How was he ever supposed to understand these people when they kept changing the rules? Ronon huffed, went to say something, but then…what was the point?
“I’m sorry.” Keller touched a hand gently to his arm and he pulled back.
“Don’t say that when you don’t mean it. I don’t need your pity.”
“It’s not…” Now she huffed, mirroring his own frustration and he tasted acid in his throat. “I don’t pity you, Ronon. I never have. I thought…” He looked at her, knew too much emotion was overflowing from him, and her words faded. It wasn’t as though there was anything else to say, so he turned on his heel and left.
He didn’t want to go back to his quarters to mope. It would only highlight to him again how alone he was in a city surrounded by people. People who were other, who couldn’t understand the complexities of the heart. The true heart. The Satedan heart. Satedan culture was lost on them. Satedan culture was lost, period. Along with anyone with any capacity to feel deeply, to have the desire to create something bigger than they were. These people looked the same, well, most of them looked a little soft around the edges—Satedans were firm bodied, angular, with deep, soft hearts for family—but at times like this, when it really mattered, these Earthers were so alien it cut Ronon to the bone.
He passed them in the corridors going about their business, flirting, laughing, talking with gravity, and tried to tune it all out, tried to remember the warmth of his mother’s home, the lightness in the joy of gathering with friends before the war, before everything was gone. But seven years was a long time and those memories had faded, all he could picture now were the ruins of his city and the desolate wasteland with no signs of life. He fought back the urge to punch something, to hammer his fists against the metal walls until they bled, to find something, anything, anyone, who could help him feel alive again. Feel whole.
And of course, the gods would laugh at him, tease him by placing the one person Ronon knew had a heart as deep as his own, who had the capacity to reach beyond the superficiality of his own people and be elevated to the level of a Satedan warrior--Sheppard.
“Hey, big guy, what’s with the thunder face? Jennifer bail on you again for some sickly pup?”
“She bailed on me for good this time.” It hurt, looking at him. Telling him. Ronon was sure Sheppard hadn’t liked that Ronon was with Keller, that maybe there was a part of him that had wanted Ronon for himself and Ronon had tried. He’d tried to engage Sheppard that way, in conversation, in sparring, but had come up empty and hurting.
Sheppard stilled, cocked his head in that way he did when he was trying to understand something. “She…she finished with you?”
“Yes. So, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go pummel some marines.” Ronon made to walk off.
He sighed, pausing his stride. He really didn’t want to do this. Not here. And certainly not with… “What is there to say, Sheppard? You have too many words that mean nothing and none that hold value.”
“That’s a little harsh. But, hey, come on, what happened?”
“Who knows. Who the hell cares?” And wasn’t that the truth? “I’m too much, not enough. I have no idea. She wants me to share, she doesn’t want me to share that… I’m done with all of you. You people make no sense to me.” And then he walked away leaving an eerie silence in his wake.
John seethed quietly. He hated seeing Ronon so lost and angry. He deserved better, he deserved more. It was none of his business what had gone on between him and Keller, but he was going to damned well make it his business. Nobody messed with his team without him coming down hard on them. No one.
He made his way to medical, hoping Keller would be there without actually being on shift. Of all the people to screw over. Ronon still found it hard to trust, to let people in, and she’d…well, he didn’t know what she’d done. It was bad enough he’d had to sit back and watch their fledgling little thing get off the ground, but knowing Ronon was finally happy, that he wouldn’t be alone anymore, that was worth the heartache. But to watch it crash and burn and Ronon become even more withdrawn…to think Ronon could actually leave Atlantis all together? Unthinkable. Not going to happen. Whatever it took, however painful it would be to think of Ronon behind closed doors with someone else…he’d do it just to have him here. To know he was safe and happy. And safe. Seven years. How did anyone survive that?
Medical was quiet. John found Keller in her office sifting through paperwork. “Got a minute?”
She looked up, surprised. No sign of having just broken up with a significant other. “What can I do for you, John?”
“Ronon.” With that one word, her whole demeanour changed.
“What could you possibly have to say to me about Ronon?”
John opened his mouth to speak but paused as her words sunk in. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Her sigh was heavy. “Never mind. Say what you’re here to say.”
“I’m not…I just wanted to find out what happened, see if you two can’t straighten things out.”
“Right. Of course, you are.”
“No, John, you look. I don’t care what you think you are here to do, but there is nothing to fix, okay? Things were…nothing ever got off the ground, not really, so it’s not as though I’m actually ending anything.”
“You weren’t dating?”
“We were, but he, we didn’t ever…”
“You dumped him because he didn’t put out? The man was completely alone for seven years, Jennifer. You couldn’t give him a little time to get used to the thought of being intimate with you?”
