Summary: Teyla tries to come to terms with her evolving feelings for John Sheppard
Notes: Written for saeva via the teylafen ficathon
“We all of us need assistance. Those who sustain others themselves want to be sustained.”
- Maurice Hulst
“It is Colonel Sheppard’s IDC,” said Parker, his carefully-modulated voice taking on a warning edge. He had no need to speak what they all knew; it could be John Sheppard, returning to them against all odds, or it could be a Wraith trap, and by deactivating the iris they could be opening the door to their most dangerous enemy.
Most of the time Teyla had no desire to be in Elizabeth Weir’s position; Teyla was herself a leader, or had been, but although her decisions had often encompassed life and death it had been nowhere near the scale of Weir’s. The fate of Atlantis could upset the balance of the galaxy, and Teyla usually admired the other woman’s cool composure under pressure -- except now when she wanted to scream at her.
Stop hesitating! Let him in!
Her breath caught in her throat as Weir glanced in her direction, saw something worth watching and frowned. “No radio contact?” she asked, which was a foolish, unnecessary question; if Sheppard had sent a radio transmission Parker would have ensured that they all heard it, would have told them that his identity had been confirmed and that the shield could be lowered.
“It’s possible he could have lost his radio and not his GDO,” said McKay tersely, and Teyla repressed an uncharacteristic and inappropriate urge to turn to Rodney and gratefully throw her arms around his neck. “But he’s not going to be able to wait forever.”
Weir was still looking at her, and the message in her eyes was clear; Teyla returned her gaze unwaveringly, despite the sickening tremors that seemed to be shaking her from the inside out. I know what I saw, and what I told you, she thought fiercely, but this is John, and we have to take the chance.
For as long as she’d lived on Atlantis, lived with these people, Teyla had never been able to tell how Weir truly felt about Sheppard, or how she balanced that feeling against her responsibility towards all of her people.
As leader of the Athosians, she had never found herself in such a position.
And as such it would be easy to hate Elizabeth Weir for the decision she made.
“Lower the shield.” It was almost a whisper, but Parker responded with alacrity, and McKay straightened and sucked in a breath as the screen of electricity flashed and vanished.
There were several armed Marines on the bottom level, and an armed Ronon Dex as well, and yet who knew what the Wraith might send through… a phalanx of warriors before the Gate could be disengaged, a plague, a bomb.
But this was John, and they had to take the chance.
* * *
The last place she wanted to be was the gym, and the last person she wanted to be alone with was John Sheppard. But they had a schedule. It was in its own way a tradition. And to Teyla’s way of thinking, there were far too few traditions on Atlantis to allow for the casual breaking of even one.
Besides, if she did not arrive at the appointed time he would likely assume that she had forgotten, and he would either come looking for her… or not. And she was not sure which possible outcome was worse.
So she was there when he arrived, dressed in his usual black and looking little the worse for wear from his ordeal. There was a scrape along his jaw that had not quite healed, and a bruise just visible on the forearm beneath his sleeve - giving her cause to wonder at what other injuries his clothing concealed - but his eyes were alert and his expression lively, and he walked into the gym without an obvious limp. Maybe there was a little spark of surprise in his smile, even a little relief.
Relief. Teyla had rediscovered the emotion when Sheppard had stumbled through the event horizon scant seconds after the shield had been deactivated, dried blood tracing the line of his jaw and soaking the collar of his shirt, mercifully unaware of how he had almost met death at the hands of his own people.
That relief had manifested itself in an instant of terrible weakness. For a heartbeat her mind had felt clouded, her body disconnected from her brain, her muscles drained, her joints loose, her lungs too stunned to draw breath, and she had heard the cheers and other exhortations of her comrades as though from a great distance.
I did not believe I would ever see him again.
The memory of those sensations overwhelmed her now, seeing him so terribly normal and yet so clearly marked, and though she had meant to rise from her seat by the window she now found that she could not.
For a moment he seemed to ignore the fact that everything was different… or maybe he truly did not notice that it had all changed. “You’re going to go easy on me today, right?” he asked affably, dropping his duffel bag at her feet and stretching his arms out over his head. From this angle she could see the livid bruise continued under the shirtsleeve, up his arm, almost to the shoulder. Teyla winced. “I mean, I’m a wounded man.”
