Author's Note: This story was betaed by Shalott and Resonant and Giddy and Hth and the ever-marvellous Terri.
It's—well look at the title: it's all pairings, every pairing, if you want it, probably it's in here.
When Teyla was a girl, her father often went on behalf of the Athosians to trade with the people of Urlena. Teyla would accompany him to the king's palace, and play beneath the trees with Davinde, the young Prince Regent. Now Davinde was himself grown to be king, yet he seemed still to remember her with fondness, smiling at her as she patiently waited for Colonel Sheppard to finish presenting their team to the king and his court.
"...McKay, and this is Ronon Dex, and—well, I think you already know Teyla Emmagen," and Davinde said, "Yes. Yes, of course," and came forward to press his forehead to hers.
He smelled like long-ago summers, and her father, and the trees before the Wraith blasted them all to splinters, and Teyla trembled and closed her eyes. "Sir, I am your most humble—" she began, but Davinde quickly lifted his head and said, "No, Teyla—please; I hope I am still your Davi," and then he turned to the others and explained, "Teyla and I played together as children. A better playmate there never was. We—"
"Yes, well, I'm sure you two had some rollicking good times," Rodney said, reaching behind himself to rip his laptop from where it was fastened to his back, "but maybe you could point me toward your iso-helium reactors before you break out the photos, hm?"
Colonel Sheppard and Ronon went to tour the Urlena's military operation while Davinde himself escorted Rodney and Teyla to Harraltar, the scientific research facility named after the old king. There, Teyla tried not to smile as Rodney began to wave his arms excitedly and stumble over his words, flummoxed first and foremost by the ZPM that the scientists at Harraltar seemed to be using as a decorative sculpture, but also by the presence of Nika, Davinde's very blonde and very beautiful chief scientific officer.
"We knew it was some type of power supply," Nika said as she took the ZPM down from its pedestal, "but the science of it is beyond us, and we haven't any machines that use its kind of energy. We rely on our iso-helium—"
"It's not a kind of energy, it's energy, it's all the energy you could want," Rodney interrupted. "I mean, don't get me wrong: iso-helium reactors are swell—brilliant, in fact: efficient, clean burning—a perfect power source for a small city like this. But a ZPM is—" Rodney stopped and looked adoringly at it for a long moment.
"Is what?" Nika asked, startling Rodney out of his adulation. He turned to her, and she put a hand on his arm and said, in a serious but sultry voice, "Please explain, Dr. McKay," and Teyla looked away and tried not to laugh, because Dr. McKay was flushing and swallowing hard and stammering, "Well—well, you see, vacuum actually contains an enormous r-residual background energy known as zero-point energy—"
Davinde gently took Teyla's arm and guided her toward the window overlooking the gardens. "Your Dr. McKay seems to be ardently attracted to our Nika," he murmured.
Teyla gently tipped her head to acknowledge the truth of this. "Yes, I believe so," she agreed. "Our Dr. McKay is a man interested first and foremost in intelligence."
"Ah, I see," Davinde said with a smile. "Well, our Nika is certainly well endowed in that area," and then his face grew serious and he said, "And how are you, really, Teyla?" in a too-kind voice that nearly undid her. For what could she say? The Wraith are awake? My people are in exile? I live among strangers?
"My father is dead," she said finally.
Davinde's face changed, becoming a mirror of her own pain. "Yes," he said, "Yes, I know," and then his arms were coming around her and he was holding her close. Teyla hugged him in return, knowing that he, too, had lost a father, that he, too, had been forced to take on responsibilities before his time. She closed her eyes and let herself take comfort in her friend—in his strength, in the heat of his body, in his true understanding.
"—so zero-point energy is not a passive system but actually is a manifestation of an energy flux passing through our space orthogonally from higher dimensions—"
Nika sounded confused. "Do you mean hyperspace channels?"
"Right, yes—well, we call them wormholes, but yes. A physicist named Wheeler first derived them in his geometrodynamics way back in the sixties—which, ah, means nothing to you; nevermind. Tiny entrances and exits, black holes and white holes, the random action of which give rise to zero-point fluctuations in three-dimensional space—"
Teyla listened as Nika made soft noises of "hm!" and "ah," and let herself fantasize that Davinde would ask her to stay, and that she could stay, with him, here, on this too-too-pleasant world. She could not stay, of course; she had an obligation to her people, and she had an obligation to the Atlantians: to John Sheppard and Elizabeth Weir and Rodney McKay, because they were 'her people' too. But it was nice to imagine.
"We must go on," Davinde murmured into her hair. "The future is our responsibility, and it need not be a burden." He lifted his head and looked at her, and Teyla saw that his eyes were bright and eager. "Tonight, at dinner, you shall see my boys—"
Teyla frowned and pulled out of his arms. "Your..."
"My sons," Davinde explained excitedly. "My wife and I have three boys—such fine boys, Teyla: tall and strong and with enough spirit to live even in this new and terrible world we have inherited."
Teyla struggled to maintain her composure. "I did not realize that you had taken a wife, Davinde. And fathered children—"
"Oh, yes, yes," Davinde said impatiently, "of course I have, many years past, now: my eldest is nearly fourteen. I myself have seen more than thirty summers—do you not have children yourself, Teyla?"
Teyla was saved from the necessity of a reply by the appearance of Colonel Sheppard and Ronon Dex. "My friends have returned," Teyla murmured, but she was not the only one to notice their arrival. Nika turned, murmured, "Excuse me," to Rodney, and made a beeline for—ah, yes, Colonel Sheppard, which was hardly surprising. Rodney flinched and quickly turned away, hands fumbling to examine the broken iso-helium reactor, while John casually crossed his arms over his chest and assumed an expression of wary courtesy.
Rodney McKay's hands were disciplined as they moved over the machine, but he seemed to be struggling to bring his face under control; he was hurt, Teyla saw, though he was trying hard not to show it. Teyla felt an unaccustomed heat: foolish woman!—to reject a man who was interested in her in order to pursue a man who, Teyla believed, was not much interested in women at all. John and Nika were exchanging pleasantries, but Teyla knew John well enough to see that he had already vanished under a thin mask of brittle charm. And Rodney was muttering, "Ha: yes; just as I suspected," as if he could simply pretend that nothing had happened, that nobody had noticed—
"Teyla," Davinde said, and when Teyla turned, she saw that Davinde had joined John, Ronon, and Nika. "Colonel Sheppard would like to see our fleet of airships," and standing behind Davinde, John flashed out a grin and nodded rapidly: yeah, boy, would I. Teyla's heart suddenly felt lighter, as if John's joy in flying were contagious. Davinde extended his hand to her and said, "Come, Teyla, will you not join us?"
But Teyla just smiled and shook her head. "Thank you, but no," she said, surprising herself with the rightness of it. "I shall remain here with Dr. McKay."
Davinde left with John and Ronon and the foolish Nika in tow, and it seemed to Teyla that Rodney's shoulders relaxed once she was gone. She and Rodney did not speak to each other; she merely kept watch as he worked, stopping occasionally to gaze out the huge laboratory windows at the gardens and the trees and the sky. Behind her, Rodney made some initial grunting noises as he tried to figure out what was wrong with the reactors. Then he seemed to figure it out, and he began to hum tunelessly as he got into the rhythm of the work, occasionally muttering some snatch of lyric without seeming to realize it. Sometimes he whistled softly—something jaunty, or something sad. Teyla did not recognize any of these melodies, but she found them pleasing nonetheless.
Nika came back after a while, and the whistling stopped. Nika asked him to explain the repairs, and Rodney did so with his normal brusque clarity. Teyla looked away.
There was music at the banquet that evening—highly percussive music that featured intense, fast-paced drumming and syncopated melodies carried by tens of tuned bells. Teyla had not heard such wonderful music since her childhood, and she let her senses swim in it as she looked around the table. John Sheppard had chosen the seat next to Davinde's wife Karenna, whom he had engaged in pleasant small talk; this, Teyla saw immediately, was a wise decision, as it not only honored their hostess, but also effectively blocked any potential advances from Nika. Rodney had chosen his seat with equal care, having nearly pushed Teyla aside to grab the seat next to Ronon. At the time, Teyla had not understood this choice, as Rodney had shown no particular preference for Ronon in the past. Besides, Rodney really ought to have been seated more centrally: he was, after all, arguably the hero of their visit, having fixed the Urlena's broken reactors (as well as secured the Atlantians the 'loan' of their ZPM as a gesture of thanks.) But Rodney had chosen a seat nearer the margins, and he apparently intended to use Ronon Dex as a buffer between himself and the rest of the table. This was a good tactical decision: conversation rarely made it past Ronon's silent, solid presence, and so Rodney could eat without needing to be charming or even polite.
