Hth (hth_the_first) wrote,

fic: Alpha Centauri 7 -- Romance

by Hth
part 7 of the Alpha Centauri series

REGARDING SPOILERS: there are none at this time. This story takes place immediately after AlphaCen 6, "Commitment," which takes place in and around the episode "Epiphany." As long as you're that far forward in both the series and canon, you're cool here.

Romance (Alpha Centauri 7)
by Hth

Rodney McKay’s worst date ever was the awards banquet for the Higginbotham Prize, which he attended in the company of the incomparable Amy Nields, whose contempt for the theoretical side of physics had made her irresistibly attractive to every doctoral candidate Rodney knew. She turned him down nine times for a date over three months (normally one episode of utter humiliation would have sufficed, but she was Amy Nields, blonde and brilliant and charming and cruel, and he would have stuck his hand in a reactor core if he’d thought it would get him anywhere with her – but no, if it had been that easy to impress her, it wouldn’t have been worth half as much), and when she finally agreed it was quite blatantly the award and the chance to meet other, more important scientists as the guest of honor’s date that appealed. Rodney didn’t mind; it was the first foot in the door he’d ever had or ever would have. He would have paid cash by that point; a little social bribery was absolutely nothing to him.

He’d gotten a haircut and been fitted for his first tuxedo. She wore white – he could never remember what, exactly; he forever afterward remembered her as this shining, formless creation of light and celestial perfection, golden hair curling against her pale neck. She took his arm on their entrance and he pulled her chair out for her, and in a way it was winning the Higginbotham Prize all over again. He felt positive that people were looking at him in an entirely new light; he felt that he was finally embarking on the great career and the grand life that had, until that evening, seemed perpetually just around the corner for him, palpable but never quite solid in his hand.

But then hard fate intervened, in the form of candles, and a calla lily centerpiece (as elegant and shining-white and time-sensitive as Amy herself), and the unfortunately touchy sprinkler system at the Harvard Club. He got the wine on her dress, the candles in the flowers, and soggy reality all over his rarefied existence of achievement and respect. Amy’s dress was ruined, the club had to be evacuated, and Rodney never got laid in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ever again. He had never believed that was a coincidence.

“What was your worst date ever?” he asked.

“I guess this one,” Ronon said. His hands didn’t shake when he refilled Rodney’s wineglass, and the flames that tipped the candles didn’t even waver as he reached around them.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Rodney said. “This is not a bad date. This is an
awkward date. This is uncomfortable, nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing, and undeniably strange. But a bad date involves – recriminations, tears, arrest, and definitely no chance whatsoever of getting lucky. On my worst date, I almost burned down the Harvard Club. Although in my defense, there were twelve people at my table, and if just one of them had been drinking anything that wasn’t forty-proof, we could have gotten it put out a lot faster. Academia – if you knew, you’d understand why we drink.”

“So you’re saying I still have a chance to get lucky.”

“Sure, that slang you know,” Rodney grumbled.

“It’s also my best date ever,” he said stiffly, turning his spoon over and over in the French onion soup. “It’s pretty much my first.”

“Oh,” Rodney said, and then for once, he wasn’t sure what to add. “They’re not all like this,” he offered.

“I didn’t figure they were.”

There are twenty characters in the Satedan alphabet, and letters are grouped by syllable. A three-letter syllable is written in a triangle – top, then bottom left, then bottom right for a leading syllable, and an ending syllable sits beneath it, upside-down like a reflection – top right, top left, third letter at the bottom, so that a six-letter word forms a complete diamond. Six is the perfect number, the number of completion.

Some syllables have only two letters. They are written with the second letter nested inside the first, a bonded glyph that replaces a triad of letters. Ronon’s family name was the first word he learned to write, O contained inside the R, both resting on the flat surface of the N-O-N triad. His eye can pick the symbol out at a hundred paces, its shape both unique and familiar.

Sateda is a heavenly word – six letters, written as a single triangle made of three nested-pair syllables. This reflects the universe, which is also given expression through three bonded pairs – parent and child, body and soul, and the Great Dyad, which is something and nothing, being and nonbeing, 1 and 0. On Sateda, binary programming was once a sacred art, practiced only in monasteries under the guidance of the enlightened. It was considered too dangerous for the unwise to deal in the most profound mystery of the universe, to speak the language of all things. By Ronon’s own era, this was considered superstition.

Ronon can read in English now, although he prefers not to. Atlantean script looks disorganized to him, letters dropped end-to-end like clothing left on the floor to form a trail between the front door and the shower. It has no structure, no guiding shape, and he finds it slow labor to add sound to sound to sound in endless dull ranks.

He has experimented with grouping Atlantean letters into Satedan forms; in some cases, the experiment is more successful than others. Rodney’s name looks very satisfying: R-O-D over N-E-Y, and the shape of McKay is near enough to the shape of Ronon to please him, in his more sentimental moods. Sheppard’s is highly troublesome, but he can do it if he erases the silent H in John’s given name and substitutes the leading sound of his family name with the single letter which makes an identical sound in Satedan, yielding SH-E-P over A-R-D. It looks okay to his eye. Teyla works, but you have to cheat to get her family name, collapsing the first two syllables into one triad, E-M-A. Weir’s name is a mess; he can’t resolve it no matter how hard he tries, which somehow doesn’t surprise him. Atlantis feels like a heavenly word for some reason, but it isn’t quite. Canada is, but he can’t reconcile Earth or California into any Satedan shape at all; USA is convenient to write, but Ronon still finds the concept of acronyms alien and somewhat disquieting. How can you represent the whole of a thing through only some of its parts? It feels disrespectful. He feels the same way, though somewhat less strongly, about abbreviations; when he writes out Rodney’s name, he always spells out his full title, D-O-C over T-O-R. Everything about Rodney’s name is aesthetic and reminds Ronon of home.

Rodney spent a lot of time reading the note – a lot more than it seemed like he should’ve needed to, based on the single line of writing across it. He even turned it over twice to check the back; Ronon could have told him it was blank.

“What?” Ronon said again. “What does it say?” He couldn’t get a good enough look to recognize anything but an isolated letter here and there in Sheppard’s dark, cramped handwriting.

“It says...” Rodney folded the paper in quarters and shoved it under the ice bucket on the table. “Never mind. I’m not sure I can work out a literal translation into English from the language of emotionally crippled, Hollywood-addled, thinks-he’s-cool-but-really-is-still-stuck-in-the-eighties stoner morons, but the upshot is that...this is for us.”

