Author's notes: For Lanse and Flowerfairy... who missed their regular dose of R/K. :P In my mind, Jen has been missing from the episodes lately... I figured she's got to be a little lonely. Here's my thoughts on that little fact. And remember, you'll know what Jen's up to, but Ronon doesn't. So Shhhh.... it's a secret. I just wrote this today so all typos are my own. - Nika
Standing in the middle of the Gateroom, Jen fiddled with the straps on her knapsack, and replayed this morning's conversation with Mr. Woolsey in her head.
Originally, she wasn't sure if he'd grant her request for a few hours off. But, she supposed, it wasn't as though she'd ever asked for any time before today. Because she hadn't. Ever.
It was such an odd request that Richard immediately assumed something was drastically wrong… which it wasn't. Not really. After explaining to him just why she would like the time, and which planet she'd like to go to, he granted the request.
But with one condition.
Even though the planet was dead and completely uninhabited… she still wasn't allowed to go alone.
She almost laughed.
And probably would have, if it didn't hurt so much.
Richard granted her the four hours, with a caveat that she take someone with her.
She'd left the decision on who, up to him.
Which, definitely surprised him, but he assured her he would assign someone in time for her to leave by ten.
It was now ten.
And no one was here.
The way things had been going the past couple of weeks, he probably couldn't find anyone willing to volunteer. Fine. She'd go alone. She'd planned on it originally, anyway.
She shook her head and pulled a hat out of the pocket of her large overcoat. Yanking on the toque, she called up to Chuck to dial the gate. While the chevron's locked in place, she zipped up the jacket and pulled on a pair of heavy woolen mittens.
Footsteps sounded behind her and she turned, her body physically jolting when she realized who it was.
She'd seen too much of him walking away these past few weeks, it shocked her to see him actually walking towards her.
"Ronon?" She blinked, never for a minute considering the obvious. "Is… is something wrong?"
"No." He answered gruffly.
She angled her head. "Are you going… off-world too?"
"Woolsey said you needed someone to go with you."
She held her breath. "And you said yes?" Her brow furrowed. He'd said yes?
Ronon frowned and stepped back.
When Richard had asked him if he was busy, his first inclination had been to say he was, but something in the man's expression had said whatever he needed… it was important. Then Woolsey said Jennifer needed to go off-world, and asked if he would he be willing to escort her… Ronon immediately thought of saying no. But his mouth answered yes before his mind could reason it out. Richard hadn't said anything else other than she was leaving at ten for a couple of hours and the trip would be cold.
He'd sat around debating a dozen reasons why he should call Woolsey and tell him he'd changed his mind.
But then it was almost ten o'clock.
He'd grabbed his coat and his blaster and headed for the gate room.
And there she was.
Standing alone in front of a dialing gate, wearing a coat that was too big, a pair of heavy boots, and a hat and gloves that were definitely not military issue. They were bright pink.
Then she'd turned, and the sorrow he saw in her eyes was so strong he felt a sudden urge to throttle whoever had put it there. Then the sadness switched to shock and wariness.
Because of him?
He shouldn't have volunteered.
"I'll get someone else." He answered, turning away.
"NO!" Jen said, a little to loudly, clamping her pink mittened hand down on his arm. "I mean… no. I…" Then she shook her head and quickly withdrew her hand. "Yes. I do. Need someone to… go with me." She tried again, kicking herself for, as usual, turning into a babbling idiot in the man's presence. She looked at his leather overcoat and tried to change the subject. "You might want to change though. 692's in the middle of winter."
He raised an eyebrow.
"It's just… I mean… are you going to, you know, be warm enough?"
"Right." She nodded stupidly. "Of course you are."
Well, Jen supposed, if she wanted to go alone, an non-talkative Satedan was about as alone as she was going to get, and still meet Woolsey's condition.
"Okay… um… shall we?" She pointed to the now stabilized event horizon.
He didn't answer.
She took that for a yes.
