Author's Note – This is a tag to Broken Ties. A few references in here make more sense if you read my Ronon/Keller fic, Morning Light, first.
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Making no money. But I'll be happy to take Ronon Dex in trade.
He Prayeth Best
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls – Edwin Hubbel Chapin
It shouldn't have hurt so bad; shouldn't have twisted her guts into knots they way it did. She'd seen a lot of death and suffering, both on Earth and here at Atlantis. Emotional distance was the lifeline to staying sane when she battled Death over a patient—and lost. Sometimes she managed the distance with only a little effort; other times she failed. It was those moments when, desperate to escape for a hard cry or to scream her frustration to the silent walls of her quarters, the short walk from the infirmary seemed miles long. Ghosts accompanied her on those walks. Sometimes they thanked her for those last moments of solace. Sometimes they questioned why she failed.
This time Death didn't win, but it had left a lingering shadow. Jennifer had stared bleakly at the screens providing video feed from the seclusion room. Her eyes were dry and itchy from lack of sleep. Her throat ached so much from unshed tears, it hurt to swallow. Still, she watched, hours on end, as the man strapped to the infirmary bed convulsed in the throes of withdrawal, sometimes bellowing, sometimes moaning pitifully for someone to please kill him.
She'd long ceased flinching at the wrenching sounds he made—strangled gasps of pain, howls of physical agony even sedatives couldn't dampen. Once, when she'd ventured into the room to bathe his sweating features with a cool cloth, he'd calmed long enough to meet her gaze. For a brief moment the madness and delirium gave way to a spark of sanity. He'd looked at her from the depths of a murdered soul. It had taken everything within her not to burst into tears or throw up. The Wraith had done more than turn Ronon Dex into a tortured addict. They'd desecrated him.
It had been difficult to watch Tyre go through the ordeal. Ronon's would give her nightmares for weeks to come. There was nothing they could do but wait out the withdrawal symptoms, so wait she did. She'd traded shifts with the other doctors and slept in her chair in front of the screens. Someone brought her food from the cafeteria periodically, though she couldn't remember when she last ate. Sometimes she stood at the observation windows and watched him, and sometimes she watched as others did the same; but always she remained sentinel. He'd come for her when she lay in the dark, imprisoned and overwhelmed by a Wraith entity. She wouldn't leave him when he suffered the same.
She'd smiled when McKay raced from the seclusion room, cheerfully calling out that Ronon was going to beat him if he didn't get him something to eat. The worst was over, or was it? That moment of clarity, when he'd stared at her still haunted her.
The poetry book, a gift from her father, rested comfortably in her hand, and she took a breath to steady her nerves. John and Teyla had visited Ronon several times as he convalesced in the infirmary, as had Rodney and Major Lorne. Even Mr. Woolsey had visited. Jennifer found it ironic that of all those who came by to offer good wishes, it was Woolsey, awkward and stiff, who'd managed to make Ronon crack a small but sincere smile.
Her turn now. She'd seen him several times, but always in the capacity of his attending physician. Vitals and charts were her refuge, a way to escape her awkwardness and frustration in not knowing how to convey how very sorry she was, that she had kept vigil and not turned away. Would never turn away.
He'd remained taciturn and grim while she checked him, offering only monosyllabic responses when she asked him how he felt. He might do the same now, but she wanted to do this—needed to do this.
The infirmary was nearly deserted, unusual of late with the steady stream of soldiers who'd paid sheepish visits for testing and medication. Obviously shore leave on distant planets was no different from that on Earth. STDs were intergalactic travelers as well.
Ronon was awake when she approached his bed.
"You just checked my vitals an hour ago, Doc. Nothing's changed."
His voice was huskier than normal, a residual effect of the tortured cries he'd howled to the walls and ceiling while he lay strapped in a bed. Dark circles ringed his eyes, giving them a sunken appearance. While he'd slept an exhausted sleep, it hadn't been a peaceful one, and it showed.
Jennifer knew better than to ask if he wanted a sedative. The last nurse who made the suggestion nearly had her head bitten off. Instead, she pulled the chair near the bed closer and sat down.
"I'm just here to visit, Ronon. If you don't feel up to it, I can come back another time."
He remained silent, and she took it as acquiescence. It was a start.
Despite their growing intimacy over the months, he still had the ability to turn her tongue-tied and awkward. She could hold her own against anyone else in a conversation, even when she didn't feel as if she belonged. But Ronon was different. Her words never came out as she intended them, often stilted and badly timed. She was slowly realizing that maybe during her time with him, they were superfluous. The man could hold entire conversations with just his eyes and the rise of his eyebrows.
She cleared her throat and held up her book. "Feel like a little poetry?"
He leaned back against the pillows and looked upward. "Sure."
The book's leather cover compressed under the clinch of her fingers. His answer left her nearly breathless with regret. The unconquerable soul was badly damaged.
"All right then," she said softly. "There's plenty to choose from." She checked the contents, smiling when she came across one particular poem. She had never suffered what Ronon did, but she could read to him the words of a man who had.
Jennifer settled into her chair and began to read. When she neared the end of the poem, she looked up to see him watching her, a faint hope stirring to life in the darkness of his gaze.
"…that with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle 'round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise."
She sat quiet then and didn't look away.
"No. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was an opium addict and dreamed this poem while under the influence."
The blanket across Ronon's leg threatened to slide off, and Jennifer smoothed it back into place with a free hand. "My dad loves Coleridge. "
Silence stretched between them until she made to rise. "Well," she said into the suffocating stillness, "I'll let you get some rest."
The brush of his fingers across the back of her hand stopped her. Ronon's eyelids had drooped to half-mast, and for the first time in days, his drawn features relaxed.
"Stay," he commanded in a sleepy voice. "Anymore of his stuff in your book?"
She sat once more. "Yes, but you need to sleep."
"I'll sleep better if you stay."
Her hand rested beneath his, cushioned by his cool palm and the crisp sheets. His thumb stroked her knuckles, and she laced her fingers with his, careful to avoid the bloody scabs decorating his knuckles.
The poem she chose was an epic one, long and vivid. Ronon fell asleep near the end, and she finished the last quatrain to the serenade of soft snores.
She rose, slid her hand from his, only to brush his forehead in a gentle caress.
"He prayeth best, who loveth best..."
Additional note - Ending quatrains of first poem is from Coleridge's Kubla Khan. The last line is from the final quatrain of Coleridge's epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. IMO, old Sam wrote some great stuff. Hat's off to him.