The Gate room swarms with people, all the voices, hustling footsteps, and alarms blurring into chaos. He deposits Sheppard on an awaiting gurney while Dr. Keller runs trained fingers over the colonel's unmoving form; her lips move but he doesn't hear her words.
"He was shot in the head," Ronon says tersely, cutting her off.
McKay's non-stop badgering in the background ends abruptly and Ronon turns away from panicked blue eyes. He brushes away Teyla's hand from his shoulder; he doesn't deserve her comfort or pity. Colonel Carter stands before him, awaiting answers to questions he's not ready to address.
Lorne runs in, taking a second to watch the colonel's gurney rush by before hurrying over, out of breath. "What the hell happened?"
Ronon ignores them all and begins following the medical personnel, rubbing at the tattoo on his forearm until his nails dig into the skin.
He just stands there, close enough to listen to things he doesn't quite understand, but verifies with his eyes that Sheppard is still alive.
"BP's 80 over 50, pulse is thready at 130," a nurse announces.
"Pupils are sluggish and uneven," Keller says, peeling back the colonel's lids and flashing her penlight. "Hang a unit of the colonel's blood type, run IV fluids, 200 ml of mannitol and get the scanner ready for a head series."
Keller turns and notices the black and blue bruises that mottle the colonel's shoulder after another nurse finishes cutting away his uniform and t-shirt. "After his head scans, get some done of his shoulder, neck and chest," she orders, palpating the area.
He doesn't have to understand the jargon after witnessing all the numbers and noises from the machines or how fast the other medical people scurry around. He can tell by the tone of their voices how serious things are.
They finish cutting away Sheppard's clothes, pull off his boots and attach wires, tubes and other things to keep him alive. After such a flurry of activity, his friend is gone, leaving Ronon to brood and berate himself for everything that's happened.
After the third nurse attempts to take a set of vitals, he shoves the instrument tray away, startling the woman. No one comes nears him again; they all stand back with questions he won't answer.
McKay's the worst. He paces, fidgets and talks way too loudly. "I knew this was going to end badly. I told Sheppard not to go off and play cowboy!"
Seven years on the run, Ronon barely spoke to people. It was better to stay away and keep his distance. He knows that there's nothing to say that will make this right. He waits as long as necessary and grabs a chair to sit near the room where Dr. Keller takes pictures of the colonel's brain.
His whole life has been about protecting others and failing miserably. He wasn't there when Kanesh was gutted. Sateda fell to the Wraith, no matter how hard they all fought. Melena died while caring for others and his friends were killed and brainwashed by the enemy.
Teyla hovers nearby and he looks up at her anxious face, talking for the first time in hours. "I failed to protect him."
"You should always take the bullet meant for your commanding officer."
"What does the Doc say?"
"He is in shock and they are trying to stabilize his vitals. They are monitoring him closely."
"There was so much blood. I saw---I thought----"
Teyla places her hands on each side of his face. "Head wounds bleed a lot, Ronon. I'm sure it looked like---"
"It doesn't matter! The first thing I should've done when I woke up was demand to see him and check for myself!"
"Tell me what happened. Stop letting it eat you up inside," she says, taking a seat next to him.
"Are you going to let me treat you or should I just sedate you?"
Ronon looks over at Keller; her eyes are tired and her shoulders sag, but he knows better than to fight anymore.
"Is he sick like Dr. Weir?"
"No, not quite." Keller pulls up a chair next to his and sits down. "Dr. Weir suffered from massive head trauma causing her brain to swell. We had to relieve the pressure by cutting out a piece of her skull."
"And Sheppard?" he asks, looking hopeful.
"There is bleeding between the skull and his brain that we call a subdural hematoma. The bullet didn't penetrate anything; it looks like it skipped across his head."
Keller looks at him in sympathy. "I'm sure it looked awful and that you----"
"Is he going to be all right?"
She sighs deeply. "The ruptured vessel is a small bleed that I think will resolve itself with proper medication. We'll watch it closely and, if it doesn't right itself, then I'll have to operate, but I'm hopeful it won't come to that."
"If the medicine works... he'll be fine?"
