Curribat, Currit

by Domenika Marzione

A morning spent doing paperwork, a lunch spent with Elizabeth discussing The State of Atlantis over commissary trays and behind closed doors, and the afternoon up until a half-hour ago spent with Lorne plotting missions for the Marines had left him fairly certain that he deserved a tea-and-cookies break. He wanted twenty minutes -- or as long as it took him to finish a large cup of the stuff produced by the Adarans' finest tea-like-leaves -- where he could pretend that he wasn't turning into an especially well-armed bureaucrat.

The commissary was mostly empty -- too late for lunch, too early for dinner, and too close to the end of what passed as regular business hours in Atlantis for there to be a significant number of coffee-breakers. Not that there were ever many of those anymore -- the scientists had imported their own coffee machines to their labs, as had the Marines over in Little Tripoli. Lorne thought the Marines were getting spoiled by the abundant supply of real coffee instead of the powdered shit they'd all gotten used to on deployments back on Earth. John, who didn't miss the powdered shit at all, nevertheless mostly drank tea because he had spent enough time in Colombia in the 1990s to become a very serious coffee snob. And while the stuff that came on the Daedalus was drinkable, it was not really enjoyable.

After filling his sippy-cup first with a splash of milk and then with a lot of tea and then grabbing a handful of cookies, he looked around. It was a warm day and most were sitting outside, but a familiar back-lit form drew his attention and he walked over to that table, dropping down in an empty seat without ceremony.

"Miss lunch?" he asked Ronon, who was shoveling in whatever lunch's pasta option had been like he was on a stopwatch. Ronon had been like that at every meal at the start, eating as if the Wraith would show up before he got to his fruit cup, but not so much recently. He was actually much more of a pokey eater now, or maybe it just seemed that way because so many of his meals took place with Rodney next to him and the contrast was sharp.

"Had lunch," Ronon muttered, wiping his mouth with his napkin and looking up. He met John's eyes as he took a drink of water. Ronon had tried soda and while he appreciated the belching possibilities, the taste didn't appeal. John had tried to assure him that that was because he'd never had ginger beer, but Ronon had been disinterested once John had had to confess that ginger beer -- and ginger ale -- was non-alcoholic.

"Is this one of those Hobbit things? Second lunch? Early dinner?" John asked as he organized his cookies on his napkin. Peanut butter, chocolate-chocolate chip, and delicate little sandwich cookies with raspberry jam. Lorne may have joked about getting spoiled by real coffee, but that was nothing compared to the cookie-baking fiend who had a secret life as a Marine sergeant on KP duty. Weissgroten? Weissgarten? He couldn't remember the guy's name, which would be embarrassing if most of their encounters didn't take place with the sergeant's nametag covered by an apron. Weissgroten/-garten had a surprisingly broad array of cookie recipes and was secure enough in his masculinity to use them. (John thought he might be the SAW gunner for Salker's platoon, which would explain things.)

"Got nothing else to do," Ronon said, picking up his fork again. The pile of salad on his tray had been decimated except for some lonely scraps of purple cabbage and the rigatoni was disappearing fast enough that the mozzarella cheese wasn't cooling into superglue.

"So you're eating out of boredom?" John didn't hide his surprise. "Doesn't that seem... a little antithetical to the whole outrunning-the-Wraith principle?"

Ronon intellectually understood that he wasn't a Runner anymore, that John knew, but he still had his moments when it wasn't clear whether Ronon really accepted that he wasn't in constant flight for his life anymore. He trained like he was preparing to leave Atlantis any day to return to his old life, like his life now was just a temporary respite, a vacation, from what he'd known. Kate Heightmeyer had told John to expect that sort of behavior, to roll with it so long as it wasn't an interruption, and to let Ronon come to terms with his freedom on his own.

"I'll work it off later," Ronon replied between mouthfuls of pasta.

For the most part, it wasn't that hard to comply -- a well-trained Ronon was good in the field and good for the Marines. And John was old enough to have worked with Vietnam vets in his first postings, guys who had serious collections of quirks and idiosyncracies that everyone else just ignored and muttered "VC" when asked to explain. Ronon's behavior was not really very idiosyncratic in Pegasus galaxy terms and, generally, it was a lot less annoying than Technical Sergeant Rowloff's stuffing each cockpit with beef jerky and chocolate bars in case they went down.

He broke one of the peanut butter cookies in half and ate it. "You know how far you'll have to run to work all that off?"

"Got nothing else to do," Ronon repeated.

"Been meaning to ask you about that," John said, taking the top off of his spillproof mug so that he could dip the remaining half of a cookie.

Ronon looked up and the motion of the fork between plate and mouth slowed, but did not cease.

"You've been here a few months," John began slowly. He had to pick out his words because the reason he had been putting off this conversation was because he didn't know how to start it and he didn't want to run afoul of Heightmeyer -- any more than he didn't want to run afoul of Elizabeth for not coming up with something for Ronon to do besides loom, eat, and shoot things. "Your place on my team is secure, but... what do you want to do with the rest of your time? Training doesn't take all day, even with carbo loading."

