It's the tail-end of the monsoon season when they stumble through the 'gate, carrying all they have left of their home on their backs. The child in Teyla's womb twists fretfully as she steps down from the shelter of the platform into fitful rain and the churned, ankle-high mud that surrounds the 'gate for some distance. Some of the Sah must have been here not long ago, she decides, and looks to Ronon for confirmation; he nods at her silently and sets out to the south and east without a single word, Jennifer tight-lipped and silent at his side.
Teyla tightens the strap of her backpack before she follows him. Rodney sees her fiddle with it and offers to carry it for her, but she declines his help in a way she hopes is polite. She knows that they will all have to relearn how to carry their own burdens now; she has relied on others' help for too long, and it's an acquired weakness which has made her stumble. It's a bitter kind of knowledge to have gained, a lesson to dwell on as she makes her way across the plain, alone in the middle of two dozen survivors.
The rain gets heavier before it gets better; and as Teyla walks, gaze fixed on the dark ground, she curls one hand around the curve of her stomach, around her now fatherless child. She is so tired, and the going is so difficult, and it's so hard not to think.
It's coming up on nightfall when they get their first sighting of the Sah: the dim glow of dozens of camp fires through the driving rain, the blurred shape of tethered horses and the low, rounded domes of their peshna. It's a relief and it's a familiar sight to see them loom up like this, sudden and almost indistinguishable from the gentle curves of the Neh Gomei plains.
Her father had taken her here many times when she was young, partly to show her the skills of trading, partly to give her the opportunity to play with children of her own age. The Sah had been blessed with many children, where the Athosian numbers seemed to dwindle with each generation, lost to hunger and to Wraith and the coughing illness that came for many springs in a row. Teyla remembered the expression she'd sometimes seen in her father's eyes when he watched her play Hunter with Alin and Sulë, dodging in and out of rows of peshna and crowds of people—a strange kind of sadness on his face, an odd kind of yearning. Teyla hadn't understood it when she was still a carefree child, but she thinks she does now, when she is all but the last of her people.
She keeps her back very straight when she leads the damp and bedraggled group to meet with the Ket. A new leader, since Teyla was last here, but one just as generous and hospitable as her father was. A little proud, yes, a little stiff in her manner—Ket Arelia eyes her damp and tangled hair with something like bemusement at first, and Teyla has to fight the urge to tuck her hair behind her ears—but Teyla cannot truly fault the Ket there. She has kept her people safe and prosperous for over a generation, and in this galaxy, that is a worthy pride indeed.
The Ket hears their story through to the end, nodding along slowly as Teyla talks about the coming of the Wraith, the fall of the city, the three worlds which have already refused to take them in since their flight from Atlantis. She keeps calm, her painted eyebrows rising up only a little whenever Teyla's story reaches some particularly unbelievable height, or when Rodney, unwilling to let himself be restrained any longer by the intersection of John's elbow with his ribs, adds his own observations. Teyla can usually silence him with a look, though, and now is no exception.
Teyla closes her story with the traditional words, palms open wide in supplication. She's barely finished when the Ket stands to make the customary words of thanks, of welcome to those who have sought out her tribe for help and for a home. The Ket offers them all shelter, a place to stay among the Sah, and a horse of their own—the traditional offers for what Teyla must give them in return, which is the allegiance of these last Lanteans. She says the words which will make them one of the tribe with hardly any hesitation, though she can hear John shift behind her restlessly when he realises what she's doing.
She understands his concerns, his reluctance; the skin between her shoulder-blades itches as it always does when she is uneasy, because joining the Ket and their relative safety means turning their back on the city that's no longer theirs, means that she is giving up on her people, no matter for how short a time. But reluctance can be overcome, and must be, if they want to stop running for now; and so Teyla speaks over her own doubts, and pledges them all.
There are twenty-five of them, when all are counted: a random gathering of those who were lucky enough to be near the 'gate at the end. Teyla and her team; Laura Cadman and the remnants of hers; Jennifer Keller and the head nurse, Yee; Major Jordan and three botanists and a linguist; a cook from the mess hall and a handful of others whom Teyla knows by sight, if not by name.
Some of the Ket's family help them settle in when their audience with her is over. They lead them by torch light to guest accommodation, moving among them with the sad ease that comes from generation after generation of absorbing refugees just like them—offering dry clothes and bowls of piping hot stew, bed rolls and a kind word for one of the botanists, who has been crying silently, tears mixing with rain water on her cheeks, ever since they arrived. Myrthen, whom Teyla remembers as a small boy, round-cheeked and clinging to his mother's skirts, is now old enough to be directing the efforts; the earrings of a full-grown Sah man adorn his ears.
