Title: The Thousandth Man series - part 3

Story Title - Healing, part 2 - Sequel to Captives

Author: ltcoljsheppard

Summary: Ronon and John's continuing journey back to health.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

The next morning the sun rose on the Lantean horizon and washed the great city in gold and pinks. The light pouring through the large stained-glass windows played prisms in pools on the marble-like floor. At just past 8 a.m. Dr. Keller entered the room, after having been given the information pass down by Dr. Beckett of anything of interest that happened on his shift.

Jennifer paused at the entry to the post-op recovery section of the infirmary, where Colonel Sheppard had been admitted, and looked at Ronon draped over the side of the bed fast asleep. It'd been two full nights now and one full day since they captives had returned
home and Ronon hadn't left John's side for more than a couple of minutes at a time… and only when his body demanded it.

When the nursing staff came in to change the bed linens Ronon was right there to carefully shift John around in order to help them get done and get out. His protectiveness was becoming unhealthy, for him more so than for John, and nearing obsessive.

Dr. Keller approached the bed, giving Ronon a wide berth in case he woke with a wild reaction. He'd done that a few times already, waking from a traumatic dream that would cause him to jolt awake. One time he woke abruptly, launching himself from the chair he'd fallen asleep in and drawing his particle gun in an attempt to ward off whatever enemy he'd been dreaming about.

Jennifer had asked him to surrender the weapon so no one would get hurt and, when he quietly refused and re-holstered the pistol, she'd finished her task and left the room to radio security. She'd requested they dispatch a unit to come and retrieve the weapon, and remove it from the infirmary, or remove Ronon with it.

The standoff hadn't lasted long at all, less than a minute really, but it was the longest minute Jennifer could recall in a long time. Lorne had accompanied the two Marines to the infirmary and it was he, with the armed back-up, who assured Ronon that the weapon was not needed here, in the safety of the city and the only people he'd end up harming would be "friendlies" and he knew that was the last thing Ronon wanted. Ronon had stood his ground silently, standing near the foot of John's bed, and simply glared at the men who had come to challenge him.

"Why don't you give me the gun, Ronon.... and I'll post sentries right outside the door. How's that sound?" Lorne had negotiated. When Ronon didn't budge, he added, "Colonel Sheppard is important to us too. He's our CO and our friend, Ronon. We're not going to let anything else happen to him either. Okay?"

Ronon weighed the options and then stepped toward the major unbuckling his holster belt and handed it to him. Major Lorne had kept his promise and stationed two men outside John's section, inside the infirmary, where Ronon could see them. His being unarmed, however, didn't make him any less dangerous and Jennifer kept a distance from him when he was asleep.

She succeeded in checking and recording Sheppard's vitals and medications and adjusted his I.V. drip. She was looking over his monitor readouts before Ronon sensed her presence and finally stirred. He lifted his head from the bed and Jennifer noted that he'd actually had his face resting on John's hand and the plastic hospital bracelet was adhered to his cheek as he sat up. It left a shallow indented strip just below his cheekbone which was immediately hidden by the long rope-like strands of hair he wore like a mop atop his head.

Ronon slumped back in the chair and stared at her with a sleepy gaze before letting his eyes roam around to notice the sunlight filtering into the room. He twisted slightly in his seat to look at the guard unit standing outside the door and noticed they were a different pair than the ones who'd been standing there at 3 a.m.

"It's morning," he growled, his voice still heavy with sleep.

Jennifer gave him a friendly smile. "Again, yes," she said, confirming that their second day back had begun and, after re-attaching the pulse-ox meter to the tip of John's finger, she
replaced his hand by his side and drew the covers over him securely.

Ronon watched her as she adjusted the strange looking plastic finger cap and Jennifer smiled a bit, remembering the first time Ronon had seen one and thought they were stupid. That is until she'd explained the importance of a pulse-ox sensor to him.

"Pulse oximetry is a non-invasive method of allowing me and my staff to monitor the levels of oxygenation of a patient's hemoglobin. The blood," she'd specified when his brows twisted at the 'goblin' word. "It tells me how much oxygen is actually available and being used productively in his system. Its data is necessary whenever we have a patient whose condition is considered unstable, critical or requires intensive care."

It was often difficult to tell if Ronon was following the information because he rarely reacted to what he was being told, so Jennifer offered one last comment before dropping the lesson.

"If this gives us back a low reading, which is recorded here," she said lifting a readout strip from the monitor, "then that tells me he's not ventilating himself very well... that he needs assistance in maintaining proper oxygen levels. If that is indicated then I will have to put him back on the oxygen. It's very important, especially with a severe head injury that we make absolutely sure his brain is getting sufficient oxygen. Understand?"