“Yeah,” Ronon said. “I figured that part out. want to eat it?”

“Well, I hate to see it go to waste,” Rodney said, giving the food a wistful look. It seemed to be yet another variation on that species of poultry that the Atlanteans favored, with a cheese-garnished soup and a fresh keedra-berry tart with whipped cream. Before coming to Atlantis, it had never once occurred to Ronon that keedra-berry anything could be improved in any way, but whipped cream was nothing short of miraculous. It came on most desserts here – all of them, if you asked the cafeteria staff. “Dinner won’t kill us, right?” he added hopefully.

“Doubt that’ll be how we go,” Ronon agreed, and reached for the wine in the ice while trying to ignore the note he knew was hidden beneath it.

When you enlist into the Grand Infantry, you take a twelve-year assignment. Hard service, they call it. Four out of five soldiers don’t live to count twelve full years.

At the end of twelve years, the survivors split pretty much in half. One group leaves the Infantry altogether; they marry, acquire property, have children – all the things they have been forbidden to do for so long, they immerse themselves in gratefully. The rest re-enlist; they serve the remainder of their careers as petty officers, trainers, home guard – safer, more settled assignments. Life service, it’s called. Soldiers in life service have a civilian’s rights; they can own land and slaves, start families, vote and run for office. If they are killed, the Infantry pays to have their bodies returned to their families for burial, rather than interring them in the closest military graveyard.

The first thing Ronon realized about Atlantean soldiers was that they were all in life service. Once he made that connection, almost everything else began to make sense: the way they courted, the way they went back for each other under fire, they way they mourned. Every single Atlantean, the soldiers just as much as the rest of them, were citizens. Every one of them was expected to have a future, and if they didn’t, it was a kind of small-scale tragedy for those who had known them in life, a violation of what they saw as the natural order.

To Ronon’s mind, dying in hard service was the natural order. He had not grieved for anyone since his father in the way that Atlanteans grieved.

Motivated at first by curiosity, he tried to view the world as Atlanteans did – everything so stuffed with potential, with hope, and so vulnerable to disaster. He began to understand why they always had so much to talk about, and why they made everything complicated. Before very long, he began to understand more than he wanted to: how they could still be unwilling to believe that Aiden Ford was gone for good, why they fought with people they really liked, why they craved extreme sensations, why basic tactical decisions could become so muddled and confusing for them as they endlessly weighed out tangible and intangible costs. Atlantean lives were jagged lines, highs and lows with no clear directionality, never leading simply to death or to victory, but to some vaguely understood future where they would, no doubt, continue to struggle with those distinctively Atlantean dilemmas: am I happy, do I have a purpose and have I completed it, who am I?

He was closer to becoming one of them already than he would like to admit.

Ronon himself was in life service now, and not only by Atlantean standards. He’d passed his twelve-mark on a frozen planet, rags wrapped around his hands to keep them from shaking as he braced his gun on an outcropping of rock and picked off wild dogs one by one to steal the corpse of an animal he’d never seen or heard of before. There was no ritual of thanksgiving, no party, no officer’s commission, but he was alive – a scavenger now, not a soldier, but alive.

Life as a civilian, he wouldn’t have known what to do with it even if it had been an option. When he enlisted with Atlantis, he knew what he was choosing: life service, the middle way between war and peace, Infantry and family, service and.... Whatever ordinary people had instead.

”Don’t make me laugh,” Rodney said, rolling his eyes and not looking like he was about to laugh at all. “Everybody remembers their first.”

Ronon shrugged. “I don’t know. She was.... I don’t know. She was a woman. It was a long time ago. I remember Kell paid for her.”

“Stop, stop, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to hear the story.”


Rodney attacked his poultry with more vigor than necessary for a moment, and then said in a tired voice, as though asking were a distasteful chore that he couldn’t get out of, “I don’t suppose you remember the first time it was
free, do you?”

“Sure,” he said. “It was after I’d been tending Kell for a few months, and we just got...I don’t know. Carried away. I was scared he’d be mad at me, but he...wasn’t.”

“Well, that was predictable.”

“You asked.”

“Just once, I’d like to hear a story about your love life that didn’t involve one of your commanding officers.”

“I’ve got brothel stories, but you don’t seem to like those, either.”

“I suppose I’m just
difficult that way.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. That’s pretty much what I’ve got.”

Dex is an easy lay; everybody in Atlantis knows this by now. Rodney doesn’t try to keep up with his sexual adventures, but physicists gossip like little old women, and engineers are worse.

Rodney is jealous, or so he tries to tell himself. Because being jealous is normal; something that he alone used to have now belongs to anyone who whistles for it, and that makes it cheaper than it should be, and he misses it and resents what people like Maddy Norris and Cadman and that punk kid in astrometrics have done to something that used to be practically perfect. You should be jealous. It’s normal, it’s the quintessence of normal; the fact that John Sheppard doesn’t grasp it is practically proof that it’s a basic human emotion.

He should be jealous, and some days he is.

Other days, he watches Ronon Dex prowl through Atlantis, leonine and inscrutable and so comfortable in his skin, and what’s normal begins to seem all twisted around. He’s like a natural phenomenon of some kind, like an electrical storm of sex and strength, like a kind of magnetic north that exists on every planet without fail, and it hardly even enters Rodney’s mind that someone like that could be reserved for any one person’s enjoyment. It’s like he generates an EMP that shorts out Rodney’s sense of normal altogether.

Because it isn’t exactly normal– Well, none of it is, is it? Nobody like Dex has ever even made a pass at Rodney before, let alone pined after him; that’s not normal. And maybe wanting to have your cake and eat it too (a phrase that never made sense to Rodney – who would care about having cake at all, if it weren’t for the eating of it?) is normal, but what Rodney wants from the two utterly different men in his life goes a long way past that. And it’s probably not normal that even though he knows intellectually that it’s the easiest thing in the world to get somewhere with Dex, it doesn’t feel as cheap as it should.

With every piece of Dex that he touches or tastes, every inch of skin that Rodney sees bared only when they’re alone together, with every intense frown of concentration or unconscious sigh of approval, every twitch of his fingers while he’s trying to hold Rodney steady and sure – with every veiled glance and roughened inclination of his voice and uncertain bend of his head, with everything about him, Rodney only feels more convinced than ever that he’s taking home the prize, that everything he’s learned he shouldn’t bother wanting has been placed directly in his hands, free of charge because it’s well beyond price.