Cold air slapped her face the minute they stepped through the gate, and she muttered a curse at the blinding sunshine. "Wow that's bright." She mumbled, shielding her eyes with a mitten covered hand.
The world was white – and sparklingly so. Snow blanketed everything as far as she could see. Sleeping trees were covered in a white dusting, with contrasting green fir's sticking up across the landscape. Above them, the sky was an expansive shade of blue and not a cloud in site. The calm, still air stung her nose with its sharp, clean freshness. She took a deep, slow breath, and exhaled, smiling at the instant mist that rose in front of her face.
There were no footprints, no tracks, no sign that anyone else had ever been here.
It was perfect.
"Where to?" Ronon asked.
Jen dropped her hand away from her eyes and pointed to the large hill in the distance. "Anne said it's about two miles to the base."
"Major Teldy." Jen took a step forward, feeling her foot crunch down on the hard packed surface before breaking through and settling into the soft fluff beneath. Several more steps and she fell into the almost-forgotten intricacy of walking in snow. Easier to pick your feet straight up than kick through it.
"Why?" He asked after a few minutes of silence.
Jen hesitated. "Mr. Woolsey didn't tell you?"
He shook his head.
"And you came anyway?"
He lifted one shoulder then dropped it.
Jen continued forward, unsure of how to answer, or how much to answer. Then, deciding it didn't really matter what she said any more, she pursed her lips and nodded. Things couldn't possibly get any worse.
"It's my Dad's birthday today." She inhaled slowly, held it, then exhaled, walking through her own breath. "And I'm missing it. Again."
He didn't answer… but she wasn't really expecting him to. They walked a short distance before she gave in to the uncomfortable silence.
"It's winter back home, and since it has pretty much always been just Dad and I… it always seemed rather silly to throw a birthday party for just the two of us. So… we started this… tradition, I guess you could call it. I sort of promised him I'd find some way to make it happen this year – even though we wouldn't be together."
"That why you wanted to come alone?" He eventually asked.
Jen glanced at him before looking quickly away. "No." She shrugged. "I just didn't…" She sighed, her voice trailing off until it was almost a whisper. "Didn't have anyone to ask."
The sadly pained look in her eyes stopped him cold and he pulled her around to face him.
"What'd he do?"
Jen blinked in surprise. "Who?"
She looked like she was about to cry. If that idiot McKay had done something…
"McKay?" She repeated, then her brow furrowed with confusion. "Rodney? What makes you think…" She stopped, then let out a long, sad sigh. "Oh. Right. Of course." She pursed her lips, looked briefly down at the ground, then turned and started walking towards the hill.
Ronon watched her walking slowly away, her boots crunching through the pristine snow. Then she stopped and stood motionless. He saw the traces of her breath dissipating around her head – the only indication that she was alive – she was standing so still.
She turned around to face him.
"I'm not dating Rodney, Ronon."
Then she turned back around and continued walking away.
Then rushed to catch up to her.
"So?" He managed to grunt out, then kicked himself mentally for such a fantastically intelligent response.
"So… Rodney didn't do anything." She mumbled, her eyes straight forward while she walked.
Ronon stepped with her for a few minutes, trying to make sense of everything. If she wasn't dating Rodney… then who was she dating? She'd said she was interested in someone else… Sheppard? Had to be Sheppard. They always wanted Sheppard.
He tried to think of a safe question to ask. "Why didn't you have anyone to ask to come with you?"
Jen stopped again, wondering just how her life had taken such a pathetic turn she was stuck in the middle of nowhere with the one man who could do the most damage. God, her luck really did suck.
"What's luck got to do with it?"
Great. She'd said that out loud. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back, hoping the heat on her skin was just from the sun overhead.
Nope. Definitely not the sun.
With a frustrated flip of her mittened hands, she lowered her head and dropped her arms limply to her side. Trying to find a voice that didn't sound so horribly pity-perfect-pathetic, she cleared her throat. "Who am I going to ask, Ronon?"
When he didn't answer, she continued on towards her target destination.
After a few minutes he caught up and fell into step beside her. They walked along in silence.
