by Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23)
Characters: Teyla, plus season one cast (Sheppard, McKay, Ford, Weir and Carson)
Genre: Gen, friendship, some angst
Summary: On Athos, it is the first day of summer, when people look to the future and celebrate new life. On Atlantis, Teyla watches her new companions edge falteringly towards friendship, and considers where her future lies.
Note: This is not the new story I've talked about in a few places. Look at the info. above: no h/c to be found! I've been away from the fandom for nearly a year, and as part of my return, have been watching the show from the beginning, so season one issues have been buzzing around my head. Then, on Saturday, I got up at dawn to do the traditional May Morning thing, and this idea came into my head as I waited for the sun to rise. Apologies to those in the southern hemisphere, for whom summer is a distant dream.
One of Teyla's earliest memories is of the coming of summer.
In dreams, in memories, she is woken from sleep by the soft touch of her mother's hand on her cheek. "Little one," she hears, "it is time to get up. Summer is almost here." But she is sleepy, and she melts against her mother and lets herself be carried, her face pressed into the curve of her mother's neck. Her mother smells of woodsmoke and honey wine; of the night beneath the stars, and of something else. Summer, she thinks, dozing in the dark. She smells of summer.
Outside, it is dark: not fully dark, like it is when Teyla wakes crying in the night, but a smooth dark grey that steals away the differences between people and makes them one. There is no colour in this darkness, just shapes. When people talk, they sound louder than they do during the day, but it is impossible to tell where they are. Teyla stirs, but her mother holds her tight. She might be scared, if it were not for that.
"Shall I take you now, dear heart?" Her father looks like a stranger in the darkness, but he lets her feel the soft curl of his beard and the creases of laughter beside his eyes. Yes, she tells him, and she is passed into his arms, from one safe home to another. The smell of smoke is even stronger on him, but so is the summer.
They stop at last, and the sky is light enough by now that the shapes around her have separated into different people, recognisable if she looks at them very hard. Delighted, she calls out to some of them, and they wave back. It is too dark to see their eyes, but they wrap her in love, even so.
"Would you like to pick some flowers, Teyla dear?"
She nods, and her father sets her down, leading her carefully through the dew-soaked grass. "Wet," she says, and her father laughs, and tells her that it will bring her luck to be out in the dew on the first day of summer. He leads her to the flowers, his hand warm and large, enclosing her own.
They are white, these flowers; whiter than anything else in the pale darkness before dawn. Their petals are folded inwards, as if they are hiding their faces. "They sleep at night," her father tells her. "They are waiting for the summer, just like you."
"Like us," she corrects him, and he laughs.
Dawn comes as she moves through the field of flowers. She pulls away from her father's hand, and walks all by herself, filling her arms with blossoms. But even without anyone telling her, she knows when it is time to stop. Her people have drawn together, holding hands in twos and threes.
As she reaches them, the sun rises. Teyla has never seen the sunrise before, not even in winter, when the sun stays lazy and late in bed. For a moment, she is afraid, because it is so bright, so fierce, so unexpected. Then she sees her father smiling, and knows that this is summer; that this is what they have been waiting for, out in the dark.
She knows what to do. As the sun rises, she offers her people flowers. They are no longer just shapes in the dark, but real people, their faces sculpted from light and shadow, with all the colours of the rainbow in their clothes. One by one, they take the flowers from her. Some smile as they thank her, but some bow their heads, as if it is a solemn thing to receive the first flowers of summer beneath the morning sun.
"Welcome, summer," her father says, and the others echo it back in a hundred different voices.
And as the sun rises, the petals unfold, until the whole world is alive with their scent.
There were no flowers in Atlantis, although Teyla could still smell them for a long time after waking. She sat on the edge of the bed, her clothing trailing from her hands. Her room was filled with many trappings of home, but the old familiar scents were fading. Her clothes smelled of gun oil and soap; of Earth food and disinfectant. The coat on the back of the chair was her uniform jacket, made in another world. Her own coat hung in the corner, lost in shadows, difficult to see.
Teyla sat very still. Her clothing slipped from her fingers, falling to the smooth, alien floor. She turned her hand palm upwards, and saw the new tender spots that came from wielding a gun, above the old, fading calluses that came from fighting with sticks.
Who am I? she thought. Why am I here?
