Chapter 1: Agressive Recruiting Tactics
For years there had been a curious phenomenon in the academic community, the top minds in their respective fields would suddenly go dark, stop publishing, stop appearing at events, for all intents and purposes the top minds in every academic and scientific field with a very few small exceptions just suddenly went Howard Hughes. Naturally enough dozens of theories were passed around, it was a fun thing to speculate on at parties, and the theories ranged all the way from, mass burn out, to government conspiracy, to alien abductions.
Personally I had always believed the version that blamed the government, recruiting, willing or not, top minds for some kind of extensive multi-discipline research, but since they didn’t seem to have much use for linguists, and I didn’t have much use for parties, it wasn’t something I thought about often. My colleagues thought I was odd and reclusive, which was something I encouraged, I had no desire to be social, and the translating work I took on a freelance basis more than funded my simple lifestyle, and allowed me enough free time to research and study. It was close enough to happiness for me.
Or at least it was until the day I came home and there was a representative of the United States Air Force sitting on my front porch.
I stated emphatically before the man could even begin speaking.
He stood at the sound of my voice,
“I haven’t said anything yet.”
“You can go ahead and leave without bothering, the answer is no. No I will not be a part of whatever you have come here to recruit me for.”
We stood and tried to stare each other down, until eventually he relented,
“Have a nice day ma’am.”
He nodded politely before he took off walking down my driveway, as I watched him stroll off I realized I hadn’t seen another vehicle on my way into the property, and since I lived remotely there wasn’t anywhere within walking distance, particularly not for someone in dress blues. I stood there for a moment looking at the end of my driveway, before shaking my head and bringing my groceries in the house. If he wanted to take a long walk, that was his business.
Half an hour later I had finished unloading and was sitting down at my desk with a cup of coffee, calmer now that the scent of coffee filled the room, and I had an actually interesting translation to do, one that I would even be getting paid for. This contentment lasted all of ninety seconds before there was a knock at my door and the irritation was back.
I stalked to the door and yanked it open not really surprised to see a different, older member of the Air Force standing there,
“I already told the other one no, that answer stands.”
He removed his sunglasses and looked at me,
“Ma’am please your planet needs you.”
I rolled my eyes,
“Well I’ve always known the United States military was arrogant, but this is on a whole other level, to think that the decisions of the government are in the best interests of the American people rather than the people who run the government is arrogance, to believe those decisions are in the best interests of the entire planet is hubris.”
He sighed heavily,
“Oh you’re going to be fun.”
I went instantly from irritated to furious,
“How ‘fun’ I am is really none of your concern. Now, please leave my property.”
He reached one hand to his ear,
“Okay Daedalus we’re ready.”
Before I could scoff and slam the door he placed a hand on my arm, and there was a blinding white light.
When I blinked away the dancing spots and could see clearly again I was standing in a metal room, surrounded by people in flight suits,
“General O’Neill, I see you had better luck than I did.”
He sighed again,
“Well about that…”
I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know who these people were, and I didn’t know what they wanted with me, but I was fed up. I pulled the pocket knife from my bra strap where I always wore it when I left the house, and today luck was with me as I hadn’t gotten around to unhooking it yet, and yanked the nearest person in flight suit to me resting the point of my blade against the soft flesh just under his rib cage.
“Put. Me. Back.”
The General sighed again, and someone spoke from behind him,
“Jack did you kidnap someone again?”
The brunette stepped around the crowd to study what little of me he could see from behind the officer I was currently threatening.
“It would appear so Daniel Jackson.”
Suddenly the largest man I had ever seen stepped into view,
“Doctor Wulf please release the nice airman.”
This was said by the brunette who was apparently Daniel Jackson, a name I was sure I should know, not that I had time to focus on that now, but I kept my eyes on the General,
“Put. Me. Back.”
The brunette stepped in front of him
“Hi, I’m Doctor Daniel Jackson, sorry about the confusion…”
He trailed off when I started laughing hysterically, I had finally realized where I had heard that name before
“You’re telling me I was teleported from my house by an Air Force General who is working with the crazy Archeologist who believes aliens built the pyramids? This is the worst hallucination ever.”
Dr. Jackson sighed heavily,
“Yeah, sorry it's not a hallucination. You’re aboard the spaceship Daedalus, and we need your help.”
I pressed the knife a little harder, while subtly angling the tip, I didn’t actually want to hurt this man I just wanted to go home. Suddenly two large hands closed around my forearm, and twisted my arm away from the airman. I dropped the knife quickly, but the hands didn’t let go fast enough and a wet popping sound filled the room.
I looked at my dangling arm,
“Great this day just gets better and better.”
The large man was staring at my arm like it had irritated him, while Daniel Jackson buried his face in his hands,
“You dislocated her arm Teal’c.”
“I am aware Daniel Jackson, I do not understand how as that was not my intention.”
Daniel gestured to me,
“She’s half your size Teal’c!”
“Indeed, Which I took into account. I merely intended to disarm, not to hurt her.”
I was poking at my elbow as they talked, having decided that it really was out of place I turned and placed my hand on the wall behind me, before pushing my elbow back into place in a quick movement, the conversation between Teal’c and Daniel broke off as the sound of the joint popping back into place caught their attention.
“Uh, Dr. Wulf, what did you just do?”
I bent my arm back and forth silently in answer to his question.
“We do have a medical officer.”
“You were distracted, and I have a doctor, who I will go and see just as soon as you put me back.”
Teal’c stepped towards me and I tensed, but he simply gestured with a hand,
“The infirmary is this way Doctor Wulf.”
I walked in the direction he indicated grumbling under my breath.
We walked silently through identical corridors until the initial burst of adrenaline wore off leaving me shaky, with my racing heart in my throat. Without assistance I couldn’t walk any further, so I leaned against a wall, and slid slowly down until I was sitting, braced against the curving bulkhead,
“Alright Teal or whatever I need to sit for a few minutes.”
He paused and turned to me,
“It is Teal’c.”
I waved my hand at him,
“Why have you stopped Doctor Wulf?”
I looked up at him from my spot on the floor,
“Before I was kidnapped was any research done on me.”
He inclined his head,
“Yes you were studied extensively.”
“Not extensively enough.”
I leaned my head back against the wall, and dropped my injured arm to rest across crossed legs,
“What did we miss in our research Doctor Wulf?”
“I am a genetic mistake.”
He raised an eyebrow at me which I took as a indication to continue,
“I have a number of genetic conditions, pulmonary, cardiac, neurological, and so on.”
He inclined his head then raised a hand to touch his ear.
“Doctor Wulf requires immediate medical attention, we are in corridor F-12 near the elevator.”
He looked back down at me,
“Will you be alright until medical help arrives?”
“Yeah, as long as I stay awake I’ll be peachy.”
I heard Teal’c’s voice again,
“Please come quickly”
I felt a hand on my shoulder shaking me lightly, the pain that came from the contact was sharp and clear, and brought my attention back from the drifting sensation I had been riding before,
“That hurts you know.”
I spoke through gritted teeth, and attempted a stern look, but I had a strong idea I was failing,
“My apologies Doctor Wulf, but it is necessary to keep you awake.”
“Okay, how long until that help you promised is here?”
He smiled slightly,
“So why did the illustrious general and the crazy doctor kidnap me?”
The smile grew slightly,
“It was General O’Neill who took you against your will, he is most impatient. Daniel Jackson would have been much more diplomatic, and I assure you is quite sane.”
I shifted slightly and gasped,
“That would be more comforting if our first impression was better.”
I ground out to to stop the question I could see forming on Teal’c’s face,
I rolled my eyes,
“Do you always dislocate people’s joints to say ‘hello’?”
I turned to look at him crouched beside me, but was saved for the need for a witty retort by the arrival of a medical team lugging a stretcher,
“Well that’s possibly overkill.”
I mused taking in the stretcher and the strapping young marines who came with it,
“Perhaps but I’d rather not need it than not have it. I’m Dr. Beckett and we’ll get you taken care of, while I take your vitals what can you tell me about your medical history?”
The doctor rattled off efficiently while strapping a blood pressure cuff to my arm. I used my free arm to pat my pockets relieved when it turned out my palm pilot had been kidnapped with me, so I pulled it out and opened the memo pad, on the screen were a series of miniaturized notes each one contained a different category of relevant information, and handed it to the Doctor.
“Wow, you’re prepared, you should get along with Dr. Mckay just fine.”
Despite the light tone of his voice his face was serious as he studied the information.
“Right well your heart rate is too high for my liking, and your blood pressure is a wee bit low so we’ll let the nice Marines help you to the infirmary, and then we’ll see what we can do.”
I nodded vaguely, and took the offered hand to help steady me as I clambered onto the stretcher. The hands steadied my shoulders until I was laid down and centered, and only after they moved away did I realize they belonged to Teal’c,
“Well aren’t you a contradiction.”
He simply raised an eyebrow at me before turning neatly on his heel and striding away.
“Aye, but we’ll gossip later.”
“Holding you to that.”
I muttered as he secured the straps across my legs and stomach.Once the straps were tightened the stretcher went up and started moving double time and I focused on my breathing in order to not throw up.
A couple of nauseating minutes later the stretcher was set gently on a bed in the infirmary, and I muttered what I hoped was a thank you to the marines who had hauled it.
“Okay Dear, we’ll I’m going to hang some fluids and see what of your medications I can replicate with what I have on hand, and we’ll go from there.”
I nodded and extended my arm pointing to a spot on the inside of my elbow,
“Good vein is there.”
“Thank you Dear.”
The rest was a blur of familiar sensations, the needle in my arm, the taste of the saline on the back on the back of my throat, the drifting feeling of the anti-anxiety medication, and when sleep came for me, I let it.
When I woke up what I assumed to be several hours later the doctor was checking the machines near my bed,
He smiled down at me,
“Hello Dear, your vitals have come much closer to normal range, and if you feel a bit better after you’ve eaten, then you can go to the bridge and speak with the General.”
I rolled my eyes,
“I do so enjoy conversations with monosyllabic kidnappers.”
The Doctor chuckled lightly,
“Aye, but be that as it may I’m still to send you to the bridge.”
I nodded and pushed myself up into a sitting position,
“Well at least you said food first.”
“Aye, I’ll send for it now.”
“Thank you Doctor.”
After he left I slowly stretched my limbs wincing a bit at the cracks from joints when they moved, by the time my food arrived I was able to curl stiff fingers around cutlery and manage the simple lunch on the tray in front of me, about ten minutes later I was using the table to help me balance as I tried to stand on shaky legs, but when he saw me trying to stand the Doctor came hurrying over,
“Oh I didn’t mean for you to walk to the bridge!”
I looked at him curiously,
“Exactly how accurate is that teleporting thing?”
He chuckled, and it was a bright happy laugh that made me smile in spite of the rest of it all,
“I’m afraid not that accurate, but we do have very boring and low-tech wheelchairs.”
I shook my head emphatically,
“One does not negotiate from a position of strength when one is in a wheelchair. I need them to know I’m serious.”
“Didn’t you pull a knife on an airman?”
I nodded feeling defiant,
“Then I wouldn’t worry Dear I’m sure they know you’re serious.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at that a little,
“It didn’t exactly work out for me, Teal’c disarmed me and dislocated my elbow, then the crazy archaeologist lectured him, and the general looked like he was reconsidering several of his life choices.”
Dr. Beckett started to laugh, then stopped and turned back to me,
“No one mentioned a dislocated elbow to me, which one was it?”
I held the arm out for his inspection,
“It’s not a big deal.”
He shot me a bit of an incredulous look,
“Well I’ll just take a look anyway shall I?”
I shrugged half-heartedly and let him poke around at my, bending it, and checking it for swelling,
“It doesn’t look too bad, you put it back well, but take it easy anyway.”
“Sure thing Doc.”
He turned and spoke to a nurse for a second,
“Well then into the chair and I’ll take you to the bridge.”
I grumbled under my breath about not being helpless, but let the doctor steer me into the chair anyway.
On the way to the bridge the Doctor answered some of my more general questions about the Daedalus, and the people I had encountered so far, and he conceded that kidnapping unsuspecting linguists was a bit of an aggressive hiring tactic, which made me feel better.
Soon we were opening one of the identical metal doors and I found myself in normal looking conference room with the General, Daniel Jackson, Teal’c and several more people I didn’t recognize.
“Feeling better Dr. Wulf?”
The general asked politely, and I nodded,
“Yes I am recovering from being kidnapped quite well.”
Dr. Jackson grinned at the table at my tone,
“Would anyone like to tell me why I was kidnapped?”
“We require the services of a linguist.”
Teal’c responded cutting General O’Neill off before he could say whatever was about to come out of his mouth.
“On a spaceship? What could a spaceship need that requires a linguist and not an engineer?”
“Well it's where the ship is going that requires the linguist.”
I sighed heavily,
“This spaceship is turning around and taking me home.”
The General scrubbed his hands over his face,
“Don’t you have a sense of duty?”
I went from calm but emphatic, to furious at that one statement.
“Duty? Duty to what? Duty to a government that refused to even slap a corporation on the wrist after their negligence made me a widow? To a government that sent my father into a war zone a year into a forty day war? Or the government that seems to choose what zones of the world deserve freedom based on where has the largest oil deposits? What exactly am I supposed to have a sense of duty to?”
The General rose to his feet and opened his mouth I’m sure to yell at me, but Daniel Jackson put his hand on the general’s arm and broke in,
“What Jack is trying to say is that a lot of people will die without this translation, innocent people from a farming civilization, people who had nothing to do with any of your issues with the American government.”
I sighed heavily, and my anger warred with my convictions for a moment but I knew they had me, I groaned in frustration before speaking,
“FIne I have three conditions.”
The general snarked, before gesturing for me to continue,
“First and foremost the government will open an investigation into my husbands death, a real one, not a corporate pay off one. Second, I will do one translating job, then I will be returned home, and compensated for my time. Finally, if we are still in orbit around Earth I need to go home and pack a suitcase, there are things I need, medicines and such.”
I folded my hands in my lap and stared the general down. He met my gaze evenly for a moment, before nodding curtly.
“One condition you surrender your knife and any other weapons you have on your person.”
“I can give you a half hour to pack your things, it's a three week trip, so take that into account.”
“Well then general you have yourself a linguist.”
Chapter 2: A Truly Brilliant Joke, or Worth Being Kidnapped For?
The General rose from the table and waved to Beckett,
“Come up to the flight deck and we’ll get you beamed home.”
As he pushed me out behind the general, Dr. Beckett leaned over to whisper in my ear,
“Well done Dear.”
When we reached the flight deck Teal’c stepped up to me,
“Dr. Wulf will you require assistance to retrieve your things?”
My pride roared up and demanded I refuse, but I was sitting in a wheelchair with finely trembling hands, not, as I had previously noted, a position of strength, I looked at Teal’c and decided his asking had been a formality.
“That would be nice, thank you.”
He inclined his head slightly,
“Will we require the wheelchair?”
I shook my head,
“No, my house I can manage.”
He inclined his head again, and if he stood a little close when I stood, I was making a point not to notice. I slipped the small locator disc into my pocket and closed my eyes against the blinding light. When I opened them I was standing again in my kitchen, I sighed heavily and headed towards my bedroom, only stumbling once. I dug into the back of my closet and came up with a hard suitcase and an old sea bag neither of which had gotten much use since my husband had passed, and dumped them on my bed. The suitcase was loaded first; nebulizer, bipap machine, two months worth of medicines, various things to help control my temperature, and all the machines I used to take my own vitals, along with my laptop, e-reader, headphones, and chargers, all the things necessary to survive in a modern world. The sea bag was stuffed full of clothes, a couple of soft sheets and blankets in case my picky skin decided to hate the linens, and all the protein powder and meal replacement bars I had on hand. Twenty three minutes later I was handing my bags to Teal’c and herding my cat into her carrier.
“What do you intend to to with the animal?”
I rolled my eyes,
“This is a cat, and take her with me of course.”
“No, General O’Neill would not allow this.”
“Well then the General can just live without a linguist. I’m not leaving my cat to die, and he didn’t exactly give me advance notice to make arrangements for her.”
Teal’c continued to demand I stop as I packed up all of my cat’s necessities into a large tote, and I continued to ignore him.
At twenty nine minutes I was sitting crossed leg on the tote, with my cat’s carrier in my lap, the sea bag across my shoulders, and the suitcase balanced on the edge of the tote under my arm. Teal’c was still asserting the cat had to stay behind rather than helping, and I was still ignoring him.
At thirty minutes the blinding light came again, and I, as well as everything I was touching, was teleported back to the bridge of the spaceship, with Teal’c mid-word about my cat.
The General studied me at the center of my little pile and seemed lost for words, which was a refreshing change,
“Animals are not permitted aboard the Dedalus Dr. Wulf.”
I shrugged awkwardly still balancing my case,
“Don’t care, if the Air Force was that serious they would have either given me some advance notice, or kidnapped someone without a pet.”
Doctor Jackson took the case from under my arm, and turned to Teal’c
“She has a point you know, she is responsible for the life of that animal…”
I piped up hugging the carrier close
“...Cat, and she couldn’t leave it to die, besides cats on Earth ships is an old tradition.”
Teal’c nodded tersely, and the General threw up his hands and stormed off, Teal’c then waved over two men who I recognized from stretcher duty earlier,
“Is it just your jobs to wait around until someone has a heavy object to carry?”
I questioned as I studied them curiously, one stayed silent with a grin playing on his lips, but one answered me,
“Sometimes we get to shoot things.”
I rolled my eyes,
“It all becomes clear.”
I stood up willingly enough to allow the tote to be taken out from under me, and handed over my sea bag, but when one of the two men jostled the case I winced,
“Careful with the hard case, its fragile.”
Teal’c took it from Doctor Jackson,
“I will take great care with it.”
I wrapped my arms more firmly around the carrier and nodded,
“Then lead the way.”
We formed an odd little convoy as we trooped through several corridors, I trooped a bit more slowly than the others, but rest and food, and medicine had gotten me moving again so I made it work.
At the end of a long corridor a doorway was swiped open and my things were toted into the room, I studied the small room quietly as my things were stacked neatly at the side of the bed,
“Okay Doc, this is your swipe card, it has basic access for now, you’ll meet with the general tomorrow to discuss what you need and your card will be updated accordingly.”
I stared at him in horror,
“So anyone can get into my room as long as they have a card?”
The man chuckled and shook his head,
“No. It's like a hotel, Doc Beckett has access, as does Colonel Caldwell, and the head of security, other than that, just you. Here’s your map, and your radio, so you can find your way around, and find the people you need. Dinner at 1800.”
“Thank you for all your help gentlemen, earlier as well.”
I got a couple polite nods and muttered ‘yes ma’ams’ as they made their way out of the room. Teal’c laid the hard case gently on the bed and turned to me,
“I will arrive shortly before dinner to show you the way to the dining room, you may call for me on the radio if you have need before then.”
“I appreciate that Teal’c, thank you.”
He inclined his head, and let himself out of the room without another word.
I set the carrier I had been clutching gently on the bed, and peered into it, my cat was curled in a tight back in the far back corner her eyes huge and afraid. I opened the door of the carrier and let it sit, before turning to the tiny radio in my hand. After turning it over a few times and studying it closely I managed to find the minute power button, and settle it over my ear, it felt a bit odd but I didn’t think much of it until it squawked with someone looking for the Colonel Caldwell the young Marine had mentioned, I jumped half a mile and yanked the thing away from my ear staring at as if it were a demon,
“Well this is a not a fun thing.”
I muttered cranky all over again at this whole debacle before sighing and hooking it back into place. I focused on tuning it out while I unpacked and arranged my things in as close to their normal order as was possible, I was so focused on not hearing the radio that I completely missed my name the first time Teal’c tried to speak to me,
“Doctor Wulf are you well?”
In lieu of trying to figure out the contraption hanging a bit precariously off my ear I simply opened the door to my room,
“Sorry about that Teal’c lost in my own mind for a moment,”
He nodded and turned to stand beside me,
“It is of no concern. Come I will show you how to find the cafeteria.”
I tried a smile, but given the events of the day I wasn’t too sure if I pulled it off,
“Thank you that’s very kind.”
Teal’c simply gestured forward with his hand and we started walking, I wasn’t sure if Teal’c wanted to keep an eye on me, or wanted to make up for earlier, or simply didn’t have anything better to do, but either which way I was glad of having an escort I was reasonably certain could catch me when, not if, I collapsed again.
I found myself idly wondering how many times I would be delivered to the good Doctor Beckett before I found myself permanently confined to a wheelchair.
Teal’c seemed to be making a conscious effort to walk at my pace, which had to be difficult given his height and long stride.
“So am I allowed to ask you questions?”
He gave me a considering look,
“I do not know. You will obviously know some things, but I have not been told how much I am allowed to share with you.”
“Fair enough. So when the general isn’t kidnapping people what’s he like to work with?”
“Why do you think I know.”
I stopped dead in the center of the corridor,
“Look I’m a lot things, but stupid and blind are not on that list, I know people who have seen combat together when I see them, I’d place serious money on the bet that there’s a lot more to Dr. Jackson than the eccentric Egyptologist. My dad was a soldier and I know when I find myself among soldiers.”
Teal’c inclined his head slightly,
But since that was all he said I figured the answer to the original question was one of those things no one knew if I was allowed to know,
“Is this program responsible for the disappearing scientists and researchers?”
“We do not commonly kidnap people, no.”
Teal’c responded blandly and I laughed in spite of myself and slugged his arm gently,
“You really know how to make a girl feel special big guy.”
Teal’c gave me a confused look and I let the conversation drop, realizing I wasn’t going to weasel anything out of the man.
“This is the mess hall Dr. Wulf.”
I looked around and found the room to be almost exactly like any Earth cafeteria I had ever been in, which was a bit disappointing,
“You know you can call me by my first name Teal’c, you dislocated my arm and met my cat, we’re friends now.”
The last bit was admittedly said with a tinge of sarcasm to the words, Teal’c nodded at me sharply and spun on his heel before striding away.
“So serious.” I muttered to myself before making my way into the cafeteria.
I was disappointed but not surprised to find the only thing I could eat safely was jello and apple juice, so I settled at a table in the corner with my juice, and pulled a meal bar and a small container of protein powder from my pocket, as meals went it was barely this side of pathetic, but I had survived worse.
I was sitting quietly observing my new shipmates when Dr. Beckett slid into the seat across from me,
“You’re looking better Dr. Wulf.”
I smiled at the bright man,
“Hello again Dr. Beckett.”
“Is that all you’re eating Dear?”
He asked casting a concerned look at the lonely meal bar sitting on the table in front of me,
“There’s protein powder in the apple juice.”
I responded calmly taking a sip from the glass,
“I’m not sure how much better that makes it really.”
“There’s not much here I can eat if I want it to stay down. I may go back for jello though.”
“We’ll see what we can do about that tomorrow Dear, we can’t have you missing meals.”
I shrugged again,
“I can live on bars and protein powder if I need to.”
Dr. Beckett shook his head but let the matter drop.
“So tell me about Teal’c.You did promise we would gossip later.”
“Aye that I did. I don’t know Teal’c particularly well, but from what I know you were right on with the contradictions comment. He’s a good man, but a hard one.”
I nodded contemplatively,
“Yeah I picked up on that. He doesn’t seem to quite know what to do with teasing and sarcasm, which is going to make it hard for me to communicate with him.”
Dr. Beckett chuckled good-naturedly,
“Aye I know what you mean.”
I had finished the food in front of me, and had almost decided on going back for jello, when the good doctor slid his across the table, I smiled happily,
“It's even blue, you Dr. Beckett are quality people.”
He patted my hand gently with that same kind smile on his face,
“Carson dear, I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing quite a bit of each other.”
I laughed at that, a bit wryly sure, but a laugh all the same.
“Grace. Are you allowed to tell me where the spaceship is going?”
He nodded easily,
“Oh aye Dear, we’re going to Atlantis.”
The calm way he named one of the most famous mythological cities in human history made me choke a bit, even though all I was eating was jello,
“That is either a truly brilliantly timed joke, or this might have just been worth getting kidnapped for.”
When Carson grinned at me there was a hint of mischief in it that left me wondering which it actually was.
We finished our respective meals in silence, a Carson bid me a good night, and headed out to file infirmary reports for the day, and knowing I was one of those reports left me feeling a small twinge of guilt.
Not that it was my fault of course, but some types of guilt you never learn to get over.
I decided I had put off attempting to find my way back to my quarters long enough, double and triple checked my pockets for my access card, and headed out to brave the maze of identical metal hallways.
It took me the better part of a half hour, but I did eventually find my way there, and was pleased to discover my cat nosing around at her new surroundings rather than hiding in her carrier. Electing to take the win, I completed my night time ritual and settled into the bed that seemed overwhelmingly odd to me, and pulling my worn comfortable quilt around me tightly I tried to allow sleep to come.
I rose early the next morning which wasn’t hard considering I had barely slept the night before, only to discover that I basically was an ache, apparently all the excitement of the day before had managed to touch off one or more of my grumpy conditions and push me into a flare.
I dressed slowly and just as I was about to try to figure out the cursed contraption hooked to my ear it came to life with a voice calling my name,
“Dr. Wulf, I’m here to help you find the meeting room.”
I tapped the button the opened the door and found Dr. Jackson standing in the hallway fists buried in his pockets, before I could say anything the cat jumped on the bed and studied the newcomer.
Dr.Jackson greeted, and she simply flicked her tail and snubbed him as only a cat can, and he smiled easily,
“She doesn’t seem to be interested in your acquaintance Dr.Jackson.”
He turned his smile on me,
“What’s her name?”
I responded completely monotone, and it was not surprising in the least when he burst out laughing.
“Yes well I didn’t take future kidnap situations into account when she picked the name.”
I grumped at his laughter, and pushed myself off the door frame I was leaning against, swiped the door closed and limped into the hallway.
Dr. Jackson fell into step beside me, and kept awkwardly jerking up his stride, which would have outpaced me on a good day,but this was not a good day.
“Can I do something to help you Dr. Wulf?”
“Do you have magic powers?”
He smiled wryly,
“Not currently, no.”
I searched his expression carefully looking for a sign he was joking, but he was either a truly excellent poker player or actually serious, I decided to let it lie,
“Well sadly short of magical powers, there’s not much to be done.”
I kept one hand on the bulkhead and moved determinedly forward.
“I could call medical for a wheelchair?”
He offered awkwardly and I shook my head,
“Not there yet.”
After that we lapsed into awkward silence and shuffled forward to the same conference room I had met the Colonel and General in the previous day.
When the door opened the General stood, and seemed to try very hard for a polite smile, I gave him points for that despite the fact that he didn’t quite get there.
“Good morning General, no Colonel Caldwell this morning?”
I was determined to match his civility with my own,
“Ah, no he had a previous engagement. Take a seat.”
I smiled and slid gratefully into the nearest office chair, before folding my hands on the table, I kept my eyes on the General who stayed standing,
“Do you have any more weapons to hand over Dr. Wulf?”
I fought the smirk down, it would not help this conversation stay polite,
“No General, Teal’c kept the knife he relieved me of yesterday, and I did not resupply when I was allowed to return to Earth to pack my things.”
The General nodded curtly and finally sat directly across from me,
“Then to business.”
Hammering out the terms of my consultation could probably have been done fairly quickly, had I been able to understand the bulk of what was said. I knew every word, and understood the words individually of course, but I could not wrap my mind around the picture those words painted when put together.
Instantaneous interstellar travel.
Contact with other planets.
The concepts were mind-boggling, and trying to take them all in at once made my brain hurt.
I held my hands up cutting the General off mid-sentence,
“Let’s bottom line this. A hyper-intelligent species of aliens thousands of years ago created the gates, they connect to any other gate in their galaxy as long as you have the address, we are going to the Pegasus galaxy to an outpost created by the previously mentioned aliens, where we explore the Pegasus galaxy, one of the societies we encountered is now in danger from some device not created by the aforementioned species, which means we can’t understand the language on the device. Which brings us up to the unfortunate kidnapping incident. Do I have it so far.”
The General nodded, and Dr. Jackson was not even trying to hide the amused expression on his face.
“Right, so the job is go to Atlantis, translate an previously unencountered language, save an entire planet of people, then walk through the Atlantis gate, which thanks to some super powerful power source can dial another galaxy, and be instantly returned to Earth?”
The General nodded again and I massaged my temples,
“Fine, that much I can deal with. Please tell me you have some of the material on this language for me to start with.”
“Daniel here will take you to the lab we have set up for you, and show you everything we have so far.”
I nodded and the General left the room after patting Dr. Jackson’s shoulder in a commiserating sort of way, and I rolled my eyes at that. Honestly you pull a knife on one airman and suddenly people think you’re difficult.
Chapter 3: "Lt. Colonel John Shepard, Welcome To Atlantis"
Dr. Jackson took me first to a terminal where they could update the accesses on my card to include my workspace and the various supply rooms, then onto my lab.
Lab turned out to be something of a misnomer, mine was a medium sized room, with a couple of rolling whiteboards, a desk with a computer terminal, and a cabinet with various stationary supplies, I had a few of my own things I would bring in here, but realistically after I had done that it was a perfectly functional space to curl up in and work.
“So the information we have on the language so far is on that terminal, and if we get more it will be relayed to your terminal. I’m just down the hall if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Dr. Jackson.”
He smiled, something he seemed to do a lot of,
“Call me Daniel.”
I managed a small smile of my own,
He nodded in acknowledgment and left the room quietly. I went to rummage through the supply cabinet and start putting the space into some sort of order so I could work.
A couple of hours, and two trips to my quarters later I was settled in and pulling up the files loaded onto the terminal, thousands of images, several hours worth of video, and written reports from the team that discovered the device.
It was an overwhelming amount of a data, but as I paged through the reports I realized I was going to have to start from the very beginning, it wasn’t even known if the language was phonetic or pictographic.
Well everything can be dealt with once you find a starting place.
I started printing off the best captures of the symbols the comprised the language, and copying them out, I was careful to keep them in in the same clusters they started in and attached the picture they were copied from to each cluster.
It only took me about 30 minutes to completely fill both whiteboards, and realize I was going to need more.
I sighed and stretched before heading out into the hall to see if I could find the workspace containing Daniel.
That took me another ten minutes before I found the door with his name, I had started out walking the wrong direction down the corridor, but having finally found myself there, I lifted my hand to knock on the door.
It opened before I could even touch it, and I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or Daniel.
“Grace! I was just coming to see if you needed help finding the mess.”
“I was coming to see if there were any more whiteboards I could borrow.”
“I’m sure we can find some, after lunch.”
I waved him off,
“I’m going back to work, I’ll come to find you in a bit for the boards.”
He stepped neatly in front of me,
“Let me take you to lunch I’ll introduce you to some people less grumpy than Jack and Teal’c.”
I studied him curiously,
“I’ve met Carson, and you can introduce me at dinner. Bye Daniel.”
I moved to step around him and he caught my arm gently,
“Sorry Grace, but I’ve already been party to one Dr. Beckett lecture about you today, and it was stressed that you were not to be allowed to skip meals, so please come with me.”
I rubbed my hands over my face in frustration,
“Fine, but I will be talking to Carson, so this working is a one time deal.”
Daniel nodded all agreeable again and started strolling down the corridor.
Lunch turned out to be better than dinner the night before, with salads and fruit available, I was able to score some chicken before it went into sauce, and sat down quite pleased with my odd little meal.
I followed Daniel, mostly because he was holding my food, to where he sat down next to Teal’c,
“You promised me, non-grumpy people.”
I reminded Daniel, shooting Teal’c a grin,
“He’s not grumpy today.”
I rolled my eyes and sat down, digging into my salad,
“Where is the rest of your food, Dr. Wulf?”
Teal’c inquired with absolutely no change in expression, tone, or inflection.
“There is no rest.”
He and Daniel shared a sidelong glance, that I suppose was meant to be subtle,
“Don’t tell me, you heard from Carson too.”
Teal’c nodded and seemed content to let the matter drop, but I was not,
“Okay Daniel spill, what did Carson do?”
Daniel rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish expression,
“He rounded up Jack, Teal’c and me, and read us the riot act about our responsibilities to making sure every member of the expedition was safe and medically provided for, including those we kidnapped with no prior knowledge of their needs or limitations and went on to basically tell us that if anything happened to you he would hold us personally responsible, and would make sure the IOA did as well.”
“Well that was a bit much, I can manage my own food intake, and I will inform Carson thusly. What’s an IOA?”
Teal’c seemed disinclined to participate, so that left Daniel to keep the conversation moving,
“International oversight keeps us in line.”
There was just a smidge of rampant sarcasm in that statement,
“Paper pushers who have never been in the field telling you you’re doing it wrong?”
“Got it in one.”
“Well he has a point about the kidnapping, not that that was you two, and I’ll talk to him about the rest.”
Teal’c inclined his head in my direction and went back to his food.
I ate slowly, mind wandering off to the symbols, so much so that I was a little startled when Teal’c addressed me,
“Good day Dr. Wulf, Daniel Jackson.”
He did the head incline again before turning neatly on his heel and walking off, I watched him for a moment,
“He has a sense of humor in there somewhere.”
I muttered, but apparently not very quietly because Daniel answered me,
“He does, it's just buried and a bit peculiar.”
“I can see that.”
I finished eating my fruit and turned to look at Daniel with my best earnest innocent expression on my face,
“May I go back to work now?”
“Okay fair enough. I’ll round up some whiteboards for you and bring them by.”
Before I went back to work, I pulled out my crumpled map and attempted to work out where to find the infirmary.
That took forty-five minutes, and I was grateful it wasn’t an emergency, if it had been I would have had to rely on my radio, and who knows how that would have gone.
“Ah hello Grace, how are you feeling today?.”
“As well as can be expected I suppose, I’m actually here because I was talking to Daniel, and in the general proximity of Teal’c and heard that yesterday’s drama had got your Celt up.”
Carson nodded with a firm expression that seemed out of place on his kind face,
“Aye it did, I understand we needed a linguist, but they’ve no right to put a civilian's health in danger.”
Carson set his jaw as if expecting me to argue, I hugged him instead,
He patted my back gently,
“Of course Dear.”
I stepped back and smiled at him,
“But to be fair the only person who really deserved the lecture was the General, Teal’c disarmed someone threatening a crew member, and Daniel just sort of happened to be there.”
Carson nodded slowly,
“Aye, that’s a point.”
“Also telling them to watch how much I eat was a bit overboard.”
“Fair enough I’ll talk to them.”
I hugged him again,
“Thank you, Carson.”
It only took me twenty minutes to find my way back to my workspace, and when I arrived the room was lined in rolling whiteboards with a couple of spares in the free floor space, and Daniel was leaning against the edge of my desk studying some of the pictures I had printed but hadn’t copied yet.
“What is it with people on this ship and overkill?”
I asked by way of greeting,
“I wanted to make sure you had enough, without having to track down more every couple of days.”
“Well thank you. I talked to Carson and calmed him down. Well towards you and Teal’c anyway.”
Daniel shook his head,
“Well Jack got himself into this one, so he can handle it on his own.”
I nodded in agreement,
“Are you staying?”
I asked when Daniel gave no indication of going back to his own workspace, and he looked up,
“Oh, no sorry.”
He handed me back the papers he had been studying, and with a last look over his shoulder headed out.
The next three weeks continued on much the same, I took my meals with Teal’c and Daniel, or occasionally Carson worked in between and tried to sleep a few hours a night. Not that it was unusual to find me up and working at three in the morning in my pajamas. Occasionally I brought Plato down with me, and she lounged on my papers as happily as she had on Earth. She was taking to being an interstellar cat quite well and took my frustration with my process rather in stride.
On the last night of the voyage the door to my workspace opened as I threw a notebook in frustration, Daniel ducked it neatly and smiled at me,
“I thought I heard yelling, what’s wrong?”
I raked my hands through my hair,
“I don’t have enough here to go any further, I need to see the source material see people's interactions with it, I can’t work with only second-hand sources.”
“Well we arrive at Atlantis tomorrow, and you can talk to Dr. Weir about being taken to the planet.”
I nodded and slumped into my chair,
Plato hopped onto my lap as soon as I sat down, and stared into my face seriously for a moment, before curling up and going back to sleep.
“She has a point Grace, we should both go get some rest.”
I nodded, conceding the point, gathered Plato up into my arms and followed Daniel out of my workspace to try and sleep.
It seemed like I had no sooner closed my eyes than the alarm was ringing, and muttered a few obscenities under my breath as I slapped it quiet.
Today was the day we arrived it Atlantis, I got to settle into a new space all over again, and then try to convince the leader of the expedition that I could not solve her problems using only photographs and mission reports. All things to look forward to.
I drug myself out of bed and herded Plato into her carrier, before quickly stowing away the last of my things, and heading out to make sure my notes were properly stored for transport.
Two hours later, my notes and belongings were stored with the cargo, and Plato and I were mustered with the personnel, it was time to see Atlantis.
I closed my eyes against the blinding light and blinked several times when it faded, then I set Plato’s carrier down and turned in a circle trying to catch my breath, trying to take it all in. It was beautiful and overwhelming, and as I turned I got my first glimpse of what could only be the Stargate. The giant ring sunk into the floor seemed so innocuous, rather like the beautiful flower with the poisonous leaves. I was distracted from my contemplation of the Gate when a man clad in BDU’s stepped into my field of vision.
“Dr. Grace Wulf?”
I turned my head to him quickly and nodded,
He stuck his hand out,
“Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, welcome to Atlantis.”
