Spoilers: References 'Sateda' and minor spoilers for 'The Shrine' and 'Missing.'

Author's Notes: Many, many thanks to journeyman07 who took the time to read this and keep me sane. This was written for the LJ comm sg_onesweetlove winter fic exchange for Nytel. The two prompts that I used were Jen and Ronon's first fight as a couple, & pure and utter exhaustion Comment with your thoughts.

Jennifer was exhausted, the kind of exhaustion that went bone deep and made her body too heavy to move. When she noticed her hands were trembling, she gave up the fight. Searching out Marie, she signaled that she was leaving and the nurse nodded. She pointed herself in the direction of her quarters and began to stagger away. She knew that she probably should eat something, but sleep was her greatest priority at the moment.

The hallways were nearly empty as it was late into the night shift and most of the sane people were already in bed. She was grateful for the lack of company. The corridors seemed endlessly long, but she finally made it to her little corner of the world. She paused for a moment outside her room, staring at the alien doors. She tempted to turn around and head for the mess, just to avoid the emptiness she knew was waiting for her. So tempted, but when her chin began to drop down, she knew she wouldn't make it. Waving her hand over the sensor, the doors slid open, revealing the empty quarters. They hissed closed behind her and she began shedding clothes on her way to the bed. She dropped onto the mattress and nearly moaned at how good it felt to be lying down. The exhaustion swelled up and began to pull her under. Just before she passed out, though, she realized her sheets still smelled like him.

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They were trying to keep the whispers away from him, but Ronon was very good at blending in with the background. She was working impossibly long hours in the infirmary, barely eating, barely sleeping. Marie confided to Lorne in the Mess that she'd never seen Dr. Keller like this and she wasn't sure what to do. Did she alert Woolsey, risk getting the CMO benched, or did she keep covering? It wasn't like Dr. Keller was making mistakes, but she didn't seem to be quite…there. He'd slipped away after that, leaving his trash on the table.

When he could, he watched her. It was difficult as she was very good at avoiding him. Even when the team came back from a mission and reported for a post-op check-up, Jennifer always seemed to be in surgery, patching up some marine on the opposite end of the infirmary, or just not there. He resorted to being sneaky, just to catch glimpses of her wan face. Sheppard had caught him once, hidden in a balcony above the Gate Room while she attended incoming wounded. The man had looked at him for a long moment and muttered something about stalkers before he left.

It was driving him crazy, this separation. He wanted to take care of her, wanted to soothe her troubles. However, he knew their current stand-off was all his fault. He'd been so furious at first, nearly enraged. After he left her quarters that night, he found Woolsey and volunteered for the next off-world op. It was a cold, wet, and miserable three days, sloshing through endless swamps, while the scientists chattered on about the water quality. He had his righteous anger to keep him warm, though, and when they finally returned, he expected her to be there, bubbling with apologies. But she wasn't.

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It was nearly ten hours later when she finally woke up. In her sleepy daze, she forgot and stretched languidly, then reached out for him. He wasn't there, and she remembered. The pain struck her heart, still fresh, despite the days gone by. She curled up into a ball and buried her face in the pillow. There were no more tears left, she had cried all she could while he'd been gone. She'd been so tempted to meet him when he had gotten back, so tempted to beg him to forget she'd ever asked what she had, but she knew if she gave in on this, she might as well give up on everything. Ronon was a strong personality, and she needed to be equally strong if she was going to be a match for him. Oh, but it hurt, the absence of him.

She didn't know how long she remained curled up like that, but eventually, she got up and headed for the shower. Her body was stiff, and she felt sore like she'd just finished a sparring session. The thought reminded her that she had a session scheduled with Teyla. Was it today? It couldn't have passed, Teyla would have tracked her down. When mandatory self-defense lessons had been enforced by Colonel Carter, she'd asked Ronon to teach her. She found she liked it, the burn she got in her muscles, the confidence she had in knowing she could take care of herself. While Ronon had been on that mission, she asked Teyla to continue the lessons. When she broke down sobbing during the first one, Teyla didn't ask questions, only soothed her.