Teyla briefly caught Ronon's eye and saw him smile: he seemed aware of his role as human shield, and leaned in for his goblet, blocking Rodney even further from the others. Rodney kept his eyes on his plate, focused on mopping up his dinner's thick yogurt sauce with a hunk of bread. At the other end of the table sat Davinde's three sons—Hartt, Reggus, and Matteus—and Teyla had to admit that they were strong and fine-looking boys, just as Davinde had said. Hartt, the eldest, had been staring at her all through the meal with a kind of fascination, and Teyla made herself smile back at him. He was far too young to know how rarely the arrows of attraction pierced the right heart.
After dinner, Davinde suggested that perhaps they should dance. Teyla would gladly have danced, but Rodney looked up in horror, and John just smiled wryly and shook his head. "I won't dance," he said with a strange gravity, "don't ask me," and that seemed to be the end of the evening: suddenly they were all on their feet, bowing and shaking hands. Nika, Teyla saw, was nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot, possibly anticipating her final chance at John Sheppard. But Ronon had noticed her, too, and he was slowly moving to John's side. Teyla caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned just in time to see Rodney McKay slip out of the hall without saying goodnight to anybody. On impulse, she followed him. Rodney headed directly for the corridor of guest rooms they had been assigned, and Teyla watched as he unselfconsciously rubbed his neck, then stretched his shoulders, obviously trying to rid his body of accumulated tension. She expected him to disappear into his room, but he paused outside the door to study the lock-mechanism, and she realized he had forgotten how it worked.
"First, second, and third fingers," she explained, as Rodney jerked around, startled. She held up her three fingers in demonstration, and Rodney blinked and said, "Oh. Yes. Right," and pressed his fingers to the touchpad.
The door opened. "Uh—thanks," Rodney said awkwardly. "You are welcome," Teyla replied, and she was about to wish him good night when it occurred to her that nobody had thanked him for his work today—in fact, quite the opposite: he had been ignored and rejected by that stupid girl. On impulse, Teyla stepped close to him and put her hands on his shoulders. She had only a glimpse of his astonished expression before she bowed her head and closed her eyes. Long seconds passed, and she wondered if he might not return her gesture, but a moment later, she felt Rodney's forehead tentatively touch hers. She waited, and after a moment he leaned in, close enough that she could smell the vaguely spicy scent of him, feel the warmth of his body, hear him nervously breathing. Then she lifted her head, gently slid her hands to his face, and stretched up to kiss Rodney McKay's wide and stunned mouth.
Later, she could not determine with any accuracy, even in her own mind, just when she had decided to kiss him. Some part of her thought that the idea had been brewing all afternoon, even before the banquet, possibly from the moment Nika had spotted John Sheppard and left Rodney to gather up the shreds of his dignity. Or maybe it had been the way Rodney had hesitated before pressing his forehead to hers.
In any case, she certainly only intended the one kiss—a gift, meant to restore whatever Nika had taken from him. Teyla touched her lips to his, letting the kiss be just soft enough and wet enough to indicate sexual intent: there were times when she wanted Rodney to think of her in a sisterly fashion, but this was not one of them. Rather, she wanted Rodney to take her meaning plainly, even without words, though Teyla had heard an Atlantian aphorism that seemed to express it: "I wouldn't throw him out of bed." This, once she had it correctly translated as a cheerfully idiomatic way of saying, "I would happily have sexual relations with him," seemed to her a very useful phrase indeed, and she wished that the Athosians had such a carefree way of assuring people that you found them sexually attractive. Alas, her culture had no such useful phrase, and had instead to resort to gestures and smiles and significant looks.
She caressed his cheek, feeling a rasp of evening beard, as she pulled away. She had expected that Rodney would look a bit smug—indeed, had intended he should. That was part of what she meant to give him: not only a kiss to replace the one Nika had refused him, but also a heartfelt satisfaction with the terms of the exchange—for she was vain enough to believe that Rodney would value her kiss above Nika's. So she was prepared to tolerate some arrogance, to allow him the momentary swelling of ego that so often accompanied a man's other erection; in fact, she would regard it as her own gift to him.
But she saw no smugness in Rodney's expression—he looked shocked, and naked, and perhaps a very little bit afraid, and while Teyla had been planning to smile and wish him a teasing, "Good night," she found herself rooted to the spot by the pale intensity of his face. If there had been even so much as a trace of arrogance in him, she would have forced herself away, but instead she found herself looking for meaning in his eyes. He was studying her, eyes moving searchingly over her face—and she realized that she had seen him look this way before, at new phenomena or at a sudden wonder of the natural universe. She realized that he was trying to figure out how to respond to her only a moment before he did respond to her—by cupping her shoulder with a slightly-shaking hand and returning her kiss.
It was the companion to her own: gentle, but full of sexual promise and not at all brotherly. It was also surprisingly tender—and Teyla felt a throb of pleasure between her thighs. Rodney made a soft sound like a sigh, and then Teyla was lifting her arm and winding it around Rodney's neck. A moment later, Rodney's arms were around her, stronger than she had expected, enfolding her in the tightest, warmest embrace she could remember—and suddenly she wanted him, genuinely wanted him, and as they stood there, kissing, she could think of no reason why she should not have him. She decided she would happily have sexual relations with Rodney McKay, and began to rock her hips against his to illustrate the point—and while Rodney gasped and instinctively rocked back against her, he proved to be almost irritatingly well-mannered, so that it was Teyla who finally pushed them back into his room and locked the door.
She found Rodney to be a conservative but surprisingly good lover—slow, methodical, and much more patient than she would have credited; that is, until she remembered watching him work and realized that he did have patience for some things: what he judged to be important things. Rodney never stopped kissing her even as he undressed her, as he caressed and stroked her body—but it was Teyla who pushed him further by pulling his hand between her legs. Rodney groaned into her mouth but began to explore her with his fingers. His hands were skillful, and he worked her body as if it were a complicated piece of machinery, gently rubbing her until she came—and then she inhaled sharply and shoved up against his hand and shuddered through a second orgasm. He slid his fingers into her—they went easily, she was so very wet—and then he was panting raggedly and rolling her onto her back and getting on top of her as he fumbled his pants the rest of the way down. The procreative position (a conservative choice)—but Teyla stared up at him and decided that yes, she would be willing to carry Rodney McKay's child if fortune should will it and that was what he wanted. She thought it was strange that Rodney should want this from her—she could have done so many other things to give him pleasure, if only he had let her—but she was genuinely touched by it, too: it seemed all of a piece with his tender and rather old-fashioned style of lovemaking.
"I—oh, Teyla—" Rodney breathed, and then he said something about this not being safe, and she murmured every reassurance she could think of and drew him down against her breast. She opened her legs and let him push into her, then held him tightly as he gasped and thrust and sweated and tried to come. She tilted her hips up to meet him, frustrated a little by her inability to move, (she could have done so much more for him if she could only have moved) but found herself again overwhelmed by his sweetness—because Rodney never stopped kissing her, not once, and when he was finally coming, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his mouth lifting from hers, Teyla reached up to cup his face and kissed him breathless. Finally, Rodney rolled onto his back and panted up at the ceiling, his chest heaving; a few moments later, he curved an arm round her shoulders. Teyla pillowed her head against his pale chest and closed her eyes.
She was drifting happily when she heard Rodney whisper, "I want to ask why, but at the same time, I don't want to, you know?"
Teyla opened her eyes, but left her cheek pressed against the soft, pale flesh of Rodney's chest while she thought about what to say. Finally, she lifted her head and said, with an overflowing sincerity, "I would not throw you out of bed, Rodney."
He let out a short, delighted bark of a laugh. "Well, apparently," he said, and then, after tucking her in close, he whispered, "Lucky me. Lucky, lucky me."
When Colonel Sheppard invited her to the mainland to train with him, Teyla suspected him of some ulterior motive. But she held her tongue and said, "Yes, of course, if you wish it." She was both right and wrong in her suspicions: the Colonel did, in fact, pursue a course of vigorous physical exercise—getting up at dawn to run for miles along the shore, engaging her in hours of sparring, taking long, afternoon swims in the ocean—and yet she believed that John had actually asked her along so as to have company on the long gray summer evenings as he lay sprawled out on the sand, smoking the hand-rolled Jodphur cigarettes that were his preferred mode of relaxation and staring up at the sky.