Chapter 4: Carson Gets His Celt Up
This one is a little shorter than the others, but I didn't want to make it awkward stretching it out further than it wanted to go.
Lets face it, its already awkward
I shook his hand with the same firm grip my father had taught me to always use on a military man, with a smile on my face despite the fact that his equally firm grip was making my hand feel as though my bones were grinding together.
“Thank you Lt. Colonel.”
He eyed the carrier in my hand as if he had just noticed it,
“What have you got there?”
I was a bit surprised that an updated file on me hadn’t been forwarded, but oh well,
I tightened my grip in the carrier in preparation for this to get ugly,
“And Plato is a…?”
He trailed off in clear invitation for me to fill in the blank,
“Cat last I checked.”
He nodded a bit tersely,
“Well we’ve never had a cat here before, Dr. Weir wants to meet you.”
I relaxed a little,
“I want to meet her as well.”
He indicated a staircase with his hand and we fell into step,
“I recognize your name from the mission reports I was given, what can you tell me about the people on the planet?”
His expression was faintly surprised though what he was surprised about I wasn’t really sure.
“They’re friendly, more than willing to talk and trade with us.”
His tone was clipped and no-nonsense and I sighed,
“Look Lt. Colonel, this isn’t a report, and I’m not grading, I need your feelings about the people your observations on how they interact with the artifact, anything you’ve observed culturally that might give me a better foothold on this language.”
He nodded as we reached the top of the staircase,
“After you meet with Dr. Weir.”
I walked through an open door and into an office that was filled with fascinating artifacts, and one surprisingly small woman sitting behind the desk. She rose when we walked in and came around the desk to meet us.
“Hello Dr. Wulf,”
She started but was cut off by the Lt. Colonel,
“And her cat.”
He added with a significant glace toward the carrier in my hand, and Dr. Weir seemed to stumble over that one,
“I wasn’t given much notice to make arrangements for Plato.”
I tried to fill the empty air diplomatically,
“How much time is not much?”
The Lt. Colonel’s voice had a faintly teasing tone,
“I was beamed out of my home with no notice, then after throwing a bit of a fit was given thirty minutes to pack. I live over a thousand miles from my nearest family member, not a distance one can cross in thirty minutes.”
Dr. Weir opened her mouth, seemed to think better of it, and closed it again,
“John my information packets seem to be missing some crucial details, go talk to Caldwell and see what you can find out.”
He nodded easily and strode out of the room with an air of purpose,
“Please sit Dr. Wulf, it seems we have a number of things to discuss.”
I set Plato down gently, and perched on the edge of a chair, holding my back very rigid.
“That we do, where should we begin?”
Dr. Weir started tapping on a screen laying on the desk in front of her,
“Let’s start with the information I do have, you are a linguist right?”
I was pretty sure that one was a joke,
“Yes, I am.”
I smiled a little and she seemed to accept it and went back to reading on the screen,
“Dr. Grace Wulf, twenty-seven, well that will make you one of our younger expedition members, Ph.D. in Linguistics, and Masters in Cultural Anthropology?”
She looked up at me with an expression of polite disbelief,
“I have a lot of free time, so I took extra interdisciplinary classes, apparently I racked up enough credits for the second degree.”
She nodded and returned to the screen,
“Married to…, oh I’m so sorry.”
I nodded clenching my teeth, not trusting myself to speak,
“There really isn’t much more here than that, so I guess it's up to us to fill in the blanks.”
I was suddenly exhausted, the thought of sitting here and explaining the intimate details of my life to a woman I didn’t know in order to do a job I didn’t want, made me want to just curl up somewhere and sleep until all of this, Atlantis, turned out to just be a bad dream.
“What do you need to know?”
I asked instead.
Dr. Weir was saved from answering when Caron bustled into the room,
“Elizabeth we need to talk about Dr. Wulf, Oh hello Grace.”
He seemed a bit surprised to find me party to what I was sure was his upcoming rant about kidnapping disabled linguists.
“Carson, please feel free to sit and join in on the conversation.”
I had to admit to being impressed, Dr. Weir was taking all of this fairly well in stride,
“Do you know how they recruited her Elizabeth?”
It seemed Carson was going to make all my points for me, and so I was prepared to let him have his head so to speak,
“I assume the usual way Carson, Air Force officer, your planet needs you, and so on.”
“They started there.”
I interjected, and at the look on Carson’s face, and what I assuming to me a matching one on my own Dr. Weir rose and moved to shut the door.
She asked in a tone that seemed to say she just realized how long of a day she was in for,
“Aye, and when she said no, General O’Neill grabbed her and beamed her the Daedalus without so much as a warning!”
Elizabeth dropped her head into her hands at that point for a moment before turning to me.
“Dr. Wulf if you would like to file a complaint against General O’Neill with the IOA I can help you do that.”
I turned that over in my mind, then ultimately decided that I didn’t have enough information to decide.
“I’m not sure I know enough about all the involved factors to make a decision about that right now.”
Dr. Weir nodded and turned back to Carson,
“Is there more?”
That seemed to only make Carson angrier,
“Aye, there bloody well is more! Their research on her was shoddy at best, they completely missed several major health issues, any one of which would most likely render her ineligible for Atlantis service, and even if we accepted her with them, preparations would need to be made to ensure she could be adequately cared for in another galaxy!”
Carson seemed to be truly hitting his stride if his volume and accent were anything to go by,
“Now I’ve no idea how to care for someone in my charge with life-threatening conditions! I’m sure she’s a gifted linguist, but far more care ought to have been taken!”
Dr. Weir was actively rubbing her temples by the end of Carson’s speech,
“Alright, let’s start with the most pressing, Dr. Wulf, Carson, please get together and determine what we need to adequately provide for Dr. Wulf’s medical needs, and we will go from that point.”
Carson nodded a bit huffily and turned to me, all kindness once more,
“Come along Dear, and we’ll get you sorted.”
I smiled and followed him out of the office taking Plato, who was meowing curiously, with us.
I was happy to follow along and gawk, until Carson opened what appeared to be a closet and began to usher me inside,
“I would have thought head of Medical would have a bigger office.”
I commented dryly studying the tiny space,
“Oh I do Dear, this is a transporter, Atlantis is rather large, and it would a wee bit difficult to get around without them.”
I rolled my eyes,
“Of course it is, alright let’s transport.”
It took a bit of squeezing but all three of us eventually fit into the small space, and Carson pressed a glowing spot on the wall, there was a bright light, and then we were still in a small cramped room. Carson raised one finger indicating I should wait, and opened the door revealing an entirely different hallway then where we started.
“Huh, that’s handy.”
Carson nodded and led me into a huge space neatly organized with medical equipment, beds, and all other kinds of whatnots necessary for putting broken people back together.
“My office is through here.”
He opened a door I hadn’t even noticed and led me into a cheerful if cluttered space, cleared off a chair for me, and sighed as he sat in his own behind his desk, he tapped away at the computer for a moment, and then turned to me,
“Alright I’ve no medical records for you to speak of, so let’s see what we can construct between the two of us.”
Wordlessly I dug out my palm pilot and the cable that connected it to a computer from my pocket and plugged them in,
“I have copies of most things on here, go ahead and port them over for yourself.”
It took us a few moments to get the two devices to talk to each other, and then to copy the files from one to other, while ensuring we both kept a copy, but between the two of us we managed.
Finally, the files were copied and my palm pilot was stowed away, and I was poking around the tea set up while Carson paged through what I kept on a palm pilot.
I was just debating how rude it would be to help myself to his tea set up when he spoke up,
“Go ahead and put the kettle on Dear, cups, and teas are in the drawer underneath, pick whatever you like.”
I smiled at him,
“You’re a saint Carson and I’ll fight anyone who says different.”
He smiled at me absently already back to reading through my notes
I happily set the kettle to boil and amused myself searching through the variety teas Carson kept on hand, I had almost settled on a nice lemon ginger when I spotted peppermint, my true weakness.
“What kind of tea Carson?”
I asked over my shoulder as I was setting up my mug,
He responded absently and I smiled at him, knowing I got equally as lost in my own work.
I set the steeping cups down carefully on the edge of the desk and curled back up in my chair to wait. It was another minute or so before he sat back and rubbed his eyes, picked up his tea and took a bracing sip, then looked at me,
“What were you able to grab to bring with you?”
“All my personal equipment, and ninety-day supplies of my medicines, which is about a sixty day supply now.”
He nodded and pulled over a stack of paperwork.
“So first thing is to requisition more of those prescriptions, which is this form, then to order a special diet in the mess, which is this one, filing a complaint with the IOA is this one, and the order for quarters large enough to accommodate your medical needs is this one. I’ll just fill these out, and have someone take them and you, back to Elizabeth, drink your tea.”
I nodded struggling not to laugh at him and sipped at the strong peppermint tea as he muttered over the paperwork.
Finally, he gathered it all up, stuck a paperclip in the top corner, and ushered me back into the infirmary, a nurse was assigned to me and my paperwork, and we were sent on our way.
Chapter 5: Plato, Buffoons, and Fame
Elizabeth was yelling at General O’Neill and Colonel Caldwell while Lt. Colonel Sheppard leaned against the cabinet behind her and tried not to smirk too much, or too obviously at the dressing down his superiors were receiving, and as we approached the office door I could hear bits and pieces even through the closed door.
“....dammit Elizabeth we had to do something!”
Dr. Weir slammed her hands into her desk and gestured to them angrily before she caught sight of my escort and I loitering awkwardly outside and waved us in,
“Dr. Wulf, will you be filing a complaint against General O’Neill and Colonel Caldwell?”
She asked me in a firm no-nonsense tone, hand extended for the paperwork Carson had drawn up, and she was momentarily distracted by paging through it,
“I see Dr. Beckett has elected to file a complaint. Dr. Wulf?”
I nodded mentally firming my spine,
“Yes, I would like to file a complaint against General O’Neill. Colonel Caldwell, and his people, as well as the other members of SG1, handled the situation as best they could, and I am at peace with their actions.”
“Lt. Colonel Shepard please take General O’Neill into custody until we can be advised on how to proceed by the IOA.”
General O’Neill puffed up as Lt. Colonel Shepard stepped closer,
“Really Elizabeth? I thought you had more spunk.”
“Right this way Sir”
Lt. Colonel Shepard’s tone held real anger after the insult to Dr.Weir, I saw General O’Neill look around as if considering his options, but all Lt. Colonel Shepard had to do was gesture to several large well-armed men in uniform, and they flooded into the room, bracketing the General.
“Sir you are arrested, you will be held until you can be returned to your government, and all rights and privileges afforded to you by your government will be respected. Please follow me.”
General O’Neill fell into step with the men surrounding him with a mutinous expression on his face.
When the door closed behind the military men, Dr. Weir turned back to me.
“I want to offer my sincere apologies for all of this Dr. Wulf. This is not how we recruit men and women into this expedition, every person on this base made the choice to come, knowing they would likely never see Earth again. If you wish to leave, you may return to Earth at our next dial out, and I will ensure you are compensated for your time.”
I turned that over for a second.
“I’ll stick to the agreement I made with the General. I’ll help with the planet in danger. Then I will leave.”
Dr. Weir’s face brightened with a relieved smile.
“I am very grateful Dr. Wulf.”
I nodded decisively.
“Well to work then. I need to be taken to the artifact.”
Dr. Weir’s face was hesitant.
“If Carson will sign off on it, we can arrange an escort.”
I shook my head,
“No. In order to perform the translation I need to see the cultural aspects of the artifact, I need to know whatever we know about the scientific functions. I need all the information if I am to put together a translation I am even slightly confident in.”
Dr. Weir appeared to think about that.
“Very well. I will speak to Carson about what we need to make that possible and arrange for AR-1 to accompany you.”
Dr. Weir smiled,
“In the meantime, I will have Dr. Mckay speak with you about the science end of things.”
I took that as my dismissal and nodded agreeably before leaving the office and settling myself on a step to study my surroundings. I had cheerfully lost myself in following the sweeping lines of the architecture when a nasal voice cut into my musings,
I turned to a somewhat fidgety man standing over me,
He nodded and took a breath before he was off,
“Oh good, I’m Dr. Rodney Mckay, you’ve probably heard of me…”
I cut him off already not enjoying him or his arrogance,
“Ah no? What do you mean no?”
He seemed a bit taken aback,
“I mean no I have not heard of you.”
That made him pout, briefly, but seemed to do no long term damage
“Well I am the best physicist in the galaxy,”
“How many physicists are in the galaxy?”
He stopped to consider that,
“Just under a dozen actually.”
“So not much competition is there? Although that does assume that none of the societies Atlantis will ever encounter will have physicists, or is it just plain old bigotry, where you assume Earth naturally has the best physicists?”
He opened and closed his mouth several times seemingly at a loss before he noticed Plato’s carrier and fidgety became downright nervous,
“What is in the, ah, cage you have there?”
I sighed, my day seemed like it was going to be spent explaining my cat,
“Plato, he’s a cat.”
The revelation caused Dr.Mckay to recoil violently,
“No, absolutely not, I am terribly, terribly allergic to cats!”
He started brushing at his arms as if Plato’s fur had translocated to his skin, I rolled my eyes,
“Well, Plato is allergic to arrogant buffoons so I wouldn’t worry about him bothering you.”
As if trained to do so on cue, Plato gave a delicate sneeze, which seemed to offend Dr. Mckay greatly and he turned on his heel and stormed off to Dr. Weir’s office.
The poor woman was having a worse day than I was.
I was staring intently at the symbols on the Stargate when another person came into my field of view,
“Hello Dr. Wulf, I am Teyla, Dr. Weir has asked that I escort you and your cat to your temporary quarters.”
I smiled at the young woman in front of me,
“Thank you Teyla, I would like that very much.”
She gestured down the steps I was sitting on,
“Please follow me then.”
I stood up, picked up Plato, took one step, and had my knee lock into place, needless to say, I missed the next step, and fell down the rest, Plato’s crate went one way, and I went the other, we both met the smooth shiny floor of Atlantis rather intimately, and forcefully.
Teyla cried out as I fell, but I cared little for my own impact with the floor, and as soon as I could get my limbs under my control again I was scrambling for Plato.
Plato’s crate had landed on its side, and Plato was silent when I reached him, I was terrified as I scrambled to open the latches holding the two molded plastic sides together, but fear made my fingers clumsier than usual, and I couldn’t grasp them, Teyla’s hands were there gently moving my own, and twisting the latches nimbly, the two sides fells apart and Plato looked up at me, blinking wide green eyes in the sudden light.
I reached out a shaky hand to him, and he leaned into my fingers purring,
“He appears to be well Dr. Wulf.”
Teyla reassured me gently, and I swallowed hard to not cry,
I settled Plato back into his box, and quickly snapped the two sides back together, and turned back to Teyla,
“Which direction did you say we were going in?”
She gave me a polite look, that seemed to question my sanity, but gently,
“Dr. Beckett has asked that we remain here until his arrival,
I flopped back to lie on the floor,
“Well good, I’m sure he misses me, what with it being a whole 90 minutes and all.”
Sarcasm seemed to fly right by Teyla,
“Friends may miss each other quite quickly, yes.”
I opened one eye and studied her calm presence seated beside me, back straight and legs neatly folded as if we were at afternoon tea,
Teyla spoke softly, and I pushed up until I was leaning against my elbows so I could look at her.
She studied Plato’s crate,
“Is your animal for personal defense?”
That one took me off guard a bit,
“No Plato is for companionship, cats are generally kept for companionship, and killing rodents.”
Teyla nodded slowly as she took all that in,
“So you are friends with a cat?”
I nodded easily,
She nodded again, a politely confused expression on her face,
“May I meet your cat?”
“Of course, once Dr. Beckett releases me to go to my quarters, so I can let him out safely.”
Teyla smiled, and rose gracefully to clear the way for Carson who had just arrived.
I raised one hand in greeting,
He grinned at my attempt at nonchalance,
“Hello Grace, ah is that the famous Plato?”
“Aye, your cat is the talk of the base.”
I rolled my eyes,
“Scuttlebutt moves fast around here. Fame is all Plato and his ego need.”
The crate gave an encouraging meow and I sighed theatrically,
“Fine, my cat can be famous.”
Chapter 6: Mckay Does NOT Make a Friend
Carson let me up rather quickly with simple wrap around my knee to do me until I got my brace out of my bag, and the order for a cane he was going to pass along to Elizabeth.
All in all my day was going swimmingly.
Teyla insisted on carrying Plato when we finally left for my quarters, and I was so terrified of falling and dropping him again that I let her, my quarters were in the corner where two large hallways met, and when Teyla opened the door, I could see that it was going to be a tight fit.
“Dr. Weir is arranging larger quarters for you, but they will take several days to be ready, these were the largest we had available on short notice.”
“Well that's that then, would you like to meet Plato while I look for that brace Carson wants me to wear?”
“I would like that very much.”
I showed Teyla how to work the finicky mechanism on the front of the crate, and left them to it, as I pawed through my suitcase. It took me a couple of minutes to come up with the brace, then a couple more to attach all the straps in the right places, and tighten it to the right amount of miserable.
When I was officially braced I turned to see how Teyla and Plato were getting along and found my anti-social cat sprawled quite contentedly across her lap, receiving the pets that were his due.
“He likes you.”
Teyla smiled and it was so full of innocent wonder,
“And I like him. I see the value of such an animal as a companion.”
I laughed at that,
“Oh sure now, when he’s being sweet, wait until the next time he needs his claws clipped.”
Teyla frowned a little at that,
“Does he become violent?”
“Oh yeah, I’m always bleeding afterward.”
Her frown deepened,
“If it causes such chaos why do you do this.”
I smiled a little,
“Because he’s an inside cat, so his claws don’t wear down naturally, and they will grow until they hurt him.”
Teyla nodded sagely,
“Then it is good that you are willing to bleed for him.”
“Yep, I kinda love the little brat.”
Teyla smiled and gently shooed Plato off her lap,
“I will leave you to settle in. Good day, Dr. Wulf.”
“Grace, anyone that Plato likes its a friend, and my friends call me Grace.”
Teyla nodded in her oddly serious, but totally endearing way,
“Grace, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
I smiled and waved as she let herself out of the room, then I turned to my piles of belongings,
“Alright let’s bend the laws of physics.”
A couple of hours later all my most important things were accessible, and it was time to find the Atlantean mess.
When I waved my door open I found Teyla there hand poised to knock,
“Grace, would you like to walk with me to supper?”
“You have fantastic timing Teyla, thank you.”
Teyla nodded and we walked along quietly for a few moments.
“Dr. Weir tells me we are to escort you to the planet?”
“Yes I need to see the artifact in its cultural setting, which reminds me, Lt. Colonel Sheppard promised me a debrief.”
“I believe we will find him in the dining hall.”
“Of course we will, military men like their food.”
Teyla seemed puzzled by my quip, but before I could explain it, we took one more turn and found ourselves in the middle of a large room filled with tables and chairs.
“The food is laid out over there and people take what they wish, come Grace.”
Teyla touched my elbow gently and steered me towards the line of people, I peered around the room and spotted Lt. Colonel Shepard in the corner, talking to Dr. Mckay.
“Oh good.maybe Dr. Mckay and I can have a civilized conversation now.”
Teyla let that one pass.
We went slowly through the line, and I found exactly two things safe for me to eat and one was bottled water.
“I really hope Carson works fast.”
I muttered as I took two side salads, and two bottles of water,
“Dr. Beckett can be very quick when the situation calls for it.”
“That's reassuring, want to come and annoy Dr. Mckay with me?”
Teyla raised an eyebrow,
“I am afraid I do not understand this custom, but as I need to speak to Lt. Colonel Shepard I will accompany you.”
We wound our way through the crowded room until we reached the table,
Lt. Colonel Shepard greeted enthusiastically before noticing me behind her
My greeting was polite, and Dr. Mckay, whose back had been turned to me, stiffened and turned slowly,
“Well well well, Dr. Wulf, just so you know, I filed a complaint against you and your cat.”
He stated smugly clearly expecting this to upset me,
“How many complaints are you up to for the week?”
I asked opening one of my salads, his ears colored and he stuttered for a moment,
“Never mind, you didn’t put citrus dressing on that did you?”
He indicated my salad with his fork,
“Oh if only you had told me sooner.”
I remarked dryly, taking a bite of my obviously dressing-free salad, while sarcasm seemed to fly right by Teyla, Mckay sure heard it,
“I will have you know I am deathly allergic to citrus!”
He sputtered indignantly,
“Is that more or less than terribly allergic?”
He stared at me blankly for a moment, then rallied,
“More obviously, what's worse than death?”
I fixed him with a blank stare,
“Lots of things.”
Mckay opened his mouth when Lt. Colonel Shepard cut in smoothly,
“Alright, Mckay quit while you’re behind.”
Mckay slumped back in his seat and pouted a bit, before he brightened,
“Has anyone told you about the Wraith yet?”
I shook my head as I carefully speared a small tomato,
“Well let me inform you of our little nightmare scenario, this galaxy is populated by a highly evolved species of aliens with incredibly advanced technology, who feed on humans, literally suck the life out of us.”
I chewed slowly as I considered his words,
“Highly evolved with incredibly advanced technology?”
I asked in a perfectly neutral tone of voice, and he nodded,
“So probably not the best physicist in the galaxy then.”
Mckay looked like he was torn between screaming and throwing things, when John stepped in again,
“Okay kids, let's try to get along so we can all work together.”
I responded easily enough, while Mckay folded his arms,
“I will if she does.”
He muttered under his breath.
Mckay then pulled his own side salad towards him and tore open the tiny bag of croutons, before taking an experimental sniff,
“Oh great, they ordered the ones with lemon again, here Dr. Wulf.”
And before I could say a word or stop him he dumped the bag over my plate where I had combined my two tiny salads. I stared in mute fury at all the tiny little crumbs infecting my food, I would never be able to get them all out, there was now no way to eat this without consuming bread, which meant there was no way to eat this. Only the concern that he might actually be allergic to citrus kept me from dumping the salad over his head
“You absolute moron.”
I ground out my hands curling into tight fists,
“I thought scientists were supposed to be observant, do you see any wheat products with my food? Other than the ones you introduced?”
He studied the plate in front of me,
“I thought you were just ah, watching your figure.”
He stated in the smarmy self-righteous voice of his, and I found myself with the overwhelming urge to punch him, so I walked away instead, I left the plate, left the people, and walked away, I headed back to the food line, saw that all the salads were gone, snagged another bottle of water and walked out of the room.
It took me a couple of wrong turns to find my way back to my quarters, I dug out some protein powder and mixed it with the water. I was sitting on my bed drinking that while trying to remember exactly where my meal bars had been stored when there was a knock.
I muttered under my breath as I went to answer it.
I waved the door open and was greeted by a plate of hot food,
“Lt. Colonel Shepard.”
I greeted as politely as I could around the plate,
“Sorry about Mckay, he’s the dumbest genius I’ve ever met, I went and bugged the kitchen guys, and managed to get you some food before the wheat containing stuff got added. It's a little bare bone.”
I smiled genuinely,
“Thank you. This is very kind.”
I took the plate gently, and moved to set it on my bedside table, Lt. Colonel Shepard followed me in carrying a bottle of orange soda, a bowl of blue jello, and silverware.
“You, uh, sure have a lot of medical equipment don’t you.”
He remarked and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to himself,
“They have soda here?”
I changed the subject bluntly,
He nodded and handed me the bottle,
“Usually only for special occasions, but I pulled some strings.”
He turned in a circle studying quasi hospital vibe I had going, and I sighed,
“Yes I have a lot of medical equipment, yes I need it all, I know I don’t look sick, and yes I am a bit young for this.”
He gave me a startled look,
I shrugged already eating,
“Just figured I would give you the FAQ upfront.”
“Good to know. Know your way around a gun?”
I raised my hand in an ish gesture,
“My knowledge of firearms is largely academic, I can handle a pistol, and hit the broadside of a barn but that's about it.”
“Good, can you run?”
“Only if something's chasing me.”
“Fair enough. Want to meet up for breakfast so we can talk about the planet?”
“Fine see you at 0800. Enjoy your food.”
“Thank you Lt. Colonel.”
He nodded politely and saw himself out, leaving me with the plate. I ate most of it, fed Plato some scraps of chicken and went to bed early.
The next morning I walked into the mess at 0730, and settled myself at a table with my food, breakfast was quickly becoming my favorite meal of the day, there were lots of options that were safe, and tasty.
0800 came and went and no Shepard, 0830 and no Shepard. The morning continued on that way until I managed to snag a passing airman to interrogate.
“AR-1 went on an emergency mission and 0630 ma'am.”
Chapter 7: Mr. Tall-Dark-Never-Heard-of-Silverware
AR-1 being off-planet certainly put a damper in my plans for the day. No AR-1 meant no Shepard to brief me, no Mckay to discuss the science of the artifact with, no Teyla to balance the strongly biased views of Sheppard and Mckay. It left me rather at odd ends.
There was always the option of wandering around the city, but knowing my luck I would stumble into some storage room that locked from the outside and jammed radio frequencies. Since I knew basically no one and had no one to report to I wouldn’t be noticed as missing until Carson mused that I hadn’t had a medical emergency in a while. Given the number of people Carson was responsible for who knew how long that would take.
Since sitting in the mess and twiddling my thumbs did not strongly appeal to me, and I was going to go out on a limb and assume that any emergency that required the attention of AR-1 would also require the attention of Dr. Weir, I decided to go and see Carson, to see if anyone in his department had any insight to what exactly this device was doing to people.
I swung by my quarters to grab my recorder and notebook, then struck out for the infirmary.
When I arrived there Carson was a flurry of activity complaining to Dr. Weir how he would need an army and an operating room to accomplish what she was asking, but those were unlikely to fit through the gate. I lingered at the edges of the infirmary out of sheer nosiness for a few moments longer, before wandering out of the room.
When I had been assigned my quarters there had been a form on my bedside table giving me my workspace assignment, and as it seemed unlikely that anything more interesting would pop up I figured I might as well track that down.
My absolutely terrible sense of direction seemed to have made the trek to Pegasus with me, and so I got turned around no less than four times and took two wrong transporters before finding my way to the corridor that held rooms with the correct designations for workspaces. Mine was situated in a small room at the end of the hallway, and far from being claustrophobic, I enjoyed the snugness. Small rooms tended to dissuade visitors, and the less I was interrupted the better I would work. I spent a couple of hours putting the space in order before firing up the computer terminal to see what I had been given access to. I may know better than to go wandering off cluelessly, but a lack of curiosity had never been my problem. I started with the unredacted mission reports pertaining to the planet, which included some of the more “shocking” pictures, pictures that if you had shown me two months ago I would have sworn were doctored. The two full moons in the images admittedly stole my attention for a few minutes, but I did eventually manage to refocus on what was in front of me.
I was only aware of the passage of time because my watch beeped to inform me that lunch would begin in twenty minutes and it was time to start making my way to mess if I wanted any kind of options in what I would eat.
I stood, stretched the kinks out of my back, and wondered how long the emergency AR-1 was dealing with would take, I had curiosities, and I hated unsatisfied curiosities.
I passed the rest of the day largely in my workspace with breaks for lunch and dinner, and only managed to pull myself away for sleep about four hours before the start of breakfast, as I fell into the narrow bed my quarters cam equipped with, I believed for the first time since I agreed to this project that I might actually be able to solve this.
I elected to skip breakfast the next morning and instead barricaded myself into my workroom with protein bars, picking apart the language that seemed to be sentient and actively defying me.
By lunch, my stomach was reminding me that solid food was occasionally needed, so I and my notebooks went off in search of sustenance.
When I wandered into the mess, the sight actually managed to persuade me to put my work down. Sitting at a table, across from a calm Sheppard, and flanked by Marines was the largest man I had ever seen. What caught my attention was the fact that he managed to look dangerous while eating mashed potatoes with his fingers. It was such an utterly ridiculous sight that I choked from trying not to laugh.
The noise caught the man’s attention, and his eyes bored into me, trying to figure me out at a glance, I gave him a smile and a jaunty wave before heading off to get my own food.
Even with my back turned to the table I could feel him watching me, I knew he expected to intimidate me, so I gathered up an extra set of silverware, and several napkins and made my way determinedly to the table.
His gaze had sharpened to a glare by the time I stood next to Sheppard, and I was determined that he would not intimidate me. I handed the silverware and napkins to Sheppard who smirked, before turning to our newcomer,
“Welcome to Atlantis.”
After that, I spun on my heel and stormed off, food in hand, back to my work.
Along the way I ran into Teyla, walking along with that perfectly serene expression of hers,
“Hey, are you busy?”
She turned a little quickly as if she had noticed me,
“Hello Grace, I was on my way to practice my bantos fighting, did you need something?”
“Yeah, I need to ask you some questions about the artifact I’m supposed to be translating.”
She inclined her head,
“Of course, I am happy to help.”
Teyla fell into step with me and we made our way to my office.
I had no sooner pulled up the images I wanted to ask Teyla about when my radio squawked in my ear,
“Dr. Wulf please report to the control room.”
I slapped the thing hoping to hit the transmit button,
I turned to Teyla with a sigh
“I don’t suppose you know where the control room is do you?”
“Of course, I will walk with you.”
When I entered the control room Dr. Weir was standing there with Sheppard and a furious looking O’Neill who was just a bit rumpled from his time in the brig.
“Alright General we have Dr. Wulf with us now.”
“Hello Doctor, I hear you had some trouble with General O’Neill.”
A kind sounding male voice filled the room,
“Yes, we disagreed on a matter of vocabulary.”
I responded to the air, hoping that was how it worked, my witty one-liners were generally only funny the first time.
“So I hear. Well on behalf of the United States Air Force we would like to apologize. I want to assure you I have seen to the authorization of all the requests Dr. Beckett made on your behalf and will be ordering a mid-term shipment in the next several days. We are grateful you’ve agreed to stay and help.”
“Well, I was in the neighborhood.”
He chucked again,
“That you were. Good luck with your work Dr. Wulf.”
I smiled a little,
“Thank you, General.”
Dr. Weir stepped forward again,
“Alright, General I am sending through General O’Neill under guard, with the copies of the complaints filed against him, and recordings of the testimonies given by Drs. Wulf and Beckett. Talk to you next week. Atlantis out.”
Dr. Weir nodded to the marines escorting O’Neill and they marched him towards the gate, I leaned forward to get my first view of someone actually departing through the Stargate and gasped when I saw them step into the event horizon, and watched the ripples form around them. It seemed too easy to actually be real, one step into a circle of what appeared to be glowing water and you were transported to some far off place.
All I wanted to do was sit and marvel, but I had Dr. Weir handy and opportunities were not to be wasted.
“Dr. Weir, do you have a minute?”
She nodded and gestured for me to follow her to her office,
“I need to schedule a meeting with everyone who has had contact with the people and the artifact. Their experiences will be invaluable.”
“Of course. How’s lunch tomorrow?”
“That will work very well thank you.”
Dr. Weir nodded with a kind smile,
“How are you settling in Dr. Wulf?”
“I must admit I like the city quite a bit more than I expected to, and the expedition members I’ve met so far, barring one, have been very welcoming.”
She gave a wry grin,
“Yes, I heard that you and Dr. Mckay had not got off to the best start. I do need to speak with you about the complaint he lodged.”
I nodded, and she pulled something up on the screen of her tablet,
“It says here your cat attacked him, and you threatened and insulted him. Anything to add?”
I rolled my eyes,
“Attacked is definitely overdoing it, Plato sneezed in his general direction. I implied he was an arrogant buffoon but whether that's an insult or hard truth is subjective, and I in no way threatened him, I simply informed him my cat was allergic to arrogant buffoons.”
Dr. Weir sighed,
“And then your cat sneezed.”
I nodded, and she rubbed the bridge of her nose between her eyes,
“Did you by any chance train your cat to sneeze on command?”
I shook my head,
“Not in the slightest, Plato just has wonderful comedic timing.”
Dr. Weir finally gave in and laughed,
“Alright, well please keep Plato from tormenting Dr. Mckay, and refrain from implying he’s a buffoon, these complaints generate a lot of paperwork.”
“Duly noted, I will speak to Plato sternly.”
Dr. Weir nodded,
“Oh Dr. Weir, am I allowed to know about Mr. Tall-Dark-Never-Heard-of-Silverware?”
“I supposed you’ll have to he’s a bit tricky to hide. His name is Ronon and he’s a refugee from the Wraith picked up by AR-1 on their last mission.”
“Okay, thanks Dr. Weir.”
Chapter 8: Long Walks and Instinctive Reactions
Plato had always been a feline of strong opinions, I had tried to name the little fluff ball something cute and feminine, she had refused entirely, in ways that made her opinions on the matter perfectly clear, either ignoring my use of the name entirely, or biting me if she found it too offensive. She seemed to doomed to go by “Hey Cat!” until one day I was discussing a Plato translation on the phone, and the mad feline purred every time I used the name. I waved the white flag and conceded defeat, her name was Plato.
Her opinions didn’t stop there everything from food (must be three-quarter dry to one-quarter wet) to water (Must be cool but not cold, and running) to sleeping arrangements (generally my pillow) Plato made her opinions known.
We had been in Atlantis three days and Plato had a bright shiny new opinion for me to grapple with.
She was thoroughly sick and tired of being confined to my quarters, and since the doors slid to open and close I was not afforded the option of opening the door a crack and making a run a for it, so when I opened my door to go to breakfast the morning of my fourth day Plato made a break for freedom, and I was, as usual, too slow to stop her. So I muttered a few obscenities and set off after her.
I was rounding a corner a helpful if bemused scientist had pointed to when I asked after Plato, threatening to feed her to whatever the local predatory wildlife was when I stopped dead. Atlantis’s newest arrival was attempting to be intimidating while Plato wound around his ankles purring like mad.
I had to give it to the man, he did intimidating in odd circumstances well, the fact that he was huge and dressed in leather certainly gave him a running start, but since I was barely over five feet I had long since given up on being intimidated by people taller than I was, so I simply walked up to him.
“Good morning, may I have my cat back?”
He quirked a scarred eyebrow at me
“As much as a cat can ever belong to someone yeah, she’s mine.”
He shrugged as if that made perfect sense to him and stooped to pick up Plato, who happily snuggled into his arms as if it were her new favorite perch,
“Come here Plato, I do not have time for your nonsense today I have a meeting!”
This changed Plato’s plans for her morning not one bit, and she began to butt at Ronon’s fingers in search of pets,
“Dammit Plato, let go of the nice man, and there’s a fish treat in it for you.”
I tried bribery, to absolutely no effect, and at that moment the man currently being ignored as a cat perch decided to speak up,
I glanced up at him.
“Well yeah, Plato obviously likes you, and she is an excellent judge of character. Plato says you’re nice, then you’re nice.”
He tried to glower, but seemed too stunned,
“So we’re just going to ignore that I took AR-1 hostage?”
I shrugged easily as I beckoned to Plato again,
“Sure, I took an airman hostage on the Daedalus, life happens. Well, there’s nothing for it, would you mind carrying her back to my quarters so I can make my meeting?”
The marines escorting him were biting their lips and very carefully not looking at each other as I set off.
A few paces later I looked over my shoulder to see that Ronon had not moved, so I walked back, grabbed his wrist and set off again, this time dragging a large sentient cat perch by the arm.
All thanks to Plato and her opinions.
A couple of minutes later we reached my quarters, and Plato was deposited by a small pile of treats and was so distracted that I managed to slip out before she noticed the door had opened. I turned to Ronon much calmer now that my morning was back on track.
“Thank you for your help Ronon.”
He glared at me and stormed off, and I rolled my eyes before heading to my workroom.
Naturally enough I lost track of time and was ten minutes late to my meeting and naturally enough I blamed Plato, everyone laughed at my story of Plato and her newest conquest, then we settled into business.
It seemed that the artifact was a central religious icon to the small farming community, and had, for the longest time, been nothing more than an abstract statue, beautiful surely, but ultimately just decorative, at least until AR-1 arrived, they had all laid hands on the stone simultaneously, and shortly after it began transmitting electric frequencies.
These frequencies seemed harmless enough at first, they affected radio communications and any kind of navigation software, but since the community had nothing in the way of electronic technology, that seemed of little matter.
Several hours later though, the villagers began to grow ill, and when Carson arrived to check them over he found their heart beating erratically, it seemed more than one kind of electric pulses was affected by the statue, and short of the largest pacemaker surgery ever, there was little Carson could do.
We were in the room for hours, they all circled exactly where on the stone they had placed their hands, given minutely detailed accounts of what they were doing and saying at the time, and I was even treated to a brief explanation of the ATA gene carried by Dr. Mckay and Lt. Colonel Sheppard, and the Wraith DNA carried by Teyla, and that was when I had my light bulb moment.
“Most of the technology here on Atlantis responds to the ATA gene right?”
Dr. Mckay nodded and opened his mouth but I raised a hand to cut him off,
“What if the statue does as well? Do we have any samples of Wraith writing?”
Everyone was looking at me a bit dubiously but I was handed a Wraith lexicon nonetheless, and it was the work of moments to access an Atlantean one.
“Can anyone show me the word ‘gene’ written out in Atlantean?”
Dr. Weir drew it out for me on the room’s whiteboard and I scanned the Wraith lexicon next to the image of one of the statue’s words, suddenly I found what I was looking for, and I overlaid the two sets of symbols,
“I am reasonably sure that this is the word for genes in the language used on the statue. I believe it is a meld of Ancient and Wraith.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the room, as I turned to the table,
“So when can we leave for the planet, I think I have the beginnings of an idea.”
“Departure in an hour.”
Dr. Weir answered and the room was suddenly a flurry of movement.