Teyla sits cross-legged on a mat in the corner, wrapped in a blanket, with her drying hair now pulled back neatly from her face, and looks on. John joins her after a little while, his hair drying in haphazard tufts around his head, the fine lines around his eyes and mouth made deeper by grief and loss. He's still wearing his black t-shirt and BDU jacket, but he's changed his ruined trousers for a pair of the loose, soft kind which the Sah favour. He looks as tired as she feels.
"Hey," he says when he sits down, his hands curled around a warm mug of stout tea, the kind for which the Athosians used to trade with the Sah. He's silent for a little bit, and Teyla counts down silently to the moment when he blurts out, "So, about that little ceremony back there..."
"Necessary," she replies shortly, "if we wanted the Ket to accept us."
"I'm not saying it wasn't," John says, and his tone is so gentle that it makes her come back to herself with a start; for John to be so quiet with her means that she has let herself wallow in her grief for far too long. She shakes herself mentally, and pays closer attention to what he is saying.
"I know that with what happened," John continues, "with Kanan and the other Athosians— and with the baby coming and well, with everything, you know what I'm talking about—and even if McKay's right, even if we find this weapon whenever we get to their city... I'm not saying this right." He breaks off, frustrated, and scrubs one hand through his still-damp hair.
"You are worried that having our allegiance pledged to the Sah will cause problems, especially since they are still strangers to you?" Teyla says.
"Yeah, that about sums it up."
"You have no need to worry, John. All the Sah ask is that you stand with them for as long as they stand with you; they will not prevent you leaving if you feel that it is time to move on, or if you think we have a real chance of regaining the city. They are no different from the people of most other worlds in that regard. As for my own allegiances—at this moment, they are my own concern."
"Well," John says, irony edging his tongue, looking up at her from beneath the unruly fringe of his hair, "once that's okay, then."
"It is," Teyla says firmly, in a voice that brooks no further discussion. She braces herself to stand with one hand, then makes her way over to the part of the tent where people are already preparing for sleep. She sets out her bed roll in the middle of the group, between where Rodney and Ronon already lie, and sinks onto it with an exhausted sigh, limbs aching and eyelids heavy. She curls, unconsciously, into Rodney's warmth as she falls asleep.
Teyla spends the next day talking with the Ket, mostly, indulging in the trade of stories and polite remembrances required of two acquaintances who have not seen one another in more than a decade. They sit in one of the grand peshna, its cover flap thrown open to let in the noise of rain falling on thick grass, the clean smell of it. It is a welcome change from Atlantis at the end, the heavy salt smell of the sea overlain with the fear-stink of sweat and desperation.
The older woman hums, considering, in the back of her throat at what Teyla tells her they hope to achieve. "And your Dr McKay thinks he can find all of this in Ket Gomei?"
"He hopes so, yes," Teyla says, shifting so that the cushions behind her are more comfortable against her lower back. "If your people are willing to help us. Rodney believes that a reference in the Ancestors' database referred to your city, and that if the weapon is truly buried there, it might help us to regain our city."
"Do you believe that too?" the Ket says, offering her another glass of shreh syrup, heavily sweetened.
Teyla accepts with a smile. "I have every confidence in Rodney's abilities," she says stiffly.
"That is not what I asked," the Ket replies, deliberately not looking at Teyla, her manner careful enough to cut. Teyla has not forgotten why her father and the Ket's got on so well—both of them were far too good at this kind of dance, and Teyla doesn't know if she will ever be able to match her father's footsteps.
"I am aware of that," Teyla says, but makes no further answer; she sits, and sips at her drink, and stares out at the falling rain.
When she rejoins her group, she finds Rodney elbow-deep in some kind of machinery, brow furrowed in concentration; Ronon is sitting in the far corner of the peshna, stripping and cleaning his gun while he watches Rodney work. Teyla would raise her eyebrows in surprise, but the only shock is that it's taken Rodney this long to find something mechanical even on a world like Gomei, whose people out of long habit try not to use much by way of technology when away from the safety of their city.
