After so much time together, these humans from Earth still had the capacity to surprise her.
She had expected Colonel Sheppard to trust the marine. Now that Ronon had decided to leave and pursue his future with his Satedan companions, the colonel had selected a replacement from among the Earth-born troops, and Teyla had assumed that Sheppard would trust him. For herself, the trust would have to be earned, but she was ready to allow Richardson his opportunity. He had attended many of her combat classes, and was a capable fighter, particularly once he had ceased to worry that she would be harmed by their clashes. Doctor McKay would no doubt complain about the new member, with many diatribes about the deficiencies in the education offered to members of the military, but she believed he would also be willing to allow Richardson to prove that he could belong in their team.
But Colonel Sheppard surprised her. The marines were under his command—did he not trust the men under his command to be capable of doing what needed to be done? It seemed not. He had trusted Ford. Had that been so from the beginning? She could not remember. Her heart said they had been a team at the outset, although her head reminded her that it had not been easy for the Earth-humans to accept her own presence. Still, that was understandable. But why should Colonel Sheppard fail to trust one of his own men?
And then, Richardson was injured on their very first mission together, an otherwise entirely simple excursion to a planet with no inhabitants and no remnants of Ancestral technology. It took only thirty minutes to confirm that the ruins in the vicinity of the Ring were of no interest. Then, an unlucky chance for Richardson, a mis-step on the rubble-laden slope and a broken ankle, and the three of them shared the task of supporting him back to the Gate.
"Ah, c'mon, Sheppard, it wasn't his fault," Doctor McKay said as they left Richardson with Doctor Beckett. "I mean, we all know Ronon moves like a cat, but he's been running through ruins all his life. 'Sides, it'd take more than one marine to replace Ronon. We should probably take a squad."
"First," Teyla said, "John. Kneel on the bed, take my right hand in your left, and kiss me."
Rodney watched. He couldn't blink anyway.
"You know, I think I kinda like this ritual," said Sheppard.
She attempted to discuss the matter with Doctor McKay—with Rodney—in the mess hall.
"It's not like we all exactly get along, just because we're all from Earth," he said, between mouthfuls of the sweet brown goo he called 'pudding'. "There's all kinds of stuff going on here, you know, the Americans hate the Russians and the Greeks hate the Turks and I have this British guy on my staff who hates the French, I mean, really hates them, seriously, you should hear him when he gets started on the Battle of Trafalgar. And the Maginot Line."
"But are not Colonel Sheppard and the marines all from America?"
Rodney shrugged and muttered something about fighting old wars, and said it probably didn't matter, Sheppard just wasn't the type to trust easily, and besides, the marines were military, straightforward jock types who knew how to obey orders but not much about thinking for themselves, and that wasn't really Sheppard's style. "It's not really about where the marines are from, anyway. I think he misses Ronon more than he's willing to say. Of course, Sheppard, admit to anything, that'll be the day, but you know, the whole macho bonding thing with the guns and the fighting."
"We all miss Ronon," Teyla said. "It feels... unbalanced without his presence. It is a pity he could not convince his friends to return to Atlantis with us."
"He'll be back." It was indistinct and mixed with pudding, but she understood. "You made a good case—Ronon's not stupid, well, not completely stupid, even if he did let his whole Satedan brothers-in-arms crap override his judgment. He knows he can do more against the Wraith from Atlantis than out there with a bunch of fugitives with noisy guns and leather underpants."
Teyla was not so sure. Her arguments were sound, it was true, but she understood Ronon's desire to be with his own people in a way that she thought these Earth-humans never quite would. The divisions between them were so strange, impossible to imagine in a galaxy where every world's people had to unite in order to survive. She sometimes contemplated what she would do if her own world were to be completely destroyed, as Ronon's had been; would she seek out the last Athosians left in the galaxy, even against the best interests of all the humans here? She could not be sure.