"You could have asked me." He finally said, when they reached the bottom of the large, sloping hill.
Jen stopped so suddenly she nearly fell over. Only Ronon's quick hand on her shoulder kept her from toppling sideways into the snow.
"What?" She turned to face him, her eyes wide.
"You could have asked me." He repeated.
"Ronon." She gaped at him. "I couldn't… I can't… I mean… I… you… You're kidding, right?"
He shook his head.
She turned her head away, and he could see her breath coming in shorter bursts. When she turned back, her face was flushed but it wasn't embarrassment this time… it was… Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Confusion.
Jen grabbed his left arm and lifted it, shoving the sleeve of his coat back to reveal the pink strip of a healing scar. She held his wrist up. "I know." She exhaled, afraid to look him in the eye but afraid to look away. "I know." She dropped his arm started up the incline. "I have to sign off on all the reports." She said over her shoulder, not bothering to see if he was even following. "I know you've been in… and I know from the time of the visits that you're purposely waiting until I'm off shift before you'll let someone see you. I know you're there, Ronon. I can feel you there. Watching. Waiting for me to leave so you can have someone else treat your injuries. You're avoiding me like the plague. So no. I couldn't have asked you."
He fell into step beside her, listening, watching out of the corner of his eye. Okay so… yes. He had been avoiding her.
But she wasn't supposed to know he was avoiding her.
That she did know…
Okay, maybe he felt a little guilty.
He opened his mouth to apologize, but she started talking before he could get the words out.
"Rodney's so afraid I'm going think he's more of a hypochondriac than he already is, he won't come anywhere near the infirmary even when he is sick – and he'd never agree to something so frivolous anyway, so I can't ask him either, now can I? Teyla and Kanaan are visiting their people. Laura's not due back for another three days. John and Evan don't want to get in the middle of any of this… So… I mean… who else am I going to ask to volunteer to come on a two mile hike through a frozen wasteland just so I can keep a promise to my Dad, who no one here even knows? It's just… I just… I can't…" She let out a frustrated sigh, her breath coming in short gasps with the exertion of climbing the hill. "Forget it. I'm sorry. Just… ignore me. I'm not very good company."
Ronon's mind zeroed in on the one phrase that made no sense. "Sheppard and Lorne don't want to get in the middle of what?"
She stopped again and turned towards him, waggling her pink mittens between the two of them. With the added height from the rise of the hill, they were standing eye to eye. "Between this… whole… mess… or whatever it is…" Her voice trailed off and she looked away.
"What mess?" Ronon frowned. Trying to get a straight answer out of the woman would give a master torturer a headache.
She blinked at him, and the frustration in her eyes was replaced so quickly with hurt he felt an instant knot twisting in his abdomen.
"I overheard you and Rodney talking in the gym." She answered softly, tilting her head then looking away.
She waved him off, and took a step back, moving further up the hill, forcing him to look up at her. She chewed her lower lip furiously, her eyes locked on his while she fought through whatever it was she was about to say.
"I'm supposed to choose." She stated flatly, rubbing the bottom of her nose with the back of her sleeve. Turning, she continued up the hill.
They climbed in silence until they reached the crest. When he caught sight of her face this time, there was no mistaking the tears in her eyes. His chest tightened and he willed himself not to move.
"You guys have to work together, Ronon. You depend on each other. You need that support. Trust. Every day you have to go out there… out… here… and know that person is going to have your back no matter what. How am I supposed to come between that? How can you expect me to be the… the… thing… that gets you killed?" A mitten swiped angrily across her cheek.
"Jennifer…" he shook his head, feeling her pain, wanting it gone, wanting to take it all away but not knowing how.
"No." She answered. "I can't. I won't. I can't… choose you. I can't choose Rodney. I can't choose either one of you and it hurts. God, it hurts." She rubbed her hand absently across her abdomen. "You can't both just be my friend. I do something with one, and the other gets jealous, or… or hurt. I do something with the other, and the first one gets upset. I can't choose you both, so, I lose you both. Hell, I've already lost you both."