"It's a two-way radio," Rodney tells her without Teyla having to ask, not looking up from his work, "The Sah use them to keep in contact with one another while they're on the move; it's actually quite an elegant design considering this is a civilisation which hasn't worked out the secret of paved roads. Influenced by Ancient design, obviously, but I think, hmm... If I can up the efficiency of the power source and modify their signal range sufficiently, I should be able to contact the Daedalus when it returns to M35-117's solar system." He stretches out one hand without looking and unerringly selects a small screwdriver from the little fabric roll of tools he'd brought with him.
Teyla looks over at Ronon; he raises an eyebrow at her, but says nothing. She knows what he's thinking without him having to say it—Ronon's been living with the far side of running from the moment she met him. The bones of her face ache, like the skin's been stretched too tightly over them, like misery's settled in there deep, the loss of too many leaving her no room to hide, like it seems Rodney can.
She knows that after that last battle, after the great fire that had bloomed outwards and consumed the sky, the chances of any Earth ship returning to reclaim Atlantis are slim. She settles for saying, "That will be very useful, Rodney," because she knows it cannot hurt to try, and because she doesn't want to strip him of that last hope.
Teyla leaves him to his work, ducking out of the tent in search of John, but she cannot find him anywhere; hundreds of the Sah milling around this temporary town, dozens of people she knows from childhood who would have her stop and talk with them, to reminisce about her father and bid welcome to his grandchild, but there is no sign of that familiar mop of dark hair, the ambling gait.
When she reaches the middle of the camp, where the great cook-fires are—two great cesue deer slowly roasting on spits over the flames—and the greatest number of people, she stands on tip-toes to see if she can spot him anywhere. She is about to start her second circuit of the open space when she realises what she is doing—trying to find John so that she can gain some kind of emotional reassurance, know that there is someone who feels just as she does—John Sheppard—and then Teyla's fighting back laughter, helpless, one hand pressed tight over her mouth, and wondering how it all came to this.
The Sah are ready to move on from the campsite after three days have passed. The last of the drizzling rain has died away, their end of year festival is over, trading with representatives of other tribes completed, and so they collapse their homes, round up their animals, and pack up to begin the long trip back to Ket Gomei. It will take a while before extra peshna are made to accommodate the new arrivals, but they are each given their own horse to ride straight away, just like any other member of the tribe. Major Jordan turns his down, a childhood fear of horses making him prefer to walk rather than spend the day in the saddle; the Ket blinks at him, but doesn't query his refusal, for all that the Sah find someone who refuses to ride as incomprehensible as Teyla would find a flying beffa toad.
The rest of them all take to riding, though. Teyla is glad of her neat little palomino pony, carefully selected by one of the horse-masters to be just the right height for her to mount without too much difficulty as her pregnancy progresses. It is a sibling of the one given to Jennifer, and the two horses like to walk placidly next to one another, part of the great stream that is this entire civilisation on the move. John receives a workman-like bay gelding, not swift, but steady; Ronon causes Lek more difficulty with choosing from his herd, but eventually the man produces a big, black horse which seems fit more for the plough than for anything else, but is the only animal capable of carrying someone of Ronon's size such a great distance.
Ronon rides easily, the product of a boyhood spent on a Satedan farm; Jennifer has little experience, but picks it up quickly enough, lithe and light. John knows enough to control his horse, to work with it, but Teyla's eye tells her he will never be a graceful rider; she has had to smooth ointment over the results of too many tumbles from the saddle for her to ever believe otherwise. Rodney is the surprise, though; if Teyla had given any thought to the matter before, she would have classed him as someone liable to be uneasy around horses, awkward and clumsy in the saddle. And yet he becomes swiftly, surprisingly, fond of his placid grey mare and is more than competent.
"My mom's uncle had a farm in Alberta," he tells her, smiling, when she expresses her surprise. "We went there a lot when I was a kid. Jeannie was always better than me, but, well, I remembered more than I thought I would." He looks a little embarrassed then, before he urges on his horse with a tap of his heels and a squeeze of thighs to catch up with Ronon and John, riding at the head of their little cluster.
They move slowly across the grasslands, progress constrained by numbers and the progress of the supply wagons over ground that's still damp; but Teyla has not ridden regularly for some time, and by the end of the day her back aches even more than before, and her gait is stiff when she moves across the campground to find where the others are cooking their rations. The smell is an odd mixture of the thick stew they favour here, mixed with the slightly less pleasing aroma of the MREs Rodney likes so much; and yet Teyla sits down on the grass next to Rodney and eats with as much enthusiasm as he does. She is truly glad that the sickness which had dogged her in early pregnancy is well behind her.