"If it works then it will take some time to get over the trauma. Worse case. We're looking at neurological damage. Best case. It'll be like the worst concussion he's ever suffered and we still have to be worried about things like seizures. He also broke his collarbone and fractured his scapula."
Keller runs a hand through her hair. "Now can I examine you?"
He doesn't want her to, but he doesn't say no.
His fingers go towards his throat but the necklace is no longer there. It's odd, after all this time, not to be able to touch such a significant reminder. Ronon wakes up to another vitals check; there are many of them, three times an hour.
"No change," the nurse says.
As if that's a good thing. Ronon searches for anything that the monitors might not have picked up on. The colonel lays motionless, his shoulder immobilized with his arm inside a sling. There are all kinds of sticky pads attached to his forehead where stark white bandages don't cover. Tubes snake out from his veins and under the sheets while a BP cuff inflates every few seconds.
Teyla comes behind the curtain of the ICU. There is only supposed to be one person here at a time, except he won't leave so that rule has to be broken. She fixes some of the pilot's pesky locks that stick up even crazier than usual around the gauze.
"They had to shave some of his hair. He's going to be pissed," he says.
"It will grow back quickly I'm sure."
"I screwed up."
"You didn't know what was going to happen. You faced many hostile enemies and overcame great odds to get the colonel home."
Ronon scratches at the design over most of his forearm, adding to the marks already there. "I'm not talking about what happened with Turesh."
Teyla bends over Sheppard's bed and strokes his arm; her hand lingers on his wrist and gives it a squeeze. She hovers a moment longer before turning around to face him. Without a word she walks over and wraps her arms around Ronon's neck, hugging him with compassion before walking away.
The gym is off limits with the muscle damage to his shoulder. Ronon let Keller pull out the shrapnel, stitch him up and stick an IV in him but he won't wear a sling. He slept after exhaustion seduced his eyes closed and his body surrendered to the mattress in his quarters.
It had been Carter's orders and Keller's insistence that he leave the ICU or he would be banned. Normally he hated the whole waiting game; the bedside vigil routine was never his thing. His presence couldn't help the person to wake up, but this time it was different.
He'd been strumming Sheppard's guitar quietly, getting used to fewer strings and holding it sideways across his lap. Keller had frowned at him when he first brought it in, but he used only his fingers and the soft sounds were not any louder than that damn constant beeping of some of the equipment.
"That's...otta...tune," Sheppard's raspy voice draws his attention.
He nearly drops the guitar. "Um...," his words stumble. "Let me... let me get the doc."
It's an hour later when he's allowed back over, after more tests and an additional exam. He never knew how tense he'd been until his vertebrae pop and his back feels less stiff.
Teyla beats McKay for the first, brief visit. The scientist stares at the floor most of the time waiting and that suits him just fine. After ten minutes, Teyla returns and the twitchy man rushes over, his voice carrying loudly until Keller hushes him.
Colonel Carter emerges last; the fine lines of her face are less pronounced than earlier. "He's very out of it which is to be expected."
Ronon clenches his jaw.
"John asked about you."
He steps closer to the curtain but hesitates, not sure if he can face his commanding officer after everything.
Carter seems to sense his self doubt. "You should go see him even if it's to reassure him you're okay."
Ronon snorts. That's such a Sheppard trait and he won't act like a selfish bastard anymore and enters the ICU area. The colonel looks like crap, with dark shadows under his eyes that only accent how pale his complexion is. His eyes are squeezed closed, the low light of the curtained area even dimmer than it had been before. The pilot's hand is intertwined with the sheets, fingers curling around the fabric in pain.
"Hey," Ronon says, since he can't think of anything else.
The wrinkles around Sheppard's face doubles at the noise and Ronon steps closer to the bed so he can speak even quieter.
The colonel sucks in a deep breath, turning his head in obvious discomfort, his face blanching even whiter at the movement. "Hey," he croaks.
Ronon shifts his feet and crouches down so he's at eye level. He wets his lips, trying to think of the right thing.
"Youuu...okky?" Sheppard slurs.
The question shouldn't surprise him. "I'm fine," he responds.