Teyla took me off to find some BDU’s and boots that would fit, before we headed to the gear room where I was outfitted with the basics, a rugged tablet with my research already waiting, a vest with all kinds of zipping and velcro pockets which I came preloaded with things like chocolate bars, and water purifying tablets, a thigh holster with a pistol, and a couple of extra clips, and a small pack with some basic food and medical supplies.
Forty-five minutes I looked like I was in some gender-bending G.I. Joe costume, standing in the gate room trying not to fidget.
Teyla stood beside me, and though the BDU’s were no more natural to here than they were to me, she managed to look completely at home, it made me feel even more like an imposter.
One hour later on the dot, the gate was locking with the destination and Lt. Colonel Sheppard and Teyla were stepping through, Carson came to stand beside me as we waited for the all-clear.
“Best to exhale right as you step through the gate, but it's nothing to worry about Dear.”
I nodded, ignored Mckay’s muttered “usually” and walked up to Gate, I took one deep breath in, exhaled and just as I was reaching the point of inhale, again, I stepped through the rippling event horizon.
In the space between that exhale and the next inhale I was transported lightyears away, and when I inhaled it was on a new planet in a grassy field under an almost blinding sun.
I walked over to stand behind Teyla as I had been instructed, fished out my sunglasses, and from behind the darkened lenses took in the world around me.
In light of the effects of the statue on human bodies, and my not robust starting position, Dr. Carson had insisted I be fitted with a cardiac monitor so he could keep an eye on me, and I had agreed without any fuss, partially because Carson had a point, and partially because I wanted a constant baseline from someone with a known history, I had my suspicions about this statue and the people on the planet, but I was keeping them to myself.
The village was about an hour’s walk from the gate over somewhat rough terrain, I gritted my teeth as my joints were jolted with every step, and occasionally twisted in some of the iffier spots. I was the shortest member of the team, and that would have made me a little slower, and given me less ability to step over things, to begin with, so by the time we reached the village I was miserable and cranky. I drank some water, ate a diplomatic chocolate bar, and marched up to the statue causing all of this misery.
I very carefully didn’t touch it and instructed everyone else not to as well, I had Sheppard and Teyla line up where they had placed their hands the first time, and I studied the writing around the circles clearly intended for palms. The one in front of Teyla seemed absurdly large, and I called John around to look at it in case it was just a case of small hands.
But when John lined his palm up several careful centimeters from the surface, it was overly large for his hands as well.
“Do Wraith have much larger hands than we do?”
I asked softly, aware that saying ‘Warith’ in this galaxy was rather like shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre, and Sheppard nodded.
“Right both of you step back, and send over Mckay.”
Mckay wandered over with his tablet and we put our heads together. To everyone's surprise, when faced with an actual task we could work together cordially, and it only took us about an hour to find an answer that encompassed both linguistics and physics, now we just needed to check with medicine.
“Carson I have a couple questions for you.”
He wandered over from where he had been speaking to several children,
“How’s my heart?”
Carson pulled out his tablet and studied my readings for a moment,
“Well in line with your normal, why do you ask?”
“Well, we all know that out of this group I’m the canary in the mine, if it was going to affect any of us, it would be me first. I think it only affects the natives of this planet, and I think if you test their DNA you’ll find that's because they have traces of human, Ancient, and Wraith DNA.”
Carson looked stunned but nodded slowly,
“Aye, that would explain it.”
I waved over Teyla and Sheppard, and line them up at the two palm circles that were made for human hands,
“Okay, we’re going to try something. I want both of you to place your hands on the circles in front of you simultaneously, and tell the statue to calm down, that its hurting the people it was constructed to protect.”
They nodded, and Sheppard gave a countdown, as soon as they laid their hands on the stone the people in the square started fainting, and I yelled,
“Okay move back to your original circles, Carson, Mckay grab two of the villagers who are still on their feet and bring them to the other two circles, put their hands on!”
It took about thirty seconds for them to do what I had told them, and in that time two-thirds of the people in the square had dropped in a faint.
As soon as the villagers' hands were on the stone I nodded to Teyla and Sheppard,
“Same thing again! Now!”
They slapped their hands on the stone, and a hush fell over the square.
No one else was fainting, and those still standing weren’t slumped quite as much as before, but I still held my breath, then a few terrified seconds later those that were on the ground began to stir.
I dropped to sit where I was standing as Carson began to hurry around and check on people.
“Try the radios.”
I urged from my spot on the ground, and Sheppard clicked his radio a couple of times, before hailing Mckay who was on the other side of the square.
He went through loud and clear.
It was over.
I grinned, finishing a translation always brought about a sense of accomplishment, but they rarely had a greater purpose, most of my translations served to make rich people richer, but this was a whole new rush, and a memory likely to stay with me.
I pulled myself to my feet and headed over to see if I could be any use to Carson. The next few hours passed in a blur, help a person and move on, smile respond to thanks and questions, drink the water an Atlantis team member would occasionally press into my hand.
By the time night had fallen I was struggling to stay upright and keep my eyes open, I wanted to cry at the thought of the hour walk back to the Gate.
We waved goodbye the villagers and set off into the surrounding woods, I set my jaw, hiked my pack, and set one foot in front of the other.
Ten minutes after we started we broke into a clearing, and there was a long metal tube with some kind of engines protruding from the sides,
“Everybody in the Jumper.”
Sheppard ordered and I followed the others in. I collapsed on the nearest bench and was delighted to discover that there was enough space for me to lay down.
I shoved my pack up to the head of the bench and lay down, and was out cold before we cleared the trees.
The next thing I knew Carson was gently shaking my shoulder,
“Wake up Dear, we’re back in Atlantis.”
I nodded, sat long enough for Carson to collect his heart monitor, and Sheppard to collect his firearm then trudged to my quarters, I untied the boots, ditched the vest and empty holster, and collapsed face down on my bed.
Morning came all too early with a knock at my door I stumbled over and waved it open to see Sheppard looking disgustingly refreshed, and put together.
“Whoa, the morning after the night before.”
He quipped taking in my appearance, and I simply waved the door closed in his face.
“Okay fair enough, but Dr. Weir wants to see us.”
I groaned and opened the door again,
“Fine give me five minutes.”
I closed it up again, and ran through getting dressed, threw my hair up in a ponytail, and opened the door again.
I walked tightly down the hall towards the transporter, ignoring the loose easy stride of the man beside me.
We arrived at the same conference room we where met the day before and took our seats. The next hour was spent going over the mission in detail, making sure everything was recorded and in keeping with standards.
After all the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed, Dr. Weir turned to me,
“Well Dr. Wulf, thank you for keeping your word under difficult circumstances, I will arrange for you to return to Earth at our next dial-out.”
I felt an odd tugging in my chest at the thought of returning to Earth, and my mouth ran off before my brain could catch up,
“Do you not need the rest of the language translated?”
Dr. Weir smiled
“We do, but the need is less immediate now, so we will hire a linguist by more conventional means to pick up where you left off. Of course, it would be helpful if you were there to brief them, but we couldn’t expect that of you.”
I ran with my gut instinct,
“Sure what’s a few more weeks?”
Dr. Weir smiled,
“I will inform the IOA. Thank you Dr. Wulf.”
Chapter 9: I Still Don't Like You
This Chapter has a little POV shift, and we get to see the inside of Ronon's head.
I really didn’t know what had possessed me to say it, I had a comfortable existence back on Earth, and life here seemed destined to be anything but, none the less I had said it, and there was more than enough work with the hybrid language to keep me busy, so busy I stayed.
Ronon had apparently decided to stay as well, I saw him more and more frequently in the company of the members of AR-1. Much like home I kept largely to myself, occasionally having tea with Carson when I pulled my head out of my work, Teyla always made sure to say ‘Hello’ when we passed in the halls, but beyond that, it was largely Plato and I.
It had been that way on Earth, but here it felt oddly lonely.
I had been dodging Carson for a few days when I walked into the mess hall in search of food, he wanted to talk about how much (or little) I was sleeping, and I was not particularly interested in being lectured, so when I heard his jovial voice coming up the corridor behind me, I hurried to sit at the first table that let me put my back to the doorway.
A deep voice greeted me, and I flicked my eyes up to find Ronon sitting across from me,
“Oh, Hello. When are you coming to visit Plato?”
He gave me a blank look that I think was his version of confusion,
“Why would I?”
I tilted my head a bit and studied him,
He furrowed his eyebrows blank shifting decidedly towards frustrated, but before I could remark on that, I felt a hand settle gently on my shoulder,
“Hello Ronon, Grace, mind if I join you?”
I winced a bit and Ronon kicked the chair next to me away from the table in welcome,
“Grace, I’ve been looking for you, and Ronon you need to come and see me for some blood work.”
He shrugged gracefully,
Then tucked his head back down to his food, and proceeded to ignore us.
“Grace, we need to talk about the hours you’re working Dear.”
Carson started before I held my hand up,
“Yes I work a lot, but I eat and I nap.”
Carson shook his head,
“You’re pushing too hard Grace, you’re going to burn out.”
“Well, then I’ll sleep more.”
Carson sighed heavily,
“Whatever you say, Dear.”
He patted my hand gently and walked away,
“Why does he order you around so much?”
Ronon said his first unprompted words to me, yanking my attention away from Carson’s back,
“Because I’m ‘fragile’”
I added air quotes around the last word, and he kept his gaze steady on me,
I nodded, and he glared a bit,
“Then do what he tells you until you get better.”
I turned to match his glare with my own,
I was emphatic, and that seemed to make him angrier,
His words held a definite edge of anger now,
“No, I will not get better, I will be sick until I die, the only question is whether being sick kills me, or some alien invasion, or even just tripping over my own two damned feet. I will not allow Carson or any doctor to own my whole life, some of me gets to exist outside the realm of being sick!”
By the end, I was yelling, and the entire mess hall was watching the spectacle, Ronon rose and leaned over the table to tower over me,
“So you’re an idiot.”
I wanted to slap him, but knew I would not fare well in the violence that would follow such an action,
“No, I am a person, outside of my illnesses, outside of the consequences of the errors written into my genetic code, despite all the medical professionals who want to own and dictate my entire life for my own good. I am a person.”
I spun on my heel and stormed towards the exit, heart in my throat and blood pounding in my ears.
One corridor down my head started to spin.
Two and black crept into the edges of my vision.
By three I was leaning against a wall, working up the focus to call for Carson, when two strong arms swept me up off my feet and against a chest, I looked up to see Ronon glaring down at me, and I glared right back (or at least I meant to).
“I still don’t like you.”
Was the last thing I said before I passed out.
“I still don’t like you.”
She said before she went limp in my arms.
I don’t even know what made me follow her out of the cafeteria, I was going to leave her be. Probably.
But then I saw her lean heavily against the wall. I may be several years and dozens of planets removed from anything resembling people skills, or manners, but there was no way I was going to leave her to faint, alone, in a back corridor.
Didn’t mean I liked her.
I walked her into the infirmary and Carson just sighed at the sight of her in my arms,
“Thank you Ronon, just lay her down over there.”
He pointed to a bed situated in the corner by a window, and I set her, gently, on top of the sheets.
I looked at her for a moment, before lifting up her head and shoving a pillow under it, I had turned to walk away when I stopped, sighed, turned back and lifted her feet drawing the thin blanket over her.
Then I walked away.
I was stopped almost to the doorway by Dr. Beckett,
“Care to do your blood work while you’re here?”
I jerked on thumb over my shoulder,
“What about her?”
“She’s being looked after.”
I turned to look over my shoulder and saw several nurses, and one of the junior doctors fluttering around her bed.
I was led to a chair and instructed to sit and wait, then to clench my fist, then to hold my arm at some weird angle until finally, Dr. Beckett pushed the needle in, and withdrew several large vials of blood.
“What’s the blood for anyway?”
“We have to test your immunity to several Earth viruses, and if you don’t have it, we may have to give you some vaccinations.”
Personally I thought a number of the rules I was expected to follow here were strange, but they were small enough things to ask in exchange for what Atlantis was giving me, a safe place to be, regular meals I didn’t have to kill or steal for, and a team to watch my back.
I could handle a few needles.
Dr. Beckett waved me out of the infirmary, already preparing my blood for whatever tests he wanted to do, and I left planning to go back to the mess hall and see if there was any more food, then maybe track down Sheppard to spar.
Of course, I ran into Teyla right outside.
“Ah, Ronon, I was just going to train, would you care to join me?”
I debated for a second, Teyla was definitely the better sparring partner, more often than not she handed me my ass, but sparring with Sheppard was easier, he was nowhere near as insightful.
“Sure, why not.”
“Do you need to retrieve anything, or make any preparations?”
I shook my head, I’d take off the gun belt, and boots in the training room, and other than that I was good.
She started walking, leaving me to fall into step with her, we made our way to the training room in silence, where I stowed my gear, and selected a set of sticks. It wasn’t until we were circling each other in the sparring ring that Teyla decided to speak.
“I have heard that you disagreed with Grace today.”
Teyla smiled a little,
“Indeed she is, but she has had to be.”
I shrugged, and Teyla took that as an invitation to continue,
“Do you know much about her?”
I shook my head, and Teyla took a couple of test swipes at me before she continued,
“She has known many struggles, different from ours, but struggle nonetheless. Imagine how you would feel betrayed by your own body, everyone who meets you thinking it is their place to tell you what you can, and cannot do, how you must live, must eat, must feel. I doubt I could live such a life.”
I tightened my grip on my sticks and lunged for Teyla, and as always my body did exactly what I asked of it, I knew it would continue to do so until Teyla thoroughly kicked my ass.
I knew she was going to kick my ass, and I knew I would be okay tomorrow, and I tried at that moment to imagine how Grace must have felt being rescued by a man who only minutes before had told her she ought to surrender all her free will.
I doubted I could live such a life either.
But I still didn’t like her
Chapter 10: A Quartering Issue
I woke up in the infirmary and sighed, I missed being able to yell at someone without needing medical attention, I pushed myself up to seated position and the world spun precariously.
“Lay back down immediately Grace.”
Carson’s voice brooked no argument, and I was in no position to be difficult, so I dropped gracelessly back to the pillows, and he settled onto a stool at my bedside,
“What are you doing Grace?”
Carson asked softly, genuine concern written across his kind face, and I sighed heavily,
“Being a person Carson, existing outside of my illnesses.”
He patted my hand,
“I understand dear, but you are neglecting yourself.”
He lectured with kind sternness, and I felt anger well up inside me, but I had no energy for anger, so it flowed away as easily as it had come.
“No Carson you don’t understand, but you are right, to an extent at least. I pushed too hard, and the argument with Ronon didn’t help.”
Carson opened his mouth then closed it, seeming to think better of whatever he was going to say.
“Ronon brought you in after you collapsed, tucked you right in.”
I picked at the thin blanket over my lap,
“I remember him picking me up but not the rest.”
I muttered to my hands, my brain whirring through what I did remember, the argument, making it a few hallways away, and Ronon’s arms pulling me close to him, more gently than I would have expected.
Carson mistook my silence for exhaustion,
“Rest now Dear, we’ll talk later.”
I nodded and pulled the blanket a little closer to me.
When I woke up again Ronon was sitting beside my bed, I studied him under my lashes for a moment, before opening my eyes fully.
“Thank you for bringing me here.”
It wasn’t what I wanted to say, but ‘why’ was a bit vague, and ‘I still don’t like you’ was unnecessarily confrontational. Ronon shrugged, not moving anything other than his shoulders, his eyes not leaving my face.
“What’s it like?”
I tilted my head a bit,
“What is what like?”
Ronon went silent and still, seeming not to even breathe as he thought before he gestured to me laying in the hospital bed,
“My life? My health?”
I probed curiously,
I considered trying to decide how honest to be.
“Some days its hell, some days it just is, I’ve been living like this since I was nineteen, I’ve almost forgotten there used to be anything else. But most days I’m too busy with; counting pills, checking vitals, checking labels before I eat, stretching, wrapping, and all the other time-consuming things it takes to get me through the day to really give it much thought.”
He nodded in a single tightly-controlled sharp movement, then stood and walked away.
I just watched him go, not totally sure what had just happened.
Before I could give it to much thought, Teyla arrived with a tray of food set it on the table which she settled over my lap, before sitting on the nearby stool.
“Hello, Grace I am pleased to see you awake.”
I smiled at her, looking over the food on the table, pleased that it was all things I could eat, I picked up the silverware.
“Thanks, Teyla, I appreciate this.”
“Are you feeling well again?”
“As much as I really can, but a bit more sleep would do me some good.”
“I encountered Ronon on my way here, he seemed deep in thought.”
I glanced at the door again,
“Yeah, that was an odd conversation. Any idea what it was about?”
Teyla considered me,
“What did the conversation consist of?”
“He just asked me what it was like.”
“Ah, yes Ronon and I had a conversation about you and your challenges, and I believe Ronon is asking himself some uncomfortable questions.”
That sparked more questions than it answered, but before I could give voice to them she raised a hand to to her ear, answering a hail on her radio and stood.
“I am sorry Grace, I must go.”
I waved a little at her, my mind still far away.
As soon as she finished talking I walked away, with her words ringing in my ears. I remembered when I was running when almost every second of my time was consumed by just staying alive, finding food, binding hurts, and staying always one step ahead of those chasing me. I had never had time to dwell on my existence or its inevitable end. My enemy had been something I could chase and shoot, something I could fight, maybe even win, but her enemy was her own body. I had been in prisons before, and the restricted movement had been hell, but there had always been hope, hope of escape or rescue. I tried to put myself back in those situations, but without hope, without the escape clause. Just thinking about it made me angry, made me want to hit things, or better yet shoot things.
The radio chirped and I heard a call for AR-1 to come to the gate room, and I spun on my foot and headed that way.
I tried to clear thoughts of Grace as I walked, but thoughts of her, and guilt for my words to her lingered.
When we arrived at the control room, Dr. Weir was there with several assorted AR teams and some scientists. I tuned out most of the drone, the mission was simple, guard the scientists, don’t let the scary things kill the brains. The science and the reasoning didn’t interest me, Dr, Weir said guard, so I would, I didn’t need more than that.
An hour later we were massed in the departure room, and I watched the gate dial the next planet we were set to explore.
The mission was mostly boring and didn’t nearly occupy my mind enough, so even as I scanned the brush for signs of Wraith, I pondered Grace.
We were all heading back to the gate, scientists exhausted but satisfied, when a distress call came out on the radio, a Wraith dart.
Finally, something to shoot.
By the time I made it to the location of the distress call Sheppard had brought the dart down and the pilot was dead.
That, of course, didn’t mean we were crisis-free, it was Atlantis, there was always some crisis. The current one being that Mckay and a lieutenant named Cadman had been taken by the dart before it was brought down, and by the time I got there Shepard and Zelenka were pouring over a laptop hard wired into the Dart.
Sheppard pointed to something on the screen, and the Wraith beam shone, and standing there was Mckay.
After that, we were hauling chunks of Dart back to the gate and Mckay was muttering to himself as he poured over a tablet in his hand.
Missions tended to be like this, boring, then something happens, then there’s usually hauling heavy things, and the routine was normally comforting, but today it just left my mind too free.
Finally, everything was back in Atlantis, Mckay had buried himself into data and readings determined to bring Cadman back,and be the hero.
I just wanted a shower.
But somehow my feet took me to the infirmary, I didn’t go in, just peeked through the door. I saw Grace sleeping in the same bed I had laid her down in that morning, and the monitors around her were silent, and all the staff were calm. Reassured somehow I left for my quarters.
After Teyla left I did exactly what I promised I would do, and fell back asleep almost in the same second I finished the last bite of food.
It was the next morning when I opened my eyes again, and this time when I pushed myself into a seated position my head didn’t swim.
One of the nurses came over as soon as she saw me awake,
“Dr. Beckett says that if you can keep breakfast down you can leave.”
“That’s surprisingly reasonable. Why is Mckay here?”
The nurse visibly stifled an eye roll,
“He collapsed again.”
I grimaced at the humor in her tone,
“Happens to the best of us.”
The nurse didn’t stop the eye roll this time,
“Some of us have legitimate medical concerns, and some are hypochondriacs.”
I let that lie, knowing from experience that it was not an argument worth having. She bustled off at my silence, and I watched her go. A different nurse brought over a breakfast tray and I nibbled at the food while I kept one eye on Mckay. There was something about the way he was curled that struck me as odd, but I shook it off.
A half-hour after my breakfast tray was removed, when my breakfast was still firmly in my stomach I was released by Carson, with nearly a novel’s worth of instructions, and I set off for my quarters and a shower.
When I arrived at my quarters and waved my hand across the crystals the door slid open to reveal a shirtless Ronon heading towards the shower.
“What are you doing here?!?”
I yelped in a not particularly dignified way, and he rounded on me with a glare,
“What are you doing here?”
He growled at me furiously, and that let me move past shocked and into anger,
“These are my quarters, go shower somewhere else!”
I flung a hand out to point at the door into the hallway, he just glowered in my direction before storming off to grab some papers sitting on the foot of the bed, he flung them into my arms, and I unfolded them. They were a notice of a quarters assignment, assigning Ronon to these quarters my quarters.
I blinked and read them again but they still said the same thing, and I felt the anger sharpen in my chest,
“Can I borrow these?”
Ronon growled storming into the bathroom.
I whirled on my heel and headed out towards the hallway, and I stormed the entire way to the control room and Dr. Weir’s office, where I rapped on the door, resisting the urge to start yelling as soon as the door opens for me,
“Dr. Wulf? What can I do for you?”
I handed the papers to her silently,
“There seems to a quartering issue, also my things seem to be missing.”
My words are polite, and so is my tone, mostly, but there's an edge to it that warns at the explosion simmering just below the surface facade.
Dr. Weir looks at me curiously,
“Is there an issue with your new quarters?”
I nodded in a tight movement,
“Yes, I don’t have any.”
Dr. Weir moved back to her desk and shuffled through papers sitting on a corner of her desk, and came up with several sheets stapled together.
“My apologies Dr. Wulf, it seems with the crisis yesterday I forgot to have these delivered to you.”
She handed the papers over to me, and I studied them closely, the corridor listed was in a part of the city I hadn’t been to yet,
“Your things should be there, Teyla oversaw their move after she returned from the mission.”
I calmed a bit,
Dr. Weir sighed,
“I do hope there wasn’t too much of an upset.”
I shrugged again,
“Ronon and I weren’t friends to begin with, and everyone was wearing pants, so no real harm done I suppose.”
Dr. Weir stifled a laugh,
“I don’t mean to laugh.”
I looked at her tense jaw, and dancing eyes, and burst out laughing.
Chapter 11: Broken Transporters
I stepped out of the shower and felt something drag across my wet legs, and when I looked down there was Grace’s cat winding between my legs, leaving a trail of fur on my wet skin. I pushed it away with my foot, and it came right back, meowing at me for the insult. I seemed destined to be annoyed by Grace and her cat even in my own quarters. I dried off quickly and pulled on a pair of pants and a loose shirt scooping up the meowing animal. I headed out into the corridor determined to deliver the menace back to its keeper, only to realize that I had no idea where to take it too. So I sighed and headed towards the control room determined to return the creature and tell her to keep it contained.
In an odd stroke of luck, I see Grace coming around the corner when I approach the transporter, she has her nose buried into a stack of papers, and is chewing on a corner of her lip while she walks gingerly in my general direction. A soft chirp sounds from the cat dangling from one arm and she looks up a soft smile on her face,
She greets the cat conversationally as if it was a totally normal thing to do, and I shoved the cat at her.
“It was in my quarters.”
She wrapped her arms around the cat and cuddled it close,
“Sorry, he must have hidden when my things were being moved.”
“Keep it in your quarters.”
The cat meowed as if in protest, and Grace sighed,
“I’ll do my best. Do you know where this is?”
She handed me the papers she was holding and pointed at a room designation. It's gibberish to me, I hadn’t been on Atlantis long enough to understand all the ways in which they label things.
I shoved the papers back at her and she sighed as she took them.
She said, nose back to the map in her hand, already making to walk past me. Plato squirmed in her grip, and she struggled to juggle him and the map she was trying to read.
“Settle down Plato.”
She grumbled as he twisted until finally she was forced to drop the map to grab him, I rolled my eyes and snatched the cat away from her.
I gestured with my chin towards the corridor, made even more grumpy by the fact that he immediately settled into my arms, she bent over and swept the papers back into a stack and shuffled them back into order with the map on top.
“So we are on ‘C’ level now, and I need ‘E’”
She mumbled to herself,
“So we need to go down two levels.”
She nodded and turned back to the transporter, when we were both in she turned to the glowing lights on the wall that indicated locations,
“They could really do with some labels in here.”
She muttered studying them, before she pressed one, hopefully not at random, and the light encircled us.
When we stepped out I wasn’t familiar with the corridor we were in, so I looked around and found the sign denoting the level,
“This is F.”
I commented a bit snappishly, and she sighed and walked back into the transporter, pulling out an odd marker she made a tick mark next to the location we had just tried.
“I don’t think Dr. Weir would approve of you drawing on walls.”
I said in what passed for my version of a teasing tone, all sharp edges as likely to cut as a joke, and she just rolled her eyes and swiped a finger over the tick mark. It came off easily under her finger and as soon as she showed it to me with a hand motion that seemed both dramatic and sarcastic, she returned it and moved one light over, which should logically be ‘E’ but Atlantis and logic did not necessarily mix.
So I was not surprised when the transporter opened and revealed that rather than ‘E’ we were on ‘B’ level.
Grace buried her face in her hands,
“Of course we went up four levels instead of one.”
She turned back to the wall and placed another mark, then tossed me a look over her shoulder,
“Your turn, pick one.”
I resisted the urge to drop the cat and leave her to it, jabbing a light with my elbow,
She ticked it and pressed it and the lights came around us again, when the doors slid open we had somehow managed to end up on level ‘J’.
It was Grace’s turn after that, and she pressed a light, the light started to flare around us, then faded into nothing.
“That was weird.”
Grace murmured as she turned to the doors and waited for them to slide open.
They, of course, didn’t.
I tapped my radio and got nothing but static, no one responded or even gave any indication that they heard me.
So here I was trapped in a transporter with an annoying woman who confused me, and an annoying cat who had for some reason decided to like me.
In a transporter.
And if his frustrated slapping at his radio was any indication we were without radio communication.
The spaces were not large to begin with, but stick in one large unfriendly displaced Satedan, a grouchy cat who was about to be late for breakfast, and me, and they quickly became microscopic.
I tapped my head lightly against the sealed doors and then turned to lean my back against it,
“Wanna play twenty questions?”
I snarked at Ronon, completely unsurprised when his glare turned from the transporter controls to me,
I rolled my eyes,
“It's an Earth game.”
He quirked an eyebrow at me,
“Asking questions is a game.?”
Disbelief colored his tone.
“Sort of. It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“Of course it is.”
I sighed in irritation and dropped to sit with my legs crossed,
He dropped Plato and sat across from me so we were knee to knee, and studied me, I gestured at him,
“Hold your hands out like this.”
He copied my motion and held his hands out palms down and parallel to the floor, I held my hands under his palm up leaving a small bit of space between our hands,
“I am going to try and slap your hands and you are going to try and pull away before I can.”
Ronon grinned a fierce sharp thing,
“This is a game?”
“Now you’re not allowed to do anything to stop me but pull away, and you have to look into my eyes not at my hands. No cheating.”
He nodded in agreement and fixed his eyes on mine. I held his gaze and experimentally ran my fingertips along his palm gauging how quickly after my motion he pulled away.
The reaction was almost instantaneous, and I grinned my own sharp grin.
I moved slowly the first couple of attempts, and lulled him into thinking I was slow, then on the third, I sped up, and managed to flick my fingers across the backs of his.
“You move quick.”
He commented blandly,
He nodded and I wondered if he was maybe reevaluating me,
“Do we switch soon?”
I nodded and flipped my hands over so my palms were down, and his hands took my place underneath.
I felt his fingertips brush across the underneath of my hands and I stifled the urge to pull away, so I could avoid giving him any clues.
I almost missed it when his hands moved in earnest, and much as I suspected I was far too slow to pull away completely, his much larger hands cracked across the joints where my fingers met the palm of my hand and I stifled a gasp.
“Well, you certainly picked that game up quick.”
I managed with a smile, and his facial expression changed,
“You’re being stupid again aren’t you?”
“Somewhat. What do you care.”
He glared sharply,
“I don’t. I just don’t want to be blamed. I have my own problems.”
He drew his hands back and turned his head to the wall behind us. I drew my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them.
Grace murmured so softly I could barely hear her, and I had to work harder than I should have to not be affected by it.
I snapped at her before leaning my head back and closing my eyes. It was one thing to care about my team, you always cared about the people you went into battle with. It was one thing to care about Dr. Weir, with a good leader you don’t have a choice but to care.
But I didn’t need to care about the rest.
I didn’t need more people weighing me down, clouding my thinking.
I didn’t need more people I would mourn.
We were at war with the Wraith, and as determined and capable as Atlantis was, they were too many and too powerful.
We were going to lose, and I needed a few people who would make me stupid as possible.
As few people to mourn, who would mourn me as possible.
Chapter 12: Everyone Thinks Too Hard
Sorry it's been a few weeks without a chapter school and work have been crazy.
To make up for it heres a long one.
The silence in the transporter quickly became overbearing, and in an attempt to distract myself, or at least stop myself from checking every few seconds to see if Ronon was still staring at the wall with that determined glower; I studied the map of glowing lights against the Atlantis Guide, such as it was in my hands. I turned the map over and over again (making it the same way it had been when I started), muttered a few obscenities, then circled the most likely possibility, before dropping the papers with a sigh.I tilted my head back against the wall behind me, and closed my eyes. I had no idea how long I had sat there like that with my mind wandering when a soft meow from Plato drew my attention. I opened my eyes to find Plato with his front paws against Ronon’s stomach butting at his hand looking for attention, Ronon had curled his hands into the center of his stomach, and was studiously ignoring Plato’s pleas. I held my fingers out and clicked for Plato to come to me, he gave Ronon one more sad meow, before deciding he had better odds with me. I pulled him up to rest on my stomach and scratched behind his ears. Ronon went back to ignoring us both, and I just leaned my head down to rest against Plato.
“You can’t just annoy everyone you meet until they pet you.”
I whispered to him in admonishment, and he butted against my chin, no guilt there at all. I wrapped my arms around him, settled him more comfortably into my lap and closed my eyes again, letting the rumble of his purr relax me.
Grace tilted her head back against the wall again and closed her eyes, the cat seemed content to sprawl on her and rumble, and since there was nothing else to do I studied her. Here with her relaxed I noticed things that her fiery nature generally disguised. There were dark circles under her eyes, that gave them a faint bruised impression, and the knuckles of her hands were large against her small fingers. She shifted every few seconds as if her leg had fallen asleep, and she was so pale as to be almost translucent. She shifted again and made a small sound as if it had hurt, and Plato pressed against her a little harder. She stilled her hands and just hugged the beast close, even though her eyes were closed she still turned her head away from me, and I couldn’t blame her. I hadn't exactly been friendly. She, for the first time, looked fragile and there was this weird tugging at my heart that wanted to apologize for holding her away, maybe even look after her, and let her smile at me. But I just couldn’t get there.
So we sat there in almost silence, Plato’s purring, and Grace’s occasional small sounds of pain the only noise in the small transporter. Just as I was standing up to shake the stiffness out of my muscles the white light of the transporters surrounded us, and when it faded we were just down the hall from the command center. The doors slid open and Plato squirmed out of Grace’s grip and took off. She rose slowly one hand braced on the wall, and the joints in her legs gave sharp cracking sounds, and she closed her eyes and took a few deep slow breaths.
“Sorry to have delayed your day Ronon.”
She whispered from between clenched teeth, and managed one shaky step toward the once again illuminated map, and leaned heavily on the wall before pressing a light. The doors slid closed, and with a light from behind them she was gone.
When the transporter deposited me on what was thankfully the correct level I moved slowly into the corridor. After sitting in one place, in one position for so long, it was like my joints forgot how to bend, and it led to a hobbling gait. I was shuffling determinedly towards the end of the corridor where my quarters were when I heard Teyla behind me,
I waved one hand to acknowledge her as I was moving,and I had to bite back a yell when she wrapped an arm around my waist and drew one of mine up over her shoulder
“Should I radio for Dr. Beckett, Grace?”
I shook my head,
“No just stiff joints, a shower and some stretching and I’ll be fine.”
Teyla nodded, though her face said she wasn’t happy.
“Any idea what happened to the transporters?”
I asked hoping it would distract her,and I was genuinely curious, so birds and stones.
“Ah, yes. Dr.Mckay is currently attempting to repair the Wraith Dart so that he may remove the consciousness of Lt. Cadman from his body.”
“Yeah that makes…..wait what?”
I started to respond automatically then processed what it was I had just heard,
“Due to a power fluctuation of the Wraith Dart Dr. Mckay and Lt. Cadman are currently both inhabiting Dr. Mckay’s body.”
I laughed a little darkly,
“And I thought I had problems.”
Teyla smiled a little, and we arrived at the door of my new quarters,
“I must leave Grace, would you like me to send someone to look after you?”
“No thank you Teyla. I’ll be alright.”
She inclined her head,
“Very well. Feel better Grace.”
I waved open the door to my new quarters and smiled at the space, it was clearly one of the smaller storage rooms that had been repurposed for me, and all of my things, my medical equipment, and Plato’s things fit comfortably. Through the door set in the back corner of the room was a bathroom with a large shower and a shower chair, in the main room a wardrobe and footlocker stood in for a closet, and my things were arranged very similarly to how they had been before. Teyla did have an eye for detail. I grabbed a change of clothes, and a towel and headed happily (or at least less miserably) to my shower.
As I sat and let the hot water wash over me I considered Ronon, and how much I didn’t know what to think about him. At times he seemed distantly curious, at times he seemed to care in an odd roundabout way, and sometimes I just seemed to infuriate him. He yelled at me and helped me, twice now, once more and it would be a pattern.
I had heard bits a pieces of what Ronon had endured before he came to Atlantis, and it excused many of his strange actions, it excused his fierce demeanor and anti-social nature. It did not excuse him yelling at me.
My joints finally bent without protest so I hauled myself out of the shower, dried and dressed, and set off to see if I could be of any use in our current crisis, braiding my damp hair over my shoulder as I went.
When I arrived at the lab Mckay and Zelenka were shouting at each other, Zelenka was occasionally lapsing into Czech, which would push Mckay into French, I skirted the edge of the argument to where Sheppard leaned against the edge of a table legs stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles, and arms folded over his chest, the picture of ease. He grinned at my approach,
“Dr. Grace, are you feeling better?”
I returned his grin with my own and nodded, before tipping my head towards the arguing scientists,
“What sparked that?”
Sheppard shook his head,
“They are disagreeing on some point of translation.”
“Well then looks like I’m here just in time.”
I smiled and he grinned broadly,
He raised a hand to his mouth hooked thumb and forefinger between his lips and let out a piercing whistle, Mckay and Zelenka both turned to him with confused expressions,
“Settle down boys the Linguist is here!”
He ordered sharply before turning to me,
“Dr. Grace you’re in charge.”
I nodded fighting to keep the giggles contained,
“What do you mean in charge?”
Mckay spluttered as Sheppard walked away,
“I mean the boss of you Mckay! Call me if you need me Dr. Grace!”
He waved over his shoulder as he walked away.
“Well that is just ridiculous! You are not in charge! Why are you even here?”
Mckay ranted at me and I settled on a stool to let him get it out of his system.
He puffed up indignantly,
“Help? How much help can you be? You know nothing about physics, nothing about the Wraith, and I don’t see how you looking at squiggles you don’t understand is going to help!”
He was verging on hysteria when he finished speaking, and I gave it a moment longer to see if there were going to be any more outbursts before I responded.
“And another thing…”
Mckay’s voice trailed off as Ronon walked into the room, and I took advantage of the silence. I stood and stepped slowly and deliberately into Mckay’s space
“And who exactly are these hysterics helping? You don’t want our help? You don’t want to share credit for your brilliant last-minute solution? Fine. Be the hero. I thought having your mind back would have mattered more to you than your pride. But hey no skin off my nose. You have fun with your astrophysics and your scribbles.”
I stepped out his space and very deliberately turned my back on him.
He nodded, and extended his arm to me. I took it and we swept dramatically from the room leaving a spluttering Mckay, and an, as always, impassive Ronon behind us.
I watched Grace saunter out of the room on Radek’s arm while Mckay squeaked, then spluttered indignantly.
Damn, I could appreciate a woman with an attitude.
“She can’t talk to me like that. Stealing away Zelenka! Not that I need him…”
Mckay continued muttering under his breath and I stopped listening, leaving the room now that there was no need for me to be there, I wandered in the direction of the training room hoping to run into Sheppard, I found him having his ass handed to him by Teyla.
“What are you doing here?”
He asked from his back on the mat,
“Mckay ran her off.”
Sheppard swore and pushed to his feet.
“Someone needs to check his attitude.”
“Oh she did. Tore him apart never lifted a finger.”
Sheppard shot me an odd look, which I cheerfully ignored. People rarely surprised me, but Grace just had, and that garnered, if not interest then at least not outright apathy. I told Sheppard what happened with just a bit of enjoyment.
“I have to go and remind Zelenka that while Dr. Grace was volunteering he was not.”
Sheppard sighed and started to pull on his shoes,
“Don’t bother he took his tablet when he left with Grace. They’re in the mess now solving Mckay’s problem for him.”
