Jennifer shouldered her work out bag as she left the shower, glaring at Laura Cadman as she did so. The woman had become a close friend; but God she bordered on completely insane. “You are so full of it. I think handling all of those explosives has made you wacko.”
Laura laughed and paused as they came to the middle of the gym. Ronon and John Sheppard were sparring — shirtless. “Wow.”
Jennifer raised one eyebrow and she had to clench her teeth to keep her mouth from dropping open. “Laura, you can’t be serious.”
“I know it’s crazy,” she muttered. “But look how sexy he is with his stupid hair.”
Jennifer laughed out loud and it proved enough of a distraction that both men glanced their way. “Okay, we have to go—right now.”
“All I’m saying is that a little alien sex pollen might not be all that bad right now.” Laura said loud enough for two men in the room to hear. “You know, just to knock the edge off.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Jennifer grabbed her arm and prodded her toward the door.
“You know your bedside manner lacks a lot to be desired—my sexual health is just as important as anything else and as MY doctor you should be concerned that my dry spell is so long and so profound that I could be a qualify for some kind of natural disaster relief.”
“I’ll just add another case of batteries to my requisitions list.” Jennifer shoved her out the door. “Make that two cases.”
* * * *
Ronon tossed John a towel. “Are Earth men stupid?”
John rubbed his face a little rougher than necessary. His mind full of a red-headed Marine who had no business being there. “Shit, men would line up to date that woman. She’s cut practically ever man on this base to pieces in the last six months and when you’re in front of a woman that could theoretically kick your ass—you take the ‘no thank you’ and move the fuck on.” He grabbed a water bottle. “Did you find out what they were doing off world?”
“No. Did you?”
“No, the official mission report says some bullshit about fostering goodwill with a neighbor and putting out feelers for a new trade agreement. They came back with some plant samples, a few food options that the science department is investigating. There’ll be another mission for a science team at a later date. No explanation as to why Sam went personally, why they took a long Teyla, the doctor, and a demolitions expert.” John grabbed another bottle of water and twisted off a safety seal. “Also, they are meeting in Cadman’s room—all four of them.”
“How do you know?”
John flushed. “I might have thought about going to see what Cadman was up to and saw them leaving last night.”
“So, as she cut you down, too?”
“She’s a soldier under my command.”
“She’s a Marine and you’re in the Air Force – those rules still apply?”
“I’m still her commanding officer, Ronon. It would be a bad move.”
“Technically John, every woman on this base with the exception of Colonel Carter is under your authority. You are second in command of the expedition. I don’t think anyone expects you to live without a relationship.”
“If the SGC found out she’d be transferred out of here before I could take a deep breath and try to explain myself.” John emptied the second water bottle and started to pick up his gear. “I have to shower—I’ve got a meeting with Carter in an hour.”
* * * *
“And you’re going to do what?” Carson sat back in his chair. “This is not sanitary, lass. Is there no other way?”
“No the woman was quite specific. I’ve checked over both of our recent physicals and we should be fine on that front but I wanted you on hand to deal with the…cuts.” Jennifer hopped up and started to pace. “I’ve been thinking about this for days Carson and it’s something that I really have to do and I want to you to be there.”
“Does he know?” Carson asked softly.
“No. He has no clue – it’s part of it. Men aren’t warned in advance and they are required to answer in front of the witnesses gathered. If he doesn’t want it I know he’ll tell me so—Ronon isn’t the sort of man to allow someone to save face and say no in private later.” And that had worried her at first, but then she realized that he was far worth the risk of rejection and embarrassment on her part.
“This afternoon. I’m going to corner him in the gym during his training session with first platoon. Most of those men have been on the base the longest and therefore he has a strong connection with them. It’s supposed to be done in front of a group of his peers… as a symbol of how important he is to me.” Jennifer flushed a little. “And I’m required to gather those close to me… you’re one of those people Carson.”
“I’m honored then, lass, to participate in your wedding.”
“Wedding!” The word squeaked out and then the color drained out of her face as she realized it was exactly that. “Oh My God.” She flopped down in the chair. “Wow. Okay. A wedding. I mean, really, that’s what this is right? A very primitive wedding ceremony.” She jerked up a little in her chair. “Well, in that case I need to go you know do some stuff. See Teyla and she’ll explain what your role is.”
She hurried out of the infirmary, her stomach in knots, her mind racing, and her heart pulsing in her chest like nothing she’d ever felt before. She had so much to do and so little time to do it in.
* * * *
Three days had passed since the classified mission and no amount of questioning on anyone’s part had yielded an answer of any sort. Normally, Ronon wouldn’t have given a shit about any of it but the more Sheppard obsessed over it the more concerned he personally became with Jennifer’s role on the mission and exactly the women had done. When he’d asked Teyla during a sparring session she’d answered his questions with questions—forcing him to talk about his stupid feelings until he’d finally called for a break and got the hell away from her. It was, for lack of a better word, disturbing.
