Medium: pencil, colored pencil, photoshop
Notes: nonsexual nudity (no visible dangly bits). Lots of room for interpretation, potential for angst (or not -- it's really how you want to look at it), science fiction elements.
Title: Figure Eights, Infinity, Helixes Forming
Rating: PG (for swearing)
Pairing(s): John/Rodney, past Teyla/Kanaan
Summary: Teyla dreams
Notes: With grateful thanks to dogeared for brainstorming help and invaluable beta skills, and to mashimero for her kindness and understanding.
Figure Eights, Infinity, Helixes Forming
In her dream, each was vulnerable, baring the nape of his neck to whomever might look. It was this at which Teyla marveled. Standing at the edge of an unfamiliar dreamscape, she looked upon her team curled waiting, poised in what seemed like sleep. That they were naked did not shock her. She had seen their bodies – filthy, bleeding, sweating, vivid – too many times to count.
But these bowed heads, these touched her – the curve of Ronon's spine and the fall of his hair; the loose, weary circle of John's arms about his knees; Rodney, so rigid, his body tensed and eyes closed as he willed the world away.
She had questions, but what words came to mind fell away before she could speak them – this was not a place for talk. Quietly she kept her vigil as her team, in utter stillness, kept theirs.
"Did any of you experience unusual dreams last night?" Teyla asked at breakfast.
There was a moment's silence, a brief lull in the general mayhem of eating, drinking, and exchanging information, ribald gossip, and sports scores from Ashnik on the outer edges of the solar system.
"Define 'unusual,'" Rodney said, breaking the moment, peering warily over the rim of his coffee mug.
"A dream you have not had before," Teyla offered. "A dream that could . . . " She thought about how best to articulate her meaning. "Something to which you have not paid sufficient attention."
"Is this going to end up with me punching myself in the face?" asked John.
"I don't dream," offered Ronon.
Rodney typed a string of letters and numbers into his datapad. "I'm pulling up the mission reports for the last 72 hours. If anyone been near anything that . . ."
"I do not suspect the involvement of outside forces or other species," Teyla interrupted, trying to invest her words with a patience she didn't necessarily feel. "Nor do I believe," she continued forestalling Rodney's next question, "that there has been Ancient or Wraith interference in my sleep patterns. I was just . . . curious."
"I dreamed I was chopping lettuce," said Rodney, waving his fork. "Not the iceberg kind, the expensive kind with the fancy colored edges, doesn't need chopping, it's the kind you rip, but there I was, chopping lettuce in this air hangar in the middle of nowhere and I was trying to remember the fingering to the Chopin piece I played for the North Shore Music Festival back in – anyway, that doesn't matter, because then? Then? Then I woke up and found Zelenka had frozen himself in carbonite, only I wasn't really awake, that came after."
"You get him out?" John asked.
"Of course. Same sequence Leia used."
"So this is about a dream you had?" Ronon asked Teyla, bumping his tray against hers to get her attention.
"That is not important."
"Of course it's important!" Rodney blustered. "It's the difference between a hypothetical situation and a concrete matter of . . . what did you dream?"
"Again," Teyla offered, raising her mug of tea to her lips. "It is not important."
John raised an eyebrow. "Ohhhh. One of those dreams."
"It is not any particular kind of dream – "
"Naked," Ronon suggested.
"Totally naked," Rodney agreed. "Who was it? Caldwell? Sam?"
"Hermiod," John murmured gloomily.
Teyla let out a long, slow breath. "The content is immaterial . . . "
"Naked," Ronon said again, grinning.
Teyla decided upon a change of tactics. "Yes. You were all extremely naked."
There was a long moment of silence.
"Well," Rodney offered, his voice a little strained. "This isn't awkward at all."
She was visited by the dream again two nights later. Her team rested as before, curled in supplication or defense or sleep – she could not tell which of these caused their silence, their bowed heads, their inactivity. She tried to move closer but was prevented, by what she could not tell, and so she loosened her body, stood as witness, watched to see what clue the dream might give.
