Chapter 1: When I See You Smile
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. - Rainer Maria Rilke
Getting lost in paperwork was a nice distraction from the fact that there wasn't much else going on in her life right now. At least, that's what Elizabeth kept telling herself. She had enough work here to keep her busy well into next year and that was just the reading she had to accomplish every day. There were days she thought maybe she should just stay in her office and not worry about ever going into the field again. John could handle it on his own, that she knew for sure. She didn't do it because she thought they needed her. She did it because she needed the team, needed the interaction like a diabetic needed insulin. These people were her life. The reports were just her job.
Of course, the number of reports that came in was growing exponentially as the population of Atlantis continued to grow. The SGC kept sending in new teams, filling in the spaces they felt the city still lacked. Every time she went to the Mess, there was a group of new faces huddled together as they tried to come to terms with the fact that they were in a whole other star system than Earth. It was something to get used to and she didn't envy any of them the process they would have to go through. Everyone came to terms with it in their own way. Thinking about it only reminded her that Kate had requested a moment of her time to discuss setting up new criteria for quarterly reviews. The system that was currently in place wasn't working. No wonder, considering it had been put in place when there was still a bare-bones staff here in the city.
She quickly made a note about the request before moving on to the next file, wondering if this would be something more interesting to read than yet another report written in standard military format. Would it kill any of them to include a graph now and then? That's why she always looked forward to Rodney's communications. They might have been full of the biggest words he could think of but they were full of graphs. Lovely, colorful graphs. Wading through the reports themselves always gave her a headache but she always moved him to the top of the pile. What would he say if she mentioned that fact to him? The man was brilliant but he had an ego large enough to rival even most of the people she'd worked with at the United Nations.
After another hour of wading through the mindless minutia that seemed to be her destiny for the day, Elizabeth stretched her hands over her head. A satisfying pop told her that she was hunching again. Her grandmother, bless her soul, would be horrified that she spent her day hunching over a desk. Of course, she'd be even more horrified that her granddaughter was wearing trousers and living with aliens. Everything had its perspective.
A grumble from her stomach decided her next move for her. She was going to grab a bite to eat and spend a few minutes up in the gate room. For all intents and purposes, it was the heart and soul of this city. If something important happened, it normally started there. Not only that but the crew that manned the computers also knew all the really good gossip. She found out more about the news of the city from spending time there than anywhere else.
There were quite a few people sitting down at the tables throughout the Mess. Every time she came in, there were different tables and chairs, scavenged from around Atlantis and positioned in different ways as the staff tried to find the best set up. She heartily approved of the constant redesign, being one who was always rearranging her rooms. While she appreciated order, there was something appealing about the clean chaos of a room that never stayed the same for very long.
Elizabeth tried not to jump as Ronon stepped up beside her. He towered over her by a good foot, making it an awkward glance up but she still did her best to meet his eyes as she smiled at him. She'd thought him half-wild when he'd come to them and, perhaps, he had been then. Seven years on the run, all alone, was bound to make anyone wild. To say that he made her nervous was an understatement. Quiet people always made her anxious because she only had visual clues to work off of as to what they were thinking. Sometimes people like Rodney, who talked their way through their mental process, were a great comfort to her.
"Hi, Ronon." She tried to think of something else to say but it all sounded slightly condescending, even in her head. Simple conversation topics always took on a life of their own when she tried to use them on Ronon. While she'd heard him bantering back and forth with John on several occasions, that was mostly because John had the affect on people. The man could charm a polar bear into giving up his coat for the winter. In this case, he charmed words out of Ronon's mouth when the big man would have stayed silent.
It was odd to have Ronon grinning at her like he knew something she didn't and was enjoying the secret. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to figure out if this was a prank. Now that life was settling into a routine here on Atlantis, she had taken on the roll of "big sister" instead of "woman in charge of everything" and that was starting to include being the butt of jokes and pranks. It made her uneasy to be included but who was she to complain. This was what she always wanted, wasn't it? To be part of a family?
"Have you eaten?" she finally asked, knowing that even if he had, he'd still take the time to consume more food. No one in the city ate more than Ronon and none quite so colorfully, she might add. "I was thinking of grabbing a bite to eat before I headed back to work."
"You've been working a lot lately."
"Not just lately. I work a lot all the time." She led the way through the maze of chairs and tables to the food area, she tried to consider where the statement had come from. Analyzing Ronon was always a challenge but she liked the fact that he didn't think like everyone else.
If Rodney had said the same thing to her, for example, she would have turned the tables and asked him about his work schedule because she would have assumed that he was expecting her to have noticed that he was also working too much. The man did work too much but he was enjoying it so much that she wasn't about to shut him down. He knew his limits, that she was sure of. If Teyla had said it, she would have thanked the woman and suggested a lunch date so the two of them could catch up on their hectic lives. It was nice to have a friend around to talk to about the intricacies of her job. To John, she would have just smiled thinly at him and changed the subject away from his attempt to keep her from coming on the missions with them. His veiled attempts to protect her from whatever danger he thought might come up was endearing only because she knew that he'd ignore any attempts that anyone tried to foist on him. But Ronon... what emotion did he want her to respond to? How much of himself was he including in the sentence?
"How have you been filling your time?" she casually asked as she grabbed for an apple. Truth be told, she didn't like apples but they were a handy prop when she didn't know what else to do with her hands. They also kept surprisingly well so that she could store one in her desk drawer in case of emergencies. It was always nice to have food around when she couldn't, or wouldn't, leave her office.
"Exploring, mostly. I like to know my surroundings."
"That's very smart. You must be finding some fascinating things. It's been ages since I've taken the time to explore new areas of the city."
She narrowed her eyes at him again. He'd said those two words like he thought it was a waste that she was stuck in her office more and more these days. Like he was sorry for the turn her life was taking. Like he knew her more than just as the leader of this expedition. There was a spike of sensation in her stomach as he said those words. No, not her stomach. Much lower down. It had been years since she'd felt anything so strongly for a man. That it was this one had her questioning her emotions. She barely even knew Ronon Dex and, until a few weeks ago, hadn't thought he wanted anything to do with her. Now all he had to do was show that he was paying attention and she was having daydreams about what his hands might feel like if there were ever to actually touch her deliberately instead of just a casual brush when they got too close on a mission.
Before she could analyze that feeling more deeply, she set the tray down on the nearest available table. This was not the time nor the place to give in to the late night fantasies she sometimes allowed herself. Without meeting his eyes, Elizabeth decided to shut down this conversation before it could even start. The last thing she needed to deal with was romantic feelings for a man she didn't understand well enough to tell if he was happy or sad or just bored. Simon had kept his feelings to himself. The last thing she needed was a repeat of her last relationship. "I just remember I was supposed to meet with the team leader of the botany group. I apologize for having to leave after I was the one who invited you to eat. Have a good day."
Strangely enough, he started to protest as she started to walk away. Because it would have been rude not to, she turned back to him but refused to look any higher than the open collar of his leather shirt. Was something made out of rags technically a shirt? It was a covering. Nothing so civilized as a shirt. Why, she wondered, did he not take the clothing that had been offered to him? Was there something about Earth clothing that he didn't like? Was the material wrong? She couldn't help but wonder if the offering had somehow been taken in the wrong light, as if he thought that by accepting the clothing he was accepting something else.
Would he be? Suddenly she wasn't so sure that the seemingly innocent gesture wasn't something bigger. She was in the Pegasus galaxy to expand the SGC's knowledge of the Ancients and to discover who else might be in this star system. Knowing what she did of the government that ultimately ran the expedition, she wasn't so sure that their kindness to the aliens that came to live on Atlantis didn't have some deeper meaning.
With a start, Elizabeth realized that Ronon hadn't said anything past the initial sound of denial. They'd been standing here in silence while she worked through her sudden epiphany and now she was staring at him like a lunatic. She cleared her throat and met his eyes once again. That was a mistake as her body reacted to the expression she saw there. He might not talk but if she spent enough time looking in his eyes, it was possible to figure out what he was thinking.
With a shiver of both excitement and fear, neither of which she wanted to dwell on at the moment, she decided that leaving was better than staying at this point. There was an invitation in those liquid brown eyes that she would have to give some thought to. "I'll... see you later."
This time she didn't turn back around but then he didn't make a sound. Had that been pain she'd seen in his eyes? God, she hoped it had been a figment of her imagination. The worst part of not knowing what to say to Ronon was feeling that the little she did say was wrong. Supposedly, she was a wonderkin when it came to words, able to reignite negotiations and calm down high emotions. Every time she came in contact with Ronon Dex, she felt like she left him with a bad taste in his mouth. He most definitely wasn't still on Atlantis because of her silver tongue.
Ronon watched Elizabeth walk away, his heart racing. Every time he met her dark eyes, he discovered things about himself. For instance, he was more over Melena's death than he thought possible. For the first time in years, he didn't feel all that pain and loss quite so keenly. Revenge had spurred him to live through his years as a Runner and he'd held tight to the pain so that he knew for sure that there was a part of him that was still alive. His heart had shut down, though. If he'd ever touched it during that time, hoping to deal with the emotions, he would have fallen apart. With no one around to pick up the pieces, he wasn't so sure that he would have survived.
But now, when he saw himself reflected back in those dark eyes, he felt healed. He wanted to be seen as something other than a hulking animal whose only use was his shooting skills. However, finding out more about Elizabeth Weir was difficult. He'd questioned everyone in the hopes of finding something they might have in common so he could come up with a reason to talk to her. Teyla had come the closest to helping him but she refused to divulge more than was already public knowledge. She had offered hints but Ronon wasn't good at piecing through the bits to find the truth they were supposed to reveal. Straight talk was what he needed.
John had been an obvious choice but he also wasn't talking. It was as if they were conspiring against him, forcing him to discover this information out for himself. All he'd gotten was a Good luck, Buddy and a pat on the arm. The next time he'd faced John in the circle, he'd made him bleed a little more than usual for that smirk he'd worn.
"Are you done with this?" one of the workers asked, pointing to the tray that Elizabeth had left behind.
He started to nod his head but thought better of it. "I'll take it with me." Hauling it all up into his arms, he decided to go looking for Elizabeth. He knew for a fact that she wasn't eating very much. He'd taken to doing a circuit of all the places he thought she might spend time at, hoping to get a hint of what she liked to do. Food was never at the top of her list. Those cheekbones were getting more pronounced and the bags under her eyes were starting to show through whatever it was that she used to cover them up.
The juggling act only got him so far before he lost his hold on the plate of Jello. It went flying in an arc that took it in the path of a group of women that began laughing and twittering behind their hands. He'd never been good at talking to the female of any species and he'd lost all his "game", as John called it, while he was fighting for his life. These kinds of occurrences made him feel like he was a child caught doing something silly. None of them said anything directly to him and no one offered to help as they walked past, their eyes averted as they smiled at each other. John claimed they were flirting with him but he didn't see it.
Beckett was following close behind them and stopped when he saw Ronon's troubles. "Dinna you decide to eat in the Mess Hall today?"