"Y'okay?" Rodney mumbles at her around a mouthful of food. There are dark bruises of tiredness around his eyes, and three day's beard growth on his cheeks, and a spot of gravy on the tip of his nose, but the look in his eyes is that mixture of worry and distraction and kindness which she has grown to expect from him lately. "How y'feeling?"
Her people are gone and her city is lost; what should she be feeling? But he means well, Teyla knows; so she smiles at him, and tells him that she is a little tired, but that she will be fine. She says the same to John when he joins them, flopping down to sit cross-legged by the fire; and the same to Ronon when he joins their circle; and by the time Jennifer tells her that Teyla must let her know if she feels anything out of the ordinary, Teyla's smile is almost genuine.
"Really," she says, resting her hands upon the swell of her stomach, "I will be well." She can believe now that it might be true, that the anger will fade, in time.
"You know," Jennifer says to her one morning, mouth curving up in a wry smile, "Sometimes I wonder if they were just pretending to be grown-ups before." She's riding alongside Teyla, their horses ambling along at the steady pace which eats up the miles surprisingly quickly, but her gaze is fixed on the rolling green horizon. It's early still, and someone in the cavalcade is playing a fella flute, gathering a mellow call and response of voices that is broken only by a child's fretful crying.
Teyla can just about make out the silhouettes of John and Rodney and Ronon, their distant shouts as they urge their horses on to some finish line she cannot see, a whoop of joy that might have been John's.
"No," Teyla says, after a long moment, "I think that sometimes they were just pretending how to be happy."
Jennifer shoots her a sharp look, which Teyla pretends not to see. "Really?" she says, voice just that little bit too careful, and Teyla is reminded once more just how young the other woman is, comparatively speaking. Life hasn't quite taught her subtlety yet.
"Things can be different here," Teyla says, thoughts of Atlantis and New Athos and the last she'd seen of Kanan, the screen flickering to static in the instant before the shattering roar of that last explosion, coming back to her before she can push them away. "We can be different." She makes her horse trot on before Jennifer can reply.
Some of the others cluster together in groups of three or four as the weeks go by, taking over each new peshna as it's built; the botanists conspiring to create a home which looks more like a strange, moveable forest, its green felt covering sheltering dozens of different kinds of shrubs, planters of medicinal seedlings, and several beds of plants with palmate leaves which make John's eyebrows rise in consideration. The Marines crowd together into two others; a little snug, Cadman tells Teyla wryly, but it makes them feel nostalgic for the barracks back in basic, and it's not like the sanitary conditions are much worse.
Ronon and Jennifer set up house together quietly, just the two of them in a small peshna that's always crowded with Jennifer's patients. Ronon shaves his beard and crops his hair; he doesn't explain it to the others, but Teyla knows the Satedan custom of a soldier cropping his or her hair in contemplation of marriage. In fact, Ronon doesn't talk much about Jennifer to any of the team, but Teyla suspects he is the happiest he has been in a long time. As Atlantis recedes further into the distance with each mile they travel he uncoils a little more. Sometimes, in the quietest part of the early morning, when Teyla is returning from the bathing area, she sees the two of them standing together, talking quietly; lost in one another, one of Ronon's big hands will reach out to cup Jennifer's cheek before she stands on tip toes to kiss him, her arms winding around his neck. Teyla tells herself she is glad for them; she is, and she knows the envy will pass when she is ready to let her grief and her anger go.
Somehow, she ends up sharing a peshna with John and Rodney; not through any firm decision, but because all three of them had silently decided to wait til all the others were housed before seeing to their own comfort, and so the last had been left to them alone. It is perhaps not what Teyla herself would have chosen in an ideal world—the child in her womb is quickening day by day, it feels like, and she had grown to rely on the luxury of a room on her own in Atlantis, to love her solitude—but it is not an ideal world, and this is not so bad. The Ket makes Teyla a personal gift of a large bed and a cradle, intricately woven tapestries to hang on the walls during the coldest nights, and enough blankets to warm all four of them, when the time comes. And Teyla has shared living space with both men before, on off-world missions, and they all know how to live around one another; both are neat, in defiance of expectation, and both of them spent most of the days when they were in camp outdoors, Rodney working on some engineering problem or other, John... off doing whatever it is that John does.