“What? No, god, no, you…” She paused to look at him. Really look at him, and he felt his skin itch as she tried to see beyond what he was willing to share. “You don’t know, do you? God, you come here to lecture me about what I should and shouldn’t do, and you have no idea.”
“Why don’t you enlighten me?” His voice was tight, he knew it, but he didn’t care. He’d had enough of that tome from Nancy in the last days of their marriage to put up with it from a colleague.
“I don’t want to be a Lifeline Lover, John. Do you understand that at least?”
“I…no, I don’t”
“You don’t understand that isn’t enough, or you don’t understand what it is?”
“Both, I guess.”
“Then you need to speak to Ronon. Satedan culture is rich and complex. They feel deeply.” She waved her arm in the air. “And not enough. There is no point us continuing this conversation if you don’t understand the concepts that led to my decision. Hell, we shouldn’t be having this conversation anyway. It would be bad enough for anyone to call me on my decision, but you…you have no right given the circumstances.”
“Ask Ronon. Ask him about how Satedans categorise love, and lovers. Then come and tell me I made the wrong choice.” She turned back to her paperwork, leaving John staring at the back of her head.
He was numb around the edges as he wandered the corridor towards the gym. Ask him about how Satedans categorise love, and lovers. What the hell did that mean? But that wasn’t really the issue. John could occasionally be honest with himself about the deep shit that haunted him in the night. It wasn’t that he didn’t know what it meant. He was more concerned he knew exactly what it meant, and in that case, did he really want Ronon to explain it to him. Because the one thing he knew for sure, was that he couldn’t lose Ronon. Wouldn’t want to be the cause of him leaving Atlantis and going it alone. Again. For all his steadfast, immovable bluster, the man was a big bucket of goo. Feelings that ran so deep most people failed to see them at all. But John saw them, oh yes, John saw them, felt them, mirrored them, and that’s why Keller had been…necessary.
He rounded the corner to the sparring room to find Ronon slumped against the wall alone. “Where is everyone? I was expecting to see blood on the floor.”
“Yeah, well, they took one look at me and all headed for the showers.”
John sat next to Ronon, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and felt the shudder run through both their bodies at the proximity. “So,” John said carefully. “You want to talk to me about Lifeline Lovers?”
Ronon snorted a laugh. “You actually went to see her, didn’t you?” He shook his head. “I don’t get you, Sheppard. Why would you try to fix it?”
“Forget about that for now. I want to hear from you. Tell me about Sateda, Ronon. Talk me about how your people love.”
“How we love? Are you sure you want to know, because I’ve had one person bail on me already after sharing this.”
“Yeah, well, there’s nothing to bail on, is there. We’re friends, Ronon. I want to understand more of what’s going on for you. So I can be there for you. You don’t have to go through everything alone, and despite what you may think of us as a people, some of us can understand big feelings.”
“I don’t doubt you understand them, John. It’s what you choose to do with them that baffles me.”
John instinctively pressed closer to Ronon at the use of his given name. He was pretty sure it was the first time he’d heard Ronon say it, and it felt good hearing it in that deep, rounded timbre of Ronon’s voice. “Lifeline Lovers, Ronon?”
Ronon sighed, deep and sad. “On Sateda we knew how to love completely. We would give of ourselves. Our lives, our hopes, dreams, our every breath would be for our True Love. When you find your Truest Love, Sheppard, nothing and no one else matters. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, I do.” There was a pause, a fraction too long as Ronon took in a shuddery breath. “Melina was your Truest Love?”
Ronon nodded. “It’s not like on Earth, not transitory like your marriage, it’s for life.” Ronon picked at a bead in his hair. “I’ve heard your people talk about soul mates, and I guess it’s similar except, in death…let’s just say if your lifetime is longer than your lover’s you don’t wither away waiting to join them in the afterlife. In a universe with Wraith, life is for living while you have it.”
“So, you have Lifeline Lovers, for when your Truest Love is gone?”
“Yes. And no.” Ronon straightened his legs and rubbed strong hands over his thighs. He was nervous. Why would he be nervous? “In our culture we had four kinds of lovers. Your Truest Lover was your first choice, your everything.” More deep breathing, and now John was nervous. “When your Truest Love wasn’t… When they died, or weren’t interested in you…”
“Wait, not interested in you?”
“You must realise some love is unrequited, John? You could have a deep, lasting love for someone who barely knows you exist in that way,” he met John’s gaze.
“Would you pine away for them, or get on with your life in the best way you know how?”
“In that situation, you would take up with a Lifeline. They will never be your all, or your everything, but they keep you grounded and functioning, they give you focus and purpose.”
“But they aren’t the one.”
“Exactly. From what I see of your people, this is the most common love you have. It is the love people expect in life. It is often transitory for you, but for Satedans it would still be lasting. We love one person at a time. We share our bodies with one lover at a time.” Ronon quirked a smile. “Most of the time, unless there is a mutual need to… Anyway,” he shifted where he sat, and the warmth of his body made itself known in John’s.