The last remnants of her people were gone, and she had chosen to remain here, far away from them. She could not even see them without a stranger consenting to fly her there. Her people had left by choice, driven out by hostility and suspicion. When Teyla had been trapped in the Stargate, Doctor Weir had refused to let Halling ease her passing in the way that the passing of her forefathers had been eased for time immemorial. These people held the lives of Teyla's people in the palm of their hands. Through ignorance or arrogance, they could crush them on a whim.
"No," she said quietly, shaking her head, but it was a slow movement, as if the Teyla who wandered in dreams through the first light of an Athosian summer did not agree.
"No," she said again, but she walked out slowly that morning, into the city of metal and glass, where no flowers bloomed, and no seeds grew.
It was two days after the great storm. Teams worked tirelessly to repair the flooded sections and to ensure that no damage had been done to vital systems. Teyla offered to help, but was told that her skills were not appropriate.
She might have sought out Sora, to make her peace there, but Sora was being kept under guard, and there was no chance of friendship under those conditions. "I have offered to release her," said Doctor Weir, when Teyla went to see her, "in return for a promise of non-aggression, but they refuse to respond. And after what has happened…" She fell silent for a moment, her eyes distant and pained. Teyla almost reached out to offer her the comfort of a touch, but kept her hands at her side. "I doubt we can ever be anything other than enemies," was all Doctor Weir said, at last.
Teyla thought of the things she had seen and the things she had only heard about. "You mean you cannot forgive them."
Doctor Weir let out a breath. She was stiff behind the barrier of her desk, her back straight, her face like a mask crafted from cold white clay. "We are alone in another galaxy, threatened by the Wraith. We…" She stopped; closed her eyes. "I doubt they will forgive us," she said, "even if we forgive them."
Teyla looked at the ornaments on Doctor Weir's desk; at the pictures on her shelf. One showed Doctor Weir with a man she had obviously loved very much. And now she was here, living in another galaxy, with no prospect of ever going home.
She turned against my people, she reminded herself. She refused to let Halling…
She stopped herself there. Trapped in that jumper with Major Sheppard in such dire need, had she thought even once about the need to prepare for her death? If Halling had been allowed to talk to her, she would have hissed to him that there was no time for this, that she refused to show Major Sheppard that she had given him up as dead. So little time with them, and already she was absorbing their way of thinking. Or maybe she had always thought like this, and that was why she was here.
"Teyla," Doctor Weir said, nodding wearily. "Is there anything else…?"
Doctor Weir had almost died at Kolya's hand. Had she talked to anyone about how that felt? Teyla doubted it. Doctor Weir was a leader, and her role was to guide everyone else as they struggled to repair their broken city of Atlantis. She was a leader, and every other soul on Atlantis was under her command. Teyla knew what that meant. Things had changed after her father had been taken, and not just because she was lost in grief.
"Because if there isn't…?" Doctor Weir shifted papers on her desk. "I'm sorry, Teyla, but there's a lot of work to be done."
Her eyes were shadowed, as if she was struggling to get enough sleep at night. But Teyla noticed something else, too. Those eyes seldom rested on Teyla, as if Doctor Weir regretted the choices she had made, and feared that she could never be forgiven for them.
It was by pure chance that she overheard that Lieutenant Ford had been taken to the infirmary. She made her way there, but got lost several times. She knew how to find her way across strange worlds in the dark, adapting easily to unfamiliar stars, but she had never spent so long inside. All the usual signs were gone, and the transporters confused her sense of direction, so that she often found herself on a balcony facing away from sun, when she had thought she had been heading towards it.
When she reached the infirmary, she saw Lieutenant Ford perched awkwardly on a bed, his arm in a light sling. Doctor Beckett was standing at the foot of the bed, his hands at his side. Neither of them appeared to have seen her.
"You sure, doc?" Ford asked.
"Yes, I'm sure." Beckett sounded weary. "Who's the doctor round here, lad? It's only a mild sprain, but I don't want you off gallivanting with the Major on his next crazy tomfool mission."
"He's not crazy," Ford protested, but Teyla knew beyond all doubt that the conversation was not about Major Sheppard. What words had been exchanged before she had arrived?
"Maybe not," Beckett conceded, "but you military types are all the same. Put a gun in your hand, and you turn into--"
"Hell, I got us through the city without getting us killed, didn't I?" Ford protested. "We saved the Major's life."