She was reasonably sure that he was joking; they’d never “gone easy” on each other before. It simply wasn’t in either of their natures. Still, she heard herself replying faintly, “If you do not feel well, we can postpone…”
“I feel fine,” he interrupted sharply, hesitated and then smoothly continued, “well, maybe fine isn’t the word I’m looking for, but not bad enough to screw up our schedule. Just don’t tell Carson I was ever here, okay? He told me to take it easy, but I’m going stir crazy. I need to do something.”
She didn’t answer, found that she could not. She kept seeing him tumble and trip through the Stargate, into the room below, descended upon by Ronon and the Marines as she stood watching, held paralyzed, first by the awful weakness in her knees and then by the fear of what would happen, what others would think if she gave into impulse and went across the room, down the stairs, holding him against her to confirm his existence, cleaning away the blood, touching him…
John was looking at her now, having paused in his stretches, just looking and frowning. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
She pursed her lips, glaring. “I feel fine,” she retorted, parroting his own words back at him as she rose to her feet.
“Are you sure? You look a little… flushed. Maybe you’re sick. Here, let me…”
He rested the back of his hand lightly against her forehead. The touch was kind and still a little impersonal – he might do the same for anyone else, to gauge their health – and yet Teyla felt that the contact was electric. His hand was cool and yet it burned her skin like a brand, as though she were feverish, and when his concerned eyes slid to meet her own there was a moment of realization, understanding…
John had never pursued her openly… at least not while he’d been himself. But she would have had to have been a fool not to see the subtle signs for what they were: the casual contact, the invitations dropped – oh, so lightly – now and again…
…the memory of the hard, hungry kiss… the words of a dying alien consciousness, never recanted, never even mentioned; was she supposed to assume that he had no memory…
…the way he had looked at her during their first meeting, the soft brush of his hands, flame tempting her to kindle…
When she had agreed to make regular excursions with then-Major Sheppard’s team, and especially when she had parted ways with the rest of the Athosians, she had made a firm and well-reasoned pact with herself: she would learn the ways of these people as well as she could and follow their example, she would not stray beyond the bounds of what they saw as propriety; they were in her galaxy but she was in their world, and she would act like it.
She had honored this pact faithfully. She had found friendship with this man as she had found it with others, and she had treasured it, all of it; they had earned each other’s respect and she held that comfort close when other thoughts intruded. She had been determined that nothing would change.
And still something had changed.
John’s hand fell away from her face, but he did not turn away. His eyes flickered across her features almost skittishly, as though he was not quite sure that he recognized them from this angle, and she saw the muscles of his throat move and work as he swallowed.
He was the first to break the silence.
“I’ve come back from the dead before, Teyla.” His voice was hoarse. “What was so different about it this time?”
Her mouth was dry. Her throat was parched. What was different? “If we had left the Dendarii at the appointed time we would have been gone long before the Wraith arrived.” Surprisingly, her voice sounded quite calm, her words perfectly logical. “It was my request that made us tarry.”
His eyes darkened almost imperceptibly. “If we hadn’t, that entire population would have been culled. At least the way it turned out we were able to save a lot of them… almost a hundred. So it all worked out for the best.”
Once they had engaged in this same argument, although from opposite sides.
Teyla felt the breath being pushed from her in short, indignant gasps. “For the best?” Without thinking, she reached up and grabbed his right bicep where she knew the bruise continued; her grip was hard enough to make him wince, and somehow the knowledge that she had caused him pain gave her a sick flush of triumph. “Do you call this for the best?”
His left hand clamped around her wrist but he did not wrench himself free of her, and she did not pull away. “I call it part of the job. It’s what I get for…” He caught himself and angrily bit off the rest of that sentence, redirecting his ire at her. “Is that it, Teyla? Just… guilt? Is that why you can’t even look at me?”
She gaped at him, uncomprehending. She felt that she had not even able to look away from him since his miraculous return, as though by some quirk of superstitious magic – mind over reality – her lack of attentions would cause him to vanish back to whatever hell he had escaped from.
But she had not gone to see him while he had been in the infirmary, although the others had. She had sent her well-wishes along with Rodney and Ronon while she had paced her quarters and gone on long runs around the city perimeter and tried to sleep while replaying in her mind the moment of tremulous frailty she had felt, standing there, watching his return.
And the panic she had felt as she had watched him being taken.
From her vantage point behind the massive oak, she could see it all. The Wraith soldier – better to just think of them as soldiers, Ford had once told her, rather than “monsters” or “freaks” – grabbed Sheppard by his vest. Began to pull his unconscious form away.
She wanted to cry out. She wanted to shoot the soldier-monster-freak in the back, run up to his twitching form and shoot him a few more times in the head. But there were other faceless, voiceless creatures in the woods, and she could not kill them all.
And she had a responsibility, did she not, to the Dendarii that Sheppard and she had brought this far – women and children, mostly, who had followed them almost all the way back to the Stargate and who now crouched all around her in the underbrush.
She could not try to rescue Sheppard and save these innocents both. She had to choose.
And for a moment – a long, awful moment – she had wanted to choose him. Because she did not know these people, not like she had known Orin and his family. Like she knew John. And she…
She wanted to see him tomorrow, his wry smile, his clever eyes, his kind manner. Wanted to see all of it tomorrow, and the day after, again and again for as long as fate would permit.
Wanted to go to Earth with him some day, and ride a Ferris Wheel and go shopping – for real, this time.
Wanted to know what it was like to kiss him when he was fully and completely John Sheppard, just John and nothing else.
Did this all constitute being in love? Maybe. She was not sure. She had thought herself in love before, when she was younger, but it had never felt like this.
“Yes,” she said, her voice as firm as her grip on his arm, as firm as his grip on her wrist. The word was a sharp pain in her stomach. “Just guilt. That is all.”
“I don’t believe you,” he said, his voice pitched low and dangerous, his changeable eyes quick and lively.
“Believe what you like,” she snapped, pushing away from him with her free hand. He let her go but watched closely as she backed away. “Perhaps I should not have come here.”
“Here here? Or here Atlantis?”
She shook her head. “You do not need me, not as you thought you would. And I have not been trained, I am not like you… that makes me a liability.”
“A liability?” He stared at her. “Teyla, you’re not even making any sense now.”
“Then I should go,” she said, words clipped, eyes cast down, because if she looked at him she might be overcome with that unmanageable frailty again, with the overwhelming urge to stroke his face, to brush her lips against his and guide his hands to the places on her body that ached to be touched…
She told herself that she was not running away, that she was in fact saving herself from her own weakness.
* * *
“Can I join you?”
Teyla glanced over her shoulder at Dr. Weir, taking in the other woman’s informal dress – a white shirt and the blue pants called jeans – and turned back to the water without answering. It was nighttime, and pending some intrusive disaster both of them were considered ‘off duty’. Technically speaking, she could tell Weir ‘no’ without being considered inconceivably rude.
But this was Elizabeth Weir, who despite what she told others was never truly ‘off duty’. Whatever she wanted right now it was not an idle chat, and if Teyla did not permit it to happen there would no doubt be consequences before the week was out.
Well-meaning consequences, of course, but consequences nonetheless.
Teyla liked Kate Heightmeyer as a person, but she did not always appreciate their mandated conversations.
“Of course, Dr. Weir.”
The other woman approached and flashed her an easy smile. “I think we’ve known each other long enough to dispense with the formalities, don’t you?”
Had they? The different forms of address these people gave themselves and each other were oftentimes bewildering. “As you wish… Elizabeth.”
Weir did not appear especially pleased with that response either, but she nodded and let it slide. She leaned against the railing next to the spot Teyla had staked out for herself – an area far enough away from the mess that she had hoped for a few moments of privacy – and for a while the two women simply stared out at the view, appreciating the way the sun painted the sky and the sky, in turn, turned the ocean into an artist’s pallet.
“Teyla,” began Weir at last, just when the silence was beginning to stretch to the point of discomfort, “you’ve always been an incredible asset to this expedition, and…”
In no mood to disassemble, Teyla interrupted her. “Is this about John and me?”
The doctor hesitated before answering. “Yes.”
It had only been a matter of time… More than two weeks had passed since their uncomfortable encounter in the gym, and since then Teyla had taken care to never be caught alone with Sheppard. She doubted that anyone had noticed and reported to Weir that the gym was no longer in use on Tuesday mornings; it was more likely that the awkwardness had followed them into the conference room on more than one occasion.
They did not sit next to each other, they did not look directly at each other, and Teyla, at least, felt that a great weight was pressing down on her from above. Weir was not stupid; she would have noticed the new tension in the air. “Have you already spoken with him?” she asked.
“Yes. Well,” she amended, leaning further against the railing, “spoken to, not with. His view was that there was nothing to discuss.”
Teyla felt a quick surge of pride in John, as though they were both aligned against the same enemy. Not that it was in any way fair to consider Elizabeth the enemy. “But you disagree,” she said coolly.
Elizabeth raised her eyes. “Things have been different during briefings these past few weeks. And since I don’t see the both of you together anywhere else, I have to assume that it’s not just briefings.”
