“I will stand as Mistress of the Hunt.” Teyla stood opposite Carson. “If the Keepers and Guardians would join us in the circle we may proceed. John if you will sit to Ronon’s left and Laura…” Laura assumed her position on her knees beside Jennifer and offered John a smile when he took a similar position where Teyla pointed. “Gentlemen, if you would form a circle around the participants and act as witnesses it would be appreciated.” She waited while the Marines that had been in workout settled themselves on the ground. “The Rite of Consort is the oldest and most sacred of mating ceremonies within the Sadetian society. Though in the last hundred or so years, it has often been set aside for less permanent forms of union – unions that could be dissolved by the elder of the city if both parties chose. The Rite of Consort does not allow for such.”
Her eyes hadn’t left his since she’d pulled her mouth from his, so clear and still so determined. There was no fear, no regret, no concern – not even a wince at the pain her hand must be causing her. Ronon uncurled his fingers when Carson prodded him and held his hand still while the doctor cleaned his wound. That she’d done this for him—that she was willing to do all of this for him was the most humbling experience of his life.
“The Guardians roles are simple – they determine the hunting ground and prevent either side from seeking help from an outside source or from leaving the designated hunting area. The Keepers will monitor the Hunt in a physical fashion making sure neither come to harm during the next few hours.” Teyla paused looked around the room. “Once capture has taken place and the union is fully consummated – there will be a formal bonding ceremony. Those of us who do not have a role in the Hunt will be preparing for that. Sam?”
Sam pulled two wrist monitors from her pocket and handed one to Rodney. “These are linked to city mainframe and will allow Rodney and I to monitor your progress. Dr. Beckett will also be able to use it to monitor your vital signs. He is the only member of the party who may interact with all of us at any time. Once we leave this room – the Keepers and the Guardians may not speak to one another and may not assist the hunter or the prey after the designated hunting area is reached.”
Rodney approached Ronon on his right and carefully attached the wrist unit. “Lucky for you I’m a genius and I catch up real fast. I’ve only had two hours…” he muttered and glared darkly at Sam. “I’ve surveyed the mainland, located a valley that will suit the needs of the hunt that Teyla outlined for me. Sam and I will remain in the city and monitor you. Carson will take Jennifer and Laura to the mainland where he will drop them both off in the valley. Laura will take up her sentry position. Carson will remain within the valley in case of medical emergencies.”
“Thank you, Rodney.” Ronon carefully slipped her knife back into the holster on her thigh.
“Yeah, well, everyone in this circle owes me their allotment of coffee.” Rodney stood from the mat and let Sam take his place.
Jennifer shifted on Ronon’s lap and watched as Sam fitted her monitor. “How long do I have?”‘
“We determined that you should have a thirty minute head start.” Sam stood up and checked her watch. “Starting right now.”
Jennifer’s eyes widened. “Fuck.” She leaned in and kissed him hard on the mouth, jumped up and darted out of the room with Laura fast on her heels. “Carson!”
Carson grabbed his bag. “Sorry, lass, coming!”
“The Hunter and his Keeper will remain in this room—the Guardians will go to a designated lab to monitor the hunt, and the rest of us will set about preparing party. Food and alcohol is your goal, gentlemen.” Teyla motioned them all out.
Ronon nodded briefly at the murmured congratulations he got from each of the men as they hurried out of the room to the bidding of Teyla—leaving him alone with John.
“Did you two just get married?” John asked leaning back on his hands and pushing his legs out in front of him. “I mean—that’s what that was right?”
He cleared his throat. “Yes, in a way.”
“Did you see that coming? At all?”
“No.” He grimaced—his voice was hoarse and not as strong as it should be. “I honestly never thought I would have that moment – not ever. Not with my world destroyed and what few who have survived scattered about the galaxy.”
“You didn’t have that with…” John grimaced.
“It’s all right—I’ve dealt with the loss of Melena. And no, she came from a very modern family and they considered our old ways uncivilized. We had a government sanctioned union ceremony. Her parents didn’t want their daughter tied to me in the ancient ways and only a woman can claim Rite of Consort—and I wanted her so I took what I could get.”
“Understood.” John checked his watch. “So hunt, capture, and consummate. I take it that Cadman and I are required to stay with you throughout that process?”
“Yes. Does that bother you?”
“Nope. Watching two hot people mate sounds like a pretty okay time to me. Though it would have been nice if she’d picked a different Keeper.”
“Oh yeah?” Ronon laughed. “Maybe you could help Cadman out with her natural disaster problem… and we could both end the day with a good time.”
