Colonel John Sheppard had two alert levels when it came to the people he cared about: concerned and rabidly annoyed when he didn’t know exactly where they were. Despite outward appearances and even his own words – John liked, no demanded, order in his life and ‘missing people’ did not equal order for him. Too many people were missing from his life already.
That Major Lorne had lost not one but two people on the planet John figured was one giant forest/jungle… had a slightly more irritated than he’d previously thought possible.
Rodney McKay, known to himself as Super Genius, looked up from the device he clutched in his hand and frowned. “I can’t pick up the transponder signal and there are so many life signs…” His voice trailed off at John’s growl of frustration and he glanced towards a miserable Major Lorne.
“Ronon was supposed to say close to the gate within radio contact. We agreed.”
“No, you said and he didn’t disagree so you’d go through the fucking gate.” John looked towards the Jumper and the people milling in and out of it. They’d done two sweeps of the area surrounding the gate. “Rodney, why can’t we pick up the transponder signals?”
“If I knew that…” Rodney muttered and then grabbed a tablet off a near by metal locker.
The base camp that they’d set up near the gate was overwhelmed with people and with crap they probably didn’t even need. Why? Because like John, no one on Atlantis was ready to lose another person. “The plant life on this planet is off the chart, animals from small to stupidly large are everywhere. If the Daedalus was here… they could pluck them right off this place and we could trot off home. But the sensors on the ship have a longer range and could cut through the interference that I don’t have a hope of getting through.”
“It’s not here. It won’t be here for three days.”
“The gate is about five hours East, the village is maybe four hours South.” Ronon pushed Jennifer’s hair back from her face and stared intently at her in the semi-darkness. “I don’t know how you managed to get this far and more importantly, why didn’t you go towards the gate?”
Jen swallowed hard and wondered if she should admit how paranoid and freaked out she’d been as she’d run. Instead she chose to answer his non-question. “I run five miles a day on Atlantis. Every day. Being in shape isn’t an option on a mission like this. You told me to run. I ran.”
He laughed softly. “I did.” He lowered his head and rested his forehead against hers and took a deep breath. “You scared me though. So, you didn’t learn west from east in medical school?”
It was a toss up as to whether she was more pleased than annoyed by him. He’d admitted his concern and insulted her in practically the same breath. But, then he pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her and she pretty much forgot about feeling insulted.
“You have a responsibility to those around you to think fast, be safe, and come home.” His fingers trailed through her hair which had come lose during her run. “I didn’t want to stay on Atlantis at first. Hell, I didn’t even want to learn anyone’s name. The more you know about a person the more you miss them when they are taken from you. I lost my whole world, everything and everyone that ever mattered, to the Wraith.”
She lifted her head from his chest and looked over his face. “Your wife.”
“Yes, my wife.” He rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip. “I don’t want you to think that whatever this is between us is some kind of… I’m not trying to replace her with you.”
Her eyes widened. “I didn’t think…” Well, yeah, she had wondered if her reminding him of her hadn’t sparked his interest in the first place.
He laughed. “You did. Maybe even I thought so in the beginning. But, after about the tenth time I found a way to injure myself just so I could get into the infirmary… I realized that it was way more about you than about anything else.”
Ronon released her and took a step back. He walked over to her abandoned pack and dropped Lorne’s with it. “We’ll need to repack this and take only what we need. While we do that you can tell me why you ran so far.”
Realizing that they were done with the “comforting” part of her rescue, she drug herself across the clearing and knelt on the ground in front of the packs. “I kept hearing something or at the time I thought someone.”
“When did you stop hearing it?” Ronon asked softly, his gaze moving around the clearing, the two moons above them offered just enough light to make the shadows seem dangerous.
“I don’t know.” She dumped Lorne’s pack and started separating the kit into piles. Crap they need and crap she couldn’t readily identify. “But, I was tired and I figured I was being paranoid. I guess around the time you started talking to me on the radio.”
“You could hear me on the radio?” He glared at her briefly. “It would have been nice to get a response, Dr. Keller.”
“Mine is broken. I can receive but I can’t respond.” She glanced up at him. “It was nice though. Hearing your voice, knowing that you were looking for me. Not that I worried.”