Not that she minded, of course; these evenings were exceedingly pleasant. Teyla dug her feet into the warm sand, and accepted the mugs of cold ale that John poured for her, and let herself go boneless and relaxed. Still, she felt a vague sense of relief when John slowly rolled his head to the side, and looked at her, and said, "I told Elizabeth that if anything happened to me, you should be appointed military commander of Atlantis," because this was, perhaps, what he had brought her here to say.
She took a long swig of the ale, and said, "Oh?"
"Yeah," John said, and let his head roll back so that he was again staring at the stars. "She said no, though. Something about you being foreign or something. I told her that—all due respect—we were pretty short on military leadership around here, and that you were worth at least ten of anybody else they've sent us."
Teyla looked toward the last glow of the blue-yellow sun, feeling unaccountably moved. "That is...very kind of you to say."
"Hundred percent true, not that it matters: she didn't go for it. Seems to think that we should keep the Earthlings in charge. Me, I think that's small-minded. So tell me, Teyla: do you think I'm insufficiently loyal to my people?"
She was struck with all the force of certainty—this, then, was what he wanted to talk about. She turned to him and saw that he was still looking at the sky, but there was something subtly tense in his expression: he was waiting for her answer.
She told him the truth. "They are not your people," she said quietly.
John sat up, his jaw working. "What the hell are you—?"
"You are different from the others," she said, and held back the second half of her thought: and we all of us know it. "You are at home here," and when John seemed about to protest, she interrupted with, "Believe me, Colonel, I know much about unwanted genetic advantages."
"Yeah," John said tightly. "I suppose you do," and then he settled back on the sand and lapsed into silence for long enough that the tide began to lap at her ankles. But then, through the darkness, he said, "They are my people, Teyla," and Teyla gently said, "Yes, of course. Mine as well," and John seemed to drift off into himself, though he was still awake when she poured him a mug of ale half an hour later.
She slept in the tent, and he slept out there on the sand, even though she was sure he knew that he would be welcome. Some part of her thought that he might in fact come to her—if, for instance, he had been holding himself aloof as a matter of military principle, for they were quite alone here, alone enough to satisfy even his highly secretive nature. But she thought it far more likely that he would not come, that he held himself in reserve not on principle but as a matter of personal inclination, and that if he were ever to break through that reserve it would not be her that he reached for.
Rodney McKay was just coming down from the command center when she and Colonel Sheppard returned from the mainland. "Well, well," he said, and looked up and down at Colonel Sheppard, who was golden brown and covered in sand, "glad you're back, Colonel. I was about to send Martin Sheen down after you in a boat," and to her surprise, John laughed aloud, even though there was no one called "Martin Sheen" living here in Atlantis, and then John shrugged elaborately and said, "Nah. Apocalypse later, maybe," before drifting off and down the hall.
She had not imagined that Rodney would be the first of her teammates that she slept with, nor that she would return to him habitually, but return she did, finding that she sought him out after particularly trying days. Rodney had no aptitude for verbal sympathy—in fact, he would exacerbate matters, like as not ("Oh. Well. So, she's dead, huh? Well, at least that's the worst of it. I mean, statistically, you're headed for an upswing,") but his soft, strong body was extraordinarily comforting, and he would drop everything at a moment's notice for her if it were possible to do so.
If Colonel Sheppard noticed anything, he did not say. Ronon, of course, did notice and did say, looking skeptically from her to Rodney and back. "Didn't see that coming," he drawled. "I suppose he's got something."
"Mm," Teyla replied with airy nonchalance. "You would be surprised." After that, Ronon seemed to regard Rodney McKay with new respect—which only seemed to unnerve Rodney, who had no idea of what had happened.
Teyla became aware that she was waiting for Ronon to take his chance, for his amused looks and occasional smoldering glances to translate themselves into something concrete. She had already decided what she would say upon this eventuality, had rehearsed a pretty little speech in her mind about not having time to spend on boys, but when Ronon's offer came, they were at an Athosian harvest celebration that neither Colonel Sheppard nor Dr. McKay had chosen to attend, and she had been dancing all night, her hands sliding through and gripping the outstretched hands of a dozen whirling partners as they spun round in the elaborate choreography, and when she finally stopped she felt breathless and excited and bold.
Ronon Dex, she realized, had a masterful sense of timing.
"What?" Teyla demanded, when she saw he was smiling at her from behind his hand.
He tried to appear solemn, but his eyes were gently mocking. "Nothing," he said. "My mother did that dance."
Teyla lifted her chin and said, "I am not your mother, Ronon."
Ronon arched an eyebrow at her. "Oh?" he said, and leaned back in his chair, and that was how she came to bed him over the course of a long, long night. Ronon, sexually, was everything Rodney was not: he was an adventurous and daring lover (no procreative positions for him, and he understood, as Rodney did not, that the body was a sexual organ in its entirety) but he was also an arrogant one, so that she had to work hard at keeping the upper hand, and did not have him entirely subdued until she was kneeling astride his chest, her knees pinning his arms down, and touching herself with teasing fingers the barest distance from his face. "Please," he begged. "Please. Teyla," and as her orgasm rolled through her, she let her shoulders slump and all her muscles relax, let him roll her onto her back and bury his face between her trembling thighs.
This was how Teyla came to have two lovers— or, as it sometimes amused her to think, one for plain days and one for festival. Festival was, of course, fancier and more exciting; Ronon Dex was young and very eager, not to mention that he was skillful in many of the devotions with which she was familiar, as well as a great many more with which she was not. He frequently decorated his body with soft leather ties or brightly colored woven bands before lying back to seek his pleasure, which made him most pleasant to watch. Similarly, he brought her many articles of tribute, including an intricately carved stimulator that she came to treasure, and a series of smooth balls on a string, which gave her an orgasm so intense that the world blurred in front of her eyes. She enjoyed these encounters—enjoyed tightening her hands on his shaft as she licked him and sucked him, enjoyed seeking her own completion on his fingers or his tongue—and yet she found she had been spoiled a little by Rodney's tenderness, and yearned for kisses and embraces and boring small talk.
"If you are competing with Rodney, you are doing it wrong," she said finally, and drew his head down tenderly to kiss him. She could feel Ronon trembling to stay still, but he let her brush her lips softly over his, let her lick into his mouth and caress his tongue—and when he finally gentled in her arms, she felt like her heart was breaking.
It was not long after this that she decided that she would also accept a child from Ronon Dex, if fortune willed it; having achieved, at long last, what felt like true intimacy with him, it seemed wrong to deny him what she had already granted Rodney McKay. Besides, she thought, moving her hand gently to cup his face, Ronon Dex was the last of his kind, and that thought seemed unbearable to her now, for he was so splendid.
But it was Ronon who was hesitant. "Are you sure?" he asked her. "This is a time of great uncertainty—"
"Life is always uncertain," Teyla replied. "But if fortune wills it, I will accept it," and after a moment, he nodded. He did not lay her on her back as Rodney had done, but pulled her into his lap and lifted her slightly above him, pushing up into her from underneath. Teyla wrapped her arms around his neck and gripped his waist with her knees as his cock slid hard up into her, and her head fell back as he groaned against her neck and slowly began to thrust.
It was after this that Ronon began to ask, with unfamiliar nervousness, "Dr. McKay does not mind?" Teyla repeatedly assured him that no, Dr. McKay did not mind, that she and Dr. McKay had an understanding about the nature of their relationship. Besides, she knew that Dr. McKay was currently engaged in a torrid affair with a young scientist from the desert colony of Katara who had developed an intense, almost embarrassingly obvious crush on him after he had saved all their lives, rebuilt their antiquated power generators, and introduced them to the wonders of air conditioning.
"It won't last," Rodney sighed, when she and he finally managed to catch a moment alone. "He's like, twenty, and from another galaxy, and not really very bright—but on the other hand, my God, twenty. It's like having a wind-up toy," and Teyla smiled into her tea and suggested that he enjoy the young man's charms while they lasted. "Hm," Rodney said, and leaned forward on his forearms. "I suppose you know a thing or two about that. Been doing a bit of cradle-robbing yourself, I see?"
Teyla tried to appear serious. "Perhaps," she said, and Rodney snorted.
"His charms are so—obvious," Rodney said with a dismissive wave of his hand, and Teyla said, with mock gravity, that there was nothing at all the matter with obvious charms. Rodney grunted and said he supposed she had a point. Actually, Teyla was a little afraid that she was beginning to fall in love with Ronon's rather obvious charms, though this was not something she was eager to discuss with Rodney. She only hoped it would not have a negative effect on their ability to work together as a team.
If John Sheppard noticed any of this, he did not say.