“It’s going to get rough right?”
“Yeah.” Ronon swallowed hard. “The longer the hunt lasts…”
“Wow.” John laughed softly. “Well—the blood was interesting.”
“It speaks to our willingness to blend our families… create a new generation.”
“So basically she just offered to have your babies.” John grinned and slapped him on the back. “Nice. When did you realize what she was doing?”
“If we’d been on my world I would have known from the beginning but honestly—not until she pulled the knife.” He reached down and pulled three knives out of his boots and laid them on the floor between him and John. “I don’t want to…”
John frowned and took the knives. “That barbaric huh?”
“You ever been so hard you could fuck a hole in the wall?”
John’s mouth dropped open. “Well.. huh… do you have any more weapons on you?”
“No.” He leaned forward and stretched his back. “Time?”
“You’ve got ten minutes left.”
* * * *
Jennifer leaned against the wall the jumper. Carson made quick work of clearing them and getting them out of the Jumper bay but Cadman had stopped to gear up which had slowed them down. “I think I should have longer than thirty minutes.”
Laura wheezed a little.”Yeah, fuck, that was some shit. I’m totally inviting Colonel Carter to kick box with me when I recover from this.” She lifted one leg and tried to stretch it a little. “With no warm up—totally and completely unfair.”
“Why did you put the knife down on his chest? That wasn’t part of the ritual Mila outlined.”
“I was giving him an out. Mila told me that there were subtle queues—ways that I could give him an out before things got too far gone for me to back out of saying what I had to say.”
“Ah. How’s the hand?”
“Three stitches but Carson numbed it.”
“Okay, we should sync our radios.” Laura pulled her ear piece out, started to adjust it, and took Jennifer’s when the woman offered it. “Your distress word will be ‘submarine’. You yell that out and I’ll come running and kick his ass.”
Jennifer laughed. “Submarine?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about it—you know—barbarian, harder, no, yes, more, fuck, you’re an animal… those are all things you might actually say or scream and not expect me to rescue you.” Laura raised one eyebrow. “I mean, seriously.” They both stilled when the alarm on Laura’s watch sounded. “Okay, so he’s on his way.”
Jennifer asked as the Jumper maneuvered to land. “You’ll be around?”
“I’ve got your back.”
* * * *
John did a quick visual survey of the valley. They had no clue where Carson had dropped the two women off and he figured he wasn’t allowed to help so he was quiet while Ronon picked a spot to land. “Radio set?”
“Yeah.” He tapped his ear piece and finished pulling on his boots. He’d lost ten minutes grabbing real clothes and his boots from his quarters but it was necessary and he figured he’d make her pay for being at advantage over him when he caught her. “There, that clearing.”
“Because it’s a good as place any to start.”
“So, I just keep an eye on you and make sure nothing goes wrong.”
“Yeah, but keep an eye out for a distress signal – Cadman is with her—but I’d feel better knowing that you’re watching for her as well.”
Ronon left the Jumper at a dead run disappearing into the forest within seconds. The run helps to calm his mind, his body – something he desperately needs. His heart still races—excited, overwhelmed, aching with an emotion he’d grown so used to in the last few months. How long will she hide from him? He knows he strengths, her level of endurance, her ability to run, and most importantly how determined she looked when she began all of this. That woman —so far gone from the demure and unsure woman that had come to Atlantis—claimed her mate in front of all the people that mattered to them both. The people with the ability to hurt them the most.
She’d chosen him in front of men he had trained and fought with since he’d come to the city of Atlantis—telling them all that he was her choice. His mind goes back to the evening he searched for her in woods not so dissimilar to these and how for the first time she’d lain in his arms—safe and content. The first time he’d seen her—beautiful, delicate, and out of place—in the infirmary he’d known she’d touch him ways no one had in a long time. He hadn’t wanted it, had fought it, and been pissed off for weeks that a woman like her—who would likely go back to Earth as soon as she could would stir his blood and his soul.
Yet, she had stayed and had become an vital part of the expedition and his life. When he found himself seeking her out—he tried to make himself stop. He even tried to convince himself that he only wanted her because she reminded him of his long dead wife – but no it was nothing like that. Nothing at all. He’d have spent his whole life with Melena and would have been happy; he’d loved her with all the emotion of a young; unseasoned man. Had shook with need the first time she’d taken him to her bed – had set aside the traditional beliefs of his family to be with her. No price was too high when it came to her happiness. Then she was gone—and the last of his world slipped away from him.
