Ronon knew that skin markings were considered taboo on many planets, especially because of the markings the Wraith had on their faces. On Sateda, tattoos were a marking of military rank, of brotherhood, of loyalty and friendship. As far as Ronon knew, none of the Earthers had tattoos. No one seemed curious about or offended by his tattoos, but no one asked about them either, and Ronon didn’t know how to ask about Earth traditions for tattoos. After seven years as a Runner, Ronon didn’t know how to ask about a lot of things.
Ronon figured out pretty quickly that the Marines were more like him: tough, strong, focused, whereas the Air Force officers like Lorne and Vega and Teldy were a little softer. Or at least the Marines considered them so. Teldy, Lorne, and Sheppard were all out on the front lines, leading teams through the Ring of the Ancestors. They were tougher than the Marines gave them credit for.
Ronon understood interservice rivalry. The Chieftain’s Guard had thought themselves something above and beyond the Planetary Defense Forces, who’d thought themselves something braver and stronger than the Forward Ring Forces, who were a combination of negotiators and ambassadors more than soldiers. Ronon was more like a Marine, but his commanding officer was Sheppard, and so he treated the Air Force officers with respect.
And then one day, after sparring, he noticed. Major Lorne, who wasn’t a very tall man but was broad and strong, heaved himself to his feet after accepting defeat gracefully. The hem of his shirt slid up, and Ronon glimpsed it. Ink. Curving down Lorne’s ribs and along the cut of his hip to disappear beneath the waistband of his trousers.
Major Lorne had ink.
Ronon was curious about the full image of it, the meaning behind it. But he rarely interacted with Lorne and his team, and he still didn’t know how to ask. Ronon came to understand that Sheppard wasn’t like most Air Force officers, that with his crazy hair and borderline suicidal bravery, he was almost like a Marine himself, and that was why the Marines liked him. Lorne was Sheppard’s right hand man. Lorne was a model Air Force officer. He was good at remembering things like patrol schedules, and inventory requisitions, and what forms Sheppard needed to sign when.
Some of the Marines had ink, Ronon learned, when one of them finally asked him about his tattoos. They wore ink differently. Most of it was simply decoration. Some was in memory of loved ones, or to show their loyalty to their Marines. Some of it belonged to home and country. Ink on Earth, as Ronon understood it, was a sign of rebellion.
He asked about Major Lorne’s ink.
The Marines laughed. Major Lorne didn’t have any ink. He was far too buttoned up and starched for ink.
The Marines were wrong, and Ronon wanted to know, more than ever, what Lorne was hiding beneath his perfectly-pressed uniform and respectful smiles, his wry humor and his calm, steady hands.
Ronon’s desire to know drove him to the point of distraction every time Lorne was in the same room as him. While Lorne was handing Sheppard a datapad loaded with forms to fill out, Ronon was staring at his chest, his ribs, his hips, wondering. When Lorne stopped by the command office to speak to Sheppard about rearranging the patrol schedule, Ronon studied his mouth and hands and jaw, imagining ink curling across his chest, down his thigh. When Ronon sparred with Lorne in the gym, he imagined he could feel the heat of Lorne’s ink burning through the soft cotton of his t-shirt.
Finally, Ronon asked Sheppard about why Air Force officers didn’t have ink. Sheppard admitted he had none personally, but he didn’t know about anyone else. Air Force officers could have ink, Sheppard said, but there were rules about where and how much.
Why were there restrictions? That made no sense to Ronon.
Sheppard made a vague gesture, muttered something about Earth and taboos and how tattoos were a sign of - of criminals, back in the day. The Armed Forces were supposed to be respectable. Tattoos were a distraction in the workplace or - something.
Or something, Ronon thought.
And then one day, after sparring, Lorne cornered Ronon alone. Ronon would be the first to admit he was impressed. He hadn’t even noticed Lorne do it, he’d manipulated the situation so smoothly. One moment Lorne was enduring good-natured ribbing from the Marines, the next he was bidding them all farewell, promising to catch up with them at dinner in the mess hall, and the next he was standing between Ronon and the door.
“You’ve been watching me,” Lorne said. It wasn’t a question.
“You have a tattoo,” Ronon said helplessly.
“No one else seems to. Or they keep them covered. I was curious.”
“Oh. You want to see my tattoo?” Lorne started to tug the hem of his shirt upward.
Ronon caught his wrist.
Lorne paused, raised his eyebrows questioningly. “You don’t want to see my tattoo? It’s really not a big deal. It’s -”
Ronon curled a hand over Lorne’s hip, skimmed his fingers over the fabric that he knew covered that intriguing ink. “I do want to see it.”
Lorne peered up at Ronon through his lashes. “You mean you want to touch it.”
“Yes,” Ronon said roughly.
Lorne reached out and swiped his hand over the door lock, but instead of the door hissing open, the lock flared blue. “There,” he said. “No one will interrupt us.” And he started to draw his shirt upward again.
Ronon tightened his hand on Lorne’s wrist, and Lorne stopped. Ronon caught the edge of the soft, worn fabric and said, “Let me.” Then he slid his hand underneath the fabric, pressed his palm against Lorne’s hip.
Lorne caught his gaze and held it, nodded. “Yeah, part of it’s there.”
Ronon slid his hand higher, splayed his fingers to span Lorne’s ribs.
“It continues up there, yes.”
Ronon stroked across Lorne’s chest, and he sucked in a breath.
“Yeah, right there. It starts beneath my collarbone.”
“Oh yeah? And then where?” Ronon curled a possessive hand over Lorne’s other hip.
“You’ve been there already, down my ribs, down to my waist,” Lorne said, and Ronon shifted his hand lower, traced the the line of muscles along the cut of Lorne’s hip, dipped his fingers beneath the waistband of Lorne’s pants, and Lorne’s breath hitched.
“Does it go further?” Ronon asked.
Ronon snaked his hand even lower, and Lorne’s eyes fluttered closed. He bit his lip, tipped his head back, and Ronon crowded in closer, stroking. With deft fingers, he unfastened the button on Lorne’s pants, and he said, “Show me.”
Lorne, shaking with need, stripped off his shirt. Ronon backed him up, pinned him against the wall, and leaned in, dipped his head to taste his skin and ink. The design was intoxicating, a delicate twining of curves and angles, spikes and half-moons. Ronon traced the lines with his lips and tongue and teeth, and by the time he reached the bottom edge of the tattoo, Lorne was clutching his shoulders and panting.
“I like your tattoo,” Ronon said, sitting back on his haunches and grinning up at Lorne, who was gazing down at him dazedly, pupils blown wide, lips red and parted.
“Thanks,” Lorne said breathlessly.
“Just so you know,” Ronon continued, “I like the rest of your body too.” And he leaned in to taste more of Lorne’s soft, golden skin.
After Lorne came down from his high, he pushed Ronon down onto the mat, scrabbling frantically at his clothes, and Ronon let Lorne see the rest of his tattoos.
No wonder Lorne kept his tattoo covered. It was very distracting. If Ronon was a little distracted every time Lorne came around during the day, well, he knew what the neat, disciplined, buttoned-up Lorne looked like beneath all those buttons. Ronon was pleased that he was the only one on Atlantis who knew.