Beckett was looking the other way, so Beckett failed to see the truth that Teyla saw in Ford's face. Ford had found himself responsible for a vital civilian, and he had been terrified that he would make a mistake and arrive too late to save Major Sheppard's life. He wanted to be worthy of his commander, to grow into an able leader himself. But he was young, and he had been thrown into a situation that his training could never have prepared him for. Like everyone who had ever lived, alone in the darkness of the night, he was afraid.
"But you damn near got us all killed in the process," Beckett protested. "It was madness to fly through the storm like that."
But Beckett was afraid, too, of course, and terrified that he would fail. A peaceful man, he had been dropped into the middle of a war, forced to take up arms and fight to regain his city. His own skills lay elsewhere, but now he was doubting even these. On Hoff, he had been forced to watch helplessly as his own work had killed thousands. On Hoff, he had watched a woman die, whom he could have loved.
"You came up with plenty of orders the other day," Beckett said, "but now it's your turn to obey me, laddie. Take it easy. Rest. Run along. Go away."
He walked away. Ford watched him for a while, then slid off the bed, his wrist held carefully in its sling. Beckett turned to watch him go, but Teyla was gone by then, slipping away towards the sun.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" she heard Doctor McKay say. "Because I've got enough work to do without having my lab cluttered up by hulking military types… And did you really kill, like, uh, ten heavily-armed Genii all by yourself? That's… It's… it's not natural. It's… I thought you were… I mean…"
Teyla stopped outside the lab, her hand pressed on the cool wall, so much smoother than anything her people knew how to make.
"Saved your life, though," Major Sheppard said. His voice was as light as ever, but there was something strained about it, like the cold edge that you could sometimes discern beneath the warmth of a spring day.
"And it's not as if I'm not grateful for that," McKay said, "because, really, Genii? But I saved Atlantis, you have to admit that. If it hadn't been for the whole lightning thing…"
"Yes," Major Sheppard said, "you saved Atlantis, McKay."
She heard McKay make a quiet noise, as if he was tugging down his jacket in smug satisfaction. "But to return to the original question: Why are you here, Major?"
There was the sound of footsteps moving around the lab. "Just… wandering around. Making sure you haven't broken anything."
"Broken…?" Doctor McKay echoed. "No, put that down, Major! It-- Oh, it lit up. Why did it light up? It hasn't done that before."
"Huh." Major Sheppard sounded puzzled. "Super-sized gene, I guess. Better than your fake one. D'you want me to stay and see what else I can switch on?"
"No!" She heard the sound of a scuffle. "Give that to me. Now run along, Major. Shoo. I don't want you here. Go."
There was silence for a while. When Sheppard spoke again, his voice was nearer the door. "You're not the only one with a busy schedule, McKay. See you tomorrow, I guess. Good night."
Teyla stepped back as Major Sheppard left the lab. He acknowledged her with a quick smile, then walked away, his face set. She stayed where she was, looking after him.
In the lab, out of sight, perhaps Doctor McKay heard her. "Uh… Major?" His voice was quiet, with emotions in it that she was not meant to hear.
She had seen from the start that Doctor McKay, for all his talk and his apparent arrogance, was a lonely man who had not yet realised that he was lonely. Major Sheppard had seemed so very different, with his winning smile and his easy manner. Within moments of their first meeting, he had been revealing things about himself. But they had been trivial things, she had soon realised, revealing nothing of the true man who lay within. She suspected that Major Sheppard was as lonely in his way as Doctor McKay was. The home she had seen in the illusion in the mist was an empty one, and the friends she had met were dead. Travelling far beyond the stars, he had chosen to take a recording of a football game, and nothing personal at all.
Teyla turned to walk away, but as she did so, she saw Doctor McKay, alone in the middle of his lab, just standing there, holding a dull cube that did not shine.
Athos was an invisible dot around a distant star in the skies above Atlantis. On Athos, it was the first day of summer.
Teyla went through the Gate alone, leaving a city that shone beneath the full light of noon. Doctor Weir had to approve her departure. Sergeant Bates frowned, clearly disliking it. Major Sheppard quelled Bates with a look, but wanted to come with Teyla, "in case the Wraith come back," he said.
No, she told them all, she would quite all right.
