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John's teeth sink into the newly, oddly clean skin of Ronon's back before he brings his chin up, resting it atop Ronon's shoulder. Ronon's voice is soft as he asks, "Do you miss them? The scars?"

John tightens slightly in shock. "Do I miss them?"

Ronon doesn't know how to explain the question. All he has for John is, "I always thought I would know who I was without them."

Ronon can hear the slight change in the pattern of John's breaths. He doesn't say anything, though, not just then. After a while, he says, "I know who you are."

"When he asked, I said that I tried not to let the things I couldn't change bother me. But I didn't know what he was asking."

Ronon can feel John nod.

"If you had known, what would you have said?"

"I might not have been able to. Decide."

"I think he might have known that," John says slowly. "I think he might have known that the only way to give this to you was in the same way some people give birthday gifts: without ever asking what the recipient wants."

"That sort of describes McKay in general," Ronon says, with a fondness that he is continually surprised to find in himself.

John's laugh is wet as he presses his mouth to Ronon's neck. "Maybe." His voice deepens slightly when he asks, "What does the tattoo mean?"

Ronon is caught off-guard by the sudden change in topic. John is not generally one for sudden moves, not unless bodily-threatened. "Tattoo?"

John brings his mouth to the other side of Ronon's neck so as to lick the item in question.

"Regiment mark," Ronon manages. Kel's mark. If he had thought it possible, he might have asked McKay to erase it. Then again, given his confusion in the wake of the scars' removal, maybe not.

One of John's hands makes its way up to Ronon's hair, where it carefully extracts a knife. "So what you're telling me is that since you were barely sixteen, you have always had a mark of. . .status."

Status is a good word. Better than place or position or ownership. Ronon knows all those could be applied as well. John, he is quite sure, knows it too. Ronon is grateful for the careful choice of terms. "Yes."

"And now you don't."

Which should be a relief, Ronon knows. He is human enough to know what he is supposed to want or not want. "No."

"Would you like one?" John asks.

For once, Ronon wishes John were a bit more like McKay, forging ahead with his own plans, sure that he knows better than anyone else.

"If you say yes," John tells him, "I will still know who you are."

Ronon will know who he is, too--will have to face the truth of that.

"And I will still love that person."

John is not fighting fair, and Ronon pledges to tell him so later, but at the moment he is busy breaking, busy pleading, "Please," before he loses his nerve, denies himself the things he needs in order to pretend that he doesn't need them--that he is the man he wishes he were, rather than who he is.

John, mercifully, takes the rest of the decisions out of Ronon's hands. He presses Ronon to the bed and rolls him over and then plants one hand in the center of Ronon's chest, as though that will keep him from moving if Ronon decides he wishes to.

The hand won't. The fact that it belongs to John will. They both know it.

The first slide of the knife is cold heat and then a liquid pain and Ronon almost panics, almost thinks, I've been here before, I've been here, except that he is on his back and John is above him, hand steady on Ronon's sternum, eyes focused in concentration.

Ronon takes a breath, and forgets that the hollow above his hip is thrumming with pain, forgets everything except that when this is done, he will know who he is again, and that this time, the knowing will be a thing of choice. It is almost as good a thought as not having had to ask for this at all. It will do in place of that.

After a bit the immediacy of the pain slackens and John's lips are on his and he says, "Done."

John walks away and brings back washcloths and bandages. He holds an ointment for infection, but not to help with the healing. No, that would defeat the purpose. When John has adequately healed the area--his touch light, tender, apologetic--Ronon looks down.

The gate symbol for Atlantis lies nestled in an S.

John's gaze skitters to the side. "I really just meant to put the gate symbol."

"Wouldn't have been enough anyway."

John cleans the knife with care and replaces it where it came from. It takes long enough that Ronon would swear not a single strand is cut in the process. John applies the ointment and covers the area with a bandage and says, "For me either."

Ronon takes a breath, and for the first time in days, it feels like the air actually reaches his lungs, like he can remember where the parts of him are now, and what they are supposed to do.

"If you wanted to, you could mark me."

"No," Ronon says, because it doesn't work like that. If John wears his marks, they aren't visible.

"The offer's open."

Ronon opens his mouth to tell John he won't think about it, but a small tickle at the back of his throat tells him it's a lie. Ronon blinks at the awareness. "Yeah."

John's smile manages to be patient and eager and entirely non-contradictory.

Ronon says, "Yeah."

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile