Summary: He learns to do what he can, here and there, to make himself useful.
The vote to clear additional farmland was nearly unanimous, the first time in three generations that the people had chosen to perform the Ceremony of Earth. When Teyla received word of it in a staff meeting, she was overcome with joy and with loss, as well. Atlantia would be her people's home now for many years to come, the planet of their Ancestors learning once more the touch of human hands, and this was a great blessing for all of Teyla's people.
That Teyla herself might never live on that land was a truth that was hard to look on. She stared unseeing at the sleek, dark conference table under her hand -- looked up at the single green plant cultivated in its ceramic dish -- saw the ship waiting in the Gateroom for clearance, the movement of armed men, her own faint reflection in the glass wall. Her people would claim land of their own, in the old manner. She would go there as their leader, and as a visitor. Strange.
"They voted on this without you?" the Colonel said, with the hint of a threat in his voice.
Teyla smiled slightly; Colonel Sheppard was ever quick to protect his own, even from imagined harms. "It was I who proposed this," she said. "By tradition, I would excuse myself from the vote." That it was done while she was not even in attendance was unusual, but Teyla took no offense. This was the way of things now; she could not expect them to be forever awaiting her next trip, breathless and still until her schedule permitted her to attend them.
"What does this mean?" Dr. Weir asked, tactfully leaving unspoken the qualifying for us. It was a just question for a leader like Dr. Weir, whose duties and loyalties were not divided.
"That we will now fight for this place," Teyla said, "and not only for our lives. Until the bond created in the Ceremony of Earth is released again, we will not be easily moved. More concretely, it means that we will clear land to raise crops more substantial than beans and roots -- keefa, most likely."
"Is that what they make those cakes with on M23-S44?" Dr. McKay asked quickly.
"It is indeed," Teyla said with a small smile.
"In that case, I'll make a couple of engineers go to the mainland. They can help -- " he waved his hand around vaguely -- "build levers and whatnot. Speed things along."
"I believe that the loan of manpower would be gratefully received," she said, and looked at the Colonel blandly until he appeared to take notice.
"Oh," he said, "sure. I'm sure I've got some Marines who need some character-building type labor. After all, you folks are our neighbors now."
"I can help," Ronon said. Teyla glanced over at him, somewhat surprised. She did not recall him ever having visited the mainland before, although most of the other warriors of Atlantis periodically took what Colonel Sheppard called shore-leave, and were always received with interest and excitement by her people. He must have sensed her puzzlement, because his shoulders seemed to stiffen defensively, and he said, "What? I can. You said they needed help."
"Correct me if I'm wrong," Dr. McKay said, "but aren't you the same man who once said that any civilization that hasn't invented the microwave yet is-- "
"Yeah, I know what I said," Ronon said shortly. "I think I can handle it, okay? You take an axe, you hit the tree, it falls down."
"I am sure you are more than capable," Teyla said. "Thank you."
Atlantis sent a contingent of ten men to aid in the clearing, along with Ronon. The work took three full days, although Teyla suspected the second and third day were progressively less efficient due to the consumption of alcohol and lack of sleep that took place during the nights. Even Teyla found herself whirling around the fire, although she had not danced the tuvura in many years; it was an occupation more suited to young girls than to a seasoned warrior with many responsibilities -- but then, perhaps there were advantages to laying responsibility aside now and then and pretending to be but a girl.
She had not forgotten the steps, at least, and her own people drummed their palms on their thighs in praise, while the Atlanteans sent up their own traditional calls of approval, which somewhat resembled the baying of dogs, broken sometimes by a shrill, melodic whistle or a high-pitched whoop like the hunting cry of a marsh owl.
The tuvura tired her out more than she would have expected, and she dropped heavily to sit between Jinto and Halling -- perhaps there was a reason that this was so often left to the young, she thought ruefully. A reason beyond the obvious, rather: most Athosian women of Teyla's age were mothers, wives or widows, and the tuvura was left to those who were still trying to catch the eye of a mate. "I didn't know you could dance," Jinto said, staring at her with round eyes.
Teyla hummed and took the watered wine that Halling passed to her. "I did not, either," she said after a long drink. "It has been many years."