“Nothing has changed while we are off-world,” said Teyla defensively. A sudden breeze swept across the balcony, teasing her hair into her face. Annoyed, she pushed it back. “We are still capable of behaving in a… professional manner. And we do.”
“I know. That’s what Rodney says as well.” Weir’s tone was consoling, but her words… “Rodney says…” Had she been talking to everyone in Atlantis about this? “And I would expect nothing less from the two of you, honestly. It’s only…”
“Yes?” Teyla snapped.
Weir crossed her arms, beginning to look a bit distressed herself. “You realize that I’ve done very little to dissuade personal relationships here in Atlantis?”
Yes, Teyla realized this. There was the infamous example of Rodney and Dr. Brown – it hadn’t lasted long, but it was infamous just the same – and of course Carson Beckett and Laura Cadman. Teyla could think of a dozen other couples who had quite obviously engaged in intimate relationships – there was even a woman from the Earth land of Germany who was being courted by one of Halling’s cousins – but she knew of none between individuals on the same team. “I understand,” she sighed, some of her frustration ebbing away. “However, it is my understanding that Colonel Sheppard’s military has rules governing…”
“I’m not in the military, Teyla,” Weir chided her. “And neither are you. Neither are the majority of the people in this city, except for when the Daedalus is docked." She sighed. "I’ve studied sociology, anthropology… I recognize the benefits of maintaining a professional distance in many cases. I don’t know if I could… send someone into danger, even death, if I cared about them in… that way.”
Teyla tried to understand this and found she could not. She had been a leader to her people – she still was, in many eyes – and while she had been with the Athosians through many difficult times she had never been in the position to send anyone into danger. Of course there were more and less hazardous duties when the Wraith attacked – safer to run ahead to prep the caves, more risky to wait behind for stragglers – but Teyla had never explicitly assigned these tasks to specific people. It was a matter of suitability. The faster ones ran ahead, the strongest carried supplies, the most wily waited to try and distract the Wraith and buy others more time. That was simply how it was done.
Every life lost during Teyla’s leadership was a bruise on her soul, because she had known every one of them, loved every one of them – even those she did not like. And she could never ask anyone – send anyone – to do a job she was not prepared to do herself.
But she and Elizabeth Weir were two very different people.
“But this isn’t some military outpost. And even people in the military, of any country, they aren’t eunuchs. Everybody is used to having the potential, the opportunity to make human connections, even if they don’t do anything about it. And humans need those connections. To try and forbid them… it would have caused more trouble than it was worth, and everybody who’s remained since we reestablished contact with Earth understands that.”
Teyla nodded, but she was thinking of Tillie Murphy, a botanist, and Sergeant Tom Hernandez, who had gone back to Earth with Weir, Sheppard, Rodney and the others after the siege had broken. Tillie and Tom had not been among those to return on the Daedalus. Weir had made no official pronouncement, but everyone in the city seemed to know that Tillie was pregnant, and it was Tom’s child; she had been removed from the expedition and he had decided to stay with her.
“Pegasus is hardly the place for a wee baby to be born in,” Carson had said, agreeing with the decision, apparently forgetting about the countless numbers of babies born in the Pegasus Galaxy every moment.
The message was clear. Form relationships, even fall in love, but make no real commitments. Did these people not understand that commitment was what held together a society in times of trial? What would Halling’s cousin do if he decided he wanted to make a commitment to the German woman? To whom would he go to ask a blessing, which was a necessary step in building bridges and gaining approval from one’s elders?
Struck by a strange thought, she looked quizzically at Weir. “Are you… giving John and me your blessing?”
Weir flushed a little, or maybe it was just the light of sunset on her face. “I suppose that you could say that.”
Teyla stared at her. “You do not understand,” she said, exasperated. “We are not seeking blessing – at least I am not. I am not even sure that I wish to feel this way!”
To her surprise, the doctor smirked. “Do you really think you have a choice in the matter?”
Teyla narrowed her eyes. She felt suspiciously as though she was being laughed at.
Weir sighed. “I know I’m not Kate Heightmeyer. But maybe if you talk to me, I can help.”
An ache was starting to form behind Teyla’s eyes, an ache very different than the one she associated with John, an ache that was all frustration and bottled emotion. “I have been… in love before. This is different. So complicated.”
“He’s a friend,” agreed Weir, nodding. "That makes it difficult."
