The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed....
Shaking away her regret-stained memory of the last time she'd seen Elizabeth - leaving the infirmary with the flagship team - Jennifer busied herself with the here-and-now. First, she checked Ronon Dex's medical records for any known allergies and was distracted for a few moments by an approximated date of birth, the reminder that Ronon Dex was Pegasus-born. Reassured that the standard supplies should be safe, she collected a standard stitch tray, and returned to the exam table. Smiling down at her patient, she explained what was going to happen. "Okay, this is going to need stitches, but it shouldn't take too long. I'll just numb the area before I clean it up...."
Ronon shrugged. "It's okay, Doc. Not the first time for me." He closed his eyes and relaxed under her hands, not even wincing as Jennifer sprayed the topical anesthetic, gently swabbed out the already bruising cut, and mopped away the trail of blood heading for his hairline. To her surprise, Ronon's breathing evened out before she'd set the first stitch.
Jennifer envied his ability to fall asleep so easily and quickly. Sleep was a rare commodity for her, a solid eight hours an impossible dream. Desperate for a good night's rest, she'd been ready to resort to sleeping pills to avoid a repeat of her latest nightmare, which had been especially vivid and starring an oddly sadistic colonel and her own medical incompetence. However, just as she'd pulled the pills out of the locked cabinet, any hope of sleeping that night had been dispelled by the arrival of the very same colonel escorting Ronon, who was sporting a late-night/very early morning sparring injury. Fortunately, at least for Jennifer's nightmare-frayed nerves, Colonel Sheppard had then left to find his own bed, leaving her alone with Ronon.
Falling into the familiar rhythm of nudge, pull, and tie, Jennifer's attention wandered to the rest of her patient's face. He had regular features, smooth skin, except for a few scars and what her mother used to call 'beauty marks' - he was in all, a handsome man who looked years younger than his estimated age. Mentally chiding herself for her slightly unprofessional peeking, Jennifer sighed and shifted her focus back where it belonged. She'd almost finished stitching when Ronon gasped awake and grabbed her wrist, his eyes wide in what almost looked like terror.
Fearing her momentary lapse had caused a painful jab, Jennifer quickly apologized. "I'm really sorry. Did I... did I hurt you?"
After glancing around the room, as if he were looking for someone else, Ronon frowned and apologized in turn. "Uh, no, no. I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...."
Jennifer smiled, hoping it looked calm, as she waited for Ronon to let her go. "You fell asleep before I even started."
"Sorry. I was having the strangest dream." Releasing her wrist, Ronon frowned, which was more than a little disturbing since the furrow on his forehead was bisected by a needle and thread.
Resisting the urge to reach out and tug the needle free, Jennifer asked, "You sure you're okay now?"
Ronon nodded. "Yeah. Go ahead."
"Good. I'm almost done." Taking a deep breath, Jennifer grasped the needle and completed the interrupted stitch. "There, just one more should do it." Still feeling a little uncomfortable, she fumbled for something to chat about while she finished up. Recalling something else she'd read in Ronon's records, she asked, "So, um, your home world is Sateda. What's it like there?"
Jennifer immediately knew she'd made a mistake when Ronon jerked, his muscles stiffening in an aborted attempt to turn away. "Sateda's... gone," he rasped, the pain of loss apparent in his face and curt words.
Feeling as though anything she said would be inadequate, Jennifer still tried to apologize for triggering a painful memory. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
With a visible effort, Ronon relaxed again with a muted sigh. "It's okay. Happened a long time ago." He lay quietly as she cleaned the site again before applying a bandage, but then he looked up at her and asked with an appealing grin, "You hungry?"
Glancing at the infirmary's clock, Jennifer was surprised to see how late it was, or rather, how early it wasn't. She accepted the implied invitation with a shrug and a smile of her own. "I could eat. It's not like I'm going to sleep now."
"You look tired. Are you well?" Teyla asked, looking more rested than the last time Jennifer had seen her.
Jennifer sipped again before she nodded. "I'm fine. I just didn't get any real sleep last night between a nightmare and stitching up Ronon. It wasn't the worst dream I've ever had, but...." She trailed off and focused on her coffee since the food she'd picked up had lost its appeal.
"A nightmare?" Teyla asked, setting down her fork. "Do you wish to talk about it?"
Talking about her dream to Teyla, who'd suffered from her own nightmare with the colonel, wasn't a problem for Jennifer, but she didn't feel comfortable revealing that much to Ronon and Dr. McKay, even after Dr. McKay had smiled and told Jennifer to call him Rodney. Still, it felt nice having a meal with people who could be friends in the future, so Jennifer decided she could relax enough to share.
"You were in it, Teyla. Colonel Sheppard brought you to the infirmary with stomach pains and there was nothing I could do." Jennifer shuddered at the memory. "There was something moving inside of you and then there was blood everywhere...."
Jennifer smiled apologetically when Rodney's fork clattered on his tray. "Sorry, not exactly appetizing, is it?"
"No, no, it's okay. Finish your story. I'm fine." Rodney backed up his assurances by picking up his fork again and taking another bite of his breakfast.
Jennifer shrugged and then continued. "It was terrifying. You had a disgusting alien bug crawling out of your stomach and I couldn't do anything about it. But, I think the worst part was Colonel Sheppard acting like it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen."
Ronon, who'd been sitting silently next to Jennifer, suddenly spoke up. "Sounds like that movie Sheppard talks about. I think it's called 'Alien'?"
Jennifer shuddered. "Yeah, it was definitely 'Alien' - Pegasus-style."
"I still remember the first time I saw it at a horror revival festival," Rodney said with a grimace. "I certainly didn't think it was cool. Neither did my date when I puked Goobers and popcorn all over her."
Jennifer winced in sympathy. "I made the mistake of confiding to my partner in anatomy class that it'd caused my all-time worst nightmares. He actually planted a live snake inside a cadaver I was working on."
"I have got to see this movie!"
Ronon grinned with a shrug when Jennifer turned to look at him, shocked at the glee in his voice. "What? I like Earth horror movies. They're funny!"
Narrowly avoiding the lure of sharing film likes and dislikes, Jennifer shared her real-life concern. "Don't you think it's strange that each of us has had incredibly vivid nightmares with Colonel Sheppard being somehow an integral part?
After a moment's consideration, Teyla nodded and offered her own observation. "And each time acting most unlike Colonel Sheppard."
"Not me." Rodney raised a finger to make the point. "Mind you, it's not that I don't have nightmares. Last night I dreamt that Colonel Carter invited me to her quarters for dinner...."
Jennifer rolled her eyes. "I said 'nightmare,' not 'delusional male fantasy.'"
"Wait, and listen!" Rodney protested. "Turns out she was serving lemon chicken. I mean, lemon! And the only reason she invited me to dinner was to tell me that she was promoting Zelenka over me."
Ronon raised a skeptical eyebrow as he scoffed at Rodney's less-than-terrifying recital. "That's it?"
"Then I was eaten by a whale," Rodney mumbled. "Don't ask me how that happened." With a few darting motions, he piled all of his breakfast detritus on his tray and stood up. "Anyway, I need to get to the lab."
