Disclainer: No money being made. No copyright infringement intended.
A/N: Written for the Winter Exchange on SG One Sweet Love LJ community.
Birds of a Feather
It was three years to the day since Rodney died. Jennifer found she could remember him with a smile now instead of tears. There was a certain irony in the fact that such a secular, scientific man had met his end on Christmas Day. Atlantis had hailed him as a hero who'd stayed until the end trying to dismantle a bomb accidentally set in a village compound. He'd failed, and the blast had leveled everything within a quarter mile radius. There'd been nothing to recover.
She chuckled to herself as she pinned a wreath brooch to her sweater and checked her reflection in the mirror to make sure it was pinned on straight. Rodney would have loved his funeral with all its attendant ritual and praise from the Lantean community. Those who didn't know him hailed him a noble and selfless man who sacrificed himself for others. His friends, however, knew differently. McKay had his moments of accidental heroism but his willingness to remain had been more a rock-solid confidence in his ability to beat the odds. Three years ago the house won.
Jennifer's smile slid away, and she fingered the brooch. This might not be such a good idea. While she didn't always participate in the festivities for those who observed this particular holiday, she'd made a concerted effort to avoid them since Rodney's death. Tela, enchanted by an earth custom that reminded her of a few Athosian holidays, had convinced her to come to the party in the mess hall this year.
"Jennifer, we celebrate the memories of those we lost by living. "
Ever wise Tela. As usual she was right, and Jennifer did want to breathe again, laugh again and love again. Even Rodney, as narcissistic and petulant as he was at times, would want her to move on.
"Merry Christmas, Rodney," she said softly.
Were she of a more fanciful persuasion, she might have heard a spectral "Merry Christmas, Jennifer," in reply.
Festooned in tiny white lights, fake garland and red ribbons, the cafeteria was transformed into a holiday wonderland. Christmas carols and rock music poured from hidden speakers, along with big band and Celtic tunes. Music vied with lively chatter, swelling to a dull roar as party-goers celebrated the holiday with drink, food and good wishes.
Jennifer stood against the wall closest to the door and considered how to navigate the crush of people to reach the equally crowded make-shift bar.
"Need me to flatten a few of them to get through?"
She laughed, unsurprised to suddenly find Ronon at her side, offering his own brand of rough gallantry. A warm rush, unrelated to the heat generated by the close quarters of hundreds of people, flowed through her. Dressed in more formal leathers with his long dreads queued into a neat tail, he drew every feminine gaze in the room.
During her years of dating Rodney, she'd gotten more than a few curious looks from friends and knew they wondered how she'd remained immune to Ronon's very physical charms. She'd never told them she was no more immune than they; he just represented something she wasn't ready to embrace at the time. There were many things about Rodney that attracted her; one was a sense of safety, the knowledge he wouldn't push her to reach beyond her comfort zone. Ronon challenged her, would always challenge her, and the Jennifer of three years earlier wasn't ready to leave that zone.
Of those who offered her comfort, it had been Ronon Dex who gave the greatest solace. His condolences had been silence, a solid shoulder on which to cry and an unspoken understanding. Like her, he had grieved a lover lost too soon. Sympathy had shone from that green, measuring gaze but never pity. She'd found strength in Ronon Dex, and through him, strength in herself.
"I think knocking people to the floor just to get to the bar looks a little too desperate." She grinned. "Plus, it's not exactly in the spirit of the season. Peace, good will toward men and all that."
She audibly sniffed at the cup he held in one hand. "Is that wassail?"
Ronon held out the cup to her. "That's what they're calling it."
Jennifer curved her hands around the warm cup and breathed in the fumes. Her eyes watered. "Good God, did you spike this?"
"It'd be a lot stronger if I'd spiked it, Doc." He nudged the cup closer. "Go ahead. Have some of mine, then we'll get you a cup."
Jennifer raised it in toast. "Wassail, Ronon. To your health."
The wassail was strong, flavored with brandy and spice. She took two generous swallows, savoring the alcohol-induced euphoria that brought a blush to her cheeks.
"Sure you can handle a cup of your own?" The Satedan's handsome face sported a faint smirk, and he raised one of those satyr eyebrows in challenge.
"Oh please. As I recall, I once drank John under the table and kept up with you just fine."
He chuckled. "Come on. Let's get you a cup before you drink all of mine."
Promising not to forcibly toss anyone out of his way, he still managed to cut a speedy path through the crowd and guided her to the bar. One wassail for her and a refill for him, and they settled in to enjoy the party.