“It is more than that,” Teyla explained, pressing a hand to her forehead. “We have responsibilities. And ways we are supposed to behave. I understand that. But sometimes we are ‘on-duty’ and sometimes we are not. One minute I am my own person, on my own time, and then something happens and I am no longer just Teyla. I am… a member of Colonel Sheppard’s team, or an asset to your expedition, I am… all of these different things. Sometimes he is ‘the Colonel’, and sometimes he is just John, and I do not know if I am in love with both of these sides of him or only one. It is as though you all split yourselves into many different people and expect each person to act differently.”
Weir’s expression was solemn. “It is complicated.”
Teyla sagged against the railing. “Yes.”
“So simplify it,” she said softly. “How do you feel about him?”
Desperate. Elated. Confused. Flushed. Nervous. Centered. Afraid to lose him. So afraid. “Helpless,” she said at last.
Weir’s brow furrowed; that wasn’t the answer she had been expecting. “I see.”
It was not a question that lent itself to easy answering. Weir said nothing and for a few minutes they lapsed into silence, watching the colors bleed from the sky and fade from the water.
“If I see any sign that this… any of it is affecting your work,” said Weir at last, “I’ll have to do something about it. That’s one of my responsibilities.”
And you will go to Rodney before you come to me. Teyla nodded stiffly. “I know. Thank you for your time, Dr. Weir.”
Teyla met John in the jumper bay a few days later, wearing her jacket and carrying her bag. He looked at her uncertainly as he approached. “I got your note.”
She offered him a tentative smile, all the apology she could muster for the scene in the gym, the coldness since then, and all the rest of it. There was no way she could actually say the words I am sorry because she was not sure if she had done anything worthy of offense, and if she had she was not sure that she regretted it. “Would you mind?”
“Of course not.” He looked over her ensemble and squirmed. “Planning on staying there long?”
“Not long,” she said mildly. “But too much time has passed since my last visit, and Dr. Weir assures me that there are no missions planned for a few days. I will not be missed.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You may not be specifically needed for something, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be missed.”
That earned him another smile, this one more certain. “I must have misunderstood,” she allowed. “Are you sure you will not be needed?” She had not cleared this ‘borrowing’ of Atlantis’ foremost pilot with anybody.
“They know where to find me,” he said, shrugging. “Besides, I’ve built up vacation time like you would not believe. Let’s go.”
Minutes later, over the water, he dared to initiate conversation. “So, did Elizabeth give you the Mom Talk, too?”
He cleared his throat, reddening slightly. “The Mom Talk. You know… about being responsible… ‘don’t let me catch you with your pants down’… that kind of thing.”
For the first time Teyla wondered how exactly Weir and Sheppard’s conversation had gone, and it occurred to her that it might have been a rather amusing moment. Not for him, of course, and probably not to Weir either, but to an outside observer… yes, very comic. “Not exactly.”
She tilted her head, curious. “Did your mother discuss such things with you?”
“Not exactly.” He watched the seemingly endless expanse of water rush towards and beneath them. It was a hypnotic sight. “It’s just one of those things people say, you know?”
No. She did not know. “I have been with your people for some time now,” she began calmly. “And there are short, strange moments where I almost feel that I have come to understand. That I have adapted. That I have become something like you. But how that can be when I don’t even understand…”
She trailed off, overwhelmed by the number of items on that list. John glanced at her. “What?”
“So many things,” Teyla sighed. “Why you do all that you do… why you would leave the safety of your home and come here, to a place you know nothing about. Why you have stayed rather than return home and remain there.”
Sheppard pursed his lips. “That’s a lot of questions. There’s a lot of answers for them, too.”
“But there are answers?”
“A set for every single person on the expedition, I would imagine.” He shrugged. “You’re right. You can’t understand if you don’t know. And… there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
This was undeniably true. And yet so was the simplicity that lay beneath all of the complex, churning emotions when she looked at him, when she thought of him, when she reached over and touched his hand. His eyes flickered up, surprised.
“But what I do know,” she said softly, “I care for. Very much.”
He met her eyes. He looked at her so steadily, for so long, that she began to wonder if maybe he shouldn’t be concerned about their flight path. But this was John Sheppard, and one thing she did know about him was that his skills in the air were not to be doubted.
Neither was his heart.
“Not just guilt,” he says, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
“No,” she conceded. “Not just guilt.”
* * *
She was never sure when she started loving him, but that was when she knew it to be true. Whatever it was, whatever forms it took for both Earther and Athosian, this was it.
After they were safely on the ground, on their way to the rear hatch, he kissed her. She kissed him back, smiling. She had to do it. She had no choice.
This was John, and she had to take the chance.