Ronon grinned and shook his head in amusement as Rodney bustled away. "It's always whales with him."
Although she was curious about what had just happened, Jennifer refused to let it sidetrack her. "Okay, do you guys think I'm crazy? I mean, I realize they're just dreams, but first it was Teyla and then right after you came to see me, I had one."
After a few moments, Teyla slowly nodded. "And that's when mine stopped. I slept quite soundly after I took those pills you gave me."
Jennifer added another data point. "And then Ronon had one while I was working on him."
"What's the big deal?" Ronon shrugged dismissively. "It's just a few bad dreams, right?"
Jennifer shook her head. "It might be a coincidence, but they all started after Colonel Sheppard touched that crystal on M3X-387."
Everyone at the table was silent for a moment then Ronon said, "Maybe you should talk to Colonel Carter about it."
"I have read some of the SG-1 reports," Teyla said, supporting the suggestion. "They had some rather odd encounters on their missions."
Bolstered by others' support, Jennifer excused herself and headed for the colonel's office, wondering what they were going to do if it turned out that a crystal was causing bad dreams.
"You're up kind of late."
Congratulating herself for only jumping a little when Ronon's deep voice interrupted her musing, Jennifer swiveled on her stool to face him. "I could say the same to you. Sparring again?"
Ronon straightened up from his doorway lean and walked into Jennifer's lab, then hiked himself up to sit on the table a few feet away from Jennifer. "Couldn't sleep. Went for a run. You?"
"Yeah, the same - except I decided to try falling asleep over digital paperwork." Jennifer frowned and sighed. "Every time I close my eyes, I can't stop thinking about Kate. She was a... a friend, and I don't have very many of those. Growing up, I skipped through grades and finished my bachelor's degree before I was even old enough to vote. I missed out on a lot of things along the way - school clubs, dances, parties."
Jennifer smiled a little ruefully. "To be honest, I don't ever remember a time in my life where I felt like I belonged, well, until now." She flushed, realizing how that might be misinterpreted. "I mean, being here on Atlantis."
Ronon didn't say a word, but his slight nod encouraged her to continue. Jennifer thought how nice it was to have someone to talk to, someone who seemed to be listening without judging, wasn't just waiting to jump in with his or her own issues.
"I can't stop thinking that I should have been able to save her somehow, figured out a solution...." Jennifer's voice hitched as she remembered Teyla's stricken face and her own reluctance to pronounce Kate dead.
With a shake of his head, Ronon disagreed. "You were the first one to see a connection between the crystal and the nightmares and you got people investigating it."
"I suppose there is that." With a shrug, Jennifer reluctantly conceded Ronon's point.
Ronon smiled. "You remind me of someone I used to know. She put way too much pressure on herself."
"Someone from Sateda?" Her voice was tentative, which was understandable considering the last time she'd broached a sore subject with Ronon.
Feeling honored that Ronon had shared some of his mysterious past, Jennifer hazarded another question. "Who was she?"
"Melena was..." Ronon paused and cleared his throat. "…was my heartheld." Ronon squeezed his eyes closed as he explained in a raspy voice, "She was killed during the siege."
"I'm so sorry." Jennifer knew the words were inadequate, but she couldn't think of anything else to say. She reached out to touch the back of Ronon's hand, willing him to feel her sympathy for his loss.
The gesture seemed to help, Ronon finally opening his reddened eyes to gaze down at Jennifer's hand. "Thanks. I wanted her to leave, but she chose to stay behind and help the others." Ronon cleared his throat, but his voice still rasped as he condemned his failure. "I should have forced her to go."
"It's not your fault." Jennifer squeezed his hand as she shook her head. "She chose to stay, and you shouldn't blame yourself for respecting that decision."
Ronon raised his eyes to gaze into Jennifer's for a long moment then, with a tight nod, he gently pulled his hand free. Afraid she'd overstepped, Jennifer was reassured when he asked in a smoother voice, "You want to get something to eat?"
After a pause, Jennifer shrugged. "Sure."
He smiled at her. "I can always eat."
"Good. I think I'm craving some of those purple fries." Feeling as though a little of her own burden had lifted, Jennifer swiveled back to her laptop and closed it down, happy to leave reports and regrets behind - for at least a little while.
Of course, taking eight days off meant she'd likely be playing late night catch-up for twice as long. Grabbing a late night snack of Athosian-style flatbread, yogurt made from milk from a cow-goat-llama creature on Mitla, and mixed fruit, she settled down in the nearly empty mess hall to read while she nibbled. Immersed in a patient's history and diagnosis, which Marie had forwarded for a second opinion, she startled a little at the clatter of a tray on the table and looked up. Her slight irritation at the interruption evaporated under the warmth of Ronon's grin.
"Welcome back." After his brief greeting, he slid into the seat across from her then immediately started eating. Jennifer was a little puzzled as to why he'd joined her if he didn't want to talk, considering the mess hall was nearly empty. Although she thought they'd begun to be friends, they'd hadn't spent much time together outside of the occasional crisis and a few late night trips to the mess hall. During those times, she'd learned Ronon wasn't just a pretty face with nicely muscled body. Not only was he surprisingly kind and gentle for a soldier who'd been through the worst and survived, he was smart. She'd been especially impressed when he'd pointed out his and Teyla's immunity to the mystery ailment, kept Jennifer on track with her research, and then retrieved enchuri plants from the mainland for the Kirsan fever cure - a mission handicapped by an amnesiac pilot.
With a mental shrug, she decided not to waste any more time worrying about what social cue she was missing at such a late hour, and concentrate on her food and laptop instead. A minute or two later, having finished with her bread and most of the fruit and yogurt - she'd never liked the bitter taste of dinstoro berries even though they were chock-full of vitamin C - she shoved her tray aside with a little sigh. Feeling a little uncomfortable with the continued silence, she attempted a bit of conversation. "Another late night sparring session with the colonel?"
Ronon looked up from his food and nodded.
"Well, at least there's no blood this time."
Ronon flashed a grin at her joke, but still didn't say anything, although it seemed as if he was finally paying more attention to her than his food. Flushing under his silent scrutiny, she re-focused on her laptop, trying to lose herself again in jargon and statistics. The screen's descent was so gradual that it took a few inches before she noticed her laptop was closing.
Ronon's eyes met hers over the lowered edge. "Teyla says you could use more training before you go through the gate again."
"She must be referring to my utter failure at playing hide-and-seek with the Bola Kai." With a grimace, Jennifer saved her work and finished closing her laptop. "Not one of my shining moments."
"I can work with you on the firing range," Ronon offered. "I can also teach you what to do when you don't have a gun."
Although Jennifer had passed the mandatory gun safety course with the SGC, there was a big difference between shooting a paper target and a living being. As a physician, she'd hoped she'd never be placed in the position of having to shoot anything, and had done everything she could to avoid guns after she'd passed. Although she'd finally managed to pull the trigger in order to save Teyla from Nabel, Jennifer realized that, for the most part, she'd been a liability on that journey through the gate.
Knowing that gate travel was inevitable in her job, and that extra training was a good idea, Jennifer nodded slowly. "We can do that." She leveled a teasing forefinger in his direction. "You'll have to promise me there'll be no gross food to eat and no bloody wounds."