He pinned the Marine he was training on the mat and had the irrational urge to berate the kid. It wasn’t his style- he left poor behavior of that sort to Rodney. “My woman could kick your ass.”
John laughed out loud. “Are you taking lessons in mean from Rodney?”
“Why don’t I kick your ass instead?”
Thirty men ground to halt as Ronon turned to look at Jennifer lounging in the doorway. She was wearing her little combat boots, BDUs, had a standard issue combat knife strapped to her thigh, which he had to admit was pretty fucking hot, and her t-shirt was entirely too tight.
“You know, I’ve been meaning to ask… just where did the SGC get combat boots in your size?” He used one hand to motion the Marine out of the training space. “Are you going off world again?”
“Nope.” She pushed away from the door and walked towards him. “I figured if I was going to play with something dangerous that I might as well come down here and pick a fight with you.”
Ronon caught the bottle of water John threw his way and drank from it, his eyes never leaving her face. “I see you’re in a mood, little one.”
“I am. I really am.”
He tossed the bottle back to John. His gaze flicked briefly to the door way as Sam, Laura Cadman, and Teyla slid into the room. They looked way too pleased with themselves. Then Carson pushed Rodney into the room and his stomach got a little tight.
“I see you’ve brought reinforcements.”
“More like observers. I mean if I were to kick your ass only in front of these guys—my satisfaction level would be low. Most of them have known you longer than me so they would tell everyone you let you me win.” She stepped into the taped off ring and all the muted conversation around the room stopped.
He was curious as hell, and her eyes spoke of determination and something else he normally ever saw in her during sex. The combination was a serious distraction. “Maybe you could show Major Arnette how the maneuver we just attempted should be done.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Like you need an excuse to climb on top of me?”
He flashed her a grin and ignored the laughter from their audience. “And if I lose you’re on top—that’s win/win in my world.”
She rolled her neck in a gesture so like him that he raised an eyebrow. “Ready.”
“I see that.”
The maneuver was pure self-defense, didn’t require a lot of strength, just balance and timing. She executed it with precision and he was on his back in seconds. She stood over him a second, her eyes lit with amusement and then if she didn’t have a care in the world sat down across his hips. He leaned back on his elbows and watched her.
“This isn’t exactly the point of this particular maneuver, Doc.”
“Oh, I know.” She reached to her thigh holster and pulled out the knife with one fluid movement.
“Hey.” John started forward.
“Back off, Sheppard.” Ronon’s gaze never left her face. “Just where did the four of you go when you went off world last week?”
“We went to a village named Arcania. It’s full of refugees from planets culled by the Wraith—they are a nomad village—roaming from plane to planet taking in survivors and living off the land.” She laid the knife on his chest in the middle and his heart nearly stopped. “Do you trust me?”
“Do you think I’m weak?”
“Do you think I’m soft?”
“In the best possible way.” She was building up to something – something important and had gathered the people that meant the most around them to do it. “The first time I saw you I knew you were going to undo me.”
She flashed him a smile and picked up the knife. “How do you feel about this shirt?”
“I hate it.”
Jennifer laughed then and without another word sliced it down the middle with the knife. “I am Jennifer Elise Keller, daughter of Richard. I seek the Rite of Consort and you may consider yourself challenged.” She cut her palm until blood ran and then calmly put the knife back on his chest—her blood dripping onto his skin.
“I am Ronon Andreas Dex, son of Kilnos of the clan Dex-is and your challenge is met.” He took the knife sat up, pulled it across his palm, his gaze never leaving hers—and his mouth met hers the moment the hands met—fingers threading together, blood mingled and slid down their arms.
When she pulled her mouth from his she took a deep breath. “Laura is my Keeper and Sam will be my Guardian. Who is yours?”
“John will be my Keeper and Rodney will be my Guardian.” He flicked a glanced towards Carson and nodded. The doctor moved into the ring and flipped open a kit. “In the distant past on my world—the man was tended to first—after all the more blood the woman lost the easier she would be to catch.”
“That’s not very sporting,” Carson muttered.
“No. Not at all. Her first, please.” Ronon took a deep breath as their hands were gentled separated by the doctor.
He accepted the gauze Carson pushed against his wound, but his gaze never left her face. Of all the things he expected—it was never this. He and Melena had never done this—she’d considered the Rite of Consort primitive but he hadn’t resented her for it. Had never pushed her for it, even though their union had never been as complete as it could have been without it. Yet—a woman not from his world, so different than he that sometimes it stole his breath had sought the information she needed to bind herself to him in the most permanent and ancient of ways. He’d never loved her more.