"Not for me," he answered as he tried to keep the sandwich intact with subtle body shifts. "Bringing it to Elizabeth. She's not eating enough."
"Why dinna you have the staff wrap it up for you?"
He hadn't thought about that. In the world he was still trying to shake off, food was meant to be consumed as soon as it was found and not kept for later consumption. There were see-thru bags that could be obtained from those that cooked the meals and even brown paper bags meant to carry around the food that couldn't be consumed at one of the tables. If he hadn't been so intent on getting this to Elizabeth, he might have thought about getting something to carry everything in. It was a mistake, one of many he seemed to be making lately. This was completely unacceptable.
"This is stupid." Ronon dropped everything in his hands in one of the waste bins that were placed at periodic spots in the halls, an addition the Humans had brought with them to the city. There was no way he could walk into her office like a juggler, half the food nearly spoiled as he tried to keep it in place. Once again, he felt like the silly child. "She knows where the food is. I don't need to bring it to her."
Beckett laid a gentle hand on his arm. "It's nae a stupid idea. Elizabeth is under plenty a stress at the moment and she needs someone ta watch o'er her. Perhaps we can find her a new tray of food that is inna appropriate container for transportation."
With anyone else, Ronon would have walked off and found something else to do so that he could put this episode behind him. His ego was continually taking hits in this new environment but there was no other place he could go. For good or bad, this was his home now. Sooner or later, he needed to find his place or he was going to go crazy from all these mistakes he was making.
As if sensing his inner turmoil, Beckett pulled away his hand. "After we deliver the meal, you can show me how to do that move you were talking about last week. The one that had Airman Franks on one of ma beds for two days."
Like magic, the thought of heading to the gym and expending some of these bad feelings did wonders for Ronon's mood. That was where he belonged, after all. Put a gun or knife in his hands or give him someone to take down with a well-placed hit to the neck and he was good. More than good. He was excellent. That was his world. Better to stick to what he knew and let Elizabeth take care of herself.
Chapter 2: In Dreams We Run
We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it. - Rainer Maria Rilke
The woods were dark as Ronon struggled to see what was up ahead. There was only one way out of this forest, what with the trees being so thick, and that was the path in front of him. The problem was that the enemy was on the path up ahead. He could go back the way he'd come but he was pretty sure that there were others coming up behind him. He could attempt to cut a path through the trees but he would be giving them a clear path to follow him. As he struggled with the decision, he heard a scream. It might have come from behind him but he wasn't sure. Holding his breath, he waited to see if it came again.
This time he was certain it was behind him. He didn't know who might be on this planet other than the Wraith that had been following him for the last few days. They'd called in reinforcements after he'd taken out nearly half of the first group which was why he was in the predicament that he was currently in. The fact that he'd let himself get caught like this was sheer stupidity on his part. As much as the trees had been a good idea to keep out of sight from his pursuers, he shouldn't have picked a planet where the forests were so thick. This was a long, endless set of paths that twisted and turned and kept him guessing as to the direction he was taking. The stars overhead weren't any help as he tried to pinpoint his location to where he thought the gate might be.
If there was someone else on this planet that needed his help, he wasn't going to waste time with the stars and the gate. While he knew he should concentrate on survival, it was still hard to leave any one behind for the Wraith to torture and kill. No one deserved what he had been forced to put up with since he'd been captured. Palming one of his many knives, he pivoted and turned back the way he'd been going. The trees began to close in on the path but he pressed forward until he could hear the scuffling and struggling. Whoever they had was putting up a fight, if the sounds they were making was any indication. He hoped the Wraith got a bit of their own back.
There were no lights to show him exactly what was going on in the clearing but he had a good idea from the shadows that moved back and forth in struggle. Ronon was biding his time, not wanting to burst into action until the last possible moment. He'd have one chance to take this group down because he would either need to turn and face the group that was still headed this direction or find a way out off this planet. There was a moment of perfect clarity as he saw the way he would get it done and, with a yell, he entered the fray.
The first Wraith was always the easiest to kill in instances like this and he went after the creature with a cool deliberateness, making the kill in less than five heartbeats. As he turned for the next and saw the slumped figure on the ground; Ronon realized he wasn't going to be getting any help from the other fighter. Not only would he have to fight off the entire group of Wraith alone but he would have to see about getting safely away before any others came along. The unfairness of it nearly swamped him but he pushed that away and found the anger instead. He could use anger whereas the other would just pull his head out of the fight.
With another wild yell, he attacked the next monster. Killed it. Attacked the next. Killed it. Attacked the next, wondering how many more he would have to kill as he went for a gut shot. It wasn't hard to kill the Wraith in combat that started this close, considering they had a tendency to go for the flashy upper cut instead of hitting hard and fast and getting it done. This one did find a piece of his flesh before it keeled over, sightless eyes mocking his helpless situation. He took a moment to stare back at it. I'm not scared of you. Not scared at all.
The rest of the group was closing in, indicating that he should probably get out of the area instead of waiting to see if he could best a group of trained fighters that knew where he was and what style of fighting he had. He leaned over to grab for the dead weight of the other captive just as a ray of light shone down on the upturned face. Bile rose in his throat. It was his own face. The light widened so he could see the whole clearing as if it was the middle of the day. John lay where he'd thrown the last combatant. Teyla was to his right, bleeding from a wound in her upper torso. Rodney was missing a hand. There was a rustling from the trees but he didn't look up until the person was right in front of him. It was Elizabeth, her eyes cold and calculating as if she really had been a Wraith.
"You've killed them all. Will I be next?"
"Why would I kill you?"
"Because if you don't kill me, I will kill you."
This time he let the jagged knife find his heart, watching it the entire way. As deaths went, it was a good one. It wasn't every day, after all, that he could say he'd been killed by the woman he thought he might love.
Elizabeth powered down the tablet with a sigh of contentment. She'd gone for a jog before bed but had come back to her desk and ended up getting another three hours of work done as the city settled down for the night. It was so peaceful at this time, the crew at a minimum and even the usual noises of general operation muted. While she should have gone to bed, she found that she couldn't get her brain to power down. Her two run-ins with Ronon were weighing on her. After leaving him behind in the Mess, she hadn't thought to see him again any time soon but he'd shown up with Beckett, bearing a sack lunch. Even though the doctor had done all the talking, Elizabeth had watched Ronon for his reactions. There hadn't been any which should have made her sad. Instead, she found herself with a happy little smile on her lips.
One thing she had discovered about Ronon Dex was that he usually told you just how he felt. If he'd been angry, he would have shown his anger. When he was happy, he laughed. But when the large Satedan was confused, he closed down. After his arrival at Atlantis, he had wavered between anger and suspicion. Everything in the city had been different and not at all what he'd been expecting when he'd come across John, Teyla and Rodney as they'd been looking for Aiden. He hadn't been pleasant to be around those first months as he acclimated to his surroundings but he'd settled into the routine and become pleasant to be around, especially if John was around to draw him out.
If laconic Ronon was back after all this time, it meant he was chewing on something. Could it be that she hadn't messed things up nearly as much as she thought she had? The thought cheered more than being able to clear her desk until tomorrow morning. She could sleep, for what little remained of the night, with a much lighter heart. And speaking of sleep, she knew she would need to get to her room or she would end up laying her head down on the desk and sleeping here. She'd done it often enough to know that she didn't want to wake up with a stiff back and wood grain imprinted on her cheek. It wasn't a pleasant way of waking up, especially since she was usually being shaken by at least one of her staff. Talk about embarrassing.
The lights came on as she walked through the halls toward the area of the city where her quarters were located, giving her the sense that she was walking in a bubble as they turned off again behind her. On these late nights, it made her feel like she was all alone; the only person turning the lights off and on in the entire city.
As she walked past an alcove, a spot in the hall where the city jutted out and it was possible to look out over the city, one of the shadows moved. Her fight or flight instinct kicked in as she tried to figure out if this was an intruder or an insomniac. A gut instinct made her turn and walk through the door as if she'd intended to take this diversion in the first place.
"Hey." The shadow came toward her but stopped before she could make out details. That voice, though, told her all she needed to know.
"Ronon. What are you doing out here at this time of night? Your room isn't even..." and there she went sticking her foot in her mouth once again. It was no problem of hers if he wanted to roam through the city at this time of night. She did have an urge to pinch her arm to make sure that she wasn't dreaming this interaction. Three times in one day. It was like a gift. A sad gift for a sad lady who was currently leading a sad life.
"I was watching the lights. This is the best place for them."
She gripped the handrail, leaning out slightly to catch the breeze off the water. There weren't as many lights now as there would be in the early evening but it was still a beautiful glow in an otherwise dark night. Now that she was seeing it, Elizabeth realized that she didn't look out windows any longer. The only shiny surface she saw these days was the screen of her tablet. Coming outside like this? That never happened unless she was out in the field with John and his team. This was Atlantis air, though.
"It smells just like the ocean at home. On Earth. I don't know why that always surprises me. Many times, I think that I've imagined the connection and that they really can't smell similar. Two completely different worlds and yet the smell of the water is the same. Isn't that funny?"
He didn't answer her right away but she was happy to see that her babbling hadn't sent him running for the building once again. Instead, he moved to stand beside her, his hands clutching at the rail in a nearly identical hold as her own. "Lots of places I've been to smell the same as they did on Sateda. Hot sand that sort of burns your nostrils. The sweet acrid scent of cooking fires. Trees. Lots of trees."
"Are there a lot of trees on your home world?"
"Not as many as some worlds I've been to. Give me a world without trees, though. You'd think you can use them to hide but that also means the one you're running from can also hide." He paused, his breathing coming fast and shallow like he was currently running from those same Wraith he remembered from his past. Even though he was safe on Atlantis, his demons still followed him. She'd dealt with enough soldiers to know that there would always be those same ghosts haunting him, especially with a past like his. "I just don't like the smell of trees much."
"I'm like that with the smell of vanilla. My grandmother used to burn vanilla candles but it only reminds me of all my uncles yelling at each other. My family took arguing to a whole new level."
"That's probably why you have this thing for communication."
She grinned up at him, tickled that he'd noticed that about her. So many people thought she wanted to be in charge when she really just wanted less chaos. It was nice when everything and everyone was in order. "Yes, I suppose it is. Every time I am able to bring negotiations to a peaceful conclusion, it's like being able to quiet those family get-togethers. I only wish I could have done that back then."
"All that matters is that you do it now."
His voice was quiet enough that it was just a rumble in the silent night but it was loud enough that Elizabeth could hear it without straining. No matter how quiet he tried to be, there was something about the level of his modulations that was easy for her to hear and still understand. The rumblings of his voice had a way of sneaking up and down her spine so that often she shivered once or twice when she'd been in a room with him for any length of time.
A shooting star streaked across the sky, bringing Elizabeth back to reality as she watched the light brighten and blink out. As much as she wanted to stay out here and listen to Ronon talk, she needed to head to her quarters. As it was, she was already going to regret this late hour as she struggled through tomorrow morning. "I'm probably keeping you from something." Elizabeth backed away from the railing, regret keeping her hands outstretched as if they were still holding the metal. "It was nice talking to you, Ronon."