Since food almost always sounded like a good idea to me I agreed, but Teyla declined in favor of meditation.
When we were sat at a table I turned to Sheppard,
“Did she really take an Airman hostage.”
“Oh yeah pulled a knife on him. Guy was twice her size if he was an inch.”
I grinned a little ferally.
Damn, I could really appreciate a woman with an attitude.
I asked curious about the rest of the story, casting a quick glance over Sheppard’s shoulder where Grace and Zelenka were arguing enthusiastically over a tablet.
“Teal’c disarmed her, accidentally dislocated her elbow while he did it. Then Jackson starts yelling at Teal’c, who is a bit miffed that something contrary to his expectations happened, and while everyone is focusing on that she calmly relocates her own elbow, and demands to go home.”
A part of me clenched and wished I had met Grace before Sateda fell. Before running destroyed the part of me that was capable of friends and love leaving me only capable of comrades and enemies. We could have been friends, before. The version of me that survived all of that whispered about another person for me to have lost in the culling, another name to carry next to Melena’s, and another face to haunt my dreams at night.
That thought was quite effective at killing my mood, and tossing cold water on my appreciation of Grace and her attitude. I turned back to my food and stopped prodding Sheppard for stories about her.
Sheppard gave me a look that I chose not to think too hard on, in case it turned out to be pity, and turned the conversation around to the basic self defense workshops Teyla had somehow talked me into teaching with her.
I tuned him out.
“...and of course Dr. Grace.”
I snapped back to focus on Sheppard.
I demanded an edge of anger in my voice,
“Grace needs to take the class too, so Weir can sign off on her basic requirements.”
“Has Dr. Beckett heard about this?”
Sheppard nodded and I sighed heavily.
“Fine,whatever, put the girl who can’t walk down a hallway in my fighting class. What do I care.”
And if that came out just a little more viciously than I meant it to, he didn’t comment.
At a far table Grace and Zelenka were arguing enthusiastically about whatever was on the screen, but even from here I could see there was no heat in it, Grace was smiling at Zelenka as she pointed to something on the screen, and he was nodding and scribbling down some calculations on a napkin. Grace turned back to the screen, and I almost wanted to smile.
I snapped at Sheppard, and he rubbed a hand across the back of his neck, before sighing,
“Sure buddy, let’s run.”
We cleared our table, but to throw our trash away we had to walk right past Grace and Zelenka, Zelenka threw us both a distracted wave, but Grace looked up, smiled at Sheppard, and nodded with a neutral expression to me, before being pulled back into what she was doing by Zelenka’s excitement.
We reached the back corridors we tended to use for our runs, and started stretching, we didn’t talk, but every now and then I would catch appraising glances from Sheppard when he thought I wasn’t looking, like he was trying to puzzle me out.
I snapped, and Sheppard just shrugged,
“Just trying to decide if you like Dr.Grace or not.”
“Does it matter?”
He considered that,
“Maybe. Guess it depends on the situation.”
I started bouncing on my toes, ready to be running.
“Look I won’t hurt her, if I need to I’ll protect her. I don’t have to be her friend.”
Sheppard shrugged again.
“Whatever you say buddy.”
He set off at a jog down the corridor, clearly planning on taking it slow and easing into it. I didn’t want to ease into it I wanted to run.
So I blew past Sheppard, and in a distant sound heard him sigh and pick up the pace.
Ronon shot me a look that could only be described as a glare as he walked by with Sheppard, and I fought the urge to roll my eyes. After they walked away Radek shot a confused look at their backs.
“What did you do to him?”
“Introduced him to my cat and got stuck with him in a transporter.”
He shook his head
“Odd duck, now what about these symbols here?”
I translated the symbols as Radek worked his way through the readout, getting more and more excited as he went.
“Come, we must go speak to Elizabeth!”’
He grabbed for my wrist, and I waved him off,
“Go, be the hero Radek.”
He grinned and scurried out of the room clutching his tablet, and I wandered in the general direction of one of the docks. I got to the end and hung my feet over the lapping water, I leaned back on my elbows and watched the sun sink. Though rationally I knew it was a different sun that was setting on Earth, it still brought me a feeling of peace, as if it tied me just a little bit closer to all that I had left behind me. I looked up as Teyla settled beside me,
“Dr. Weir wishes you speak to you when you have a moment. I believe Dr. Mckay has lodged another complaint against you.”
I raised one finger to twirl in a sarcastic ‘yoo-hoo’ motion.
“In a minute.”
“Very well, may I wait with you.”
I nodded turning back to the colors streaking across the sky.
“The sunsets were similar on Athos.”
Teyla murmured as entranced by the colors as I was.
She smiled at me,
“My home planet, my people came here before you arrived under threat of the Wraith.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. The sunsets were similar on Earth too, it makes me just a little less, I guess homesick.”
Teyla turned from the sky to look at me,
“Are you not homesick?”
I shook my head,
“Homesick isn’t quite the word, it wasn’t really home I left behind. I would say time-sick, but that's silly.”
Out of the corner of my eye I watched her puzzle that statement out.
“You long for another time not another place?”
She finally asked and I nodded.
“I never really cared where I was as long as Jerrick and I were together, since he died, no where has felt like home.”
“Jerrick was your mate?”
Teyla asked hesitantly, and I nodded,
“Jerrick was the other half of me, I barely know how to be since he died.”
“My sympathies for your loss.”
I nodded, I had never known how to respond to people’s sympathies. But before the conversation could go any further the last of the color faded from the sky, and I pushed myself to stand up.
“I’m going to go see what I’ve done to irritate Rodney the Great and Powerful.”
Teyla stood also and inclined her head in that oddly serious way of hers, it seemed to be waiting for a response, and maybe a little like something I had seen before, but I couldn’t quite shake it out of the depths of my memory, so I smiled awkwardly and walked away.
It took me a few minutes to make it to Dr. Weir’s office, and when I got there Mckay was sitting on one side arms folded, and she on the other with her head in her hands, I strongly considered walking away. But since being an adult means not getting to flee from your problems I knocked on the door instead.
She looked up and waved me through, and i stepped through the door to sit next to Mckay.
“Dr. Wulf, Dr. Mckay has a complaint about you.”
“I’m sure he does.”
I responded pleasantly,
“He claims you stole Dr. Zelenka from him.”
“Can you steal a person? Radek and I had a lovely dinner together though, yes.”
Dr. Weir looked like she kind of wanted to throw things at us both, so I sighed.
“Call Sheppard, and Ronon, between them they saw everything. For that matter why is Radek, the person I apparently stole not here?”
“Radek is on his way, the lab is a longer walk, I will call the others though.”
Elizabeth touched a hand to her ear and called for Sheppard and Ronon, then turned back to Mckay and I,
“Regardless of who said or did what you two need to learn to get along.”
I felt anger run like ice through my veins,
“By get along do you mean allow him to talk down to me, and everyone around me, allow him to call me stupid, allow him to swagger around like the unchallenged bully, because he’ll cry to the principal if someone stands up to him? Because if that’s what you mean I have no interest in getting along with Dr. Mckay.”
Dr. Weir seemed taken aback, and Mckay was spluttering,
“Now I understand Dr. Mckay can be a bit abrasive at times, but he is a genius who has helped a lot of people.”
“So am I, so are any number of the scientists and researchers on this installation, so what?”
She seemed genuinely lost for words at that point as if she had never considered it that way before, before she could formulate a response the door opened again, and in walked Radek, Sheppard, and Ronon.
“What now Rodney?”
Sheppard asked, already aggravated and no one had even started talking yet,
“You have no right to put someone in charge of me! I am Chief Science Officer!”
Sheppard rolled his eyes,
“So? Beckett’s head of medical but I wouldn’t let him operate on himself.”
Mckay shook his head,
“That’s completely different!”
Sheppard dragged his hands over his face.
“Mckay, you are in over your head, it's one thing to solve everyone else’s problems, you have some distance, but right now your brain isn’t even completely you, so you need to take your cues from other people!”
Mckay puffed up, and his face started turning interesting colors,
“You want me to put my life in the hands of morons?”
He yelled at Sheppard incensed. I gestured to him,
“You want me to get along with that?”
He was screaming before Dr. Weir could even respond,
“That?!? THAT?!? You would just love it if I died, you and your buddy Zelenka!”
“No, actually I wouldn’t.”
He opened his mouth as if to scream again, then realized what it was that I said,
“Wait, what? You don’t like me.”
I nodded agreeably,
“No I don’t, neither does Plato.”
I reminded him in a cheerful tone
“But that doesn’t mean I want you dead.”
He sat back down slowly as if all the wind had been taken out of his sails,
“No one here wants you dead Mckay, most of us just don’t want to be around you, you are rude, and arrogant, and abrasive is actually a pretty mild word for it, and when you demean people they can’t do their best work for you. Neither Radek or I walked away from your problem, we just went to work on it somewhere you weren’t.”
He sagged back down into his chair, and only sound in the room was the creaking of the chair beneath him.
I looked at him a little sadly.
“I get it, you were always the smartest kid in school, so you had no friends, in fact you were actively bullied, so you clung to your intelligence, it made you better, and if you were better, then they didn’t matter. I imagine that’s what got you through school, relatively intact, but without the smoothing effect most of our personalities went through. But you aren’t in school surrounded by vicious idiots anymore. You are on a research installation in another galaxy surrounded by people who are the best in their fields. And now you’ve become the bully.”
When I finished talking you could have heard a pin drop in the room.
I waited for anyone to start talking, but Mckay seemed to be having some kind of crisis, and everyone else seemed to be struggling with the idea that Mckay could be a genius without being a jerk, so I turned to Radek,
“Were the tests promising?”
“What? Oh yes, very promising. Two rats in, two rats out. Unfortunately there's no way to know if the correct consciousness is in the correct rat. But I suppose if the wrong people go to the wrong body, we could always send to the SGC for the body-swapping device.”
“Excellent. Dr. Weir, Radek believes he has a solution for you.”
After a brief lightning fast conversation that involved lots of numbers and physics, and Mckay stating that it wasn’t a terrible idea, we were all trooping en masse to the lab where the wreckage of the Wraith Dart was being stored.
Somewhere along the journey Carson joined us with a couple of large medical bags, which Ronon took from him without a word, and when we reached the wreckage there was another furious conversation between the physicists, Radek demonstrated with his rats, and received the expected applause, and finally the decision was made to just try it. Mckay stepped in front of the ray, was silent and still for a moment, before his whole demeanor changed, his hands grabbed Carson’s lapels and crushed their lips together for a moment, Sheppard whistled, I facepalmed, a couple of other people clapped, then the demeanor shifted again, and Radek was waved ahead. An odd cone of light enveloped Mckay, when it faded there was an empty spot, Radek typed some things, double checked the power levels, then the light flared again, and collapsed on the floor was Mckay, and a small blonde woman who I assumed was Lt. Cadman
Chapter 13: The Art of Mourning Lost Loves
Carson had banned the lot of us from the infirmary, insisting that our hovering wouldn’t help and that we would find out who was who soon enough. So I went for a walk along the edge of the city, and with the moonlight and the scent of the ocean, I could almost hear Jerrick beside me. I knew that he would have loved Atlantis, I knew that Teyla would have baffled him, he probably would have decked Mckay day one, and he and Ronon would have gotten on either famously or killed each other.
I was so lost in thought that I didn’t notice the form leaning with forearms braced on the railing until I was just beside him. Ronon just sighed and shook his head as I grabbed at the railing to steady myself, and that motion, one I had seen from Jerrick countless times as he reached out to catch me, combined with the moon and the ocean was too much, I broke into tears, and fled for my quarters.
Grace had given me a look that was all wide eyes, and somewhere on the line between fear and pain, before she fled from me, sobbing, back into the city.
I considered letting her go for just a moment, clearly my presence wasn’t going to bring her comfort, but this little part of me that wasn’t completely feral whispered that if I had made her cry, I owed it to her to at least try and fix it.
When I went into the building Sheppard was the first person I came across,
“What’d you do to Dr. Grace.”
“Nothing, which direction?”
I snapped and jogged in the direction of his thumb. The hall was empty except for a transporter at the end, and I pressed a light, hoping that she had made for her quarters and not just transported wildly into the city, when I hit the corridor I was already jogging again, until I pulled up short outside of her door, now that I was here I didn’t know what I would do or say. I rested my hands against the metal door, and I could just barely hear her inside.
I was too feral for this, I didn’t know how to put a broken girl back together again.
I turned around and walked away slowly.
I would send Sheppard or Teyla to check on her.
Someone who could be gentle.
I didn’t know how long I had laid on my bed crying into Plato’s fur when I heard a gentle knock at the door of my quarters,
“Dr. Grace? I brought you a couple of things.”
I heard Sheppard’s hesitant voice from the other side of the door and sighed before setting down Plato, and going to open it for him.
His expression was a bit shocked, and I understood. I knew very well the picture I made when I had been crying,
“I, uh, brought you some juice and some of those meal bars you like.”
I managed a weak smile and accepted them from him,
“Thank you, Colonel.”
I stepped back from the door and he followed me in, I turned around looking for the tissues I would swear I just had when Sheppard produced some from one of the leg pockets of his BDU’s.
“You’re a handy guy to have around Colonel.”
He smiled awkwardly as I dabbed at my face,
“Are you okay Dr. Grace? I saw you come in crying, then Ronon comes in after you, then there's Ronon again, except now he’s cranky, and he sends me to come to check on you.”
“Ronon was cranky?”
I asked curiously and he nods,
“How could you tell?”
Sheppard burst out laughing at that point, and I chuckled with him,
“Yeah I’m fine, I just miss Jerrick tonight, I was walking outside thinking of how much he would love this place, then I nearly slam into Ronon because I’m a clutz, and he sighs and shakes his head at me, which Jerrick used to do all the time, and it just all hit me again.”
Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck,
“So Ronon reminds you of your dead husband? That could be awkward.”
I shook my head,
“No, not usually, it was just exactly the right gesture at exactly the wrong time.”
Sheppard nodded, and patted my shoulder, but didn’t seem able to say anything. I wasn’t stupid, I knew the military guys stationed here were all special ops, and I knew that these postings had been voluntary. People don’t volunteer to move to the other end of the universe if they have a family waiting by the phone. So I just rested my hand over his and laid my head on his shoulder. He was here, and in his own awkward guy way he gave a damn.
It was enough.
We sat there in comfortable silence until I settled and my breathing evened out, Then I gave Sheppard’s hand a gentle squeeze, and went to get something to drink,
I hmm-ed as I fought with the juice bottle,
“Why did you send Ronon away?”
I stopped, set down the bottle and turned around.
“I didn’t. He wasn’t here.”
He gave me a baffled look,
“He took off after you, then a couple of minutes later he was back, I figured you didn’t want to see him.”
I shook my head,
“No, he was never here, or if he was he never knocked. I would have let him in.”
“You make him weird Dr. Grace.”
I corrected absently as I chewed over the idea that I somehow made Ronon weird,
Sheppard shook his head,
“I can’t really explain it, one minute he’s asking me for stories about you, the next he doesn’t want you anywhere near him.”
I sighed helplessly,
“He’ll either get over it, or he won’t. I won’t go out of my way to annoy him or befriend him, no pressure, either way.”
“Well, I’ve, uh, got mission reports. See you later Grace.”
I waved to him as he left my chambers, and sat down to pull a brush through my hair, wondering how exactly I could make Ronon weird.
I left Grace, turned left, and almost immediately slammed into Ronon,
“Whoa Buddy look where you’re going, wait what are you doing down here?”
Ronon fixed his eyes on a point over my head,
I grabbed his arm and steered him towards the transporter. Ronon needed to talk, so we would spar, he would kick my ass, then he would open up a bit.
Being friends with Ronon tended to come with bruises.
It wasn’t long before we were circling each other in the training room, thankfully empty-handed, Ronon batted at me lightly, testing my reactions, and I swatted his hands away. I actually managed to stay on my feet for about thirty seconds before I crashed down to the mats,
“What is it with you and Grace buddy? She said you never went to her quarters.”
I managed to sweep Ronon’s leg as I was talking bringing him to the mats beside me,
“I went I just didn’t knock.”
He climbed to his feet and crouched slightly, which meant that was all the answer I was getting without sparring a bit more first. The next bout lasted a few seconds longer before I hit the mats with a thud,
“Well, why didn’t you knock.”
“Didn’t want to make it worse.”
I sighed and pushed up into a sitting position,
“She wasn’t crying because of you, you just reminded her of her husband for a second.”
His voice was just a bit sharp at the inquiry,
He laughed humorlessly, and the sound made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,
“So I remind her of her dead husband? And you think me showing up with an ‘I’m sorry’ and a hug wouldn’t have made it worse?”
His tone not so gently implied a certain lack in my intellectual capabilities.
“Do you hug people?”
I asked genuinely curious, but since that just got me a filthy look I dropped it.
“Well I asked her, and she said that it wasn’t you, she was thinking about him, and you did something he used to do, and it just hit her just right.”
By this point, I had clambered back to my feet, and he was just looking at the wall as if considering something important,
“She said that?”
“Some people talk to other people without hitting them first.”
That got me another dirty look.
“You like her?”
It sounded like a question, but I had a suspicion I knew the answer.
“I’m not ready to like anyone. The fall of Sateda, losing Melena, Running, there’s been too much.”
I patted his shoulder awkwardly,
“I hear ya, buddy.”
“I would have liked her. Before.”
“She’s a great girl.”
Ronon nodded but his expression was haunted.
“Why don’t you try for a friend who you don’t have to hit to enjoy.”
Ronon, at that, walked out of the room without a response, verbal or otherwise.
It hurt to admit that more than I thought it would.
That I would have liked Grace.
I had seen Melena’s face when I said it, it felt like being unfaithful, and even though Melena had been dead more than seven years, the thought of betraying her was a sucker punch to the gut.
But since Sheppard had evidently told her I had been lurking outside her quarters I probably owed her an apology.
I hated apologizing.
I tapped my knuckles on the door gently, half hoping she wouldn’t answer.
Not that I had ever been lucky.
The door slid open and Grace was there in front of me, she smiled at me a little hesitantly,
I spat the word out and started to walk away when I felt a hand close around my wrist,
“I’m sorry too, for freaking out on you like that. There’s just this jagged place inside me where what’s left of Jerrick lives, and it stings sometimes.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
I pulled away gently, and she let me go that time.
I went straight back to my quarters, and into the shower.
Because I got it, there was a jagged, empty, agonizing, place inside me where what was left of Melena lived, and I knew it would never heal.
I didn’t hold Grace’s tears against her.
I wished I could cry for Melena.
Because maybe if I could, I could at least move on.
I woke up in the infirmary, which was slightly reassuring, and when I held my hands out in front of my face they were my own. Which was definitely a step in the right direction, but when I turned my head to the bed next to me, no Cadman.
This wasn’t right Carson always put me in the bed at the end he knew how much I hated to be around sick people, I heard a sound from my other side stopping my panicking in its tracks. I turned slowly to the other side and there smiling at me was Cadman.
Oh thank goodness.
That meant my only problem was that Carson had put me in the wrong bed.
Also that I had clearly missed lunch.
“How are you feeling Rodney?”
That was Carson now,
“Fine, hungry, but fine.”
Then it was Elizabeth’s voice,
“Radek figured out your predicament just in time then.”
I had been hoping we could all overlook that,
“Yes well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
I heard an annoyed scoff, and oh look there was John.
“Just admit Grace and Radek solved your problem, that sometimes even you need help.”
“I did not!”
I was adamant and offended, but that little trickle of curiosity couldn’t be denied,
“How, ah, how did they solve the problem so quickly?”
John rolled his eyes,
“They listened to each other and worked together.”
It was my turn to scoff,
“And what does she know about advanced particle physics?”
John’s eyes really were going to get stuck that way,
“Not much, but she is damn near fluent in Wraith. Turns out that comes in handy.”
“She’s been here what two months, how is she fluent in Wraith?”
Elizabeth stepped in to try and contain the argument brewing between us.
“She has a gift for language Rodney, rather like you do for advanced physics, she took the basic lexicon we’ve been able to create, and used it as a Rosetta stone of sorts, she understands more of the language than anyone else.”
Well that was annoying,
“She does realize the IOC will never let her go back to Earth now? She’s too valuable.”
“She is in discussions with Elizabeth to set up lessons to teach off-world personnel the language, for use in the field.”
That for some reason annoyed me even more,
“So now she’ll have no value, they’ll never pay her.”
John out and out laughed at that one.
“They already are Rodney, she’s worth more than you and me combined, and then they’re going to pay her more for the lessons.”
Even I could tell I was bordering on sulky at this point,
“Well isn’t that just peachy.”
John gave me a disappointed look and shook his head,
“Feel better Mckay.”
Then he turned neatly on his heel and strode out of the infirmary.
I watched him go confused since when were we on a last name basis?
“Rodney, when you’re up and around come to my office, we need to talk.”
I nodded and waved an absent hand,
“Rodney. As soon as you’re up.”
Her voice was harder this time, heavy with the weight of command, and that caught my attention.
My response was apparently close enough to what she had been looking for because she nodded once staunchly, then marched from the room.
Which was weird because Elizabeth never marched.
Everyone was being so weird today.
I didn’t know what was going to happen now, there had been a crisis, and it had been Radek who solved it, well Radek and Dr. Wulf, but most importantly not me. Even worse when she was lecturing me on my behavior, and making far too astute guesses about my past, everyone was listening.
I knew I was an ass, but it never mattered, I solved the problems no one else could solve, and when I solved them, everyone was so relieved they could pull their lips from their posteriors and stop kissing them goodbye, that they thanked me, and forgot to be mad about my behavior.
But this time the only posterior on the line was mine, and I hadn’t saved it.
Which meant there was no gratitude to smooth over the rougher aspects of my personality.
I was so fired.
Some days I really missed the UN.
International diplomacy was certainly never easy, but compared to Atlantis, it certainly seemed more welcoming. And staring down the barrel of two squabbling societies on the verge of war certainly seemed easier than telling Rodney he was, in fact, a jerk, and that steps needed to be taken to deal with that, and it certainly seemed easier than telling him I was mandating therapy.
Some days I wished they had alcohol on Atlantis.
There was a knock on the office door, and I looked up, before waving Sheppard in.
“Good afternoon John.”
He smiled at me warmly,
“What can I do for you?”
Sheppard sighed and rubbed his hands across the back of his neck,
“I need some help with personnel issues.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose,
“I am already planning on talking to Rodney.”
John sighed heavily,
“Good, but it's not only him.”
I seriously debated putting my head down on my desk,
John rubbed the back of his neck again,
“Grace and Ronon. Well, mostly Ronon if I’m being honest.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well Ronon has some complicated feelings about Grace; and, well, his way of dealing with them seems to be taking out whichever he’s currently experiencing on her, positive or negative. She’s handling it well, but…”
He trailed off and moved his hands in a ‘you know’ sort of gesture meant to finish the sentence.
My day was getting better and better, the two members of my expedition least likely to appreciate me poking into their emotional health, and I was about to order both to therapy.
“Does Grace wish to file a complaint?”
He shook his head,
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“I’ll speak to them.”
He smiled at me encouragingly before striding from office with a happy expression, having dumped all his difficult work on me.
Maybe one day John and I would switch, and I could shoot things, and he could deal with emotions and diplomacy, and being all things to all people a galaxy from home.
I hailed Grace on the radios, deciding that I would start with the person least likely to resent the conversation, and end with Ronon.
I spent the five minutes it took for Grace to arrive jotting down some quick notes in the margins of my to-do list.
When Grace tapped hesitantly I looked up and waved her in.
“Hello Dr. Weir, can I do something for you?”
“You are more than welcome to call me Elizabeth, and it's really the other way around.”
She tilted her head slightly and sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap.
“I hear you have had some issues with Ronon.”
Grace sighed heavily, and one of her neat hands rose to toy with a loose strand of hair.
“Not really issues so much as….”
She trailed off clearly searching for the word,
“I don’t know maybe culture clash, or maybe we just both have issues that don’t play nicely together. Or something to that effect at least.”
I nodded considering her words,
“I’ve spoken to Colonel Sheppard, and he mentioned that you and Ronon have had several run-ins.”
“We’ve disagreed on a few things, it's no matter.”
I fought the urge to sigh heavily; she seemed determined to downplay whatever it was between her and Ronon, almost as if…
“Are you worried about getting Ronon into trouble?”
She chewed on her lower lip before she answered,
“Perhaps a bit. Nothing that’s happened has really risen to the point of needing anyone to be in trouble. Yes, Ronon has occasionally been harsh with me, but he has also helped me.”
“I think underneath it all, he’s kind, but after what he’s been through it’s understandable that his first instinct is to growl.”
I smiled at her,
“That’s very understanding of you Grace.”
She smiled, a little sadly,
“My Jerrick was like that. The sweetest man, once you got past the glare and growl, not that he would ever admit it. I’ve learned to see the good under the glare.”
I chuckled a bit,
“So you and Teal’c got along famously then?”
“Oh yeah, he dislocated my arm and met my cat, we’re friends.”
I blinked for a second, but she seemed completely serious, and before I knew what I was doing, I was laughing hard at the strange way this girl made friends.
“I’m not overly worried about Ronon, Sheppard said he was working some stuff out, and I agreed to give him space to decide how he feels about me.”
“That works for me, thank you, Grace.”
She pressed her fingertips lightly to the back of my hand,
“Have a good day Elizabeth.”
She had no sooner left the room then Carson radioed to say he had sent Rodney up.
Rodney, in his typical fashion, barged straight into my office already talking,
“...have to do something about Dr. Wulf! It dangerous for her to poke her nose into sciences she doesn’t understand! She could blow something up!”
“Because you’ve never blown anything up? Or made a risky call?”
I could hear the chill in my own voice, and I held my hand up before he could start speaking again,
“We are not here to discuss Dr.Wulf, we are here to discuss you.”
HIs face fell for a moment before becoming petulant and defiant again,
“What about me? Someone beats me to one answer because I’m massively incapacitated and suddenly I’m worthless?”
I mused briefly on Rodney’s ability to rapidly switch subjects, and filter them all through his own self-importance.
“Hardly, but recent events have thrown into focus that you need to learn new ways to deal with people, and I wonder how much of Grace’s guess was accurate?”
He gaped for a moment,
“Well, that’s uh, that’s really not relevant.”
“I disagree Rodney. It has finally occurred to me that in addition to being a brilliant physicist, you are also meant to head a department, a department which cannot function to its fullest potential with your current attitude towards those that report to you.”
I nodded sharply,
“Yes, that attitude. Now you will answer my question, Dr. Mckay.”
He paled a little,
“All of it. It was all correct.”
He muttered refusing to look at me.
I nodded again,
“Then I will expect you to report to therapy, and until cleared, I am removing you from the chain of command, You will answer to me, but Radek will oversee the department in your absence.”
He made a strangled sound, and I folded my arms on the desk leveling a look at him.
“Oh fine. If only so I don’t have to be responsible for idiots anymore.”
He stormed out of my office, and I kept my posture rigid until his back disappeared down the steps, then I slumped a little and fished out a couple of headache pills, and drank a full bottle of water, and sent for Ronon.
Ronon strode into my office and stood almost-not-quite at attention just inside the door, he was silent, and his eyes fixed on me were the only indicator I had that he was there by something other than coincidence.
“Sit, Ronon please.”
He nodded and flung himself into a chair that had always seemed reasonably sized, but now appeared just a bit small.
“How are you settling into Atlantis?”
“I like it, I have what I need, and Sheppard’s not bad to answer to.”
I think this may have been his version of high praise.
“I’m glad you’re happy here. Ronon I’m afraid I have to ask you some personal questions if you would be more comfortable with someone else here, John perhaps or Teyla? I can certainly accommodate that.”
He shook his head,
“Let’s get this over with.”
I nodded. Mentally shook myself and took a deep breath,
“Very well then. How are you adjusting emotionally? I imagine that you weren’t given much time for grieving while Running.”
Ronon contemplated his hands for a moment,
“Mostly I’m okay, occasionally something or someone will remind me of home and I get angry.”
I nodded, then fished around in my desk for a “Five Stages of Grief” handout which I passed to him, he folded it up after barely glancing at it, and stuck it into a pocket.
“Now I’m afraid that I have heard one member of the expedition has a tendency to make you more, ah, emotional than others, and that perhaps you have been taking your emotions out on her to some degree.”
Ronon sighed heavily.
I knew she was asking about Grace, and she wasn’t wrong. Grace did make me feel all sorts of things, some I could name and some I couldn’t. Some feelings I welcomed, and some made me angry or guilty.
“I’m not sure I am taking my feelings out on her.”
Dr. Weir gave me a knowing look.
“The fact that you didn’t have to ask me who I was talking about lends some validity to the story. I have been informed that you run very hot and cold when it comes to Grace. I have heard rumors of you yelling at her; but also rescuing her, and if I’m being perfectly honest Ronon, Grace aside this conversation is likely long overdue. I want you to speak to Dr. Heightmeyer.”
“Fine. Who is she?”
“She is our psychologist. She deals with the understanding of, and helping people manage, their thoughts and emotions.”
I raised an eyebrow,
“That's a career on your world?”
Dr. Weir nodded,
“Was it not on Sateda?”
I shook my head,
“Sometimes your commanding officer would make sure you were alright, or your friends would get you drunk, but no, no one made careers out of emotions.”
She nodded obviously turning that over in her head,
“Well Colonel Sheppard is not qualified to undertake therapy unsupervised, but I can certainly ask if he would be willing to sit in on your sessions if that would make you more comfortable?”
I shook my head again, and could almost feel a small grin,
“Nah, besides we never really talked to our officers anyway.”
She laughed at that, and it was a good sound. Laughter, free, easy, happy laughter, had become one of my favorite sounds since I had found refuge on Atlantis.
“Fair enough. I will report to Dr. Heightmeyer’s office…”
She handed me a small square of paper with a room number on it,
“...and she will set up a time for your first appointment, and explain the process, and any other necessary details.”
She smiled and folded her hands on the desk, and I knew she had said all she needed to, but Dr. Weir never dismissed you unless you were in trouble, she would always wait and see if you had anything else to add, usually I didn’t, but today I had a question,
“Aren’t you going to tell me to stay away from her?”
I winced internally, that had come out harsher than I meant it, but she took it in stride.
“No. why would I?”
I shrugged feigning disinterest,
“Well if she was upset enough to come to you, I would expect it.”
Her look turned a bit curious,
“I never said Grace came to me, in fact, I called her in to speak to me about it and she was very circumspect. She said only that the two of you had disagreed on several points, but that you had been helpful to her, and she thought you were kind.”
I hadn’t been expecting that. I don’t think anyone had ever described me as kind, not even Before, I had been raised to the idea of a military career, and that meant a certain hard edge had been introduced into my personality early in life.
“Maybe she should go see Heightmeyer, she clearly sees things that don’t exist.”
Dr. Weir looked at me just a bit sadly,
“Be that as it may, I am not ordering you to stay away from her. This is is a small community, and we just have to make it work here.”
I nodded, and rose from my chair, turning to go, when I heard Dr. Weir behind me,
I turned back to her, but she seemed to think better of whatever it was she was going to say,
“I hope Dr. Heightmeyer can help you.”
I nodded again and this time when I headed towards the door she didn’t stop me.
Don't Expect a Mckay POV often. I really struggled to write him. Turns out its hard to type with your head that far up your own ass. Who knew?
Chapter 15: An Old Satedan Custom
So its that favorite time of every college student.
For the next couple of weeks I will be buried so far under French and Anthropology that I won't see sunlight until May. So it will be a bit before theres another chapter.
I looked at the office number in my hand and set off towards the outer corridors.
Dr. Heightmeyer’s office turned out to be a bright room, with wide windows, an ocean view, and far too many plants; and she seemed inordinately pleased to see me.
“Hello Mr. Dex, come in!”
I looked at her curiously, no one had called me Mr. Dex since I went for my enlistment physical on Sateda.
I stated firmly and she nodded,
“Welcome Ronon, Dr. Weir said she was sending you down, and that you had some questions about the therapeutic process?”
She was ushering me to a low overstuffed couch I was clearly meant to sit on, and when I did my knees were somewhere in the vicinity of my ears.
“Sorry about that, feel free to lay down if it's more comfortable.”
I stretched out, and to my surprise, I just fit, I propped my head up on one arm and turned my focus back to the doctor. To my dismay, she seemed perfectly happy to sit and wait for me to have questions.
She launched into a complex explanation of mental state and emotions and helping people manage them, and privacy, and something called HIPAA, only a fraction of which I understood. She finally fell silent looking at me expectantly,
She was not even slightly deterred by my monosyllabism,
“So you’re going to come here, and we’ll talk, sometimes I’ll assign you things to try outside of session, and hopefully, you will become a happier more settled person.”
She smiled at me gently and turned to pick up her tablet, which she tapped on for a moment before handing it to me,
“All the green slots are open, so just pick whichever one works for you.”
I studied the available options, pleased to note that none of the claimed time slots were labeled with names, and picked a late evening option, hoping for less light in the office, and handed the tablet back to her.
“Okay, well before then I want you to kind of make note of what makes you feel strong negative emotions, and we’ll use that to give us a sort of baseline.”
“Fine, can I go?”
She smiled again, it was a bit unnerving,
“Of course you can Ronon, see you next week.”
I made it out into the hallway and the only thing I was sure of about this therapy idea was that it had me off base. Before I could devote too much thought to it though my name sounded through my earpiece.
“Ronon where are you? You have a class to teach.”
It was Sheppard’s voice and I quickened my pace to a jog,
“Weir sent me to do something, on my way.”
I double-timed it to the nearest transporter, and on the other side all the way to the doorway of the training room.
When I walked into the room Teyla was seated in front leading the group through some stretching, and John was in the front row. There were a few grumbles about learning to fight, not contortionism, which Teyla ignored in that calm way of hers, I dropped to sit at the end of the front row stretching out which quieted a lot of the grumbles.
After everyone was suitably warmed up Teyla moved among the crowd separating people into working pairs, I noticed she was careful to pair Grace with Sheppard, which I approved of, he would make sure she learned, but also wouldn’t get hurt.
I took the students through a slow series of movements, culminating in a disarmed joint lock, and I kept at least one eye on Grace the whole time.
I told myself it was because I was worried this was all going to be too much for the fragile girl, but it was quickly apparent that this was not her first time learning basic hand to hand tactics, she was keeping Sheppard on his toes.
I still kept an eye on her.
I had forgotten how tiring this was, and how much fun. Sheppard was obviously going easy on me, but I was surprising him here and there, and Ronon taught in an easy to follow way. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and had no worries about being signed off on as proficient enough for research staff. At the end of the session, Ronon brought each set of partners forward to spar, with the victorious partner facing off against him. Sheppard and I were the last set to go, and I had no illusions about how this was going to end.
But Sheppard, along with trying not to hurt me, did the thing every sparring I’d ever worked with had done at least once. He assumed that because he was taller, stronger, and heavier, that I had no chance.
He had both my arms gripped firmly, and when he went to pull me into him I let him, fisting my hands in the shoulders of his shirt, I planted one foot firmly just above his belt buckle and threw my weight harshly backward as I kicked up with the leg braced against him. I managed to startle him enough to overbalance him, and the foot I had planted allowed me to guide him as he tumbled over me. I rolled with it using his weight and momentum to pull me over him, my knees planted firmly into the joints of his shoulders, and one hand against his throat, my thumb exerting light pressure of the hollow point where his collar bones met.
The look he gave me was surprised and evaluating as he tapped my leg conceding the bout. I stood and several of my joints gave off sharp cracking sounds, and the people around us winced. Ronon beamed a wide grin as he held a hand out to Sheppard, then playfully shoved him out of the ring.
Ronon stepped into Sheppard’s place, and I knew that there was no way I was pulling the same trick on him, he wasn’t that cocky.
When Teyla called the start of the sparring match he simply grabbed me and pulled to him tightly, I dropped my weight and kicked out at his ankle, and he used the momentum to push me down to the mat with one arm cranked high up my back, I wiggled back and forth under his weight, inching forward until I could hook my feet under his thighs, I dug my toes into the pressure points there, and when he eased away from that pressure used the additional space to turnover under my arm. I drew one leg between the gap of his, and hooked my calf over his thigh, then brought my arm across his throat and pulled with my hand as I pushed against him with my hips, he went over, but brought me with him one leg pulled awkwardly under him, and his forearm across my throat.
I had no leverage, so I bit him.
He didn’t even pause before biting me back his teeth gripping the back of my neck like a wayward kitten.
I laughed and tapped his forearm twice. He released his grip and I rolled off him, my hip gave a crunch sound as I twisted over it, and flopped on the mat.
Ronon stood easily, and held a hand out to me, he pulled me onto my feet before he turned to the rest of the class.
“What did she do right?”
There was some shuffling, and murmuring until one person spoke up,
“She used her size, made you overreach to get a grip on her.”
Sheppard pointed at his arm,
“She bit the hell out of you buddy.”
“You’re never defeated until you give up.”
I saw an opportunity to chime in,
“If I was actually trying to defend myself in a life or death situation I would have aimed my nails for your eyes and my free leg for your groin.”
He grinned a little wider,
“In real life, there are no rules of fair play, do whatever it takes to put them down before they put you down, biting and scratching are valid strategies.”
Some of the men in the crowd seemed to consider that as if it had never occurred to them. I leaned over to Teyla,
“On Earth biting and scratching are seen and ‘girly’ ways to fight, so men don’t think about them, don’t consider them actual options.”