Ronon grinned. "I promise."
Marie shook her head with a disapproving frown. "You're lucky you didn't give yourself a concussion. Maybe you should stick to scalpels."
"I had worse when I was a resident on rotation in the ER and ended up with two black eyes and a broken nose." Jennifer admitted with a rueful grin. "Elbows can be even more dangerous than sticks. Besides, I was having fun!" She barely repressed the urge to kick her trainers gleefully against the side of the bed as she remembered the silly game Ronon had made up, one where he stood on one foot with one arm behind his back and she tried to hit him.
Ronon grinned at her from across the room. "That mean you're not giving up?"
Jennifer wasn't stupid enough to nod, but even a headache from hell didn't stop her from agreeing. "That means I'm not giving up."
It wasn't until she was back on Atlantis and surrounded by diagnostic machines and disinfectant-permeated air that Jennifer finally felt the last of her jitters fade, allowing her to concentrate on Davos' grim prognosis.
Unfortunately, despite all their research, the expedition's scientists had yet to find a piece of Ancient equipment that could cure his advanced case of lymphatic cancer. Her voice heavy with regret, Jennifer delivered the bad news to Davos' and his daughter, Linara. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do except make you comfortable. The sedative I gave you should prevent any more seizures."
"While I can see many futures, my own fate remains hidden from me." Davos' voice was calm, his smile still sweet even after hearing he was going to die. "Can you tell us how long I have to live?"
Jennifer slowly shook her head. "It's hard for me to say. The rate your organs are failing... a day, maybe two?"
"Oh!" Linara gasped in dismay. "So soon. I... I need to...." Tears running down her cheeks, Linara kissed her father's cheek and hurried from the infirmary.
Davos tried to apologize for her abrupt departure. "You'll have to forgive her, Doctor. She'll have to deal with an uncertain future after I'm gone. I may have spoiled her in that regard." With a sigh, he closed his eyes. "I think I'll rest a little now."
Nodding, Jennifer lowered the head of the bed a little so it would be easier for him to sleep. "I'll be close by if you need anything." With a pat to the back of Davos' limp hand, Jennifer walked over to her laptop to review the scans of Davos' brain while waiting for Colonel Carter to stop by the infirmary.
She didn't have to wait for long. "Doctor Keller, you had something to show me?"
Jennifer nodded, pointing to auxiliary display. "I took these scans of his brain as you requested. He's showing abnormally high synaptic activity." She brought up a second set of scans that Dr. Beckett had stored for reference. "As you can see, it's similar to what happened to Dr. McKay when he encountered that ascension device, only not as extreme and, in Davos' case, it's not advancing. Presumably he's been like this his whole life, a genetic accident."
"So you're saying he was born this way?"
"From all indications, yes. By the way, Mr. Woolsey's already asked for a copy of these test results to take back to the IOA."
From a purely scientific standpoint, Jennifer could understand the colonel's interest, although as a physician she was glad Davos' condition meant he would be safe from more invasive testing. Reading the reports from Dr. Beckett's experimentation on the Wraith hadn't left Jennifer with any confidence that the SGC or the IOA knew when they were stepping over the line, let alone where the line was. Jennifer had stepped too close to her own line, when she'd suggested injecting nanites into Elizabeth Weir to save her life, and she did not want to add to that regret.
Colonel Carter raised an eyebrow at Jennifer's annoyed tone. "Like it or not, Doctor, this is important information. He may be a window into our own evolutionary future."
Jennifer frowned. "A window that is about to be closed peacefully as long as he's in my infirmary."
Before the colonel could respond, Linara, who had returned to her father's bedside after regaining her composure, interrupted. "Doctor? He's awake and asking for you."
Silently calling a truce, Jennifer and the colonel followed Linara. When Jennifer saw Davos struggling to sit up, she elevated the head of the bed, asking, "How are you feeling?" as she checked his pulse manually, noting it was weak but steady.
Davos' "Much better, thank you," was little more breathless than Jennifer liked and she adjusted the oxygen flow through his nasal cannula.
The colonel waited until Jennifer had finished and stepped back before introducing herself. "I'm pleased to meet you, sir. I'm Colonel Carter. "
"And I you, Colonel." Davos inclined his head in a gracious greeting. "I've been told that you are the leader of these people. Not an easy task, I imagine."
When one of the nurses beckoned, Jennifer left the colonel to her interview. The quiet voices faded into the background as Jennifer prescribed a course of antibiotics for a persistent infection, until the colonel's sudden gasp brought Jennifer's attention back to the group around Davos' bed. When she saw Davos release the wide-eyed colonel's hand, she had an idea as to what had happened, and she hurried back to ask, "What is it? What did you see?"
Davos looked sad as he apologized for the shared vision. "I am sorry."
"Thank you. You'll have to excuse me. I have to...." The colonel left the infirmary in a rush, snapping orders over her radio for Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay to meet her in the conference room.
Davos sighed heavily as he watched the colonel's hurried departure. "I am so very weary of fire and destruction." He looked up at Jennifer as she checked his vitals on the overhead display. "Perhaps you would indulge me?"
"Indulge you?" Jennifer asked, puzzled by the request.
With a smile, Davos offered his hand. "I would like to show you something sweeter, a future most pretty young women wish to see?"
Blushing at the compliment, Jennifer took a chance and gently clasped Davos hand and, when their palms touched, her mind was flooded with a cascade of images. Three children, maybe four, running and laughing in the halls of Atlantis, adorable young mop-tops with dark, wavy curls calling out, 'Amma, Amma, look at me' as they danced and darted around the bubbling columns. Their joie de vivre was infectious, and Jennifer felt it laughter bubbling inside her even as the vision ended. She slowly released Davos' hand, her smile fading as she considered the implications of what she'd seen.
Unable to resist, she finally blurted out, "Can you tell me whose children they were?"
Davos tilted his head and raised one eyebrow, silently admonishing her for asking the obvious. Feeling slightly embarrassed, Jennifer flushed and fiddled with his bedclothes, rearranging what was just fine before excusing herself.
Even though she would be staying within calling distance, Jennifer needed a little time alone to decide whether she truly believed Davos could see the future, and whether she wanted that future to be hers.
"Thank the doctor, Mica." The girl's mother prompted and tousled her daughter's red curls.
Mica trilled a happy "Thank you!" and skipped out the door of the council house, Mica's mother following after offering her own hurried thanks.
Jennifer watched them go with a fond smile. Seeing healthy, happy children, helping them stay that way, were some of the best reasons she had for going off world. She hadn't thought of that one when Ronon had asked, "Why are you the one going through the gate? Seems like you already have too much to do being in charge of the infirmary and your research."
Busy checking her pack one last time before shrugging it on, it had taken Jennifer a few moments to answer. "Probably the same reason Colonel Sheppard or Dr. McKay are going on this mission when they're the military and science leads." She'd leaned over and grabbed a duffel bag that she'd learned to pack much more efficiently. "I can't ask my people to do something I'm not willing to do myself, especially when any trip off Atlantis can be dangerous. Besides, I don't want to miss the chance to see new worlds and learn about other peoples' cultures."