The tears were falling in earnest now and she started to walk away, wiping at her cheeks. He grabbed for her arm and she shoved his hand away. He let his hand drop.
"Jennifer, you haven't lost anything."
She laughed bitterly, and shrugged out of her knapsack, letting it fall into the snow at her feet. "This coming from the man who - until today, and, only because Woolsey asked you to - has been avoiding me like the plague for weeks?"
He hesitated. "Yeah… about that…"
She shook her head. "It's fine. You don't need to explain."
"You said you were interested in someone else." He finally answered, unable to think of anything else to say that would even make sense with this current conversation.
"I am!" She rolled her eyes. "Me!" She whapped her chest with her gloved hand. "I'm interested in me!"
Ronon blinked. "That makes no sense."
"It makes perfect sense." She nodded furiously. "I chose me. Me. I can't be some kind of crazy warrior princess. I'm not a fighter… I'm not a… a… warrior. I can't be a soldier. I can't be Telya… or… or… a kick-boxer like Ameila. I can't do any of that. It's not me. I'm a doctor. And a damn good one. It's not just what I do… it's who I am. I'm me. And I like me. Or at least I thought I did."
"Jennifer…" Ronon sighed, completely lost and totally frustrated. "What are you talking about?"
"I chose!" She cried, turning away from him and flinging her arms wide to the open hilltop. "I chose, okay! I made a choice and damn it… I couldn't do it." Her voice dropped and she sat down in the snow, then flopped onto her back, her arms wide while she closed her eyes against the bright, overhead sun. Her hair stuck out at odd angles, draped across the snow, stuck to her hat, and trapped behind her back. "I couldn't do it." She said sadly. "I couldn't. Because I could think of… all I could think was… would you have still come with me if I'd chosen Rodney?"
Ronon stood on the top of the hill, staring down at the woman lying sprawled on her back in a foot of snow, his heart twisting out of his chest. He knew the answer already. So why was he so surprised?
"You chose McKay."
She rolled her head back and forth in the snow, leaving a wrinkled impression, and balling pieces of snow into the side of the pink knitted cap.
"No." She whispered.
His chest tightened and he suddenly couldn't breathe. "Who?"
She snorted. "You. You idiot." Her voice so soft he had to strain to hear it. He stared at her mouth, just to be sure he was hearing what he was hearing. "I chose you."
She nodded, her eyes still closed.
He swallowed hard. "Then why…"
She rolled her head, turning her face towards him, and opened her eyes. Her cheeks were red and flushed from the cold and the emotions, and teardrops still shone in the corners. She stared up at him, her expression a mix of sadness and pain, loss and confusion. She blinked, chewed her bottom lip, then turned away.
"I can't be who you want." She answered softly.
Ronon swallowed. "And just who do you think I want?"
When she shrugged, her shoulders crunched against the snow. "Not me."
"Why the hell not?"
She winced at the bite in his tone – but he didn't care. He wanted the answer. He wanted all the answers. Him? She wanted him… not McKay… but she'd turned him away because she thought he didn't want her? Even though she already knew…
Sheppard was right.
Earth women were completely insane.
"I screwed up." She answered. "Instead of listening to you… I…" She groaned in frustration and flung her arm over her face. "I didn't listen to you. I did my own thing and instead of giving you time to get the others out… you ended up having to come after me. Wasting time. Time you could have used… It was dumb… and… and stupid… and reckless… and… feel free to stop me anytime here…" She trailed of into a mumble.
"Why?" Ronon snorted. "You seem to be on a roll." He shook his head, dropping down to sit beside her. With a shrug he flopped onto his back, lying beside her in the snow, his head inches from hers.
She frowned and rolled her head to face him.
"I don't want a… kick-boxer." He finally said, turning his head towards her, her eyes so brightly hazel they pulled to him like a beacon. "I want… you."
"Why?" She asked softly.
"Because of who you are." He said simply.
"Even if I can't fight?"
"Or shoot well?"
He nodded again.
"I argue." She bit her lip.