She asks John, once, what he spends his time doing on the one day out of every three when they make camp. He disappears on those days from sunup til sundown, though his horse, Knievel, stays grazing and tethered next to Ronon's. John just looks at her sidelong, delays for a while by chewing his mouthful of stew as thoroughly as he possibly can, before he swallows and smiles tightly and says, "Eh, you know. The usual."
Teyla doesn't, and fights the urge to roll her eyes, because what else should she have expected from John? But then she smiles at herself and thinks yes but, well, John. She knows him. And that is more than enough.
One of Rodney's peculiar talents include the ability to attract children wherever he goes, no matter how unwelcome their presence may be to him; the children of the Sah prove no exception, drawn to his acid tongue and the melodrama of his reactions to them. Teyla knows that he's already begun to harangue some of the older ones who follow them around with what he thinks is an irritated criticism of their stupidity, but which they regard with delight as a form of extempore lessons on maths and physics and engineering. It goes beyond that, though—once, Teyla finds him trying to make notes on the adapted Ancient solar cells which the Sah use for power and for water treatment, with one toddler attached to his leg like some kind of hairless lenna monkey, and another perched on his shoulders, chubby fists clenched in his hair.
"Don't say a word," he says tiredly, before she can so much as open her mouth. "Not even one word."
"I would never do such a thing," Teyla replies lightly, leaning against the frame of the tent and kneading at the small of her back, trying to work out some of the ache which the last part of her pregnancy has settled there. By rights, she should have been resting in bed as Jennifer had ordered; but she's restless, she can't lose herself in practising with her bantos rods as she once could, and she knows of no better source of distraction now than Rodney, his mobile hands and quick words.
"Hmm," Rodney says, half non-committal, half focused on the component he's holding in one hand, "Maybe, maybe not. If I'm lucky, there might just be a look. But you've spent too much time with John for me to feel sanguine either way."
"Why, Rodney," Teyla says, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards with the force of her repressed laughter, "My amma was right—real wisdom truly does come with age." She lets the sound of his spluttering, insincere outrage cheer her all the way back to their peshna to take a nap.
The stars that wheel overhead of Neh Gomei are thick and clear and sharp. Atlantis had always skirted the edges of Pegasus, standing guard at the point where the galaxy dwindled away into the immense void that stood between it and the Milky Way; her skies lit only by her moons, or the swift-moving glow of an Ancient satellite. Neh Gomei, though, is one of the core worlds, close to the centre of the bright creation of the galaxy; at night, its stars burn with a light strong enough to draw the eye upwards in wonder.
Teyla is drawn out to watch it over and over, sitting on the sweet grass with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders—especially on the nights when the child in her belly is restless and kicks with a painful energy. The others join her with varying frequency. Sometimes it's Jennifer—bringing with her the knitting that she's taken up with a skill that one could charitably describe as being better than Teyla's own—but not often. Star gazing reminds her too much of the father she'll never see again and of the telescope that he kept set up on the deck at the back of his house. Ronon and Cadman she sees hardly at all. John and Rodney, though, they join her almost every night, the two of them together.
They flank her, one on either side, their bodies warm beneath the heavy, lined blanket that normally serves as coverlet on Teyla's bed and their cheeks tingling in the cool air. Inevitably, as the evening wears on, Rodney grows drowsy and quiet, his body slumped against Teyla's, one hand resting on her belly and his breath stirring her hair—but John, John grows positively talkative, relatively speaking.
In return for Teyla's tales of the days when Athos was still a shining city strung out across a series of hills, he shares with her stories that he says are traditional tales from Earth, stories that are passed from parent to child and on again. Rodney often objects, saying that there was never a guy from Texas called Luke Skywalker, and that there is no province in Canada called Hoth, growing cranky when John tells him blandly that he's just not remembering his Earth folk tales right. Teyla doesn't tell either of them that she had watched the first of the Star Wars movies with Ronon long ago; she's waiting for the best moment to let them know that she is fully aware of the meaning behind the references to Princess Leia's gold bikini. Besides, John's somewhat liberal recounting of the plot amuses her, his melding of well-known story and personal wish; from his and Rodney's bickering, Teyla is building a new story, one whose ending she doesn't quite know yet.
John tells Teyla once that there's something about nights like these—crisp air and warm bodies huddled close, a sky that seems close enough to touch—that reminds him of being a teenager in a place called Nevada. "Not really like here," he says, passing over a mug of warmed shreh syrup. "Nevada's mostly desert, empty. But that sky... Biggest I'd ever seen, y'know?"