"We didn't talk much."
As always, she blushed as Ronon cut to the heart of the statement and found her polite untruthfulness. "No, I suppose we didn't but it was more than we normally talk."
"We should talk more."
"Yes. I'd like that."
She nodded even though he was still looking out over the city. A man like Ronon was aware of his surroundings and would know what she was doing without having to see it. "I would. Tomorrow, maybe?"
"There's something I'd like to show you. A part of the city that I found. I think you should see it."
Instantly in leader mode, Elizabeth tried to figure out what exactly he had found. "Is this something I need to tell Rodney or John about? Maybe they should go instead. If it's something we can use then-"
"John was with me when I found it. He agrees. It's someplace you need to see. Not for work. Just... to see."
His description intrigued her enough that she paused to consider what she needed to get done the next day. There was the meeting with Lorne's team that she couldn't put off and a report from Zalenka that would need to be signed off on and sent back to Earth for approval. Everything else could be put off or passed off to someone else. Funny that she never let her assistants take on the responsibility they craved until some big, strong man came along to convince her to go on a field trip. They'd be delighted for something to do.
"Just you and me?" she asked in a small voice, unsure if this was going to turn into a group outing. While she liked the members of the team, she wanted to know ahead of time if they would be there. Surprises weren't her forte but she'd learned, over the years, to put on a calm face and ride out the wave of the unknown until she found a foundation in something she knew for sure.
When Ronon smiled down at her, she had to bite her lip to keep from grinning back at him like a lunatic. "Yeah. Just you and me. You okay with that?"
She nodded and ducked her head down to keep from giving away too many of the feelings swirling around inside her heart and head. "That's perfectly fine with me. I'll see you tomorrow. About," she went through her mental calendar one last time to make sure that there wasn't anything she was missing, "1300 hours. I have a few hours free."
"Good. That sounds good."
If she skipped a little as she started walking back to her quarters, there was no one around to notice. Even if there had been, she didn't know if she would have turned away or tried to disguise her happiness. For the first time in a very long time, Elizabeth felt... happy.
"You think this is going to work?"
Beckett looked into the bag one last time, double checking everything that he'd helped Ronon put in it. The doctor nodded as he came to the end of his mental list. "I canna see why not. You've got a nice selection of food and drink. We talked over the list of acceptable conversation topics and you agreed not to bring up your gun or the fact that you'd like to pick up a second one. Elizabeth seemed very amiable to the idea of exploration. Most importantly, she wants to be with you. You want to be with her. If all goes well, it could be a perfect afternoon."
"I meant, do you think Rodney will get his new program working in time?" When Beckett stopped, confusion written all over his face at why his friend was suddenly wanting to talk about a topic they'd dropped nearly an hour before, Ronon laughed and swung his legs out from the bed he'd perched on earlier to stay out of the way. He was always a little intimidated of the infirmary, never knowing what he might break if he wasn't careful. "Just kidding. I meant the trip around the city with Elizabeth. But... also...."
"Do you think she really wants to be with me? Maybe I could just tell her where it is and she can go with someone else. Someone... not me."
After cinching up the bag and setting it down beside the bed where it would be safe until it was needed again, the doctor took a seat on the bed opposite the large Satedan. "You keep asking that. Why do you think Elizabeth wouldn't want to be with you?"
"She runs away from me." Ronon blew out a breath as he prodded at the thoughts he'd been haunted by of late. "I'm used to that. People don't always like being around me. I scare them."
"Intimdate is a better word. You aren't a horrible person. Just a large one. And you never smile. We've talked about that before. It's no your fault that many of the people here are used to a smaller frame covered in lighter skin. The military group respects you for your fighting skills and the scientists are just jealous. Dinna let it bother you."
But it did. More than he wanted it to. "I don't want to scare Elizabeth."
"Then dinna scare her. Be yourself."
Ronon shook his head so vehemently that his dreads flipped over his shoulder and back. If he knew anything, it was that he wasn't going to be acting himself around Elizabeth today. Not if he wanted to be doing this more than once. "That's how I'll scare her. I'm not good with being myself."
"You're the best one to be you because only you can be you." Before Ronon could try to untangle that logic of that statement, Beckett laughed. "Just... do what comes naturally. If you feel like being silent, be silent. If you want to talk, talk. Dinna do something because you think you should. Only do something because you think it's the right thing to do."
He almost would have rather had the confusing statement to mull over instead of the in your face matter-of-fact truths that he should have known for himself. After all this time when he only had his thoughts and his trusty gun for company, he had thought he'd come to terms with who and what he was. A Runner only had himself to depend on. A Runner counted on no one to help him. A Runner didn't have time for emotions. A Runner looked forward and not back.
The problem was that he wasn't a Runner anymore. He had to relearn what it was like to be around people again, to read emotions on their faces even as he struggled to figure out his own emotions. There was no way he could just do anymore. No more reacting. There had been a time when he'd been quite good at this. Melena hadn't been the first woman he'd wooed and bedded, just the last and best, and he hadn't had to do all that much work. It just happened. One day, he realized that he was more than a little attracted to the woman and then they were considered a couple by all who knew them. There hadn't been any muss or fuss to the process.
An older and wiser heart now beat within his chest. He wasn't as confidant in his body as he once was. Here he was looked at as a thing to be studied or gawked at. If anyone was attracted to him, they kept it to themselves. The pure and simple fact of the matter was that he was out of practice.
"Guess I'll never know what will happen until I try." He jumped off the bed, ready to get on with his plans now that he had a spark of hope that this might not be a failure. "And if this doesn't work, I'll try something else until I find the one thing that works."
Beckett clapped him on the back, looking proud that he'd been able to help his friend come to this conclusion. "That's the spirit. Try, try again."
Before he could lose heart, Ronon jumped off the bed and picked up the bag. There was no looking back now.
Chapter 3: The Room
Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find these words - Rainer Maria Rilke
"I feel like all I'm saying is thank you." Elizabeth couldn't take her eyes off the walls of the large room. Translucent stones of every size and shape took the light streaming in from the windows set high in the walls and magnified it a thousand times over. A pool of water, fed by streams running in under the walls from the ocean outside, reflected even more light so that the room was like being in the middle of a star. A beautiful, cool star.
She was particularly intrigued by a deep blue stone set just to the right of one of the windows. It was oddly shaped but it was still pleasing to her eyes. The color was the same as the stone in a necklace her grandmother had often worn but that had been nothing but a piece of paste jewelry. This, most likely, was a stone of much greater wealth. Whatever the Ancients intended to do with this room, she very much doubted they would have wasted all this time and energy to create a room out of manufactured beauty. Based on her experience, the Ancients surrounded themselves only with those things that gained them something in return. Most of Atlantis attested to this thesis.
Ronon wasn't looking at the room and hadn't appeared to ever look down at his plate of food. Since coming to this room, he'd stared at her with an intensity she wasn't completely comfortable with. With all this beauty, why was he even bothering with her? He'd seen this before, she reminded herself. On his other visits, he'd had time to gawk.
"I don't mind."
"Of course you don't." She had to laugh. This was just all too strange to be here alone with Ronon but the view was spectacular and the food was delicious. There was no way that she'd be able to say that she had a boring afternoon, no matter what else happened. "I say 'thank you' and you say 'you're welcome' and we don't have to worry about conversation. But let's try, at least. It would be a shame to just sit here and exchange meaningless nothing in a room like this."
She waited as her lunch partner shifted first one way and then the other as if trying to find a more comfortable position on the stone wall around the pool. The hard seat was the price they paid for eating in this splendor. Still, he couldn't seem to get comfortable. At the expense of treating him like just another member of the team, she decided to see if there was something bothering him. Something other than... her.
"Ronon..." but she found she couldn't go any further. As soon as she said his name, she realized it had come out wrong. Not at all like it normally did, with as few syllables as possible. This had been a caress of the word, her tongue rolling the first part around a bit before sighing out the rest. While it had been a revelation to her that she could even say his name like that (for which she blamed the wine he had brought in a leak-proof container), it seemed to have set him off. Now he couldn't look at her, or wouldn't perhaps, and she found that she missed his eyes boring twin holes into her face. For all that it had made her uncomfortable, she missed the silent inquisition.
When she touched him on the shoulder, he stayed still but his muscles jumped under her hand. Whatever he was fighting against, it had him on the edge. Touching him probably didn't help the situation but she needed some sort of connection. Without it, she might as well just gather up the food and walk out the door. She'd said yes to this outing because it was about being with Ronon and seeing what, if anything, he wanted from her. Something more than they had right now, she assumed. It was hard for her to show anything but the rigid leader she tried too hard to portray on a daily basis but, for him, she was trying.
"Talk to me," she whispered, hoping not to scare him away any more than she had. There had to be middle ground somewhere for them. Something they could share that wouldn't hurt too much to talk about. "Tell me... what stone you like the best in the room."
Without pausing, he lifted his hand and pointed toward what she was coming to think of as her stone. "That one."
"Which one?" Her voice wobbled and threatened to fall over with her surprise. Surely, she hadn't been so obvious as to give her favorite away. Even though he'd been watching her, had he been able to figure out her intent while his head was turned away from the wall in question? "I can't tell from where you're pointing."
"Blue stone. Right by the window." His voice was muffled so that she couldn't catch anything but his gruff tone. No nuances came through the muffled words. "Has all sorts of odd angles to it. Surface is very smooth."
"How do you know?" She had a suspicion but wanted to know for sure. Wanted to hear the story in his own words, no matter how few words he used. "That it's smooth. How do you know?"
"The first time I was in here, I noticed it. It's hard not to. The shape draws your eye to it. So I climbed up to touch it to see if-"
He bit his words off as if he was afraid to keep going but she was having none of it. There was a part of her that was certain that this conversation would change something. Maybe it was just inside her but that would be well worth it. There were times when change was needed. Maybe that was what was off in her life right now. She was too stagnant. Since going back to Earth the last time, she had only been able to endure her life because of the rut she'd found herself in. Immersing herself in her work would only last for so long before she started to crack under the pressure of not being completely fulfilled.
But then... could she say that she'd ever been fulfilled by anything but work? Her mother had once bemoaned the independent streak that Elizabeth had always possessed. She never needed anyone. No, she never did, but sometimes it was nice to have them around. Dark night were long when it was just herself and her memories overlaid with guilt and grief at what might have been. Those had nearly doubled since leaving Simon behind. Not because she missed Simon, at least the way she assumed people would think she was missing Simon, but because she didn't know where to lay the blame for their relationship. Had Simon not been capable of fulfilling her or had she never given him the chance?
Ronon was most definitely a change. His outward appearance aside, he was an alien with a past he'd never shared. A couple of years ago, that might have been two black marks against him. Now, they were just two things that made Ronon the man he was. The question remained, though. Did she want to be fulfilled in Ronon?
"If what?" she asked, a little breathlessly from the speed at which her thoughts were moving.
"If it was hot. It looks like there's a star inside there. Can you see it?" He turned to look at her and she forgot how to breath. All she could do was nod as she saw an answering emotion in his eyes to her silent question. "It's smooth and warm from the sun but there's nothing inside it. Just more of the same blue rock."