"I don't take orders well."
"I've already learned that."
"I have horribly bad luck."
"Tell me about it." He smirked.
He snorted. "Yes, you are."
She continued to stare at him, her flushed face only a few inches away.
"Anything else?" He raised an eyebrow, rolling onto his side to face her, bringing his face a breath away from hers.
"It's not going to be easy." She finally answered, her voice barely a whisper, her warm breath tickling his chin.
"I don't expect it to." He acknowledged, his eyes locked on hers.
"Are you sure?" She asked softly.
He nodded, the motion brushing his nose slowly across hers. "You?"
She nodded. Once. Returning the favor.
Neither dared move.
Neither dared not move.
Warm breath mixed and mingled, light and questioning, hands and bodies still. When oxygen became a necessity she pulled back, inhaling long and slow.
"So." He finally said, unable to stop the stupid grin from breaking free.
"So." She smiled hesitantly back.
"Rodney's going to be pissed." He said.
Her smile faltered.
"Hey." He said quickly. "I'd never say you can't be friends."
She chewed her lower lip. "I don't know if he'd still be my friend."
"Then he's a fool."
The corner of her mouth quirked up, then fell again. "You thought I was dating Rodney and haven't talked to me in weeks…"
Ronon blinked. "Then I'm a fool."
Jen snorted and closed her eyes with a shake of her head. She opened them slowly.
"Yes." He said firmly.
"Yes. I would still have gone with you, even if you were dating McKay."
"Oh." She nodded, her expression serious. "Really?"
"And if I want to do something with him sometime? As a friend?"
"I trust you." He said simply. Then blinked. "I'll just kill him if he touches you."
She made a noise somewhere between a snort and a harumph.
"I'm just sayin..." He said quickly.
"You will not." She said firmly.
"Can I shoot him?"
"Ronon..." She wacked him across the arm. "Enough! You will not hurt Rodney."
"Fine." He pouted, then changed the subject. "So. Why exactly are we here? There were much warmer places you could have picked to get me alone."
She laughed then, and he drank the sound in.
He'd missed it.
He'd missed her.
To long apart.
Too much time wasted.
Too much time to make up for.
"Tobogganing." She said with a grin, sitting up, and moving to stand.
He was instantly on his feet and pulling her up. "Tobogganing." He rolled the word around uncomfortably.
Jen reached for her knapsack, unfastened the straps. She pulled out a long narrow piece of blue material – plastic – rolled tightly in upon itself. She unfurled it and he noticed it was almost as tall as she was. "This," she said with eyebrows raised. "Is a crazy carpet."
"Crazy carpet?" He frowned.
She walked over to the crest of the hill, spread the crazy carpet out on top of the snow, and sat down in the middle, digging her heels into the snow on either side.
"Sit." She patted the colored mat behind her.
Ronon eyed her warily. "Then what?"
Jen pointed down the hill. "Then we slide down."
"Slide down?" He glanced at the slope, and the distance to the bottom, the back at her.
She grinned. "Whassa matter? Afraid you're going to get hurt?"
"No." He frowned.
"Afraid I'm going to get hurt?"
He didn't feel the need answer such an obvious question.
"Fine." Jen laughed and started to shuffle forward, hooking her mittens through two holes in the front end and curling it up towards her. "I'll go first."
"Wait." He hesitated, then shrugged. What the hell. He moved to join her on the mat.
Jen slid forward, and he dropped in behind her.
"Closer." She ordered.
When Jen looked over her shoulder she instantly turned a bright pink. "Oh shut it." She mumbled around the flush. "Just move closer."
He slid forward until his front was pressed against her back. If this was the position for this tobogganing, he was pretty sure he was going to like it.
She picked up each of his feet in turn, and tucked his legs in under hers until he was practically sitting cross-legged with her in his lap.
She grabbed his arms and wrapped them around her. "Hold on like this." She ordered, then tucked her feet up beneath the curl of the front of the plastic. "You'll have to push us off though."
"Push us off…" Ronon frowned, then dropped his hands into the cold snow, giving them a shove.