Ronon managed to shrug without breaking stride in his eating. "Dunno."

John frowned as he dipped his cookie once too many times and it broke off into the tea. He reached for one of the sandwich cookies, which seemed to be made of sterner stuff and was held together by jam. "What were you planning on doing before the Wraith took you?"

That got Ronon to pause, fork frozen near his lips for a long moment before continuing its journey. John waited as he chewed and swallowed. "I was in the army," Ronon said finally.

"I know that," John replied, sighing. Of course Ronon was going to be difficult about this, which was why he had to be patient. As often as Ronon reacted to Earth habits or Athosian traditions, he never spoke of life on Sateda. "But were you planning on a career in the service or was there something else you wanted to do once you got out? Doctor? Lawyer? Indian Chief?"

Ronon reached for and tore into the roll on his tray. He was giving the roll an undue amount of attention and John finished his cookie before calling him on it.

"Sateda had to have been pretty technologically advanced," he said with what he hoped was casualness. Judging by the way Ronon's head jerked up, however, maybe not. Or maybe it didn't matter. Ronon was clearly giving him a 'how the hell should you know?' look, part skeptical and part evil eye.

"C'mon, Ronon." He reached for the chocolate-chocolate chip cookie. "A piece like your Big Bertha? Doesn't come from a people who're barely out of the Bronze Age. We don't have those sorts of toys on Earth, at least not for regular military issue. It's all still sci-fi."

"Never said it was from Sateda," Ronon muttered, back to being fascinated with the bits of roll.

"Never said it wasn't, either," John countered. He'd asked if Ronon knew where they could acquire more of them. Ronon had gotten quiet -- quieter -- and said no. "And you have an entirely too unhealthy attachment to it that goes well beyond it being a really nice gun."

Ronon picked up his fork and stabbed sullenly at the rigatoni.

"Also," John went on quietly, because this was a delicate subject, "the Wraith didn't just cull Sateda. They destroyed it completely. They don't do that for just anyone, we know that. They only do that for worlds they think are threats. And the only threat we have is technology."

Chewing, swallowing, and taking a long draught of water, Ronon glared at him throughout. "We did all right," he finally said.

"I think I can imagine," John said, and he could, a little. Because Ronon hadn't been that surprised to see Olesia -- the good part, not that he was very surprised by the populated-by-the-extras-from-Road Warrior part, either. John imagined that Sateda had been a little like Olesia's sleek, urban capital. "Which brings me back to my original question."

Ronon didn't pretend to have forgotten. "I had three years left of service," he said in a low voice. "Didn't really think about what would happen afterward."

John nodded, hoping Ronon would go on. He put the cover back on his sippy cup, nibbled on the chocolate-chocolate chip cookie, and waited.

"They trained us not to think past our service time," Ronon said after some more rigatoni. "Didn't want us getting cautious, I guess."

John half-smiled in remembrance of how you could always tell the double-digit midgets from the guys who still had years to go. "That didn't stop anyone, unless your training was a lot more thorough than ours."

Ronon gave him a look then, as if this was the first time in the entire conversation where he thought John understood him. If John were more into sharing war stories, he'd have been able to tell Ronon that he'd understood him, at least a little, all along.

"What did you want to do once you were done, Ronon?" he asked gently.

Ronon shook his head and looked down. "Doesn't matter. Can't do it anymore."

"Can't or won't?" John leaned forward, elbows and forearms on the table.

Ronon shrugged, not looking up. Instead, he piled his cutlery on his tray. "I'm not the person I was then."

John did his best not to laugh at the exquisite obviousness of the statement, at how it was meant in this context. He knew all about not recognizing yourself in the mirror, not fitting in to the life you imagined you'd lead. He'd always understood Ronon's reluctance to talk about his life on Sateda -- most of the time, it might as well have been someone else's life. But John didn't know if Ronon wanted to reclaim that past or simply move foreward.

Once upon a time, John had gotten sent to a shrink, but he couldn't do that with Ronon. John hadn't wanted to go, but he hadn't had a choice, not if he wanted back in a cockpit. Ronon had no such dilemma -- he could simply leave.

"So," John said, leaning back, "the question becomes 'What do you want to do now?'"

Ronon pushed a lone rigatoni around with his finger. "Haven't thought about it."

John knew that was a lie, knew that Ronon had probably been thinking about it since his first night in Atlantis, the first night after he'd gotten his life back. John also knew that Ronon's staying in Atlantis was maybe his way of avoiding coming to a decision about where his future lay. Teyla had told him that there was a contingent of Satedan refugees living on another world, but Ronon had never gone to see them. As far as John knew, Ronon hadn't even made inquiries about whether any of his family were among the survivors. But John sort of suspected that Ronon knew, one way or the other.