Ronon had looked at her for a moment before nodding. "Okay, makes sense. Just remember what I taught you." Reaching out, he'd taken the duffle from her and headed for the gate, turning his head to call back with a confident grin, "And I'll make sure I'm always there with you."
After their arrival on Belkan, the team had split up with Teyla, the colonel and Dr. McKay meeting the elders while Ronon had stayed with Jennifer and helped her set up a temporary clinic. It was a goodwill gesture on the part of Atlantis while Teyla renegotiated the deal made for the Athosians to help with the Belkan harvest and Dr. McKay investigated several possibly Ancestor artifacts that had been discovered in a cave.
Ronon had stayed inside with Jennifer for her first few exams but, when a man that Ronon introduced as 'Solen Sincha' arrived, the two men went outside to talk. Although Ronon hadn't returned, Jennifer wasn't worried because she could hear his deep laughter mingled with the shouts of happy children. Remembering Ronon smiling at the children climbing a tree in the square near the council house and saying he'd missed seeing such happy sights when he was running, she was glad to hear he was making up for lost time.
The line of waiting people finally thinned and Jennifer's last patient was Shaleen, a heavily pregnant blonde who had previously delivered twins and was wondering if she should expect another two. With a small adjustment to her Ancient scanner, Jennifer was able to tell a delighted Shaleen that she would be the proud mother of four in about six weeks. Jennifer chatted with Shaleen while packing away her equipment, learning how Shaleen's clan shared childcare and cooking duties so that Shaleen was able to rest when she needed to - even with two active boys.
Handing Shaleen two lollipops, the same flavor to avoid arguments, Jennifer followed her outside for a little fresh air, as well as to meet her sons. Searching the square, Shaleen called out, "Jeraz!" and then surprisingly, "Ronon!" The larger of the Ronons immediately stopped his gentle spinning of the two brown-haired boys hanging from his outstretched arms. The dizzy youngsters staggered toward Shaleen, giggling and shouting, "Did you see? We flew like rayas, Amma!" Their name for mother, their laughter, and their dark curls immediately reminded Jennifer of the vision she'd shared with Davos.
As Jennifer's Ronon approached, Shaleen gasped, her hand braced against her chest. "You! You're... alive?"
"Do I know you?" Ronon cocked his head in puzzlement.
"It has been almost three hands of summers on this world." She quickly flashed five, five, and then three fingers. "I was much younger when you carried me to the Ring of the Ancestors." Smiling shyly, Shaleen rested a hand atop each son's head. "To be honest, I don't recall much of that awful day...." She trailed off, her eyes unfocused as if she were dwelling on a violent past. With a shiver, she returned to the present with another smile. "I did remember Melena calling you 'Ronon' so I named one boy for my father and the other for the man who saved my life then stayed behind to fight."
"She was so kind after my family was killed and then... the fire...." Shaleen wiped away a tear. "My heartheld and I will name our first girl-child 'Melena' in remembrance of the woman who would not abandon those in need."
Dipping his head in acknowledgement, Ronon's smile was haunted, his eyes distant as he rumbled, "I thank you for the honor paid."
Obviously sensing Ronon's discomfort, Shaleen offered a nearly inaudible farewell and herded the twins away, leaving Ronon standing alone in the square.
Alone, that is, except for Jennifer. Unable to resist his sad demeanor, she drew closer to touch his arm, her voice soft as she asked, "Ronon? It's good to find out someone else survived that day, isn't it?"
Ronon shrugged, but didn't jerk his arm away, although pain threaded through his quiet response. "If we'd had children, if she was pregnant, she would have gone through the gate with Kell's staff." He scrubbed his face with a rough hand, muttering, "In truth, they're Melena's legacy, not mine."
Jennifer had nothing but useless platitudes to offer, so she stayed silent as she watched him turn and slowly walk away, all the while wishing she knew how to mend a good man's broken heart.
Ronon grinned and shoved the branch toward her, the slimy thing on the end - that she really hoped was fruit and not something alive - leaving a red smear on the mess hall table. "This frolsa is just a little overripe. Not ripe enough and you'll end up feeling like your belly will explode." He nudged it a little closer. "You can find the bushes on most green worlds at the tree line. See the leaves?" Plucking one free, he handed it to Jennifer so she could examine the velvety, red-edged trefoil.
"Feels soft." Jennifer set the leaf down and gingerly poked at the fruit then tentatively licked at the drop of red juice she'd captured on her finger. Her eyes watered at the burst of sour. "Gah! If this is overripe...." She shuddered and reached for her coffee mug, hoping to wash the taste away, frowning when she found it was empty.
Grinning, Ronon slid an open bottle of water across the table. "Here. This should help." He reached out and plucked the frolsa free and popped it into his mouth, chewed a few times, and then spit a brown seed into his palm. "Don't swallow this." He showed it to Jennifer before dropping it on the table.
"I doubt that's going to be a problem." Jennifer shuddered. "I can't see myself eating one of those on purpose."
Ronon shrugged. "Kept me alive when I was running. Didn't always have time to hunt." Sweeping his xenobotanical lesson aside with a careless brush of his arm, Ronon leaned forward. "Did you bring your gun and kit like I told you?"
"Yes, even though I haven't used it since our last visit to the firing range." Jennifer sighed in resignation. Every now and then, she thought Ronon was going a little overboard with her training. She went along with it because it felt good to get away from the infirmary and, if she were honest, her willingness had more than a little to do with how she was beginning to feel about the teacher.
Ronon frowned at her. "A jammed gun can't keep you safe. You should be able to field strip it in your sleep."
"Okay." Jennifer leaned over to pick up her gun case, set it on the table to unlock it, and then began to run through the sequence that was starting to feel like second nature. She'd become so accustomed to Ronon's silent regard that she almost missed his soft-voiced question.
"What was the dream?"
Jennifer looked up from her clean but still disassembled weapon, puzzled by the non sequitur. "Dream?"
"That time with Sheppard getting into our dreams. You said you had one that used to be the worst ever?"
It took Jennifer a few moments to recall the months-old conversation. "Oh, I remember." Jennifer thought that it would feel odd to reveal her insecurities to a stranger, but Ronon wasn't. He'd become a part of her life, an important part, so she smiled and ignored her gun to share an old dream.
"It started in a restaurant with a group of people I thought were friends, some of the other residents at the hospital, but there was no room at the table. A waiter brought a chair, but I barely had room to fit then I couldn't get a menu while everyone else ordered and the waiter ignored me when I asked for some ice water. Everyone was eating by the time I got a menu, and when I opened it, I couldn't read it. I looked up to ask for help and everyone was gone and the restaurant was closed."
Jennifer tried for a smile and failed, the utter loneliness of the long-ago dream still resonating in her. "To make things worse, when I woke up, I found out my betta had died, probably because I'd forgotten to feed it or keep its bowl clean enough."
"It's a kind of pet fish with long fins," Jennifer explained. "Mine was red, but they come in all sorts of colors. Oh, and you can only have one fish per bowl because they fight."
Ronon chuckled. "You had a fighting fish."