Across the fire, several of the Atlantean men seemed to be deep in conference together, with much good-natured shoving and voices that rose and fell in the lilt that Teyla had come to recognize as challenging, but not hostile. There was that roughness to Atlantean men, a certain unkindness that she had first mistaken for rudeness, but the longer she lived among them, the more she understood it as a kind of brotherly rivalry that appeared to have no end. Colonel Sheppard, due to his rank, was often exempt, but at times she had seen even him participate in these games of status that were simultaneously proof of loyalty. She had tried to convince him to explain their nuances, but he would only shrug and grin, slightly abashed, as if he, too, had mixed feelings about allowing himself to dance the steps of a much younger man. "Guy stuff," he called it, and she could learn little more from him.
Finally they dislodged one from their group, a tall blond sergeant whose name, Teyla vaguely recalled, was Berry. He crossed around the outside of the circle until he was standing behind her shoulder, and when Teyla looked back at him, he extended a hand to her. "I thought," he said, and faltered slightly at her curious expression, then swallowed, and continued, "I mean, we thought, some of us, you might like to learn one of, uh, our...Earth dances. Do you? Want to dance with me -- I mean."
Out of the corner of her eye, Teyla could see Halling attempt to hide a smile behind a casually placed hand. "I would be very pleased if you would teach me that," Teyla said, and placed her hand in Sergeant Berry's.
He led her near the fire, and then drew her close so that her body was almost, but not quite, held directly to his. He laced his fingers through hers and laid his other hand on the small of her back; a strange shock traveled up her spine, and Teyla was confused for a moment until she realized that it was little more than surprise. She had not felt this, the touch of skin against skin, in anything other than the abrupt contact of combat real or feigned, for a very long time. Sergeant Berry smiled down at her and said, "I don't know this music, so I'm kind of winging it, too."
"What should I do?" she asked.
It was awkward at first, while she learned to step backwards, away from each step he took. But the dance was simple in its structure, and soon they could move faster, and soon after that she stopped thinking about what to do next and laughed out loud to realize how they were wheeling in wide circles and turning in small ones, almost like children playing a skipping game, and yet with a strange intimacy in their partnership, in the way they were sensing one another's minor adjustments without conscious thought, that made this dance seem -- less girlish than the dances Teyla knew, both less erotic and much more so. She was breathless with more than exertion when it ended, and for one bizarre moment Teyla thought Sergeant Berry would kiss her, and it seemed no more than natural that he would.
But he stepped away, and she remembered that she did not know this man after all. He lifted her hand to his mouth and placed a light kiss on the back of it, a gesture Teyla had never seen before. She was not sure how to respond. "Thank you for the dance, ma'am," he said -- blushing, or only heated by the fire and the dance?
"Thank you for teaching me," she said, and bowed slightly to him before sending him back to the loud whispers and pummeling fists of his comrades, which he endured grinning.
Only when she began to take her seat again did she look around the tent and realize that Ronon was nowhere to be seen. She swung a wrap around her shoulders and walked out into the chill of the spring night.
She found him just past the edge of the settlement, knee-deep in a square pit. He paused in his digging when he noticed her and stared keenly at her in the beam of the battery-powered light he'd mounted on a post. "You look hot," he said, and then his expression changed suddenly and he added, "Sweaty. You're sweating."
It took Teyla a moment to understand why he looked so uncomfortable, and when she did, she was once again impressed with Ronon's facility for languages; he was facile with the slang of the Earth folk in a way that Teyla had begun to suspect she never would be. "The tents are warm," she said, "and we have been dancing. Will you not join us?"
He waved his hand to indicate his digging and said, "That man with the belt said he got a hog from off-world, and he'd share it when the clearing was done." When Teyla did not indicate that she understood, he said, "It's a cookpit. You pile some of those trees in, burn 'em down to embers. Spit the hog and lay it over the top. I guess that's not how you cook them here?"
"We eat very little large game," Teyla said, "and what we do obtain, we most often stew in order to stretch the meat out longer."
"Well, you'll like this," he said, and began to dig again.
The cookpit was done by morning; Ronon must have been very tired, but he made no complaint and kept up easily with the other laborers. As the work came to an end, however, Teyla found him at the evening meal and touched his elbow lightly. "Tonight," she said, "you will come inside and take your rest with all of us." He turned his attention back to his food and said nothing.