Talking doesn't seem to be part of the pilot's agenda as he groans weakly, unable to adjust himself with the busted shoulder impeding his movement. Ronon's on the ball. He grabs the kidney tray sitting on the table and thrusts it under the colonel's chin while helping him sit up enough to be sick without choking.
The place swarms with white uniforms, people's shoes clattering on the linoleum floor. Ronon is shoved aside while medication is administered and the violent retching subsides. He steps away while the pilot's gown is changed but remains tucked away in the corner.
The other physician on duty tries to usher him out but he has made a decision and plans on adhering to it, no matter what.
The next two days Sheppard stays heavily medicated. The few times he's coherent, any outside stimuli is overwhelming. Ronon makes sure the lights stay off; the dim setting just isn't good enough and people whisper now in fear of being manhandled out of the private area.
He checks the clock to make sure the nurses give the pilot his meds exactly on time.
And there are many. Anti-emetics, anti-seizure meds, pain meds and syringes filled with things that keep the inter-cranial pressure down. He knows all this because he's made the nurses explain every one of them.
He even understands which numbers are good or bad on each machine. He becomes a royal pain in the ass according to McKay and none of it matters.
The dark discolorations around the colonel's eyes are bluer with tinges of red. It looks like someone's punched him in the face one too many times, but it's just another sign of the head injury.
The pilot wakes up confused most of the time and he has the routine memorized. "Go back to sleep, Sheppard. You hurt your head. Everyone's fine."
Sheppard still doesn't talk and tries to curl up on his side to endure the pain in privacy, but it's impossible with the immobilizer. The pilot suffers from double vision and all he can do is sleep because any time he's semi-conscious his stomach rebels.
On day three most of the electrodes are removed from the colonel's forehead and the constant neuro checks are reduced to just twice a day. The colonel gets the date wrong by a few days and sometimes he thinks he's somewhere else, but he groans answers that have the staff satisfied.
Ronon spends time re-stringing the colonel's guitar from scratch and after that's done he tries to think of a way to re-sand the outside and restore the paint.
"Does the F string... still sound flat?"
Ronon looks over surprised. "Don't know which one that is but they're all fixed now."
"Good...I could never...get it right."
"Do you still see two of everything?"
Sheppard turns his head as if it weighs a ton. "Not any more," he says, breathing deeply on his oxygen. "How… how long… have… I?"
"Four days. You've slept for most of it."
"Doesn't feel like... it."
"You should go back to sleep."
Ronon furrows his brow. "Told you... You were injured and..."
Sheppard can't keep his eyes open any more and Ronon thinks he's fallen asleep again.
"You got justice... for your people," the colonel mumbles before dozing off.
"Didn't kill him for them," Ronon replies.
He swirls the brush over the blue streak of color and sends the top bristles into the smaller blob of green, mixing the two into the correct blend. He adds layers to the bottom of the canvas, not satisfied with the tone—it's too dark. Ronon has spent a lot of time in his quarters, throwing himself into this project. He hasn't been off world for almost two weeks and running, training and sparring hasn't been able to occupy his time.
It's been years since he's held a brush; it feels foreign, but his fingers remember the grip. His eye can still see color schemes and spatial distance. It's all in the stroke, the angle of the bristles and the thickness of the coatings. The shading is vital; it captures the fury of emotion, the heat of the moment.
He stands back, scrutinizing the highlight, when his door chimes. Growling at the interruption, he turns the easel around and lays down his brush, rubbing stained fingers over his shirt.
Sheppard walks in, carrying his guitar in his left hand, and looks around uncomfortably. "Since I'm still off duty for a while, I thought I'd stop by. See if you wanted a lesson or two."
Ronon raises an eyebrow. "I think I can out play you."
"What else is new?" the colonel grumbles.
Sheppard sets the instrument down, eying his clothes. "Doesn't paint belong on paper or something?'
"I can see that."
"Should you be here?"
"I'm not going to keel over. I've been walking for a long time."
"In a straight line?"
"That was only the first day after I was released. You get shot in the head and see how good your balance is."