It was only by chance that she discovered John's state of distress. She had gone searching for him on Elizabeth's orders—which, truth be told, were actually Rodney McKay's orders, SGA-4 having discovered a secondary command center in a remote part of Atlantis and Rodney having decided that they needed Colonel Sheppard there now, "yes, right-absolutely-goddamned now!"
But Colonel Sheppard had gone off duty, and he was not replying to his radio, nor to Elizabeth's voice on the citywide broadcasting system. Nor was he to be found in any of his usual haunts: his quarters, the jumper bays, the shooting range, the gym. Elizabeth asked Teyla to find him, then drew her aside and confided that John had requested three days of personal leave. "Did he say why?" Teyla asked, truly worried for the first time, and Elizabeth looked away before saying, with a reluctance that spoke volumes, "I—didn't ask. You know what he's like," and of course Teyla did know what John Sheppard was like.
"Are we sure he has not left the city?" Teyla asked, and Elizabeth replied that John had certainly not been authorized to leave the city, nor had he been observed doing so. She did not say, nor did she need to say, that if John did not want to be seen, he would not have been.
"One more thing, Teyla," Elizabeth said as Teyla checked her sidearm and tucked a life-signs monitor into her vest. She seemed to be considering her words carefully. "I would not rely too much on sensor readings," she said finally. "It's possible that Colonel Sheppard will not register," and this was not something that Teyla could allow to pass without further explanation. She looked pointedly at Elizabeth, and Elizabeth sighed and said, "We've noticed—that is to say, Rodney and I have noticed—that John sometimes doesn't appear on the monitors. I think that he turns them off, perhaps subconsciously—we've all seen what extraordinary control he has over Ancient technology."
Teyla had been living with the Atlantians long enough to hear Elizabeth's unspoken caveat. "I see," Teyla said. "And what does Rodney think?"
Elizabeth bit her lip and looked away. "Rodney thinks that the devices were meant to detect foreigners or intruders and that John isn't—either. He thinks that the sensors can't tell the difference between John and the background hum of Atlantis itself."
Elizabeth said this as if she were trying to convince herself that it was ridiculous, but Teyla, who had been able to sense Wraith for as long as she could remember, knew that like called to like—and John Sheppard was very like the Ancestors who had built this wondrous city. She left the life-signs monitor in her vest and tried instead to rely on her instincts and her knowledge of Sheppard's mind. She had served as his second in command for two years, and she thought she knew him at least as well as anyone did.
Still, she was surprised when she found him in the third place she looked—at the top of the southwest pier. He was curled up on his side on the balcony, his jacket balled up under his head as a makeshift pillow—and she assumed he was sleeping until she crept closer and saw that he was awake and shivering violently, his hair damp with sweat.
"John," Teyla said softly and moved swiftly toward him, and John shocked her by throwing an arm out, and saying in a strangled-sounding voice, "Don't touch me."
Teyla stopped; she did not need to be told more than once. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," John returned sharply. "What is it?"
For a moment, Teyla honestly could not remember why she had come. "SGA-4 has discovered a second command center," she said finally. "Dr. McKay has requested your—"
"Tell Rodney to turn on his own goddamned light bulbs," John said.
Teyla jerked a nod and withdrew to the periphery of the tower. She flicked on her radio and said, after a moment's consideration, "Dr. Weir, this is Teyla. Colonel Sheppard is—indisposed, and requests that his leave time continue uninterrupted. Please advise."
She could hear the concern in Elizabeth's voice. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes," Teyla said, thinking, no,—and just then, as if to confirm the rightness of her assessment, John jerked almost convulsively and seemed to ride out a short, sharp wave of pain. Teyla's voice remained steady. "Everything's fine," she lied. "But Colonel Sheppard is otherwise engaged, and asks me to inform Dr. McKay of the fact."
"Somehow I can't hear Colonel Sheppard putting it quite that way," Elizabeth said wryly.
"Actually," Teyla admitted, "he said something about Dr. McKay turning on his own goddamned light bulbs," and Elizabeth, sounding vastly relieved, said, "Roger that," and disconnected. Teyla silently returned to the balcony and sat down on the floor a few feet from where John was lying, huddled and trembling.
"You should go," John ground out, sweat streaking his skin. "Leave me alone. Get out of here."
"No," Teyla said quietly. "I am sorry, but I will not."
"It'll pass. It's already—it's already passing," but this turned out not to be true: in fact, John got considerably worse before he seemed to get better, and it was sixteen hours before he finally hauled himself to his feet, looking pale and with terrible dark circles under his eyes. He said nothing to her, not one word of explanation, as he trudged back toward the city, and spared her only a single swift, dark, and unapologetic glance before disappearing into his room.
Teyla reviewed the duty roster going back several months, and saw that John had requested three days of leave time two months ago, and two days a couple of months before that. Frowning, Teyla went back another two months, and saw that John had been scheduled for duty, but had reported himself sick. Two months before that, her team had been offworld on Leius, and Teyla vaguely seemed to remember that John had gone off somewhere with the very pretty Leiusian ambassador, and that Rodney had been annoyed about it. John had seemed well enough then.
If the duty roster was to be believed, John's ailment appeared at highly regular intervals, though the individual bouts seemed to be worsening. This was worrisome, and Teyla bit her lip and tried to guess at the significance of the time gap; she had never heard of any disease recurring so predictably, and imagined that it must be related to some external phenomenon. The change of seasons, perhaps, or the phases of—
Teyla frowned, checked the dates against the star-calendar, and realized that John's illness neatly coincided with the cycles of Giula, Atlantis's third moon. She thought back to that night on the southwest balcony, and seemed to remember that Giula had been hanging ripe and low in the sky. The golden appearance of Giula had been memorialized in story and song as a propitious sign to lovers, and many cultures that could not see the actual moon still celebrated feast days in her honor. But Teyla's mind had not been on matters of love that night: she had been too busy arguing with herself as to whether she was doing wrong by obeying Colonel Sheppard's wishes, and wondering how she would live with herself if he worsened and died while she watched. Giula had seemed a vast irrelevancy—and perhaps still was. She did not know.
She went to Rodney, of course. "Rodney," she asked, and all gods bless him, he immediately put aside his work to give her his full attention. "Is it possible," she asked slowly, "that a planet, or—or a planetary body—could directly affect a human being? I mean, in the fables, the behavior of the stars directly affects—"
"Wait, wait, wait," Rodney said, and raised his hands. "Are you asking me about—like, astrology?"
"No. Not exactly," Teyla said, embarrassed now. "I am asking, I suppose, if it is possible that the cycles of the moon could affect a human illness."
Rodney's expression grew even more incredulous. "You mean like a werewolf?"
Teyla was taken aback; so there was such a phenomenon. "What is a werewolf?"
"It's—it's a nothing, it's a not-real thing—you know, like vampires, or—okay, wait," Rodney said, and covered his face with his hands. "This is one of the more surreal conversations I've had around here," he said after a moment, letting his hands drop, "which is really saying something, so why don’t we take it from the top, hm?"
Teyla lifted her chin, determined to get the answer she sought. "Last week was the feast of Giula," she began, and Rodney interrupted with, "The third moon: the one that turns gold bimonthly?" and Teyla said, "Yes, exactly. It was full and golden in the sky five days ago, to be exact." "Great," Rodney said, "so what's the question?"
"Is it possible," Teyla began, "that the presence of the moon could have any significant effect on Atlantis?"
"Yes," Rodney said firmly, and then elaborated: "Tides, for instance. I'm no oceanographer—you'd have to ask Dr. Misri—but I'm fairly sure there'd be tidal—"
"No, something more personal," Teyla interrupted. "Something that could affect a person directly—"
"We're back to werewolves again," Rodney said, already shaking his head.
"Maybe some effect of the tidal pull," Teyla said desperately. "A change in the light. Radiation—"
"Those are fun words to say, aren't they?" Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "You don't know what you're talking about. Look," he said, and moved to one of the consoles. An elaborately complicated read-out appeared in the air, and Teyla just stared at it, amazed by the frenetic pattern but not having the faintest idea what it signified. "Thursday," Rodney said, flinging a hand at it, "and here's—just, whatever: a random day," and another read-out appeared beside it. "See, they're exactly—" and then Rodney tilted his head to the side and went, "hm."
"What?" Teyla asked.
"Nothing," Rodney said vaguely. "Hang on," and Teyla hung on as Rodney began zooming in on a section of the first image, and then the second, and then brought up a third and a fourth for comparison, and peered back and forth among them.
"What?" Teyla demanded.