“And the other kinds of lovers?”
Ronon looked at John again, deep and searching. “Battle Lovers. As it sounds. In the heat of war, when everything is shot to shit, as you would say, when you aren’t at home in towns and communities but stranded on battle fields far from home… then there are Battle Lovers. You keep each other strong, focused, determined to love another day and bring the war to and end. You love to distraction, rid the body of tension making it free to fight, and fight, and fight. But is exists only in war. There is no place for it in a home. In a township.”
John picked at imaginary lint on his BDU’s. “Is that what we would be?” His words were so quiet he barely heard them over the thump of his heart.
“What did you say?”
“And the last type of lover?” John asked, ignoring the fact he’d voiced his deepest fears, that Ronon would see him only as means to release tension in the midst of battle.
Ronon narrowed his gaze for a moment but then continued. “Day Lovers. Akin to your people’s one-night-stand. Very rare with Satedans, but in the absence of any of the others if too much time passes.”
“Too much time?”
“Not like your people, who need to fuck every week or so. But if years pass and you are yet to find a Lifeline, well, it is healthy to maintain some kind of connection to love, to the pleasures of the body.”
“Right.” Day Lovers. Since Nancy, and before Nancy, that had been all John had known. And now, whether he cared to admit it or not, he was faced with the truest of True Loves there could ever be in his world, but it was unrequited. Ronon may only think of Keller as a Lifeline, but in the absence of Melina what else was he to do? Keller should be happy to have Ronon’s commitment to a life together. “And you told Jennifer she was a Lifeline?”
“She isn’t. Yet.” Ronon shifted to face John. “You realise we aren’t lovers, right? We have never been…together.”
“But you thought she may become a Lifeline?”
“Yes.” Ronon sighed deeply and the sound tore at John’s insides. “That is what we discussed when she ended things. And I don’t understand, Sheppard, because that’s all you people ever seem to search for. When somebody is looking for a soul mate, a deeper connection, you people, you make fun of them, call them dreamers. I thought she would understand what I was offering.”
“I don’t think she does understand.” John pushed himself to his feet. “I’ll talk to her. Help her to see what you…”
“That’s what you want?” Ronon’s voice was edged with anger. “After everything I’ve just told you, you would want to see me with Keller?”
“What I want, Ronon, is to see you happy.”
“Yes. Focused, grounded. Isn’t that what you said you thought you could build with her? That’s what I want for you.” John could see Ronon grinding his teeth, but he said nothing, so John left him as he’d found him and headed back to the medical bay.
“I don’t want to hear what you think about it,” Keller said as John tapped on the door frame to her office.
“You told me to come back when I understood. Now I do, and you’re making a mistake.”
She spun around, all fire and fury. “I’m making a mistake? How dare you stand there and say that to me.”
“Jennifer, he’s offering you a lifetime commitment. What more can you ask of him?”
The anger drained and her eyes narrowed. “Oh, my god. You still don’t get it, do you?”
“Sure, I do. You want to be his Truest Love, but he knows he can only offer you his life and his love, not his heart and soul.” Why couldn’t she understand that? It was simple even to John, and he wasn’t exactly great with the emotional stuff.
“John, it’s one thing to be second fiddle to a dead wife, most of us can live with that. But I’m sorry, I’m not going to build a life with a man knowing his heart and soul belongs to someone he sees every day. I’m not strong enough for that, and quite frankly, it’s completely inappropriate for you to expect or even ask that of me. And for what reason, your own hang ups?”
John sighed. “You’ve lost me again.”
“Of course, I have. Because you are both completely oblivious, and utterly ridiculous. You, John, are Ronon’s Truest Love. He belongs to you. We could build a life together, and possibly learn to be happy, but it wouldn’t change the fact he loves you. He wants to be with you. His heart and soul, as you said, are with you and always will be.” John stared, mouth open. “If you want to find someone to blame for Ronon’s loneliness, look in the mirror. Now, please, leave me alone.” She didn’t wait for him to leave and instead brushed past him disappearing from sight. Her words echoed around his head. You, John, are Ronon’s Truest Love. No. it couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.
But it was possible. It was so possible, John wanted to kick himself for refusing to see it sooner. Refused to see it because there wasn’t a damn thing in this universe or the next, he could do about it without being court-martialled and given a one-way ticket back to Earth. Anger welled up in him at the realisation that outdated military protocol was shafting them both, and Ronon hadn’t even signed up to it. At least John had known. He knew before he finished college his tastes ran easy in both directions, but he’d wanted a career in the military, so he’d squashed half of himself, silenced it. And it had worked just fine until Ronon crashed into his life. There was only one thing for it. He needed a drink. A real goddamned drink in a real goddamned bar.