Ronon grinds his molars together, his eyes twitch and he turns his back just as Sheppard's expression registers the folly of his words.
"Look. I'm sorry... I didn't mean---
"It's fine," Ronon grunts, staring off into space.
The colonel sighs and walks around to face him, the bandage across his forehead a constant reminder of what happened. "You don't... I mean come on...Crap happens. Turesh got the jump on me and I got the short end of the stick. Missions go bad, you should know that."
"I asked you to go."
Sheppard's face flashes in anger. "I can make decisions on my own, Big Guy. No one forces me. I knew what I was getting into."
"You came out of loyalty."
"Loyalty I used to get vengeance." Ronon doesn't look him in the eye. "For years I've fought for my people, for my world. Battle after battle, hundreds of Wraith corpses without a victory in sight. Everyone I've ever known is dead.
"The only thing that's kept me going is knowing that I'll kill as many of them as possible. Until I found my old squad. I felt like I found something more. A part of the past when there was more to living than just hunting Wraith."
Sheppard takes a seat in a chair, fumbling with the cumbersome immobilizer. "I can't pretend to know what you went through, but no one would blame you for seeking out a connection to your old life."
"But it wasn't real. You knew that...you knew that going out with my friends wouldn't bring anything back. Wouldn't make me feel whole again."
The colonel doesn't say a word.
"You almost died because I was searching for a way to make someone pay."
"No! I never saw what was right in front of me. That I have a new home to defend... New people to protect. There isn't anything to search for that I don't have here."
There. He's said it out loud. He's cut the strings to his past, allowed them to scatter with the rest of the dust on Sateda.
Sheppard looks surprised by his sudden revelation, nodding to himself. "Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees."
"Yeah. One thing I've learned over the last couple years is that you can waste the future trying to make up for past mistakes. Sometimes you just need to live your life one day at a time."
Ronon nods, his eyes resting on the guitar. "You were really gonna try to teach me to play one handed?"
Sheppard taps the end of the neck. "Guess it wasn't my best excuse. What about you? Done hiding in here?"
"Almost," Ronon says, grabbing his brush. He looks at the colonel and snorts at his pathetic attempts to sneak a peek without asking. "I haven't painted in a long time."
Sheppard looks like an eager child, making Ronon sigh. "Fine, take a look," he says, stepping back in anticipation.
"Whoa...it's… it's beautiful," Sheppard says in awe.
"Not sure if I got the north spire right and the water...I can't remember...was it that green?" Ronon looks over, knowing how much time the colonel has spent out on the piers.
"It's perfect...even the waves. I think that was Elizabeth's favorite view."
"I wanted to capture the way her eyes looked when she was out there," he admits softly before clearing his throat.
"You did." Sheppard squints. "But my hair isn't that spiky."
"Yes, it is."
"Is this from any particular battle?"
"No, it's just flashes of stuff."
"Explains the hive ship explosion in the sky... That's a hive ship, right?"
"Yes," Ronon growls.
"And you have the largest pile of Wraith bodies I see."
"Teyla has the second largest amount," the colonel says in disappointment.
"You're controlling the drones, too."
"Cool," Sheppard beams. "Not sure if Rodney can fire a P-90 and hold on to his PDA like that."
"But he's done it before I'm sure," the pilot adds hastily.
"I wanted to preserve what we've been doing here; show people all the important stuff."
"A new future," Ronon adds.
Another silence settles between them but all the strange awkwardness of days ago is gone. Ronon grabs the guitar. "Let me show you how to really play this thing."
"You know my head's starting to-----" Sheppard laughs. "Okay, fine...always trying to twist the whole master and student thing on me."
Ronon grins. The colonel will always have things to teach him; he never doubts that and he vows to always return the favor.
He wouldn't be who he was today without Sheppard and he pats his friend enthusiastically on his good shoulder. "Like Superman and Batman."
Ronon doesn't tell him who is who but instead begins strumming the instrument, thinking how to paint that image for later.
I wanted to thank everyone for their wonderful support of this story. To think it came from one little scene in my head then "Reunion" aired and gave me the springboard to write this. Another big thanks to Beth and Mandy! You gals rock!