When she could find her voice, which took some concentrated effort on her part, she replied, "That was the one I first noticed when I sat down. You're right. It does look like there's a star trying to burst free. It's beautiful."
He jumped to his feet and she assumed she'd lost him. Better to have kept silent than to drive him away with whatever it was about her words that offended him. When he didn't push past her to head for the only opening, she realized he was going in the opposite direction. Not out of the room at all. He was going to climb the wall again.
"Ronon." Damn, there it was again. She couldn't seem to say his name with anything but seduction oozing from it anymore. "You're going to hurt yourself. Or the wall. I don't need to feel it."
"Sure you do. It's loose so it's not like it's going to be work to get it out." He was halfway up the wall and climbing. Watching him move was like nothing she'd seen before; a combination of experienced climber and small child. There was no rhyme or reason to where he put his hands and feet but he was assured of where he was going and ready to put his weight down once he got there. It might have been because he'd done this before but she didn't get the impression he was following a charted course. His hand reached up, latched on and he pulled. Then the foot on that side. Repeat on the other side of the body.
Several of the rocks were loose and there was a moment when she thought he might have chosen wrong but he quickly changed courses, putting his hand up a little higher so that he was stretched out more. She couldn't help but feel some fear as she tried to reason out what he might be thinking. Instead of asking him, she pressed her folded hands firmly against her lips so that she didn't say something wrong and cause him to come to harm. It was hard but she sat quietly until he was within reach of the rock.
Try as he might, the rock wasn't as loose as he had first appeared to think it was. "Do you need something to pry it off?" she finally asked as she watched his face grow alarmingly red from the exertion of staying on the wall. "There's a fork here somewhere. Or I can go get-"
"No." She stopped dead at his yell. "I've almost got it. Just... one more... there."
The rock spiraled through the air, landing with a thud and clang against the side of the pool but Elizabeth didn't care because Ronon had decided to leap off the wall after it. His fall through the ten or twelve feet of air stopped her heart almost completely so that there was an ache in her chest when it finally started up again. While he might have thought it was a safe drop, she could only imagine a dozen things that could go wrong.
When he sprawled on the ground instead of landing on his feet, she felt as if her worry had caused the error in judgment. All the What Ifs began to swirl around in her head, mocking her. She ran to his side, not daring to touch him in case he was badly damaged.
"Are you hurt?" she asked from her position over the fallen man's body. All she could think of at the moment was that he was on the ground and she wouldn't be able to get him to the Infirmary in nearly enough time to save him if there really was something wrong with him. She'd seen strong men get sidelined because of smaller injuries than this one might be. "Is it your back? Did you land on your back? Can you move your fingers? Your toes?"
His hands came up to frame her face but it was only when he pulled her down for a kiss that her brain stopped its frantic pace down hospital wards and through surgery after surgery. It was nice to be calmed this way, eased back into reality with a press of warm lips against hers and callused finger tips running along the edges of her jaw. The fear was still there so that when she was finally released from the sweet bondage, she searched his eyes for signs of pain and checked his racing pulse for anything that wasn't related to the kiss.
"I'm okay. Just landed on something instead of coming down easy. You need to start breathing or I'm going to be taking you to see the doc. Got that?" He waited, like a gentlemen, for her to nod. "Good. Now help me up. I want to see what got in my way."
It didn't escape her notice that he rubbed at his hip or that he grunted in pain when she put her hand on his shoulder to pull him upright. All that mattered was that he was moving. As he struggled up, he kicked something across the room. A flash of light followed it to the shadows where it skittered against other rocks and settled into a groove in the floor. Elizabeth searched for the object with fingers that were numb, her fear and worry still getting the best of her.
"Is this it?" Without looking at what she held in her hand, she turned back toward Ronon who was in the process of wincing. "Is this what you nearly gave your life for? It's... it's beautiful."
She was holding a piece of the star that had fallen to earth. The clattering she had heard at first was the stone breaking apart as it took a direct hit on what was probably a weak spot so that what she now held was a smaller piece of what had once been a whole blue stone. While the stone, yes, was smooth, the broken edges were as sharp as glass so that she felt she had to hold it carefully to keep it from slicing open her hand. There were other colors in the midst of the fire within that she was only seeing now that she was so close. Streaks of green shot out from what would have been the middle, making it look like a wave of water caught in time where all the nuances of movement could be investigated.
It surprised her that Ronon wasn't more interested in what she held but he was investigating that side of the room, searching for the other half. He finally gave up coming over to look at the half she was holding. The broken pieces were from the part that had been embedded into the wall so that the rock could be replaced without anyone knowing it was gone. Not that she was going to suggest that, though. Elizabeth didn't know if she could handle another moment of panic as he fell through the air without knowing for sure where he might land.
He must have seen the panic flare in her eyes once again. "I wouldn't have been seriously hurt. I've jumped from much further distances. Landing on this broken bit threw off my balance. Nothing to worry about."
"But-" she got out before her comm buzzed to life.
Her stomach clenched into a thousand knots as she saw his open expression suddenly close up as she reached up to activate her microphone. It was a horrible reminder that whatever personal time she requested wasn't always guaranteed as the welfare of the city always came first. "They'd only be calling if something was wrong. I... I have to take this."
"Of course. I'll pack up the food."
She wanted to cry but there was nothing she could do to change this moment back to what it had been a moment ago. With a deep breath, she put aside the feeling that she had lost something precious that may not be given to her again and tapped the receiver. "Weir, here."
Ronon leaned against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched the two people in Elizabeth's office through the glass from the floor below. Weir's office, he reminded himself. He, of all people, shouldn't be calling her Elizabeth. She was the leader of the Earth expedition to the Pegasus galaxy and he was... no one of any importance. Not anymore. Never again if he stayed here as the token alien.
What hurt most, he supposed, was that Melena had always treated him like this. Her job had always come first. Her need to always be on the job had taken her life against all that he'd tried to do to save her. This hurt was directly tied to the moment when the wall of the hospital had exploded, taking her life in the blast. There hadn't even been a body to mourn over.
The thought that Elizabeth might choose Atlantis over her own life made him tense and agitated. It wasn't Elizabeth he was angry with, even though he had seen her come to that realization. He was upset with Melena all over again.
"Ronon?" Teyla, the last person he wanted to see at the moment, tugged at his arm. "Have you not heard that we've been called to Elizabeth's office?"
"Not wearing my comm," he said when it became apparent that she wasn't going to walk off if he ignored her. That was the problem with Teyla. Those eyes of hers saw too much. If he tried to hide from her, she'd know about it and press to know why he wasn't letting her in. That was the last thing he needed right now. Having one woman turn away from him while another began to paw the hurt didn't sound like fun.
With a grunt, he pushed away from the wall. All this standing still had made his bruised hip and shoulder tighten up. If he'd been smart, he would have headed to the gym and worked out some of this aggression and kept his body limbered up but his feet had brought him here and he'd decided not to fight the impulse. "I'll follow you."
Those all-seeing eyes swept over his face, not missing the grimace of pain or the fact that he was holding something in his hand that he wasn't about to show her. With any luck, this meeting would keep her from asking the questions he could see on the tip of her tongue. She was normally good at holding her own council but there were things she felt she was honor bound to discover and his dark moods had become her favorite to try to break through.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
He shook his head slightly. It didn't appear that he was going to get his wish. "Not really. This just... maybe I shouldn't be here."
"The control room?"
"Atlantis. I don't belong here."
Teyla shifted, ready to start in on the same arguments that she'd used in the past, when her expression finally cleared. Her lips curved up into a smile of pure delight. "Is this because of where you spent this afternoon?"
"Who told?" He didn't like his personal life being gossip fodder, even less so because it had gone badly. Well, not badly but not exactly good. "The only other person who knew was Carson and he promised-"
"It was not Carson who told me. It was Elizabeth herself. She wanted some idea of what to expect."
A cold wave washed over him as he thought of what that statement might possibly mean. Every idea he had was like some bad day at the freak show, where he was the main attraction and Elizabeth was wondering if she wanted to pay the entrance price to see just how odd he was.
Teyla, being Teyla, could see where his thoughts were heading. "Not like that, Ronon. She wanted to know what I thought your intentions might be. If you were wanting this to be about friendship or if I thought it might be more personal than that."
"Do you want me to be blunt?" she asked, her expression turning sour. "Fine. She wanted to know if I thought you were looking for companionship of the kind that might involve something physical."
"Kissing and... other things." When he couldn't keep up the pretense of stupidity and began laughing, she narrowed her eyes. "Maybe I should not have told her I thought you were open to the idea of a relationship. Maybe I should have told her to turn and run away from you. That is what you deserve."
The bad mood he'd let himself be immersed in since finding himself outside Weir's office was quickly dissipating. Knowing Teyla the way he did, she had said only good things about him. In this context, at least. There wasn't time to consider what exactly she had thought about his chances of getting a second chance at a first date when she pulled back, her hand reaching up toward her comm once again.
"I have him. We are on our way." Then she hesitated, frowning. "We are, are we not?"
It wasn't like he could say no. For the moment, going into meetings like this was his job. He was getting used to listening to the talk swirl around him as he concentrated on finding the morsels of fact that were the most important. These Earthers liked to talk about nothing and everything all at once, very seldom concentrating on the most important issues at hand, but he was getting used to it. He let them talk and then, when they seemed to get tired of that, he would say something to bring them back to the real topic they should be discussing. This usually happened once or twice a meeting, a fact that used to anger him. But, back then, everything had angered him so he wasn't surprised that he had become more apt to take it all in with only a roll of the eyes.
When he took his usual place beside the door, as if he had the option of a fast exit if the conversation went past his tolerance level, he tried to find a suitable place to put his eyes. Elizabeth was smiling at him as she waited for Teyla to settle in a chair but she pulled her gaze away much too quickly. Surprisingly, that smile went even further toward lightening his mood than his conversation with Teyla. She was leader of this group, that he couldn't make light of. She had a job to do and she did it very well. At first, he had bucked against the idea of following a person who wasn't a fighter but she had proven herself in a fight. It was her words that set her apart. And her smile. Gods, he loved her smile.
"Feel free to chime in any time, Chewie." Sheppard's narrowed gaze told him that his inattention hadn't gone unnoticed. "I'm assuming you'll have something to say about this."
"Why would you say that?" Instead of admitting that he'd been thinking of Elizabeth's smile, he pulled on an air of menace. It never scared Sheppard but it was always interesting to see how he dealt with it. This time he just narrowed his eyes. "What?"
"Since you appeared not to be interested in the conversation until this moment, I'll give you a break down of what it was all about. We heard back from the scouting mission on M7R-912. There's a small village about 5 clicks from the gate. Elizabeth wants to check it out. I can't go at the moment. Teyla also has some pressing matters that need to be taken care of. Rodney is overwhelmed with his work on those equations on the white board that he's been staring at lately. That leaves you. Give us your reason why you don't want to go and we'll go get some lunch."
He didn't have to give this one a second thought. "We go together or we don't go at all."