Dex is phenomenal. Nothing cheapens him; Rodney can’t imagine putting a value on this that is more or less than what it is right now. Maybe he’s jealous of all the others and maybe he’s not, but that’s all theory, and it’s only when they’re apart.

They’ve been apart for a while now, but it falls away quickly when they touch. For once, it’s not a competition for top honors or the world’s regard or the right to say he’s done what no one else could ever do. Dex kisses him and slides his hand over the small of his back and murmurs, “Okay, yes. Yes,” against his face, and all the world’s equations are solved, all the mysteries unraveled and the universe revealed to be clear and orderly and beautiful, and something inside Rodney that has been churning and calculating and processing for as long as he can remember goes suddenly quiet, satisfied at last.

This is his zero-point. All the Ancients could do, all anyone could ever do, was synthesize a partial replica of this feeling, perfect symmetry and limitless power.

”Do you think our relationship is based on sex?”

“Why, do you want it to be?” Dex asked, in that strange way he had of making what should be a rhetorical question sound actively interesting and full of possibility.

He couldn’t get his fingers on the buckles around Dex’s wrist, because he kept pulling his arm loose, running his fingers over Rodney’s palm. “Stop,” he said through gritted teeth, and he finally had to give up and let Dex lace their fingers together. He reached across to work at the bracer with his left hand instead, but he’s not left-handed, and the little buckles were tighter and the leather stiffer than he expected. “Get this – a little help, please?”

Dex shifted, a seismic movement of skin and bone and hot erection underneath Rodney’s body. “No,” he said, a little indignantly. “Forget it, just – touch me, I want to feel you.”

“See, this is why people think all we have is sex. Great sex,” he added. He didn’t mean it to be an insult.

“What people?”

“I don’t know,
people.” Rodney actually had no idea what people thought about the two of them, but he was probably right. There were certainly no secrets in Atlantis, and what would they imagine that he saw in Dex, after all, except what everyone else saw? They had no shared interests, no compatible habits, no common ground. God knew what they thought Dex saw in him, for that matter, but it was hardly the first time Rodney had been forced to contend with naysayers and their spiteful, half-audible murmurs behind his back; he had gone to graduate school, after all. He didn’t let the petty jealousy of lesser minds bother him in professional arenas, and the petty jealousy of people who thought that if they were Dex, they wouldn’t settle for Rodney, well, that was even more small-minded and contemptible. That was beneath his notice, but somehow he was finding himself still vulnerable in unexpected places. It chafed at him to suspect that his desire for Dex was being reduced in the eyes of grubby, unimaginative onlookers to something that wasn’t elemental, but merely elementary.

The bracer came off Dex’s arm at last, and Rodney bent his hand back and trailed his mouth up and down the fine skin inside his wrist, hot and damp with sweat. Just skin – Dex had acres of it – but valuable because it had to be uncovered. Discovered.

With his other hand, Dex traced undecipherable shapes on Rodney’s back as Rodney mouthed his way down his arm to the crook of his elbow where his pulse drummed quick and erratic. “If sex feels like this,” he said, low in his throat, “I’ve been doing it all wrong up til now.”

Rodney turned his face against the well of Dex’s broad palm and snorted a laugh, letting Dex’s fingers sway against his cheek like wind-blown leaves.

Rodney’s father drove a bus – when he lived with his wife and children, at any rate. Rodney had no idea what line of work he’d taken up after he abandoned them, which happened when Rodney was twelve.

From time to time, when his mother had stopped going to work again and the money was drying up rapidly, whatever fat old neighbor or semi-comatose teenage bimbo was being paid to watch Rodney and Jeannie would be laid off, and Bruce McKay would bring his children with him on the route. They sat at the back of the bus, Jeannie with her coloring book, swinging her feet so that the heels of her Mary Janes banged hypnotically, obnoxiously against the plastic beneath their seats, Rodney with his Garfield backpack (well, it was a funny strip in 1978) stuffed full of library books on earthquakes and nuclear power and the hotels they would be building before long on the surface of the moon. Whenever Jeannie began to complain, Rodney was responsible for stuffing graham crackers with pink frosting on them into her mouth. To this day, that’s as much as Rodney knows about child-rearing: it’s a myth that sugar makes children hyperactive. It is, in fact, a sudden change in blood sugar levels that makes children hyperactive, so shutting them up with sugar is fine, as long as you have enough sugar to do it consistently.

In the winter of 1978, Rodney was ten years old, and nobody had yet suggested that he didn’t have to march lockstep through the public school system with the morons in his age-group, so he was in grade five. Things would change after the A-bomb incident in grade six, but until then, he suffered – well, not in silence, but it might as well have been, for as much attention as anyone paid to his pain. That was the winter he fell in love for the first time.

Her name was Jennifer Reynolds, and she took the bus from her apartment complex to the rink where she had ice skating lessons three times a week. She was a junior in high school, redheaded, and she wore a heart-shaped locket on the outside of her red parka and carried her schoolbooks in one arm, her skates with the laces tied together thrown over the other. She knew who Rodney was; she usually sat a row in front of him, and said hello when she got on the bus and waved goodbye with her fuzzy mittens when she got off. Sometimes she asked him what he was reading, and once she asked him if he’d seen Star Wars yet (he had, of course – six times, because it was the only movie both he and Jeannie liked to see, so they got dropped off there a lot the previous summer), because she knew he liked spaceships and things. “I think I want to build spaceships when I get older,” he told her, trying to sound casual about it, like it was maybe just one option he was tossing around. “I think I might want to design the first real hyperspace drive.”

“Cool,” Jennifer said. She had a dimpled chin and long bangs and big brown eyes and Rodney was in love with her, totally and completely.

He never told anyone, of course, because he knew that was the sort of thing adults just lived to mock, and he didn’t really have any non-adult friends. He knew how it sounded, and he knew it was a doomed love, that she didn’t feel that way about him, that he barely even knew her. He knew all of that perfectly well, but there was still something – something special between them, some kind of immediate and perfect connection that Rodney knew was eternal and unassailable.

The reason it was love, and not just some ridiculous boyhood infatuation (Rodney had thought about this a lot over the ensuing quarter-century, and he’d perfected his theory on the matter), was that he didn’t want anything from her. Yes, it was nice that she spoke to him sometimes, and waved at him (Rodney still had an unfortunately excitable response to fuzzy mittens), and shared her butterscotches with him sometimes, but ultimately he didn’t need any of that. And yes, fine, he thought she was beautiful, and a few years later when he discovered masturbation in earnest, she was on his permanent rotation along with Nurse Chapel and Loni Anderson (who was also named Jennifer on television, indisputable proof of...something), but that wasn’t the point, either.