Jennifer didn't think she'd enjoy herself as much she did at the celebration. She danced with John and Lorne, even Mr. Woolsey who proved himself an excellent dancer. Her favorite moments were waltzing with Carson who had her laughing so hard with tales of childhood escapades in Scotland at Christmas, she'd nearly tripped on her own feet. Ronon didn't dance with her; he didn't' dance with anyone, but his gaze never left her, and when she wasn't dancing, he stayed by her side, remaking in that taciturn way about the strangeness of Earth folk.
"I can understand five rings, but why would you give someone you love eight women milking some kind of livestock?"
They were discussing the lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas. Ronon's expression revealed his bafflement. Jennifer blinked at him, flummoxed by the question. He had a point.
"Well, uh, I'm not sure. Maybe at the time the song was written it was the thing to do. Courtship custom, I guess."
"Hmm," he grunted and took a generous swallow of wassail. "Is that common?"
She laughed, picturing a first date gone horribly wrong when the guy brought a herd of women and a cow to his date's door instead of a bouquet of flowers. "No, thank God. These days it's usually flowers, and even that's a little antiquated."
"What did Rodney get you?"
This time last year, that question with all its attendant memories would have brought tears to her eyes. Now, she just smiled and remembered fondly a hospital bed and a fruit cup. "The fruit cup from his hospital tray."
Ronon grinned. "My favorite part of the tray."
Jennifer laughed. "Mine too. A good first date gift, second only to strawberries."
"A red berry, sweetest in summer. Some people eat them with sugar or cream. I like them plain." She rolled her eyes in mock ecstasy. "They're a weakness of mine. I could eat a pound of them in one sitting. If they ever decide to transport them Atlantis, I'll be the one flattening people to get to them."
They chatted throughout the evening, joined at intervals by his team and members of her staff. It was very early morning when Jennifer, quite drunk but still able to stand, thanked Ronon for his company and bid him goodnight.
"You want me to walk you back?"
Tall and imposing, he exuded a more relaxed manner brought on by several rounds of wassail and single malt whisky—and, Jennifer hoped in some far recess of her alcohol fogged mind, an evening spent with her.
"No, I'm good. You stay." She caught motion in the corner in of her eye and saw Teyla waving them over to a table where she sat with John and Ford. "Teyla's wanting you to join them."
"She's wanting us both."
She covered a huge yawn behind her hand. "Can you give them my apologies? I'm dead on my feet."
"Okay. " He paused and took her elbow, warm fingers caressing her skin briefly. "You sure you can get to your room, Doc?"
Ronon, fiercely protective, pragmatic to a fault. It wasn't just the alcohol that made her see him differently. Breathe again, live again, love again. "I'm sure. Merry Christmas, Ronon."
She gently pulled her arm free of his grip, smiled and made her careful way to the door. The weight of his gaze rested against her back, even when the door closed behind her and she stood alone in the corridor.
She awakened at 09:00 to the agonizing sound of her door chime. Neither loud nor intrusive usually, the chime bludgeoned her ears, combining with a hangover headache that threatened to cross her eyes. It sounded again, and she winced.
"Okay, okay, just give me a sec." She staggered to the door, glad she'd dressed in a modest pajamas set and didn't have to search out a robe. When the door slid open, she wondered if the wassail's lingering effects included visual hallucinations.
Someone left a tree outside her door. A pear tree to be exact with a live partridge in a cage hanging from one of the branches.
Jennifer peeked out into the corridor both ways and saw a lone marine pass by. His raised eyebrows and wide grin had her dragging the small tree into her room, accompanied by the protesting squawks from the partridge.
She and the bird studied each other for long moments before she started laughing. Ronon. Who knew a prankster hid behind that often dour exterior?
There was no note, no clue as to who sent the tree and bird, but considering the conversation she'd had with Ronon the night before, the answer was obvious.
"Down to the greenhouse with you." She picked three pears from one of the branches and set them on her bedside table. The partridge fluttered in its cage. "You, my friend, will have to go back through the gate, though I'd love to know what strings Specialist Dex pulled to get you transported here."
After making arrangements to have the tree moved and the partridge returned to Earth, Jennifer sought out Ronon only to find out he'd gone off-world with the team and would be gone nearly two weeks. The information deflated her a little, and she chastised herself for feeling so disappointed. She'd wanted to thank him for cheering her up and compliment him on his ingenuity. Preferably over lunch.
The next day, she returned from her shift to find a pair of doves, also in a cage, sitting outside her door.
Day three and Woolsey called her to the gate room wanting to know why she'd ordered three hens to be transported to Atlantis.
"Are they French?" she asked in a small voice.
Behind the reflective lenses of his glasses, Woolsey eyed her as if she'd been hitting the drug cabinet's contents on the side. "I don't know, Doctor Keller. Poultry isn't my speciality."
