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Afae Mate

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"I can't. I have watch later," the first voice said, low in tone and almost unhearable.

"So trade out," a second answered, higher than the first, louder. "You know Myers would be willing to switch for a chance to be near his beloved Serena," it laughed, the words echoed up the clang of a metal spoon against a dish.

The voices belonged to two men, both dressed in dark blue and dragging their way through the dinner line, and soon they faded into the din of the other voices completely as they moved on, leaving only snatches of their conversation behind them.

Ronon ignored them, and the next group in line as well, talking about numbers and other things he did not understand in excited, punctuated pitch, contrasting with the men that had gone just before them. The conversation was unimportant. It was the words that he was listening to, following the sounds of the syllables until he could gather them into his head concretely again.

This time wasn't as bad as some of the others, when he'd gone months, or what he thought were months, without seeing another living soul. The Wraith didn't count; they growled more than he did. It was bad though and now, again, he had to think about how the sounds of what he wanted to say went before he spoke. It'd go away soon enough, so for now he didn't speak much. He listened.

The people here were always talking. Aside from the guards that'd decorated his cell until they'd deemed him trustworthy enough to release, he hadn't met a person here who didn't talk all the time. The scientists were especially bad, with their questions and demands, and he'd learned to avoid them when he could after only a couple of days, and growl at them when he couldn't. That sent them scurrying, except for one or two. One or two too many, but he thought Colonel Sheppard would be a lot less likely to be so allowing of him if he roughed up the scientists any so he kept his hands to himself.

The man had threatened to throw him back in a cell after he'd gotten rough with the Athosian woman, Teyla Emmagen, during afae mate practice. It was supposed to be rough, because how else did you learn, but they had a difference of... opinion on that. Emmagen hadn't seemed to mind.

He wondered if the Athosian woman and Colonel Sheppard were mating and that accounted for his protectiveness even in an exercise that was designed to cause pain. He had seen the bruises Colonel Sheppard sported leaving the afae mate sessions with Teyla Emmagan. What the Colonel looked like was no worse than what Ronon had done to the Athosian.

He'd seen no evidence of children, not between Sheppard and Emmagen nor anyone else here. The expectation of shrill, excited voices had never materialized, no little bodies running up and down the halls. Nothing of the sort existed here and it seemed odd for a city to not have children, for none of them to be so much as in gestation. It was a dead city, a city in stasis; the people here did nothing to change that.

"Are you going in on the pool about, you know?" The voice of a woman brushed by him, met with a laugh from her companion.

"Oh, come on. It's a sucker's bet. No one's going to win that pool. Personally, I'm in on the other one, and not long from now," the male replied. When Ronon glanced up he was grinning. "Did you see how he reacted in that sparring match? Come on!"

"That's nothing," a third said, from the other side of Ronon, crowding him more with their words and their bodies. "I feel bad for the third pool, you heard he actually *shot* him, right?"

"Yeah, like they ever had a chance in the first place. Even if they did we never would've heard about it," the second said before the voices drone out again, moving away from his table and out onto the balcony behind him where the sea wind covered their sounds.

It was too crowded in here now and he sped up his eating, shoveling food into his mouth without the care of utensils. The fork and spoon had felt too awkward in his hands anyway and the rich meat and sauce could easily be eaten without them. He remembered, from before, worrying about appearances and utensils, before he had to train to eat meat strips and roots cut by his knife while running. Always running. It seemed unimportant now and no one stopped him from using his hands, like they had that night at that village.

They should have stopped him from staying but they were more interested in stopping him from eating, eating like an animal they'd said. Like a runner.

Their mistake, and his.

Now he didn't run and he could eat slowly, if he wanted to, but the longer he stayed, the longer the noise grew and the itching in his back increased, the more he wanted to run. He knew running. He understood running. It was moving, it was traps, it was hunting. This, being in a village, even one such as this with doctors who used technology of the Ancestors, was something he didn't understand. Not anymore.

Soon, he thought, it might be time to move on. He'd been attracted to staying by the thought of finding... something, but he didn't think he would now. With the itch hanging over his shoulders like a trap itself he felt cornered and searching was difficult in a corner.