The squad of marines proved to be what Teyla believed the humans would call a "mixed blessing". It was true that with five extra men and one extra woman, they were able to search more swiftly, although it was also true that Doctor McKay became quite irritable at being constantly hailed by different pairs to examine what they had found. It was Teyla herself, and Colonel Sheppard, who discovered the deposit of naquada ore, which came as something of a disappointment to Doctor McKay, who had been hoping for something actually refined and in use. Teyla pocketed a small piece, no bigger than her thumb. An impulse, merely, for the rock's purple veins looked pretty. Perhaps Nedya would be able to turn it into jewelry. Doctor McKay selected a considerable quantity of larger pieces and gave them to the marines to carry, another advantage of their increased numbers.
However, had it not been for the size of their party, they would not have drawn the attention of the inhabitants. Who did not appear willing to enter negotiations for mining rights. The retreat back to the Ring of the Ancestors was attended by many hunters, and three of the marines were hit by slingshots.
"And now," said Teyla, "Rodney, kneel here, give me your hand, and..." And she kissed him. Teyla. Kissed him.
"Definitely like this ritual," he panted. "This is a good ritual."
Next time, they went out as a trio.
Teyla preferred it. Elizabeth was not happy, but it was foolish to insist that a group of four must be sent, when Teyla and the colonel were quite capable of dealing with any difficulties that might arise. Doctor McKay had also improved his fighting skills greatly, and could be relied upon should the situation call for firepower. It was still strange, going out on missions without Ronon—indeed, she still missed Ford, at times—but the three of them knew one another and worked well together. And Colonel Sheppard would have no difficulty in trusting the two of them.
She was wrong.
"Is he trying to be in two places at once? Seriously, he's trying to be in two places at once. God damn it, I have enough to think about with this stupid—thing—" Doctor McKay was attempting to access an unusual asymmetric artifact—"without Rambo running around up there waving his phaser. What exactly does he think is going to happen here?"
"He is attempting to compensate for Ronon's absence," Teyla said as calmly as she could.
"Well, duh," said Rodney. "If he's so paranoid about us needing a perimeter when there's obviously nobody but us on this godforsaken—Ah, there you are, you sneaky little—oh. Ah. This does not look good." There was an array of blinking lights. "I think what we have here is probably—"
"An explosive device?"
They sprinted out of the ruins and flung themselves to the ground just in time.
"What the hell did you do?" Colonel Sheppard, looming above them, was not happy. He refused to listen to Rodney's explanation or to her own insistence that they were both fine and could continue to work. The explosion had been slight, only one wall tumbled, and there might be more relics to be found within the ruins. Neither her own words nor Doctor McKay's impassioned speech made any difference at all.
They returned to Atlantis in determined silence.
At the debriefing, Sheppard informed Elizabeth that he had been acting in the interests of his team's safety. Elizabeth was obviously confused by this, particularly since Doctor McKay's protests could be heard long after he had been forcibly escorted to see Doctor Beckett. The Colonel insisted that Teyla must also receive medical attention, although she was quite unharmed. Elizabeth's eyes widened slightly as she confirmed the order.
Teyla had never been so tempted to violence.
"Rodney, take John's hand," she prompted.
"Uh," said Sheppard.
"Um, the thing is," said Rodney. Oh dear God, she didn't seriously expect, "I mean, we don't, this isn't something we—"
"C'mon, Rodney. It's a ritual," Sheppard drawled. "Have some respect."
Rodney glared. It was all very well for Sheppard, he wasn't even pretending to take this seriously, not that Rodney exactly, after all, Athosian rituals, it wasn't as though he actually thought they were meaningful, except—except Teyla was right, they had to do something, only he hadn't in his wildest fantasies imagined, okay, maybe his wildest, but not actually seriously ever expected it to be this. And now Sheppard was laughing at him with a perfectly straight face, and, oh, what the hell.
He grabbed Sheppard's hand, and kissed him.
It was time to take action.