"It's nothing," Rodney insisted, but he didn't move his eyes away from whatever it was he was looking at. "Nothing to do with the moon, anyway," he amended. "There was an anomalous energy reading on Thursday—and no," he added sharply, "it's nothing that could make a person sick. It's nothing a person would even notice—I wouldn't have noticed it myself if I hadn't deliberately been looking for abnormalities—"
Teyla raised an eyebrow. "Does it happen to correlate with the feast of Giula?" and Rodney let out a low, deeply-aggrieved groan. "It shouldn't," he said, and began typing furiously on his laptop, "there's absolutely no good reason why it should, but no doubt it will, because something out there hates me—"
"I do not hate you," Teyla said quietly.
"—and yes, yes, of course it does," Rodney said, sounding almost angry, "because I'm living in some sort of hell." He pointed up at one of the holographic read-outs, his index finger tracing a single, whisper-thin line that she would never have picked out in the dense cacophony of jagged lines, and said, "There. Completely synchronous with your stupid moon, all right?" He began rummaging through a drawer below one of the laboratory benches and pulled out a scanner, a screwdriver, and something that looked as if it might be an electronic wrench. "Come on," Rodney said, and started for the door, and when she frowned, he added impatiently, "Well, don't you want to see what it is?"
She would never have found it, and she did not truly understand how Rodney found it: a small white Ancient machine among a thousand small white Ancient machines, tucked into the wall of an obscure laboratory near the top of the central tower. "It's barely there," Rodney said, peering alternately between it and the scanner he held in his hand. "It's, like, run on a watch battery. Or—fine, not a watch battery, but seriously not much more than a watch battery. Like a double-A Duracell."
Teyla began doubtfully, "I do not understand—"
"Your machine is an Ancient alarm clock," Rodney explained. "Set to go off at the same time the moon comes out, though God only knows why." He stared down at his scanner and added, "It's emitting some kind of pulse, looks like a P300 ERP brain wave—" and suddenly, Rodney touched the switch of his radio and said, "Carson?"
"Rodney, I'm sorry, I'm a bit busy at the—-"
"Right, yeah: listen, what part of the brain would be affected by a P300 ERP brain wave?"
"Is this the part where I say, 'I'm a doctor, Jim, not a neuroscientist'?"
"No Star Trek jokes, it's a serious question. Or—sorry—didn't you have to take some serious biology in medical school, or was it all rubber dolls and corpses? I mean, you did actually go to medical school—?"
Dr. Beckett sighed. "A P300 ERP brain wave would probably go straight to the ventral tegmentum, which is a deep midbrain area linked to desire and its satisfaction. Why—are you trying to jumpstart someone's libido, Rodney? There are easier ways, you know. You might try starting with dinner first—"
"Right, funny, thanks," Rodney said absently, and switched off his radio; he was staring thoughtfully at the machine, and then, as Teyla watched, he slowly raised the heels of his hands and pressed them just above his eyebrows. "This moon of yours," Rodney said finally. "Is it associated with sex? Love? Fertility rituals?" and he must have seen the answer on her face because he let his hands drop and breathed out, "Jesus, what a find. Okay, so look," Rodney began in a voice she instantly recognized as his 'explanation' voice, "the Ancients were a very strange people. Highly cerebral, primarily concerned with the spiritual plane, Ascension, blah blah. The kind of people that—you know, when I was at MIT," and just like that, the conversation had whiplashed away somewhere else, "I shared my lab with two other scientists, one who was hospitalized for dehydration three weeks before he published his thesis, and one who came down with scurvy from having eaten only Ramen noodles for four and a half years. Scurvy!—in 1990! Can you believe it?" and Teyla truly did not know what to say. "This thing," Rodney said, jabbing his index finger at it, "would have worked great gangbusters at MIT: it's an alarm set for people entirely out of touch with their bodily needs; in this case, their sexual needs. 'Hello! Time to procreate now, before we all go extinct and die!'—which I would imagine would be a real problem for the Ancients, all the beautiful people meditating and chasing their mystical destinies, and meanwhile they're forgetting to eat and fuck and go to the bathroom."
"So..." and now it was Teyla's turn to scrub at her face: it was a lot to take in, "you are saying this device is actually giving off some form of neural energy meant to affect people. So could it be making one of us sick?"
"One of us? No. This thing shouldn't affect us at all—it's broadcasting at a level that only dogs can hear. Either it's broken, or nearly drained of power, or the receptors in the Ancients' midbrains were much more sensitive than ours, because there is no way that any of us could be sensing this pulse." Teyla opened her mouth to contradict this, but Rodney raised a hand and said, "All right, I grant you that it's possible that maybe over the long term we find that birth-rates swell slightly nine months after the moon-festivals, but I'm telling you that no normal human brain—" and then Rodney stopped short, and his eyes widened, and he said, "Holy shit, you mean Sheppard."
"I—no, I—" Teyla stammered, but she was a terrible liar, and she could see that Rodney was putting everything together, slotting the pieces in, chik-chik-chik. "Sheppard's sensing the pulse," Rodney said rapidly, his hands moving as fast as he was talking, "the pulse is working on him, making him want to—Jesus, what, procreate? Wow, it might even be focused on him, he's the one with the gene, the last of his kind, and—is that what's making him go all Kirk with the alien women?" and Teyla was about to answer this question when Rodney's brain processed another chunk of the story and he answered it for himself. "No," he said, snapping his fingers, "no, or not anymore—because you said he was sick, you wanted to know if the cycles of the moon could affect a human illness, John's illness, he's sick because he's fighting it, isn't he? He's fighting it; the idiot's trying to fight a fucking neurological pulse to his brain designed to force him into submission," and Teyla stared gape-mouthed at him, because Rodney McKay was far and away the smartest person she'd ever met, and yet so incredibly stupid at the same time.
"Rodney," Teyla interrupted, and grabbed his biceps solidly. "Can we turn it off?"
Rodney looked taken aback. "What?"
"The machine," Teyla said implacably. "Can we turn it off?"
"Well—I mean—no," Rodney said, and looked helpless. "I mean, the whole system's designed to be annoying, to make you do something you don't want to do: an off-switch would defeat the whole purpose. I don't think even John could turn it off—or, actually, I guess John would be the last person who could. It wants him to have sex, spread his genes around, make lots of babies—which, you know, isn't the stupidest idea in the world," Rodney admitted. "I mean, his genes are incredibly rare, even out here, and it would be great if he had a lot of children, just from a practical standpoint."
Teyla considered this. "I do not think he wants children. In truth, I do not think he particularly desires women."
"Oh?" Rodney said, and then, "Oh!" and then, more thoughtfully, "Oh," and then: "Do you really think so?" and it was impossible not to hear the faint hope in his voice.
"You know, I think your average scientist underestimates the effectiveness of the crowbar," John said, and began bashing away at the small, white machine neatly fitted into the wall. After ten or so minutes, the machine was not so much as dented, and John's t-shirt was dark with sweat at the chest and armpits. He let the crowbar clang down to the floor. "Goddamn this thing!"
Teyla sighed. "Dr. McKay seemed to think that it would be difficult to destroy."
"He thought angry Ancients would be coming here to trash the place?"
"Yes, I think so. He also said something about dehydrated MIT students who eat Ramen noodles, though I did not quite understand that part."
John put his hands on his hips and stared down at the floor. "Dehydrated MIT students who eat...right, okay, yeah, " he said, jerking his head up. "Category: people out of touch with their bodies. God, I swear my life is like a Chinese game show. What about cutting the power, can't we cut the power to this thing?"
Teyla shook her head. "No; Dr. McKay says it has its own power source, sealed up on the inside. It's been running for millions of years, he says. He called it a 'watch battery'."
John looked at her narrowly. "You didn't tell him anything, right?" but this was a lie she had been practicing, and of course, technically speaking, she had not told Dr. McKay anything: he had figured it out for himself.
"No," Teyla said. "I only asked him to look for anomalies that coincided with Giula's rising. But he does not believe that the pulse emitted from this machine would affect a normal brain," and when John flinched, she realized that she had said the wrong thing, and said, "That is not to say that you are not—" and when John turned away, she said, quietly, "I do not pretend to understand everything he says. I am sure I get things wrong."
When John turned back to her, his face was a mask. "What if I go offworld? During the—what did you call it, Jiya feast?"
"Giula," Teyla sighed, "and no, I am afraid that will not work."
"Why not?" John said through gritted teeth. "You said it was a pulse. Here on Atlantis. Powered by a watch battery: you're not telling me it projects through all time and space!"
"No," Teyla began, "but Rodney said—"
"Damn Rodney!" John nearly shouted. "I don't want to fucking hear what Rodney said!" He turned away again, and she saw him cross his arms, or perhaps he was hugging himself. After a few moments, he seemed to get control of himself again. "I'm sorry," he said in a more normal voice. "What did Rodney say?"