"Do you miss it?" Teyla asks, her mind not on the desert called Nevada but on a certain clearing in the woods back on Athos, a rope bridge over a slow-flowing river, the first boy she'd ever kissed. The memory carries a certain ache with it, but she is not sure what kind any longer; she turns it over in her mind; strange.
John shifts against her, a movement that would be inconsequential in anyone else, but which counts as fidgeting with John. "Nah," he says in the end, "I—nothing there to miss. I'm here, now."
Teyla nods, careful not to look up at him just then; she will not repay his confidence, however small, by pushing him for more. Next to her, Rodney stirs and mumbles something about dumplings, and goes back to snoring softly in her ear.
The pains start in the middle of the night, but they don't begin to trouble Teyla enough to seek out Jennifer until the next morning. Jennifer fusses over her with all the solicitude of someone who has not been present at many births, or had much experience with small children.
Teyla submits with as much grace as she is capable of; and she is glad of Jennifer's presence anyway, knowing that she will need her strength for what is to come. The next ten hours are restless and relentless, alternate periods of pain and of waiting punctuated by the low murmuring noises of Jennifer and some of the Sah midwives around her, the louder voices of Rodney and Ronon and John outside.
Somewhere around the eighth hour, Teyla amuses herself by imagining that the agitated cadence of Rodney's voice is purposefully in time with her breathing; but then everything outside of herself is forgotten in the need to push, the encouraging voices of Mekla and Thynna, the strange burning sensation of her child working its way free of her body, the sob that breaks free from her throat—because she has not lost everything, not after all—when Jennifer places the squirming little one at her breast and says "Congratulations, Teyla, you have a beautiful baby girl."
Teyla gives her the name Elizabeth ne Kanan Emmagan, because it is the tradition of her house to name their children in honour of those who fell fighting. She has a thick tuft of hair as black as her father's had been, and when she feeds, her tiny fist grips Teyla's finger with a strength which makes Teyla joke that she will be able to bring Ronon down one day soon.
The Ket holds the child up in the middle of the Ninth Day Meeting to welcome her, along with the other new-borns of that week, and to name her a daughter of Athos and of the Sah; but John and Rodney, who are smitten with her from the start, take to calling her Beth, and it sticks. They swiftly overcome their apprehension at being entrusted with so small a being; in fact, Teyla sometimes has to use a certain tone of voice with them when she wants to spend time with her own daughter. Rodney lulls her to sleep after feeds with tales of astrophysics and exclamations of wonder at how small her fingernails are. John takes to carrying her around in a sling strapped to his chest while he goes about his business in the camp grounds, or when he rides out, once she gets a little bigger; showing her the world she will grow into as deftly as Rodney is showing her the universe she lives in.
For all Rodney's skill with his hands, for all his manual dexterity, he never becomes adept at changing Beth; he's all thumbs and distaste, and inevitably hands her over to John. John never grumbles, though, accepts it all with good grace and a certain wrinkling of his nose. "You know," he informs Beth seriously, on one of the days when she's produced something especially noxious, "I know you're aiming high, but I think you're on course to make a bigger stink than your Papa Rodney one of these days."
Teyla bends her head more closely over her work—fletching the small arrows which she will use to teach archery to some of the young ones this week—to hide her smile, but for once Rodney seems inclined to take the high ground. He's lying on a nest of blankets in the centre of the peshna, scribbling in the thick notebook which nowadays mostly takes the place of his tablet; Teyla can hear him sniff, but he doesn't look up from what he's writing. "If you object to the human digestive process that much," Rodney says loftily, "you don't have to change her."
"Nah," John says, swaddling Beth up again and picking her up, letting her nestle into the crook of his arm, where she coos and smacks at his chest with one little fist, "S'okay. It's not so bad when they're your own." This time, when Teyla turns her face away, it's to hide a very different expression.
That they become a family is a gradual thing, to be expected; she has loved them both too long and too well for her heart to have been led anywhere else; and it was to be expected, too, that Rodney would end up in her bed one night, all gentle hands and shockingly gentle words, kissing his way down the curve of her belly and making her bite her lower lip when she comes, shaking. It is not gratitude which makes her press close to him afterwards, resting her head on his chest and revelling in the quick pulse of his heart beneath her ear, it is something better, something more—she is glad of him.