Ronon understood and nodded. It was a lesson he didn't forget and through the past two nights he'd checked the readout and re-checked it when it felt to him that the staff was taking too long to come back in.

"How long is he gonna be like this?" Ronon asked her as he scrubbed the sleepiness from his eyes and then dropped his hands heavy on his lap.

Jennifer carefully examined the raw burns around John's mouth and applied a bit of salve to the corners with a cotton-tipped applicator. She tossed the applicator in the trash by her feet under the monitor stand and glanced over at Ronon.

"It'll be a while," she told him empathetically. She then gently placed her hand to John's cheek and turned his face a bit toward her so she could change the bandages and dressing on his head. He'd taken fifteen stitches to close up the gash to his right eye and due to that eye being bandaged; unusable anyway due to the severe swelling, it left Sheppard with only his injured left eye to use on the rare instances when he actually woke up.

Jennifer carefully removed the bandages, exposing Ronon to the healing injuries for the first time. When he'd brought John home, he'd still been wearing the blindfold and gag that were adhered to his face after nearly three days of beatings. He'd always been asked to leave the room prior to this whenever the doctors came in to change John's bandages or tend to other necessities.

One of those necessities was a catheter system which Carson had tried to explain to him the other day and the reasons why it was used, but Ronon still had trouble dealing with it whenever they came in to check it or do anything at all to it. He couldn't imagine such a thing not being harmful, despite how much Beckett assured him it was not painful in the least. In fact it was quite useful in that it allowed relief to the bedridden patient without forcing them out of the bed before they were physically ready. It was also an essential means in helping to keep records of the patient's fluid output, especially after a surgical procedure.

The only part that could be a tad uncomfortable, he was told, was the actual insertion when the patient was awake... "and even that is only a heavy sensation of backward pressure---" At that point, Ronon had growled at him loudly, raising his fists toward the doctor, and Carson realized that the big man really didn't want any details on that particular tube.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

As Dr. Keller tossed the bloodied dressings in a biohazard bin nearby and gently prodded the site with the tips of her fingers. John moaned. She paused in her exam and glanced to Ronon even as he was already vaulting from his chair. He was at John's side in a flash and leaning over the bedrail so that he'd be in sight if Sheppard opened his eyes.

Another soft moan and one eyelid fluttered open and the other fought to open, but the swelling simply got in the way of the attempt. This was the first time Ronon had gotten the chance to see what was under the blindfold and subsequent bandages and he barely succeeded in not pulling a face at the sight.

"Hey, buddy, how ya' doing?" he asked as the grey-green eye found its focus and drifted over to him.

"Ronon," John recognized and Dex crooked a grin.

"Yeah. How ya' feeling?"

"Okay," John answered and then after a pause. "Are you all right?"

Ronon knew that first answer was a bald-faced lie and yet, even in his condition, Sheppard thought first of his friends. Ronon shook his head and exchanged a look with Jennifer.

"I'm fine. Let's worry about you right now, okay?"

"You don't have to worry about me," John told him with a groan. He tried to prove the point by attempting to shift his own weight, but the attempt looked pathetically meager to those watching. He was suffering exhaustion and dehydration and he gasped with a sudden pull of pain.

"Take it easy," Ronon ordered, putting a hand on John's shoulder as if to pin him there. Sheppard winced hard as the attempt had pulled against the stitches in his side and it took a moment for him to catch his breath. "See? Just lie still."

"What is that?" John ground out as his hand came up toward his belly. Dr. Keller caught his hand and held it away so she could pull down the covers a bit to check that he hadn't caused any harm.

"You had surgery," Jennifer told him softly as she gently palpated the area with the open palm of her hand.

"Surgery… for what?" he asked.

"You were ---"

Ronon cut her off as he cleared his throat so loudly that the sound caught Keller of guard and she looked to him with wide eyes. Ronon shook his head at her to indicate that he didn't want John to know what had happened just yet.

"He has the right to know, Ronon," she told him, her soft voice held a stern note to it.

"He doesn't need to know right now," he insisted.

"What do I know?" John asked. His words were confused and slurred, and they watched as the sedatives and pain medications took over again and his eye drifted closed once more.

"Never mind," Ronon told him. "It can wait until you get more rest."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

On the third day, John woke to the sounds of the hustle and bustle of the afternoon meal being served in the infirmary. The scent of the day's offering hit him and woke his tired brain from slumber. His eye opened and he moved it around to get his bearings. He turned his head slightly to the left to see Ronon sitting there looking around as the nurses and orderlies tended to the few other patients in the ward. John watched him for a moment then raised his hand a bit still feeling weak.

