Oh how sweet it is to hear one's own convictions from another's lips – Johann von Goethe
The cafeteria was nearly deserted at this early hour. While Atlantis ran 24/7, the early morning shifts were lighter. It was these times that Ronon preferred to eat breakfast. While he enjoyed the company of his team, he sometimes craved silence, moments to do nothing more than eat and savor the quiet.
He scanned the room, his gaze halting on a lone figure seated at a table closest to the windows. The quiet could wait. The CMO of Atlantis ate alone, swirling a spoon absently in her bowl while she hunched over a small book, reading.
He hadn't expected to see her here. For the past month her shifts had covered the morning hours, and he rarely caught a glimpse of her before 1800 hours. He smiled a little as he filled his breakfast tray. That's if he didn't count his visits to the infirmary.
The memory of Sheppard's dry comment intruded on his thoughts. "You know, Ronon, there are easier, less painful ways to flirt with a woman."
"Drop it, Sheppard."
"I'm just saying…"
John had raised his hands in surrender. "Fine. It's your stitches, buddy."
Seeing Jennifer Keller was worth a few stitches, even when she admonished him for his carelessness at sparring.
He could visit her now, without interruption. They'd talk—or she would, and he'd be content to listen and watch the way the morning light sheened her hair with hints of red. But she was reading that damn book as intently as a Carathian monk studying scripture. Ronon frowned his disappointment and turned back to piling food on his tray. He treasured his privacy. She had the right to the same. He'd have to settle for sitting nearby and admire her serene profile as she read.
When he turned to find a table, she was facing him. A wide smile curved her mouth, and she waved him over to her spot by the window. The smile remained as he paused in front of her. "Morning, Ronon. Care to join me?"
He sat down without answering and eyed her curiously. "Thought you'd be in the infirmary."
Her voice carried a sleepy softness to it, and a vivid image of what she might look like when she first woke up—preferably in his bed—flickered in his mind's eye. He snapped a piece of crisp bacon between his teeth and strove to concentrate on her answer.
"We had a schedule change yesterday. I pulled a double shift." She suddenly yawned behind her hand. "Sorry. I'll probably pass out in an hour or two. I just needed some down time and some food, otherwise, I'll be too hungry and too wired to sleep."
It was on the tip of his tongue to suggest a much more entertaining and effective way to relax that had nothing to do with reading or eating, but thought better of it. Again, that tantalizing image of her, sleep-mussed and drowsy, sent the blood running hot in his veins.
He found an unlikely distraction from his more carnal thoughts in her breakfast. She twirled her spoon in lazy patterns through a bowl containing a pale, glutinous mass that smelled faintly sugary and milky. He gestured at it with another slice of bacon. "What is that?"
She glanced down at her bowl as if seeing it for the first time. "This? Cream of wheat. Want to try a bite?" She pushed the bowl toward him. Sparks of humor danced in her eyes at his dubious expression.
He dipped his spoon in the bowl, scooped out a heaping spoonful and swallowed. His lip curled in disgust. It tasted like paste, sweet paste. Stuff you fed babies or the elderly who had to gum their food.
"You like this?" He didn't bother disguising his revulsion.
She laughed outright . "I've eaten it since I was a kid. You could say it's an acquired taste."
They ate together in companionable silence after that. It was one thing Ronon liked best about her—she didn't fill the quiet spaces with inane chatter like McKay or sarcastic banter like Sheppard. She was content to simply sit with him and enjoy the company. He was actually the first to start up the conversation once more.
"What are you reading?" He gestured to the book lying next to her bowl.
Pale fingers glided over the leather cover in a loving caress. Ronon bit hard into the apple he held, heedless of the juice that spattered his beard.
"A book of poetry. My dad sent it in a care package of stuff. I've been going through it whenever I have a free moment."
He'd never been a fan of poetry. Melena had been the one to appreciate such literary forms. Still, he welcomed a chance to hear the good doctor recite a few lines in that soft, weary voice. "Read something."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Really?" This time she wore the doubtful expression. "Are you familiar with any Earth poetry?"
"No, so now is as good a time as any, right?"
Jennifer blinked. "I suppose so." She opened the book. "Any preference in theme? This book is a mixed bag of works."
"I'll leave it to you." He honestly didn't care what she chose to read as long as he could listen to her low-pitched voice serenade him.
"Okay. Let's see what might be good." She flipped through a couple of pages, paused and chuckled before turning more pages.
"Somehow, I don't think lines like "My love is like a red, red rose" would appeal to you."
The crackle of pages sounded between them. He watched with interest as a sudden blush suffused her throat and highlighted her cheekbones . What was in that seemingly innocuous book?
"Definitely not that," she murmured and blushed harder, refusing to meet his eyes.
She waved her hand in airy dismissal. "You wouldn't like the Song of Solomon."
The question startled her, and she smiled a little. "You've absorbed Earth culture and lingo so naturally, I sometimes forget you're not from Earth. " She cleared her throat. "Solomon was an ancient king, a pivotal figure in the Judaic and Christian religious ethos. Had lots of wives and lots of concubines."
That still didn't explain her blush, but Ronon chose not to pursue it. He shrugged. "It's good to be the king."
Her reaction to his statement surprised him, and his eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline as she suddenly burst out laughing, hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. He took no offense. Her mirth was delighted, not mocking, and she swiped at her tears with shaking hands.
"Oh my God," she gasped. "I know what movie I'm requesting for the next movie night."
He pressed her for an explanation, but she steadfastly refused, saying only he'd have to wait until movie night to see why she found his remark so funny.
She turned her attention back to her book, grinning at him periodically as she hunted for the appropriate poem. Ronon liked her smile. She didn't just smile with her mouth, but with her eyes, her shoulders, her entire demeanor. For seven years, he'd lived a life of desperation and solitude, where laughter was nothing more than a hollow expression of bitter triumph when he killed the Wraith who hunted him. This woman's laughter made him remember what joy felt like.
Her features sombered as she stopped on a page and read silently for a moment. When she looked up, her gaze was measuring, deep, as if she dove into those dark places inside him and found a certain truth.
"I think you'll like this one."
Ronon rested his chin in one hand and waited.
Jennifer's voice no longer held that drowsy tone. Instead, she read in a strong, sure voice, as if what she recited, she believed with every fiber of her being.
OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
He sat frozen in his chair, eyes locked on hers. He'd sought her out for companionship, a window in time in which he could bask in her humor, reconnect with that gentler side of himself she always managed to bring to the surface. Instead, he'd found something more. No on had bestowed so great a compliment before now.
"Who wrote that?" he asked hoarsely.
She didn't look away. "A man name William Ernest Henley. It's called Invictus."
"Who did he write it for?"
Jennifer leaned back in her chair, her newest smile both enigmatic and knowing. "I think he wrote it for you, Ronon Dex."