Pillars stood, sentries between stone and shore, a circle to surround her team, to separate them from the water that lapped serenely in the distance of the dreamscape. There was light amid the scene, light above, light beyond them, winking, blurring as though shining through cloud, streaming from heights she could not fathom, forming patterns that shifted and were gone. There was warmth here, trust, and yet still no one spoke. Teyla closed her own eyes, let herself fall into the welcome of the nowhere place.
"Rodney!" Teyla called, catching sight of Rodney's back just before he turned a corner. "Rodney – wait." She hurried down the corridor after him, catching him by the elbow. "You missed our appointment this morning."
"Ah, yes," Rodney said waspishly. "Ritual beating with sticks. How silly of me."
Teyla slowly raised one eyebrow. "And you could not radio to let me know?" She let her hand drop. "That has been your practice on previous occasions where you were called away to urgent business."
Rodney colored slightly and his mouth tightened. "I. Might have been distracted," he said, voice pitched just a fraction too high.
"Oh?" Teyla waited.
He sighed and pulled three thick envelopes from the inside of his uniform jacket. "Mail from Earth."
Teyla could see the scrawl of Jeannie's familiar handwriting. "Is there bad news?"
"I don't know, I haven't opened them yet." Rodney's neck turned a darker shade of pink in the seconds that followed. "Look, it's very disturbing, okay, to do my job, and to know what I know, and to have a sister out there, willy nilly just – " he waved his hand, "gallivanting around Canada when the Ori could strike at any minute, and then there's the fact that the Wraith could find Earth, I mean, that's surely only a matter of time don't you think, before they figure it out, or adjust their engines, or, god, adjust their engines, everything I'm saying right now is making me stupider." He slumped against the wall. "And I'm saying all this to you? I mean, you've lost, oh, god, only almost everyone to the Wraith already and you've been through all kinds of things, and your son is off doing his – what do you call it – elder year, learning things with berries and old people and you have to trust that your whole community is going to be safe or he's – and here I am, worried about the statistical probability of my sister being eaten by space vampires when the space vampires are actually here? Please, just shoot me now."
Teyla hid her smile and laid her hands on Rodney's upper arms, bent her head and waited for him to respond, to rest his brow against hers. "And so you do not read her letters for fear that you will think all this?"
"Well." Rodney huffed a breath that brushed over Teyla's nose. "That's the theory."
"Only . . ."
"Only I already am thinking about it, I know, I know." He made a strangled noise.
Teyla squeezed his arms and straightened slowly. "Perhaps we might go somewhere quiet. I am always fascinated by the photographs Jeannie includes – the magazine articles about the injuries sustained by hockey players are quite interesting. You could open the letters. For me."
Rodney pressed his lips together, staring at the letters in his hand. "I try to only care about people who can use a gun, these days," he said wistfully, one corner of his mouth twitching in something like wry humor. "At least they can defend themselves."
Teyla smiled. "I have heard Jeannie's turns of phrase. She is not defenseless."
"Ha." Rodney met her gaze. "Point."
"So. The magazine articles?"
"Fine." Rodney nodded determinedly and hooked her hand around his arm. "Fine. I'll open the letters. But only because you want to see what's inside. It's just one of a hundred things I do daily for other people. I give and I give . . . "
"You do indeed," Teyla said, nodding gravely, and she only let herself smile after Rodney had done so first.
When the dream came next, it was changed. Where Rodney had once sat, tense and rigid, there was only light – light that swooped and changed, tumbling in and over itself, wrapping figure eights, infinity, helixes forming in front of Teyla's eyes. She glanced at John, who remained quiet and still; at Ronon crouched as though he might spring forward at any moment, as though he might run . . .
Oh, Teyla thought, and pressed a hand over her heart. Is this your purpose?
The light tumbled on.
John's skill with a bantos rod was still that of a reasonably competent child, but, like a child, he was sometimes gifted with moments of accidental genius, and as he tripped Teyla that morning she was surprised he did not throw back his head and crow.
"Well done," she said generously as he offered her his hand, smirking all the while. "It has been some time since you attained m'atachanaa."