Ronon saw the movement from the corner of his eye and turned his head to look at John's hand. His eyes shot to his friend's face to see him looking back at him and he rose from his chair with a grin. "Hey," he greeted quietly. "How're you feeling?"

John blinked and tried to stretch his facial muscles a bit and hissed against the pull of pain. "Hopefully I feel worse than I look," he replied, his voice churned out with a bit of a groan.

Ronon didn't say anything to that and John paused, realizing why that was.

"Pretty bad, huh?" Sheppard asked. Ronon just swallowed and looked down at the bed. "So what happened? Scratch that…" he said as an image of his ordeal flashed in his head. "I remember."

Ronon still hadn't said anything and John looked up at him about to ask what was wrong when Dr. Keller walked into his recovery area.

"Well, look who's awake," she smiled and John offered a bit of a grin back to her.

"Hey, Doc. How's it going?" he ground out through a tight and painful jaw.

"I'm supposed to ask you that," she said with a bright smile as she came up alongside his bed opposite of Ronon. "How're you feeling?"

"Like I was run over by rampaging bull."

"Are you hungry?"

"A little."

"Well, I'll have the nurse bring in something light for you to work on. I want you to take it easy though. "Okay? Just some soup and maybe some jell-o. How's that sound?" she offered as she inspected the raw wounds on his mouth and looked at his good eye closely. "Do you have a headache or dizziness?"

"A slight headache," he told her.

"Just slight? The meds are working overtime, I'd say," she grinned. "How's your vision?"

"A little blurry, but it clears a bit when I blink," he told her. Ronon continued to stand there looking like a sad puppy and John looked up at him. "Is he okay, Doc?"

Jennifer looked at Ronon and smiled sadly, knowing how he suffered in his own way over what happened to Colonel Sheppard on that planet. "He'll be fine too. I think you both can help each other through this, yes?"

John nodded with a sorrowful expression. What happened wasn't in any way Ronon's fault, but Sheppard knew how dedicated the Satedan was to protecting his friends and teammates. He hadn't been able to do that this time and John felt bad that it was because of Marek that Ronon hurt too.

Dr. Keller finished recording his information in her tablet and left them alone with a nod. "I'll order your lunch and we'll pull back on the IV a bit and see if your stomach can handle some light substance."

When Jennifer returned a few minutes later, the nurse had just arrived and was pushing the table tray over John's bed. He'd been lying in a slightly head-up position due to the pressure of his head injuries but Jennifer moved to his head to see how he would fair while she raised the bed. She pressed the button slowly, watching him closely as his head rose to a vertical position.

John closed his eyes and breathed deeply as the sensation made the room tilt. His left hand clutched at the bed rail to steady the sensation.

"You okay, Colonel?" Jennifer asked as they progressed and he nodded. When she had him raised to the minimum height for comfortable eating position she readjusted his pillows and waited for him to open his eye again. "Still okay?" she asked and he nodded, taking a long breath. "Let's start with this. I found your favorite. Orange right?" she asked as she picked up the bowl of jell-o and the spoon. "Okay, real easy now," she told him as she slipped a bit of the cool smooth dessert into his mouth. "Your throat's going to be sore for a bit. It's aggravated and swollen from the intubation tube. I'm sorry," she told him as he swallowed and pulled a pained face.

As Jennifer fed him the jell-o, John took stock of himself silently. The longer he sat there getting his wits about him the more aware he became of his true condition.

"I'm pretty messed up, huh?" he said as Jennifer brought another wiggly glob toward him. She hesitated a moment and then put it to his mouth as he opened for it.

"Yeah. Pretty messed up," she confirmed softly. "We're taking care of it though," she assured him. "You're going to be fine."

"Am I?" he asked and looked at her with one serious eye. The two looked at one another and Jennifer understood what he was asking for.

"Yes, Colonel."

"Because my vision is ---" he began and his words trailed off as a sudden pain in his head made him wince.

"Your vision should get better in time," she assured him. "You have a concussion, John. Your brain is swelled against the inside of your skull and that pressure is causing the visual disturbances and the headache and dizziness. As the pressure recedes so should the effects from it."

John listened and nodded that he understood but he remained subdued.

"I have no intention of pulling your flight status unless absolutely necessary and certainly not until you've made a full and complete recovery… which will take weeks. You shouldn't concern yourself with that just yet."

Sheppard nodded again, feeling a bit better that she wasn't looking to take his wings without intense scrutiny.

"What about him?" he asked, giving a slight nod toward Ronon.

Ronon raised his eyes to see the two of them looking at him. "What?" he asked as if prodded out of his own little daydream.