"Well, I wanted a pet, something living to come home to, but I worked such long hours at the hospital...." Jennifer shrugged and began reassembling her gun.
"Had a lorvis when I was a boy. Used to sleep on my bed."
Jennifer looked up with a smile at Ronon's casual revelation, feeling a frisson of pleasure because he so rarely shared anything of his life on Sateda. She took a chance and asked for a little clarification. "A lorvis?"
"They're little hunters, soft fur with patches of white, orange, and black..." Ronon frowned for a moment then his brow cleared. "McKay has a picture of one like it that he called a cat."
Tucking away the sweet mental picture of a young Ronon curled up around a purring calico, Jennifer sighed. "It's too bad they won't allow any pets here." Connecting the last piece, she sighted along the barrel before admitting with a grin, "Well, except for the xenobiologists' so-called specimens."
Turning around at Ronon's low-pitched greeting, Jennifer's smile instantly morphed to a frown when she caught sight of his blood-covered forearm. "Don't tell me. Another sparring accident?"
"Actually, I slipped in the shower."
"Oh, really?" Jennifer asked, surprised that she'd been wrong.
Ronon grinned and chuckled at his own joke. "No. Sparring accident."
Used to the drill, he sat down on the side of the closest bed as Jennifer fetched some gloves and a surgical kit. Opening an antiseptic wipe, she blotted the worst of the blood away to check the extent of the cut.
"This is the third time this week I've had to patch you up. I was hoping for a quiet shift so I could get through the quarterly reviews." Tsk-tsking under her breath, Jennifer sprayed a topical anesthetic along the jagged cut, only feeling a little guilty when Ronon hissed at the sudden sting. "Sorry. You know, there are other ways you can spend your free time."
In typical Ronon-fashion, all her gentle admonishment earned was a shrug. "Not as much fun, though."
It didn't take Jennifer too long to stitch the short, deep cut while they chatted about Ronon's plans to take a group of Marines through the gate for a few days of survival training, Pegasus-style. Just as she was applying a bandage, and thinking about suggesting lunch, a short alarm sounded and the closest set of doors slid shut. By the time Jennifer turned to look across the infirmary to the opposite set of doors, they too had closed.
Jerking his arm free before Jennifer had finished smoothing the edges of the adhesive bandage, Ronon jumped down from the table and headed for the nearest doors, which stubbornly stayed closed. With a worried frown, Jennifer crossed the infirmary to check the other set, her concern growing when they wouldn't budge either. After trying one more time, she turned to Ronon and said, "These are locked, too."
Slamming his hand against his doors, Ronon growled, "What the hell's going on here?"
"I'm pretty certain this is a quarantine shutdown, but an empty infirmary shouldn't be part of it." Jennifer stripped off her gloves as she walked back across the room, then she tapped her headset. "Doctor McKay, this is Doctor Keller. Are you there?"
In the meantime, Ronon was making his own attempt to find out what was happening using a different channel. "McKay, Sheppard, you there? Teyla?" He tapped his radio again. "Control Room, this is Ronon. What's going on?" He pulled the radio out of his ear and looked at it in disgust. "Nothing. It's dead."
It only took a moment for Jennifer to come up with a possible cause. "After the Kirsan fever outbreak, McKay said he was going to modify the quarantine system to make it more efficient."
"How does..." Using his knife, Ronon tried to pry open the compartment holding the door crystals, grunting a little at the effort. "...unh... cutting off... the radios make it more efficient?" With a growl of frustration, he gave up and jammed his knife back into the sheath on his belt.
"Well, obviously there's a glitch in the programming," Jennifer grumbled, feeling equally frustrated. "My biggest problem right now is that with communications out, he can't tell me how bad the outbreak is or give me the pass codes to open whichever doors are deemed safe."
To distract Ronon from pacing the room like a caged lion, and to calm her own nerves, Jennifer recruited him to help her set up for incoming patients. Unfortunately, because she'd already organized the infirmary for most emergencies, it wasn't long before Ronon was back to patrolling the perimeter.
Jennifer, who had been trying to access the network on her laptop, suddenly heard a metallic snap and clang, and she hurried out of her office to find out what had happened. Ronon was standing in front of one of the doors looking sheepish, a broken IV stand dangling from his hand, the bandage on the same arm soaked in blood.
"You tore your stitches." Jennifer hurried over and grabbed his other arm to pull him over to a bed. "Honestly, I don't think I've ever met anyone with such a reckless aggression and quit grinning because that's not a compliment."
Chuckling, Ronon allowed her to manhandle him onto the bed. "If you say so."
"Just sit there while I get another stitch tray." It didn't take long to repair the damage, but Jennifer took advantage of her temporarily captive audience to attempt to head off a repeat performance. "Okay, look - I don't think we're going to have any luck opening those doors on our own. We're probably just better off waiting for McKay and the others to figure out what needs to be done and which doors are even safe to open."
Ronon huffed back at her, obviously irritated. "So we're just supposed to sit here and wait?"
"Yes! And be ready at a moment's notice to treat the sick." New bandage in place, Jennifer carried away the stitch tray for waste disposal and sterilization.
Ronon called after her, "I'm not very good at sitting and waiting."
"No kidding!" She shouted back as she washed her hands. "But if you're good I'll give you a lollipop!"
After Jennifer shut off the water and turned to find Ronon standing right behind her, she let out an undignified squeak. He grinned at her when she grumbled, "Yes, yes, you got me again. Very funny."
"You need to get better at that." Following Jennifer into her office, he plopped down on the chair she kept for visitors. "You don't want something bad to sneak up on you when you're alone."
"You know, I stopped being afraid of the monster under the bed years ago." Jennifer shrugged as she sat down in front of her laptop and tried to access the network again. "But, you're right. I do tend to tune the world out when I'm working."
Ronon nodded. "Noticed that." He reached out to pick up a small blue teddy bear from her desk, running a finger across the gold 'Wisconsin" stitched across its chest. "This is new."
"Came on the Daedalus. My father sent it to me, a belated birthday gift." Jennifer smiled as she remembered the note from her father telling her she was utterly impossible to buy for and that he'd made the donation to 'Doctors Without Borders' that she'd asked for. "He said I was lucky he couldn't figure out how to ship giant black balloons to me since I'm now over-the-hill."
Ronon looked puzzled. "Over the hill?"
"Thirty years old," Jennifer explained. "It used to be it meant your life was half over, but with the advances in medicine, not so much."
Ronon set the bear back on her desk, a slight frown on his face. "I had twenty summers on Sateda before the Wraith made me a runner, and then there were too many worlds with different seasons." He shrugged. "I could have tried to find something on Sateda that kept the time, maybe asked McKay to work it out, but I decided I didn't want to know."
"Shaleen said she'd been on Belkan for thirteen years, so that probably means you're over the hill, too," Jennifer teased, trying to lighten the mood, feeling rewarded when Ronon flashed a smile. She was about to ask him what season he'd been born in when the air was split by a blaring alarm that didn't shut off after a few seconds.
"The hell with this!" Ronon jumped up and ran to the nearest door, setting his full weight against it, trying to slide it open.
"Ronon, you're going to tear open your stitches again!" Jennifer protested.