Confusion flitted across John's face, but he hid it quickly. "Yeah," he said, nodding with forced nonchalance. "Sure. That."
Teyla laughed softly. "I see your lessons in Athosian have not yet taken root." He did not respond. "M'atachanaa is a proficiency in song, usually fulfilled by a child's third birthday."
"I knew that." John twirled his bantos rod. "Just – you know. Playing along."
"Quite." Teyla ambled to the window seat. "Perhaps we call an end to our practice for the day."
"Eh, I could go some more, but if you're tired . . ."
Teyla narrowly prevented herself from rolling her eyes. "Instead, might I pose a question?"
John flopped down on the window seat beside her. "Okay."
"When thinking of Ronon – is there any particular . . . vulnerability that comes to mind?" She wiped down her bantos rods with a soft cloth. "Something that might . . . "
"Left shoulder." John nodded when she looked up at him. "Makes him slower if you're coming up with a jab to the . . ." He demonstrated, making pow pow noises as he pretended to box.
"His shoulder," Teyla repeated, feeling a little dazed.
"Other than that – nothing. Guy's a fortress."
"I was thinking," Teyla said gently, choosing her words, "more of . . . personal vulnerabilities. Emotional."
John froze, eyebrows raised. "Huh," he said, looking slowly toward the door.
Teyla tsked. "I realize this is not your forté, and I would not ask if not for . . . " She raised a hand, then let it fall when she realized she had no gesture that could make this more comprehensible. "You are good friends. I wondered if, perhaps, you knew something that . . . You must talk?"
"Talk." John nodded slowly. "Sure. We talk."
"And that perhaps he would confess to you things which he might . . ."
John leaned in closer. "Sex things?"
"No, no, not – " She paused, revising her thoughts. "It is perhaps possible that yes, matters of the body may be involved, but no, that is – you talk about sex things with Ronon?"
John folded his arms and looked up at the ceiling. "No." He glanced sidelong in her direction. "I mean. He can have a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend."
Teyla stared at him. People from Earth were utterly confounding. "Is that not obvious?"
"Right." John looked at the ceiling again.
It seemed there was no particular insight she might glean from this conversation – only a headache to be bought by pursuing things further. "Well. I am grateful for this . . . frank conversation," Teyla managed. "Perhaps later we might shoot things."
"Awesome." John's body relaxed in a moment and he grinned at her. "Yeah. Okay. So, I'll radio you after – I got a thing with . . . " He stood, and clapped her on the shoulder. "Good sticks." And he left.
With the datapad that she and Rodney had customized to her needs, Teyla could access all the files of the Atlantis expedition for which she had clearance, including most reports related to her team. She spent the afternoon rereading Ronon's debriefing after his arrival on base; his memories of Sateda; the tactics that had allowed him to survive, defying the anger of the Wraith for so long. That avenue too quickly exhausted, she turned to the Ancients' own libraries, to the texts that spoke of ritual and ceremony on a thousand planets, to the cultural observations that preserved ideas and hopes and religious rite where none were left to imbue them with life.
It took time, after that – days that stretched into trying weeks – to find the correct silk on an off-world mission; longer still to find someone who might weave what she required. The dream came twice more while she laid her plans, and was still the same – light where Rodney had existed, John, silent, Ronon poised as though pleading and yet readying himself for flight at the very same time.
By the third Betnah moon, Teyla's gift was ready – a blanket woven in greens and blues, a thin red thread running hem to heel along one hand-stitched edge. She waited with patience for the means to transfer ownership, seized her opportunity one darkening evening, seeking Ronon at his quarters after a day in the field. "I understand it is traditional," she said, standing at his threshold. "A Tedat bolt for the base of your bed."
Ronon took the fabric in his hands, stepped back from her unsteadily. "At home, yeah."
"And is this not your home now?" she asked.
Ronon's expression, when he met her gaze, was haunted, and for a second she wondered at the wisdom of what she had done. When he spoke, however, it was without anger. "Maybe," he said.
"Maybe?" she repeated.