"You ought to talk to him yourself," Teyla said gently. "He will help you if anyone can."
"Teyla," John said with a kind of fond exasperation in his voice, "there are just some things that men can't talk about with other men. And this here would be one of those things." His face lost its hardness for a moment, and he said, with a rueful-sounding sigh, "He thinks I'm Kirk, for God's sake. I mean..." John scrubbed at his hair and never finished his thought. "What did he say, anyway?"
"I confess that I did not entirely understand," Teyla said. "It was something about the pulse being part of a larger cycle. Rodney tried to explain by comparing it to the moon: it is always there, but not always visible in the sky. Similarly, the pulse serves as the climax of a larger biological cycle instigated by the machine, and the time of procreation will come regardless of whether the hearer is within range." She tried to recall precisely what Rodney had said. "He said that it was like being on the pill," she remembered suddenly, "but what pill, I do not—"
"Oh, that's perfect." John's head fell back against his shoulders like he had lost the ability to keep it upright. "That's just perfect—see, that was exactly the conversation I wanted to have with Rodney McKay, and I'm just so sorry I missed it. And tomorrow, for an encore, I'm going to stab a knife right into the center of my head."
Teyla was pretty sure that was sarcasm, but—well. Not entirely sure.
Over the following weeks, John tried heat, and acid, and then a very small amount of C-4, but the little white machine kept on pulsing. Then, on some pretext or other, John got Rodney to cut the power to the entire section of the grid where the device was located—and Teyla was proud of Rodney, who gave nothing at all away; he looked quite convincingly like he had no idea why John might want to shut down that part of Atlantis. It did not help.
It had seemed like a long time, seven weeks—surely they would think of something! But as the feast of Giula neared, Teyla began to fear that they would not. She worried and paced and gnawed at her thumbnail like a child, then meditated for long hours to try to calm herself. Ronon was not fooled; one sharp glance told him of her anxiety, and he sat her down on the floor and put his big hands on her shoulders. She groaned as his hands worked her tight and aching muscles, until she was moaning and flopping forward bonelessly, almost desperately grateful.But John grew ever more distant, ever more silent. Teyla observed him sneaking rations from the mess, and checked the duty roster, knowing what she would find. John had applied for four days leave around the time of Giula's rising, and this time, she would not find him at the top of the southwest pier. She would not find him at all.
"Let me come with you," Teyla said one afternoon in the gymnasium, after knocking Sheppard to his knees.
John looked up at her defiantly, her stick at his throat. "I don't need a babysitter."
"I am not," Teyla said, bringing her stick around in a graceful arc and smashing it against his shoulders, sending him sprawling forward onto his face, "your babysitter."
"Uh—ow?" John said, gingerly lifting himself up on his hands.
"I will not bother you, Colonel. But just in case something happens—"
"Nothing's gonna happen, Teyla—no guy ever really died of blue balls, and believe me, neither will I. It's just a line we use on Earth women at drive-in movies—"
"Please be serious," Teyla begged, letting her stick clatter to the ground. "Please? Just for five minutes?" and John looked away, lips pressed tightly together; it looked like they had been trembling a little. "Maybe it will not kill you," Teyla said softly, "but it will hurt you. It is designed to hurt you. And you have been fighting it for months, and it has been worse each time, has it not?" John tightened his jaw; he seemed to be struggling to control his expression. "If you must do this thing, at least let me come with you," Teyla pleaded, "—as your second in command, and as your friend," and abruptly, John's face cracked and he turned away, covering his eyes with his hands.
"Teyla," he said in a low, low voice. "I appreciate this—I swear, I do—everything you've done to try and help—"
"I have done nothing," Teyla said, with heartfelt bitterness.
"—but please, this isn't helping. It's not a big deal; for God's sake don't make it a big deal—"
"Would it not after all be easier," Teyla burst out, making one last attempt, "to simply give in and just—" and here she fumbled for words, "—do what the pulse requires?" and suddenly John's face, his eyes—even his voice was hard.
"Strangely? No. No, it isn't," he said.
John disappeared on the day before Giula rose, and Teyla could hardly think, she was so worried for him. Rodney made a mumbled offer to sit up with her, and Ronon, head tilted in confusion, suggested they make an offworld excursion to Yantus to see the willowy palms that she loved, but in the end she chose simply to meditate in her quarters, kneeling down in the golden square of moonlight that streamed in through her window.
Perhaps she had unconsciously been waiting. In any case, she was not surprised to hear the soft pounding on her door in the small hours of the second night. She rose swiftly, and found John standing there, looking hollow-eyed and pained beyond endurance.
"Teyla," he said in a low voice, "I-I can't—" and she said at once, understanding his urgency, "Yes, of course." She took his arm and he half-came, half-fell into the room, and on top of her, and onto her bed. Their union was over almost before it started, and was not so much a love-making as a fast and desolate rutting, the faint clatter of his hands rapidly undoing his belt, his soft groan as he settled on top of her, pulled her skirt up, and pushed into her—the sounds of gasping and panting and real pain as his hips jerked erratically. He did not kiss her—in truth, she did not expect him to kiss her—but he buried his face in her neck and made a soft, sobbing noise when he came.
He pulled out and rolled over almost instantly, his arms coming up and curling around his head to hide his face. "Christ," and the last time John Sheppard sounded like that, he had been kneeling in a pool of blood made by the slit throat of one of his Marines.
"It is all right," Teyla said, and she was relieved to find that she sounded normal and commonsensical to her own ears. "Please. Do not worry yourself."
But John was shuddering beside her, and she heard him mutter: "I feel like an animal. I feel like a rapist. I feel—raped, and if I even let myself begin to think about what you must be feeling, I'm going to freak out and I might not be able to stop."
"But I feel fine," Teyla said, trying to put the truth of it into her voice, because she did, in fact, feel perfectly fine. She stared up at the ceiling and thought about how to convey to Sheppard that she would have done considerably more to spare him pain than engage in three or four minutes of mediocre sex. She thought about reminding him that—just recently—she had followed him into a heavily-defended Accanti compound, helped him attack a Wraith outpost, and saved him from having his head cut off by a vicious Yemeni warlord by challenging him to hand-to-hand combat. This was the easiest mission she had had in months—and yet, John was clearly finding this all very difficult, and she did not wish to invalidate his feelings. "John," she said softly, "I understand that this is distasteful to you, but please, do not upset yourself on my account," and she would have comforted him, but feared that the touch of her hand would be unwelcome.
John rolled onto his other side so that they were face to face. "Teyla," he said seriously, "I just want you to know that—if anything happens, obviously I would be fine with an abortion," and this was so shocking to her that Teyla momentarily forgot to be polite.
"Do not be stupid," she said. "As if I would permit such a thing!" and John looked taken aback. "Believe me, I would not have allowed this to occur were I not willing to accept a child from you. Whether you yourself accept the child is immaterial."
"O-kay. Right. Let's, um—maybe try this again? I'll, uh—" and John seemed utterly lost for words. "I never thought you'd want to—I mean, I'd certainly stand by you. Marriage, anything you want," and Teyla honestly could not help herself, and started to laugh.
"All right, look," John sighed, "if I went back to Earth, if I went—home," and it sounded like he was testing the word in his mouth, "would this all stop?"
Teyla felt shock low and deep in her gut: John Sheppard could not leave the Pegasus galaxy. That would be terrible. That would be wrong. "I do not know," she said.
"Could you—would you ask Rodney for me? Don't tell him why. Don't tell him it's me. Don't let on that—you know. Make it a hypothetical."
"A hypothetical?" Rodney repeated. "Fine: I'm great with hypotheticals," and so Teyla spun out her imaginary situation, and Rodney grew wide-eyed and had to sit down. "Oh my God. Oh my God—we have to do something! Is he out of his mind?"
"He is, I think, very tired of fighting for control of himself," Teyla said.
"Well, Jesus," Rodney said, and pulled at what was left of his hair. "I don't know. I mean, I guess I could start taking apart the building—"
Teyla was suddenly angry and exasperated. "Please be serious," she said. "Must you and he make a joke out of everything? We do not have much time—"
"I'm not joking! I'm perfectly serious; I can't think of anything else—but it's not something I can do on the weekends with a screwdriver! It's going to be a major project, and I'll need a pretext, some reason to dismantle this section of the tower in its entirety: a virus, Ancient asbestos, a bomb, I don't know. Somebody built this thing, so there's got to be a way to take it apart—I'll have to rig some kind of cutting torch based on the elemental structure of Ancient metals—and we'll have to get Elizabeth to sign off on it, because we'll need people, resources, so you'd better start thinking of a—" and Teyla stopped his mouth by leaning in to kiss him, and she suspected that she knew the source of the desperation that infused the clumsy and urgent kiss he gave her in return.