John doesn't meet their eyes the next morning over breakfast, but Teyla knows it is not from disgust or embarrassment; she knew from the sound of his breathing last night that he had only been feigning sleep, that he had been watching them. Her only surprise is that it takes him two further nights to be led to their bed, conversations with Rodney outside the peshna escalating from hushed to agitated until Rodney draws him back inside to them; until John's settling warm and nervous between her thighs while Rodney gentles him down with kisses, while Rodney's big hands on John's hips guide the rhythm of his thrusts into her.
Rodney is a quick study; two nights have been enough for Teyla to teach him what she likes, how deep and how hard, and he teaches John all of that now. Shows John all the ways to give pleasure to the both of them, reaching around to tease at Teyla's clit while he presses up against the small of John's back and slowly rubs himself off; tilts John's head around to kiss him teasingly before he pushes John down to kiss Teyla in turn. They are both beautiful, kneeling over her, and John is thick and hot and hard inside her, his breath trembling against her neck with every inhale and exhale, his mouth tracing wordless vows against her collarbone when she comes, back arching and skin sparking with heat; and later, when she straddles Rodney and sinks down onto him, thighs clenching against Rodney's hips, John presses himself up against Rodney's side, touches both of them, and whispers please, please, as if he's the one she's taking apart with every move she makes.
When she wakes up between the two of them the next morning, she finds that she's warm maybe for the first time since they left Atlantis; Rodney to her right and John to her left, one of John's hands curved around the smooth line of her breast, and Beth snuffling in her crib in the far corner of the tent.
Beth is three months old by the time the great caravan of the Sah crests one last low hill and looks down on the valley where Ket Gomei lies. "It's beautiful," Rodney breathes when he sees it, voice instinctively low when faced with the sight of that wide, deep valley, sun-warmed and wooded, the white-painted houses of the city sprawling vivid against the greenery of the far valley wall. Most of the caravan breaks away, heading down the slopes back to the pastures and the orchards where the Sah spend most of their year; the air is alive with the sound of a thousand farewells, a promise to meet up with friend and family later in the year, when they will ride over the plains and hunt together once more.
Ronon salutes them as he canters down the hill, urging his horse on to catch up with Jennifer's little pony, to reach the little house in the centre of the city where they have been told they can live in return for Jennifer's work as a doctor and Ronon's work as an apprentice. It is hard for Teyla to watch them leave, though it makes sense; the curve of Jennifer's belly is already beginning to show, and Teyla knows Jennifer would much rather be settled when her time comes. Her friend is not a wanderer at heart. Cadman and Jordan and the others have gone on ahead, eager to take up posts in the House Guard of the Ket.
After a few hours, only the occupants of half a dozen or so peshna are left—those who will continue on up into the mountains to trade and to hunt and to scout out new pastures for their flocks. Teyla and her little family will go with them; John had argued in favour of them seeing more of their new world, and Teyla could find no opposition to his almost boyish eagerness.
"Are you sure that you do not wish to visit the archives?" Teyla says to Rodney as they turn their horses in the direction of the sinking sun. He had agreed almost readily to John's suggestion, but there was a quality to his silence which made Teyla think it was not an easy acquiescence. "It is not too late to change your mind, you know."
Rodney shakes his head. "It was a long shot anyway; even with those last changes to their code, they can still defend themselves from us," he says. "And there are too many of them now, and not enough of us, even if no more Wraith means that our attention wouldn't be divided." He shifts restlessly in the saddle, as if there's something else he's not telling, as if he's only giving her a half truth. "Besides, it'll still be there if we want to come back to it."
Teyla watches his profile after he stops speaking, seeing in its tanned lines and the set of his jaw all the reasons that he's not mentioning: that they don't want to risk going back because they're happy here, now. The Replicators have Atlantis, yes, but it's a hollow victory for them with their ability to attack humans gone for good, every sky-seeking spire of Atlantis a reminder to them that they will never be able to ascend. The Wraith are dying in ever greater numbers, the genetic poison which they had unleashed on one hive ship blooming outwards throughout the galaxy, leaving nothing but clear skies in its wake; and really, what do they have to fight for now beyond what they have here? What would Teyla want to live for beyond what she has found: two warm bodies to share her bed and two men she loves with a fierceness that still takes her aback; a daughter she adores with an intensity that doesn't surprise her at all; the song that she hums when faced with this, the prospect of riding free between sweet-smelling grass and a wide-open sky.