Without Sateda to go home to he didn't think he needed a home. He needed to hunt. That had been his desire, one of two, for the last while. Sitting here seemed too soft. The food itself was soft, without the stringy muscle and grisly fat of the animal that would be there before it was processed. Good, but soft, and he preferred to hunt.

He didn't think that Colonel Sheppard, who had entered the room himself and was starting towards the table Ronon sat crouched at, would agree.

He had allowed Ronon to hunt him and capture him. Twice. The man was soft. Soft and unreasonably trusting, Ronon thought, as Colonel Sheppard slid into a chair across from him, baring his teeth.

He remembered smiles now.

"Like the food?" Sheppard asked, his voice carefully low and Ronon cocked his head at that. He had not been soft spoken before.

It didn't require an answer, at least not in words, so Ronon nodded, continuing to scoop it into his mouth, cupping his fingers together and catching the food that way.

"Personally, I kinda miss pizza." It seemed an odd thing to say but neither did it need a reply so he ignored it, waiting for the man to get to the point.

This was a sort of hunting too, but the sort that Ronon preferred to be direct in. There wasn't tim -- No, now there was, but still, he rather not waste time with unneeded words.

"You wouldn't know pizza though. Apparently it's not a big thing in the Pegasus Galaxy," the man continued, watching.

He watched back, still eating his food. The sooner his hunger was filled the sooner he could move again, even if only in the confines of this place. He was resolved now; Ronon was speak to the leader, the one called Dr. Weir, and ask permission to use the ring. He disliked the notion, having to ask to use a tool at his disposal and necessary for his survival for so long, but he was willing to do what was necessary to survive.

"I tried to get some frozen ones to bring back with us but Elizabeth wouldn't let me," Sheppard continued, but after a moment he silenced, the stiffness of his back growing. "How you doing?"

Ronon shoved another mouthful of food, nearly his last, in with his fingers and said, "I don't think I fit in here."

He watched as Sheppard sighed, his face contorting into an odd shape that only after struggling did he recognize as concern. That seemed funny, almost, that this man might be concerned for him, and that he would barely recognize it. He didn't fit in here.

"Haven't given it much chance. You've only been here a few days. We grow on you." His face changed again, contorting and lifting. "Is this because I yelled at you about Teyla?"

He felt his head turn to the side almost involuntarily, as if he was straining to hear a sound, but the only sounds here didn't need to be strained for. "No." The answer was honest, but it caused Sheppard's mouth to draw together tightly before the movement stopped and smoothed out.

"I think we could use someone like you here, fighting the Wraith. With all your moving around, you've probably seen where the Wraith ships tend to end up, right?" Sheppard asked. This was a tactic Ronon understood, a reasoning he understood. Sheppard was inviting him to hunt with them. "We could use the information you've learned."

The meal was gone. He licked the juice off the meat and the sauce off the ends of his fingers as he considered this offer to hunt together. There'd been times when he had done that, when he had found others on the move, hunting themselves, or when food was scarce, but he had neither of those needs now. No reasoning was offered here as to why he should join the hunt of the people of this city, even against the Wraith. Ronon had no desire for revenge against the Wraith, not even for Sateda, and if he lived many years without seeing another Wraith it would suit him well.

Now that they couldn't track him he could hunt in peace without being hunted himself. He could hunt... with leisure. But that would be soft, like the people here, wouldn't it?

He licked his lips, tasting the last of the sauce on them, and looked at the other man across this gray, odd table. "I plan to ask your leader to use the ring of the Ancestors," he worked out, his wording slower in his mouth than in his head.

"You don't have to leave. There's plenty of space here and I think you fit better than you think." He was still surprisingly quiet even as his face folded in on itself and his lips pursed up. "And frankly, we need you and your training. You survived seven years alone. We survived one, together, by getting very lucky."

Need and survival were things he understood, had had to understand to survive his life as a runner, but he could not see how he was needed here. Perhaps what he knew could be used and, because they had removed the tracking device from him, those answers would be given before he left, but they didn't need him. They needed to be less soft, like Emmagen, but if she hadn't taught them that he knew he wouldn't.