Personal concerns were shoved aside by more urgent matters. A military coup had occurred among their trading partners on Werta, which had resulted in the betrayal of their Marines by the new leadership, who had decided to demonstrate the new regime's power by greeting the Atlanteans not with wheelbarrows of meat and bushels of grain but with guns. Two Marines had been killed in the surprise attack, and several others had been badly injured as they fled back through the gate.
John Sheppard went dark and furious. He twined a hand into the soft suede of Ronon's shirt and dragged him away to mutter with him in corners. Neither Rodney nor Teyla were invited to partake in these soft, angry conversations—"Me, because I'm useless for military stuff," Rodney whispered, "and you because—well, I'm guessing you won't approve of whatever it is they're planning." Teyla forced a smile, but she was actually quite angry.
In point of fact, she did not approve of the plan when finally she learned of it—a stealth attack on the new Werta leadership that was entirely too much like an assassination for her taste—but John's deceptively calm tone brooked no argument, and Ronon's face was implacable: he would follow John Sheppard into hell, if necessary. Still less did she like the idea of doing this without Elizabeth Weir's knowledge, let alone her consent, but John believed that certain black military operations were within his purview and it was impossible to convince him otherwise. This meant, however, that she and Rodney had to accompany them off-world to avoid arousing suspicion, Rodney having done his part by persuading Elizabeth to schedule an apparently legitimate mission to the nearby world of Quarssi—"for—raspberries," Rodney burst out, furiously handwaving, "or I don't know, something like raspberries: minerals or gold or—I can't remember, I was panicked!" Once through the gate, John would set a stealth course for Werta. John and Ronon would attend to the leadership. Teyla and Rodney would stay with the ship.
"Teyla," John said quietly, when they were briefly alone in the back of the puddlejumper; he was sliding another knife—a long one—into his boot. He and Ronon had armed themselves mainly with knives, though John carried one gun, a thick black sidearm she had never seen before, with a silencer, "if something happens..."
Teyla sighed and finished what she assumed was his thought. "You can of course rely on me. I will come after you, on your signal—" but John seemed confused, and so she stopped.
"I—no," John said uncertainly. "I mean, yeah, sure, I'll signal if—" but suddenly he was standing before her, and closing his eyes, and tilting his head forward, and her breath caught in her throat. She stepped into the gesture, closing her own eyes and bending her head to touch his, and was overwhelmed with love for him.
"John," she said softly, and his hands closed on her shoulders, and he said, in a rushed, breathless voice: "Don't be mad at me. You have to forgive me—for this, and for everything. I'm struggling here, but believe me, I'm doing my best—" and then he was pulling away from her and turning aside, because the door to the cockpit had opened, and Ronon was coming through, tall and beautiful and armed to the teeth.
Behind him was Rodney, looking pale. "I've, uh, configured the radios to accept emergency transmissions only, and I'll be tracking your location. You guys can set off the equivalent of a silent alarm if—you know, if something—"
"That's great," John said, but he was looking at Rodney as if there were other things he would have said, if perhaps the circumstances were different. "Stay on the monitors, I'll try to send a ping back every hour or so. But don't worry if you don't hear from us—if there's a choice between doing it fast or playing it safe, we'll be taking the long way." Rodney blew out a breath and looked relieved, and John shot her a look which said, plain as daylight, You take care of him, okay? Teyla held his gaze and nodded.
Ronon came to her, and stood before her, his eyes on her, and suddenly Teyla was flush with heat, with the burning rush of emotional intensity between them. She wanted to reach for him, but did not trust her body not to betray her. Perhaps this was how John felt all the time, this low, stirring heat that was hunger and desperation and pain.
"C'mon, let's go," John said, and Ronon gave her one last look before turning away and following John down the ramp. She followed Rodney into the control room and took the seat next to him at the console, and together, they began their long and silent vigil.
It was two days later when John and Ronon finally stumbled back up the puddlejumper's ramp, and Teyla's heart sank when she saw that Ronon was practically carrying John, who was pale and sweating profusely. "Colonel, are you injured?" Teyla asked, instantly coming to brace John's other side, and Ronon shot back, "He's fine," just as John said, "I'm fine. Get me to the cockpit—let's get out of here." Rodney practically leaped out of the way as Teyla and Ronon half-dumped John into the command chair. John stretched out his hands, and just like that they were airborne, the puddlejumper responding instantly to the command of John's touch—or perhaps even his will.
She and Rodney had not been too worried, because John had sent them a ping every hour on the hour just as he had promised, and had radioed twice from safe locations to say that they were going slow, keeping low, trying to move under cover of darkness. Now she could see that John looked tired and grime-streaked, and that some places on his black clothes were dark and shiny with dried blood. Teyla lifted her chin. "Was it a success?"
"Yeah," Ronon said, a low rumble of satisfaction.
John looked less pleased, but still he looked at her plainly and said, "They're going to need a new government."
It was not long before they were back in orbit around Quarssi. During the long hours, Rodney had written up notes for the mission report they would have to submit to Elizabeth, ("Winner of the Atlantis Prize for fiction," Rodney had said, handing it to John) and John had scanned it briefly before opening a channel to Atlantis.
"Atlantis base, this is Sheppard. Jumper One is inbound, please respond," but the technician on duty surprised them by saying, "Jumper One, please hold," and then Elizabeth Weir was saying: "Jumper One; we have a problem."
The problem was with their stargate's iris, and John groaned and sank back into his chair as Rodney got on with Dr. Zelenka and they began to try and diagnose what had gone wrong and how best to fix it. Teyla noticed that John still did not look very good—in fact, he looked worse, his eyes shadowed, his face slack with exhaustion. "Are you sure you're all right?" Teyla asked, but John waved an impatient hand and said nothing.
"Well," Rodney said, abruptly disconnecting the radio, "it's difficult to say what happened: my own guess is that it's some kind of virus, but they won't know until they've gone through the diagnostics—" "How long will that take?" John interrupted, and Rodney shrugged and said, "Could be ten, twelve hours," and Teyla thought she saw a strange glimmer of panic in John's eyes.
"Well," John said, and scratched at his chin. "I suppose we should land somewhere."
"I would advise against Werta," Ronon deadpanned, and John showed him a tired smile and said, "Yeah. I hear the government's dead this time of year."
So they landed on Quarssi, which was home to a large farming community of gentle, dull people who were always pleased to see them and who liked to host banquets in their honor. In fact, precisely such a banquet had been at the center of Rodney's fictitious report: having gone to many such feasts, Rodney had no trouble at all inventing a typical menu and program of events. When John opened the puddlejumper's hatch, Rodney stood up and stretched and said, "Want to go into town? I wouldn't mind a glass of ale and a bit of roasted pig-type-thing," but John shrugged a bit too casually, and tapped his fingers erratically against the armrest of the command chair, and said, "Nah, you guys go. I'll stay here and watch the ship," and suddenly Teyla knew: this was the feast of Giula. Giula was rising, and her heart leapt into her throat.
"I—I'll stay with you," Teyla said, and Ronon shot a perceptive glance at her and said, "I will stay, too," and Rodney protested, "Well, I'm not going alone."
"Go," John said in a soft and dangerous voice; he was ostensibly talking to Rodney, but he was glaring at Teyla. "All of you. A little enforced R&R would be good for the team right now. A little ale, a little roast-pig—"
"I would prefer to stay with you," Teyla said quietly.
John's voice was growing hard. "That's an order, Teyla."
Rodney said, "All right, I'm definitely missing the subtext, here," and beside him, Ronon growled, "Shut up, McKay."
John was suddenly on his feet, and his face was like thunder; he was losing control, Teyla thought hopelessly. "This isn't about subtext, McKay. This is about command structure. This is about when I say go, you fucking well go—" and before Teyla could say Yes, Colonel; absolutely, and hustle everyone out of the puddlejumper, Rodney threw up his hands and, "What the hell is wrong with you?"
John flinched, and Teyla had a moment of real panic, but Rodney's comment seemed to bring John back to himself. "Nothing's wrong with me," John said wearily. "Just—I'd really like to go home, and if I can't go home, I'd prefer to be alone right now—"
"Why, are you going to turn into a pumpkin?" Rodney snapped.
"Shut up," John and Teyla said together.