Checking her watch, she found that the session was scheduled for an hour from now. She could cancel, Teyla would understand, but she thought she'd like to feel something other than this never-ending emptiness. After changing into her workout clothes and forcing down two power bars, chasing them down with water, she headed for the gym.

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He didn't look for her at first. When he realized she wasn't coming, he told himself that was fine; he didn't need to be with someone who didn't understand him. He was free now, and he would find another when he was ready. Still, he'd gone to their scheduled sparring lesson, only to find Teyla waiting for him. The petite Athosian woman had goaded him into a fight, and he welcomed it, welcomed the chance to relive some of his pent up frustrations. She had him on his back in three minutes. It took her eight minutes the second time. The cheap shot to his knee finally clued him in that Teyla was angry with him. When he asked what was wrong, she proceeded to lecture him as if he was Torren, going on and on about tolerance, the need to let go of the past, and other such topics. He lasted for ten minutes, mistakenly thinking he'd get a chance to explain, before walking out on her. Sheppard found him later in the mess, and explained that was the second dumbass thing he'd done this week. The Doc would just freeze him out, but Teyla could kill him before he knew she was there.

Freeze him out? Jennifer was angry at him? He dismissed this with a scornful wave and Sheppard had shaken his head. The other man got up to leave and then told him that he didn't think the Doc had asked for much. He started to argue, but Sheppard just left him, sitting alone at the table. Jennifer wasn't supposed to be angry at him, she was supposed to realize that he was right, that he was only trying to protect her. Besides, she was asking more from him than he could give. It ate at him, though, the thought that she was hurting because of him. That was when he sought her out, only to have her look at him with dead eyes. He let her go, because how was he supposed to fix this? What common ground could he offer? He was right.

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Ronon had been in the mess when Sheppard had found him. The older man asked Ronon to meet him in the gym for a brush-up on sparring with the bantos rods. Apparently he had an exhibition match with Teyla set up later that afternoon and he didn't want to lose too quickly. Ronon agreed, and now he stood in the gym, waiting, his mind never far from the Jennifer problem.

The doors slid open and to his shock, it was Jennifer standing in the center of the gym, a bantos rod in her hand. She wasn't facing him, and as he stepped into the room, he could see her shoulders stiffen. Her body was thinner than he remembered. Slowly, she turned around and gripped the rod with both hands. Jennifer met his eyes and the pain he saw in her gaze hit him like blow. He moved towards her and she retreated. He froze, feeling defeated. The silence stretched between them, heavy with dark emotions, finally broken when she whispered, "What are you doing here?"

He shrugged helplessly. "I was supposed to meet Sheppard. I think they set us up."

"Oh." She dropped her eyes, twisting her hands around the rod. She looked away and then began to move jerkily towards the door.

Ronon realized she was leaving, and before he knew it, he'd extended his own bantos rod to block her way. "Wait. Don't go."

Jennifer looked at the slender piece of wood in her way, focusing on it instead of the man who held it. Suddenly all the anger of the last week rose up and she slammed her rod downwards on his, causing him to drop his arm a fraction. Using the distraction, she darted around him, heading for the door again. Suddenly, he was there blocking her and it became a different kind of fight, with Jennifer desperately trying to leave and Ronon keeping her in. When her breath started to hitch and she was mortally afraid she was going to start crying, he disarmed her and threw his own rod away to clutch at her shoulders. Desperately, he said, "I lost everyone I ever loved on Sateda. How can you ask me to even let you set one foot on that soil?"

She broke his hold on her and retreated. Her face was pale as she answered, "I am not Melena!"

He had no idea what she was talking about. "I don't--"

Jennifer cut him off, her voice rising. "I can take care of myself, hell, you've been teaching me! It's not like I'm asking for a romantic rendezvous, I just want to see where you grew up, where you lived."

She was killing him. It was the same argument as the first time, and Ronon still had no idea how to make her understand. "The bodies of the dead still lay where they fell! There is nothing left but ruins and dust."