But he did come into the tent that night, though he sat near the doorway and behind the others. Teyla left the tuvura to the younger women that night, including one she did not at first recognize -- tall, graceful, as slender and flexible as reeds on a lake -- how could there be anyone here whom Teyla did not know? She was stricken nearly breathless when she realized it was Diset -- barefoot, knee-scraped Diset, whom Teyla used to bandage up when she fell out of trees, who had been only a babe in arms when Teyla was nearly grown herself. Teyla reckoned the years in her head and, indeed, Diset would be sixteen now, or nearly so, and clearly she had grown out of childhood while Teyla was elsewhere occupied. How much she had missed, this past year.
Diset danced with a blue silk shawl, which she made to spin and billow above her head with perfect precision, never tangling or twisting it. Each time she crossed to Ronon's side of the fire she snapped it out sideways so that the tassel at its corner flickered past his face. He met her eyes and smiled at her, the sort of easy smile that Teyla saw only rarely from Ronon, and on her third pass he reached out and caught the tassel in his fingers, giving it a playful tug -- not hard enough to unbalance her, but enough to make her stop the dance and pull back on it to regain her shawl. She did not look displeased by the interruption.
Neither Diset nor anyone else, however, could coax Ronon to join in when people began to stand by twos and practice the Earth dancing. Teyla danced with nearly every man present, and in the midst of it all she stopped thinking of Ronon and so did not see how long he watched before disappearing into the night again.
His cookpit was a great success; it took all day to roast the animal, but the meat was sweet and rich. It still seemed impractical, picking it to the bone in one day when a good stew would have lasted a week, but with the work of clearing over at last, the time felt right for an indulgence.
The children had moved past being intimidated by Ronon, although Teyla was not entirely sure the reverse was true. Still, he allowed them to follow him with a kind of bemused patience, and at last consented to teach them a few of his bare-handed grappling holds. He squared them off against each other, carefully choosing those who were sized to match one another, and he seemed to take the work seriously, crouching down to eye their postures and grips critically, moving a wrist or an ankle into position before letting them try their strength on each other. Teyla had seen him train warriors before and knew that he was skilled at it, but it was a different skill to train the young and inexperienced. She had somehow not expected Ronon to possess that skill.
Diset slipped under his arm and behind him, placing one hand on his ribs and the other hand around the scabbard on his back. He turned his head to see her, so that Teyla could not catch the what look he wore on his face. "Show us this," Diset demanded.
"It's too heavy for you," he said, and shook her gently off of him.
"I just want to see it," she said.
Ronon hesitated another moment, and then reached back for the hilt of his sword, saying, "Stand back, then."
They were awed, of course, by the way he spun it as easily as an eating knife in his hand; Teyla had seen seasoned warriors who could barely hide their awe when Ronon showed off in this way. Diset tried to copy his movements with one of her rods, but it listed forward clumsily. Ronon smiled at her and said, "They're not balanced the same."
"Can't I hold it?" Diset said, and after a moment's pause, Ronon shrugged. He placed it in her hands and stood behind her, showing her how to settle her hands on the hilt, then leading her through both a horizontal and a vertical swing. "It's too heavy for me," she admitted.
He clapped her shoulder gently as he took the sword back and sheathed it again. "You'd get used to it," he said. "Teyla's not much bigger than you, and she can swing it pretty good." He glanced across at Teyla, and so did Diset, with a much darker expression.
"Be careful," Teyla said softly to Ronon, when she caught him hovering once more on the fringes of the group, far enough that they were protected from unwelcome ears. "Diset is Halling's niece."
"Who's Diset?" he said, and then followed Teyla's eyes toward her. "Oh, her? She's fast. Got a good eye. He's probably proud of her."
"He is proud of her. Her parents are both gone, and he is also protective."
Ronon looked puzzled for a moment, and then gave her that thin smile that he often employed when he was refraining from commenting on someone's foolishness. "I'm not going to fuck your friend's niece," he said. Teyla gave him a stern look, and he shed the smile quickly. "Sorry. I didn't...mean to be crude. Just, you don't have to worry about me."
"She is young," Teyla said, "and the young are often impetuous. If you encourage her attentions, you may find yourself drawn into something that you will find more difficult to escape."
"I didn't come here to-- " He broke off, frustrated, and turned away from her. "She's just a kid," he said. "I can handle it."