The mat sailed forward… faster than he would have expected.
He grabbed for Jen, pulling her in against him as the mat slipped over the edge of the hill.
To say he was shocked with the speed they achieved, was definitely an understatement.
It felt like flying - without the bonus of a jumper seat or safety harness. And Jennifer – the crazy woman who was startled by her own shadow – screamed and whooped the entire way down.
The mat reached the level ground at the bottom and eventually slowed to stop.
He flopped onto his back, bringing a giggling, squirming crazy-woman with him.
"Well?" She laughed, angling her head back to look at him.
"How much time do we have?" He asked thoughtfully.
"I had four hours." She answered.
"Good." He grinned. "Plenty of time for more."
She laughed and squirmed off him. "I've created a monster."
"You know…" He said thoughtfully. "If we wait long enough, Sheppard will show up with a jumper and we can have him fly us to the top each time."
"Ronon!" Jen was shocked… then she blinked. "Actually I never thought of that."
With a smirk he stooped, grabbing for the handle of the crazy carpet. He took several steps back towards the hill before he realized she wasn't following.
She was standing in the same spot, a strange, faraway expression on her face. He dropped the mat and stepped towards her.
"Ronon?" She asked, staring up at him, as he stopped in front of her.
"Promise me something?" She asked softly.
He nodded. At this point, he'd give her anything. Everything. The whole damn planet, if it were within his power.
"If…" She hesitated, and he could see the sadness welling up in her eyes again. "When…" She swallowed, then tried again, rubbing her forehead with her mittened fingertips. "Promise me that if we disagree… on… something… anything… you'll… you'll scream, yell, stomp your feet, hit something, shoot something…" she half smirked, then let it drop. "Anything… Just… Please. Don't walk away."
Ronon swallowed against the thickness in his throat. He didn't have an answer. Couldn't voice anything even remotely appropriate. So instead, he reached out, cupped the sides of her head and the pink knitted cap, and kissed her. Fiercely. Possessively. Then he backed off, let her breathe, and kissed her again. Softly. Another breath then a third kiss. Brief and gentle.
He lowered his forehead to hers.
She nodded. "Thank you."
He lifted his head, and started to smile.
"What?" She looked up at him, her smile hesitant.
"Just remember you said I get to shoot something."
"Oh for heaven's sake…" She rolled her eyes, then burst out laughing.
"You said!" He started backing away, then bent to scoop up the carpet.
"I did, didn't I." She sighed, and fell into step beside him.
"Come on." He urged. "Let's get some more runs in before Sheppard gets here."
Jen laughed. "Ronon, we are not waiting for John to show up in a jumper just so you can get a ride."
"Why not? He's already got a team on standby… be a shame to waste their time."
"He's what!" She gaped.
Ronon laughed, and hooked his arm around her shoulder, pulling her along with him. "Relax. It's standard procedure when you go off world."
"Oh god." She groaned. "Really?"
"I hate you all." She muttered.
"No." She sighed.
"Then come on." He urged. "Race you to the top!"
"Oh that's so not fair." She pouted.
He hopped, lifting one foot of the ground. "Hmm?" He held his arms wide.
Jen stuck both hands out and slammed into him, the slope of the hill and the slippery surface giving her enough of a bonus he actually fell over and she took off at a run.
"Oh…" He quickly climbed to his feet, shaking off the snow. "You're gonna pay for that, Keller!"
Jen squealed and ran faster.
She didn't get far.
And she didn't really care.
By the time Sheppard showed up, they'd managed to get a few more runs in. Then the Colonel promptly commandeered the crazy carpet in the name of personal safety – he couldn't possibly let the CMO be injured on something he hadn't personally tested first. Jen relented with a laugh, if only because he looked so hopeful, and because she was feeling so cold.
As she and Ronon walked back to the gate, alternating which of her hands he kept warm in his, she reminded herself that after thanking Mr. Woolsey, she needed to send a huge thank you to her Dad.
This was definitely the best birthday party he ever threw.