"So what can I do to talk you into staying?" Sheppard finished, looking at him with his brows lifted and his lips turned up slightly on the right side.

"I need to go," he said, shifting his eyes down to the empty bowl in front of him. "I don't fit in here." Then he pushed himself up, stalking away from the table and through the din of the room. When he brushed by Emmagen, who had entered in the time he was talking to Sheppard but without interrupting, she stared up at him, making the pit of his stomach twist. Another need, but not as important as running. Never as important.

Emmagan bowed her head, slowly, deliberately but otherwise made no movement or noise as he passed. She didn't crowd him, she wasn't noisy, as the rest here were. She wasn't soft. His footsteps slowed without thought as he passed her, his hips shifting towards her in an almost turn back before he thought better of it.

If he thought that she agree to it then he would ask her to hunt with him, to leave when he left now that it was safe for him to be around people again, but he knew her answer before needing to ask the question. Her place was here, with these soft people, and she would not leave for him.

"Emmagan," he said, as close to a real greeting as he was going to get and her lips parted. A smile. No teeth.

"Teyla," she told him, tilting her head forward again. "As I have told you, Ronon, I would like if you were to call me Teyla." Though her words reprimanded him her face stayed in the calm twist of a smile. She wasn't that angry then.

"Teyla." It came out low, slow and he let himself look at her arms, where there were bruises from their session, and her neck, where he could see his fingerprints marking her.

He'd been rough but she'd smiled at him then in the same way, warding off Colonel Sheppard's anger with her calmness and he knew he'd not been too rough. With a turn of his head he was meeting the other man's eyes, but if he'd once been able to read eyes now he saw nothing. The Wraith only ever had hunger in their eyes.

"Thank you," she told him, pulling his attention back to her and the uneven lift of her lips. "I was wondering if you wished to practice afae mate with me today again?"

He nodded, wordless, mimicking her earlier motion. Gentle and easy.

"Good. Then if you would follow me." Her hands spread out from her body, one lifting towards the door as the other settled on the inside of his elbow.

Ronon shifted back slightly but allowed the touch, his eyes once again flitting towards Sheppard. "Are you sure your mate won't mind?"

It was only the widening of her eyes that gave away her reaction to Ronon, though he was helpless to decipher its meaning. "Colonel Sheppard and I are not paired as such, Ronon."

With those words a low clenching in his spine that he hadn't been completely aware of loosened. He was surprised but it was a... nice surprise, to have mistaken her for being paired with another. Though it was possible she still was, he reminded himself as he allowed her to guide him out of the room gently, as most of her movements were when she was not fighting.

It took only a minute to hear the echoing of another pair of footsteps behind him, the rhythm of which belonged to Colonel Sheppard.

Teyla looked over her shoulder at the Colonel, her eyebrows lifting and separating as she looked at him. "Colonel."

"Teyla," the Colonel said, mimicking her tone of voice.

"Do you care to join us?"

"I'd love to spend some time getting beaten to the mat, Teyla," he said warmly and Ronon knew that, even if Teyla said she wasn't mated with the Colonel, it was not so simple as just partnership.

He shifted his eyes over to her as she replied to the Colonel. "Perhaps this time you will not." A hope he thought was only likely if she went easy on the man, but then in the sparring the day before she had. She had not gone easy on Ronon himself.

For the Colonel, with his preference for guns and tools, the afae mate style of fighting was a simple game. For Ronon and Teyla, it was life or death. Anything to keep the Wraith at bay, anything to reverse the hunt. That was what afae mate was. But because Sheppard treated it as a game Emmagen played with him, not pushing him to learn the things he would need were he without his other weapons.

On nearly every planet one could fashion the sticks for fighting, but Ronon had long learned that the same was not true for other types of weapons. There'd been long stretches where he'd been without anything but the crudest of knives to hunt with, which would turn on him were he to try to use them in a fight. But those same knives could be used to make fighting sticks and keep him from being near defenseless against the Wraith.

It was just another sign of how these people were soft. "I doubt it," he offered, not glancing over at the Colonel.