When Teyla set out for the City once again, she felt as if the touch of all those hands on her shoulders and all those foreheads against hers must be visible to the naked eye, lingering behind as all those whispered requests for her quick return were lingering in her ears. She felt a physical soreness in her chest when the Puddlejumper lifted off the ground, a feeling almost of dread. There was no assurance, after all, that she would live to set foot on this land even once more, let alone that she would one day belong to it in the way that the others of her people now did.
Ronon sat down beside her, but she could not bring herself to look at him -- as if his own history were written on his skin, dark and clear as the mark on his neck, reminding her that it was often much easier to leave home behind than to return to it again.
"You can tell me, you know," Colonel Sheppard said over cards. "If they need you there, you can just say.... I mean, obviously I need you here, too -- except not, not really. We could always spare you for a little while, if we had to."
"You think I have been gone too much from the City these past months," Teyla said. In truth, she often worried over the same thing. There was simply so much work to be done on the new land; when she was here, she felt she ought to be there, and when she was there, she worried about affairs on Atlantis.
"Not exactly," Sheppard hedged. "Do you have any fours?"
Teyla handed him a four. "Are you considering...restructuring your team?"
"No! Well...maybe? Only if that's what you want. This is what I'm saying, Teyla. If you want to go home for a while, get some things done there, I'll find ways to fill in for you here. Everyone else gets the chance to take the Daedalus home if they need to, so it's only fair. But I don't want you to go. It's up to you. That's what I'm saying. You just need to...tell me what you want."
Teyla stared at her hand of cards, but the symbols did not line up in her mind to say anything in particular. She thought she was losing, but she was too distracted to be sure. "When I was very young," she said softly, "no more than fourteen years old, I was chosen to learn the art of diplomacy and my people's traditional routes of trade. Our numbers were smaller than they had been in many generations, and traders were badly needed. It was my service to my people; I was said to have a certain gift for the work."
"You're a charmer," Sheppard agreed, and cast her one of his crooked smiles.
She nodded her acknowledgment of his compliment. "I wanted very much to live up to the responsibility placed upon me. But at the same time, I always wanted..... As young people will, I wanted more. In secret, I dreamed of being a great warrior. I dreamed of bringing battle to the Wraith, of slaying them and being praised as a liberator of my people." She couldn't help but smile; the nearer she got to her own youthful goal, the more romantic and naive it seemed. War was very little like what she had imagined. Still, the desire had been real enough when she was a girl. "I suppose, even these many years later, I find it difficult to choose one calling over the other."
"You want to have it all," he said lightly.
"Is this all?" He looked at her without answering, and the silence went on until she forced herself to look down at her cards and say, "Do you have Queens?"
"Go fish." She drew another four. "So, what about Ronon?" Colonel Sheppard asked, his voice too casual and his eyes carefully averted from hers.
"What about Ronon?"
Sheppard shrugged. "He's been going with you an awful lot. I mean, he might as well, it's not like I'm going to take the team out without you. But I'm just wondering, what exactly does he do out there?"
Teyla shrugged in return. "Carpentry, mainly."
"Carpentry? No, nothing," he said to Teyla's look. "It's just...his parents were bankers. He likes guns and Resident Evil and microwave burritos. I mean, I know he has survival skills, but I never exactly think of him getting all Little House on the Prairie. You know, of his own free will."
"We are very busy building permanent structures. He has been willing to help." Sheppard made a grunting noise. "You suspect an ulterior motive," Teyla translated.
"Me? I'm just a man in need of a four of spades." Teyla shifted the four of spades idly with her thumb and waited. "All I'm saying is, he's been very willing to help."
And Diset had learned a great deal about how to hinge a door in the past few months. It was sometimes fascinating, who might develop a taste for volunteer labor and when. Against her better judgment, Teyla said, "If Ronon is traveling to the mainland in order to make a fool of himself over a girl, he is certainly not the first of your men to do so."
"Yeah, you guys are better than the USO," Sheppard said inexplicably. He gave her a sideways smile and said, "I don't think of him as a fool, though. Tens?"
It was unfair to blame -- or credit -- Diset with Ronon's behavior, though, and Teyla realized that. He was indulgent with her, more so than Teyla still thought was prudent, and made good use of her as an assistant, sanding and rounding edges on his work, but he seemed distant in spite of all her attempts to catch his attention.
He was, in fact, indulgent yet distant with everyone. "We don't mean to take advantage of him," one of the older women confided in Teyla, "but he won't let us do anything to thank him. Everyone I know has invited him for tea a dozen times. Doesn't he drink tea?"