"You okay, buddy?" John asked.

Ronon looked at him for a long moment and then nodded a bit. He reached out and took John's hand in his and just held it firmly for a bit and Sheppard understood. He felt for his friend and knew that his own injuries would heal long before the wounds in Ronon's heart would.

"I'm okay, ya' know?" John offered.

"No, you're not."

"But I will be. And I don't need anyone else to tell me that I'm here and alive because of you. I already know that," John told him and Ronon clenched his teeth together as his eyes filled with churning emotions. "I'm alive because of you, Ronon. You have no reason to blame yourself for anything else. None of this was your fault. It was mine."

"No it wasn't!" Ronon growled at him.

"I'm the one Marek wanted. I'm the one who carries the gene he despised so much."

"I didn't know where you were," Ronon told him, his voice full of anger and regret.

"I know," John told him.

"I didn't know… what they were doing to you."

"I know."

"I'm sorry," Ronon said and his emotions broke as angry tears flooded down his cheeks. "I'm so sorry."

John reached up with his good arm and snagged Ronon's arm, pulling his friend toward him. At first Ronon didn't move and then seemed to realize that Sheppard would hurt himself in an attempt to comfort him, so he gave in to the grasping hand. He leaned over and buried his face against John's chest, desperately seeking his forgiveness and trying to be careful in his embrace. Sheppard wrapped his one arm around Ronon's shoulders, holding his friend to him as his hand patted softly at his friend's head. Ronon felt the comfort and security of John's offered forgiveness and he carefully embraced his friend with strong, caring arms.

The two men stayed that way for long minutes as Sheppard gave Ronon comfort. Then he felt the big man relax against him just before the Satedan pulled back slowly so as not to hurt him. Once he was clear of John's embrace, and all the tubes attached to him, Ronon sat down in his chair but stayed attentive and focused on his team leader… his best friend.

John looked at Jennifer as she offered him the last of the jell-o with an affectionate grin and he took it from the spoon. She pointed at the soup on his tray and John shook his head, "I'm good for now. Thanks."

Dr. Keller nodded with a grin, she was more than thrilled that he was able to take the full serving of jell-o his first time so she wasn't going to push. She pulled the tray away from the bed further to keep it out of their way and John shifted a bit on the bed.

"So when do I get to get up?" he asked, giving her a pleading but direct look.

"Ohhhh, not for a while yet," she answered a bit flustered. Why did she expect him to be impatient and yet still managed to be surprised by the question? "I think you should wait another day or two, Colonel."

"Oh c'mon, Doc. I can't stay in this bed much longer," he told her and emphasized his discomfort with a mock grimace and an overplayed stretch of his back. His eyes moved to look at her and she grinned, not buying it.

"Tomorrow. Okay?" she said with finality.

"Okay," he agreed, not that he had much choice in the matter. John sank back into the pillows and sighed.

Jennifer grinned at his response and picked up the tray. "I'll check back in a bit. You stay put," she warned the colonel and he nodded reluctantly.

Once Keller had vacated the immediate area Ronon turned his head to look at John again. John felt the scrutiny and raised his eyes, from staring wearily down at the blanket, to meet his friend's gaze.

"How are you really feeling?" Ronon asked, doubtful.

"Ohhh, I'm okay. I think," John replied hesitantly. He looked to Ronon and waited a beat before continuing. "I have a vague recollection as to what happened," he admitted with a slight shrug. "That man tried to kill me."

"Yeah," Ronon answered, holding John's gaze.

Another beat and then John added quietly, still looking to his friend. "You killed him instead."

Ronon looked at John for two beats, maybe three, before dropping his gaze for a moment.

"Yeah. I did," he admitted and looked up again. He wasn't sorry for what he'd done and he'd do it again without hesitation. "And I'm not sorry," he told Sheppard straight out. His solid reply stopped any further questions on the matter and John simply nodded that he understood and lowered his eyes.

He wasn't all that happy about the fact that his friend had to resort to such actions in order to rescue him. Ronon watched Sheppard sideways for a moment before realizing that the subject was done. That's good, he thought, because no amount of talk would or could change the outcome.

Ronon stayed and visited with him as others came and went. Teyla and Rodney popped by for a few minutes, noting how tired John looked even though he begged them to stay and took their leave shortly after arriving. John napped a bit, dozing off without realizing it and Ronon simply turned visitors away with a signal to be quiet and waved them away to come back another time.

John woke again just after the evening meal had been served to find a food tray cooling on the bedside tray table and Ronon asked if he was hungry. He shook his head no with a blank look in his eyes and Ronon frowned a bit concerned that the concussion was having effects on John's condition and watched as his eyes slowly closed again.