"Looks like that settles that." John got to his feet, looking all too smug. "We'll need to hurry to get the good Jello."
Before he could leave the room, Ronon stepped into his path, putting his arm out to catch him just in case the other man decided to side step him. "Wait. What?"
"Jello. Come on. Time to eat."
Ronon looked around Sheppard to get a better look at Elizabeth who was still sitting at her desk, her back ramrod straight and her face devoid of expression. "No, that wasn't a question about Jello. Why do you want to check it out now? Why not wait for the rest of the team?"
Her chin lifted as she met his gaze. "There are other teams."
"That is not what I meant when I said you should give it some thought." John's attention riveted back on Elizabeth. He was trying very hard not to sound irritated but it was easy to see that he was losing that battle.
Ronon didn't know if he felt any better. It was one thing to try to push one of the team to take her but another entirely to go looking for another team. For something like this, he didn't want just anyone watching her back but someone he trusted and, as much as he'd gotten to know the other people who called Atlantis home, there was no one he trusted enough to protect her on any other team. If John was saying 'no', he had a good reason. His own reasoning had just been about saving face.
"I'll do it." That was not what John wanted to hear but he wasn't about to be talked out of his decision. He pushed past a sputtering John to stand in front of Elizabeth's desk, leaning on it until they were eye to eye. There wasn't a smile on her lips but there was one lighting up her eyes. "But not until I get more information on this place. It's going to be hard to protect you if it's just the two of us."
Her smile was brilliant, the one that he liked to see directed at him because it made him feel as if maybe things could work out between them. It made him want to fight for the chance. "Maybe you won't have to. Maybe there isn't danger this time."
"There's always danger," John growled. It was the truth, though. Just being in Atlantis was a risk. No matter the advanced equipment that told them if the Replicators or the Wraith came after them. The city itself might decide it didn't want them around any more and there would be nothing they could do about that. It was a moment-by-moment existence but that was the sort that Ronon liked. Peace left a person lethargic and weak.
Without saying anything else but grinning at John's apt statement, Ronon turned and left the room. He needed unbiased information, something he wasn't going to get in this room.
Chapter 4: Two is Better Than One
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,
because it serenely disdains to destroy us. -Rainer Maria Rilke
Cephas, the leader of this ragtag group of people that Ronon and Elizabeth found on the planet, left as soon as the food was brought in. It had been a tense couple of hours of talking and listening, conjoling and bickering only to end in a stalemate that had Elizabeth clenching her jaw in exasperation. She didn't dare leave the room they'd been ushered into because none of the people she'd encountered during the walk from the gate to the village had looked inviting. Hostile was the word that Ronon had used when she'd first questioned him on it. His own expression had grown more harsh with each passing moment until now he looked like he would kill the next person who dared to look at him.
"Wait," he growled as she reached for the bowl that had been set before her. "Let me taste it first."
"I doubt they're going to poison me. Kick me back through the stargate, yes, but not poison me. That would involve having to dispose of a body."
That was not a thought he enjoyed her even entertaining from the glare he leveled at her before reaching out for the platter of meats. After sniffing at them, he tried a portion in two different areas. When nothing happened to him, he tried out the vegetables and breads. All met his approval but he dumped out the glasses of foul smelling liquid. "Never," he emphasized the word as if this was her first excursion off-world, "drink anything that hasn't been poured in your presence. Always ask for a clean glass."
While it would have been nice to have something to wet her parched throat, she wouldn't have touched the liquid anyway. For now, she ate some of the sweet-smelling fruit that she vaguely recognized and tried to put everything into perspective. "They don't like us much."
"We don't like them either."
"That's not true," but it really was. From what she'd seen and heard, there was nothing this world could do for Atlantis. She might have tried to form some sort of alliance but they seemed unwilling to give anything in return for the things that she could offer them. There was no way she was going back with any of the demands Cephas had produced, seemingly out of thin air.
She looked over her shoulder at where Ronon had returned back to the wall, his eyes watching the one entrance to the room while his hand hovered over the gun at his hip. "Do you want any of this? I know it wasn't offered to you but that doesn't mean I won't share."
There was nothing she could do about the way they'd treated Ronon because he was giving them back most of the rancor in kind. That was fine with her from a mediating standpoint, as it was always nice to have someone playing "bad cop" while she took what looked like the high road, but the woman who saw Ronon as man saw the slight and wasn't happy. She'd never let her emotions get in her way before. Not like this.
When he shook his head, she shrugged and went back to eating. The mindless activity let her work through more of her thoughts about what she had learned about this group of people. They were primitive on the surface but had an underlying sense of style. Her food was artfully arranged even if it is basic. The rooms were all decorated with well-used furniture but it was of good quality. They looked like they'd been rich at one time and had lost their wealth, bitter to the core about their turn of fortune.
Elizabeth grabbed up the plate of meat, walking it over to Ronon as if she was being polite when really she wanted to be able to talk to him without being overheard. Since he was going to come to her, she would have to go to him.
"What are your thoughts about these people? Other than their attitudes, that is."
He flipped a knife out of thin air, something that never failed to surprise her since she could never figure out where they were all hidden. After he speared a piece of meat and chewed on it, looking as uniquely put out as only Ronon could, he leaned closer.
"Their manners don't match their clothes. And this food tastes like crap."
Compared to Atlantis and the cafeteria fare they sometimes had, that was quite an insult. Since she hadn't tried the meat, she didn't know if it wasn't well prepared or if it was just an insult. When she moved to put the plate back on the table, he stopped her with a hand on her arm and she gave him the plate so he could continue eating.
"I'm glad I'm not the only one who picked up on the inconsistency with their appearance," she answered, crossing her arms over her chest. Now that she didn't have her words and outward calm to fall back on, she was feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable. "I wish they trusted enough to tell us what their history is."
"Trust? Not likely. They want us gone. The sooner, the better."
Elizabeth sighed. "I suppose we should leave them be. It's not like it would be a good alliance if they don't want to participate a equal partners. We'll just chalk it up to a good try."
"You tried. That's all you can do."
The encouragement went straight to her heart. It wasn't unexpected but it wasn't what she'd expected him to say and the surprise was just as delightful as the words.
There was a cough from the doorway. Both of them stiffened as they looked over to see Cephas glaring at them. "Have you finished eating?"
"Yes. It was-"
The ground dropped out from under feet before she could finish the sentence. When she reached out for Ronon to steady her, she found that he wasn't where she had expected him to be. It took a moment for her brain to catch up with what her body was experiencing. The only time she'd ever been to California had been during the horrible earthquake in 1989. These were the same motions she'd experienced there but on a much grander scale.
A tapestry shivered off the wall, draping across Ronon. His roar of surprise made some of the fear in Elizabeth abate as she started to piece together the real fears from the imaginary. She found Ronon's arm at last and began to tug at it.
"We have to get away from the wall. Under the table."
It felt as if it took forever to get across the few feet. There was no danger but for the weaving floor and the falling draperies but it still felt quite the feat to make it under the sturdy piece of furniture in one piece. She verified that Ronon was unhurt before turning her attention back to Cephas. He was still in the doorway but he looked to be trying to make the decision to join them.
"Stay there! The door frame will protect you better than this table will protect us if this building decides to collapse."
His eyes immediately narrowed as he tried to figure out if she was telling him the truth or if she was attempting to kill him. All she could do was hope that he took her at her word and didn't decide to leave the only safe spot in the room. She didn't like the look of the stones that made up the outside wall. Time and ill-repair had left many of them without much mortar keeping them in place. If this shaking kept up much longer, the whole thing was liable to come down on all of them.
"We need to get out to the road," she shouted at Ronon, hoping he could hear her over the sudden cacophony of screams. "If that wall comes down on us, we'll be in buried. Getting out into the open is going to be the best thing, away from any of these old buildings."
"I'll follow you."
She shook her head as she tried to keep from coughing as the dust in the air thickened. "You're going to need to take Cephas with you. He's not going to move at my say so. If you start up a good run, you should be able to carry him out with your momentum. Do you remember the way out?" The look he gave her would have made her nervous only a few days ago but now she understood a little more of what was going on behind the glare. That was enough to make her smile back at him. "Fine. You remember the way out. Sorry I asked."
"I would ask you the same."
She squeezed his shoulder because she didn't know if he could see or would appreciate her eye roll. "Just go. I'll follow."
Elizabeth's quick thinking was all that kept them from being in the rubble of the collapsed wall. Dust rose up from where they had been only moments before, adding to the thick air caused by the other wreckage around the area. The earth still rolled and bucked from time to time, just another indication that this planet was the last place he wanted to be at the moment. Ronon had gotten the urge to leave well before the first piece of rotten fruit had hit him square in the middle of his back as he'd stood in the middle of the street, surveying the destruction of the village. It hadn't been a place full of properly constructed houses when they'd arrived but none of the villagers seemed to remember just how everything had been falling apart before the shaking began. They were suddenly aware that someone new had been in their midst just when everything started to go wrong.
"She brought this to us. It was her fault."
The first insult was only seconds after the offending fruit bounced off his vest. Ronon didn't take his eyes off Elizabeth, suddenly aware that he had no exit if someone wanted to bring harm to her. They were circling, tighter and tighter, anger radiating towards them until Ronon was as afraid of being burned by their ire as he was of being physically harmed.
Elizabeth, as always, was trying to reason with them. Even she must have been able to see that it was impossible to try to reach them with words but she had to try. That normally didn't frustrate him as much as it was right now because it was who she was. Of course, in this instance, it was something that could get her hurt or, dare he think it, killed. The street was full of bared teeth and narrowed eyes. No one was standing around watching. Everyone was a participant in this madness.
"We have to go." She pushed at his hand as if he was trying to convince her to eat at a table she didn't want to be sitting at, as if asking her to leave was petty. Still, he had to try again. He didn't want to die on this dirt road and it wasn't like he could just leave her here. Neither could he pick her up and put her over her shoulder, although the idea had merit and if she kept brushing him off, that was exactly what he was going to do.
One of the women who had been part of the group that had talked with them earlier pushed her way through the crowd. While she didn't look as crazed as some of the others, she didn't appear happy. "It would be best if you left."
"But we didn't cause this. I just want-"
"Leave now or I won't be able to stop what happens next."
It was easy to see that Elizabeth hated to be told what to do, especially by someone who was unwilling to help her to solve what she saw as a dilemma. When she saw the new wave of people pushing toward them, even she would have had to admit that this current plan wasn't going to work. It was time to back down from this challenge.
"Follow me," the woman shouted. Ronon all but pushed Elizabeth after her, knowing he had to be at the back to keep the insurgents from getting to her weak side which was, in his opinion, all of them, but he couldn't lead her out and still cover the rear. He just had to trust that the woman was going to help him and not hinder them somehow. Thinking about that possibility was giving him the shakes so he concentrated on looking everywhere at once. While he hadn't pulled his gun just yet, his hand was hovering over the holster, itching to be able to pull out the weapon and take out anyone who might try, just try, to get to Elizabeth.