"Thanks for that ringing vote of confidence." The Colonel's voice was quiet and there was something in it, not the warmth of earlier, or the suspicion from when they'd just met, that Ronon didn't recognize. He didn't like things he didn't recognize. Unfamiliarity in any form could lead to death. "I'll just have to try harder."

"You should, Colonel," Teyla said, that same tone in her voice. "Perhaps one day you will rise above the level of beginner. It is a pity that you have not taken to the afae mate as easily as I have taken to your weapons."

"Yeah, well, point and shoot's a bit easier."

When Ronon looked over at him he was bar -- smiling, most of his teeth showing, and Teyla parted her lips at him. The words didn't go with the way their faces twisted, confusing him, and he stalked away, towards the room used to practice afae mate by Emmagen and the others.

"As you say, Colonel," he heard Teyla acknowledge from behind and he counted her steps as they moved faster, catching back up with him. "Would you prefer to spar with me or with the Colonel, Ronon?"

There was something he could do here that would not require a verbal answer but he couldn't remember the actions of it, so he said, "Either," because he didn't care. Teyla would be more of a challenge but he thought Sheppard might be more satisfying.

By beating Sheppard, he could show Teyla his dominance in definite. That would make convincing her to mate much easier. She would choose the one who was stronger, he was certain of it. The thought made his heart rate increase in anticipation. A kill and then sex, always better paired together.

"I'll spar with him, Teyla," the Colonel offered.

He bared his teeth at the man and wondered if it appeared to be a smile before they continued to walk. His heart pounded. Tonight might be a good day after all, even without hunting.

- - -

John couldn't remember the last time he'd ached this much that didn't include a gunshot wound. His arms burned from swinging those sticks as fast as he could to block -- ineffectively -- all of Ronon's vicious strikes. His legs felt flabby and weak from running, his back was sore from being dumped, there had to be red marks on his ass from being caned with those damned sticks, his ears were ringing, and he was pretty sure two fingers on his left hand were broken.

It was the last crack that'd done it, driving the stick against his palm and then upwards as he lost grip, letting it be knocked out of his hand. On the way back there'd be a sickening sound, churning his stomach and his vision with it in the way only a gunshot wound usually did, and he'd backed off, dropping into a crouch that his legs gratefully went with.

What was surprising about it was that Specialist Dex -- John had finally had the sense to ask him what he'd specialized in while in the middle of getting his ass smacked by one of the sticks, and been decidedly unsurprised to discover it was ground combat -- backed off then, dropping his shoulders back a little. He was even panting and John could see the bruise, dark but small, that was forming from one of the few hits he'd managed to get in. Still, he could be unconscious right now so he was calling it a win as, with a groan, he stretched over to collect the stick with his wounded hand -- even if those weren't broken they were gonna need to be set, he decided -- before he pushed himself up.

What he hadn't been expecting was for Ronon to attack again, and this time to drew his gun before he even thought about it, glad he hadn't taken off the holster earlier like he usually did with Teyla. The stick clattered to the floor beside him as he clicked the safety off.

"Colonel!" Teyla's sharp voice interrupted them. "This session is over. You have both sparred enough," she said firmly. He could picture her face, the way she was probably frowning in disapproval and disappointment right now, but there wasn't any way he was taking his eyes off the other man. Not until those sticks were on the ground.

"What the lady said," he agreed, watching the length between himself and Ronon being gauged quickly, and he reinforced his grip, loose but steady, just in case. "She's usually right about those things. Teyla's smart like that." Most of John didn't really think he was going to get attacked again, not when he said that it was over, but for once 'most' wasn't good enough.

Ronon was just staring at the gun and he wondered if the man had forgotten where he was and whom he was with. John had seen it before, in combat, on Earth. Not very often, really, but occasionally the person would get lost in the fight. If that was the case here, John didn't have a clue how to bring Ronon back. He wasn't a friend and he wasn't someone John flew with so he didn't know the man.

Besides, it seemed like Teyla was making more headway with Ronon that anyone else was. It might have been a Pegasus thing.