Teyla nodded consideringly,
“And you do not struggle with using what are considered dishonorable tactics?”
I shook my head,
“Nope, I am a firm believer in fighting dirty.”
I drank some water and watched Ronon decimate his way through all comers, and dismiss the class, before lining up with some others to request a signature on their proficiency forms. I was the last person in line, and he smiled at me, apparently, we got along today.
“How are you?”
“I’ll definitely feel it tomorrow, but for now, okay.”
He nodded and held his hand out for my form,
“You did well.”
“I mostly relied on surprise, most men don’t expect someone short and female to give them a fight, they definitely don’t expect it from someone disabled. I surprise people, and sometimes I can take advantage of that.”
He handed me back the form, I was marked passed.
“Did I break the skin?”
We both looked at his forearm curiously, and he brushed a hand across it,
“How about me?”
I turned and swept my ponytail up so he had an unobstructed view of the back of my neck.
I felt his hand gently brush over and he said gruffly.
I smiled back at him,
“Thanks, have a good day Ronon.”
He nodded politely, and I fought the urge to sigh at his withdrawn posture.
I left the room and headed straight for medical, Carson having forced me to promise to stop by after class.
“Ah, hello Grace.”
He beamed when I walked, and I sent him a cheery wave,
“Hi Carson, I am reporting for diagnostics, as ordered.”
He chuckled a little at that and followed me to bed with a scanner,
“Well other than a strained hip, and the start of an impressive bruise on the back of your neck, you’re fine. What caused the bruise out of curiosity?”
“Ronon bit me.”
Carson seemed flustered,
“Why on Earth would he do that?”
I bared my teeth at him playfully,
“I bit him first.”
He sighed in a put upon way,
“Of course you did. Did you at least get your proficiency?”
I nodded easily,
“Yep, took down Sheppard, he underestimated me.”
“Bet he won’t do that again?”
“At least not in the same way.”
“Well, off with you, I have to go track down Ronon and make sure you didn’t give him rabies.”
I bared my teeth and mock growled at Carson, before heading out to see what kind of mischief Plato had gotten himself into.
I didn’t know how to explain my reaction to the faint imprint of my teeth on the back of Grace’s neck, and I hadn’t thought before I had done it.
On Sateda a mark like that was a fierce claim, it meant that you would fight and die for the one wearing it, and it was traditionally given and received at weddings.
I had never marked Melena, she thought those traditions were old fashioned, and without a place in the modern world. I had been prepared to forego them. I didn’t think it mattered, didn’t think I cared one way or another, but when I saw my mark on Grace’s neck it pulled at something primal within me.
If she had worn that mark on Sateda I would be promised to protect her and provide for her, she would have house room in my home, food at my table, and if she needed, the protection of my body.
That I hadn’t meant it at the time would mean less than nothing, the mark was given, and to forsake it was to be the worst kind of coward.
I felt that obligation now.
And I missed Melena more than ever.
I wanted to run, and clear my head, but my earpiece rang with Carson’s voice summoning me to the infirmary.
Carson met me at the door with a medscanner in his hands,
“Hello there Ronon, I just need to make sure Grace didn’t give you rabies.”
“Earth disease, very nasty.”
I nodded and held out my arm, Carson waved the wand of the scanner over the bite mark, for a moment, checked the readout and smiled,
“You’re fine and dandy, thank you Ronon.”
I nodded and headed out of the room, the urge to run had passed, so I just wandered aimlessly through the corridors.
Then Dr. Heightmeyer came across me,
“Hello, Ronon. Are you alright?”
It was phrased as a question but before I could even formulate an answer she was pulling me to walk with her towards, what I figured, was her office.
I muttered, and she gave me a look that managed to convey polite disagreement.
“Humor me for a few minutes then.”
I nodded with ill grace since it didn’t seem like I had any actual options.
Her office was closer than I expected it to be, and I tried not to think about how my aimless wanderings brought me to within a couple of corridors of Heightmeyer’s office.
She opened the door and ushered me in, and I slumped on her low couch.
“What’s on your mind?”
I considered not answering, but I really didn’t want her to complain to Weir that I wasn’t cooperating,
“Sateda, Melena, Grace.”
No one said I had to be verbose
“In that order?”
She seemed to think that this was important
She considered that for a moment.
I looked at her and raised an eyebrow,
“Okay, I understand you thinking about Sateda, and Melena certainly, but why Grace?”
She would ask the question I didn’t have a good answer for,
“It almost always is.”
She pressed gently, it seemed therapy didn’t involve backing off.
“She does and doesn’t remind me of Melena, and something happened today sparring that would be very significant on Sateda, and I feel bound by it.”
Worry crossed her face,
“You didn’t marry her did you?”
I considered how best to answer that,
“Not really. It’s something that is usually part of a marriage ceremony, but hasn’t meant marriage by itself in a long time, she gave me an odd look, then sighed heavily,
“Ronon I’m sorry but I’m going to have to call Elizabeth.”
I waved my hand in a whatever motion, before tucking it with the other behind my head.
Ten minutes later Weir walked in looking like it had been a very long day,
“What can I do for you, Katie?”
She gestured at me,
“Apparently somehow during hand-to-hand training today Ronon sort of married Grace by Satedan custom.”
Weir sank into the rolling chair I kicked over for her,
“Oh. Well then. Ronon do you feel as though you are married to Grace?”
I shook my head, wondering if I should call Beckett with how pale Weir was looking, and she braced her hands on her legs as she thought.
“Ronon stated that he felt bound by the Satedan custom, Ronon what does that mean?”
I sighed heavily, this was clearly going to be a long conversation.
“On Sateda I would be obligated to protect and provide for the person I marked, she would always have house room in my home, food at my table, and, should she need it, the protection of my body.”
They both looked at me like I had grown a second head,
“So she moves in with you, you are responsible for making sure she’s provided for and safe?”
Weir dropped her face into her hands, and I shook my head,
“She doesn’t have to move in with me, I have to have a place for her should she wish it, but she’s free to live where she wants.”
That seemed to make Weir feel a bit better,
“What about the rest of it, how literal are they?”
I slid to sit on the floor, one leg stretched out in front of me, and the other bent up at the knee, leaning my head back against the couch so I could keep my eyes on the other occupants of the room.
“It means that I must, to the best of my abilities, assure that she has food, and medical care, and clothes, and a safe warm place to sleep, and I can’t know excess where she knows lack.”
Weir narrowed her eyes at me sharply,
“So if Grace needs something Atlantis can’t provide for her, and there's nothing you can do about it, you have to go without as well?”
I nodded, and honestly that part bothered me the least, I had known far more lack than excess in my life, and since coming to Atlantis, things were so easy I worried about getting soft, a little more lack might do me some good.
Weir sighed heavily before she looked at me,
“You know we have to tell Grace right?”
I had been hoping I could sort of just stalk her, make sure she was alright and satisfy the tradition that way, but it looked like Weir wasn’t giving me the option.
She nodded decisively, back in control once again,
“Very well, I’ll send for her.”
I closed my eyes, briefly wondered if I was about to get slapped, and then just focused on my breathing, and the sounds I heard surrounding me. The soft sound of chair wheels on hard floors, the whisper of military issue cloth against itself, Weir’s voice summoning Grace on the radio, and the soft hushed tones of the two women whispering to each other, debating who should tell Grace, and if they should ask Carson to come in as well.
I heard a faint knock and someone stand to open the door, and the same footsteps return, accompanied by a second slower set of footsteps.
“Ronon? Are you alright?”
Grace’s voice was soft, and her tone was tinged with genuine concern, she touched my shoulder with her fingertips giving me an idea of where she was standing without having to open my eyes.
“Grace? Did something happen during hand-to-hand combat training today?”
I opened my eyes and took in Grace’s confused expression,
“Uhm yes? Hand-to-hand combat training, Sheppard getting cocky, Sheppard learning why getting cocky is a bad idea, me sparring Ronon, Ronon kicking my ass, we parted as friends. Why do you ask?”
I was pleased to hear that her putting Sheppard down wasn’t making her cocky, she was more likely to be able to do it again that way.
“Well apparently during training today a Satedan custom linking you and Ronon was satisfied.”
I looked at her wondering if she would be upset, how she would react, but she just looked curious and confused.
Everyone’s eyes fell to me, and I pushed myself to a standing position, stepping behind Grace I swept her hair up and off her neck, showing the bite mark there. Grace reached back and touched it lightly,
“This? It's a sparring bruise, you have one too.”
“On my arm.”
I dropped her hair and she stepped away and turned to look at me,
“What is it about the bruise that matters Ronon?”
“On Sateda a bite bruise to the back of the neck is a claiming mark, it's a fierce thing, it used to be all that was required to consider a couple married. Before the fall it was usually a part of a marriage ceremony.”
Grace’s eyes were looking a little wild,
“I can’t be married to you Ronon! I am already married!”
She held up her left hand and indicated a ring, which I assumed was an Earth custom for indicating marriage,
“We are not married, you got the mark unknowingly, and you didn’t mark me, we are in no way married.”
I spoke in a soft monotone hoping to reassure her,
“Then what are we Ronon?”
She didn’t seem reassured,
“I marked you, it means I’ll look out for you, make sure you have what you need, there will be a space for you in my quarters if you need it. You don’t have to do anything.”
Grace took several shaky breaths, then turned to Weir and Heightmeyer
“Could we have a moment please?”
They both looked surprised by the request, and then shuffled out of the room awkwardly, Grace curled into the corner of the couch, and I stood keeping my eyes on her, concerned she was going to start crying again,
“You confuse me Ronon.”
When she spoke her voice was soft, and she spoke from behind the screen of her hair, her fingers twisting in her lap, but before I could formulate a reaction she was speaking again,
“Is there any custom for unwinding the connection between us? I don’t want you to have to worry for me.”
I shook my head,
“Like I said it's a fierce thing, it wasn’t intended to be undone.”
“Then I will try not to need much. I’m sorry you’re stuck looking after me.”
She stood and walked past me towards the door, twisting the ring she had used to indicate her marriage around and around her finger.
“I’ll try not to take up space in your life Grace. I am sorry about this.”
She froze, even her ring twisting stopped, and she turned back to me, with tears in the corners,
“I am not opposed to you taking up space in my life Ronon. We can be friends! You just have to decide that you want to be my friend. What I don’t want is the hot and cold. In or out Ronon.”
With that, she straightened her spine, fixed her eyes ahead, and walked out of the room without so much as a glance.
I needed to find something to hit, and I needed my head explained to me so I went off to find Teyla and get some sense beaten into me.
Chapter 16: "If there's one thing I can do; its run"
I HAVE RETURNED!
Chapters should be semi weekly for a while now.
It had been a week since Ronon had marked me, and in the last week I had taken to keeping tallies.
Number of time Ronon had tried to look inconspicuous when I turned around: 5
Number of protein bars either dropped onto a surface in front of me or shoved into my hands: 3
Number of times Teyla or Carson were absolutely not sent to check on me: 8
Number of words spoken to me by Ronon: 0
Ronon seemed to be trying to both hover over me and avoid me completely, like a rather overbearing shadow.
I was sitting in my lab, trying to work on a curriculum to teach Wraith, and Ronon had so far walked by my doorway three times, which was mildly annoying, but since I needed a test subject, I was done pretending not to see him. So the next time he walked by, I popped out into the hallway and grabbed his arm,
“Hello Ronon, I need a favor.”
He seemed slightly baffled as I drug him to chair,
“What do you need?”
He asked, his first words to me since that awkward day in Heightmeyer’s office, and I smiled at him a little,
“I need someone to bounce ideas off, and I think you probably have the most working knowledge of the Wraith of anyone on the base.”
He crossed his arms over his chest,
I grinned and tipped my chin down to acknowledge the point,
“Maybe, but Teyla is not stalking me.”
He glowered at me and I firmly mastered the urge to laugh, before I sat down and tugged my notepad to me,
“I just need to ask some basic questions about your Wraith observations, then I’ll ask Teyla questions, then I might be able to put together some lesson plans.”
He sighed and then nodded.
I coughed a little, rubbed my hand on the sore place of my sternum and reached for my bottle of water, before I could take a sip I coughed again, hard enough for it to feel like it was choking me, and I watched as the bottle slipped from my fingers with the force of my cough, and as I gasped for air between each jag there was less and less.
I fumbled in my pocket with thick clumsy fingers for my inhaler, and suddenly Ronon was there beside me, he yanked the small plastic “L” curve of my inhaler out and shoved it into my hands, I shook it up, and tried to force past the wheeze to inhale the medicine as deep into my lungs as possible, but I knew even as I pressed the release button that it wasn’t going to be enough, as soon as I finished the first hit of medicine I was frantically jabbing for a second, which helped just enough for me to force out a couple of words,
I tried to use my inhaler again, but my hands wouldn’t answer and my vision was going dark at the edges, and I registered I was falling just before I hit the ground, I watched through blurring fading eyes as the impact knocked the inhaler from my hands, and time seemed still as I reached for it.
My fingertips had just brushed it when everything went black.
My heart stopped beating at the sound Grace’s coughs were making, as if they were trying to expel bits of her lungs. I didn’t know what the plastic thing she had fumbled for was, but when she told me she wasn’t breathing I was so busy reaching for my radio and hailing Beckett, that I missed her falling.
I dropped to my knees beside her, as Beckett’s voice came through the radio,
“Is she breathing at all Ronon?”
His voice was labored as if he was running, and I hoped he would get here quickly.
I held my hand over her mouth and nose feeling for the exhale of air,
“Are her lips blue?”
I titled her jaw so I could see her face,
“Yeah, and her face is grey.”
Beckett talked me through something he called CPR, and I had just finished breathing for her when Beckett and his team thundered into the room, and trained hands replaced mine on her sternum, and a plastic bubble was placed over her mouth and nose, the bag being squeezed rhythmically.
I backed into the corridor my heart racing and watched as needles were slid into her arms, and Beckett pushed medicine after medicine into the lines, until finally he stood and stepped into the hallway, his two helpers staying over her.
“We need to take her to the infirmary, we can’t do any more for her here, but I didn’t bring a gurney, and we can’t carry her there and keep the bag on her, and if we take the bag off we can’t move her fast enough.”
I turned that over in my mind before nodding decisively,
“I’ll carry her.”
Beckett looked at me,
“Are you sure son?”
I could feel myself glaring at him,
“If there’s one thing I can do; its run.”
“Aye, well she can’t be away from care for more than a minute, I’ll have my team waiting at the transporter, you just have to get her there.
I nodded and scooped her up in my arms the nurse careful to keep the seal on the plastic thing that was breathing for her, as I stepped out into the hallway. We were a full level of winding corridors away from the nearest transporter and we needed every edge we could get. The nurse pumped the thing three times hard, and as soon as the seal was away from Grace’s face, I tucked her tightly into my chest and ran.
The last time I had run like this there was a Wraith hunter less than a dozen paces behind me, and I wasn’t afraid. By that point, I had long since ceased to be afraid of dying, and I had accepted that my inevitable end would be ugly. Instead, I was angry, furious even, I was always angry in those days. But here I was with a girl I had never meant to care for, bearing my mark and suffocating on the inadequacies of her own body. She was held tightly in my arms, and I was afraid.
I paid only enough attention to my surroundings to make sure I was running in the right direction, Grace struggled for short shallow breaths in my arms, and I could distantly hear the thundering boot treads of Beckett and his team several turns behind me. I had just started to panic that I wouldn’t make the transporter in time when I saw the doors only one turn ahead of me, I pushed hard for a little more speed and swiped my hand desperately over the crystals, the doors opened in front of me, and I slammed my hand against the light that would transport us to the corridor just beyond the infirmary, and the bright white light encased us. When the doors opened on the other end there was another nurse with another bag that would breathe for Grace, and the three of us awkwardly shuffled our way out of the transporter. Immediately beyond the transporter in the hallway was a team with a rolling bed and I laid Grace down, as soon as she slipped from my arms she was encircled by medical staff all hooking up devices and shouting numbers to each other that meant nothing to me. They wheeled her down the short hallway to the infirmary, and as they disappeared into the large room the transporter flashed behind me again emitting Dr. Beckett and the members of his response team. They hustled past me, Beckett already issuing orders through his radio. I felt the fight drain out of me, and I leaned heavily against the wall.
This was terrifying, and I didn’t even know what happened, one minute Grace and I were talking normally, the next her lungs just stopped working, there didn’t seem to be any reason for it. How was I supposed to protect a girl whose enemy was her own flesh and blood? I slid down the wall to sit on the floor and crossed my arms over my knees, my whole body trembled and my breath heaved with more than the exertion of carrying an inert body. My breath raced in and out, and it felt like it was racing away from me, and all I could hear was the rush of my heartbeat in loud in my ears. The panic rose up and caught me, and before long it was all I knew, so when there was a gentle hand on my arm I started and lurched away, there crouched next to me was Beckett.
“She’s gonna be okay son.”
I struggled to make sense of those words, and in a surprise to me, I desperately needed her to be okay. But I had felt those small breaths, felt her heart race wildly beneath my hands, and her corpse cold skin under my hands.
“She has a machine helping her breathe until the medicine works, and she’s a bit groggy, but awake and asking for you.”
I stumbled to my feet compelled to answer that summons, and followed Beckett to where Grace was, once again, tucked into a small sterile bed surrounded by softly beeping equipment.
Most of her face was taken up by a large clear mask connected to a tangle of hoses, and she looked fragile there at the center of the web. But her chest was moving up and down steadily, and her eyes were open and tracking me across the room.
When I got closer to the bed she held out one shaking hand to me, and I took it in mine, reveling in the warmth of it.
She got a very focused look on her face and in the rhythm of the machine managed to push out two words, one on each exhale,
This seemed to exhaust her, and I was at a loss,
“I said I would take care of you.”
The words came out gruff, and as if I was only doing this out of obligation, she didn’t seem to take that to heart, but she didn’t push she just squeezed my hand once, before relaxing back into the bed. She didn’t try to draw her hand away, and even though I knew that I should let her go, that this was not going to help me sell the obligation story I was clinging to, I kept her small hand in mine and watched the line tracking her heart beat until she fell asleep.
When I woke up my hand was tucked back under the thin blanket, and Ronon was gone. I hadn’t really expected him to still be there, but it still made me a little sad that he wasn’t. But as I turned my head as much as the hoses and tubes would allow I was shocked to see Sheppard sitting on the stool next to my bed with a book open in his hands, he seemed oblivious to me, and I was never one to disturb someone with a good book, so I pressed the call button under my hand, and took inventory of how I felt.
Breathing felt much easier, but I wouldn’t know how much of that was me until the bipap came off. There was a fierce ache in the muscles in my chest and back, and I could feel my heart in my throat, a common side effect of high doses of steroids. All things considered, it was not as bad as it could have been.
I heard the footsteps before I saw Carson given the angle of the bed, and the rustle of pages as Sheppard closed the book, then Carson was leaning over me with a smile.
“Hello Dear, ready to try to take the bipap off, are you?”
I flashed a shaking thumbs up, and his fingers deftly unhooked all the straps, the large mask lifted free of my face and immediately another set of hands replaced it with a nasal cannula, pushing O2 in through my nose.
Coming off bipap was always a disconcerting thing and I coughed a couple of times and took in a couple of deep breaths as I adjusted to breathing without having air pushed in by a machine.
“How are you feeling Dear?”
Carson asked after giving me a moment to adjust,
“Not awful, considering.”
He nodded and spoke as he lifted the bed to a seated position and checked over my vitals
“Well that’s good to hear, but you’re going to be staying with us at least overnight, squeeze my fingers, and we’ll see how you are in the morning.”
“That seems fair.”
I looked around my bed for the water that was usually close at hand as Carson wandered off to check on his other patients, I was about to give up and see about snagging a nurse and begging for a drink when Sheppard dug in a pocket and produced a sports drink,
“I think I may love you, Colonel.”
He chuckled good-naturedly,
“Well if you love me you should probably call me John.”
I nodded absently as I forced myself to sip slowly from the bottle.
“I did say I think I may love you. I haven’t entirely made up my mind.”
That earned me a self-deprecating chuckle from the colonel,
“I suppose I deserved that, excuse me there’s something I need to do.”
I nodded confused and worried my lower lip between my teeth as he walked neatly out of the infirmary.
Ronan had been my constant shadow for the last week, and it had annoyed me endlessly to be followed around by a large grumpy, and overprotective Satedan. But now that he was nowhere to be seen, I found I almost missed his quiet, annoyed presence.
So when he stalked into the infirmary and settled onto John’s abandoned stool, and handed me a protein bar before folding his arms and glaring at me, I was less annoyed and more relieved.
He continued to glare as I double checked the ingredients, and opened the bar, relaxing only when I had taken a bite.
“Why do you always do that?”
I cocked my head to the side curiously as I chewed the bar,
“Why do you always read them before you eat them?”
I swallowed the overly large bite in my mouth,
“There are some things it will make me sick to eat which are common ingredients in packaged food.”
He nodded and went back to silently watching me eat. I ate the bar in three large bites, and it took me only a few minutes to devour something I would normally nibble on for about an hour. He raised his scarred eyebrow at me with the faintest look of amusement on his face, as he produced another one from some pocket somewhere and handed it to me. I tore it open and hate half of it before it occurred to me that I was probably eating his.
“I’m eating yours, aren’t I? I’m sorry.”
He shook his head firmly,
“Doesn’t matter, eat.”
I wanted to argue with him, but steroids always made me incredibly hungry, so I smiled apologetically and ate the rest.
“Thank you, Ronan.”
I was genuinely confused at this point,
“Stop thanking me. It is my duty, no one thanks you for doing your duty.”
I bit my tongue to stop my instinctive response that it was most certainly not his duty to care for me because as he saw it, it was.
“I always thank people who show me kindnesses, no matter the motivation behind them. It’s how I was raised. A custom among well-mannered people on Earth.”
He shrugged, with an expression I had already come to realize meant ‘Earth people are weird.’
“That’s going to get repetitive.”
“Then I will repeat myself. Because I do appreciate you looking out for me, whatever your motive.”
I struggled to right the pillows that had slid behind me when I leaned forward to eat and speak with Ronan, just as I was getting frustrated he leaned forward and pulled them straight, and held them so I could lean back against them.
He actually rolled his eyes at that one, but when he didn’t protest I was willing to take the victory. After he sat back on the stool, he studied me closely as if he wanted to ask me something but wasn’t sure how.
“What’s on your mind?”
He went still, other people shifted when they were nervous, Ronan it seemed went still,
“How long are you staying?”
I smiled a little,
“I’m actually going back to Earth at the next dial out, I need to sign my contract with the IOA, and make preparations for a long absence. Would you like to come with me?”
He nodded tightly, and I relaxed against the pillows behind me.
“That sounds nice.”
I murmured as I felt my eyes closing, and myself drifting off to sleep.
Chapter 17: Ronan Has Feelings
Two chapters in two days?
WHAT MADNESS IS THIS?!?
Also this chapter gets angsty, and involves drinking, so if that's not your deal you are not in a good place.
Grace had the ability to make me do and say things before I thought them through, like agreeing to go to Earth for a week without clearing it with my commanding officer. So when she drifted off, I radioed Teyla to ask her to come to sit with Grace, so I could track down Sheppard.
Teyla drifted in shortly after with a serene smile on her face,
“Hello Ronan, is Grace recovered?”
“Mostly I think.”
“That is excellent to hear. I will keep vigil for you.”
That was a dismissal if ever I heard one, so I stood up and walked out of the infirmary. Since it was after dinner I made my way to John’s quarters and knocked on the door. It opened almost immediately,
Sheppard greeted me as he usually did when we were ‘off the clock’ another Earth concept I didn’t quite understand, he stepped back and gestured for me to come into the room.
“Do you need something?”
He asked as he offered me a glass bottled beer, I took the drink that apparently nobody liked but men drank anyway, for bonding, and nodded as I popped open the cap. Sheppard slouched into the chair opposite me,
“What do you need?”
I drank some of the beer and considered how best to ask this.
“What do you call it on Earth when you take an absence?”
Sheppard stiffened slightly,
“Well that depends on the absence, how long are you planning to be gone?”
“A week apparently.”
Sheppard relaxed again, and smiled at me,
“We call that a vacation. Where are you off to?”
I looked at the floor between my feet,
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow,
I kept my gaze locked onto Sheppard’s floor, and drank some more of the beer to put off answering,
“Grace asked me to go with her.”
I flicked my eyes up to watch Sheppard’s face as he reacted to that. I could see that he wanted to say something to tease, but was choosing not to,
“Wow, uh, yeah I mean of course you can have the time off, but are you sure?”
“What do you mean?”
He rubbed a hand against the back of his neck,
“Where’s Teyla when you need her?”
“Yeah, stupid question, well give me that, this is not a beer conversation.”
I handed him the bottle, and he dumped the beers into a sink before fishing around in his footlocker, he came back with a tall glass bottle filled with amber liquid, and two short wide glasses. He handed me one of the glasses, and poured some of the liquid in, I sniffed it curiously,
Sheppard sat back down with his own glass,
“Whiskey, this is a whiskey conversation.”
I took a hesitant sip, and it burned like fire and tasted a bit like sweet wood smoke, and I loved it.
“Why is this a whiskey conversation?”
I asked as I sipped at the drink in my hand,
“On Earth men don’t really talk about their feelings…”
I nodded here, it was the same on Sateda,
“...so if we are talking about our feelings we are either about to hit each other, or we are drinking, and my preferred drink for feelings is whiskey. Vodka is for forgetting, but we’ll talk about that another time.”
I nodded understanding,
“We had a drink like that on Sateda, but it was for feelings and forgetting.”
“We have that too.”
“What’s yours called?”
Sheppard looked at me and with a complete straight face answered,
I chuckled at that, feeling more relaxed as the whiskey warmed its way through my veins,
“So why are we drinking whiskey?”
Sheppard sighed and topped both of our glasses off,
“What are you doing with Grace buddy?”
“Looking after her, I have to.”
“Because of that thing from when you sparred? I don’t stalk you whenever I bruise you on the mats.”
I chuckled lowly,
“You don’t bruise me.”
Sheppard rolled his eyes at me,
“You’re not this way with Teyla.”
I chuckled a little darkly,
“Can you imagine trying to hover over Teyla?”
Sheppard snorted out a laugh,
“She’d use you as a practice dummy, Grace is far less scary.”
I shook my head,
“Grace is mine to protect, I may not have wanted her, but here she is. I marked her and I will care for her.”
Sheppard rubbed a hand over his face,
“That’s all well and good, but you said you weren’t ready to like someone, to care about them. Now one sparring match with Grace, and a weird bruise later, and she is suddenly ‘yours to protect’ you’re having panic attacks in the hallway and planning shared vacations. That went from nothing to something awful quick.”
I sighed and took another sip turning that over and over again in my mind, trying to decipher my own complicated feelings,
“I don’t know what it is now, and we are not planning vacations, she is going to Earth, and I am going to protect her.”
Sheppard threw a considering glance at the bottle of whiskey, before turning his attention back to me,
“Do you like her?”
“I respect her.”
Sheppard sighed heavily and seemed to be trying very hard to not look annoyed,
“Do you want her?”
I held myself perfectly still and forced my breathing to remain even,
He shot back,
“She considers herself married, waved a ring in my face.”
Sheppard’s face softened, and seemed somehow a little sad,
“She still wears her ring?’
I nodded and tossed back the last of the whiskey in my glass,
“What is with the rings anyway?”
Sheppard looked at me a bit curiously,
“On Sateda, did you exchange anything when you got married, some kind of symbolic thing?”
“Usually we just get tattoos.”
He smiled a little at that,
“Of course you do, well on Earth, at least in most cultures on Earth, we exchange wedding rings. When a man wants to marry a girl, he will ask her to be his wife and give her a ring, which is supposed to be a symbol of his affection and how much value he places on her. At the wedding ceremony, the couple will exchange wedding bands to signify an unending commitment.”
I considered that for a moment,
“So the rings she waved in my face…?”
I trailed off letting the question hang in the air between us. Sheppard sighed heavily and refilled the glasses,
“What lead to her waving the rings around?”
“When she was told about the Satedan custom she told me she couldn't be married to me she was already married.”
Sheppard winced at that,
“I would guess that she’s not ready to move on, to like anyone in a romantic way again.”
I nodded a little wearily staring into the bottom of the glass in my hand,
“So then it doesn’t matter what I want. I won’t ask her to compromise her vows for me.”
“I wouldn’t say your feelings don’t matter if you care for Grace, that matters. Maybe she’s only ready to be your friend, but you can certainly care about her, and be important to her.”
I threw back the rest of my whiskey and rose to my feet,
“Can I have the week to go to Earth or not?”
Sheppard nodded a concerned expression on his face,
“I’ll put in the paperwork tomorrow. Next dial out’s Friday.”
I nodded and before I could say anything else that might force me to investigate the twisting feeling in my chest I left for my own quarters.
I was no longer surprised to find Grace’s cat making itself at home on the foot of my bed, I had no idea how the beast continually managed to make its way into my quarters, but I had given up on fighting it.
It had been so long since I was drunk I had forgotten what it felt like, and while I had not consumed nearly enough alcohol to render me completely intoxicated, I was definitely not sober. The continually racing thoughts in the back of my brain, the ones that analyzed my surroundings, looked for threats slowed, and I couldn’t keep ideas that flooded me with emotions off my mind.
I wanted to forget.
Forget Grace all but dead in my arms.
Forget her thanking me as if I had done something worthy or heroic.
Maybe even forget Grace all together.
I had no more alcohol, so I couldn’t drink my mind quiet, which left me with only one option. I raised my hand to the radio and hailed Teyla.
“Grace is well Ronan.”
Was her first response, anticipating a question I wasn’t even sure I was going to ask,
“I’m going to the downstairs training room, I’ll have my radio off.”
There was a moment of silence before her voice came back,
I pulled the radio from my ear and headed out for the nearest transporter, less than five minutes later I was in the smaller of the two training rooms, one Teyla and I had set up that only a handful of people knew about. It was where we could train and hone skills that the military forces would disapprove of. Dr. Weir had given us the space after we traumatized a young soldier who thought we were genuinely trying to kill each other. But no one would bother me here. I shed my shirt and shoes at the doorway, and after rushing through a series of stretches to warm up my muscles I flew at the training dummies, no holding back, no playing by rules I personally thought got people killed, no worrying about anything other than my footing and the next attack.
It almost helped.
I heard the footsteps behind me and lost to the swirl of anger and pain I came around with a hand already up to land the first blow, which Teyla, as she always did, stepped neatly under as if it was a minor inconvenience.
“Hello Ronan, are you well?”
I fixed her with a glare,
“Who is with Grace?”
Teyla’s lips quirked in the ghost of a smile,
“Elizabeth was sitting with her when I left, and John was on his way.”
I nodded and turned back to the dummy I was pouring all of my rage and pain and mixed emotions into. Teyla stepped between me and it, one arm up to block,
“John implied that you were in turmoil.”
I shook my head fiercely,
“I don’t want to talk about it, I’m angry, and I’m not drunk enough to talk any more than Sheppard already made me.”
Teyla pushed me back gently,
“I did not come here to talk, I came here to drink.”
Teyla produced a clay bottle from behind her back, with two metal mugs hanging off the neck of the bottle.
“Ruus Wine is quite strong, if you do not feel prepared for that I may be able to find something else.”
I grinned, and even the movement of it felt broken,
“Strong is good, lets go sit outside.”
Teyla nodded agreeably and waited for me to pull on the discarded shirt and shoes before following me out of the room.
We slowly made our way to one of the docks that ring the city and sat on the edge with our feet dangling over the water and the bottle of Ruus Wine between us. Teyla pulled the cork from the bottle in one firm movement and poured the small metal mugs full before handing one to me. I took a long drink from mine and fought the immediate urge to cough. If whiskey had been fire this was an inferno, where whiskey had warmed and hummed, this burned its way down my throat and then burned in my stomach.
I commented to Teyla whose smile was just a bit smug, she sipped at her mug delicately s I drained mine and went back to pour more.
We sat in silence and Teyla sipped while I drank, my mind was filled with Grace and Melena, with feelings of betrayal, as if feeling anything for Grace mocked what had been between Melena and I. I had never meant to mark Grace, but I could not find it in myself to regret it, and that hurt too. I remembered Grace waving rings in my face and the look of horror at the idea of being married to me, and drained the mug in one go.
“Ronan may I ask you a question?”
Teyla’s voice cut through my musings, and I shot her a look,
“I thought you came to drink.”
“Yes, but I am curious.”
I sighed heavily,
That it was not exactly an enthusiastic consent didn’t seem to deter her,
“Why do you punish yourself so? Is it wrong for you to care for Grace?”
“Melena. I punish myself because of Melena.”
Teyla considered me,
“You and Melena were wed?”
“Ronan, Melena has been gone many years, is it not customary to move on after the death of a loved one on Sateda?”
I nodded and was more affected by the alcohol than I realized because I found myself telling the truth,
“It’s not because people didn’t move on, I feel guilty because if Melena and Grace had existed in the same time in my life, I would have left Melena. I would have chosen Grace.”
Chapter 18: Holy Character Development Batman
When I woke up the next day my head was pounding, my mouth tasted like something had died in there, and I had both too many and too few memories of the night before, there was an odd herbal smell and when I opened my eyes to identify it there was Teyla curled up in the chair across from the bed a pot of what I was guessing to be tea sitting on the table at her elbow.
She looked annoyingly fresh and alert, and she smiled a little too brightly when she noticed my eyes were open.
“Good day Ronon.”
I grunted something at her and pulled the covers back up over my head hoping if I ignored her she would go away.
Instead, I felt a slight tug at the foot of the bed, and then before I could react the covers were yanked off and Teyla was standing over me still smiling that terrifying serene smile “I have brought tea to counteract the Ruus sickness.”
I pushed myself into a sitting position and glared at her, but took the cup of tea she handed me.
“What are you doing here?”
I grumped as I sipped at the bitter tea.
“I have come to discuss last night, and make sure you are well.”
“I’m fine, what about last night? I don’t remember much.”
Teyla gave me a look that seemed to convey her lack of faith in that statement,
“Do you not recall what you said of Grace and Melena?”
I shook my head refusing to meet her eyes, and I heard her sigh.
“Drink some more tea it will help with the Ruus sickness, even if it will not bring you clarity.”
I nodded and didn’t look up again until the door closed behind her.
Of course, I remembered what I said about Grace and Melena; wound up on too many feelings and too much alcohol. But sometimes people said things when they were drunk that didn’t bear revisiting in the sober light of day.
I picked my radio up and there was a voice on the other end looking for me, which is when I remembered that I was supposed to meet with Dr. Heightmeyer this evening.
I threw on the first clothes I came across and jogged out of the room.
All told I was twelve minutes late to Dr. Heightmeyer, minutes which she assured me, in what was probably supposed to be a comforting way, would be tacked onto the end of my appointment.
“Now Ronon I’ve spoken to Teyla, and Colonel Sheppard and they both seem concerned about your relationship with Grace, also I hear you had quite a lot to drink last night.”
“Is there a rule against getting drunk?”
She shook her head slightly as if the answer was complicated,
“No, it's not forbidden, but it is frowned upon, and someone will certainly step in if it becomes a frequent occurrence.”
“Once is not frequent.”
Dr. Heightmeyer frowned at me and seemed to consider her response.
“Sometimes a new odd behavior is more concerning than a pattern.”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes.
“Ronon, did the drinking have anything to do with Grace?”
“Not everything I do is about Grace.”
She nodded and fell silent as she considered me for a few moments,
“I hear your name connected to Grace quite a bit lately. How do you feel about that?”
“It just is.”
She fiddled with a pen as if looking for the best way to say an uncomfortable thing,
“Ronon, what went through your mind when Grace had her asthma attack? I hear you behaved quite heroically, and that she would have been in much more danger without you there.”
The reminder of the previous day’s excitement made my stomach clench and my hands start to sweat, and as much as I didn’t want to talk about it, I knew that talking about it was the entire purpose of this person and this office, also, as loathe as I was to admit it, maybe I needed to talk about it just a little.
“I was afraid she was going to die and there would be nothing I could do to prevent it. That barely a week after taking her under my protection, I was going to watch her die.”
Dr. Heightmeyer had the faintest look of surprise on her face as if she hadn’t expected me to answer her.
“Did you witness what happened to Malena?”
“A hospital window she was standing in front of was blown in during the battle with the Wraith. I don’t know if it was the blast or the glass, but she died less than six feet away from me.”
Dr. Heightmeyer seemed to be working at keeping her expression neutral,
“How did that make you feel?”
When I responded my voice came out in a whisper,
She nodded in understanding,
“A feeling I imagined continued when the Wraith took you and made you a Runner, and as you were running.”
I nodded uneasily, but stayed silent, waiting to see where she was going with this.
“Why did you agree to stay on Atlantis Ronon? You knew you were going to have to answer to people, follow protocols, and be, in essence, out of control of your life.”
I shrugged a little,
“I needed to be a part of the fight against the Wraith, Atlantis is the strongest military force in that fight, and it's not bad here, I dress how I want, eat what I want, make friends with who I want, if I want, and sleep in a safe bed every night.”
That seemed to throw Dr. Heightmeyer just a bit, and for some strange reason I felt compelled to elaborate,
“I’m a military man, not a leader, being here, answering to Sheppard and Weir, who care about their people, having comrades again, it's good for me.”
She nodded consideringly,
“And did you feel the same powerlessness when Grace had her asthma attack?”
I nodded, the image of blue lips and grey skin hovering before my eyes, and Dr. Heightmeyer's voice flooded into my thoughts,
“Even though you were actively doing something?”