"I do not know," Teyla said. "I am sure he does not mean to be rude."
Curra waved her hand in the air and said, "He's a dear, shy thing and we're all grateful to him. He built that fence for my tava garden all on his own. We only wish he'd...say something, now and then. Maybe if you invited him, and came along?"
"Maybe," Teyla said, although she doubted it would make much difference.
It didn't. Ronon took the nails out of his mouth and looked down at her from his ladder. He frowned dubiously and said, "I'm not really good at small talk."
"Do you not say?" Teyla said dryly, and he grinned down at her. The Athosians might think Ronon was difficult to approach, but as far as Teyla could see, he was calmer and more pleasant here than he often was while penned up inside the City. "There are people here who would like to know you," she said.
Ronon climbed down the ladder before answering, and leaned against it with one shoulder while he said, "I guess there's just not that much to tell."
"Where did you learn to build houses?"
"I didn't," he said. "I mean, I looked some things up on the computer back home, but mostly it's just...geometry and common sense." She arched an eyebrow at him and he said, "If they fall down in six months, at least you're not out any money."
But he came to the main fire that night and sat a few feet from Teyla. It was only the Athosians that night, and Ronon and Lieutenant O'Malley who flew them there, and it was entirely too warm out for dancing, so the night was lazy and easy. She watched Ronon settle in, gingerly at first, and then more comfortably as he listened to the gossip and the stories, until he was sprawled backwards on his elbows, his eyes half-shut against the smoke and for once not looking as if he had been set as night-watch by some command only he could hear. He looked peaceful.
"Will you sing for us tonight?" Halling asked her, and she agreed to it before she really knew what he was saying, so far up in the stars had her mind been. "The Hall of Bar-Roglan," he suggested, and Teyla smiled unwillingly and stood with her heart fluttering. Such a sad song, for such a tranquil night; left to her own devices, Teyla would have chosen a lullaby, or even a love song, although there was loss buried inside most Athosian love songs, as well. She had learned a few that were sweeter and more optimistic from the folk of Atlantis, but she supposed it was natural that people would wish to hear the old songs, the ones they had known all their lives.
"The hall of Bar-Roglan is dark tonight," Teyla began, and it was her own long familiarity with the lament that made her able to put away her sense of unease and lose herself in the music, "No fire, no pallet. I'll keen now, then be quiet. The hall of Bar-Roglan is dark tonight -- No fire, no candle. For your sake, my heart is broken."
What peace Ronon had found seemed broken again -- inevitable, Teyla supposed, but she would not have wished it on him so soon. He sat up, leaning forward over his knees, and although Diset wriggled closer to his side to offer support, he seemed to see nothing but the fire. "The hall of Bar-Roglan, your beauty is gone -- gone too is your master. Ancestors, why leave me to linger alive?" she sang on. When there was no such thing in the world as comfort, the only road left was truth -- or so Teyla had often heard. She did not know if there were such proverbs among the Satedans. "The hall of Bar-Roglan is dark tonight -- no fire, no singing. My eyes are worn from weeping. The hall of Bar-Roglan, the sight is a blade to me -- no household, no fire. Dead my dear brother, myself alive."
He was gone again before the final verse, and Teyla's last notes had scarcely died away before Halling was pressing a wine-skin in her hand and urging her gently toward the doorway.
The air was so clear outside that it seemed to sting Teyla's eyes, after she had become acclimated to the haze of smoke and the smell of bodies within the tent. There was a light on inside the Puddlejumper, and she crossed the boundary of stones that marked the field where ships from Atlantis came to light.
He was inside the Jumper, drawing his fingers slowly over the dark grid that came to life with flight data, for the right pilot. "Wish I could fly this," he said without looking over at Teyla as she settled into the chair beside him. "At home, I was cleared to fly anything below a class-C low-alt cruiser. Not combat, you know. Transport flyers. Never anything like this."
Teyla offered him the wine-skin, and he took a long drink. Perhaps she should not have followed him at all. She had no wisdom to offer, and he was no child, to be told kind-hearted lies about how a day would come when such a sorrow as his would pass. "You did not have to go," she finally said. "There was no one there who would have expected you to feel ashamed of your grief."