The point was that Jennifer Reynolds’s mere existence made him feel differently about the universe than he had before he discovered her; she changed everything. She made him grateful that there was a universe, and when he thought about her, all he thought about was her. He didn’t think of himself at all, and Rodney had spent so much time worrying about taking care of himself that that was virtually unprecedented. He loved her because every time the bus doors hissed open at the Riverbend Apartments stop and Jennifer climbed on board, all he felt was lucky that his babysitter got fired and he was watching his little sister on this exact bus, her exact route. It was like a million minor disasters and freaks of nature had conspired to bring him here, where he could sit one row behind her and grip the corners of his book to keep his hands from shaking. It was enough; he was as happy that winter, on the afternoons when Jennifer Reynolds had skating practice, as he ever had been in his whole life.

If that’s not love, what could you possibly call it?

And it did last forever, too, or close enough. He’d tried to track her down, in between Siberia and Antarctica, because some colossal failure of a US government-sponsored amateur travel agent thought it would be a good idea to book him for a weekend in Calgary, when all he wanted to do was get on to his new job. But he was stuck there, presumably because somebody thought it was his home and he might have missed it. He hadn’t missed it, not even infinitesimal amounts. He thought about visiting Jeannie, but he’d blown off their mother’s funeral for work just a few years before that, whereupon he stopped getting Christmas cards from his sister; he didn’t know if she even still lived in Calgary, and at any rate getting stricken from the Christmas card list was as clear a sign as Rodney could imagine that she didn’t want anything more to do with him, short of dead animal parts delivered to his home. He was a little sorry about the whole thing, except not really, because funerals existed to comfort the bereaved, and Rodney was the bereaved and he felt better not being there, so he didn’t see what right Jeannie had to judge him. Anyway, a little sorry, but not sorry enough to apologize, and he really didn’t think he was the one who was being petty about it.

But he had two days to kill, and so he’d done a little research, thinking maybe Jennifer still lived in town somewhere. She might remember him, at least well enough that she wouldn’t mind a phone call and maybe a battery of his more bizarre Russia stories (not the classified ones, naturally, but it was Russia; there was a lot of room left over for bizarre) over dinner. He couldn’t track her down, however, which was maybe not surprising. Twenty years later, Rodney had yet to find out what became of his own father, let alone a redheaded figure skater who used to ride his father’s bus.

He had a drink in the hotel lobby instead, and surprised himself by how much of a letdown it was. Maybe it was the scotch, but on the other hand, maybe they had shared something, just like Rodney remembered it. Maybe if they met again as adults, the situation would have been different; maybe she’d still have that gold locket and the ability to change his life with one smile, and maybe he wouldn’t screw it up like he had every other relationship in his life, because what was the point in believing (even temporarily and only after a few drinks) in destiny if destiny couldn’t give you a bit of a hand at the pivotal moments?

The strange fact was that in 2003, Rodney was still as in love with Jennifer as he ever had been. It would have been a comfort to see her, before setting out for no telling what, a level of new discovery that was bound to upend his whole concept of reality forever. She didn’t have to do anything – just take his call, eat dinner with him, maybe. He’d never really asked her to do anything be real. That was the difference between Jennifer and all the other women he’d loved since her – loved conditionally, loved possessively, loved in frustration or been bound to in one or another kind of hopelessly fraught relationship. That was what made her still the best, twenty-five years later.

Ironically, about two and a half weeks after the night he didn’t take Jennifer Reynolds out to dinner, a complete stranger in military BDUs and the red-faced, breathless look of someone coming in from outside the facility walked right into his office and said, “McKay, you’re in charge around here?” in an accent that hailed from God knew what dusty episode of Wagon Train, and Rodney looked up to tell him yes, which is why I have many layers of subordinates who should be screening my distractions for me, and for the first time since he was ten years old, he fell in love, totally and completely.

He blathered his way through a four-minute conversation about what the scientists were and were not allowed to transport as carry-on luggage in a helicopter and what had to be shipped in specially marked crates for laboratory materials, during which he was busily working on resolving an unexpected sexual identity crisis. Four minutes later, the pilot nodded his head sideways with exaggerated courtesy and said, “Fine, then. I think the rest of our working relationship should be smooth sailing,” and the crisis was over, and it took every ounce of Rodney’s self-control not to start grinning like a lobotomy victim, because the only thoughts in his head were unexpectedly jubilant – this changes everything, and this is enough.

It would have been enough, too. John was handsome and bright, a good listener who could also be counted on to shut Rodney up when his conversation became too compulsive and fragmentary, with a skewed sense of humor and an ability to lend perspective to a world that often, to Rodney, felt unbearable in its extremities. He was a brave man and a good one, and even though Rodney added him immediately to his masturbatory rotation along with Samantha and Scully and Britney Spears, he didn’t really want anything from John. He just felt lucky that he – that all of them had discovered John in time to bring him along to Atlantis.

From a self-involved child, Rodney knew he’d grown into a self-involved man, but Major Sheppard made him care about something else with as much strength as Rodney had (more, in fact, than he’d known he had), which was good practice for all the self-sacrificing Rodney was called upon to do lately.

”What’s a rook?”

“It’s a chess piece.”

“No, I know, but what does it mean? Why is it called that?”

“I don’t know, I never– Why do you care? You don’t play chess.”

Dex shrugged, busy compressing the bulb of whipped cream on his tart into a flat layer, smoothing it evenly across the pastry with the tip of his spoon. “I’m learning. I asked Hollister why he plays it every day, because it looks...not very exciting. But he said you can play it for speed, too, and that sounded okay – more like real tactics, you know, where you have to make complicated decisions really fast and you can’t just sit there for an hour and think about what might happen later. So he’s teaching me. He doesn’t know what a rook is, either. He said it was a kind of bird, but the piece doesn’t look like a bird.”

“Chess is obsolete,” Rodney said glumly. “Ever since Deep Blue, I don’t see the point. My philosophy is, if a computer can do something better than a person can, let the computer do it, stay out of its way. Are you sleeping with Hollister now?”

He smiled a little bit and said, “He’s pretty old for me.”

“You like older men.”

“True. But he’s just teaching me chess.”

“I once joined a Pee-Wee hockey league just because a redhead named Jennifer Reynolds took skating lessons at the same rink.”

“Did it work?”

“She was too old for me. How old are you, anyway?”