He ducked his head, crossed his room, and with an easy hand beckoned her inside. "Home's permanent."
"Do you wish to leave?" she asked as the door closed behind her.
"No." He rubbed the Tedat between thumb and forefinger. "But that's not always a choice a person gets to make."
"Ah." She smiled carefully, and sat at the edge of his mattress. "You believe they will come here, looking for you." She meant the words as a question, but when they rolled off her tongue as a statement of fact she could not dispute their sincerity.
"Maybe." Ronon shrugged, but the gesture was awkward, an ill-fit across shoulders that had borne much.
"And if they did, do you think that we would let them take you again? We did not let them take you before. We brought you home."
Ronon grimaced, wrestling with something inside before he spoke. "And every time that happened, one of you would be putting your life on the line," he said, his teeth gritted fast. "There's been too much – all of it. Death. Killing. Sacrifice. I won't . . . " He bit off his own words.
Teyla studied the floor tiles beside his feet. "You had good friends on Sateda."
"You would have given your life for any of them just as we would give our lives for you." She looked up at him. "Is that not the very definition of home, given all that we face? That I will stand beside you if they come, that I believe your life as worthy as mine?"
Ronon made a face and swallowed hard. "Look what happened to my homeworld, to – "
"And my people also. And a hundred thousand more."
Ronon said nothing.
"Accept this place as your home," she whispered. "Can ill come from setting down roots in such a place?"
"If I could . . ." Ronon stepped forward, halted, then sat beside her, cloth still wadded in his hands. "Roots are . . ."
"They are what we have left," Teyla offered, laying her hand atop his. "Will you not spread the Tedat? It was, as John might say, a royal pain in regions best unmentioned, for me to supply."
Ronon barked a laugh, his face lighting up briefly with unexpected mirth. "How can I refuse when you say it like that?" he asked, reaching behind her to shake the blanket out. He tugged at the cloth, smoothed it a little. "Good color," he said. "Clan."
"And red for Atlantis," she smiled.
He smiled wryly. "Sounds about right." And he kissed her roughly on the brow.
Only John lingered on in Teyla's dream after that, forehead still pressed gently against his knees, face all but hidden. Light chased lazily around him, spinning warmth from the dreamscape's twilight hues, yet he did not stir, did not sweat – he breathed slowly, his spine stretching skin as he lingered in something that seemed like peace.
But the scene was lonely without Rodney and Ronon. That John sat, showing no expectation that much might change, did not surprise her – here, head bowed, neck bare, he was something more than a military commander, someone quite different from the man who might issue orders and shoulder a gun. Here he was naked in every sense, and yet lingered in solitude. Teyla wished she might move toward him, but the dream held her fast.
"I have not seen John today," Teyla remarked as she sat down to dinner, placing her glass of cold fyka ale away from the reach of Rodney's elbows. "There have been messages, but . . . "
"Oh, you won't," Rodney said blithely, tucking into an enormous sandwich of something he liked to call bacon, although there was no baking of the Taag beast involved. He chewed enthusiastically, humming a little. Ronon was similarly occupied, although without musical accompaniment.
"I will not?" Teyla prompted, hoping to coax Rodney from his reverie.
Rodney chewed a little faster, and mercifully swallowed before he said much more. "It's the anniversary of when his mom died."
Ronon paused in his chewing. "Huh."
Teyla turned the new information over in her mind. "I did not know that he marked such a day. "
Rodney nodded. "He doesn't like to – you know. Talk about it. Ever, really. I mean, I know, and I'm sure it's okay that you know, but it's probably best you don't say anything to him about it. He gets . . . weird."
"Was his loss recent?" Teyla asked.
"No, no. He was a kid. It's just . . . " Rodney scrunched up his face for a second. "Things got kinda rough after that. He and his dad . . . "
"His brother's a prick," Ronon offered.
Teyla picked at the poultry on her plate. "Is he well? Does he need . . . "
"Trust me," Rodney said, and for once there was no bluster or self-aggrandizement in his tone. "He just needs to be alone."
Teyla thought of her dream, and wondered.