“You weren’t worried?”
“No. I knew you’d find me.” She offered him a soft smile. “Besides, I left a trail even McKay could follow.”
“Yeah, you did.” Ronon watched her finish sorting the packs and then repack one with food rations and a first aid kit. “We’re staying put. You can leave the bedroll out.”
“Staying put?” Her eyes widened. “Shouldn’t we go back to the gate?”
“In the dark, with a single flashlight with dying batteries, on a planet full of animals roughly the size of a Jumper?” He was exaggerating only slightly.
Jennifer shook out the bedroll with a frown. “Only one, you know?”
“You can have it.” He walked the perimeter of the clearing. “This isn’t the best place to stay though.”
“It’s all the same. Just lots of trees. I did search for some sort of shelter, but haven’t had much luck with that.” She put the roll on the ground close to the large tree that had served as her backrest for several hours. “We’ll share.”
He glanced towards her, knowing damn well he had no business even considering sharing blankets with her. At least, not yet. “I bite.”
Jennifer flashed him a grin. “Yeah, but I know you have all your shots.”
Beautiful. She was beautiful and he was an idiot. When a beautiful woman gives you a chance to hold her… you don’t make excuses. Still, it had been a long time since he’d lost himself in a woman. Perhaps too long to take such a risk. Still, when she sat back on her knees and patted the blanket he’d gamely walked over to her and settled down on it, his back against the tree.
She slipped up beside him, laid her head on his chest and wrapped one arm around his middle. The woman was insane and yet he wrapped left arm around her, pulled her tight to his chest, and let his free hand fall to rest on his weapon.
“Ever since that night in the infirmary…” She sighed. “I know I totally ignored you for like a week after we had lunch with your team.”
“I just realized that whatever was happening between us would be all over the city.” She shrugged. “I’m not so good with this social stuff and being the subject of gossip makes me really uncomfortable.”
“Get used to it,” Ronon muttered. “You’re a beautiful woman on an alien world with a predominantly male staff. You do realize that men out number women 3 to 1 on Atlantis?”
“Of course.” She bit down on her lip. “You think I’m beautiful?”
“I think a woman as attractive as you shouldn’t have to even ask that question.” He looked out into the darkness and wished he could shut up; wished that she wasn’t so tempting. “You should run from me, you know. I’m not like the men you went to school with or work with. Nothing like them. Even if I might have been before… I’m not now and I never will be again.”
“I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you when you were captured by the Wraith.” She made a circle over his heart with one finger. “But, you survived and that’s the best you can do for your people. Live for them.”
“Everyday.” He pulled her closer and closed his eyes briefly. “When the Wraith made me a runner… there were times when I wanted to get caught. I wanted them to finish it.”
“That’s understandable.” She rested her chin on her hand and met his gaze.
In the darkness that surrounded them, he could see little more than her and for once in a very long time it was enough. “But, I kept killing them instead. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many. There was a time… when I counted and then I started to collect trophies from them.”
“Yeah, I know.” He sighed. “When I realized how far gone I was… I stopped but sometimes I think the damage was done.”
“No.” Jennifer’s fingers curled into the soft material of his shirt. “Even when you scared the hell out of me…”
“I scared you?” He laughed softly.
“You scare most of the doctors and all of the nurses on Atlantis. So yeah, I used to shake every time you came in the infirmary and then one day… and I really don’t know why… I stopped shaking.”
“You still make me shake.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Can’t figure it.”
“You said that you hadn’t had a relationship in a long time?”
“Yeah. Most of the women… even the ones off world aren’t all that appealing to me. Most of them are more attracted to how dangerous I appear to be rather than just me.”
“I can see that. You have this big animal thing going on that is pretty hot. I think that’s the part that scared me most.” Jennifer closed her eyes. “But it isn’t why I’m attracted to you.”
He realized that she was almost asleep, that the small adventure of her day had worn her out but he couldn’t help but ask. “Why do you want me, Dr. Jennifer Keller?”
“Because you survived, because you are loyal, because you sacrificed, and because I know with everything that I am that you would die for love.” She opened her eyes and looked right at him. “And that makes you pretty damn special, Specialist Ronon Dex.”