He seemed to think it over, drawing his eyebrows together in intense concentration. Rodney hadn’t really intended it to be a trick question. “Twenty-seven,” he finally said. “Give or take.”

“1978,” Rodney sighed. “Of course.”

Ten Things Rodney McKay Wanted for Quite Some Time Before He Actually Got Them:

1. A date with Amy Nields

cf. the Higginbotham Prize and the Harvard Club, above.

2. An apology from SGC

It wasn’t an apology per se, or not in so many words, but it got him out of Siberia anyhow, and he knew it was because he was much too valuable to be buried there forever over a thing that wasn’t, in fact, his fault at all. All of that, Rodney feels, is implicit in the fact that they called him, and not at all the other way around.

3. To suck someone’s cock

He wanted this long before it occurred to him that he wasn’t strictly heterosexual – and yes, in retrospect, of course that seems a little improbable, but at the time it made a certain amount of sense. Rodney loves women precisely because they aren’t men; they are more gracious, more forgiving, wiser and more patient than any man Rodney has ever met. Rodney has dated ten women in his life, nine of whom have had sex with him and six of whom have put his cock in their mouths, and it used to amaze him as he watched them do it. They made it look so easy; he didn’t even know where to put his hands while he was getting a blowjob, but they knew where to put everything.

It was just habit to make the jump from wondering how something was done to wanting to work it out himself.

John loves the way Rodney sucks his cock. “You’ve done this before,” he said, smiling his sex-drunk, delighted smile down at Rodney the first time, and Rodney said, “None of your business.”

Rodney McKay is a man of many, many accomplishments, and he would not by any means say that a certain natural flair for cocksucking is the one he’s proudest of. But it’s on the list.

4. A really good backrub

Bridget Waverly, a librarian at Northwestern; they dated for six months in 1993, a particularly busy time in Rodney’s life even by his own standards. She had what Rodney thought might actually qualify as an addiction to 24-hour news channels, however, so she amused herself most of the time. Looking back, he can’t remember what, if anything, they ever talked about, but she was always awake whenever he stopped by her apartment, day or night, and he remembered falling asleep beside her, lulled by the dispassionate lilt of the anchors’ voices (he wonders now if John was in any of those places they were talking about, if Rodney was falling asleep thinking about wormholes and listening to the story of John’s life on CNN) and her fingers absently stroking his hair. She made breakfast for him, too, and he toyed with the possibility that he was in love with her, but that never really got off the ground.

He has no idea where she learned to give backrubs like that, but she should have been given an honorary medical degree; she was certainly of more use to him than most doctors Rodney had gone to see in his life. It felt like she could curl her fingers underneath his shoulderbones and get directly at the muscles beneath, like she could actually sink inside his skin and find things that Rodney didn’t even know were in pain until the pain suddenly stopped.

He stopped having time to see her sometime around Thanksgiving, and a couple of months later when he went back to her place, she wouldn’t open the door for him anymore, even though he could hear the television inside. He missed her, and not only because of the backrubs, although he’s never found a masseuse, professional or otherwise, since Bridget that quite lived up to her.

5. A threesome

It didn’t happen exactly like he imagined it, of course. It wasn’t him and two Swedish stewardesses, or version 2.0, him and John and a Swedish stewardess.

Rodney doesn’t think about it that much. He considers himself in the prime of life, and it just doesn’t provide the right impetus for surviving insane odds if he starts believing that his best days are behind him.

It wasn’t the best night of his life – just the best night of his life so far. That’s a critical distinction. Rodney tries to bear that in mind as much as possible, but mostly, he tries not to think about it that much.

6. To fall asleep and wake up next to John

The first time doesn’t count, because he didn’t so much fall asleep as pass out. The field doesn’t count, although technically they’ve bedded down next to each other plenty of times in that context.

John snores unevenly, quiet raspy breathing punctuated with a sudden flurry of muffled snorts that sounds for all the world as though he’s waking up. But he isn’t. When he does wake up, he does so all at once, zero to sixty like the incredible, finely calibrated machine that he is.

“Where are you going?” John said (it was the ninth time they’d had sex – Rodney kept count up to twenty-four, and then stopped counting on purpose because he was beginning to make himself feel creepy), and put his hand on Rodney’s leg and tugged impatiently while Rodney was trying to climb out of bed. He kissed Rodney’s shoulderblades and put one arm over him, his hand burrowing between the bed and Rodney’s chest. “There,” he mumbled sleepily into Rodney’s neck. “Now go to sleep.”

Maybe that night doesn’t fit the specifications either, because Rodney isn’t convinced that he slept. But John did, lazing up against his back and snoring against his skin, and when he woke up in the morning he propped himself up and ran an affectionate hand down Rodney’s thigh and said, “Hey, you up?” as if everything were normal and everything were in its proper place, and that’s the night that Rodney counts.

7. A cat

Rodney grew up believing that he was allergic to cats and dogs. Turns out, it was actually his mother who was allergic, or possibly nobody at all.

The Humane Society was giving kittens away at the grocery store, and one was a beautiful tortoiseshell who wouldn’t romp around playfully for the benefit of the children who were trying to choose the most adorable one. He just laid there on his side, bigger than most of the others but implying bad health with his lethargy. Rodney picked him up, and he was twice as heavy as he looked and dangled from Rodney’s hands with nothing more than a brief meow of protest at being removed from his warm spot at the bottom of the cardboard kitten playpen.

He had to go back inside the store to buy a litter box and cat food, and two bouncy balls with feather tails on them, and by the time he and the kitten made it home, all Rodney’s frozen dinners had thawed.

Rodney took him to three separate vets, just in case, but he seemed to be in perfect health, which briefly made Rodney feel bitter; he’d only committed to the damn thing because he felt sorry for it, probably terminally ill and ignored by all the selfish children in favor of cats who would live and thrive. He’d planned to make it comfortable in its last days, not to buy a cat.

He’d always wanted a pet, but he didn’t think of himself as the kind of person who could take care of anything. It was enough work to take care of himself most of the time. But Schroeder wasn’t a finicky eater, and he slept sixteen hours a day, and he was always sitting on the piano when Rodney came home, his little face perfectly composed but his tail lashing back and forth, and then he would walk across the piano and put out one paw and tap Rodney’s chest with it until Rodney picked him up and carried him into the kitchen. He always seemed to be in an amenable mood, but he purred extra loudly when Rodney talked about his day, as if the sound of Rodney’s voice made him happy.