There was much to contemplate about the situation. It was not only that John chose solitude – his defense against all that life could throw into his path was studied disinterest, a wry humor that side-stepped rage. She knew his regard for her best from his banter, from his trust in the field – he avoided touch, and spoke of his heart only under the gravest duress. Yet he had told Rodney about his childhood, about a mother lost and a family undone; he had trusted him with the knowledge of the places from which he had come.
Teyla watched, and saw much now that she had not seen before – saw John match his steps with Rodney's when their trips off-world were peaceful and unrushed; saw him glance with frequency and feign ignorance of the same; saw him reach out a steadying hand that lingered while Rodney seemed oblivious to all that it entailed.
There were times, Teyla thought, when caution and grace might make a fix, and others where a physical challenge might make right what was wrong. But this, this well-masked wanting, this hidden self – there was no subtlety she could imagine effecting change. John was too stubborn; Rodney too obtuse.
And so: "I wish to understand Do Not Ask, No Don’t Tell," she said one day as the morning briefing was almost done.
John choked on his coffee. Rodney clapped him on the back. Ronon ate a pastry – he seemed ready to listen to what was said.
"And what do you wish to know, Ms. Emmagan?" Wolsey asked.
Teyla was not entirely certain – as strategies went for encouraging a man like John Sheppard to consider partnership, this was not exactly the most well thought out. She rallied. "As I understand it, a member of your military may not enter into relations with a member of the opposite sex."
"United States military," Rodney corrected. "We Canadians can fuck whomever we want."
John choked again.
"Provided we're in the military, I mean," Rodney continued. "Well, no, actually, I mean – I can fuck anyone I want, because I'm Canadian and a civilian and really, I've always enjoyed the pleasures provided by both men and women – I would say 'both sexes' but that's a patently reductionist approach to the complexities of both biology and culture, and anyway, where was I? Yes, yes – I can fuck anyone, provided that they would also like to fuck, because consent is very important, and I actually, fucking is rather coarse a term for the activities that I prefer because . . . "
"Dr. McKay," said Woolsey, who was passing his pen rather fervently back and forth from hand to hand. "If you could . . . at least curse a little less . . ."
"Yes, right, so – I am a civilian, Canadian, open to all kinds of propositions, no rules preventing me from, well, doing things with people who also enjoy doing things. Sheppard on the other hand . . . "
Teyla whimpered a little inside.
"He's military, so if he wanted to engage in things with people who also enjoyed other things, he'd have to be doing things with women who liked those things, not men. Because the Congress of the United States has decided that women who like doing things with women and men who like doing things with men, or perhaps men and women who enjoy, like me, a variety of propositions including periodic enjoyment of things with people like themselves, well, they can't use guns. Or something. Things are bad for morale – which, I think you'll agree, is patently untrue."
"Things are great for morale," Ronon put in. "I was in the Army. I had things."
"Exactly! So, Sheppard here, if he wanted to do things of that sort, would supposedly have very poor morale indeed. But Congress is happy. Which is oh, so important because they're several thousand light years away. Which reminds me – why haven't we just decided we're going to be thing-friendly because anything else would be, I don't know, culturally backward out here in Pegasus?" Rodney asked.
Woolsey blinked several times and wiped his forehead. "I – uh. Well. Such a change would require research and, uh . . ."
John seemed to be frozen in his chair.
"So if I understand this correctly," Teyla said, glancing at John. "Your men and women are not free to form lasting partnerships with those for whom they feel affection, regardless of their military record and service in the field?"
John opened his mouth but nothing came out. He cleared his throat, took a swallow of coffee, and said, "Yes."
"May they have these relationships if they keep them secret?" Teyla asked.
"Uh, yes," John said, and pulled at his coffee again.
"As long as no one finds out! What good is that – it's positively ridiculous," Rodney spluttered. "I mean, if I wanted to do things . . . oh, right, Canadian, bad example. If Sheppard wanted to do things with Ronon, he should be . . . "
"Ronon?" John said weakly.
"Yeah, you're not my type," Ronon offered.