Ronon gave up with a frustrated slap against the door. "We can't just sit here, that's the self-destruct."
"We've already tried everything." Jennifer threw up her arms in aggravation. "It's not going to open."
Ronon's response was an annoyingly casual shrug. "We'll just have to blast a hole in it then. Got any C4 in here?"
"In the infirmary?" Jennifer's eyebrows rose so fast and high that she started to get a headache, although she had to admit the constant clamor of the alarm could also be a contributing factor.
"Anything here that could be explosive?"
Unable to resist the urgent need in Ronon's eyes, Jennifer tried to think of anything that might be useful. "I'm not... sure. Wait...." Walking into the other room, she spotted a possibility. "Maybe the oxygen tanks."
Ronon was right behind her. "Right...." Ronon thought for a moment before he headed toward the tanks in question. "Shoot 'em like Sheriff Brody did in that movie!"
"'You mean 'Jaws'?" asked Jennifer, a little surprised that he'd seen it.
Ronon nodded, "Yeah. Sheppard showed me. Good movie." Picking up a tank he looked it over before grinning, his voice almost gleeful. "Flammable." He carried the tank over to one of the beds and set it down with a proprietary pat. "Now all we need is a gun to shoot it. You keep one in here?"
Jennifer sighed. "Again, this is the infirmary, not the armory."
"Need to fix that after we get out." Ronon frowned at her. "You should always have weapons handy in case of a raid."
"Good plan, we should arm the doctors and nurses so they can shoot whatever is attacking instead of taking care of their patients."
Seemingly oblivious to Jennifer's sarcasm, Ronon just nodded and went to grab another oxygen tank.
Ronon walked around the corner, scanner control in hand, and then crouched down next to her. "Ready?"
She was about to tell him exactly how unready she was when the alarm shut off. Jennifer reached out to hold Ronon's hand back from the 'up' button that would trigger her Rube Goldberg invention. "Maybe we should try to call out again before we do this. They might have fixed the radios by now."
"Okay." Ronon nodded and tapped the radio in his ear, first trying his team, "Sheppard? McKay? Teyla?" and then "Control Room? Anyone there?" He shook his head. "Nothing. Guess it's time then." He pressed the button that would start the scanner. "Fire in the hole!"
Jennifer had a few seconds to visualize the tank balanced against the scanner sliding down to strike the nozzle of the scored tank, which would then depressurize - violently. She jumped when a savage hiss followed the first metallic clang, then two solid thuds before the vandalized tank flew past them to destroy some shelving across the room.
"You okay?" Ronon asked, getting to his feet and offering her a hand up.
Jennifer grimaced at the broken shelves and scattered supplies. "I am." Her heart sank when they walked into the other room and followed the careening path of destruction to the unmarred door. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me."
"Hunh." Ronon tipped his head one way then another, examining his nemesis before saying, "It's a lot stronger than a shark," then he laughed and caught the box of band-aids Jennifer threw at his head.
"So not funny. Look at this mess." Jennifer turned in a circle, mentally cataloging everything that had scattered, shattered, or tipped over. "All right, I guess you better help me clean this up. There might actually be sick or injured people waiting on the other side of that damn door."
Ronon pitched in to help without an argument and, between the two of them, they put both rooms back to reasonable order in surprisingly little time, right before the lights went out. Deciding she needed a break, Jennifer grabbed one of the visitor's chairs to sit on, resting the back of her weary head against a bed. Ronon joined her, but he picked the floor instead, leaning his back against the side of Jennifer's chair.
They sat quietly for a few minutes, and Jennifer's eyelids were just drifting shut, when Ronon cleared his throat and said, "I had you wrong."
At a loss as to what to say, Jennifer lifted her head to look down at him just as Ronon twisted around to look up at her. His smile sweetened his explanation more than a little. "When you first came here, I thought you were weak - that you didn't belong."
"It's nothing new." Jennifer shook her head sadly and looked away. "I've had to deal with that for years with people thinking I was too young or too pretty to handle medical school, and then it was the same thing all over again when I was an intern and resident."
Ronon reached out and squeezed the closest of Jennifer's trainers, giving it a little shake before releasing it. "Yeah, well, first there was our training sessions, and now coming up with the plan and how you handled that tank. All of it really shows you belong here."
"But my plan didn't work," Jennifer protested.
Ronon shrugged. "That's not the point. You tried and didn't just give up."
"Thanks." Jennifer smiled down at him, blushing when her stomach began to gurgle. "Never did find the time to grab lunch today. Hmmm, I wonder if I have any protein bars left in my desk."
Before she could get up to go look, Ronon reached into a pocket on his belt and pulled out a slightly squashed bar of Cadbury chocolate, offering it to her with a rueful smile. "Sorry, I forgot I had it."
"Thanks." Jennifer accepted the bar with a smile. She looked down at the familiar wrapper for a few moments before she realized she was holding the possible solution to a mystery. "Are you the one who's been leaving chocolate for me? Why?"
"Sheppard does it for McKay." Ronon shrugged, his shy smile more appealing than ever.
Jennifer shook her head. "I'm not sure I understand."
"That's part of courting for your people, isn't it?" Jennifer had never seen Ronon look worried before, but there was a definite hint of it in his expression. "To show... interest?"
"But I thought Rodney was dating...Oh. You're interested." Jennifer blushed and leaned in a little closer, her own smile equally shy. "In me."
Before Ronon could answer, the lights blinked back on and the doors slid open. Ronon jumped to his feet and out of the infirmary in a flash.
Glad to see there wasn't a long line of patients waiting to get in, Jennifer sighed and got up a little more slowly, muttering under her breath, "Why yes, Ronon. I do think we should find out what's been happening."
"Getting a little better at that," Ronon teased, "Didn't even jump."
"Well, I was sort of expecting you," Jennifer confessed as she packed her equipment away. "We were supposed to grab some dinner before tonight's lesson, right?"
Ronon nodded, "Yeah, but I have something a little different planned for tonight."
Following when she carried her laptop to her office, Ronon didn't answer her question, simply saying, "You won't need that," before she could open the desk drawer holding her gun case.
Since it was apparent that Ronon wanted whatever it was to be a surprise, Jennifer smiled, said, "Okay," and followed him out of the infirmary and into the nearby transporter. When she reached out to tap for the mess hall, Ronon intercepted her hand and picked a location out on the north pier - a place Jennifer had never been to before. The door slid open to a shadowed corridor, and Jennifer stepped out a little tentatively, hoping the reduced lighting was by design not damage.
"Where are we?" she asked when Ronon joined her. "Is this something you found when you were running with Colonel Sheppard?"
"Nah." Ronon shook his head and started walking, forcing Jennifer to hurry in order to catch up. "McKay found it in the database when we had a bunch of whales heading for Atlantis."
Jennifer couldn't resist a wry chuckle, remembering Rodney's recurring nightmare. "Hmm, whales again."
"Anyway, nobody else came down here because it was a mess." Ronon stopped before a door and waved it open. "Probably got flooded sometime in the past." Standing back, he smiled and gestured for Jennifer to go in first.