8. John Sheppard begging him for sexual favors

After the last time, Rodney had promised himself that he wouldn’t let John fuck him anymore. It was too – too out of control, and he couldn’t afford it while he was trying to master the rules of John’s game. Maybe he couldn’t ever afford it.

“Come on, Rodney,” John said, dragging all three words out one by one, sliding his nails down Rodney’s back from behind. “I’m really fucking bored.”

“Yes, flattery. That’s the strategy I’d stick with, if I were you.” Three weeks on the Daedalus was undeniably boring, even with a brief life-threatening interlude, but honestly, that was John’s come-on line? He was obviously starting to take Rodney for granted, which brought up an odd combination of mixed feelings.

“You love it,” John said, pressing his mouth just behind Rodney’s ear. “Don’t act like it doesn’t make you come.”

That was when it occurred to Rodney – he was Amy Nields in this scenario. He had something that John wanted and didn’t know how to get, which made him the valuable one. Rodney had never played hard to get before, but he’d been on the other end often enough to know how it was done.

“A lot of things make me come,” Rodney said. “It’s really not the achievement you think it is.”

Rodney scheduled himself four days, long enough to get a solid sense of what John would do with rejection. He made it through almost two.

John is incredible when he begs, all prickly frustration and velvety charm. “Rodney,” he purrs, his mouth on Rodney’s neck, his lips, his hands sliding under Rodney’s ass. “It’ll be so good, it’s so good with you.” Or he says, “This is all I can think about lately, you’re so, so hot,” or “Come on, Rodney, come on, say yes, we both want it, what’s stopping you? Just say yes.”

He thinks by now John’s onto him, and he only keeps up the game because it turns them both on, but it was real enough on the Daedalus – John’s need, the rush of power, the rug burn (who put carpeting in an Asgard warship? Do they even have carpeting on Asgard, or was it USAF procedure, or did the Asgard think it was only neighborly to give it that touch of Earth before presenting it to the Earthlings?), the hours and hours of slow, spiderweb flirting in the galley and scorched-earth making out on the floor of John’s passenger berth. “You’re so pathetic,” Rodney gloated between kisses. “You can’t stand not getting your own way in bed, can you?”

“What can I say? I know what I like.”

“You should try the crew; there are dozens of people on this ship you haven’t had adequate opportunity to smarm your way up to yet. Surely at least one of them will give Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard’s magical dick the respect you’re so sure it deserves.”

“Okay, don’t call me that when we’re naked if you want this to last,” he growled, licking up Rodney’s throat as he fingered his own nipple roughly. “Nobody on this ship has what I want.”

“How do– “

“I want you, I want you, Rodney, just you,” he said, and the next thing Rodney knew he was on his hands and knees and vaguely wondering just who was playing whom, here, and then it didn’t matter.

They switch off more often now than they used to, but Rodney tries to bear Nields’s Law in mind: the more he acts like he’s doing John a favor, the more John will work to win him over, and he is incredible when he’s breathing praise and desperation over every inch of Rodney’s body.

9. Sex

He was twenty-two years old. He had his first doctorate before he lost his virginity, but Rodney isn’t bitter about that anymore. He prefers quality to quantity.

10. To go into space

Before he knew enough to want anything else, there was this. There was always this.

“You gonna take your clothes off?” Dex said, after he got restless with being stared at. Usually Rodney didn’t mind Dex’s chronic lack of patience, except in the field, and occasionally when Rodney was trying to memorize every inch of his naked body.

“I suppose that would be for the best.” Rodney traced his hands down both sides of Dex’s body, just for fun, as he crawled back off the foot of the bed to strip as fast as he could and climb back up. He touched his palms against Dex’s thighs as he crawled up, headed for his mouth.

His dick noticed even before his brain did that Dex’s legs shifted apart when he touched them, but it didn’t take his brain long to follow behind. He tried another experiment, running his hands again over Dex’s long legs and letting his thumbs slide further between them, stroking the softer skin there. Dex’s breath jumped slightly in his chest, and Rodney watched his legs tremble – trying to decide what to do with them, or trying to resist? Rodney did his best to skew the results of his experiment by leaning down and mouthing the inside of his thigh, and God, there was some kind of miracle of geometry, a Golden Mean, in the way Dex’s legs were coming apart, slowly and gracefully like an infinite unfolding series under Rodney’s tongue.

Dex’s hand came down between his shoulders, rubbing roughly. “You – you want – ?”

“Oh, I’m positive I want,” Rodney said, though the words might have been hard to make out, between the licking and the nibbling. Whatever hesitation Dex might have started out with, he got over fast enough when Rodney worked his way up to tongue his balls. “The question is,” Rodney added, lifting up his head and wrapping his hand around Dex’s cock with a squeeze just hard enough to make his breath hiss out harshly, “what do you want?”

“You want want me to ask you for it?”

Honestly curious, Rodney asked, “Would that be difficult for you to do?”

Dex shook his head slowly. “I’ll ask you whatever you want me to.”

Rodney frowned slightly. “I’m not sure you’ve quite got the hang of this asking-me-to-fuck-you business. You’re supposed to sound less accommodating and more desperate.”

“It’s been a long time for me,” he said. “Can you...go slow?”

Sateda has a great body of philosophy, but a very minor literary canon, at least in the eyes of its neighbors. There is the Vanorayax, the ancient epic of war and prophecy for which Sateda is most famous, and there is the story of Davon and Leyma.

Ronon cannot remember the first time he heard the story; he would be surprised if any Satedan could. He saw the opera at the age of ten, on a trip with his oldest brother into Tijur City, and he remembers that vividly. He can’t sing, but sometimes the melodies still get stuck in his head; he doesn’t know what to do with them, any more than he knows what to do with any of his ghosts.

Davon is a soldier, and Leyma the daughter of a payroll agent – payroll agents being typical villains in story and in life for an Infantryman. They court in secret, and she swears to remain unmarried for ten years, until his hard service has passed and he can make her his wife. She swears to marry no other man.

He breaks faith with his strike-squadron and his taskmaster and turns back to rescue Leyma from a great culling, and here is where he faces his dire choice – to remain apart and live as a deserter, without home or family or service, with only her, or to obey his vows to the Grand Infantry, where war will certainly separate Davon and Leyma, perhaps forever. This part of the story is beautiful and terrifying, at least to its intended audience. The first act ends when Davon makes his agonized choice – to surrender himself and return to serve out his assignment. His aria is the most famous in all of Satedan opera, a masterpiece of honor and devotion and mourning.