For years he ran, until one night when it had been months since the Wraith had sought him out for their sadistic game and he let himself slip into the arms of a beautiful woman. The lush heat of her body was as close to perfection as he’d known in those years of his life – and he’d woke in the middle of the night to a Wraith attack. She was killed in the cross fire. The mistake haunted him, pushed him to the brink of madness, and it was years before he would allow himself to be lured back from the brink of wild.The Earth women on Atlantis had startled him with their fresh faces, bright eyes, and courage. Even in the face of an enemy they could have never imagined—they manage to put on a brave face and meet their new challenge without hesitating. He’d eventually found a home among them, the men learned to respect him for his experience, his ability to fight as it is the way of fighting men—they fell into a comfortable rhythm and built a foundation of trust they could use to their advantage. He’d die for any single one of them. Atlantis was much as his place in the universe as any he’d ever known- his family, his home and now one of those beautiful, bright eyed women belonged to him and only him.
* * * *
“You know if ever needed proof that he isn’t human.” Rodney tapped the screen. “This would do it. Look at him move.”
“Barbaric thing to hunt a woman like this,” Radek muttered.
“Hey, she started this.” He glanced towards Carter who had a laptop set up on the other side of the room. “Hey, am I allowed to talk to you?”
“Yes, we just can’t talk to the four of them.” Sam looked up from her screen. “Do you have a good lock on Sheppard and Cadman?”
“Yes. Carson reported that both Jennifer and Ronon have elevated heart rates but that John and Laura were well within their norms on all vital signs. Sheppard is a half mile from Ronon and Laura within a few hundred yards of Jennifer.” He watched the dots move around on his screen and frowned. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever inspired anyone to love me this way.”
“It’s foolish to run around in the woods just to ošoustat like animals in the dirt.”
“You know—when you substitute a single word it’s pretty easy for us to figure out what you’re saying.”
“Wasn’t trying to hide it, blbec.” Radek went back to his own computer without another word. “I will watch with Carson over the radio – he’s much more entertaining than you.”
“What did he call me?” Rodney hissed out to Sam.
“I can’t believe you’ve worked with the man for almost six years and you don’t know any Czech.” Sam took a swig of water from her bottle. “He called you an idiot.”
* * * *
Jennifer pressed her back against the tree and fought the urge to call out for Laura. She knew the Keeper’s role was to basically be there but unseen. She’d certainly made the right choice for that- she hadn’t actually caught sight of the marine since they’d parted ways at the Jumper. She glanced at her wrist monitor—it’s display told her basically nothing. She recognized her heart rate and she figured the other numbers were latitude and longitude numbers but there was no time function. How many hours had passed—she didn’t know and it was frustrating the hell out of her.
Mila had told her it was important for the woman to effort into the hunt and that the longer she lasted the more favored the union would be. It would mean something only to Ronon but all of this was for him – and for the first time in her life she was happy, comfortable, and accepted in the city.
Jennifer was in the dark, a dark forest but unlike last time she was safe—but she knew even if this had called for her to enter the forest completely alone she would have done it for him. It was within her power to return this small part of his past to him and the expression on his face, the awe in his eyes when she’d began the ritual would follow her for the rest of her life. The words they’d never said – how crazy was that? She initiated a mating ritual and hadn’t had the balls to tell the man she loved him straight to his face with the words. Granted, it was obvious how she felt about him – after all she’d just proclaimed “breeding rights” over the man in front of more people than she’d really expected. She was also sure that the video footage from the gym was already being compiled, distributed, and viewed by people who missed it. The odd part? She wasn’t evenly remotely embarrassed about that.
Jennifer slid around a tree at the sound of a branch snapping. It wasn’t Ronon—he wouldn’t make a mistake like that and she laughed softly when she heard Laura cursing softly in the darkness. She rested against the tree and closed her eyes.
She felt the heat of him first—then his unique scent filled her sandalwood and leather—gentle fingers trailed down the side of her face and she opened her eyes. “Hey you.”
Ronon leaned over her, one hand planted on the tree above her. “Hello, little one.” His finger tips drifted over her lips. “I taught you to a little too well. We’ve been out here for nearly five hours.”
“It’s all right what I did?”
“I am amazed and honored by what you’ve done for me. I’m so in love with you, Jennifer Elise Keller, daughter of Richard.”
“I love you.” She pushed the words past the lump her throat, past the tears that burned in her eyes. “I love you.”
He pushed his fingers into her hair and brushed his lips over hers soft – a test for them both – his control and her emotional state. “Let me have you.”
“Yes.” She breathed out her answer, her hands clutching at his shoulders as he lifted her off the ground and coaxed her legs around his waist. “Yes.”