It was not the first time she had returned to her shattered home, but the first time she had been alone while doing so. It was fully dark when she arrived, but she could walk through the darkest night on Athos, as long as she had the stars to guide her. She could even walk blindfold, for the scents guided her: that patch of fragrant mallow leaves; the den of the old buck pallabeast; the resinous bark of the yael tree; Halling's hearth fire; Galina's freshly baked bread; Charin's spices…
Her steps faltered. Tears were fresh on her face, cold in the night.
She walked through ruins and scattered fire wood. Then the whisper of the trees told her that she was close to her own home, where her mother had woken her each year to see the coming of summer. She paused for a moment, and walked on, following the path once taken by her father and her mother; by her grandparents and by their grandparents before them. She remembered being carried this way, and later she remembered walking, reaching up to hold her father's hand. Later still she remembered running by herself, too old to need a guiding hand. She remembered Kanaan stealing a kiss, when there was just enough darkness to hide it from their parents. She remembered slapping him as the sun rose, and the adults laughing, joking about young love and summer fancies.
But this time she was all alone when she reached the field of flowers. She had feared to find them gone, but they were still there, their petals pale in the dawn.
"Why do you laugh so much," she had asked her father once, "when there are Wraith in the world?"
"Ah, dear heart," he had replied, "how can we not? Because if we let them drive away all love, all hope, all happiness from our hearts, they have won. And that is why we rise at dawn at the start of summer, and glory in the fresh growth and beauty that still resides in the world. Because we still can, dear heart. We still can."
"But the Wraith…" she had protested, for she was nine years old, and the older boys had been scaring her with stories.
"Even without the Wraith," her father had said, "there would be death. But the worst thing of all is to be so afraid of death that you never live." And then he had thrown his head back and laughed. "But the Wraith are sleeping, little one. You and I, we will live our lives without seeing them, and that, too, is why I laugh."
But now the Wraith had returned, and her people were exiled far from home. Teyla saw in the summer alone. As the sun neared the horizon, she filled her arms with flowers. As the sun rose, flooding the world with light, she knew what she had to do.
On the world that contained Atlantis, spring had barely begun. Teyla's people had sown their first crop, but it would be a long time before they reaped it. The storm had done damage, too, driving them back to winter.
On Atlantis, dawn was cold. But Teyla smiled when she heard the door open behind her. "You came," she said. "Truly I had not believed…"
"Yes, we came," Doctor McKay grumbled - Rodney, she thought. His name is Rodney. "And while it might not seem early to military types like Sheppard and Ford - up training with the lark, and all that - I'll have you know that I was working until well past midnight last night, and--"
"Yes," Doctor Weir said firmly. "We came."
They joined her on the balcony; stood silently for a while, watching the ocean. Light was growing in the east, adding specks of silver to the endless grey and black.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Carson said, his voice husky.
"Indeed it is," Teyla said. Then she crouched to gather up her flowers. She had kept them alive with water in her room, but the petals were still bent inwards, veiling the secret of the blossoms' shining heart.
"On Athos," she explained, "we like to greet the first day of summer by rising before dawn and going out to watch the sun rise."
"But it isn't--" Rodney protested.
"It is on Athos," she told them. "But sometimes, when the winter has been cold, the leaves have not yet sprouted by today. Other years, some flowers are already past their best. The day itself is not what matters. What matters is what the day means to you, in your heart."
She looked from face to face as she spoke. Carson looked hopeful and intrigued. Aiden looked embarrassed, perhaps afraid of whatever ritual was about to come. Elizabeth looked interested, but Teyla could not tell if the interest was genuine, or if she was merely showing polite respect to an indigenous culture. John's face had frozen into the mask that hid so many things, and Rodney looked irritated, more than anything else.
"You have brought hope to the known worlds," she told them. "That is why I chose to remain here on Atlantis, after my people left."
But we woke the Wraith, John's eyes said. Elizabeth was the one who said it, though.
"They would have woken in time, anyway," Teyla said, respecting John's reticence by looking only at Elizabeth. "But now there is someone strong enough to fight them. I have hope," she said, as she gave Elizabeth a blossom. "I do not regret my choice." Another to John, their fingertips touching on the stem. Aiden took his with an embarrassed smile, but she could tell that he was pleased. Carson thanked her, and Rodney protested about allergies, so she handed a second flower to John, and instead took Rodney's shoulders, pressing her brow to his.
"And that is not the only reason," she said. "I remain here because in you, I see people I would like to call friends. I hope you do, too, in each other, and in me."