He slept restlessly through the night, apparently worn down from the brief interaction of the afternoon and Ronon continued to watch over him. He was there when John woke up after a bad dream gasping for air in a terror-stricken state and could only imagine the images or sensations his friend was reliving in his sub-conscious. He was by his side though, with a gentle hand on his arm and softly spoken words in the quiet night to comfort his friend's fears.

~* ~* ~* ~ * ~

The next morning, the sun rose bright on the Lantean horizon, as it nearly always did, and Ronon stirred in his chair. Opening his eyes, he looked to the bed to see Sheppard grinning sleepily back at him as if he'd just woken as well.

"Hey," he said as he pushed himself up in the chair and rubbed sleep from his eyes.

John simply watched him as if far away and Ronon shifted forward in the chair to reach out and put his hand on Sheppard's arm.

"Hey, buddy, how're you doing?" Ronon asked again and the two men looked at each other for a minute before Carson walked in and broke the connection.

"Gooood morning! I see we're all awake. Well-rested, I hope, and ready for the day?" he greeted cheerfully with his Scottish brogue lilting the airwaves. Ronon gave him a twisted expression that clearly stated he'd just woken and wasn't quite ready for 'chipper' yet., while John grinned at the doctor seemingly amused by the funny man.

Dr. Beckett smiled down at his patient as he looked over his night records on his chart and double-checked the monitor readings and the intravenous drips that supplied medicines and fluids to the colonel's system. Putting down the notebook he turned to the bed and put his hands on the side rail. He looked at John and then Ronon before asking the patient, "How do you feel about getting out of bed today?"

"Are you sure about that?" Ronon asked. He stood up to face Beckett on the opposite side of the bed and looked down at his battered friend.

"It's been three days, Ronon," Beckett reminded him. "He needs to start getting up some time."

"But it's been only three days," Ronon told him. "He had surgery… and he's not acting like himself."

"How so?" Carson asked, concerned. As he waited for Ronon to explain he leaned over the bed, dropping the rail and checked John closely. He took a peek under the bandage on his head and checked his surgical site for leakage or infection. "Everything looks fine, Ronon. He's doing very well." Carson smiled at Sheppard and John grinned back although his eyes did look a bit glazed as if sedated. "I told you about the head injury, Ronon. His behavior is simply effects from that. There's no need to keep him bed-ridden while he recovers his senses from that."

Carson re-assured the Satedan that it was quite all right for Sheppard to get up and move around and waved to a nurse to bring over a wheelchair. The nurse was a veteran of many years and Ronon vaguely knew her only by Katherine as Beckett had spoken to her a few times within earshot. She was about forty years of age he figured with a kind smile and dark blonde hair. She steered the wheelchair to the foot of the bed and waited for Ronon to step away.

Ronon now stood at the foot of the bed as she maneuvered the chair to the side facing the bed and then stepped up to lower the rail on that side of the bed. Carson raised the head of the bed slowly and watched John as he sat up, stopping the motion only once as Sheppard closed his eyes and gripped the bed sheets with his fingers. Carson took that as an adverse sign and halted the bed's progression to give him a moment to let his head settle before continuing. Once the bed was raised high enough, he put down the controller and moved to the other side to assist Katherine. He waited as she helped John get into a dark blue hospital robe.

Carson pulled the covers aside and folded them somewhat neatly near the foot of the bed and he and the nurse talked to John patiently and quietly as they maneuvered his legs over the side and slowly got him on his feet. Ronon watched with concern as John got to his feet and was forced to pause for long, deep breaths as he was held up protectively by his caregivers.

"Okay," Carson comforted his patient, "You're okay, doing fine. Just take a moment to adjust. I know the sensations are uncomfortable… gravity pulling its weight on the stitches and all, but you're doing fine. A bit of a head rush, yes?" he asked as John's fingers continued to grip their sleeves tightly and he stood there with his eyes squeezed shut tight.

He nodded and swallowed back the urge to retch as his stomach turned over.

"Okay, listen to me, the pair of ya'," he instructed the two friends, but focused on Sheppard as he spoke, "this is just a chance to get your body up and moving so it doesn't decide to atrophy lying in bed. Understand? This is not a test and it is not mandatory at this point," he told both men to be clear.

As they settled him into the chair, Carson told Ronon specifically, "Let him sit up, roll him around a bit, maybe look out the terrace and get some fresh air… but if he can only handle five minutes then bring him back in five minutes. Do not over-tire him."

"I won't," Ronon promised as the nurse draped a blanket over Sheppard's legs to keep him warm on his first sojourn from the safety of the infirmary.