I nodded, unable to explain, and Dr. Heightmeyer seemed to be putting things together in her mind.
“Ronon why do you feel compelled to justify that you care for someone? You care about Sheppard and Teyla, but they’re your teammates so that’s okay, you care about Dr. Weir, but she's your commander so that’s okay. You wanted to care about Grace but couldn’t justify it until she had your mark. Now that she does you are almost compelled to care for her. Is there some reason you can’t just be friends with someone, care for someone, without the justification?”
My first instinct was to deny that entirely, I went with my second instinct, which was to argue that everyone cares about people for a reason. Dr. Heightmeyer smiled at me a little, and nodded,
“Yes Ronon,most people have reasons for caring about the people they care about, but they are things like; we like the same kind of things, they’re funny, or warm, or some other trait we value, they have supported us through hard times, or even that they just they give good hugs…”
She paused as I cut in, folding my arms across my chest,
“I could give good hugs.”
I grumped as she tried very hard to not let her amusement show on her face.
“I’m sure, but when you describe the people you care about it's like you have so many roles available and once you fill them you close yourself off from other people.”
I tried to take that apart and make sense of it in my head,
“Commanding officer, teammate, marked one, but none of those boxes are just marked friend.”
Before I could respond a small device on her desk beeped, and she smiled at me,
“That is all the time we have today, Same time next week?”
I shook my head,
“I’m escorting Grace to Earth next week.”
Her eyes widened slightly but she gave no other reaction,
“When you get back then?”
I nodded trying not to obviously sulk,
“Over the course of that time, I would like you to try to make a connection with someone just because, without focusing on filling roles.”
I nodded as I stood and walked towards the door,
“I’ll think about it.”
I stepped out of the office and took a deep breath, before heading off to the infirmary.
I woke up in the infirmary in the earlier afternoon to the feeling of someone gently moving my wrist, when I opened my eyes Carson was there flanked by a nurse and a cart of supplies,
“Hello Dear, how do you feel?”
I eyed the supplies warily,
“Like I’m about to get stabbed by a needle.”
“Aye, your oxygen levels are not where we would like them to be, and I need to confirm its not a machine error.”
I sighed heavily,
“Arterial sticks are such a great way to start the day.”
Carson made a sympathetic face as he lined the needle up to the artery in my wrist and in one sharp movement pushed it in.
I watched as blood rushed into a vial, and the needle slid out, and a nurse pressed a wad of gauze firmly to the bleeding.
After the gauze was taped down and Carson had cleared away his supplies, he settled onto a stool next to me,
“So I guess I’m not going to be released today?”
Carson shook his head,
“I’m sorry no, we need to bring your levels up at the very least, and ideally we would identify the trigger.”
I sighed again,
“Today is Wednesday?”
Carson nodded in confirmation,
“I can stay today, and part of tomorrow but I have to pack for Earth, I’m leaving on Friday.”
Carson’s smiled dimmed a bit,
“Are you leaving us for good then?”
I shook my head,
“No, I just wasn’t really given time to get my affairs in order, so I’m doing that now.”
Carson relaxed a bit but kept a worried eye on me,
“I don’t like you being unsupervised so soon after an attack of this magnitude.”
“Ronon has agreed to come along and keep me out of trouble.”
Carson chuckled a bit at that,
“Aye well enough, but who is going to keep him out of trouble?”
“Not me, I plan to introduce him to blue jeans and steak houses.”
Carson laughed openly at that,
“Oh dear, we may never get him back.”
I smiled easily at that,
“Don’t worry, I’ll bring him back. He’ll have souvenirs, but I’ll bring him back.”
Carson nodded with a teasing expression of gravity,
“See that you do young lady.”
I laughed at his tone, the sound ending on a cough, and Carson’s face shifted quickly to concern.
“Let me give you something for that Dear.”
I nodded and laid back against the pillows catching my breath, and Carson was back with a cup of water and two small pills. As soon as I swallowed them, I looked around and realized there was no one standing vigil at my bedside.
“Someone finally convince Ronon I was safe in the infirmary?”
“No Dear, it's my turn to sit with you.”
I frowned at him,
“You have a whole infirmary to care for.”
He shook his head,
“Barring an emergency I’m off shift, so I am visiting with a friend.”
I rolled my eyes,
“A friend you perform medical procedures on?”
Carson shrugged good-naturedly,
“I technically perform medical procedures on all my friends.”
I snorted at that, controlling the urge to actually laugh until the medicine had time to work. Carson patted my hand gently,
“What sorts of things are you going to do on Earth?”
“Set my house up for a long absence, hire someone to keep up with the yard and look in on the place from time to time, put my valuables in storage, set up accounts so my money is being handled well while I’m here and don’t really have need of it, maybe when this adventure is over, if I’m still alive, I can take a year off to write, maybe do a bit of traveling.”
“That’s a good plan, and it what we were advised to do before we left.”
I nodded when a thought struck me,
“Do we know if Teyla and Ronon are being paid for their work here?”
Carson considered the issue and shook his head,
“No I don’t know, you would have to ask them.”
I nodded firmly,
Carson smiled at me, then looked up as something at the doorway caught his attention,
“Here’s your companion now.”
He wandered away from the stool positioned by my bedside, and Ronon dropped down onto it,
“Have you eaten?”
Was his opening line for the conversation, and I smiled at him,
“No, I just woke up, give me a little bit before you start threatening people to feed me.”
He nodded gruffly and went back to staring at the wall over my head,
“Do you know if anyone has been looking after Plato?”
I asked, knowing that my opinionated cat had taken a shine to Ronon,
“Teyla has her.”
“Excellent. Not that I doubt Plato’s ability to con food out of people, but it is nice to know someone is looking out for her.”
Ronon nodded again,
“Ronon can I ask you an invasive question?’
“Why not? Everyone else does.”
That was not exactly a yes, but it was close enough that I was running with it,
“Ronon how are you compensated for your work here?”
“Food, bunk, and Weir said something about Earth currency, not that I have any use for it.”
I smiled at him,
“Well, you will when we go to Earth if you would like I can help you set up accounts so that your money is safe.”
He shrugged again,
Not exactly enthusiastic but I was taking the win.
We both lapsed into silence, me with a book, and Ronon pretending he wasn’t reading over my shoulder.
Food came for us both and we ate in companionable silence, and then went back to the book, until I fell asleep again.
When I woke up it was Sheppard, and though he was holding his own book his eyes were on me.
“Was I doing something interesting?”
He looked a little guilty at that,
“No, just trying to figure you out.”
“I don’t advise it, there be monsters.”
John shook his head,
“I need to know if you’re playing games with a member of my team.”
That was not the voice of John, the amiable guy who snuck me extra protein bars when dinner was going to suck, this was Lt. Colonel Sheppard looking out for the well being of his team.
I pushed myself into a seated position and studied him evenly,
“What makes you think I have any interest in or time to play with anybody?”
He shook his head at me,
“You have Ronon in knots, inviting him on vacation with you on one hand, and on other waving wedding rings in his face and vowing your loyalty to a dead man!”
I flinched a little at that,
“My vows are my vows Colonel, and I will keep them, they are not subject to your opinion. I invited Ronon to go to Earth with me, because I assumed that this bond would make him uneasy if I were to go to Earth for a week, then spend three more on the return flight, and I didn’t want him to be stressed out about me, so I invited him along. How is that in any way playing games with him?”
He rubbed his hands over his face, and there was John again,
“Marriage vows end at death Grace.”
He spoke softly like one would to a spooked animal,
“I took my vows ‘for as long as we both shall live’ I am still alive so my vows are still in effect.”
He gave me a look of profound sadness,
“So you’re going to be alone the rest of your life?”
I shrugged again,
“To be otherwise would betray his memory.”
I whispered softly twisting the rings on my hand and he frowned at me,
“So you’re tying yourself up in knots and Ronon is just a casualty.”
I looked at him oddly,
“John, why are you talking to me like Ronon proposed and I turned him down? We are friends, Ronon is an overprotective friend, but a friend all the same.”
He shook his head at me,
“You’re clueless you know.”
Was all he said before he left, and left me confused.
Before I had the opportunity to try and decipher that mess it was time for evening medications, and vitals, and Carson, pleased with my rising O2 sats, promised to let me leave in the morning.
Chapter 19: Ronon is A Leather Clad Distraction
The next day passed in a blur of packing and organizing, securing a Power of Attorney from Teyla so I could set up a fund for the Athosians should any of them ever find themselves on Earth, and double checking what Ronon was planning to bring to make sure none of it was too conspicuously alien, before I knew it, it was Friday morning, and Ronon and I with our packs were standing together watching the gate dial.
I was awestruck by the gate still, and Ronon was treating the whole thing as if it were routine, we waited as the data transfer was completed, and then when the Earth Iris was opened we were given the go-ahead to step through.
On the other side was a concrete and steel military room filled with men with guns, though thankfully they were pointed at the ground rather than at me.
I looked around me wide-eyed until I heard a familiar voice,
I spun on my heel and smiled when I saw him,
I gave him a happy hug, and when he stepped back from me I saw Teal’c behind him,
“Hello, again Teal’c. I promise I am unarmed.”
He inclined his head to me, a faint smile playing on his lips
“It is good to see you again Dr. Wulf, are you well?”
I moved my hand in a so-so gesture,
“As well as ever really.”
“Come with me Grace, I want to introduce you to some people.”
“In a bit, I have to report to medical first, or Ronon will tell on me, and Carson will take my protein bars away.”
Daniel smiled easily,
“Then you can follow me, Ronon would you like someone to show you your quarters, or the commissary?”
Ronon shook his head,
“I go with her.”
Daniel shot me a concerned look,
“It’s a long story, he’s fine to tag along.”
“Then right this way.”
“Welcome, Dr. Wulf.”
A woman in a lab coat greeted me as soon as I walked in, evidently, Carson had been talking out of school.
“I’m Dr. Lam, we just need to get a quick set of vitals on you, and then you’re free to go.”
I nodded and climbed onto the exam table she indicated, Dr. Lam was professional and ran through the diagnostics quickly,
“Okay it seems like you’re handling intergalactic travel well, but take care of yourself.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
I let Daniel usher me out,
“Okay, we’re going to the commissary.”
Ronon and I nodded before following Daniel out of the room.
In the commissary, Daniel led us to table where there were two women, and one man sitting and talking animatedly with each other, the man looked up and saw us,
“Daniel! Come settle this for us!”
Daniel rolled his eyes,
“Knowing you three there is no settling it, besides I want to introduce you to someone, well technically two someones I suppose.”
Daniel urged me forward to the table, and when it seemed like Ronon might bail, I caught him by the wrist and pulled him with me, and we settled side by side in the two open seats. Daniel then pulled a chair over from another table and sat on the other side of Ronon.
“Do you remember Jack getting arrested?”
The other three nodded and the woman with the black pigtails piped up,
“Kidnapping wasn’t it? Naughty boy.”
Daniel fixed her with a mock glare,
“You are not in a judging position there Vala.”
She tossed him a smirk and let the matter drop,
“Well anyway this is who he kidnapped, Dr. Grace Wulf, and her uh…”
He trailed off clearly not knowing how to introduce Ronon,
“...friend and escort, but he answers to Ronon.”
I chimed in helpfully, and the woman Daniel had referred to as Vala gave him an appreciative look,
“Do you share your friends Dr. Grace Wulf?”
I studied her closely before I answered her,
“They are my friends and not my property, and can associate with whomever they please.”
Vala smirked again,
“I don’t know there are some friends I wouldn’t share.”
She gave Ronon a challenging look,
“What about you? Do you feel like being shared?”
Ronon just met her gaze evenly with his arms folded across his chest, and the moment stretched out long and awkward between them. The other woman at the table cut in to save us all,
“Hi, I’m Dr. Samantha Carter, it's nice to meet you.”
I smiled at her pleasantly,
“Pleasure, what’s your area of study?”
I nodded appreciatively,
“Impressive, too much math for me though.”
She laughed an easy happy sound,
“Fair enough, how about you?”
“Linguistics and Anthropology.”
She nodded, and the other man decided to jump back into the conversation,
“So you’re as much fun as Daniel to travel with then?”
“Don’t know I’ve only been off world once, and it was a bit of an emergency, so there wasn’t really time for sightseeing.”
He gave me a curious look,
“Then what do you do?”
“At the moment I’m studying the Wraith language, and developing a lesson plan to teach a basic competency to off-world personnel.”
“And after that?”
“Whatever comes up I suppose.”
“Her work is really fascinating, actually..”
Daniel tried to speak up but the other man cut across him,
“Yeah, I’m sure it's great.”
I quirked an eyebrow at him,
“And you are?”
“Colonel Cam Mitchell.”
I nodded politely, before turning to Daniel,
“Do you know when my transport is scheduled?”
Daniel glanced down at his watch,
“Soon actually, we should really get you topside, say goodbye, everyone.”
Colonel Mitchell and Dr. Carter smiled and wished us a safe trip, Vala waved at Ronon with a pout on her face, and we made our way back into the elevator.
The trip to the surface was the longest elevator ride of my life, Daniel was rocking awkwardly from heel to toe, Ronon was against the back wall glowering, and I was in the middle.
At the surface, we exited what turned out to be Cheyenne Mountain Complex, and as Ronon snatched my bag to stow Daniel turned to me,
“If you have time we should get dinner before you go back to Pegasus.”
I nodded easily,
“Sure, I keep threatening to take Ronon to a steakhouse.”
His smile grew a bit strained,
“Yeah...the three of us, that sounds like fun.”
I gave him an odd look but before I could ask Ronon was at my shoulder again,
“Time to go.”
I nodded and gave Daniel a quick hug before taking off after Ronon.
We were shoulder to shoulder in a small back seat when Ronon turned as much as he could and gave me an odd look,
“What do you call it when you go out with somebody here?”
“That depends on the context, is it friends, or family, or romantically?”
His glare sharpened,
“When a man takes out a woman he’s courting”
“When a couple goes out in a romantic context its usually called a date.”
Ronon nodded accepting the term,
“He was asking you on a date.”
It was my turn to be confused,
He rolled his eyes, something I am almost certain had picked up from watching me interact with Mckay.
“Daniel, he doesn’t want me to go, just you.”
I shook my head,
“He wasn’t asking me on a date, just being friendly.”
Ronon rolled his eyes again,
“I know how to spot a man who wants to court a woman.”
I patted his hand gently,
“I don’t want to date Daniel, even if I was open to dating anyone, Daniel is not my type. He’s a nice man and a friend, but that's it. Besides, I think if I started dating Daniel Vala would kill me.”
Ronon glared at the memory of the woman who had flirted with him boldly,
“I know, but I think she was only trying to make Daniel jealous. I do not want in the middle of that.”
Ronon nodded before settling back to look out the window.
He stayed quiet all the way to the airport, and the through the short and uneventful flight to Oregon, and out to the rental car waiting for us in the lot.
“Would you like to stop somewhere for dinner?”
I asked my silent companion as we pulled into traffic, and he nodded,
“I know the perfect place. Trust me?”
He nodded again and settled in to watch the lights go by.
I pulled the car into the lot of a local steak house, and Ronon unfolded himself from the car and followed me inside.
Once we were in the restaurant the hostess took one look at Ronon and fell over herself to find us a table, and the waitress arrived almost immediately gushing over the opportunity to take our, well really Ronon’s drink order, though I managed to get mine in as an afterthought.
When she left the table I gave Ronon an amused look,
“I think we may need to go clothes shopping, you in leather seems to send the local populace all aflutter.”
He quirked an eyebrow at me, and I felt compelled to explain,
“Most men don’t really dress in leather unless they are trying to be alluring, and you look better in leather than most men, so the portion of the population into men is doomed to be hopelessly distracted by you, and the others will be angry that you are taking all the attention.”
Ronon chuckled a little darkly,
“I can handle them.”
I nodded agreeably,
“I don’t doubt it, but the immediate southern migration of blood in your general area will make it hard to accomplish things.”
He flashed me a mischievous smile at that and relaxed back as the waitress returned with our drinks.
Grace was confusing, she had no issues announcing that I was attractive, but seemed completely disinclined to be attracted to me, and that bothered me.
There was no reason for me to be bothered by it, but I found that I was, I knew Grace was still loyal to her vows, and that she would never allow me to court her, but there was this small part of me that wanted her to want to, even if she knew she couldn’t.
There was a bigger part of me that was angry at the husband she had lost for allowing her to take a vow that in the instance of his death would leave her alone for the rest of her life, I would never have asked that of Melena.
I wanted to shake her and tell her that she owed no vows to a dead man, that she was alive, and life was for the living.
But I saw the misty, star-struck look in her eyes when she thought of him, and I knew that she wasn’t ready to let him go, vows or no vows.
So I let it lie.
I let Grace order the food and it was delicious, much better than anything I had eaten since the Fall, and she watched me tear through my meal with an amused expression after the empty plates were taken away, two smaller ones were set down along with two glasses of clear liquid.
“Its cheesecake and white wine, this restaurant makes theirs with a crisp rice cereal crust so I can eat it, try it.”
I scraped a bit off the wedge in front of me and ate it carefully, only to discover that it was incredible, I enthusiastically finished off the rest of mine, interspersing sips of the wine, and all too soon they were both gone. Grace finished hers only slightly slower, and after she signed the slip of paper the waitress brought her we stood up, and I followed her to the car.
“Let’s go get some rest, so we can accomplish things tomorrow.”
Grace offered and I nodded.
We got back on the road and drove through the lights of the city, and out onto darker roads were lights were occasional and quickly passed, but Grace seemed to know where she was, and eventually she turned down a small dirt road and followed it all the way to the end where almost completely surrounded by trees was a small house.
“Well here it is, it's not much, but it's home.”
She seemed a bit nervous as if she was waiting for me to mock her home,
She relaxed enough at that to get out of the car and make her way to the door, as I followed with the bags.
The house inside was inviting and cozy with solid wood furniture and a stone fireplace. It looked a little like the home I had shared with Melena.
“The guest room is this way.”
I followed her across the floors and into a room with an inviting bed, that I dumped my bag at the end of, and watched Grace struggle with the window,
“I want to open this so we can air it out in here, but it seems to have other ideas.”
I leaned over her and pushed up on the window, sliding it up a couple of inches,
“Well that should let in enough air, this is your room, the bathroom is right across the hall.”
I looked to where she pointed and nodded,
“Come on and I’ll give you the rest of the tour.”
I followed Grace around as she rattled on about ‘Living Rooms’ and ‘reading nooks’ only really paying attention to the parts of the house I was likely to need to be able to find, kitchen, Grace’s room, and exits.
I was a man of simple priorities.
Grace paced the kitchen boiling water for tea and hummed as she waited for the kettle to boil, and it caused a weird ache in my chest.
It had been a long time since I had seen anyone look that domestic.
When the water was boiled and the tea was steeping she turned to me,
“Would you like to watch a movie, or are you going straight to bed?”
She took both mugs and gestured with her head for me to follow her,
“Come on I have a movie I think you’ll like.”
We end up watching a movie about a bus that can’t slow down or it will explode, after the first ten minutes of pausing and starting to have things explained to me I was able to settle into watching the story unfold on the screen. Grace was right I did enjoy it, and after that one ended she put on another movie filled with explosions and gunfire.
She drifted off to sleep there on the couch with her head pillowed on my shoulder, and I stayed very still as the movie played through, and when it ended I lifted her as gently as possible before carrying her to her bed and settling her under the covers. I closed the door behind me, turned off the television, and stacked the mugs in the kitchen, before heading to my own bed.
Chapter 20: Jeans Will Make Ronon Less Distracting
The next morning I woke up to Grace tapping on my door,
“Get dressed so we can go get food.”
She sounded a bit cranky, and I found myself wondering if she was always cranky in the morning, or if it was something about this morning in particular.
By the time I had dressed and made my way out of my room she was dressed, and sitting on a low padded bench tying knots in boot laces. When she heard my steps on the wood floors she stood and brushed a dress into place around her legs. The soft floaty fabric should have looked strange paired with the heavy military style boots, but somehow Grace made it work. She slung a bag over her shoulder and grabbed my wrist,
She exclaimed urgently and I smiled as I let her drag me along behind her.
Twenty minutes later we pulled up in front of a yellow wrapped building that had an odd salty-sweet smell lingering around it, once we got inside it was much more casual than the restaurant we had stopped at the night before, with an open window that let you see into the kitchen and watch your food be prepared, they were also extremely crowded which seemed to irritate Grace.
“Ronon would you mind sitting at the counter so we don’t have to wait?”
I followed her finger and considered the two open stools at the end of the counter I would be able to see the entrance, and the reflective surfaces of the metal in front of the stools would allow me to keep an eye on our backs, also the taller seating would be more comfortable for the length of my legs.
“Sure, that’s fine.”
Grace quickly staked a claim on the two counter seats, I slid onto the open stool, managing to fit my knees under the edge of the counter with a couple of inches of clearance.
A waitress, who looked exhausted; came by our spots on the counter, handed over menus and asked if we knew what we wanted to drink,
“Decaf coffee for me, with lots of cream, Ronon?”
Grace turned to me with a questioning expression on her face,
The waitress nodded and turned to two waiting coffee pots behind her, pouring one cup from an orange-topped pot, and the other from a blacktopped one. Careful to keep them separate she set down the cup poured from the orange pot in front of Grace, and the other in front of me,
“I’ll give you a minute to look over the menus.”
Grace’s smile was easy now that the promise of food was imminent, and I flipped the glossy slightly sticky pages,
“Do you know what you want?”
Grace’s voice distracted me from the photos of food,
I shook my head,
“There are so many choices.”
Her smile was a bit amused,
“Well do you want something sweet?”
I grinned a bit, I did have the worst sweet tooth. Grace ordered me something that sounded suspiciously like a dessert rather than a meal, and when the waitress went to give our orders to the kitchen turned to me with a smile.
“After breakfast how do you feel about heading over to the mall and doing some shopping?”
“I don’t have money.”
Grace smiled easily,
“Actually you do, but that's not really an issue, I may not be rich, but I’m hardly starving in the streets, I think I can manage a few pairs of jeans.”
I didn’t generally have strong opinions on shopping, so I nodded in agreement.
Grace grinned and I was spared from any more of her plotting by the arrival of food.
I tucked into my breakfast looking forward to taking Ronon shopping, I really hoped that once I got him outfitted for Earth, we could find time for some fun things, and relaxing, to chase away some of the shadows that always seemed to linger in his eyes.
A plate was set in front of Ronon that was piled high with waffles and sauces and cream looking for all the world like it came from the mind of a sugar mad five-year-old. He attempted to remain stoic in the face of all that sugar for about five seconds before he gave in, grinned broadly, and dug into the confection. I ate my omelet watching him with a smile on my face, and resolved to take him somewhere for some kind of sweet every day.
The meal passed in silence, as Ronon devoted himself to eating, and I devoted myself to not laughing at the syrup and whipped cream in the fine hairs of his mustache, when his plate was cleaned I handed him a pack of wipes from my bag and pointed him firmly in the direction of the men’s restroom.
By the time I had paid the tab and was sitting on a chair in the waiting area when he reappeared I looped my arm through his,
“To the mall!”
He gave me a look that seemed to question my sanity, but let me lead him along willingly enough.
The closest mall was about an hour’s worth of drive time away, and I tuned the radio to an 80’s rock station, as I turned the wheels onto the two-lane highway.
“Earth Music is weird.”
Ronon stated to the backtrack of Joan Jett, and I resisted the urge to giggle,
“Why do you say that?”
“Sheppard listens to weird music too, different from this though.”
“Well feel free to fiddle the dial and see if you can find something you like.”
I pointed out the tuner dial, turned it all the way to low end, and let Ronon take over. What followed was a dizzying hour spent flipping through the major musical genres; pop, rock, classical, oldies, gospel, grunge, and rap, all put in an appearance by the time we pulled into the mall lot.
“Didn’t find anything?”
He shook his head, and I patted his shoulder awkwardly. He allowed it for a few seconds then opened the door of the car, stepping out from under my hand. We walked next to each other in awkward silence to the entrance, but the grumpy expression on his face went hard as soon as we stepped inside and he caught a glimpse of the crowds inside. For a split second, he looked like his fight and flight instincts were warring, then he face assumed a carefully neutral expression, and he stepped so that he was a little in front of me, between me and the masses of people.
“Sorry, I forgot to warn you about the crowds, this is the only mall for ages, so shoppers from all the little towns come here on the weekend.”
He nodded, and stepped fully through the door, I lead him quickly to a clothing store I thought might stock some jeans in his size, and once we were in the actual store the crowds and noise reduced considerably. As I predicted a sales girl all but came running to greet us.
“Can I help you?”
The question was general but her eyes were fixed firmly on Ronon, or rather the leather encasing Ronon’s legs.
“My friend needs some jeans, but it's been a while and he’s not sure of the size.”
She nodded eagerly,
“We can measure him no problem at all. If you will just follow me to the dressing rooms?”
Ronon sighed and followed her while I trailed along behind, tapping out a todo list on my PDA.
She drew back the curtain to a dressing stall and ushered him in, he went grumbling, but when she reached to draw the curtain, he stopped it with one hand.
“The measuring can be a bit, well, intimate. Don’t you want some privacy?”
He glared at her and pushed the curtain back more firmly,
The sales girl pouted a bit but relented, looping the measuring tape around Ronon’s hips as he stood, arms folded across his chest, glaring at the area in general. The girl noted the measurement and unwound the tape,
“Is that it?”
Ronon’s tone was gruff and grumpy, and she shook her head,
“She has to measure your inseam Ronon, the inside of your leg.”
He glared at me fiercely,
“Then we’ll spend all day guessing at sizes.”
He stared me down silently and I met his gaze as the sales girl started to fidget,
“Maybe I could talk your girlfriend through the process?”
She offered hesitantly, as I opened my mouth to say that I wasn’t his girlfriend at all he cut in,
I was taking the win, so I let the girlfriend comment slide and held my hand out for the tape, she handed it to me and stepped back away from the enclosed space,
“So you’ll need to spread your legs a bit, and then hold the start of the tape right at the top of that inside seam.”
There were a few moments of awkward shuffling before I was able to press the metal tab of the tape to the top of Ronon’s inner thigh and run the tape down the length of his leg, I called out the measurement, and the sales girl nodded,
“Okay I’ll just go pull a few different styles and then you can try them on.”
“If I must.”
That seemed to be as enthusiastic as it was going to get, I stepped back and Ronon pulled the curtain over so he could get out of the leather pants, and when the sales girl came back, I grabbed the jeans from her and tossed them one by one over the curtain railing,
Ronon snapped and I giggled,
“Let us know when you find something you like!”
There was a general grumbling from the other side, and I bit the inside of my lip to keep from laughing.
Eventually, Ronon pulled back the curtain and stood there barefoot in a pair of light wash straight leg jeans.
“These are okay.”
I nodded easily,
“They look like a good fit. Do you want them all the same color?”
He shrugged and I turned to the sales girl,
“We’ll need five pairs in addition to these, various shades, no bright colors.”
She nodded and headed back out to track them down for us.
Ten minutes later we were standing outside the store a large bag dangling from my wrist and Ronon beside me in a pair of jeans.
“Come on let’s see about some other clothes, I need a few things too.”
Ronon nodded, watching the people go by, he spotted a young couple shopping together, and when he saw that the male half of the couple was carrying the shopping bags he snatched the bag away from me,
“You didn’t tell me about this custom.”
I was a little surprised,
“It's a courting thing, so it wasn’t really relevant. Speaking of customs, do you know what Teyla’s trying to do when she bows her head, it seems like a gesture I should reciprocate, but I don’t know how.”
He smiled a little at me,
“Touch her forehead with yours.”
“Well, that seems so obvious now.”
By the time I was done berating myself we had arrived at a department store.
“Come on let's finish kitting you out.”
With an idea of Ronon’s sizes at hand we were able to move with much more efficiency, selecting a number of t-shirts, a couple of button-ups, a vest Ronon had stumbled across and liked, and some work out gear, before long we were in shoes.
“Okay, you need three pairs of shoes in addition to your boots. A work out pair, a dress pair, and a casual pair. Let’s get you measured.”
Ronon sighed heavily at the prospect of being measured again but submitted tamely enough. A salesman approached us, he was a little older and wearing a wedding band, so I was hoping we could dispense with the flirtatious silliness that caused issues with the jeans.
“Can I help you?”
His voice was smooth and even with a tint of the accent of the region,
“Yes, my friend needs to be measured for shoes.”
He nodded and directed Ronon to a low bench, Ronon sat, and leaned down to unlace his boot, and set his foot onto the metal contraption when directed, and after a few seconds and a couple of fiddles the measuring device is lifted away.
“A thirteen narrow should fit most comfortably.”
“Thank you...no leave them off… could you bring some choices for black dress shoes, a good athletic shoe for running and martial arts, and some high top converse?”
The salesman nodded and walked away,
“After this, I’m done torturing you, unless you stumble across something you like.”
“Do Earth people do this a lot?”
I shook my head,
“No outside of some life milestones, or a crisis, we mostly shop to replace. Some people shop as a hobby, but not everyone.”
He nodded, but before he could answer the salesman returned with a small cart with boxes,
“Athletic shoes first?”
I glanced at Ronon, and he shrugged, then made a face at the grey and neon green athletic shoes,
“I know, for some reason, all athletic shoes are weird neon colors.”
The salesman nodded ruefully,
“They really are, no style at all.”
He sniffed disdainfully.
I snickered at that and left them to it, wandering over to women’s shoes to grab a couple of things of my own, when I returned maybe ten minutes later there were three shoe boxes and no salesman.
“Excellent, Almost done, then lunch?”
He nodded, gathered up the boxes and the pile of clothing, dumped it into an abandoned shopping cart, and gestured for me to lead on.
I headed in the direction of women’s clothes, and Ronon looked more and more uncomfortable,
“Really you’re bothered by women’s clothes?”
“I’ve never really been shopping for them, Melena made most of her clothes, and what she shopped for she shopped for alone.”
I nodded easily,
“Well, I promise not to ask any hard questions.”
He chuckled easily,
“When a woman asks a question about clothes a smart man doesn’t answer.”
That for some reason struck me as enormously funny, and I bent at the waist one hand on the cart to keep me on my feet as I laughed,
“Men here on Earth have a very similar idea. Almost identical in fact.”
Ronon shook his head and waited for me to compose myself,
“Some things are universal.”
I nodded easily,
“That they are, I just never suspected that was one of them.”
I stopped in pants and moved through the racks running my fingers along the fabrics. I found a rack of dark jeans that were whisper soft to the touch, I flicked through the selection, and snagged a couple of pairs in what was probably my size, before moving on. Twenty minutes later I was standing by the dressing rooms with jeans, shirts, and dresses.
“Do you mind waiting?”
Ronon shook his head, leaning his long frame against the wall surrounding the changing area.
“Thanks, I won’t be long.”
I locked myself in a dressing room and pulled clothes on and off, starting a keep and a discard pile, which was going well until I was trying on a skater dress, it had one of those tiny zippers that I just could not grip. I poked my head out of my changing room and looked around for Ronon, spotting him I stepped out,
He looked up at me with a confused expression on his face,
“Can you zip this for me?”
I turned so he could see the zipper, and felt the gentle brush of his fingers against my back as he fiddled with the small tab. A few seconds later the zipper pulled up and I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding.
He spoke as he stepped back, and I walked over to the mirror,
“Zipper aside I do like this, what do you think?”
I looked over my shoulder at him,
“Its a dress.”
I laughed a little,
“I really don’t know what else I expected you to say.”
I turned back to the mirror and considered the dress again.
“I’m going to get it.”
I declared, before turning back to Ronon,
“Will you unzip it for me?”
Chapter 21: Scars and Shopping
I stepped back up behind Grace and picked up the little tab in between two of my fingers, and placed the fingers of the other hand on Grace’s shoulder, I held my breath as I gently pulled the tab down opening the triangle at the back of the dress. I wanted so badly to comment on the scars there, but I also really did not want to know where they came from. She wore some scent that managed to smell like flowers without burning my nose, and her pale skin was soft beneath my fingertips where I brushed it. I wanted to trace my fingers down those silvery scars and know what had caused those hurts so that I might avenge them.
I am neither gentle nor tame, and I do not flatter myself that I can soothe them, but if I could I would see them avenged.
The zipper reached the end of the track, and it jarred me out of my thoughts. I exerted far more effort than I should have needed to release the tab and step back away from her. She tossed me a smile over her shoulder,
“Thanks, Ronon. Just let me get dressed.”
I nodded not trusting my voice and kept my eyes on her until she disappeared behind the door of the changing room. A couple of minutes later she emerged with an armload of clothes which she hung on a rack placed between the rooms, then she ducked in and came back out again with a much smaller load of clothes that she dumped on top of the things she was buying for me and turned to smile at me.
“Okay let’s pay for this stuff and check out the food court.”
I followed her through the store again and we stood in line at a small desk, and when it was our turn they scanned each item, gave Grace a total that seemed like a lot, but I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for the total amount. Grace didn’t seem bothered by it though, so after accepting a mountain of bags from the person manning the desk, I followed Grace back into the crowds of the mall.
In the food court, Grace looked around at the bright places and turned to me with a smile,
“How do you feel about pizza?”
“Never had any.”
Grace nodded definitively and went to stand in line at a green and red signed restaurant,
“Go take the bags and claim a table, I’ll bring food over.”
When I hesitated to move she made a shooing motion with her hands, a small smile on her face, and I gave in turning to look at the small tables scattered through the center of the area, choosing one that had a bench seat that backed into the dividing half wall between the seating area and the restaurant queues. Because of the way the wall curved I was able to keep an eye on Grace, now balancing a full tray of plates and cups, and the other on the rest of the crowd.
I was clearly paying more attention to Grace than I should have been, because when a hand landed on my thigh from the other side it made me jump.
I turned quickly and sitting on the long bench seat beside me was a girl who barely looked old enough to be out without some sort of keeper. She had a smile that was, I think, supposed to be alluring, and now that my attention was on her was leaning into my arm.
I froze completely unsure of what to do, I didn’t want to hurt the girl, so I couldn’t throw her off, and I didn’t want to do anything that might seem to reciprocate her attention, and as I had decided to sit in the corner I couldn’t even slide further down the bench and away from her.
This left me frozen with a glare on my face but no real course of action.
Then I heard the thwack of a tray being slammed down onto the table and Grace’s voice filled with dangerous ice,
“May I help you?”
The girl next to me looked up at Grace, and seemed to consider her options for a moment before deciding on withdrawal,
She tossed off in a tone that didn’t sound even vaguely apologetic, before standing up and stalking off.
Grace rolled her eyes before dropping into the seat vacated by the girl,
“So I got you a couple of different kinds, and garlic knots, because everyone should experience garlic knots, and I got smoothies instead of soda, and…”
She trailed off at the look on my face,
I took a moment to consider my words very carefully,
“You seemed...bothered...by that girl, do you not want to ask any questions?”
She shook her head,
“I was bothered by her, but only because it appeared that her advances were unwelcome, you are perfectly free to welcome advances, or make advances, though it would be in your best interest to make sure the recipients know that it would only be a short fling.”
I was silent for a moment, before speaking in a low tone I didn’t know if Grace would hear or not,
“They were unwelcome. And I don’t want to welcome advances.”
She set several plates of I assumed to be pizza down in front of me and patted my arm gently, a reassuring smile on her face, she squeezed my arm gently before handing me a cup filled with something thick and pink, and pulling a bowl of salad to her and popping the lid off.
Grace carried on eating as if everything were normal as if we were on Atlantis, and at any moment Mckay would come along and try to annoy Grace, the only difference was the firm glare she fixed on anybody who even so much as glanced in our direction.
It was odd for me to feel protected by someone, I had spent most of my life being a protector that I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about being on the other side. It was different than having a unit watching your back, that was give and take, but this, what Grace was doing, was drawing a line in the sand between me and the world, and daring it to try her.
I glared at the food court in general, and anyone who tossed Ronon admiring looks in particular, and tried to tell myself that it was what I would do for anyone who was in his position, and as long as I didn’t think too hard about the whispery, electric feeling of his fingers on my back in the dressing room or the ugly bubbling anger that had seized my stomach when I saw that girl’s hand on his thigh, I could almost believe that was true. I had meant what I said, Ronon was free to dally with anyone he liked who’d have him, but he never asked my opinion on the matter and I was certainly not going to offer. It wasn’t like I had any real reason to be jealous, or possessive. I had made it very clear that Ronon and I could never belong to each other any more than we already did, bound by the faded mark on the back of my neck.
I kept watch on Ronon out of the corner of my eye, as he picked up a slice of pepperoni pizza and took a bite, he made a slight face and then continued eating.
“You don’t have to eat what you don’t like. I got them for you to try.”
“No point wasting it.”
I nodded leaving him to it, he finished the pepperoni quickly, and sniffed at a garlic knot suspiciously, before nibbling on the end of it, those he seemed to take to better, and he devoured the one in his hand in two quick bites.
At the end of our lunch, Ronon had decided that he liked ham and sausage pizzas quite a lot, and pepperoni not at all, smoothies and garlic knots had also met with his approval, so I was prepared to call the thing a success.
The trash for lunch was thrown away, and Ronon was gathering up our mound of shopping bags,
“Why don’t we go drop those in the car, so you don’t have to keep carrying them.”
He shrugged indifferently,
“I’ve carried heavier for longer.”
“I’m sure you have, but wouldn’t you rather have your hands free?”