The ground began to roll under his feet again. It was like walking around in a puddlejumper when Sheppard was pretending to lose control of the instruments, something that never failed to freak McKay out which was why the guy did it. This was different though. Nature was getting back at the people of this world for daring to live here. This motion was full of malice and an intent to do harm. A wall near the path they were taking sheered off from the rest of the building, stones rolling into their path but their leader was aware of the danger and veered toward the other side of the street. The yelling behind them had dwindled to nothing as the rest of the townspeople ran for cover, their taunts saved for the next moment of peace but Ronon had to wonder if they shouldn't have been running away from the buildings instead of back into them. He didn't have time to rescue everyone even though it galled him that he was even considering it. The Earthers were rubbing off on him, giving him back the sense that there were more lives to consider than just his own. That should have been good, he reasoned, since it meant he was getting his humanity back. Bad, though, when he was concentrating on just saving one person.
In front of him, Elizabeth stumbled as smaller rocks began to cross her path. Without thinking, Ronon lifted her up into his arms and kept running. She was heavy but he could barely feel the weight thanks to the adrenaline pulsing through his system. His body was sure to let him know it didn't like the strain later on. For now, he was intent on getting her to safety.
That was proving to be harder than he'd thought it would be. Five clicks should have been easy to cover at this pace but the problem was the constant redirecting they had to deal with. Since he had to keep his attention on the ground in front of him, he had to depend on the woman leading him to take them on the right path. At this point, Ronon wasn't even sure what direction he was doing this mad dash in or if their ultimate destination was even the stargate.
He heard Elizabeth moan, letting his concentration slip long enough to look down at her. She was pointing off to the side. "What?" he asked, not wanting to slow down if it meant being dragged off in a different direction than away.
The anguish in her voice, something he wasn't used to hearing, made him stop dead. The reason he didn't recognize where they had been running right away was because they were taking a different path to their destination than they had originally used. This path was right up against the side of the mountain which is why they were dodging so much debris. Through a break in the spindly trees, he could see what had been the gate. The only thing still recognizable between what it was then and what it was now was a piece of the corner sticking out above the large pile of rubble that now took up that area.
She stood steady on her feet when he set her down, his mind barely registering what he was doing as he began running toward their only chance at freedom. Hands clawed at rocks, tossing them aside as they were replaced by a slide of new debris. It wasn't until he felt hands on his back that he came to his senses and then only because he turned, ready to fight off an attacker. Elizabeth's concerned expression swam in front of his eyes and he had to scrub at his face before she came in clearly. Tears were flooding his eyes as his body struggled to do something about the fine dirt that was swirling in the air but some of that reaction was also from the grief and rage that poured through him. He had done everything he could to save her but it had been for nothing if they couldn't get off the world and back to Atlantis.
He wasn't sure what she wanted him to do until he realized that he was muttering his thoughts out loud, a stream of curses and broken sentences that didn't flow together. It had been so long since he'd felt this depth of despondency that it was undoing all the past months of being safe inside the walls of Atlantis. No matter where they went off-world, there was always the promise of a safe return. This was too much like the same sense of doom that he'd been feeling in his nightmares lately. Elizabeth wanted him to stop. She might as well be consigning them both to a death sentence.
Her hands were running over his arms again. "Ronon. We'll get home. All we have to do is wait for John to realize that we're late dialing back and try to come after us. We just have to wait."
A wail ripped through the air just as the ground began to move again. Ronon lost his footing as the mountain of rubble behind him began to shift. For a moment he thought he was in danger from the rocks that covered the Stargate. When the rocks under his feet began to give way, he could have laughed at himself for not realizing the real danger. All he could do was push Elizabeth out of the way and pray this fissure wasn't deep.
"Lileat, you need to tell them I need help." Elizabeth had to run to keep up with the woman but she wasn't going to turn around until she'd procured someone to help her. Many people, actually. She'd tried to uncover the rocks that had settled over Ronon but had discovered that it was more work than one person was capable of. There were a couple of larger boulders that were holding up a flood of more rocks that would only make the situation worse if she unsettled them. When he'd woken up, she'd told him of her plan to go back to the village but she couldn't be sure he'd heard her. His dark skin was like ash and his eyes had fluttered open and shut instead of training on her. While she was no medical doctor, she knew enough to know that he was in need of a crew of doctors instead of one lone female who hadn't thought to bring even a single Band-aid.
Right now, she had to concentrate on getting him free. More of the gate had been freed up but it was still not usable and while she hadn't felt Ronon's earlier despair, she was beginning to understand why he was so rattled. The idea of staying on this planet until help came had been bad enough when it had been the two of them against an angry mob. Now she had to depend on herself. No one else. It had been comforting to have Ronon to depend on but she knew that she couldn't let those feelings drag her down. It was always about what she could get done alone. Depending on other people was dangerous.
"Please," she begged, hating the way that her voice sounded as she tried to get the attention of the one person who might be able to help her. Her actions were causing reactions from the people just now starting to come back out of their shelters. Instead of concentrating on Lileat, she redirected her energies. These people had blamed her before and it was doubtful they would have changed their mind through two more rumblings but she needed to try. "My friend is hurt and I need help getting him out of the hole."
"Your own fault," some one shouted.
Elizabeth rummaged around in her pockets, wishing she hadn't just cleaned them out after the last mission to M4T-547. Surely there was something there she could use to get their attention, though. "I have things," she held out an energy bar, the wrapper crackling under her jittery fingers, "I can trade for the help. And once he's free, we'll leave. You won't need to worry about us any longer."
"Lies! All lies!"
They began to circle around her again, their eyes dead and their mouths twisted with menace. She knew that this wasn't all because of the earthquake but these people's lives were harsh and they finally had someone they could blame for everything, not just today's events. Not that she would tell him, but John had been right to ask that she wait to come to this settlement with the team. They would have respected the show of force much more than what they saw as her empty words. The only way she would be able to save herself and Ronon was to prove to them that she could put actions behind those same words. At this point, it was either that or she would be forced to fight her way out of this.
The next thing her questing fingers touched in her pocket was the slick surface of the rock she'd shoved in her pocket earlier in the day. A shiver ran through her body as she realized how this day could have gone differently. Instead of deciding she wanted to stand up to John, something that she knew never worked out well, she could have gone back to the picnic she'd been pulled from. Ronon would have lost that look in his eyes that told her she'd hurt him more than she'd meant to and she could have been a normal woman for an evening.
She held up the rock, ready to fight them all with it if that's what came of this. Better to die fighting than to let them overwhelm her with their ire.
In no more time than it took her to take a breath of air into her lungs, the people around her dropped to their knees. When she looked around, she didn't see a single person looking up at her. As her heart continued to pound in her chest, Elizabeth tried to reason out what had just happened as she circled around in place. Finally, she couldn't take the suspense any longer.
"What happened, Lileat?" she asked the prostrate woman. "What did I do?"
The woman was trembling as she looked up, tears leaking out of the corners of eyes that were full of terror and wouldn't connect with Elizabeth's gaze. "The sky stone. You have one."
It was pretty but Elizabeth hadn't thought that would send people to their knees like this or make them fearful. "Tell me the story of why this is important to you," she demanded but Lileat hung her head back down.
She began circling again, almost more scared now that they were bowing to her than she'd been when they were threatening her with physical violence. "Someone tell me what this stone means to all of you. I demand to know what is happening."
From the back of the crowd came a small voice. "There is a prophecy that says that the kings and queens will come back some day, looking for more treasure."
"I'm not a queen." Elizabeth glanced up at the rock, not surprised that it was shining as if being struck by a light source even though the sun was hidden behind clouds. "And I don't want your treasure. I just want some help for my friend."
"But you have some of the treasure. Only the kings and queens are allowed to hold the sky stone."
"Look, I'm willing to give you this rock... this sky stone if you'll just help me get my friend to safety." The crowd shifted, uneasy that she wasn't claiming her right to be called queen but also, she suspected, because they still wanted to be angry with her. "And then you'll have some of the treasure."
"We want nothing to do with the treasure. The rest of the prophecy says-"
"It is just a story," someone interrupted from the other side of the circle of people. When Elizabeth looked over, she wasn't surprised to see that it was Cephas who had spoken. Even though he said it was just a story, he had been kneeling with the rest of them so if he didn't believe the story, he certainly wasn't about to let it possibly harm him if she had turned out to be a queen come back for her treasure. All this went a long way in explaining their hostility of her and some of the questions that Cephas had asked her.
"I wan to hear what the rest of the story has to say." She narrowed her eyes at the supposed leader of this city. She wondered now if he really was the person she should have been talking to or if he'd just been in the right place at the right time when they'd arrived. "Tell me, Cephas. Tell me so I may convince you that I am not your enemy but a friend in need."
This time it was Lileat who raised her head to answer. "On the day the kings and queens return, we will be granted our freedom."
"Aren't you free now?"
"Not while we are still in sight of the mountain. Even though we took over the right to our day-to-day lives, we will never be free until we are gone from here."
They had a gate and yet they still waited for someone to save them? All they had to do was dial up any address and gain their freedom. Every moment wasted on these silly words meant that Ronon was getting weaker, she realized suddenly as she thought about the gate. It would be better if she went back to do what she could for him instead of wasting her breath with these people. Maybe she could find some way of supporting the rocks while she pulled him out. If it was done right, surely she could get him out by herself without worrying that the whole pile would come chasing after her.
"Then I pity you," she spat out, pushing the stone back in her pocket as she looked for a way through the crowd, "because you've had the means of escape all this time and you haven't even bothered to use it. All you had to do was dial the gate and you had the pick of the galaxy at your disposal. You could have saved yourself a thousand times over."
Lileat was looking at her strangely, as if she'd suddenly started to speak a different language. "The circle of the Ancestors leads to the court of the kings and queens. Why would we want to go back there?" Several other people had raised their faces to look at her for the answer to that question.
Finally! Something she could barter with! "Come with me now and help my friend. I will help you unearth the stargate and then I'll show you how it works. You have my word that I will help you find a new place to live. If nothing else, you can come back with me to my planet until we can find a place for you to settle." They continued to look at her as if they didn't believe her words. Or, rather, that they couldn't believe her words. "What will it take for you to believe me?"
Cephas stood up. "Destroy the stone."
With deliberate calm, Elizabeth walked over to a table and picked up a large tankard that looked like it could handle a tussle with the rock. She pulled the rock out of her pocket, sitting it on the table before lifting the mug and bringing it down with a resounding THUD.
When that was done, she didn't bother to see if anyone was coming with her or not. She reached for the bundle of clothes on the chair to her right. If nothing else, she could rip them up and make a rope. Without a thought for the people of the city or whether they would follow her, Elizabeth began to run back to the way she'd come.
Chapter 5: Before We Count Up What This Will Cost
Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. - Rainer Maria Rilke
"Elizabeth!" Ronon came awake with a start. He didn't know why he hurt or why his thoughts were sluggish but he knew that Elizabeth was in trouble and he had to get to her. When he tried to struggle up, pain swept through his body until he nearly lost consciousness again. Whatever had happened to him, it hadn't been pleasant.