John—she had trained herself not to think of him as 'Colonel Sheppard' when he was off-duty—and Rodney were seated diagonally opposite one another, eating their meals and very definitely not talking. Teyla placed her tray next to Rodney's, and sat.
The food was always bland here, but it was not unpalatable. She ate in silence until John began to fidget.
"I believe," she said, "we have a problem."
"I'll say," said Rodney, but he was hampered by mashed potato, and while he paused to swallow, John raised an eyebrow.
"Well, if you guys wanted to get yourselves blown up..."
"Oh, give me a break!"
"John. Are you certain that you still wish me to be a member of your team?"
He looked genuinely surprised at that. "Of course! Why, is there, do you have a problem with that?"
"I am not certain," she replied.
"I might have a problem with it, too," said Rodney, waving his fork for emphasis.
"Look, I made a command decision—"
"Nobody disputes your right to command," Teyla said, calmly. "However, I do not believe we can continue as we are. We are competent. It appears you have forgotten that you trust us to know our duties and to perform them well."
"That's not true," he said at once. "Of course I trust you. You're my team."
"And yet... something is broken. Do you not see it?"
"I see it," Rodney said.
"Look, it's not that I don't trust you, of course I trust you. It's, I just..."
"We cannot function as a team if you insist on doing more than your share," Teyla went on, gentle and relentless. "You wish to compensate for Ronon's absence, but it is not your task alone. We must all work together to create a new, a new..." she was not sure how to phrase this.
"We all miss the big guy," said Rodney. "I mean, I never thought I'd say it, but it's true. But you know what? We were a team before Ronon showed up. You need to remember that."
It was too much to hope that he would admit they were correct, but John did look uneasy. "Okay... so maybe I've been a bit..."
"Yeah, a bit!" Rodney reapplied himself to his meal.
"But, you know. There were four of us, now there's three, it takes a little time to adjust, that's all."
"Triangle," said Rodney indistinctly, "strong. Stronger than a square."
Teyla did not wish to hear a dispute over geometry. "I believe I have a solution."
"You do?" John looked extremely wary.
"We must re-establish our bond. My people have a—"
"A ceremony. Right." He looked, if possible, even more wary than before.
"A ritual, perhaps." She smiled at them both. "My quarters, an hour from now?"
"Good," said Teyla. How could she be so calm? Rodney's heart was beating so fast he was probably using up a lifetime of heartbeats right now. He was on Teyla's bed with the two hottest people in Atlantis. The only thing that could make it worse, better, scarier, would be having Ronon there too, only of course if Ronon were there this wouldn't be necessary, which was confusing because did that mean he was actually pleased that Ronon had gone off with his half-civilized Satedan friends?
Then Teyla let go his hand, and John's hand, and in one elegant move pulled her tight-fitting—what was that, a bustier, a waistcoat?—off, dropped it on the floor, and lay back into the pillows. Where the hell was he supposed to look now, because—her face, Rodney, look at her face. She had this smile, like the Gioconda, did women in every galaxy do that?
"Come," she said, and opened her arms to them.
They stood there, puzzled; Rodney with his lips pressed shut, his eyebrows raised in unspoken questions, and looking at her eagerly; John with that relaxed, sardonic look on his face. Both clearly waiting to be told what to do. She smiled fondly at them. "Thank you both for coming," she said peaceably. "Please, sit."
"So, what's the deal?" John's drawl was just what she had expected to hear. He always used that tone when he was not entirely certain of the situation.
"Would you like some wine?" Teyla would normally have offered tea, but observation had told her that alcohol was a more effective relaxant in such a situation, and she wished them to relax. She poured the fragrant purple liquid—Beheleth had given her a bottle, one of the few remaining of the five-year pressing—and offered it to them both with a smile, then sat cross-legged on her bed. "First, I owe you both an apology. I overheard a conversation between you, and did not disclose my presence at the time."