She flinched when he summoned her on the fourth day and politely asked that she have the very large cage containing four crows removed from his office. Her relief that Day Five meant the delivery of jewelry was short lived when Woolsey sent a note this time, along with a recipe for how to cook pheasant. This cage contained five golden ring-necked pheasants.
By now, the entire population of Atlantis waited with bated breath to see what might come through the gate for Doctor Keller. It took ten marines to herd six honking geese into a temporary pen and a baker's dozen to corral seven angry swans. The Twelve Days of Christmas became the song of the day and bets were placed over whether or not they'd get a live cow through the gate on Day Eight. The Gate room had a sizeable audience who all gave a loud sigh of disappointment when no cow arrived with the daily shipment.
Jennifer, by contrast, wiped a sweating brow in relief then nearly died of embarrassment when eight grinning female marines dressed as milk maids serenaded her in the mess hall to the tune of St. Bride's milking song.
Despite the dread of knowing what to expect each day, Jennifer found herself laughing in private. The sheer audacity, not to mention the amount of work and planning that had gone into this endeavor, was truly awe inspiring. And if she was honest with herself, complimentary and unexpected. Ronon Dex possessed a wicked sense of humor. And considering Woolsey's patience in all this, she suspected Ronon had recruited him in his plan.
On Day Nine she joined nine women in the mess hall, dancing a lively jig accompanied by a microbiologist who was also an accomplished fiddler. The following day she and the team sent with her off world added their chorus of admiring "oohs" as they joined the local townsmen in watching the paid troupe of ten acrobats perform for them.
She almost had a coronary when, on Day Eleven and ready for breakfast and an early shift, she opened her door and was greeted by the high, thunderous skirl of great Highland pipes. Even the lovely sight of eleven pair of bare knees and kilts didn't convince her to stay and hear the rest of "Scotland the Brave."
By the time Day Twelve arrived, she did nothing more than wave the parade of drummers behind her as they tapped their way along the corridors to the hospital wing.
That evening, after her shift, she verified with Woolsey that John's team had returned to Atlantis. No doubt Ronon hadn't even made it through the gate before a throng rushed him to tell him how his plan went, but she wasn't going to wait for him to come to her.
She checked her hair in the mirror and the simple blouse and slacks that showed off her figure but didn't shout "Dress Up!" She wanted to look pretty, to look strong, to look healed of her sorrow. Ronon had helped her with the last, given her a memory of Christmas that had everything to do with laughter and silliness instead of grief and regret. He was a good man, an exceptional man, and she was determined to be his equal.
Her surprised yelp echoed down the hall when she opened her door and found Ronon standing on the other side.
"Ronon! You surprised me."
He raised an eyebrow in an otherwise expressionless face, though his eyes glittered in amusement. "No kidding. You okay?"
She smiled, butterfly flutters beating madly against her ribs. "Come in. I was just leaving for your room."
He ducked and entered, looking around with interest. He cradled a package in one hand, and Jennifer eyed it with trepidation.
"It's not a bird, is it?"
He grinned. "You're not mad?"
She laughed then. "No, I'm not mad. In fact, that had to be the best Christmas gift anyone has ever given to me." She sobered, reached out and stroked his muscled forearm, tracing the triangular patterns of his tattoo before drawing back. "I'll carry it with me forever. Thank you."
He was rough and sometimes violent, stubborn yet loyal, dour and dry-witted by turns. As beautiful inside as he was outside--and utterly beguiling. Three years ago, she hadn't been strong enough for him. She'd changed. She hoped he recognized it, recognized that the faith he'd had in her then had become the faith she now had in herself.
He handed her the package. "Open it."
She took the gift. "The twelve days are over."
"It's not for Christmas."
Paper and tape parted in her hands revealing a plastic one pound carton of fresh strawberries. Jennifer gasped. "Who did you have to kill to get these?"
He snorted. "That would've been a lot easier than what I had to do to get them."
The butterflies swirled in her stomach. "Is this a first date gift?"
"It isn't a fruit cup."
"This isn't the Infirmary."
"I'm not Rodney." The subtle change in his stance signaled a slight tensing, an expectation of her answer.
Jennifer set the strawberries down. Body heat and the scent of leather inundated her senses. He smelled of conifer and a hint of the strawberries. Muscles tightened beneath her palms when she placed her hands on his waist.
"I'm still Jennifer."
Long arms came around her, drew her into a loose embrace. Ronon leaned down, his nose grazing hers in an affectionate caress. A dreadlock escaped its confining strap, falling over his shoulder to brush her cheek. "That's good enough for me, Doc. It always has been."
He kissed her, and Jennifer would swear from that day on, even strawberries never tasted sweeter.
Author's Note: As this was close to X-mas day, I thought it would be nice to give the tale a holiday theme with a twist. The origin of the lyrics for The Twelve Days of X-mas are varied and can easily be found on the net.