Breathing through his nose until the pain abated, Ronon took stock of his body and surroundings. It hurt to breath - broken ribs - but it was bearable so nothing had punctured a lung. If he didn't take any deep breaths and didn't move too suddenly, the pain wasn't so bad.
His right hand responded but all of his left arm was wrapped up and tied down to whatever he was laying on. The pain in his shoulder was enough that he didn't know exactly what was wrong, just that something was. One of his knees, it was hard to tell which one, throbbed. He'd landed on his left side when he'd fallen into the hole so it was a good bet it was his left one.
Since he wasn't in the hole anymore, that meant that Elizabeth had been able to help him. Or at least he hoped it was Elizabeth. The thought of someone else coming after him was enough to turn his already-tender stomach because it meant he would have to free himself and then go looking for Elizabeth, something he didn't feel quite capable of at the moment. He doubted he could save himself but that was not a mind-set he dared put in place until he knew the situation.
Out of the corner of his vision, he saw movement. With a slow turn that he hoped spoke of menace and not pain, he turned his head. "Where is she?" he hissed one of the women from the meetings came into the room. "What have you done with her?"
"Elizabeth? We've done nothing with her. She's directing the evacuation. If her estimates are correct, we should be able to leave this planet by tomorrow's sun down."
That was a lot of information to take in at one time. The most important thing he caught was that Elizabeth was alive. As always, she was leading people in a group project. If he'd felt like he could hold his own weight up, he would have joined her because that was what he did. He was the legs of her ideas. It was his place. When he tried to move, the pain was too much for his body to handle and he faded away.
When he next opened his eyes, the light was different. Once again, he took stock of the injuries his body had sustained but nothing was screaming at him like they had before. It was all just a dull ache all over that reminded him that he wasn't going to be moving off this bed soon.
He searched the room for Elizabeth, his breath coming fast when he couldn't find her right away. A bit of shadow moved. When he blinked, she was kneeling beside him. "I'm awake," he verified, searching her face for sign of her own injury. All he saw was a weariness she often wore when she was trying to hold herself together in the midst of a crisis. "You're digging out the gate?"
"It's almost complete. I... I don't," she hesitated, her eyes closing as she tried to decide what to tell him. Even though it went against every instinct of healing, he lifted a hand to run it down her clean cheek. The only dust was in her hair which meant she was taking the time to wash away some of the grime.
"Tell me." It didn't come out as gruff as it normally would have but it wasn't quite a verbal caress, either.
It was enough to make her lift her eyes to his once again. "I don't know if we'll be able to dial out. There's a lot of damage to the gate and the DSD would need the likes of Rodney to fix it. I just don't know," this time her hesitation was accompanied by a tear that welled in the corner of her eye, "if this is going to work or not."
He chose his words carefully. She had every right to her fears and since he'd been here instead of helping, he had no real reason to give her to make it better. All he could do was trust that she was doing the best she could do with what she had been given. "If it doesn't work, it won't be your fault. Just keep doing what you can. Don't give up." A muscle twitched in her cheek, the tear falling unhindered onto the skin of his finger. "You're doing the right thing, Elizabeth."
"Yes, but it never feels like I'm doing enough."
"If it felt like you were doing enough... well, it never will. Because then you wouldn't have a job to do. And you do have a job to do. We need you right now, Beth." He hadn't meant to slip up and call her by only part of her name. When he tried to move his hand away from her face, she grabbed it with both hers and kept it in place. "Elizabeth." It was too little, too late. The slip up had been noticed.
"No, I like Beth. My grandmother used to call me Beth. I was named after her. She was an interesting woman."
He liked the wry smile she was suddenly wearing, the fact that the haunted look had left her eyes just as quickly as it had taken over. Even more, he liked that his actions had created that smile. "Then you were well named because you're an interesting woman as well."
"Well, I'm an interesting woman who promised a whole village that I would find a way off this planet. They've had a gate here the whole time but didn't know what it was. Funny how things like this happen when we come around. I'd call it a coincidence but I'm afraid that it really isn't. Simon used to...."
And like that, the stricken look was back. This time, she looked small and tired and nothing like a woman who was a leader of a large, successful community that combined both military and scientific goals. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't roll over so he could find a better position to talk to her and he was getting a headache from the position he needed to keep his head in now.
"You need some sleep. No, not anywhere else. Right here where I can keep my eye on you for at least a few hours. Anywhere else and I'll just worry."
He bit back a laugh. "Don't remind me. It's nothing that having you sharing this bed will make worse. You're nothing but a wisp of a girl, after all."
Thankfully, she didn't argue with him. The process of getting them both into a comfortable position left him breathless with pain but she was soon pressed tight against his side, her head pillowed against his chest. There was a still a twinge or two while his body adjusted to having the added pressure but he wasn't going to complain.
He thought about asking her who Simon was and what she had been about to share but her breath was coming even now, almost as if she had dropped right off to sleep. That was unlikely but the peace was so nice that he didn't want to ruin it by bringing up something that had obviously hurt her to bring up in the first place.
"I was engaged... once. Do you know what that means?"
It felt wrong to tell her that he and Sheppard had had several vague conversations about her past, nothing that wasn't in her file but more than what the average person on Atlantis knew about. "I do. We use a very similar word on Atlantis."
"Were you ever engaged?"
"Not quite to that stage of the process. There was never any time to get the proper rituals completed or the proper prayers said. Our lives were full of the process of living through the battles and not on the words of the past."
Her fingers were worrying at the end of the bandage used to tie his useless arm down. "Do you regret not completing the process? Making it official?"
"No. I don't need a ritual to make my memories any more dear to me."
"You're lucky." The words were a bitter whisper. "All my memories are tinged with guilt."
"Yours? Or his?"
He waited as she contemplated his question. Once again, her breathing leveled out so that he thought that the day had finally caught up with her. They weren't important questions if it meant keeping her from her much-deserved sleep but he would have liked to know what the answer was. This was something that obviously bothered her; he doubted that this was the first time she had let this gnaw at her edges.
"My guilt. His anger. Nothing seemed to work out for us. Even at the beginning, it was a struggle for the two of us. I thought it meant that our time together would be all the better but really it meant that we spent so much time trying to make our relationship work that there was never any relationship to actually any have."
As much as he wanted to comfort her, this was something she needed to talk about. They had the time for it now when they normally didn't.
"Simon was never number one on my list of priorities. As much as I tried, I could never move him up any further than two. When they offered me the chance to come to Atlantis, I jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity to do something worthwhile with my life that wasn't overshadowed by... well, by me. My failings. My ego. My need to do things that no one else could do."
He couldn't resist. "Those are the things I like about you."
His reward was a giggle, something he had never heard come from the leader of the Atlantis expidition. When her hands stilled against his chest, he knew that his words had meant something to her. He could only wonder if she was smiling, though, since he couldn't see anything but the top of her head.
"You might be the only one. Simon always said he loved my adventuresome spirit. I'm pretty sure that was a lie. He liked the possibility of that spirit but he never seemed to appreciate when I would actually act on those impulses."
The ghost of the man who had hurt Elizabeth hung there between them. It was a reminder to Ronon that he wasn't the only one with baggage. His had tried to kill him, granted, but this man whom Elizabeth had thought enough of to agree to spend her life with had done just as much damage as if he'd sliced through her innards with a sharp knife.
"It's made me cautious." Her voice was softer but the volume did nothing to blunt the pain. "I used to be such a different person than I am today. The old me wouldn't hold John back so often. I would have been more eager to meet people and integrate them into my life. I used to love easier."
Ronon let out the breath he'd been holding. "The people I love keep dying."
"My father, when I was a boy. Later, my mother and a sister. Both killed in the early days of the Wraith attacks. Then Melena. Right before I was captured. I couldn't do anything to save any of them. No matter how prepared I was, I couldn't help them."
"Was Melena the one-"
"Yes." The thought of bringing up Melena's memory and trying to put her in words made him light-headed. For so long, he had held bits and pieces of his memories close to his chest. Only the most perfect snippets, though. She had become his ideal only in death, her faults forgotten because he needed the perfect to spur him forward.
With cautious movements, Elizabeth repositioned herself so that she could see his face once again. He thought it was unfair that she'd been able to tell her revelations without having his prying eyes but he supposed he could tell it just as well with this audience of one. "Did you know her for very long?"
"Since childhood. She wanted to be a Healer. Would have been a waste to stay in our village so she moved to the city. I went with her but I wasn't much good at city living. The army was the best melding of my old life and this new one that she wanted to have. I suppose I was happy. She was. We only ever fought after I began getting promoted. She didn't like when I went off-world."
"Because you left her behind?"
"No. She didn't like going off-world at all. What she didn't like was the switch I was making between defending our world and actively going out to kill and maim others. It was a directly against her oath and she felt I should have honored that same oath." He let out a snort of derisive laughter. "No matter how many times I told her it wasn't my oath, she kept pushing me to stay at home. She didn't mind if I killed in defense."
"She didn't appreciate that you liked killing?"
"Not that I like it. I'm just good at it. The job was becoming more than just something I did to be close to her. But I would have done anything to be close to her. Guess that's my fault and not hers."
Elizabeth was smiling, a genuine show of humor, as she reached up to touch his face so that his attention came back to her fully. "That's not a fault. The person you love shouldn't dictate how you live your life." She had the grace to blush. "Guess I should take my own advice."
With great effort, Ronon lifted his good arm so that he could cup the back of her head, his fingers tangled in her hair. "I would kill for you, Elizabeth. And not just because you have to ask it of me. I would lay my life down for you."
He thought she was moving away from him but she was moving yet again, this time closer than he thought possible with his awkward injuries. When she leaned down to sweep her lips across his, he forgot all about the pain it caused him and lifted his aching body as far as he could to deepen the kiss.
Commander Weir? This is the Daedelus.
Elizabeth lifted her head from where it was pillowed on Ronon's shoulder. She hadn't realized she'd fallen asleep, telling herself she would just watch him sleep before going out to see how the progress on the rock slide was going, but it had been too easy to let her eyelids close. Her dreams had been slightly more X-rated than what had happened between the two of them before Ronon had finally succumbed to his body's need for sleep. She'd completely forgotten that she'd left her comm on.
"Steven? Is that you?"
Nice to finally hear from you, Elizabeth. We've been trying to get a verification of you for at least an hour now. Colonel Sheppard was rather insistent that we do what we could to get here sooner than later. Did you know that the Stargate on the planet has ceased functioning?
"Yes, there was a rock slide that buried it. We've been working to get it cleared."
You don't need to worry about that any longer. I've just been told that I have a lock on both you and Ronon. We're ready to beam you on board at your word.
Ronon was awake now, his eyes much more clear than they'd been last night, but there was still a haunted look there. It was as if he was ready for her to go into full commander mode and forget him. Before she gave her answer to Colonel Caldwell, she leaned down and gave him a kiss as a reminder that last night really had happened.
"Ronon is injured so he'll need to be transported aboard right away but I have a whole village here that could use some help getting off-world. I can't leave them just yet."