Ten years pass. Leyma’s father has grown ill, and she has grown weary and alone. She handles his business for him, but his is a military post, life service, and when he dies another soldier will be promoted into his place and Leyma will be alone in the world. Her father rails at her and tells her that she must marry, that she must be taken care of when he is gone, but Leyma has her own aria of devotion (this is Ronon’s favorite piece, the one he often finds himself remembering), where she recalls the promise she made and the long years of waiting she has endured and declares again that she is no man’s but Davon’s, that she will have him or no one at all, and that in mere months they will be together at last.

Before her last notes have died away, of course, she receives word that his entire battalion has been slain at Kulonda Field.

”It was a real battle – Kulonda Field. Five, six hundred years ago. They say twenty thousand died.”

“So she kills herself,” Rodney said wearily, as if he’d heard this story before and wasn’t impressed this time, either.

“Who’s telling this story?” Rodney waved at him to go on, tipping the wine bottle upside down to let the dregs of it roll into his glass. “She can’t believe it could be true – maybe she thinks it’s a trick to make her marry someone else – so she runs away to find him herself. She gets to Kulonda Field and sees all the bodies, all the death, and she finally thinks she’ll never see him again. So she prays to the Ancestors to let her body fall beside Davon’s, and she stands at the edge of the pit-grave where all the soldiers’ bodies have been put and slits her throat and falls in. Only Davon isn’t really dead. He survived.”

“Of course he did.”

Ronon glared and Rodney held up his hands in surrender. “He goes down into the pit and carries up her body. It’s really...sad.”

“And then he kills himself, too, right? Because he can’t possibly go on living without her?”

“Wrong,” Ronon said with some satisfaction. “He re-enlists. No bride but duty, no love but death – that’s what he says in his last song. That part’s really old, as old as anything in the story, I think. I knew people in the service who used to say that about themselves. It’s kind of...just something people say.”

Rodney tapped his thumb on the edge of his wineglass, staring into it as if his aimless rhythm might actually summon more wine from somewhere to refill it. “Violent and depressing. The perfect love story. Though it does explain a lot about your masochistic streak.”

“It’s a good opera,” Ronon insisted. “It doesn’t make as good a story if everything turns out okay in the end.”

Rodney has always had a very clear sense of when and how he’ll get married. There may be a practice engagement, something he asks her to do and she agrees to when they’re drunk (he’s probably won something important and they’re celebrating), and first thing in the morning they’ll both regret it, but neither will want to be the first to say so. They’ll plan a wedding half-heartedly for a few months and then invent some reason to break it off. If she has any initiative, she’ll sleep with one of his grad students.

That will just be a learning experience. When Rodney finally meets the woman he wants to marry, she will be tall and blonde and patrician, intelligent and ambitious but not brilliant, because geniuses never put the relationship first. Rodney is familiar with this law of the universe from every possible angle. She will be in some worthwhile field, but not physics – engineering or organic chemistry or possibly, if he’s feeling inventive, law.

She will not want to marry him. That goes without saying. She will value her independence, and he will frustrate her with his messiness and his tendency to stand her up and the way he makes fun of her friends, and her parents will hate him. Seventy percent of their sex will be make-up sex. She will love him desperately, but it will take some time before she is ready to admit that. It will eventually happen, in some intense conversation, half argument and half impassioned confession, probably in public, possibly in the rain. Yes, Rodney likes the idea that it’s raining. He will ask her to marry him right there, and she will say yes.

Rodney estimates they will be married for eight to ten years. Nothing will change between them; he will still leave wet laundry in the washing machine for days until it smells like mildew and stand her up and hate her friends and care more about his work than he does about her, although he’ll never say that, but then again he’ll never have to. She will give him two children and wildly resent the damage done to her own career. She will be bored and weary with listening to him discuss the finer point of thermodynamic breakthroughs that she can’t understand and doesn’t care about. She will leave him very abruptly, but if he’s honest with himself, he can’t say that he didn’t see it coming. Obviously.

He will let it be known that his heart is broken and use it as an excuse to stop dating seriously. He will throw himself into his work and only have sex at major conferences. His secretary will give him evil looks whenever she has to remind him that one of his children has a birthday soon and he has to come up with a present. He would spend more time with his children, except he doesn’t have more time, and they don’t like him anyway. They think he abandoned their mother, even though she’s the one who took them and moved away. Rodney will let it slide, feeling that adulthood is really the appropriate time to work out your issues with your parents, so they have plenty of time.

It all really only stands to reason. Nobody who really knew Rodney McKay would visualize any other scenario.

”Move in with me,” Rodney gasped before he’d even finished softening inside Dex, before his body was fully aware that the million crossing currents of pleasure zapping through him were sense-memory now because his actual orgasm was over.

Dex wrapped a hand around Rodney’s and pushed it between them. His cock slipped through Rodney’s clumsy grasp, sweat and pre-come and post-coital lassitude, and when Dex said, “No, no,” Rodney honestly thought that’s what he was protesting. He forced his mind to focus on controlling his fingers and gripped tightly at the root, and Dex made a few bone-deep grunts of pleasure, but then opened his eyes and said, “No, I can’t,” so that this time Rodney couldn’t miss the referent.

“Move in with me,” Rodney said again. “Don’t think about it, just – do you want to? You want to, don’t you?”

His body surged under Rodney’s hand, but he touched his fingers to the side of Rodney’s head with startling gentleness and let them slide down to Rodney’s sensitized neck until he shivered. “I won’t dishonor you like that.”

Dishonor me? What kind of a reason is that?” Rodney didn’t even have any honor, insofar as he was aware.

“Your laws. Among your people....”

“There’s no law against it! Not for you and me, anyway.”

“Custom, then. I know more about your ways than I used to. I know it’s considered dishonorable.”

My people are in the midst of a bit of a disagreement on that subject, not that it matters, since believe me, this would be just a drop in the bucket in terms of what some people think is wrong with me, not that it matters, since I don’t care.”

“I care.”

He didn’t really deserve an orgasm after turning Rodney down for a reason as stupid as that one (he’d been prepared to be turned down, but it was supposed to be because of John, and Rodney had a whole list of replies ready for that, but he’d prepared absolutely nothing in defense of his
honor), but, well, it wasn’t exactly motivated by altruism. He loved the way Dex came when he was on his back, his elbows braced on the mattress and his head thrown back, all those long, smooth planes of his stomach and his chest and his throat frozen solid with the intensity of it. He loved the way he went loose afterwards, collapsing flat and gulping for air, unable to do much of anything but allow Rodney to put his sticky hand on Dex’s hip and kiss his soft, expectant mouth.

