It's a lesson that he learned at an early age and that comes from one his most treasured childhood memories - one that has stayed with him throughout his life. Even now, if he closes his eyes, he can picture the scene in exquisite detail – the touch of the warm breeze of the summer night, the comforting glow coming from the living room of his father's house and the sense of excitement and trepidation he'd felt at sneaking out of his bed and tip-toeing down to the living room to listen in as his father met with the other councillors. Like every child, he'd heard stories about the Wraith for as long as he could remember and, even though he hadn't yet known what career he wanted to pursue once he was grown, he'd known even then that he would also be a soldier of Sateda, just like all Satedans.
The sounds of voices raised in argument still echo loudly in his mind – Tolon's gruff words sparking angrily through the room in stark contrast to his father's more measured tones. It had been an old argument, at just seven he'd known that, and one his father fought every year – whether or not they should go ahead with the Festival of Celebration. The festival had always been one of his favourite times of year; he loved to wander through the large fairground with his father, the scent of freshly cooked food heavy in the air, and to marvel of the wonders on display. The year before he'd lost hours as he'd listened, entirely entranced, to the poets reciting their works and then had become just as enamoured at the acrobatic displays of an elite group of sword- and knife-wielding soldiers. That year he'd already heard that the poet Coridor was to return and that the very latest in weaponry was to be demonstrated, and so he'd listened to the discussion with a palpable interest.
"It is too dangerous," Tolon had argued. "Each time we gather in such numbers, we do nothing but run the risk of drawing the attention of the Wraith upon us!"
"There is that risk, I do concede," his father had replied. "But the festival is about so much more – it is our time, our celebration of who we are and what we have accomplished. To honour the achievements of our people is worth such a risk. There must be something more than the fight, Tolon, something for us all to celebrate and to live for."
The memory of the festival that year is another of his most precious recollections – a perfect, shining snapshot of the reason he still fights. And, since the moment he'd heard his father's words, he has collected many such memories – the look of pride in his father's eyes when he'd graduated at the top of his class, the warm glow of love he'd felt when a blushing Melena had accepted his suit, the dreams he'd had of a son of his own...
For seven long years, they were all he'd had – the memories of how wonderful life could be holding the promise that it could be so once again. It had been hard, to carry on when all those around him – the ones he loved – had fallen, but he had done so. He had been determined to survive so that he could honour the achievements and the memories of his people and to once more make for himself a life worth living.
And he has. In an alien city in the midst of a sparkling ocean, he's found a new home and a new family. And he does consider his team to be his family. It has taken some time, of course, but each of them has proven themselves to be more than worthy of the title. He would gladly give his life for them and their fight has become his fight.
Happiness too has followed and the memories he's made during the morning runs with Sheppard, the bantos training with Teyla and the sampling of different meals with McKay have all been added to his precious stockpile. They are what keep him on course during the fight for his new home. As the years have passed, other memories have joined them – the team nights of often unintelligible movies and hot buttered pop-corn, the happy glow of Teyla as she swelled with child, the near-constant amiable bickering of McKay and Sheppard – and all of these help counteract the missions gone sour, the increasingly hostile attacks of Wraith and Replicator, and the devastating loss of far too many.
He has his happiness, or at least enough of it to carry on. He would like more, of course, and he still holds tight to his dreams of having a wife and children of his own some day. So it confuses him when he sees that others have the chance to make that dream a reality and yet do not. He can clearly see the greater strength Teyla has gained through her love of Kanaan and Torren and it bewilders him that any military organisation would make illegal the opportunity for a many of its members to make use of the same source of strength. People fight harder when they are fighting for something – when they are fighting for each other. This he knows to be true. And the stronger the bond, the harder they fight. He can see the beginnings of the strongest of all bonds between Sheppard and McKay and knows that others see it too. What he can't see is why they are letting anything stand in their way.
He watches them carefully now as they enter the commissary together. McKay is in the lead, his hands waving in the air as he emphasises some point, with Sheppard following a pace behind, a small smile on his face as he watches Rodney. It is the smile which gives him pause – it's neither Sheppard's trademark smirk nor his Teyla-approved diplomatic smile – instead, it's a quiet smile, gentle, fond, more... meaningful. Sheppard claps McKay on the shoulder as he leans past him to grab a tray, his hand lingering on McKay's body for a beat longer than necessary as he does so. When McKay turns around to reply to whatever it is Sheppard has just muttered in his ear, he can see that the fondness is mirrored in McKay's gaze as he looks at Sheppard. As they move off together to collect their food, heads turned towards one another and shoulders brushing constantly, he begins to wonder whether maybe he's missed something after all.
Just then a shadow falls over the remains of his dinner and he looks up to see Jennifer Keller smiling down at him, her own dinner tray clutched in her hands.
"Hello," she greets him cheerfully. "Can I join you?"
He nods his assent slowly, savouring how the light in her eyes sparks a new source of joy within his chest. Glancing quickly over to McKay and Sheppard once more – now talking quietly to each other as they share one of the small tables – he recognises a similar joy in their eyes as they look at each other and turns back to smile his own at Jennifer.
Yes, he has been missing something – several somethings as it turns out. Perhaps his own dreams, and those of his friends, are far closer to coming true than he thinks.