Ronon glanced around at the crowds again before conceding the point. It only took a couple of minutes to dump the bags into the trunk of the car, and soon we were back inside,
“I want to pick some things up for friends I’ve made in Atlantis, do you want to help me choose?”
Ronon shrugged but seemed willing enough to trail along behind me.
I made my way to Hot Topic hoping to find something Johnny Cash for John and then go from there.
Ronon paused at the darkened entryway to the store, the vibrations from the music already palpable beneath our feet, as we pulled open the double doors and the wave of music hit us, Ronon grinned down at me, finally some decent music.
Since the current album was some sort of metal, seemingly played on cellos, that really left me with more questions than it answered,
“Well then let’s find out what’s playing.”
A brief conversation with a stock clerk with shockingly pink hair informed us that the band was called Apocalyptica, and their albums could be found in the CD racks.
I set Ronon up with a set of headphones and a selection of CD’s and left him there happily while I went to dig through t-shirt racks.
Of course, since it was Hot Topic I always managed to find more than I was looking for, including a pair of cutesy cartoon style sleep pants I thought would do as a Christmas gift for Ronon. He was grinning and bobbing lightly to the music, he smiled at me when I waved my hand to get his attention,
“So we’ve found music you approve of?”
He nodded holding one side of the earphones to his ears, and I smiled back at him,
“I’m going to go pay, come find me when you finish your song.”
He nodded agreeably and pulled the other headphone back over his ear, I detoured back by the band T’s and added a couple of Apocalyptica shirts to my pile before joining the check out line.
Ronon found me just as I was agreeing to a donation to To Write Love On Her Arms, and he accepted the black bags from the cashier easily.
When we were back outside in the central corridor Ronon turned to me,
“What was that thing you gave money to?”
I sighed, and considered my words before I answered,
“To Write Love On Her Arms, its a charity, an organization that helps people in need. This particular one helps people who struggle with depression, self-injury, and suicide.”
He asked softly, and I rubbed a hand over my face before I answered,
“Our word for taking your own life.”
He nodded and abruptly dropped the subject, though the mood between us was more somber than it had been since we stepped through the gate. We walked along in silence until we reached a tea shop, and I stopped,
“This is new, do you mind if we go in I’d like to find something for Carson.”
“Teyla likes tea.”
Was Ronon’s answer, and I took it as both agreement and suggestion, and stepped into the softly lit shop, the entire perimeter of the inside was done in wooden shelves and there were displays of tea, and tea paraphernalia all over. I browsed the teas pausing occasionally to open a jar and inhale the aroma, by the time I made my way all the way around the tea selection, I had amassed a couple of large sampler sets. I left those with the staff at the desk and went to check out the options in teapots and mugs. I found a gorgeous earthen pot and set of handleless mugs, and pointed it out to Ronon,
“For Teyla, do you think?”
He glanced at it,
“Looks like the one she already has.”
“So no then.”
I rolled my eyes and went back to browsing and a few shelves over I found a fanciful tea set with a pot that looked like something from the Arabian NIghts; and leaf-shaped teacups with handles that flared into dramatic upward curves, and I indicated it to Ronon
“How about that one?
He studied for a moment clearly struggling for a word,
“Do you think Teyla will like it?”
He shrugged as if he were indifferent,
I slid one of the large boxes from the lower shelves where they were stacked and struggled to balance it and stand up, I heard Ronon sigh a second before I felt the weight of the box lift free of my arms. He wrapped one arm around the box tucking it into his side and held the other out for me to steady myself with, I braced one hand on his forearm and stood up carefully.
He rolled his eyes at my insistence on thanking him, and I let it go. A couple of shelves over I found a blue teapot wrapped in a tartan cozy, with tartan patterned teacups,
“Ronon, do you think you could grab one of those boxes for me?”
He nodded and held out the box he was already holding for me to take.
A box each we headed to the checkout and left the store loaded down with boxes and tins.
“Alright let’s head to the car, I need to hit the grocery store so I can make dinner tonight.”
Ronon nodded and we exited the mall quickly.
At the car, it took some careful stowing to get everything settled into the trunk, but we eventually managed it, and a few minutes later we were back on the highway.
Chapter 22: Ronon Meets an Accountant
The next time Grace parked the car we were at a store that seemed to deal exclusively in food, she grabbed a cart, dumped her purse into a small folding seat in the front and marched into the store with all the determination one could ask from a general marching on an enemy camp.
“What would you like for dinner Ronon?”
I shrugged, and she sighed,
“Fine be vague then.”
Her tone was grumpy but she was smiling and there was laughter in her eyes so I didn’t take it too personally,
“Well, I want fish, any objections?”
I shook my head and followed her through the rows and rows of packages that all claimed to hold some kind of food. Grace moved comfortably through the store; dropping things into her cart occasionally. Eventually, we passed through another checkout and loaded the bags into the car amongst all the other purchases of the day; and less than thirty minutes after we got there we were back in the car returning to Grace’s home.
When we pulled back up to the little home with a light by the door shining softly in the late evening it looked welcoming; and I could understand why Grace had been reluctant to leave here.
The car rolled to a stop and Grace slid it into park before casting a resigned glance over her shoulder.
“Buying all this seemed like such a great idea at the time, but now I realize how much work it's going to take to get it all in the house, and I have some doubts.”
I studied the pile of purchases, mentally added the ones in the trunk of the car, and silently agreed with her.
“I’ll carry it.”
I heard myself say before I had even really thought of offering, and Grace shook her head.
“We both will, though I will appreciate the help.”
She opened the door and slid out of the car, and I carefully maneuvered out of the low vehicle, Grace had the back door open and was sorting through bags, setting them into groups,
“What are you doing?”
She glanced at me over her shoulder,
“Sorting them by weight.”
“So you can start with the light stuff?”
This earned me a baffled look,
“No the heaviest first when I have the most energy, then stuff gets lighter as I get tired.”
There was a certain pragmatism to that; in a way I would never have considered and as she started loading the heavy bags onto her arms with a look of determination, I calmly reached over her and started taking them away. Mimicking her and looping the handles over my arms instead of trying to gather them in my hands.
“Ronon I can carry things.”
“Of course. Those.”
I gestured to the bags she had separated out as the lightest and ignored her protests as I gathered the rest. Finally, she gave in with a huff, snatched up the lighter bags, and marched ahead to open the door.
She dropped the bags she was holding on the kitchen floor, and I set my load of shopping next to it.
“I’ll get the rest, you deal with that.”
I gestured to the floor now about half covered in food and she sighed,
I nodded curtly and walked back outside. I never knew how to respond when Grace thanked me, I didn’t even really know how I felt about it. Thanking people was not really something that was commonly done on Sateda. You had your duties, your duty to your family, to your mate, to any bearing your mark, to your children, and children in general. Additionally,in my case, to the army,my unit, and my superior officers. No one said thank you for doing your duty, it was just what you did. What everyone did. No one said thank you or told you that you were doing well, you just didn’t get in trouble for doing poorly. It would be easier to wrap my head around if it was just something Grace said, some odd bit of duty from the customs on Earth, but she said it with feeling each time as if each bit of duty was somehow a gift to her.
I brought the remaining bags into the house in a daze, stacking them on and around the couch as Grace directed, taking care with the boxes filled with delicate tea sets.
Grace came out from the kitchen as I was setting down the last of the bags.
“Awesome, let’s sort this mess out.”
She began rifling through bags, and I carried them to one side of the room or the other as directed based on whose belongings the bag contained.
The bags were dumped in our rooms and Grace wandered back towards the kitchen to start cooking, tossing me the remote as she passed,
“Feel free to watch some T.V., or if you would rather, the bookshelf is open territory.
The series of shelves she pointed to were constructed of metal and thick wood bolted directly into the walls, and they were groaning under the weight of the tomes stacked on them. I approached them carefully afraid that touching one would bring the whole lot down on me, and studied the outwards facing spines,
“How likely is this whole thing to collapse if I touch it?”
I asked Grace hesitantly, and she laughed,
“Not at all, those shelves will stand up to a bomb, dig away.”
I began pulling out anything with an interesting title, some of which I stuck right back where I found it, and some of which I stacked on one of the small tables randomly in the room.
It was a peaceful way to pass time, looking at books and listening to Grace singing softly in the kitchen.
Whatever she was cooking went pretty quickly, and I had barely gotten through a single shelf before she was calling me to eat.
“Bring a book if you want.”
She added as an afterthought, and I grabbed one randomly from the stack.
The dining chairs were oddly wide, a fact which made sense when Grace settled into one crossing her legs, and propping a book on the table. The rest of the evening passed in a companionable silence broken only by the soft rustle of turning pages.
Eventually, Grace closed her book and stretched into a yawn,
“I’m going to get some sleep, good night Ronon. I enjoyed your company today.”
I smiled a little,
The next morning I woke up to the sound of laughter, and when I opened my eyes, I realized I had fallen asleep on the couch, book laying haphazardly on the floor. I also realized that I was not wearing a shirt.
Grace asked a little laughter lilting in her voice.
“Something like that.”
The truth was I had never been able to sleep in a shirt, even if I fell asleep wearing one it would be off when I woke up.
“Come on I’m making breakfast.”
I snagged my shirt from where it was bunched up under the tiny pillow I had slept on the night before and followed Grace into the kitchen as I pulled it on.
“Do your knife skills extend to slicing fruit?”
She asked gesturing to several containers on the counter,
She smiled and handed me a small knife, and a wooden board to slice the fruit on,
“Just into quarters, or chunks of a reasonably similar size. Remember to take the leaves off.”
I took the container of large red berries she handed me, and began to break them down, as she fussed with a few other things on the far counter, she came and grabbed an overflowing handful of what I was chopping, then there was a mechanical sound behind me.
“What are you doing?”
I asked cautiously, fingering the small blade,
That brightened my morning considerably, and I happily went back to my slicing. A few minutes later Grace is handing me a large cup filled with a thick pink liquid.
She points to what I had been slicing,
She points to curved yellow things with small brown spots,
She points finally to a clear container of dark yellow fruit.
“Held together with yogurt, and fortified with protein powder. Enjoy.”
She handed me a brightly colored straw and picked up her own cup, sipping at her matching smoothie as she wandered out of the kitchen bare feet padding on the wooden floors soundlessly.
I followed her out of curiosity and she led the way to one of the large windows in the rear of the house, dug her nails into a notch in the frame, and when she pulled the whole wall of glass slid open, she stepped through and when I followed her there was a small seating area with one chair that was wide and low which Grace curled into, and another that was taller.
“Is it a custom to have furniture at different heights?”
I asked sitting in the empty taller chair, and she shook her head,
“No, but Jerrick was quite a bit taller than me, so we spent months arguing over chairs for out here, the tall ones are hard for me to get into, and what was comfortable to me, left his knees at his ears. So one day we were at an outdoor market, and someone was selling individual chairs, so we decided we would each just pick one that worked for us, and you see the results.”
“You sound like a good couple.”
Grace’s grin was a little wistful,
“We were happy, we worked well together, cared for each other, and respected each other. There’s not much more you can ask for in a marriage really.”
I wanted so badly to push, to ask if this man who loved her would have wanted her to be alone, but I didn’t want to break the friendship growing between us, so I watched the mist clear from the trees in the morning sunlight, and drank my smoothie.
It was starting to hurt less, to talk about Jerrick, and my life with him. That was probably healing, but a small guilty part of me thought it felt a lot like forgetting, and that depth in my own feelings soured the edges of my mood, leaving me quiet. After we finished our breakfast, Ronon went to pick up the kitchen while I turned on the forecast.
A few minutes later the dishwasher was loaded, and Ronon walked into the living room in time to catch the tail end of the forecast.
“Wear some sleeves today, maybe even bring a jacket along, since it's supposed to mist on and off all day.”
He nodded and started towards the guest room,
“Oh and Ronon?”
He paused and turned back to look at me, a question on his face,
“Wear a shirt with a collar today, please? We have to go meet with my accountant and the person who manages my projects for me, and I intend to introduce you as a colleague.”
Ronon nodded and disappeared behind the door of the bedroom, I sighed, and headed into my own room.
My accountant was very good at his job, but a bit of an ass, so while I perfectly content to dress in my normal way for my projects manager, my accountant needed reminding that I was not a little girl to be pushed around, so I skipped right past the soft dresses, and pulled out a black pencil skirt and white blouse, which when matched with ankle boots with a low heel, and my leather jacket served to give me a boost of presence and authority.
I twisted my hair up and slicked on eye-liner and lipstick.
When I was done the girl in the mirror not only looked like someone who was in charge, she looked like someone who knew she was and was comfortable with it.
Ronon was lounging on the couch when I headed out from my room and studied my look without comment.
I cast a quick eye over his dark grey button up, over dark jeans, with the dress shoes, the leather jacket I had found for him rested on the cushion beside him.
I nodded and grabbed my purse sticking the large portfolio I was carrying into it, and fishing out my keys.
“Let’s do this.”
We got in the car and I headed towards the city. When we were off the dirt roads and onto the paved ones, I dug into the side pocket of my purse and fished out a CD I had burned the night before, sliding it into the player.
Ronon’s face lit up with a grin when I turned on Apocalyptica, his face lit up,
“This has some music from some other similar groups as well, so we can see if anything else catches your fancy.”
“Thank you, Grace.”
His tone gave this an air of importance so I smiled and nodded my head,
We listened to operatic metal the whole drive into the city, and when I pulled up to the valet stand for the office building, the already polite valet became positively fawning when Ronon stepped out of the car and came around to stand behind and just to the right of me looking for all the world like a bodyguard in a bodice ripper.
Ronon followed me quietly into the building and seemed to be focused on taking in the world around him.
When we arrived in the correct office suite, despite my appointment I was still directed by his receptionist to wait, and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, as I perched on the edge of my seat.
“He always makes me wait.”
I muttered to Ronon, who gave me an odd look,
“He likes to think he has power over me, he’s old school about women managing their money, and he doesn’t approve. But he is very good, and honest, which is way more important than being progressive.”
Ronon grunted at that and settled into a sprawl in one of the tastefully modern chairs in the reception area, I tapped my fingers in a staccato rhythm on the leather in between us absently, until Ronon captured my hand in one of his, turning it over and playing with my fingers. I relaxed and reassured myself. I was no longer the emotional and barely functioning new widow I had been when I met this man; when he formed his opinion of me. I had helped to save an entire race of people, I had crossed galaxies, I could deal with one misogynist; and if I couldn’t Ronon certainly could.
Ten minutes later, long enough to prove he could, but not so long as to be rude, I was called into my accountant’s office.
“Miss Wulf, how are you today?”
He carefully enunciated the title for a young woman who had never been married, but some wind went visibly out of his sails when Ronon stepped into view.
He emphasized in a low tone that spoke of restrained danger,
“Oh..of course, please come in Dr. Wulf, and ...?”
He trailed off looking at me expectantly,
“Ronon is a colleague Mr. Burke.”
“Right well have a seat, what do you need today Mi...Dr. Wulf”
Burke corrected himself with a glance at Ronon.
“I am doing some work for the military and I expect to be away for some time, I need to place my accounts, barring one for the maintenance of my property, to work for me, while my expenses are so low. I also need to create accounts for a colleague unable to leave the installation, create a foundation, and Ronon will need to establish some accounts.”
Burke sighed in a put upon way and pulled his computer closer.
The following two hours were miserable for all involved parties. However when Ronon and I finally left, the majority of my money was in deep savings accounts, with my checks set up to split themselves between that and an active account. Ronon and I had made similar arrangements for him and Teyla, as well as establishing a trust for the Athosians, where the money they made for their contributions to Atlantis was deposited, as well as a percentage of Ronon’s, Teyla’s and my wages.
The valet brought the car around, and Ronon glared him down as he opened my door, before coming around to the passenger side and sliding in.
“Now my original plan was to have lunch between appointments, but that’s not going to happen anymore, I’m sorry.”
We had a little luck with traffic, and the meeting with my manager was relatively straight forward, he promised to have a short list of caretakers the next day, and I signed the necessary paperwork that would let him manage my affairs in my absence. Things were now settled enough for me to make Atlantis a semi-permanent move.
“Do you have strong feelings towards pasta?”
“I like spaghetti okay.”
“Not exactly a rousing endorsement, but hey I’ll take it, I know a place that does gluten-free pasta as well, so I eat there a lot when I’m in the city.”
Since his tone was calm, and there was no tension in the way he was holding himself, so I took it not as the brush off it so frequently could be, but as a genuine statement.
I pulled up to the small out of the way restaurant and pulled into the last space in the tiny lot.
Chapter 23: A Dating Corner, and A Letter
When we walked in the hostess greeted me by name and ushered us to a quiet out of the way table and handed Ronon a menu, I was left menuless which made me laugh. After the hostess walked away Ronon gave me a confused look,
“Are we meant to share?”
He gestured to the lone menu and I shook my head,
“No, I just always order the same thing and they know me, so they usually don’t give me one.”
He nodded and flipped open the small menu and scanned it so that when the waitress returned he knew what he wanted. Orders placed and drinks delivered, we were left alone in our quiet softly dim corner, and Ronon scanned the area.
“Its the date corner.”
I informed him calmly fidgeting with the centerpiece,
“They put couples here to give them an intimate space to just be together.”
I studied the small space we were in again and took in this Earth idea of romance; a dimly lit secluded corner draped in soft almost sheer fabrics, with a softly glowing candle in the center of the table.
“This is for romance?”
I asked, and Grace nodded,
“Why did they put us here.”
She sighed heavily and dropped her hands to her lap out of my line of sight,
“Because they are nice people who care about me. Jerrick discovered this place, we used to come here together for almost every important occasion, and sometimes just because. The staff got to know us, several of them were even at his funeral. Then I came in alone, first because it reminded me of Jerrick, and then because I just loved coming here. But they’ve worried about me being alone. So today I come in, with a handsome man, both of us dressed nicely, and me smiling, and they made assumptions. Since they only want me to be happy they are trying to help, hence the date corner.”
“That was kind of them.”
I chose to leave the idea of us courting well alone, especially with the ghosts in her eyes, and she nodded,
“They’re good people, I’m sorry if this is awkward for you, I just wanted to come here before I moved to Atlantis.”
I nodded easily,
“I understand, and it's fine, this is not what courting looks like on Sateda, so I’m not bothered.”
She gave me a curious look,
“Ronon, if it's agreeable to you I would like to talk to you about Sateda, and create records of what you tell me.”
That felt like a kick in the stomach, and I stumbled over it a bit,
“I don’t know.”
Grace nodded easily,
“Let me know if you ever want to do it, it's a standing offer, but I won’t push.”
I appreciated that, and maybe in time I would even appreciate the idea, but now I needed time.
Before I could think of a direction to steer the conversation in that wouldn’t make either of us feel any worse, the waitress was back with a large tray, sliding plates heaped with pasta in front of us, and ending with a glass of wine each,
“We didn’t order wine Charlotte.”
Grace pointed out to the girl who shrugged,
“Bossman said to bring you wine, so I brought you wine. Take it up with him.”
“Thank him for me.”
Charlotte smiled, and ducked out of the little alcove, leaving Grace and I alone again.
I stared at the huge portion that had been set in front of me,
“Who eats this much food?”
I gestured at the plate I was pretty sure could have kept me going for a week while I was running, and Grace laughed softly,
“No one, it's an odd peculiarity of Italian restaurants in America, where the portions are huge, and you take some home and eat it for lunch the next day.”
“Earth is weird.”
Grace nodded agreeably,
“No arguments here. But the leftovers are wonderful.”
I nodded watching her as she twirled pasta around the tines of her fork creating neat little bundles,
“How do you do that?”
She gave me a slightly surprised look, then smiled,
“I’ll show you, it's actually a lot easier than it looks, just takes a bit of practice.”
I watched her hands carefully as she slid some noodles under one tine of her fork, then carefully turned them over themselves, finally pressing the points into the ends to hold the bundle together.
My first attempt was a mess, and Grace smiled encouragingly,
“Too many noodles, try a little less.”
My next attempt was successful if not particularly neat, and Grace nodded at me with an odd smile on her face,
“There you go, I knew you would pick it up easily.”
We finished the meal in peace, and by the time we left Grace had relaxed again, and back in the car, I asked her what was planned for the rest of the week.
“Mostly just getting my property ready to be shut up, hiring a caretaker, maybe some fun excursions. But we’ll play that one by ear. But we can just enjoy a week of not having to worry about being eaten, or something exploding.”
I huffed a bit of a laugh at that,
Grace smiled a bit at me and squeezed my arm gently before turning her focus back to the road stretched out ahead of her.
Driving in the dark has always been a bit hypnotic, and with the addition of Ronon’s steady breathing, the miles between city and home just slipped away, and before I knew it the lights of home were shining out in front of me. I reached over and gently shook Ronon’s shoulder,
“Wake up, we’re here.”
He came alert instantly and relaxed as he took in our surroundings. We walked into the house quietly, until we reached the living room, where I immediately dropped down to the ottoman so I could pull my boots off, and Ronon spoke,
“I’m going to bed, I grabbed this on the way in for you.”
He handed me the bundle of mail he had extricated from my poor overstuffed mailbox and wandered off towards the guest room. I flexed my feet back and forth to work the aches out of them and flipped through what looked to be mostly junk mail or statements of paid bills until I reached the last envelope in the stack. Made of higher quality paper, and packed thickly it showed a D.C. return address. I immediately set the rest of the stack aside and stood with the letter. From my desk, in the corner of the room, I pulled a letter opener and carefully slit open the envelope.
Dear Mrs. Wulf
Our office writes to inform you of the conclusion of our investigation into the death of your husband, we are sorry to inform you that his death was an unforeseeable accident. As such no further action will be taken.
Our condolences on your loss.
My eyes went straight past the copy and pasted email signature of whatever intern had been assigned the unfortunate duty of writing to the difficult widow, and instead read, and reread the letter. Over and over as if that would somehow change the words.
Somehow Jerrick’s death was going to be allowed to pass with no one answering for it. No one answering for the lax safety protocols, the paid off inspectors, the inferior materials. I suppose it would be cheaper to buy a couple elected officials than have every project you had ever worked on placed under intense scrutiny.
I walked into the kitchen carrying the letter with me, bent down and fished beneath the sink until I came up with a box of old kitchen things I had intended to donate before my sudden departure, and calmly set the box and the letter down on the counter. I opened the box, and pulled out the top layer of newspaper wrap, and lifted an ugly coffee mug in my hands. I weighed it in my hands for a second, then clenched the handle in a fist and threw it as hard as I could into the tile of the floor.
The shattering sound it produced was satisfying, but it broke what little control I had over my temper, and I quickly turned back to the box desperate for more things to break.
Chapter 24: Grace Makes Threats, Vala Takes Liberties
I was dozing in bed when the crashing sound jolted me awake. I bolted for the source of the sound, a second crash following closely behind the first. I found Grace standing, barefoot, in the kitchen surrounded by shards of ceramic, a mug held above her head. Before I could say anything she flung the mug into the pile of shards surrounding her, and when it shattered I saw splinters from it hit her legs. I saw a piece of paper sitting next to the box of crockery Grace seemed intent on destroying, I picked it up and scanned it. The reason for her ire was quickly apparent, and I set the letter down and leaned against the wall at the kitchen entrance and watched her vent her rage and pain onto the tiled floors.
At first, she was terribly silent, but soon the yelling started, then the crying, until when she finally broke the last plate and sank to her knees on the shards. She was sobbing great big heaving sobs the kind that filled the room and wracked her small frame. When those sobs faded to small hiccups I grabbed a couple of the small towels from the counter next to me and laid them over the shards littering the floor, and I carefully stepped onto them.
I took the couple of steps necessary to reach Grace and crouched by her side,
“Come on Grace, let me help you.”
She nodded a bit robotically.
I ordered softly and she lifted her arms, allowing me to slip an arm around her back and raise her into my arms. I took her to the living room and laid her gently on the couch. I turned on the light and stretched out her legs so I could examine them for stray shards. Grace didn’t even twitch when I found them and pushed them out before they could embed themselves any deeper under her skin. It was some time before I was confident that I had found them all. I carefully swept them into an empty cup I found on the table.
As soon as I released her legs she curled them into her chest and wrapped shaking arms around them.
“I can’t go back to Atlantis.”
Grace whispered more to her knees than to me, but my heart stopped all the same.
She sighed and rested her chin on her knees fixing me with a steady gaze.
“Because the military broke their agreement. One of the things they promised, in return for kidnapping me out of my home, was that a proper investigation would be performed in my husband’s death. They broke that promise.”
I opened my mouth, shut it, and reconsidered, before finally deciding what I wanted to say.
“Grace maybe they did, and the result was that it was no one’s fault.”
She shook her head emphatically,
“No Jerrick had evidence that they were cutting corners, using unsafe equipment and materials, to save money. I gave the government copies of everything. I gave it to them twice for both investigations. But this is what happens when you can buy members of the government.”
I expected her voice to be angry; she had certainly shown an impressive temper on Atlantis, mostly to Mckay, but instead, her voice was tired and defeated.
“But what does that have to do with you coming back to Atlantis?”
My voice was a little desperate now and she turned her head away from me before she spoke,
“Because they broke our contract, and if I calmly go back to Atlantis now, I will never be taken seriously again. I do a lot of my work for governments, and if they find out they can jerk me around and I’ll take it, I will never be paid for my work again.”
I knew I couldn’t ask her to give up her work, but if she didn’t go back to Atlantis I would have to choose between commitments. My commitment to my team and the fight against the Wraith, and my commitment to Grace, to my culture, to everything I had been taught to value.
“Don’t make any decisions tonight Grace. Sleep, wake up tomorrow and see if you have any options, maybe call that SGC General and see if he can help.”
She nodded, and her grip on her knees loosened just a little, I reached out and squeezed her arm lightly,
“Go change, make sure I didn’t miss any shards. I’ll handle the floor.”
She nodded and stood with her arms still folded across her torso
All I felt was numb.
There had been anger, driving rage, then sorrow pulling me under into the black again, then defeat.
Now there was nothing, it was like I had overloaded, and now all the circuits for my emotions were down.
I went into the bathroom and ran my legs under cold water, then ran my fingers across the tightened skin feeling for any telltale bumps, but Ronon had been thorough. I dried off and dug out a pair of shorts, and an old T-shirt I had once upon a time bought for Jerrick; only to then steal it from him to wear myself. I also found an old pair of leg warmers worn soft. I wrapped my shoulders in a crocheted blanket and made my way back to the couch.
Ronon was already sitting on one end of the couch, a faraway look in his eyes, and I curled up on the other end toying with the edge on my blanket watching him watch nothing.
I couldn’t tell you how long we stayed like that, but I woke up the next morning wrapped in my blanket curled into the arm of the couch, and Ronon sitting in the chair beside the couch with a book in his hands.
I pushed myself up into a sitting position, and stretched my arms, and Ronon looked up at me,
“Morning. How are you?”
I curled up a little bit,
“I’m not sure, you?”
He shrugged, and closed the book setting it aside.
“What do you want to do?”
I sighed heavily,
“Make some coffee, and then some phone calls. Maybe threaten a general.”
I offered a small smile, and Ronon returned one of his own, though it was almost a baring of teeth more than a smiled. I tracked down the only contact number I had for the SGC, and once I was sitting down with a cup of coffee I put the phone in the center of the table, turned on speakerphone, and punched in the number.
said the voice on the other end of the phone, and Ronon’s definitely bared his teeth just a little at that one.
“Daniel, its Grace.”
There was the faintest sound of scrambling, and then his voice came back on the line.
“Grace, what can I do for you?”
I sighed a bit,
“Daniel, there's a problem with my work for the Atlantis mission, the American government didn’t keep their end of the deal.”
There were some definite sounds of scrambling now,
He asked in a leading tone,
“Meaning that the government is in breach of contract and unless this is dealt with I will not be returning to Atlantis at the end of the week.”
I didn’t know what to say to Grace, I had handled tricky negotiations before, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of room for negotiating here.
“What part of your contract Grace?”
I asked carefully, hoping there was something in there I could fix,
“They were meant to conduct an above-board investigation into my husband’s death. That did not happen.”
I fought the urge to groan, I had been really hoping for something simple like a misplaced decimal on a bonus check, but this was a much bigger problem.
“They may not have finished the investigation yet?”
I offered a little desperately, but her reply blew that one away,
“ Dear Mrs. Wulf
Our office writes to inform you of the conclusion of our investigation into the death of your husband, we are sorry to inform you that his death was an unforeseeable accident. As such, no further action will be taken.
Our condolences on your loss.
And before you suggest that this is the truth, and I just don’t want to see it, I have evidence from Jerrick, evidence that I have handed over both times.”
I let the silence hang there mentally running through every obscene word in every language I knew,
“Okay, Grace send me what you have, and I’ll see what I can do with it.”
I gave her my email address and listened for the click of the phone hanging up before printing off the email and leaving my office.
It took me about five minutes to make my way to General Landry’s office, and in the first lucky bit of all of this, he was alone,
“Dr. Jackson! What can I do for you?”
“We have a problem.”
General Landry sighed and spoke without setting down the file he was reading from,
“Of course we do. What’s the crisis of the day?”
“We are about to lose Grace Wulf.”
The file dropped to his desk top,
“That is a problem. What happened.”
I handed him the pages, and he flipped through it furrowing his brow.
“Well I understand why she’s upset. But we don’t control the Department of Justice.”
“I know, but she feels that if she cannot rely on the government to keep their word, then she can’t continue her work. She hasn’t signed the long term contract yet, so if she decides not to come back there would be nothing we could do, short of kidnapping her again.”
He nodded and looked tired,
“Leave it with me I’ll make some calls.”
I headed back to my office and buried my face in my hands when I heard footprints in the doorway,
“Why so glum Daniel?”
Vala, perfect, just what my day needed,
“There is one person who is closest to being an expert on the Wraith in two galaxies, and she is about to quit the program because dealing with life-sucking aliens is less important to some government hacks than some protected stooge being able to pay off his mistress.”
I felt her hands slide across my shoulder, and tensed up before deciding I didn’t have the energy to fight with her today and just let her be.
Her fingers kneading at the tense muscles in my shoulders didn’t even feel bad, and if not for the fact that I knew she was going to use this to take further liberties I might even be enjoying it.
“Did you talk to Landry?”
I nodded and she squeezed the muscles right where my neck met my shoulders, and I exhaled deeply,
“Well he’ll fix it then.”
I envied Vala’s certainty that things would just work out, simply because she wanted them to.
“I hope so.”
I muttered, I was way too busy with the Ori; to learn and then teach Wraith. We needed Grace.
Vala leaned more fully into my back,
“You know I could help you take your mind off it.”
I stood up abruptly shaking her hands off,
“Nope. No thank you.”
She gave me an analyzing glance,
“Well your loss.”
I rolled my eyes,
“I’ll try to live with my disappointment. Go find someone else to play with.”
She waved her fingers at me before sashaying out of my office, leaving me annoyed, and bothered.
Grace hung up the phone and rubbed her hands over her face,
“Will you come back?”
She looked at me,
“If they do something, or at least put it in place so I can keep up with it from Atlantis, yes. I want to go back, for what little that's worth.”
It was worth something to me, but that was worth very little here,
“So what do we do?”
I asked, and she tried for a smile,
“We go on as if I was going back to Atlantis with you.”
Chapter 25: Running Away From It
Sorry for the long absence, I had a lot going on and got into a funk, I would open up my document and just stare at it, willing myself to write words that weren't coming to me.
But here is a chapter, and hopefully I am fully free of the funk and there will be more to come!
Things were awkward between Ronon and I after answered him, I knew it wasn’t the answer he wanted, but unfortunately, it was all I had for him at the moment. He watched me carefully as if hoping I would start laughing and assure him that of course, I was going back to Atlantis, and truth be told I wanted to, but not at the cost of the rest of my life.
The silence stretched between us its awkward tension cutting into the easy rhythm we had found between us until finally he sighed and looked away.
I touched his shoulder briefly as I walked away from the table to seclude myself in my room and make a start on sorting through my things. I found myself constantly glancing at the door hoping Ronon would walk in and tell me he understood, but the door stayed stubbornly closed.
After an hour I gave it up as a bad job, I was spending more time watching the door than I was sorting anything. So I walked out into the living room, with a question on my lips only to find the living room empty. I stood there trying to work myself up to knock on the door of the guest bedroom when I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and when I turned there was Ronon sitting on the deck and watching the woods wave slowly in the wind.
I slid back the pane of glass between the living room and the deck and stepped softly outside.
Of course, his head snapped around as soon as my foot touched the wood.
“I was looking for you.”
He turned back to scenery silently and I walked slowly to my chair waiting for him to tell me to go away, when he didn’t I sat drawing my legs to me.
“I thought maybe we could go for a drive? I know some pretty spots. Maybe take a break from the city.”
“If you want.”
I sighed a little and stood up, after a long moment he followed me through the house, and out to the car.
I kept the windows down as the car moved, and with my head leaned against the inside of the door on my side and it almost smelled like the woods on Sateda, and when we stopped the vehicle in the dappled shade of a clearing, and Grace held her hand out to me as she shouldered a bag and walked towards a trailhead.
I followed her ignoring her hand and she kept her face carefully blank as she walked beside me on the trail.
With the trees closed around us, everything felt a little further away and it felt a little more like I could breathe. The silence between us grew less strained, Grace smiled at me a bit hesitantly before making a sharp turn off the path, I followed her into the trees, and she trailed her fingers along the trunks of the trees surrounding us, stepped over roots without looking at them, and it was perhaps the most at home I had seen her.
A few minutes later the air through the trees started to carry the faint smell of water, and soon we burst back into full sunlight, and there in front of us was a small lake surrounded only by the stillness of the woods.
“I know it won’t solve anything, but I thought maybe for the afternoon we could run away from it?”
The look she gave me over her shoulder was shy, but her smile was inviting, and I nodded,
“We can try.”
She smiled a little more openly,
“Do you like to swim?”
“Never really came up.”
“ Can you swim?”
Her tone was a bit incredulous at this point, and I shrugged again,
“I can not drown.”
She shook her head emphatically,
“That won’t do, at all, we live on an island city, do you trust me?”
Feeling a bit better at her use of the current tense of live, I nodded easily, and she all but beamed, before digging in the large bag she had slung over her shoulders and handing me a bundle of clothes,
“Here are some swim clothes, go into the trees and change, I promise I’ll keep watch.”
Her voice was serious but laughter danced over the rest of her face, I rolled my eyes at her and snatched the clothes.
“Fine be right back.”
She nodded easily and turned her back to the trees I wandered into.
I turned my back as Ronon wandered into the trees, casting a glance around me before dropping my bag and pulling out an old sheet to spread on the sand. I toed off my sneakers before shrugging out of the old sundress I wore over my bathing suit, and digging out the sunblock, I heard the rustle of a body through tree limbs and jerked around to see Ronon walking towards me.
I swallowed and told myself it had nothing to do with Ronon being half-dressed and focusing all of his considerable attention on me.
I offered, hoping that the heat on my cheeks was the sun and not the blush I was trying to avoid,
“Nah I’m good. Want me to do your back?”
I handed him the tube and turned around now well aware the heat was, in fact, a blush, and that it was getting worse, I felt Ronon’s hands, warm and strong, spread the thick paste and work it into my skin, when he reached the tops of my shoulders I twisted my hair up and fought the urge to sigh at the feeling of his hands on the tense muscles of the back of my neck, after a moment that seemed both impossibly long and far too short the hands lifted away.
“You already said that.”
“Sunburn is awful so it bears saying twice.”
I quickly finished off with the rest of the sunscreen, and turned towards the water holding a hand out to Ronon,
He took my hand, nodded and like that we walked into the shallows.
The water grew deeper gradually and when it came up to about my shoulders I stopped moving.
“Okay let's see it.”
He raised the scarred eyebrow at me,
“Let’s see you ‘not drown’”
He rolled his eyes and walked a few steps further before pushing himself into the water, and doing some motion that seemed to be the mutant offspring of a doggy paddle and a breaststroke. I struggled for a second to not laugh,
“I think that is the first time I have ever seen you not look like a badass.”
He gave me a grumpy look,
“You do it then.”
I grinned at him and decided to take the opportunity to show off, I took a deep breath before slipping beneath the surface of the lake, I swam in a tight circle around his legs before pushing off the bottom and letting the momentum carry me out into deeper water, I pulled a lazy freestyle stroke for a few yards, before turning back to Ronon and using the momentum to transition into a butterfly, then flowed into a few yards of breaststroke before coasting back to him in a lazy backstroke.
He commented dryly, and I splashed water in his directions,
“Want to learn?”
“I’ve got nothing better to do.”
That got a laugh out of me and I let my feet drift to the floor of the lake,
“Let’s start with floating.”
The look that got me was bordering on disgusted, but I ignored it and went on,
“Hold one arm out.”
He complied, and I stepped so my back was lined up with his forearm,
“I’m going to lay across your arm and float so you get an idea of how your muscles will need to work to do it, okay?”
He nodded and tried very hard to look bored, but I could see him paying attention, I laid back slowly and floated on the surface of the water for a few moments, then let my feet drift back down.
“Okay, ready to try?”
I held my arms up and he stepped side face to me, I laid one arm behind his back and pressed the other hand to his sternum,
“Okay now just let your feet drift up and relax back.”
He shot me his patented look that questioned my sanity, before hesitantly leaning a bit. When he was at the point where he was just barely balanced under his own power, I swept his feet out from under him, while pushing him with the hand against his sternum. When he sank briefly under the surface, I tightened my grip to steady him,
“Relax, you’re not going to drown, let your arms and legs float, arch your back, come on.”
