Life's Lessons
by Jain

Written for the SGA Flashfic School challenge.

"Up," Kell said, and Ronon was awake.

His head pounded. It was dark outside (which he was used to), and it had been dark when he'd gone to bed (which he wasn't, yet).

"Time asleep?" Kell prompted.

"Five hours?" Ronon said hopefully. He'd been clouted with a quarterstaff the previous day; his head might still be aching from that.

Kell shook his head. "Two."

Ronon lay still and waiting as Kell stared down at him. Sometimes he was allowed to go back to sleep. More often he wasn't.

"Go to the sparring room," Kell said finally. "One hour of hand to hand combat, one hour with the quarterstaff, and then back to bed."

"Yes, sir."

The sidewalk was slick with rain, and Ronon navigated it carefully. His body was already a mess of bruises; he didn't need to add to his collection. Especially since members of his company would be pummeling him mercilessly for the next two hours in the name of education.

Just once he'd like to be awakened after a few hours of sleep and be sent to the firing range or the obstacle course or the track--something that he could do effortlessly even through half-lidded eyes. But the skills he'd learned on the farms were always the least emphasized. He was still trained in them, of course. As excellent a marksman as he was, he could yet improve, and he could be a lot stronger and faster...though in part that was due to his age.

Eight years as a child, six years in the service of Sateda, and when his peers had begun to marry and settle down on the fields they'd tended half their lives, he was chosen for the military. To be chosen was not uncommon, but Ronon was taken, as well, before he'd even finished his indenture, and that hadn't been done for two generations.

He had his full growth, they told him. For all that he was slighter, he was as tall as Kell. They needed him training more than they needed him in the fields until he became an adult. The Wraith hadn't culled Sateda in over thirty years; they would be returning soon.

"It's not the same," they told him the first time they went through the Portal to a world covered with trees that shook with the sound of distant roars. "The Wraith are stronger and smarter, and they don't like to stay dead."

It was still different from anything he'd known. Shooting down the birds that threatened the yearly harvest was nothing like being prey himself; collecting their still bodies to supplement the evening meal was nothing like feeling a big cat's blood pulse hotly over him as he strove to keep it at bay with hands and knives until it could fucking die already.

Several of the company didn't return alive, one of them from his own squad. Ronon watched Gerd's torn face disappear under the dirt he and the others shoveled over his body and remembered Gerd teaching him how to fight, punching him with brutal, quick jabs and dancing away too quickly for Ronon to follow.

They trained hard in the military, and they drank harder. Until he'd joined the army, Ronon hadn't tried anything stronger than beer. Now he pounded back alcohol that had been distilled into liquid fire and accepted friendly claps on the shoulder that nearly pitched him over.

The first time his squadron had taken him to a bar, he'd ended up vomiting in the alley, shivering miserably as their raucous goodwill sounded faintly through the open door.

"Shouldn't drink if you can't hold it," Solen commented from behind him.

Ronon cringed inwardly. He might be young, but he couldn't afford to be the baby. "I can hold it just fine," he said, his voice rough. "Just needed a piss."

"Never enough toilets for the crowd," Solen agreed. There was a rustle of fabric, and then the sound of liquid spattering against brick.

Ronon swallowed thickly and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

"Come on," Solen said as soon as he'd finished. He slung an arm around Ronon's shoulders. "Next round's on me," and Ronon ignored the queasy roll of his stomach at the words and smiled back at him.

His squad waited until he'd earned his mark before they took him to a brothel. Ronon was surprised to realize that he hadn't thought of such a thing before.

Sex, of course, he thought of all the time: when the men in his squad stripped in the communal showers, revealing broad shoulders and smooth, muscled thighs; when he strained against their hot, hard bodies on the mats. Pushing aside the lust that rose at those times was just another form of discipline. But it hadn't occurred to him that there were better ways of dealing with desire than the comfort of his own hand.

Certainly he hadn't imagined that his squad leader might simply walk into the building and approach the owner, asking in a voice that rang with assurance, "Is Marna available tonight?"

The little, gray-haired owner's smile became less jovial, though no less friendly. He shook his head. "She's gone to the country just this past week."

And another realization slotted into place: Ronon had never before wondered about the women who came to the farms to bear their children, sometimes leaving after the babies were weaned and sometimes choosing to stay.

"Blessings on your house," Berin said gruffly, and was echoed by Ronon and the others of his squad.

The owner bowed his head in thanks, and then said, "I hope you didn't have your heart set on her, sir."

"Not at all. I just thought she'd do well at breaking in our tender sapling." Berin jostled Ronon hard enough to make him lose balance, and Ronon realized uneasily that he was the "sapling" in question.

"Marna's one of the best," the owner agreed. He grinned. "But I'm certain we can find someone else to suit." He ducked down a dimly lit hallway, reappearing almost instantly with five or six women in tight trousers and low-cut bodices.

Ronon's eyes were drawn towards them in helpless fascination, and the assembled whores stared back at him openly.

"Speak your mind, Ronon. There's none will be offended at your choice," Berin prompted.

"I don't..." Ronon trailed off, praying that his flush wasn't visible.

The owner looked at him shrewdly, and then nodded his head. "I think we have just what you need. Hold still another moment."

He disappeared down the hallway again. A minute later, the clomp of heavy boots echoed down the hall, and a tall, pale young man and an equally tall, darker woman returned with him. "One for pleasure, and one for the honor of Sateda. Mat and Kyla have worked together many times before," he added kindly. "They'll take good care of you. All right?"

"All right," Ronon said around the tightness in his throat, and let himself be led away to the sound of his squad's cheers and good-natured heckling.

A whisper of noise woke Ronon, and he slid his hand into his sleeve for his knife just as Kell rose from where he'd been kneeling on the floor. He held one of Ronon's boots in his hand, fingering the toe, and let it drop with a muffled thump. "You need new boots. You've been growing again," he said.

"Yes, sir," Ronon said. He'd already noticed that he had to tip his head slightly to meet Kell's eyes, and he knew the pain in his bones and joints was from more than the blows he received from the other soldiers. He hadn't wanted to say anything; new clothes and boots cost money, and even now that he'd earned his mark, he was still barely worth the food he ate.

"That's good." Kell smiled. "You'll need every advantage you can get. I'll have someone bring you new boots by the end of the week."

"Yes, sir," Ronon said again, letting a sense of belonging wash over him that wasn't even dispelled by Kell adding:

"And go run ten circles of the track before you go back to sleep."

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