"You know how I learned to build things?" he said softly, still watching the instrument panel. "Burial detail. My first duty when I joined the service -- the kind of scut-work they give to people who can't do anything useful yet. Widest part of a coffin is one-third down the length of it. The foot is an inch narrower than the head. I had some education, so I could do the measurements in my head, and they figured any idiot could learn to hit a nail, and they were right. Later on I decided, why not learn to make something else, too? Something... just something else. I taught myself how to make a few things -- different kinds of chairs, mainly. Rocking chairs. A wardrobe, once. I tried a chest of drawers, but I never quite got the drawers to go in and out right. That was a long time ago. You have a nice voice."
"Thank you," she said. "I learned that skill, too, for the sake of the dead."
"Soldiers in Atlantis seem pretty much like soldiers everywhere," he said, and took another long drink of the wine, then wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. "Sometimes it's almost like nothing's changed. It's like...I'm the only thing that's changed. I feel like everything around me is normal again, and I'm supposed to pick up my life where I left it. I'm supposed to...I don't know. Make friends, and get a new hobby, and -- I don't know. Things like that. That girl, Diset, she's...pretty. She seems nice."
"Diset is a child who is smitten with a stranger -- because he is a stranger."
Only when his mouth quirked oddly did Teyla realize that her words might be interpreted as an insult. Before she could apologize, he said, "Give her some credit. You Athosians don't breed children."
"She has known hardship, as all of us have. But that does not necessarily bring wisdom in matters of the heart."
"No. I'm just saying, it isn't because she's young. That wouldn't matter to me, I don't think. It's just that...she's not like me. Like whatever I am now. She knows where she belongs, and I can't really remember what that feels like."
Teyla watched out the windshield, the stars embroidered on clouds, some held far from one another, some clustered together in whorls and rivers. She remembered Colonel Sheppard's voice, full of enthusiasm and amazement, showing her a map of everything she could see and everything she could not, saying, See, Teyla? This is where we are in the universe. Right here. -- as if it gave him the answer to everything, or to anything at all.
Their first harvest was a small one, but any sign of life was a joyful one, and this occasion was meant to celebrate two such signs.
"Do we have to call it a harvest festival?" Colonel Sheppard said. "I'm still not over that one where it was a 'harvest festival' above-ground -- " and he made that skeptical gesture in the air as he said it, the one that meant he was only repeating what he did not truly believe -- "and then in the sub-basement, I got taken hostage by Dr. Strangelove."
"Please, let's call it a harvest festival," Dr. Beckett said. "I'm taking Laura, and you know how women can be about weddings."
"Oh, well, if I don't know, I'm sure you'll enlighten me," Dr. McKay said, "seeing as how you never miss a chance to remind us that you're living with an actual woman-- "
"Do we have to take him?" Sheppard asked, hitching his thumb in Dr. McKay's direction.
"It is both a harvest festival and a wedding," Teyla asserted, raising her voice over theirs. It was unfortunate that so many of her colleagues equated volume with confidence, but she had learned to adapt to the custom. "And I have been grinding keefa flour for six days, so it will be a great disappointment to me if you do not all attend."
"Well," Elizabeth said, amused, "I believe that will settle that."
In truth, the occasion was not so much a festival or a wedding as it was exuberant chaos, with a hundred Atlanteans pouring in from the City at once; fortunately by that time most of Teyla's own people had completed their permanent shelters, and families could freely lend their old tents to house the visitors. On the first day alone, the assembly managed to consume as much keefa bread and cake as Teyla would have expected to last two weeks, Lieutenant Cross threw up twice from nerves and his weeping bride had to be reassured that it was something of an Earth tradition and did not mean the wedding was to be canceled, and Colonel Sheppard organized some kind of sporting event that resulted in three sprained ankles and a mild concussion.
"John," Teyla said, "please. This is difficult enough as it is."
"Thanksgiving," he said. "Football." She didn't know what he meant, but he sounded most convinced of it, so she abandoned him to his fate and went in search of a cool cloth to put over her eyes. She had not slept in something like twenty-eight hours.
She paused only momentarily to observe the dancing; Halling was spinning Elizabeth easily around the central yard, under the ribbon-spangled fervarg trees. Diset was dancing with Sergeant Berry, who was most definitely blushing this time, and Teyla did not blame him; only a very courageous man could remain stoic when fixed with that sort of single-minded attention from an adolescent girl.
At that very moment, Teyla heard her name called by the most courageous man she knew, and she turned around with her hands up to ward off whatever ill news he undoubtedly carried with him. "The cider press does not work?"