Behind her, the sun crested the surface of the ocean, flooding it with gold. Without a word being spoken, they all moved to the railing, leaning there side by side, flowers trailing from clasped hands.
They were silent for a while, but soon the talking started. Teyla took advantage of the noise to move up to Elizabeth's side, as she stood there, slightly on the fringes. "When you questioned my people," she told her, "I told you that I would have done the same. I respected you as a leader then." She smiled, taking away any edge that the words alone might have possessed. Nobody could be a leader all the time. Nobody could flourish merely on respect. "Do you want to join me for dinner one night?" she asked.
"I would like that," Elizabeth said, with a smile, a genuine smile. "How does tonight sound?"
Teyla smiled, and moved on. She could not always say what she wanted to say. Carson needed to be told how much courage he already possessed, and Aiden needed to know that he would be a fine leader one day, but she had no desire to alienate them by saying too much. She would trust them utterly, and show them by her words and deeds how much they deserved her confidence.
"So why us?" John asked, leaning casually on the railing with the sun at his back. "It's not that I'm not grateful for the, uh, gift, but why not take the flowers back to your own people?"
Because her people were no longer entirely her people. Because she had not helped them sow their crops or build their homes. Because Halling and Charin could lead them in remembering summers past. Because we already know how to find hope in the darkness, but you do not. Because her people had a new home now, and would find a new date to celebrate the returning green, with flowers of new colours, not just white. Because these people were the summer, but did not know how to grasp it. Because her people knew how to love each other, but these people circled around each other like nervous cubs, afraid to reach out.
"There will be plenty enough flowers left over for them," she told him.
John nodded, playing idly with his flower. Then he laughed quietly. "What?" Rodney asked, jostling in beside him. He had found the cake that Teyla had intended for later, and had helped himself to a slice.
"Just thinking of that chick in the play who goes round giving out flowers."
"Ophelia?" Rodney spoke through a mouthful of cake. "The chick who goes crazy and drowns?"
"Watery bint," John said.
Rodney looked incredulous, then smiled in delight. "Monty Python? Really?"
They started to talk across Teyla, putting on silly voices, talking about flesh wounds and shrubberies. Smiling, Teyla walked away from them. "I have no idea what they are talking about," she told Elizabeth, and the two of them looked at John and Rodney together, and smiled. Whatever they were talking about, it expanded, and soon Carson and Aiden were part of the circle, laughing and exchanging jokes.
Then the sun cleared the ocean, and Atlantis came alive in the light. There were no greens and browns, no trees and no meadows, but the glass shone with all the colours of a field of flowers, and the ocean sparkled like jewels. "She's pretty special, huh?" John said quietly, and they sighed or they nodded, each in their own way.
Slowly at first, conversation resumed, and this time all six of them joined in. Hours passed, and they remained there, as behind them and around them, Atlantis slowly woke to greet a day that was no different from the day that had gone before…; to greet a day that was, perhaps, so very different.
Summer, she thought. Summer has come, because summer was hope and fellowship, even when the world was dark. It was drawing together and daring to trust each other, even as the Wraith drew ever closer and threatened the days to come. It was John and Rodney taking small, cautious steps towards friendship. It was Elizabeth learning how to relax. It was Teyla accepting that this could be her home one day, as much as Athos ever was.
They had long since laid their flowers aside by then, but Teyla gathered them up and placed them in a vase, together.
And as the sun rose higher, the flowers stirred, the petals unfurling shyly to reveal the promise of beauty within.
Note: This is thematically similar to my story Midwinter Burning, which is set in the middle of season four, when the team is much closer, but the situation is so much darker. Apologies for the Monty Python references, but I refuse to accept that Sheppard and McKay aren't fans. :-)
As I said at the start, this is my first story after nearly a year away from the fandom, so I'm pretty nervous about posting this - especially since it's so different from the things that most people reading my journal probably expect from me. I have actually finished another story, too - 17,000 words of Sheppard-centric angst and hurt/comfort - so things have not entirely changed. I haven't yet decided whether to work hard on polishing that up for posting in the next couple of days, or whether to wait until after I come back from holiday. I'm off on Friday for an internet-free ten days of romping around Scottish castles. I hope to do some plotting of longer stories while away. However, an insistent little part of my mind is waving an idea for another light-hearted, illustrated historical AU… I am trying to tell it that that three is quite enough already, thank you very much.