After Ronon's explanation, Jennifer was expecting damp, mold, and who knew what else. Instead, she was surprised to find a warm, dry, room with padded benches along three walls. When she turned to look at Ronon, he shrugged. "I cleaned it up."
"It looks... great." Jennifer said, still puzzled as to why they were there. "And...?"
Ronon gestured toward the benches. "Take a seat."
"Okay." Jennifer picked a spot near a leather bag she'd just noticed, presuming Ronon had left it there on purpose. She settled on the bench and Ronon pressed a button on the wall without benches, walking across to join her while the lights dimmed and entire wall slid down into the floor.
The view was amazing. "Oh." Jennifer breathed out, entranced by the flickering glimpses of alien water life, "It's an underwater viewing room."
"You don't need to worry about feeding these," Ronon gently teased.
Jennifer laughed in agreement. "Or cleaning their bowl."
They watched in silence for a few minutes before Ronon reached into the bag sitting between them. "There's food and water here."
"An underwater picnic! Perfect!" Jennifer exclaimed, reaching for the wrapped sandwich Ronon offered. "Thanks, you remembered I like ham and cheese."
Ronon smiled, but didn't say anything, looking down at his own sandwich instead, so Jennifer peeked inside the bag to see what else he'd brought. When she spotted what was inside, she realized that she couldn't ignore the elephant that had been following her around for the last few days any longer.
Setting her half-eaten sandwich aside, she reached into pull out a candy bar, flipping it over nervously in her hand as she asked, "So, um, courting. You gave me chocolate because it's an Earth custom, at least in some places."
"Yeah." Ronon chuckled as he reached over to rescue the dizzy candy bar.
Jennifer took a deep breath then let it out slowly, trying to calm herself before asking her next question. "On Sateda, what would I give you to... um... show interest?"
Ronon's smile faltered briefly as a flicker of pain passed across his face. "It wasn't that different... there." His gaze dropped to Jennifer's lips, and she could feel her cheeks heat. He moved the bag to the other side in order to slide closer along the bench, adding in a soft rumble, "We would share something sweet."
Suddenly, Jennifer faced with a choice, regretted voicing the question that had kept her awake entirely too long the past few nights since the quarantine fiasco. Plagued with almost crippling shyness, even after her bad skin had cleared and her braces had been removed, Jennifer hadn't dated until medical school. A few of the invitations to dinner or a dance club had ended in ultimately awkward, one-night stands and, eventually, Jennifer had concluded she was happier spending her life alone, busy studying or working. She hadn't even minded overhearing the occasional 'ice princess' added to 'Dr. Barbie' because it meant fewer men would bother her. It was different with Ronon, and she was afraid she'd lose the happiness that she'd found simply by spending time with him, if they took that next step.
Her next question was soft-spoken, and she hoped it wouldn't ruin what they had. "And if I wanted to just be friends?"
"You don't need do anything." Ronon looked at her for a moment then nodded slowly, never losing his smile. "And nothing needs to change." He turned his head away to watch the fish swim by, casually pointing out what looked like a shark in the distance. "Look, that one is big enough to swallow all of Sheriff Brody's boat."
Jennifer had to swallow a harsh lump in her throat before agreeing with a forced grin, "He'd definitely need a lot bigger boat."
Nothing had changed between them.
Chocolate had still arrived on a regular basis, their lessons had continued, and he'd still come around to ask if Jennifer was hungry or if she'd like to go watch fish. He'd shared little bits of his life on Sateda, and she'd told him about growing up in the small portion of Earth called Wisconsin.
Jennifer had missed him when he was on Earth with Colonel Sheppard.
When he'd finally returned, Ronon had gone through the gate with Jennifer, even though he'd hung back out of range of the scientific bickering between Colonel Carter and Rodney. Jennifer had walked with him, asking what he'd thought of Earth. He'd started to answer, but Jennifer had never gotten an answer because there'd suddenly been a deep hole in the ground and two people to rescue.
"They okay?" asked Ronon, who'd been standing close by while Jennifer conducted a quick - and very dirty - examination of Colonel Carter and Rodney.
Jennifer nodded. "Of course, I'll put them both under a scanner when we get back, but it looks like just a few cuts and bruises for Colonel Carter. The same for Rodney; his wrist is probably just a sprain. They're both lucky you decided to come along on this mission." Jennifer shook her head and admitted with a rueful smile. "I probably would have managed to fall into that hole with them, and we'd all still be waiting for someone to rescue us."
"Not luck." Ronon grumbled as he stood back and shook out his slightly dusty dreads. "I don't like it when you go off world without me."
Jennifer felt the same way, but she didn't say it. She was too busy monitoring her two patients on the walk back to the gate, their meeting with the settlement leaders postponed a day. Ronon waited silently for her to finish a more thorough checkup then walked with her to the mess hall for a well-deserved meal.
"I don't know about you, but I'm ready to call it a day," Jennifer said with a sigh, pushing her depleted tray away. "We weren't supposed to practice anything tonight, right?"
Ronon, who'd finished his second helping before her first and only, shrugged. "Nah." He rose to his feet and grabbed both trays for busing. "Thought we might still be at the settlement."
Jennifer waited for him at the door. "Well, I guess we'll be trying again tomorrow, with more proof that it's too dangerous for them to stay there."
"Yeah," Ronon said. "Saw some kids playing out there. Don't want them falling in."
Agreeing completely, Jennifer only nodded as they walked down the hall toward her quarters, hoping all of the settlement would stay safe long enough to be moved. Her thoughts shifted when they had to stand to one side to several loaded pallets rolling toward the mess hall. Ronon's warm arm brushed against hers, and Jennifer suddenly remembered the brownies waiting in her room. While Ronon was on Earth, Jennifer had asked one of the cooks for a favor and, using her mother's recipe, she'd made them herself, but then she'd chickened out when it came to delivering them.
Standing in front of the door to her quarters, after a day that had reminded her how dangerous life in Pegasus could be, Jennifer found her courage. "Do you want to come inside?"
Ronon nodded slowly and Jennifer waved her door open, hoping she hadn't left too much of a mess when she'd hurried out of her quarters earlier that day. Walking over to the table by her bed, she picked up the tin holding the brownies. Not expecting him to be following so close, she turned and jumped a little, feeling a little sheepish that he'd caught her off-guard once again. Blushing under his amused gaze, she opened the tin, carefully choosing her words before saying, "Would you like something sweet?"
After a moment's pause, he reached out for one and, accustomed to seeing him inhale his food, Jennifer expected him to eat it in one bite. Instead, he nibbled delicately at a corner before stepping even closer to hold the brownie out, the look in his eyes echoing his inviting smile. "Are we sharing?"
Pleased that he'd immediately understood and spared her embarrassment, Jennifer nodded and guided the brownie to her mouth, deliberately taking a bite of the same corner, wondering if she could possibly taste him in the sweet morsel. Ronon pressed it to her lips again and she took another bite, bigger because she wanted to finish faster. As if reading her mind, Ronon did just that, devouring the rest of the brownie and taking the tin from her to set it aside. A sticky finger touched her lips and she opened her mouth to sweep her tongue across it, gathering his flavor under a thin glaze of chocolate. Ronon watched avidly as she pulled back a little to lick away a crumb, and then his head lowered to hers, their first kiss light, tender against her sensitized lips.