He spluttered a couple of times, and I dropped my other arm from his chest to the back of his legs to give him a bit more support.
When I spoke to him I did it in low soothing tones,
“You’re okay, you are not going to drown, even if I would let that happen, which I wouldn’t, you can stand up here. You are completely safe.”
It took several more minutes before he relaxed into the water, and managed to barely float, and I clapped for him, which seemed to be the moment he realized I wasn’t supporting him anymore. He shot me a look before setting his feet back down.
“Now I’ll teach you a couple of basic strokes, and we’ll head out to deeper water to practice.”
I proceeded to make a fool of myself miming the arm motions for a basic freestyle stroke, and for a version of breaststroke best suited to swimming underwater.
He watched me intently, before leaning forward into the water and pushing off, the floating lesson had given him an idea of how to hold himself in the water, and after a few yards of awkwardness, he had the basics.
I pushed myself after him and we swam in the general direction of deeper water when we got to the center of the lake I pulled up,
“Alright let’s do treading water, and then I will deem you reasonably competent.”
That earned me a wall of water swept towards me, which I ducked under, and surface again laughing.
Ronon was swimming in circles around me watching the way I was moving my arms and legs in coordination with each other,
“Doesn’t look too hard.”
His first try lead to him capsizing completely, and he did not seem amused by my laughing at him, but as expected, it only took him a couple of attempts to put it all together.
I took that opportunity to launch myself at him, and push him under the surface of the water, which kicked off us playing in the water, chasing and dunking, at one point Ronon even swept me up into his arms and threw me into the water.
Unfortunately, I wore out fairly quickly, so before long I swam towards the shallows where I could sit in the water and watch as Ronon swam back and forth. I amused myself by calling out tips and encouragements and fell over into gales of laughter when one of them earned me a raised middle finger.
I caught his attention and waved over my head for him to come into shore.
“You’re going to feel that later, let’s not overdo it. Hungry?”
He nodded easily looking far more relaxed than he had since my phone call with Daniel.
“Come on, we’ll dry off and go get some food.”
When we stood I stumbled, and he reached for my hand to steady me, and for the first time, there was no hesitation in the motion. It made me feel a bit funny, riding the fractured wave of so many emotions, contentment, safety, guilt, grief, all broke over me at the same time, and I tightened my grip around his hand schooling myself to accept his help, and his place in my life.
Chapter 26: Daniel Gets Slapped. Grace Stands Her Ground. Ronon Grapples With Cultural Differences
Grace smiled at me, and if there seemed to be just a touch of sadness in it I let it go, after all, we were running away today.
Once back on the shore we toweled off quickly, and she threw her dress on over her, I shrugged into a shirt, and after we laced our shoes up I reached my hand back for hers and fought the smile when her small hand laced with mine. We wandered back to the path, and eventually out of the trees altogether, the car was quiet until we were back on the main road when out of nowhere Grace asked me a question,
“Will you tell me something about Sateda?”
I turned the question over in my head, trying to think of something I could tell her that wouldn’t open up a whole mess of things I was in no way ready to deal with.
“People would cook over fires outside, not because they had to, but because they could, it was a traditional thing, and whole communities would come together and contribute.”
Grace turned to me a small pleased smile on her face,
“Do you miss it?”
“I’ve never come across another planet that did things like that just because they could, because they took joy in it, not because they had to.”
She turned on the music, the CD she made for me still loaded up began playing exactly where it had left off, and the smile stayed on her face as we drove.
We stopped at a roadside restaurant that had “shack” in the name, for giant burgers, and it was dark when we pulled back up in Grace’s yard.
Daniel Jackson of the SGC was sitting on her porch swing, and I watched every relaxed line in her body go tense.
~Daniel Jackson POV~
I had been sitting on the porch of Grace’s quiet rural home for almost an hour when headlights came down the drive, and as I stood Ronon stepped out of the car and never taking his eyes off me he circled the vehicle, opened Grace’s door, and kept her behind him as they walked up the drive.
“What’s going on Daniel?”
Grace asked me stress showing clearly on her face as she moved to stand beside Ronon on the porch.
“I’ve been sent to bring you back to the SGC, they have some papers for you to sign.”
She shook her head emphatically,
“No. I’m not going anywhere. If the papers are so important they can come here.”
I sighed and made sure to keep one eye on Ronon and the stairs to one side.
“It's not really a request Grace.”
She waved me off,
“Of course its a request, I have completed my contracted work to this point, despite the United States Government not living up to their end, and I am not contracted for any more work with the United States Government. At this point, everything is a request. Now I assume you know the way back to town?”
She looked at the stairs pointedly before looking back at me.
“Grace you can come with me while I’m asking nicely, or who they send tomorrow won’t ask.”
She drew herself up to her full height, which brought her almost to my chin, and gave me a look that if she had any psychic power would have killed me where I stood,
“Are you announcing the intentions of the United States Military to kidnap me again?”
I raised my hands placatingly
“Grace, please listen to me.”
She folded her arms across her chest and raised one eyebrow at me.
I was willing to let him talk because I knew that the comment about not playing nice was no idle threat, and I was hoping he would either tell me what was coming for me or drop enough hints that I could figure it out for myself. Whatever it was I didn’t plan on waiting around for it to happen.
“Grace the program needs you. You’re the only Wraith expert in two galaxies…”
I held up a hand to stop him mid-sentence,
“First, that is not true, I am sure the Wraith have any number of Wraith experts, and Dr. Mckay manages. But more importantly, your lack of friendly expertise is not my problem.”
He took a deep breath and held it for several seconds before letting it out.
“Fine, what is it going to take Grace. Explicitly.”
I tossed my hair back over my shoulder and stepped into his personal space,
“I want the company that killed my husband sanctioned, harshly and publicly. I don’t care what news story you attach to it. I never want the United States military, or the IOC, or the Stargate Program to send a representative to my home again, unless they were specifically invited, and as an apology for all the crap I have been put through, the threats, the breach of contract, what have you, I want a ten percent raise.”
His eyes were a little wide,
“The raise, fine I have been authorized to offer that, The visits I would add an addendum that unless we believed you to be in danger, or have been unable to contact you through preferred channels.”
I silently stared at him for a moment to see how quickly he would start to squirm, before nodding sharply
He sighed and pointed at the porch swing,
I rolled my eyes,
“Why ask now?”
I muttered waving him to the swing and moving to lean against the rail, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Ronon move to lean against the stair railing effectively cutting off Daniel’s escape.
“I can’t promise you the sanctions, Grace. We don’t control the Justice Department, and they’ve been unwilling to cooperate.”
“I don’t care if the President himself hands down the sanctions, no sanctions, no deal.”
“Grace I understand that you’re angry and that you’re grieving, but you need to be realistic, I can’t order around the President. I’m sure your husband wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life angry over his death…”
He trailed off after I slapped him, and with all the trees around the property, the sound lingered around us.
“Get off my property Daniel, and never again presume to speak for him.”
Ronon grabbed Daniel firmly by the jacket and hauled him down the stairs, before giving him a shove in the direction of the driveway.
I stood with one hand pressed over my mouth while Ronon kept advancing towards Daniel until he finally turned and left.
~Daniel Jackson POV~
At the end of the driveway I raised one hand to touch the stinging handprint on my face, getting slapped was more Jack’s thing and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it, I rolled my bike out from its hiding place, pushed on the helmet and started back down the road to town. I had a room in town, and a phone call to make that I suspected was going to hurt worse than the print currently bruising across my face. The leader of the free world was being manipulated by a Linguist with a grudge and the cunning to make herself utterly indispensable.
The worst part was, he was going to have to cave.
“Pack a bag Ronon, we are going on a road trip.”
“Where are we going?”
I grinned at him a little tightly,
“Cheyenne Mountain most likely.”
He nodded agreeably,
The next couple of hours were spent packing and loading things in the vehicle, and it was coming up on eight pm when we finally secured the front door and headed down the drive.
The first stop was the local women’s shelter to drop off the groceries we wouldn’t need, and the sight of Ronon hauling boxes caused something of a stir, but cast a couple of confused looks around on the first trip, and caught me at the car before the second,
“Did I break some tradition?”
I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck,
“No, you didn’t do anything, it's the place. This is a women’s shelter, they provide a place to stay and food to women who are fleeing dangerous situations, most of them are running from husbands who beat them, you are a large, intimidating man, and you make them a bit nervous.”
His face showed stark horror,
“What will happen to the men?”
I sighed and shook my head,
“Most often nothing. The women who report abuse are often treated horribly and blamed for what they’ve suffered, and the law leans strongly in favor of the husbands. So they pack a bag in the middle of the night, grab their kids, and get into a vehicle idling at the corner, and run for their lives.”
He was obviously horrified,
“On Sateda a man who beat his wife was punished severely, it was a violation of all we held dear. That was one grunt assignment no on ever grumbled about.”
I smiled a little sadly,
“I wish it was the same way here.”
He nodded and hefted the next box.
When he walked inside again, he was careful to give the women space and seemed to be making an effort to look un-intimidating. It wasn't working, but the effort was sweet. He smiled at a couple of kids playing in the hall, and that grin was only a little sharp, but they smiled back and waved at him.
On the way back out Ronon was stopped by a little girl pulling on his fingers, he crouched down to be on her level and offered her a smile,
She held out a headless doll in one hand, and the head in the other, a silent plea on her face. Ronon took both and studied them for a second before carefully popping the head back on and handing the doll back to the little girl.
Her face split in a grin and she flung her arms around his neck. His face went soft and he patted her back gently with one huge hand.
A frantic voice called out and the girl giggled.
“I think mom’s looking for you little one.”
Ronon nudged her gently and was just standing up when a frantic woman tore into the room and snatched the little girl up,
“How many times do I have to tell you not to run away like that?”
The little girl held the doll up emphatically and the woman’s face softened,
“Who fixed her?”
She pointed at Ronon who was now looking distinctly uncomfortable with his attempts to not appear threatening.
“Thank you, I’m sorry she bothered you.”
He shook his head,
“She was no bother.”
He smiled softly and the woman looked a bit more at ease,
“Say bye Kayley.”
The little girl waved happily over her mother’s shoulder as they walked away, and Ronon’s face was pensive as we got into the car and out onto the road.
Chapter 27: The Long Road Home (Part 1)
This whole road trip thing was supposed to be one chapter....That is not what happened
The car was silent save for the soft sounds of the radio as we headed down a dark highway, I was trying not to think, and Grace seemed to be giving me space.
Sateda would never have needed a place like that, a man who abused his family was the one to lose everything, and people rarely felt inclined to help such people, particularly after they had been marked. It made me long for Sateda just a little more than normal, and that naturally turned my thoughts to Melena. Grace hummed quietly, and that caught my attention, I thought that perhaps she was hoping I would speak to her, but upon studying her for a moment it seemed she was simply enjoying the music, content to let me be. That twisted somewhere deep, and I was reminded of Melena pleading and cajoling me to tell her what was on my mind whenever silence stretched between us. I sighed and let my head thunk lightly against the glass of the window. I felt Grace’s hand squeeze mine a little,and the sea of emotions I was drifting on calmed just enough for me to surface.
“I’m sorry our trip came down to this.”
I turned to study her and even in profile I could tell she meant it,
“Do you never just say things?”
She blinked at that, casting me a quick look over her shoulder before turning her attention back to the road,
“What do you mean?”
“Do you ever just say things to be polite, or because you’re expected to, even though you don’t mean them?”
She shrugged a bit,
“Rarely, and never with a friend, why do you ask?”
“Most people say things, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who doesn’t, and isn’t bothered by the silence that grows from it. Even I say things sometimes because I’m supposed to.”
“For a while after Jerrick died I didn’t say anything, now I only bother if theres something to say.”
I rubbed my hand along the thumb that was still holding mine.
“I don’t mind the trip, this whole thing was mostly about you taking care of what you needed anyway.”
She shot me an odd look, and chewed a little on her lower lip silently.
“I didn’t intend to drag you along on a trip that would be unpleasant for you.”
Is what she finally settled on, and I chuckled,
“I didn’t say I wasn’t enjoying myself, I said this trip was primarily about you.”
She nodded and let her lower lip free,
She turned the car towards the next exit off the highway, and then pulled into a well lit parking lot,
“Snack break, come on I’ll show you vending machines.”
She laughed a little, dug a small pouch out of a compartment, and waved me out of the car.
She walked to a window that seemed to stand on its own with food and drinks behind the glass,
“What strikes your fancy?”
She smiled at me,
She dropped some coins into the slot and punched a couple of buttons and a small twist of metal revolved and spat out a chocolate bar, Grace quickly bought her own snack, then dug them out of the bucket hidden in the base, then stepped to the next machine down, and we repeated the process with drinks, and then Grace took over a large picnic table with a map.
“Now I’m sure the Airforce is expecting me to go this way.”
She muttered tracing a finger across the map, from the starting point marked ‘Salem’
“That would keep us to mostly back roads, and small towns, which is, I’m sure, what they expect someone trying to hide to do. But I think we should go this way,straight down the coast to San Francisco, be a bit touristy, then turn through Nevada, stops in Reno, and Vegas maybe, until we hit Colorado Springs. Disappear in crowds. What do you think Ronon?”
“Its a solid idea, they’re more likely to play by the rules if they’re being watched.”
She nodded with a smile,
“Excellent there’s a tattoo place in San Fran I’ve been dying to check out. Think you could handle a side trip?”
I nodded, curious about Earth tattoos, and she smiles happily
“Good you can hold my hand.”
She folded her map up and gestured to me,
We climbed back into the car, and turned it back to the highway.
Four hours of hypnotic lights and swaying motions from the car, Grace pulled off the road again,
“I need some sleep, let’s find somewhere to crash.”
The sign board said Medford, and just off the highway was a neon sign that read motel.
Grace yawned and pulled the car we were driving into the very back of the lot, backing in to conceal the plat on the rear of the vehicle. I grabbed the overnight bags and wrapped an arm around Grace all but supporting her into the building.
We walked into the lobby and the person behind the counter went from sleepy to jumpy almost immediately
“One room please, and we need to check in unlisted.”
The clerk nodded,
“I need an ID and credit card.”
Grace dug her wallet out still leaning heavily against me, and handed two cards over the counter,
“Ms. Wulf, and...guest. PLeasure to have you with us.”
Grace accepted the three cards handed back to her, and pulled out a piece of paper marked twenty,
“If anyone comes looking for us, call the room and let us know? Unsupportive families, you know how it is.”
The clerk nodded eagerly,
“Of course. Sleep well.”
Grace waved a little and directed me to the long corridor, and at the far end next to an exterior exit door she swiped the key card and opened the door to a room that bore a striking similarity to our quarters back in Atlantis, it almost made me homesick.
“I’m going to shower first if you don’t mind?”
I shook my head and perched on the end of the bed as Grace disappeared into the bathroom.
She showered quickly, and was soon walking out dressed in pj’s and drying her hair.
“What did you say to the clerk that made them help us without being suspicious?”
Grace sighed heavily,
“So much ugliness in our world. Some absolutely moronic people hold the opinion that people of darker skin tones are worth less than paler people, its particularly rampant in small towns, so when I said we had unsupportive families, it allowed her to infer we were running because we are in love, and our families are forbidding it because we are ‘different colors’”
The last was said in a scornful tone and accompanied by sarcastic finger quotes.
“It was a risk to take because if she had the same opinions she would have tossed us out on our ears, but she was reading Othello, so I took a chance. She’s probably in the lobby now composing our great tragic love story.”
Grace rolled her eyes, and I would have found it funny if my brain wasn’t stuck back on people being bothered by something as incidental as skin color.
“What is wrong with your world?”
I asked torn between incredulous and exasperated,
“A lot, it's more broken than not broken, too many generations of safety and the ability to generate more wealth than we could ever possibly need have made us petty and sniping. So we fight whole wars and destroy whole cultures over the stupidest most arbitrary reasons.”
She sighed and set the towel down before slumping to the bed next to me.
“That’s one of the things I loved about the Pegasus Galaxy, this sort of thing was so simple there, it was just humans and wraith.”
I added, thinking of our own band of prejudiced people. Grace nodded,
“Well you get your crazies in any population. There are some beautiful things about our world, and there have been through history amazing acts of humanity, and even with all the prejudice there are the quiet daily acts of neighbor helping neighbor, but as a whole, as a system, it's very broken.”
I nodded, patted Grace’s shoulder gently and headed in for my own shower.
I took the opportunity of Ronon’s shower to claim my side of the large bed, that I knew from experience would feel much smaller after a six-foot-something Satedan was in it, I battered my pillows into place and snagged the remote from the bedside table and turned on the TV. I was zoning out to Beast Master rerun when Ronon opened the bathroom door pouring steam into the room.
“You look comfortable.”
I smiled a bit,
“Not bad really, we can change the TV if you want?”
He shook his head, walked around to his side of the bed and snagged a pillow, tossed it on the floor and began opening doors to storage options in the room,
“What ya doing?”
“Looking for another blanket.”
It clicked for then why the pillow was on the ground,
“You don’t have to sleep on the floor Ronon I am really not that delicately constituted. Though I will warn you, I seek warmth in my sleep, so you may be cuddled.”
He huffed a laugh at that and tossed the pillow back on the bed,
“I’ll survive I’m sure.”
He flung himself gracefully onto his pillow, turned off the light on his side table, and seemed to simply will himself to sleep. I turned off my own light, turned down the volume of the TV and closed my eyes to try and rest as much as possible.
The room being bright with sunlight was the first thing I noticed when I woke up the next morning, the second thing was Ronon’s arm pulled under my cheek, that realization had me bolting awake.
“Sorry about that.”
I murmured as I pushed myself up and off his arm and brushed my hair back from my face.
“Let me go splash some water on my face and get dressed and we can hit the road.
He nodded quietly gently moving his arm back and forth as if to wake it up.
I splashed cold water on my face, and dressed in a pair of soft yoga pants and a t-shirt for optimal driving comfort, when I came out of the bathroom Ronon was dressed in jeans and a shirt and leather vest.
He nodded easily and grabbed my bag along with his as we headed out the door. I dropped the room key off at reception and ten minutes later we were turning back onto the highway south to San Francisco.
Traffic was light on the I-5 and we made good time, with a breakfast stop it was just over six and a half hours of travel time.
Travelling with Ronon was easy, he was quiet without being stand offish, and willing to talk if I wanted, he was good about popping caps on drink bottles and opening snacks so they were easy for me to grab one handed, and when we were seated at the little mom and pop diner waiting on our food he had used those large strong hands to press the kinks and knots out of mine when I was having trouble grasping my silverware, his taste in music was decent and he didn’t feel the need to have it cranked as loud as possible, in short he was the ideal road trip companion.
When we hit the city limits and it was time to search for a hotel a thought suddenly hit me,
“Ronon any issues with same sex relationships I should know about?”
He gave me an odd look,
“No, why? Is that another weird Earth predjudice?”
“That is, and I’m about to use it to our advantage.”
He snorted out a laugh,
“Going to pretend to be a man so we can play star crossed lovers again?”
That made me laugh so hard I almost had to pull over.
“I wasn’t thinking about going that far. San Francisco has a section of the city which is a pretty famous gay hotspot, I was thinkiking we could get a hotel there, because the military tries to actively pretend gay people don’t exist, so it might not occur to them to look there. I was planning to keep the star crossed lovers ruse going unless you have an objection?”
He shook his head,
“No it doesn’t bother me.”
I chose not to read too far into that statement and let it lie between us.
“Still want to see an Earth tattoo?”
He nodded a more eager expression on his face and I smiled.
We found a hotel and repeated the check in procedure,checking in unlisted, playing the couple escaping the disapproving parents, and tipping the staff to let us know if someone came around asking questions.
Once in the room I called the tattoo artist I was so interested in, and was even lucky enough to pick up an appointment for that night that someone had dropped out of.
A change of clothes and one stop at a taco truck later and we walked hand in hand, as was becoming our habit, into a small dark building with blacked out windows and a small script sign reading Aphotic Tattoos and Piercing.
I braced myself as I pulled open the door expecting blasting rock music,but was pleasantly surprised to hear soft haunting string music instead. I approached the prominent counter and smiled at the purple haired girl behind it,
“Hi I have an appointment with Ashley.”
She handed me a clipboard and took my ID,
“She’ll be out in a minute.”
I sat on the low couch and filled in all the pertinent information, I was just finishing up when a woman with long silvery hair came through the curtain and sat next to me laying a sketch pad across her legs, and holding out her hand to me,
“Hi I’m Ashley, what were you thinking of today?
I dug out two worn folded pieces of paper from my bag and smoothed them out across my legs and handed them to her,
“I want this, inside of this...”
I indicated first the drawing of a vegvísir, and then the rendering of Jörmungandr.
“Over the top of my shoulder.”
She smiled and reached for the two pieces of paper,
“Why don’t you go grab a coffee or something, and I’ll draw something up, give me thirty minutes?”
“Thanks see you then.”
Ronon and I walked about half a block down the street for a couple of teas to go and wandered back towards the studio.
When we got inside the receptionist ushered us back behind the curtain and Ashley waved us over to a station,
“Here you go tell me what you think.”
She handed me her sketch pad and I looked down at the tangible result of an idea that had been playing in my head for quite some time, it was overwhelming and perfect, and somehow a little bit heart breaking.
I showed the design to Ronon who was leaning over my shoulder curiously as Ashley started fidgeting with a tray of equipment.
“Okay go ahead and take off your sweater and get comfortable while I print a stencil and then we’re good to go.”
Ronon looks at me,
“You look nervous.”
I nodded and took a big gulp of my tea,
“I am, I’ve been thinking about this tattoo for a long time, and I’m a little nervous the reality won’t measure up.”
“That’s understandable, but there’s only one way to find out.”
The conversation ended as AShley came back and positioned my arm so she could lay the stencil, after I confirmed the placement, she picked up the machine,
“Okay, we're going to start with a small line so you can see how it feels, ready?”
I nodded a bit hesitantly and flinched a the sound coming from the machine, then the needle touched my arm and I had to fight the urge to laugh, while it was certainly uncomfortable, and would definitely get worse as the tattoo went on it was hardly the agony I had been promised.
Ashley pulled the machine away from my arm and looked at me,
I nodded decisively,
Ronon watched curiously as the design was etched and inked into my skin.
Two hours later Ashley lifted the machine away and wiped my arm down,
“We’re done, let me clean you up and you can look in the mirror before I bandage it.”
I tried not to wiggle impatiently as she carefully cleaned away the blood and excess ink, and finally she stepped away, and Ronon offered me his hand so I could stand easily, I stepped over to the full length mirror and gasped as I took in the sight of the ink, I could feel tears in my eyes.
“Its perfect, so much better than I ever imagined. Thank you.”
I turned away and the shop assistant came over to bandage my shoulder and take care of the final payment and make sure I had all the paperwork I needed, at one point I looked up to see Ronon in conversation with Ashley, then again to see him disappearing behind another curtain, by the time I was done figuring out twenty percent of my tattoo for a tip he was back standing next to me.
“Don’t forget to tip for whatever that was.”
He nodded, walked off again, spoke to the girl behind the counter, then reappeared beside me.
“Well that was fun.”
Ronon gave me his version of an excited grin, and the older lady walking next to us clutched her purse a little tighter.
“Are you good with room service tonight? I want to go lay down.”
Ronon nodded, and the rest of the night was easy, food brought to the room, some sci-fi western on TV, and the laughter at the pillow wall I built to prevent me from rolling onto the fresh ink on my shoulder, and eventually we drifted off to sleep in the soft TV light.
Chapter 28: The SGC Interlude
When I arrived at the mountain it was in chaos, chaos controlled in the military way of we gave it an acronym so therefore we control it, and General Landry was in the control room arguing with both Dr. Weir and John Shepard through an open wormhole when I slipped in quietly behind him.
“What do you mean you’ve lost them?”
Shepard’s voice cut across the others in the room,
“I mean we do not know where they are! Your man has gone AWOL!”
Landry’s voice was harsh, and the set of his shoulders said fight and I had inched forward enough to see that posture mimicked on the screen to Atlantis.
“Ronon can’t go AWOL he is not a member of our military, he is a guest of our facility and free to leave at any time, the same goes for Grace Wulf! No General I have asked before and I will ask again. What. Did. You. Do?”
I felt a hand on my shoulder,
“Ten bucks on Weir Danny-Boy?”
“Hello Jack. Done being in time out?”
“Nobody likes a wise guy Daniel.”
Jack retorted the ghost of his old smile on his face,
“I got busted down a pay grade, and had to take a couple seminars, all very PC.”
Jack seemed to take that in the same stride he had taken so much else over the years, and truly the U.S. government would have to break several of their own laws to come up with something new to do to Jack.
“I see while I was being lectured on the value of professionalism, some stooge managed to go behind my back and make a mess of things.”
I turned to him then, as Landry and Weir continued to argue the finer points of the meaning of the phrases “AWOL” and “enlisted”, and his eyes went a little wide at the bruise on my cheek,
“Who clocked you Daniel?”
Jack smiled almost fondly,
“She is a vicious little thing. What’d you do?”
I sighed heavily,
“I told her that her dead husband would want her to move on.”
Jack winced visibly,
“Bad move Danny-boy, now let’s go break up that fight and see if we can accomplish something today.”
Jack muscled his way to the front of the crowd, and both of us stood in the view of the camera.
“General O’Neill, it is still General isn’t it, how can we help you?”
Jack smiled a little wryly at that,
“Pleasure to see you too Elizabeth.”
They gave each other unpleasant looks for a moment, before I spoke.
“Dr. Wulf has made her terms for returning to service very clear.”
Landry looked at me,
“Were you able to move her off the sanctions?”
I turned my head to display the bruise across my cheek,
“No, she wasn’t open to negotiations.”
Weir bristled immediately,
“If anyone has hurt Grace Wulf….”
But strangely enough it was Shepard who calmed her down,
“Ronon wouldn’t let anything happen to her.”
“What about what happened to my man?”
Landry blustered at the lower ranked man, who only observed him coolly.
“I’d say he got off pretty easy, Grace may have marked him, but if he had been a genuine threat to her, Ronon would have taken him apart.”
I shrugged and let that go, he was right, it’s not like hand to hand combat had ever been any specialty of mine.
“He’s got a point General. Daniel got lippy and Dr. Wulf reminded him of his manners. Let’s not get overly excited.”
Jack spoke in a low soothing tone one typically would use on a skittish animal, and for a second it seemed like Landry was going to call him on it, but the General had obviously had enough of all of us.
“Fine, you deal with them Jack. After all, you're the one who brought in the crazy linguist in the first place!”
“Are you formally handing these negotiations over to me General Landry?”
He nodded riding the tide of his temper.
“I am! Take them and good riddance!”
Landry stormed out in the general direction of his office, muttering under his breath the whole way.
Once the door had closed behind Landry, Jack turned back to the screen.
“Look Elizabeth, someone got ideas above their pay grade and killed the investigation, then the military realized they had told Dr. Wulf that before getting her to sign her longer term contract. So when Daniel got sent by the IOA to encourage her to overlook this slight breach of contract, he said something stupid, and she popped him. Fair enough no hard feelings. Then she and your boy took off, and I got sent in to reign in my scientist, because someone at the IOA thinks that is within my abilities. So how’s your week?”
I choked on a laugh at that succinct and irreverent description of everyone’s day.
“Dr. Jackson, do you agree with General O’Neill’s summation.”
“Jack, Elizabeth everyone who arrests me off-world gets to call me Jack.”
That got an eye roll from everyone Jack didn’t outrank, and an increase in the stoicism of the ones he did, which amounted to about the same thing.
“It about sums it up, and I don’t plan to scream assault if that’s what you’re asking.”
She nodded and sighed,
“So then what do we do about it?”
Jack smiled a slow dangerous look he usually wore as he was about to blow something up.
“I’ll make a couple phone calls, call in a couple of favors, see what I can miracle up.”
“Atlantis will check back in twenty four hours for a status update.”
Jack flicked a sarcastic salute to the camera,
“Talk to you then Atlantis.”
The connection closed and the video screen went black.
“Can I borrow your office Daniel?”
I gestured to the stairs and followed him down, in the corridor outside my office we encountered Vala.
She sauntered up to me and turned my chin with the tips of her fingers to examine the bruise blooming across my cheek.
“Have you been a naughty boy Daniel?”
I caught her wrists and pulled her hands away from my face,
“No, I haven’t. Go play somewhere else Vala.”
She gave me an exaggerated pout and sauntered off to annoy someone else.
I rolled my eyes before turning back to Jack who was looking at me as if he knew something I didn’t.
I snapped irritably.
He held his hands up palms out in the world wide gesture of harmlessness, and I rolled my eyes again before heading into my office to get Jack set up.
I signed onto the computer, moved my books away from the phone handed him a legal pad.
“Tell me about your run in with Grace.”
I sighed heavily,
“I was sent to get her to sign, and I asked her point blank what it was going to take.”
Jack raised an eyebrow,
“You’re not usually that blunt.”
I scrubbed my hands over my face,
“I know I was at my wits’ end with this whole situation, she said she wanted a raise, for the visits to stop barring her being in personal danger, and for public, harsh sanctions to be levied against the company.”
“She actually said the words ‘public’ and ‘harsh’?”
“Those words exactly, she said she didn’t care what spin the government had to put on them, or if they had to come from the President himself, no sanctions, no deal.”
Jack gestured to my face,
“Then she slapped you?”
“Yeah, not my most diplomatic moment. I told her that I knew she was angry and grieving, but her husband would want her to move on. Then she slapped me, told me to never speak for him again, and Ronon marched me off.”
Jack let out a low whistle,
“You’re usually better than that Daniel.”
I sighed heavily,
“I know, I know. I think its because I get it. After Sha’re, all I wanted was revenge, and Sha’re wouldn’t have wanted me to stay angry. Who am I to take her anger from her?”
“Well let’s see what we can do about getting her some revenge.”
Chapter 29: French Toast and the Golden Gate Bridge (The Long Road Home Part 2)
When I woke up the next morning, the sun was trying to shine through the fog coming in from the water, I lifted Ronon’s arm from my waist so I could sit up and Ronon being himself woke up as soon as I touched him.
His voice came out groggy, and I hid a smile,
“Yes, I think it is.”
He nodded and rolled over throwing an arm over his face,
“What do you say to breakfast and the Golden Gate Bridge?”
His voice came out a little muffled from under his arm,
“Breakfast, yes. I’ve never heard of the bridge.”
I laughed a little,
“Well, then it will be an adventure for us both.”
“If you say so.”
He sighed from under his arm, and I laughed and swung a pillow half-heartedly in his direction.
I headed into the bathroom to change, and take a look at my tattoo. It looked ugly, scabbed up and still red. I dug out a small washcloth and some antibacterial soap, and running the water a little warm I started to dab at the blood and excess ink, wincing at the touch on the raw skin.
“Yeah, those things are always awful the next day.”
Ronon’s voice came from the doorway, I looked up at him,
“Good to know its not just me.”
He chuckled lowly before crossing the doorway and taking the cloth from me and wiping across the design in gentle strokes. When all the blood and ink was washed away the scabs looked clean, and I smiled up at Ronon.
He stepped a little closer and leaned over me to drop the washcloth in the sink. In the small bathroom, this brought us all but chest to chest, and I felt a blush creeping up my cheeks.
He picked up the small bottle of lotion that the artist had sent me home with, and spread some on his hands,
“This is probably going to sting.”
“I can take it.”
I murmured, afraid to break the moment between us by speaking too loudly. He smiled a little at me and gently spread his hands over my shoulder smoothing the lotion behind them.
We stood like that for a long moment before he slowly lifted his hands from my shoulder,
I nodded slowly,
He nodded and shot me one of his cocky grins, before ambling back out of the bathroom.
It was getting harder to deny that urge to touch Grace, and as I dwelled on the feeling of her skin under my hands, and, as it always did, my mind drifted to Melena and there was a flood of guilt. But then I heard Grace singing over the sounds of things being clattered around, and water running, and she was all I could think about.
Melena had been soft, gentle and kind, there was a stubbornness to her, but no fight. Grace seemed soft, she was sweet and kind, and generally pleasant, but under that was the kind of ferocity only honed in agony, and I never found myself wondering if I was going to terrify her with the violence in me. The door opening jolted me out of my musings, and Grace came around the bed and started digging in the drawers of the stand beside the bed,
“What are you doing?”
“Sometimes there’s a restaurant list tucked away in a drawer. Why don’t you get dressed while I sort out some food for us?”
I dug around in my bag for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and disappeared into the bathroom.
Grace seemed to barely notice me.
The bathroom door closed behind Ronon, and there was suddenly a little more air in the room. Ronon had always been intense, but since we had embarked on our little cross country adventure the tone of that intensity was shifting, and he had started to look at me like he couldn’t figure me out like there was something just slightly out of focus and he was trying to put it back into place. At moments it felt like being with a friend, and others felt almost like flirting, but then he would get quiet, a look in his eye, and I wasn’t in focus to him anymore.
I found the restaurant list on the back of the little tent with the TV channels listed on it, which seemed like an odd place for it, but since I was hungry, I let it go.
I was scanning the list of diners and their relative locations when Ronon came back into the room.
It was his normal even tone, which was nice and I nodded,
“I think so, do you have any preferences?”
He shook his head as he started gathering the bags together leaving only my purse for me to grab,
“Then let's go.”
We made a quick stop by the front desk to check out and waited by the valet stand for my car to come around.
The diner was a short drive from the hotel and so before long we were being ushered into a cracking vinyl booth and handed two slightly sticky menus with large pictures of the breakfasts on offer.
When she walked away Ronon studied his menu closely, and pointed to a picture,
“French Toast, it's good if a little sweet, if you do that you should get it with bacon for some salt to balance it.”
He nodded seriously and set his menu down, when the waitress came around she was the kind of smiling older lady who calls everyone ‘Hon’ and takes no nonsense from anybody.
I liked her immediately.
Ronon regarded her with suspicion.
But suspicious or not he was happy enough to order French Toast with double bacon, and coffee with a smile on his face.
I fought the urge to laugh as I ordered an omelet and smoothie. The waitress smiled at us both and bustled off efficiently, her voice calling our order carrying through the swinging kitchen door.
“So what is this bridge you want to go see?”
Ronon asked with the concentrated look his face took on when he was trying to understand weird Earth customs.
“The Golden Gate Bridge.”
“Is it gold?”
I shook my head,
“Nope, red I think.”
His brows furrowed a bit,
“Then what's special about it?”
I stared at him helplessly for a second and then had to laugh,
“You know, I have no idea”
The waitress interrupted my giggles to bring us drinks, and smile at us,
“You two are cute together, first date?”
I smiled a bit,
“No, not really.”
She looked politely confused for a moment, but as she realized I wasn’t going to expand upon it she smiled and walked away again.
Ronon’s eyes grew a little wide when the platter of French toast and bacon was set in front of him, particularly with my omelet to compare it to.
The waitress shot me a smile and walked away leaving the mountains of food on the table.
“Make sure you add syrup to your toast.”
Ronon accepted the little jug I handed across the table to him automatically and I laid my hand over his encouraging him to tip and pour in the correct circular movement that would lay a syrup spiral over the fried bread.
I was resisting the urge to giggle at the look on his face when I released his hand from mine, I tugged his plate a little closer and laid some bacon over one of the sweet dripping bread slices,
“There, like that.”
He shot me an uncertain look as I wiped the syrup and bacon grease from my fingers and picked up my own silverware and began to eat as he raised the toast combination to his mouth with that same uncertain look and took a bite holding my gaze with his. I watched as his expression changed to a smile.
He nodded and focused his attention on the food, and I let my mine focus on him.
Even smiling people cut him a wide berth, and objectively I could see why, his smile was a sharp thing, and it was easy to see the violence contained within him, not unlike a great cat at rest. Jerrick had been like that, everyone thought he was dangerous, but he was a quiet soul unless you threatened someone he loved. No the violence written in the lines of him wasn’t what frightened me, I wasn’t even frightened by the way he sometimes looked at me like I was more than just a friend he was looking after. No, I was frightened by the way I sometimes found myself looking at him.
Ronon was focused on his breakfast occasionally glancing up to catch my eye with a smile on his face, and small drips of syrup in his beard that somehow took the sharp edge off him even if only for a moment.
Grace kept her eyes on me while she was eating as if she was trying to figure me out, and I kept one eye on her, smiling whenever we made eye contact. She ate mechanically in small neat bites, and after a while even though her eyes were on me it wasn’t me she was looking at.
I left her to her thoughts and watched the people go by the window. One of the benefits of the safety of Earth seemed to be that people had time to devote themselves to expression, and there were so many varieties of everything that it was dizzying to just watch it all go by.
The sound of silverware on a plate jarred my attention back to Grace who was smiling fully at me once again.
“Ready for the bridge?”
I let her lead me to the counter where she paid for the meal, and then back out into the morning, she lead me to a stop where we climbed onto vehicles that passed at regular intervals, streetcars as Grace whispered to me, and took them through the winding up and down streets until the air smelled like salt, and in the fog was a red metal bridge disappearing into the fog-covered distance. We leaned against the railing and watched the water for a while until Grace finally turned to me with a smile,
“Ready to get back on the road?”
I nodded and she took my hand as we walked for another streetcar. It took a little while for us to wander our way back to where we had left the car and almost no time for Grace to steer it back to the highway.
I tried to stay awake and watch her drive, to keep her company, but the swaying of the car, the soft music, and the oddest safe feeling lulled me to sleep.