“Can’t you just think about it?” Rodney said against his lips. “This isn’t some all-the-blood-has-left-my-brain fluke; I mean it. I want you to.”

“I know you mean it,” he said. He put both arms around Rodney and pulled him down against his chest. “And you know I can’t say yes. Don’t ask me again, okay? I don’t like saying no to you.”

“You could at least be honest,” Rodney said into his shoulder. His voice didn’t even sound like his own, rusty and a little shrill, and God he didn’t want to cry, he hadn’t cried over anything in – he didn’t even know. Years, maybe decades. “It’s not about my honor. You won’t because of John.”

“Go easy, my friend,” Dex murmured in a strangely musical, lilting tone that Rodney had never heard from him before, his strong hand petting Rodney from head to shoulder. “Na, be easy. Time passes, all passes.”

This, too, shall pass. Rodney supposed every culture had to come equipped with a cliche for every occasion. “I think that’s what I’m afraid of.”

He almost woke up when Rodney got out of bed, but it was Rodney’s room, after all, so he probably wasn’t running far.

It was daylight when he woke up with any real conviction, and Rodney was sitting at the mess of their dinner table with Sheppard’s note in his hands again, studying it like a text that might be able to give up its secrets to him after a year or a lifetime in meditation on the subject. Ronon loved John Sheppard a lot, but he didn’t really expect that many layers of mystery from him.

“Let me see it,” he said, coming up to Rodney’s shoulder and holding out his hand. Rodney folded it in half and pulled it further out of his reach. “It’s not even addressed to you,” Ronon pointed out, leaning across him and grabbing it out of his hand. “It’s as much mine as it is yours.”

“He would never have expected you to catch the reference,” Rodney grumbled. “It was clearly meant for me.”

Ronon supposed that might be true. It read like a simple enough sentence to him; if there were layers of mystery, they obviously were only for Rodney’s eyes. “Be excellent to each other,” he read out loud.

Rodney reached back and snatched it back from his hands. “See, it doesn’t mean anything to you, does it? I was right, wasn’t I?”

“It means....” What? That he wasn’t angry over the two of them? But Ronon had never imagined that he was. That he expected them to care for each other in ways that – that perhaps John could not imagine himself capable of? He’d suspected that for some time, although it was interesting to have evidence that John was conscious of the issue. That he was...standing down? “Okay. You tell me what it means.”

“Who gives a damn?” Rodney said wearily. “Whatever it means, he’ll only change his mind later. He’s not interested, then he’s interested, it’s not serious, then it’s serious, now he’s quoting me comedy, he wants me to be with you, he can’t stand that I’m with you, now he wants me to be with you again, and I really – the truth is, I’m starting not to care what he wants.”

“You don’t mean that.” He didn’t really believe that Rodney did, but still, there was something coming off him, some kind of electric intensity that made Ronon uncomfortable. He moved away and sat down on the edge of the bed to put on his pants.

“Don’t I?” He waited, but if he was waiting for Ronon to answer that it was kind of pointless. He didn’t like repeating himself. “Maybe I don’t,” Rodney said softly. “I do care, obviously I care. Maybe I just don’t care enough anymore. I was lying there last to you, and I was I supposed to feel grateful to him, does he want me to be overcome by his amazing generosity, that he lets me have this, occasionally, when the mood seizes him?”

“I said from the very beginning,” he says slowly, “I said – I didn’t want to be the thing that pushes you apart.”

Rodney crumpled the page between his fingers and tossed it onto the table. “Oh, you won’t be, trust me. I will.”

He didn’t know where Rodney was starting to go, but in this strange mood Ronon didn’t trust him one bit, so he caught him before the door, one hand on his shoulder and one on his belly. “Don’t do anything stupid,” he said, leaning his face down beside Rodney’s. “You don’t have great instincts.”

“Would you want me? Just me, I mean. If it weren’t – if I weren’t – if I just asked you to be with me, the two of us, and if you weren’t all neurotically duty-bound and stubborn and cultishly attached to this ridiculous idea that he knows what the hell he’s doing or gives orders that are in any way sound and useful and fair? Would I be...something you’d want?”

“When aren’t you something I want? But....” He was sure there were.... He knew there were reasons, but he couldn’t think....

Rodney twitched under his hands, and against his better judgement, Ronon loosened his arms enough for Rodney to turn around and face him. “I don’t want you to blame yourself and fall on your sword or whatever it is you do, all right? If it’s...if it’s over between me and John, it’s not because of you, it’s because I’m tired of trying to divine John’s emotional state from entrails and knucklebones. I know you have this romance-drenched view of us, but the truth is, he’s always driven me more or less insane – and probably the reverse, too, in all honesty.”

“I can’t...I can’t live with you. It doesn’t matter if you give up on him or not, he still feels how he feels about you, and he could never have – to turn right around and give me what he’d never be allowed to get from you, it’s just.... It would hurt him, and I can’t. Even for you, I can’t.”

He nodded stiffly, then put his arms around Ronon’s chest and leaned into him. “I don’t suppose it would do any good if I just asked you to be selfish, would it? Because I’m feeling extremely selfish at this point in my life – I don’t know how much longer I have, you know, before I give my life heroically for the greater good, or possibly in some freak technological accident – and at this point in my life, his problems are just more than I can cope with. I love you, I miss you, and you don’t think you could possibly see your way clear to – you know. Go along with me on this?”

I am a spent coin, a gift still given. I am sworn to silence, unless it be to speak his name – Leyma’s aria, the one Ronon liked best. He’d heard it long before it had entered his mind that he would one day be a soldier, long before he understood that he was meant to place himself in Davon’s position. He felt for her instead, so helpless, all the world’s decisions narrowed for her to only two: no love but death, only to keep faith with love or to die.

A part of him had known, ever since he joined John and Rodney in their bed – that bed, this very room, would sooner or later be his Kulonda Field. He just wasn’t sure whose story he was caught up in: Leyma’s destruction or Davon’s loneliness. She was the one who died, but it was Davon who vowed himself to the cause of dying, and John had been right about at least one thing: he wasn’t ready to die. Natural order or not, it held no appeal for him at all.

“I’ll go,” he said, putting a hand behind Rodney’s neck and kissing him once on the lips, once on the forehead. “I’ll go along with you. Just show me where.”

“Now that,” Rodney said, wrapping his hands hard around Ronon’s arms and closing his eyes, “is how you ask for it.”
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