There was a growl from Ronon and Steven at nearly the same time and for nearly the same reason. She couldn't help but grin widely at the rancor her words had caused. Because she knew what argument Ronon was going to give her, she laid a finger on his lips with a look that told him they would discuss it but he was going to lose.
I'm not about to leave you down there by yourself.
"I was hoping you'd say that. Got any Marines on board that wouldn't mind putting in a couple of hours of back-breaking labor? I could use Kavanaugh if you have him on board. There's something wrong with the DSD. I don't know what exactly, just that it won't dial out. I'm thinking the previous leaders of this planet took the proper equipment with them when they left the world."
"Steven, I can't leave them on this planet. Unless you're prepared to beam them all aboard, I will have to stay here until they're able to fix the gate."
She picked up Ronon's good hand and laced their fingers together. While she wasn't sure what leading the city and dating Ronon would look like once she got back to Atlantis, she liked that she was able to do both at the moment. It was all the more sweet when she realized that he was letting her. He was still frowning but it was more because he was trying to figure out what the other side of the conversation sounded like and not because she was making his decisions for him. It was a fine line that she walked, one that she knew well, but she had to think of the greater good before she thought of herself.
But maybe she could think of him instead of pushing him to the end of the list like she had always had a habit of with Simon and the others in her past. "Actually, Ronon isn't bad enough that he needs to go right away. Could you send down a medic to see to him down here?"
He met her gaze with a knowing look in his own and a smile on his usually still lips. This could work, she realized. She could have a life while still having a career. Something warmed inside her at the realization.
It took four days before Carson allowed Ronon out of the infirmary. No matter how much Ronon growled, the doctor stood firm in his resolution to keep him under lock and key. The broken ribs had been nothing for his skills but the shoulder and knee had him muttering under his breath, his accent so thick that Ronon couldn't follow the conversation
"It looks like there was some earlier damage afore your fall into the cave. Is there something you dinna tell me?" But he'd set his mouth into a thin line and refused to offer up any explanation no matter how long the silence stretched between them. Carson was getting better at trying to wait him out but he could only stay mute about twenty minutes before the need to know took over.
He was only upright now because he promised to use a cane but he had it under his arm as he reached his destination. The pain in his shoulder was far greater than the pain in his knee. That was, until he started to crawl around on the hard stone floor. It took him longer than he'd figured it would to find what he was looking for. As he made his way back to the main sections of Atlantis, Ronon contemplated his next move.
The problem was that Elizabeth had been busy the last few days. At first they had been able to spend time in the infirmary while Carson kept her for observation but that time was quickly over as the situation with Cephas and his people began to heat up. It was soon clear, from the information that had filtered around Ronon as he'd been laid up, that most of the people were content with just being away from the planet. Some, led by Cephas, were expecting special treatment and it was taking all of her time just to keep them from some sort of revolt.
Or that was what he was assuming. Even after the time they'd spent together and different things they'd talked out, he wasn't completely sure of his welcome if he showed up in the middle of Elizabeth doing her job. A week ago, he would have ignored the gathering or, if the whim struck, he would have stood on the sidelines until it became apparent he was needed. Pity but this didn't seem like a time when he might need to shoot someone. The last thing he wanted to be was in the way but it was time he started acting like he wanted to stick around.
"Ronon?" Teyla adjusted her steps so that she could fall in beside him. "I did not think that Carson was going to let you back on your feet quite so quickly. Are you well?"
"As well as can be expected. Have you seen Elizabeth?" When Teyla didn't answer, Ronon stopped walking and turned to face the shorter woman. "What aren't you telling me?"
She had the grace to blush. "I merely wanted to have a word with you."
Teyla was one of Elizabeth's closest friend She was also one of his, the rest of which he couldn't count on more than two hands. No matter what happened between Elizabeth and himself, he didn't like the idea that he might lose out on this friendship. He also didn't want to give up the little progress he'd made with Elizabeth over the last few days. For once, Ronon hoped he could have it all instead of losing everything.
It only took a couple heartbeats of silence before Teyla began speaking again. "I know that I have not been forthcoming to your quest for information about Elizabeth. Often, I felt torn because of my friendship to both of you but I also felt torn because of your history."
"Afraid I'll get her killed?"
"No." She shook her head vigorously that her hair was like a halo around her head. Her disappointment at his misunderstanding was obvious on her face. "I was afraid that her position might make any relationship a hardship and that you would be hurt. Being with her will not be easy."
"Maybe I don't want easy."
"Are you certain this is what you want? I just worry that-"
He laid a hand on her arm to stop her mid-sentence. "You don't need to worry about this, Teyla. If it works out, it works out. If not, well, it doesn't work out."
She looked as if she might say something else but suddenly shook her head as if she realized that saying anything else would be pointless. Instead, she patted his hand with one of hers before pointing down the hall. "She's in her office. She hasn't left her office since she was let out of the infirmary. I do not believe it is food she needs this time. I would suggest you use your words in this situation, however painful it might be for you."
The trip through the halls was one he'd made hundreds of times but he felt like he was in slow motion. His thoughts were too much on what Teyla had mentioned, going over and over the questions that she had brought up and those that hadn't been said. It was too late to go back now that he'd started forward, though. Holing up in his room wasn't an option even though his body was starting to protest the activity.
There were too many people near her office. The buzz of activity would normally have deterred him from coming close but he felt that he'd been given the permission to do just that after talking with Teyla. He found that he didn't care what people might think, a welcome relief from his earlier worries. The permission didn't stop him from the nervousness that coalesced in his stomach like a heavy meal.
After three tries, he was able to get his hand to wave properly in front of the door controls. As much as he tried to play off the shaking as a side effect of the pain radiating from his knee, he knew it was because he wasn't sure what to expect. It had been the unknown that he'd been conditioned to fear but this whole situation with Elizabeth was one blind turn after another.
"Come in," came the command just as the door slid open. He stepped inside so that the door could close behind him but stayed where he was until Elizabeth looked up from the computer screen. "Ronon. Are you sure you should be out of the Infirmary?" When he didn't answer her immediately, his words still tangled inside his head, she blushed and began to backpedal. "Not that you can't be up. I was just thinking you would be in there for awhile. Carson seemed to think your knee would need some rehabilitation and that sometimes requires-"
The blush deepened but she stopped talking, her eyes darting between the top of her desk and his shoulders. With a start he realized that when she was nervous, she never looked any higher than his torso. Remembering back, most of their encounters had ended with her not looking him in the eye. All this time he'd thought she was talking down to him when she'd really just been embarrassed.
"I can't keep up with your questions when you stack them together like that. Give me a minute to think." He'd heard Rodney use that phrase often enough with John and seen how it always succeeded in getting John to stop talking long enough for Rodney to gather his thoughts. It had the same affect now. When everything was ordered in his head and he liked what he was going to say, he continued. "I'm healing enough that Carson let me out. I'll need to go back tomorrow for a few hours."
After a pause to make sure that he was done talking, she spoke again. "How do you feel?"
"My knee aches and I won't be lifting much more than this cane for awhile." He showed her the instrument of torture that Carson had forced on him before tucking it back under his arm.
Her smile went all the way to her eyes even if her voice was flat in that way she had when she was trying for sarcasm. John was so much better at it than she was but he liked when she attempted it. "And it's doing so much good when you use it like that."
"Yeah, well," but he didn't finish that sentence. Instead he stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out the prize he'd been hunting for. He held it out to her and watched as her eyes lit up even brighter at the sight of the other half of the blue stone. "I found this for you. Figured it would take the place of the one you had to give up to get me out of trouble."
"Ronon, I don't... I can't... where did," she started to say but then just stopped and stared at the rock he still held out to her.
"The other half had to be there somewhere. Just a matter of getting into the right corners and looking around."
"You shouldn't have gotten out of bed for something like this."
He tried not to take the accusation personally but it was hard when she still had not reached out for the rock. The idea was rapidly looking as stupid as his previous plans had. Instead of stuffing it back in his pocket, he laid it very carefully on the edge of her desk. "Yeah, well, I thought it might be something you might like to have. I'll let you get back to work. You've been busy lately. Lots going on."
Damn if he started limping when he started moving again. It took everything inside him to get his body to straighten up for the trip to the door. His knee was screaming at him for still being upright but he wasn't about to show any physical weakness after making such a spectacle of himself emotionally. Teyla had told him to use his words but he wasn't sure what exactly he was supposed to say.
As the door opened, he turned his head around to look at her again. He could still think of a few words he might be able to say. "No matter what happened on the planet, I think you did a good job. Everything you said to Cephas was spot on and he was an idiot for not taking you up on your offer right away. I hope you can get it worked out. Good luck with that."
She ducked her head, seeming to have trouble swallowing, so he took it as a good time to leave.
The walk back down the hall was pure torture. A few people talked to him but he was beyond being able to formulate responses, hoping his grunts sounded friendly enough. He was within sight of his door when he heard a shout behind him. Several people walking toward him had surprised looks on their faces so that he turned already in a semi-crouch as he prepared for the worst. Not that he was sure what the worst was, exactly, but his mind was yelling at his body to be ready for an attack to which his beaten and bruised body struggled to find the reserves that would get him through.
"Ronon!" Elizabeth yelled again as she ran down the hall toward him. He looked beyond her, wondering who was chasing her. Before she could get to him, he had a knife out and ready to defend her.
"What's wrong?" he asked as she got closer, her breath coming in short pants that said she'd made the distance much faster than he had. There was no one behind her that he could see.
"Nothing. Everything. I wanted to say... to tell you... thank you." She held out her hand, the stone cradled there just as the first one had been when they'd found the broken rock. "I will treasure this. So, thank you."
"You're welcome." As the adrenaline settled back to a regular rate, he put the knife back into place and prepared to stay upright for the few more feet he had to go before he could sit down.
She danced out in front of him to get his attention. "And I wanted to say thank you for your support."
It was obvious he was missing something but he was too tired to know what it was. "Okay."
He took a step and would have collapsed if it hadn't been for Elizabeth's intervention. While she staggered a bit as she tried to figure out where the best place to put her hands was, the support of her body under his arm was enough to keep him upright. "You need to be in bed."
"That's where I was trying to be," he growled, mostly because he was too tired to be gentle with his words or tone. "That's my door right there."
The journey of those twenty steps was slow and torturous but Ronon was finally stretched out on his bed with Elizabeth leaning over him, that damned smile she'd worn as she raced through the halls still plastered on her face. "If I promise to bring you dinner, will you stay in bed? I don't think you'll find as many people willing to act as crutch for you in this city. It's hard work. I should know. I've done it twice now."
"Who do you think got you out of that hole?"
He grinned up at her, wishing his body felt like obeying him so he could stroke a hand down her cheek. Instead, he decided to take her up on the promise she'd made him because an afternoon of sleep would do him 'a world of good', a phrase that Carson was fond of saying. "Yes, I'll stay in bed. You'll come back?"
"Yes. As long as you want me around, I'll come back. I'll run the entire way back to you."
"Good," was all he could say before his eyes closed of their own volition. She placed a kiss on his cheek, the last thing he felt before sleep claimed him. For the first time in a long time, his dreams were hollow in comparison to what he would have waiting for him when he woke up.