"No, it's fine," Ronon said, "although I don't know about these fervarg fruits. They don't taste as much like pears as they look. No, I just wanted you to come see something."
"I cannot," she said. "The wedding is in less than six hours, and the bride is crying for the third time. I will have you know, this sort of thing is unheard of among my people - we simply make it known that we are marrying, and it is done and blessed over supper. Someone seems to have told Eydena that weddings are quite grand affairs on Earth, and now she is certain that Lieutenant Cross will be disappointed with the arrangements."
"I've seen Mike Cross in the gym showers," Ronon said. "She's the one who should be worried about disappointment."
"I suppose you find that funny," Teyla said.
"Little bit," he agreed, grinning at her. "Come on, seriously. I want you to see." She tried again to gesture in the direction of ten thousand chores she felt obligated to oversee in order to assure the smooth running of this event, but he only put one hand on her arm and the other on her waist and began to prod her gently ahead of him. "Won't take too long," he said. "You'll be impressed."
They didn't get very far, however, before a small child came shrieking up the hill and collided with both of them at once, before adopting Ronon's thigh as his shield against whatever it was he feared. "Lethedo," Teyla sighed, "what is the trouble?"
"There's a monster in the river," he said, and wiped his runny nose on Ronon's pants.
Ronon sighed and lifted the boy into his arms. "Describe it," he said seriously.
Equally serious, Lethedo blinked at him, eye to eye, and said, "Green. It was like a turtle, only huge."
"Maybe it was a huge turtle?" Ronon suggested.
"Maybe," Lethedo allowed.
Ronon set the boy back on his feet, but allowed him to cling to his hand. "Take me to where you saw it," he said, and Lethedo brightened immediately at the idea of revealing secret knowledge to a grown-up. Teyla trailed behind the two of them, smiling to herself.
It was indeed a huge turtle, half-buried in the mud bank of what was much more accurately a brook rather than a river. Ronon crouched over it and poked its shell with a stick, causing it to leap sideways, much quicker in the water than Teyla would have imagined. Ronon cursed under his breath and leaned out to grab it by the tail. When he hauled it, dripping and snapping, out of the water, it was easily the size of Lethedo's torso; she could imagine how it seemed monstrous to a child.
"Watch out," Ronon warned, pulling a knife with his free hand. In one quick flash, he severed the animal's head. Teyla and Lethedo both leapt backwards as blood began to splatter the grass, and Ronon kicked the head into the river with the toe of his boot. "Those heads can still bite you even after they're cut off," he said, still casually holding the turtle by its tail as it sprayed blood on the ground. "When I first started catching them, I got bit and I had to force a blade under its jaw and pry it loose. You have to be careful with these. They're good, though; every part tastes a little bit different, so it's like having a lot of different food all at once. You can eat pretty much all of them except the toenails, and those just pop right off if you scald-- "
"Lethedo," Teyla ordered, "run back up to your mother." He obeyed, casting wide-eyed looks over his shoulder until he was out of sight.
"You're mad at me," Ronon said. "What'd I do? It's good for him to learn how to feed himself. Wish someone would have taught me this stuff when I was a kid."
"This is not our way," Teyla said, taking the dead animal from his hands and laying it on a blood-dappled stone by the bank. "My people respect living things, and we kill honorably, when it is required. There is food enough to feed three hundred people for two days just up that hill; there was no need to kill that poor beast just because you can."
He stared stonily at her for a long moment, and then said, "I was just trying to teach him something."
"There are things I do not want my people to learn," Teyla said. "They already know how to show respect for the lives that sustain us. Do not teach our children callousness instead."
After another moment, he turned away from her stare and said, "Do you still want to come with me?"
"Of course," she said, her anger disappearing as quickly as it had come upon her. "Ronon, forgive me. I am tired, and -- the blood startled me."
"Okay," he said.
She followed him through the light woods, until the trees opened into a wider clearing. "Stay right here," Ronon instructed her. "I don't want you to get hurt."
"Are you doing something dangerous?"
He smiled hesitantly at her and said, "Little bit. Just stay here."
There was a bucket by their feet, and a segment of log with a wooden slat balanced on top and two wooden crosspieces threaded through it. "What is that?" Teyla asked.