And that was the last thing John had the chance to think before the other man was bridging the gap between them with one strong leap and his attention dwindled down to the three seconds he had to decide whether or not a 9mm shoulder wound would make things worse or better. Then, before he had the chance to pull the trigger, the weight was being dragged off of him, the sound of a body thumping against the floor following it, and when the world righted itself enough he saw Teyla pinning Ronon to the ground.

Her lighter form was stretched carefully, standing above the thrashing muscle of the man, one foot pressed tightly against the strained muscles of Ronon's throat, one of the sticks in her hands pressed against the other side of his neck in a sort of squeezing tandem. She was even speaking, John noticed, as the thumping of his heart cleared enough he could hear again. " -- is not the way of this place, as you know."

He sort of wished he'd heard the rest of what she'd said. It was probably wise and leaderly and at the moment John was simply trying not to pass out from the pain and the hits.

"I understand," Ronon said and the next thing he heard was the sound of sticks clattering on the ground.

Thank god. He saw one of the sticks rolling past him, obviously having been pushed away from Ronon, and he groaned a little. Now, he just had to get up. Or, okay, maybe lying here a little while was a good idea. He could take a little nap.

"Are you all right, Colonel?" Teyla said from above him suddenly and John cracked his eyes a bit to see her staring down at him with concern.

"Yeah, yeah. Sure. Just resting a little. Might spend some time passed out. Fun, fun," he muttered as she raised an eyebrow.

"Is this not the same behavior you mock Dr. McKay for?" she asked, teasing him. Oh, right, that was going to make him get up. Though, really, with the way his ass was stinging right now maybe he should at least try and roll over and pass out on his stomach. The nuns' rulers had nothing on those sticks.

It took a little work but after a minute he managed to offer his hand up to Teyla and, working together, they got him back up on his feet without any more unfortunate trips towards the ground. Ronon had got himself up too and was crouching near their bags, like he was waiting for something, and John just hoped it wasn't another crack at his increasingly bad knee.

Teyla raised her eyebrows at him and looked down. That was when John realized, oh, oops, he still had his gun out. Slowly, wincing as fingers twinged, he flipped the safety on and holstered his sidearm. When she smiled at him he got the feeling it was a sort of pat on the head, but he was way, way too sore to even raise an eyebrow about it.

"I think I'll mosey on down to the infirmary and see the doc," he said, reaching up with his slightly less injured hand to rub the growing welt on the back of his neck. "Might as well get yelled at now instead of later."

"We will accompany you," Teyla said, which was nice of her because if it weren't for Ancient technology and, especially, Ancient transporters, he probably wouldn't make it there on his own. "Ronon?" she turned to look at him and he uncurled slightly, standing up straight. Then nodded.

John gave him one last glance before tossing the stick he had left in his hand to Teyla and limping towards the door. He could feel her following him a short distance behind after she collected at least part of the bags but she didn't crowd him or offer her arm as support, which was also kind of nice of her because he was stupid enough to find the macho guy stuff kinda important sometimes.

What was nicer, almost, was when Ronon said, "Sorry," in a quiet rumble as he matched his pace to John's.

"It's fine. Beckett will fix me up." He meant it, too, which surprised John a little. Maybe this time, by seeing what he'd done to John, Ronon would remember that you couldn't just go around smacking the shit out of the people you were living with and were going to need. Of course it was possible that Ronon still didn't plan to stick around.

"Those are broken."

John glanced over at him and noticed the finger pointing at his own fingers, and with a nod he acknowledged it. "Yeah, but I heal pretty fast. Faster since coming here." Even faster after his very, very cool glowing experience with Chaya.

"Good." Ronon's voice was still low and quiet as he walked with them.

"It is," Teyla agreed.

And it was pretty obvious that all three of them were really incredibly bad at making inane conversation so it only took them a minute to lapse into silence except for the occasional grunt from him as something twinged all wrong.

"I don't think my ass is ever going to be the same though."

To his surprise he could see Teyla smirking next to him at those words and he narrowed his eyes at her for a second before grinning. They were both fine and, well, if Ronon didn't fit in quite yet it was only going to take some time. John would just have to keep working on it until he did.