Rodney's face changed. Teyla's hand flew to her mouth. Ronon's eyes widened. Rodney got up, and went over to John, and said, in a low, worried voice, "Are you going to turn into a pumpkin?"
John said nothing, just stared back at Rodney with a mute sort of horror that made Teyla feel sick. She had to do something, and suddenly, she knew what. She came forward to stand between John and Rodney, and then snaked an arm around Rodney's neck and kissed him. He was taken aback at first, and tried to pull away, but she held on and eventually, he kissed her back, his hands coming up to cup her face. Rodney's kisses were soulful, and as always, surprisingly generous, and Teyla found herself breathless when they finally broke apart.
She dropped a final, quick kiss on Rodney's mouth, and then turned to Ronon, and as she had expected, Ronon's eyes were dark with lust: he was already excited, partly because he was jealous of Rodney McKay, but mostly because Ronon had always been aroused by watching. She turned to him, and stretched up to kiss him—and he only pressed a single, hard kiss to her mouth before sliding to his knees in one smooth gesture, and suddenly Ronon's forehead was pressed to her breastbone, and Ronon's thumb was stroking up between her legs.
When she finally turned to John, his eyes were unreadable, his face carefully schooled into blankness. Still, she went to him, and stood before him, and waited, her head tilted down and her eyes closed. Her heart pounded, and for a moment, she was sure that he would not understand. Then he leaned in, touched her face, kissed her. It was a soft thing, urgent, but with no heat in it. Blindly, she felt his hand grasp for hers, his fingers entwining with hers, and then he squeezed her hand hard: this, then, was their connection.
He was a little breathless when he finally pulled away, but he understood, she could see it in his eyes; he understood what she intended. "Yes?" Teyla murmured, and John licked his lips and nodded solemnly, and when Ronon came forward, ever attuned to her frame of mind, John slung an arm around his neck and roughly kissed him. Teyla could almost hear Ronon growl, and then he had John Sheppard pushed up against the back wall of the puddlejumper, and John shoved hard up against him—and when they broke apart, gasping, they weren't the only ones who were flushed and deeply aroused.
But Rodney was backing away toward the puddlejumper's door, and that surprised her: she had not expected him to be a problem. "I—can't," he said, with wide eyes and upraised palms. "I'm sorry. The orgy thing, I've just never been good at—" but Rodney's reluctance turned out to be a blessing, because it put John on solid ground to be able to reassure someone else.
"Sure you can, Rodney," John said softly, and slowly reached out for him. "I’m sure you can—" and Teyla was suddenly distracted by Ronon, who was pulling all the first-aid blankets and life-vests out of the puddlejumper's side compartments and spreading them out on the floor. Her lips twisted into a helpless smile, and when Ronon looked up at her, his eyes were smiling back—and then he was gripping her waist, and pushing up her shirt to press sloppy, wet kisses to her belly, and tugging her down to the nest of blankets.
After that, things became a bit of a blur. Ronon's hands were sliding beneath her clothes, undoing her pants, and his mouth—no, that was Rodney's mouth—was soft and wet between her legs. A tongue teased her nipple, and she reached out to caress a hard, slick cock that turned out to be John's. Ronon was kissing John again, and then Ronon was kissing her, and when Ronon said her name in a hoarse voice, Teyla whispered to him in the old language and rolled on top of him. He shuddered beneath her, and she unlaced his pants and gripped his erection and straddled him, and when she looked around for John, she was not at all surprised to find him lying on the floor with Rodney's arms around him, lost in one of Rodney's soulful and surprisingly tender kisses.
She was drowsing against Ronon's side when she heard John whispering, "Jesus, McKay, help me," and Rodney shot back, "As if I ever do anything but," and John's voice cracked as he said, "Oh, yeah—fuck—fuck—Rodney—" and then he and Rodney were softly groaning together in a way that made her smile against Ronon's neck.
In the weeks afterwards, things were mostly just as they had been, though Teyla overheard strange snatches of conversation, and had several strange conversations herself, as they tried to understand what was between them.
Rodney and John took to meeting in the mess late at night for coffee and slices of pie. "I'm going to be forty," she heard Rodney say. "I'd really like to be in a sexual relationship with an adult. Or, you know—you."
"You're hilarious," John said. "Shut up."
When Rodney came to talk to her, they ended up tumbling into bed together. This was merely habit, Teyla supposed, panting up at the ceiling afterwards—though there had been something newly vigorous in Rodney's lovemaking that struck her as a distinct change of habit. The touch of another hand, perhaps. "I think we might actually make a go of it," Rodney mumbled against her breast as she stroked his hair. "Though what that means I couldn't tell you. It's all just the strangest—" Rodney lifted his head suddenly and looked at her with serious eyes. "I wish he were here. I mean—with you," Rodney quickly amended, and then, sighing: "—not that I want to be with him rather than you, more that I think you should be with him rather than me." Rodney groaned and briefly closed his eyes before saying: "What I'm trying to say is—some part of me thinks that dismantling the machine is a really bad idea. Genetically. For him—or, really, for us, or maybe for—"
"You think he should have children," Teyla supplied, and Rodney popped his hands together and said, "Yes! Right! That's just what I mean. Because of the gene. And because—" and suddenly his fair skin was flushing a little, and he averted his eyes, "—well, you know," and Teyla thought that she did know. "But he seems, you know, really not very inclined to it. Much less inclined than I am, go figure. Well, obviously," Rodney added, and waved a hand down at their naked bodies, entwined together on the bed.
When Ronon came, he sat with his back bowed, and his head bent, and his hands dangling between his knees. He did not speak for a long time.
"If Sheppard takes McKay," he said finally, "perhaps we can find you someone else," and that was so surprising that Teyla leaned back on her arms and did not know what to say.
"I do not think that will be necessary," she said finally.
Now it was Ronon's turn to look surprised. " I think you are wrong," he said. "I think Sheppard will take him. And I think that McKay will be very, very tired if he does—"
"No," Teyla said, smiling, "I do not mean that," and then she unhooked her bodice, and slowly lay back on the bed with her breasts exposed, and when he came to her, she showed him precisely what she meant.
Many years later, Teyla Emmagen sat on the beach and watched her four children play at the edge of the water, running around Ronon's long, long legs. Beside her, Rodney sat wrapped in towels from head to foot, and wearing a hat for good measure. "Look at them; they're every color of the rainbow," he said, and sucked for water through a straw. "Our kids are a Benetton ad," and Teyla did not understand why that was funny, but John, bronzed and wet from his most recent dip in the ocean, fell back, laughing, on the sand.
Finally, Ronon headed back toward them with the two younger boys holding onto his hands, and their daughter clinging to his neck. Kit scrambled up the beach ahead of them and flung himself down beside John. "Big fun, huh, Scout?" John dropped a hand on Kit's head, then thumbed his dark hair back and kissed his sweaty forehead.
Kit squinted accusingly up at him. "Yeah, but you said you'd come back out."
"I will; I just got a little sun-drunk," John told him just as the other boys threw themselves onto their blanket. "Hey," Rodney protested, as Drew half-sprawled into his lap, "watch the towels! Do you want me to get cancer?"
"Don't give Rodney cancer," John said, and flashed a sardonic grin when Rodney glared.
"It's hot," Jace complained, squirming.
"Yes, well, welcome to the power of the sun. A core of about fifteen million degrees Celsius—" Rodney said, but Jace let out a long-suffering sigh. Rodney rolled his eyes and said, "Fine, shut up and have some water," and handed him his glass.
Ronon arrived, then reached up and lifted their daughter off his neck with one hand. Teyla smiled and held her arms out. "You must have some water, too," she said, but the girl's attention had already been caught by the series of small windmills Rodney had rigged up for her. On the other side of the blankets, Kit was whining, "Come on. You promised," and John was saying, "Okay, okay, okay! Jesus!" and then Rodney said, "Teyla, give her to me. You go, too," and opened his arms for Giula.
"Are you sure you want her?" Teyla asked, but Rodney did not even dignify the question with a response: just rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers impatiently. So she gave Giula to him and got to her feet, watching as he hugged her and kissed her small face a couple of times before settling her down in the crook of his arm. Giula fidgeted briefly, then sank back against him as if he were the most comfortable chair in the world and turned her pale green eyes back to the row of tiny windmills.
"I'm just going to lie here and die," Ronon mumbled, falling back onto the blanket where Teyla had been, and as Teyla turned, she heard Rodney say, "Yeah, you must be exhausted. Have a sandwich," and then she was running over the hot sand, toward where John and Kit were already bobbing in the waves, and then she was in the water, splashing and leaping, and then finally diving in.
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