Ronon lifted the top off to show her that the log was hollow. "My grandfather kept bees," he said. "They build the honeycombs hanging off the top, so it's easy to get to them -- just lift the top off and peel the comb loose."
There were no bees inside the wooden house, however -- just what appeared to be a keefa cob stripped of its kernels and soaked in something sweet and vinegary. "You built this for bees?" she said, still confused.
"Yeah. All you have to do is get them from their nest-- " and here he gestured to a twisted tree on the other side of the clearing; if Teyla squinted, she could see small specks of darkness circling its trunk -- "into here. This is bait for them."
He buttoned his coat, which Teyla did not think she had ever seen him do before, and pulled the collar up, but other than that he proceeded with little to protect him. Teyla felt as though she ought to say something to stop him, but she was sickly fascinated to see exactly what he would do.
He set the artificial hive several yards from the hive tree; Teyla could see the insect scouts begin to fly between the hive and the bait, investigating. Ronon let them pass back and forth for a while, and then approached the tree slowly and reached inside for the comb. Teyla could hear the swell of angry buzzing from where she stood, and she was dizzy for a moment before she realized she was holding her breath.
Teyla thought he would bring the honeycomb back in the bucket, but first he took it to the new hive. Crouching in front of it, he did something she could not see that seemed to take some time. Some of the bees clung near him when he finally began to cross the clearing toward her again, but he moved slowly, and they seemed to become weary or disoriented one by one and fall away.
When he reached her, Ronon held the bucket so that she could peer into it, at the comb in its pool of thick, aromatic honey. There were a handful of bees drowned inside the mess. "What were you doing?" she said. "When you knelt...."
"They won't take to the new hive until the queen is there," he said. "You have to spot her and drive her in, and then the others will follow. My grandfather was a bee-charmer; they said he could just whistle the queen from hive to hive, and he never got stung." He smiled sheepishly and added, "I always get stung, but only a little bit."
"You're hurt," she said, and took one of his hands between hers. There were three red marks, forming a crescent between his thumb and forefinger, and Teyla brushed them lightly with her thumb. "How did you...?" She could not quite form words around the question. It seemed as though everything about Ronon were an impenetrable mystery to her -- the way she knew him in Atlantis as the unbreakable warrior who guarded her life and trusted her to guard his, and the way she knew him here as a man who built bee-traps and shingled roofs and pressed cider for no reward except to know that someone might want him to. He seemed to rest much more easily in this divided life they both now led than Teyla did; if she still did not know where she was in the universe, he had slipped easily into place and found ways on both sides of the sea to make himself quietly indispensable. How did you become the one I need most, no matter where I go? she wanted to say, and did not quite dare.
Ronon shrugged. "Just a little sting. It doesn't hurt much, and it goes away fast. When I was a kid, I stayed with my grandfather a lot; he wasn't getting around very well by then, and he needed help. I robbed all the hives, just like he told me. I got pretty good at it, but I was never going to be a charmer. It's something you just have, not something you learn. Anyway, when I found this hive out here, I thought -- it would be a nice wedding gift for Mike and Eydena. And like I said, it'll be a lot easier to rob the new one, once they've had time to build up a new comb."
The heel of her hand fit perfectly inside Ronon's cupped palm. Teyla could not lift her eyes from the bee-stings on his hand, or from her own thumb as she caressed the patch of skin over and over. "They will...appreciate the gift," she heard herself manage to say.
Ronon set the bucket by his feet and lifted his other hand to wrap around the back of Teyla's. "Teyla," he said, so seriously that she almost could not bear to look up at him, but even more, she could not bear not to. When she did, his eyes looked both fiercer and more worried than she thought she had ever seen them look. "I know I'm a soldier," he said, low and rough and slow with something like fear -- the most courageous man she knew. "I know I'm a killer. But I think...I could be more than that, if I had the chance. I think I could be a whole man."
In her eyes, he was already a great deal more than that, but Teyla understood that it was his own eyes that mattered most. "I want that for you," she said. More than she had ever wanted anything -- more than duty, more than girlhood dreams of heroism -- she wanted this man to see himself as she and her people already saw him: a maker of strong things, a protector of small ones, very nearly a charmer of bees.
"I want that for you," he insisted, pressing down on her hand.
Teyla lifted her other hand to his face and trailed her fingers over his eyebrow and down to the rise of his cheekbone. "For both of us, then," she said, and closed her eyes to wait for his kiss.