraith feeding on Sheppard. Feeding and giving his life back, over and over again."

"Our mind distorts our fears. I cannot promise that resting here will purge these horrors, but you'll know that someone who cares about you will be here if you need it," Teyla says.

But it wasn't supposed to bother him anymore. His blood was clean. Ronon stares at the soft covers, the candles casting a fuzzy glow.

Ronon's asleep before he realizes he's laid his exhausted body down. Hours drift by in a slumber, and he gasps awake with images of Atlantis on fire.

There's crying nearby, and he won't intrude on Teyla anymore. She's provided him with a few hours reprieve, but he still feels a growing anxiety deep inside, and there's no telling when it'll explode.

Dawn peeks in his window, and Ronon's up, lacing his boots, ready to hit the gym. He goes there four, five times a day, ever since he got medical clearance at the start of the week. He'll return to duty soon, and he wants to make up for lost time. He scans his room, noticing plastic soda bottles and paper cups strewn all over the floor and dresser. Cleaning will be next on the agenda after he sweats this… this taint out of his blood.

The door opens, and he almost runs into Sheppard. "Hey, big guy. Cool, you look ready to go."

Ronon's not sure what the hell Sheppard's talking about, but the pilot is walking down the hall, expecting to be followed. Sheppard doesn't share any information with him and when they go inside the bay and enter the jumper.

"Where are we goin'?" Ronon finally loses patience, waiting to be told what's going on.

"Somewhere to breathe fresh air and get you out of that tomb of yours," Sheppard replies.

"The gym has punching bags and workout equipment."

"Yeah, well, what we're going to do is better."

They fly over the mainland, the colonel landing the jumper in a small clearing. Sheppard's all gusto to Ronon's sluggishness, and it irks him to have to keep up with the enthusiasm.

"Here, this is yours," Sheppard says, tossing him a canteen. "Water, better than all the caffeine you've been drinking."

Ronon hooks the container to his belt. "You and McKay drink it."

"No, Rodney mainlines the stuff; doesn't mean you should be following in his footsteps. Now come on."

That's Sheppard's lecture on the subject, and Ronon bristles over the fact it was something his CO took notice of. He hustles to catch up, realizing they're at the bottom of a large incline. "We gonna climb a mountain?"

Sheppard slips on a pair of gloves, tossing him some, aviator glasses reflecting the rising sun. "Yep."

"With no equipment?"

Sheppard smiles. "That a problem?"

Ronon scans the steep slope made of sharp angles, tiny crevices, and a sheer drop. The slab of rock extends upwards, merging with other parts of the foothills to make up the base of the mountain. It's reckless to scale such a cliff without rope or other types of safety devices.

It'll be just their fingers, boots, and wits.

They could fall and break their necks, and his heart pounds again in a way it hasn't in a while.

"No," Ronon says, breathing deeply.

Keller would kill him, kill them both. Ronon's hasn't recovered all his strength, and Sheppard's in fine physical form but has been recently stabbed in the gut--twice.

Grip, push up, search for a foothold, stretch. Ronon feels his ligaments and tendons strain beyond their means. Sweat pours down his face, stinging his eyes. He has to control his breathing, reserving each lungful of precious oxygen.

His arms ache and scream, his calves and back engulfed in pain... a good pain.

"You feel guilty... I get that," Sheppard grunts. "But... you shouldn't let it... eat you up… inside."

Ronon should have known better. Sheppard's smart; there's nowhere to run out here. "I broke. Turned... against my... own people. Pledged allegiance... to the Wraith." The thought sickens him.

"You were brainwashed... tortured. No one... blames you."

"I blame me!" Ronon roars. He juts out his hand, nails digging into the hard stone and shifts ahead.

Sheppard crabs upwards, panting, taking on the mountain a piece at a time next to him. "Then forgive yourself."

Could he?

Ronon bangs his knee against the slate, ignores the pain, and finds a niche for his boot. "It was my idea to try to turn you."

His CO searches for a place for his fingers, sweat glistens his flushed face and damp hair. "Smart... plan."

Ronon grabs at some rock that disintegrates with the force. He dangles by one arm, his left scrambling for purchase until he finds it. He gulps for air. "You're... supposed to hate me for that!"


"I didn't care if you were killed... if everyone on Atlantis were dead. I only cared about..."

"The next... fix," Sheppard grunts, his leg slipping on the smooth stone.

Ronon grabs his shoulder with one hand to steady him until he finds support in a tiny split in the granite. Sheppard presses his face against the cool side of the mountain, huffing for air. "I... I'm kind of aware... what you... went through... a little."

"I know."

"Well, then... you know... that... I know." Sheppard coughs at the dust and silt. "I remember dying in the woods. Body… all dust and bones. Thinking... next breath... next heartbeat... would be my last... but it was better than the pain of being fed on."

Ronon alternates his grips, checking his feet, leaning against an indention of the face of the cliff, listening. Sheppard had his life ripped out of him in pieces. It's another bond they share.

"Todd... well... he didn't have a name then, but I waited for him to finish me off. Then it was the most exhilarating sensation in my life. Like all of this adrenaline was shot straight into my heart. My body tingled with so many sensations; I thought I was going cry it felt so good."

"It's more than a rush," Ronon whispers, but his voice carries.

"Yeah. Thought I was goin' mad when I came back. Couldn't stand still... couldn't... couldn't think. After I was released from the infirmary I took a jumper and came out here."

Ronon looks down at the ground below. "To experience life and death."

Sheppard wipes his brow with his shirt sleeve. "Kind of... nothing like realizing one wrong slip... and..."

Ronon looks up instead, sees how much further there is left to climb. "Race you."

He scales his way to the top of the ledge, his body trembling uncontrollably, his mouth and throat desperate for moisture. Sheppard gripes and curses his way up, collapsing next to him in a heap.

They both relish the ability to breathe again, Ronon rolling onto his back to look at the sky. The view is amazing with endless miles of blue, and he reaches up with his fingers, imagining touching the clouds overhead.

Sheppard flips onto his back and intertwines his fingers, using them as a pillow under his head. Ronon unhitches his canteen and pours the water over his face, swallowing the heavenly liquid.

"We all fall down in our life, buddy... face the darkness and have to be led or dragged back from the brink," Sheppard says. "It's what we do afterwards... when we face the light again."

Ronon stares upwards, the ocean's reflection responsible for the dark blue overhead. His still heart pounds; a hunger gnaws inside him, and it's going to take long time to appease the desire. Tyre's betrayal is a duller blow, his sacrifice an even greater pain.

"I think we should keep climbing," he finally speaks.

Sheppard turns his head, hazel eyes covered by dark lenses. "We've got bigger mountains to tackle back home, buddy."

The desire is there, the taste of fresh adrenaline wetting a newly created appetite. "Yeah, you're right. This isn't as much of a challenge."

Ronon doesn't need to see Sheppard's expression to know what he thinks about that. He has some people to thank when they return. He sits up, rolling sore shoulders, relishing the twinges. "Ready to go back down?"

The colonel groans, propping up on his elbows. "The jumper needs a remote control."

"Come on, I'll take it slow," Ronon says, holding out his hand. Enjoying a renewed sense of being.

He pulls the pilot up, patting his friend's back, and the colonel nods. It isn't everyday that he needs the strength from others, but he accepts it with gratitude.

"Thank you," Ronon says.

"For what? Just another bump in a long, winding road," Sheppard replies, but he knows... of all of them, he is the closest to understanding.

Ronon is far from fine. It really isn't over, but it will be one day.