The kiss deepened while his hands cupped her face, tilted her head a fraction, gently, his touch always careful as he caressed. She did her own share of touching, firm muscles heating under her palms, Ronon's soft groans guiding her. His breathing was harsh when he lifted his head but, despite the passion in his dark eyes, he held back to ask, "Are you sure?"
A little winded herself, Jennifer nodded then said the words, clearly, so there would be no further doubt in his mind. "I'm sure. I want this. I want you."
Stepping into the shower, she let the water carry away the remnants of the day, quiet her mind for a precious minute or two. Another minute under the blowers - she loved that she didn't have to deal with wet towels - and she opened the door. Ronon was still there, sitting on the side of the bed, his face revealing nothing of what he was thinking. She slipped on one of the oversized t-shirts she preferred to sleep in, as he sat watching in silence, and then she stood there in the center of the room, uncertain. After a few awkward moments that felt like eons had passed, she asked, "Would you... um... like to wash up?"
Ronon looked at her for another moment before slowly nodding, then he rose to walk by her to the bathroom, the heat of his body, the scent of male sweat mixed with sex teasing her senses. He didn't close the door and, from where she stood, she could see his outline through the frosted glass as he turned and moved under the water. The water turned off and the blowers on, but he didn't linger, and a few water droplets glistened when he walked past her again and sprawled on the far side of her bed. He raised one eyebrow in question then smiled, opening his arms and, suddenly, finally, she was able to move. Slowly crawling across the bed, she tucked herself against his side, enjoying how her herbal soap smelled on him. After he pulled her closer so that her head rested on his shoulder, she felt him press a kiss against her hair, and she smiled against his skin.
She found it very easy to fall asleep listening to the deep, steady beat of his heart.
"This from the man who used to spar at midnight and wake up before 5:00 AM to run all over the city," Jennifer teased. She shifted again to face him, leaning in to kiss the furrow between his brows.
Ronon's dreads, loosened from the braid he'd used to pull them back, drifted forward to hide Ronon's face as he shrugged and confessed, "Never had a good reason to stay in bed on a Sunday before."
Pushing the soft, heavy rolls of hair back over Ronon's shoulder, Jennifer's hands drifted over his skin, sliding across the corded muscle between his shoulder and neck. With a sound that Jennifer refused to call a purr, Ronon leaned into her hand, and she pressed harder in response. The angle was awkward for a massage, however, so she sat up and moved so she could nudge Ronon onto his stomach. After drawing back the sheet, she tucked her sleep shirt between her thighs and straddled his waist. Rubbing her knuckles along Ronon's spine - mentally naming each muscle she passed - Jennifer slowly made her way up to his shoulders, opening both hands to knead the taut group between his left shoulder and neck.
"You... are... so... tight," she huffed as she tried to coax the muscles to loosen.
"Long week training... that feels great... the new batch off the Daedalus," Ronon groaned in response.
Jennifer could feel Ronon relaxing even further under her, which made her smile. Lifting his dreads so she could get to the other side, she wondered if the sheer weight of the hair was a possible contributor to his neck strain. She knew certain cultures had traditions surrounding clothing and hair, so she wasn't sure if she should bring it up, but as a doctor she couldn't just ignore something that might be causing someone pain - especially someone really she cared for.
"You know, you've told me to keep my hair pinned up when I'm off world so I can't be grabbed by it, but what about you?" Jennifer felt Ronon move restlessly between her thighs, and she slipped off him to the mattress, allowing him to turn over.
Ronon twisted free of the sheets as he sat up to face her. He reached out to smooth back Jennifer's hair, his fingers slowly combing through to the end, a gesture that always sent a sensual shiver through her. "My clan's tradition is..." Ronon paused, pain flickering across his face before he took a deep breath and continued. "...was that only my mother or heartheld were allowed to cut my hair." He lifted his chin and shook his dreads back over his shoulders. "I cut them a few times, had no choice when I was running... then I did."
Uncertain what to say, Jennifer reached out to clasp his hand, and tried anyway. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"It's okay. Really." Ronon smiled, gently pulling his hand free, then rose from the bed - gloriously naked, long and lean in the half-light of dawn - to follow the trail of clothes to his discarded belt. Pulling his knife free, he returned to the bed and dropped to one knee to present the hilt to her, his head bent and face hidden behind his heavy curtain of hair.
Heartheld. "Oh," Jennifer whispered as she shifted to sit on the edge of the mattress, the forgotten sheet drooping to her lap. "I... "She trailed off, her own heart too full to speak. Reaching out, she accepted the knife with one hand while the other came to rest on Ronon's head. After taking a shaky breath, she managed a smile and a suggestion. "Okay, if I'm going to be working with sharp edges, it's probably a good idea for you to sit in a chair... and wear some pants."
Ronon looked up at her, his hair falling back to reveal a sweet smile and eyes brimming with delight. "Whatever you wish, my heartheld."
"I just hope I don't screw this up." Jennifer weighed the knife in her hand, thinking it was a lot larger and unwieldy than a scalpel. "Any chance I could use scissors?"
When she and Ronon joined his team at their usual Sunday brunch, everyone was so shocked about the dramatic change in his appearance that no one noticed that one of the gold rings Ronon had carried in his hair for years was now on Jennifer's left hand. Being slightly invisible was fine with Jennifer. She was still getting used to the idea that she 1.) was Ronon's heartheld, 2.) had probably just gone through the Satedan equivalent of becoming engaged or married, 3.) had discovered that the mysterious children in her vision looked just like Ronon and, most importantly, 4.) hadn't known just how much she'd wanted every one of those semi-unexpected and completely wonderful changes in her life.
*&* Epilogue *&*
Pulling into the driveway of the house she'd grown up, Jennifer was surprised to feel a flutter of nerves. After she shut off the car, she reached over and squeezed Ronon's hand. When she got out of the car, her father was waiting just outside the front door, his wide smile a welcome sight. She met Ronon as he walked around the front of the car and clasped his hand again, smiling a little when she felt Ronon squeeze her fingers. She had to drop his hand though when her father hurried down the steps to sweep her into a hug. "Good to see you too," she said, her throat suddenly a little constricted. "I missed you."
Her father finally let her go with a quiet, "I'm glad you're here," allowing Jennifer to make a simple introduction. "Dad, this is Ronon."
"Dr. Keller." Looking very handsome in the gray wool suit that Jennifer had picked out for him, Ronon smiled and offered his hand to Jennifer's father. "Specialist Ronon Dex. I'm very pleased to meet you, sir. Thank you for welcoming me into your home."
Mildly amused that Ronon had used the exact greeting suggested by John Sheppard just before they stepped through the gate, Jennifer was pleased when her father merely smiled, shook Ronon's hand, and then herded them both inside from the autumn-chilled air. In between asking about their trip, whether they were tired or hungry, and other father-type questions, he explained that he'd made reservations for dinner at Jennifer's favorite restaurant. Passing a hand over her barely rounded belly, Jennifer listened and smiled as she thought about the secret she and Ronon would soon announce following Satedan tradition.
After sharing something sweet.