"Maybe it's time to think about it," John said instead of calling him on the bluff.

"Earn my keep?" Ronon sounded amused, but he wasn't smiling.

"You're already doing that, even with six meals a day," John scoffed, because that really, really wasn't the point. "I'm talking about... I don't know. Studying something that interests you. Doing something you were maybe thinking about doing once upon a time."

Ronon leaned back in his seat and John could hear him stretch his legs out under the table. "I'm not working for McKay."

John laughed. "Your call," he said, still a little breathy from laughter. The mental image of Ronon in a lab coat, Rodney red-faced and gesticulating next to him... "But don't dismiss the sciences just because of him if that's what you want to do. There are plenty of people here who work for Rodney without working with Rodney."

"Can't read your language," Ronon reminded him.

"So learn it," John replied evenly. "I know Dr. Weir has offered to set you up with lessons."

Ronon made a face and John waved one hand dismissively as he reached for his cup.

"Don't be a baby about it," he said, sipping at his tea. "We have a language lab for a reason. We've got a couple dozen people learning Ancient, a few learning Russian and German and whatever else. You'll learn English instead. Rodney's bitching about starting an ESL program, anyway."

Left unsaid was that Ronon would be at an advantage over, say, the Athosians, who politely declined almost every effort to learn written English. Teyla's literacy was partial at best and she was rare among her people; the Athosians had no written tradition, nor did many worlds in the Pegasus galaxy -- they were culled too often and too completely to muster one. The anthropologists collected hours and hours of oral history from the Athosians and others, most of which was quite rich, but there wasn't much in the way of writing.

"When you learn to read English, then you can study whatever you want: medicine, science, history, or whatever." He put down his cup. "Or start borrowing the crappy novels out of Little Tripoli's library."

John had tried to imagine what Ronon had been like once upon a time, but he couldn't. The young man Ronon had been before getting captured and enslaved by the Wraith was a mystery. How much did Ronon have to change so that he could survive? Perhaps that's why he never visited the Satedan refugees -- too embarrassed or ashamed at what he'd done, what he'd become. It was pointless to try to tell him otherwise -- not to mention presumptuous. Ronon was basically happy now, John thought, if a little too idle for everyone's tastes, and if that wasn't enough, then it would have to do.

Ronon tilted his head. "Can I be a soldier?"

"You want to join the Marines?" John asked, eyebrow raised high. Ronon followed his orders, but John wasn't sure how well Ronon would handle some of the junior lieutenants issuing commands. Ronon's obedience was institutional, drilled into him by a DI long ago and far away, but John wasn't sure where Ronon saw himself within the ranks. They'd sort of figured out that a specialist in the Satedan military was equivalent to an E-5 sergeant in the Marines, but if Ronon were serious, then John would probably end up having to get a commission for him as a warrant officer. The Air Force didn't use warrant officers anymore, which explained why Teal'c had no rank and was just sort of there at SGC, but the Marines did. The Commendant of the Marine Corps would love that bit of paperwork. "You'd have to cut your hair."

Ronon gave him that look that was as good as rolling his eyes.

"If you really want to be a jarhead, then I'll help you -- and so will Dr. Weir." John played with the crumbs on his napkin. "But I don't think you should, you know, stick to the way of the warrior just because it's what's familiar or because it's what you're good at."

Ronon's expression had gone from bemused to wary. "You did."

John sighed heavily, really not wanting to explain his reasons and his history. Ronon wouldn't understand most of it and John feared that Ronon probably wouldn't approve of most of what he did comprehend. "When I joined the Air Force, it wasn't a time of war. Hadn't been for almost a generation. I joined because I wanted to fly, not because my country needed defenders. It really didn't, not then."

"But you stayed when it did."

"Well, yeah," John agreed, frowning. "But that doesn't mean that you have to commit yourself to a lifetime of warfare. You did your time. You can still beat up the Marines without having to join them. Dr. Safir does."

Ronon nodded. "I'll think about it," he said. For someone so driven by impulse, Ronon had picked up 'non-committal' with maddening ease.

"Ronon, listen," John began, bunching the crumb-covered napkin in his hand. "I'm not trying to bull you into doing stuff you don't want to do. I'm just... We're here to learn. This expedition. We're here to learn about the Ancients and this galaxy and whatever else we find. We're going to fight the Wraith and we sure as hell would like to beat them for good, but that's just something we have to do. It never became our only goal."

He paused because Ronon was back to looking skeptical.

"The Wraith took seven years from you, but you don't have to give them the rest of your life. That's what I'm trying to say." John stood up and Ronon sat up straight in response. "If, once upon a time, you wanted to be a doctor or a painter or an inventor or whatever... Don't let them take that from you, too. You can fight the Wraith while still having a life. Because eventually we'll win and then you'll be bored off your ass with nothing else to do."

Ronon snorted in disbelief.

"The choices are out there. Take 'em or leave 'em, it's up to you." John picked up his cup and left.

feed me on LJ?

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