"Eavesdropping, Teyla?" Sheppard raised an eyebrow.
"It was not my intention. I assure you, I did not stay, but..."
"So what's up?" Rodney broke in. "I mean, I can't imagine what we might have had to say to one another that you wouldn't be allowed to hear, anyway, although if it was about getting the Babylon 5 box set in the next shipment, you probably wouldn't be very interested."
"It concerned... myself. Apparently, you both find me—hot."
Rodney emitted a small, deflating noise, and looked desperately around the room, while John winced and stared into his wine cup.
"I was not certain of your meaning," she continued. "I thought there might perhaps be some physiological differences between our peoples which troubled you, so I asked Doctor Beckett for advice."
"You asked Carson?" Rodney yelped.
"His answer was most illuminating," she said. It would be unkind to tell them how Carson had stammered and blushed and temporized before he managed to explain their use of the term. He had obviously been greatly embarrassed, and Teyla had not had the heart to ask him why he would expect her to be insulted. Was it considered insulting, on Earth, to describe another person as sexually attractive? It was not a particularly useful description, but there was nothing objectionable about it.
"Oh, God," said Rodney, and began to babble, a great deal of foolishness about how he and the colonel would never demean her in anyway, how they had the utmost respect for her, and really it was just guys being, you know, stupid, like guys are.
She had best intervene. "It is all right, Rodney. You are also attractive."
"I am?" he said, with visible pleasure. "Really?"
"You would both make excellent partners," she assured them.
"We would?" John sent a sly glance in Rodney's direction. No, Teyla thought, we shall have none of that, not now. She knelt on the bed and beckoned. "It is time to begin. First," she said, "John. Kneel on the bed, take my right hand in your left, and kiss me."
Oh, God, this was amazing. So beautiful, sleek and strong and the way she shivered under his hand, and Shep—John's shoulder bumping against his own skin, and Teyla just didn't seem to know or care that they weren't supposed to share this way, it didn't matter, this was all that mattered and it was slick and sweaty and they touched one another, hands and tongues, everything, and he could hardly breathe from wanting it all and she wouldn't let them hide and she made everything right.
Somehow they had ended up on either side of her, which had not been quite her intention, but since Rodney's hand was spread over her stomach and John's was clasped over Rodney's wrist, she was perfectly satisfied.
Perfectly satisfied, indeed. She suppressed a smile.
"Well," said Rodney, sounding very much as she herself would sound, were she to speak. "That's my kind of ritual. Are we one with the universe now? Because I kinda think—Oh, what's this?"
"I had forgotten that," she said, surprised. "I brought it back from M1642. I had meant to give it to a friend who creates jewelry, but I found it in my pocket this evening." She had not seen Nedya, the last time she visited the mainland.
Rodney held the little lump of rock between finger and thumb, so that the veins sparkled. "It's amazing," he said almost dreamily. "We have so much in common. Us and this. We're all made up of the elements that have been in the universe right from the beginning. Well, almost the beginning. After the stars made them."
"Are you sure you're a physicist?" John said sleepily. "Because that sounds kinda new age-y."
"We are, though," Rodney insisted, but without any of his usual vehemence.
"I do not understand," said Teyla. "Do you mean that everything in the universe now has been here since the beginning?"
"Good, isn't it," said Rodney, sounding very smug.
"Yet we humans grow from, not from nothing, but from almost nothing, and are born into the world and are new," she said, puzzled.
"Ah, don't bring biology into this. It doesn't count."
"We are star-stuff," John mumbled.
"Straczynski wasn't a complete moron," Rodney agreed.
Teyla had no idea what Rodney was talking about, but perhaps she did understand what John had said. Star stuff. It seemed her ritual had been more successful even than she had anticipated. She would not, she thought, tell them that Athosians did not have a sex ritual for reawakening trust. We have no need of one.
Star stuff, she thought, dozing.
After so much time together, these humans from Earth still had the capacity to surprise her.