"But my point is . . . "
"He's more your type," Ronon said, nodding in Rodney's direction.
Rodney halted, mouth flapping uselessly for a good ten seconds. "Huh?"
Woolsey seized the moment as best he could. "So, I could perhaps, I believe that – " He cleared his throat. "I believe Dr. Weir once made inquiries into . . . I . . . " He blew out a breath. "Let me be frank. Dr. Weir assembled an admirable dossier on the sexual, kinship, and friendship practices across several dozen worlds here in Pegasus during her tenure as commander. Her research was exhaustive, and her conclusions . . . I am inclined to agree that we might . . . If I could just have a day or two to think this through. And I had quite forgotten that at – yes, I am due, an appointment with . . ." He gathered up his papers, his pen, his datapad. "If we could convene again tomorrow, as usual, thank you. Thank you."
Teyla watched him go.
"I'm his type?" Rodney said.
"Yeah," Ronon offered. "I mean, it's obvious."
John slid down in his chair by at least three inches.
"I confess," Teyla said quietly. "I too would . . . imagine you well-suited as partners."
Rodney blinked, looked at John, looked at Ronon and Teyla, and looked at John again. "Oh my god, did you tell them something? Do they know something that I don't?"
"What?" John squawked, sitting up. "I – what? Nothing – no!"
"Did they get you drunk and you confessed your thing to them instead of, oh, say, to me? Because if you're looking to get laid, telling me is just a tad quicker than trusting it to your fifth-grade minions!"
"Am I offended by that?" Ronon asked Teyla.
"No," she said. "It is – let us move along."
"But – " John lifted a hand and let it fall. "I don't even – " He pointed dumbly at Teyla. "She had questions! That's all!"
Rodney shook his head, staring at John as though he were some sort of vaguely attractive but definitely dull-witted lifeform recently emerged from under a rock. "Hopeless," he said, and leaned in to place a kiss squarely on John's mouth.
"Um," John said faintly, but then he was kissing Rodney back, and Teyla felt a surge of relief, that such an ending might arise from such chaos.
Dinner that night was pleasant – deeply so, all of them gathered together with their burdens lightened, though none would say as much aloud. Teyla watched Rodney tease John, saw the quiet delight in John's eyes, a subtler indicator of joy than his braying laughter. Ronon, too, played his part, stealing Rodney's food and suffering insults, though none appeared to sting. Teyla smiled, her heart full to see her team so contented, and if she stared out over the water, it was only to contemplate those who were not near: her son; his father – friend now, not partner, but dear nonetheless; those lost; those missing. It was a wearying business, to be the one who yet stood strong, the caretaker for those long dead and yet unborn as well as those who lived. She relished the heat of Ronon's arm against her own, the infantile gesture of John flicking peas, the stories Rodney told. All of this was ward against darkness.
She did not expect the dream to come again, but it did that night – a vision of an empty stone circle, pillars rising toward the sky, light painting joyful filigree where her friends had once rested. She smiled at the beauty that lingered, the colors of stone and sea and shore, and she wondered that she was still given grace to visit, that the work was unfinished though her team was gone.
"We're right here," Ronon said, standing beside her – focused on the shore, Teyla had not realized that she had company, that her team, stripped bare like herself, flanked her on either side. "All of us."
"Yeah," John said.
"Right here," Rodney offered.
"I do not understand," Teyla said, and she reached carefully to touch a shoulder, a face, an elbow. The men beside her watched her fondly – it was unexpected; their presence as baffling as their patience beneath her touch. "You came back?" she asked.
"We never left," John said.
"We were always here," Rodney confirmed.
Teyla shook her head as if she might dislodge her confusion, only relaxing a fraction when Ronon gently pressed his hand against the back of her neck. "You didn't think this was all about us?" he asked.
And when Teyla woke to the gray light of a new morning, the swell of the ocean calling softly from beneath the piers and bridges of her home, she smiled. Her pillow was soft, her blankets warm, and the tang of salt against her lips linked her with dreams fading fast.
She rested, content.