"Then show me the woods where your grandfather taught you how to track. Show me the orchards where your mother gathered fruit for her pies. Show me--"

"The Sateda I knew doesn't exist anymore!"

"Then why are you still carrying their ghosts? Why are you so afraid of returning to an empty world?"

The questions hung in the air and he sucked in a breath. She was asking too much! "The Wraith--"

Jennifer continued to press her advantage. If she could only make him understand…"The Wraith that made you a Runner is dead. I doubt very much the hive ship is still orbiting the planet, waiting for you to reappear. Besides, I'm only asking for an hour. Just one hour. John said--"

"You talked to Sheppard about this?"

Ronon's voice was sharp. This explained how his CO knew what was happening between them. She'd gone over his head about a personal matter? Her voice was defiant when she responded, "Yes, I did. I wasn't going to ask this of you unless I knew it was possible. He said it would be your team plus Lorne's, one jumper apiece."

He was staring at her, and it frightened her that she couldn't tell what he was thinking. His expressions always tended to be inscrutable, but she'd gotten very good at reading the little clues: a quirk of an eyebrow, the tilt of his head, his all purpose smirk. Jennifer had no idea what he was thinking. Was this it? Was this really the end? She stared at him, waiting for him to respond, so scared. When his response came, it wasn't what she expected. "I know you're not Melena."

How she was supposed to answer that? Before she could gather her thoughts, he kept going, "Melena could be as stubborn as hell, but at her core, she was gentle. She wasn't meant for living during a time of war. She was a healer, yes, but she could only mend. She could never bear to cause anyone pain."

Ronon watched as tears began to trickle down Jennifer's cheeks. She swiped at them angrily, but he reached for her hand and tugged her closer. She tried to break free, and he cupped her face in his hands, holding her still. His voice was soft. "Even the act of setting a broken bone was nearly too much for Melena. She never would have been able to do what you do. She never could have shot a man or sliced into a skull, in a cave no less. She didn't want to learn how to defend herself; she chose to rely on me to protect her. And in the end, I couldn't. She wouldn't let me. When she died…when she died, I lost all the gentleness out of my life. I can't lose you too."

Her hands lifted to cover his own and now she was crying for him. "You spent those seven years fighting to survive, always running, and it brought you here to me. All that evil led to something good. Don't you want to recapture the good memories from your past? Don't you want to finally stop running?"

His forehead dropped to hers, and he exhaled. Ronon had a choice here. In that moment, he was back in that clearing, staring at Sheppard and Teyla. He knew whatever he decided would change the course of his life. His choice to trust in the clearing had brought him freedom, had brought him here. What would his choice now bring? "Is this really that important to you? Visiting the rubble that is all that's left of my home world means that much to you?"

"Yes, it does." Jennifer was barely breathing now. Oh, please, please, she begged any deity listening. He needs this, I need this, we need this, please.

Ronon straightened, pulling away a little bit, and for one horrible moment, Jennifer thought it was over, that she'd lost. For a split second she considered telling him she lied, that she'd share him with the ghosts, when he smiled. A real smile, one she only seen at the big moments in their relationship: when she said yes the first time he asked her out, their first kiss, the first time they'd held hands in public, the first time they woke up together…He was smiling that smile now. She bit her lip and his eyes dropped to her mouth. Leaning down, he kissed her and it was like the first time all over again. She fisted her hands in the material of his shirt, holding on as if she'd never let go.

He ended the kiss, but stayed within the circle of her arms. He had made his choice. "One hour on one condition."

Her voice was breathless, color finally returning to her face, as she promised, "Anything."

"Don't ever freeze me out again. Yell at me, hit me, but don't just disappear like that. If I'm stupid enough to duck out again, be waiting there for me in the Gate Room to give me hell. Just don't not be there."

His voice was rough, telling her that he had suffered just as much as she. She nodded and he smiled that smile again. He kissed her again, and this time it was like coming home.